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Chapter 4 ~ Rise IV
The wind swept through the tall grass of the valley in rolling waves very like those on the surface of the sea. The air was clearer here, even while it retained that distinctive tang of salt. Wildflowers blossomed here and there, just waiting to be plucked. It would have been a fine place to sit and collect her thoughts were it not for her unsolicited companion.
Lindóriel stood still a moment, letting the wind sweep through her pale green skirts and blow her hair of frosted gold back from her face. Dark Alkarinwë stood with her, as near as propriety would allow. She strove to be civil, but as an unwanted and singularly persistent suitor he had no rival. He had long served beneath the Fëanorionnath, but at Sirion he had turned on his murderous lords in the heat of the battle in favor of the Mithrim. Outwardly he had repented of his misdeeds and had been conditionally accepted by Gil-galad the king, but to Lindóriel there still seemed something sly about him. He was still of the same mind, regardless of his newfound disgust for Maedhros and his lawlessness.
She had found it within her heart to pity him, though she did not like him and would certainly never love him. She had told him as much, but he was not one whit discouraged even after six full months of grudging friendship. Even the protective company of her peers did not seem to deter him, though she knew it was only by a monumental act of will that Thranduil was able to tolerate him, never with very good grace. Even gentle Galadhmir, her true brother, seemed inclined to shun the renegade, and it was not for nothing that Alkarinwë had never brought himself before Adar Oropher. Lindóriel would have preferred to see him go his own way, recognizing the air of hostility amid the circle of Oropherionnath, but her kind dismissals seemed only to goad him on, as though their eventual union were merely a matter of time and not of choice. His gradually more explicit manner had become disquieting, confirming the forebodings of her adopted sisters. She felt insecure in his presence, that in itself sufficient indication of his unsuitability. His marring ran deep, beyond her poor power to correct or heal.
“How fair you are with the wind in your hair,” he smiled, the breeze drifting through his own of midnight black, the changing light accentuating subtle hues of indigo, like the sheen on a beetle’s back. His accent was still thicker than that of those who had fraternized more often with the Mithrim. “Like a great lady of Eldamar.”
Why did such outwardly courteous compliments make her so uneasy? She almost wished she could accept them, but like all his many compliments they rang hollow, as only empty flatteries meant to blindly charm her favor from her. She did not believe she could rival the Valannorrim for beauty, nor had she any aspiration to do so.
“Thank you, Alkarin,” she said anyway, rendering his name into the vernacular as well as she might, slipping the flowers into her girdle. Someone else weighed more favorably upon her heart, fairer than he, one who had never offered her anything but honesty whether it be gentle or not. She wished it could have been him standing there in the rippling ocean of grass, not this kinslayer who blighted her horizon like a looming cloud. She wandered aimlessly under the guise of seeking out the long-stemmed flowers she favored. Alkarinwë followed, a beast on the prowl. She doubted that he loved her, for they hardly knew one another. He plainly desired her, and the distinction was frightening. She was not a trinket to be claimed, a whim for his amusement.
He always praised her beauty. Did he have no wish to see deeper? Her other companions seemed to care little for her tangible attributes, loving her instead for beauties that were more abiding. With him it was always her hair, her eyes, her figure, her grace. It was becoming embarrassing.
“Come with me to the riverside. The day is not too far spent.” His tone was meant to be gentle and fond, but instead seemed twisted and leering to an acute feminine mind. He had sidled nearer with a hand poised to stroke her hair, a lover’s gesture. But, feigning obliviousness, she shied away after yet another nodding bloom. Belain, she would never let him lay hands upon her! He had been in Doriath; he had gladly slain her kinsmen. The very thought of suffering his touch was repugnant. It was already asking much of her to grant him forgiveness enough even to speak with him.
She felt him smile though her back was turned, a chilling prickle that climbed her spine like claws of ice. Perhaps she had reckoned too much upon the protections of common decency. Her wandering steps resumed an idle homeward direction, toward the trees, for she felt she had endured quite enough of his company. Would that she had her brother with her, indeed any of their brothers! Had she known Alkarin was to join her, she would not have wandered so far.
“Why so soon?” he inquired smoothly, confronting her directly and at startling proximity. He was taller than she. “You need have no fear of me, Lindórië. Why not come with me, melmenya? I know a charming place there.”
There was that smile again, a gloss for growing impatience, and plainly there was more on his heart than met the eye. Lindóriel drew back three hasty paces, repelled by his nearness, stricken now by some measure of real fear. Never had she met such brazen behavior in a man. Such suspicions would not have had cause to darken even the fringes of her mind in the old days of Doriath, but what lingered of her naïveté was swiftly unraveling. His attentions were now those of a predator. She could see it behind the menacing gleam in his eyes. He had no intention of accepting a refusal.
Was he pursuing her so forcefully because he feared Oropher, or had no hope of winning her formidable guardian’s approval to wed her? Little did he fathom the wrath of the Silver Prince should his chosen daughter be so violated!
“Enough, Alkarin!” she reproached him, making no effort now to hide the disdain in her voice, her hand curling into a fist for want of a weapon. “Return whence you came and leave me be. I have no part with you, and had you not been so blind you might have spared yourself my rejection.”
She turned to leave him, but again he straddled her path, his smile becoming brittle. She could see he found it intolerable that he should be so spurned by a sharp-tongued Umanyarin maiden if he was determined to have her, and she knew she could not rival him for brute strength. “Perhaps you have no part with me yet,” he said, advancing as she drew back. “But perhaps soon, Lindórië, you shall not find me so repulsive!” Looming over her, he moved to claim her virgin lips in an unchaste kiss.
Incensed, the warrior fostered within her of late won over and she struck him a blow across the face worthy of Beleg Cúthalion’s niece.
With a vicious curl of a bloodied lip, Alkarinwë twisted her wrist in a crushing grip, swinging her around by the arm. “Lá!” he snarled in his own tongue. “Be still!” But with her hands forcibly restrained, Lindóriel spat in his eyes, for which she earned ungentle retaliation.
“Elbereth Gilthoniel Fanuilos!” seethed a furious and blessedly familiar voice, accompanied by the rapid pounding of many hooves and the crashing of horses through the wooded glade nearby. “Unhand her!”
Lindóriel felt her heart soar at the sight of her saviors stampeding into the field, Thranduil, Galadhmir her brother, and Gwaelin. It was Thranduil who had spoken, and he seemed inclined to say much more as he swung down from his dark stallion and waded through the rippling tangle of grass. “I know not how they court their brides in the West,” he began, an indignant storm brewing behind his eyes, “but here in Ennor we do not drag them away like wolves and wed them without gift or leave. You would do well to remember it.”
Alkarinwë drew himself up proudly, resenting the insult but unable to protest it under the circumstances.
“Take your hands from her,” Thranduil insisted, “or I shall take your hands from you.”
Thranduil had usurped Galadhmir’s rightful role as her brother, but he had practically become one himself. Lindóriel had always loved him, but now in Alkarinwë’s grasp she thought him more blessed than ever, his windswept hair brilliantly catching the sun, the rest of him adamantly still as though no power on earth could move him.
Finally, Alkarinwë’s grasp on her slackened until Lindóriel was able to twist away of her own accord, throwing his hands from her as she would the cold embrace of a snake. She took the hand Thranduil offered and observed the silent but bitter exchange of glares as they turned away. She knew Alkarinwë hated Thranduil passionately, but even more so because he knew it was to Oropher’s son that her favor was given. Only the fact that he was outnumbered constrained his jealous wrath.
For his part, Thranduil deliberately turned his back upon him as though his festering rage was beneath his concern. His silence alone was insult enough as he dutifully assisted her onto her horse which they had had foresight enough to bring with them. But, despite his outer calm, Lindóriel knew by the set of his jaw and the tingle in his touch that Thranduil was still seething at the unspeakable slight his house had been dealt, only exacerbating the deep contempt he already harbored for the guilty party. Only the law of Gil-galad and the last frayed thread of courtesy held him from extracting his own brutal retribution. Indeed, it was quite possible they had crossed paths before, in another place and not so very long ago, then with bloodied blades drawn.
Galling though it certainly was, Thranduil suppressed his obvious desire to extract satisfaction in blood, swinging astride his restless mount to retake command of their group and leave Alkarinwë to choke on his rancor.
The Golodh did more than that. “Nai cuiletya nauva mára tenn’ omentielva ento!” he hurled after them, his taunting words aflame with frustrated anger, obviously not expecting them to understand. “Ma hanyalyen, Moriquendë?”
That dark and disparaging epithet they had heard too many times, often by well-meaning Golodhrim, but now in flagrant insult and ill-deserved by comparison. They had always endured in silence, but this time Thranduil pulled his horse to a sharp halt. Here for a moment he was his own master.
“Tancavë hanyan, lókë,” he turned and snarled in return, shocking his friends with his brazen use of the Forbidden Tongue before he turned to take their thunderous leave. “Á lasta lalienya!”
When they had left the kinslayer far behind, Thranduil gradually slackened their pace, slowing them to an easy canter into the dell and then to a walk. With one last disdainful look back, he intended to banish the incident from his mind for the moment. But the resolution was short-lived, for such an abiding wound would not be ignored.
It was not only the attempted violation of Lindóriel that weighed upon his mind, though that claimed pride of place. Formerly their kin had met such taunts with silent and immovable dignity, though it never failed to prick their hearts. The slights they had endured since the advent of the Exiles were manifold – the usurpation of their rule, disparagement as inferiors, ignorant, savage. They of the Twilight had allowed those names and worse to break against them like surf upon rocks in faithful obedience to Thingol’s edict which forbade the acknowledgment of the Tongue of the Kinslayers from friend and foe alike. But for once Thranduil felt such a challenge deserved an answer; for once he would not be victimized, and the label Dark Elf was too much to be borne. Perhaps he was merely taking proffered bait, but he no longer cared. He never sought a quarrel, but he would gladly finish one.
He was not completely fluent in Quenya, which was difficult for his people to master, but where the rudiments of language were concerned he seemed to possess a natural talent. What he had learned of the Noldorin dialect he had picked up by mere observation. Celeborn had known more than he, who had begun to study under Nerwen before Thingol forbade it. All the Mithrim shall hear my command that they shall neither speak with the tongue of the Golodhrim nor answer to it, the King had said. And all such as use it shall be held slayers of kin and betrayers of kin unrepentant. He considered that a moment. He had not repented of his part in the shedding of Elvish blood, nor would he. Let the Golodhrim’s own blood be upon them. It was a crimson badge he had earned with valor – a justification for him, an accusation for his persecutors. He was the betrayed, not the betrayer.
“I see your persistent suitor has at last taken a turn for the worst,” he observed bitterly as Lindóriel rode beside him. In some twisted way, he was glad that brute Alkarin had now so completely shattered whatever hope he might possibly have had of winning her hand.
“Had he a mind to take you, Lindóriel?” Gwaelin asked, scandalized. “Adar Oropher would have had his head on a platter!”
“Not only his head.” A few wishful but delightfully morbid thoughts flitted through Thranduil’s mind. There would doubtless have been a few other offending members of his loathsome carcass worthy of their ire.
The four of them left it at that, nursing their indignation in silence.
Their ride through the inland retreats of Balar at last brought them to their destination, a tranquil valley much like those they had left, but bordered on three sides by what could have passed for a mountain range in miniature, just a rambling fence left by the hand of nature and now utilized by the shepherds of the coast. The bobbing crowd of sheep there in the grass added an idyllic touch to the landscape. The flock took little notice of the horses as they passed. Galadhmir and Gwaelin capered on ahead, seeking out a favorite canopied hollow in the tree line where they and the others often went to forget the cares of the world for a time amid sun-dappled shadow. Thranduil hung back at a more sober pace in an effort to collect himself lest the leering face of Alkarinwë darken his entire day. Perhaps there was simply no help for it. Lindóriel remained with him, whether for comfort or for companionship he could not say. The sky seemed darker in the west as though in promise of rain, seeming to aptly reflect his mood.
His thoughts were interrupted by a strident bleating from the trees beside them, a pitiful sound that could not in good faith be ignored by anyone. With a glance back to Lindóriel, he dismounted and pushed his way into the overgrowth to at last find exactly what he expected, a forgotten lamb in a tangle of brambles, stumbling about in a vain attempt to regain its footing. Here at last Thranduil put his knife to good use, sinking to his knees to free the young captive. It struggled at first, but soon quieted beneath his hand as he cut away the tangle and extracted a few worrisome barbs from the gangly little legs. At last accomplishing that much, he lifted it from the bramble patch and sat nearby, holding the wriggling bundle in his lap and stroking some life back into its limbs.
Lindóriel knelt beside him, stroking the fleecy ears. For a moment he had almost forgotten her. “He is a pretty thing,” she observed with a shade of an affectionate smile. The lamb paused to sniff her hand, recognizing another friend. Then she sobered and met his gaze earnestly. “Thank you, Thranduil,” she said, “for doing what you did. I shall never forget it.”
“Neither shall I,” he said bitterly, though his tone and attention were directed more at the author of their grievances. Some injuries he could forgive, but he always remembered. Alkarinwë would do well to see that their paths never crossed again.
She seemed a bit exasperated with him. “Thranduil,” she protested gently, pulling a stray leaf from his hair. “Put him out of mind. I would not have him stand between us.”
“Nor would I,” he concurred, but guardedly, feeling the direction the exchange was turning. “Does he?”
“I trust he does no longer,” Lindóriel said. She had a harder core now, he recognized. In Doriath she had scarcely dared speak to him, but that timidity of youth had been burned away by the fires they had walked through together. Now at last she was baring her heart to him, shaken perhaps by what had transpired that morning.
“Thranduil,” she began again, crushing a leaf in her hand, “people think they have time enough. Then before they know it, all they once knew and loved is torn from them forever. Whatever you will say, I cannot face death again before I confess how very much I care for you.”
Thranduil straightened where he sat, afraid of this kind of intimacy. She was deadly serious, and he was finally forced to confront the fact that what he had originally dismissed as the first stirring of young infatuation was indeed something stronger. It was irksome to be so loved by one he could not love in return. Or did he? He was fond of her, certainly. But if love it was, it was the patronizing love of a brother, entirely unsuited for marriage. Nor was he ready to wear those bonds yet. “It had not entirely escaped my notice,” he admitted, unsure what to say. “I fear I cannot give you what you desire.”
“I desire only what you are,” Lindóriel maintained firmly. “I ask no more. What have these years of trial gained us if not a greater knowledge of one another, be it complimentary or not? And still not a day passes that I do not compare all men to you and find them wanting!” She bit her lip, as though to check this flood of her inmost thoughts. “I have always loved you. Do you care nothing for me?”
The many things they had shared in the past rose again in his memory, and he realized they had indeed grown much closer over the years, only as siblings to his mind, but plainly she thought more. He wished she had never said it, that he would not be forced to disillusion her. But he could not promise what he had never felt, and she did not want mere consolation. She wanted the truth.
The lamb squirmed in his lap, unwittingly shattering the moment. “I care a great deal,” he said at last with genuine regret, “and I wish you every happiness. But I cannot say I love you when I do not.”
She said nothing, merely let her lovely eyes fall closed with a long and slow sigh. She took the blow calmly, bravely, though he could see he had taken much of the life out of her. There was nothing more to be said, and it was more than he could bear to watch her suffer on his account. Gathering the lamb under one arm, he climbed to his feet and offered her his hand. She took it, but was still rather crestfallen when she stood. Much though he wanted to do something to salve the wounds her heart had taken that day – violated by one she despised, rebuffed by one she loved – he knew only time could blunt that kind of pain. He lay the lamb in her arms, then kissed her brow as a brother would.
Then he left her to gather the horses.
Lindóriel stood still as he brushed past her, now regretting confronting him. Still, it was a strange bittersweet disappointment, for though she now loved him more than ever and seemingly without hope, in refusing her he had only exhibited two traits she most admired, honesty and constancy. Shaking herself from her daze, she gathered the lamb closer and followed him back out into the light. There she set the youngling down in the grass where he went bleating toward the flock to rejoin his dam. She watched him go, feeling that she had released a bit of a cherished dream along with him.
Thranduil stood by in dutiful but rather uncomfortable solicitude, holding both horses until she should tire of looking fondly after their stumbling friend. There she willfully closed that chapter of her life for the moment, resolved to bide her time.
They were mounted again and went to join the other two of their party. Her brother noticed her despondency but misread it. “I never did like Alkarin,” Galadhmir muttered to himself, affectionately putting his arms about her from behind. “I am glad now you will not have to suffer his attentions. I wonder that you endured him as long as you did.”
“It was not without an effort,” Lindóriel assured him, though she could not keep her eyes from wandering after the others as Gwaelin asked Thranduil to inspect her mare’s shoe for her. “He unnerved me,” she complained, her tone a general lament for what seemed a widespread deterioration of the gallant masculinity she had once taken for granted. There was a time when she would not have imagined swords drawn against her or unwanted husbands thrust upon her. “I fear nothing in Thranduil’s company.”
Galadhmir snorted into her hair. “Nor should you,” he said. “There are many things you need not fear in his shadow. Keeping his company is as good as keeping a bear on a leash.”
He meant well, but Lindóriel was disconcerted by his choice of phrase. That was exactly what it was, she realized, and it was the bonds of love that Thranduil seemed to fear. Was she trying to tame what was best left free?
Galadhmir was not so blind as he may have seemed. “He loves you, you know,” he said fondly, running her hair through his hands, “just not quite the way you would like yet. Give him time. All things come to those who wait.”
Lindóriel pulled from his embrace and turned to face him. “I have waited,” she said, under her breath lest the others hear. “And three times we have almost been destroyed. I fear to rely on a tomorrow that may never come.”
Galadhmir folded her restless hands in his own, his calm quieting her anxieties. “But you must,” he said firmly. “You cannot expect to command him before he wills, whatever upheaval the world may endure. Realms rise and fall, but love comes in its own time.” He lay his brow against hers with a kindred smile, an endearment reminiscent of their younger years. “And every cloud has its silver lining, no matter how faint it may seem. What brought us here was horrible, I know, but it has only brought you nearer him.”
He was right, but it was small comfort to her now. Lindóriel nodded and turned away again, closing the subject. The western sky had darkened ominously though it was only midday. The wind had grown in the treetops, seeming to herald an approaching storm. Yes, she thought bitterly; a thunderous drenching was just what she needed to suitably punctuate such a day.
They rejoined the other two where they were standing near the trees, but Thranduil’s attention was bent upon the untimely disquiet brewing in the west. He stood unmoving against the stiffening wind, his hair and mantle blown about behind him like flame. Lindóriel also noticed that it did not smell like a storm. It was acrid and metallic.
Gradually a disquiet began to grow upon all of them, a stirring of instinct that would not be ignored. The distant flock of sheep had become agitated in the mounting unrest, the shepherd and his hound appearing to herd them away. The darkness grew like a stain, taking an almost reddish hue, as though it was not true darkness at all but instead another light. The horses pranced about, expressing their misgivings in snorts and soft squeals. There came flashes, but not of lightning.
Catching his stallion by the mane, Thranduil leapt astride. “Come!” he called to the rest of them over the noise of the wind. “I know not what it is, but I shall not be caught by it here!” They needed no encouragement. Lindóriel whistled to her mare, swinging nimbly onto her back as she passed. Galadhmir brought up the rear, sending Gwaelin ahead as they took the eastbound path at full stride. Through the empty valleys and sporadic belts of woodland they raced, forging a trampled trail through the overgrown grass, maintaining a strenuous pace while restraining the temptation to break into an unmitigated gallop with the wind at their backs. But even as they flew over the violently rippling fields, Lindóriel felt she did not fear it as much as she should have. Was the Doom of the Enemy at last at hand?
The sun was hidden behind a true wrack of cloud when at last one after another they took the flying leap over the low wall of the back garden, the wind quickly assuming the howling force of a gale, all light turned a threatening gray. They found the house in an uproar.
“Thranduil!” Oropher greeted him in frantic momentary relief. “Come, all of you! Gather your things! No more than you can carry, mind you!”
“What on earth is happening?” Galadhmir demanded, thrusting back a windblown tangle of pale hair. Lady Lóriel was rushing from room to room, the hallways choked with familial traffic as necessities were madly gathered from every room and thrust into packs before the looming blow fell. The atmosphere was bizarre.
“This is no storm,” Oropher told him, hustling Galadhmir off to find his own things. “This is war, the Last War. Go on! The entire city is prepared to take ship at a moment’s notice! Go!”
Lindóriel had already ducked into her own door and begun gathering what she needed and valued most. She willfully remained numb to what she would forfeit, for by now she had learned to let go when all that truly mattered was her life. She hurriedly threw aside her gown of delicate green and donned more practical garb designed especially for warfare, of slate gray with boots and leggings like those of her brothers but with a longer skirt and train, artfully tailored at the sleeves and breast for the noble lady warrior. From her wardrobe she snatched her sword belt and lashed it about her waist, the uncomfortably familiar weight of her blade again upon her hip. The draperies at her window seemed to have taken on life of their own as the wind howled past them and the sky darkened, urging greater haste. She filled her pack half blind to what she chose, strictly practical and merciless. She allowed herself one necklace, a string of pearls Galadhmir had made for her here, throwing it around her neck and slipping it beneath her collar. The tapestry she had begun would be a wasted effort.
Slinging her pack over her shoulder, she turned again into the hallway only to brush shoulders with Menelwen. She, too, sported the ensemble Oropher had commissioned for all his adopted daughters for just such emergencies, her own sword clanking at her belt as she headed toward the parlor with her long and determined stride. There they all gathered—Linhir and Illuiniel, Lóriel and Gwaelin, Thranduil and Galadhmir, herself and Menelwen—grimly awaiting the call to clear the city and make for the harbor if need be. Oropher already stood at the door, holding it open, grimly watching and waiting. Many others could be seen doing the same, debris blowing about the white stone streets that usually went before a hurricane.
Lindóriel sat near Galadhmir, the mounting tension making a hollow knot of her stomach. No one spoke, all steeling themselves to close yet another short-lived era of their lives. It was a dreadfully helpless feeling, knowing a cataclysmic struggle was poised to erupt somewhere near, wishing only grace enough to survive it. She looked to Thranduil, but his eyes were trained upon the floor, unseeing. Burying her face against her brother’s shoulder, she shut her eyes against it all, waiting for that release that would signal the beginning of yet another frantic end.
Just as she had feared, the end had come for them again.
melmenya ~ Q, my love
Lá! ~ Q, no!
“Nai cuiletya nauva mára tenn’ omentielva ento! Ma hanyalyen, Moriquende?!” ~ Q, May your life be good until our next meeting! [Sarcastic] Do you understand me, Dark Elf?
“Tancavë hanyan, lókë. Á lasta lalienya!” ~ Q, Certainly I understand, serpent. Listen to my laughter!
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