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Chapter 3 ~ Rise III
It was a tranquil night on the shore of Balar, the only sounds the chirping of crickets outside in treble accompaniment to the call of the toads and the distant waves. The full face of the moon shone down upon the quieted city, slanting to the east now as he began his slow descent in the young hours after midnight. But for some the night did little to bring the peace they sought.
At last, Lóriel sat up in bed, inexplicably cold. Oropher still sat motionless at the window seat, the latticework thrust back to allow him an unimpeded view of the stars they loved so much. Silvery moonlight played over the contours of the sleek but powerful form that complemented his intractably independent mind, his hair loose and untended about his shoulders. She could see a kind of bittersweet pain on his strong features, infatuated with an idea and yet held from realizing it.
“He laughed today,” he said, turning toward her at last. “Did you hear?”
“Yes.” Quietly she crushed the airy coverlet in her hands. Their son’s disposition had been the cause of many a sleepless night for both of them. The sudden turn for the better that evening had by no means gone unnoticed. “You believe it was the thought of leaving that wrought the change?”
“Can I believe otherwise?” His voice was low but betrayed his discontent, like the quiet rumble of distant thunder. “Do not think I insist upon this course for myself alone. I see in my mind’s eye what he can become, and it breaks my heart to see what they have done to him.”
“But are you certain?” Lóriel asked, tormented by her own maternal fears. Perhaps it was only time that had at last healed Thranduil’s wounds, and now she feared to smite him again by sweeping yet another home away from him. She did not shrink from the journey herself, but neither was she eager to begin it. The miserable unprovisioned and unprotected leagues through the cruel snows of winter were burned in her memory as with a cold iron. She, too, had lost much of her innocence in those trying days. She was born to a noble name and she had wed a prince, but now she knew what it was to go clad in little more than rags, to endure an endless march in the biting wind, to sleep in a crevice of snow and ice with only her husband and son for warmth, kept alive upon what little a dormant and frozen world will provide. To stay seemed so much simpler.
“This refuge is little better than a prison,” Oropher said, knowing her thoughts. “If he were shut in a box, would you leave him to grow accustomed to it? He deserves better than the life of a lackey, admired only as a curiosity, a trophy gathered into the household of some lordly Exile.” He squirmed uncomfortably at the very thought, perhaps hearing again the muttered comments, the covetous sidelong glances turned upon them at court. Gil-galad himself had already offered their son a place in his household, an offer Thranduil had courteously declined of his own will. Lóriel knew it would do her heart no good to see him humbled so far as to finally accept such a position, fully subject at last to the long shadows cast by the Valinorrim. She could not stand to see any living thing in chains, let alone her own son.
Pushing aside the bedding, she put her feet to the floor and drew near to lay a fond kiss on her husband’s brow. “Have no fears for me,” she said as she sat down with him and he gathered her into his lap, her golden hair mingling with his silver. “No road shall daunt me if I follow you.”
She felt his unspoken thanks, conveyed through touch rather than words. She always felt young again in his arms, for indeed she had been little more than a child when she was wed to him. Lord Thalos had been reluctant to release the hand of his only daughter who had barely attained the limits of her majority, but Oropher had marked her for his own, maintaining as respectful a distance as burgeoning love will allow until the demands of propriety be appeased. Nor had any other suitors dared pursue her while she stood in his shadow, to her father’s acute consternation. But she had never harbored regrets. She felt him lay a kiss deep in her hair, neither wishing to break the fragile silence.
The newest and brightest star was just rising above the eastern horizon, Gil-Estel, a celestial sign unlooked-for, a light they had recognized as the selfsame Silmaril of Lúthien for which Dior had been slain and Doriath had fallen. At first it had been a painful reminder of all they had suffered, but in time its distant brilliance had seemed to herald instead a reversal of past misfortunes, a promise of the Belain to yet bring good out of ill. In any event, it heralded change, and none knew if such boded well for what remained of the realms in exile.
“There is also the little matter of the Curse,” Oropher purred into her hair, holding her closer. “The shadow of ruin stalks these people, and I will not leave my family to be caught in its trawl.”
Lóriel lay her head against his chest, finding some comfort in the steady rhythm of his heartbeat. She had friends and acquaintances of her own among the Golodhrim here, but she knew he was right. They could not stand between the Powers and their justice, and to stay and endure would only impose greater suffering upon their own family.
Regardless of blood, they had freely taken the bereaved youth of their race into their hearts, and in that Oropher had proven himself twice the father Thalos had expected of him. In an uncharacteristically heated moment, he had accused Oropher of being crass and overbearing, that she and the children he would sire upon her could expect but little affection from one who knew not how to inspire it. She had denied such an accusation then, and would still have denied it now had not her husband’s own deeds already done so.
Tears sprang to her eyes at the memory of her own family, fallen to Dwarvish axes and Elvish swords, grateful that her father and brothers had come to accept her marriage before their lives were cut short. So much was lost, yet still she clung to that which meant most to her, that which by grace had been spared. Their sufferings had only drawn them closer, forging for them new ties of kinship to assuage the loss of so many. Oropher had taken a wound in Doriath, two arrows at Sirion. Thranduil had been wounded at the last battle, and so had fair Lindóriel, manhandled and beaten for the blood she had shed in her own defense. The brutes who did not shrink from instigating a Kinslaying seemed to feel no qualm in falling upon a maiden even as they would a warrior. Even she herself had felt the chilling cut of a blade through her skin. Had it not been for Thranduil’s timely intervention she would have been slain even as her parents had been, with the bite of Elvish steel in her heart. It was horrible to see one’s death come with a kindred face, so cruel and pitiless that it had in truth ceased to be what it once was. It was in that moment that she had at last fully believed the tales that Orcs had sprung from Elvish kin.
Oropher held her close, perhaps guessing the reason for the warm tears she shed against him. They had often wept upon one another since their lives had been reduced to the basic tenets of survival, even as the younger ones they had gathered beneath their wings had shared their own grief. Once upon the long road to Sirion she had seen Thranduil and Galadhmir hold Lindóriel beneath the sparse shelter of a frosted pine bough even as Oropher held her now, slowly freezing, slowly starving, sharing both their warmth and their misery. Belain above, those poor things had earned peace in their lives.
Perhaps to seek it out was truly the only way to find it.
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