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Chapter 11 ~ Restore IV
“It’s not wise to violate the rules until you know how to observe them.”
~ T.S. Eliot
“I apologize, Thranduil,” Serataron said absently, looking up from his writing. “I fear I have done it again.”
“No matter,” Thranduil smiled tolerantly from his seat across the room. He had been well aware of the passing hours, but the other had been so absorbed by his work that he had been loath to disturb him. It was all for a worthy cause, anyway. The candles burned low, and the first hint of the dawn glow had begun to appear on the horizon outside the east window.
“You had best take yourself home,” Serataron said as he stood with a slow stretch, “before your mother has more reason to complain against me. And you need not come back later,” he said, smiling. “You have earned a day for yourself. I would advise that you spend it sleeping, but that is your prerogative.”
“I may do that,” Thranduil agreed, returning the other’s weary good-humor. A day with his own family was a welcome prospect. Even so, he stayed to help put the room back in order. He was strangely fond of his Noldorin master, realizing Serataron may have conditionally filled the void left by his father even as he in turn replaced a lost son.
The walk home was peaceful enough, the brief morning twilight not yet disturbed by the overall rise of noise and activity in the city. Spring had come again, and crickets chirped contentedly in the brush along the road as he passed. The sky was clear but for a few feathery clouds poised to catch the colors of the sunrise, and the air bore the fresh scent of dew.
At last he mounted the front steps of the house, the rosy-orange light of dawn shedding its radiance on the world as he returned to his domain.
“Well, good morning, Thranduil,” Linhir greeted him gladly from the doorway, still dressed only in his nightclothes, a mug of steaming cider in his hands. “We began to wonder when you did not return for dinner yesterday. Did the scribbling Golodh keep you all night again? He must be incorrigibly curious to ask so many questions.”
“He is, and do not discourage it,” Thranduil smiled. “If he wants to ask, I will gladly answer him.”
“No doubt you would,” Linhir smiled. “But come in, come in; do not let me stand here and keep you out all morning.”
“Mother is still in bed?”
“She is,” Linhir confirmed. “She agreed to sleep on the condition that I would prepare breakfast this morning.”
“Thank you,” Thranduil nodded appreciatively. He knew his mother missed his father terribly, and she would work herself harder in her loneliness. “I assume everyone else is in bed still?”
“Ah, no,” Linhir admitted. He hastened to elaborate when his lord brother’s expression required an explanation, and he gestured inside with a toss of his head. “Malach is here.”
“At this hour?” Thranduil demanded. “Who let him in?”
“Well, he certainly did not ask me,” Linhir said. “You could ask him yourself, if you like.”
“That and more,” Thranduil assured him, appropriating a deep draft of his brother’s cider before sweeping past and through the door.
The house was quiet, and the aroma of Linhir’s culinary chores lent to it a warm and welcoming atmosphere. With effortless but ominous silence Thranduil strode purposefully through the hallway toward the sitting room. He had feared this issue would arise with no less than four eligible maidens under their roof, and now vested with his father’s authority it was his place to deal with it.
Galadhmir appeared in a doorway, and he seemed to guess his brother’s purpose. “You know about that?” he asked discreetly, nodding further down the hall.
“I do,” Thranduil said as he passed without breaking stride. “No spectators, please.”
The sitting room was quiet, but he found the two of them there sure enough. Engaged in quiet conversation at a rather indecorous proximity, they failed for a moment to observe his careful entrance. He had no personal grievance with Malach at present, but that was not the crux of the issue. The uncomfortable fact remained that the Golodh was a culpable kinslayer, albeit a repentant one of a healthier stripe than Alkarinwë, reluctantly guilty of only the first incident on the shores of the West. Even so, while he remained on this side of the Sea he was heir to the infamous Curse, which was not something into which Oropher wished his daughters to marry. In any event, the ultimate decision would require either Oropher’s final word or Menelwen leaving the household.
Thranduil arched a brow in mild disapproval as he supervised the proceedings, realizing for a moment how a parent must feel. Malach’s hand had bravely ventured up to Menelwen’s white shoulder as though near to sliding through her loose hair, each one so thoroughly enamored of the other that the potent ripples of the other presence went entirely unnoticed. Then he leaned to kiss her.
“A decisive move, my friend, but boldness has its bounds,” Thranduil said at last, giving them both a violent start. “Let us exercise restraint where it is due.”
“Thranduil!” Menelwen protested as they both stood to face him, a healthy flush blooming on her cheeks. “You speak of boldness!”
He was in far too amiable a mood to be angered by her protest. He was rather enjoying this incontestable authority. “Sister, my judgment of this inopportune scene will depend greatly upon the nature of your explanation. Clemency will perhaps be offered for ingenuity.”
Ever defiant, Menelwen looked him squarely in the eye, an overweening air about her as she played her highest card, nothing clever about it. “Malach has asked to marry me, Thranduil.”
“Is that so?” Thranduil mused, leaning easily against the long table behind him. “I say he cannot.”
“I do not recall seeking your approval!” she reminded him indignantly, dark eyes flashing.
“You did not,” Thranduil assured her, “and you may be certain I have not forgotten the omission. Or perhaps you would like us both to give an inauspicious account of ourselves before Adar Oropher?”
“Thranduil,” Malach broke in politely in an effort to favorably redirect the subject, “I am appointed now to the king’s captains.”
“Ah! Then you have my congratulations, Malach,” Thranduil said, brightening considerably. “Such a position is not easily earned.”
“It certainly is not,” Malach smiled, accepting the hand he was offered. “I may not be truly of the aristocracy in the eyes of Doriath, my lord, but I – ”
“Do not start me on that, my friend,” Thranduil said, waving him silent as he turned to seat himself formidably in his father’s great chair beside the hearth. “I do not fault you for your position, nor for your father or your father’s father, nor indeed for any of your paternity back to Cuivienen. Still,” he added in afterthought, glancing toward the window, “you might benefit from a lecture regarding polite visiting hours.”
“I can make a habit of calling later, if you like,” Malach answered him, a trifle annoyed by the flippancy with which his purpose was dismissed. He was a handsome devil, Thranduil had to admit; long hair dark as a starless night, keen grey eyes bright with the light of Valinor. He could see how Melien would find him attractive, for she had always had an eye for the bold and glamorous – even the dangerous.
“The gesture would be appreciated, but it would make little difference,” he said flatly. “Malach, the answer is no, and it will be no so long as you are a Kinslayer unreconciled with the Valar.”
“That is a name I do not appreciate, Thranduil!” Malach returned angrily, towering over him.
“It is not intended to be pleasant,” Thranduil said in reply. His voice rose as well in proportion to the charge, though he made no move to stand, utterly unthreatened. “You unfortunately brought this plight upon yourself, and there is no more to be said.”
“The age of the Curse is past,” Malach insisted sharply, ignoring that last bit, growing impatient. “To my knowledge, it has not discouraged our intermarriage with the Sindar. Or have you forgotten that your own kinsman took the Lady Nerwen to wife?”
“She is another matter,” Thranduil returned firmly. “As I understand it, if she incurred the wrath of the Guardian of the Dead it was to a lesser degree than the aggressors of her company. But Exile she is, and I make no excuse for her, nor for Celeborn.”
“You speak of excuses, but what of yourself? Or is your Lady Elemmirë less an Exile than I?”
“Malach, no,” Menelwen checked him sharply, for even she recognized a forbidden subject.
“It is no secret,” he quipped back, “and it deserves answer!”
“Ai Fanuilos, you will only provoke him!”
Thranduil held his peace until their bickering ran its course, sullen, not inclined to violent retaliation despite Menelwen’s futile warnings. He was too tired to be violent. “Lady Elemmirë is no more mine than she is yours, Malach,” he said at last. “There is little use in your efforts to force my hand now. You have made your suit, I have refused it. If you wish to pursue the matter further, you will be obliged to seek the final word of my father whenever he should return, or Menelwen could take her leave of us. Do not look at me that way,” he asked in a conciliatory voice. “I could not forbid you outright even if I wished to, but until then let us regard the subject as closed. Such complications are not of my making.”
Malach sighed in lingering frustration and dropped his gaze toward the polished wood of the floor, reluctantly recognizing the opposite side of the dispute. He was a good man beneath his feckless exterior, and Thranduil could forgive his temper. After all, he too would be frustrated if he were rebuffed after decades of thoughtful courtship.
“May I come again?” Malach asked respectfully in an effort to salvage what he could of the situation. That he sought such approval rather than simply assume the right spoke favorably of him. It was a genuine pity he was marred as he was.
Thranduil gestured to Menelwen; such would be her decision.
“Please,” she said fondly, “and as often as you wish.”
Malach withdrew with admirable dignity, and Thranduil fully expected that he would be back that evening. He was almost sorry to discourage him, but such were the unfortunate facts of life.
“Is that final, Thranduil?” Menelwen asked moodily when they were alone, looking down on him with some strange mixture of disdainful admiration. She was unquestionably the fairest of his four sisters, and the boldest, striking even now in a gown that had obviously been hastily donned, so it was small wonder that she should be the first to make this trouble for him. Lindóriel was thankfully quieter than that.
“Until Father should say otherwise, yes,” he said. “It is only for your sake that I object at all, Menelwen. Wait a bit, and let this run its course before you make a hasty commitment.”
“That is what Lindóriel said you would say,” she returned, a passing barb that did not fail to hit its mark. She glanced longingly after her unfortunate gallant, then turned back to her brother with new interest. “Where were you last night? Keeping the company of your mysterious lady again?”
“You may believe that if you like,” Thranduil said indifferently, standing at last. “The truth would hardly be scandalous enough to interest you.”
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