Some notes for this story.
There were few times when Vanimórë was outside Sauron's influence until the War of the Ring. For this story I have used his greatest time of freedom: the early Third Age, when he ruled Sud Sicanna in the Harad for about 1000 years. Esteliel's series takes place much later, in the late Third Age, but Vanimórë was not free at that time, thus I have to wind the clock back on her Legolas' age, as I do in my own AU, making Legolas in that older than Elgalad. (who was born in 1982 TA)
Since Vanimóre would need a reason to travel from the Harad up to the Sea of Rhun, I have placed this story shortly after King Tarostar of Gondor drove back invasions of Easterlings out of Rhun, and I have invented a Council (rather like a summit meeting) that rulers from Rhun and the Harad might have attended, including Vanimórë.
Mirkwood was not called Mirkwood until approximately 1050 T.A. when the shadow of Sauron fell upon it, so in this story it is still called the Greenwood, or Eryn Lasgalen. There is no Esgaroth as yet but there were apparently Men in the Vales of Anduin, and in Rhovannion, (including a self-styled Prince of Rhovannion) and I have said that there was trade between the North and people from the East. It might have been disrupted by the wars against Gondor, but at the time of this story there has been peace for a few years. Trade is very durable, and merchants are hardy, look at those who traversed the Silk Road!
A Fractured Heart.
They say that Elves remember everything.
All Legolas remembered about that long journey was sickness and grief.
He had set out to ride to Imladris. There was no other choice but death, and he could not die. The child within him deserved life. Because his father had spoken of killing him, and if he were caught in the forest, he thought there would be more than one warrior willing to act on the king's behalf, he judged it wiser to ride east, then north and take the way between the Grey Mountains and the north march of Eryn Lasgalen. It was a wild land where sometimes, orcs and wolves hunted. If Men traveled that way they did so in armed companies. Lainiell, steady, clever and quick, had smelled danger before Legolas was aware of it, and had whipped around, running east.
A storm had rolled in from Rhovannion, and when the clouds emptied their bellies, both Legolas and Lainiell were drenched. He could hardly see five paces ahead, though he guessed the Long Lake was close, though there was no shelter to be had there. He knew now that he might die before he ever reached Imladris. And Glorfindel, father of his child.
Shivering with grief, with the weakness of his strange condition and the nausea that rampaged through it, Legolas was jerked from his despair when dark shapes rose before him. Lightning turned the rain white for a moment, showing the shape of roofed wagons drawn in a circle. Lainiell whinnied and Legolas had begun to back her when a door opened. Lamplight spilled out and with it, two men. One of them held up a covered lantern, and Legolas saw a swarthy face, young and neat-bearded. The man said something in a strange tongue, then, in Westron, “Come! Come.”
Legolas found himself half sliding from Lainiell's wet back. The other man lead her away and he exclaimed in protest.
“We put her under cover,” the man with the lantern said. “Come!”
Warmth slapped him as he was guided into the wagon. He had a confused impression of scents, bright cloth, and two women with long scarves about their hair, twists of blue and green. There came another burst of incomprehensible language and then one of them came forward. Her face was broad and seamed, her eyes very dark. She exclaimed in the Common Speech, "Shendi !"
There was a flurry of movement. Legolas tried to struggle as the women stripped him of his soaking clothes, but they handled him easily, and a moment later he was sitting on soft cushions with thick wool about him. A cup of something hot was placed in his hands and he smelled honey and apples. He sipped on reflex and felt it run hot down his throat.
And then he got up very fast and staggered to the door, and was sick.
After that, he only knew that he was laid down, the voices faded and he slept the sleep of exhaustion.
He woke to movement. For a heartbeat he wondered where he was, and then remembered. The wagon was moving. He heard the splash of wheels through water-filled ruts, but there was no drumming of rain on the roof. Cautiously he moved his head.
The interior was larger than he had expected. There was a cloth curtain hung across it, and beyond he heard voices. Everything looked as neat as a soldier's tent, with cooking utensils stacked and many bags of woven reeds hanging from hooks on the walls and swaying gently as the wagon rolled on.
He moaned and curled up, and at the sound the curtain whisked back and the older woman came through. With some creaking of joints, she knelt beside him, and perforce, he looked back at her. She lifted a cup of water to his lips.
He realized, after, that they had kept him quiescent with some drug in the gruel that they fed him, thin, but savory. All he knew then was lassitude, sleep, and the half-dreams, half-memories of the golden-haired warrior who had taken his innocence, and with them came the terrible, yearning shame of the pleasure he had felt amid the pain.
“Beauty such as yours should be used, should be owned...”*
Hair like running gold, eyes so blue there seemed no end to their depth, warm muscled flesh against his, lips that drank everything that he was.
“Do not deny your own pleasure - admit it !”*
“Sleep, and never forget my face. Never forget that it was Glorfindel of Imladris who took your innocence and showed you pleasure.”*
His heart seemed to fall away inside his breast. He put a hand over his mouth to stifle his moan, and the tears slid hot down his cheeks.
“Do you know how rich this will make us?” Turuk had demanded in glee, thumping one fist into his palm. “Do you know...” he sought for words. “What price one of the Shining Ones would bring?”
“Fool,” his mother spat. “All it will bring you is ill-luck if you mistreat him.”
Turuk's brother and wife nodded, the latter more vehemently than the former.
“We have done it no wrong,” Turuk protested defensively. “I would not mistreat it, mother. It walked right into our camp as if sent by the Goddess.”
“He is sick.”
“And you are looking after it, him, surely it will bless us. ”
“Not if you sell him.” His mother stabbed a finger at him. “And I know not what ails him. He may be dying. He is as greensick as a girl carrying her first child.” Her eyes met those of Turuk's wife, who said, in her pretty voice, “It is true. What if he dies, and brings a curse down on us? You should let him go, clan-brother, when he is well.”
“Arah,” he appealed and then to his brother.
“It is a risk,” Malath conceded. “What if his people come after him and think we have taken him like thieves?”
“We did not ! We have not. And it has been seven days. What has he said, mother?”
“Very little. He talks in his own tongue.” Gushadi glanced back toward the wagon. She said, reluctantly, “I asked him if he wished to leave.”
“What did he say?” Turuk asked.
“He said he had nowhere to go.”
“Ah ! Outcast, you think?”
She spread her hands. For five hundred years the Mhadi had traveled from the Sea of Rhun up to the lands about the Long Lake, trading the beautifully woven blankets and shawls the tribe were famed for. None had ever returned with one of the Shining Folk. But once, before the Great War, the Mhadi had been of the Balchoth, and old tales had come down to them of the Shendini, of their strength and swiftness, their star-bright eyes, their magic. Gushadi had never heard that they suffered sickness, but to her mind there was no question that this one was ill. She nursed him as tenderly as if he were her own, and not only because she feared him. Something in him evoked a need to care. Arah felt the same, and she was scarce out of girlhood. The trouble was, Gushadi thought, her family were too young to have learned wisdom.
“I tell you this,” she said, “Your father would not have thought of wealth. What good is wealth with a Shendini blood-curse on your head?”
Her husband had died last summer, suddenly, unexpectedly, clutching at his chest. He had been mourned with due rites, but Gushadi knew that, respect him though they had, her sons saw his death as an opportunity to become great men within the tribe, perhaps its leaders. They were ambitious, another curse of the young.
“No-one will come after him,” Turuk decided. “Not now. If he dies, he dies, but it will not be through lack of care, and if he lives...”
“The Council,” Malath said.
The brothers looked at one another, eyes gleaming with uncomplicated greed.
After the Great Battle, the Men whom had fought for Sauron had found themselves without one mighty overlord. Some aspired to take the Dark Lord's place, and failed, but most were too embroiled in the politics and power-shifts of their own lands to reach so high.
There was this to be said for Sauron: he had imposed a certain stability. Once again tribe fought against tribe and nation against nation, mauling at one another until, in the year 490, they looked further afield, to Gondor, and crossed the Dagorlad. The attacks which had ended five years ago, when King Tarostar of Gondor had driven them back. An uneasy peace had ensued, but the men of the Harad and Rhun were not discouraged, and thus they had called the Great Council. The Prince of Szrel Kain, that old city north of the Sea of Rhun and beyond the reach of Gondor's mailed fist, had been planning it for years, and it had taken much political maneuvering and bribes for it to come about. Kings and their entourages were not the only people heading for Szrel Kain; every-one who could buy or sell would be there.
“We could make a fortune,” Turuk breathed, as if just thinking about so much wealth choked his voice.
His mother waved a hand in irritation and returned to her wagon. After a moment, Lania joined her. The men were talking enthusiastically; there came the chink of cups. Gushadi closed the door. The Shendi watched them from great blue eyes.
“Why did you say nothing?” Arah whispered.
“I will have to, but what do men know of such things?” Gushadi moved to the bed. “You,” she said, “You carry a babe, yes?”
He sat up, staring from her to Arah.
“I thought you sick,” she went on. “But we have washed you, seen your body. I thought it a stone growing in your belly, but our tales say the Shendini do not suffer the diseases of Men. You have a man's parts, but your breasts swell to bring in the milk.”
“Yes,” he said softly, and that one word quivered.
“Is it so with all your kind? Men can have children?”
“No. No. It is a...curse upon my line.”
“A curse? You are touched by the Mother.” As his fair, lovely face showed no comprehension she sighed, and said, “You cannot stay here. But you cannot go, either. You are not strong.”
“I am...stronger than I was.” Legolas curved a hand over his stomach.
“How long?” she asked.
“I do not know.” Legolas felt a strange, dislocated sense of panic. “This is...rare. Our women carry a child for twelve moons. If it is the same with me, then it will be close to the Longest Day.”
“Are you truly outcast?” Arah asked shyly.
“Yes.” Legolas looked away and blinked, and Gushadi bit her lip and made a sign, her two hands forming a cup.
“I am cursed.” And his voice broke.
Were it not for the kindness of the women, Legolas believed he would have died. So far down in his misery and nausea, he was yet aware of how they tended him. He had not objected when Gushadi stripped and washed him; what more could possibly shame him? As the wagon wheels rolled the season behind him and he felt the cooler air come down from the North, he wept for many reasons. He did not care where he was going; everything within him was bent toward the child. And there was no respite, no escape even in sleep. Glorfindel waited in in that place where Elven dreams are birthed, and Legolas relived everything. Sometimes, which was worse than all, because it was like a cruel mockery of his deepest, most foolish hopes, he felt Glorfindel holding him, heard him say, tenderly, “Pen villen... Legolas villen nín.”*
It would throw him from sleep, into the wasteland of grief.
The change came gradually, an awareness of less queasiness and a little more appetite. He was still very tired, still slept a great deal, and as he did not know what to expect of his body, he had to assume this was normal. And he was impossibly frightened.
And so Legolas vanished from the Greenwood on the storm-wind of Thranduil's rage. The king never spoke of him. He might never have existed. It seemed as if only one person in all the realm remembered him: Celeirdúr.
When Legolas was sent to guard the horses, Celeirdúr did not think much about him, but his youngest brother was there, somewhere. Now he was gone and after the anger had come guilt and fear. Legolas had done wrong, but out of ignorance, not malice. He had not even known he might get pregnant. The king should have told him the history of their family, of Elvýr, of the queen. Celeirdúr knew that there was an untouchable abyssal pain in his father, yet had Legolas not been sent away from the halls, this would never have happened. He thought of Legolas' delight whenever he spoke a kind word, dropped as carelessly as a tree shedding its blossoms, yet how Legolas had responded to such attention! Celeirdúr had found it a little amusing, but now he berated himself as a boor who, concerned with his own duties and the court, had simply not wanted to recognize how lonely the youth was. And he had given himself to a strange man who had probably smiled at him. Was it any wonder?
As autumn burnished the beech-leaves to bronze, Celeirdúr imagined Legolas' flight from the forest, wondered where he had gone, and thought of him alone, pregnant, confused.
The thought was so insupportable that Celeirdúr could not believe that no-one else even mentioned it, or not in his hearing. Galuron might never have had a younger brother, and their father lived within a steel wall of pain and hatred. Celeirdúr found himself more and more often riding deeper into the forest with a few trusted warriors, or north, out of the realm, hoping to find some trace of Legolas. His mare, Lainiell, was gone. She could be trusted not to ride into danger, but if Legolas had gone to find the man who had fathered his child, been captured by orcs or hunted by Fell-wolves, there might be nothing left to find.
When winter turned its back, Celeirdúr was ordered to take a company west. The smoldering war between Lasgalen and Imladris fed on the spring as if it were fuel, and Thranduil wished to see if there were any signs of Imladrian warriors in the north. Celeirdúr was to ride upriver to the confluence of the Greylin and Langwell, then turn east again along the north marches of the forest. The warriors would stay close to the woods, and no-one, Imladrian warrior, Man, orc or wolf, would follow them in and come out again, although the wood-Elves preferred to take hostages rather than kill. Imladrian warriors provided good bargaining counters.
The long patrol should have gone as many others had. Save for the king himself, there was no more skilled warrior in the Greenwood than Celeirdúr; he was no cossetted prince who stayed in the halls while others fought. The Stirring was slowly breathing life into sap and rootlet, and there was no sign or sense of danger. The weather was cool but dry with a pale, winter-worn sky and the Silvans could see for leagues. What better opportunity could there be to cross the Anduin and see if there was any movement in the High Pass? Thranduil had not ordered any such reconnaissance, but Celeirdúr was long used to making his own decisions. It was, however, a deliberate act of aggression, because the unspoken boundary between Imladris and the Greenwood was the Great River.
Foolish, Celeirdúr thought after, to have gone across the mountains, into the wild country that Elrond's people had long reconnoitered, but when they bivouacked for the last night before turning back, he knew he had been as careful as he could be in choosing a place, lighting no fires, setting a watch and blending with the leafless trees.
Nevertheless, they were discovered.
It was a close-quarter fight, bitter and aggressive, but even as he leaped back to gain more room to use his long knives, Celeirdúr felt an arm about him and a dagger pressed against his throat. After that, his warriors laid down their weapons. One of them escaped; the prince had standing orders that if he were ever taken by Imladris, any-one who could should escape to take the news to the king. The Imladrian warriors did not attempt to stop him. They wanted him to go, he guessed.
After that, the journey to Imladris was enlivened only by the barbed remarks aimed at him, to which he first responded and then, knowing it was more effective, erected a stony silence against. It was almost a relief to see, unexpected and he admitted, beautiful, the fabled valley of Imladris, with it's great house, the glimpse of gardens, a green slope of south-facing vineyards and the silver fall of water.
He had not lied about his identity. It would have been futile to do so. Even if Elladan Elronion believed him, his braids and the intertwined beech leaf and niphredil insignia on his clothes marked him as a scion of the House of Oropher. Riders must have gone ahead, for, when he was brought, by way of wide corridors to Elrond's chambers, the son of Eärendil looked only satisfied, not a whit surprised.
He was not alone. Two men stood each side of him. One was dark haired, the other's was a gleaming mass of thick golden curls, caught back and pinned with gems. His eyes were bluer than cobalt and his mouth had an arrogant, sultry curve.
Glorfindel of the House of the Golden Flower. Reborn Elf-lord of Gondolin.
Those beautiful blue eyes narrowed on him, as if the Golodh were reading his mind.
Both Imladris and Lasgalen knew what could happen to captured prisoners; both had tales of ill-use. Certes, neither had clean hands, the hatred there ran two ways and was old and curdled. But Celeirdúr was a prince. There was nothing, Elrond believed, that Thranduil would not do to get his son back. It might even be the way to a lasting peace. Therefore Celeirdúr was treated as a hostage, but one of rank, and the chamber he was taken to had some comforts. The window was high and small, perhaps it had once been a storage room before the war. Bars ran across the glass, driven deep into the wall on the outside. There was a narrow bed, a table, a wooden chair and an ante-room which served both as a privy and bathing place. The guards placed wine and food on the table and withdrew. He heard a key turn and a bar drop into place. Now alone, he allowed his defenses to drop, slamming his hands against the wall and bowing his head against it.
I am sorry father. I was rash.
But he knew what had truly driven him was the desire to find some word of Legolas. And Imladris was the last place he would find it. He must have been insane.
Glorfindel came at dusk. He brought a lamp and hung it from a bracket in the wall. Celeirdúr, lying on his bed, sat up as the door opened, and stared.
Glorfindel set his shoulders against the door.
“You remind me of some-one,” he said without preamble.
“You know who I am, I have not denied it.” Celeirdúr spoke sharply. “What does it matter who I remind you of?”
His reaction was half anger at his position, half reflexive bravado. He was very conscious of Glorfindel's proximity and power. The Silvan Elves might hate the Golodhrim, but Glorfindel's fame was legend, and it was merited. He was not a man called Glorfindel, he was Glorfindel. With all that implied.
“It does not.” Glorfindel shrugged. “I am here to tell you what privileges you may expect as Thranduil's son. You are fortunate that you are his son,” he added with a bite. “and that we desire an end to this war.”
“I know what happens to soldiers caught by the Imladrians',” Celeirdúr lashed. “I need no reminders.”
“So do we know what happens to our own warriors captured by the Elves of the Greenwood,” Glorfindel's eyes held such a perilous light that Celeirdúr had to physically stop himself from backing away. “We have never had the kind of leverage to force peace before. But of Thranduil's three sons' you, by all the reports we have, are his favored one. A gift from the Valar to us. Your fears are groundless.”
“I am not afraid.” Celeirdúr's lip curled. “Yes, this will force a peace. My father is unfortunate in his sons.”
“Truly. I would not have expected you to make such an error of judgment.” Glorfindel stared at him. That turn of the head, the touch of the lamplight on the straight nose, molding the cheekbone...Where had he seen that before? “You will be allowed some freedom. We will allow you to walk under guard, and bound. Do not try and escape. You will not be killed, but you will be disabled. Is that clear?”
The prince shot him a furious glance. “As dew,” he snarled. “I made a mistake, but there was reason behind it.”
“You do not need to explain your foolishness.” Glorfindel's voice was honeyed. Of course he wanted to know. It was rare the Silvans crossed the High Pass, and usually done when they were following captured warriors or wanted to taunt Imladris. He needed to know if Celeirdúr had been acting alone, or if his incursion were a precursor to another, larger one. Not that it mattered now; Glorfindel knew that there would be no attack on Imladris, but it was as well to be prepared. He did not want any of his patrols riding into an ambush.
“I do not make mistakes of that kind,” Celeirdúr said icily. “I was searching for any trace of my brother.”
“Galuron?” Glorfindel was surprised.
“Legolas. My youngest brother. My father has only two sons' left.”
“That is remarkably careless of him.”
Celeirdúr threw himself toward Glorfindel, only to find his own momentum used against him. Suddenly he was on his knees on the floor, one arm behind his back.
“Another mistake, pretty prince.”
And looking down at Celeirdúr, as he turned his head, pain flashing across his features, Glorfindel suddenly knew whom he looked like.
“Tell me.” He pulled Celeirdúr to his feet and thrust him onto the chair.
“It is nothing to do with the war. It will not help you in any way.”
“I will judge that.” Glorfindel poured wine and pushed the cup across the table.
“Legolas was banished,” the prince said roughly.
“Banished? What on Arda for. Is he not very young?”
Banishment was a rare punishment and a dreadful one for any Elf. Elrond had never pronounced it in Imladris.
“He is forty.”
Glorfindel, who had wanted a child in his first life, and carried the longing like an old wound that would not heal, said harshly, “Thranduil must be mad.”
“You know nothing whatsoever about it!” Celeirdúr cried. “You Golodhrim think you know so much about us ! My father had his reasons...” His eyes lowered, and the thick fan of his lashes reminded Glorfindel of a hot, secret day beside a forest pool and a youth...His face gave nothing away.
“But you do not agree with his reasons.”
“No! Legolas was so young...!”
“And so, why was he banished?”
“Yes, this is one of the things you do not know.” Celeirdúr looked up. “There is a curse on the men of our line. Some can get with child.”
“I have heard it can happen,” Glorfindel said steadily. As long ago as the First Age there had been such rumors, although he had not known that Thranduil's House carried this secret. “I would not call it a curse.”
“Would you not?” Celeirdúr demanded. “Not if one were raped by an orc? Because it happens, and you do know that. It happened to one of my brothers, and the orc-seed grew in him.”
Yes, such things happened. Rape was a weapon of war as surely as arrows and swords.
“They say we all die of rape, but is it that easy?” Celeirdúr's words came now in a bitter, rushing torrent. “When there are people you love, who love you, so that you cling to life?” He choked, swallowed and spat, “My father had to give him the mercy of death; Elvýr, his firstborn, who was mad with agony from the Orc-spawn growing in his belly, poisoning him.” He put his hands over his face, and for a moment Glorfindel could think of nothing to say, nothing at all. He allowed Celeirdúr to gather his dignity, even as his mind recoiled in horror at the thought.
“When Legolas was born, with the same curse, and looking so much like Elvýr, my father sent him away, out of the halls, so he would not have to be reminded of my brother, or my mother, who ended her life. He did not want to see Legolas. Ever. He was an open wound.”
“But you did?”
“Not often enough.”
“But what if he did get pregnant, surely he could choose a mate for himself, young though he is.”
“No. Father would not have permitted it. And Legolas...he was a sweet child, he only wanted to be loved.” Celeirdúr seemed to realize he had placed Legolas in the past tense and he groaned. “He was sent to look after the horses, out of sight and mind, and he should have been safe enough, there. My father did consider that: his safety. But some Man came, some Mortal, I know not how, for it should have been impossible. But he got Legolas with child. And my father banished him. I was not there...” He slammed a hand into the table, rattling the wine jug. “And Legolas did not know! I should have told him, but why burden him? he is not even of age. There seemed to be time...!” He flashed an upward look. “I thought of him alone, not knowing what was happening to him... So, why do you not laugh at the curse on my house, Lord Glorfindel.”
“Why would you think Legolas would be in Imladris?” Glorfindel was not laughing. That beautiful youth in Lasgalen, untouched and tender, whom he had wanted, had well nigh raped, but pleasured, too. (And nevertheless, nevertheless...) Was it possible? No, it could not be, but as he looked at Celeirdúr, he saw the similarities that had tugged at his memory, brought on by a play of light, an expression, that look of pain and fear as Glorfindel stood over him.
“I do not know. I had searched as far as I could in the forest and found nothing. The Men I asked had seen naught. I hoped I would find him with this Man. It would be shame, but better than his being dead.” Celeirdúr turned his back, but not before Glorfindel saw the gloss of tears in his eyes. And that too evoked a memory...~