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Chapter 18 ~ Reign III
“Love is an act of endless forgiveness, a tender look which becomes a habit.” ~ Peter Ustinov
Thranduil sat perched upon the low garden wall overlooking the clearing beside the house, watching as Lindóriel gave her new mount a trial ride, easily putting the young mare through her paces. Already his father’s plans had begun falling perfectly into place, so it had been determined that they would leave Lindon just as soon as the coming winter broke into spring, leaving them but a few months to organize themselves. Now they all had horses they could call their own. Thranduil had hand-chosen the mare from among Laegolas’ dappled offspring before anyone else could lay claim to her.
It was amazing how much brighter the world seemed. It had been scarcely a week since he and Lindóriel had come to terms, and already it had been one of the most pleasant weeks of his life. A brooding cloud seemed to have lifted from the entire household. Today the sun was shining, the autumn birds were singing, and the air was crisp and clean. He felt more alive than he had in years.
Beside him, Noruvion smiled. “So, will you wait the customary year and then make a woodland princess of her?” he asked as Lindóriel doubled back and rode past them again at a lovely loping gallop, the wind in her bright hair.
“Oh, no,” Thranduil said, watching her pass. “I expect to be longer about it than that. Love comes when it will, but marriage in its own good time, Noruvion. One cannot hurry it.”
“Does she understand that?”
“Yes, she knows, and she is content for now,” Thranduil assured him as Lindóriel completed her turn about the yard and came to rein in beside him. “So, what do you think of her, Lin?”
“She is wonderful!” Lindóriel said, allowing him to swing her down into his arms. “But the scenery grows tiresome here. Come ride with me,” she begged him, her arms twined affectionately around his shoulders.
“Ah, but we have much to do yet,” Thranduil reminded her, gently disentangling himself from her embrace, but holding her hands in his. “Later, I promise.”
Oropher was already meeting with Luinlas and Baranor inside, discussing arrangements for the imminent move, giving them their assignments. All the members of their party were beginning to gather.
“Shall I take her back for you?” Thranduil offered.
“No, not yet,” Lindóriel said, taking the reins again. “Even if you are to be so unobliging, I will at least have a few more turns about the field.” With a smile she leapt back onto her light saddle, and then was off again.
“Oh, my friend, I envy you,” Noruvion grinned as Thranduil returned to sit cross-legged on the wall beside him. “Do not put her off too long.”
“My lord, may I join you?”
Thranduil turned to find Gwaelas coming their way, as he had guessed. The brothers still had a silvan accent one could cut with a knife, but he would not have changed it. As they spoke it, the silvan tongue softened the Elvish sounds even more than Sindarin, so that to the untrained ear it seemed to all flow together like birdsong, a pleasure merely to hear. “By all means, Gwaelas,” he smiled. “Come.”
He had indicated the wall beside him, but Gwaelas immediately came and sat instead in the grass at his feet beside the wolf Argeleb. Thranduil let it go without mention.
“Noruvion, this is Gwaelas of Eryn Galen,” he introduced him. “Gwaelas, Noruvion of Doriath.” Doubtless they would be seeing a great deal of one another in the years to come. He had noticed that neither Gwaelas nor Erelas had worn their own rough woodland garb since they had arrived. The everyday dress of Lindon must have seemed much grander to them as they took full advantage of this brief opportunity to live like princes.
“So many things I have seen in these days!” Gwaelas professed once the pleasantries had been exchanged, his eyes bright.
Thranduil laughed, for his wonder was endearing. “Yes, Eryn Galen is a far cry from what moved in Beleriand. But soon you shall return to all that is familiar to you.”
“Oh, I have no wish yet to leave this land of Lindon,” Gwaelas assured him. “We of the wood knew there dwelt others of our lost kindred on the farther side of the Misty Mountains, but this we had not imagined. Great cities white as snow. Whole houses of lords. And the sea!”
Thranduil smiled, but said nothing. He would miss the sea when they had left it.
“And just today, when we were at the shore with the Lord Galadhmir, we saw the Aran himself!”
“You saw Gil-galad?”
“Yes, as he got onto his – how do you say? – his ship.”
“Ah.” Thranduil nodded. “Has Galadhmir taken you sailing yet? We must do that before we go.”
As the sun set that evening after dinner, Thranduil found himself walking the gardens again with Lindóriel. Such had become her melancholy custom in the years past, and now when he was able to join her he would. The sky was set aflame that evening in brilliant orange and red, belying the late autumn chill that had begun to pervade the air. But Thranduil did not notice the frost in her company, wearing over his shoulders the soft green cloak she had made for him.
“It seems a pity now to leave it all,” Lindóriel mused aloud, passing her slender hand over a fading rose, her voice tinged with regret.
“You have but to ask and we shall build you another,” Thranduil smiled.
“But you have already built so much here,” she protested gently. “The walk, the walls, the fountain.”
“They were well worth the effort, Lin, if you have enjoyed them.” And what an effort they had been. Thranduil remembered those days, their hands chafed and their backs strained lifting stone after stone, the mess of mortar and dust, of dirt and mud and sweat. But they had paved every walk, built up every wall, set every bench. It seemed an even more impressive achievement now that the garden had grown up around it all, and he was still rather proud of it.
Lindóriel smiled back at him, the train of her cloak sweeping through fallen yellow petals. “You do too much for us, Thranduil.”
“Oh, on the contrary,” he said, “I have scarcely done you justice, my lady.”
“You flatter me,” she returned coyly. “But I will not argue.”
They walked a while in silence, the fiery red horizon slowly fading into the blue twilight. But, again, Thranduil found the scenery did not intrigue him half so much as did his companion. He wanted to know and remember every detail, the way her hair gathered in the hood at her back, the gleam of starlight in her eyes, the green refraction of the emerald against her skin. He only prayed he could be a worthy spouse for her when that day came.
“Ai, Thranduil,” she sighed at last, crushing the bloom in her hand into a shower of spent petals. “It almost frightens me now.”
“Frightens you? How?”
“It frightens and excites me at once,” Lindóriel explained, turning her gleaming eyes to him again. “I am happy for you, of course; you were always a prince to me. But I almost wish we could leave aside all thought of rank and realm and simply live out our lives in peace and obscurity. I have very little wish to be uprooted again.”
“We have tried obscurity before, Lin,” Thranduil reminded her as they walked, remembering Sirion, “and it did not seem to help us. Some things must be uprooted and planted elsewhere if they are to grow properly, as I am sure you have discovered in the course of your gardening.”
She sighed heavily, staring vacantly ahead. “Yes. But the life of a lord remains too perilous for my comfort. Where is Thingol? Where are Dior and Eärendil? I fear for you in their position.”
“Perhaps,” Thranduil answered guardedly, his breath frosting on the autumn air. “But kings do not suffer alone. Where is Beleg? Where are Dorlas and Linaewen?” he asked, remembering her own parents. “Obscurity did not serve to spare them. But what perils do you fear now? The wars have ended.”
“I do not know,” she said. “But I feel they will come. They always do.” She paused a moment, and then glanced aside again with a resigned smile. “But now that I am with you, I believe I will be able to face them. Now I do not feel so alone.”
“You never were alone, love,” he said. He closed the space between them with a single easy stride, and lay a comforting arm around her shoulders. She leaned gratefully into him as though she had awaited the gesture, and slipped her strong but slender arm about his waist as they walked.
Thranduil felt a low thrill course through him at her touch, as he always did. All his life it seemed he had felt others depending upon him, relying on him, but not like this. Now he understood what she had been pining for, and indeed only now did he realize just how deep had been his own desire for such a singular relationship. He had never realized what a strange joy it could be to be vulnerable again, to trust someone so implicitly. He had counted several ladies among his friends and acquaintances in the high society of Menegroth, and now he could scarcely remember their names, but to him Lindóriel Dorlassiel was suddenly everything.
She stopped for a moment and turned to face him. She seemed to be on the verge of saying something, taking him gently but earnestly by the arms, searching for words; but then she seemed to think better of it. She sighed, but by then her soft smile had returned, quietly banishing whatever misgivings had touched her. “Nothing,” she said at last. But her hands had already begun sliding slowly up and along his shoulders, pulling him closer, turning through his hair.
It was an urge Thranduil had ceased to fight long before, and in the next moment he was again drawn into the warmth of her kiss, lost to all else. Even now the experience was so new and so intimate it almost hurt, but in a strange and comforting way, reaching the deepest places where he needed her most, where he had not realized he needed her, softly touching the old scars he had too long buried. He felt her very closeness was what began to make him whole again. And for that moment it was all he lived for.
Days became weeks, weeks became months, and once again Thranduil walked the garden paths. This time the beds were barren but for the holly and the evergreens, and the crisp chill in the air was that of the earliest days of spring. Thick clouds veiled the grey dawn, and pale tracings of frost lingered on the ground beneath his feet. All was still and hushed for a moment, allowing him a final glimpse of the place that for so long had been his home.
The thick groves surrounding the grounds stood in stately silence. He remembered the day they had planted them. He remembered the small whitewashed hovel that had first welcomed their weary family to Lindon, now transformed into the vast estate that stretched away to the wooded rise at the horizon. Lindóriel was correct; they had indeed put a great deal of effort into the building of this place, though they had known full well they would have to leave it. Even so, that effort did not seem wasted.
Passing slowly over the frosted stones, Thranduil moved to stand at the precipice of the first terrace, looking down over the expanse of the established grounds, pulling his furs closer about him against the icy fingers of the morning wind. He stood there in his evergreen and ermine, gazing across what had become a long and full count of years in his mind. So much had passed here, so much that would live in his memory forever. This place had been his first true domain, his first taste of sovereign authority independent of even his father. In all likelihood, it would also be his last.
“My lord! My lord Thranduil!”
Turning, he saw Gwaelas standing just inside the house behind him, dressed for travel like the rest of them.
“They are ready, my lord. They await you.”
Turning away with only a single backward glance, Thranduil followed Gwaelas back over the old threshold and through the empty house to the front door. Now that he had bid his own farewells to the place, leaving it would not seem so difficult. At least he knew it would not fall to ruin when they had left it.
Descending the front stairway, Thranduil joined the ready crowd which had amassed there, those leaving with them as well as several others who had come to see them off, surrounded by horses equipped either for riders or other burdens. Their own household numbered ten, but joined by Noruvion with his father Baranor, their companion Luinlas, and finally the two Danwaith they became fifteen. All of them were mounted upon steeds befitting a royal house, save Gwaelas and Erelas who still preferred their lighter woodland ponies. In addition, each of them was given charge of a laden pack horse on a lead. All the mounts were newly shod and ready for the long journey ahead of them, roughly three hundred leagues by Oropher’s telling, over field, mountain, and forest.
Gil-galad himself had come to bid them farewell. He came without retinue or guard save Elrond, and his own great stallion stood behind him. Serataron was there as well, beside him Elemmirë upon the arm of Malach her husband. Thranduil approached them now while Gil-galad was engaged with his father, prepared to close forever that remarkable chapter of his life.
“So, we come to it at last, do we, Thranduil?” Serataron smiled. “On to broader horizons, new lands and new renown. I suspect your father will eventually need a history of his own compiled for him.”
“If you remain long enough, you are welcome to it, my friend,” Thranduil said. He still felt a stirring of old affection for Serataron, as for a second father. However, he would probably never confess such feelings to Oropher.
“I may very well be here to accept that invitation one day,” he assured him. “I would not have you leave us without this.” In his hands Serataron held a leather-bound volume with a dark blue ribbon for a marker, embossed on the spine and cover in letters of silver which read, Tales of the Land of the Fence.
“You finished it!” Thranduil smiled, accepting it into his own hands.
“Finished, yes,” Serataron explained. “I am still perfecting it, but I felt I could not let you go without a copy of your own. Now when you read it you may think back and remember that there are yet some among the Noldor who hold the Eluwaith in high esteem.”
“You convinced me of that long ago, my lord,” Thranduil assured him freely. “I shall not forget it.”
Before he turned away, he looked to Malach and Elemmirë, the new lord and lady of the estate Oropher was leaving. There was no more promising young family Thranduil would prefer to have it. They merely smiled at one another for a moment, for there was too much to say.
“Take care of her, my friend,” Thranduil said at last, giving Malach his hand. “I have wished her happiness since first I met her.”
“You need not fear in that regard, Thranduil,” Malach assured him. “I cannot thank you enough for leading me to her.”
“Indeed, it was the least I could do.” Turning to Elemmirë, he offered a soft, conciliatory smile, knowing it could well be the last time he would see her. “I hope I have made amends enough.”
Her grey eyes glistened as she returned his smile, and without a word she wrapped her arms around him in a final affectionate farewell, remembering the happier days they had spent together. Those days were gone, but they could cherish the memory forever. “Bless you, Thranduil,” she whispered against his shoulder, holding him fiercely ere he left her. “Remember me.”
Thranduil smiled again as she let him go, caught a bit off his guard by the gesture, but not unpleasantly so. “I could never forget, my lady.”
“Farewell at last, Oropher my friend,” said the king, extending his hand in parting. “I have no doubt that we shall yet hear of you and your realm in the east. May the Valar look kindly upon your road.”
“Farewell, Ereinion,” Oropher returned, accepting with a patrician smile the hand he was offered. “Your own influence is growing; indeed it shall not be long ere you hear of us. And fear not to call upon us in your own need. We of Doriath remain your allies in peace and peril.”
Gil-galad smiled and bowed his proud head graciously. “I shall not forget it, my lord. Farewell to you, Thranduil; and to you, my lady. May the Valar keep you all.”
And with that last valediction, their days in Lindon were ended.
Oropher held his lady’s horse as she mounted, giving everyone else leave to do the same. A low flurry of renewed activity descended on the whole party of them as everyone prepared to be gone.
“My lord,” Gwaelas said quietly, handing Thranduil his sword belt. Thranduil took it and secured it around his waist, bearing the familiar uneven weight of his sword at one side and his dagger at the other. Next he slung his bow and quiver over his shoulder; they were all wearing their weapons, both for the sake of general safety and because it was the most convenient way to pack them. Taking the reins, he swung astride into his saddle. He gave Serataron’s book into Gwaelas’ care, and the other soon found a place for it amid the rest of their things. Taking his second pony’s lead in hand, he was off.
Oropher was already leading the way down the road ahead, and the others gradually fell into place behind him. Thranduil turned into line just behind Galadhmir, but he slowed for a moment as he filed past the king. Elrond held his gaze a while, but nothing remained unsaid between them. Somehow he knew he would indeed be seeing him again. Then he resumed his former pace and left Lindon behind him, Lindóriel falling into the next position, and the rest of their party behind her, just as a few solitary sunbeams pierced the clouded sky in the east.
At long last, it was onward to Eryn Galen.
~: Continued in Book II :~
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