Finally! I know!
After a month! How bad! It shocked me when I found out that I let you wait for so long. I am sorry for that, my friends! However, I must admit it is harder and harder to keep writing. I think I`ve got tangled in this huge story. This chapter may not be my finest but I hope you will enjoy it anyway:]
“Is it a horse?”
Thranduil smiled hearing the excitement in his son`s voice.
“Wait and see.”
Legolas climbed his father`s back and embraced him around the neck from behind just to rest his chin on the broad shoulder and watching him carving. A small piece of wood was quickly changing into a shape of an animal.
“Belerion has a wooden horse too. He said his mother bought it on the market on his birthday!”
“We do not need to buy it when we can do our own horse.”
“You are the best, Ada!” Legolas closed the embrace, nearly choking the King and kissed him on the side of his neck. Thranduil chuckled again and warm feelings spread all over his body. This was all he needed in his life right now – his son`s love.
“Who is Belerion?”
“He is my friend. He is a son of a farmer but they don`t have a farm anymore.”
“Is he nice to you?”
Thranduil slowed the pace of the knife as he tried to carve the horse`s details on the head.
“I think so. I like him. He is funny.”
Thranduil just smiled, concentrating on the task he hasn`t done for millennia. He felt his hands to be a little shaky and unsure but he was confident that two more horses and he will be a master in it again. Gone are the times when his own brother taught him to carve secretly. Thranduil was too young to hold a knife but he wanted to learn it so much that his brother was teaching him night after night in the light of the candle until their mother found out. But when she did it was too late. Thranduil could carve some animals already.
He smiled softly about the memory of his dear brother, letting himself to remember his face before he shut the whole thought. It was dangerous to remember, wonder what it could be if his family would be alive.
“It`s a horse! Isn`t it?!” Legolas let him and jumped around in joy.
“It is, you were right.”
Legolas kissed him again.
The door was opened and Tavarille peeped in.
“We are ready.” She smiled at the King and closed the door again.
Thranduil rose from the chair and stretched out for his black robe tossed on the bed. Legolas was staring at the horse in his hands.
“We have to smooth it yet. It is too rough.”
“I like it anyway.”
Thranduil caressed his blond head.
“Let`s go home, my little leaf.”
Legolas raised his head up to look at his father completely confused.
“But we are home…?”
The King kneeled.
“Yes and no. We share the Halls with those people, with our subjects, but our home is up on our floors.”
“Can I come back here and play with Belerion again?”
Thranduil wanted to refuse immediately. Even though his son was unharmed and that the common elves accepted him nicely, he was still anxious about letting his son to be here. And soon somebody could use him to get closer to the King as it was common on the court. They were the same, just a poorer version.
But on the other hand, he knew well how hard it is to find a friend and how relaxing is to pretend to be a normal common elf.
“Maybe. Let`s go.”
As soon as Thranduil opened the door of the Faglir`s room Legolas ran to Idril to show her the horse. They all were waiting for them, watching the playground and chatting. Only Kaalis didn`t seem relaxed as he watched every move around the King. Thranduil pulled out a pouch full of golden coins with the arms of the Woodland Realm and handed it to Faglir.
The red-haired elf widened his eyes.
“There is a payment for your service, Faglir.”
Faglir shook his head and raised his hands in defense. Thranduil frowned, holding the pouch towards the elf like an idiot.
“We just kept an eye on your son. You don`t have to pay me for it. I do it for neighbors too and we don`t take money for it as well.”
The King tilted his head to one side, his blue eyes were scanning the elf.
“You are refusing money?”
“It doesn`t feel right, your Majesty.”
“Everyone who serves me gets paid.” Thranduil repeated and shook the pouch. The sound of coins was unmistakable.
“It was just a favour.”
“No one does me favours. Everyone wants something. Power, money, job…anything.”
“Your trust is enough for me, your Majesty. But maybe the orphanage would need some coin.”
“An orphanage?” Thranduil widened his eyes and the turned his head towards the playground like he would find the answer there. His mind was working hard whether he knew about some asylum or not.
“Yes. Our Queen…she…she founded one when you left to the war and first letters with names of the dead came in. Lady Dariel cares for the children. Well, I don’t know for sure if she is a lady or not, but we call her lady because she was from the City.”
Thranduil gasped. No one ever informed him about that. He had no idea that Eleniel founded an orphanage.
“She is right there.” Faglir pointed out to the playground. Thranduil handed the pouch to Kaalis without a word and walked to an elleth, sitting on the edge of the playground like Tavarille before was, calling something to the children running there. Her clothes were simple and green. Her hair was reddish-brown like the elder Silvans used to have, simply braided. She spotted the King and rose. There was an elegance in her moves.
“King Thranduil,” She bowed.
“Lady Dariel, am I right?”
She smiled but the smile didn`t reach her brown eyes.
“Just Dariel, my Lord. I am not a lady, they just call me that.”
“You lead the orphanage for children.”
She smiled again politely and nodded.
“Yes, I do. Your wife, Queen Eleniel asked me to lead it, to care about children whose parents died.”
Thranduil felt ashamed and humiliated in front of her. How is it possible that he didn`t know? That it didn`t occur to him that many of his elves died in the war and could have children? Yes, they sent money and condolences, but that was all. He cared about his subjects whether they live comfortably and if they have enough food but what about those orphans?
“I-I wasn`t informed, I am sorry…”
Dariel didn`t say anything. She was just staying there, looking at him with a peaceful face. But her lack of words spoke aloud.
“Is there anything I can do for you?”
She blinked several times, maybe surprised that he asked so humiliated. Her eyes softened for a moment.
“We need more clothes. I can`t pay for new ones and I cannot want an instant charity from others. They need to sell their work not to give it every time. We need more herbs and supplies for small injuries. They are clumsy children.” She smiled quickly. It was obvious she was fond of them but then her face was serious again, “and I think the children miss the sunlight. We are closed here like…” She shook her head, “I don`t want to be disrespectful my King, but we need to get out sometimes. To see the sun and breathe a fresh air.”
Thranduil sighed. He knew well that the deep underground where the commoners resided wasn`t any good for them for a long-term.
“Take your children and come to me tomorrow.”
Dariel didn`t cover the surprise this time. All her uneasiness was gone.
“I-well…thank you, my Lord.” She bowed again.
“Tomorrow morning. I will be expecting you.”
And with that Thranduil left the playground. He nodded to Kaalis and he tossed the pouch to the Faglir`s bedroom.
“Do whatever you want with it.” Thranduil ordered and took Legolas into his arms.
“Let`s go home.”
The Council room was full already when Thranduil stormed in. The Advisors rose to greet him.
“Sit down, please and forgive me my late arrival.”
“Is Legolas alright?” Graven asked nervously when he sat down. Thranduil took his seat as well and poured himself a wine.
“He is, do not worry, Graven.” He smiled a little, “Let`s begin with reports, please. Kaalis.”
The Captain almost shone with proud every time the King called him. He still couldn`t believe how high post he got and that the King trust his advice.
“The Halls are clear and safe again, my King. We did not find any evidence of the visitor and Leinir who just left for the border patrol said that the imitation of the Capitol worked. The queen`s soldiers tracked the city and spied it for a night but nothing serious happened. No encounter. Also, the common floors after your and your son`s departure were calm and without incidents.”
“Good. Lord Hoerin?”
“The cost of the visit was average. The feast cost less than our average spending thanks to the poorer food on the table as you suggested. However, the “decorations” balanced the spendings.”
“What is the real status of our treasure, Hoerin?”
“What do you mean, my King?”
“Are we able to send an aid to Lord Daeron again? How long we can last if we will send another aid?”
“If we don`t support the market, which is very poor now because of the poor trade between the realms…I guess, five winters perhaps…It depends how much would you like to send away, my Lord.”
There was a grave silence in the Council room. Five winters only. The Woodland realm was in its poorest state ever. And Thranduil was aware of it.
“How can we support the trade?”
“We trade only with Locien. But it is very poor. The war is taking its toll. I suggest we open the trade again with men from north, dwarves and perhaps Eresiel?”
Thranduil`s heart skipped a beat. Trade with a Darkness. It was unthinkable.
“Graven, please hand the map. We have to discuss the politic situation first.”
When the map covered the table, Thranduil rose and placed three black figures on the map – Rissigur, Eresiel and the kingdom of the dwarves, led by Duin`s cousin, Darg.
“Rissigur is obvious, is it not?” Thranduil looked over their faces,”Darg is obvious too after he betrayed us.”
“A letter from Duin`s son, Thrak, just came, Thranduil.” Graven interrupted him, “Darg attacked their borders last night…”
Thranduil was staring at him. Graven unfolded the letter and handed it to him. Thrak was informing about the situation.
“The first attack was defended but it is a regular siege. They ask for support…” Thranduil said almost in a whisper.
“We cannot support two wars, my Lord.” Lord Hoerin warned with a frown.
The King looked back on the map and placed another figure signification a fight between the two dwarfish kingdoms.
“We cannot stand and watch it either.” Graven warned as well, “They are our ally.”
“We are the only one in peace.” Thranduil stated, staring at his own realm on the map, “surrounded by Darkness.”
“How we stand with Eresiel, my Lord?” One of the council members asked.
The King tapped the black figure.
“Eresiels is still under the Dark Lord`s rule. We were just warned. The Dark Lord wants us to stand down. We are like in tongs. Damn it.”
“Stand down? We cannot just stand down!”
“Whatever we do, we can expect an attack from the north or from the south.” Kaalis nodded, “Maybe we should even call off the army under Lord Deteghor command.”
“Thranduil, we cannot just stand down. What will happen when the Dark Lord wins? He will swallow us as well. We must fight united! All of us!” Graven bang the table with his fist.
“I have to protect my people too. If we will move, we cannot move with elleths and children too. They would be in danger because the Greenwood will be attacked immediately.” Thranduil rubbed the root of his nose.
“Maybe he is bluffing. Maybe he has no army to attack us and that is why he is just threatening.”
“Do you want to risk it, Graven? For the second time?” Thrandul pierced him with a glacial gaze. Graven shut his mouth, remembering his dead daughter.
“We cannot move so far. We will not.” Thranduil decided with a heavy heart, “However, we should be ready if anything happens. I am not sure with who we are dealing here. Duragar wasn`t that strong and smart. This is different.”
“I do not recall I would ever hear about some kind of an heir or a successor in Rissigur.” Graven admitted.
Thranduil remembered the last time he met the Dark Lord Duragar on the battlefield. His mind reviewed the moment. How his eyes changed the moment before he died. His voice too.
And there was an idea which almost stopped his breathing. What if Duragar was just possessed by a dark power? Even Helir, Idril father who killed himself in the prison, seemed to be possessed.
“It makes us weak to not know our enemy.” Kaalis stated trying hard to sound smart.
“As I said, we will stay down. There is no other option for us so far. Now, the trade. We need new partners.”
It was dark outside already, when Thranduil finally reached his chambers. He felt awfully exhausted but his mind was still racing with the topics from the meeting with advisors. He put away the heavy, black robe and ran fingers through his hair when Idril just came out of his bedroom. She halted and bowed quickly.
“Legolas demanded to sleep here. I hope you do not mind, my Lord.”
“No, I do not.” He sighed and poured himself a wine.
“Do you need anything for me or may I leave?”
Thranduil looked at her and then he raised his hand with the goblet of wine.
Idril`s heart skipped a beat and she nodded carefully. Unsure what to do with herself she just stood there, staring at him. Despite the fine clothes and jewels he didn`t resemble the fearful king like he normally did.
When he handed her the goblet and gestured her to sit down on the sofa, she obliged and thanked him.
He sat down as well opposite her into the armchair and crossed his legs. Idril smelled the wine and sipped it a little. It was heavy and strong.
“The orphanage…”Thranduil started and Idril focused her eyes on him again. The tone of his voice was soft, informal and she eased a little.
“Eleniel founded an orphanage…Did you know about this?”
Idril swallowed hearing the name of her best friend. She still felt guilty about her feelings towards the King.
“Yes, she founded one when the first letter of the dead ones arrived. Three children became orphans that day. I guess it is more now…”
” I did not know about any orphanage. It never…” He shook his head and finished the goblet, “Why did you not tell me?”
Idril shrugged her shoulders.
“I did not know that you were not informed, my Lord.”
“Tell me what you know.”
“Well, it is not much, my Lord. Eleniel asked me to care for those children along with Legolas, but then she realized that my healing skills are in waste and so she asked Dariel. And Dariel accepted. She would do anything for Eleniel.”
“Who is Dariel?”
“She is elder elf from the old Greenwood. She used to be among the elves who led the forest together with Graven. And she is also a sister of Eleniel`s mother, she helped him to raise Eleniel.”
“Eleniel never spoke of her…Never mentioned her..” Thranduil frowned, “nor Graven..”
“Dariel and Graven had a huge fight when Eleniel was just an elfling and since then she never appeared in their village again. When the Capital was founded, she used to live there so when you banished me from Halls and I had to move there, Eleniel and her met again for the first time in ages. It was not like they would fall into each other embrace but…it was obvious they are fond of one another.”
“Eleniel told you all this?”
“Yes, she did, once. And she did not want to talk about it ever again. I think there is more into it. But I never pressed her.”
Thranduil felt sad that Eleniel didn`t share these things with him as well. And they used to talk a lot. But he had to admit that Eleniel always spoke about nice memories and happy thoughts. She never spoke about any sad or disappointing thing from her past.
Idril watched his face turning into a disappointment. He looked so lost right now that she had to fight the urge to cuddle him. She scolded herself inside her and rather didn`t move at all.
“Legolas became a very good friend with one of the orphans.” She broke the silence. Thranduil looked at her again and smiled weakly.
Idril nodded and smiled.
“Lot of children fear to play with him. Belerion didn`t.”
“Because he is the prince.”
“Indeed, my Lord. It is natural.”
Thranduil just nodded slowly, deep in thoughts. Idril was watching him the whole time, not sure whether she should leave now and let him think or not. They have never been alone for so long like just now. Legolas was always with them if not someone else. And just when she wanted to ask for permission to leave, he looked at her. His blue eyes were a shade darker now, softer. Her breath almost stopped.
“Idril…” He sighed. The way he said her name made her shiver, “I also wanted to ask about your father again.”
It took her aback. The warm feeling was suddenly gone. She froze in the movement.
“Yes, Lord Helir. If you do not mind of course.”
“Whatever you wish, my King.”
“You said once, when you were questioned, that the relationship with your father was rather cold…?”
“Indeed, my King. We were closer when I was only an elfling and when my mother sailed to Valinor, but then when I came to an age for suitors…it drove us apart. Also, I wanted to become a healer, to study in Locien, just like my mother, but he did not agree with it.”
“But you became a healer anyway.”
“Yes, thanks to your queen mother, my King.”
Thranduil smiled a little with one corner of his thin lips.
“She used to be very persuasive.”
Idril smiled as well.
“What do you think of his state he was brought back in?”
Idril inhaled deeply, remembering the ugly creature who was no longer resembling an elf. The creature who used to be her father once. The one creature who told her so horrible things back in the prison. She also remembered the trial where the King, who just sitting opposite her, whom she adored now, almost sent her for death. Thanks to Eleniel she was alive and still in the Halls. Idril dropped her gaze to the floor. Ashamed and shaken.
“I am sorry, I should not ask you about it again…” Thranduil waved his hand, now without the rings. But nothing in his voice showed he would be angry with her reluctance.
“I just…” Idril shook her head. Thranduil looked straight into her eyes with a sympathy.
“I know, bad memories.”
He caught the wrist of the arm where she held the wine. Her heart skipped a beat. The warmth of his hand was unexpected. He filled her goblet again and let her go.
“Drink. It helps.” He leaned back to the armchair, still staring at her with no guess what he was doing to her. Or perhaps he knew and used it to get what he needed. She did not know.
Idril took a huge sip from the goblet, almost emptying it. It wasn`t lady-like but her nerves were a mess. The amount of the wine was taking its toll on her. She wasn`t use to drink.
“He told me…Once in the prison where you sent me to speak with him…He told me…” Idril sniffled, revealing the memory. Those crazy eyes behind the bars, “that I will not save you.”
She nodded, not meeting his eyes. Maybe her crazy father was right, maybe not. But Thranduil was keeping her closer and closer to him. He invited her to his privacy and trusted her with his only son. Perhaps she could save him after all. Perhaps she could heal his broken heart.
The King rose from the armchair to her disappointment and walked towards the closed balcony. Staring out on the horizon, he emptied the goblet.
“What else he said?”
“That there is no Lord. He was still repeating it again and again. I wonder what happened to him. What made him crazy…”
Thranduil turned to her again, his face was serious.
“I believe something…or someone possessed him…”
“Like…like some kind of a dark power? Or a witchcraft?”
“Yes, something very powerful. Do you think it is possible? Is it possible to drain someone`s soul and brain so much that you can control him?”
“Well, the soul is a very delicate thing, my Lord. Those who are weak are easier to break. But I am not sure what or who could be so strong to control someone completely against his will and for so long.”
“Can you please…try to find out if there was…any case of it in the past?”
Idril smiled despite the situation. It flattered her that he asked for help.
“Of course, I will. Whatever you wish, my King.”
“Thank you, Idril. I believe you are tired already. You may retire. Good night.” He tilted his head slightly and she bowed with a new smile on her pink lips.
“Good night and sleep well, my Lord.”
Lord Hoerin closed the book with quite a loud sound and tossed the quill away. The stains of the ink on the table made him even angrier. He rubbed his chin and left the office.
The corridor was full of elves and royal guards but he knew where to find the Sindar nobles at this hour. Many of them were gathering in the Main Hall on the other side of the pool with the fountain than the giggling elleths, discussing politics, matters of the kingdom or gossips just like the giggling elleths. When he spotted another two Lords standing there he quickened his pace.
“Lord Hoerin, why the rush?” One of the Sindar Lords greeted him with a respectful nod.
“Lord Gablin, Lord Arnon, beautiful day isn`t it?” Lord Hoerin asked with a fake smile and adjusted his coat.
“Indeed, it is. But it seems that you do not have such a day like others do.”
“How can I, when this kingdom is going down day by day? It is like a ship with a hole and our King is enjoying when he makes it bigger!”
“Shhh, Lord Hoerin, I would not speak of King so loudly. These caves have more ears than you would wish!” Lord Arnon warned him and they stepped closer to each other so they could whisper.
“My patience is gone, gentlemen. I have enough if this. I AM the coin administrator and the King never listens to me!” Lord Hoerin fussed, “And it is worse year by year. He is driving us to the downfall! The only reason he still on the throne after the war is because we are too scared to do something about him. Too scared about our heads!”
“Well, he is able to execute twelve Advisors in the blink of an eye…How can you be surprised that everybody fears him.” Lord Gablin shrugged his shoulders and looked around if anyone was listening.
“He executed 12 high born elves who had more wisdom than him. It can happen to us anytime.” Lord Arnon agreed.
“What would you like to do about it, anyway, Lord Hoerin? “
“He is the last living royal blood. You cannot replace him.”
“Well, he is not the last one anymore, is he?” Lord Hoerin raised his eyebrows, “I think I have an idea.”
Dear Thranduil, my King,
My thoughts are still with you. Please, do not feel offended from what I said in your beautiful gardens. Take it as a warning. I fear for you, my dear friend.
It is lot easier when you are so far away from it, it is lot easier when you did not dip your fingers in it yet. But it is hard when it swallows you and you are too weak to fight it alone.
Also, what I said the other night, in your chambers, I was honest with you. And my request for you alliance is still on the table. I mean it, Thranduil, please.
I will keep him as far as I can from you, but please, do not be blind. Do not leave me in this.
Thranduil sighed and tossed the scroll on the table. His eyes fixed on the trees. The forest was in its greenest and finest state for the last couple of years since the battle. He closed his eyes and inhale deeply. The whispers filled his mind, the wild river ran through his veins and his nose caught the fresh smell of the mushrooms and a resin. He didn`t need to be in the forest to feel it like this, so powerfully close and within him. It calmed him down. The forest was safe for now. The trees were humming a soft melody together with the birds.
He opened the eyes again, the green in the orbs was quickly disappearing. He turned to the scroll again.
He knew that Lilithiel won`t be silent. But he hoped that she will show him her colours better.
How could he know where he stands? Where SHE stands?
Is she with the darkness or not? Is her plea for help honest?
Could she helped them to bring a new Dark Lord down?
Thranduil sighed again. He emptied the goblet of wine mixed with water and took another scroll with his own seal and left the study. Graven joined him on the corridor.
“Graven,” Thranduil greeted him.
“I think you owe me some explanation about the lady who runs the orphanage.” The King said mockingly. His father-in-law gave him an annoyed look.
“I thought that you punished me with demanding to be there with you the whole forenoon.”
“I can`t wait to hear it.” Thranduil smiled and nodded to the guard to open to the door to the Main Hall where Dariel and a group of elflings were waiting.