The Last Green Leaf
The halls are so silent and still they may as well be deserted except for the noiseless shadow creeping along the once lively corridors. Tall, he is and lithe, yet none would know from the way his shoulders slump and his feet shuffle along in an aimless, unending meander. The face, once fair and proud enough to win any maidens heart would break it now with one glance at its gaunt and pallid mask, frozen in perpetual sorrow. He wanders on. Allowing restless feet to chose their path, eyes vacantly staring into the past, neither here nor there. A ghost in corporeal form, unwilling to live, unable to die, suspended in the waking nightmare that has become his life. He stops, his way barred by an ornately carven door and reaches out an almost translucent hand to depress the silver handle and as the door silently opens he glides inside the room it guards.
Elrond sighs, this is not going well, leaning back in his chair he raises long, elegant fingers to his temples and begins to massage the aching points with smooth circular movements. He is rapidly running out of options and is beginning to feel each one of his centuries of life bearing down upon him with such a pressure he suspects his knees should be buckling under it. If not for Galadriel he would have long left this gloomy, Valar forsaken spot and rushed back to the wife who was his home and comfort, yet she had begged him stay, warned him with her usual cryptic words that should he fail dire consequences would follow without revealing what or how or even why.
His mind wanders to his beloved Celebrian and a gentle smile lights up his stern features, smoothing away the cares and worries to reveal his timeless beauty. How he misses her, and their children, he sighs once more. He needs to go home. To rest in the peace of his beloved haven, yet how could he be so selfish? How could he walk away and leave this once great realm to flounder and fall? There must be a way. He reaches out to the journal resting upon the table before him and once more begins to write.
Standing silently in front of the great tapestry hanging on the wall, the wraithlike elf stares with unblinking eyes, as unmoving as the figures depicted by silken threads save for the silver pearls of moisture tracking down porcelain cheeks. A soft whisper of air lifts a white gold strand of his hair, teasing it lightly before moving on to play briefly with a sage green filament worked loose by the passage of time and wistful fingers.
The four beings before him gaze out over the room regardless, caught in a moment of joyous celebration for perpetuity, their fair faces smiling with a happiness he can no longer bear to witness. Falling to his knees as if in supplication his head lolling back as he lifts his gaunt, pallid face to the ceiling, he opens his mouth and emits a keening wail fit to tear any heart it touches to tattered shreds.
"Cook thought you may need a little light refreshment my lord."
Elrond blinks as awareness slowly returns bringing the gentle aromas of fresh tea and newly baked bread. A servant is trying to juggle a salver in one hand whilst attempting to move the writing implements he has fallen into reverie over with the other and he swiftly reaches out to save the toppling inkwell from its attempt to ruin the painstaking notes he has so far jotted down.
"Ah, hannon le, thank you," he manages to mumble out as nimble fingers also retrieve the journal from under the tray just as it is about to descend onto the open pages. "That smells most inviting." He smiles up at the servant and she bows her head slightly in acknowledgement before turning to leave.
"If there is anything else you need please…" the elleths words are abruptly curtailed as she reaches the doorway, when an unearthly cry reverberates through the air momentarily freezing them in place in its unqualified sorrow.
Dread and Fear clutch at Elrond’s fea as he recognises the tortured voice behind the sound and he leaps to his feet, his friends name spilling from concerned lips, before pushing past the stunned serving elleth in his haste to leave the room and find the anguished king.
Pulled relentlessly along dark corridors by the heartrending wail Elrond’s feet fly without conscious control. His mind whirls as he runs through all he has ever learned about elven grief and then begins begging the Valar to intercede as he realises it is not enough. Almost skidding around a corner, all trace of elven grace and dignity left behind in his mad rush, he collides with another slender figure and the two tumble to the floor in a clattering, tangled heap of limbs and armaments just as the loud cry abruptly stops.
With a brief shake of the head as he notices the sword, lodged point first in the floor merely a fingers width from his left ear he turns to find a pair of pale green eyes wide open in shock, gazing into his own.
"Hir, nin, forgive me," the auburn haired warriors voice is soft and carries a wealth of concern, "I did not hear your approach under the sound.." he breaks off as Elrond helps him to his feet, scanning him quickly with practised eyes to ensure he is unharmed by their encounter.
"'Twas not your fault pen neth, young one, 'twas my own haste caused the accident. You have my deepest apologies."
Without waiting for any reply the lord was gone, once more hurrying along, his heart beating faster than ever as he ponders the meaning of the silence that has fallen, completely unaware of the gaggle of concerned elves he is leaving in his wake.
Reaching out with his senses he seeks the way and allows himself to be led along, as a horse by a halter, until a richly carved door bars his way. Taking hold of the handle, which seems to beckon to his fingers, he gives a gentle push downwards and the door opens smoothly for him to pass through.
His eyes scan the room in which he finds himself. It is, he realises, Orophers study. His favoured retreat from the day to day running of the realm. The place he would come to think, and find peace from the demands placed upon him that sometimes became almost impossible to bear. Elrond has only been allowed within its hallowed walls a few times in the past and never without the king’s presence. He feels a nervous sense of unease, like an elfling being caught out in some piece of mischief he knows is wrong. His feet are drawn across the room towards the huge tapestry that dominates the decor, it depicts the royal family in one of their happiest moments. A woven memory of lighter times, before the evil that was Sauron had descended upon the world and corrupted so much that had been pure.
A slight widening of the eyes and small intake of breath is all that denotes when he spies the figure, lying sprawled upon the floor under the great hanging, pale and apparently lifeless, white gold hair fanned out around his head, usually bright silver blue eyes closed tight in unnatural sleep. Elrond kneels and breathes a quiet prayer of thanks as he sees the flicker of movement under the parchment thin eyelids and the faint rise and fall of the emaciated chest.
"Aie, Thranduil," the lord whispers gently. "What has become of you, mellon nin." Reaching out to smooth a lock of once glorious hair from the fallen Sinda’s brow he smiles sadly. The king is fading and with all the knowledge and lore he possesses he is unable to stop the process. His friend is disappearing before his eyes and there is naught he can do. Warm brown eyes mist with tears and he gathers the slight figure into his arms. If only Oropher had waited. Why did he have to be so stubbornly independent? Why force the charge like he did? Why did he not wait? He rocks backwards and forwards holding Thranduil tightly in his arms as the questions flood through his mind and threaten to overwhelm his sanity.
Oceans of dark creatures cover the plain before the black gate all chanting and jeering in the foul black speech that makes even men's ears cringe to hear. They stand facing this foul army, elves and men and dwarves, all gathered with one purpose in mind. To put an end at last to the evil of Sauron and lift the darkness which is beginning to pervade the land.
Gil-galad stands tall and proud at the head of the army, Elrond, trusted advisor and friend, to his right hand. Surveying the scene before him the High King of the Noldor waits, the time is not yet ripe to give the command to attack.
From the corner of his eye Elrond sees movement and for a moment is speechless with horror as he turns to see the silvan elves, King Oropher himself in the lead, rushing forward to engage with the orc forces. His mind screams out to them to stop but he can make no sound, move not a muscle. All he can do is to watch in anguish as the scantily equipped army are decimated, Oropher himself disappearing under a wave of dark creatures, before the command is given and the full force of the alliance joins the fray.
Opening eyes that are too heavy with sleep Thranduil stares at the ceiling above him, following the whirls and patterns described by branches carved from the stone that look real enough to almost fool a wood elf into thinking he sleeps among the trees. He is tired. So very tired. The years since Dagorlad have been wearing to say the least. Thrust into a role he never expected to have to take, the loss of not only his majestic and oft distant father but his beautiful, loving mother and joyfully youthful sister have taken its toll.
Made king, on a raging battlefield, of the meagre army that remained after his father’s impulsive foray, he had held together for the good of his people, determined to recoup something from all the destruction. He had not at first realised that his mother had also perished at her husband’s side but once informed he carefully pushed the information to a far corner of his mind to deal with later.
The eventual withdrawal from the battle, the gathering of what was left of his kin, and their journey home to Greenwood the Great had kept his mind from dwelling upon the losses so close to his heart and he had endured. Even when the final blow came and the sister he idolised was struck down by a stray arrow in a short and ugly fight with a rag tag band of orcs unhoused by the war, he had not caved, had remained determined to do the duty drummed into him by his father, over the many years since his birth.
But he could go on no more, his heart was broken, his fea ready to fly, he was weary to the bone and all he craved was peace.
A small sound alerts the king to another's presence and he turns his head to find Elrond, slumped forward in a high backed chair pushed close to the bed upon which he lies. He studies the noldo carefully, brown eyes are glazed in reverie yet the heavy dark circles underneath each reveal that sleep had not been a regular companion for the elf of late. The youthful face, belying his many centuries, looks almost peaceful, except for a small crease between the dark brows, always so mobile and expressive in wakefulness. A sad smile plays at the corners of the king’s mouth and he sighs softly. He knows his long time friend feels the pain of his perceived failure deeply but he can do nothing to help. A hole has opened inside him where his family used to be, that is growing larger and larger with each passing day and he knows of nothing with which to fill it back in.
Reaching a decision Thranduil carefully extricates himself from warm covers and eases slowly from the comfortable bed. Silently, so as not to rouse the resting noldo, he moves across to the door, only pausing to send a softly whispered 'Namarie, Hannon Le' across the room before exiting into the corridor beyond. He has a sudden, deep urge to be amongst the trees and this is where he is headed. With a singular determination, not apparent for some time now, he walks down the corridors heading towards the main doors to the outside world. There are few elves abroad this early in the morning but he moves past the ones he sees with a regal nod, refusing to allow himself to be stopped by anyone. The forest calls and he will answer.
Elrond’s eyes gradually clear as he returns to full wakefulness and for a moment he is disorientated by the position he finds himself in, before the memory of tenderly picking up the once robust, now shrunken, body of the present king and carrying it from the morbid study to his room comes flooding back. A moment of worry for his friend’s life brings his eyes sharply to the bed and he stares agape when he realises it is empty. Rising swiftly to his feet he scans the room then rushes to peer through the open door of the washroom, hoping to find the missing occupant has simply decided to take a bath, and his heart falters at its vacancy.
Trying to keep his roiling emotions in check the noldo exits the room and speeds hurriedly along the corridor. Calling out in a sharp, agitated voice so unlike his normal cool, calm baritone he questions the elves he passes and is partially relieved to find that their king has walked this way, yet remains concerned as to his destination. Following the wood elves directions he finds himself at last in front of the great doors to the halls which lay open, revealing the stark, bare branches of the winter forest beyond. Standing for a moment on the threshold he pauses to contemplate his next move. If the king has indeed entered the forest he could have taken one of many paths and could be anywhere by now. He may even have taken to the trees, as the wood elves are wont to do and that will make tracking him almost impossible. Elrond knows his skills, though multiple and well honed, do not cover those of the hunt and although as an elf he has some affinity with the trees, he is unable to converse with them as those of this realm do. He needs help, and quickly. A slight touch on his left elbow causes him to turn and he is relieved to find the captain of the king’s guards standing beside him.
"Is there a problem, hir nin?" a concerned frown covers the warriors face.
"Lhosson!" The noldo smiles widely, "I am so glad you are here," he clasps the other on the shoulder, "come, Thranduil has wandered into the forest alone, he does not know himself. We must find him."
Without waiting for a response he turns and walks away, scanning the ground for any signs of the kings passing.
"Wait, hir nin, please." The captain calls, "Are you certain of this?"
"Yes, yes," Elrond answers brusquely, his worry making the words sharper than intended. "We have no time to waste, we must find him."
Lhosson nods then turns to the trees and stands for a moment, head to one side as if listening intently.
"What?" Elrond begins, ready to berate the elf for not moving when understanding suddenly comes to him and he realises the captain is conversing with the forest. He stands, shuffling his feet with impatience until Lhosson finally turns to look him in the eye, his face calm and, the noldo thinks, serene.
"Do not worry hir nin, The Greenwood will ensure he comes to no harm." He smiles and begins to move slowly towards the tree line Elrond close behind. "We must trust to the forest now. Our king will be returned to us once more, as he should be."
Elrond frowns and turns to ask the silvan what he means but is stopped as Lhosson holds up a hand then looks from him to the trees.
"We must wait for him here," the wood elf says quietly as he stares into the forest, the glint of anticipated excitement in his bright, green eyes.
"But, he needs help Lhosson, I must go to him, he must be brought back."
Elrond starts at the ferocity contained in that one small word.
"It is better this way. Believe me hir nin, this is where he belongs," the captain smiles as his voice returns to a gentler level. "We could not go to him now anyway."
Lhosson gestures back towards the trees and Elronds eye grow wide as he sees exactly what the captain means by these last words. Great branches are twisting and turning before him, intertwining and locking together as the trees move to seal off the entrance to the forest. He stands, staring in shocked awe at the fascinating scene before him, he has heard of this but never thought to bear witness himself. The forest is sealing itself off from the outside world. The healer’s heart then lurches as he realises his friend is trapped within this living cage and he can do naught to help and falling to his knees he looks up to the sky and prays to the Valar that Thranduil will be alright.
The trees bend and bow their branches, each trying to touch Thranduil as he walks unheeding along the winding path beneath their boughs. Whispering to each other they can feel the grief pulsating out from his damaged fea and they are desperate to find some way to help relieve his pain. He is their king also, a symbiotic relationship between themselves and the elves residing within the realm, developing such that their fates are now intertwined and his death will have grave consequences for both.
The whispering grows louder, limb movement faster and the king speeds his pace in subconscious response to the sound that begins to fill his mind. Feet move of their own will and the air begins to crackle with electricity as if a storm is building, yet the sky is crisp and clear. He briefly wonders at the source of the rustling amongst the bare branches but his mind is unable to fix itself on a thought and he does not have the will to force it.
He is running now, helter skelter, twisting and turning between the writhing trees, in a mad race towards a destination unknown, as if pulled along by invisible threads. A sense of urgency pervades his being and bewildering panic threatens to overwhelm already stretched senses as his feet fly over the forest floor drawing him closer and closer to its central point. All sense of self has been lost, grief left behind to languish within the confines of stone walls, the forest is all there is, all that matters, and he suddenly understands how the silvans feel about their beloved home. This is life, all around him, his mind rejoices as he realises he is not alone, nor ever could be. This forest, these people, they are his family too and they need him as much as he needs them.
The realisation makes him pause. How can he abandon them now? His heart constricts as emotions come flooding back. Yet how can he go on? He reaches out a trembling hand to the aged oak tree he now stands before and strokes gentle fingers lovingly down its gnarled bark. All unawares he has reached a grove at the very centre of the forest, the home of the oldest trees in this part of Arda. At the first tentative touch the tree shivers then tenses as all falls to silence and movement ceases. It is as if the whole of the Greenwood holds its breath.
For what could be an eternity the king stands with the tree, marvelling at its strength and compassion, revelling in the quiet that has enveloped the world, soothing his aching heart and calming his wounded fea. Then a small sound breaks the spell. He shakes his head in annoyance at the discordant intrusion into his peaceful balm, as if trying to shake it out of his ears, yet it persists. He frowns, as the sound becomes clearer in his mind. A soft mewling, almost as if some small animal is trapped yet too afraid to cry out for help in case predators are near.
Turning away from the oak he scans the grove, for the first time taking in the huge trunks and twisted, bare branches of the aged trees surrounding him and realises just how far he has come from his halls. Listening intently he moves to an hoary, hollowed out elder tree, almost bent double, its trunk forming an arch, branches sweeping the ground, from which the noises appear to be emanating. Within the shelter of its missing core he spies movement and he slowly kneels, leaning forwards to peer into its gloomy interior. He blinks. He looks once more then blinks again in disbelief.
Sitting back upon his heels his head reeling the king glances around the grove before moving back to reach into the woody haven and carefully withdrawing the cause of his astonishment.
A tiny elfling.
Gently cradling the babe in his arms he stands and walks around the grove. Surely the child’s mother must be near, maybe injured or in need of help. Questions race through his mind as he searches, yet can find no trace of any presence save his own. Finally he reaches the contorted elder once more and drops to sit under the arching haven, back pressed to the tormented trunk and brings his eyes down to the babe now resting quietly in his lap.
Staring down he marvels at his tiny burden, admiring its miniature perfection, wondering at the single green leaf clutched within the petite fist and is surprised to find himself caught in a gaze almost as intense as his own. Unable to look away he falls into the twin pools of constantly shifting colour, now verdant green, now summer sky blue, now deep earthy brown and his heart swells with love.
The song begins then, at first a resonant, profound melody of deep roots and sturdy limbs as the trees begin the symphony, then mingling in come the scurrying notes of small creatures, meandering crescendos of the plants and fungi, high soaring cadences of the birds, and much, much more, each layer building upon the next until he is lost within the song of Greenwood the Great as it rings out in all its splendid glory.
The music shifts then, a slight discord at first which rights itself within a few bars as his fea joyfully gives voice to his own song, projecting it out to join in, the forest accepting it hungrily, grabbing the notes and forcing them into the symphony until they are blended seamlessly together into one. Melded now he could not pull away if he tried, anchored to the forest he will remain, his fading grief a thing of the past. This pact with the forest unbreakable until the ending of the world. It will sustain him and he it.
He knows now what it means to be king.
As the song fades he once more becomes aware of the tiny elfling still cradled within his embrace, the living symbol of his covenant with the forest, and he smiles down with eyes full of wonder at this most precious gift.
The last green leaf of the woodland realm.
Originally posted on FF and now slightly edited this is my headcannon to explain why Tolkien never mentioned Legolas' mother. (Also containing a nod to the film and those famous intermittent contact lenses!)
You must login () to review.