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We Were Young Once ~ I  by Conquistadora


Chapter 10 ~ Restore III

When the apple is ripe it will fall.

~ Irish Proverb

So passed several years, years with their own assortment of good turns and misfortunes.  One of the latter, or so Thranduil deemed it, was his eventual promotion to the household of the palace itself, so pleased was Gil-galad with his practical abilities when he chose to exercise them.  This meant he was to be assigned to the service of a particular lord, a position that was far from difficult for him to attain.  Though he despised the word page, he had to admit that was exactly what he had become, convinced he looked like a Noldorin stooge in the smart uniform of blue and green complete with sash and GG monogram, two runes set back to back to resemble a branching tree.  The only advantage he could imagine was that he was now paid twice as much as before, which certainly helped their cause. 

It was only because of how seriously he dedicated himself to that cause that he put up with this.  He had been prepared to endure much, for this assignment was singularly humiliating despite the dubious honor of it all.  But he and his latest master, one Lord Rildaráto, had come to an impasse on more than one occasion.  Thranduil would serve him if he must, but he would always draw a hard line between being employed as a servant and being driven as a slave.  He knew his father would cringe to see him here, and so for his sake he tried to retain what remained of his dignity.

At the moment, however, he stood sullenly beside a magnificent doorframe, arms crossed over his chest, awaiting a transfer of authority.  Rildaráto had his own ideas of how a servant of his would behave, and had apparently had quite enough when Thranduil began refusing outright whatever tasks he considered beneath even his current station.  And once decided, the son of Oropher would not be moved, which is not to say Rildaráto had not tried him.  Plainly the august Golodh had not bargained upon purchasing a fashionable bit of decor that still possessed a mulish will of its own.

“I warn you, he is a handful,” Rildaráto was saying, grim relief in his voice to be rid of him, though touched with the barest hint of regret.

“Only when one knows not how to handle him.”

Thranduil looked up to confirm the verdict of his ears, jarred back to attention by that startlingly familiar and gentle voice.

With the customary parting pleasantries Rildaráto left them for more immediate concerns of his own.  The last sound was the closing of the door, no words for a long moment as they regarded one another again, their positions changed.  If Thranduil had thought his situation awkward before, it seemed doubly so now.

“Well met again, my resourceful Oropherion,” Serataron smiled, a guileless expression.  “An unforeseen turn of events brings our paths to cross again.  Tell me, how fares your family with their lord so long upon errantry?”

“They are well, my lord,” Thranduil managed to reply, still not certain what to make of this particular individual.  Again, his manner seemed pleasant enough, but as one who has been twice burned Thranduil was not eager to heedlessly approach a fire. 

Serataron seemed to sense this, and maintained a comfortable distance for the moment.  “You have courage indeed, my lord, to so defy the will of your father in this,” he said easily, unhurriedly, moving aside with a gentle swirl of robes to pour himself a small glass of wine.  “You will forgive me for saying so, perhaps?  Oropher Thoronion is a worthy prince, but too often I have seen him hampered by a stiff neck.”  Wordlessly he offered Thranduil a glass of his own, which was warily accepted with only a moment’s hesitation.  “You may share that same noble affliction, but it will be to your credit that it is tempered with an admirable degree of practical wisdom.  Please, sit; there is no need to stand at attention in the door as the day wanes.  My home is yours now.”

Thranduil seated himself on the couch, inclined now to be agreeable, an instinctive change that said much for this Golodh’s presentation of himself.  He had not expected this, for thus far he had been treated as a guest and no less a lord than his master, as indeed Serataron now was, even if only at his own forbearance.  It was as though beneath the superficial pleasantries he saw proportionate respect and esteem where too often there had been condescension and disdain.  It was, he assumed, the Golodhrim at their best.  It was surprising and therefore difficult to trust all at once.

“What I shall expect of you, Thranduil,” Serataron continued, sitting at his ease opposite him, “is not what Rildaráto seemed to ask.  I do not wish to have a mindless shadow padding after me all the day long.  I would have your service now—you most of all—because you desire a position and I desire a companion, an adjutant, one with a strong voice to add to my affairs, who will not hesitate to refute or admonish me when justice demands.  You were raised for those weightier concerns.”

“You would have me manage your affairs?” Thranduil asked at last, incredulous.

“You need not make it sound so mundane,” Serataron smiled.  “But you have not known many of the others I have tried in this capacity and found wanting.  You have greater initiative than they, and indeed you have years on many of them.  They were not those who dared to take the Exile upon themselves.”  Here he fell silent for a moment, as though unintentionally stirring a rueful memory, letting his eyes fall to the floor as though admitting a dark fault.  “I was of that number,” he admitted, though Thranduil had not doubted it.  “But when Middle-earth ceased to shock me outright, I grew fond of its ways and of those who dwelt in it.”  

Now he smiled again, revealing another of his cardinal motivations.  “You are wise in the ways of your people, Thranduil.  You were fostered in the very heart of Doriath.  You are my window into that world.  Will you not show me what I have not yet seen of your remarkable race, the Lindar of the Many Voices?”

Thranduil did not answer at once, suppressing a first urge to laugh.  But a closer look about the interior of the room revealed the draperies along the walls to be tapestries, bright with skillful representations of events long past.  It was indeed a historian’s home.

“You hold the realm of Elwë in living memory,” Serataron explained further, and with obvious passion.  “You realize the scarcity of your kind, Thranduil, how few remain of those who knew the hidden reaches of the Thousand Caves, who attended in honor the court of the Silver King, who walked the hallowed ground of Melian, still fewer of those who claim royal kinship with them.  There is, of course, your kinsman Elrond, but he can tell me nothing.”

“Because he knows nothing,” Thranduil finished curtly, not in contempt of Elrond but rather in pity of him.  Perhaps the impetus of his reply was merely the shuddering thought of Doriath represented for posterity by a mind untrained by more than tales and legend.  What had been wrongly destroyed deserved at least to be properly remembered.

“You see?” Serataron asked, spreading his hands in a gesture of self-evident truth.  “What is a well-intentioned archivist to do?  My mother was of Telerin kindred, and if you would indulge me, I would learn all I may of our Sindarin cousins.  There are few enough here who can tell me now.”

“If that is all you ask of me,” Thranduil said, allowing himself a smile, “how can I refuse?”

“There is more, if you would have the full truth,” Serataron admitted, his voice turning bittersweet.  “In all honesty, I must tell you I would keep you here also assuage my own particular griefs, for in your manner and ways you remind me very much of my own son, at once grave and resilient, always so full of fervor that it seemed no misfortune in the world could suppress him.  But nonetheless Seralómin was ruined by the Noldolantë—alas, by the folly of his own people—and was finally sundered from them in the slayings of Sirion.  By then he had come to despise his own life and thought his release a blessing, otherwise though it seemed to the rest of us.”

“Why then do you not go back?” Thranduil asked simply, after a long moment of thoughtful silence.  “I would imagine you know more of the return of the dead than would I.  Why linger on here if your home is in the West and your son has already preceded you?”

“Who can say whether Mandos will release him?” Serataron asked rhetorically, his voice now devoid of emotion.  “More likely he will be held bound for years uncounted until the wrath of the Valar be appeased, for I doubt that his sword was wholly blameless.  Moreover my daughter does not wish to leave here, shunning the peace of Aman in hopes to be wed to a great and courageous Elf tempered by these wild lands in which we live.  But still she refuses to choose among them,” he complained, forcibly lightening the mood.

Thranduil laughed a bit with him, deliberately putting aside the griefs for which there was no help.  “Then may the Valar grant that she should find a desirable husband soon,” he said, “if only for her father’s peace of mind.”

That day began a new era of his life in which he became almost a secondary member of Serataron’s family, dominating the household by day going about all manner of business, able to dress more impressively now as a lord’s adjutant.  He returned home every evening in time for dinner unless Serataron had a bit of unfinished business with him, which was unfortunately rather often.  At times it was to discuss a discrepancy in the records or perhaps changes to the schedule of the next week, but often Serataron held him past midnight, asking him to describe in minute detail everything he could remember of the Old Realm, scribbling it all down by lamplight in hasty notes to be reorganized later for a comprehensive volume of the history of Doriath.  Thranduil thought it odd that such a work would fall to the skill of a foreigner, but such were the whims of life. 

He attended Gil-galad’s court quite often, but not so much as someone like Rildaráto would have required of him.  His presence in that particular capacity was always cause for considerable comment, but by now he was deaf to criticism, content where he was.  If others found it awkward, that was their affair.  Elrond had already advanced far in the hierarchy, herald now to the king himself. 

He saw much of Elemmirë, more than he had in the stables of years past, and she was ever pleasant company.  She was always glad to see him, but he credited that mostly to the fact that Alkarinwë had ceased to frequent the household at his request.  Now that he was in a position to actively disrupt that inauspicious association, Thranduil had delivered his opinion in form of an ultimatum, for one household would not accommodate the both of them peaceably.  Serataron, harboring no particular affection for his daughter’s singularly persistent and questionable suitor, did not hesitate in making his judgment between the two.  Thranduil certainly did not regret turning him out, knowing Alkarinwë hated him anyway, and the smug smile with which he had triumphed in the end had been well worth it.  It was ineffably satisfying to be empowered to so completely close that door in his face.  The scales of authority had suddenly turned again in his favor, inexplicably to Alkarin’s mind.

Elemmirë had begun to grow on him, but only as all other good-natured women did; her concerns were his own as a self-appointed brother.  Indeed, perhaps that was what her father expected of him, wishing him to give some semblance of life to the shade of Seralómin.  Whether he succeeded in that endeavor he could not say, but Elemmirë seemed to adopt him readily enough, a partiality that escalated into yet another demanding duty for him as her chosen escort in the absence of any other desirable alternative.  Serataron heartily approved of this turn of events, evidenced by the fact that he readily freed him from any previous obligation if the lady had need of him.  She was a spirited horsewoman, as Thranduil might have guessed, but still she could not outrace him along the stretch of the beaches.  In calmer moments they would sit together overlooking the ocean, and she would tell him of the beauties of Valinor, of Tirion and the Calacirya, the Two Trees of the Age past, and the great harbors of Alqualondë; and in turn he would tell her of Doriath, of Menegroth and the Esgalduin River, the quiet forests of Brethil and Neldoreth.  She would tell him of sailing along the shoreline of Aman in Telerin ships, and he would describe the strategy of spearfishing in the shadows of the wood.  So often were they seen together that rumors had begun circulating through the court, but Thranduil dismissed it as idle nonsense. 

Today his mind was far from thoughts of that sort, nimbly taking the stairs two at a time as he hurried back to Serataron’s chambers after running a message for him.  Relatively speaking, life was good, and he was enjoying a wave of high spirits which had been steadily rising for months.  For the moment there was no one else in the corridor, and he broke into a smooth run at the top of the stairs merely because he could, swift and silent as a hunter over the tile.  Winter had come, and the chill in the air was invigorating.

“You are back already?” Serataron asked when he returned, pleasantly surprised.  “Never have I enjoyed the service of anyone so efficient.”

“Time is not given to be wasted,” Thranduil answered simply, closing the door behind him and sweeping off his snow-dusted cloak.  “In my experience, we are given little enough to be generous with.”

There came a light fall of laughter as Elemmirë entered the room as well.  “Might you spare a few hours of your precious time for me, Thranduil?” she asked with a beautiful smile and an innocent gleam in her eyes that no one could refuse.

“To spend them with you is certainly no waste, my lady,” he said, turning to face her directly.  But abruptly his words died on his tongue and he felt his stomach twist, certain every trace of his smile vanished.   Elemmirë had brought a handmaiden in her train today.  There was no welcome or glad recognition in her eyes, but rather a silent indignation as though she had at last caught him in the heinous offense of giving his attentions to another woman.  Worse, he was stricken with the certainty that he was guilty, despite the fact that he had never promised anything to anyone.

“Lindóriel!” he said at last.  He desperately attempted to regain his composure, but was unable to quite find it.  “How have you come here?  When?  Why was I not told?”

“You were otherwise engaged, my lord brother,” Lindóriel stated deliberately, her bold statement carrying a brazenly obvious double meaning.  It was certainly true that he had been here more often than he had been home in the past months.  “I have seen little enough of you of late.  Is it any wonder then that you have not noticed me?”

As the initial shock subsided, Thranduil grew rather indignant himself as he considered her audacity, calling him to task here in the presence of their own temporary lords.  By what authority did she restrict or condemn his right to go where he pleased?  He owed her nothing.

The contention was plain, and at last Serataron coughed discreetly.  “Thranduil,” he said, “my apologies, but it seems I had forgotten my letter to Lord Círdan.  I would be ever so grateful if you would see it delivered for me, if you would but wait a moment.”

At the same time, Elemmirë dismissed Lindóriel, promising to follow soon.  Thranduil could not help but glance after her as she went, and for a moment he grudgingly appreciated what a disagreeable task she had set for herself for the sole purpose of confronting him.  There were other ways she could have accomplished her purpose, he knew, but perhaps none so effective.  His emotions were still in inexplicable turmoil.  Why did he feel he had lost something when she failed to look back? 

Serataron deftly folded his letter and stamped his seal upon it in pale wax.  Thranduil waited a moment for it to cool and then slipped it beneath his sleeve for protection against the elements should the snow outside turn to rain, as often it did.

“Thranduil,” Elemmirë entreated him softly.  “You will stay with me today?  The snow does not encourage a ride, but there is much to be enjoyed beside a warm hearth.”

“No . . . no, not today,” he begged off, retreating toward the door.  “I apparently have other duties I must attend in my own household, if you will excuse me.”  He swept his cloak over his shoulders again and left, somehow anxious to get a closed door between them.  That accomplished, he stood alone in the empty corridor for a long moment, collecting his thoughts, demanding that his rampant sentiments make a full account of themselves before they strayed entirely out of hand.  He was shaken by the dreadfully helpless feeling that he no longer had complete control of himself.  

He descended the stairways in a more somber mood than when he had climbed them only a moment before.

The crisp winter air was a relief, snow still falling in gentle flurries that silently covered the landscape in a thin shroud of white.  It was a gray day, befitting his mood now. 

He walked down the stately palace entryway, no longer the only one there, his mind distant, willfully blind for the moment to the world that moved around him.  He was still resentful of the fact that both Galadhmir and Lindóriel deemed it necessary to supervise his every move.  He was promised to no one.  He was not even supposed to be known to have designs upon her.

Hold there.  Had he in that last thought unwittingly admitted to himself the condemning facts of the matter?  Was he singularly partial to her despite all protestations to the contrary?  Well, so be it.  Again, it was disconcerting that he could not choose to be completely indifferent as he had once been, but there seemed to be no help for it.  But still it did not mean he had trespassed against her by consorting with Elemmirë.  Or did it?  He paused, suddenly uncomfortable.  Well, perhaps consort was the wrong word.  What was it that made women so impatient?

He passed a row of picketed horses where they always awaited the return of their masters from whatever business had called them to the palace.  He would have passed them with hardly a glance, but as he neared the far end a velveted nose reached out to bump him with a friendly whicker, protesting his inattention.  Startled from his self-imposed solitude, Thranduil stopped to recognize Bragolach, eight years older but still his frosted ears pricked with the same lively interest exhibited before, asking to be remembered. 

It was a sudden bittersweet reunion with a long-lost friend, something Thranduil needed at that moment.  He boldly embraced the noble face Bragolach lay against him, giving no thought to the disagreeable individual who must be somewhere near, the snow in the forelock melting cold against his face. 

All of life was conflict, conflict and deprivation.  Where was his father now?  Far across the reaches of Eriador?  Beyond even the distant and mysterious Mountains of Mist they knew only in rumor?  Regardless, he was certainly a long way from Lindon.  Thranduil felt a need to talk to him now.  Oropher had always taken a keen and almost overbearing interest in his son’s prospective choice of a bride, and now he was gone when at last it began to emerge as a real issue.  It was not something Thranduil was eager to discuss with his mother yet, and he knew Galadhmir would not approach the subject with a particularly open mind.  Neither, he suspected wryly, would Serataron, not that he was tempted to confide such to him even in the event that he was forced to explain the situation.

Very well, he thought, gently stroking with one hand the side of the horse’s face around the eye even as he massaged the ears with the other, an indulgent exercise the great steed found soothing.  Very well, he would stop denying it to himself at least.  He was aware of a stirring of singular affection for Lindóriel, affection that could easily become love if he deliberately stirred it into flame.  But that he refused to do, and it was exactly that reserve that she failed to understand.  He was not spurning her, but merely holding her apart until he was ready.  The time was not right.  Even so, he paused to consider whatever impious comment may have reached her ears, and could understand her reaction.  Was that not what he would have done in her place?  That was a strange thought.  Worse, he realized it would indeed rankle him considerably to see her entertaining the affections of another man, a jealousy he had no right to entertain if he was to be judged according to his own measure.  The sentiment was undeniable, whether he wanted it or not.  He had been doing well until now, when she forced him to acknowledge her once more.

Bragolach grunted contentedly, lulled to a pleasant calm, his long face shielded from the nip of the air where it was nestled against his Elvish friend’s chest.  The snow itself seemed to soften all sound, providing a timely moment of peace that Thranduil used to pull himself together.  Bragolach seemed to understand in his mute equine way, and was thoughtful enough to offer a broad shoulder to lean on, only accentuating the brutal fact that their own friendship was essentially without hope.

Life was not fair, Thranduil thought, lamenting the obvious.  He held the horse a moment longer before steeling himself to face the world again.  He preferred that his own household did not witness his weaker moments, but the horse would not care.

The sudden slap of a pair of gloves across his face artlessly shattered the moment, and Bragolach drew himself up with a terse snort, ears flattened against his head.  Blinking away the stinging pain, Thranduil returned Alkarinwë’s bitter glare, refusing to acknowledge the reddening welt he could feel on his cheek.  Words could not describe the enmity that seethed between them, but it certainly did not go unexpressed. 

Without a word, Alkarinwë mounted and pulled the protesting stallion away from the picket rail, spurring him down the snow-dusted road.  Thranduil watched him go, maddeningly powerless.  His desultory griefs and dissatisfactions at last found a single object, amalgamated now into the simple burn of thwarted anger as the mounted figure turned from sight. 

If injustice itself could be personified, so would it appear!

Diligently, Lindóriel wove a handful of black hair into a skillful plait while her mistress beautified herself before her mirror.  Elemmirë was gracious enough, as she supposed Noldorin ladies would be, but in other ways she was a living curse.  Even now Lindóriel was tormented by the thought that this fell beauty was actively entertaining designs upon Thranduil.  If she obeyed her basest instinct, she would have twisted those soft flowing locks into tortuous knots, but she managed to behave herself.

Her mind ran rampant in these quiet moments during which she was forced to consider her rival.  Just what had passed between Oropher’s son and this maiden that warranted the rumor of their impending betrothal?  The possibility had shaken her to the core.  She could only imagine the intimate forays those two must have enjoyed.  Gone, it seemed, were the days of kindred regard she had shared with him on the bleak road to Sirion.  Never had she thought she would one day wish for the return of those hardships.  Now it seemed his attentions had passed beyond her, picking her up only to let her find her own way.  She knew she should not be so bitter toward Elemmirë, for it was truly no fault of hers, but she could not help it.

Elemmirë smiled back at her in the mirror, for plainly she knew jealousy when she saw it.  “You also entertain an affection for your striking lord?” she asked playfully, selecting a perfume.  “You, too, hold him a favorite, perhaps?”

“I love him,” Lindóriel stated unapologetically, failing to return the pleasant expression.

The profession was spoken with such quiet vehemence that Elemmirë paused a moment and then turned back to regard her surly handmaid.  “For that I cannot fault you,” she said at last, her voice low and honeyed.  “And, of course, I imagine you despise me, as any neglected lover would.  But put that aside; such gloom does not become you.  You are not of his blood, then?” she asked, turning back to her array of cosmetics.  “You seem like enough to be akin.”

“I am not,” Lindóriel explained, still unable to renounce her grievance, but willing to answer questions.  “Only the benevolence of the Lord Oropher and his Lady has bound me to him.  My family was not of their standing.”

Elemmirë nodded thoughtfully—too thoughtfully—almost condescendingly.  “Your fortunes have improved somewhat then,” she mused, snaking a chained diamond about her neck.  She seemed sober enough for a moment, but then her full lips twisted into a wry smile.  “Do you truly imagine he cares nothing for you?”

Lindóriel was silent, resenting her intrusion into the subject, but also anxious to hear her thoughts.

“He smiles for me, certainly,” Elemmirë explained resignedly, applying a slight but deliberate touch of shadow about her eyes, “and he is glad to go about with me.  But never does he so forget himself as he did at the sight of you.  I am not blind, my friend.”

“I do not presume to guess his mind,” Lindóriel answered dourly.  “He has never troubled himself to share it with me.”

“Then perhaps I may illuminate the facts of the matter,” Elemmirë said flatly.  She was gracious, but plainly rather dissatisfied in her own right.  “If I am the cause of the jealousy that plagues you, Lindórië, you may set your mind at rest.  In truth I know I am little more than a pleasant pastime for him.  He does not come so readily because he longs to be with me, but rather because he is well rewarded by my father for his trouble.”  Her handling of her many accessories had roughened somewhat, expressing a frustration Lindóriel could understand.  “I saw today the way he looked at you.  If he avoids you still, know it is an act of his will and not of his heart.”

Lindóriel said nothing, letting the matter lie.  But, hurt though she was, she was tempted to believe the grudging insight Elemmirë offered.  The trouble was that she did not know what to believe.  If Thranduil truly had no regard for her, he was using her badly by the small encouragements he dropped year by year.  But if he did look favorably on her now, why did he deny her?  She felt that she had been thrown aside, unloved and unwanted.  If only she could know the truth, and if only the truth was what she wished it to be!

“You can sing, I trust?” Elemmirë inquired then, standing in all her dark beauty to leave the room at last.

“I can, my lady.”

“Good.  Come then, and I shall play for you.”

Thranduil walked home alone that evening.  The snow had ceased, but the gray clouds hanging over the landscape promised still more.  Serataron had been gracious enough to free him early that day to let him attend those ambiguous household duties he had invoked as a ready excuse to escape Elemmirë’s company for a time.  It was not wholly a lie, even if his primary concern now seemed to be steadying himself.

Rather than dissipate, the worrisome guilt gnawing at his conscience had only grown more insistent as the hours passed in dreary solitude.  He could not explain it satisfactorily even to himself, but he felt he owed Lindóriel an apology at the very least.  He was suddenly acutely aware of having neglected her.  What the years to come would make of them was of no consequence; he had to redeem himself now if only for the sake of the friendship they had once shared.  He had missed that, and had not even realized it.

He had to walk through a stretch of the dormant gardens to reach the front steps – gardens that in the cool days of autumn were dominated now by scores of yellow roses.

He loitered aimlessly beneath the portico for a moment, alone at an empty house, for even his mother was elsewhere.  But after a moment of indecision he turned aside and went instead to the stables. 

She would not walk home today, and when Elemmirë dismissed her she would find him waiting.

As it happened he was waiting quite a long time, or at least it seemed so as he stood in the cold at the palace steps watching the sky grow ever more overcast, as the snowfall began anew.  Celebrandir stomped indignantly after an hour, protesting the seemingly pointless vigil while his mate endured in patient silence.  Thranduil gently admonished the stallion with a steady hand; if they had to wait there all night, they would.  The great doors opened often, but the one who emerged was never the one he anticipated.

At long last his persistence was rewarded and she did come out into the chill evening air, her mantle pulled warmly around her against the cold and silent flurries of white.  She turned and stopped suddenly as she caught sight of him, for plainly she had not expected him.

“I thought you were dismissed hours ago,” she observed sullenly.  “Some unfinished task remains yet to inspire you to stand here in the snow?”

“Only to bring you home, Lin,” he said simply, forgiving her incivility, contritely letting his hood fall back down to his shoulders in her presence.  “It is a long way to walk alone.”

“I trust you would know,” she murmured to herself, descending the stairway to join him. 

Diligently, Thranduil slid the folded blanket from the back of the mare, turning it inside-out to provide Lindóriel a dry seat.  She allowed him to help her mount, purposefully setting her foot in the makeshift stirrup he made of his hands. 

They rode together toward home, neither venturing to speak for a while.  The horseback and pedestrian traffic gradually thinned as they neared the outskirts of the haven, affording more of the quiet seclusion Thranduil was anticipating, the only sound the wet and rhythmic plodding of the horses.  He glanced aside at her for a moment—her eyes downcast, her flawless profile defined against the whitened landscape—and he again felt a profound compassion for her.  She was adrift even as he was.  They had grown so close in the bleak years past; how had they lost that?

“Have I your pardon, Lindóriel?” he asked at last, penitently.  “I wish you would not be wroth with me.  I had no wish to offend you.”

She lifted her chin a bit, but still did not condescend to look at him, willfully training her eyes ahead.  Ai, Elbereth, this would sound ridiculous if he tried to justify himself without a making a commitment.

“You know well there is nothing between me and Serataron’s daughter,” he insisted.  “It was not I who said anything to the contrary.  She means no more to me than—”

“Than I do,” Lindóriel finished, turning a sharp glance at him. 

That was not what he meant, but it was indeed what could be implied by his recent behavior.  Even so, her attitude was beginning to chafe his apologetic mood.  He was tempted then to roughly put her back in her place by telling her everything—that he loved her, dearly, and that she was simply being impatient, unappreciative, ungrateful, and foolish—but managed to restrain himself.  

“You know I did not mean that,” he said, his tone darkening.

“Do I?” Lindóriel demanded, pulling the mare to a halt.  There was no weakness in her eyes despite the flash of unshed tears, only reproach.  “How am I to know anything when you do nothing but brush me aside?”

Rather affronted by those winging remarks, Thranduil scowled back at her.  “You do not receive apologies well, Lindóriel.”

“Not those that come in half-measures!” she snapped at him.  “Why should you trouble yourself to apologize at all if I am naught but a sister to you?”

The snow-muffled silence that followed was a thick one.  Thranduil’s eyes narrowed as he withdrew back into himself, his own words thrown back at him in contempt.  He had done his best to heal the breach between them, but if she would not have him, so be it.  He had abased himself far enough already in this futile effort to please her.

“I do not know,” he said at last, bitterly indifferent.  “Why should I?”  He spurred Celebrandir on ahead of her, preferring now to ride alone, a chasm of silence between them that was not closed until they arrived home.  He never did look back, but that did not mean he was inattentive to her presence.  Though she rebuffed his immediate company, he was not absolved of his obligation to escort her.

The dark of evening had descended around them as he dismounted at the front walk beside the barren gardens.  Lindóriel was not far behind him, drawing near with the crunch of wet gravel beneath the hooves of the mare.  He took charge of her horse for her as she slid to the ground, the meager light gleaming on her face revealing the trails of proud tears before she turned away and retreated inside.

Thranduil sighed and shook his head at the hopelessness of it all.  He would never understand women.

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