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Interrupted Journeys: Part Two--Journeys Perforce

Chapter 8: None knew whence they were

by ellisk

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Even as the first shadows were felt in Mirkwood there appeared in the west of Middle-earth the Istari, whom Men called the Wizards. None knew at that time whence they were… But afterwards it was said among the Elves that they were messengers sent by the Lords of the West to contest the power of Sauron, if he should arise again, and to move Elves and Men and all living things of good will to valiant deeds…. Ever most vigilant was Mithrandir, and he it was that most doubted the darkness in Mirkwood…Silmarillion

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Thranduil stayed in Lothlorien for several weeks as Amoneth and Aradunnon celebrated their betrothal with her family. All the while, he considered Celeborn’s invitation to go to Rivendell. He had to admit Elrond’s message piqued his curiosity, implying that one person or perhaps a small group of people had arrived to challenge Sauron. Thranduil definitely wanted to meet such a person. But Rivendell was a long journey away and the king had pressing concerns in his own realm. He did not believe Elrond’s visitors would be able to provide meaningful assistance against the evil in Amon Lanc, so he had to make practical decisions on how to proceed now that Amroth had refused to fight with him.

Thranduil knew his brother wanted to fight to clear the mountain of orcs again and the king preferred that option himself. But both the king and his troop commander recognized the danger of fighting that battle with so few warriors. For that reason, Aradunnon encouraged Thranduil to go to Rivendell and find an ally either in Elrond’s guests or Elrond himself. That idea did not sit well with Thranduil. Much like their father, he was not inclined to seek outside help. It had been one thing to try to form an alliance with Amroth, with whom he had worked relatively closely for a millennium and who was equally threatened. Thranduil knew Elrond barely at all—certainly not well enough to ask him to march an army four weeks south of his own borders to aid in a situation that did not affect him by fighting a battle Thranduil was not sure he could win.

As badly as he wanted to resist this decision, Thranduil was beginning to see that his only viable option was to move his capital to a safer location and encourage the southern villagers to move as well.

Nevertheless, when the time came to return to Greenwood or accept Celeborn’s invitation, Thranduil did agree to travel to Rivendell, justifying the long trip in his mind in many ways. Lindomiel had never been west of the Misty Mountains and she loved to see new places. Making the trip would greatly please his wife. Also, by appearing to explore all options to make a fight possible, Thranduil would be appeasing his brother. Finally, he would be satisfying his curiosity to meet whoever Elrond had in Rivendell that thought themselves capable of opposing Sauron. Besides, Thranduil knew that Greenwood was in the capable hands of its steward and any decisions about moving the capital would have to wait until the scouts returned from the north with their reports later that year.

All these justifications aside, Thranduil knew deep in his heart that he agreed to the trip because he could not leave any possibility of saving the southern forest unexplored.

So now, two months since he had left Greenwood, Thranduil, Lindomiel, Celeborn and Galadriel followed the guards along the narrow, rocky path leading down into the valley that hid the refuge of Rivendell. As they rode, he kept a careful eye on Lindomiel whose riding skills had never been tested on such terrain. Thranduil had not ventured west of the Misty Mountains since he crossed them with his father at the beginning of the Second Age. Consequently, like Lindomiel, he had never been to Rivendell. As their horses nervously picked a path along the cliff descending into the valley, Thranduil had to admit the environment was attractive. The sounds of the river made a lulling sound that was quite comforting and the soft, warm breeze carried the pleasing scents of pines and flowers. Thranduil opened himself to the welcoming songs of the trees in the valley and they greeted him, curious about this powerful, unknown yet friendly presence amongst them. After a few moments, he saw Celeborn turn to him and smile. Thranduil returned the gesture, genuinely relaxed and happy. Despite the fact that he never enjoyed traveling and was weighed down by the threats to the southern part of his own realm, Thranduil could not deny that he felt his spirit lighten somewhat in this protected valley.

As they crossed the narrow, stone bridge over the river, a large house came into view. Thranduil raised his eyes to study the architecture. The buildings were open and airy and bright. As they approached, Elrond and Celebrian emerged from the house. Thranduil could not help but smile as Celeborn and Galadriel urged their horses to a canter. Reaching the patio, they dismounted to the enthusiastic greeting of their daughter and son-in-law. Thranduil and Lindomiel followed at a more sedate pace to allow the family a moment of privacy. When they arrived with the guards at the patio, they were greeted no less enthusiastically.

“Thranduil,” Elrond called while stepping forward to hold Lindomiel’s horse. “When the messenger came to inform me that Celeborn and Galadriel had entered the valley traveling with the King and Queen of Eryn Galen, I could hardly believe my ears. Welcome to Imladris,” he exclaimed with a broad smile on his face.

Thranduil leapt lightly from his horse, running his hand down its neck, silently communicating his thanks for delivering him such a long distance. He took Lindomiel’s hand as she dismounted. “Thank you, Elrond. I must say I am pleased to be here. From what I have seen thus far, this is a truly beautiful realm.”

Elrond’s eyes lit up at that obviously sincere compliment. “Thank you, Thranduil. It is an honor to have you here. I assume you have come with Celeborn and Galadriel to meet my guests from the Havens.”

Thranduil glanced at his cousin and nodded. “At Celeborn’s invitation,” he responded.

Elrond looked at him reproachfully. “You do not need Celeborn’s invitation, Thranduil, for you always have mine. You are always welcome in my home.”

Thranduil found himself smiling again at that. “If I could find it,” he could not resist teasing.

Elrond laughed. “That is the point, mellon nin. Imaldris was designed as a refuge and safe haven. Come. I will have someone show you to your rooms. Dinner will be served in an hour or so. If either of my guests are here and bother to come to the evening meal, I can introduce you tonight. We may well have to spend some time tracking them down, however. They have been traveling around the area near Imladris visiting Men. I never really know quite where they are and I have not had much time to speak to them myself.” He looked at the others with a strange look in his eyes, almost nervous. “They are…unusual. But I will let you see for yourselves and draw your own conclusions.” He glanced at his peer. “Try to be open minded, Thranduil. One of them is practically a wood elf. He loves the forest. And the other…well his temperament reminds me a little of yours.” He snorted. “I can certainly say they are both rather…independent. I think you will like them if you give them a chance, Thranduil.”

Thranduil raised his eyebrows at Elrond’s obvious concern. Celeborn and Galadriel tried to smother their amusement while Lindomiel laughed out loud.

*~*~*

The next day, it was approaching time for midday meal and the only thing Elrond had introduced to Thranduil and Lindomiel was his library. Neither of the guests from the Havens made an appearance at dinner the evening Thranduil arrived in Rivendell nor were they present for breakfast the next morning. After breakfast, Elrond had some reading to do and Celeborn and Galadriel wanted to research some information they had heard referenced in their travels. Elrond suggested that Thranduil and Lindomiel might entertain themselves in the library as well and offered to show it to them.

Thranduil had to admit he was impressed. The library inhabited room after room in Elrond’s house, wandering around corners and up and down short flights of stairs in a seemingly never ending forest of shelves packed with poetry and chronicles and histories. The walls that were not lined with shelves were decorated with murals or maps that illustrated the books. Thranduil shook his head slightly as his eyes roamed idly. Lindomiel was in paradise, he knew. He watched with a smile as she inspected tome after tome and suspected he would be sending scribes to Rivendell with a lengthy list of books that Lindomiel would want copied. ‘And I will have to think of some excuse to send Hallion to Imladris,’ he thought. His steward adored books. Thranduil laughed to himself. ‘Or perhaps not. He might not return from this place,’ he thought wryly.

Eyes on the books and maps and murals as he meandered through the library, Thranduil turned a corner and nearly tripped over a strange figure clad in a long grey cloak. He was huddled on the stone floor on his hands and knees squinting at the row of books on the bottom shelf of a bookcase against the wall. Surprised, Thranduil took a step back as the person stood.

“I beg your pardon,” they both began but Thranduil stammered to a halt before the sentence was entirely out of his mouth, staring openly at the individual before him.

He was slightly shorter than Thranduil. His hair and beard were long and grey and his face was marked with the signs of a mortal old age but he was possessed of an unmistakable strength. The fact that he appeared aged and was bearded made Thranduil assume he must be of the Race of Men, but as he looked at him he saw the undeniable light of wisdom beyond the years of Men in his dark eyes. Indeed, he saw knowledge that seemed to far surpass that of the oldest elves.

The man, or whatever he was, smiled warmly at Thranduil as Elrond happily approached them while waving over Lindomiel, Celeborn and Galadriel. “I see you have stumbled across one of my guests, Thranduil” he said with mirth in his voice.

The man laughed lightly, a rumbling sound from deep in his chest. “Quite literally,” he joked, speaking perfect Sindarin. Thranduil was further surprised by that, not accustomed to men who spoke his language, though he had heard the educated Men in Arnor did speak elvish. The man’s expression grew merrier at Thranduil’s confusion. “I am called the Grey Messenger, for obvious reasons. Some of the elves have begun to call me Mithrandir,” he said in an effort to satisfy the curiosity of the elves around him.

Elrond smiled. “And this is Thranduil, the King of Eryn Galen, his queen, Lindomiel and Celebrian’s parents Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel,” Elrond stated, indicating each in turn.

Each of the elves exchanged greetings with the man and Thranduil noted that they also seemed to be studying him closely.

“Do you have any idea where the Brown is, Mithrandir?” Elrond asked, once the introductions had concluded.

Thranduil’s brows furrowed slightly as the grey-clad figure shook his head with an amused expression. “He is in Imladris. I left him by the waterfall this morning. He discovered a pair of nesting jays and their fledglings and I feel they will occupy him for the rest of the day.”

Elrond laughed as Thranduil exchanged a look with Celeborn. Brown and Grey? Neither elf seemed to know what to make of these strange names or the appearance of the individual before them.

“Well, Mithrandir, might I at least impose upon you to speak with my other guests and I to satisfy some curiosities before you disappear again as well? Perhaps you would like to have lunch with us?”

Mithrandir laughed and took Elrond’s arm, leaning on it and his staff. “I will rarely turn down food in Imladris, Elrond, for it is fine food indeed. Curiosities have a way of breeding one upon the other but let us see if we can at least lay some of yours to rest today since you have made such a pleasant invitation.”

Elrond smiled agreeably and lead the party towards his office, where they could speak in private. As he helped the elderly man along through the winding corridor, they chatted quietly about the progress of his studies since his arrival in Rivendell. Thranduil, Lindomiel, Celeborn and Galadriel followed and listened, trying to discern who and what Elrond’s guest might be.

They settled around a large table in Elrond’s office strewn with books and papers. Elrond pushed them to the side to make room and called for the servants to bring lunch. They waited in silence for a few moments, all eyes on Mithrandir, studying him intensely. Unlike most men, who would feel uncomfortable under elven scrutiny, Mithrandir met their gazes calmly.

“Tell us, my lord,” Celeborn began, finally breaking the silence. “You said the elves call you Mithrandir. What is your true name?”

Mithrandir’s eyes brightened slightly in amusement. “I have been know by many names in many places and I feel I will acquire a good deal more names as I travel through Eriador. But Mithrandir is a fine one, I think.”

Celeborn frowned slightly as Galadriel pursued the purpose behind her husband’s question. “You said are traveling through Eriador. Where are you from?”

The Grey’s dark eyes turned to Galadriel. “I came here from Mithlond and stopped a few times along the way. From here I intend to go many places.”

Thranduil scowled at those evasive answers. “Elrond tells us that you are here to offer help to those who oppose Sauron. How do you intend to do that?” he asked directly, turning to the topic that interested him the most.

Mithrandir smiled at Thranduil. An indulgent smile that seemed to indicate Thranduil had just confirmed a suspicion. “That is correct. My companions and I were sent here for just that purpose. How we will do so remains to be seen. Indeed, perhaps you can help me. You are from Rhovanion, my lord, and I understand Celeborn and Galadriel have been traveling in the east near Mordor where some of my companions have journeyed. I would like to learn more about these places. Tell me, lady Galadriel, what made you and your lord husband decide to travel all the way to Mordor?”

Galadriel looked at him coolly for a moment before answering his question. “To confirm my fear that Sauron was indeed not destroyed and to try to determine if he was rising again in the East.”

Mithrandir raised his eyebrows. “And what did you find?”

“Precisely what Elrond told me I would find; what he last saw when leaving that evil place one thousand years ago—that the Men of Gondor had torn down the walls of Barad-dur but its foundations remain. They guard Mordor but will not inhabit it. I see it as a good sign that they still guard Mordor and that their kingdom and people are strong. I was also pleased to see that Orodruin is not active. It sleeps, smoldering only. I did not feel the presence of Morgoth’s servant in Mordor. I did feel it in Greenwood. ”

Mithrandir’s eyes turned to Thranduil. “What do you think of that assertion?” he asked quietly.

Thranduil frowned. “I have not been to Amon Lanc in fifty years. But orcs and spiders and wargs and all manner of fell beasts are called to that place in such numbers that we cannot turn them away. My brother, who is young but fought in Mordor with my adar and I, says that he feels the presence of Sauron in the south. He says a shadow hangs over the mountain. I trust his judgment. And Lady Galadriel’s. I believe that Sauron has forsaken Mordor for the time being and is gathering his servants to him in Amon Lanc.”

“And I find it difficult to believe that it is a coincidence that Isildur, and presumably the Ruling Ring along with him, was lost in the Gladden Fields so near to Amon Lanc. I believe the Ring drew him there,” Galadriel added.

Elrond nodded. “Galadriel and I discussed this last night. I have foreseen that Sauron will return when the Ruling Ring is found and the Age will end in war. If he has found it there or has called his servants there to search for it, this is a gravely troubling sign.”

Thranduil frowned at Elrond. “My warriors fight the orcs at Amon Lanc constantly. They are building there. Lady Galadriel said she saw the beginnings of a fortification there. But as yet, I have heard no report that indicates they are searching for the Ruling Ring.”

“But you all feel certain this Ring is what needs must be destroyed?” Mithrandir asked.

Elrond’s mouth formed a hard line. “It should have been destroyed a millennium ago.”

Mithrandir looked at Elrond thoughtfully. “Well, then I will have to make sure to study it carefully. Perhaps you will be able to speak to me about it further, lord Elrond.”

They continued this discussion throughout lunch. The topic seemed to interest Mithrandir greatly and he asked numerous questions of all the elves present—especially concentrating on how Thranduil had fought the forces at Amon Lanc and what he had seen there. Thranduil provided answers when requested but found himself marveling at the individual before his eyes. The idea that he might ever face Sauron seemed completely ludicrous. What could one old, decrepit man leaning heavily on a staff hope to accomplish against such a foe? But then, nothing readily made sense about this man’s appearance and Thranduil had learned long ago that appearances were deceiving. Such discrepancies would normally set off alarms in the mind of the naturally suspicious King of Greenwood, but this man did not inspire that reaction. And that in itself surprised Thranduil.

When lunch was concluded and all his questions had been answered, Mithrandir stood and excused himself, saying that he would go find the Brown and leaving the elves with more questions than they had before meeting him. Thranduil stared after him as he departed. Then his eyes shifted to Elrond.

“Tell me, Elrond, what manner of man is this that has appeared in your realm from nowhere with no name and with the light of the ages in his eyes?” he inquired speaking softly. Everyone present heard the edge on his voice and shared the concerns that drove it. “You cannot claim to have missed that this person is not what he seems.”

All eyes turned to Elrond.

Elrond shook his head. “I did not miss that, no. That is why I asked Celeborn and Galadriel to return--to hear their opinions. I told you he is unusual. But I know no more than you do, Thranduil. You have my word. He came from Mithlond with some of Cirdan’s people and four of his own. Two of them called themselves Blue Messengers. One called himself the White Messenger. Those three went east before I could contact Celeborn and Galadriel in Lorien. Then there were the Grey and the Brown. They have been traveling throughout Eriador.” He paused and looked at Thranduil mischievously. “I warn you though—the Brown has been enamored of the idea of visiting Eryn Galen since he heard it was the largest forest in Middle Earth.”

Thranduil’s brow furrowed at that announcement. “What are they, Elrond?” he demanded flatly. “No elf would mistake them for men but they do not have the appearance of elves. What have they told you about themselves?”

Elrond looked between Celeborn and Thranduil uncomfortably. “I am almost afraid to tell you who they said they are,” he began. Thranduil’s frown deepened at that. “They said they were sent by the Valar to contest the power of Sauron.”

Celeborn and Thranduil both stiffened hearing that—it was essentially what had been said about the Noldor when they returned to Middle Earth. Galadriel looked suddenly thoughtful.

Thranduil sighed. “I do not like this,” he declared, speaking to no one in particular. “Nothing is known about them. They claim to be here to help us but when asked about that task, this Mithrandir did nothing but ask us questions. Did you notice that he did not respond to a single question we asked? I do not like this,” he repeated.

Lindomiel looked at her husband gently. “I agree they are not what they seem, Thranduil, and it worries me that they disguise themselves as men when they clearly are not, but I saw nothing but warmth in Mithrandir. He seemed open and genuinely eager to help,” she commented softly.

“Yet with no suggestions on how to help,” Thranduil responded and sighed again. “I will grant you, I saw no sign of deceit in him. Indeed, I felt strangely inspired to trust him.” He snorted. “That only makes me distrust him more.”

Galadriel laughed in response to that statement. Thranduil turned his eyes to her but chose to ignore her reaction.

It was Celeborn that spoke. “Sauron came to Celebrimbor in fair guise. This calls for caution.”

“Gil-galad and I both saw through Annatar,” Elrond countered with a frown. “As Lindomiel said, there is no guile behind Mithrandir’s words. Cirdan sent word to me that he knows from whence they came and bade me to trust them. I trust Cirdan. Hence, I will trust them.”

Thranduil’s mouth formed a tight line. “I trust Cirdan as well,” he said quietly. “And I do not believe this Mithrandir is an agent of the Evil One by any stretch of the imagination nor do I think that is what Celeborn was trying to imply. He urged caution and I agree. Frankly, I am suspicious of them and I cannot imagine what aid they can offer.”

The room fell silent. After a moment, Galadriel, who had not yet spoken, looked between Celeborn and Thranduil. “Does he not remind you of someone?” she asked. “Think. The particular light in his eyes—where have you seen it before? Long ago in the past.”

Celeborn frowned and looked at his wife curiously.

Thranduil shook his head. “He reminds me of nothing I have ever seen before, my lady, I assure you.”

“You were a child Thranduil, but I think you have seen someone like him before.”

Thranduil looked at Galadriel sharply as recognition lit in Celeborn’s eyes as well. Elrond and Lindomiel watched as the three older elves looked at one another searchingly, almost disbelievingly.

“To what are you referring, Galadriel?” Elrond finally asked.

“Melian,” Celeborn answered. “The light in his eyes. The knowledge.”

Thranduil nodded. “Looking at him is like looking upon Melian.”

Lindomiel blinked at that. “Are you saying that he is a Maia?” she asked, voice rising incredulously and pointing at the door the Grey had exited through.

Galadriel looked at her. “I have seen many Maiar, Lindomiel. I believe it is possible.”

“It would explain many things,” Elrond said. “Including some insinuations Cirdan has made.”

They were silent a moment, looking at each other.

“Well,” Thranduil finally said resolutely, leaning back in his chair. “We will ask him if that is the case.”

Amusement lit Galadriel’s eyes. “Ask him? You would do just that, would you not Thranduil? If Ilúvatar himself came to Middle Earth, it would be you challenging him to prove himself.”

Thranduil returned her gaze evenly. “I think it is reasonable to know what we are dealing with,” he responded coolly. “I certainly intend to ask him.”

Elrond and Celeborn chuckled quietly at that.

“Please do not provoke a Maia, Thranduil. Or if you must, please wait until he is in your realm to do it,” Elrond said, still laughing.

Thranduil smirked at him. “I cannot think of any realm that I have destroyed with my mere presence as yet, lord Elrond.”

Elrond raised an amused eyebrow and looked back at him. “So long as ‘yet’ is not the key word in that sentence. If they are Maiar, I want them as my allies.”

Thranduil’s face grew more serious at that. “Indeed. As do I.”

*~*~*

It was well after dark and the light of the stars and moon sparkled in the rippling waters of the river. Thranduil had left Lindomiel in the library, wondering if he would ever be able to remove her from it. But his mind was too preoccupied to enjoy the books and maps.

The idea that Elrond’s visitors might be Maiar did not comfort Thranduil in the slightest. Instead it alarmed him. If the Valar felt it necessary to send such emissaries, then certainly the situation in Middle Earth must be more serious then anyone as yet understood. That thought only added another bit of proof in his mind to the theory that the power rising in Amon Lanc was more than merely orcs. Though he had only been in Rivendell one day, Thranduil was suddenly anxious to return home and begin taking action against Amon Lanc. It was with difficulty that he restrained himself and remained in place in Rivendell to learn what else he could about Elrond’s guests. Seeking the solace of nature, he strolled along a path on the bank amongst the pines, enjoying the somewhat novel presence of a type of tree that was not common in the Woodland Realm.

He had traveled a good distance down the secluded path before he heard the muffled sound of distant voices. The path was lit by the occasional torch, so Thranduil spied the grey and brown cloaked figures sitting on a bench under a tree long before he was anywhere near them. The king stopped to study them surreptitiously. Mithrandir was staring at one of the torches that lined the path with a delighted look on his face. His companion was also looking at the fire and laughing merrily. Thranduil snorted quietly—he thought the men were odd already but their obvious fascination with the fire made them almost appear to be mad. Thranduil’s eyes turned to the flame. He blinked. The fire burning brightly in the lantern had distinctly taken the shape of a dragon. Thranduil saw the brown clad man say something that he could not hear and the flame relaxed into a normal shape before forming into a butterfly with dancing wings.

Thranduil watched a few more animal shapes appear and disappear before he continued his trajectory down the path towards the bench, now with long strides. As he approached, he glanced at the flame in the lantern and it extinguished entirely. The figures on the bench looked over at him, obviously surprised.

Thranduil regarded them coolly. “I know many elves that learnt some magic but I do not know any Men in this Age capable of such spells,” he said quietly.

Mithrandir stood. “What business is it of yours how I pass my idle time, lord Thranduil?”

Thranduil spoke in as even a tone as possible, though tension was obvious in his posture. “It is my business to know with whom I treat. You are no man, Mithrandir. You are Maia. Or worse. And I would have the truth of it.”

At that, the brown robed man stood as well, concern showed in his eyes as they darted between Mithrandir and Thranduil nervously. Mithrandir glared at Thranduil for several moments and Thranduil met his gaze resolutely. Finally, Mithrandir laughed lightly, reigniting the torch with a gesture.

“I see a good deal of fire in you, lord Thranduil. That will serve you well as you rule Eryn Galen. But it will do nothing to advance our friendship. Come sit with us. I will introduce you to my companion.”

Thranduil remained where he was and looked at the other ‘man.’ A jay sat on his head, glaring at the elvenking imperiously. Thranduil shook his head slightly “I believe I can conclude for myself that if you are the Grey Messenger, this must be the Brown Messenger. Messenger from the Valar, I have heard. Why do you try to conceal the fact that you are Maiar?” he pressed.

“I will not deny that we are Maiar, lord Thranduil, if that will ease your doubts. We are servants of the Flame Imperishable. Ours is to oppose the fire that devours and wastes with the fire that kindles and succors. But we have not been sent here to sway the wills of Men and Elves with displays of majesty or power. I do not hide what I am, I simply will not flaunt it. Now will you sit with us?” Thranduil still eyed them warily and Mithrandir sighed sadly in reaction. “Suspicion comes easily to you, Thranduil. I can understand that and for that reason I have been open with you. Now your willingness to conquer suspicion and work together with your allies is what will save you and your people. Come sit and speak with us.”

Thranduil studied them a moment longer. He did not deny that he was a suspicious person by nature—experience and upbringing had reinforced that trait. He valued it but he also made an effort to temper it since becoming king. These beings had shown him no reason to distrust them. And they were certainly powerful allies, as Elrond had indicated. Thranduil forced himself to relax and finally joined them, sitting on a bench facing them.

He looked for a moment at Mithrandir and then his gaze turned to the Brown who smiled at him hopefully. The jay still glared at him. Thranduil found his lips turning upward and he could not resist smiling himself, certain that he had never met a more completely open and guileless individual in his entire life. The Brown was as simple and good as the animals that apparently fascinated him. He decided to attempt to move towards a friendlier or at least more productive conversation.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, my lord,” Thranduil said, for lack of a name. “I understand you have developed an interest in my forest.”

The Brown brightened considerably as the tension dissipated. “The Men that I have visited call me Radagast,” he said by way of introduction. “And yes, indeed, I am quite curious about your forest, lord Thranduil. I would very much like to travel there to see it. Or at least have the time to talk to you about it while you are here.”

Thranduil studied the Brown intently for a full minute. Anyone who knew the King of Greenwood would be shocked at how easily this invitation was made but Thranduil could see no reason to withhold it. “I cannot help but have the impression that the forest would enjoy your presence. You are welcome to come to Eryn Galen whenever it suits you.”

Mithrandir smiled. “Perhaps he could return with you and investigate the area around Amon Lanc while he is there,” he suggested.

Thranduil tried to conceal his dismay at that idea. Maia or not, the Brown did not strike him as a warrior. “Amon Lanc is a very dangerous place but if you wish it, I will arrange an escort to take you as close as possible.” He looked back at Mithrandir. “I would very much appreciate any help you could offer in that area. Indeed, I still am not clear how you and your companions intend to aid Middle Earth against Sauron.”

Mithrandir raised his bushy eyebrows slightly. “Nor are we. There is much study to be done.”

“Study?” he asked, trying to keep his voice neutral. Mithrandir had made a long list of topics to study at lunch and Thranduil wanted to address that. In his mind, action and not study was required.

Both wizards responded to his inquiry by nodding blandly. Radagast spoke. “We must find Sauron and his minions. We must learn what still binds him here so we can know how to destroy him. But most importantly, we must learn about the people here in Middle Earth—those who will be fighting him and their realms.”

Thranduil struggled to keep his confusion over that order of priorities from showing on his face. They had discussed all those topics at lunch. Thoroughly. He turned back to Mithrandir, instinctively recognizing him as more of a leader than Radagast. “I believe that I can show you where Sauron is, lord Mithandir.”

The Grey laughed lightly, causing Thranduil to look at him sharply. “Just Mithrandir, no titles if you please,” he corrected with a jovial voice. Then his face grew more serious. “I remember that you and lady Galadriel believe Sauron is gathering strength in Amon Lanc and it is for that reason that I suggested that the Brown return to Eryn Galen with you—to confirm or refute that suspicion. But even if he is there, we do not yet have all the information or strength we need to destroy him. As Radagast already said, we must discover what binds him here and we must move people to recognize him and fight him.”

Thranduil snorted. “I recognize him and I am ready to fight him. I agree that Men and Elves apparently do not know how to destroy him, having tried and failed in the Last Alliance. If it is the Ruling Ring that must be destroyed, we may never find that,” he said sternly. “But surely destroying him is within the abilities of five Maiar?”

Both wizards looked at him with concern. It was Mithrandir that spoke. “I know that is what you hoped for lord Thranduil—that we could eliminate the threat against your people. But, alas, that is not why we are here. We were not sent to match Sauron power against power. We were sent only to move the hearts of Men and Elves and other free folk to recognize Sauron and his minions and to unite to oppose him. We are not here to fight him for you.” Mithrandir looked at Thranduil gently. “You remember very well the last time the powers of the Valar contested against one another in Middle Earth. What happened then? All of Beleriand sank under the sea. Would you seek that outcome again?”

Thranduil grimaced. “Of course not. But Sauron must be destroyed.”

Mithrandir nodded. “Agreed. That is why we must study him further and learn more about the people that will stand against him so that we might unite them more effectively.”

Thranduil looked away to conceal a resentful expression. “Uniting people against Sauron does appear to be a difficulty. One that I have yet to overcome.”

Mithrandir looked at him sadly. “I understand your frustration with people like Amroth—his refusal to fight Sauron and eliminate this threat immediately is not easy for you to accept. I know that my refusal to attack Sauron must be difficult to abide when you are watching your people suffer. You said you understand my reasons and I think you can understand Amroth’s desire to protect his people. Lorien is not directly attacked as yet. That makes it easy for Amroth to refuse to see a need to look for a fight when one has not been brought upon him as it has upon you.”

“I do understand that. But it is a short-sighted reaction,” Thranduil replied.

“Perhaps. And perhaps now is not the time to fight. You might eliminate the orcs from your land, but unless you can destroy the evil that calls them to it, more will come in their place. Is that not what you have experienced?”

Thranduil sighed and looked down. “Indeed it is. But I still must fight them whether it is futile or not. I cannot let them kill my people and drive them from their homes.”

Mithrandir nodded. “I do not deny that you must protect your people but there are many ways to do so and I do not doubt that you will exploit them.” Mithrandir smiled. “Take heart, Thranduil. Sauron may be rising in your forest but, having met you, I foresee that he will find that gathering his strength in your realm will not be as easy an undertaking as he might have thought it would be.”

Thranduil’s eyes turned hard at that. “It will not, I assure you.”

“And that is good. Perhaps that is the part you and your people were meant to play in this war. It is not one I would wish on anyone, for it will be difficult, without doubt. But that fire in you that we spoke of earlier will serve you, your people and Middle Earth. You will find a way to fight the evil in your forest while we learn how to end it once and for all.”

Thranduil turned an intense gaze on the grey wizard, studying him sharply. Finally he laughed softly and looked away. “I do not think I like the sound of that, Mithrandir. But somehow in your presence it does not feel as desperate as it sounds. And I have despaired over this situation in the last years.”

Mithrandir leaned forward and placed a hand on Thranduil’s shoulder, drawing his gaze. The wizard’s expression was serious. “If Sauron is truly rising in your Wood, then your situation is dire indeed and no denying it. But when the time is right, the peoples of Middle Earth will stand together and defeat him, wherever he may be. Trust in that.”

Thranduil returned Mithrandir’s gaze evenly. “If that is the case, then may that time be sooner rather than later.”

*~*~*

Thranduil spoke a while longer with Mithrandir and Radagast and then left them to return to the house. As he approached the patio, he saw his wife, hosts, Celeborn and Galadriel sitting in the moonlight and enjoying wine. He joined them, sitting next to Lindomiel and greeting her by brushing a kiss on her hair.

“Did you have a pleasant walk, Thranduil?” she asked, reaching to pour him a goblet of wine.

Thranduil nodded and took the wine. As he did, an uncharacteristically mischievous look came over his face and he looked at Galadriel. “They are Maiar,” he said simply.

Everyone’s eyes widened in amused surprise.

“You did not really ask them,” Celeborn said, laughter and doubt in his voice.

Thranduil grinned at him. “I did and they confirmed they were. Though they made it clear they did not intend to capitalize on that fact.”

Elrond was shaking his head. “Someday you will pay for your boldness, Thranduil. Mark my words. But if they are Maiar, that is certainly welcome news. Maiar will have a much better chance to stand against one of their own it would seem.”

Thranduil looked at Elrond seriously. “That is not their task. They told me that they are here to inspire free people, not to wage another War of Wrath.” He turned to Lindomiel. “But the Brown, who was with Mithrandir when I happened upon him, is coming to Eryn Galen to judge for himself if it is truly Sauron in Amon Lanc. And if their task is to inspire free people to fight, perhaps he can help convince Amroth to join forces with us.”

Lindomiel nodded, a hopeful expression on her face. It made Elrond frown, remembering their conversation at lunch. It was one he could not, in good conscience, ignore. He did not want to enter another war but neither could he sit idly while his cousin fought one.

“I knew that your situation in Eryn Galen had changed, Thranduil, since Celonhael had communicated with me about buying medicines. But what you described this afternoon…I had no idea you faced so many orcs and spiders in the south of your realm. If you can suggest any way that I might help you, I would be happy to do so.”

Thranduil stared silently at Elrond for a moment, marveling silently at the fact that an elf he barely knew would offer aid when his closest neighbor and peer would not respond when asked. Then he looked away, shaking his head. “I know very little of Imladris, Elrond. But it is a small realm and it lies a four week march from Amon Lanc. To attack the enemy there with any chance of success, I would need to join with a force of at least five hundred. I would be surprised if your entire army consisted of so many warriors.”

Elrond looked at Thranduil regretfully. “I fear that it does not. I could not possibly provide such a large force without calling up citizens. I would be willing to discuss doing so with you if you feel your situation warrants it.”

Thranduil blinked, now utterly amazed. He drew a long, slow breath and considered that offer. He was sorely tempted to accept it immediately but he knew all too well what he was asking if he did. If Elrond sent five hundred troops, combined with Greenwood’s forces, they would match the number of orcs Aradunnon estimated were fortified in Amon Lanc. Depending on the sophistication of the fortifications there, and if they could do good scouting, such numbers might be able to retake the mountain. Even if they were successful, that mountain had been cleared of orcs many times and his army could not hold the evil forces that returned to it at bay permanently. Worse, if they failed—if the battle were ill-planned—he would be sacrificing Elrond’s entire standing army along with his own. Mithrandir’s words came back to him, ‘Perhaps now is not the time to fight.’ Both Amroth and Mithrandir had stated that they did not yet have the means to destroy Sauron, if that was who was in Amon Lanc.

Thranduil knew that Aradunnon would be furious with him but he looked at Elrond and shook his head. “I cannot ask you to call up citizens and march your entire army four weeks out of Imladris to make an attack I am not certain I can win. I deeply appreciate the offer, Elrond, but for now I think the best thing I can do is explore other options to keep my people safe.”

“What other options do you have, Thranduil? The Maiar have said they will not drive Sauron out for you.” Galadriel asked softly.

Thranduil frowned. “I have sent scouts north of the mountains to look for someplace safer where I can move my capital. I will encourage as many villagers as possible to move north of the mountains with me. That way, the army can defend the Road and the forest but not as many private citizens will be in danger.”

Thranduil was aware of Lindomiel’s surprised gaze but his attention remained focused on Galadriel.

“Retreat will not solve this problem, Thranduil,” Galadriel said firmly. “You were willing to fight this battle with Amroth’s warriors. Elrond’s are far superior and he has offered them. You may not get this chance again.”

Thranduil sighed. “Believe me, I know that. It is one thing to ask Amroth to fight. The outcome of the battle directly affects him. His own realm is as threatened as mine. Elrond is in no danger from the orcs in Amon Lanc unless he marches his entire army there to confront them. It asks too much. We would be fighting an unknown force. If we fail, I leave not only my own realm defenseless but Elrond’s as well. If we succeed, the orcs will come back again and I have seen that I cannot prevent them from doing so. Mithrandir suggested it would be better to wait. That was the decision I was leaning towards before Aradunnon persuaded me to speak to Amroth. It is the decision I have made now. I do not want to ask my people to move again but I fear it is my best option at the moment.”

Elrond looked at Thranduil sympathetically. “I understand the difficulty of making such decisions all too well, Thranduil. My offer stands. Whatever assistance I can provide, you need only ask me. I firmly believe that we should strive to act together against Sauron lest we fall to him divided.”

Thranduil smiled. “I appreciate that, Elrond. Truly. And I will keep it in mind.”

*~*~*

Late that night, as Thranduil lay on his back staring at the stars out the window and holding Lindomiel in his arms, he could feel the tension in her body. “What troubles you meleth?” he asked softly, suspecting he knew perfectly well what the answer would be.

She sighed and remained quiet for a moment. Then she pushed herself up on one elbow to face him. “Thranduil, I do not pretend to know anything about military matters, but I do know the villagers fairly well. Are you certain that moving the capital is the best decision?”

Thranduil tightened his arms around his wife. “I am, Lindomiel. I cannot keep the orcs away from the mountain so I have to move the people away from them.”

Lindomiel’s brow furrowed. “What if they will not move?”

Thranduil’s mouth formed a hard line. “There will be those stubborn enough not to. And they will blame me for not being able to drive the orcs from Amon Lanc. But their anger will not make the impossible possible. I will not force them to move, of course. The situation itself will do that for me. Unfortunately, I think they will eventually have no choice but to move.”

“How far north do you intend to go?” she asked softly.

He pulled her against his chest and pressed a kiss on her brow. “I know you hate to be even further from Lorien than we already are. I cannot say where we will move yet. As I said to Galadriel, I sent scouts to investigate possible locations. It will be months before they return with recommendations so I cannot say. But I will promise you this—I will choose the position that I can best defend. I have already told Hallion that I do not intend to move every millennium as my adar did.” He paused, feeling the tension return to her body. “I wish that I did not have to make these decisions, Lindomiel. I wish that I could simply keep these orcs from my lands. I wish you and all the elves living in Eryn Galen did not have to face such horrors as orcs and spiders in the wood. But as much as it infuriates me, I cannot control these things. I can only respond to them as best I can to keep the most people safe.”

Lindomiel nodded against his chest, pulling him closer. “I know that, Thranduil. I cannot imagine how difficult these decisions must be to make. I do not intend to make them worse for you. I am sorry if I have.”

Thranduil laughed shortly, comparing in his mind this conversation with the one he imagined he would have with Aradunnon when he returned. Or worse still, the one he would have with the village leaders in the south when it came time to announce the capital was moving. “You have not, meleth. The difficulties are yet to come.”

*~*~*

Mellon nin--My friend

Adar/ada--Father/dad

Meleth (nin)--(My) love

AN: Sorry about the delay in posting this again. This time it wasn't work so much. I had a lot of trouble deciding how to order and cut up the next few chapters (that's why this one is sooo long). Also, someone--you know who you are--posted a question to the Yahoo Group that just planted some ideas in my head and forced some rewrites. I will post the next chapter asap. Smile smiley face

Also, and more importantly--note that some of the things Mithrandir says to describe himself are straight from the essay on the Istari in Unfinished Tales and therefore not my words. Specifically: "...he was the enemy of Sauron, opposing the fire that devours and wastes with the fire that kindles, and succours in wanhope and distress; but his joy, and his swift wrath, were veiled in garments grey as ash, so that only those that knew him well glimpsed the flame that was within. Merry he could be, and kindly to the young and simple, and yet quick at times to sharp speech and the rebuking of folly; but he was not roud, and sought neither power not praise, and thus far and wide he was beloved among all those that were not themselves proud. Mostly he journeyed unwearingly on foot, leaning on a staff; and so he was called among Men of the North Gandalf, “the Elf of the Wand”. For they deemed him (though in error, as has been said) to be of Elven-kind, since he would at times works wonders among them, loving especially the beauty of fire; and yet such marvels he wrought mostly for mirth and delight, and desired not that any should hold him in awe or take his counsels out of fear."

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None knew whence they were
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