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Chapter 2 ~ Rise II
“It’s a fine thing to rise above pride, but you must have pride in order to do so.”
~ Georges Bernanos
Oropher and Thranduil left the harbor together and began the walk back home lest they be found truant at mealtime. It was true that they were noble only in name, for they were accorded no particular honors as they passed through the crowds at the shipyards, nor when at last they entered the city, not that they looked for such. Let Gil-galad and the others say what they would; the remnants of Doriath were just that to their neighbors, lingering echoes of a doomed race whose dominion had long since passed, little more than chaff on the wind.
There was nothing new about the hustle and bustle on the white stone streets that evening, but to Thranduil’s reawakened heart the colors seemed brighter, voices more lively. Perhaps he had simply not bothered to notice before. The slender towers of the palace rose beyond in the midst of it all, the waning sun gleaming upon their slanting crowns of white marble, the centerpiece of this hastily but beautifully embellished haven. Though beautiful, it was still painfully foreign. His father’s bold proposal had begun to grow on him.
It felt good to be himself again. He had not fully realized just how much he had missed his old confidence, simple and unaffected. He walked with his gaze trained ahead, not dropped inoffensively to the pavement as it had too long been. Recognizing his crestfallen diffidence to be just another form of defeat, his rebellious nature repudiated it now. No more would he afford his oppressors the satisfaction.
“Suilad, meleth nín!” Oropher greeted his wife brightly as they passed the threshold of their spacious but modest home, hewn of white stone as were most things here, but alleviated by warm touches of drapery and greenery, including that trail of ivy that had entered through the window and begun weaving a living tapestry of its own along their wall. “I do hope we have not kept you all waiting.”
“Certainly not, love,” Lóriel assured him as she was enfolded in his arms. “Indeed, I fear we may yet keep you waiting. Linhir and I have had some difficulty this evening.”
His curiosity piqued, Thranduil left his parents to their endearments and sought out his friend in the kitchen. There he found him, his harried attention split among several half-completed tasks. Very distantly akin through maternal relations, there was a good deal of resemblance between them, notably the long fair hair Linhir had tied back out of his way. The younger son of Lord Lingalad of Doriath, he was one of the many who had been orphaned by the wars only to find a new father in Oropher. It was at his own father’s displeasure that he had cultivated Thranduil’s friendship, but now he was amply rewarded for his boldness as Oropher freely laid aside any quarrel he may have had with Lingalad for the sake of his surviving son.
Indeed, quickly distinguished for his fiery disposition and now a brood of six wards in addition to his own son, Oropher was styled as an unsettling Mithrin echo of Fëanor by the Golodhrim of Balar. Some were thereby inclined to frown upon him accordingly. His family were yet unsure whether to consider it a compliment or an insult.
“Can I help?” Thranduil asked when he deemed his voice would be least intrusive.
“Perhaps,” Linhir replied, the civility in his tone becoming more brittle by the moment. Spatula in hand, he hovered over the brick oven, the fire beneath reduced to glowing coals. There in a skillet simmered a generous batch of seasoned fish steaks. The finished portions lay cooling nearby, their tantalizing scent permeating the air. “Attack that sauce, please.”
Obligingly, Thranduil manned the whisk. The whole room was accented with paraphernalia from the sea, including one monstrous conch shell set in a corner of the counter top, of no practical use besides its aesthetic value. By the time Thranduil was satisfied with the sauce, Linhir was dutifully watching the progress of the final portions, indulging in a well-earned glass of pale wine.
“You are very pensive,” Thranduil observed, hitching himself up to sit on the counter behind him, pouring himself a glass of the same.
“Imagine that I hear that from you,” Linhir returned sarcastically, though a smile brightened his eyes. “I see you have at last taken a turn for the better. I dare say it is about time. I disliked having a thundercloud for a brother.”
“You have not exactly been the essence of felicity yourself,” Thranduil insisted as they amiably tipped their glasses to one another. All was an attempt to make light of what they no longer had the heart to lament. But that was the way of Middle-earth: recover, rebuild, move on. There was nothing to be gained by forever dwelling on the past or bewailing the inevitable, for what was done was done. “Where are the others?”
“Galadhmir went to consort with his fellows at the harbor,” the other began, inquisitively poking at the fish. “I wonder that you did not see him. The ladies are in the garden waiting for me to put food on the table.”
“They did not offer their assistance?” Thranduil asked, a bit incensed by such inconsiderate behavior from his adopted sisters.
“They did at first,” Linhir offered in their defense, “but in this kitchen there was not room enough for the five of us, and soon I banished them from my presence. One can only endure so much chatter he does not understand.”
Thranduil laughed, finding that in itself a welcome release. He could indeed imagine a kitchen full of bustling skirts, fair voices joined unintelligibly like a flock of starlings. “They shall make themselves useful afterward, then,” he decreed. “There will be many a dirty dish in need of washing tonight.”
Linhir did not answer, busy lifting the last of the fish from the hot skillet. “There,” he said. “It will not be long now. Fill those, if you will.” He gestured to the standing ranks of empty wine glasses at the side, ready and waiting.
Soon there were nine places neatly set at the table.
Galadhmir burst in just as Linhir began plating the fish. “Thranduil!” he greeted him, relief evident in his voice. “Good! For a time I feared I had left you there.”
“Go wash!” Linhir shouted after him. “You have only a moment, and I doubt if Adar Oropher will wait dinner for you! Thranduil, you might go fetch the ladies.”
Dinner was uneventful. At one time, they might have enjoyed an interruption or two to ameliorate the monotony, but in these days of sudden and tumultuous change they were glad of any semblance of normality. In any event, it was not until the plates were cleared and they lingered over the remnants of their wine that Oropher chose to broach a significant subject.
“Today Thranduil and I shared a very enlightening discussion,” he began, idly turning his glass on the tabletop as he addressed his extended family. “I proposed that we leave Balar for a home of our own, and he for one is eager to follow.”
An astonished silence fell along the length of the table.
“Leave?” Lóriel exclaimed from her place at one end, lovely in her gown of white and green, looking upon her husband as though he had asked her to gather her things that very night. Her treasured necklace of emerald and diamond sparkled at her throat, saved only because she had been wearing it when Doriath fell in raging ruin. “Why?”
“Because we are stifled here,” Oropher said firmly. “We are all wasted like goldfish in a bowl. And more than that, we are in serious danger of extinction. To stay would be to accept a foregone fate of being merged with the Golodhrim and their curse, which I will not stomach for a moment. Who will these young ladies wed if we linger on? But, as we are considering a course which will significantly affect us all, it is only right to ask the free consent of the family before uprooting it. What say the rest of you?”
Menelwen obviously wished to speak but somehow could not. Habitually the boldest of Oropher’s wards, even she was struck by the effrontery of the proposal. Most felt themselves still indebted to Gil-galad, too much so to simply abandon him.
“And what of the king?” Lóriel asked pointedly.
“He is not my king,” Oropher returned proudly, inspiring a few more aghast expressions. “Ereinion Gil-galad is a noble lord, but I am not obliged to answer to him. We have stayed long enough beneath his rule, obeying his laws, forwarding his interests. If we owed him a debt of gratitude, we have paid it, and I assert our freedom now to go when and whither we will. If he is sovereign enough, let him recognize it.”
The silence only deepened around the table, most neither daring to disown Gil-galad nor to gainsay Oropher. He was well within his rights as an independent prince, but they feared not all the Golodhrim would see it so.
“But you do intend to bring this before the king?” Lóriel asked, hovering at the edge of her resistance and unconsciously fingering her necklace.
“I shall proceed with all tact and consideration,” Oropher assured her, noting that old apprehension in her eyes. “I shall be ever so reasonable. But I am leaving,” he maintained firmly. “We have stayed, but now we shall leave, and none may lawfully bind us.”
Lóriel nodded at last, her gaze falling for a moment to the linen tablecloth – ever the dutiful wife, but still retaining the bearing of a princess, for she was not without her own pride. “You are my lord,” she said at last, “and I am bound to you. Where you go I shall follow.”
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