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Chapter 7 ~ Rebuild III
“I do not believe that fate falls on men however they act; but I do believe in a fate that falls on them unless they act.”
~ G. K. Chesterton
The passing years had not quite ceased to leave their mark upon him, if indeed they ever would. As all his kind were refined by the slow passage of time, he felt in his heart that now he had at last reached that long awaited threshold of life when the final lingering traces of youth faded into the full form of manhood, a cherished moment that brought the low thrill he had long imagined. It was a threshold his kin were slow to pass, but a change each one knew and recognized when his time came, when the last vestige of adolescence was no more.
Thranduil regarded himself passively in the long mirror, gathering his poise for the encounter of the day. For many long and memorable years he had been considered an adult by the measure of his people, but even after he had visibly ceased to grow there remained the last touches of time that were not completed until now when he knew them to be. Now he had at last attained the full stature in which he would spend the rest of his life, Oropher in form of Lóriel.
Today he and his father would finally broach the subject of their leaving to the king. Lindon had been their home now for two long and peaceful centuries, and the tranquility of it all was at last threatening to become a bore. There was once a time when peace was all he craved, but now the lust for excitement had regained the upper hand. Their lives had stagnated here beside the sea, and Oropher was ready to be gone.
Securing a mantle of gray and silver over his shoulders and stepping over the feline members of Galadhmir’s menagerie, he wandered outside to await his father in the sunlight. It was a bright and crisp autumn day, the late morning slant of the sun lending greater life to all the color around him. The years had changed the face of Lindon, making a fair city of a hastily-built haven. It was a warm and hospitable place, but it held no hold on his heart beyond their home on the bluff. That had been expanded and embellished as well, wreathed now in tall young beech trees as the heraldry of their family.
Lindóriel was there in the garden with Gwaelin. She looked up from tending the blossoms as he stopped to stand there on the walk, but then dutifully returned to the task at hand. The feelings between them had gone unspoken for all these years, but it was plain that her regard for him had not waned in the slightest, something he still found rather disconcerting. What had he done to encourage that? But even so, the thought was not so unwelcome as it had once been.
He watched her for a time as she pruned the shrubberies, probing the depth of his own feelings for her, a dark and unexplored corner of his heart into which he had not often bothered to look until now. Perhaps it was she, the one he would wed in years to come. He would likely be granted the hand of any maid he could choose, but at the moment he could not imagine any other who would please him quite so well as she. She did not merely admire him with the giddy frivolity that characterized so many others who did not know him. She loved him, and it was a deep and abiding difference. Even now he realized he did not consider it a matter of who so much as a matter of when. He was fond of her now, but he would come to love her in time. Time was still what he needed, for he was afraid to encourage these emotions yet.
She looked up and found him staring. Thranduil frowned, certain he was making a complete fool of himself. Perhaps this was why he had thus far been set on avoiding the peril of feminine influence on his life, but to his consternation he seemed to be losing his immunity.
“Good morning, Thranduil,” Gwaelin greeted him with a smile, waving a trowel at him. She was just as radiant in the sunlight as her companion, but he scarcely noticed her. Stop it, you imbecile.
“And the same to you two,” he said, drawing nearer to peer over the bushes. “I see your efforts here have not been wasted.” He had not meant to address Lindóriel directly, but that was how it happened.
She smiled demurely. “It serves us well enough. But there are no roses here,” she lamented gently. “These are fair enough, but it is poorer without a flowering rose bush or vine.”
It was such a simple request that it struck Thranduil in an odd way. That braveheart Menelwen had already demanded or at least plainly voiced all that her desires deemed lacking here, but if Lindóriel had ever before expressed her wish to see roses again he had not heard of it. Perhaps it was because he had not stopped to listen.
“There you are, Thranduil!” Oropher burst upon them then, startling them both. He came in a swirling cloud of gray and silver mantle, flanked on both sides by the two great dappled horses of the household. “I thought you were supposed to have the horses standing and ready for me,” he reminded him. “I do not remember that a pair of flashing eyes ever made you forget your duty before.”
Thoroughly embarrassed, Thranduil considered himself adequately chastised. With the barest nod to the ladies, he turned and swung astride the mare, for Oropher had already claimed the stallion.
Lóriel had come to the front step, Illuiniel with her. “Oropher,” she warned him again, “he is the king, he has had part in no kinslaying, he is driven by no oath of exile, and he showed us his magnanimity at Sirion. You will be civil, you will not raise your voice against him, and if gainsay him you must, you will do so with all decency.”
“I swear it, my love,” he assured her, lifting his right hand as the restless horse shifted beneath him. “And no strong language, I imagine?”
“I would appreciate it,” she nodded, looking him dauntlessly in the eye, regal as a golden queen in her simple gown. But a smile lurked behind the audacity of her voice. “I take pride in you, husband,” she said at last. “But at times it seems I have not a firm enough hold upon you.”
Now Oropher did smile. “It is best that way,” he said, sharply turning his mount for a run toward the city. “Come, Thranduil. Let us have done with this.”
Thranduil followed as his father climbed the shining white steps of the palace with indomitable purpose, his entire manner clearly stating that none could contest his right to go where he pleased. The Golodhrim thought it arrogant, which could be true enough, but indeed if any ought to recognize arrogance it would be them. The great doors were held open as they passed inside, for all knew the Lord Oropher by sight and reputation if nothing else.
They strode through the milling crowd that attended the court, the tall windows admitting streaming shafts of sunlight into the richly decorated interior. Thranduil might have been tempted to think he and his father woefully underdressed by comparison to the bright hosts of Valannorrim, for they were notably wearing only the gray of the Mithrim, only what their own people had made for themselves within their own circles independent of their neighbors, even unto the heraldic device traced over their hearts, the winged moon of Elu’s house. There was nothing of the Golodhrim upon them.
“Where is Aran Ereinion Gil-galad?” Oropher asked of a liveried guard standing with his fellow beside a gilded doorway. “I would speak with him.”
“The king is not receiving audiences, my Lord Oropher,” the Golodh answered, all duty. “But if you will, he shall be told of your presence in his halls.”
“I do will it,” Oropher returned, admirably restrained in the face of this obstacle. He seemed starkly misplaced there, but not unpleasantly so; a lord of pale starlight from another realm, another era.
They waited, patient but persistent. Apparently Oropher was determined to be there when the door opened, undeterred by this first difficulty. The muted roar of incessant activity in that great vaulted hall reminded Thranduil again why he preferred to avoid crowds. He ran his fingers over the shining leaves of a young tree standing in the planter beside him, craving a real forest to lurk in. Perhaps it was high time he went back to Forlindon on the western side of the Ered Luin for a few feral nights in the wood with his brothers.
He turned, alerted as his father straightened beside him to receive the lordly Golodh who approached them. This one was admittedly impressive, his long robes the indigo blue and sea gray, elaborately embroidered with silver. Overall it evoked more of what they had heard of the Teleri of Valinor rather than the Golodhrim.
“Greetings,” he began in a commendable rendering of their tongue, spreading his arms in an amiable manner. “You must be Lord Oropher. It is remarkable that so many years have passed and yet I have never been afforded the honor of your acquaintance. Would it flatter you to know I have heard a great deal of you, and of your extraordinary household?”
“That will depend upon the nature of what you have heard,” Oropher answered, agreeable enough but distant still.
“Nothing shameful, I assure you,” the dark one said pleasantly. “I am Serataron Alatúrunion, a lord of the king’s house.”
“Oropher Thoronion,” his father returned, accepting the passive hand Serataron offered, though his lip curled in a wry expression as he finished in proud futility, “a prince of Doriath.”
Now Serataron smiled. “Son of eagles,” he repeated, looking them over. “A worthy name. I may say it is gratifying to see such constancy in the Eldar of the East, such tenacity. There is courage still in this broken race, and that I admire.”
Oropher seemed unsure how to accept those seeming compliments, though they appeared well-intended. It was a difficult subject to discuss amicably.
“And this must be the infamous young Thranduil Oropherion,” Serataron said now, turning to him with a reflected glint of paternal admiration in his eye. “Young no longer.”
“Infamous?” Oropher asked, arching a dark brow.
“Oh, I have heard of him now and again,” Serataron explained easily, utterly undeterred by Oropher’s defensive manner. “The envy and despair, ‘tis said, of many a jealous young man. In the course of my duties I hear and see much, and through the years I may say that few have been the object of such regard as he commands now in Lindon, despised by many, idolized by more. He is meant for great things, my lord, which I know will stand him in good stead when you leave us here.”
Oropher stiffened a bit. “And what do you know of it?” he asked.
Serataron favored them with a patient smile. “Only what everyone else knows,” he said. “I trust it was no secret, or else it has been poorly kept.”
It really was not meant to be secret, but it was somewhat disconcerting that a Golodh had taken such an interest in their affairs. An explanation might have been forthcoming, but Serataron was called away by another. He turned back before he took his leave of them.
“You have been blessed with a fine son, my lord,” he said to Oropher, though it was Thranduil’s gaze that he held. “I hope that you appreciate him.”
Oropher looked long after him when he had gone, brows low and level. “What do you make of that?” he asked at last, a bit puzzled.
“No more than you do,” Thranduil professed, sharing his bemusement. “I cannot recall ever seeing him before.”
Beside them the great oaken doors swung wide again, and the first guard reappeared.
“Aran Ereinion will receive you,” he said, seeming rather chastened as he held the door for them. “He bids me bring you to him at once.”
“Very well,” Oropher consented. He plainly disliked being brought anywhere, but made no issue of it.
Through the grand corridors they went, surrounded by the combined craftsmanship of the Golodhrim and the Falathrim. It was not Menegroth, but it was still a worthy palace. Finally they emerged into a sunlit courtyard, accented with artfully pruned shrubbery – rounded, squared, and spiraled. Impressive as it was, there was something confining about it as the plants were not permitted to grow as they pleased or as was natural to them. The king sat at the edge of a gentle fountain in the center, ringed by a circle of white flagstones from which six paths branched away like rays from the sun. Thranduil had seldom seen him, for his kindred kept to themselves, but here Ereinion looked every inch the scion of the West that he was. He turned and stood to receive them as they stopped at a respectful distance, a pale and noble face with thick raven hair at his back, his trailing robes of indigo blue and sea green.
“My lord Oropher,” he said, favoring them with a tolerant smile, as a benign lord would a difficult subject. Never mind that Oropher was by far his elder.
“My lord Ereinion,” Oropher returned the pleasantry, though there was no act of obeisance forthcoming from him. He bent the knee now to no one, for he had always maintained himself as a lord apart. He was grateful to Gil-galad, certainly, but no depth of gratitude ran so deep as to incite him to sacrifice his independence.
“Please, sit, my friends,” the king invited, resuming his own seat at the fountain. “We are not in formal attendance here, though I might venture to guess your purpose.”
Oropher’s brows shadowed a bit as he accepted the invitation and seated himself on one of the white stone benches. Beside him, Thranduil interpreted the expression as mild annoyance at being second-guessed at every turn.
“You need not imagine our leave-taking borne of any ill-will toward you,” Oropher insisted.
“Yes, I wondered when it would come to this at last,” Gil-galad mused, idly running his fingers through the water. He was irritating Oropher by his seeming inattention; purposefully or not, Thranduil could not say. “So, you go now to seek out the Nandor of the East? To impose a new order upon them?”
Oropher curled a lip despite himself, for he resented the word. “We go to impose nothing,” he insisted, doubtless remembering the imposition of the Exiles upon his own people. “We go to strengthen the old order, to refine without uprooting. It can be done without smothering our lesser brethren if only we try.”
“Forgive my choice of expression, Oropher; I meant no offense.” The king turned now to face them directly, crossing his arms comfortably over his chest as he regarded them with a passively regal eye. “You wish to leave the bounds of Lindon. When?”
“As soon as I may,” Oropher returned, blunt but gracious enough still. “I ask only out of courtesy, remembering the friendship of old between us.”
“You are free to do as you will. I do not deny it,” Gil-galad granted him. “But you say only ‘I’. What of the rest of your entourage?”
“I shall first go myself alone, with such companions as I choose. Thranduil, my son, will remain to govern the household until I return. They have had enough of wandering, and I would not ask them to explore the horizons with me.”
Thranduil frowned a bit where he sat, acutely dissatisfied with that arrangement, but unwilling to argue it considering the responsibilities his father was entrusting to him. It was an honor to at last be granted his father’s position as lord of their house, but he was just as impatient to be gone now as any of them, and to be left behind to wait seemed unbearable. But they had borne the unbearable many times before; doubtless they could do it again.
“A wise decision,” Gil-galad commended him, though perhaps the touch of irony in his voice was imagined. Oropher was not commonly considered to be particularly wise, regardless of what his own thought of him. “Many things move in the East, not all of them the simple and pliant folk you expect to meet. May the powers of Oromë ride also upon your road.”
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