Thranduil sat in his study, staring listlessly out of the window. He had scarcely moved from this room over the last two weeks, had barely eaten or slept, for the uneasy feeling that something was very, very wrong hung over him relentlessly. Legolas. He knew that some evil fate had befallen his son.
A sentry entered the room, and cleared his throat. “My Lord? Your Majesty?”
At last, slowly, Thranduil turned. From the sentry’s expression, he had probably been there for at least five minutes, trying to attract the King’s attention. The guards, servants and his advisors were all being amazingly patient with him, for it was by no means the first time this had happened. “Yes?”
“My Lord, a delegation approaches. From Gondor.”
Thranduil felt a brief flicker of curiosity. “From Gondor?” It was not quite the news he had been expecting. He had rather thought the messenger would be from Ithilien.
“Yes, my Lord. They bear the banner of Gondor. But - it has a border of black.”
“Black is the colour of mourning in the world of men. Do you know who the messenger is yet?”
The sentry hesitated, reluctant to reveal the messenger’s identity. He and several others had made their views plain in the barracks in the past, and he could not fathom why the creature was still permitted to visit.
“Well?” Thranduil demanded.
The sentry wore an expression of distaste. “It is the dwarf,” he said at last.
“His name is Gimli,” Thranduil pointed out absently. “Remember that. He was a friend of my son’s. When he arrives, send him to me immediately. You will treat him as an honoured guest.”
The sentry bowed, chastened by the reprimand. “Yes, my Lord. I apologise. I will not forget in future.” He left, but at the door turned in puzzlement. How strange that the King had used the past tense. It sounded almost as if the dwarf was no longer a friend of Prince Legolas. He smiled. That news would displease very few.
As the sentry left, Thranduil turned again to the window, looking out over the forest. Between the trees he could see riders approaching, a dozen in all. Two rode in the lead, bearing a banner with a white tree, crowned with seven stars. The banner was edged with black. Behind them rode Gimli, his face downcast. With the arrival of the delegation from Gondor, their banner, and the presence of Legolas’ dwarven friend, it was becoming harder and harder to deny the truth. He waited, silently, for the inevitable.
After a while, the sentry returned, with Gimli in tow. He bowed again.
“My Lord, this is Gimli, Lord of the glittering caves of Aglarond, who is named ‘Elf-Friend’. He says he bears tiding for you.” He put as much sarcasm as he dared into his voice when announcing the dwarf’s titles – Elf-Friend indeed! – but Thranduil ignored him.
Thranduil nodded absently. “Thank you. You may leave us now.” As the sentry retreated thankfully, with a final disdainful look, Thranduil turned to Gimli. “Lord Gimli, you are most welcome here again. You have news for me?”
Gimli dropped his eyes, staring at a point somewhere around Thranduil’s knees. “Aye, my Lord Thranduil. I do. But I fear - I fear I bear bad news. Very bad news.” His voice was even gruffer than usual.
Thranduil waited for the final blow. “Well?” he questioned.
The dwarf wore a cap of soft brown leather, worn and stained through much use. A tracery of leaves had been stitched across it, obviously Elvish in design. He reached up and pulled the cap off, holding it tightly, twisting it between his hands as he tried to find the words.
“My lord Thranduil – your Majesty -” Gimli finally looked up, and met Thranduil’s eyes. “Legolas is dead,” he said simply.
Thranduil nodded slowly. “Yes. I feared it was so. But what happened?
Gimli looked at him in astonishment. “You - you knew?”
Thranduil merely nodded again. “I knew,” he said flatly. The last vestiges of hope had crumbled as Gimli entered the room, when Thranduil had seen the dwarf’s expression and desperate sorrow. But in his heart he had known long before that.
“What happened?” he asked again.
Stumbling and hesitant, Gimli recounted events as best he could. He told Thranduil of the storm. Of Legolas’ death, as he had heard it from Aragorn. Of the dreadful vigil. Of Arwen’s revelation. Of the decision to burn Legolas, rather than entomb him in cold stone.
“So - so that is what we did. Arwen and Aragorn felt it would be more - fitting.”
“So she remembered.” Thranduil said softly, almost to himself. It had been so very long ago; Legolas had been scarcely more than a child, and Arwen even younger. But he would never forget Arwen’s courage that day. Although clearly frightened, she had not once moved from Legolas’ side.
Gimli continued. “I left Minas Tirith later that day to bring you the news. I am so very sorry. I wish I could bear better tidings.”
“So do I, Lord Gimli. So do I. But thank you. You were a loyal friend to my son.” Thranduil could hear the unaccustomed roughness in his own voice from suppressed emotion. “Would – would you leave me now? Someone will show you to your rooms, and your escort as well.”
As Gimli nodded an acknowledgement, Thranduil turned away abruptly. He heard the door open and close behind the dwarf. When he was certain he was alone, he sank down, groping blindly behind him for a seat. Head bowed, he finally gave in to the utter despair he had been trying to deny for so long, and wept.
He wept for Legolas, who had died so needlessly, so senselessly, and he wept for himself, for his own pain, bereft of all those he had ever loved. He wept for Lasgalen, now facing slow decline and ruin. He wept for the knowledge that he would never see his son again.
There had been the sudden, shocking awareness that something dreadful had happened, but at first he could not tell what, thinking that perhaps some disaster had befallen the forest. Then there had been the slow realization that the foreboding centred on his son. Gradually he realized that his faint awareness of Legolas, always present, was no longer there. It was something that had been with him for more than an age, something so familiar he was not even conscious of it, something he had only noticed now in its absence. He had tried desperately to tell himself that he could be wrong, that he was making a mistake, that he was misinterpreting what he felt. But in his heart he had known the truth. And now it was confirmed, in all its tragedy.
*Ai, Legolas! I always tried not to let you see just how much I feared for your safety every time you left on a patrol. Or when you left for Imladris, following Gollum’s escape. You were so full of grief, anger, guilt and anguish. But you always knew how I felt. You would tell me I worried too much, and would promise to return safely. With the fall of Sauron, and when you settled in Ithilien, I thought I could finally stop worrying about you!*
Legolas had come through so much, had survived so much: the cave-in beneath Lasgalen which Gimli had spoken of; the spider attack; being held captive by Corvus and his henchmen; the mission to Dol Guldur. He had even escaped, virtually unscathed, the terrible battles of the War of the Ring. After all that, his death seemed even more of a senseless, tragic waste. And it was so unjust. In building the colony in Ithilien, Legolas had never been busier, but at the same time Thranduil had never seen him so happy or fulfilled.
Thranduil remained sunk in despair and misery as outside his windows the evening gradually darkened. He started at the touch of a gentle hand on his shoulder.
“My lord? My lord Thranduil?”
It was Lanatus. He wore an expression of extreme concern and sorrow.
“Lanatus? Why are you here?” Thranduil realised he sounded somewhat dazed and bewildered.
“I just spoke with the escort from Minas Tirith. They told me of the message that - that the dwarf carried.” Like the previous messenger, Lanatus did not approve of Gimli.
“I see. Thank you, Lanatus, for your concern.” With an immense effort, Thranduil composed himself. “Would you pass the message on to my counsellors? This news has to be passed to all the realm.”
“My Lord, it is already done. Rumour was rife when the dwarf appeared without Prince Legolas, when people saw the banner. I came to say - to say - that you have my deepest sympathy. I - I know what it is to lose your only child.” The habitual shadow in Lanatus’ eyes was stark, rekindled by this reminder of his own grief.
“Of course. I had forgotten, forgive me.” Thranduil drew a deep breath, brushing away a stray tear. He had all but forgotten the pedantic archivist’s personal sorrow. His young son had drowned, long, long ago, in one of the forest rivers. “Will you help me, Lanatus? There is much that needs to be done.”
Lanatus bowed. “Of course, my Lord. And I also spoke with the - with the dwarf. He asked if you would be travelling to Minas Tirith.”
“ ‘Gimli’, Lanatus. His name is Gimli. And - yes, I suppose one day I will be travelling to Minas Tirith. But not now. Not yet.”
Lanatus waited for further instructions, but at Thranduil’s wave of dismissal, he bowed again and left, leaving the King alone once more.
Thranduil stood, and stared for a long time at a portrait of Legolas that hung over the fireplace. It had been painted not long after the battle of Five Armies, and the artist had captured Legolas’ distant expression, as he dreamed of travelling across the length and breadth of Middle Earth. Now he would never get his wish.
Silently, Thranduil turned and left the room. As the door closed, the fire and candle light flickered softly, gently illuminating Legolas’ picture.
To be continued