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Interrupted Journeys: Part Two--Journeys Perforce

Chapter 6: And all things were changing

by ellisk

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Orcs there were and trolls and dragons and fell beasts and strange creatures old and wise in the woods whose names are forgotten;…and all things were changing, until at last the Dark Lord arose in Mirkwood again. Silmarillion

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Eryn Galen

Third Age 1008

After Thranduil’s first attack against the orcs in Amon Lanc, he purchased swords from the dwarves and distributed them to the members of the western and eastern border patrols and the guards on the Forest Road. Aradunnon ordered the warriors on the borders to extend their patrol territories to include Amon Lanc and by the end of that Spring, the patrols discovered the orcs had returned. They destroyed them but the next patrol to pass through that area encountered orcs again. Aradunnon finally dedicated a patrol of fifty warriors to be permanently posted in the region around Amon Lanc for the purpose of preventing more orcs from entering the forest and gathering at the mountain. But orcs seemed to be drawn to that dark place.

And not just orcs. The elves began to see great spiders like Ungoliant of old. They were descendents of Shelob that spread to Greenwood from where they infested the Ephel Dúath. They built their nests and spun their webs in the crevasses and tunnels in Amon Lanc and in the trees surrounding it, making scouting that much more dangerous. These foul creatures were active by day as well as night. They slaughtered and fed upon anything that approached their territory—orcs and elves and deer alike—while their nests and webs killed the trees.

The dark creatures that inhabited Amon Lanc seemed to be driven by an unnatural frenzy. They charged forth against the incursions of the elven warriors like rabid beasts, fighting with unsurpassed ferocity. At the same time, the warriors that served in the forest near Amon Lanc constantly felt a strange fear; their naturally acute senses were seemingly hyper-aware of some evil not explained by merely the presence of orcs and spiders. This evil seemed to be embodied in the dark gloom that hung over the mountain. It affected the forest itself as the trees around Amon Lanc began to rot and wither and die.

Men who traveled past the mountain began to fear it, believing it to be occupied by an evil sorcerer who called to himself fell creatures. The elves began to believe that too.

Preventing orcs and spiders from approaching the mountain became an impossible task for the number of warriors Thranduil could dedicate to it. Evil came to Amon Lanc from all directions and bred from within once there. After a time, the task of the warriors in the south became one of containment, preventing the orcs and spiders from spreading further into the forest. For over fifty years, they had been successful, but now even containment seemed to be failing.

This was made apparent to the king by the commentary of the elves before him now. Thranduil sat in the Great Hall before nearly fifty citizens—mostly the leaders of the villages closest to Amon Lanc and the family members of warriors. The attacks around Amon Lanc were giving rise to much fear in the southern villages and much anger amongst the warriors’ families. At Golwon’s urging, the king had agreed to meet with these elves to listen to their concerns. They were seated at a long table with Thranduil at its head, flanked by his advisors. The nobles faced the elves gathered before them gravely. They had been listening to their stories for some time.

“A fortnight ago, my village was attacked by the orcs!” one of the village leaders was fairly yelling. Their tempers were somewhat subdued in the presence of their king, but they were still emotional. Thranduil focused on the elf speaking solemnly. “Orcs!” he repeated for emphasis. “They killed our livestock, carried off supplies and valuables of all kinds. Burned the telain and the trees. If we had not fled in the trees, all of us would be dead. Dead!” His voice broke. “Three of the elves that stayed behind to give us time to escape are dead, my lord.”

Thranduil frowned, grief in his eyes but before he could respond, another village leader spoke.

“Orcs are not the only danger. My village is to the east. Men have attacked us three times. Threatening my people and stealing from us.”

One of the village leaders from the interior of the forest blinked at that. “Surely the woodsmen have not turned against us? We have always aided them.”

“No,” replied the other, shaking his head. “These are not woodsmen. They raid the mannish villages too. They are darker. We think they come from further east and south. They are vicious in a way I simply cannot comprehend,” he concluded, looking at Thranduil.

Again, the king did not have time to reply before another elf spoke.

“And the spiders are multiplying. They infest the trees, smothering and breaking them with their webs and nests. They kill the game and livestock to feed on. They even attack elves. The elflings cannot go into the forest safely, not even during the day for light does not hinder these foul creatures. Someone must be sent to eliminate them.”

“Sent to eliminate them?” repeated one of the warriors’ family members, angrily. “Why can you not defend your own village? Or move it further from Amon Lanc as Aran Oropher suggested centuries ago? Why must my son travel three days from his home to defend yours? If you want to talk about death, my son’s best friend died in that patrol last season. Will the southern forest be littered with the bodies of our children as Dagorlad was? Simply move to a safer place.” He turned to face the king. “I will insist my son return home from the patrols if this continues. I will not loose him as I lost my brother in Mordor.”

Thranduil leaned forward and allowed his eyes to sweep over the elves at the table with him, silencing them with the intensity of his gaze. He had listened long enough. When he spoke, he addressed the elf that had spoken last in a calm voice.

“I am certain that Ernil Aradunnon and Ernil Engwe would feel the loss of your son, Master Falthalil. I know my brother and uncle depend on each of the warriors in the patrols and value their service. As do I.” He paused. “As do the villagers that live in the south. Surely you are not suggesting we simply abandon them to whatever fate might befall them?”

Falthalil frowned. “Of course not. But I do not see why my son should be a hundred miles from home.”

Thranduil glanced at Aradunnon, who was also normally hundreds of miles from home, and tried not to allow his annoyance to show on his face. “I often miss my brother as well. And naturally I am concerned about him fighting orcs and spiders so far from me. But I recognize the importance of his work in the south. We cannot allow the Enemy to overrun the forest. If it takes the south, it will only continue to spread.”

That answer appeared to give hope to the village leaders. Thranduil continued.

“And we are continuing to arm and train the warriors to the best of our ability. We continue to buy better weaponry. Lord Engwe has developed a new training program. Through it, current warriors will receive instruction and new warriors will be brought into our military to support the army.”

The village leaders also seemed happy with that pronouncement. The families of the warriors looked more concerned.

“Then we are adding to our burden?” an elleth asked. “Must I look forward to someday having both my sons and brothers in a patrol instead of just one?”

Thranduil turned to her. “Mistress, I would prefer to have no army at all. But as long as the threat grows in the south, I fear we will have to defend ourselves from it. Under those conditions, I can only assure that the patrols are supplied with the best weapons and training I can provide. And that is what I am doing.”

“Then we will have more protection, my lord?” one of the village leaders asked.

Thranduil turned to the elf sternly. “You will have what I can safely provide. But I can only provide so much. Some villages may have to move further north. Indeed, more and more people suggest to me every day that the capital itself should move north of the mountains.” Thranduil held up a hand at the village leaders’ angry expressions. “I am extremely hesitant to retreat again myself but I will make the decisions that protect the most people with the least loss of life and property.”

“If we move north, we abandon the forest. You said that yourself. We cannot let the Enemy get a foothold in our land.”

“If you are attacked by orcs so regularly, I fear we cannot deny that the Enemy already has a foothold. I will not abandon any part of this forest to the enemy. But that is my responsibility, not yours. If your citizens are in danger, you should move them and leave the protection of the forest to warriors.”

“We protect the forest with our presence,” Dolwen, a forester, said firmly.

“Perhaps. Or perhaps you draw forth the enemy by tempting it with the spoils it might take from you. Remove the temptation and keep yourselves safe. Let the military worry about the enemy and the borders of our territory.”

Thranduil looked at the scowls of the village leaders and the warriors’ families. They both wanted completely opposite results—neither of which he could provide. He sighed quietly.

“Do not doubt for a moment that we grieve for every life lost both in the villages and amongst the warriors protecting them,” he said sincerely, looking at all the elves present. “Or that we will do absolutely everything possible to prevent such losses. But you must also be willing to participate in that process. We must all make compromises and sacrifices. Warriors must fight far from home. Villagers must move to safer areas. I know what I am asking when I call upon you to do these things. I have been driven from many homes. My own family fights. I fight myself when there is need. This is what we must do together to save this forest and our way of life if the Enemy truly has turned his eye to us.”

The scowls did not lessen but Thranduil could see that the desired affect had been achieved. As much as they could, the elves present saw that the current situation was being addressed as best as possible. A few more words were exchanged and the audience came to an end. Thranduil and his council remained seated as the guards escorted the citizens from the Hall.

When they were alone, Thranduil slumped slightly. “This situation is escalating,” he said quietly.

Aradunnon grimaced slightly. "I will send more troops to the south to protect the villages," he replied.

Thranduil looked at his brother but Engwe cut off his reply.

"We cannot send more troops south. We have reduced the numbers on the western and eastern borders as much as we dare," he stated flatly.

Aradunnon frowned. "Raising troops is your responsibility, uncle. Raise more. I need them. Positioning the warriors is my responsibility. Long before this meeting I was planning to move more troops south. I want to send fifty…"

"Fifty!" Engwe interrupted, eyes widening and staring at Aradunnon. He turned back to the king. "You cannot allow that, Thranduil. The borders will not be safe. You heard the village leaders—men are making raids from the east and the orcs are traveling to Amon Lanc along the western border."

Aradunnon's brow furrowed. "Your job is advising the king on logistics and strategy, Engwe. I am the troop commander in this realm. I decide tactics. And if I say fifty more warriors are going south, they are."

Engwe frowned as well. "You are correct, Aradunnon. It is my job to advise the king on strategy." He paused for emphasis. "I am recommending a new strategy. Retreat. I think we should abandon the forest south of the northern edge of the Bight at the top of the Narrows. We cannot hold that territory and trying to do so is too costly."

Now Aradunnon's eyes widened and he turned to Thranduil to measure his reaction. "You would not dare do that," he said in reaction to his brother's inscrutable expression. "There are villages in the Narrows. Did you see how angry those villagers were already? I can hold the southern forest. I simply need more troops there. We cannot abandon the forest to the Evil One and his minions."

“They are orcs, Aradunnon. Not Sauron. Not the Ulairi,” Celonhael declared coolly Everyone winced when he said Sauron’s name. They did not normally name the Enemy. "I agree with Engwe. This fight has been too costly, both with regards to economics and loss of life. It would be best to let them have the mountain. We can regroup north of the Bight and hold them from that position."

Aradunnon looked at Celonhael angrily. “You are wrong, Celonhael. One feels at Amon Lanc the same presence that one felt at Barad-dur. We cannot give one square foot of the forest to this Enemy.”

Thranduil’s eyes flashed to his brother. This was the first time he had heard him say that and he trusted his brother’s read on such things. He was quite perceptive. “Are you certain?” he asked quietly, speaking for the first time.

Aradunnon looked uneasily at Thranduil. “I fear so.”

Engwe stared at Aradunnon with an openly skeptical expression. “Surely you are not suggesting that Sauron rises in the south of this forest?” he asked incredulously.

Aradunnon returned his gaze evenly. “I am saying I feel the same presence in the south that I felt in Mordor. You may interpret that as you will.”

Golwon spoke quietly. “We must drive him out.”

Aradunnon nodded. "Exactly."

Hallion gaped at them. "How do you plan to do that? If you really believe this is the Evil One, a host of thousands of Men and Elves could not destroy him in Mordor. How can you achieve this goal now?"

"I can take Amon Lanc back with the full standing army," Aradunnon replied in a resolute voice.

All eyes turned to him in various states of shock and anger.

Dieneryn looked at her son with wide eyes. "I respect your command of this realm's troops, Aradunnon, but I strongly urge you to give such an action very serious thought before you undertake it."

Celonhael nodded. "Retaking Amon Lanc is not an option we have even considered for fifty years, Aradunnon."

"It is not safe," Hallion continued. "Risking the entire army against an unknown force in a fortified position. I cannot recommend that," he said firmly.

"Recommend it!" Engwe exclaimed. "It is insane. Of course it is not recommendable. Thranduil if this is his intent, the best counsel that I can give you is that you remove him as troop commander. This cannot be allowed."

All eyes turned to Thranduil at that statement. The king sighed and looked sympathetically at his brother. "I understand your frustration with this situation, Aradunnon, and I fully trust you to command my military. But moving the entire army south in an attempt to retake Amon Lanc is something that I must intervene against. I cannot allow it. I am sorry. I would like to eliminate this threat but I do not believe that is a possibility. I want you to concentrate on containing it."

Aradunnon looked at his brother cautiously. “There may be support from Lorien if you wish to attack Amon Lanc, Thranduil. We saw elves from Lorien scouting from the south. We only spoke to one scout, but he told us there were those in Lorien that were concerned about this threat as well.”

Thranduil raised his eyebrows. Aradunnon had not mentioned that information in any report as yet. "Is that so?" he said coolly.

Aradunnon nodded.

"Well, I think I will make a trip to Lorien and find out what Amroth is doing in my forest," he said stiffly. He looked at Aradunnon. "While I am there, I will ask him if he would like to go to war with us. The battle would be more balanced if they joined with us. I might consider it then."

Thranduil saw Engwe’s brows draw sharply together and he appeared ready to protest. Thranduil stood, raising the council to their feet and cutting his uncle off. “That is all for the day,” he said firmly, without looking at Engwe. “I will see you at dinner. Hallion, stay. I would like a word with you.”

The council left the Great Hall, still arguing amongst themselves. Hallion watched them for a moment before focusing his attention on Thranduil.

The king smiled at him though the gesture did not reach his eyes. He was clearly worried. “Other than not moving the entire standing army to Amon Lanc, what is your mind on this situation, Hallion? You are terribly quiet.”

Hallion looked down. “I fear I cannot offer any advice, my lord. There does not seem to be an answer to this situation. We can fight—which seems to be increasingly difficult—or we can move. And moving is only a stopgap. Not a solution.”

Thranduil nodded. “I am very hesitant to kill two-thirds of our army fighting at Amon Lanc but I will not move every millennia in the face of the Enemy as my adar did. How far will we be pushed? North of the mountains? North of the river? North of the forest? If we move again, it will be to a position that I can permanently defend. One from which I will not have to move these people in another thousand years. I have moved enough times in my life, Hallion. I am drawing the line. Here, and no further.”

Hallion raised his eyebrows. “Then you had better find such a place,” he responded softly.

Again Thranduil nodded. Once and decisively. “I will go to Lorien to investigate the possibility of an alliance but in the meantime, put together a group of scouts for me. People who can judge strategic defense as well as people who can evaluate territory for its ability to provide for the everyday needs of a settlement. Have them investigate the forest north of the mountains. I want recommendations of, say, five places where I could move these people. I want their defensive advantages outlined. Get me that within the next year.”

Hallion returned Thranduil’s gaze evenly. “Yes, my lord.”

*~*~*

Aradunnon was rarely in the capital these days but when he was, he dedicated his time to Amoneth. After eating dinner that night, they sat in Aradunnon’s private sitting room, rather than with the family, playing a board game. The game was one of strategy. The first time Amoneth had watched Aradunnon and Thranduil play it, he had assumed she was merely being polite. When she asked him to teach it to her, he was surprised indeed. But it turned out that she was rather good at it. She still could not beat either Aradunnon or Thranduil but when she played with Celonhael and Golwon she won as often as she lost. And in her most recent game, she beat Engwe. That was a feat he would not soon live down.

Of course Aradunnon had a strategy he used against her that no one else could use.

“Stop it,” Amoneth snapped, swatting his hand as he traced it along her jaw line.

Her eyes were focused on the board. Aradunnon smiled. She very much wanted to beat him. He let his hand fall to her lap where it captured one of hers. He traced soft patterns on her palm as he leaned closer to her, now brushing his lips along her jaw.

She leaned away from him. “Will you stop it? I am trying to decide my next move.”

His smile broadened. “Hmm,” he said lazily, leaning closer to her again. “So am I.” His arm snaked around her waist, preventing her from moving away from him.

Finally she looked away from the board and turned to him. “You are cheating,” she said challengingly.

He laughed at that and twined his fingers in a lock of her hair, studying it. “I do not need to cheat to win this game,” he purred. This time when he leaned forward to kiss her, he claimed her lips. He felt her tense but he did not relent. Within a moment, she surrendered willingly, putting her arms around his neck.

Aradunnon ran his hands slowly over her bare arms, savoring the feel of her. His hands reached her shoulders and his fingertips traced lightly down the skin revealed by her low cut gown before sweeping back up to cup her face. He spent months at a time in battle. It had been an entire season since he had been home and all that time was spent near Amon Lanc. The warmth of her hands as she cradled his face, the harmony he felt as he kissed her, the peace he knew in her presence—the memory of these things anchored him when he was in the south. He missed her. Sometimes he missed her desperately.

When he finally released her, feathering kisses across her cheek, she sighed. “When do you have to return to the patrols,” she asked softly.

Aradunnon tensed and pulled away to look at her. This was the issue that still stood between them and it seemed insurmountable to him. “Thranduil is going to Lorien,” he responded.

Amoneth raised her eyebrows at that. Lindomiel had not mentioned that nor had it come up at dinner. Aradunnon always stayed in the capital when Thranduil traveled so that meant he would be home for at least a few weeks. The longest stretch in years. She smiled, looking in his eyes softly.

“Good. I hope his trip is long,” she joked, kissing him lightly.

“Perhaps I have to go with him,” he retorted teasingly.

She returned his gaze appraisingly. “I do not believe that. You are obviously joking.”

He traced a finger along her lips, suddenly serious. “Suppose I did go with him. To speak to your parents.” He looked at her intently. “Will you let me do that?”

Amoneth looked at him sharply. Then she looked down. “Aradunnon, I love you. You know that.” He voice fell to a whisper. “But what sort of marriage would we have? You are never here. I have virtually given up on the idea.”

Aradunnon sighed quietly. “Thranduil, Amoneth is going to Lorien to ask Amroth to join him in driving the enemy from Amon Lanc. If Amroth agrees and if we are successful, I will spend much less time in the field.”

That did not produce the reaction Aradunnon had expected. Her eyes widened dramatically. “I do not want you going back into battle much less going to war with Lorien against the orcs in Amon Lanc,” she replied with alarm in her voice.

Aradunnon laughed bitterly. “Amoneth, I am this realm’s troop commander. I guarantee that I will be in more battles. Fighting with the troops I command is how I serve this realm. We have discussed this before. You simply must accept that.”

Her brow furrowed and she pulled away from him fully. “I must accept that?” she repeated, voice rising. “I must accept seeing you injured? Or not seeing you at all for months on end? The entire time praying that you come back alive and not dead? I do not think I can accept that, Aradunnon.”

Aradunnon frowned as well. “And therein lies our problem, Amoneth. I was born to certain responsibilities. I cannot turn my back on them.”

“I know who you are, Aradunnon. I know who your father was and I know who your brother is. I know what your duties are. I am not asking you to turn your back on them. I am asking you to decide if you love me enough to find a different way to do them. Must you command the warriors from the field? Would you not be in a better position to communicate with all of the different patrols if you stayed in the capital in one central location?”

Aradunnon sighed. “I prefer to command from the field,” he replied quietly.

“Then you are choosing to not be with me, Aradunnon. It is your choice. While you make it, I encourage you to remember that you will no longer be able to serve this realm if you are killed.”

Aradunnon shook his head. “Thranduil would not allow me to stay in the capital. He recognizes that I am needed in the field.”

Amoneth fixed him with an angry glare. “That is what you said the last time we had this argument. So I asked Thranduil if he would mind you staying here. He said you had very capable captains and that he would welcome such a decision.”

Aradunnon looked very surprised by that. “Are you serious?”

She blinked at him, her expression turning cold. “Are you suggesting that I am lying to you?”

His brow knitted together. “Of course not, meleth. I just cannot believe that. Thranduil and I have captained these troops from the field for four millennia.”

“Ask him about it,” she suggested coolly.

“I will,” he said, turning her to face him with a hand under her chin. “If he agrees, even then I would not be home constantly, Amoneth. I would still occasionally have to go to the borders. Could you accept that?”

“I simply do not want to spend seasons separated from you. That is what I could not live with.”

“So if Thranduil agrees to this idea, may I speak to your parents about a betrothal?”

She smiled at him. “Yes,” she answered simply, leaning forward to claim her own kiss.

*~*~*

Thranduil sat on his balcony looking at the stars, deep in thought. Lindomiel had her head propped on his lap and was reading a book. He stroked her hair absently as his mind wondered over everything the villagers had told him that day and all they had discussed in council afterwards.

He had witnessed great evil in his long life. He had seen Menegroth, Sirion and Dagorlad strewn with the bodies of elves that should never have died. He had experienced death personally. His mother’s entire family was trapped and killed in Menegroth by the Noldor that killed Dior. His father’s father was killed in Sirion when the sons of Feanor attacked again. His father’s mother did not survive the War of Wrath. And he stood next to his father when an orc’s arrow drove into his chest.

Those had been horrible, terrifying experiences that Thranduil knew marked him permanently. Somehow hearing the villagers speak this afternoon had seemed much worse. He had been a child in Menegroth and Sirion. His father’s own order had led to his death in Mordor.

Thranduil had been a witness to tragedy in those instances. He was responsible for Eryn Galen.

Thranduil ultimately decided to send warriors to battle. He chose how to protect the villages. He would find a solution to the problem with the orcs in Amon Lanc or fail to do so. This situation was his responsibility alone.

I swear, by word and deed, service and protection to the Kingdom and populace of Eryn Galen, to the utmost of my power…the opening line of the oath he had taken upon his coronation echoed in Thranduil’s mind as he listened to the music of the minstrels on the lawn below him.

How could he keep that oath when the foul creatures in the south bred like maggots on a corpse?

‘I would lead us to a better life. To the life elves were meant to have. To the life we had before answering the summons of the Valar. Let us return to the arms of the forest. Let us find a refuge from Morgoth’s evil and peace away from the Doom brought by the Noldor.’ Oropher’s words sounded in his head as if he was listening to them now. These words had inspired Celonhael and Golwon and Hallion and a few score others to follow him east. Promises of peace and safety and joy. And this beautiful forest had provided that refuge for many millennia.

Now the peace was shattered. Morgoth’s minions still pursued them.

Thranduil drew a deep breath and he made a silent vow. No matter what he had to do or sacrifice on his own part, he would protect the people his father had led east. He would protect the people that had welcomed his father and named him their king. He would protect the forest that had nurtured him back from the despair he felt when he had fled Menegroth and Sirion and Lindon. To his dying breath he would protect them from Morgroth’s servants.

He glanced down and saw Lindomiel looking at him intently, book lying across her chest, discarded. He sighed softly, forcing himself to relax slightly and returned her gaze evenly. She frowned and sat up, putting her arms around him and stroking his hair.

“Who will take care of you, Thranduil?” she whispered into his ear as she placed a kiss on his cheek.

He pulled away from her slightly and stared at her with astonishment. Their bond was very strong, but she had virtually read his mind. Had he spoken out loud?

Lindomiel merely pulled him close again. “I will, meleth. I will always be by your side to help you however I can. Never forget that”

Thranduil turned his face against his wife’s neck and closed his eyes. He did know that and he never took it for granted.

*~*~*

Meleth (nin)—(My) love

AN: Sorry for the delay in posting. This week has been ridiculously hectic--we've done double shifts all week and we're doing the same this weekend. I hate posting chapters without rereading them but if I don't do that today, I won't get this up this weekend at all. So...

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And all things were changing
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