The Dragon Bride (1/3)
|Characters:||Thranduil, Galion, Legolas, Smaug, OCs|
|Genre:||FPH, romantic fairy-tale drama, based on ‘The Hobbit’|
|Disclaimer:||This story uses characters and settings from the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, for entertainment purposes only and with no financial gain in sight.|
|Summary:||A dragon has moved into the Lonely Mountain and threatens the existence of mortals and Wood-elves alike. According to ancient lore, it can be persuaded to leave, if provided with a suitable bride...|
|Timeline:||Begins around T.A. 2775, that is, about 165 years before Bilbo finds the Ring.|
|Author's note:||Where possible, OC names come from the Nandorin (Silvan) language. Words used are ‘dunna’ (black), ‘alm’ (elm tree), ‘sciella’ (shade), and ‘lygn’ (pale). Tauron is a Sindarin name for Oromë. Niphredil is Sindarin for snowdrop, and seregon is ‘stone blood’, a deep red variety of stonecrop.|
|Author's note 2:||The original, much shorter version of this story was written for a fic competition at the JFA Yahoo Group. It did not win, partly because readers and judges felt there was too little of the title's dragon in the story. They were right;-)|
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Once upon a time, in a land not so very far away, there lived a king in a forest. Thranduil was his name in the language of that woodland realm, but the Elven-king he was called by those who did not know it, or chose not to speak it – some holding him in awe but others in fear or distrust. There was little reason for the latter two, for he was a good king of a good people, if rumoured to be both shrewd and quick to anger.
Come from the west with his father, the first king of the Wood-elves, the Elven-king had made a corner of the wood his own green haven far from the enemies of all free folk. There he lived in a great cavernous palace, made as comfortable as such a home could be. It was large enough to accommodate, in times of peril, all of his people within the great doors of dwarven craft. Bewitched, the doors needed no hand to let in and out those who had just business there.
Thranduil’s kingdom was a vast wilderness, once green and flowering as a meadow in spring, but of late become darkened with mists and cobwebs and gloom. The black squirrels, their glowing eyes of such menacing look, were native to the land, but the infestations of giant spiders were not. No-one could tell their source with any certainty. Rumour had it they were the spawn of an evil wizard who had taken to living in a tower where the thistles and thorns were thick, and be that rumour false or true, the creatures first appeared at the same time as the sorcerer. Before long, he had turned the whole forest to gloom. Greenwood was its name no more, but rather Mirkwood, for being far better suited.
The elves cared little for the passing of time, ancient creatures as they were, but this change filled them with sorrow. A few tried to see good where there was none, thinking the spreading thickets would keep thieves away, as well as prevent intruders from disturbing their night-time feasts beneath the trees.
The spiders learnt to fear elven swords and arrows – and to catch their quarry far from the Halls of the Elven-king. The elves, in their turn, knew where the spiders nested and avoided them, so fiercely did the beasts defend their own.
Though they could never like it, the elves eventually adapted to the change and carried on their daily life in the murk-ridden surroundings. Peace ruled, or at least cease-fire, until a new threat rose on the horizon, making the giant spiders seem as harmless as their smaller cousins. This time, the enemy could not simply be avoided.
Dawn was near, the stars yet visible in that last hour called starry twilight. With many a song sung, and the wine nearly finished, only a few brave elves remained around the fire. Silent they sat, watching the flames dance, more thoughtful now than merry as of yore. Now and then, a flame rose higher with magical sparks, a result of the natural powers of their minds combined as the elves communed.
Suddenly, such a flame burst into a shower of sparks, making those near old Dunna jump.
“What bothers you, grandmother?” asked one of them softly, a youth with eyes dark as a squirrel’s pelt. “It is not like you to lash out so.”
“Only Smaug the Magnificent.” Irony was apparent in her voice. “That creature, chiefest of calamities, gives me no rest.”
“Dunna, please! Do not bring up the accursed worm again!” said the elf on her other side. “You will achieve nothing except to stir up fear and defeatism.” He sighed with annoyance at the thought of the dragon. As the Elven-king’s captain, he did not have that many free nights and he preferred to devote them to merry-making rather than sombre talk about matters that had no resolution. “Let us rather sing a last song before we return to our telain. Such a beautiful night should not end in gloom.” He looked around, but none was inclined to take up his offer. He sighed again and waved his hand in a gesture of resignation.
The squirrel-eyed youth cast a cautious glance at the captain, anxious to keep his good opinion but burning to satisfy his curiosity. Seeing the older elf shrug, he asked, “What about the dragon, grandmother? It has plagued the villages around the lake for years now.”
“The raft-elves who brought in goods from Lake-town yesterday said that the farmers there do not dare to take their cattle to the pastures anymore; they said the town of Dale is laid waste while we stand helpless to prevent it!” Another outburst of flames underlined the anger and desperation in her voice.
“What do we care about the affairs of mortals?” the young elf asked. ”We should not interfere, is that not what you have taught us?”
“Do you wish to go hungry next winter, or to feed on roots as we did before the days of King Oropher? Need I remind you whence that cask of wine there hails?”
“Dunna speaks the truth,” said the captain, “but I ask you both to remember that the army has yet to be replenished after the old king’s catastrophe before the Gates of Darkness. We cannot fight the dragon even if we were inclined to go to war.”
“That is good,” said the young elf, turning quickly to face his grandmother again, “for it would be wrong to kill him. He has not attacked us.”
Dunna chuckled at his naive generosity. “That is merely a question of time, young sapling. Soon enough, he will deplete the resources of the mortals – and when their sheep and cows are gone, he will begin to hunt for food in our forest. But, before that, he will come for Thranduil’s collection of gems. A dragon can smell wealth and his hunger for treasure is greater even than that of his stomach.”
A number of heads nodded, looks of fear now apparent in many faces. The captain looked at her wearily, having so many times already discussed the threat of the dragon – at the king’s council as well as among friends around the night-time fires – without arriving at a plan of action that could be carried out with any hope of success. The safety of their realm weighed heavily on his shoulders.
“What do you propose we do, then?” he asked. “You know that I am open to suggestions.”
Dunna took a breath, and said, “I’ve been thinking. There is a way – the Dragon Bride.” She looked around the other elves, observing the effect of her words.
A few of them gasped. “That is forbidden!” one of them whispered as he rose, an elf wearing the long robe of Sindarin cut that marked him as a court official. Others sat open-mouthed with astonishment, but there were also those whose eyes had begun to shine with excitement at the prospect of partaking in secret lore and illicit practices.
“It is no coincidence that such a protest comes from you, Galion, when it comes to a little risk-taking,” Dunna replied. “You were among the first to abandon our customs of old and seek shelter inside the mountain when the king called. Or should I say his wine?” Laughter interrupted what could otherwise have become an ugly quarrel. The cask his neighbour passed to him gave the old elf a graceful way to back down as he took a swig to hide his blush.
“I was but voicing a legitimate complaint,” he muttered, now shaking the near-empty barrel morosely to determine if anything but dregs were left. “His Majesty would not wish anyone to try such a dangerous, not to mention foolish, thing.” He took another deep swig from the small cask and then sat down, cradling it as if it were a baby.
“But who is she, this Dragon Bride? Will you not untangle this riddle for us?” asked the youngling, eagerness betraying his age, the combination of ‘forbidden’ and ‘dangerous’ being always such an irresistible pull on the young.
“According to wisdom long forgotten by most,” said Dunna, “there is a way to deceive a dragon so that the great worm leaves its lair, for long or even for good, thinking it has heard the mating-call of a female of its kind.”
“So,” Galion said with sarcasm, “all we need to do is to find a she-dragon and lead her to old Smaug, and then he might fly off with her. Or he might not and then we will be saddled with both of them, and their brood, forever.”
Now it was the captain’s turn to chuckle. “Surely Dunna does not mean to tell us that female dragons are meek creatures who feed on grass and flowers and could easily be found and made to do our will. I’ll give you that, old friend, your doubts are sound.”
Turning to Dunna, he continued, “I do not wish to frustrate your plans – you know well that nothing would make me happier than removing this threat from our wood – but I cannot believe in what you propose.”
“Old fools, both of you,” said Dunna, with worried affection in her voice. “Then you have indeed forgotten, and seem to find it a pleasure to flaunt your ignorance.” She shook her head. “There is no she-dragon involved; that is only what Smaug will think, once he has been touched by his elven bride, if she knows the trick of it.”
“Touched? That would certainly be a queer union.” The captain winked, but nobody even pretended to be amused. He took the cue and begged a sip from Galion’s cask.
“It is not what you imagine,” she replied. “Should you feel the need to be educated on the carnal practices of dragons – a topic much less exciting than you would think, dear captain, – I would be happy to oblige, at some other time, and in private.” Her exaggerated winking drew laughs; those listening were relieved to find Dunna had a plan to offer.
“Now, if you allow me to continue, I will explain. Our fore-mothers knew that all male dragons have a spot on their underbelly where the scales are fewer and softer. In his grace, Tauron, Lord of Forests and All Peoples of the Wood, appealed to Eru when the world was young to make it so that if a marriageable maiden of pure wood-elf descent caresses a dragon in just that place while singing certain words in our old tongue, this will have the effect of enchanting him. She need not wed the worm in earnest, only sneak up on him in his sleep.”
“Not to mention live long enough to come that close,” muttered the captain, unheard by most. With a few exceptions, all were now listening eagerly to Dunna, new hope glowing in their eyes.
“I did not say it would be easy. Only a single attempt may be made – after that, the dragon will be on his guard and the mission hopeless. We have only the one chance, and the outcome will either be total success or utter failure. There is nothing in between.”
“Dunna, forgive me,” said Galion, sounding surprisingly sober as he expressed his doubts. “There isn’t enough wine in Mirkwood to make me believe this is possible. We could send our good captain with a whole company of archers, and still not stand more chance than a squirrel in a spider’s net.”
“That’s as maybe,” said the captain with a reluctant glance at Dunna, “But if the tale is true, a few of the young maidens may actually have the skills and the common sense to make it more than a suicide mission.”
“Who would be that foolish?” retorted Galion, finding an unlikely adversary in his friend.
Dunna hushed him and then asked the captain softly, “Who among our brave women do you deem to be a suitable candidate for this venture? Laswen, perhaps? I have seen her hunt.”
“Yes. Laswen and Almiel, her cousin. Possibly Laegeth, unless she is courting – you would know that better than I. And...” he hesitated, “my own daughter.” The last words came out in a whisper, which was likely not what he intended, as he cleared his throat audibly before continuing. “Those are the ones I could ask without sending them to certain death.”
Dunna nodded. “Laegeth is not available, but the other three are eligible. Perhaps your Sciella would be the best choice.”
A shadow passed over the captain’s face. “If she agrees, I will not stop her.” He sighed. “All I ask is that I not be the one to present the idea to her, nor the one to inform her mother.” Dunna put a comforting hand on his shoulder.
“With your permission, I will talk with them,” she said. “Thank you for hearing me out. Now, it is indeed time for a last song before we set about the new day’s tasks. But first, tell me, would she indeed do it?”
“I fear so, though I am not certain. What say you?”
Dunna, about to open her mouth, was interrupted by a rustle of leaves and then, from a bough above them, two bare feet dangled for a moment before their owner made an agile leap and landed between the old woman and the captain.
“Why speculate when I can tell you I am willing?”
This young woman, the captain’s daughter, might be plain to behold with her hazel hair and grey eyes, but cloaked and hooded, in her clothes of green and brown, she melted into the forest like a shadow when standing still. This was a much sought-after ability. Not particular about looks, the elves of the wood saw beauty in everyone who had a good heart and Sciella had that, too, in abundance. Sciella, the Shade, was the name she was known by, although the name her mother gave her at birth was another: Lygna – that is ‘pale’. Since there was nothing white or blond about the child, her father argued that it was hardly suitable. But the mother insisted, claiming that the name was one of foresight.
If the word for squirrel could have been recalled in the old language of that woodland realm, this might have been the choice of the girl’s parents, for she was agile and quick, but that was not the case. In expressing their love for the Elven-king and his father before him, along with the other tall Sindar come to live with them, the Wood-elves embraced the culture of their new rulers so eagerly that the Silvan tongue rapidly fell out of daily usage. By the time a movement arose to revive it, a millennium later, only remnants were left. This, however, did not deter those who wished to return to the old ways of life. Rather, they were proud of their knowledge to the somewhat silly point of referring to a tree as ‘galad’ rather than the now proper Sindarin ‘galadh’ – but Sciella’s parents did not know any words for squirrel in the old Silvan tongue.
Along with many of the other Wood-elves, Sciella’s parents lived near the gates to the king’s halls, but preferred to have their sleeping quarters in telain up in the trees, rather than in huts on the ground. Sciella herself was most often out in the woods, where she could find a wider selection of the flowers and leaves needed for her craft. She was one of the maidens and pages who made the king’s crowns, a fresh one prepared for each day, whether he would need it or not. A strange connection there was between the king and the forest and all that grew there, so that when he spent much time out in the woods, the flowers waned slower than if he was largely in his halls, locked up in council or plotting how best to protect his people.
She saw him not as often as one might think, considering her trade, but that was as she wanted it. On stealth she prided herself and she was modest, too, so the Elven-king’s butler, Galion, would often have to pick up the day’s crown, or wreath, from the threshold where she left it before the gates could open for her. But the king was not unknown to her, of course, and it brought her much pleasure to look at him on his frequent wanderings in the woodland. She honed her skills to the point that she could follow and observe him for hours without being caught staring or even noticed at all.
Fair he was of face, more so than the men of Wood-elf kind, she thought, and his blond hair shone about him like the sun’s rays through beech leaves in spring. His walk was brisk and proud, not silently sneaking, as if he had no fear in his heart, even when he ought to take care. More than once she had put herself between him and the spiders’ nests.
Sciella’s sudden appearance led to a stunned silence around the fire, while Dunna examined her carefully.
Sciella stood still for her inspection: the old woman had been one of the Wood-elves’ unofficial leaders before the Sindar came, and she deserved respect. Her father looked stricken. Had he not counted on her being a willing volunteer?
“You don’t need to tell me what it’s all about – I’ve heard everything you said, from up there.” A baffled look passed over the captain’s face. “I know it’s important,” she continued, “and that haste is required. Just let me finish this wreath, so that Galion does not open the door later this morning and find our king’s doorstep empty.” She indicated the garland of oak and beech leaves in her hand.
“Sciella, dear, certainly the need for haste is not so great. There are preparations to make – things Dunna needs to tell you, and maps you ought to study with me.”
“Ada, everyone knows that Erebor is visible from the very top of the hills behind Thranduil’s Halls. If I start from there I need no map to find the Lonely Mountain.”
“That is true, but you do need Dunna’s advice. I shall not let you go without due preparation.”
Sciella glanced over at the old woman, whose expression was enigmatic. Could she count on her support? She wanted to get this over with.
“I promise to listen carefully, this afternoon. After that, I’ll leave. If the main purpose of my life is to become a dragon’s bride, even briefly, then I will do it tonight.”
She shook back her hair and gave a slight laugh as she saw her father’s resistance melt. She could always wind him round her little finger – this, too, would be on her own terms. The captain sighed.
“I’m afraid you’re going to regret such an impetuous decision, my courageous daughter. But I am proud of you.” The power of his hug left her breathless.
Continued in part 2
Posted: October 24, 2009
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"Long live Thranduil, great Elf-king of Greenwood!"