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Chapter 6 ~ Rebuild II
“Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
~ Proverbs 16:18
“In which directions are we called today?” Oropher asked in his usual by-the-way manner, courteously demanding explanations of each of them before they left the house. Keeping a loose eye on seven adult children would be handful enough for many.
“I go to meet Anárion at the harbor,” Thranduil said for himself, helping to clear the breakfast dishes amid the general hustle and bustle. The morning sun streamed in through the open window, promising a beautiful day.
“The way you two devote yourselves to that boat, you ought to have finished it by now,” his father commented with a lurking smile.
“I would go with you,” Galadhmir apologized, shifting out of Lindóriel’s way, “but I expect Duilwen to have her kittens.”
“How wonderful,” Linhir said dryly. “A house full of cats is just what we need.”
“I knew you had more than you bargained for when you befriended that stray.”
“I am to go riding with Malach,” Menelwen declared boldly as she turned to leave with an armful of plates.
“Is that Golodh courting you?” Oropher asked blankly.
“No!” she insisted, looking scandalized. “Not yet,” she amended.
The warning glance Oropher leveled upon her left little doubt of his opinion regarding the matter.
Thranduil turned to slip out of the bustling room, brushing a filial kiss on his mother’s cheek in passing.
“And the same to you, son,” Lóriel smiled, holding him back so she could return the gesture. “Behave yourself.”
Thranduil rolled his eyes a bit at the traditional farewell, one he had heard since the earliest days of his childhood. “I will, Mother," he promised, as was habit. After all, he never went out intending to be trouble, but sometimes it happened that circumstances were not so obliging.
Anárion was strange company. Quiet and reserved with an almost preternatural gravity, he was one of the few survivors of Gondolin who still remained in Middle-earth, the offspring of a Sindarin mother and a Noldorin father. Thranduil had known him in Sirion and Balar, but only enough to put a name and a voice with the face in his memory. Here they had at last befriended one another, and over the last year Thranduil had worked toward gently bringing Anárion out of his self-imposed solitude, something he remembered well from his own experience. Anárion no longer had a father to whom he could turn, his own fallen in Balrog fire. Perhaps there was yet something they could do about his circumstances.
“In years to come,” Thranduil ventured at last, as he and Anárion stood on the rocky beach diligently brushing grey paint over the inside of their trim little craft, “do you see yourself remaining here?”
“Who am I to say?” Anárion returned wryly with a terse stroke of his brush. “I did not see myself coming here in the first place.”
“No,” Thranduil agreed with humorless laugh. “Forgive a foolish question. But has Lindon any particular hold upon you?”
“None in particular,” the other maintained. “It is a home for now, as have been many before it.” He avoided meeting Thranduil’s gaze as though he was still reluctant to speak of it. It must be a lonely existence to have no living kin this side of the sea, and Thranduil was thankful again that his own bereavement had not been without certain recompense. Anárion, however, still held himself aloof on his own bleak plateau where unkind fate had left him, asking nothing of anyone.
They were both silent for a time as they continued their painting, Thranduil resignedly letting the conversation languish as what he wanted most to say waited at the tip of his tongue. Eventually their gradual progress brought them almost face to face as they leaned over the sides.
“You must smile now and again, Anárion,” Thranduil offered in gentle admonition, pausing to give him his full attention. “You cannot mourn forever.”
Anárion said nothing. What did Thranduil know of the loss of one’s parents? That in itself would be a formidable barrier.
“You say that nothing holds you here,” Thranduil went on, “and in these days of broken families I am accustomed to sharing mine. Will you not come with us?”
Momentarily taken aback by the offer, Anárion finally ceased his painting. He was unable to hide the fact that the offer had touched him, but was still reticent to accept.
“And what of your father?” he asked instead.
“One more will be no great novelty to him,” Thranduil insisted. “Nor is he so hostile to everyone of Noldorin descent as some would have you believe. I do not doubt he would have his doors open to you if you wish.”
Standing undecided, Anárion glanced about nervously, tempted greatly but not daring to impose upon such intimacy. With his back to the lapping harbor, it seemed the invitation had taken the form of an ultimatum.
Recognizing this, Thranduil relaxed and shrugged as if it was of no consequence. “So be it,” he said, resuming his even brush strokes. “You must go where you think best. But it is a shame, you know; I would have enjoyed taking you for a brother.”
The fragile thread of resistance snapped then. To have a brother, a father, a family, a purpose – it was everything Anárion was pining for. “You are certain Oropher will not object?” he asked, an almost desperate note coloring his voice.
Thranduil smiled broadly. “Consider it done,” he said, laying aside his brush to clap the other on the shoulder. “Tonight you come to join the rest of your newfound kin. Now the ladies do not outnumber us!”
The rest of the morning passed with a much lighter air, Thranduil even coaxing a genuine laugh out of Anárion. While they waited then for the first coat of paint to dry, they shed their shirts and indulged in a swim in the clear waters of the harbor. Their lives here were certainly not all pleasure, and this brief interlude was a welcome one.
As they sat on the pier, letting their hair and leggings dry in the warmth of the afternoon sun, Thranduil spotted a courier running on swift feet along the shoreline road, and in a moment he recognized it to be Elrond. The diligent young messenger returned his wave but dared not slow his pace.
“There is a life for you,” he said, elbowing Anárion in the ribs. “I would hazard even to guess that he enjoys it.”
“It will suit some,” Anárion said in his peculiar Gondolin accent as he entertained an iridescent dragonfly on his finger. No one would ever mistake him for one of the Iathrim. “For myself I have refused it thrice.”
“You, too?” Thranduil asked.
“I suspect the king has been trying to gather to himself as many of the broken pieces of the glories of Beleriand as he can. I know he means well, but some things simply cannot be mended.”
“No indeed,” Thranduil agreed.
After applying a second coat of paint and giving it a chance to dry somewhat, Thranduil and Anárion were both aware that they had not bothered to eat since breakfast. Still, if they wasted no time, they would be able to go back to the rooms where Anárion had dwelt of late and carry his things back home with them before dinner.
The walk through the city was uneventful, the westering sun shedding slanted rays on the rooftops of the haven. It was well-established now, and almost densely populated. They brushed shoulders with many on the streets as they passed.
“Here,” Thranduil said, nudging Anárion aside toward an open door through which abundant sounds of life could be heard. “We can spare a few moments.”
The place was by now familiar to both of them, of good but sometimes unbridled repute where the mariners could stop to have a leisurely drink or, if they so desired, something more substantial.
Negotiating their way through the maze of tables and the milling throng of patrons of all sorts, Thranduil and Anárion took unobtrusive seats together at a neglected side of the bar at the front.
“Mae govannen, my lord Thranduil,” smiled the capable Elf there to serve them, Ladarth by name. “I did not see you yesterday, and was beginning to wonder.”
“Do not wonder; you know I shall not stay away for long,” Thranduil assured him. “I understand you have a new son at home, Ladarth. Convey my congratulations to your lady wife.”
“Thank you, my lord,” the other returned appreciatively. “That I will. And what may I bring you this evening?”
“What you always do,” Thranduil smiled.
“The same,” Anárion agreed at his left, perhaps to save himself the trouble of making up his own mind.
Ladarth gave a smart bow and retreated to fetch their drinks. In his absence Thranduil hitched his legs up comfortably on the rungs of his stool, but Anárion began drumming his fingers on the board. Apparently the incessant noise was aggravating his nerves even as Thranduil willfully ignored it.
“Peace, Anárion,” he said with a smile. “I swear there will be a warm welcome waiting for you at home.”
The other made a conscious effort now to calm himself, stilling his restless fingers and closing his eyes a moment with a mute nod. Thranduil had to wonder if his father was really so terrifying as all that in the eyes of the rest of the populous. In any case, it was probably good that he was buying Anárion a drink first.
Ladarth set their glasses in front of them then and Thranduil paid for both, not sparing a gratuity that was itself more than the original expense. “I shall not have time to choose a proper gift for the little one,” he explained with an easy smile. The other thanked him effusively before he was called away by a couple of rather impatient patrons at the other end.
Thranduil ignored them as he let a mouthful of wine roll over his tongue. Still, he resented their rudeness, forcing Ladarth to answer to them in the Forbidden Tongue. The poor Elf glanced back nervously as compliance was wrung from him, but Thranduil gave it no heed. Thingol was dead, and his decree had fallen ineffective. It was galling – oh, yes, it was – but the pride of Doriath had been crushed, at least officially. Even so, he had never spoken so inconsiderately to even the basest servants of Menegroth. He could only grant these the benefit of the doubt, recognizing that their sobriety had long since been blunted. One would expect those of the Blessed Realm to be more refined, but perhaps it was no wonder these had been exiled.
For several long moments he did not condescend even to glance across the void that separated them, a void that was not void for long as others came and went, occupying the places between. Soon Ladarth was quite busy, answering calls left and right. It was merely the customary evening rush as those who had been out by day returned to their homes for the night. But even with the level of noise being what it was, Thranduil could not help but overhear the demands from the farthest right, laced with crude humor. He had learned enough Noldorin expletives at the shipyards to understand most of it in spite of himself.
Enough was enough. “You see, Anárion?” he asked, making no effort to be discreet. “That is the kind of Golodh my father cannot abide." He turned to address the individuals in question, lifting his voice over the din. "You would do well to govern your tongue, my friend,” he said. “One might be led to question your upbringing.”
The confusion stilled around them, though most patrons remained unaware or indifferent to the confrontation. Some of the nearest among them retreated a pace or two to allow the antagonists a clear view of one another. These Golodhrim did not make an issue of the casual abuse of the slight Moriquende waiting upon them, but most wanted no part of any quarrel with Thranduil if they could avoid it, for he could rival any of them for size. But the most offensive of them merely turned to sneer at him, and in a blinding flash of memory Thranduil placed that face.
He sat numbed for a moment as a surge of lingering indignation shot through his veins. He was still here? He seemed to recognize Thranduil as well, but he had drowned his better judgment some time ago.
“Well, if it is not our old comrade from Balar,” Alkarinwë drawled with a cheeky smile, though his eyes were sharp yet. “Máravë omentaina, Moriquende.”
Thranduil said nothing. He had no real desire to kill him – he was not so far gone as that – but the Kinslayings did indeed cross his mind. Would a grievance of some years past justify at least a lingering scar or two if only he could catch him alone later?
“You know him?” one of the others asked cautiously from the side.
“Oh, yes, we are old friends,” Alkarinwë said snidely. “I see now Goldilocks has found a suitable companion for himself.”
Thranduil bristled indignantly, and he felt Anárion do the same behind him. The other did not know the nature of their unspoken quarrel, but his apprehension was quickly burning away.
Too bold for his own good, the big Golodh then closed the distance between them with a fearless swagger in his step. “It is good to see you are learning your place at last,” he said mockingly, and he lay a presumptuous hand on Thranduil’s stiffening shoulder. “Most curs stand a better chance if they run in packs, you know.”
That remark fell hard upon Anárion, who was acutely conscious of his mixed parentage.
“Take your hand off me,” Thranduil snarled, a dreadful storm held back by a very tenuous thread.
Alkarinwë merely snickered, his reckless daring eliciting the same from his companions. “Steady on,” he admonished. “Bear my love to that feisty sister of yours, unless someone else has already had his way with her.”
Thranduil cuffed the offending hand off his shoulder and knocked Alkarinwë back with a single crashing blow to his nose.
Immediate bedlam ensued.
Silver pricks of starlight began to appear in the sky, veiled behind gentle wisps of cloud. The sunset was fading, throwing her last rays of gold over the rooftops and streets, illuminating the bluffs and foothills that framed the harbor. It was merely another peaceful evening, soon to be succeeded by a new day. A gull gliding on the rising air to the nest would have seen nothing amiss, but would perhaps have briefly noted two figures walking toward the outskirts of the city, each with a pack slung over his shoulder. But there would have been nothing remarkable about the two of them from her vantage point.
A closer look would have revealed another story.
Thranduil shifted his share of Anárion’s meager belongings on his shoulders, stubbornly refusing to openly acknowledge the aching pain throughout his entire body. He had to grudgingly admit that Alkarinwë had proven his worth in an honest fight, and they had beaten one another bloody by the time they were forcibly separated by the king’s guard. It would be a clash long remembered by the both of them.
“That might have been an overly-spectacular rite of passage,” he offered in humorous apology to his companion. “But in the end it may prove to be an accurate representation of life with our family.”
“Your candor is admirable, Thranduil,” Anárion returned dryly over a split lip, “but still I find it all rather eccentric. If that is normal among your kin, so be it. I do hope Lindóriel will appreciate our disfigurement on her behalf.”
“She will,” Thranduil assured him, tenderly touching the ugly bruise he knew surrounded his left eye. “She will.”
The lingering glow was fading as they approached the doorstep, the humble entryway rebuilt over the years to boast a small portico, trails of ivy winding up the columns. Thranduil pulled at the latch, but the door resisted him. He sighed disgustedly. It was not an auspicious beginning to be locked out of his own house.
“This is Father’s way of telling me I should have been home before this,” he explained, forced to knock and thus advertise his belated return. He declined to pull the bell rope just yet, hoping to catch a passing sibling to let them in. It was not long before the door did open.
“Menelwen!” Thranduil smiled.
“Thranduil!” she gasped, rushing forward over the threshold and into the starlight to take his chin in her hand and look at him closer. “What on earth?”
Thranduil waved her off with masculine indignation. The last thing he wanted now was a sister doting on him. “It is nothing,” he lied.
“Then you have not seen your eye!” Menelwen insisted. “Who gave you that?”
“No one gave it to me,” Thranduil insisted, turning up his nose and salvaging what remained of his dignity. “I fought for it.”
“Thranduil Oropherion,” she scolded, waving a slender finger in his face with fire in her dark eyes, “this predisposition to violence will be the ruin of you.”
“Yes, Menelwen,” he said, accepting her lecture. He doubted she would let them in without hearing it first.
“Now come in, for Elu’s sake! Oh, good evening, Anárion. You have come to dinner?”
“You could say that, my lady.”
Menelwen let them in, and Thranduil skirted the family gathering in the dining room until he had shown Anárion to his room. There they left his things, and then slipped into the washroom to do what little they could to make themselves presentable for dinner. A change of clothes only did so much, and Thranduil grimaced into the mirror at the unsightly discoloration on his face as Anárion dabbed the dried blood from his own mouth and cheek. There would be no forgetting the incident without due explanation with so much of the story written plainly in red and blue.
“You will explain this to your father, I assume?” Anárion asked, as if to ensure that he was blameless.
“I have small choice in the matter,” Thranduil said, experimentally rolling an extremely sore shoulder. “But he usually has a good deal of tolerance for this kind of thing.”
“Here,” Menelwen said, pushing her way in among them, bearing a tray from her room. Rifling among her rouge and shadow, she dabbed her finger in one particular bottle and tried to obscure the less prominent bruises. “Hold still.”
“What are you – no!” Thranduil blocked her advances in adamant refusal. “I feel ridiculous enough already.”
“Suit yourself,” Menelwen waved him off with a look that plainly said she thought him hopeless. “You look hideous.”
“She took perverse pleasure in saying that,” Thranduil observed when she had swept from the room. He had been called many things, but never that.
When they slipped into dinner it was still in the last stages of controlled chaos as the table was set and courses arranged with heavy traffic of family from one room to the next. Thranduil was braced for the inquisition, and it was not long in coming.
“Ai, Belain!” Oropher recoiled after looking twice. “What in Elu’s name happened to you?”
Lóriel gasped, her reaction echoed in various ways by everyone else present. Anárion edged further behind, not ready yet to attract any undue attention to himself.
“You remember Alkarinwë from Balar,” Thranduil explained simply. Oropher’s aghast expression darkened considerably at the mention of the name. He did remember, and that was all he needed to know. A vicious smile had begun spreading across Galadhmir’s face.
“I see,” Oropher said. “In what condition did you leave the miscreant?”
“It was all rather confused,” Thranduil admitted, “but he will need his nose straightened at the very least, and he was certainly not on his feet.”
His father seemed satisfied with that. “Very well; consider the score settled, though now that I know he has not fled to these shores I shall see that Gil-galad hears of his transgressions. Avoid him if you can.”
“I will be glad to,” Thranduil assured him with no small measure of disgust. He would not care if he never heard the cursed name again.
Things were becoming crowded here in Oropher’s household. Taking a plate of his own, Thranduil turned as someone caught him by the shoulder. “So you finally beat some courtesy into that Golodh!” It was Noruvion, another friend from Balar. His parents still lived, and only heaven knew why he was here tonight. “I knew you would someday.”
“Noruvion, have you not a home of your own?” Oropher asked.
“Yes, when last I looked.”
“And he is welcome here any time,” Lóriel insisted.
“Excuse me, sir,” Oropher said then, leveling his methodical attentions upon Anárion as he sorted through the crowd in his home. “Who are you?”
“Anárion Astalwion, my lord,” Anárion answered with all due respect.
“I have offered him the rather permanent use of the spare room,” Thranduil explained.
“Another recruit, is it?” Oropher looked him over long and hard with his eyes of blue steel. All held their breath, though they knew his deliberation was little more than formality. “Very well, Anárion of Gondolin. Welcome to what little remains of Doriath. Now, come; let us get dinner on the table before it becomes breakfast."
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