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Chapter 9 ~ Restore II
“We are weighed down, every moment, by the conception and sensation of Time. And there are but two means of escaping and forgetting this nightmare: pleasure and work. Pleasure consumes us. Work strengthens us. Let us choose.” ~ Charles Baudelaire
Although they were constrained for a time to enter the service of the neighboring Golodhrim, it did not mean they must become wholly overshadowed amid these great lords of the West. There were other duties they could assume, tasks more to their liking. Thranduil had grown up on the fringe of Thingol’s court, was indeed very much a part of it when he chose to attend, but viewed the honor with the same reservations he imagined Gil-galad’s horses viewed the elaborate trappings they were vested with for ceremony: proud to wear it, but more at ease when they were allowed to run free. It was a predisposition Thingol himself had not wished to see curbed in him, a memory Thranduil cherished of his royal kinsman.
Now he diligently ran a stiff brush over the gleaming flanks of a proud red stallion in the dust and dimness of the stall, just another of the many employed here at the stables near the palace. In that he was strangely content, for it had ceased to seem an indignity now that his father’s eye was not always upon him. He was enjoying himself here amid these splendid horses, and though he was not permitted to ride beyond the confines of the paddock, he was encouraged to take them out for a bit of a run now and then. Within three days he knew them all, and they knew him.
“You are a fine hand with a horse, Master Oropherion,” smiled Luinheled as he passed. He was one of the slender Falathrim, but one with a passion for all that went on four hooves in addition to his love of the sea. “It is not just anyone who can make Bragolach stand as quietly as he will for you. He has crushed many a foot in his day. The beast knows no shame.”
“He is magnificent,” Thranduil shot back with a bright smile, always ready to defend his favorite. “Someday I am determined to have one exactly like him.”
Luinheled paused and smiled to himself as though he took unabashed pleasure in merely hearing the Iathrim speak. “It is no wonder he is proud,” he said at last, “when it is a prince who comes each day to attend him.”
Galadhmir returned astride a spirited bay after a turn about the yard, flashing Thranduil a grin as he slid to the floor and led the horse into a stall for a rub down. It really was not so bad working here. It was almost as though they were now being paid to do what they enjoyed. There were many worse things they could have been assigned. Nor were all the Golodhrim as insufferably arrogant as he had initially and perhaps unjustly assumed them to be. There were several pleasant characters who frequented this place who did not disdain the Mithrim, as far removed from the Fëanorionnath as day is from night. He would remember that.
With a familiar drumming of shod hooves, Gil-galad’s mounted heralds returned from whatever errand their royal master had appointed to them, their horses panting and frothed. They were young Golodhrim by the look of them, or at least no older than himself, liveried in the colors of the king’s house, speaking fluent but still heavily accented Sindarin.
“Two fresh mounts at once!” the first demanded to whomsoever might hear him, pulling off his cap for a moment to shake out his raven hair before returning to his duties.
“Very well,” Thranduil replied dryly from the shadows of the stall, startling them both, for he instinctively assumed a rather haughty demeanor when he was irritated, not an air commonly expected of a drudge. More than that, he had conspicuously forgone any term of deference, a privilege Gil-galad of his own accord had graciously allowed him to retain. “There is no need to shout.”
He grudgingly left Bragolach to attend the newcomers, deftly loosing both saddles and draping them over a stall door as Galadhmir led the weary horses away. Luinheled brought the replacement mounts, already bridled with the quick efficiency that characterized the stables under his management, leaving his noble protege to finish the job.
“We have met before, have we not, Thranduil?” the second herald inquired with a sly air about him, as though he thought a lord of the Mithrim would not wish to be recognized performing menial tasks.
“It is possible,” Thranduil answered disinterestedly as he lay a clean blanket over the horse’s back and set the saddle on it. These two were obviously not of the benignant sort of Golodhrim he had learned to appreciate. “Apparently I did not bother to remember you.”
“The ones who keep to themselves up on the bluff?” the other asked. “Finally hungry enough to earn an honest living, are they?”
Thranduil ignored them as they indulged in a hearty laugh at his expense, though it required monumental strength of will. There was nothing to be gained by stirring his anger now, though he did cinch the girth strap with a bit more force than he normally would. The gray mare seemed indignant, so he whispered a soft apology and ran a steady hand over her face as he rounded her to attend her companion.
“Just how long have you had the unenviable task of playing thrall to a herd of horses, my lord? Is the work to your liking? Or perhaps you did not expect to have to get your noble hands dirty.”
“I did not expect the representatives of Gil-galad’s household to be so uncouth in their address,” Thranduil retorted, his voice hardening as he turned to face them directly over the back of the horse. “Perhaps I am to charitably conclude that it is simply because you know no better, and no one has bothered to instruct you in the skills of common courtesy.” He cinched the second saddle without having to drop his gaze. “Or could it be that you do indeed know what manners are, yet you find some perverse pleasure in making yourself a detriment to your race and to your father’s name? That is, if your father’s name was aught to be proud of in the first place. One can never be certain when it is the Golodhrim who are concerned.”
“Áva quetë!” the first of the two snapped back at him at once, confronting him menacingly. “Hold that serpent’s tongue of yours before I am of a mind to provide a hard lesson in the ways and manner of addressing the king’s herald!”
“Hold your own,” Galadhmir spoke up adamantly from behind them, a pale but forbidding echo of his friend and brother. “It could well be that the lesson shall be yours if you provoke him further.”
“Another one!” the second observed incredulously, tempers high. “They come like rats from the woodwork!”
The scene could quickly have become ugly had not a fair catalyst arrived at that opportune moment, a stately maiden in the elegant riding garb of a lady, as tall as any of them, a single great diamond set in a slender diadem above her brow. “Good morning, Fanar, Angren,” she said primly but purposefully in her deep feminine voice, the statement half a greeting and half a dismissal. She was not blind to the confrontation.
“Good morning, Lady Elemmirë,” Angren replied as both he and Fanar almost fell over themselves to come to attention in her presence. Thranduil, disgusted, turned away to resume Bragolach’s interrupted grooming, and Galadhmir faded back into the shadows. “Is there aught we may do for you? Bring a horse for your pleasure?”
“No, my thanks to you,” she assured him with unshakeable poise. “I am certain I shall have assistance enough, and the king does not employ you to saddle mounts for ladies. Doubtless there are other more pressing errands for you to fulfill.” She punctuated this directive with a knowing smile, like the soft glow of moonlight on the ocean waves.
Thranduil gave little heed to the proceedings, glad merely to see them go, and somewhat indebted to the lady in that regard. He could not afford to be blamed now for granting an insolent herald a broken jaw, greatly though he had been tempted. Here, he reminded himself, he must exhibit exemplary behavior, as his mother was wont to remind him. There were indeed a few disadvantages in no longer being one’s own master, but they were simply to be endured.
Angren and Fanar left in the same rushing rumble in which they had come, and when the noise of their departure at last settled with the haze of dust the whole place seemed unnaturally quiet. It was pleasant.
Inattentive though he was, Thranduil could not help but notice that the lady sighed audibly and shook her head once the others had gone, the slanted shafts of light from the windows dancing on the gentle curls in the long mass of ebony hair at her back. She turned, muttering something to herself as she went, something he assumed was far from complimentary.
“They mean nothing to you?” he asked nonchalantly, running a comb through Bragolach’s fiery mane.
“Less than nothing,” she said at once with obvious conviction. “I weary of their attentions, of all unsought attentions thrust upon me.” She paused for lack of further words, smacking a fist against her palm in a rather unladylike fashion as though the gesture would say quite enough without spilling all her desultory troubles to a stablehand. Watching her out of the corner of his eye, Thranduil allowed himself a slight smile at her expense, but in the ensuing quiet she seemed rather intrigued by his apparent disinterest. There was nothing feigned about it; she was exquisite, but she was nothing to him.
“And who are you, my fair lord?” she asked at last, coming nearer to stand beside the stall door, her clear gray eyes flashing as with captured starlight. “I have not seen you here before this, but I know you are more than you would seem. You are perhaps of the Oropherionnath, yes?”
“I am,” Thranduil answered freely, though he volunteered no further information.
“And so now the Proud Ones come at last to mingle with us?” she asked, almost playfully. “Long you were content to reserve the honor to only your own house.”
“Long we were content to spend ourselves day and night merely to live,” Thranduil replied wryly, finding her company pleasant enough to encourage. “The misfortune is that the years have outlasted us.”
She laughed lightly, a genuine smile gracing her perfect features. “Then I call it a blessed misfortune,” she decided, “if it means I shall have the privilege of seeing you again, and often. ‘Tis said that they are crows and starlings that descend in flocks, while the eagles are wont to fly alone. You are so much more agreeable than those who crowd to seek my hand in the court, Lord Thranduil.”
He was not surprised that she had guessed his name. Despite what she had said of them, Oropher’s pack was not such a mystery to the rest of Lindon, for they were often seen about the city. “And for myself I will say that such a consequence would be not at all unpleasant, Lady Elemmirë,” he returned gallantly. “Yet I fear you still hold the advantage over me, for I know not to which house you belong.”
“I am Serataroniel,” she obliged him gladly, “my father’s only daughter, for my brother was sadly lost in the outrage at Sirion.”
“Serataron,” Thranduil repeated thoughtfully, the name suddenly familiar. “Yes, I have seen your father, only days ago.”
“So he told me,” she smiled. The indigo velvet about her collar only accentuated the sheen of midnight blue in her dark hair. She was not Lúthien, but despite that disadvantage she was remarkable.
Glancing past her for a moment, Thranduil caught a glimpse of Galadhmir watching rather jealously from the shadows, an indignant accusation of infidelity if he had ever seen one. But strangely enough, at that moment he felt it himself more than he saw it, an incriminating barb that unexpectedly penetrated his armor. It was new to him, and rather disconcerting.
Shaking it off, he dealt Bragolach an affectionate slap on the flank as he left the stall, everything now cleaned and groomed to near perfection.
“He is a lovely stallion,” Elemmirë observed candidly. “Seldom have I seen such bold color.”
“Seldom have I seen such a bold spirit,” Thranduil said with a smile. “There is little I would not give if I could make him my own.” He fondled the elegant face Bragolach had turned round to extend to him, stroking the white tongue of flame beneath the forelock. “I had one like him once, long ago.”
Elemmirë seemed to sober then, and he assumed she was remembering the old world as well. But perhaps not. “My lord,” she said, “there is little I would not give as well to see him in your hands. That fine horse deserves a better master.”
Thranduil stopped, wondering at that. “You know him?” he asked warily, almost reluctant to hear now. It would be doubly frustrating to find that the horse he could not have was misused by another.
“I regret to say I do,” Elemmirë confirmed, “and more than I should like. The boor would wed me if only I would consent, but never will I condemn myself to such a life. He who would use a horse as he does would so use a wife as well. You doubtless would not know him.”
“Try me,” Thranduil demanded flatly, praying his gut instinct was mistaken at this point, though the suspicion grew. How many such Elves could there be in the world?
But there was no need for her to explain for he came then, harried and rushed, brashly ordering his horse saddled for him immediately.
“Oh, of all the . . . ,” Alkarinwë trailed away when at last he saw to whom he was supposedly giving orders, a look of utter disgust falling over his face. “Never mind, you son of a wolf. I will get him myself.” Taking matters into his own hands, he lashed a saddle onto Bragolach’s back and slid on the headstall so quickly that the horse grunted and whickered in protest. Swinging astride, Alkarinwë turned the stallion out into the wide stable corridor.
“And fancy meeting you here as well, Elemmirë,” he said before he departed, a sly tone about his voice devoid of all true affection. “I must say, you still have the loveliest glower in all of Lindon. Though I am surprised at you for the vile company you keep. I expect I shall see you tonight, my elusive beauty.” And with that he swung his mount around and left as quickly as he had come.
Thranduil swore through his teeth, slamming the stall door in helpless protest. Of all the Golodhrim on these shores, why did it have to be him?
“You do know him,” Elemmirë observed wonderingly. “Or, what is more to the point, he plainly knows you. What is the grievance that stands between you, if I may be so forward as to ask?”
Thranduil was too incensed to care who asked now. “Once he dared to assault my—” But there he stopped. What was he to call her? Already Lindóriel had become something more to his mind, and he recognized his jealous protection of her had escalated beyond that of a brother. Already he recognized the impulse to defend her as something singularly his own, but still he could not bring himself to admit such rash sentiments aloud. “My sister,” he finished at last; “a lady of our household. Elemmirë, keep a dagger in your bodice when he calls on you.”
“Your solicitude honors me, my lord,” she said grimly, “but you have no need to warn me, for I suspected that such was the shadow of his character. My grandmother, Linaewë of the Teleri, fell in the great Kinslaying of Aman. I only thank the Valar I had not been there to witness it.”
It was comforting at that desolate moment to keep the company of another who shared a common grievance. The indignant compassion he had felt for Lindóriel now found its echoes in the plight of yet another fair and spirited woman upon whom the kinslayer’s shadow had fallen.
“Why does he still pursue you if you have spurned his proposal?” Thranduil asked as she drew back. In the lands he had known, there were laws that forbade such effrontery.
“His suit still stands,” she explained rather miserably. “He wants an answer from me.”
“I would think he has had his answer.”
“He wants another,” she maintained. “Though I may refuse him, he is free in his endeavor to win my affections until my father would turn him away.”
“Then perhaps you should enlighten your father to the particulars,” Thranduil suggested bitterly. “Years ago he forfeited his right to consort with anyone’s daughter. And as for his supposed reformation, I would sooner trust a snake.”
“As would I,” Elemmirë concurred, tossing her head defiantly with a flash of her diadem. “It matters not, for I shall never be his wife. There are hosts of others I would gladly consider.” She smiled again, her grim countenance vanishing like clouds before the night wind. “It seems each day brings yet another to cross my path when least I expect him.”
If that was a cue, Thranduil ignored it. “We must learn to expect the unexpected,” was all he said as he turned away. “Such is the only lesson life has taught me with any certainty.”
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