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Interrupted Journeys: Part Two--Journeys Perforce

Chapter 2: Darkness crept slowly

by ellisk

AN: Finally have my electricity back so I will be back to posting every few days. Sorry about the delay.

Also, I read in one of the forums that some people don't like it when authors answer reviews using the review function, so out of courtesy, I will avoid doing that (I did it with the first part of this story). Instead I will use PM or I will answer reviews at the end of chapters if I think a review response might be interesting to everyone. I do love reviews though so I want to acknowledge them somehow. Thanks. Back to the story.



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Now of old the name of that forest was Greenwood the Great, and its wide halls and aisles were the haunt of many beasts and of birds of bright song; and there was the realm of King Thranduil under the oak and the beech. But after many years, when well nigh a third of that age of the world had passed, a darkness crept slowly through the wood from the southward, and fear walked there in shadowy glades; fell beasts came hunting, and cruel and evil creatures laid there their snares…. Silmarillion
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Aradunnon and twenty warriors moved slowly through the trees following two scouts. The cool spring air wafted through the branches and the birds sang cheerful tunes, calling for new mates and competing for territory. He could smell the fresh green scent that accompanied spring in the forest—new life.

It was a very deceptive outward appearance.

Despite the apparently pleasant environment, he could not shake an uneasy feeling. Looking at the warriors around him he could tell they were tense as well. Even Colloth, his battle-hardened guard, seemed anxious. His eyes darted as he searched the shadows cast by the trees on the ground. Aradunnon supposed it was natural to feel nervous. They were tracking orcs.

Five days ago they had departed from the southern-most village in Greenwood and worked their way slowly towards Amon Lanc in the southern tip of the forest, carefully scouting and investigating their trail as they went. Aradunnon was horrified when they found evidence of orcs less than three days from that village. As they progressed, they encountered steadily more signs of orcs—tracks, abandoned camps, slaughtered animal carcasses, discarded, broken tools and weaponry, even a dead orc partially picked over by scavengers in the forest. It appeared to have died at the hands of another orc. Today, they were less than a day’s march from the southern-most edge of the forest and they still had not found a living orc or a current orc camp. That was what Aradunnon wanted to find. Finally, after scouting a few hours this morning they discovered fresh prints. This gave Aradunnon hope that he would finally be able to locate the orcs. Thranduil would want numbers and locations.

As they progressed through the forest, Aradunnon frowned, drawing a deep breath. There was more to the way he felt than simply nerves caused by tracking orcs. Along with Thranduil, he captained Oropher’s troops for nearly three millennia. He had fought in Mordor. He was his brother’s troop commander, an experienced warrior and perfectly ready to face a battle with orcs. But he felt distinctly on edge simply sitting in this tree and watching the scouts.

Aradunnon recognized that the mournful songs that the trees sang inspired much of his apprehension. Despite the pleasant spring setting, they clearly lamented some loss. They were frightened. And that, Aradunnon could not explain. Even the presence of a few hundred orcs should not produce such a reaction amongst the trees.

These thoughts occupied his mind as Aradunnon became aware that more sunlight was streaming through the thinning branches—they had reached the edge of the forest. First the scouts and then the elven warriors in front of him stopped dead, mouths open slightly in obvious shock as they approached the tree line. Behind them, Aradunnon and Colloth glanced at one another and rushed forward. Suddenly the reason for the trees’ doleful song was all too apparent.

Nearly a mile back from where the dark, stony slopes of Amon Lanc rose sharply towards the sky, the trees of the forest had been cut and cleared. Many of the ones nearest the edge that were still standing were damaged, likely beyond their ability to survive. The grass that had tried to grow in the newly cleared land had been trampled into the mud by the feet of orcs. The area immediately surrounding Amon Lanc was a barren, muddy wasteland with the hill itself in its center. Amon Lanc had always appeared ominous to Aradunnon—a treeless, bare, black mass of rocks, it was the highest peak in the southern forest. Somehow, it now seemed to be shrouded in an almost unnatural gloom.

‘Undoubtedly, that is the affect of exposing even more black, stony earth,’ Aradunnon thought as he looked with utter disgust at the destruction around him.

He had been born when Oropher and his people lived near Amon Lanc. His childhood memories involved playing in the trees and grass that once stood where he now only saw devastation. Along with his fellow warriors, Aradunnon gaped at the desolate land. His breath came to him with surprising difficulty and a vaguely sick feeling settled in his gut.

“These orcs should be very glad it is I and not Thranduil here to see this,” Aradunnon said softly for Colloth’s ears only. “I will only kill them. Thranduil might have tried to think of something worse to do to them for this damage to his forest.”

The guard nodded solemnly. “Do not rejoice to quickly,” he replied dryly. “You are going to have to send a message back to him. Given the amount of damage, there are clearly more orcs here than our small party can manage. And you realize if they have done this much clearing that means they have been here for some time and expect to stay here.”

Aradunnon’s eyes narrowed with a hard, cold gleam. “I think they will have to alter their plans.”

“Indeed,” Colloth replied grimly.

As they spoke, Aradunnon signaled for his scouts and two warriors. They came to stand before him and he looked at their slightly paler than normal faces sympathetically. He completely understood how they were feeling.

“Given the tracks we have been following, I would not have guessed we were going to find more than twenty orcs.” He looked at the scouts. “I will be the first to admit my scouting skills are not the best but I assume you will agree with me that it took more than twenty orcs to do this?” he asked somewhat sardonically.

They snorted bitterly. “Yes, captain. I think you can safely say that even before we do more scouting,” Pathon replied disgustedly.

Ostarndor nodded. “Looking at the ground that we can see from here, I would guess no less than one hundred orcs,” he added softly, obviously not wanting to believe his own words.

Aradunnon’s mouth quirked downward slightly and he turned to the two warriors. “Go back to the capital as swiftly as possible. Tell the king we found the orcs and I need more warriors to eliminate them.” He paused, considering for a moment. “Simply tell him we estimate one hundred orcs and tell him I want no less than one hundred warriors because I am not certain of my numbers. He will decide exactly how many troops to send me. Lead them back here yourselves.”

The warriors sketched a quick salute and left, disappearing silently into the trees. Aradunnon turned back to the scouts. “Before those warriors arrive, I want to know exactly what we are facing. Go find out for me.”

Pathon and Ostarndor nodded grimly and moved in the opposite direction of the messengers, towards Amon Lanc. While it was light, they had a much better chance of approaching the rocky slopes where the orcs likely hid without being detected. Even if the orcs had placed sentries, their eyes were poor enough in the light that an elven scout could avoid detection amongst the scattered rocks.

Finally, Aradunnon faced the rest of his warriors. “We cannot camp this close. They will be swarming through here once night falls. Sidhion, take some of the others with you and find a suitable place to camp. They rest of us will stay here and watch over the scouts, just in case.”

Having done all he could for the moment, Aradunnon settled against the trunk of a grieving tree and tensely watched his scouts pick their way across the desolate slope leading to Amon Lanc. In his mind, he saw his childhood friends merrily running towards the hill for an adventure in the hot summer’s sun, his father’s admonition to be careful echoing in his ear as he followed them. Aradunnon shook his head and tried to escape the feeling of foreboding that was creeping over him.

*~*~*

Several days later, Thranduil sat in his office listening as Hallion finished summarizing the details of the information Golwon would need when he traveled to a village in the northwestern forest. He departed tomorrow to settle a trade dispute. For what must have been the millionth time, Thranduil silently thanked the Valar that Hallion had survived the war against Sauron. He knew Oropher completely trusted and heavily relied upon his steward. Over the last millennium, Thranduil had come to thoroughly understand that confidence. Hallion knew Greenwood every bit as well as Thranduil did. He recalled the minutiae associated with trade agreements, ancient laws, troop orders, finances…. Thranduil laughed to himself as Hallion listed the elves Golwon would need to speak to during his trip and what each was responsible for. Hallion could probably list the leader of each individual village in the forest and locate each of those villages on a map. Thranduil was not entirely certain he could do the same. Hallion was simply invaluable.

“I believe that is everything associated with the trade dispute, my lord,” Hallion finally said, turning to Thranduil.

The king smiled at his steward. Hallion returned the smile automatically but with a curious light in his eyes, clearly not understanding his king’s expression. Thranduil laughed lightly at that and turned his mind back to the business at hand. “I also wanted to discuss finances and weaponry today. Do you have the figures I asked for, Celonhael?”

Celonhael nodded. “I do, my lord,” he replied and began to summarize the exact contents of the realm’s treasury. He had been a little surprised when asked to prepare such an accounting. Normally Thranduil was satisfied with an assurance that there were both enough supplies and funds to provide for times of emergency.

When Celonhael finished, Thranduil frowned slightly, clearly not entirely pleased with the report, but he nodded. Then he turned to Engwe. “Do you have the information I wanted about troop provisions?”

“I do,” he replied, handing Thranduil a piece of parchment.

Thranduil glanced over it quickly and then looked back at his uncle. “So a little over half the warriors have swords in each patrol?” the king summarized, making sure he had understood the report correctly.

Engwe nodded. “Except your guards. They are all armed with swords,” he confirmed.

Thranduil looked at the figures in both reports coolly. “That is simply not satisfactory. Purchase more ore. I want to work towards arming the entire army with swords.”

Engwe’s eyebrows went up slightly. “Thranduil, you have nearly doubled the size of the standing army over the last millennium. And we had little in the way of metal weaponry to begin with. It may not be possible to equip an army the size you have built with swords given the funds we have.”

Celonhael nodded in agreement, looking at Thranduil with some concern. “My lord, if we continue to spend without replacing funds…” he began meaningfully.

Thranduil looked back at him evenly. “You always have my permission to find ways to raise revenue any time you wish to pursue such an endeavor, Celonhael.”

Everyone grimaced slightly at that, including Celonhael. Thranduil clearly was not going to be moved from this decision.

Dieneryn, Thranduil’s mother and also a member of his council, understood his determination and she thought Engwe probably did as well. But she sincerely doubted Celonhael and Golwon did. “May I ask why this renewed interest in weaponry?” she asked softly. “I thought you had decided that you were satisfied with the manner in which the army is equipped.”

“The orcs Aradunnon is investigating changed my mind,” Thranduil replied, looking evenly at his mother.

“You do not believe that attack was simply a hunting party or traveling party from the mountains?” Golwon asked.

Thranduil’s expression grew cold. “I think fifty orcs that close to my forest was a threat. I will be very surprised if Aradunnon comes back saying he found nothing in the south. Indeed, I strongly feel that there is more of a danger here than we have seen and I want to be ready for what he finds. Regardless, it is wise to properly arm and train the warriors.”

“Then I will spend several days researching what we might sell and to whom in order to raise funds,” Celonhael responded dryly.

“And I think I had better plan a way to train these warriors to use the swords you will provide. They do not need them if they cannot use them,” Engwe interjected.

Thranduil nodded in acknowledgement of that. “Please do look into finding more people who could provide training and a way to bring all the warriors through at least some rudimentary training.”

Engwe nodded. “I will put some ideas together for you by the end of the week.”

Thranduil looked at Hallion and the steward glanced at the parchment in front of him. “I think that is all, my lord,” he said quietly.

Thranduil stood, raising his council to their feet. “I will see you all at dinner then,” he said. Celonhael, Golwon and Engwe bowed briefly and departed, chatting amongst themselves. Hallion subtly blocked Thranduil’s departure.

Again, the king smiled. “You have something you wish to say to me, Hallion?” he asked, knowing perfectly well the answer would be affirmative. Hallion looked at the king somewhat nervously and Thranduil grew more serious. “I would not be surprised if you did not agree with the decision to spend so much on weaponry, Hallion, but you appear much more upset than I expected.”

Hallion’s expression became contrite. “Forgive me if I have given you that impression, my lord. On the contrary, I strongly agree with this decision.” He paused and looked at Thranduil seriously. “But I do wish to discuss it more with you. I think that we waste funds purchasing ore, transporting it here and forging the swords ourselves—and we only produce low quality swords for all the expense and effort since our smiths have no great skill…” He paused and drew a long breath. “I believe for only slightly more gold, we could have much higher quality swords with much less effort.”

Thranduil’s eyebrows went up. “How?” he asked simply.

“Dwarves would charge us little more for finished products than we spend for raw materials and transportation. And dwarven swords are much higher quality, my lord.”

Thranduil stared at Hallion for a moment aware that his mother was doing the same. “You are suggesting that I deal with dwarves to buy weapons?” Thranduil asked quietly.

“I believe it would be a wiser way to spend our funds than making the swords ourselves, my lord.”

Thranduil blinked. Dealing with dwarves would never have occurred to him. Suddenly he laughed shortly, imagining how his father would have reacted to such a suggestion. No wonder Hallion looked nervous. Before he could reply, his mother spoke.

“Would you honestly trust such dealings, Hallion?” Dieneryn asked, trying to hide her astonishment that Hallion would suggest such a thing.

Hallion looked at her evenly. “I would want to see the products before I paid for them. But I think it is worth investigating, at least.”

Thranduil studied Hallion silently for a moment. He had no fond memories of dwarves but he knew Hallion did not either and he did trust his steward’s judgment. Finally Thranduil responded in a soft voice. “Then you may investigate it. Obtain a sample of products and prices for me. I will consider it but I need a good deal more information first.” He fixed Hallion with a stern look. “I am promising nothing except a willingness to look at the information you gather.”

Hallion was pleased even with that cautious response. “I will send someone to Hadhodrond, my lord.”

Thranduil shook his head ruefully. “Send anyone you like as long as it is not me. Who can we think of that has angered me enough to send them off on an errand to Hadhodrond?” he joked.

Hallion and Dieneryn laughed lightly at that. Then Dieneryn looked at her son mischievously. “Lindomiel would probably enjoy going. She would love to meet a dwarf,” she offered, trying to keep a straight face.

Thranduil eyes flashed to his mother. “If you mention to Lindomiel that I need someone to negotiate with dwarves, I will…” Thranduil hesitated as he struggled to think of a threat that was frightening enough.

Dieneryn and Hallion laughed again, this time more heartily. Dieneryn put an arm around her son’s shoulders. “I would not dream of mentioning the dwarves to Lindomiel, ion nin,” she reassured him, still laughing.

Thranduil smirked at his mother. “That is good, nana,” he replied airily. Dieneryn raised her eyebrows in anticipation. From Thranduil’s expression, she could tell he had found his threat. “If Lindomiel forced me to send her on such an expedition, I would have to send you along as well to help her, I think.”

Dieneryn gave Thranduil a look that unmistakably communicated that she knew he would not dare try. “There are some orders that you cannot expect me to obey, Thranduil. That would most certainly be one of them. I will never find myself in the presence of a dwarf again,” she said wryly.

Thranduil simply returned his mother’s glare serenely, pleased with the reaction his joke had produced.

Hallion had listened to this interchange silently, but with broad smile, as he gathered up the parchment and ledgers they had referenced during their meeting to store them. As he was finishing, the guard at the office door entered the room.

“My lord, one of the warriors that went south with Lord Aradunnon has brought a message from him,” he announced.

Thranduil glanced at Hallion and Dieneryn and they sat back down at the meeting table. “Send him in,” he said quietly.

*~*~*

Lindomiel and her friend, Amoneth, guided their horses along the riverbank, talking quietly while returning to the stables after their afternoon ride. When Amoneth stayed in Greenwood rather than returning to Lorien after Lindomiel's marriage to Thranduil, the queen was very thankful. She had made many friends in her husband’s realm, but she and Amoneth had been like sisters their entire lives. It was wonderful to have such a close friend and confidant living with her in Greenwood. Of course Lindomiel assumed Amoneth stayed for slightly selfish reasons as well. She knew her friend was attracted to Aradunnon. The prince was the topic of their current conversation.

“And then, after all that, when he saw me talking to Pendil, he came practically running over to chase him off. You should have seen the look on Pendil’s face when Prince Aradunnon charged down on him. After Aradunnon spent the entire evening with his friends staring at the maidens dancing with the minstrels. Staring, Lindomiel. It was truly unbecoming behavior,” Amoneth concluded with a disgusted tone.

Lindomiel struggled not to laugh. She had been listening to her friend’s dramatically delivered description of Aradunnon’s recent annoying behavior for most of the ride. It was quite amusing for a number of reasons. For example, Amoneth had obviously been staring at Aradunnon to know that he had been watching the maidens all night. Lindomiel thought it might be unwise at the moment to point out that it was even more unbecoming behavior on the part of a maiden to stare as Amoneth had been doing. Her friend and her brother-in-law had been dancing this dance for a very long time. The fact that Amoneth still participated showed how truly in love she was with Aradunnon. But Lindomiel was privately of the opinion that Amoneth was largely to blame for the fact that they were not yet betrothed. She seemed somewhat possessive to Lindomiel. Amoneth had always been that way—very demanding of her friends’ time and attention. And Aradunnon was simply to free-spirited to submit to any sort of restrictions. As she had many times before, Lindomiel tried to gently defend her brother-in-law’s behavior.

“But he did notice you were talking with Pendil. And he did become jealous,” she reminded her friend.

Amoneth blew out a dramatic sigh. “I know that he notices me. I do not want him to be jealous. I want him to make a choice. Does he truly care for me or does he not?” The anger fell from her face, leaving only sadness in its place. “I really do not understand him, Lindomiel,” she concluded softly.

“I know,” she replied gently. “But you love him, do you not?”

Amoneth frowned. “You know I do,” she whispered.

“And you know he loves you? He has told you this? You can see it in his eyes?”

Amoneth sighed again. “He has told me that he loves me. I think I have seen it in his eyes. But how many of the maidens that he flirts with hear the same thing?”

“Do you really think my brother-in-law is such a rogue that he casually tells every maiden that he loves her?” Lindomiel admonished softly.

Amoneth’s brow knit together. “I would not put anything past him,” she said bitterly. Lindomiel could tell the bitterness was caused by pain, not anger.

“Talk to him again when he comes back from the south,” Lindomiel suggested. “Tell him very plainly how he is hurting you, Amoneth. I do not believe he would behave thusly if he knew it hurt you.”

“I told him before the New Year, Lindomiel. He went almost a week before he began chasing maidens again.”

Lindomiel sighed softly. “Is it possible that he is not chasing maidens, Amoneth, but rather simply enjoying their company? One can admire at the beauty of a rose without cutting the bloom. Perhaps you should ask him why he ‘chases’ after all these maidens. You may find he is not chasing them at all.”

“I do not care why he does it. I do not like that he does. I am not comfortable with it.”

“That, my friend, is your problem. Not his. He is entitled to be friends with whomever he wishes.”

Amoneth turned her head and stared at Lindomiel, snorting loudly. “I doubt you would sing the same tune if Thranduil looked at the ladies in the court as Aradunnon does.”

Lindomiel smiled. “Thranduil looks occasionally. And ladies definitely look at him.” She laughed. “Ellyth occasionally but you should see how the women from the Mannish villages react to him! The last time we went to one of the villages in the east, a woman literally fainted looking at him.” Lindomiel smiled at the memory. “It was quite funny, really. Thranduil was so shocked.” She sobered slightly. “But do you think I worry about such things? Of course not. Thranduil may look at whomever he likes for all I care. I know the strength of our bond. I know the strength of his love for me. You need to determine if Aradunnon truly loves you. If he does, then trust that. He is a flirt. But he is a very honorable elf.”

Amoneth looked away. “It is so much easier said than done.”

“I know, Amoneth. But you must talk to him. That will help.”

“I will.”

As they approached the stable yard, Lindomiel and Amoneth’s eyes widened. Thranduil, along with nearly all of his personal guard and a good portion of the city guards, were preparing to mount their horses. Lindomiel’s eyes widened even further as she studied her husband. Instead of the soft, richly colored and embroidered formal robes that she was most accustomed to seeing him wearing, Thranduil was dressed in a very simple tunic and leggings of earth tones. He wore sturdy leather vambraces and carried his bow, sword and several daggers that she could see. As he turned to speak to one of the warriors with him, Lindomiel saw his expression—it was dark and dangerous.

Urging her horse forward, she cantered over to him and dismounted quickly to speak to him. “Thranduil, what is happening?” she asked in a concerned voice.

She watched as, with effort, he softened his expression somewhat. He took her hand and led her a few feet to the side, indicating for Amoneth to follow. In the relative private next the wall surrounding the stable yard, Thranduil looked at his wife with concern as he finally answered her question.

“I sent one of the guards to find you so I could speak to you before I left but you seem to have found me first. I am taking these warriors and some more that we will meet from the Western Patrol to Amon Lanc. Aradunnon has found the source of the orcs that attacked us on our return from Lorien. We are going to eliminate them.”

Lindomiel and Amoneth glanced at one another. “You are leading these elves to battle?” Lindomiel asked somewhat incredulously. They had been married nearly a millennium and she had seen Aradunnon lead troops to manage certain situations, but the king himself had never led a war party. She found that surprisingly difficult to hear.

Thranduil nodded. “Yes, Lindomiel. This is a more serious situation than I expected and I want to join Aradunnon in dealing with it. I feel the need to see it for myself,” he responded softly.

Lindomiel looked at Thranduil anxiously for a moment, aware of the presence of the warriors that awaited him. She glanced at them briefly and then turned her eyes back to her husband.

“Be careful, Thranduil,” she finally said in a quiet voice studying his face. It was all she really could say in such a public setting.

Despite her outward calm, Thranduil felt her fear through their bond. He frowned and took her hand in his, bringing it to his lips. “I will, my lady. We will be back as soon as possible,” he replied in as reassuring a voice as possible.

Lindomiel simply nodded, saying nothing else, but her eyes did not leave him. Thranduil brushed his hand against her cheek before leaning forward to kiss her lightly. “I will be fine,” he whispered as he pulled back. “I have fought in many battles much larger than this one will be.”

Lindomiel looked at the elves waiting for their king and watching this interchange. Drawing a quiet breath she looked down and then back at Thranduil with a neutral expression. “I have no doubt you will dispatch the orcs. I will simply miss you while you are gone.”

Thranduil smiled at his wife’s brave front. Kissing her again, this time on the cheek, he turned and mounted his horse. Lindomiel and Amoneth watched silently as Thranduil nodded one more time to them and called for the warriors around him to ride south. Then, still with an impassive expression, Lindomiel left her horse with the grooms and walked back to the Royal Chambers. She knew in her mind that Thranduil was an experienced warrior but she was utterly amazed at how uneasy she felt nonetheless.

*~*~*

Ion nin--My son

Elleth/ellyth--Female Elf(s)

Hadhodrond--the canonical elvish name for Khazad-dûm and an attempt to render the dwarvish name to elvish sounds. Khazad-dûm did not become known as Moria—the Black Pit—until TA 1980, when the dwarves accidentally unleashed Durin’s Bane, the Balrog of Morgoth.

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Darkness crept slowly
Created
29 Sep 2004
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29 Sep 2004
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