Author's note: sorry for the long wait. To make up, here is a bonus chapter, a little longer too. Thanks to my guest reviewers: Rita Orca - you always make my day! Ninde - me alegro un montón que sigas leyendo y comentando, me encanta recibir tus comentarios :)
Chapter twenty-nine: Visions of Past and Present
Stop, concentrate - on the road ahead and not on what you saw in the forest. Don't - don't even think on it, for it will lead you astray; I cannot risk that, he will not last.
Foul weather, I can hardly see for the incessant rain and the frigid wind that slows my pace and stings my eyes but I cannot close them, I cannot allow that, for he will not make it should I err on the path.
Cold, so cold, even for early winter; do you purposefully hinder me? Do you test my endurance? and his? What have we done to deserve such punishment?
Where did it come from? that tree with the upturned roots? I have not seen it before and I know this land well, too well. If a storm had twisted it out of the Earth, I would have known, father would have known. No - I cannot fathom its existence, its shape and its …. no - stop; do not even think on it, for it will lead me astray… it is not yet time.
Dusk had settled upon the house, and inside, the occupants of the healing wing sat and talked quietly, while others lounged in their beds, or picked at their evening meal.
Candle light blazed strong and still, shadows were cast upon the carvings and wooden panels that decorated the walls of this, Noldorin safe haven. It was beautiful, but Idhrenohtar could not concentrate on that now - he was too worried, too focussed on the slightest of disturbances that may come from outside, a sign that someone approached, that Legolas had been found, for two days had now passed and the weather had done nothing but deteriorate.
Together with the Wise Warrior, sat Lindohtar, somewhat awkwardly, and Ram en Ondo, his head still bandaged; in soft chairs to each side of the bed, Galdithion sprawled miserably as he pushed the remains of his food about his plate, and Dimaethor watched him, his foot moving rhythmically.
"I have asked Galdithion if he would join The Company," he said, almost as if he spoke to himself, for his eyes fell on nobody's.
"And what did he answer?" asked Ram en Ondo softly, as if Galdithion were not there at all.
"He asked what it was - what The Company is…"
"Ah, said Lindohtar somewhat theatrically. Now there, is a story…" he said with a soft smile. "I am not the most veteran of those, brave warriors," he said as his smile widened, "Ram en Ondo or Idhrenohtar, together with Legolas, founded that venerable institution, one I am proud to belong to!" he said mischievously, and Galdithion watched him with a bemused smile of his own. His eyes slipped to the Wise Warrior then, and so the story began.
He spoke of childhood in the deep villages of The Greenwood. He spoke of a friendship that would not be broken, a pledge to protect and to respect, a shared destiny of service and obedience. He told of anecdotes that made them laugh, hardship that was shared, burdens that were lessened by the simple presence of another - he spoke of brotherhood beyond the bounds of blood and by the time he had finished and the night was dark, Galdithion sat staring at the four wounded warriors with newfound respect, and with a profound desire to be a part of what they had. Ever had he served the King well, but never - had he received a kind word of acknowledgement for his service. To belong to The Company would change that, it would fuel his calling, push him to new limits, motivate him to do the best job that he was able to do.
Turning his head to Dimaethor, he spoke for the first time since Idhrenohtar had weaved his tale.
"Why would you want me? I have done nothing to merit it, you do not know me at all…"
Dimaethor sat forward in his chair, his strange, slanted Avarin eyes sparkling with confidence and surety.
"You brought our warriors back, through physical and mental hardship. You did not waver, yet more than this you spoke well in council today - I can see there is a natural loyalty in you, I can see in you, what I see in the others. It is not only for your merits, it is your heart, Galdithion. You see in Legolas what we do - you see a leader, you see hope for your people and for yourself …"
Galdithion's blue eyes sparkled, alight with purpose and shared understanding.
"Yes…" he said somewhat numbly. "I cannot explain it, I have no idea why I should feel the way I do about a warrior so young and inexperienced and yet… "
"We know, Galdithion," said Lindohtar kindly. "And now that we know of his heritage, does it not make perfect sense?" he smiled as he waited for the elf to answer him.
"Yes - yes it does," he replied. "I would be honoured to join you then, if you are all in agreement?" he asked tentatively.
Five smiles preceded five nods, and with that, The Company became six.
"Now, do I get one of those fancy warrior names?" he asked with a giggle.
"You do, and as soon as we can find one appropriate for you - Galdithion is a mouthful - what was your mother thinking, boy!" said Ram en Ondo playfully. With that, the mood lightened and they turned to lighter topics, but their ears were still trained on the door and their hearts were not fully on the ensuing banter.
From a nearby bed, a Sindarin Lieutenant listened, as he had been doing for the past hour. He was not eavesdropping, for they were all in the same room and had they not wished him to hear they would have spoken more softly. Nay - they did not mind and Galadan was glad of it. The Company, he mused. The tale had entranced him and he smiled. Perhaps he would retell it later to his companions, the story of The Silvan and his closest friends. It had not surprised him, what Idhrenohtar had said at the end, about seeing something in the boy. He too, had seen it, and before he had been able to check himself, the words had tumbled out of his mouth - who would have said - could have guessed, that Thranduil had conceived a child of the forest…. a half-silvan child… the question was, was he at liberty to discuss this?
Of that he was not sure, but what he did know, is that to Silor, he would say not a word.
Lightning blinded him and he opened his eyes wide, the grey irises illuminating for a moment. A loud rumble of thunder came just moments later, loud and ominous and the body before him lunged to one side. Tightening his arms around the elf, he winced as his own body protested the non-stop riding, the awkward posture he had been forced to adopt.
Rain broke on his face and mud splattered his sides, his arms, his hands - it was everywhere, slowing them down, as if mocking their suffering.
A few more minutes, just a few more minutes, he mumbled to himself, leaning over the insensate figure before him in one last spurt of speed, and then the dull thud of hooves over sodden earth turned to a loud clatter and Elladan closed his eyes in utter relief.
"Rider! incoming rider!" The voice was strong, echoing around the courtyard and the main house in spite of the torrential rain and thunder. Soon, windows were alight with the blaze of candles, condensation forming over the crystal panels as elves flocked to see what was happening below.
The main door opened with a loud bang, and Elrond ran out, together with Glorfiindel and Nestaren, unperturbed by the sheets of stinging rain that soaked their robes and plastered their hair to their heads.
The exhausted horse stopped before the steps, harsh gusts of laboured breath sending streams of blue mist into the night, flanks heaving with the effort. It took Elladan a moment to move and when he did, he was slow and careful, his voice somewhat slurred as he too, struggled for breath.
"Take him - take - take him, Nestaren - he needs, needs…"
"Breath, child, Elladan! - catch your breath," shouted Elrond over the roar of thunder as he approached together with the head healer, holding their arms out to catch the limp figure that slumped over the horse's neck.
Slowly, they took hold of the body and carefully slid it from the animal and to the floor. Elrond kneeled over the elf and placed his hand over his neck, moving it twice, three times until he stopped and his head moved to the side.
"Inside, now. Nestaren - the intensive section - alert your healers…"
"My Lord!" said the healer with a nod as he moved back into the house with surprising speed. Glorfindel took his place and helped Elrond carry the body. It was surprisingly heavy and they struggled for a moment, before moving into the house, Elladan following watchfully.
"What happened?" shouted Glorfindel, not only because he needed the information, but also to keep Elladan focussed. He was exhausted, and possibly injured.
"He was so close - and yet I could not find him…. not until I found the tree…"
"What tree?" asked Glorfindel.
Elladan simply met his eyes for a moment, before looking away.
Glorfindel's eyes lingered for a while longer on Elrond's eldest. There was something in his eyes - something he had rarely seen in him. There was shock, and fear, and confusion. Whatever had happened out there had rattled him, and the general stored the information for later. Elladan was a skilled healer and could also be a skilled warrior, if only he could decide which was his true calling.
Lord Elrond tumbled into the healing wing together with Glorfindel, both soaking wet, trembling with the effort of carrying the dead weight between them but they did not stop and so, the other occupants of the ward simply watched as they moved to the end of the long room and lifted the body onto a bare stone slab.
They could not see for the healers and knew it would be futile to approach them now and so, they sat and they waited together, their own hurts temporarily forgotten as they listened and they prayed to the Valar and Kementari, that he would not die. Even the Sindarin warriors further down the room watched in silence.
The soaked, mud splattered cloak was removed but nothing had been revealed, for a mass of hair, the colour of which Glorfindel could not guess, was plastered to the face, neck and the clothes below. Elrond gently moved a hand over the face, pushing away the matted tangle to reveal a mighty bruise at the temple than ran almost down the entire side of the elf's face.
Lifting an eyelid, Elrond startled for a moment as a bright green iris shone from below the skin. Glorfindel looked to him for a moment in askance, but Elrond simply shook his head as he continued his preliminary study, feeling Nestaren now at his side.
Cutting away the outer, leather jerkin and then into the fabric blow, it was not long before the elf's torso was completely exposed and Glorfindel shut his eyes in sympathy. This elf had bruises and cuts both old and new, but it was the evidence of wargs that seemed to have done most of the damage.
Deep claw marks had raked over his chest, down his side and as they turned him on his side, his back too, was deeply scored.
"These are infected and need flushing," said Elrond bluntly, no emotion at all in his voice. "These need stitching - this," he added as he held up a limp hand, "this needs attention," he said, a slight waver in Elrond's voice that drew Glorfindel's attention, for the nails of the elf's right hand had been torn away and he winced at the pain that must have caused. It was then, that a flash of metal caught his attention and his eyes travelled up to the strong bicep, for there, sat a bracelet Glorfiindel recognised; it was a symbol of mastery and as he looked closer, he spotted the arrows in the centre of the design - a master archer - he mused, before a healer reached up and removed it, placing it on the table beside the bed.
As Elrond and Nestaren continued to search for wounds, another healer was gathering the tangled mass of hair away from their patient's face, and as the features became clearer, in spite of the mud and blood and the bruises, Glorfindel gasped, and then staggered backwards, holding his arms out to the sides. All eyes turned to him for a moment, before turning back to the patient, but Glorfindel did not stop until he felt the cool stone of a wall behind him and he leaned his head against it for a moment, closing his eyes and then opening them once more, blue eyes that were now swimming in unshed tears.
"Brother mine - dear Gods -"
And there he remained, watching numbly as Elrond and Nestaren worked through the night, cleansing and stitching, washing and dressing, until finally, they lifted the now clean body from the stone table, and took him into the next room, under the watery gaze of The Company.
"Lord Elrond…" came the soft call of Idhrenohtar as they passed.
"Peace, child. He will be well - I will see to it."
Elladan, now in comfortable, dry clothes, placed a heavy hand on Glorfindel's shoulder, a question in his tired eyes.
"Oropher," mumbled the great lord, "he is the mirror image of Oropher…"
Elladan's brow furrowed deeply, his eyes boring into Glorfindel's unfocussed gaze. "What do you mean…" he asked softly.
"Much has happened in the time you were away…"
Elladan simply cocked his head to one side in puzzlement.
"The Silvan - Legolas," he gestured with his head, "is a child of Thranduil…"
He could not sleep deeply, and so he dozed as his overworked mind wandered. How had his life suddenly taken such a strange turn, in but two days? Where had they come from? the host of at least fifty orcs, according to Glorfindel's reckoning. They had not been chartered, for if they had, this ambush would never have taken place - his father's warriors would have seen to them before their guests arrived - he himself, would have ridden with them.
The strangeness of the Silvan people, the silence of the Sindar and the exotic Avarin guard whom he had seen hovering around the bed; and then the incredible claim that this, Legolas, was a child of Thranduil - not a prince - a hidden child…
He breathed deeply to still his increasing heart beat - he needed to sleep for his body was exhausted, the chill still set inside his bones, in spite of the roaring fire that had been lit in his suite of rooms.
Turning onto his other side, he saw the tree once more. It was gnarled and twisted and uprooted as if by something unnatural - this is where he had found Legolas, nestled deep within a cocoon of roots and soil and leaves… how - how had he hidden himself so that it had taken Elladan all but two days to find him? How had he tucked himself inside, with the wounds he sported? He could not fathom it, it was beyond his ken and an uncomfortable, hollow feeling settled in his gut.
He breathed deeply once more, turning again so that he faced the fire, relishing for a moment, the heat upon his face and the outline of his brother slouched upon the couch. It was times like these that the quiet strength of Elrohir was a balm to his soul, a soul that tonight, was astir with questions to which he was unsure he desired an answer…
The sky was white but the diamonds had gone, and in their place were dark blotches he could not identify. The more he tried to bring them into focus, the more his head hurt, and so he closed his eyes, realising they were already closed.
With a deep breath, he cracked his eyes open, cringing at the brilliant sun upon his face. He closed them again with a soft groan. He wanted to turn over, for his body felt leaden and numb, but he had no strength for it.
"Lie still," came the short order and Legolas was compelled to obey, resisting the overwhelming temptation to fidget.
"Open your eyes…"
He had already tried that - it was too bright but the voice insisted, and so he gingerly opened them once more, just a little. Thankfully, the brilliant light had dimmed and the dark blotch before him began to take form - a lord, a Noldorin lord, old and imposing. The page of a book came to his mind's eye, and before he could think, he spoke.
"Lord Elrond Peredhel…"
Soft laughter from somewhere behind had Legolas wondering what was so funny - it was him, he was sure of it. He had seen the drawings in books. He scowled…
A soft hand rested on his forehead, warm and kind and again, his tongue stepped before his brain.
"Yavanna…" a whisper, a plea, almost.
The hand stopped for a moment, hovering now over the heated skin, only to disappear - no laughter now, just silence save for the clink of glass and the trickle of water being poured into a container.
Something hard pressed against his lips and he drank, slowly, for his throat burned painfully.
A long sigh escaped him and he ventured to open his eyes once more, wider this time, the world taking shape slowly and fuzzily at first, only to sharpen upon the face of the one he had called Elrond.
"Welcome to my home, Legolas," said the elf, his eyes so close he could see the silver specks within the grey irises, a vortex of wisdom and experience behind them, lending them a weight, a light Legolas had never seen before. He was entranced, but then a wave of anxiety hit him.
"What of.. what of the … the warriors…" he managed to articulate.
"They are safe."
Safe, they were safe…they made it back…. a soft smile light up his bruised and battered face and he winced as the cuts pulled painfully.
"You have been asleep for two days; you must be hungry…" said the lord lightly.
Legolas' half-lidded eyes fell on the lord and he smiled, "you have no idea, my Lord.." and he finished with a soft giggle, for what an understatement that had been. He was starved half out of his mind!
The lord stopped once more, as if he had been startled, only to continue with his treatment, but Legolas did not see this, he could not move without some wound pulling uncomfortably and so he continued to lay back upon the soft pillows and allowed his eyes to close.
"Do not sleep just yet, Legolas. Food is here…"
His eyes snapped open and Elrond smiled as he watched the young warrior, before turning and nodding at the healer behind him. As he left the room, he came face to face with five patients, most of which should not have been out of bed. They stared at him, their eyes rebellious - he recognised that look for it was the one he had received from his sons when they had been younger.
"Not yet. Let him eat and rest once more. Then, I promise, you may see him - but not yet…"
The one in the centre, a dark-haired elf, scowled deeply but nodded all the same. "We will wait then, my Lord."
"Not here you will not. Back to your beds, all of you. After lunch we shall see if you may leave these halls…"
With a reluctant nod, the small band disbursed and Elrond glanced back at the now closed door. He was intrigued, enthralled by the young warrior that was not at all what he had expected, for Elrond had giggled, for the first time in centuries…
He sat heavily in his favourite chair and poured himself a glass of wine from the glass decanter that sparkled enticingly upon a nearby table, casting a furtive glance at his quiet son, who sat pensively to his left. Elrond was tempted to draw him out, but before he could formulate a strategy, Erestor, Elrohir and Glorfindel walked in, their keen eyes upon them both.
"Well?" was all Erestor said, before sitting and helping himself to the wine, and then passing it on.
"He is awake - and eating," said Elrond with a smile as he sipped on his goblet.
"And?" asked Glorfindel in irritation.
"He will be up and about in a few days no doubt. The boy is strong."
"Does he look like Thranduil?" asked Erestor inquisitively.
"No," said Glorfindel before Elrond could answer. "Only in that he is the very image of Oropher - Erestor, when you see him - it is quite simply, uncanny."
Erestor held his gaze for long moments, aware of the relationship Glorfindel had shared with the fallen monarch. This would bring back memories, of days gone by.
"It is true," said Elrond introspectively. "It is striking - I find it hard to believe this boy has passed by unnoticed for so long."
"Lainion did say he had been sheltered by Amareth," remembered Erestor as he drank.
"Even so," said Glorfindel. Those of his village - they would surely know. You have but to open a book and see a portrait of Oropher. There is more to this story than Lainion has said, either he hides something, or he does not know."
"You think the villagers were silent collaborators?" asked Elrond.
"I think it is a possibility," replied Glorfindel carefully.
Breaking the contemplative silence, Erestor leant forward. "I am seeing Prince Handir today. We will plan his studies for the next few months. I think perhaps it will do him good, to get into some sort of routine. We must not forget how trying this time will have been for him - it is easy to forget that he, too, is a victim in this."
"Keep me informed, my friend. For now," said Elrond, "we wait for the boy to recuperate, and we hold council once more. Until then, we watch and learn. There is something about that child I do not understand."
"What do you mean?" asked Glorfindel, his brow creasing.
"I cannot say," said the Master Healer softly. "I do not know - not yet," he finished as he took a gulp of wine.
Glorfindel and Erestor shared a worried glance before turning back to Elrond, but nothing more would he say.
Elladan, however, spoke up for the first time that afternoon, and when he did, although softly spoken, none could doubt the emotion behind them, the conviction of their meaning.
"There is magic about him. A deep, arcane thing that comes from the forest …"
There was a tense silence in the healing wing, and Ram en Ondo was nearing the end of his admittedly short tether.
"What is taking so long! We just want to see him, what are they not telling us!" he roared, drawing the attention of the healers.
"Warrior, you will calm yourself," came the stern voice of a healer who came to stand before the irate Wall of Stone, his head only just reaching the elf's sternum. He gulped silently.
"No - you calm me. Tell me at least if he will be alright! Is that too much to ask!" he roared again, before turning on his heel and stalking to the window with a slight limp and a shaking hand to his bandaged head.
The healer looked down and then at the massive back of Ram en Ondo. "Forgive me," was all he said before approaching the window and placing a calming hand on the muscled shoulder.
"He is well, or will be. Let him rest a little longer, then you may see him. He needs peace and quiet for today at least. Do not fret," said the soft-voiced healer in genuine empathy.
Ram en turned, seeing the other warriors behind the pale healer, watching him.
"I appologize, healer. It was not my intent to antagonise you."
"After the evening meal then?" he asked and the healer smiled, wide and genuine.
"After dinner," and with a curt nod, he turned and left, a regretful Ram en Ondo feeling petty and infantile.
"Sorry," he mumbled with a shrug before returning to his bed in silence.
The day was almost done, and Ram en Ondo held to the healers promise of finally being allowed to see Legolas, but when they reached the door, they were summarily sent back the way they had come.
"Prince Handir is not to be disturbed," said a Noldorin guard, his voice strong and clipped.
Ram en Ondo's face turned sour and before he could explode once more, Idhrenohtar stepped forward.
"We will wait," he said, his voice brooking no argument, indeed the guard simply nodded and stood to attention once more.
To pass the time, The Company sat and studied the guard's attire and weapons, as they knew Legolas would too, if he were here. They had struck up a heated debate on the virtues of metallic and leather armour, and what pieces would be cumbersome in a woodland environment. As for the guard, he stared straight ahead as protocol dictated, but when no one was looking his eyes would swivel to the young warriors, wishing they would shut their mouths …
The door opened, and Prince Handir appeared, with Dimaethor at his shoulder. The Silent Warrior smiled as he nodded at his brothers - all was well, he silently said, and of a sudden, the mood lifted, as did their shoulders. Yet before they could enter, Handir spoke.
"I am sorry to have kept you. I wished to thank our brave warrior for his service, he said calmly, before nodding and leaving with Lainion, who shared one last lingering look at Idhrenohtar.
"Our brave warrior," muttered Lindohtar tartly - "'brother' he means…"
"Give him time, Lindo," said Galdithion. Give him time…"
Entering slowly, their eyes travelled over their injured brother as they accommodated themselves around him, careful not to move his bed too much.
Tired green eyes followed them, an apology upon the beautiful face, still marred with fading bruises and cuts.
But the reprimand Legolas had been waiting for did not come. Idhrenohtar would have warned them not to, he was sure, and Legolas was so glad of it. He had needed this time to rest and to think, and although he had not been able to reassure himself fully, he had at least, found his peace. Even Handir had visited him, albeit his tone had been that of Prince to warrior. He had been kind though, and Legolas supposed that was all he could ask - all he should expect. You cannot come to love a brother simply because you have a brother…