Promises To Keep

by Jay of Lasgalen
October 29, 2006

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Thranduil passed through the great carved gates, barely noticing the salutes of the guards.  Behind him the caverns of Lasgalen were brightly lit by torches and firelight, in stark contrast to the darkness outside.  The halls still echoed with music and laughter; but he had no further heart for revelry and dancing tonight.   With every song of praise, every lay sung in his honour, his melancholy and sense of loss had only increased.

Outside, the forest was quiet, and he heard only the soft autumn murmur of the trees as they gently shed their leaves, drowsing towards the long sleep of winter.  The air was still, and the stars veiled by high wispy clouds and a patchy mist that rose from the damp ground.  As he walked further into the forest seeking the misty solitude the silence grew until the only sounds were the distant hoot of an owl and the gentle patter of rain as the mist thickened into a soft drizzle.

He halted before a great oak and fell to his knees on the damp, leaf-deep ground.  He raised his eyes to the tree, feeling the cool, moist touch of the misty rain on his face, and took a ragged, shaking breath.   This tree had been planted as a mere acorn when he and his father first came to Lasgalen, and had become a lasting symbol of the strength and endurance of Oropher’s reign.  That it still remained was a comfort to him, and a reminder of the cycle of life of the forest; from acorn to oak to acorn once more.

The day had been given to celebration of his kingship with feasting, music and song; celebration of the long years since the fall of Sauron; and celebration of the hard-won peace and prosperity that Lasgalen now enjoyed.  But amidst all the joyous celebration, one vital fact had been overlooked.

Today – today was also the anniversary of his father’s death, but the significance seemed forgotten by all but a few.  Few mentioned Oropher now, and even fewer marked that this celebration of Thranduil’s kingship also commemorated the fall of the old king.

Yet Oropher had not just been the king whom Thranduil had honoured.  He had also been the battle leader Thranduil had followed unhesitatingly – even into the horror and chaos of Dagorlad – and most importantly of all, he had been the father Thranduil loved and still grieved for.

In the still silence of the night he drifted into memories of his father – of the times they had gone hunting in the forests of Doriath, of tales told by a roaring fire, of the time they had built a raft together and drifted – and capsized – along the Esgalduin.   The memories brought with them peace as well as pain.   He knew that the celebration of the day had been right, for there was much to be thankful for – not least the thanks in Thranduil’s own heart for the wondrous confirmation that life continued.  It had been only a few, brief days since he and Telparian had celebrated the joyous creation of new life, and the thought still dazed him at times.  But even amidst his private joy, there remained a profound regret that Oropher would never know his grandson; would never go hunting or boating, would never teach him the call of every bird in the forest, and would never show him how to make his first bow.

Slowly, the peace and silence of the forest began to creep into his soul, soothing him as it always did.    It eased his restlessness and lulled him into a calm acceptance.   Oropher was gone, but life continued.

Around him, the evening darkened, and pockets of mist still hung oddly beneath the trees.  On a night like this, Thranduil could almost believe the legends and stories;  that on a night such as this spirits and spectres walked upon Arda, that the Houseless Ones roamed, lost and lonely.  He shivered at the thought.  The Houseless Ones - elves who had refused the summons of Mandos, who had tried to deny death itself.  They had become trapped between Arda and the Halls and wandered for eternity, restless and hungry, always seeking others to join them and ease their loneliness.

The mist thickened.  A pale light grew, and an eerie, flickering flame rose from the ground.  Then, before his very eyes, a shape began to coalesce out of the mist, gaining form and substance from the air itself, until a pale, misty figure stepped out from the shadows of the trees.   He seemed clad in a colourless haze, as thin and insubstantial as a will ’o the wisp.

Thranduil stood, instinctively drawing the dagger that never left his side, half wondering how the intruder had slipped past the guards.  Then, with a sense of disbelief, he realised that he could see through the figure to the trees behind it.  With an even greater shock of disbelief he recognised the apparition.  “Father?”  he whispered incredulously.

Almost as if naming it gave it greater strength, the spectre became clearer, though still semi-translucent.   Oropher smiled.  “My son,” he murmured.  Thranduil heard no sound, but the words drifted into his mind like a dream.  “My son.”   There was a great weight of sorrow, pain and loss behind Oropher’s silent voice.

Thranduil swallowed.   There was so much he wished he could tell his father – but this strange encounter was merely a dream, nothing more.  It could not be real.   A breath of wind stirred the leaves on the trees, and the misty figure wavered slightly before solidifying again.

“Are – are you one of the Houseless Ones?”  he asked with dread.  There was no fear for himself, but the thought of his father doomed to such an awful fate filled him with horror.

“Nay.  I dwell with Mandos now.  But on a night such as this, the veils between the worlds grow thin. I wanted to see you.   I prevailed upon him to walk once more in Lasgalen – to see you one final time.  To talk with you one final time.  And I felt you wanted to see me.”

Thranduil simply nodded.  “Yes,” he breathed at last.

Oropher bowed his head.   “Forgive me.  I am sorry.  Sorry that I left you, and sorry for my folly in refusing to ally ourselves with Gil-Galad’s forces.  My foolish, stubborn pride led us all into danger, and led our warriors to their deaths.  I see that now.  Yet when I see you now; see what you have achieved – I am so proud of you.  Despite my mistakes, you survived, and led our people home.  You have made the Greenwood strong again.  And …”

“Why?  Why did you do it?”  Thranduil interrupted.  The bitter words he had kept hidden in his heart for so long suddenly burst forth, surprising him with their force.

“Why?”  Oropher paused.  “Because … because I saw the troops of darkness closing in on your own forces.    I should have called for reinforcements – even from Gil-Galad or Elendil.  I should have warned you.  I should have thought.  But because you were threatened, I simply struck first –  and then there was no opportunity to think later.”  The shadows shifted, as if he was smiling.  “One day you will understand.  The son you will have …”

Thranduil stared at the wraith in amazement.  “You know?”  he whispered.  “You know?  Yet we have told no-one – his conceiving was only days ago!”

At Oropher’s gentle smile, Thranduil felt like a foolish child again.   “I dwell with Mandos now,”  Oropher repeated simply.  “The son you will have – you will love him, and protect him, but he is destined for greatness, and all will praise his deeds.

Thranduil was scarcely comforted.  Throughout history, elves who were the subject of praise and song had tended to have their lives cut brutally short.  “Those whom the Valar love die young,” he quoted rather bitterly.  “I know the shadow is not conquered for ever.  I know it will rise again.   Yet I had hoped that my son would be spared that horror – the Greenwood has already given enough lives!”

Oropher hesitated, as if listening to a distant voice.  “It will not claim his life. This newest son of the forest, this little green leaf – he will be greater than us both.  And one day – one day we will all be reunited again beyond the sundering seas.”

A breath of air moved, and Oropher’s form wavered.   He gazed at Thranduil.  “Goodbye,”  he murmured silently.  “I love you, my son.”  The breeze stirred again, and this time the mist drifted away like smoke, and the figure faded away into nothingness.

“Wait!” Thranduil cried desperately –  but there was no reply, silent or spoken.  There was only the damp, misty night, and the soft drip of water from the leaves.  The owl had fallen silent, and Thranduil realised that his cloak and hair were heavily beaded with moisture – though the wetness on his face was not wholly due to the rain.

He moved at last, and walked slowly back to Lasgalen, deep in thought.  The song and revelry were over, and the halls silent; lit now only by the ever-present torches.

Telparian, long abed, stirred sleepily as he entered their rooms, then sat up.  “You are soaked!”  she exclaimed.  She drew him to the fire and rekindled it to life.   “Have you been in the forest all this time?”

He had not realised that he had been gone for so long.  “I was … thinking,”  he said at last, unsure how to explain his strange meeting.  The encounter – dream – whatever it had been – had shaken him from his melancholy and self-pity, and left him with a renewed sense of peace and acceptance.    He was king, and had a duty to his people.  He had promises to keep – to the Greenwood, and to his father.  To Telparian, and to his son.   And suddenly he understood Oropher’s sacrifice.  If the time came, he would freely and gladly give his own life for the realm, for his family.

He held her close, breathing in her unique scent, and drawing strength from her love and support.  Placing one hand against her stomach, he sent a silent welcome to the new life there.  ‘Greetings, little one.’

She smiled.  “You always think best when you are beneath the trees!”  She covered his hand with her own,  and smiled again.  “I was sleeping – and I had a rather odd dream.  I dreamed of your father, and that he came to welcome this little one.  Our little green leaf, he called him.”

Thranduil felt an immense stillness and peace wash through him.   “I know,” he whispered.  “Our little green leaf.   A good name for a child of the forest.”

Telparian leaned against him and nodded.  “A good name,” she agreed. “A perfect name.”

The End