The Black Arrow by ziggy
Summary:

Thranduil strikes a bargain with his fiery neighbour.

Smaug is dead and Esgaroth is devastated. Thranduil arrives with help

The story of how the black arrow that killed Smaug came to Bard. 'Black Arrow!" said the bowman. "Black arrow! I have saved you to the last. You have never failed me and always I have recovered you. I had you from my father and he from of old. If ever you came from the forges of the true King under the Mountain, go now and speed well!"

It was brought from the Lonely Mountain, from the forges of the true King under the Mountain. But it was taken from Smaug’s horde by someone quite unexpected.

The story of how the Black Arrow came to be in Bard’s hands, and how Legolas got his tattoo.

 


Categories: Fiction Characters: Thranduil
Content: Action/Adventure
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 23 Completed: No Word count: 99312 Read: 10934 Published: November 01, 2013 Updated: May 05, 2017
Story Notes:

For Naledi who wanted Smaug and Thranduil.

Unbeta'd so please let me know any mistakes or boring bits. Thanks

1. Chapter 1 by ziggy

2. Chapter 2 Smaug by ziggy

3. Chapter 3 Girion's Heir by ziggy

4. Chapter 4 Laersul by ziggy

5. Chapter 5 The Listener by ziggy

6. Chapter 6 by ziggy

7. Chapter 7 Anglach by ziggy

8. Chapter 8 Dawned-amlung by ziggy

9. Chapter 9 Home by ziggy

10. Chapter 10 Thalos by ziggy

11. Chapter 11 News from the South by ziggy

12. Chapter 12 The Feast of Starlight by ziggy

13. Chapter 13: The dwarves escape by ziggy

14. Chapter 14 Laersul by ziggy

15. Chapter 15 by ziggy

16. Chapter 16 by ziggy

17. Chapter 17 Fire and Water by ziggy

18. Chapter 18 Smoke from Erebor by ziggy

19. Chapter 19 An Ill WInd by ziggy

20. Chapter 20 The Devastation of Esgaroth by ziggy

21. Chapter 21 by ziggy

22. Chapter 22 The Arkenstone by ziggy

23. Chapter 23 by ziggy

Chapter 1 by ziggy

The Black Arrow 

 

Arrow!" said the bowman. "Black arrow! I have saved you to the last. You have never failed me and always I have recovered you. I had you from my father and he from of old. If ever you came from the forges of the true King under the Mountain, go now and speed well!"

It was brought from the Lonely Mountain, from the forges of the true King under the Mountain. But it was taken from Smaug’s horde by someone quite unexpected.

 

 

The story of how the Black Arrow came to be in Bard’s hands, and how Legolas got his tattoo.

 

Disclaimer: No money. Not profit. Just a bit of fun.

 

 

 

Chapter 1: Dragon-fire

 

He smelt the burning before the messages reached him, had seen the strange, spike-winged shape flying high above the forest canopy, moving fast, faster than a hunting eagle, bigger, higher up... No bird. Headed for Erebor and its wealth, riches...its river of gold. He knew. 

 

‘A Dragon is come,’ he had said and Galion’s already pale face had paled further.

 

There was no time to warn the dwarves, or Esgaroth or Dale. The raft-elves returned ashen-faced with tales of the Dragon soaring through the air; a spark of fire getting ever closer and the people along the Long Lake had stopped and stared in wonder at first...And then the Lake had rippled red like fire beneath the beating of the dragon’s immense wings* The Dragon had circled for a while above the mountain, and then suddenly stooped, plummeted to the earth and the trees had caught fire in the rush of flames from his jaws, and the wind from his passing set the bells ringing in Dale. The raft Elves could not hear or see all that happened then on the Mountain, but they could see great gouts of fire flaring up into the sky, and every now and again, the Dragon would leap into the air and roar down the mountainside, the trees like beacons of its passing. In Dale and Esgaroth, folk ran screaming, panicked as the River Running truly turned to gold, and red for it reflected the flames that tore through Erebor and turned the dwarven realm to ash.

 

The Woodelves listened in horror and looked at each other in fear. Erebor, Dale and Esgaroth. They were too close.  The Elves retreated to their stone stronghold, hoping the wealth of the Dwarves would sate the dragon’s appetite.

 

But Thranduil knew it would not be enough. 

 

Smaug. Golden. Old...Greedy.

 

The Woodelves huddled in their stone halls and wondered how long it would be. They looked anxiously around at the caverns, dwarf-delved but elven, light and airy, lit by great globes of light like starlight. It was like Cuiviénen. Not like a cave, an enchanted place hidden and guarded by the King’s magic. And they wondered how long it would hold out before the Dragon. 

 

The Forest was already restless; malice as great as the Dragon crept upon the edges of the Woodland Realm. Shadow crept through the forest, lingered in dells and the dark places. Slowly the trees turned towards the darkness and the forest became a place of evil. The Elves no longer dwelt in the South. Spiders crept into the Wood, the spawn of Ungoliant, and Wargs. Worse things too, and screams were heard in the night that were made by no living beast or man. Though Thranduil had sent more messages than he could count to the White Council telling them of his suspicions, his fears. The White Council, he almost sneered. Useless. And Galion was less polite. The only one Thranduil had any time for was Mithrandir who visited from time to time and cast some useful spells and listened at least sympathetically to Thranduil’s fears. 

 

An alliance with a Dragon against the Elves might seem a good thing to the Necromancer.

 

0o0o

 

 

Thranduil watched the sky, the Mountain. There was sometimes smoke from the Mountain and thrice now, Smaug had been seen in the sky, turning the ridges of pines to fire but he had not come West. He had not come to the Wood. The Dragon had settled on his bed of stolen gold, and lost jewels. But the Elvenking did not forget his dangerous neighbour and he wondered often what was in Smaug’s mind; he was sated for now it seemed. But it would not be forever.

 

Though it went against his nature, the King knew in his bones and blood it was not he who would slay this Dragon. He had dreamed often...

 

A vast, red-gold Dragon, fast asleep and dreaming of gold; a thrumming came from his jaws and nostrils, a wisps of smoke; but his fires were lower in slumber.* Beneath him gold. Coins spilled out from under his huge coiled tail...goblets and chalices, necklaces draped over the chalices, strung like stars. A crown hung jauntily on a golden throne as if someone had just taken it off in celebration, left it for a moment to pursue a lover, a mithril gauntlet cast carelessly aside... Behind him, stretched the cavernous halls, tiers and tiers of arches and terraces lit with a fiery glow. A long forgotten city, like Gondolin or Nargothrond. And rows and rows of coats of mail gleamed, and helms, spears, fine swords and a scattering of gems and jewels gleamed in the red-gold light. But over everything lay a fine layer of ash. 

 

And carelessly, on the floor of the cavernous hall, as if forgotten, lay a black arrow. He reached out and his fingers brushed against it.

 

When he awoke, his fingers still tingled and there was a light stink of sulphur in the air.

 

0o0o0

 

In Thranduil’s forest, the leaves had turned golden and red fifteen times since the Dragon had devastated Erebor. And he was reminded again of the Dragon. It seemed he was not the only one for he received news that Mithrandir had been seen in the Wood, but coming up from the South. It was Legolas’ patrol who had sent the news and his father’s heart hoped that his youngest would escort Mithrandir, but the King knew he would not.

 

He waited. 

 

It was a crisp bright morning, when Mithrandir strode up the forest road, chatting merrily to his escort, Anglach, Legolas’ friend. The sunlight pierced the trees here, for it was almost winter, and dappled the soft forest floor. As they approached the stronghold, or the Palace as the Woodelves like do call it for it was fair-wrought if not quite Menegroth, other Elves came out to shout a greeting and to sing a welcome, for Mithrandir was ever a friend to the Wood. Anglach fairly danced beside him, all lightness and energy. The maidens smiled and threw their hair back as he passed for he was handsome and a warrior in the South. 

 

Thranduil waited to greet Mithrandir, standing on the floor before the dais and carved throne, for he did not stand on ceremony with such old friends. He smiled at Anglach, fresh-faced and bright, who carried Mithrandir’s pack though the Wizard was strong and hale, Thranduil knew.

 

‘I have brought fireworks!’ Anglach called and waved without  any sense of deference to his King and Thranduil smiled indulgently but he heard the tut of Galion and the muttered complaint.

 

‘Hush old friend,’ he murmured softly back over his shoulder. ‘It is Anglach whom you have dandled on your knee and made wooden dragons for more times than I could count.’

 

‘Humph. And he pissed on me more times than I could count too. That rascal needs to learn some manners.’ But Thranduil did not reply; it was Galion’s way of showing affection to scold and give cake as he scolded. ‘Puked up on me too,’ Galion hissed in his ear and then turned and said gruffly to the grinning Anglach, who had heard every word, ‘Come then rascal child. I suppose you will expect feeding.’

 

“I swear not to puke or piss on you, Galion,’ Anglach said cheekily and flashed a quick, bright grim at Thranduil that was so like Legolas that it took his breath for a moment. ‘I have some nice black squirrel to help you flavour the lembas. It’s from Legolas. He says it will improve the flavour... Ow!’ 

 

0o0o

 

Later, much later, Thranduil stood with Mithrandir on the balcony of his study, a wide platform with no rail that looked out over the forest, and above them the stars were a dust of jewels in the night sky. 

 

‘Laersul and Legolas are in the South of the Wood?’ Mithrandir asked, as if casually, but Thranduil knew nothing was ever casual with the Wizard.  So he merely inclined his head and kept his eyes on the stars. ‘There is much trouble in the South?’

 

‘Yes.’ Thranduil said and tried not to answer brusquely for Mithrandir was his only voice on the White Council and it suited him to keep Mithrandir close. He sighed. ‘It is hard to send my sons into such danger,’ he answered more conciliatory. ‘Thalos is here though, you have seen him?’

 

‘I have. You are right to be proud of him.’ Mithrandir smiled and looked at Thranduil. 

 

‘Yes, he has his mother’s ways.’ Thranduil looked down into the depths of his wine and tried not to be too obviously proud for his heart felt it would burst sometimes when he thought of his bright, handsome sons. ‘I had thought to send him as emissary to Erebor before the Dragon. Laketown is hardly a challenge to his skill.’  Thranduil gave the Wizard the opening that both of them waited for, for Mithrandir had hinted as much earlier during the rather more lavish dinner than was usual in the King’s own rooms. But Galion had always liked Mithrandir too and had been thrown into the kitchens into a frenzy of baking and cooking.

 

Mithrandir turned away from the starlit night and settled deeply into one of the armchairs that flanked the fire. The fire was lit and crackled and burned, the glowing red embers settled and deep red wine glowed in goblets of soft burnished pewter. 

 

‘I met Thrór in the Blue Mountains you know.’ Mithrandir flicked a deep gaze at Thranduil. ‘He was smithing. Making tools for Men.’ 

 

‘I believe that dwarvish-made tools are of the highest quality,’ Thranduil replied blandly and raised his goblet to his full lips. He looked at Mithrandir from beneath his lashes. It was no shame to work, he thought. He and his sons worked alongside everyone else all through the year, and all of his sons fought beside the warriors of the Wood. But he thought Thrór would take it hard. He shrugged. ‘It will be hard for him, but harder still for his son,’ he observed, remembering Thror’s son, Thrain, who was prouder still and was stiff-necked indeed.

 

‘I have something that I need you to keep for me...In whatever way you think is best.’ The Wizard drew a pouch from somewhere inside his robes and handed it to Thranduil. ‘Do not ask how I came by it. That is another story and I may tell it to you sometime. But for now at least, it is in your care. You know what it is.’

 

He did indeed know it, and was astonished and left much richer.  When Mithrandir left three days later, he hid the treasure deep and spoke of it to no one...Until now, he had barely looked at it. 

 

0o0o

 

Of course he heard the news of the death of the last King-under-the-Mountain at the hands of the Orcs. He did not grieve for he had no love for Dwarves. But the dreams began again...

 

... The Mountain gilded and the river ran gold...Upon the heights, the trees burned, and the sky was aflame...A blast of red lightning shot through the night and there was the sound of great reptilian wings whumping the air...

 

When he awoke he looked for the Black Arrow he had clutched in his hand, but it was not there of course. Years later, he heard that Thror’s death had been avenged and he wondered if the sons of Thror dreamed of gold, and revenge. Or if the Dragon knew what was in their minds... He sat on his talan beneath the stars and drank rich wine and wondered if Smaug thought the Elves might succour the heirs of Thror. 

 

Thranduil searched the eastern skies every night for dragon-fire. Every night he drank, thinking of how to shore up his stronghold against the Shadow, against the Dragon should he come. Every night, he dreamed. 

 

 ...He walked through vast, empty hall and gazed upwards to the tiers and tiers of arches and terraces lit with a fiery glow. A long forgotten city, like Gondolin or Nargothrond. And rows and rows of coats of mail gleamed, and helms, spears, fine swords and a scattering of gems and jewels gleamed in the red-gold light. But over everything lay a fine layer of ash. 

 

Nestling against his heart, was a treasure richer than all the gold under the Mountain...It left the hoard incomplete....

 

Mithrandir had said, keep it for him... in whatever way Thranduil thought best. He knew then what he had to do; the bargain he had to strike. 

 

Looking down at his hand, Thranduil clenched his fingers slowly, hooked them so they were like talons.  He thought how like scales was skin, and how like talons his long, elegant fingers more used to sword now than harp, for the Forest was beset. And no help to come, he thought bitterly. For his fingers were not talons, his skin not scales but easily pierced. No, he was not invincible. He had no weapon against Smaug that equalled the Dragon’s hide and claws and fire. He only had Mithrandir’s gift.

 

Carefully, he removed the old gold rings set with the emeralds that he preferred, and the fiery ruby that was his from his father, and slipped them into a wooden box before he left, lay them beside a necklace and lightly let his fingers caress the delicate chain as if it were the neck of she who had owned it. He held his hands before him, naked, and thought he would have to rely on his wits.

 

 

0o0o

 

 

Far over the Misty Mountains cold....

To dungeons deep and caverns old..

We must away ‘ere break of day..

To seek the pale enchanted gold...

 

It was not gold that Thranduil sought, but something much more precious.

 

When he set off, it was in secret and with only his old friend, Galion, with his sharp green eyes to watch his back, to bear the news of his fall. They would have tried to stop him, had they known, his gallant sons, his trusted friends. His impossible youngest.

 

Their light forest raft skipped easily over the rapids and pools of the Forest River and down to Esgaroth. From there they passed through ruined Dale and its charred, empty towers and the blackened skeletons of the houses. They saw the sad grey ghosts of Men lingering on the riverbank. Thranduil sketched a blessing over them and they faded in the early morning light.

 

They did not linger and he made Galion stay at the edge of The Desolation of Smaug, for the King would not risk any of his folk. He went on alone.

 

 

Desolation indeed, Thranduil thought. It was a bleak, forsaken place. Grey rocks, scree slopes, towering grey granite cliffs and the once paved road was broken, smashed by Smaug’s huge talons, his volcanic heat. More than smashed, thought Thranduil, looking down; the stone had melted and the once pristine marble that Dwarves had used to richly pave their road, had the look of lava, molten though it had long since cooled...but beneath it all, he felt heat...fire...a smoulder of flame that merely slept for a while.

 

There were no trees. The pines that had cloaked the shoulders of the mountain had burned and perished like everything else and there were only charred and blackened stumps to mark the avenue that had shaded the Dwarves as they traded and travelled. 

 

He climbed upwards, through the Desolation of Smaug and his lungs filled with the stink of sulphur and the hot metallic tang of Dragon. Under his feet the scree slipped and slid, and rocks bounced down the slopes far below. Ahead of him the river still streamed from the cavernous opening in a great cliff wall between the arms of the Mountain. But as well as the white water of the river there came steam and a dark smoke, and every now and again, a black crow flapped above. The only sound was the stony water and the harsh croak of the crow.* 

 

Thranduil looked up and watched the crow for a moment. It regarded his with its beady eye but said nothing and Thranduil began to climb again.

 

Ahead of him now, there were glints and twists of metal, scattered between the rocks and scrub grass grew long. There was treasure to be had, he realised, if one was brutish enough, and he bent over one to discern what it was, and recoiled in horror. Long wiry hair was stuck to the metal and he realised this had been dwarvish armour and mail, and it had melted and the occupant seared, burned, incinerated...What looked like thin black twigs clung to a twist of metal, and he realised it was a small hand, a child perhaps. Its fragile little bones lay twisted as if it had curled up on itself. He gently moved the small skeleton closer to the melted armour, he could not really say why for it would not comfort any who perished on that dreadful day and it was years now since the Mountain rang with dwarven hammer or the deep chanting of their songs. Thranduil, who had seem much over his long, long years in the Forest, on the edges of Mordor, in Dagorlad and before, found himself moved with pity. He bowed his head for a moment over these pathetic bones and hoped it would not befall his own people. 

 

Above him, an eagle cried. Then a second eagle shrieked, high, high above and he looked up into the sky. The eagles wheeled and looped about each other, high on the sun-warmed thermals, but here in the vale before the Mountain, it was shadowed and cold. 

 

Still watched by the crow, he picked his way over the broken stone and melted metal and listened. In the stones of the Mountain it seemed to him, were locked the cries of panic and despair. He heard the echo of the roar of the Dragon and the terrible fire that erupted from its gaping maw, the screams of Dwarves as metal melted onto their skin, caught light in their flesh, boiled their blood and melted their bones.

 

Ahead of him, the mouth of Erebor opened. A mouth indeed, he thought, and for a moment, his heart faltered.  But his people were not safe and what good was a King who cowered and waited for the Enemy to come to him? It was not the way of the House of Oropher. His lips thinned wryly. Perhaps he should have told Laersul before he left, prepared him to be King as Thranduil himself had not been...

 

He sighed as he trudged up the slope; Laersul would have forbidden it and Thalos would have persuaded him that he should go instead, he thought. And Legolas would have pleaded with him to go as well, like it was some merry trip. The thought if his sons made him proud and his heart surged with love. 

 

No matter, there was no going back now.

 

He strode through the gaping mouth of the cave like the King he was, merely visiting another King.  He stepped from the grey daylight into the strange gloom of the Halls of Erebor.

 

The air was warmer than he expected, the smell of sulphur and metal stronger. A low rumbling throbbed through the air, like a huge cat purring somewhere deep in the heart of the Mountain. He shook himself. No cat this, except it might like to play a little first, and was that not what he was hoping?

 

He glanced behind him once, at the great iron doors that were buckled and twisted. They looked smooth, polished clean, but it was heat that had melted the crown of Durin from the doors. Thranduil did not steal silently through the great halls. He strode at first. He had not even a knife in his hand and still he did not pause,even to wonder. No. In his dream he had nothing but his wits. That had made Galion laugh long and loudly until he realised what Thranduil intended.

 

Beneath his feet something cracked, a thin shell of something and he glanced down; rounded domes gleamed slightly like ivory in the red-gold glow that came from deep within the Mountain... He stepped cautiously over the strange domes until his feet brushed one and it toppled sideways...empty sockets and hard white teeth. Skulls. They were all skulls... and bones amid the twisted metal. This must have been where the Dragon trapped those trying to escape the Mountain, and simply blasted them like a furnace. He held onto his heart and breathed slowly. And listened then, titled his head to one side and  half closed his eyes...There was the panic, the fear. Heat beyond any furnace or forge and their screams were trapped in the walls of great cavern. It was a terrible death. 

 

He cast his gaze slowly about the cavernous and empty darkness and remembered Erebor as it had been. Before the Dragon. He stood in now what had been the greatest of Erebor’s halls. Letting his hand drift over the marble surfaces of the high, fluted pillars, he stepped carefully through the grave of the Dwarves. Once these pillars had been carved about with wonderful abstracts and runes, alchemical symbols and metallurgical symbols, prayers to Aulë he was told,  but now the surfaces were smooth for the stone had melted and run like lava so the pillars looked more like half burned candles with the wax cooled on their great trunks. He remembered that there had been gemstones set in the cornices, and great globes of fire hanging mid-air it seemed, to light the darkness. Once, silver and mithril gilded the roof so the light that came down the great chutes cut into the mountain, flashed and gleamed, and reflected a thousand times. Great brass sconces had borne colossal flaring torches that caught the gold and silver and mithril that cut through the stone, patterned the marble floors. Mithril had laced the great doors, chased through gold and set with jewels. The great halls of the Dwarves had been marvels of the Age...Now, only bones and dust.

 

He had thought, when he set off, that he would have to search for the Dragon and guessed it would have gathered all the treasure to itself, heaping it into one great hoard upon which it slept. For now at least. But he did not need to guess. The presence of the Dragon was everywhere, the suffocating warmth, the red glow like some demonic furnace, and the rumble like distant thunder...but there was too, a sort of glamour, a lure that pulled him inexorably onwards now.

 

Deeper he went, further. The air became warm, then hot, then sultry and filled with the sulfurous stink of Dragon. Slowly he edged his way down. He knew he would not be able to steal anything from Smaug but he was not here as a thief, or even dragon-slayer. 

 

He thought perhaps instead he should announce himself.

 

As it happened, he did not need to.

 

tbc

Chapter 2 Smaug by ziggy
Author's Notes:

For Naledi who really really wanted this to keep her going until DoS. Unbeta'd so please let me know any errors. Thanks

Chapter 2: Smaug

 

The stench of sulphur was overpowering,  like marsh gas or rotten eggs. A low rumble that Thranduil thought at first came from the depths of the Mountain, and the heat made him glad that he had not worn mail or armour, for what good it would have done him? Instead he was dressed in the green hunting tunic and leather breeches of the Woodelves. But his hair was burnished gold like coins and his slate-green eyes intense and focused, like a hawk. Thranduil was always the Elvenking. And he would not cower unless it served his people.

 

So he strode cofidently along the high hall, glancing at the carved and sculpted walls as he passed with a flicker of sorrow for the Dwarves, but they had not been so merciful in Doriath, he reminded himself, and steeled his heart. He passed through wide, high passages and as back in the shadows, were gilded and silvered coats of mail standing empty, waiting for long dead dwarvish warriors. Tall spears lined up like a ghostly army stood somewhere in the shadows, their shafts inlaid with gold. 

 

The rumbling had stopped but Thranduil did not. Boldly he stepped into the great Hall of Thráin. And he had to stop then.

 

Heat pressed against him like he stood in a furnace, a hot wind pulled his long hair back from his face and he narrowed his slate-green eyes against it. The light reflecting from the piled up gold was dazzling at first. Gems and jewels and silver washed red in the fiery light. Helms and axes, swords and spears, and great wooden chests were flung open and spilling over with jewels and necklaces of pearl and sapphire. It was said by others that the Elvenking lusted after treasure, after gold, and he liked emeralds best. It was true he liked emeralds best. But this dragon-gold, he wanted none of it. He wanted something else entirely and he thought of the heavy jewel given him by Mithrandir to use as he thought best. It nestled against his breast.

 

No, it was not dragon-gold or dwarf-treasure that made Thranduil stop.

 

It was as his dream.

 

Here at last, was Smaug.

 

The huge red-gold Dragon lay coiled upon a high bed of gold and gems. His tail stretched long, far down into the shadowed halls and out of sight. It twitched slightly somewhere in the shadows and there was the sound of shifting coins, metal, treasure beyond dreams.   About Smaug’s claw was tangled a long string of emeralds, deepest green like the forest. Smaug breathed. Thin wisps of smoke blew out of his nostrils for his fires were low and sleepy. But he knew the smell of Elf, the touch of Elf...the taste of Elf flesh. He had come from the North, but no mere Worm of the Northern wastes, this. No, this was Smaug Uruloki, a fire -drake. 

 

Thranduil dared not breathe for the slightest stir might awaken the slumbering Dragon.

 

But had he not come for a reason? So he steeled himself and stood tall and straight, like an arrow. 

 

And Smaug cracked open an eye of molten fire, gold and flame, hunger. A great golden cup rolled from under the dragon when he shifted, two-handed, hammered and carven with birds and flowers whose eyes and petals were of mithril*.

 

‘Well...Thranduil Oropherion. It’s about time.’ 

 

Thranduil almost, almost looked the Dragon in the eye, so taken aback was he. But he remembered in time, his father, Oropher, glorious and golden as Smaug himself, telling him; Never look in the eye of the dragon. It will cast a glamour upon you, the glamour of gold and its horde and lead you into  foolishness. He bowed low, and thus avoided its gaze. 

 

‘Forgive my tardiness then, my lord. I had heard the tales,’ Thranduil went for the obvious, ‘but I had not imagined for a moment, the truth of your magnificence.’ For Smaug was, indeed, magnificent. Glorious. And terrifying.

 

‘One lord to another then it seems. I have heard of you also, King of the Wood.’ Smaug’s voice was rich and golden, deep. It was, thought Thranduil, a beautiful and powerful voice. 

 

‘As brothers then, as Kings of our lands, my lord,’ Thranduil said and he gestured to a golden throne nearby as if asking for permission to sit.

 

Smoke whuffed from the Dragon’s flared nostrils, not flames for his fires were low and banked, and Thranduil took it as acceptance. He did not at first turn his back on the Dragon and then was amused at himself; what could he do if Smaug merely stretched out a colossal paw and pinned him whilst his back was turned?  Nothing. He was unarmed and Galion was miles away. 

 

So he deliberately turned his back, heart pounding, and took the two steps to the throne. For all the Dragon had to do was to breathe and he would be incinerated. There was a smear of old blood on the throne. He did not think about it.

 

He sat and inclined his head slightly, so his long hair sifted and slid over his shoulder. For a moment, Smaug was distracted by the silk of gold, and then the Dragon’s eye settled back upon him and Thranduil fixed his own gaze at the point between the molten eyes. The nictitating membrane came up over the Dragon’s eye briefly and in that moment, Thranduil realised that he had been as distracted by Smaug as the Dragon had been by him. He clenched his fist and sharpened his focus. As if realising the same, the Dragon shifted slightly forwards and piles and piles of gold coins poured and slipped down, showered onto the rich heavy tapestries and silks scattered on the ground. Thranduil heard the heavy chains of gold fall but he did not look away, schooled his face to a mask of inscrutability. A wisp of thin smoke came from Smaug’s nostrils.

 

‘And how goes it in the...Wood,’ Smaug’s rich voice was urbane oddly and Thranduil was strangely reminded for a moment of Elrond, but for the intonation in the word wood,  and the suggestion of its inflammability.

 

‘We survive,’ Thranduil said coolly. 

 

‘It would be interesting to return the courtesy of your visit,’ said Smaug and there was a glint of amusement, a sharpness of intellect.

 

Thranduil smiled thinly. ‘I fear your magnificence would not be given its due regard,’ he countered and this time Smaug laughed, a deep laugh that began in his belly and rumbled outwards like distant thunder.

 

The Dragon moved slightly, merely extended a huge forearm and gold shifted and slid and poured from the great treasure heap. ‘It is long since I spoke with your kind,’ Smaug said and his voice was like the molten heart of the Mountain. It felt somehow right that he was here. ‘I have missed that. Mind you, the last Elf I spoke to was merely to warn him to run.’

 

If it amuses the Dragon, thought Thranduil, as politely in his mind as in his voice, then who was he to complain? For he had been the one to seek Smaug out and not the other way. 

 

The Dragon licked a tooth and gave Thranduil a chance to see the hot red mouth, the ivory teeth like a mûmak’s tusk. 

 

‘What was he called...?’ The Dragon swiveled his head round slightly to catch Thranduil in the glint of his golden eye. ‘Barafin I think. Was he not one of yours? He must have strayed into Dale. Usually Men all taste the same, but there is something different about Elf-flesh. It has a more piquant flavour.’

 

Thranduil did not move, not a finger, not a flicker of his eye. Ice to meet with Fire. Water quenches fire. Baraphion, whose child had wailed, sobbed inconsolably that his ada had not come home and Merdiel, his sweet wife, had stood at the edge of the Wood and gazed and gazed and would not eat or rest... They had not found him. Of course. But until now, no one had known his fate. And what would he tell Merdiel now?

 

‘But I am not hungry yet.’ Smaug’s eye roamed briefly over the hoard, the deep gold, the piles of treasure that Thranduil studiously avoided looking at in case the glamour of the dragon-hoard worked its way into his heart and fixed him there. ‘However I have missed good conversation.’ Smaug spoke as if he were weighing up the advantages of eating Thranduil. 

 

Thranduil let a long breathe go and with it tension and fear. He had faced worse. He had faced the Nazgûl which had no such dilemma, who only sought his death in the worst way imaginable. 

 

‘I do hope you will visit me again.’ 

 

Thranduil inclined his head slightly.

 

‘But I think you are here for something. A king does not visit a king merely to pass the time of day.’ Smaug’s tail twitched slightly and gold poured and slid from the great heaps and scattered at Thranduil’s feet. ‘Am I to fear another Elvish warrior who wishes to make his name? Will you send a hero to seek my death that his name is forever sung in your halls?’

 

‘Surely that is a Mannish deed, O Smaug the Magnificent?’ Thranduil said. ‘When have the Elves of the Woods and Dragons ever been enemies? When have my people ever sought your death?’ He looked hard at the Dragon’s gold scales, seeking a weakness. He could see none. ‘Yet Kings treat with Kings.’

 

‘And you would treat with me?’

 

‘I would.’

 

‘What would’st thou have, King of the Wood?’

 

‘I would have your word that you will not seek the destruction of my folk.’

 

‘Ah. Now we come to it. Like your father you are, Oropherion. He was ever to the point.’ Smaug’s laugh, if it could be described, was a deep rumble that made Thranduil want to look about to see if the Mountain was coming down. But he did not, he held his gaze steady. 

 

One great claw slowly stretched, flexed and stayed spread, the great talons gleamed like scimitars amongst the shifting piles of gold coins. A necklace was caught between Smaug’s talons, a lovely delicate string of mithril and emeralds. Thranduil though, barely noticed it for the power and elegance of the Dragon’s claw.

 

The claws had the colour and rich iridescence of pearls, and the scales of the dragon, richer than the gold on which he lay. Within each scale were swirls and patterns that seemed to echo the dragon’s shape, discernible one moment and gone the next, lost in the gleam of bronze and gold, copper. In the claw alone, Thranduil found the Song, rare in its power and resonance and suddenly his heart lurched; this was one of the last of the firedrakes, the last great Dragon. He found that he was moved, not only by the power and richness of the Dragon, but by a deep compassion.

 

‘You are one of the last,’ Thranduil said slowly. ‘Your magnificence is beyond anything I have ever seen.’ He found himself wishing he had seen the battles where Dragons had come roaring over the plains, fire scorching the Earth and their great wings whumping down on the wind... He did not think he could have stood his ground as did those First Age warriors - he thought he would have run.

 

Smaug half-closed his eyes, as if he read Thranduil’s thoughts. ‘We ruled the Earth.’ His voice was a whisper, low, rich. Full of yearning. ‘Moringhotto was nothing without us.’ 

 

Thranduil thought of the old tales that he had heard of the First Age, although they were Noldorin of course and heard fourth or fifth hand. But he thought that Smaug spoke true.

 

‘And now, my lord, you rule Erebor.’

 

‘Indeed. And I have gold enough to furnish you with the army you need...’ Smaug’s eye flashed over him. ‘Or I could blaze over your Wood...’

 

‘I seek neither your riches nor your enmity, my lord.’ Thranduil waited. Awed he was, impressed, moved even. But his beloved Wood was still threatened. And Smaug knew his power. So he let the game play out. ‘I have no love for the Dwarves. My father, you know was from Doriath and we remember their betrayal. But I did not wish for their destruction either.’ He paused, let Smaug think about that. ‘I come to offer peace between you and my folk. I wish only to pay my homage to you.’ He bowed his head and said quietly and sincerely, ‘My lord Smaug, I come to pay tribute to you if you would have it.’ 

 

‘Tribute?’ It caught the dragon’s interest as he knew it would.

 

‘I have brought tribute if you will bind to this peace.’

 

‘Tribute?’ Smaug laughed richly then, and lifted his head and then shoulders, his pinions. ‘Do you think I need more gold?’ The hoard shifted around him and the mountain of gold cascaded down over his hide and Thranduil saw with astonishment and awe, that Smaug was indeed huge. He realised now that he had only seen the dragon’s head, its forearm but now it moved its lithe and sinuous body and what he had thought was gold and jewels was in fact, the Dragon himself. It seemed to keep on coming, its huge wings were folded back, bat-like against its body. The long, narrow head snaked out and reared above him as the dragon emerged, full length indeed, a monster. Gold poured from him, around him. Cascaded over the Dragon’s hide, spilling over the ground, pooling at Thranduil’s feet. And there! A black arrow slid down the river of gold and was jammed agains the throne in which he sat. 

 

Almost Thranduil lost his nerve but he kept himself still, let his heart slow and his breath slow and deep; it may be my last, he told himself. Carefully he raised his eyes again to the colossal Dragon. He bowed this time.

 

‘Yes. One King to another. In fealty. You will never have to fear the Wood. No Elf of the Wood will fire an arrow against you. Nor lift a sword. This, I swear.’

 

For he had seen it..a town ablaze. Not Dale, for it was already ruined. A Man standing tall. A Black Arrow. 

 

Here it was at his feet. His dream was foretelling, no dream. Slowly he drew the pouch from his breast. The soft suede against his fingers and he drew open the drawstring and reached within. Its glow immediately lit up his face, and when he opened his hand, Thrain’s Arkenstone lay upon his palm.

 

‘I return this to its rightful place,’ Thranduil said slowly, for he was buying peace for the Wood. He was showing faith. He was returning the Arkenstone to the Mountain.

 

Even Smaug’s old eyes, gorged with treasure and jewels, widened and for a moment, Thranduil was reflected in the narrow slit of his pupil, obsidian, darkness. He moved his hand slightly so the Arkenstone broke into ten thousand sparks of bright radiance then, shot with glints of the rainbow.* It caught the reflected light of the dragon-hoard and glowed, as if the dwarvish gold recognised its heart for the glimmer of gold coins seemed to intensify and leap so both Dragon and Elven-King were caught in the brilliance of the Arkenstone.

 

 

‘I would bind you to this Peace,’ he said.

 

Smaug’s eyes glittered greedily and he seemed to drink in the light. For a moment, Thranduil regretted it. For a moment he thought of the old tale of the Silmarils and wondered. But his Wood was more important and his people’s lives.

 

‘What stops me from simply killing you now and taking it for myself?’ Smaug lifted his head and looked down upon the King. Who did not look up but remained motionless.

 

Thranduil smiled slightly. ‘There would be War. You would never rest peacefully upon your fabulous treasure. And always would you fear the Wood.’

 

‘I could burn your Wood.’

 

‘Why would you when you can have this?’ He opened his hand and let the golden glow of Dragon-fire sparkle and dance within the facets of the Arkenstone, cut the light into rainbows, capture the greedy heart of the Dragon. ‘You know what this is? It is the Arkenstone of Erebor. It belongs here.’ 

 

‘You would give this willingly, O King?’ Smaug slithered forwards slightly and bent his great head towards the light. ‘And for Peace?’

 

Thranduil looked at the Arkenstone for a moment and without a trace of regret, he proffered it. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I would. I cannot eat stone or gold, and I cannot love it, nor it love me.’

 

The sigh that escaped from the Dragon’s mouth was a thin trail of grey smoke. A sigh of desire. ‘You bring a great gift, Thranduil Oropherion.’ The Dragon was ensnared, gazing at the Arkenstone, caught in its gleam and radiance as a man would be caught in Smaug’s own gaze should he dare to look into his eyes. 

 

Thranduil bowed his head respectfully and placed the heavy jewel between Smaug’s great paws. The great claws bony-knuckled, long-fingered, talons flexed like new-forged scimitars

 

‘It is done.’ Smaug said, not moving his eyes from the Arkenstone, ‘for this is worth all the the gold under the Mountain.’

 

Thranduil breathed. It was done indeed. Now one last thing. 

 

He spared a brief glance that took in everything. The cavernous emptiness stretched behind and around him. The rows and rows of mail and tall spears stood in the silence and above him, the tiers and arches and terraces of the Dwarf kingdom rose until the darkness and shadows cloaked them. It was empty. A dead city. Over everything lay a fine layer of ash. And lying near his feet in a pool of gold coins and gemstones, was the black arrow. 

 

He felt the scorch of Smaug’s gaze settle briefly upon the arrow and then away, back to the Arkenstone that lay between his great paws. ‘I find myself curious about your kingdom. So you will send me tribute every ten years. Not one of your hoary old warriors. A young one.They are more tender.You have three sons.’

 

Thranduil felt ice in his veins and he tore his attention away from the arrow and back to the Dragon, which he saw regarded him with those golden molten eyes. He felt himself falling into the obsidian space and wrenched his gaze back before it was too late.

 

 

Smaug laughed, a deep rumble that reverberated through the air, through Thranduil’s own bones and chest. ‘I do not wish to eat them. But you will send someone to me as mark of faith. Every ten years.’

 

‘I will come myself,’ he said quickly. Too quickly, he thought and indeed, the Dragon’s gaze raked over him.

 

‘No,’ said Smaug and his rich voice was laced with amusement. ‘Much as I have enjoyed your company, King of the Wood. This is your mark of faith. If I break it, you may come after me with all your armies...But I will not.’ 

 

Thranduil’s mind leapt suddenly back to the Wood. To send his children, any children into this lair, this dead world to the Dragon, was too much. 

 

‘Oh come now, King of the Wood.’ Smaug’s voice was a breath of warmth . ‘Surely you trust me as I trust you. I invite one of your warriors into my kingdom to renew our treaty and you baulk.’ His voice lowered, his breath now a whisper of heat. ‘Is it that you do not trust me?’

 

And here it was; the moment for the Peace to be sealed and no, he did not trust the Dragon. 

 

‘O Smaug, you are rightly named the Magnificent, but you are also called Smaug the Terrible for the destruction you can wreak. You would have me send my child to you?’

 

Smaug leaned down and caught Thranduil in his gaze. The King could do no more than look, transfixed. The eye of the Dragon was multi-facetted, iridescent, shot with a thousand lights, molten fire. He could not look away.

 

‘You have sworn you will not raise bow or blade against me, Thranduil Oropherion. I would have the children of the Wood do the same. Send them. Every ten years. You will have your Peace.’

 

A nictitating membrane came up, shockingly, the wrong way from a man’s, from the bottom up, and Thranduil was released from the Dragon’s gaze. A thin wisp of smoke breathed from Smaug for his fires were low and merely smouldered. ‘This I swear, on the Flame of Udun, on the Flame of Arnor.’ The Dragon bowed its great golden head then and said, ‘I swear upon the Secret Fire of Eru.’

 

Thranduil suddenly realised he was standing, staring up at the Dragon which was huge, and could have at the merest suggestion incinerated him, sliced him in two with the smallest of its claws, and yet it bowed to him. He bowed low himself. 

 

‘Then let it be so, my lord. Every ten years will I send some child of the Wood to bear testament to your magnificence and remind us of our Peace.’  He bowed and as he did, something seemed to nudge against his foot then. Slowly, carefully, Thranduil looked down. He reached out and his fingers brushed against the Black Arrow and it seemed to leap into his hand. 

 

‘This is a strange and base thing to have in such a magnificent hoard,’ he said slowly, so carefully now. ‘Surely this coarse thing of no beauty has no place next to the glory that is Smaug?’

 

Smaug shifted and the sound of thousands, millions of gold coins pouring, sliding, clinking, but to Thranduil they sounded like chains. The Dragon’s huge, reptilian head flashed close and away, lifted above him and Thranduil thought he would be blasted. 

 

Smaug tilted his head and a slow warmth came from him that seemed to bathe Thranduil in light and he felt an unbearable loneliness, a hunger that could not be sated, and something utterly alien. Cold fire. Deep darkness. A far song. He listened...

 

...Wind under great bat-like wings, soaring high, higher than cloud, higher than the Moon, above the World, seeking the Great Flame beyond the Circles of the World...and falling back, falling back into darkness...

 

He thought of a moth fluttering round a candle-flame. His was not the gift of Song though and he knew he had not fully understood.

 

‘Something fitting for an archer of the Wood.’ Smaug said softly. ‘You may take it if you wish. A gift for an archer. You are right. It has no value to me.’

 

Thranduil almost stumbled back but he kept his feet and his head. He inclined his head as graciously as he could muster and lifted the arrow. ‘This token will I take to remind me of our bargain. You have the Arkenstone of Thrain. It will grieve all his descendants to know of this. I have broken any peace between the Elves of the Wood and the Dwarves of Erebor.’

 

‘Yes,’ said the Dragon sleepily. ‘That may be. But you never know.’

 

He laid his great angular head down on one of his huge paws and sighed, deeply and settled his chest over the Arkenstone. The Heart of Smaug’s Hoard now, the heart of the Mountain, thought Thranduil as he clutched the Black Arrow tightly and backed silently away.

 

‘Ten years,’ Smaug’s voice followed him, echoed down the empty halls, reached up into the silent tiers and drifted through the dark arches,  ‘And you will send me your son.’

 

0o0o0

 

 

tbc

 

Chapter 3 Girion's Heir by ziggy
Author's Notes:

For our lovely Wombat. Happy Birthday.

The Black Arrow 

Arrow!" said the bowman. "Black arrow! I have saved you to the last. You have never failed me and always I have recovered you. I had you from my father and he from of old. If ever you came from the forges of the true King under the Mountain, go now and speed well!"

It was brought from the Lonely Mountain, from the forges of the true King under the Mountain. But it was taken from Smaug’s horde by someone quite unexpected.

 

 

The story of how the Black Arrow came to be in Bard’s hands, and how Legolas got his tattoo.

 

Disclaimer: No money. Not profit. Just a bit of fun.

 

For Curiouswombat. Happy Birthday!

 

Unbeta’d so please let me know anything.

 

Thank you to all those who reviewed, favourited or asked for alerts. Very nice to know how well this little side story has been received. Probably the last chapter but there may be one more.

 

 

Chapter 3: Girion’s Heir.

 

Slowly, like he was in some cloying dream and could not escape, Thranduil emerged heavily, forcing himself. His limbs were too heavy and he wanted to simply lie down and sleep forever….The spell of the Dragon was heavy upon him and the further away from the Dragon he drew, the more his feet slowed. The memory of that gold, sliding, pouring, the sound of it like chains, the jewels that gleamed, scattered like stars in the firmament of Erebor….It drew him back.

 

No. Not stars. Rocks, he told himself harshly. And you cannot drink from a river of gold. Leave now!

 

He forced his feet forwards, heavily trudging until he stood, wavering, at the dark and empty mouth of the cave.

 

Once this had been Erebor. The greatest of all Dwarven realms since Khazad-dûm, its great doors had stood defiantly, proudly open. Above him towered a colossal stone warrior that had stood sentinel at the Gates, half of its granite face had been melted in the Dragon’s fire. Now it looked like wax. On the other side of the Gates, the other warrior lay toppled and broken, the great war axe shattered into small rocks, melted smooth like glass.

 

Clouds gathered in the sky, heavy grey clouds that heralded a storm and the thin light was tinged with yellow. But the air was cold, clean and smelled of frost and he filled his lungs with it, cleared away the stink of sulphur like rotten eggs, and the close heat of Smaug’s lair. The cold winter air curled his breath and chilled his skin. 

 

The Dwarves had been too proud, boastful of their wealth, he thought bitterly. Thrain had declared that the River ran gold. As if that were a treasure. And Smaug was the last Dragon. 

 

 

Thranduil picked his way carefully over the broken stones that had once been the marble paved road to Erebor. In the strange storm light that seemed sulphurous, he looked ahead into the vale scored into the rock by the River Running, and he thought he saw a small figure running away from him. It was edged in hard, diamond-bright light. Surely no child could be out here in the Desolation? He opened his mouth to call out but could make no sound and then suddenly, he was immersed in the clash of battle, arrows swooshed, and he held in his hand a great sword that sang with him, clasped his hand as he clasped it; petcotumo its Song rang like a deep bell…Hot black blood spurted over his hands, over the glorious blade, and he plunged into battle... The Eagles are coming he heard a voice cry and around him the cry was taken up…The child had gone.

 

The Eagles…’ he murmured, lost in dreams of foresight and rapt. This has yet to pass, he distantly realised. So that is how it will come to pass. A thief…That will raise the Dragon. And there will be battle.

 

‘Thranduil! Come on!’

He shook himself free of the cobwebs of dream, of foretelling and slowly came back to himself. He saw Galion standing amongst the rocks, his hand lifted in agitation and beckoning wildly. He blinked slowly, letting the dream drift but snagged it with his hand and brought it back to himself, winding it around his fingers so it was safely stowed. For this was a Gift from the Weaver* and no Dragon’s spell. Then he walked slowly between the bleak rocks and Galion broke from his shelter and almost lifted Thranduil off his feet in relief.

 

‘I thought you would be lightly seared and served with potatoes by now,’ Galion said grumpily but Thranduil smiled for he knew his most trusted friend was merely worried and that made him angry.

 

‘It is done,’ he said and heard the relief in his own voice.

 

‘I should think so!’ exclaimed Galion crossly. ‘Gallivanting iff to see a dragon, for goodness’ sake. Thalos I could see do that, or Legolas. But not you! What were you thinking? What was I doing letting you?’ he scolded first Thranduil, then himself, then continued on to scold the captain of the guard for not stopping him, Laersul for being in the South and not controlling his father, Thalos and Legolas, who did not even know about this latest ‘jaunt’….

 

‘Jaunt?’ Thranduil questioned quietly. ‘Hardly a jaunt! I have just bought the word of the Dragon that he will not attack the Wood.’

 

‘Humph,’ was Galion’s response and Thranduil felt a mild flutter of irritation. It was a great deed and he would get no recognition from Galion and could not tell anyone else! He felt childishly piqued and then amused at himself. No, he really could not tell anyone the whole story. The trade of the Arkenstone could never be known, but only he and Mithrandir knew of that bit of the story, and Smaug of course. And it was in none of their interests to tell a soul. He would have to be content.

 

‘There is just one thing more,’ he said hesitantly, for his heart misgave this. ‘I must send someone every ten years to Smaug.’

 

Galion stopped dead and grabbed Thranduil by the arm. ‘What?’

 

When he told Galion of his bargain, Galion went white and stopped altogether. ‘No,’ he said. ‘No. You will not do this.’ And he turned on his heel and stomped back up the mountain.

 

‘Galion?’ Thranduil called. ‘Where are you going? Stop!’

 

‘I’m going to tell Smaug he can’t have them!’ Galion threw back over his shoulder as he strode up the narrow path towards the gaping mouth of the cave.

 

Thranduil stared at his receding back for a moment, open-mouthed and then flung himself after Galion, hauling him around to face him. When he pulled him towards him he saw fire in his eyes and tears on his face. 

 

‘How could you?’ Galion glared at him furiously. ‘How could you promise him our boys?’

 

Thranduil did not question him about the ‘our boys’ for they had shared their upbringing as much as any parents and it was a long time since his beloved queen had passed. ‘It is not as you think,’ he protested. ‘It is to renew the pledge only. Smaug is bound by his word….And I trust him to keep it.’ But he had experienced the glamour now of the Dragon and knew how hard it was to leave; he repented of his promise and saw how he had been beguiled even as he stood there believing he had what he came for. But for now, he told himself, the Wood was safe. And even as he sent his sons into battle against the Shadow, he would send his sons, and the sons of others, to the Dragon.

 

Galion stared at him for a long moment, wrestling, Thranduil knew, with his love for him and his love for the sons of the Greenwood. ‘Tell me all,’ Galion said angrily.

 

‘If you tell a single soul of this, Galion,’ Thranduil said mercilessly, ‘I will send you from my sight forever and banish you from the Wood. Swear upon all you hold dear that you will keep my secret safe.’

 

When Galion eventually met his eye and swore to him he would tell not a soul, he knew it was safe. For a while.

 

0o0o

 

They found their raft still tied to the derelict pier, straining against the rushing river. Galion pushed the raft out into the current.

 

In the twilight the riverbank was grey. Blackened trees stood on the edges and rushes whispered as they passed. The water was full of sludge and mud and it was a dreary and bleak place. The ruins of Dale were eerie and silent. Not even birds roosted in the broken towers, or picked in the mud at the riverbank. Thranduil remembered Dale. Towers full of bells, kites flying on the wind, a busy, cheerful place, prosperous and kindly. He had liked Girion and mourned his death. He had enquired after his kin of course, and had tried to do right by the proud widowed queen. But she would have no one’s charity.

 

Thranduil turned away from the ruins of Dale and thrust the pole strongly against the river bed and they rushed downstream towards Esgaroth. 

 

They could see the distant lights of the town. It was a ramshackle and seedy place now but trade between Esgaroth and the Wood was prosperous and Thranduil valued their friendship.

 

A boy stood on the riverbank watching them with grey eyes and a shock of black hair. They passed silently, like ghosts and he stared and did not move. Thranduil stared for a moment, seeing more than a boy standing in the twilight.

 

‘Wait, Galion,’ he murmured softly. ‘I have something I need to give him.’

 

Galion tutted in disapproval; now that he had his King back he simply wanted to get him back to the Wood. ‘That is Girion’s boy surely?’ he said suddenly and with more interest.

 

Thranduil smiled grimly. ‘Brand he is called. He escaped with his mother.’

 

Galion thrust his pole into the sludge and the raft bounced and pulled like a spirited horse being held back. ‘You’ll have to do something about the river. I can’t hold the raft for long.’

 

Thranduil put out one long elegant hand and spoke so the river calmed and smoothed and they glided gently towards the shore. As they drew close Thranduil saw that this was not the boy he thought but a young Man, tall with the skinny limbs of youth but the lines of a warrior already there waiting to emerge. Much as Legolas, Thranduil thought.  (And somewhere in the back of his mind he realised with a shock that Legolas was not the long-legged, scabby-kneed child he thought of him as. He will always be to me, he told himself resolutely.)

 

‘‘Brand, son of Girion, well met upon these shores!’ he said as he stepped gracefully to the shore and assumed his kinglike dignity.

 

The boy lifted his head wide-eyed and stunned, but he raised his hand in greeting and then bowed low. ‘Mae Govannen, Aranatuar, Thranduil.’

 

Even Galion smiled at his clumsy words but Thranduil saw it was the kindly smile that his old friend reserved for waifs and stray cats. 

 

Thranduil inclined his head graciously. ‘It is Fate that brings you here at this moment, and crosses my path with yours.’ He noted without seeming to, the threadbare clothes, the hard lines of poverty that struck across the boy’s face so his cheekbones showed starkly and too thin for any child. He is not a child, Thranduil reminded himself. ‘I bring to you a gift that is rightfully yours. In time it will return your lineage to its rightful place.’ He drew out the black arrow and held it across both hands. ‘This was forged by the King-under-the-Mountain himself. It is said that this alone can slay a dragon. By your blood alone one day, will the Dragon be defeated and your blood will claim Dale once more.’

 

Brand stared at it and for a moment, Thranduil thought he was overcome. But instead the youth turned away and hid his face in his hands. ‘Forgive me, Aranatuar. My father…’

 

Thranduil looked away. A memory so new in his own mind that it could be happening now overtook him…

 

…the copper smell of blood, the furious din of battle, ringing steel on steel that had deafened him so he could not hear the words that Elrond hurled at him. Galion dragging him away, shoving him in front so that when he stumbled, Galion was there to grab his elbow and steady him so he did not fall flat on his face before all the jeering, sneering Golodhrim. 

His own father, Oropher, glorious, golden, indomitable, fabulous, heaving one rasping breath after another, clutching his stomach to try to stop the pain, to stop the blood that pumped between his fingers, clutching still to life.

‘I will not go!’ Oropher shouted at someone nobody else could see but Oropher. ‘So sod off, henchman!’

‘He refuses Námo,’ whispered Galion proudly to Thranduil, who could not see for the rain streaming down his face, blurring everything…

‘…Was the bravest Man that day,’ Galion finished for Brand, without missing a beat, a step, without even glancing at Thranduil to know that he was seeing his own father’s death instead of the young Man before them. ‘He was a great King. A great Man.’

 

Galion stepped between Thranduil and Brand then and took the Man’s hand and held it up. He clasped the cold fingers around the Black Arrow and gripped him for a moment so Brand looked down and took it.

 

‘I will keep this always to the last. I will always recover it.’ He looked up then and there was a brightness in his eyes that had not been there before. A pride that had stirred in his breast. He sank down on one knee and bowed before Thranduil, who shook his head and reached down, took the Man’s free hand and raised him up.

 

‘A King does not kneel to another King,’ he said. ‘Do not forget that.’ 

 

He turned to Galion and smiling, unpinned the gold brooch on Galion’s cloak. Smiling at the unspoken outrage in his friend’s eyes, he slipped it into the Man’s hand. ‘This I give to you for you cannot sell or eat the arrow.’ He did not glance at the Man’s poor clothes, the thinness of the cloth or the patches on his cloak. 

 

‘You cannot eat gold either,’ Galion hissed.

 

‘No. You can sell it to eat,’ replied Thranduil urbanely and gave a provocative smile to Galion before turning back to Brand and said, ‘A King is a King whether he lives in a palace or not,’ he said, making the words matter, casting them like a spell so they would reach deep into Brand’s blood, his bones and make him believe. ‘You will not need the trappings of royalty when you need bread. You cannot eat jewels and you cannot drink from a river of gold.’ He smiled very gently then so this young Man on whom so much rested, would understand and tell his children. ‘This is the Black Arrow. It was forged by the King Under the Mountain. The last one. It alone can kill a dragon. Keep it safe. Its time will come.’ He stepped back then and knew Galion was already on the raft, waiting. He could feel the heat from his gaze and knew he was in for a storm. But it would pass. He gave one last look at Brand. ’If ever you need me, I will come,’ he said. ‘Send word to the Wood. I will hear you.’

 

He stepped back onto the raft and calmed the river again so it was smooth and glassy and the raft held its place. Then, as he released the river, the raft spun slowly around on the current until Galion plunged his pole into the deep, cold water and pushed off. The raft glided out into the river and sped on its way while Thranduil raised his hand in farewell and watched the young Man until he faded into the dusk.

 

‘That was very dramatic,’ Galion said grumpily when they were well on their way. ‘And you owe me a very nice brooch now. I had that from the Dwarves. It is worth more than that Man’s whole house I should think.’

 

‘I want him to live, Galion. Did you not see how poor he is? He must remember and tell his children. It is no good if he starves first! The Arrow is why I went there in the first place.’

 

‘Ah.’ Galion nodded sarcastically. ‘And what will you tell your sons when we return? You cannot keep it a secret from them now you have promised them to Smaug.’

 

‘I have not promised them to Smaug!’ Thranduil snapped. ‘I have said we will renew our pledge every ten years.’ But he wondered too if he had indeed made an unearthly promise… and knew it would plague him every night until the dragon’s fall.

 

‘I will wager you a bag of gold that Laersul will tell you off, Thalos will envy you and Legolas will pester you until you tell him to go,’ Galion said with a furious glint in his eye that made Thranduil wary. ‘The best thing is not to tell them at all and I will go.’

 

Thranduil looked at Galion irritably. ‘That is a very good idea. You will irritate him and he might eat you and spare me your barbs for a lifetime.’

 

They were silent for a while and too cross with each other to do more than steer the raft upriver towards the edge of the Wood.

 

At last, Thranduil reached out and touched his old friend. ‘Smaug will keep his word. He swore an oath not even he could break.’

 

Galion did not reply and if Thranduil were honest, he wondered now if Smaug had indeed cast a spell over him.

 

 

0o0o0o

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4 Laersul by ziggy
Author's Notes:

For Nash. And for Narya- Happy Birthday!

Note about characters:

Laersul - Thranduil’s oldest son

Thalos- middle son

Legolas of course you know.

Anglach - Legolas’ friend. He is killed when the Orcs distract the Elves and Smeagol is freed. It is Anglach that Legolas tells Glorfindel of as he promised himself. 

Silarôs - another warrior who also was guarding Smeagol although he survives.

Chapter 5: Keeping Secrets

 

 

 

It was late in the Autumn and only a matter of weeks since he and Galion had returned from Erebor. Thranduil was at his desk, reading Thalos’ reports from the East Bite and mapping the patrols on a large map. The map was held open by a jug of wine over Rhovanion, a delicately carved bowl that had come from Menegroth holding down the Havens, and a half full wine glass holding down Minas Tirith. An unused wine glass stood over Far Harad. The other corner was held down by his left elbow as he reached across the Forest river with his right hand to stab a red mark far down in the South near to the old stronghold that was now known as Dol Guldur.

 

Spiders had been creeping forwards, he noticed, from the blue line of a month ago, to the red line of this month. They came closer and closer, and there were more of them. He cast his eye across the map, noting the small stars which showed where colonies had been discovered and destroyed. But although they destroyed many, it did not seem to dent the numbers of spiders. He sighed.

 

‘The same heaviness is in my heart, my lord,’ came a beloved voice from the door. He looked up in astonishment and delight to see Laersul’s tall frame filling the doorway, the candle and firelight gilded him, stroked his long hair that was the same colour of gold coins as Thranduil’s. 

 

‘Laersul!’ he exclaimed and took two strides over to his oldest son and pulled him into a hug, leaving the maps to leap into a curling mess. He pulled down his tall son’s head to kiss the top of his ear for it was many years since he had been able to reach the top of his head, and steered him to the padded and comfortable chair near the fire that he had let go out. With a word, he kindled the fire and it leapt into life. He scooped up the empty glass that had been holding down Far Harad and filled it with red wine from the jug that had left a red circle upon Rhovanion.

 

As he pressed the glass goblet into his son’s large, capable hands he noted a dark smudge on his cheek. It is mud, he told himself and tried not to wipe it away, to check if the stain was damp. He knew Laersul, unlike Thalos or Legolas, would never present himself without having cleaned and changed so it said something about his haste to see his father that he had missed the smudge. He could not resist it however, and reached forward, wiping the smudge from his oldest son’s cheek. Mud, he thought with an intensity of relief he could hardly believe possible.

 

‘You have arrived just in time for supper,’ he said smiling broadly and threw himself into the opposite chair. ‘It will be rabbit pie.’ He wanted to ask what had brought Laersul back from the South unannounced but he would not spoil these few precious moments first.

 

‘Ah,’ Laersul winced and drank deeply of the rich wine. ‘Galion is cooking tonight?’ They looked at each other and smiled ruefully for Gaeros the cook was clearly having a night off which left Galion in charge. He was famously heavy-handed with the pastry and wine alike and believed that rabbit pie was his particular speciality. It was viewed with dismay by the King and his sons alike.

 

‘Well…’ Laersul looked like he was considering a better offer, which he might well be, thought Thranduil and wondered if Laersul was courting anyone. There was a maid, Theliel, who had been flirting with him on and off for centuries but where the maid was warm, Laersul was courteous to a fault. Thranduil longed to tell his quietest son to throw caution to the wind. But he had vowed many years ago never to interfere. And Laersul would take his time, unlike Thranduil’s other two more mercurial sons.  He had a quality of stillness rare in a Woodelf and all who knew him trusted Laersul as they did no one else; for he never gave advice unless it was asked for, and he never gave away a secret.

 

‘What word from the South?’ Thranduil asked, trying to be calm and unruffled but worried, for his other son, Thalos, was still in the Shadowed Wood. And this visit, whilst an unexpected delight, was unexpected nevertheless and therefore might herald some great evil or tragic news. ‘Is there movement from Dol Guldur?’

 

Laersul shook his head, smiling slightly as if he read his father’s thoughts. ‘No. It is surprisingly quiet. I have reports from Thalos that the East Bite is also quiet. So I took advantage of the lull to return here to find out if something I heard was true.’ He raised his eyebrow and looked quizzically at his father.

 

Thranduil had the oddest sensation that he was about to be in trouble with his own son. He thought he knew why and steeled himself.

 

‘I hear you and Galion have been on a trip.’ Laersul continued and took a mouthful of wine although his eyes never left his father’s face. ‘Along the river.’

 

‘Oh?’ Thranduil was surprised at the quality of Laersul’s information and the speed. It seemed that someone had talked. Galion? Or they had been seen on the river. More likely, he thought. He waved airily. ‘That was weeks ago.’  Thranduil raised his own goblet and drank deeply. He rolled the rich, smooth wine around his mouth before swallowing it and savoured the warmth that fired in his belly. ‘Yes. It was a most pleasant trip. There is beauty in everything, even in wasteland.’

 

‘Across the Long Lake to the other side,’ Laersul continued and watched Thranduil. He reminded Thranduil uncomfortably of Oropher at that moment and it took him a moment to recover himself.

He remembered too, that like Oropher, there was never any point in avoiding the subject with Laersul. He liked to cut to the chase. Thalos would have enjoyed some conversation first, he thought, and the battle of wits. He said, ’Surely this is not what has brought you back from the South?’

 

‘Do you think I should not be concerned that the King has been to Erebor?’ Laersul said with measured calm although he smoothed his hand over his braids in the barest sign of his agitation.

He stared at Thranduil for a moment and pressed his lips together as if no more words would escape. Taking another mouthful of wine, he swallowed without tasting it and Thranduil briefly realised that he wasted good wine on all his sons for not one of them appreciated it. 

 

‘I would not put myself in danger unless there was a greater good,’ he replied.

 

Laersul glanced up at him sharply. ‘I know that you will have had good reason to do whatever it is you have done…but still, you put yourself in danger without needing to. Without telling anyone.’  

 

Ah. That was it. He had not told Laersul, Thranduil thought. And Laersul had not been there to protect him. He smiled very gently his serious, sweet son, who had been such an earnest child with such a sense of responsibility for everyone else…A memory struck him hard.

 

Legolas clinging to his big brother’s tunic because Thranduil was too busy and too mired in his own grief. The child swinging on Laersul, demanding first, then whining. ‘Read to me, Laersul, read me the story of Glorfindel and the Balrog.’  For the millionth time. Laersul did not sigh but reached down and lifted him onto his hip when most others would have reproached the child, forgetting their bereavement. Legolas snuggled up to Laersul in front of the fire in their father’s study and read to him. Never once did he reproach Legolas for his demands, nor Thranduil for his neglect. 

 

It was the same chair that Laersul sat in now, looking at his father expectantly.

 

Thranduil said, ‘I did indeed go to Erebor and I went on an errand that would save the Wood from great danger. I am back. I suffered no harm. Nor did Galion.’

 

Laersul glanced at him obliquely, much as Thranduil himself would have done. ‘And did that involve a Dragon?’

 

Thranduil raised an eyebrow. He held Laersul’s steadfast gaze for a moment and then, because this was his son who risked his life every day in the South and whom he trusted more than anyone else alive, he told him, ‘I have seen Smaug. I have spoken with him King to King. We have a treaty.’

 

Laersul fell back against the chair, in wonder and horror. ‘You two went alone into the Mountain? You negotiated with Smaug?’ He smacked his hand against the chair. ‘He could have…’ He bit off the words, pressed his lips together and looked at Thranduil furiously. ‘You could have been killed,’ he said in distress.

 

‘I left Galion outside so he would not annoy the Dragon,’ Thranduil smiled tightly but Laersul did not smile. ‘And I am here, alive, unharmed. So all is well,’ Thranduil continued. ‘And the Wood is safe from Smaug at least. I have his word.’

 

Laersul stared at Thranduil for what seemed an age until again, he ran a hand over his braids and looked away. He shook his head slightly in disbelief. ‘Smaug is a great threat to the Wood, father. If we had Smaug attack on one side and the Shadow on the other, I do not think I could hold them both.’ He was silent, seeming to struggle inwardly and then finally, he sighed in resignation. ‘If you truly have his word that he will not attack the Wood, I cannot be more relieved. I confess I am still unhappy it was you that went, but glad that you have returned safely.’

 

‘It could be no other, Laersul. I had to treat with him,’ Thranduil said earnestly. He paused, remembering the magnificence, the beauty…the Song of the Dragon seeking the winds beyond the circles of the world, seeking the secret flame, spiralling ever upwards and upwards…doomed always to fail, chained to the earth. ‘And I confess, I am glad I did. I am glad I saw the last great Dragon.’ He spoke a little defiantly he knew, but he wanted Laersul, of all people, to understand too. 

 

He would not speak of the Arkenstone, he had already decided, or his promise. He had nine years and he would tell Laersul when the time came. Let him enjoy the life he has for the moment. There is enough bitterness already. And the truth was, he hoped to find a different way.

 

Laersul narrowed his eyes and sat back in the comfortable chair. ‘There is more, father, I see it in you. But I trust that you will tell me if you think it serves the Wood,’ he said shrewdly and Thranduil half smiled in rueful pride.

 

‘I will tell you more if it becomes necessary. But for now, my heart, trust that your father is right.’

 

‘Very well, my lord.’ Laersul inclined his head, for this was also the King. ‘I do trust you. Of course…just…’ He reached over and clasped Thranduil’s hand and he said softly, ‘I could not bear it if something happened. And Thalos and Legolas…I could not bear the grief all over again.’

 

‘Ah, Laersul. My heart,’ for so he called all his sons, ‘I would not willingly put you through one heartbeat of pain…but this called for the King’s word. I am sorry I have grieved you my dear, but it was for the greater good.’ He squeezed Laersul’s hand back. ’Now…This calls for Dorwinion I think.’

 

He rose to summon Galion but opening the door of his study, he found Galion already there with a wide tray. Upon the tray was a jug of new wine, and three plates and a pie dish. He tried not to grimace at Galion’s cheerful, expectant face.

 

‘I have brought you more wine,’ Galion said. ‘Dorwinion of course. I know you like to drink that with my rabbit pie. You must be hungry, Laersul. There’s plenty here. Legolas and Anglach ate most of everything else before they went out but they insisted I keep back my rabbit pie for the King.’ He beamed and let the edge of the heavy tray clatter onto the table where Thranduil’s maps were curled up on themselves. ‘We did not know you were coming of course, Laersul, or I am sure they would have stayed in.’

 

‘Legolas is here too?’ Laersul’s blazing smile lit up his face at the thought of his youngest brother’s company. ‘I have not seen him for months.’ He turned to Thranduil and said with pride, ‘You know he made the highest tally for Orcs and Spiders this year. He has won the Arrow.’

 

Galion humphed and cast a sidelong glance at Thranduil. ‘He is reckless beyond reason.’ Carelessly, he shoved the carved bowl from Menegroth out of the way with his elbow and pushed the tray more securely onto the table. Knives and forks clattered onto the map and smudged one of Thranduil’s carefully drawn lines. Thranduil sucked in a breath but Galion ignored him, tutting irritably. ‘What have you done with those clips I had made for you to keep your maps in place?’ He ran his hand around the edge of the ancient and delicate bowl. ‘Ah here they are.’ He fished out three of the four elegant silver clips and delved again for the fourth. ‘Legolas said that rabbit pie was the King’s favourite and when I disagreed he said you didn’t like to ask for it because you are concerned that I should not overwork.’ He snorted and slid the elegant silver clasps over the sides of the map and the table so the map spread out flat. The smudge had gone and the map was held perfectly in place. ‘That has never stopped you from making me work too hard before, Thranduil. But Legolas was most insistent that you would want the pie for yourself. He made you sound quite greedy!’ Galion said a little indignantly. He snagged Thranduil’s glass and drained what was left, set it back onto the map.

 

Thranduil narrowed his eyes and silently plotted revenge upon Legolas. He would have to eat the pie now  if he did not want to hurt Galion. Which he did not. Not right now anyway, he admitted.

 

‘Anglach is pursuing that sweet daughter of Romiscil. Legolas is his sidekick and has promised to make Anglach look good.’ Galion dug a serving spoon into the hardened crust of the pastry, grunting as he did, a spoonful of gloop dropped onto a plate and he thrust it towards Laersul. ‘Here…There is plenty more when you have finished that. Although Anglach says he can’t help but look good anyway and that it is Legolas who needs help. They are always in my way and under my feet,’ he grumbled happily and shoved a plate of greasy meat and hard pastry towards Thranduil, giving him a pleased smile.

 

‘The daughter of Romiscil?’ asked Laersul, prodding the pie nervously with his fork. ‘If that is Gwileth, Silarôs has been courting her for months. They are as good as bound. Anglach will be wasting his time there though she is very pretty.’ Thranduil glanced at Laersul for he rarely commented upon any maiden and Thranduil realised how very little opportunity his son had to court a girl. Thranduil resolved to change that.

 

‘It will not matter,’ Galion gossiped happily. ‘Anglach enjoys being thwarted in love. He thinks it makes the maidens feel more sorry for him. It doesn’t work of course. The pair of them are silly with lust and nowhere to go with it for the maidens are too sensible to do anything more than hold hands with those two.’ He pulled a stool from where it was tucked neatly out of the way under the table and shoved it in front of the fire and between Thranduil and Laersul, clearly expecting to stay. ’Those two will be the death of me.’

 

‘Nothing can kill you, Galion,’ Laersul said fondly. ‘Not even a Dragon I hear.’

 

Galion looked sharply at Thranduil and before the King could speak, he burst out bitterly, ‘You have told him! You could not spare him a few more years of peace!’

 

Thranduil leapt to his feet, hand thrown out as if he could catch the words before they reached Laersul. ‘Be still, Galion! I have not…’

 

Galion could not pale any further, nor look more horrified and he stared at Thranduil, stricken. But Thranduil reached down and clasped Laersul’s shoulder who was looking up at him with a strange expression.

 

‘A few more years of peace? What could you not spare me, father, and yet it seems you have?’ Laersul looked up steadily. ‘You said you had made a pact with the Dragon that brought us peace…I knew there was more to tell. What is this pact?’

 

‘Forgive me,’ Galion cried, unusually penitent. He reached out. ‘I am a fool. I speak before I think, before I look to see what is around me. Forgive me.’

 

‘I do not think there is anything I need to forgive you,’ Laersul said pointedly, and then leaned back against his chair and raised his calm, steady eyes to his father’s. ‘I think, my lord, that you had better tell me everything.’

 

This time there was no mistaking, Thranduil thought wryly. If it had not been so serious, he would have laughed; his oldest son was in charge and he and Galion were as naughty children on a jaunt that had ended in tears.

 

‘Very well,’ he said in resignation. ‘I will tell you but this you must swear to silence. You cannot even tell Thalos.’

 

‘Especially not Thalos,’ Galion added, nodding meaningfully. ‘Or to Legolas, Eru forbid! If he knew he would want to be the first to go off down to Erebor! It would be like a picnic to him.’

 

Thranduil raised his eyes heavenwards. ‘Galion!’

 

‘Oops. Sorry. I forget. Just tell him everything and then I can stop worrying. Well… for nine years anyway.’

 

‘Galion! If you are going to witter on like this, go elsewhere!’ Thranduil said exasperated.

 

‘I will be silent, I swear,’ said Galion, pressing a finger against his lips. 

 

Thranduil rubbed his hand over his face and looked at him, and Galion, realising for once that discretion was the better part of valour, stood and bowed slightly. ‘I will leave you to tell him,’ he said in some distress. He gave Thranduil a sharp look. ‘Make sure you explain everything properly though.’

 

Laersul smiled slightly at his father and Thranduil poured them wine from the jug. Both looked at the rabbit pie, which looked underdone and burnt at the same time and Laersul began to laugh. He could not help it. ‘I do not know what was funnier. Galion blurting everything out, your face or the rabbit pie!’ Then he sobered. ‘However I am hungry enough to eat anything if you will.’

 

Thranduil carefully lifted the pastry from his plate and chucked it onto the fire the pastry. ‘Not anything. I cannot stomach Galion’s pastry. The meat, however, can be rescued.’ He spooned up the meat from both plates onto one and left it on the hearth to cook properly. ‘I will join you as penance for not telling you all in the manner in which I had hoped.’

 

‘Let us make sure that there is plenty left for Legolas when he returns,’ Laersul said with a wry smile. The rabbit was well cooked and tasted not too bad, so much so that Laersul even scooped out more filling from the pie and set it on the hearth.

 

‘You must indeed by hungry,’ said Thranduil in concern ‘Let me get you something you can eat properly.’ 

 

But Laersul shook his head and spooned up the rabbit meat with some enthusiasm. ‘You have become soft,’ he said with a cheeky smile. ‘You have forgotten what it is like in the field. Even though you camped with Galion on your journey, I’ll bet you took carefully chosen provisions!’ He laughed once and licked his spoon. ‘If you do not eat the pastry, this is not half decent,’ he said, then turned his blue-grey eyes upon Thranduil. ‘Now…Will you tell me me what you agreed to?’

 

‘Very well,’ Thranduil said resigned, and he sat for a moment, looking into the fire at the shifting, burning logs. ‘You know as well as anyone the destruction Smaug wreaked upon the Mountain. Imagine what he could do to a forest…’ He heard Laersul take a deep breath for he too had imagined the carnage Smaug would wreak upon the Wood. ‘Smaug troubled me, thoughts of him have plagued my thoughts in the years since he took Erebor,’ he said. ‘Like you, I knew we could not hold out against him, and with the Shadow in the south, any conspiracy between them would lead to ruin for us. Ever was it Morgoth’s desire to see the Elves utterly destroyed, and both the Shadow, I am certain, and Smaug are creatures, if not servants, of Morgoth… A dream came to me. It troubled me often,’ he said. ‘I did not know what it meant at first until Mithrandir came and we spoke. Then it became clear that I had to go to Erebor. I had to confront the Dragon.’  He did not mention the Arkenstone but stared into the fire and watched the red-glowing logs shift and settle, shapes in the hot embers that reminded him over and over of the Dragon…

                                                                                                                                                                            

‘I see you were impressed.’ A voice brought him out of his reverie. Laersul watched him over his half empty goblet, his grey-blue eyes steady and fearless.

 

‘He is like nothing I have ever seen, or will again.’ Thranduil said slowly. But too, he wanted his son to see Smaug, to share in the wonder of the beast. He looked down at his own hands and thought again how his long fingers were like claws, his skin like fine scales. 

 

‘Show me,’ asked Laersul softly so Thranduil held him in his gaze and because this was Thranduil the greatest Elvenking of Middle Earth, even Gandalf said so, he opened up those memories to Laersul so that he too could see something, sense part at least of what Thranduil had seen…

 

One great claw slowly stretched, flexed and stayed spread, the great talons gleamed like scimitars amongst the shifting piles of gold coins. A necklace was caught between Smaug’s talons, a lovely delicate string of mithril and emeralds. Thranduil though, barely noticed it for the power and elegance of the Dragon’s claw.

 

The claws had the colour and rich iridescence of pearls, and the scales of the dragon, richer than the gold on which he lay. Within each scale were swirls and patterns that seemed to echo the dragon’s shape, discernible one moment and gone the next, lost in the gleam of bronze and gold, copper. In the claw alone, Thranduil found the Song, rare in its power and resonance and suddenly his heart lurched; this was one of the last of the firedrakes, the last great Dragon. He found that he was moved, not only by the power and richness of the Dragon, but by a deep compassion.

 

‘You are one of the last,’ Thranduil said slowly. ‘Your magnificence is beyond anything I have ever seen.’ He found himself wishing he had seen the battles where Dragons had come roaring over the plains, fire scorching the Earth and their great wings whumping down on the wind... He did not think he could have stood his ground as did those First Age warriors - he thought he would have run.

Smaug half-closed his eyes, as if he read Thranduil’s thoughts. ‘We ruled the Earth.’ His voice was a whisper, low, rich. Full of yearning. ‘Moringhotto was nothing without us.’ 

  

The hoard shifted around him and the mountain of gold cascaded down over his hide and Thranduil saw with astonishment and awe, that Smaug was indeed huge. He realised now that he had only seen the dragon’s head, its forearm but now it moved its lithe and sinuous body and what he had thought was gold and jewels was in fact, the Dragon himself. It seemed to keep on coming, its huge wings were folded back, bat-like against its body. The long, narrow head snaked out and reared above him as the dragon emerged, full length indeed, a monster. Gold poured from him, around him. Cascaded over the Dragon’s hide, spilling over the ground, pooling at Thranduil’s feet.

The eye of the Dragon was multi-facetted, iridescent, shot with a thousand lights, molten fire. He could not look away.

 

‘You have sworn you will not raise bow or blade against me, Thranduil Oropherion. I would have the children of the Wood do the same. Send them. Every ten years. You will have your Peace.’

 

A nictitating membrane came up, shockingly, the wrong way from a man’s, from the bottom up, and Thranduil was released from the Dragon’s gaze. A thin wisp of smoke breathed from Smaug for his fires were low and merely smouldered. ‘This I swear, on the Flame of Udun, on the Flame of Arnor.’ The Dragon bowed its great golden head then and said, ‘I swear upon the Secret Fire of Eru.’

  

Smaug tilted his head and a slow warmth came from him that seemed to bathe Thranduil in light and he felt an unbearable loneliness, a hunger that could not be sated, and something utterly alien. Cold fire. Deep darkness. A far song. He listened...

 

...Wind under great bat-like wings, soaring high, higher than cloud, higher than the Moon, above the World, seeking the Great Flame beyond the Circles of the World...and falling back, falling back into darkness...

 

He thought of a moth fluttering round a candle-flame. His was not the gift of Song though and he knew he had not fully understood.

 

He released Laersul who blinked and then rubbed his eyes with one hand. He sat for a moment and his full mouth, so like his father’s, smiled slightly in wonder. ‘I begin to see, my lord,’ he said softly. 

 

Thranduil lifted a hand and raised the heat in the fire so the embers caught fire again and glowed. ‘Smaug is indeed magnificent. Terrifying. Utterly destructive. An absolute threat. But I found myself thinking how the world would be less without him.’

 

Laersul did not speak but stared into the fire much as Thranduil had and the King knew his son was considering what Thranduil had shown him, He half smiled to himself; Laersul would understand. He did not fear for his oldest; when the time came, Laersul would not be beguiled by the Dragon. He was steel.

 

‘I too wish to see a Dragon before they pass out of memory,’ Laersul said. ‘And better to see it than fight it,’ he added wryly.

 

‘’Then you will go?’ Thranduil was not sure of he were relived or terrified. ‘I will go with you…’ he said firmly, and then added loudly and even more firmly in the direction of the closed door, ‘Galion will not…And, Galion? Do not think to dissuade me of this’

 

‘Wouldn’t dream of it my lord,’ came a voice, muffled by being on the other side of the door though the owner was clearly pressed up against it. Thranduil narrowed his eyes, knowing that Galion did not mean it and hoped to change his mind. He would not.

 

There was sudden noise in the corridor outside and a smattering of feet, then the study door burst open and Legolas and Anglach barged into the study with Galion almost falling in after them so close he was pressed to the door. Legolas threw himself at his oldest brother, deliberately ruffling his braids so Laersul’s always immaculate appearance was as dishevelled as his, for he and Anglach, Legolas explained, had returned from their sortie empty-handed and empty hearted, in Anglach’s case at least.

 

‘She would not even look at me,’ Anglach whined, his brown eyes mournful. Legolas laughed unsympathetically. ‘Silarôs was already there.’

 

‘Silarôs has been courting her for months now,’ Laersul said sympathetically. ‘Your intelligence is very poor indeed if I knew that in the South and you did not know that in the North.’

 

Anglach threw a look at Legolas who shrugged and said, ‘I thought she was unspoken for. She was very flirtatious with me,’ he added a little smugly. ‘But you are an ugly son of an Orc, Anglach, and so why should she look at you?’

 

Anglach turned his handsome face away and appealed to Thranduil, unafraid for he had been the closest friend of Legolas since they could walk. ‘Do you not think you should send Legolas on some very dangerous mission, a long way from here until I can get myself wed! With him around, no maiden wishes to walk with me.’ He cast a look then at Legolas. ‘And it is NOT because you are better looking. Indeed your father has cast a spell on your looking glass to fool you into thinking rather better of yourself than you should. It is because you crunch in on your Goblin feet and make them feel awkward by telling them I am hoping to wed them, that I am desperate and love-sick! And if you have not frightened them off already with your goblin-face, saying all that will!’

 

‘Never mind,’ Laersul said to them both. ‘Galion has saved his rabbit pie for you both. I know you kindly left it for us,’ he said quickly before Legolas could get anything else in first, ‘but neither father nor I can eat anymore and we know it is indeed your favourite too.’

 

Thranduil lifted his glass in triumphant salute to Laersul. 

 

‘There is plenty for all!’ Galion declared happily and brandished a serving spoon at them. ‘Now, who’s first. Anglach? Hardly a guest but you are the closest we’ve got. How much do you want?’

 

‘Anlgach loves your pie,’ Laersul said serenely. And then before anyone else could interrupt, he added, ‘Almost as much as Legolas and I.’

 

Thranduil stifled a laugh at Legolas’ perplexed outrage.

 

‘Of course,’ Laersul said, rising gracefully to his feet, ‘ both father and I have had a good piece of it and,’ he patted his flat stomach and smiled at Legolas infuriatingly, ‘I am quite full. But you youngsters have such appetites. I don’t expect there will be any left for supper tomorrow.’

 

‘Oh no, there will be plenty for you too, Laersul. I have made another pie,’ Galion said obliviously. 

 

Legolas grinned at his oldest brother. ‘I am sure Laersul is looking forward to it,’ he said with feigned innocence.

 

‘I am indeed,’ Laersul yawned extravagantly. ‘It is unfortunate that I will be dining out tomorrow and then I have to return to the South.’

 

‘So soon?’ Legolas asked, all thought of revenge vanished. ‘Can you not delay even for one day so we can hunt together? Maybe father would join us?’ He turned to Thranduil hopefully and Thranduil felt his heart clench again at the disappointment that was inevitable. ‘I have to go on a spider hunt tomorrow and I cannot let Galadhon down. He is relying on me.’

 

‘Maybe I will go with you. I miss the spiders. They are more fun than Orcs,’ Laersul said easily and bent down to ruffle Legolas’ hair so it was truly mussed as revenge for Legolas’ greeting. ‘Goodnight Squirt.’ Legolas did not even protest at his brothers’ nickname for him so pleased he was to see Laersul. Laersul turned then to Anglach and said, ‘Anglach, I am pleased to hear the reports that you are doing so well on the marches,’ he said as if an aside but Thranduil knew he would have thought about this before he even arrived, and would have a plan to see all the youngsters and find something in them to praise before he left. Anglach was blushing. ‘It was in Galadhon’s last report. You were mentioned especially.’ He turned to Thranduil and leaned over to kiss the top of his father’s head. ‘Goodnight father.’  Anglach was rising to his feet and obviously hoping to walk out with Laersul.

 

As Laersul turned away, Thranduil noticed that he did not stand quite as straight as he normally did, that there was a slight sag in his son’s broad shoulders. He frowned and tried to remember when Laersul had last had leave and could not. He promised himself he would send someone to relieve him as soon as he could. But it was difficult to replace Laersul.

 

Immediately Legolas draped himself in the chair that Laersul had vacated and drained what was left of Laersul’s wine. He often sat with Thranduil in the evenings when he came home. Sometimes he told Thranduil what he had been up to and sometimes he did not; it didn’t matter for Galion knew all and told Thranduil sooner or later.  But he was languid and quiet tonight after Anglach and Laersul had left, sitting with one long leg over the arm of the chair and one hand draped with unconscious elegance over the back of the chair. He gazed into the fire as if he too saw a Dragon curled on the embers like a bed of gold. His long hair had fallen around his shoulders and his head drooped a little. He was tired, Thranduil realised with a sudden tenderness. It seemed no time at all that Legolas would have curled up in his arms and begged for a story.

 

Thranduil smiled and rose to his feet, stroked a hand over his youngest son’s smooth head.

 

‘You are tired too, my heart. Go to bed.’

 

‘Do you not want company tonight, father?’ Legolas asked, yawning widely. He caught a glance from Thranduil and quickly put his hand over his mouth, smothering the yawn. ‘Sorry.’

 

‘I like your company very much, Legolas, but you need to sleep and I am wakeful yet.’

 

‘Very well.’ Legolas swung his legs back over the arm of the chair and stood up, his long, wheat-pale hair gleamed in the firelight. ‘Then as long as you do not stay up all night, I will leave you. Laersul will want to kill more spiders than I tomorrow and I will not let him.’ He leaned down and kissed Thranduil’s cheek. ‘Goodnight father. Remember to go to bed.’

 

‘Give your brother a chance tomorrow,’ Thranduil said smiling. ‘And be careful, both of you.’

 

Thranduil heard the door close softly and rested his chin on his steepled fingers and gazed into the fire, wondering. And imagined each of his sons standing where he himself had stood, braving the Dragon, resisting its terrible lure. Laersul would be strong, do what he needed, resist for his mind was strong indeed and his sense of honour and duty was what led him. Legolas would go tomorrow if he could; impatient and ofttimes foolhardy. Too young yet. But one day, he could stand before a Dragon and withstand its lure, be amazed but walk away. Thalos though…Thalos would be as Thranduil and more; he would want to learn, to hear the Dragon speak, to listen to its stories. He would be ensnared as Thranduil had felt himself becoming ensnared. He could never send Thalos.

 

He had decided. Laersul would go. But not Thalos. Not Legolas, not yet. Maybe not even in twenty years time…There would have to be others. And in his father’s heart, the relief of this almost took his breath. 

 

 

For twenty years, he need say nothing more now that Laersul knew. And in twenty years, though it was a breath for an Elf, much in the world beyond the Wood can happen.

 

Chapter 5 The Listener by ziggy

 

 

Warning: implied slash but very mild references.

 

 

Chapter 6: The Listener

 

Thranduil himself could not forget the Dragon, and when he sat, leaning over his maps, or reports or letters, his idle hand would draw faintly at first, and then gradually a pattern emerged; abstract curls and swirling patterns at first, the gradually he added curlicues and slashes that became strong strokes of his pen, first on one side, then on the other, and then smaller strokes that evolved into pinions. Swirls became smaller and smaller until they formed a chain mail pattern over the pinions. Then came the colours. He tried vermillion, crimson, scarlet, golds, the gold of old coins and pale gold of wheat in sunlight. Shades of iridescent blue and green leaked into the scribblings at the side of his letters and on the reports from the South. Midnight black daubs smattered scraps of paper that Galion found screwed up into balls and thrown into the grate. 

 

Galion would carefully smooth out the paper, collect the discarded daubs and scribblings into a pile and leave them where Thranduil could find them later when he went scrabbling about in the ash looking for them.

 

Slowly the scribblings grew and one day, Thranduil drew back and saw that he had created what he wanted. He carefully rolled up the page and tied it with string, put it away in his drawer and slept deeply, more soundly than he had since he had returned from Erebor.

 

0o0o

 

Deep in the Heart of the Wood there lived one of the Unbegotten, oldest, wisest who had awoken beside Cuiviénen and not been born. Starlight was in his eyes and his hair was silver-grey like water.  He was the greatest of the scribes of yára-cármë, the stories inked on the skin of the warriors of their battles and losses. He kept the stories of the Wood. The Woodelves called him Lathron, the Listener, but his true name was forgotten and he did not care.

 

Thranduil left secretly at dawn with Galion, of course, trailing behind and complaining loudly that he would not be left out.  

 

‘Hush. You will wake everyone,’ Thranduil turned to Galion, nodding to the guards on the doors of the Keep. ‘Stay here, Galion. I walk in my own Woods,’ he said and the doors opened at a thought and the guards said nothing although their eyes darted across the walkway to each other. 

 

The last time he left in secret, they both thought, looking at the other to stop the King, he went to Erebor. Laersul had made it very clear what he thought about the King being allowed to go off alone and into danger without so much as a challenge. But it may be that Laersul indeed could challenge Thranduil, and perhaps Galion- but Galion was with him and Laersul was in the South once more. Thalos was in the East Bite and they knew that Legolas was more likely to beg to go too than try to stop him so they said nothing, merely bowed their heads slightly as he passed.

 

Through the misty forest he walked, silently, knowing that Galion had disobeyed and followed but he did not want to turn back so allowed it. Here the great oak trees bowed to Thranduil, dipped their leaves towards him, Lord of the Forest, Guardian of the Wood. Thranduil leapt up, caught a branch, let it pull him into the arms of the Wood where Shadow could not come while he breathed. The trees shoved their long boughs ahead, taking him deeper into the green heart of the Wood. He knew he had lost Galion, his faithful friend, never servant for Galion was too true and too irascible ever to serve, but Galion would wait for him until he returned for Galion had guessed where he went. Miles and miles into the deepness, where there were no paths but those the trees showed him. Here the forest river splashed and rushed over grey granite rocks and the deep moss clung to the stones, the boughs of the ancient trees. This was the Greenwood indeed.

 

It was here he had wandered with his beloved wife, conceived each of their sons so their songs were twined with the Wood and it knew them. Here the Wood was most sentient and the Song slowly wound about Thranduil, reaching down into him. He thought he heard a sonorous call, like the echo of a horn sounding down through the woods, as if Oromë still hunted as he had in the ancient times. Thranduil allowed his feet to wander where they would. Emerging into a glade where the light was green glass, he stroked the bark of huge ancient oaks whose roots reached deeply into the earth. He felt his heart slow to the rhythm of the Greenwood, felt dizzy with it. The song was deeper, like cool dark pools of green water. Absolute stillness. Absolute silence but for the deep song. Like Cuiviénen? he wondered.

 

No. Not like Cuiviénen. The light there was grey, twilight. And the sweet waters of the Cuiviénen is lost in the waters of Ulmo now, my dear. Starlit eyes gazed at him and he had found the Listener. He bowed his head and knelt before the oldest.

 

Lathron held out his hand and took the parchment and smiled when he saw what Thranduil had drawn. ‘Urulóki,’ he said and tilted his head to one side so his long hair, silver and grey like twilight, slid over his shoulder like water and he took the Thranduil’s hand in his. With the other he slid his fingers through Thranduil’s hair which was the colour of old gold coins and smiled a sweet, otherworldly smile. It is hard to endure what you ask of yourself.

I ask it only of myself.

Come then.

They drank some sweet mead that tasted of honey and peat. It enhanced the sense of otherworldliness and his head felt light enough to float away. Silently Lathron traced a strong finger over the names already inked on his  strong forearms, Thranduil Oropherion, the oak leaves and green-gold runes, not tengwar but silvan, traced his finger over the yára-cármë already on his skin, telling his story, of his battles and laments.. He smiled in recognition of his own work. I remember you, child. When your father first brought you and you would not cry or bury your head in his chest. You watched.

I wanted to learn.

Lathron smiled again and in it, Thranduil thought he saw a starburst. He stared and leaned forwards, pressed against the warm lips with his own. Lathron did not pull away but nor did he return the kiss. He simply looked and smiled gently, then pushed Thranduil’s hair from where it had fallen across his face. Unbind yourself. Loose yourself. Drink. Sleep.

He unbound his long hair and loosed his clothes so he stood naked and unbound by braid or kin or title. Just him. And Lathron.

 

This is an enchanted place.

Yes. Come then. Lay yourself down and let me look at you…Lathron’s fingers traced the slashed hurt of the ballet of Dagorlad that stained him. They hovered over the clumsy scarring made by hands less skilled than his. You did this one yourself…In your anger and grief.

Thranduil did not reply but the scarring spoke for him; the furious, desperate pain. Needing the reality of it to make him strong. The anger at the cold Noldor who stood and watched the slaughter and who would not come. 

 

Did it help the grief?

It had helped him climb out of the mire. It had helped him find anger instead of abject misery and despair. It had helped him focus upon leading his bereaved and decimated people, like Glorfindel had told him to…He blinked suddenly. He did not want to remember Glorfindel. He had not thought of him for long, long years.

 

Lathron watched as if he knew, the long grey eyes slid over Thranduil’s skin, reading the stories, the grief, the joy of his marriage, the births of his sons, the battles and deeds.

 

Here it should be. Lathron touched his shoulder, traced patterns on his skin with long fingers that had known the Earth before the stars were kindled. The Urulóki that has sworn itself to you should wrap itself around you to protect you here, and above your heart where you need it most. Strong magic indeed.

An artist’s strokes over his broad shoulder and over his chest, turned him and traced over his flat belly, his lean hips and without shame or pause, over his groin. A soft laugh as his heavy cock stirred and leapt under the strong hands. Lathron stroked him languidly, gently. Too eager child. Not here will I paint.  He touched Thranduil’s cock lightly, without shame or guilt but in kindness. Understanding. Not even your oak-heart will bear it and you need no magic there. He was strong and erect now.

 

I have not…I have not…since my wife…

Hush. I know. I see all, child. Be at peace.

The kiss this time was given. Warmth spread through him, but not a wild lustful warmth, it was one of peace. He wound his arms around Lathron’s neck and pulled him close. Pushed the simple tunic from his shoulders and gazed in wonder at the finest art inked onto Lathron’s skin; a wondrous maze of patterns and swirls and soft curlicues. He stared and in the sweet mist of the mead and the fragrance of herbs, he discerned the Listener’s story…heard his Song of the Wood, more intense, deeper than anything he had ever heard. In his bones. In his blood. In the beat of his heart, the thrum of his blood.

 

It was not gentle nor lustful, but a purity, a sort of sweet naivety that Thranduil had known with his beloved wife the first time they lay together. A sweet exploration, followed by fierce pain that he had forgotten and then it was breathless and intense desire, pleasure, ecstasy that made the pain easier to bear.

 

So he did not feel the moment Lathron began to paint. The quiss that pricked into his flesh and the iridescent inks that etched Smaug forever onto his skin. In the silent hours that followed he found the Song, listened to the Greenwood, to the Listener, to his own Song.

 

After, he licked a trail of sweat from Lathron’s throat and rested his head on the Listener’s chest, listening to the steady heart that had beaten for all the long Ages of the Earth, and he told his tale and all the grief of his heart. He turned once more towards Lathron but the kindly face that looked down on him was not moved by desire but something else entirely that Thranduil had no words for and he groped about trying to express the deep love he saw in Lathron’s eyes, a father’s love, a lover, a warrior and bard and king.

Now you will begin to know the Greenwood. Listen.

My lord, he said humbly and Lathron smiled and touched Thranduil’s chest so sore and lightly bleeding. He pressed athelas and uilios against him, wound a linen cloth lightly over the yáre-carmë.

 

After, Thranduil stepped softly into the Wood and slowly it melted around him and Lathron with it. He was languid and sated, letting his hand drift over the long grass and ferns. He drank from the forest river and watched small brown trout waggling their tails to keep still. A white hart watched him as he stood naked in the cold water and dunked himself beneath, emerging streaming with water. Utterly at peace.

 

Galion was waiting, as always and when he saw Thranduil emerge from the heart of the Wood, half naked and a newly painted Dragon draped, watching over his shoulder, his mouth fell open and he could not speak. Thranduil was glad for he had become accustomed to silence and did not wish to hear words, instead he listened to the Song in Galion’s heart. Listened to the love his faithful friend had for him, how deep, unquestioning. How unfulfilled. In the softness of his own release from grief, he gently touched Galion on the cheek, kissed his lips. Galion stared at him with starstruck eyes, lips parted and flushed. He dipped his gaze then and drew his hand from Thranduil’s. It was enough.

 

 

The End

 

 

 

 

0o0o0

 

 

I have enjoyed this story far more than I expected and it has been a pleasant diversion from More Dangerous. I’m sorry Legolas didn’t get a part in this but I also wanted to develop Laersul because of the sequel to Sons which is coming and readers need an emotional connection with Laersul. There could easily be more chapters to add and I might do a second one of this type- I had intended it to be Legolas but before I told that one, I felt I needed to tell this one - but I felt this chapter closed this story nicely. 

 

 

Chapter 6 by ziggy

I was missing Legolas whilst writing Through a Glass Darkly. And having just seen the film, I'm not quite ready to say goodbye to Smaug.

 

Unbetad so all my own mistakes. Please do let me know if I make any- I miss things.

 

Notes

 

Vairë- the Weaver. Fate

 

yára-carmë: literally sacred art. The Elves of the Wood have their names inscribed on their limbs because of the danger now from Orcs and the Nazgul. It is needed for identifying bodies. But the warriors also scribe the battles they fought and the deeds they have done on their skin.

 

OCs

 

Laersul- Thranduil's oldest son

 

Thalos- middle son.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 6: Legolas

 

'It is time you chose Legolas,' Laersul said.

 

Thranduil met the serious grey eyes of his oldest son and then looked away before Laersul could see his hesitation, his fear. The firelight that danced in the hearth flickered in the King's slate-green eyes and gilded his hair, the colour of gold coins. He tapped his bejewelled fingers on the arm of the carved wooden chair in which he sat and the rings gleamed in the flames, emerald, gold, the fierce red ruby that had been his father's.

 

Both Legolas and Laersul were home from the South, a rare enough event and a delight to Thranduil that two of his sons were home at the same time but not, he guessed, a coincidence. Legolas' best friend, Anglach, had returned too. It was Thalos was stayed to keep the fight up against the creeping shadow in the South: the Necromancer, spiders, Orcs, Wargs. It seemed the Dragon was the least of their worries.

 

'He is not ready,' he said defiantly.

 

'Anglach is already Danwedh-amlung and Legolas looks askance at him.' Laersul leaned forwards in the chair opposite Thranduil, his elbows on his knees and gave his father a steady look. 'He sees Anglach with the yára-carmë of the Dragon. He sees the same marked upon your skin, And mine. And there is no explanation why he has not been chosen. How can we deny him again?'

 

'We deny him nothing for he knows nothing!' Thranduil pushed himself to his feet in agitation and paced up and down the room that suddenly felt too small. He tugged at the neck of his simple hunting tunic that he wore most days, it felt too tight. 'Unless the Danwedh-amlung has become the subject of soldiers' gossip!'

 

Laersul leaned back in the chair and flung a hand out in irritation. 'You do not really think that. You have decreed that none of those chosen shall speak of it and none has. That does not mean though, that our men are blind.'

 

In the grate the fire crackled, an extravagance that had Galion muttering but that Thranduil feigned to not hear.

 

Pausing before the long desk upon which were many maps and scrolls, Thranduil let his finger drift over one, hover over the Lonely Mountain which was marked by a small sign of a dragon. With heavy heart he remembered how he had been beguiled. He had thought to outwit the Dragon and been tricked into sending a ransom every ten years; his sons, the children of the Wood. They were the Danwedh-amlung, Dragon's Ransom.

 

'They are not fools and nor is Legolas.' Laersul gave his father, the King a cool look. 'Amongst the warriors they wonder how it is that Smaug has not attacked the Wood. They whisper how the Elvenking has beguiled Smaug. And they know that every ten years, one of their number is chosen by the King for a secret task beyond Esgaroth, and of which he is forbidden to see that warrior returns with the marks of Lathron, of the Dragon.'

Laersul rose to his feet and joined his father at the desk. He lifted a half empty goblet of wine that was holding down one corner and replaced it with a silver chased and etched clip that fastened the map to the corner of the desk. The goblet had left a red rim on the map.

 

He lifted one eyebrow and then continued coolly, 'There are six of us now. Including Anglach. They look at each other and wonder who will be chosen next for the honour for the Wood.' He turned and rested against the desk, arms folded. 'Do you think Legolas does not wonder that he has not been chosen? Do you think he does not know that Anglach has and doubts his own worth because of it?'

 

Thranduil turned his deep green eyes to his oldest, most trusted son. 'We are sworn to secrecy', said the King sombrely, as in a ritual. 'This is a sacrifice we make for the Wood, for our folk.'

 

'This is a sacrifice that others have made for the Wood. Legolas has earned it,' Laersul said reasonably, insistently.

 

'And not Thalos?' Thranduil shot back. Foolishly, because it was his own decision that Thalos would never go.

 

'Then send him,' Laersul challenged, knowing he would not.

 

Thranduil shoved himself away from the desk and paced again. At last he stopped at the hearth and leaned one hand against the stone mantle.

 

Laersul followed him. 'Thalos has earned it too, has he not? Both he and Legolas have served now in the South for many many years. Thalos has been your envoy to Esgaroth, Dale before the Dragon. Even Imladris. And he has been to Lothlorien and survived.' Laersul gave a wry smile. 'And wrung a promise from Galadriel that she must surely regret! We benefitted by far the most from that encounter.'

 

'For once,' Thranduil agreed wryly. He glanced briefly at Laersul and then away again, staring into the flames. Thalos' bright intellect and wisdom was like polished knives, like swords. He would enjoy the encounter with Smaug, practise his skill on the Dragon…but he was far too great a delicacy for the dragon's wit.

 

'So Thalos then?' Laersul said provocatively. He dropped into the chair again, leant his head back and watched Thranduil astutely, knowing he was cornered, knowing there was no choice. 'Shall I send word to bring him home?'

 

At last Thranduil cast himself into the chair opposite Laersul.

 

Smoothing his hand over the tight braids, Laersul spoke. 'Legolas has been second in command of my own troop in the South, and captain of his own - one of my most trusted and best. He won the Arrow twice during this cycle.' He paused for a moment and the sighed. 'I do not wish to send him either but Anglach went last time and Legolas has not spoken of it, asked, or complained once. He had shown his restraint. Who else is there?'

 

'Restraint?' Thranduil laughed shortly. 'I can say many things of your brother but restraint is not one of them.'

 

It was Laersul who looked irritated now. 'He is a silvan and lives as one, father. When did you start objecting to the ways of the Wood?' He leaned over and prodded the fire more vigorously than it needed. 'You asked me who I recommend. As captain of the warriors, I recommend Legolas. Regardless that he is my brother.' And the he added more softly, 'Regardless that he is your son…It is a sacrifice we all make. It is for our folk and the Wood.'

 

Thranduil stared into the flames…He remembered;

 

The huge red-gold Dragon lay coiled upon a high bed of gold and gems. His tail stretched long, far down into the shadowed halls and out of sight. It twitched slightly somewhere in the shadows and there was the sound of shifting coins, metal, treasure beyond dreams. About Smaug's claw was tangled a long string of emeralds, deepest green like the forest. Smaug breathed. Thin wisps of smoke blew out of his nostrils for his fires were low and sleepy. The hoard shifted around him and the mountain of gold cascaded down over his hide and Thranduil saw with astonishment and awe, that Smaug was indeed huge. He realised now that he had only seen the dragon's head, its forearm but now it moved its lithe and sinuous body and what he had thought was gold and jewels was in fact, the Dragon himself. It seemed to keep on coming, its huge wings were folded back, bat-like against its body. The long, narrow head snaked out and reared above him as the dragon emerged, full length indeed, a monster. Gold poured from him, around him. Cascaded over the Dragon's hide, spilling over the ground, pooling at Thranduil's feet. And there! A black arrow slid down the river of gold and was jammed against the throne in which he sat.

 

He felt the scorch of Smaug's gaze settle briefly upon the arrow and then away, back to the Arkenstone that lay between his great paws. 'I find myself curious about your kingdom. So you will send me tribute every ten years. Not one of your hoary old warriors. A young are more have three sons.'

 

Thranduil felt ice in his veins and he tore his attention away from the arrow and back to the Dragon, which he saw regarded him with those golden molten eyes. He felt himself falling into the obsidian space and wrenched his gaze back before it was too late.

 

Smaug laughed, a deep rumble that reverberated through the air, through Thranduil's own bones and chest. 'I do not wish to eat them. But you will send someone to me as mark of faith. Every ten years.'

 

'I will come myself,' he said quickly. Too quickly, he thought and indeed, the Dragon's gaze raked over him.

 

'No,' said Smaug and his rich voice was laced with amusement. 'Much as I have enjoyed your company, King of the Wood. This is your mark of faith. If I break it, you may come after me with all your armies...But I will not.'

 

Thranduil's mind leapt suddenly back to the Wood. To send his children, any children into this lair, this dead world to the Dragon, was too much.

 

'Oh come now, King of the Wood.' Smaug's voice was a breath of warmth . 'Surely you trust me as I trust you. I invite one of your warriors into my kingdom to renew our treaty and you baulk.' His voice lowered, his breath now a whisper of heat. 'Is it that you do not trust me?'

 

And here it was; the moment for the Peace to be sealed and no, he did not trust the Dragon.

 

'O Smaug, you are rightly named the Magnificent, but you are also called Smaug the Terrible for the destruction you can wreak. You would have me send my child to you?'

 

Smaug leaned down and caught Thranduil in his gaze. The King could do no more than look, transfixed. The eye of the Dragon was multi-facetted, iridescent, shot with a thousand lights, molten fire. He could not look away.

 

'You have sworn you will not raise bow or blade against me, Thranduil Oropherion. I would have the children of the Wood do the same. Send them. Every ten years. You will have your Peace.'

 

A nictitating membrane came up, shockingly, the wrong way from a man's, from the bottom up, and Thranduil was released from the Dragon's gaze. A thin wisp of smoke breathed from Smaug for his fires were low and merely smouldered. 'This I swear, on the Flame of Udun, on the Flame of Arnor.' The Dragon bowed its great golden head then and said, 'I swear upon the Secret Fire of Eru.'

 

Laersul sensed his father's weakness, his pride in his youngest, his acknowledgment that he had proved himself.

 

'It is time. Legolas should go.'

 

This time, he acquiesced.

 

0o0o

 

It was colder now and Winter had settled over the trees. Snow was deep and game scarce. Still the Woodelves never went hungry for everyone worked hard in the Summer and Autumn and the harvest had been good. Good husbandry counted for as much as good soldiering in Thranduil's thinking.

 

The King leaned back against the silvery bark of the beech tree in which his talan was built high and strong. Few talans were very close to his, deliberately he guarded privacy, although Galion had built his own talan disgracefully and intrusively close by any measure. But even he knew to leave Thranduil alone this night. It was time now and he could delay no longer. With the passing of the year, it would be ten years since Anglach had gone to Erebor. The ransom was due.

 

Looking up into the high, graceful boughs of his beech tree, he watched the sky darken and stars scatter across the dark velvet of the moonlit night. Below him the river foamed and rushed from the foothills of the Grey Mountains, through the forest, beneath the hills where his stronghold was and then out across the plains until it poured and rushed into the Long Lake.

 

He lifted the earthenware jug that stood nearby on the silvery floor and poured a good red wine into his own pewter goblet that gleamed dully in the moonlight. Another stood beside it as yet empty and there was a carved wooden bowl of nuts and dried fruits from the Autumn harvest.

 

The wine was soft and filled his mouth with a blush of warmth. He drank a long draught.

 

At the head of the lake was Erebor. And Smaug.

 

His eyes were distant, unfocused although he knew exactly the moment Legolas set his long hand on the silvery bark of the beech.

 

He watched where the sweep of the curved edge of the talan was bevelled and carved with vine leaves, waiting for Legolas to emerge. The way onto the talan was no mere hole in the platform; he had fashioned it carefully himself so the silver wood of the talan merged to become part of the tree and the gap that was the way onto the talan seemed part of the tree itself. There was no furniture, just a rug woven of silks of different shades of green, several large dark blue velvet cushions and a simple screen of woven reeds that he could move to keep the wind out if he wished, although he rarely did so. Only when the west wind blew across the mountains and forest, bringing unwelcome dreams and tales from distant shores.

 

His long fingers strayed across the strings of the small harp that he always brought with him up here; music soothed him and helped him to think. Notes fell into the quiet night, fluid, liquid.

 

He felt the beech tree thrum in response to Legolas' touch and knew he climbed towards the talan; he could feel the change in the Song around him as Legolas approached. Green-gold light danced like fireflies, like the beech wood in Spring and the forest river gushing, foaming over slate and granite, through deep and ferny pools where the trout moved…This was his youngest.

 

It never took Legolas long to climb up and soon he was pulling himself aboard the talan with an anxious smile, his long green eyes keen and wanting to please.

 

'Galion said I was to come,' he said and Thranduil regretted the anxiety in his youngest son's voice. Surely he had no need? There was nothing he had done that would warrant a reprimand from either father or King? Not that he knew of anyway.

 

So he smiled warmly and in welcome, gestured to the jug of wine. Legolas nodded and sat stiffly crosslegged on the silver wood and sank back against one of the deep blue cushions while his father and King poured him wine. Their fingers touched briefly as he passed the goblet to Legolas.

 

Thranduil leaned on one elbow, long legs stretched out, and looked out over the tops of the trees, for his talan was very high and the tree was almost at the crown of the hill beneath which nestled his stronghold.

 

'There is something I wish to ask of you, Legolas,' he said at last.

 

Legolas winced and picked at a loose thread on his tunic. It was a habit he had since a child and even now, Thranduil had to fight the urge to reach over and still his fingers. But clearly his child had erred in some way and wanted to tell him.

 

Deciding it could not be terrible for he would have heard some other way, Thranduil spoke before Legolas thought he had to confess some trivial misdemeanour. 'You have heard perhaps of the Danwedh-amlung?' he said quietly.

 

Legolas raised his long green eyes to his father's, astonished. 'I have heard tales of course.' He pushed himself onto his knees and stared at his father in wonder. 'But Galion would not tell Thalos or me though we both tried. And there is no point asking Laersul anything. Ever. Even Thalos cannot get him to speak.'

 

No, Laersul would not speak of it, Thranduil thought. He was the most trusted of his own advisors, counsellors…friend.

 

Legolas became more thoughtful. 'Galion said that you will tell me in time and I have to be patient. He said I must not harangue you and that it was bad enough I should know anyway.' Pressing his lips together, Legolas frowned, and Thranduil was thrown back to the past when Legolas was a child concentrating on some great task. 'I do not know what he meant by that but I promised not ask you more because he asked me not to…But it was very hard. Anglach used to be very curious too… but now he is not and he will not tell me why.'

 

Thranduil could not help but smile. 'That must have been very hard for him too,' he observed. 'You have always shared everything.'

 

Legolas smiled slightly. 'I knew you had asked something of him, and it would be for the Wood. So I did not press him.' Then Legolas was quiet, looking down at the polished wood of the talan floor. His fingers strayed again to a loose thread on his sleeve. Thranduil thought then that Legolas must have been hurt, as Laersul had said, that he had not been the one chosen yet Anglach had. Legolas would have interpreted that as some deficiency on his part.

 

He knew then; it was right that Legolas would be the seventh Danwedh-amlung. He drew a breath and steeled himself as he had when he had asked each one; Laersul; Antaris; Galadhon; Idhrellethril; Ólros; Anglach. The first and the last had been the hardest, and now Legolas.

 

'We are sworn to secrecy,' said the King sombrely, he held Legolas green-gold gaze in his own, compelled him. 'And if I speak more, you are sworn likewise. This is a sacrifice we make for the Wood, for our folk.'

 

'I swear!'

 

It was too quick, too eager for such a momentous decision, to go into the Dragon's lair, to lay one's life at his huge, taloned feet, to put yourself at his mercy. Almost Thranduil changed his mind then. But Laersul was right, he knew in his bones that Legolas was the right choice, right now. It was something he had to do.

 

'The Danwedh-amlung. Dragon's Ransom. Have you never wondered why we are called this?'

 

Legolas frowned. 'It is not openly spoken of, father, mere rumour and tale.' He spoke hesitantly and glanced at his father as he spoke. When Thranduil did not stop him, he carried on encouraged. 'They say that you went into Smaug's lair and took something, they say that you ransomed it back to him in exchange for an oath from Smaug that he will never come to the Wood.'

 

Thranduil's head came up and he pinned his son in a hawkish gaze. 'Anyone who disturbs a dragon's hoard is a fool who will not live long enough to see what he has in daylight. It will bring the Dragon down upon us all.' He fixed him with his sternest gaze as the King, and as a father frightened for a foolish son who would soon see the Dragon for himself. 'The Wood will burn and fall. We would be as Erebor.' Fear gripped him as terribly as the first time he sent Legolas into battle. 'Do you understand?'

 

'I am not a fool, father!' Legolas protested irritably.

 

'Then do not speak as one!' Thranduil snapped back.

 

They stared at each other furiously for a moment and then Legolas dropped his gaze and turned away. He picked at his sleeve again and Thranduil bit his tongue. He had not wanted it to go this way, but he could not let Legolas even think that to steal from Smaug was even a possibility. It would be his death.

 

He sighed and breathed out, let go his anger for Legolas had only been repeating what was said. He berated himself mentally. Rather than be cross, he told himself, I should enjoy that I am still able to impress my own rather impressive sons.

 

'You are not a fool, my heart,' he said, and reached out to cup Legolas's cheek fondly. 'Nor a child any longer. I see that. You are a warrior of the Realm and I know you have won the Arrow once again. Laersul speaks very highly of you.' He saw how Laersul's good opinion mattered to every warrior, how they stood taller in his presence, how they squared their shoulders when they praised him and Legolas looked up pleased. 'I am so very proud of you,' Thranduil said.

 

Legolas dropped his gaze quickly. flushed with pleasure, and then glanced up again at his father. 'I am glad I make you proud.'

 

'Legolas, I sued for peace with the Dragon.' He spoke seriously, impressing upon Legolas what was required. 'And in doing so he wrung from me a promise that I would send a warrior every ten years to renew the Peace. What I ask of you is what I have asked of Laersul, Anglach and others. If you agree, you will be the seventh Danwedh-amlung. I want you to think about what that means; Dragon's Ransom. You will be the ransom I am paying for the Peace between Smaug and the Wood.'

 

He watched as Legolas slowly realised the implication of what he was saying, waited for puzzlement to turn to disappointment in his son's green eyes where a moment ago there had been pride. Half hoping Legolas would refuse, knowing he himself would be both disappointed and breathlessly relieved if he did.

 

Of course he did not.

 

o0o0o

 

tbc

Chapter 7 Anglach by ziggy

Beta: The truly wonderful Anarithilen. Thank you.

 

Thank you for all the reviews and favourites. This is what makes me come back to write a little bit more. And I thought you might like to meet a bit more of Anglach L

 

 

Chapter 7: Anglach

 

They had intended to leave early in the morning but by the time Thranduil, and then Galion, had finished telling Legolas and Anglach to be careful, the sun was already rising above the treetops and Laersul had had to go and fetch them both. He would have smiled at the looks of resigned boredom and irritation on the faces of his two young warriors if there had not been such fear and concern in the faces of those they were leaving.

‘You will listen to everything that Anglach tells you,’ Thranduil insisted to Legolas. Laersul caught Legolas’ eye and gave him an amused smile.

‘And then you will ignore Anglach and do what Laersul tells you,’ Galion could not help but interject, much to Thranduil’s irritation. ‘Anglach is a rascal and I am still stunned that Smaug did not eat him…’

‘Galion!’ Thranduil thundered and Galion pulled a face and muttered something that Laersul did not catch but Thranduil heard for he had narrowed his slate-green eyes and glanced furiously at Galion. Galion was of course, completely unimpressed and just threw another quiet comment to Thranduil that no one else heard but had the King’s mouth dropped open in outraged silence.

‘Do not fear for me either of you,’ Legolas said quickly and brightly into that silence before Thranduil erupted. ‘Laersul knows what he is about and actually, so does Anglach although he is, as you say, Galion, a liability. I, however, am not.’ He pulled Galion into a tight embrace then and then turned to Thranduil and pulled him hard into the same embrace. He pulled them close, so their faces were almost touching his as if willing their anger with each other, their fear for him, to dissipate. But Laersul watched his father and Thranduil’s face, although it lost its anger, was vulnerable, afraid. A mirror of Galion’s own.

’Here.’ Galion detached himself from Legolas and wiped his eyes quickly. Then he pressed leaf-wrapped parcels into Anglach’s hands. ‘I would not have any of you going into the Wilds without being properly cared for.’ And then he added, as if it were a prophecy, ‘This will sustain you when all other provisions have run out.’

Anglach opened his mouth as if to make a wise-crack but caught sight of the suspiciously bright eyes of Galion and closed his mouth abruptly, for they had all been cared for by Galion from their childhood; he had fed them, cleaned them, told them stories so they slept, and watched over their first loves and broken hearts. Accepting lembas that was heavy enough to break an Orc’s head was scant payment for his love and kindness. So there was a softness in Anglach’s eyes as he took the packs from Galion and Galion shoved him gently. ‘Go on now. Laersul is waiting. He will take care of you.’

 

But Legolas was detained a moment longer by his father’s hand upon his sleeve. Thranduil stared down at the cuff for a moment and rubbed the threadbare edge of the fine linen between his finger and thumb. He shook his head slightly. ‘You must stop picking at your sleeve. There will be nothing left.‘ He had said it so many times that it was mere habit and he had no expectation that Legolas would stop tugging at loose threads. But he looked up and searched his son’s lovely face now.

‘Legolas…’ He lifted a hand to Legolas’s face. ‘Know that I love you, and I am very proud of you. You are the best person to renew this treaty with Smaug.’ Then he said, as he had many, many times since he had told Legolas that he had been chosen as the danwedh-amlung, ‘Do not look into his eye and do not listen to his Song. It will beguile you.’ He pulled Legolas’ head down and pressed a long kiss on top of it. ‘Be safe, my heart.’

Laersul stepped forwards then for he knew how greatly this parting pained him, saw the loss already in his father’s eyes and knew he was restraining himself from suddenly changing his mind and bidding Laersul find another. ‘We must leave,’ he said gently, watching his father. ‘We will reach Erebor by noon tomorrow. Look for us on the fifth day.’ He did not say when they would approach the Dragon’s lair.

Thranduil reached out for one last touch, pushed the hair back from Legolas’ face, lightly brushed over Anglach’s sleeve for he was as a son to him too. ‘Do not tarry in the Desolation, my dears. It is a cruel and sorrowful place. Hurry home to me.’

‘Come,’ Laersul said again, more gently. This time Anglach and then Legolas followed him.

So Laersul had taken the helm of the small skiff they travelled in and it was quick and light over the fast river. He looked like their father dressed in his simple hunting tunic, and with winter sunlight glinting off his deep gold hair. His handsome face was softer than his father’s though, not yet hammered into the bitterness and cold that sometimes limned the Elvenking’s impossible masculine beauty.

They did not leave in secrecy, that in itself would attract more attention and barely minutes had passed before Legolas had turned his handsome face to the riverbank and called cheerily at a couple of maidens walking along the bank, baskets on their arms. They smiled brightly and waved back with enthusiasm.

‘I hope you are taking this seriously, Legolas!’ Anglach said suddenly, and unusually critical for the two were inseparable, comrades in the pursuit of love as much as on the battlefield.

‘I am!’ Legolas replied a little irritated and Laersul grinned for Galadhon had had said the same to Anglach at almost the same point in his own journey. He listened to his little brother and best friend bicker but did not look at them, concentrating instead on steering the skiff through the foaming white water that showed where the rapids were. They bounced easily over the surf and into the flat pool beyond. It was cold and their cheeks were flushed, eyes bright.

‘At least we have lembas!’ Anglach said brightly. He reached for the leaf-wrapped parcels Galion had given them as they left and lobbed one to Laersul. Laersul caught it easily but it was clearly Galion’s own baking and Laersul grimaced and tossed his over the side of the skiff where it hit the water with a heavy splash and dropped like a stone into the depths. Legolas laughed aloud in delighted surprise and Laersul grinned.

‘Oops,’ he said unapologetically.

In spite of their great task, the danger, their bumptious energy and joy was infectious and Laersul realised how long he had been fighting, how serious he had become. When had he lost the silvan lightness that his mother had given him? Anglach and Legolas were smacking water up at each other like children and laughing, bickering and it seemed like no time at all since Laersul had sat with his small brother in their mother’s empty chair and rocked him to sleep when Thranduil could not think for grief and could barely breathe for the pain that wrenched his heart in two. This was his little brother whom he had let ride in front of him on his own charger, to whom he had given his first bow and knives, whom he had had to persuade their father to let go and join his first patrol, then his first skirmish with spiders and then Orcs. He looked up to find Legolas’ long green eyes on him, smiling, and met it with an answering tenderness of his own.

Laersul leaned one elbow on the gunwale and steered the helm with the other. Even the boat seemed restless and jostled and bounced on the quick-flowing river.

Cold grey water raced beneath the light skiff that carried them away from the Hall of the Elvenking. There was ice on the grey granite stones along the riverbank nestling between ferns that were laced with frost.

As they drew close to the forest eaves, the river churned between rocks and boulders, the water was white with foam. Exhilarated Anglach and Legolas had grown excited and loud, boasting that they could ride the barrels that were herded down the river to Esgaroth by the doughty raft-elves. He listened, amused at their silly teasing, their insults and their talk turned inevitably to maids of the Wood that Anglach or Legolas were in love with or fancied they were in love with.

‘Miriel is lovely,’ Legolas was saying with an exaggerated sigh. He lounged at the front of the boat, his long legs stretched out and his feet pressed against Laersul’s thigh. One elbow was resting on the gunwale and he leaned on his hand like some broken-hearted lover. ’Do you think she will swoon into my arms when she knows I have seen the Dragon?’

‘She will swoon into your arms with your dragon-breath,’ Anglach retorted for he too had made a play for Miriel. ‘Anyway I think she has a fancy for Lossar.’

‘Lossar!’ Legolas said scornfully. ‘He is not at all good-looking…’He paused and then grinned. ‘Well…not as good-looking as me.’

‘Only Galion thinks you are good-looking and he is blind where you are concerned. His little Prince!’ Anglach teased, grinning at Laersul conspiratorially. Laersul laughed at Legolas’ apoplectic splutter.

‘Don’t take Anglach’s side, Laersul! If I am a prince then so are you.’ Legolas glared first at Laersul and then at Anglach.

Laersul held up his hands innocently. ‘I am having no part in this,’ he declared. ‘You are more than capable of taking care of yourself where Anglach is concerned.’ He returned his attention to the tiller and steered the boat carefully between the shoals and into the deeper water.

So he did not see when Legolas glanced slyly towards him and said to Anglach innocently, ‘Do you know with whom I would most like to walk under the trees?’ Anglach frowned for a moment and then tilted his head curiously. Legolas gave a mischievous grin. ‘Theliel.’

Laersul’s grip on the tiller almost slipped; he knew Legolas had been making eyes at Theliel but she was of Laersul’s age and far too sensible to be interested in a silly youth like Legolas….Except that silly youth was sitting in the boat opposite him on his way to Erebor to plead their cause to the Dragon.

How could she not be impressed? And hadn’t he himself told Thranduil of Legolas’ courage and prowess in the South? He suddenly realised that his little brother was not only a warrior he trusted, but a rival.

Rival?

The thought jolted him. But surely he did not think of Theliel in that way? He had been absent for so long in the South, that on his return he had been sure she would have her own sweetheart, indeed be wed and have children clinging to her skirts by now. He realised that it had been a relief when he saw that she was still unwed.

He paused now, thinking. Her clear grey eyes were framed with long lashes and her hair was dark, not black but a deep dark brown with glinting chestnut and gold that caught the sun.

‘I stole a kiss from her at Midsummer,’ Legolas was boasting to Anglach. ‘She was looking for someone else.’

Laersul noted that he said the last two words emphatically.

‘But I think whoever that was,’ Legolas continued, ‘he was not interested enough to find her so she did not wait.’

Laersul stared at Legolas, and was half aware that Anglach’s eyes widened and lips parted, that he shook his head slightly at Legolas.

But Legolas continued regardless. ‘I think she may have even been dancing with Thalos before I got to her.’ He laughed. ‘Kissing a more mature woman is so much better, Anglach. But all you will ever get to kiss is Orcs so you’ll just have to take my word for it.’

Laersul clenched his teeth together and looked sternly towards the riverbank. It was up to Theliel who she danced with of course…but she had danced with Thalos and kissed Legolas! Laersul himself had of course been at the feast and had hoped to see her again, but he had been called away by one of his captains soon after it had started. And it was long, long ago since he and Theliel had been sweethearts, before they were old enough to even really know what sweethearts meant. Even so, he was surprised at how annoyed he was that she had danced with Thalos and kissed Legolas.

‘Was it a proper kiss then?’ Anglach asked. ‘And did you feel her…’

‘Enough!’ Laersul said sharply. ‘You will speak of our maids with more respect, both of you.’

There was a silence and Anglach hung his head and Legolas was instantly quiet but his eyes were lively and knowing. Laersul pressed his lips together angrily as if to forbid more words for he was unaccustomed to snapping. His patience was legendary and his irritation did not sit well with him. So he did not see Anglach and Legolas grinned widely, delightedly at each other for they knew what Laersul had only just acknowledged himself.

The rest of the journey was uneventful and swift. The river was in full speight and the grey water foamed over the granite boulders, churned in waterfalls through still, deep pools and over rapids.

At one point they met the raft-elves returning from Laketown and paused to exchange gossip and news. The old Master of Laketown had died and a new one had been elected. The raft-elves were not impressed or pleased by the town’s new choice. It seemed he was a grasping and greedy Man who had already told them he wanted to renegotiate the contract the Elves had with Laketown.

Laersul smiled wryly at what he thought would be Thranduil’s response, and he caught the same amusement in both Legolas’ and Anglach’s eyes. The raft-elves wished them good hunting for they assumed that was what two of the King’s sons and his almost adopted third must be doing out here in the wilds beyond the Wood.

They had come to the mouth of the river where the water slowed and pooled as it met the unimaginatively named Long Lake, thought Laersul. There was a short mast and sail wrapped carefully in the bottom of the boat but there was very little wind so he reached for the oars and pushed them through the rowlocks. Anglach helped him and Legolas pulled their packs out of the way so Laersul could sit athwart to row. He and Anglach shifted to the bow and stern respectively to give ballast and Laersul leaned forwards and then pulled back strongly so the oars cut through the water like knives. The skiff shot forwards.

Laersul had timed his journey so they would escape the curiosity of Men and he lifted his head to look across to Esgaroth. It was an untidy and ramshackle stack of buildings that seemed loosely laced together on the lake and it had a seedy and not altogether wholesome reputation. He was just as happy to avoid it altogether but Anglach and Legolas looked disappointed as they slid past without notice.

‘We are not going to Esgaroth,’ he said in a voice that brooked no argument, though he expected one anyway. He and his father had already decided that they should avoid Laketown although he knew that both his companions would be disappointed at not stopping in the lively and bustling town.

Sure enough the news was met with dismay by Legolas, but to Laersul’s surprise and amusement, Anglach was less disappointed.

‘You need to concentrate on the task ahead, Legolas,’ Anglach said seriously. ‘You know what happened in Esgaroth last time.’ He looked mildly disapproving.

‘Oh! And you were completely innocent in that.’ Legolas shot him a look that was complex, guilt and misery.

‘No.’ Anglach’s grey eyes were steady and he did not look away. ‘But I have learned from it.’

Laersul glanced at him in surprise that Anglach seemed to have become suddenly mature. He would have to tell their father and Galion on their return for they would be as skeptical as he.  And then he ruined it by saying a little smugly perhaps, ‘Although the eldest daughter of the Master pushed herself on me and I could hardly resist for it would have been impolite. However, I do know that I was not wholly innocent.’ He gave a lop-sided grin that was impudent and charming and utterly spoiled the effect he had just created.

It had been some thirty years ago and Thalos had asked that Anglach and Legolas accompany him as guard for his embassy to Esgaroth for there were negotiations to be had on a new trade route. Laersul had joined Thalos in pleading their cause for both had acquitted themselves well in the South and they had never been to Esgaroth.

On Thalos’ return, it was with stunned horror that Laersul listened to the story and had bitterly regretted the trust he had shown in both Anglach and Legolas.

‘She did not look but sixteen years,’ Thalos had said. ‘I thought her well of age and she was all over Legolas from the start.’ It was the younger daughter of the Master of whom they spoke for the elder had certainly been otherwise involved with Anglach.

‘Sixteen!’ Laersul had rubbed a hand over his face in horror. Not even of proper age for a Man. It was hard for Elves to comprehend how a sixteen year old child could even have sexual awareness.

Thranduil had met the accusations against the two young warriors with cold disapproval at first but when he heard the whole story, it had risen into one of his legendary towering rages that had everyone but Galion driven into hiding and those strong enough, or of such necessity that it would dimly anger the King more, were driven to tiptoeing around the stronghold.

‘You should have told me.’ Legolas looked more upset than Anglach and Laersul wondered if Legolas was indeed more affected than everyone had thought. Indeed, the consequences for Legolas had been longer lasting and more punitive for him than Anglach, Laersul thought. He stretched to pull the oars and the skiff slipped lightly over the water. A water rail fluttered up from the reeds as they passed.

‘You knew her age from her sister, but you never told me how young she was,’ Legolas accused, looking away.

‘Well I was not really listening at the time, I admit, ‘Anglach considered for a moment. He looked upset too now and Laersul guessed they had spoken of this often and Anglach felt guilty. ‘But to be honest, Legolas, that was not really the problem for nothing untoward really happened between you and the daughter. Just kissing and fumbling. It was what was happening with you and his wife that caused the uproar,’ he said, but kindly.

And it was that, thought Laersul wryly, that had caused the towering fury that had erupted from Thranduil when he had been told. Legolas had been forbidden leave to go anywhere but his rooms and the stables where he had to work until the King decided differently. In fact it had been the arrival of a Man that had finally broken the ice between father and son, King and subject.*

Legolas was staring into the deep green water unseeing. He picked at the threads of his sleeve but for once Laersul did not stop him; he knew that Thranduil had been more bothered by the mortality of the women than her seduction of Legolas for both Laersul and Thalos had been convinced that that had been the way of it.

‘It is true that I had seen her with the Master,’ Legolas was saying but he did not look up even now. ‘But I thought she was his oldest daughter. You must admit she looked much younger than he. Laersul, you met her at least once. Did you not think her his daughter?’

Laersul glanced at Legolas seriously; whatever his sympathy for his brother, then and now, it did not excuse him. And he would not let one of his soldiers, whoever it was, think that this was acceptable behaviour when on duty. But now was not the time, for Legolas was to face the Dragon and Smaug would sense any weakness or doubt. He dipped the oars into the river and pulled back strongly.

‘Why do you wish to speak of this now?’ he said gently. ‘You have acquitted yourself of that long ago, both of you,’ he said carefully. ‘The King has chosen each of you for the danwedh-amlung. He would not have done so unless he believed in you.’

He looked up at the dimming sky. A few stars were already pricked out in the evening sky and the weak winter sun was low, flushing the horizon pink.

He caught a glance from Legolas towards Anglach who was staring over the quiet water, and thought that Legolas doubted himself for he was chosen after Anglach. Did he think it was some doubt in the King’s -- his father’s -- heart about his youngest son? Laersul pressed his lips together and said nothing. Sometimes it was more damaging to speak than hold your silence.

Above them a skein of geese cried honking into the cold evening. It was peaceful and the darkening sky over the Mountain was clear. You could not believe it was the scene of such desolation, he thought, remembering.

 

o0o0

They reached the marshy and bleak edge of the lake at dusk and Laersul eased the boat onto the flat, grey water. Rushes blurred its water margins and a curlew gave a lonely cry as the skiff cut a line through the water. There was not a soul to see them. Snipe settled to roost and a whirling mass of starlings susurrated in the darkening light, lifting and swooping like one huge creature that spanned the sky.

They hardly spoke now for Erebor loomed over them and as the sun sank below the horizon, its long shadow stretched over the lake, like prescience.

Eventually the boat bumped against the shore and Anglach jumped into the shallows and hauled the boat onto a stony beach where tufts of long, spiky grass grew amongst the stones and a small bird waded along the shore.

Laersul pulled the boat up out of the water and Anglach shouldered his bow and shifted his knives in his harness. There was a bundle of kindling in the skiff, a little food, and their water skins and Laersul reached in and pulled out the kindling instead of his weapons, dropping it on the hard, cold earth.

They set about making camp with long and practised ease, each one assigning himself a role and like the old comrades that they were, they took what they were best at. Anglach built the fire for he was as skilled as a dwarf and could coax fire from even the dampest wood. Legolas fetched water and Anglach teased him, saying it was the least damage he could do and not to frighten the wildlife with his ugly face. Meanwhile, Laersul disappeared into the scrub and brought down one duck, which he plucked and roasted on a stick over the fire that was already crackling merrily.

’As danwedh-amlung, you can have what is left of Galion’s lembas after Laersul was so careless, Legolas,’ Anglach said generously, holding out the leaf-wrapped parcels. ‘Which will sustain you when all other provisions have run out,’ he repeated Galion’s word with suitable sonorousness.

Legolas said quickly, ‘All other provisions will have to have run out before we eat Galion’s lembas,’

‘We could always throw it to Smaug,’ Anglach agreed. ‘He will break his teeth on it.’

They ate the greasy duck meat with decent bread and cheese that Galion had stored in the boat with the inedible lembas, whilst Anglach gossiped and told outrageous stories of some of the more sedate and respected elves of the forest and Legolas added salacious details for Laersul’s benefit. But as the evening wore on, the dull and dismal atmosphere of the Desolation took hold and even Anglach’s bright and merry voice stilled.

The silence stretched over the lake, the desolation. The two younger elves stared into the fire, and above them the stars pricked out in the clear night sky. Laersul stirred.

‘Sleep now,’ Laersul said. ‘I will take watch tonight.’ He shook his head against their mild protests and patted Legolas on the shoulder. Then he leaned into the skiff and pulled out a couple of blankets. He shook them out and threw them over the two younger elves. ‘Here. Snuggle up and keep each other warm.’ He glanced up at the bright stars. ‘It will be cold tonight. And besides, the pair of you can bicker quietly under the blankets like the old married couple you are and I need not hear you.’

He watched them settle and thought them both asleep until Legolas turned and faced the fire. Flames danced in his eyes, an orange glow reflected on his cheek.

‘Do you think the Dragon knows it is time?’ 

Laersul could not help but notice the slightest tremble in his little brother’s voice. It did not surprise him; every one of the warriors he had escorted had found their courage falter as they approached, either here or when they alighted from the boat and the last part of the journey began. Even Galadhon, who had been his own lieutenant for many years in the South.

Laersul was about to speak when a soft laugh came from where Anglach lay, his back against Legolas. ‘He will certainly smell you,’ Anglach’s voice came. ‘You stink like goblin shit.’

He listened to their soft bickering for a while and then took out his knife and reached for a piece of driftwood. He whittled the wood and hummed a tune under his breath that gradually became a lullaby that he had sung to both of them when they were children and Anglach had lived more in the stronghold than in the woods.

It was one he knew from his own childhood that their mother had sung to each one of them. When she rocked Legolas asleep when he was a baby, both Laersul would steal into the nursery and lay his head upon his mother’s lap and she stroked his tight braids; then he was at peace, a child again believing his father invincible. Laersul let the memory colour his voice and conjure dreams of the distant past. He watched his little brother and best friend, who was a brother to them all, until their breaths slowed and deepened.

Above him the stars wheeled and turned, and the night darkened.

He thought about Theliel and was annoyed with himself for letting Legolas’ teasing get under his skin. Theliel was free, she had no hold on his heart, and he had no call on her.

I am just a little surprised she should kiss Legolas whom she dandled on her knee, he thought but he knew he was more disturbed that she had danced with Thalos, for Thalos was close enough in age to be a companion and lover for Theliel. He shook himself, thinking he could not be happier if Thalos found happiness with her. And Legolas was going to Smaug and he should not begrudge his little brother his trophy of a kiss from a woman like Theliel, who was so much more than the young maids who were Legolas’ usual company. He wished he could spare them all the danwedh-amlung…but there was too, an awe that Smaug inspired and he would not have spared himself the sight of the dragon for anything.

He remembered the trepidation and the beating of his heart when he had approached Smaug. Golden the Dragon gleamed in the soft borrowed light of the treasure of Erebor. Laersul had stood, awe-struck and silent as he stared, at the vast wealth, at the huge, impressive dragon.

He had tried to do everything his father had said, to avoid looking Smaug in the eye, to not dwell too long upon the treasure, to guard against the Dragon’s words. But he had failed on every count and even now, Smaug’s hypnotic eyes haunted him, and he could not lose the memory of those narrow pupils like a cat’s, and the golden-green iris that was utterly alien, inhuman. But it was the dragon’s words to him that pinned him so he was unable to move:

Beware of yellow smoke in the Woods, child of Azgarâzir.

He had started suddenly at the Dragon’s use of the name the Nazgûl had given Thranduil for until then, Smaug had spoken only of ‘your King.’

If you see yellow smoke in your Woods, run. Run like the wind. For they hunt you, they want you almost more than any other and they have no mercy, no pity.

Smaug had told him and fixed him with a stare so intense it almost melted his bones. It was a chilling prophecy, he thought, suggesting he would die, not in battle, but in sorcery. He thought about Dol Guldur and what he had seen in his long life since the Shadow had returned to the Wood. He remembered each of the warriors he had lost in battling the dark and those few who had been taken and he not able to at least recover their bodies.

A cold finger stroked down his spine, froze stiff the hair on his head and he stared up at the stars.

He had told no one; for if it was written already in the weaving of his life, he could not avoid it and he would not avoid battle, or the Nazgûl, or the South of the Wood.

0o0

The morning was grey and cold and snow had fallen in the night. A light dusting but Laersul said it would be heavier on the mountain’s shoulders. Around them the Desolation depressed their spirits and tension laced their tempers tightly. In the cold air, their breath was smoke. Laersul had risen early and cooked them breakfast that would last them the day, and had loaded up Anglach’s pack with provisions so they would not need to stop.

Anglach shouldered his own bow and quiver and passed Legolas’ to him. Laersul did not rise from the fire and merely watched as they buckled the straps and checked their weapons.

‘Are you not coming?’ Legolas asked his older brother in surprise.

Laersul lifted his serious grey eyes to his youngest brother’s face, lingered there as if he wanted to remember him. A smile just touched his lips. ‘You do not need me with you, Legolas.’ He did rise to his feet then and faced his younger brother with a confident and proud smile. ‘You are a warrior of the Woodland Realm, my trusted captain. I have faith that you will buy us peace for another ten years. As Anglach has done. As I have done before and the King before me.’ He straightened up then and kissed Legolas lightly on the brow for he was still taller, and then suddenly hugged him close. ‘Keep your wits,’ he murmured into Legolas’ hair. ‘And do not look him in the eye.’

Legolas hugged him back, feeling the rumble of Laersul’s voice in his hard chest, and the strong arms that had kept him safe when he was too young to understand anything but his own fear, his own loss; who had cradled him, hugged when he came home with scraped knees because their father had had no time to spare from his own crushing grief, who comforted him when their father could not even comfort himself. He wished Laersul was coming with them.

As if he understood, Laersul suddenly released him and stepped away. ‘Go now. There is still a journey ahead of you and I would have you return before dusk. I will keep the fire burning to show you where I am.’ He turned to Anglach. ‘You know what to say, and what to do.’

Anglach nodded seriously and then turned to Legolas. ‘Come. It is better done soon rather than delayed.’

Legolas followed Anglach along the narrow path, which ran along the riverbank towards its source, the fallen kingdom of Erebor. The river was full and churned white and green from melt-water, its cold roar drowning out their words so they did not speak. He glanced over his shoulder to see his older brother standing watching them from lower down the river; Laersul’s broad shoulders were stiff and his whole body tense. Then Laersul slowly lifted his hand in a half wave that was not the gesture of Legolas’ commander, but of his older brother who loved him. Legolas felt his chest squeeze with love and gratitude. He stopped himself from running back and throwing himself at his kind, gentle brother but instead gave a huge wave back and turned to follow Anglach.

Beside them, the river gushed and roared in its winter speight so it was almost white, and green with melt water and ice. The road climbed steeply alongside the churning river, between two ridges and wound up the side of the mountain until they came to a flatter plateau. There they found the wrecked town of Dale. A dust of snow lay on the ruined walls and broken towers; the winter cold wind swept through the empty windows and howled miserably like an abandoned dog.

This was the Desolation of Smaug.

They did not enter the abandoned and desolate town but stood on the road beside the churning river. Legolas felt an overwhelming despair settle upon him and he thought he saw the trembling forms of Men’s ghosts on the edge of the town. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled.

‘Do you see them too?’ he cried over the roar of the river to Anglach.

‘They will not hurt us…’ Anglach leaned close so that Legolas could hear him.

Legolas glanced at him. ‘I am not afraid,’ he said and he was not. ‘Did you see them before? When you came?’

‘Yes. Galadhon didn’t like them either,’ Anglach called back over his shoulder but he kept on walking, head down and watching the slippery path.

‘Galadhon was the danwedh -amlung before you?’

‘Yes. He guided me as I guide you.’

‘And who came instead of Laersul?’

‘No one. Laersul comes with every one of us.’

Legolas was silent then; he knew that Laersul was there because he felt responsible; the King could not go so his eldest son went instead to stand guard on those who offered themselves for the Wood. He knew too that should Smaug renege on the promise, it would be Laersul who would be demanding payment of the Dragon. Like Fingon of old. Legolas felt a swell of pride; fear too, for it was only now that he really thought about Smaug; he was real, and he was up ahead. And the Dragon could break his promise as easily as keep it.

In one place the road had been swept away completely where the river had burst its banks and swept gravel and rocks smashing down its course, leaving huge shoals of gravel between the churning, foaming water. It was here that they had to cross the river, forced to wade across, holding onto each other against the dragging roar of white water that was so cold it felt like teeth. They carried their boots and cloaks high above their heads to keep them dry but emerged drenched and shivering with teeth chattering so hard that they could not speak and hands shaking so they could not pull on their boots. They wrapped themselves in both cloaks and huddled together until they could pull on their boots and jog to get the blood racing.

Erebor reared above them, higher and higher, looming intimidatingly, and they could not see its peak for the heavy sky, its yellow light promising yet more snow. The closer they came to the Mountain, the colder it became and so quiet.

‘There are no birds,’ Legolas observed ‘Only those thrushes.’ For there were two thrushes busily knocking snails against the stone.

Anglach glanced at him. ‘There used to be ravens, Laersul said. He said they could talk to the Dwarves,’ he added and it was Legolas’ turn to glance askance at him. Just then Legolas’ foot crunched on something beneath the snow and he glanced down to see a glint of copper, metal twisted around a stump of something bleached white by age and weather.

He felt suddenly sick.

‘Keep going,’ said Anglach quickly. ‘Do not tarry for this place is cold and full of ghosts. Remember you are doing a great deed for the Wood.’ He pulled Legolas’ arm but he had already looked down at thin blackened bones; he realised suddenly that there were two skeletons; one smaller than the other, perhaps a child, and it lay curled within the circle of a larger one, nestled as a sleeping child would its mother. They looked strangely at peace and he could not say why, when their deaths had so clearly been horrific and agonised. Legolas felt his chest squeeze at the sight and his eyes prickle with tears.

He felt a hand rest gently on his sleeve and Anglach said softly, ‘Come. We do this so it will not happen to our own folks, so the Wood will not burn as did Erebor.’ He looked up into Angalch’s green eyes that were full of compassion, for the dwarf-child and mother, and for Legolas too. He nodded once and they turned back towards the road.

And at that moment, the cloud blew apart and they glimpsed the snowy head of the Lonely Mountain. It was higher than Legolas anticipated, although he had seen it many times before from a distance. That was no preparation for the sheer majesty and presence of the mountain as it loomed high, high and higher above them. The road suddenly seemed to heave itself over a ridge and flattened out, running alongside the River straight to the Mountain.

‘We are almost there,’ Anglach said and paused for breath and Legolas drew up beside him. They could see ahead of them the dark and yawning hole that was now the entrance to Erebor. It was guarded on either side by two colossal statues but one had been cast down so it looked like it had sunk to its knees in despair. The other resembled a dwarf up to its shoulders but then the head was featureless. Legolas realised now that it had melted in the heat of the dragon.

Suddenly Legolas turned to Anglach. ‘Were you nervous?’ he asked.

Anglach laughed slightly. ‘Nervous? I almost pissed myself,’ he said. And then he grinned and said, ‘You are by far the safest of any of the Danwedh-amlung to have ever set foot in this place. I will be surprised if just looking at your ugly goblin-face doesn’t scare Smaug out of his wits and it is he that I must rescue.’ He smiled, but then his smile softened and he said more seriously, ‘That is why we come. If you do not come out, I will fetch you. If the dragon comes out, I must try to shoot it. If I fail, Laersul is there.’

‘Oh,’ Legolas said faintly. Of course there was a reason for Anglach coming so far and Laersul staying behind. His father and Laersul always did things by design.

The weak sunlight gleamed on Anglach’s hair and the long knives crossed in the harness on his back. ‘I will come to you as far as the entrance but there you must go on alone. But you know I will not leave you there, Legolas.’ He looked at Legolas. ‘Remember that winter?’ He did not need to say which winter for they both knew; they had been deep in the South, close to Dol Guldur; too close. There was no game, little food and the Winter was bitter that year. Snow too deep to walk easily, even for elves. The grey light was dim and night was falling. Legolas and his fellow warriors anxiously awaited the return of the last patrol: Thalos, Anglach and Naurion.

‘We were trapped by the Nazgûl. I thought if we were lucky we would die before they took us,’ Anglach said conversationally as if it were an everyday happening. ‘There were two Nazgûl on our trail and that gang of Orcs. I remember Thalos had his hand over Naurion’s mouth because he was injured and could not help crying out.’ His eyes were unfocused and Legolas pulled a wry smile for he had been the one to scout for their lost comrades, leading three other elves into the cold, cold night. They had crept silently, light over the snow so they left no print or mark, stealthily, hearts in their mouths as they eased their way through the bitter cold night; their breath had frozen in the cold and they listened to the blood-freezing scream of the Nazgûl, knowing they too were hunting their friends. It had only been Naurion’s stifled cry that brought them to the place where Thalos had hidden them.

’I have never been so glad to see your ugly goblin smile in all my life.’ Anglach laughed. That shared memory had them both staring wide-eyed that they had even survived; they had hidden breathless, hardly daring to breathe while the Nazgûl hunted them in the deep winter. ‘If you do not come out of Smaug’s lair, I will come and find you. Like you did me.' Anglach grinned at him conspiratorially. ‘Woodelves facing impossible danger, impossible odds. This is what we are good at,’ he said, slapping Legolas on the shoulder.

‘I suppose your hideous face will put the dragon off his dinner,’ Legolas said lightly. But this was the moment that Anglach was to leave him, and he would walk into the dark alone and face the Dragon. Suddenly he reached for Anglach and pulled him close, kissed his mouth. ‘Do not come for me. Kill the Dragon if he comes out of his lair Do not let him burn our home but do not come for me. Stay safe.’

0o0o

tbc

 

 

* This little anecdote is told in Sons of Thunder. The Man of course, is Aragorn.

Chapter 8 Dawned-amlung by ziggy

I am not quite ready to leave Smaug and Thranduil so might well follow The Hobbit so lots more Legolas, Laersul, Anglach and Thalos, Thranduil of course.


Unbetad so please let me know any errors. But dedicated to my wonderful beta, Anarithilen who is helping my with ‘Through a Glass Darkly’, the spin-off to More Dangerous, Less Wise.


Chapter 6: Danwedh-amlung


Legolas tried not to creep into the twilit gloom of the First Chamber, the King’s Chamber, but to walk tall and proud, for he was the Danwedh-amlung, come to renew the dragon’s promise. But in truth his heart beat so hard in his chest that he thought the dragon must know he was here. He had told himself that he would not look over his shoulder, but he could not help it for the cavernous dark yawned open for him and he took one last glance of sunlight. Anglach was still standing, watching in the weak winter sunlight and raised his hand when he saw Legolas turn round. Legolas waved back once and then with a deep breath, he plunged into the dim emptiness of Erebor.


Huge arches towered above him, and tier upon tier of colonnades ascended high above the King’s Throne, disappearing into the darkness. Enormous brass lanterns hung from great chains hidden in the darkness of the high mountain roof but they were empty and cold now and he stared up at them silently as he passed beneath.


Thin veils of cobwebs netted the floor lightly as though even the spiders feared the dragon and his feet tore them as he passed. There was a stench of sulphur, like rotten eggs. He baulked at first and put his arm over his nose but that did little to dim the stink and he gave up, thinking that if this was the worst he had to put up with, he would be fortunate indeed.


Do not look at the hoard for too long, had said his father, his brother and friend. All told him that the glamour could bewitch and beguile. And do not look the dragon in the eye. He recited the words he had been given, told himself what his father, Laersul, Anglach had drilled him in over and over. Laersul had insisted, tell the dragon nothing, of yourself or the Wood. Tell him that all is well in the Wood. The King is pleased that the treaty has held firm, the peace between the King under the Mountain and the King of the Wood, between the greatest dragon of all of Arda and himself.


Say nothing more.


Laersul had paused for a moment and then added: The dragon will speak of course. But be careful and do not give him too much heed for he seeks dominion over you, over your thoughts, your dreams.


Laersul did not say what he meant. Anglach said something similar and Legolas wondered what the dragon had said to each of them. He wondered too what the dragon might say to him.


Steps led him first upwards and then it seemed another flight led him down and he followed a wall that led down and down until he was truly in a darkness that pressed upon him; he did not know where he was and lost all sense of direction in this colossal vastness beneath the Mountain. The air was musty, unbreathed and stale, suffocatingly hot and he felt his chest too tight. His heart pounded in his chest so he thought the dragon must hear him surely?


Something broke with a fragile snap under his foot.


Anglach had warned him that there were bones, but he had not said how those bones were huddled against each other like they were afraid, or seeking comfort from each other. This must have been where the Dragon trapped those trying to escape the Mountain, Legolas realised, and simply blasted them like a furnace. There were no ghosts here for dwarves do not linger sadly as do the ghosts of Men; he had been told long ago that dwarves returned to the earth from which they were fashioned, burying themselves into the heart of Aulë, their maker and protector. But the echo of voices lingered yet and Legolas pressed his hand against the columns that were more like half-melted candles, and felt how smooth they were, melted flat. Laersul had told him they had once been carved richly with alchemical and metallurgical symbols. He breathed slowly, and bent his head to listen…


….screams trapped within the walls of the great cavern as dragon-fire tore through the caverns, scorched the earth, blazed through the tunnels and engulfed them in flame. There was the panic, fear, voices crowding in on each other, scrambling. Heat beyond any furnace or forge blasted then. It was a terrible death.


He tilted his head and listened more deeply… beneath the screams and dreadful death was a richer echo; deep voices chanting under far mountains, the strike of metal on stone, the flare and roar of the furnace, of fire, hammers chiming on rock far, far below ground… Sounds distant and long ago. And below that again, even deeper, rooted below the sounds of the world, was a single deep note, sonorous like a heavy bronze bell … like the thrum of harp strings a drop of water sent ripples over water as smooth as a mirror, undisturbed for a thousand years… Ancient majesty, the deepness of the Mountain’s song: a slow, slow shifting creak of the Earth. Erebor.


He felt suddenly very far underground. Subterranean heat. He was in the heart of the Mountain, and it beat, for there was a pulse here, a hot breath that whispered across his consciousness. And then there was a low rumble like distant thunder that was not at all part of the Mountain’s Song, but something else entirely; he knew then he had found the dragon. He felt his own heart give a great thump and he opened his eyes wide in trepidation. Far ahead of him was a glow of a yellow light like candlelight.


He took a slow breath like he did in the South where fear grew upon him. The air was sultry and suffocatingly hot and he felt there was not enough to breathe. Even so, he crept silently towards the yellow glow, followed it along the walls and smooth gleaming tunnels of Erebor. The yellow deepened into gold the further he went and became orange, then red like some demonic furnace, and there was a rumbling grew louder, regular and he knew it was the dragon’s breath.


 


He steeled himself and clenched his fists so his nails dug into his hands and distracted him with the edge of pain. The red glow was brighter, fiery now like a furnace and an archway opened before him and suddenly he was in a vast cavern. Heat pressed against his face suffocating, and a hot wind blew his long, long hair back from his face. He saw now that the red- gold glow that had lit the walls came from piled up gold and that everything was bathed in a fiery, dazzling light. He blinked and narrowed his long green eyes against the glare and when he saw what was within, his mouth opened and he stared, enthralled.


It was a sea of gold, silent and still but deep with gold and precious stones; diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires lay scattered almost carelessly amongst the gold coins and there were less precious gems too, indiscriminately mixed with the rare metals and stones. Necklaces and rings, goblets and chalices of gold and mithril lay amongst the gems and gold coins. This was beyond his imagining and he simply stared in awe.


Smaug was nowhere to be seen and he looked up wondering if the dragon roosted like some huge bat hanging from the vaulted roof but there was nothing up there but shadows and silence.


Wonderingly, he took a cautious step onto the sea of gold and some coins clinked against each other, shocking in the absolute quiet. He froze where he stood, hardly dared to breathe.


But I have come to speak to the dragon, he reminded himself. I need to awaken it. But awakening a dragon from some deep slumber is not lightly done and he found himself chewing his lip in consternation. Neither Anglach, nor Laersul had given him any advice to how this was to be achieved and he thought anxiously that he would have to rely on his wits.


As it was he did not need to anymore than his father or brother or friend.


Out of the deadened silence there came a sudden sound of shifting coins, they clinked, poured and slid, for something huge was moving beneath the hoard. He stared down, wide-eyed, struggling to keep his feet  in the heaving, undulating sea of gold but he was sinking in bright coins and thought he might drown, be crushed. His heart thumped in his chest and horror lifted the hair on his head, froze it stiff.


Abruptly the movement ceased and a low grumbling growl like thunder rolled around the cavernous halls; a voice then spoke, a voice of power. Rich, urbane, and beneath it was a growl like the earth, a rumbling of power that could at a moment, become a roar.


‘There is a mouse in my halls. A little mouse that creeps…I smell your fear, little mouse…’


Legolas could not help but gasp, he felt the voice reverberate through his own body, through his chest and torso and right down to his feet.


Slowly the Dragon’s huge, reptilian head lifted from the hoard, and rose above him. Gold poured like water off its scaly armour, clinked and slid around Legolas who stared, open-mouthed and wide-eyed. Smaug blinked once, hugely and then tilted his head slightly, settled his eye upon Legolas; an eye of molten gold and flame, hunger. The nictitating membrane came up over the dragon’s eye briefly and in that moment Legolas thought he had never been so terrified in all his long life; not even in the South when the Nazgûl had pursued him through the snow, across the ice.


‘Well now,’ said Smaug and then added in a lower, deeper voice that was not at all amused. ‘Who have we here?’


Legolas had never, ever seen anything so huge, so big….he was completely unprepared.


‘Well?’


Legolas realised his mouth was still open and he closed it quickly. Smaug’s great head swung up and flashed over Legolas and then down sideways on so his molten eye fixed upon Legolas, scorched him, and the dragon’s breath was hot, rancid with sulphur. Legolas grimaced. He did not step back but gripped his heart and steeled himself.


‘Your heart is pounding so hard I can hear it. Little mouse…’


Smaug suddenly snaked around and his huge, enormous body surfed through gold, coins and treasure; precious jewels scattered like water and Legolas found himself sliding, struggling to keep his feet as the tide of gold pooled round his feet like heavy chains and he slid on his backside until Smaug stilled and Legolas slid to a halt amongst the treasure.


‘Young and tender yet I see. Your king was beginning to send me tough old warriors who would be full of gristle and spit. I told him to send me his sons.’


‘I am his son,’ Legolas heard his own voice but it sounded like a squeak and he cringed inwardly; this was nothing like he had imagined, and nothing like the son of Thranduil.


Smaug made a sound that was low and rumbling; one could almost think it a chuckle but for the fact that the dragon opened his huge mouth in a red yawn and Legolas caught sight of teeth the size of a mumâkil’s tusk.


‘It is sixty years since Thranduil sent one of his sons,’ Smaug observed but there was a peevish note to the dragon’s deep voice.  ‘And which one are you? No. Let me guess…’ Smaug’s great head came right up to him and and the dragon’s nostril flared and he sniffed. ‘Not a mouse after all…’ The dragon’s elliptical pupil narrowed and Legolas saw himself reflected in the obsidian and could not look away but was falling, falling into obsidian darkness. Almost too late he remembered and tore his gaze away, feeling disorientated and dizzy.


‘Not a mouse at all.’ The thin serpent tongue flickered over the dragon’s lips as if tasting the air. ‘You are green like a leaf and there is gold too. You must be the youngest one, Legolas Green leaf… or Green leaf Green leaf.’ There was a low rumble in the dragon’s throat but it was too deep, too sinister to be a laugh or a chuckle. ‘The last. The youngest. The most foolish.’


Smaug’s eye narrowed in amusement and cruelty as if he noticed how Legolas flinched for had he not thought the same himself?


Smaug’s long tail lashed so gold coins scattered like he had flicked a wave of water. ‘Oh, don’t take my word for it.’ He brought his head close to Legolas and regarded him as if he wanted to watch Legolas’ reaction. ‘I have it from another source. That last bit of elf flesh I tasted - he talked and talked, hoping to persuade me not to eat him. Begged. He was hardly worth a snack but oh, the taste…’ A thin tongue flicked out serpent-like, too close,  and Legolas stepped back in alarm. ‘There is nothing like the taste of elf-flesh. More delicate than Man and dwarf,’ Smaug continued almost conversationally but there was a cunning gleam in his eye that appalled Legolas for Thranduil had told him that it was Baraphion that Smaug had killed over seventy years ago. ’Of course dwarf is my particular favourite, a heavier, denser flesh…but there are times I dream of a tender young elf.’ The dragon’s nictitating membrane flicked up over the molten eye and back and Smaug stretched out one massive claw, flexed the talons like scimitars and Legolas forced himself to stand still.


I am Legolas Thranduillion, he told himself. I have fought in the Wood, I have faced the Nazgûl, I have slain a hundred orcs and more.


But he stared at the iridescence of the scales that caught in the light, as his father had done so many years ago.


‘Yet you are the seventh. I wonder why he waited so long to send you.’ Smaug lowered his voice as if in a confidence and Legolas was suddenly aware that Smaug was watching him intently, listening.


‘My father chose me to be the seventh,’ he said with a confidence he did not feel. ‘I am here  to pledge the allegiance of the Wood.’ He breathed in and remembering, spoke the words that had been drilled into him. ‘I am here to tell you that all is well in the Wood. The King is pleased that the treaty has held firm, the peace between the King under the Mountain and the King of the Wood, between the greatest dragon of all of Arda and himself.’


If he spoke more quickly than was diplomatic, and gabbled the words a little, the dragon did not seem to notice even for Smaug seemed unimpressed and ignored Legolas’ attempt to renew the treaty.


‘Your father trusts you less perhaps?’ the dragon suggested softly. He let a low rumbling laugh come from deep in his belly and there was a flare of orange in the dragon’s throat as he did. ‘And yet he does not send your brother.’


‘My father sought to protect me perhaps,’ Legolas said weakly, remembering his father’s proud and worried face as he bid Legolas farewell. It is me he chose, Legolas reminded himself. Not Thalos.


Smaug stretched out his claws and yawned. His throat was red and his mouth filled with huge teeth. And then, as if he read Legolas’ thoughts, he said, ‘Your brother should have been here. Your father is holding out on me. I have heard much of him, Thalos Thranduillion. He is subtle of wit and cunning. Why is he not here? I will enjoy speaking with him for you begin to bore me.’


‘He cannot come,’ Legolas said with a little asperity. ‘He is away in the south.’


Oh?’ Smaug suddenly moved his head and looked at Legolas with more interest. ‘In the South? And why, pray, does he tarry in the dark South?’


Too late Legolas remembered the warnings; tell him nothing of yourself or others for he will have power over you, Laersul had told him. Legolas pressed his lips together.


‘Oh, do not concern yourself that you have somehow betrayed your little kingdom…’ Smaug said kingdom like he was amused. ‘I know what stirs in the South.’ The dragon snaked his body about the great pillar. A few stones clattered loose.


‘I hear him calling and I will not answer…Yet. It frustrates him.’ Smaug raised his head and tilted it to one side, moved one great paw so that it rested very close to where Legolas stood.


A horrible foreboding pooled in his belly like nausea for it was true that something was indeed stirring in the south; the Nazgûl had risen again and whatever had summoned them was powerful indeed and if he called to the dragon, this was no mere sorcerer..


‘Of whom do you speak?’ he demanded, forgetting himself.


‘Oh,’ Smaug was enjoying himself and said casually, ‘you know him as the Necromancer. But he has many names.’


Legolas took a step forward. All his love for the Wood, for his folk surged up and he found his courage, the same that sent him running through the trees in answer to call for aid from other warriors in the Wood, that made him go after lost comrades though they be captured by orcs and wargs, the same that had sent him by his brothers’ sides into the shadow of Dol Guldûr. And this was no more, no less. ‘He calls you?’


Smaug laughed, richly. ‘Oh, he can call. But I will not come. Your father had the good grace to come himself at least.’


‘You are the King under the Mountain and surely it is the Necromancer, whoever he is,’ Legolas said dismissively and hoping that Smaug would be lulled into saying more, ‘should pay homage to you.’


‘Oh? You think so?’ Smaug lifted his head and snaked round again, gold pouring and cascading over the dragon’s hide. ‘But you do not know of whom you speak. Not yet. But it will not be long now…Things are moving…The White Council’  he said this with the same sneer that Galion used, thought Legolas with a start, ‘are beginning to look towards Mirkwood.’ Great claws clattered through gold, spilled treasure. Huge bat-like wings crashed against the great stone pillars and loosened yet more stones. It seemed that the whole cavern quaked and the gold poured and slid, like an avalanche and Legolas swayed and leapt to keep his feet. Smaug rose up, his head lifted and then tilted down towards Legolas. The golden eyes were narrow with cunning. ‘There are shadows there that they do not yet comprehend and soon he will show his hand I think…Something is moving. Something… precious has been found.’


A finger of ice stroked down Legolas’ spine at that though he did not know why. A flash of insight; dark grey eyes and long black hair blowing across the face of one he knew was noble and fair, a warrior. Legolas’ heart gave a great thump as though he recognised one he loved. He blinked; he did not recognise the warrior for this was no Woodelf but he knew the danger to the Wood if Smaug answered the Necromancer’s call; he had seen Dale after the burning, had seen the exodus of the dwarves from Erebor, those that survived. He did not want that for his folk, or his beloved Woods.


‘And perhaps I grow tired of this Peace,’ said Smaug and he snaked through the gold and sent up sprays of coins like they were water. ‘Perhaps I am bored.’ His voice filled the cavern and the walls reverberated and Legolas found himself sliding, scrambling to stay on his feet again. ‘I may well leave and fly over the Wood. I should repay your father the courtesy of a visit.’ Smaug’s body moved so very quickly and suddenly Legolas was between the dragon’s huge paws and its eye was very very close. It opened wide and the elliptical black pupil was narrow, like a snake’s or a cat’s. ‘Perhaps…it is time. To finish this. Perhaps I should see what it is the Necromancer wants.’


‘Surely you are no tame pet to be summoned by a click of the fingers!’ Legolas cried in desperation and then seeing a red glow in the dragon’s throat and suddenly fearing he had gone too far, he gabbled, ‘If the Necromancer wishes to treat with you, surely it is he who should make the journey to you, as my father did. To pay tribute, to acknowledge your greatness and to stand in awe of your magnificence!’  Legolas’ heart was pounding in his chest and he thought Smaug must know he was afraid.


Smaug suddenly shifted forwards on his pinions and regarded Legolas more thoughtfully. ‘For a fool you speak well, Legolas Thranduillion. Perhaps your father chose you wisely after all.’


Legolas took a deep breath and found a firmer footing. He looked down for a moment and in that moment he saw a blaze of white light cut through the gold like lightning, and spilt into ten thousand sparks of bright radiance shot with glints of the rainbow.* The gleam of the dragon-hoard was intensified, magnified a hundred times and he stared, open-mouthed.


There was absolute stillness. He knew that Smaug watched him intently though Legolas could not look away from the brilliance of the jewel. He felt his hand reach out without thought.


‘Oh that would be an irony!’ Smaug laughed richly, loudly and with amusement. ‘For you to take what your King brought.’ Smaug’s head was very close and he felt the blast of heat on his own face, unbearable. ‘That is the Arkenstone.’ There was a pause, a considered, calculating moment and then the dragon’s rich, urbane voice came again, slyly. ‘I assume he has not told you then?’


Legolas stared at the dragon’s huge scaly head. ‘This is the Arkenstone?’ He gazed at it in awe for he had heard the tales as well as any. But what did Smaug mean- that he would take what his King brought? The Arkenstone had never come to the Wood. Surely it never left Erebor? Even in the South, Legolas had heard that Thror had escaped with his son, Thorin Oakenshield, but they had abandoned their treasure it was said, and been left penniless and destitute to work as blacksmiths amongst Men in the North.


‘Well. That is interesting,’ Smaug continued, his voice low and conspiratorial. His head came low and his hot breath raked over Legolas so that he turned away, squinting against the blistering heat. ‘I wonder why he did not tell you?’ Smaug taunted, there was a sneer in his voice.


There was a moment of confused hurt and Legolas looked up at the huge scaly head, puzzled and wary. Beware the dragon’s words, Laersul, and Thranduil, and Anglach had said. And Galion who had not even seen the dragon. He will twist your words until you know not what it true and what is false. Legolas glanced around the great cavernous hall, at the glittering treasure, the empty tiers and balconies that climbed the great walls, the huge lamps that were dim and dark and lifeless. And he thought that whatever his father had done or had not, it had been in the interests of the Wood.


‘He told your brother.’


At that, Legolas smiled wryly but because there was sweetness in his spirit, his smile was also full of affection and love. Smaug had alit upon one truth that could not hurt him; he loved Laersul, could not be jealous of him. Of course Thranduil told Laersul things that he would tell none other. So he laughed softly and said, ‘That surprises me not in the least. My father knows us each well and he would no more trust me with a secret than he would trust a Dwarf.’ He laughed fondly. ‘My brother however, is wise beyond his years. It is probably a good thing that I do not know and I will thank you not to tell me now either.’


Smaug stared. He was absolutely still, his golden eyes fixed on the small figure before him. Then slowly the dragon lowered its head and said in a low voice, ‘Indeed. You…are unexpected.’ Its nostril flared slightly and it breathed in. Legolas realised then it was smelling him. ‘Not quite the fool after all.’Smaug breathed in, like sipping wine.


Legolas did not speak. He gazed up at Smaug for the dragon spoke quietly now, measuring, considering.


 ‘Greenleaf indeed…like emeralds. Not jade. And gold you are. But not stone…You are like the forest, living things, that can burn. Of no value…And yet…there is something.’


His father had told him he must be careful, that he must not listen but he could not help it and he found himself standing silently, leaning slightly forwards…hearkening to the dragon’s song.


It was …beautiful.


Terrifying.


Legolas felt an unbearable loneliness, a hunger that could not be sated, and something utterly alien. He leaned forwards, closer to Smaug and listened…


Fire at the heart of the Universe; light exploding from velvet darkness, ignited, kindled by the breath of Eru. Sacred Fire from which all Spirit came. The first dragons came from that secret fire of creation. And then, like smoke, the darkness of Morgoth swirled in their red-gold light, twisting their hearts, twisting their Song into discord…and slowly, slowly, the Earth pulled them down into its heavy weighted embrace and captured them in its sphere. Still they hungered insatiably for light, for the Fire at the heart of Creation and that became a greed for gold…


But gold was a cold fire. And without the light it was a deep darkness.


Up and up, great wings outstretched and soared on a wind that none on the earth had ever known, soared high, higher than cloud, higher than the Moon, above the World, seeking the Fire beyond the Circles of the World...None but the greatest of the dragons could reach even the boundaries of Arda and Smaug reached, reached, and yearned to reach the fire that burned at the heart of the universe…that spawned stars and suns and galaxies that spun slowly, wheeled in the hugeness of the night that was beyond Legolas’ imagination…the Secret Fire, from which All Things came…but always, the heavy chains of darkness brought him falling back, falling back into darkness…


Too far now… too far from grace I have fallen.The stars are beyond me. Chains of gold hold me, bear me down and I cannot escape them now. The Secret Fire is beyond me and my fires will burn low until I am cold and become stone.


Legolas thought of a moth fluttering round a candle-flame and his heart was moved with pity. He thought what it would be to be the last of his kind, and he saw the fate of the dragons whose fire would fade and their bones sink into the earth to become fossilised stone and the power of their spirits died.


He felt overwhelmed with sorrow that the earth would lose the magnificence of Smaug, the glory of the firedrakes however destructive, however great the threat…


‘You are the last,’ he said slowly. ‘What will you do now?’


‘I am old, and powerful,’ Smaug said slowly. ‘I will live forever…’ But his words lacked conviction and Legolas thought that Smaug was afraid.


Gold glittered in the dragon’s light but it was cold; it brought no comfort.


You cannot eat gold, and it cannot love you, Legolas thought. This is a prison. These are chains that bind Smaug to the earth…he cannot leave and he lives here, solitary, alone, and in fear of the dwarves’ return.


He reminded himself of the Wood, green leaves fluttering in the wind, the merry sound of voices, his brothers, his father gathering apples in the trees, Galion, Anglach and thought himself fortunate indeed.


There was an unbearable loneliness that assailed him then, such pain it hurt his chest, his heart.


I am the last. The last. There are none as great, and none left to witness it.


He blinked and there was the dragon’s eye…molten gold, the elliptical pupil wide so he could see his own face reflected, wondering and terrified. He could not look away, seemed to fall into the darkness, the blackness of it…


He felt the hate then too, the hate that drove Smaug to violent conquest, to rapacious greed, the violence that cornered the dwarves in their halls and blasted them to ashes, that incinerated every last child, baby, man and woman; that melted the stone to glass, that gathered up all the gold, every last coin, that dug and dug and reached into every chamber and corner and dragged every last piece, every last coin into the huge pile that made its bed…and upon which Smaug brooded in his empty and wicked heart.


‘Yes. I killed every last one,’ the voice was smooth and cruel. ‘I hunted them down and blasted them and even then there were a few that escaped. I know that they dream of me… I see them in my sleep, my deep sleep on my golden bed… One day they will come and I will awaken and then…’ The Dragon’s head suddenly snaked towards Legolas and all pity for the dragon fled. ‘Then I will bring death to all. Remember.


‘Go now before your sweet flesh awakens my hunger and I forget myself. You have your Peace. I swear it on the Flame of Udun, on the Flame of Arnor.’ The Dragon bowed its great golden head then and said, ‘I swear upon the Secret Fire of Eru.’


 


o0o0o


 


 

Chapter 9 Home by ziggy

Unbeta’d so please let me know if there are any mistakes.

Thanks to Melusine, ThisLIttlePiggy, Alanic, freddie and Laynewolf. Also  from Faerie, Naledi, FadesintotheWest, rikwen96, Spiced Wine, CuriousWombat, Cheekybeak. And from Ao3, sammie and eavesoflorien,and anyone who left kudos on the last chapter. Thank you.

Recap: Legolas has seen Smaug. The dragon has given his promise that for another ten years he will not come to the wood. He also told Legolas that the Necromancer was calling him. The Elves do not yet know the identity of the Necromancer although Thranduil guesses it is more than a mere mortal sorcerer.

Last chapter

 

Chapter 9:  Home

Legolas did not remember making his way through the silent kingdom of Erebor. He could not speak for the loneliness, the glorious sadness of being the last Dragon. And though he smelt brimstone and fire, and though Smaug was a terror that could devastate his home, Legolas was overwhelmed by compassion and his thoughts drifted into dreams of the Fire-Folk, the Urulöki. His eyes were unfocused…seeing only the Dragon, like a moth striving ever closer to the sun, its desperate wish to return to pure Fire, its deep meditation upon gold was a prayer to the Earth. Its Song…ah, was glorious, yearning. Its very breath, the gift of Eru. 

And Morgoth? Did he corrupt the hearts of the Dragons? Or did he simply awaken them with the kiss of greed and avarice? Did he fill their heads with tales of the flame-eyed Elves who wished the destruction of the Fire-Folk?

Legolas’ feet wandered, took him deeper into the heart of the Mountain and he searched for the Songs that wound about the deep heart of Erebor; the earth creaked, and there were deep plunking notes as water dripped from the roof into still mirrors of water that had been undisturbed for thousands of years. He could only hear for the darkness closed around him like a velvet cloak, wrapped him in its soft warmth, and he listened to the long, long single note that chimed deeply like a bronze bell for this was the Song of the Mountain.

He did not know how long he wandered or how deeply he went into the abandoned kingdom of Erebor, listening to the silences and the Song. He barely noticed a warm hand on his arm and the familiar scent of the forest, pines and oak and crushed grass that was Anglach, for Anglach had grown worried and had kept his promise and come to find him.

‘Legolas! Ah, Legolas- you are too deep in the Song,’ Anglach said softly. ‘Come my friend, we must depart from this place.’ He led the dreaming Legolas back through the winding tunnels, following the marks he had left on walls and turnings for he had had to search deeply and when they emerged there was starlight and moonlight and Laersul had come beyond the halls of the King and found them. 

Laersul pulled Legolas into a hard embrace and stroked his hair but his little brother was still dazed and dreaming and spellbound by Smaug, for he had looked into the Dragon’s golden eyes and been utterly beguiled. 

Legolas uttered barely a word all the journey home, treading lightly under the stars and led by Anglach. When Laersul bent his back to row the skiff back upriver, Legolas watched the star-fire explode in the deep night sky and thought of the dragon striving ever upwards, seeking the Secret Fire, and Anglach stared into the cold winter water of the Long Lake as if he saw old bones in the shadowed deeps. 

Anglach threw a cloak around Legolas’ shoulders but he did not move or speak. Both his companions understood though for they too were Danwedh-Amlung, and when Anglach took the oars, Laersul pulled him close, smoothed his hair like their mother and Legolas merely leaned into him and spoke not a word. 

Laersul and Anglach led him like a child until they came to the deepest part of the Wood, where they stopped, and exchanged a quiet smile. They dropped his hands and left him in the Wood though he did not ask why and they did not speak. 

He would not have known but may have guessed their purpose, had he been aware, for he had visited Lathron before for his own yárë-cárme, the green-gold oak leaves, his own sigil and his father’s. But this would be different, this would like the warriors who returned from Dagorlad and who had their battle sketched upon their skin. The Danwedh-Amlung knew each other by the signs, and each one’s ancient art was different; Anglach’s was strong sweeps of colour and curved lines that cut along his skin like scimitars and yet Laersul’s looked strangely incomplete, an outline with delicate tracery as if Laersul had not finished the task although he had done as much as Legolas and more for he accompanied every one of them. 

The Listener stepped out of the shadows of his dreams, moved aside the veils of dreaming and stooped to kiss Legolas on the mouth so he slowly began to awake from the dragon’s bewitching dream.

Green light filled the glade where Lathron laid him down. There was a fire and at first he stared into the shifting, leaping flames and thought of Dragons, liquid molten fire captured and given life. He could not forget Smaug’s Song until Lathron sang another and the pain of the Painting took him elsewhere so he trod new paths, followed Lathron into cuiévenen, into the twilight world before Time, before the Counting, where the newly awoken, Oldest, wandered under the stars in Twilight until the Dawning of the light in the West. They were pale, silver, fleet, like the white deer they hunted. 

Legolas ran with them, ran with the stags in the twilight, far ahead of the hunters with their strong bows. He felt his blood sing in his veins, pound in his heart, his feet drumming on the soft turf as he ran over the downs, through the woods, beneath the bright stars that were bigger than he had ever seen, so close he though the could touch them and they rained, the stars seemed to fall; a meteorite shower. The sky was dark and silent and full of falling stars as he ran so his lungs pumped and his feet flew faster and his brother-stags flew with him, leaping over fallen trees, over bushes, across silvery streams of cold water, endlessly on and there was the sound of a horn, a lovely, strident horn that cried into the trees the wood and sent the animals running but not truly from danger but from the sheer joy of it. They ran, not away, but toward it for surely here was their beloved lord! A huge stag with heavy antlers that spoke of many years ran alongside him and he knew this was Lathron and Legolas was only following for his mouth was open and gasping for breath and his flanks heaved and sweat dappled his gleaming coat and still the stag ran alongside him until he stumbled and tired and the stag nudged at him and then as he turned to look, it gored his side so blood pricked… 

And then he was somewhere else again, running again but this time as himself, an elf in green and brown, running along the hard sand beside a silver sea. Someone was ahead.. someone without whom he could not live, and he knew he might lose them until the ending of the World… He ran harder, looking ahead, the wind streaming, pulling his long hair back and his eyes wide and searching, his mouth open to breathe for his lungs pumped hard…and then he saw…

A tall warrior, standing deep in the silver-black water that lapped about his thighs. The warrior’s hair was unbound, loose and  fell straight down his back and floated on the mercurial water. He turned slightly at the sound of Legolas’ voice and Legolas was pierced by the warrior’s gaze, his hurt, proud gaze that wanted so badly to do right and found that he could not. Legolas reached out with a terrified cry but it was too far and too late and the warrior walked forwards, deeper into the water and his long hair floated and he closed his eyes as the water closed over him…*

When he awoke, Legolas found himself beside the forest stream, its deep pools amid the ferns and cold water rushing over the slate and granite. An ancient oak spread its branches over him and its roots reached deep into the earth. A thrush sang somewhere amongst the leaves and he stirred.

Had he been asleep? he wondered. How long had he been there?

Leaves were in his hair and blood spotted the fine linen shirt he wore. His skin burned and he wondered if he had been scorched by dragon fire. But he knew he had left the Mountain, knew that Laersul and Anglach had come looking and found him, brought him back to the Wood. He knew he had been with Lathron. And now he was awake.

The air was cold and he looked about himself. There was a flask of water beside him and he unstoppered it and swigged the cold water, fresh from the forest river, peaty and it soaked his tongue with its freshness. He blinked and looked down at the spots of blood on his shirt again.

He looked about but he was alone and nestled in the heart of the forest. He pulled his shirt over his head and pulled his breeches from his lean hips so he was naked. Blood beaded on his skin and the newly carved patterns were covered with a thick paste.  He smelt witch-hazel, comfrey and yarrow as he toed his boots off and waded into the winter-cold water, ducked his head beneath and swam among the green fronds of water weed, let his long long hair stream out behind him as he wound between the river weeds like he was slowly flying. Blood washed away, and memories of the Dragon’s dreaming cooled and faded so when he emerged he was himself again and smoothed his hands over his sleek head to wring the water out and dreams. The scars were healing and blood cleaned away. He bent his head to tune into his own Song and smoothed the sore skin, the ragged little edges of pain.

On his skin was a Dragon that leaned its head over his shoulder like it watched over him, like protection. It curled about his shoulder, twined around his lean torso, its tail curled about his thigh. Its colours were his own, green and gold and it was curlicued and scrolled over his heart so that his own yárë-cárme was part of the pattern that was the dragon. He smiled in admiration and pleasure and thought how it would look to a lover. He felt himself thicken and harden, wanting the warmth now of a body twined with his, as was the Dragon. He stroked his hand over his cock and it bobbed happily knowing that he was going home, and there would be plenty of maids and men if he chose, to please him… But his heart was uneasy, filled with longing and he found that he wanted long black hair, like night-silk and sharp grey eyes, a hard lean body used to battle and he did not know who it was he desired for there was none like that in the Wood.

0o0o0

‘How is he?’ 

Thranduil turned at Galion’s concerned question and sighed. ‘He is sleeping…of a sorts.’ He turned back to the fire that crackled mockingly, its red-gold light reminiscent of the Dragon to whom had sent his youngest and who had returned spellbound and utterly beguiled.

‘I think you worry too much,’ Galion said, helping himself to a goblet of good wine from the pewter tray that he himself had brought into Thranduil’s own chambers. He slurped it noisily. ‘You were much the same when you returned from the Wood, if not from Smaug himself. It is less the Dragon that is the cause of this than the Wood.’

Thranduil made a noise in his throat that was only half acknowledgment, for Laersul had only said that Legolas was very quiet on the journey home; Anglach had been quiet too and Laersul had seen all but the first Danwedh-Amlung return. But Laersul was concerned and Thranduil saw that Anglach too was worried. He forced himself to remain and not to haul himself from the room and burst onto Legolas’ talan, demand he tell him everything. But Miriel had been seen disappearing up there and Thranduil was reluctant to encroach upon any of his sons’ private affairs unless invited…or unless he felt it was needed.

‘Has he said anymore about the Necromancer, more to the point,’ Galion hooked one leg over the arm of the only chair in the room and managed to make it look obscene. Thranduil had long given up trying to make Galion more courtly or mannered and barely noticed now. He leaned against the mantle and prodded the fire irritably.

‘No. I only have what Laersul told me. That Legolas said that the Necromancer called to Smaug.’ He paused and stared into the fire, its fiery glow burnished his own hair to the colour of gold coins, lit with flames…He remembered all too well the hypnotic lure of the the Dragon, Smaug’s voice low and beguiling, his Song that Thranduil could not forget and he knew that his gentle and compassionate youngest who had above all, the gift of Song, could not help but hear it, that in spite of his own exhortation Legolas could stop breathing more easily than ignore the Song. It was in his silvan blood, in his nature and that led him into more trouble than both Thalos and Laersul combined. But it was also his greatest strength and made him the sweetest child.

‘If the Necromancer called to the Dragon, and Smaug listened, then he is powerful indeed,’ Galion said slowly and raised his eyes to meet Thranduil’s. They looked at each other for a long moment, each knowing what was in the other’s mind for they had been friends for a very long time. ‘I take it you wish me to summon Alagos?’

Thranduil nodded. ‘Yes. Let us send a message to Imladris. Although the White Council have ignored us all these years, perhaps this will be sufficiently alarming to goad them into action.’

Galion snorted disrespectfully. ‘Don’t hold your breath, Thranduil. Sit-on-your-arse Saruman will say to Sit-on-your-arse Elrond to sit on his arse.’ He gulped the wine down and Thranduil stopped himself from asking Galion to sip it for it was very fine. ‘I suppose Mithrandir might be interested,’ Galion mused. ‘After all it was his visit that made you go in the first place.’

Thranduil looked sharply at Galion; none but Laersul knew the truth about his treaty with Smaug and he was sure that even Galion listening at keyholes could not have overheard. But Galion simply looked smug and Thranduil decided not to give him the satisfaction so he thinned his lips and said nothing.

‘Alagos can take a message to Elrond who will get a message to Mithrandir,’ Galion continued. ‘If Mithrandir thinks it of significance, he will come or send somebody.’

‘It’s who he sends that I worry about,’ Thranduil said darkly .’Wizards are unpredictable and dangerous. I do not want him anywhere near Legolas if he does come.’

‘Of that we are both agreed,’ said Galion as he finished off the last of the wine and looked disappointed into his empty cup. ‘And Thalos?’

Thranduil felt a squeeze in his chest. He looked down into the dark red depths of wine. Smaug had made it quite clear that he expected Thalos to be the next Danwedh-Amlung. Thranduil could see no way out of that. ‘I do not know,’ he said miserably. ‘Laersul does not say but I see it in him that we nearly lost Legolas. He will have listened too deeply. But Thalos? I know that we will lose Thalos. He will never wish to leave…Perhaps that is Smaug’s wish.’ For Thranduil remembered the loneliness of the Dragon and thought that perhaps it too found it unbearable. 

‘We must hope for some other way then.’ Galion stared into the fire as he spoke and his voice was faraway. ‘The Dragon said to Legolas that it will not be long now…Something is moving. Something precious has been found.’ He started suddenly and shivered. 

Thranduil looked at him obliquely and his beautiful face was impassive but his slate-green eyes were narrow. He was thinking; somewhere, long ago he had heard something similar spoken by someone else. About something …precious…but for the moment, it eluded him.

‘We will send a message to Mithrandir as you say,’ he shook himself free of the cobweb of Dragon-words, the subtle lies and deceit, the pretence and truth hidden too far within. ‘Alagos will go. Let us hope that at least we have some sort of reply from Mithrandir for we will get none from Elrond Peredhel and less than that from Galadriel and Saruman.’

So Alagos, the King’s Messenger, was dispatched in all haste to cross the Misty Mountains to far Imladris and give the message to Mithrandir. On his return, Alagos reported that the Wizard seemed interested but could not comet the Wood, he had important business in the Shire it seemed, and in the Blue Mountains. He would send a message in time, he assured Alagos who assured the King. Of course Thranduil did not recognise at all Mithrandir’s message when it did come. In fact, he imprisoned the Dwarves until they were freed by a Hobbit by the name of Bilbo Baggins who seemed to bring many loose ends together that were started in this story.

The End

 

Note: I am thinking of a sequel to this- so it follows The Hobbit canon. The film as a work of fanfic is wonderful but I feel the need to just redress the balance in Thranduil’s favour in my own small way.

 

Chapter 10 Thalos by ziggy

Note:In the Wood, the actual title used for Thranduil is Aran, it does not exactly mean King, but more like Chief. It is a more subtle role, suggesting some deep magical kinship/relationship with the Wood. (Read anything by Jael for really good fics on this theme, or Spiced Wine’s A Light from the East)

 

 

 

Also, this reflects some of what happened in The Halls of the Elvenking, but Black Arrow is much less fluffy and entirely from the Wood-elves pov. In fact, mostly from Thranduil’s pov.

 

 

 

Unbeta’d so all my own misstaks. Anyone wanting to help with just this one is very gratefully received:) Anar is doing Where the Shadows Lie (sequel to Sons of Thunder- we’re on the third chapter really)

 

 

Chapter 10: Thalos

 

 

 

In spite of the message, Thranduil heard nothing from the White Council over the years.

 

Hardly surprising, Galion had said. The Sit-On-Your-Arse Council are sitting on their arses! And Thranduil had not disagreed.

 

But now he was uneasy. There was a sense of something creeping towards him; destiny, history, the unavoidable. It set his teeth on edge and his fingers twitched. He was dreaming again…

 

Erebor with its dust and sulphur. Its fragile eggshell bones and the empty chambers, his footsteps echoing…and the dragon.

 

The dragon. 

 

Slept.

 

And here in his stronghold were twelve dwarves and unless he was very much mistaken, they had Erebor written all over them. The sigils of the Mountain were etched onto axes and bows and knives, and embroidered into their cloaks and tunics. He knew Thorin Oakenshield the moment the dwarf stepped into the glade.

 

But he was safely locked away in Thranduil’s storerooms that served as a dungeon when the need arose. And the need was great indeed.

 

It was time.

 

Thranduil knew he could not delay; there was something in the Wood that made him uneasy. He would not risk Oakenshield awakening the dragon until the Danedh-Amlung had been sworn. It was not yet ten years but Time was not on his side.

 

His heart dragged at him like lead. 

 

He looked down at his fingers, scrabbling at the edge of the map, catching on the silver clasps that irritated him so much. Galion had been in here obviously. Tidying up, interfering.Thranduil tutted; he could not move the maps as easily as when they were simply held down by whatever he had to hand.

 

His slate green eyes flickered over the Long Lake, lingered on Esgaroth and Dale and then found the Mountain. There was a symbol of a dragon just above it. As if he might forget!

 

‘Galion,’ he barely raised his voice, knowing the man was hovering just outside. ‘Come in and stop pressing yourself against the door.’

 

The door opened and Galion burst in. ‘Well about time!’ he declared in his usual manner, disrespectful and proprietorial. ‘I was getting cramp sitting out there. Now.’ He threw himself into the chair in his customary manner. ‘What are we going to do about the dwarves?’

 

‘Do?’ Thranduil let his finger drift over the map and stab into the South. ‘We do nothing. They do not speak. We do not speak. They tell us nothing. We tell them nothing…We wait.’ But not for long, Thranduil thought, not until the ten years was really up. Smaug would suspect, he knew. But what choice did he have? He sensed Mithrandir’s hand behind this. Too much coincidence to be aught else.

 

‘It is Thorin Oakenshield of course.’

 

‘Of course.’

 

Silence.

 

‘He has come to slay the dragon of course.’

 

‘Then he will be slain himself. He does not have what he needs to slay the dragon.’

 

Thranduil paused, his eyes downcast and fixed upon Dale, for that was where the Black Arrow was. He hoped. Now he wished he had visited each heir of Girion and given him the Arrow himself, to make sure…Perhaps Laersul might do this on their return? But Laersul was still in the south and it would take time for him to return. Time is not, he reminded himself again, on his side.

 

‘Send a message to Laersul. Swiftly. Tell him to make haste for things are moving.’ He drew a breath and then said, ‘And ask Thalos to come and see me now. Tell him I have a request to make of him.’

 

For a change, Galion was very quiet. Thinking. For all his bluster, thought Thranduil, Galion was a shrewd old fox. Then Galion rose to his feet and as he opened the door, he paused and looked back over his shoulder. ‘If Thorin Oakenshield rouses the dragon, it will come here. Smaug will believe we helped him. And we have, we have kept them alive.’ The last was said with bitterness.

 

‘Yes. We must secure Smaug’s promise before any of that happens,’ Thranduil said and he sank into the chair as Galion closed the door, clutching the fabric of his tunic above his heart, his belly churned in horror at what might happen.

 

Thranduil thought of dragon fire; in the North in drowned Beleriand when dragons soared overhead incinerating…everything. The pounding of the wind beneath their wings and then the strange and eerie silence that immediately preceded the sea-burst of flames, wave upon wave, the roar of the fire, and all was scorching, burning, red, blood boiling in the veins, skin blistered and peeled and flayed….Not here. No. He did not want flames, leaping impossibly high over the trees, engulfing the forest in flame. Deer running hard, for their lives and the slower creatures incinerated, burning, screaming. Flames blasting through tunnels, through trees, devouring their talans, their houses and cottages and his folk fleeing with nothing, trailing as refugees from the Dragon's wrath…He could not risk this. Not with the Necromancer in the South on one side and the Dragon on the East side. He dared not.

 

Thranduil suddenly pushed himself to his feet and strode to the door and threw it open. ‘Double the guards on the dwarves,’ he shouted after Galion. ‘Make sure they are kept under lock and key and do not let them out.’

 

He turned back to his table upon which the maps were spread. A goblet had made a red ring upon one map and a jug of wine held down another. He poured the wine into the goblet and drank steadily then.

 

‘I cannot do it,’ he said quietly to himself. He sank into the deep and comfortable chair, his elegant fingers steepled, glittering with rings, a ruby glowed deeply, and listened, reaching for the comfort of his son’s sweet Song. There, like the forest river, fast and strong, like sunlight sparkling on the water, like the deep pools where the water was still, reflecting the sky above, the stars…He closed his eyes and breathed.

 

There was a soft tap on the door.

 

Thranduil swung his head around and stared for a moment. ‘Come.'

 

When the door opened, Thalos was standing there, his tall frame obscured the light from the hall. His easy smile had gone from his handsome face and he looked anxious, miserable.

 

'My lord,' Thalos stopped a little distance from his father and bowed his head. 'I am sorry for my error. The dwarves should never have been able to…’

 

Thranduil tutted and took two strides to where Thalos stood and threw an arm around him. '..should never have been where they were. I know.' He steered Thalos towards the fire. It hurt him to see his tall, capable son so guilt-ridden and afraid, of him,  of his anger. He shook his head in disgust with himself and solicitously pushed Thalos down into one of the chairs and then poured wine into a goblet, pressed it into his hand. 'You have already paid for that. And Galadhon.’

 

Thalos looked down and sipped at the wine. Thranduil knew that Anglach had not paid, but he could not bring himself to be angry with Anglach. Ever.

 

Thalos reached for a poker, prodded at the fire. With a hiss and sputter, sparks flew up and small flames burst from the glowing wood. He shook his head slightly as if he were trying to rid himself of some thought, and then he sat back again, watching the fire. His shoulders were hunched and his face tense. It is fear of disappointing me, Thranduil realised with a shock. It is fear that he has already.

 

He could not help wanting to touch Thalos’ face, to reach out and pull him close, to protect him as he had when Thalos was still a child, as he always wanted each time one of his long-grown sons was unhappy.

 

Thranduil gazed at his child’s face, turned sideways on and staring to the fire. It cast a red glow onto his face and Thranduil was seized with fear; the thought of his middle child, his curious, bright-eyed wise child walking wide-eyed into the dragon’s lair was too much. Legolas has been lost, wandered deep and dreaming until Anglach and Laersul had searched for him and brought him out. But Thalos, Thalos would be utterly lost, utterly beguiled not by the Song as Legolas was, but by Smaug himself, the fascination and desire for knowledge, to understand. 

 

But he could not protect both Thalos and his people. His heart wrenched with grief, for his choice. For it was no choice.

 

'It is ten years since the Danedh-Amlung,' Thranduil said slowly.

 

Thalos became very still, he watched the fire which cast a red glow on his face.

 

'I have a request of you.' 

 

Thalos turned his handsome face towards his father expectantly, waiting. Such hope and hurt! For Thalos was captain of the East Bight, in command of Galadhon, his best friend, and Anglach and Legolas; surely the silliest pair in the Wood and yet, Thalos had not been chosen for Danedh-Amlung. 

 

Feeling the pain in his child’s heart, Thranduil leaned forwards and clasped Thalos' hand with immense tenderness. ’Do not doubt yourself, my heart. You are my captain in the Bite. You hold it against the shadow, second only to Laersul but equal in my love. None doubt your fame, your courage. Your worthiness.’

 

Thalos was utterly still, his green-grey eyes, so thoughtful and wise, were fixed upon his father’s face, hopeful, anticipating. Thranduil could hardly bear it. Surely it was no time at all since that face was soft in childhood and sticky with jam? Those long, capable, artistic hands that had callouses from the sword and bow, were chubby and full of mud or strange wriggling things he had dredged from the river? Thalos had loved the river.

 

He swallowed. And kept on, forcing aside those memories. He took a breath and when he spoke, he was no longer a father but the Aran, the Chieftain of the Wood and it was for the Wood that he spoke.

 

'We are sworn to secrecy,' said the Aran sombrely. 'And if I speak more, you are sworn likewise. This is a sacrifice we make for the Wood, for our folk….You know why we are called Danedh-Amlung?’

 

Thalos smiled slightly. 'They say that you went into Smaug's lair and took something. They say you ransomed it back in exchange for an oath that he would not come to the Wood. And I think part of that is true.'

 

Thranduil inclined his head slightly in acknowledgment.

 

'I have heard you say often enough, usually to Legolas!' Thalos laughed softly, 'that only a fool would disturb a dragon's hoard and so I have guessed that you had something with which to bargain.’ Thalos' grey-green eyes were shrewd and he was fixed upon his father's face, watching it for tell tale signs. 

 

Thranduil felt slightest smile curl his own mouth in pride. 

 

Thalos put his head on one side slightly and smiled back. 'It had to be more than a simple treaty or the peace that you could offer. Smaug cares a little, I think, that we might rise against him; a little. But not much. So you must have had something he wanted very much...And there is only one thing I think could be enough, although all had assumed it had remained when the dwarves fled. But I for one, having seen how Thrain thought of that jewel, never doubted he had taken it with him when they fled. I think he would have risked his own life and that of all his people for that one jewel; the Arkenstone.’

 

Thranduil did not so much as blink; his gaze was steady, his eyes heavy-lidded and his fingers still steepled. He had barely moved since his son had started speaking. But his admiration for his sharp, wise child felt like it would burst from his chest with love. He smiled and leaned back in his chair, Aran once more.

 

'And now I ask you, my second captain of the Woodland Realm, who has acquitted himself with great honour and won renown for his valorous deeds and his courage, if you would undertake yet another deed for the Wood, one that will take you into great danger. Is perilous.’

 

'One that you have already faced without knowing its outcome?' Thalos gave a wry smile. ‘And Galadhin. And Anglach,’ he said with a touch of irritation. ‘And you can hardly ignore Legolas’ yárë-carmé the way he flaunts himself.’ But it was fondly said.

 

'Ah, do not reproach me,' Thranduil shook his head. ’You are not a father yet and you have not seen the dragon. You have not heard him...Smaug demanded that I send a warrior every ten years to renew the pledge. Laersul was the first. And Legolas last.' Thranduil looked at his middle son. It was time indeed. A sudden fear seized him and he knew he could not wait. ’He has asked for you. As I knew he always would.’

 

Thalos started and looked up. 'Asked for me?’

 

Thranduil shoved himself to his feet, the beginning of panic sank its teeth into him then. He found himself suddenly on his feet, agitated and pacing.  Two of his sons, and the child of his heart. So far the dragon had kept his word. But now? His heart lurched. Now his Thalos was going and he was the most vulnerable. He wondered briefly if it might not profit him more to bundle up Thorin Oakenshield and take him bound and gagged to Smaug for a fifty year promise.

 

Shoving himself to his feet he stood before the fire, glaring at it as if it were Smaug himself. 'I know you were hurt that I have not asked for you before,' he said again acknowledging the hurt. Thalos looked away. 'It is not because I doubt you. But you are the most vulnerable to Smaug. He is...magnificent. Rare. The last of the Urulóki.’

 

He turned then and faced his son. 'Thalos. Please understand I was only trying to protect you.' Thranduil held up his hand to stifle the protest. 'Listen to me, child. It is not the same for the others. It is not the same,' he repeated and now he crouched down before Thalos and looked up into his lovely, hurt face that tried to smooth out the pain but could not. 'Listen. You will be beguiled.' He held his son's gaze, willing him to see. 'Now look...No.' He caught Thalos' chin and pulled his face towards his own and leaned in slightly. ‘Look. Hear.’

 

One great claw slowly stretched, flexed and stayed spread, the great talons gleaming like scimitars amongst the shifting piles of gold coins. A necklace was caught between Smaug's talons, a delicate string of mithril and emeralds. Thranduil though, barely noticed it for the power and elegance of the dragon's claw. It had the colour and richness of pearls, and in that alone he found the power of the Song; rare in its power and resonance and suddenly his heart lurched.

 

'You are the last,' Thranduil said slowly. 'Your magnificence beyond anything I have ever seen.' He found himself wishing he had seen dragons roaring over the plains of Beleriand, fire scorching the earth and their great wings whumping down on the wind. He did not think he could have stood his ground, like the warriors of the First Age; he thought he would have run.

 

Smaug half-closed his eyes. 'We ruled the earth.' His voice was a whisper, low, rich. Full of yearning and loss. 'Morgoth was nothing without us.'

 

Smaug tilted his head and a slow warmth came from him that seemed to bathe Thranduil in light and he felt an unbearable loneliness, a hunger that could not be sated, and something utterly alien. Cold fire. Deep darkness. A far song. He listened…

 

Wind under great bat-like wings, soaring high, higher than any cloud, higher than the Moon, above the world, seeking the Great Flame beyond the Circles of the World...and falling back, falling back into darkness...

 

'...like a moth fluttering around a candle flame…'

 

Thranduil heard his child’s voice falling into the silence with him as he finished. He remained staring into Thalos’ eyes for a moment while a log in the fire shifted and broke apart; sparks flew up, small flames burst. 

 

Slowly Thalos blinked. The loneliness had caught him. To be the last. With no more of your kind. Ever. No companionship. Nothing. It was a bleak desperation. Thranduil knew, and he knew too what Smaug desired. Perhaps not more than gold, not more than the Arkenstone. But nevertheless, he was alone.

 

He breathed slowly, with Thalos, gazing at him evenly and bringing him back to his own self.

 

'Now you see,' he said softly. 'You of all my children understand the most. You will see and fall in love with the dragon, with the very idea of it. You, my heart, will stay.' Thranduil drew back and lifted a strand of hair from Thalos' face. 'We almost lost Legolas. He was enraptured by the Song. Anglach and Laersul had to go into the mountain to find him, wandering the tunnels of Erebor for days and he remembers that not at all. When they brought him out he was lost and dreaming and only when he was healed by the Listener did he come back to us. But I fear for you, Thalos, even more. I fear that you will not wander in the deep places of the Mountain but that you will stay with Smaug. You will want to listen to his song, his voice, to listen to the tales and words, to the ancient heart. You will be lost.' Thranduil’s heart shrank at the thought, he felt an old pain gut him. ’You are the most of all like your mother and I cannot bear to lose you too.’

 

Thalos listened, his head slightly to one side and his long, dark hair slid over his shoulder and gleamed in the firelight.

 

He is already ensnared, thought Thranduil, seeing the faraway look in Thalos' green eyes. He is already lost.

 

 

 

 

 

o0i0o0o0

 

 

 

 

 

to be continued

Chapter 11 News from the South by ziggy

As always, thanks to the very lovely reviewers and to those who have favourited /asked for alerts. Especially rikwen96, cheekybeak, Spiced Wine, Naledi, Kalendeer for the reviews for the last chapter.

No beta as my wonderful Anar is working hard on the sequel to Sons of Thunder with me so all mistakkes ae my owwn.

 

Warning: very mild sexual situation.

 

Chapter 12: News from the South

 

'You're lying on my hair,' Miriel murmured into Legolas' neck. Legolas smiled, a little drunk still from the night before, the Feast of Starlight. And he had no idea whatsoever of how he had ended with Miriel in his rooms…he turned his head, feeling warmth on his other side. Or Lossar. But his limbs felt soft and relaxed, sated.

 

'You're lying on mine too,' Legolas replied comfortably. 'My hair that is.'

 

'You are both lying on mine,' said Lossar and he smiled slowly, lazily in the way he had that Legolas found so sexually alluring.

 

Legolas rolled over and kissed Lossar. 'You have lovely hair,' he murmured and drew his fingers through Lossar's black hair.

 

Miriel shifted so she rested on one elbow above him and her breasts bounced deliciously in front of him. Legolas cupped one in his hand as if weighing it. Then with a smile, he drew her plump nipple into his mouth.

 

She pushed her hair out of her face and sat up. 'No, not again,' she said, smiling. 'I have to look after the dwarves.'

 

Lossar laughed. 'You make them sound like pets,' he observed. 'Stay. We can do this again.'

 

'I cannot. I have to look after Tauriel. One of them flirts with her all the time and I think she likes it.'

 

'What? A dwarf?' Legolas sat up lazily. 'How can she possibly like a dwarf when she doesn't like me?' But the sting had gone and he smiled as he spoke.

 

Miriel shot him a look and Lossar laughed loudly. 'Because you, my dear Legolas, are utterly irresistible?' He shoved Legolas in a friendly way and swung his long legs over the side of the bed to sit up. 'You know she likes them short and dark. And you are neither.'

 

'No,' Miriel twisted Legolas' long hair in her hand and pulled him against her. 'You are tall and fair.' She pulled his head back and kissed him, her hand delved between them both and he gasped. 'And so easily aroused.'

 

Lossar gave a little moan of desire and leaned back, pulling her head down to his mouth but she shoved them both away. 'Right, I am off,' she said decisively. She rose to her feet and her hair fell around her, her breasts pushed through the golden mass and she pulled it over one shoulder. Both men were staring, stroking themselves and goggle-eyed. She laughed and tossed her head provocatively. 'You both need to put your tongues back in,' she said.

 

'Happy to,' Lossar leered. Legolas nudged him appreciatively and then rolled his companion over so he lay stretched out on the bed, his cock erect and stiff.

 

'Are you sure you cannot stay?' Legolas stroked a hand down Lossar's side and then grasped his cock so the other elf arched his back and moved his hips.

 

Miriel paused. She had her dress in her hand and watched as Legolas pinched Lossar's nipple.

 

'Come on, Miriel,' Legolas coaxed her. 'Do you not want to see him undone?' His hand stroked down over Lossar's cock and tightened his grip, pumped once, twice.

 

'Eru, Legolas!' Lossar cried. He threw back his head and shoved himself against Legolas' hand. Miriel licked her lips but did not move.

 

'Come here,' Legolas held out his hand and Miriel put her hand in his. He guided it to his own cock and bit his lips the moment she touched it. He was very still but his grip on Lossar was tight and the other elf was still pumping against him. Legolas held Miriel's eyes as she stroked her hand lightly over him. She moved closer and then was astride his lap, her arms around his neck and his cock pressed against her belly.

 

Suddenly she pushed herself away and retreated, shaking her head. 'No!' She declared, her back to them both. 'I will not come back. I am washing, dressing and going to help Tauriel. You two will have to amuse yourselves.'

 

She opened a door and disappeared inside. There was the sound of running water and then some while later, she re-emerged, dressed and twisting her hair into a thick braid.

 

She dropped a fond kiss on each of their heads and turned to go. Her hand was on the door handle and she glanced back to see they were already entwined and neither looked up.

 

'Legolas,' she said, suddenly remembering. 'Are you not supposed to attend your father this morning?' she asked.' You did say something last night about that.'

 

'Smaug's balls!' He leapt from the bed and grabbed at a shirt, pulling it on over his head and then hopped about on one foot trying to get one leg into the breeches that were tangled with a tunic. He did not know if they were his or Lossar's.

 

He was dragging on a boot when the door opened and Thalos was there. He stood aside for Miriel and inclined his head as she passed for he was unfailingly courteous and looked at Legolas. An amused, wry smile curled over his mouth.

 

'Good. You have remembered,' he said.

 

'Of course I have!' snapped Legolas. He had collapsed on the rumpled bed and was pulling on the other boot now. He stood up quickly and stamped his feet so the boots were properly on now and dragged his fingers through his hair. 'Come on then,' he said to Thalos as if it was Thalos who was delaying them.

 

'I am not needed, just you.' Thalos' voice was distant and Legolas suddenly snapped a look at him. He took a step closer and came face to face with his brave, handsome brother.

 

Thalos blinked as if awakening. 'What is it?' he asked, puzzled.

 

'You.' Legolas reached up and touched his brother's face. He knew; he felt it. A tremor of fear shivered through his bones. 'He has asked you.'

 

Thalos stared at him for a moment and then gave a brief, proud nod.

 

Legolas licked his lips nervously. Smaug had asked, no, demanded Thalos. 'It is not yet time,' he said softly, wondering why their father had preempted things.

 

'Go to Adar,' Thalos said.

 

Legolas went, anxiously. He remembered when it had been his time and how stupidly excited and proud he had been for he too had felt overlooked, for Anglach. But now he had been to Erebor and understood the gravity of the task, he could not help but worry for Thalos, for had he not been lost himself for a while?

 

'I will go and find him if he is,' Legolas vowed to himself as he hurried along the corridor to his father's chambers, tucking his shirt into his breeches and smoothing a hand over his hair. 'I will accompany him, not just to the doors of Erebor, but to the mouth of Smaug's lair.' And he shuddered a little with both fear and excitement of seeing the dragon again.

 

When he said this to Thranduil, the King smiled but brushed his hand over Legolas' cheek, looking into his son's green eyes that were full of fervour and love and courage. 'I would not lose you both,' he said.

 

Legolas breathed. He would go to Smaug's lair if it meant he protected Thalos, he swore to himself. But he understood now why his father had hesitated to send him; he had not been ready before.

 

His father's slate green eyes flickered over him with understanding and he said, as if he knew Legolas' resolve, 'If need be, Laersul will go with Thalos and you will keep watch.' Legolas tried hard not to see this as criticism, and bit his lip to stop him from protesting. But when he glanced up his father's slate-green eyes were watching him, heavy with grief, and Legolas was overwhelmed with love for him. He reached out suddenl;y and clasped Thranduil's hands in his.

 

'I will not let you down, Adar. I will not, I promise,' he said earnestly. And then with all the devotion in his heart, he said, 'I will not let Thalos be lost. I swear on all we hold dear. He will not be lost. I am ready for Smaug this time. I did not understand before, until I saw…' He paused and they shared a moment of complete understanding; the dragon's compelling, haunting song, lifting on the wind, striving ever ever upwards, flapping its great wings against the circles of the world…

 

'Adar. Don't worry. I will do as you wish,' he said, willing Thranduil to se, to trust. 'We will all come home.'

 

0o0o

 

Thranduil stood in sunlight upon the ledge that jutted out from the cliff face, looking over the forest. He merely waited for his oldest son to return, so he could send all three to the dragon, he thought bitterly. His sacrifice to the Wood, to his people. Winter had spread through the trees below him and the dark forest river was visible now through the bare trees. A sharp cry pierced the silence, and he looked up into the pale wintry sky. A hawk had folded its wings and plummeted downwards through the air, like an arrow, towards him.

 

He waited and then gave a low whistle that brought it to him, landing lightly on the ledge before him. Carefully, Thranduil lifted the bird and smoothed it, soft-handed and gentle for he understood birds and beasts and they came to him, acknowledged his closeness with the Wood. He stilled his own thoughts and let them drift with the bird's, the high canopy of oak, beech, ash and thorn turning and settling for Winter, of the falcon's journey from the South where the trees had already shed their leaves and the fungus and rot crept. He stroked its chest until he felt it settle and then carefully felt its leg; there was the rolled up message, and knowing it would be from Laersul for it had come straight to him and not gone to the news, he gently untied it and carried the bird inside to his study.

 

There was a perch near his desk for this very purpose and he carefully settled the falcon. Nearby was a plate of food that Galion had left, worried that Thranduil was not eating and, Thranduil guessed, anxious that he was plummeting again into the darkness that did at times beset him. But this was not one of those times. Not yet. He dug his fingers into the rabbit pie and held sticky half cooked meat out to the bird. It looked at him first, cocked its head to one side to regard him warily and then bobbed its head to snatch the gobbet, swallowed it and let out a shrill cry of hunger. He fed it with one hand, absently, and read the note with the other.

 

It was in Laersul's bold hand, the meaning encrypted in his son's unique code known only to the two of them and to Thalos.

 

Father, I hardly know how to tell you. The Necromancer has been driven out. The White Council have come and these three days past wrestled with his power and now, suddenly, he is gone. I return as you have bid but will make arrangements for the Bight and our stronghold here to be strengthened on my return. I do not trust this.

 

Your loving son always,

 

L

 

Breathing slowly, Thranduil blinked. He looked down at his hands, clenched over the edge of the table with its maps and clips and scribbled notes marking where his troops were, his sons. How like claws or talons? he thought. Smaug's talon had been iridescent, like a curved blade of an Easterling, perfect, he thought.

 

The Necromancer driven off by the White Council?

 

A sneaky sense of resentment wormed its way between his thoughts. Those cowardly Noldor, hiding in their Valley and their Golden Wood, in the Havens. The Three Rings of Power flashing on their hands, he imagined. And the Necromancer fled from his Wood? Something he had not been able to do himself and so many lives lost!

 

You could not achieve this one feat in all these long years?

 

Thranduil froze; there was a prickling sensation of Power. He did think that. He had thought it…often. He turned, startled, bit of course, there was no one. He was alone.

 

You have no Ring. 

 

'I need no ring.' Thranduil said defiantly. To himself. 'I have my sons. My people.'

 

We fought the long battle, he reminded himself.

 

And the cost?

 

The cost was great. He thought of the lives lost; so many. And the White Council just breeze into the Wood and suddenly, it is free of shadow? He did not believe it.

 

There was silence. In the trees the wind blew and the dry rustle of autumn drifted into his chamber.

 

And the cost of Peace with the Dragon? 

 

That cost is also great.

 

Greater?

 

Thranduil paused. He stared at the map, the dragon scribbled above the Mountain. Erebor. Its fragile eggshells of bones, the dusty air, the stink of sulphur, of dragon.

 

How long before the Dragon tires of your Peace? 

 

How long indeed?

 

He pressed his fingers against his eyes. Thorin Oakenshield was in his storerooms, locked up as in a cell. And Thranduil felt far less secure than he should, given that the dwarf could not leave and pursue his quest. And yet…

 

And yet, there was an intense pressure building, a sense that he should dispatch his Danedh-Amlung without delay and renew the Dragon's peace.

 

Thranduil knew it was too soon: Smaug would be roused to curiosity and suspicion. His wise and curious child would be lured by the dragon's glorious lore-knowledge and magnificence; and the dragon would be utterly beguiled by the intellect of his sword-bright Thalos.

 

'But we cannot wait,' he said to no one, to the empty air, to the voice that whispered insidiously, that delved beneath his skin and drank his thoughts, his fears. That had been waiting for him to weaken, for his quiet despair.

 

Azgarâzir

 

The word seeped into the air like it could not help itself.

 

This was what the Orcs of Dol Guldur called him, and the Nazgûl.

 

There was a strange sensation; he peered through a tunnel like a vortex, or as if he looked through a deep pool in the wood and the trees were sepia and bent inwards. Sudden dislocation made him reel and he flung out his hand to catch at the door jamb.

 

He took two strides across the room and pierced the air with his gaze.

 

Nothing…although he thought the air trembled a little as if something had passed.

 

He waited, still as stone, listening intently, leaning forwards and listening to the Song. There was no question of a disturbance, a ripple across the notes, a discord. He felt it in the Song of his folk, in his friends, his lords, his children. He felt it in himself.

 

Was this the remnant of the Necromancer? Had he somehow been able to penetrate the Gates? Was his magic strong enough to come here?

 

For a moment, he considered asking Legolas to listen, for he had the gift of Song more than any close to the stronghold. Or to summon Lathron, the Listener himself for he might come if Thranduil asked it…

 

He poured wine into a goblet and drank steadily.

 

It was gone. Silence.

 

For a moment, Thranduil stared into the emptiness, eyes wide, not seeing the fire, the hearth or the comfort of his own study. Instead he saw devastation; Dagorlad. At first he had thought it was Oropher's cloak, crimson and bloody, ripped and torn upon the spike of ugly iron. Then he had realised the tattered ribbons were not cloth at all but his own father's body split upon a lance, and he had run, shouting, careless, slashing and thrusting his sword, his knife at everything, anything in his path. Until Galion had punched him in the jaw so hard it knocked him to the ground and Lainor had dragged him fighting and kicking.

 

Lainor. Anglach's father. His friend.

 

He had lost so many that day. Too many, to Sauron. To the Noldor's unwillingness to engage when clearly the moment had arisen. Their hesitation had cost the Woodland realm dearly, and he did not believe for one single second that the Necromancer had simply abandoned the Wood. That voice that had whispered to him was connected somehow to the Necromancer. And the discontent had arrived with the dwarves. He wished with all his might that Thorin Oakenshield had never set foot in the Wood, and that the evil he brought had perished in the dens of the Orcs in the Hithaeglir.

 

0o0o

 

tbc

Chapter 12 The Feast of Starlight by ziggy

 

 

Thank you to reviewers as always, and alerts and favourited and kudos (Ao3): firerosedreamer, freddie, lotrfn, ehtelfeanorian, terehsa, LayneWolf, Legio, rikwen, Spiced Wine, cheekybeak, Naledi.

 

 

 

I had thought this chapter would be the dwarves’ escape but Galadhon and Thalos just needed a little time because Galadhon is getting a very bad press. Next chapter won’t be long though.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 13: Galadhon

 

 

 

Thalos took a long draught of the cottage cider Galadhon brewed himself. Long years the two friends had done this, sat beside the river under the stars in the cold night, listening to the chuckle of the stream and watching the moon pass. It was better here in the Wood outside the stronghold, Thalos thought; he felt he could breathe and had found his old friend once more, for they had been bickering and arguing for days over Galadhon’s insistence that Anglach do the dwarf-duty instead of going to the feast. In the quiet coolness of the Wood, in sitting on the riverbank, they had found their irritation melted away and they were as they had always been.

 

 

 

‘This time next year, there will be a little Galadhon irritating everyone,’ Thalos said with a smile. ‘Are you not scared you will drop it or drown it or squash it with your big arse?’

 

 

 

Galadhon laughed slightly. ‘In truth that is exactly my fear,’ he confessed. ‘Well not those things, even my arse,’ he grinned. ‘But how can I be responsible for a child?’

 

 

 

‘It is fortunate that Muinieth is a very sensible woman, apart from that one moment of madness when she married you,’ Thalos said. “as long as you never hold the baby, it will survive into adulthood and beyond.’

 

 

 

Behind them was a scuffling of feet and a giggle and suddenly a bundle of long limbs and hair launched into Thalos with a yelp of delight.

 

 

 

‘Silaneth!’ Galadhon reprimanded his small sister, but Thalos was on his feet. He caught her up and flung her, squealing with delight, over his shoulder so her feet were kicking before him.

 

 

 

‘Where? Did you say Silaneth was here? But I can’t see her,’ he said, looking about himself in the silliest way as if he could not see her, and Silaneth was giggling fit to burst. 

 

 

 

‘I am here, silly!’ she shouted, whacking him on the back. But he whirled around dangerously near the cold, deep river as if he did not know she was there. He deliberately wobbled over the edge of the water, so her feet and legs were dangling over the riverbank and she shrieked in delight and horror.

 

 

 

‘Oh? Is that you, Silaneth?’ Thalos said suddenly looking over his shoulder and into her bright eyes. And he carefully set her down on her own two feet and she flung her arms around his waist and buried her head in his belly.

 

 

 

‘I am going to marry you, Thalos,’ she said, her voice muffled by his tunic. There was an indulgent laugh from Muinieth who had come to join them, her hand was in the small of her back and her belly was round and very pregnant. Galadhon tutted and trotted over to his wife, fussing and coddling her. Thalos watched, swinging Silaneth gently off her feet and back and forth as he had done with Legolas and Anglach when they too were but waist-high and light as ducklings.

 

 

 

‘You have to promise me you won’t marry anyone else while I am growing up,’ Silaneth said, pulling at him insistently. She stared at him with adoration in her bright eyes, like he was some sort of god. 

 

 

 

Thalos smiled down at her. ‘But what if you meet someone you want to marry instead of me?’ he said gently.

 

 

 

‘I won’t.’ The certainty is her voice touched him strangely and he looked down into her eyes, feeling a little squeeze of compassion in his heart for this little girl who had been orphaned and was living with her brother and his wife, neither old enough to be of help nor young enough to forget her previous life. He knelt before her and brushed her hair out her eyes.

 

 

 

‘But how can you be my little sister if you marry me?’ he asked. ‘For I have no sister. I have only orcs and goblins for my brothers.’

 

 

 

‘It is true that Legolas is a goblin in many ways,’ she agreed, swinging on his arm and jumping ahead. ‘Galadhon and you are always saying so but Muinieth and I think he is actually very good looking.’  

 

 

 

Thalos shot an amused and slightly surprised look at Galadhon’s young wife. She was sitting on the bench with Galadhon now, her arms entwined with his. They kissed suddenly and Thalos looked away, feeling that he was missing a sweetness in his life that had always eluded him. For while Legolas had lovers aplenty, and Laersul denied himself everything to concentrate on his war, Thalos looked for love but could not find it. He felt a squeeze on his hand and looked down suddenly. 

 

 

 

‘I told you. I will marry you,’ Silaneth said comfortingly. She smiled up at him with the confidence of a child with the person she felt safest with. And simply wanted to return the favour and make him feel safe and happy.

 

 

 

Thalos was suddenly overcome. This was why he would go to Smaug. He would protect Silaneth. He put his arm around her shoulders and gave her a quick hug back. ‘And I told you, I need a sister,’ he said just as kindly. ‘Laersul is very poor at braiding hair and Legolas is hopeless at choosing the right colour for a feast, and he cannot read and writes badly. He is also very boring and rather stupid.’ Silaneth shouted with laughter and breaking free from him, ran ahead and climbed the ladder quickly into the cottage built in the wide oaks that grew along this part of the river. He followed more slowly, listening to the Song of the trees, the river and the sleepy grass. It was beautiful and he smiled to himself.

 

 

 

Galadhon was in a more mellow mood when he and Muinieth joined them. They found Silaneth happily bossing Thalos about setting the table for supper and stirring the stew, while she took the bread from the oven and set a jug of cider on the table. Thalos took his place on the bench beside Silaneth and opposite Galadhon and exchanged a look.

 

 

 

They did not speak much as they ate and Muinieth laughed. ‘It is always the same with you two. You eat first and talk after.’ But she and Silaneth talked for all, and told them of the baby, of the preparations they had made, of the harvest in this glade, of the trout that were living in the pool below and the bees that lived in the hollow tree only yards away and who let them have the wax and honey. Thalos listened and grunted and laughed as he was supposed to and let it flow over him like joy.

 

 

 

When Muinieth was putting a reluctant Silaneth to bed and Galadhon drew Thalos up onto the highest talan and they sat with cups of cider and a hunk of yellow cheese between them, and apples.

 

 

 

‘I know where it is that you go,’ Galadhon said with a glance at Thalos. Thalos sighed; he had known this was coming at some point. ‘And I am coming with you.’

 

 

 

‘You have Muinieth,’ Thalos reminded him. ‘She will have had the baby by your return.’

 

 

 

‘She will understand.’

 

 

 

Thalos laughed once. ‘I assure you she will not. Nor should she.’ He gulped the cider; it was raw and strong and tasted a little of glue. He liked it. ‘And anyway, Legolas is the last Danedh-Amlung and he would be so offended if you came too…And Anglach before him,’ he added tentatively.

 

 

 

Galadhon snorted.

 

 

 

‘Ah, do you not think you have punished him enough?’ Thalos shook his head. ‘It is not like you, my old friend, to punish a man so relentlessly.’ He glanced at Galadhon; he had a faintly surprised expression on his face. ‘After all, he had twelve of them to keep an eye on and you know what dwarves are like. They are surprisingly quick for so short and stocky a folk.’

 

 

 

Galadhon took a swig of cider and perused the evening sky. The sun had set and the sky was pink and gold. ‘Perhaps.’ He seemed to be thinking.

 

 

 

Thalos looked down at the ring upon his finger, a simple band of gold with a tracery of oak trees etched upon it. He had been given it by his mother and now he twisted it on his finger absently. ‘I find Anglach amusing as I find Legolas amusing,’ he commented. ‘They are both silly with lust.’

 

 

 

‘That is true enough. That Miriel is always all over Legolas. And there is Gilrin, if ever Legolas comes up for air from Miriel, she’ll be waiting.’

 

 

 

‘Yet Anglach is not with anyone?’ Thalos said, aware they were gossiping about his little brother but wanting to lead Galadhon to a place where he would relent about Anglach.

 

 

 

‘Muinieth says that he had been with Rhovaneth until she found him entwined with Naledi and threw a bag of flour over him.’ 

 

 

 

Galadhon laughed. ‘Silaneth says that of course that was partly because Naledi AND Rhovaneth had been with Legolas the night before.’ Thalos shook his head and sipped his cider again.

 

 

 

‘I do not think we were ever like that!’ he said amused. ‘You were worse than I anyway,’ he added smugly.

 

 

 

‘That is untrue as you know. And once I found my Muinieth, I have never looked for anyone.’ The smile that lit his face seemed to come from within, thought Thalos and he felt a pang of something, not jealousy for this was his best friend and he would never begrudge him, but he wished he could find it himself. But he spent so long in the Bight, with only his men and orcs and wargs for company.

 

 

 

As if he knew his thoughts, Galadhon said, ‘You need to come home, Thalos. For a while at least. Perhaps this news that the Necromancer is vanquished will mean you can.’

 

 

 

Thalos grunted and drank his cider and Galadhon glanced at him. ‘I have never thought he was a mere mortal sorcerer. And I do not know anyone who does. Maybe the Wise are Less Wise than they think.’ He drained his cup and poured both of them another. He glanced across at Thalos and then said softly, ‘The shadow sits lightly upon you, my friend. But it is there nonetheless.’ He was very still. 

 

 

 

Thalos breathed in. He knew it was true, but he had grown so used to it he no longer noticed. Trying to remember when he had last been here for the Feast of Starlight, he realised that he could not.

 

 

 

‘And you? Does it affect you too?’ he asked just as softly. ‘Has it not reached you here?’

 

 

 

Galadhon said nothing for a while and then he sighed. ‘It has not been easy to be back here, it is true. Muinieth is turning inward and Silaneth is growing up. We have our own child coming…Muinieth…’ He drew in a breath that seemed heavy indeed. ‘Muinieth has been like a mother to Silaneth. But she is not her mother.’ He sighed. ‘It is so bitter for her sometimes, to be in our family and yet not quite. I do not know what to do.’

 

 

 

Thalos raised his eyebrows. With only brothers and a father, and Galion as much mother as they had ever had since their mother had died, he had little he could offer but friendship. ‘Perhaps we can swap?’ he said lightly. ‘You could have Legolas instead,’ he suggested. ‘Or Anglach.’

 

 

 

Galadhon laughed as Thalos had intended. ‘I have been too hard on Anglach, it is true,’ he admitted. ‘I will ease the punishment. I have been grumpy since the dwarves,’ he confessed. ‘It was a humiliation to have them blunder into the King’s feast like that but even so, I have punished Anglach enough.’ He paused and then tilted his head slightly considering. ‘It is when I am in the stronghold, he observed thoughtfully. ‘It is as tense as a bowstring pulled tight. The air heels oppressive and heavy. Like we are all waiting for something.’ He turned to Thalos who sat very still. ‘Have you not felt it?’

 

 

 

‘Since the dwarves arrived?’ Thalos said with sudden interest. He too had felt something different in the stronghold, something like the shadow that reached from Dol Guldur; it had the same sense of dislocation and taint. ‘Do you think there is something about the dwarves that has brought a touch of darkness?’

 

 

 

‘I know not. But I wish them gone.’ Galadhon drank from his cup again and then looked at Thalos. ‘They are headed for Erebor,’ he said. ‘As are you. But you are too early. Does the King fear the dwarves may waken the dragon and he come here?’

 

 

 

Thalos nodded briefly.

 

 

 

‘Then it is well that you go soon. For Smaug is…’ He paused and seemed lost for words. Then he turned to Thalos and looked into his eyes. ‘Thalos, Smaug is like nothing you have ever seen or heard or experienced before. He is…terrible. And dangerous. And utterly magnificent. He will tell you things that you do not wish to hear and things that you long to hear. He has knowledge and wisdom of long ages.’ He clasped his friend’s arm. ‘Be careful. He will know what you desire most, he will know your innermost thoughts.’

 

 

 

They fell silent. The stars wheeled overhead and the air grew cold. 

 

 

 

Thalos became aware that Galadhon’s attention was elsewhere and he leaned slightly as if listening. Realising, Thalos drained his last cup and put it down. ‘You must go in,’ he said quietly for their voices had been growing quieter as the night drew on. ‘Muinieth is near her time and will want you near her.’ He dropped his hand onto Galadhon’s shoulder. ‘How lucky she is, and the child, to have you,’ he said. ‘You are listening to their song?’ 

 

 

 

Galadhon smiled and it was full of love. ‘Yes,’ he said softly. ‘It is the most beautiful thing. It makes me feel…’ He shook his head as if he could not find the words and Thalos grinned and rose to his feet.

 

 

 

‘I am going,’ he said. ‘It is the Feast of Starlight tomorrow. Let Anglach have the night off to enjoy the feast. Surely every night dwarf-duty is enough?’

 

 

 

Galadhon sighed in resignation. ‘Very well,’ he said. ‘You have worn me down with your persistent whining. And Silaneth’s. She says you and Anglach are the only ones who will dance with her. Apparently I do not count.’ He smiled.  ‘I will speak to him tomorrow and give it to someone else. How about Legolas?’ 

 

 

 

Thalos laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. ‘That would be a wonderful irony! How about Lossar?’ he suggested mischievously.

 

 

 

Galadhon whispered a good night on the way down from the talan and as he disappeared inside, Thalos heard a sleepy voice greet him and then a quiet rustle of sheets drawn back. He felt a strange weight in his chest that he could not quite explain, and quietly left.

 

 

 

0o0o0o

 

 

 

The closer Thalos drew to the stronghold, the more anxious he felt. It was strange, he thought frowning. It was as Galadhon had said, like his nerves were stretched too tight, jangling like they did when he was in the South. But he did not cross into the Wood every day and back so he had become used to it in some way, or it had happened so gradually perhaps? But there had been that time in his father’s study when he felt an oily slick in the air that coated the back of his throat. It clung to him like the miasma of Dol Guldur.

 

 

 

When he crossed over the bridge and approached the Gates, he felt it; a tremor in the air like something wicked had passed by.

 

 

 

He stopped half way across the bridge and frowned, peered ahead; for a moment, it was like looking into a pool with the trees bent in the refracted light, turned sepia and he had a strange sense of dislocation. 

 

 

 

He turned abruptly. Nothing. But he felt like he was being watched.

 

 

 

No. 

 

 

 

It was not that. 

 

 

 

Not watched…listened for. Observed.

 

 

 

Taking two steps forwards he considered the Gates. They had not opened at his approach as they would normally but remained tightly shut. As if they did not want to open.

 

 

 

He remembered the night they had arrested the dwarves; there had been that same strange sense of dislocation then, and he had turned for the Gates had felt different then too, as disturbed as he and had closed quickly upon him.

 

 

 

‘Edra glandagol’, he murmured and reached out to the Gates. He stroked his fingers over the ornate and carven stone and wood, the rich carved forest, the vines that curled about the edges and the stag that peered through the carved trees. He had always loved that as a child…But he felt the strangeness, the tremble. Like a frightened horse. They opened at his words, but reluctantly, he felt. And he entered the stronghold, feeling somehow that it was no longer a place of safety.

 

 

 

Once inside, he stilled himself and listened. Legolas had said something the other day about a strange feeling, and Thranduil had paid particular notice and questioned him. But Thalos had perhaps been too recently in the South and to him, it felt familiar. Only now, having been in the Woods all night and returning, did he feel it. But he had been surprised too at how tetchy the stronghold elves seemed, how grumpy the kitchen and cellars, and the guard were alert and nervous though they could not say why.

 

 

 

It had indeed begun the night the dwarves were brought here, Thalos realised.

 

 

 

He was thoughtful as he made his way to first the main storerooms where most of the dwarves were kept, and then wound his way to where Thorin Oakenshield was kept.

 

 

 

It was silent in the quiet and secluded quarter where Oakenshield was kept. Dust lay thickly on the shelves and edges of cupboards. A moth fluttered near the torchlight that flickered on the walls for there was little natural light here in the deepest places of the stronghold.

 

 

 

Thalos stood silently, looking at the thick storeroom door. Oakenshield was standing far back in the small room, in the darkness and muted quiet. Slowly, the dwarf-lord moved his head and Thalos was aware of his regard.

 

 

 

‘Why do you lurk in the shadows?’ Oakenshield’s voice was deep, resonant with power and Thalos was startled. He had not imagined that a dwarf might possess such a voice.

 

 

 

He stepped forwards and into the circle of torchlight. ‘I do not lurk,’ Thalos said softly. ‘Here I am that you may see me if you wish.’

 

 

 

‘I do not wish. I do not care.’

 

 

 

Thalos himself did not care much either and shrugged. ‘It matters not to me.’

 

 

 

‘Then what do you want? Why are you here? To stare? To see a captive at the mercy of your vindictive King?’ He strode to the door and the light caught in his eyes, deep set and dark, full of passion and vengeance. ‘Here. Look your fill for I will not be contained.’

 

 

 

For a moment, Thalos believed him and thought perhaps all the tales of the Khazad might be true; that the stone itself would part like water and allow the dwarves to pass. In the deep-set eyes that burned like jewels, there was fire and Thalos suddenly paused;

 

 

 

…Gold. Molten. Liquid. A lake of molten gold before him in a dark place beneath the Mountain, a lost palace of carven stone. He, no, it was not Thalos himself, but Thorin who was standing upon a high point and looking down at the lake, heat rising and a hot wind lifting his hair, he clung to the iron railing and stared down.

 

 

And then.

 

 

A ripple spoiled the smooth surface of the molten gold, it began to stir. And suddenly it heaved and a dragon burst from the lake.

 

 

Oh. It was golden, fluid, shining. Magnificent. Beautiful.

 

 

It burst from the lake of molten gold and soared into the darkness, fire erupted behind it, flame and shadow. The broken doors of Erebor shattered and the dragon fled….soared upwards. Up. Higher. Towards the stars like a comet. It rolled once and shook itself free. Gold scattered from its wings….It flew upwards, against the bounds of the world…

 

 

 

 

 

‘Why do you stare so?’

 

 

 

Thalos stood open-mouthed and lost in wonder. He could not speak.

 

 

 

The song of the dragon echoed in his heart and he could not bear it. He was not even aware that he still gazed into Thorin Oakenshield’s eyes and did not stir.

 

 

 

‘Do you come to scorn me?’ the dwarf demanded angrily. He smashed his fist against the iron grill and Thalos blinked slowly. ‘What do you want? Or are you simple?’ Thorin’s mouth lifted in a sneer. ‘Perhaps you are. Thranduil’s son, a simpleton.’

 

 

 

Thalos slowly came to himself. He frowned at the sense of loss and pressed his hand over his heart. ‘No. No simpleton. For I am not in love with gold, which you cannot eat, or drink and will not love you. No, Thorin Oakenshield. I am not the fool.’

 

 

 

He turned softly and drifted for a while, his feet found a wide ledge that opened onto the forest canopy and he sat for a while and dreamed. No, he was not in love with gold. But the dragon’s song had touched his heart indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

0o0o

 

 

 

 

 

Anglach’s claim that the dwarves were not being treated well enough did not go down well with Lagorúthon. Lagorúthon was not only the captain of the stronghold’s guard but he had trained every new recruit in the Woodland realm and every one of them held him in deep respect, awe and maybe a little fear.

 

Galadhon had arrived before Anglach and had been about to assign the duties for the day, his hand poised over Anglach’s name and about to scrub it out and insert another. But Anglach’s persistent demand that the dwarves be allowed to walk in the Woods and to bathe in the palace baths had made first Lagorúthon cross and then Galadhon.

 

 

 

‘As far as I am concerned you will guard them until they leave or die!’ he snapped. ‘And if you think they will ever be allowed to walk in the Wood with you as their guard you have lost what little sense you were born with!’

 

 

 

Anglach had drawn back, shocked and outraged and but he must have kept what little sense he was born with in spite of Galadhon’s assertion for he did not answer. Instead made his way miserably to Legolas’ chambers to tell him that he was no longer spared and that Legolas would be on his own. Legolas greeted the news with great upset of course but was himself on patrol during the day and was already delayed. So Anglach wandered off to see Galion in the kitchens and then drifted off to check on his dwarf. 

 

 

 

Lossar was on dwarf duty and he gave Anglach his lazy smile as Anglach approached. ‘I heard you have dwarf duty until the breaking of the world,’ he said. ‘But you do not have to do it all the time. Go and have some time to enjoy the spirit of the Wood.’

 

 

 

Anglach sighed. He could not help himself but peek through the bars of the storeroom in which Thorin Oakenshield was held. The dwarf was at the back of the room, standing with his back to Anglach but he knew the dwarf was keenly aware that he was watched. ‘I wish we could let them walk in the forest,’ Anglach said to Lossar. ‘I am sure it would cure them of this gold-longing.’

 

 

 

Lossar laughed softly. ‘You are a rare soul, Anglach. You only ever see good. These are dwarves; gold is in their blood. They will never stop longing for it. And these are on their way to the Mountain. No question of it. They will awaken Smaug and bring fire and destruction down upon Laketown and ourselves. Sure as sunrise.

 

 

 

0o0o

 

 

 

Since Anglach was on duty that night, and Legolas during the day, neither saw very much of each other during the day and Legolas himself was late to the feast for he had come in off patrol when everyone else had already gone to the glades for the feasting and he was in a hurry.

 

He quickly smoothed his hands over his tunic and glanced in the mirror as he buckled his belt. 

 

‘You make a beautiful goblin!’ Anglach’s voice said  from behind him, and something hard hit the back of his head. A small crab apple.

 

‘And you’re still an Orc,’ he threw back. 

 

‘Jealous?’ Anglach said smugly and threw himself onto Legolas’ neatly made bed, rumpling the covers and put his tooled suede boots up on the deep green velvet cover. Legolas frowned; he felt guilty because really he could have swapped with Anglach and let him go. It was making him bad tempered and he should at least be generous, he thought and sighed knowing he would just have to entertain Anglach until it was time for Anglach to go. And Anglach was, he knew, trying to be cheerful though he was deeply disappointed.

 

’Jealous of looking like an Orc?’ he said over his shoulder instead.

 

‘Of having intelligence as well as good looks.’ Anglach grinned at him.

 

Legolas made a heavy show of looking round the room in feigned astonishment, he peered into his wardrobe. ‘No…intelligence here. Um…no. Only good looks are the ones in the mirror, Wait a minute, maybe under the bed?’ He knelt and peered beneath while Anglach pelted him with pillows and then rolled over on the bed until he fell off onto Legolas. They wrestled stupidly for a minute until Legolas pulled apart and breathing heavily, knelt back on his heels. 

 

‘Your hair is all messed up now,’  said Anglach. ‘But it doesn’t matter for none of the maids will be looking at you when Thalos is there. No,’ Anglach sighed sadly, heavily but his eyes were bright with mischief, ‘They will look at you and laugh, Goblin-Prince.’

 

‘They will look at me and sigh,’ Legolas grinned at him. But Anglach’s feigned merriment had worn off and he looked forlorn.

 

‘I have to go,’ Anglach said sadly. “It’s just a shame that we weren’t together for the Feast of Wintergathering either. It’s funny that we never seem to be free together but one of us is always on partol.’ He pushed himself to his feet and pulled his tunic straight. ‘It would be nice if just for once you and I could both go to a feast.’

 

Legolas grunted. ‘You know what I think about that,’ he said. ‘It is too much for a coincidence that we have not been drawn together since… well, I don’t know when. Esgaroth?’

 

‘You have an overly suspicious mind,’ Angalch patted him kindly on the shoulder. ‘Who would do such a thing? Laersul likes us to patrol together in the South and Thalos was very complimentary about our last assignment with him. Remember how we got that band of orcs between us and finished them off? He would not allow anyone to fiddle the lots. And I do not think any of the Captains would either.’

 

‘Hm. Not even if the King demanded it?’ Legolas shot back acerbically for he had his suspicions. 

 

‘He would never do that!’ Anglach was deeply shocked though, as he always was when Legolas suggested that the King might have done anything that was not both Good and Wise, for Anglach loved Thranduil in a way that was entirely uncritical and reverential. Legolas snorted and pulled his fingers through his hair straightening it and quickly smoothed down his braids and checked they were still tied.

 

‘Come on little goblin,’ Anglach laughed. ‘You’ll need someone else to make you look pretty. Galion will fuss his little Goblin-Prince and tie your boot laces for you.’ 

 

‘I wish you were coming,’ Legolas said to Anglach regretfully. 

 

At that moment Thalos was passing and he stood in the doorway, with one hand on the wall, his dark hair gleaming in the candlelight. He quirked an eyebrow at the rumpled bed and the pillows on the floor. He smiled , though his green eyes seemed preoccupied and thoughtful. ‘Are you both till here, Squirts?’ he called. ‘If you wish for any wine or food you had better hurry for it will all be gone.’

 

There were quick steps coming down the passageway to Legolas’ room and Naurion’s voice called, ‘My lord Thalos, have you seen Anglach? He will be late for duty and the captain is already angry enough with him. I thought to hurry him.’

 

Anglach scrambled to his feet and pulled his tunic straight. ‘Naurion, I am here. Thank you.’

 

‘Anglach, hurry. Galadhon is in a foul mood. Don’t keep him waiting. He says Lossar is waiting for you to take over Dwarf-Duty. I will see you later, Legolas. I have to round up any other laggards before I can go.’

 

0o0o

 

The little glades of the Wood were already full of lights and fire, song and laughter and Elves who lived in the talans and cottages around the stronghold had been in the clearings and glades hours ago, stringing lights between the trees, lighting bonfires and the smell of roasting meats and hot bread filled the air. 

 

‘We must be very late,’ Thalos murmured, taking long strides he struck off into the trees and Legolas followed easily so it was not long before they spotted the great fires and torches between the trees as darkness fell and the loud singing of songs reached them from the King’s Glade. Quite suddenly they almost bumped into a couple; the man leaned back against the bole of the tree and a lovely maid was pulled against his chest. They were kissing deeply and Legolas grinned.

 

‘Ceredir,’ he said cheerfully and loudly for Ceredir was also a friend. ‘Anglach and I wondered where you had been hiding and now I see you have been up here all this time and with…?’ He paused expectantly and Thalos pulled his arm, but he shook his brother off. ‘Miriel!’ he said in surprise. She had at least the grace to blush and bite her lip.

 

‘I did not think you were coming to this glade,’ she said sheepishly.

 

‘Obviously not,’ Legolas said smoothly. But he could hardly complain if he were honest with himself; Miriel and he enjoyed each other but they had never pretended to be in love.

 

‘Do not trouble yourself, Ceredir,’ Thalos said, clearly amused, for poor Ceredir was in his patrol and was torn between making some respectful gesture to his captain and making reparation to his friend. even now trying to extricate himself from his lover and to make some attempt at respect for his captain. ‘I will see you tomorrow.’ Thalos raised his hand in greeting and had already passed. Legolas glared at Ceredir for Miriel had turned away and was clearly trying to make herself presentable. 

 

‘Legolas!’ called Thalos. ‘Come, the King will be cross if you arrive after me!’ He pulled at Legolas’ arm then. ‘Do not pretend you are heart-broken. That little minx will have you dangling on a string again by the end of the night. She may well break Ceredir’s heart but do not pretend that she has broken yours or ever could.’ He said it quite sternly for the loneliness he had felt in Galadhon’s talan still lingered and he knew his little brother well enough to know that he would have another lover waiting.

 

‘Maybe, but I did not expect to see her wrapped around Ceredir quite so quickly.’

 

‘Perhaps it is Ceredir that she loves,’ Thalos said but Legolas shrugged.

 

‘No. Lossar is her heart. You can tell when you are with them. They listen for each other’s song. It can be… quite strange, and a little…’ He paused.

 

‘Lonely?’ Thalos suggested. Legolas shot him a quick look.

 

There was a ripple of laughter beside them and suddenly all thoughts of loneliness were lost for they were amongst a group of girls who had wound flowers in their hair and the white and green gemstones glittered in the light. Thalos bowed gallantly and threw flashing smiles at them while Legolas  pulled his tunic straight and joined his brother. The girls giggled deliciously and Legolas made a point of kissing at least two hands before loping after his brother. 

 

Thalos grinned for Miriel was already forgotten as he knew she would be.‘Behave for a moment at least, Squirt, while we greet the King and then we can be free to do as we wish.’

 

‘And what do you wish?’ Legolas asked merrily for already Miriel was forgotten and the song and flirting glances were making him giddy.

 

‘For good wine, song and a girl on my arm,’ Thalos flashed back over his shoulder.

 

‘You mean on your cock,’ Legolas said. 

 

Thalos shook his head in mock-disapproval. ‘You are so crude, Legolas. You should spend more time with me and then you will be more refined.’ Legolas gave a quick and sudden laugh.

 

There were sawn off logs upon which to sit and the fires were already burning merrily, a boar that the King had brought down in the hunt was roasting on a spit and there were long tables where elves at eating and drinking and singing. Bowls were passed from hand to hand and across the fires and there was singing, although not all of it the traditional words or entirely respectable, especially on Galion’s table. Green and white gems glinted on collars and belts, strung in the maidens’ hair. Galion was already there, sitting next to Úroch, Thalos flung a look at Legolas who raised his eyebrows. Thranduil himself sat on a long wooden bench at a long table and wearing the simple tunic and breeches of a woodsman. Above them the huge globes of coloured glass lit the glade and the torches and bonfires spat cinders into the night sky and blazed red-gold. Thranduil was laughing merrily, Thalos noted with a smile; his face lit up when he saw his sons and beckoned them over. It was good to see him laugh, thought Thalos. 

 

Thranduil held out his hand to his sons and drew them close. ‘Welcome,’ he said and some of his lords who sat with him shifted along the bench so there was room enough for them all. ‘Here.’ He thrust goblets into their hands and poured from his own jug. ‘Dorwinion,’ he told them but he hesitated for just a moment before he handed Legolas a goblet. 

 

Thalos drank with satisfaction. The wine cherished his mouth and thrust warmth into his belly.

 

Thranduil nodded appreciatively. ‘There are only ten bottles left, five Galion has left in the cellars thinking I would not notice. But he will have to go back and get them for I want to celebrate my sons and their courage.’ He clinked his goblet against Thalos’. ‘And whatever the Necromancer is, he has surely left Dol Guldur. I have it from Radagast and him, I do trust.’ He smiled. ‘Go,’ he said indulgently and pushed Legolas gently. ‘ I can see what you are thinking. Go. Dance, leap over the bonfires, drink. Do not come home. Sleep on your talans. Or not.’

 

With a grin, Legolas swung his long legs over the bench and darted off into the throng of dancers. Before long, he whirled past with a lovely woman that Thalos recognised from one of the villages. She was called Naledi and her dress clung sensuously to her soft curves.

 

‘Go,’ Thranduil nudged him. ‘Make a fool of yourself like your brother.’ He turned his head to find Galion and shouted at him to fetch the rest of Dorwinion. Thalos laughed a little and plunged into the dance, forcing himself between Legolas and the lovely Naledi and clasping her round her waist, he whirled her off into the night.

 

 

 

0o0o

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 13: The dwarves escape by ziggy

For cheekybeak- Filig (small bird) ethir (mouth)

This bit touches ‘The Halls of the Elvenking’ and so some of it (at the end) is taken directly from the relevant chapter.

 

Unbeta’d: Anarithilien is busy with the sequel to Sons of Thunder so all misstakeis r my own.

Chapter 14: The Dwarves Escape.

Legolas was a little drunk and had leapt several times over several increasingly large bonfires, eaten well and danced with everyone and anyone who would dance with him. Silaneth was currently locked about his waist telling him how Thalos and Galadhon both thought Legolas was an orc in both manner and style but she liked him in spite of it. He did not know whether to be amused or offended. 

‘What will Anglach be doing now?’ she asked for the umpteenth time, looking up at him. The adoration and delight on her face because he was dancing with her had gone and had been replaced by a look of mild annoyance and disappointment. Legolas felt the same. His conscience pricked him and he missed his friend. They always had more fun together. 

‘Galion will be going back with Landaer soon so they can catch the tide,’ he said glancing down at Silaneth and then quickly away as the annoyance became less mild and more irritated. ‘He will check on Anglach, make sure he is not too lonely.’ But even as he said it, he knew that was not enough. He sighed. At that moment Filigethir gave him a fluttery little wave from the other side of the glade; she was wearing a very tight bodice and her breasts were pushed up over the top in an intriguing and delightful way. Legolas’ always optimistic cock gave a hopeful little surge. 

But Silaneth scowled at Filigethir and pulled at Legolas’ arm. ‘I am going to see him then,’ she said decisively. ‘You can stay here if you want.’

His face brightened and he nodded and began to look back towards Filigethir.

‘I will go on my own through the Wood and into the empty stronghold and wander about until I find Anglach,’ she said menacingly. ‘I shall just tell Thalos what I am going to do because you won’t.’ She glared at him furiously. ‘I will go through the Woods on my own, with all those spiders and orcs.’ Even more threateningly. Pulling back, Silaneth folded her arms and turned slowly, looking about for Thalos. Rather showily, thought Legolas. Rather emphatically. 

Legolas sighed in resignation. ‘I said I would go.’He cast a mournful look at Filigethir and her tight bodice.

‘You didn’t but you should, Legolas. He is your friend.’ Silaneth  looked up him seriously. Quite suddenly her face broke into a smile and she patted his arm approvingly; he found himself absurdly pleased by her approval

He looked down again into Silaneth’s bright eyes and nodded. ‘Yes. You are right. It’s a good thing you are a girl, you would make a very scary commander.’

‘It’s a good thing I am a girl and can marry Thalos,’ she said with her chin up. Legolas laughed and smoothed a hand over her hair. ‘That way lies heartbreak, sweet thing,’ he said, looking towards Thalos who was even now talking to Filigethir- who seemed to have quite forgotten Legolas and was leaning her chin on her hand and fluttering her eyelashes at him coquettishly. It had made sure her body was tilted forwards so that her breasts pushed at her bodice enticingly.

Legolas  gave Silaneth a rueful smile and turned away. Now that he had made up his mind, he stopped off briefly to collect a plate full of dainties, of the small cakes that were Anglach’s favourite, and some for himself, and then made his way swiftly back along the little paths towards the stronghold. There were a couple of guards at the doors and they were disappointed that it was Legolas come to find Anglach and not their relief. 

He passed into the stronghold, balancing the plate of delicacies that he had brought back for Anglach.

However when he passed the twelve dwarves’ storeroom, Anglach was not there and he guessed Anglach would be checking on Thorin Oakenshield. Legolas decided to wait in the kitchen for it would not be long and he hated having to wait upon that arrogant dwarf who thought he was too good for everyone else.

After a while though, he grew a little bored and he took out his knives and amused himself by playing a game of Five Finger Fillet, where he stabbed his knife down between his fingers without touching them as fast as he could. There was nothing but the knock knock knock knock of the knife hitting the table until he missed and nicked his forefinger. He gave a small yelp and stopped. 

Legolas sighed heavily and wandered about the kitchen nosily. He opened doors and cupboards and even the oven. Then he sat down heavily. He waited for less than one minute before he was bored. With another sigh he took out one of his knives and examined it, then tossed it in the air once or twice. 

No Anglach.

He had two more knives in his belt and drew them. Throwing each in the air he practised juggling. But three was no challenge at all so he fetched the filleting knives from the knife block and began juggling with them.

At last he heard a light whistling and the cheery sound of Anglach returning. He turned and thew a knife with brilliant accracy into the door jamb beside anglach as he stopped dead in the doorway when he saw Legolas. ‘Legolas! Why are you here and not at the feast?’ he cried, pulling the knife from the wood with a wry smile.

‘I have brought you something to eat, from the King’s table. I thought to keep you company for a while.’ Legolas waved his hand at the plate of delicacies and treats.

‘You don’t have to do that, Legolas,’ Anglach said but he looked so pleased that Legolas was almost glad to have missed the feast. Mentally he sent a little half thank-you to Silaneth in spite of her blackmailing of him with all her talk of spiders and orcs. 

‘Come on,’ he said. ‘Galion has opened up a new cask of Dorwinion. I think we should have a little to go with our supper. Galion has already had a little taste with Úroch I think, to help them with their labor!’ He laughed and led Anglach into a small cellar. ‘ We are hardly in the deep South,’ he said at Anglach’s concerned look. ‘One small glass will not hurt.’

 They sat down at a small table where two large flagons were set. Legolas had seized two goblets from the kitchen and set about pouring them a little of the dark red wine into each glass. ‘We had better only have a little. It is very strong.’ Legolas told Anglach how he had been blackmailed by Silaneth and they were laughing and talking merrily and half their goblets were drained already.

‘I think we had better stop,’ said Anglach responsibly and put his hand over his goblet as Legolas lifted the heavy flagon once again. ‘I am on duty after all. Even this one is more than I should have.’

‘Very well,’ Legolas was sighing and returning the flagon to the table. ‘I will not drink without you. Shall I let you get back then and I will return to the feast?’ He picked up the tall candle ready to escort Anglach back to the dwarves but the air seemed to shimmer slightly and suddenly everything seemed to tilt and then right itself. He blinked and stared at Anglach.

Anglach seemed a little stunned too but he reached out and pulled Legolas back down into his chair. ‘I suppose one more will not hurt,’ he said slowly and he too blinked as if he were surprised by the words leaving his mouth.

Legolas found himself pouring another glass each, but hardly aware of what he was doing. ‘We will drink it slowly and only have the one,’ he said but his mouth felt numb and his tongue felt too thick in his mouth, as if it were not his own.

They sipped their wine slowly to make it last. The wine seemed to last for ages and no matter how much he drank, the glass never seemed to get empty. And it seemed the mice were very lively that night because there were noises and strange creaking in the kitchen so both he and Anglach had to keep getting up to see what the noise was, and then every time they came back, it seemed their goblets were still full of wine. 

Now quite suddenly there was a loud crash and the sound of pots and pans crashing to the floor in the kitchen. They looked at each other and  and they had lurched through the door together and got stuck. When finally Anlgach popped himself from where he was wedged between door and his friend, he had almost fallen and both he and Legolas collapsed onto their chairs in fits of giggles.

And now, even though they had only drank less than two small goblets, Legolas felt his senses were dulled and he closed one eye and squinted out of the other at Anglach, whose chin was now resting on his chest. 

‘I have to say…’ Anglach’s speech was slurred and his head nodding by now. ‘Your my bes’ fren’ Leglas. My very be’ fren’…’ And he emitted a loud belch which had them both giggling stupidly.

‘Love you too Ang..Ang-lack,’ Legolas managed after several goes. He hiccupped and looked glassily into his goblet. ‘How come I feel so…very very….hiccuppy,’ he giggled, ‘when I have only had…’ He squinted into the goblet suspiciously, ‘two  very small cups?’ And at that he looked across to Anglach whose head was on the table and snoring. Legolas blinked owlishly and looked at the flagon. He pulled it over towards him and peered into it. ‘Elbereth’s tits,’ he swore. ‘Anglach!’ He shook Anglach blearily. ‘Anglach? We’ve drunk almost all of this…Eru, I feel…’

He shoved the chair out and tried to stand up but crashed into the side of the table. Suddenly the world swam before him and he realised that they had drunk far too much.

‘Shit, we are goin’ to be…’ Legolas belched loudly and then put his hand over his mouth. He looked a bit green. ‘In so much trouble…Better check on…dwarves.’ He swayed and fell against the big ceramic sink with the pump. ‘Better have some water. Sober up.’ He splashed water on his face and then into his goblet, drank it quickly and then another. He left a cup of water on the table for Anglach and lurched from the kitchen and staggered down the passageway. 

Surprisingly he made it to the cells and managed to peer glassily into the grilles to be met with a load of abuse from Dwalin as usual. Legolas’ head wobbled a little and he gave a nasty smile and stuck his middle finger up at Dwalin and then grinned at the dwarf’s shocked expression and the torrent of abuse and he assumed, expletives that followed him. Feeling rather proud of himself, he turned and staggered clumsily back towards the kitchen and crashed into someone. Or he thought he did. But when he looked, there was no one there.

He blinked hard as if he might clear his head. His fingers felt as if they belonged to someone else and he looked at them bewildered and confused. 

From the corridor to the kitchens, came the sound of voices then and he saw through blurry eyes, two elves approaching. He staggered a little and squinted at them. It was the guards who had been relieved from their duty and were on their way to the feast. 

‘Come along, Legolas,’ said one. Legolas cracked one eye towards him, but he couldn’t remember his name. The elf laughed sympathetically. ‘Looks like you’ve had quite enough for one night. Let’s get you to bed.’

He tried to protest that Anglach needed him but they were very persistent and a strong arm was shoved under each of his shoulders and he was manhandled to his room. Though he tried to tell them that he was going back to Anglach, he was not in control of his limbs or his tongue and found himself marched back to his room, and left on his bed. They at least had the courtesy to pull off his boots. He fell instantly and deeply asleep. 

 

0o0o

Legolas woke with a headache like a crowd of tiny dwarves were hammering determinedly on the inside of his skull. He squeezed his eyes shut and silently harangued the dwarves with a stream of expletives and blasphemy against the powers that would make Galion proud. But there was a softness against his arm, warmth. And his nose tickled by long hair that smelled off lavender and rose. He lay on his stomach, one arm thrown across a soft, warm body that stirred slightly beside him.

‘Morning,’ a voice said. Filigethir. 

He started slightly, and felt how his muscles were sated and lax. Next to him, Filigethir moved slightly and he cautiously cracked open a eye.  

The daylight was so bright, blinding and for a moment he wondered if he had died and was in Valinor. The tiny dwarves hammered even more loudly and his stomach suddenly lurched wildly. Somewhere nearby, a bird’s sharp, high voice sang inconsiderately loudly and cheerfully and squeezed his eyes closed and groaned. The dwarves hammered gleefully in his skull.

And then he thought. 

 

Dwarves.

 

But Legolas sat upright in horror. ‘Namo’s stinking arsehole! Shit!’ He leapt off the bed and looked around for his clothes. He couldn’t see them.

 

‘You threw them off by the waterfall,’  said Filigethir helpfully. 

 

‘Waterfall?’ Legolas asked stupidly. What waterfall? Hadn’t he been left on his own bed?

 

He blinked and looked up; he was not in his own bed. Above him, there were pale green leaves fluttering in the breeze. He was on a flet in the Woods. Filigethir's. He remembered dimly stumbling from his room to look for Anglach and Filigethir appearing from the Baths, catching his hand and pulling him after her. He had been too drunk to resist.

 

A man’s tunic, shirt and breeches were hung carefully over a low branch and Legolas grabbed them and started pulling them on, hopping around on one foot to pull on breeches that did not feel quite comfortable.

 

‘Those are mine! What am I supposed to do?’ a male voice murmured.

 

‘Ceredir?’ Legolas asked horrified. Elbereth’s tits, had he been so drunk he had actually…with Ceredir? He rubbed his hands over his face in horror and Ceredir struggled from a tangle of sheets, long hair tangled and oh horror! bruises and marks on his neck that suggested a robust and passionate night. Filigethir smirked at him and pulled at his hand. 

 

‘Don’t worry, you were too drunk to do anything. But you’re awake now.’ She pressed her lips against his shoulder but Legolas was sitting bolt upright, eyes wide.

 

‘Legolas, what is wrong?’ Filigethir asked but Legolas did not speak. He dragged the shirt over his head, pulled the other leg into the breeches, did not tuck in his shirt, did not grab the tunic. He had no boots. He threw aside the screen of the flet and flew down the tree branches, skidding and sliding and leaping until he reached the forest floor. He sped past one of his boots that was hanging from a tree and the other he saw on the muddy river bank. He did not stop to retrieve them and his bare feet flew along the path and over the bridge, he burst through the palace doors.

 

‘Legolas!’

 

It was Thalos.

 

‘You have heard?’ Thalos hastened towards him, his face worried.

 

Legolas skidded to a halt. ‘Heard what?’ Suddenly aware that his hair was loose and wild and he had no shoes or boots on or tunic and looked exactly as he was, come furiously from a romp in the wood.

 

‘The dwarves have escaped.’

 

‘Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck!’ Legolas sank down onto a low step and put his head in his hands. As the adrenalin drained from his body, the little dwarves hammered again, more loudly and more persistently than before.  It was all coming back. The Dorwinion, the heady drunkenness, Anglach  falling asleep…Legolas remembered realising and going up to check on them because the big ugly dwarf had cursed and sworn at him and Legolas had given it right back……He fumbled around in his memory…He remembered tripping over something in the dark, hearing Naurion? calling to him, helping him back to his own rooms…And then..awakening and…then Filigethir taking hold of him and saying that she would look after him.

 

They were in the biggest trouble of their lives.

 

 

0o0o

 

 

 

Thranduil’s face was stern, his slate-green eyes hard with disapproval. Thalos felt all those emotions roiling from his father. From his King. For the the two roles mixed inextricably, and conflicted. Anglach stood miserably, shoulders hunched, head bowed and Legolas, although he stood taller and met his father’s eye, his fingers worried at a loose thread on his sleeve. Galion stood anxiously behind the carved wooden throne and fidgeted.

 

Thranduil suddenly turned to him irritably. ‘Will you stop hopping about like a frog, Galion. Go if you can’t stand still.’

 

Galion froze and then began nibbling his fingernails. Galadhon stood beside Anglach, straight and furious.

 

Thalos took a breath, about to intercede but Thranduil turned his forceful gaze upon him and he fell silent. Thranduil narrowed his eyes and then turned back to Anglach and Galadhon. 

 

‘You were left in charge of the dwarves, Galadhon. And they have gone.’

 

There was a sharp intake of breath;surely Galadhon was not going to bear the brunt of this!

 

Galadhon knew better than to speak though his spine stiffened and his fingers clenched the hilt of his sword. Thalos saw his knuckles were white.

 

‘I was on duty, my lord.’ Anglach squeaked.

 

Thranduil flicked a cool gaze over him and Anglach visibly dwindled under the King’s disapproval.

 

‘And I am sorry.’ Anglach added miserably.

 

Thranduil said nothing but turned his gaze to Legolas.

 

‘Tell me, Legolas. What was your role in this?’ His voice was cold.

 

Thalos noticed how Anglach glanced in alarm at Legolas and how Legolas stiffened. He looked very tired but the way he had been half dressed when he ran pell-mell into the stronghold meant he had spent the night out of his clothes, clearly for he returned in someone else’s, and his skin looked pale, his eyes dilated. He had winced when Thalos spoke. Anglach looked the same.

 

‘Legolas did nothing, my lord. It was me. He only came to see if I was alright and then left.’

 

Thranduil’s piercing gaze swivelled back to Anglach and softened. ‘You sat on your own drinking Dorwinion? You drank a whole flagon on your own when you were supposed to be on duty?’ His scepticism was heavy and Thalos, knowing his little brother would never allow his best friend to take all the blame, steeled himself for the inevitable.

 

Legolas smiled slightly at Anglach. ‘No, my lord. That is not what happened. In fact it was my fault. I brought Anglach some supper. I poured the wine it is true. But Ada,’ his voice changed and he looked up at Thranduil in appeal. ‘It was strange- we only had two small glasses each. I swear.

 

There was a snort of contempt from Galadhon. And Galion cringed and shook his head. Thalos looked at Legolas in sudden concern; it was unlike his little brother to try to wriggle out of something. And he did not lie. 

 

There was something about this that did not feel right.

 

It was true that the pair of them seemed to become irresponsible adolescents as soon as they set foot back in the stronghold on return from the South, but in the South they were two of his best. There they were reliable, skilful, exceptional amongst the men. And they took their duty seriously. They might well have had a small glass on duty- inside the stronghold, he might have done himself. But he could not see either of them drinking to the excess that they had.

 

‘It is true, my lord.’ Anglach took an ill-advised step forward and Galadhon’s hand shot out and hauled him back. ‘But it is!’ he exclaimed. ‘We had one. Legolas insisted we did not have more. He reminded me I was in duty and so we didn’t pour another but …something made us have another and every time we looked, it seemed the cups were still full.’ He finished weakly.

 

Thalos turned his head to look at Anglach. His words sent a cold finger of dread down his back and he remembered the sense of malice he had felt that time in his father’s study, the sensation of being in the South.

 

But now was not the time to say anything; he saw the expression of disappointment on Thranduil’s face and bit his lower lip. He would wait for a more opportune time for he knew his father well. Thalos stepped forwards and holding his hand up to Anglach, he stopped him from saying any more and glanced meaningfully at Legolas.

 

‘My lord, I will deal with them both.’ And when Thranduil held up a hand to forestall him, he added quickly, ‘As their captain it is for me to do. I will of course discuss it with you first.’ It was always best to give the King time, for he could be quick to judge and unrelenting and Thalos wanted to think about what his two warriors had said. ‘Trust me, my lord. Galadhon and I will make them understand the cost of their actions.’

 

‘The cost of their actions?’ Thranduil almost choked on the words. ‘Have you any idea what the cost will be?’ His eyes were upon Thalos as he spoke but the anger had gone and instead there was fear. ‘You know where those dwarves have gone, do you? Erebor! They will awaken the dragon. He will destroy Esgaroth. And then he will come here.’

 

o0o0

 

 

tbc

Chapter 14 Laersul by ziggy

OCs:

Laersul -Thranduil’s oldest son

Thalos- middle son

Anglach- Legolas’ best friend.

 

Summary: The dwarves have escaped whilst Anglach was on watch. Legolas was with him at the time and they had been drunk so now face disgrace. Because of this, Thranduil has send Thalos to the dragon before it is time and he risks rousing the dragon’s suspicion that something has happened. Whilst from the South has come the news that the White Council has driven out the Necromancer from Dol Guldur.

 

Beta: Lotrfn. Thank you so much for the kind offer, lotrfn. Great working with you!

 

Thank you to those who left a review: LayneWolf, Arasa17, rikwen96, Spiced Wine, Naledi, firerosedreamer, freddie23, lotrfn.

 

Chapter 14: Laersul

 

Frantically at first, they searched the stronghold, convinced the dwarves must have fled deep within the caverns. Elves dashed through the winding passages, throwing open doors and punching at sacks, thrusting torches into the shadowy corners. The sentries at the Gates were questioned and shook their heads in denial; nothing had passed this way, of that they were certain. And there was no other way out.

 

Except one. The barrel drop. But Galion swore by Elbereth’s tits that there were no dwarves in the cellars when he opened the trapdoor for the barrels. ‘They could not have used the barrels to escape, addled ones,’ he said irritably, sharpening the bread knife he which was already sharp enough to cut hair with. ‘And even if they had climbed into the empty barrels, how did they get the last lid on? Did one of them stay behind?’  He looked about the kitchen exaggeratedly. ‘And have you found him yet?’

 

Nonetheless, Thranduil despatched Thalos and Galadhon to search the forest along the river, and the rim of the stronghold to see if the dwarves had found a cavern opening out. But it seemed the dwarves had vanished into the rock itself.

 

Those who knew, watched Thalos depart on his search and wondered how soon the King would send him on his quest. And Thranduil looked stretched, haunted and restless for he waited in hope that Laersul would arrive soon and he could at least send one of his other sons with Thalos for it was clear he would not send his disgraced youngest.

 

Anglach and Legolas felt sharply the disappointment of those who loved them and disapproval of those who did not. Of all the elves, they searched most thoroughly and most keenly. Carefully they tracked the passages from the dungeons, as the storerooms had become known, to the kitchens, back to the cellars, to the Gates and then back to the cellars. There were indeed signs that the dwarves had gone to the cellars but though the two of them stood in the cellars and argued, still they could not work out how the dwarves had done it. And Galion swore again, even more obscenely than before, that there had been no one in the cellars, and when Legolas peered into the deep dark stream, he could not imagine even a dwarf surviving the drop or the icy water without being seen. Baffled they returned to the dungeons and sat on the step with their heads in their hands.

 

‘They must still be here somewhere,’ Anglach said in despair.

 

Legolas shook his head. ‘No. They are gone from here. If they are within the caverns, they are far away underground.’

 

‘Perhaps the tales are true and the stone just parted for them and they walked out.’

 

Legolas sighed heavily. He and Anglach were in such disgrace that they were not even allowed on duty; Lagorúthon, the stronghold commander, had summoned them to the tribunal in his office for Thalos had promised Thranduil that they would deal with their own warriors. When they knocked hesitantly upon the door, it was Lagorúthon himself who had hurled open the door, his face hard and flinty.

 

‘We are doomed,’ Legolas murmured to Anglach, for Lagorúthon well deserved his name for swift anger.

 

’Well. Here are the children who cannot even keep a few dwarves in their cells!’ Lagorúthon growled contemptuously. He jerked his head towards the inside, glaring at them and it is fair to say that they scuttled in more like frightened rabbits than warriors who had faced orcs, wargs and the Nazgûl.

 

Inside the office was a large oval table where the officers sat to discuss the matters of the day and strategy. The room was lit with the familiar amber lights that were used throughout the stronghold but because this was the Command it was far deeper than the other chambers, and so there were oil lamps too giving a warmth that neither Anglach nor Legolas felt. A group of officers were huddled over a map at one end of the table, looking down at it and pointing at different places on the map, their voices low. They were deep in conversation. They each looked up at the entry of the young warriors and grew silent. Then each one slowly straightened to look at the young warriors, some very coldly.

 

Legolas’ heart sank even further for Thalos was one of those officers and the disappointment on his face was evident.

 

Lagorúthon pulled a chair noisily from under the table and thumped heavily into it, arms folded across his chest and stretched his legs out, scowling at them. ‘This is a tribunal. Stand to attention!’ he barked. ‘Your elders and betters are in attendance.’

 

Discipline in the Wood was different from the usual stiff military formation of the armies of Men and Noldor, but every Woodelf knew when to do exactly as Lagorúthon ordered and this was one. It is worse than I thought, Legolas admitted to himself.

 

Now the other officers moved and took chairs and took the chairs on one side of the wide desk while Anglach and Legolas stood on the other. Galadhon sat on Lagorúthon’s right, his eyes looked directly at Anglach. This was going to be bad, thought Legolas; Galadhon had felt, with some justification, that Anglach was the source of all the mischief that had come from the dwarves, and that he had never been suitably punished. Thalos lay a sideways look at Legolas who stood motionless with his eyes front and fixed at a point above Lagorúthon’s head.

 

Legolas doubted he would ever be sent back to the South after this. Perhaps he would be stripped of his rank and made a messenger or work in the stables. The humiliation was absolute.

 

He still did not understand what had happened that night. He and Anglach had racked their brains to try and understand how they had come to drink quite as much as they had. Neither of them could explain when Lagorúthron demanded an explanation. Anglach mumbled with his eyes on the floor, his belief that something had been going on that they could not explain.

 

‘The dwarves had some sort of magic that had affected us both somehow. I can’t explain it.’ He paused and looked up to meet Lagorúthon's stern expression and began to babble. "It just felt wrong. I’d have a small drink and look down and it seemed I had not drunk anything for the glass was almost full. I know Legolas didn't refill them, I know I didn't refill them, I know it. . ."  But his assertions were met with sidelong looks and thinned lips. Legolas nudged him and shook his head at Anglach so Anglach stopped and hung his head miserably.  

 

They told Anglach he had been negligent in his duties but it was Galadhon who intervened for him.

 

‘It is true Anglach has been negiligent here in the stronghold.’ Galadhon suddenly interrupted. ‘And both he and Legolas are…almost revert to being children when they are here.’ He held Anglach’s eyes as he spoke and there was a puzzled expression on his face. ‘But I bid you remember both their service in the East Bite and the South. They are both but recently returned and had served there for two rounds before leave.’ He allowed a silence for that was long enough for the officers to remember what that meant, how long that was, the drain on the men standing before them. ‘During that time, both acquitted themselves exceptionally well. We cannot afford to lose such warriors for any length of time and I would argue that this slip is because they were still under the Shadow.’

 

Legolas could see Anglach’s mouth was open and his eyes goggled at Galadhon.

 

It was not enough to soften the stern faces of the officers though but when Lagorúthon dismissed them, there was not the anger that had greeted their arrival. They were relieved of all duties for the moment although they would return to the East Bite when it was time, despite of the Necromancer’s apparent vanquishment by the White Council; for the elves of the Wood did not believe it and would patrol those lands as they had done for countless centuries.

 

Although their officers did not punish them more, that did not mean that the King would forgive them. Legolas was convinced that his disgrace meant he would not be allowed to accompany his brother as the Danedh-Amlung. He was right.

 

0o0o

 

Thalos returned from the tribunal, even more convinced there was some magic at play in the dwarves’ escape, for there was no trace of them and he could not imagine that twelve dwarves could just vanish.  He pushed open the door to his rooms, unbuckling his scabbard as he went. He laid his sword and long white knives upon the oak chest and glanced towards his bed, where he saw that his youngest brother sat waiting for him, head in his hands and shoulders slumped in misery.

 

Thalos did not speak. Instead he ran his hands along his knives, searching for notches and scratches. There were none. They were as perfect as when he was first given them by Laersul, his older brother: a gift for his captain, his brother. His friend. He missed Laersul, for he had a way of calming their father and little brother that no other had. For in truth, Thranduil and Legolas were more alike than one would think; both were stubborn and impatient, loyal and generous. Thalos found himself too exhausted to deal with both of them in their current hurt and resentment with the other; Thranduil was disappointed in Legolas for betraying the trust shown him, and Legolas was resentful and hurt that his father did not believe him. Sheathing the knives, Thalos placed them both carefully in the carved rack near the door and then turned to face Legolas.

 

‘He won’t let me go with you,’ Legolas said angrily. ‘He thinks I am a wastrel and unworthy of my office. I will be stripped of my rank and demoted to messenger.’ He stared at the floor in abject misery. ‘And to be honest, I would agree with him if it were not for fact that we had but one glass of wine each.’ He looked up at his older brother hopefully, searching for belief.

 

Thalos sighed. ‘That is not what the tribunal decided.’ Wearily, for he had found it hard to listen to the charges against his little brother, harder to watch the shame on Legolas’ face. It was a good thing the two had been commanded to be silent by Lagorúthon, for lies and excuses did not sit well with any of the elves, least of all their fellow warriors who had to trust their lives to each other. So many had seen Legolas at the feast, so drunk he could hardly stand. Thranduil was even more deeply upset that Legolas had seemed to abandon Anglach at his post having got him drunk. And then apparently, the pair had lied, telling everyone that they had been ensorcelled and bewitched into drinking more than they should.

 

‘Are you going to tell me I have done wrong like everyone else? Like I do not know?’ Legolas said in anticipation. He looked away, digging his finger into the counterpane. ‘I cannot bear it. Everyone is looking at me like I have cut Anglach’s throat. And I know I should never have left him but I swear to you, Thalos, I was looking to tell someone that we had drunk too much, that someone else needed to relieve us. I wanted to find you, or someone. But I… I was so drunk I was helpless. I…was befuddled in my wits by then. I do not know…’ He put his head in his hands as he had so many times since the morning of the dwarves’ escape.

 

Thalos looked away. Whilst he did not find their story easy to believe, he knew Legolas did not lie and he had never left a comrade behind. He could not imagine Legolas behaving so recklessly with Anglach unless he truly were under some influence. ‘I do not know what happened, Legolas,’ he said at last. ‘All I do know is that it is unlike you to either betray your friends, your duty or yourself. You do not lie and so I believe that you tell what you think happened at least.’ He looked down at Legolas’ bowed head, his hands picked at the loose thread on his cuff. Thalos gazed at his brother. Finally he stretched out his hand and stroked Legolas’ head. His hair was warm and smooth as it had been when he was a child. ‘My advice though is that you say less and do more.’

 

‘You will go without me,’ Legolas said and Thalos stared at him. He knew without asking what Legolas meant; with the dwarves’ escape, they all knew they had run out of time. ‘You will go without me and without Laersul for he is so very late and you cannot delay. Ada is so anxious that the dwarves will awaken Smaug, he will send you very soon.’ He looked up at Thalos and his eyes were full of dread. ‘Thalos, you need someone who will go in and get you out should you be lost. Someone who loves you. That is why Ada chooses as he does.’ Legolas’ voice was desperate. ‘But who will go with you if not I? Galadhon cannot go with his wife so near her time. Antaris and  Ólros are in the South with Laersul, Idhrellethril is injured…and Anglach is as disgraced as I.’

 

But the truth was that Thalos was burning to see the dragon. He thought that he would almost not care if he was lost, because he wanted to see there was a greatness beyond him, beyond anything he had hitherto known. And perhaps he would be enough to be the last Danedh-Amlung. Perhaps Smaug would be content that Thalos stayed? He imagined for a moment the glamour of the dragon that Thranduil had revealed to him, the sheer size of its intellect and knowledge, its song.

 

‘I can see you flying away with him, you know.’ Legolas looked up into Thalos’ eyes that were distant and dreaming. Reaching up, Legolas pulled Thalos’ hand so that Thalos had to look down to him.  ‘You have seen but a glimpse of  the dragon in the vision Ada showed you. You have seen how he strives against the bounds of the world to reach the Imperishable Flame. I can see you going with him…’ Legolas murmured and he pulled Thalos to him, hugged him close.’ Do not be beguiled, Thalos. Do not lose yourself in his Song…’ But it seemed to Thalos that there was a yearning in Legolas’ voice; he too wanted to see the dragon again.

 

 

0o0o0

 

A great grey stallion dashed through the forest, fleet-footed, sure and swift for this was Meredion, one of the very best of the King’s famous herd of grey horses that were like foam upon the Sea it was said. Upon his back was an elf, leaning low over the horse’s neck and urging him on, faster and faster for the elf’s thoughts were focused on home, the stronghold. In his heart he was troubled by what he had been told; thirteen dwarves captured and then escaped whilst the king’s youngest and his ward were drunk on watch. Now there was strife between his warriors and their captains, the King unreasonable and the folk of the Wood restless and murmuring that the King could no longer protect them. In the South the Necromancer had been vanquished but there seemed little reason to rejoice when the elves’ home was torn and riddled with disagreement and turmoil.

 

Ahead of him, globe-lights shone in the trees and he could hear singing in the tall beeches of his home. Only now did he finally slow Meredion to a canter, the horse’s sides heaved and his coat was flecked with foam.

 

‘My lord Laersul!’ An elf dropped onto the path before him quite suddenly but his horse did not shy or even pause for his rider merely lifted his hand in greeting and nodded slightly.

 

The sound of the forest river filled the air, rushing swiftly over the grey granite, the water dark and icy cold. Above him rose the hill beneath which was the elven-king’s stronghold and palace. The horse clattered over the bridge and halted abruptly before the Gates. Only then did Laersul pull up; he stared for a moment and then slid from his horse and approached the Gates. He lay his hand gently upon the vines that twined about the edges, let his hand drift over the birds and the stag that were carved into the stone. The Gates seemed to almost tremble beneath his touch, like a frightened horse when its master places his hand upon its neck and it is calmed.

 

Behind him , Meredion stretched his neck and rested his nose upon Laersul’s shoulder until he turned and led the horse within, the Gates sliding open noiselessly, smoothly and then closing silently behind him.

 

The guards on the inner gates almost jumped when they saw who approached. They held themselves taller, prouder as they recognized the King’s oldest son, their commander. Their eyes slid towards Laersul though they did not move, standing like stone as expected, as demanded by the King. But Laersul inclined his head slightly as he passed and the guards held themselves even more proudly now that he had acknowledged them. Without being told, his horse, Meredion, shook his long black mane, swished his tail and trotted off towards the King’s Mews for a good rub-down and then finally, a feed of bran and oats and hay. It was well deserved for they had ridden with all haste and without pause from the far South of the Wood.

 

Laersul did not need to be told that the King, the Aran, was in his audience chamber, or that there was trouble. He felt it in the Song, how it clanged and jarred in discord like a heavy stone thrown into a calm pond causes turbulence. But even now, the discord was dissipating, he realized, and like the pond when the stone sinks, there were only ripples left for the Song was slowly surging back into harmony…That did not mean that whatever had caused the discord was gone from the world however. In the same way as the Necromancer was not truly gone either.

 

As he strode purposefully towards the King’s audience chamber, elves bowed and called a warm greeting ahead of him and around him, as if now that Laersul had returned all would be well. His warriors were excited, he could see the way the turned to each other, eyes alight and wide smiles on their faces. But Laersul feared that despite the his hurried arrival, and the news of the Necromancer’s departure, things were very much not all right and that he might already be too late.

 

The sinuous walkway that led up to the audience chamber arced up over the cavern floor and curved away into the chambers beyond. Soft light from the evening globes lit the chambers beyond and beyond, like echoes. In one of the smaller, more private audience chambers were gathered the oldest, wisest elves, councillors of the King, who sat heavily in his carven throne, shoulders hunched, His fingers restlessly twisted the ring upon his finger. In the globe light the ruby flashed and flared like a beacon. The light gleamed on the King’s hair, the colour of old gold coins.

 

Laersul slipped into the chamber behind the small group, and stood in the shadows behind a pillar that arced gracefully high above. He folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the pillar, watching in silence. He was taller than most other elves and broader across the shoulders. His long blond hair, so similar to his father’s, was pulled tightly and braided tidily, precisely. The only sign of his exhaustion was in the slight bow of his shoulders.

 

The voices of the councillors were hushed, quiet and secret, and Laersul had to lean forwards slightly to hear what they said.

 

‘We can find nothing, Aran,’ Lord Gilvaren was saying. Laersul knew him well; he was an ancient elf from Doriath, one of the original companions of Oropher in the first days. ‘We have searched the riverbank, the caverns, the Wood. They have disappeared completely.’ His fair face was troubled.

 

‘And what of Esgaroth?’ Thranduil’s voice cut the air. ‘Has there been news of the dwarves?’

 

‘Our messengers have not yet returned,’ said Laegrist, one of the oldest silvans. He grimaced slightly, preparing himself. ‘My Aran,’ he said slowly, ‘It is time.’ He looked with immense compassion and tenderness at the King. ‘You must send the next Danedh-Amlung.’

 

‘Do you think I don’t know that!’ Thranduil shoved himself forwards as if he might leap from the throne. He glared at Laegrist for a moment and then collapsed back against the chair. He covered his eyes with his long hand, the ruby flashing in the globe light.

 

But Laegrist was not cowed by the King’s outburst, nor his companions. ‘Thranduil,’ he said, deep compassion in his voice. ‘Who will you send with him? It must be one who has the yaré-cármë himself.’

 

‘One who knows what it is to face the dragon, and can bring him out if need be,’ Gilvaren added softly with a complicit look at his companions.

 

They have planned this conversation well, thought Laersul with a slight smile. He caught sight of Galion sitting silently on a step behind the throne, arms folded on his knees and his face grim.

 

‘Will you go yourself, Thranduil?’ asked Laegrist gently. He shook his head then. ‘You know you cannot.’

 

At last, Laersul pushed himself away from the pillar, unfolded his arms and stepped into the light that shone from the globes above. ‘No my lord, you will not. It will be as it has always been. I will stand guard upon the last and the next Danedh-Amlung.’

 

Thranduil half rose from his throne in astonished relief and wonder and Galion leapt up out of the shadows amid the gasps from the lords.

 

Laersul moved towards the throne and placed his hand upon his father’s shoulder and let his own warmth soak into his father. ‘Ada, I will not let them fall.’

 

‘I am glad that you are here, my son.’ Thranduil pulled his tall, strong son into his embrace and breathed in the smell of him, the forest, the wind in his hair, the cling of his horse’s sweat, Thranduil thought wryly but he did not care for his son was home. Safe. Safe. He reached up and pulled his son’s head down towards him and kissed the top of it.

 

‘I have much to tell you, father,’ Laersul said, bending his head accommodatingly. ‘But it seems that you have much to tell me also.’ He watched the slate-green eyes slide away but did not miss the pain and fear. ‘These dwarves? Thorin Oakenshield I presume?’

 

‘They are on their way to Erebor.’ Thranduil pulled himself away, striding back to the throne but he did not settle, simply circled it restlessly and Galion fluttered about getting in his way as usual.

 

Laersul stood quietly, knowing that his father needed to move, his restless energy needing to be released. In fact, what he really needed to do was fight someone, something. But Laersul was not it; Laersul was his touchstone, his stillness. He waited.

 

‘You know that they will awaken the dragon, they will awaken Smaug and he will kill every one of them. And then Smaug will turn his wrath upon Esgaroth.’ Thranduil’s voice was thick with despair. ‘And when he has wrought absolute destruction upon that raggedy pile of sticks and twigs,’ he said with contempt, ‘then…then he will turn to the Wood.’ Thranduil stopped then, gripping his solid carved throne as if it was all that kept him tethered, grounded. ‘All will be ash.’

 

Laersul regarded his father. It was true. He knew it with the same certainty that he knew the Necromancer had indeed fled Dol Guldur, though not fled the world.

 

‘But I cannot let you all go. I will go with you instead of Legolas.’ Thranduil turned and looked defiantly at his councillors. ‘As you suggest, Gilvaren,’ he said unfairly.  ‘As I did the first time.’ He looked at Laersul and held his gaze but Laersul was steadfast and did not look away in spite of the piercing heaviness of his father’s eyes; he saw the fear that was in his heart and the desire to keep one of them safe at least. It was Thranduil who looked away first.

 

‘Ada,’ he said with immense gentleness. ‘Ada, you know you cannot go. It will have to be Legolas.’

 

0o0

 

 

Laersul listened patiently to the reports from the scouts and warriors, listened carefully to Anglach and Legolas’ tale, and Galion’s assertion that the dwarves could not have escaped by the cellars. But he was now convinced that this was exactly how they had escaped. How Thorin Oakenshield had actually accomplished this he did not know, but he had been in the South and one learned to accept that not everything could be readily explained. There was the trembling horror he had felt in the Gates, the discord that no one else seemed to feel around them, and that led him to suspect that Thorin Oakenshield had with him some sort of magic, an amulet or some such thing. He suspected Gandalf’s involvement somewhere too from the things the Wizard had said, had asked before the assault upon Dol Guldur. 

 

With regard to the journey that lay ahead of him, he knew they had little time. Thorin Oakenshield must already be in Esgaroth, Laersul calculated. But elves would travel more swiftly and he intended to arrive at Erebor before the dwarves. And if necessary, he had every intention of defending the mountain against Oakenshield if Thalos had not first wrung the oath from Smaug.

 

He could not help himself as he walked purposefully through the passages towards the barracks. I am just checking on Meredion, he told himself. But it was not true. No. The truth was that he deliberately visited the mews because he had already been all over the stronghold and not found the one he was really looking for.

 

And suddenly, there she was.

 

Leaning over the well, winching the bucket, Theliel’s long dark hair gleamed with silver light, like a river of stars, thought Laersul, his heart leaping in his chest. She pulled the bucket over the parapet of the well, spilling water so it splashed down the front of her tunic. Her language was coarse enough for one of his warriors for Theliel was no fainting maiden. As her eyes lifted and when she saw who it was standing there, her smile chased away all his weariness and strain of being in the South. He took a step towards her, his hand outstretched as if he would sweep her into his arms.

 

But suddenly he stopped. What right did he have? What right did he have to court her when he had to go to the Mountain now and risk the dragon again?

 

No. He let his hand fall back to his side. He had no more right now than when he was fighting in the South. And Theliel may yet have a lover. He did not even think she had the same feelings for him as he did for her; he could not imagine Theliel doing as he did; lingering desperately for some snippet of news of her, or watching breathlessly in case she passed his way.

 

And because he hesitated, Theliel too faltered and instead of the hard embrace, clasping each other with desperate desire, they simply stood looking at each other with uncertainty and yearning.

 

Theliel threw out one hand carelessly, as if to deflect him. ‘I heard you had returned,’ she said, shrugging as if it was incidental. ‘But I did not think to find you here.’

 

He took a step towards Theliel then, not to kiss her as he wanted, but to stand beside her as he would a comrade. ‘I wanted to check on Meredion before I leave.’

 

‘Before you leave?’ Theliel could not keep the disappointment from her voice and his heart fluttered like a bird. ‘But you have only just arrived! And with such news! Surely you do not have to return so soon?’

 

Theliel had turned her face up to Laersul then and he looked down at her gratified. But then he shook himself slightly in vain attempt to shake off the emotions that were clear in his face. ‘The King has ordered the new Danedh-Amlung make the journey before the Thent-Arnor.

 

‘Oh.’ Theliel turned her face away. Dismissively, he thought though it was disappointment that made her do so. ’Well. I suppose you have much to prepare?’

 

Laersul felt hope crushed in his breast, pierced by her apparent disinterest. Fool, he thought, of course she does not feel the same. She must have dozens of suitors, every one of the more suitable, more available, able to spend time with her, to look after her, to listen to her, to caress her…He stopped himself. This was pointless.

 

Carefully he steeled himself, forcing his voice to remain strong and certain. ‘Yes. I must at least to give my captains the courtesy of a visit,’ he said, cringing inwardly at how pompous his words made him sound. ‘But they will forgive me if I walk instead with you a little way?’ He had not meant to say it, but the words just popped out of his  mouth and he braced himself for rejection.

‘You can carry the bucket,’ said Theliel quickly and he laughed. It was what he loved about her.

 

Loved?

 

Suddenly a memory struck him, although he had thought about it often since. Almost ten years ago, he had taken Legolas and Anglach on the same journey that he was about to make with Thalos. The two had been boasting outrageously about maidens they had kissed and more when Theliel’s name had been mentioned by Legolas. The surge of emotion that had struck Laersul in that moment had shocked him…and awoken him. And now, he was going again. Without speaking. Without telling her. Without knowing himself if she returned that feeling.

 

Decisively, for he had always been decisive in everything but his actions towards Theliel, he put the bucket down and turned to her. He raised his hand to stroke her cheek and tenderly looked into her eyes. She had beautiful eyes, he thought, as he often did. Hazel witchcraft that had him besotted. And as he leaned down towards her she raised her lovely mouth to meet his and half closed her eyes and he realised something; she liked him too.

 

 

0o0o

Thent-Arnor (shortest day- Durin’s Day).’

 

 

 

*******

Chapter 15 by ziggy

Apologies for delay in posting this but hopefully you have found Where the Shadows Lie, Sons II and know I am working on that for a bit. This had to lie sleepily in my head for a bit while I worked out what had to happen in terms of the timeline- which is not strictly canonical but I reckon you'll forgive the tiny vagaries.

Next chapter will take us to the events of The Hobbit again and bring us back to Bilbo and Co.

Chapter Text

Chapter 15: Erebor

The Mountain rose out of the early morning mist, a great spike of granite, enigmatic and threatening.

Laersul put up the oars and leaned forwards, intending to prod Thalos and Legolas, curled against each other asleep at the other end of the light skiff he rowed towards Erebor. He paused for a moment before wakening them; their faces were slightly flushed with sleep and they looked so young, all the tension, anxiety and elation relaxed from their faces. Letting them sleep on, he dipped the oars once more and pulled the skiff through the water and onto the Lake.

Silently the boat slid across the grey lake, it mirrored the sky, grey and overcast and the air was cold, his breath frosted. At last, Thalos stirred slightly and cracked open one green eye and looked at his older brother. Carefully he shifted Legolas’ head from his shoulder onto his chest and eased upright, rolling his shoulder for it was stiff. He smiled slightly at Laersul who returned the look steadily.

‘I am ready for this,’ Thalos said quietly, defensively. 

Laersul bent to the oars and pulled, the skiff leapt lightly over the glass-like water. Ripples spread silently after it, a curlew cried in the reeds and lifted on the wind.

‘I know you think I am already lost,’ Thalos continued. He looked away, following the curlew with his eyes. ‘But I am not a fool. I know what to expect. Ada showed me.’

Laersul almost snorted but restrained himself. He merely moved his eyebrow very slightly.

‘What you saw was a mere echo, a memory,’ he said at last. ‘An elven memory true, but nonetheless, a memory.’ He pulled at the oars with easy strength. ‘You have no idea,’ he said. ‘We will not leave you there, even if you wish it. This I swear. It is what the danedh-amlung do, for we have all seen the dragon. We have all seen him and dream of seeing him again.’ He smiled thinly. ‘Anglach had to find Legolas.’ He exchanged a glance with Legolas that was full of understanding. They all wished to see the dragon again. Laersul no less than anyone.

Finally the boat slid against pebbles and they could go no further. Laersul stepped out of the boat onto the grey shoreline. He threw the rope high onto the beach and turned to hold the boat steady for each of his brothers. They were silent now, no more teasing or jest. They went about securing the boat with practised ease and soon were on their way along the narrow track that hugged the river as it rushed out into the Lake.

Above them, the clouds were low. They could not see the Mountain but they knew it was there, a presence, intimidating and almost aware. Quickly they left behind them the flatter marshes and struck the old dwarf road with its broken paving and smooth as glass stone. Amongst the weeds were the rusted pieces of metal only looked like that, now that time and the elements had weathered them. Thalos frowned and stooped to pick one up but Laersul shook his head at him, and he dropped it as if guessing what they were. Legolas avoided looking down at all, tense and anxious, stepping carefully.

It was only days since they had left the Wood and of the dwarves there was no sign until they looked back and saw boats cutting the glassy surface of the lake. Laersul’s face was stony and he shifted his sword in its sheath. 

‘I cannot see if those boats carry dwarves or fishermen,’ he said. ‘But if Thorin Oakenshield comes to the Mountain before you are sworn, Thalos, he will not pass. Legolas will shoot them all if it comes to it.’ 

Legolas glanced at first one brother and then the other, puzzled.

Laersul brushed his hand over Legolas’ shoulder. ‘You will stand guard at the Gates, Legolas,’ he said. ‘I will be going with Thalos. We all know you are the best archer in the Wood,’ he said, cutting off both their protests. ‘You must delay Thorin Oakenshield if he comes here before our task is done. And you must shoot Smaug if he emerges for he will have broken his trust. Then you must run for we will be dead.’ His eyes gleamed. ‘I will go with you, Thalos, so I can find you if you are beguiled.’

There was no gainsaying Laersul when he was in this mood, so both Legolas and Thalos nodded, their faces set, but accepting his command nonetheless.

The three sons of Thranduil turned back to the mountain road then and made haste and before sundown, they made camp beneath the crags of Erebor . 

 

0o0o

 

Next morning, Legolas stood and watched his brothers go on alone now, and enter the gloomy darkness of the Mountain. Not quite ten years ago, Laersul had stood where he now stood and it had been Anglach who walked beside Legolas to the gates. He had walked into that yawning darkness himself, and the dust had risen like flocks of ghostly birds as he had passed. It was colder now for the year was almost at its end and the sedge and heather were no more than scrub. Last time, he had noticed the glint of metal in amongst the stones. He knew better than to look now…but he remembered the skeletons of the child curled in the arms of the adult that he had seen. He turned his head searching but the bones of the dwarves had gone, surely not through time? Legolas wondered. He had always believed that Dwarves lasted like stone. 

And then he realised and felt sick; predators must have found the bones and gnawed them away. The child. The protective dwarf that had curled himself? herself? over those fragile little bones. He found himself understanding Thorin Oakenshield for if this were the Wood and those bones Anglach or Silaneth, he would want revenge.

He turned his head towards the empty and gaping entrance to Erebor. He could no longer see or hear his brothers. They had gone. And within, was Smaug.

Legolas remembered, lifting the memory of the dragon and examining it as if he would a jewel. But the dragon was so much more. Smaug was fire. He was glorious, golden, magnificent. Utterly terrifying. Tragic. Lost. Even now. Legolas listened for the dragon’s song and wished somewhere in his heart, that it was he who was accompanying Thalos and could hear again that strange, haunting Song that was the last dragon.

 

0o0o

 

‘I have to leave you here,’ Laersul said softly. They had passed through the entrance chambers of Erebor and stood now in the King’s Chamber; the grey light of morning barely reached into the drear and gloomy caverns that had once been glorious. He lay his hand on Thalos’ shoulder. ‘Though I would like to go all the way with you, I think I cannot. Smaug is…subtle and unpredictable. I do not think we should break any terms Ada made with him. But be safe, Thalos. Do not look into his eyes, do not listen to his Song and do not stay any longer than you have to. Swear this to me.’ He turned his brother to face him and scrutinised his eyes, hoping to find resolve but he found only a wild excitement and anticipation. Already Thalos was lost. ‘I will come for you,’ Laersul said emphatically. ‘You can tell Smaug that. Tell him that I say he cannot keep you.’

Thalos’ assertion that he would not be captured by the dragon was almost lost in his breathy excitement and he turned too quickly and disappeared into the gloom of the caverns, into the sulphurous stink that Laersul remembered and thought he would never get off his clothes, out of his hair, or the skeins of dragon-song that caught in his dreams until Lathron’s sharp quill pricked away the webs of bewitchment and awakened him again to the Song of the Wood. As he watched Thalos’ sputtering torch flicker in the darkness and disappear, he remembered the dragon’s words to Laersul himself:

Beware of yellow smoke in the Woods, child of Azgarâzir.

If you see yellow smoke in your Woods, run. Run like the wind. For they hunt you, they want you almost more than any other and they have no mercy, no pity.

He had heeded it, but there had been no yellow smoke in the Wood. And Laersul had always thought that would come from Dol Guldur, from the Necromancer - who had gone from the Wood but not from the World. 

Dol Guldur was empty. So said Gandalf when he had appeared, breathless, smudged with blood and dirt and somehow diminished. As if something had happened that had shocked him, alarmed him more than he had expected. So the Wizard’s assertions that the Necromancer had been vanquished rang a quiet alarm in Laersul’s heart that had nothing to do with the White Council’s apparent victory, and more to do with his silvan native intuition and the long years of standing guard over the Wood and the North. 

Laersul sighed and settled himself to watch. Darkness pressed upon him in the great, empty halls of the King under the Mountain, long gone and bones now dust. Not a sound there was and the silence perhaps as much as the Dark oppressed him. But he was here for his brother, and for the Wood and he had endured far worse in the South…and he had a kiss to keep him warm, for the memory of Theliel’s warmth and her response to him sliding his hand over her back, down over her shapely hips and the way her breast filled his hand was more than comforting. He let himself dwell upon that as he waited.

 

0o0o

 

When Thalos left his two brothers behind, his own heart raced ahead in eager anticipation. There was no sense of dread, for he knew this was part of his destiny.

He walked through the gloomy darkness, hardly sparing a glance for the high arcing halls with their empty armour that stood like ghosts, or the monolithic architecture, the precise and angular carvings. He did not glance once around him or lift the torch high to see the empty abandoned splendour of the dwarves’ great kingdom. In his chest, his heart hammered and soared and he felt his ecstasy seize him and drive him towards the dragon.  

There was a fiery glow on the walls, like a huge fire was lit in the hall ahead of him and a low hum filled the air. But the stink was sulphurous, like a marsh or rotting eggs but he did not care. The dragon was ahead of him and he could feel the thrum of excitement in his blood, the churn of anticipation in his belly. He sped forwards, his head filled with the images his father had shown him. 

The heat suddenly hit him and he felt a fiery blast as if he had stepped into a forge. Emerging onto a low platform, he blinked, blinded at first after the darkness; he saw the carved steps falling away beneath him and the hall seemed filled with fire, a red-gold blaze of light. He barely noted the treasure, the piles of gold, the heaped up mountain of gold coins in which were mixed chalices, jewels, sapphires of the deepest blue and emeralds scattered carelessly throughout the hoard. Even though diamonds the size of his fist glinted in the firelight. The air itself was golden from the reflected light of the huge dragon that was waiting on his bed of gold.

Smaug.

Thin spires of grey smoke spiralled through the air from the dragon’s sleepy sigh.

Thalos gasped in wonder for Smaug was indeed monstrous, colossal. Unimaginable.

His head alone was bigger than Thalos’ horse, and the wings that were folded back over the dragon’s back would have obliterated the night sky above Esgaroth. His long, spiny tail disappeared into the other end of the King’s treasury and into darkness. Smaug was magnificent, glorious. Huge. Everything he had imagined and more.

He gazed at the red-gold dragon lying outstretched upon his bed of gold, his hoard. Thought he could never have his fill.

An eye suddenly opened, molten gold and the nictitating membrane opened and closed shockingly upwards, wrongly. Utterly alien.

‘Well. You are early, Danedh-Amlung.’ The dragon moved its head slightly and gold poured over it, cascaded over his scales endlessly. ‘Is that because something has happened in the Wood? Come out of the shadows. Let me look at you.’ The dragon’s voice was deep, richer than gold. Thalos felt it reverberate throughout him, the rhythm like the beat of blood in his veins. He was compelled to step forwards and slowly climbed down the stone steps that led downwards, into the heart of the Mountain, into the treasury, the hoard of the Dragon.

When he took the last step, his feet slipped on gold coins and he waded through them like pebbles on a beach. He felt the heat intensify suddenly like he had walked into an oven and the marsh-gas stink of sulphur and rotten eggs thickened the air and he squeezed his eyes closed, willed his feet to walk for suddenly he was there, in this place with the Dragon. And it was a colossus.

Slowly the dragon lifted its head, up and up and up and still it rose until it was at its full height; towering over him, the dragon’s pale underbelly was crusted with jewels where it had slept and gold and jewels had lodged between his scales. He glittered and shimmered in his own fiery light.

‘My lord Smaug,’ Thalos said in a tone of wonder. ‘I am the danedh-amlung. I have come…’

‘Thalos Thranduillion.’ Smaug’s deep, resonant voice echoed around the chamber. He thrust his head down and forwards to where Thalos stood. ‘You are early. It is not yet ten years.’

Thalos could not speak. He felt an elation that he had never felt before. Here was the dragon. And it knew him. Had asked for him. Waited for him on its hoard of vast wealth, gold, more gold than he could have imagined, piled up in great heaps. And yet it paled bedside the dragon’s magnificence.

‘I have longed for this, I could not wait for ten years, my lord. Having seen your image in my father’s mind,’ Thalos said. ‘But it is as he said; nothing to your real presence.’
    
Smaug watched him. There was no fear. He knew Smaug would not kill him. As he approached, his feet slowed as he took in the enormity of Smaug. The dragon’s foreleg stretched towards him, like a hand. Its claws like fingers, webbed with skin between each talon, each scale like pearls and bronze. The talons flexed like a reaching hand and he saw how perfect, how like steel-scimitars they were. And when he lifted his gaze, the dragon’s huge head was close, its thin serpent tongue flickered over its lips and it tilted its head slightly to look at him…

He saw himself in the dragon’s elliptical pupil, approaching himself as he would through a mirror. Molten gold. Obsidian. Gone were all the warnings. Thalos could not help himself; he leaned towards the Dragon, approached and although he was not unafraid, he was breathless.

It was as though he had been waiting for this all his long life.

He stopped before the dragon and could not look away. ‘My lord Smaug, ‘ he said awed. ‘I have yearned for this.’

Smaug simply looked at him and then he stretched and shook his huge wings, spread them as if he might fly and small pebbles rained down as he crashed into the stone pillars supporting the roof.

Thalos glanced up anxiously but Smaug moved his head gently to rest beside Thalos. ‘The mountain is more than these dwarvish delvings,’ he said. ‘These caves are made not by dwarves but by forces greater than those. By water and Fire. By the movement of the earth.’ Smaug shuffled closer. ‘I have been waiting for you, Thalos of the Wood. Thalos of the Bite. It has been a long time.’

Thalos smiled in wonder and Smaug dipped its head towards him, eyes closed and a whuff of smoke came from his nostrils. 

The dragon was …beautiful.

Terrifying.

Thalos parted his lips and leaned forwards, throwing all his father’s fear and Galion’s warnings, Laersul’s pleas, he listened…Smaug rested his head on his forepaw, for all the world like a sleepy hound and allowed Thalos to put his hand upon the scaly skin. He expected it to be cold and hard…but it wasn’t. It was not soft but velvety, smooth, utterly unexpected. Warmth rose through him and curled in his belly like a fine wine…

 

Thalos found himself listening to the heart song of the dragon, the single notes that blazed through the emptiness and silence of space, that ignited in the deep dark, the velvet dark, a spark of fire …Fire at the heart of the Universe; light exploding, ignited, kindled by the breath of Eru. The first dragons came from that secret fire of creation. 

Thalos found himself yearning to fly up and up, great wings outstretched and soaring on a wind that none on the earth had ever known, soaring high, higher than cloud, higher than the Moon, above the World, seeking the Fire beyond the Circles of the World...None but the greatest of the dragons could reach even the boundaries of Arda and Smaug reached, and reached for the fire that burned at the heart of the universe…that spawned stars and suns and galaxies that spun slowly, wheeled in the hugeness of the night that was beyond imagination…the Secret Fire, from which All Things came…but always, the heavy chains of darkness brought him falling back, falling back into darkness…for like smoke, the darkness of Morgoth had swirled in the red-gold light of the Uruloki, twisting their hearts, twisting their Song into discord…and slowly, slowly, the Earth pulled them down into its heavy weighted embrace and captured them in its sphere. Still they hungered insatiably for light, for the Fire at the heart of Creation and that became a greed for gold…The dragons never forgot the fire at the heart of the Universe and ever yearned for it, to be freed from the shackles of the earth. 

‘I have seen star-fire break upon the distant horizon. I have seen the black space between the stars that swallows all light, all matter.’ Smaug’s voice was hypnotic, richly deep. ‘I have seen the moon rise over frozen Helcaraxë. I have been worshipped in the East, and battled in the Far West over drowned Beleriand. I have seen the starfall beyond the boundaries of the World. I have seen armies fall, Empires.’

‘I am the last. The last Uruloki. The last of the Fire-drakes that your people fought in the North….Soon my fire will fade and my bones sink into the earth to become fossilised stone for Men to wonder at.’

‘I will help you,’ whispered Thalos, child of the Wood, child of Light. He could not bear the unendurable loneliness in the dragon’s heart. He gazed into the dragon’s eye…molten gold, the elliptical pupil wide so he could see his own face reflected, wondering and terrified. He could not look away, seemed to fall into the darkness, the blackness of it… ‘Let us fly beyond the stars and see the world beneath. Let us seek the Secret Fire, let us break the bonds of Arda.’ He spoke as in a dream for he did not know where these thoughts came from but it seemed… oh, it seemed to him that there was something he had dreamed long ago, and in the deepest of his dreams… that he clung to the spikes on the dragon’s spine. That they soared. high, higher until the air was thin. The dragon’s silk-thin wings beat the wind, lifted beyond the boundaries of the world, spiralling upwards on the thermals but higher than any eagle. When he looked down, he saw the whole of Arda like a blue-green jewel below them and the sky around them darkened and there were stars, great globes of white fire.

‘Once. Long ago perhaps’ Smaug dipped his head to Thalos once again. ‘But it is too late for me. You should have come when I was young.’ Light glowed on the iridescent scales, the perfect form. In each scale, Thalos saw the perfect pattern and he frowned for he recognised the pattern but could not think where he had seen it. Like the shells that he had seen in Laketown, like the pearls of his mother. 

‘Too far now… too far from grace I have fallen.The stars are beyond me. Chains of gold hold me, bear me down and I cannot escape them now.’ Smaug sighed. And in that sigh was such great defeat. ‘I cannot escape the weight of…this…’ Smaug’s eyes glittered with gold. ‘It is my delight and my prison.’

Smaug stretched one talon. It flexed like a scimitar. Bright. Steel-sharp. Beneath his great claws, gold coins clinked and slid and the gleam was less bright than the dragon.

‘I will tell you such tales. I will share all that I know. Will you stay?’ Smaug asked sleepily, beguilingly. ‘My Nagiru.’

‘Anshargal, great Prince of the Heavens.’ Thalos closed his eyes and felt the deep warmth, the heat of the fire, the molten heart of the dragon. ‘Tell me all.’

The dragon sighed, a deep sigh that came from the depth of him. And he spoke the language that Thalos had spoken, the old, old words before the elves awoke for Thalos was the most learned of all the elves of the Wood, the most cunning, the most wise. He was utterly bespelled. He did not care.

‘I am hungry,’ Smaug whispered. ‘So hungry…and you will feed me.’ But he did not mean flesh and Thalos knew he would not be slain. ‘

‘You are the last, the last of the Dragon’s Ransoms,’ said Smaug. ‘You will stay and guard me. As I will guard you. There will be no need for any more of you to come for I will have you. Stay.’

And Thalos gazed into the dragon’s eyes of molten gold, the elliptical pupil of obsidian and felt himself falling into darkness. ‘I will,’ he murmured.

 

0o0o

Laersul had not unstrung his bow, nor had he laid down his sword since he had left Thalos in the empty and gloomy caverns of Erebor. He paced restlessly. He knew that Legolas was stationed below the ruined town of Dale and would come only if Laersul himself did not return…But he did not trust Smaug. Every one of the danedh-amlung had been beguiled, bewitched in their own way - but Thalos was curious, his sharp intellect like polished knives. He would want to learn what the dragon knew and be lost in the dragon’s Song, as Legolas had been; Legolas had needed Anglach to bring him out, still dreaming the dragon’s Song. That was why Laersul was here instead of Legolas; Legolas would be unable to resist listening again for that haunting Song, glorious and lonely. Unforgettable. Laersul worried that he might lose them both.

 

The sun was low and the sky had deepened to a clear, deep blue. Early stars scattered over the far horizon where the night was already darkening. He took a breath and paced up to the mouth of Erebor itself, peered within where the darkness was absolute but he knew where the skulls of the dwarves lay, blasted by the dragon…or perhaps they were now dust for it was many years since he had trod those halls. He did not know if the bones of dwarves lay longer than elves or Men.

He glanced over his shoulder. Legolas had lit a small fire; he could see it far below. To guide them if they were lost….

Thalos was already lost. He knew it.

He turned and strode purposefully into the caverns of Erebor.

Within, the darkness closed around him like a fist. Iron-cold. Bitter silence. Beneath his boots, bones crunched and he winced but did not stop to look or to take care. A foreboding was upon his heart and he hurried. No torch lit his way but he remembered perfectly the long hall from the days of Thrór; in that memory, the chambers were lit by warm, golden light that came from huge bronze globes, and which reflected upon the great pillars of onyx inlaid with precious gemstones. But now he strode through the lightless, silent halls, beneath the great iron walkway that spanned the chamber, and ran down low steps carved into the dark rock, the granite of Erebor. Deep he went, and deeper until he approached the treasury of Thrór. In his memory, Laersul had been more timid, more awed, and almost crept through the empty, gloomy caverns, and the dragon’s stolen hoard was dull beside the glory that was Smaug himself. 

But now he threw wide the great doors and did not hush his breath or his step.

‘Where is my brother?’ he thundered. The voice of the Wood. The voice of Laersul Thranduillion. He could have been Thranduil himself. There was an aura that surrounded him, gold and green and he seemed to grow taller as he approached.

Smaug was coiled, like a huge sleepy cat - except the domesticity ended there. Thin curls of smoke whuffed from the dragon’s nostril and its eyes were narrow slits of molten gold. Its head was on its great paw and it gazed at Thalos, who stood, his hand on the dragon’s muzzle. Absolutely bespelled, beguiled, enthralled.

‘Well.’ Smaug’s voice, rich, urbane, slid through the golden light. ‘Laersul Thranduillion. I had not expected you as well. Is your littlest brother with you also. And perhaps your illustrious father? Quite a family gathering.’

Laersul strode forwards. ‘Thalos!’ He ignored Smaug and shook his brother’s shoulder, pulling him round to face him but Thalos’ green eyes were utterly lost, staring at something Laersul could not see.

‘What have you done?’ Laersul demanded of Smaug.

And Smaug laughed softly. ‘What have I done?’ His golden eyes opened, blinked and the nictitating membrane opened upwards, shockingly. Reptilian. ‘Why, nothing that he did not wish.’ Thin grey smoke coiled upwards from the dragon’s nostrils. The fire in his belly glowed red. ‘It is as you see, Laersul Thranduillion. He has decided to stay.’

‘It is not for him to decide. He is under my command.’ Laersul took a step forwards, and drew his sword ringing from its sheath. He would not quail before the dragon, though one flick of its talons could gut him, one snap of its teeth tear him to pieces. ‘This is not part of your agreement with the King! We have faced the serpents of the North,’ he said threateningly. ‘And they remember our House. They remember Oropher and Thranduil.’

Smaug suddenly uncurled and lunged through the hoard, surfed through gold, coins sprayed, long strings of jewels streamed and caught in his scales. The ground shook beneath his feet and great chunks of stone crashed down upon the dragon, unheeded. Smaug skidded to a halt in front of Laersul, uncoiled and slowly, gradually reared up so that Laersul had to crane his neck to see the towering dragon as it rose above him. He tasted the mineral tang of fire and brimstone on his tongue.

Thalos had not moved.

‘Do not think to threaten me,’ Smaug roared and Laersul forced himself to stand his ground though the gold poured around his feet, pulling at him like the tide. He staggered a little and held onto Thalos lest he also be dragged in by the tide of gold.

Smaug dropped to his pinions and lunged forwards but he did not bite. He did not get too close. ‘We remember indeed,’ he said nastily. ‘The wounds you inflicted, the cruelty of the elves!’ His voice rose in a hysterical lament. And then dropped to a close, cynical, knowing softness. ‘But you are not Oropher. Nor are you Thranduil.’ Smaug padded closer, his long tail thrashed in the piles and piles of treasure, sent jewels spraying into the air, catching the light as they fell heavily around them. Smaug’s voice lowered even further. He came to a halt with his snout within feet of Laersul. He felt the oven-heat of the dragon, the stench of sulphur. ‘I will tell you the secrets of the shadows that beset your Wood. Darkness is falling. Something has been found. Something Precious. You stand on the edge of Night.’

Laersul faltered for only a moment; he knew the false truths in which the dragon dealt; he had not forgotten the warning Smaug had given him on his first visit and now, he felt a cold finger had stroked down his spine and turned his blood to ice. But still he stood tall and said defiantly, ‘No. I will take what is mine and leave you what is yours. For as long as you can hold it.’

Smaug’s eye swung round and fastened upon him; the obsidian pupil, reptilian, a slit of darkness. Suddenly he felt himself falling…falling…Into darkness and a coil of yellow smoke curled about him as he fell. ‘I gave you a warning. You are hunted. They want you most of all.’ Smaug’s voice eased through the dark… ‘Have you taken heed?’

Laersul opened his mouth but no sound came for yellow smoke filled his mouth, drove down his throat and filled him, choked him…He felt a sharp pain in his belly, like a spear and his body jerked…He thought he heard the cry of battle, a woman screaming somewhere and the hoarse jeering of orcs…

This is not real, he told himself firmly. This is not…

‘Not yet,’ Smaug breathed. ‘But it will come. Your time. I can give you what you need to stop this. Leave your brother with me, and I will give you all the knowledge and power to prevent it. You think it has gone, the shadow. But it has merely shifted elsewhere.’

’N..No!’ His wrested himself back, ripped himself from the darkness, and back to the sulphurous heat and stink of Smaug. He felt his legs trembling like he had fought a great battle, wanted to sink onto the ground but he would not. Shakily, he grasped Thalos by the shoulder. 

Smaug watched him intently. But when Thalos shifted against Laersul like he would go, the dragon stretched forward one huge paw and flexed his talons that could pin them both. ‘You want my gold?’ Smaug said softly. ‘Take as much as you can carry. You want the Arkenstone? Here!’

A stone of immeasurable worth slid to Laersul’s feet, shot through with a thousand iridescent rainbows. He stared and the light shone on his face. 

‘Worth more than all the gold in the Mountain,’ Smaug’s voice was suddenly low, beguiling. ‘Think what you could do with wealth such as this. The weapons you could have forged. Armour for every warrior, dwarf-forged steel. Swords made in Imladris by the last smiths of Ost-in-Edhil. You would cut through the darkness that infests your Wood….Or…Leave him,’ Smaug said softly, ‘and I will consider all debts paid in full. I will swear to never come to the Wood.’

And now, Laersul hesitated; they were sorely pressed and there were never enough weapons, arrows, armour such as they had in the other elven realms. 

Leave Thalos here. Forever. Like the sleeping warriors in the legends of Men. For Smaug’s peace.

He looked at Thalos, his long green eyes half-open and lost, dreaming of star-fire and the blue firmament, huge wings stretched beneath the moon and then beyond it, seeking the secret flame, like a moth. Thalos’ lips moved. ‘I will help you find the way,’ he murmured so quietly that Laersul had to lean in to hear; it was not Laersul to whom Thalos spoke.

‘I have never abandoned a single one of my men,’ Laersul said slowly. ‘I will not leave my brother.’

Smaug drew a breath and slowly settled. The glow of his fire grew deep. Golden. Heat. ‘Will you not take what I offer you, Laersul Thranduillion? I offer you wisdom, knowledge of what assails you in the South, how it will grow, its fingers reach out to touch you, to take what is yours.’ The dragon lingered over the words, cajoling, beguiling. ‘Its shadow will grow longer until all the Wood is in darkness, and you will see the yellow smoke creep between the trees, it will choke you.

Laersul shoved Thalos behind him, his sword glittered in the red light of the dragon. ‘I care nothing for my own life.’

‘Oh that is not the worst that will befall you…Darkness will swallow the world. And you turn your back on the wisdom that will keep your little kingdom safe.’ Smaug slid forwards, like a serpent, his scales made a rough, dry sound as he moved. ‘But leave your brother with me as troth and I will swear to never come to the Wood…Take him with you and the Peace is broken. And when your ten years is up, I will come to the Wood. And I will be Fire. Death.’

Laersul bit his lip. He could not leave his brother here, forever in the dark, like one of the jewels of Erebor, forever a hostage in spite of oaths and promises of the dragon. And he knew well enough the subtle treachery of dragons.

Laersul stood firm, his sword gleaming in his hand. ‘I think not.’ He reached out and clasped Thalos’ hand and he met the dragon’s eye with a challenge of his own. ‘I am taking back my brother. This is not the Peace you agreed with the King. You are still bound by the oath to him, and we are still within the term of ten years.’ He took a step forwards

Smaug turned and slid through the coins in suppressed fury. ‘You seek to cheat me!’ he snarled. ‘You are early. Why is this?’ Smaug slid through the golden hoard, tail thrashing. And then suddenly his eyes blinked slowly, the nictitating membrane closed up and slid back open. ‘There is something else…something you fear.’ Swift, like a snake, he turned and pored over the gold, his long sinuous neck weaving. ‘What has happened that you send the danedh-amlung so early? What treachery is this?’

Laersul made his face a mask of stone. ‘As you say, there is a shadow in the South. All of us are needed there and my father bid me make this journey early,’ he said coldly. Truthfully. For he could be subtle too if he wished, and it was true though not all the truth. 

Smaug lunged forwards and snapped his teeth but not close, as a warning, furious. ‘Liar!’ He turned and his tail lashed against the stone pillars sending small stones falling, scattering. ‘Treacherous Thranduil! I should have known!’

A pillar came crashing down as Smaug plunged through the hoard. He twisted around another pillar, furiously and it toppled slowly, the huge stones crashed around them. ‘Thalos Thranduillion, Nagiru!’

Thalos moved sleepily, dazed. He reached one hand towards Smaug but Laersul angrily shoved his arm under Thalos’, half-lifted him and hoped that Legolas would come. ‘Beware, Smaug Uruloki. You have not reached the term of our agreement that you will not harm an elf of the Wood. You are sworn by the Secret Fire. There are still six moons before we have finished and if you come to the Wood, you will be foresworn under all the laws of your kind.’

Smaug roared, his belly turned red-gold and he opened his great jaws. Laersul did not wait to see if Smaug would indeed break his oath but ran, dragging Thalos after him. Thalos turned his head and cried out and Laersul threw them both to the ground, rolled with Thalos behind a huge stone pillar and watched the plume of fire flare past them. Heat blasted them both and Laersul smelt burning hair. His own. He batted out the flames and cast a quick eye over Thalos who was unharmed.

‘That is but a warning of what I will bring to the Wood!’ Smaug’s voice roared over them. There was the crash of masonry as the dragon turned and thrashed and roared in helpless fury for he was bound by his word to Legolas. Until Midsummer. ‘Prepare yourselves,’ Smaug said. ‘For when the time is come, our truce is over. I will bring Fire,’ he roared. ‘And death.’

 

0o0o

Chapter 16 by ziggy

Note: I admit to have played a little loosely with the timeline here for the sake of the plot but I don’t think anything is lost by it.

 

 

 

Chapter 17: Durin’s day

 

Legolas heard the roar of the dragon and felt the earth tremble beneath his feet. Instantly, he kicked over his small camp fire and heart pounding, raced to the broken, twisted gates of Erebor. His feet flew along the old dwarven road and the River Running churned and foamed beside him. Instinctively he found himself stringing his bow and checking his knives as he ran, as if they might be any good against Smaug. But still he scrambled over the great broken granite blocks and entered the darkness of the mountain without a second thought for his own safety but only that of his brothers. 

 

The twilit chambers were as dusty as he remembered and the stink of sulphur made his eyes stream and he covered his nose with his arm. Only now did he stop, breathing hard and peering through the twilight of Erebor. He did not strike a flame to see his way and he did not need it; if the stink of dragon did not guide him, he knew every step for he had taken this way before, fear  heightening every sense. The fear now was not for himself but his beloved brothers and he knew he had to go down into the heart of the Mountain. Laersul was there, and Thalos. And Smaug was angry.  He took off again, running through the empty halls of stone.

 

Then he heard it again; a roaring that shook the mountain. The rock beneath his feet shuddered and small stones showered down upon him from above. His feet slowed and he glanced upwards quickly to see the high arched roof and the huge bronze lamps that had hung for so many years unlit and cold. But the bronze lamps slowly rocked on their great chains that creaked with disuse. A whirl of bats fluttered up as he passed through the empty chambers of the King under the Mountain. The air was suffocating and hot, a smell of burning acrid on his tongue.

 

Another angry roar of the dragon shook the mountain and he flew down the dark halls. Small rocks and stones fell from the roof, the rows upon rows of empty armour suddenly shook and clinked and shuddered like they had been awoken by an invisible breath, and the metal suddenly glowed fiery red.

 

Legolas stopped for a moment to stare in horror down the long vault of the King’s Chamber as a red glow lit the farthest end and the Mountain shuddered again and Legolas imagined Smaug tearing through the chambers and passages below, bellowing his fury, pursuing his brothers. And then he charged forwards; Smaug would not have his brothers! He ran faster, his feet flying through the echoing darkness of the chamber of the King, and down the stone cut steps towards the treasury of Thrór, towards the unimaginable wealth and gold, towards the bellowing fury and red fire of Smaug crashing through the caverns beneath him. He did not think what he might do, just that Laersul and Thalos needed him.

 

There was a patter of feet in the red-lit darkness ahead and he slid to a halt, gasping. 

 

‘Laersul?’ he whispered, heart pounding in his chest from running and from fear also.

 

‘Legolas! Thank Eru. Quickly, I need help.’ Laersul’s voice sounded fearful and relieved at the same time and Legolas hurried forwards. 

 

Laersul was half-carrying Thalos, whose feet dragged as if he tried to resist Laersul, and he pulled back, head turning towards the sound of the enraged dragon. Legolas immediately flung Thalos’ other arm over his shoulder and looked quickly at Laersul’s anxious face.

 

‘I am afraid I have destroyed our Peace with Smaug,’ Laersul said apologetically. Legolas glanced at him but he said nothing; Laersul was the Wood’s commander and Legolas would not dream of questioning him now. 

 

‘We need to get Thalos out of here.’

 

Together they half dragged Thalos between them, he hung heavily as though drugged and his head lolled, face turned back towards the fiery darkness.

 

‘I do not think I was as bad as this when Anglach fetched me,’ Legolas said as they emerged into the King’s Chamber. He shrugged Thalos’ arm higher over his shoulder again and hoisted him up.

 

‘Indeed.You were lost and dreaming but you could be led,’ Laersul agreed. ‘Thalos is completely under the dragon’s spell. Smaug wanted to keep him here. He offered me the Arkenstone.’

 

They were almost at the entrance to the Mountain now and the great hall was in twilight, grey light filtered through the broken gates into the great chamber. There was a moment of silence and stillness and then suddenly, another bellow thundered through the dark and the rows of spears and armour shifted again, like an army of dwarves suddenly at attention. Showers of small stones fell around them and they ran through the twisted gates, dragging Thalos over the broken granite figures and scrambling over the great chunks of stone.

 

They emerged into the air but did not stop until they reached the ruined town of Dale, where at last Laersul dropped Thalos’ arm and collapsed onto a fallen stone. He watched Legolas lower Thalos to the ground and unstop his water bottle, holding it to their brother’s lips. Thalos’ eyes were still glazed and distant and he drank without thought or awareness.

 

‘Is he going to be all right?’ Legolas asked. He looked over at Laersul but his oldest brother had his head in his hands and did not speak. It frightened Legolas suddenly and he looked from one brother to another in fear.

 

‘Laersul?’

 

Laersul’s shoulders heaved as he took a deep breath and then he looked up and met Legolas’ frightened gaze.‘Smaug will not come. He will not pursue us. He is still sworn by the Secret Fire to do us no harm.’ He looked away up towards the Mountain. It was still now and dark but Smaug did not sleep, of that Legolas was sure. ‘Smaug knows he has no choice but to let us go,’ Laersul continued, but it was almost to himself that he spoke. ‘But he will brood and let his anger seethe like lava beneath his skin. And then he will come to the Wood.’ He rose to his feet and looked about as if searching for something but Legolas did not know what it was. Then he took a few steps one way and then turned and paced back, smoothing his hands over his braids as he did when he was distressed. It frightened Legolas even more to see his strong, steadfast oldest brother uncertain and upset.

 

‘Then we have some months to prepare,’ Legolas said and he tried to sound steady and confident but he could not and both heard the tremble in his voice. 

 

 

0o0o

 

The sedge was dried and withered, parched by winter and frost and the only sound was a curlew’s lonely cry far away over the water. Laersul wrapped his own cloak around Thalos who shivered and his eyes were still glazed and lost.  

 

Legolas had found a good place to camp for the night, in a hollow far enough away from Dale and its lingering ghosts, and close enough to the old gravel track that was once the dwarven road. But more importantly, they were very well hidden and although they could not see the road or hear if anyone passed, their only concern was a dragon and Smaug they would hear if he ventured forth. Legolas had built a fire carefully so that no smoke would give away their location.

 

Laersul pulled his cloak more tightly around Thalos’ shoulders for he shivered as no elf should and Laersul wondered, with agitated concern and guilt, if perhaps somehow Thalos missed the heat of Smaug. Legolas was busily making a fire and heating water in a sort of metal pot he had scavenged in the detritus of the ruined town. He had gathered goldenroot and wild sage, some spindly twigs of athelas that he had found growing in amongst the ruins. He dropped the herbs into the boiling water and the fragrance of the sage and then athelas drifted around them. Legolas was looking at Thalos anxiously and Laersul knew he had hoped the herbs would revive him. Laersul knew better; they had tried the same wth Legolas himself when Anglach had brought him out of Erebor and it was only Lathron who could awaken him. It would be the same with Thalos, Laersul thought. Hoped.

 

Night was falling but he did not think even wolves would hunt up this far, for there was nothing to hunt and nothing to eat. There was plenty of shelter in Dale but neither of them wanted to spend any more time there than they had to. It was a bleak and haunted place and he saw how the ghosts of Men shivered and trembled in the thin light.

 

Legolas leaned forwards and cupped Thalos’ hands around the pot; he tried to make him sip the infusion but Thalos was lost still in dreams of flame and starlight and did not speak. Laersul knew what he saw, so did Legolas.

 

‘Rest,’ Laersul said at last, unable to bear Legolas’ fearful anxiety which only exacerbated his own guilt. ‘I will watch.’ He stood at the edge of their camp watching the mountain, waiting for fiery red to light the sky and a dragon to split the night with his roar.

 

Legolas leaned back against a blasted tree and rested in reverie, not sleep, his eyes half-closed and his hands folded on his chest. Thalos still shivered and shook. Laersul leaned down and tugged both their cloaks over him again. As he straightened he saw that Legolas was awake and green eyes flicked from Thalos to Laersul and back again.

 

‘Do you think we should just get home?’ Legolas asked softly. ‘Leave now and make for the Lake?’

 

Laersul sighed. ‘Yes. But look at him. He can barely walk and I need to rest. You cannot carry him alone.’ He did not say why he needed to rest and that the surge of energy that fed his confrontation with Smaug was gone and he felt absolutely drained, exhausted. He needed to sleep and could not for the fear he had indeed brought ruin upon his home.

 

I should have been more subtle, he told himself in agony. I should have persuaded, bargained with Smaug like father did. I could have negotiated for Thalos to return every ten years, he realised. Or even five years.

 

He tutted at himself and shook his head at his stupidity. I could have prevented this and now we have only six months before Smaug brings fire to the Wood and we die.

 

He leapt to his feet and began pacing, berating himself. And silently scolded himself for being a naive and frightened fool. What in all of Arda would Thranduil say?

 

‘If you need to rest,’ came Legolas’ voice, slightly dry and a little amused amongst the fear, ‘then rest. Otherwise we may as well go on.’ He patted the ground next to him. ‘Come, sit by me and rest. I will watch the sky.’

 

Laersul sighed. He was right. Settling near Legolas, he shoved his long legs on either side of Thalos and pulled him back against his chest so Thalos leaned against him. Laersul himself leaned against his little brother, watching the sky but listening for Legolas’ song, which had always soothed him. There, the light notes of green and gold like sunlight through the beech trees, like the clear water chuckling over grey granite stones amid the ferny dells. Legolas was a child of the Wood indeed. Laersul found himself smiling, and soothed, and slipped into reverie while Legolas watched over both his brothers, one leaning against him and resting so lightly he would awaken if a twig crackled, the other gazed into the fire, hopelessly lost, dreaming of star-fire and distant horizons.

 

 

0o0o

 

Above them, the stars pricked out, hard and bright in the cold, crips air. Slowly the sky wheeled overhead and the fire died to a smouldering warmth. Legolas threw small twigs on the fire and watched.

 

He thought he heard voices on the wind, deep voices like the creak of the earth, like a bronze bells sounding deep in the heart of the Mountain. But there is no one else here on the Mountain, he reminded himself, and it is not Smaug…Perhaps it is just the lost song of the dwarves of Erebor. And so he listened more intently and it seemed to him that words came to him, as if deep voices from deep hearts sang in the glow of firelight…

 

Far over the Misty Mountains cold

To dungeons deep and caverns old…

We must away ere break of day

To find our long-forgotten gold.

 

It is Durin’s Day tomorrow, he thought. The feast day of the dwarves. And he wondered where Thorin Oakenshield was and if he had arrived in Esgaroth or if he had been lost in the escape.

 

It is no matter to me now, he thought. If Smaug eats them all, it might assuage his hunger and anger with us.

 

But he hoped that the dwarves had instead found their way to Esgaroth and been so warmly received that they decided to stay, or so ill received that none would help them and so decided to stay.

 

Of course he had no idea that even now, the dwarves were in fact, on their way to the Mountain and that Bilbo would soon enter Smaug’s lair to find a dragon that was very much wide-awake and already angry.

 

0o0o

 

It took them a long time to reach their little boat that was hidden in the rushes. Thalos was a dead weight and they had to half carry him, but more than that, he seemed to actually resist them and although he said nothing, both Legolas and Laersul felt like the were dragging against some unseen force as well as carrying their brother. By the time they pushed the boat out onto the lake, the stars were coming out in a pale sky barred with dark cloud. The Moon had risen and was a bloody red. A hunter’s moon. Huge in the sky and it dimmed the light of the stars.

 

Laersul took the oars and sculled quickly, but he hugged the shore of the lake rather than simply make for open water and Legolas did not question it though it would take much longer. The Lonely Mountain loomed over the Long Lake, reflected in the water by moonlight it looked eerie and as if it were merely waiting. Legolas looked back over his shoulder at it and saw that Thalos too, was fixed upon it with his eyes and a strange expression was upon his face like he too waited. The wind was cold, from the East and it rippled across the still water of the lake so the faint reflections of the stars shimmered and the Moon trembled.

 

‘Do you think Lathron can heal him?’ Legolas asked in a whisper for his voice carried across the still water and it was absolutely silent. Laersul met his gaze but he did not speak and after a moment, he looked away.

 

Into that silence, dropped a low, distant rumble.

 

Legolas’ eyes widened and he turned to look back at the mountain.

 

A red light seemed to glow dimly in the sky. 

 

He turned back to Laersul who had stopped rowing for a moment and the boat drifted, for the current was strong and they were against it on the return. Laersul was watching the mountain, his skin was very pale and his lips were parted but his eyes were full of fear. 

 

‘What have I done?’ he whispered.

 

‘Laersul?’ Legolas was suddenly afraid for he had never, ever in all his long life seen Laersul afraid. ‘Is it the dragon?’

 

‘I fear it is.’

 

Laersul picked up the oars and rowed more swiftly now but Thalos leaned over the gunwhale and seemed to watch the water rushing by. At one point he dipped his hand in the water but Legolas seized his sleeve and pulled him close. And when Laersul tired and they swapped over, it was Laersul who held Thalos close and stroked his head. It was hard work and they took turn and turn about except for Thalos. 

 

Only the peak of the mountain could be seen from the lake for it was mostly hidden by the low hills at the far end of the lake. But even hidden by the hills and now by the darkness, it brooded over the lake, an ominous presence.

 

 

Then over the summit at first, they saw a red-gold glow. It flared suddenly as if the dragon had spouted hot flames and then went dark. Another flare went up further down the mountainside. And then another flare over on the eastern spur.

 

Smaug was out. He was thrashing about the mountainside. Searching. Hunting.

 

‘He is looking for us!’ Legolas cried in horror.  

 

Laersul frowned and the shrugged in bewilderment. ‘If he does, he must know we will have hurried down the Mountain and are on our way to the Wood…I do not know why he is still on the Mountain and has not flown over Esgaroth at least.’  

 

A strange foreboding disturbed him then. 

 

‘Where do you think Thorin Oakenshield is?’ he asked suddenly.

 

Legolas gasped. ‘You cannot think he is up there surely? They will be killed.’ His hands were unsteady on the oars.

 

‘I do not think that Smaug is looking for us. He is hunting something else entirely,’ said Laersul slowly. ‘Look. You can see how he is flying about the Mountain.’ He pointed to the summit. 

 

Another flare of red-gold and then darkness. And then the fiery blast appeared further away, on the eastern side of the Mountain. Smaug was flying, searching. Hunting. 

 

‘He will know that we have fled. And our Peace still holds. He is bound to the King until Midsummer.’ Laersul paused and then said thoughtfully, ‘It is the dwarves…So ends Durin’s line. They would have been safer to have stayed in our father’s halls. And we would have had time to consider how Thalos should have approached the dragon,’ he added wistfully glancing at his dreaming brother.

 

‘Perhaps Smaug will be sated,’ Legolas said but he did not want to think about the dwarves being eaten by the dragon, their bones lying with their forebears. ‘Perhaps he will leave us alone.’

 

Laersul did not reply but bent to the oars and pulled strongly, as if he was not tired. The boat leapt forwards but he had changed the direction and instead of skulking along the sides of the lake, he headed straight across the water towards Laketown.

 

 

‘We have to warn them,’ Laersul said by way of explanation and a nod of his head towards the rambling town. ‘The Master is a fool and he will think it is the King Returned to the Mountain and the river runs with gold. He will not marshal his defence.’

 

Thalos stirred slightly and a breath escaped his lips. He murmured something so quietly that Legolas had to lean towards him and even then, he did not quite catch what he said. But Laersul paused in his rowing and let the boat drift. He leaned forwards, and cupping his brother’s face,  he gently pulled Thalos to face him. But Thalos’ green eyes were still distant and his attention focused far away.

 

‘You would fly with him to the stars,’ Laersul said softly as he gazed into Thalos’ face. ‘Above the circles of the world.’

 

Legolas stared at him. He had heard these words before, he realised but until now, had forgotten them. Laersul still gazed at Thalos, his eyes intent and unsurprised for Laersul had accompanied every one of the Danedh-Amlung except the first and had heard these words fall from all  their lips. But Legolas had not and he could not remember how he came out of Erebor, nor how Anglach had sat with him exactly as he sat with Thalos now, watching Laersul as he spoke with them.

 

Then dimly, words seemed to surface in Legolas’ memory too, grew stronger as he listened…

 

‘Seeking the Fire beyond the Circles of the World…’ Thalos’ lips moved with Laersul’s slowly. ‘The fire that burns at the heart of the universe.’

 

And then Legolas’ voice joined them, speaking slowly in the same cadence that each of them had heard in the Dragon’s song. ‘…that spawned stars and suns and galaxies that spin slowly, wheel away in the hugeness of the night that is beyond imagination…the Secret Fire, from which All Things came.’ His voice faltered then for Thalos was looking at him now. Really looking, as if seeing him for the first time and Legolas fell silent. 

 

‘But always the heavy chains of darkness bring him back.’ Thalos spoke on alone now and the words were hushed in the darkness that lay over the Lake.  ‘He is falling, Legolas. Falling back into darkness…for like smoke, the darkness of Morgoth has swirled in the red-gold light of the Uruloki, twisting their hearts, twisting their Song into discord…and slowly, slowly, the Earth, Morgoth pulls them down into its heavy weighted embrace and captures them in its sphere.’

 

Thalos held Legolas’ gaze. There was something in his eyes that had Legolas frowning, something he did not quite recognise in his beloved brother. Thalos’ hand crept slowly towards Legolas’ and clasped his fingers. Long green eyes met his, awake entirely and aware. An understanding lay there between them that excluded Laersul; help me.

 

Legolas flicked his gaze towards Laersul, but his handsome, troubled face was turned away towards the mountain where the sky glowed fiery red above the snow-clad peak. 

 

Legolas opened his mouth about to speak but Thalos’ hand tightened and an urgent look came over him: No! Help ME.

 

His urgency and desperation made Legolas pause for a moment. Then he turned his head towards Laersul once more and Thalos said quickly and in a low voice, ‘They hunger, Legolas. Did you not feel it? They hunger insatiably for light, for the Fire at the heart of Creation and that has become corrupted, a greed for gold…’ His eyes pleaded with Legolas and Legolas paused. ‘The dragons have never forgotten the fire at the heart of the Universe and ever yearn for it, to be freed from the shackles of the earth.’

 

Legolas felt the unbearable sadness that he had felt when he had been the Danedh-Amlung, when he had been the one brought out by Anglach and then Laersul. He remembered the deep heartache that racked him for weeks, months afterwards and in truth, had never quite gone. He found tears in his own eyes and streaming down Thalos’ cheeks. 

 

And so he did not speak but squeezed Thalos’ hand back and leaned towards him in distress. Thalos seized his other hand then and leaned forwards earnestly.

 

‘Help me,’ he whispered.

 

‘I am,’ Legolas said back; his heart pressed against his chest in love for his brother who had teased and loved him all his life, had been his first captain, had saved his life countless times and whom he had saved in turn.

 

‘Smaug has beguiled us all.’ It was Laersul who spoke now. He had turned his attention back to them and was resting on the oars, watching them. His handsome face was sombre. ‘Thalos,’ he said more softly. 

 

Thalos turned his face towards Laersul but he did not speak. 

 

‘You are under Smaug’s spell,’ Laersul continued gently. ‘You do not know it now but all of us, every Danedh-Amlung has been as you are now, in varying degrees it is true. We are taking you to Lathron. He will awaken you as he did each of us. But for now, you must trust me as you have always, in the Wood, in the South, in battle.’ He leaned forwards and his big, capable hand covered Thalos’ and Legolas’ own where they clasped. ‘Trust me. Trust Legolas. We are helping you.’

 

‘Then take me back.’

 

Legolas stared in bewildered distress, first at Thalos and then Laersul for he loved them both.

 

‘Take me back to Apâraigas, to Asharghâl. Take me back, I cannot return to the Wood. What is there for me now I have seen the Universe?’  Thalos gripped Legolas’ hand hard and he felt the small bones crack and grind against each other. But Thalos did not let go. ‘I have to return. If I do not, there will be Fire. And Death…And I will never know what there is…up there.’ He raised his eyes to the deep night sky where stars were huge and bright in the darkness. ‘You heard it too, Legolas. Don’t you want to know more? Don’t you want to feel the wind under the dragon’s wings, beating the air, up and up beyond the circles of the world. With us, he can break the bounds of Arda. He can escape.’

 

Legolas bit his lip. ‘Yes…I feel it too.’ He remembered the glory of the dragon’s song, the yearning for the light, imagined soaring upwards on the solar winds that the dragons knew and elves did not. 

 

Yes. He wanted to go back too and he hesitated.

 

‘Legolas.’ His oldest brother’s voice commanded him, snapped him back. ‘Awaken. You are being bewitched. Thalos needs you. I need you.’ Laersul’s voice dissolved the dreams of dragon fire and starlight. Legolas blinked and Smaug’s spell turned to ashes under the grey-blue of Laersul’s eyes,  of his voice.

 

‘No! Do not heed him, Legolas!’ Thalos leapt forwards toward Legolas and the boat rocked dangerously so Laersul grabbed the oars before they floated away. ‘He wants to keep us here, like prisoners of earth, Legolas. We want to ride the air!’ He grasped at Legolas and flung out a hand as if to ward off Laersul.

 

‘Legolas,’ Laersul’s voice called warningly but Legolas frowned and looked at Thalos for his heart was stirred and adventure, knowledge, peril stirred him. ‘Legolas! Listen to your own song, your own heart,’ Laersul bid him strongly. ‘You hear the call of gold,’ he warned.

 

Legolas gazed up at Thalos, and saw how the pupils of his eyes were dilated and his skin flushed, feverish. ‘Do not heed him,’ Thalos urged. ‘Come with me.’ The urgency and excitement in his eyes caught at Legolas and for a moment, he remembered how it had been standing before Smaug, the glorious magnificence, the sheer power of those huge wings and the promise in his heart of flight high, high above the world, seeking the stars.

 

But if Smaug was anchored by his greed for gold, Legolas was anchored by his love. He smiled very gently, unaware of the sweetness in that smile and how it reached even Thalos. ‘I will go with you anywhere, Thalos,’ he said. ‘But let us see our father first so he knows that we yet live.’

 

Thalos blinked and swayed on his feet as a small wave caught the boat. Laersul’s hand shot out and steadied him. ‘Legolas is right. You must at least bid Adar farewell,’ he said soothingly and Thalos turned his head and looked at Laersul as if he saw him as he was. His face smoothed and calmed and he nodded and say down quite suddenly without a word.

 

Legolas watched him puzzled for Thalos seemed quiet now and content. 

 

‘Legolas, take the oars,’ Laersul said and passed the oars over. Legolas reached and pulled back so the oars slid through the silver water while Laersul watched their middle brother. Legolas recognised the look on Laersul’s face; it was careful, assessing. The way he watched an Orc, judging if it would attack now or later, whether it was stronger than he or could be overcome.

 

‘We must go on,’ Laersul said. ‘We must warn the people of Esgaroth.’

 

Legolas bent his back to the oars once again and pulled strongly. The skiff shot over the silver water. 

 

Laersul met Legolas’ eyes briefly and then slid back to Thalos again who was trailing his hand in the water as if nothing had happened.

 

0o0o

 

 

Chapter 17 Fire and Water by ziggy

For all the birthdays this month. Spiced Wine, Cheekybeak and Naledi. 

 

Chapter 17: Fire and Water

 

 

They drew alongside the wooden quay, and Laersul laid the oars over the gunwale and allowed the skiff to slide alongside the quay. He threw the line to Legolas, who leapt lightly onto the landing and threw the line around a nearby mooring pole. He was aware of curious looks and the gathering of the lake folk for although they traded with the elves and relations were cordial, three warriors in a skiff were still unusual for the raft-elves were the ones they knew and traded with mostly.

 

A few of the fisherfolk clustered round, their faces warm with excitement and glee.

 

‘Have you come to greet the new King under the Mountain?’ asked one Man, his grey tunic was threadbare and worn and his face pinched with cold.

 

‘Yes. We seen the river did run with gold as it did in the old days.’ A woman standing at his side spoke, and rubbing her thin hands she cracked a smile that showed two teeth were missing. Beside her a scrawny child clung to her and hid behind her skirts, peering out at Legolas as he tied the boat to its moorings. He tried not to grimace for his father, and Laersul, insisted on good manners and courtesy whomsoever they met and regardless of station or wealth, but it was hard. He could smell the odour of their unwashed bodies from here. Laersul shot him a swift look that was full of reproach for they were simply poor, he knew.

 

‘What you have seen is not the King Under the Mountain,’ Laersul said in his faultless Westron. “Unless you think the dragon is he.’ He smiled grimly. ‘I need to see your Master, good people. Will you take me to him?’

 

By now the small group had swelled and become more of a crowd and at Laersul’s words, there was a murmur of anxiety and disbelief. Legolas tugged at Thalos’ sleeve and with an irritated sigh, pulled him onto the pier. Thalos blinked slowly as if he were almost coming out a dream and Legolas prodded him, frowning. ‘Wake up,’ he hissed. ‘This is not a good time to be listening to Dragon Song.’

 

‘It cannot be the dragon,’ someone cried. ‘He is long dead. We haven’t seen or heard from him for years.’ 

 

Other voices murmured in agreement. But at that very moment, a great fiery light appeared at a low place in the hills and the northern end of the lake turned golden.

 

‘The King beneath the Mountain!’ shouted the old woman excitedly. ‘His wealth is like the Sun, his silver like a fountain, and his rivers golden run’

 

‘Look! The river is running with gold from the mountain!’ cried another. 

 

Legolas could not believe they still denied it was Smaug; he could see the outline of the last trees burning, the fire orange against the night sky.

 

‘No.The dragon has awoken,’ Laersul said and in his voice was command and conviction. He stood tall and straight and his grey-green eyes were solemn. ‘Trust me, good people. Your lives and your homes are in danger if Smaug turns his attention to Esgaroth.’  And because it was Laersul and his presence was immense and powerful, the people began to look at each other in fear.

 

One Man pushed forwards, taller than the others and his face did not have the pinched meanness of some of the others. ‘These elves are right. The only king under the mountain is Smaug.’ The Man’s face was grim but he had the look of someone used to command and Legolas thought there was a familiarity about him that he could not place. The Man shouldered his way through the crowd to stand in front of Laersul. ‘And the dragon is coming or I am a fool.’

 

‘Call your men to arms,’ Laersul said loudly and he looked about at the small rag-tail crowd that stood nervously on the quay.‘Evacuate your children and be quick. Douse everyone in water. Leave everything,’ he cried, clearly and loudly as if they were his men of the Wood. ‘Fetch your children and get under cover. Not in your houses. Under them perhaps, or on the edges of the town. Let others know. Anyone who can fight, should stay and take up arms or be ready to douse fires.’ He strode amongst them, clasping a shoulder here and there as he did before battle. ‘Quickly now. Tell your neighbours. Get the children under cover. Destroy that bridge so the dragon cannot land upon it but has to fly over the deep water. He will not like that.’

 

A fiery glow turned the water at the northern end of the lake to blood-red and the grim-faced Man turned to the crowd. ‘Quick!’ he cried. ‘Do as he says. Make haste!’ He bundled two of the old women, who had started wringing their hands and crying, ahead of him. ‘Go and raise the alarm. You, fetch buckets of water, anything you can use. You!’ He shouted to a group of Men who were standing staring at the end of the lake. ‘Come with me. Bring all you have that we can douse fire. We may still be able to save the town. Who else can help?’ He looked about quickly and more Men had come forwards, their faces determined and strong.

 

He turned quickly to Laersul. ‘I am Bard, of Dale,’ he said. At that moment, two girls ran forwards and clasped Bard around the waist. ‘Sigrid! Tilda!’ He hugged them both and looked about in concern. ‘Where is your brother?’

 

A boy burst from amongst a crowd of Men who were drawing buckets of water from the lake.

 

Laersul’s face broke into a smile and he held out his hand to the Man. ‘Bard, descended from Girion of Dale. Just the Man we need.’ He glanced over to Legolas and beckoned. Legolas trotted forwards like an obedient pony. ‘Take Bard’s children to safety,’ he said. ‘And take Thalos with you.’

 

‘But…’

 

‘You cannot take up arms,’ Laersul said slowly and Legolas stared.

 

‘What do you mean?

 

‘You and I are sworn, Legolas whatever happens, we may not break our oath.’

 

Legolas cast a glance down the long shining water of the lake to where a bright spark of fire approached the eastern end of the Long Lake. Smaug was coming.

 

Legolas bowed. ‘Yes my lord.’

 

‘Where are you taking them?’ said Bard in alarm. 

 

But Laersul clasped Bard’s shoulder and stopped him. ‘They will be safe with Legolas. You are needed here. My father gave your great-grandfather something. You need it right now,’ he said. He turned to the two girls and the boy and crouched down so he was eye level with the youngest. He smiled up at the older two and looked them in the eye. Legolas knew how that felt and was unsurprised to see the boy straighten and lift his chin, and the older girl too. ‘Your people need you now,’ Laersul told them seriously. ‘They need your father, the King, to kill their enemy. And they need you to be strong and brave now. This is Legolas. Stay with him. Your father and I need to know that you are safe so we can concentrate on killing the dragon.’

 

The boy breathed in sharply and nodded and the youngest girl’s hand crept up to clasp Legolas’.  Laersul nodded, satisfied and then rose smoothly to his feet.

 

‘Do not let Thalos go anywhere,’ Laersul murmured to Legolas and pushed Thalos towards Legolas. But Thalos seemed oblivious still and Legolas tutted. 

 

‘I am a nursemaid,’ he grumbled as Laersul steered Bard through the crowd. He tracked Laersul and Bard easily as they wound through the crowds that were gathering and following, for Laersul stood a good head above any Man and his hair was golden and bright.

 

‘Come,’ he said urgently to the three children. ‘We need to go somewhere safe.’

 

‘What’s wrong with him?’ Tilda asked, pointing at Thalos.

 

At that moment the warning bells began to ring and suddenly people were flooding from their houses and looking up and around in fear.  

 

‘I will tell you another time!’ Legolas said, pushing her in front of him and holding onto Thalos. ‘Take off your cloaks and soak them in water.’

 

On the bridge leading to dry land, Men suddenly strode and clambered down onto the struts with huge stone mallets. The swung them at the pegs, bashing them out so the bridge slowly collapsed into the water. 

 

‘Here,’ Legolas called to a group of women standing and watching. ‘Fill buckets with water. Anything you have and douse the houses, the walkways.’ The women nodded and ran into their houses, reappearing with saucepans and tin baths which they lowered into the water and threw it over everything, dousing the wood in cold water, so it soaked the walkway, the walls of the houses. Others pulled the small boats onto the the piers and filled them with water too.

 

The people Legolas had ordered ran about and looked towards him for orders and he found himself strangely, in charge of this corner of Esgaroth.

 

Soon there was water swilling everywhere. The warning bells rang loudly across the town and there was a clash of weapons as the town guard came running down the walkways and little narrow streets.

 

By now Legolas could clearly see the dragon soaring down the Mountain, as he passed trees caught light and soon the northern end of the lake was ablaze and the hills were on fire. The townsfolk were suddenly silent and Legolas felt a someone catch at his hand in fear. He glanced briefly at Tilda who stood next to him and squeezed her hand back. 

 

‘Dive into the lake if it comes to it,’ he told her. ‘But we will try and save the town if we can.’

 

She smiled tightly  and nodded.

 

Then he loosened his hand from hers to help her sister into the boat. Suddenly the lake seemed to turn to fire as the dragon soared into view.

 

It was only then that he realised that Thalos was no longer beside him.

 

0o0o

 

Laersul squinted against the roar of flames that blasted over the lake, touching the first houses. And because they were on the margins and the people had not reached them to douse them, the roofs caught fire almost straight away.

 

He shouted to the archers to ready themselves and take aim.

 

Amid shrieks and wailing and the shouts of men, Smaug came over them, swept towards the bridge intending to land and blast the town with flames. But the bridge was gone and his enemies were on an island in deep, dark water - too deep, too cold for a dragon. 

 

Furious, he swept back over the town. A hail of dark arrows leapt up and snapped and rattled against his scales and fell back uselessly to the ground, their shafts glowing with heat from merely touching his skin. Smaug bellowed with rage at their insolence and defiance, and soared upwards into the night sky, reaching up towards the stars. 

 

For a moment, he hung in the air, golden and strange and eerily beautiful. Then he stretched his wings out onto the winds that circled the earth, and turned and plummeted downwards, jaws gaping and his belly red as he gathered fire. Then he opened his mouth and flames roared over the roofs of the houses, through the little wooden walkways and the water turned blood-red.

 

Water was flung in buckets over the walkways and houses but it was not enough and already fires raged along one of the rows of houses and there was screaming.

 

‘Steady, archers!’ cried Laersul and Bard walked up and down the lines exhorting the men to hold until the dragon was in range and then shoot straight and true.  

 

 

‘Here, my lord!’ cried one Man to Laersul. ‘Have my bow! You will be a better shot than me.’

 

But Laersul shook his head ruefully. ‘I cannot. I am sworn. But I can tell you what you must do.’ He bent his head towards Bard. ‘You have the Black Arrow?’

 

Bard nodded, eyes wide. ‘Is the story true then?’

 

Laersul clasped his shoulder. ‘Yes.’ He looked the Man in the eye and smiled slightly. ‘This is your fate. Do not doubt yourself now…’ He lifted his voice so the archers could hear him. ‘Now wait. And watch for him. He will go over us once and then circle round I think. There is a hollow in his left breast. Everyone aim for that.’

 

Smaug flew beyond the town and out onto the lake, a long, almost lazy circle and then tilted his wings so he cut along the margins of the lake. Fire belched from his jaws, almost casually, and the pines were alit, flaming against the night, shadows leaping like demons against the blood-red water. Then he tipped and circled back towards the town, gathering speed as he flew towards them the wind pounding under his great wings. A red glow in his belly and he was upon them; flames swept over the piers and boats bobbing up and down on the water made turbulent by the wind from the dragon’s wings. A sweep of his tail and one of the watchtowers crumbled, splintered timbers crashing upon the houses and stalls below. People dived into the lake and then climbed out, determined to stop their homes from burning. Buckets and buckets of water splashed over the wooden walls and walkways ad yet fire raged through the town.

 

Arrows fled after the dragon but not one so much as stuck between his armoured scales. He was invincible.

 

0o0o

 

Legolas pushed Tilda from the pier onto the little step below and pulled Sigrid after him. ‘Baird! Come down here now!’ he shouted in angry fear. He could not see Thalos.

 

The dragon swept over them, lower than ever so they could see every jewel and every scale. His belly glittered white in with the diamonds and jewels encrusted between his scales. Baird stared upwards transfixed and Legolas leapt up onto the pier and grabbed him by the arm, shoving him into the bitter cold water as the dragon’s tail swatted a whole row of houses into splinters.

 

Tilda screamed and pulled Baird from the lake but in truth, Legolas thought they were all safer in the water. He dragged Baird into a small boat and shovelled Tilda in after him, but even in this danger, he helped Sigrid step into the boat where she sank down and held Tilda to her breast, hushing her and stroking her hair. Legolas seized an oilskin that was bundled at one end of the boat and dunked it in the freezing lake, then pulled it out and spread it over them. Not one of them complained about the freezing water that dripped down their necks and soaked their clothes for their cloaks were already wet through and they shivered beneath them.

 

They heard the scream of the wind as Smaug roared overhead, the heat of flames was intense, like a furnace and Baird cried out.

 

As soon as Smaug had passed, Legolas stuck his head out of the boat and looked around for Thalos but there was no sight of him still. Legolas swore in every language he knew, in fouler curses that he would ever dare utter in his father’s stronghold. 

 

‘Oh help me, help me too!’ a shabby looking man was scuttling along the pier clutching a wooden chest to his belly. His greasy black hair was singed and his skin was mottled and burned.

 

‘Quickly, in here then,’Legolas said and lifted the oilskin. But there was not enough room for the children and man and elf.

 

‘Don’t let Alfred in here!’ Sigrid cried when she saw the Man, and Legolas was shocked. 

 

‘You cannot just let someone die because you don’t like them,’ he said sternly.

 

‘Why not?’ Tilda demanded. ‘He is horrible and smells of fish.’

 

‘We all smell of fish,’ Alfred snapped back and pushed Legolas out of the way, scrambled down into the boat. He glared at Tilda who glared right back. ‘Now you behave yourselves and when an elf tells you to do something, you do it. And sharpish.’

 

Legolas was about to speak when he heard the great whump of Smaug’s wings approaching once more and instead he threw the oilskin back over the boat and clambered onto the struts of the pier, clinging to the wooden posts as the dragon roared overhead. He saw a burst of flame beneath the pier and wondered if this was not a more dangerous place than on open water in a boat instead. But they would be even easier prey for Smaug that way.

 

And then he saw Thalos.

 

The last remaining tower was lit up against the fiery sky, its buttresses on fire and around it, houses and buildings were creaking and slowly toppling as fire devoured them. Screaming came from beneath the falling buildings. Thalos had climbed to the parapet of the watchtower and was leaning out, clinging to the rail with one hand and reaching forwards with the other. 

 

‘No!’ Legolas could not help shouting and he clambered out from under the pier and sprang over  crashing burning timbers of houses that slowly collapsed under the flames. Looking up, he saw the flames leap up along the tower’s wooden buttresses, leaping towards the parapet and Thalos. Oblivious to the danger, Thalos leaned further. Like he reached for something.

 

Then Legolas realised he reached towards Smaug.

 

The dragon had turned once more and with a heavy thump of his wings, surged forwards and cut through the air. Flames streamed from his wings as he came, he turned slightly and soared over the gleaming water, a streak of flame, straight for the last remaining watchtower. 

 

Legolas gasped and cried out to his brother but Smaug had turned tightly around the tower, wings beating the air so he slowed, and his tail curled around the burning tower. Thalos was silhouetted against the flames that flickered red-gold against the night sky.

 

And then, astonishingly, Smaug gently lifted his snout to Thalos, his molten eyes blinked once and the great red-gold wings slowed his flight so he hovered like a humming bird at a flower. Moonlight caught his iridescent scales and the glittering white jewels on his belly were sparkling fires in the moonlight.

 

 

 

0o0

 

A whole row of houses was a roaring fire, a wall of flame that sprang up around Laersul and his steadfast company of archers. Bard was beside him, flames reflected in his eyes and in his hand was the black arrow. All his other arrows were spent. His men had so few left between them it seemed hopeless and some were shaking their heads and falling away. Laersul did not stop them. There was nothing more they could do.

 

‘Go,’ he shouted to them over the roar of the fires. ‘Help instead with dousing the flames. Keep everyone working and keep a watch for the dragon and where he will spit flame. I will stay here.’

 

He leant his head towards Bard. ‘Wait,’ he said. ‘The Moon is rising. You will see that hollow in his left breast as he turns.’ 

 

Bard met Laersul’s gaze. Then he lifted the Black Arrow and fitted it to his bow. ‘Arrow!’ he said softly.  ‘Black Arrow! I have saved you to the last. You have never failed me and always have I recovered you. I had you from my father and he from old.’ He glanced at Laersul. ‘And you say the stories are true and he had it from the hand of the elven king and he had it from the forges of the King under the Mountain.’

 

Laersul breathed. ‘It is true. Go now.’ He blessed the arrow that Thranduil had bought with the Arkenstone, a treasure worth more than all the gold in the mountain. ‘Speed well.’

 

The dragon swooped once more, lower than ever and seemed to slow, his great wings whumping the air. Smaug circled in slower circles as if looking for something and then seemed to almost alight upon the last remaining watchtower. Flames were beating up its walls and it looked about to collapse under the flames. Smaug reared up, beating the air with his wings so he hovered over it and almost delicately extended his snout towards the parapet of the tower. And there, the moonlight showed the hollow in his breast.

 

The great bow tanged. The black arrow sped straight from the string, straight for the hollow by the left breast where the foreleg extended towards the tower’s parapet. In it smote and vanished, barb, shaft and feather so fierce was its flight. With a shriek that seemed human, a scream that split the stone of the last remaining houses, Smaug shot into the air, flames spouting and roaring from him, and for a moment, the last dragon seemed to hang in the air. Then slowly, his wings failed and he fell, fell crashing down on the watchtower, the pier, the flaming houses. The lake roared with the furnace that was Smaug and a huge column of steam rushed and hissed up, suffocating and swallowing everything. 

 

And then, silence.

 

0o0o

 

tbc.

 

 

Meanwhile, what is happening in the Wood?

 

Chapter 18 Smoke from Erebor by ziggy

Chapter 18: Smoke from Erebor .

 

 

 

Twilight had fallen in the Wood and still Thranduil and his lords were sitting in the chamber known as the Sain-Lîmrant for its pool of clear water that reflected the globe lights upon the pale limestone walls. They were discussing, arguing said Galion later, what they should do about the Necromancer, though Thranduil was preoccupied and grumpy, his mind more on the dragon than the Necromancer. His children were on the Mountain, not the South.

 

 

 

‘Do?’ he said eventually, staring down the long oak table around which the various lords were seated. ‘There is nothing more we can do about him. But what we will not do is abandon the East Bite, or stand our army down.’

 

 

 

There was a murmur of agreement and he waved to Galion to pour more wine into empty goblets. 

 

 

 

Having poured the wine, Galion then plonked himself down at the long council table beside Éredes, the great healer of the Wood, and poured a glass for himself, much to the irritation of the assembled lords, Thranduil noted. Galion leaned his elbows on the table and picked at a line of dirt under his fingernails, looked at them curiously as if wondering how it had got there. Éredes gave him a long look and raised her eyebrow but Galion ignored her and unsheathed his knife to scrape under his fingernails. Gilvrast, a sindar who had accompanied Oropher on that first trek from Beleriand after its fall, glared at Galion, a long enmity stemmed from his disapproval of Galion as any type of companion of whatever status for the King and Galion made a point of irritating Gilvrast whenever possible and flaunting his unsuitability.

 

 

 

‘Galion, much as your views are appreciated, you are not a lord councillor,’ said Thranduil wryly.

 

 

 

Galion looked up enquiringly and sniffed. ‘Well that is true.’ His voice had that hurt tone he sometimes adopted but Thranduil found entirely unconvincing, and made no attempt to move he noticed.

 

 

 

‘Galion!’ Thranduil snapped but just then, a guard shuffled in hesitantly and trying to be as discreet and quiet as possible, leaned over to whisper in Galion’s ear. Thranduil glared at Galion, who sat up perkily and grinned knowingly. Irritatingly. 

 

 

 

Thranduil promised himself to throw Galion to the next Warg that crosse this path. ‘What is it?’ he said irritably to the guard. It was Ceredir, he noticed. 

 

 

 

Ceredir bowed nervously and said, ‘My lord, some of the raft-elves are here. They seek an audience with you,’ he said slightly hesitantly. Some of the lords made dismissive sounds or muttered amongst themselves but Thranduil leaned forwards with interest.

 

 

 

‘Show them in,’ he said and Galion looked cross, but Thranduil smirked at him; after all, if his servant chose to sit with the King and lords, he had to hear the news with them and not before as he usually did.

 

 

 

Two of the raft elves were herded in by Ceredir. They were flushed, indignant and eager to tell their story.

 

 

 

Thranduil rose up out of his throne and approached them, raising his hand to stop them from bowing or falling to their knees. He had never liked to see his own folk in abeyance like that. Too reminiscent of Doriath for him. 

 

 

 

‘Welcome,’ he said. ‘Landaer,’ he remembered the man for he had a granddaughter that Legolas had been madly in love with for a whole summer. But the girl had sensibly betrothed to someone else and Legolas had quickly moved on. ‘Galion, will you give our guests a drink.’ He pulled out chairs at the end of the table and indicated they should sit. Then sat with them himself, leaning his elbows on the table and leaning forwards slightly.  ‘Will you eat?’ he invited.

 

 

 

But the raft elves shook their heads. ‘We have supper waiting for us my lord. But we could not wait to give you this news of the dwarves!’

 

 

 

There was an excited and disapproving murmur from the lords and Galion tutted. Thranduil held up his hand for silence and looked encouragingly at the two elves.

 

 

 

‘They are in Esgaroth!’ Landaer announced with a flourish. Thranduil nodded.  He had guessed as much when there had been no sign of them in the Wood. They were on their way to Erebor.

 

 

 

‘We were in the Master’s Hall, my lord. We had just delivered our barrels to the merchant. It had been a harder journey than usual,’ the second raft elf grumbled and Galion gave him a poke.

 

 

 

‘Get on with it!’

 

 

 

‘Galion!’ Thranduil exclaimed. He turned to the man kindly. ‘Yes. I see the river is low for this time of the year and that will make it harder over the rapids.’ 

 

 

 

The man nodded, softer and pleased that his Aran understood. ‘We were in the Master’s Halls,’ he repeated emphatically, glaring at Galion, who glared back. ‘When none other but Thorin Oakenshield walks in.’ There was an angry murmur at the news and Landaer continued more strongly, buoyed up by the lords outrage. ‘Bold as brass he struts in, declaring he is the King under the Mountain returned. Well, uproar!’ Landaer’s companion nodded in agreement. 

 

 

 

‘But my Aran,’ the second raft elf said now, ‘The master welcomed him like long lost kin! We did protest, my lords. We said they were the Aran’s prisoners and have escaped. We said they were vagabonds sneaking through our woods and molesting our folk!’

 

 

 

‘Yes, but the Master gave up his own chair to Oakenshield!’

 

 

 

‘And even the perianath had a seat at the table.’

 

 

 

Gilvrast smacked his fist on the table in fury. ‘How dare he! He is supposed to be our ally and he gives refuge to our escaped prisoners!’

 

 

 

Laegrist, one of the oldest silvans in the Wood, shook his head. ‘No good will come of this. Better they had stayed on out storerooms.’ There was a flurry of agreement.

 

 

 

But Thranduil had been listening intently and suddenly held up his hand. ‘Wait,’ he said. Then he leaned forward and studied the second raft elf. ‘You said there was a perianath? A hobbit?’

 

 

 

Both raft elves nodded definitely. ‘Yes. They called him Bilbo Baggins. He was certainly a hobbit, no beard, big feet.’ They nodded at each in agreement. 

 

 

 

‘Small, about…so high.’ Landaer held his hand up to show how high the hobbit stood.

 

 

 

‘There was no hobbit in the storerooms, my lord.’ Gilvrast said quickly. ‘Twelve dwarves. No perianath.’

 

 

 

‘Galadhon must have missed this hobbit when his patrol picked up the dwarves.’  Éredes spoke for the first time. Her voice was quiet but powerful and all eyes turned to her. ‘If there were twelve dwarves, they must have left the hobbit behind,’ she explained. ‘He must have been waiting for them somewhere or someone would have noticed him. He could not have hidden in the stronghold, or escaped without our notice.’

 

 

 

Galion turned to Gilvrast accusingly for it was he who had overseen the imprisonment of the dwarves and ordered Galadhon to use the storerooms against Galion’s furious instruction. ‘Did you mistake it for a small dwarf?’ Galion asked but Gilvrast gave him a withering look.

 

 

 

‘I know the difference between a perianath and a naugrim!’ he said acerbically.

 

 

 

Thranduil intervened before they become distracted. ‘Ceredir!’ He called the guard into the chamber, his face irritated. ‘Summon Anglach. He will know.’

 

 

 

Ceredir bowed briefly and hurried out to find Anglach. He was glad not to be the one being summoned but felt for Anglach for many felt that Anglach had been punished hard, although they admitted too that he had been supposed to watching the dwarves when they attacked feast after feast and ruined the Feast of Winter-turning for everyone.

 

 

 

He found Anglach in the kitchens, sitting sadly on a stool and regaling a bemused kitchen-maid whose name Ceredir could not remember, the story of how badly he had been treated. Ceredir gave a wry smile for he knew that look on Anglach’s face; it was often on Legolas’. The pair were silly with lust and any girl daft enough to fall for this tale of woe was a perfect match for him, Ceredir thought.

 

 

 

‘Anglach, the King has summoned you,’ Ceredir said as kindly as he could but there was no delay when Thranduil demanded. Anglach leapt to his feet, looking round wildly as if he thought Thranduil himself might be right behind Ceredir. ‘No, in the Sain-Lîmrant. He awaits you with his council.’

 

 

 

Anglach groaned and hurriedly scrambled to his feet and followed Ceredir.

 

 

 

‘What do they want,?’ Anglach almost whimpered. ‘I could have gone early back to the Bite you know,’ he said regretfully. ‘It’s only because Legolas is…gone on a mission that I waited.’

 

 

 

Ceredir glanced back over his shoulder for the warriors knew where Legolas had gone, with Thalos and Laersul. It had caused consternation amongst the ranks that both their senior captains were absent when the Necromancer had been driven from Dol Guldur and none knew where he had gone.

 

 

 

‘I wish I had gone already,’ Anglach said despondently.

 

 

 

‘Anglach.’ Ceredir rounded on him and seized him by the shoulder. ‘The King will do nothing to cause you harm. You know this. When have you ever had reason to doubt him?’ He tipped Anglach’s face to his and smiled for Ceredir was a kind soul. ‘If anything, you are blessed for the King loves you.’

 

 

 

Anglach smiled his sweet smile that Ceredir could not help but return. ‘Yes. The King is so good and wise. He always knows what to do. I will trust in him.’

 

 

 

‘There are raft elves there from Esgaroth,’ Ceredir told him as they hurried through the passages and trotted along the sinuous walkways that arced over limestone floors and through a series of high arches that led upwards so they were almost at the summit of the hills where the light was clear and bright. ‘They have brought news of the dwarves,’ Ceredir added.

 

 

 

‘The dwarves?’ Anglach asked happily. ‘That must mean they escaped and have made it to Esgaroth!’ His step lightened and again Ceredir had to pull him back.

 

 

 

‘Listen, Anglach,’ Ceredir said sternly. ‘This is not a celebration that the dwarves live. This is serious. You must behave like that. Do not anger the king or his council.’ He tried to warn Anglach and to dim the silly smile on Anglach’s face. Ceredir shook his head slightly and opened the door to the Sain-Lîmrant and shoved Anglach ahead of him irritably. ‘Don’t be a fool, Anglach. Watch what you say,’ he warned and stepped back behind the door as he had been before he was summoned.

 

 

 

Anglach tiptoed in, for he had always found this chamber rather daunting although it was a lovely place; soft white limestone walls were washed the palest green by the light that reflected from the pool. The sound of water lay beneath the elvish voices that argued and debated and he saw the men and women of Thranduil’s council seated around the long, light oak table,; in the soft green-white light their velvet and silk robes of crimson and blue, gold and green were gorgeously rich. But their voices were raised in disagreement.

 

 

 

Anglach scurried into the chamber, slightly dazed. Indeed he thought he might even be sent to work as a raft elf in punishment for letting the dwarves escape. So he was even more mystified when the King rose to his feet as he approached, bowing, and said, ‘Anglach. Have you ever seen a perianath?’

 

 

 

‘A perianath?’ asked Anglach, wondering what in all of Arda this was about. ‘No. No, I have not. Are they real?’

 

 

 

Galion patted him on the shoulder. ‘Yes, foolish boy. Of course they are real!’

 

 

 

Anglach stared at them. Perhaps they had all been drinking? ‘Little people with big feet and who live in burrows in the West?’’ he said carefully.

 

 

 

‘Yes, yes,’ said Thranduil impatiently. ‘But are you quite sure you have never seen one?’

 

 

 

‘What the King means is did the dwarves have one?’ Galion burst out impatiently.

 

 

 

‘No they did not!’ Gilvrast exclaimed, glaring at Galion. ‘They were all bearded and booted!’

 

 

 

‘Um.’ Anglach stared at the King, then Galion. He looked to Landaer for help but found none there and Gilvrast and the rest of the lords were leaning forwards eagerly as if his answer was of great interest. ‘There might have been another one…’ he said anxiously and twisted his hands together this lap, his eyes wide and nervous.

 

 

 

He was pinned by ten elvish eyes. Each as steely as the next until he met the slate-green eyes of Thranduil. Who looked aghast. ‘Another one?’ he said slowly.

 

 

 

Anglach gulped. ‘Yes. When they were at the river, there was another one. Small, beardless and barefoot…I thought it might have been a girl-dwarf. I had forgotten all about that one until now…’ He saw the King’s expression and trailed off.

 

 

 

There was silence.

 

 

 

The raft elves looked at each other in triumph. ‘There were twelve dwarves, my lord, and one hobbit!’

 

 

 

‘So, there was one more of their company that we did not capture,’ Thranduil said thoughtfully. He glanced up at Anglach rather more softly. ‘Thank you, Anglach. You may go.’

 

 

 

‘But…’ Anglach began but Galion got to his feet and waved him away before he could get himself into more trouble.

 

 

 

‘Go on, child, away with you. Don’t start trying to think this one out. Legolas is not here to help you and of the pair of you, he is slightly better than you at working things out and that’s not saying much.’ He steered Anglach out of the chamber. ‘Go, I promise I will tell you what happens later.’

 

 

 

When he returned, the raft elves were telling the rest of their story and Thranduil was sitting, his fingers steepled and resting against his lips as he heard how Thorin Oakenshield had told the Master and the people of Laketown how he intended to enter Erebor and kill the dragon, take back what was theirs. 

 

 

 

‘Very well,’ he said at last. ‘No treasure will come back through the Wood without my having something to say about the matter. But I expect they will all come to a bad end.’

 

 

 

‘And serve them right!’ added Galion indignantly. 

 

 

 

Thranduil thanked the raft elves and sent them off to the kitchens to be rewarded properly for their trouble and then slowly, he rose and returned to his own carven wooden throne at the head of the table once more. He sat thoughtfully, one leg crossed over the other and tapped the arm of the throne with his fingers, eyes lost in thought.

 

 

 

‘I do not quite know how Thorin managed to escape,’ he said at last, ‘but I do not believe in dwarves killing or slaying dragons.I suspect this has something to do with burglary rather than any sort of heroism and killing a dragon. And it will be the Arkenstone he seeks, the King’s Jewel. That may bring him the support of the dwarves of the Iron Hills perhaps but even so, a dragon against an army of dwarves?’ He laughed humourlessly for his mind was not truly on the dwarves but on his three sons who even now, were on their way to renew Thranduil’s pledge to Smaug and gain the dragon’s promise in return. He blinked and stared down at the ruby that flashed on his finger, as if he did not see the ring itself but a red-gold dragon curled on a bed of gold. ‘Send out spies,’ he said heavily. ‘Along the shores of the lake and as far northwards as they dare given that Thorin will rouse the dragon with his stupidity.’ He lifted his slate-green eyes to his waiting lords. ‘And let us pray to Eru-Allfather that our own have done as they needed and even now are returning to us, safe and well.’

 

 

 

There was a murmur of agreement from the lords and many a sympathetic glance thrown Thranduil’s way. He did not linger but rose to his feet and strode quickly from the chamber, and Galion scuttled after him.

 

 

 

0o0o

 

 

 

 Thranduil wanted nothing more than to close himself in his study and pore over his maps, plotting the chart of his sons’ route, guessing how soon they would return and anxious to weigh up if they were returning from Smaug in time or if they were going to meet Thorin in the bleak wasteland of the desolation.

 

 

 

He closed the door and breathed, glad to be on his own and had not broken before his council. Not that any of them would have thought less of him he knew, but it was a private grief. But the door opened and closed again quickly and Galion slid in and stood beside him. There was to be no peace, he sighed.

 

 

 

Galion poured two goblets of good wine and handed one to Thranduil. ‘A hobbit?’ he declared with interest. ‘Well it is many years since I have even heard of one let alone seen one.’

 

 

 

Thranduil nodded. ‘I would very much like to have spoken with this Master Baggins,’ he said wryly. ‘I am curious how he came to be parted from the company of Thorin Oakenshield and yet arrives with them in Esgaroth.’

 

 

 

He stabbed a finger down onto the map where Erebor was marked with a small drawing of the dragon over it. ‘They hope to take the mountain with twelve dwarves and one hobbit!’ He laughed bitterly. ‘He will bring destruction to Esgaroth,’ he said. ‘And then when he has destroyed the town, he will turn his thoughts to us. Have no doubt, Galion, that if Thalos did not wring the pledge from Smaug, he will come here at Midsummer. He will seek revenge upon us as well as Esgaroth.’

 

 

 

o0o0

 

 

 

Anglach was even more intrigued and spent many hours telling anyone who would listen, and since Legolas was not around, that was not many, his long and complicated theories about how the hobbit must have enchanted him and Legolas that ill-fated night and so they had ended up drinking far more than was good for them. Until Tauriel had drawn him aside and said kindly that only Anglach was worried about that anymore and he should really lay it to rest.

 

 

 

But then more news arrived.

 

 

 

It was only days since the raft elves had brought their news. 

 

 

 

Even with all the worry for his sons, life had to go on and the people fed. Thranduil was hunting with Galadhon and some of his men. They had gone beyond the edge of the Wood and were stalking wild boar that would feed the elves for a week or more. Galadhon was kneeling on the ground, looking at the tracks of the boar when Thranduil looked away towards the Mountain. 

 

 

 

He froze. His lips parted in a gasp of anguish.

 

 

 

There was smoke coming out of the Mountain.

 

 

 

‘My Aran?’ Galadhon came to stand beside him and when he saw what Thranduil saw, he too drew a sharp breath. ‘Smaug. He has awoken.’

 

 

 

‘He has indeed, may Thorin Oakenshield and all his kin be blasted by fire and ash and ruin,’ Thranduil cursed bitterly. Then he turned on his heel and leapt onto his horse. ‘Call to arms!’ he cried as he urged his horse forwards. ‘Galadhon! Return to the stronghold and summon every man.’

 

 

 

His retinue galloped after him but he was swift and rode ahead of them, along the edges of the Wood until he could see the Lake. Thin lines of fire blazed on the sides of the Mountain where the pines were burning and all along the ridges  the brush was on fire. 

 

 

 

The lake was red with the blaze and they smelt the scorched pines, the blackened earth. Smoke lay over the lake, a fog of steam. He pulled up on the bank of the fast-flowing river and stared down its course as if he could leap into the water and be borne to the Lake. A raft was approaching, three men stood upon it, their poles disappearing into the water and pushing strongly, bringing the raft home. One of them spied the King and turned quickly, speaking to the others.

 

 

 

Thranduil swung down from his horse and strode along the bank to the small jetty. He did not take his eyes from the raft once for he could see they had news.

 

 

 

But already he knew what their tidings would be; the dwarves had roused Smaug. Smoke was seen coming up from Erebor and the raft elves had heard the roar and fury of Smaug as he flew about the mountain hunting the dwarves.

 

 

 

The raft-elves had stood on the edge of their village and watched as the pine trees on the ridges caught fire and the hills and mountain side seemed red and gold. But never once did they think it was the King under the Mountain. There was never any doubt in their minds that this was the dragon.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 19 An Ill WInd by ziggy

Chapter 19: The Lake

 

In Esgaroth, Legolas was running panicked along the burning jetty, searching for Thalos. The watchtower that Thalos had clung to had been right beneath Smaug when the dragon had plunged into the dark, chilly depths of the lake. Now fog hung over the burning town from the heat of the dragon hitting the icy water, and the Long Lake churned in the aftermath. A huge wave crashed over the little paths and swept barrels, balconies, broke the little wooden railings as it surged forwards over the walkways, swirling and churning over the wooden jetties and bridges of the town.

 

Legolas was swept over by the wave and suddenly found himself dragged back down the wooden walkway. There was nothing under his feet but water and he was drenched. His hands scrabbled for purchase on something, anything and suddenly hooked upon the edge of the jetty, the joists of timbers sunk deep into the lake and upon which the town was built. He pulled himself up, coughing and blinking, soaked to the skin. He crouched upon the joists as the next wave drenched him. The cold took his breath away and he gasped and coughed. 

 

Something was knocking against the jetty beside him and he looked about, wiping freezing water from his face. A small boat bumped loudly against the jetty, somehow managing to cling onto its moorings. Beneath the soaked oilskin huddled the children of Bard and the Man, Alfred. He could hear their teeth chattering and Tilda’s crying. Alfred too was whimpering.

 

When the next wave came it swept away the walkway altogether, washing over Legolas so he had to hold tightly to the timbers. The boat was dragged from its moorings, and thrown out onto the lake. Legolas could barely see anything for the fog, but there was a huge crack nearby as the roof of a house on fire suddenly splintered and crashed into the foaming water.

 

From behind him on the lake he heard screaming. Tilda.

 

But he could not see Thalos.

 

‘Legolas!’ It was Baird. ‘Please! Help us!’ The boy’s voice carried over the water, panicked and Legolas paused, bitterly. 

 

Another wave surged over the walkways and little jetties, and as it retreated, dragged at the burning debris, pulled little fences and bridges into the deep, cold water. Legolas braced himself against the tide and the little boat was swept further out into the fog. He could barely see them now, just dimly outlined. But he could hear Tilda’s scream as the little boat rocked dangerously. Another wave hit them and then swept towards him, drenching and tugging at him.

 

Cursing, he scrambled up onto the walkway and grabbed a thick rope that was tied securely, curled like a snake on the wet timbers.

 

‘Baird! Baird!’ He shouted but felt like screaming. ‘Catch the rope! I am throwing it now.’  

 

He hurled it towards the boat. There was an awful pause and then he felt the rope tighten; he hoped with all his strength that it was because Baird had caught it. Peering through the fog, he could just make out Baird bending and straightening to wrap the rope round the prow. 

 

‘Hurry, Baird! My brother is out here somewhere and I cannot wait!’ he cried, pushing down on the fury and angry concern, the need to find Thalos and instead, he pushed behind a deep pole that was sunk into the lake, putting one arm and one leg around each side so he was secure when the waves surged and swirled over him. Having secured himself, he began to haul on the rope, pulling the boat back to the jetty, timing his pull with the waves that surged in and over the town’s wooden streets and little bridges. It was heavy and he could not bear how slow it was, for every moment he could hear the crackling of fire and the slow creak of houses as their crumbling timbers disintegrated under fire and water. 

 

At last the small boat emerged from the fog and drew close. Now he could see Tilda’s small tear-stained face turned up to him and Baird was pale and tense.

 

Legolas leaned out and pulled the boat close. ‘Quick,’ he shouted at them for he could see another wave approaching. ‘Hold onto me.’  

 

A small hand scrabbled around and found his, and he pulled Tilda up into his arms and held her tightly. She clung round his neck as the wave hit them and he held onto her with one hand and fought to keep the boat close with the other. The water was bitterly cold and he heard Tilda gasp against his neck as it swirled around them and pulled back to gather itself for the next surge. 

 

Baird scrambled over the side and clambered onto the struts that still held. He threw the rope over a mooring but Legolas did not dare trust it for long for the whole walkway was slowly disintegrating beneath the fire and from the waves.

 

Tilda was weeping against Legolas’ neck. ‘Hush,’ he said tersely, not wanting this and thrust her at her brother. ‘Where is Sigrid?’ 

 

Tilda stopped weeping long enough to say, ‘She is in the boat still!’

 

There was a soft moan and Legolas made out the girl half lying on the stern of the boat, dragging and pulling at its moorings like a nervous horse. Legolas leaned forward and snagged the edge of boat, and began to pull it towards him when suddenly something grabbed his arm and pulled at him in panic. 

 

‘No! Me first! Me first!’ A face turned up, mouth agape and thin black hair plastered around his pale skin. It was the Man, Alfred. 

 

Disgusted, Legolas dragged him roughly up onto the pathway and then went back to the boat which rocked dangerously on the riptide. The girl was lying across the bench, only half conscious and he pulled her up, lifted her carefully, and braced himself as another wave rocked the boat. 

 

In the brief lull between the waves that seemed to building not lessening, he hopped out of the boat and carried her quickly towards a stronger, heavier built path where Baird had carried Tilda. Here the houses had been doused and there were no flames and the timbers seemed strong enough to withstand the flood. 

 

Sigrid was freezing cold to the touch and Legolas quickly laid her on the wooden floor and stripped off his tunic, wrapped her in it. The girl moaned quietly but at least she was awake. 

 

Behind him, a pile of timber that had been a house blazed near where the watchtower had been and Legolas could see the whole row of houses was about to collapse. He could not spare another moment if he was to save his brother.

 

He grabbed Alfred. ‘You, take them to safety,’ he instructed.

 

He felt Tilda’s little hand on his arm and tried not to be rough but he could not bear their neediness any longer. ‘You need to find your father and I need to find my brother.’ He looked down at the girl and then at Alfred. ‘Go on!’ He gave Alfred a shove and then turned to Tilda and pushed her more gently after him. ‘Go with Alfred, Tilda. Trust me, he has an instinct for his own skin.’ 

 

‘We can’t leave you on your own, Legolas,’ Sigrid said weakly. She was sitting up now and clutched his tunic about herself, looking at him with frightened eyes. ‘We can help you look for your brother.’

 

‘No. No you can’t. You will get in the way…I’m sorry.’ The children looked at him, frightened and he relented. ‘Look. Go that way.’ He pointed to their right. ‘Those houses have escaped the fires and there will be people there. You need to find something warm, Baird, to put around both your sisters.’

 

‘But Alfred…’

 

Legolas grabbed Alfred impatiently. ‘Make sure they get to safety,’ he growled at him, deliberately narrowing his eyes dangerously. ‘If not, I will come after you,’ he said emphatically. ‘You won’t like that. You know how skilled elves are - I can find you even if you run and hide a hundred miles away. We can see the trace of you on the earth, on a leaf, in the the air.’ Alfred whimpered and Legolas found it strangely satisfying but the Man was untrustworthy even so. ‘When you have found their father I am sure he will reward you well,’ he added, reasoning that this was a better motivation for Alfred than even Legolas’ vengeance. It seemed to work for Alfred suddenly grabbed Tilda and shoved Sigrid ahead of him.

 

‘You heard him! Come on, children. Let’s find out if your father was killed by the dragon.’

 

Though he cringed inwardly at the carelessness, Legolas did not wait to see where they went now for Thalos was under the burning timbers and fog somewhere. 

 

Ahead of him, a whole row of houses creaked and one roof slowly collapsed under the flames. He heard Tilda scream his name but he ran forwards, ducking a falling beam smouldering with flames, plunging into the smoke.

 

Around him, all was fire and thick smoke. Flames devoured the wood and ahead of him, the ruin of the watchtower had crumbled and crashed into a thin black skeleton. Like a wrecked ship aflame. Panicking, he leapt over flames and ducked to run beneath slowly collapsing walls.

 

He reached the site of the watchtower and pulled away the flaming wood where he had last seen Thalos and flung it away. Something crashed behind him and he felt the whole terrace shudder under his feet. It was about to collapse slowly into the cold, deep lake, he realised; if he did not find Thalos soon, his brother might go with the smouldering tinder of houses and the fallen watchtower into the icy darkness of the lake.

 

He forced his way through the smouldering debris and flaming wood, shouting Thalos’ name but he found nothing and the floor creaked and trembled under him again. Tears blurred his sight and the smoke and shouting made his throat raw but he could not find a single sign of his brother. Below the crumbling town, the water was deep and bitter-cold and he wondered in despair if he was already too late, and Thalos was already slowly sinking into its cold depths.

 

Listen.

 

Listen.

 

A voice seemed to whisper in his ear, like someone sat on his shoulder, a rich, deep voice, Smaug. He turned round, startled. Surely Smaug was dead?

 

Whatever it was, it was right; his only chance was to listen for Thalos for he could not see him.

 

Forcing himself to be still, he slowed and listened…listened for Thalos’ song, reached out to hear a note, a strain of the forest river, fast and strong for that was Thalos… He listened for the sunlight sparkling on the water even in this devastation and ruin. Forcing himself to be still, to ignore the crashing timbers around him, he searched for the sweet notes of the forest river, swift and dark and streaming into still pools where the water reflected the sky above, the stars…

 

And there! There was something! A glitter. He fell on his knees and dug between the blackened wood, the brittle struts of the watchtower. Thalos’ knife, lying on the floor. He dug deeper, faster, throwing things aside and scrambling between the timbers that still burned. 

 

Suddenly everything tilted and shifted. Timbers, barrels, buckets, debris slid along the walkway and disappeared into the black depths, and along with it, Thalos’ knife. Legolas scrambled back, seeing with horror that this whole walkway was slowly sliding into the the icy lake; his ankles were already in the water and he could see Thalos’ knife glittering in the fire as it sank beneath the waves. 

 

Desperately, dangerously careless for himself, he plunged into the icy water up to his knees, hoping the pathway would hold long enough. A slow creak and shiver rippled beneath his feet through the walkway and a pile of timber still burning, slid into the water. A hiss of steam shot up as it sank beneath the lake. 

 

No. No, Legolas cried to himself. ‘Thalos!’ he shouted in despair.

 

There! There…

 

Nothing. But he felt a pricking in the skin of his shoulder like something did indeed sit there and it spiked him so he turned his head.

 

Nagiru… A slow sighing whisper.

 

Thalos lay more than half in the water already, face down, half hidden by smouldering timbers. He was sliding off the walkway that disappeared into the deep, hand reaching out and downwards, pale in the dark water. Legolas gasped but held still, for one step might mean Thalos slid into the depths and he would be lost forever.

 

‘Thalos!’ he whispered as if his voice alone could disturb the delicate balance and inched forwards. The wooden path shifted again, creaked and settled and Thalos slid a little further away, deeper into the water.

 

Do not tarry! the voice urged him, like the dragon himself spoke. 

 

Beyond the edges of the town, the black water gathered and built, a wave that rose up and seemed to hang for a moment… then a wall of black water rushed forwards.

 

Instantly Legolas saw that the wave would wash Thalos away from him and without thought, he gathered himself and leapt forwards. The timbers sank beneath his feet as he landed but even as he did, he reached forwards and grabbed Thalos’ collar, hauling at him, backing up along the sinking path as it creaked and slowly sank deeper and deeper until the icy water was at his waist, and then his chest. It forced the breath from his lungs so cold it was.

 

And then the wave hit,  crashing over him, tearing the timbers apart in its fury and knocking him sideways, rolling him over and over, banging into debris that was caught in the churn of icy water. Legolas simply clung to Thalos, tried to protect him as best he could, cupping his brother’s head against his chest  so it was Legolas who took the brunt. Something heavy crashed into him, and he almost let go of Thalos but he managed to hold on tightly, sinking under the water before he struggled up again, and pushed Thalos’ face out of the water so he could breathe.

 

The wave roiled and churned and then retreated, dragging everything out into deeper water with it. He felt himself dragged under the water. For a moment he sank slowly, his long hair floating around him like weeds and he saw beneath him, the dragon. 

 

Smaug lay on his back, his great wings outstretched  and his head back so he looked upwards, through the darkness up towards the sky. 

 

 

…like he had stretched his great wings to soar on a wind that none on the earth had ever known, seeking the Fire beyond the Circles of the World... Smaug reached, reached, and yearned for the fire that burned at the heart of the universe…that spawned stars and suns and galaxies that spun slowly, wheeled in the hugeness of the night that was beyond Legolas’ imagination…the Secret Fire, from which All Things came…but always, the heavy chains of darkness brought him falling back, falling back into darkness…

 

And he had fallen into darkness indeed, the deeps of the lake were cold and dark. Ice in the dragon’s veins now and his scorching heat and fire quenched…His bones would become fossilised stone.

 

Legolas was sinking, lost and dreaming when something caught his hand and he was rolled up into the air again, gasping for breath. The barrel that he had caught  bobbed about on the surface. Thalos was still tightly gripped in his other hand and he hauled himself around so that he was on his back and his hand cupped his brother’s chin. He kicked out. 

 

I need to swim, he told himself dreamily. I need to swim and save my brother.

 

But he was so cold. His limbs were leaden and Thalos a dead weight. But he kicked and kicked again, letting the waves take him forwards and tried to keep his brother’s face out of the water. Gasping, breathless, he was dunked under again and again. Something dark loomed out of the fog and clunked him on the head. He couldn’t see what it was for the tide roared over him again and threw him forwards, and then dragged him back.

 

I can’t, he thought. I can’t carry on. Found himself sinking.

 

Suddenly the tide threw him forward and he bumped into something hard and resisting. It was the timbers of Esgaroth, heavy and sunk deep into the lake. Desperately, before he was dragged back out into the deep water, he scrabbled at the wood but it was wet and slippery and he was so cold. With an almighty effort, he pushed Thalos upwards. Another wave rocked him and he felt his brother pulled and tugged and although he gripped as hard as he could, he was slow…And then Thalos was wrenched from his grasp.

 

He opened his mouth to cry out and ice-water rushed in and he knew he was going to drown.

 

Something gripped his wrist, he was caught on something he thought, and gripped back weakly.

 

 Water rushed past him, blinding him, filling his mouth, nostrils, and he was pulled suddenly upwards and heaved out of the lake. He coughed and gasped and choked and suddenly someone was lying him down. He choked again and water retched from his lungs and a heaving gasp of air rushed in. He felt someone moving his head to the side and he heaved again, retching water.

 

‘Legolas! Legolas, can you hear me?’

 

It was Laersul. Laersul. But Legolas couldn’t answer for the choking and vomiting. He was being rolled onto his side and forced open his eyes to see Thalos’ body lying next to him, and Men huddled round. Someone had thrown a blanket over Thalos and another was kneeling over him, his face close. But Thalos’ eyes were tightly closed, and his wet black hair plastered against his white face. Then a Man moved and Legolas could no longer see him.

 

 

 

 

0o0o 

 

In the Wood, Thranduil stood on the highest flet on the highest tree of the Wood, a tall beech tree, staring out towards Erebor with his heart aching with loss and turmoil. The wind blew from the east and brought a bitter tang of burning and the birds brought him news of the great devastation. And then a great fog had risen hung from the Lake and he could no longer see the Mountain, could no longer see the Lake. He knew what had happened even before the birds of the air brought more news; the dragon was dead. Smaug had been killed by a Man with a black arrow. Smaug had set Esgaroth aflame and been shot dead, crashing over the lake. Hence the heavy fog that lay over the Lake.

 

Thranduil stood watching in cold horror and fear. His boys were there. All of them. He knew not if they had escaped Erebor before Smaug broke out of the Mountain, or if they had perished in the flames that kindled in the wilderness, or if they had made it to Esgaroth only to die amongst the townsfolk and the ruin of the Laketown. Certainly there had been no message. Yet he tried to have hope for any other way would have killed him. 

 

With dread in his heart he sent out the order for his armies to mass, for the men to arm and march upon Erebor. Orcs would surely be gathering upon Erebor with the news of Smaug’s death and if his children yet lived, the orcs would not have them, he swore. And if they had died…he could not think of that yet… his steadfast Laersul and sword-bright Thalos, his sweet Legolas…The thought that they had perished because of Thorin Oakenshield’s vanity and empty dream made him furious. 

 

‘Oakenshield would have done better staying as my guest,’ he said with bitterness. ‘It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good.’

 

There was the matter of his sons, but Thranduil knew too that there was also the business of the empty Mountain. And the strategic position it held. And of course no one could deny there was treasure in the deeps of Erebor. Treasure that would pay for dwarvish armour and Imladrian swords. For grain and plenty for the people of the Wood. Thranduil could not deny that his own coffers were severely depleted by the constant war in the South.

 

And so the elves gathered, quiet and anxious for their comrades, their captains had not yet returned and Laersul’s absence especially made the men anxious. Thranduil mounted his great charger and led the elves from the stronghold and through the forest, when they were joined by another traveller. 

 

‘Gandalf,’ Thranduil said as the Wizard joined his side. ‘I suppose I should not be surprised. I have felt your hand in all of this,’ he said wryly. ‘But you will forgive me the niceties. My boys are there and I do not know if they live.’

 

Gandalf frowned and pressed his lips together. ‘I should have known,’ he said crossly to himself. ‘That I did not foresee.’ He glanced at Thranduil with his piercing blue eyes. ‘I will be very surprised if Legolas has fallen,’ he said cryptically but if Thranduil was comforted by that he was thrown into an agony by the lack of mention of his other two sons and he rode on with Gandalf in curt silence for he was convinced the Wizard had more to do with this than even he guessed.

 

 

0o0o

 

There had been no messages and the army drew close to the Lake. The pall of smoke and steam lay across the whole area, a thick fog that stank of sulphur and marsh gas. They followed the sound of the river and found waves racing up the shoreline and debris scattered over the stony beach. Along the shore blasted trees, pines blackened by fire. Distantly, through the fog they could see the town was burning still. Black timbers stuck out of the grey water like ghostly ships, and voices came eerily from further down the lake shore.

 

Thranduil held up his hand and the army, as one, halted. Thranduil rode towards the voices, the Men, his grey horse cantered along the shoreline and he turned his head looking into the mist. ‘Men of Esgaroth,’ he called. Not loudly but filling his voice with power so it summoned them. The sound of voices in the mist ceased and a silence fell.

 

‘Hail! Is that the King?’ came a voice from the mist.

 

The army turned as one, breathless, looking towards the voice like a dog turns and strains at its leash at the voice of its master.

 

Laersul!

 

And there he was, striding out of the mist, hair damp around his head, eyes bright and strong, wide shoulders. Thranduil let out a cry and threw himself from his horse to clasp his son to himself. Laersul hugged him back and bent his head so his father could kiss the top his head in spite of the fact that Laersul stood taller than he.  Thranduil put his hands on either side of his eldest son’s face and searched his eyes. ‘Where are Thalos and Legolas?’ he asked desperate.

 

‘Legolas is by the shore. I have set him to get the Men of Laketown building shelters,’ he said, turning and indicating somewhere in the mist. Now they could hear the bang of hammer on wood had ceased and voices raised in hope. A cluster of Men had formed around the Elves and the weary, worn faces of those refugees of Laketown were turned towards the elves. But Thranduil could not attend to them now. 

 

‘And Thalos?’ Thranduil could barely speak for worry. Laersul’s face changed and he looked away. 

 

‘Come. He is here. But he is injured badly. Burned and has broken several bones. He was on a watchtower when Smaug fell. He was right beneath the dragon and Legolas had to dive into the lake to save him…’

 

 Thranduil’s heart clenched with fear and he hurried after Laersul, only half aware that Gilvrast had taken charge of the army and was even now, dispatching healers to attend the people of Laketown

 

0o0o

 

Thalos had been laid upon the earth in a small shelter, merely part of wooden wall salvaged from the lake, spilt in half and lashed together to provide a sort of wooden tent. Thranduil could hardly breathe as he ducked his head to go inside. A woman sat at the end and looked up when he entered. He saw that she was very young and her eyes widened when she saw it was the Elvenking. She tried to stand but there was not enough room and he waved her back down dismissively for he only really had eyes for his child.

 

Thalos lay under a thick fur but his eyes were sealed shut and his face was turned to one side and very pale. Thranduil’s heart clenched at the sight and he hurried forwards, the girl shuffled to the other side of Thalos for there was no bed and he was lying on the ground though there were furs and thick blankets beneath and over him. It seemed he was being taken care of at least. Behind him, Éredis tutted and pushed gently past Thranduil to kneel beside the still Thalos and immediately put one hand on his forehead and then lifted away the fur.

 

Thranduil sank to his knees beside his son, praying as he never did, as he had not since the last time his sons had come home wounded or news had come of a patrol lost or attacked. Too often.

 

‘He is very cold, my lord.’ Éredis turned to the girl and gave her a quick look up and down. ‘Ask her what happened please, my lord.’ For Éredis never left the Wood these days and her Westron was forgotten.

 

‘He was on the watchtower on the eastern side of the town, my lady,’ the girl said and Thranduil looked at her in surprise for her Sindarin was fluent though thickly accented in the rhotic sounds of Esgaroth’ it suggested an educated child of perhaps as much nobility as Esgaroth had these days. ‘Smaug was right above the watchtower when he was killed and he fell on that side of the town. This elf was in the water for some time before our friend, Legolas rescued him. And they they were swept out into the lake and had to swim back to the town where my lord Laersul, pulled them out.’ The girl’s eyes were shining then and she clasped her hands together and Thranduil wondered wryly which if his sons had caused her to glow in adoration.

 

‘You speak well for a child of the Lake,’ he observed casually.

 

‘My father taught me,’ the girl said. ‘My name is Sigrid.’

 

Thranduil nodded briefly but really he only wanted Éredis to tell him that Thalos would live.

 

The healer was checking Thalos’ pulse, lifting his eyelids and feeling behind his head. Then she sat back on her heels and looked up at Thranduil. ‘He is very cold, and his pulse is …’ She hesitated and Thranduil felt as cold as his son.  ‘It is weaker than normal…I do not think it is dangerously low and he has no head injuries. His reactions though are very slow.  That is normal after he has been suffering from the Lostahelegnen.’ She peered beneath the furs and her face grew more concerned. Then she carefully turned his face gently towards her and Thranduil saw the awful burns on his face. Thalos handsome face was raw and the flesh was red. Blisters raised on his cheek and forehead. ‘This is probably why; these are more serious. I need to examine him properly and treat these burns. I am surprised he has not died of shock, with the severity of the burns and then half drowning in icy water. Although in truth the water may have reduced the burning. It is infection I worry about.’

 

She turned her head towards the door.  ‘Lissé!’ she called and her assistant appeared at the doorway. ‘Come, I will need your help. My lord,’ Éredis looked at Thranduil with compassion. ‘Please. We need room to work. I will call you when I know, but he is not going to die.’

 

It was all Thranduil really needed. He felt a sob gathering somewhere in his chest that threatened to burst from him but put a hand over his mouth and nodded briefly. 

 

Outside the air was heavy and suffocating with fog that had still not cleared. But he heard a beloved voice raised in laughter and the sob broke from him then; Legolas. 

 

All his sons lived. Thalos was hurt but Éredis said he would live and he trusted her like no other. Laersul was already ordering the troops, dispatching them to help with the shelters for the homeless Laketown’s folk and he could hear Anglach and Legolas bantering silliness. For a moment, he just stood and listened.

 

His sons lived. And Smaug was gone.

 

0o0

 

Lostahelegnen- hypothermia. Literally sleep of freezing.

Chapter 20 The Devastation of Esgaroth by ziggy

Chapter 20: The Ruin of Esgaroth

 

A healing tent had been set up above the pebble beach of the Lake, hung about with veils and curtains so there were wards to separate those with small burns and injuries, and those for whom all the healers could do was drug them into unconsciousness. Thranduil had directed Legolas to Éredis as soon as he had seen the burns on his youngest son’s hands, on his face and noted the way he listed slightly from the bruising to his shoulder. Inside the tent, it was brightly lit with oil lamps and globe-lights, and Legolas could hear the quiet voices of Éredis’ healers talking to other wounded, and occasionally a child whimpered. 

 

Éredis herself was tending to Thalos, lying still and silent on a low bed. His face was white but shone in the lamplight with sweat. A fever, thought Legolas in concern. Sigrid sat on a low stool beside him, watching over him and now and again she wiped his face with water steeped with athelas and willow. Legolas recognised the fragrance.

 

Éredis smiled at Legolas as he came quietly into the cubicle, and held out her hands to him. Obediently he lifted his own hands to hers and she turned them over to examine the palms. She tutted quietly and then let them drop back. ‘Now your shoulder,’ she said. 

 

Legolas glanced towards Sigrid, feeling suddenly shy for it would mean that Sigrid would see his yaré-cármë and he had never been seen by a mortal before. But Éredis would have none of it. ‘Don’t become coy, Legolas Thranduillion. She will not swoon from the sight of your muscular torso,’ she said dryly and he felt himself blush. ‘And you will certainly not impress me. I have wiped your nose clear of snot and your arse clear of..’

 

‘I am doing as you ask!’ he interrupted quickly and tugged the homespun tunic over his head for his own hunting tunic had been destroyed, having been first burned and then soaked in the lake and stained. Sigrid had been the one to find him clean and serviceable clothes. He dropped the simple tunic onto a stool nearby and stood, unusually self-conscious and aware of the girl’s gaze that lingered over his body. She stared at the wild swirls of colour and elaborate curlicues and abstracts that flaunted over his left upper arm and shoulder and curled around his waist; that resolved, if you looked closely, into the semblance of a stylised dragon that peered knowingly over his shoulder.

 

‘There are no burns anywhere here where Lathron has painted you,’ Éredis said curiously. ‘But there are these odd marks on your shoulder…like something has clung to you.’ She glanced up at Legolas. ‘Do you know how you got these?’

 

‘I…No,’ he said at last for it was too strange to remember how he thought he heard Smaug speak to him though the Dragon had plunged into the icy depths of the lake, or the pricking sensation on his shoulder that had made him look about and find Thalos where he lay half submerged in the freezing water.

 

‘You have some nasty burns here,’ Éredis prodded the blisters gently to see if they were infected, and Legolas pressed his lips together so as not to cry out or wince. But her sharp eyes noted nonetheless. ‘You do not have to be a hero in here,’ she said kindly.

 

The burns might be healing on the palms of his hands, but there was a long white burn that had blistered and become infected on his arm, and over his right shoulder, bare of the yaré-cármë, his skin looked as though someone had pressed red-hot pokers over and over. He hissed through his teeth when Éredis pressed them gently, and Sigrid glanced up from her own task with concern.

 

At last Éredis ceased her examination and instead began her treatment, smoothing a cool lotion over the burns on his hands and arms to clean them and then a thick unguent to help heal. He smelt the fragrance of lavender and comfrey, and then the sweet-bitter scent of marigold beneath it. Immediately the burns felt soothed and the heat lessened. The Éredis lay her hands over over the bruised muscles of his shoulders and was very still; he felt a gentle coolness soak into his skin and Legolas felt the nerves begin to knit and smooth and the jangling pain dulled. He leaned towards her, listening to the green-gold notes of his own song thread through Éredis’: the bronze notes of the ancient oaks that pushed their roots through the earth to drink of those swift, dark streams that ran deep beneath the Wood, the veins of the earth…He closed his eyes and listened, and felt the healing begin.

 

At last, Éredis blinked and gently pushed him away.

 

‘You go too deep, Legolas,’ she said dreamily. ‘I hear my own song through you like I do with no other.’ She smiled and drew her hands over his head, through his long hair, smoothed him like his own mother and he felt a deep loss when she let him go. She dressed the wounds, winding long white linen clothes around his shoulder and then the same around his hands.

 

‘You are as well as you can be,’ she said softly and nodded towards the door, smiling benignly. He blinked slowly and shook himself out of the dreams she had invoked to help his healing, reached out for the tunic that lay curled on the stool and forgot what he was doing halfway.

 

‘Dress yourself,’ Éredis said softly. ‘This girl cannot stop herself from stating at the Hero of Esgaroth.’ She nodded her head slightly towards Sigrid who blushed to the roots of her hair. ’You can close your mouth again girl,’ Éredis said amused. She gave Legolas a wry look at which he shook himself. He pulled his shirt back on with less grace and a different self-consciousness than he had taken it off. He cast a quick look at Sigrid but she was hiding behind her unbound hair which, Legolas had noted already, was long and a lovely brown-gold honey colour. But Éredis was guiding him to the door and telling him she had others to attend, and suddenly he was back in the weak winter sunlight.

 

He blinked and shook himself again; it was not unfamiliar, the sensation of otherness that came from healing. Lathron had healed with the quiss and his ancient art, Éredis used the Song in a a different way that was no less hypnotic. He stared about himself a little dazed, seeing only movement and colour at first until at last it resolved into something more substantial and he realised that there were many elves milling about the pebbled beach, some busily helping the Men of Esgaroth but others simply standing. He frowned and wondered what was happening that so many seemed to be waiting for something.

 

At last he spotted Anglach, waving at him wildly, and slowly made his way over to where his friend was standing with Ceredir and some others. Anglach looked intensely relieved.

 

‘I thought you might have been killed when Smaug flew,’ Anglach said and then grinned. ‘And then I remembered that your breath would kill a Warg at a hundred yards so you would probably have escaped.’

 

‘Good thing you weren’t here then,’ Legolas said half heartedly, still dazed. His face must have been pale and tense for Anglach leaned forwards and went to hug Legolas but he ducked away from the contact and looked apologetically at his friend ‘I got a bit bruised and burned,’ he said, holding up his bandaged hands. ‘Nothing serious though,’ he assured his friend.

 

‘How is Thalos?’ Ceredir came towards them, casting his gaze over the dishevelled camp, the debris that the people of Esgaroth had salvaged from fire and flood. 

 

‘He is sleeping,’ Legolas replied - unable to speak more for he did not want to think how pale was his brother’s face, how a light sweat shone on his skin like a fever had hold of him. Instead he looked past Ceredir and realised for the first time, that it was not merely the King’s Company that rode with Thranduil but many of Legolas’ own comrades and warriors with whom he had served in the South. And surely there was Mithrandir sitting astride a big carthorse, his grey cloak pulled about his lean wiry body and his hat pulled down low over his eyes. ‘What is Mithrandir doing here?’

 

Ceredir glanced at Anglach. ‘Mithrandir followed after Laersul, to bring news of the Necromancer’s fall.’ He laid his hand on Legolas’ shoulder. ‘And the King suspects he has rather more to do with Thorin Oakenshield than he has let on.’

 

Legolas peered around Ceredir’s shoulder for he was a little taller than Legolas. Mithrandir was leaning down from his horse now and talking to Laersul and Bard. Legolas recognised Bard although he had combed his hair and changed into cleaner clothes, although Legolas had no idea where he would have found those.  Bard looked different now, somehow more noble.

 

‘Who is that?’ Anglach asked. 

‘That is Bard,’ replied Legolas. ‘He is the one who shot Smaug.’

Ceredir and Anglach stared in astonishment. ‘A Man? Was it not Laersul?’ They looked with awe and respect at the Man who strode alongside Laersul.

‘You forget,’ said Legolas quietly. ‘We are sworn.’

A  silence followed in which both Legolas’ friends thought upon that. ‘You couldn’t do anything,’ Anglach realised. Legolas shook his head. 

At that moment, Thranduil appeared, striding along the pale shingle beach, his head turned towards the slate-green waves that still rushed up onto the shore, echoing the colour of his eyes it seemed. His appearance caused a stir amongst elves and Men for he was taller than all but Laersul and the weak sun gleamed upon his hair, the colour of gold coins. As he strode towards the waiting host, his cloak billowed behind him. As if he suddenly became aware of the way all turned towards him, unresisting, he turned away from the Lake and caught sight of Laersul and his face softened. 

’My lord,’ Laersul said respectfully as Thranduil approached. ‘May I present to you Bard, the Man who slew the dragon. He is the…

‘He is the descendant of Brand,’ Thranduil interrupted, his face smooth and knowing. ‘It was you who inherited the Black Arrow.’

Bard stared back in astonishment. Slowly his face changed and a great wonder fell upon him. He sank to one knee before Thranduil. ‘The story is true?’ he gasped. ‘Then this,’ he threw back his cloak to reveal a golden fibula set with emeralds. ‘This is yours, my lord.’

Legolas frowned and peered at the broach, and Anglach murmured quietly, ‘Do you not think that is very like to the one that Galion used to have. Quite some years ago.’  Legolas thought it was exactly like it; it was very well crafted, dwarvish.

Galion, who was still mounted on his brown mare and standing next to Mithrandir, gave a muffled cry of outrage and Thranduil cast a withering look over his shoulder. ‘You have been more than compensated,’ he snapped. Galion shut his mouth but he still glared at the Man and Legolas stared first at Galion, then at Anglach, whose expression mirrored Legolas’ own. Galion’s brown mare shook her head and then leaned down, snatching at the bit and pulling grumpily.

Thranduil leaned down clasped the kneeling Man on the shoulder. ‘I gave this to your grandfather to keep and sustain him,’ he said, brushing his fingers lightly over the gold broach. ‘As I gave him the Arrow.’ He smiled benignly at the Man and raised his to his feet. ‘I knew it was needed.’ He paused and cast a slight glance towards Laersul. ‘I gave much to obtain it.’ His gaze rested now on the small shelter where Thalos still lay asleep and dreaming.

’Then it was both elves and Men who slew the dragon!’ Bard cried aloud and turned to his people. ‘People of Esgaroth! Hail the Elvenking who turned aside to aid us, who gave my ancestor the Black Arrow that slew the Dragon! This broach is a sign of the friendship between Elves and Men,’ he declared and Galion spluttered in the background. 

‘I don’t understand, ‘Anglach muttered in Legolas’  ear. ‘That gold fibula is just like that one Galion lost…’ He paused, looking miserable. ‘But the King says he gave that one to Brand. I don’t see how…I don’t think Galion is very pleased.’ His shoulders slumped and Legolas rolled his eyes and sighed; he could see that Anglach was unhappy at the idea that Galion had not wanted Thranduil to give his broach to Bard’s grandfather because as far as Anglach was concerned, the King could do no wrong. Ever. But Anglach loved Galion, who had been a mother to them both. A sort of grumpy, nagging mother it was true but neither of them had known any different for so long. Galion was grumbling at Mithrandir and his brown mare snapped her teeth at Mithrandir’s patient horse, which ignored her.

Legolas took pity on him. ‘I suspect the King saw that Brand was in need and asked Galion for the fibula to give him something to sell. Galion would grumble about giving a potato away but he would rather die than leave someone else in need. As you well know.’

Anglach looked relieved. ‘Yes. Of course. The King would never leave anyone in distress and he is so wise. He must have known that this was going to happen one day.’ He gazed adoringly at Thranduil who was  leaning towards Bard and inclined his head, listening carefully, for Anglach worshipped Thranduil in a way none of his sons did.

‘What’s happening now?’ Anglach whispered to Ceredir, who had been paying attention to what was going on.

Ceredir leaned his handsome head towards Anglach and with a slight smile, he said, ‘The King is just agreeing to help the people of Esgaroth. He has just said he will leave skilled carpenters and healers amongst the people here. They are going to build shelters to withstand the oncoming Winter while the rest of us and any able-bodied Men will march to the Mountain.’

Legolas turned and stared at Ceredir for a moment. ‘Why are we going to the Mountain?’

Now it was Anglach’s turn to sigh and roll his eyes. He gave Legolas a light thwack on the top of his head. ‘The treasure, stupid. You’ve seen it. We can’t just leave the Mountain empty and unguarded. That treasure belongs to the dwarves and someone has to look after it for them.’

Legolas looked at Anglach puzzled. ‘I cannot see my father marching everyone out here just to look out for the dwarves.’

Ceredir smiled kindly. ‘Of course not!’ he exclaimed softly. ‘The Mountain is strategically important. We wouldn’t want Azog or Bolg, the leader of the Gundabad orcs, to have it. And the treasure also belongs to Bard now. In fact, I should think the dwarves are dead anyway. They must have been caught in the dragon’s fire before anyone.’

Anglach gave a little cry then and out his hand over his mouth and Legolas bit his lip, remembering how much Anglach had liked the dwarves. ‘Perhaps some of them survived,’ he said kindly. ‘You know what they say about dwarves. Made of stone and fire. Maybe they survived.’ But he knew that Anglach was thinking about the bones on Erebor’s slopes, and the skulls like fragile eggshells within the Mountains itself, and the small skeleton of the child curled within its mother’s arms. 

But now Thranduil had turned to speak to all those now gathered, Men and Elves. ‘There will always be friendship between the Lake and the Wood!’ He turned and beckoned to Galion. ‘Bring supplies, enough for all these people,’ he said. There was a murmur of appreciation and gratitude from the gathered Men. Immediately Laersul beckoned to Legolas, Anglach and Ceredir, who hurried over immediately whilst Galion tried unsuccessfully to urge his own grumpy brown mare forwards.

‘But what will we eat?’ he protested, looking horrified.

 

Thranduil turned and glared at him so coldly that anyone but Galion would have frozen solid and shut up. But Galion was a law unto himself and carried on complaining. His mare had now put her ears back and refused to move even when Galion thumped his legs against her sides and there was a snigger from one of the warriors which had Anglach glaring angrily at the ranks.

 

The King, however, had not finished his bounty, and he held up a hand to quieten them. He gave a blissful and beautiful smile, and, gesturing towards Galion, he announced loudly and majestically, ‘I also give you my seneschal, Master Galion, to help you, and fifty elves as carpenters and builders to help you build shelters. There are healers and supplies to keep you until you are recovered. And after, I will still help our old allies and friends.’ He grinned wickedly at Galion. ‘For many years yet.

Galion’s jaw dropped open in horror and Legolas grinned at Anglach and Ceredir. Legolas felt a bubble of laughter in his chest, part relief that his father was here and part hysteria he thought that was delayed shock. Ceredir shook his head laughing, refusing the wager but Anglach held up three fingers and tapped the hilt of his dagger. ‘My new dagger on three days before he relents.’ 

Ceredir shook his head. ‘As long as that? He’ll have Galion whining for the next three hours and even the King cannot withstand that.’ 

Galion had kicked his horse over to where Thranduil stood and at last the mare moved, throwing her head up and rolling her eyes in disbelief, she ambled grudgingly to Thranduil’s side and gave a heavy sigh. Galion leaned over towards the King. ‘But my lord, my place is at your side. Surely you do not wish that I live amongst these smelly Men?’ he hissed in outrage.

Legolas looked sceptically at Anglach. ‘ I agree with Ceredir. Three hours before he recalls him..’ 

Laersul glanced at them both and snorted with laughter. ‘I’ll take those nice new hunting knives you both got last Feast day for it will be less than that. One hour or less I wager.’

‘No, I think he will stick it out. He is quite cross,’ Legolas argued, watching his father ignoring Galion’s complaint. Then Galion leaned down towards Thranduil and said something very quietly and Thranduil actually twitched. ‘Wait,’ Legolas said quickly. ‘I’m not sure…I think I want to change my bet.’

‘No,’ said Laersul. ‘You already wagered.’ He kept his eyes ahead and then murmured out of the corner of his mouth, ‘Any….moment…now.’

Thranduil had stopped and turned to glare at Galion. Then with a muttered curse he said crossly, ‘On second thoughts, you will simply upset these good folk and I think they have suffered enough. You had better keep an eye on the children.’ He cast a quick glance towards Legolas and Anglach as he spoke.

Laersul grinned and Legolas looked indignant but Galion looked impossibly smug and he turned his little brown mare. She tossed her head in annoyance and broke into a lumbering trot for Galion had no more discipline with her any more than he had with his ‘boys’.

‘You both owe me those nice daggers,’ Laersul said with what only could be described as smugness. 

But when Legolas looked up into his brother’s handsome face, he did not care for he felt a burst of love for Laersul, who had pulled both Thalos and Legolas from the icy lake where they might both have drowned and sunk into the icy depths so their bones lay amongst Smaug’s. So he handed over the ivory-handled knives without a grudge and instead clasped Laersul’s arm as he did so.

0o0o

 

With the women and children the old and unfit, the Master remained and Legolas saw Alfred skulking behind him. But there were also many elves, skilled carpenters  who worked with the Men who had some craft. They busied themselves with lumbering fallen trees and felling those burned too far to recover so there was plenty of firewood and timber to make shelters. 

 

But all the men of the King’s array and those men at arms who were uninjured got ready to march north to the mountain. It was eleven days from the dragon’s fall that Laersul led the host with Bard past the rock gates at the end of the lake and came into the desolate lands.

 

Legolas and Anglach marched near the back and so were amongst the last to leave. They stood on the shore of the Long Lake and stared into its depths. Legolas remembered the sight of the dragon’s huge body, stretched cold as stone and twisted upon the bed of the lake. The moon rode out from behind the clouds, finally as the fog and mist cleared and for a moment, the depths of the lake seemed to glimmer like the moon had struck a seam of gold. 

 

‘I will never forget,’ said Anglach softly. ‘The sight of Smaug on his bed of gold, his magnificence. His glory.’

 

Legolas was silent for a moment and then he said, ‘I cannot forget his song, can you?’ Anglach shook his head and suddenly a thought struck Legolas. ‘You never told me what he said to you?’

 

But Anglach looked away, out over the moonlit lake, still as a mirror now and would not speak. At last he merely said, ‘He told me of a night when the orcs would come,’ he said and would say no more.

 

 

0o0o

Chapter 21 by ziggy

 

 

Chapter 21: Bilbo Baggins

 

 

 

 

 

Legolas and Anglach sat and bickered with Ceredir over who could actually shoot the furthest, the quickest, the most accurately. Ceredir was laughing at them both and egging them on. Unaware that they were the object of the regard of Thranduil and Laersul, they stood to begin a contest of knife-throwing when Legolas winced and rubbed his shoulder.

 

 

 

‘That’s it,’ Thranduil said decisively. ‘Legolas is not coming with us. He will be a liability and can stay here to guard the camp.’ 

 

 

 

He stood with Laersul and Érendis but Mithrandir stood close by and it was he who spoke first, before Laersul could intervene. ‘Do not leave Legolas behind, Thranduil, when he has done so much,’ the Wizard said gently. ‘Has he not earned his place here in the last bit of the adventure?’ 

 

 

 

Thranduil turned towards him suddenly. ‘This is not an adventure, Mithrandir. This will be war,’ he said bitterly. ‘It did not need to come to this.’

 

 

 

‘My dear Thranduil,’ said Mithrandir. His blue eyes softened for he knew the fear in Thranduil’s heart. ‘You know it was always going to come to this sooner or later. Smaug’s death has merely precipitated it, that is all.’ 

 

 

 

Thranduil narrowed his eyes calculating. ’And what has it precipitated?’ he asked sharply. ‘You know something, Mithrandir. More than you say.’

 

 

 

The Wizard spread his hands appeasingly. ‘Even I do not know everything that will happen, but I promise you I only mean well. Legolas is a warrior,’ he added. ‘A good one. Can you spare one such as he?’ And because it was Mithrandir who had, after all, who had come to Thranduil and given him the Arkenstone to do with as he saw fit, and it had at least kept the dragon from his door, Thranduil sighed resigned. 

 

 

 

 

 

Éredis interjected, shaking her head disapprovingly. ‘Even if his hands are healing, his shoulder is still badly burned. He should not fight,’ she insisted. ‘Look, even the young fool knows he cannot throw a knife, let alone draw a bow or hold a sword.’

 

 

 

But Laersul looked annoyed on Legolas’ behalf. ‘Legolas is not a fool, Éredis,’ he said. ‘He is one of my finest warriors and has commanded troops in the South. You have all heard how he dared the Nazgûl to find Thalos and Anglach whom all believed lost that time, in the deepest Winter we have ever had in the Wood. That was not the only time he has done so and it will not be the last. There are not many who would willingly go so close to Dol Guldur, knowing the Nazgûl ride.’ He turned to his father and so missed the look of interest on Mithrandir’s face. ‘You know Legolas’ worth, Ada. He is a good commander. He showed that in the way he behaved here in Esgaroth when the dragon came. Should we face an army of orcs and goblins, my lord, we will need every man whatever he can do.’ He looked about the men at arms Bard had summoned and winced slightly. ‘These Men know little of real fighting,’ he had said. ‘And none have seen battle as have we. Legolas is an experienced commander in the South. Even if he does not bear arms himself, he will be useful.’

 

 

 

Thranduil stared at Laersul for a moment, all his fear and loss in his eyes. Then he sighed and turned his face away. ‘I keep sacrificing my sons, over and over, Mithrandir. When will it stop?’

 

 

 

Mithrandir placed his hand gently on the King’s arm, his eyes distant. ‘Legolas has a greater part to play in this yet, Thranduil, before all this is done,’ he said kindly. Then he patted Thranduil’s arm. ‘I see great deeds ahead of him that are yet to pass.’

 

 

 

‘He has already done great deeds,’ Thranduil said bitterly. ‘He has done enough…but he will come with us as you bid, Mithrandir, but though my head tells me he is one of our best commanders and should come with us, my heart misgives.’

 

 

 

0o0o

 

 

 

Thranduil had given the order for the elven host to march upon Erebor and there was a flurry of activity as the elves readied themselves to leave. But before he left, Thranduil ducked inside the healer’s tent where Thalos still lay and spent his last hour before he led the army towards Erebor sitting with his son.

 

 

 

In the lamplight, Thranduil sat and stroked Thalos’ hair as he had when Thalos was a child and could not sleep. He listened for Thalos’ song of the swift forest stream singing to itself as it fled over the grey granite boulders and plunged beneath the hill, where it pooled beneath the trees and the roots drank deeply…Thranduil leaned close and listened.

 

 

 

But Thalos’ song was changed now, wound about with a thread of dragonfire and starlight, an unbearable loneliness and hunger that could not be sated. And something utterly alien. Cold fire. Deep darkness. A far song. 

 

His song was restless as it had not been before and the King grieved for he knew he had lost his son, if not to death, to something for which he had no words. 

 

 

 

Thranduil bowed his head for he had always known that he would lose Thalos should he go to Smaug, not in Erebor, but that Thalos with his sword-bright wit and curiosity, would lose himself in the Dragon, in the Song of the Urulóki, in the deep fire at the heart of the Universe…and nothing Laersul could do, or even Thranduil himself would unravel him from the bewitchment…

 

 

 

But perhaps each of the danedh-amlung had lost a piece of themselves with Smaug’s death, Thranduil thought, for though as King he was relieved the threat of Smaug was gone and he had to send no more of the children of the Wood, part of him could not forget, and did not want to, the memory of the dragon, his magnificence and ancient wonder.

 

 

 

...Wind under great bat-like wings, soaring high, higher than cloud, higher than the Moon, above the World, seeking the Great Flame beyond the Circles of the World...and falling back, falling back into darkness...

 

 

 

He remembered how he had thought of a moth fluttering round a candle-flame.

 

 

 

Smaug’s fire was quenched in the deep, black waters of the Lake. His bones would lie there forever, huge and slowly turning to stone. It was a tragic end for such a beast as the world had lost now forever. The last of the Úruloki. The last dragon.

 

 

 

Under his hand, Thranduil felt Thalos stir and turn and sleep again.

 

 

 

0o0o

 

 

 

At last the host of elves and their allies, the Men of Esgaroth now provisioned and given weapons by the elves more suitable for fighting than farming and fishing, left the shores of the lake. They marched swiftly and arrived at the Gates of Erebor through the night and as dawn rose, Thranduil sent elves ahead to scout the way for the host. They found the entrance much changed, for there was a wide and deep pool before the gates and the gates themselves were blocked up with stone. But even more astonishing, was that Thorin Oakenshield and his companions were alive!

 

 

 

Legolas and Anglach missed all of the excitement because they were assigned to guarding the wagons with the provisions and supplies and these were slow and heavy.  By the time the two friends travelled along the old gravel track with their wagons, the track was churned to mud and much widened. Wagons became stuck in the mud or on rocks and everyone had to put their shoulders to the wheel and push to help the heavy horses pulling the wagons. Legolas was only able to stand and watch or shout helpfully, or not as the case maybe, for Éredis had warned him that he could only go if all he did was run messages, or herald for the King if need be or his shoulder would not heal. He was not to fight, she said sternly, unless he had to. Legolas had nodded meekly but already he felt the new skin itch as it healed. And he had no intention of standing idly by if it came to a fight. 

 

 

 

 

 

By the time Legolas and Anglach arrived at the Mountain, it was mid-morning.

 

Thranduil had intended to settle his host inside the Mountain itself and spread beyond the gates in order to protect them, certain that orcs and goblins would have heard the news of the dragon’s fall and be marching. Others he sent into the mountains to the North and the great plains in the East to keep watch. 

 

 

 

But the news that Thorin Oakenshield had survived forced them to change their plans. Thorin, it seemed, had taken up a defensive position in the Mountain itself, but when they found the deep lake and the blocked gates, Bard and the King moved their camp and now it was positioned east of the river and right between the arms of the mountain.

 

 

 

Anglach was overjoyed to hear that every one of the dwarves had survived the dragon’s fury and he kept saying this to everyone. Legolas warned him that no one else felt the same as him and he should stop saying it but by then Anglach had antagonised all the captains and commanders and so the pair of them, because Legolas was assumed to share Anglach’s views by association, were stuck with guard duty in the darkest watch of the night when everyone else, although there was no drinking, was happily gambling, singing or generally enjoying themselves.

 

 

 

‘Well you did want to be useful, Legolas’ Galadhon said grumpily, for of course, he was settling the watch. He glanced down at Legolas’ hands which were now only lightly bandaged. ‘And since you and Anglach are so glad the dwarves are still alive and did not perish in the dragon fire, you will be pleased to look out for them in the dark and make sure they don’t stub their toes.’ He smiled nastily and Legolas rolled his eyes. It seemed Legolas was being punished for Anglach’s mistake when first the dwarves stumbled into the elves’ feasting.

 

 

 

But he held his tongue for he knew that answering back your commander was heavily punished and even though he was a commander himself in the South, that meant nothing here and now on the edge of a siege, as it looked like this would become.

 

 

 

‘Although the last time either of you stood guard,’ Galadhon continued, ‘you let the dwarves escape. See you if you can actually stand watch without them sneaking past you and stealing the crown from the King’s head!’

 

 

 

Legolas winced at the biting words but Anglach just sighed. ‘All they wanted was to go home,’ he explained patiently while Legolas jabbed him the ribs. But Galadhon had already lost what little sympathy he may ever have had for Legolas and so he assigned them both the midnight to dawn watch for the next three nights and would have done for eternity had he not been at heart a good man and fair.

 

 

 

And so it was that midnight passed and Anglach and Legolas huddled on the edge of the camp. Winter had begun to set in and the wind howled around the edges of the Devastation like a hungry wolf and set Legolas’ teeth on edge. He hated the waiting. And the watches in the darkest time of the night were the worst. But it was still better to be here than left in the ruins of Esgaroth and not being allowed to do anything, even in Sigrid was there and she was very pretty, he thought. He pulled his cloak about him and stared off into the night. He had stuck tin cups in the edges of the fire to heat, filled with willow-bark tea that Éredis had insisted he drink. And Galion had thrust a wrapped wedge of something into their hands as they had trudged out of the camp, but both had hoped it was not rabbit pie for they wished to keep their teeth. 

 

 

 

‘It is not rabbit pie,’ Anglach said as he gingerly unwrapped it. He looked at Legolas in despair. ’It is worse.’

 

 

 

Legolas sighed. ‘Not lembas?’

 

 

 

‘Yes. It is lembas,’ Anglach confirmed apologetically. ‘I have heard that in Lothlorien, it is their Lady who make the  lembas with her maidens,’ he said. ‘Imagine that.’

 

 

 

‘I cannot. I only know lembas that has been made by Galion and his henchmen,’ replied Legolas, hefting the lembas in his hand. It was heavy, solid and could break a goblin’s skull.  ‘This could make a good weapon though,’ he said lightly.

 

 

 

‘Never say that to Galion,’ Anglach warned and Legolas shook his head.

 

 

 

‘I would not. And I would let anyone else say it either,’ he said for they both loved Galion. ‘Do you think Mithrandir could cast a spell to make him lighter-handed?’

 

 

 

In the darkness, the Mountain loomed above them, brooding and present. It felt like it was watching, waiting. Legolas thought about the echoing halls of stone, the rows of empty armour standing idly, gathering dust. He imagined Thorin and the other dwarves walking between those rows, choosing which armour to wear, selecting swords and axes. Letting gold coins trickle through their fingers, winding the jewelled necklaces about their necks. He wondered if Smaug had been such a dreadful enemy after all for they had had sevetny years or more of peace. And then he remembered that Smaug had wanted Thalos.

 

 

 

He sighed and stared into the small camp fire that crackled and burned and cast orange shadows on their faces.

 

 

 

‘Are you thinking about Smaug?’ Anglach asked softly.

 

 

 

Legolas sighed. ‘A bit.’

 

 

 

‘What was it like? Seeing him fly?’

 

 

 

Legolas looked up at the stars and thought of the dragon, Smaug’s yearning to escape the bounds of the Earth, to seek the secret fire at the heart of the Universe.

 

 

 

‘I have not words to describe it,’ he said uselessly. He shook his head. He was no bard or scholar. ‘It was just fire. Everywhere.  When he came over the Lake it was like the greatest storm you have ever heard. A roaring…I have never been so scared,’ he admitted.

 

 

 

‘But you saved Bard’s children. And then Thalos,’ Anglach smiled gently. ‘And the lovely Sigrid swoons over you…because of your breath.’ He laughed softly.

 

 

 

 

 

Legolas stared at him for a moment. And then looked down into the burning wood of their small camp fire. The edges of the wood smouldered and curled as it was incinerated. He remembered the glow of the dragon’s belly as Smaug was about to let flames burst from his jaws, how he had curled about the watch tower where Thalos reached, his great wings outstretched and hovering as if he protected Thalos…The terrible cry as Smaug was hit, how he had leapt into the air and hung for a moment before plunging down into the cold, icy depths…

 

 

 

 

 

Anglach brushed Legolas’ arm. ‘Beware the dragon sickness again, Legolas. I see it in your eyes. The dreaming.’

 

 

 

 

 

‘Legolas?’

 

 

 

He stirred and blinked. Anglach was watching him closely and as Legolas came back to himself, Anglach shook his head and tutted. ‘You must not go too deep, Legolas. Your father has lost Thalos now. He cannot lose you as well.’

 

 

 

‘And you, Anglach?’ Legolas said dreamily. ‘What of you? Did not Smaug tell you to beware orcs in the night?’

 

 

 

Anglach sighed. ‘And did not I and Laersul too, warn you that the dragon would seek to use your fears, to twist your words, to trick you?’ He shook his head and said mildly, ‘Honestly Legolas. Do you not think he could say that to any one of us who fight for the Wood? He could say that to you, to Thalos, to Laersul, Galadhon. In the East Bite, how many times have we been attacked at night by orcs? Would you really give Smaug any more credence than that?’

 

 

 

Legolas looked away. ‘Very well. There is truth in that.’ He frowned. ‘But he did not say that to me.’

 

 

 

‘Well you wouldn’t remember what he said. You were bespelled and wandering. Like you are now.’ Anglach smiled and added, ‘He probably couldn’t bear the sight of your warty, goblin face any longer, or the stink of your warg-breath.’

 

 

 

‘Well whatever you say, I will always guard you when we are in the South at night. No orcs will sneak up on you in the night,’ Legolas vowed. 

 

 

 

‘You do that anyway,’ said Anglach mildly. But he smiled. 

 

 

 

‘I suppose I can have a night off when we are in the stronghold,’ said Legolas. ‘Or in its boundaries. No orcs would dare attack us there.’

 

 

 

Anglach nodded. ‘Not with such a ready supply of Galion’s lembas within throwing distance,’ he said seriously. 

 

 

 

Legolas laughed and turned his head to look beyond the edges of firelight and into the dark. Even though no orcs or goblins were about, he felt unsettled, like something was approaching. And he was determined that Anglach would not fall to orcs.

 

 

 

It was very quiet. They were posted on the farthest edge of the camp, beyond any warmth or light from the other elves or men. Beside them the stream chuckled over the pale grey stones beside them, although they could barely see it for above them the sky was black and moonless and the stars were bright and hard. Legolas could hear the icy chimes of their song and tilted his head listening.

 

 

 

‘Can you hear them?’ he asked Anglach who shook his head.

 

 

 

‘Not really. I hear something but it is indistinct. I think the only people who can hear star-song are you and Lathron. Maybe the King of course,’ Anglach replied. He cupped his hands around the tin cup that held a steaming cup of willow tea. ‘This stuff is disgusting. How can you drink it? Éredis must hate you.’

 

 

 

Legolas shrugged. ‘I have to. That burn on my shoulder isn’t healing as it should although my hands are better.’ He lifted the edge of the linen bandages to show Anglach the new skin beneath, pink and smooth. 

 

 

 

There was a muffled grunt from Anglach who had pulled his cloak up over his head and was holding his hands over his ears. ‘It’s so cold I think my ears are going to drop off,’ he complained. 

 

 

 

Suddenly Legolas thought he heard a patter of feet and a soft splash. He sprang up, alert, knife in hand.

 

Anglach shivered and pulled his cloak about himself. ‘It’s only a fish,’ he said dismissively. 

 

But Legolas still had Smaug’s warning to Anglach ringing in his ears and he was vigilant. ‘I do not like this place,’ he said. ‘There is something else…It feels like the air is slick, oily,’ observed Legolas frowning.

 

‘Yes,’ Anglach agreed in surprise. ‘There is something…’ He looked about suspiciously and took a few steps beyond the firelight and peered into the darkness. ‘I am going to take a look upstream.’

 

‘Not on your own,’ Legolas said quickly with Smaug’s warning to Anglach still ringing in his ears.

 

Suddenly there was a louder splash and both elves were on their feet, swords drawn.

 

 

 

‘That was no fish!’ exclaimed Legolas, peering into the dark.  There was a spluttering and splashing as if something had slipped into the water and was struggling to get out. ‘There is a spy about.’

 

 

 

‘It must be one of the dwarves!’ cried Anglach in excitement and threw back his hood. He grabbed a lantern and threw back the cover, and scrambled over the rocks towards the stream.

 

 

 

‘Hide your lights!’ Legolas said crossly, for Anglach was swinging the lantern about and showing himself to anyone who might see, a target as easy to see as if it was day. ‘That will help him more than us.’

 

 

 

And then there was an explosive sound that had to be a sneeze!

 

 

 

Anglach swung his lantern around and Legolas drew his sword and ran after him, cursing. But there was nothing but the flat rocks and the cold stream, deadened grass and gravel of the old road.

 

 

 

And then, as if he had risen from the rocks themselves, a small figure appeared in the gloom. ‘Let’s have a light,’ it said. ‘I am here if you want me.’

 

 

 

Anglach stopped so suddenly that Legolas crashed into him in his surprise. Both elves opened their mouths in a round O. For there in front of them was a Perianath. A hobbit. 

 

 

 

 

 

0o0o

Chapter 22 The Arkenstone by ziggy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 22: The Arkenstone

 

 

Legolas stared at the hobbit in a delighted fascination that matched Anglach’s. He was smaller than the dwarves, with a brightly coloured jacket with no buttons. He had curly hair and bright eyes and an anxious smile. But Legolas could not take his eyes of the hobbit’s feet. They were exactly as they appeared in the children’s story books of his childhood. 

 

 

 

‘Big and hairy,’ he said stupidly.

 

 

 

‘It’s a hobbit,’ Anglach said in the same stupid voice full of delight and curiosity. Then he broke into a wide smile. ‘You did not perish in the Wood,’ he said gladly.

 

 

 

The hobbit looked confused, partly because Anglach’s westron was so thickly accented and incorrect that no one could understand what he said anyway. 

 

The hobbit  peered up at their faces more closely. ‘Oh,’ he said and his expression was a mixture of pleasure and Legolas could swear, guilt. ‘It is you two!’

 

 

 

‘Yes, but how do you know us?’ Legolas asked, blinded into stupidity by his childish wonder. ‘And how did you get here? I didn’t see you until a moment ago. Are you magic?’ There had been wonderful tales that his brothers had told him of hobbits who lived in burrows or hobbit-holes in the West on the Road to the Sea. ‘Why are you here?’ he asked suddenly remembering he was, after all, supposed to be on guard.

 

 

 

‘I am Bilbo Baggins,’ said the hobbit, with a slight bow. ‘I am a companion of Thorin Oakenshield if you want to know. I know your King well by sight, although he does not know me…And I know both of you very well, my dear elves - in fact, rather better than I might wish! Though you do not know me at all. But Bard will remember me and it is Bard that I want to see.’

 

 

 

‘Bilbo Baggins!’ Anglach ignored what the hobbit had said and just repeated the name in wonder.

 

 

 

He and Legolas looked at each other in astonished delight. ‘It really is a hobbit!’ Legolas said. ‘You were right that the dwarves had one after all!’

 

Bilbo coughed politely, reminding them both that he was still here. Legolas remembered his manners and said as courteously as he could whilst still actually challenging the hobbit, ‘You are in the camp of the King and of Bard indeed. But what is your business with Bard?’ You understand, we do have to ask,’ he added apologetically.

 

 

 

‘Whatever it is it is my own, my good elves,’ Bilbo Baggins replied with equal courtesy. ‘But if you ever wish to get back to your own woods from this cheerless place,’ he answered shivering, ‘you will take me along quickly to a fire where I can dry, and then you will let me speak to your chiefs as quickly as may be. I have only an hour to two to spare.’

 

 

 

‘Nowhere,’ Anglach said quickly and irrelevantly in Westron.

 

 

 

‘I have no idea what he means,’ Legolas apologised to Bilbo and shrugged. 

 

 

 

Bilbo laughed and said, ‘Oh, I have missed you both! I could not have asked for a better reception than you two.’ And Legolas had no idea what he meant ether.

 

 

 

But Anglach had whipped off his cloak and was throwing it around the hobbit and so Bilbo’s next words were completely muffled for the cloak went right over Bilbo and he was immediately swamped. Anglach tutted to himself and apologised, pulling the cloak away until the hobbit’s head popped out from under the green-grey fabric and he blinked. 

 

 

 

He looked so completely harmless and was so courteous that Legolas was completely charmed and beguiled as Anglach. ‘Have some tea,’ he said kindly and held out the tin cup. ‘It is willow bark and tastes awful but it is hot. It will warm you up and then we will take you to the King.’ He looked curiously at Bilbo, now that he was in the firelight. Something gleamed brightly under the hobbit’s waistcoat and Legolas felt his mouth drop open; the hobbit wore a mithril vest. It had stars woven into its fabric. Seven stars. ‘Where did you…?’ he began but Anglach interrupted him.

 

 

 

‘Dwarveses all helpful?’ he asked cheerily. ‘Is best to come now.’

 

 

 

Bilbo looked at Anglach bewildered and then he licked his lips and leaned forwards towards Anglach and said very slowly and loudly, ‘I cannot understand what you are saying.’

 

 

 

Anglach nodded and then said equally slowly and loudly, ‘It is fine today and the cat knows.’

 

 

 

Legolas watched them bemused, feeling like he had that time he had tried some of the mushroom soup Radagast had given him. This could not go on and as soon as Bilbo had sipped enough of the willow bark tea to warm himself, and agree that it did indeed taste disgusting, Legolas stood. ‘Come,’ he said to Bilbo. ‘If you are warm now and dry, I will take you to Bard and the King.’ Quickly he doused the fire and picked up the lanterns.

 

 

 

Anglach and Bilbo smiled and nodded to each other and followed Legolas through the camp.

 

 

 

On the way, Legolas ducked his head into Galadhon’s tent and called to him. Galadhon leapt up in concern, thinking Legolas had come to warn them of attack but then he saw the hobbit who trotted between them. He stared in astonishment as Bilbo Baggins, wrapped in Anglach’s cloak that swamped him and clutching a tin cup of tea, bowed.

 

 

 

‘So you have found the perianath at last then, Anglach? The one you lost when you were supposed to be guarding them?’ Galadhon said bitterly, for he still blamed Anglach for the dwarves blundering in on the King’s feast. Legolas winced for he thought Galadhon should have laid that to rest,  even if he was not unfair to be honest.

 

 

 

But to their astonishment, Bilbo shuffled his feet as if embarrassed and said, ‘Please do not be hasty, good master elf. There is a very good reason why I escaped your attention and I apologise for everything that you suffered, especially because of the dwarves’ escape. But I hope that what I am going to do now will recompense you all enough that you will forgive me.’

 

 

 

Galadhon drew back in astonishment. ‘What does he mean?’ he asked Legolas, not even looking at Anglach who had a happy smile on his face.

 

 

 

‘He has asked to see the King and so we are taking him,’ Anglach answered before Legolas could speak.

 

 

 

‘You should be taking him prisoner, not bringing him here like an honoured guest. He could be a spy or an assassin.’

 

 

 

‘I would be a very unlikely assassin, sir,’ Bilbo spoke up. ‘And I am no spy.’

 

 

 

Galadhon looked him up and down carefully. ‘Search him first before he comes before the King,’ he said. ‘I will announce him.’

 

 

 

But as soon as he had gone, Bilbo turned to Legolas. He looked up at Legolas and spread his hands in appeasement. ‘Legolas isn’t it?’ He nodded dumbfounded. ‘I think I can trust you. Look, I have no weapon upon me, but I have something else and I beg you not to take it for I wish to give it to Bard.’ He paused for a moment and then sighed. ‘I will show it to you for I know you are both honourable and honest, if a bit silly.’

 

 

 

‘Silly?’ Legolas protested, and then he looked at Anglach, who did indeed have the silliest expression on his face and was still trying to talk to Bilbo in his broken, incomprehensible Westron. ‘Very well,’ he said. ‘Show me.’

 

 

 

Bilbo drew from his jacket an swathed bundle about the size of Legolas’ two fists if he put them together but before he could open it, Galadhon was heard returning and Bilbo quickly stuffed his package back into his jacket.

 

 

 

‘Is he armed?’ Galadhon demanded.

 

 

 

Bilbo looked up at Legolas, his warm brown eyes trusting, appealing. 

 

 

 

Legolas paused and then slowly, shook his head. ‘No. He is not. But I will go with him anyway to see my father, the King,’ he said firmly so that Galadhon would not refuse him.

 

 

 

‘The King has said he will see him. He is curious about any message the Perianath might bring from Thorin Oakenshield. Bard is also there.’ 

 

 

 

0o0o

 

 

 

The King’s pavilion was on the higher ground, in the centre of the camp of course and richer than the others. As they ducked inside, Legolas bowed first to Thranduil and then to Bard. Both were sitting in carved wooden chairs had been pulled up close to a warm brazier that burned brightly. The firelight flickered in Thranduil’s slate-green eyes and made him look strange, even to Legolas, more dangerous. Beneath their feet were thick furs and rugs, and a field table was set up on the other side of the brazier. It was covered with a large map showing Erebor and the lands around. The map was held open by silver clasps, although one had been pulled off and  replaced by a pewter goblet. 

 

 

 

Legolas pulled up a low stool close to the fire and gestured to the little hobbit to sit there so he could be warmed. He smiled at Legolas and Legolas hoped his trust was not misplaced. He positioned himself near Bilbo with his hand on his knife in case Bilbo should turn out to be what he had said he was not; spy or assassin.

 

 

 

‘It is long since a perianath has travelled these parts,’ Thranduil said, his green eyes heavy upon Bilbo. ‘Many years since I have seen one of your folk this side of the Misty Mountains.’

 

 

 

‘Yes well, I never thought I would be over this way myself,’ said Bilbo conversationally. He looked up with bright eyes curious. ‘So um…has a hobbit, I mean a perianath, ever been to the Mountain before?’ As he shifted forwards, firelight fell upon the mithril mail shirt he wore beneath his cloak. Legolas had a closer look at it this time; very fine, not dwarvish but elvish and woven into the mithril with gold wire thread were those seven stars. He leaned forwards for a better look but Thranduil stood and moved between Legolas and Bilbo, to hand Bilbo a cup of warmed wine.

 

 

 

‘Not the mountain, but certainly the forest,’ Thranduil said, returning to his own chair. ‘Once, long ago, there were folk living near the Anduin.’

 

 

 

‘Really?’ Bilbo looked surprised and interested. ‘They must have been ancestors of the Stoors, they settled you know in the East Farthing. Did they have smaller feet?’ he wondered and extended his own rather large, wooly feet admiringly. Thranduil stared with surprised wonder and Legolas thought he saw the slightest smile on his father’s face that echoed the delight on Anglach’s. 

 

 

 

Bilbo tutted at himself and shook his head. ‘Much as I would like to know more, my lord, I have another errand.’ He looked up Thranduil, intently serious. A gust of wind suddenly blew down from the Lonely Mountain and billowed the tent roof. Only Bilbo and Thranduil did not look up.

 

 

 

‘I rather thought you did,’ Thranduil replied sombrely. 

 

 

 

‘Really you know,’ Bilbo became business-like, ‘things are impossible.’ He took from his waistcoat a crumpled piece of paper, folded many times, creased, stained, slightly torn at the edges. ‘I signed this in good faith and I am not doing anything that I have not been contracted to do,’ he said but it was more to himself than the listeners. ‘Well. I think I have no choice.’ He sighed and then looked up at first Bard, then Thranduil. ‘I have some information you have not,’ he said firmly, emphatically. ‘Dain is coming. With five hundred grim dwarves- a good many have had experience in the dreadful dwarf-goblin wars, of which you have no doubt heard. When they arrive there will be serious trouble.’

 

 

 

Legolas stared aghast at his father. Thranduil’s mouth was pressed in a thin line and his eyes were hard. This was certainly bad news for they would have to engage in battle with dwarves, and Thranduil had said that armies of orcs and goblins were surely on their way.

 

 

 

‘Why do you tell us this?’ Bard demanded. His dark eyes flashed and he half rose from his chair threateningly. 

 

 

 

Anglach shifted and stepped a little closer to Bilbo, protectively. Silly as  Anglach was, he was a seasoned warrior and had fought long in the south against the Necromancer. Without saying a word, Anglach was impressive enough that Bard sat back down.  

 

 

 

‘Are you betraying your friends?’ Bard demanded, glaring at Anglach, who stood perfectly still and unperturbed. ‘Or are you threatening us?’ he continued, turning angrily on Bilbo.

 

 

 

‘My dear Bard!’ Bilbo squeaked. ‘Don’t be so hasty! I never met such suspicious folk. I am merely trying to avoid trouble for all concerned. Now I will make you an offer that can avoid all this trouble and all of us can go home,’ he said.

 

 

 

Thranduil inclined his head and gestured regally. ‘Then let us hear it.’

 

 

 

‘You may see it,’ the hobbit said and his hand went into his pocket and he drew forth the wrapped object that he had begun to take out before to show Legolas.

 

 

 

Bard leapt up, hand on his knife but Thranduil’s eyes gleamed and he rubbed his fingertips together, a distant look in his eyes as if he were listening to something other than the wind blowing down the valley and about the mountain. To Legolas, the air suddenly felt oily and there was a slight buzzing in his ears. He frowned for he had experienced this in the stronghold and could not account for it.

 

 

 

‘It is this.’ Bilbo pulled out the object. It was wrapped in what looked like handkerchiefs and scraps of cloth, spotted with dirt and grimy. The hobbit looked slightly sheepish as he unwrapped the object.

 

 

 

But as he unfolded the wrapping, light sprang up and blazed in the pavilion. Rainbows splintered and glittered around them; it was as if the glinting stone that Bilbo revealed had been filled with moonlight and hung before them in a net woven of the glint of frosty stars.

 

 

 

‘This is the Arkenstone of Thrain,’ said Bilbo, but only Bard needed to be told for the elves’ faces were lit with wonder and memory. 

 

 

 

Thranduil laughed softly and leaned back in his chair, the wine goblet dangling in his hand. Legolas looked at Anglach in amazement.

 

 

 

‘This is the Heart of the Mountain and the heart of Thorin Oakenshield. He values it above a river of gold. I give it to you. It will aid you in your bargaining.’ Without a single glance of longing or regret, Bilbo handed it to Bard.

 

 

 

Thranduil looked at Bilbo, his head slightly tilted as if listening to something beyond the mere words. He said nothing but his eyes were narrowed, and he shook his head slightly as if he too had the buzzing in his ears that Legolas had a moment ago. ‘There is more to you than meets the eye, Master Baggins,’ he said  slowly. 

 

 

 

Bilbo suddenly looked up and Legolas could have sworn that the hobbit twitched a little.

 

 

 

Bard was still staring at the Arkenstone in awe. ‘How is this yours to give?’

 

 

 

Bilbo told them how he had been engaged as a burglar to steal the dragon’s treasure, at which Legolas lifted an eyebrow and looked at Anglach, whose eyes were wide and mouth slightly open. They heard how Bilbo had been promised a fourteenth share of the treasure and how he thought this would be given to Bard in return for the Arkenstone. ‘So I am not taking anything that is not due to me,’ Bilbo said conversationally. 

 

 

 

Legolas tried to imagine a fourteenth of Smaug's hoard; the piles and piles of gold, of riches, jewels beyond number. He wondered how in all of Arda, Bilbo Baggins hoped to carry all of that across the Misty Mountains without goblins seizing it. Perhaps he would ask for some elven guides and guards, he mused, and imagined it was Anglach and he, riding over the High Pass, along the high road and coming down the other side to Imladris. He would love to go to Imladris, he thought.  There were such heroes in Imladris! Glorfindel, who was said to have returned from Gondolin, and the Sons of Thunder. Just the thought made his heart thud with excitement.

 

 

 

 

 

‘You are giving up your share of the treasure in order that we may broker peace?’ Thranduil observed mildly but he looked at Bilbo with new wonder and carefully put down his goblet of wine and leaned forwards. The Arkenstone cast light upon his beautiful face, filled his green eyes. ‘Bilbo Baggins,’ he said quietly. ‘You are more worthy to wear the armour of elf-princes than many who have looked more comely in it.’ He smiled sadly as if remembering and Legolas wondered if he had recognised the mithril shirt that Bilbo wore. ‘But I wonder if Thorin Oakenshield will see it so.  I have far more knowledge of dwarves in general than you have perhaps and I do advise you to remain here with us. You shall be honoured and thrice welcome.’

 

 

 

‘Thank you very much I am sure,’ Bilbo said with a little bow. ‘But I don’t think I should leave my friends like this, after all we have been through together. And I promised to wake old Bombur at midnight. Really I must be going, and quickly.’

 

 

 

Anglach could hold it in no longer. ‘Bombur!’ he burst out. ‘It is Bombur. He is the fat one who fell in the river and they would not leave him!’ he said excitedly. And then realising where he was and more importantly, who he was with, he ducked his head. ‘They wouldn’t tell me their names,’ he said sadly.

 

 

 

Thranduil looked fondly, indulgently at Anglach and Legolas felt cross. If he had burst out that way, Thranduil would have had his guts for garters. It made him grumpy.

 

 

 

Unaware of the sensitivities of his companions, Bilbo continued. ‘Well I must be going.’ He stood up and held out his empty cup to Anglach, who took it from him with a delighted smile. ‘Perhaps Legolas and Anglach could show me the way through the camp and back to where I came in,’ he asked Thranduil.

 

 

 

Thranduil cut a look at Anglach and then Legolas, and nodded briefly. ‘Escort Master Baggins as far as you dare safely. Help him all you can and then keep a watch so that if he returns, you aid him. Make sure he is safe.’

 

 

 

Thranduil stood, his crimson-silver robe fell around him as he did. He bowed low. ‘May the stars shine upon you, Master Baggins. I name you Elvellon, elf-friend, for all you have done to spare bloodshed this day. And I hope too that one day, the dwarves will recognise what you have attempted and name you friend. For friend you are indeed. And nobler than many I have met in my long life.’

 

 

 

Legolas saw a slight blush creep over Bilbo’s face and he fidgeted nervously. ‘Well er…I am very happy to hear it, my lord. Um…I do owe you something as well and perhaps after all this is over, I would like to pay my dues.’

 

 

 

Something flashed in Thranduil’s eyes and his gaze snapped down to Bilbo’s hand which was reaching into his pocket as if there were something he wanted to show Thranduil. But he did not. Instead he patted his pocked and looked up with renewed determination. ‘Never mind. It can wait.’

 

 

 

Thranduil blinked, as if coming out of a trance. ‘Fare thee well, Bilbo of the Shire. May the stars shine upon our next meeting. But call us and we will come.’

 

 

 

So Anglach and Legolas escorted the hobbit from the tent but as they did so, Mithrandir rose as if from the shadows themselves, making all three of them jump.

 

 

 

Bilbo was delighted to see the Wizard and Legolas recalled that the Wizard had actually been instrumental in making sure that Bilbo joined the company of dwarves and clearly, was not only fond, but proud of Bilbo.

 

 

 

‘I do not think that Thorin will see things the same way as Bard and our friendly elves,’ Mithrandir said, blue eyes twinkling at Legolas. 

 

 

 

‘We have tried to persuade him to stay here,’ Legolas said. ‘Perhaps there is something you can say that will help?’ he asked for both he and Anglach were worried that they returned Bilbo to his death. Although of course, Anglach was fierce in his defence of Thorin and convinced that the dwarves would not do anything that might injure Bilbo.

 

 

 

‘Oh, I think that there are things afoot that will serve the same purpose,’ said Mithrandir cryptically. He turned to Bilbo. ‘I am very proud of you, Bilbo Baggins. And if Thorin does not see it yet, he will before the end.’

 

 

 

And with those sparse words of comfort, Legolas, Anglach and Bilbo made their way between the small campfires, the groups of elves and Men gathered about the fires, singing softly, strumming harps and passing goblets between them. It was homely and companionable, not at all like they waited for battle. Indeed, these Men and elves did not yet know an army of battle-hardened dwarves was on its way, thought Legolas. But perhaps battle could now be avoided.

 

 

 

Anglach leapt over the stream and held out his hand to catch Bilbo as he crossed. As his hand caught Bilbo’s, a look of alarm suddenly crossed his face and was gone. Legolas frowned. The air was oily again. Unusual.

 

 

 

Anglach led the way along the narrow gravel track towards the Mountain. He stopped suddenly as he came to a wide, deep pool that Legolas had not seen before. It stretched from the mountain wall to the head of the falls over which the River Running fell. The only approach to the Gate was now over a narrow ledge that ran along the mountain wall. The Gate was blocked too with heavy blocks of granite.

 

 

 

‘This was not here before!’ he exclaimed softly. 

 

 

 

Bilbo turned to him. ‘No. The dwarves have made the Mountain defensible.’ Bilbo turned his face up towards them and he looked very sad. ‘They are determined not to let a single coin pass. Or at least Thorin is. The others… well, I am not so sure but the dragon’s spell has Thorin completely.’ He sighed. ‘But I hope that will change now.’ He stuck his fingers in his waistcoat pockets. ‘I hope you did not get into too much trouble the night the dwarves escaped,’ he said apologetically. ‘I am sorry if you did.’

 

 

 

Legolas’ mouth dropped open and Anglach gave a soft little ‘O.’ But by then, Bilbo had scrambled over the rocks and was trotting along the ledge of the wide, deep pool before the Gate and was gone.

 

 

 

Anglach looked at Legolas, his mouth still open. ‘What do you think he meant by that?’ he asked.

 

 

 

Legolas frowned and shook his head slightly. ‘How did Bilbo Baggins know we might have got into trouble…unless he was there?’

 

 

 

Anglach lifted an eyebrow. ‘How could that have been? One of us would have seen him, heard him?’

 

 

 

‘He could not have passed the Gates without us knowing unless he had a very strong magic,’ Legolas added. But something bothered him though he could not say what it was. And Anglach too looked as if something he could not quite define, had unsettled him as well. ‘You don’t think Bilbo does have some sort of power?’ Legolas said suddenly. ‘It was all a bit strange in the stronghold when the dwarves were with us,’ he added.

 

 

 

Anglach put his head on one side, considering. ‘That is true. It felt…odd. Everyone was grumpy and out of sorts but I thought that was just with me for not watching the dwarves closely enough.’

 

 

 

‘Sorry Anglach,’ Legolas said ruefully. ‘That really was with you. Everyone really was very cross with you I’m afraid.’ He glanced at his friend who hung his head sadly. ‘But they are over it now,’ Legolas added kindly. ‘And it was not really your fault. Not just yours anyway. After all, it was Galadhon who left you in charge and he should have known better.’

 

 

 

Anglach nodded seriously. ‘Yes. That is true. You are right, Legolas. It was foolish of Galadhon to have left just me in charge of so many dwarves. Have you seen how quickly they can move when they want to?’

 

 

 

They turned and carefully, silently retraced their steps. Legolas paused just before they reached the stream. ‘The King said we were to wait and watch in case he is turned out by the dwarves.’ He looked about. ‘This is a good place. We can still see the gates if Bilbo comes out, and we can hear if he calls for help.’

 

 

 

Anglach nodded. ‘Very well. I suppose we cannot have a fire in case we are seen by the dwarves.’

 

 

 

Legolas considered. ‘Well. I suppose if we have a fire at least Bilbo will see us. Maybe that will give him heart.’

 

 

 

So they built a fire just beyond arrow reach so Bilbo would feel a little bit safer than perhaps he felt as he scrambled up the rope he had left dangling and returned to Thorin.

 

 

 

 

 

0o0o

Chapter 23 by ziggy

Chapter 23: An Explanation.

During the night Legolas and Anglach had taken it in turns to watch the gate anxiously, having agreed that there was no way Thorin would countenance Bilbo staying in Erebor given his betrayal, as they were convinced Thorin would see it. Next morning it was raining lightly, a fine mist that lay on their hair, their cloaks and the scrubby grass. Legolas sent Anglach to report their position to Laersul so that he would know they kept watch for Bilbo as instructed. He himself waited anxiously for Bilbo’s reappearance.

As he waited, he watched a small spider spinning its web over the blades of grass, the raindrops trembling upon each skein like fine wire. He kept one ear and one eye on the now blocked gates of Erebor.

A little while after dawn, he heard Anglach scrambling back over the rocks and calling him. He rose to his feet and stood, bow in hand, looking back down towards the track and there he saw a small troop approaching on horseback, Anglach running towards him through the heather and gorse and waving.

‘They’re coming!’ he panted as he drew close.

‘Who?’ Legolas asked, and drew an arrow, strung his bow in one motion. He looked up at the crags and high rocks that loomed above this valley before the gates. Ravens circled high above but there was nothing else.

‘Look!’ Anglach pointed back towards the camp.

A small troop approached; the King on his grey stallion, followed by Bard on a heavy-built brown horse that looked as though it had pulled a plough only yesterday. But a good beast and willing. Behind them came Mithrandir, his grey cloak pulled around him and his hood over his head. He carried an iron-bound casket before him. A number of warriors rode behind them, including Laersul who scanned the crags and rocks much as Legolas had.

‘They will seek to parley and settle this before Dain and his army arrive,’ Legolas said.

Anglach nodded. ‘Let us go closer so we can help Bilbo if need be.’

‘I do not think Thorin Oakenshield will be very happy with our friend. We may need to go and rescue him,’ Legolas said. And this time, even Anglach did not defend the dwarf.

The banners of the Wood and the Lake were lifted high and the small troop of horses approached the narrow way that ran along the edge of the deep pool the dwarves had created in front of the mountains gates. Then the three foremost horses trotted forwards, Thranduil, Bard and Mithrandir, leaving Laersul and his troop of warriors standing anxiously at the edge of the lake.

Anglach came to stand next to Legolas. ‘Laersul does not like the King going on alone,’ he whispered and Legolas agreed. He was unhappy about it too.

They watched as Thorin Oakenshield came to the ramparts of the gates and spoke with Bard. They were too far away to hear all that was said but they could see with sharp elven eyes the fury in Thorin’s face.

‘He doesn’t look as though he has softened at all,’ Anglach observed and Legolas agreed.

‘Where is Bilbo?’ he asked, concerned. He scanned the ramparts, counting the other dwarves. All were there and then he spotted a shorter figure with curly hair. ‘There he is. Just up there.’ He pointed towards the end of the ramparts where they could see Bilbo’s curly head peeking out over the castellated stone.

Mithrandir now stepped forth as Bard spoke, and threw open the casket.

Thorin’s face was rigid with fury. Now they could hear his angry words as they carried on the wind. ‘That stone was my father’s and is mine!…How came you by it?’

There seemed to be something happening on the ramparts, some movement. Thorin had leapt towards Bilbo and the dwarves were suddenly moving, running. Bilbo’s head bobbed up and down and the dwarves seemed to converge upon him. Legolas and Anglach looked at each other briefly and then leapt forwards, leaping over the granite boulders towards the gates, bows in hand. 

Now Thorin had Bilbo and was wrestling him over the walls and Legolas strung his bow as he ran. ‘I can’t shoot,’ he said breathlessly. 

‘Thorin might drop him onto the rocks.’ He skidded to a halt just short of the company. Laersul looked at him in surprise.

‘What are you doing?’ he snapped. ‘Stand down.’ 

‘We were looking after Bilbo,’ Anglach told him anxiously. They both looked back up to where there seemed to be a struggle going on and Legolas was sure that Thorin would heave Bilbo over the wall and throw him onto the rocks below. He took a step forwards, unable to stop himself and at the same time, Thranduil too had urged his horse forwards and Mithrandir was calling to Thorin to stop.

But Laersul said, more gently, ‘The King will do that now. You need to trust that he will not let anything bad happen to our Mr Baggins.’

There seemed to be quite a row going on up there and they could hear Thorin ranting at Bilbo. ’What have you to say, you descendant of rats!’ he cried.

Legolas could see Bilbo was frightened but the hobbit shook himself out and straightened his jacket and though Legolas could not hear Bilbo’s words, he could see Thorin turn away in contempt. Then Thorin leaned over the wall and shouted something down to Mithrandir but his words were snatched away on the wind. The next thing they knew, Bilbo was being hoisted over the wall again and Legolas stepped forwards and this time, Laersul allowed it so Anglach and he were there to catch Bilbo when he was lowered over the wall and returned to the elves. 

Legolas squatted down in front of Bilbo and looked at the hobbit’s downcast little face whilst Anglach fussed and checked him for any bruises or injuries. The hobbit looked thoroughly miserable and his jacket was crumpled where Thorin had grabbed him, he had a bruise on his cheek and his head was bowed. 

‘Well,’ Bilbo said sadly, ‘that was all rather unpleasant.’ But he looked far more upset than the quiet comment suggested. 

‘It is very hard of Thorin to cast you out like this,’ Legolas said kindly. ‘But he did not kill you or hurt you and if the Arkenstone is all that you say it is to him, he might well have. So take heart and let us hope that when he has it back and Bard has his treasure, we can build bridges where there were none.’

He became aware that Mithrandir was looking at him with an amused and benevolent smile on his face but suddenly his attention was diverted elsewhere for now Thorin was shouting at Bard.

But he was not surprised that Bilbo did not look any happier and did not even look up and meet his own gaze so he straightened up and patted Bilbo on the shoulder instead and then gently guided Bilbo back to stand amongst the elvish warriors. Laersul raised an eyebrow but did not speak for all attention was now on Thorin and Bard. 

Legolas and Anglach exchanged looks, aware of the angry discussion between Bard and Thorin but not really taking much notice. As far as they were concerned, Bilbo was here, the Arkenstone was in Mithrandir’s iron-bound chest and Thorin simply had to hand over a lot of gold and they would all go home.

‘We had better be his friends now,’ Anglach said softly, ‘since he has none now. ‘

Legolas nodded. ‘Yes. He has given up everything to help Bard. He should at least have us in return.’

If there was a snort from amongst the warriors, there was no further comment for Laersul glared at them and they were silent. 

Legolas was glad because tongues could be sharp and Bilbo had had quite enough for one day.

‘Come Master Baggins,’ said Legolas, putting his hand on the hobbit’s shoulder. ‘We will find you some hot food and sit you by a fire. You can borrow Anglach’s cloak again,’ he said hoping for at least a smile. But Bilbo did not even look up but trudged wearily beside them.

Laersul watched them with concern. ‘Legolas,’ he called after them as they passed. ‘Put Master Baggins in my tent. There is a bed in there and a brazier. Get food from the Men’s camp,’ he said and Legolas knew he meant to not allow Galion to try to feed Bilbo.

 

0o0o0o

 

So it was that they found themselves sitting round a fire and coaxing a hobbit to eat like they would a small child. Anglach was sitting opposite Bilbo with a bowl of soup and trying to feed him until Legolas took it from him and thrust it into Bilbo’s own hands. ‘Please eat,’ he said. ‘Otherwise Anglach will not stop. He will try to feed you himself if you don’t eat.’

At that, Bilbo cracked the smallest of smile and glanced up at Legolas with bright brown eyes that were a little tearful. ‘You are very kind,’ he said and to humour both of them, he did take the soup and started to drink it almost mechanically. But it did seem to do him some good for the colour returned to his cheeks and he looked a bit more cheerful when he set down the bowl.

Anglach hovered over Bilbo like some long-legged mother bird and Legolas thought he was not much better, for both felt protective and admiring for the deeds the hobbit had done. And when they asked him how it was he and the dwarves came to be in Erebor, he told them a tale of wonder and courage that had Legolas looking up towards the Mountain with something more like admiration that the irritation he had felt before.

When they got to the point in the tale where the dwarves had stumbled into the clearing though and first Thorin, then the rest of the dwarves had been ‘captured’ in Bilbo’s words and ‘rescued by the King’ in Anglach’s, Bilbo became a little more wary and at one point seemed positively evasive.

‘I still do not understand how you came to elude us, though?’ Legolas shook his head in bemusement. He sat cross-legged like a huge grasshopper, Bilbo had already told him. ‘I have never missed anyone before.’

At this, Bilbo fidgeted and looked into his cup. Anglach glared at Legolas and mouthed something at Legolas over Bilbo’s head.
Legolas frowned- he couldn’t make out what Anglach was saying. He shook his head at Anglach and gestured by waving his hand and shrugging.

Anglach intensified his glare meaningfully and looked first pointedly at Bilbo, and then jerked his head towards the Mountain. Legolas rolled his eyes and sighed emphatically. He was about to respond in a similarly silent and irritated manner when they both realised that Bilbo was watching them bemused.

‘My dear Anglach,’ he said, smiling fondly. ‘You are very kind. Very very kind and I know you are just looking after me. But I am all right.’ He nodded to himself as if he were trying to persuade himself of the fact. ‘Yes. In spite of being a very long way from home and having no handkerchief and losing all my friends…’ His voice trembled. ‘I am alive and Smaug did not eat me.’

Legolas crouched down in front of Bilbo and looked him in the eye. He had noticed that Men did not like it if he looked at them for too long so he was ready to glance away but Bilbo did not shrink or wince. ‘You are right. You are alive and Thorin will deliver up the gold to Bard because of you. And because of you, these people who are destitute will have some prosperity.’

Then Anglach leaned down as well and said, ‘What’s a handkerchief?’

‘And what’s a burglar?’ added Legolas.

 

0o0o

 

Bilbo slept long. Not only was he in a bed, albeit a camp bed but the feather down quilt that covered him was warm and comforting, and Legolas had sung softly so that Bilbo dreamed of the Shire for the first time since he had left. When he woke, he felt like he had actually slept and blinked in the light. 

The tent in which he slept was fastidiously neat. There was a compact field desk with neat piles of scrolls and parchment laid upon it, a small pot of ink and a row of pens lined up meticulously. Warming the tent was a brazier and a travelling chest had been shoved up against the side of the tent. His own clothes were neatly piled up on the chest and they seemed to have been cleaned. Bilbo was grateful for that since he had stank of dragon, the sulphurous stink of rotten eggs was gone and it smelt instead of meadow hay. 

There was a jug of water and a bowl beside his clothes and he splashed water on his face, wiped over his body with relief, feeling like he was waking from a long, long, troubling dream.

At last he was washed and dressed and though his heart was heavy at Thorin’s words, he knew Gandalf was here and wanted to speak to him. He patted the pocket of his waistcoat and stopped.

Where is it?

He fumbled in each pocket with a growing sense of panic. The Ring? Where was the Ring? He had it the night before when Anglach had kindly guided him to the tent and stood watch whilst Bilbo had undressed and washed and sank into the bed. He had put the ring under his pillow…

Under his pillow.

Rushing to the bed, he shoved his hand under the pillows. For a moment of panic he couldn’t find it and then his fingers brushed against the coolness of gold, the perfect preciousness of it. 

Breathing hard, he jammed it onto his finger. Instantly he felt the relief wash over him and he breathed, hugging his hand to himself and closing his eyes in relief.

Then he took it off and turning towards the tent door, he slipped the ring into the pocket of his waistcoat.

‘So that is how you eluded my little brother.’

Bilbo’s eyes snapped open.

A very tall elf stood in the doorway. His hair was the same colour as Thranduil’s, gold like old coins, like Smaug’s gold, tight little braids were over his ears and his eyes regarded Bilbo calmly, unruffled as though he saw hobbits appear out of thin air all the time.

The elf came into the tent and pulled out a folding chair, sat down and crossed one leg over the other knee and regarded Bilbo thoughtfully.

‘You are the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins. My name is Laersul. I am the commander of the elven host,’ he said levelly. ‘And there is indeed, far more to you, Master Baggins, than meets the eye.’ He leaned forward and picking up a poker, prodded the brazier so it flared.

When he leaned back in the chair, his eyes were thoughtful. ‘Does Mithrandir know that you have a ring of invisibility?’ And when 
Bilbo did not speak, the elf tilted his head inquisitively. ‘I wonder why you have not told him?’

And Bilbo could not answer. He frowned, his eyes drawn to the pocket in which the ring lay. He opened his mouth to speak but there were no words.

Now Laersul leaned forwards, rested his arms on his knees and regarded Bilbo. ‘You are entitled to your secrets, Master Baggins. But you are not entitled to let my men bear the brunt of blame that does not rest with them. Especially when they have shown you such kindness.’

Bilbo closed his eyes for a moment and thought. But when he opened them, they were full of resolve and honesty. ‘Yes. Yes you are quite right, my lord. It has been bothering me of course but I will put that right now.’ He stood a little straighter and looked Laersul in the eye. ‘If I may explain…’

Laersul listened impassively, impressed, alarmed, by the hobbit’s tale of how he had discovered a magic ring. Such things were not unheard of of course, amongst the elves. There had been many made in Eregion under Celebrimbor as all knew, and not only the Three but many lesser ones that could easily have been lost under the Hithaeglir, Laersul thought. Stolen by goblins. And magic rings were tricky things, he had heard for the Wood had no such clever devices of Noldor cunning. The Wood had its own magic that was of the Earth, and the Song. Laersul pressed his lips together disapprovingly as he heard of Bilbo’s trickery of Anglach and Legolas. But he rejoiced too that his little brother and best friend had not lied, for that had troubled him more deeply than anything.

‘So you poured wine into their glasses every time they looked away, and so they thought they were only drinking one. In fact they had…’ He paused enquiringly.

‘Oh, several. Lots. I was surprised they took as long as they did to fall asleep.’ Bilbo paused guiltily. ‘I feel very bad about that. I became very fond of those two during my time in the Wood.’

Laersul leaned back in his chair and regarded the hobbit cooly. ‘They were not believed of course. And disciplined by their captains. It was decided that they were worthy only to run errands and take messages. No one believed them.’

Bilbo shuffled his feet. ‘Ahem. Well, dearie me. That isn’t what I would have wanted at all.’ But then he looked up with bright eyes at Laersul. ‘But what was I supposed to do? Leave my friends locked up forever? I do not think that Legolas would have left Anglach locked up. And I do not believe, my lord, that you would either.’

Laersul laughed softly.’ No. Indeed I would not. ‘ He rose to his feet, so very tall. ‘But I do think that Legolas and Anglach deserve an explanation. If I may, I will tell the King and my brother what happened so they are both exonerated.’ He bowed slightly and ducked out of the tent leaving Bilbo on his own.

His fingers stole to the pocket of his waistcoat. So he had revealed its existence. A sort of relief washed over him. It was no longer just his burden. Someone else knew. Someone important who would know what to do.

And so he should perhaps tell Gandalf too.

0o0o0

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