Chapter twelve: Lassiel
"Move! Legolas, Faunion, up! Dorainen, Angion, Lainion, with me."
The two elves scampered up the tree whilst their companions drew their swords and waited. It was not a long wait, and soon enough, the first cave orcs Legolas had ever seen, came crashing forwards, their massive black scimitars drawn as they crashed down upon the elves with a mighty howl.
Faunion had already fired an arrow, its twang alerting Legolas to the fact that he had sat there paralysed for too long. Drawing he shot once, twice, three times, each one killing one of the mighty beasts with an arrow through the eye.
They were beneath the tree now and Legolas knew he could not make that shot, and so he began to target other, larger areas of the beasts that bore down on the elves with a strength he could never have imagined.
His arrows were now hitting shoulders and thighs, occasionally the neck, but all of them incapacitated, enough to allow his companions the upper hand. However, the beasts kept coming, their number greater than they had originally estimated and the moment Legolas had awaited with trepidation finally came.
This was it, and with a glance at his fellow archer, they both nodded, shouldered their bows and jumped to the forest floor, their swords already drawn.
Legolas first faced a one-eyed orc with a hideous slit down the centre of its head. It smiled, showing its yellow fangs and black tongue. Legolas screwed his face up in disgust for its breath smelt of all things putrid, and as its slithery tongue came out to lick it's cracked lips, it was all Legolas could do to stop the rising bile at the back of his throat.
With a dodge to the right, he brought his sword round and found the liver, lunging into it as he had been taught. The orc squealed like a pig, before pitching forward, dead.
Swivelling on his heels he faced his next opponent, an orc that was so tall it looked down on him with a vicious smile, its gloved hand shooting out to grab at his throat. Not fast enough though, for Legolas had drawn a long dagger in his left hand and sliced at the black limb, severing it, following it with his eyes as it flew to one side, and then almost panicked when the orc made no noise, as if the loss of its hand meant nothing at all - and it did not. He needed to distance himself from it and the only way was to flip backwards. When he landed, he took advantage of the surprised beast and sliced through its forearm, the limb falling to the ground with a thud.
Legolas whipped his head back to the orc and still, it bore down on him and the novice's eyes bulged in disbelief.
Bringing his sword up to protect himself from the black scimitar, his arms shuddered painfully under the sheer power behind the blow - he had to gain more distance. Swivelling on his heels, he side twisted, and then turned once more, his sword gaining impetus until he cut across the beast's neck, watching in morbid fascination as the sharp edge opened skin and muscle, and then grated over the bone at the back. Its hideous head tipped backwards and then toppled to the floor, closely followed by the frozen body, crashing to the ground in a cloud of dirt.
A cheer went up and Legolas startled, only to find his kill had been the last, and the seasoned warriors had been watching him.
He felt his face flush as he went to clean the muck from his sword, aware that his companions moved towards him and when he turned to face them, unsure of what they would say, Angion held up his right hand, the head of the dead orc firmly secured in his fist by its ropy hair.
Legolas stared at it for a moment in abject horror, the thick, dark blood dripping from it, its face forever frozen in twisted agony. It all came back to him, the squishing of flesh and blood, the grating sound of steel over bone. It was too much and he dropped to his hands and knees and emptied his stomach pitifully.
The warriors roared in laughter, slapping their thighs and each other's shoulders, not stopping even when Lainion made his way through with a bladder of water, a rye smile on his face.
"Here," he said in exasperation, slapping the novice on his back. "Drink!" he said, before adding, "You did well, Silvan - you did very well." With that, the lieutenant turned towards the men and smiled mischievously. Both Lainion and Angion had earned a few coins…
"So this - Lassiel - he met her before he met our mother?"
"Oh yes, many years before. It was a public affair, looked upon with indifference for the most part, for she was not of noble blood and that was of no concern to anyone, so long as they did not marry. Our society, back then when your father was still a prince, was much more rigid than it is today. Their relationship was seen as an informal dalliance the prince afforded himself and Oropher made sure that was the way it remained, in spite of the truth."
"That they loved each other, but could not marry…" anticipated Handir.
"Yes - yet even if Oropher had bent the rules, something he was often wont to do he could not. His own hands were tied for the Sindarin nobles would never have condoned it. Had there been a clear Silvan leader at the time, had their been political equality it may even have been a convenient marriage, to bring together our multi-cultural society and I even tried that tack with Oropher. To no avail though, for the Silvans had no say in matters of state, and the puritans would have their way or veto the heir to the throne. This, Oropher would not accept and so he acceded to disallowing their marriage."
"Even then, the rift had begun then?" asked Handir sadly.
"Oh yes, even then. Now, Thranduil was devastated at the news, and Lassiel - Lassiel was heart-broken. They had both known it was a lost cause from the start, but they had clung to hope as lovers often do. The certainty of their doom was a cruel blow that Lassiel could not deal with…"
"What do you mean?" asked Handir in mounting trepidation.
"She - began to fade, Handir. The knowledge that she could never belong to the only elf she had, would, ever love was tearing at her immortal soul. She became delicate, her health often failing and Thranduil was beside himself with worry. You see, although it had been forbidden for him to marry, he had vowed to take care of Lassiel for all the days of his life, even if his father forced him to marry another, which we all knew he would, indeed within the week, your mother had been presented as the queen to be. "
"And they were married?"
"Yes, they were married, but Thranduil could not hide the truth from your mother."
"And she sailed?"
"What? NO! No. She was not naive, Handir. She knew their marriage was one of convenience, she knew Thranduil held no love for her… I am sorry," added Aradan as he saw the hurt on his young apprentice's face.
"The question is that they continued to see each other, secretly, for many, many years. You were born and Thranduil came to respect your mother very much, but you see," he said, leaning forward now as his hand went to his chin. "She did not only respect him, but came to love him. She loved him so much she bore his children and became the perfect queen. She bore his infidelity with quiet dignity; all she asked was that he be discreet and not humiliate her."
Aradan took a steadying breath, staring at Handir to judge his mood before moving to the final part of the tale.
"Elbereth," whispered Handir as he rubbed at his face. "They were found out then?"
"No. Thranduil was nothing if not cautious, for by then his father was long gone and he was king. Besides, his respect for his wife would not allow him to compromise her in that way. No, it was Lassiel. She was slipping, slipping into grief so far it frightened her. With each day they saw each other, deep in the forest, she was paler, weaker, frailer of health and spirit, she was dwindling and they both knew it.
Thranduil, with a heavy heart, bid her sail. He pleaded day in day out for her to save herself but she could not leave him, even if she was doomed to meet with him on these, secret, somewhat sordid circumstances. What to do? Asked Thranduil - for months he debated, indeed I was there, every bit a part of his suffering.
"Yes - the child. That was to be the solution. They would create a child so that a part of Thranduil would always be with her, get her safely to Aman, a safe passage if you will, her last life line. And so, soon enough, the news came that she was with child. She would begin her journey to the undying lands and give birth to the child there…"
"They conceived a child for the wrong reasons…" muttered Handir.
"No, Handir - you underestimate the terrible loss of love - to love that one, soul mate and confront the finality of their death is a terrible thing, and conceiving a child to avoid it seems - an acceptable way of avoiding tragedy. You must look at this in perspective."
"And you thought that is what happened? That she would be waiting for him on the white shores with her child, their child?"
"Yes, that is what I thought, Handir. I believed them both across the sea, as does Thranduil. That his son is here, tells me that she never crossed and so she is either alive, and no longer fading, or she succumbed before she could sail…"
Handir sat, allowing Aradan's last words to sink in. And then a question popped into his mind.
"Aradan - how did mother find out? I mean that is what must have happened, she found out a child had been created."
"Yes, she found out, although we never knew how that came to be. All we could conclude at the time was that someone must have told her…"
"But who would benefit from such a thing? The purists would simply let it be, for a Sindarin king and queen sat on the throne, it would not be in their interest, surely?"
"Apparently not, but who is to say there were not - personal - interests? That someone from that faction wished to take the throne for themselves?"
Handir started, before he blurted, "Bandorion? nay he would not be so bold!" exclaimed Handir.
"Bandorion would not force the issue, no, but if he saw an opportunity to allow things to simply - spiral - he may well have taken it. Unfortunately, we have no way of discerning the truth Handir, only that someone else knew, and saw fit to tell the queen."
"So you know nothing of this boy, then," asked Handir rhetorically.
"Nothing. What …. what is he like, Handir?" asked Aradan carefully.
"He is … difficult to describe, Aradan, but I will tell you this much. He is quite simply - beautiful. I do not know what his mother looked like, but she must have been stunning. His eyes…"
"Are the color of summer moss?" said Aradan gently.
Handir stared at Aradan, before nodding. "Yes, just that, Aradan.
Minutes passed in silence, before Aradan spoke once more.
"I am glad you told me, Handir. And I can see why Lainion came to you with this. The situation is potentially volatile at the least," said the councillor, back to business now.
"I know, Aradan. Lainion was aware of all this, I assume?"
"Oh yes. He was your guardian, of course. He ran many errands for Thranduil. He knew Lassiel well."
"What worries me the most, Aradan, is that this boy is, in Lainion's words, the best novice warrior he has ever seen. That and his extraordinary looks will draw attention to him. All it will take is a veteran to see his face and declare him Oropher reborn. So far, he has lived in his village, deep in the heart of the Greenwood but now, in the king's militia… it is surely only a question of time before someone asks the wrong questions…"
"Yes, and there is no telling how the king will react, first to the question of whether Lassiel lives or not, and secondly, what he will do with the boy. And then there is Rinion…"
"Rinion would see him as a threat. Another brother, a bastard, Silvan brother. I cannot see him accepting that at all. Maeneth, however, would probably be overjoyed!" he snorted, his lovely sister's face floating in his mind's eye, wondering how much longer she would stay in Lorien.
"There is one more thing," said Handir, deep in thought. "The boy has a nick name, they call him The Silvan, the one Rinion mentioned at lunch. My brother has taken it upon himself to seek the boy out when they ride in - we cannot allow it, Aradan."
"Nay. You must write to Lainion and warn him. What did Lainion suggest, by the way?"
"He wanted me to keep him informed of any talk, of any suspicions that may arise. He knows he will have to tell the boy soon enough but he needs to know that he will not be jeopardising his charge, or indeed the king, by doing so. I sense in him a desire to protect the boy, Aradan. Almost as if he were a younger brother."
"It does not surprise me, Handir. He became good friends with Lassiel."
"Aye, well. What now? This is so, convoluted, Aradan, the ramifications are… endless."
"Yes, and we must not take rash decisions. We must sit for a while and digest what we have learned, observe those around us and above all, we must listen - listen to every bit of news that comes from the field. The slightest indication that rumour is starting, is when the king must be told, before he hears it from someone else and thus, the boy must also be told, and when that happens, I suggest he not be here, that he be assigned somewhere abroad, so that he not be caught in the storm that will surely be unleashed."
"That makes sense, yes. You know," said Handir, his face deep in thought as he spoke. "I could always ask my father once more about the possibility of traveling to Imladris as part of my apprenticeship - with Lord Erestor."
Aradan smiled, nodding slowly as he did so. "That would be interesting, yes. You would need a patrol to accompany you…"
"Yes… it is perfect. I prepare the king and then precipitate my journey when the need to act becomes paramount."
"Alright," said Aradan as he stood. "We wait and we listen, you meanwhile, will speak to the king and remind him of your desire to travel, I will put in a word for you. When the time comes, your journey must be made - only then will I tell the king and you, you will tell the boy he has a family…"