Chapter 1 - The Burning of Mirkwood
“Sire!” yelled Elhadron, King Thranduil’s chief counselor. “The orcs have found a way across the river. They ride great horned beasts able to resist the enchantment of the waters as well as the rushing current. They have taken the main gate, killing our troops as they move along. They have also breeched the portcullis leading towards the cellars and are somehow able to travel against the outward flow of the underground river.”
“How is that possible?” Thranduil asked, flabbergasted by the devastating news. “The magic of the forest river should have been enough to stop them from crossing anywhere but the bridge. They should have all fallen under the spell and drowned, even these beasts you speak of.”
Elhadron stood next to his king in utter shock and dismay. “The spell has somehow been broken. There can be no other way. Dol Guldur has released every enemy upon our home and now they have crossed the threshold. They are in the palace as we speak. We must get you to safety, Sire, and your son too.”
Thranduil shook his head determinedly. “No Elhadron, I will not abandon my home or my people. I will stand with them and fight these savage creatures until my halls are cleansed of their filth.” As he spoke, he removed his crown of berries from his flaxen head and laid it upon the empty chair next to his throne, the place where his queen once sat by his side. Thranduil looked at his crown, remembering his wife, their love and then the devastating loss. “I am your king, but I am equal to the people of Mirkwood. My father did not hide from the enemy and neither shall I.”
“But we cannot risk losing you, our king,” Elhadron countered. “We are trapped here in the palace. Let us get away now and then you can join in the fight. We are not prepared.” A door opened from the side of the room and one of Thranduil’s servants came in carrying a small elfling boy. He was crying and asking for his father. Elhadron looked back at Thranduil and added. “Your son needs you.”
Thranduil had been preoccupied and hadn’t had a moment to think about Laiqalassë until now. He had been very protective of his young son, wanting to give him as normal a life as was possible for one of royalty. Besides, the child would not understand the difference between a king and a father. Thranduil always made sure that he was never referred to as King or Majesty when his son was with him. He looked back to Elhadron. “Remember the rules counselor.”
Elhadron nodded and watched the maid hand Laiqalassë to his father. The king held his arms out to the small child. Laiqalassë was only five and did not understand what was happening, but he felt his father’s worry and fear. Now he buried his face into Thranduil’s chest, feeling the softness of his green robe as he nestled his cheek against it. Thranduil held his son tight against his breast and kissed his head.
Outside of the throne room, Elhadron could hear the sound of yells and grunts coming closer. The orcs were approaching the heart of the underground palace. “Please, they are near. We need to leave now,” he said calmly.
Thranduil ignored him and whispered in his son’s ear while rocking him. “You know that I am a warrior, yes?”
Laiqalassë nodded as he wiped his tears with the back of his small hand.
Thranduil continued. “I am needed now. You will have to stay with Elhadron, alright?”
Again, Laiqalassë nodded without saying a word. Thranduil hugged him once more and whispered in his ear. “Whatever happens, know that I will always love you.” Then he handed his son to Elhadron.
Laiqalassë panicked. “No Ada, no,” he cried.
Thranduil forced himself to ignore his child’s pleas, no matter how brutally it tore at his heart to release him from his hold. To calm the boy, he kissed his forehead, giving Laiqalassë a sense of false hope that his father would not leave. Then the king turned his attention to Elhadron. “You must go now. Take Laiqalassë far from here. Leave Mirkwood and find safety. You must get as far from the forest as possible.”
“You cannot do this,” Elhadron demanded. “You must come with us. Laiqalassë is your son and heir.”
“And that is why you must go now,” Thranduil shouted, his voice booming in the large cavernous room.
At that exact moment, the doors to the throne room began to shake and rattle. The orcs were just on the other side. The sounds of elves dying mixed with the bloodthirsty cries of the creatures. Thranduil stood from his throne, picking up his long sword as he did. He unhooked the clasp of his green cape and tossed it to the floor, raised his weapon and waited for the door to open. One last time he looked over his shoulder to Elhadron and the counselor caught a glimpse of a tear in the king’s eyes. “Elhadron, go! Leave the palace. Leave the Rhovanion. Get my son to a safe place,” he demanded just as the doors shattered from their hinges.
Thranduil’s best guardsmen, who had been stationed outside the throne room, fought against the sea of orcs. He lifted his sword in front of him and with a primal yell, Thranduil charged the enemy, joining the last of his men. Elhadron’s mind was screaming for him to run to the escape tunnels, but his legs would not move. He held the small child in his arms and watched in horror as the elves fell to their deaths. Now the orcs were inside the throne room and approaching Thranduil. Finally, Elhadron’s feet caught up to his thoughts and he turned and ran to the wall behind the king’s throne. A tapestry of Thranduil’s father, King Oropher, hid a secret door that led to a tunnel system and emptied out near the border. Elhadron looked back and found Thranduil with the two remaining guardsmen slashing orc necks. The counselor thought for a moment that they were actually overtaking the remaining orcs, but then another wave of rotted beasts swarmed in through the broken doors. Wasting no more time, Elhadron pulled the tapestry aside and pushed on the wall until he found the small entryway. The group of stones moved, producing the hidden door. Laiqalassë started to cry, asking for his father.
“It’s alright, Little Leaf. We have to go,” Elhadron calmly said.
“I want my ada to come too,” Laiqalassë begged.
The counselor did not want to lie to the child, but he didn’t want him in hysterics either. “He will be along shortly, but he wants us to go first and search the tunnel. You know how he is afraid of spiders? We must look for them and remove them.” As he distracted the boy, he crawled through the secret door, pushing Laiqalassë along in front of him.
“My ada is not scared of spiders,” declared the boy.
“Oh, not the big spiders like the ones in the woods. I’m talking about the little ones that live in the corners of the palace,” Elhadron explained. His plan was working. Laiqalassë stopped crying and was now more concerned about defending his father’s fear of spiders. “It’s spiders he’s afraid of isn’t it?”
“Ada isn’t scared of any spider, any size. He is a great warrior,” Laiqalassë said. As he spoke, Elhadron closed the secret door and pushed the child along further into the tunnel until the space widened and he could stand up. The tunnel was darker than midnight, but the elf knew there was a torch on the wall along with a piece of flint. He struck the flint against the stone wall, the sparks igniting the torch and soon they had light.
“That’s better,” Elhadron stated. He looked back to find the child standing with his head hanging, looking at the ground. “I’m sorry, my little prince. I am mistaken. He is not scared of spiders.”
Laiqalassë looked up at Elhadron with his big round eyes. “He is not coming is he?”
Elhadron bent on one knee and pulled the child to him. “I don’t know, little one, and we cannot wait for him, but he will know where we are. All we can do is hope that he will come along soon. Come now, let’s be on our way.”
They walked along the dark underground tunnel at a normal pace without saying a word. Elhadron knew what he saw just before going through the secret door. Thranduil would have perished by now. His heart was breaking not only for the loss of his great king and friend, but for Laiqalassë too. Someone so young should not have to grow up without his parents. It was at that moment that Elhadron decided he would raise the small prince. He would take him and escape the great Rhovanion forest, make a home somewhere and raise the elfling. If there was any hope of rebuilding a colony of wood elves, Laiqalassë would be their ruler. Once they were above ground again, Elhadron could assess the damage and gather the survivors. They would all leave Mirkwood and start over somewhere new.
“Snakes!” Laiqalassë said, breaking the silence.
“Snakes?” Elhadron questioned.
“Ada is afraid of snakes, not spiders.”
“Ai, that’s what it is, snakes. How silly of me to forget.”
* * *
As they moved along, Elhadron started thinking about how all of this came to be and how Mirkwood was overthrown by Dol Guldur. This was not the first time the Elven king faced Sauron and his evil forces. It happened before, many years ago . . .
Thranduil fought against Sauron and his armies during the Battle of Daglorlad. He had seen Sauron destroyed when Isildur, son of the human King Elendil cut the One Ring from the Dark Lord’s finger. He had watched Elrond, elven lord of Imladris lead Isildur to the heart of Mount Doom where the ring should have been tossed into the molten pit of the mountain, sealing Sauron’s death. Instead, Elrond had failed to make Isildur follow through with that task and the man claimed the ring for himself as well as mankind.
Eventually, Isildur was killed and the ring lost. The world fell silent for many years and the ring as well as Sauron diminished in many minds, but not Thranduil’s. He had felt that the Dark Lord would return again, and when he did, his sights would be set upon destroying the elves, which he loathed more than any other race in Middle-earth. Time and time again, Thranduil corresponded with Lady Galadriel, Elf Queen of Lothlorien, asking that she search for signs of Sauron or of the missing Ring of Power. His pleas went unanswered and so Thranduil reinforced his home in Northern Mirkwood and prepared for eventual war.
It was a well-known fact that Thranduil never completely trusted Lady Galadriel or Lothlorien. She was Noldo as well as most of the elves in the city of Caras Galadhon. Thranduil was King of the Sindarin elves and there had always been distrust between the two elf races. Galadriel had been amongst those responsible for the Kin Slayings of the First Age, when elves struck out and killed their own kind, something extremely forbidden in their culture. Galadriel separated herself from those who supported the travesty and made her way from the blessed realm of Valinor to Middle-earth where she eventually took up residence in Lothlorien. Thranduil knew the Noldor cared more for their own than others and was always suspicious of Galadriel, but when she hadn’t taken his concerns of Sauron into account, his faith in Lothlorien all but vanished.
Just as Thranduil had suspected, the Dark Lord Sauron reappeared after a long silence and took over Dol Guldur in Southern Mirkwood. He disguised himself as a sorcerer called the Necromancer and began building his armies. It went unnoticed until the wizard Gandalf decided to investigate. What he found was an army of orcs and other horrible creatures, slowly growing to an immense size. Gandalf went to Mirkwood, informing King Thranduil of the potential threat. Then he went to Lothlorien and told the Lady Galadriel of his discovery. A council was formed to discuss what steps needed to be taken in order to drive Sauron out, but with no attacks from Dol Guldur, the elves would not show force yet. In the meantime, Thranduil watched as his precious Mirkwood, known then as Greenwood, became darker as evil creatures bred and became numerous. The wood elves barricaded themselves in the Northern parts of Mirkwood while waiting for word from Lothlorien. Again, Thranduil sent letters explaining their situation, but without any outward threats from Dol Guldur, they would not strike first and Thranduil watched his realm shrink.
Finally, the decision came down from the White Counsel to march into Dol Guldur and once again face Sauron, but by this time it was too late. Somehow, Sauron got word of the meetings and increased the size of his armies. Knowing that the elves would come for him, he gave orders to march to Thranduil’s land and destroy all of the wood elves. He hoped that this would bring Lothlorien to the battle and that his armies would destroy the Noldorin community, or at least make a sizeable dent in their numbers. However, Sauron himself did not lead his evil army. He used this battle with Mirkwood as a diversion and escaped to Mordor where he would further expand his power and his armies, this time influencing the race of Men such as Haradrim and Easterlings, desert dwellers who were easily persuaded with promises of wealth and power.
Lothlorien and Mirkwood fought against the orcs, but most fled back to Dol Guldur. Thranduil wanted to march with Lothlorien to the south and clear the last of the orcs out of his realm, but Galadriel ordered her soldiers to come home. The woods of Mirkwood had grown too dangerous, not with orcs, but with giant spiders and other creatures of the night. There were too many and it was too dangerous. Thranduil was furious and blamed Lothlorien for Sauron’s escape, saying that one of her Noldorin elves must have been a spy for the Dark Lord. Galadriel told him if anyone could not be trusted, it was one of the wild wood elves. And so, the rift between Noldor and Sindarin elves widened.
All of this happened over a long expanse of years, but led to the present as the orcs invaded Thranduil’s palace yet again, leaving Elhadron and Laiqalassë to escape. The counselor now understood Thranduil’s deep distrust of the Noldorin and Lothlorien. Had they acted when the Elven king first notified them of his concerns, maybe none of this would be happening now. It was too late though, and now the palace had been taken over, Thranduil slain along with the other wood elves. Elhadron’s only hope was to escape with the little prince, heir to the throne. The counselor felt as though the weight of the world rested upon his shoulders.
* * *
Eventually they made their way to the end of the tunnels, which emptied into a hidden cave. Elhadron knelt down to the boy’s level and spoke in calm and even tones. “I want you to stay right here while I go outside and examine the surroundings. I won’t be gone for very long. You will be safe here in this cave, but you must not cry or make any noise. Can you do that for me, Little Leaf?”
Laiqalassë nodded, though he looked frightened, “I can do that, Elhadron.”
“You are so brave,” the counselor said smiling at the child. “You are just like your ada.” He patted Laiqalassë on his flaxen head and left the safety of the cave.
Outside, the air carried the stench of rotted orc flesh and smoke. There were other odors that Elhadron was afraid to imagine, but he knew burning flesh when he smelled it and the metallic scent of fresh spilled blood. Carefully, he climbed a small hill, keeping a watchful eye around him. When he made his way to the crest, he could see all of Mirkwood where Thranduil’s palace stood off in the distance. Tears fell from his eyes as he stared in disbelief at the sight that met him. Mirkwood burned, every tree, every last talan, and the hill beneath which Thranduil’s caverns lay. The flames reached to the top of the highest trees, black plumes of smoke rising even higher. It was complete devastation. Once at the bottom of the small hill, the counselor searched the area for elves, hoping to find some who might have escaped the burning in the distance, but there were none, only fallen bodies of elves dressed in green tunics and leggings, covered in blood. It seemed as though none survived. Elhadron and Laiqalassë were the last wood elves of Mirkwood. He wept for his home, for his people, his loved ones . . . and his king. “Gone,” he cried to himself. “They have all perished.” He balled up his fists, nails cutting into the fleshy palms as anger rose above grief. “And where was Lothlorien? How many times did my lord call upon them, telling them of his premonitions and they did nothing. Sauron yet lives because of the Noldor and now my home burns, my people die before me.”
Elhadron regained his composure. He had seen enough. There were none to save but Laiqalassë and he needed to get back to him. The counselor returned cautiously to the cave, finding the child right where he left him, only now he was curled up on the dirt floor, asleep. Elhadron decided they would stay in the cave a while longer. The orcs had done what they set out to do. Soon they would retreat and head south back to Dol Guldur. Until then, this would be his refuge. He had to think of Laiqalassë now and getting him somewhere safe. Thranduil had begged him to leave the forest all together and that was just what Elhadron meant to do, but it was too dangerous a task by himself. Travel would be slower with a young child to care for. He thought about his options and knew whom he must find.
There was a small colony of men that resided within the forest of Mirkwood, just west of the Enchanted River. Woodsmen, the elves called them. They were a peaceful people who chose to live amongst the trees rather than a city such as Laketown or Dale. These men lived off the land very much in the same way as the wood elves. They kept to themselves and had no dealings with outsiders, but perhaps they would help Elhadron get free of the forest. This was his only chance for escape, his only chance to protect the small prince.
“Prince,” Elhadron thought aloud. “The title alone will make the boy a target. Perhaps it is best that the child remains unaware of his lineage, at least until he is older. He is so young and Thranduil was very protective of him. He gave Laiqalassë as normal a life as he could.” It was true. Though Thranduil was king, he never wanted to influence Laiqalassë with his royal standing until the boy was old enough to understand it. He only wanted his son to know him as a father, not a king, not a ruler of an entire race of elves. The boy was never around to see people bow to Thranduil or call him Sire. “I mustn’t ever refer to him as prince again. I should have known better, for Thranduil never allowed it, but I had forgotten in all the confusion,” Elhadron said to himself. He looked down to the small shape lying on the ground. Laiqalassë sucked his thumb while the other hand twirled a strand of his hair. Elhadron sighed quietly as he watched. Thranduil used to hold the boy as he napped and he did the same thing, sucking on his thumb, except it was his father’s hair that he twirled. “Those who knew of the king’s son only knew of him by his pure name, Laiqalassë. That must change now, though it is not my place to give him a new name. I will only change its form then. It is settled. From here on out, you are Legolas, not Laiqalassë or Prince. When you are older, I will tell you the story of your fate and that of your parents, but for now, it is not important to our survival. We will wait a couple more days and set out to find the Woodsmen and then I’ll figure out where to go from there.”
Elhadron settled on the floor next to Legolas and picked the boy up, holding him in his arms. The small hand reached up for fistful of the counselor’s long yellow hair, never waking in the process. He was sure the child was traumatized from the day’s events. It would get no easier once Legolas awoke and asked for his ada. Elhadron would have to tell him the truth that his father perished. For now though, the little elfling was safe from reality, lost in a world of elven dreams.
Chapter end notes:
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