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We Were Young Once ~ III  by Conquistadora

Chapter 40 - The Affairs of Wizards

“My lord, the waterway is severely restricted by the debris left by the flood,” the raftsman was explaining.  “If something is not done soon, the barges will find the river unnavigable.”

Seated at the King’s table with Lord Linhir standing by, Thranduil set down the excessively embellished parchment from Esgaroth and looked up at his raftsman, his irritation veiled by a thin veneer of forbearance.  “Is the road along the river still fit for use?” he asked.

“No, my lord,” the raftsman said.  “The floods have widened the marshes and the old roads have become treacherous.  I would not trust a pony on them, much less a loaded cart.”

Thranduil indulged in a long sigh, summoning up what remained of his patience.  “Very well.  Return to your duties.  I will address the matter at once.”

The raftsman bowed and took his leave.  

“How do you intend to address it?” Lord Linhir asked in a flat tone that mirrored Thranduil’s own exasperation.  “With more useless messages to Esgaroth?”

“Perhaps with one more,” Thranduil said, sweeping the beribboned scroll off the table into a pile of refuse.  “I knew we would have trouble with him.”

The old Master of Lake-town had died twenty years before, and his nephew had indeed succeeded him, swept into the position on the strength of his uncle’s reputation and his own conspicuous success in business, success Thranduil knew was largely due to his patronage.  The new Master was extremely accommodating in matters of trade, keeping the Woodland Realm supplied with all they needed or desired, yet when it came to matters of expenditure or investment he was a veritable font of procrastination.  

The most pointed debate had arisen over the maintenance of the roads and waterways between the Wood and the Lake.  Thranduil felt he had paid for quite enough already in building and rebuilding the town itself, and he expected the Lake-men, as the primary purveyors of goods along the waterway, to take the upkeep of the river upon themselves.  The Master, however, had argued that the greater share of the trouble was caused by debris washed into the river from the forest, and that it was the Elves’ responsibility.  He seemed to be primarily stalling for time in the hope that Thranduil would become impatient enough to see to the work himself.  It was a stratagem that had admittedly worked in the past, as Thranduil had on a few occasions grown weary of the Master’s indecisive whinging and set his Elves to clearing the waterways and reinforcing the banks.  He had subsequently demanded a better price on his regular shipments considering the expenses he had incurred.  The Master had now replied with more elegant protests which accomplished nothing but to prolong the correspondence.  The Master was not a man of weapons, but he would fight tirelessly for any coin he believed he could feasibly hold.

“So be it,” Thranduil finally said.  “Linhir, draft a reply to the Master of Esgaroth.  I will take the maintenance of the river upon myself, but because he has practically forced me to own it, I will be instating a toll for its use.  They may share that expense if they wish to continue trading with us.  Send appropriate instruction to the raftsmen.”

“As you wish,” Linhir agreed.  “And what if he tries to wheedle out of this as well?”

“I would like to see him try.  The first barge we refuse will cause enough uproar among his own people to bring him to heel.  What other business?”

“That was the worst of it,” Linhir said, closing his book with a knowing smile.  They had been at it for a few hours, and Thranduil suspected his impatience was obvious.  “The rest will keep, at least until after the festival.  I would not try to keep you penned in here while the hunt is gathering.”

Thranduil smiled, keen to make good his escape.  “I shall leave it all in your hands, then,” he said, rising from his chair.  “I know you will manage it beautifully.”

“I always do,” Linhir agreed with a smug confidence he had well earned.  “Bring back some choice venison for me.”

Thranduil paused in the doorway to turn the same expression back on him.  “I always do.”

The changing of the seasons was a festive time, and the Galennath were never sorry to celebrate a single event twice if they could.  The hunt which marked the final days of summer was gathering that night, an event that would continue for several days.  Shortly thereafter the great feasts to welcome the onset of autumn would begin.  With any luck, the foul Lord of Dol Guldur would keep himself quiet and allow them to enjoy it.

Thranduil quickly returned to his chambers and dressed himself in something more appropriate for several rugged days in the forest.  His was not to be the only hunting party, but he had taken advantage of the occasion to choose his favorite companions: Lords Galadhmir and Anárion and their sons, Legolas, Tauriel, and the ranks of his personal guard.  He met them outside as the evening shadows lengthened, armed as they all were with bow and knives.

“Ah, Linhir has released him at last!” Legolas said gladly as the whole group of them rose to their feet and bowed their heads to greet the King.  The dogs began barking and jumping about, eager to be gone.

“Yes, he has,” Thranduil said, gesturing to put them at their ease, “and let our leaving be no longer delayed on my account.  Are we all here?”

“We were only waiting for you,” Lord Galadhmir confirmed with a smile.  “I am pleased to see Linhir is not completely the spoilsport we had begun to suspect him to be.”

“No, indeed,” Thranduil agreed.  “Be kind to Linhir; he keeps the wheels turning.  Come on, loose the dogs.”

They were not chasing the evil things of the forest that day, and most of those had sense enough to keep themselves hidden from the King’s hunt.  There were a few thick enclaves of the giant spiders near the lonely western road through Mirkwood, but they would be cleared another day.  For now the Elves carefully avoided stirring them, preferring to enjoy the holidays without complicating the occasion with swarms of angry spiders.  

It was not so very different from being on campaign, but at the same time it was always a necessary and refreshing change.  They had gone to war together countless times, and often it seemed that the war consumed their lives.  Now they were venturing out again in force, yet their objective was not half so perilous.  The hunt had become the soldier’s play.

The first hunt was concluded after six days, and there was a great gathering in a secluded glade where the King and his guests could enjoy the fruits of their labors.  The entire royal household was in attendance with their friends, children, and other favored companions.  All formal pomp and ceremony were temporarily forgotten as they enjoyed that opportunity to celebrate together as a large extended family.

Bonfires lit the night, and the aromas of roast meat and fresh bread pervaded the wood.  Sweet baked apples were provided for the young ones, and there was no end to the music and song.  Everyone had a chance to lead the company in their favorite selections, be they lighthearted silvan songs or the epic ballads drawn from their deep history.  The whole assembly was held rapt as Thranduil, Linhir, Galadhmir, and Anárion performed a stirring rendition of the Battle of Sauron and Finrod Felagund for the benefit of the younger generations, accompanied by Lady Gwaelin and Lady Menelwen.  Thranduil manipulated the fire during the song to great dramatic effect, throwing shadows or great twisting pillars of flame to embellish the narrative.  

The festivities continued with hardly a pause afterward, but Thranduil found that the substance of the song lingered differently in his mind.  Of course, any tale of Sauron’s cruel exploits had greater significance to them now that all the Galennath knew the identity of their old enemy in Dol Guldur, and Thranduil had not forgotten the way Mithrandir had compared his struggles to Finrod’s heroic end.  Would his own protracted battle with Sauron eventually be the death of him?  If it must be so, Thranduil hoped he could make an end worthy of a song like that.

Lady Gwaelin approached him, still carrying her harp, and touched his arm in the familiar and comforting way she always had.  “Do not look so melancholy, my lord,” she chided him.  “Now is not the time for it.”

“I am not melancholy,” Thranduil protested with a smile.  “At least, no more than usual.  As time goes on, I find the old songs give me more to think about.”

She nodded, understanding exactly what he meant.  “I cannot help but feel we are writing our own song now,” she said.  Then she smiled at him.  “Perhaps I shall set it to music.  The Lay of the Oropherionnath?”

“Now, that could be quite melancholy,” Thranduil observed.  “And it has no ending yet.”

“That does not worry me,” Gwaelin laughed, snatching an apple from a passing basket and tossing it to him.  “I am certain you will make an end worth singing about.”

“You flatter me, my lady, but I will thank you to stop singing over my grave until I am in it.”

It was a true pleasure to see everyone having such a good time, proof that they could still find joy in their lives despite the hardships of their daily existence.  Mirkwood may not be a paradise, but it was still home.  The malevolent darkness which infected the wood seemed chastened by the defiant force of their presence.  It would creep back when they had gone, but for now the night belonged to them.

Thranduil’s smile faded when he saw Legolas in serious conversation with a troop of soldiers.  Tauriel appeared beside him, listening intently and frowning.  They looked briefly at one another, and then they both looked over at him.  Thranduil sighed and began walking toward them, regretting whatever trouble had arisen to interrupt the festival.  Were a few carefree days too much to ask?

“Tell the King what you told me,” Legolas bid the senior soldier when Thranduil had joined them.

“My lord,” he said, acknowledging the King with a bow, “there is a party of Dwarves on your road.”

Thranduil blinked, bemused for a moment.  “Dwarves?” he repeated.  “Where, and how many?”

“They are just south of us now, and there are thirteen or fourteen of them.”

“Why the uncertainty?” Thranduil demanded.

“There are fourteen in the party,” the soldier clarified, “but one may not be a Dwarf.  Perhaps he is a young Dwarf, although I have never seen one.  He is small and beardless, and he has no boots.  At least one of the Dwarves seems to have fallen under the enchantment of the river, and the others are rather inconvenienced by him.”

“How are they armed?” Thranduil asked, keen to know their purpose.

“Poorly.  They have bows, yet seem to have exhausted their arrows.  Their leader bears a great sword, but the others seem to have only small knives.  They also appear to be poorly provisioned, with little food or water.”

Thranduil relaxed a bit.  It did not sound like a particularly dangerous group, but he would have to insist that they give some account of themselves before they would be permitted to leave his domain, even if they proved harmless.  “Keep a watch on them,” he decided, “but do not accost them yet.  Let the festival continue.  We will gather them when they arrive at the road’s end.”

“Yes, my lord.”

Legolas and Tauriel lingered as the soldiers returned to their duties.  “What do you make of it, my lord?” Legolas asked.  “Dwarves have never ventured upon that road before.  They have always passed south of the mountains, or through the northern borderlands.”

Thranduil shrugged.  “Those roads must have grown perilous indeed if they are obliged to travel mine.  They are likely heading for the Iron Hills, and hopefully they will not make difficulties when I question them.  If they keep to the road, they will not trouble us for now.”

The merrymaking was briefly suspended the next day in order to prepare for the second round.  They had bid farewell to summer, and now they must welcome the autumn.  The weather turned wet for a time, sprinkling the forest with rain, but the Elves were undeterred.  

Thranduil took advantage of the time to ride throughout the near region to be certain that order was maintained.  The wandering Dwarves had set his mind turning, and he needed to see that everything was still quiet.  The spiders were keeping to themselves, taking to heart the brutal lessons the King’s army had taught their kind in the past.  He could not find anything especially out of place, despite their unwelcome and unexpected guests.  

“I say leave it,” Lord Anárion said when their search turned up nothing.  “It is just a party of vagabond Dwarves, probably with no ill intent.”

“Perhaps you are right,” Thranduil allowed.  “There is still something about it I do not like.  Double the watch,” he decided, turning his horse back the way they had come.  “I want no more surprises.”

The rain was courteous enough to stop before the evening’s entertainments.  Everyone dressed in their best to greet the season.  On behalf of all the Galennath, Lord Brilthor crowned Thranduil with berries and the first red leaves just as the last rays of sunset faded from the forest.  The fires were lit again and the feasting and singing began anew.  

There in the dancing firelight and glad music, Thranduil could almost forget that nagging doubt in the back of his mind.  The feast had been prepared with great care, and it seemed impious to not enjoy it.  

Beside him, Lord Linhir was certainly not letting the circumstances dampen his enthusiasm.  The royal seneschal was already several cups deep in wine.  He skewered a slice of venison on his dagger and waved it under Thranduil’s nose.  “Come back to us, my lord,” he said.  “Do not let your pensive thoughts rob you of the evening.”

Thranduil deflected the annoyance with his wrist, though he did smile.  “Mind your own thoughts, Linhir,” he advised.  “You are not on duty tonight.”

“Ah, yes, but the King never rests, does he?”  Linhir signaled to a passing wine-bearer to replenish the King’s cup.  “He should now and then, you know.  His obligations are heavy.  We all see it.  In fact, I believe your endeavors are worth more songs than they have hitherto enjoyed.  Perhaps we may remedy that.”

Before Thranduil could question it, Linhir seized his own wine, leapt onto the great tree stump in the center of the glade just as Lady Gwaelin stilled her harp strings, and offered the gathered company a first verse in his strong voice.

When peace lay on the Wood, the Woodland kingdom stood
Unchallenged and tranquil, abundant and good.

Then swift the shadow came, a demon cloaked in flame,
Our kingdom to ravage, our honor to shame.

Thranduil watched with a tolerant expression, prepared to humor Linhir’s drunken exploits.  But then Gwaelin took up the tune on her harp, and Legolas, Tauriel, Galadhmir, Anárion, and several others joined the song as though they had known it for years.

Deprived of his great Ring, with hatred’s bitter sting, 
Cruel Gorthaur came prowling to challenge our King.

Determined to have done with Oropher’s proud son,
He unleashed his armies with mercy for none.

Raise a song for your champion, O people of Greenwood, O people of Greenwood.
Raise a song for your champion, O soldiers of Greenwood.

By the end of the first chorus everyone in the glade had joined the performance, revealed to be much more than an idle whim.  Thranduil received the surprise tribute graciously, and he had to admit that it improved his mood considerably.  It seemed he was the only one who did not already know the words.

Left alone to face that curse of Elder Days,
The Lord of Dol Guldur, our King pled for grace.

Abandoned by the Wise, by Elder lords despised,
Still Thranduil leads us, still his banner flies.

The Galennath stand fast, as in the ages past,
Beneath Oropherion, loyal to the last.

Our courage will not fail, nor evil things prevail,
While our King defies them, through trial and travail.

Raise a song for your champion, O people of Greenwood, O people of Greenwood,
Raise a song for your champion, as all our fallen would.

The final chorus continued to swell, repeated over and over with many layers of elaborate counterpoint and playful harmonies,  It might have gone on for quite some time, but such a commotion suddenly arose at the edge of the glade that Thranduil was obliged to stand and prematurely raise a hand for silence.

“What has happened?” he asked as scores of disturbed Elves pushed their way into the glade.

“They attacked us at our merrimaking, my lord!” one of them explained.

“Who did?”

“Dwarves!  There is a pack of Dwarves running wild through our wood, my lord.  We fled before them under cover of darkness, not knowing whether it be your will that we slay them or not.”

“I do not wish them to be slain,” Thranduil said firmly, though with a wry expression.  “Was anyone hurt?”

“No, my lord.”

“Very well.”  Thranduil invited them farther into the glade with a gesture.  “You will remain with us here and the festival will continue.  Now that they have left the path, the Dwarves will be unlikely to find it again, especially in the dark.  If they have any good sense they will stay where they are, and at dawn the soldiers will collect them.”

The bards struck up their music once more, but the merry spontaneity of the moment was spoiled.  Thranduil stood rooted where he was, pensive and preoccupied again.  

“So, they have left the path,” Legolas observed grimly, coming to stand at the King’s elbow.  “Would it not be better to take them now?”

Thranduil sighed.  “To be perfectly frank,” he said, “I would prefer to avoid the fuss and bother, at least until morning.  If we take them, we will have to march them back to the caverns, question them, possibly find somewhere to secure them, and the night will be wasted.  The wood is quiet and the weather is fair; they will keep until morning.”

Another few hours of good food, heady wine, and lively music was enough to help many of them forget the incident, but Thranduil could not quite dismiss it.  He tried to put it out of mind, but the thought of fourteen Dwarves roaming at will through his domain was like the scratching of a hidden thorn, uncomfortable and persistent.  

Noruvion and Anárion sidled up to him, seemingly intent upon lightening his mood.  “I hear Captain Tauriel has been distinguishing herself,” Anárion said, nodding toward her as she led Legolas, Bregonsúl, Calenmir, and several other captains and scouts in a haunting soldier’s song in the old silvan language.  

“She has proven very passionate in the pursuit of her chosen profession,” Thranduil said.  “I must admit that her competence has exceeded my expectations.”

“Have you told her that, my lord?” Noruvion asked pointedly.  “I suspect it would mean a great deal to her if you did.  She is driven less by a thirst for vengeance than by a desire for your approval.”

Thranduil frowned.  “Tauriel knows I value her service.”

“Yes, but I suspect it is not only as the King that she wishes to please you,” Noruvion persisted.  “The child will naturally want to emulate the father.   The poor girl never knew her father.  She tried walking my path for a time, but now it seems she is determined to follow you.”

“I am not her father,” Thranduil insisted firmly.

Noruvion scoffed silently.  “You became a father to her the moment you cut her free of her mother’s body,” he said.  “I doubt even her true parents would begrudge you that.”

“We have all seen how you have guided her progress,” Anárion said with a gentle smile, “aware of her at every turn, yet pretending impartiality.  You need not pretend any more, Thranduil.  Fate gave her to you, the same way it did us.  We, the broken things of this world, are drawn to one another.  And she loves you.”

Thranduil continued staring blankly ahead, broadsided by the sudden emotion they had dredged out of him.  It seemed the wine was making them all a bit more honest than he liked.  He had been denying it even to himself for a long time, but they were right.  He saw her standing beside Legolas amidst their fellows, and he realized he already considered them a pair, the son of his blood and the daughter the Wood had borne him.  Was he doing her a disservice by maintaining the decorous distance between them?

Another disturbance rippled through the company, interrupting everything as another crowd of displaced revelers entered the glade.  Thranduil rumbled irritably and stood up at once.  “Was it the Dwarves again?” he demanded. 

“They sent the young one to put us off our guard, but they were all lying in ambush,” an irate soldier explained.  “We did not give them battle, as we had heard was your wish, sire, but they are proving to be extraordinarily troublesome!”

“So they are,” Thranduil agreed.  “Come, pass the night here with us.”

The music began again, but there was a distinct tension in the air now.  Thranduil closed his eyes and sighed deeply, knowing how heavily his temper could influence the assembly.  He was determined to salvage what they could of the night regardless of how disrupted it had been, but the likelihood of success was growing thinner by the moment.  He could feel the dark things of the forest beginning to stir, roused by all the upset.  

Making the best of the situation, Lady Gwaelin’s son Calenmir borrowed her harp and struck up a tune which everyone immediately recognized.  It was a somber ballad which recounted the struggles of life in Mirkwood, but it was punctuated with a defiant and extraordinarily vulgar chorus directed toward the Lord of Dol Guldur which was immensely satisfying to sing.  It was the sort of thing one would never hear in Imladris.

It perfectly suited the disposition of the crowd at that moment, and they gladly joined him in several verses, adding the improvised accompaniment of drums made of upturned bowls and whatever else was ready to hand.  The rude choruses grew louder and more belligerent with each repetition until at last even the King and his lords had joined them, gladly telling Gorthaur exactly where he could put his scheme to conquer the Galennath.  

Then everything abruptly stilled in a single drawn moment as a Dwarf stepped into the glade.

Thranduil extinguished every fire and torch with a single pulse, and he angrily blasted the ash and cinders at the intruders, making it abundantly clear that they were not welcome.  The glade was cleared immediately, everyone grabbing what they could carry and fleeing into the wilds, leaving the Dwarves hollering at each other in darkness and confusion.

They had not gone far when Thranduil brusquely called a halt, though they lit no torches.  After a moment of silent discernment, he could tell there would be at least one more challenge to meet.  “The spiders are roused,” he said.  “Ladies, return north at once.  Soldiers to me!  We must subdue the vermin before we rest.”  

The crowd split at once, the noncombatants returning to the caverns while everyone else gathered into impromptu formations around the King.  None of them was without a weapon, but they were unarmored and ill-prepared for a battle.  Nonetheless, Thranduil tore the elaborate mantle off his shoulders and drew his sword from its jeweled sheath.  “Legolas, Tauriel, Anárion,” he said, “each of you take a company and follow me.  Form a cordon to the east, north, and west.  I do not want them any nearer our borders tonight.”

Forming themselves into a loose semicircle beneath the trees, the Galennath rushed forward behind their King.  The spiders had indeed left their strongholds, but instead of a hapless band of travelers they met only angry Elves.  The slaughter went on for some time, beyond the dawn and into the morning.  By mid-day the beasts finally recognized a bad business and turned tail, but Thranduil gave chase even unto the black trees where they had been spawned.  The force of his wrath shook the vast webs which shrouded the forest, warning every spider young and old that the King would not tolerate any further trespassing.  If they valued their lives, they would remain in the south and keep quiet.  He demanded their assent.  Slowly, begrudgingly, they gave it.

Momentarily satisfied, Thranduil grunted and turned his back, beginning the long march home. 

It would be a journey of several hours on foot through the dim and dreary expanse of Mirkwood.  Thranduil kept his thoughts to himself for a time, letting his anger gradually burn itself out.  In its place was left merely a keen annoyance at the complete derangement of the festival.  He was not especially weary even after the battle, but he had expected to be pleasantly inebriated by now and asleep in his bed.  Instead they were trudging through the brush with no breakfast, dirtied with spider’s filth and clinging webs.  He sighed irritably to himself as he remembered they still had wandering Dwarves to collect before the day’s work was done.

A cry went up when they had at last drawn near the festival glade.  Thranduil thrust his way forward through the gathering crowd to see what the fuss was about.  There on the ground lay the Dwarf who had disturbed them, still lost in an enchanted sleep.

“He is fortunate the spiders did not take him,” Legolas observed with a frown.

“Yes, he is,” Thranduil agreed.  “I suppose we cannot simply leave him to their predations.  Bind his hands.”

Two long branches were cut and lashed together to make a crude sledge on which they could drag him back to the caverns.  Considering how disruptive those Dwarves had already been, Thranduil decided to not lift the enchantment until they were safely within the palace gates.  “Legolas, Tauriel,” he said, accepting the great sword and scabbard taken from their prisoner, “find the rest of them.  I want them all accounted for.”

“Yes, my lord.”

It was still a considerable distance to the caverns, and darkness was falling again as they arrived.  Thranduil stormed through his gates in his irredeemably filthy festal garb, his patience thin and his temper short.  The others followed as swiftly as they might, burdened with their prisoner.  The King pointed to the floor as the gates swung closed behind them, indicating that they lay him down.  “He has ridden far enough,” Thranduil said.  “Let his own legs carry him from here.”

The sleeping Dwarf did not stir as they pulled him off the sledge, laid him on the ground and loosed his bonds.  Thranduil looked him over with a critical eye.  There was just enough indication of rank on him to suggest he was a person of some consequence, but otherwise he looked little better than a beggar, and was equipped like one.  

He had already touched many disgusting things that day, so Thranduil steeled himself to endure one more.  Crouched beside the Dwarf, he lay his hand on the other’s face and prepared to break the spell.  The Dwarvish mind was a foreign place to him, and such intimate contact was not pleasant, but he did finally succeed in discovering the root of the dreams.  Thranduil broke through them, but even unconscious the Dwarf was not inclined to follow him or heed his directions.  Instead it was the Dwarf’s own revulsion at being so closely compromised by an Elf that brought him back into the waking world. 

Thranduil stood again and resumed a haughty distance as the Dwarf staggered to his feet with a venomous glare.  He took in his surroundings like a furtive animal, and then drew himself up with sullen self-importance.

“I gather you are the leader of that rabble of Dwarves wandering wild in my domain,” Thranduil began.  

The Dwarf gave no answer, simply stood there like a surly adolescent.

Thranduil drew a measured breath and grasped at the last shreds of his patience, piqued by the audacity and ingratitude of their uninvited guest.  “What is your name?” he asked, choosing to be inescapably direct.  “Who and what do you claim to be?”

Still the Dwarf refused to oblige him with an answer, obviously determined to be difficult, as immovable as stone.

“Clearly you are an imbecile, whatever else you may be,” Thranduil snapped,  “wandering through the wilds of Mirkwood without provisions or proper weapons.  You are indeed fortunate to have reached our borders with your life.”

The Dwarf grunted.  “My name is my own,” he said, finally condescending to speak.  “I do not share it with many, and certainly not with my enemies.”

“If you wish to be an enemy, we will continue to treat you as such,” Thranduil said.  “Why did you and your company three times attack my people at their merrymaking?”

“We did not attack them,” the Dwarf insisted, resentful of the implication.  “We came to beg, because we were starving.”

“Where are your companions now,” Thranduil asked, “and what are they doing?”

“I cannot say, but I imagine they are starving in the forest.”

Thranduil bit his tongue and strove to maintain an even tone.  “You all seem very ill-prepared.  What were you doing in Mirkwood?”

“Looking for food and drink, because we were starving.” 

“But why did you enter the forest at all?” Thranduil demanded, his patience at an end.  

The Dwarf hesitated and became surlier than ever.  Plainly he thought his business a great secret, and had no intention of divulging it.

“Very well,” Thranduil said with a gesture to his guard.  “Take him away and secure him until he feels inclined to tell the truth, even if he waits a hundred years.  When he has learned respect, I will hear him.”

The Dwarf was bound again and led away, though he spat at Thranduil in passing.  Perhaps his aim would have been truer had he been better fed, but the insult was taken regardless.  Thranduil knew he should have been cold to it, but once again it was the callous ingratitude that rankled him.  What had he done but provide a serviceable road, quell the marauding of the spiders, rescue the Dwarf from starvation, lift his enchantment, and ask only a few judicious questions in return?  How did that merit being spat upon?  Thranduil was always aware of the high regard of his own people, but he appreciated it all the more when he was confronted with the contempt of strangers.  

“Thranduil,” Lord Anárion said, dragging him out of his own thoughts, “what is that in your hand?”  He looked as though he had seen a ghost.

Too preoccupied to notice before, Thranduil finally examined the prisoner’s sword.  “Apparently it is an extremely fine blade,” he observed, surprised by the quality.  It was obviously of Elvish make, and he noted the mode of the runes on the hilt.  “And a very old one.”

Anárion moved to take it, but restrained himself.  “May I?” he asked, deathly pale and plainly rather shaken.

Thranduil obliged, perturbed by the change in him.  Anárion took the sword carefully and examined the inscriptions.  Then he drew the blade, keen and bright in the lamplight.  “This is Orcrist,” he said at last, “forged in Gondolin for the royal house of Turgon.  I never expected to see it again.”

Thranduil looked at the sword with greater appreciation.  “I wonder that it came into the possession of a wandering Dwarf,” he said.  Then he remembered Thrór’s hoard and Melian’s brooch, and he frowned.  “But they acquire forgotten treasures from many unsavory sources, so perhaps it is no wonder at all.”

“Is it true that the blades of the Gondolindrim shine blue at the approach of Orcs?” Calenmir asked, intrigued.

“We saw a few that did during the Last Alliance,” Thranduil told his nephew.  “I cannot say whether this one will.”

“It should,” Anárion assured them.  “Imparting that quality was a closely guarded secret of the mightiest smiths in the Hidden City, and this was one of their masterworks.”  He sheathed the sword and returned it to Thranduil.  “Keep it well, my lord.”

“I shall,” Thranduil said, handling the weapon with new respect.  “In these uncertain times, I expect we shall have need of it.”

Regarding the the Elves' party music:

- The lords' ballad was inspired by The Battle of Sauron and Finrod Felegund as performed by Clamavi De Profundis.
- Linhir's song is set to the tune of Toss a Coin to Your Witcher from the Witcher Netflix series. It was catchy. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
- For the flavor of Calenmir's unprintable song, see another selection from the show, Whoreson Prison Blues.

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