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Chapter 16 ~ Reign
“‘Tis said of love that it sometimes goes, sometimes flies; runs with one, walks gravely with another; turns a third to ice, and sets a fourth in a flame: it wounds one, another it kills: like lightening it begins and ends in the same moment: it makes that fort yield at night which it besieged but in the morning; for there is no force able to resist it.” ~ Miguel de Cervantes
Thranduil rode the young stallion at an easy gallop across the fields beyond the haven, meadow empty and silent but for the deep drumming of his hooves. Thus far, Celebdil was proceeding admirably in his training, high spirited but manageable. By carefully breeding Laegolas over the last years, Thranduil had expanded the family’s resources into a young herd of six, four mares and two fine stallions, all with their sire’s proud carriage and silver dapples. The others had not gone cheaply to the privileged class of Lindon, so if Oropher returned and they had need of more mounts, they could afford them.
Thranduil had purposefully left the road some time ago, and now he came to a rambling stream running down from the mountains. He slowed Celebdil to give the young horse a moment to consider the obstacle. Argeleb leapt across, baying eagerly at them from the other side. Celebdil stepped down toward the water cautiously, delicately for one of his size. He at last determined the water to be harmless and surged across to the opposite bank, launching again into a free gallop on the other side.
It was a rather aimless ride, Thranduil realized. There was something tiresome about that. He felt as though he had spent the last centuries on a leash, bound to those borders until he should be released. He was ready to be released from this place, now that he had already been rather unwillingly released from Serataron, released from Elemmirë, released from Amroth. What was left?
That was not all that chafed him. After arguing the point against himself again and again, rationalizing and excusing himself night after night, at last he had been forced to concede that he was genuinely lovesick. That inescapable conclusion had come hard upon him in the past months, for now Galadhmir and Gwaelin had grown particularly fond of one another, and he had been unable to otherwise justify the strange envy that grew within him whenever he saw them together. It was not merely because Galadhmir now sought her company more often than his, but their radiant happiness made him all the more aware of his own want of it.
Thranduil realized that it was all ridiculous, that it was entirely his own fault. If he was lonely now it was because he had roundly declared to the world that he wanted to be alone. Even now it was well within his power to redress the situation if he could only humble himself enough to approach Lindóriel as he knew he should. But somehow he could not. He felt incredibly foolish, but he did not know even how to begin going about it. The fact that he was completely and inexcusably the cause of his own growing misery only worsened it, but it seemed it would be shockingly presumptuous of him to suddenly make a complete turnabout and expect her to simply forgive him everything. Lindóriel too had pride, and deep at the heart of his reticence he knew it was her righteous rejection that he feared.
They had been stagnant too long, and the forces of change were growing upon them by the day. He could not resist much longer.
Suddenly he reined Celebdil to an inexplicable halt in the grass. Argeleb bounded to a stop ahead of him, panting and wondering at the delay, but for the moment Thranduil lacked the heart to go on. He felt as though he were trapped upon one of those spinning wheels kept for captive squirrels, running, always running, but going nowhere. And the more he ran the more frustrated he became until now he simply had to stop, mocked as all his efforts to escape availed him nothing.
Argeleb barked gruffly, jarring him disagreeably from his self-imposed brooding. Thranduil was prepared to be peevish with him, but it was then that he was aware of a familiar stirring at the edge of his mind, a growing presence. It had been so long absent that it took him a breathless heartbeat to place it.
He wheeled Celebdil around at once and spurred him on to the summit of the hill. He could see a mounted party below, and he could not stop the ridiculous smile from spreading across his face.
“Mae govannen, Thranduil!” Oropher called up to him with a wave.
Lindóriel stood back as Adar Oropher hit the household like a hurricane, and it was only then that she realized just how much she too had missed him. Naneth Lóriel of course was driven to joyful tears, and Thranduil was still beside himself with an almost boyish relief and excitement. Galadhmir and Linhir had come running from the paddock, and it was not long before the news spread like wildfire and brought Anárion back from the city. The entire house seemed brighter now, more vibrantly alive than it had felt in far too long.
Oropher had brought with him two of the silvan people from the Great Wood beyond the Hithaeglir, called the Danwaith, or Nandor in the Noldorin manner of distinctions among peoples. They were brothers, their names were rendered into Sindarin as Erelas and Gwaelas. Pale with dark hair and slight stature, clad in the subtle hues of the forest, these had apparently been chosen for the journey both on account of their obvious enthusiasm and their facility with the Sindarin tongue of their new lord. They were not yet eloquent in their expression but fluent enough to make themselves understood. Overall they seemed understandably awe-stricken by the grandeur of Lindon and the vast glimmering expanse of the sea.
Oropher himself was impressed by the growth his own estate, for the family had not been idle in his absence. A new wing had been built onto the house, the stables had been extended, the paddock widened and partitioned to accommodate their handsome horses. The gardens had been enlarged and embellished into an elegant labyrinth of green and growing things surrounded by thick but airy groves of pine and beech and silver linden.
If Lindóriel understood them correctly, Erelas and Gwaelas now held themselves and their people more honored than ever that Oropher would wish to leave such a realm as this to live among them in their wood. But all that aside, she could not help but notice their special regard for Thranduil. These Nandor had already admired Oropher for years, but his golden son was a new wonder to them, the most outstanding amid a household of impressive individuals who must have all seemed larger than life to their eyes.
Galadhmir was given charge of them, and he set about settling them in a spare room, the one with the large window, guessing rightly that they would prefer to remain together in a place as strange and new as this. Linhir stabled the horses, sturdy mounts but not very fine beside the sleek offspring of Laegolas. The whole house fell into a state of controlled uproar as arrangements were made and dinner prepared.
How was one supposed to go about life as normal at a time like this?
“Come, Thranduil,” Oropher said with a smile as he strode down the hallway, his whole manner expressing his pleasure to be back again, even if it could no longer truly be called home. “I want a bath and I must have some clean clothes, if you will allow me to prevail upon you.”
“You may help yourself,” Thranduil assured him, leading the way into his room and opening wide the wardrobe.
Oropher sorted through all of Thranduil’s hanging clothes with a swift but discriminating hand. But then he slowed, taking more notice of what he was rifling past. Thranduil had been waiting for that, and rather smugly. “Gilthoniel,” his father commented when he had already found more than six fine outfits of a considerably better quality than they had been accustomed or able to wear when he had left them. He turned at last, folding his choice over his arm. “I wonder now if you have been as prudent in your charge as I expected of you,” he said.
“Oh, I have,” Thranduil assured him, unruffled, “though I doubt it was in the way you expected.”
“But the horses,” Oropher went on, “the house, the gardens, these,” he said. “What have you been doing?”
“You will forgive me, I trust, for going my own way this time,” Thranduil said, giving his father the key to the large strong box beside the wardrobe. “But I certainly did not allow the household to fall apart.”
Oropher opened the lid and simply stared for a moment. Thranduil did not blame him. It was an impressive collection of gold and silver coin, all meticulously counted and sorted, the surplus of their earnings over twenty decades.
“Exactly how did you accumulate all this?” Oropher demanded when at last he found his voice.
“Well, we certainly did not stumble across it in the mountains, Father,” Thranduil returned dryly, handing him the ledger.
Oropher’s lips formed a thin line as he considered his next words. “Do I want to know what you have been hiring yourself out to do?” he asked calm but deliberate voice, obviously finding the thought thoroughly distasteful.
“I doubt it,” Thranduil admitted. “But I could not imagine that you wished to leave this place entirely destitute, as we came.”
Oropher sighed heavily, seeming to realize there was no point in arguing about it now. “Oh, you are right, of course,” he said at last, finally opening the ledger to see for himself. He quickly scanned the pages for the final figure. “Yes, you have been productive,” he said.
“You missed Celeborn,” Thranduil added as Argeleb pushed his way past Oropher’s legs into the room. “A year ago he returned to Eriador.”
“And he gave you that beast.” There was no question in his father’s tone, and only those who knew him well could hear and appreciate his grudging admiration.
“He certainly did.”
“Very well,” Oropher said at last, turning to go, abrupt as always, the subject closed. “I am sure I shall hear all about everything in good time. I shall see you at dinner.”
Lindóriel retreated into the gardens for a moment when her presence could be spared, more intent now than ever on completing the task she had originally set for herself that day. Looking over her rose bushes and vines, sheers in hand, she deftly pruned away what remained of the old dry blooms, dropping them into the basket on her arm. With a loving hand she had bred these strains over the years, larger and more full now than most others to be found in Lindon, and she would not think of leaving them without taking their seeds with her to cultivate them in their home across the mountains.
Her gown swept lightly over the leaf litter as she moved about the shrubs. Of course, she would have to change before dinner, and make something presentable of her hair. Adar Oropher had brought the airs of change with him like the brisk autumn nip that now came upon the wind, and that alone seemed to excite her even more than it should have.
Perhaps it was because she almost dared to hope that his father’s return would be the catalyst that would free Thranduil’s mind for other pursuits beyond his keeping of the household. That was what Gwaelin and Illuiniel expected it to be. But when she thought of it she felt that she was merely teasing herself, needlessly setting herself up for bitter disappointment. Thranduil would only be further distracted now by other concerns.
After that singular incident almost twenty years before when he had very nearly kissed her, she could not honestly believe that he was truly indifferent to her, regardless of what he seemed to want her to believe, despite the passive façade he strove to maintain. But even then it hurt to imagine that his love was wrung from him unwillingly. She did not want to be a burden to him.
Nothing was simple anymore. Indeed now it was difficult to imagine that there had once been a time when she had awoken each morning without worry, without some gnawing care.
“I thought I would find you here, Lin.” Illuiniel’s bright voice intruded then on her thoughts, but not unpleasantly.
“You need not infer anything from it,” Lindóriel insisted.
Illuiniel gave her a knowing smile, then turned then to gather some autumn foliage of her own, presumably for table centerpieces. She cut a long strand of ivy touched with autumn’s color. “It is strange to have Adar Oropher back with us, is it not?” she said. “After all this time, it seems Thranduil now fits his role better even than he does. Doubtless all will right itself when at last we leave this place.”
Lindóriel merely nodded, too listless at that moment to answer.
“In any event, Lin, it would certainly do you no harm to use tonight to best advantage,” the other continued, unconcerned. “Smile occasionally and stop looking so dreary. Fan the flame a bit until you make him uncomfortable enough to realize what a fool he is making of himself.”
“I do not want to make him uncomfortable.”
“Oh, but I think you do. Choose some of your precious roses for the table and leave the rest to us.”
Dinner was, of course, a lively affair, for there were two centuries of goings on to be told from both sides. Two extra places were set at the table for their guests; Galadhmir had already gone with them to the city to find new clothes for them from among those elves of Eriador who had remained with Gil-galad, attire more befitting the company they shared now, and still reminiscent of the old forest hues they loved.
Indeed, all of them had dressed in their best, making the renewed welcome of their lord as formal and yet as festive an occasion as the short notice permitted. Linhir was full of his exacting questions, as usual, and Oropher was more than ready with his answers. He went on to describe in grand detail the great expanse that was Greenwood, Eryn Galen, just beyond the Misty Mountains. He spoke of the old clan organization of the Wood-elves there, for the forest was teeming with them, and of their surprising alacrity to learn. So long as their new lords were not asking them to leave their wood and continue West, they were willing to receive them. He spoke of their silvan language, their refreshing simplicity of life. He also let drop the fact that they had not been idle in the past years with him, and they had already made many grand preparations for the arrival of the entire family.
But even as intriguing as his father’s narrative was, Thranduil constantly found his gaze drawn aside, not entirely without his consent. Everything seemed set against him. In his line of sight, Lindóriel sat just beyond the blooming bouquet which adorned the table. She was lovely that night, so much so that it truly hurt as he had never imagined it would. Her dark green gown gently caught the glow of the lights, and a soft grey wrap encircled her shoulders as surrounding petals will reluctantly reveal the heart of a rose. Her thick hair was left free but for one great braid that lay heavily over her breast. He tried not to look at her but could not help it. He wished she would smile, even if only once.
Thranduil . . .
The candles behind her cast a soft gleam over her hair, but her eyes remained downcast as she aimlessly pushed her food around in her plate with her silver fork. But she glanced curiously up at him then, enough to stop his heart for a moment.
With a start, he turned to find his father looking at him strangely as well, and his mother, and now most everyone else at the table. Illuiniel just smiled, and Lindóriel blushed.
“Yes?” he asked, feeling ridiculous.
“Well, now that you have come down to join us again,” Oropher continued, setting his silverware on his plate, “I was going to ask if you would remain for a time with me. There is a great deal I must discuss with you.”
“Of course,” Thranduil answered him, and it was only then that he took conscious notice of the fact that dinner was indeed almost over.
He could not go on like this.
The table was cleared as it always was, and the fact that they still served themselves seemed to endear them to the two Danwaith all the more. Thranduil remained with his father as the others went their own ways, though of course they were all burning with curiosity.
“Come,” Oropher said at last, standing and moving toward the adjoining room, his old study. “I would like to leave here in the late days of winter,” he said, closing the door behind them and then unfolding a cursory map of the journey on the desk; it was by no means exhaustive, but detailed only those landmarks and passes of immediate consequence. “That way we may easily pass the mountains in the summer months. I believe that will be enough time to put ourselves in order, will it not?”
Thranduil returned his smile, finding it easier now to remain focused. “Of course, it will.”
“I would obviously like to go mounted,” Oropher went on, taking a seat, “and I must admit those are several fine horses you have out there. How many are they?”
“Seven at present,” Thranduil said, “most of them relatively young and expected to be long-lived. We did not keep them all, for they were all of the same sire, but we did plan to take at least a second stallion for you.”
There came a low thumping at the door with a dissatisfied snuffling. Oropher looked back curiously for a moment before he remembered what would be making such a bestial sound. “Your wolf, I presume,” he said. “Let him in!” he called when the snuffling escalated into destructive scratching. It was Lindóriel who happened to be nearest at that moment, and it was she who opened the door to allow Argeleb entry.
“Thank you, Lin,” Oropher smiled after her.
“Of course,” she returned politely. She did not look at him, but nevertheless Thranduil knew she was very much aware of him as she closed the door once again. He looked after her for a moment, powerless to ignore her.
He turned back when he heard his father chuckling at him.
“She is a pretty thing,” Oropher said, a knowing tone in his voice.
Thranduil was prepared to immediately brush off the insinuation, but the involuntary blush that rose to his face betrayed him. Twice in one night!
“If you deny yourself for my sake,” his father went on, quite at his ease, “you may set your mind at rest. But if you do intend to espouse her, I would advise that you wait at least until we have settled in Eryn Galen.”
Taken aback and indeed rather embarrassed by the frankness of the advice, Thranduil was unsure how to reply at first. Of course he had never known his father to mince words, but it was odd to hear him speak of his marriage as a foregone conclusion.
“I have no desire for marriage yet,” he stammered at last.
“That I may perhaps understand, for I waited many years before your mother appeared at Elu’s court,” Oropher said calmly, leaning back in his chair. “But the disposition seems odd to me when the woman lives each day under your nose. That was certainly not the impression I received from the way you kept looking at her over dinner.”
Thranduil said nothing for a moment, for there was nothing he could say. How was he to explain himself? “What would you have me do?” he asked at last, sullenly. But his brows fell darkly when all his father did was laugh at him.
“Ah, Thranduil!” Oropher smiled, absently pulling Argeleb closer to stroke his massive head. “You are a sharp boy, but I can see now that in matters of love you have not the slightest idea how to conduct yourself. Plainly you have at last indeed fallen madly in love with her, and I have watched her worship you in silence even in Menegroth. I am not so shortsighted as I may seem. But what I do not see now is the unfathomable reason why you are both content to make needless misery for yourselves. Is there truly any question at all of what is to be done? Or are you content to deny me grandsons forever?”
What was this? All his life, Thranduil remembered being counseled against every woman that was drawn to him, for his father never failed to find some glaring fault with each one of them. For himself, Thranduil had never entertained any particular affection for any of them, and indeed, Oropher had outspokenly encouraged him in that independent frame of mind. What was it now that made him suddenly so eager?
“She has your approval, then?” That was not what he had meant to say, nor had he intended to say anything remotely like it until he had inevitably lost this debate. But he realized that it was the final question, the one that had been burning on his heart for years.
Oropher sobered for a moment, and rather than answer him directly he posed a careful question of his own. “Tell me,” he said. “Would you wed her even without my consent?”
Now Thranduil had to pause, catching the immediate denial on his tongue before he could say it. His natural inclination was to obey his father without question, but now he was forced to stop and consider just what he would actually do if he were confronted with such an impasse. How much did Lindóriel mean to him now? Would their love be worth estrangement from his father, disinheritance and exile from his own household, the forfeiture of all his former hopes and dreams to be at last truly and completely alone in the world – but with her?
“Yes,” he said at last, carefully but deliberately, and with no intention of renouncing it.
“Then I give it,” Oropher nodded. “For if you would not the insincerity would be obvious, and I would have forbidden it. If I have dealt rather heavily with you in the past, if was merely because I feared to see you blight your life with a thoughtless marriage. Infatuation is not love, and indeed I have seen only one who truly loves you. It is a great relief to me to see you have grown to love her as well. If you somehow feel that you are not free to marry yet, fine. But by all means, tell her so. Women want to know these things.”
“You think I should tell her?” Thranduil asked, finally reduced to asking his father for the final impetus to overcome the obstacle he feared.
“Yes!” Oropher said, making himself inescapably plain. “You must come to some understanding with her. I know why you hold back, son, and it is an admirable purpose, but you can see for yourself that it is not having the desired effect. It will demand every bit of courage you possess, but simply pour your heart out to her and see what becomes of it.” He smiled. “It could be that the thought of marriage will not seem so daunting to you then.”
So be it.
His resolve now set more firmly than ever before, Thranduil returned to his own room and closed the door behind him. There in the quiet of the deepening dark of evening, he brightened the lamp to a golden half-light and pulled open his bedside drawer.
Lifting the lining, he found the pendant just where he had left it, where it had lain for years, waiting. It was the last of the six great teardrop emeralds that had once studded his old belt, the one he had absently put about his waist on that last peaceful morning in Menegroth, the one he had perforce worn into exile. It had been given to him by his mother’s father, Thalos, and it was the last relic he had of his grandsire. The other five stones had been sacrificed one by one in previous years as the family eked out its existence. He had managed to save the last from the same fate. He had amassed several other more extravagant trinkets, but none that meant half so much to him as this. He had seen that last dark stone set in silver and hung upon a chain with one specific purpose in mind.
He had intended to go to her with his confession at once, that very night. But as the pendant burned cold in his hand, the monumental reality of what he was doing began pressing upon his mind yet again, and he felt his florid determination paling rapidly.
He closed it in his fist for a moment in an agony of indecision, feeling his new confidence slip back into his old reticence.
Undecided, he quickly returned the pendant to its place, just as he had innumerable times before.
That night he could not sleep. The silvery blue moonlight streamed in through the open window beside his bed, the light curtains drifting in the cool night breeze. All was quiet save for the turmoil in his mind.
At last he simply sat upright in bed, abandoning the futile effort to sleep. Argeleb whined plaintively from his place on the floor, feeling his master’s unrest. Thranduil hushed him, his voice gentle but preoccupied. Why could he not bring himself to do what he knew he must? It seemed ridiculous after all he had seen and endured thus far in his life, but the very thought of approaching her completely unnerved him. At last his excuses were exhausted and the desire was there, but he simply lacked the courage. He had never spoken so intimately to a woman before, and it was no easy thing to so suddenly drop the tireless guard he had maintained over the deep places of his heart. Galadhmir had no difficulty in that regard, but he had always been very forthright.
Exasperated with himself, Thranduil reached into the bedside drawer and pulled out the emerald yet again. The moonlight sparkled over the many facets of the gem, over the polished scores and imperfections that bore silent testimony to the violence of Menegroth’s fall.
He let his hand drop impotently into his lap, his fingers curled tightly around the jewel. His father was right – where matters of love were concerned, he was adrift in foreign waters. He had heard many times the story of Oropher’s unorthodox proposal to young Lóriel, how after a long and devoted courtship he had come before Thingol’s court in the gleaming depths of Menegroth to claim her in excessive pageantry astride his horse, very gallantly asking her hand in the presence of all. It was an invitation she had not refused, climbing up beside him despite the obvious displeasure of her father. But at present, Thranduil possessed nowhere near that same brazen confidence toward the object of his affections. He must first learn again how to speak frankly with her.
Still restless, Thranduil threw aside the bedding and stood up. Perhaps it would do him more good to leave the confines of his room and debate with himself elsewhere.
He left the house, where it seemed everyone slept but him, and wandered out into the fresh air of the garden retreat the ladies so loved. Argeleb padded after him, remarkably silent for a hound of his size. The only light was that of the moon, many of the stars veiled by wisps of cloud. He roamed through the first terrace, the rooting place of a stately willow tree and scores of yellow roses.
Thranduil stopped a moment to let one such rose rest gently in his hand. He had never expected Lindóriel to go to such great lengths after the one bloom he had brought her so long ago, the very day his father had left them.
Oropher seemed overjoyed by the thought of her, which was great praise when one considered the other eminent ladies he had rejected out of hand. Thranduil knew his father’s naturally possessive attitude towards him was only compounded by the fact that he remained his only son, the object of an almost inordinate pride. At all times Thranduil felt the weight of those paternal expectations and aspirations.
Lindóriel was Sindarin to her core, one of the Meliannath of Menegroth, the niece of Thingol’s most celebrated marchwarden. What was more, she was sincere, and their love had grown not by chance. She was a companion who understood him, who shared his hopes, dreams, and sorrows. He would be content with no one but her, not even were he to be offered the hand of the fairest princess in all the blessed land of Valinor. She had been nothing but faithful, and thus far he had failed her completely, stifling his growing affection when he might have been strengthening it. She deserved better.
And now at last he was dourly determined that the sun would not set again before he had lain his heart at her feet.
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