The Dragon Bride (3/3)
|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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For Sciella, the next day began as a depressing repetition of the previous one, the only difference being that the land appeared even more desolate the closer she came to the mountain. The broken, blackened remains of trees that had once adorned its lower sides filled her eyes with tears. Such meaningless destruction!
Sciella’s bow proved useless, as there was nothing for her to hunt. Her quiver had more value for the way-bread in the bottom of it than as storage for her carefully fletched arrows.
As she turned around a hill, she finally saw something that lifted her mood: the waters of Celduin, the River Running, which had its source deep within the mountain. Seeing a thing of beauty here moved her to tears again, but for another reason – this was proof that some life at least remained unspoilt by the dragon. Even here, this close to his lair, there were things he could not conquer.
The merrily singing water, playfully splashing over dark rocks glittering in the sun made Sciella forget her mission for a moment. The stream had cut deeply into the rock, but she dared the climb down as her flask was nearly empty. She drank and washed her face, even removed her boots for a little while and let the icy water cool her feet. When she stood on the river bank once more, she took a more careful look at the valleys and mountain spurs in the distance. It was hard to believe that the smouldering ruins she saw had been the town of Dale not so long ago. According to Dunna, it was only last summer that the remaining people had either fled or been killed.
Downhearted but refreshed enough to carry on with her mission, Sciella followed the Celduin upstream until, after a bend, she came to a big hole in the mountainside from which the river’s water gushed forth. A wide stone-paved road led beside the waters, broad enough for many men to walk abreast.
All seemed quiet and she made a dash along the road, but rather than following it into the mountain, she darted into an elongated pocked of rock which stood guard along the approach to what had once been the huge, formal entrance to the old realm. As she stood there, literally on Smaug’s doorstep, scanning the air and listening for any sign of the dragon, she saw that this narrowing crack had been augmented. Peep-holes had been cut through the outer walls in such a clever way that she had seen no trace of them from the outside. The conversion of natural stone to such a sentry-box was a good example of the stone-craft of the former Lords of the Mountain – the dwarves.
Detecting nothing alarming, apart from an unpleasant odour that came out of the mountain, Sciella cautiously sneaked through the entrance, careful to keep to the shadows. Once inside, the foul reek hit her nostrils with full force. She quenched the impulse to rush back out again, but had to stand still and concentrate on her breathing for a time before she could continue her stealthy walk into the darkness. As her eyes adjusted, she noticed that it was not entirely dark – a dim light seeped into the main passageway from a number of shafts hidden above.
Along the way, she glimpsed smaller tunnels and stairs leading in various directions, though as she ventured further below ground, all traces of daylight disappeared. Yet there was never any doubt to as which road she should follow, for she was led by a faint glow from within the mountain itself. Occasionally what seemed to be a shed scale, gleaming like metal and, like metal, hard to the touch, proved that she was following the right path downwards. Only the vast cavern near the roots of the mountain – the dwarves’ bottommost chamber – was large enough to house a dragon with any comfort, particularly one of Smaug’s famed size.
Despite Dunna’s information, and her own night-time encounter with the dragon, Sciella was unprepared for the sight that met her once she reached her goal. Emanating a magical, silvery light, a great creature lay sleeping on top of a huge mountain of mithril and gold. Its sleek body and tail, coiled around its treasure, appeared not red and golden, but rather a greenish blue. Wisps of grey smoke came out of its nostrils as it breathed, now and then lit with white sparks.
However unlikely the association, the dragon’s colour, in combination with the scales and the fin-like ridge on its back, reminded Sciella of the strange fish of the Enchanted River, the kind one could not eat, but that children sometimes carried home in triumph as proof of their mastering the sleep-inducing waters. Smaug appeared as soundly asleep as if he himself had fallen into the river and succumbed. Sciella decided to act at once.
Careful not to tread on anything sharp, or any piece of jewellery that would make a noise if moved, she tiptoed towards the dragon. The way he lay partly on one side exposed a portion of his underbelly, but she would still have to climb over his tail to reach it. Suddenly certain the worm would wake up the instant she looked him in the face, she carefully kept her eyes trained on the thick, snake-like tail, even when a hot breath singed her boots as she passed his nose.
She searched the dragon’s belly for the necessary spot, at first only with her eyes, but soon adding her fingers, running her hands lightly over the scaly skin with increasing speed and alarm, not finding what she was looking for. All the scales she could see, or reach, were of the same size, all were equally hard and horn-like. None fitted with Dunna’s description. Either the soft, vulnerable patch was placed further back than the wise woman had indicated, or Sciella was too inept to find it – and then her entire people would suffer for her foolishness in thinking she could do this. She would never be able to face the king again!
Thoughts of the Elven-king revived her common sense. She would simply have to wait until the worm adopted a more favourable position and then make another try. Unless – the thought that suddenly hit her was nearly unthinkable – unless she had not been able to find anything because there was nothing to be found.
Sciella suddenly became aware of a new sound, coming from the entrance tunnel. Something large, dragging its body over stone, was drawing nearer by the minute. Any moment now, it would stick its head through the cave entrance and see her. Fear gripped her heart and in her panic to get away, she crawled right over the sleeping dragon’s back. Ducking, she slipped through a small opening in the wall and found temporary refuge beyond it. She tried exploring the winding path of what seemed to be a tunnel upwards but soon found the way barred. Rather than rocks from a crumbling ceiling as she would have expected, the surface in front of her was smooth, as if the tunnel ended with a wall. Finding no crack or mechanism that would reveal a door, Sciella had no choice than to return the same way she had come.
The light seeping in from the cavern suddenly turned a glowing red, as if a fire had been lit. The shuffling sounds were replaced with the heavy clank of scales against metal, and a sickening scraping that could only come from a dragon’s claws. Sciella dared a glimpse through the opening, curiosity winning over her beating heart, and in confusion recognized the same dragon which had flown over her during the night. From the descriptions, the enormous, golden-red worm must be Lord Smaug the Mighty, the Great and Magnificent, and the Chiefest of All Calamities: her husband to be.
Sciella shivered, puzzled. The head of a sheep dangled limply from his jaws as a silent reminder of the deadly danger that followed his every step. He dropped the bloody carcass at the feet of the sleeker blue-green dragon, who, in turn, gave a purring sound, surprisingly high-pitched for a creature of its size.
Slowly, as Sciella watched the two dragons share their food as amiably as any lovers, the impact of the scene dawned upon her. She would have laughed with joy had she dared to. Smaug already had a mate! Her quest was over! Not only would the beast be immune to her but the pair would fly far north to breed in the Withered Heath, the homeland of the great dragons, and not return until their young were fully grown. Hopefully they might not return at all. Sciella had not needed Dunna to tell her that dragons courted for centuries. She need only wait until both dragons left the cave and then she could be on her way home.
Elated that the dragon problem of her people was solved, Sciella drifted into pleasant thoughts about the swords and spears she had seen on the walls, the jars filled with jewels standing beneath them, the countless piles of wealth that she had trampled under her feet without as much as a second glance – and about the gems and mithril she would bring back as an additional benefit of her quest.
Now it seemed the height of folly to think that she had rushed into hiding without taking with her as much as one coin of the sought-after dwarf-silver. As soon as the dragons had left, she would amend that. She would choose carefully the prize that would be most agreeable to the Elven-king, and then he would notice her in earnest. Not only would he commend her for her loyalty and courage, but he would fall in love with her, of that she became surer the more she thought about it. In fact, he would certainly ask for her hand in marriage as soon as he laid his eyes upon her. But what would she bring him?
Perhaps the great necklace of emeralds the same hue as his eyes – it would be a fitting gift. Better still, perhaps she should choose the large white gem that had glittered more than any other, enhanced by the female dragon’s glow. A worthy centre-peace of a king’s crown it seemed to her, and a thousand times more beautiful than wild flowers and leaves, for Sciella had come under the dragon-hoard’s spell. Her innocent heart had gradually filled with the same greed as that of the great worm, as deadly as Smaug when allowed to have its course. Rather than being killed by the dragon, many a dwarf had met his death by starvation as he hid in the upper tunnels, stubbornly refusing to leave the mountain’s treasures behind when the more level-headed of his race fled.
But Wood-elves are a sturdy kind and, like hobbits, unlikely to lose their wits for any length of time. When Sciella woke from her doze to the rumbling sound of two dragons snoring, her thoughts of riches dissipated and Smaug’s golden treasures again meant nothing more than fallen autumn leaves to her – they were beautiful, but dangerous for anyone desiring to move undetected.
Sciella sighed. Who knew how long dragons would sleep after a meal? Waiting soon became tedious and every so often she peeked out of the tunnel to see if either of the great worms was showing signs of waking and leaving the cave. On seeing nothing she was lulled into bored calmness and eventually, carelessness.
“I smell elf!” The roaring noise that was Smaug’s mighty voice was accompanied by two high-rising yellow-red flames.
Sciella ducked instantly, quenching a whimper. With greater care than at any time before, she crept to the far end of her shelter turned prison. There she huddled on the floor, hiding as best she could. She sat with her arms around her knees and closed her eyes, hoping to comfort herself but thoughts of the Elven-king would not come.
“Where are you, little rabbit?” Now the dragon sounded sweeter, almost bland. “I can smell you, maiden!” he said silkily. “I would eat you myself, but you will be a fitting gift for my mate!”
Then he laughed, a terrible sound that chilled Sciella to the bone, made all the worse by the added purring from the other dragon. She covered her ears in a futile attempt to shut out their noise.
“You say nothing?” Smaug continued in a teasing tone of voice. “That is wise, for few ever wrestled words with dragons and survived to tell of it. Will you come to me, foolishly brave as your kind is wont, with the useless little bow you are no doubt carrying? Have you not seen my armour? I am Smaug the Impenetrable!”
There was more laughter, followed by a sudden rustle and clank of metal. Sciella could well imagine the dragon strutting about, showing off his scaly splendour to his admiring female. Sciella did not look out, apparently a wise decision as Smaug, now furious, bellowed:
“Come out, or I will roast you in that little hole of yours!”
Sciella, now frozen with fear, could not have moved even if she dared to. She could not know that the fearsome talk of roasting was an empty threat, for the dragon had no means of removing her from her hideout and would not risk ruining such a valuable bridal gift. She remained where she was, stillness alternating with shivering fright, until a fitful sleep claimed her.
The moment she awoke she knew that she had to flee at once. A cautious glance through the tunnel opening revealed only one dragon, Smaug himself, sound asleep. The absence of his mate worried her, but being confined indefinitely seemed a much worse fate than running into the dragon’s true bride in the main entrance tunnel. She counted on sufficient warning and to dash into a narrow gallery or up a staircase where not even the smaller dragon could follow.
As swiftly as her feet could bear her, she left her hiding-place and tip-toed past the sleeping dragon, ignoring the globe of a jewel that was shining unhealthily in Smaug’s red glow, not at all the pristine white she had been drawn to earlier. Reaching the beginning of the paved passage, she dared a last glace at her former would-be betrothed. He lifted an eyelid ever so slightly and a piercing ray of red sent her running. Smaug was awake!
With a roar that shook the mountain, the great worm rose from his lair and took up the hunt, breathing fire as he crawled towards the entrance. In his ire, he was clumsier than usual and his great body nearly got caught up in some of the narrower parts of the tunnel, allowing Sciella the lead she needed to avoid his flaming wrath.
Her happiness on seeing daylight was extinguished all too soon by the sight of the second dragon circling the air near the mountain’s entrance. Caught between the horrible pair, her only way out was to hide in the alcove by the gate.
Heart in mouth, Sciella watched Smaug as he burst from the mountain in all his violent glory. Roaring like thunder and breathing red fire, he soared into the air and flew along the mountain side, turning the dead trees into flaming torches in his wake. His angry screams over her escape could only be matched by those of his mate as she joined in the mayhem. Boulders were smashed to gravel and sections of rock caved in when hit by the mighty blows of their tails. The whole mountain shook as if in agony. The patches of yellow grass turned into a sea of flame, until the fire died out for lack of anything to feed on.
Rather than panicking, Sciella felt strangely calm, as if she had already experienced more fear than her mind was capable of taking in. Motionless and holding her breath she finally saw the dragons disappear into the mist and clouds around the mountain top. Having learnt never to trust a dragon, she waited in the alcove until the midday sun baked the mountain’s entrance, but she did not see them again. Then she ran.
All day Sciella fled wildly across the plain, desperately throwing all thoughts of stealth to the wind. She stopped only when she could run no longer, when every bit of strength in her body was depleted and she was far enough from the looming mountain to allow her exhausted body to collapse. There, behind a rock but within sight of the first green trees, she fell asleep with a smile on her lips and the Elven-king in her thoughts.
Later that night, a sharp sound woke her. The next time the horse neighed she came fully awake. Sharpening her ears to the limit, she could hear distant singing – the tunes were familiar, but in these surroundings they seemed more like echoes of her dreams than physically perceived voices. Something stirred at the limit of her vision, making her shrink back and wait in complete stillness until she felt sure that whatever it was, it could not be aware of her presence.
It drew closer and she gave a soft sigh as she recognized the elf scanning the ground. Clearly visible in the moonlight, a silver veil of hair nearly hid his face but gave away his identity as well as any name. King Thranduil was the only elf in Mirkwood with hair of that wondrous hue...
“Not any more,” stated a young voice, interrupting the storyteller. “You have very nice hair, too.”
“Thank you.” Legolas smiled at the little girl; he was used to the story being interrupted at this exact place. “Do you want to hear what happened next?”
“I know! I know!” The excited call came from one of the boys. “King Thranduil found her!”
“Hush,” said another. “Please, Legolas, tell us.”
“And so it happened,” continued Legolas, “that the same morning Sciella reached the mountain, the Elven-king set out with a small army, determined to rescue her, at best, or at worst to revenge her. They lost nearly all hope of finding her alive when birds began to arrive with reports about the dragons’ destruction and yet they pressed on towards the mountain all day, downhearted but carried by Thranduil’s smouldering wrath and Dunna’s unconquerable faith.
By nightfall the news of an elf seen fleeing the mountain lifted their mood again and although their exhausted mounts made it necessary to stop their search for the night, many hoped once more for a happy ending. The songs around the camp fires told more of courage and glory than of sorrow and defeat.
Thranduil was restless, reluctant to wait in idleness when victory was near at hand. Leaving the others in a sparse grove of hazels, he began to scan the ground for the fresh trail of footprints that would confirm Sciella’s miraculous escape. Part of him knew that such an endeavour was vain – it was unlikely that she could have crossed their path without them spotting her. Yet he would not rule out the possibility that she might not keep a straight path towards Mirkwood.
With time he grew thirsty and searched the contents of his saddlebag for his flask. The young vintage he had brought was light, its yellow tint so faint it was nearly transparent. As he lifted the flask to his lips and drank he imagined a well of cool, clear water against his palate, bringing freshness and strength. He drained it fully, enjoying every drop. Although manufactured in the plains, the ease it gave him was remarkably akin to what he felt when wandering in Mirkwood’s own meadows of wood anemones in spring-time. He was already looking forward to seeing how Sciella would weave the fragile white flowers into one of his best-loved wreaths. But first, he needed to find her.
The wine may have softened his senses so that when he laid his eyes on her slim figure in the moonlight, he not only found her beautiful, but was touched by a desire stronger than any he had felt before. Utterly amazed by the singing in his heart and body, he approached her on legs somewhat more shaky than is common for a king.
The warmth of his smile during their greeting sent a shiver down her spine. She received him eagerly, greatly comforted by his presence, and followed her heart in turn in sharing a kiss the sweetness of which would be the material of tales for many a century. That night they became lovers, the king and the fearless maker of crowns, and instead of becoming the dragon’s bride, it was the Elven-king she bound herself to. “
Legolas paused and his admiring audience drew a collective sigh of relief at the happy outcome of the Dragon Bride’s quest, just as he knew they would. The story was not new, but it was the most popular tale among the young and had been told in every hut and talan.
“And so, you were born a year later,” the little girl, who had earlier remarked on his hair, stated with obvious satisfaction.
“Yes,” Legolas replied, “as an unexpected outcome of that adventure, my father wed my mother, she changed her name to the more Sindarin-sounding Lasciel and I was born from their love despite there still being evil in this world. Now let me finish.” He recited:
“The moral of the end is this: If circumstances all are right And the Valar gracious in their might, Of woe may come the greatest bliss.
The dragon claimed what was not his, Would not let go without a fight, But secret powers may move at night When elven lovers share a kiss.
For wonder happened in that wood, The Elf-king got his blushing bride And freed from peril were all men.
Though still remain the spider’s brood, From Smaug there’s no more need to hide, Nor from his fire ever run again.”
“But Smaug came back,” said another fair voice. “He wanted his old gold more than his new bride. That is not nice.”
“And that is why we need to make sure the treacherous beast is really gone this time, once and for all,” said Thranduil as he entered the room, grim-looking in full armour. “The thrushes’ twittering bears tidings of his death by the arrow of one named Bard of Lake-town. I will believe it when I see it. And if it proves true, good reason for a warning against the plunderers the empty lair will attract to our door-step. We may well find ourselves delivered out of the dragon’s jaws and thrown into a pit teeming with wargs and goblins.”
”Legolas,” he continued after placing an affectionate kiss on the top of his son’s head, “I trust you to keep all safe who remain here. Entertain the children with stories as best you can so they will miss their fathers less, and their mothers get a quiet minute.”
“Am I not nearly two hundred? May I not come with you, father? Please?”
“Legolas, my son, we have discussed this before. You are indeed a grown elf, and therefore in charge in my stead. You have my word: if I return without your mithril shirt, it won’t be without very good reason."
‘What do I care about treasure or shining armour,’ thought the Elven-prince, ‘as long as you come back safe and sound.’
And that was proof that though he be part Sinda, Legolas had not only inherited all his mother’s fearless courage, but all the common sense of the Wood-elves, too. One day he would find his own adventure – one both more exciting and more important than fighting over any dragon’s hoard – but that is a different story altogether.
Posted: November 12, 2009
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"Long live Thranduil, great Elf-king of Greenwood!"