The Dragon Bride (2/3)
|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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After a few hours rest, Sciella delivered her wreath to the waiting Galion. Then she went to Dunna and listened patiently to all she had to say, or as much as she would reveal at this time. According to the older woman, Sciella’s instructions would only be complete after fulfilling a certain ceremony that would set her apart as the dragon’s betrothed.
When the sun had disappeared behind the trees, they met again deep in among the ancient beeches on the far side of the Forest River. Sciella had per Dunna’s instruction brought two simple wreaths put together from dry twigs, but covered in delicate white niphredil from the shady river vale and thick-leaved blood-red seregon from the hilltop.
To her surprise she noted that her father was present, as well as Galion and young Tinnu, Dunna’s grandson of the beautiful eyes. The king’s butler held a jug, as was only to be expected, but the captain’s lit torch surprised her – it would not be dark for quite some time. Tinnu gave her a shy smile when she looked at him, and then swiftly opened his cupped hands to give her a quick peek at something even more puzzling – a tiny brown lizard.
“Now let us begin,” Dunna said as she took the wreaths. “As you all know, we have gathered here because of Sciella’s courageous decision to help her people in our time of need. Her willingness and natural abilities are important, but only this ceremony will in truth make her the dragon’s bride, thus giving her power over him.” After a glance at the others, she continued.
“The place of the dragon’s steward properly belongs to our king, but as he would not approve –”
Galion suddenly had a fit of coughing and Sciella traded a meaningful glance with Tinnu.
“As I said,” continued the wise elf-woman, “our beloved king does not agree with all of our practices of old, and so I have taken measures to arrange a substitute. The captain would be the natural choice as commander of Thranduil’s forces, but is disqualified for other reasons. Galion has declined to represent the court as anything other than a witness. Therefore, I have chosen Tinnu – his heritage and character compensate well for his lack of years and official status.”
Sciella readily agreed – whatever the ceremony involved, she would much sooner go through it with the young elf than Thranduil’s old butler. She found herself distracted by thoughts of the king himself by her side, but the idea was too wondrous to indulge for more than a moment and she turned her attention to the matters at hand.
With curiosity she watched Dunna arranging the two wreaths side by side on a moss-grown stone. Tinnu released his catch between them. The little lizard peeked about with its peppercorn eyes, and then sat for a moment in the centre of a wreath before it bit off the head of one of the white flowers and disappeared behind a tree.
“I am sorry, but it is only a forest lizard. I could not find a salamander,” Tinnu said apologetically.
“The blessed little creature has done what it was asked to do,” Dunna stated. “Sciella, this is yours.”
She placed the wreath of flowers the lizard had chosen on Sciella’s brow, and the other on her grandson’s. Then she stood in front of them, flanked by Galion and the captain.
“Sciella, now is the time for your final decision. Do you freely agree to serve your people as the Dragon Bride, thereby risking life and limb?”
Sciella took Tinnu’s hand and tried to feel the ancient magic by which the elf, in his role as the dragon’s steward, was becoming linked to her. After a moment of hesitation she said the words Dunna had told her earlier that day: “I am the one Smaug the Golden has chosen.”
Now Dunna began to sing, an ancient song the words of which only a small portion were known to the others. As she sang, she walked slowly around the couple, the torch-bearer and the cup-holder following in her steps. After three rounds, she stopped in front of Sciella.
“Again I ask you, will you tread the path of the Dragon Bride by your own free will?”
“I am the one the Magnificent has chosen.” This time Sciella needed no time to think before speaking the words – any previous doubts had vanished. She had been chosen for this and she would succeed.
The chanting began again, but this time continued until seven rounds had been completed.
“For the last time I ask you, is it your wish to become the Dragon’s Bride?”
“I am she.” While Sciella did not feel any different she knew that the words were true.
Now Dunna removed both wreaths and put them on the ground, at Sciella’s feet. She offered the couple a sip from the cup – a far headier brew than was used at feasts, and one enhanced with herbs – and then poured the remainder over the flowers.
The captain put his torch to the wreaths, which caught fire immediately and burned brightly until only the shrivelled remains of the red seregon’s water-filled leaves were left on the ground.
“Sciella,” declared Dunna, “you are now in truth the dragon’s bride and no male but the dragon himself, or his steward, may touch you while your mission lasts.”
“Tinnu,” she continued, “as the dragon’s steward, you too are to refrain from other relationships, until Sciella returns or is lost beyond doubt. You may now say your farewells.”
Sciella’s smile was earnest as she looked into his soft, dark eyes the moment before their kiss but as she closed her own eyes, it was the Elven-king she thought about.
King Thranduil had remained unwed for thousands of years. Some said it was out of fear of siring a motherless child – he had crossed the mountains with only his father. Others claimed that he was still waiting for the right bride to appear – a princess of the Sindar, no less – which was not only utterly impossible since no other royal house existed, but was also pure nonsense. The Elven-king loved his new people with a vengeance and felt more at home with them than he ever had with those among whom he was born in the far west before the world was broken asunder.
Whatever the reason for his reluctance to marry, the Elven-king did not lack for female company. His appetites for women were renowned throughout the kingdom – and beyond its boundaries, although neither the Lords of Dale nor the Mayors of Lake-town had succeeded in their attempts to put one of their daughters on the woodland throne. Rather, Thranduil had been enraged by the various fathers’ clumsy schemes and showed his disapproval by withholding payment for butter and wine for a time.
The young women he would always take pity on and whenever one was found crammed inside a crate or barrel, she was quickly saved from her predicament, treated with the utmost respect and allowed to remain with the elves for as long as she wished (which was rarely more than a few weeks – the king’s kisses could make up only for so much suspicion from his people, and as kisses were all he would give them, they soon wished for better suitors).
Sciella remained with Dunna and Tinnu among the beeches for some time, but at dusk she grabbed her bow and began to walk. With considerable ease she navigated the maze of tall trees along the eastern perimeter of the wood. She slipped through the undergrowth easily and although she had not ventured this close to the edge of the forest before, she felt comfortable. This was her home.
As she left the forest, she heard a loud squeal coming from the grass. The shrill sound startled her at first, until she recognized the field mouse. She tried to imitate it and laughed at the little creature’s surprise when it stuck its head up looking for a friend only to find her, a giant. When Sciella squealed again, the mouse seemed to shrug and then left. She picked up a rock and threw it into the air to distract the approaching hawk.
The uneasiness she felt without trees above her head surprised her. She tried to navigate between rocks and bushes, and to avoid open areas as much as possible. It was too soon for fear, when she was not yet within the sight of the dragon.
To focus her thoughts as she walked, Sciella often reminded herself of the words she would use to snare him, which in our modern tongue sound something like this:
“O, mighty dragon, hear my call: Your bride am I, come be my thrall! Come fly with me to northern lands! Magnificent! O, feel my hands!
O, listen to the words I sing: I bind your tail, I bind your wing, I bind your claw, your jaw as well, All will be bound by this my spell!
I bind the fire in your throat, I bind your shining, scaly coat, I bind your heart, so greedy cold, O, heed my call and leave your gold!”
When morning came, she prepared a simple bed under a thorny bush, squeezed in between some pointed rocks. As she lay there, forehead pressed against the bark for comfort, she began to understand what she had done. The hawthorn was silent, as if dead. Nothing in this desolation would speak with her, not even the golden-red dragon that would soon become the only husband she had known, if not literally. Smaug. Merely thinking the name made her shudder.
She remembered her father’s parting words and vowed never to let him know that she had learnt her lesson already. Next time she would listen better, even to terse advice. She would not, however, abandon her mission, her people or her king.
With some effort, she pictured the king’s face in her mind. ‘Thranduil,’ she whispered. ‘Thranduil Oropherion.’ She saw his eyes, his hair and his strong hands with the veins standing out slightly when he reached for his hunting bow. She saw his peaceful face as he caressed newly sprung leaves of beech and birch with the tip of his finger. His surprise at finding her before him one day had made her smile, and then he had smiled back. The crown she made for him that day was the best she had ever crafted.
Thoughts of the king were what sustained Sciella’s spirit when it seemed like the world would never be fresh and green again. A whole day she had walked after a few restless hours under the hawthorn, and everywhere the same ruined landscape met her eye: dry bushes, listless grass, and occasionally a spot of yellow-brown earth where the dragon’s waste had poisoned it. Sunset came as a blessing.
A haunting cry split the silence, making her instantly seek shelter behind a rock. When the eerie, drawn-out sound finally petered out, the air filled with a low rumble as if a storm approached. Yet rather than the moist smell that is the portent of rain, there was a strange dryness to the air, a pungent tinge of smoke she could associate only with the worst fear of wood-dwellers: forest fire. The red glow which she spied in the distance seemed to confirm her misgivings, except it was concentrated to a small area and moved though the air at an alarming speed.
Shivering and waiting in the darkness, Sciella crouched as a great shape lit with golden-red light crossed the night sky. Watching it filled her with dread, but she could not take her eyes from it. Rather she felt drawn to watch, unable to avert her gaze even when the beast – the dragon, Smaug – was so close that he filled most of her field of vision. Moon and stars disappeared behind his enormous body and for a moment the world turned unearthly red and golden.
The deafening sound of Smaug’s mighty wings beating the air made the impulse to cover her ears nearly impossible to fight, but she found when she tried that she was too scared to move a muscle. Only her hair moved, blown about her face by the wind raised by the dragon. She held her breath, as if the simple act of drawing in air would alert him to his presence.
Blessed darkness fell again; the dragon’s unhealthy glow diminished to a feeble reddish spot among pure white stars. Now that she was free to follow her earlier impulse, Sciella’s hands flew to her ears as if by their own volition. Long she sat like that, uncomfortably crouched but unable to relax, afraid to change position or even move her hands. Finally her exhaustion was so over-powering that she fell asleep on the spot, never comprehending that silence ruled the night once more...
That same night, Dunna and the captain gathered around the fire again, together with a crowd of other elves. By coincidence, or providence perhaps, the Elven-king and his butler chose to join their circle, rather than one of the many others spread out throughout the forest around his Halls. Food and drink were plentiful, despite Galion’s best attempt at emptying each cask personally, but the singing sounded far more solemn than usual.
“What weighs so heavily on your heart, my friend?” the king asked his captain. “Something must oppress you, other than our military situation, which is nothing new after this many centuries.”
“No, my king, the burden I carry is no matter of state, but something much more private.” He bowed slightly, lips pursed, and would say no more.
After a few moments of silence, Dunna spoke up; “Sciella has gone to the mountain to become the dragon’s bride.” Many were taken aback by her frank words, and the captain hid his face in his hands.
Thranduil’s patience snapped like a twig.
“She has done what?! And you permitted it, Captain?” The officer still said nothing. “Allowing a girl to take this upon herself is like sending an unprepared amateur against an army of goblins.”
“There is no need to exaggerate,” Dunna protested. “Sciella is our best chance and you would be surprised to know the full extent of her skills in moving about undetected.”
“My daughter,” added the captain at last, ”is fully grown, has a good head on her shoulders and was free to choose this path, with or without my blessing. I respect her choice. She saw it as her duty to her people, and to you.” Sciella’s father answered quietly for fear of reprimand.
“That is nothing but a flimsy excuse! None of my people are free to choose a meaningless death.”
“Thranduil,” said Dunna softly as she laid a hand on his arm.”Our numbers may indeed be small, but can you not accept the sacrifice of one for the salvation of many?”
“You know as well as I do that if she dies, her life, and those of any children she may bear in the future, would be robbed from us in vain.”
“Trust me, if I did not believe in her success, I would not have let her go. Nor would I have mentioned the Dragon Bride.”
“With all due respect for the wisdom of the wood, I do not share your confidence in dubious old rumours and I will not have the truth of this one tested in so foolhardy a way! She must be stopped! The captain will come with me and you will come with me. As will you, Galion!”
“Pardon, sire, but what about your Halls? Surely you need someone to see to them in your absence?”
“My wine cellar will be safe behind bars, and the more so without you in the vicinity. You will come right now, and help the captain muster every elf we can use. This is not the time I would have chosen to send out troops against the dragon, but as the situation stands, I see no other possible course of action.”
“It will be the death of us all!” One of the younger elves panicked, but was quickly calmed by Dunna. Her comforting words of ancient, eternally life-giving trees with roots deeper and branches taller than any dragon could crawl or fly captured the attention of all and many wished to hear more of the leaves whispering wisdom in the wind. The Elven-king was not among them.
He pulled the leaf-crown off his head and threw it on the ground as the small crowd stared in disbelief. “No wreath will I wear until she has been found.” His steely voice and uncharacteristic, cold expression shook them more deeply than his initial outburst.
Angry but resigned the Elven-king gripped his sword. “You have left me with no choice. We march upon the dragon on the morrow.”
Continued and concluded in part 3
Posted: November 1, 2009
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"Long live Thranduil, great Elf-king of Greenwood!"