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Chapter 8 ~ Restore
“Farewell at last, Thranduil. I trust you can keep the household from falling apart in my absence.”
Afflicted by a twinge of anxiety he had not known for many years, Thranduil looked up to meet his father’s unwavering gaze. For one fleeting moment he was young again, for this would indeed be the first time he and his father would be separated for any abiding length of time. Now was his moment to prove himself, a challenge that did not rest lightly on the shoulders of any son. “I can, Father,” he assured him.
A smile softened Oropher’s features as the horse stamped impatiently behind him, a new mount with great potential for distance in his build. “I expected no less,” he said, laying a firm but affectionate hand on Thranduil’s shoulder. “You know how I dislike to leave you here,” he went on in a more intimate vein. “There is no one I would rather have riding beside me. But, on the other hand, there is no other I would rather leave with the charge I give you now.”
Thranduil nodded resignedly, torn in both directions. The rest of the family stood behind him to bid their lord farewell. They were his responsibility now. Two others sat astride ready mounts a stone’s throw away, Noruvion’s father Baranor, and a fellow restless Iathron who had won Oropher’s regard, Luinlas by name, all three armed with bow and blade. Together they would explore the reaches of the East and seek out a place they might all call a home, a preliminary quest that would be as lengthy as it was demanding. None knew how long it would be before they returned, but Thranduil did not expect to see his father again for many long turns of the sun, tedious decades mounting perhaps into centuries.
“Farewell, love,” Oropher said then, taking Lóriel’s fair hands in his own. “Wait for me. The road is long, but it does have an end.”
“And you will find it,” she agreed. Thranduil knew his mother well enough to know she heartily disliked the prospect of the solitary years ahead, but would bear them without complaint for her lord’s sake. Her hair was woven into a crown of plaited gold, the rest spilling down her back like a veil. “You will find it, but now I would have you pledge to return to me when it is done.”
“There is nothing that could keep me away,” he assured her, pulling her close to kiss her farewell. Releasing his wife, he then made as if to leave, but stopped once more to gently lift his son’s gaze. “Chin up, Thranduil,” he chided him softly. “Look the world in the eye and it cannot make light of you.”
With that last bit of parting advice, he turned and swung astride his horse, surveying his family a final time before spinning his mount to follow the open road stretching on into the East toward Eriador. The others followed him around the bend, content to go where he led them. Thranduil watched until he could see them again, three diminishing figures gliding over the plain beyond, leaving him to feel dreadfully stagnant. He yearned to follow, but forcibly resigned himself to the interminable wait appointed for him. He suppressed his agitation as well as he might, but could not quite smother a terse sigh of frustration.
A sympathetic hand fell heavily on his shoulder, and he glanced aside to see Galadhmir beside him, the same thwarted ambition in his bright eyes. They stood for a while yet as the others wandered back to the house, watching the empty landscape for they knew not what.
“And how do you envision us spending the next years, my lord brother?” Galadhmir asked in a dull voice.
“Do not ask me about the next years when I have scarcely decided the next hour,” Thranduil groused, shoving Galadhmir aside in what they both knew to be rough affection. “Come on.”
The white beaches of Lindon stretched away along the shoreline, the glimmering sapphire gulf upon one side and the sharp rise of the mountain foothills on the other. The violence of the world’s breaking could still be seen on the weather-beaten crags standing like dark walls against the open expanse of the sea.
Thranduil let the great horse surge ahead with swift and powerful strides as though to chase the very wind. He could be still no longer, but knew not whether by this vain effort he meant to flee the past or overtake the days to come. Whatever the reason, he found the serenity he longed for in these heedless headlong rides, the sea wind breaking against his face and sweeping through his hair. Perhaps it was only at speed that life did not seem to pass him by so quickly. The rapid thunder of tireless hooves over sand gave evidence that Celebrandir reveled in this abandon as well, his streaming white tail held high in his moment of freedom.
Alone, Thranduil would have let the horse run as far as his great heart desired, for he had much to think about in the meantime. But he was not alone, and apparently Galadhmir had had his fill of this reckless plunge, for with an effort he brought the winded mare to run neck-and-neck with her mate, then pulled her reins aside, forcing them both to turn away into the surf.
“And just what is your hurry?” he asked as they tramped to a halt in the gentle waves. Celebrandir squealed in protest and stamped a forefoot in the foam as the mare snorted in weary disapproval. “If you keep racing ahead of me that way, I may begin to feel you find my presence unwelcome.”
“Spare yourself that suspicion at least,” Thranduil admonished him in a rather despondent tone, turning the stallion to prance out of the surf and resume their ride at a more sober pace. “You perhaps can find it within yourself to be content with idleness when it is forced upon you, but I cannot.”
“Content?” Galadhmir asked with an incredulous curl of his lip, riding alongside him. “I am as eager to be gone as you, but that does not mean I cannot spare a moment to appreciate this place for what it is. You seem to prefer speeding blindly past it. But who said we must be idle? We have been allotted the time, so why not utilize it in ways more constructive than sitting about feeling sorry for ourselves?”
“I have been giving the matter some thought, believe it or not,” Thranduil said, running his fingers through Celebrandir’s windblown mane. “I intend to give it some more this evening. It may well be that the attitude of our household will change while I am left to direct it.”
“Nothing drastic, I trust.”
“No more than necessary,” he said, allowing himself a wry smile. “First, I shall have to consider the—” He broke off abruptly and reined to a halt, his gaze trained intently upon the broken crags above them. “Look!” he pointed, a triumphant smile illuminating his face. “Roses!”
“Roses?” It seemed Galadhmir failed to understand the significance of the discovery, seeing nothing remarkable about a rambling vine of wildflowers nestled high in the cliff face.
Thranduil had already sent the stallion into an eager lope away from their path and toward the foot of the sharp incline, dismounting there and appraising the climb. It was challenging, to be sure, but not impossible.
He turned to see Galadhmir bring the mare churning across the sand to join him. “Just what is in your mind?” he asked, swinging to the ground as well. “I have seen that look before, but did not realize you had fostered such an interest in the native flora.”
“You ought to know, of all people,” Thranduil replied with a withering glance. “Your sister ventured to mention yesterday that she wanted roses in the garden but had found none here. Is it too much to ask that I bring her one if I can?”
Galadhmir shut his mouth at once as though he had no wish to discourage him now, but glanced upwards for himself and seemed to still harbor doubts about the practicality of the venture. Thranduil paid him no mind and found himself a first foothold on the dark rocks roughened by wind and rain. It was an almost vertical climb, but that did not deter him, and with a few carefully placed and balanced steps he was well on his way. One limb at a time he pulled himself up, wedging the toe of his boot into a crevice as he hung by his fingertips, pushing upwards to find his next handhold. Simple.
“I suppose you expect me to catch you when you fall,” Galadhmir called from below.
“I will not fall—” Thranduil had to frantically catch himself as a loose stone gave way beneath his foot, but he managed to cling long enough to find a new foundation. “I will not fall,” he said again after a few breaths, a bit shaken but no less determined.
“I wish I could share your confidence,” he heard Galadhmir mutter to himself. “I do not wish to be the one to explain your broken neck to your mother.”
Forgetting the tense moment, Thranduil continued the climb. At last, he attained his objective, the cleft where the rose vine managed to eke out its rough existence. He braced his legs amid the rocky contours beneath him, dislodging a smattering of gravel in the process. There he drew his knife and deftly cut one long-stemmed blossom in reward for his efforts. They were yellow autumn roses, of a strong but pale hue that he felt would come very near to match her hair. He found he was smiling at the thought of bringing one to her.
“Is there something wrong with that one in particular, or do you just enjoy the view?” Galadhmir called. He was growing rather uneasy if the brittle tone of his voice was any indication.
Ignoring Galadhmir’s remark, Thranduil sheathed his blade and secured the rose between his teeth, prepared to make his slow and deliberate descent. Tentatively, he came upon a conveniently placed fissure that he trusted to bear his weight. Unfortunately, it proved to be slick with moss, and with stomach-wrenching suddenness he slipped but managed to snatch a flailing handful of rose vine. He heard Galadhmir’s nervous cry still echoing from the cliffs as he managed to renegotiate his footing while he hung there, acutely conscious of the sound of slowly ripping roots above. He winced as a loose rock fell and struck him sharply over the shoulder on its way to the ground. He dared not release the strained vine just yet, but half its anchorage pulled free and dropped him another few threatening feet along the cliff face.
“Ai, Belain . . .” he muttered through his teeth, knowing his moment of grace had run short. And, sure enough, what remained of the vine let him go to descend the second length of the cliff in a free fall. He landed heavily on Galadhmir, and they both sprawled gracelessly in the sand as the horses squealed and shied away.
“Elbereth!” Galadhmir gasped as Thranduil crawled off him and he regained his breath. “You nearly scared the life from me!”
“Come now, Galadh. We have seen worse,” Thranduil answered simply once he had taken the rose from his mouth and spat out the green taste, pausing a moment to peel the thorn-ridden vine from his bleeding hand. He had only just become aware of those small but biting wounds. The sand in his clothes was a secondary if no less irritating grievance.
Galadhmir took one look and sighed, forcing down whatever lecture had sprung to mind. “Will you tell me you still do not love her when you would almost kill yourself to bring her a rose?” he asked pointedly, encapsulating his obvious opinion of his sister’s reluctant suitor.
“Do not mistake courtesy for love,” was all Thranduil deigned to say in reply, thrusting the hard-won bloom into his belt and turning away to rinse his bloodied hand in seawater.
Lindóriel paced slowly along the walk in front of the house that evening before dinner, listening to the lilting cry of the harbor birds and the soft whisper of her skirts as the sea breeze drifted through them. She trailed her fingers along a hedge as she passed, embracing the green and growing things she loved. Adar Oropher had been such a prominent feature of their lives for so long it was difficult to believe he had gone. The house seemed much too quiet without him. Thranduil would lighten the atmosphere with his presence before long, and she would not deny that she stood there to await his return. If ever they acquired more horses, perhaps there would come a day when they could all ride together, but so far it seemed her brother was still his favored companion.
She swatted at a stray branch then, frustrated. So many times she had learned to appreciate the present, not to take for granted the supposed centuries of peace that were seldom realized. Perhaps Thranduil did not share her sense of urgency, even after the destruction of Balar. Perhaps he was simply too distracted now to entertain distant prospects of marriage. Perhaps he still did not care to consider them.
She felt a need to speak frankly with him, but could not see her way to broaching the subject, for she had no wish to confront him again. Did he care for her at all, or did he merely dismiss her as another one of the sisters crowding his home? What was she to make of the incident yesterday in the garden? He had never looked at her that way before. It was only a thread of hope, but one to which she clung tenaciously. He had only to ask, and she would be there for him. But what was she to make of persistent silence?
Her thoughts were disrupted then as she saw them coming. The westering sun glowed over the landscape as both Thranduil and Galadhmir rode toward the house at an easy trot, still laughing together over a fading conversation of their own. There at the outskirts they reined to a halt and dismounted. Holding her post at the hedge, Lindóriel allowed herself to stare as Thranduil swung down from his horse with a kind of careless grace, absently running a hand through his bright windblown hair as he passed his reins to her brother with a benign but dominant smile.
To her mind, there had never been a fairer lord.
Galadhmir took the horses around to the stables while Thranduil went ahead to the house. As he strode toward her, Lindóriel watched with a kind of helpless and thwarted devotion she was unable to politely express, ready for him to breeze past her again without so much as a second glance. She was not prepared for him to look up and favor her with a smile, tripping her heart for a moment and suddenly rendering her dreadfully self-conscious after years of apparent invisibility.
“Good evening, Lin,” he said easily as he paused beside her, miraculously produced a yellow rose from his belt and slid it into the thick plaits of her hair, thoughtfully smoothed of thorns. She was stricken speechless for the moment, but he merely smiled as he turned and bounded up the stairs into the house.
She stood for a while where he had left her, staring after him with eyes wide, waiting for the heart-pounding thrill to subside. Her hand crept up of its own volition to meet the soft touch of velvet petals. Her rational mind told her it was a wild and rambling thing, not so large as those she loved and in the last days of its bloom, in truth little better than a weed, but despite that it seemed to be the loveliest of all the roses she had ever seen. To think he had deliberately gone out of his way to remember her request!
Blessed Elbereth! She would love him forever!
That night, as the table was cleared and the dishes were washed, Thranduil attacked the first of his duties in his father’s stead, one that would largely determine the direction of the next several years. He sat at the desk with the clank and clatter of plates and utensils sounding in the kitchen beyond, offset by the thrumming purr of the cat dozing on an assortment of forgotten papers. Of greatest interest to him was the state of the family finances, written in his father’s severe but exacting hand. Frankly, it was not encouraging.
The figures only confirmed what he had known all along, and he let a page drop back to the desk with a bleak but resigned expression. They had come to Lindon with nothing, and yet had established themselves well, artfully disguising and making light of their meager resources by whatever means their own skill and ingenuity could suggest until they had come near to achieving self-sufficiency in most areas of life. It was the tireless efforts of the women with loom and needle that kept them clothed, and bows of Oropher and his proteges that kept meat on the table. Thranduil remembered how his father had specifically delegated the building of the stables to him and his brothers as a task of their own, even to the point of sending them out into the near forests to cut and drag back their own timber. It was a wonder they had been able to purchase the third horse. Whatever he shared of his father’s pride, he felt it was being slowly undermined by the realities of life.
He gathered the ledger in hand with a sigh, and went in search of his mother.
“Naneth,” he began when he found her, dutifully giving attention to her sewing by lamplight. She glanced his way in reply, and he held up the condemning leather-bound evidence as explanation enough of their position. “This cannot go on.”
Lóriel sighed heavily, dropping her hands for a moment into the sea of gray gown in her lap. “I know. But your father would not admit defeat while we yet had the strength to hold out a day longer. He would sooner choose a life of exile than to condemn you to domestic drudgery with some foreign master.”
“What he would or would not choose is no longer an issue,” Thranduil insisted, setting himself on the arm of Oropher’s great upholstered chair, his feet in the seat as he leafed idly through the pages. “It seems we have little enough choice in the matter.”
“I tried to tell him so,” she said, resuming her needlework. “We cannot live on pride alone, though I must say he has made a commendable effort. You know he cannot abide compromise.”
“Perhaps he cannot, but I have begun to see worthwhile cause for it. If we must endure so much as to serve Gil-galad and his lords until we regain our own footing, we must.”
“You know how your father feels about that,” Lóriel admonished him, glancing up with a critical eye. “Thranduil, get your feet out of that chair. And do not fold back the cover of your father’s book.”
“Folded or not, the verdict is the same,” Thranduil insisted, obediently descending from his perch. “And if he expects to be taken seriously as a sovereign of his own realm, I should expect he would want more than this to fall back on,” he said, striking the page with his free hand for emphasis. “Or shall we be content with nothing and go on with nothing simply because we lack the courage to earn anything?”
Thranduil realized he was arguing with himself as much as with his mother. No, he did not relish the idea of being absorbed into that social swamp that was the king’s court, but was there any other way now that they had sapped their own stamina? Pride had made miserable failures out of many, and now he felt it was the calculating influence of his mother’s father that began to gainsay Oropher’s blood in him. Thalos, as he had known him, had been at heart no less obstinate than his daughter’s husband, but did not at once dismiss all thought of sacrifice if in the end it could profit him. He had tried to instill the same shrewd judgment in his grandson, and indeed it now seemed Thranduil’s resemblance to him went beyond his physical traits.
Lóriel regarded him solemnly for a long moment. Thranduil knew she agreed with him at heart, but resisted only to observe the outspoken will of her husband.
“This is our task, Mother,” he said at last. “Father bade me keep the household together. How and what I do is my own concern.”
At last, the lady of the house nodded with a sigh, for the matter was inarguable under the circumstances. And now that Oropher had gone, he had forfeited his voice in the debate. The time had come to gather a treasury for themselves, and they had the team to do it.
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