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Chapter 7: Joy amidst doubt
Thranduil stood back from the nursery wall, appraising the partially complete mural while absently stirring the brightly colored paint in the jar in his hands. The scene on the wall depicted a large beech tree as its central figure. It grew on the banks of a swift river and in the foreground of a dense forest that were both only partially complete. Frolicking along the river and hiding in the forest were the beginnings of a variety of animals—otters, deer, raccoons, fox. For today’s work, Thranduil had outlined a field of small, colorful flowers that grew on the opposite bank of the river. His thoughts were on Lindomiel and he had chosen to work on the flowers because they reminded him of her garden.
Lindomiel normally joined Thranduil in the nursery every evening. Though tired from the pregnancy, she insisted on contributing to the decoration of the room in addition to continuing her household duties. Despite the fact that Thranduil felt weaving was far too strenuous as she reached her seventh month, she had set up a loom in the nursery and normally worked on it each night as he painted. Lindomiel and Dieneryn had created and hung three tapestries since the baby’s conception. His favorite was an illustration of a children’s story about three Ents and their meeting with a fabled Elvenprince. Neither Thranduil nor certainly Lindomiel had ever seen an Ent, but her depiction of them in the tapestry matched Thranduil’s imagination of their appearance very well.
Tonight, however, Lindomiel was not weaving. Along with Dieneryn and the other ladies of the household, she was with Amoneth. Only four days away from the birth of her second son, Amoneth was very uncomfortable, so they were trying to entertain and distract her. As Thranduil finished preparing the paints he would use for this evening’s work, he sighed, amazed at how quickly he had grown accustomed to spending this time in the evening with his wife and how much he missed her company tonight.
He had been painting for nearly an hour when a knock on the door sounded. Thranduil frowned. Despite the fact that Lindomiel was not here, he did not care to be taken away from this pleasant task.
“Come,” he called, turning to face the door and expecting to see Hallion. His eyebrows rose slightly when Celonhael entered the room.
Thranduil knew Celonhael’s wife, Ollwen, was with Amoneth. Normally Celonhael spent evenings dancing with Ollwen on the green in front of the stronghold, so Thranduil’s initial assumption was that Celonhael was at a loss to entertain himself in her absence. He smiled at his advisor, identifying with that feeling all too well.
As he walked into the nursery, Celonhael paused a moment to look at the tapestries and paintings before inclining his head to the king. “Am I disturbing you, Thranduil?” he asked, his voice tired. He picked up one of the brushes discarded on the table of painting supplies and began to clean it without waiting for a reply.
Thranduil’s brow knit. It was immediately apparent from his advisor’s somber demeanor that more than an evening without his wife troubled the normally light-hearted, merry elf. Despite his years and experiences, Celonhael always sported a bright smile. Now his eyes were dull and downcast, focused silently on the cleaning supplies. Thranduil walked over to the table. Putting down his paint and brush, he focused on his friend. “No, you are not disturbing me, Celonhael, but something clearly disturbs you. Would you like to discuss it?” he asked gently.
Celonhael continued cleaning the brush in his hand for a moment before he looked at Thranduil. “If I may, I would very much like to help you do some painting,” he replied quietly, avoiding Thranduil’s question.
Thranduil studied Celonhael for a moment. He knew the older elf enjoyed painting as he did. They had worked on some of the murals in the halls together when the stronghold was new and had made a merry time of it. Something obviously bothered his friend tonight, but situations such as this reminded Thranduil that he was significantly younger than his advisors—the age their children would be if they still lived and not the age of their contemporaries. Though he was their king, he did not feel comfortable pressing them about personal matters.
“If painting will help, mellon nin, then by all means join me,” he replied, offering him a clean brush and a jar of powder to mix into paint. “I am painting the flowers, as you can see.”
Thranduil returned to the wall and in a few moments Celonhael joined him. They painted in silence for a long while.
“May I ask you a very personal question, Thranduil?” Celonhael finally asked, still without looking away from the mural.
Thranduil raised his eyebrows. Celonhael always treated him respectfully, but Thranduil had always felt close to the elves that now served as his advisors, especially Celonhael and Hallion. They were very distant cousins but in his youth, Thranduil had called them both ‘uncle.’
“Yes,” he answered simply.
Celonhael turned to face him. “Why did you and Lindomiel wait so long to have children?”
Thranduil blinked and looked sharply at his friend. “Surely that is obvious, Celonhael,” he replied quietly. “When she and I first married, you know how I was struggling to manage this kingdom. I could not take on the responsibilities of fatherhood at the same time. And then the Shadow began to spread over the Wood and we were forced to move. It has been difficult to find an appropriate time to have children.”
“And do you truly think now is appropriate?”
Thranduil’s eyes widened at that question, not certain how to interpret it—a simple question or an accusation. “No, Celonhael, I do not,” he responded truthfully. “This decision was very difficult for me to make. I made it because I do want children and as Lindomiel and naneth both told me, it is unlikely that we will ever again see a perfect time to have children.”
Celonhael nodded but his eyes were sad. Thranduil was not even certain he had heard his answer. “Eirienil is a wonderful child, is she not? And soon we will have your child and Aradunnon’s. Such a blessing to have so many children in the family.”
Thranduil’s frown deepened. This apparently happy observation was made with a somber tone. “May I ask what troubles you so, Celonhael?” he prodded, laying a hand on his shoulder. “I may not be able to offer any advice but I am happy to listen.” Eyes on the floor, Celonhael remained silent, so Thranduil continued in a softer voice. “I could get nana. She is a very good listener.”
A faint light appeared in Celonhael’s eyes at that suggestion. Dieneryn was slightly younger than most of the king’s advisors as well. Despite that, she had become very much a mother figure to many of them. With a sigh, Celonhael raised his eyes to look at Thranduil.
“Ollwen is finding the children difficult to bear,” he stated bluntly. “She has told me that she wants another child.”
Thranduil’s mouth fell open at that. His immediate reaction was to remind Celonhael that Ollwen was over five millennia old and well past the Years of Children but that was clearly not what Celonhael needed to hear. Indeed, from his expression, that fact was already painfully obvious to him. Suddenly it occurred to Thranduil how difficult indeed it must be for Celonhael and Ollwen to bear seeing all the couples in the family expecting children. Their son and only child, Duinion, had fallen with Oropher on the Dagorlad nearly two thousand years before.
Celonhael looked at Thranduil, sorrowfully. “I should not burden you with this, Thranduil. This is a blessed time for you. You must enjoy it.”
Thranduil shook his head. “You have comforted me more times than I can count and stood by me in the most difficult of times—both as my advisor and my uncle. I cannot offer you any advice but at least allow me to be the friend you have always been for me.”
Celonhael looked at him gratefully a ghost of his normally jovial expression struggling to surface.
With that encouragement, Thranduil continued in a serious voice. “So, Ollwen sincerely wishes to have another child. What are your thoughts on this?”
Celonhael closed his eyes. “Valar forgive me, Thranduil, but I cannot deny that I want that too. I told her I absolutely would not consider the risk to her—I cannot lose her too and a child at this stage in life would be so dangerous—but in my heart, I fear that I will not be strong enough to hold that position. And that leads me to my other fear—choosing to risk having another child and losing that child to Sauron’s forces in this forest.”
Thranduil frowned and looked away. Celonhael had just bluntly given voice to the fear that Thranduil could not bring himself to consciously think about. Every time the council had discussed raids made by orcs or Easterlings or the destruction of a colony of spiders over the last year—every time Dolgailon hinted that he would like to return to the patrols—Thranduil had deliberately avoided thinking about his own son facing those same dangers only fifty short years in the future. Forced to think about it now, he found himself wondering how Celonhael could even consider another child after experiencing the loss of his first. But he knew the answer to that question the moment it surfaced in his mind and he realized it might help Celonhael dismiss one of his fears, at least.
“May I ask you a personal question, Celonhael. It might be painful—it is about Duinion.”
Celonhael’s eyes widened slightly. “I do not mind speaking of Duinion. I enjoy remembering him.”
Thranduil looked at Celonhael evenly. “You and Ollwen conceived Duinion in dangerous times when Sauron was already at open war in Eregion with our neighboring Elvish and Mannish realms. Do you ever regret the decision to bring him into the world at that time?”
Celonhael shook his head. “Never,” he answered swiftly. “Duinion had a short life with us but I cherished every moment of it. And now I cherish the memories of the time he was with us as the happiest of my life. His death did not change that in the least.”
Thranduil nodded. “I expected that would be your answer. Indeed, when Lindomiel was trying to convince me to conceive our child and the fear of losing him to the dangers in this forest made me hesitate, I often thought of Duinion and Ninglor and how they both enriched my life, no matter how short theirs was,” he said softly.
Celonhael drew in a long breath. “So you believe Ollwen and I should have another child.”
Thranduil took a step back and held up his hands. “I would never presume to give any sort of advice on that topic, Celonhael. That is a decision that only you and Ollwen can make. I finally agreed to conceive my son because I refuse to allow the evil in this forest to dictate my choices to me and because, though I fear for his future, I take strength in the fact that you and Engwe clearly cherish the time you had with your children though they are in Mandos now. But that is my decision. Moreover, Lindomiel is barely over two millennia. Your wife is well over five millennia. You have more to consider than I did.”
Celonhael looked back at the mural. “That is precisely the problem. Ollwen is very strong,” he smiled. “Every bit a wood elf. So alive and vital, especially in the forest amongst the trees.” He frowned, moving quickly from joy at the thought of his wife to despair at the thought of losing her. “I cannot risk her but she refuses to acknowledge how difficult bearing another child might be.”
Thranduil sighed softly. “Then perhaps it is a good that she is with Amoneth tonight being reminded of the less pleasant aspects of childbearing,” he suggested.
Celonhael smiled wryly. “You know Ollwen better than that. Like Lindomiel, she sees all the beauty in the world and none of the darkness. All she will remember of this evening is the excitement in Amoneth’s eyes as they discuss the imminent birth of her son.”
Thranduil smiled also. Celonhael was right that Lindomiel and Ollwen had a gift to bring happiness to all around them. “May the Valar bless our wives as we are blessed to have them,” he said softly.
With a warm smile, Celonhael nodded and began to clean the brushes on the table.
“We have one more item on this morning’s agenda then, my lord,” Hallion said, picking up the dispatches from the patrols that the council had just finished discussing and adding them neatly to the stack of documents on his right. He then handed a set of letters sitting on his left to Thranduil. They were tied together with a string and the top letter bore the seal of the Lord of Dale.
Thranduil scowled and loosed the string to scan through the letters.
“Lord Fengel has sent us the information he could gather regarding the claim that our people were involved with the Easterlings,” Hallion continued as Thranduil read. They both ignored the sharp glances of the council members that were not aware that accusation had been made. “You will see his letter and those of three village leaders, including Lord Fengel’s cousin in the old Mannish capital between the river and the forest. They all confirm seeing Easterlings near our borders or crossing into the forest.” He paused. “They name the same villages that the traitors did, my lord.”
Thranduil looked up from his perusal of the letters with a sour expression and turned to Golwon. “And I assume you are ready to speak about what you learned from your conversations with our village leaders?”
Golwon nodded. ““I have spoken to all the village leaders on the Eastern border regarding this subject. Most of the people I spoke to were openly horrified at the idea that Easterlings might have entered the forest. I have no doubt they have never seen such goings on. There were two village leaders in the south that reacted similarly, but I had the sense that they were not being truthful with me.”
Thranduil’s mouth formed a thin line and he tapped the letters against the table. “Let me guess—Dolwon and Dannenion are the two you are suspicious of?”
Golwon glanced at the letters in the king’s hand and raised his eyebrows. “Yes, my lord. I assume theirs are the villages that the men named as well?”
Golwon’s only answer was Thranduil’s deepening scowl.
Celonhael was staring at Thranduil with wide eyes. “Are you suggesting that elves in this forest are dealing with men? With Easterlings?” he asked, voice rising in pitch.
Thranduil turned to him. “That is what the evidence points towards,” he said with an unmistakably irate tone.
Celonhael shook his head incredulously. “The elves in the southern villages are stubborn and independent to a degree that only endangers them, my lord. But I do not believe they are stupid. Or unable to recognize the Shadow after living in it for many yéni. Indeed, those particular elves that remain on the southeastern border have always made clear their displeasure whenever they were forced to interact with Men. It makes no sense that they would willingly seek out dealings with men touched by the Shadow now,” he said.
Thranduil scowled. “We have the statements of the men executed for ‘interacting’ with these same Easterlings corroborated by men loyal to Lord Fengel. They state they have seen Easterlings in Dolwon and Dannenion’s villages. We also analyzed the pattern of the border patrols’ encounters with Easterlings and found that the only places they were found deep inside the forest rather than outside the border was near these villages. And now Golwon states that he did not feel Dolwon and Dannenion were truthful with him. What would you conclude, Celonhael?”
Celonhael stared at Golwon and Thranduil. “But…” he hesitated. “If Dolwon and Dannenion are lying about their association with the Easterlings, that is very serious. We know that all the villages in the south conduct some unauthorized trade with Men and Dwarves traveling on the Forest Road. But they do not hide that or lie about it when confronted. They know they need not fear your response so greatly as to lie about it. If these elves lied to Golwon, then that implies they are involved in something worse than simply trading for weapons or exotic spices.”
Golwon’s eyes widened and he shot a glance at the king. That thought had obviously not occurred to him. Thranduil’s expression was inscrutable. Golwon blinked and looked back at Celonhael. “I did not intend to imply anything of the sort. I assumed they are lying because trading with Easterlings is considerably different than trading with the Woodsmen or even Dwarves. The Men of Rhovanion are our allies and even the Dwarves are not enemies. The Easterlings are. I think they are trading with them and they know doing so will earn them more than the king’s normal reaction to unauthorized trade.”
Everyone at the table looked to Thranduil for his reaction to that conclusion. His expression remained unreadable.
“Tell Dolwon and Dannenion that I want to speak with them and bring them to the stronghold,” he said curtly after a moment’s silence. Then he turned to Aradunnon. “And I want the patrols to keep a tight watch on the borders near those villages. Without informing anyone in the villages.”
Thranduil waited for Aradunnon to acknowledge that request and scowled when he did not. Aradunnon was staring absently at the far wall of the Great Hall. With an annoyed growl, Thranduil wrapped his knuckles sharply on the table, causing Aradunnon’s eyes to snap to his. Thranduil glared at his brother for a moment. The idea that his people might be dealing with Easterlings was enough to thoroughly anger him. He did not need the added frustration of his councilors not paying attention during discussions that directly concerned them. Especially his troop commander.
“Is the defense of the realm boring you this morning, Lord Aradunnon,” he asked irritably.
“I apologize, my lord,” Aradunnon replied with none of the contriteness Thranduil would have expected under the circumstances. “I did not hear you. What were you asking?”
Thranduil repeated his request with clipped tones.
“Discreetly tighten the patrols at the borders around Dolwon and Dannenion’s villages,” Aradunnon repeated, nodding. “I will inform the lieutenants in the next dispatch,” he said quietly, his attention already drifting.
Thranduil’s brow knit angrily. “Would you care to share with me why you find concentrating on this meeting so challenging, Aradunnon?” he asked sharply.
“Something is wrong with Amoneth,” Aradunnon answered softly.
The irate expression immediately faded from Thranduil’s face to be replaced by concern. “Are you certain?”
Aradunnon nodded. “I would swear that her labor has started but the baby is not due for three more days.”
Everyone looked at one another silently for a moment and then Dieneryn leaned forward, smiling at her son with bright eyes. “Aradunnon, babies are only normally born on their begetting day. Two or three days before or after it is not completely unheard of. And she was so uncomfortable last night. Perhaps you should go check on her.”
Aradunnon frowned skeptically. “Surely she would send for me,” he began, only to be interrupted by Thranduil’s quiet laughter.
“Aradunnon, it would not surprise me at all if a child of yours refused to start its life in the world in the traditional fashion. I think Amoneth must certainly be in labor.”
Dieneryn loosed a short laugh in response to Thranduil’s barb but tried to nod seriously. “Second labors are almost always faster than first labors,” she warned. “Amoneth may underestimate the time she has before she calls for you or the healer. If you can feel her labor, you need to go join her and call for Nestoreth.”
Aradunnon hesitated for a moment, looking anxiously at his family seated around the meeting table. They returned his nervous gaze cheerfully, clearly pleased by this happy news. Finally Dieneryn rose from her chair and began to pull Aradunnon to his feet. As she did the doors in the back of the Hall opened and the guard admitted an apprentice healer. She came into the room quickly, not waiting for permission and calling excitedly to Aradunnon to return with her to the family quarters.
With that, everyone stood.
“There,” Thranduil said, shoving his brother, who stood poised to rush from the room but was frozen in place from nervous shock at this unexpected development. “She has called for you. Let us go back to the family chambers. You have work to do, little brother, and the rest of us can begin celebrating the arrival of your son.”
Aradunnon grinned at Thranduil as he gathered himself. “Hopefully her second labor will be shorter. It will give you less time to disgrace yourself. I seem to recall that every male member of this family was so ‘celebrated’ after Dolgailon’s birth that you could barely greet him. I did not dare let any of you hold him.”
With that, Aradunnon and Dieneryn moved swiftly from the Great Hall, disappearing into the family chambers. The elves going about their business in the stronghold looked expectantly at the rest of the royal family as they followed and Hallion took it upon himself to confirm their suspicions. Thranduil smiled broadly as he passed into the private area of the stronghold. He knew his people well—there would be celebrations both inside and outside the family chambers for the next several days.
Late that night, Thranduil silently entered his brother’s private chambers followed eagerly by Engwe, Hallion, Celonhael and Golwon, who was carrying an obviously sleepy but wide-eyed Eirienil. They saw Amoneth through the open door to the bedchambers propped up by numerous pillows, both deep exhaustion and pure joy in her eyes as she beckoned to them to come in. Aradunnon sat in a rocking chair next to the bed with a bundle wrapped in a blanket in his lap. Dolgailon sat on the edge of the bed his hand in his mother’s. The ladies of the family, looking nearly as exhausted as Amoneth, sat in chairs dragged in from the sitting room. A few empty chairs stood ready for their husbands who were now hurrying into the room to meet the new baby for the first time. Everyone gathered excitedly around Aradunnon.
Thranduil took Lindomiel’s hand and studied her intently for a moment, concerned that spending the entire day helping the healers with Amoneth would be too tiring for her. But, like Amoneth, Lindomiel only radiated happiness. Satisfied that his wife was well, Thranduil turned his attention to his brother and new nephew. Kneeling next to Aradunnon’s chair, he peered at the baby sleeping in his lap. Aradunnon shifted the bundle slightly so all could see the tiny face that peeked out from the blankets.
The room was immediately filled with the sort of soft, cooing exclamations that normally greet a newborn.
“He is beautiful, muindor nin,” Thranduil whispered after he spent a moment simply smiling and taking in the baby’s perfect little features. Everyone nodded their agreement but the baby, sleeping soundly in his father’s arms, only frowned slightly in response to the quiet commotion around him.
Amoneth laughed lightly, straining to lean forward and see her new son amidst the crowd. “I certainly think so,” she said. “Though I expect that I am somewhat biased.”
As everyone smiled at Amoneth, Aradunnon looked at his brother hovering over the baby with amusement.
“Would you like to hold him?” he asked.
Grinning, Thranduil nodded and settled himself in the chair next to Lindomiel to better support the baby. As Aradunnon placed the bundle in his arms, Thranduil remembered the first time he had held an infant—his baby brother, when he was only a few hours old. He had since held Dolgailon as an infant and now this baby. Each time he was awed by how fragile and helpless they were…how dear and precious. He glanced over to see Lindomiel clearly enjoying the sight of a baby in her husband’s arms. He winked at her.
“Children are an absolute marvel,” Celonhael whispered, leaning over to stroke a finger across the baby’s fat, pink cheek.
“Indeed,” Engwe replied, shamelessly gathering the baby in his arms and stealing it from Thranduil who glared at him. The ladies in the room giggled as the person in the family that they all feared the most made silly faces at the now yawning and stretching child. As Engwe rocked the baby in his arms, quickly lulling it back to sleep, the blanket fell away from his face revealing the thick little mop of hair on his head.
All the males in the room, who had not yet seen the baby’s hair, blinked and looked with surprise at Aradunnon. Like Thranduil, Aradunnon had inherited the golden hair typical of their mother’s family, though both had some wisps of Oropher’s silver. This child’s hair was the inverse—predominantly silver with a few light golden strands.
“I was going to comment that he looked a great deal like Oropher before but this is amazing,” Engwe exclaimed, echoing everyone’s thoughts.
Aradunnon nodded. “When Dolgailon was born, I remember thinking how light his hair was. The fairest gold I had ever seen, but definitely still gold. This child’s hair is as silver as adar’s was.”
Amoneth reached over to tussle her son’s hair. “Dolgailon’s hair is a much deeper gold like yours now, meleth. I imagine the gold will come out more in this child’s hair as well as he gets older.”
Hallion chuckled quietly. “You had better pray that this child inherited only Oropher’s looks and not his personality as well. I grew up with Oropher, remember. You cannot imagine the trouble we got into.” He shuddered dramatically but with a playful expression as Engwe burst out laughing and nodded.
The noise caused the baby to begin to fuss and Engwe returned him to his mother’s arms when she reached for him.
Aradunnon smiled wryly. “I suppose it is too much to ask that I have the same luck with my second born that I did with my first. I predict he will be the same terror both his adar and daeradar were.”
Everyone laughed in response to that and the elves of Oropher’s generation shook their heads as the baby refused to be quieted.
“We should let them rest,” Dieneryn said firmly after moment.
Amoneth nodded tiredly. “I am exhausted but I cannot sleep. I am simply too excited. It is so wonderful to finally hold him,” she said, looking at her son.
Aradunon instantly grinned, in complete agreement. “I cannot put him down,” he said coming over to sit on the bed next to his wife. He drew her into his arms as she held their son.
Thranduil smiled at him. “You were the same with Dolgailon, I seem to remember. You would not even give him to Amoneth when he cried for her until you were ordered to do so.”
Aradunnon laughed at the memory. “Hopefully I will not be as bad with this child. I let you and Engwe hold him, so surely that is evidence that I will do better.” Then he looked at his brother with a knowing expression. “A little over five more months, Thranduil, and we will see how you do. You will be far worse than I ever was.”
Rather than rising to the bait as Aradunnon expected, Thranduil returned his brother’s gaze with a myriad of emotions in his eyes. “I cannot wait another five months,” he whispered. Lindomiel nodded.
Aradunnon sighed sympathetically. “A year can pass by entirely unnoticed save for the changing of the seasons except when one is expecting a baby. Then a year becomes a yen.”
Thranduil nodded seriously. “Too true,” he said, grasping Lindomiel’s hand.
Three days later, Amoneth’s parents arrived from Lothlorien expecting to be present for the birth of their second grandchild. They were shocked to find they had barely come in time for his naming ceremony. But as it turned out, they would have plenty of opportunity to make up for lost time. With them had traveled Lindomiel’s parents and the entire entourage intended to stay until after Thranduil’s child was born.
Even hours later Dolgailon still laughed at the memory of his uncle’s stunned expression when Lindomiel’s father, Amglaur, was escorted into the family sitting room. Apparently, Thranduil had not expected him to travel with Amoneth’s parents though it seemed perfectly logical to Dolgailon that he would—why make two separate trips requiring twice as many guards in escort? After all, Amoneth and Lindomiel were cousins, everyone was family and they were all traveling to and from the same places.
Of course it took Dolgailon precisely one minute in the same room with Amglaur to determine why his uncle had reacted as he did.
Thranduil’s father-in-law had only just been seated when he launched an inquest into his daughter’s health and comfort. Dolgailon found himself biting the insides of his cheeks to keep from laughing as Thranduil’s posture grew stiffer and stiffer and he was certain his uncle was literally biting his own tongue. As soon as he respectably could, Dolgailon excused himself from the sitting room and fled to the green—where he was certain the entire family would prefer to be if Amglaur had not insisted that it was too cold outside for babies or pregnant daughters.
The moment he stepped off the bridge, the elves still celebrating the birth of Dolgailon’s brother swarmed him for news and stories while shoving a goblet in his hand and pulling him in numerous directions. He laughed at this treatment and cheerfully answered their questions. He was very pleased when Arthiel slipped up next to him and quietly took his hand.
“He is named Galithil,” Dolgailon answered a shouted question as she leaned against him.
He squeezed her hand as a satisfied murmur arose from the elves surrounding him.
“That must be for his hair,” an elleth that Dolgailon did not recognize said to the crowd authoritatively. “It is silver, you know,” she added, repeating information that Dolgailon had only just supplied in answer to a request to describe the baby moments before. Others nodded.
Dolgailon smiled but said nothing. Even he did not know his father’s reasoning behind the choice of names, though the elleth’s assumption was logical.
“No,” said Dollion, the captain of the Palace Guard and Aradunnon’s oldest friend. He had clearly overindulged in the wine being served. “Knowing Aradunnon, more likely he chose that name because the child was conceived in the moonlight somewhere in the forest.”
That elicited loud guffaws from the other warriors present and laughter from everyone else. Dolgailon remained silent but he was certain that he was blushing. He had discovered when he was only forty that he had been conceived in the forest so he knew Dollion’s suggestion was perfectly plausible
One of the other warriors in the Palace Guard shoved his captain playfully. “What does that mean you will be naming your daughter then, Dollion?” he shouted. “I hear she was conceived in the river.”
Dolgailon raised his eyebrows and looked at Dollion, who did not seem the least embarrassed by that disclosure. Dolgailon had not even yet heard that Dollion was expecting a child.
“I am naming her Aewen,” Dollion declared. “After the bird that sang to us as she was conceived. It was a beautiful wood thrush. Enchanting song.”
That conversation declined rapidly and Dolgailon found himself and Arthiel herded towards a bench by her father, Crithad. Taking in the openly disapproving expression on the stoneworker’s face, Dolgailon felt fairly certain that Arthiel had been conceived in the privacy of her parents’ bedroom. Laughing lightly as Arthiel rolled her eyes in response to her father’s insistent tugs, he did not resist at all as Crithad led them to the bench. He was perfectly pleased to leave the throng of elves. After all, he had come out to the green hoping to spend time with Arthiel, not to announce the details of his brother’s birth.
When they arrived at the bench, Dolgailon bowed politely to Arthiel’s mother, Merileth, and, after seating Arthiel comfortably next to her parents, he settled himself on the ground in front of the bench.
Merileth frowned somewhat uncomfortably at that. “Sit next to Arthiel, my lord,” she said, beginning to rise. Crithad did as well.
But Dolgailon shook his head. “Stay where you are, mistress,” he said firmly, freezing both Merileth and Crithad in place. “I am perfectly happy here on the soft grass.” Merileth smiled and put an arm around her daughter’s waist.
Dolgailon looked down at the goblet of wine in his hand. Courtesy to his elders aside, he did not want to sit on that small little bench with Arthiel and her father. He was certain that having Arthiel practically in his lap would cause his hands to stray in a more familiar manner than he thought Crithad would appreciate. And he knew Arthiel could read that thought, for she was grinning at him with a knowing expression.
“So how does brotherhood suit you,” she asked, thankfully passing on the opportunity to tease him.
He smiled up at her. “I think it will suit me well,” he replied. “Though Galithil is already proving himself to be a handful. He is only three days old but he has already figured out that if he cries, people will run to him. So he cries and the moment you pick him up, he stops. If you put him down, he waits until you are out of sight to start crying again and immediately grins at you when you rush to pick him up.” He paused and assumed an exaggeratedly virtuous expression. “Nana said that I never cried as a baby.”
Crithad snorted. “You did not. You hid. I remember finding you in the strangest places when you were a small child. Always with something that you had caught and were studying. I will never forget your lady mother’s reaction to that collection of insects you assembled.”
Arthiel looked at her father with wide eyes.
He shrugged with an amused look on his face. “Even when you were old enough to help me, Arthiel, there was still a great deal of work to do in the stronghold when the two of you were children. I worked there every day in those times and I saw a lot.”
Dolgailon smirked at him. “You are quite correct, Master Crithad. And I doubt I will forget nana’s reaction to those insects either. Or the king’s. He is not fond of spiders and I had a very diverse group of them.” He paused for affect and his expression grew mischievous. “But the king has promised to show me the pleasures of being an older brother in the interest of teasing my adar. So I am certain that this child is destined to much worse things than insect collections.”
Crithad and Merileth both laughed at that. “I do seem to recall that Prince Thranduil led your lord father on some adventures that infuriated King Oropher,” Merileth said.
Crithad nodded and fixed Dolgailon with a stern look. “And your lord father would have followed his elder brother to Mordor if he had gone there. You remember that. Being an older brother is a responsibility.”
Dolgailon smiled. “I am certain my adar will appreciate that advice, since the king is openly encouraging me to terrible behavior in this one instance,” he replied.
Arthiel laughed. “Ada is only concerned that I should get any ideas from you. Ada and nana are expecting another child as well. I have not had time to mention that.”
Dolgailon’s eyes widened. “Are you indeed?” he asked, his smiled broadening when Crithad and Merileth nodded. “That is wonderful news.” Then he shook his head in wonder. “All the children in my family. Dollion and his wife are expecting. You are.” He looked at Arthiel. “Were there this many children when we were elflings?”
Merileth smiled indulgently at them. “I imagine so. A good many elflings were born when we first moved north, including both of you. And now seems like a wonderful time again. After all, the king is having his first son. If he thinks this is a good time to expand his family, who are we to disagree?”
Dolgailon blinked at that. “Do you really think that people are having children now because the king is?” he asked.
Crithad nodded. “Of course, along with your brother’s birth, the king’s son has inspired many people, including Merileth and I, to have children. As you said, there is Dollion. And another warrior in the Palace Guard. And I have heard of three couples amongst the Path Guard who are expecting.”
Merileth nodded. “And the potter’s daughter and several of the foresters.”
Dolgailon listened to this news silently. Crithad and Merileth seemed to think it was quite natural that the king’s decision should inspire others to follow him, but he felt certain his uncle would be very concerned at best to hear this news. He was distracted from that thought by Arthiel rolling her eyes again.
“Ada and nana were motivated more by the idea of a child to share in the family trade than by the actions of the king,” she said with a cheeky tone.
Crithad frowned. “Given that we are having a son, and he is more likely to become a warrior than a forester like his sister, I certainly hope that he chooses to stay in my workshop,” he replied sharply. Then he looked at Dolgailon, who maintained a very neutral expression upon hearing that comment. “I mean no disrespect. On the contrary, I am very thankful for you and your warriors. I simply pray that my son does not have to be one of them. Someone must continue in the crafts. And though you seem to be doing much better now after a year in the capital, everyone was concerned about you when you first returned. It was painful enough seeing the influence that the Shadow had on you. I would not like to see my own son in such a condition.”
Dolgailon again struggled to maintain a neutral expression. He had not thought himself to be influenced by the Shadow at all when he had returned to the capital and he had believed that his uncle was overreacting when he made similar statements. Hearing Crithad made Dolgailon wonder what everyone had seen that he had not.
“No offense taken, Master Crithad,” he finally replied. “I appreciate your concern for me but I assure you that I am well. And as for your son working with you in your workshop rather than being a warrior, of course you would prefer that. The king would be happiest if no one had to serve in the military. I have heard him say numerous times how he values everyone’s service to the realm, especially the craftsmen.”
Crithad smiled in response and cast a meaningful look at his daughter. Arthiel’s bitter grimace seemed to indicate that Dolgailon was not likely to enjoy any time alone with her that he might maneuver this night. That fact was entirely lost on Crithad, but not Merileth, who was looking between the younger elves and laughing quietly.
The morning after Galithil’s naming ceremony, Thranduil sat on his throne in the Great Hall, his advisors surrounding him and Hallion to his right, glaring icily at the two elves being escorted into the room. For the hundredth time that day, the king firmly reminded himself that an evening under his father-in-law’s critical eye should not be allowed to influence the fate of any citizen in this realm. He was certain that he had managed, until now, to treat with everyone he had met with today justly—and if he did not, he was equally certain that Hallion would subtly inform him of his failure. But despite his sincere desire to be fair, this last meeting would strain the king’s patience on the best of days, much less one in which Thranduil’s patience was already stretched thin from dealing with Amglaur. The king’s eyes narrowed as Dolwon and Dannenion fell to one knee before his throne. Leaving them in place, Thranduil studied them.
Their heads were bent, so Thranduil could not see their faces, but their posture as they awaited his permission to rise seemed tense. When the king did not speak, they looked up at him with surprise in their eyes. Thranduil’s hand tightened on his oaken staff when he noted a hint of bitterness mingling with the suprise. Returning their searching gaze with his own cool one, he waited for them to again drop their eyes to the floor before allowing them to rise.
When they did, they looked at him with more respect. Indeed, Thranduil did not miss the flash of fear in Dolwon’s eyes.
“I have brought you here to discuss the presence of Men in your village,” Thranduil began in a soft voice after another moment’s pause. Dolwon and Dannenion remained silent and still, their expressions completely neutral. Thranduil frowned. “Perhaps you would be willing to tell me why you lied to Lord Golwon when he asked you about the visits that you have received from the Easterlings?”
Thranduil watched as Dolwon and Dannenion mentally debated their response. Their hesitation told him all he needed to know. A guiltless person would immediately declare their innocence. Dolwon and Dannenion were trying to determine if Thranduil actually had proof of anything. They were weighing the likelihood of a more severe punishment for continuing to lie against the hope that their king was simply trying to entrap them into a confession.
With a glance to Dolgailon, who stood in his father’s place amongst the king’s advisors, Dannenion finally spoke. “Lord Dolgailon can tell you anything that I could about the Easterlings’ attacks on my village, my lord. Probably more. He led the warriors that came to our aid in each instance,” he said.
With no more reaction to that response than a slight intake of breath, Dolwon nodded. “Indeed, my lord. I recall that he was present in my village after each of their attacks also.”
Thranduil glared at them until they dropped their gazes again. Then he lifted a paper from his lap and appeared to consult it. It was a letter bearing the seal of the Lord of Dale. “Was he present for the Easterlings’ visit to your village in mid Firith of last year?” he asked calmly, addressing Dannenion. “When you were seen speaking with Easterlings at the edge of the forest.”
Dannenion’s hand involuntarily convulsed around the hem of his tunic. Then he blinked and appeared to think. “Firith, my lord?” he asked. He did not bother to try to conceal the nervousness in his voice. Then he turned wide eyes on Thranduil. “I do recall meeting with some Northmen at some point during Firith, my lord. They were trying to reach Dale and were poorly supplied for the journey and the encroaching winter. My village had an abundance of meat, so we traded them some dried venison for…some tools, I believe it was. Perhaps I should have asked your permission…indeed in retrospect I am certain that I should have…but we did not think that you would refuse aid to a starving family, even a Mannish one.”
Thranduil nodded. “So the men were Northmen? Well then, that was very charitable of you,” he replied. “And you are quite correct. I would never allow my allies to starve if I could help them without depriving my own people. I am sure that you did the right thing.” Thranduil watched as Dolwon and Dannenion relaxed almost imperceptibly. Then he continued in a soft voice. “Tell me, Dannenion, what sort of tools did you obtain in exchange for your meat?”
Dannenion frowned and took another deep breath. “Some axes, I think. Maybe some knives. I do not honestly recall the details, my lord. We were more concerned with their starving children.”
Again, Thranduil nodded sympathetically. “Of course. But axes and knives? That is surprising. The Northmen are not known for such tools. Indeed, they use even fewer metal items than we do. They do all of their fighting with bows for lack of metal weaponry. Where do you suppose these Northmen got these metal tools?”
Dolwon gave Dannenion a quick look that Dannenion resolutely ignored. “I did not question that, my lord. As you said, we are also always short on metal tools. I welcomed their offer of knives and axes.”
Thranduil’s soft tone hardened. “Either they were incredibly poor traders or you are so clever that I ought to bring you to the capital to advise me. I cannot imagine your village providing enough meat to be worth ‘some axes and some knives’ without causing your own people to starve for the winter. Unless you traded unfairly with these poor Northmen. Did you take advantage of their need?”
Dannenion’s hand twisted in the fabric of his tunic and Dolwon shifted uneasily. “If I did, it was not intentional, my lord,” he answered without looking at the king.
Thranduil’s gaze shifted to Dolwon. “I suppose that you were also trading with the Northman on the occasions that Easterlings were seen in your village?” he asked quietly.
Dolwon did not reply. Instead he stared at the king silently.
Thranduil decided to let that pass. He looked back at Dannenion. “And can you describe for me the men you traded with in Firith?” He tapped the letter in his hand on the arm of his throne. “Because I have here a very detailed description of the men that were reportedly seen in your village. The description appears to me to match that of an Easterling and not a Northmen. Can you tell the difference between and Easterling and a Northmen, Dannenion?”
Dannenion now squirmed. “Well, I am often very busy in my village so the Northmen were brought to me late at night, after dark, my lord. And I did not study or question them…”
“So, in truth, you cannot say for certain that you did not trade with an Easterling, since you did not study these poor, starving travelers?”
Dannenion sighed. “I…” he began, but fell silent.
Thranduil’s mouth quirked downwards angrily. “Do you know what I think, Dannenion? I think you are lying to me. I think that you knew perfectly well that you were trading with Easterlings. You tell me if I am correct.”
Dannenion looked directly at Thranduil, frustration in his eyes. “I might have suspected that they were Easterlings, my lord. But they were offering valuable weapons for a little food. And I thought if we helped them, they might be less inclined to attack us later.”
Thranduil stood and glared furiously at the village leaders before him. “If you were truly dealing with starving Easterlings, the best way to guarantee that such an enemy does not attack your village is to kill him yourself. You do not feed enemies. Easterlings kill and enslave their own kind. They are consumed by the Shadow. They will return your kindness by murdering you and everyone in your village.” He paused. “But do you know what I think, Dannenion? I think that you began this conversation lying to me to conceal your guilt and you are still lying and concealing something from me. You said you were trying to help starving Northmen and then admitted you were trying to placate Easterlings. I think there is more to this story yet. It would be very wise of you to tell me the whole truth. Immediately.”
Dannenion adopted a grim expression. “I made a mistake trading with the Easterlings. There is no more to it than that,” he said firmly.
Thranduil scowled. “You are lying. Tell me how the Easterlings you traded with were associated with the Easterlings that attempted to capture the Queen earlier that same month.”
Dolwon and Dannenion both audibly gasped at that accusation, as did several of Thranduil’s council that were not aware Easterlings had followed Lindomiel into the forest as she returned from Dale. Dannenion grasped his friend’s arm. “I have no idea to what you are referring, my lord,” he replied quickly with a shaking voice.
Thranduil glared at Dolwon and Dannenion intently for several minutes. Then he seated himself again. “Perhaps you do and perhaps you do not. But you are still lying to me, of that I have no doubt. I think it would be best if you continued to be my guest here until we can come to the truth of this matter.” Thranduil shifted his gaze to one of the Palace Guard at the side of the throne. “Take Dannenion and Dolwon to separate accommodations and keep them there. They are not to speak to one another or to anyone else.”
Dannenion’s eyes widened. Thranduil plainly saw both fear and anger in them. “How long do you intend to keep us here, my lord? There is nothing more we can tell you about men in our villages and we have families to care for. What will our villages do in our absence?”
Thranduil returned Dannenion’s emotional gaze placidly. “You were not thinking of your families or village’s welfare when you entangled yourself in this situation, Dannenion. How long you remain my guest depends on your willingness to cooperate with me. As for your village, it is under the protective care of the warriors of the eastern border patrol and regardless of what else I learn from you, you will not be returning to it. I will not trust you again to lead a village if you are so foolish to involve yourself with Easterlings. I will be informing your villages to appoint a new village leader. The very least that you can expect as a consequence for your actions is that you and your families will be staying nearer the stronghold until I am convinced that I can trust you to behave less foolishly.”
Dannenion scowled. “The southern forest is my home. I refused to move north two millennia ago and I refuse to do so now,” he retorted angrily.
Thranduil snorted derisively. “Be thankful that I am still willing to allow any part of this forest to be your home, Dannenion. Dealing with an enemy of the realm is treason. The Lord of Dale recently executed fifteen men for that same crime…”
Dolwon’s jaw dropped. “Even you are not so unjust as to execute an elf,” he blurted fearfully.
Thranduil turned to him with raised eyebrows. “Even I?” he repeated. “Unjust? Tell me when in the past do you believe I have treated you unjustly Dolwon?”
Dolwon looked down and shook his head. “I meant nothing…it was a poor choice of words,” he mumbled.
Thranduil nodded knowingly. “Yes, I think it was. If you feel that I have treated you unjustly, Dolwon, I am more than willing to discuss that with you and compensate you for any loss we determine that you have suffered. I listen to petitions almost daily in this court. You are a village leader. Write a petition and I will consider it. But as for executing elves,” his expression became very cold. “The offense would have to be great indeed to induce me to impose such a sentence, but there is precedent for it. I believe the precedent involved the murder of the ruling king’s sister. If I find that you have participated in a conspiracy to harm any member of my family, the consequences for you will be dire. If you continue to lie to me about it, I will have no mercy for you at all.”
Dolwon and Dannenion stared at Thranduil slack jawed in response to that pronouncement. Neither elf made any move to speak so Thranduil signaled for the guards to escort them from the throne room. Even after they were gone, the king’s advisors remained silent. Thranduil raised his eyebrows impatiently when they also only stared at him.
After moment, Hallion spoke very softly. “My lord, surely you would not…” he hesitated, looking down. Then he looked directly at Thranduil. “The precedent to which you referred proceeds from a Noldorin court and was imposed on an elf that we all believed to be insane long before he killed his own wife while attempting to kill his son. Surely you do not believe that precedent is applicable here.”
Thranduil stared at his steward for a moment before he burst out laughing. “Hallion, relax. I do not intend to execute any elves,” he assured them quickly through his laughter. Hallion and several of the other council members drew and released a long breath. When Thranduil stopped laughing, he continued a more serious voice. “But Dannenion and Dolwon are hiding something. I intend to find out what it is and if they are a little frightened, perhaps fear will loosen their tongues.”
“I agree that Dannenion was lying,” the steward replied, still in a quiet voice. “And we must learn more about the nature of his dealings with the Easterlings. I think that keeping them in the capital is wise. They can do little damage under the watchful eye of the extremely loyal citizens that live here. But if they already think you unjust, and apparently they do for Dolwon’s comment held the most honesty of anything either of them said, threatening to execute them is not going to convince them otherwise.”
Thranduil shook his head. “At this point, I do not care what they think of me. I want to know what the Easterlings' designs on my forest are. And I want to know the extent of my own citizens' involvement with them. Nothing more.”
AN: Thranduil was referring to Turgon, King of Gondolin, and the execution of Ëol for murdering his wife and Turgon’s sister Aredhel while attempting to murder his son, Maeglin.
Mellon (nin)—(My) friend
Muindor (nin)—(My) brother
Meleth (nin)—(My) love
Yen/yeni—An elven measurement of time equaling 144 solar years. (Singular and plural)
Firith—By Rivendell Reckoning, the name of the ‘month’ that we would call late Fall.
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