Thranduil was not there the next night, nor was he there the night after that. It had been an oddity that the elf had been there in the first place though, and so Bard was content to put it behind him, focusing instead on his work. His work at night had always been satisfying, and slowly but surely his work during the say was becoming, if not satisfying as well, then at least productive. Workers were steadily arriving, missives were being sent and returning. Somewhat unexpectedly it was discussing new laws and policies that took most of Bard’s time. Most of the time it was with his people, but sometimes he’d reach out to the neighboring kingdoms as well. One thing after another, and even while exchanging letters with the real elvenking, his presence in the dream slipped from Bard’s mind.
Until the night he was there again.
“Gideon had no elvish ancestry.” The sudden voice cut through the calm fog in Bard’s mind and he fumbled on his precarious balance, catching himself an a nearby rock and leaving an ugly gouge behind.
Taking a deep breath, Bard rested his forehead against the rock for a few moments before leaning back and safely climbing down the wall. He’d only been there a couple of hours that night, at first just sitting, then hauling rocks up the wall to place them and let them return to their unyielding state. He’d long since gotten over the impossibility of it all, but that did not mean he wanted to test his death in the place. Again.
Reaching the ground, Bard ignored the amused lit to Thranduil’s lips as he stumbled. Yes, he was tired. No, it wasn’t very funny. The day had been a wearisome one, and he’d had to deny people unreasonable requests, standing firm in the face of their judgement and anger. He was used to both, but it was different when it was for something he’d actually done, rather than unfounded slander. Honestly he wasn’t even sure why he’d decided to try his hand at working again that night. With everything going on, he just felt worn out.
“And I would know of anything more recent.” The elf king continued, striding towards Bard and stopping directly in front of him, flickering his eyes over the bargeman in cool examination.
Bard frowned, wondering if he really had the energy to deal with Thranduil that night. “I’ve no elvish blood.”
The other returned the frown, but instead of continued he simply commented, “You are tired.” The was a pause in which Bard wondered if it would be rude to acknowledge the elf for pointing out the obvious, but Thranduil continued before he could make a decision. “Working all day, then coming here to work more. As a mortal, you should know you need rest, lest you wear yourself out.”
A nod in response didn’t seem to satisfy him. “I was fine up until now-” A huff from the king broke through the excuse, and Bard stopped, taken aback. “What?” He asked
“You were not fine until now. You’d merely not noticed yourself slowing down until it all hit at once.” Thranduil turned away, moving to the rock he’d sat upon the time before. “Come.” He called over his shoulder. “Sit, before you collapse.”
Too tired to argue the man followed, stopping at the bottom of the rock while Thranduil effortlessly scaled it. “I hope you don’t expect me to get up there on my own.” He said, looking around for a path to climb up. “We’ve already established my lack of elven blood, and you’d be the first to say us mortals aren’t nearly as graceful.”
He had the feeling that Thranduil would be rolling his eyes if it weren’t so undignified. Instead the elf let out a soundless sigh filled with resignation. Then, in a move that took away all credence gained from not rolling his eyes, the elf scooted forward like one of Bard’s children, extending a hand down to the man. It took a moment, but when Bard’s tired mind figured out the purpose of the gesture he froze, staring up at the elf with wide eyes. Was Thranduil seriously intending on pulling him up to join him?
“I am an ancient being who has fought in many battles, and held my own against dark creature you would not even dream of, Bard. Do not think of me as incapable of lifting one human such a short distance.”
Bard looked away, having not meant his thoughts to be painted quite so clearly across his face. Then again, as an ‘ancient being’, Thranduil would’ve probably been able to read them anyway.
Shaking off his embarrassment, he stepped forward, planting one foot on the rock and pushing off to leap upwards, grasping the elf’s hand. It was a slight shock to realize that this was the first time he’s purposefully touched the elf. They’d brushed accidently before, but that’d been very different from this intentional skin on skin.
Bard hadn’t believed the tales that said Thranduil was made of ice, but he hadn’t thought the other would burn so.
True to his word Thranduil easily pulled Bard up to the top of the rock, clasping a hand on his shoulder to help him the last way up. It was a little humbling, to be so easily lifted by someone so slender. Not to say Thranduil didn’t look like the warrior he was, only that even after the Battle of the Five Armies, some part of Bard’s mind had managed to keep the image of elves as fragile creatures. A delusion he really needed to dismiss.
Somewhat unexpectedly, the two of them sat in silence at the top of the rock, and though Bard found the warmth and company surprisingly pleasant, he couldn’t stop himself from shifting in place, finally caving into the desire to speak.
“What do you think needs to be done next?”
Thranduil tilted his head towards Bard, a golden cascade of hair falling in front of his face before he casually brushed it back. He had to have noticed Bard’s staring, but let it go on long enough that Bard had almost zoned out before answering. “Where do you intend to get the water?”
Or not answering.
“I’ve no idea.” He admitted, finally looking away from the stunning view, to the suddenly lackluster sight of the island around them. “I planned on finishing the rest first.” He snorted softly. “Other than cutting my arms and hoping this place turns my blood into water, I haven’t the slightest idea where it’ll come from.”
Thranduil whipping his head around to stare at Bard in shock nearly had the man jumping, and he stared back, wondering if morbid humor wasn’t as common in Mirkwood as it was in Laketown.
“I don’t actually think it would come to that.” He said carefully hoping he’d not gone too far, as he was actually enjoying sitting with the elf. To keep the conversation going, he asked, “Do you have any ideas?”
Thranduil inclined his head in something that wasn’t quite agreement, offering no answer. The man sighed, accepting that for now he wouldn’t get any answer from the figment of the tight lipped king. At least he didn’t look so horribly offended anymore.
Turning away again, he proceeded to stare out over the basin, taking in the changes. It was quite different since he’d first arrived, and he was rather proud of the work done.
Dirt, crushed up reeds, and a partially built new wall. It was all coming together into something resembling a lake. Or an enclosed dried up lake. Perhaps more of a pond. He hadn’t had that in mind while working on it, but he supposed it had been instinctual to make it something familiar. While he thought it had before born similarities to the sea, he’d never actually seen it, and couldn’t say so with all certainty. This looked better anyways. Or, again, more familiar. Like the water that surrounded his home. It hadn’t been the nicest of homes, but it was all he had known in his life, and all his children knew too. All they would have ever known had it not been for the dragon destroying it. Now, with Dale and given that there was some good will coming their way, they might be able to see more. More than Bard would ever see. Perhaps one day they would even go to the sea.
Tilda might want to see it. She’d always been interested in helping people, much like Bard before he became so calloused with life and the Master. She was still currently finding joy in making and patching up clothes for people to survive the winter, but Bard didn’t know how long that would last. Likely not her next interest, nor the one after that, but perhaps eventually she’d discover a passion that would bring her there. Not for the place itself, but the people living on its coast.
It wasn’t likely that Bain would ever visit, unless it was on something like a diplomatic trip. He was in line for and would do well as the next king of Dale, though he loved numbers and working with accounting more. Sigrid though, Bard would not be surprised if Sigrid decided to go to the sea. She’d always been a free spirit, and though he’d never wanted that spirit stifled, the reality of Laketown hadn’t let it grow. Now she could leave and go anywhere. Well, anywhere within reason.
Reason and food, Bard smirked.
Sigrid loved food. Eating it, yes, but making it especially. Whenever spice merchants came through Laketown she was one of the first to go and speak to them, even with no money to spend. Cooking had always been a favorite of hers. Even back when her mother was alive and Sigrid was tiny, she’d waddle around whenever her mother was cooking, a huge grin on her face and flour covering her hands and everything she touched. Bard had been more amused than offended when he’d been kicked out of the kitchen in favor of the toddler. He had little skill when it came to preparing food, and his wife hadn’t let him forget it. The smirk faded sadly. Bard didn’t know if those memories were the reason Sigrid had grown up loving cooking so much, but he wouldn’t be surprised if they were a factor.
“Where has Legolas gone? I haven’t seen him since the end of the battle.” Bard broke the silence before it became too much, then had to control a cringe when he remembered that the last time he’d seen Thranduil’s son it had been out of the corner of his eye, while the elf was defying his king’s orders.
Still, Thranduil didn’t seem angry, letting out a soft sight and slumping. An unkingly gesture, except that for Thranduil, slumping meant a slight lowering of his eyes, and a minor relaxing about his shoulders.
Surprisingly, Thranduil actually answered. “He’s decided to go west, as he no longer feels he belongs in my woods. “
This time Bard didn’t contain his flinch, and he looked away. “My condolences.”
Thranduil shook his head, smiling wryly “I always knew Legolas wanted for more than the borders of my kingdom. There’s a longing in him for the world beyond even the elves. He’s traveled before, of course, but this time I feel is different.” The worry was plain in his voice. “Far further than before.”
What a sad start to a journey.
Bard would let his children go if they truly wished it, but he would worry, and he would never want them to leave if their relationship was so strained that they felt they didn’t belong with him anymore. Beyond the normal worry a parent has for their child, it would be far too much.
“Where to the west is he going?”
Thranduil shrugged, the motion fluid and inhuman. “I know not where he will end up. We’ve spoken briefly of someone I know, living amongst the Rivendell elves, but I cannot see the path he will end up taking. That will be his own.”
“Sigrid’s like that too.” Bard commented before the silence could grow stretched. “We’ve lived in Laketown our whole lives, but I always knew she was meant for more.”
Thranduil cocked his head to the side, a brief smile touching his mouth. “Yes, she had many questions for my elves and I. Always wanting to know of the places we’ve been and things we’ve seen. The foods we eat.” This was said with a light laugh, and Bard relaxed somewhat, having been worried Thranduil might’ve found her questions annoying. “Your youngest, Tilda, I believe, is another who’s quite fond of questions, though I daresay she prefers giving her own answers rather than being told them. I learned far more about baskets weaving in a single conversation with her than I’ve ever before known or wanted to. You’ve very knowledgeable children.”
Smiling fondly at the reminder of Tilda’s endless curiosity, Bard shifted more comfortably on the stone. While it was true she was curious about everything and asked the most indiscriminate of questions, she tended to jump from topic to topic too quickly to really understand. The things that caught her passions though, those she could stay focused on for months. Laketown’s old weaver—the only one they had had, dead now from Smaug—had learned that well when Tilda visited every day for a month and a half, wanting to know everything she could about the art.
“I hope they weren’t bothering you” Bard spoke on that last thought, turning to Thranduil with a raised eyebrow.
The other shook his head. “We don’t have the chance to see many children, so any are welcome. Yours in particular are a joy to be around.”
Bard paused, taken aback. He had never really thought about immortal beings and children before. It made sense though, that they wouldn’t be able to have many, lest they overpopulate and run out of space and resources. It was still sad though. Children were wonderful, no matter how wearing they could be sometimes. He hadn’t known Thranduil thought so highly of his though, hadn’t even known he’d spent enough time around them to form an opinion.
“Thank you.” He said quietly, watching the elf out of the corner of his eye.
Thranduil’s smile held for a couple more moments before he became serious again, catching Bard’s eye and nonverbally demanding his full attention.
“You are far too uncomfortable around those you see as your betters.” He chastised, and instantly Bard tensed up again, recalling that he was sitting next to King Thranduil, and not just any old person. The reaction had King Thranduil sighing, and the elf shook his head. “I do not say that to have you on your guard, but exactly the opposite. Whether you like it or not, you are a king now Bard. You need to learn to act like one in the presence of equals, whether they’re of men or elves. The more on edge you are, the more mistakes you will make.”
Wincing at the truth in that statement, Bard forced himself to relax again, trying to find that communal mindset he had had just moments before when they were talking about their children. When King Thranduil was just Thranduil.
“I notice you didn’t mention dwarves” He joked, if slightly more tentative than before.
Thranduil smirked, inclining his head. “I have never met a dwarf who was my equal. I therefore see no reason to guide you in such illusions.”
Bard laughed. The whole rivalry was annoying as anything during the day, but the way Thranduil could be so blunt about it was amusing in its own way. “I’m flattered that you see me in a higher light than the dwarves.”
“Of course,” Thranduil retorted, “Though do not act under the impression that that makes you special. It isn’t hard to be better than a dwarf.”
Shaking his head, Bard let himself relax again. He personally didn’t have much against dwarves, but he didn’t have much for them either. He’d found them to be suspicious as a whole, and unpleasant half the time to deal with in meetings. Still, he had none of the hatred that Thranduil carried, though he was curious about where it came from. Then again, his connection with Thranduil might very well be why they were so confrontational. It would make sense, considering their closeness as allies.
Still, today wasn’t the time to be getting onto such a topic. Or tonight, rather. Tonight, and it wouldn’t matter even if Bard did ask, as this Thranduil wasn’t real, something he needed to stop forgetting. It likely wouldn’t be a big deal, as Bard couldn’t see himself being so comfortable with the real King Thranduil to mention any of the topics they’d covered, but it would be for the best.
Shaking his head, Bard leaned back on his arms, content to sit with Thranduil for the rest of the night, even if none of it was real.
The rest of the dream was spent in silence, comfortable and calm.