Story Downloaded from Open Scrolls Archive (http://www.openscrolls.net)

Title: Interrupted Journeys: Part Two--Journeys Perforce (#1286)
Author: ellisk
Chapters: 15

Archive: Tolkien
Category: Lord of the Rings
Description: As we look back on the journey of our life, certain moments stand out as ones that defined the course of that journey. At the time, we rarely recognize their significance, but at the end of the journey they become clear. These are the incidents that defined the lives of Thranduil Oropherion and Legolas Thranduilion throughout the Third and Fourth Ages as they contemplate their life together from the shores of Valinor. Part Two: Journeys Perforce--Set between TA 950 and 1050, this story explores how Thranduil came to the decision to move his people north. A decision that tests the loyalty of many. (Now complete--The series will continue in Interrupted Journeys: Part Three-- Journeys Begin) 2005 MEFA 2nd Place Winner (Drama: Mirkwood) 2006 Mithril Finalist (Action/Adventure)
Published: 25 Sep 2004
Updated: 17 Dec 2004
Warnings: Battle violence
Type: Drama
Characters: Thranduil; Elrond ; Galadriel ; Celeborn ; wizards


Chapter 1 - Stirrings

AN: This is a continuation of a series of stories titled Interrupted Journeys. It should not be necessary to read the first part of the series, New Journeys, to understand this story, though you might understand the characters a bit better if you did. The series as a whole covers a lot of ground: Thranduil's first years as king, his decision to move his people north to the stronghold (this story), the birth of Legolas and his youth all the way to their journeys to Valinor in the Fourth Age. Some parts may be more interesting to some people than others. This part is mostly drama. There are some battle scenes.

The series is entirely written and I will be posting the chapters of this portion every other day or so.

Any Sindarin used is translated at the end of each chapter. I am not an elf so if you see something incorrect please tell me and I will fix it.

I hope you enjoy this part of Interrupted Journeys.

********

Eryn Galen

TA 954

For 954 years of the Third Age Thranduil had ruled the Woodland Realm and under his leadership the people prospered. The healthy forest provided good hunting and sundry other foodstuffs such as nuts and berries and fruits. What the villages did not have, they traded for in an ordered fashion amongst themselves and even the woodsmen. The trees sang contented songs for they were protected by well-organized warriors and tended by increasingly skilled foresters. The elves were merry and peaceful and their numbers again began to increase, recovering from the terrible losses of the War against Sauron. It had been a struggle for the new king to wrest the forest and his people back from the despair they had suffered when he returned from Mordor with so few of their original numbers. But he had succeeded. He could finally say that this forest was everything it should be—green and bright and happy. And most importantly, peaceful.

*~*~*

Thranduil boarded the boat that would carry him from Lorien north to Greenwood. He was always happy to return home from any travel. He loved his forest and worried about it when he was away despite the fact that he fully trusted his steward, mother, brother and council to rule it satisfactorily in his stead. With a troubled frown, he watched his wife saying her tearful farewells to her parents in the dawn light. It hurt him to know how much she missed her family and friends in Lorien. It was only for her that he suffered these trips. Thranduil had done enough traveling in his life. If he never stepped another foot outside his capital, that would suit him just fine. But he could not deny Lindomiel’s happiness nor did he want her to travel alone. So he went with her as regularly as he could to Lorien to visit her parents and tried not to be too obviously happy to return home.

The king and queen took their seats on the boat and the rowers began to maneuver the craft from its moorings. Thranduil repressed his sigh of relief in deference to the elleth pressed against his side. Not fooled in the slightest, Lindomiel leaned her head against his shoulder with a sad smile.

“I hate leaving Eryn Galen to travel here and I hate leaving here to go back to Eryn Galen,” she whispered quietly enough that no other elven ears could hear her comment over the noise of the strokes of the oars.

Thranduil drew her closer with an arm around her waist. “I know, meleth. I very much wish you did not have to be so far separated from your parents. You know they are welcome to come live in Eryn Galen,” he replied sadly. He did hate seeing her crying as she left her childhood home behind her.

Lindomiel let out a short little laugh. “You know, one day you are going to make that offer to my adar and he is going to accept it. I hope I am there because I want to see the look on your face.” She paused and raised her eyebrows playfully. “The last time I visited with the woodsmen, I heard one of them saying that his father died suddenly of a weak heart after a terrible shock. I wonder if similar things can happen to elves.”

Thranduil’s eyes crinkled and she felt his body shake with suppressed laughter. “If your adar accepted my invitation to move to my capital that would certainly be a good test of that question, meleth,” he responded softly.

Lindomiel giggled, as Thranduil had intended. He motioned over the side of the boat where schools of silver fish darted about in the water, knowing she would want to see them. She thought they were beautiful. He simply loved watching the delighted expression on her face as they glittered by. Traveling by boat was less exhausting for Lindomiel and faster for the most part but it bored Thranduil out of his mind.

They traveled peacefully until dark. At that point, they hauled to the shore and set up camp on the plain. There was little hunting this close to the river unless they were lucky enough to find a marsh rabbit. But it mattered very little—those silver fish that Lindomiel liked to watch were quite tasty and very plentiful. The guards were well on their way to creating quite a feast and the pungent smell of fish was making Thranduil very ready to eat when he saw the perimeter guard on the east side of the camp tense and focus intently on the grass.

The guards and rowers around the camp fell silent, watching him. Lindomiel, who was sitting by the fire with the guards and singing a silly song to entertain them, quieted as well and her eyes sought out Thranduil. The king stood. Conuiön and Tureden, the captain and lieutenant of his guard flanked him, standing shoulder to shoulder in front of him as he faced east, studying the grass himself. After a moment, Lindomiel saw Thranduil, Conuiön and Tureden reach for their bows and string them, while at the same time the perimeter guard dropped to a low stance. Fish now burning over the fire, the rest of the guards in the center of the camp reached for their own bows, squinting into the darkness. One of them kicked out the fire and extinguished the other torches in the camp. Conuiön turned to face the guards, snapped his fingers for attention and began signaling the positions he wanted them to take. The last of this series of gestures pointed to Lindomiel, a guard and the river.

That guard, Galuauth, took Lindomiel’s arm and began to pull her to the riverbank. The queen had many skills, but fighting was not one of them. She could hunt adequately but all the guards knew that she had never seen a battle. They had very specific commands from the king that she should never see one.

“What is out there?” Lindomiel whispered to Galuauth. He was the newest member of the king’s guard, not much older than Lindomiel.

He shook his head and shrugged, signaled for her to be silent and continued to pull her towards one of the boats.

Suddenly, a volley of arrows could be heard singing through the air from the darkness. Lindomiel could not repress a squeal as she saw the perimeter guard jerk back violently. The rest of the guards crouched and moved quickly, taking up the positions Conuiön had ordered them to behind anything that offered cover or simply falling to lie flat on the ground. Lindomiel saw Thranduil, flanked by his guards drop and return fire as Galuauth dragged her into the boat.

“No,” she began to protest, not wanting to leave Thranduil, but Galuauth’s hand clamped firmly over her mouth.

“Be silent, your majesty. You do not want to call attention to yourself. We do not know what we are facing,” he whispered in her ear as he shoved her to lie on the floor of the boat. She drew a frightened breath as she felt the weight of his body cover hers. Soft leather boots scuffled on the floor of the boat and splashed tiny droplets of water on her face as two rowers climbed aboard the boat after shoving it from the shore.

Pinned beneath the guard, Lindomiel now could only hear the sounds of battle. Arrows flew, striking targets with thuds, swords clanged together and screams marked when either weapon drove home. Elves yelled commands—Lindomiel heard Conuiön and Tureden directing the guards and her heart raced. She did not hear Thranduil. But most frightening of all were the inhuman cries of whatever it was that attacked them. Lindomiel had never heard such a terrifying noise.

Without warning, the boat lurched to one side. Lindomiel screamed and reflexively threw her weight to the side of the boat that now rose dangerously out of the water, reaching for the side to try and steady it. Galuauth grabbed her wrist with one hand and forced her down again but not before she saw the reason the boat had tilted—one of the rowers lay half in the boat, half in the water with an arrow in his shoulder. Galuauth grabbed his belt and pulled him in the boat. He collapsed inches from Lindomiel’s face where she was pressed against the floor of the boat by the weight of Galuauth’s body.

Arrows began to fly over them.

Lindomiel felt Galuauth tense sharply. “No matter what happens, do not, under any circumstances, raise up or try to push me off you. Keep me between you and the shore. They will not come in the water. Stay in the boat and keep out of sight. Do not go back to shore until Conuiön or Tureden signal that it is safe. Do you understand?” Galuauth whispered in a strained voice, speaking into her ear. She felt his breath against her hair.

Lindomiel heard arrows hit the side of the boat and felt Galuauth jerk in reaction. She tensed as well but did not respond.

“Do you understand?” he repeated, urgently.

She nodded. “Who are they?” she whispered.

“Orcs,” he replied.

Lindomiel’s eyes widened in horror and she froze.

The sound of arrows thudding against the side of the boat or hissing over them made Lindomiel flinch each time one did. She stared with wide eyes at the rower on the floor of the boat next to her. Blood ran from his shoulder to the indentation made in the floor by the keel. There it pooled. The other rower, now crouched down in the boat as low as possible, continued to try to propel them further into the river. Lindomiel marveled at his bravery and tried not to think about the fact that the guard lying on top of her was tense and trembling. She knew he was young but his reaction did nothing to calm her. She closed her eyes and held her breath.

The number of arrows hitting the boat appeared to be lessening. Lindomiel took a deep breath and tried to calm herself enough to determine if the sounds of the battle on the shore were diminishing or if the rower had finally moved them out of range of the orcs’ archers. She heard very little.

“Galuauth,” she whispered.

He did not answer.

“Galuauth,” she said, this time in a stronger voice. “Is it over?”

She realized the boat was drifting in the current.

Lindomiel shifted as much as Galuauth allowed her and looked at the other rower. She gasped. He had an arrow in his neck and blood covered the front of his tunic. His eyes stared emptily in front of him. Lindomiel clamped a hand over her mouth to stifle the scream that rose to her throat. She had never seen anyone dead before this moment.

“Galuauth, for pity’s sake. He is dead. Is it over? Can we do something to help the other rower before he dies too?” she whispered desperately, turning her head to meet the pain filled eyes of the other rower on the floor with her.

He drew a shuddering breath. “Galuauth is not going to answer you, my lady. Be still. When all is safe on the shore, there will be a signal. Listen for it.”

Lindomiel stared at the rower for a moment, realization dawning. Then with a little, involuntary shriek, she dragged herself from underneath Galuauth. She did not know whether to be relieved or horrified when he moaned softly from the shift in position as she freed herself from his weight. Raising up slightly on one elbow, Lindomiel looked at the guard lying next to her—several arrows protruded through the side of the boat an into various places on his body. Again she covered her mouth with her hand, eyes flying open wide. She drew herself to a seated position on the floor of the boat and began to inspect Galuauth’s wounds, swallowing back the bile rising in her throat at the sight of the blood and torn flesh.

A rough but weak hand grasped her shoulder.

“Get back down. It will not do any good that he dies if you get yourself shot now. Wait for the signal to return to the shore,” the rower gasped out.

Lindomiel ducked reflexively at that sharply delivered order and her eyes turned to the shore.

“I do not see anyone there. I only see bodies.” Then her breathing came to her hard. “Valar, I do not see a person standing!” she exclaimed, panic claiming her voice.

“Then get down.”

Lindomiel looked at the rower. “We have to help them. We have to help Galuauth. You need help,” she whispered fearfully.

“You are not going to be any help to anyone if you go back to that shore and get yourself captured by orcs. Do you know what orcs would do to you? Remember what Galuauth said—stay in the boat. If no signal comes from the shore by sunrise, take up the oars and go back downstream to Lorien and get help there. Do not go ashore yourself until you get to Lorien. Promise me, my lady.”

Liindomiel stared at him. Movement in the dark at the shore caught her eye and she threw herself to the floor of the boat instinctively.

She heard elven voices…Sindarin, being spoken rapidly. Lindomiel raised her head to peek cautiously over the side. In the darkness, she saw elves running about the camp. She looked at them, searching. Finally from the depths of darkness in the eastern side of the camp, Lindomiel saw her husband’s golden hair. She drew a sharp breath to call to him but then silenced herself not certain if it was yet safe to call attention to herself or him. Eyes level with the side of the boat, she watched as he strode into the camp, comforted by the fact that he was still flanked by Conuiön and Tureden. He issued several orders that caused guards to move rapidly. Then she saw him look about fearfully. One of the guards pointed to the water and his eyes darted towards the river. Lindomiel sat up fully in the boat and saw Thranduil sag with relief. Without a sound, he waded out into the water, Conuiön and Tureden on his heels.

Lindomiel frowned and reached for an oar, taking one from the dead hands of the rower. Lindomiel whimpered slightly, beginning to feel the terror she had been holding off claim her. With shaking hands, she paddled the boat closer to the shore.

“Are you injured, Lindomiel?” she heard Thranduil call, still wading into the water.

She looked at him across the twenty or so feet of water that still separated them. He was chest deep. She shook her head. “Stay there, Thranduil,” she called, applying more effort to the paddle. When he could reach the boat, he grabbed its bow and pulled it towards him. His eyes widened seeing the sight in the boat—the dead rower and the injured guard and rower.

“Valar, Lindomiel,” he whispered looking up at her. He frowned severely at her expression. She was clearly terrified. With a strong tug, he propelled the boat towards the shoreline. When he was close enough to the bank to carry her without dragging her through the water, he wordlessly lifted her from the boat and carried her back to the shore. From there he led her directly to the tent they had set up earlier. Walking through the camp, over the bloodied ground and past the bodies of the dead or dying orcs, Lindomiel heard Tureden calling for help to treat Galuauth and the injured rower.

*~*~*

Thranduil’s brother, Aradunnon, sat amongst his friends in the courtyard of the capital city laughing himself silly. He served as the troop commander in Greenwood and had recently returned from a routine visit with his officers on the Western border. Now he was catching up on the news in the capital. As they commonly did, elves in the city were gathered in various parts of the public courtyard singing and dancing and talking—enjoying the pleasant spring evening. A little gaming took place on one side of the courtyard while a little drinking took place in another. The guards that were off duty and entertaining themselves hoped that Aradunnon would break out some Dorwinion as he occasionally did.

Unfortunately for them, Aradunnon’s focus was not on wine but rather a group of ellyth singing on the opposite side of the courtyard. The three friends with him did not even concern themselves with the fact that he was talking to them while looking at the maidens. There was nothing unusual about that.

“Which one has your eye this week, Aradunnon?” Dollion teased in a lull in the conversation. Dollion was the captain of the city guards in the capital. He and Aradunnon worked closely together and had been friends since they were both elflings.

Aradunnon smirked. “It is hard to chose from that particular group, is it not?” he quipped, not taking his eyes from the maidens.

Dollion laughed in response. Colloth, Aradunnon’s guard, just shook his head. He was all too familiar with the prince’s dalliances. The last member of their group, Haradon scowled in mock-disapproval. He had been a guard in Greenwood since before Oropher had come across the Misty Mountains. He was happily married and found Aradunnon’s attitude nothing short of astonishing. Amusing, but astonishing.

“You will never learn, Aradunnon. And any lady that might be truly interested in you will only put up with your behavior for so long.” This warning was issued in a fairly serious tone that made Aradunnon look back at his friends.

He smiled indulgently. “If you are referring to Amoneth,” he replied airily, “she understands that I am dedicated to her.” He paused and his tone became teasing. “I am merely enjoying the lovely sights around me. How can I help but do that?”

Everyone knew that Amoneth, one of the Queen’s friends, was the maiden that Aradunnon truly favored. He had pursued her since Thranduil and Lindomiel were wed nearly one thousand years ago. She clearly cared for him as well but it was equally obvious to all that she could not abide Aradunnon’s flirtatious personality.

Dollion’s eyes widened in amusement. “Does she understand that?” he asked, voice rising slightly in pitch. “Is that why she would not even speak to you during the New Year’s Festival?”

Aradunnon frowned. “That was weeks ago. We have settled that,” he said dismissively.

Colloth shook his head again. “You are a fool, Aradunnon,” he said softly in an amused voice.

Aradunnon raised his eyebrows and turned an annoyed look at his guard. “I beg your pardon, Colloth?”

Colloth loosed a short laugh. “You are a fool, my lord. Does that make it sound better to you? You are still a fool. Amoneth is a wonderful maiden and she has tolerated more than she deserves from you for longer than I would have ever imagined she would. If she gives up and chooses someone else, you will only have yourself to blame.”

Aradunnon stared at his guard a moment in obvious disbelief before Dollion and Haradon burst into laughter at his expression. “Do not even try to deny he is right, Aradunnon. And while you are staring at ladies this night, you may want to take a look towards the ladies by the Great Hall,” Haradon choked out, still laughing.

Aradunnon scowled at him but did turn his eyes reflexively towards the Great Hall. There he saw Amoneth and her friend Gwedhieth. They were sitting on the stairs of the Hall and talking in what appeared to be a fairly intimate fashion to two ellyn. Aradunnon’s scowl deepened. That reaction only made his three friends laugh harder.

“Excuse me,” Aradunnon said quietly, standing and moving off towards the Great Hall. With a wry glance to Dollion and Haradon, Colloth followed his charge across the courtyard to the Great Hall, maintaining a professional façade with difficulty.

As the prince approached Amoneth and Gwedhieth, he saw Hallion, Thranduil’s steward, doing the same. Hallion reached them first and Aradunnon raised his eyebrows when, at a word from the steward, the two ellyn departed. The ladies were alone with Hallion when Aradunnon and Colloth finally reached them. Hallion motioned them all into the Great Hall.

“I just had a messenger from Thranduil’s traveling party,” he began with no preamble when the doors to the Hall closed behind them. “They will return tonight. With wounded.” He paused. “And dead.”

Aradunnon, Amoneth, Gwedhieth and Colloth looked at each other with wide eyes.

*~*~*

The next morning, Thranduil sat in his office with Hallion, his uncle Engwe and Aradunnon. Engwe served Thranduil’s ruling council as an advisor on military strategy and logistics. Aradunnon was the realm’s troop commander. It was to them that Thranduil would turn for an explanation of the attack he had suffered while traveling past the southern part of the forest.

“I want to know how fifty orcs could be so close to the southern border of my forest,” the king said irritably. “Where did they come from?”

Aradunnon glanced at Engwe and then returned his brother’s stare grimly. “It is difficult to say, Thranduil. At the point they attacked you, you were at least eighty, possibly one hundred miles from the mountains. I do not think they came so far from the mountains into the open plain. Besides, the Dimrill Gate is so near to that area. The dwarves would have had them if they had passed so close to the Dimrill Dale.” He paused. “You were only about fifty miles west of Amon Lanc. And we have had some unusual reports in the southern-most villages. Perhaps they came from that area,” he suggested.

The king’s eyebrows climbed. “Are you saying that orcs have taken up residence in my forest, Aradunnon?” Thranduil asked dangerously.

Aradunnon sighed. “You are asking where they came from and I am speculating. I cannot say for certain.”

Thranduil glared at his brother. “I am sorry, Aradunnon, but that will not do. Are your patrols inept? How could fifty orcs be in the southern tip of the forest without being detected?”

Aradunnon exchanged another glance with Engwe. No one liked to deal with Thranduil when he was this angry. But being attacked by fifty orcs did tend to put one out. “No one lives that far south, Thranduil. The patrols only occasionally pass near that area since there is nothing to defend. I will send a group of scouts specifically to the southern tip of the forest to see if they can find any evidence that the orcs came from there. ”

“I want answers to this, Aradunnon. You will lead some scouts to the southern forest. Personally.”

Aradunnon tried to hide his irritation. He knew Thranduil was correct that he should look into this himself. He fully intended to do so though the way he had phrased his response did not reveal that. He was simply disappointed that he would not have time for more pleasant pursuits after spending nearly four weeks on the borders. “As you wish, Thranduil. I will leave tomorrow morning.”

Thranduil nodded. “Be very thorough, Aradunnon. I do not like this one bit.”

*~*~*

Eryn Galen--Greenwood (the name of Mirkwood before it fell under the Shadow. From Eryn=Forest and Calen=Green)

Adar/ada--Father/dad

Elleth/ellyth--Female Elf(s)

Ellon/ellyn--Male Elf(s)

Meleth (nin)--(My) love


Chapter 2 - Darkness crept slowly

AN: Finally have my electricity back so I will be back to posting every few days. Sorry about the delay.

Also, I read in one of the forums that some people don't like it when authors answer reviews using the review function, so out of courtesy, I will avoid doing that (I did it with the first part of this story). Instead I will use PM or I will answer reviews at the end of chapters if I think a review response might be interesting to everyone. I do love reviews though so I want to acknowledge them somehow. Thanks. Back to the story.



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Now of old the name of that forest was Greenwood the Great, and its wide halls and aisles were the haunt of many beasts and of birds of bright song; and there was the realm of King Thranduil under the oak and the beech. But after many years, when well nigh a third of that age of the world had passed, a darkness crept slowly through the wood from the southward, and fear walked there in shadowy glades; fell beasts came hunting, and cruel and evil creatures laid there their snares…. Silmarillion
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Aradunnon and twenty warriors moved slowly through the trees following two scouts. The cool spring air wafted through the branches and the birds sang cheerful tunes, calling for new mates and competing for territory. He could smell the fresh green scent that accompanied spring in the forest—new life.

It was a very deceptive outward appearance.

Despite the apparently pleasant environment, he could not shake an uneasy feeling. Looking at the warriors around him he could tell they were tense as well. Even Colloth, his battle-hardened guard, seemed anxious. His eyes darted as he searched the shadows cast by the trees on the ground. Aradunnon supposed it was natural to feel nervous. They were tracking orcs.

Five days ago they had departed from the southern-most village in Greenwood and worked their way slowly towards Amon Lanc in the southern tip of the forest, carefully scouting and investigating their trail as they went. Aradunnon was horrified when they found evidence of orcs less than three days from that village. As they progressed, they encountered steadily more signs of orcs—tracks, abandoned camps, slaughtered animal carcasses, discarded, broken tools and weaponry, even a dead orc partially picked over by scavengers in the forest. It appeared to have died at the hands of another orc. Today, they were less than a day’s march from the southern-most edge of the forest and they still had not found a living orc or a current orc camp. That was what Aradunnon wanted to find. Finally, after scouting a few hours this morning they discovered fresh prints. This gave Aradunnon hope that he would finally be able to locate the orcs. Thranduil would want numbers and locations.

As they progressed through the forest, Aradunnon frowned, drawing a deep breath. There was more to the way he felt than simply nerves caused by tracking orcs. Along with Thranduil, he captained Oropher’s troops for nearly three millennia. He had fought in Mordor. He was his brother’s troop commander, an experienced warrior and perfectly ready to face a battle with orcs. But he felt distinctly on edge simply sitting in this tree and watching the scouts.

Aradunnon recognized that the mournful songs that the trees sang inspired much of his apprehension. Despite the pleasant spring setting, they clearly lamented some loss. They were frightened. And that, Aradunnon could not explain. Even the presence of a few hundred orcs should not produce such a reaction amongst the trees.

These thoughts occupied his mind as Aradunnon became aware that more sunlight was streaming through the thinning branches—they had reached the edge of the forest. First the scouts and then the elven warriors in front of him stopped dead, mouths open slightly in obvious shock as they approached the tree line. Behind them, Aradunnon and Colloth glanced at one another and rushed forward. Suddenly the reason for the trees’ doleful song was all too apparent.

Nearly a mile back from where the dark, stony slopes of Amon Lanc rose sharply towards the sky, the trees of the forest had been cut and cleared. Many of the ones nearest the edge that were still standing were damaged, likely beyond their ability to survive. The grass that had tried to grow in the newly cleared land had been trampled into the mud by the feet of orcs. The area immediately surrounding Amon Lanc was a barren, muddy wasteland with the hill itself in its center. Amon Lanc had always appeared ominous to Aradunnon—a treeless, bare, black mass of rocks, it was the highest peak in the southern forest. Somehow, it now seemed to be shrouded in an almost unnatural gloom.

‘Undoubtedly, that is the affect of exposing even more black, stony earth,’ Aradunnon thought as he looked with utter disgust at the destruction around him.

He had been born when Oropher and his people lived near Amon Lanc. His childhood memories involved playing in the trees and grass that once stood where he now only saw devastation. Along with his fellow warriors, Aradunnon gaped at the desolate land. His breath came to him with surprising difficulty and a vaguely sick feeling settled in his gut.

“These orcs should be very glad it is I and not Thranduil here to see this,” Aradunnon said softly for Colloth’s ears only. “I will only kill them. Thranduil might have tried to think of something worse to do to them for this damage to his forest.”

The guard nodded solemnly. “Do not rejoice to quickly,” he replied dryly. “You are going to have to send a message back to him. Given the amount of damage, there are clearly more orcs here than our small party can manage. And you realize if they have done this much clearing that means they have been here for some time and expect to stay here.”

Aradunnon’s eyes narrowed with a hard, cold gleam. “I think they will have to alter their plans.”

“Indeed,” Colloth replied grimly.

As they spoke, Aradunnon signaled for his scouts and two warriors. They came to stand before him and he looked at their slightly paler than normal faces sympathetically. He completely understood how they were feeling.

“Given the tracks we have been following, I would not have guessed we were going to find more than twenty orcs.” He looked at the scouts. “I will be the first to admit my scouting skills are not the best but I assume you will agree with me that it took more than twenty orcs to do this?” he asked somewhat sardonically.

They snorted bitterly. “Yes, captain. I think you can safely say that even before we do more scouting,” Pathon replied disgustedly.

Ostarndor nodded. “Looking at the ground that we can see from here, I would guess no less than one hundred orcs,” he added softly, obviously not wanting to believe his own words.

Aradunnon’s mouth quirked downward slightly and he turned to the two warriors. “Go back to the capital as swiftly as possible. Tell the king we found the orcs and I need more warriors to eliminate them.” He paused, considering for a moment. “Simply tell him we estimate one hundred orcs and tell him I want no less than one hundred warriors because I am not certain of my numbers. He will decide exactly how many troops to send me. Lead them back here yourselves.”

The warriors sketched a quick salute and left, disappearing silently into the trees. Aradunnon turned back to the scouts. “Before those warriors arrive, I want to know exactly what we are facing. Go find out for me.”

Pathon and Ostarndor nodded grimly and moved in the opposite direction of the messengers, towards Amon Lanc. While it was light, they had a much better chance of approaching the rocky slopes where the orcs likely hid without being detected. Even if the orcs had placed sentries, their eyes were poor enough in the light that an elven scout could avoid detection amongst the scattered rocks.

Finally, Aradunnon faced the rest of his warriors. “We cannot camp this close. They will be swarming through here once night falls. Sidhion, take some of the others with you and find a suitable place to camp. They rest of us will stay here and watch over the scouts, just in case.”

Having done all he could for the moment, Aradunnon settled against the trunk of a grieving tree and tensely watched his scouts pick their way across the desolate slope leading to Amon Lanc. In his mind, he saw his childhood friends merrily running towards the hill for an adventure in the hot summer’s sun, his father’s admonition to be careful echoing in his ear as he followed them. Aradunnon shook his head and tried to escape the feeling of foreboding that was creeping over him.

*~*~*

Several days later, Thranduil sat in his office listening as Hallion finished summarizing the details of the information Golwon would need when he traveled to a village in the northwestern forest. He departed tomorrow to settle a trade dispute. For what must have been the millionth time, Thranduil silently thanked the Valar that Hallion had survived the war against Sauron. He knew Oropher completely trusted and heavily relied upon his steward. Over the last millennium, Thranduil had come to thoroughly understand that confidence. Hallion knew Greenwood every bit as well as Thranduil did. He recalled the minutiae associated with trade agreements, ancient laws, troop orders, finances…. Thranduil laughed to himself as Hallion listed the elves Golwon would need to speak to during his trip and what each was responsible for. Hallion could probably list the leader of each individual village in the forest and locate each of those villages on a map. Thranduil was not entirely certain he could do the same. Hallion was simply invaluable.

“I believe that is everything associated with the trade dispute, my lord,” Hallion finally said, turning to Thranduil.

The king smiled at his steward. Hallion returned the smile automatically but with a curious light in his eyes, clearly not understanding his king’s expression. Thranduil laughed lightly at that and turned his mind back to the business at hand. “I also wanted to discuss finances and weaponry today. Do you have the figures I asked for, Celonhael?”

Celonhael nodded. “I do, my lord,” he replied and began to summarize the exact contents of the realm’s treasury. He had been a little surprised when asked to prepare such an accounting. Normally Thranduil was satisfied with an assurance that there were both enough supplies and funds to provide for times of emergency.

When Celonhael finished, Thranduil frowned slightly, clearly not entirely pleased with the report, but he nodded. Then he turned to Engwe. “Do you have the information I wanted about troop provisions?”

“I do,” he replied, handing Thranduil a piece of parchment.

Thranduil glanced over it quickly and then looked back at his uncle. “So a little over half the warriors have swords in each patrol?” the king summarized, making sure he had understood the report correctly.

Engwe nodded. “Except your guards. They are all armed with swords,” he confirmed.

Thranduil looked at the figures in both reports coolly. “That is simply not satisfactory. Purchase more ore. I want to work towards arming the entire army with swords.”

Engwe’s eyebrows went up slightly. “Thranduil, you have nearly doubled the size of the standing army over the last millennium. And we had little in the way of metal weaponry to begin with. It may not be possible to equip an army the size you have built with swords given the funds we have.”

Celonhael nodded in agreement, looking at Thranduil with some concern. “My lord, if we continue to spend without replacing funds…” he began meaningfully.

Thranduil looked back at him evenly. “You always have my permission to find ways to raise revenue any time you wish to pursue such an endeavor, Celonhael.”

Everyone grimaced slightly at that, including Celonhael. Thranduil clearly was not going to be moved from this decision.

Dieneryn, Thranduil’s mother and also a member of his council, understood his determination and she thought Engwe probably did as well. But she sincerely doubted Celonhael and Golwon did. “May I ask why this renewed interest in weaponry?” she asked softly. “I thought you had decided that you were satisfied with the manner in which the army is equipped.”

“The orcs Aradunnon is investigating changed my mind,” Thranduil replied, looking evenly at his mother.

“You do not believe that attack was simply a hunting party or traveling party from the mountains?” Golwon asked.

Thranduil’s expression grew cold. “I think fifty orcs that close to my forest was a threat. I will be very surprised if Aradunnon comes back saying he found nothing in the south. Indeed, I strongly feel that there is more of a danger here than we have seen and I want to be ready for what he finds. Regardless, it is wise to properly arm and train the warriors.”

“Then I will spend several days researching what we might sell and to whom in order to raise funds,” Celonhael responded dryly.

“And I think I had better plan a way to train these warriors to use the swords you will provide. They do not need them if they cannot use them,” Engwe interjected.

Thranduil nodded in acknowledgement of that. “Please do look into finding more people who could provide training and a way to bring all the warriors through at least some rudimentary training.”

Engwe nodded. “I will put some ideas together for you by the end of the week.”

Thranduil looked at Hallion and the steward glanced at the parchment in front of him. “I think that is all, my lord,” he said quietly.

Thranduil stood, raising his council to their feet. “I will see you all at dinner then,” he said. Celonhael, Golwon and Engwe bowed briefly and departed, chatting amongst themselves. Hallion subtly blocked Thranduil’s departure.

Again, the king smiled. “You have something you wish to say to me, Hallion?” he asked, knowing perfectly well the answer would be affirmative. Hallion looked at the king somewhat nervously and Thranduil grew more serious. “I would not be surprised if you did not agree with the decision to spend so much on weaponry, Hallion, but you appear much more upset than I expected.”

Hallion’s expression became contrite. “Forgive me if I have given you that impression, my lord. On the contrary, I strongly agree with this decision.” He paused and looked at Thranduil seriously. “But I do wish to discuss it more with you. I think that we waste funds purchasing ore, transporting it here and forging the swords ourselves—and we only produce low quality swords for all the expense and effort since our smiths have no great skill…” He paused and drew a long breath. “I believe for only slightly more gold, we could have much higher quality swords with much less effort.”

Thranduil’s eyebrows went up. “How?” he asked simply.

“Dwarves would charge us little more for finished products than we spend for raw materials and transportation. And dwarven swords are much higher quality, my lord.”

Thranduil stared at Hallion for a moment aware that his mother was doing the same. “You are suggesting that I deal with dwarves to buy weapons?” Thranduil asked quietly.

“I believe it would be a wiser way to spend our funds than making the swords ourselves, my lord.”

Thranduil blinked. Dealing with dwarves would never have occurred to him. Suddenly he laughed shortly, imagining how his father would have reacted to such a suggestion. No wonder Hallion looked nervous. Before he could reply, his mother spoke.

“Would you honestly trust such dealings, Hallion?” Dieneryn asked, trying to hide her astonishment that Hallion would suggest such a thing.

Hallion looked at her evenly. “I would want to see the products before I paid for them. But I think it is worth investigating, at least.”

Thranduil studied Hallion silently for a moment. He had no fond memories of dwarves but he knew Hallion did not either and he did trust his steward’s judgment. Finally Thranduil responded in a soft voice. “Then you may investigate it. Obtain a sample of products and prices for me. I will consider it but I need a good deal more information first.” He fixed Hallion with a stern look. “I am promising nothing except a willingness to look at the information you gather.”

Hallion was pleased even with that cautious response. “I will send someone to Hadhodrond, my lord.”

Thranduil shook his head ruefully. “Send anyone you like as long as it is not me. Who can we think of that has angered me enough to send them off on an errand to Hadhodrond?” he joked.

Hallion and Dieneryn laughed lightly at that. Then Dieneryn looked at her son mischievously. “Lindomiel would probably enjoy going. She would love to meet a dwarf,” she offered, trying to keep a straight face.

Thranduil eyes flashed to his mother. “If you mention to Lindomiel that I need someone to negotiate with dwarves, I will…” Thranduil hesitated as he struggled to think of a threat that was frightening enough.

Dieneryn and Hallion laughed again, this time more heartily. Dieneryn put an arm around her son’s shoulders. “I would not dream of mentioning the dwarves to Lindomiel, ion nin,” she reassured him, still laughing.

Thranduil smirked at his mother. “That is good, nana,” he replied airily. Dieneryn raised her eyebrows in anticipation. From Thranduil’s expression, she could tell he had found his threat. “If Lindomiel forced me to send her on such an expedition, I would have to send you along as well to help her, I think.”

Dieneryn gave Thranduil a look that unmistakably communicated that she knew he would not dare try. “There are some orders that you cannot expect me to obey, Thranduil. That would most certainly be one of them. I will never find myself in the presence of a dwarf again,” she said wryly.

Thranduil simply returned his mother’s glare serenely, pleased with the reaction his joke had produced.

Hallion had listened to this interchange silently, but with broad smile, as he gathered up the parchment and ledgers they had referenced during their meeting to store them. As he was finishing, the guard at the office door entered the room.

“My lord, one of the warriors that went south with Lord Aradunnon has brought a message from him,” he announced.

Thranduil glanced at Hallion and Dieneryn and they sat back down at the meeting table. “Send him in,” he said quietly.

*~*~*

Lindomiel and her friend, Amoneth, guided their horses along the riverbank, talking quietly while returning to the stables after their afternoon ride. When Amoneth stayed in Greenwood rather than returning to Lorien after Lindomiel's marriage to Thranduil, the queen was very thankful. She had made many friends in her husband’s realm, but she and Amoneth had been like sisters their entire lives. It was wonderful to have such a close friend and confidant living with her in Greenwood. Of course Lindomiel assumed Amoneth stayed for slightly selfish reasons as well. She knew her friend was attracted to Aradunnon. The prince was the topic of their current conversation.

“And then, after all that, when he saw me talking to Pendil, he came practically running over to chase him off. You should have seen the look on Pendil’s face when Prince Aradunnon charged down on him. After Aradunnon spent the entire evening with his friends staring at the maidens dancing with the minstrels. Staring, Lindomiel. It was truly unbecoming behavior,” Amoneth concluded with a disgusted tone.

Lindomiel struggled not to laugh. She had been listening to her friend’s dramatically delivered description of Aradunnon’s recent annoying behavior for most of the ride. It was quite amusing for a number of reasons. For example, Amoneth had obviously been staring at Aradunnon to know that he had been watching the maidens all night. Lindomiel thought it might be unwise at the moment to point out that it was even more unbecoming behavior on the part of a maiden to stare as Amoneth had been doing. Her friend and her brother-in-law had been dancing this dance for a very long time. The fact that Amoneth still participated showed how truly in love she was with Aradunnon. But Lindomiel was privately of the opinion that Amoneth was largely to blame for the fact that they were not yet betrothed. She seemed somewhat possessive to Lindomiel. Amoneth had always been that way—very demanding of her friends’ time and attention. And Aradunnon was simply to free-spirited to submit to any sort of restrictions. As she had many times before, Lindomiel tried to gently defend her brother-in-law’s behavior.

“But he did notice you were talking with Pendil. And he did become jealous,” she reminded her friend.

Amoneth blew out a dramatic sigh. “I know that he notices me. I do not want him to be jealous. I want him to make a choice. Does he truly care for me or does he not?” The anger fell from her face, leaving only sadness in its place. “I really do not understand him, Lindomiel,” she concluded softly.

“I know,” she replied gently. “But you love him, do you not?”

Amoneth frowned. “You know I do,” she whispered.

“And you know he loves you? He has told you this? You can see it in his eyes?”

Amoneth sighed again. “He has told me that he loves me. I think I have seen it in his eyes. But how many of the maidens that he flirts with hear the same thing?”

“Do you really think my brother-in-law is such a rogue that he casually tells every maiden that he loves her?” Lindomiel admonished softly.

Amoneth’s brow knit together. “I would not put anything past him,” she said bitterly. Lindomiel could tell the bitterness was caused by pain, not anger.

“Talk to him again when he comes back from the south,” Lindomiel suggested. “Tell him very plainly how he is hurting you, Amoneth. I do not believe he would behave thusly if he knew it hurt you.”

“I told him before the New Year, Lindomiel. He went almost a week before he began chasing maidens again.”

Lindomiel sighed softly. “Is it possible that he is not chasing maidens, Amoneth, but rather simply enjoying their company? One can admire at the beauty of a rose without cutting the bloom. Perhaps you should ask him why he ‘chases’ after all these maidens. You may find he is not chasing them at all.”

“I do not care why he does it. I do not like that he does. I am not comfortable with it.”

“That, my friend, is your problem. Not his. He is entitled to be friends with whomever he wishes.”

Amoneth turned her head and stared at Lindomiel, snorting loudly. “I doubt you would sing the same tune if Thranduil looked at the ladies in the court as Aradunnon does.”

Lindomiel smiled. “Thranduil looks occasionally. And ladies definitely look at him.” She laughed. “Ellyth occasionally but you should see how the women from the Mannish villages react to him! The last time we went to one of the villages in the east, a woman literally fainted looking at him.” Lindomiel smiled at the memory. “It was quite funny, really. Thranduil was so shocked.” She sobered slightly. “But do you think I worry about such things? Of course not. Thranduil may look at whomever he likes for all I care. I know the strength of our bond. I know the strength of his love for me. You need to determine if Aradunnon truly loves you. If he does, then trust that. He is a flirt. But he is a very honorable elf.”

Amoneth looked away. “It is so much easier said than done.”

“I know, Amoneth. But you must talk to him. That will help.”

“I will.”

As they approached the stable yard, Lindomiel and Amoneth’s eyes widened. Thranduil, along with nearly all of his personal guard and a good portion of the city guards, were preparing to mount their horses. Lindomiel’s eyes widened even further as she studied her husband. Instead of the soft, richly colored and embroidered formal robes that she was most accustomed to seeing him wearing, Thranduil was dressed in a very simple tunic and leggings of earth tones. He wore sturdy leather vambraces and carried his bow, sword and several daggers that she could see. As he turned to speak to one of the warriors with him, Lindomiel saw his expression—it was dark and dangerous.

Urging her horse forward, she cantered over to him and dismounted quickly to speak to him. “Thranduil, what is happening?” she asked in a concerned voice.

She watched as, with effort, he softened his expression somewhat. He took her hand and led her a few feet to the side, indicating for Amoneth to follow. In the relative private next the wall surrounding the stable yard, Thranduil looked at his wife with concern as he finally answered her question.

“I sent one of the guards to find you so I could speak to you before I left but you seem to have found me first. I am taking these warriors and some more that we will meet from the Western Patrol to Amon Lanc. Aradunnon has found the source of the orcs that attacked us on our return from Lorien. We are going to eliminate them.”

Lindomiel and Amoneth glanced at one another. “You are leading these elves to battle?” Lindomiel asked somewhat incredulously. They had been married nearly a millennium and she had seen Aradunnon lead troops to manage certain situations, but the king himself had never led a war party. She found that surprisingly difficult to hear.

Thranduil nodded. “Yes, Lindomiel. This is a more serious situation than I expected and I want to join Aradunnon in dealing with it. I feel the need to see it for myself,” he responded softly.

Lindomiel looked at Thranduil anxiously for a moment, aware of the presence of the warriors that awaited him. She glanced at them briefly and then turned her eyes back to her husband.

“Be careful, Thranduil,” she finally said in a quiet voice studying his face. It was all she really could say in such a public setting.

Despite her outward calm, Thranduil felt her fear through their bond. He frowned and took her hand in his, bringing it to his lips. “I will, my lady. We will be back as soon as possible,” he replied in as reassuring a voice as possible.

Lindomiel simply nodded, saying nothing else, but her eyes did not leave him. Thranduil brushed his hand against her cheek before leaning forward to kiss her lightly. “I will be fine,” he whispered as he pulled back. “I have fought in many battles much larger than this one will be.”

Lindomiel looked at the elves waiting for their king and watching this interchange. Drawing a quiet breath she looked down and then back at Thranduil with a neutral expression. “I have no doubt you will dispatch the orcs. I will simply miss you while you are gone.”

Thranduil smiled at his wife’s brave front. Kissing her again, this time on the cheek, he turned and mounted his horse. Lindomiel and Amoneth watched silently as Thranduil nodded one more time to them and called for the warriors around him to ride south. Then, still with an impassive expression, Lindomiel left her horse with the grooms and walked back to the Royal Chambers. She knew in her mind that Thranduil was an experienced warrior but she was utterly amazed at how uneasy she felt nonetheless.

*~*~*

Ion nin--My son

Elleth/ellyth--Female Elf(s)

Hadhodrond--the canonical elvish name for Khazad-dûm and an attempt to render the dwarvish name to elvish sounds. Khazad-dûm did not become known as Moria—the Black Pit—until TA 1980, when the dwarves accidentally unleashed Durin’s Bane, the Balrog of Morgoth.


Chapter 3 - It would rise again

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A long peace followed in which the numbers of the Silvan Elves grew again; but they were unquiet and anxious, feeling the change of the world that the Third Age would bring…. But there was in Thranduil's heart a still deeper shadow. He had seen the horror of Mordor and could not forget it. If ever he looked south its memory dimmed the light of the Sun, and though he knew that it was now broken and deserted and under the vigilance of the Kings of Men, fear spoke in his heart that it was not conquered forever: it would arise again. Unfinished Tales
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Thranduil maneuvered his horse carefully, winding silently through the thick trees at the front of the column of warriors that he led to Amon Lanc. His golden-silver hair and richly embroidered dark green cloak were the only physical signs that distinguished him from the elves behind him but his regal bearing alone unmistakably marked him as their king. He cut an imposing presence on his large, chestnut war stallion. The elves that followed him were secure in the knowledge that their king was a formidable warrior and they took comfort in that fact given the disquiet they felt in the forest around them.

Thranduil glanced to his right and his eyes met those of the captain of his personal guard, Conuiön. They shared a look that communicated their dismay. Conuiön drew a deep breath and spoke so that only Thranduil would hear him.

“Do you remember the first time these trees greeted us?” he asked softly.

The king nodded in response, instantly understanding the significance of Conuiön’s words. He remembered. The journey east with Oropher from Lindon to the Misty Mountains had been a long and arduous one. When their small group had finally arrived at the mountains, many despaired at the seemingly insurmountable barrier. Thranduil had not allowed his doubt to be seen, but even he questioned his father’s belief that crossing those mountains was worth whatever might await them on the other side. Thranduil recalled with perfect clarity the moment they crested the highest rise in the pass at Caradhras and he caught his first glimpse of Greenwood the Great on the horizon below them stretching as far as they could see. The sight of the lush, beautiful forest was stunning—literally breathtaking. Even from the mountains, Thranduil could feel the powerful call of its vibrant life. The trees around Amon Lanc were the first creatures to welcome him to what would become his father’s realm. Their warm presence as he and his father first ventured under their protective canopy had filled him with a sense of security and ‘home’ that he had not felt since his childhood in Doriath.

Now these same trees begged for his protection. Their suffering filled Thranduil with grief as their contentment had filled him with hope nearly four millennia ago. The contrast was nearly overwhelming as they rode the last few miles to their destination.

Dusk was falling when Thranduil entered the camp his brother had established several miles from Amon Lanc. There he left his warriors and proceeded himself to seek Aradunnon, knowing without being told that he would be at the forest’s edge. Followed still by Conuiön, Thranduil swiftly covered the distance to the dark hill. As he reached the point where the forest thinned to reveal the tall peak of Amon Lanc, Thranduil saw his brother descend from a tree that was scarred with the bite of axe blades and missing several main limbs. The king was aware of his brother’s approach but his eyes were focused beyond him. Once a fresh, green grove that held mighty oaks and delicate beeches, the cleared land was now a waste of stumps and ruined earth that smelled of mud and the smoke of orcish fires. Thranduil felt icy fingers constrict around his heart at the sight.

After staring silently for several long moments at the desolation before him, Thranduil’s gaze finally shifted to his brother. He had stood with Aradunnon many times in defense of Greenwood but never had either seen such severe damage done to the forest. The king saw the fury that he felt reflected in his brother’s eyes.

Aradunnon had expected this reaction from Thranduil. He merely returned his gaze evenly.

The king looked back at the desolation, shaking his head. The fact that his brother was still consumed by rage after spending over two weeks here confirmed for Thranduil how horrible the situation truly was.

Aradunnon finally broke their silent exchange. “I must admit that I did not expect the king himself to lead the warriors I requested,” he said with a questioning look towards Conuiön.

The guard adopted the bitter look of a sorely lost battle but remained silent. Clearly he did not approve of Thranduil’s presence. Aradunnon’s guard, Colloth, smirked knowingly.

Thranduil raised his eyebrows. “I did not expect a report describing the invasion of my forest by one hundred orcs. Surely you do not think I would sit idly as servants of the Enemy lay claim to that which is mine?”

Aradunnon laughed grimly at that. “I do not. I merely thought Conuiön might have been able to talk some sense into you. For both of us to fight in a battle of this scale is not entirely wise.”

Thranduil snorted. “You, adar and I all fought at Mordor together and those battles were much worse than what we will see here.”

Aradunnon nodded. “If we had not, Eryn Galen might have fallen under new leadership whether or not someone from our House survived the war to be enthralled by the Evil One,” he replied quietly.

Thranduil frowned, eyes wondering involuntarily over the destroyed forest. “This may be the beginning of something that will not be so different,” he replied darkly after a moment. Then he returned his focus back to Aradunnon, adopting a serious attitude. “What do we face? I hope that you have better scouting reports than those that you sent me initially.”

“I do,” Aradunnon replied and motioned for Thranduil to follow him. He led him to a tree where several warriors and scouts sat watching the mountain. Aradunnon called his lead scouts, Pathon and Ostarndor, to join them. When they had, Aradunnon looked at them levelly. “Tell the king what you have found,” he ordered quietly.

Ostarndor looked at Thranduil levelly. “Pathon and I followed their tracks to Amon Lanc. There is a large cave entrance on the northwest slope where they have clearly established a camp—the tracks center around that location; they have spits for cooking set up there; that is where their middens are,” he summarized coolly. “It appears to be a large cave though we could not approach it directly. They have sentries around it.” Ostarndor paused and looked at Aradunnon.

The king did as well. “That cave is our goal then?”

Aradunnon simply nodded at the scouts, signaling them to continue.

“I believe that cave is our main goal, my lord, but there is more—we saw more than the basic requirements for survival around the main cave. They have huge piles of limbs and trunks from the trees they have cleared here. They are using them to construct tools and devices they might use to raise some sort of fortification. We saw a kiln, lifting devices, rollers, scaffolding,” Pathon said.

Before Thranduil could respond to that, Ostarndor’s expression drew the king’s attention. “How well do you remember the territory around Amon Lanc, my lord?” he asked cautiously.

Thranduil frowned slightly. He had been fairly young when Oropher was still settled near Amon Lanc. Ostarndor had already been a leader of the Silvan elves’ few warriors even then. “I remember it fairly well, though undoubtedly not with the level of detail that you would remember, Ostarndor,” he replied.

“How many caves do you remember in the mountain, my lord?”

Thranduil’s frown deepened at that question. He shook his head. “Ten? Aradunnon would remember better than I. It was always he and his friends that ran off for adventures exploring them.” He looked at his brother and his expression lightened slightly, a teasing gleam in his eye.

Aradunnon smiled at him but it was not a pleasant smile. “There were fourteen caves large enough for elflings to play in,” he affirmed.

Pathon leaned forward, looking at the king intensely. “We saw over thirty caves while we were scouting, my lord.”

Thranduil’s eyes widened.

“We explored them as much as we dared. They are interconnected. We believe several of them lead back to the main cave where the orcs camp though we could not go that deep into them. Many were obviously in the process of being dug.”

“They are delving caves and building construction tools?” Thranduil exclaimed incredulously. “You are suggesting that they are building some sort of permanent fortification in this forest?”

Aradunnon only returned his gaze silently.

Thranduil stared at him a moment and then spoke again. “Do you have better counts of their numbers?”

Ardunnon grimaced slightly. “A good count is hard to get. We cannot approach the main cave at night when they are active to confirm it is empty. I can only say for certain that we have accounted for as many as one hundred and seven orcs outside the cave at one time. I would estimate we are dealing with anywhere between one hundred and ten to one hundred and fifty.”

Pathon and Ostarndor nodded. “We think one hundred and fifty is a very generous estimate. Given the tracks around the cave and the amount of waste and hunting, we doubt there are that many,” Pathon stated.

“But they are well armed. Bows, swords, fully armored,” Ostarndor added.

Thranduil scowled and looked at Aradunnon. “So we are going to attack an unknown number of orcs, certainly more than one hundred, that are armed with bows and sheltered in a fortification that we must approach from down slope across an open plain at night?” he summarized.

Aradunnon nodded grimly.

“How did you think that this was different from Dagorlad?” Thranduil asked wryly.

“They have not yet built gates,” Aradunnon replied sardonically.

“Yet,” Thranduil repeated, turning to walk back to the camp and gesturing for Aradunnon to follow. It was time to meet with his captains and devise a battle strategy.

*~*~*

Two days later, Thranduil sat tensely on his stallion in the fading light waiting for the signals that would indicate all his warriors were in position. In front of him, up the slope and near the mountain, orcs were beginning to steadily emerge from the caves. His horse snorted and stamped the ground, sensing the anxiety around him in the songs of the trees, the elves and simply his rider’s stiff posture. Thranduil’s attention focused momentarily on his mount as he whispered calmingly in its twitching ears. Surprise was one of the few advantages they would have in this battle. Thranduil did not want to forfeit it by allowing his stallion to attract attention.

Positioned around Amon Lanc were half of the capital’s guards, half of the Western Patrol, half of the guards that patrolled the Forest Road and most of his personal guards—a total of one hundred and fifty elven warriors. Fifty of this number, mostly from the Western Patrol and the Road’s guards, had horses. All were armed with both bows and swords. All were chosen carefully because they had survived Mordor and were very experienced warriors.

That would be necessary because this would be a difficult fight despite the fact that Thranduil expected he would at least equal if not outnumber the orcs. The most important aspect of the battle would be to attack when the majority of the orcs had emerged from the caves and prevent as many as possible from retreating back into them. If the orcs hid in the caves, pursuing them into such a restricted space would be suicide and an effective siege of the mountain would require many more warriors than Thranduil had in his entire standing army. It was essential to prevent that outcome.

And that was the trick. The elven warriors would have to advance across a very long stretch of open plain, which would not hide their approach. Orcs were notoriously poor tacticians, but even they would easily understand that the best way to defend against a full frontal assault would be to take cover in the caves. Therefore, Thranduil, Aradunnon and their captains had decided on a battle plan that took place in several stages that they hoped would leave a good number of the orcs exposed outside the caves.

Positioned on the northern slope of the mountain directly in front of the main cave opening, Thranduil and the twenty-five warriors with him heard the owl hoots to the east and west flanks that signified Aradunnon’s troops were in position. As the signals sounded, twenty or so of the orcs that had been gathering for the last few moments outside the cave began to meander off across the rocky plain towards the forest, taking the path the elven scouts had watched them take every night. They were hunters, leaving the orcish camp to obtain game in the woods. Thranduil felt his blood heat at the sight of them lumbering over the tree stumps and into the forest. Eyes narrowed, jaw clenched and hand tightly gripping his bow, Thranduil found it amazingly difficult to refrain from firing on them himself. But that was not his part in this battle. Shortly after they disappeared into the trees, the king heard another owl hoot and he smiled grimly. There were now twenty less orcs in his forest and the first stage of their plan had been successfully completed.

The king turned his attention to the area around the cave opening as the eyes of twenty-five elves focused on him intensely. Thranduil made a quick count of the orcs outside the cave arriving at a tally of around seventy-five. Along with the twenty already dispatched, that accounted for all but between ten and fifteen of the known orcs. Of course, it left more than fifty in the caves if their estimates had been low. Thranduil could feel the eyes of the warriors waiting anxiously for his signal as he studied the orcs around the cave entrance. None had emerged for what seemed to be an eternity though it had been no more than a few minutes. With a glance to his guards, Conuiön and Tureden, mounted next to him, Thranduil turned his eyes to the twenty-five warriors at his left flank.

“Ready your bows and advance. Wait for my signal to release your arrows,” he ordered, nocking his own bow and urging his horse forward.

The elves moved out of the protective cover of the forest, marching onto the open plain, one row of twelve abreast in the front and one row of thirteen abreast behind. When they had advanced no more than a few dozen paces, Thranduil saw one of the orcs near the cave stand and look out over the plain in their direction, its jaw dropping slightly.

“Release,” Thranduil ordered as the orc called out their approach.

At such a distance, the arrows were not intended to do much damage. If some struck and killed targets, that would be a welcome outcome but their primary goal was to attract attention and enrage the orcs. This small force of elven warriors was not intended to engage the orcs by the cave—it was designed to draw them out. It was bait. Such a small force would hopefully present a tempting target to the orcs.

Confusion appeared to reign in the orc camp as Thranduil ordered the elves to prepare for another volley. Five or six orcs did fall under the initial assault. The rest screeched and scattered under the rain of arrows, grabbing weapons, searching for the source of the attack and looking for instructions from their leaders. Thranduil ordered his archers to release another round of arrows. By that time, the attention of every orc in the camp was focused on the small force of elves.

With a furious, inarticulate cry, one of the orcs brandished a scimitar and charged the elves. It was quickly pursued by a flood of its comrades. As the orcs swarmed down the slope towards the forest, Thranduil ordered the archers to fire at will. Standing their ground and fighting in a defensive posture, the elves drew the orcs down the field, firing on them as they advanced.

Conuiön and Tureden took up position to guard Thranduil from attack as he counted orcs. The second stage of their battle plan had apparently been fairly successful. Fully fifty orcs rushed pell-mell down the slope at the apparently easy prey. Thranduil could hear a few orcs near the cave yelling in Westron and the Black Speech calling for order but they were summarily ignored by the hot-tempered savages racing down the slope. Thranduil smiled grimly. That lack of discipline would serve him well.

Unfortunately, another twenty-five or so orcs picked up arms but looked hesitantly between the elves and the cave entrance.

When the main force of orcs was half way to their targets and well separated from those remaining by the caves—when clearly no more would be convinced to follow—Thranduil heard Aradunnon sound his signal to the warriors under his command. Fifty mounted elven archers pounded across the plain from the east and west flanks firing arrows and eliciting surprised squeals from the orcs already on the field. Too late, the orcs saw powerful war stallions outnumbering them and cutting them off from their officers and safe retreat. As his brother’s troops closed ranks, Thranduil signaled twenty-five archers still in the forest behind him to come forward. They joined the twenty-five elves that had served as bait. At the same time, the king heard his brother calling the remaining infantry from the flanks and ordering portions of his warriors to join Thranduil’s force against the largest group of orcs and others to join him in pursuing the orcs closest to the caves.

Having divided his enemy’s forces and cut the majority of them off from the possibility of retreat to the caves, the battle became one of simple person-to-person combat. Thranduil and Aradunnon waded into the sea of orcs on their respective sides of the field.

After a moment’s confusion, the orcs that had charged the initial force of elves continued down slope towards the archers and away from the more dangerous warriors on horseback. They ran as swiftly as they could in their full armor, firing arrows as they advanced. The elves now crouched behind boulders and tree stumps, taking cover where they could. As the orcs descended upon them, the elves pummeled them with arrows, thinning their numbers with each volley. By the time the orcs moved too close for the use of bows, the attacking force had been reduced in half while the elves had taken few injuries. Each group shouldered their bows and drew their swords.

Thranduil swiftly ordered the majority of the mounted elves and infantry that had joined him from the flanks to go help Aradunnon’s force attacking the orcs nearest the caves. He only needed enough elves at the orcs’ rear to keep them from retreating. That done, Thranduil drew his sword and finally slaked some of his fury by spilling his enemy’s blood. All the orcs wore helms to protect their head, but few wore aventails or coifs to protect their neck and throat. Therefore, Thranduil aimed his blows at orcish necks as he worked his horse, turning it to angles that offered both he and it maximum protection against the charging orcs.

Thinking they attacked an inferior enemy, the orcs had rushed down the slope in an utterly disorganized fashion. That had cost them and now Thranduil heard orders being issued. The king spoke the Common Tongue perfectly well and understood it when orcs spoke their mutilated dialect of it. He had spent enough time in Mordor to even pick up the meaning of basic commands in the Black Speech. He understood the commands the orcs yelled now and so did most of the elves that fought with them. Thranduil continued issuing his own orders and fighting as he noted from the corner of his eye that his guards were responding to one of the orders the orcs were shouting. As one of only three mounted warriors in this unit and the one obviously commanding it, Thranduil stood out as a valuable target. The orcs were calling on their comrades to focus their efforts on eliminating him.

This was clearly a tactic the king was completely accustomed to having experienced it in every battle in Mordor. When he originally began defending Greenwood with the Silvan elves, Oropher had assigned Conuiön to train him in the ways of warfare. When Thranduil became an officer in his father’s army, Conuiön served to provide him cover so he could focus on command. Thranduil utterly trusted his guards.

But these orcs were desperate. They had fallen into a trap. They were completely surrounded and fighting in close quarters with no possibility to retreat or regroup and plan. They were outnumbered. Their part in this battle was plainly lost. In such a situation, there are two options—surrender or attack. Orcs do not surrender and elves would not offer them quarter.

The orcs raised a screeching cry and charged Thranduil heedlessly as one. Elven warriors around the orcs drove their swords into guts and chests and throats but the orcs in the interior of the group pressed forward, sheltered by their fallen comrades and untouched. The elves pursued them as they closed the distance between themselves and the king. Conuiön and Tureden positioned their horses side by side and in front of Thranduil’s. The orcs tried to split and go to either side of the guards but they were attacked from one flank by the guards and the other by the elves that still pursued them. More orcs fell but five made it past the guards to attack the king. Conuiön and Tureden wheeled their horses and the elves on foot continued their attack. On his command, Thranduil’s well-trained, experienced war stallion raised up on its rear legs, kicking the two leading orcs and caving their helms into their skulls. The horse lowered to all fours, biting the shoulder pauldron of another orc and throwing him backwards into the midst of the elves with a thrust of his powerful neck. Two orcs approached Thranduil on either side. He parried a blow aimed at his calf with his sword as he reached for the dagger in his boot with his other hand. He drove the dagger into the throat of the orc to his left and used the return swing of his sword to slit the throat of the orc on his right.

Suddenly, all Thranduil heard was his horse’s furious snorting and stamping—the sound of swords clanking against armor and squealing orcs had stopped.

The king looked around at the corpses of orcs littering the ground and at the elves waiting for his next order. He drew a deep, calming breath and turned to two of the younger warriors.

“Denoth, Êgalason—the two of you stay here and helped the wounded. Then dispatch any of these orcs that are still alive. Those of you that can still fight, come with me.”

Thranduil dismounted, turning his horse loose, and proceeded on foot up the slope where Aradunnon fought the orcs that had remained nearer the cave entrance.

*~*~*

At Conuiön’s insistence, and much to Colloth’s disgust, Aradunnon had taken command of the unit facing the more dangerous duty in this battle—the one at the cave’s entrance. When Thranduil and Aradunnon devised their battle plan, it was not certain that any of the orcs would take the bait and be drawn from the caves. If they had not—if they had retreated into the caves instead—Aradunnon’s warriors would have charged them and destroyed as many as possible before they fully withdrew into the caves. The mounted archers’ faster speed made them more suited to this task than infantry on foot. Fortunately, that had not been necessary. A large portion of the orcs had fallen for their ruse and Aradunnon’s troops carried out their preferred duty—separating the enemy forces and holding the orcs from retreating away from the archers near the forest. That task accomplished, Aradunnon turned to the more difficult second goal—dealing with the orcs that did not take the bait.

While still hidden in the forest, before sounding his signal to charge, the prince had carefully counted the orcs still outside the cave entrance. Twenty-seven remained there. As the elven warriors emerged from the east and west flanks, those orcs quickly realized they had been tricked and they dove for the safety of the mountain disappearing rapidly into its protective darkness. Immediately upon entering the battlefield, half of Aradunnon’s archers fired arrows on any orcs that remained by the cave entrance. When Aradunnon approached Amon Lanc closely enough to see the area around the cave, nine orcs lay writhing on the ground. Aradunnon scowled. That meant almost twenty had made it into the caves.

“Dismount,” he called to his warriors. The horses had served their purpose and delivered them swiftly to their destination. Now they were loosed to return to the forest. They were no use in the caves.

Aradunnon gestured commands to his warriors and they carefully approached the cave entrance. It was impossible for even elven eyes to see anything in its pitch-black interior. The elves in the starlight were perfectly visible to the orcs. Arrows flew from the cave as Aradunnon’s troops moved closer. They split ranks and flanked the cave entrance, positioning themselves against the mountain so that it would be impossible to fire at them from inside the cave.

On Aradunnon’s signal, one of the elves took several large branches from the fire the orcs had built and hurled them in the cave. Aradunnon and another elf on the opposite side of the entrance poked their heads into cave. Before arrows began to fly at them, Aradunnon got a decent look around. He saw around forty orcs. That made sense given that twenty had made it back inside and ten to fifteen of the known orcs had never appeared that night.

But Aradunnon had caught a glimpse of something else in the cave that had disturbed him—a hole in the back wall opening into another passageway. At least one of the new tunnels they had discovered did lead back to the main cave. Orcs had been filing into the passage. The prince scowled. They were in for a lengthy, bloody battle if he had to pursue orcs through a maze of caves. He signaled for Pathon.

“I know you could not explore all the new passageways. Can you at least tell me which of the openings could not possibly lead back here so that we can concentrate on the ones that might?”

Pathon nodded. “Of the thirty, there were thirteen that led only to a dead end—they were obviously still being excavated. The others I could not swear did not connect back here somehow.”

“How closely grouped are they? Can I guard more than one opening with one set of warriors?”

Pathon considered for a moment. “You probably could guard about half of them that way,” he finally said.

“What about cover for the warriors watching the openings?”

Pathon nodded again. “That is no problem. There are plenty of crevasses in the rocks to take shelter in.”

Aradunnon looked briefly between the large cave opening and his warriors. “Good enough for me,” he said, turning back to Pathon. “You and Ostarndor take enough warriors to put four guards on each cave. Use four guards for more than one opening whenever it is safe to do so. Tell each group to signal if orcs begin emerging from the opening they are guarding and to fire at will. The warriors with me will respond to any signals. Everyone else should hold their positions unless they hear my signal. If they do, then they should respond to it. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then go quickly.”

Colloth frowned at Aradunnon as Pathon gestured for elves to follow him. “What are you doing?” he hissed into the prince’s ear. “It is not wise spread our numbers this thin.”

Aradunnon returned his guard’s gaze evenly. “I know this is risky. But we need to contain these orcs before they double back on us. There is a passage out of the back wall of the cave and they are using it.” Colloth scowled at that. “Just as entering the cave makes us easy targets, if the orcs try to use any of the other exits they will be easy targets if we guard them.”

Colloth looked at Aradunnon appraisingly. “Assuming we know of all the openings,” he added dryly.

The prince nodded. “I grant you that.”

“Why did you leave so many warriors here? If you are doing this, better to have more warriors covering the other entrances.”

Aradunnon’s eyes turned to the pile of limbs and trunks in the camp. “We will join them soon. First I want to make certain the orcs will not use this cave opening again. They have cleared hundreds of trees. I intend to make use of them to encourage our enemy to abandon those caves.”

Colloth raised his eyebrows. “It might work. You better hope it does because the king will roast you over your own bonfire for taking this risk if it does not.”

Aradunnon smirked. “Thranduil and I have different command styles,” he said simply, gesturing for one of the remaining warriors to retrieve more burning wood.

“That much is certain,” Colloth affirmed.

The warrior tossed the burning wood into the dark cave and Aradunnon once again ducked his head around the opening to look inside the cave. As arrows grazed his cheek he saw around ten orcs still inside the cave, bows nocked. As they rushed over to the wood to kick out the fire, Aradunnon leaned fully into the cave and fired off arrows. Colloth distinctly heard two orcs screech before Aradunnon was forced to take cover again.

In the meanwhile, the other warriors had deciphered the prince’s plan. When Aradunnon looked over at them to ask for more firewood, one of the elves already held several pieces. The rest had their bows nocked. Aradunnon smiled and nodded at the elf holding the wood. He threw it in the cave and the elves immediately charged the entrance, firing arrows as they did. Two elves fell but so did three orcs. The remaining warriors closed on each other, drawing swords. Aradunnon ducked under the arrow flying past him and swung his sword in a tight arc. It sliced deep into the thighs of the orc closest to him. The orc howled with pain and staggered back. As Aradunnon followed to deal it a fatal blow, he saw Colloth’s sword drive into the throat of another orc. The elf next to and slightly behind his guard screamed as a scimitar came down upon his shoulder. Colloth glanced at Aradunnon dispatching the orc he was fighting and briefly turned his attention to his fallen comrade. He stabbed the orc poised above the elf in the kidney. The orc convulsed and fell to his knees. Both Aradunnon and Colloth spun around, looking for more orcs but the other elven warriors had already finished them.

Aradunnon quickly assessed the situation. Three of the warriors that had stayed with him had been wounded badly enough that they could no longer fight. Eight remained.

“Ringion, Sidhion, Tawaron—get the wounded to safety and then come back here. Geledhel, Merenon—make sure no orcs come back through that opening,” he said pointing to the back wall. “The rest of you, help me.”

Along with the other warriors, Aradunnon began to drag large limbs from the cleared trees into the cave. They stuffed them deep into the small opening in the back of the cave. When they had blocked the tunnel entirely, Aradunnon threw burning wood onto the pile. Slowly, the rest of the wood caught and began to burn. Aradunnon picked up an orc shield and used it to fan the flames and smoke into the passageway.

“Stay here and keep this burning. Fan the smoke into the tunnel,” he ordered, directing himself to Geledhel and Merenon. “The rest of us are going to join the others guarding the remaining cave entrances and set more fires.”

Aradunnon and the warriors with him took more limbs and approached the nearest cave. Working swiftly, they filled several more openings with cleared wood and set it on fire. The acrid smell of smoke began to waft out of several other cave openings as they did. Finally Aradunnon heard what he had been waiting for—a signal from one of the groups of guards.

The prince ran nimbly over the rocks in the direction of the call, bow nocked and followed by six warriors. When he crested a peak on the slope he was crossing, Aradunnon’s eyes flew open. He saw four elven warriors above a cave opening. Orcs were emerging from the mountain under them—they were pouring out, followed by black smoke. Instead of the forty orcs Aradunnon had expected, there were easily one hundred of them.

*~*~*

Thranduil was surprised at the silence on the battlefield when his warriors had finally dispatched all the orcs that had been drawn from the cave. He would have expected to hear fighting from his brother’s position nearer the mountain. But all was quiet. As he cautiously ascended the slope, the king was very surprised to see no elven warriors at all. The area around the orc camp was deserted.

Thranduil’s heart began to race. Aradunnon took more risks than his much more conservative brother, but Thranduil could not believe Aradunnon would be so reckless as to direct his troops into the caves to follow the orcs. Such an action would be suicide, especially given that they had no reconnaissance inside the main cave. He approached the cave entrance silently from an angle protected by the side of the mountain. When they reached the opening, Thranduil frowned and looked at his guards. The smell of smoke was almost overwhelming. Conuiön and Tureden peeked around the cave wall and found themselves facing elven arrows. Both they and Geledhel and Merenon froze momentarily. Then Geledhel and Merenon relaxed and lowered their bows, stepping out of the cave. They stank of smoke.

“What is going on here?” Thranduil demanded, an openly confused expression on his face.

Geledhel gestured back into the cave. It was filled with smoke and the sounds of a roaring fire could be heard in its depths. “Lord Aradunnon is forcing them out of the caves,” he explained. “We are making sure no orcs return to the main cave.”

Thranduil snorted. “There seems to be little possibility of that,” he said pulling his cloak over his mouth. “I think you had better come away from the cave before you suffocate.”

Merenon looked sheepishly at the king. “We had retreated outside the cave, my lord. But we heard someone approaching and we thought it best to be cautious since there are only two of us.”

Thranduil frowned at the implication of that thought. “Where is everyone else?” he asked.

“Split up and guarding the other caves. Lord Aradunnon is setting more fires.”

Thranduil scowled and then turned his attention to the warriors with him. “You five,” he said gesturing to five warriors. “Stay here. The rest of you come with me.” He intended to lead his warriors to reinforce his brother’s.

As he was speaking, the signal that his brother used sounded three times. Geledhel and Merenon picked up their weapons and made to respond. Thranduil looked at them questioningly. “Lord Aradunnon’s orders were to hold our positions unless he signaled,” Geledhel explained, looking at the king with concern.

“Move,” Thranduil ordered simply. Something about his brother’s signal had sounded panicked and he had a suddenly very uneasy feeling. Thranduil set out swiftly across the slope in the direction of Aradunnon’s call.


Chapter 4 - They knew not how great was their peril

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It was the Shadow of Sauron and the sign of his return. For coming out of the wastes of the East he took up his abode in the south of the forest, and slowly he grew and took shape there again; in a dark hill he made his dwelling and wrought there his sorcery, and all folk feared the Sorcerer of Dol Guldur, and yet they knew not at first how great was their peril. Silmarillion
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Lindomiel sat in the talan nestled in the crown of the tallest tree in the capital. She and Thranduil watched the sunrise together in this talan every morning. Tonight, she watched the stars alone. Or at least that was what people assumed their queen was doing. In truth, she was listening to the forest. The evening song of the trees and birds seemed unsettled to her and she was trying to determine if that was truly the case or simply the product of her own nervousness.

Lindomiel was shaken from her reflections by the sound of someone climbing up the rope ladder. She was sufficiently edgy that her hand went automatically to the dagger hidden in the bodice of her dress before she realized her visitors were her friend, Amoneth, and Thranduil’s mother, Dieneryn. Forcing herself to relax, Lindomiel waited for them to ascend the ladder.

When Dieneryn reached the platform, she smiled concernedly at her daughter-in-law and settled herself on a cushion next to her. Amoneth did the same. It was Dieneryn that spoke first. “It does no good to hide yourself, my dear. Better to share your worries so we can help you dismiss them.” Lindomiel remained silent with a slightly confused expression on her face so Dieneryn continued. “Surely you know that I am familiar with the fear you are feeling,” she added softly.

Lindomiel winced slightly and looked away. “I know you are all too familiar with the fear I feel at the idea of Thranduil in battle,” she replied sadly and shook her head. “I cannot imagine how you must have suffered seeing your husband and sons go to Mordor and I pray I never experience such a thing with Thranduil and our children. But that is not truly why I am here. I hope no one else has that impression. If they do, perhaps we should go join the games by the Great Hall.”

Dieneryn raised her eyebrows slightly. “No, pen neth, I do not think you are fostering any undue nervousness amongst the populace simply by star-gazing. Amoneth told me you were up here and since she and I were discussing our concerns for Thranduil and Aradunnon, we thought we would look for you as well.”

Lindomiel nodded, still not looking at either lady. “I know Thranduil is fine. I can tell he is…tense, but nothing more,” she said firmly.

Dieneryn smiled. “Are you trying to convince us or yourself, pen neth?” she asked gently.

Lindomiel grinned at her mother-in-law, looking at her sidelong. “Neither. I sincerely know he is uninjured now and that might change at any moment. I do not deny I am worried. How could I not be? But I do take comfort in the fact that he is unharmed as yet.”

Amoneth looked at Lindomiel sadly. “I very much wish I had the same assurance with Aradunnon.”

Dieneryn frowned slightly at Amoneth. “I would know if anything was seriously wrong with my son, Amoneth. I told you he is fine. He is this realm’s troop commander. He spends a good deal of time in battle and he is a very capable warrior. Try to believe in that.”

This was clearly a statement Dieneryn had repeated several times that evening. Her tone revealed irritation. Amoneth was also obviously frustrated.

“This is a much more serious fight if Thranduil is taking part in it as well,” Amoneth countered, still obviously troubled. Her voice was slightly whiny.

Lindomiel’s brow knit. “Indeed it is, Amoneth. I do not recall Thranduil ever mentioning one hundred orcs in the forest before.”

“Thranduil and Aradunnon should not be involved in such battles,” Amoneth declared, now openly petulant.

Lindomiel looked at Amoneth harshly. “Thranduil is the king, Amoneth. Aradunnon is a prince and the king’s troop commander. They rule this kingdom. It is their place to defend it. You complain when Aradunnon goes to the borders for a routine duty. You need to learn to accept Aradunnon for who and what he is.”

This statement was brusquely delivered and caused Amoneth’s eyes to widen dramatically.

Lindomiel looked down. “Forgive me, Amoneth,” she said quietly. “I am worried about Thranduil and that has made me a little snappy, obviously.”

Dieneryn put her arm around Lindomiel, drawing her closer. “It is normal to be concerned, Lindomiel. And difficult to do as good a job of concealing it as you have. We can only wait. At least this battle will not go on for seven years.”

*~*~*

As Thranduil and the warriors with him climbed over the rocky slopes of Amon Lanc, he saw other groups of warriors doing the same, abandoning the cave entrances they had been guarding to respond to Aradunnon’s signal. Thick, black smoke oozed from these openings. Thranduil laughed despite the seriousness of the situation. Aradunnon had clearly been most enthusiastic setting fires to drive out the orcs. Amon Lanc was smoking like Orodriun. Then he frowned at that thought. It was not a funny comparison.

Finally, Thranduil crested a ridge and immediately understood the cause of the anxiety he felt. Aradunnon stood over one of the cave entrances shouting positioning orders to troops as they arrived. Around him, elven warriors disbursed as he commanded, attacking the orcs below them as they rushed out of the smoking caves. There had to be nearly one hundred orcs in front of the cave and more were still running out. Thranduil’s eyes darted automatically over the battlefield, assessing the situation.

Aradunnon and his warriors were all in relatively protected positions above the orcs and were firing down on them from where they emerged. Many of the orcs were overcome with smoke. They simply staggered out of the cave blinded and choking. They were easy kills. Others were equally affected but had the presence of mind to press themselves against the mountain as they escaped it to make themselves poorer targets for the archers above.

Aradunnon appeared to have around fifty elves distributed amongst the crevasses so he was outnumbered at least two-to-one—still decent odds against orcs assuming not too many more emerged from the mountain. Thranduil guessed that his brother’s conservative tactic—keeping the warriors on the mountain rather than having them engage the orcs directly—was a result of the fear that more orcs might surface. Conservative but successful—Thranduil saw at least fifty corpses already on the ground around the cave opening.

Looking more closely at the quivers the elves wore, Thranduil realized they would not be able to continue this course of action much longer. They were running out of arrows. Additionally, a large number of orcs had recovered from the smoke and were beginning to organize. Thranduil saw Aradunnon glancing around at his warriors and the orcs, drawing the same conclusion. Thranduil called a signal to his brother and began to order the warriors with him to positions on the slope knowing they still had arrows. He saw his brother look up at him, spotting his green cloak amongst the bare rocks. Aradunnon smiled with unconcealed relief before turning his focus back to the battle.

As Thranduil’s warriors joined the battle, a mass of orcs that had recovered from the smoke began to spring into action. Nearly fifty of them charged up the slope, clamoring over the rocks towards the closest elves directly above the cave entrance—Aradunnon, Colloth and the four warriors originally guarding this cave. The elves began to release arrows upon them with no hope of stopping them all.

Thranduil scanned the battlefield swiftly for warriors in a position to attack those orcs. “Sidhion, Tawaron, Gelehel,” he shouted to a group positioned in front of him and clearly able to make the necessary shots. “To the east coming up the mountain—stop them.”

Thranduil saw the three warriors turn their bows in the direction ordered as he took aim himself. Orcs began to scream and fall back as arrows rained down upon them. Still, thirty made it up the slope to engage the elves. As Aradunnon, Colloth and the four warriors shouldered their bows and drew their swords, Thranduil tensed. Five to one were not good odds but he could no longer do anything to improve them. The orcs were too close to Aradunnon and his warriors for the elven archers to continue safely firing upon them. Since there was nothing else he could do to aid his brother in that fight, he divided his attention between watching Aradunnon’s progress and directing the rest of the battle.

Aradunnon and the warriors around him met the attack coolly. They automatically formed two groups of three and fought as a unit rather than an enraged, disorganized mass like the orcs. The first orc to make it to their position charged Aradunnon directly head on, scimitar raised. Aradunnon swung his sword in a tight arc. The force of his blow cut through the orc’s poor quality mail and sliced a deep gash across its midsection. Blood spurted forth as the orc fell to his knees, clutching the entrails that spilled from the wound. Aradunnon’s follow through luckily turned the blow of the next orc to attack him. Turning to face him properly, Aradunnon reversed the direction of his swing and drove his sword down into the orc’s chest, feeling bone crush as he did. This orc fell as well, dragging Aradunnon’s sword down with him. He planted his foot on the orc’s gut and pulled his sword free while ducking below the attack of an orc on his left. Using the momentum from jerking his sword free, Aradunnon aimed a hacking, low swing to that orc’s legs, removing one at the knee. The orc screeched but Aradunnon had no time to notice. The next orc was before him, bringing his sword down upon the prince with both hands. Aradunnon side stepped him while bringing his own sword up burying it into the orc’s gut.

As he dispatched that orc, Aradunnon heard a cry to his left. Glancing over involuntarily, he saw Dollion, captain of the capital guards and his long time friend, collapsing backwards, an arrow in his shoulder. The orc closest to him had a surprised but viciously gleeful expression on his face as he raised his scimitar. Instinctively, Aradunnon leapt over the rock separating them to deflect the blow brought down on his friend.

At that same moment, also responding to Dollion’s cry, Thranduil directed several elven archers to eliminate the orcs at the bottom of the slope that had shot his captain. Unlike elves, the orcs did not hesitate to shoot into a tight group of elves and orcs. They did not care if they shot some of their own as long as they killed elves too. As Thranduil issued his order, his eyes shifted from the orcs at the bottom of the slope to the sword fight a short distance away. Aradunnon had managed to turn the blade of the orc attacking Dollion but his sword was now extended in front of him and driven down by the force of the orc’s blow. Thranduil’s eyes widened. Another orc, taking advantage of Aradunnon’s vulnerable posture, swung a blow at his neck. Thranduil watched as if in slow motion as the orc’s blade sliced through the air. Aradunnon could not pull his own sword free and raise it in time to deflect the blow. He leaned back to dodge the blade but Thranduil could tell it would not be enough. Just as the scimitar was about to make contact, Colloth’s blade drove it downward. Thranduil suddenly realized that he had a clear shot to the orc attacking his brother. In a swift movement, he nocked and loosed an arrow. At the same time, he heard another arrow whistle by his ear. He glanced sharply around and saw his guard, Tureden, watching the fight as well. He shot the orc that originally attacked Dollion while Thranduil’s shot eliminated the one that attacked Aradunnon.

Thranduil turned back to looked at his brother. Colloth was standing over him and Thranduil could see he was clutching his leg. Keen elven eyes detected blood seeping between Aradunnon’s fingers. Colloth had deflected the orc’s blow but it had still fallen across Aradunnon’s thigh as the blade was knocked downwards. It was clearly not a mortal wound. With an effort, Thranduil forced his attention back to the overall battle.

The archers Thranduil had brought into the battle, had nearly dispatched the orcs struggling to breath as they emerged from the caves. The elves with Aradunnon had managed to destroy the orcs that had recovered enough to fight. As the last of the choking orcs fell to elven arrows, Thranduil suddenly realized there were no more targets to direct the warriors to attack. Instead an eerie silence again reigned over the battlefield. The king took one more careful look around him before he directed his attention to Aradunnon. He frowned. His brother had propped himself into a standing position against a rock, hand still tightly gripping his leg, and he was also assessing the battlefield. Thranduil climbed over the rocks to join his brother.

“How bad is your leg?” he asked with concern as he approached him.

“It is fine,” he responded dismissively. Then he frowned at Thranduil’s scowl. “We are not done yet. Now is not the time to worry about minor wounds,” he continued resolutely.

Thranduil could not argue that the battle was not concluded but he did not think Aradunnon should be concerned with that until someone could see to his leg. Regardless of Thranduil’s wishes, Aradunnon had been a captain in his father’s army and was his brother’s troop commander. He was not to be easily deterred from his duty. Before Thranduil could protest, Aradunnon was motioning for his scouts and three of his lieutenants to join him.

He spoke to his officers first. “Each of you take five warriors with you and go check the other cave entrances. Make sure there are no more orcs lurking around anywhere. Stay hidden against the mountain and signal if you see anything.”

They nodded and scurried off across the rocks signaling to their troops.

Then Aradunnon looked at Pathon and Ostarndor. “Go make sure there are no fresh tracks around the other cave entrances. I want to know if any orcs fled from other openings while we were concentrated here.”

The scouts also nodded and moved off.

Thranduil looked at Aradunnon with concern at the orders he had given the scouts. “I hate to suggest it, but someone is going to have to go inside the caves and make sure we have them all out,” he said softly.

Aradunnon scowled. “Let us concentrate on cleaning up the mess we already have before we add to it,” he replied firmly. Then he turned to several of the warriors nearest him. “Go down there and kill the orcs that still live. Then retrieve as many arrows as you can salvage in case we find more orcs.” As those elves moved down the slope, Aradunnon called one more warrior to his side. “Go find out how many wounded we have and make sure everyone is accounted for and that the wounded are being treated.”

The warrior smiled at him. “Shall I begin with your wound, sir?” he asked knowingly.

Aradunnon smirked. “I assure you, Colloth and the king are only waiting for some privacy to ‘treat’ me. I am certain they will see to me very thoroughly in just a moment,” he responded in a joking tone. Thranduil could still see the pain etched around his eyes and hear the strain in his voice.

The warrior exchanged a sympathetic look with Colloth and then sketched a brief salute before moving off to carry out his orders.

Finally, Aradunnon turned cautiously, weight on his good leg, and looked about him. Black smoke was still billowing from the cave entrances. He eyed it warily, clearly considering how to handle the caves.

But Thranduil had seen enough for the moment. He shook his head in a gesture intended to forestall any further action on the part of his brother. “Sit down on that rock Aradunnon,” Thranduil ordered in a tone that brooked no argument, pointing to the rock in question. “Tureden, find Geledhel. Tell him to take command and inform him of the orders Aradunnon has already issued. Colloth, help Dollion. I will see to Aradunnon’s injury myself.” He looked at his brother sternly, “And then Colloth is going to take you to safety with the other wounded. You are finished here. You are an excellent captain but I also am perfectly capable of commanding my own warriors, muindor nin.”

Aradunnon frowned but did not have the ability to resist as Thranduil pushed him down on the rock behind him. He collapsed against it, biting back a moan.

Thranduil looked at his brother with concern, drawing his knife to cut a hole in Aradunnon’s leggings to expose the wound and grimacing as he did. It was deep, cutting muscle. Accepting the healing kit with a needle, suture and herbs that Conuiön tossed to him, Thranduil looked wryly at his brother.

“You will not be walking on this for a while,” he said softly.

Aradunnon scowled. “Especially if you stitch it. I remember the last time you stitched one of my wounds. It is only by the grace of the Valar that I have the use of my arm,” he joked, voice tight as Thranduil cleaned the wound.

Thranduil laughed. “Keep it up, Aradunnon. We will see how many stitches I can put in.” He glanced at the arrow tip that Colloth had just extracted from Dollion’s shoulder and tossed aside. “We are lucky the orcs did not expect our attack. At least none of their arrows or swords are poisoned,” he commented.

“Lucky,” Aradunnon repeated sarcastically, drawing his breath sharply as Thranduil placed the first stitch.

Thranduil only shook his head and focused his attention on completing his task as quickly as possible.

By the time he was done, Aradunnon’s breathing was ragged. “How is it that the wound always hurts more after it has been treated than before?” he joked weakly

Thranduil looked at him sympathetically. “I know, muindor nin,” he said softly. “But I am extremely hesitant to give you a sleeping draught until we are certain we have cleared the orcs. Even with this injury you could defend yourself somewhat. You could not if you are asleep.”

Aradunnon was shaking his head. “I do not want anything. I hate being drugged.”

Thranduil laughed lightly. “I do too. But I also hate seeing you in pain.”

“It was worth it,” Aradunnon replied quietly, leaning his head back against the rock and closing his eyes.

Thranduil frowned, and looked at Dollion. “I admire your dedication to your warriors, Aradunnon. And I am certain that Dollion is grateful for your actions and so am I. Dollion is a very valuable officer. But you are as well. To me.”
Aradunnon lifted his head and smiled at Thranduil tiredly. “Helping Dollion was automatic, Thranduil. An instinct.” His head fell back against the rock again. “I meant that this wound is worth it if it we have succeeded in driving these vile orcs from my realm.”

Thranduil laughed again. “Indeed. Tomorrow we will leave Geledhel in charge here to see after any final duties and you and I are going to return to the capital to issue some orders to make sure these orcs stay out of your realm.”

Aradunnon did not open his eyes and he missed the joke entirely. “They will stay out. I will guarantee that,” he said with assurance.

Thranduil found he had no reply in the face of his brother’s confidence. Nor did he share it. Every aspect of this situation had concerned him deeply, from the number of orcs to their apparent activities here. He was certain they would not docilely abandon their efforts.

Thranduil stood and turned to Colloth, who had finished treating Dollion’s injury.

“Take them both to the forest with the rest of the wounded. I am going to find Geledhel and make sure we have truly finished here.”

Colloth nodded but Aradunnon was again focused on Thranduil, grasping his cloak to prevent him from leaving. “I want to speak to you before you have me dragged off, Thranduil.”

The king scowled. “You can talk to me later, Aradunnon…”

Aradunnon tightened his hold on his brother’s cloak and pulled it downward. “No. Now,” he insisted.

Thranduil sighed and studied his brother. He was obviously exhausted but that fatigue did nothing to dampen his natural stubbornness. “What is bothering you, Aradunnon?” he finally asked in a quiet voice, crouching next to his brother.

Aradunnon looked at Thranduil intently. “Did you do something to the fires?” he asked directly.

Thranduil looked confused. “Excuse me?”

Aradunnon scowled. “I did not think you had,” he muttered. Then he continued in a very soft voice for the king’s ears only. “Thranduil, did the rate at which the smoke poured out of the mountain not strike you as being somewhat…unnatural?”

Thranduil blinked at that. “I suppose it depends on how many fires you set and how big they were. It did seem very heavy, I noticed.”

Aradunnon nodded. “I set around ten large fires by the time the orcs started fleeing and I was called to battle. Enough to produce that much smoke. But what expelled the smoke from the caves so forcefully?” He paused. “And who extinguished the fires?”

“The fires went out?” Thranduil exclaimed, surprised.

Aradunnon nodded solemnly. “Suddenly. As if by magic…some sort of sorcery.”

Thranduil’s eyebrows went up. “Is that what you meant? Were you suggesting that I put out the fires you set? Aradunnon, I have some ability in that area but I could not control fire to such a degree as to extinguish so many large fires. Nor would I have interfered without consulting you first unless there was a very clear reason to do so. It was a somewhat risky tactic since it required splitting the warriors into small groups, but I agree it was a good one. I would not have opposed it and I cannot imagine what happened to the fires.”

“Nor can I, but it was not natural,” he replied firmly.

Thranduil frowned. “Surely there is some explanation.”

Aradunnon drew a deep breath. “I recommend you have Geledhel endeavor to find one,” he replied softly.

“I will,” Thranduil replied, standing and gesturing for Colloth to help his brother back to the camp. As he watched Colloth and Aradunnon descended the slope, he contemplated what his brother had said. That was certainly the most disturbing news yet.

*~*~*

pen neth—young one
muindor nin--my brother


Chapter 5 - The path that seemed right

*******************************

You chose amid doubts the path that seemed right…The Two Towers

*******************************

Thranduil and Colloth rode side by side through the forest, Aradunnon between them. Neither Thranduil nor the guard thought it wise for Aradunnon to ride by himself back to the capital given the injury to his thigh but neither could persuade him to a different course of action. As they traveled, they took advantage of the opportunity to discuss the needs and deployment of the army and Thranduil’s wish to arm every warrior with swords. The king was not unaware of the eager reactions of the warriors that could hear these conversations. Concluding the arrangements to make that purchase was Thranduil’s first priority when they arrived in the capital, which they expected to do sometime that evening.

Thranduil cast a glance at his brother. Aradunnon was fairly steady on his horse and his wound had healed significantly over the course of the journey home. Thranduil smirked. “I am not certain who I fear the most since I am returning with you injured—naneth or Amoneth,” he commented idly.

Aradunnon laughed lightly and rolled his eyes. “Nana still treats me like a careless elfling. She behaves as if I have returned from playing irresponsibly with my friends when I am returning from battle,” he exclaimed with exasperation.

Thranduil smiled. “Yes, I was very thankful when you joined ada’s warriors. Nana immediately shifted her focus from me to her baby. Your mistake was not pressuring ada for a baby brother.”

Aradunnon looked slyly at his brother. “Would I have wanted one?” he asked jokingly.

Thranduil chuckled at that. “Yes, you would have. Most of the time,” he qualified.

Aradunnon returned his brother’s gaze with dancing eyes. Then he looked away. “It is Amoneth that I fear facing,” he said softly. Then he shrugged. “On the other hand, this injury will keep me in the capital for at least another few weeks and I doubt I will be doing much beyond meetings so she will have more time with me to herself.” He sighed. “She will like that.”

Thranduil raised his eyebrows. “But you will not?” he asked, tone rising with sincere surprise.

Aradunnon grimaced slightly at the impression he had given. “No, no, I will. I love spending time with Amoneth. I love her. But…she did not understand why I left so soon after returning to the capital from the borders and she will be even more upset when she sees this injury.”

Thranduil frowned. “How could she not understand why you left? Lindomiel told her in detail what happened on our trip back from Lorien. Obviously you would investigate that.”

Aradunnon laughed bitterly. “Amoneth asked me why Dollion or Geledhel could not lead the warriors south. She pointed out that they are experienced captains.”

Thranduil raised his eyebrows. “Do you agree?” he asked neutrally.

“Of course not, Thranduil. I would have gone to look into this myself without being told to do so. My point is that Amoneth does not understand my duties. She has known nothing but peace and she sees little need to worry about patrols and guarding the Road and our borders. She is jealous of my time.”

To their left, Colloth snorted.

Aradunnon flashed him a scathing look that caused Thranduil to look at the guard with interest. “What is your opinion, Colloth?” Thranduil asked with an amused smile. Colloth was rarely shy about expressing his views of Aradunnon’s affairs and he provided interesting fodder for teasing Aradunnon.

“I think Amoneth might be less jealous of His Highness’s time if the prince bothered to freely dedicate any of it to her rather than gaming and flirting,” Colloth replied with mock-formality that made Aradunnon bristle and Thranduil struggle to hold back his laughter.

“I spend a healthy amount of time with Amoneth, Colloth. You of all people should know that. But she wants every minute of my time.”

“She wants you to not flirt with every female creature on the face of Arda,” Colloth retorted coolly.

Thranduil could no longer repress his laughter. “That would be a start,” he concurred.

Aradunnon scowled at his brother. “I do not flirt.”

Thranduil laughed loudly enough to attract the attention of the warriors riding behind them.

“It is true,” Aradunnon insisted. “I am simply friends with a good many people and many of them are female.”

“Females who think you are flirting,” Colloth commented. “If that is your view of ‘friendship’ then I am certainly relieved you make enough of a distinction to not kiss your male friends.”

Thranduil laughed again, shaking his head.

Aradunnon looked irate. “The only lady I have kissed in practically this entire age is Amoneth. Honestly, Colloth, what do you think I should do differently?”

“Make a choice. Betroth yourself to her or stop giving her the impression that you might,” he replied seriously.

Aradunnon frowned. “I am not certain a betrothal is a good idea. I love her, but she does not understand my duties. She must if I am to marry her.”

Thranduil looked at his brother seriously. “I agree that Amoneth does not grasp everything that I would expect her to about a court lifestyle, Aradunnon. But you do not grasp everything you should about relationships with ladies. Amoneth might be more understanding of your responsibilities if she felt secure that she had your heart. It must be very difficult for her to believe that she does when you put your arm around maidens’ waists and look on them as you do…”

“Look on them as I do?” Aradunnon repeated irritably.

Thranduil sighed softly. “Yes. When you talk to any maiden, you stand far too close to her and look down with that…intense look. And they melt. Even Lindomiel comments about it so it is inconceivable that Amoneth does not notice.”

“So you are suggesting that I stand across the courtyard and shout my conversations with anyone but Amoneth?”

“Of course not. I am suggesting you treat Amoneth specially. If you reserved certain actions for her alone, she might accept that you favor her. If she did, she might make an effort to show you that she understands your duties.”

Aradunnon remained silent.

Thranduil looked at his brother levelly. “How many maidens have told you that it is impossible to take you seriously, Aradunnon?” he asked softly.

“Most,” he admitted. “But I have not been serious about any of them.”

“Precisely why you must alter your behavior if you are serious about Amoneth. And I think you are, muindor nin.”

Aradunnon shook his head slightly and smirked. “I find you very annoying when you are right, Thranduil,” he replied with a playful look. Then he grew more serious. “I will try to be more conscious of the way I ‘flirt’ with the maidens in the capital.”

“It might also help if you talked to Amoneth and told her how you feel about her and her attitude towards your responsibilities,” Thranduil suggested quietly.

Aradunnon nodded. “It definitely would. I will.”

Thranduil smiled at his brother while Colloth rolled his eyes. “I will believe it when I see it,” he said under his breath, eliciting a snort from Thranduil and a glare from Aradunnon.

Later that day, the returning warriors arrived in the capital to be greeted by their awaiting kin. Thranduil and Aradunnon were no exception and everyone present smiled warmly at their king when first Dieneryn and then Lindomiel embraced him when he dismounted in the stable yard. Most laughed outright when both Dieneryn and Amoneth unabashedly fussed over the injured prince, much to his obvious embarrassment.

With his arm firmly around his wife’s waist and thankful for her presence, Thranduil proceeded slowly to his own flet while answering questions from various citizens about what they had found. His answers were completely honest and uncensored—there was no point to any other response—and they clearly concerned the elves that listened to him. He spoke for several minutes to the elves in the courtyard, reassuring everyone that he already had plans in place to deal with any further encroachment into the forest. By the time the king and his family ascended the stairs to their flet, the citizenry seemed largely satisfied but the ruling council obviously had a good many questions.

The rest of that evening was dedicated to Thranduil and Aradunnon’s account of the battle to the family in the sitting room. When that concluded, Thranduil and Dieneryn dragged Aradunnon to the infirmary to visit the healers while the king’s advisors turned to their tasks. Thranduil had called for a series of reports—information they had been working on since Aradunnon had first departed for Amon Lanc—to be ready for him that evening. He wanted to review it so they could discuss it in the next day’s council meeting.

That meeting was certain to be an event.

*~*~*

Aradunnon left the infirmary leaning on a crutch and pleased to escape his mother and brother’s eye. As he limped into the courtyard, he suddenly realized how thankful he was to be back in the capital and away from the destruction that he had seen around Amon Lanc. It had disturbed him to see the forest in that condition more than he was willing to admit even to himself.

Aradunnon smiled as he surveyed the scene before him, contemplating what he would do to entertain himself while he ignored the healer’s directive to rest. He saw a good number of lovely ladies singing in one part of the lawn and his friends drinking and playing a game on another. Looking between these two locations, he noted the light shining from Amoneth’s flet. His smile broadened. As much as he would enjoy some mindless play, he would prefer her company at the moment. Frivolity had its uses but to drive away the sense of gloom that still clung to him from his trip south he needed something more meaningful. Moreover, he was still mindful of the comments Thranduil had made as they rode home that day and talking with Amoneth seemed to be a wise course of action.

The guards at the foot of the stairs to Amoneth’s flet snapped to attention as the troop commander approached. Aradunnon smiled at them and their attitude relaxed as he hobbled up the stairs. He was not surprised when the door to the flet opened before he even reached it. Amoneth was obviously pleased and surprised to see him but her expression was as disapproving as she could make it.

“Are you supposed to be climbing stairs with that injury?” she asked as he reached the platform.

He laughed lightly. “If I do not want to sleep on the ground in the forest rather than in my own bed I suppose I will have to climb stairs, Amoneth.”

She scowled at him sternly. “Your bed is not here. It is several talans over. Are you supposed to be climbing these stairs or were you sent home to rest?”

Aradunnon smiled as he settled himself on the cushions on the balcony and beckoned for her to join him. “Regardless, I am here now,” he answered evasively. The truth was obvious to Amoneth.

She sighed and sat next to him. “I suppose I should be flattered that you risked your health to visit me rather than in some foolish game on the lawn,” she said coolly.

Aradunnon raised his eyebrows. “Indeed, I considered joining in the games but I decided I would rather spend the evening with you,” he replied softly, kissing her lightly on the lips.

Amoneth looked at him sidelong when he leaned back. She wanted to be irate with him for his behavior when he was last in town and for going south into such danger but that was easier said than done. She felt her irritation with him melting away as it usually did in his company. Recognizing that she was already falling under the spell of his intense eyes, she let out a short laugh, looked away from him and tried to adopt a distant attitude.

His eyebrows climbed higher. “Tell me how I have upset you, Amoneth,” he requested tiredly.

She frowned. “What usually upsets me, Aradunnon?” she asked in reply.

Aradunnon shook his head dramatically. “I have not been here for over three weeks, Amoneth. I could not have flirted with anyone yet. You must give me time to commit the offense before you chastise me for it.”

Amoneth laughed lightly at that as Aradunnon had intended.

Then Aradunnon turned her face to his with a hand under her chin. “But I think perhaps we should talk about this. Seriously,” he suggested in a soft voice.

Amoneth looked down and nodded. That soft voice always was her undoing. So gentle and seductive at the same time. She drew a deep breath. “Yes, I think so too. Lindomiel even told me that I should talk with you about…certain things.” She stumbled to a halt, unsure how to continue. She was shocked when Aradunnon chuckled.

“Thranduil told me that I should talk to you. It seems our family is concerned about us.”

Amoneth frowned at his casual attitude. “Perhaps they should be. I have told you many times that I cannot reconcile your words that you love me with your actions with the maidens in the capital. It hurts me, Aradunnon. I think it begins to hurt me just a little too much,” she replied in an unusual burst of directness.

Aradunnon’s eyes widened. He reached for her hand and held it between both his as he spoke earnestly. “If that is the case, then I am deeply sorry, Amoneth. And I will correct it. I promise you that I will stop ‘flirting.’ It is you that I love.”

Amoneth’s brow furrowed and she did not look at him.

He frowned and touched her chin again. “You are the only person that I love as I do,” he repeated firmly. “I am completely at a loss as to what I must do to convince you of this.” He pinched her chin lightly to draw her eyes to his. “Look at me, Amoneth. Can you not see that I love you?”

She looked at him sadly a moment before looking away. “You have made the promise that you will stop flirting many times.” She sighed. “I know what I see when I look in your eyes. And I know the affect it has on me.” She paused. “What do the other maidens that you kiss see in your eyes, Aradunnon?”

He sat back, eyes wide, and stared at Amoneth. His immediate reaction to her words was to be sincerely insulted. And deeply hurt he realized a second later. He felt harsh words boil to his lips. But his temperament was more measured than his brother’s and his uncle’s, at least this once. He bit back his first response and remembered that Colloth had made the same accusation earlier that day. Obviously if both Colloth and Amoneth had drawn that conclusion, something must be wrong with his behavior. And Amoneth must be truly hurt if she believed such things. He would never allow that.

He took a deep breath and spoke in the most even voice he could muster. “I assure you, Amoneth, though I may flirt, I have not kissed anyone save you in a very long time. Since not long after Thranduil married and I first told you that I love you.”

She looked at him, surprised, clearly searching his eyes for the truth of his statement. He stared at her, utterly shocked, but trying to maintain a neutral expression. He truly loved her and would not allow this conversation to escalate because of his temper. That would solve nothing. When she said nothing, he spoke again.

“Do you honestly think that I am telling you that I love you and then leaving you at your talan to go kiss some maiden in the forest? Do you believe that?”

She looked down, ashamed that she had thought that and must now admit it. It sounded much less plausible discussing it now as she looked upon his hurt expression. But it was easy to believe as she watched him stand arm-in-arm with any maiden that would allow his advances. She did not speak immediately and that told Aradunnon all he needed to know.

“Amoneth, I do not deny that my behavior could be construed as flirting though that is not my intention. Nor do I deny that I have kissed a good many maidens. But I would never hurt any of them with such duplicitous behavior. I would never treat you that way. I am sincerely sorry that my behavior has given you such doubts and therefore has certainly hurt you. I truly had no understanding of the seriousness of your doubts of me.”

Amoneth had tears in her eyes as she made her reply. “It is I that owe you an apology, Aradunnon,” she whispered. “I know you are an honorable elf. And I love you because of your…exuberance.”

He laughed softly at that description.

“Sometimes it is difficult to see you with your arms around maidens.” She paused. “I do see that you love me. I did not know if you truly realized it yourself despite your words since you still flirt with everyone. I had no idea…that is I assumed that you…that your flirtations with everyone else were no different than they are with me. After all, I see you behaving with ellyth whose names you do not even know exactly as you treat me.”

Aradunnon blinked. Thranduil had said exactly that, as well. He was certain that he and Amoneth had similar albeit less candid conversations in the past. He had not taken them very seriously because he truly did not recognize the impact of his behavior. For some reason—perhaps the bluntness of Amoneth’s words or perhaps the fact that Thranduil and Colloth had just told him the same things—he understood now how his actions had hurt Amoneth.

“I had no idea I had given you that impression, Amoneth. I will never do so again,” he said sincerely. “And though you may have seen me flirting, I assure you, I neither behave nor feel with anyone as I do with you. I have never felt for anyone the love I feel for you. Nor have I ever felt in any maiden’s presence what I feel in yours. Being with you, in your arms, kissing you…that is an entirely unique experience. One that I could not continue without if I were to loose you.”

As he spoke, Aradunnon had drawn Amoneth closer into his arms and against his chest. He whispered his words into her ear. When he fell silent, his lips brushed softly against her cheek. She sighed, leaning into the caress before turning her face to kiss him. Amoneth melted against him, her arms wrapping around his neck. He enjoyed the closeness for a moment, feathering kisses across her cheek, along her jaw and down her neck. Then he pulled back slightly.

“Do you believe that I love you, Amoneth? Do you believe that I cherish you?”

She smiled slightly, looking at him through partially closed lids. “Now is hardly a fair time to ask,” she whispered in response.

He smiled as well, lowering his lips to claim her again. “I promise you that you will no longer harbor such doubts of me, Amoneth,” he whispered before kissing her.

*~*~*

The next afternoon, Thranduil’s ruling council gathered in his office ready to discuss the decisions the king would make in response to what he had seen in Amon Lanc. Celonhael and Hallion had both prepared information for him. Thranduil’s eyes turned first to Celonhael.

“What suggestions do you have for raising funds, Celonhael?” All the other decisions revolved around that answer.

Celonhael sigh softly. “Very few,” he replied, “And possibly none that will be acceptable.”

Thranduil raised his eyebrows. “Are you telling me that the largest forest in Middle Earth contains nothing of value, Celonhael?” Thranduil replied with open scorn.

Celonhael’s mouth formed a hard line. “Well, my lord, it all depends on how you define value. Of course the forest provides products such as flours or meals made from bark and nuts, jams and syrups made from berries, wax from berries and bees, wood, hides, sinew…and we regularly trade these items for goods that we cannot obtain ourselves such as wool, wine, salt and certain foods. But you want gold to buy ore. That is the difference. Not many people can give us gold in exchange for products. Certainly not the woodsmen. Not even the men in Esgaroth have gold in the quantities you want. We can only turn to Imladris, Mithlond, Gondor or Arnor for gold. And they are not going to pay gold for hides and pine flour. Only luxuries will fetch payment in gold. The forest simply does not produce many such commodities.”

Golwon scowled at Celonhael. “You make it sound as if the forest was bereft of resources,” he scoffed. “Men will pay for medicines. I would bet Elrond of Imladris would as well. And the forest provides nearly every medicinal plant known.”

Celonhael nodded. “Indeed, that is true. I researched that. I sent messenger birds to Imladris and Mithlond and I spoke to the woodsmen in the east who trade with Gondor. I have lists of medicines that both Imladris and Gondor are interested in obtaining from us. The problem is, once again, they want to trade, not pay. Elrond indicated in his last message that he would be willing to pay in gold or gems for certain medicines when I explained to him why we were insisting on such payment. But the men in Gondor are less sympathetic.”

Thranduil was scowling. “What quantities of funds can you generate selling medicines to Imladris?”

Celonhael looked at him, his expression revealing before he spoke that the answer would not be one that would please Thranduil. “If we sold the medicines Elrond wants to Imladris for twenty years, we might have enough gold to purchase the ore required to arm the entire army with swords.”

Engwe looked down, somewhat disgustedly. “Well, twenty years is not so vast an amount of time,” he commented quietly.

Aradunnon snorted. “Perhaps you would like to take part in some field command, uncle?” he responded sarcastically.

Engwe scowled at him preparing a retort but Thranduil waved him silent. “Sell the medicinal plants to Elrond, by all means. But that is not sufficient, Celonhael. In my view, twenty years is too long to wait to arm the warriors.”

“Indeed,” Aradunnon agreed.

Dieneryn was frowning slightly. “Dyes are a luxury, Celonhael,” she interjected. “We have some very rare dyes here in Eryn Galen. I use them in my weaving. Can we not sell those?”

Now Celonhael looked between Thranduil and Dieneryn cautiously. “Yes, my lady. There are two dyes that we can produce that the woodsmen told me would fetch a very high price in gold or gems in Gondor. One is the green dye from mushrooms and fiddlehead ferns.”

Thranduil frowned. “Mushrooms and fiddlehead ferns are foods, Celonhael, not dyes. Green dye comes from copper mordents.”

Celonhael smiled. “Apparently men feel copper is for making bronze tools and weapons, not dyes,” he countered before growing more serious. “But you have hit upon the problem. If we sell to Gondor the quantity of mushroom and ferns needed to make the amount of dye they want, we would obtain a large portion of the gold we want but we would likely be giving up an entire season’s supply of both foods.”

Thranduil shook his head. “Those are staples during the spring. I am not sure we should promise to provide such a thing. If game is short, we will need them. What was the other dye they wanted?”

“A red dye, my lord.” Celonhael answered vaguely with a nervous glance at Golwon. Golwon turned to glare at his peer with an astonished look on his face.

“The dye from sapponwood?” Dieneryn speculated. When Celonhael nodded, she raised her eyebrows and looked at the table.

Thranduil immediately understood Celonhael’s reticence. One of the richest and very few truly colorfast red dyes was produced from the heartwood of sapponwood trees. A live tree would have to be destroyed to produce it. Again he shook his head. “That is out of the question, Celonhael,” he said firmly.

Celonhael nodded. “I understand that, my lord. However, I did do a little research you might want to see before you make a final decision.”

Thranduil scowled. “I just came from Amon Lanc where I saw more cleared forest than I ever care to see again, Celonhael. I will not clear forest by my own hand.”

Celonhael looked at Thranduil evenly and slid an open ledger down the table at him. “I can raise enough funds for all the swords you want with one sale of fifty trees. There are over three hundred sapponwood trees on the eastern border,” he offered airily.

Thranduil looked over the information on the ledger and his eyes widened. “They will pay this? That is a vast sum!”

Celonhael only nodded.

All eyes were on Thranduil who was simply staring at Celonhael. The king would ordinarily never agree to the cutting of live wood—it was a course of action certain to infuriate the Silvan elves. Indeed everyone in the room was very sensitive to the issue of cutting live wood, but this was clearly the proposal that would raise by far the most funds.

“What do you think, my lord?” Celonhael asked after a moment’s silence.

Thranduil drew a deep breath. “I think the idea of raising that amount of revenue is very positive,” he responded.

Golwon’s jaw dropped. He was responsible for relations with the villages. “Positive’ in his opinion implied the king was leaning in a completely unacceptable direction. The forest in that area was already damaged by the cutting Men had done in the construction of their villages on the eastern border.

“My lord, you cannot allow this,” Golwon began his protests in a firm voice. “The villagers will not tolerate it. Cutting trees for necessary purposes is barely palatable to these elves. Cutting them, killing them, so that someone may wear a red cloak! You must be mad. There will be rebellion over that.”

Golwon had an explosive temper and tended to express his opinions in council using inflammatory language. Nonetheless, Thranduil’s eyes turned to his advisor, looking at him levelly. But he said nothing.

Aradunnon was not so restrained. He had been urging Thranduil to buy more weapons since his brother became king. He unceremoniously took the ledger from Thranduil’s hands as Golwon spoke, glancing quickly over the figures. His jaw dropped. When Thranduil did not reply to Golwon’s outburst, Aradunnon did. “The fact is, Golwon, that the Men will pay for these dyes. In gold. Did you see these figures?”

“I did. Gold is not what is dear to the hearts of the Silvan, Aradunnon. Trees are,” Golwon stated coolly.

“Yes, I understand that. And if you want me to protect those trees, and the villagers that live amongst them, then you had better provide me with some funds for weapons,” Aradunnon retorted hotly.

“How much gold does it cost you to make a bow, Aradunnon?” Golwon shot back.

“How much gold does it cost to buy a sword, Golwon? Do you even know?” Engwe intervened.

Engwe also captained troops and helped Thranduil with overall strategy and logistics in the protection of the vast forest. He agreed that more weapons would be necessary to deal with the threat at Amon Lanc. He was Oropher’s brother, Thranduil’s uncle, and he had a volatility that matched Golwon’s and an arrogance that was unrivaled. When Thranduil had first become king, he found his uncle difficult to manage but valued his military advice too much to dismiss him from the council. Thranduil still found him annoying and often impertinent. But he still valued his advice. Everyone on the council cringed when Thranduil, Golwon and Engwe squared off.

“The Silvan have defended this forest since the Time of the Trees with bows. Why do we need swords now?” Golwon asked, exasperated.

Aradunnon, Engwe and Celonhael all snorted in disbelief at that statement.

“Did you listen to the report on Amon Lanc, Golwon? Orcs! Over two hundred of them. Building fortifications. We cannot fight orcs with bows only. Were you at Dagorlad? Did you learn anything there?” Aradunnon asked incredulously.

“I was and I did. I learned that we will never return to Mordor. Oropher may have persuaded these elves to such insanity once. They will never do it again. Elves have very long memories. They remember the disaster that followed the last time we raised troops and weaponry. The fact that recently we have appeared to be preparing for another war frightens the citizens. Makes them wonder what the king plans for them.”

Again, Thranduil looked at Golwon silently.

Dieneryn frowned. “And what do you tell them, Golwon?” she inquired coolly.

Golwon rolled his eyes at the implication. “That Aran Thranduil is an evil tyrant and they should run for their lives,” he responded with deep sarcasm. “I tell them that he is only trying to protect them and that he has no desire to repeat past failures. But this…cutting trees to accumulate gold goes too far.”

“I do not agree,” Thranduil interrupted. “I just returned from Amon Lanc. I saw the destruction of a large portion of the forest there. As I have said, I have no desire to cause more ruin. On the contrary, I intend to protect the Wood—and I may have to make some sacrifices for the greater good. But regardless, however I choose to obtain the finances I need, I am not ‘accumulating gold.’ I am raising funds to prevent the destruction of this forest and its people.”

All eyes turned to the king. He had obviously made a decision.

He looked at Celonhael. “Tell the men that we will sell them the dyes and see to the cutting of the trees,” he said decisively. “Make arrangements to sell a portion of the mushrooms and ferns for the green dye as well and finalize the sale of the medicinal plants with Elrond.”

Celonhael nodded with a pleased look.

Then Thranduil turned to Hallion. “I looked at the samples and prices you gave me from the dwarves. I admit, I admire the quality of the swords but their prices are extortion.”

The eyes of every council member shifted to Hallion and widened, the idea of cutting fifty trees was overshadowed by the shock of this new topic. Dwarves!

Hallion and Thranduil failed to notice the reaction their discussion produced.

“That is what I told them, my lord,” Hallion replied. Then he looked at Thranduil sharply. “And they know it. Those prices with go down by one third if you negotiate them yourself. I promise you.”

Thranduil made a disgusted face at that. “I do not care to negotiate with dwarves,” he paused and smirked at Hallion. “That is why I left this to you.” Then he sighed. “Bring me the dwarves. I will extract a more reasonable price from them.”

“Do you not think it would be wise to settle the price with the dwarves before we cut the trees, my lord?” Hallion asked quietly.

Thranduil shook his head. “I will take this price if I have to. I would simply prefer not to.”

All in the room stared between the king and steward in silent shock. It was Engwe that found his voice first. He leaned forward knocking his knuckles on the table for attention. “What dwarves?” he asked shortly.

Thranduil turned a cool look on his uncle. “The ones in Hadhodrond? I seem to recall you tutored me on foreign cultures. Do you not recall the dwarves? Short, hairy things? Live in caves? Like to work rock and metals?”

Engwe glowered at Thranduil. Everyone in the room would have been smothering their laughter if they were not equally concerned about this development.

“I do recall dwarves, Thranduil,” Engwe replied caustically. “Do you recall Lord Hallion’s history lessons on the topic of Menegroth? What did you learn about dwarves in those lessons?”

Thranduil turned a harsh glare on his uncle. “Not to trust them. And I do not. I do not like them either. But Hallion suggested, and I have come to agree, that we do not have enough smithies, smiths or skill to make the weapons I want. I can purchase very high quality swords from the dwarves. With the funds the sale of the red dye will produce, even given the original quote from the dwarves, we can have two hundred swords.”

Aradunnon’s eyes flew to Thranduil. “You are joking! That arms almost half the troops with dwarven swords and it means that every warrior will be armed with swords. That is outstanding news!”

Thranduil nodded. “Indeed. And if I can bring down this quote—and believe me I will—we should be able to get another one hundred swords from the dwarves. That arms over half the standing army with high quality swords and it means we will have some in reserve. I think those numbers justify cutting the trees and dealing with dwarves.”

Aradunnon nodded his agreement. The other councilors, minus Hallion and Dieneryn who had been aware of the details of this plan, finally exploded.

Golwon’s voice was the loudest. “You are cutting down trees to deal with men and then dwarves to buy swords!” he exclaimed in a loud, angry voice. “What part of that do you think will be acceptable to the villagers, my lord?! They do not like cutting trees, they do not like foreign influences and they do not care about swords. They are going to riot.”

Engwe also was furious. “Dwarves! Thranduil have you lost your mind?! You cannot trust them. They are dangerous. I agree that we need weapons but let us forge them ourselves. The dwarves will sell you poor quality products if they do not kill you.”

Celonhael was somewhat more subdued but he did protest as well. “My lord, I strongly recommend that we conserve some of these funds. I truly hoped that was your intent. You do not want to be as low on funds as you are if there is an emergency. A drought, a flood, a bad winter. Anything where we need to buy food and other supplies. We need better reserves.”

Thranduil looked at his advisors calmly. He knew the response this announcement about the dwarves would elicit and he was prepared for it. He addressed Golwon, who was practically steaming, first. “I will go to the east and speak with the village leaders—and the individual villagers, if necessary—myself, Golwon. I will make it clear why this is necessary.”

“It is not necessary…” Golwon began.

“Yes it is,” Aradunnon began but this time Thranduil cut him off.

“I say it is necessary, Golwon, therefore it is necessary. We have discussed my reasons behind the improvement of our weaponry many times. You listened to the report from the south. I was there. I say more weapons are necessary.”

He turned to Engwe. “As for the dwarves, I may have been an elfling in Menegroth, uncle, but I remember it. I do not want to negotiate with dwarves. But I am willing to accept that I have no choice. I will do what is best for these people. I will do it cautiously—and believe me, I am—but I will not expose this realm to danger because of grievances two ages in the past. And you can accuse dwarves of many things, but I have never heard of a dwarf turning out anything of poor quality and allowing his name to be associated with it. That I do trust.”

Engwe shook his head. “The quality of their work aside, the grievance I have against the dwarves is not a trivial matter such as a dwarf failing to address the High King with respect. A dwarf killed the High King. Such deeds are not to be forgotten.”

Thranduil’s eyes narrowed when Engwe continued his protests. “I do not forget, Engwe. But I must concern myself with the future as well as the past.”

“Dealing with dwarves is insane, Thranduil. You do not understand the issues. You cannot do this. Your cousin Celeborn has the good sense to not even travel through Hadhodrond yet you want to do business there…” Engwe yelled a few more statements but Thranduil did not hear them. His uncle had finally gone too far.

Hallion, seated between the king at the head of the table and Engwe to his right, was already pushing his chair back from the table to be clear of the storm that was about to erupt when Thranduil’s hand slammed on the desk. He stood and towered over Engwe. “I do not understand? I cannot do this?” he repeated, voice rising. “Which of us is king of this realm, uncle? I seem to recall that title is mine. Therefore, I can do this. You may express your opinions, and you have, but the decision is mine to make. I have made it.”

Engwe was Oropher’s brother, possessed of the same temper as Oropher’s son. He simply scowled and stood as well, leaning forward aggressively. “You are king, Thranduil. How long do you expect that to last if you make decisions these people do not support? That your own council does not support?”

“Excuse me, Engwe, do not speak for me,” Hallion interrupted softly. “I support this. And any other lawful decision the king makes.”

“Indeed,” Aradunnon added, glaring at Engwe.

Golwon shook his head. “I cannot support this,” he said firmly but in a reasonable tone.

Dieneryn looked around the table coolly. She had always served to help dissipate the tempers of aggressive ellyn when her husband initiated this type of confrontation. She was more than prepared to do it for her son.

“’I do swear that I will be faithful to you, my undoubted King, and bear you true allegiance, obeying your lawful commands in all matters that concern this Realm from this hour forward until my death or until the world ends,’” she intoned softly, looking between Engwe and Golwon.

Thranduil looked over at his mother with hooded eyes and then allowed his gaze to drift to Golwon and Engwe. Dieneryn had just recited the oath of fealty all nobles of the realm had taken first to Oropher and then, upon his death, to Thranduil. Golwon’s mouth was a hard line, but he looked down. Engwe simply turned his glare to Dieneryn.

“You cannot possibly support this, my lady?” Engwe said angrily.

Dieneryn fixed her brother-in-law with a cold glare momentarily and then looked at Thranduil. “Is this your decision, my lord?” she asked quietly.

“It is.”

Dieneryn turned her eyes back to Engwe. “I support this,” she said simply and with finality.

Engwe shook his head and looked at the council. “Surely you do not all support this. Dwarves! Were none of you in Menegroth? And cutting trees to do this? The people will not tolerate it.”

“Are you inciting my very council to revolt, Lord Engwe?” Thranduil asked in a dangerous tone. It caused everyone present to look at him with alarm. Their concern only grew when they did. Thranduil had a black look on his face directed at his uncle that made them all gasp lightly.

“Thranduil, I am not going to lead anyone to rebellion,” he said scornfully but his voice had lost its bluster.

Thranduil’s eyes narrowed. “You are on very unstable ground at the moment, Lord Engwe. I suggest you try your answer again. With different content and a different form of address,” the king said icily.

Now Engwe looked thoroughly shocked. “For pity sake,” he declared in a somewhat high-pitched voice. “I am not inciting rebellion. I support your rule as I did my brother’s. I simply do not agree with this decision. Surely I am allowed to express opinions. My lord,” he tacked on hastily.

Thranduil’s eyes narrowed further but Dieneryn spoke before her son was able to respond. “Engwe, there is a time for expressing opinions and a time to stand by decisions that have been made. You are not a tutor debating an answer on an essay with your student. You are a member of the ruling council advising your king on an issue. You have provided your recommendation. We all have over the last month as we discussed the various information coming from the south. The king listened and he has made his decision. The only question is, will you support it? Should that be at question?”

Engwe blinked and stared at her for a moment. Then his eyes flashed around the table. Aradunnon glared at his uncle, leaning forward in his chair as if prepared to rise. Golwon did not appear any happier with the decision but he very clearly did not want to be any part of this conflict. His face was somber and his eyes were on the table. Celonhael stared at Engwe, mouth open partially and clearly horrified this had gone as far as it had. Hallion’s face was impassive as he looked at Engwe levelly. Engwe sat down, eyes dropping to the table in front of him. “Of course not. You have my apologies, my lord. I forgot my place,” he said quietly.

With effort, Thranduil refrained from saying, ‘Yes, you did.’ He knew his brother had a good deal of pride in him and it would serve nothing to provoke it. He sat down as well and looked at his councilors, speaking in a level voice.

“I know that you all still hope this peace we have enjoyed since the war with Sauron will hold and I hope you are correct. I know that you do not agree with me concerning the dwarves or cutting live wood. I do not completely approve of those actions myself. But I have absolutely no faith in the peace any longer and I will protect these people. Therefore, I deem those undesirable actions necessary this one time.”

Golwon looked at him cautiously. “You will have to speak to the villagers in the east about this, my lord. Personally. And with great care. This will be spectacularly unpopular.”

“Then I will do so. With your help.”

Golwon only nodded.

Then Thranduil turned to Celonhael. “I will keep the funds from the sale of the green dye and the medicines. And I will not touch any more of the resources in the treasury outside of emergencies. I recognize the value of your earlier counsel, Celonhael.”

Celonhael inclined his head to the king. “Thank you, my lord. I truly think that would be wise. Especially if this peace does not hold.”

Thranduil nodded once. “Precisely,” he said dryly. He looked at the room in silence for several moments before turning back to Hallion. “I believe we were also going to discuss arrangements for the Western and Eastern Patrols to make regular passes by Amon Lanc to make sure the orcs do not return,” he said quietly.

Hallion turned to Aradunnon and the council focused their attention on this new topic.

*~*~*

Thranduil left his office late that night. After the meeting itself ended, the king, along with Hallion and Golwon, spent a good deal of time discussing how he would handle his visit to the villages. After Golwon left, he and Hallion had reviewed arrangements for the negotiations with the dwarves. Thranduil shuddered every time he thought of that. He was ready to forget his day by the time he entered his personal chambers. When his eyes fell on Lindomiel, he nearly did.

“You are so late, meleth,” she said with concern in her eyes, drawing him to sit on the balcony.

He gratefully settled himself on the cushions and leaned back into her embrace as her arms wrapped around him. He closed his eyes and simply relished the feel of his wife’s soft body and the smell of the scented oils she used in her bath. She had clearly just emerged from the bath.

‘Pity,’ Thranduil thought to himself. ‘That would have been a most pleasant means to relax.’

As her fingers began to untwist the braids in his hair, he sighed at the sensation. She placed a kiss on his temple and he smiled.

“Did you and Hallion decide when you will travel to the villages?” she asked softly.

At that question he opened his eyes and looked at her with raised eyebrows. “You have already heard about this?” he asked with some amazement.

Lindomiel laughed lightly at her husband. “It was only you and Hallion that missed dinner, meleth. The rest of us were there.” She paused for affect. “Celonhael and Aradunnon did very good Engwe and Thranduil impressions though I trust most of what they said was a somewhat embellished version of the truth. Or at least I hope so. From Dieneryn’s expression it might not have been too exaggerated a re-enactment. She did not appear to be amused.”

“Dare I ask…” he began and then shook his head. “No, I do not dare. I do not want to know.” He smiled at her amused expression and answered her original question. “I will leave the day after tomorrow and deliver the news regarding the dyes myself.”

Lindomiel merely nodded to that and Thranduil was relieved. Lindomiel was as much of a wood elf as any Silvan in the forest despite the fact that she was Sindarin. He had truly expected as much trouble from her as he did from the villages concerning cutting live wood.

“How long will we be gone?” she asked quietly, now combing the hair that she had unbraided.

He raised his eyebrows. “We?” he repeated, looking at her.

She blinked. “Of course, we. I will come with you if you wish. I understand this is something you must handle yourself to impress its importance on the people in the villages, but I often represent you to these villagers. They know me well at this point. It will look much better if I am with you.”

He looked at her, truly surprised. “Lindomiel, I know you could not approve of this decision…” he began but was interrupted by her expression.

“I do not. And I doubt you do either. But I trust your judgment that it is justified. I would never undermine you by showing anything less than complete support publicly, Thranduil. And it is obvious to me how trying this day has been for you. I do not intend to add to your grief.”

Thranduil stared at his wife for a moment before drawing her firmly into his arms. “Have a told you recently how lucky I am to have you, Lindomiel?”

She laughed at that and returned the embrace. “I know this was a difficult decision, Thranduil. I will not make it worse for you. Engwe already fills that role.” She pulled back and looked at him slyly. “Besides, Dieneryn tells me that you are bringing dwarves here to negotiate better prices for the weapons. If I stand any chance of actually being present for that meeting, I must put on my most charming behavior now.”

Thranduil laughed. His wife’s fascination with the other races amused him to no end and he indulged it any time he safely could. “I will tell Hallion in the morning that you will be renegotiating the prices with the dwarves, meleth,” he joked. “I have not forgotten the deal you made the last time we purchased Dorwinion from the Men.”

Lindomiel smirked at him. “I think the advantages I used negotiating with the Men might not work as well on dwarves, Thranduil.”

Thranduil pulled away from her fully to study her at that comment. Lindomiel returned his gaze earnestly for a moment before breaking into laughter. Thranduil’s expression did not change. “There is likely more truth to your statement than you know, meleth. That is why I always send Celonhael with you and over half my guards,” he said dryly.

Lindomiel shrugged. The topic had distracted Thranduil satisfactorily and that had been her goal. “As long as we benefit,” she responded softly, brushing her lips against the tip of Thranduil’s ear before turning her attention back to his hair.

Thranduil shook his head slightly. “I never forget how lucky I am that you are my wife, meleth. Sincerely,” he said quietly after a moment.

“Nor do I forget how lucky I am, Thranduil.” She replied quietly. Then after a moment she smirked. “Imagine if you had sent Aradunnon to the council in Lorien in your place.” She laughed. “Oh poor Amoneth! But I would never have fallen for his foolishness.”

Thranduil looked at Lindomiel playfully. “Aradunnon can be quite persuasive, Lindomiel,” he teased. “Maybe things would have been different.”

Lindomiel raised her eyebrows. “I doubt that but I do not deny he is persuasive. He has Amoneth completely ensnared despite his outrageous behavior.”

Thranduil scowled slightly. “Colloth and I spoke to him about that on the way home from Amon Lanc. I am hoping it will do some good.”

Lindomiel looked at him slyly. “Whatever you said at least inspired them to talk to one another. Something no amount of pleading on my part has accomplished. Amoneth seemed to think it was a good conversation. She appeared more positive than I have seen her in a long time.”

Thranduil sighed and leaned back into his wife’s embrace. “Good. I would like to see Aradunnon settled.”

Lindomiel nodded solemnly. “I would like to see Amoneth with a better acceptance of Aradunnon first. He may be flirtatious, but Amoneth is selfish. She always has been and that will not fit well into Aradunnon’s lifestyle. Being married to him will require adaptability and patience.”

Thranduil arced his eyebrows. “Is that so, meleth?”

She smiled at his implication for she had not intended to make one herself. “Yes, it is, Thranduil.”

He smiled. “Unfortunately, I do not doubt that,” he replied softly, his mind turning to all he had seen in Amon Lanc and its potential to affect Lindomiel’s future. The future of his entire realm. He knew that the unpleasant decisions he had made today were likely to be the first in a series of such choices given what he had seen in Amon Lanc.

After a moment he resolutely focused on Lindomiel alone, turning and drawing her into his arms.

*~*~*

Naneth/nana—Mother/mum
Adar/ada—Father/dad
Muindor nin—My brother
Elleth/ellyth—Female elf(s)
Ellon/ellyn--Male elf(s)
Aran--King
Meleth (nin)—(My) love
Hadhodrond—the canonical elvish name for Khazad-dûm and an attempt to render the dwarvish name to elvish sounds. Khazad-dûm did not become known as Moria—the Black Pit—until TA 1980, when the dwarves accidentally unleashed Durin’s Bane, the Balrog of Morgoth.


Chapter 6 - And all things were changing

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Orcs there were and trolls and dragons and fell beasts and strange creatures old and wise in the woods whose names are forgotten;…and all things were changing, until at last the Dark Lord arose in Mirkwood again. Silmarillion

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Eryn Galen

Third Age 1008

After Thranduil’s first attack against the orcs in Amon Lanc, he purchased swords from the dwarves and distributed them to the members of the western and eastern border patrols and the guards on the Forest Road. Aradunnon ordered the warriors on the borders to extend their patrol territories to include Amon Lanc and by the end of that Spring, the patrols discovered the orcs had returned. They destroyed them but the next patrol to pass through that area encountered orcs again. Aradunnon finally dedicated a patrol of fifty warriors to be permanently posted in the region around Amon Lanc for the purpose of preventing more orcs from entering the forest and gathering at the mountain. But orcs seemed to be drawn to that dark place.

And not just orcs. The elves began to see great spiders like Ungoliant of old. They were descendents of Shelob that spread to Greenwood from where they infested the Ephel Dúath. They built their nests and spun their webs in the crevasses and tunnels in Amon Lanc and in the trees surrounding it, making scouting that much more dangerous. These foul creatures were active by day as well as night. They slaughtered and fed upon anything that approached their territory—orcs and elves and deer alike—while their nests and webs killed the trees.

The dark creatures that inhabited Amon Lanc seemed to be driven by an unnatural frenzy. They charged forth against the incursions of the elven warriors like rabid beasts, fighting with unsurpassed ferocity. At the same time, the warriors that served in the forest near Amon Lanc constantly felt a strange fear; their naturally acute senses were seemingly hyper-aware of some evil not explained by merely the presence of orcs and spiders. This evil seemed to be embodied in the dark gloom that hung over the mountain. It affected the forest itself as the trees around Amon Lanc began to rot and wither and die.

Men who traveled past the mountain began to fear it, believing it to be occupied by an evil sorcerer who called to himself fell creatures. The elves began to believe that too.

Preventing orcs and spiders from approaching the mountain became an impossible task for the number of warriors Thranduil could dedicate to it. Evil came to Amon Lanc from all directions and bred from within once there. After a time, the task of the warriors in the south became one of containment, preventing the orcs and spiders from spreading further into the forest. For over fifty years, they had been successful, but now even containment seemed to be failing.

This was made apparent to the king by the commentary of the elves before him now. Thranduil sat in the Great Hall before nearly fifty citizens—mostly the leaders of the villages closest to Amon Lanc and the family members of warriors. The attacks around Amon Lanc were giving rise to much fear in the southern villages and much anger amongst the warriors’ families. At Golwon’s urging, the king had agreed to meet with these elves to listen to their concerns. They were seated at a long table with Thranduil at its head, flanked by his advisors. The nobles faced the elves gathered before them gravely. They had been listening to their stories for some time.

“A fortnight ago, my village was attacked by the orcs!” one of the village leaders was fairly yelling. Their tempers were somewhat subdued in the presence of their king, but they were still emotional. Thranduil focused on the elf speaking solemnly. “Orcs!” he repeated for emphasis. “They killed our livestock, carried off supplies and valuables of all kinds. Burned the telain and the trees. If we had not fled in the trees, all of us would be dead. Dead!” His voice broke. “Three of the elves that stayed behind to give us time to escape are dead, my lord.”

Thranduil frowned, grief in his eyes but before he could respond, another village leader spoke.

“Orcs are not the only danger. My village is to the east. Men have attacked us three times. Threatening my people and stealing from us.”

One of the village leaders from the interior of the forest blinked at that. “Surely the woodsmen have not turned against us? We have always aided them.”

“No,” replied the other, shaking his head. “These are not woodsmen. They raid the mannish villages too. They are darker. We think they come from further east and south. They are vicious in a way I simply cannot comprehend,” he concluded, looking at Thranduil.

Again, the king did not have time to reply before another elf spoke.

“And the spiders are multiplying. They infest the trees, smothering and breaking them with their webs and nests. They kill the game and livestock to feed on. They even attack elves. The elflings cannot go into the forest safely, not even during the day for light does not hinder these foul creatures. Someone must be sent to eliminate them.”

“Sent to eliminate them?” repeated one of the warriors’ family members, angrily. “Why can you not defend your own village? Or move it further from Amon Lanc as Aran Oropher suggested centuries ago? Why must my son travel three days from his home to defend yours? If you want to talk about death, my son’s best friend died in that patrol last season. Will the southern forest be littered with the bodies of our children as Dagorlad was? Simply move to a safer place.” He turned to face the king. “I will insist my son return home from the patrols if this continues. I will not loose him as I lost my brother in Mordor.”

Thranduil leaned forward and allowed his eyes to sweep over the elves at the table with him, silencing them with the intensity of his gaze. He had listened long enough. When he spoke, he addressed the elf that had spoken last in a calm voice.

“I am certain that Ernil Aradunnon and Ernil Engwe would feel the loss of your son, Master Falthalil. I know my brother and uncle depend on each of the warriors in the patrols and value their service. As do I.” He paused. “As do the villagers that live in the south. Surely you are not suggesting we simply abandon them to whatever fate might befall them?”

Falthalil frowned. “Of course not. But I do not see why my son should be a hundred miles from home.”

Thranduil glanced at Aradunnon, who was also normally hundreds of miles from home, and tried not to allow his annoyance to show on his face. “I often miss my brother as well. And naturally I am concerned about him fighting orcs and spiders so far from me. But I recognize the importance of his work in the south. We cannot allow the Enemy to overrun the forest. If it takes the south, it will only continue to spread.”

That answer appeared to give hope to the village leaders. Thranduil continued.

“And we are continuing to arm and train the warriors to the best of our ability. We continue to buy better weaponry. Lord Engwe has developed a new training program. Through it, current warriors will receive instruction and new warriors will be brought into our military to support the army.”

The village leaders also seemed happy with that pronouncement. The families of the warriors looked more concerned.

“Then we are adding to our burden?” an elleth asked. “Must I look forward to someday having both my sons and brothers in a patrol instead of just one?”

Thranduil turned to her. “Mistress, I would prefer to have no army at all. But as long as the threat grows in the south, I fear we will have to defend ourselves from it. Under those conditions, I can only assure that the patrols are supplied with the best weapons and training I can provide. And that is what I am doing.”

“Then we will have more protection, my lord?” one of the village leaders asked.

Thranduil turned to the elf sternly. “You will have what I can safely provide. But I can only provide so much. Some villages may have to move further north. Indeed, more and more people suggest to me every day that the capital itself should move north of the mountains.” Thranduil held up a hand at the village leaders’ angry expressions. “I am extremely hesitant to retreat again myself but I will make the decisions that protect the most people with the least loss of life and property.”

“If we move north, we abandon the forest. You said that yourself. We cannot let the Enemy get a foothold in our land.”

“If you are attacked by orcs so regularly, I fear we cannot deny that the Enemy already has a foothold. I will not abandon any part of this forest to the enemy. But that is my responsibility, not yours. If your citizens are in danger, you should move them and leave the protection of the forest to warriors.”

“We protect the forest with our presence,” Dolwen, a forester, said firmly.

“Perhaps. Or perhaps you draw forth the enemy by tempting it with the spoils it might take from you. Remove the temptation and keep yourselves safe. Let the military worry about the enemy and the borders of our territory.”

Thranduil looked at the scowls of the village leaders and the warriors’ families. They both wanted completely opposite results—neither of which he could provide. He sighed quietly.

“Do not doubt for a moment that we grieve for every life lost both in the villages and amongst the warriors protecting them,” he said sincerely, looking at all the elves present. “Or that we will do absolutely everything possible to prevent such losses. But you must also be willing to participate in that process. We must all make compromises and sacrifices. Warriors must fight far from home. Villagers must move to safer areas. I know what I am asking when I call upon you to do these things. I have been driven from many homes. My own family fights. I fight myself when there is need. This is what we must do together to save this forest and our way of life if the Enemy truly has turned his eye to us.”

The scowls did not lessen but Thranduil could see that the desired affect had been achieved. As much as they could, the elves present saw that the current situation was being addressed as best as possible. A few more words were exchanged and the audience came to an end. Thranduil and his council remained seated as the guards escorted the citizens from the Hall.

When they were alone, Thranduil slumped slightly. “This situation is escalating,” he said quietly.

Aradunnon grimaced slightly. "I will send more troops to the south to protect the villages," he replied.

Thranduil looked at his brother but Engwe cut off his reply.

"We cannot send more troops south. We have reduced the numbers on the western and eastern borders as much as we dare," he stated flatly.

Aradunnon frowned. "Raising troops is your responsibility, uncle. Raise more. I need them. Positioning the warriors is my responsibility. Long before this meeting I was planning to move more troops south. I want to send fifty…"

"Fifty!" Engwe interrupted, eyes widening and staring at Aradunnon. He turned back to the king. "You cannot allow that, Thranduil. The borders will not be safe. You heard the village leaders—men are making raids from the east and the orcs are traveling to Amon Lanc along the western border."

Aradunnon's brow furrowed. "Your job is advising the king on logistics and strategy, Engwe. I am the troop commander in this realm. I decide tactics. And if I say fifty more warriors are going south, they are."

Engwe frowned as well. "You are correct, Aradunnon. It is my job to advise the king on strategy." He paused for emphasis. "I am recommending a new strategy. Retreat. I think we should abandon the forest south of the northern edge of the Bight at the top of the Narrows. We cannot hold that territory and trying to do so is too costly."

Now Aradunnon's eyes widened and he turned to Thranduil to measure his reaction. "You would not dare do that," he said in reaction to his brother's inscrutable expression. "There are villages in the Narrows. Did you see how angry those villagers were already? I can hold the southern forest. I simply need more troops there. We cannot abandon the forest to the Evil One and his minions."

“They are orcs, Aradunnon. Not Sauron. Not the Ulairi,” Celonhael declared coolly Everyone winced when he said Sauron’s name. They did not normally name the Enemy. "I agree with Engwe. This fight has been too costly, both with regards to economics and loss of life. It would be best to let them have the mountain. We can regroup north of the Bight and hold them from that position."

Aradunnon looked at Celonhael angrily. “You are wrong, Celonhael. One feels at Amon Lanc the same presence that one felt at Barad-dur. We cannot give one square foot of the forest to this Enemy.”

Thranduil’s eyes flashed to his brother. This was the first time he had heard him say that and he trusted his brother’s read on such things. He was quite perceptive. “Are you certain?” he asked quietly, speaking for the first time.

Aradunnon looked uneasily at Thranduil. “I fear so.”

Engwe stared at Aradunnon with an openly skeptical expression. “Surely you are not suggesting that Sauron rises in the south of this forest?” he asked incredulously.

Aradunnon returned his gaze evenly. “I am saying I feel the same presence in the south that I felt in Mordor. You may interpret that as you will.”

Golwon spoke quietly. “We must drive him out.”

Aradunnon nodded. "Exactly."

Hallion gaped at them. "How do you plan to do that? If you really believe this is the Evil One, a host of thousands of Men and Elves could not destroy him in Mordor. How can you achieve this goal now?"

"I can take Amon Lanc back with the full standing army," Aradunnon replied in a resolute voice.

All eyes turned to him in various states of shock and anger.

Dieneryn looked at her son with wide eyes. "I respect your command of this realm's troops, Aradunnon, but I strongly urge you to give such an action very serious thought before you undertake it."

Celonhael nodded. "Retaking Amon Lanc is not an option we have even considered for fifty years, Aradunnon."

"It is not safe," Hallion continued. "Risking the entire army against an unknown force in a fortified position. I cannot recommend that," he said firmly.

"Recommend it!" Engwe exclaimed. "It is insane. Of course it is not recommendable. Thranduil if this is his intent, the best counsel that I can give you is that you remove him as troop commander. This cannot be allowed."

All eyes turned to Thranduil at that statement. The king sighed and looked sympathetically at his brother. "I understand your frustration with this situation, Aradunnon, and I fully trust you to command my military. But moving the entire army south in an attempt to retake Amon Lanc is something that I must intervene against. I cannot allow it. I am sorry. I would like to eliminate this threat but I do not believe that is a possibility. I want you to concentrate on containing it."

Aradunnon looked at his brother cautiously. “There may be support from Lorien if you wish to attack Amon Lanc, Thranduil. We saw elves from Lorien scouting from the south. We only spoke to one scout, but he told us there were those in Lorien that were concerned about this threat as well.”

Thranduil raised his eyebrows. Aradunnon had not mentioned that information in any report as yet. "Is that so?" he said coolly.

Aradunnon nodded.

"Well, I think I will make a trip to Lorien and find out what Amroth is doing in my forest," he said stiffly. He looked at Aradunnon. "While I am there, I will ask him if he would like to go to war with us. The battle would be more balanced if they joined with us. I might consider it then."

Thranduil saw Engwe’s brows draw sharply together and he appeared ready to protest. Thranduil stood, raising the council to their feet and cutting his uncle off. “That is all for the day,” he said firmly, without looking at Engwe. “I will see you at dinner. Hallion, stay. I would like a word with you.”

The council left the Great Hall, still arguing amongst themselves. Hallion watched them for a moment before focusing his attention on Thranduil.

The king smiled at him though the gesture did not reach his eyes. He was clearly worried. “Other than not moving the entire standing army to Amon Lanc, what is your mind on this situation, Hallion? You are terribly quiet.”

Hallion looked down. “I fear I cannot offer any advice, my lord. There does not seem to be an answer to this situation. We can fight—which seems to be increasingly difficult—or we can move. And moving is only a stopgap. Not a solution.”

Thranduil nodded. “I am very hesitant to kill two-thirds of our army fighting at Amon Lanc but I will not move every millennia in the face of the Enemy as my adar did. How far will we be pushed? North of the mountains? North of the river? North of the forest? If we move again, it will be to a position that I can permanently defend. One from which I will not have to move these people in another thousand years. I have moved enough times in my life, Hallion. I am drawing the line. Here, and no further.”

Hallion raised his eyebrows. “Then you had better find such a place,” he responded softly.

Again Thranduil nodded. Once and decisively. “I will go to Lorien to investigate the possibility of an alliance but in the meantime, put together a group of scouts for me. People who can judge strategic defense as well as people who can evaluate territory for its ability to provide for the everyday needs of a settlement. Have them investigate the forest north of the mountains. I want recommendations of, say, five places where I could move these people. I want their defensive advantages outlined. Get me that within the next year.”

Hallion returned Thranduil’s gaze evenly. “Yes, my lord.”

*~*~*

Aradunnon was rarely in the capital these days but when he was, he dedicated his time to Amoneth. After eating dinner that night, they sat in Aradunnon’s private sitting room, rather than with the family, playing a board game. The game was one of strategy. The first time Amoneth had watched Aradunnon and Thranduil play it, he had assumed she was merely being polite. When she asked him to teach it to her, he was surprised indeed. But it turned out that she was rather good at it. She still could not beat either Aradunnon or Thranduil but when she played with Celonhael and Golwon she won as often as she lost. And in her most recent game, she beat Engwe. That was a feat he would not soon live down.

Of course Aradunnon had a strategy he used against her that no one else could use.

“Stop it,” Amoneth snapped, swatting his hand as he traced it along her jaw line.

Her eyes were focused on the board. Aradunnon smiled. She very much wanted to beat him. He let his hand fall to her lap where it captured one of hers. He traced soft patterns on her palm as he leaned closer to her, now brushing his lips along her jaw.

She leaned away from him. “Will you stop it? I am trying to decide my next move.”

His smile broadened. “Hmm,” he said lazily, leaning closer to her again. “So am I.” His arm snaked around her waist, preventing her from moving away from him.

Finally she looked away from the board and turned to him. “You are cheating,” she said challengingly.

He laughed at that and twined his fingers in a lock of her hair, studying it. “I do not need to cheat to win this game,” he purred. This time when he leaned forward to kiss her, he claimed her lips. He felt her tense but he did not relent. Within a moment, she surrendered willingly, putting her arms around his neck.

Aradunnon ran his hands slowly over her bare arms, savoring the feel of her. His hands reached her shoulders and his fingertips traced lightly down the skin revealed by her low cut gown before sweeping back up to cup her face. He spent months at a time in battle. It had been an entire season since he had been home and all that time was spent near Amon Lanc. The warmth of her hands as she cradled his face, the harmony he felt as he kissed her, the peace he knew in her presence—the memory of these things anchored him when he was in the south. He missed her. Sometimes he missed her desperately.

When he finally released her, feathering kisses across her cheek, she sighed. “When do you have to return to the patrols,” she asked softly.

Aradunnon tensed and pulled away to look at her. This was the issue that still stood between them and it seemed insurmountable to him. “Thranduil is going to Lorien,” he responded.

Amoneth raised her eyebrows at that. Lindomiel had not mentioned that nor had it come up at dinner. Aradunnon always stayed in the capital when Thranduil traveled so that meant he would be home for at least a few weeks. The longest stretch in years. She smiled, looking in his eyes softly.

“Good. I hope his trip is long,” she joked, kissing him lightly.

“Perhaps I have to go with him,” he retorted teasingly.

She returned his gaze appraisingly. “I do not believe that. You are obviously joking.”

He traced a finger along her lips, suddenly serious. “Suppose I did go with him. To speak to your parents.” He looked at her intently. “Will you let me do that?”

Amoneth looked at him sharply. Then she looked down. “Aradunnon, I love you. You know that.” He voice fell to a whisper. “But what sort of marriage would we have? You are never here. I have virtually given up on the idea.”

Aradunnon sighed quietly. “Thranduil, Amoneth is going to Lorien to ask Amroth to join him in driving the enemy from Amon Lanc. If Amroth agrees and if we are successful, I will spend much less time in the field.”

That did not produce the reaction Aradunnon had expected. Her eyes widened dramatically. “I do not want you going back into battle much less going to war with Lorien against the orcs in Amon Lanc,” she replied with alarm in her voice.

Aradunnon laughed bitterly. “Amoneth, I am this realm’s troop commander. I guarantee that I will be in more battles. Fighting with the troops I command is how I serve this realm. We have discussed this before. You simply must accept that.”

Her brow furrowed and she pulled away from him fully. “I must accept that?” she repeated, voice rising. “I must accept seeing you injured? Or not seeing you at all for months on end? The entire time praying that you come back alive and not dead? I do not think I can accept that, Aradunnon.”

Aradunnon frowned as well. “And therein lies our problem, Amoneth. I was born to certain responsibilities. I cannot turn my back on them.”

“I know who you are, Aradunnon. I know who your father was and I know who your brother is. I know what your duties are. I am not asking you to turn your back on them. I am asking you to decide if you love me enough to find a different way to do them. Must you command the warriors from the field? Would you not be in a better position to communicate with all of the different patrols if you stayed in the capital in one central location?”

Aradunnon sighed. “I prefer to command from the field,” he replied quietly.

“Then you are choosing to not be with me, Aradunnon. It is your choice. While you make it, I encourage you to remember that you will no longer be able to serve this realm if you are killed.”

Aradunnon shook his head. “Thranduil would not allow me to stay in the capital. He recognizes that I am needed in the field.”

Amoneth fixed him with an angry glare. “That is what you said the last time we had this argument. So I asked Thranduil if he would mind you staying here. He said you had very capable captains and that he would welcome such a decision.”

Aradunnon looked very surprised by that. “Are you serious?”

She blinked at him, her expression turning cold. “Are you suggesting that I am lying to you?”

His brow knitted together. “Of course not, meleth. I just cannot believe that. Thranduil and I have captained these troops from the field for four millennia.”

“Ask him about it,” she suggested coolly.

“I will,” he said, turning her to face him with a hand under her chin. “If he agrees, even then I would not be home constantly, Amoneth. I would still occasionally have to go to the borders. Could you accept that?”

“I simply do not want to spend seasons separated from you. That is what I could not live with.”

“So if Thranduil agrees to this idea, may I speak to your parents about a betrothal?”

She smiled at him. “Yes,” she answered simply, leaning forward to claim her own kiss.

*~*~*

Thranduil sat on his balcony looking at the stars, deep in thought. Lindomiel had her head propped on his lap and was reading a book. He stroked her hair absently as his mind wondered over everything the villagers had told him that day and all they had discussed in council afterwards.

He had witnessed great evil in his long life. He had seen Menegroth, Sirion and Dagorlad strewn with the bodies of elves that should never have died. He had experienced death personally. His mother’s entire family was trapped and killed in Menegroth by the Noldor that killed Dior. His father’s father was killed in Sirion when the sons of Feanor attacked again. His father’s mother did not survive the War of Wrath. And he stood next to his father when an orc’s arrow drove into his chest.

Those had been horrible, terrifying experiences that Thranduil knew marked him permanently. Somehow hearing the villagers speak this afternoon had seemed much worse. He had been a child in Menegroth and Sirion. His father’s own order had led to his death in Mordor.

Thranduil had been a witness to tragedy in those instances. He was responsible for Eryn Galen.

Thranduil ultimately decided to send warriors to battle. He chose how to protect the villages. He would find a solution to the problem with the orcs in Amon Lanc or fail to do so. This situation was his responsibility alone.

I swear, by word and deed, service and protection to the Kingdom and populace of Eryn Galen, to the utmost of my power…the opening line of the oath he had taken upon his coronation echoed in Thranduil’s mind as he listened to the music of the minstrels on the lawn below him.

How could he keep that oath when the foul creatures in the south bred like maggots on a corpse?

‘I would lead us to a better life. To the life elves were meant to have. To the life we had before answering the summons of the Valar. Let us return to the arms of the forest. Let us find a refuge from Morgoth’s evil and peace away from the Doom brought by the Noldor.’ Oropher’s words sounded in his head as if he was listening to them now. These words had inspired Celonhael and Golwon and Hallion and a few score others to follow him east. Promises of peace and safety and joy. And this beautiful forest had provided that refuge for many millennia.

Now the peace was shattered. Morgoth’s minions still pursued them.

Thranduil drew a deep breath and he made a silent vow. No matter what he had to do or sacrifice on his own part, he would protect the people his father had led east. He would protect the people that had welcomed his father and named him their king. He would protect the forest that had nurtured him back from the despair he felt when he had fled Menegroth and Sirion and Lindon. To his dying breath he would protect them from Morgroth’s servants.

He glanced down and saw Lindomiel looking at him intently, book lying across her chest, discarded. He sighed softly, forcing himself to relax slightly and returned her gaze evenly. She frowned and sat up, putting her arms around him and stroking his hair.

“Who will take care of you, Thranduil?” she whispered into his ear as she placed a kiss on his cheek.

He pulled away from her slightly and stared at her with astonishment. Their bond was very strong, but she had virtually read his mind. Had he spoken out loud?

Lindomiel merely pulled him close again. “I will, meleth. I will always be by your side to help you however I can. Never forget that”

Thranduil turned his face against his wife’s neck and closed his eyes. He did know that and he never took it for granted.

*~*~*

Meleth (nin)—(My) love

AN: Sorry for the delay in posting. This week has been ridiculously hectic--we've done double shifts all week and we're doing the same this weekend. I hate posting chapters without rereading them but if I don't do that today, I won't get this up this weekend at all. So...


Chapter 7 - News and Rumours

**********************

But during the Third Age Galadriel became filled with foreboding, and with Celeborn she journeyed to Lórien and stayed there long with Amroth, being especially concerned to learn all news and rumours of the growing shadow in Mirkwood and the dark stronghold in Dol Guldur. But his people were content with Amroth; he was valiant and wise, and his little kingdom was yet prosperous and beautiful. Therefore after long journeys of enquiry in Rhovanion, from Gondor and the borders of Mordor to Thranduil in the north, Celeborn and Galadriel passed over the mountains to Imladris, and there dwelt for many years…Unfinished Tales

**********************

Aradunnon and Thranduil relaxed in the family sitting room drinking wine. It was very late on the evening before the king’s departure to Lothlorien. Hallion had just retired after reviewing the details of various matters he would have to manage in the king’s absence. Thranduil had noticed his brother was unusually quiet during that conversation. Knowing that his role in governing Eryn Galen expanded significantly when Thranduil made an extended journey, Aradunnon normally had significantly more questions for his brother during these last moment briefings. His apparent lack of interest particularly concerned Thranduil given that Aradunnon, busy commanding his warriors in the south, had not attended a single council meeting this season other than the ones he attended this week. He was looking at Aradunnon intently as they sipped their wine. His brother was studiously avoiding his gaze.

“You are quiet, Aradunnon,” Thranduil fished, trying his best to hide his irritation and only succeeding marginally.

Aradunnon still did not look at him nor did he reply. After a long moment, he spoke quietly. “I would like to ask you a question, my lord, and I hope you will answer honestly and directly.”

Thranduil frowned. Aradunnon almost never resorted to titles and formality, much less in a completely private setting. “I find direct, honest answers the easiest to make,” Thranduil answered dryly.

That made Aradunnon smile and look over at his brother with amused eyes. He quickly grew serious again. “I would like to command the troops from the capital rather than from the field. What say you to that idea?”

Thranduil’s eyebrows went up involuntarily at that question. He stared at Aradunnon a moment before composing his face in more neutral lines. “I would approve of such a decision, Aradunnon. It is increasingly difficult for me to communicate with you since you spend so much time in the south. I think the border patrols and the guards on the Forest Road suffer for that.” Thranduil watched the expressions play across his brother’s face at that reply. Surprise. And a very odd mixture of happiness and disappointment. After moment, Thranduil continued. “Hallion and I have been worrying over exactly this point. We have been debating whether it would be better for the realm to insist that you come back to the capital or to have Engwe act as troop commander and leave you in the south. I value your direct leadership in the south but I need a more easily reachable troop commander.”

Aradunnon frowned at that. “I do not think Engwe would make a good troop commander, Thranduil,” he said curtly.

Thranduil shook his head and smiled slightly. “He is much more conservative than you, Aradunnon. I will admit that he cannot analyze information and make tactical decisions as rapidly as you can but that is what makes you a good commander in the field. Engwe would make an adequate troop commander and one I would see eye-to-eye with more readily.” Aradunnon looked at his brother angrily and Thranduil held up his hand. “But I recognize that the point of having advisors is to hear differing points of view—not merely to have someone reinforce my own ideas. I am not anxious to have Engwe serve as troop commander or to loose you in that position. And I think your captains in the south can manage the troops there.” He paused for emphasis. “I do want to know what has motivated this decision.”

Aradunnon looked down. “I admit it is motivated by personal concerns,” he said quietly.

Thranduil found himself blinking and staring at his brother again. “You say that as if it is unforgivable,” he replied in a concerned voice. “Aradunnon, I knew that. If you want to spend more time with Amoneth, I support that. I would be more than happy to help you manage that however I can. We both must serve this realm but we need not sacrifice our entire existence to it…”

“You might feel differently if you spent more time in the south,” Aradunnon interrupted, still in a quiet voice and without looking at his brother.

“…but you do not seem entirely pleased with this decision. Do you want to return to the capital or will you do it because you are being pressured into it?”

Aradunnon’s brows knit together. “I cannot say, Thranduil. I love Amoneth but she and I can have no relationship when I am in the south. She suggested that I establish a central command here and said you would support that change. I promised her I would speak to you about it. I do think I can command the troops from here. I see the value of doing so for overall defense. And you apparently would prefer such an arrangement.” He sighed. “But I cannot escape the feeling that I am needed in the south. The situation there is very difficult.”

Thranduil studied his brother silently for a moment. Then he leaned over and placed a hand on his arm, drawing Aradunnon’s eyes to his. “I have watched you over the last yén with Amoneth, muindor nin. You have changed a good deal—no longer flirting so much, no more gaming and carousing with your friends. I have wondered if these changes have been the outward signs of you growing into a different role or you being smothered into a life you do not want. Can you tell me which it is?”

“I love her, Thranduil. You surely do not deny that she was right to ask me to stop flirting with all the maidens in Eryn Galen.”

Thranduil smiled. “I cannot deny that,” he said with laughter in his voice. “But are you happier now that you have made that change? Will you be happier in the capital than you were in the south?”

“Definitely. I hate being there and seeing the destruction of the forest and the death. It is as bad as Mordor. And I want to be with Amoneth. I feel happy simply being in her presence. But I will feel guilty leaving my captains in the field.”

Thranduil nodded, knowingly. “Do you think I do not feel guilty letting my brother handle such dangerous tasks? Do you think that I do not personally feel the death of every warrior when it is reported to me? I am responsible for sending them to those battles.”

Aradunnon looked at Thranduil sharply. “A lot of good it would do this realm if you were killed fighting a skirmish in the south. And warriors sometimes must die so that others may live in peace.”

“Exactly.”

Aradunnon sighed and they were silent for a moment. Finally Aradunnon looked back at Thranduil. “If this arrangement is satisfactory, then I would like to travel to Lorien with you.”

Thranduil’s eyebrows went up again. “Why?” he asked simply.

“Because I want to speak to Amoneth’s parents.”

A delighted smile lit Thranduil’s face as he finally understood the full significance of his brother’s decision to return to the capital. “Have you spoken to Amoneth and nana about this conversation you would like to have in Lorien?”

Aradunnon smiled also. “To Amoneth, yes. She agreed provided that I stay in the capital. I needed to arrange that with you before there was any point in speaking to our parents.”

“Well, I am leaving at dawn. You had better go speak to nana now,” Thranduil said standing and reaching for his brother’s arm to push him out of the sitting room.

Aradunnon purposefully remained seated, one of the few people in Greenwood that would dare not stand when Thranduil did. He looked up at his brother teasingly. “You are just aching to marry me off, are you not, Thranduil? May I ask why?”

Thranduil grinned back at him. “Because I am hoping that Amoneth will continue exercising her good influence over you,” he said pulling his brother to his feet and propelling him out the door. “And because I am enjoying finally seeing my little brother so hopelessly ensnared.”

Aradunnon only laughed as he departed for his mother’s chambers.

As he drew closer to them, he found himself hesitating. Somehow, the prospect of this conversation made him nervous. He knocked lightly on his mother’s door and opened it. She was seated in front of her mirror preparing for bed with one of her ladies brushing her hair. He walked over to her and placed a filial kiss on her cheek causing her to look sharply at her youngest son.

“Nana, may I speak to you,” he asked in a soft voice.

Dieneryn turned to him fully and eyed him suspiciously. “What have you done, Aradunnon?”

Aradunnon laughed lightly as Dieneryn’s maid wisely exited the room with a knowing look at her queen. “I am completely innocent, nana. I want to speak to you about Amoneth.”

Dieneryn grew more serious at that declaration.

Noting her expression, Aradunnon raised his eyebrows slightly. “I would like to travel to Lorien to ask her parents for a betrothal,” he said directly.

Dieneryn patted the bench she was sitting on and moved to the side to give Aradunnon room to sit. When he did, she looked at him closely. “I assume you and she have spoken of this?” she asked.

Aradunnon frowned at his mother’s solemn tone but nodded. “We have. She agreed.”

“Indeed? I was under the impression that she did not approve of the amount of time you spend in the south.”

Aradunnon looked away. “I will no longer be commanding the warriors from the field. I will stay in the capital. Thranduil and I feel that will facilitate communication with him and with the other patrols.”

Dieneryn’s eyebrows rose dramatically. “Do you believe that? And whose idea was it. Yours? Thranduil’s?” She paused. “Amoneth’s?”

Aradunnon sighed. “Nana, Amoneth suggested it to me. I discussed it with Thranduil and he said he had planned on mentioning it to me…” he began defensively.

Dieneryn placed a hand on her son’s shoulder. “Aradunnon, I ask only because I must ensure my son is happy. The reason you must ask my permission to become betrothed is because occasionally your elders have more wisdom than you do.”

“Amoneth makes me happy, naneth,” Aradunnon replied shortly. “I am not an elfling. I know my own heart.”

“I know, ion nin. I know you love her and that she loves you. But I worry about all she asks of you…”

“I thought you approved of my recent ‘maturity.’ That is how you referred to it, is it not?” he interrupted, his tone now slightly snappy.

Dieneryn raised her hand to Aradunnon’s chin and forced him to look at her, fixing him with a harsh gaze. “I do approve of your new maturity, Aradunnon. And I agree with Thranduil that he needs to be able to communicate more readily with his troop commander. These are not the issues. The issue is—why does Amoneth ask for these changes? Does she understand you and your responsibilities? I am not certain that she does and that concerns me greatly. She did not ask you to command the troops from the capital because it would be better for this realm. She asked you to do that because it would be better for her. Her reasons were selfish and that is not acceptable, Aradunnon. Our station in life does not allow us to be selfish. It requires personal sacrifice and dedication to something other than oneself. Is she capable of that? Can she be happy as the consort of a prince? Have you discussed this with her?”

Aradunnon turned his eyes away since he could not turn his face. “I admit that we have not discussed it directly, naneth.”

“Do you agree with me that it should be discussed?”

“Of course, naneth,” he said tiredly.

Dieneryn frowned at his tone. “Do you understand the damage she can do to Thranduil and to you if she does not respect what is required of you?”

Aradunnon sighed. “I do, naneth. And so does she. She was raised in Amroth’s court…”

“Yet she still does not understand your duties,” Dieneryn stated flatly. “Aradunnon, you are an adult. You have lived an entire age. I know you understand your responsibilities to this realm. I trust you to make good decisions. If you have chosen to marry Amoneth, I will not stand in the way of my adult son’s choice or happiness. But before I give my consent, I will require your word that you will not set a marriage date until you are certain that Amoneth understands fully the meaning of your position in this realm.”

“You have my word, nana. I will speak to her and the betrothal will stand until I am certain she understands my role.”

Dieneryn let out a quiet breath. “I love you, Aradunnon. Please do not think I am trying to stand in the way of your happiness.”

He shook his head and embraced his mother. “I know you are not, nana. I agree that this betrothal may very well need to last longer than a year.” He let out a short laugh and sat back. “The Valar know the courtship has been long enough. I know there was a reason for that.”

Dieneryn nodded. “As long as you recognize that. That is all that I ask.”

*~*~*

The next morning, Thranduil and Lindomiel strolled to the stables arm-in-arm surrounded by a flurry of guards and advisors. Lindomiel listened with some amusement as Thranduil gave last minute instructions to Hallion and as the captain of his guard, Conuiön, spoke to his lieutenant, Tureden, about the family’s security in his absence. Trips to Lothlorien, whether business or pleasure for Thranduil, were always fun for Lindomiel but they certainly caused a stir. Lindomiel’s eyebrows went up dramatically when they reached the stables and she saw Aradunnon and Amoneth in traveling clothes and checking their horses as well. She let go of Thranduil’s arm, leaving him to his advisors, and walked over to them.

“Are you coming with us?” she asked, surprise evident in her voice. Aradunnon and Thranduil were almost never both absent from the capital.

Amoneth looked at her friend with a radiant smile but Aradunnon’s expression matched Lindomiel’s—he was clearly surprised. “Thranduil did not mention it?” he asked.

Lindomiel shook her head.

Amoneth drew her gaze with her smile. “Aradunnon is coming to speak to my parents about a betrothal,” she said with obvious joy.

Lindomiel’s eyes widened and her jaw dropped. She looked silently between her friend and Aradunnon for a moment before composing her face to more appropriate lines. She pulled Amoneth into an embrace. “I am very happy for you, Amoneth,” she said, still looking at Aradunnon over her friend’s shoulder. “I must say that I am surprised though. I thought you both were uncomfortable with the amount of time Aradunnon must spend away from the capital.”

Amoneth released her friend to take Aradunnon’s arm. “He will be here most of the time now. He is going to command the troops from the capital,” she declared happily.

Lindomiel blinked and she looked back at Aradunnon. He looked at her somewhat uncomfortably. “Well, I am certain Thranduil will appreciate having you nearby, Aradunnon. I know he has found managing the troops difficult recently with you gone so much of the time.”

Aradunnon looked back at her with a neutral expression, very tired of this topic. “It is very convenient that my personal desires and my responsibilities to the realm both could be addressed with this decision.”

Lindomiel nodded. “Indeed it is. That is very rarely the case.” She raised one eyebrow as Aradunnon flinched slightly at that response. Noticing the other members of the traveling party beginning to mount their horses and aware of a groom standing by with her mare, Lindomiel turned to her friend. “Amoneth, I want you to ride with me so we can discuss your betrothal. We can plan the feast to celebrate it,” she said while firmly taking her friend’s arm and leading her to her horse.

Aradunnon watched them for a moment before mounting his own horse and joining his brother. As Thranduil led the party from the stables to the path that led to the Forest Road, Aradunnon looked over at him. “You did not mention to Lindomiel that we had spoken last night?” he asked curiously.

Thranduil smiled slightly. “No, I did not,” he answered quietly.

“May I ask why?”

Thranduil laughed. “I know my wife well enough to know how to avoid a fight with her,” he answered.

Aradunnon raised his eyebrows. “And what is that supposed to mean?”

Thranduil looked at his brother with laughter still plainly in his eyes. “Be thankful it is not Lindomiel’s permission you need to marry Amoneth. Or even mine, for I would not dare cross Lindomiel by granting it. Lindomiel does not approve in the slightest of this match, muindor nin. Though now that it has been made, you may count on the fact that she will make sure Amoneth corrects the behaviors she sees as inappropriate. That elleth is more formidable than nana. I fear her and right now, so should Amoneth.”

Aradunnon’s eyebrows climbed higher. “Might I ask what Lindomiel finds unacceptable about my betrothed wife, her best friend?” he asked stiffly.

Thranduil only laughed in the face of his brother’s indignant attitude. “You know the answer to that as well as I do, Aradunnon. And I am not stupid. I know nana talked to you about it too. Nana and Lindomiel are both correct. I am certain you understand that so I will not waste my breath lecturing my little brother. You should be thankful for Lindomiel’s help. She will see to it that Amoneth understands the importance of respecting your position.” Thranduil snorted, looking at the two ellyth riding behind them and obviously engaged in a very intense conversation. “I would not want to be in the middle of that,” he commented wryly.

Aradunnon looked back as well and cringed, looking away quickly before he drew either elleth’s attention. “Valar save me,” he whispered. “I am in the middle of that.”

Thranduil laughed heartily and urged his horse to a trot.

*~*~*

The King of Greenwood the Great rode into Lothlorien two weeks later to a welcoming party that he did not expect. Amroth awaited him in the courtyard. With him stood, Amglaur and Limmiel, Lindomiel’s parents. That was customary. But also with Amroth stood Thranduil’s cousin, Celeborn, and his wife Galadriel. Their presence was completely unforeseen and Thranduil could not help but tense slightly seeing them. He still did not feel entirely comfortable with his cousin’s choice of a wife. He could not deny that he was eyeing her suspiciously as he greeted his host.

Amroth embraced Thranduil warmly. “I have the King of Eryn Galen here. I have representatives from Imladris. Perhaps I should invite Cirdan to Lorien. It has been seven yén since our last council. Maybe it is time for another. I certainly am finding Lorien to be the center of a good deal of activity of late,” he said cheerfully.

Thranduil’s eyes flashed briefly to Celeborn and Galadriel at that statement. “Perhaps it is time for another council,” he replied quietly before turning to Celeborn. He smiled, sincerely pleased to see him. “It has been too long since we last met, cousin. After all the effort you made to persuade me to admit that I would welcome your lady wife in my realm, you have not visited me once in nearly a millennium.”

Celeborn chuckled softly. “Yes, your enthusiasm for seeing us now makes me regret that dearly,” he replied mockingly, ignoring Thranduil’s proffered hand and pulling him into an embrace instead. “Behave yourself, cousin,” he whispered into Thranduil’s ear. “You may find you have more in common with Galadriel than you think.”

Thranduil blinked at Celeborn in response to that cryptic comment as he stood back. Then he reached for the hand Galadriel offered him, bending over it courteously. “It is a surprise to find you both here, my lady,” he commented.

Galadriel looked at Thranduil coolly but he could detect a playful light in the recesses of her eyes. The delight that Galadriel took in shocking him was one of the reasons he felt uncomfortable in her presence and he was already certain, given Celeborn’s statement, that this encounter would be no exception.

“You may chastise my lord husband as you wish, Thranduil. That is your affair. But it just so happens that he and I were on our way to visit you in Eryn Galen when we heard you were coming here. So we stayed and waited for you.”

Thranduil raised his eyebrows. “Is that so? I am very glad we did not miss each other,” he replied politely.

Galadriel did not display the amusement she felt at that reply, certain as she was of its insincerity. But she did read his curiosity and was all too happy to satisfy it. “Indeed. Celeborn and I are very much looking forward to discussing Amon Lanc with you,” she said. The playful light behind her cool expression danced merrily for a moment.

Thranduil felt his wife and brother’s eyes upon him as he forced himself to show no reaction to that declaration. He could be every bit as inscrutable as Galadriel and he refused to be baited by her. “Convenient, for that is exactly the topic I am here to discuss with Lord Amroth,” he replied neutrally.

She simply nodded at him as Amglaur, Amroth and Celeborn struggled not to laugh. Amroth seized Thranduil’s arm. “Come on Thranduil, let us get you and your party to your rooms so you can refresh yourselves. You and Galadriel can spare at dinner. It will make for good entertainment for the rest of us.”

*~*~*

The next day found Thranduil, Aradunnon, Amroth, Amglaur, Celeborn and Galadriel in Amroth’s office. As they settled themselves, Thranduil leaned back in his chair and studied Galadriel openly. Her eyes met his as she felt his intense gaze upon her, and much to his surprise, she allowed his scrutiny without challenge. He was aware of Celeborn watching him carefully as he considered his wife but Thranduil found no reason to make the reaction to her that Celeborn clearly feared. He had to admit that he did not see what he expected to see in Galadriel. She was filled with the same foreboding about the presence in Amon Lanc that he was and nothing more. The King of Greenwood was shocked to see only an ally in her.

He sat back, a thoughtful look on his face and arms folded across his chest. “Tell me about your interest in Amon Lanc, my lady,” he asked quietly, taking the liberty of opening their discussion despite the fact that he was in Amroth’s realm.

“I believe that Sauron rises there,” she replied directly, plunging them all into the heart of the conversation.

Everyone present leaned forward at that, including Celeborn. It was Aradunnon that spoke.

“I was there less than five weeks ago, my lady. I saw orcs, certainly. And spiders. And shadow. I admit that I felt a presence there like the one I felt in Mordor. But to say that the Evil One himself rises there—that is quite an assertion.”

She turned her unreadable eyes to Thranduil’s brother. “It is what I believe. I was never convinced that Sauron was destroyed. The survival of the Ring and the foundations of Barad-dur are evidence of that.”

Aradunnon nodded once, looking at Thranduil. “I agree,” he said resolutely.

Much to the obvious amazement of everyone else in the room, Thranduil nodded slowly. He clearly believed it as well. Galadriel had landed on a fear that Thranduil firmly shared. Sauron had not been destroyed.

“Why are you here?” Thranduil asked. He wanted details. “What are you doing in Lorien?”

Celeborn intervened. “Galadriel and I have been traveling for several years throughout Rhovanion and even to Gondor and east to Mordor. We are trying to find information about Sauron’s fate.”

Thranduil raised his eyebrows, both at the statement and the fact that Celeborn interrupted Galadriel to make it. “What have you found?” he asked calmly.

Galadriel looked coolly at her husband. “We found little evidence of any presence in Mordor and the Men in Gondor feel confident Sauron is defeated. But we have been to Amon Lanc, Thranduil. We have seen the fortress and shadow there. We know that the Ring was lost near there. Whether that is coincidence or not, I cannot say. But as I have advised Amroth, the power that rises in Amon Lanc is dangerous. A decisive response to it must be made and soon.”

Thranduil’s brow furrowed. “You have been in my forest?” he asked stiffly, glancing at Aradunnon.

Galadriel returned his gaze placidly. “I have. I recommend that you be less concerned with the fact that a few elves crossed your borders and more concerned with the pits of orcs fortified in your mountain, Lord Thranduil.”

Thranduil narrowed his eyes at her but Aradunnon spoke before he could respond. “How close did you get to Amon Lanc and how recently?” he asked curiously.

“To the clearing around the base of the mountain nearly two months ago,” Celeborn responded quietly.

Aradunnon’s eyes widened. “How could you get that close? I cannot get within a league of the mountain.”

Celeborn opened his mouth to reply but Galadriel spoke first. “I have very strong magic to protect me.”

Thranduil’s eyes narrowed even further at that statement but Aradunnon again forestalled him. “Well, any information about the nature of their fortification that you can give me, I would appreciate it greatly. It has been a very long time since I could approach within sight of the mountain.”

Galadriel nodded. “I would be happy to discuss what we saw in detail with you.”

Thranduil took a deep breath. Whatever aversion he had to Galadriel, she clearly was as committed to the destruction of this threat as he was. If she could help him, he would accept her help. Schooling his features to calmer lines, he returned to her earlier statement. “You said decisive action is needed. There are those in Eryn Galen that want to drive what ever grows in Amon Lanc out of the forest. Now. Before it grows too large,” he said casually and watched for her response. It surprised him.

“I will fight with you if you make that choice, Thranduil,” Galadriel replied swiftly.

Thranduil raised his eyebrows at that. He knew Galadriel was a formidable warrior. He let his eyes slip to Celeborn. His cousin nodded, indicating he would as well. Thranduil’s eyebrows climbed higher.

“I do not have the warriors or the arms for such an attack. My standing army has five hundred warriors in it. I could arm two hundred more with swords if I called up citizens to fight. But we estimate there are one thousand orcs in Amon Lanc. We would need more warriors than I can provide alone to attack a fortified position,” he replied quietly. Now Thranduil turned to Amroth. “I had hoped to convince you to join me in this, Amroth. Amon Lanc is much closer to your capital than it is to mine. Surely it concerns you that the Evil One is gathering his strength there. Between us, we may still be able to defeat this evil before it becomes too strong.”

Amroth had a bitter look on his face. “I am not convinced that you and Lady Galadriel are correct about the source of the evil in Amon Lanc, Thranduil,” he replied.

Thranduil looked at Amroth evenly, unperturbed. “Regardless of whether it is Sauron or not, we know there are orcs. They attack our villages. Kill our citizens. Make travel difficult between our realms. Interfere with commerce. Surely that is a threat that requires response.”

Amroth’s mouth formed a hard line. “Thranduil, Galadriel has discussed this with me as well and I was not moved. I will tell you plainly—I am not involving Lorien in another war. My father followed yours to Mordor. I will not repeat that mistake. I cannot imagine how you can. How can you bring your people to war again?”

“I have over one thousand orcs in my forest, Amroth. I would say a war has been brought to me,” Thranduil replied hotly. “How can I not respond?”

“Eryn Galen is a large forest, Thranduil. Respond by moving your people away from Amon Lanc, not by killing them in a war. We all suffered heavy losses in the last war and we have only just recovered. The memory of elves is long. I am not anxious to return my people to battle.”

“My memory is long as well, Amroth. I was in Mordor along with you. I do not care to have Amon Lanc become the next Barad-dur or for my forest to be the next Dagorlad. What if the orcs move north along with me? What if they move south to you? They will continue to grow in strength as they have over the last fifty years and I think it would be best to eliminate this threat before it is too large for us to handle.”

“Then may you have the blessings of the Valar in your endeavor, Thranduil, but I will not be involved.”

Amglaur had sat quietly through this interchange, frowning severely. Now he broke his silence. “My lord,” he said looking at Amroth, “I must agree with Lord Thranduil on this. When we were speaking of attacking the orcs alone and you were hesitant to do so, I could clearly understand that. But with Eryn Galen’s aid, would it not be wise to eliminate this threat?”

“I agree,” Galadriel said firmly. “Mark my words, it will be worth driving this evil from Amon Lanc.”

Amroth glared at her. “To where will we drive it? To the dwarves in the mountains? Where will they drive it? To Imladris? What can we truly hope to accomplish with this action? An alliance of Men and Elves could not destroy Sauron. How can we hope to do so? They are concentrated there. I say let them stay there.”

Thranduil frowned. “They are concentrated a seven day march from my capital, Amroth. I do not want them to ‘stay there,’” he exclaimed, now angrily. “You may want to consult a map because they are a two day march from your capital.”

“I am well aware of that, Thranduil,” Amroth said icily. “I am satisfied with the measures that I have taken to ensure the safety of my people. I will not involve them in a war. That is my final word on this issue.”

Amglaur looked away from his nephew bitterly as Thranduil continued staring at him in amazement. “Perhaps you would care to share with me what you have done to inspire such confidence, Amroth, that I may do the same. I do not feel nearly as secure as you apparently do and my people are much further from Amon Lanc than yours.”

Amroth looked at Thranduil uncomfortably for a moment. Then his eyes drifted to Galadriel briefly before he looked away entirely. He remained silent. Thranduil glanced at Galadriel and Celeborn before Amglaur’s expression drew his attention. His eyes glittered with anger.

“Is there more going on at my borders that I should be aware of?” Thranduil asked, voice rising slightly.

Amglaur glowered at Galadriel. Thranduil knew that whereas he distrusted Galadriel, Amglaur openly despised her. “I am certain you would be interested to know what that Noldo has done here, Thranduil.”

Thranduil’s eyes turned to Galadriel, demanding an explanation.

Again Celeborn intervened. “Amroth is a fine leader, Thranduil. But Galadriel has foreseen that Lorien will be a pivotal force against the Enemy,” he began.

“I have powers to protect this realm…magic…that far exceed Amroth’s,” Galadriel interrupted her husband in a soft voice.

Thranduil looked at Amroth. “What does that mean?”

Amroth finally returned his peer’s gaze evenly. “She has used the magic she spoke of to strengthen our borders,” he answered vaguely.

Thranduil frowned and glanced at Amglaur, who looked ready to explode at that topic.

Amroth glared at the elves gathered around him, silencing them before the fight could erupt. “I am the King of Lorien. I will defend this realm as I see fit. I will not destroy it in wars. I will make the decisions that I think are best for my people and I have made them. As I have already said—that is my final word.”

Galadriel inclined her head to Amroth as did Thranduil. “I respect your decision, Amroth, though I cannot understand it or agree with it,” Galadriel replied quietly.

Thranduil found himself in silent agreement with that sentiment.

Amroth looked at the elves assembled before him for a long moment before he spoke again. “If that is all of this discussion, I do have other business to attend to today.”

Recognizing the obvious dismissal, Thranduil, Aradunnon, Galadriel and Celeborn stood and made to leave. Celeborn and Galadriel flanked Thranduil as they passed out of Amroth’s office. Celeborn took Thranduil’s arm, pulling him to the side and Aradunnon and Galadriel followed.

“It pains you, Thranduil, but you know Galadriel is right about the situation in Amon Lanc,” Celeborn said quietly in Thranduil’s ear, mindful of Amroth’s servants and courtiers.

Thranduil frowned. “You must also know that I do not trust any magic Galadriel has used here in Lorien. I can guess its source and I do not like the idea of employing such dangerous tools on my borders.” He paused and looked at Galadriel. “You have foreseen that Lorien will be pivotal against the Enemy,” he quoted. “I do not like the idea that you have your eye on Lorien. You came to Middle Earth seeking a kingdom to rule, my lady. Tell me, do you think you have found one in Lorien? What would you do to conquer it?”

Celeborn’s eyes hardened and his fair complexion flushed with anger at Thranduil’s implication. “You govern your tongue, Thranduil,” he began coldly.

But Galadriel merely laughed. “Are you suggesting that I would usurp Amroth’s rule, Thranduil? Kill him perhaps? I have never slain an elf in anything but self defense. Nor do I intend to slay another, lest it be you in one of our arguments.” Thranduil’s jaw dropped and he stared at her with wide eyes. “I will not take any kingdom by force. But Amroth distracts himself with lover’s pursuits and more will have to be done to protect Lorien than what is done now. Let us try to keep this discussion focused on our true enemies, rather than creating new animosities. That would only serve the forces of evil.”

Thranduil and Aradunnon silently stared at Galadriel, shoulder-to-shoulder, their eyes cold, hard emeralds.

Celeborn sighed and spoke in a conciliatory tone. “Indeed, cousin, let us not distract ourselves. The question before us is what to do about Amon Lanc if Amroth will not aid you and you feel you cannot defeat the evil there alone.”

Thranduil’s eyes slid to Celeborn’s and he glared at him a moment before speaking in a cool voice. “I do not see what I can do. If I cannot fight, I must move my people to protect them.”

Thranduil felt his brother tense by his side. He knew Aradunnon strongly opposed another retreat but he would never gainsay Thranduil, much less in the presence of foreigners.

Celeborn looked at Thranduil cautiously. “If you truly want to fight this, rather than ignore it as Amroth has chosen to do, a messenger brought me some interesting news from Imladris several days ago. Elrond sent word that several powerful allies against Sauron have recently arrived in his realm. He wants Galadriel and I to return there to meet them. Perhaps you would like to come with us to investigate who these allies are.”

Thranduil looked between Galadriel and Celeborn silently for a moment. “I will consider it. I appreciate the invitation.”

Galadriel fixed Thranduil with an intense look. “I am your ally, Thranduil, not your enemy. I want to see Sauron destroyed and our people free of suffering. Nothing more.”

Thranduil frowned and looked down for a moment before meeting her gaze. “I know that, my lady. I will likely never trust you completely, but I do trust that. Nevertheless, Imladris is a month journey one way. I must send a message to Eryn Galen before I can decide if I dare travel for so long. And I have other business to finish here in Lorien. When do you plan to leave for Imladris?”

“We were already leaving when we heard you were coming here. We plan to leave as soon as possible,” Celeborn responded. “May I ask how long you remaining business in Lorien might take?”

Thranduil glanced at Aradunnon, who smiled at Celeborn. “It is difficult to say,” Aradunnon answered. “I am here to ask Amoneth’s parents for a betrothal.”

Celeborn and Galadriel brightened at that topic and Celeborn grasped Aradunnon’s shoulder. “Well, we will wait to see the outcome of that at least. I know my youngest cousin very poorly. Perhaps we can rectify that situation somewhat while we are all here.”

Aradunnon nodded. “I would like that, Celeborn,” he replied warmly.

Celeborn turned back to Thranduil. “We will leave you to your business then. But consider my offer, Thranduil. Elrond’s message is intriguing, if nothing else. And you never know what allies you might find in Imladris. No harm can come of exploring all your options. After all, retreating in front of Sauron will ultimately become impossible.”

Thranduil merely nodded to that. Celeborn offered Galadriel his arm and with a nod, they left Thranduil and his brother alone.

Aradunnon moved to his brother’s side. “What a day for you,” he said teasingly in a voice meant only for Thranduil. “To have both Galadriel and Amglaur agree with your arguments about Amon Lanc. That must have been rather disconcerting for you.”

Thranduil snorted quietly. “It is enough to make me believe fighting the evil at Amon Lanc might not be a good idea,” he responded in a joking tone. “But you should go join Amoneth and her parents—you have your own conversations to pursue today.”

Aradunnon only smiled.

Thranduil and Aradunnon followed Celeborn and Galadriel at a distance as they all walked to the courtyard. Once there, Aradunnon went to find Amoneth while Celeborn and Galadriel wondered off together down one of the many beautiful paths in Lorien. Thranduil sat on a bench and found himself a little jealous of how easily everyone around him seemed to turn their minds from the meeting they had just attended to other pursuits. Thranduil might not like Galadriel but he did acknowledge her talents. If she felt Sauron rose in Amon Lanc, he believed her. Since that had long been his worst fear, hearing it confirmed was both expected and terrifying. Orcs were one thing but Sauron himself! Thranduil could not imagine fighting that evil alone.

*~*~*

Muindor nin--My brother

Yén--an elven measurement of time, 144 solar years. Elves like to measure in twelves.

Naneth/nana--Mother/mum

Ion nin--My son

elleth/ellyth--Female elf(s)


Chapter 8 - None knew whence they were

*******************

Even as the first shadows were felt in Mirkwood there appeared in the west of Middle-earth the Istari, whom Men called the Wizards. None knew at that time whence they were… But afterwards it was said among the Elves that they were messengers sent by the Lords of the West to contest the power of Sauron, if he should arise again, and to move Elves and Men and all living things of good will to valiant deeds…. Ever most vigilant was Mithrandir, and he it was that most doubted the darkness in Mirkwood…Silmarillion

*******************

Thranduil stayed in Lothlorien for several weeks as Amoneth and Aradunnon celebrated their betrothal with her family. All the while, he considered Celeborn’s invitation to go to Rivendell. He had to admit Elrond’s message piqued his curiosity, implying that one person or perhaps a small group of people had arrived to challenge Sauron. Thranduil definitely wanted to meet such a person. But Rivendell was a long journey away and the king had pressing concerns in his own realm. He did not believe Elrond’s visitors would be able to provide meaningful assistance against the evil in Amon Lanc, so he had to make practical decisions on how to proceed now that Amroth had refused to fight with him.

Thranduil knew his brother wanted to fight to clear the mountain of orcs again and the king preferred that option himself. But both the king and his troop commander recognized the danger of fighting that battle with so few warriors. For that reason, Aradunnon encouraged Thranduil to go to Rivendell and find an ally either in Elrond’s guests or Elrond himself. That idea did not sit well with Thranduil. Much like their father, he was not inclined to seek outside help. It had been one thing to try to form an alliance with Amroth, with whom he had worked relatively closely for a millennium and who was equally threatened. Thranduil knew Elrond barely at all—certainly not well enough to ask him to march an army four weeks south of his own borders to aid in a situation that did not affect him by fighting a battle Thranduil was not sure he could win.

As badly as he wanted to resist this decision, Thranduil was beginning to see that his only viable option was to move his capital to a safer location and encourage the southern villagers to move as well.

Nevertheless, when the time came to return to Greenwood or accept Celeborn’s invitation, Thranduil did agree to travel to Rivendell, justifying the long trip in his mind in many ways. Lindomiel had never been west of the Misty Mountains and she loved to see new places. Making the trip would greatly please his wife. Also, by appearing to explore all options to make a fight possible, Thranduil would be appeasing his brother. Finally, he would be satisfying his curiosity to meet whoever Elrond had in Rivendell that thought themselves capable of opposing Sauron. Besides, Thranduil knew that Greenwood was in the capable hands of its steward and any decisions about moving the capital would have to wait until the scouts returned from the north with their reports later that year.

All these justifications aside, Thranduil knew deep in his heart that he agreed to the trip because he could not leave any possibility of saving the southern forest unexplored.

So now, two months since he had left Greenwood, Thranduil, Lindomiel, Celeborn and Galadriel followed the guards along the narrow, rocky path leading down into the valley that hid the refuge of Rivendell. As they rode, he kept a careful eye on Lindomiel whose riding skills had never been tested on such terrain. Thranduil had not ventured west of the Misty Mountains since he crossed them with his father at the beginning of the Second Age. Consequently, like Lindomiel, he had never been to Rivendell. As their horses nervously picked a path along the cliff descending into the valley, Thranduil had to admit the environment was attractive. The sounds of the river made a lulling sound that was quite comforting and the soft, warm breeze carried the pleasing scents of pines and flowers. Thranduil opened himself to the welcoming songs of the trees in the valley and they greeted him, curious about this powerful, unknown yet friendly presence amongst them. After a few moments, he saw Celeborn turn to him and smile. Thranduil returned the gesture, genuinely relaxed and happy. Despite the fact that he never enjoyed traveling and was weighed down by the threats to the southern part of his own realm, Thranduil could not deny that he felt his spirit lighten somewhat in this protected valley.

As they crossed the narrow, stone bridge over the river, a large house came into view. Thranduil raised his eyes to study the architecture. The buildings were open and airy and bright. As they approached, Elrond and Celebrian emerged from the house. Thranduil could not help but smile as Celeborn and Galadriel urged their horses to a canter. Reaching the patio, they dismounted to the enthusiastic greeting of their daughter and son-in-law. Thranduil and Lindomiel followed at a more sedate pace to allow the family a moment of privacy. When they arrived with the guards at the patio, they were greeted no less enthusiastically.

“Thranduil,” Elrond called while stepping forward to hold Lindomiel’s horse. “When the messenger came to inform me that Celeborn and Galadriel had entered the valley traveling with the King and Queen of Eryn Galen, I could hardly believe my ears. Welcome to Imladris,” he exclaimed with a broad smile on his face.

Thranduil leapt lightly from his horse, running his hand down its neck, silently communicating his thanks for delivering him such a long distance. He took Lindomiel’s hand as she dismounted. “Thank you, Elrond. I must say I am pleased to be here. From what I have seen thus far, this is a truly beautiful realm.”

Elrond’s eyes lit up at that obviously sincere compliment. “Thank you, Thranduil. It is an honor to have you here. I assume you have come with Celeborn and Galadriel to meet my guests from the Havens.”

Thranduil glanced at his cousin and nodded. “At Celeborn’s invitation,” he responded.

Elrond looked at him reproachfully. “You do not need Celeborn’s invitation, Thranduil, for you always have mine. You are always welcome in my home.”

Thranduil found himself smiling again at that. “If I could find it,” he could not resist teasing.

Elrond laughed. “That is the point, mellon nin. Imaldris was designed as a refuge and safe haven. Come. I will have someone show you to your rooms. Dinner will be served in an hour or so. If either of my guests are here and bother to come to the evening meal, I can introduce you tonight. We may well have to spend some time tracking them down, however. They have been traveling around the area near Imladris visiting Men. I never really know quite where they are and I have not had much time to speak to them myself.” He looked at the others with a strange look in his eyes, almost nervous. “They are…unusual. But I will let you see for yourselves and draw your own conclusions.” He glanced at his peer. “Try to be open minded, Thranduil. One of them is practically a wood elf. He loves the forest. And the other…well his temperament reminds me a little of yours.” He snorted. “I can certainly say they are both rather…independent. I think you will like them if you give them a chance, Thranduil.”

Thranduil raised his eyebrows at Elrond’s obvious concern. Celeborn and Galadriel tried to smother their amusement while Lindomiel laughed out loud.

*~*~*

The next day, it was approaching time for midday meal and the only thing Elrond had introduced to Thranduil and Lindomiel was his library. Neither of the guests from the Havens made an appearance at dinner the evening Thranduil arrived in Rivendell nor were they present for breakfast the next morning. After breakfast, Elrond had some reading to do and Celeborn and Galadriel wanted to research some information they had heard referenced in their travels. Elrond suggested that Thranduil and Lindomiel might entertain themselves in the library as well and offered to show it to them.

Thranduil had to admit he was impressed. The library inhabited room after room in Elrond’s house, wandering around corners and up and down short flights of stairs in a seemingly never ending forest of shelves packed with poetry and chronicles and histories. The walls that were not lined with shelves were decorated with murals or maps that illustrated the books. Thranduil shook his head slightly as his eyes roamed idly. Lindomiel was in paradise, he knew. He watched with a smile as she inspected tome after tome and suspected he would be sending scribes to Rivendell with a lengthy list of books that Lindomiel would want copied. ‘And I will have to think of some excuse to send Hallion to Imladris,’ he thought. His steward adored books. Thranduil laughed to himself. ‘Or perhaps not. He might not return from this place,’ he thought wryly.

Eyes on the books and maps and murals as he meandered through the library, Thranduil turned a corner and nearly tripped over a strange figure clad in a long grey cloak. He was huddled on the stone floor on his hands and knees squinting at the row of books on the bottom shelf of a bookcase against the wall. Surprised, Thranduil took a step back as the person stood.

“I beg your pardon,” they both began but Thranduil stammered to a halt before the sentence was entirely out of his mouth, staring openly at the individual before him.

He was slightly shorter than Thranduil. His hair and beard were long and grey and his face was marked with the signs of a mortal old age but he was possessed of an unmistakable strength. The fact that he appeared aged and was bearded made Thranduil assume he must be of the Race of Men, but as he looked at him he saw the undeniable light of wisdom beyond the years of Men in his dark eyes. Indeed, he saw knowledge that seemed to far surpass that of the oldest elves.

The man, or whatever he was, smiled warmly at Thranduil as Elrond happily approached them while waving over Lindomiel, Celeborn and Galadriel. “I see you have stumbled across one of my guests, Thranduil” he said with mirth in his voice.

The man laughed lightly, a rumbling sound from deep in his chest. “Quite literally,” he joked, speaking perfect Sindarin. Thranduil was further surprised by that, not accustomed to men who spoke his language, though he had heard the educated Men in Arnor did speak elvish. The man’s expression grew merrier at Thranduil’s confusion. “I am called the Grey Messenger, for obvious reasons. Some of the elves have begun to call me Mithrandir,” he said in an effort to satisfy the curiosity of the elves around him.

Elrond smiled. “And this is Thranduil, the King of Eryn Galen, his queen, Lindomiel and Celebrian’s parents Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel,” Elrond stated, indicating each in turn.

Each of the elves exchanged greetings with the man and Thranduil noted that they also seemed to be studying him closely.

“Do you have any idea where the Brown is, Mithrandir?” Elrond asked, once the introductions had concluded.

Thranduil’s brows furrowed slightly as the grey-clad figure shook his head with an amused expression. “He is in Imladris. I left him by the waterfall this morning. He discovered a pair of nesting jays and their fledglings and I feel they will occupy him for the rest of the day.”

Elrond laughed as Thranduil exchanged a look with Celeborn. Brown and Grey? Neither elf seemed to know what to make of these strange names or the appearance of the individual before them.

“Well, Mithrandir, might I at least impose upon you to speak with my other guests and I to satisfy some curiosities before you disappear again as well? Perhaps you would like to have lunch with us?”

Mithrandir laughed and took Elrond’s arm, leaning on it and his staff. “I will rarely turn down food in Imladris, Elrond, for it is fine food indeed. Curiosities have a way of breeding one upon the other but let us see if we can at least lay some of yours to rest today since you have made such a pleasant invitation.”

Elrond smiled agreeably and lead the party towards his office, where they could speak in private. As he helped the elderly man along through the winding corridor, they chatted quietly about the progress of his studies since his arrival in Rivendell. Thranduil, Lindomiel, Celeborn and Galadriel followed and listened, trying to discern who and what Elrond’s guest might be.

They settled around a large table in Elrond’s office strewn with books and papers. Elrond pushed them to the side to make room and called for the servants to bring lunch. They waited in silence for a few moments, all eyes on Mithrandir, studying him intensely. Unlike most men, who would feel uncomfortable under elven scrutiny, Mithrandir met their gazes calmly.

“Tell us, my lord,” Celeborn began, finally breaking the silence. “You said the elves call you Mithrandir. What is your true name?”

Mithrandir’s eyes brightened slightly in amusement. “I have been know by many names in many places and I feel I will acquire a good deal more names as I travel through Eriador. But Mithrandir is a fine one, I think.”

Celeborn frowned slightly as Galadriel pursued the purpose behind her husband’s question. “You said are traveling through Eriador. Where are you from?”

The Grey’s dark eyes turned to Galadriel. “I came here from Mithlond and stopped a few times along the way. From here I intend to go many places.”

Thranduil scowled at those evasive answers. “Elrond tells us that you are here to offer help to those who oppose Sauron. How do you intend to do that?” he asked directly, turning to the topic that interested him the most.

Mithrandir smiled at Thranduil. An indulgent smile that seemed to indicate Thranduil had just confirmed a suspicion. “That is correct. My companions and I were sent here for just that purpose. How we will do so remains to be seen. Indeed, perhaps you can help me. You are from Rhovanion, my lord, and I understand Celeborn and Galadriel have been traveling in the east near Mordor where some of my companions have journeyed. I would like to learn more about these places. Tell me, lady Galadriel, what made you and your lord husband decide to travel all the way to Mordor?”

Galadriel looked at him coolly for a moment before answering his question. “To confirm my fear that Sauron was indeed not destroyed and to try to determine if he was rising again in the East.”

Mithrandir raised his eyebrows. “And what did you find?”

“Precisely what Elrond told me I would find; what he last saw when leaving that evil place one thousand years ago—that the Men of Gondor had torn down the walls of Barad-dur but its foundations remain. They guard Mordor but will not inhabit it. I see it as a good sign that they still guard Mordor and that their kingdom and people are strong. I was also pleased to see that Orodruin is not active. It sleeps, smoldering only. I did not feel the presence of Morgoth’s servant in Mordor. I did feel it in Greenwood. ”

Mithrandir’s eyes turned to Thranduil. “What do you think of that assertion?” he asked quietly.

Thranduil frowned. “I have not been to Amon Lanc in fifty years. But orcs and spiders and wargs and all manner of fell beasts are called to that place in such numbers that we cannot turn them away. My brother, who is young but fought in Mordor with my adar and I, says that he feels the presence of Sauron in the south. He says a shadow hangs over the mountain. I trust his judgment. And Lady Galadriel’s. I believe that Sauron has forsaken Mordor for the time being and is gathering his servants to him in Amon Lanc.”

“And I find it difficult to believe that it is a coincidence that Isildur, and presumably the Ruling Ring along with him, was lost in the Gladden Fields so near to Amon Lanc. I believe the Ring drew him there,” Galadriel added.

Elrond nodded. “Galadriel and I discussed this last night. I have foreseen that Sauron will return when the Ruling Ring is found and the Age will end in war. If he has found it there or has called his servants there to search for it, this is a gravely troubling sign.”

Thranduil frowned at Elrond. “My warriors fight the orcs at Amon Lanc constantly. They are building there. Lady Galadriel said she saw the beginnings of a fortification there. But as yet, I have heard no report that indicates they are searching for the Ruling Ring.”

“But you all feel certain this Ring is what needs must be destroyed?” Mithrandir asked.

Elrond’s mouth formed a hard line. “It should have been destroyed a millennium ago.”

Mithrandir looked at Elrond thoughtfully. “Well, then I will have to make sure to study it carefully. Perhaps you will be able to speak to me about it further, lord Elrond.”

They continued this discussion throughout lunch. The topic seemed to interest Mithrandir greatly and he asked numerous questions of all the elves present—especially concentrating on how Thranduil had fought the forces at Amon Lanc and what he had seen there. Thranduil provided answers when requested but found himself marveling at the individual before his eyes. The idea that he might ever face Sauron seemed completely ludicrous. What could one old, decrepit man leaning heavily on a staff hope to accomplish against such a foe? But then, nothing readily made sense about this man’s appearance and Thranduil had learned long ago that appearances were deceiving. Such discrepancies would normally set off alarms in the mind of the naturally suspicious King of Greenwood, but this man did not inspire that reaction. And that in itself surprised Thranduil.

When lunch was concluded and all his questions had been answered, Mithrandir stood and excused himself, saying that he would go find the Brown and leaving the elves with more questions than they had before meeting him. Thranduil stared after him as he departed. Then his eyes shifted to Elrond.

“Tell me, Elrond, what manner of man is this that has appeared in your realm from nowhere with no name and with the light of the ages in his eyes?” he inquired speaking softly. Everyone present heard the edge on his voice and shared the concerns that drove it. “You cannot claim to have missed that this person is not what he seems.”

All eyes turned to Elrond.

Elrond shook his head. “I did not miss that, no. That is why I asked Celeborn and Galadriel to return--to hear their opinions. I told you he is unusual. But I know no more than you do, Thranduil. You have my word. He came from Mithlond with some of Cirdan’s people and four of his own. Two of them called themselves Blue Messengers. One called himself the White Messenger. Those three went east before I could contact Celeborn and Galadriel in Lorien. Then there were the Grey and the Brown. They have been traveling throughout Eriador.” He paused and looked at Thranduil mischievously. “I warn you though—the Brown has been enamored of the idea of visiting Eryn Galen since he heard it was the largest forest in Middle Earth.”

Thranduil’s brow furrowed at that announcement. “What are they, Elrond?” he demanded flatly. “No elf would mistake them for men but they do not have the appearance of elves. What have they told you about themselves?”

Elrond looked between Celeborn and Thranduil uncomfortably. “I am almost afraid to tell you who they said they are,” he began. Thranduil’s frown deepened at that. “They said they were sent by the Valar to contest the power of Sauron.”

Celeborn and Thranduil both stiffened hearing that—it was essentially what had been said about the Noldor when they returned to Middle Earth. Galadriel looked suddenly thoughtful.

Thranduil sighed. “I do not like this,” he declared, speaking to no one in particular. “Nothing is known about them. They claim to be here to help us but when asked about that task, this Mithrandir did nothing but ask us questions. Did you notice that he did not respond to a single question we asked? I do not like this,” he repeated.

Lindomiel looked at her husband gently. “I agree they are not what they seem, Thranduil, and it worries me that they disguise themselves as men when they clearly are not, but I saw nothing but warmth in Mithrandir. He seemed open and genuinely eager to help,” she commented softly.

“Yet with no suggestions on how to help,” Thranduil responded and sighed again. “I will grant you, I saw no sign of deceit in him. Indeed, I felt strangely inspired to trust him.” He snorted. “That only makes me distrust him more.”

Galadriel laughed in response to that statement. Thranduil turned his eyes to her but chose to ignore her reaction.

It was Celeborn that spoke. “Sauron came to Celebrimbor in fair guise. This calls for caution.”

“Gil-galad and I both saw through Annatar,” Elrond countered with a frown. “As Lindomiel said, there is no guile behind Mithrandir’s words. Cirdan sent word to me that he knows from whence they came and bade me to trust them. I trust Cirdan. Hence, I will trust them.”

Thranduil’s mouth formed a tight line. “I trust Cirdan as well,” he said quietly. “And I do not believe this Mithrandir is an agent of the Evil One by any stretch of the imagination nor do I think that is what Celeborn was trying to imply. He urged caution and I agree. Frankly, I am suspicious of them and I cannot imagine what aid they can offer.”

The room fell silent. After a moment, Galadriel, who had not yet spoken, looked between Celeborn and Thranduil. “Does he not remind you of someone?” she asked. “Think. The particular light in his eyes—where have you seen it before? Long ago in the past.”

Celeborn frowned and looked at his wife curiously.

Thranduil shook his head. “He reminds me of nothing I have ever seen before, my lady, I assure you.”

“You were a child Thranduil, but I think you have seen someone like him before.”

Thranduil looked at Galadriel sharply as recognition lit in Celeborn’s eyes as well. Elrond and Lindomiel watched as the three older elves looked at one another searchingly, almost disbelievingly.

“To what are you referring, Galadriel?” Elrond finally asked.

“Melian,” Celeborn answered. “The light in his eyes. The knowledge.”

Thranduil nodded. “Looking at him is like looking upon Melian.”

Lindomiel blinked at that. “Are you saying that he is a Maia?” she asked, voice rising incredulously and pointing at the door the Grey had exited through.

Galadriel looked at her. “I have seen many Maiar, Lindomiel. I believe it is possible.”

“It would explain many things,” Elrond said. “Including some insinuations Cirdan has made.”

They were silent a moment, looking at each other.

“Well,” Thranduil finally said resolutely, leaning back in his chair. “We will ask him if that is the case.”

Amusement lit Galadriel’s eyes. “Ask him? You would do just that, would you not Thranduil? If Ilúvatar himself came to Middle Earth, it would be you challenging him to prove himself.”

Thranduil returned her gaze evenly. “I think it is reasonable to know what we are dealing with,” he responded coolly. “I certainly intend to ask him.”

Elrond and Celeborn chuckled quietly at that.

“Please do not provoke a Maia, Thranduil. Or if you must, please wait until he is in your realm to do it,” Elrond said, still laughing.

Thranduil smirked at him. “I cannot think of any realm that I have destroyed with my mere presence as yet, lord Elrond.”

Elrond raised an amused eyebrow and looked back at him. “So long as ‘yet’ is not the key word in that sentence. If they are Maiar, I want them as my allies.”

Thranduil’s face grew more serious at that. “Indeed. As do I.”

*~*~*

It was well after dark and the light of the stars and moon sparkled in the rippling waters of the river. Thranduil had left Lindomiel in the library, wondering if he would ever be able to remove her from it. But his mind was too preoccupied to enjoy the books and maps.

The idea that Elrond’s visitors might be Maiar did not comfort Thranduil in the slightest. Instead it alarmed him. If the Valar felt it necessary to send such emissaries, then certainly the situation in Middle Earth must be more serious then anyone as yet understood. That thought only added another bit of proof in his mind to the theory that the power rising in Amon Lanc was more than merely orcs. Though he had only been in Rivendell one day, Thranduil was suddenly anxious to return home and begin taking action against Amon Lanc. It was with difficulty that he restrained himself and remained in place in Rivendell to learn what else he could about Elrond’s guests. Seeking the solace of nature, he strolled along a path on the bank amongst the pines, enjoying the somewhat novel presence of a type of tree that was not common in the Woodland Realm.

He had traveled a good distance down the secluded path before he heard the muffled sound of distant voices. The path was lit by the occasional torch, so Thranduil spied the grey and brown cloaked figures sitting on a bench under a tree long before he was anywhere near them. The king stopped to study them surreptitiously. Mithrandir was staring at one of the torches that lined the path with a delighted look on his face. His companion was also looking at the fire and laughing merrily. Thranduil snorted quietly—he thought the men were odd already but their obvious fascination with the fire made them almost appear to be mad. Thranduil’s eyes turned to the flame. He blinked. The fire burning brightly in the lantern had distinctly taken the shape of a dragon. Thranduil saw the brown clad man say something that he could not hear and the flame relaxed into a normal shape before forming into a butterfly with dancing wings.

Thranduil watched a few more animal shapes appear and disappear before he continued his trajectory down the path towards the bench, now with long strides. As he approached, he glanced at the flame in the lantern and it extinguished entirely. The figures on the bench looked over at him, obviously surprised.

Thranduil regarded them coolly. “I know many elves that learnt some magic but I do not know any Men in this Age capable of such spells,” he said quietly.

Mithrandir stood. “What business is it of yours how I pass my idle time, lord Thranduil?”

Thranduil spoke in as even a tone as possible, though tension was obvious in his posture. “It is my business to know with whom I treat. You are no man, Mithrandir. You are Maia. Or worse. And I would have the truth of it.”

At that, the brown robed man stood as well, concern showed in his eyes as they darted between Mithrandir and Thranduil nervously. Mithrandir glared at Thranduil for several moments and Thranduil met his gaze resolutely. Finally, Mithrandir laughed lightly, reigniting the torch with a gesture.

“I see a good deal of fire in you, lord Thranduil. That will serve you well as you rule Eryn Galen. But it will do nothing to advance our friendship. Come sit with us. I will introduce you to my companion.”

Thranduil remained where he was and looked at the other ‘man.’ A jay sat on his head, glaring at the elvenking imperiously. Thranduil shook his head slightly “I believe I can conclude for myself that if you are the Grey Messenger, this must be the Brown Messenger. Messenger from the Valar, I have heard. Why do you try to conceal the fact that you are Maiar?” he pressed.

“I will not deny that we are Maiar, lord Thranduil, if that will ease your doubts. We are servants of the Flame Imperishable. Ours is to oppose the fire that devours and wastes with the fire that kindles and succors. But we have not been sent here to sway the wills of Men and Elves with displays of majesty or power. I do not hide what I am, I simply will not flaunt it. Now will you sit with us?” Thranduil still eyed them warily and Mithrandir sighed sadly in reaction. “Suspicion comes easily to you, Thranduil. I can understand that and for that reason I have been open with you. Now your willingness to conquer suspicion and work together with your allies is what will save you and your people. Come sit and speak with us.”

Thranduil studied them a moment longer. He did not deny that he was a suspicious person by nature—experience and upbringing had reinforced that trait. He valued it but he also made an effort to temper it since becoming king. These beings had shown him no reason to distrust them. And they were certainly powerful allies, as Elrond had indicated. Thranduil forced himself to relax and finally joined them, sitting on a bench facing them.

He looked for a moment at Mithrandir and then his gaze turned to the Brown who smiled at him hopefully. The jay still glared at him. Thranduil found his lips turning upward and he could not resist smiling himself, certain that he had never met a more completely open and guileless individual in his entire life. The Brown was as simple and good as the animals that apparently fascinated him. He decided to attempt to move towards a friendlier or at least more productive conversation.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, my lord,” Thranduil said, for lack of a name. “I understand you have developed an interest in my forest.”

The Brown brightened considerably as the tension dissipated. “The Men that I have visited call me Radagast,” he said by way of introduction. “And yes, indeed, I am quite curious about your forest, lord Thranduil. I would very much like to travel there to see it. Or at least have the time to talk to you about it while you are here.”

Thranduil studied the Brown intently for a full minute. Anyone who knew the King of Greenwood would be shocked at how easily this invitation was made but Thranduil could see no reason to withhold it. “I cannot help but have the impression that the forest would enjoy your presence. You are welcome to come to Eryn Galen whenever it suits you.”

Mithrandir smiled. “Perhaps he could return with you and investigate the area around Amon Lanc while he is there,” he suggested.

Thranduil tried to conceal his dismay at that idea. Maia or not, the Brown did not strike him as a warrior. “Amon Lanc is a very dangerous place but if you wish it, I will arrange an escort to take you as close as possible.” He looked back at Mithrandir. “I would very much appreciate any help you could offer in that area. Indeed, I still am not clear how you and your companions intend to aid Middle Earth against Sauron.”

Mithrandir raised his bushy eyebrows slightly. “Nor are we. There is much study to be done.”

“Study?” he asked, trying to keep his voice neutral. Mithrandir had made a long list of topics to study at lunch and Thranduil wanted to address that. In his mind, action and not study was required.

Both wizards responded to his inquiry by nodding blandly. Radagast spoke. “We must find Sauron and his minions. We must learn what still binds him here so we can know how to destroy him. But most importantly, we must learn about the people here in Middle Earth—those who will be fighting him and their realms.”

Thranduil struggled to keep his confusion over that order of priorities from showing on his face. They had discussed all those topics at lunch. Thoroughly. He turned back to Mithrandir, instinctively recognizing him as more of a leader than Radagast. “I believe that I can show you where Sauron is, lord Mithandir.”

The Grey laughed lightly, causing Thranduil to look at him sharply. “Just Mithrandir, no titles if you please,” he corrected with a jovial voice. Then his face grew more serious. “I remember that you and lady Galadriel believe Sauron is gathering strength in Amon Lanc and it is for that reason that I suggested that the Brown return to Eryn Galen with you—to confirm or refute that suspicion. But even if he is there, we do not yet have all the information or strength we need to destroy him. As Radagast already said, we must discover what binds him here and we must move people to recognize him and fight him.”

Thranduil snorted. “I recognize him and I am ready to fight him. I agree that Men and Elves apparently do not know how to destroy him, having tried and failed in the Last Alliance. If it is the Ruling Ring that must be destroyed, we may never find that,” he said sternly. “But surely destroying him is within the abilities of five Maiar?”

Both wizards looked at him with concern. It was Mithrandir that spoke. “I know that is what you hoped for lord Thranduil—that we could eliminate the threat against your people. But, alas, that is not why we are here. We were not sent to match Sauron power against power. We were sent only to move the hearts of Men and Elves and other free folk to recognize Sauron and his minions and to unite to oppose him. We are not here to fight him for you.” Mithrandir looked at Thranduil gently. “You remember very well the last time the powers of the Valar contested against one another in Middle Earth. What happened then? All of Beleriand sank under the sea. Would you seek that outcome again?”

Thranduil grimaced. “Of course not. But Sauron must be destroyed.”

Mithrandir nodded. “Agreed. That is why we must study him further and learn more about the people that will stand against him so that we might unite them more effectively.”

Thranduil looked away to conceal a resentful expression. “Uniting people against Sauron does appear to be a difficulty. One that I have yet to overcome.”

Mithrandir looked at him sadly. “I understand your frustration with people like Amroth—his refusal to fight Sauron and eliminate this threat immediately is not easy for you to accept. I know that my refusal to attack Sauron must be difficult to abide when you are watching your people suffer. You said you understand my reasons and I think you can understand Amroth’s desire to protect his people. Lorien is not directly attacked as yet. That makes it easy for Amroth to refuse to see a need to look for a fight when one has not been brought upon him as it has upon you.”

“I do understand that. But it is a short-sighted reaction,” Thranduil replied.

“Perhaps. And perhaps now is not the time to fight. You might eliminate the orcs from your land, but unless you can destroy the evil that calls them to it, more will come in their place. Is that not what you have experienced?”

Thranduil sighed and looked down. “Indeed it is. But I still must fight them whether it is futile or not. I cannot let them kill my people and drive them from their homes.”

Mithrandir nodded. “I do not deny that you must protect your people but there are many ways to do so and I do not doubt that you will exploit them.” Mithrandir smiled. “Take heart, Thranduil. Sauron may be rising in your forest but, having met you, I foresee that he will find that gathering his strength in your realm will not be as easy an undertaking as he might have thought it would be.”

Thranduil’s eyes turned hard at that. “It will not, I assure you.”

“And that is good. Perhaps that is the part you and your people were meant to play in this war. It is not one I would wish on anyone, for it will be difficult, without doubt. But that fire in you that we spoke of earlier will serve you, your people and Middle Earth. You will find a way to fight the evil in your forest while we learn how to end it once and for all.”

Thranduil turned an intense gaze on the grey wizard, studying him sharply. Finally he laughed softly and looked away. “I do not think I like the sound of that, Mithrandir. But somehow in your presence it does not feel as desperate as it sounds. And I have despaired over this situation in the last years.”

Mithrandir leaned forward and placed a hand on Thranduil’s shoulder, drawing his gaze. The wizard’s expression was serious. “If Sauron is truly rising in your Wood, then your situation is dire indeed and no denying it. But when the time is right, the peoples of Middle Earth will stand together and defeat him, wherever he may be. Trust in that.”

Thranduil returned Mithrandir’s gaze evenly. “If that is the case, then may that time be sooner rather than later.”

*~*~*

Thranduil spoke a while longer with Mithrandir and Radagast and then left them to return to the house. As he approached the patio, he saw his wife, hosts, Celeborn and Galadriel sitting in the moonlight and enjoying wine. He joined them, sitting next to Lindomiel and greeting her by brushing a kiss on her hair.

“Did you have a pleasant walk, Thranduil?” she asked, reaching to pour him a goblet of wine.

Thranduil nodded and took the wine. As he did, an uncharacteristically mischievous look came over his face and he looked at Galadriel. “They are Maiar,” he said simply.

Everyone’s eyes widened in amused surprise.

“You did not really ask them,” Celeborn said, laughter and doubt in his voice.

Thranduil grinned at him. “I did and they confirmed they were. Though they made it clear they did not intend to capitalize on that fact.”

Elrond was shaking his head. “Someday you will pay for your boldness, Thranduil. Mark my words. But if they are Maiar, that is certainly welcome news. Maiar will have a much better chance to stand against one of their own it would seem.”

Thranduil looked at Elrond seriously. “That is not their task. They told me that they are here to inspire free people, not to wage another War of Wrath.” He turned to Lindomiel. “But the Brown, who was with Mithrandir when I happened upon him, is coming to Eryn Galen to judge for himself if it is truly Sauron in Amon Lanc. And if their task is to inspire free people to fight, perhaps he can help convince Amroth to join forces with us.”

Lindomiel nodded, a hopeful expression on her face. It made Elrond frown, remembering their conversation at lunch. It was one he could not, in good conscience, ignore. He did not want to enter another war but neither could he sit idly while his cousin fought one.

“I knew that your situation in Eryn Galen had changed, Thranduil, since Celonhael had communicated with me about buying medicines. But what you described this afternoon…I had no idea you faced so many orcs and spiders in the south of your realm. If you can suggest any way that I might help you, I would be happy to do so.”

Thranduil stared silently at Elrond for a moment, marveling silently at the fact that an elf he barely knew would offer aid when his closest neighbor and peer would not respond when asked. Then he looked away, shaking his head. “I know very little of Imladris, Elrond. But it is a small realm and it lies a four week march from Amon Lanc. To attack the enemy there with any chance of success, I would need to join with a force of at least five hundred. I would be surprised if your entire army consisted of so many warriors.”

Elrond looked at Thranduil regretfully. “I fear that it does not. I could not possibly provide such a large force without calling up citizens. I would be willing to discuss doing so with you if you feel your situation warrants it.”

Thranduil blinked, now utterly amazed. He drew a long, slow breath and considered that offer. He was sorely tempted to accept it immediately but he knew all too well what he was asking if he did. If Elrond sent five hundred troops, combined with Greenwood’s forces, they would match the number of orcs Aradunnon estimated were fortified in Amon Lanc. Depending on the sophistication of the fortifications there, and if they could do good scouting, such numbers might be able to retake the mountain. Even if they were successful, that mountain had been cleared of orcs many times and his army could not hold the evil forces that returned to it at bay permanently. Worse, if they failed—if the battle were ill-planned—he would be sacrificing Elrond’s entire standing army along with his own. Mithrandir’s words came back to him, ‘Perhaps now is not the time to fight.’ Both Amroth and Mithrandir had stated that they did not yet have the means to destroy Sauron, if that was who was in Amon Lanc.

Thranduil knew that Aradunnon would be furious with him but he looked at Elrond and shook his head. “I cannot ask you to call up citizens and march your entire army four weeks out of Imladris to make an attack I am not certain I can win. I deeply appreciate the offer, Elrond, but for now I think the best thing I can do is explore other options to keep my people safe.”

“What other options do you have, Thranduil? The Maiar have said they will not drive Sauron out for you.” Galadriel asked softly.

Thranduil frowned. “I have sent scouts north of the mountains to look for someplace safer where I can move my capital. I will encourage as many villagers as possible to move north of the mountains with me. That way, the army can defend the Road and the forest but not as many private citizens will be in danger.”

Thranduil was aware of Lindomiel’s surprised gaze but his attention remained focused on Galadriel.

“Retreat will not solve this problem, Thranduil,” Galadriel said firmly. “You were willing to fight this battle with Amroth’s warriors. Elrond’s are far superior and he has offered them. You may not get this chance again.”

Thranduil sighed. “Believe me, I know that. It is one thing to ask Amroth to fight. The outcome of the battle directly affects him. His own realm is as threatened as mine. Elrond is in no danger from the orcs in Amon Lanc unless he marches his entire army there to confront them. It asks too much. We would be fighting an unknown force. If we fail, I leave not only my own realm defenseless but Elrond’s as well. If we succeed, the orcs will come back again and I have seen that I cannot prevent them from doing so. Mithrandir suggested it would be better to wait. That was the decision I was leaning towards before Aradunnon persuaded me to speak to Amroth. It is the decision I have made now. I do not want to ask my people to move again but I fear it is my best option at the moment.”

Elrond looked at Thranduil sympathetically. “I understand the difficulty of making such decisions all too well, Thranduil. My offer stands. Whatever assistance I can provide, you need only ask me. I firmly believe that we should strive to act together against Sauron lest we fall to him divided.”

Thranduil smiled. “I appreciate that, Elrond. Truly. And I will keep it in mind.”

*~*~*

Late that night, as Thranduil lay on his back staring at the stars out the window and holding Lindomiel in his arms, he could feel the tension in her body. “What troubles you meleth?” he asked softly, suspecting he knew perfectly well what the answer would be.

She sighed and remained quiet for a moment. Then she pushed herself up on one elbow to face him. “Thranduil, I do not pretend to know anything about military matters, but I do know the villagers fairly well. Are you certain that moving the capital is the best decision?”

Thranduil tightened his arms around his wife. “I am, Lindomiel. I cannot keep the orcs away from the mountain so I have to move the people away from them.”

Lindomiel’s brow furrowed. “What if they will not move?”

Thranduil’s mouth formed a hard line. “There will be those stubborn enough not to. And they will blame me for not being able to drive the orcs from Amon Lanc. But their anger will not make the impossible possible. I will not force them to move, of course. The situation itself will do that for me. Unfortunately, I think they will eventually have no choice but to move.”

“How far north do you intend to go?” she asked softly.

He pulled her against his chest and pressed a kiss on her brow. “I know you hate to be even further from Lorien than we already are. I cannot say where we will move yet. As I said to Galadriel, I sent scouts to investigate possible locations. It will be months before they return with recommendations so I cannot say. But I will promise you this—I will choose the position that I can best defend. I have already told Hallion that I do not intend to move every millennium as my adar did.” He paused, feeling the tension return to her body. “I wish that I did not have to make these decisions, Lindomiel. I wish that I could simply keep these orcs from my lands. I wish you and all the elves living in Eryn Galen did not have to face such horrors as orcs and spiders in the wood. But as much as it infuriates me, I cannot control these things. I can only respond to them as best I can to keep the most people safe.”

Lindomiel nodded against his chest, pulling him closer. “I know that, Thranduil. I cannot imagine how difficult these decisions must be to make. I do not intend to make them worse for you. I am sorry if I have.”

Thranduil laughed shortly, comparing in his mind this conversation with the one he imagined he would have with Aradunnon when he returned. Or worse still, the one he would have with the village leaders in the south when it came time to announce the capital was moving. “You have not, meleth. The difficulties are yet to come.”

*~*~*

Mellon nin--My friend

Adar/ada--Father/dad

Meleth (nin)--(My) love

AN: Sorry about the delay in posting this again. This time it wasn't work so much. I had a lot of trouble deciding how to order and cut up the next few chapters (that's why this one is sooo long). Also, someone--you know who you are--posted a question to the Yahoo Group that just planted some ideas in my head and forced some rewrites. I will post the next chapter asap. :)

Also, and more importantly--note that some of the things Mithrandir says to describe himself are straight from the essay on the Istari in Unfinished Tales and therefore not my words. Specifically: "...he was the enemy of Sauron, opposing the fire that devours and wastes with the fire that kindles, and succours in wanhope and distress; but his joy, and his swift wrath, were veiled in garments grey as ash, so that only those that knew him well glimpsed the flame that was within. Merry he could be, and kindly to the young and simple, and yet quick at times to sharp speech and the rebuking of folly; but he was not roud, and sought neither power not praise, and thus far and wide he was beloved among all those that were not themselves proud. Mostly he journeyed unwearingly on foot, leaning on a staff; and so he was called among Men of the North Gandalf, “the Elf of the Wand”. For they deemed him (though in error, as has been said) to be of Elven-kind, since he would at times works wonders among them, loving especially the beauty of fire; and yet such marvels he wrought mostly for mirth and delight, and desired not that any should hold him in awe or take his counsels out of fear."


Chapter 9 - He delved there a fortress

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When a thousand years of the Third Age had passed and the Shadow fell upon Greenwood the Great, the Silvan Elves ruled by Thranduil retreated before it as it spread ever northward, until at last Thranduil established his realm in the north-east of the forest and delved there a fortress and great halls underground. Oropher was of Sindarin origin, and no doubt Thranduil his son was following the example of King Thingol long before, in Doriath; though his halls were not to be compared with Menegroth. He had not the arts nor wealth nor the aid of the Dwarves… Unfinished Tales
*************

Thranduil returned to the Green Wood nearly four months after leaving it, thankful to be home. With him came Radagast. The elves that greeted their king on his way through the forest to the capital eyed his guest suspiciously at first, but Radagast quickly overcame their reservations with his obvious love of the forest and its creatures. Thranduil laughed to himself at their relatively easy acceptance of this stranger. Never had he seen them so willingly suffer a Man’s presence. Of course Radagast was no man and even if the Silvan elves did not recognize exactly what he was, they did all eventually realize that.

Once home, Thranduil turned his guest over to Aradunnon, informing him that he should provide Radagast an escort to Amon Lanc. Aradunnon was plainly surprised by that order. Thranduil’s family, even more than the rest of citizens, studied the Brown with unconcealed curiosity. But the King and Queen offered no more explanation than to say that Radagast was one of Elrond’s guests from the Havens and he intended to determine once and for all if the power rising in Amon Lanc was Sauron. None of Thranduil’s advisors dared ask how that would be accomplished and Thranduil, perversely enjoying teasing them in a way he knew he would never tolerate himself, offered no further explanation.

Aradunnon was disappointed when Thranduil informed him that he had not secured any aid to fight the orcs beyond Radagast. He argued once again to be allowed to take the army to Amon Lanc but Thranduil forbade such an action. The prince even pressed for Thranduil to call up citizens to supplement the standing army in a fight, but the king flatly refused to consider that—they had neither the arms nor the training to make that a viable solution. Perfectly aware that these decisions meant Thranduil intended to respond to the threat by moving the capital, Aradunnon argued the futility of such an action with his brother at every opportunity, but Thranduil had made his decision and would not be moved. He only hoped that the scouts would find some defensible locations.

Thranduil did not have to wonder about that topic long. The scouts Hallion sent north returned quickly—only six months after their departure. The day after their return, Thranduil gathered with his entire council and family to hear their news. Everyone was present, even Lindomiel, who did not regularly attend council meetings, and Amoneth, who had never attended one.

“What do you have to show me, Tiron?” Thranduil asked the elf that Hallion escorted into the room.

Tiron was the leader of the scouts that had investigated the lands north of the mountains. He was a forester by profession, very skilled in woodcraft and reasonably experienced in warfare after serving as an officer in Mordor. The king indicated for him to take the available chair to his right at the head of the table. That was normally Hallion’s place, but the king wanted to be able to see the maps Tiron had carried in with him.

Tiron sat and cast a furtive glance at the others already seated around the table. Thranduil would be intimidating enough. Facing the anxious expressions of Aradunnon and Engwe, who leaned forward in their chairs, already staring at the maps in his hands, made the scout swallow hard and draw a deep breath. He resolutely turned his attention to the maps he had brought, unrolling them on the table. The first was a large, general map of the northern forest.

“Well, my lord, you charged us to find a suitable place to resettle the capital north of the mountains—one that was defensible. The first priority is naturally finding someplace that can support a settlement as large as the capital would be. Someplace along the rivers would be the most obvious locations so we concentrated our efforts there and we found several possibilities that appear to offer enough variety of foodstuffs, hunting and appropriate forest conditions.” He pointed to multiple points on the map on the table. “Any of those places would support the capital. Once we identified them, we analyzed them for their defensive potential.”

Thranduil, Engwe and Aradunnon were studying the map, weighing each of the locations marked in their minds.

“Do you have detailed drawing of these areas,” Aradunnon asked, already completely absorbed in scrutinizing the indicated locations. He reached across the table and pulled the top map to the side, revealing smaller ones. They were indeed drawings of the individual areas Tiron had indicated. “Good,” Aradunnon said absently, flipping through them to find one showing an area just north of the mountains. He pulled that map close to him and studied it.

Seeing that, Engwe frowned. “We need to move further than just north of the mountains, Aradunnon,” he said firmly. He reached for the map of an area where the river north of the mountains formed a relatively tight arc.

Aradunnon was shaking his head. “It is not a matter of how far north we move. We can hold the orcs to the south. It is a matter of protecting the location we choose. That makes the mountains an obvious choice. If we put the capital in one of the valleys at the base of the mountains, that offers clear defensive advantages.”

Engwe shook his head. “We are just south of those mountains now. Why move at all if all we are going to do is go to the other side of them? Oropher always moved the shortest distance possible and that was a mistake—we inevitably ended up moving again. If we moved here,” he said indicating a swath of territory in the bend of the river, “we would have the river to our backs. It is swift and wide there, is it not,” he asked looking at Tiron.

The scout nodded.

“I think the river would provide an acceptable amount of protection and this location is further north. It is much less likely we will have to move again from there.”

Aradunnon scowled at Engwe. “The river cannot possibly provide the same protection that the mountains can. I can shoot an arrow across the river and so can an orc. It is much harder to come over the mountains to bring down an attack from them. And if we move that far north, think about logistics—the communication line between the capital and the warriors in the south. It already takes me a week to get runners to my captains at Amon Lanc. If we move too far north, how can I command the troops?”

“You can use birds, as we do to communicate with Imladris and Lorien,” Engwe said coolly.

Aradunnon scoffed at that. “Imladris and Lorien stay in one place. We taught birds to fly to those places. My captains do not stay in one place. How do I teach a bird to find them? It makes no sense to go that far north to a less defensible location and destroy my ability to command my troops.”

“Surely you can teach your commanders to go look for a message in predetermined locations and then train the birds to fly to them. Moving a few leagues north is not worth the effort. We should make a definitive change.”

Thranduil knocked his knuckles against the table for attention. “Enough from the both of you. Let Tiron speak. He was there. You were not.”

Aradunnon and Engwe fell silent, still looking at the maps of the locations they had so quickly favored.

Thranduil nodded to Tiron. “What were your recommendations going to be, Tiron?”

“Those were two of the three locations we agreed were the most defensible, my lord. There was another, but it was even further north than either of those….”

“Absolutely out of the question,” Aradunnon interrupted. “We cannot go further north than the bend in the river.”

Thranduil glared at his brother and Tiron looked at the king nervously. “But it is truly an outstanding location, your majesty,” he said in a quiet voice.

Thranduil turned a look on his brother meant to silence him. “Then tell me about it,” he replied in a firm voice.

Tiron pulled a map from the bottom of the stack that he had brought with him. Thranduil looked away from his brother and gave the scout his attention. As he did, he frowned in confusion. The map was clearly not of a forested area.

Seeing the king’s expression, Tiron hurried to explain. “You are aware of the hills north of the river, my lord?”

Thranduil heard his brother draw a breath to protest again. He silenced him with a brief glance. “I am.”

“We found those hills to be riddled with natural caves. Very nice ones. This particular hill has a very large cave entrance. In the back of that cave are passages that lead back into other caverns. Some of those interior caverns are very large as well. More importantly, the river runs into the caves and several of the interior caverns have springs so the caves would have a natural, pure water source. We believed that with minimal work, these caves could serve as a stronghold to shelter the populace in times of war. The forest around them is very rich with foodstuffs and game. The hills are large enough to form a barrier against attack just as the Emyn Duir would and they are surrounded by river tributaries as well. It is the most defensible position in the forest, my lord. By far. It is the location we recommend.”

Hallion glanced at Aradunnon’s furious countenance and grimaced slightly before speaking himself. “When I reviewed these locations with the scouts before this meeting, I agreed with them that this location should be presented as the most viable. Given that you indicated that you wanted to move once more and never again, this is the location I recommend, my lord,” he said softly.

Thranduil raised his eyebrows and looked from the map of the caverns to his steward with a somewhat amused expression. “Are we feeling homesick, lord Hallion?”

Hallion returned his gaze seriously but said nothing.

Thranduil laughed lightly. “I do not have the means to recreate Menegroth, lord Hallion,” he said.

Aradunnon’s posture relaxed slightly.

“Clearly not, my lord. But those caverns would require very little work to convert them to a suitable keep for times of siege. They have a natural water source. The main cave entrance lies behind a river that would have to be forded before attacking the keep in the caves. The territory around the caves is ideal for settlement. If you wanted a location you could permanently defend, that is it.”

Thranduil looked at his steward and then back at the map of the caves. His expression grew more serious. “That is certainly true,” he replied quietly.

Aradunnon’s brows knit together severely. “May I speak, my lord?” he asked.

Thranduil looked up at him, scowling at his false formality. “Yes, you may, Aradunnon,” he replied irritably.

“If you move that far north, you will practically move these elves out of their forest. That is almost as far north and east as one can go and still be in the forest. I could not possibly command troops from that location and I do not think you will get the people to move that far. It is too radical a change.”

Golwon nodded. “There is some truth to that, my lord. Amongst the southern villagers, I am seeing resistance to moving north of the mountains. You will never move them north of the river.”

Tiron looked at Thranduil. “Forgive me, my lord, if it is not my place, but not everyone has to move to the very entrance of the caves. There are many places for villages along the rivers and the forest edge that we mapped. I think it is not a matter of where all the individual villages move as long as they go north of the mountains. It is a matter of where the capital moves. Where the people could flee in times of true difficulty. And this location is the best, defensively speaking.” He looked at Aradunnon. “You cannot deny that.”

Aradunnon’s mouth formed a hard line. “It would be best in times of siege. I am not concerned with a siege. I am concerned with offensive attacks against Amon Lanc to keep the orcs under control. I cannot do that from this location,” he said stabbing his finger at the map.

Thranduil looked for a moment at the maps in front of him, very aware of everyone watching him tensely.

“What precisely would have to be done to these caves if I wanted to use them as a keep?” he finally asked.

“Nothing really, your majesty, if you only want to use them a keep, other than constructing doors for the main cavern, a few portcullises, and a bridge across the river. If you want to occupy them, some finishing work would be in order. It would be minimal, as I said. Making certain passages broader and cutting in some ventilation would be required. You may want to delve a few more passages and caverns depending on your needs.”

“In your opinion are these things we could do ourselves or would I need to bring in dwarves?”

“If you want to occupy the caverns, I think you would want some help from the dwarves, my lord.”

Celonhael looked at Thranduil sharply and shook his head. Thranduil frowned.

“Very well,” he said, glancing at Hallion who stood to escort Tiron from the room. “This is excellent work, Tiron. Very thorough. I appreciate it greatly. We will consider our options. Please do not discuss this until I announce our decision.”

Thranduil’s family remained silent until Tiron was outside the office and the door was closed. Then the explosion erupted.

“You are not seriously considering moving so far north? Aradunnon demanded hotly.

Thranduil scowled but ignored him. “How will this decision be received, Golwon?”

Golwon sighed and shook his head. “Tiron had a good point. Most people will not be moving so far north. The various villages will move, if they move, wherever they like regardless of where you live, Thranduil. My concern in that case would be, if the villagers move only across the mountains—and most suggest they are unwilling to move further—how will you govern them from such distances? And worse still, how will you govern the villages that choose not to move north of the mountains?”

Thranduil looked at the map with a harsh stare. “We face the same difficulties now. The villages in the Narrows are almost a week from the capital. We manage. But I do want to motivate the villagers to move north of the mountains.”

Golwon nodded once in agreement. “Perhaps if we use these scouting maps and take a group of the more stubborn villages leaders north to see the opportunities there, they might be more willing to move. But you will never persuade all of them, Thranduil. There are those that simply will not abandon the forest.”

Thranduil frowned. “I am not abandoning the forest,” he retorted firmly. “Organize meetings for me with the more resistant village leaders and tell the scouts that I want them to take those leaders north. What about the people living in the capital? What is their mood towards moving?”

“They know that you intend to relocate the capital to safer ground. No one seems overly resistant. That might change when they see how far you wish to move but most of the elves that live in the capital do so because they want to be close to you for whatever reason. If we present this carefully, I think it will be well accepted.”

“Well, I cannot accept it,” Aradunnon interrupted, unable to remain silent any longer. When Thranduil turned to him, he leaned forward angrily. “Thranduil, logistics. How do you propose that I command patrols near Amon Lanc from north of the Forest River?”

Thranduil returned his brother’s gaze evenly. “Regardless of where I move the capital, I do not intend to defend any territory south of the Narrows any longer, Aradunnon. We will hold the orcs there.” Aradunnon’s eyes widened and he opened his mouth to protest but Thranduil forestalled him. “That decision is made, Aradunnon. We have discussed it numerous times. We cannot clear Amon Lanc. By trying to do so, we are wasting resources.”

“There are villages in the Narrows…”

“I will speak to their leaders beginning this week to explain that we can no longer protect them that far south. I am certain it will come as no surprise to them. They are the first villages I intend to move. Once they have relocated, you will withdraw your warriors north of the Narrows and you can work with Engwe on ways to command them from north of the river. I am moving the capital to those caves. Celonhael, I want a full accounting of the treasury. I would like to get what help we can from the dwarves.”

Celonhael raised his eyebrows. “My lord, we do not have the funds necessary to employ dwarves to build New Menegroth.”

Thranduil laughed. “I do not intend to build New Menegroth. After I speak to the village leaders from the Narrows, I do intend to go north to have a look at these caves myself. If I feel it is feasible to occupy them, I want to know what I have to negotiate with when I speak to the dwarves.”

Lindomiel turned astonished eyes on Thranduil. “Occupy? You do not intend to live in this cave, do you?”

Born and raised in Lorien, Lindomiel had never seen a cave, much less lived in one as the older elves from Doriath had. To her, the very idea was inconceivable.

Thranduil looked at Lindomiel, surprised by her incredulity. “If possible, yes, I do, Lindomiel. That is what I will speak to the dwarves about.”

Lindomiel’s jaw dropped momentarily and then her expression became openly rebellious. “And the dwarves can live in whatever they build for I shall not. There is no possibility that I am living in a cave, Thranduil. None at all.”

Thranduil blinked and raised his eyebrows as all eyes turned to the queen. Everyone was perfectly aware that Lindomiel was most adept at maneuvering Thranduil to get her way. Indeed, the council often employed her help to urge the king towards certain decisions. No one had ever heard her flatly contradict him.

Aradunnon was all too happy to jump on the apparent support. “Agreed. I am not living in a cave like a dwarf and I am not moving that far north. It is completely out of the question.”

Amoneth looked at Aradunnon with relief. “I do not even want to move as far north as the mountains. I certainly will not move to the opposite end of the forest from Lorien. I will never see my family again.”

Thranduil stared at Amoneth a moment. “Do you think that I make decisions for this kingdom based on my personal desires, Amoneth? Much less yours? I am moving the capital to those caves because that is the most defensible position in the forest. Sauron is rising in Amon Lanc. I must be able to defend these people somehow. That is my priority. Not whether traveling is convenient for you.”

Amoneth looked at Thranduil, somewhat shocked by his tone, and Aradunnon frowned angrily. “Mind how you address my betrothed wife, Thranduil,” he said sharply. “I support her on this. I will not move that far north. Not for personal reasons but because I also am compelled to make the best decisions for this realm. I cannot effectively command my warriors isolated in the northeastern corner of the forest. I will move no further than north of the mountains.”

Thranduil’s brows drew together as he leveled a glare on his brother that was well known for making his courtiers cringe. It never had any effect on his brother, though Golwon, Celonhael and even Hallion looked with concern at the king as he faced this most unusual source of adversity.

“My decision as king of this realm is to move the capital to these caves,” he declared in a low, resolute voice. “The villagers can choose to live further south if they wish and I will make clear to them what the risk of doing so is. But I expect my family and my advisors to support my decisions. Period. If you cannot, then you are welcome to leave my service and my household.”

The room remained silent in shock at that announcement.

Thranduil sighed and spoke in a softer voice. “I understand your concerns. I know I am asking the villagers to make a drastic move. I will meet with them and help them work with the scouts so they can find safe locations that they are satisfied with to relocate their villages. As for the military situation, Aradunnon, you must know that I am no more pleased with it than you are. I do not want to surrender any part of this forest. But I also will not kill warriors in a loosing fight. We must regroup to a position we can successfully defend. And we will work on the logistics of commanding the patrols from the north. And as for the caves themselves, try to look on them objectively. When I sent those scouts north, I never dreamed they would find a location where I might actually build a stronghold. As my troop commander, Aradunnon, you cannot deny that I would be a fool to ignore the opportunity. I know it is easier for Hallion, Golwon, Engwe, nana and myself to imagine living in them since we remember Menegroth. But I have not made that choice yet. I have not even seen the caves to evaluate whether I am willing to try to occupy them. Please try to be open to the idea until you have seen what it involves.” He looked at Celonhael. “I remember perfectly well that you lived in the forest in Doriath, Celonhael. I do not doubt you will refuse to live in a cave here. Perhaps we can make some arrangements to accommodate such preferences. After all, I could not possibly make these caves suitable for all the citizens in the capital to live in even if they chose to do so. They will certainly live in telain and cottages around the caves as they do here.” He paused. “My point is—I know I am asking a great deal but I am making the decision that will keep these people the safest. It will be difficult enough to manage. If my own council and family do not appear to support it, I have no hope.”

Aradunnon looked down. “You are correct, Thranduil. I apologize for the way I spoke to you. You cannot turn away from the possibility of a stronghold. But you will have to help me understand how I can command troops while separated from them by hundreds of leagues.”

Amoneth frowned and spoke before Thranduil could reply. “Aradunnon, I will not move so far north,” she repeated stubbornly. Then she looked at Lindomiel. “And surely you do not want to live in a cave.”

Lindomiel looked at her friend sidelong. “I do not, but the king has spoken,” she said coolly without looking at Thranduil.

Thranduil’s eyebrows went up and he again stared at his wife.

Amoneth’s scowl deepened and she appeared ready to speak again. Aradunnon tightened his grasp on her hand. “We will discuss it further later, Amoneth,” he said quietly.

Pressing her lips together angrily, Amoneth sat back in her chair and glared at Aradunnon.

Thranduil silently looked at his council for a moment before nodding slightly. “Golwon, arrange for me to meet as soon as possible with the village leaders that live in the Narrows. While we await their arrival, prepare a schedule for meeting with the other village leaders to help them work with the scout to identify potential places to relocate. I am going north to look at these caves after I meet with the village leaders from the Narrows but before I meet with the others. Celonhael, I will want that accounting before I leave. Anyone who would like to go north with me to look at the caves is welcome to come. Hallion, you will come. When I return, we will announce where the capital is moving to the general populace and we can begin moving villages and preparing to move the capital.” He took a deep breath and stood, raising the council to their feet as well. “It is early but I think that is enough for the day.”

Accepting that dismissal thankfully, Amoneth turned and flounced angrily from the office without a backward glance at Thranduil or Aradunnon. The prince sighed and pursued her, anxious to avoid his mother’s disapproving gaze. Eyes on the ground, Lindomiel followed them as well, leaving silently and in a much more sedate manner, but also without looking at the family. Thranduil watched her departure.

The rest of his council remained in place.

Thranduil raised his eyebrows and spoke to no one in particular. “Well that went well,” he said softly.

Celonhael laughed lightly. “They are young, my lord. Even younger than you. They never saw Beleriand much less Menegroth or Nargothrond. They have no reference for what you are proposing. Be patient and give them time. Finding such an easily suitable stronghold was truly a stroke of luck. They will see that eventually.”

Thranduil turned his eyes to Celonhael seriously. “These Silvan elves also never saw Menegroth. They also have no reference for what I will propose to them. And unlike members of my family, who should see that making the best decision for the people comes before personal desires, the Silvan elves have the right to think only of themselves when reacting to this decision.”

“Which is why you must make them understand the advantages of this decision, Thranduil,” Hallion said firmly. “And you will. We will meet with them. They trust you. You have led them well for over a millennium.”

Thranduil focused on his steward. “We will certainly see if you are correct, Hallion.” He walked out the door, followed by his council.

*~*~*

Aradunnon followed Amoneth up the stairs of her flet and into her sitting room without pausing to acknowledge the servants that looked at them with wide eyes at their stormy appearance. A glance from the prince sent those servants from the room silently and rapidly. When they were gone, Amoneth turned to face Aradunnon angrily.

“I am not moving to the Ered Mithrin,” she declared with dramatic exaggeration.

Aradunnon’s brows knit together in a scowl. “No, you are moving just north of the Forest River,” he replied firmly. “If Thranduil says that is what we are doing, then it is. He is the king and it is our duty to support his decisions, as he said.”

Amoneth’s eyes flashed with anger. “He is your king. I will return to Amroth and Lorien before I will move almost five hundred miles from there.”

Aradunnon stared at her. “If that is your attitude, perhaps you should,” he finally said in a quiet voice. “Amoneth, I love you with all my being, but I have a duty that I was born to that you simply refuse to comprehend. Thranduil and Hallion and nana and the rest of the council followed my adar to Eryn Galen. Along with him, they chose to accept the responsibility of leading these elves. Protecting them. Anyone in the family could have chosen not to follow my adar or accept a part of that responsibility but they did follow him and they took oaths to him and to these people.” He paused. “I was born here. I was born a prince in this realm, not Doriath. A prince of these people. My people. I was raised my entire life to the responsibilities I have to them. You cannot possibly think that I am going to abandon them in this time of need. You cannot believe that I would renege on my oath to them or to Thranduil. He is my king and my brother. What sort of person would do such a thing? Would you want to marry such a person? I would not.”

Amoneth looked at Aradunnon with wide eyes for a full minute. Then her eyes filled with tears. “No, Aradunnon, I do not think you should turn your back on these people, whom you obviously love, when they are threatened by the Evil One. I simply wish that you loved me as much as you love them.”

Aradunnon blew out a frustrated breath. “Valar, Amoneth, I do love you. Do you love me as much as you love yourself and your own needs? Can you put anyone or anything before yourself? That is what is required of a ruler. I am not king of this realm and I pray I never am, but I am still a leader in this realm. I have often sacrificed my personal desires for the sake of Thranduil’s subjects and I will do so whenever it serves the greater need of these people. My wife will have to be willing to do the same. Just as Lindomiel does.”

“Lindomiel is no more pleased with this decision than I am,” Amoneth countered bitterly, obviously stung by Aradunnon’s words.

“No she is not and everyone present was shocked by her reaction. But I guarantee you that she will move to those caves. And she will outwardly appear to like it.”

Amoneth snorted. “That is stupid. If she hates it and the family hates it people hate it, why is Thranduil making such a decision?”

“Perhaps because he has a greater understanding of the overall situation then the rest of us?” he suggested sarcastically. “Do you know how many orcs are in Amon Lanc? Do you know how far they and the spiders have spread? Do you know how many warriors we have or the state of our armaments? Do you know what it would take to defeat Sauron? You do not. Neither do the people know all those things. They will move when he orders it because they trust his knowledge and leadership. They know that he has never made a decision that did not benefit them in the end. His family’s actions cannot serve to undermine that trust. Why? Because if the people do not trust him and choose not to move, Thranduil cannot force them to do so and they will die. As much as I hate to admit it, even I see that I can no longer keep the Narrows safe for occupation. I will try to prevent the orcs from completely overrunning it, but I cannot keep it safe for elflings. If you undermine his authority, you will cause the death of these people, Amoneth.”

Amoneth frowned angrily but was quiet for a moment. Then she looked back at him to try another approach. “But you are more familiar with defense in the southern realm than Thranduil is. He has not been south for fifty years. And you said that you cannot command the troops from north of the river. So moving north does not serve their defense.”

Aradunnon sighed softly. “I intend to speak to Thranduil and Engwe about that further, but that is not an argument that aids you, Amoneth. The obvious solution is that if I cannot command the warriors from the capital. I must return to field command.”

Amoneth looked at Aradunnon worriedly. “But I do not want you in the field. I do not see why Thranduil cannot move to his caves while you and I stay here. Or slightly further north. But here, in the south, where you are needed most.”

Aradunnon looked at her thoughtfully and raised his eyebrows. “That is a possibility. If the only solution is for me to return to field command, it would be easier, or possibly even preventable, if I based myself in the south. That would make communication between warriors in the south and the capital via birds more feasible.” He paused and looked at her. “I will discuss that compromise with Thranduil. But—I want to clarify something here and now. If he does not agree, will you obey him and move north without open complaint? If you cannot say that you would do that, then truly we are not well suited no matter how much we may love one another, Amoneth. My duty must be to these people first and my wife must make the same commitment. It is not enough that you love me, you must love Eryn Galen.”

Amoneth’s eyes filled with tears again. “What are you saying, Aradunnon?” she whispered.

Aradunnon looked at her with profound sadness but determination. “I am saying that it would be best to break this betrothal if you do not feel that you understand or accept the responsibilities I have, Amoneth. They will not change or go away. Indeed, they will only become more difficult if the Evil One threatens Eryn Galen. My first thought will always be for my people and yours must be as well.”

Her jaw dropped slightly. “Aradunnon, I love you.”

He looked down. “And I love you. But as I said, that is not sufficient. You must understand me and who I am. Moreover, you must be willing to take on the same role. These people already look upon you as a member of the king’s family. They look to you for leadership. Can you provide it, as Lindomiel and my naneth do? As every member of my family does?”

“Everyone does not always agree with Thranduil.”

Aradunnon smiled slightly. “No, we rarely all agree. But have you ever seen anyone present anything less than a perfectly united front in public? When I marry you, it is my duty to make sure you will uphold that unity. I will not do anything that might endanger Eryn Galen, even marry you.”

Amoneth looked away. “I will do nothing to endanger Eryn Galen, Aradunnon. I will move if Thranduil orders it. I will obey him and not contradict him publicly. You have my word,” she said quietly.

“Can you be happy making that commitment, Amoneth? Do you even want to stay in Eryn Galen given the changes we have seen over the last yén? If the Evil One rises here, life will very likely become very difficult. I do not want you to bind yourself to a life that will make you miserable.”

“I would be miserable without you, Aradunnon. Why do you think I have stayed here for a millennium and tolerated all your roguish behavior? I could not do otherwise, no matter how much I wanted to return to my friends in the Golden Wood and forget about you. I love you.”

Aradunnon sighed and drew her against him, into his arms. “I love you, Amoneth. I do not want you to think that I wish to break this betrothal. Though we are not yet bound, I already feel you are part of my soul. But so is Eryn Galen. I needed you to understand that.” He brushed a kiss on the top of her head as she pressed her cheek against the soft fabric of his tunic.

“I do understand it, meleth. I will try to live by it. I promise.”

He nodded and tightened his arms around her. “And I will speak to Thranduil about your idea of us staying in the south. It is a good one. Thranduil will not immediately agree to it, I can guarantee that. But with time, I might be able to persuade him. I do like that idea.”

*~*~*

The King of Eryn Galen entered his personal chambers to prepare for dinner and found his wife on the balcony. Rather than sitting on the cushions placed there for that purpose, Lindomiel was sitting on one of the branches of the tree that supported the flet, back against another. In her hand was a leaf she had plucked from the tree. She was playing with it idly, her mind obviously a million miles away.

Thranduil sighed. He crossed the sitting room and joined her on the balcony. Running one hand down the length of her hair, he stooped to kiss her cheek. “I know I am asking a great deal, meleth. Please do not refuse me without giving me a chance to show you that it might not be as horrible as you fear.”

Lindomiel looked at Thranduil sadly and then turned her attention back to the leaf in her hand. “Do you understand what you are asking, Thranduil? You were born and raised in Menegroth. I have never seen a cave. I cannot imagine going from dwelling amongst the living trees to being smothered by dead stone, buried underground in a cave. It sounds to me like a living death.”

“Do you believe I would allow you to suffer such a thing, meleth?” he asked quietly.

She looked back at him. “No. I know you would not,” she admitted in a soft voice.

“Then can you trust me? If the caves are not suitable for dwelling, we will live in the forest and use them as a stronghold only. If we determine we could occupy them, will you withhold your judgment until you see them completed? I will not force you to live in them if you truly cannot abide them. How could you think I would do that?”

Lindomiel looked down. After a moment, she stood and put her arms around Thranduil’s neck. “I am sorry, Thranduil. I do trust you. I should not have reacted as I did. I certainly should not have done so in your council meeting. I apologize. And I will go with you to the morning meeting to apologize publicly.”

Thranduil laughed lightly at that. “There is no need for that, meleth. If you think no one on that council ever contradicts me, then we will have to make sure you can attend council more regularly. Engwe and I often spar. My brother and I do. I was concerned by how upset you are. I only ask you be patient and consider the caves. After you do, we will live in the forest if you choose to.” He smiled. “I guarantee that is what Celonhael will insist upon. Elu Thingol and Melian could not draw him into Menegroth. I will fair no better here.”

A faint smile came to Lindomiel’s lips. “Did you see the look on your naneth’s face when you said you planned to speak to dwarves about helping you with the caves? I do not think she approved.”

Thranduil laughed as well. “I did glance at nana. Did you happen to see Engwe’s face?” Lindomiel shook her head. “Pity. I did not either and I would have liked to. He rebelled when I bought weapons from them. Imagine if he has to live in a structure they helped build. Maybe we can make him live in the stronghold even if we do not.”

That drove Lindomiel to giggle. “I really did not think the dwarves that came here to sell the swords were so terrible, Thranduil. I rather enjoyed talking to them.”

Thranduil pulled his wife from the balcony and towards their bedchambers to dress for dinner. His face grew more serious. “You would, meleth. I have never met anyone as open to new experiences as you are. Those swords were a worthwhile purchase that I do not regret. But I do not love dwarves. I do not want to deal with them. I will if it benefits these people.”

Lindomiel only raised her eyebrows in response to that and followed her husband to the bedchambers without protest.

*~*~*

Adar/ada—Father/dad
Naneth/nana—Mother/mum
Meleth (nin)—My love


Chapter 10 - The fortress of his people

***************
In a great cave some miles within the edge of Mirkwood on its eastern side there lived at this time their greatest king. Before his huge doors of stone a river ran out of the heights of the forest and flowed on and out into the marshes at the feet of the high wooded lands. This great cave, from which countless smaller ones opened out on every side, wound far underground and had many passages and wide halls; but it was lighter and more wholesome than any goblin-dwelling, and neither so deep nor so dangerous. In fact the subjects of the king mostly lived and hunted in the open woods, and had houses or huts on the ground and in the branches. The beeches were their favourite trees. The king's cave was his palace, and the strong place of his treasure, and the fortress of his people against their enemies. The Hobbit
*****************

Thranduil sat in his office bathed in the morning sunlight that streamed in through the balcony. He was surrounded by his council. Despite the early hour, the King of Greenwood already wore an undeniable scowl on his face that only deepened as his advisors spoke. Over the last week he had met with a seemingly never-ending series of distraught elves from the south. Telling them that he could no longer provide protection for their villages and that they would have to relocate was one of the most difficult tasks he had performed to date as king.

Most of the leaders he had spoken to were sympathetic, understanding that Thranduil and Aradunnon had fought hard to keep the orcs and spiders from pushing north. But the ever-spreading shadow guaranteed the orcs’ progress and, recognizing it for what it was, that was something no one truly expected the king could hold back alone. So the majority of the village leaders tried to show they were grateful that the king had scouted possibilities for new places to settle despite their grief over loosing their current villages. Almost all of them resisted moving north of the mountains, however, and that had concerned the king and the troop commander deeply.

This morning only brought Thranduil the promise of another difficult day.

“Today is the last of the village leaders from the Narrows, my lord,” Golwon was saying.

Thranduil tried to perk up a bit for that welcome news.

“That is good, Golwon. Who is on the agenda for today?” he replied, trying to sound pleased.

Golwon looked at Thranduil nervously. Most of the village leaders had been compliant but there are always some malcontents—those who are not satisfied no matter what they are offered.

“Only one, my lord. Of course I did not dare schedule this one to appear with anyone else lest her attitude corrupt her counterparts from other villages. It is Maethorness, my lord.”

Thranduil cringed openly and several of the councilors looked at Golwon disgustedly.

“I had mercifully forgotten about her. Why would you leave her for last, Golwon?” Thranduil exclaimed. “Valar, she is a demon under the best of circumstances. This will be a nightmare.”

Golwon returned Thranduil’s gaze evenly. “I had tried to schedule her early on, my lord, but she initially refused to come. She only relented after I had Hallion send her an order to appear under your seal.”

Thranduil snorted. “You could leave her in the Narrows for all I care,” he said under his breath before adding in a stronger voice. “Very well, we have an entertaining meeting to look forward to. What else do we have scheduled?”

Hallion smirked. “Only the normal morning petitions. I am not foolish enough to schedule anyone to meet with you after you have dealt with Maethorness, my lord,” he said with a serious tone that made Celonhael and Aradunnon chuckle.

Thranduil only nodded. “Quite right,” he said quietly.

After a moment, Aradunnon spoke. “Thranduil, there is one problem in the south that I have avoided telling you about because I was not certain it really was a problem. But it has not resolved itself and given that you plan to travel again tomorrow, I suppose I should mention it before you leave.”

Aradunnon paused and Thranduil tensed. Nothing his brother was this hesitant to discuss was going to be pleasant. “Simply tell me, Aradunnon,” he prodded.

The prince sighed. “That Man, Radagast, that you had me send south…he has disappeared.”

Thranduil’s eyes flew open as he turned fully to Aradunnon. “What do you mean he has disappeared?” he demanded.

Aradunnon scowled. “The escort took him south as you ordered. But they said that he kept wandering away from them as they traveled and away from camp at night. Eventually one morning he was missing from camp and they could not locate him again. I have had them searching the area they were in. They were not that close yet to Amon Lanc. But they found no trace of him.”

Thranduil stared at his brother. “How could he ‘wander’ out of camp without a trace, Aradunnon? Do your warriors post guards at night? Do the guards stay awake?”

Aradunnon frowned at his brother’s angry countenance and decided it would be best to play this cautiously. He had not understood anything related to that Man. “I am sure they posted a watch, my lord. It seems the Man was very good at disappearing. It was not the first time they had lost him…”

“All the more reason to have kept a better watch over him.”

Aradunnon’s frown deepened. “If he was determined to wander off…. If he refused to listen to the warrior’s warnings about his safety…. What could they really do, my lord? You ordered him treated as an allied lord. Did you expect the escort to tie him to a tree at night?”

“No, but I would like to think that my warriors can keep visiting allied lords safe from harm without misplacing them in the forest. He did not even carry arms.” Thranduil turned a harsh gaze on his brother. “I want him found,” he ordered flatly. “And brought directly back here. That is a top priority, Aradunnon.”

Aradunnon nodded. “Yes, my lord. The patrols are already working on finding him.”

Thranduil turned to Hallion. “And I suppose we had better send word to Elrond that we have lost one of his guests. I am certain Radagast’s companion, Mithrandir, would want to know that and I have no idea how to contact him other than through Elrond.”

Thranduil sighed and looked at his council. “Does anyone else care to contribute something to improve my outlook on this day?”

Hallion looked at Thranduil blandly. “Well, my lord, you might be interested to know that the party of dwarves we invited to look at the caves with us arrived late yesterday evening.”

Thranduil silently closed his eyes.

“They were still asleep during breakfast since they arrived so late but I invited them to dinner this evening. You will want to review the maps with them this evening since we will be leaving in the morning. Lindomiel is entertaining them until you are free.”

The king was silent for a full minute. Eyes still closed, he did not see the alarmed looks on his mother and uncle’s faces at the prospect of dining with dwarves.

“Wonderful, Hallion,” was Thranduil’s only response.

Engwe snorted softly. “The price one pays for inviting the Naugrim in the first place,” he commented quietly.

Thranduil turned a glare on his uncle. “Govern your tongue, Engwe. Today is not the day to provoke me,” he said in a low voice.

Not doubting that was true, Engwe for once saw wisdom and quickly assumed an apologetic expression. “I beg your pardon, my lord.”

Thranduil nodded once. “Let us go hear the petitions then,” he said tiredly, standing and raising everyone else to their feet.

“Pity the petitioners today,” Celonhael whispered to Golwon as Thranduil turned to leave the office.

Both advisors froze guiltily as Thranduil turned back to face them. “Indeed,” he said coolly, laughing to himself when he heard them release the breath they were holding after he made no further reaction.

*~*~*

As Lindomiel and Amoneth walked through the courtyard with their strange guests, the Silvan elves made way with reactions that ranged from curious stares to open alarm. Honestly, Lindomiel had been a little alarmed herself when Hallion had asked her to entertain the dwarves until Thranduil was free. Not that she harbored any prejudices against them as she knew Thranduil’s family did. She simply did not know what might entertain a dwarf. Thankfully, the dwarves were resourceful and had their own clear ideas about what they wanted to do. After emerging from breakfast, they expressed an interest in inspecting the only stonework in the capital—the stone fountain and benches in the flower garden in the center of the courtyard. They had glimpsed it the night before upon their arrival. It was there that Lindomiel, Amoneth and their elven guards were escorting them.

The fountain was a large basin carved inside and out with a riot of wildflowers—irises, lilies, daisies, pansies, elanor and many others. Amongst the flowers were small creatures such as butterflies, squirrels, finches, mice and frogs. In the basin of the fountain were two swans and some water lilies that appeared to float on the water. They were carved with such detail that the casual observer might think them real. The benches around the fountain were shaped like trees. Their feet were the tree’s roots, their base and seat were the tree’s trunk and their back was formed from the branches and canopy. These decorations had been present long before Lindomiel came to live in the capital but she knew they had been designed by Gelireth, an artist and one of the elves that Oropher had led east. She had been a court painter in Menegroth. The actual carving had been done by Gelireth and another elf, Crithad. He was a toolmaker but in his spare time he sculpted. Lindomiel had always loved this part of the capital. She was responsible for the flower gardens that surrounded the fountain, and though she doubted the dwarves would be particularly interested in gardens, she was all too happy to show them the stonework.

They studied it with great interest, kneeling on the ground or leaning out over the water to better see some of the detail. As they muttered comments amongst themselves, Lindomiel and Amoneth seated themselves on one of the benches and struggled not to laugh. They had only met six dwarves in their entire lives—these three and the three that came to sell Thranduil the swords fifty years earlier. This group was no different from the first given what they had seen thus far. They seemed coarse and rough, proud and bombastic, sturdy and stern and very intelligent in a stubborn sort of way. They treated the noble ladies with the utmost courtesy and formality but were otherwise completely blunt in their responses to them. Lindomiel remembered how the dwarves’ utter honesty had annoyed Thranduil the last time any of their race had ventured into Greenwood and knowing her husband’s personality as she did, his reaction to them simply amused her to no end.

Finally, their inspection completed, Nali, the master stoneworker, stood and faced the ellyth, looking up at them with a severely serious expression. Lindomiel and Amoneth glanced at each other briefly and fought to maintain a sober expression as well.

“This carving is not poor quality,” the dwarf said gruffly.

Aware of the incredulous look on Amoneth’s face, Lindomiel merely nodded. “I will pass on your appraisal to the artist,” she said serenely. “I am certain she will be honored to know that dwarves find her work satisfactory.”

In truth, Lindomiel was certain that Gelireth would be more likely to spit on the dwarves for their cool evaluation of her beautiful work. Like most of the Sindarin elves in Thranduil’s court, she remembered the dwarves’ deeds in Doriath all too well.

Nali snorted quietly into his beard as his eyes returned to the fountain. “When we received your king’s message, we could not imagine how elves planned on converting caves to a stronghold with as little aid from dwarves as lord Thranduil indicated that he wanted. But if you have elves here with that skill,” he said gesturing to the fountain, “you might be able to make your new stronghold more attractive without so much of our help.” He paused and raised his chin slightly. “Of course, it would still be more lovely with our help, which we intend to point out to him.”

Lindomiel’s eyebrows rose slightly of their own volition as she contemplated that remark. Firstly, she was not certain if it would be amusing or frightening to watch this dwarf inform Thranduil of the superior skill of dwarves over elves. Secondly, she could not honestly imagine how anyone, elf or dwarf, could make a cave lovely. She was smart enough not to say that, however, knowing such a comment would certainly insult the dwarves.

Unfortunately, Amoneth was not that sensible.

“Regardless of what is done to them, they will still be caves,” she replied. “I cannot imagine a cave that the term ‘lovely’ might describe.”

Lindomiel flashed a look at her friend that began as astonishment and quickly turned to irritation as the dwarves glowered at Amoneth.

“You are Sindarin, are you not? You cannot imagine a beautiful cave? You did not think the work my kind did in Menegroth was worthy? Khazad-dûm began as a cave. Are you insulting my home?” Nali asked icily.

Amoneth drew a breath to respond but Lindomiel silenced her with a glare worthy of her husband. Then she spoke to the dwarves herself.

“Neither Amoneth nor myself are old enough to remember Menegroth, Master Nali. Nor have we ever seen Khazad-dûm, of course. Though I have heard it described as the finest dwelling of any age—more beautiful than the mansions in Valinor. Such a thing is simply very difficult for us to imagine since we have lived our entire lives in the forest.”

“Hmm,” harrumphed the dwarf. “Forest. The forest is certainly a fine place for a squirrel or a bird. But your king has shown himself wise to move to this stronghold. A good, solid fortress carved into the living stone—that is a kingly abode. Not some platform on a tree.” He looked at the flets scornfully. “They are nothing more than wooden planks. No decoration, no possibility to adorn them. Plain, not beautiful.”

Amoneth was frowning by the end of that speech. “I could not disagree more with you or with the king,” she replied hotly before Lindomiel could silence her. “The trees require no adornment—they are beautiful in themselves. Living, delicate, intricate—each leaf different from the next and changing through out the year from fresh greens in the spring, to rich greens in the summer, to bright reds and golds in the fall. No cave could be as beautiful as a living tree. I think the king’s decision to move these people…”

“Avo bedo, Amoneth,” Lindomiel hissed, cutting her off in a low voice before switching back to the Common Tongue to address the dwarves. They were obviously angry but their smirks told her that they understood at least that much Sindarin. “Clearly my friend and I have a great deal to learn about the art of converting a cave into a home,” she said in a calm voice, despite the dwarves’ argumentative stance. “Perhaps you would be so kind as to tell us a little about Khazad-dûm, so that we might have a better understanding. We must certainly acquire one since we clearly support the king’s decision to move the people to a safer location.”

Nali looked at her with a knowing gleam in his eyes, clearly recognizing her obvious attempts to be diplomatic and correct her friend. Despite that, a genuine and proud smile appeared on his face at her suggestion. “I would be happy to describe Khazad-dûm to you, my lady. It is a grand place—a city, not just a dwelling and certainly not a cave. It is over forty miles from gate to gate. And the halls between the gates are glorious—bright and ornate. We have lived there for many an age. As an elf, you can surely imagine the result of thousands of years of constant improvements. Nearly every surface bears some sort of adornment…”

Lindomiel sat back in on the bench, listening attentively to Nali’s enthusiastic description of the beauty of his home. Initially, she only hoped to distract the dwarves from Amoneth’s less than sensitive commentary with this topic of conversation, but as they spoke, she found herself drawn into their description. She began asking questions and soon one of Nali’s assistants produced a small pad of paper bound between two pieces of leather from his jerkin. It contained sketches—samples of carvings that could be done on pillars and walls and thresholds and fireplaces. The elves passing through the courtyard pursuing their daily tasks shook their heads in wonder at their queen, conversing animatedly with the three dwarves.

Lindomiel’s opinion of her guests only increased when Nali took the pad of paper and, on a few blank pages, added some sketches of the Niphredil she had transplanted from Lorien and carefully suffered to grow in the garden around the fountain. The dwarves had never seen that plant and Nali thought his wife, a gem worker, might like to make a brooch in its shape. Lindomiel smiled at that though she thought the drawing he made of the delicate plant was much too angular and well, dwarven. But his interest piqued her curiosity as had his description of Khazad-dûm.

Next to her, Amoneth seethed silently at her friend’s reproach and apparent fascination with dwarves as their voices droned in her ears.

*~*~*

Late that afternoon, Thranduil sat with his advisors around a table in the Great Hall, waiting as the guards went to fetch the king’s last interview of the day—Maethorness. Hallion studiously sifted through the papers in front of him, looking at the notes he had taken throughout the day and trying to avoid the king’s gaze. Celonhael spoken quietly but intently with Golwon about how to finance the purchase of some item one of the petitioners had requested and been granted that day. They also appeared desperate to not catch Thranduil’s eye.

The advisors’ efforts were wasted, however. Thranduil had no desire to look for argument with his own council. He only wanted to sit quietly and prepare for the inevitable battle to come. Eyes on the doors, hands carefully not balled into fists, Thranduil waited for the guards he had sent after Maethorness to return.

Suddenly, the doors to the Great Hall burst open and before the guards could even draw breath to announce her, Maethorness pushed past them and strode into the room. She walked without pause towards the table where the king was seated with his advisors. Her mouth was set in a hard line and her eyes burned, reflecting her hot temper.

Thranduil’s mouth turned down irritably on one side as he braced himself to confront Maethorness. He did not relish the idea of delivering bad news to this argumentative, surly elleth.

The guards at the door looked apologetically at Thranduil and he dismissed them with a wave of his hand, his expression communicating that he had expected no less.

Maethorness did not stop walking until she reached the table. Then she glared at Thranduil.

“What could possibly be so important that I should travel a week to the capital and then be made to wait over half a day to speak to you?” she demanded without preamble. “I cannot even begin my return trip today since I sat here doing nothing until after mid day.”

Thranduil tried to focus on the levity offered by his uncle’s completely astonished expression as he struggled to respond in a more polite manner than he had been addressed. Engwe had never been present for any of the few previous encounters Thranduil had with Maethorness.

Maethorness’ husband, Milion, had been the leader of their village before dying in the War of the Last Alliance. Thranduil knew him well—he had been a very soft spoken, compassionate elf. An excellent leader, beloved by his villagers and by everyone else who met him. How he had been married to this battleaxe, Thranduil could never fathom. He had been completely shocked when he first met Milion’s widow.

“We assure you, Maethorness, you would not be asked to make such a journey unless it would clearly benefit your village and the realm, as we are sure you recognize,” Thranduil replied formally, in a cool, firm voice. Knowing from past experience not to expect the courtesy of any sort of obeisance from this elleth, he chose to ignore her lack of respect and indicated a chair at the opposite end of the table. “Please sit down so that we can begin and therefore conclude our business as quickly as possible.” She was not the only one anxious to part company.

She sat in the indicated chair, brows furrowing severely. “What would benefit my village, my lord, would be more regular patrols. Or better still, a permanently appointed guard. The orcs that you cannot seem to keep out of the forest are ever more bold in their approach towards my village. And the spiders are now our constant companions. I expect better protection.”

Engwe’s jaw dropped and he openly stared at Maethorness with an outraged expression. Amusement danced in Thranduil’s eyes for a moment as Celonhael responded to Engwe’s reaction by covering a snort of laughter with a cough. Maethorness stared angrily at him for this unusual behavior.

Thranduil turned his most formidable glare on Maethorness, drawing her attention. It had enough effect to subdue her somewhat. “It is the security of your village and the advance of the orcs and spiders that you are here to discuss, Madam.” He paused, a dare to her to speak. Wisely, she chose not to so Thranduil continued, diving directly into the heart of the matter. Preliminaries would be lost on this elleth. “The orcs and spiders are multiplying beyond our ability to control. We have decided to move the capital north of the mountains and the warriors north of the Narrows. We will no longer defend the territory where your village lies and we recommend you move north of the mountains for the safety of your people.”

Maethorness’ reaction to that pronouncement was not disappointing. “What!” she practically screeched. Thranduil watched her with an outwardly bland expression, thinking to himself that she looked liked a fish caught in a bear’s jaws—eyes wide, jaw hanging open. “You expect us to move again? Between you and your adar, that will make four times that our people have been forced to move!”

That was a statement of fact. Thranduil saw no benefit in responding to it, so he did not.

“What did we gain in any of the previous moves? What will be the benefit of this one?”

Thranduil gazed at her coolly for a moment. “The benefit is that there are no orcs or spiders north of the mountains—they are concentrated around Amon Lanc and the mountains are far enough north of Amon Lanc to be safe. The benefit is that our scouts have found very rich places to resettle in the safety north of the mountains. You will be safer and more prosperous in the new location.”

“Scouts?” she exclaimed, voice rising. “Have you already chosen the location of my village for me? Do we have any choice in this matter? You seem to be assuming it is a foregone conclusion that we will agree to move.”

Thranduil raised his eyebrows slightly. “I would not force any of my subjects to an action they truly opposed, Madam, any more than you could force the elves in your village to do something against their will. You may certainly choose to stay in the Narrows if you wish. However, that would be poor leadership because you could not hope to defend yourselves against the orcs and spiders. Therefore, assuming that you will encourage your people to make the logical choice, I have scouted the land north of the mountains in an attempt to provide you with as much assistance as possible.”

Maethorness narrowed her eyes at him. “You speak of the safety of my people. You claim to protect this realm. You and your adar have done nothing but retreat. It is not a matter of running away to keep the elves safe. The forest—the trees and all the creatures that live in them, not just the elves, are part of this realm. You Sindarin elves just do not understand that. Are you protecting this realm? No. You are leaving the trees to rot or burn in the care of spiders and orcs. You are forcing all the creatures, elves and animals to loose their homes. That hurts my people. They suffer seeing the forest and its creatures suffer. You and your adar have always ignored that. Well, I will not ignore it. Nor will the elves in my village. We will not move.”

Thranduil did not bother to try to conceal the anger and pain that he felt in reaction to that speech. “Do not presume to tell me that I do not understand the suffering of this forest or this realm, Madam. The greatest gift I have ever received was the healing song of this forest and the kindness of the Silvan when my people came here as refugees after being driven from three previous homes. My adar acknowledged that debt when he accepted the Silvan’s invitation to lead them and protect this forest. There is an army protecting this forest because my adar and I ordered and command it. There are foresters tending the forest and its creatures because my adar and I organized them. My adar gave his life defending you. This forest would not have experienced the prosperity of the last millennium if the Evil One had not been defeated in Mordor. Now that Evil is rising again in Amon Lanc and I must respond in a way that keeps the most citizens of this realm safe and allows us to continue fighting. For fifty years we have tried to drive the orcs from the forest without success. Their presence in the south is too strong to resist. I could gather us all together and kill us all by marching on Amon Lanc. That would be the end of this realm and its suffering for certain,” he said with heavy sarcasm. “The only way I can keep these people safe is by moving them. I am not abandoning the forest or its creatures. I will protect it. But neither you nor I can serve this forest if we are dead. Choose to stay in the Narrows and you choose to die and end your service to this forest. Choose to move north and you may continue to protect this forest. But the choice is yours. Try to make the one that will demonstrate good leadership.” He paused. “If you would care to see the maps the scouts made, we are prepared to show them to you.”

Maethorness scowled at him and stood. “I have not decided to ask the people in my village to move. If I do, it will not be north of the mountains. And I can scout my own settlement.”

Thranduil regarded her coolly. “The choice is yours. But be warned—I am defending no territory south of the Narrows. I would not consider you safe if you stay south of the mountains. I certainly would not consider any territory south of the Forest Road inhabitable. If you choose to stay in the south, you will be endangering your people.”

Maethorness glared at him a moment and then with a snort, turned and marched from the room. Again, Engwe’s jaw fell open.

“You are dismissed,” Thranduil said acerbically as the doors to the Great Hall closed behind her.

Engwe, mouth still hanging open, turned to Thranduil. “Since when is anything that I just saw here an appropriate manner in which to conduct oneself in the presence of the king?”

Thranduil laughed and raised his eyebrows. “I suppose you have never treated me in a similar manner?”

“I am your uncle,” Engwe responded irritably.

“And that matters?” Thranduil replied.

Engwe’s expression turned sour as Hallion and Dieneryn struggled not to laugh.

Thranduil shook his head and adopted a more serious expression. “There is no way to force her to respect me when she does not, Engwe. She will move and that is all that matters. She will also express her displeasure about the necessity of doing so. As Golwon said earlier, that is why he brought her in alone—so no one else is exposed to her disrespect and her attitude.” Thranduil frowned at Engwe’s continued incredulity. “What would you have me do, Engwe? Lock her in a cell for her impudence?”

“Tempting,” Hallion said softly. Everyone laughed quietly at that.

“Your adar would have,” Engwe added.

Thranduil laughed heartily. “Maethorness would be lucky if she only got locked in a cell for behaving that way with ada. That sort of cheek would likely have earned me a smack had I ever been foolish enough to conduct myself in such a manner,” he replied as Dieneryn and Aradunnon nodded knowingly. Then Thranduil grew more serious. “But, I cannot argue with all of Maethorness’ points. I agree with her about abandoning the forest. Aradunnon has made the exact same argument. We all have as we debated this move. We are angry about the choices we have made. I respect her right to be angry as well.” He shook his head slightly and adopted a sterner expression. “If that is all for the evening, let us go prepare for dinner.” He fixed them all with a cold glare. “Anyone who does not appear for dinner—anyone who abandons their king to dinner alone with dwarves—may very well spend some time in a cell. Or better still, in the north working on those caves for the next years with the dwarves.”

That elicited a round of laughter from everyone in the room as they proceeded out the Great Hall to the family quarters. Hallion and Dieneryn held back, flanking Thranduil.

“You have made the right choice, ion nin,” Dieneryn said quietly as they walked. “I am no military strategist, but even I can see that. You are doing what is best for these people.”

Hallion nodded. “I know you do not like the choice, Thranduil. It may comfort you to know that your adar always agonized over the choice of moving the people further into the forest. It is not an easy decision but it is the right one. Especially given that we found a place for a stronghold. You were very wise to seek out such a place.”

Thranduil frowned slightly. “And very lucky to find one.” He sighed. “I appreciate the support. I only wish I had better options.”

Hallion smiled sadly at Thranduil. “Anyone can lead people when all the choices are easy ones, my lord. Good leadership is proven by making the best of difficult choices. I truly believe history will prove that you have done so.”

“I hope you are right,” Thranduil replied softly.

*~*~*

Less than an hour later, Thranduil and his council walked into the family sitting room, forewarned that Lindomiel was already waiting for them while entertaining the dwarves there. Upon crossing the threshold into the room, the king immediately scowled. Lindomiel, alone save for her guards, was seated on the cushions in the room surrounded by dwarves. One had a mithril ring in his hands and was inspecting it closely. Both Thranduil and Dieneryn froze and stiffened at that sight.

“This is truly exquisite work,” the dwarf commented, not noticing the new arrivals. “Leaves are not the most interesting subject I could think of to engrave on a ring, but I will grant you it is probably fitting for a Woodland queen and they are strikingly detailed.” The dwarf squinted at the ring and then looked up at Lindomiel. “Are those runes amongst the leaves?”

Lindomiel merely nodded, smiling.

The dwarf raised his eyebrows dramatically and studied the ring again. “Clever,” he said with an openly admiring tone. “I do not know enough Sindarin to read them. I can get that ‘o Eryn Galen’ is ‘of Greenwood.’ What is Bereth?”

“Queen,” Lindomiel responded. “It says Queen of Greenwood.”

The dwarf looked appropriately impressed and handed the ring back to Lindomiel. “Very striking work. You cannot expect me to believe an elf could have done this,” the dwarf said skeptically.

Thranduil had heard and seen enough. “An elf did make it,” he said with a cold tone. “My father made it for his queen when he became king of these people. As he made the ring I now wear for himself.”

Lindomiel’s eyes widened and flew back to meet her husband’s icy expression. She stood as the dwarves spun around to face the person speaking to them so harshly. Easily guessing who this newcomer might be, they drew themselves to their full heights and returned his glare coolly.

“My lord, this is Nali, a master stoneworker from Khazad-dûm and his assistants, Kror and Bomil,” Lindomiel said softly by way of introduction, stepping over to her husband’s side. He took her hand firmly, studying her briefly before greeting the dwarves.

“Welcome to Greenwood,” Thranduil said somewhat stiffly.

Nali bowed slightly. “We are pleased to be here. It has been a long time since any of us delved a new stronghold. The task you described in your message is intriguing to us.”

Thranduil took a slow breath and tried to blow out the tension he was feeling. “We appreciate your willingness to travel here to help appraise the caves,” he said in a calm tone.

Nali looked at the King of Greenwood coolly and harrumphed into his beard. “Naturally you will need our help. You cannot just go carving out passages into a mountain. It will collapse on you,” he replied firmly.

Lindomiel felt her husband tense and saw his eyes narrow almost imperceptibly.

“Then we should be all the more thankful for your presence,” he replied, only marginally succeeding in keeping the sarcasm from his voice. The day had been difficult without adding the natural arrogance of dwarves to the mix.

Hallion frowned, wondering if the king had indeed intended to make an effort to conceal his irritation. If he had, it had not been entirely successful. The dwarves were glaring at him openly.

Lindomiel intervened before Hallion could speak, recognizing the storm brewing between her husband and his guests and anxious to divert it. “Collapse perhaps, but not lack for decoration, is that not correct Master Nali? I believe that I have finally convinced you that some of us have some skill with fine stonework. And even metalwork,” she said indicating her ring.

Nali turned cold eyes to Lindomiel but they quickly softened. “Yes, my lady, I admit we might be able to work with your elven artists. Including you,” he said with dramatic gallantry.

Lindomiel blushed slightly at that and Thranduil raised his eyebrows questioningly. Lindomiel laughed self-consciously. “We spent some time looking at the fountain in the courtyard and I explained that Gelerith and Crithad made it. Then we had a fascinating discussion about the manner in which the dwarves have decorated the walls in Khazad-dûm. That led to the mention of the tapestries we use to decorate here, so I showed them some of mine and Lady Dieneryn’s.”

“They had potential,” Nali said with a smile.

Thranduil glared at the dwarf for a moment before a rueful smile formed on his lips. “My lady mother and wife’s tapestries are beautiful beyond compare Master Nali and while you are in my realm you would be wise not to gainsay me on that assertion.”

Nali snorted good-naturedly. “I will concede your point, lord Thranduil. And if you ever have an occasion to be my guest in Khazad-dûm I will expect you to demonstrate the same wisdom with regards to my wife’s gem work.”

Thranduil nodded with a smile and gestured towards the dining room. “If I ever come to Khazad-dûm, I will,” he said amicably enough but everyone in the room knew it was an empty promise. The King of Greenwood could not be dragged into Khazad-dûm. “In the meantime, perhaps you would like to describe your lady wife’s work to me. It has been a very long time since I obtained any new jewelry for my wife.”

Lindomiel looked at Thranduil with amusement. She was not overly fond of jewelry and he knew that. He also knew this was a topic that would likely occupy the dwarf throughout dinner. They could limit themselves to it and the business of the caves and avoid any disastrous social blunders. Hallion recognized this strategy as well and smiled. Thranduil would never be a good diplomat, but he was improving.

As they walked to the dining room with Nali already well into a description of his wife’s favorite design, Thranduil frowned slightly. “Where is Amoneth?” he said quietly into Lindomiel’s ear. He spoke so that dwarven ears would not hear the question but Aradunnon did. He looked over at Lindomiel as well.

Lindomiel adopted a neutral expression that anyone in the family could properly interpret. “Amoneth and I agreed it might be better for her to join her friends in the public dining room this evening,” she said vaguely.

Aradunnon scowled.

*~*~*

Late that evening, Thranduil and Lindomiel entered their private chambers. Thranduil immediately dismissed the servants and drew his wife into his arms.

“Valar, this day was terrible,” he whispered, enjoying the feel of his wife’s slender, soft hands on his back as she slid them under his robes and across his thin silk shirt.

Lindomiel smiled. “You did not have to entertain three dwarves for the entire day,” she joked.

Thranduil pulled back slightly to look at his wife. “Surely my wife, who is fascinated by all beings, did not find entertaining our guests to be a strain?” he asked teasingly.

Lindomiel frowned at him playfully. “I found their company very educational and I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Hadhodrond. After speaking to them, I am almost convinced that living in a cave might be tolerable.”

Thranduil raised his eyebrows dramatically and assumed a mock-offended expression. “I, your husband of nearly a millennium, have been telling you for weeks that Menegroth was beautiful but my words do not win you over. A dwarf, who you met this morning, tells you a few tales about a mine and you fall for his words readily. That frightens me, meleth.”

Lindomiel burst into laughter and kissed her husband lightly on the lips. “You should simply be glad I listened, Thranduil.”

“Indeed,” he laughed. Then he paused and looked at her a bit more seriously. “So it was not too difficult entertaining them? They behaved acceptably?”

Lindomiel looked at her husband indulgently. “They are the very picture of courteous behavior, Thranduil. I have never been treated with such gallantry, not even by you.” She fought back her laughter at his sincerely offended expression. “Pity Amoneth’s behavior was not equally courteous,” she concluded meaningfully.

Thranduil frowned at her. “What did she do?” He knew she would not criticize her friend simply to gossip about her. If she had brought up her behavior, it was because she felt he should know about it.

“I think you should speak to her yourself, Thranduil, and explain to her in detail the limits of acceptable behavior. I have done so. I know Aradunnon has as well. Even Dieneryn has had some words with her. But she refuses to learn.”

Thranduil raised his eyebrows. “What did she do?” he repeated more forcefully.

Lindomiel scowled. “She spoke offensively about underground dwellings in the dwarves’ presence. That was ignorance, I imagine. But she began to criticize your decision to move to the caves in their presence. I cut her off but they knew exactly what she was going to say.” She paused and laughed bitterly. “If it makes you feel better, they openly corrected her as they described Hadhodrond to us and they said you were ‘wise’ to move your people to such a ‘kingly’ abode.”

Thranduil rolled his eyes. “Well, now that I have the approval of dwarves I feel completely confident about my decision,” he replied with dripping sarcasm. “I will speak to Amoneth when we return from the caves. She will learn from that discussion that she will not gainsay me publicly. Or she will return to Lorien. It is that simple. It is bad enough that I have citizens like Maethorness angry and criticizing this move. I cannot censor them but I will not tolerate such behavior from my own family.”

Lindomiel simply nodded and he looked at her sidelong.

“Are you serious about feeling a little more disposed towards living in the stronghold,” he asked cautiously. He knew his wife well enough to know not to push her.

She smiled. “Yes, Thranduil. The dwarves described some beautiful things. I know we will not have the means to do what they have done, but I suppose there is some challenge in making the caves beautiful. And I do like a challenge.”

Thranduil grinned at her. “You married me. You must.”

*~*~*

The next day, Thranduil along with his wife, mother, steward and Golwon traveled north to see the caves. The entire family had wanted to join them but that was clearly not possible—someone had to rule Greenwood. It was decided that Hallion and Golwon should go with Thranduil first so that they could begin handling the move with the village leaders and citizens in the capital. Engwe, Aradunnon, Amoneth and Celonhael could go north after Thranduil and Hallion returned.

Accompanying them were the dwarves, a few scouts and Gelireth, Crithad and their apprentices. Thranduil remained firm that he intended to employ the dwarves only to do any rough work that would be needed in the caves, leaving his own people to do the finishing work. The dwarves argued that they would do a better job of all the work and Thranduil did not doubt that. He did doubt his ability to pay for such a thing. He needed a functional stronghold, not Menegroth, as Celonhael had become fond of reminding him. He would use the dwarves as little as possible and conserve funds.

All the elves were impressed by the forest as they traveled north. Almost completely untouched, it was lush and full of foodstuffs and game. The scouts led them along the river so the king could see the locations they recommended for villages. They would have traveled on the river itself, but out of respect for the dwarves who hated water travel, they elected to travel by land. The trees and the river were seemingly eager to welcome more elves to the north and Thranduil took comfort in that. Lindomiel could not deny that she enjoyed exploring the new territory, especially the river since she so loved the water.

When they reached the hill that Thranduil intended to convert into a stronghold, Lindomiel and many of the Silvan elves were plainly awed. The opening cave seemed large and ominous—a great gaping mouth in the side of the small mountain. Thranduil could not help but laugh at her reaction and it earned him a scathing look.

The very day they arrived, the scouts led the king and his party for a tour of the cave system. They moved from cavern to cavern, discussing that this cavern might be used for a Great Hall since it is large enough and close to the entrance and that one might be used for a kitchen since it is close to the underground river and smaller ones might be used for personal apartments or offices or what have you. Gelireth was openly excited the moment they entered the cave. She immediately began describing to Thranduil her ideas for decorating the walls and natural pillars in the caverns. The dwarves debated with her and also made recommendations for which passages and caverns might be enlarged. Their enthusiasm was infectious and soon the Silvan artists, Crithad and the apprentices, began to argue as well, suggesting decorations that reflected the forest in counterpoint to Gelerith’s ideas that stemmed from her memories of Menegreth and the dwarves’ suggestions that reflected Khazad-dûm. Soon they were debating merrily amongst themselves. Nothing makes an artist happier than having an entire structure as a canvas.

Lindomiel laughed slightly when Dieneryn joined in, arguing certain areas would be better for tapestries than for paintings or carvings. She could not deny that she could imagine in her mind the ideas that the dwarves, Gelireth and Dieneryn were describing. They even seemed attractive. And Lindomiel was very surprised at the way the caves made her feel. She expected to feel as if she was buried alive and she did to some extent. Being underground where there was no sunlight or breeze made her feel strange. But she could still hear Iluvatar’s song in the rock surrounding her. That new perspective amazed her, forcing her to recognize that even the rock was a living part of the world. It pained her slightly to hear Thranduil, the dwarves and Crithad discuss carving it out.

“Could these passages be widened safely?” the king was asking.

The dwarves all nodded. “These are very stable passages and caverns. Some of the lower ones, I have less faith in, but the upper one are ideal for working.”

Thranduil nodded, obviously pleased. He turned to Crithad. “How much of this can we do ourselves?”

The dwarves frowned as Crithad looked at the walls skeptically. “I think we could do some of it, my lord. This is only a limestone cave. Limestone is relatively soft.”

“Excellent for carving. Shows details well,” Gelireth, chimed in.

Crithad brightened at that and turned to her. “Indeed. Some of these surfaces just beg to be carved, do they not?”

Gelireth smiled. “Oh yes,” she began and drew a breath, obvious ready to attack that topic.

Thranduil waved her silent. “I understand that we can decorate it ourselves. The two of you can argue over who will do the carvings later. Our goal now is to determine how much help we need from the dwarves.”

Crithad nodded. “I think we would need them to at least advise us on what is safe to cut and to do some of the deeper and more delicate work. And if you want stone gates, as you indicated, you certainly want the dwarves to do that. What they would make would be far superior to anything I could.”

Nali snorted angrily. “We could do all of the work involved far better than you, Master Crithad. I fail to understand your hesitance to employ us after you brought us here, lord Thranduil.”

Thranduil sighed. “Then I will explain it frankly to you, Master Nali. I simply do not have the funds to pay you what you would ask for delving the caves and making the doors and doing the decoration. I remember Menegroth very well. I know the quality of your work. I simply cannot afford it so I must determine what I can do myself in order to use my funds in the wisest manner.”

The dwarves nodded to this. They were nothing if not practical. “Have you considered the wealth you might find in these caves? Perhaps you would be willing to expend some of it in exchange for our labor?”

Thranduil’s brow furrowed slightly in confusion. “This is a limestone cave, Master Nali. There will be no valuable ores or metals in it.”

The dwarf smiled at Thranduil in a superior manner, causing the king to fight not to bristle openly. “Lord Thranduil, that is why you need dwarves. Limestone in itself is valuable. You will want to use some of what we remove from the cave for fences and other structures. I imagine you could sell some of it as well. But there will be more than limestone to remove. Will you humor us for a moment’s demonstration?”

Thranduil regarded the dwarf coolly. “By all means,” he finally replied.

With that, Nali nodded to his assistants. One raised the torch he was carrying higher as the other and Nali began to walk quickly, deeper into the cave, knocking along the walls as they went. The elves followed them silently, glancing at one another at this dramatically mysterious behavior. Finally, Nali stopped and held out his hand. Bomil handed him a chisel and hammer. He made a few deep cuts into the wall until a large chunk of it fell to the ground. Everyone present gaped at the stone he exposed—it was embedded with green gems, like emeralds but deeper green.

Thranduil’s eyes finally turned to the dwarf.

Nali smiled. “They are not emeralds. They are called copper emerald or poor man’s emerald in the Common Tongue. They grow in voids in limestone formations usually along with malachite, which I am certain we will also find here. They are only semi-precious. Not as hard as emeralds and very difficult to cut. Not nearly as valuable as true emeralds but they will fetch some price. We would accept some as payment—in addition to the fee we have already discussed for additional work if you chose to give it to us. For example, we could find the formations of this gem for you in exchange for part of them.”

Thranduil laughed shortly and forced his eyes from the gems. “I must admit I am impressed, Master Nali. I will certainly allow you to locate the gem deposits. And perhaps we could discuss the delving of some additional passages. Let us go back to camp and look at the maps. We can discuss the details of our plans.”

He turned and indicated for the scouts to lead them from the caves, feeling better about the move to the north than he had previously. As they emerged from the caves, two of his guards were waiting for him anxiously.

“My lord, we have…guests. Men. We found them near our camp as we patrolled.”

*~*~*

Naugrim--Elvish name for the dwarves. It is less than flattering, meaning 'stunted ones.'
Elleth/ellyth--Female elf(s)
Avo bedo--Do not speak/Be silent
Adar/ada--Father/dad
Ion-nin--My son
Hadhodrond--the canonical elvish name for Khazad-dûm and an attempt to render the dwarvish name to elvish sounds. Khazad-dûm did not become known as Moria—the Black Pit—until TA 1980, when the dwarves accidentally unleashed Durin’s Bane, the Balrog of Morgoth.


Chapter 11 - In the furtherance of feuds

*****************

The Northmen had increased greatly in the peace brought by the power of Gondor. The kings showed them favour, since they were the nearest in kin of lesser Men to the Dúnedain (being for the most part descendants of those peoples from whom the Edain of old had come); and they gave them wide lands beyond Anduin south of Greenwood the Great, to be a defence against men of the East. For in the past the attacks of the Easterlings had come mostly over the plain between the Inland Sea and the Ash Mountains….

… but it was learned by the regent that the Northmen did not always remain true to Gondor, and some would join forces with the Easterlings, either out of greed for spoil, or in the furtherance of feuds among their princes.

On his return Rómendacil …showed especial favour to Vidugavia, who had aided him in the war. He called himself King of Rhovanion, and was indeed the most powerful of the Northern princes, though his own realm lay between Greenwood and the River Celduin. Return of the King, Appendix A

*****************

Their tour of the caves complete, and eager to discuss the details of the needed improvements with the dwarves, Thranduil indicated for the scouts to lead them from the caves. As they emerged, two of his guards were waiting for him anxiously.

“My lord, we have…guests. Men. We found them near our camp as we patrolled.”

Thranduil’s eyebrows rose dramatically and he glanced at Conuiön.

Conuiön’s brows furrowed deeply. “Men?” he exclaimed with obvious surprise and concern. “How many? Did they say why they are in the forest? Can you tell where they are from?” Conuiön fired off questions rapidly before restraining himself to allow his guards to answer. The captain of the King’s Guard did not like surprises of this nature. He smiled slightly, however, noting that the dwarves waited with equal interest for answers while fingering the handles of the axes they wore at their belts. Apparently he shared at least one trait in common with dwarves.

The guards frowned, concentrating on the questions and the formation of a complete answer. “There are ten of them—Northmen. They said they were in the forest because they heard that we are here. They were looking for us with the intention of speaking to us. They appear to be a few high-born men and the rest guards.”

Thranduil frowned slightly.

“It appears the neighboring Men have some concerns about the new presence at their borders,” Nali said quietly.

Hallion directed a glare at Nali. “We have very good relations with the Men in the south,” he said dismissively.

Thranduil nodded but his expression was serious. “Indeed, and this move will certainly interest them. It will affect how they defend their villages in the south and trade with us.” He adopted a blithe smile. “And as Master Nali implied, our people will now be in much closer proximity to the Northmen’s major realms. I am not surprised to hear from them. I am surprised to hear from them so quickly. We have not even announced this move to our own people.” He focused on Hallion and Golwon. “I suppose we had better go speak to them.”

Turning to walk back to their camp, Thranduil tried to stifle a smile as Hallion sighed disgustedly. The king was well aware that Hallion preferred to approach diplomacy much more prepared than he would be for this spontaneous encounter. More to the point, he preferred to prepare Thranduil much more thoroughly when dealing with foreigners. The king followed his guards and advisors back to camp silently, watching Hallion’s expression as he mentally ticked through the list of potential complications that might arise from this meeting.

When they arrived, the dwarves and the elves that had been inspecting the caves looked at the men for a moment before moving off to their own tents while Thranduil and his advisors went to greet them. Seeing the Elvenking, the Men stood.

Thranduil smiled genuinely, recognizing two of the men immediately.

“Gimstan. Baldor. This is a welcome surprise,” he said by way of greeting as they bowed respectfully. Gimstan was one of the representatives he dealt with most often when trading with the men in the southern villages. Baldor was from Esgaroth.

“It is a pleasure to see you again, your majesties,” Baldor responded warmly, inclining his head to both Thranduil and Lindomiel. Thranduil had always liked this particular Man. He was forthright and honest. Easy to work with from the king’s point of view. Thranduil had been sorry to see how much he had aged during his last visit. He looked positively ancient now.

“Indeed it is,” Gimstan added, also smiling. He indicated another Man in regal dress. “Your majesty, I would like to present lord Viduladia. He is Prince Vinidalya’s heir and captain of his military.”

Thranduil's face clouded momentarily with confusion. “Welcome to the Woodland Realm, lord Viduladia,” Thranduil replied, nodding politely to the young man. “Forgive me but I thought Prince Vinidalya’s heir was lord Vinibarya.”

The young noble bowed slightly but pain showed in his face at Thranduil’s implied question. “Thank you, lord Thranduil. I bring you greetings from my lord father. He felt it was important that I meet you now that I am his heir. My brothers were killed leading our armies against Men from the East with our allies in Gondor.”

Thranduil raised his eyebrows and glanced at Hallion. Prince Vinidalya was the ruler of the Northmen settled between the forest and the River Running. His was the largest and most important realm of Northmen. But the King of Men in Gondor ruled the Northmen, ultimately, and was not merely an ally. Apparently that was changing. Thranduil was not surprised—alliances between Men seemed very short-lived from an elven perspective.

Thranduil studied Viduladia’s fresh face, unmarked by scars of battle, exposure to weather or even the stubble of a beard. He was young. Too young to be a captain and a diplomat. Pitying the boy’s obvious uneasiness, Thranduil decided to make an effort to lighten the mood.

“It is, of course, a pleasure to meet Prince Vinidalya’s son though it is a shame he could not accompany you himself. Your father owes me a rematch on our last game of Fidchel.”

A smile claimed Viduladia’s lips at that. “My father warned me that you might mention that, lord Thranduil. And he cautioned me not to accept any challenge. I do not have his skill in Fidchel.”

Thranduil smiled in return. “I do not have your father's skill in Fidchel, lord Viduladia. He only just taught me to play. Thus, the rematch. But we will have to find out what your favored game is. I care not what the contest is, so long as I have my rematch.” Viduladia laughed lightly at that. Then Thranduil turned to the elves with him. “Allow me to present my wife, Lady Lindomiel, my mother Lady Dieneryn, my steward, Lord Hallion, and my advisor, Lord Golwon.”

Viduladia bowed politely over the ladies hands and nodded to the elves. As often happened, Thranduil found himself wondering if the beauty of his wife and mother or the imposing countenance of himself and his courtiers was most disconcerting to the young man. Men always found their first meeting with the House of Oropher to be challenging. Catching the gleam in Baldor’s eyes, Thranduil could see the older man was equally amused by the youth’s discomfort. The king turned to business to avoid giving voice to his laughter.

“I must admit, I was surprised when my guards told me we had visitors from the Mannish realms to the east. May I ask what brings you into the forest?” he asked, addressing the young nobleman in respect for his rank.

Viduladia straightened slightly under Thranduil’s gaze. “My lord father sent me to discuss rumors that the elves intend to move from the southern forest,” he responded with a formal tone.

Thranduil nodded. “I thought that might be the case. Join me in my tent where we can speak in comfort,” he said, indicating for the Men to precede him to the tent. The guards next to it opened the flaps to allow them to enter.

“Is it true, your majesty, that you intend to move your capital to these hills?” Baldor asked in an eager voice as they sat.

The reason for his interest was obvious—Esgaroth was emerging as a center of trade for Men due to its advantageous position on Long Lake at the head of the River Running. The Forest River also ran into Long Lake. If they could become a center of trade with the elves along the Forest River, it would be profitable for their realm indeed.

Thranduil looked at the man with the inscrutable expression elves are renown for. “We are indeed considering that,” he replied.

Baldor frowned slightly, accustomed to more direct speech from the Elvenking. “From the presence of dwarves I gather that your considerations are in their final stages,” he pressed.

Thranduil smiled slightly. “They are.”

Viduladia’s brows drew together. “Is this move motivated by the rising difficulties with orcs from Dol Guldur?” he asked, irritation showing in his voice.

Thranduil raised his eyebrows. “Orcs from where?” he asked quietly.

Hallion’s mouth formed a thin line. Thranduil was likely already put off by the boy’s tone. If he took insult from the name he had just used, that would only make matters worse.

Viduladia frowned. “Men from Gondor have come to call the mountain Dol Guldur. You elves call it Amon Lanc. Whichever name you choose to use, I care not. What concerns me is that orcs are breeding there and attacking my southern villages even while your troops are still in the south fighting them. Now you are retreating north. If you cannot control the orcs in your forest, my armies will. I have enough trouble from Easterlings without adding orcs to my problems.”

Thranduil’s eyes narrowed slightly. “The elves—and by that I mean myself, Lord Amroth of Lorien and Lord Elrond of Imladris—suspect that Sauron himself is rising in Dol Guldur, as you called it. Perhaps that is an apt name. If you can tell me how to fight that, I would be happy to join forces with you.”

Viduladia’s eyes widened involuntarily at that before his expression hardened. “All the more reason to destroy Dol Guldur now. I will not stand idly by while my villages in the south of the realm are attacked. If you are retreating, if you cannot control what passes across your borders into my realm, then I will,” he declared hotly.

Hallion cringed at that declaration and saw Gimstan do the same. Thranduil turned a withering glare on the young prince.

“Cross into my realm with an army and test if I can control my borders,” he retorted in an openly threatening voice. Then he took a deep breath, trying to remember the youth’s inexperience. “You have not fought Sauron, lord Viduladia. I have. I have spent the last fifty years fighting the orcs rising in Amon Lanc and trying to organize an alliance against them. I have spoken with Lord Amroth and Lord Elrond, who also fought Sauron with me in the Battle of the Last Alliance. I have spoken with messengers from the Valar regarding the situation in Amon Lanc.” Viduladia momentarily gaped at Thranduil in response to those statements but Thranduil continued without pause. “We all agree that now is the time to build strength, not fight. I will contain the orc and spider threat in the southern part of my realm as best I can to protect my own people but I will not destroy my entire army fighting a force I cannot defeat.” He fixed Viduladia with a stern look. “Elves are not known for giving definitive advice, lord Viduladia. That adds weight to this statement—I strongly urge you and your father to protect your villages but wait to attack Amon Lanc. If that is not satisfactorily compelling, I will add this—if you need to be reminded of the borders between my realm and your father’s, I will accommodate you—in unmistakably plain terms—when you cross those borders to attack Amon Lanc.”

“Gentlefolk,” Baldor interjected in a placating voice, “we did not come here to undo generations of cooperation between our realms. We came here to find out what changes will be needed to continue that cooperation if the capital of the Woodland Realm is in fact moving.”

“Indeed,” Gimstan concurred. “Prince Vinidalya has already made it perfectly clear that our armies will not violate the elves’ borders in pursuit of orcs. I was present for that discussion.” Viduladia looked coldly at his advisor but Gimstan resolutely ignored him, focusing instead on Thranduil. “Prince Vinidalya is concerned by this move, lord Thranduil. We have recently suffered some heavy losses against the Easterlings. And now we have this greater threat on our western border. The elves’ presence in the southern forest defends not only their own realm but ours as well. If you can no longer hold back the forces of Dol Guldur…if you truly think it is Sauron rising there…you cannot deny our right to be troubled by that.”

Thranduil nodded coolly. “I do understand that. My villages on the eastern border are harried by Men from Rhûn who cross through your lands and into mine,” he said pointedly.

“All the more reason why we should address these issues together,” Gimstan said evenly.

Thranduil looked at the men silently for a moment. Viduladia was clearly young, even for a mortal. This was certainly his first diplomatic mission to treat with elves. He had just lost his brothers and faced more battles himself. Thranduil reminded himself that he was dealing with children and focused the conversation to answer their concerns. “I do not intend to withdraw all my forces north of the mountains,” he said in a calm voice. “I intend to fight to contain the orcs south of the Narrows. I will defend the Forest Road and the ford across the Anduin as I always have. Some of my people have told me they intend to continue living south of the mountains. But I have told them that I will not be responsible for the safety of any village that does not move north of the Road and I am withdrawing my troops from the Narrows. How you manage your people is your affair, but I could not recommend that they remain in the Bight. It is not safe. I would move them further north or east or fortify their villages with more troops if you allow them to stay.”

Viduladia looked at him with a harsh expression. “They will stay and I will send more troops south,” he said with finality.

Thranduil merely nodded. “The fact that you live on the open plain may serve you. The orcs will not travel outside the protective darkness of the forest onto the bright plain unless there is great need. And the spiders prefer the trees,” he responded neutrally.

“And what of trade, my lord?” Gimstan asked quietly after a moment’s silence. “Many of our villages in the south depend on trade with the elves for products we simply cannot obtain without entering your forest.”

Thranduil smiled at Gimstan. They had long worked together. “And we obtain many products from your villages that the forest does not provide. We will undoubtedly have to rework how the trade occurs, but it will still be necessary. Thankfully, we have a the River Running that we might use to accommodate longer distances between our villages.”

Gimstan looked at Thranduil cautiously. “Since you will no longer have villages in the Narrows, would you consider allowing Men to hunt there and take products from the forest themselves for a tariff?”

Thranduil looked at Gimstan coolly. “No, I will not. It would be too dangerous to have my patrols and your hunting parties in such close proximity. And Men simply do not have the same level of respect for the forest that elves expect. The southern forest will suffer enough from the loss of the elves and the presence of orcs and spiders. I will not allow its suffering to increase due to over-hunting or over-cutting. I will maintain trade with your villages and you will continue to respect the borders of this forest.”

Gimstan sighed, looking at Thranduil with a disappointed and slightly insulted expression. But after Viduladia’s outburst, he had expected nothing different so he simply nodded his acknowledgement.

Baldor was looking at Thranduil intently. “You mentioned the River Running, my lord,” he commented.

Thranduil turned to him expectantly. “Yes, I did.”

“The Master in Esgaroth is indeed very anxious to discuss the River Running and the Forest River with you further. Both those rivers flow into Long Lake, as you know. Because of this, Esgaroth is already a very central trade location. It could be even more so if the elves made better use of it.”

Gimstan frowned and nodded. “Yes, precisely what my southern villages fear—Esgaroth becoming a middleman in trade with the elves as it is already in trade with Dorwinion. We prefer to deal directly with the elves. If we cannot, we would rather trade with Gondor.”

Baldor scowled at him. “You are severing ties with Gondor so that is an empty threat. And we charge very fair prices for our services. My men travel months through very dangerous territory to bring back products from Rhûn,” he countered sharply. “We are simply calling the king’s attention to the fact that if he does establish his capital here in these hills, the Forest River runs straight from here to Esgaroth.” He turned to Thranduil. “Very convenient, your majesty.”

Gimstan’s expression did not change.

Thranduil only nodded in response. “When I do finally move my capital, I will make a point of meeting with the necessary parties to establish new trade arrangements,” he replied neutrally. He had no desire to become involved in Mannish trade disputes.

Gimstan turned from Baldor to Thranduil. “’Finally move’” he quoted. “We were under the impression that you were moving now.”

Thranduil smiled blandly at him. “We are. But now is a relative term, I think. If I move my capital to these caves, I must employ the dwarves and elves with me to prepare them first. That will take years—around fifty, I imagine. We will move when the caves are ready. That is ‘now’ from my perspective. I expect Men may see that fifty year time frame somewhat differently.”

Indeed all the men’s eyebrows rose dramatically.

“You do not intend to move for another fifty years?” Viduladia exclaimed.

Thranduil nodded. The man’s reaction confirmed for Thranduil that he was indeed young. “That is correct—though I am moving the villages in the Narrows immediately. I want that territory empty by winter. But my capital will stay where it is until the caves are inhabitable.”

Viduladia let out a sharp breath, staring at the elvenking in open surprise. Baldor and Gimstan nodded with amusement.

“As long as I’ve been dealing with elves, I should have realized that,” Baldor said, laughing slightly. “Then it seems we will have plenty of time to adapt to the changes in your realm over the years, lord Thranduil. I fear I will not see them, however, and that saddens me. I have always enjoyed doing business with you.”

Thranduil smiled at the Man. “And I with you but I believe the next fifty years will be necessary to give us time to adjust the change slowly. I will communicate with you as my people move. I admit it was insensitive of me to have not done so already. I simply forgot how…carefully men like to plan. Now that I have been duly reminded, I will do a better job of keeping your lords informed of our progress. In the meanwhile, I hope you will inform them in my name that I have not forgotten their importance. The Woodland Realm values its relations with its Mannish neighbors and intends to maintain them.”

Baldor inclined his head. “I will certainly return that message to Esgaroth. I know my lord will be pleased with it and with all I have learned here,” he said respectfully.

Gimstan looked at Viduladia who was still staring at Thranduil. With a frown, he spoke in his lord’s stead. “And we will take your message to Lord Vinidalya. He will also be pleased to know that the Woodland Realm continues to fight as our ally in the south.”

Remembering himself upon hearing Gimstan speak, Viduladia looked down and then back at Thranduil with a more controlled expression. He also nodded.

Thranduil struggled not to laugh at the youth. “If that is all our business, perhaps you would like to prepare for dinner. We would be pleased if you would join us. It is rather late for you to begin your return trip to your realms tonight.”

“We would be delighted to join you for dinner, lord Thranduil, since we are certainly not hunting ourselves,” Baldor replied with a mischievous expression.

Thranduil did grin at that. “I am certain of that,” he said, a knowing gleam in his eyes.

The Men bowed and exited the tent, escorted by Golwon.

Hallion let out a long breath as they left. “That went very well, in truth,” he commented quietly, looking at the tent flap.

Thranduil raised his eyebrows skeptically. “I detect a bit of instability in our Mannish neighbors. Did you think it odd that Viduladia referred to the King of Gondor as his ally and not his Lord?”

Hallion frowned. “Indeed. Vinidalya is arrogant and the Northmen have been very prosperous under his rule. It would not surprise me to see them loosening their ties with Gondor as Vinidalya claims more independence and I do not see that as positive. But I was speaking of the way this individual meeting went—I think it was wise not to attempt to discuss details of trade or defense with them until we are better prepared.”

Thranduil laughed lightly at his steward. “Yes, Hallion, I did not miss your utter horror when the guards announced the Men were here. After one thousand years I think I have learned enough about you and about negotiating with Men to know it is best to move slowly. Most of the issues they see as problematic seem to dissipate over time without intervention if they are allowed to do so.”

Hallion smirked. “You are not a natural diplomat, my lord. I cannot help but be nervous when thrust into situations such as this one,” he joked.

Thranduil rolled his eyes but refused to be baited.

Hallion’s eyes drifted to the tent flap again and he grew more serious. “In addition to the issue of defense, you cannot deny, given what was already said, that some conflicts will arise over trade as well. To be honest, my lord, one of the advantages I saw in this move was trade directly from the stronghold along the Forest River as Baldor suggested.”

Lindomiel, silently watching as her husband dealt with the Men, frowned at that. “The Men in Vinidalya’s realm have long been our allies, Hallion. I for one would not like to see that alliance weakened—especially if we are facing Sauron and they are cutting ties with Gondor. Especially since we are moving closer to the capital of their realm.”

Thranduil scowled and interrupted Hallion’s response. “I would rather not deal with any of them, though I recognize that is not possible,” he added at Hallion’s shocked and concerned expression. “Men are difficult to work with. They are so variable. Vinidalya and Viduladia for example—Vinidalya is arrogant but he is practical. His son worries me. He seems to have all his father’s temper and none of his wisdom.”

Hallion laughed. “I remember having the same conversation about you, my lord. That boy is likely under twenty. By the time rule of his father’s realm comes to him, he will have a better understanding of leadership. It sounds as if he and his father have conflicted over the situation in Amon Lanc already. I suspect that is why Vinidalya sent his son to speak to you—so he could learn firsthand the wisdom of his father’s orders.”

Thranduil scowled. “He better have learned it.” His eyes turned to Hallion. “Dol Guldur?”

Hallion raised his eyebrows. “The Men in Gondor may have an acceptable command of the Noble Tongue after all. That is not a bad name.”

Thranduil snorted. “I do not think I like the Men in Gondor renaming parts of my forest,” he said coolly. “Though I cannot disagree that particular name is fitting.” He sighed. “Dwarves and Men for dinner. I cannot imagine how this situation could grow worse,” he said sarcastically, moving towards the tent flap with obvious reluctance.

*~*~*

Aradunnon sat in the grass leaning against the trunk of an old oak and watching Amoneth, Dollion and Haradon throw knives. What had started as a simple challenge had evolved into a contest that the warriors had assumed they would easily win. They were wrong and Aradunnon had enjoyed sitting silently while his captains underestimated his betrothed wife. He smiled to himself as Amoneth stepped up to make her last throw, her face the very picture of concentration. He took pleasure in how easily she interacted with his friends. Since they had become betrothed, she was much more open to the idea of sharing his time and that had been a very welcome surprise.

It helped compensate for the less welcome surprises such as the king’s request to speak privately with he and Amoneth upon his return from the caves. Thranduil had refused to elaborate beyond issuing the order but Aradunnon assumed the audience was inspired by whatever Amoneth had done to upset Lindomiel the day the dwarves had arrived. He tried to speak to Amoneth about it but she would only say that Lindomiel had over-reacted to something she had said. Aradunnon rather doubted he had heard the entire story. He was certain if the king was taking time from his schedule to discuss the incident with them formally, he must feel it was significant and that could mean nothing good. But Thranduil would be gone at least another two weeks. Tonight, Amoneth was truly entertaining company as she teased the warriors in the city guard.

Her last throw hit the dead center of the target and the birds in the trees were rousted from their evening perches by the victorious squeals of the ellyth and moans of the ellyn watching the competition. Amoneth had indeed won. Aradunnon watched the spectators congratulate her as she returned to his side by the tree, the other competitors following her. She settled on the ground next to him, leaning against his shoulder. Dollion, Haradon and Gwedhieth quickly followed suit, forming a tight little circle and still arguing over the outcome of the contest.

“You are simply embarrassed to have been beaten by an elleth, Haradon,” Gwedhieth was saying in a teasing voice. “And one a sixth your age. You should be ashamed, really. No wonder the king is moving the capital north if this is the quality of the warriors he must depend on. Perhaps we should send some ellyth out with you to show you how to fight.”

“Indeed,” Aradunnon interjected, laughing. “I think you need to admit that Amoneth is better with knives than you, Haradon. Perhaps you could challenge her to an archery contest tomorrow. I think you could still win that.”

Haradon glared at Aradunnon for a moment before laughing himself. “Very well, the lady is better at throwing knives than I,” he said with a nod towards Amoneth. Then he grinned at Aradunnon. “Let us have a go against you, captain. Or better still, let us see how you do against Amoneth. I seem to recall I have beat you several times with knives.”

Aradunnon grinned back at him. “I would prefer an archery contest. Or perhaps swords instead of knives.” He paused and Haradon put up his hands in surrender. Aradunnon nodded knowingly. “As I expected. Suddenly no one is interested,” he said airily as Amoneth giggled. “Just as well. While the king is away I am far too busy for such foolishness. I have an early meeting in the morning. I should be retiring soon.”

As his friends laughed at the prince’s mock-refined attitude, no one was aware their conversation had been subject to more public scrutiny until one of the elves sitting in a group several yards away spoke up. “So it is true that the king is not in the capital—he is scouting caves in the north with dwarves; building some type of stronghold with the intention of moving the capital there?”

Aradunnon grew more serious and looked over at the elf that had spoken. He did not immediately recognize that elf or anyone in his group but that was not surprising. Some of the villages in the south, especially in the Narrows, had already begun to move north and their people passed through the capital in the process. Aradunnon assumed the elf that had spoken and his friends must be from the southern villages. They were all now quiet and focused on his response.

“I know that the king has asked the villages in the Narrows to relocate north of the mountains for their safety and I have been ordered to move the warriors north of the Narrows once all the villages are relocated. I am not certain what the king’s final decisions will be regarding the capital, however,” he answered, returning the elf’s gaze evenly. He was aware that Amoneth raised her eyebrows.

The elf that had addressed him scowled. “I find it difficult to believe that the king’s own brother does not know where he will be living within the next few months. You surely know the king’s decision. Why the secrecy?”

Aradunnon smiled coolly. “There is no secrecy. The king has not made any final decisions. Naturally, I know the options he is considering but it is not my place to discuss them.”

“But he is in the north looking at caves with dwarves?” This was asked by another elf, sitting near the one that had spoken first.

Aradunnon turned to that elf. “The king is traveling through the northern part of the forest looking at all the sites our scouts identified as suitable locations for new villages. And yes, he did invite dwarves from Hadhodrond to look at some caves with him. He is interested in the possibility of turning them into a stronghold as the scouts suggested.”

This answer elicited some approving nods from another group of elves also listening to the conversation—citizens that had lived in the capital since before Thranduil had become king.

The elf that had spoken first was looking at Amoneth. Aradunnon turned to her as well and saw her gazing at the approving nods somewhat incredulously.

“So you would welcome the king’s decision to move to a stronghold in the north?” she asked in a neutral voice, addressing the elves from the capital.

Aradunnon tried not to scowl.

They nodded again, now looking at her. “Absolutely,” said an older elleth. Aradunnon recognized her as one of the laundresses. She was sitting next to her husband who was a warrior in the capital guard. “If he can find a place like that, we will not need to fear orcs or spiders or even worse things again.”

“What about the forest? Do you not fear for it?” one of the elves from the south asked.

“I do,” replied the laundress solemnly.

“But protecting the forest will be the army’s responsibility,” added her husband. “The king was wise over the last millennium and especially the last yen. He has built the army and armed and trained it well. Private citizens can keep themselves safe and not worry about war. We will defend you and the forest.”

“Then why do you not do so?” said one of the villagers from the Narrows angrily. “Why must I move again? A fourth time?”

“Sometimes an army must retreat from an indefensible position to regroup in a stronger one,” the warrior said firmly.

“That is why we should be thankful the king has found a stronghold, if indeed he has,” the laundress said. “We will never have to retreat from that.”

The elves from the Narrows looked from the laundress and her husband to Aradunnon, eyeing him warily. They said nothing further.

Aradunnon decided to take that opportunity to distance himself from this conversation. He stood, pulling Amoneth to her feet along with him. She looked at him with some annoyance but he focused on Dollion and Haradon.

“As I said, I have an early meeting in the morning. Do try to report for duty sober, Dollion,” he joked quietly, looking pointedly at the large goblet of wine his friend held. “I would hate to have to discipline the captain of the city guard. Quite embarrassing.” He paused. “Especially after you were so thoroughly trounced by an elleth in a knife-throwing contest. Surely you have suffered enough shame for one week.”

Dollion burst into laughter as Aradunnon pulled Amoneth away.

She resisted ineffectually. “You are the one that has to be in an early meeting. Not me. I wanted to listen to that conversation.”

Aradunnon scowled. “If I could trust you to do nothing more than listen, I would let you stay. But since I do not trust you, I intend to see you to your talan and give your guards instructions to keep you there.” She stopped walking entirely and he looked down at her. “Expressing your opinions on the king’s decisions—especially given that I know you disagree with this particular decision—is not your place or mine. Notice I said nothing beyond what is already public knowledge.”

Amoneth glared at Aradunnon. “You do not trust me?” she repeated in a low, angry voice.

Aradunnon’s expression remained neutral. “The public courtyard is not the place for this conversation, Amoneth,” he said coolly, but his voice held a warning tone.

Amoneth raised her eyebrows. “Very well,” she said with an overly accommodating tone. She took his arm and led him silently to her talan, closing the door and drawing the curtain for privacy. When she had, she turned to him with a glare that demanded an explanation for his comment.

Aradunnon shook his head. “Do not look so surprised, Amoneth. The king has asked to speak to us when he returns—he has asked for an official audience. I know the topic of that meeting will be whatever you said to anger Lindomiel the night the dwarves were in the capital…”

“Why would Thranduil care if his wife and her friend were arguing?” Amoneth cut him off angrily.

Aradunnon frowned. “Because you said something inappropriate in front of the dwarves and Lindomiel told Thranduil. What you said must have been related to him or Lindomiel would not have repeated it. The fact that you will not tell me what happened makes me very uncomfortable…”

“I told you that Lindomiel overreacted to something I said…”

“And so the king is overreacting as well by wanting to speak to us about it? Let me tell you what happens when Thranduil overreacts, Amoneth…”

Amoneth scowled at him. “I do not care how Thranduil reacts. I am not marrying him. I am marrying you. And you never support me. You always support Eryn Galen or Thranduil or Lindomiel. I am sick of it. If I said Lindomiel overreacted, why can you not believe me?”

“Because I know you, Amoneth. You simply do not understand the significance of what you say sometimes…”

“I said nothing more than what was said in that conversation,” she exclaimed angrily, pointing towards the courtyard. “Why should I be forbidden to take part in the same types of conversation that you participate in?”

“I only repeated public knowledge in that conversation and I expressed no opinions.” He paused. “Valar, Amoneth, you did not publicly criticize Thranduil’s decision to move north, did you? With whom did you discuss this? He has not even announced the decision. You should not be discussing it much less criticizing it.”

Amoneth frowned. “We were speaking to the dwarves. They know what Thranduil’s decision is,” she said quietly, subdued somewhat by Aradunnon’s obvious concern.

He leaned forward as if he had not heard her. “Dwarves?” he exclaimed. “You criticized the king’s decision in the presence of foreigners? Please tell me you did not do that.”

Amoneth glared at him. “Indeed, I did not. Lindomiel would not let me speak…”

Aradunnon let out an explosive breath. “Well, thank the Valar for that! Amoneth, do you have any memory of the conversation we had in this very room the day Thranduil made the decision to move north? You promised me that you would not gainsay him publicly.”

Amoneth’s brows drew together and she looked down, guilt creeping over her features at that reminder. “It was not publicly. It was only Lindomiel and the dwarves…”

Aradunnon grabbed her by the shoulders, staring at her in disbelief. “Amoneth, from this moment forward, any conversation you have with anyone but me alone you should consider public. Do you understand?”

She pulled away from him and looked at him disdainfully. “Do not be absurd, Aradunnon,” she began.

He laughed bitterly. “I am not being absurd, Amoneth. I am being completely serious. Did you hear what Thranduil said in that council meeting when I told him I would not move north? He said anyone who would not support his decisions was welcome to leave his service and his household. Do you think that was an idle threat? I have never heard my brother make one. If you confess to Thranduil that you criticized him in the presence of the dwarves, he may ask you to leave Eryn Galen. If you confess it with the attitude you are showing me, he certainly will. Permanently.”

Amoneth looked at him silently, obviously trying to determine how serious he was.

“Amoneth, I am not exaggerating. He will send you back to Lorien. And I would agree with that decision,” he said firmly.

Amoneth’s mouth dropped open.

He nodded solemnly. “And if he does, I will not come with you.”

Amoneth took a step back, her eyes filling with tears but Aradunnon shook his head.

“Not this time, Amoneth. I love you. And I know you love me. But we have discussed why that is not enough for someone in my position. You must accept my duties and you must accept your own. You will be expected to serve Eryn Galen. That means more than helping Lindomiel manage the household. Part of that service is offering opposing views when the king asks to hear them. Part of that service is unquestioning support of the king once he makes a decision. Part of that support is making personal sacrifices for the greater good of the realm. I told you that I must believe that you love Eryn Galen as much as you love me. This incident has done nothing to make me believe that. On the contrary, it has only convinced me further that you understand nothing but your own desires. That is not an attitude my wife can have.”

“I cannot believe you would break our betrothal over a conversation that was not even allowed to happen,” Amoneth whispered incredulously.

Aradunnon shook his head. “I may have no choice, depending on Thranduil’s reaction. Amoneth, we have discussed this. I cannot believe that you care so little for me that you would behave thusly. Is our love so insignificant to you that you cannot curb your tongue?”

“Aradunnon, I have watched you flirt with every female in Rhovanion for a millennium. Would I have done that if I did not love you? I simply do not understand why this is so significant…”

He scowled at her. “Yes, that is exactly my point. You do not understand and you apparently refuse to make an effort to understand. You gave me your word that you would not gainsay the king. Is that meaningless? You were raised in court in Lorien. You have lived most of your life in this court with Lindomiel and my naneth as very good examples. How can you understand the responsibilities of a court lifestyle so poorly? You are nearly a millennium old. How can you still be so selfish and thoughtless?”

Amoneth had no response to that. She simply stared at him, breathing hard and clearly struggling not to cry. She turned away when she could no longer hold back her tears, hoping to feel his arms around her. She heard him sigh instead.

“I need to think about this, Amoneth. I love you. I cannot imagine life without you. But I also find that I cannot imagine you helping to lead these people as Lindomiel and my naneth do. I have always known that and I have ignored it because I love you so deeply. But that is not acceptable.”

Much to Amoneth’s amazement, Aradunnon walked silently from her flet.

*~*~*

Elleth/ellyth--Female elf(s)

Ellon/ellyn--Male elf(s)

Naneth/nana--Mother/mum


Chapter 12 - The help of all things

"Gandalf! " he cried. "I was seeking you…."My news is evil." Then he looked about him, as if the hedges might have ears. "Nazgûl," he whispered. "The Nine are abroad again. They have crossed the River secretly and are moving westward. They have taken the guise of riders in black."

"Who told you and who sent you? " I asked.

"Saruman the White," answered Radagast. "And he told me to say that if you feel the need, he will help; but you must seek his aid at once, or it will be too late."

And that message brought me hope. For Saruman the White is the greatest of my order. Radagast is, of course, a worthy Wizard, a master of shapes and changes of hue; and he has much lore of herbs and beasts, and birds are especially his friends…. "I will go to Saruman," I said…. "We shall need your help, and the help of all things that will give it. Send out messages to all the beasts and birds that are your friends. Tell them to bring news of anything that bears on this matter to Saruman and Gandalf. Let messages be sent to Orthanc."

"I will do that," he said, and rode off as if the Nine were after him. The Fellowship of the Ring

**************

Thranduil, his wife and mother, Hallion, Gelireth, Crithad and Nali leaned over the map of the caves considering it critically. They had indicated all the passages that the dwarves and elves would widen or strengthen and to what degree; they had determined how each cavern would be used to best exploit its natural structures; they had planned how to better ventilate the caves; and now they were discussing how to secure them. Portcullises easily closed off the cave entrances that were smaller and relatively hidden, such as the one where the river flowed into the cave system. The problem was the main cave entrance.

"It will be easiest to construct the doors of wood reinforced with iron, my lord," Hallion suggested.

Nali frowned. "I would be happy to cut down a few of these trees and bring in some iron to make your doors, lord Thranduil, but that is not the best option. You are building a stronghold into a mountain. No stronger keep can be constructed but these doors are its weakest point. The most obvious point of attack. You want them strong like the rest of the stronghold—made of good solid stone."

Hallion looked at the dwarves skeptically. "Have you looked at the height of the main cave entrance? It must be twenty-five feet high. Where will you get such large pieces of stone and how will you hang them? Surely oak and iron will do just as well as stone, cost half what you propose to charge for stone and be easier to manage."

"As well as easier to burn down," Nali countered. He turned to Thranduil. "The doors in Khazad-dûm are stone. The doors in Menegroth were stone. The doors here should be stone. I can remove stone of sufficient height from the cavern that you intend to use as your Great Hall and I am well versed in methods for hanging them. You should make the doors of stone, my lord."

Thranduil nodded. "I think I will side with Master Nali in this instance. I am willing to add expense if doing so enhances defense. Make the doors as you recommend, Master Nali,” he ordered.

Nali leaned back in his chair, satisfied. He nodded once. “Good decision,” he replied gruffly. Thranduil’s eyes shone with amusement, unaccustomed to anyone who felt the need to verify the wisdom of his judgments. “Now there is the matter of how the doors will be secured,” the dwarf continued, beginning to quickly sketch a detailed drawing of the manner in which he intended to construct and hang the doors.

Thranduil watched the drawing take form with interest, focusing in particular on the mechanisms the dwarves would put in place to open and close the heavy stone structures, but when Nali looked up to discuss methods to lock them, the king interrupted. “You need only make the doors so they seal tightly. I have my own way to close them,” he said quietly.

Dieneryn and Hallion raised their eyebrows and looked at Thranduil sharply. Everyone else but Nali looked at the king with some confusion. The dwarf smiled.

“You intend to close them with a spell,” he stated with obvious approval, looking at Thranduil with a greater respect. “I was not certain if all elves were capable of such magic.” His smile broadened. “Durin’s Doors have thusly withstood many evil assaults. You will never build anything as grand and beautiful as Khazad-dûm in this little hill, but it will be an enviable stronghold nonetheless.”

Thranduil glanced at the surprised stares of his wife, Gelireth and Crithad and then looked back the dwarf soberly. “I do not know if all elves are capable of such magic either, Master Nali, but I do know that I prefer that method to close these doors. So construct them with that in mind.”

Nali nodded and Thranduil focused on Gelireth and Crithad. “Can you think of anything else that we need to discuss?”

Gelireth looked at Crithad, who shook his head. Then she turned to Thranduil. “I think we understand the work that is to be done, my lord. There is only the matter of who will direct it. Master Nali, Crithad and I can manage the workers but I think we would all prefer someone of your household to be present. Questions and problems are certain to arise. And it is a week trip back and forth to the capital if we must rely on messengers.”

Thranduil nodded. “I agree. I want someone here.” He looked at his mother. “I think it would be best if someone familiar with the governance of the staff remained here. I thought you would be the obvious choice, my lady.”

Dieneryn glanced briefly at Master Nali and then looked at her son with an inscrutable expression. “I agree that someone familiar with the household should be here to manage the construction, especially of the family’s quarters, kitchen, laundry and other such areas,” she replied in a neutral voice.

Thranduil knew his mother would not be pleased with his request that she spend years working in the north with dwarves. Her noncommittal response was all the argument she would voice in public, however. He smiled at her. “Good. If there is nothing else, I think I would like to prepare to return south tomorrow,” he said standing and raising everyone else to their feet.

With a brief bow, Gelireth and Crithad left the tent. Nali bowed and turned to leave as well but Thranduil reached over and quietly placed a hand on his shoulder, holding him back as the other elves left. Nali looked at him expectantly with eyebrows raised.

“One last detail, Master Nali. But I would discuss it with you in private.” He glanced at the other occupants of the room—Lindomiel, Dieneryn, Hallion and Conuiön. “This does not leave this company. Is that clear?”

A chorus of quiet ‘Yes, my lords’ sounded as everyone looked at the king curiously.

Thranduil leaned over the map one more time. “Can we delve new passages—one here, from the Great Hall; one here, out the back of the cavern that will be used as a keep in times of siege; and one here, leading out of the family’s quarters. I would like them to come out here,” he said pointing to a point in the forest on the northern side of the stronghold.

Nali nodded solemnly. “Indeed,” he confirmed quietly. “Escape passages in case the fortification is breached. You do not want to be trapped in it. Certainly. We will add them ourselves.” He looked at the king. “This will be an outstanding stronghold, my lord.”

Thranduil’s face grew grim. “It must be if it is truly Sauron that rises in Amon Lanc.”

Nali only frowned in response to that. With another bow, he silently left the tent.

Dieneryn watched the dwarf leave and listened to his footsteps fade as he walked away. Then she promptly rounded on her son.

“Thranduil, you do not seriously intend for me to stay here with these dwarves, do you?” she demanded.

Thranduil grimaced. “Naneth, who else can I trust with such a task? Who else is familiar with the household? I cannot leave Hallion here for fifty years.”

Dieneryn’s eyes widened angrily. “But you can leave me?” she asked, voice slightly high pitched. “Thranduil, I have barely tolerated the dwarves over the last two weeks. You cannot expect me to live with them for fifty years.”

Thranduil’s mouth formed a hard line and he glared at her firmly. “Yes, my lady, I can. And you will. I need someone here who I can trust to make good decisions for the operation of the household and the security of the citizens that may have to shelter here. I can trust your knowledge of both topics. You are staying and that is final.”

Dieneryn looked at her son askance. “I will make you pay for this, Thranduil. I am still your naneth. I have ways of making you suffer,” she said with a voice that growled, but her eyes were playful. Disgusted, but playful.

Thranduil burst into laughter. “I do not doubt that, nana. Not in the slightest. But I take it you will stay?”

“Only because you are forcing me to,” she replied dryly.

Thranduil smirked at her for a moment. Then he leaned over and placed a filial kiss on her cheek. “I appreciate your sacrifice, naneth. And so does Eryn Galen.”

Dieneryn snorted and left the tent without a backward glance.

Hallion shook his head and smiled at Thranduil. “I am truly amazed you managed to persuade her to stay here,” he said softly.

Thranduil looked at his steward sidelong and laughed. “So am I. I may be able to command any elf in this forest but nana is not any elf,” he replied wryly.

Hallion nodded knowingly and followed Dieneryn from the tent, leaving Thranduil and Lindomiel alone. Lindomiel looked at her husband with obvious amusement and he drew her into his arms. “I am happy to see you smiling, Lindomiel. Tell me, now that we know what we will do here, do the plans seem as horrible as you feared or think you that you might be able to adapt to them?”

“I have already told you that it is not as bad as I thought it would be. And the forest here is beautiful.” She paused and looked at him with an expression that revealed she intended to say something that would provoke a fight. “Thranduil, I would like to stay here with Dieneryn. I do not deny that I do not have sufficient experience to direct the dwarves alone. But I want to help establish the household here.”

Thranduil looked at her, obviously shocked. His initial reaction was to be pleased that she was willing to participate in improving the caves since he knew she did not truly want to live in them. But there were too many reasons why he did not want her to move north immediately. He frowned. “Lindomiel, I am not certain that is a good idea…”

“I am responsible for the household, Thranduil,” she interrupted. “More so than Dieneryn in these days. I want a say in how it is set up here. And if you expect me to live in the family quarters, then I want to decorate them…make them tolerable.” She looked at Thranduil sternly. “I insist, Thranduil. This is the condition I place on living here. That I have a hand in developing it.”

Thranduil studied his wife for a moment, trying to judge her level of determination. She appeared very resolute. He sighed. “Lindomiel, the first few years here are going to be very rough living. In tents or the unfinished caves. I would be very concerned for you living here under those conditions. Perhaps later, when the initial work has been finished…”

“No, Thranduil. By then it will be too late to make any changes that I see will be needed. I want to stay. If the living conditions are suitable for your naneth, they are suitable for me.”

Thranduil’s frown deepened. “I am no more capable of ordering you to come home than I am of ordering nana to stay here. If you choose to stay, you will, just as nana would have left if she had chosen to.” He snorted. “Anyone who thinks a king rules this realm has never met its queens.” He paused and looked at her seriously. “I am grateful that you are willing to work with a situation that I know you are not entirely happy with, Lindomiel. I never take for granted how fortunate I am to have my family’s support and yours in particular. But I wish you would reconsider this. Return in a few years once life will be more comfortable here.”

Seeing she had won the argument, Lindomiel leaned forward and kissed him lightly. “I am perfectly capable of surviving a few challenges, Thranduil. I know you are worried about the dwarves, but they are harmless. If anything, Dieneryn and I will be safer for their presence. You have nothing to fear.”

Thranduil looked down at that. That was indeed his primary concern though he had no solid evidence to base an argument on—beyond the fact that dwarves had lived many years in Menegroth before they rose up and killed the High King. He fixed her with an expression that brooked no argument. “Perhaps, but I will be leaving Conuiön and Tureden here just the same.”

Lindomiel looked at Thranduil with laughter in her eyes. “I would very much like to be present for the conversation in which you try to order Conuiön to stay here while you leave. Or even the one in which you try to convince him that both the lieutenant and captain of the King’s Guard should be separated from the king for such an extended period. You may find that you command far fewer elves in this forest than you originally thought.”

Thranduil laughed. “You may be right. But I far prefer to be separated from my guards than my wife. Fifty years is not such a long time, but I find myself dreading it,” he said drawing a finger across her cheek.

Lindomiel smiled somewhat sadly in response.

*~*~*

A week later, Thranduil returned to the capital and settled gratefully into his customary chair in the family sitting room. In his opinion, he had done far too much traveling in the last year. The rest of the royal household was surprised to see him arrive without Dieneryn, Lindomiel, Conuiön or Tureden and they were even more surprised when the king announced that they had stayed in the north to oversee the construction of the stronghold.

Amoneth was openly astonished.

The family spent several hours discussing all the decisions that had been made in the north. Celonhael was very happy to hear about the discovery of the gemstones, whether or not they were semi-precious. Anything to help defer the cost of New Menegroth, as he still jokingly referred to the stronghold, pleased him greatly. Aradunnon and Engwe both frowned angrily as Thranduil related his conversation with lord Viduladia and Celonhael listened with interest as Thranduil and Golwon described the potential changes in trade with the Mannish villages. Finally, Aradunnon spent a good amount of time detailing the progress made over the last month moving villages from the Narrows and other events that occurred during the king’s absence.

Once everyone was caught up on the news, Thranduil, Hallion and Golwon retired for the afternoon to relax after their travels while the rest of the council returned to the day’s business. The king informed his staff that he did not intend to work until the next morning so he was surprised when a servant summoned he and Hallion to the king’s office. Apparently Aradunnon had a visitor that he thought they would like to see.

When Thranduil walked into his office and saw the guest waiting for him, his face took on an expression of clear relief. Glancing his appreciation to Aradunnon, he strode forward to greet their guest.

“Radagast, I am most pleased to see you,” he exclaimed with obvious sincerity.

The wizard smiled in response to that reaction. “Thank you very much for the warm welcome, my lord. I was concerned when your patrols found me that I had angered you.”

Thranduil again glanced at Aradunnon. His warriors had been searching for Radagast since they misplaced him nearly a month earlier on the way to Amon Lanc. Thranduil had no doubt that once found, Radagast had been placed under tight guard and returned directly to the capital.

He let out a short breath and looked at Radagast ruefully. “You did not anger me. You frightened me. I sent an escort with you because the forest around Amon Lanc is dangerous.” His expression soured slightly. “The Men I met with recently told me their people have begun calling the mountain Dol Guldur and as much as it pains me to admit it, that is a good name. I do not think it was wise to wonder near there alone.”

Radagast smiled serenely. “I was not alone, my lord.” At Thranduil’s confused expression his smile broadened. “Your forest is well populated by many families of deer and raccoons and possum and squirrel and fox and birds, so many birds of so many types…. I had more company than I have had since arriving in Middle Earth.”

Radagast was too busy thinking of the animals he had seen to notice Thranduil and his advisors react to that statement.

Thranduil shook his head slightly and tried to respond in a polite tone of voice. “With respect, Radagast, a deer would not have saved you from an orc had one wondered upon you. Nor would a squirrel have helped you accomplish your duty here—to determine what is rising in Amon Lanc.”

Radagast looked at Thranduil, slightly taken aback. “In fact, a family of deer did warn me of approaching orcs many times. And the squirrels and the birds and a few woodrats did a wonderful job of gathering information about Amon Lanc for me. I do believe it is Sauron rising there.”

Thranduil blinked at Radagast and was suddenly acutely aware of the dismayed stares of his councilors. “You believe this because a bird told you?” he asked calmly.

Radagast looked at him seriously, his normally merry façade gone. “Indeed, my lord. I was sent by Yavanna. I am her servant.” He went to stand by the window and held out his hand. Several small sparrows flitted to land on it, chirping brightly. He smiled at them. “What creature would be better to send to investigate the happenings around Amon Lanc than a sparrow? Orcs cannot kill them with their bows or catch them—they are too small and fast. And the orcs do not suspect them to be enemies. They are a natural part of the forest along with the squirrels and the rats. Sparrows can fly over the fortification and see what is there. Rats and squirrels can scurry over top of it and into its depths. And no one is the wiser for it.”

Aradunnon gaped at the wizard. “Including us. That sparrow might know every inch of the fortification at Amon Lanc but that does me no good when I am planning an attack. He cannot advise me.”

“She,” Radagast corrected, stroking one of the birds from the top of her head to the tip of her tail with his little finger. The bird hopped onto that finger from his hand when he was done. The wizard looked at Aradunnon serenely. “Do the trees never tell you anything, lord Aradunnon?”

Aradunnon frowned and answered with obvious restraint. “Of course they do. They warn the warriors of dangers in the forest. We can hear their song. But they cannot tell me about the layout of an enemy fortification.”

Radagast shook his head. “No. That is not their nature. Most trees do not move around the world so they have little concept of how it is shaped. But birds and squirrels and rats move as we do. They know how to understand the environment around them as we do. If you learn to listen to them as you listen to the trees, you might find them useful allies. In the meantime, I would be happy to tell you what I have learned about the layout of the fortress and the magic protecting it but I cannot imagine why you would want to know. You have no hope of attacking it.”

Aradunnon remained silent but his expression was plainly doubtful.

In contrast to his brother’s skepticism, Thranduil studied Radagast. “I would very much like to learn to listen as you have, Radagast,” he said quietly.

Thranduil’s council turned him in amazement.

Oblivious to them, Radagast focused on the king and brightened happily. “I would be delighted to show you before I leave.”

Thranduil nodded. “That would be much appreciated,” he replied. Then he responded to Radagast’s implied farewell. “You intend to return to Imladris?”

Radagast looked surprised. “Certainly not. I have sent a crow to tell Mithrandir what I have found here. With your permission, I would like to return to the southern forest.”

Thranduil raised his eyebrows at that suggestion. “Far be it from me to question your good judgment, Radagast, but are you certain you want to remain in the south? I am moving my capital and citizens considerably further north.”

“Yes, I have heard that and it is a wise decision from the point of view of the elves. But the forest and its animals are already despondent over the departure of the elves and the presence of the orcs and spiders. I would do what I can to console them. And I can learn from them and perhaps help them against Sauron.”

Thranduil studied the wizard thoughtfully. “As you wish,” he conceded quietly. “I am at your service if you need me.”

The king’s advisors’ jaws dropped.

Radagast smiled and bowed. “No, I am at yours. I will make sure the birds know how to find me for you before I leave. And we can spend some time talking to them together.” With that, he nodded to Thranduil and walked past his advisors to the door. The room remained silent until the wizard was down the stairs of the flet.

Then Aradunnon turned to Thranduil. “You cannot seriously intend to allow him to live alone in the southern forest.”

Thranduil raised his eyebrows. “Indeed I do. I could not possibly prevent it even if I wished to, but I do not. I think I will live to be very thankful to have him there,” he replied softly.

Hallion fixed the king with a concerned gaze. “What is he, Thranduil? He is no man. The light of Aman shines in his eyes.”

Thranduil returned Hallion’s gaze evenly. “It is not my place to reveal his secrets. He is exactly what he said he is—Yavanna’s servant in Middle Earth. As the king of a woodland realm, I am very pleased to have Yavanna’s servant in my forest. As Maethorness and several of the villagers from the south have indicated, the most difficult aspect of this move is abandoning the forest. I feel a little less guilty knowing that Radagast will be here. He is most welcome,” he said resolutely.

*~*~*

Thranduil’s advisors finished the remaining business of the day and retired to prepare for dinner—everyone except Aradunnon. When the council disbanded, Thranduil had a servant fetch both his brother and Amoneth to speak to him in his chambers. The order had clearly been issued by a king to his subject, treatment Aradunnon had rarely experienced from his brother, and there was no doubt what the purpose of the summons was—Thranduil meant to address Amoneth’s behavior. The formality of Thranduil’s attitude confirmed the seriousness of his intentions and filled Aradunnon with a cold dread. He had not entirely decided how he felt since he spoke to Amoneth on this topic and, though their conversation had taken place a few weeks before, neither had broached the subject again. Indeed, when it appeared conversation might turn to it, Amoneth shied away obviously unwilling to discuss it. But Aradunnon had thought of little else and he was of conflicting minds. He clearly did not want to see her sent to Lorien but he did understand why the king might choose that course of action. Regardless, the time for contemplating the problem was past.

Arriving before Amoneth, Aradunnon stood before Thranduil as the king seated himself and waited for the servant to return with Amoneth. When she arrived and came to stand beside her betrothed, Thranduil did not invite them to sit. Instead, he regarded them both in silence for a moment. Grimacing slightly at this final confirmation that the king was well and truly angry, Aradunnon fixed his eyes on the tapestry that hung on the wall behind Thranduil. At least they were speaking in the king’s private chambers and not the Great Hall. Thranduil glared at them until Amoneth dropped her gaze to the ground, clearly surprised. Seeing her do so from the corner of his eyes, Aradunnon offered a silent prayer of thanks that she had held her tongue.

“Amoneth,” Thranduil began in the cold voice that he reserved for those who had earned his wrath, “Could you please describe to me the conversation you had with Master Nali on the morning he arrived in my realm.”

Aradunnon dared a quick glance at his betrothed hoping to see a respectful expression on her face. Then he turned to look at her fully. Eyes still on the floor, Amoneth was pale. Aradunnon could see her pulse beating rapidly on her neck under her jaw. Clearly, it had finally dawned on her that the king’s threats might not have been idle. Frowning, he reached for her hand automatically.

Thranduil’s mouth formed a hard line at that gesture. Amoneth’s eyes darted to Aradunnon’s face and for a moment he saw profound gratitude in them before she turned to make her answer.

“I told the dwarves that I thought a cave could not be as lovely as a tree, my lord,” she answered quietly. After a moment’s hesitation, she looked at him squarely in the eye. “And I would have stated that I disagreed with the decision to move to the caves if Lindomiel had not prevented it.”

Aradunnon watched his brother’s expression harden. “Can you explain to me why the queen would have prevented you from making such a statement, Amoneth?”

Amoneth looked back at the floor. “Because it is not appropriate for the king’s own household to gainsay him. Especially in the presence of foreigners, my lord.”

“Why?” Thranduil demanded sharply.

Amoneth’s brow furrowed. “Because to do so undermines your authority and endangers the people that you serve.”

Thranduil looked at her silently for a moment and then shifted his eyes to his brother. “Did it take you long to rehearse those answers and this sudden humility, Aradunnon?”

Aradunnon’s eyes widened slightly and anger flared in them. Lifting his chin slightly he returned his brother’s icy glare evenly. “I spoke to Amoneth about the seriousness of this matter, my lord. I told her that whatever your decision might be, I would be bound to uphold it.”

Thranduil gestured towards Aradunnon and Amoneth’s entwined hands. “So then, this is not an indication that you will oppose me when I order her to return to Lorien?”

Aradunnon frowned and responded by pulling Amoneth closer against his side. When he spoke his tone was openly irate. “She is frightened, Thranduil. And I love her. How would you react if you were forced to watch Lindomiel in a similar situation?” He paused and forced his voice to a more respectful tone. “And how would you suggest that I might oppose you, my lord?”

Thranduil appraised his brother coolly. “Will you go with her?”

Aradunnon let out a long, quiet breath and closed his eyes. Thranduil could see the pain in his features. “I already explained to her that I cannot. My duty is here.”

Amoneth looked between Aradunnon and Thranduil sadly. Then she turned fully to Thranduil. “I beg you, my lord, do not do this. Can you not see the pain it will cause?”

Thranduil leaned back in his chair and regarded her for a moment. “I am doing nothing, Amoneth. You are responsible for this and if you can see the pain you have caused, that might be the first step in learning something,” he replied simply. “You seem to be unable to grasp what it means to be a member of the king’s family. I confess I cannot understand that. You have been a part of my household for a millennium. Have you been speaking of me in this manner the entire time?”

Amoneth looked down again. “No, my lord. I suppose I have never disagreed with one of your decisions before this. Or perhaps none of them have truly affected me.”

“I see,” Thranduil said icily. “That is likely true. But you have happily made a display of mocking the people in my family whose actions have affected you—Aradunnon and Lindomiel and my naneth. Your have never curbed your tongue when expressing opinions about any of them to people outside the family. Indeed the entire capital knows what a rogue you think your betrothed husband is.” Amoneth looked down again and Thranduil’s allowed his expression to grow openly angry. “So, in truth, Amoneth, I am not the least surprised that we have come to this. Indeed, I expected it.” He looked at Aradunnon. “You must have as well. Could you not see this happening?”

Aradunnon straightened slightly. “I did.”

“And that, frankly, is what concerns me most. Why did you do nothing about it? Why did you let it develop to the point where your betrothed wife was criticizing my rule to foreigners? Your duty was to correct your betrothed’s behavior. Do you think Lindomiel, as young as she was, had nothing to learn about being a queen in this realm? Do you think I had nothing to learn about being its king? We both learned and those around us helped us. Why have you learned nothing Amoneth? Why did you do nothing to help her, Aradunnon? I am of a mind to order you both to leave Eryn Galen.”

Aradunnon and Amoneth both looked at Thranduil in utter shock at that statement. “Thranduil, you would not do such a thing,” Aradunnon whispered, unable to muster more voice.

“Yes, Aradunnon, I would. If I thought it was necessary to protect this realm I would send nana from it. And frankly, I doubt your ability to serve this realm while your heart is in Lorien with Amoneth.”

Aradunnon looked at Thranduil for a moment and then, with a deep breath, he spoke in a voice more steady than he expected it to be. “Whatever your order is, my lord, I will obey it.”

Thranduil looked to Amoneth. “And you?”

Amoneth blinked. “I will obviously obey you, my lord.” She paused and her eyes became pleading. “Sending me to Lorien is one thing, my lord, but I beg you—do not send Aradunnon as well. He has done nothing and I could not bear to be the cause of him being forced to leave the home he loves.” She looked down. “Nor do I want to see Eryn Galen lose its troop commander. Surely you do not want that either.”

Thranduil looked at her appraisingly. “Could you bear to be the cause of him fading because he has been separated from the one he loves? Because that may happen if I banish you alone.”

Amoneth’s brows knit together and she turned her head partially to hide the tears that came to her eyes. “No,” she whispered. “I could not bear that either.”

“Do you have any understanding at all of the situation you have caused, Amoneth?” Thranduil asked in a soft voice.

Amoneth looked at him, startled by the change of tone. “Yes, my lord, I think I do.”

Thranduil drew a long breath. “Given your responses, I am willing to believe that you might. Therefore, I will give you one, final chance to prove to me that you will not be the downfall of my House, Amoneth,” he said quietly. Aradunnon and Amoneth looked at the king hopefully. “Lindomiel and my naneth have stayed in the north, as you know. They will be there until we are ready to move the capital. Until then, you will fulfill all their duties—you will run my household, you will act as the lady of my household during official events, you will behave yourself with complete perfection and the first time you fail to do so, you will be banished permanently from Eryn Galen. If you manage their duties until the capital moves, then and only then, will I permit this marriage. Is that clear?”

Amoneth glanced at Aradunnon. “Yes, my lord. Thank you.”

“I take it that this arrangement is acceptable to you?”

“Yes, my lord.”

Thranduil looked at his brother. “And to you?”

Aradunnon nodded. “It must be, my lord.”

Thranduil raised his eyebrows. “You think I am treating you unfairly?”

Aradunnon sighed. “No. But you cannot think that Amoneth can succeed at this task. She knows nothing about managing the entire household.”

Thranduil looked at his brother evenly. “Then it will be her job to educate herself and to do so quickly.” He paused. “And never fear, Aradunnon. I do not intend to allow Amoneth to fail. I cannot afford her failure. Therefore, she will have the benefit of my personal tutelage.” He fixed Amoneth with a cool glare. “Expect to spend a good deal of time in my company, Amoneth. You may start tomorrow by joining me for a meeting immediately after sunrise. I will introduce you to the household accounts and we will speak to the masters of the various divisions of the household staff to inform them of this change. Do not be late.”

Amoneth returned his gaze evenly. “Understood, my lord.”

Thranduil nodded. “Good. And here is your first lesson—I expect to see you at the dinner table after you leave here, Amoneth. You will take Lindomiel’s place. Before you go into the dining room, you will make sure everyone is present, find anyone who is not and then tell the servants that the family is ready for dinner. Do you understand?”

Amoneth raised her eyebrows. If Lindomiel did that before each meal, she had never been aware of it. “Yes, my lord.”

Thranduil looked at them both a moment longer. Then he spoke in a quiet, sincere voice. “I do not oppose your marriage to my brother, Amoneth. On the contrary, I am very pleased to see him happy with you. But he is a prince in this realm. That is not a ceremonial title. It carries responsibilities that affect the lives of many people. I did not ask you to do Lindomiel’s duties because I have no one else to do them. I asked you to do them because I am hoping that by managing the staff you will learn something about the nature of leadership. I am hoping that by working with me more closely you will see how my decisions are designed to protect the people in the household and realm.” He paused and looked at her intently, drawing her eyes to his. “I do not rule this kingdom alone, Amoneth. I cannot keep these people safe in the face of Sauron if I stand alone. I need the support of my family, my advisors, the village leaders and even foreign allies, as much as I prefer to avoid such dependencies. I need for you to understand that. I intend to help you understand it while you manage the household.”

Amoneth nodded. “I do understand, my lord,” she replied sadly.

Thranduil sighed. “We will see. As much as I want to help you—for your own sake and for Aradunnon’s—I also will not hesitate to send you permanently from Eryn Galen. I will do anything necessary, no matter the personal cost to myself, to protect this forest. Never doubt that, Amoneth.”

Amoneth nodded silently.

*~*~*

Naneth/nana--Mother/mum


Chapter 13 - United again under one will

***************

But ever the shadow in Mirkwood grew deeper, and to Dol Guldur evil things repaired out of all the dark places of the world; and they were united again under one will, and their malice was directed against the Elves and the survivors of Númenor. Unfinished Tales

***************

Amoneth entered Thranduil’s office and, at the king’s bidding, seated herself next to Galuon, the kitchen clerk. Seeing the openly impatient look on the king’s face, Amoneth squirmed slightly in her chair. She had not requested this early morning meeting—Galuon had, without informing her of it. Apparently, Thranduil had not been pleased by that and had called for her to join them. Despite the unexpected nature of the summons, she had a fairly good idea why Galuon had asked to speak to the king. The kitchen clerk had exploded the night before when she went over the instructions for the feast Thranduil had ordered her to organize. He intended to use it to celebrate his announcement of the move north.

“Now that Amoneth is here, what can we do for you this morning, Galuon,” Thranduil asked with an outwardly calm tone of voice. Amoneth knew him well enough hear the edge on it.

Galuon frowned and glanced at Amoneth. “I want to speak with you about the feast for the village leaders, my lord. The first problem is that Lady Amoneth has requested that we not use any of the wheat flour for the baking. I explained that means we cannot prepare any pastries or desserts and people expect such items at the king’s banquet. It is absurd. Our stores of wheat flour are perfectly satisfactory.”

Thranduil blinked at Galuon, his impatient expression changing to an undeniably irate one. Amoneth drew a breath to explain why she wanted to conserve the flour but Thranduil spoke first without so much as glancing at her. “Why is my presence required for this discussion, Galuon?”

Galuon eyes widened, plainly surprised by the question. “She will not listen to me, my lord. I told her it was unacceptable to not make the desserts but she would not agree to use the wheat flour,” he began.

Thranduil interrupted him. “Then you will not be using it. You may discuss alternatives to pastries, or whatever it was, with Lady Amoneth but do not expect me to involve myself with such things. Lady Amoneth is responsible for managing the household, not I.”

Galuon looked at the king reproachfully. “The queen would never make such a decision, my lord. She understands what people expect. More importantly, she knows that not meeting their expectations reflects badly on you…” he began again only to be cut off again.

“The queen is not here. Lady Amoneth is. I placed her in charge of the household until we move to the stronghold. It is her decision. It most certainly is not mine. Is that clear?”

Galuon’s mouth formed a hard line. “Yes, my lord,” he said curtly.

“Dismissed,” Thranduil said and watched as Galuon stood, bowed and left the office.

Amoneth stood uncertainly as well, not knowing if that dismissal included her. Thranduil glanced at the papers in front of him with a resigned expression and then motioned for her to sit.

“I apologize that this happened, my lord,” she said hastily looking down at the floor. “I can explain the flour. I was with Lindomiel when she spoke to Gimstan last. He said heavy rains destroyed the second wheat crop and we will not be getting more this year so we must make our supplies last through the winter. But Galuon would not listen to me when I tried to explain that to him. He simply insisted on the pastries. I thought candied fruit would do just as well…”

She drifted off when she focused on Thranduil and realized that he was trying to silence her.

“I do not require an explanation, Amoneth. I assumed you had a one and I certainly do not want to concern myself with desserts.”

Amoneth blinked at him and tried to conceal her surprise. She had expected she had been brought to the king’s office to explain herself so she was surprised by his reaction. He seemed very unconcerned; especially given that Galuon had implied her orders for the feast would make Thranduil look bad.

The king continued, apparently without taking notice of her confusion. “I only want to spend a moment giving you some advice. I remember naneth and Lindomiel discussing Galuon when Lindomiel and I were first married.” He smiled wryly. “I remember the conversation because it was the first time I saw Lindomiel that furious. I seem to recall nana’s advice was: when explaining to Galuon that you want to do something differently from the norm, always state your reasoning first and forcefully. Then explain the change you want. He has a very set way of doing things and does not like to alter it. I gathered from nana’s comments that he does not listen very well.”

Amoneth snorted softly and looked down. “No, he does not listen well. And he certainly does not like change,” she said quietly.

Thranduil raised his eyebrows, easily reading the implication in that statement. “If you need to speak to him about accepting authority—and it seems that you do given that he chose to speak to me and not you about his complaints—feel free to do so. If you would like my advice on formulating such a conversation, please ask for it. But I think I would prefer for you to conduct the discussion yourself.”

Amoneth’s eyes remained on her hands in her lap for a moment. Then she looked at Thranduil gratefully. “Thank you, my lord. Both for the advice and for the support.”

Thranduil simply nodded, directing his attention back to the papers on his desk. “You might as well stay,” he said absently, already absorbed again in his reading. “The rest of the council should be here momentarily. Go sit at the table. I will join you when I am finished with this letter.”

Amoneth stood silently and walked to the table where the council briefed the king in the mornings and received his instructions before addressing the day’s business. For the last month, Amoneth had been attending the morning meeting at Thranduil’s request—it was part of his tutelage. She understood little of what was discussed in the meetings and cared still less about it. She had no idea why Thranduil wanted her there and he did not offer an explanation. But she did find it interesting to watch Aradunnon interact with the other members of the council.

Hallion, Celonhael and Golwon treated Aradunnon in council with much more deference than they did around the dinner table—their treatment of him seemed nearly identical to their treatment of Thranduil. Even Engwe, who Amoneth had always gone out of her way to avoid, spoke softly to Thranduil and Aradunnon most of the time. And the majority of each morning was spent discussing defense. Those interchanges made it clear that the king depended on Aradunnon and trusted him, a fact that filled Amoneth with a sense of pride and even a little awe. That aspect of the morning meetings she thoroughly enjoyed.

Amoneth stood by the table, near her place at the end farthest from where the king would sit, and studied him. He was completely engrossed in his reading, taking notes and mumbling with a stern expression on his face. After a moment, she quietly slipped out of the room.

Thranduil did not notice her absence until he folded the paper he had been reading and looked at the table to see if he had time to examine one more document. The room was still empty. He sighed, shook his head and picked another paper from the stack on his desk. He was nearly finished with it when he heard the guard admit someone to the room.

Looking up and expecting to see Hallion, Thranduil involuntarily raised his eyebrows when Amoneth set a plate with fruit and a knife beside his papers on the desk. He looked at her silently, a question in his eyes, and she looked down.

“You did not come to the morning meal. I thought you could at least eat some fruit while you meet with your advisors this morning,” she explained without looking at him.

Thranduil’s expression softened. “Amoneth, I am not angry with you about Galuon. He was wrong to question you and ask to speak to me. You did nothing wrong.” He paused and smiled at her. “You do not have to placate me with food.”

Amoneth stared at Thranduil for a moment. It had not occurred to her that Galuon had done anything wrong. Then she laughed nervously at the last part of his statement. “I am not foolish enough to try to placate you, my lord. I have gone with Lindomiel many times to prepare a plate for you when you refused to appear at the table. She would be angry with me if I let you starve in her absence.”

Thranduil glanced at the plate. Indeed it held the same fruit, his favorites, that some servant brought to his office each time he missed breakfast. Thranduil had always assumed the kitchen staff was responsible for sending them though, now that Amoneth mentioned it, he did realize that practice had begun after Lindomiel moved to Greenwood. He took a deep breath and cut the apple, keeping half and handing the other to Amoneth who took it automatically. “I miss Lindomiel,” he said quietly, leaning back in his chair. “More than I imagined I would.”

Amoneth nodded somberly. “I understand…all those trivial things you did not even notice until she was not there to do them. Aradunnon and I are not even married yet but he does so much for me and I enjoy doing little things for him. I always missed him terribly when he was gone for months with the patrols. I cannot deny that I have enjoyed the last year since he began commanding the warriors from the capital.”

Thranduil looked at her sharply for a moment, causing her to look down again and blush slightly for fear that she had said something to offend him. When Thranduil finally spoke, his voice was soft. “There are certain aspects of Aradunnon’s life that you must understand better, Amoneth, and certain behaviors that are simply unacceptable. But perhaps my family also has not made enough effort to understand your perspective of this situation.”

Amoneth tried and failed to conceal a surprised and somewhat confused expression so Thranduil continued.

“For example, I know that Lindomiel is in the north performing an important service to me and to this realm by helping to build the new stronghold. I know that I have to let her perform that service. But that does not make me miss her less. Lindomiel and I have not been separated since our wedding for more than a few weeks at a time so I never realized how difficult it could be. I suppose I have a better understanding of how you feel when Aradunnon is away now.” He paused and she smiled cautiously at him. Then he continued, still in a soft voice. “I needed to understand how difficult it was for you to be separated from your betrothed for so long. You need a better understanding of Aradunnon’s duties. After attending these council meetings for the last month, are you beginning to develop such an understanding?”

Amoneth frowned slightly, the reason for making her attend morning council suddenly clear to her. “Yes, my lord,” she replied a little guiltily, ashamed that she had not understood before. “I am always impressed by how much Aradunnon contributes.” She looked at him. “You seem to depend on him,” she said quietly in a voice that revealed she was not sure how well that observation would be received.

She was surprised when Thranduil agreed readily. “I do, Amoneth. More than any other person in this realm with the possible exception of Hallion. I admit that freely. Without my council, but most especially without my troop commander and steward, I would be very hard pressed to govern this kingdom. Everyone in my family contributes to its governance.”

Amoneth nodded but before she could reply, the guard opened the door to admit the rest of Thranduil’s council. Aradunnon looked with some concern at his betrothed and his brother. Instead of heading to the table with the others, he went to stand in front of Thranduil’s desk instead.

“Fair morning, Thranduil,” he said, looking at his brother closely to try to read in his eyes what had been happening.

Much to his relief, Thranduil smiled at him and stood. “Fair morning, muindor nin,” he said cheerily, eating a berry and holding the plate out to offer him something.

Aradunnon shook his head with a smile and drew Amoneth against him. “You are in a fine mood after what appears to have been a very serious conversation,” he fished.

Thranduil nodded but his expression was light. “Serious, perhaps. But I think we took a step towards understanding each other better. Do you agree, Amoneth?”

Amoneth smiled. “Yes, my lord. I do agree.”

“Good,” he said moving towards the table. “Let us get some work done then. The lot of you are late,” he declared, raising his voice so everyone at the table could hear him. “We are going to be late beginning petitions.”

Hallion glanced at Aradunnon and then looked back at Thranduil. “I have canceled the petitions this morning, my lord. We have two more pressing matters. That is why we were late.”

Thranduil’s expression became instantly more serious and he looked at his steward questioningly as he seated himself at the table. “What has happened?”

“There are some disagreements amongst the village leaders moving from the Narrows over the settlement sites in the north,” Golwon said, diving straight into the issues.

“And my captain in the Narrows sent word that he arrested a group of Men who were in the forest,” Aradunnon added. “They were in possession of several sacks of medicinal plants and a good amount of meat and skins. It seems they took advantage of the fact that the south is relatively unguarded now that all but two of the villages have moved.” He paused. “But they insisted they were invited into the forest by elves and my captain states he saw no lie in their eyes when they said that. We need to determine if that is somehow true.”

Hallion nodded. “We did not know if you would want the Men brought here or released to the Mannish authorities, so the messenger is waiting for that decision. And the village leaders disputing the settlement sites will be arriving tomorrow to attend the feast so we will be pressed to resolve that issue then. That is going to require some thought.”

Amoneth was aware of Thranduil addressing the incident with the Men first and his tone was angry. For a moment she contemplated how thankful she was that she and Galuon had met with him before he got this disturbing news. Then as the king began issuing orders regarding the deployment of forces along the borders in the south and summoning representatives of the Prince of Rhovanion to Greenwood, she turned her mind to analyzing her earlier conversation with Thranduil, wondering what other lessons the king had subtly provided that she had not recognized.

*~*~*

Several days later, Amoneth walked with the rest of the family behind the king to the High Table. As she always did during festivals, Amoneth delighted in the view provided by the elves in their finest attire—soft, flowing green and yellow gowns, richly embroidered cloaks, bright flower garlands. The guests sang with the music of the minstrels or talked animatedly. Some had even begun to dance amidst the rows of tables covered with fine linen and colorful flowers while waiting for the appearance of the king and his family. When he appeared, the celebration quieted, save for the music that announced his entrance, and all stood as he proceeded to his place.

As they followed the king to the High Table, Amoneth watched Thranduil looking over the decorations and general set up on the lawn. She tensed slightly and Aradunnon looked down at her. Focused on Thranduil’s reaction, she did not notice her betrothed’s attention. Amoneth normally helped Lindomiel with festivals. Every available member of the household always took on their fair share of the tremendous amount of preparation they entailed. But Amoneth’s contribution in the past had mostly consisted of relaying the orders Lindomiel or Dieneryn had made and helping with the physical work of baking breads and subtleties. For this feast, she had organized everything, from the menu to the decorations to the seating arrangement to the entertainment.

Seeing the final outcome of her work, she did not think he would be disappointed. The courtyard sparkled in a sea of rich decorations, twinkling lantern and candle light and the glow of the elves themselves. Thranduil reached his seat and turned to address his guests but before he did he glanced at Amoneth, his smile indicating his obvious satisfaction with what he had seen thus far. She smiled weakly back at him, suddenly realizing she had been holding her breath in anticipation of his reaction. She felt Aradunnon’s arm go about her waist as she leaned against him.

“Welcome to all,” Thranduil began as the musicians fell silent. The king’s deep voice carried over the crowd that faced him with merry expressions. “And a special welcome to the leaders of our villages who have joined us tonight,” he continued, smiling at the guests in question seated in places of honor nearest the High Table. Then he paused and his expression grew serious. “We come together often to celebrate traditional feast days but tonight I have asked us to gather for a specific purpose. Over the past yén we have united to fight the foul spawn of Morgoth that once again despoil the beauty of Arda in this forest. I offer this feast tonight in honor of those that have contributed to that fight.” He was forced to pause as a somber cheer rose amongst the elves present—nearly every family had a relative that served as a warrior. When the roar dulled, he continued. “Unfortunately, we must continue to battle that evil for it is powerful and its defeat promises to be a long time in the coming. But we can lessen the burden on the warriors by doing what we can to keep their families out of harm’s way. To that end—to ensure the safety and prosperity of our people—I am building a stronghold north of the Forest River. This stronghold and the forest around it will be a safe haven for the people of this realm while its warriors continue to fight against the evil in the south.”

All of the elves present knew the purpose of this feast was this announcement and many already knew the details of the announcement. Early that morning, Thranduil had stopped the frenzied preparations for the feast and gathered his entire staff in the Great Hall. There he had informed them of the specifics of the move north and the construction of the stronghold, showing them copies of the maps of the chambers in the caves and answering their questions about the surrounding forest and when they would be expected to move. He told them they were not required to follow him—they were welcome to remain further south if they preferred. No one had indicated they would.

After that meeting, he spoke with the village leaders that had come to hear his announcement. As he had done with the village leaders from the Narrows, he explained the capital was moving north and they were encouraged to do so as well. All of the village leaders already knew Thranduil planned to move the capital north. Some were surprised to hear confirmation that he was building a stronghold or that the capital would be so far north but no one complained—after all, a stronghold could only be seen as a positive development and the orcs made it clear that moving north was the only option. Most villagers had resigned themselves to that fate. Indeed they were well pleased by the king’s efforts to make the move easier. The scouts that had investigated the northern forest were present for this meeting to describe in detail each recommended settlement site. Thranduil and his advisors answered questions about defense and trade. By the time the meeting concluded, the village leaders’ concerns were satisfied.

Since they were not surprised by his announcement, the elves listened in solemn silence as Thranduil continued speaking.

“Elves are fated to endure until the end of Arda and we will,” he stated with a cold determination that stirred the heart of everyone listening. “Here in this forest we will see the final destruction of Morgoth’s minions—we will defeat the evil in Dol Guldur and prosper in these woods long after it is utterly destroyed. That is my oath to you.”

As heated cheers rose in response, no one present felt the slightest doubt that their king could fulfill that vow.

“So let us celebrate the valor of our warriors and the prosperity of our realm.”

With that, the musicians again began to play, people cheered merrily and the servers began to bring out wine and the first trays of food—a light dish meant to prepare the palette, normally some sort of bread with honey. Tonight the opening dish consisted of small muffins made of amaranth and nut flour in the shape of animals and trees and arranged in a forest scene on the serving platters. As soon as each table had its bread, the first course of the meal was served—a soup with almonds, roasted boar with pepper sauce, sliced breast of pheasant in cinnamon sauce, baked mushrooms, a great pie of venison and rabbit, greens with chestnuts, and sliced pears. As everyone at the High Table and the lower tables turned to the food with relish, Amoneth finally began to relax.

Engwe glanced down the table at Amoneth as he enjoyed the meat pie. “Well done, Amoneth. I admit I did not think you could manage this by yourself. But you seem to have done a fine job,” he commented with his typical frank manner.

Amoneth had never enjoyed Engwe’s company. She merely kept her eyes on her plate at his half compliment. Aradunnon, on the other hand, openly bristled, swallowing his food quickly to make a retort, but Thranduil beat him to it.

“Do you think me a fool, uncle?” Thranduil asked with a low voice and forced smile. “The success of this feast reflects upon me. It colors everyone’s attitude towards the move north. I recognize its importance. I asked Amoneth if she felt ready to manage the feast and she assured me that she could.”

Amoneth looked over at Thranduil. She had wanted to do a good job with the feast to show the king that she was trying to take her place in his household more seriously. She had listened to Galuon’s comment that if the feast were a failure that would reflect badly upon the king. But only vaguely had it occurred to her that it would be very bad politically if the feast celebrating the move north was not successful. She looked away from Engwe and Thranduil uncomfortably, flinching slightly as Aradunnon’s arm wrapped protectively around her shoulders. His posture was tense waiting for Engwe’s reply. It did not disappoint.

“Of course Amoneth’s conduct in the past has never poorly represented this House so it was completely safe to trust her promise in this very public instance,” he said airily, looking out over the guests pointedly.

Thranduil’s eyes narrowed slightly. “I have entrusted Amoneth to serve this kingdom by managing my household in my wife and mother’s absence. Likewise, I trust my uncle to serve this kingdom by not making a spectacle of the family at the High Table during a feast,” he said in a dangerous tone of voice.

Engwe did not reply. He simply continued eating.

Thranduil frowned openly at that response. “Apologize for your lack of respect, uncle,” he demanded.

Engwe looked over at Thranduil, clearly surprised. A blush crept over Amoneth’s cheeks and Aradunnon glared at his uncle. Engwe drew a quiet breath. “I apologize, Amoneth. You have done an outstanding job, truly worthy of the event. I should not have denigrated it.”

Thranduil nodded once and turned to Amoneth himself with a pleasant smile. “Indeed, Amoneth. This is wonderful. Precisely what I expected for this important occasion. I appreciate your work and the staff’s greatly.”

Amoneth looked at her food. “Thank you, my lord. I will pass your comments to the staff tomorrow,” she replied quietly.

With that, Hallion turned the conversation to a comical story teasing Golwon, who could be counted on to react indignantly, and the mood at the High Table gradually became festive. After an interlude of music and a second course of foods as elaborate as the first, everyone present felt very celebratory indeed. Amoneth was relieved when the final subtlety—fruits and nuts baked in honey and spiced wine and arranged in a bright kaleidoscope of colors—was received with delighted exclamations by the guests.

Thranduil sampled it and turned to her with raised eyebrows and a merry expression. “This is your doing. I have never had this dish. I would remember it.”

Amoneth responded with a pleased smile. “It is my adar’s design. He makes it for my naneth occasionally to celebrate her begetting day.”

“Much better than the pastries Galuon makes, my dear. I think he will be quite bitter in the morning.”

Amoneth managed a giggle in response and tried to relax as the minstrels performed the final dinner entertainment before the king signaled for the tables to be cleared for dancing.

*~*~*

The dinner over, Amoneth tried valiantly to conceal her relief at being released from the High Table to dance and speak with her friends. Aradunnon danced with her until late in the evening. He only glanced once the games on the far side of the lawn and did not run off to join them until Amoneth sent him to do so, laughingly pleading for some time to herself. After that, she found herself wandering peacefully amongst the revelers speaking to her friends and enjoying the music of the harpist, flautist and trees. Finally, she sat thankfully alone against a tree and quietly watched Thranduil and Aradunnon compete against one another in an archery contest. Absorbed by their good-natured rivalry, she jumped slightly when someone standing to her side spoke.

“Pity the king and his brother do not show the same prowess hunting orcs in the Narrows,” the voice commented softly.

Startled, Amoneth stood and turned to face the elf speaking her. She recognized him as one of the elves from the villages that often came to the capital to complain of security in the south. She did not believe he was a village leader, just a very vocal citizen, and she could not remember his name. He was studying her with a cautious expression.

“I, for one, am very happy the king and his brother, my betrothed, have the sense to recognize a losing battle when they see one. I am thankful the king has withdrawn from the Narrows,” she answered back swiftly and firmly. Then she drew a quiet breath and reviewed in her mind what she had just thoughtlessly said, praying nothing could be construed as negative. She relaxed slightly after determining she had not misspoken and resolved to keep her mouth shut, not wanting to ruin an otherwise positive evening.

The elf did not seem offended by her contradiction. “So you are the troop commander’s betrothed. I thought you were,” he replied in a conversational tone. “My name is Fuinil,” he said bowing towards her.

She smiled automatically and offered him her hand. “I am Amoneth,” she replied as he bent over her hand.

He smiled as well. “Naturally you are happy to see your betrothed husband back in the capital and away from the dangers in the south,” he continued, returning to the original topic. “But surely you can understand the frustration of those of us who have moved repeatedly under the rule of the House of Oropher. This is the third home I have lost. Of course you are young and would not remember such things.”

Amoneth did understand their frustration. She shared it. She had moved away from her family in Lorien to Greenwood to stay with Lindomiel. She did not want to move again either. But greater than her unwillingness to move was her mortification when Thranduil threatened to exile both she and Aradunnon due to her behavior. She remembered that discussion and made no reply, instead merely staring at the elf before her. It was a reaction she had seen Lindomiel employ many times when someone said something inappropriate in her presence.

Fuinil did not appear to be fazed by her reticence. “There are those of us that refuse to move,” he said casually, studying her and waiting this time for a reply.

Amoneth frowned and looked away. “I cannot believe the king would force you to move,” she commented quietly, making the most neutral response she could think of.

Fuinil nodded. “He is not. But he is not providing us with protection any longer either. We must provide our own.”

Again he stopped, waiting for her reply. Amoneth blinked, very uncomfortable. “I know very little about defense,” she said, looking over Fuinil’s shoulder at Thranduil and Aradunnon. Aradunnon had apparently won the contest because he had a surprised and utterly triumphant expression on his face.

Fuinil’s eyebrows went up. “Surely the troop commander’s wife knows something about the deployment of the realm’s warriors,” he replied, overly cheerfully. “Can you not tell me anything about how much defense we can expect in the Narrows now that the king is moving north?”

Amoneth’s brows drew closer together. She knew Thranduil intended to offer absolutely no defense of the Narrows and she was tempted to tell him that, since it was only a statement of fact, but something in his intense expression made her hesitate. Aradunnon never discussed such things publicly and neither did Lindomiel or Dieneryn. Amoneth never had before either but that was primarily because she was not privy to much information about governance. Now that she attended the morning council meetings she knew quite a bit more. And Thranduil had made it crystal clear to her that anything she heard inside his office was not to be repeated outside his office. She fished about in her memory, trying to think of how Aradunnon responded when people asked him such questions. “I imagine Lord Aradunnon could tell you more than I,” she finally said.

Fuinil adopted an overly disappointed air. “Come, my lady. I am certain he could, but I am speaking with you now,” he paused and fixed her with a forceful look. “And I know that you harbor no love for Thranduil’s decision to move to the north. Surely you can be sympathetic to my plight and help me with whatever information you might have about my future.”

Amoneth looked at Fuinil, stunned and fairly certain she had not said anything in this conversation to give that impression. “What makes you say that I do not approve of the king’s decision?” she asked nervously.

He laughed lightly. “My brother spoke with you and Aradunnon on this topic before, when he was in the capital during the king’s last absence,” Fuinil said, gesturing to an elf sitting on one of the nearby benches drinking wine and watching them. “He said you seemed very disapproving when discussing the move north.” Fuinil looked at her sharply. “And you appeared to be arguing with the king and his family at the High Table after his announcement tonight. We had the impression that you might be willing to help us in our fight to survive in the south.”

Amoneth stared at Fuinil, completely flustered by that response. “I cannot imagine what help I could possibly be,” she replied with obvious confusion. “I would help you if I could, as would Lord Aradunnon and the king, but I have no help to offer you.”

Suddenly Fuinil’s gaze seemed very dark. “It would be a tremendous help if you could tell us how the troops intend to patrol the Narrows. With that information we could work with the rest of our allies to guarantee our safety.”

Amoneth blinked. “The rest of your allies? I am certain Lord Aradunnon will coordinate any efforts needed to defend the southern villages,” she stammered, lost.

Fuinil leaned forward. “The king will not let Aradunnon do anything to protect the villages in the Narrows. We must move or be left to the orcs. But the king is not the only source of protection. There are others that Aradunnon does not coordinate. Indeed, Aradunnon’s warriors are now only in the way. That is why we need to know how they are deployed.”

Amoneth’s jaw fell open as Fuinil’s words finally made sense. “You are involved with the Men the warriors found in the forest.” Her expression became even more incredulous when he did not deny her statement. “You intend to barter with Men for protection against the orcs? Have you lost your mind? Men could not possibly offer you adequate defense. If they could, the king would have allied with them to attack the orcs at Dol Guldur.”

Fuinil’s expression was now angry. “The king refused to ally with them, I heard, as he refused to ally with Amroth of Lorien. The Men we have spoken to told us of the king’s unwillingness to fight to preserve our homes even as they offered to help us. Why should we refuse their help?”

“Because they lie?” Amoneth suggested angrily. “I was in Lorien when the king spoke to Amroth, my cousin. It was he that refused Lord Thranduil’s request to join Eryn Galen to attack Dol Guldur while it was still possible.” Her mind raced with the details of the council’s discussion of the captured Men that she had half-listened to a few days earlier. “Those Men will do as much damage to the forest as orcs. They do not want to help you. They want your help to get into the forest so they can steal plants and poach game…”

“They ask for their due in exchange for helping us defend ourselves…”

“Do you think sacks of plants and piles of skins and meat are their due? They take more than the king would ever allow for the health of the forest. With their ‘help’ soon the Narrows will be depleted and you will not be able to support your families there. I cannot believe you would consider this.” She snorted. “I cannot believe you thought I would help you. I certainly will not.” Amoneth turned and started to march angrily towards the High Table.

Fuinil grabbed her arm roughly. “I will do anything to protect my home,” he stated coldly.

Amoneth looked with wide eyes between Fuinil’s hand grasping her upper arm and his face. He glared icily at her. Her expression hardened and she tried to twist from his grip. He only tightened his hold on her and she opened her mouth to demand he release her when a guard appeared from the shadows of the trees.

“Take your hands off the lady and come with me,” Galuauth said calmly but with a deadly expression.

Amoneth’s eyes darted to the guard and she was suddenly hyper-aware of Fuinil’s grasp tightening angrily on her arm; the guard’s tense posture; Fuinil’s brother rising to his feet a few steps away—all as the merrymaking continued unabated on the lawn.

She jumped violently as a hand touched her waist.

“I suggest you take your hands off my betrothed wife,” Aradunnon’s voice rang in her ear, frighteningly cold.

She looked over her shoulder to see both Aradunnon and Thranduil standing behind her, their guards at their shoulders, hands on their weapons.

Fuinil’s fingers released their grip on her arm and his eyes fixed briefly on his brother before they lowered to the ground. Amoneth gasped in surprise as Galuauth pulled her away from Fuinil and stepped between them. “Turn and walk directly to the Great Hall,” he ordered in a low voice. “I think you will want to address this, my lords,” he added, glancing at the king and prince as he discreetly pushed Fuinil away from the crowds.

*~*~*

Amoneth sat silently in a seat near the door and at the opposite end of the Great Hall from where the king was speaking to Fuinil angrily. She certainly could have heard what they were saying if she had wished to. On the contrary, she was making every effort to ignore them, knowing her turn would come. With Galuauth still standing next to her and Aradunnon glancing back at her with concern every few moments, she simply wanted to disappear.

Thranduil had listened with barely controlled rage as she recounted what she and Fuinil had said. Then Galuauth and finally Fuinil himself related their recollections of the conversation. When Thranduil asked her to wait for him in the back of the Hall, she was very happy to remove herself from his furious presence. Every now and then the word ‘treason’ or ‘sedition’ or ‘conspiracy’ floated the length of the Great Hall to her ears and she cringed.

Finally, one of the guards with Thranduil escorted Fuinil from the Hall. Seeing Thranduil and Aradunnon turn their attention on her, she stood. She was surprised when, instead of signaling for her to come to him, the king walked the length of the Hall, followed closely by Aradunnon, to speak to her.

“Are you alright, Amoneth?” Thranduil asked in a carefully controlled voice as Aradunnon drew her tightly against him.

Amoneth looked between them nervously. “I am fine, my lord,” she began but Aradunnon cut her off angrily.

“She already has a bruise on her arm, Thranduil,” he declared in a voice that was much less controlled than his brother’s.

Amoneth glanced at her arm, surprised, and then at the king.

His mouth formed a thin, angry line. “We will discuss it further in the morning, Aradunnon. When we are both more calm and when Hallion is present to offer some restraint,” Thranduil replied curtly.

Amoneth looked at Thranduil fearfully. “If we could, my lord, I would prefer to discuss it now,” she said in a quiet voice. “I do not want to spend the night wondering what your reaction to this will be.”

Thranduil frowned angrily. “My reaction? How do you think I have reacted to hearing that my own citizens are indeed responsible for ignoring my decisions and plotting with foreign powers to help them violate the borders of this realm? How do you think I react when my own citizens threaten members of my family? I assure you, Amoneth, if I were to make a decision about this tonight, it would be much harsher than is likely deserved. That is why I intend to do nothing until the morning.”

Aradunnon was much less willing to let matters lie overnight. “He threatened my betrothed wife, Thranduil,” he said dangerously, arm tightening reflexively around Amoneth’s waist. “He is lucky to have walked out of the Hall undamaged…”

“Enough, Aradunnon. We will address it in the morning. We should return to the lawn,” he commanded firmly, turning to do so.

Amoneth did not move. She only looked at Thranduil, obviously confused. “You are not angry with me, my lord?” she asked.

Thranduil turned back to her and blinked. “Why would I be angry at you, Amoneth?”

She looked down. “I fear that I said too much,” she replied without looking at him. Then her brows knitted together. “And he spoke to me because he thought I would help him…because he thought I opposed your decision to move north.” She looked up at Thranduil and his eyes widened at her fearful expression. “I do not want to move north any more now than I did before, but I do understand the decision a little better. And I swear I did not intentionally say anything to demonstrate a lack of support for your rule.”

Thranduil stared at her a moment. “Amoneth, I do not believe you did anything wrong tonight,” he finally said with a sigh. “Some of the things you said bordered on making promises in my name, which clearly you cannot do. And I would have prefered that you simply call for a guard when you figured out what he was asking you rather than arguing with him. But I cannot fault you for your reaction--you spoke out of shock and anger. I cannot deny those emotions were justified." He paused for emphasis. "I agree that it is a serious issue that Fuinil thought you would help him and I hope you understand how your own actions led him to that belief. I hope this incident makes you understand why you cannot behave as you have in the past.”

She nodded vigorously without looking at him and shame colored her cheeks.

“Good. This was not how I would have chosen for you to learn that lesson, Amoneth, both because I do not want to see my subjects involved in such activities and because this has clearly frightened you.” He looked at Aradunnon. “I do not think you should return to the feast. Take her back to her talan,” he said quietly, looking at her with concern. He frowned when she leaned heavily against Aradunnon. “You truly did a wonderful job organizing this feast, Amoneth,” he said softly. “I am sorry that this happened to ruin your enjoyment of it.”

Amoneth looked down. “I suppose I have myself to blame,” she whispered.

Aradunnon tensed. “You are not at fault for Fuinil’s conspiring behavior,” he began.

Thranduil’s jaw clenched and he put a hand on her shoulder. “I want you to go back to your talan and put this incident out of your mind, Amoneth,” he said gesturing Aradunnon to the door. He led her out without another word.

They walked silently to her flet and Aradunnon watched a myriad of emotions play across Amoneth’s face. When they reached her door, there was no question in his mind that he was not leaving her alone. Without waiting for an invitation, he followed her into her flet and drew the curtains for privacy. Aradunnon studied Amoneth sharply as she collapsed onto a cushion in the sitting room.

“Did Fuinil hurt you, Amoneth? Or threaten you in some way you did not tell us?” he asked tensely when she did not look at him.

Amoneth did look at him then, startled. She shook her head. “No, not at all, Aradunnon. He held my arm and that was all. I was not thinking about him.”

He sat next to her and gathered her in his arms, stroking her hair as she laid her head on his shoulder. “What are you thinking about, meleth?”

“The fact that he thought I would betray Thranduil,” she replied, voice muffled against his neck.

Aradunnon sighed. “Well, he did not even see his own actions as a betrayal of the king, this realm or the forest. Just a defense of his home.” He sighed. “I do not want to make you feel worse but I do not want to make light of this either. I am not sure what to say to you, Amoneth.”

“You need not say anything. A fool could understand the significance of this.”

They were quiet for a few moments as Amoneth thought. Then she snorted softly.

“What?” Aradunnon asked.

“I do not deserve Thranduil’s reaction to this. Tonight, I tried to keep my silence when Fuinil was speaking to me but not because I agree with the king’s decision to move north—only because I do not want to be sent to Lorien for speaking my mind. It was selfish.”

“If Thranduil had not threatened to banish you, you would have helped Fuinil bring Men into the forest?” he asked doubtfully.

“Of course not,” she began. “But I did not stay quiet because I support his decision either.”

Aradunnon shook his head. “You do not have to agree with it. I do not agree with it. It is not the choice I would make if I were king. You support the decision by not openly opposing it. That is all Thranduil expects, meleth.”

Amoneth sighed. “But I think I have been selfish. For example, I wanted the feast to be a success because that would reflect well on me. Its importance in helping Thranduil positively present his decision to move north never even occurred to me until he said that at the High Table tonight. And remember that serious discussion you saw Thranduil and I having? He was asking me if I understood why he wanted me to attend the morning council. It is because he wants me to understand your duties better. I admit I do. But do you know what my only thought was about the council meetings before he explained that to me? I thought they were boring. Their only saving grace was that I enjoyed watching you—my betrothed—in them. Selfish.”

Aradunnon frowned. “Amoneth, I do not think it would help our situation for me to deny that you can be selfish. You must learn to put the realm before yourself. We have discussed that before. If you are starting to see your selfishness, that is only a good thing. I am not being critical, meleth. I remember very well how my own form of selfishness—my flirting and gaming—hurt you. I have tried to stop both those behaviors because I love you.”

She lifted her head from his shoulder to look at him. “You have, Aradunnon. I know that.”

He nodded and kissed her forehead as she laid her head back on his shoulder. “Good.” He was silent for a moment. “It concerns me that you did not understand why Thranduil asked you to attend morning council. Did he not speak to you about it at all?’

“Not beyond telling me I was not to repeat what I heard in the meetings.”

He laughed shortly. “Well, that is a good start. You know, I could have told the reasoning behind having you attend those meetings. Why did you not ask me?”

She shrugged. “I just assumed it was a punishment. Some way to occupy me.”

Aradunnon laughed openly now. “I would tend to agree with you that council meetings are punishment, meleth, but I am certain that is not Thranduil’s intent. He wants you to learn, not suffer. There will be some lesson in everything he asks you to do.”

Amoneth sighed. “I fear that I have missed a good many lessons that he intended to provide through some example. I often do not understand his reactions.”

“Then ask him, meleth. He will not bite you. If you feel he does not have time or that the time is not appropriate, ask him later.”

“I do not want to make him think I am completely lost,” she whispered.

He tightened his arms around her. “Then ask me. Surely you do not fear I will think less of you.”

She shook her head. “I will ask. You or him.” She paused. “I felt so terrible hearing him defend me to Engwe. I know Engwe could tell the importance of this feast never occurred to me.”

Aradunnon kissed the top of her head. “Regardless, it was marvelously well done and Engwe was behaving poorly, as usual. Just as you cannot gainsay the king, Engwe has no right to criticize you in such circumstances. Had Thranduil thought you did a horrible job—and I assure you, you did not—he would defend you publicly and speak to you about it privately. That is precisely what he wants you to learn, Amoneth. Engwe needed his own lesson tonight.”

Amoneth laughed weakly. “Engwe needs that lesson often in my opinion. At least as often as I do.”

Aradunnon smiled. “Indeed.”

Amoneth sat silently his arms, head against his shoulder, for a good while. Finally, she snuggled closer and drawing a deep breath and obviously trying to relax. She enjoyed the soft fabric of his formal robes and his scent. Aradunnon, arms around her waist, pulled her firmly against him.

“I love you, meleth,” he whispered, brushing his lips against her hair.

When she lifted her head to reply, his lips claimed hers in a tender kiss.

It was much later when Aradunnon finally rejoined his brother on the lawn where the festival was still in full swing.

“How is Amoneth?” Thranduil asked quietly as Aradunnon sat next to him.

“When I left her, she was nearly asleep,” Aradunnon replied. “Fuinil apparently did nothing to hurt her beyond shocking her with his belief that she would betray you.”

Thranduil did not look at his brother or reply.

“She is very upset, Thranduil,” Aradunnon pressed.

“I know that. There is no harm in it,” he replied. “And you did stay with her until she calmed down, surely.”

“Of course I did,” Aradunnon responded with a scowl. After a few moments he looked at his brother. “She told me she often does not understand why you ask her to do things, Thranduil. You might consider being more direct with her.”

Thranduil smiled. “She rarely understands immediately what I am requiring of her, Aradunnon. She often does not even see that a lesson is being given. But I can tell that she is trying to do make good decisions. And a few times I have seen her thinking about my orders or reactions. I am satisfied with her progress.”

Aradunnon frowned. “Do you not think you would be more satisfied if she recognized the lessons?” he asked somewhat testily.

Thranduil turned and looked at his brother. “Tell me, Aradunnon, have you discussed her daily activities with her at all since we spoke?”

Aradunnon’s frown deepened. “Not really.”

Thranduil raised his eyebrows. “Perhaps Amoneth is not the only person who does not recognize that a lesson has been administered. Is it possible that I thought it might be your responsibility to speak with your betrothed? She is going to be your wife, muindor nin. Not mine.”

Aradunnon’s eyes widened with surprise. Then Thranduil watched them fill with anger. “I am not an elfling, Thranduil. And I do not appreciate being treated as one. Especially by you. Please do me the courtesy of speaking to me plainly.”

Thranduil frowned but he responded calmly. “No, you are not an elfling, Aradunnon. But neither do you have the slightest idea how to be a husband because you have never treated any maiden properly in your life. I am giving Amoneth a chance to learn something about being a member of my household by letting her observe the council, by having her run my household and by setting her a good example of leadership in my dealings with her. That is her lesson. You already know how to be a good leader, Aradunnon. You are an excellent troop commander and I believe you would make a fine king. Help your betrothed wife with that concept and teach yourself to be a supportive husband in the process. That is your lesson. With any luck, you will end up with a supportive wife as a result.”

Aradunnon opened his mouth and drew a breath to make a retort. Then he shut it again. “You are right, Thranduil,” he said softly. “I told her just now to speak to me if she does not understand something you have asked of her. But I admit I did not understand that was your intent.”

Thranduil smiled at his brother. “Good. I see that you, like your betrothed, can learn even if you do not recognize the lesson, delos dithen.”

Thranduil barely controlled his laughter as his brother’s jaw clenched involuntarily in response to that very old and much hated nickname from his early youth.

“Watch yourself, Thranduil,” Aradunnon threatened, though he could not entirely hide the mirth in his voice. “Continue to treat me as an elfling and I will behave as one. Do you recall why you stopped calling me that name?”

Thranduil loosed his laughter at that memory. “Yes, muindor nin. And Conuiön would never let you get away with such a thing now.”

“Conuiön is in the north with Lindomiel, Thranduil. Do not forget that.”

Thranduil smirked at him. "Then I will not let you get away with it again."

Aradunnon's eyes widened. "Let! Let me. You did not let me the last time, muindor nin."

Thranduil only continued to laugh.

*~*~*

Muindor nin--My brother

Adar/ada--Father/dad

Naneth/nana--Mother/mum

Delos dithen--Little pest

*~*~*

AN: A big, big apology for being so long in updating. I plead four excuses: Thanksgiving and all my relatives were here; my dog had major liver surgery; work is still insane; and my friend who is beta'ing this for me and I had some major disagreements about the last chapters over how much of what we originally wrote should be cut to move the story along vs what should stay because otherwise certain plot lines would not seem to be satisfied. This is a big compromise. :) Thanks for reading and sorry for the delay.


Chapter 14 - Held the evil at bay

***********

Then the name of the forest was changed and Mirkwood it was called, for the nightshade lay deep there, and few dared to pass through, save only in the north where Thranduil’s people still held the evil at bay. Whence it came few could tell, and it was long ere even the Wise could discover it. Silmarillion

***********

Eryn Galen

Third Age 1050

For over three millennia Thranduil had watched the sun rise every morning over Greenwood the Great. For nearly two millennia he had done so from the same place—the flet in the tallest tree in the capital. For the last millennium, the forest that brightened under his gaze was his own. His realm, inherited from his father and entrusted to him by its people.

Thranduil loved watching the sun rise over Greenwood the Great because that was how he had first seen the forest that would become his home—looking down at it from the heights of the Misty Mountains, Anar’s radiance in the East behind it, glistening like silver off the dew covered leaves and glowing like gold in the mist that hung over them. Thranduil had never seen the Light of the Two Trees in Valinor; he had never beheld the hour when silver Telperion waxed and golden Laurelin waned, but he imagined the mingling of their lights must have closely resembled that sight. Looking out over the forest each morning at sunrise, he recaptured the awe and the immediate connection he felt at that moment and he cherished it for it lent him the strength and determination to uphold his oath. He loved the forest as fiercely as he loved his own blood kin.

Today, like every day, Thranduil watched the sun rise over Greenwood from the flet in the tallest tree in the capital, but the southern forest no longer brightened in Anar’s warm light. A darkness hung over the trees that warred with the light and obscured it. It was worst where Dol Guldur belched forth black gloom, but the nightshade lay over the entire forest below the mountains. Even in the old capital bright light no longer reached the forest floor as it once did. Travelers crossing the Forest Road had begun to call the forest Mirkwood, seeing it now as dark and dangerous and fell. And largely speaking, they were correct.

For that reason, today the king moved with the staff that remained in the old capital to the new stronghold in the north—driven by orcs and spiders and other evil creatures from another home. Six times before he had fled the disharmony Morgoth had woven into Iluvatar’s Song. As Thranduil stood in the flet and watched the sunrise, his heart was heavy. Rather than looking east to the sun, the king looked down at the remaining buildings in the city below him and lost himself in the memories associated with his home of two thousand years. Most of the memories were trivial—everyday moments shared with his family or friends. Some of the memories were life altering. Looking at the Great Hall, he remembered his father addressing the troops before they departed to fight the war against Sauron and he remembered making his oath as king when they returned from that war. His eyes drifted over to the lawn by the river where he had married Lindomiel. That was possibly the most pleasant memory of his life. Thranduil closed his eyes, thinking of their first kiss and asking her to marry him in this very flet. His hand involuntarily clenched into a tight fist. This would be the last home he would be driven from. Here, and no further.

Without another glance over the railings, Thranduil descended the ladder and strode into the midst of the elves in the courtyard making final preparations for their departure. There were less than fifty that had not moved north already—some of Thranduil’s guards and Aradunnon’s warriors, minimal staff and a few families reluctant to leave. Of the king’s family, only Engwe, Aradunnon and Amoneth remained to travel north.

Standing with the family in the courtyard were Amoneth and Lindomiel’s parents. They had traveled to Greenwood to see the stronghold where the king’s family would now be living and to attend Aradunnon and Amoneth’s wedding. Amoneth had long since satisfied Thranduil’s concerns regarding her conduct. He concluded that she would likely never refrain from questioning his decisions or arguing with him—and he did not object to that—but she had learned to do so in appropriate settings. More importantly, as the Shadow had spread ever closer to the capital, the importance of Aradunnon’s duties—indeed, the duties of every member of the family including her own—became irrefutably clear to her. She had finally come to understand and accept the complex life that lay ahead of her as Aradunnon’s wife. That had seemed to Thranduil to be the one bright spot in the last few years of difficulty.

Without speaking to anyone, lest his dark mood infect his staff or guests, Thranduil joined his family and guards where they stood amid their horses. In response to his approach, Thranduil’s stallion threw back his head, whinnying. His front feet danced anxiously, pawing the ground.

Thranduil cast an amused look at him and laid his hand on his velvet nose to calm him. “You are all too ready to flee the Shadow, are you?” he said softly as the horse twisted his ears to listen. Still snorting and tossing his head, he settled down only slightly and turned to nip at his masters’ braids as Thranduil focused on his family. “Are we ready to leave?” he asked, his tone unreadable.

Engwe, his face grim, answered by jumping onto his own horse and fixing his eyes resolutely on the path north. The guests from Lorien and guards nodded and began to mount their horses as well.

Aradunnon looked at his brother, clearly troubled. “Do you think adar found this as difficult?” he asked in a voice for Thranduil’s ears only.

Aradunnon was born in Greenwood and so did not know the flight from Menegroth and Sirion or the migration from Lindon. He was barely of age the first time Oropher moved the Silvan elves and still very young the second. He had argued bitterly with his father on both occasions.

Thranduil looked at him intently. “Fleeing before the Enemy never sat well with adar,” he answered with the same unreadable tone.

Aradunnon’s expression grew cold. “We are not fleeing. We are escorting our people to safety. To a place from which we will defend this forest until the Dagor Dagorath if necessary,” he replied forcefully.

Thranduil nodded and Aradunnon saw his eyes flashed with a fierce light as he jumped on his stallion. Aradunnon helped Amoneth onto her mare and the king signaled for their traveling party to depart for the stronghold. They left behind a very small group of elves that would disassemble the remaining buildings and load their wood and furniture onto rafts to send north for use there. Soon, the only evidence that elves had ever lived here, besides the laments of the trees and river, would be the stone fountain and benches that stood in the courtyard. Too heavy to be worth moving, they would remain in place as the forest reclaimed the city around them.

*~*~*

The path north was scattered with villages and, over the course of their journey to the new capital, the king and his party spent nearly each night as guests in one of the new settlements. Their presence precipitated an enthusiastic welcome and merrymaking, including as elaborate a feast as the small villages could muster. And the journey was scheduled to end as festively as at it had been spent—with a feast to celebrate the king’s arrival to the stronghold followed the next day by another for the prince’s wedding.

When the King of Greenwood the Great finally broke out of the forest to ride down the path that led to the gates of his stronghold, trumpeters and the cheers of the elves that lined the path to greet him heralded his arrival. Thranduil rode to the bridge flanked by his guards, Conuiön and Tureden, and the same standard bearers that had ridden with him into the old capital upon his return from Mordor—all in full livery, the green and gold standard of the Woodland Realm waving in the spring breeze and glinting in the warm light of sunset. Dressed in richly embroidered formal robes and with his naturally regal bearing, the king cut a magnificent figure as he crossed the lawn to where his family awaited him by the bridge.

Experiencing the happiness of his people—seeing them well established in their new homes in the healthy, green forest north of the mountains and celebratory in the new capital—helped lift the darkness that had fallen over the king’s spirits over the last few seasons. Even more so did the sight of his wife waiting for him at the bridge. Seeing both her husband and parents, the queen’s face was lit with a radiant smile that shone, in Thranduil’s mind, brighter than the sun behind her. When he was a few feet from the bridge, he leapt from his stallion’s back and covered the remaining distance with long strides. His joy at finally arriving in his new home and being reunited with his entire family was plain for all to see. As he approached, Hallion, Celonhael and Golwon dropped to one knee and Lindomiel and Dieneryn curtsied. Gesturing for them to rise, he returned the greetings of his advisors, embraced his mother and then turned to his wife. After looking at her a moment, he took her hand and raised it to his lips. She smiled and looked into his eyes, which were dark green in the waning light. She saw in them the promise of a more satisfactory greeting to come once they escaped the press of the crowds that surrounded them.

Still holding her gaze with the intensity of his own, he spoke in a low voice. “I have missed you, my lady.”

Lindomiel’s eyes danced, equally happy to see her husband. “As I have missed you, my lord.” Then she sighed quietly. “But you have duties to perform and guests to attend to before I can show you the extent of my pleasure to welcome you to our new home.”

Thranduil laughed at that. “Indeed,” he replied, voice tinged with regret.

As Amglaur and Limmiel, Lindomiel’s parents, stepped forward to greet their daughter, Thranduil heard Aradunnon greeting the crowd clamoring behind them and telling them to go with the minstrels to the lawn where the feast would soon begin. Thranduil smiled, thankful for the brief reprieve. He would address the citizens of the capital before the feast. For now, he wanted a moment with his family to rest from the long road so he appreciated his brother’s efforts to grant him that boon. As the revelers moved off to the area set aside for that evening’s merrymaking, Thranduil looked past Lindomiel, still embracing her parents, and took in the sight of his new home.

Behind him, the green between the forest and the river was alight with lanterns and torches and arrayed with tables laid with bright decorations for the feast. In front of him, across the bridge, rose the forested mountain that contained the stronghold and the great stone gates that were its only entrance. Now the gates stood open, in welcome of the king, and the chamber they led into was brightly lit. But silhouetted by the setting sun, the mountain itself was dark and formidable. The Silvan elves looked on it with awe when they arrived in the new capital and saw it for the first time. Even to Sindarin eyes that had seen the splendor of Menegroth, it appeared to be an imposing keep and a glorious home. Glancing to his side, Thranduil saw Amglaur’s attention had also turned to the stronghold and for once the Prince of Lorien’s expression held respect. With a smirk, Thranduil guided Lindomiel with an arm around her waist across the bridge. The rest of his family followed behind him along with the standard bearers who carried the king’s banner to its place by the great gates.

Nali, Gelireth and Crithad met the king at the entrance to the stronghold. As the principal architects of the stronghold, they would have the honor of joining the king at the High Table tonight to celebrate its completion. Now they were present for the king’s final inspection of their work.

Preparing to greet them, Thranduil looked somewhat sadly at the dwarf. His beard, graying already when they first met nearly fifty years ago, was now very white. Thranduil, son of Oropher of Doriath, would never have love in his heart for the race of dwarves in general, but over the years some individuals would win his respect. The memory of one dwarf’s valor and sacrifice in the War of the Last Alliance inspired Thranduil’s willingness to consider trusting their kind to build this stronghold. After working with Nali over the last fifty years, the king recognized that the stoneworker had likewise earned his friendship. The dwarf’s honesty and enthusiastic dedication to the task before him had impressed and surprised Thranduil as few experiences ever had in his long life. He cast a warning scowl at Amglaur in response to his sharp intake of breath upon noticing the dwarf.

Nali bowed along with the elves as Thranduil approached. “It would be an honor to give you a tour of your stronghold, hir Thranduil,” he stated in Sindarin, the words sounding bizarrely gruff issuing forth from the dwarf’s tongue.

Thranduil smiled at him, aware that Lindomiel and Amoneth’s families were trying to conceal their dismay at the dwarf’s presence while he had to struggle to hide his amusement over his choice of language. Dwarves were eager students of languages in Doriath, guarding their own as secret, so it had not surprised the king that each time he inspected the progress of the stronghold, the dwarves had learned a bit more elvish. But no matter how they perfected the vocabulary and grammar, the sound of the normally melodious tones of the Noble Tongue spoken by the harsh voice of a dwarf would always make Thranduil cringe.

He gestured for Nali to lead the way into the stronghold. “The honor will be mine, Master Nali,” he replied, also speaking Sindarin and bracing himself to listen to the dwarf for the extended tour.

With that they passed though the gates and entered the stronghold.

Of all Thranduil’s family, only Aradunnon and Amoneth had never traveled north during its construction—Aradunnon was too busy with his military duties given the increasingly difficult situation in the south and Amoneth was not interested. Neither Aradunnon nor Amoneth believed there would be much to see in the caves and that is why they gasped upon entering the first hall of the stronghold. Lindomiel’s and Amoneth’s parents, who well remembered the underground strongholds of Beleriand, looked on with approving expressions.

The gates opened into a great cave that, in turn, opened into countless other passages and caverns. It was brightly lit by torches and its walls and ceiling were painted with a woodland scene so detailed that one could easily imagine they had walked under an arch into another part of the forest rather than through a gate and into a cave. The trunks of great oak and beech and elm trees were carved and painted on the walls and their boughs and leaves rose and formed a forest canopy on the ceiling. Figures of deer, fox and bears wandered amongst the trunks while squirrels, birds and butterflies flitted amongst the leaves. Some of the green gemstones that the dwarves had found sparkled amongst the leaves in the flickering torchlight causing the light in the hall to dance.

Lindomiel laughed lightly at Amoneth when she leaned forward, jaw frankly hanging open, to caress the nose of one of the deer carved on the wall.

In response to the laughter, Amoneth looked at her with wide eyes. “This is simply breathtaking,” she exclaimed, almost in disbelief.

“But not as lovely as a living tree,” Nali said coolly, staring at her levelly.

Amoneth turned to him, taking in his expression. It was openly challenging. She only smiled at him. “Trees are lovely in their own way, Master Nali. But this is lovely in a way I could never have imagined if I had not seen it. I grant you that I was utterly wrong. Truly I can understand how Yavanna so loves Aulë if works like this are the fruits of his hands.”

Nali’s bushy eyebrows rose, for clearly he had not expected that response. He harrumphed quietly and inclined his head, still eyeing her warily.

The amusement in Thranduil’s eyes only increased during this exchange. “And they say the memories of elves are long. I would bet the memory of dwarves is equally long and is passed down like an heirloom amongst the generations,” he commented, laughter in his voice. “But this is wonderful and there is no denying it. I knew you had begun work on the decoration but I had no idea you had completed any of it. What else have you done?”

Nali, Gelireth and Crithad smiled proudly at the king.

“It is never finished, my lord. Something can always be added,” Crithad began.

Gelireth nodded enthusiastically. “But we wanted the first hall to be as complete as possible before your arrival. All the public areas of the stronghold are adorned to some extent. Come look at the Great Hall,” she suggested. “It is also largely complete and almost entirely the work of your lady mother and wife.”

Thranduil’s eyebrows rose dramatically at that. With a sidelong glance at Dieneryn and Lindomiel, who were smiling broadly, he moved towards one of the caverns at the back of the first hall. Like the main entrance of the caves, it was closed by stone doors, though these were not nearly as tall as the great gates. They bore the device of the House of Oropher—a gold oak tree on a green field. At the king’s approach, the guards standing at the doors opened them wide. Inside was the tallest hall in the stronghold, its ceiling supported by stone pillars. Like the walls in the first hall, the pillars in the Great Hall were hewn in the likeness of trees whose branches formed the arches in the ceiling. But instead of sporting a woodland scene, the walls of the Great Hall were covered with tapestries that depicted the history of the Woodland Realm. At the back of the room, on a raised stone dais, stood elaborately carved wooden thrones. And behind them hung a single, unique tapestry that fell from ceiling to floor —it was a map of Greenwood and its immediate surrounds in Rhovanion overlaid on the royal crest. The map was woven in rich, bright colors and the crest in muted colors.

Thranduil turned to Lindomiel. “You remade the tapestry,” he whispered, unable to find more voice. He took her hand and pulled her to him. “Lindomiel, it is beautiful,” he said, placing a kiss on her cheek.

When he stood back, she smiled at him. The tapestry that hung behind the throne was indeed the recreation of the tapestry that Lindomiel had made for Thranduil as a wedding present. A jealous rival had destroyed the original the day before their wedding. Lindomiel had always intended to remake it but had never done so, lacking the time and the heart, for that work had been a labor of love that she was not certain could be entirely recaptured. But over the last fifty years, it had been.

“It is similar to the one Marti destroyed,” she said in a soft voice. “Though I am much better at weaving now than I was a millennium ago. It is bigger, to fit the height of this hall. And the map has changed, of course. This tapestry properly shows the capital and major villages where they are today instead of where they were when we were married.”

He drew her against him, arm around her waist. “I thought the shredded version of this tapestry that I saw in naneth’s workshop was beautiful. This is beyond description. Thank you, meleth,” he said, kissing her again on the cheek.

Then he turned to the other tapestries, walking along the wall, still with his arm around Lindomiel’s waist, to study them. Along the right hand wall hung tapestries that depicted scenes from Oropher’s reign. Thranduil detected his mother’s style in them. The tapestries on the left hand wall were scenes from his reign. They were clearly Lindomiel’s work. Thranduil followed them sequentially, pausing in front of some to remember, fondly or wistfully, the story behind them.

Of all the rooms in the stronghold, this would be the one that was most his own. But amongst all his other concerns, it had never occurred to Thranduil to order its adornment beyond its basic layout. He smiled gratefully at his wife and mother. “This is perfect,” he said. “I would not have thought of anything nearly so fitting myself. And I cannot imagine when you found the time to weave these tapestries with all the other work you did here. Thank you.”

Dieneryn returned his smile. “You are welcome, ion nin. The weaving was the task we looked forward to doing every day.”

Lindomiel nodded, obviously in complete agreement with that assertion.

From there, the tour led the king and his family through many more rooms and passages from the public halls to the kitchens and other such facilities to the family quarters and king’s office. The basic work of delving, widening, strengthening, lighting, ventilating and heating caverns was completely finished. The only work that remained was decorating the halls and, as Crithad had stated, that was a task that would never truly be complete. Some of the public halls already were adorned by Gelireth’s paintings or Crithad’s carvings but there were many blank walls. And nearly all the rooms in the family quarters remained bare. As they walked, Gelireth and Crithad described how they imagined painting or carving some of the walls. Others they planned to polish or light to exploit the beauty of their natural formations. Thranduil listened, adding suggestions as he did.

“I am glad you chose to begin the decorations in the public areas first,” he commented finally, as the tour ended and they approached the family sitting room. “The Silvan have never seen anything like this stronghold. It is wise to present them with something beautiful. We,” he said with a look that encompassed his family, “can be patient.”

Nali shook his head. “There is more than enough room for your staff and a good number of the citizens to live in this stronghold, yet the majority of them insist upon living exposed in the trees. You elves…I doubt I will ever understand you.”

Thranduil laughed at that, more in reaction to Engwe, Dieneryn and Amglaur’s struggle not to launch an angry retort than the comment itself. “Thus the term Wood Elf, I suppose, Master Nali.” Then he turned to Golwon with a more serious expression. “But I do want to know how the staff and citizens of the capital have reacted to the stronghold.”

Golwon shrugged. “The staff is very satisfied. All the facilities are larger—especially the kitchen and laundry. And the cave’s natural water sources make running both areas much easier. The citizens who enjoy painting or carving or any other art that might be used to decorate the caverns are hopeful to have the opportunity to participate in that work. Gelireth and Crithad are coordinating the efforts to allow that and those plans have raised some excitement. Everyone else is fairly indifferent. They are impressed when they enter the stronghold to do business here, but as you said, they are Wood Elves. They care very little about it except to see it as an unbreakable defense. That obviously pleases them. Many have commented to me that they feel confident the king will defeat the Shadow from such a place of strength.”

Thranduil looked away from Golwon, his expression unreadable and Lindomiel took his hand.

“You have guests to greet, Thranduil, and a feast to begin,” she said softly. “Let us not tarry inside.” Her eyes lit. “The stars call, meleth, and I want to dance under them with you.”

Thranduil turned a playful smile on his wife. “I am eager to dance with you as well,” he said with a glimmer of laughter in his eyes, “but we do have the feast to attend. And what guests do I have to greet? Our guests from Lorien came with me.”

Hallion looked at Thranduil with amusement. “Indeed my lord, but your brother’s wedding draws guests from his own family as well as his betrothed’s.” Thranduil and Ardunnon raised their eyebrows so Hallion continued. “Your cousins. Celeborn and Elrond. Along with their families…and attendants.”

Thranduil’s face brightened. “Elrond and Celebrian are here? And Celeborn?” he asked with obvious surprise. He was vaguely aware of Amglaur rolling his eyes but he did not care. In his mind, that was a pleasant surprise.

Lindomiel laughed at her father. “Indeed they are, Thranduil, happy to be here for the wedding and to see your new stronghold. I am sure they are anxious to see you. Let us go speak to them and bring them to the feast. The people are waiting.”

Refusing to be drawn into an argument with his father-in-law over Galadriel and Elrond, Thranduil nodded and followed Hallion down the passage to the family sitting room where his guests awaited him. Celeborn, Elrond and their wives stood as Thranduil entered the room, moving enthusiastically to embrace him. He returned the gesture gladly, truly pleased with the opportunity to see his distant kin. For a moment the room was alive with elves embracing, clapping each other on the back, and kissing ladies’ hands.

Then Thranduil addressed Elrond. “I am sorry you did not bring Elrohir and Elladan with you. I would very much like to see your sons full grown. As I would like to meet your daughter, Arwen. They were traveling the last time I was in Imladris.”

Elrond smiled. “I am certain my sons would have much rather traveled to see this wedding, but they were dutiful enough to stay in Imladris and see to its governance. That is one of the advantages of having sons, Thranduil. I can leave my realm to travel secure in the knowledge that it is well governed. You should try it yourself.”

Thranduil chuckled and looked at Elrond sidelong, recognizing his intent to tease him. He bit off his immediate response—that his brother and mother were perfectly capable of ruling Greenwood in his absence—out of deference for Elrond’s feelings and simply shook his head. ”I do not intend to enter into this argument with you, Elrond. My wife and mother are difficult enough to manage on the topic of elflings. But surely rule of Imladris is not so complicated that it requires the attention of all your children. What is your excuse for not bringing Arwen?”

Elrond smirked at Thranduil. “If I had only traveled here for the wedding, I might have brought Arwen. But we have additional business to address afterwards so I decided to leave her with her brothers instead.”

Celebrian smiled. “She was furious with us. She very much wanted to see Taur-nu-Fuin. She is very interested in seeing new places. She often travels with her brothers.”

Thranduil winced slightly at the name Celebrian had used. He was aware that Men called his forest Mirkwood but it was not a name he would ever use himself. He suffered it now only out of courtesy to his lady guest, forcing himself to smile and respond only to Celebrian’s description of her daughter. “Furious?” he repeated. “And she likes to travel…sounds adventurous. High spirits run in your family, I see. I find it most likely to believe it is Galadriel’s blood, or possibly the Maian or mortal blood. But such behavior is certainly not descended from our common ancestor.”

Celeborn snorted as Galadriel gazed at Thranduil with an amused glint in her eyes.

“This must be why you recommend children so highly to me, Elrond,” Thranduil continued with a wink at Celeborn. “You want me to suffer the same ignominy that you have been forced to endure. What is the Mannish expression…misery loves company?”

Elrond nodded his head, laughing. “Your turn is coming, Thranduil. Lindomiel will not let you wait much longer. I heard that from her very lips myself. I look forward to meeting your son or daughter.”

Thranduil looked at Elrond with mock-refinement. “You will see that my children will be the very picture of courteous behavior.”

Everyone burst out laughing at that.

“Just as their father was in Doriath,” Celeborn said and Galadriel laughed harder as Thranduil turned large, innocent eyes on his cousin. “Come, Thranduil, you believe in utter honestly. Let us have some. I am think Elrond, and certainly Lindomiel, would enjoy hearing about….”

Thranduil shook his head hastily, waving Celeborn silent. “I will have respect in my own realm, Celeborn,” he interrupted with as serious an expression as he could muster through his laughter.

Celeborn nodded knowingly, the promise of mischief in his eyes.

Thranduil smirked at him and then his eyes were drawn to three other figures that also stood waiting to speak to him—one dressed in white, one in gray and one in brown. Amglaur openly stared at these guests. Radagast stepped forward first, bowing slightly.

“It is a pleasure to see you again, my lord,” he said with a smile.

Thranduil smiled back at him wryly, drawn in, as usual, by Radagast’s easy warmth. “It is a pleasure and surprise to see you again, Radagast. As well as a relief. I worry about you living in the wilds alone. I wish you would at least send me word of how you fare more regularly.”

Radagast looked confused by that but his response was forestalled as companions stepped forward to greet their host. Mithrandir bowed solemnly, though a merry light shone in his eyes. “My lord Thranduil,” he said in his deep voice.

Thranduil inclined his head and greeted him warmly, clasping his arm in the traditional elven greeting. “Mithrandir, welcome to Greenwood. I imagine you came with Elrond.”

“I did though I have been intending to come further east since receiving Radagast’s bird about his findings here. This is simply a very pleasant excuse to do so.” He glanced at Aradunnon. “This is the groom, I presume.”

Aradunnon was looking between Radagast, Mithrandir and the other old man clad in white, studying them. Thranduil laughed lightly at his brother’s expression before drawing him forward, along with Amoneth, to introduce them.

Then Mithrandir turned to his companion, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Lord Thranduil, I would like to present Curunir, the Head of our Order.”

Thranduil accepted the hand Curunir offered, noting without comment that he offered not the slightest bow along with it, as even Lords Elrond and Celeborn did, greeting the king in his own realm. Instead, Curunir stood proudly and fixed Thranduil with an intense, searching gaze that Thranduil returned evenly. The force of Curunir’s stare reminded Thranduil of Galadriel and he glanced at her briefly, frowning at her stiff posture as she looked at the white clad Wizard. Finally, Thranduil spoke.

“I am pleased to meet you, Curunir,” he said pleasantly. “I think you were in the east when I met Mithrandir and Radagast in Imladris. I would be interested to hear what you learned in your travels.”

Curunir raised his chin slightly. “We can likely find some time to discuss such things while I am here, Thranduil. But I did not travel here solely to attend weddings. I came in response to Radagast’s claim that Sauron is rising in the south of this forest. I am here to investigate that.”

Thranduil’s brows drew together and everyone present tensed slightly at Curunir’s pronouncement and overtly imperious tone. Thranduil responded in a cool voice. “After the wedding, and after I am satisfied that allowing you to approach Dol Guldur will not threaten my realm, we will discuss with Lord Aradunnon if he can spare enough warriors to escort you south, Curunir.”

Curunir scowled at Thranduil but it was Galadriel’s inscrutable expression that drew the king’s gaze. “My lord husband and I would be happy to form part of that escort if you would permit us, Lord Thranduil,” she said in a formal, respectful tone that contrasted sharply with the Wizard’s. “We would very much like to see how the situation there has changed since last we were there.” Her eyes drifted to Elrond. “I believe Lord Elrond had hoped to see the hill as well. We all are anxious to confirm Sauron’s presence for ourselves.”

Curunir turned a scornful look on Radagast, who frowned. “Yes, I find it difficult to trust the perception of birds and rats. I prefer to see with my own eyes the truth of what is happening in Dol Guldur.”

Mithrandir looked at his comrade intently. “Perhaps it is Sauron or perhaps it is one or more of the Ulairi. We will only know by going there.”

“It is Sauron,” Radagast began.

“Nonsensical conclusions drawn by sparrows,” Curunir interrupted hotly. “We were sent to make judgments the Elves cannot make yet you will trust birds. We must see for ourselves.”

Thranduil’s eyes narrowed and he glared at Curunir for a moment. Then he shut him from his sight, turning entirely to Elrond, Galadriel and Celeborn. “I assume you have your own guards with you. I will provide some additional warriors, for it is best to go south well defended, but I am certain Radagast can lead you on safer paths near Dol Guldur than my people know. The elves that have met him have told me how pleased they are with his presence in the southern forest. They even, very begrudgingly, admit they have learned a good deal of woodcraft and healing—of trees and plants and animals and people—from him. It seems his knowledge of Yavanna’s arts are quite useful here in the Woodland Realm.” Thranduil glanced coolly at Curunir before turning a warm smile on Radagast. “You are always welcome in my Halls, Radagast, for you provide me a valuable service in the south.” He gestured to the door. “Come, all of you. There is a feast, and a populace eagerly awaiting it, on the lawn.”

They moved to the door and Mithrandir appeared at Thranduil’s side, looking at him with a gleam in his eyes. “I would like to provide some entertainment if you will permit me, lord Thranduil,” he began as the family and their guests headed to the lawn.

*~*~*

The welcoming feast that night lasted until dawn and blended into the celebration the next day of Aradunnon and Amoneth’s wedding. The couple had stopped merrymaking only long enough to dress for their wedding and gather with the families to exchange gifts. Then they returned to the festivities, wholly content and very excited now that their wedding day had finally arrived. Free from the gloom of the south and feeling in much better spirits than he had in years, Thranduil was much of the same mind as his brother.

Laughing in an utterly carefree manner, with one arm around Lindomiel’s waist and the other hand clasping hers, Thranduil led his breathless wife away from the green where they had been dancing for nearly an hour and back to the tables on the edge of the lawn. Elves playfully protested their departure as they retreated, inspiring Thranduil to swing Lindomiel back around and teasingly threaten to draw her back into the dance. She laughed and slipped from his grasp, fleeing to the benches and collapsing next to her father. Amglaur regarded his daughter warmly, pleased to see her obvious happiness.

Thranduil approached the table at a more sedate pace, smiling at his wife’s flushed face and bright eyes. His entire family was gathered there. Dieneryn sat teasing the normally stern Engwe and Golwon. Hallion and Celonhael were singing a somewhat racy song that caused Dieneryn to pause in her banter and direct a raised eyebrow at her cousins. But the sight that raised Thranduil’s eyebrows was his brother and new sister-in-law. Amoneth was sitting squarely on Aradunnon’s lap with both his arms wrapped around her waist and his hands resting on her thighs.

Thranduil joined Lindomiel, taking her hand as he sat next to her and looking coolly at his brother. “Every time I think you may have matured a bit, Aradunnon, you prove me wrong. A little public decorum might be warranted,” he said quietly.

Thranduil’s eyebrows climbed higher when Aradunnon flatly laughed at him.

“Thranduil this is my wedding night and this,” he said tightening his arms around Amoneth’s waist, “is my bride, for whom you have made me wait through a nearly fifty year betrothal. You should be thankful I did not abandon the feast the moment the ceremony concluded. Never you mind where Amoneth sits. You would better spend your time worrying about your own wife. I doubt you have even given her a proper kiss since our arrival. Poor thing.”

Thranduil loosed a surprised breath and stared at his brother.

Before he could speak, Lindomiel made her own reply. “I am kept perfectly satisfied, Aradunnon so you need not worry about me,” she said airily.

Thranduil’s eyes widened and he turned to Lindomiel as the rest of his family snickered at her words and her husband’s embarrassed shock. Amglaur cast a sour look at Thranduil, causing the king to blink—after all, it had not been he that made either of those coarse comments. This only caused everyone else to laugh all the harder. Thranduil turned to Aradunnon as the source of the foolishness, brows furrowed, eyes narrowed and flashing, mouth a thin line, looking far more like an older brother ready to pounce on a younger sibling than a ruling monarch.

“Behave yourselves, children,” a female voice intervened before Thranduil could launch his retort.

Thranduil and Aradunnon were perfectly accustomed to Dieneryn making exactly that admonition whenever Aradunnon’s mischief finally pushed his much older brother beyond the limits of his endurance. But Dieneryn was too busy laughing and staring at Amoneth, eyes wide with amusement, to have spoken. Slowly it dawned on the brothers that it had been Amoneth that had chastised them and not their mother. As one, they turned to her silently with identical, surprised expressions. She merely giggled in response to Dieneryn’s reaction.

Lindomiel laughed ruefully and put a restraining arm around Thranduil’s shoulders. “It is possible even for me to push Thranduil too far, Amoneth. Tread carefully,” she said softly.

Thranduil’s expression softened at that and he chuckled quietly. Looking down into the cup of wine he swirled in one hand, he shook his head. “Amoneth is quite right, Lindomiel, and therefore is safe. I believe the point I initially tried to make was that the behavior at this table is lacking. Shame on me for allowing you troublemakers to draw me into it.” He looked up at his brother and sister-in-law. “It will be best for me, I am sure, to have the two of you absent from my court. Perhaps without your influence my wife will behave in a more reasonable manner.”

It was Lindomiel’s turn to look at Thranduil with wide, astonished eyes. Amglaur glared at him as well. But Lindomiel was not reacting to the joking insult.

“Absent from court?” she repeated, now looking at Amoneth with a very serious expression.

Amoneth returned it solemnly, nodding. “Aradunnon and I will stay until my parents leave but we will not be living in the stronghold,” she said quietly, looking at Lindomiel with concern. She did not realize that Lindomiel had not been told that she intended to live in the south with Aradunnon.

“You will not?” Lindomiel asked. “Amoneth, you cannot think to stay in the south in hopes of traveling regularly to Lorien. That journey has become far too dangerous to warrant such foolishness. When ada and nana traveled here, the patrols drove five groups of over twenty orcs from the roads. Twenty-five warriors were required in addition to regular guard to keep them safe. Surely you would not risk Aradunnon and the guards to take you on such trips.”

Thranduil looked at Lindomiel sharply. “I was not aware that you were so well informed of the details of troop movements, Lindomiel,” he said. Thranduil knew how worrying he found the patrols’ reports. Hearing her speak of the dangers in the southern realm left him with a strong desire to shield her from such cares.

Lindomiel turned her eyes from Amoneth briefly to respond. “My parents were making that trip. Naturally I watched the reports. And my husband has been living in the south. I made it my business to become more familiar with security there.”

Thranduil looked at her sadly with raised eyebrows while Amoneth’s mother looked nervously at her daughter. “Lindomiel is right, Amoneth. You must not travel lightly between Lorien and Eryn Galen. It is too dangerous.”

Amoneth smiled indulgently at her mother. “We do not intend to travel to Lorien, nana.” She turned to Lindomiel. “I have listened to Aradunnon’s reports to the council and the king for the last fifty years, Lindomiel. I am well informed of the dangers of traveling. That is not why we will be living further south.”

Lindomiel blinked at that. “Well, you know if you still object to living in the stronghold, you need not live so far away to avoid that. Celonhael lives in a cottage in the forest,” she suggested softly but her voice revealed she was grasping to understand her friend’s reasoning now.

Aradunnon shook his head. “I am living closer to the mountains as a matter of duty to have faster communication with the captains in the southern territory,” he explained. “And as much as I have tried to convince Amoneth to stay in the stronghold where she would be safer, she insists on staying with me. So we will be living in a village just west of the mountains. She has already set up a household there for us over the last few months and Thranduil and I have agreed upon how we will command the rest of the patrols while I live there.”

Lindomiel looked at her husband, mouth open slightly in surprise. Thranduil nodded. “I do not like the risk Amoneth or anyone else in that village is taking. I feel it is too far south and since it lies west of the mountains, they offer it no protection. I would prefer for Amoneth to stay in the stronghold, but I can hardly command her to abandon her husband if she is unwilling. So we have agreed on this course of action. For now.” He fixed Amoneth with a stern look.

Amoneth simply smiled at him and nodded once. “And when it becomes too dangerous Thranduil and I will both pressure Aradunnon to be sensible and move further north. In the meantime, I will stay with him.”

Lindomiel stared at Amoneth and Aradunnon for a moment before standing and moving to embrace her friend. “Oh, I shall miss you, Amoneth. You have been my dearest friend since we were both elflings.” She released her friend and looked at Aradunnon sadly. “I do wish you both would reconsider this.”

Aradunnon returned her gaze apologetically but resolutely, his mouth a thin line but his eyes sad.

Amoneth loosed an exasperated laugh. “You will by no means turn this elf,” she said squeezing Aradunnon’s hands, “from his duty to his troops. Both Thranduil and I have tried to convince him otherwise and he will not waver. The only course of action left open to me is to keep him safe myself and the only way to do that is to stay with him. I have to go to the village.”

Lindomiel looked at Amoneth long and searchingly. Then she embraced her friend again. “Be careful. Both of you.”

Aradunnon smiled at her, his light, merry expression returning. “We shall be careful but tonight is not the time to think of such things.” He stood, unceremoniously dumping Amoneth from his lap but preventing her from stumbling with his arm about her waist. “Come, meleth, I see some friends of mine that might not be aware of your skill at gaming. Let us go educate them.”

Amoneth rolled her eyes but smiled and allowed Aradunnon to pull her off to speak with a group of his friends.

Thranduil smirked at their backs. “I cannot imagine what she sees in him,” he said in a quiet voice. “Aradunnon is very lucky.”

“Both Dieneryn’s sons were quite lucky, I would say,” Amglaur grumbled under his breath.

Everyone at the table heard him, despite his mumbling, and looked to Thranduil in anticipation of his response. After a millennium, his sparing with Amglaur was seen as nothing more than family entertainment. But Thranduil simply smiled. Taking Lindomiel’s hand, he raised it to his lips. “I am well aware of that and I never forget it.”

*~*~*

Thranduil enjoyed the company of his peers from the western realms for a good length of time after his brother’s wedding. In addition to simply taking pleasure in the rare opportunity to visit with his distant cousins, Thranduil also spent good deal of time speaking with them of military matters. They thoroughly debated all that Aradunnon had seen in the area around Dol Guldur. Aradunnon led those conversations but Radagast and even Amglaur contributed their perspectives as well. Elrond, Galadriel and Celeborn listened with concern but few interruptions. It was Gandalf and Saruman that bombarded those that had recently been near Dol Guldur with questions. And Thranduil arranged with Aradunnon for his guests to travel there themselves, but he would not agree to go with them. He had seen enough of the Shadow to know what is was.

On the eve of his guests’ departure, Thranduil shut himself in his office with Gandalf and Radagast for the hour before the evening meal. That raised eyebrows amongst his family members and guests but no one dared disturb the closed-door meeting.

After dinner, Lindomiel and some of the family went to the green outside the gates as they had become accustomed to doing since elves had moved to the stronghold. Like the courtyard in the old capital, the green in front of the gates had become an evening gathering place for the folks in the capital to sing and dance or game a bit and Lindomiel had always joined in the music since she first moved to Thranduil’s realm. She was sitting under a tree with Hallion, Celonhael, Golwon, Engwe, Dieneryn, Amoneth and Aradunnon when the king emerged from the caves with Gandalf and Radagast.

Lindomiel looked at him with some interest when he did not stroll out to the lawn as she expected or even notice his family there. Instead, he and the wizards inspected the stone doors. Apparently, Thranduil ordered the guards at the gates to shut them, for they began to work the complex mechanisms the dwarves had designed to move the heavy slabs of stone. With curious glances at one another, Lindomiel and the others stood and started across the bridge to see what the king was doing.

As they did, Thranduil’s attention was on the gates. All at once, from the roots of the mountain to its rounded peaks there seemed to emanate a great strength—the impenetrability of the mountain’s stone walls and the might of its towering heights became an undeniable, almost physical presence that captured the attention of all those nearby. The elves on the green turned towards the stronghold; the guards by the doors stepped back from them with wide eyes; even Thranduil’s family slowed their passage across the bridge to stare at him. The power of the mountain seemed to be called to the king and focused on him. He placed his hand lightly on the closed doors. As he did, the seam between the two doors drew together and the thin beam of torchlight that slipped between them from the brightly lit chamber inside disappeared. When he lifted his hand, the two slabs of stone that formed the doors appeared to have been fused. There was no opening between them to offer entrance to even the slimmest blade.

The door guards stared at the king, their eyes wide. The elves on the lawn were still and the music silenced as all looked at the stronghold and the king before it. All the Silvan knew the songs that told of the power of the High Elves returned from Aman and even the magic of the elves in Beleriand who never dwelt with the Valar. They knew their king was descended from Elu Thingol’s line—king of Doriath, the fenced realm of Beleriand protected by the Girdle of Melian. The Silvan themselves had their own sort of magic and it was strong. But they had never seen anything of this nature amongst themselves or from their king.

Lindomiel felt no less awestruck, though she made an effort to govern her expression. Closing the distance to the entrance of the stronghold, the rest of the family following behind her, she looked intently between Thranduil and the wizards’ serious expressions and then turned to the doors. Unconsciously mimicking her husband’s earlier gesture, she laid her hand lightly on the door, still able to feel the force of the enchantment that had been laid upon it. She pulled her hand back surprised when the doors began to swing open at her touch. They closed, shutting tightly, when she removed her hand. Her eyes darted to Thranduil.

He looked at her evenly, though in the recesses of his eyes Lindomiel saw a spark of amusement. “None shall pass through my gates save those who do so by my will, lest they come with greater power than that which laid this enchantment,” he said in explanation with a serious tone. Then he smiled at her. “But those who are welcome,” he continued, taking her hand and kissing it, “will find the gates open freely for them.”

Lindomiel let out a short breath and laughed lightly. The rest of the family, standing behind her, looked at Thranduil, who they often still saw as a mere youth, with proud and respectful expressions.

“New Menegroth, indeed,” Celonhael muttered under his breath, his joke about the stronghold taking on new meaning. Those present who remembered Doriath laughed quietly and nodded at him.

Gandalf and Radagast also smiled at Thranduil. “Now this is a worthy stronghold equal to the task before it—keeping these people safe from the Enemy.” Gandalf said with a cheerful tone. Then he looked at Thranduil. “And a king equal to that task as well,” he added in a lower voice.

Thranduil returned the wizard’s merry look with his own grave one. “That, time will tell,” he responded solemnly.

*~*~*

Hir—Lord

Meleth (nin)—(My) love

Naneth/nana—Mother/mum

Adar/ada--Father/dad


Chapter 15 - A seed that will bear dark fruit unto the latest days

Yet the lies that Melkor, the mighty and accursed, Morgoth Bauglir, the Power of Terror and of Hate, sowed in the hearts of Elves and Men are a seed that does not die and cannot be destroyed; and ever and anon it sprouts anew, and will bear dark fruit even unto the latest days. The Silmarillion

***********

Aradunnon sat in the trees in the darkness of midday and listened. Colloth sat next to him in the branches, nerves taut as a bowstring. Ten of his warriors were scattered around them, guarding the elf lords and wizards they had escorted to Dol Guldur at Thranduil’s request. The king had made it clear that Aradunnon was his representative in this expedition, but the prince had long since given up hope of accomplishing anything. Before they had even reached the Forest Road, it was completely obvious that the White Wizard would not be convinced that the presence in Dol Guldur was Sauron. Radagast, in contrast, would not be persuaded it was anyone else. Galadriel and Celeborn sided firmly with Radagast while Elrond and Gandalf cautioned everyone to avoid drawing conclusions before seeing Dol Guldur. That only made Radagast, Celeborn and Galadriel remind the company that they had already traveled to Dol Guldur and had formed their opinions based on those journeys. And so they had argued the entire trip south.

Now, they sat amongst the twisted, rotting trees within sight of Dol Guldur and debated. The stench of orc filth, decaying vegetation and the foul smoke that emanated from the dark hill hung in the still air. Aradunnon could barely restrain his natural instinct to simply flee from this fell place.

“Who else could be responsible for this Shadow?” Celeborn was arguing for the hundredth time, his tone completely exasperated.

Saruman shook his head and spoke as if to a slow child. “Sauron learned such evil skills from his master, Morgoth. One of Sauron’s minions practices what he was taught here. Sauron’s presence is much stronger than this. More dark. More oppressive. He is not here.”

“He is here,” Galadriel replied in a cool voice, hard as adamant. Her golden hair was the only bright sight to be seen in the gloom. “I am well familiar with Morgoth’s presence and with his servant’s. The Necromancer of Dol Guldur is the Evil One.”

Saruman frowned. “He is evil. I do not deny that. A threat, certainly. But the threat we have been sent to deal with,” he said looking at Gandalf and Radagast, “this Necromancer is not. Why would Sauron come to this backwater mountain in this remote forest? Barad-dur is in Mordor.”

Aradunnon and Colloth leveled a cold glare on Saruman.

“The Ring was lost near here" Elrond interjected quietly. "And Mordor is under the guard of the Kings of Gondor,”

“We do not know the Ring is here. And is this forest not under the guard of these wood elves?” Saruman retorted.

Aradunnon and Colloth’s eyes narrowed further at Saruman’s tone. It clearly implied that he thought the wood elves’ guard was less than adequate.

“If Sauron rose here,” the wizard continued, “these elves would not still exist. He would crush them like ants.”

“Morgoth himself did not crush me in Beleriand and his petty servant will not crush me here,” Colloth snapped in a harsh voice, unable to restrain himself.

All eyes turned to Aradunnon’s personal guard. He was one of the Sindarin elves that followed Oropher east.

Gandalf nodded. “I do not think these wood elves, led by Thranduil, will be as easy an adversary as you think, Saruman,” he said.

Saruman snorted. “Thranduil is no Fingolfin or Fingon or Gil-galad,” he paused. “Or even Elu Thingol. And they all fell to Morgoth or Sauron. But the power in Dol Guldur does not equal the power that was in Barad-dur. This is one of Sauron's servants at worst.”

“It does not equal it yet, but it is the same,” Celeborn said. “Even Morgoth took time to gather his strength in the north after he fled Valinor. Sauron was sorely diminished after the War of the Last Alliance. His presence here does not feel the same because he is only a shadow of his former strength. We must focus our efforts on making sure he cannot restore himself fully.”

Saruman shook his head. “Do as you wish here. Waste your efforts. But I will not be so foolish. I am returning to the east to look for Sauron where he likely is and learn what I can about him.”

Gandalf’s bushy eyebrows drew together. “I think we should keep a close watch on Dol Guldur. Even if this is simply one of the Enemy’s servants, one of the Nazgûl, it must be contained. And we might learn more about the Evil One from whatever rises here.”

Saruman waved his hand dismissively. “Let the woodland king watch Dol Guldur then. Or you, Radagast. This is a good place for you, with your squirrels and birds. I am going east,” he repeated firmly.

That comment was the last Aradunnon intended to listen to. He jumped down from the tree in which he sat, guarding the others, and turned to Saruman with a cold glare characteristic of the House of Oropher. “Go where you wish. And the King of the Woodland Realm will watch Dol Guldur and contain its evil. But we are leaving now. I will escort you back to the stronghold or to the borders of this realm, but we are done with this foolishness. It is too dangerous to be here and we are accomplishing nothing.”

He looked angrily at Saruman, who returned his gaze coolly. At Aradunnon’s signal, the guards began to move through the trees, scouting their path north. Saruman was the first to follow them. After him went Galadriel and Celeborn with irate expressions. Elrond, Gandalf and Radagast brought up the rear. Elrond put his hand on Aradunnon’s shoulder. The younger elf had not ceased glaring at Saruman.

“If this is the Enemy in Dol Guldur, that will soon be clear enough, Aradunnon. And we will unite to fight him when the time is right,” the elf lord said in a soft voice.

Aradunnon looked at Elrond bitterly. “I fight him and his minions everyday, lord Elrond. Use the library that Lindomiel tells me you have to find what we need to know to destroy him.”

“We will find how to destroy him, lord Aradunnon,” Gandalf said firmly. His deep voice inspired confidence. “But his destruction will not be achieved by a single act by one person. It will take many people, playing many roles, to bring about the downfall of an evil like this one. As Celeborn said, we must ensure that the Enemy does not rise to his full power. That is your task in this long war. With your warriors, you make it difficult for him to grow strong in these woods. You lend us time to learn what must be done. Your sacrifice is not in vain.”

Aradunnon studied Gandalf for a moment and then nodded his acceptance of his words. Silently, he moved off to order their departure from Dol Guldur.

*~*~*

Many miles north, under the light of the stars, elves crowded around an elleth in the courtyard of the village furthest south and east in the realm. All gathered as close as they might to better hear her words. She was a master of words, like all those of her kind and kin, and her voice rang out clear and fierce and fell, kindling dark flames in the hearts of those that listened.

“He cozens us with terrible threats of Sauron rather than sending the army to fight the orcs and spiders,” she said. “Rather than using funds to arm the warriors, he builds himself a grand palace. Rather than accepting the offered aid of Mannish troops, he allies himself with the Naugrim, greedy just as he is. I have heard his own advisors call this stronghold New Menegroth and they laugh as they do. They mock us. Think us fools. But we are not fools.”

Many of the elves gathered around her were nodding as she spoke. Their eyes flared with anger at this last. Shouts of ‘Nay’ and “No we are not’ rose angrily and she smiled coolly.

Another elleth sat silently and alone leaning against a tree a short distance from crowd, not swayed by the inflammatory words. She stared icily at the grey eyes that held her fellows in thrall.

“Will we follow him meekly like dogs on a leash? We have defended this forest since the Time of the Trees and the Great Journey, since the Return, since the War of the Wrath, since the wars against Sauron—will it fall now? Are we no better than dogs? Are we not the Quendi? Shall we not speak against this travesty?”

Voices rose loudly in agreement.

And then the elleth leaning against the tree stood, her voice rising above the clamor. “Is speaking all you call for?” she demanded.

Cold, grey eyes turned towards the voice.

“Perhaps not. Perhaps the time for speaking is past. Perhaps the time for action has come. Look at the forest around us. The skies are darkened by the black webs of the spiders. The waters are defiled by the filth of spiders and orcs. The trees are twisted and the deer and squirrels hide in fear. Will we be like the deer or are we better than that? Are we capable of shaping our own fate?”

“Our own doom, perhaps,” the lone elleth said, facing the other with a withering glare. All eyes turned to her but she took no notice. She was focused wholly on her adversary. “I hold no love for Thranduil. Everyone here knows that. I blame him for the deaths of our people in Mordor. I blame him for not acting more decisively to save this forest before the shadow fell upon it. I do not want to move north and leave my home. But you,” she said looking at the other, “are speaking half truths. Thranduil is a poor leader, but that stronghold is no palace; it is a keep for our protection. Thranduil is a poor diplomat, but alliances with Men would not have prevented this end. You are a cunning speaker, but you are not one of us. I have lived in this forest since elves first walked beneath its eaves. I do not know you or whence you came. Do not deign to speak to us about the forest as if it is yours to love. You do not love the forest; you hate Thranduil. You speak seditious lies. It is you who would lead us like dogs on a leash of deceptive words.”

The crowd of elves looked between the two ellyth in confusion, some glaring at one and some glaring at the other. Amongst the crowd, the elleth that had spoken first remained silent. Her work was accomplished.

The other elleth did not hold her tongue.

“You are guilty of sedition, Manadhien. For that I banish you from my village. Get you gone before your actions cross over to treason and I drag you before the king you hate.” Maethorness’ eyes swept over the others present. “And any of you that have been ensorcelled by her dark words, be gone with your new mistress for you are not welcome here. I do not love Thranduil, but I am the leader of this village. Those who would govern cannot proceed from betrayal and rebellion.”

Manadhien gazed upon Maethorness for a moment but her eyes were not filled with anger or with hate as one might expect. Instead they were satisfied. When she turned and left the courtyard, none followed but many watched her leave intently. As if in reaction to that, Manadhien turned and smiled before disappearing in the shadows of the trees.

*~*~*

Naugrim—an insulting elvish name for dwarves, meaning ‘stunted ones’

AN: This is then end of Journeys Perforce. I hope you have enjoyed it and I truly appreciate those that have taken the time to review. That means a great deal to me.

This story will be continued in Journeys Begin.

Unfortunately, that story will not begin to be posted until after the New Year because I am in the mountains with no Internet access.
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