Mid-Winter Gifts

Chapter 3: Awakenings

by Jay of Lasgalen

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The short winter day was already darkening into dusk by mid-afternoon as Peneldur brought his boat back to the one remaining undamaged jetty.  From the lakeside, the damage looked even worse.  Carrying Legolas, Elrond strode up the steps to the town, Elrohir pacing beside him.  There was a bustle of noise and people as they entered the master’s house.  Some of the search parties had already returned, most of them completely empty-handed.  Some had grim news, tales of wreckage found from the missing boats.  Besides Ramdal, another fisherman had been recovered, but too late.

Elrond carried Legolas to the room he had shared with his father that first night.  It seemed so long ago now.  “We need to get him warm,” Elrond explained.  “But carefully.  Like this.”  He wrapped stones, already heated in the fire - the men of Laketown had long experience in treating immersion in the icy waters - in thick cloth, and placed them next to Legolas, close to his body.  Then he carefully covered him with a warm blanket, and filled a deep basin with boiling water.  A handful of crushed athelas was added, and the scent crept around the room.  The basin was placed on the floor, at the head of the bed, so Legolas could breathe the warm, moist air.

With a weary sigh, Elrond straightened.  “That is all I can do for now,” he said.  “Elrohir, will you stay with him?  Find me if he wakes.  I will see if I can find any more news.  Keep the fire going, and replace the stones, and the water, when you need to.”

Nodding, Elrohir sat down by the bed.  The room was hot and stuffy, and after a while he removed his outer tunic, leaving just a sleeveless shift.  But the heat was just what Legolas needed – already he seemed a little warmer to the touch.   He was deeply relieved that they had at least found Legolas; it would be terrible if anything happened to his friend.  But he was still deeply concerned for Thranduil.  If he was dead – and things did not look promising – then Legolas would be thrust into kingship.  His mother had died when Legolas was just ten, and if he had lost his father as well …  Elrohir tried to imagine how he would feel if anything happened to either of his parents, or Elladan, or Arwen, but found it too dreadful to contemplate.

He boiled a little more water, and added some more athelas, then checked the heated stones, replacing them as well.  The fire was still burning brightly, and he was quite sure now that Legolas felt warmer.  He was still asleep, his eyes closed, his dark lashes showing up starkly against his pale skin.

Elrond joined him a little later.  There was one piece of good news – one of the missing fishermen had been found, adrift in his boat, the mast broken and the oars missing.  He, too, was suffering from the effects of the cold, but was expected to recover.  There was little other news, and nothing had been heard of from the search parties that Celebrían, Arwen and Elladan had joined.  If they did not find anything by nightfall, they were to camp during the hours of darkness, and continue the next day.

As Elrohir slid his hand beneath the blanket to check the warming stones again, he was startled to hear a faint voice make a protest.  “Hey, watch where you’re groping me!”

He looked up in delight.  “Legolas!  Thank the Valar!  How do you feel?”

“A lot warmer than I did.”  Legolas was looking, and sounding, more alert by the minute.  “But is there any more news?  Have you found my father?”  His face fell as he read the answer in their expressions.

“No, not yet,” Elrond told him sadly.  “But one of the fishermen has been found alive.  Legolas, there is still hope.  Can you tell me what happened?  Do you remember?”

Legolas nodded.  “Yes, everything apart from the very end.”  He closed his eyes again wearily, trying to come to terms with the fact that his father was still missing.  Tears pricked at his eyelids.  He felt Elrond stroking his head gently.

“There is no shame in tears, little one.  But do not give up yet.”

“I’ll go and find Peneldur,” suggested Elrohir.  “I know he wants to know about Gundor.”  He returned moments later with Peneldur.

“Do you have a clearer picture of the damage yet?”  Elrond asked him.

Peneldur nodded.  “Aye.  It’s the worst we’ve had for twenty years or more, I’d say.  We can rebuild it, but it’ll take time, timber – and men.  It’ll be a hard task.”

As Legolas listened to Peneldur’s description of what would have to be done, he realised this was not just his personal tragedy.  The disaster had hit the whole of Laketown hard.  Then Peneldur turned to him.  “Can you tell me what happened to you, lad?”

Legolas dropped his head, wondering where to start.  Then he looked up again.  “When we saw the storm approaching, Gundor turned and began to head back to Esgaroth.  But it hit us almost immediately.  Gundor tried to drop the sail, but a rope snapped, and the end of it hit Father in the face.  He – he was knocked overboard.  I went in to try to find him, but I couldn’t see him, I couldn’t see him anywhere!  Gundor kept trying to pull me back on the boat.  He said –”  he voice quavered, just a little – “He said he was damned if he was going to see us both drown.  But I couldn’t just give up!  The water was very murky, so it was impossible to see anything, but I kept diving down, and calling, and trying to find him, but there was nothing.”  He fell silent.

“And what then?  What about Gundor, and the boat?”  Peneldur asked him.

Legolas shrugged.  “I’m not quite sure.  While I was searching, the boat was being carried further and further away.  Then it suddenly wasn’t there anymore.  It had capsized.  I tried to find what had happened to Gundor, but I couldn’t see him either. The water was so rough, I couldn’t see anything.  I’m sorry.”  His voice dropped, and he added, almost to himself, “I couldn’t find either of them.” 

He paused for a moment, then continued, “In the end, I couldn’t go on any more.  I was so cold, so tired.  I was so scared.  It was dark by then, and I didn’t know where I was.  Then I saw a boat, and managed to swim just that bit further.  Somehow I got up on top of it – I thought that would be better than being in the water.  I thought that maybe, in the morning, someone would find me.  But then, in the morning, I think I fell asleep – and I slipped off the boat.  I couldn’t get back on.  So I just hung on to it.  It seemed to be forever, and the water was so cold.  I – I don’t really remember anything after that.”

“That would be when we arrived.  Just in time, it would seem.”

“Oh.  I thought I remembered seeing you there.”  Legolas closed his eyes again, and leaned back against the bedhead.  “Lord Elrond, who’s here?”

“Who is here?  Some of your father’s guards, and Peneldur’s men, and the warriors from Esgaroth.  The Master is talking to them now.  Why?”

“Because I want to talk to them as well.  Now.”  He stood, pulling the blanket off the bed with him, and draping it around his shoulders. 

“Legolas, wait!  At least get dressed first!”  Elrond protested.

“There’s no time, he’s almost finished, can’t you hear?  Come on.”

He went straight to the main hall, where the Master was addressing the assembled rescuers.  “It’s now too late to continue our searches, but we will start again at dawn.  There are still three missing, we’re going to do everything we can to find them.”

Before he could dismiss them, Legolas stepped forward.  “Lord Bregor, may I speak as well?”  At Bregor’s nod, Legolas stood at his side, facing the hall.  His feet were bare, he was clad only in the blanket snatched from the bed, and his hair, snarled and tangled, hung in limp rats-tails around his shoulders.  But Elrond did not see this, and nor, it seemed, did the men in the hall.  Legolas stood, tall and confident, waiting until those that had already turned away at the end of Bregor’s speech turned again to face him.  Despite his bedraggled appearance, he looked every inch a Prince of the Greenwood.

“People of Laketown,” he began.  “I understand from fish-master Peneldur that this is the worst disaster to strike you for many years.  Much of your fleet has been damaged or destroyed, and the docks and jetties also damaged, which will affect your trading and commerce.  The elves of the Greenwood will lend what aid we can.  We will give wood, to rebuild both the docks and the fishing fleet.  We will provide extra hands for the rebuilding work, though I fear we have little knowledge of boat-building.  We will help you to search for those of your people who are still missing.

“This is in gratitude for your efforts to help me and my father, and because we are neighbours and allies.  My father – ”  Legolas stopped momentarily, but then continued steadily – “my father is still missing, but I know that he would – will – agree with this pledge.”  He stepped back, and seemed surprised at the applause that broke out from the men in the hall, and at the way every single one of the elven guards bowed to him.

He crossed to the doorway, where Elrond and Elrohir both stood, also applauding.  “Well done, little – forgive me.  Well done, Prince Legolas,”  Elrond said.  “Your father would have – your father will be proud of you.”  He cursed himself for that unfortunate slip of the tongue.

“I hope so,”  Legolas murmured, almost to himself.  “I hope so.”


Slowly, very slowly, Thranduil opened his eyes.  For a moment the world was a blur, and he blinked several times, gradually finding he was able to focus.  It did little to help his sense of disorientation.  He was looking at rough-hewn planks only inches above him; the wood coarse-grained and splintered.  He lay on a thin, lumpy mattress and was covered by a coarse blanket that felt harsh against his bare skin.  He gazed blankly at the boards.  Where in all of Arda was he?  How had he come to be here?

There was a throbbing pain along one side of his face, and he began to raise one hand to explore the injury.  As he did so, he was aware of a slight movement at his side, and turned his head to see a girl of perhaps ten years staring at him.  She backed away hurriedly, her eyes wide in an expression remarkably similar to –

Ion nîn!” Thranduil said desperately, his voice a little hoarse.  He tried to sit, but had to stop partway, before his head connected with the planks above him.  He repeated, “Ion nîn.  Mas i ion nîn?”   Memory came crashing down on him; the boating trip, the storm, Gundor desperately trying to control the little boat and drop the sail before the wind ripped it to shreds.  There had been a sharp crack, audible over the buffeting wind, and something had struck him in the face with all the force of a heavy blow.  Then there was a confusing blur of falling, icy waters closing over him, Legolas screaming his name, and the boat being swept away from him.  He had dimly been able to hear Legolas calling; his voice growing ever fainter; but had been unable to respond, all his attention and effort concentrated on staying afloat, staying conscious.  There was little to recall after that.

At the sound of his voice, a woman appeared, but she and the girl both stared at him uncomprehendingly.  The child took a further step back, although she could not go far, the room was tiny.

Abruptly, Thranduil realised he had spoken in Sindarin.  It was small wonder they stared at him so blankly.  He tried to gather his scattered thoughts, and repeated the words in Westron.  “My son.  Where is my son?  He was with me.  Have you seen him?”

Understanding broke over the woman’s face, but she shook her head regretfully.  “No,” she whispered, a little fearfully.  “There was no one else. Your son?  How old is he?”

Thranduil closed his eyes in despair.  He hoped desperately that Legolas had had the sense to stay on board the boat, and was safely in Esgaroth now, but he feared it was not so.  He could not be sure, but he thought Legolas had jumped into the water after him.  Had Gundor been able to pull him back?  “He is just a child,” he explained.  “Nearly adult now, but still a child.”

“Aye, I know what you mean.”  The woman spoke with complete understanding.  “My lad’s one of the fisher folk at Laketown.  This is his first season there.  He’s grown, but I still worry about him.  And specially after that dreadful storm yesterday!  I hope he weren’t out in it.”

“Wait a moment,” Thranduil interrupted her.  “Yesterday?  The storm was yesterday?  How long have I been here?”

“Tayla here found you just after dawn.  You’d been washed up on the shore, and we brought you back here. Now it’s the afternoon, a bit after .  I’m Estella.  Do you have a name?”

Thranduil answered automatically.  “Oropherion.”  It was a name he used among strangers, when it might not be wise to disclose his true identity.  What was more, it had the advantage of being true.  Yesterday.  The storm had been a day ago.  He had been missing for all that time.  Legolas, if he was safe – please, blessed Elbereth, he must be safe! – would be frantic with fear and worry.  “Lady Estella, I have to return to Esgaroth.  If my son is there, he will be desperately worried.  If he is not there …”  He could not continue that thought.  “I have to find him.  Your name means ‘hope’ in my tongue.  Perhaps it is an omen.  Let us hope we will both find our sons.”

Estella nodded.  “I understand that you want to go as soon as may be, but first, will you eat with us?  There’s bread, and cheese, and apples, and milk to drink.  There’s no meat, I’m afraid.  Is that all right?  I’m sorry, I don’t know what you might eat.  I’ve scarcely met any of your folk before.  People say that the Elvenking is wary of men, that he’s a bad one to cross, that it’s dangerous to trespass in his forest.  Is that true?”  She flushed.  “Forgive me, I don’t mean to be rude.  ’Tis your King I’m talking about.”

“I – have never heard any of those rumours before,”  Thranduil told her.  Did they really say such things about him?  “But I think you would have nothing to fear.  The only dangers are the spiders, and we try to keep them under control, and well away from this part of the forest.  And I think the King would be greatly pleased at the care you have shown me. But thank you, cheese and bread would be most welcome.”

Estella pointed to a pile at the foot of the bed.  “Your clothes are there.”  She blushed, most becomingly.  “I took off all your wet things, they were soaked through, and you were so cold!  We had to get you warm and dry. And I washed them, and dried them  for you.”  She took her daughter’s hand.  “Tayla, come away, we’ll leave Oropherion in peace.”  She moved aside, pulling a thin curtain across behind her. 

Thranduil saw she had left him in a tiny alcove off what appeared to be the only other room in the hut.  On the far side – two feet away – were two narrow bunks, one above the other, the same, he realised, as where he had lain.  Standing, he dressed swiftly.  He still felt a little light-headed from the blow, but nothing would prevent him from returning to Esgaroth as soon as possible. 

Trying to piece together his hazy, jumbled memories he remembered attempting to swim towards the shore, knowing that in the vastness of the lake, amid the icy waves, he had no chance of survival.  He had come across a floating log and had clung to it desperately, as fiercely as he had held on to his fading consciousness; knowing that to relinquish either would be to perish.  There was no recollection at all of ever reaching the lake shore.  His stubbornness and obstinacy, which Telparian had told him – on more than one occasion – was his greatest failing, was all that had saved him.  That, and an incredible amount of luck.  The luck had to hold for Legolas as well.  It had to.

On the other side of the curtain, in the main room, he could hear Estella talking about him to someone – her husband?  “He’s called Oropherion, and he’s nothing like I imagined, he’s very charming and gracious, but so worried about his son!  He’s going to go back to Laketown now, to see if he’s there.  And I want to go as well, to see our Ram; see if he’s safe.  Tayla, you be a good girl now, and stay here with your Da.  Mind you do what he says!”

All three looked up as Thranduil pulled back the curtain and came into the small room.  Estella’s husband rose to his feet, extending his hand.  Remembering this form of greeting, Thranduil shook it. 

“I’m Elemas.  And you’re most welcome here.  Estella tells me you want to leave soon?  We’d be glad for you to stay, but I understand that you want to see if your lad’s safe.”

Thranduil inclined his head, placing his right hand to his chest in the elvish greeting.  “I thank you, Elemas, Estella.  And you have my eternal gratitude for your kindness.”

“It were nothing!  I’m just glad we found ye.  And maybe someone’s found your lad, and is looking after him?”

“I hope so,”  Thranduil murmured, almost to himself.  “I hope so.”

They ate swiftly, Tayla chattering of some of the other things she had found along the shoreline.  Then she shivered.  “It’s cold, Da.  The fire’s nearly out.  Can I put on some more wood?”

Elemas grunted.  “No wood left, sweetling.  I’ll gather some more tomorrow.  We’ll be fine for now.”

Thranduil had a sudden flash of insight.  Estella’s words about when they had found him came back, how cold he had been, and the need for him to be warm and dry.  These people had used the last of their precious firewood for him.  He also knew that if he mentioned it they would be greatly embarrassed.

They prepared to travel as quickly as possible.  Thranduil wanted to get as far as possible before the short day faded into night.  If alone, he would have continued until he reached Esgaroth, but Estella would not be able to walk in darkness.  But the further they got, the greater the chance that they would meet up with one of the search parties he knew would be out looking.

After walking for perhaps two hours, dusk was falling.  Estella slowed, stumbling once or twice.  She was tired, and found it impossible to see the path before her.  Thranduil was just about to agree to stop, when in the distance he heard something.  “Someone approaches,” he told her.  “I can hear horses.”  He listened carefully, then turned, smiling.  “There are five riders, some of them my own people.  I think we have found one of the search parties.”

Estella stared at him.  “I can’t hear anything!  How can you tell?  How do you know they’re elves?”

“I can hear their voices.”  But none of them was Legolas, he already knew that.  He had still not found his son.

Some five minutes later, the riders appeared.  Thranduil saw two of his own guards, and Elladan – or was it Elrohir? – and two soldiers from Esgaroth.  He stepped forward.  “Mae govannen, my friends!”

He saw relief on all their faces, and both Hathol and Galdor, his own warriors, dropped to the ground.  They knelt on the muddy path, saluting him.  “Your majesty!  Thank the Valar you are safe! We feared you were both lost!”

Thranduil’s heart sank.  “Both?  Is there no news of my son?”

Hathol shook his head.  “Prince Legolas is still missing, your majesty,” he whispered.

Thranduil felt deep despair.  All his worst fears had been realised.  If Legolas was dead – if he had drowned in the icy waters – if he had slowly succumbed to the freezing cold – without Legolas, Thranduil could not continue.

Galdor was speaking now.  “Your majesty, it is possible that one of the other search parties found him.  If we return to Esgaroth there may be more news.  If we ride swiftly we can be there in a few hours.  We came more slowly on the outward journey, we were searching all the reed beds and inlets.”

Thranduil swiftly took stock of the situation.  “Get up, both of you.  I will need your horses.  Lady Estella – ”  he turned to her, saw her standing, staring at him in shock.

“Your majesty?” she repeated.  “You’re the King?  But – those things I said!  Please, forgive me!”

“Lady Estella, it is I who must beg your forgiveness.  I was not totally honest with you.  I am Thanduil Oropherion, King of Greenwood the Great.  The Elvenking you spoke of.   And I hope I am not as terrifying as you thought.  Now, can you ride?  Galdor will give you his horse, she is smaller than Hirrim there.  Or if you will, you can ride with me.”

Estella pulled herself together.  “I’ve never ridden a horse, I wouldn’t know where to start.  I’ll ride with you, if I may – your majesty.”  She sounded rather timid.

“Do not name me that, I am not your King.  Call me Thranduil, if you will.”  He smiled.  “Or Oropherion, as you did before.”  He turned to his guards.  “Hathol, may I take Hirrim?  You will have to ride with Galdor.  I want you to continue north, keep searching.”  He addressed the men from Esgaroth.  “I have a request.  Would you go with them?  There may be other people missing after the storm.  I do not want to stop the search parties.”

The men saluted him. “Yes, my Lord, of course!”

“Very well.  Elladan?  What of you?  Where is the rest of your family?”

“My mother, and Arwen, are with one of the other search parties.  Elrohir and my father went with the fleet – there’s several fishermen missing, too.  But I saw their boat returning a few hours ago.  They wouldn’t have gone back unless they had found something, or someone.”

Estella stifled a gasp at Elladan’s news.  “My lad’s with the fleet,” she told him.  “I hope he’s safe.  When can we go?”

They set off, the four guards continuing northward.  Thranduil, with Estella seated in front of him, went on Hirrim, while Elladan rode with them back to Esgaroth.  All three hoped fervently that they would find the lost ones safe and well.

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