By Any Means Necessary
Lindir gave Erestor a surprised look, finding the talan swarming with busy Elves. In Erestor’s dark eyes he saw similar puzzlement. They hadn’t expected Mirkwood to be this pleasing to the eyes. The treetops that housed the Woodland Elves were still unaffected by the approaching darkness and here the birds had gathered, singing their songs. Several Elves had arrived to welcome them, and Legolas introduced them as Thranduil’s advisors.
Erestor was stunned to learn that these advisors were relieved that he had made the journey. They were most eager to discuss a truce, but also admitted that their ruler was opposed to that very idea.
“You can talk later,” decreed Legolas, admonishing the too eager advisors. “Our guests are weary from their travels and need to freshen up and rest first. I am sure Lord Erestor will be more than willing to meet with you later.”
At that, the advisors backed down and left one by one. Erestor smiled at Legolas. “So far none of my fears have come true. I expected hostility, not this eager welcome.” Mirkwood and its inhabitants had surprised him.
Legolas nodded once. “All of us feel the advancing darkness, Erestor. We do not want to surrender to the Shadow, but we are bound to follow my father and accept his guidance.” He signaled for Erestor and Lindir to follow him to that part of the talan where they would stay.
“Even when the guidance your father offers is wrong?” asked Erestor curiously. He knew Legolas was loyal to his father, but even the golden-haired Elf had to see the folly of Thranduil’s actions.
“My father rules Mirkwood. The burden he carries is heavy, but I do trust his judgment.”
They had reached their destination and stepped inside. Erestor was pleasantly surprised, finding Arien shining brightly through the leaves. “The darkness has not reached the heart of Mirkwood yet, then.”
“But it has reached my father’s,” said Legolas somberly.
“Tell me more about your father,” said Erestor, signaling for Lindir to unpack their belongings.
Erestor and Legolas sat down and the dark-haired advisor listened closely when Legolas spoke again.
“The Shadow has found a way into his heart and is affecting him. At times, he is thoroughly confused and prefers to stay in his private rooms. He is growing weaker, mentally and physically. Sometimes, he sits entranced and won’t hear or acknowledge me. I fear for him.”
Erestor easily read the fears in Legolas’ eyes. “Are you afraid your father will fade due to the Shadow?” Surprised, he wondered what else he would uncover during his stay here.
Legolas’ eyes turned dull and sad. “Aye, I fear for him.”
Erestor considered everything he had learned. “What course do you suggest I follow?”
Legolas moistened his lips, trying to control his fears and doubts. Was Erestor the answer to the prayers that he had sent to the Valar? “I do not want to lose my father to the Shadow, Erestor. I do not know your opinion of him, but his heart is good. He may not be subtle at times, but he means well.”
Erestor nodded. “I do not doubt his love for you.”
Legolas swallowed convulsively, suddenly needing to confide in his friend. “My mother died whilst giving birth to me and I have never known her. My father raised me. It was his love and guidance that made me into the person that I am today.”
Erestor smiled warmly. “He did an excellent job raising you, Legolas.” He was feeling more confident that he would succeed in gaining Thranduil’s support now that Legolas was on his side. “Do you think I should try to win his trust?”
Legolas nodded again. “He still refuses to meet with you. His advisors are upset because of his refusal, but they will not defy him.” Suddenly, his blue eyes regained their sparkle. “My father likes to spend his evenings outside, near the lake. I can take you there.”
“Thranduil would think it is a chance meeting then.” Erestor gracefully inclined his head, instantly liking the idea.
Now that Lindir had unpacked, he joined them, taking a tray filled with food items with him that had been delivered to their talan a moment ago.
Addressing Legolas again, Erestor said, “I will take this chance you are offering.”
Legolas got to his feet again, inclined his head in respect and smiled brightly. “Erestor, I hope you will be able to change my father’s mind. He is strong, but the Shadow is much stronger and it won’t be long before it will utterly consume him.” After giving Erestor one more pleading look, he turned around and left.
Erestor settled back, pondering this new information. “Our situation is nothing like I thought it would be.” He needed to adjust his plans to this situation. “Try to get word to Elrond that we have arrived safely and that Legolas has welcomed us.”
“I will send word.” Lindir shared Erestor’s concern after learning how fragile Thranduil’s state of mind was. “Do you think you can convince Thranduil to accept help?”
“I sincerely hope so,” mumbled Erestor. “I have no desire to see Mirkwood and Thranduil destroyed by the Shadow. I will talk to Thranduil tonight. Let us hope he will listen to the voice of reason.” Erestor dreaded to think what would happen if Thranduil refused.
Legolas soundlessly entered his father’s rooms. His eyes scanned his surroundings and he was relieved when he found Thranduil seated in one of the larger branches of the tree. “Ada?”
Sad eyes fastened on him and Legolas swallowed hard, seeing the dark shadows in the normally sparkling green eyes. The land and Thranduil were one, and that connection was causing his father great pain.
“Legolas, ion-nîn, what brings you here?”
Legolas shivered at hearing the empty tone to his father’s voice. Thranduil was still fighting the Shadow, but the battle continued to weaken him.
Advancing on his father, Legolas’ features contorted with obvious anguish. Due to the Shadow Thranduil had lost a considerable amount of weight and his once golden, silken hair was growing grey, long having lost its luster. The green eyes no longer shone with life, and seemed dead. “Aiya, Ada! It hurts me to see you in this way!” He flung himself into his father’s arms.
Thranduil caught his distressed son and pulled him close. Once Legolas had comfortably settled against him, he lovingly stroked his son’s long hair. “Legolas, you should not be here. I do not want you to see me like this.” One look at his son told him that Legolas was suffering as well.
“But I need you close! I worry about you, Ada!” Legolas clung to his father. “Why won’t you let us help you?”
Thranduil smiled, saddened, at his son. “The land is my responsibility. Now that the darkness has returned I cannot turn away from my duty. The land and I are one, ion-nîn.”
“But the Shadow is affecting you! You are wasting away!” Legolas raised his head and met his father’s burdened gaze. “I want to help.”
Thranduil tucked his son’s head beneath his chin, summoning what remained of his former strength. “I am doing this for you and our people, Legolas. The Shadow won’t demand my life. It enjoys my suffering and will keep me alive.”
“But look at the quality of your life!” Legolas trembled in his father’s arms. “You hardly venture outside -- only in the evening when Arien has set, and you hardly talk to your advisors.” He was the only one who was allowed to see his father in his current condition. “How much longer will the Shadow make you suffer like this?”
”I do not know the answers to your questions,” said Thranduil in a tired voice. “At times I cannot even think rationally.” His condition always worsened during the night, when he went to sleep. Nightmares would plague him, showing him the demise of Mirkwood and its inhabitants. Many nights he woke up screaming and Legolas was always there to comfort him. His son meant so much to him; Legolas always had.
“Arien will set early tonight. Will you go to the lake again?” Legolas pulled away slightly so he could look at his father’s face. Thranduil’s features were sunken and sharp cheekbones clearly showed.
“Aye, I will. Will you keep me company then?”
“I will walk you there,” said Legolas, smiling at his father. But first he would instruct one of the guards to take Erestor there as well. The dark-haired advisor from Imladris was his last hope.
“Thank you for escorting me, but I would like some moments alone, ion-nîn.” Thranduil’s shoulders had slumped in defeat now that night was settling over Mirkwood. He looked deeply into his son’s eyes and read understanding in them. He knew he should be dealing with the party that had arrived from Imladris today, but he had to postpone that until Arien had risen again and he’d had a chance to regain some of his strength. “And see to our guests.”
Legolas grew alert. This was the first time his father had mentioned the party from Imladris. “I have already assigned a section of the talan to them.”
“What would I do without you?” asked Thranduil rhetorically. “I would be lost without you, Legolas.”
The expression in Legolas’ blue eyes told of sorrow and shared pain. He raised a hand, and brushed a wayward lock away from his father’s face. “Will you talk with Erestor tomorrow?”
“Erestor?” Thranduil drew in a deep breath. “Elrond sent his chief advisor?”
“You threatened to end Elrond’s life should he ever venture into Mirkwood,” said Legolas, reminding his father of that fact.
“You are right.” Thranduil nodded his head once. “I do not want Elrond or his sons close. I do not want him to know how little is left of me.”
“But Ada, he is a healer! He could help you!” Legolas’ sharp senses told him that Erestor had arrived. It was time to leave so the chief advisor could approach his father.
“Elrond and I have never been friends, Legolas, and I do not want him to know how weakened Mirkwood really is.”
/Why? / Legolas wondered privately, but he didn’t voice his question. “I will leave you then.” Though he wished he could stay and continue to comfort his father.
“Thank you, ion-nîn.” Thranduil placed a parental kiss on his son’s brow and then turned away, slowly walking toward the lake.
Turning around, Legolas came face to face with Erestor.
Thranduil’s appearance and expression greatly worried Erestor. He’d had no idea just how serious the situation was. “I will try to get through to him.”
Legolas bit his bottom lip. “Do your best, meldir. I do not want to lose my father to the Shadow.” Forcing himself to leave, he hoped Erestor would find a way.
Thranduil sat down on the grass, leaning his back against the trunk of an ancient tree. Like him, the roots of the tree were already contaminated by the Shadow, which was destroying them both from the inside. Sighing, distressed, he wondered how long their agony would be drawn out. The day would come that he would succumb to the darkness, but he was determined to die fighting, knowing Legolas would be the Shadow’s next victim. As his heir, Legolas would inherit his burdens and he wanted to spare his son the suffering involved. “I am not ready yet to lie down and fade.”
Hearing Thranduil’s pain-filled words, Erestor slowly emerged from the trees. But the Sindarin Elf didn’t seem to notice him and he took his time studying the blond. Thranduil’s splendor had been greatly affected by the Shadow and he wondered what the Elf had looked like before the darkness had invaded his being. Although Elrond and Thranduil had never been friends, the half-Elf always spoke of Thranduil with the greatest respect. The fact that Elrond now worried about Thranduil told Erestor that the two Elves must have gotten along at some point. What had caused their falling out?
The words didn’t register with Thranduil, who was staring at the dark surface of the lake. Erestor tried again.
Hearing his name spoken by an unknown voice finally drew Thranduil’s attention. “Who goes there? Don’t you know that I want to be alone?” He didn’t bother to look up, reckoning the intruder would leave shortly. His subjects would never knowingly invade his privacy like this!
“I heard what you said.” Erestor didn’t know if his approach was wise, but decided to follow through. After what Legolas had told him, he wasn’t surprised to learn that Thranduil was fading. That fact made him only more determined to convince Thranduil to accept help.
Thranduil sighed, distressed. “I told you to leave me alone.”
“I do not truly believe that you want to be alone.” Erestor advanced on the blond and came to a standstill behind Thranduil, who still didn’t bother to look at him. Did Thranduil think he was one of his subjects? “There must be a way to stop you from fading.”
Realizing the intruder didn’t plan on leaving him to his misery, Thranduil raised his voice. “I forbid you to tell anyone what you just learned and I order you to leave now.”
Erestor grinned wickedly, readying himself for the upcoming confrontation. Thranduil would be quite furious when he learned that Elrond’s chief advisor knew he was fading. “I am not yours to command. I only answer to Elrond.” The effect of his words was immediate. Thranduil jumped to his feet and turned around. The panic that radiated from the dull eyes worried Erestor. “Peace, sire.” He raised a hand, hoping to calm the blond down.
Although he had never met Erestor, Thranduil immediately realized whom he was dealing with. The dark eyes staring at him told him that he was dealing with a cunning adversary and that he needed to proceed with caution. “What are you doing here?”
Erestor inclined his head and realized Thranduil was trembling violently. The blond’s weakness showed when he had to lean against the tree for support. “Please sit down and I will answer your question.” He didn’t want to agitate Thranduil any further.
“Sit down? I am not talking to you, Noldo.” Thranduil gritted his teeth, hoping his strength wouldn’t fail him. “You are leaving this place now. This is forbidden ground for you!”
Erestor was careful not to smile at hearing that. Instead he tried to radiate calm and a sense of dignity. “I will stay in Mirkwood until you have accepted Elrond’s proposal.” He carefully monitored Thranduil’s response.
“You can tell Elrond that I am not interested in an alliance with Imladris.” Thranduil tried to maintain his regal manner, but the evil influence of Mordor was clenching his heart, making it hard for him to breathe.
“Why are you so opposed to this alliance? Mirkwood would benefit from such strong allies.”
“I am used to fighting my battles alone, Noldo. I need no half-Elf to fight them for me.” Unexpectedly, he staggered and began to sink onto his knees. His head bowed in defeat and he hated himself for allowing his weakness to show in front of Erestor.
Feeling only compassion for the other Elf, Erestor sat on his heels, folded an arm around Thranduil and ignored the violent flinch that coursed through the blond’s body upon contact. Slowly he pulled Thranduil back to his feet and then steadied the other Elf.
Enraged, that Erestor had managed to get this close to him, Thranduil tried to shake off the other’s arm. “Leave me be!” But he lacked the necessary strength and failed to free himself of the hold, which tightened when the weakness consumed him again.
“I will take you back to your rooms so you may rest. We can continue this conversation in the morning --after you have rested.” It was most fortunate that Legolas had pointed out the royal quarters earlier. Now he could escort the weakening Elf back.
“There will be no conversation in the morning!” hissed Thranduil, “You will leave when Arien rises again!” Infuriated at having to follow the Noldorin Elf’s lead, he gritted his teeth in obvious frustration. “Take your hands off of me. I can manage alone.” But the truth was that in his weakened state he wouldn’t be able to make it back to his rooms. In his foggy state of mind he didn’t think of calling out to his guards and demanding they took Erestor prisoner. All he wanted was to return to his rooms and lie down.
But he wasn’t looking forward to the nightmares that would come tonight. He had even tried to stay awake for nights in a row, but that had resulted in him feeling even more exhausted. There were moments when he wanted to follow the call of Mandos and allow peace into his mind, but he couldn’t pass his fate on to Legolas. He had to continue to fight.
“We will see about that,” remarked Erestor smugly. Supporting Thranduil, he guided his charge to the royal chambers. From the corner of his eye, he caught sight of Legolas, who was standing in the shadow of a large tree. Concern shone from the blue eyes, but the blond didn’t interfere, realizing this may be Erestor’s one chance to get close to Thranduil.
After nodding his approval, Legolas turned away, leaving his father in Erestor’s care.
Erestor’s concern increased, realizing Thranduil was on the brink of losing consciousness. “Lie down,” he whispered, gently easing the blond down on his bed. “Is there anything I can do to lessen your suffering?”
“Leave me. I do not want your kind near me.” Evil suddenly clawed at Thranduil and his hands turned into fists, clenching the sheets.
“That was not a nice thing to say.” Erestor knew Thranduil disliked the Noldor, but he hadn’t realized how deep that hate ran. “I am just trying to help.”
“I do not want your help!” Thranduil panted softly, as his heart tightened once more. His eyes widened and he pushed himself into a sitting position.
Realizing Thranduil was having troubling breathing Erestor sat down beside the blond, pulling the other Elf’s back against his chest and supporting Thranduil when the King fought to draw in his next breath.
The battle lasted a long time and Erestor almost panicked when Thranduil’s eyes closed. He checked for a pulse, and finding one, felt reassured. Suddenly Thranduil went limp against him and he tightened his hold. Detecting movement near the doorway Erestor said, “I did not know things were this bad.”
“I was the only one who knew the true extent of my father’s suffering… until now,” said Legolas, “He is fighting so hard, but he cannot possibly win this battle.” Looking at his father, Legolas’ heart contracted painfully. “I do not want to lose him. I need him.”
Erestor inched closer to Thranduil and then rested his back against the headboard as he continued to hold the blond in his arms.
“He will have nightmares… There are nights when he screams himself awake. I usually sit with him during the night.” Legolas watched Erestor closely. “I think you should take my place tonight. Finding that you stayed at his side might make him inclined to trust you.” Giving up his place to Erestor was hard. He wanted to be there when his father needed comforting.
Erestor realized how hard it was on Legolas to trust him in this way. “I won’t fail you… or your father.” He might not be a skilled healer like Elrond, but he had fought his own battles against the Shadow. “I will keep him safe and should the nightmares come upon him, I will try to fight them off.”
Reassured that Erestor had his father’s best interests in mind, Legolas nodded his head once. “Know that you can always count on me. Should the nightmares worsen during the night, send for me.”
“Thank you for giving me this opportunity.” Maybe once Thranduil realized that Erestor did care for the blond’s well-being, the Sindarin Elf would change his opinion of him. “I will stay with your father tonight. Would you tell Lindir I won’t return tonight? I do not want him to worry unnecessarily.”
“I will tell him.” Legolas drew in a deep breath, walked over to the bed and placed a hand on his father’s brow. “He feels cold.”
Erestor rested his hand on Thranduil’s and realized Legolas was right. “How long has he been like this?”
“For several weeks.” Legolas leaned in closer and placed a kiss on top of his father’s head. “Keep him safe for me.”
“I will.” Erestor watched Legolas leave and then mentally prepared himself for a long and exhausting night. Legolas had told him that nightmares usually plagued Thranduil’s sleep and he reckoned tonight wouldn’t be any different. “I won’t let you face them alone.” Legolas had entrusted his father to him and he would faithfully guard Thranduil’s sleep tonight.
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