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Title: Interrupted Journeys: Part Three--Journeys Begin (#1558)
Author: ellisk
Chapters: 16

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 Three: Journeys Begin--New additions to Thranduil's family lead him to contemplate innocence and loss. (Now complete--The series will continue in Interrupted Journeys: Part Four--Journeys of Discovery.) 2005 MEFA Honourable Mention (Drama: Mirkwood) 2006 Mithrils Winner (Best New Author)
Published: 29 Jan 2005
Updated: 05 Jun 2005
Warnings: none
Type: General
Characters: Thranduil; Legolas


Chapter 1 - Prologue: A Special Day

AN: This is a continuation of a series of stories titled Interrupted Journeys. Part One (New Journeys) and Part Two (Journeys Perforce) have already been posted. It should not be necessary to read those parts of the series 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, 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 the most complex of the series thus far. It revolves around new additions to Thranduil's family. The prologue is set in Third Age 1946. The first chapter of the story is set in Third Age 1939 and the story fills in that period of time.

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.

*~*~*

Third Age 1946

Thranduil and his council were in the king’s office engrossed in the day’s business when the latch on the heavy wooden door clicked. The door slowly and quietly swung open the slightest bit. Thranduil frowned and turned his eyes to the back of the room, waiting for the guard to announce the reason for the interruption.

Instead, he saw the guard’s hand hurriedly grasp the handle to close the door. At the same moment he heard a breathless and obviously dismayed feminine voice cry out, “You come here this minute!”

Thranduil looked down as a small figure eluded both the guard and the elleth pursuing him. He ducked through the narrow opening in the doorway to look at the king with slightly guilty but excited eyes.

“Ada, is it time yet?” he asked in a soft voice.

Thranduil’s frown melted to an indulgent smile at the sight of his son as the elleth and guard reached to pull the elfling from the room.

“I beg your pardon, your majesty,” the elleth said, taking the child’s hand. He promptly twisted free, eliciting an angry exclamation from the elleth. She took a step into the office to recapture her charge more securely.

Thranduil chuckled softly. “Let him come in Seidreth,” he said. The elfling’s face lit with a bright smile and he ran to the king’s outstretched arms to be whisked from the floor and into his father’s lap. “We are almost done here and it is past time for lunch.”

“I knew it was,” the elfling said firmly, scowling with a betrayed look at his nanny.

Siedreth crossed her arms over her chest. “Lunch is served when the king is ready for it, not when elflings dictate,” she replied sternly.

The child frowned defiantly but snuggled his face against his father’s soft dress robes. “But today is my Begetting Day. Lunch is special today,” he said sulkily.

Thranduil turned his son to face him with a finger under his chin. “Pouting is unbecoming, ion nin. And you must obey Seidreth. Obeying her does not include running away from her when she tells you to stop.”

“Or when I tell you not to go into the king’s office uninvited,” Seidreth added irritably.

The child looked down. “I am sorry,” he said quietly.

Thranduil kissed his son’s head. “I will forgive you this once. I seem to recall that Begetting Days are cause for excitement. Manners and rules are easily forgotten on such occasions.”

Thranduil heard his mother attempt to stifle an amused snort. He winked at her.

One side of Seidreth’s mouth turned down disapprovingly. She sighed and then looked resignedly at the king. “Shall I take him to the garden until you are ready, my lord?” she asked, taking a few steps forward.

Small arms tightened around the king’s waist.

“No, Seidreth. He can stay. We are finished here. I will look after him for the rest of the day.”

Seidreth stopped and sighed again. “Do consider trying to puts shoes on the child before you take him outdoors, my lord,” she said tiredly. “By your leave,” she added with a brief curtsy. Thranduil nodded and she turned and left the room.

The council dissolved into light laughter as the door to the office closed. Thranduil’s laughter rose above the rest.

Dieneryn, Thranduil’s mother, looked at her son knowingly, eyes shining. “Laugh now, ada,” she said, taking obvious pleasure in the form of address. “When your son runs wild through the forest without a thought for your discipline, you will rue days such as this one.”

Thranduil rolled his eyes but his retort was cut off when Hallion, his steward, reached over and plucked the child in question from the king’s lap. The elfling giggled happily. Hallion was one of his favorite ‘uncles.’

“Legolas is a wonderful child. You would never misbehave, would you?” Hallion asked this while raising Legolas swiftly over his head with his hands around his waist.

Legolas squealed and clutched at Hallion, grabbing anything he could reach in this precarious position. His hands finally landed in Hallion’s hair and he twined the steward’s braids around his fingers. “No, Lord Hallion,” he gasped, still giggling wildly. “I will behave.”

Hallion settled the elfling on his lap. “I thought so,” he said, smiling. Then he looked at Thranduil, mischief glinting in his eyes, and wrapped both arms around Legolas possessively. “I am sorry, my lord. I think I am keeping this little treasure for myself.”

Thranduil laughed and shook his head. “I am afraid I cannot let you do that. I have grown rather fond of him myself.”

Legolas looked between the adults with bright eyes. “We are all family,” he said, his tone making it plain that he thought Hallion and his father were very silly.

“Indeed we are, ion nin,” Thranduil replied, smiling. “And it is time for our family to go celebrate your Begetting Day.” With that, Thranduil stood and took Legolas from Hallion. The rest of his council rose to their feet along with the king. “I will see you all shortly in the garden, I trust,” he said, dismissing them. They left, smiling at father and son with varying degrees of amusement.

Only Hallion stayed behind, now looking at Thranduil seriously. “Unfortunately, my lord, you must finish the correspondence the courier is waiting for,” he said quietly.

Thranduil heard Legolas groan softly. Looking down at his son in his arms, Thranduil saw his face had fallen, though he did not give any further voice to his disappointment. When he was still an infant Legolas had learned that when Hallion said work must be done, it would be done. Cajoling his father to abandon it was futile and only led to trouble.

Thranduil rubbed his son’s back soothingly. “This will only take a moment, ion nin.”

Legolas’ expression did not change. He had often seen ‘a moment’ turn into hours.

Hallion smiled at Legolas and picked up a quill from the king’s desk, tickling the child’s nose with its feathery tip. “Do you want to write something too while your adar is composing his letter, Legolas?” he offered. Writing was still a novel activity to the elfling.

Thranduil opened his mouth to protest—Hallion had his favorite eagle feather quill in his hand and was offering it to Legolas. Little fingers moved from where they clutched Thranduil’s silk dress robes and closed around the delicate writing instrument. The complaint died on Thranduil’s lips when he saw the delighted look had returned to his son’s face.

“I can write all my letters and my name by myself now. Do you want to see, Lord Hallion?”

“Of course I do. And I will show you how to write your adar’s name as well. Then you can help him with his correspondence in the future.”

Thranduil scowled, imagining the potential for mischief in that suggestion, and looked at his steward with a slightly raised eyebrow but Legolas only laughed. He sat his son down in a chair in front of his desk before seating himself behind it and watched for a moment as Hallion pulled out a scrap of paper for Legolas to write on. Standing in the chair to reach the ink, the child quickly dipped the quill in the inkwell on his father’s desk. He began to carefully draw the runes that formed his name, his face the very picture of intent concentration. He was becoming quite good at writing his name. He no longer used too much ink or pressed too hard with the quill or tried to make too many letters too quickly at once.

“You are not writing, ada,” Legolas reminded his father imperiously without looking up from his own work.

Thranduil loosed a short laugh. “Forgive me, ion nin,” he said with some sarcasm.

Legolas still did not look up but he did raise his eyebrows. “Sarcasm is not becoming, ada,” he said seriously. That was a lesson Legolas had heard a few days earlier.

Hallion turned his head to hide his reaction to Legolas’ impertinence. Thranduil suppressed a laugh himself, shook his head and picked up a quill. As he finished his letter, he heard Hallion praising Legolas’ work and encouraging him to write other simple words. By the time the king was finished, the entire sheet of paper was filled with the names of nearly everyone in the family, of Legolas’ favorite animals and long rows of L’s. Thranduil smiled as he reached for his seal and wax.

“Can I put the seal in the wax, ada?” Legolas asked, leaning across the desk to seize the seal from his father’s hand.

Thranduil laughed. “Do not grab things,” he admonished though not very sternly. He did relinquish the seal. “Let me help you,” he said, putting his hand over the small fist that clutched the royal seal.

When the seal was set, Legolas bent closer to it. “I like beech trees better, ada,” he declared, glaring at the oak tree imprinted in the wax. “Can you make a seal with a beech tree on it?”

Thranduil smiled and pried the seal from his son’s hands, locking it in a drawer in his desk. “I like the beeches too, ion nin. But, no, I cannot change this seal. Your daeradar designed this device and he liked oak trees.”

Legolas straightened, still standing in the chair, and looked at his father frowning slightly. “Well, that does not make sense at all. Part of daeradar’s name means ‘beech.’ He must have liked beech trees.”

Thranduil tried not to laugh at his son’s serious expression. “I imagine he did, ion nin. But oak trees were very special to him. They reminded him of the land he came from and his family. I will tell you a story about that tonight at bedtime if you like.”

Legolas nodded vigorously in response to that offer. The stories Thranduil told or read in the evenings were his favorite activity of the day.

Thranduil smiled at his son’s enthusiasm. “Very well. Do you want to go to the garden now for lunch? I think I heard the cooks saying that they were making berry tarts.”

Legolas’ eyes lit up and he jumped down from the chair.

Thranduil stood as well, smiling his thanks at Hallion for his efforts to entertain Legolas. “Would you tell the family we are ready for lunch? I will take Legolas to the garden and wait for you there.”

Hallion nodded. “Shall I bring shoes, my lord?” he asked, looking pointedly at Legolas’ bare feet.

“No, ada,” the child begged, turning pleading eyes to his father.

Thranduil scooped his son from the floor. “I do not think your Begetting Day would be nearly as enjoyable if you hurt yourself stepping on something sharp or thorny in the garden. Therefore, Lord Hallion is going to bring shoes and you are going to wear them. No complaints if you want those berry tarts.” Thranduil nodded at his steward, giving him permission to leave, as Legolas strove as well as a child could to control his pouting expression. He wriggled from his father’s arms and walked slowly towards the office door following Hallion.

Thranduil carefully folded the paper Legolas had filled with writing and put it in his desk. Then he looked at his son standing by the door waiting for him.

“Come here, Legolas,” he said quietly.

Legolas’ expression grew instantly concerned. “I tried not to pout, ada. But I like the way the grass feels in the garden and shoes ruin that,” he said nervously, obviously anticipating a scolding.

Thranduil smiled. Dropping to one knee, he held out his arms. “Come here,” he repeated.

Legolas studied his father for a moment before trotting over to him. Thranduil kissed him on the head and lifted him up. “I know you dislike shoes but I do not like seeing you hurt. And I see that you tried not to pout. You are disappointed and I understand that. Do you promise to wear the shoes without making a fuss?”

Legolas nodded, looking down. “Yes, ada. I will wear them.”

Thranduil placed another kiss on his son’s head. “Then I will show you a secret in honor of your fifth Begetting Day. But only if you promise that you can keep it a secret. You cannot tell anyone that is not part of our family. Can you keep a secret, Legolas?”

The elfling’s eyes shone. “I can keep a secret, ada,” he replied quickly.

“Then I will show you.” Thranduil carried his son behind the tapestry hanging behind his desk. Without saying a word, he laid his hand on the stone wall. Legolas gasped audibly and his eyes flashed to his father’s when the wall swung open.

“It is a secret door,” he whispered.

Thranduil had told Legolas stories of palaces in ancient times with secret doors and magical spells defended by powerful kings. He was still too young to really grasp that his father was a king who ruled a palace whose doors closed with a magic spell. But he had been in his father’s office thousands of times—he had played behind that tapestry many times—and he had never seen that door. His eyes were filled with awe.

Thranduil laughed lightly at his son’s wonder and he stepped through the door. Legolas’ eyes widened further.

“Nana’s garden!” he exclaimed, squirming again from his father’s arms and running towards the beech tree in its center. This garden, planted on a level ledge on the side of the mountain stronghold and accessible only from doors in the family quarters, was Legolas’ favorite place in all the world known to him. Until now, he had only entered it from a door in the family sitting room. This secret door in his father’s office was all the more special since it led to this wonderful place.

Thranduil loved the garden as well. Its character unmistakably reflected his wife’s tastes, as well it should since she had originally planted it. The garden was the king’s refuge—a peaceful, bright place of beautiful green trees, flowering plants and treasured memories where no one outside his family could disturb him. Since Legolas’ Naming Day, the family gathered in this garden to celebrate important family events, including the children’s Begetting Days. The beech tree that Legolas was happily climbing had witnessed many happy moments in the king’s life since he moved to the stronghold.

“That is far enough,” Thranduil called, swinging into the tree himself. It whispered a welcome to both he and his son and Thranduil watched as Legolas paused to pat its trunk in response. Thranduil had no doubt the tree would never let his son fall and that Legolas, young as he may be, was more than capable of climbing safely. Still, his heart leapt to his throat each time he saw Legolas scaling effortlessly from branch to branch into its heights.

The elfling climbed a little further—as much as he dared before he knew his failure to comply would earn a firmer reprimand—and then he straddled a branch and sat with his back against the trunk, waiting for his father to reach an equal height in the tree.

“I am not so high, ada,” he said in a reproving tone when Thranduil sat in a branch next to him.

Thranduil laughed. “Perhaps not. But we are here to eat, not climb trees. The servants cannot bring our food into the branches.”

Legolas leaned back and closed his eyes, drawing a deep breath. “Why not?” he muttered. “I love Spring,” he continued in a stronger voice. Then he opened his eyes, looking excitedly at his father. “Ada, is the Spring Festival soon?”

Thranduil smiled. “You know it is always a few days after your Begetting Day.”

“Is Uncle Aradunnon going to be back in time for it?”

“Possibly. I am expecting a letter from him soon.”

Legolas closed his eyes again. “I hope he comes,” he said softly. “It will not be the same without him and Galithil and Dolgailon.”

“Your uncle is managing a very serious situation for me, ion nin. Otherwise he would be here today. He will come for the Spring Festival if it is at all possible.”

Legolas nodded absently. He was accustomed to that explanation. “If he cannot come, can we go visit him, ada? We have never gone to his village.”

Thranduil frowned at that. How did he explain to his young son that he thought the village where his beloved uncle lived much of the year was too dangerous to visit? Thranduil remembered all too well the events in his childhood that had so violently robbed him of his innocence—the murder of Elu Thingol by dwarves and the attacks on Menegroth first by dwarves and then elves. Thranduil was only forty when Elu Thingol died. He was not yet of age when he fled Menegroth in his mother’s care, through the bloody halls strewn with the bodies of his slain kin, leaving his father behind in the fighting.

Legolas was only five. Thranduil had been persuaded to have this child in such dangerous times only with great reluctance, though now he was inordinately thankful to have him. In his mind, the elfling had already seen far too much. Thranduil fully intended to protect his son’s innocence as much as possible for as long as he could. He did not want to explain the perils of the southern part of the realm.

Fortunately, he was spared that task by the arrival of a surprise that made both Legolas and Thranduil rush to descend the tree.

*~*~*

Elleth--Female elf

Adar/ada--Father/dad

Ion nin--My son

Daeradar--Grandfather (Thanks to the folks that coined this term. It wasn't me--I saw it first in Bodkin and Nilmandra's stories and I hear others use it. I am stealing it here because I've seen it so much it seems like canon to me. I hope no one minds.)

Naneth/nana--Mother/mum


Chapter 2 - Children of Dark Times

Third Age 1939

Thranduil's Ruling Council was gathered around a table in the Great Hall, with stacks of scrolls, ledgers and loose papers piled in front of them. Thranduil sat silently at the head of the table watching his wife, Lindomiel, and advisor, Celonhael. They had their heads together, quickly reading a paper that the King's steward, Hallion, had just passed them. It detailed the proposal governing Mannish trading parties crossing the Forest Road that they were scheduled to negotiate later that week in Dale.

Lindomiel had been fascinated by foreign cultures since her youth. After her marriage to Thranduil, as the lady of his house, she naturally entertained and saw to the comfort of his foreign guests. When the Woodland Realm's capital moved north and closer to the trading centers of Dale and Lake Town, she took on an increasingly active role in the realm's dealings with its Mannish neighbors.

Celonhael had been responsible for negotiating foreign trade for the Woodland Realm since Oropher first became its King. Like Lindomiel, he enjoyed interacting with Men and Dwarves and that common interest had contributed to the strong friendship he now enjoyed with the Queen.

Thranduil thoroughly approved of that 'friendship' because he had learned from experience that few mortals could withstand the combined negotiating skills of his advisor and wife.

Despite the King's confidence, Lindomiel was plainly dismayed as she read the proposal. She looked at her husband with wide eyes over the top of the papers she had been scanning.

“Thranduil, the Lord of Dale will never agree to these tolls. Never. You have nearly doubled them. How do you suggest that we justify that to him?” she asked incredulously.

To her left, Celonhael nodded and spoke without looking at either the King or Queen. “That is exactly what I asked when you first mentioned this, my lord,” he said quietly.

Engwe, the king’s uncle and military advisor, scowled at Celonhael and Lindomiel. “Since the Wainriders invaded the Northmen’s territory and so many of the Men moved to the vales of the Anduin above the Gladden Fields, they are the primary travelers on the Forest Road. If they do not wish to pay the higher tolls, they can go around the southern tip of the forest past Dol Guldur and come up the Anduin to trade with their western counterparts. If they prefer to avoid that journey, they must pay us to keep the Forest Road safe. It costs us a good deal to provide weapons and other supplies to the warriors that defend that road.”

Lindomiel narrowed her eyes at Engwe. They had never been friends. “I will remind them of that, Engwe. And when I do they will undoubtedly remind me of their recent losses on the Forest Road. I believe orcs from Dol Guldur have attacked their last four trading parties. Do I remember that correctly?” she asked coolly.

“You do, my lady” said Golwon, the King’s advisor on relations with the villagers, speaking before Thranduil or Engwe could reply. “And I am certain that after they remind you of those losses, they will argue to be permitted to use the Elf Path for their travels west. Several of the village leaders near the eastern end of the Path have mentioned to me recently that Men have approached them regarding using the Path to cross the forest. They want a safer passage, my lord. And raising tolls on the more dangerous road is only going to increase tensions between our kingdom and theirs.”

“Charging them the higher toll but to use the Elf Path might be an option, Thranduil,” Dieneryn, the king’s mother, suggested. “Then you could put less effort into defending the Road. It is becoming too dangerous to keep it open.”

Thranduil shook his head at that. “I will not lose the Forest Road,” he began firmly.

Golwon frowned and interrupted him. “Why is that Road so important to you, my lord? We have no villages near it. We do not use it ourselves. The ford over the river is all but destroyed. It is a waste of resources to hold it.”

Celonhael looked at his peer sharply. “The Dwarves and the Men do use it and pay well to do so," he replied. "But the value of holding the Forest Road is a debate for another day. Regardless of our opinions on that topic, if we can convince the Men to pay higher tolls to use the safer Elf Path—and we might be able to do that—then we still get the tolls we want. We can spend those funds however we wish,” he concluded. Celonhael was also responsible for the realm's finances. Tolls paid by travelers through the forest concerned him directly.

Thranduil glared at his council with a look intended to silence them. When he had, he drew a breath to explain how he expected to negotiate the tolls with the Lord of Dale. This time he was interrupted when the guard at the door entered the Hall. Everyone’s attention turned to the back of the room, clearly annoyed by the disruption.

“Lord Dolgailon is here and wishes to speak to you, my lord,” the guard announced.

Irate frowns turned to delighted smiles as Thranduil enthusiastically gestured for the guard to allow Dolgailon to pass and stood to greet him. Dolgailon was Thranduil’s nephew, his brother Aradunnon’s son. He saw his nephew and his brother very infrequently since they both lived in a village far to the south of the realm. Aradunnon commanded the realm’s warriors from that village and Dolgailon was one of Aradunnon’s captains in the patrols south of the mountains.

Dolgailon entered and strode swiftly to the table near the throne where the king’s council was seated. His personal guard, Galudiron, followed him into the Hall. Offering Thranduil a bow, Galudiron halted at the back of the room. Thranduil acknowledged the guard with a nod and smile and then turned fully to Dolgailon, pulling him into an embrace before he was able to offer any form of obeisance.

“Dolgailon, you are always a most welcome surprise,” he exclaimed as he released his nephew to Dieneryn, who anxiously waited to greet her first grandchild.

Dolgailon solemnly returned his grandmother’s greeting, accepting her embrace and kissing her softly on the cheek as he stood back. Next to the openly delighted smiles of the rest of the family, Dolgailon's quiet demeanor seemed strangely reserved. As always, Thranduil was struck by his nephew’s grave nature. The child, if you could still call him that, possessed absolutely none of his father and mother’s fun loving, sometimes trouble-making, personalities. Today he seemed even more subdued than normal. That coupled with Galudiron’s stiff posture as he idled in the back of the room caused Thranduil to suspect that this was not a social visit.

“Has something happened?” the king asked quietly after everyone had welcomed the youngest member of the Royal Family. As he spoke, he indicated a chair for Dolgailon to sit.

Dolgailon looked at Thranduil levelly, his steel grey eyes unreadable. “Indeed, something has happened. And you may want to withhold your offer to have me sit until you hear what it is.”

Thranduil raised his eyebrows and returned to his chair. “What do you have to tell me, Dolgailon?”

The younger elf’s expression grew even more serious. “The troop commander has sent me to the capital to report to you that I recently led my patrol across the Celduin to one of the Mannish villages in pursuit of some Easterlings that entered the forest and attacked one of our villages.”

Thranduil’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped slightly—both the news that Men had attacked a village and that Dolgailon had pursued them into the Northmen’s territory was shocking. From Dolgailon’s overly formal reference to his father Thranduil easily read that Aradunnon was displeased with his son and that caused Thranduil’s concern grow.

“I think you had better be more detailed than that, Dolgailon,” he finally said in a soft voice, aware of his council’s tense stares.

Dolgailon merely nodded once before complying. “My patrol was summoned to Nenon’s village. They had been attacked by seventeen Men who entered the forest to hunt. The villagers said they appeared to be from the East and not the Northmen’s villages. One of the village guards was killed, a good number of the villagers were injured and some supplies were stolen. The Men’s tracks were clear so we pursued them across the Celduin to a village in the Northmen’s territory. The Easterlings claimed to be allied with that village and the Mannish leader would not turn them over to us.” Dolgailon hesitated. “A fight ensued. I cannot deny that my troops started it. One of them, Suithoron, is the cousin of the guard that died in Nenon’s village. None of the Men that attacked our village survived and none of the Northmen or my troops were mortally wounded. After the fight ended, we returned to the forest.”

When Dolgailon finished speaking, a stunned silence hung over the room.

Engwe broke it. "What were you thinking? You brought a battle to the Northmen's territory? Did you intend to start a war?" he asked in an openly irate tone.

Dolgailon turned his attention from the King to Engwe, frowning deeply. "When the Men attacked our village and killed a guard, they brought war to us. If they are so foolish as to want a war, you may rest assured that I will show them the folly of that desire in no uncertain terms. I will protect the southern villages," he said with cold determination.

Thranduil knew that his nephew was wholly dedicated to the defense of the southern realm, his home. But he also knew him to be a much more conservative and reasonable captain than his recent actions and that heated response seemed to imply. He silenced his uncle with a glance and turned to address Dolgailon himself.

“Dolgailon. That was…” he paused and looked away from his nephew, still searching for the best way to approach this disturbing news. After a moment he looked back and his expression was stern. “Frankly, that was exceedingly poor judgment on a number of fronts. I expect you to know that you should not pursue criminals outside the forest without at least informing your adar or myself what you are doing. If you had, I would have sent Hallion or Celonhael with you to find a diplomatic solution to this situation.” He frowned. “And taking the dead guard’s cousin with you….” Thranduil looked at his nephew with a single raised eyebrow. The problem with that action was patently obvious, especially in hindsight. Seeing Dolgailon’s clearly regretful expression, he continued. “Engwe's question, though expressed in his typically inflamatory manner, was appropriate. Do you have any idea how the Lord of Dale is going to react when he hears my troops attacked one of his villages? That is what this appears to be—an attack.” Thranduil’s voice was quiet, taking some of the sting from his harsh words.

Dolgailon knew his uncle well enough to know his reaction had been very restrained. And for that, he was thankful. He returned the King’s gaze stoically. “I am completely aware of what the ramifications of my actions may be, my lord. I did send a messenger back to adar before we pursued the Men, telling him what we were doing and where. And it was not my intent that my troops attack the Northmen. I had thought to catch the Easterlings on the plains. When they entered the village, we pursued them to protect our allies. I never imagined the Northmen would shelter them. Seeing that turn of events, I intended to leave and wait for adar’s instructions but Suithoron attacked without orders. The Men defended themselves and the rest of my troops defended themselves in turn. But intent or not, the result is the same. I recognize that.”

Thranduil shook his head. “How did you discipline Suithoron?” he asked, turning the conversation from criticizing what could not be changed to addressing the problems still at hand.

“I did not. I knew this was a bad situation so I returned to the forest and reported to adar. He dismissed Suithoron from the patrols." Dolgailon paused and looked at Thranduil ruefully. “Adar says that this issue extends beyond his authority to manage so he sent me to you along with this,” he produced a sealed letter and held it out for Thranduil. “I think it contains his recommendations for me though I am not certain.”

Thranduil silently took the letter. Tearing the seal, he scanned the parchment and then handed it to Engwe. While Engwe read, Thranduil focused on Dolgailon. “You are correct.” He gestured to the letter. “Your adar asks me to manage this situation. He also indicates that I should decide how discipline you. He does state his recommendation—that I relieve you of your command,” he said softly and watched for Dolgailon’s reaction.

The young elf only straightened slightly and remained silent, awaiting his uncle’s decision.

Thranduil studied him a moment and then sighed. “Come sit down, Dolgailon,” he said tiredly.

Dolgailon raised his eyebrows in response to that but he seated himself in the chair the king indicated.

Thranduil looked at his nephew sadly. “Your adar was clearly angry.”

This was not the reaction Dolgailon had expected from his uncle. When the King apparently waited for a response, he looked down to hide his surprise. “Yes, he certainly was,” he replied quietly.

Thranduil smiled sympathetically. “He will calm down. Especially when he realizes that this situation can be handled. The Lord of Dale will not be pleased when we inform him that his citizens were aiding his enemies. If we present this to him carefully, his anger will turn from us to his traitorous villagers. Do not worry about you adar’s temper.”

Dolgailon looked at his uncle with a half smile. “I have seen adar’s temper before. I imagine I will see it again.” His expression grew more serious. “I was more concerned about the impact of my actions on the realm’s relations with the Men.”

Thranduil nodded. His nephew was nothing if not responsible. This mistake was not like him. Though it was not entirely Dolgailon’s fault, it could have been prevented with a little less haste and a little more thought. And that was what worried Thranduil. He had seen much older and more experienced warriors than his nephew succumb to poor judgments under the constant pressure of the Shadow. And Dolgailon had long captained a patrol in the south where the Shadow loomed heavily. That would end now.

“If Aradunnon is going to leave this decision to me, then I am going to make the one I encouraged him to make four hundred years ago when he made you an officer. You were far, far too young for that responsibility when he gave it to you.” Thranduil saw Dolgailon’s lips tighten slightly. “Do not misunderstand me, Dolgailon. You are a fine officer and warrior. But I have always felt that you joined the realm’s warriors too soon—the day you came of age, for pity’s sake. And you became an officer when you were barely over one hundred. That is too young, pen neth. You frighten me. I have never seen a child so driven or serious….”

Dolgailon scowled at that. “I will accept whatever your judgment may be, my lord, but forgive me, I am not a child. Nor have I been for five hundred years. Nearly everyone in the south joins a patrol upon coming of age. I did nothing unusual. And I am the troop commander’s son and the king’s nephew. It is to be expected that I will be an officer,” he interrupted firmly.

Thranduil smiled patiently. “Dolgailon, you are a little over five hundred. You are very young still. I was older than you when my adar became king in this forest and a millennia older than you when I became an officer in his army. Surely you do not believe that I am unaware of the dangers in the south that drive the young elves living there to join the patrols. But I never approved of your adar’s decisions concerning your assignment to the patrols in the south. No new warriors are sent to those patrols as early in their military service as you were—new warriors gain experience in the Palace Guard or the patrols that guard the Elf Path. And very few new warriors become an officer as quickly as you did…”

“Uncle, I requested those duties. The southern realm is my home. And I am a good officer…”

“I do not deny that, Dolgailon. Indeed, I already said that I thought you were. But you are too young for the command you were given in the south and that is my final word on it. I will not reduce your rank as your adar recommends.” Dolgailon blinked in surprise and relief at that. “But I do not intend to send you back to the south. You will take a leave from the patrols and work with me in the capital for a while. After that I will ask your adar to give you a command in the eastern or western border patrols,” Thranduil said with finality.

If Dolgailon was dismayed by this decision, he did not show it. Instead he merely nodded his acceptance. “May I ask in what capacity you wish me to serve in the capital, Uncle? And for how long?” he asked quietly.

Thranduil tried to smother his amusement. Dolgailon certainly had more restraint than most of the members of the House of Oropher. The king knew that if he had removed his brother from military service for one day, Aradunnon would have spent that day spitting fire like a dragon.

“I want you in the capital for several years, Dolgailon, but I will not name a specific length of time. To be perfectly frank, I am concerned about the effect the Shadow has had on you. I want you away from the south and its influence for that reason. I will determine how long you will stay in the capital based on what I see from you. As for what you will be doing here, I think I already have an idea on that. Engwe is expanding the training program for new warriors again. I want you to help him—your field experience will be useful.” Thranduil paused to make sure he had his nephew’s full attention. “That is the duty you will return to after you go with Lindomiel and Celonhael,” he glanced at his steward to draw his attention, “and Hallion to Dale to explain what happened in the south.”

Dolgailon seemed to relax somewhat. He had expected to be sent to Dale and helping with the young warriors was a punishment he could accept since it still aided the defense of the realm. “Yes, my lord,” he replied looking down.

Thranduil smiled again. “Whatever the reason, I am very glad to see you home, Dolgailon. And I am even happier to have an excuse to make you stay here. If only I could contrive some reason to bring your adar home.” Thranduil laughed lightly at his nephew’s reaction to that statement—neither Dolgailon nor his father considered the capital or the stronghold their home. “You had a long journey here. Lindomiel, go tell the servants to open Aradunnon’s suite for his son. We can discuss the trip to Dale more this evening. For now, I think we would all like to visit with Dolgailon.”

Lindomiel smiled, very clearly pleased with that surprising abandonment of duty despite the difficult negotiations she faced in Dale. She stood, drawing the rest of the council, including the king, to their feet as well, and put an arm around her nephew’s waist. “With pleasure. It is wonderful to have you here, Dolgailon. I do not suppose you could at least lure your naneth here for a few weeks? She might agree to come since you are going to be here,” she pleaded in a teasing voice and he smiled at her indulgently as he let her lead him from the Great Hall.

The rest of the council watched them leave and gathered their materials preparing to follow them to the family quarters. Thranduil simply followed his nephew and wife with his eyes, looking at them with concern.

Dieneryn laid a hand on her son’s shoulder. “I know you worry about him, Thranduil."

Thranduil sighed. "How can I not worry about him? He is a captain in the south. He spends everyday hunting orcs and spiders. Or worse still, finding them." Thranduil shook his head and looked down. "It is not the life an Elf should live, nana. Everything he has been forced to see has clearly affected him. He is so...somber."

Dieneryn frowned slightly. "You cannot control everything, Thranduil. He is Aradunnon’s son.”

“The king ought to be able to control who his patrols attack, however,” Engwe intervened coolly before Thranduil could respond.

Thranduil scowled at his uncle. “Hallion will manage that, Engwe. I am more concerned about Dolgailon. And Aradunnon.” He laughed bitterly. “And everyone in the villages near the mountains.” Then his expression turned sour. “And I thought we had finally seen the last of the Easterlings after Calimehtar defeated them on the Dagorlad. But this was the sixth incursion they made this year into the forest. If they are preparing for another attack on the Men in Rhovanion, we do not have enough warriors to defend the eastern border and maintain the same presence in the south. I do not want to see a repeat of what happened when last the Wainriders attacked the Northmen. We lost far too much ground in the south against the spiders and orcs while keeping the Men from our borders.”

Engwe nodded. “They do seem to be testing the fortifications in the east and south near Gondor if the information we have is correct. And Dolgailon said the Woodsmen sheltered the Easterlings. That is very disturbing.”

Thranduil’s mouth formed a tight line. “That is what frustrates me so when dealing with the Men. What manner of fool would ally with a group of Men so obviously touched by the Shadow? One that enslaved his own people? But these Men will do it if they see personal profit in it…”

“Not all of them, Thranduil,” Celonhael interrupted quietly.

Thranduil snorted. “Indeed not. But that is the point. Who can tell which Men will choose profit and which will treat loyally with us? I would prefer to not deal with them at all under those circumstances.”

Hallion looked at Thranduil nervously. “You recognize that is not a possibility, Thranduil. Where would we get wool or salt or…”

Thranduil waved his hand dismissively. “I know, Hallion. I must deal with them. I am aware of that. That is why I am concerned—about the Men in the east and about the effect their presence has on my people and my family in particular,” he said looking at the door Lindomiel and Dolgailon had exited through. “I do not relish the idea of sending Lindomiel or Dolgailon to treat with the Lord of Dale.”

Dieneryn laughed lightly. “I do not think you could persuade Lindomiel not to go. She loves visiting Dale.”

Thranduil rolled his eyes and smiled wryly. “If Amglaur knew what I ‘let’ his daughter do he would track me down and kill me. I am sure of it.”

Dieneryn smiled. “Amglaur had no more control over his adult daughter than you do, ion nin. Anymore than Aradunnon can control Dolgailon. Parents cannot rule their children’s lives forever.”

Thranduil grinned at his mother. “Are there times when you would like to rule your children’s lives a bit more, naneth?”

Dieneryn held up her hands. “Absolutely not, ion nin. I gave up on both you and your brother long ago,” she laughed.

*~*~*

Thranduil watched his wife and nephew talking together by the fire in the family sitting room. They had just returned from the green in front of the stronghold where the elves gather each night for merrymaking. Their faces were flushed and the distinctly autumn smell of fallen leaves and the smoke of wood fires clung to their clothes and hair. Lindomiel regularly joined the revelry on the green in the evenings, occasionally dragging Thranduil with her. Tonight she had asked Dolgailon to accompany her and that had pleased Thranduil well. He knew his wife would be able to draw the young elf into the dancing and gaming that he so rarely had an opportunity to enjoy since his life was dominated by patrols and battles. Now, as they sat together by the fire, snippets of conversation occasionally drifted to Thranduil’s ears as he enjoyed his wine. Lindomiel’s soft voice was teasing Dolgailon about some maiden that had shown interest in him. Dolgailon responded with a dignified glare.

Thranduil smiled. ‘The child should most certainly be thinking about maidens at his age. Not tactics, strategy and logistics,’ he thought firmly. Then he sighed quietly. Of course when Thranduil was Dolgailon’s age, the last thought on his mind had been maidens. Thranduil was not much older than his nephew when he traveled east with the others following Oropher and seeking peace. The king shook his head slightly and looked away from his wife and nephew.

As he did, his eyes fell on Golwon and his wife in another corner of the sitting room. He was holding their infant daughter, Eirienil, in his lap. Next to him was a basket of sewing materials. Isteth was embroidering a squirrel on a little silk shirt for the baby and Golwon was handing her items from the basket as she asked for them. Thranduil nearly laughed out loud. Of all his advisors, Golwon was by far the gruffest, sometimes even sterner than Thranduil’s uncle Engwe. That was why Thranduil found the sight of him doting on his new wife and daughter so completely amusing. Like all of the King’s advisors, Golwon was a distant cousin and one of the Sindarin that followed Oropher east. He had never married—Thranduil suspected that was because no elleth would tolerate his temperament—and everyone assumed that at this late stage in life Golwon would not marry. No one had believed that anything would come of the time he spent with Isteth, the daughter of one of the Silvan elves that served as a scribe in Thranduil’s court. They had been friends for several yén when Golwon finally announced his plans to marry her only a few years ago. As much as Golwon’s marriage had surprised Thranduil, his decision to have a child was even more unexpected.

War was all around Thranduil’s realm. In the east over the last yén, the Wainriders had weakened Gondor and the Northmen. Only about eighty years ago the King of Gondor, Narmacil, and the King of the Northmen, Marhari, had been slain by the Wainriders and citizens of both realms had been enslaved by them. Less than fifty years ago, Narmacil’s son, Calimehtar, rode against the Wainriders and broke their hold on the lands east of Mirkwood. But as recent events with the Easterlings had shown, that situation was hardly stable.

To the west, the once powerful Mannish kingdom of Arnor was all but destroyed. The Witch King of Angmar, the Lord of the Nazgul, had returned five hundred years ago, summoning orcs and other fell creatures to his service. Since then, he plagued the Kingdom of Arnor unceasingly. Of the three realms Arnor had split into upon the death of Eärendur, Cardolan and Rhudaur had already fallen. Arthedain, whose capital now was Fornost, was sorely diminished.

Thranduil sighed, thinking of these dark times. Would no generation of his family be granted the peace to simply marry and raise children properly?

After a few moments lost in these thoughts, Thranduil felt his mother’s presence as she seated herself next to him. Thranduil forced a smile to his lips and turned to her.

“Good evening, naneth,” he said quietly.

Dieneryn studied her son for a moment. “May I ask what has inspired such a disapproving expression, ion nin?” she finally asked.

Thranduil raised his eyebrows slightly and looked down. “Do I appear to disapprove of something, naneth?”

Dieneryn smiled and put her hand over Thranduil’s. “Yes you do. And since you are trying to avoid telling me why, I can only assume that the reason is something to be concerned about.”

Thranduil laughed lightly. “It is not, nana. I was thinking about Golwon and Isteth. How they concluded that now would be a good time to have a child, I cannot imagine. It is none of my affair, of course, and I realize that.”

Dieneryn adopted a neutral expression and she nodded. “It is often difficult to know when to have children. Your adar and I certainly believed when we decided to conceive you that we lived in a protected kingdom and that our child would be safe in Doriath,” she said, her eyes taking on the far off look of one lost in the past as she drifted back through the ages to one of her most pleasant memories.

“Oropher, stop this right now,” Dieneryn exclaimed completely breathless, ducking behind one of the pillars in the hall in an effort to elude her husband’s grasp.

Oropher only redoubled his efforts seeing that his prey was tiring. He feinted in one direction and then dove around the pillar in the other, catching Dieneryn by her upper arms and causing her to squeal involuntarily. He pushed her back against the pillar and silenced her with a kiss, which she easily accepted, melting against his body. They had been married a little less than fifty years and Dieneryn was barely over one hundred—she definitely still possessed the high spirits of youth. But Oropher, who had been born in the Time of the Trees, was far more adventurous than she ever dreamt of being. Some of the things he did simply scandalized her but the excitement he brought to her life was part of what drew her to him.

She had spent the vast majority of this evening fleeing from him through the halls in Menegroth. It was a delightful chase and she expected its aftermath to be equally satisfying, if only she could convince her husband to go back to their private chambers. Currently, they were half way there in a small, octagonal, domed hall with numerous pillars richly carved as tree trunks. Their boughs formed the arches in the ceiling. The ceiling itself was open between the arches to allow natural light into this little alcove. It held a fountain with a marble basin and a few beds of delicate flowers. Ivy climbed up the pillars and through the openings in the ceiling.

Since it was very late, the only light coming through the domed ceiling was that of the stars in the clear spring sky. The starlight twinkled, reflecting off the water in the fountain, casting a sparkling, almost magical, light to dance in the hall. A faint breeze blew in through the open ceiling carrying the scent of the flowers that grew around them.

Dieneryn tried to pull away from her husband, beginning to resist as he deepened their kiss.

“Oropher, let us go back to our chambers…where we can enjoy ourselves,” she whispered between kisses.

“I am enjoying myself very well right now,” he replied, now trailing kisses down her jaw.

“Yes, but here your pleasure must come to an end soon,” she said placing her hands on his shoulders and pushing him back firmly. “If we go back to our rooms, it need not end until morning.”

Dieneryn’s heart raced as Oropher adopted the mischievous expression she recognized well. “There is no need for anything to end here,” he said, sweeping her in one smooth motion into his arms and carrying her to a bench partially obscured by the pillars, ivy and flowering bushes in the back of the alcove. There he settled her on his lap holding her in place with his hands on her hips. “Indeed, I think I would like to begin something here,” he said meaningfully.

Dieneryn looked at him in confusion for a moment. Then her eyes widened and her mouth fell open. “Here? In the public garden? You have finally lost your mind, Oropher.”

He smiled at her and cupped her face in his hands. “It is very late, meleth. The only people about are the guards and there is nothing to guard in this garden. It is beautiful here in the starlight.” He paused and lightly traced kisses down her neck and along her jaw. Finally he entwined his fingers in her hair and whispered in her ear. “No one will come upon us hidden in this hall in the shadows of the starlight. I cannot think of a more lovely place to begin our first child’s life.”

Dieneryn pulled away from him resolutely, intending to stand up and pull him to their chambers—a far more appropriate place in her mind to conceive a child. But as she did, her eyes were captured by the light of the stars glinting off the silver in Oropher’s hair. His blue-grey eyes shone with the excitement of their playful chase and the idea he had proposed. When she said nothing, his hands went around her waist and his lips returned to her throat. Now tracing a line of kisses down to the neckline of her dress.

“Naneth,” Thranduil’s voice interrupted her reverie. Thranduil could not read his mother’s expression. It seemed at once blissfully happy and desperately sad. “I certainly did not intend to imply any sort of accusation. There was no way you could have predicted that Elu Thingol would be killed or that Melian would leave or that Dwarves and Elves would attack Menegroth,” he said softly.

“No, we could not,” she replied, focusing on him. “Neither could we have known that the Enemy was forging those cursed Rings the same year that Aradunnon was conceived or that war would soon be upon us again.” She paused and fixed him with a serious look. “And that is what I want you to think about. You did see terrible events in Menegroth and Aradunnon was forced to endure similar experiences in this very forest. Despite that, you are both wonderful people, Thranduil. I could not have imagined more perfect children than my sons. You are by far the greatest blessing ever bestowed upon me.”

Thranduil laughed lightly. “Nana,” he began to protest but Dieneryn silenced him with a serious look and continued, forcing him to acknowledge the point of her words.

“Do not deny yourself the joy of fatherhood, Thranduil. You will be a wonderful father and Lindomiel will be a wonderful mother.”

Thranduil blinked at his mother. Dolgailon’s presence normally precipitated such discussions. And now that Eirienil had been born, the topic surfaced even more frequently. He knew that everyone in the family took a great interest in when he and Lindomiel planned to have children. But though he did not blame his parents in any way for the events he experienced in his childhood, he also could not deny their impact. He would never inflict such pain on his own children if he could avoid it. It seemed clear to him that having a child when the Shadow fell so heavily over the forest was not possible.

*~*~*

Lindomiel crept quietly behind Thranduil where he sat in their bed chambers slowly unfastening his braids. He was obviously deep in thought so Lindomiel was surprised when he turned his eyes to her just as she was about to poke him in the ribs. Her mischievous expression immediately turned to one of playful disappointment and he laughed at her.

“You cannot sneak up on me, meleth,” he said with a self-satisfied grin.

Lindomiel smiled at him patiently. “I have many times, Thranduil. Whenever you are too deep in thought about some foolish matter,” she replied with a teasing tone. She sat next to him and moved his hands to his lap to assume the task of loosening his braids herself.

Thranduil’s eyebrows rose involuntarily. “I am normally thinking about some aspect of the governance of this realm. You think that is foolish, my lady?” he asked with mock indignation.

“Sometimes,” she said airily and laughed at his now sincere surprise. She placed a kiss on his cheek and changed the subject to the topic she suspected had him so distracted earlier. “I very much enjoy having Dolgailon here,” she said with a smile.

Thranduil looked at her and, as it often did, his breath caught as he fell under the spell of her smile. He reached to caress her cheek. “As do I. He has become a fine young elf, if a bit staid. I was glad to see you take him out to the lawn.”

Lindomiel’s smile broadened. “He danced several dances with Crithad’s daughter, Arthiel.”

Thranduil looked at his wife with interest. “I like Crithad’s family,” he replied. “They are very good people. That should definitely be encouraged.”

Lindomiel nodded as she reached for a comb. “I agree. A wife would do wonders for Dolgailon. He needs some balance in his life. Just as you did.”

Thranduil’s eyebrows rose again. “As I did?” he repeated with a playfully demanding edge to his voice.

Lindomiel’s mischievous smile broadened. “Yes, as you did," she repeated. A more serious and driven elf I never met in my entire life. Your naneth told me that you needed a little fun in your life and she was correct.”

Thranduil stared at her a moment in surprise. ‘Serious and driven’ was exactly how Thranduil saw Dolgailon. Finally, he loosed an amused snort. “The Valar know that you have provided me a great deal of ‘fun,’ my lady,” he said with a teasing voice as he caught her chin in his hand and drew her closer to him for a kiss. When he pulled back, he looked at her earnestly. “Naneth was right. I am perfectly aware that you bring a joy to my life that was not present before I met you. I am very thankful that you are my wife.” He sighed and turned away from her. “I only hope my nephew is as lucky as I was. I want him to be happy.”

Lindomiel turned Thranduil’s face to hers with a hand against his cheek. “And you do not believe he is?” she asked.

Thranduil shook his head. “No. I do not. He is nothing like his father. He is…the captain of his troops and so little more than that.”

Lindomiel frowned. “And you are often the king of your people and little more than that. Thranduil, he is dedicated to serving this realm, as you are. As your brother is. As I am. It is easy for me to love Dolgailon because he reminds me so much of you. I do not think you need concern yourself so.”

Thranduil looked down. “Perhaps you are right. But I do worry about him. He has never seen peace. His life is so dominated by the Shadow. And so will Golwon and Isteth’s child grow up in such troubled times. I cannot imagine bringing a child into such a world as this.”

“Is that not what your parent’s did?” she asked softly. When Thranduil looked at her angrily, she placed a finger across his lips to silence him. “Unintentionally, but did they not bring both you and Aradunnon into the world at the worst of times? And they saw to it that you survived. My point is, Thranduil, we cannot know what the future holds. Evil exists in the world. We cannot predict when it will touch us nor should we allow it to control us by living our lives solely in anticipation of its strike.”

Thranduil frowned, remembering his earlier conversation with his mother and the similar argument that she had made. “Perhaps. But no elf would have a child when they can see the Shadow all around them. Despite that, Golwon did. Aradunnon did when he and Amoneth had Dolgailon. That is wrong, Lindomiel, and there is no denying it.”

Lindomeil shook her head. “Many of our people had children after we moved to the beautiful, safe forest you provided north of the mountains, Thranduil. Aradunnon and Amoneth were merely one such couple. They stayed in the stronghold until Dolgailon was of age. If he chose to leave the stronghold after he came of age, that was his right and you must respect it. And as for Golwon and Isteth, the fact is we live in dark times. There may not be a time of perfect peace in Middle Earth again since the Evil One has poisoned the world. If a couple waits for idyllic conditions to have children, I think they will never have them. I am very happy for Golwon and Isteth. I am envious, if truth be told.”

Thranduil looked at his wife. “Surely you are not suggesting that we have a child now?” he asked.

Lindomiel sighed. “I have been begging you for a child since we were married. We have waited almost two thousand years for a perfect time. I am already almost half the age nana was when she had me and she nearly faded after my birth. You are one and a half times the age my adar was and he was deeply exhausted by my birth as well. We cannot postpone having children forever, if we intend to have them.”

“Lindomiel, I want children. Very much. You know that. But I want to raise them properly. The presence of the Shadow aside, when Aradunnon and I were very young, our adar dedicated himself to us. Times were still peaceful and he could teach us to sing and ride and paint and hunt and so many other things. Since we were married, when would I have had time to give a child all the attention he or she would have deserved?”

“Perhaps you are right, Thranduil. Or perhaps you would have made the time because you wanted to. I’m simply saying that I do not believe we will ever see a time of perfect peace again so it would be folly to wait for one in order to have children.” She looked at him seriously. “And in such times as these, even an Elvenking needs an heir. I want children, meleth.”

Thranduil stood and walked a few steps away. He looked angry and in that Lindomiel could see that something she said had made him think. He faced away from her for several moments and she remained silent, letting him struggle with his thoughts. When he turned back to her, she saw sadness in his eyes.

“I want a child as well, Lindomiel. But I cannot deny to you that I fear bringing a child into this dark world.”

Lindomiel stood and drew her husband into her arms, kissing him lightly. “Perhaps our child will bring light to our world, meleth,” she whispered.

He looked at her for a long moment, thinking of the light she had brought to his life. “I will consider it, Lindomiel,” he said resignedly. “For now let us concentrate on getting the mother of my future children safely to and from Dale.”

Lindomiel smiled slightly and leaned forward to kiss him again. That was more of a concession on this topic than she had ever won. She knew it was now only a matter of giving him time to warm up to the idea. And the presence of his beloved nephew would not hurt the process. Lindomiel knew how fiercely Thranduil loved his brother’s son and longed for a child of his own. Despite his fears.

*~*~*

pen neth--young one

Naneth/nana--Mother/mum

Adar/ada--Father/dad

ion nin--my son

Meleth (nin)--(My) love

yén--144 years (An Elven measurement of time. Elves like to measure in twelves).


Chapter 3 - New arrivals

The men and women in Dale’s courtyard all bustled about their daily affairs, fetching water, scrubbing their stalls and arranging their wares for sale in the market. As Dolgailon walked with his elders, he attempted to remember the serious nature of his mission in Dale. He tried to focus on finding more indications that any of the men in Dale might be under the sway of men from the East. But his eyes were irresistibly drawn to the strange products in the merchants’ stalls. An old woman sat huddled in a cloak in one stall, irritably directing a haggard-looking young girl to lay out colorful woolen cloth. Next to another stall were stacks of wooden crates containing fowl that clucked away, legitimately nervous as a large man sharpened a bright knife. Dolgailon winced at the thoughtless manner in which the man’s equally stout wife efficiently snapped the necks of the struggling geese that she extracted from the crates. Other merchants had already set up their products and the attractive smell of fresh vegetables and herbs and exotic spices overpowered the less pleasant odor produced by the livestock and its slaughter. Dolgailon glanced here and there in response to the voices of the merchants as they eagerly shouted descriptions of the quality of their wares, hopeful of turning a profit in the morning market.

Dolgailon rarely interacted with Men in his patrols in the south and he had only visited the neighboring Mannish towns twice before when he was still very young. He looked curiously at the citizens in the market and marveled at their variety. Most were flaxen haired but their similarities ended there. Some were slender, others as broad shouldered and formidable as a stone wall and others were round as an apple. Some had smooth faces, others were bearded and a few were wrinkled and grizzled with hair as white as snow or as grey as ash. Dolgailon would not have called any of them 'fair,' but at the same time he could not deny that they were richly beautiful in their diversity. He knew his aunt loved Dale and he thought he understood why as he studied its people and sights.

As the elves passed, the clamor in the marketplace lessened as men fell silent and stared. Many looked away under Dolgailon’s curious gaze, causing the young elf to frown. Others rushed forward to show the obviously wealthy strangers their goods. Lindomiel, Celonhael and Hallion had dealt with many generations of Men in the Mannish Kingdom of Rhovanion. They were accustomed to the reaction their presence evoked, so they always paused to speak to the folk that greeted them despite the fact that their current task was not to make purchases but rather to speak to the Lord of Dale. Invariably, the courage these men showed was rewarded by promises to buy at least some items and they returned to their stalls pleased.

As the elves proceeded towards the Great Hall, Dolgailon's sharp ears heard murmurs arise through the market that the lady visitor was the Elvenqueen herself. In response to those rumours, the elderly men and women nodded. Dolgailon imagined that they had seen her in the town before many years ago. As this news spread, the merchants in the courtyard continued to stare even as the elves climbed up the stairs and strode though the wide, open doors of the Great Hall to stand in the antechamber as the Mannish guards announced them.

“The Queen of the Woodland Realm, Prince Dolgailon, Lord Hallion and Lord Celonhael,” the guard at the door of the Hall called and he stood aside with a bow to allow the noble elves to pass into the chamber. The Elven guards stayed with their Mannish counterparts in the antechamber, giving the men in the courtyard a continued reason to stare.

The Lord of Dale stood and came forward to great them. He addressed Lindomiel first. “You honor us with your presence, my lady,” Lord Fengel said in greeting, bowing over her hand.

Fengel had been Lord of Dale for ten years since his father, a cousin of Prince Marhari, died. Since Marhari’s son and heir, Marhwini, led so many of their people west, those that remained in the east had turned more and more to Dale for leadership. Fengel had inherited the rule of an increasingly powerful city. He met his responsibilities admirably but, like most Men in Rhovanion, he was still not entirely comfortable dealing with Elves.

When he straightened, Lindomiel smiled at him. “It is always my pleasure to travel here. I very much enjoy visiting your lovely city,” she replied warmly and with obvious sincerity.

Dolgailon raised his eyebrows in reaction to Fengel’s response. The Lord of Dale looked at his aunt respectfully, almost reverently, and sucked in a short, nervous breath. He smiled at the Queen a moment longer and then turned to Dolgailon. “I do not believe we have ever met, my lord,” he stated, offering Dolgailon a polite bow.

Dolgailon bowed in return. “Indeed not. The last time I was in Dale was nearly four hundred years ago,” he said.

Fengel blinked at that and looked down under Dolgailon’s penetrating gaze. “You are King Thranduil’s son?” he finally asked, making an obvious effort to meet the young Elf’s eyes.

“I am not. I am his nephew. Lord Aradunnon is my father.”

“The King and I do not have any children as yet,” Lindomiel added with dramatic wistfulness.

“A pity, I am sure, my lady,” Fengel responded, smiling at her warmly now. Then he nodded a greeting to Celonhael and Hallion. “Please sit down,” he said, indicating a table where another Man sat surrounded by papers. He had been attempting to quickly gather them up. The Man stood and bowed deeply at their approach. “My steward told me to expect to discuss tolls and some trade issues with you.” Fengel continued, loosing a forced laugh. “I suspected King Thranduil intended to raise the tolls on the Forest Road. He must be raising them indeed if all of you are required for the negotiations. I admit I am somewhat surprised to see Lord Hallion and Prince Dolgailon here,” he fished.

Lindomiel glanced to Dolgailon, remaining silent and allowing him to address the reason he had come. Dolgailon straightened in his seat. He was certain the older elves could see his slight nervousness but hoped the men would not recognize it. “The Elvenking has sent me to inform you of an incident that took place in one of your southern villages,” Dolgailon began with no preamble.

Fengel frowned in surprise. “In one of my villages? And what news can you bring me of my villages?”

Dolgailon forced his expression to remain neutral. “A group of seventeen Dark Men attacked one of the Elvenking’s eastern villages over a fortnight ago. They killed a guard, injured several elves and stole some goods.” Fengel’s expression revealed his shock but Dolgailon did not pause. “They fled the forest pursued by my patrol. We followed them into the plains to arrest them before they could do equal damage to your nearby villages." He paused for emphasis. "We were very surprised when one such village offered them aid.”

Fengel’s eyes widened angrily. “None of my people would ever attack any village in the Woodland Realm," he said sharply.

Dolgailon looked at him evenly. "I said not so," he began, but Fengel interrupted him again.

"That is well. We value our alliance with your people greatly,” he said firmly.

Dolgailon nodded. “The Elvenking has instructed me to inform you that he is certain that your loyal citizens do value our alliance and honor it. As does he. Unfortunately, it appears the occupants of this particular village may not have been entirely loyal to Dale, for they were clearly allied with the Dark Men. That is what I was sent to inform you.”

Fengel glanced at his steward. They did not appear surprised or alarmed by that suggestion. Merely angry.

Dolgailon’s eyebrows rose. “Is it possible that some of your villagers may have formed new alliances, my lord?” he pressed, concerned by Fengel's response.

Fengel looked back at him, plainly trying to rein in his anger. He ignored Dolgailon’s question and asked his own. “Can you tell me which village you believe is succoring these Easterlings so that we can confirm this treason?”

Dolgailon gazed at him levelly. “I can describe the location of the village. However you will not find the Easterlings in it.”

Fengel’s steward snorted derisively. “The Easterlings would not have left just because some elves saw them. The Easterlings do not fear you or your King.”

Dolgailon’s eyes narrowed slightly. “Any men who attack the Woodland Realm will learn, as this group did, to fear my King’s warriors,” he snapped. To his left he saw Hallion tense.

Fengel frowned. “May I ask what that means?”

Dolgailon sighed quietly knowing that he could have presented this information more delicately if he had held his tongue. “When the Easterlings resisted our attempt to arrest them, a fight ensued. I do not deny that my troops loosed the first arrow. None of your villagers were injured but the Easterlings are all dead.”

Fengel allowed his dismay to show plainly on his face.

His steward openly raged. “Since when is it the place of the Elvenking’s warriors to mete out justice in the lands of the Lord of Dale?” he demanded angrily.

Dolgailon replied calmly. “I do not claim that it is. The elf that initiated the fight has been dismissed and as their captain I have also been disciplined. Part of that discipline was to come here and answer to you for my warriors’ actions. But the fact remains that the men we attacked had no place in your village, as you already so adamantly pointed out. They might have done harm to your innocent citizens if they had been allowed to escape.”

“How do we know that? How do we know that the men you killed were not innocent citizens? How can you be sure of that?” the steward demanded.

Fengel raised his hand to silence his steward and spoke before Dolgailon or Hallion could reply. “If the Prince of the Woodland Realm tells me that these men shed blood in the villages of the Elvenking then his word is all the proof I need that they are criminals whoever they may be. I learned from my father and from my own interactions to trust and respect the Woodelves. Besides, anyone who is not blind can tell the difference between one of our people and the Men of Rhûn. I imagine even elves can make that distinction amongst the races of men. The Easterlings would have received no protection from me. If I had caught them, I would have turned them over to the Elvenking to answer for their crimes in his lands and it is no concern of mine what sentence the Elvenking imposes. Indeed death would be the one I would have prefered.”

He paused and focused on Hallion and Dolgailon before continuing.

“You may tell your King that I understand how this happened. You naturally assumed you were acting in an emerging situation for the safety of your allies and we appreciate your concern.”

Almost imperceptibly, Dogailon relaxed. Hallion inclined his head in acknowledgement of Fengel’s words.

The Lord of Dale continued in a sterner voice. “Now that you have seen that such goodwill can lead you into very complex situations, I expect that the Elvenking’s warriors will refrain from pursuing Men across our borders. You need not doubt that anyone who passes through my lands to violate the borders of the Woodland Realm will be returned to the Elvenking for justice. It would best report such incursions into the forest to me and leave pursuing criminals in my lands to my troops.”

Dolgailon nodded solemnly. “Indeed my King told me in no uncertain terms that is what he would have preferred to do in this situation,” he confirmed. “And that is most certainly how any future encounters will be managed.”

Fengel’s harsh countenance melted suddenly and he laughed involuntarily at that response. “I do not doubt your King's respect for our borders, so it is easy for me to accept how this happened. And knowing his position on such matters, I would not have wished to be you, Lord Dolgailon, when you reported this incident to him. I have spoken with the Elvenking only once and I after that meeting I was exceedingly thankful that my steward or councilors are normally responsible for traveling to Mirkwood to negotiate trade. He is frightening and even more so when he is angry, I am sure.”

Dolgailon blinked and glanced at his older companions. They were all struggling not to laugh. Dolgailon snorted softly and looked down. “The King is a strong ruler,” he replied neutrally.

“No doubt,” Fengel said, still laughing quietly. “I am thankful he is my ally and not my enemy.” With that he grew more serious. “I do ask that you point out the location of this village on a map before you leave so that we can deal with the citizens who aided our enemies,” he said with a cold tone. Then he looked at Dolgailon thoughtfully. “Our law requires two witnesses to convict a man of treason…”

“And witnesses are hard to find,” the steward muttered bitterly.

The elves raised their eyebrows and looked at him.

Fengel scowled but returned his gaze to Dolgailon. “Would you and one of the other Elven warriors that saw my villagers aiding the Easterlings return here to testify to what you saw? I would very much like to make a strong example of these traitors.”

Dolgailon glanced at Hallion. “I will be serving the King in our capital for some time. With his permission, I could return here once you arrest the villagers, I suppose. And my guard could serve as the second witness. He saw everything I did and he speaks Westron well enough to testify before your court.”

Fengel nodded with a grimly satisfied expression. “Very good.” Then he sat back in his chair, turned to Lindomiel and smiled. “Amongst Men it is not seemly to discuss such harsh topics in the presence of ladies. I feel compelled to apologize that you had to hear this conversation, my lady.” Before Lindomiel could respond, he grinned at her. “But since you came to Dale in person rather than sending for samples of this year’s goods, I assume that my steward is correct and King Thranduil does want to renegotiate the tolls. If that is the case, I fear you will subjected to another harsh conversation for I have no intention of paying more.”

Lindomiel returned his smile serenely. “Then it seems we will have something of an argument on our hands because your steward is indeed correct. The King has sent me to inform you of new tolls,” she began.

Dolgailon could not hide the laughter that lit his eyes when he saw Fengel’s response to his aunt’s softly spoken declaration. The Lord of Dale frowned stubbornly, folded his arms over his chest and adopted a determined look. But even Dolgailon could see the hopelessness in the recesses of Fengel’s eyes. Apparently the Man was well aware of the difficulties presented by debating with Elves, and Lindomiel in particular.

*~*~*

Thranduil sat alone in the family sitting room with only a goblet of wine in his hands, no petitions or reports, and allowed his thoughts to wander. It had been a quieter than normal evening since half of the family—Lindomiel, Celonhael, Hallion and Dolgailon—were in Dale. They had been gone for over a week and were due back to the stronghold soon. In addition to their absence, Golwon and his wife were on the lawn, teaching their daughter the minstrel's songs. Thus, the only other members of the family present were Engwe and Dieneryn. They were playing a game of strategy on a table near the fireplace and woe be unto the person, even the king, that disturbed their concentration. So Thranduil sat quietly alone, enjoying his wine and thinking about his family in Dale and the idea of children that seemed to surround him of late.

They had not been in the sitting room long when they heard a commotion in the hall at the entrance to the family quarters. Thranduil glanced at Engwe and Dieneryn. They all had tensed upon hearing the guards’ raised voices but their concern quickly melted to happy smiles as they recognized the cause for the disturbance. They stood as two travel worn figures passed into the room.

“Aradunnon! Amoneth!” Thranduil exclaimed delightedly, striding forward and sweeping his brother into a strong embrace. Amoneth and Dieneryn smiled indulgently as the two siblings clapped each other a little too strongly on the back, grinning all the while. When Thranduil finally released his brother, he leaned over to place a kiss on Amoneth’s cheek while Aradunnon greeted their mother.

“What has brought you both to the capital?” Dieneryn asked, pouring her son and daughter-in-law a goblet of wine. They handed their travel-stained cloaks to a servant and sat gratefully on the cushions by the fireplace. Thranduil, Engwe and Dieneryn settled next to them.

Aradunnon grinned mischievously at his brother as he answered his mother’s question. “Thranduil has abducted my son and is holding him prisoner here. I had to come to the capital if I wish to see him, it seems.”

Thranduil’s eyebrows arched and he returned his brother’s playful look. “I have, in writing, your permission to discipline Dolgailon for attacking the Mannish village as I saw fit. Keeping him here is what I chose to do,” he retorted.

“Live and learn,” Aradunnon replied with a dismissive shrug. “That is what I get for allowing my temper to rule me and leaving such a decision to you. I will not make that mistake again.” He smirked at Thranduil for a moment and then looked at him more seriously. “I saw Dollion on the way into the stronghold. He mentioned that Dolgailon is in Dale.”

Thranduil nodded. “Do not be concerned. Hallion went with him. And Lindomiel and Celonhael. I did instruct all of them to allow Dolgailon to handle the discussion about the Easterlings unless he seemed to lose control of the situation. And I briefed him on how I thought it should be managed. It will be good experience for him and I think the Lord of Dale will be angrier with his citizens for allying with his enemies than he will be with our warriors for killing those enemies. After he has a few moments to think about it.”

Aradunnon drew a deep breath and sighed. “Yes. That occurred to me. After I had already sent Dolgailon to the capital.” He looked at his brother wryly. “Did you react any better to the news than I? Dolgailon seemed very…concerned to speak to you.”

Thranduil smiled. “Dolgailon managed that conversation exactly as I would have expected—he was completely forthright and made it clear that he understood the import of what he had done and was willing to rectify the situation as required. You should be proud of your son. As difficult as it is for me to acknowledge it, Dolgailon is no longer a child. He is very much a leader in his own right.” He paused and laughed lightly. “But to address your true concern, I did not react too badly, I do not believe.”

Dieneryn shook her head, also smiling. “You were very calm,” she confirmed.

Engwe raised his eyebrows disdainfully. “Indeed,” he said coolly.

Aradunnon had relaxed slightly upon hearing Thranduil and Dieneryn’s words. He immediately scowled at Engwe, however, catching the disapproval in his uncle’s voice. “Dolgailon made a bad judgment and he has been disciplined for it. I do not want to hear that you have interfered with that discipline, Uncle,” he said firmly. “Dolgailon is my son. Not yours.”

Everyone present tried to smother a smile. Aradunnon often conflicted with his son. Dolgailon had very clear ideas on how he should best lead his life and did not follow his father’s advice nearly as regularly as Aradunnon would prefer. But if anyone crossed either father or son, they could expect to face a very formidable, united front.

Engwe returned Aradunnon’s irate glare coolly. “Thank the Valar for that,” he replied.

Dieneryn frowned as Aradunnon drew a sharp breath to reply. “Enough of that,” she interrupted with a stern look at Aradunnon and Engwe. Then she turned back to her son. “How long can we expect to enjoy your company in the capital, ion nin?” she asked with a hopeful expression.

Aradunnon’s face lightened and he glanced at Amoneth while reaching for her hand. “We plan to stay a long while, nana,” he responded simply.

Thranduil’s eyebrows climbed. “Is that so?” he asked, voice rising slightly in surprise. “Not that I am displeased by that announcement. I said to Dolgailon that I wished I could find I way to bring you back to the stronghold. May I ask what has made you decide to stay when nearly a millennium of begging on my part has not?”

The grin returned to Aradunnon’s face. Thranduil smiled automatically in response to it. So often these days when he spoke to his brother he saw only the burdened face of the realm’s troop commander. This glimpse of the impish brother he knew so well warmed his heart.

“I told you, Thranduil, you made that choice for me. You are keeping my son in the capital so Amoneth and I decided this would be a good opportunity to spend time with him ourselves. We rarely see each other since he became a captain and must spend all his time in field command. And of course we want to spend some time with Eirienil as she grows into the fine young lady we expect Golwon's daughter to be.”

Amoneth laughed lightly at this last. She and Aradunnon pitied any children that had to endure the stern Golwon as their father.

Dieneryn gave Aradunnon a brief, disapproving glare in response to his disrepect before allowing her eyes to light with happiness at the idea of Aradunnon staying in the capital while 'Eirienil grew up.' That seemed to promise a lengthy stay. “That is wonderful, Aradunnon. Do you think you can manage the patrols from here for a few months? Maybe even a few years?” she asked hopefully.

Aradunnon nodded. “I have arranged to do so for a while.” He glanced again at Amoneth and squeezed her hand. “For fifty-one years, specifically,” he added meaningfully.

Dieneryn’s eyes widened and Engwe looked back at his nephew sharply. Thranduil stared at his brother. “Fifty-one years?” he repeated.

Amoneth nodded excitedly. “We have decided to have another child,” she confirmed, unable to hold back any longer. “We had been discussing it for the last few years and now seems to be the perfect time. Dolgailon will be in the capital for a while. Our child and Golwon’s can grow up together. Aradunnon has strong captains in the patrols so he can afford to be in the capital.” She drifted off as Dieneryn pulled her into an embrace.

“Are you already…?”

Amoneth nodded and Dieneryn’s smiled broadened as she pulled Amoneth closer. “That is wonderful, Amoneth. Perhaps you will have a daughter.”

Amoneth nodded again, now enthusiastically. Releasing Amoneth and sitting back, Dieneryn laughed at Aradunnon’s somewhat panicked reaction to her suggestion. Aradunnon would have no idea what to do with a daughter but he had all too clear a memory of what he had done with other Elves’ daughters. The thought alarmed him.

Engwe looked sadly at Amoneth for a moment before leaning forward to embrace her as well. As he leaned back, he kissed her cheek. “Congratulations, pen neth.” He grasped Aradunnon’s hand. “Congratulations to both of you. I am very happy for you.”

Aradunnon smiled. He knew the topic of children was very difficult for his uncle. “Thank you, Uncle,” he replied with a quiet voice.

All eyes turned to Thranduil who was still staring at his brother.

“Have you nothing to say, muindor nin?” Aradunnon asked, eyes widening at Thranduil’s expression.

Thranduil shook his head slightly. “Congratulations,” he said quietly and with a forced smile.

Aradunnon studied his brother but chose to remain silent. Amoneth was too busy chattering with her mother-in-law to have noticed Thranduil’s tepid response. He did not want to confront his brother and spoil his wife’s mood.

*~*~*

It was very late and most of the household had retired. The servants had long since returned to their own quarters or flets in the forest. Dieneryn and Amoneth had gone to the queen’s rooms to talk about babies. Only Thranduil, Engwe and Aradunnon remained in the family sitting room. Their conversation had fallen off and they sat quietly, staring absently at the dying fire in the hearth.

Finally Aradunnon’s heavy sigh broke the silence. Thranduil looked at him with raised eyebrows and Aradunnon laughed self-consciously. “I was merely wishing that Dolgailon was here,” he explained. “I was far angrier with him than I should have been over the incident with the Men and I see him so infrequently.” He sighed again. “I miss my son and I very much desire to spend more time with him.”

Engwe looked away immediately in response to that speech. Thranduil looked piercingly at his brother for a moment before looking away as well.

Aradunnon frowned. “Uncle Engwe’s attitude I well understand, Thranduil, but yours I do not. Please tell me why you have reacted as you did to that statement and to our announcement about the baby,” he demanded. His tone was irate.

Thranduil’s brow knit but he did not look up. “Your choices are your own, Aradunnon. Your family is your own to govern and it is not my place to judge you.” Thranduil looked at his brother. “But I admit that I do not understand this decision. How can you think that now is an appropriate time to have another child?”

Aradunnon stiffened. “I am aware of the difficulties in the south and east and I assure you, Thranduil, I can manage the patrols from the capital…” he began but his brother’s expression silenced him.

“I trust your command of the patrols, Aradunnon,” Thranduil interrupted. “That is not my concern. On the contrary, as I said earlier, I would very much prefer for your entire family to live in the stronghold. I am very happy to have my troop commander and brother here in the capital.”

Aradunnon stared at Thranduil a moment, obviously lost. “Then why do you think this is an inappropriate time for Amoneth and I to have another child? It truly seems perfect to me. I can visit with Dolgailon while we are both in the capital. I can be here as Golwon’s child grows up. My child will have a cousin his or her own age. What else could I ask for?”

Thranduil drew a deep breath before speaking in an effort to do so softly. “Did you not just say that you miss the son that you already have? That you do not have the time with him that you would like because both you and he are dedicated to fighting the Enemy in the South? Does it not concern you to bring another child into such a life?”

Aradunnon’s eyes widened and then swiftly narrowed. “I hope you are not suggesting that I have been a poor adar to Dolgailon…”

Thranduil held up his hands in a conciliatory gesture. “Of course not, muindor nin. I know that you are an excellent adar and that Dolgailon loves you as you love him. Have I not said a thousand times that he is a wonderful child?”

Aradunnon’s expression changed very little. “If you are not saying that I am a poor adar and if you believe my son is ‘wonderful,’ then what is your complaint, Thranduil?”

Thranduil pressed his lips tightly shut, shook his head and looked away, uncharacteristically unwilling to join an argument.

Aradunnon was surprised when Engwe responded instead of his brother.

“Thranduil finds himself under pressure from many sides in the family to have a child himself. And it is not a decision he feels ready to make,” their Uncle said quietly.

Aradunnon’s eyebrows rose when Thranduil did not challenge that assertion. “I see,” he replied after a moment. Then he laid a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Thranduil I do not want to add to the pressure that is obviously making you uncomfortable. Only you and Lindomiel can decide when the time will be right for you to have children. I will only say this: when Amoneth and I decided to have Dolgailon, I was concerned, perhaps for the same reasons that you are now. I saw the Shadow and the fell creatures in the south and I worried about keeping my child safe and happy. I knew how dangerous my duties are and I worried about leaving him without an adar. I doubted my decision until the moment I first held Dolgailon but I never doubted it afterwards. My son is dearer to me and makes me happier than anything else that I can name. There is no doubt in my mind that I want another child now.”

Engwe nodded solemnly in agreement. Thranduil and Aradunnon tried to conceal their surprise at that and he smiled sadly. “There truly is wizardry involved when one holds a baby in one's arms," he said in a soft voice. He was silent for a moment before he turned to Thranduil with a wry smirk. "Beware Thranduil. Do not allow Eirienil and Aradunnon's child to lure you down dangerous paths. I speak from experience for I certainly fell into that trap. It was your birth and Oropher’s constant declarations of the joys of parenthood that led Ormeril and I to conceive Ninglor.” His smile brightened. “I think you may have been the first baby I ever held and I will not forget it. It was on your Naming Day that your adar began his campaign to convince me to have a child.”

“I am so happy to have all of you here to help Dieneryn and I welcome our son to our family.” Oropher began, reciting the ritual words that opened the Naming Ceremony. As he did, he glanced at his mother and father, Doroniel and Cellon, and his wife’s parents, Malthoron and Desseglad. They sat on either side of he and Dieneryn in the domed garden alcove. Dieneryn’s brothers with their wives and Oropher’s brother, Engwe, with his wife, Ormeril, surrounded them on the garden benches.

Oropher felt the eyes of his family upon him, waiting for him to continue. He paused a moment to stroke the cheek of the baby bundled in a blanket in Dieneryn’s arms. The baby responded by cooing and grasping at his fingers with tiny hands. That brought a delighted smile to Oropher’s face and he focused on his family to continue the ceremony.

“It is certain that the more love this child receives in his life, the more love he will be able to give to others. The more people to whom this child relates, the more balanced and rich his growth will be. Your presence today is appreciated, as will be your interest and involvement in the years ahead. Today, Dieneryn and I present to you our son, who we promise before all of you to love and guide and protect. His name is Thranduil.”

The elves around Oropher frowned slightly. Even Dieneryn appeared to struggle with the name. Oropher laughed to himself watching his family try to figure what the name could mean. After a moment, Dieneryn looked at her husband with a single raised eyebrow and everyone else in the family watched them intently, knowing that only she exerted enough influence to pry an explanation from him. Oropher smiled and promptly leaned over to whisper something in Dieneryn’s ear. In response, her eyes widened and she blushed. Oropher laughed, now openly.

That was all Malthoron was willing to tolerate. He scowled at his son-in-law. “Oropher, you are consistent, I will grant you that. Only you would be so perverse as to give your son a name that no one else can understand. It has a pretty sound but what does it mean?” he demanded flatly.

Oropher only grinned at his father-in-law. “I will leave that to you to puzzle over, I think,” he replied with a mischievous tone.

Malthoron’s mouth screwed up angrily. He admired his son-in-law for many reasons and loved him since he made Dieneryn very happy. But he did not doubt that Oropher, with his wild escapades, was a bad influence on his daughter, who had been a serious and successful artist before her marriage. Oropher could be the single most annoying Elf in all of Doriath. Possibly all of Beleriand. He drew a breath to respond.

Dieneryn cut off her father’s retort with a wave. “Please leave it, ada. The explanation will only require another explanation. It is not worth the trouble.” She turned to her husband. “You must still name our son’s daidodhron, Oropher,” she reminded in a quiet voice.

Oropher leaned over and kissed Dieneryn on the cheek, amusement still dancing in his eyes. Then he reached to take the cooing baby into his arms and looked at his brother. “Engwe, if you are willing, I ask you to be Thranduil’s daidodhron.” As he spoke, he placed the bundle into Engwe’s lap and smiled slightly at his brother’s panicked expression as he struggled to gain a secure hold on the squirming child.

Dieneryn smiled as well. “And Ormeril, if you are willing, I ask you to be Thranduil’s daidodhril,” she added.

Ormeril looked at her husband delightedly, immensely enjoying the sight of the baby in his arms. Engwe shook his head with a wry smile and he turned to his older brother. “I am honored, Oropher,” he said and then added in a softer voice, meant only for Oropher’s ears, “though you might have mentioned this to me before this very moment.”

Oropher smirked at him.

Engwe smirked back and then looked at the baby in his arms. He was gazing up at him curiously and waving his arms and legs. Engwe tickled a tiny bare foot with his little finger and elicited a delighted squeal. He laughed and faced his brother. “I am very willing, muindor nin. I promise to help you love and guide and protect your son and to care for him as my own should you be unable to do so.”

Ormeril nodded eagerly. “I also, Dieneryn. I promise to help you love and guide and protect your son and to care for him as my own should you be unable to do so. He is wonderful. You are so very blessed.”

Dieneryn smiled. “Perhaps you will soon be equally blessed,” she said with a meaningful look at Engwe.

Engwe looked helplessly at his wife as she began to tease Thranduil, waving a flower from her hair in front of his face and watching as little hands tried desperately to catch the dancing bloom. Then he turned an exasperated glare on his brother. “You did this on purpose, Oropher.”

Oropher only raised his eyebrows innocently.

Engwe shook his head. “Oropher was so pleased with himself when Ormeril and I announced the next year that we were having a child. He cheerfully took the credit for pushing us to that decision.” Engwe snorted. “And he had. I would never have decided to have a child so soon in our marriage.” He paused a moment and then continued in a low voice. “In truth, I am very thankful. If we had waited, Ormeril and I might never have had a child.”

The room remained silent for a long moment before Thranduil spoke.

“I cannot imagine how you must miss Ninglor and Ormeril amongst all this talk of children,” he said softly, looking at his uncle sympathetically. “I find myself missing my Ninglor myself. Even now I can still say that he was the closest friend I ever had. I know your grief must be many times my own, but I want you to know that I think about him often too. Especially now, with all the talk of children about.”

Engwe sighed and looked away. When he spoke, his voice was strained. “Ninglor loved you dearly, Thranduil. Naturally you were close. You were nearly the same age. I always knew that his death hurt you terribly. You and he were like twins. And of course you actually saw him….” He paused for control. When he continued his voice was even rougher. “I do miss him. Desperately. I pray that he and Ormeril will not choose to stay forever with Mandos.”

Thranduil closed his eyes. That same prayer applied to far too many loved ones. And was the reason Thranduil found the decision to have children in these dark times so difficult.

*~*~*

Ion nin--My son

Naneth/nana--Mother/mum

Pen neth--Young one

Adar/ada--Father/dad

Muindor nin--My brother

Daidodhron/Daidodhril--I made this up. "Taid" means "second" and "odhron/odhril" mean "male/female parent." I intend for these words to mean 'godfather/mother' in the sense of someone who would be named responsible for a child if their parents could no longer care for them.


Chapter 4 - Rumours and Treachery

The family remained in the sitting room much later than normal that evening, enjoying the excitement surrounding Aradunnon and Amoneth’s arrival and announcement. Now the Royal Chambers were silent save for the soft whispers of the two guards stationed at their entrance. They chatted to pass the time while the rest of the household happily followed the path of Elven dreams. Or that is what the guards assumed, but they were not quite correct. The King was awake—in his chambers, alone, but not asleep. He sat in a chair that he had pulled in front of a large, open trunk and he was carefully flipping through the pages of a very old journal. Its pages were yellow and stiff and its binding cracked. Thranduil rarely indulged in looking through the contents of this trunk though he would never allow anything in it to slip from his possession. But tonight he did not yet wish to sleep and, after Engwe’s remarks about Ninglor, Thranduil found his thoughts were irresistibly drawn to the memories this trunk protected. So he paged through the journal.

Near midnight the doors to the Royal Chambers opened and Thranduil heard one of the Path Guards speaking in a hushed voice with the guards at the door. Around an hour later, the doors opened again and a quiet commotion erupted in the hall. Packages scraped across the stone floors as they were dragged into the sitting room while several voices spoke at once, arguing softly. Thranduil ended their debate by stepping into the hall.

“You need not worry about awakening me. I was waiting for you,” he said with a smile to his family, holding out his hand and beckoning to Lindomiel. As she stepped closer, he brought her hand to his lips and then focused on the guards that accompanied them. “I cannot believe that you permitted my wife travel through the forest this late at night,” he said coolly. His voice was stern but he could not conceal the pleasure he felt seeing everyone home, so the reprimand was not nearly as effective as it might have been.

Nonetheless, the guards tensed and looked as one to Tureden, the lieutenant of the King’s Guard and the ranking warrior present. He simply looked at the King impassively. “I do not have all the information as yet, but our journey back to the stronghold was not entirely uneventful so I deemed that haste was warranted. The captain of the Path Guard is investigating and I will have a full report for you in the morning, my lord.”

Thranduil’s brows drew together and he studied the guard. The King had felt uneasy for the last two days and was worried that his disquiet might be related to his wife's travels. Tureden returned his gaze with an unreadable expression that confirmed Thranduil’s suspicion.

Lindomiel sighed dramatically, interrupting their silent exchange. “We were too close to home to stop for the night, regardless. It would have been absurd. Are you not happy to see us, my lord?” she asked with mock formality.

A warm smile melted Thranduil’s concerned expression as he turned again to his wife. “I am always very happy when you return safely from any journey, my lady,” he replied drawing her against him with an arm around her waist.

Lindomiel smiled in return and leaned closer to kiss his cheek. She rolled her eyes when he did not release his hold on her to allow her to step back.

But Thranduil was now focused on his steward. “Is there any news that we need concern ourselves with tonight, Hallion? Or do you agree that we can wait to discuss your trip in the morning?”

Hallion glanced at Dolgailon, Celonhael and Tureden. Then he shook his head. “Nothing is pressing, my lord. The incident involving the southern village is settled and I think you will be most satisfied with the results of the trade negotiations.” Thranduil reacted with clear pleasure hearing that assessment. “There are a few details of the journey and the environment in Dale that we need to discuss, as Tureden indicated. But nothing that cannot wait until morning.”

Thranduil nodded, still eyeing Hallion and Tureden. “Very well,” he responded softly. Then he turned to Dolgailon and allowed an openly mischievous gleam to shine in his eyes. “I have news for you, pen neth. News that I think is pressing.”

Dolgailon regarded his uncle with interest and surprise. His mood, like Tureden's, was somber and any news that drew Thranduil's attention from the guard's statement so easily certainly piqued his curiosity.

“Your parents are in the capital,” Thranduil continued. “They arrived this evening.”

Dolgailon blinked. “Did they?” he asked cautiously, clearly remembering his last encounter with his father.

Thranduil nodded, his expression still playful. “Indeed they did and there is more to be told than that. They may be angry with me for ruining their surprise, but I would not want you to worry all night about your adar’s mood so…” he paused dramatically. “Your parents are expecting another child.”

Ignoring the late hour, everyone gave voice to their surprise and delight. Dolgailon’s cry rose above the others.

“Truly, Uncle? That is wonderful news!” he exclaimed, leaning forward with wide eyes.

Thranduil placed an arm around his nephew’s shoulder. “Yes, you are truly blessed, Dolgailon. Being an older brother is a delight, as you will see.” He paused and winked at Hallion. “Indeed, I will personally see to it that you enjoy being an older brother as much as I did. I distinctly remember how my adar appreciated my efforts to advance Aradunnon’s education and I would not want Aradunnon to be deprived of any of the joys of parenthood,” he continued with a plainly teasing tone as he led Dolgailon towards his rooms.

Lindomiel, Hallion and Celonhael followed, laughing softly and hoping to speak to Aradunnon and Amoneth before finally retiring.

*~*~*

Much later, Lindomiel finally proceeded Thranduil into their private chambers through the door he held open for her. She was thrilled with Amoneth’s news and had enjoyed speaking to her, but she was travel-weary and anxious to be alone with her husband.

The door had only just latched when she felt Thranduil’s arm slide around her waist. She closed her eyes and savored the feel of his body as he pulled her against him. With one arm, he held her to him. With the other, he moved aside the length of hair falling down her back. Lindomiel sighed softly in pleasure as his lips traced lightly from her shoulder, up her neck and to her jaw line. She turned in his embrace to kiss him fully on the lips.

“I missed you,” he breathed, enveloping her in his arms.

Lindomiel simply buried her face against his neck. He laid his cheek against her hair and stood for a moment holding her in his arms, caressing the soft fabric of her riding tunic. When she snuggled closer to him, he loosened his hold on her and kissed her forehead. “Come to bed before you fall asleep on your feet,” he whispered.

She nodded and allowed him to lead her by the hand to their bedchambers, looking forward to resting tonight in the warmth of her husband’s embrace. When they stepped into the room, she paused in surprise seeing the open trunk. He walked over to close it and she followed.

Thranduil rarely opened this trunk. It contained personal memories that even Lindomiel had never intruded upon, though she could not deny that she wondered occasionally about this part of himself that he kept locked away. When his eyes lingered on the book he picked up from the chair in front of the trunk, she glanced at it. It was a journal—its entries were laid out in well-defined sections—and she recognized it was written in Thranduil’s hand. On the page that lay open, she could see an ink drawing of a young elf. It caught her eye.

“Who is that, meleth?” she asked quietly, leaning against him to get a better look at the page. “I did not think you enjoy drawing people.” She frowned when Thranduil’s face clouded.

“I do not but I did not sketch this. Ninglor, Engwe’s son, did. It is a self portrait,” he responded in a quiet voice without looking at her.

Lindomiel looked more closely at the drawing, her interest sharply increasing. She knew very little about Ninglor. Only that he was Engwe’s son and that, like his mother, he was with Mandos. From the few times Thranduil had spoken of him, Lindomiel had gathered that they had been close friends.

Thranduil closed the book and placed it carefully in the trunk.

Lindomiel laid her hand on his arm as he straightened and reached for the lid of the trunk. He very infrequently dwelt in the past but the fact that he had been firmly focused there tonight was obvious. And that concerned her. “In the entire time that we have been married, I have seen you open this trunk perhaps five times. May I ask what prompted you to do so tonight?” she asked softly.

Thranduil shrugged dismissively. “Engwe and I were speaking of Ninglor tonight. Aradunnon mentioned how pleased he was that his child and Golwon’s would grow up together and that made me think of the childhood I shared with Ninglor.”

Lindomiel studied her husband. He almost never spoke of his youth and his indifferent tone stood in sharp contrast to his obviously melancholy mood. “You and he were nearly the same age, were you not?” she pressed.

“Ninglor was two years younger than I.” He smiled dimly. “We were absolutely inseparable and we caused twice as much trouble because of it,” he concluded.

Lindomiel put on a lightly mocking expression, seeing that Thranduil might be teased from his poor mood. “I have heard Hallion and Dieneryn tell stories about your misspent youth but I still have trouble believing that the elfling they are describing was you,” she said.

To her surprise, Thranduil did not immediately deny the accusation as he normally did in an overly-dignified manner. Instead, he laughed softly. “Believe them. I was terribly willful. I was just remembering one incident…I think I must have been seven because it was the first year Ninglor had formal lessons.”

Carrying a sack and giggling wildly, Ninglor ran after Thranduil. The younger elfling caught his older cousin firmly by the sleeve as he rounded a tree. “Wait for me,” he pleaded breathlessly.

Thranduil grinned. He was supposed to be helping his cousin with a lesson and he was, after a fashion. But he could not resist teasing him a bit as he did and Ninglor was young enough to have trouble running through the dense forest as swiftly as his older cousin. Thranduil looked over his shoulder at their parents approaching at a more sedate pace. That was a sign that it was time to get back to work. Adopting a serious expression, Thranduil put his hands on his hips. “Do you see anything we need here,” he asked, his voice sounding much like their tutor, Rodonon.

Ninglor scowled for a moment at Thranduil’s superior attitude and then looked around at the plants surrounding them on the forest floor. Just as the adults arrived in the small clearing, his eyes lit and he fell to his knees, pouncing on a small pink flower. “This is one we do not yet have. It has clusters of three heart-shaped leaves and pink flowers with five petals…it is…” he hesitated for a moment, staring hard at the flower as if he might compel it to tell him its name. “Wood sorrel. It is wood sorrel,” he finally said triumphantly, looking at his cousin for confirmation.

Thranduil nodded and knelt next to Ninglor, carefully pinching off a bit of the plant and dropping it in the sack that Ninglor held open. As the plant was falling into the sack, Ninglor’s mother, Ormeril, picked him up and kissed him on the cheek.

“Very good, Ninglor,” Engwe said, with clear pride in his voice. He reached over and ruffled his son’s hair. The combined attention caused the elfling to beam with pride.

Thranduil smiled as well. He and Ninglor had worked carefully together studying drawings of the plants Ninglor was required to learn to identify. He was demonstrating today that he had learned his lessons well. Thranduil knew his father had asked him to help his cousin as a test of his own, newly mastered ability to identify these plants.

Thranduil looked up as Oropher cleared his throat. “And what can you tell us about wood sorrel, Thranduil?” he asked, calling his son’s attention back to his own part in the lesson.

Thranduil frowned slightly and looked back at the plant. He was learning to describe the uses of the plants he could identify. “It is edible,” he answered slowly. “The leaves, flower and roots. You can eat them raw or boil them.” He studied the plant a moment longer, still trying to remember something else. “But if you eat too much of it, it will make you sick.”

Oropher smiled. “That is correct,” he replied, unconsciously duplicating his brother’s action and petting his son on the head.

Ninglor laughed quietly seeing his elder cousin concentrating carefully on his lesson. Thranduil made a face at him behind his father’s back and both elflings giggled.

Dieneryn reached for the sack Ninglor held and looked into it. “Surely that is all the plants on your list,” she said, eyebrows arching at the mass of foliage. “How many did you have to find?”

Thranduil and Ninglor looked at her earnestly. “There are fifty plants on the list, nana. We only had to collect twenty but we want to find them all. We want to do a good job,” Thranduil responded.

Ninglor nodded vigorously. “We want to show Master Rodonon that we like studying the plants.”

“It is better than reading history,” Thranduil said under his breath.

“Or adding sums,” Ninglor added.

Thranduil nodded with a sidelong glance at his cousin.

They both fell silent at Oropher’s single raised eyebrow.

Thranduil looked down and spoke quietly. Now was not the time to annoy his father. They had additional plans for this afternoon. “We only have two more to find and they are easy—cattail and marsh marigold.”

Ninglor grinned, looking hopefully at his mother and aunt. “Of course, they grow by the river. Can we go swimming after we collect them?” he blurted eagerly.

Thranduil also looked expectantly at Dieneryn and Ormeril. The children had thoroughly enjoyed spending the day in the forest with their parents looking for the plants. But they had purposefully laid out their search, leaving the plants that grew by the river for last, in hopes they would be allowed this final treat.

Dieneryn and Ormeril regarded their sons with regretful expressions.

“I am sorry, ion nin,” Engwe replied softly, knowing his answer would not please the children. “It is still too early in the spring for swimming. We will wait until Spring Festival as we always do. The river will be warmer then and more suitable for swimming.”

Oropher nodded his agreement but looked sympathetically at their disappointed expressions. “You have done wonderful work with the plant collection, however. We can fish by the river after we collect the cattails and marigolds if you would like,” he offered gently.

Thranduil crossed his arms over his chest as Ninglor scowled. “But ada, we would have to go home for poles and string. And the water will not be too cold. Not for us. Please. Let us go swimming for just an hour,” he begged.

Ninglor nodded, looking at his father imploringly.

Oropher frowned. “No,” he replied flatly. “And that is my final word on it. We can fish if you would like. If not, we can return home and you can prepare the descriptions that go with the collection you have gathered today. But do not ruin your hard work with pouting. I will not tolerate it.”

Thranduil looked down. “Yes sir,” he replied quietly, knowing perfectly well that arguing would accomplish nothing other than possibly earning them a punishment.

Dieneryn looked sadly at her son. “Do you want to go fishing? Ormeril and I could go back and get what we need and meet you at the river,” she suggested, running her hand softly down Thranduil’s arm.

The two elflings looked at each other silently for a moment coming to a wordless agreement. Then Thranduil shook his head. “No, nana. We would rather go prepare the descriptions. Since we gathered all the plants, Master Rodonon will expect us to be able to describe all of them too. And we want to do a good job with this lesson.”

The elflings watched as their parents raised their eyebrows.

“That is very responsible of you,” Oropher responded skeptically.

Thranduil only nodded virtuously.

Lindomiel looked at her husband with obvious amusement. “Why do I doubt that is the end of the story?” she asked when he did not continue his tale.

Thranduil shook his head wryly. “Probably because Hallion and Engwe have filled your head with any number of disgraceful stories about me.”

Lindomiel smirked. “That could only be possible if such stories existed,” she interrupted with an airy voice. “And your nana is the chief culprit.”

Thranduil chuckled and nodded. “In this instance you would be right. Ninglor and I had planned that entire day so that we could go swimming after we collected the plants and we were not to be put off so easily. Once I made up my mind about something, nothing could deter me. Not even the threat of my adar’s wrath.” He looked at his wife with an uncharacteristically sheepish expression that made Lindomiel’s eyes widen in anticipation. “We went to the library to work on the descriptions and after we finished them, we ‘assumed’ we were free to do as we wished. So we did what anyone would do if they were certain they were not doing anything wrong—we climbed out one of the windows in the library and went to the river to go swimming. Strangely, ada seemed to know where we had gone despite our attempts at stealth. I wonder if the soaking wet leggings and trail of water through our bedchambers gave us away?”

Lindomiel burst into shocked laughter. Thranduil rarely told stories such as this one of his own free will. “Did you get in much trouble?” she asked with mirth in her voice.

Thranduil nodded. “I remember ada was not pleased. We were absolutely forbidden to go near the Esgalduin alone. And he had just told us we could not go swimming. I imagine we were restricted to our rooms for at least a month, though I do not remember the punishment exactly.”

Lindomiel’s eyes widened. “That is a rather harsh punishment for such young children,” she exclaimed.

Thranduil grinned and shook his head. “Not harsh enough. Ada should have nailed our doors shut,” he said softly but, much to Lindomiel disappointment, he did not elaborate.

She smiled and looked at him with bright eyes, choosing another topic to tease him. “I am surprised to hear you were so determined to go swimming that you defied your adar to go to the river. I did not think you were particularly fond of swimming.” This was said with an innocent air but Thranduil knew immediately to what she referred.

He smirked at her. “I am very fond of swimming, meleth. Indeed, swimming with nana in the Esgalduin was one of my favorite pastimes. I simply do not care for being thrown, fully clothed, into a river by smitten, young ellyth.”

Lindomiel’s mouth fell open and Thranduil laughed. It was rare when he won any duel of words with his wife but, from his expression, Lindomiel could tell that he felt he had just won this one.

“I was not ‘smitten,’” she replied with dramatic dignity.

Thranduil feigned regret. “Of course not, meleth. Forgive me,” he said with mock-seriousness.

Lindomiel scowled playfully and shook her head, turning back to the original topic. “So you and Ninglor were troublemakers. That does not surprise me in the least.” She paused and shook her head. “As much as I would like to have a child soon, perhaps now is not the best time. After hearing that story, I think I fear the idea of our child growing up with your brother’s. And can you imagine three children in the household at once? It would be complete pandemonium.”

Thranduil did not react to the joke as Lindomiel expected. He merely raised his eyebrows and looked sadly at the journal lying in the trunk. “In my mind, the idea of the elflings growing up together is the strongest argument that I have heard in favor of having children now,” he replied, all jest suddenly absent from his voice.

Lindomiel frowned at the return of his somber mood and drew Thranduil into her arms, pulling him towards their bed.

*~*~*

Early the next morning, Thranduil and Lindomiel had just returned to the King’s office from watching the sunrise in the Queen’s garden when the guards at the office door admitted Hallion, Celonhael, Conuiön, Tureden and Dolgailon. They bowed to the King and he gestured for them to sit at the meeting table in the center of the room. As they seated themselves, Thranduil turned to his wife.

“Lindomiel, I asked Conuiön to speak to me this morning and I fear that I will not be at breakfast. Tell the family not to wait for me. Hallion, Celonhael and I will join the rest of the council for the morning petitions.”

Lindomiel looked from the advisors and warriors at the table to her husband and nodded her acknowledgement of his obvious dismissal. There was nothing unusual about his request. The King and at least one of his advisors often missed breakfast in the mornings and unless Lindomiel was preparing to carry out some mission in Thranduil’s name, she was too occupied managing his household to regularly attend his council meetings. Thranduil kissed her hand and moved to join the others at the table as Lindomiel walked to the office door. When she reached it, she summoned a servant and repeated the King’s request. That done, she returned to the table and sat, looking at her husband stubbornly.

Thranduil frowned and opened his mouth to protest but she interrupted him in a quiet voice. “Please do not say something that will force me to publicly defy you, Thranduil. I know that you are going to discuss our trip to Dale and the journey home. I intend to stay right here and be part of this conversation. I was, after all, in Dale.”

Thranduil’s frown deepened but he knew better than to argue with his wife. She could be even more willful than he had ever dreamed of being. And although there were aspects of this discussion that he preferred to have with Conuiön and Tureden outside his wife’s presence, that was something that might be better maneuvered after he allowed her to stay for the general discussion of the trade negotiations. He decided to try that tactic. “Very well, my lady, perhaps we should begin with the details of the toll negotiations,” he suggested.

Lindomiel glanced at Conuiön briefly, making it clear that she recognized the King’s strategy. When he scowled in response, she smiled sweetly at him and turned to Hallion. “Do you have the list of tolls we agreed upon, Hallion?” she asked.

Thranduil sighed and reached to take the scroll that his steward produced. He had fairly low expectations for the outcome of this particular mission. He had given Lindomiel a list of minimum tolls that he was willing to accept for goods crossing his borders on his roads and they had discussed Dieneryn’s suggestion to offer the Men the use of the Elf Path in exchange for accepting the higher tolls. Thranduil did not like that option but he left it open for Lindomiel to bargain with. He knew the rates he was asking for represented a very steep increase and he would not have been too disappointed if Lindomiel had not convinced the Men to agree to even the minimum rate he had set, provided that she did successfully negotiate some increase.

As he scanned the scroll that Hallion handed him, a plainly satisfied expression spread across his face. The scroll listed two sets of tolls—one for use of the Forest Road and one for use of the Elf Path. Many of the tolls for the various products crossing on the Forest Road met the minimum amount Thranduil had requested. The tolls for using the Elf Path exceeded the minimum. Indeed they nearly doubled the old tolls just as Thranduil had initially proposed. At the bottom of the list was affixed the seal and signature of Lord Fengel. The scroll only awaited Thranduil’s seal and signature.

The King looked at Lindomiel and Celonhael with a pleased smile. “This is excellent. I admit I did not entirely expect you would be able to convince Lord Fengel to accept these tolls given that Dale suffers more than we do from these new incursions of Easterlings.” He looked at Lindomiel, clearly waiting to hear some details of the negotiations.

Lindomiel looked back at him with a playfully superior attitude. “A bit of research goes a long way,” she said mysteriously.

Thranduil raised his eyebrows and remained silent but Lindomiel did not continue.

Celonhael shook his head in amusement and intervened. “Lindomiel insisted on spending a day in Esgaroth when we reached the head of the Forest River. We could not imagine what she was doing but she spent the entire day in the market.” He paused for affect. “Apparently she was interrogating the merchants regarding the tolls they pay to take goods to Gondor and the dangers of the journey there.”

Lindomiel nodded. “They were quite willing to talk to me…”

“Imagine that,” Tureden said quietly and with obvious disapproval, causing everyone else to laugh lightly. Thranduil frowned slightly. He agreed with Tureden’s perspective on that topic.

Lindomiel only smirked at the guard before continuing. “You would be absolutely amazed if you heard what Gondor demands of merchants trading in their territories. Twelve gold coins per mast for a shipload of goods to come into Gondor on the Anduin. Twelve per mast! Or three coins per oar or pole for smaller boats. Their tolls are three to four times higher than what we charge and the journey does not seem any safer than the trip across the Forest Road with all the Easterling about. Of course, Gondor pays gold for goods and the men only trade with their western counterparts when they cross our roads. But Dale would not be able to obtain any products from Hadhodrond if they could not use our roads.” She paused and smiled serenely. “At any rate, Fengel seemed most surprised that I knew anything about the details of his people’s trade arrangements with Gondor. Surprised and disappointed. When I mentioned Gondor’s rates and the products his men would not be able to obtain from the west if they could not cross our borders, Fengel was more willing to consider the minimum tolls you desired.”

Celonhael nodded and continued the story when she did not. “She settled the tolls for the Forest Road before mentioning the Elf Path. Then she told Lord Fengel that if his men wanted to use the safer road, they would have to compensate us further for the inconvenience of having foreigners constantly disturbing the peace by passing through the most populated portion of our realm.”

Thranduil laughed wryly and looked at Hallion. “Lord Fengel is undoubtedly very concerned about spies in his realm after that. I hope for the merchants’ sake that he never learns that they so willingly betrayed the details of his trade arrangements with foreign powers.”

Lindomiel’s eyes widened. “Do you really think that was spying?” she asked ingenuously.

With a snort, Thranduil studied his wife, trying to determine if there was any sincerity in her innocence. He doubted it. “Yes, Lindomiel, I certainly do,” he finally responded. “And I think Lord Fengel is going to be very resentful when he discovers what you did.” Thranduil shook his head. “But I am equally certain that you will charm your way into his good graces again.” He laughed bitterly. “Though he will likely think I arranged this on purpose and I doubt I will be able to exercise similar charm. But it matters very little in the long run. This increase in tolls will be sufficient for Fengel’s lifetime.”

“One of the benefits of dealing with Men,” Celonhael said quietly. “New generations provide fresh opportunities.”

“And fall for the same diplomatic ploys,” added Hallion meaningfully.

Thranduil nodded, easily following his steward's implication. “Our ploys and our common enemy’s.” He turned to Dolgailon and the other goal of their journey to Dale. “How did Lord Fengel respond to your news?”

Dolgailon tensed, finding himself so suddenly the focus of the King’s intense gaze. Dolgailon had been raised in the capital but had joined the ranks of the realm’s warriors when he came of age rather than serving in court. As such, he had little experience interacting with the King. Thranduil knew that Dolgailon thought of him as his uncle and did not yet shift easily between the role of nephew and courtier. “As you expected, my lord. He was adamant that his villagers would not threaten ours and he was very angry that his people appeared to be sheltering Easterlings. He did make it quite clear that he would not respond so generously to future incursions into his territory should they occur, but he asked me to tell you that he accepts our explanation of how this happened.”

“His steward seemed considerably less charitable,” Hallion added quietly.

Thranduil looked at his advisor silently.

Hallion met his gaze evenly. “There is a good deal more than we know going on in the Mannish kingdom.” He looked at Dolgailon. “Tell the King what Lord Fengel asked you to do, my lord.”

Thranduil’s brows knit as he turned back to Dolgailon.

Dolgailon frowned grimly as well. “He asked me to return to Dale with a second witness to testify against the men in the southern village. Lord Fengel wants to convict them of treason and make an example of them, in his own words.” Dolgailon paused. “I am no judge of Mannish character, Uncle, but I had the impression from several statements that were made that Lord Fengel believes the Easterlings are a presence in his kingdom. One that he has been trying to address with little success.”

Thranduil’s expression grew very grave. “How did you respond to that request?” he asked.

“I told him that I would need your permission to return but that I was willing to help him if he thought I could.”

Thranduil sighed. “I am extremely hesitant to have any of my people, and much less members of my House, become involved in Mannish justice. I can foresee nothing but difficulties arising from that.” He paused. “Well, we will address that if Lord Fengel manages to arrest these villagers and requests your presence.” He turned to Hallion. “Did you form the same impression—that Lord Fengel is concerned about Easterlings in his lands?”

Hallion nodded. “I have no doubt. Neither Lord Fengel nor his steward were the least bit surprised by Lord Dolgailon’s news. And his steward commented that witnesses against treason are hard to find. They have been dealing with traitorous citizens for some time if unless I am very much mistaken.”

Thranduil’s mouth formed a hard line. He doubted that Hallion would be wrong in his judgment. “That is very serious news indeed,” he said quietly. “And, along with these skirmishes with the Easterlings that we have been seeing, a further sign that Rhûn is preparing for another incursion west, I think. We will discuss changes in the deployment of the eastern border patrols in the afternoon council meeting. It is very convenient that Aradunnon is in the capital,” he said with finality.

When Thranduil appeared ready to dismiss the meeting, Lindomiel leaned forward and looked between Conuiön and Thranduil. “How is this increasing threat in the east related to the fact that we were followed out of Dale? Or do you believe the two are not connected?” she asked in a determined voice.

Thranduil scowled. He had heard only the barest of reports regarding his family's trip back to the stronghold. He was very anxious to learn more about the news that they had been followed, but not in Lindomiel's presence. He would not keep information from his wife if doing so would risk her safety, but he did prefer to control how that information was presented. He had no idea what to expect from this conversation.

“I do not have enough information to know if the two are related or not, my lady,” he replied stiffly.

Lindomiel narrowed her eyes slightly at his evasiveness. “I gather from Tureden and Conuiön’s presence that the purpose of this meeting was to report to you the information you would need to draw such conclusions. Let us hear it,” she demanded in a firm voice.

Thranduil opened his mouth to protest but the captain of his guard interrupted him, looking at the King cautiously. “My lord, I believe that the Lady will be much easier to guard if she is aware of the details of this situation. I intended to recommend that you allow me to discuss our findings with her.”

Conuiön had long ago learned that challenging Thranduil regarding anything related to the Queen was most dangerous. Nevertheless, his expression showed that he felt had a duty to perform and that he strongly believed she should hear this news.

Thranduil turned his scowl on his guard. Conuiön’s brows knit but he did not look away from the King’s gaze. The side of Thranduil’s mouth turned down angrily. “Well, since I have no hope of convincing her to abandon this topic after that statement, we might as well proceed,” he said bitterly. “Tureden, what do you have to report to me?”

Tureden looked at his captain wryly for a moment and then faced Thranduil. “ As the Lady indicated, someone followed us out of Dale,” he began with no preamble. “I first noticed when we were about a league outside of Dale. I could not immediately tell what they were or how many we faced so I dared not challenge them. When they followed us into the forest, I sent one of the Path Guards that met us to double back on them to see what they were. They were Men. Easterlings. Only five of them. I do not doubt we could have been victorious in a fight but I could not guarantee the Lady would not have been injured in the process. So I signaled for some of the Path Guard to separate our pursuers from our party and try to capture them while we got the family to safety.”

Stopping, he looked at Conuiön, who took up the story.

“The captain of the Path Guard informed me this morning that his warriors engaged the Men. They were determined to escape or die. Our warriors could take no Men alive and the captain elected to not allow any to escape.”

Thranduil nodded grimly, approving of that decision.

Conuiön’s expression darkened as he looked at Thranduil intently. “The guards searched their bodies for any indication of why they followed the Queen’s party. We found very little. They were well armed and carried enough supplies for a journey of at least a few weeks.” He paused for emphasis. “They also carried two sets of shackles with them. We thought that was unusual. It was as if they planned to take prisoners.”

Thranduil drew a sharp breath and watched as Lindomiel visibly paled and glanced at Dolgailon. He either had already heard that news or was unwilling to react in his uncle’s presence. Lindomiel’s eyes darted to Thranduil.

“I assume that your conclusion is that those Easterlings intended to abduct my wife and nephew?” he asked, directing his attention back to his guards. His voice was fell.

Tureden nodded. “Certainly they intended to capture someone. If they had been simple bandits, or even assassins, they had ample opportunity to strike on the plain before we reached the forest where even the most ignorant Man should know that Woodelves would have a clear advantage. They seemed intent on something more than a simple reckless attack or robbery. They were careful. They wanted someone alive. And from the rumors in the market, the identity of the lady in our party was well known. I doubt Lord Dolgailon was known to them. But the Easterlings are known to capture one less valuable prisoner to sacrifice in order to prove they are willing to kill if necessary.”

Conuiön looked at the King evenly. “It is reasonable to assume someone might believe that the Woodland Realm would be easier to subdue if its Queen’s life were at stake. At the very least, such a hostage might fetch a hefty ransom.”

Thranduil’s eyes narrowed. “How do you recommend that we respond to this or do you believe that with these men dead the threat has passed?” he asked, his voice low with barely contained fury.

“We do not have enough information to conclude that the threat has passed. Indeed, I do not think it has given that several groups of Men have attacked our citizens this year and the Lord of Dale seems to believe they are a threat to his realm. Their activities are too wide spread for me to believe that this was an isolated event. It is my recommendation that we respond aggressively to protect both the family and our borders against these Men. And to gather more information.”

Thranduil nodded slowly, his face grave. “Agreed. Conuiön you may manage my guard as you see fit but please coordinate your efforts with the Dollion and the Palace Guard. As we already agreed, I will inform Aradunnon in the afternoon council meeting that I want more warriors moved to the Eastern border patrols and I will share the details of this conversation with the council.” He paused and glanced at Lindomiel, who looked very subdued after hearing Conuiön’s analysis. Then he looked at the people around the table, his closest family and most trusted guards. He focused on Conuiön. “Send some spies to Dale, and further east if necessary, to obtain more information about these Easterlings and their plans.”

Conuiön nodded, plainly satisfied by that order. “We will find out what they are about, my lord,” he replied coldly.

Thranduil returned his gaze steadily. “I think we had better.”

*~*~*

“They failed,” said a bitter voice, entering the dimly lit room and closing the door softly. A cold, late autumn breeze swept through the room, chilling its occupants and making the fire in the hearth dance.

That declaration was met by two sets of wide eyes and one cool stare.

A shadowed figure thudded his fist down on the arm of his chair and spoke with a tremulous voice. “I told you they would never succeed. Not with Tureden on the guard. Now we will be revealed.”

The newcomer’s head shook as he seated himself by the fire. “No. Tureden and the other warriors took no prisoners. None survived to expose our plans.”

The tension in the room noticeably dissipated.

“But now she will be even better guarded. We will never be in position to try this again in time.”

“There will always be other times,” said a calm voice. “Time is ultimately our greatest ally. But I agree that we are less likely now to be in a position to exploit this particular alliance. We will see. Our best option is still to try to get closer to her.”

That was answered by a derisive snort. “Thranduil’s memory is long and does not fade. He values nothing over his family. Not even gold or gems. You will never get near them.”

The cool expression grew heated. "It is you that prefers to take her alive. I am perfectly willing to kill her. That surely provides the shortest path to our goal. I would be happy to undertake that action myself if you doubt our other plans."

That brought the room to stunned silence.

“I assume you would prefer to rely on patience then? Very well. We will. And I have heard some news regarding their youngest that might suit our needs nicely.”

In the flickering firelight, three figures leaned forward in anticipation.

*~*~*

Hadhodrond--the Elvish name for Khazad-dum.

Meleth (nin)--(My) love

Adar/ada--Father/dad

Naneth/nana--Mother/mum

Ion nin--My son

AN: Lindomiel threw Thranduil into a river in Interrupted Journeys: New Journeys. Also, in case anyone has the slightest interest, the tolls Lindomiel says Gondor charges are the same tolls Colibre charged in 1252.


Chapter 5 - Light against the Shadow

Third Age 1940

Sitting at the far end of the council table next to his father, Dolgailon watched his uncle and silently thanked the Valar for the distance that separated them. He had served the realm as a warrior since coming of age and had never worked with the King directly. The last few months had been a learning experience as he slowly grew more accustomed to his new duties in the capital assisting his father and Engwe in military matters. Today, however, as Engwe presented the proposal for training new warriors that they had designed through the winter, Dolgailon was most uncomfortable. Thranduil was plainly displeased. His clenched fist rested on the parchment that summarized the training program and he faced Engwe with a harsh glare and stiff posture.

“Let me be certain that I understand what you are suggesting,” Thranduil said in a calm voice that did not seem to match his expression. “You want to admit elflings to military training. And you want to require new warriors to submit to a ten-year training program? Is that an accurate summary?”

Engwe drew himself up in his chair with a frown. “I would say that is the barest of summaries. The important issue is the content of the new program…”

Thranduil waved his hand to silence his uncle, shaking his head. “Those are the only two facets of this proposal that concern me at the moment. They make the entire program completely unacceptable. I will not consider it in this form. Redesign it to a reasonable length of time and omit the mention of elflings. Then we will reconsider it,” Thranduil stated in a firm voice, turning the paper face down in front of him and pushing it across the table at Engwe.

Engwe adopted the same determined expression that he normally sported when he squared off with his nephew and the other members of the King’s ruling council squirmed uncomfortably in their chairs. Dolgailon’s eyes widened and darted between the King and Engwe. He knew that Engwe often irritated his uncle to no end on family matters but, despite the evidence before his eyes to the contrary, the younger elf could not believe that Engwe would behave similarly in council. The next words spoken shattered that innocent belief.

“Training ‘elflings’ and other new warriors through a ten year program is necessary and you will consider it,” Engwe replied, shoving the paper back at Thranduil. When it sat under the King’s nose, Engwe turned it over and stabbed it with his finger to hold it in place. “If we do this, the realm will be better defended and many fewer of our new warriors will be lost in battle,” he said firmly.

Thranduil’s eyes narrowed and he leaned forward, still speaking quietly. “I will not improve the defense of this realm at the cost of robbing parents of their elflings…”

Engwe also leaned forward and interrupted the King. “Parents already train their children with weapons…”

“With bows and knives, so they may hunt and feed themselves. Not with swords to fight spiders and orcs.” Thranduil retorted, speaking over the rest of Engwe’s argument.

“You trained with weapons before you came of age,” Engwe persisted.

“I was descended from the line of the High King and my Adar was one of his captains. These people are potters and weavers, not warriors,” Thranduil replied.

“My lord, be it your will or not, very young elves are becoming warriors in this realm and they are poorly trained when they take up their duties. If you will give me one minute to speak, I can explain to you how this proposal will help save their lives. Surely that is worth at least a moment of your time,” a soft voice intervened before Engwe could further anger the King.

Thranduil turned with a severe frown towards this new source of dissent.

Dolgailon sat back reflexively as the King focused on him. He had never confronted his uncle. Even in his childhood, Thranduil’s quiet corrections would put a halt to his misbehavior when his own father’s punishments would not, much to Aradunnon’s exasperation.

“Thranduil,” Dolgailon heard his father say with a warning tone as he waited for the King to speak.

Thranduil glanced at his brother with annoyance but drew a deep breath before responding to his nephew in a calm voice. “Very well, Dolgailon, you have one minute. Though you should not harbor any false hopes that you might persuade me to this course of action.”

Dolgailon looked automatically at his father before beginning to speak. Aradunnon returned his son’s gaze evenly though Dolgailon thought he saw a hint of sympathy and a spark of amusement in his eyes. It occurred to Dolgailon, rather belatedly, that it might have been wiser to wait for his father to address the King. Aradunnon certainly had more experience in council. With a grimace, he faced Thranduil and the realization that he was about to gain more practice debating with the King than he wanted.

“My lord, as it stands currently, new warriors receive a year of training with weapons, primarily swords, and nothing more before being sent to the Palace Guard or the patrols along the Elf Path. After a few years there, many move into the more dangerous border patrols. That training may have been sufficient when adults were joining the regular patrols after serving in the village guards or after fighting in the War of the Last Alliance. But most such elves are already in the patrols. The majority of the new warriors are, like myself, young elves just coming of age. They have never fought beyond hunting. They have no experience and need more training…”

“Agreed,” Thranduil interrupted, irritably. “That is why we are reconsidering our warrior training. But this proposal does not refer to elves that have just come of age—it recommends training forty-year-old elflings. And ten years is simply too long. Most of what you suggest teaching can be learned while serving in the Palace Guard or in patrols along the Elf Path…”

Dolgailon frowned. “Please let me finish, my lord,” he said firmly.

Thranduil’s mouth formed a hard line but he nodded.

Taking a quiet breath, Dolgailon responded Thranduil’s argument. “It may be that most of what we have proposed teaching could be learned by new warriors while serving in the Palace Guard, but only if you dedicate senior warriors to teach it and time for the new warriors to practice it. We are not doing that now.” He paused. “And cannot I recommend in good conscience that the defense of the stronghold be left to warriors that are unskilled and senior warriors that must take time from their duties to offer training.”

Dolgailon watched as some of the impatience faded from Thranduil’s expression before he continued.

“Sending new warriors to the Palace Guard or the safer patrols on the Elf Path does not ensure their proper training in either weaponry or other military practices. In both posts, there is very little opportunity to fight and fighting alone does develop technique. New warriors need more time in drills to become truly skilled with weapons. But equally importantly, they need to learn tactics, survival skills, basic medicine, how to work within the command structure and how to perform everyday tasks in the patrols such as standing guard and making reports.”

“Surely I do not need to teach someone how to stand guard, Dolgailon,” Thranduil said scornfully but in a soft voice.

Dolgailon only nodded. “Yes, my lord, you do. You must know better than I that standing guard does not consist merely of staying awake at one’s post. Yet I regularly receive new warriors in the patrols I captain that barely understand that. Warriors are not normally sent to the south until after they have served in at least one other border patrol. Despite that, I was forced to dedicate time to weapons drills so that my warriors could carry out my orders. I taught them tactics so that they could understand my orders. And I had to manage youths that had no respect for command and no understanding of the importance of the simplest tasks.” He paused and was surprised to see that his uncle’s angry expression had softened to a merely serious one. “We need to accept and respond to the fact that most of the new warriors that we will add to our forces will be youths or adults leaving their household duties to defend their realm. If we are going to allow these completely unskilled elves to join the patrols, they need considerably more training than one year with weapons.”

Thranduil sighed. “I do not deny that the newer warriors need more thorough training. And if you feel that more than one year must be dedicated to this task, I will trust your judgment. That is why I asked you to work with Engwe on this proposal. But ten years is too long. I cannot afford for new warriors to dedicate so long to a training program. I need them in the patrols faster than that.”

Dolgailon nodded, relaxing considerably. “We may be able to shorten that estimate somewhat. And perhaps we could adapt the training for more experienced adults that wish to join the ranks of the warriors by designing tests to determine their skill level and isolate the areas where they need training before joining a patrol.”

Thranduil leaned back in his chair. “Then show me that. Prepare a detailed outline of the entire program—what you intend to teach and how and for what length of time. Who would be dedicated to teaching it? How would this testing you suggested be designed? Everything. And find a way to reduce the length of the training to five or six years.” He looked between Aradunnon, Engwe and Dolgailon with a stern look. “But allow me to be clear on one point—I will not compromise on the training of elflings. This realm does not now nor will it ever require its children to fight to protect it. You are recommending that the last years of the training be field experience within range of the stronghold. If you admit elflings to the program, you will be employing underage children in the defense of this realm. That is completely unacceptable.”

Aradunnon shook his head. “We are not discussing children, my lord, but rather forty-year-old adolescents,” he replied. “They will not be fighting. They will be training. And no one is suggesting that they be required to enter the warrior training. Only that they be allowed to start it, if their parents permit it, so that they may be ready to join the patrols when they come of age as so many want to do these days.”

Engwe nodded. “If you are concerned with the time frame of the program, allowing under age elves to enter it will supply us with capable warriors as soon as they come of age—you cannot get them in the patrols faster than that,” he interjected.

“That is not an acceptable solution, Engwe,” Thranduil retorted sharply.

Dolgailon frowned at Engwe’s argumentative posture and cast him an irate look before turning the King. “I fully understand your concerns, my lord. But consider this—if we do not train these forty-year-old ‘elflings,’ in only ten years you will no longer be able to shelter them. They will be of age and free to choose the course of their lives for themselves. And the Shadow in the south drives them to fight. Untrained, they will join their village guards, which you do not regulate, and they will die protecting their homes. I have seen it happen. Better to allow these youths to begin their training earlier in exchange for having them enter the regular patrols. In that way you have some control over where and how they serve the realm in their inexperience. With this program, they would be safely under the supervision of a senior warrior and only in positions where they will learn the nature of the command structure and basic military duties like standing guard and making reports.” He looked at his uncle intently. “It is a much surer way to protect them, my lord, while we better defend the realm.”

Aradunnon nodded. “Truthfully, this program will improve the safety of all the warriors. Even adults need some field experience before going into the patrols. Otherwise the complexity of the rules and duties and the general change in lifestyle is very overwhelming for them. Their first years are made all the more dangerous because they are struggling to adapt to too much.

Thranduil sighed heavily, eyeing Engwe, Aradunnon and Dolgailon narrowly. Dolgailon knew his uncle well enough to recognize that as a sign that he was wavering. He watched him silently, waiting for a response.

Engwe did not wait. “Would you prefer to see forty-year-old elflings training with swords or fifty year old ‘adults’ dead in the village guards?” he pressed.

Thranduil turned sharply and scowled at his uncle, his more reasonable mood fading swiftly in response to his inflamatory arguments. “I would prefer to see my people singing songs, carving designs into their hunting bows and dancing in the forest while drinking wine distilled from its fruits—as they did when Adar first led us here,” he snapped. “I would prefer for them to be able to enjoy a simple life free of orcs and spiders and other spawn of Morgoth. I recognize that is simply not possible with the Evil One in Dol Guldur but I will not allow him complete victory. Children training to use weapons made by dwarves and favored by the Noldor and Sindar? Elflings learning the basics of military tactics instead of the lore and arts of their people? Unacceptable. If my people are to be forced to train with swords and learn military tactics, I would prefer that they do so after they have had an opportunity, however brief, to learn and live their own heritage. I refuse to allow war to become the heritage of the next generation of these people. If I allow that, then we have already lost to the Shadow.”

The elves of Oropher’s generation looked at Thranduil sadly, clearly sympathetic to his argument.

Dolgailon, on the other hand, leaned forward with a severe frown on his face. “I am the ‘next generation’ of ‘your’ people, uncle. What makes you believe that we do not have as much right to defend this forest as your generation?”

Thranduil raised his eyebrows and focused on his nephew, surprised at his vehemence. “I do not deny your right to fight, Dolgailon. Are you not a captain? You are also five hundred years old…”

“And I would be only entering the patrols now if the choice had been yours to make,” Dolgailon interrupted, his voice bitter.

Thranduil’s eyebrows climbed higher. “I certainly did not like to see you go to the patrols at fifty. And you are proposing training forty-year-old elflings. Try to understand, Dolgailon. When I first came to this forest, the Silvan were untouched by the Shadow. I loved their songs and arts. The beauty of these people helped me recover from the evils I had seen. It pains me to see the Silvan’s loss now. I would like to keep war away from the younger generation as long as possible, to allow them some time to enjoy the life they should be living. I do not think it is right to force such serious matters as the defense of this forest on children at such a young age.”

Dolgailon’s expression did not change and he responded with a heated voice. “I was born in this forest and raised amongst the Woodelves, not the Sindar. I am Silvan, no matter what blood runs in my veins. And I have seen what all the Silvan youth of my generation have seen—the Shadow that covers the south. I will tell you this: the Silvan are not defined merely by bows, songs or arts. Those things are important but they evolve with the ages. What will never change, and what you fail to grasp the importance of, is our tie to this forest. This forest is our heritage more than any other symbol you might identify with us. As the forest has provided for our people for the last three ages, we will provide for its defense against the Shadow of the Evil One now. When we do so, we protect our way of life—our heritage, as you put it. Any ten-year-old Silvan child can express his love of this forest passionately. By the time we come of age, we are ready to defend it as fiercely as the Sindar fought for Menegroth or the Noldor pursued their jewels. If you would be King of the Silvan, it is your duty to accept that and learn to accommodate it.”

Thranduil blinked at his young nephew, stunned to silence. The rest of the council, including Engwe and Aradunnon, stared at Dolgailon as well.

A blush slowly crept over the younger elf’s cheeks as he realized how he had just spoken and to whom. He lowered his eyes and continued with a softer voice. “I beg your pardon for my tone, my lord. And possibly for my last statement. But for the rest of it, I stand by what I said.” When Thranduil still did not speak, Dolgailon looked back at him, meeting his steely gaze unflinchingly.

Thranduil studied Dolgailon for a long moment. Then he let out a calming breath. “You are your adar’s son, Dolgailon, and there is no mistaking it. I have heard him make that same argument more times than I can count and I know he thinks himself Silvan, not Sindarin. As do I, to a large extent. I was very young when I came to this forest and I love it every bit as much as you do. I believe I have ‘accommodated’ its defense as well as I could over the last two millennia. I do not doubt the valor of the Silvan. Nor yours. I merely grieve the need to fight. I grieve your loss of innocence and I would protect that innocence, along with this forest, as long as possible.”

Dolgailon’s expression hardened. “Be certain that you do not grieve your own loss of innocence, my lord,” he said steadily. “For we only grieve the loss of the forest and we will fight it. Ultimately, it is not really your choice how we will fight that loss. The villages are very independent and employ their own guards. As I have already stated, if you want to protect the younger elves, the best means to contribute to their safety is to provide adequate training and exercise as much control as possible over where they serve.”

Thranduil frowned. “I do not deny that my own past colors my decisions, Dolgailon,” he said in a remarkably calm tone after a long moment. Then he paused again. “So you are saying that you believe the adults—not the children, but the adults—in the general populace would support a training program that admits elflings?”

Dolgailon nodded. “I am.”

Thranduil turned to Golwon. “Do the villagers have any notion that this proposal is being considered?”

“No, my lord. I only heard about this myself this morning,” he replied quickly and without any hint of his typical bluster.

Amusement lit Thranduil’s eyes in response to Golwon’s attitude. He smirked at him a moment before continuing. “Discuss it with some who you trust. Find out how the people will feel about allowing children to train and report to me what you learn.”

Golwon nodded. “Yes, my lord.”

Thranduil turned back to Engwe, Aradunnon and Dolgailon. “As for adults, prepare the full outline of this program that we discussed. I want details and then I will reconsider this.” He paused for attention. “For adults. Not children. Not yet, at any rate. I will withhold my judgment on that until I hear Golwon’s report.”

Engwe, Aradunnon and Dolgailon nodded. “Yes, my lord,” they replied, with a quietly victorious tone. Thranduil scowled at that as Hallion directed the council to the next order of business.

*~*~*

Late that afternoon, Thranduil and his council exited the Great Hall talking amongst themselves and walking towards the family chambers. A delighted cry interrupted their progress.

“Ada!” shrilled a cheerful voice.

The King’s advisors paused and turned, Golwon’s expression instantly matching the excitement and joy of the voice. He dropped to his knees to greet the elfling now running towards him from the Great Gates as fast as her little legs would carry her. Isteth trotted behind their daughter, watching her progress across the hard, stone floor carefully. But Eirienil was already old enough to dance so running presented little challenge. Behind them followed Lindomiel and Amoneth at a more sedate pace and festively adorned with chains of wild daisies around their wrists and neck. The child had a little bouquet of wildflowers in her hands that she gave to her father before he swept her up, kissing her forehead and the tip of her nose. She giggled and he closed his eyes and smiled, loosing a deep sigh as little arms wrapped softly around his neck.

“We walked through the forest and saw a squirrel and a fox and some butterflies and looked for flowers and nana taught me some new bird names and…”

She babbled on for quite some time, talking animatedly. The elves going about their business in the stronghold looked at the family scene warmly. So did Thranduil. As usual, he was greatly entertained by the complete reversal of Golwon’s normally stern personality in Isteth and Eirienil’s presence. He well understood it for he thoroughly adored Golwon’s daughter. Indeed the little elleth had completely captured the hearts of all her ‘uncles’ and the females in the family swore that an elfling slightly over one-year-old ruled the realm and not the King or his council. As Lindomiel and Amoneth approached, they smiled with dramatic indulgence at their husbands who were listening attentively to the child’s tales.

After Eirienil had told her father about her entire day in all the detail only a child can relate, she finally graced the other members of the family with her smile. Her eyes widened when they fell on Thranduil. The afternoon meetings had included a conference with several village leaders for which Thranduil had worn his traditional crown of spring flowers. It still sat, now forgotten by him, on his head and had attracted Eirienil’s full attention. She leaned towards him holding out her arms and he automatically took her from Golwon in response. As soon as she was securely in the King’s arms she reached up and plucked the crown from his head.

“This is so pretty,” she exclaimed and dropped it over her own head so it fell as a necklace along with the other chains of flowers she already wore after her day in the forest.

“Eirienil!” exclaimed Isteth, shocked and looking at Thranduil guiltily.

Much to her relief, Thranduil only laughed. “Indeed it is pretty. Almost as pretty as you,” he said, smiling at the child in his arms.

“I am sorry, my lord,” Isteth said, attempting to take the crown from her daughter but Eirienil scowled at her mother and grasped it firmly.

Thranduil shook his head dismissively. “She is welcome to it,” he said quietly as Lindomiel and Amoneth finally reached the family group.

Seeing her husband, Eirienil in his arms and the crown she had made for him that morning around the child’s neck, Lindomiel laughed involuntarily.

“This is a lovely sight,” she said, leaning to kiss Thranduil’s cheek. Eirienil put her arms around Lindomiel’s neck as she did, so the queen took the child from her husband, bouncing her on her hip.

“You are growing into quite a young lady, Eirienil,” Lindomiel said, making the child giggle. Then she focused on Thranduil. “We were just coming to see if we could induce you to abandon the Great Hall and come enjoy a beautiful spring evening,” she said with a bright smile. The same smile that Thranduil had fallen in love with two thousand years ago and that still made his heart leap. “The atmosphere on the lawn is nothing short of a festival day. The minstrels are playing and there is dancing and games. I think that your presence is required, my lord.”

Thranduil laughed lightly but was about to protest that he at least wanted dinner. Before he could make any response at all, Aradunnon’s arm draped firmly across his shoulders. “We will need to tell someone to bring out some Dorwinion as well,” he said, steering his brother firmly towards the gates. With his other hand, he caught Dolgailon’s arm. “Come, ion nin. Let us drag Thranduil into a few games. I can beat him at archery and I imagine you can too, by now. We shall have to test your skills.” Then he paused and an even more mischievous expression claimed him. “Or we could drag you into a few dances. Did I see you speaking with Arthiel a few nights ago by the river? She is a lovely young lady.”

Thranduil would normally firmly resist any attempt by his brother to pull him into any activity, no matter how apparently innocent. But he found himself distracted and amused by the stern glare that his nephew directed at Aradunnon. Despite himself, he laughed heartily.

Aradunnon turned to him with a broad smile, tightening his arm around his brother’s shoulder. “Not a word from you, muindor nin. You were even worse than my son. You were over three thousand-years-old before you met Lindomiel and finally kissed an elleth,” he scolded mockingly.

Thranduil heard his nephew’s amused and surprised snort. With a frown, he grabbed Aradunnon’s wrist, twisting it as he removed it from his shoulder. “Lindomiel was not the first elleth I kissed, Aradunnon. And you have much more to lose than I if we are going to start telling your young son stories about our lives before our marriages. I recommend that you bear that in mind before you speak again,” he said with a mostly joking, warning tone.

Aradunnon laughed and took Thranduil’s arm to continue to drag him to the green. “My brother and my son. The two of you are exactly alike,” he said disgustedly but with teasing light in his eyes.

Dolgailon looked at his father sidelong. “From what I have heard, and I have heard a great deal from my fellow warriors, you should be very thankful that I am more like my uncle than you, adar,” he said cheekily.

Thranduil laughed in earnest as Aradunnon turned wide eyes to his son. “You are absolutely correct, Dolgailon,” Thranduil affirmed. “Do not let him tell you otherwise. Ask your daernaneth for stories about your adar, if you dare. Or the minstrels, for that matter. They have a few songs about his escapades.”

Dolgailon looked at his father with sincere amazement, seeking confirmation of his uncle’s assertion in Aradunnon’s eyes.

Aradunnon laughed ruefully. “It is true, Dolgailon,” he admitted. “They could sing some songs that would probably shock you but I suggest you ask for a private audience. Your daernaneth does not like those songs.”

Thranduil laughed quietly at his brother’s completely unabashed admission as they crossed the bridge and joined the merrymaking on the lawn, much to the delight of elves already present.

*~*~*

Thranduil leaned into the embrace of a broad, old beech enjoying the fragrant spring breeze and watching his family on the green. For a while they all had sat together, teaching Eirienil the minstrels’ songs and new dances. Now, for once completely exhausted after a full day of excitement, Eirienil lay in her mother’s arms listening to Golwon tell stories about the stars. The other members of the family had left Golwon and Isteth to enjoy this rare quiet moment with their lively daughter. Aradunnon and Amoneth had gone to join in a game by the river. Dolgailon was pulled into the dancing by Arthiel, much to his elders’ delight. Lindomiel was singing with the minstrels as she often did though this evening was special—Engwe had been persuaded to bring out his harp and was accompanying their songs. That had drawn Dieneryn, Hallion and Celonhael, along with their generous goblets of wine, to join in the singing just to tease their peer.

In the midst of the merrymaking, Thranduil sat in quiet solitude, allowing his mind to wander. Normally, he felt thoroughly content on the green watching his people revel in the beauty of the forest on a warm spring evening. But this evening he was focused on his earlier debate with Engwe, Aradunnon and Dolgailon and his mind was restless. He could not help wondering how many of these elves would one day be spending their evenings standing guard rather than merrymaking.

As he contemplated their discussion, the one thought that kept coming back to him was Dolgailon’s accusation. ‘Be certain that you do not grieve your own loss of innocence.’ Thranduil could not deny that a deep shadow lay across his heart and he did grieve all the events in his life that contributed to it. There were many, but thinking about training elflings as warriors forced him to remember one of two in particular that he would gratefully forget if it were possible.

Settled with a book on cushions next to the fireplace, Thranduil looked up sharply, startled when the door to his chambers flew open. His mother came swiftly into the room with a look of open relief on her face when she saw him. He stared her, brows furrowed with confusion.

“Thank the Valar you are in your room for once,” she said breathlessly as her eyes began to scan about quickly.

Thranduil snorted softly. “Adar says that if Rodonon complains to him one more time about my lack of preparation for my language studies that he is going to send me to live in one of the Mannish villages to learn first hand,” he replied with mirth in his voice, expecting to see his mother at least smirk as well. His father’s threats were creative and normally a source of amusement for them both since they knew the more outrageous ones were completely idle.

But Dieneryn only continued searching the room, now turning about to do so. “Where are your weapons, Thranduil,” she demanded.

He frowned. “Out of sight so that I will not be tempted by them to go to the archery range rather than study these less-than-fascinating, irregular, preterit tense verb forms,” he replied, his tone still rather cheeky.

Dieneryn faced him and he saw her expression was deadly serious. It caused him to sober instantly, as did her next words. “Get your sword and come with me. We are leaving.”

Thranduil’s eyes widened. “Nana, what is…?”

Dieneryn shook her head and reached for her son, pulling him up from where he still sat, now tensely, on the cushions. Her grip was surprisingly strong. “Menegroth is under attack. Arm yourself and come with me while we can still escape.”

Thranduil stared at her a brief second and then pulled his sword, bow and quiver quickly from a corner of the room. As he fastened the quiver straps, Dieneryn hurried him from the room.

“Where is adar? And Uncle Engwe, Aunt Ormeril and Ninglor?” he asked, looking about the halls. The living quarters were eerily silent.

“I could not find your aunt and cousin. Your adar and uncle are fighting,” she responded briefly and in a whisper.

Thranduil felt his heart begin to race as he followed his mother. She crept quietly through the familiar corridors as if they were a dark, fell mountain path, pausing to listen at each intersection and pulling him swiftly from shadow to shadow. When she rounded a blind turn that led to the entrance to the Elves Quarters, the glint of a steel blade flickering in the torchlight caught his eye, and he noticed that she too carried a weapon. Attached to the silver girdle that she normally wore was the leather scabbard of his great grandfather’s long knife. Dieneryn’s grandfather, Malaewon, had been killed in the First Battle of the Wars of Beleriand fighting with that weapon along side Denethor in defense of Menegroth. It normally hung with his shield on the walls in the family’s quarters. Now Dieneryn wielded it with a grip that Thranduil was surprised to see appeared to demonstrate that she knew how to use it.

As she turned the corner, Thranduil saw her tense. He gripped the hilt of his sword more firmly, dropping automatically into a defensive stance. Dieneryn glanced back at him, holding up her hand to keep him back.

“There has been fighting here but it appears to be clear now.” Her voice was steady but Thranduil recognized the warning in it and his breath caught in his throat. He nodded his understanding and his mother continued down the corridor. Bracing himself, Thranduil followed.

Immediately around the corner was a fallen Elven guard, his eyes staring emptily at the ceiling and blood trailing from a gaping wound in his chest along a seam in the stone floors to pool against the wall. The other guard that normally stood at this entrance lay face down on the cold stones several feet away. Further down the hall through the open door to the Elves Quarters were three dead dwarves. A fourth, that had killed the guard at Thranduil’s feet, lay dead next to him, axe still in his hand.

Thranduil stared dumbly at the guards. He passed them every day. He had tried to convince them many times to leave his late entries into the hall out of their logs. He had spared with both of them a few times while training with his sword. He had even gone with them once to a place along the river where the Elves of Menegroth made merry with some rather raucous games and songs. He could not take in the sight of them fallen, their post undefended.

“Come, ion nin. There is no time,” he heard his mother’s voice say. It sounded distant as the blood pounded in Thranduil’s ears.

He looked at her, unmoving. “Where is adar?” he asked, repeating his earlier question with a cold voice full of anger.

Dieneryn fixed him with a stern glare. “No, Thranduil, you have too little training with that sword. You do not have the skill to fight in this battle. Come with me.” She grabbed the wrist of his sword arm and pulled him along bodily.

They proceeded for several minutes down the silent corridors, making their way from the Elves Quarters to the front gates. As they crossed passageways that led deeper into stronghold towards the treasury and smithies, Thranduil heard or possibly imagined shouts and the sounds swords clanking. His nose wrinkled as they drew closer to the front hall and the acrid smell of smoke assaulted his senses. That was undeniably real.

Still holding her son’s wrist firmly, Dieneryn stopped at the crossroads of two corridors, listening and clearly trying to choose which path to take. Before them was the entrance to a large public meeting room. Through its far door was a passage that led to the throne room and the front gates. Another corridor led to the library, smaller meeting rooms and a variety of public halls and gardens near the throne room. The sounds of battle in the halls between them and the gates were now unmistakable.

“We cannot avoid the battle if we intend to reach the gates, nana,” Thranduil whispered, his blood still hot from the sight of the dead guards. He expected his mother to argue, but suddenly any protest she might make was rendered useless.

No sooner had Thranduil finished speaking than the far doors in the meeting room burst open. Dieneryn pushed her son further into the shadows and flattened herself against the wall, looking at him with a fierce expression intended to silence him. Thranduil saw the desperation in his mother’s eyes. Against his will, he remained in place, hidden in the darkness.

A deep Elven voice shouted, ordering people to draw back into the hall. Thranduil heard the sound of feet running and higher pitched voices, ellyth and children, crying in fear as they fled. Some ran into the hall, out its back doors near Thranduil and Dieneryn’s hiding place and past them, deeper into the stronghold without stopping or seeing anything. Others Thranduil heard struggling to secure the far doors in the meeting room against the advance of the enemy. Above the clamor of the disorganized retreat rose the dull thuds of weapons as they clove flesh and the screams of the injured. Thranduil gripped the hilt of the sword in his hand so fiercely that his knuckles were white and looked again at his mother.

Dieneryn returned his gaze with pleading eyes. “I beg you, stay here, Thranduil,” she whispered. Her hand, which still gripped his sword arm, tightened reflexively.

Thranduil closed his eyes against the sounds of battle and obeyed, restrained only by his respect for his mother and refusal to frighten her further. He knew he had minimal training with weapons and would be little use in a battle against skilled warriors but every fiber of his being railed against hiding in the shadows when others were in danger so near by.

Then he heard a sound he could not ignore. A scream amongst many. But even that pain filled utterance was familiar. Thranduil glanced at his mother and saw her close her eyes, growing even paler than she had been before. The scream was followed by the incoherent, furious and grief-stricken cries of a voice that Thranduil plainly recognized.

Hearing it, Dieneryn moved away from the wall and stood in the open, looking into the meeting hall. Thranduil watched as her face immediately contorted with grief. She covered her mouth with her hand and Thranduil could not determine if she was stifling a scream or struggling to not become sick.

He stepped forward, standing next to his mother. On the far side of the meeting room, near the doors, lay Ormeril. Over her stood Ninglor, tears glistening on his cheeks, his sword in his hand and a look a pure hatred on his face. The guards struggling to secure the doors yelled at him to run but Ninglor was faced off with a pair of dwarves that still stood in the hall.

Thranduil watched for a moment as the dwarves appeared uninterested in fighting the youth, focusing instead on the guards that were trying to herd the ellyth and elflings from the room. But Ninglor refused to be ignored. He swung his sword viciously at the dwarf nearest him. The blow was turned by the dwarf’s mail, cutting only his leather jerkin, but it drew the dwarves’ attention. They turned on him as the guards finally finished barring the doors and ran towards him as well.

One dwarf pulled two small axes from his belt. He threw one at the nearest guard charging them. It was deflected by the downward stroke of the elf’s sword. The second axe immediately followed its mate and the guard could not raise his sword quickly enough to defend himself a second time. Thranduil watched, horrified, as the axe embedded itself in the chest of the advancing guard. He stumbled and fell forward.

The other dwarf swung a large axe at Ninglor, who clumsily parried the dwarf’s blows with his sword. Ninglor was furious, swinging blindly with no attempt to control his blows, wishing only to kill. Thranduil was too stunned by the carnage before him to move until the dwarf landed his first blow. Seeing his cousin stagger back, pain and shock registering on his face, broke Thranduil’s restraint. Stepping around his mother and pulling his wrist free from her grip, he ran into the hall, sword raised and yelling a curse at the dwarves to draw their attention from Ninglor. He heard both his mother and the remaining guard shouting at him to stop, but he did not heed them.

Ninglor fell back, tripping over a body behind him and sprawling on the floor while clutching his wounded sword arm. His sword clattered to the stone floor next to him. But the dwarf that cut him was unable to press his advantage. Instead, he was forced to face a new foe as Thranduil charged him, driving his sword into the dwarf’s side. The second dwarf was engaged with the guard that had finally joined the fight.

Thranduil’s blade pierced the dwarf’s mail and he roared with pain, twisting his body away from the sword while swinging his axe at his enemy. Shocked that his blow had landed and instinctively dodging the axe, Thranduil jumped back, pulling his sword free. He sliced at the arm wielding the axe. The dwarf was wearing vambraces, so he was not injured, but the cut did manage to deflect the axe. In a pain-induced fury, the dwarf reached for a second axe and swung it at Thranduil’s chest. At the same time he hooked Thranduil’s sword and forced it down with the heavy axe in his other hand.

Thranduil’s eyes widened in fear as his sword arm was dragged down by superior strength. The only other weapon he had was a knife, far too small to deflect his enemy’s second axe now aimed to kill him. With an angry grimace, he drew the knife despite its uselessness to turn the dwarf’s attack and threw it. The blade buried itself in the dwarf’s throat but the axe did not alter its course—momentum carried it towards Thranduil’s chest.

Suddenly another blade fell into his field of vision. It bore down on the axe, driving it to the ground. Thranduil turned to see his mother and great grandfather’s long knife poised over the dwarf. He stared at his mother’s fell expression, his mouth hanging open slightly, his breathing coming in gasps.

He was awakened from his shock when Dieneryn turned without pause from the dwarf falling at her feet to the one still fighting the remaining guard. Thranduil automatically, albeit belatedly, repeated his mother’s quick scan of the room for further enemies. Finding none, he focused on the dwarf and guard. At that moment, the guard found his opening and drove his sword through the dwarf’s mail into his gut. The dwarf groaned and fell to his knees.

“We have to flee,” the guard shouted, taking Dieneryn by the arm.

Thranduil was at once aware of the pounding on the doors of the hall and the battle cries of the dwarves behind them. The doors were about to give way. He moved to follow the guard and his mother when suddenly he remembered the reason why he had charged the room. Fear clutched his heart as he realized no one other than himself, his mother and the guard were standing. Then his eyes fell on his cousin.

Ninglor lay on the stones, not far from Ormeril. The axe wound he bore was clearly mortal though Thranduil had not seen it fall. He stood, frozen in place, staring at his cousin and aunt.

“Come, ion nin,” his mother’s voice cried.

Come child,” a stronger voice yelled as a harsh grip seized his arm and pulled him towards the back of the chamber. Unseeingly, he followed.

Thranduil glanced at his mother and Engwe, singing with the minstrels. He remembered fleeing Menegroth through a garden that opened to the outside of the mountain. When the guard led he and his mother to where the other escapees were gathered, his Adar and Uncle Engwe were already there. They were sitting with his grandparents, wounded from the battle, but not unconscious, though Engwe might as well have been. His face was vacant and Thranduil thought his uncle might fade right there before his eyes from the loss of his wife and son. As his father described the battle, they learned that all of Dieneryn’s brothers were killed as well.

Before that day, the only being that Thranduil had known to die was an ancient, beloved hunting dog that he had made into a pet during his early youth. Its death had seemed devastating to him for he could not comprehend it. He knew, as everyone did, that Thingol had been murdered in the dwarves’ workshops not long before, but he had not known the High King well and his parents had done all they could to shield him from the repercussions of that deed. They could not hide from him horrors of the dwarves’ invasion of the stronghold. What he had seen that day was something he would never be able to forget. Thranduil recognized that experience, along with the final loss of Menegroth at the hands of Elves and the destruction of Beleriand during the War of Wrath, left him with a deep, bitter anger that even now could consume him in certain situations if he was not careful to restrain himself. As he had told Dolgailon during the council meeting, the beauty of Greenwood the Great and its people was responsible for any healing he had found and for that reason he loved them in return. Seeing the forest and the Silvan marred by the Evil One was often more than he felt he could bear. An undeniable shadow fell over his heart every time he was reminded of Dol Guldur and the orcs and spiders that darkened his realm.

Dolgailon’s statement kept surfacing in his mind. ‘Be certain that you do not grieve your own loss of innocence, my lord. For we only grieve the loss of the forest and we will fight it.’ Fight it, indeed. Thranduil had fought it for many an age and he would keep doing so.

Thranduil was lost in these grim thoughts when a warm hand fell lightly on his shoulder. He turned to see Lindomiel kneeling next to him, looking at him with bright eyes. In their recesses, he could read her concern.

“Come dance with me, meleth,” she invited with a soft voice and the smile that always enchanted him.

Thranduil looked at her a moment, listening to the music and delighted voices of the elves around him. At his back he felt the contented evening song of the old beech. Over her shoulder he caught a glimpse of Isteth singing softly to Eirienil and Dolgailon dancing with some maiden that was blatantly flirting with him. He saw Aradunnon sitting on a bench with Amoneth in his lap telling obviously outrageous stories to a group of his friends who were laughing uproariously. Aradunnon’s arms were about his wife’s waist and his hands rested on the slight swell finally showing itself on her abdomen. Suddenly it occurred to him that there were many ways to fight and many ways to be defeated.

With a shake of his head, Thranduil stood, offering Lindomiel his hand to help her rise as well. “No, come take a walk with me, Lindomiel. Along the river.”

Lindomiel took her husband’s arm with an amused, if somewhat bewildered, smile and followed him silently.

They walked for a good distance beside the river, winding their way between the trunks and over the twisted roots of the beeches. Thranduil knew his wife loved the rushing water of the river and he took comfort in the ancient trees that grew on its banks. Walking here was a common pastime for them.

Finally, Thranduil stopped and leaned against one of the gnarled trunks, pulling Lindomiel to him. His arms slipped around her waist holding her firmly against him as his lips grazed hers and slid to her jaw to softly trace a path down her neck. His hands moved as lightly as the starlight over the silk gown she wore. Thranduil watched Lindomiel’s eyes flutter closed at his touch. In addition to her obvious contentment, he saw laughter in the lines of her mouth. It was normally she that dragged her husband to these secluded spots and Thranduil knew she was pleased that he had chosen to take her here. She would be even more pleased in a moment.

“Lindomiel,” he whispered softly, as his fingers entwined softly in her hair.

“Hmm?” she responded absently, already losing herself in his caresses.

“Look at me,” he entreated.

She opened her eyes and focused on him with playful impatience that immediately died when she saw his serious expression. Her eyes widened. “What is wrong, meleth?” she asked, concern in her voice.

He shook his head, tracing a finger along her cheek. “Do you have any idea how much light you have brought into my life, Lindomiel?” he asked.

Her brows knit as her concern deepened. “What is wrong?” she repeated.

“Nothing. I admit that when you invited me to dance I had been thinking about the Shadow. But as you always do, you have driven it from me. I can never tell you often enough how I love you, Lindomiel.”

She smiled at that, though she still studied him carefully. After a moment, she seemed satisfied and kissed him lightly. “As I love you,” she replied simply.

He tightened his arms around her. “After Beleriand was destroyed and so much of my family lost, it was a long time before I found any measure of peace,” he said without looking at her. He felt her tense at his return to this dark topic. “When my Adar was killed in Mordor, I did not see how I could recover from that blow to lead these people. I truly believe you were a gift to me from the Valar, Lindomiel.”

Her fingers on his cheek, she turned his face to make him look at her. “You had recovered before you met me, Thranduil. Perhaps not completely, but enough to lead these people with a strength that they needed to recover themselves. If I helped you, I am glad. But you are much stronger than you sometimes give yourself credit.”

He laughed softly. “Perhaps. But I am thankful for the light you bring to my life, nonetheless.” He paused and looked at her intently. “You said to me recently that a child, our child, would bring still more light to our lives. I agree with that, meleth. I do not want to let the Evil One win any battle in this forest. Least of all will I let him defeat me.”

She blinked and her mouth opened slightly as a hopeful gleam lit her eyes.

Thranduil laughed again, this time with clear happiness. “I want a child, Lindomiel,” he said plainly.

A bright smile lit Lindomiel’s face and she kissed him again. “Tonight?” she asked softly.

“It is a beautiful night,” he replied as his hands returned to wander softly over her back.

She did not respond. Instead she looked at him with dramatic patience. “Do you have any idea what day today is, Thranduil? Any recollection at all of why I might have organized this little festival on the green?”

Thranduil glanced up at the moon, thinking quickly since her tone implied he had better remember something. “What is the date, meleth? It would be the second or third day of this moon, would it not?”

She shook her head and responded with amused irritation. “It is the third day of the of the first spring moon. Is there any significance to this day, Thranduil?”

He looked at her now guiltily. “It is the anniversary of the day we met in Lorien and the day we were married. I am sorry, Lindomiel. I did not realize…”

She put a finger over his lips to silence him. “If you are indeed willing to make this day the anniversary of another event, I will forgive you,” she whispered, drawing closer to him.

He smiled. “I am, meleth. It seems even more perfect to me now.”

To that, Lindomiel only nodded as she ran her hands up his chest and around his neck, leaning in to kiss him, this time passionately.

*~*~*

The first rays of dawn found the King and Queen of Greenwood lying in each other’s arms on Thranduil’s cloak in the Queen’s garden. Thranduil stared at the fading stars through the branches of the old beech above them. The beech had seen Thranduil and Lindomiel in this activity before. But this morning its song was different, as if it knew this joining had been special. The tree whispered of new life and Thranduil did not think it referred only to the delicate green leaves budding on its branches but also to the new song that Thranduil and Lindomiel were lying so still to enjoy. Thranduil let his hand drift down to his wife’s abdomen. Encountering her hand there, he covered it with his own. He had never in his life felt so completely happy.

*~*~*

Adar/ada--Father/dad

Naneth/nana--Mother/mum

Ion nin--My son

Muindor nin--My brother

Daeradar/Daernaneth--Grandfather/grandmother

Meleth nin--My love


Chapter 6 - Bound by Fate

Thranduil and Lindomiel walked into the family dining room hand-in-hand, arriving much later than they ordinarily did. Everyone but Hallion already sat around the table, chatting and enjoying the tea, fruit and bread that was always available in the mornings before the meal was served. In response to the king’s entrance, the family stood and momentarily turned away from their conversation to greet him. Their casual courtesies quickly became raised eyebrows and amused stares when they actually focused on the king and queen.

“Fair morning,” Thranduil said, returning their greetings with a light voice as he sat and motioned for them to do the same. He laughed inwardly at the attention now silently fixed upon he and his wife. Thranduil was perfectly aware that he had a silly grin on his face but he found that he could not help it. After spending the entire previous night conceiving his first child, he was still in an indescribably blissful mood.

“Fair morning, Thranduil,” Dieneryn replied, studying her son and then Lindomiel carefully.

Under his mother’s scrutiny, Thranduil glanced at Lindomiel and saw she also wore a bright smile and her eyes positively shone with anticipation. Looking at her, Thranduil felt his breath catch. Her smile had always completely captivated him. But today it was different somehow—warmer, more tender, more adoring—very similar to Dieneryn’s smile when she spoke of her sons, he suddenly realized. It was a mother’s smile. Looking at her, Thranduil drew a deep breath as his heart filled with an entirely new emotion. This was his wife, who he loved more than life itself. She was also now the mother of his child. He squeezed her hand, which he still held in his lap under the table, and she met his loving gaze with her own.

Aradunnon interrupted their silent interchange by leaning forward to draw his brother’s attention. “Thranduil, you have not looked this foolish since you began courting Lindomiel. Confess. What is the cause of this absurd expression you and Lindomiel share this morning?”

Thranduil chuckled softly and slowly turned to his brother with a dramatically tolerant smirk. “One day, Aradunnon, I am going to grow tired of your impudence. And behaving this way in the presence of the entire family! Have you no fear that you are a bad influence on your own son?”

Dolgailon bowed his head over his plate to hide his reaction to his uncle and father’s banter. Everyone knew their relationship amused the younger elf.

Aradunnon shook his head, grinning broadly, but refusing to be distracted. “Dolgailon is an adult and thankfully does perfectly well despite who his father is. You, on the other hand, obviously have an announcement to make. And it must be a fairly impressive one given your bizarre behavior. Come, tell us what it is.”

All eyes were now focused curiously on the king.

In response, Thranduil only raised his eyebrows and affected an innocent air. “Perhaps I do have an announcement. But if I do, it must wait until the entire family is here.” He motioned towards the empty seat at the table. “Where is Hallion? Does anyone know?”

There was a moment of silence as everyone looked at one another questioningly. Finally, Dolgailon frowned slightly and spoke.

“Some men arrived at the gates at first light. The guards told Hallion you could not be disturbed and so he is meeting with them in the Great Hall,” he supplied in a quiet voice.

Thranduil’s expression immediately became more serious. “How do you know this? Did you get any sense of the men’s business?”

Dolgailon quickly shook his head. “I was not involved in such matters at all, uncle. I simply saw the men at the Gate this morning and overheard the Gate Guards’ conversation with your guards. Later when I was coming in to morning meal I saw Hallion in the Great Hall with them. All I can say is that there were two men and their discussion with Hallion appeared very calm. They were sitting at a table and speaking quietly, nothing more.”

Thranduil’s frown only deepened. “Well, I supposed Hallion will inform us of what our guests want during the morning briefing,” he replied quietly, but everyone could easily hear the tinge of displeasure in his voice. Unexpected Mannish visitors rarely brought good news.

Aradunnon’s knuckles rapped on the table, drawing Thranduil’s attention again. His brother’s eyes were still bright and playful. “Then you have no excuse to keep us in suspense, Thranduil. What is your news?” he demanded, enunciating each word of his question.

As Thranduil smiled at Aradunnon, in the back of his mind he marveled at how easily he again slipped into a teasing mood. “Perhaps I will wait until evening meal when Hallion is present to make my announcement just to spite you, Aradunnon,” he began.

Lindomiel’s laughter interrupted him. “You most certainly will not,” she exclaimed with an exasperated tone. Her expression made it clear that she knew Thranduil would do exactly as he threatened if he thought it would torture his younger brother.

Everyone at the table reacted with varying degrees of amusement to Lindomiel’s obvious impatience and Thranduil smiled at her indulgently. “Very well, my lady,” he said, raising her hand, which he still held, to his lips. “Would you like to tell them?”

Lindomiel nodded quickly, her excitement clearly rising at the suggestion, and then turned to the family. “We are expecting our first child,” she said softly.

There was a moment of silence as everyone processed that momentous news before they rushed from their places to embrace Lindomiel and congratulate Thranduil. Dieneryn pulled both her son and Lindomiel into an embrace, leaving one arm around Lindomiel’s waist as she released them and using the other to caress her son’s cheek. Lindomiel was immediately surrounded by the ellyth in the family while Aradunnon put an arm around his brother’s shoulder and Engwe clasped his hand, looking at him with a very paternal air.

“Congratulations, Thranduil,” he said in a quiet, sincere voice, brimming with emotion. “I am so happy for you. So pleased that you will soon be a father.”

“So am I,” Aradunnon exclaimed. “I suppose that I am forced to admit that this news is an adequate excuse for arriving late to morning meal and behaving so ridiculously.”

Thranduil looked at Aradunnon sidelong with a playfully irate glare, causing his brother to laugh outright.

“Congratulations, muindor nin,” Aradunnon finally said, speaking now with complete sincerity. “I too am very happy for you and quite pleased with the idea that our children will grow up together.”

Thranduil shook his head, laughing quietly. “Thank you both,” he replied looking between them before focusing on his brother. “And I freely admit that I am ‘behaving ridiculously’ this morning. I am much more…I do not quite know how to describe it…excited, thrilled, incredibly happy but nervous as well. I cannot tear my thoughts from the baby and as I think about everything I will do with him or her…everything he or she must be taught…I find myself both greatly looking forward to it all and very daunted by the idea of being responsible for this new life.”

Aradunnon and Engwe nodded knowingly.

“I remember very well how delightful it was to see the world through Ninglor’s eyes as I explained or did new things with him,” Engwe said softly. “I cannot remember happier times in my life than those I spent teaching my son.”

“And it is no different the second time,” Aradunnon said. “I am just as impatient to see my second son as I was to see my first. Just as thrilled and scared and simply awestruck as I was when we were expecting Dolgailon. Parenthood is quite an adventure.”

Dolgailon laughed involuntarily at that. “Uncle, you are responsible for an entire kingdom. I am confident that you will manage one son or daughter well enough.”

Thranduil looked at Dolgailon with a rueful smile. “I hope you are right. But managing a kingdom suddenly seems very easy to me compared to raising a child. The kingdom’s needs are very specific—distribution of supplies, defense—concrete matters. I am responsible for helping to form the character of this child. That seems much more difficult.”

Engwe suddenly adopted his typical superior smirk. “I would not concern myself overmuch, Thranduil. After all, a good portion of a child’s character must be simply innate and beyond the influence of its parents. Look at how Dolgailon turned out. He is respectable, completely unlike his father.”

Aradunnon frowned good-naturedly at his uncle as Dolgailon, who was quite accustomed to this comparison, laughed lightly.

Thranduil smirked at them both and decided to avenge himself of some of his brother’s earlier teasing. “If that is true, it may work out for the best or the worst and again we can use Aradunnon as an example—I remember that Adar strove valiantly to raise Aradunnon properly and to this day he is still a complete rogue.”

Aradunnon raised his hand to silence them. “Enough from both of you,” he commanded firmly, shaking his head. He looked over at his son. “You can see plainly the joys of brotherhood. Be thankful you are the elder for that appears to be advantageous.”

All four ellyn laughed at that observation as they turned their attentions to Lindomiel and the ellyth fussing over her.

*~*~*

Morning meal lasted considerably longer than normal as the family enjoyed discussing the children that would soon bless their home. When everyone finally left the dining room to begin their day’s work, Dolgailon walked quietly with his father to the office they shared, thankful to be going to his regular duties rather than the king’s council meeting as he had the day before.

His mood became suddenly wistful as he realized he had just looked upon the work he did in the stronghold as his ‘regular duty.’ He missed his patrol, friends and home in the southern part of the realm and he felt several aspects of his new duties, including attending council meetings, were far more stressful than commanding a patrol in the southern forest. Nevertheless, throughout the winter he had been pleasantly surprised to find that he had enjoyed working with his father and Engwe more than he had expected he would. Learning about the management of the realm’s overall defense was interesting and made this ‘punishment’ much less painful than it might have been.

Dolgailon looked over at his father inquisitively as they walked. Aradunnon was studying him intently.

“Do you have something you wish to say, ada?” Dolgailon finally asked when his father did not speak. He expected his father was curious about his suddenly melancholy expression.

Aradunnon remained silent a moment longer. Then he looked away with an overly casual air. Dolgailon immediately tensed, recognizing his father’s intent to broach some personal topic. “I was simply curious how you came to ‘overhear’ the Gate Guards speaking with the king’s guards about the men. Especially if they arrived at first light. And why you were in a position to see Hallion speaking with them in the Great Hall,” Aradunnon replied.

Dolgailon frowned and then quickly adopted a neutral expression, no longer looking at his father. “I happened to be speaking to the captain’s son, Delethil, this morning while his father was dealing with the men,” he replied evasively, perfectly aware that his response answered none of his father’s questions.

Aradunnon looked over at Dolgailon. “Hmm, Delethil. He was a friend of yours when you were growing up here, I recall. Since his father Dollion and I are such good friends, I was always pleased you and Delethil grew close. But I wonder how you came to be speaking to him at first light. It seems an odd time for conversations. And you must have been speaking by the Gate if you later passed by the Great Hall to see Hallion with the men.”

Dolgailon raised his eyebrows and looked challengingly at his father. “I am over five hundred years old, adar. I believe my affairs are my own to manage and you have allowed me outside after dark unsupervised since I was forty.”

Aradunnon nodded and shrugged. Dolgailon could see that his father had not expected to be able to draw him into the conversation he wanted to have so easily. He knew it often annoyed his father that he so closely resembled his uncle. In addition to their fundamentally serious natures, Thranduil and Dolgailon were both extremely private people, guarding the secrets of their hearts very closely. But Aradunnon clearly intended to discuss something with his son regardless, for he now chose to pursue a more direct route.

“Of course your affairs are your own, Dolgailon.” He paused and continued in a quiet voice. “However young members of the Path Guard like Delethil are not the only elves who enjoy the games, drinking and company of maidens by the Oak.”

Dolgailon looked at his father sharply.

“I have been known to enjoy them myself. So does your naneth. However, your uncle strongly disapproves of the activities that go on there. You may wish to consider that.” He paused again for emphasis. “You may also wish to consider how Crithad would react if he found his daughter there. That particular gathering of elves has a very bad reputation and Crithad is a fairly conservative elf. Much like your uncle.”

Now just outside the office, Dolgailon stopped and caught his father’s sleeve, preventing him from entering the office where his assistant would be awaiting them. “May I ask how you heard that I was at the Oak last night? Have you or uncle set spies on me?” he asked with an angry and clearly embarrassed tone.

Aradunnon laughed. “Not at all, ion nin. I was there myself with your naneth. Though we did not stay nearly as late as you apparently did if you and Delethil were near the Gates when the men arrived at first light.”

Dolgailon’s jaw dropped slightly and he stared silently at his father.

Aradunnon turned and strode into the office with a grin on his face. Dolgailon followed silently. Nodding to the assistant as he pursued his father to the inner office rather than going to his own desk. Aradunnon looked at his son with amusement as he closed the office door. “Of course you were far too…occupied with Arthiel to notice your parent’s presence,” he added.

Dolgailon felt his face burning.

Aradunnon finally took pity and addressed the point of the conversation. “Surely you have heard enough about my past to know that I do not disapprove of anything I might have seen you doing last night. On the contrary, unlike your uncle, I wholeheartedly approve of a few evenings spent in the company of a lovely maiden or the elves at the Oak. The games there can be a bit raucous, but it is still honest fun.” He paused and spoke in a more serious voice. “Just do not forget who you are when you are there.”

Dolgailon laughed wryly in response. “You are the orc calling the spider evil, ada. Of all the members of this family that might bring embarrassment to our House, I am the least of uncle’s worries. I do not think I could achieve the same reputation you have earned with those elves if I dedicated every night for the rest of my life to gaming and drinking and…other activities at the Oak.”

Aradunnon laughed blithely. “You are certainly correct, ion nin. I have never seen you there, however, and I thought it my duty to say something. But in truth, Dolgailon, your naneth and I are sincerely pleased to see you having a little fun during your stay in the capital. It is healthy. We very much enjoy seeing our son as happy as we saw you last night.” He paused and looked carefully at Dolgailon, obviously preparing to push further into his son’s personal life than he was welcome. “And Arthiel is a fine maiden, Dolgailon. Crithad’s family is one I greatly respect. I truly approve of your choice, ion nin,” he said in a serious tone.

Dolgailon looked down, brow furrowed, and sighed softly. “I have made no choice, ada. I care for Arthiel. And she cares for me. But we have discussed my duties and the life she would be brought into. Neither of us are certain that we wish for our relationship to develop further.”

Aradunnon’s eyes widened as laughed lightly. “Then what was she doing in your arms all evening last night, ion nin?”

Dolgailon drew a deep breath, pressed his lips together and looked away. “I have done nothing improper with Arthiel, ada,” he said firmly.

Adradunnon shook his head and smiled. “I do not doubt that, Dolgailon. I was only teasing you.” Then he sobered and looked intensely at his son. “You are the king’s nephew and you owe your service to this realm. You do not owe your entire life to this realm. If you love Arthiel, do not think that it is impossible to serve the realm and have a wife as well. I suffered under that same delusion for nearly a millennium and almost drove your naneth from me because of it. I would not want to see my son make the same mistake if I can prevent it. That is all I will say, ion nin. I know you are capable of managing your own life but I am your adar and sometimes I cannot restrain myself from offering advice.”

Dolgailon looked at his father ruefully. “I value your advice, adar,” he said quietly. “I will think about it. And discuss it with Arthiel.” Then he laughed wryly. “And I will have to remember to look for you from now on when I allow her to drag me to the Oak—it was her idea to go there, I will have you know.”

Aradunnon’s eyes widened and he grinned at his son. “Then I approve of her all the more. And when you see me there, join me. We would make a formidable pair in the archery contests,” he suggested teasingly, eliciting fresh laughter from his son.

Their merriment was interrupted by a soft knock on the inner office door. It opened partially and Aradunnon’s assistant poked his head in with an apologetic expression. “Excuse me, my lords. A message just came from the king. He would like you both to join him in the Great Hall,” he said quietly.

Aradunnon nodded his acknowledgement and the assistant withdrew, leaving Dolgailon and his father looking at each other with concern. Dolgailon sighed and turned towards the door.

“I do not care for anymore confrontations with uncle for a very long time. I wonder why he wants to see us both,” the younger elf said in a tired voice.

Aradunnon snorted. “You made a good showing in yesterday’s council meeting, ion nin. I had planned on sending you in my place on a regular basis,” he replied.

Dolgailon closed his eyes briefly, a light smile on his lips at his father’s continued teasing. He was certain that threat could be nothing but a joke. “You would not dare and uncle would never allow it,” he protested weakly as they left the office.

Aradunnon smirked. “Thranduil would not care. Obviously arguing with you is not worse or better than arguing with me. So it would make no difference to him.”

Dolgailon looked at his father sidelong. “Nana would not allow it,” he countered with a quietly triumphant tone.

Aradunnon glanced at his son and laughed, draping an arm over his shoulder. “You may have me there. Of the three of us, your naneth has the least love for attending the king’s council meetings. She may not permit me to abuse our son so cruelly,” he quipped.

Dolgailon and Aradunnon walked the short distance from the troop commander’s office to the Great Hall and entered as the guards at the door announced them. Dolgailon’s expression remained outwardly unchanged but his mind began to race when he saw his uncle and Hallion were still meeting with the men. Along with his father, he seated himself at the table at the king’s invitation and tensed when the king focused on him with an openly displeased expression.

“It seems that Lord Fengel’s men have managed to arrest a group of villagers that they believe are those responsible for harboring the Easterlings. He requests that you and some other member of your patrol return to Dale to identify them,” the king said quietly in a voice all the family knew he used to conceal stronger emotions.

Dolgailon glanced at the men and then looked back at Thranduil, remaining silent. He remembered his uncle had not approved of his willingness to become involved in Mannish justice and he had no desire to gainsay the King in the presence of Men.

Thranduil scowled. “I do not intend to make a habit of interfering in the affairs of our neighboring kingdoms,” he began coolly. “But since we are already involved in this affair, as I have been reminded,” he said with a cool glare to the Men. They shifted uncomfortably and looked down. “I will allow you to go testify in Lord Fengel’s court. Along with your guard, Galudiron.” He paused and looked back at the men. “Lord Aradunnon and Lord Hallion will also go,” he added firmly.

*~*~*

Three days travel later found Dolgailon, Aradunnon and Hallion standing to the right of Lord Fengel where he sat on a raised dais in the Great Hall in Dale. He had greeted them warmly when they arrived the night before, had seen to their comfort generously and had seemed grimly anxious to address the issue at hand—the treason of his villagers. Dolgailon had formed a very positive impression of this Mannish lord during his last visit to Dale and he did not fully agree with his uncle’s reservations about his involvement in this proceeding. Identifying the men in the village was all Dolgailon was here to do and that seemed straightforward enough in his opinion.

Despite his belief that his uncle over estimated the potential for difficulties, Dolgailon could not deny that tension was quite high while they waited for the accused to be brought into the hall. But that was surely to be expected. After all, they were present to discuss charges of treason and that was no light matter in the court of any race. The young elf had listened with some surprise the night before their departure as Thranduil and Hallion had briefed him on what to expect of Mannish justice. The process amongst Men and Elves was largely the same. But when Thranduil began to explain the possible outcomes, Dolgailon had not been able to conceal his shock that the accused would be executed if convicted, nor his utter horror when Thranduil described as delicately as possible how they would likely be executed. Given the circumstances, Dolgailon thought the atmosphere in the room was quite understandable.

Understandable or not, the four body guards that had accompanied them on this visit had pointedly refused to remain in the back of the room with their Mannish counterparts as they had during Dolgailon’s last visit. Instead, after openly inspecting every exit from the Hall, they none too subtly surrounded their charges at the foot of the dais. Dolgailon could plainly read that his father’s guard, Colloth, and his own, Galudiron, were most uncomfortable with the fact that two fully armed Mannish guards stood at every exit. In response to his guard’s reactions, which long years of experience had taught him to trust, Dolgailon also automatically evaluated the avenues of escape from the room.

As he studied the room, Dolgailon looked at the other men present in Fengel’s court. The steward he had met when he last came to Dale. He stood, arms crossed on his chest and brow puckered, behind his lord on the dais with two other men that Dolgailon assumed were also advisors. He thought he remembered seeing one in the Great Hall negotiating with Thranduil once. While Fengel’s dealings with the elves were warm, many of the other men seemed much more reserved. The advisors had studied the Elves momentarily when they entered the Hall and had kept their eyes on the floor since. Dolgailon reluctantly admitted to himself that one of his uncle’s concerns—that some men would not trust the elves’ involvement in their affairs or might even resent it—appeared to be true. As he thought about that, he realized he should not be too surprised. After all, he knew men were not completely welcome or trusted in his uncle’s kingdom either.

Finally, a side door opened and a group of ragged Men were brought into the Hall. Their guards brought them to stand opposite the elves at the foot of the dais. There they were made to kneel before Lord Fengel. Dolgailon’s eyes narrowed slightly as one of the men, who he recognized as the leader of the village, glared at him. He could feel the hatred in the man’s gaze.

“You have been accused of treason,” Fengel’s steward began. “Of treating with the sworn enemies of our Lord and harboring them in your village. Today we will hear the witnesses against you and Lord Fengel will decide your fates.” The steward then looked at Dolgailon coolly. “Are these the men who you saw hiding Wainriders in their village, my lord?”

Dolgailon studied each of the men carefully. Knowing that they might be executed at his word, he did not wish to include any of them in his statement unless he was certain that he remembered seeing them in the village actively fighting with the men that had attacked the Elvish village. He saw Galudiron looking at them carefully as well. Finally he turned to Fengel.

“This is not all of them, my lord. Two that I remember are not present. But every man here did fight to protect the Easterlings that we pursued to their village,” he said.

The men began to protest but Fengel’s steward spoke over them, looking at Galudiron. “What say you?”

Galudiron nodded. “These are the men we saw fighting to protect the Easterlings that attacked our village,” he replied in accented but perfectly clear Westron.

Fengel’s eyes had already narrowed and the men looked at him pleadingly.

“Please, my lord,” the one that had glared at Dolgailon said in a wheedling tone. “Are we not to be allowed to speak in our defense?”

Fengel gazed at them a moment. Then, looking down at them coldly, he spoke in a soft voice that reminded Dolgailon of Thranduil at his most furious. “Speak,” he said simply.

The man looked over at the elves. “Surely these are not the only witnesses against us, my lord? Elves?” he said derisively. “They are not your subjects. They have taken no oath to you. They are lying and there is no reason for them not to for they are not bound to you in any way. I swear to you, on my life, none of these men with me have ever broken their oaths to live within our laws nor have I broken my oath of fealty to you.”

Fengel nodded slowly. “Your life is indeed at issue here,” he said coolly and then continued in a sterner voice. “Lord Dolgailon is the Elvenking’s nephew, a lord in his court and a commander in his army. He is an allied lord in our land. I do not need an oath from my peer to trust his word. His station and actions over the course of the five hundred years of his life guarantee his honor.” Fengel looked at the men scornfully. “And what reason does he have to falsely accuse random men of treason?”

The hateful look returned to the man’s eyes as he glanced at Dolgailon. “Those two elves lie to cover their own misdeeds. They attacked our village and killed our people—your subjects, my lord—and now they are claiming they killed Easterlings to escape your vengeance.”

Dogailon’s eyes narrowed at the man momentarily before he looked to Fengel for leave to speak. At the same time, Fengel’s steward took a step forward and placed a hand on his lord’s shoulder. Ignoring him, Fengel nodded his permission to Dolgailon.

“You know already, Lord Fengel, that we did indeed pursue Easterlings that attacked one of our villages to this man’s village where we did fight them—but only when this man refused to turn them over to us.”

“That is a lie,” the man blurted, not waiting for Fengel to acknowledge his right to speak. “The men they attacked were not Easterlings. They were men of our village, my lord. They had gone to the Elves to trade with them, were attacked in the elven village and fled back to me for protection.”

Dolgailon opened his mouth to respond to that but Fengel spoke first.

“Who authorized trade between you and your Elvish neighbors? Not I,” he demanded.

The man put his hands together in an imploring manner. “My lord, we often engage in minor trade with the neighboring Elvish villages. I willingly confess to that and I am solely responsible for allowing it. I take responsibility for my village’s actions in that disobedience. But that was our only transgression when we were met with the Elvenking’s harsh justice for violating his borders and breaking our trade agreements. I swear, my lord. Our people were only trading with the Elvish village when this elf and his warriors attacked them, pursued them to our village and killed them.”

The steward leaned forward and whispered into Fengel’s ear. His words were clearly not intended for all to hear, but Elven hearing did not misplace them. “You see, my lord. I told you. I will not argue with you that this was a mistake, if you prefer to believe that, but…”

Dolgailon’s brow furrowed and he watched his father and the guards shift uncomfortably. These lies and their potential consequences if they were believed were a perfect example of Thranduil’s beliefs regarding the unpredictability of Mannish justice. Hearing the accused’s lie angered Dolgailon but did not surprise him. A man guilty of treason and facing death would say anything if it might save his life. But hearing the steward’s whispered accusations was both infuriating and worrisome, for his word presumably carried weight with the Lord of Dale. Dolgailon saw Hallion draw a breath to speak but he was not yet ready to turn this argument over to his uncle’s steward. He took a step forward and forestalled Hallion’s intervention, looking between the man and Fengel’s steward.

“If your villagers come into the Elvenking’s forest to trade at the point of a sword or an arrow; if they come and kill elves as part of their trade missions; if they come bearing the tokens of the Wainriders but are, despite that, simple villagers, then I will admit that I made a misjudgment and I will leave it to my King to determine if he would permit this manner of trade to continue. Is that indeed how you conduct trade? For I can bring an entire village of elves here to testify that Easterlings threatened them with weapons and killed a guard. I can bring my entire patrol here to testify we chased those Easterlings to your village where you refused to turn them over to us, ” he retorted heatedly.

Fengel waved both his steward and Dolgailon silent, focusing on the men. “So you are claiming that the Elvenking’s warriors attacked your villagers, either mistakenly, believing them to be Easterlings, or on purpose, knowing who they were, to stop unauthorized trade and protect their borders. And then the Elvenking sent Lord Dolgailon to me, to tell me lies and cover their actions. Lies that would result in the deaths of more of my people if I believe them. That is what you are suggesting?”

“Yes, my lord. That is what happened. I swear it. He wants us executed because that would eliminate the witnesses to his attack against your people,” the man answered.

Dolgailon drew a breath to speak, but obeyed Fengel’s signal to remain silent with obvious reluctance. Fengel was focused intently on the men.

“I want to be clear—the men that the Elvenking’s warriors killed were your own men? Men sworn to you? Your allies?” Fengel asked again.

“Yes, my lord. They were. And your subjects, my lord,” he emphasized.

Fengel nodded and turned his head to speak to one of the advisors on the dais. That advisor hurried off as Fengel turned back to Dolgailon with one eyebrow raised. Dolgailon frowned, angered by the man’s insistence that he had wrongly accused the village and Fengel’s apparent willingness to consider that claim. Fengel, however, seemed unconcerned, even satisfied, by this turn of events. “So, Lord Dolgailon,” he said idly, “can you prove the men you killed were Easterlings?”

Dolgailon’s frown deepened. “As I already said, my lord, an entire village of elves can testify that men with dark hair and swarthy skin invaded their village, stole their supplies and attacked them, injuring many and killing a guard. They would also testify that I led a patrol out of the forest pursuing those men as they fled. My entire patrol will testify the same and that we killed those men in this man’s village where they were sheltering. These men were not your subjects, my lord, unless you are now admitting men from the east to your service.”

Fengel looked at the accused. “Must I hold you here while I ask the Elvenking to send an entire village and patrol to me? Or while I send someone to them to gather evidence? Do you really think I will truly find enough evidence to convince me that my peer is capable of such dishonorable acts? I do not believe that. If you confess to me, I will be much more merciful than if you continue to lie to me.”

The man shook his head. “My lord, there likely were Wainriders in the Elven village. We see them there often. And, knowing their nature, they may well have attacked their Elven allies. They may have even been in the same village my men were in, causing my men to be confused with theirs. I can bring you dozens of guards from many villages along our borders, not just my own, that will testify that they see Easterlings go into the Great Forest, my lord. And come out unscathed. A few have seen Easterlings and Elves speaking under the eaves of the forest. Even the guards from your cousin’s village will testify to that, my lord. I discussed it with him only a few months past. He was to bring it to your attention when you next meet. But, I swear, my lord, it was my men these elves pursued back to my village and it was my men they killed. Neither I nor anyone in my village is associated with Easterlings, my lord.”

Dolgailon glanced at Hallion and his father. If villagers could be found to bear witness to what the man had claimed, that meant either his words were true or he had a great many more allies than those charged with him now. In either case, that news was alarming.

Fengel simply shook his head and continued his questioning. “If you were so unjustly attacked by the Elvenking’s warriors, why have you not come to me for redress? Do you not trust my protection?”

“Your men did arrest us on our way to you, my lord. We were coming north…”

“You were perhaps four leagues north of your village and ten east of it when you were found. And it has been five months since Lord Dolgailon informed me of this attack. How could he come speak to me so much more quickly than you?”

“He has horses, I assume, my lord. We were on foot, traveling through the snows of winter. With women and children. And recovering from our injuries ourselves. And before we left, we had to attend to our dead.”

Fengel saw his aide returning and he turned narrowed eyes to the men. “Indeed. Women and children. And that is what makes this difficult for me. Tell me, are your wives and sons lying, oath-breaking traitors as you are? Must I execute women and children today as well?” he asked coldly as he took a ledger and a package wrapped in cloth from the aid. As the men’s eyes widened in response Fengel’s words, the Lord of Dale focused on Dolgailon. “How many men did you kill in the village, Lord Dolgailon?” he asked curtly.

Dolgailon’s brows drew together as he considered the question. He glanced at Galudiron. “I would say fifteen. We pursued seventeen from the forest, killed two before we reached the village and I am certain none escaped us. But I had no chance to count the dead. We withdrew from the village once the Easterlings were eliminated. We did not wish to continue fighting with your villagers.”

Galudiron nodded his agreement.

Fengel turned back to the men. “Would you agree? Did he kill fifteen of your villagers?”

“At least, my lord,” the man nodded.

Fengel’s eyes narrowed. “I am holding fourteen families from your village and a total of eighteen adult men.” He held open the ledger that the aide had brought him. “According to these records, the last time you paid the tribute due from your village, I received an amount due from twenty men. The last time I supplied your village I sent goods for fourteen families. And here you are before me—eighteen adult men, only two short of what I expected. Dolgailon’s warriors could not have killed too many of you yet he admits to killing fifteen and you agree.” Now Fengel allowed his anger to show in his eyes. “I sent my men to your village. They found the burned bodies of fifteen adult men. Exactly the number of Easterlings Lord Dolgailon said he killed. They found them in a pile at the edge of the village. This is how your bury your beloved dead?”

“The ground was frozen…” the man began weakly. For the first time, his voice wavered and he sounded nervous.

“The ground here had not frozen here when Lord Dolgailon came to speak to me but it had frozen further south?” Fengel interrupted scornfully. “And tell me, how did these come to be found amongst the burned bodies of your beloved dead?” Fengel flung open the cloth wrapped package, casting burnt leather and metal tokens on the floor in front of the men. They bore decorative markings characteristic of the Men from Rhûn.

The men on their knees looked up at Fengel fearfully. “Perhaps the bodies your men found were not those of our kin…” he began.

“Enough,” Fengel said, waving his hand to silence him. “I am no fool. I am aware of what occurs in my own realm. I have suspected you and your village of disloyalty for a very long time. I do not require the testimony of Elves—you have confessed to your crimes yourself. You said the men Lord Dolgailon attacked were your own. That you had to dispose of their bodies. You just said you burned them. The only bodies we found in your village were those of my enemies. And you just admitted to recognizing that these tokens are those of the enemy. You were not unaware of who these men were. These fifteen burned Easterlings are the men you have been calling your allies and family throughout these proceedings.”

He paused and stood, clearly ready to pronounce his judgment.

“Based on your own testimony, I find you guilty of consorting with the enemies of this realm. Because you have lied to me, I can only conclude that your dealings with these Easterlings were malicious; something you needed to keep hidden from me and not merely trade because you were hungry or deceived as to their identities. Therefore, I find no reason to offer you mercy. I sentence all of you men before me to death. Tomorrow at noon you will be publicly hung—and you may consider that a mercy for our laws allow me to do much worse. As for your womenfolk and children, I will withhold my judgment on them until I speak to them specifically.” He turned to the guards that stood to the side of the room. “Remove these men from my sight,” he ordered coldly.

The Elves and Mannish advisors watched silently as the men were pulled from the room. Some went quietly but most struggled, speaking over one another, begging Fengel to listen to them, claiming they had no knowledge of what their leader had done, pleading for mercy. Dolgailon looked at them and felt a mixture of disgust at their disloyalty and pity for their foolishness and for the fate they faced.

When they had been taken from the Hall, Hallion stepped forward, drawing Fengel’s eyes from the prisoners. “My lord, may I ask a boon of you?” he asked softly. His tone was very similar to the one he used to address Thranduil.

“What would you ask of me, Lord Hallion?” Fengel replied tiredly, returning to his seat.

“I would very much like to speak with these men before they die, in hopes that they might give us more information about the claim they made that the Easterlings have been seen in the Elvenking’s forest,” he replied.

Fengel frowned. “You do not believe him, do you?”

“I simply think it is wise to investigate such claims,” Hallion responded, looking at Fengel evenly.

Fengel smiled at him bitterly. “If my realm can be a target of the Easterlings’ attempts to stir dissent, why not yours, hmmm? My father always taught me to think of Elves as above such things.”

Hallion looked at Fengel sadly. “I have lived a very long time, Lord Fengel. I have come to believe that every being holds something so dear that they would do anything to obtain it…or protect it. That is true not only of Men and Dwarves but of Elves as well.”

Fengel lips drew together grimly. “Indeed, I recall my tutors teaching me something about jewels that you Elves left the Undying Lands to pursue.”

Hallion nodded once, a patient expression on his face that impressed Dolgailon. He did not think the old Sindarin Elf would like hearing any of his people likened to Fëanor. “I sincerely doubt that any Elf in the forest would be swayed by the promise of jewels. I do believe they might be betrayed by promises of aid or weapons to fight the Shadow in the south. Having heard what I did today, I am obligated to gather as much information about this possibility for my Lord as I might. I hope you will allow me to speak to those men before you carry out your sentence tomorrow.”

Fengel nodded automatically. “Of course I will, Lord Hallion. I appreciate the aid Lord Thranduil and Lord Dolgailon have given me in this matter. Anything I can do to help you prove or disprove these accusations, I am happy to do. I will, for example, call my cousin to visit me and discuss if he and his warriors have truly seen Easterlings near your borders. He lives in the old capital between the forest and the Celduin. If there are Easterlings there, I would like to know about it myself.”

“Indeed,” Hallion replied, looking at Fengel steadily. “As would I.”

*~*~*

News traveled swiftly in the Woodland Realm and tidings as joyous as the conception of the beloved king and queen’s first child were no exception. Indeed word of this blessed event swept through the forest as if borne on the spring breeze, inspiring celebrations in every village. Not long after the announcement was made, gifts, lovingly crafted, began to arrive at the stronghold—carved wooden toys, woven blankets, pillows embroidered with baby animals. Thranduil and Lindomiel were sincerely touched by the love that the people showed their child.

But not everyone received the news with gladness in their hearts.

Deep in the southern reaches of the realm, a slender figure sat alone on a cushioned chair outside the door of her cottage. It was a plain little patio, bereft of decorative bushes or pots with flowers or even plantings of herbs as the other cottages in the village were adorned. A soft light from a single torch illuminated her face and glinted off her raven hair. She was the only silent inhabitant of her village amidst the revelers celebrating the news that had reached them that day. No one was surprised by her aloofness. She rarely joined in any of the festivities.

The Silvan who did not know her well, and that was nearly everyone in the village, were not offended by her detachment. It was not their way to meddle in the affairs of their neighbors. But they did think her odd. She lived on the far southern edge of the little community in a cottage that was larger than anyone thought was strictly necessary since she lived alone without kin of any sort. She wore a plain gold ring, but on her left index finger, not her right, and all could read in her eyes that she was yet a maiden. She did have occasional visitors from other villages, but their company did not justify the need for such an elaborate home since they never stayed with her. She did not even make up for her indifference to her fellow elves with an abiding love for the trees or animals or arts. Indeed, she never took notice of the forest around and apparently practiced no profession. With no family or love of the forest holding her here, no one could fathom her reason to live in this dangerous region of the realm.

But she was quiet and caused no trouble. She asked for very little from the community and paid well for what she did take. She even cheerfully contributed gems and gold to purchase weapons for the village guards from the dwarves that passed on the Forest Road. Many of the guards were her friends. In exchange for those gifts, which contributed to everyone’s safety, the villagers did not begrudge her solitude if that was what she desired.

Tonight she watched the elves dancing and inventing songs to praise the king and queen with a bitter glare while her mind wandered through bygone days. Better days. Days before her fate was tied to the House of Oropher.

Sitting amongst the blossoming trees with the rest of her family, some distant and some close, Manarindë smiled. She was well pleased that her cousin, Celebrimbor, had invited her to accompany him to this gathering of powerful elf lords. Even if it did force her to suffer the primitive, woodland atmosphere in Celeborn’s home, situated near the shores of Lake Nenuial. The soothing sound of the water lapping on the rocks and the gentle breeze carrying the fragrant scent of the flowers only emphasized in her mind that they were half a day’s travel from the civilization of the city and court. But they had traveled here to discuss important matters with Celeborn at his invitation and she was thrilled to be party to the planning.

Manarindë looked enviously at Galadriel, seated under a flowering tree. Its drooping branches covered in large yellow blooms, rivaled the golden beauty of her hair. She sat silently as her husband talked of inconsequential things with his guests. Manarindë could not understand Galadriel. She was the daughter of the House of Finarfin, the most powerful elleth in all of Middle-Earth, and she had married this…moriquend. That had made absolutely no sense to Manarindë initially but now it seemed to demonstrate great foresight. Celeborn had arisen to a position of great influence since the loss of Beleriand. He was now a high-ranking Lord in Eriador and Galadriel was his consort. No doubt the power behind him, Manarindë thought. Marrying beneath herself had not turned out badly for Galadriel and no denying it, though Manarindë could not imagine herself ever being so desperate as to resort to such tactics herself.

Celeborn’s servants soon escorted another group of guests to the garden patio and Manarindë’s smile faded at the sight of them—Oropher and his brother Engwe along with Amdir and his brother Amglaur. She remembered them well and knew they were Celeborn’s kin and friends from the days of glory in Menegroth. She had no desire to be in their presence though she did draw some satisfaction from Oropher’s reaction to Celebrimbor.

The Sindarin lords halted upon seeing Celeborn’s other guests and stared between the Noldor and Celeborn with astonishment as the servants departed. Their shock quickly turned to anger and they eyed Celebrimbor and his party with open disgust. In response, Celebrimbor stood. Celeborn quickly rose to greet his cousins and forestall an immediate attack.

As Celeborn positioned himself between his Noldorin and Sindarin guests, Manarindë laughed inwardly at the absurd display. How these Sindar could continue thinking themselves so superior when they held no positions of authority at any level, she could not imagine. Yet here was Oropher, standing in Celeborn and Celebrimbor’s presence as if he still commanded respect when, in fact, he commanded nothing but a small household of mismatched refugees from Menegroth, half of whom were barely related to him and all of whom clung to him like leeches. And he was foolish enough to allow it. They were nothing more than a ragtag assembly of nobodies who, after 700 years, had not found anyone to entrust them with any position of responsibility—worse than cats rummaging through the trash in the city streets in her mind. He could not be here for the same reason Celebrimbor had been invited. She wondered, with some pleasure, if Oropher had finally come to his cousin Celeborn to beg for aid. After the way he had behaved towards her when she first arrived in Beleriand, she would be pleased to be witness to that event.

But Celeborn’s next words, an effort to encourage Oropher and Celebrimbor to take their seats, dispelled that hope.

“I invited you both here, at the request of the High King, because we all have common goals that the King feels would be best accomplished if we work together,” Celeborn stated, not missing the disdainful look that Oropher cast him.

“What could Celebrimbor Curufinion, grandson of Fëanor, and I possibly have in common?” Oropher asked derisively.

Celeborn sighed as Celebrimbor responded to Oropher’s tone by glaring at him with an intentionally patronizing smirk. Celeborn responded quickly, hoping to at least focus the argument that was certain to ensue on a worthwhile topic. “You both wish to move east,” he answered.

All the elves in both Oropher and Celebrimbor’s parties stared at each other for a moment before turning angrily to Celeborn. Celebrimbor began his protests first.

“I have already laid claim to the land west of the mountains. The High King has granted my petition to establish a settlement there…”

“The King granted you permission to settle there and asked you to come speak to me about it,” Celeborn interrupted firmly. “The purpose of this conversation is for me to inform you of the details of the High King’s decision on that matter.” He looked at Oropher. “But Oropher’s plans need not interfere with yours.”

Oropher scowled. “Indeed not. We will have the mountains to separate us. I informed Gil-galad that I am moving my household east of the mountains to join the Silvan living in the forest and plains there. Amdir intends to do the same.” Oropher looked back at Celeborn. “As I indicated in my letter to you on this subject, I had hoped to convince you to join us.” He glanced at Celebrimbor. “Please come. Do not allow yourself to be ensnared any further by the curse that hangs over the Noldor, cousin,” he concluded in a sincerely pleading voice.

Galadriel laughed quietly, but it was a bitter laugh. “I thought you advised my lord husband that he had already submitted himself to the curse of the Noldor by marrying me,” she said in a soft voice.

Oropher looked at her coldly. “Note that I did not invite you to accompany us,” he replied.

Celeborn’s mouth formed a hard line as Galadriel continued laughing. “I did notice that, Oropher,” he said dryly. “And you know very well what my reaction to such an invitation would be. But it so happens that my lady wife and I are also interested in moving east. When I discussed this with the High King, he asked Galadriel and I to take any elves interested in establishing a new realm,” he paused and looked at Celebrimbor, “including your followers, Celebrimbor, east to do so. He will help to provide the necessary supplies initially.” Celeborn paused and reached out to grasp Oropher’s shoulder with one hand and Amdir’s with the other. “I would truly value your support and that of your Houses. I would very much like for you to join us.”

The three Sindarin elves ignored the furious glares of Celebrimbor’s company as they prepared to object to this turn of events.

Oropher’s brows knit and he shook his head slightly, looking sadly at his cousin. “Celeborn, had you proposed this sooner, when we first lost Beleriand…if you were suggesting that we take the Sindar and establish a realm of our own…I would have followed you. I told you years ago that I would support you if you claimed the title of High King since Thingol’s descendant has chosen to serve the Noldor. But that is not what you plan with this venture. This will be a Noldorin settlement full of Gil-galad’s people and recognizing him as High King. That is precisely the environment I am trying to protect my family from. I cannot join you.”

Celeborn sighed, but did not appear surprised. He turned to Amdir. “What of you, mellon nin? Will you aid me with this settlement or are you also determined to go further east?”

Amdir smiled sadly. “I am glad to hear that you intend to move west of the mountains and will still be nearby, Celeborn. Leaving friends like you behind will be the most difficult part of this move. But no, I intend to go across the mountains with Oropher. We met the elves there and they were very welcoming of their long sundered kin. We immediately felt kinship with their way of life in the forests and the vales of the Great River. It is a lifestyle I sorely miss. I want to join them. I want my son to know a life amongst the trees as I did in Neldoreth.” He glanced at the Noldor behind Celeborn. “And I want him to live amongst his own people. The Silvan elves’ culture is much more closely related to ours than anything we experience here.”

Celebrimbor stepped forward, angrily interposing himself amongst the Sindarin elves. “And that is just as well, for I would not welcome your presence,” he said, looking disdainfully at Oropher and Amdir. Then he focused on Celeborn, eyes narrow and leaning forward aggressively. “I scouted this territory, Celeborn. I petitioned the King to settle it. I will decide who joins my people to live in it.”

Celeborn shook his head calmly. “You scouted it and the High King asked me to convey his appreciation to you. He has granted your petition to take your family to settle it.” He paused for emphasis. “And he has asked Galadriel and I to manage the settlement. The High King himself asked me to try to persuade Oropher and Amdir to remain west of the mountains. He will have the final say regarding who goes east and you will obey your King,” Celeborn said with finality. Then he turned back to Oropher, again ignoring Celebrimbor’s furious astonishment. “He values you, Oropher, even when you have refused to work with him. And you also Amdir. I cannot understand your attitude. Gil-galad is no Fëanor. He is a reasonable and just King. Elu Thingol welcomed some of the Noldor—including those of Gil-galad’s line—even after learning of their deeds in Alqualondë. Why can you not do the same and work with us? Why isolate yourself in the Wilderlands? Why can you not see that strength lies in working together?”

Before Oropher or Amdir could reply, another voice spoke from behind them. “To evil end shall all things turn that they begin well; and by treason of kin unto kin, and the fear of treason, shall this come to pass,’” it intoned solemnly, quoting the Doom of Námo Mandos laid upon the followers of Fëanor when they departed Valinor.

Celeborn, Oropher and Amdir turned to face Amglaur. Engwe stood beside him nodding gravely.

Celebrimbor snorted. “You still give credence to that? The people doomed by that curse have all long since met their fates,” he said contemptuously.

“Not all of them,” Galadriel said quietly. “I am not the only person in this company so cursed,” she said, looking amongst Celebrimbor’s people. “Oropher and Amdir are right to fear that curse for I have seen it fulfilled too many times now. Surely the fates of Nargothrond and Gondolin are proof of that.” She stood and joined her husband. “But I cannot hide myself in fear of that curse, Oropher. I still must act in the world with hope that in the long term my deeds can overcome that curse and benefit Arda. You must not hide from that curse either—your strength will be needed.” She paused and fixed him with a penetrating gaze. “ Celeborn and I wish to move east because we feel that evil is rising there. Something powerful enough to be one of Morgoth’s servants. Something that I foresee will threaten us all. Surely even you and I can find common ground fighting that evil.”

Oropher frowned at that, clearly troubled by her words. But he was set in his beliefs. “We may agree that the evils that Morgoth left in this world must be destroyed, but even so, I will not tie my fate to yours by uniting with you in any endeavor. We might one day fight the same enemy, but we will do so separately...”

“Then I pray our lack of unity will not be our downfall,” she interrupted softly.

He paused and frowned with frustration. “I firmly believe my ‘downfall’ would reach me sooner were I to tie my fate to yours.” He looked back at Celeborn. “Look at what happened to Elu Thingol. You pointed out that he allied himself with some of the Noldor. He did, indeed. And becoming involved with them, allowing himself to be seduced as they were by a Silmaril, his actions led to his own death and the downfall of his realm. I will not follow Elu Thingol’s example, Celeborn. The best course of action is to shun any contact with the Exiled and their way of life.” He grasped Celeborn with a hand on both his shoulders. “You will meet the same end as Elu Thingol if you continue to associate with these people. Do not fall into this trap, cousin,” he begged. Then he looked at Galadriel distrustfully. “And I do not believe that you go east solely to save the world from Morgoth’s minions. You go east for the same reason that brought you east from Valinor—to find a realm to rule as your own. Celebrimbor desires the same. That is obvious. You seek power and dominion. Well, may you find it, but never over me. I will not join you and I certainly will not serve you.”

Celeborn opened his mouth to counter Oropher’s accusation, but Celebrimbor pushed by him to stand directly in front of Oropher. “I would not take one such as you for a servant, Oropher. You are a coward and a fool. Only a coward would repeatedly refuse the positions the High King has offered you. I seek power and dominion? You say that as if it were an evil thing. Why should I—a descendant of kings—look upon all this open land and not desire a realm of my own? You make accusations against me because you lack the courage to fulfill the role you were born to yourself. You are a disgrace to your House.”

Oropher leaned into Celebrimbor’s face, his hands balled into fists, and spoke with a frighteningly calm voice. “I am not the fool, Celebrimbor. You are. Nor is it my House that is disgraced. Your adar’s people left Valinor inspired by a madman who sought his own glorification. He manipulated their unwillingness to serve the Valar in Aman and led them to horrific acts that the Valar cursed. Fleeing that doom, they betrayed their own allies and came back to Middle-Earth. Once here, they formed kingdoms in imitation of what they forsook, hoping to recreate paradise so that they might have dominion over it. The result of all these evil deeds was that their efforts failed utterly and everyone who became embroiled with them, including Elu Thingol, was destroyed.”

“Those are deeds of the ancient past, Oropher,” Celebrimbor retorted hotly.

Oropher sneered. “Only one as young as you would call those deeds ancient. It is not even a millennium later and you are repeating your adar’s mistakes. When I ‘accuse’ you of seeking a realm to rule as your own, I do so because you, like your daeradar, are seeking your own glory and riches. That, in my mind, is indeed evil, Celebrimbor. Your people misunderstand the nature of leadership. When you seek power, that power is an end in itself—your ultimate goal. But positions of ‘power,’ as you see them, are positions of service. A ruler serves his people, he does not seek dominion over them as you do. I do not suffer from the same delusions nor will I be drawn into them. I have not accepted the positions that Gil-galad has offered me for one reason only: I will not serve the Noldor who slaughtered my kin in Alqualondë and who killed my king and kin in Menegroth and Sirion. Nor will I tie my fate to theirs. I would much rather join the Silvan.” He looked at Celeborn. “Mark the words of the Doom of Namo Mandos, Celeborn. They will haunt you if you take people such as Celebrimbor into your service. I will not entangle myself in that fate and I strongly recommend that you do not either. But the choice is yours.”

Such hypocrites, she thought. Oropher, his sons and all of their kin were nothing but the worst sort of frauds. Claiming he did not seek power! No sooner had they come east than the Silvan had ‘asked’ them to lead them. She was certain Oropher manipulated these pathetic beings to name him their King. That was why Oropher had journeyed here rather than taking a lesser position in Eregion. Only the Silvan would be so foolish and and she knew that all too well.

She was pulled from her thoughts of the distant past when she saw the movement of someone approaching her. It was one of the village guards. One of her few close friends. He sat on the ground near her, leaning against a tree.

“Well,” he said softly. “This news signals the end of our current plans, I think. We cannot touch her now.”

She turned to him sharply, brows drawn together and eyes narrowed. “I see no reason to alter our plans at all,” she snapped.

The guard’s eyes widened. “There is a child involved now. We cannot harm an innocent child by depriving it of its mother.”

Her frown deepened. “Is that not what Oropher, Thranduil and their ruinous reigns did to your child? His mother was driven to Aman by the grief brought down upon her when all her kin were killed fighting in that absurd war. How many other children suffered thusly? And for what? Look at the forest around you,” she said, sweeping her arm in a gesture that encompassed the twisted, decaying trees. “What is Thranduil doing to protect us? Nothing. He is having children in the safety of his idyllic little palace. It is not to be born! I know that you, of all people, see that.”

The guard looked away and remained silent. Those were the arguments that Manadhien had used for nearly two millennia to gain his loyalty and aid in her plans to remove Thranduil. In the years when the Shadow first began to spread, he heartily believed her words, as did many others. But words alone had not been enough to turn the majority of the populace, or even a significant portion of it, from their king. And recently, her arguments seemed much less convincing even to his ears in the face of her increasingly outrageous schemes. He found himself fearing what she would try next. Especially now.

*~*~*

Elleth/ellyth--Female elf/elves

Ellon/ellyn--Male elf/elves

Adar/ada--Father/dad

Naneth/nana--Mother/mum

ion nin--my son

muindor nin--my brother

mellon nin--my friend

AN: I apologize for the delay in posting this chapter. I seriously injured myself at work and I have not had the concentration to give a good final edit to this chapter--maybe I still don't but I didn't want to delay posting it any longer. :) I hope I will be able to return to posting every weekend from here out.


Chapter 7 - Changes

The first in their traveling party to reach the stable yard, Aradunnon gratefully dismounted his horse, reaching up to scratch its ears with one hand while giving it the last carrot that he bought in Dale’s market with the other. The horse took the treat greedily and whickered in a pleased fashion as Aradunnon stroked its velvety nose.

“Welcome home, my lords,” called a young groom cheerily as he came forward to tend to the travelers’ horses.

Several elves going about their business around the stronghold also waved or smiled their greetings as Dolgailon, Hallion and their guards cantered into the yard and dismounted along side Aradunnon. The groom beckoned for the travelers’ horses to come to him and Aradunnon’s horse abandoned its master easily, trotting eagerly to the youth.

Aradunnon smiled happily, returning the groom’s greeting and waving at his friends on the green. Then he cast a wry look at his horse and lightly smacked its backside as it passed. “Your loyalty is easily given to whoever has treats or promises you a nice bath,” he said teasingly and was struck in the face by a swishing tail in reply.

Dolgailon, Hallion and the guards laughed. “A bath might benefit you, as well, my lord,” Hallion quipped, causing everyone to laugh a bit harder.

As Aradunnon slowly turned an exaggeratedly insulted look on his brother’s steward, he rejoiced in being home. The moment he made eye contact with Hallion, he grinned. Hallion’s relief that their trip to Dale had concluded well had inspired his joke and Aradunnon shared that sentiment. Like his brother Thranduil, Aradunnon did not enjoy traveling outside the forest and was always thankful to return to the soothing hum of the trees and the company of his friends.

Giving the normally serious steward a playful shove, Aradunnon draped an arm over his son’s shoulders and steered him to the Great Gates. In truth, he was anxious to enjoy a nice, hot bath, a well cooked dinner and the company of his wife.

His eyebrows rose, however, when they reached the bridge and saw Thranduil emerging from the Gates. Aradunnon glanced at Hallion and Dolgailon and they strode quickly to meet the king.

Instead of waiting at the gate, Thranduil, followed by Amoneth they now saw, met them half way across the bridge and gestured somewhat impatiently for them to rise when they dropped to one knee. Aradunnon smiled as Thranduil studied each of the travelers, and Dolgailon in particular, for any indication that their mission in Dale might have gone awry. His knew his brother loved Dolgailon as if he were his own son and he had been very concerned that his involvement with the Mannish traitors might lead him into trouble in Dale. That was why he sent both Aradunnon and Hallion to accompany the younger elf. And why he had come to the Gates to greet them rather than waiting for them in the family quarters. Aradunnon found his brother’s concern for his son quite touching.

After assuring himself that all was apparently well, Thranduil’s serious expression melted into a pleased smile and he embraced his brother and nephew. Amoneth quickly followed suit, kissing her son and gratefully settling into her husband’s arms as they turned to enter the stronghold. As he pulled Amoneth close and placed a kiss on her cheek, Aradunnon sighed, smiling and now completely at ease.

Thranduil took in his family’s relaxed comportment and the tension seemed to dissolve from his body as well. “I take it that the affair in Dale is concluded without further incident then?” he asked as they entered the stronghold.

“It is concluded, my lord,” Hallion replied neutrally. Thranduil looked over at his steward. “Perhaps you have time to step into the Great Hall to discuss the details,” he suggested.

Thranduil frowned. “As you wish,” he replied, an edge on his voice. “Would Amoneth like to accompany us or would she prefer to return to the family quarters to make sure the kitchen knows you have returned for evening meal?”

Aradunnon laughed softly at that question, which was directed at Hallion and not Amoneth.

“I would prefer to stay and hear about my husband and son’s trip to Dale,” she replied with a slightly sharp tone before Hallion could speak. Her grasp on Aradunnon’s arm tightened and she stood firmly in place.

Aradunnon knew that Thranduil’s hesitation to allow Amoneth to join them in the Great Hall arose from a desire to protect her from any unpleasantries that might surface in the discussion. But he also knew that his wife utterly despised being sheltered. She had lived in the south of the realm under the Shadow for a millennium; she had become a respectable warrior when she could fight from the trees with a bow rather than on the ground with a blade; and she had been forced to help defend their village on several occasions. She had seen enough to make her feel that it was unnecessary to coddle her.

But Thranduil did not agree. Without acknowledging Amoneth, he looked to Hallion for an answer to his question.

Hallion looked between the king and Amoneth with a sigh. Then he focused on Thranduil. “I think the lady will find the conversation interesting,” he finally replied.

Thranduil frowned. Everyone knew that reply indicated that Amoneth, and likely Thranduil as well, would only find the conversation mildly disturbing and that Hallion would deliver a slightly edited version of the full tale due to her presence. Aradunnon knew that Thranduil preferred to hear the full version immediately because he was anxious to dismiss the business with the Easterlings, so he laughed quietly when the king resignedly proceeded into the Great Hall and seated himself at one of the tables in the back of the room. The fact that even the king chose his battles with Amoneth gave Aradunnon some sense of satisfaction.

“Very well, what happened that you would like to discuss, Hallion?” Thranduil asked quietly, gesturing for the others to sit as well.

Hallion looked at Dolgailon, courteously deferring to the prince. Aradunnon laughed to himself again, suspecting that his son would not have objected at all had Hallion chosen to present their news to the king. As he had on several occasions recently, Aradunnon felt a swell of pride in his son as Dolgailon simply met his uncle’s gaze placidly.

“The men were convicted of treason against Dale,” he began calmly, “though not before claiming that my patrol killed simple villagers engaged in unauthorized trade.”

Thranduil’s expression hardened and he looked at Dolgailon expectantly, obviously wishing to hear the youth acknowledge that he now had a better understanding of the dangers of involvement with Men.

Dolgailon dutifully complied with the king’s unspoken command. “If nothing else, this experience has shown me the need to be much more careful about how I manage interactions between my troops and our neighboring realms, my lord.”

Thranduil nodded and shot a glare at Aradunnon in response to his brother’s smirk.

“Do you not agree, captain?” Thranduil snapped.

Aradunnon forced himself to appear more serious. “Of course I do, my lord. I believe it was you that chose to ignore my recommendation that Dolgailon lose rank over this incident. I fully recognize its significance.” Then he smiled. “But you cannot imagine that Dolgailon has failed to arrive at the same conclusion.”

Thranduil looked at his brother coolly. “I do not doubt that your son often shows better judgment than his adar,” Thranduil responded, clearly referring to Dolgailon’s more appropriate comportment.

Aradunnon only nodded calmly as Dolgailon continued his narrative in the interest of coming to the point of the conversation before his father provoked the king to full-blow anger. He suspected his news would be more than sufficient to produce that result. “The accused men also claimed that the reason I might have confused villagers with Easterlings is that Easterlings have been seen coming and going in the forest,” he said.

Thranduil scowled. “Indeed. They have made six incursions into the Wood this year,” he replied bitterly.

Dolgailon shook his head. “No, my lord, you do not understand. They claimed the Mannish border patrols have seen Easterlings in the forest, speaking with Elves. Their implication was that the Easterlings are meeting with Elves on a regular basis. As allies.”

Thranduil’s brow furrowed and Amoneth’s jaw dropped at that assertion. “That is preposterous,” she exclaimed before the king could speak. Then she looked at him contritely. “Forgive me, my lord,” she said quietly.

But Thranduil only nodded at her with obvious agreement. “I could not have described that claim better myself,” he said.

Hallion looked at Thranduil carefully. “I spoke to the accused before they were executed, my lord. At my request, Lord Fengel promised them a more merciful death if they could provide information about that claim. All of the men, in separate interviews, named the same two Elven villages in the south as allied to men from the east. And they seemed very convinced that Mannish warriors known to be loyal to Lord Fengel would corroborate their claims.” He paused. “I believe this is worth investigating, my lord. Indeed, I took the liberty of asking Lord Fengel to speak to the Mannish guards that the accused named.”

Thranduil’s scowl deepened. “Very well, but I do not trust the claims of Men convicted of treason. We will conduct our own investigation. Speak to Golwon about meeting with the village leaders along the southeastern border—all of them, not only the two in the villages the Men named. We will see what we discover. And you and I are going to spend this evening taking a closer look at the patrols’ encounters with the Easterlings over the last few years. We will see if we can find any pattern or connection between these claims and what the patrols have reported.”

Hallion nodded. “That was what I had intended to suggest, my lord.”

Thranduil sat back in his seat and looked at Dolgailon. “Let us hope that is the last time either you or I must deal with Lord Fengel outside of normal diplomatic contacts.”

Dolgailon glanced at his father and then looked at Thranduil evenly. “Agreed, my lord. Although dealing with the Men was not as difficult or unpleasant as I initially feared it might be, I certainly cannot deny that every interaction with them spawns some new complication. It is quite frustrating.”

Thranduil could not suppress a smile at that sincere analysis.

Hallion smiled as well. Like Thranduil, he had a soft spot for the youngest member of the Royal family. “Dealing with Men is indeed complicated,” he affirmed, “but Lord Dolgailon has managed this affair quite well, especially considering that this was his first foreign mission other then regular exchanges between border patrols.”

Thranduil nodded. “Indeed, Dolgailon. I have been very pleased with the way you conducted yourself throughout this incident. You represented me and this realm very well,” he added.

Dolgailon looked down, surprised by the unexpected compliments.

“Thank you both,” he said quietly. “But I think this ordeal was made considerably easier by the fact that Lord Fengel clearly has a great respect for Elves. He was much more willing to believe us than his steward, for example, and for that I was grateful.”

Thranduil appeared pleasantly surprised by that assessment. “I am pleased to hear that, Dolgailon. Lord Fengel’s adar, Fregne, was the advisor Prince Marhari always sent to negotiate trade with me,” he said. “Trade relations with the Northmen have always been variable, but Fregne was one of the Men that I enjoyed working with. He and I saw eye-to-eye.”

Dolgailon nodded. “Lord Fengel mentioned several times that his adar had taught him to think highly of Elves. Apparently your positive relations with Fregne have saved us a good deal of difficulty now,” he said.

Hallion, who constantly reminded Thranduil of the value of maintaining good relations with the neighboring Men, snorted at that observation, eliciting a cool glare from the king.

Thranduil stood, raising the others to their feet as well. “Let us return to the family quarters so you can rest before evening meal is served. Otherwise, I fear I am destined for another lecture on diplomacy from my steward.”

Hallion only smirked at Thranduil. “I believe that lecture has already been successfully administered, my lord,” he replied teasingly, earning him another, more severe, glare.

As Thranduil and Hallion departed, trading a few more barbs before settling into a more serious conversation about the news from Dale, Aradunnon and Amoneth held Dolgailon back.

Amoneth looked at her son proudly and caressed his cheek. “I was worried when your adar sent you back to the capital, ion nin. Thranduil loves you but he does not allow his personal feelings for anyone to interfere with the governance of this kingdom. I know from experience that you indeed must have handled yourself very well throughout this incident to have earned his praise. I am very proud of you, ion nin,” she said with a sincerity that made Dolgailon laugh nervously.

“Since I brought this on myself, nana, I was bound to do my best to correct it. That is all I have done,” he replied without looking at his father.

Aradunnon grimaced slightly, remembering his harsh words to his son when Dolgailon had first reported his patrol’s actions. He laid a hand on Dolgailon’s shoulder. “You made a decision in the pressure of battle to pursue the men that killed one of our people,” he said with a serious tone that drew his son’s gaze. “It is not a decision I would have made but in the end it turned out well. Better than some of the decisions that I have made under similar circumstances. And that is the nature of command—we make the best decisions we can in difficult circumstances and then strive to make those decisions benefit the realm. I was angry when I spoke with you about this.” He paused and a weak smile came to his lips. “In the back of my mind I knew I was being harsher with you than I would be with any other captain. I have always expected more of you. But that is why I sent you to Thranduil. For a more objective view.”

Dolgailon returned his father’s gaze with a single arched eyebrow. “Indeed? I was under the impression that sending me on a three day journey north to the king with sealed orders was a means to make me suffer a bit more by allowing me to wonder what my fate would be. Considering how well it worked, I concluded that it was a truly inspired punishment.”

Aradunnon smirked at his son. “Well, you are correct in that respect. I did intend to make you suffer while sending you to a judge more capable of fairness than I in that moment. Given that you attacked an allied village, I felt I had the right to impose some misery upon you,” he replied. Then he grew serious again. “And, given what I have observed since I arrived in the capital, I have no doubt that your comportment was what inspired your uncle’s restrained reaction. I have known you to be an outstanding officer for many years, ion nin. But commanding military situations and interacting in court are very different, as you now well know. I have been very impressed with everything I have seen you do here. I am also very proud of you.”

Dolgailon smiled, clearly happy to have this incident behind him. “Thank you, but I have only done my duty as you taught it to me.”

Aradunnon laughed and again draped one arm over his son’s shoulders while reaching to pull his wife against him with his other. “As we taught you?” he repeated. “Well, since you are so amenable to your parents’ lessons, join us this evening on the green, ion nin. Perhaps we can teach you how to entertain yourself with some pleasant games and dances. Surely now that all this is concluded, you have earned the right to enjoy yourself.”

Dolgailon cringed dramatically at that invitation as they followed Thranduil to the family quarters.

*~*~*

Later that evening, after dinner when the stars were sparkling in the night sky, Dolgailon did indeed slip quietly out of the family quarters to go to the green, though not with the intention of spending an evening gaming with his father. He strode quickly through the Great Gates without sparing so much as a glance at the guards that came to attention as he passed. His eyes, as they scanned the green in front of the bridge, were bright and merry and a broad smile spread across his face when he spied a slender figure on a bench under the trees at the far side of the lawn. He trotted across the lawn quickly.

At his approach, Arthiel stood. She was also smiling.

“I heard that you and your lord father had returned this afternoon. I hoped you would be able to spare the time to join the festivities on the green tonight,” she said as he raised her hand to his lips.

“In truth, I can not spend much time here tonight. Before I left for Dale, I was working on a proposal to present to the king with Lord Engwe. He informed me at dinner that he wanted to discuss it tomorrow morning and I need to prepare for that.” He paused and looked at her, eyes still shining. “But it is a beautiful spring evening and the stars are bright. I know you enjoy such nights so I hoped I might find you here. Adar told me that I have earned a few moments to enjoy myself in the company of dear friends,” he concluded with a smile.

“I am certain you have,” she said smiling back at him as she began to lead him by the hand he still held down a path along the riverbank. “If you cannot stay long, I suppose I cannot convince you to go to the Oak,” she said with a playful pout. Then she turned a sincerely pleading gaze on him. “But would really like to go even for a short while. I heard some of the Palace Guard saying that your lord father has brought a barrel of Dorwinion there tonight.”

Dolgailon snorted. “Then I can do anything I wish tonight. I already know where the king’s attention will be focused tomorrow morning and it shall not be on me unless I join adar in despoiling the king’s wine cellar,” he said dryly. Then he looked down at her seriously. “Under no circumstances am I involving myself in that and neither do I wish to have another conversation with my adar about the activities at the Oak, so, no, you cannot convince me to go. If you would like some Dorwinion, have dinner with me more often and I will ask the queen to have it served in honor of your presence.”

Arthiel smirked. “I have accepted every invitation you have ever extended to join you for dinner,” she replied playfully. Then she looked at Dolgailon teasingly. “Only because I enjoy the Dorwinion,” she added. When Dolgailon laughed and shook his head, she continued, laughter in her voice as well. “And your lord father cannot possibly object to you going to the Oak. He is there nearly every night himself,” she exclaimed.

Dolgailon grinned “Adar does not object, in fact he told me to join him.” He closed his eyes in mock-horror. “I do not care to see how my adar behaves at the Oak. I fear the reality might be as bad as the stories I have heard.”

Arthiel burst into laughter. “It is. I have seen him gaming with your lady mother many times. They are quite good. I won a whole gold coin betting on your lady mother’s knife throwing once.”

Dolgailon looked away, bemused. “I am not certain which is worse—your confirmation that my adar is every bit as roguish as I feared, the fact that my naneth is involved as well or the fact that you can attest to their actions from personal observation,” he said softly, causing Arthiel to laugh harder. “Your adar would be furious if he knew you went there.”

Arthiel scowled. “Indeed, but I have been an adult for five hundred years whether or not my parents recognize that.” She sighed. “You should be grateful that your adar allows you a bit of merrymaking. Mine is far too protective of me.”

Dolgailon laughed wryly. “Your adar wants you to be safe. It is reasonable not to want one’s daughter amongst an unruly crowd of half drunk elves with nocked bows and sharp knives.” Dolgailon paused a moment—a thought obviously occurring to him—then he laughed more heartily. “Knowing my adar’s reputation, I am shocked your adar did not send you to Mithlond when I began keeping company with you.”

Arthiel giggled. “Ada knows that both you and your adar are fine elves,” she said airily. The she looked at him sidelong with a smirk. “And he knows you are much more like the king than your lord father. Since he loves the king, he takes comfort in that. He is pleased that we are ‘keeping company.’ He and nana truly enjoy your visits.”

Dolgailon smiled in response to that comment. “Would you like to go sit by the pools?” he suggested when they came to a fork in the path.

She nodded, still smirking at him though now for a different reason. “If you think the Palace Guard will let us any where near them tonight. Last time we walked there, they barred the path.” She looked at him curiously. “Did you ever find out why they did that?”

Dolgailon laughed lightly. “Yes I did. Those were not Palace Guards. They were the king’s bodyguards. He and the queen were enjoying the pools and wanted their privacy. But tonight I happen to know that the king is busy with his steward, so I believe we will be able to indulge ourselves,” he replied with amusement in his voice.

Arthiel looked at him, still with raised eyebrows, but Dogailon did not elaborate.

The last evening they had spent time together had been the night Thranduil and Lindomiel had conceived their child. Dolgailon had, of course, recognized Tureden and the other guards that denied their passage to the pools by the river at the foot of the mountain. He had assumed the king was nearby since his guards were present, but the reason they refused to allow he and Arthiel to join him had not occurred to the younger elf until Lindomiel made her announcement the next morning. Dolgailon had laughed openly when he made that connection. His uncle might be fairly conservative, but apparently he was not overly so in all arenas. But that was not a story suitable to share with anyone, much less a maiden, so Dolgailon ignored Arthiel’s expectant gaze.

Instead he led her to sit on a flat rock where no trees obscured the view of the stars and where the song of the trees and river surrounded them. When he settled next to her, she leaned against him, head on his shoulder to look at the stars. With effort he restrained himself from stroking his hand down her hair, which fell across his chest, or wrapping his arms around her waist to hold her in place. After looking at her silently for a moment, he searched his mind for a distracting topic of conversation.

“Did you speak to your adar about studying under one of the foresters?” he finally asked.

She sighed and replied with a bitter tone. “I did.”

He frowned sympathetically. “I take it that he reacted as poorly as you expected he would,” he prompted softly.

“Yes,” she said sadly. “He will not stand in my way. He gave his blessings to my decision. But only after he gave me a two-hour lecture on the importance of art and the difficulty of finding qualified assistants for his workshop. I know that he has lost two workers to the patrols in the last few years and I was the last person he had doing woodwork. I tried to explain to him that I wanted to do something more meaningful but that argument did not help. He says that art is meaningful and that our people need beauty to give them joy as much as the forest needs nurturing.” She frowned. “He was not impressed with the idea that the forest gives us joy and needs protection.”

“Your adar is a great artist, Arthiel,” Dolgailon said in a conciliatory tone. “Everyday I admire his carvings throughout the stronghold. Naturally he sees the value of arts…”

She lifted her head from his shoulder and faced him with a frustrated expression. “I have done wood carving since I was apprenticed at forty, my lord. I also understand the place of art in our lives. But I want to become a forester.”

He held up his hands. “I support you, Arthiel. You know that. I was merely trying to see both sides.”

She snorted. “You are with me, not in the king’s court. You are not supposed to be a diplomat; you are supposed to see my side,” she said crossing her arms across her chest sternly, but her eyes danced.

Dolgailon tried his best not to smirk at her. “Forgive me. I forgot,” he conceded playfully and she resumed her previous posture, leaning against him. He sighed quietly and focused on the conversation at hand. “I do understand your frustration. The king and I recently had a similar discussion about protecting the forest. I completely agree that the safety of the people and health of the forest take priority over songs and lore and other frivolity.”

Arthiel’s eyebrows climbed. “Surely the king did not disagree with that argument?” she exclaimed.

Dolgailon shook his head quickly. “Of course not. He did argue that the people’s arts were important and it was clear to me that he would be deeply saddened if the elves of this forest lost their traditions to warfare but I have taken his arguments completely out of context.”

Arthiel looked down, recognizing from his lack of detail that the conversation in question was one he could not divulge. Then her brows furrowed and she tilted her head to look up at him. “Are you to return to the border patrols soon?” she asked, worrying that topic might have initiated Dolgailon’s argument with the king about preserving art versus protecting people.

Dolgailon studied her obviously concerned expression sadly for a moment. “No, Arthiel, neither the king nor the troop commander have indicated that my duties will change anytime soon. When the king ordered me to stay in the capital, he implied that I would be here much longer than a few months,” he answered softly, stroking a finger across her cheek.

She nodded with an overly casual air and looked back at the stars. They were silent a moment.

Finally Dolgailon spoke in a soft voice. “You know, when my adar mentioned to me that he had seen us at the Oak, he also told me that, like your adar, he very much approves of the company I am keeping,” he paused waiting for some sign that she had caught the full implication of that statement. He felt her body tense slightly and knew that she had so he continued. “I told him that we had discussed the nature of our relationship and had decided that we could not pursue it beyond friendship. He suggested that I address that topic with you again.”

Arthiel shifted and turned to face him, meeting his gaze with raised eyebrows. “Do you think we should discuss it again?” she asked. Her face was so close to his that he could feel her breath, warm against his cheeks. He could still feel the warmth of her body.

Dolgailon sighed and looked down. “Ada told me that he had learned almost too late that he could comply with his responsibilities to the realm and have a family as well. He encouraged me not to make the same mistake.”

Though she tried to maintain a neutral expression, Dolgailon heard her draw a long breath before she spoke. “Do you believe that we are making a mistake?” she asked in a soft voice.

He frowned. “I do not know what to think, Arthiel,” he replied with an exasperated and frustrated tone. “The only thing I am certain of is that I will eventually return to the patrols. The king says he will not allow me to return to the south, but I am still a captain. No matter what patrol he sends me to, I will spend all but one week every season in the field with my warriors. It is you that would have to live alone while worrying about my safety. I do not see how my adar thinks that any elleth could accept that life.”

She touched his cheek. “Dolgailon, we have known each other since we were elflings. I have worried about you, my friend, since you joined the patrols when you came of age. And I have missed you since you left the capital. I will worry about you and miss you even more now that we have become closer regardless of the exact nature of our relationship.” She paused. “What about you? Surely the dangers the patrols face would be harder to bear for a warrior with a wife. I wonder if you could accept that added burden.”

Dolgailon closed his eyes. “All warriors have family, Arthiel. If not wives and children, then parents and siblings. Every time I lead my warriors into battle, I pray we all will survive for the sake of our families. The responsibility I dread most is to speak to the family of a fallen warrior after bringing his body home. I cannot imagine inflicting such pain on my family. Every time I go into battle, I think about my adar and naneth, my uncle and aunt, my cousins, my friends….” He paused and looked at her. “I thought of you before this sojourn in the capital and I will even more so now.”

“Then, if we will miss and worry about each other regardless, what do we gain by denying ourselves?” she whispered.

His brows drew together. “If we…if we are married,” he said, using that weighty word for the first time, “and I am killed, then you are left forever alone. As it stands now, if I am killed, you are free to choose another.”

She laughed lightly. “Is that supposed to console me, my lord? How long do you suggest that I wait to see if you are going to be killed so that I can choose some one else? That argument makes no sense at all,” she said, still laughing.

Dolgailon looked at her askance. “I meant that we should wait until times are better and my life is not constantly at risk. Then it would make more sense to marry.”

Arthiel sobered. “If times were peaceful, my lord…if the Shadow was lifted and the Enemy wholly destroyed and no threat lay over our people, what would you do? Would the king dissolve the border patrols? Would you cease to be one of his captains?”

Dolgailon stared at her a moment. Then he looked down. “Even in a completely peaceful world, I believe the king would maintain some warriors. And I would ask to serve as one of them,” he admitted quietly.

“Then waiting for better times does not offer us any hope either,” she replied. “It seems that we have a choice of a life together as husband and wife when you are on leave or a life together as friends when you are on leave.”

“I could never ask you to spend your life waiting an entire season for me to come home for one week of leave,” he said firmly.

“In that case, the discussion is over,” she replied with a single nod. After a moment’s pause, she turned his face towards hers with a finger under his chin. “But know that I would wait an entire season to spend one week with you.”

Dolgailon blinked at that and his mouth opened slightly. “Arthiel…” he began after a moment. His voice was thick with emotion.

But she silenced him with a finger over his lips. “Take some time to think, my lord. Nothing more,” she said, standing.

He looked up at her a moment before rising as well to escort her silently back to the path that led to her cottage.

*~*~*

Thranduil heaved a weary sigh of relief to have reached the end of this day. As he closed the door to his personal chambers, he attempted to mentally shut out the disturbing information he and Hallion had spent the evening discussing. He was relieved that his nephew and brother had returned to the stronghold without incident and he simply wanted to focus on that, enjoy his wife’s company and bask in the increasingly strong presence of his son’s fëa. Throughout their marriage, Lindomiel had always soothed his cares after a difficult day, but since their child’s conception, Thranduil was amazed at how easily he forgot the day’s annoyances while holding his wife in his arms and listening to his son’s song.

He frowned as he looked about their quarters. The lamps were lit in the sitting room, but Lindomiel was not present. Only darkness could be seen in the bed and bathing chambers, so he doubted she was in either of those rooms, but the servants had told him that she had retired immediately after dinner.

“Surely at only a little over two weeks pregnant, Lindomiel is not already so exhausted as to be asleep at this relatively early hour,” he mumbled to himself, somewhat concerned by the thought as he strode across the sitting room to peer into the darkness of the bed chambers. Indeed not. The room was empty.

Turning to look about again, Thranduil spied a door ajar and light coming from a room Lindomiel rarely entered—a spare room, attached to their quarters but not really needed. It had stood empty for a long time after they occupied the stronghold. Slowly, over the years, Thranduil had come to use it as a second office, secluding himself, and occasionally Hallion, in it when he wanted to be certain to avoid the disturbances he might have to endure if he worked in his main office.

“What could she possibly be doing in there?” he muttered, slipping through the door.

Lindomiel glanced in his direction as he entered, smiled at her husband, but immediately returned her attention to whatever she was doing. Thranduil stood in the doorway a moment, watching her. She had all the lamps in the room lit and was standing in its center with an appraising expression.

“Lindomiel, may I ask what you are doing in here?” he finally asked with a little more irritation in his voice than he intended.

Lindomiel did not look at him. “I am planning what we need to do to this room to turn it into a nursery,” she answered.

Thranduil’s mouth opened slightly. Planning nurseries, tonight, especially in this room, was not how he had hoped to spend his evening. “Do you really think we need to concern ourselves with a separate room for our son right now, Lindomiel?” he asked as patiently as possible. “Surely it will be years before he will sleep anywhere but with us.”

Lindomiel turned from her critical examination of the room to calmly face her husband. She wore the serene smile that had lit her face since the conception of their child. “Thranduil, of course he will sleep in our bed chambers. But where do you expect him to spend his days? Will you take him to the Great Hall with you to listen to petitions? Do you that expect I can take him with me to the kitchens and the laundry? Will the nanny keep him all day in the forest regardless of rain or cold weather? Or perhaps she will stand in the hall with him? And would you like all the toys and clothes and blankets and associated baby accoutrements to clutter our quarters until he is ready to sleep in his own room? He needs a nursery where he can play and where we can see to his needs.”

Without waiting for a response, her smile broadened and she continued.

“I think this room will be perfect,” she declared, ignoring Thranduil’s raised eyebrows and wide eyes. “It has its own fireplace and a door into both our sitting room and the outside hallway. It will be large enough even when he is older.” She stopped speaking and focused on her husband’s cross expression with the same patient smile. “You already have an office, Thranduil. Take this mess into it. Your son is more important than these papers,” she said gesturing at the stacks upon stacks of ledgers, loose papers, scrolls, books and other materials that should probably be housed in Thranduil’s office or library but were here instead.

Thranduil fixed Lindomiel with a stern glare that normally froze his courtiers nervously in their place. Lindomiel simply laughed at it, causing his scowl to deepen. “Lindomiel, I work in here,” he began firmly.

His wife shrugged. “And now you will play with your son in here and work in your office,” she said with finality. “Would you prefer to move this clutter yourself or do you want me to have one of the servants move it? Where do you want it? Your office? Or perhaps the library. I think the library would make more sense,” she suggested, picking up a heavy, dusty tome and inspecting it disdainfully. “Thranduil is this truly a book of law from Beleriand?” she exclaimed, looking up at him.

He returned her gaze coolly. “It is about Beleriand, not from Beleriand. But yes, it describes Elu Thingol’s law code.” He looked at her with sincere annoyance when she let the book fall to a pile on the floor. It was not the same pile where she had found it. He reached for the book and returned it to its original place. “And no, I do not want the servants doing anything in here. These are important documents, Lindomiel. I refer to them regularly and I do not want them lost or disorganized…”

“And therefore they should be in the library,” she said quietly.

“Lindomiel,” he said sharply with a warning tone.

She looked back at him with one eyebrow raised but he simply scowled at her. After studying him for a moment, she stepped forward to caress his cheek. “Oh, you are tired, meleth,” she said with the same light tone, apparently undaunted by his mood. “And that makes you cross. But you are going to have to learn to reign that temper in. You cannot display it to our son when he is born. Imagine how crushed he would be if he had waited all day to see his adar and you greeted him with that attitude. Now, come spend a few minutes with me planning how we will decorate this room and then I promise I will help you relax,” she said, taking him by the hand and pulling him to sit in a relatively clear space on the floor in the middle of the room.

Thranduil loosed a short laugh despite himself as Lindomiel settled herself into his embrace, pulling his arms around her waist and holding them there. There was no one else in all Middle-Earth that would so carelessly dismiss his temper, much less reprimand him for it, he knew. And he also knew that she was right. They would make many adaptations to their lifestyle now that they would be parents. One would be that he would have to learn to leave whatever frustrations the day caused him outside his family’s chambers. Another would be that that Lindomiel’s time in the evening would be dedicated to their son first and to him second.

Apparently, another adaptation was that this room would be made into a nursery.

“I am making a tapestry for that wall,” Lindomiel said, nodding towards the wall in question as if no confrontation had happened. “It is a scene from my favorite story. One I made my adar tell me at least once a week as an elfling. I am so looking forward to telling it to our son.” She gestured towards another wall. “And Dieneryn is making a large tapestry for that wall. It is a forest scene. She sketched it for me so I could see her idea. It will be beautiful, Thranduil.” She placed a kiss on his cheek. “I had hoped to convince you to paint some murals on the back wall.”

Thranduil closed his eyes and loosed a long breath, making a conscious effort to relax. “I will paint something for you, meleth. What would you like?” he promised with as much enthusiasm as he could muster.

“You are the artist, so that it your decision,” she replied. “My only suggestion would be not to paint anything too childish. Tapestries can be removed and replaced. Paint is much harder to remove from the walls.”

Thranduil laughed at that. “The murals in this stronghold are not painted directly on the walls, Lindomiel. Have you ever actually looked at them? They are painted on a lime plaster that is spread on the walls. If we want to replace one, it can be done.”

Lindomiel kissed him absently. “You are the expert in that area, meleth. I cannot draw a straight line much less paint a mural. What do you think you will paint?”

Thranduil studied the wall a moment, slowly losing himself in thoughts of what he might do with such a large canvas. When he had first come to the stronghold, he had helped Crithad, Gelireth, his mother, wife and a variety of other artists adorn the walls. Indeed all the paintings in the family quarters were his own, Dieneryn’s or Celonhael’s.

“It is hard to say, immediately,” he finally replied. “I cannot imagine anything that we could not make fit there.” He reached for a piece of paper and a charcoal pencil that he and Hallion used for marking maps. Lindomiel leaned over his shoulder and watched him silently as he sketched ideas, occasionally pointing at a place on the drawing and offering a suggestion. After half an hour, he had already laid out a rather complex scene.

When he finally paused, studying the paper with a critical eye, he was so absorbed in the task that Lindomiel’s soft voice made him jump. “That is beautiful, Thranduil. I have always envied your talent for drawing.”

He smiled at her. “It is nana’s talent. I only inherited the smallest part of it. But it was the only art I ever enjoyed, so since nana was an artist, she encouraged it.” He looked down at the drawing. “This is only an initial idea,” he said.

“I like it very much,” she concluded, kissing him lightly on the lips. “Then we have agreed on what we are going to do in here, I think?” she paused expectantly and Thranduil returned her gaze wryly.

“We have,” he admitted. “Hallion and I will clear this room so that you can make it into a nursery for our son,” he replied with exaggerated resignation.

“Good,” she said, smirking in response to his teasing expression. Then her smiled brightened. “You know something else that would be fun to do,” she said looking at him excitedly, “would be to start discussing names. We cannot continue saying ‘our son’ for the next year. What should we name him?”

Thranduil’s eyes widened dramatically. “Discuss names?” he asked with apparent dismay. “I believe the term ‘father-name’ implies that it is my right to name our child. And I have already chosen his name, Lindomiel.”

Her eyebrows went up and she returned his gaze with a knowing gleam in her eye. She recognized this game. “Is that so?” she asked, not acknowledging his challenge. “And what name have you chosen?”

“You will find out on his Naming Day, meleth,” Thranduil replied with as straight a face as possible.

That caused Lindomiel’s jaw to drop in earnest. She knew Thranduil well enough to know he might indeed keep the secret for the entire year just to tease her. “You are not serious.”

He laughed. “Perhaps I am,” he said, obviously enjoying himself.

She glared at him indignantly for a moment before looking away. “Well Thranduil,” she said airily, feigning disinterest. “I would have never guessed you were so fond of Noldorin traditions.”

That elicited a loud snort before Thranduil controlled himself and looked at her with mock seriousness. “I am very attached to this one. In fact, I think it is inspired.”

“I am sure it was inspired…by some arrogant Noldorin ellon,” she replied with a hint of sincere disgust in her still joking demeanor.

“Well if Lady Galadriel is any example of Noldorin wives, than I think Noldorin husbands are entitled to this one boon,” Thranduil replied.

Lindomiel laughed at that. Standing, she took the sketch from him and placed it aside. Then she pulled him up by both hands. “You may be right. But I think you will find that I can be much worse than your darkest dreams of Lady Galadriel when I choose to be. But I will allow you the illusion of victory for now.” She paused. “Come, we will go spend some time relaxing in a hot bath.”

Thranduil smiled. “I am a good deal more relaxed already, meleth, as you know very well. And I will not fall for this strategy. You will not ‘persuade’ me to tell you the name I have chosen using seduction.”

She smiled but did not release his hands. “Very well,” she conceded. Her easy surrender caused Thranduil to regard her suspiciously. “Then perhaps you will agree to discussing with me what had upset you so this evening. I know it must be fairly serious since you snapped at me,” she said as she pulled him through their quarters to the bathing chamber. There she stopped and released the lever that allowed water from the natural hot springs in the caves to flow into a large bath carved into the stone. That done, she focused on her husband and began unfastening his silk robes.

Thranduil stilled her hands and looked at her seriously. “I apologize for speaking to you sharply, meleth,” he said softly.

She freed her hands to continue unfastening his robe. “It is forgotten, Thranduil,” she replied quietly without looking away from the lacings of his robe.

He frowned. He knew that she meant what she said. But he could also easily tell that she was less concerned with his behavior tonight towards her than she was with the effect such behavior would have in the future on their son. “Lindomiel, I know that you bear a great deal from me. Most evenings, simply seeing you is enough to make me forget my day. Others, like tonight, force you to tolerate more. But I know that a child cannot be asked to smooth my temper as you do. And I know that our evenings will be dedicated to him. I am looking forward to that. I promise you that beginning this evening, I will work on leaving the affairs of this realm outside our personal chambers.”

She looked at him with concern, the joking mood now gone entirely. “Most parents find that to be a difficult task, Thranduil. And we are not most parents. You wrestle with very weighty matters everyday. Do you honestly think you can leave them behind in the evenings? You never have before.”

He sighed. “And that is no more fair to you than it is to a child, perhaps,” he replied looking at her sadly. “But yes, Lindomiel. I know that I can. Our child is not yet born, but the mere thought of him brightens my mood. I am thoroughly looking forward to spending evenings playing with him or reading to him or doing whatever else he needs. I was thinking that when I walked into our chambers tonight. And I have a year to adapt to this change. I will do so.”

Lindomiel slipped her hands under his robe to push it off his shoulders, letting it fall to the floor as she turned to unfastening the silk shirt under the robe. “Perhaps we can work on that by spending a few hours each night decorating that room together,” she suggested.

He smiled. “I would very much like an excuse to spend a few hours every night painting, Lindomiel,” he replied.

That brought a bright smile back to her face for a moment before she grew serious again. “So will you tell me what made you so angry?” she asked as the shirt followed the robe.

“It is nothing for you to concern yourself with,” he said, eyes now fixed on her. She was unlacing her gown and his mind was not on affairs of state.

She sighed. “Thranduil, as I have told you many times, it is pointless for you to try to shield me from news about battles and such things. The reality is rarely as bad as what I imagine might have happened. Simply tell me,” she said quietly.

Her gown slipped to the stone floor, leaving her clad in her thin shift. Thranduil watched as her fingers worked on its tiny buttons. They had been married for nearly two millennia but he never tired of his wife’s beauty. Without taking his eyes off her, he sat on a bench and pulled off his boots.

“Dolgailon told me that the men in Dale that he testified against claimed Easterlings have been dealing with elves in this forest,” he replied, deciding to tell her quickly so he might move on to more interesting things. He stood to untie the lacings of his leggings.

Lindomiel slipped into the bath, moaning softly in appreciation as she submerged herself in the steaming water. His statement made her blink and look back at him. “You do not believe the accusations of men convicted of treason?” she asked, voice rising in surprise.

“Hallion spoke with them. He believes them,” he answered as he joined her in the bath, gratefully sinking into the water until it reached his chin. He pulled her into his arms. “We spent a good deal of time tonight analyzing the information that we have about the Easterlings’ movements over the last years. There is a pattern to it. Every time we have caught them deep in the forest it has been in an area within ten miles north or south of the mountains near two particular villages—the same villages Hallion said the men named.” He paused. “Worse still, the only times we have caught them has been when the eastern or southern border patrols have had reason to alter their normal patrol patterns to be in the vicinity of those two villages at an unexpected time.”

Lindomiel studied her husband with wide eyes. “Are you suggesting that elves are colluding with Men against our own warriors? To what possible end?”

“I do not know. The villagers have been persuaded before to believe men would help them protect the southern forest. But given the other activities we have seen the Easterlings involved in recently, I am not pleased at all with this news.” Thranduil shook his head. “I have sent Golwon to speak to the village leaders along the Eastern border. We will see what we learn. But I imagine you have some idea why I was angry.”

“Indeed I do,” she said softly.

He nodded. Then, the serious expression fled Thranduil’s face as he tightened his arms around his wife’s waist, pulling her flush against him. “But I have found much more interesting ideas to occupy my mind now,” he said, placing a kiss on her nose. “Is it possible that you are even more beautiful since you are pregnant?”

Lindomiel only laughed in response as a mischievous look claimed her. “Possibly, but I think we should spend a few moments discussing names,” she declared and smirked as her husband groaned.

*~*~*

Irritably answering the insistent knock on her door, Manadhien stepped back automatically as six elves known well to her stepped into her cottage without waiting for an invitation. It had now been nearly a month since the king and queen’s news had reached her village and she had been expecting visits from these elves. She had not expected all of them at once.

“Have you heard,” one said without preamble. The others looked at her expectantly, some with fear and some with anger in their eyes.

Manadhien scowled at them impatiently. Of course she had heard the king was expecting a child, but their attitudes seemed to imply they referred to something else. “Have I heard what? It is not wise for the whole lot of you to descend on me like this. It will draw attention,” she snapped.

“The Men of the village that Dolgailon attacked were arrested, tried and executed,” the elf that had originally spoken replied dramatically, ignoring her complaint.

That brought Manadhien to a full stop. She stared at them a moment. “Do you know any details?” she finally asked quietly, sitting in a chair by the fireplace.

The others sat around her, some in chairs and others on the hearth or rugs on the floor. Everyone shook their heads.

“But Men are known for their barbaric interrogation techniques. What if they confessed? What if they told everything they know before they died?”

Manadhien snorted derisively. “I think we would have long since known if that were the case—we would have heard when the king’s guards came looking for us,” she said wryly, shaking her head.

“Well, they said something,” another declared. “Lord Golwon is visiting Master Bronior’s village at this moment. My sister told me she saw him there when she was visiting our naneth. And she heard that before that he had visited Gerevegion and Netharasion’s villages and intended to travel further south.” He leaned forward with worry written plainly on his face. “He is questioning village leaders systematically along the eastern border.”

Manadhien scowled but responded with an unconcerned tone. “No matter. Indeed, that is a good sign. If Golwon is fishing for information, then that means Thranduil does not have any. And he will certainly not learn anything. We have nothing to worry about.”

The others looked at each other with varying levels of discomfort.

“Thranduil has also increased the number of warriors in the eastern border patrol and concentrated them further south. And a good portion of the southern border patrol has been ordered to stay closer to the eastern edge of their patrol area. That is going to complicate things,” one of the elves armed with a sword said gravely.

Another nodded. “I do not think this alliance is worthwhile. We must break with it and devise a different strategy. Too much has not gone to plan. The Easterlings are not capable allies.”

Manadhien frowned. “I think they are very capable allies,” she said thoughtfully. “We have gained a great deal from them and from the Northmen. But I agree that their immediate usefulness has come to an end. And they recognize that. They have focused their plans on more limited goals given the failure to capture Lindomiel. Unless we can deliver her, I do not think we can count on them.”

“And that leaves us, again, without any specific course of action to achieve our goals,” someone sighed with obvious frustration.

“Perhaps we need to reevaluate our goals,” another said before Manadhien could reply. All eyes turned to him. He was the oldest amongst them and the most experienced. A central leader. “Perhaps rather than focusing on the king, we should simply focus on the forest…on fighting the spiders and orcs….”

Manadhien blinked at him. “Indeed,” she exclaimed angrily. “That is certainly where our focus should be. Everyone’s focus. And what stands in the way of that? Thranduil. Instead of eliminating spiders and orcs, he reigns richly in his palace along with his favored people while the rest of us languish in despair. We cannot focus on the forest because he directs precious resources to himself rather than where they are needed. You know that.”

The other sighed. “Yes, I do. We have repeated these arguments. We all know them. But what will really change if we remove Thranduil…?” he began again.

“We can stop wasting troops in the north protecting a stronghold that only houses the Royal Family and send them south where they belong,” retorted the elf with the sword hotly.

“We can stop wasting finances to provide Thranduil with a regal lifestyle and use those funds to buy weapons and hire soldiers from neighboring lands,” said another.

“We can stop rejecting useful alliances,” Manadhien added. “The Easterlings have said they would help rid the forest of the orcs and spiders.”

The dissenter scowled. “I do not trust any Men, much less Easterlings,” he said, refusing to be quieted now that he had spoken his mind. “And I know more than any of you about the ‘resources’ the king has. There are fewer than you think unless things have changed dramatically since he moved north. To be utterly honest, I am not convinced any of us could manage them better.”

Several of the others stood angrily at that assertion and he stood to meet their aggression.

“I am only saying that if our goal is truly to stop the spread of the Shadow, we are wasting resources ourselves. I think we should recognize that.”

Most of the elves in the cottage glowered angrily at their apparently traitorous friend while Manadhien fixed him with an intense glare.

“We are temporarily diverting our resources to remove the major obstacle to achieving the rest of our goals,” she declared firmly. “I am perfectly aware of your hesitation to stand against the king—your remaining loyalty to him. It is misplaced. You are not bound by any oaths to him. On the contrary, you have the right and the obligation to stand against him. Thranduil has failed, nay refused, to comply with his oath to protect this forest and serve this people. Given that refusal, we are absolved of any obligation to obey him. He broke faith with us first; he violated the agreement according to which he and his adar were chosen to rule. He must be removed and replaced with someone who will protect these people. The surest means to fight the Shadow is to do so with an effective leader to coordinate the battle. Thranduil is not such a leader. The perilous conditions in which we live are proof of that. The fact that each of us has lost family is proof of that. Our history of retreat upon retreat and defeat upon defeat is proof of that. We will not have peace until Thranduil is removed.”

By the time Manadhien had finished that impassioned speech, the rest of the elves in the room were nodding their heads in vigorous agreement. The dissenter merely frowned at her silently.

She returned his gaze coolly. “Your own son has suffered due to Thranduil misrule. Surely you would not see him suffer even more by allowing our plans, in which he plays a central role, to be discovered?” she asked meaningfully.

He drew a quiet breath. He was no fool. He had been a warrior in Greenwood the Great since long before the Sindarin had returned east. He recognized a threat when he saw one. And he knew this elleth well enough to understand its weight. “I do not intend to betray our plans,” he answered, looking at Manadhien unwaveringly. “I am only suggesting that now that we have an opportunity to reevaluate them, we keep closely in mind what our true goals are so that we will serve them best.”

Manadhien raised her chin slightly. “I always have my goal in mind. Never doubt that,” she said coldly, seating herself in her chair by the fireplace and looking at all the elves in the room. “Without our Mannish allies, we are forced once again to make due with our limited resources. But my suspicions that new positions close to Thranduil will soon be available were correct.” She glanced at the old warrior still standing to one side of the room. “Your son confirmed that for me. He, at least, has made some very useful connections. So useful that we hope to see him posted to one of those new positions.”

That comment elicited hopeful exclamations from everyone in the room except the old warrior. He turned his back to the company, under the pretense of returning to his chair, in order to conceal his grimace.

*~*~*

Adar/ada---Father/Dad

Naneth/nana—Mother/mum

Ion nin—My son

Elleth/Ellyth—Female Elf/Elves

Ellon/Ellyn--Male Elf/Elves

Meleth nin—My love


Chapter 8 - Joy amidst doubts

Fall 1940

Thranduil stood back from the nursery wall, appraising the partially complete mural while absently stirring the brightly colored paint in the jar in his hands. The scene on the wall depicted a large beech tree as its central figure. It grew on the banks of a swift river and in the foreground of a dense forest that were both only partially complete. Frolicking along the river and hiding in the forest were the beginnings of a variety of animals—otters, deer, raccoons, fox. For today’s work, Thranduil had outlined a field of small, colorful flowers that grew on the opposite bank of the river. His thoughts were on Lindomiel and he had chosen to work on the flowers because they reminded him of her garden.

Lindomiel normally joined Thranduil in the nursery every evening. Though tired from the pregnancy, she insisted on contributing to the decoration of the room in addition to continuing her household duties. Despite the fact that Thranduil felt weaving was far too strenuous as she reached her seventh month, she had set up a loom in the nursery and normally worked on it each night as he painted. Lindomiel and Dieneryn had created and hung three tapestries since the baby’s conception. His favorite was an illustration of a children’s story about three Ents and their meeting with a fabled Elvenprince. Neither Thranduil nor certainly Lindomiel had ever seen an Ent, but her depiction of them in the tapestry matched Thranduil’s imagination of their appearance very well.

Tonight, however, Lindomiel was not weaving. Along with Dieneryn and the other ladies of the household, she was with Amoneth. Only four days away from the birth of her second son, Amoneth was very uncomfortable, so they were trying to entertain and distract her. As Thranduil finished preparing the paints he would use for this evening’s work, he sighed, amazed at how quickly he had grown accustomed to spending this time in the evening with his wife and how much he missed her company tonight.

He had been painting for nearly an hour when a knock on the door sounded. Thranduil frowned. Despite the fact that Lindomiel was not here, he did not care to be taken away from this pleasant task.

“Come,” he called, turning to face the door and expecting to see Hallion. His eyebrows rose slightly when Celonhael entered the room.

Thranduil knew Celonhael’s wife, Ollwen, was with Amoneth. Normally Celonhael spent evenings dancing with Ollwen on the green in front of the stronghold, so Thranduil’s initial assumption was that Celonhael was at a loss to entertain himself in her absence. He smiled at his advisor, identifying with that feeling all too well.

As he walked into the nursery, Celonhael paused a moment to look at the tapestries and paintings before inclining his head to the king. “Am I disturbing you, Thranduil?” he asked, his voice tired. He picked up one of the brushes discarded on the table of painting supplies and began to clean it without waiting for a reply.

Thranduil’s brow knit. It was immediately apparent from his advisor’s somber demeanor that more than an evening without his wife troubled the normally light-hearted, merry elf. Despite his years and experiences, Celonhael always sported a bright smile. Now his eyes were dull and downcast, focused silently on the cleaning supplies. Thranduil walked over to the table. Putting down his paint and brush, he focused on his friend. “No, you are not disturbing me, Celonhael, but something clearly disturbs you. Would you like to discuss it?” he asked gently.

Celonhael continued cleaning the brush in his hand for a moment before he looked at Thranduil. “If I may, I would very much like to help you do some painting,” he replied quietly, avoiding Thranduil’s question.

Thranduil studied Celonhael for a moment. He knew the older elf enjoyed painting as he did. They had worked on some of the murals in the halls together when the stronghold was new and had made a merry time of it. Something obviously bothered his friend tonight, but situations such as this reminded Thranduil that he was significantly younger than his advisors—the age their children would be if they still lived and not the age of their contemporaries. Though he was their king, he did not feel comfortable pressing them about personal matters.

“If painting will help, mellon nin, then by all means join me,” he replied, offering him a clean brush and a jar of powder to mix into paint. “I am painting the flowers, as you can see.”

Thranduil returned to the wall and in a few moments Celonhael joined him. They painted in silence for a long while.

“May I ask you a very personal question, Thranduil?” Celonhael finally asked, still without looking away from the mural.

Thranduil raised his eyebrows. Celonhael always treated him respectfully, but Thranduil had always felt close to the elves that now served as his advisors, especially Celonhael and Hallion. They were very distant cousins but in his youth, Thranduil had called them both ‘uncle.’

“Yes,” he answered simply.

Celonhael turned to face him. “Why did you and Lindomiel wait so long to have children?”

Thranduil blinked and looked sharply at his friend. “Surely that is obvious, Celonhael,” he replied quietly. “When she and I first married, you know how I was struggling to manage this kingdom. I could not take on the responsibilities of fatherhood at the same time. And then the Shadow began to spread over the Wood and we were forced to move. It has been difficult to find an appropriate time to have children.”

“And do you truly think now is appropriate?”

Thranduil’s eyes widened at that question, not certain how to interpret it—a simple question or an accusation. “No, Celonhael, I do not,” he responded truthfully. “This decision was very difficult for me to make. I made it because I do want children and as Lindomiel and naneth both told me, it is unlikely that we will ever again see a perfect time to have children.”

Celonhael nodded but his eyes were sad. Thranduil was not even certain he had heard his answer. “Eirienil is a wonderful child, is she not? And soon we will have your child and Aradunnon’s. Such a blessing to have so many children in the family.”

Thranduil’s frown deepened. This apparently happy observation was made with a somber tone. “May I ask what troubles you so, Celonhael?” he prodded, laying a hand on his shoulder. “I may not be able to offer any advice but I am happy to listen.” Eyes on the floor, Celonhael remained silent, so Thranduil continued in a softer voice. “I could get nana. She is a very good listener.”

A faint light appeared in Celonhael’s eyes at that suggestion. Dieneryn was slightly younger than most of the king’s advisors as well. Despite that, she had become very much a mother figure to many of them. With a sigh, Celonhael raised his eyes to look at Thranduil.

“Ollwen is finding the children difficult to bear,” he stated bluntly. “She has told me that she wants another child.”

Thranduil’s mouth fell open at that. His immediate reaction was to remind Celonhael that Ollwen, was over five millennia old and well past the Years of Children but that was clearly not what Celonhael needed to hear. Indeed, from his expression, that fact was already painfully obvious to him. Suddenly it occurred to Thranduil how difficult indeed it must be for Celonhael and Ollwen to bear seeing all the couples in the family expecting children. Their son and only child, Duinion, had fallen with Oropher on the Dagorlad nearly two thousand years before.

Celonhael looked at Thranduil, sorrowfully. “I should not burden you with this, Thranduil. This is a blessed time for you. You must enjoy it.”

Thranduil shook his head. “You have comforted me more times than I can count and stood by me in the most difficult of times—both as my advisor and my uncle. I cannot offer you any advice but at least allow me to be the friend you have always been for me.”

Celonhael looked at him gratefully a ghost of his normally jovial expression struggling to surface.

With that encouragement, Thranduil continued in a serious voice. “So, Ollwen sincerely wishes to have another child. What are your thoughts on this?”

Celonhael closed his eyes. “Valar forgive me, Thranduil, but I cannot deny that I want that too. I told her I absolutely would not consider the risk to her—I cannot lose her too and a child at this stage in life would be so dangerous—but in my heart, I fear that I will not be strong enough to hold that position. And that leads me to my other fear—choosing to risk having another child and losing that child to Sauron’s forces in this forest.”

Thranduil frowned and looked away. Celonhael had just bluntly given voice to the fear that Thranduil could not bring himself to consciously think about. Every time the council had discussed raids made by orcs or Easterlings or the destruction of a colony of spiders over the last year—every time Dolgailon hinted that he would like to return to the patrols—Thranduil had deliberately avoided thinking about his own son facing those same dangers only fifty short years in the future. Forced to think about it now, he found himself wondering how Celonhael could even consider another child after experiencing the loss of his first. But he knew the answer to that question the moment it surfaced in his mind and he realized it might help Celonhael dismiss one of his fears, at least.

“May I ask you a personal question, Celonhael. It might be painful—it is about Duinion.”

Celonhael’s eyes widened slightly. “I do not mind speaking of Duinion. I enjoy remembering him.”

Thranduil looked at Celonhael evenly. “You and Ollwen conceived Duinion in dangerous times when Sauron was already at open war in Eregion with our neighboring Elvish and Mannish realms. Do you ever regret the decision to bring him into the world at that time?”

Celonhael shook his head. “Never,” he answered swiftly. “Duinion had a short life with us but I cherished every moment of it. And now I cherish the memories of the time he was with us as the happiest of my life. His death did not change that in the least.”

Thranduil nodded. “I expected that would be your answer. Indeed, when Lindomiel was trying to convince me to conceive our child and the fear of losing him to the dangers in this forest made me hesitate, I often thought of Duinion and Ninglor and how they both enriched my life, no matter how short theirs was,” he said softly.

Celonhael drew in a long breath. “So you believe Ollwen and I should have another child.”

Thranduil took a step back and held up his hands. “I would never presume to give any sort of advice on that topic, Celonhael. That is a decision that only you and Ollwen can make. I finally agreed to conceive my son because I refuse to allow the evil in this forest to dictate my choices to me and because, though I fear for his future, I take strength in the fact that you and Engwe clearly cherish the time you had with your children though they are in Mandos now. But that is my decision. Moreover, Lindomiel is barely over two millennia. Your wife is well over five millennia. You have more to consider than I did.”

Celonhael looked back at the mural. “That is precisely the problem. Ollwen is very strong,” he smiled. “Every bit a wood elf. So alive and vital, especially in the forest amongst the trees.” He frowned, moving quickly from joy at the thought of his wife to despair at the thought of losing her. “I cannot risk her but she refuses to acknowledge how difficult bearing another child might be.”

Thranduil sighed softly. “Then perhaps it is a good that she is with Amoneth tonight being reminded of the less pleasant aspects of childbearing,” he suggested.

Celonhael smiled wryly. “You know Ollwen better than that. Like Lindomiel, she sees all the beauty in the world and none of the darkness. All she will remember of this evening is the excitement in Amoneth’s eyes as they discuss the imminent birth of her son.”

Thranduil smiled also. Celonhael was right that Lindomiel and Ollwen had a gift to bring happiness to all around them. “May the Valar bless our wives as we are blessed to have them,” he said softly.

With a warm smile, Celonhael nodded and began to clean the brushes on the table.

*~*~*

“We have one more item on this morning’s agenda then, my lord,” Hallion said, picking up the dispatches from the patrols that the council had just finished discussing and adding them neatly to the stack of documents on his right. He then handed a set of letters sitting on his left to Thranduil. They were tied together with a string and the top letter bore the seal of the Lord of Dale.

Thranduil scowled and loosed the string to scan through the letters.

“Lord Fengel has sent us the information he could gather regarding the claim that our people were involved with the Easterlings,” Hallion continued as Thranduil read. They both ignored the sharp glances of the council members that were not aware that accusation had been made. “You will see his letter and those of three village leaders, including Lord Fengel’s cousin in the old Mannish capital between the river and the forest. They all confirm seeing Easterlings near our borders or crossing into the forest.” He paused. “They name the same villages that the traitors did, my lord.”

Thranduil looked up from his perusal of the letters with a sour expression and turned to Golwon. “And I assume you are ready to speak about what you learned from your conversations with our village leaders?”

Golwon nodded. ““I have spoken to all the village leaders on the Eastern border regarding this subject. Most of the people I spoke to were openly horrified at the idea that Easterlings might have entered the forest. I have no doubt they have never seen such goings on. There were two village leaders in the south that reacted similarly, but I had the sense that they were not being truthful with me.”

Thranduil’s mouth formed a thin line and he tapped the letters against the table. “Let me guess—Dolwon and Dannenion are the two you are suspicious of?”

Golwon glanced at the letters in the king’s hand and raised his eyebrows. “Yes, my lord. I assume theirs are the villages that the men named as well?”

Golwon’s only answer was Thranduil’s deepening scowl.

Celonhael was staring at Thranduil with wide eyes. “Are you suggesting that elves in this forest are dealing with men? With Easterlings?” he asked, voice rising in pitch.

Thranduil turned to him. “That is what the evidence points towards,” he said with an unmistakably irate tone.

Celonhael shook his head incredulously. “The elves in the southern villages are stubborn and independent to a degree that only endangers them, my lord. But I do not believe they are stupid. Or unable to recognize the Shadow after living in it for many yéni. Indeed, those particular elves that remain on the southeastern border have always made clear their displeasure whenever they were forced to interact with Men. It makes no sense that they would willingly seek out dealings with men touched by the Shadow now,” he said.

Thranduil scowled. “We have the statements of the men executed for ‘interacting’ with these same Easterlings corroborated by men loyal to Lord Fengel. They state they have seen Easterlings in Dolwon and Dannenion’s villages. We also analyzed the pattern of the border patrols’ encounters with Easterlings and found that the only places they were found deep inside the forest rather than outside the border was near these villages. And now Golwon states that he did not feel Dolwon and Dannenion were truthful with him. What would you conclude, Celonhael?”

Celonhael stared at Golwon and Thranduil. “But…” he hesitated. “If Dolwon and Dannenion are lying about their association with the Easterlings, that is very serious. We know that all the villages in the south conduct some unauthorized trade with Men and Dwarves traveling on the Forest Road. But they do not hide that or lie about it when confronted. They know they need not fear your response so greatly as to lie about it. If these elves lied to Golwon, then that implies they are involved in something worse than simply trading for weapons or exotic spices.”

Golwon’s eyes widened and he shot a glance at the king. That thought had obviously not occurred to him. Thranduil’s expression was inscrutable. Golwon blinked and looked back at Celonhael. “I did not intend to imply anything of the sort. I assumed they are lying because trading with Easterlings is considerably different than trading with the Woodsmen or even Dwarves. The Men of Rhovanion are our allies and even the Dwarves are not enemies. The Easterlings are. I think they are trading with them and they know doing so will earn them more than the king’s normal reaction to unauthorized trade.”

Everyone at the table looked to Thranduil for his reaction to that conclusion. His expression remained unreadable.

“Tell Dolwon and Dannenion that I want to speak with them and bring them to the stronghold,” he said curtly after a moment’s silence. Then he turned to Aradunnon. “And I want the patrols to keep a tight watch on the borders near those villages. Without informing anyone in the villages.”

Thranduil waited for Aradunnon to acknowledge that request and scowled when he did not. Aradunnon was staring absently at the far wall of the Great Hall. With an annoyed growl, Thranduil wrapped his knuckles sharply on the table, causing Aradunnon’s eyes to snap to his. Thranduil glared at his brother for a moment. The idea that his people might be dealing with Easterlings was enough to thoroughly anger him. He did not need the added frustration of his councilors not paying attention during discussions that directly concerned them. Especially his troop commander.

“Is the defense of the realm boring you this morning, Lord Aradunnon,” he asked irritably.

“I apologize, my lord,” Aradunnon replied with none of the contriteness Thranduil would have expected under the circumstances. “I did not hear you. What were you asking?”

Thranduil repeated his request with clipped tones.

“Discreetly tighten the patrols at the borders around Dolwon and Dannenion’s villages,” Aradunnon repeated, nodding. “I will inform the lieutenants in the next dispatch,” he said quietly, his attention already drifting.

Thranduil’s brow knit angrily. “Would you care to share with me why you find concentrating on this meeting so challenging, Aradunnon?” he asked sharply.

“Something is wrong with Amoneth,” Aradunnon answered softly.

The irate expression immediately faded from Thranduil’s face to be replaced by concern. “Are you certain?”

Aradunnon nodded. “I would swear that her labor has started but the baby is not due for three more days.”

Everyone looked at one another silently for a moment and then Dieneryn leaned forward, smiling at her son with bright eyes. “Aradunnon, babies are only normally born on their begetting day. Two or three days before or after it is not completely unheard of. And she was so uncomfortable last night. Perhaps you should go check on her.”

Aradunnon frowned skeptically. “Surely she would send for me,” he began, only to be interrupted by Thranduil’s quiet laughter.

“Aradunnon, it would not surprise me at all if a child of yours refused to start its life in the world in the traditional fashion. I think Amoneth must certainly be in labor.”

Dieneryn loosed a short laugh in response to Thranduil’s barb but tried to nod seriously. “Second labors are almost always faster than first labors,” she warned. “Amoneth may underestimate the time she has before she calls for you or the healer. If you can feel her labor, you need to go join her and call for Nestoreth.”

Aradunnon hesitated for a moment, looking anxiously at his family seated around the meeting table. They returned his nervous gaze cheerfully, clearly pleased by this happy news. Finally Dieneryn rose from her chair and began to pull Aradunnon to his feet. As she did the doors in the back of the Hall opened and the guard admitted an apprentice healer. She came into the room quickly, not waiting for permission and calling excitedly to Aradunnon to return with her to the family quarters.

With that, everyone stood.

“There,” Thranduil said, shoving his brother, who stood poised to rush from the room but was frozen in place from nervous shock at this unexpected development. “She has called for you. Let us go back to the family chambers. You have work to do, little brother, and the rest of us can begin celebrating the arrival of your son.”

Aradunnon grinned at Thranduil as he gathered himself. “Hopefully her second labor will be shorter. It will give you less time to disgrace yourself. I seem to recall that every male member of this family was so ‘celebrated’ after Dolgailon’s birth that you could barely greet him. I did not dare let any of you hold him.”

With that, Aradunnon and Dieneryn moved swiftly from the Great Hall, disappearing into the family chambers. The elves going about their business in the stronghold looked expectantly at the rest of the royal family as they followed and Hallion took it upon himself to confirm their suspicions. Thranduil smiled broadly as he passed into the private area of the stronghold. He knew his people well—there would be celebrations both inside and outside the family chambers for the next several days.

*~*~*

Late that night, Thranduil silently entered his brother’s private chambers followed eagerly by Engwe, Hallion, Celonhael and Golwon, who was carrying an obviously sleepy but wide-eyed Eirienil. They saw Amoneth through the open door to the bedchambers propped up by numerous pillows, both deep exhaustion and pure joy in her eyes as she beckoned to them to come in. Aradunnon sat in a rocking chair next to the bed with a bundle wrapped in a blanket in his lap. Dolgailon sat on the edge of the bed his hand in his mother’s. The ladies of the family, looking nearly as exhausted as Amoneth, sat in chairs dragged in from the sitting room. A few empty chairs stood ready for their husbands who were now hurrying into the room to meet the new baby for the first time. Everyone gathered excitedly around Aradunnon.

Thranduil took Lindomiel’s hand and studied her intently for a moment, concerned that spending the entire day helping the healers with Amoneth would be too tiring for her. But, like Amoneth, Lindomiel only radiated happiness. Satisfied that his wife was well, Thranduil turned his attention to his brother and new nephew. Kneeling next to Aradunnon’s chair, he peered at the baby sleeping in his lap. Aradunnon shifted the bundle slightly so all could see the tiny face that peeked out from the blankets.

The room was immediately filled with the sort of soft, cooing exclamations that normally greet a newborn.

“He is beautiful, muindor nin,” Thranduil whispered after he spent a moment simply smiling and taking in the baby’s perfect little features. Everyone nodded their agreement but the baby, sleeping soundly in his father’s arms, only frowned slightly in response to the quiet commotion around him.

Amoneth laughed lightly, straining to lean forward and see her new son amidst the crowd. “I certainly think so,” she said. “Though I expect that I am somewhat biased.”

As everyone smiled at Amoneth, Aradunnon looked at his brother hovering over the baby with amusement.

“Would you like to hold him?” he asked.

Grinning, Thranduil nodded and settled himself in the chair next to Lindomiel to better support the baby. As Aradunnon placed the bundle in his arms, Thranduil remembered the first time he had held an infant—his baby brother, when he was only a few hours old. He had since held Dolgailon as an infant and now this baby. Each time he was awed by how fragile and helpless they were…how dear and precious. He glanced over to see Lindomiel clearly enjoying the sight of a baby in her husband’s arms. He winked at her.

“Children are an absolute marvel,” Celonhael whispered, leaning over to stroke a finger across the baby’s fat, pink cheek.

“Indeed,” Engwe replied, shamelessly gathering the baby in his arms and stealing it from Thranduil who glared at him. The ladies in the room giggled as the person in the family that they all feared the most made silly faces at the now yawning and stretching child. As Engwe rocked the baby in his arms, quickly lulling it back to sleep, the blanket fell away from his face revealing the thick little mop of hair on his head.

All the males in the room, who had not yet seen the baby’s hair, blinked and looked with surprise at Aradunnon. Like Thranduil, Aradunnon had inherited the golden hair typical of their mother’s family, though both had some wisps of Oropher’s silver. This child’s hair was the inverse—predominantly silver with a few light golden strands.

“I was going to comment that he looked a great deal like Oropher before but this is amazing,” Engwe exclaimed, echoing everyone’s thoughts.

Aradunnon nodded. “When Dolgailon was born, I remember thinking how light his hair was. The fairest gold I had ever seen, but definitely still gold. This child’s hair is as silver as adar’s was.”

Amoneth reached over to tussle her son’s hair. “Dolgailon’s hair is a much deeper gold like yours now, meleth. I imagine the gold will come out more in this child’s hair as well as he gets older.”

Hallion chuckled quietly. “You had better pray that this child inherited only Oropher’s looks and not his personality as well. I grew up with Oropher, remember. You cannot imagine the trouble we got into.” He shuddered dramatically but with a playful expression as Engwe burst out laughing and nodded.

The noise caused the baby to begin to fuss and Engwe returned him to his mother’s arms when she reached for him.

Aradunnon smiled wryly. “I suppose it is too much to ask that I have the same luck with my second born that I did with my first. I predict he will be the same terror both his adar and daeradar were.”

Everyone laughed in response to that and the elves of Oropher’s generation shook their heads as then baby refused to be quieted.

“We should let them rest,” Dieneryn said firmly after moment.

Amoneth nodded tiredly. “I am exhausted but I cannot sleep. I am simply too excited. It is so wonderful to finally hold him,” she said, looking at her son.

Aradunon instantly grinned, in complete agreement. “I cannot put him down,” he said coming over to sit on the bed next to his wife. He drew her into his arms as she held their son.

Thranduil smiled at him. “You were the same with Dolgailon, I seem to remember. You would not even give him to Amoneth when he cried for her until you were ordered to do so.”

Aradunnon laughed at the memory. “Hopefully I will not be as bad with this child. I let you and Engwe hold him, so surely that is evidence that I will do better.” Then he looked at his brother with a knowing expression. “A little over five more months, Thranduil, and we will see how you do. You will be far worse than I ever was.”

Rather than rising to the bait as Aradunnon expected, Thranduil returned his brother’s gaze with a myriad of emotions in his eyes. “I cannot wait another five months,” he whispered. Lindomiel nodded.

Aradunnon sighed sympathetically. “A year can pass by entirely unnoticed save for the changing of the seasons except when one is expecting a baby. Then a year becomes a yen.”

Thranduil nodded seriously. “Too true,” he said, grasping Lindomiel’s hand.

*~*~*

Three days later, Amoneth’s parents arrived from Lothlorien expecting to be present for the birth of their second grandchild. They were shocked to find they had barely come in time for his naming ceremony. But as it turned out, they would have plenty of opportunity to make up for lost time. With them had traveled Lindomiel’s parents and the entire entourage intended to stay until after Thranduil’s child was born.

Even hours later Dolgailon still laughed at the memory of his uncle’s stunned expression when Lindomiel’s father, Amglaur, was escorted into the family sitting room. Apparently, Thranduil had not expected him to travel with Amoneth’s parents though it seemed perfectly logical to Dolgailon that he would—why make two separate trips requiring twice as many guards in escort? After all, Amoneth and Lindomiel were cousins, everyone was family and they were all traveling to and from the same places.

Of course it took Dolgailon precisely one minute in the same room with Amglaur to determine why his uncle had reacted as he did.

Thranduil’s father-in-law had only just been seated when he launched an inquest into his daughter’s health and comfort. Dolgailon found himself biting the insides of his cheeks to keep from laughing as Thranduil’s posture grew stiffer and stiffer and he was certain his uncle was literally biting his own tongue. As soon as he respectably could, Dolgailon excused himself from the sitting room and fled to the green—where he was certain the entire family would prefer to be if Amglaur had not insisted that it was too cold outside for babies or pregnant daughters.

The moment he stepped off the bridge, the elves still celebrating the birth of Dolgailon’s brother swarmed him for news and stories while shoving a goblet in his hand and pulling him in numerous directions. He laughed at this treatment and cheerfully answered their questions. He was very pleased when Arthiel slipped up next to him and quietly took his hand.

“He is named Galithil,” Dolgailon answered a shouted question as she leaned against him.

He squeezed her hand as a satisfied murmur arose from the elves surrounding him.

“That must be for his hair,” an elleth that Dolgailon did not recognize said to the crowd authoritatively. “It is silver, you know,” she added, repeating information that Dolgailon had only just supplied in answer to a request to describe the baby moments before. Others nodded.

Dolgailon smiled but said nothing. Even he did not know his father’s reasoning behind the choice of names, though the elleth’s assumption was logical.

“No,” said Dollion, the captain of the Palace Guard and Aradunnon’s oldest friend. He had clearly overindulged in the wine being served. “Knowing Aradunnon, more likely he chose that name because the child was conceived in the moonlight somewhere in the forest.”

That elicited loud guffaws from the other warriors present and laughter from everyone else. Dolgailon remained silent but he was certain that he was blushing. He had discovered when he was only forty that he had been conceived in the forest so he knew Dollion’s suggestion was perfectly plausible

One of the other warriors in the Palace Guard shoved his captain playfully. “What does that mean you will be naming your daughter then, Dollion?” he shouted. “I hear she was conceived in the river.”

Dolgailon raised his eyebrows and looked at Dollion, who did not seem the least embarrassed by that disclosure. Dolgailon had not even yet heard that Dollion was expecting a child.

“I am naming her Aewen,” Dollion declared. “After the bird that sang to us as she was conceived. It was a beautiful wood thrush. Enchanting song.”

That conversation declined rapidly and Dolgailon found himself and Arthiel herded towards a bench by her father, Crithad. Taking in the openly disapproving expression on the stoneworker’s face, Dolgailon felt fairly certain that Arthiel had been conceived in the privacy of her parents’ bedroom. Laughing lightly as Arthiel rolled her eyes in response to her father’s insistent tugs, he did not resist at all as Crithad led them to the bench. He was perfectly pleased to leave the throng of elves. After all, he had come out to the green hoping to spend time with Arthiel, not to announce the details of his brother’s birth.

When they arrived at the bench, Dolgailon bowed politely to Arthiel’s mother, Merileth, and, after seating Arthiel comfortably next to her parents, he settled himself on the ground in front of the bench.

Merileth frowned somewhat uncomfortably at that. “Sit next to Arthiel, my lord,” she said, beginning to rise. Crithad did as well.

But Dolgailon shook his head. “Stay where you are, mistress,” he said firmly, freezing both Merileth and Crithad in place. “I am perfectly happy here on the soft grass.” Merileth smiled and put an arm around her daughter’s waist.

Dolgailon looked down at the goblet of wine in his hand. Courtesy to his elders aside, he did not want to sit on that small little bench with Arthiel and her father. He was certain that having Arthiel practically in his lap would cause his hands to stray in a more familiar manner than he thought Crithad would appreciate. And he knew Arthiel could read that thought, for she was grinning at him with a knowing expression.

“So how does brotherhood suit you,” she asked, thankfully passing on the opportunity to tease him.

He smiled up at her. “I think it will suit me well,” he replied. “Though Galithil is already proving himself to be a handful. He is only three days old but he has already figured out that if he cries, people will run to him. So he cries and the moment you pick him up, he stops. If you put him down, he waits until you are out of sight to start crying again and immediately grins at you when you rush to pick him up.” He paused and assumed an exaggeratedly virtuous expression. “Nana said that I never cried as a baby.”

Crithad snorted. “You did not. You hid. I remember finding you in the strangest places when you were a small child. Always with something that you had caught and were studying. I will never forget your lady mother’s reaction to that collection of insects you assembled.”

Arthiel looked at her father with wide eyes.

He shrugged with an amused look on his face. “Even when you were old enough to help me, Arthiel, there was still a great deal of work to do in the stronghold when the two of you were children. I worked there every day in those times and I saw a lot.”

Dolgailon smirked at him. “You are quite correct, Master Crithad. And I doubt I will forget nana’s reaction to those insects either. Or the king’s. He is not fond of spiders and I had a very diverse group of them.” He paused for affect and his expression grew mischievous. “But the king has promised to show me the pleasures of being an older brother in the interest of teasing my adar. So I am certain that this child is destined to much worse things than insect collections.”

Crithad and Merileth both laughed at that. “I do seem to recall that Prince Thranduil led your lord father on some adventures that infuriated King Oropher,” Merileth said.

Crithad nodded and fixed Dolgailon with a stern look. “And your lord father would have followed his elder brother to Mordor if he had gone there. You remember that. Being an older brother is a responsibility.”

Dolgailon smiled. “I am certain my adar will appreciate that advice, since the king is openly encouraging me to terrible behavior in this one instance,” he replied.

Arthiel laughed. “Ada is only concerned that I should get any ideas from you. Ada and nana are expecting another child as well. I have not had time to mention that.”

Dolgailon’s eyes widened. “Are you indeed?” he asked, his smiled broadening when Crithad and Merileth nodded. “That is wonderful news.” Then he shook his head in wonder. “All the children in my family. Dollion and his wife are expecting. You are.” He looked at Arthiel. “Were there this many children when we were elflings?”

Merileth smiled indulgently at them. “I imagine so. A good many elflings were born when we first moved north, including both of you. And now seems like a wonderful time again. After all, the king is having his first son. If he thinks this is a good time to expand his family, who are we to disagree?”

Dolgailon blinked at that. “Do you really think that people are having children now because the king is?” he asked.

Crithad nodded. “Of course, along with your brother’s birth, the king’s son has inspired many people, including Merileth and I, to have children. As you said, there is Dollion. And another warrior in the Palace Guard. And I have heard of three couples amongst the Path Guard who are expecting.”

Merileth nodded. “And the potter’s daughter and several of the foresters.”

Dolgailon listened to this news silently. Crithad and Merileth seemed to think it was quite natural that the king’s decision should inspire others to follow him, but he felt certain his uncle would be very concerned at best to hear this news. He was distracted from that thought by Arthiel rolling her eyes again.

“Ada and nana were motivated more by the idea of a child to share in the family trade than by the actions of the king,” she said with a cheeky tone.

Crithad frowned. “Given that we are having a son, and he is more likely to become a warrior than a forester like his sister, I certainly hope that he chooses to stay in my workshop,” he replied sharply. Then he looked at Dolgailon, who maintained a very neutral expression upon hearing that comment. “I mean no disrespect. On the contrary, I am very thankful for you and your warriors. I simply pray that my son does not have to be one of them. Someone must continue in the crafts. And though you seem to be doing much better now after a year in the capital, everyone was concerned about you when you first returned. It was painful enough seeing the influence that the Shadow had on you. I would not like to see my own son in such a condition.”

Dolgailon again struggled to maintain a neutral expression. He had not thought himself to be influenced by the Shadow at all when he had returned to the capital and he had believed that his uncle was overreacting when he made similar statements. Hearing Crithad made Dolgailon wonder what everyone had seen that he had not.
“No offense taken, Master Crithad,” he finally replied. “I appreciate your concern for me but I assure you that I am well. And as for the your son working with you in your workshop rather than being a warrior, of course you would prefer that. The king would be happiest if no one had to serve in the military. I have heard him say numerous times how he values everyone’s service to the realm, especially the craftsmen.”

Crithad smiled in response and cast a meaningful look at his daughter. Arthiel’s bitter grimace seemed to indicate that Dolgailon was not likely to enjoy any time alone with her that he might maneuver this night. That fact was entirely lost on Crithad, but not Merileth, who was looking between the younger elves and laughing quietly.

*~*~*

The morning after Galithil’s naming ceremony, Thranduil sat on his throne in the Great Hall, his advisors surrounding him and Hallion to his right, glaring icily at the two elves being escorted into the room. For the hundredth time that day, the king firmly reminded himself that an evening under his father-in-law’s critical eye should not be allowed to influence the fate of any citizen in this realm. He was certain that he had managed, until now, to treat with everyone he had met with today justly—and if he did not, he was equally certain that Hallion would subtly inform him of his failure. But despite his sincere desire to be fair, this last meeting would strain the king’s patience on the best of days, much less one in which Thranduil’s patience was already stretched thin from dealing with Amglaur. The king’s eyes narrowed as Dolwon and Dannenion fell to one knee before his throne. Leaving them in place, Thranduil studied them.

Their heads were bent, so Thranduil could not see their faces, but their posture as they awaited his permission to rise seemed tense. When the king did not speak, they looked up at him with surprise in their eyes. Thranduil’s hand tightened on his oaken staff when he noted a hint of bitterness mingling with the suprise. Returning their searching gaze with his own cool one, he waited for them to again drop their eyes to the floor before allowing them to rise.

When they did, they looked at him with more respect. Indeed, Thranduil did not miss the flash of fear in Dolwon’s eyes.

“I have brought you here to discuss the presence of Men in your village,” Thranduil began in a soft voice after another moment’s pause. Dolwon and Dannenion remained silent and still, their expressions completely neutral. Thranduil frowned. “Perhaps you would be willing to tell me why you lied to Lord Golwon when he asked you about the visits that you have received from the Easterlings?”

Thranduil watched as Dolwon and Dannenion mentally debated their response. Their hesitation told him all he needed to know. A guiltless person would immediately declare their innocence. Dolwon and Dannenion were trying to determine if Thranduil actually had proof of anything. They were weighing the likelihood of a more severe punishment for continuing to lie against the hope that their king was simply trying to entrap them into a confession.

With a glance to Dolgailon, who stood in his father’s place amongst the king’s advisors, Dannenion finally spoke. “Lord Dolgailon can tell you anything that I could about the Easterlings’ attacks on my village, my lord. Probably more. He led the warriors that came to our aid in each instance,” he said.

With no more reaction to that response than a slight intake of breath, Dolwon nodded. “Indeed, my lord. I recall that he was present in my village after each of their attacks also.”

Thranduil glared at them until they dropped their gazes again. Then he lifted a paper from his lap and appeared to consult it. It was a letter bearing the seal of the Lord of Dale. “Was he present for the Easterlings’ visit to your village in mid Firith of last year?” he asked calmly, addressing Dannenion. “When you were seen speaking with Easterlings at the edge of the forest.”

Dannenion’s hand involuntarily convulsed around the hem of his tunic. Then he blinked and appeared to think. “Firith, my lord?” he asked. He did not bother to try to conceal the nervousness in his voice. Then he turned wide eyes on Thranduil. “I do recall meeting with some Northmen at some point during Firith, my lord. They were trying to reach Dale and were poorly supplied for the journey and the encroaching winter. My village had an abundance of meat, so we traded them some dried venison for…some tools, I believe it was. Perhaps I should have asked your permission…indeed in retrospect I am certain that I should have…but we did not think that you would refuse aid to a starving family, even a Mannish one.”

Thranduil nodded. “So the men were Northmen? Well then, that was very charitable of you,” he replied. “And you are quite correct. I would never allow my allies to starve if I could help them without depriving my own people. I am sure that you did the right thing.” Thranduil watched as Dolwon and Dannenion relaxed almost imperceptibly. Then he continued in a soft voice. “Tell me, Dannenion, what sort of tools did you obtain in exchange for your meat?”

Dannenion frowned and took another deep breath. “Some axes, I think. Maybe some knives. I do not honestly recall the details, my lord. We were more concerned with their starving children.”

Again, Thranduil nodded sympathetically. “Of course. But axes and knives? That is surprising. The Northmen are not known for such tools. Indeed, they use even fewer metal items than we do. They do all of their fighting with bows for lack of metal weaponry. Where do you suppose these Northmen got these metal tools?”

Dolwon gave Dannenion a quick look that Dannenion resolutely ignored. “I did not question that, my lord. As you said, we are also always short on metal tools. I welcomed their offer of knives and axes.”

Thranduil’s soft tone hardened. “Either they were incredibly poor traders or you are so clever that I ought to bring you to the capital to advise me. I cannot imagine your village providing enough meat to be worth ‘some axes and some knives’ without causing your own people to starve for the winter. Unless you traded unfairly with these poor Northmen. Did you take advantage of their need?”

Dannenion’s hand twisted in the fabric of his tunic and Dolwon shifted uneasily. “If I did, it was not intentional, my lord,” he answered without looking at the king.

Thranduil’s gaze shifted to Dolwon. “I suppose that you were also trading with the Northman on the occasions that Easterlings were seen in your village?” he asked quietly.

Dolwon did not reply. Instead he stared at the king silently.

Thranduil decided to let that pass. He looked back at Dannenion. “And can you describe for me the men you traded with in Firith?” He tapped the letter in his hand on the arm of his throne. “Because I have here a very detailed description of the men that were reportedly seen in your village. The description appears to me to match that of an Easterling and not a Northmen. Can you tell the difference between and Easterling and a Northmen, Dannenion?”

Dannenion now squirmed. “Well, I am often very busy in my village so the Northmen were brought to me late at night, after dark, my lord. And I did not study or question them…”

“So, in truth, you cannot say for certain that you did not trade with an Easterling, since you did not study these poor, starving travelers?”

Dannenion sighed. “I…” he began, but fell silent.

Thranduil’s mouth quirked downwards angrily. “Do you know what I think, Dannenion? I think you are lying to me. I think that you knew perfectly well that you were trading with Easterlings. You tell me if I am correct.”

Dannenion looked directly at Thranduil, frustration in his eyes. “I might have suspected that they were Easterlings, my lord. But they were offering valuable weapons for a little food. And I thought if we helped them, they might be less inclined to attack us later.”

Thranduil stood and glared furiously at the village leaders before him. “If you were truly dealing with starving Easterlings, the best way to guarantee that such an enemy does not attack your village is to kill him yourself. You do not feed enemies. Easterlings kill and enslave their own kind. They are consumed by the Shadow. They will return your kindness by murdering you and everyone in your village.” He paused. “But do you know what I think, Dannenion? I think that you began this conversation lying to me to conceal your guilt and you are still lying and concealing something from me. You said you were trying to help starving Northmen and then admitted you were trying to placate Easterlings. I think there is more to this story yet. It would be very wise of you to tell me the whole truth. Immediately.”

Dannenion adopted a grim expression. “I made a mistake trading with the Easterlings. There is no more to it than that,” he said firmly.

Thranduil scowled. “You are lying. Tell me how the Easterlings you traded with were associated with the Easterlings that attempted to capture the Queen earlier that same month.”

Dolwon and Dannenion both audibly gasped at that accusation, as did several of Thranduil’s council that were not aware Easterlings had followed Lindomiel into the forest as she returned from Dale. Dannenion grasped his friend’s arm. “I have no idea to what you are referring, my lord,” he replied quickly with a shaking voice.

Thranduil glared at Dolwon and Dannenion intently for several minutes. Then he seated himself again. “Perhaps you do and perhaps you do not. But you are still lying to me, of that I have no doubt. I think it would be best if you continued to be my guest here until we can come to the truth of this matter.” Thranduil shifted his gaze to one of the Palace Guard at the side of the throne. “Take Dannenion and Dolwon to separate accommodations and keep them there. They are not to speak to one another or to anyone else.”

Dannenion’s eyes widened. Thranduil plainly saw both fear and anger in them. “How long do you intend to keep us here, my lord? There is nothing more we can tell you about men in our villages and we have families to care for. What will our villages do in our absence?”

Thranduil returned Dannenion’s emotional gaze placidly. “You were not thinking of your families or village’s welfare when you entangled yourself in this situation, Dannenion. How long you remain my guest depends on your willingness to cooperate with me. As for your village, it is under the protective care of the warriors of the eastern border patrol and regardless of what else I learn from you, you will not be returning to it. I will not trust you again to lead a village if you are so foolish to involve yourself with Easterlings. I will be informing your villages to appoint a new village leader. The very least that you can expect as a consequence for your actions is that you and your families will be staying nearer the stronghold until I am convinced that I can trust you to behave less foolishly.”

Dannenion scowled. “The southern forest is my home. I refused to move north two millennia ago and I refuse to do so now,” he retorted angrily.

Thranduil snorted derisively. “Be thankful that I am still willing to allow any part of this forest to be your home, Dannenion. Dealing with an enemy of the realm is treason. The Lord of Dale recently executed fifteen men for that same crime…”

Dolwon’s jaw dropped. “Even you are not so unjust as to execute an elf,” he blurted fearfully.

Thranduil turned to him with raised eyebrows. “Even I?” he repeated. “Unjust? Tell me when in the past do you believe I have treated you unjustly Dolwon?”

Dolwon looked down and shook his head. “I meant nothing…it was a poor choice of words,” he mumbled.

Thranduil nodded knowingly. “Yes, I think it was. If you feel that I have treated you unjustly, Dolwon, I am more than willing to discuss that with you and compensate you for any loss we determine that you have suffered. I listen to petitions almost daily in this court. You are a village leader. Write a petition and I will consider it. But as for executing elves,” his expression became very cold. “The offense would have to be great indeed to induce me to impose such a sentence, but there is precedent for it. I believe the precedent involved the murder of the ruling king’s sister. If I find that you have participated in a conspiracy to harm any member of my family, the consequences for you will be dire. If you continue to lie to me about it, I will have no mercy for you at all.”

Dolwon and Dannenion stared at Thranduil slack jawed in response to that pronouncement. Neither elf made any move to speak so Thranduil signaled for the guards to escort them from the throne room. Even after they were gone, the king’s advisors remained silent. Thranduil raised his eyebrows impatiently when they also only stared at him.

After moment, Hallion spoke very softly. “My lord, surely you would not…” he hesitated, looking down. Then he looked directly at Thranduil. “The precedent to which you referred proceeds from a Noldorin court and was imposed on an elf that we all believed to be insane long before he killed his own wife while attempting to kill his son. Surely you do not believe that precedent is applicable here.”

Thranduil stared at his steward for a moment before he burst out laughing. “Hallion, relax. I do not intend to execute any elves,” he assured them quickly through his laughter. Hallion and several of the other council members drew and released a long breath. When Thranduil stopped laughing, he continued a more serious voice. “But Dannenion and Dolwon are hiding something. I intend to find out what it is and if they are a little frightened, perhaps fear will loosen their tongues.”

“I agree that Dannenion was lying,” the steward replied, still in a quiet voice. “And we must learn more about the nature of his dealings with the Easterlings. I think that keeping them in the capital is wise. They can do little damage under the watchful eye of the extremely loyal citizens that live here. But if they already think you unjust, and apparently they do for Dolwon’s comment held the most honesty of anything either of them said, threatening to execute them is not going to convince them otherwise.”

Thranduil shook his head. “At this point, I do not care what they think of me. I want to know what the Easterling’s designs on my forest are. And I want to know the extent of my own citizen’s involvement with them. Nothing more.”

*~*~*

AN: Thranduil was referring to Turgon, King of Gondolin, and the execution of Ëol for murdering his wife and Turgon’s sister Aredhel while attempting to murder his son, Maeglin.

Mellon (nin)—(My) friend
Naneth/nana—Mother/mum
Muindor (nin)—(My) brother
Meleth (nin)—(My) love
Yen/yeni—An elven measurement of time equaling 144 solar years. (Singular and plural)
Adar/ada—Father/dad
Daeradar—Grandfather
Elleth—Female elf
Firith—By Rivendell Reckoning, the name of the ‘month’ that we would call late Fall.


Chapter 9 - Legolas

Spring 1941

Struggling not to yawn, Thranduil pulled his attention back to the conversation around him for what seemed like the hundredth time. Dolgailon and Hallion were arguing the merits of the Valar-only-knew-what with Engwe, speaking in an animated fashion. With a quiet sigh, Thranduil spared a moment to hope that he would be able to concentrate better when Aradunnon arrived and their meeting began.

Tomorrow was the first anniversary of the day he and Lindomiel had conceived their son and therefore was the day he should be born. Thranduil knew that the only person in the household more eagerly anticipating the child’s arrival than he was Lindomiel. She was exhausted and uncomfortable and nervous and a myriad of other emotions that Thranduil shared. More than anything else, Thranduil was anxious. Anxious to see his son and to hold him. Anxious to see his unique personality begin to develop and to guide his growth. Anxious to be through with the mysterious process that would be his son’s birth. As he waited for his brother, Thranduil ceased trying to pay attention to his advisors’ good-natured argument and focused on his sense of his wife and son’s song through their bond.

He nearly jumped out of his chair when the office door flew open and Aradunnon burst into the room.

“You all have to come see this,” he said standing at the door and motioning for everyone to follow him.

Brow furrowed and tensely searching Aradunnon for some explanation, Thranduil stood. His brother’s eyes were bright and excited and he had a broad grin on his face as he continued waving the others from the room.

Easily reaching the conclusion that Aradunnon’s outburst was not motivated by the imminent destruction of the forest, Thranduil drew a calming breath and scowled. “Would you mind telling me what we are going to see? You nearly scared the life out of me rushing in here as you did,” he said with a little more irritation in his voice than he intended.

Aradunnon only smiled at his brother. “It is a surprise, but one you will like, I think. Just come with me,” he replied, taking Thranduil’s arm and propelling him from the room.

Thranduil sighed and preceded his brother down the passageway. Dolgailon, Hallion and Engwe followed Aradunnon with amused smirks.

Not surprisingly, Aradunnon led them back to the family quarters. Even Thranduil laughed quietly as they entered the sitting room. Amoneth sat on the floor in a tight circle with her parents, Lindomiel and her parents, and Dieneryn. Galithil stood tipsily next to his mother, leaning against her arm for balance. The baby’s cheeks were flushed and he was giggling wildly.

“Ada!” he shouted holding out his arms the moment they entered the room.

“Watch this,” Aradunnon said proudly with a glance at Thranduil. Not moving any further into the room, he knelt and beckoned to his son. Amoneth steadied Galithil a bit and then let him go. With a delighted giggle, the child toddled the short distance to his father. When Galithil reached him, Aradunnon swept him into his arms and kissed him. The adults on the floor clapped.

“That is wonderful!” Thranduil exclaimed with sincere excitement in his voice. Hallion and Engwe echoed his comments, praising and petting Galithil. All this attention caused the child to burst into another fit of giggles.

With a broad smile, Aradunnon joined Amoneth on the floor, carrying Galithil with him.

Thranduil followed, sitting next to Lindomiel. “When did he learn this?” he asked, leaning forward and clapping his hands together softly to encourage Galithil to walk to him.

Aradunnon placed his son on his feet on the floor and pointed him towards his uncle. Galithil happily toddled over to him.

“This afternoon,” Aradunnon answered. “He has been mostly stumbling along holding our hands for a week or two. But this afternoon when we were playing with him, he walked from me to Amoneth.”

Thranduil grinned at his brother and turned Galithil around towards Engwe, who had sat next to Dieneryn and was holding out his arms. The infant began the short journey to his great uncle’s arms.

With an obviously amused smirk, Dolgailon settled himself next to his mother. He had watched his parents fuss over many ‘firsts’ in his brother’s life over the last few months. He found their reactions quite comical.

Amoneth patted her oldest son’s hand. “Do you remember your first steps, ion nin?” she asked with a mischievous grin.

Dolgailon laughed lightly. “No, nana. I do not think that I do.”

Aradunnon smiled. “The rest of the kingdom does. We called the entire court into the Great Hall to watch you walk.”

Dolgailon’s eyes widened and he stared at his father, laughing nervously as a blush spread across his cheeks.

Thranduil burst out laughing. “We had guests from the Mannish capital, did we not? I remember the look on their faces when I told them our meeting would have to be delayed.”

Dolgailon’s eyes grew even wider. “You canceled a meeting with foreign guests to watch a baby walk?” he exclaimed.

Thranduil nodded. “Of course. You were the first child in your generation, pen neth. Nothing was more important to this family than seeing you crawl or walk or dance or hearing your first words or song.”

Dolgailon shook his head. “So shall I call for Golwon and Celonhael and the staff?” he asked teasingly.

Aradunnon frowned at him playfully. “No. I did not get to enjoy your first steps nearly enough since I had to share them with the entire kingdom. I am not making that mistake twice. Galithil’s childhood will be for the family only.”

Dolgailon nodded. “I suppose it would be wise not to share yesterday evening’s behavior with anyone else,” he said looking at his father with amusement. Then he turned his gaze to the rest of the family. “In addition to learning to walk, Galithil’s aim has improved. Last night he demonstrated that he can hit adar squarely in the head when he throws something. I think we will be removing the wooden toys from his reach for a while,” he concluded meaningfully.

Galithil’s eyes lit at the word ‘throw’ and he began scanning the immediate area for something to pick up.

From the corner of his eye, Thranduil saw Amglaur raise his eyebrows and reach for a stuffed toy shaped like a fox. He handed it to Galithil with a mischievous look. The child clutched it in both fists, matching Amglaur’s expression with a disturbingly conspiratorial gleam in his eyes as he turned to his father.

Unaware of his peril, Aradunnon glared at his eldest son. “Yes, and you only encourage him when you laugh at him,” Aradunnon said coolly, unconsciously rubbing the back of his head.

Dolgailon struggled to respond with a serious tone. “You had just better watch your language, adar. I do not think you want to teach Galithil the word you used last night.” He paused. “I did not recognize the language, which leads me to believe it was something not very nice at all. My tutors made sure I learned all the polite languages.”

Aradunnon’s eyes narrowed but his retort was cut off when he was forced to deflect the flying fox. He scowled automatically in the direction whence it came and his expression soured further when he saw Galithil happily bouncing in Amglaur’s lap, clapping his hands and repeating ‘throw’ with glee. With a bland expression, Amglaur was handing him another toy.

“Adar!” Lindomiel exclaimed, trying to sound reproving and failing miserably.

Amglaur ignored his daughter’s admonition and Aradunnon’s fierce look as he turned Galithil towards Thranduil and whispered in his ear. The toy in the child’s hand flew at the king.

Thranduil caught it, glaring at Amglaur.

Galithil squealed. “Catch!” he shouted, clapping his hands.

Thranduil sighed. “You try to catch it, Galithil,” he said, tossing the toy gently back to his nephew. Galithil caught it in both arms and drew it protectively against his chest with a proud grin. Thranduil smiled at him but looked between Dolgailon and Amglaur. “Perhaps we can convince him that ‘catch’ is more entertaining then ‘throw’ before he firmly learns a bad habit,” he said, earning appreciative nods from Aradunnon and Amoneth.

Dolgailon shook his head, laughing lightly. “Then he will only like them both. Anything he gets attention for, he will do. He just loves attention.” He paused. “But if the rest of the afternoon is to be spent teaching infants to catch, I think I will excuse myself…”

At that announcement, Galithil frowned, abandoned the toy in his arms and crawled quickly to his brother. Climbing into his lap, he clutched his tunic. “Stay!” he demanded.

Smothering a sigh, Dolgailon looked at his father.

Aradunnon grinned and held his hands up. “Do not turn to me for help. You taught him to throw things at me,” he said quickly in response to his elder son’s silent plea.

Thranduil laughed. “Besides, we are not finished. I seem to recall that we have yet to accomplish the goal of the meeting we were supposed to have. We need to finalize the plans for the training program.”

Dolgailon looked at his uncle with wide eyes, gathering his little brother more securely in his arms and handing him a toy. “And you intend to discuss it when? Now?” he asked, looking at the ladies, their parents and his brother in his lap.

Thranduil shrugged, pushing a little horse mounted on four wheels towards his nephew. Galithil seized the toy, crawled into the center of the circle and began rolling it around on the floor.

“We might as well. There is nothing that we cannot say here—it is a training program, not the details of a battle,” he said looking at his nephew. “Most of this conversation will go over his head. He simply does not have the vocabulary yet. Besides, we do not have a great deal to settle. I did not intend to make any more changes to the last proposal you gave me. I will accept the four-year program along with one year of limited field experience assuming we do the testing you designed so the more experienced can advance more quickly. I agree that the courses you developed are vital and I admit that I cannot think of any way to condense them further.” He looked directly at Dolgailon. “You did an outstanding job planning this program, Dolgailon. I believe it will have a very positive impact.”

Dolgailon smiled. “Thank you, my lord,” he said softly. Then his expression became serious. “And what is your decision regarding the participation of adolescents?” he asked.

Thranduil’s mouth quirked down as his guests from Lothlorien looked at him with raised eyebrows. “It is a five year program. They may start it at forty-six. That way they will be of age during the year of field experience,” he replied quietly. That was, in Thranduil’s mind, by far the most painful concession he had made with regards to the training program, but he had been convinced of its necessity.

Amglaur’s jaw dropped at Thranduil’s words but he promptly closed his mouth and looked away. The king did not miss his clear disapproval.

Thranduil’s posture stiffened. “Do you have something to say, Amglaur?”

Amglaur looked back at him with a neutral expression. “It is certainly not my place to comment on affairs in Eryn Galen,” he replied.

Thranduil scowled. “I chose to have this conversation in your presence. We might as well address your comments now for I am certain we will at some point.”

Amglaur frowned scornfully. “I have never gainsaid Amroth’s decisions and I will not gainsay you in your realm, Thranduil. I trust that you have considered this with all due care. Indeed, the fact that Dolgailon specifically confirmed your approval of this aspect of this training program indicates your approval was not assumed.” He looked down bitterly. “I only wish that my daughter did not live in a realm where children are warriors. I certainly wish my grandson was not to be born in such a place.”

Lindomiel looked at her father askance.

Thranduil took a deep breath in preparation to reply but Aradunnon forestalled him. His tone was icy.

“We all wish that your king had joined with us to drive the Evil One out of the forest two millennia ago when it might have been possible, Amglaur, but since he chose not to, we must respond to the Shadow as we can.”

Amglaur’s brows knit. “I supported your argument to Amroth, if you will recall,” he retorted sharply.

Sitting in the center of the circle, Galithil had stopped playing with his toy horse and was looking between the hostile adults anxiously.

“Enough,” Thranduil intervened firmly, glancing pointedly at Galithil. Then he smiled at the child and tossed a toy for him to catch. When Galithil was again happily distracted by the game of catch, Thranduil looked back at Amglaur. “I wish my son was to be born in a completely peaceful world as well, Amglaur, but short of sailing to Aman, it is not within my power to make that happen. And I have no intention of doing that.”

Amglaur sighed. “I know that Thranduil. As I said, I have nothing constructive to add.”

“Then I think the only topic left to address is who will teach the courses and how we will design the command structure within the training program,” Dolgailon said quietly in the interest of returning to a productive conversation. As he spoke, he reached for a toy that Galithil half-heartedly threw into the center of the circle. He handed to his brother and gestured for him to throw it to Amoneth. Instead, the child took the toy and crawled to his mother’s lap, settling himself in it with a yawn.

All the adults present took a moment to smile as Galithil snuggled his face against Amoneth’s silk gown, holding the toy tightly against him tucked under his chin.

Then Thranduil looked between Aradunnon and Engwe. “I think nearly any available senior warrior in the Palace Guard could teach the basic subjects such as the course on communications, signaling and report writing and the course on field medicine. And I see no reason why Tirithion and Langon should not continue doing the bow and sword training,” he said.

“Absolutely,” Aradunnon responded readily. “I recommend Pathon to teach the tracking course. And I think Hebor should teach the hand-to-hand combat. They are both very skilled warriors and could easily contribute to the tactical drills with their experience. They would work well with Tirithion and Langon, I believe, and I have been looking for some way to promote them for a long while.”

“Very well,” Thranduil agreed. “But what about the tactics courses? Those courses and their accompanying drills are very complex as Dolgailon has laid them out. Do you think we need a separate instructor for them or will Tirithion, Langon, Pathon and Hebor be able to manage them?” Thranduil asked.

“I would say that one of the factors that will influence that decision is how you intend to manage the command of the training program,” Dolgailon said. “My suggestion would be to put a captain over the program and make the training instructors lieutenants. That way, the students are exposed to the same command structure they will see in the patrols and the troop commander will have one point of contact with the program, as he does with the patrols. And a captain could coordinate the training drills, the year of field experience and participate in some of the teaching duties. I think that way you would have enough instructors and have a solid organizational structure.”

Aradunnon nodded. “As much as I hate pulling someone that I am ready to promote to captain back to the capital and take them out of combat, I agree that will be necessary. I thought about placing the training program under the captain of the Palace Guard but Dollion threatened to strangle me in my sleep if I did,” he said with a smirk. “And I do not have time to coordinate the program properly myself. It requires full time attention.”

Thranduil frowned slightly but nodded once. “Do you have anyone in mind?”

Aradunnon shook his head. “Honestly no, that is the problem. I cannot afford to promote any of the lieutenants in the southern border patrol. I cannot break in new a lieutenant at the same time Dolgailon is in the capital and I am dealing with a new captain there. Likewise, I cannot take anyone off the eastern border now with the Easterling threat. And I simply do not think any of the lieutenants in the western or northern patrols or the Path Guard have enough experience to manage a program this complex.”

Thranduil shifted his gaze to look at his nephew. “What about Dolgailon?” he suggested softly. “He designed the program. It seems wise to have him command it. At least for the first few years.”

Dolgailon blinked and looked with concern between his uncle and father. Aradunnon was looking at him thoughtfully. His eyes widened as he realized his father was seriously considering the suggestion.

He tried to assume a more neutral expression when Amoneth put a gentle hand on his arm. “It would be so nice if you were in the capital while your brother grew up,” she said softly.

Dogailon’s brow furrowed and he drew a deep breath. “I prefer to return to the patrols when the king and troop commander decide to allow me to return to duty, naneth,” he responded firmly, apparently addressing his mother but looking at his father and uncle.

Thranduil remained silent, waiting for his troop commander to respond to that request.

Aradunnon fixed his son with a stern gaze. “You will do the duty you are assigned, captain,” he said quietly.

Dolgailon looked at his father evenly and he held his tongue. He was too well trained to argue with the realm’s troop commander and far too courteous to argue with his father in the presence of his grandparents. Nevertheless, his displeasure with the king’s suggestion was unmistakable.

Aradunnon regarded his son coolly for a moment before continuing. “I agree with the king that the person who designed the program is the logical person to manage it during its inception. I intend to consider that suggestion. If you have another, I would be happy to consider it as well.”

Dolgailon looked down. “I do have a suggestion, though I have failed to convince you to promote this person in the past so I have little hope of doing so now,” he said. “I recommend Glílavan.”

Aradunnon’s mouth formed a thin line and he immediately began shaking his head.

Dolgailon leaned forward. “He is an outstanding warrior, commander. There is no better tactician in Eryn Galen after you and I…”

Thranduil laughed lightly. “I fancy myself a fair tactician, Dolgailon,” he interrupted quietly.

Dolgailon glanced at his uncle and smirked. “I stand corrected. Excluding the king, adar and myself, there is no better tactician,” he said. Then he looked back at his father seriously. “He is the most skilled warrior in the south with a sword and that is a rare gift amongst the Silvan. He works well within the command structure. He is respectful. His fellows like and respect him. He is a natural leader. And I often have Glílavan work with the younger warriors. He is an excellent teacher. He would be perfect for this position.”

Aradunnon was still shaking his head. “He is not even a lieutenant. It would not be appropriate to make him a captain…”

“He has served in the south for twice as long as I have been alive. He is not a lieutenant because you have refused to promote him…”

“And I am this realm’s troop commander. That is my prerogative, captain,” Aradunnon interrupted sharply.

Dolgailon again loosed a calming breath and replied in a carefully neutral tone. “I understand that commander and I do not question it. But allow me to point out that you just said you cannot afford to lose any officer from the south or east. I am perfectly qualified to serve in either patrol, I have experience in both and I want to return to the patrols. Glílavan wants and deserves to be promoted. If he is not a warrior that you trust to serve as an officer in either of those patrols, perhaps you would trust him in the capital where you can supervise him closely—where you could see his worth first hand. You asked if I had another suggestion. That is it.”

“If I was going to promote someone that had never been a lieutenant to captain, and I am not going to do that, I would promote Tirithion, Hebor, Langon or Pathon long before I would promote Glílavan, Dolgailon,” Aradunnon replied with finality.

“That is also certainly your prerogative, commander. I do not dispute that.”

A soft sigh interrupted their conversation. Dolgailon and Aradunnon turned to face Amoneth, who was looking at her son sadly. “I know very little about this training program besides what I have heard you and your adar discussing, Dolgailon, but it sounds like a worthwhile pursuit. It seems that you should be able to find satisfaction in serving as its captain. And could you not find a reason to be happy in the capital? If spending time with your baby brother is not enough, what about Arthiel? You and she have grown very close.”

Dolgailon tensed. He could debate with his father and uncle based on logical arguments regarding the safety of the realm. He did not care to enter into debates based on emotional platitudes with his mother. “Nana, Arthiel would be the first person to understand why I feel I could provide a more valuable service outside the capital. She shares my desire to defend this realm. That is why she is studying to be a forester—so that she can help heal the trees that suffer due to the Shadow’s influence.”

Several sets of eyebrows went up at that statement.

“I was not aware that Arthiel had left her adar’s workshop,” Thranduil said quietly. “He must be very disappointed and so am I. I had intended to ask her to do some carvings on some of the furniture that we have had made for the nursery.”

Dolgailon looked at his uncle evenly. “I am certain that Arthiel would be happy to do anything you asked of her, my lord. As will I.”

Thranduil nodded. “I do not doubt that, Dolgailon.”

He did not. He knew his nephew would go to Dol Guldur if it were required of him. Thranduil dropped his gaze to his lap when he saw Amoneth’s parents looking sadly at their eldest grandson. Against his will, Thranduil’s eyes turned to Galithil sleeping with the stuffed toy’s tail in his mouth, his lips lifted in a happy smile. As he reached to gently pull the toy from his nephew’s mouth he felt as much as saw Amglaur’s eyes boring into him.

After a moment’s pause, Hallion cleared his throat, drawing the king and troop commander’s attention. He looked at Aradunnon cautiously. Interfering in his command of the realm’s troops was every bit as dangerous as crossing the king and he knew that well. But it was his duty to advise them both. “We seemed to have agreed on all aspects of this program other than its captain. I am constrained to point out that, while I see the value of having someone with Dolgailon’s knowledge of the program and of this realm’s military structure in command of the training program, I also agree that his service to this realm in the patrols is extremely valuable. Keeping him here to captain the training program in order to allow him to court maidens and help care for his baby brother is a family concern and not one that necessarily best serves this realm…”

Aradunnon’s brow knit angrily and he opened his mouth to make a heated retort. Glancing at his in-laws, he spoke in a strained but civil voice. “I do not make decisions as this realm’s troop commander based on my personal desires, Hallion. I would think you know that very well.”

Hallion nodded calmly. “I do. I was merely going to suggest that instead of deciding this last issue today, perhaps we should prepare a list of potential captains and discuss it with the full council.”

Thranduil nodded. “Do you have any objection to that, Aradunnon?”

Aradunnon shook his head tiredly. “No, of course not, my lord. That is an excellent suggestion.”

“Good,” Thranduil said. “As the author of this program, Dolgailon will be present for that discussion as well,” he added firmly. “Put that list together for me as soon as possible, Aradunnon, and I want you to put this Glílavan on it,” he said and fixed his brother with a firm glare when Aradunnon looked at him challengingly. “You can explain to me why he is so unsuitable in your mind when we discuss everyone else. And Dolgailon can explain why he so strongly favors him.”

Aradunnon shrugged and shook his head. “Very well. When we discuss it, I can explain to you in one word why Glílavan is not acceptable and you will agree.” Then he stood gathering Galithil in his arms as he did so that Amoneth could stand as well. “If this conversation is concluded, I would like to take advantage of a few quiet moments before dinner while my youngest is asleep. If you will excuse us?”

Thranduil nodded and stood as well with a light smile on his face. “I must say that was the most polite debate I have ever heard,” he said as Galithil’s grandparents gathered the toys scattered about the sitting room and stood to follow Aradunnon and Amoneth. “Perhaps I will hold all my council meetings publicly and in the presence of sleeping infants if it will achieve this affect.”

Amoneth’s parents laughed and that comment and to Thranduil’s surprise, so did Amglaur. His father-in-law smirked. “I served my brother Amdir before he died and I serve his son now. I have witnessed a few impassioned debates in council chambers, lord Thranduil. I hope no one censored themselves on my account.”

Thranduil struggled to stifle a snort. Knowing Amglaur as he did, he suspected that his father-in-law had instigated and participated in, not witnessed, many heated arguments in lord Amroth’s court. He did not trust himself to reply so he remained silent.

Meanwhile, Lindomiel groaned watching everyone else stand. “I will never be able to get up. Why did I sit here?” she whined playfully with a smile on her face.

Thranduil laughed softly. “I honestly cannot imagine how you got down on the floor in the first place,” he said teasingly.

Lindomiel glared at her husband and held out both arms in a silent demand for help. With Thranduil on her right and Amglaur on her left, she hauled herself from the floor. As soon as she was on her feet, she winced and took a deep breath. A moment later she shook her head and returned Thranduil’s concerned expression with her own pained one.

“Your son absolutely adores pushing against my ribs and kicking them. I would not be surprised if he just planted his feet against my ribs and delivered himself.” She sighed dramatically. “And if he did, it would be fine with me. Valar! I want this over with!”

Thranduil and Amglaur both looked at Lindomiel sympathetically while Dieneryn and Limmiel laughed lightly.

“It will not be long, iell nin,” Limmiel said, patting her daughter’s stomach.

Lindomiel rolled her eyes. “If I hear that one more time I will explode! I have been hearing that for months. I wish this baby had been born three days early as Galithil was.” She looked at Thranduil. “I would not be surprised if he were born three days late.”

Thranduil looked back at his wife with sincere panic. “Do not tempt fate by saying that,” he replied quickly.

Dieneryn laughed. “Come, you must be stiff from sitting there so long, Lindomiel. Let us go for a nice walk before dinner. Walking can sometimes encourage labor to begin,” she said, trying to cheer her daughter-in-law.

Thranduil looked at his mother with concern, drawing Lindomiel against his side with an arm around her waist. His other hand came to rest on her stomach. “Is that wise, nana? She tires so easily and surely we do not want to exhaust her before her labor starts. I was going to suggest a nap before dinner.”

Lindomiel shook her head. “I am far too restless for a nap and so is your son.” Thranduil smiled at her. He could indeed feel a little foot steadily kicking just under his hand. “But I do not want to walk all the way to the gates. Thranduil, will you walk with me in the garden?”

Thranduil laughed softly at her pleading tone. He had never been able to refuse her anything and he was even less capable of doing so now. Especially if walking in the garden was her request. “If that is what you want to do, of course I will,” he said, placing a kiss on her cheek.

As he did, he was very aware of his father-in-law’s presence. Amglaur was still standing to Lindomiel’s left. For a very long time after their marriage, Amglaur continued making sour faces whenever he was forced to witness any display of affection between his daughter and her husband. Thranduil had long thought he only maintained the practice out of habit but it still annoyed him. Now Amglaur reached to touch a lock of his daughter’s hair to get her attention.

“May I join you, iell nin?” he asked in a quiet tone.

Lindomiel turned to her father, grasping the hand falling away from her hair. “Of course, ada. I expected you would.”

Dieneryn smiled. “I am going to check on dinner and then I will join you in the garden as well if you do not mind,” she said.

Lindomiel nodded earnestly. “I really want the company, truthfully. I cannot deny that I am a little nervous as well as anxious. I need a distraction more than anything else.”

Limmiel caressed her daughter’s cheek. “I was very nervous as well, iell nin. It is natural. Come, the trees in the garden will comfort you,” she said, leading the way to the garden door as Dieneryn went in the opposite direction to the kitchen.

*~*~*

Dolgailon walked quietly out of the family sitting room. Instead of following his parents and grandparents to their chambers, he turned to the door leading to the public halls. His father had said he wanted to rest and Dolgailon did not care to risk arguing further with him about the captaincy of the training program. He had held his tongue in the presence of the king and his grandparents. He was less confident in his ability to restrain himself if he were forced to immediately go a second round with his father. In the end, like Aradunnon and Thranduil, Dolgailon was an heir of the House of Oropher. His temper would eventually surface and he knew that would not help him prove that he was ready to return to the patrols.

Without conscious thought, Dolgailon walked through the halls in the stronghold past the elves that were still there bustling about, hurrying to complete their daily business. He slipped out the Great Gates and paused for a moment, drawing in the warm, fresh spring air. Glancing at the guards by the Gates, Dolgaion slipped off the bridge before crossing the river to balance carefully on the steep slope between the mountain and the water. As a child, he had enjoyed hiding amongst the trees and bushes in this secluded spot. No one walked here. Strictly speaking, it was not allowed to climb on the mountain that held the stronghold. But he knew the Palace Guard would not stop him. After he had taken a few dozen steps across the root-covered, rocky slope, he slipped into the trees, settling in the branches of the beech that had hid him many times when he was a child. He leaned back against its trunk and tried to think of how to calmly and rationally approach his father and the king about the captaincy of this training program.

Night had fallen and the stars were bright in the sky when Dolgailon heard rustling in the underbrush coming towards him. The approaching creature sounded too big to be a squirrel or fox or any other innocuous animal. Silently cursing himself for being in the forest at night armed with only a knife, Dolgailon perched on the tree branch where he had been sitting and strained to listen. It had to be a boar. Or a guard. Nothing too dangerous could approach the very mountain walls of the stronghold, he said to himself drawing a calming breath.

“It is me,” a voice whispered from near the based of the tree. Dolgailon frowned. It was a feminine voice.

“Arthiel?” he called, relaxing considerably.

“Yes, put away whatever weapon you have trained on me. I am coming up,” she said quietly.

In a few seconds, he was face to face with a grinning maiden. “How did you know that I was here?” he asked as she settled in a branch next to him. “And how did you get over here?”

She frowned at him scornfully. “Your guard is stalking through the forest spitting fire because he cannot find you. He came to my cottage looking for you. There are few places you could be hiding and as often as we came here as children, I came here first to look for you. As for how I got here, I eluded those guards by the Gates with you many times as a child to play here. I am only more skilled as an adult.”

Dolgailon shook his head ruefully. “If Galudiron does not report this to the Palace Guard, I suppose it is my duty to do so. I did not elude the guards to come here,” he added in response to her raised eyebrows. “I merely stepped off the bridge and walked over here. And I doubt we ever actually eluded them as children. But if you truly did just now and they did not simply ignore your approach knowing that I was here, then Dollion needs to know that.”

Arthiel smirked and shoved him playfully. “Always the warrior, you are. Duty before fun,” she said teasingly, frowning as he scowled and looked away. “What are you doing in old childhood hiding places, Dolgailon?” she asked softly, concern in her voice.

He sighed softly but said nothing.

She looked down. “If you cannot discuss it, will you at least allow me to take you somewhere merrier, such as the green or for a walk along one of the paths?”

Her somber tone forced him to look back at her. She had worry written plainly on her face, evident even in the shadows of the starlight. He sighed again. “I can probably discuss it to some extent. The king discussed it in front of my daeradar and daernaneth,” he said quietly. “And I have spent the entire evening thinking without devising a convincing argument. If you are willing, I would very much like your advice.”

She reached to touch his hand. “I would never repeat anything you told me, Dolgailon. I cannot imagine what advice I could give you on the matters you discuss with the king, but I am happy to listen.”

Taking a deep breath, he looked at her evenly. “I mentioned to you before that the king asked me to work with Lord Engwe and my adar on a project. That project was a more thorough training program for new warriors.” His lips turned up faintly as she nodded seriously. “We have finally designed a program that the king has agreed to adopt.” She smiled at that and he paused, looking at her gravely. “He wants me to remain in the capital and captain the program.”

Arthiel looked at him expectantly. When Dolgailon did not continue, she shook her head slightly. “Is that a problem somehow?”

He sighed again and looked away. “Arthiel, I want to return to my patrol in the south. Or at least one of the patrols. I want to fight to defend this realm, not sit in the capital and direct training drills.”

Arthiel nodded and sat back against the tree. “Well, I suppose I can see that. I mean, I could teach a child to use a bow or a knife to defend himself. Swords are probably harder but does Langon not teach that already? I honestly cannot imagine why the king feels he needs to waste a perfectly good captain for something like this.”

Dolgailon’s brow furrowed slightly. “I have been hunting with you, Arthiel. You are very skilled with a bow. But can you shoot straight down from a tree or while lying on the ground? Could you shoot while something was shooting at you and strategizing to kill you? There is more to surviving in battle than being able to handle a bow. This training program is very complex. The new warriors will learn more than simple marksmanship and one-on-one swordsmanship. It will prepare them to properly analyze the terrain they fight on and their opponent’s force to identify appropriate offensive, defensive or combined tactics for that situation. They will learn to perform reconnaissance properly and to track. They will practice in mock battles in the forest, on the plains at the edge of the forest, up slope and down slope, near the mountains.” He laughed. “I even convinced the king to allow them to spend one week attacking and defending the stronghold.” He looked at her seriously. “I do agree the program needs a captain. Someone well versed in tactics and skilled with weapons who can help develop the young warriors’ skills.” He shook his head. “Just not me. I do not want to be coddled here in the capital just because the king has convinced my adar that the Shadow has affected me or because my parents want me around to see my brother grow to adulthood.”

Arthiel blinked. “You do not want to be with your brother?” she asked, keeping her voice as neutral as possible.

“Of course I do. But I do not want the entire forest to look like the southern realm by the time he comes of age.”

Arthiel nodded. Then she looked at Dolgailon evenly. “So are there many warriors that have the tactical knowledge and the weaponry skills and the command experience to captain this program?” she asked.

“I suggested someone. A good warrior in my patrol that adar has consistently passed over for promotion. He would do a perfectly adequate job.”

“Would he do as good a job as you?”

Dolgailon looked at her, his mouth quirked down on one side. “With time,” he replied shortly.

“Perhaps ‘with time’ is not good enough for the king. Do you think maybe he wants you to captain this program because he knows your skills as a warrior and a captain and because he trusts your commitment to this realm more than he trusts anyone else? I do not know him as well as you, of course, but that sounds more like the sort of reasoning he uses than the idea of him making you captain just to shelter you or keep you in the capital against your will.’”

Dolgailon looked away. He was so determined to return to his patrol that the idea that his father and uncle had bestowed a great deal of faith in him by suggesting he captain the training program had never occurred to him.

When he turned from her, Arthiel reached again to touch his hand. “I am not taking his side, Dolgailon. Every time you kill an orc or a spider in the patrols you have made a tangible difference to protect this realm. I can definitely see the attraction of serving in the patrols. Indeed, if the king allows ellyth to enter this training program, I will do so. And I have many friends that would as well.” Dolgailon looked at her alarmed, but she was looking down and did not notice. “I am just saying that I think I would be honored if I were you. He obviously thinks you are a very capable warrior if he would trust you to captain this training program since it requires someone with so many skills. Maybe you could approach this by offering to serve as captain of this program only long enough to train someone else to take that position—this person you recommended possibly. That way you are not permanently assigned to a duty that holds no interest for you.” As she finished speaking, she looked up at him hopefully.

He returned her gaze evenly. “Thank you, Arthiel,” he said softly. Her face lit up with a smile, obviously pleased that her suggestion had helped him. He smiled back at her. “I will suggest to adar and the king that I be allowed to train someone else to captain the program. That is an excellent idea.” He paused and took her hand. “But more than that, thank you for helping me see past my anger. I was so determined to not accept any position other than one in the patrols, that I did not honestly see the trust the king had placed in me.”

She studied him for a moment and then smiled. “The king trusts you, Dolgailon, though I cannot imagine why. Look at you here—sneaking past your fellow warriors to break the king’s laws to hide on the mountain and participating regularly in the disgraceful behavior at the Oak. Not very lordly. And now you are an older brother! What an influence you will be,” she concluded, shaking her head dramatically.

Dolgailon’s eyes widened. “I am perfectly innocent, Arthiel! You were the one that got us in trouble as children and you still do, dragging me to the Oak and other sundry places. For shame.”

She laughed and leaned back against the tree again. “Good, that is better. Your mood seems vastly improved if you are insulting me again.”

In the darkness, he snorted in reply.

“So how long do you think you will be in the capital training a captain for this program you developed,” she asked. Her voice sounded casual.

Dolgailon frowned and looked over at her. She was looking up through the branches at the stars. Suddenly he realized how insensitive it was for him to lament an opportunity to stay in the capital in her presence. Many times over the last few months as he danced with her on the green or walked with her along the river or ate dinner in her family’s cottage, he thought how deeply he enjoyed her company and acknowledged, if only to himself, that he felt far more than simply friendship for her. Her words to him when they had discussed his father’s comments about their relationship had made her feelings plain. But she had never pushed him. Indeed she had always put his feelings and desires before her own. Even when they were children and they had discussed that he intended to join the patrols.

He closed his eyes and let out a long breath, leaning back against the tree. When he looked back her apologetically, she had leaned forward again and was studying at him with concern.

Without thinking, he reached to her and drew a finger softly across her cheek and down her jaw. “I have been a fool tonight, Arthiel,” he whispered, tracing a line from her jaw down her neck. He frowned slightly at the intense sensation he felt from that simple contact and looked at her in amazement as she trembled under his touch. Her breathing seemed very shallow. His hand went to the nape of her neck and he pulled her face closer to his. “Perhaps I have been a fool for a good deal longer than simply tonight,” he said bringing his other hand to her cheek and stroking it softly. “Look at me, Arthiel,” he whispered.

When she raised her eyes to his, he drew a sharp breath at the emotion he saw plainly written in them. Emotions she could not hide as his thumb caressed her cheek.

“I cannot promise you that I will stay in the capital permanently. I know that one day, I will want to return to the patrols.”

She looked down. “I have told you how I feel about that. I would wait for you to have your leaves.”

He nodded. “You have told me how you feel about that. But I am asking you to think about it again. It is time for me to stop being such a fool, Arthiel. I want you to take a moment and really consider it—if I go back to the patrols, can you live alone knowing the risk I take?”

Arthiel blinked, her mouth opening slightly as she began to grasp the direction of this conversation. With a deep breath, she looked at him evenly. “I had already thought very carefully when I first told you my feelings on this matter, Dolgailon,” she said firmly. “Most maidens think about this because most of the ellyn are warriors now.”

Dolgailon shook his head. “I am not any warrior, Arthiel. I am the king’s nephew. I do not know what the king’s expectations of you would be, but he would have them, even when I am away on patrol. At the very least, you would not be as free as you are now—there would be guards…people would treat you differently. Do you think you could accept that as well? Have you thought about that?”

“I have known all my life who you are, my lord. I do not doubt I would have to adapt to some changes. You and the king would have to tolerate the mistakes I would surely make. But I am willing to work through those difficulties if you are.”

“I am. But I want you to be very certain. I want you to have time to experience what you are committing yourself to. I think our betrothal should be longer than one year.”

She smiled at him. “It cannot begin until you ask me, Dolgailon.”

He smiled as well. “May I ask your adar for his permission for us to be betrothed, Arthiel?” he asked softly, his breath tickling her cheek.

Her smiled broadened. “Yes, Dolgailon, you may. And I will agree to whatever length betrothal you think is best on one condition.”

His eyebrows rose slightly. “And what is that?”

She answered by closing the distance between them and pressing her lips against his.

*~*~*

Late that night, the only noise in the king’s personal chambers was an occasional whisper and the hum of Thranduil’s voice as he quietly sang a lullaby. Lindomiel lay on her side on the bed, many pillows surrounding her, sleeping deeply. Thranduil sat behind her, steadily rubbing her back and thankful that she had finally found some rest. Their parents, along with Aradunnon and Amoneth, sat curled in cushioned chairs near the bed or fireplace whispering quietly. Before Lindomiel fell asleep, they had been helping Thranduil to distract her from her anxiety. Knowing that her labor would soon begin, they were too anxious themselves to leave.

Amglaur listened to his son-in-law’s voice and found his thoughts focused on him. He had been loath to see his daughter leave her home to marry Oropher’s son. Before the forest where Lindomiel now lived became known as Mirkwood, Amglaur had regularly visited her, largely to assure himself that she was indeed happy. He had to admit that he never saw any evidence that she was not. Indeed, Amglaur could not deny, even to himself, that Thranduil was a devoted husband.

Over the last few months as he watched his son-in-law attentively dedicating himself to Lindomiel’s every whim, Amglaur found himself experiencing a disturbing emotion that, until tonight, he had shoved deep within himself and refused to acknowledge—he cared for Oropher’s son. He had spent the afternoon and evening struggling to convince himself that he was over-emotional in the face of the imminent birth of his first grandchild. But as Thranduil paused between songs to lean over and kiss Lindomiel’s cheek, he found it impossible to ignore.

“You should try to rest as well, Thranduil,” he said in a soft voice and grimaced when Thranduil started at the sound of it.

He watched as his son-in-law’s brow furrowed. “I thought you were asleep,” he whispered irritably.

“I am not asleep,” Amglaur replied unnecessarily. “But you should be for the same reason you wanted Lindomiel to sleep. The labor will be just as exhausting for you. You need rest.”

Thranduil sighed. “I do not think I could sleep, Amglaur. And she sleeps better when I rub her back. I think in addition to easing some of her discomfort, it lulls the baby to sleep.”

Amglaur frowned. It was completely obvious that Thranduil was nervous about the impending birth. He remembered when Lindomiel was born how difficult he had found not having any male relatives still alive that he could speak to about his role in that mysterious event. His frown deepened. All Thranduil’s councilors, including his own brother, were fathers. He had surely spoken to one of them. None-the-less he knew Thranduil must desperately miss Oropher at this moment.

Giving himself a firm shake, Amglaur glared at Thranduil. Admitting that he cared for him was one thing. Beginning to have paternal feelings towards him was entirely another.

“Go to sleep you fool. You will either spend tomorrow in meetings or helping Lindomiel deliver your son. Either way, you need rest,” he snapped and before Thranduil could respond, Amglaur began to sing. He continued doing so despite Thranduil’s hearty sighs and mumbled comments.

*~*~*

Lindomiel took one last deep breath before Amglaur finally saw her slump slightly and turn her face to lean against Thranduil’s chest as her arms slid from around his neck to her sides. Thranduil adjusted his arms about her waist to better support her.

“Do you want to walk some more or are you ready to sit down for a few moments,” he asked, his voice soft and steady.

Lindomiel shook her head. “I am more comfortable walking,” she replied, turning in his arms and taking a step away from him. “But I want some water.”

As Thranduil guided her towards the table where several pitchers containing water and juices sat, Nestoreth, the palace healer, drew a breath to speak.

Lindomiel immediately looked at her forbiddingly. “Speak if you wish, but hear this first: the next person that says ‘it is almost time’ is going to be very sorry. I have been hearing that for months. I will tell you when it is time.”

“You will indeed, my lady,” Nestoreth responded evenly. Amglaur doubted that Lindomiel would notice the amused glint in the healer’s eyes. “May I tell you how well you and Thranduil and your son are doing instead?”

Lindomiel smiled ruefully in response to that assessment but quickly closed her eyes as another contraction claimed her attention.

Amglaur watched as Lindomiel leaned on the table and focused on the contraction. One arm about her shoulders and one hand on her abdomen, Thranduil drew a deep breath along with Lindomiel as he leant her strength and shared her pain through their bond. Her labor had started early that morning and was now nearing its end, as Nestoreth had been about to point out. For hours, Thranduil and Lindomiel had been walking through the forest near the stronghold and later in the garden nearer the family quarters. Over the last hours, Lindomiel had spent some time in a warm bath and a few moments lying on her side, but as the contractions got stronger she felt better standing.

Amglaur was very relieved to hear the baby would soon be born. Helping his wife, Limmiel, through Lindomiel’s birth had seemed much easier than watching his daughter now. He felt helpless in the face of her increasing discomfort and exhaustion. He quietly loosed a long breath himself as the contraction peaked. He knew that voicing his frustration would do nothing to help Lindomiel and Thranduil as they brought their son into the world. Indeed, doing anything to distract them would only result in him being thrown from the room. But he found himself clutching the arms of the chair and clenching his jaw to remain silent.

As the contraction lessened, Lindomiel opened her eyes again and looked tiredly at the pitcher of water on the table. Thranduil took his hand from her stomach, poured her some water and held the glass for her to drink. As he did, Limmiel, who was walking next to her daughter and son-in-law to offer extra support as it was needed, poured a glass of juice. When Thranduil put down the water glass, Limmiel handed him the juice.

He looked at her, surprised.

“Drink,” she ordered softly. “Very soon you will be too busy to be able to pause for such things.”

Lindomiel, still focused inward, did not even hear her mother’s comment to be annoyed by it.

Thranduil absently drank the juice as he studied his wife. “Come, meleth,” he said. “I think you should sit down just for a moment. You need some rest between the contractions or you will be too exhausted for the delivery.”

He began to walk her to a cushioned chair by the fireplace in the room but she shook her head.

“No, Thranduil,” she said, looking at him with excitement and nervousness. “It is time. He is ready to be born. I need to start pushing.”

Thranduil looked quickly from Lindomiel to Nestoreth.

Nestoreth nodded calmly and motioned Lindomiel and Thranduil to the thick sheets that had been laid on the floor. Since Lindomiel had been more comfortable standing during her labor, she and Nestoreth had decided to first try delivering the baby in a position that would allow gravity to aid the birth. Limmiel, Dieneryn and Amoneth stood nearby, ready to help Nestoreth as needed.

As soon as they reached the sheets, another contraction hit. Lindomiel leaned more heavily on Thranduil and Nestoreth motioned for him to help her kneel rather than continuing to stand. Sinking to his knees, he eased Lindomiel to hers, encouraging her to lean forward against his chest. She sighed as this change in position eased the pain in her back.

“That is much better,” she whispered as her arms loosened around Thranduil’s neck, a sign that the contraction was ending. But there was now very little time between them.

“Good. Just push with the contractions. Your son will be here very soon,” Nestoreth said but Lindomiel was already completely focused on her body.

As the next contraction began, Lindomiel took a deep breath and pushed, leaning heavily against Thranduil. Through their bond, Thranduil felt an amazing strength suffuse his wife’s body as she met each contraction with a strong push. Adding his own strength to hers, Nestoreth’s orders became vague noises in the background as he completely focused on the birth.

Mother and father turned their attention to the bright presence that was their son’s fëa, calling to him, soothing him, welcoming him into the world. Thranduil felt him respond, utterly innocent and completely trusting that he would soon be in loving arms.

“Here is the head,” a voice, Nestoreth’s, said in the distance.

One last time Thranduil felt as surge of strength as Lindomiel’s body tensed. Then he was aware of Limmiel and Dieneryn quickly passing Nestoreth towels and other items as Lindomiel collapsed on her side in his arms. Panting, she turned slightly and looked at Nestoreth.

“Your son, my lady,” she said, with a smile and tears in her eyes at the same time. Then Limmiel held the baby where her daughter could see him as Nestoreth tied and cut the cord.

A few moments later found Lindomiel propped with pillows and in Thranduil’s arms in their bed, her son enjoying his first attempt to nurse.

*~*~*

Late that night, Lindomiel and Thranduil had not moved, though she was asleep. Amglaur, sitting in a cushioned chair next to the bed, held his grandson. The family had spent the evening with the proud parents and baby and had now mostly trickled back to their own rooms, leaving them to rest. Only the baby’s grandparents, Aradunnon and Amoneth remained.

“He is beautiful, muindor nin. Have a told you that yet?” Aradunnon asked, peeking over Amglaur’s shoulder at the sleeping child.

Thranduil smiled tiredly. “Yes, you have. But I will allow you to tell me again if you wish,” he replied.

Aradunnon laughed. “He looks like you,” he commented, still looking at the baby.

Amglaur frowned. “He certainly does not. He looks like his mother. He clearly has Lindomiel’s nose and mouth,” he retorted.

Limmiel snorted quietly. “So long as he does not have your mouth, meleth. I do not think Thranduil will tolerate the same disrespectful mouth from his son as he does from you.”

Amglaur turned an irate glare on his wife as everyone else laughed quietly.

“Yesterday I could not wait to see who he would look most like,” Thranduil intervened, reaching for the baby. Amglaur surrendered him reluctantly. “But now I find I could not care less. I simply enjoy looking at him.” He laughed as the baby wrinkled his nose in response to the change in position. “Indeed, I cannot stop looking at him.”

Aradunnon smiled at his older brother. “Get used to that, Thranduil. I predict you will be far worse than I, interrupting meetings to show us what your son has learned.”

Thranduil nodded seriously. “I certainly will,” he replied.

Aradunnon knelt on the floor to get a better look at the baby. “How was the birth?” he whispered. “I remember Dolgailon’s birth. The firt time one experiences the birth of a child is absolutely amazing.”

Thranduil nodded. “It was indescribable, honestly. I have always admired Lindomiel’s strength. Now I am simply in awe of her,” he said sincerely, expecting a snide comment from his father-in-law but too happy to care.

“You did well also, Thranduil,” Amglaur said softly. “Your bond is strong and you were a great support for her because of it.”

Thranduil stared at Amglaur, too surprised to respond.

*~*~*

Three days later, with Lindomiel at his side, Thranduil carried his son into the garden for his naming ceremony. As they stepped into the garden, Lindomiel was leaning over Thranduil’s shoulder waving a finger at their son and then ducking behind her husband’s shoulder to disappear. The baby was giggling and reaching for her.

The moment they emerged from the caves, he fell silent. Thranduil watched as the baby’s eyes grew wide and filled with wonder. Silently, they darted between his parents and various objects in the garden—flowers, flowering trees, a butterfly that flitted by, a bird that sang on the garden wall. But most intently he studied the boughs of the beech tree in the garden’s center as Thranduil settled on the bench at its feet.

The beech acknowledged him. Its song became one of welcome and recognition, for this tree was one of the first beings to hear the whispering of this new life.

Noticing that change, Lindomiel’s smile broadened.

Cradling his son in his lap, Thranduil looked at his family, already gathered around the bench waiting for him. Golwon was there with Isteth and Eirienil. The little girl, now two-years-old, sat quietly and properly next to her mother. She was already a very precocious child, and she was fascinated by her younger cousins. Celonhael and Ollwen were there. Only a month earlier, Ollwon had happily announced that she and Celonhael were expecting another child. Hallion, Engwe and Dieneryn sat together and their expressions made Thranduil laugh. Dieneryn was his mother. She was entitled to look on him as she was. But Engwe and Hallion’s proud and utterly content expressions reminded him too much of Oropher and amused him to no end. Aradunnon sat with his family closest to the bench. Sitting in Dolgailon’s lap, Galithil was straining to see his cousin but was otherwise remarkably quiet. Next to Dolgailon, leaning against him with her hands firmly clasped around his arm and clearly feeling a little shy, was Arthiel. That evening, a feast was planned on the green to celebrate their betrothal. That news, delivered to Thranduil only a few moments after the birth of his son, had been the emotional straw that drove the king to delighted tears despite the presence of his entire family and most of his staff that had crowded into his room for their first glimpse of his son. And finally, sitting near Dieneryn, were Amglaur and Limmiel. Limmiel had always treated Thranduil like her own son, but over the last few days, Thranduil had been rendered completely speechless on several occasions by Amgalur’s suddenly paternal attitude.

Now the entire family looked at him expectantly, waiting for him to begin the naming ceremony.

“Thank you for joining Lindomiel and I to help us welcome our son to our family. It is certain that the more love this child receives the more he will benefit in his life and the more love in turn he will be able to give to others. The more people to whom this child relates the more balanced and rich his growth will be. So your presence today is appreciated, as will be your interest and involvement in the years ahead. Lindomiel and I present to you our son, who we promise before all of you to love and guide and protect. His name is Legolas.”

Before he could fully turn to her, Thranduil glimpsed the delighted look on Lindomiel’s face. Everyone else smiled too. Lindomiel took Legolas back from her husband and as she did, she leaned over to kiss Thranduil’s cheek.

“I approve,” she whispered for his ears only, causing him to laugh lightly as the family crowed around them.

Dierneryn stood next to him, one hand on her son’s shoulder and the other caressing her grandson’s cheek. “Legolas and not Laegolas?” she asked softly.

Thranduil nodded. “Yes, a Silvan name for a Silvan elf. Perhaps not Silvan by blood but I have felt since his conception that, like the Silvan, he has a particularly strong connection to this forest,” he said, reaching up to run his hand absently over the tender new leaves on the low branch of the beech.

The gesture was not lost on Lindomiel and her eyes widened curiously. “How long have you had this name chosen, Thranduil?”

He looked back at her. “I chose his name the day he was conceived, Lindomiel. I told you that.”

Lindomiel pulled a single leaf from the beech tree and placed it in Legolas’s grasping hands. He studied it intently with a frown. “It is an excellent name, Thranduil,” she concluded quietly.

Dieneryn nodded. “Indeed. One that Oropher would have loved.” Then she smirked, also caressing the beech tree leaves. “And if I am correct about why you chose the name Legolas on the day he was conceived, I think it is one that he would have approved of greatly.”

Thranduil laughed but nodded once, acknowledging his mother’s guess. “I doubt adar would particularly approve of that aspect of his grandson’s name,” he said quietly without looking at his mother.

Dieneryn smiled. “You do not think he would approve? Did your adar never tell you what inspired your own name, Thranduil?”

Lindomiel turned her eyes from her son to Dieneryn. “I, for one, would love to hear that story. I cannot even make out what Thranduil means. I assumed it was not Sindarin.”

Dieneryn raised her eyebrows. “And you never asked Thranduil.”

Lindomiel laughed. “Many times. Do you think your stubborn son does not love teasing me about the fact that I cannot guess what my own husband’s name means. My only thought was that it means ‘across the Great River’ from ‘thar’ and ‘anduin’ and that he took it when your family traveled east. But Thranduil swears that was the name given to him at birth, so that does not make sense. ”

Dieneryn looked at her son mischievously. “I know your adar told you the meaning of your name, Thranduil. Did he tell you what inspired it?” she asked.

Thranduil shook his head. “I could never persuade him to tell me that.”

Dieneryn smiled and looked at Lindomiel. “Well, iell nin, here is your revenge for enduring two millennia of your husband’s teasing. Oropher always loved to find obscure meanings in everything.” She touched the ring on her son’s finger. “That is why he hid the runes on those rings amidst the leaves carved on them. His sons’ names also have hidden meanings. Thranduil comes from ‘thrond,’ ‘du’ and ‘il’ and means Halls of Star Shadow.” She paused and her expression grew mischievous. “As for the inspiration for that name, it seems you and your adar think much a like. The name Thranduil was inspired by the same event that inspired Legolas’s name. Do you remember the garden in Menegroth with the open, arched ceiling where I used to take you to play when you were very young? Where your adar used to like to tell you stories in the evening in the starlight?”

Thranduil’s jaw dropped. “In the front? Near the Great Hall? The public garden.”

Dieneryn nodded calmly. “Yes, that one. Oropher and I spent a good deal of time there late at night before you were born. And Oropher had your naming ceremony in that same garden. So, yes, I think he would very much approve of you this day.”

As Thranduil stared somewhat incredulously at his mother and Lindomiel giggled along with several other members of the family who were learning this secret for the first time, Amglaur rolled his eyes and groaned.

“That is much more than I wanted to know about the similarities between my son-in-law and his reprobate father,” he said disgustedly.

The normalcy of that comment was oddly comforting and drove Thranduil to join in his family’s soft laughter.

*~*~*

AN: I have read many speculations about the meaning of Thranduil’s name, two of which I included here. Since Tolkien never told us, I decided I liked Ruth S. Noel’s interpretation of his name best. It seems prettier to me and fits better with the idea that I have followed, placing Thranduil’s birth in the First Age in Menegroth.

*~*~*

Adar/ada—Father/dad

Naneth/nana—Mother/mum

Pen neth—Young one

Ion nin—My son

Iell nin—My daughter


Chapter 10 - Innocence

Summer 1943

Three elflings broke into the clearing at the riverbank and scampered over the rocks to the water’s edge as quickly as their small legs would carry them, breathlessly debating what they would do first on their day’s adventure. Following at a more sedate pace and yet to emerge from under the shady boughs of the trees were their elders.

“I am going to swim in the river this time,” declared Galithil, already stripping off his tunic and casting it to the ground. “The pools are no fun.”

Eirienil frowned as she carefully unbuttoned the tiny buttons of her dress. “You are not. You are still too young. You do not swim well enough,” she replied with a scornful tone. “Besides the water in the pools is nicer. It is warmer. The river is cold.”

Galithil cast a disgusted glare at his older cousin who was now standing in her shift as she folded her dress neatly.

“We will all be going straight back home if you go near the pools or the river before ada gets here,” Legolas warned quietly, eyeing the eagerness with which his cousin was tearing at the fastenings on his shirt. Galithil redirected his glare in response and Legolas met his cousin’s displeasure with a smirk. “But ada might take us in the river if you ask.”

“What was that about the river, Legolas? You know you are not allowed in it. Stay in the pools,” a deeper voice commanded.

The elflings turned to see the adults striding into the sunlit clearing.

Oblivious to his uncle’s stern tone, Galithil tossed aside his shirt and, with a joyous whoop, leapt towards the nearest pool. Aradunnon planted a hand firmly on his son’s chest to halt his forward motion. When Galithil looked up at him obviously confused, Aradunnon silently pointed to his feet.

Galithil giggled. “I forgot my shoes,” he said, dropping to the ground to tug at them.

Chuckling along with his son, Aradunnon knelt to help him and to gather his discarded shirt and tunic.

While his cousin struggled with his shoes, Legolas looked up at his father, brows furrowed. “I did not suggest we go into the river, ada. Galithil wanted to,” he said.

Thranduil laughed and turned to wink at his brother. “Why does that not surprise me, ion nin?” he replied, reaching down to caress Legolas’s cheek with his free hand as he passed him. In his other hand, he carried a large basket.

“Can we please go in the river, ada?” Galithil immediately began to beg.

Aradunnon shook his head. “Go swimming with your cousins in the pools for now. Perhaps later I will take you in the river. If you mind me carefully.”

Galithil scowled for a brief moment before seizing Legolas and Eirienil by the hands and pulling them to the nearest pool.

As resounding splashes erupted from the water behind him, Aradunnon picked up Legolas and Eirienil’s clothes and strode to where Thranduil and Golwon were spreading a large blanket on the ground. He tossed the clothes at its edge and sat next to Celonhael, who was trying vainly to help his young son remove his shirt. Berior had celebrated his first Begetting Day only a few months earlier and was a whirlwind of unsteady activity, anxious to keep up with his older cousins but not yet nearly as coordinated as they. Celonhael’s wife, Ollwen, propped herself up against a sun-warmed rock and reached out her arms.

“Come here, Berior. Nana will help you with your shirt while ada takes off his own,” she said with a meaningful tone.

Celonhael raised his eyebrows slightly. “You do not want to swim with him, meleth?” he asked, unable to keep his concern from showing in his voice. She normally loved the river.

Ollwen pulled Berior into her lap to hold him still as she unfastened his shirt. From the corner of her eyes she could see the rest of the family waiting for her answer. With a quiet sigh, she smiled warmly at Celonhael and Berior. “I will swim later. I want to spend a few moments enjoying the river’s song before I join you in disrupting it.”

She laughed when Berior jumped from her lap, stumbling a little as he pulled at his father’s leggings. “Come on then, ada,” he pleaded. “Everyone else is already swimming.”

With a backward glance at Ollwen, who was leaning against the rock with her eyes closed, Celonhael allowed himself to be dragged to the water where the other three children immediately pounced on him. He quickly found himself shoved into the shallow water, pulled to his knees and soaked by four elflings splashing him with both hands and feet.

Still unpacking the basket, Thranduil smiled and shook his head as his trusted advisor eagerly reverted to childhood, returning the elflings’ assault with a powerful swipe of his arm that sent a wave of water flying at his attackers. Like the children, he was already gasping for breath through his laughter.

“Surely I am not to be the only one to have the pleasure of enduring the abuse of Ulmo’s sea monsters,” he said to the other adults while fixing Galithil with a mischievous gleam. “Really, why would Ulmo make a creature that swims so poorly?” he asked, slowly reaching for the elfling. Galithil squealed delightedly when Celonhael seized him by the arms and pulled him around in a wide circle in the water.

“Do it again,” he demanded, shaking water from his face and reaching for Celonhael’s hands. The other elflings followed suit, all shouting for their turn.

With an amused grin, Lindomiel finished helping Thranduil and Dieneryn set out the food in the basket. She stood and slipped her gown from her shoulders. “No Celonhael. I will help the children…” she paused, raising one eyebrow and smirking dramatically when Celonhael looked over at her with wry amusement. “I meant I will help with the children, of course,” she corrected herself, smiling at Legolas who laughed at her intentional mistake. She stepped into the pool and knelt, sinking gratefully into the soothing, shallow water. Legolas swam over to his mother and put his arms around her waist.

From the blanket, Thranduil smiled, watching his wife smooth their son’s already tangled hair.

“I think one more adult will probably be necessary,” Amglaur said sourly, looking at Celonhael disdainfully.

Amoneth nodded in agreement but pointedly settled herself against the rock next to Ollwen. “Indeed. Those elflings only intend to maul Celonhael, and Lindomiel cannot be expected to hold them all back.”

“I will join them,” Golwon said sternly, watching his daughter, Eirienil, push Galithil over onto his backside after he splashed her in the face.

Thranduil and Aradunnon looked at each other and then Golwon as he strode down the bank towards the water. They laughed quietly. “Everything will be under control now,” Thranduil said softly, causing both his brother and Golwon’s wife, Isteth, to laugh again.

The sounds of churning water, squealing elflings and laughing elves echoed throughout the clearing as Thranduil passed Ollwen, Isteth and Amoneth some of the food and wine they had brought for lunch. Then he leaned back against a rock shoulder-to-shoulder with his brother and closed his eyes, losing himself in the forest’s song. The trees sang a cheerful greeting in response to his presence.

“Lindomiel and I said many times when she was pregnant that we hoped the birth of your son would encourage you to spend more time in the forest simply playing and I am glad that it has,” Amoneth said quietly after a few moments.

Though his eyes were closed, Thranduil felt his brother nod and could hear the smile in Amoneth’s voice. He could not help but respond in kind. “Children are an excellent excuse to put aside work or foist it upon others as I have done today. Poor Hallion,” he quipped. “But it is my responsibility to see to Legolas’s education by spending time with him in places such as this. It is a terrible burden,” he concluded with a dramatically suffering tone accompanied by a content smile as he continued to bask in the afternoon sun.

Everyone laughed at the contrast between his serious voice and rather silly expression. After a moment, Thranduil gave in and laughed with them, opening his eyes to return his family’s good-natured smirks and watch the children play with his wife and advisors. For the moment, Golwon had distracted Legolas and Galithil’s roughhousing with a game. One child was ‘it’ and had to tag another in order to make them ‘it.’ Currently, Legolas was intent on tagging his mother. Thranduil watched as Lindomiel easily sidestepped her son’s lunges, water flying from the pool as they chased one another.

“I think I will go help as well,” he said, standing and unfastening his tunic and shirt.

“Legolas or Lindomiel?” Dieneryn asked, eyes bright with amusement.

Thranduil smiled at her. As much as he enjoyed seeing his advisors reduced to nothing more than children’s toys, he knew his family found it doubly amusing to see him similarly mistreated. “I have not decided yet,” he replied airily as he walked towards the shallow pool.

“It matters not at all,” Thranduil heard Amglaur say as soon as his back was turned. “The moment he steps into the pool, the children will turn on him and their parents right along with them. The king inspires such loyalty in his subjects,” he concluded dryly, causing Thranduil’s family to laugh again.

But Amglaur was correct. Thranduil was still picking his way over the rocks that formed the edge of the pool when Legolas abandoned his pursuit of his mother and turned abruptly, slapping his father’s leg.

“You are it!” he yelled.

But Galithil, Berior and Eirienil did not care that Thranduil was ‘it.’ The game degenerated into another wrestling match as Thranduil was attacked from all sides by four shouting elflings. With obvious delight, he collapsed in the water, causing them to giggle madly as he pretended to be overcome by their assault.

As the children played, the animals and birds frightened into hiding by their boisterous behavior cautiously began to creep back into view. A large gray heron was the first to return, gliding gracefully down to the river’s edge from where it had fled to an awkward perch in the trees. It spent a moment eyeing the noisy elflings before it turned its attention to the river and its search for a tasty fish for lunch. A pair of kingfishers, nearly as noisy as the elflings, emerged next, arguing over a particularly choice perch on a branch that hung out over the river. And a lithe otter slipped quietly into the water from his muddy hiding place on the bank to flee a safer distance down the river before resuming his hunt.

The last creature to return to the clearing was a wary green heron. Naturally secretive in the best of circumstances, this little bird was very reluctant to emerge from the brush next to the pool. Slowly, it stole closer to the water and the splashing elflings to sit in its customary place at the edge of the pool. Finally, it crouched, stock-still and well camouflaged amongst the mossy rocks, watching the water for little fish.

Thranduil smiled as Legolas and Eirienil quietly withdrew from the tangle of elflings and adults in the pool to watch the heron. Legolas had always liked this particular type of heron’s dark green feathers and Thranduil knew his son very much wanted to coax the bird to sit on his hand. He doubted any elf could persuade a nervous little green heron to come that close, but there was no harm in allowing him to try. And he enjoyed watching his son’s completely enchanted expression as he slowly edged closer to the heron and studied the bird’s delicately wispy green plumage.

A particularly loud splash drew Thranduil’s eyes to the others in the pool. It was accompanied by a shriek from Lindomiel and Galithil and Berior’s gasps for breath as they laughed. They were again intent upon drowning their aunt and Celonhael and Golwon were trying to keep them from playing too roughly.

When Thranduil turned back to watch Legolas and Eirienil, the little elleth had just pointed over the ridge of rocks that formed the barrier between the pool and the deeper river. Both elflings stopped for a moment and stared with wide eyes into the water. Then they walked directly to the edge of the pool, the heron forgotten in the wake of whatever this new distraction was.

Thranduil tensed as his son climbed onto the moss-covered rocks and leaned down to better gaze into the swift river water. He heard Lindomiel draw a sharp breath and the sounds of the frenzied play died behind him, but before she or Golwon could react any further to the sight of their children perched on the precarious ledge, Thranduil had already reached their side and had placed an arm securely around each of their waists. Both children turned delighted smiles on him.

“Look ada,” Legolas said, pointing into the deep water of the river in front of him. On the other side of the ridge of rocks, a large school of silvery-blue fish was swimming in a tight circle, swirling like a whirlpool in the water. The sunlight glinted off their intricate scales making them sparkle like a cascade of gems. Legolas looked up at his father with wide, curious eyes. “Why do they do that?” he asked as everyone gathered next to the ledge.

Celonhael held Berior firmly in his arms while Golwon sat and drew Eirienil into his lap. Lindomiel held Galithil by his shoulders, preventing him from leaning too far over the edge.

“There is a vent from one of the hot springs there, Legolas,” Thranduil responded pulling his son to his lap as Lindomiel sat next to him on the ledge still holding Galithil. “The water that comes out of it is much warmer than the water in the river and the fish are enjoying playing in the warmer water.”

Legolas and Eirienil nodded as Galithil and Berior studied the fish. “They are so pretty. They look like they are dancing together. What kind of fish are they, ada?” Eirienil asked. She still had not taken her eyes off the sight below her.

Golwon glanced at them. “I think they are some type of perch,” he replied uncertainly.

Lindomiel nodded. “They are blue nose perch,” she said. She had always loved fish.

The children admired the glittering creatures for several moments before Legolas stiffened and looked at his father nervously. “We are not allowed to sit on this ledge,” he said softly, glancing to Eirienil. Her eyes widened and she looked at her father guiltily.

Thranduil simply nodded. “That is true,” he replied in a quiet voice. “Do you remember why?”

“Because we might fall in the deep water,” Legolas responded, looking at the river with a frown. “I am sorry, ada, we just spotted the fish and we wanted a better look. We were not thinking and we forgot.”

Thranduil sighed and hugged his son tightly against him. “I do not want to see you injured, ion nin. That is why we have rules like not climbing on this ledge. You are young and exciting things will sometimes make you forget rules. That is why nana and I are with you to keep you safe. But you must try to think before you do things like climb up onto dangerous ledges. Do you understand that?” He paused and looked at Eirienil and then the other children, who were also listening to him. “All of you?”

He was answered by nods and a chorus of ‘yes’s.’

“Very well, then,” he said, drawing his hand down Legolas’s hair. “Do you want to play another game?” he asked producing a cloth pouch.

All the children focused on it with excited eyes. It represented a favorite game when they swam in the pools. Thranduil opened it and a handful of rather large, colorful stones—purple, yellow, smoky and white quartz along with a few green gems—spilled out onto his palm.

Legolas nodded enthusiastically. He hugged his father briefly and then leapt from his lap into the pool, joining the other children who were ready to play. Still smiling, Thranduil tossed the colored stones into the air and they fell, sinking to the bottom of the pool. Four elflings immediately dove in after them.

Lindomiel laughed and watched the children swimming under the water, gathering the bright stones as fast as they could. “An excellent idea, Thranduil. I think I have been dunked, splashed, shoved and climbed upon enough for one afternoon,” she said tiredly.

Thranduil leaned over to kiss her cheek. “They are pure energy and unbridled curiosity. It is at once an invigorating and exhausting combination,” he replied as four heads broke through the surface of the water, thrusting handfuls of gems in his face.

“Who found the most?” Eirienil demanded breathlessly.

“I think you did,” Thranduil laughed as they dumped the crystals back into his cupped hands. “This time you have to find at least one of each color,” he said, throwing them again.

“I had forgotten how much life they have and how bright they are,” Celonhael said as he watched them scramble under the water.

Thranduil nodded, looking at his son. “I would never have imagined that it was possible to love someone as much as I love him,” he said quietly, taking Lindomiel’s hand and drawing her to him.

“True,” Lindomiel said, “or to be loved and trusted as he loves and trusts us. It is almost frightening.”

The children burst out of the water again, showing Thranduil their rocks. He gathered them back up and announced a new condition as he tossed them again.

Golwon nodded. “They are amazing.” Then he smirked at Thranduil. “And if you keep them chasing those stones at this pace, they will also be thoroughly worn out, which is a feat in itself.”

All the adults laughed at that.

The game continued until Berior did indeed give up competing against his older cousins and collapsed tiredly against his father. Celonhael lifted his son and cradled him easily in his arms.

“I think it is time for you to go sit with naneth on the bank for a while, ion nin. Perhaps you should eat some lunch,” he suggested softly.

“No,” Berior protested but he snuggled his face against his father’s chest.

Golwon, Thranduil and Lindomiel smiled.

“Take him to Ollwen, Celonhael,” Thranduil said, gesturing toward the blanket. “And send Aradunnon to battle. It is his turn to help control his son,” he added as Galithil emerged first from the water with a handful of white gems. Their task this round had been to find all the stones of an assigned color.

Galithil watched Celonhael leave pool as the other children surfaced with their stones, handing them back to Thranduil. His face lit up excitedly as his father and grandparents, along with Legolas’s grandparents, approached. “Ada, can we go into the river now?” he begged excitedly.

That question caused Legolas and Eirienil to look hopefully at their fathers as well.

Thranduil frowned, both in response to his nephew’s question and Amglaur’s sharp glare, but he remained silent as Aradunnon looked between he and Golwon briefly before nodding.

Galithil beamed at his father. “Can we jump from the rock into the river?” he pressed, taking his father’s hand to hurry him out of the pool and towards the open river.

“Yes,” Aradunnon replied with a smile at his son’s thrilled expression.

Thranduil’s frown deepened. “Remember to jump,” he said sternly. “Never dive into the river.”

Legolas and Galithil rolled their eyes. “And never jump until an adult has checked the water for debris,” they chorused tiredly. Legolas looked at his father with exasperation. “You say that every time we come to the river, ada. We remember.”

Thranduil stopped and turned Legolas to face him, hands on his shoulders. The elfling stared up at his father with wide eyes, clearly afraid that his tone had angered him but Thranduil only looked at him very seriously. “This is a very important rule and it bears repeating, ion nin,” he said. “I ignored it when I was only a little older than you and learned the hard way how dangerous diving into the river could be.”

Legolas drew in a sharp little breath. “Did you get hurt diving off that rock, ada?” he whispered, looking at the rock in the middle of the river.

Thranduil smiled and shook his head. “Not this river, Legolas. I lived near another river called the Esgalduin. But yes, I got hurt diving into it. I was very lucky that I was not much more injured.”

Leoglas frowned. “We remember this rule, ada,” he repeated sincerely. “We will not be hurt,” he said patting his father’s knee.

Thranduil’s smile broadened and he picked up his son to carry him into the river. “Good, Legolas. It is very important to me that you are safe from harm.”

As the adults waded into the river with long strides, the children hung on their fathers’ arms, excitement in their eyes at the prospect of being in water so deep that it reached the adults’ chests.

Aradunnon and Galithil headed straight for a rock that jutted out of the water. Aradunnon lifted his son onto it and then pulled himself up. Golwon and Thranduil helped Eirienil and Legolas up as Lindomiel and the grandparents inspected the water around the rock. When they declared it free of dangerous debris, the elflings could barely wait their turn to jump off the rock to the waiting arms of their parents below. This activity was a rare treat, reserved for when their behavior had been especially good. Their excited screams as they jumped proved that from their perspective the day could not be better.

Lindomiel and Amglaur stood next to Thranduil as the children played and Thranduil found it difficult not to fidget under his father-in-law’s harsh gaze. Finally he looked over at him directly. “This is a safe enough activity as long as we are right here, Amglaur,” he hissed quietly enough that the children could not hear the argument.

Amglaur adopted an innocent expression and shook his head. “I do not intend to be critical, Thranduil. I think it is perfectly safe given that there are eight adults here and three children.”

Thranduil eyed him suspiciously a moment and turned away.

Amglaur frowned. “Thranduil, if I was staring at you, and I suppose I was, I was not doing so because I disapprove of your parenting. On the contrary, I have been positively impressed by it,” he said. Thranduil once again turned the suspicious gaze on his father-in-law and Amglaur sighed. “After your experience in the Esgalduin, I am shocked that you will even swim, much less let your son do so. I have seen how you struggle not to protect Legolas too much…to give him the freedom he needs to learn. And I know how difficult that is. After all, when Lindomiel was born, I knew she would be my only child.” He paused and looked away. “I admire your restraint with Legolas. You are a good adar, Thranduil.”

Thranduil had been staring at Amglaur since he mentioned the Esgalduin. Amglaur’s last statement caused his jaw to fall open.

Amglaur grimaced. “Close your mouth, you fool, before you swallow half the river.”

Thranduil shut his mouth but continued staring at Amglaur. “How did you know what happened to me in the Esgalduin?” he asked with sincere curiosity.

Amglaur frowned. “I was your adar’s friend,” he answered irritably. “And your naneth’s. Naturally I was interested in your childhood.”

Thranduil’s eyes widened in amusement. “You were my adar’s friend,” he repeated. “I will remind you of that the next time you make some snide comment about him.” Then he sobered and looked away, knowing it was hardly appropriate to respond rudely to a compliment. “I apologize, Amglaur. I cannot think of anything that you have ever said to me that shocked me more than this. I am not certain how to react.”

Amglaur shook his head and turned his back on his son-in-law to focus solely on his grandchild. Legolas loved his grandfather and happily jumped to him from the rock wnen Amglaur beckoned to him.

As her father played with Legolas, Lindomiel swam closer to Thranduil, wrapping her arm around his. “Tell me, meleth,” she said softly. “Your little accident in the Esgalduin did not happen when you and your cousin went there against your adar’s wishes did it?”

Thranduil looked at her sidelong. “Possibly,” he answered.

Lindomiel raised her eyebrows. “Were you badly hurt?”

He shook his head. “Just badly frightened, as was Ninglor who had to pull me out of the river.” He paused. “I learned a lesson and I hope Legolas never has to learn one similarly.”

Lindomiel smiled at Legolas riding on her father’s back, arms around his neck, as he swam around the rock. “We will do our best,” she said.

*~*~*

The children were completely exhausted by the time their parents insisted that they return to the clearing to dry off but even so, they left the river reluctantly.

“I jumped the furthest,” Galithil declared as Amoneth wrapped him in a small blanket and began to rub him dry.

“You did not,” Eirienil replied sharply, scowling at her cousin. “I jumped twice as far as you did,” she insisted, turning around so Isteth could comb her hair.

Their argument continued as Lindomiel collapsed next to Amoneth and reached for a piece of bread amongst the plates of food still lying on the blanket. Thranduil smirked at her obvious exhaustion as he helped dry Legolas. She had spent the entire afternoon in the water with the children. She loved swimming as much as they, but their energy level exceeded even hers. Thranduil could not deny that he was tired as well.

“Let me take care of him, Thranduil,” Ollwen offered, reaching for Legolas. “You did not eat before you went into the water.” Ollwen’s own son, Berior, was sleeping soundly in Celonhael’s arms.

Legolas shook his head and put his arms around his father’s waist.

Thranduil smiled at her appreciatively. “Thank you, but I can wait a few more minutes to eat, Ollwen. Legolas will not even allow his nanny to comb his hair. I can manage him.”

Legolas frowned. “Seidreth pulls my hair when she brushes it. It hurts,” he said with a whining tone.

Lindomiel laughed. “And here is an example of one of the ways Legolas takes after his father—they both become a little cross when they are tired,” she said.

Thranduil and Legolas looked at Lindomiel with nearly identical betrayed expressions as everyone laughed heartily at that assertion and their reaction. After glaring at Lindomiel playfully for a moment, Thranduil settled Legolas in his lap and began carefully working the tangles from his hair. Lindomiel handed Legolas a plate with fruit, eliciting a smile from the child as he eagerly reached for a berry.

The children were only just beginning to eat their lunches when one of Thranduil’s messengers emerged from the forest. Thranduil stood in response to his approach and the messenger bowed when he entered the clearing.

“I am sorry to interrupt your afternoon with your children, my lords,” he said glancing between Thranduil and Aradunnon. “But lord Hallion requests that you both return to the stronghold immediately.”

Thranduil raised his eyebrows at that and looked at his brother. Hallion had stayed in the stronghold to manage the day’s affairs in the king’s absence. There was virtually nothing that the steward could not settle on his own, so his request struck the adults as alarming. That was especially true since he had requested Aradunnon return as well, indicating the emergency was military in nature.

Behind him, Thranduil saw Celonhael, Golwon and their wives looking at him concernedly. Conuiön, Tureden and several others guards had stepped out of the shadows at the tree line where they had been performing their duty as unobtrusively as possible until hearing that cryptic request.

“No, ada. We are swimming today,” a soft voice pleaded, interrupting Thranduil’s silent speculation about the meaning of this interruption.

Thranduil sighed but Lindomiel had turned Legolas to face her. “It is time to go back home anyway,” she said quietly.

That announcement was met with a chorus of protests from the children that were ignored by the adults as they gathered blankets and clothing and the remnants of lunch.

“No need to wait for us,” Amoneth said. “We can take care of the children.”

Thranduil nodded. “Do not hold dinner for us,” he said to Lindomiel, leaning over to kiss Legolas’s head. Then he crouched on the ground in response to his son’s sad expression, amazed at how easily the child ruled his heart. “We had long afternoon playing here, Legolas. And we had fun, did we not?” he asked soothingly.

“Yes, ada,” the child responded quietly, disappointment still evident in his voice.

Even though he had been about to insist they return to the stronghold, Thranduil knew this abrupt interruption was more difficult for the children to accept than the long process normally required to pack up and persuade them to go home.

Thranduil kissed his son again. “If you like, you can come with me back to the stronghold and we will have one of the servants or guards help you find Seidreth, but only if you promise to go along with her quietly while I meet with Hallion.”

The downcast eyes lit at that suggestion and Legolas nodded eagerly, holding up his arms to be carried. Galithil immediately looked to Aradunnon for a similar offer and the two fathers picked up their children. Thranduil nodded once to Lindomiel, who was laughing at him quietly, and turned to follow the messenger back to the stronghold. Legolas waved his goodbyes to the others over his father’s shoulder.

When the rest of the King’s family arrived in the stronghold they saw Thranduil, Aradunnon and Hallion in the Great Hall with two rode-worn figures that no one recognized. Their Mannishly styled clothing was stained and torn and their hair and suntanned skin was filthy, as if they had journeyed a long way to speak to the Elvenking. It was difficult for anyone in the family to imagine Thranduil speaking so intimately with Mannish strangers but he was so engaged with his visitors, leaning over maps that they had spread out on one of the tables in the Hall, that he did not even notice his family stop in the doorway to stare at him momentarily before turning to the family chambers.

*~*~*

Dolgailon sat behind his desk, drumming his fingers on its smooth surface while flipping through the papers that summarized the next day’s schedule. He was anxious for this day to be over but he had to wait for his lieutenants to arrive with their final reports. His mind, however, was far from focused on those reports. Arthiel had planted some very interesting ideas in his head as he was leaving their chambers that morning and he intended to explore them fully the moment he arrived home.

He found himself unconsciously toying with the gold band on his finger. Married for less than a year, he often found thoughts of his new wife were…distracting. Initially his conscience had struggled with that apparent dereliction of duty, but he took comfort in the fact that the king was pleased with the progress of the training program and even more so with his nephew’s obvious bliss. Dolgailon smiled. Of course the entire household was learning to balance new responsibilities with old ones, so Dolgailon was perfectly aware that Thranduil was likely being more indulgent than he normally would be. He made every effort not to abuse his uncle’s goodwill, but days such as today sorely tried his restraint.

Dolgailon looked at the closed office door and willed his lieutenants to come through it. When they did not, he looked back down at the papers in front of him and tried to think if there was anyway he could improve the tactical drill he intended to lead the next day.

Nearly an hour later when Tirithion, Langon and Hebor entered his office, Dolgailon had made very few modifications to the drill. He frowned slightly as he gestured for his officers to sit. “Where are Pathon and Glílavan?” he asked shortly, wincing inwardly at his tone of voice.

Tirithion smiled at him. The archery master was old and experienced—one of the Sindarin elves that had followed Oropher east. Dolgailon had heard, but had never asked to confirm, that he had been one of Thranduil’s teachers as a child. The cause of his captain’s impatience was apparently all too obvious to Tirithion and Dolgailon found that more than a bit embarrassing but he knew he had nothing but his own lack of control to blame.

“Glílavan is helping Pathon with Brannion,” Tirithion replied. “We were not present but apparently Brannion took exception to the fact that Pathon paired him with one of the elflings today when they were working on tracking over rocky terrain,” he added in explanation when Dolgailon raised his eyebrows.

Dolgailon’s frown deepened. “Perhaps it would help the older students if we all stopped referring to the younger ones as elflings,” he said, trying to keep his voice quiet.

Glílavan should have spent the afternoon teaching a basic class on terrain analysis. Dolgailon could not imagine how he had become involved in a dispute amongst Pathon’s students, but he sincerely hoped it would not escalate to an incident that came to the attention of the troop commander. Dolgailon had enough trouble convincing his father to bring Glílavan to the capital to participate in the training program without him calling negative attention to himself now that he was here.

He sighed and shoved the papers in front of him to the side. “How are the first-years proceeding with their weapons training?” he asked, changing the subject to the reports that needed to be delivered and looking at Tirithion for him to begin.

“Very well, captain. Everyone successfully completed the basic marksmanship today as expected. We will begin working on increasing their speed and working on the flat terrain target course in the next lesson unless you want to review them first.”

Dolgailon shook his head. “I think you are far more qualified to judge their readiness to proceed to the next course of training than I, Tirithion. But when you have taken them through the new target course a few times, I would like to see how they perform on modifications we made to it. Let me know when you are ready for me to watch a few of them go through it.” He paused. “And you are working with the third-years and I on the tactical drill tomorrow,” he reminded Tirithion with a smile.

Tirithion’s eyes brightened. “I am very anxious to see if they fall into the trap you have laid out for them. It is not really fair, you know. Orcs would never think to lure their enemies into a gully like that and we have just spent the last two weeks discussing the advantages of the heavily treed terrain that leads into it. They are sure to go straight for it when they see the tracks we have laid, thinking they have the advantage.”

Dolgailon raised his chin and looked at Tirithion with an exaggeratedly patient expression. “Men might be that tricky and we have seen our share of those in the south and east,” he suggested. “And besides, they all know that gully is there. Everyone plays in the little caves found in it as children. We will see if they walk willingly into our trap. I am very interested to see who figures it out and how they handle it pointing the mistake out to their captain.”

Langon grimaced. “It sounds as if you still intend to put Lotheril in command,” he said, looking at Dolgailon uncomfortably.

Dolgailon nodded. “Unless you can suggest a good reason not to. He is arrogant and I think he needs to be shown the error of his ways.”

Langon made a face before looking directly at Dolgailon. “Well, captain, he pushed me to the limit of my temper today. I think I might have given him a memorable lesson on his own limits. I do not think he needs another failure tomorrow. He was fairly thoroughly humiliated today.”

Dolgailon blinked. “Dare I ask what you did?” None of the officers in the training program liked Lotheril, Langon least of all.

Langon sighed. “I have told them one thousand times that the footwork drills are important…that it takes a year to make these moves automatic and another before they will be able to perform them fluently under pressure. But as soon as he can do anything once, he thinks himself the master of it.” Langon looked wryly at Dolgailon. “He would not take the drill seriously today so I asked him to spar with me. I sat him on his behind in ten straight matches until he was too tired to hold his sword. He is still cleaning the practice swords now.”

Dolgailon pursed his lips. “Very well. The next time any of you have trouble with him, send him to me. In the meantime, we will hope that he has learned some humility. Perhaps we should put Mendelir in command of the drill tomorrow,” he said looking at Tirithion.

The archery master nodded and Dolgailon turned back to Langon.

“Other than Lotheril, are the third-years progressing as we wished?”

Langon nodded enthusiastically. “For the most part. They are doing much better with the multiple opponent drills than the new warriors did when I only had one year to push them through the training.” He laughed lightly. “But I think we will need considerably more work on fighting with an off-hand weapon. No one successfully completed the drills on that today so we will continue with them the next time we meet.”

“How did Lotheril do in those drills?” Dolgailon asked.

Langon shrugged. “Slightly better than average. So he immediately declared himself an expert, of course.”

Dolgailon shook his head but before he could reply, Glílavan and Pathon walked into his office. Dolgailon looked at them with concern but his eyes truly widened when Aradunnon strode into his office behind them, along with the captains of the Palace Guard, Path Guard, Hallion and the king. Everyone present stood automatically as Thranduil entered the office.

“My lords,” Dolgailon said by way of greeting looking at his father warily.

Aradunnon nodded to his son as he drew a chair from the wall for Thranduil and himself.

“Good evening, captain,” Thranduil said, seating himself. As he did, he gestured for the others to do the same. “I am sorry to interrupt your meeting but some information came to my attention this afternoon that I need to act upon. To do so, I need your help.”

“I am at your service, my lord,” Dolgailon replied quietly. His uncle was tense and that could mean nothing positive.

Thranduil nodded. “I want you to make a list of the fifth-year warriors in this program that are skilled enough in your opinion to serve in the Path Guard without being individually paired with a senior warrior. I would need them in the regular patrols that stay in the field but they will be within close range of the stronghold. How many warriors do you think will be on that list?”

Dolgailon hesitated a moment. “No more than five, my lord. I am sorry but there are less than ten fifth-years total and as it stands now and most of them we would have recommended to serve first in the Palace Guard. You have to remember that this program has only been functioning for three years. Only the adults that tested out of most of the first and second year courses are that advanced already.”

Thranduil looked disappointed but not surprised. “I do understand that, captain,” he replied. “I also need a list of third and fourth year students that you feel could serve a regular shift in the Palace Guard. They would be restricted to simple duties such as standing at the Gates or the doors to the Great Hall or the family chambers. Ideally, I would like six guards per day—two at each of those posts—but I can make due with four.”

Dolgailon blinked at that. “You mean to rotate them through so each serves once a week at that post?”

Thranduil nodded. “I assume you would prefer that so you could still rearrange your schedule to allow them to continue training.”

“Yes, I would prefer that but there are only around forty adults between the third and fourth year classes. If all of them took a rotation that would only give you the minimum number of guards you asked for,” he said, brow furrowing when the king frowned. “May I ask what the regular Palace and Path Guard will be doing?” he asked cautiously.

“No you may not,” Aradunnon replied firmly, speaking before Thranduil could respond. “Not at this time.” The fact that Aradunnon was studiously ignoring his son’s lieutenants made the reason for that decision perfectly obvious.

Dolgailon’s expression did not change as he silently accepted his father’s answer.

Thranduil sighed. “Lord Aradunnon is correct that this is not the place to discuss the details of my decision,” he began softly as Aradunnon scowled. “But the answer to your immediate question will be obvious to everyone that lives in the capital soon enough.” He looked at Dolgailon evenly. “As soon as the troops I recalled from the north borders arrive, I am moving them and as much of the Palace and Path Guard as lord Aradunnon has advised me I safely can to the southern and eastern borders. We hope they can leave within a week under his command.”

Dolgailon fought to keep his expression neutral as his lieutenants all reacted with varying degrees of shock. “I see,” he replied evenly.

Aradunnon’s posture stiffened. “Dollion and Morilion are here to discuss how we plan on repositioning their warriors and still protect the stronghold. I would like you to join that conversation since your students will be involved.” He glanced at the lieutenants. “Were you almost finished here?”

Dolgailon nodded. “Glílavan, I would like you to take my place in that tactical drill in the morning with Tirithion. I will need to figure out the details of how we will reorganize the third and fourth year schedules. Send Lotheril to me before you depart so I can speak to him. If none of you have anything else, that is all for the day.”

The lieutenants stood and, with a bow to Thranduil, left the room. Dollion and Morilion took their chairs around Dolgailon’s desk and fell to discussing troop deployments.

*~*~*

adar/ada—Father/dad
naneth/nana—Mother/mum
Ion nin—my son
Daeradar/daernaneth—Grandfather/grandmother
Meleth nin—My love


Chapter 11 - Friend or foe

In a village on the southeastern border of the Woodland Realm, an elleth walked uninvited through the open door of her neighbor’s cottage with two other elves. Like most inhabitants of the village, her neighbor’s door was always open, welcoming both the refreshing summer breeze and dear friends. But the occupant of the cottage had long since ceased to consider this elleth a friend. Indeed he was beginning to rue the day he had first spoken with her. And with the king’s warriors such a strong presence in the villages, he did not wish for her to be seen coming and going in his cottage, though he knew he was the one they suspected, not she.

“I heard you have had a letter from your son,” she said casually, seating herself comfortably by his fireplace.

The warrior passing close by the cottage on his patrol would think little of that topic of conversation.

The elf scowled but nodded. Lying was pointless. She would not visit here if she did not already know that he had something that might be of use to her. How she always knew, he shuddered to think, but he had his suspicions.

She raised her eyebrows. “Well, you should share it with us. News from the capital is always so interesting and we all miss him so,” she said with a jovial voice.

The elf walked over to a table, picked up a folded paper and handed it to her silently. He seated himself and listened as the elleth’s voice read his son’s words, describing his new duties, the people he had met, events in the capital and news that the king was sending even more warriors south to keep the villages safe from the Easterling threat.

The warrior outside the cottage door moved on along his patrol route as the elleth finished sharing the letter. They watched him walk away.

The general populace in the village welcomed the warriors in their community. They had been horrified to hear that their village leader, Dolwon, had confessed to dealing with Easterlings and they were perfectly pleased that the king had insisted that Dolwon and his family remain in the capital. When the king sent extra warriors to their village, they celebrated the increased protection. After all, more warriors to keep the forest safe was exactly what they had been begging for all along.

It did not occur to the villagers that the warriors were also watching them—trying to determine if anyone sympathized with Dolwon. Only those guilty of such collusion would think of that.

One of the elves in the cottage stood and strolled over to the door, leaning against it. He glanced down the path and into the trees.

“There is no one about,” he said in a whisper.

Manadhien nodded with a false smile on her face. “I am very disappointed that you would try to hide this letter from me,” she began.

He grimaced bitterly. “I hid nothing. It is a letter from my son to me. It contains nothing of interest to you so I saw not point in sharing it.”

“Nothing of interest!” she hissed in a whisper, the smile still on her face in case anyone watched through the open door. “You do not think it would interest me to know that even more troops are coming south to make my life more difficult?”

His eyebrows shot up. “Surely you are not still meeting with the men? What do you hope to gain? It is over.”

“Is it?” she responded, her expression growing bitter. “From the sound of this letter, there are few enough warriors in the capital that we might be able to attempt another strike. Especially since now we have people in the capital that can work with us to keep our allies apprised of the king’s movements.”

The others’ brows drew together and they looked at her. “Is that possible? I thought the Men had abandoned their pledge to help rid us of Thranduil,” one said.

“Perhaps news that the capital is poorly guarded will inspire them to renewed interest,” she said quietly.

Their host snatched the letter from Manadhien’s hands. “And how do you plan to get that news to the men? We cannot fetch water without one of the king’s warriors watching us. You certainly cannot stroll out of the village and into the eastern plain without arousing suspicion. Accept that this is over, Manadhien. We have more warriors here. The forest is safer. That was our goal. However it was accomplished, be glad that it was.”

Manadhien regarded him coolly as she listened to his angered outburst. Then she leaned forward and spoke in a harsh whisper. “My goal is to rid this forest of the House of Oropher,” she snapped. Then she released a deep, calming breath as the others raised their eyebrows in alarm. “Because that is the only way to keep the forest safe,” she continued in a calmer voice. “There are more warriors now, at Thranduil’s whim, but not to protect us. They are here to enforce his control over the villages and as soon as he believes he has achieved that goal he will withdraw them, leaving us at the mercy of orcs and spiders once again. Mark my words. Better that we take advantage of every opportunity to help ourselves.” She sat back in her chair and lifted her chin to look down at them. “I can get this information to our allies. Leave that to me,” she concluded, taking the letter back.

*~*~*

Dolgailon and Arthiel walked into the family sitting room hand-in-hand. Galithil, Legolas, Berior and Eirienil were already there, along with their parents. They were building a tower with wooden blocks, taking turns adding more to its heights. The tower already stood as tall as the elflings could reach and now Aradunnon was helping his youngest son balance while standing on his father’s lap so he could stack the blocks a little higher. Dolgailon grinned, knowing his brother only wanted the tower higher so that it made more noise when it finally toppled.

“Dolgailon! Arthiel! Come play with us!” Galithil demanded the moment he saw his brother. He spoke with all the certainty of a child accustomed to having his commands obeyed. The other elflings nodded happily.

Dolgailon grinned and shook his head wryly. “I do not recall ordering adults when I was not even three,” he said, sitting next to the tower, opposite the direction in which it leaned. He did not want to ruin the satisfying crash of the wooden blocks on the stone floor by allowing them to fall on him or Arthiel. She settled herself next to him.

Thranduil laughed at his nephew’s comment. “You are not an adult, Dolgailon. You are a brother. You can be ordered about with impunity.”

Aradunnon snorted. “Did I order you around, Thranduil?” he asked, mirth in his voice.

Thranduil raised his eyebrows. “Did you? You still do. I have no idea why I tolerate you sometimes,” he joked.

Dolgailon looked between his father and the king with laughter in his eyes. “I see this is another lesson on the joys of brotherhood,” he said with as much dignity as possible as Galithil climbed across his lap to place another block on the tower. Dolgailon steadied his brother before he fell onto the tower and grew more serious. “Commander, I wanted to have a word with you this evening, if I could,” he said, looking at his father evenly.

Thranduil looked curiously at his nephew as Aradunnon tried to hide a frown. “Can it not wait, Dolgailon? I leave to go south in the morning and I want to spend time with Galithil and your naneth.”

“No, it cannot wait,” he said firmly.

At that moment, the tower came crashing down, raining blocks everywhere. The elflings laughed gleefully and ran through them, kicking them so they made even more noise.

Aradunnon sighed and glared at Dolgailon a moment. Then he reached for Galithil, holding him by both shoulders. “It is time to clean this up and get ready for bed, ion nin.” The children all groaned at that. Aradunnon fixed Galithil with a stern look. “No arguments. Help pick up these toys and then go with nana to get cleaned up for bed. I will read you any story you choose when I am finished speaking with your brother.”

“Even the long one about wizards?” Galithil challenged.

Aradunnon nodded. “Yes, I will read that one if nana tells me that you have minded her.”

Galithil sighed but joined his cousins gathering blocks. Aradunnon and Dolgailon stood and the adults watched father and son worriedly as they went into Dolgailon’s apartment and closed the door.

“What is so important that you must take time from your brother, Dolgailon? He is too young to understand why I am leaving tomorrow and he needs me to spend time with him tonight” Aradunnon asked impatiently.

Dolgailon looked at his father impassively, refusing to allow his tone to affect him. “That is precisely why I wish to speak to you, Commander,” he said calmly. Then he frowned and looked down. “Adar,” he continued in a softer voice, “I want to ask for permission to lead the troops south tomorrow. You should not leave nana and Galithil and I am perfectly capable of taking these troops south and seeing to their redistribution at the southern and eastern borders.”

Aradunnon’s brows knit. “As am I, Dolgailon,” he said with an obviously surprised tone. “And I am not simply escorting these warriors south. I am taking command of the southern and eastern patrols in anticipation of the Easterlings’ advance.”

“All the more reason why you should allow me to take them south. Of course you are capable of commanding those patrols, adar, but so am I. And I do not have a two-year-old son. You do. You should not be leading troops into battle. What if you are killed? What will become of Galithil then?”

Aradunnon frowned severely. “Do you believe I have not thought of that, Dolgailon? I do not want to leave your brother. But you have your own command and a new wife here. Surely you do not want to leave her.”

Dolgailon sighed. “Of course I do not. But she and I discussed this. There is no doubt that it would be terrible for her if I were killed, but she is not a child and she would recover. If you were killed, Galithil would suffer that loss for the rest of his life. Any of the lieutenants in the training program can temporarily command it in my absence until this situation is resolved. And I am more familiar with the warriors and the terrain in the southern territory than you are. I am not equally suited to the task of taking these troops south; I am superiorly qualified. Therefore I am requesting that you send me.”

Aradunnon stared at his son a moment and Dolgailon met his gaze evenly. Then he sighed and his shoulders sagged. “Dolgailon, I prefer…the king prefers that I personally command battles that have the potential that this one does for being very large scale. Indeed, it was all I could do to convince him not to lead the troops south himself.”

Dolgailon frowned. “This battle might not even happen, adar. The information we had was not clear on whether the forest would be involved. And I have fought each time the Wainriders attacked in the past. I commanded the southern patrol almost one hundred years ago when they enslaved the Men of Rhovanion and tried to sweep into the forest. That battle was very large scale and we were not prepared for it, yet we held the Easterlings from the forest. I do not claim to have anything near your experience in battle but I believe I can manage the situation we face against the Wainriders now.”

Aradunnon nodded. “And so do I,” he said sincerely. “But I prefer to command battles of this scale myself, Dolgailon, and as this realm’s troop commander, that is my choice to make.”

“I understand that, adar. And if this were a battle that we agreed no one else could command or if there were no reasons why you should not command it, then you know it would never occur to me to question you. But that is not the case. You acknowledge that I could command it and you have a two-year-old son. You would best comply with your duty to the realm and to your family by allowing me to take the troops south. While you are the father of a small child, your preferences cannot always be honored.” He paused for emphasis. “I am questioning your priorities, adar. I cannot believe you would leave Galithil to command this battle when you have another, equally suitable alternative.”

Aradunnon’s mouth formed a hard line and he glared at his son. Then he closed his eyes and turned his back to him. “Your naneth has made the same argument to me. We certainly did not anticipate another attack from the Wainriders when we decided to conceive your brother. She told me to find a captain that did not have a small child to command this battle.” He turned around and looked at Dolgailon. “I do not think she had you in mind, ion nin. And I do not think Thranduil will allow it. He was reluctant to allow me to go south alone. He wanted to go himself. And frankly, commanding the troops in the south is not all I will be doing there. I am not at liberty to discuss the details, but only the king could assign someone else to command these troops. The decision to send me was based on more than military concerns.”

Dolgailon nodded once. “Very well. Then let us speak to him. The argument that he would prefer to command this battle holds no more weight than your argument to do so. The king also has a small child. And as for his other reasons for sending you south, for Galithil’s sake allow me to at least try to convince him that I can perform whatever duty he requires as well as you.”

Aradunnon sighed but turned towards the door. “Wait here. I will ask Thranduil to speak to us,” he agreed tiredly. Then he looked at his son with a mixture of pleasure and mischief. “Time in the capital and marriage to Arthiel has done wonders for you, Dolgailon. I would have never expected to hear you make arguments based on family priorities.”

Dolgailon smiled. “I want Galithil to enjoy the same childhood I did, adar. And it is my duty as a captain of the king’s warriors to make that possible.”

Aradunnon snorted. “That sounds more like my son. Perhaps you have learned more in the court than I thought. How to couch your arguments more appealingly, for example.”

Dolgailon shook his head. “No matter how it is argued, I am still right, adar,” he said, laughing lightly.

Aradunnon smirked. “Thranduil will decide that,” he replied as he left the room.

*~*~*

Darkness fell about Manadhien like a cloak as she ran swiftly through the tall grass on the plain. Under the pretext of visiting a friend in another village, she had left her own to travel to this less populated and therefore less guarded border of the forest. The warriors in the village did not suspect her, so they thought nothing of her departure. She had long maneuvered to make sure suspicion fell on others, never her. But, beside the fact that so many of her allies were now in the capital under guard, this message she trusted to no one but herself.

She slowed as she approached the meeting place, feeling the presence of those she came to speak with though she could not yet see them. She made a wide berth around the rock and saw three men reach quickly for their weapons as she came into view.

“It is I,” she said in a clear voice in Westron, knowing it was best to announce who she was. She could see them much better than they could see her.

Their hands did not leave their swords as she closed the distance between them.

“What did you call us here for?” one of the men asked gruffly as soon as he could see her clearly. He looked her over and then scanned the darkness behind her.

Their belief that arrows were trained on them kept her safer, so she let him look. “I have news that might interest you,” she said coolly.

The man snorted and spat. “The last time you brought us news, it led to the death of ten of my best men,” he retorted angrily. “I don’t think I like your kind of news.”

Manadhien shrugged. “Well, if those were your best men, perhaps you are correct that I should not waste my time with you. There are others who would be happy to profit from my information.”

He growled. “Your deal is with us. Tell me what you brought me here for,” he said, grabbing her arm roughly.

Faster than his eyes could follow, a knife flew from its hiding place and was pressed against his throat. Blood trickled, mixing with the sweat and grime in his beard. “Release me or you will not live long enough to regret the foolishness of your actions,” she said coldly.

Eyes narrowing angrily, he released his grip on her arm and stepped back from her blade

“Thranduil has word of your plans—all of them,” she said swiftly. She could fight three men easily but, like them, she did not know if there were reinforcements hiding and watching them. She needed to catch their interest.

The man looked at her scornfully but she did not fail to notice his muscles tense. “What of it? He don’t involve himself in the affairs of the Northmen or of Gondor. He is no threat to us.”

She shook her head. “Perhaps, but he is sending half the warriors from the north and the stronghold here. He is massing them on the eastern border of the forest.”

“That don’t affect me as long as they stay in the forest. And they will.”

Manadhien scowled. “It certainly affects you,” she said, struggling to conceal her ire. Men were stupid. “If they are here that means they are not near the stronghold. The information I have says the capital will be poorly defended—guarded by a few, inexperienced warriors.”

The man’s eyes widened and he laughed. “Surely you ain’t suggesting that we attack that stronghold? It’s a week’s march from here through the Northmen’s territory or through the forest. And it’s a stronghold. It would take more men than I have in my army to siege it if I could get to it. And once we do siege it, all his army in the east will return to defend it. It’s pointless and my army is committed to attacks I can win elsewhere anyway.”

Manadhien took a deep breath and spoke patiently. “No, I am not suggesting you attack the stronghold. I am suggesting that you can approach it more easily with a small group of assassins. I can give you details of how the patrols around it are ordered. When they are where and how many they are. And I can tell you when the king and his family is normally outside the stronghold.”

The man frowned. “You promised us easy spoils the last time and all I got was ten dead men. I ain’t wasting more men on another futile attempt. Besides, I get very little from killing your king.”

“You stand more to gain for killing the Lord of Dale I believe and I happen to know the details of his plans to travel to Mirkwood to see Thranduil,” she said, looking at him intently in the faint light of the stars. “Would that information be worth something to you?”

A smile reached her eyes as she saw the men glance at each other eagerly.

*~*~*

Fengel, Lord of Dale, stepped into the Great Hall flanked by two of his guards and the elven escort that had met his traveling party at the edge of the forest. As the guards at the door announced him, he could not resist openly admiring the grandeur before him. Not many Men had seen the inside of the Elvenking’s halls, himself included before now.

There were no gold or silver gilded decorations; no jewel encrusted bobbles; no marble or granite or crystal carefully crafted to lend a sense of power as Fengel had seen in the palaces in Gondor. The Elvenking’s Hall, like the forest that surrounded it, had a natural magnificence.

Fengel’s eyes followed the stone pillars, carved like tree trucks, to where their boughs formed the arches in the high ceiling. He glanced quickly at the walls and fixtures-- carved, painted and polished over two millennia of Elven occupancy. Finally he turned to look at the Elvenking’ himself. Crowned by flowers and holding a carved oak staff, he needed no artificial trappings of power. The strength of the forest and the mountain that sheltered them seemed to focus on him and emanate from him as he stood before his throne to greet his guest.

“Welcome to Greenwood, lord Fengel. I greatly appreciate your willingness to meet with me,” the king’s deep voice declared.

Fengel bowed slightly at the waist. “Your message was not one I could dismiss, lord Thranduil,” he replied, straightening and taking the hand that his host offered him in greeting.

Thranduil simply nodded grimly while turning slightly to draw Lindomiel forward with a hand at the small of her back. “You know the queen, of course,” he said.

Fengel smiled genuinely upon seeing her, grateful for the presence of someone he knew relatively well in this otherwise very foreign environment. “It is truly a pleasure to see you again, my lady,” he said, bowing over the hand she offered him and kissing it lightly.

Thranduil gestured toward a table where three other elves stood and led Fengel towards it. “You also remember lord Hallion,” he said as the steward bowed to him.

Fengel returned the courtesy and glanced curiously at the other two elves that Thranduil notably did not introduce. They all seated themselves at the table. Those elves looked more like the woodelves Fengel remembered occasionally meeting as a child when he lived in the old capital close to the forest. They had darker hair than the Elvenking’s family and grey eyes. But Fengel had never heard of elves cutting their hair short—shoulder length—in the manner of men, as these two apparently had. Nor had he ever seen elves with such dark skin. He wondered where under the boughs of the dense forest they had found enough exposure to the sun to have acquired the look of the men that lived on the plains. As surreptitiously as he could, Fengel studied them.

“I understand that you were already planning to travel to meet with lord Forthwini in the west,” Thranduil said, drawing Fengel’s attention, as Hallion laid out several maps. “So I hope my invitation was not too much of an inconvenience to you.”

Fengel glanced at the maps and frowned. They were of the east and south. “Of course not, but you are correct. My steward should have already informed you that I wish to travel through the forest. Indeed, when I leave here, with your permission, I will continue on the Path to the Forest Gate and proceed down the Anduin to visit him. And I would prefer to return by the same route.”

Thranduil nodded. “I would prefer the same. I do not wish to be responsible for your safety if you travel across the Forest Road.” He paused and looked intently at his peer, obviously turning to the business at hand. “Lord Fengel, I have come into some information that friendship dictates I share with you. I believe this information should be delivered swiftly to the King of Gondor and to lord Forthwini as well, so it is fortunate that you intend to travel to see him. I trust you will know best how to approach King Ondoher, for I have never exchanged messages with him.”

Fengel’s eyes widened slightly and he looked at Thranduil with raised eyebrows. The message he had received indicated the Elvenking had information regarding the security of both their realms, so he expected a serious discussion, but any news that apparently threatened even Gondor was alarming indeed.

“You are perfectly aware, having convicted conspirators in your own realm, that the Wainriders are an increasing threat,” Thranduil continued and paused, waiting for a response.

Fengel frowned and nodded. “Indeed they are. My people never recovered from their losses after the Battle of the Plain and I have seen much evidence that leads me to believe the Easterlings intend to press their advantage again.”

“I concur,” Thranduil said firmly. “I do not make a habit of discussing the internal affairs of this realm with foreign powers but today I intend to make an exception to that rule because in order to share with you the information I have, I will be forced to confess something that I do not think you will trust or understand unless you understand my motives for doing it.”

Fengel’s eyebrows climbed higher.

Thranduil looked at him directly. “The Easterlings have made numerous incursions into the forest over the last years. The raid lord Dolgailon informed you of several years ago was not the only one we have suffered. And of course you are aware of the accusations that my people have willingly interacted with the Easterlings. I do not take such news any more lightly that you apparently do.” He paused for emphasis. “But the incident that I could not ignore happened when my queen last traveled to Dale to speak to you about tolls.”

Fengel’s eyes darted over to Lindomiel.

“Her traveling party was followed from your city by Easterlings,” Thranduil continued and Fengel’s jaw dropped. “They were killed when we confronted them, but we found evidence that they intended to take hostages.”

Fengel’s eyes widened and then swiftly narrowed as his hands formed tight fists. “They would never have escaped across my lands with any hostages, much less the one you imply they intended to take,” he said coldly. Then he turned to Lindomiel and as quickly as anger had burned in his eyes, they filled with concern as he addressed her. “I begged you, my lady, to allow my guards to accompany yours as far as the forest. I am afraid that in the future I will insist they do.”

Lindomiel smiled at him but it was Thranduil that responded. “Clearly you understand why I was very upset by this news,” he said. “The Easterlings are a threat to all of Rhovanion and I wanted to know precisely what threat they represent. Although we did not suffer nearly as badly as your people did after the Battle of the Plain, I have no intention of allowing the Easterlings to surprise me thusly again.”

Fengel’s eyes flitted over to the two strange elves again, beginning to understand what they were. “My steward told me you had spies and I did not believe him,” Fengel said softly, turning his eyes back to Thranduil and looking at him steadily.

Thranduil returned his gaze. “Can you fault me for wishing to learn more about my enemy? Have you not sent men east to do the same?” he asked evenly.

Fengel frowned. “They did not return,” he replied shortly. “What did you learn?”

Thranduil leaned back in his chair. “I learned a great deal,” he said, nodding to the two elves.

“We spent some time in the lands of the Wainriders,” one of them began. “They are massing here,” he said pointing on the map to a location south of the Sea of Rhûn, “with a host of at least two thousand. In addition to the chariots they normally use, they have the means to attack with a large cavalry. We heard varying versions of their plans and we were obliged to leave before we could determine if they have settled on a specific battle plan. But we can speak with certainty about targets. Their main force intends to strike against Gondor within a year.”

Fengel’s mouth formed a hard line. “We suspected an attack. Forthwini has communicated to me that he now suffers nearly constant raids from up the Anduin or even across the Narrows. We knew their strength was growing.”

The elf fixed Fengel with a hard look. “There is more, lord Fengel. They have new alliances. We saw men from Harad with them and we saw some of them traveling south. They intend to attack simultaneously from the east and south, bringing war to Gondor on two fronts.”

Fengel’s scowl deepened. “And that confirms rumors I have heard from the court in Gondor,” he said coldly.

Thranduil nodded. “I hope this information aids the men in Gondor. I sympathize with their plight and I wanted to share what I had learned with them in case they were not already aware of their enemy’s plans. But I did not send elves to the Easterling’s territories to find information about Gondor.”

With that, the other elf took up the narrative. “The main force of the Wainriders seems to come from the east and is focused on Gondor, as we said. But they have allies amongst the Easterlings that have settled in your lands and enslaved or murdered your people. Those Easterlings are encouraging their fellows from the east to help them fortify and expand their holdings here in Rhovanion. Their eye is again turned towards your people and this forest.”

He paused as Fengel’s jaw clenched.

“From what we saw, they find few allies amongst their own kind. Those from the east seem to be obeying a greater authority to attack Gondor and will not be moved from their task,” the elf continued. Then he looked at Fengel cautiously. “We believe the Easterlings from Rhovanion have sought allies amongst the Northmen and amongst elves of this forest to accomplish by treachery what they cannot accomplish by force. We know they have offered weapons and aid against the spiders and orcs to lure our people. They are promising wealth and positions of power in exchange for the loyalty of your men.”

Hallion pushed a piece of parchment with a list of names across the table to Fengel. “We gathered names of the elves that the Easterlings have tried to deceive so that we can prevent them from becoming pawns of the Shadow. While working to obtain that information, we also witnessed the Easterlings speaking with your people. Those are the names of the men we heard them speak to and the villages we saw them enter.”

Fengel blinked and then looked at Thranduil, his back stiffening. “So you are saying that your spies in my realm have uncovered a plot against me,” he asked.

Thranduil returned his gaze evenly. “Yes, I am. These elves, working in the lands to the east and south of both our realms uncovered a plot to solidify the Easterling’s control in Rhovanion at the expense of both our peoples.”

Fengel glared angrily at Thranduil for a long moment and Thranduil’s posture stiffened as well.

“I did not send these to elves to your lands to cause you injury, lord Fengel. I acted to protect my people and I will not apologize for that. And now, by sharing what I learned with you, I am attempting to prevent harm from coming to you and your realm. The information is yours to do with what you will.”

Fengel scowled a moment longer and then turned his eyes to the list Hallion had given him. His expression hardened as he scanned the names. “Some of these are people I am already suspicious of,” he said quietly. “And the names of the men we executed three years ago are on this list.” He looked up at Thranduil. “As well as the names of some who I thoroughly trust. How certain are you of these names?”

Thranduil silently looked at the two elves and Fengel shifted his gaze to them as well.

“No man’s name is on that list unless we saw him treat willingly with an Easterling with our own eyes.”

Fengel leaned against the back of his chair with a long sigh. “It seems I will need to set spies on my own people,” he said tiredly, staring at the far wall. Then he focused again on Thranduil. “I cannot say that I am glad to hear this and I am not pleased at all to hear that you sent spies into my realm. But I can say I am thankful to be forewarned and clearly your willingness to share this information speaks to your intent. I will be certain that lords Forthwini and Ondoher are made aware of the threat against Gondor and I will investigate the names on this list thoroughly,” he concluded bitterly. Then he took a deep breath, forcing himself to appear grateful. “I appreciate you sharing this information with me, lord Thranduil,” he concluded sincerely.

Thranduil nodded. “I understand all too well how difficult it is to hear what we have told you but I would not withhold information that affects the safety of my allies,” he replied as everyone relaxed marginally.

Lindomiel leaned forward, smiling at Fengel. “We had hoped that you would be our guest tonight before you continue your journey to visit lord Forthwini,” she said.

Her smile drove the remaining tension from the room. “I would be honored to be a guest in the Woodland Realm, my lady. Indeed I had hoped to speak with lord Dolgailon. I know it was…uncomfortable for him to return to Dale to testify. I wanted to thank him again for doing so.” He turned to Thranduil. “And you for allowing it but now it seems I have even more to thank you for.”

Thranduil returned his smile. “Lord Dolgailon is in the southern part of the forest. He is the captain of the warriors that will meet any military advance the Wainriders intend to launch against us or Forthwini through this forest.”

Fengel nodded, apparently pleased with that. “I am sorry not to be able to see him but I am happy to hear he has returned to his command in the south. We are all safer with him there and I remember discussing with him that he preferred to serve there.” He laughed and looked Thranduil sidelong. “I know it is absurd since I had the impression that lord Dolgailon is several hundred years older than I can hope to live, but he reminds me so much of myself when I was younger…before my father died. I enjoyed meeting your nephew, lord Thranduil. He is a fine person. I hope my son turns out as well.”

Lindomiel looked at Fengel with bright eyes. “Have you and your wife finally been blessed with a child, lord Fengel?”

Fengel’s polite smile broadened to a genuinely delighted one. “A son last year and a daughter just a few months ago,” he said excitedly.

Lindomiel’s eyes widened. “Two children in two years?” she asked incredulously. She could not imagine enduring another pregnancy yet.

He simply nodded happily. “And you, my lady? You seemed very interested in children when we last spoke.”

Lindomiel grinned at him as Thranduil raised his eyebrows. “I am very happy to tell you that the king and I had a son two years past.”

Fengel leaned forward eagerly, smiling at Lindomiel and then he looked to Thranduil. “Oh I hope you will allow me to meet him. I have never met an elf child and I would so like to meet your son.”

Thranduil glanced at Lindomiel and then smirked. “He has never seen a Man,” he replied softly. “I will have someone show you to your rooms so that you may relax a bit before dinner. We will dine on the lawn tonight in your honor. Legolas enjoys the singing so I will let him join us for a short time.” He laughed quietly and looked at Fengel with mischievous glint in his eyes that seemed so out of character it made the Lord of Dale blink. “I remember the first time I saw a Man. I imagine this will be an interesting meeting.”

Fengel only smiled at that explanation for the Elvenking’s apparent mirth but Lindomiel raised one eyebrow and made a mental note to ask her husband the details of that story.

*~*~*

Dolgailon knocked quietly on the open door of the small cottage and waited for its occupant to turn and see him. When the elf faced him his eyes widened and Dolgailon saw a flash of fear in them before astonishment overwhelmed it.

“My lord! Come in. When did you return south? How do you fair?” he asked gesturing for Dolgailon to enter and take a seat.

Dolgailon stepped into the cottage and surprised his host by embracing him. “I am well, Tulus. And I hope you are as well,” he replied, studying the elf as he released him. Tulus seemed relieved by this greeting. Dolgailon sat in the chair. “Since I have been sent south, and specifically instructed to pay this village a visit, I thought I would call on old friends while I was here.”

Tulus looked hard at Dolgailon a moment. “Can I offer you some tea? I do not have any wine, I am afraid,” he asked, pulling a plate from the cupboard and piling some sweetbreads on it. He put the plate on the table next to Dolgailon. “Those are your favorites. The ones with honey,” he said with a smile.

Dolgailon picked up a piece of bread and smiled in return. “No tea, thank you. I cannot stay for long. But I wanted to speak to you.”

Tulus raised his eyebrows. “About my son, I hope. I would like to hear how he is doing in the capital. May I sit?” he asked.

Dolgailon nodded. “Of course. I am not the king. You do not need my permission to sit in your own home.” He looked at his host narrowly. “I always wondered where you learned the court manner you never failed to bestow upon me, Tulus. You always seemed more at ease than most villagers do in my presence. And I always thought it odd that a simple village guard was so skilled with his weapons.”

Tulus’s smile faded and he studied Dolgailon. “May I ask what the purpose of this visit is, my lord?” he asked quietly.

Dolgailon nodded. “You may. And I will tell you plainly. I have been sent south to command the warriors the king has sent to face the Easterling threat. Moreover, I have been charged with determining if anyone else in the villages here had dealings with Easterlings. Since the leader of this village confessed to trading with the enemy for weapons, the king is very concerned that more elves in your village may be involved with them as well. The troop commander thinks you are a likely suspect. I was supposed to keep an eye on you to try to determine if you are a traitor, Tulus, but I find I cannot do that.” Dolgailon looked at Tulus intensely. “Please tell me that my adar is wrong, mellon nin, and that you are not involved with the Easterlings.”

Tulus looked down. “I have never spoken to an Easterling, my lord,” he said honestly. He had not. “I had hoped the troop commander’s willingness to finally promote my son might indicate that he was willing to look beyond my past misdeeds. Apparently I was wrong.”

Dolgailon studied Tulus for a moment. “Why did you never tell me that you were once a member of the king’s guard?” he asked.

Tulus closed his eyes at the hurt in Dolgailon’s voice. “I assume lord Thranduil told you that I did not simply ask to be relieved of my duty. I am not proud to have been dismissed. It is not something I discuss lightly while sipping wine with my son and his young friends.” Tulus paused and then looked back at Dolgailon pleadingly. “Please do not hold my actions against my son. I want him in the capital, away from the Shadow in the south. And this promotion convinced him to go there when no amount of pleading from me did.”

Dolgailon shook his head. “Perhaps you are not aware of it, but I have been recommending that the troop commander promote Glílavan for years. I never understood his hesitance to do so. I ask you again, why did you not tell me?”

Tulus frowned and looked down again. “Because I am ashamed. Would you not be ashamed to be dismissed from the king’s service?”

Dolgailon leaned forward drawing Tulus’s gaze. “I trust Glílavan, Tulus, and I trust you. Glílavan has been my friend since I first became a warrior. He took care of me when I was young and reckless. And I spent many a leave here in your home. Please convince me that my trust has not been misplaced.”

“I would never hurt you, my lord,” Tulus replied in a soft voice. “I did not intend to hurt the king. I have been a fool for a good many yeni and there are many things that I wish I could undo. If not telling you about my past has caused me to lose your trust, then I can only add that failure to a list of many. But please do not judge my son. Let him have a chance to do better than I. Keep him in the capital.”

Dolgailon studied Tulus and the former guard held his gaze. Dolgailon saw sincere regret and desperation in his friend’s eyes. He nodded and leaned back in his chair. “You should move to the capital as well, Tulus. It would remove you from suspicion, it is safer there and I am sure Glílavan would like the opportunity to spend time with his adar. I know I have enjoyed the last few years with mine.”

Tulus sighed. “I have found my place here, pen neth,” he said quietly, slipping into the more informal relationship he shared with his son’s friend. “But I understand you have a new brother and several cousins. Not to mention a new wife. I always wanted more children and I miss my wife more than I can tell you. My deepest regret is not taking our son and going with her to Aman. We thought he should know the forest but we did not anticipate the Shadow that would spread here.” He sighed and then pasted a weak smile on his face. “Tell me about your new family, Dolgailon. It would warm my heart to hear about them.”

*~*~*

Legolas and his cousins followed their nanny onto the green excitedly. Celebrations on the lawn were always fun. By the time the children arrived, the tables had already been cleared and the dancing was in full swing. Eating in the family dining room alone with their nanny and Arthiel had confused the children somewhat since they had always eaten on the lawn with their parents for every other festival they remembered. But their disappointment was forgotten the moment they passed through the Gates and stepped into the magical world that was elven merrymaking.

“Seidreth, what festival is this? It is not Fall yet. The trees are still green. And we already had the Summer Festival,” Legolas asked as he skipped to keep up with his nanny.

Seidreth smiled. “There are many reasons to have a festival, Legolas. We had one when you and each of your cousins were born…”

“Who had a baby, Seidreth?” he asked with wide, delighted eyes.

Seidreth shook her head. “No one had a baby. That was just an example. We also have festivals if something important is happening such as when your cousin married Arthiel…”

Legolas glanced over at Arthiel who was helping Seidreth herd the four elflings onto the green. “Who is getting married?” he asked.

Seidreth frowned reprovingly at Legolas. “Do not interrupt, Legolas. No one is getting married. That was another example.”

Legolas frowned back at Seidreth. “Well, stop giving examples. I asked what this festival was for,” he said firmly.

Seidreth reproving expression intensified. “Be respectful, Legolas. Do you want the barest answer or would you like to learn something from your question? Are you not curious what other sorts of festivals there are?”

Legolas glared at his nanny, crossing his arms across his chest. “Yes, I am. But I am most curious about this one.”

Seidreth’s mouth turned down on one side as the other three elflings nodded in agreement.

Arthiel laughed. “Sometimes the king will have a feast on the green to celebrate the arrival of someone important,” she explained as Seidreth scowled. “When Dolgailon returns from the south, I imagine there will be a festival. There was the last time he came back to the stronghold.”

Legolas looked at Arthiel with wide eyes. “Is someone important here, Arthiel?” he asked.

She nodded. “Yes, a visitor,” she answered mysteriously as she guided Legolas to where the family sat together on the green.

Seeing their parents, the four elflings broke away from Seidreth and Arthiel to run to them. The adults barely suppressed their laughter as the elfings’ charge stumbled to a halt when they saw Fengel seated next to Thranduil. The Lord of Dale smiled delightedly at the children as they slowly walked over to their parents while staring at the stranger who sat amongst them. He seemed friendly enough, smiling at them, but he was unlike anyone they had ever seen before.

As Legolas reached his father, his eyes widened even further as realization dawned. “He is a man,” he whispered, looking from Fengel to his father. The other children blinked and stared even harder at the king’s guest.

Thranduil smiled, picking Legolas up to settle him on his lap. “Yes, he is, Legolas. But it is not polite to stare. Especially at guests of honor at a feast.”

Legolas looked away from Fengel for a moment at that quiet admonition but promptly looked back to find the man smiling even more broadly at him.

“Have you forgotten how to greet someone, Legolas?” Thranduil prompted gently.

Legolas glanced at his father and then sat up straighter. He turned back to Fengel with a more respectful expression. “Mae govannen,” he said with a little smile, curiosity still burning in his eyes.

“Mae govannen, Legolas” Fengel replied with the same broad smile.

Legolas looked back at his father. “Man eneth dîn, ada?” he asked softly.

Thranduil looked over at Fengel, who was now chuckling with amusement. “Pedo ten, Legolas.”

Legolas frowned slightly but looked over to Fengel. “Man eneth lín?” he asked, repeating the question he had asked his father, “a mas dorthach?”

Fengel glanced at Thranduil, looking at him wryly, before answering Legolas. “Fengel i eneth nín a dorthon vi Dale,” he said haltingly. “I think that answered the child’s questions and it was probably understandable but we have now exhausted my Elvish I am sorry to say.”

Thranduil laughed. “You did very well, lord Fengel. Far better than Legolas or any of the other children are going to do. I fear they do not know a single word of Westron.”

As if to underscore that statement, all the elflings gaped at Thranduil, plainly shocked to hear him speak the strange language that they could not understand.

Fengel smirked. “But they have the excuse of being not even three-years-old. I am well older than that. I remember a few other words from my childhood when the elves would come to trade in the old capital.” He grinned. “And I imagine Legolas would like those words. I think they mean cake and toy—the trade items that were important to me at the time.”

Thranduil continued to laugh. “Let us not repeat those words or we will have a riot on our hands when neither item is produced,” he began before an insistent tug on his robe drew his attention back to Legolas.

“What are you saying, ada? And…” Legolas frowned, “what are you saying it with?”

Thranduil caressed Legolas’s cheek and smiled at the other elflings that were still staring at him, ignoring the other adults’ stifled laughter. “I am speaking Westron with lord Fengel. He does not speak Elvish and I do not speak his language but we both speak Westron. Most people do so they can all communicate no matter where they are from.”

Legolas and his cousins looked at Thranduil, amazed by that idea.

“But he just told me his name and where he is from,” Legolas said, sounding a little confused.

“That was all of our language he knows…” Thranduil began before Legolas’s eyes lit.

“Ada, I want to learn Westron. Why does Fengel not learn Elvish?”

Thranduil put a finger over Legolas’s mouth to interrupt the flood of questions and demands that was certain to follow. “You will learn Westron, Legolas. When you are older, you will learn many things in your lessons and Westron will definitely be one of them. And lord Fengel probably does not have time to learn Elvish…”

Legolas’s eyebrows went up. “Lord Fengel?” he repeated. “Is he the Lord of Dale?” Thranduil nodded. “Why does he not have time to learn Elvish. It is not hard to learn. I learned it and I am only two…”

Thranduil could not help but laugh at that. “Lord Fengel learned his own language very quickly too since that is the only language his parents spoke to him. Learning a second language takes a little more time…”

“Will I go to Dale to learn Westron?”

Thranduil shook his head. “No, you will not…”

“But if I could learn it faster there because I would hear it all the time…”

“Enough, Legolas. It is rude to speak a language others do not understand. Lord Fengel hears us saying his name and the name of his city and he wonders what we are saying about him.”

Legolas looked at Fengel with concern. “But I cannot speak Westron,” he said with a slight whine.

Fengel by this time had raised his eyebrows, making Legolas worry that he was indeed insulted. Lindomiel intervened.

“The king is trying to explain to our son that you speak a different language in Dale and Legolas wants to learn it. Immediately,” she said, looking at her son with an amused smile when he audibly gasped.

“Nana speaks Westron too?” Legolas exclaimed.

Thranduil nodded. “Your naneth was raised to live in court. Most people raised for that sort of life learn Westron,” he answered. Then he looked back at Fengel. “I am sorry, lord Fengel. But he is fascinated by the new language. He will grow bored with it soon enough and go off to dance or play games with his cousins.”

“I am not certain, my lord,” said Dieneryn. She was also smiling at her grandson as he intently listened to the adults speak. “Perhaps this will be one way in which your son takes after his mother instead of you. You were terrible with languages. It took threats of sending you to live in a Mannish town to coerce you to study. Legolas is volunteering to go to Dale.”

Thranduil cast his mother a warning look but Fengel smiled enthusiastically. “When he is old enough to travel, he will be welcome to study languages in Dale. And I can teach him and his cousins a little Westron and my language tonight,” Fengel offered, smiling at the children. “We can make a game of it. They are truly delightful.”

Recognizing Fengel’s tone of voice—realizing they had just been made an offer—the elflings looked questioningly at their parents.

“What did he just say, nana?” Legolas asked quietly, turning to the parent most likely to indulge his question.

Lindomiel answered Fengel instead of her son. “I warn you, lord Fengel. You will never escape them once you submit yourself to their mercy.”

Fengel shook his head and laughed. “I will teach them a children’s song with animal names and what the animals do. It is simple enough and I can draw the animals and act out the swimming and running and flying to teach them what the words mean.”

Thranduil snorted. “They will like that. I daresay the entire populace will enjoy seeing the Lord of Dale pretend to fly like a bird.”

Fengel raised an eyebrow teasingly at his peer. “Once they have learned the song, I imagine they will want to sing it with their parents,” he threatened playfully.

Understanding the adults’ mood, if not their words, the children looked excitedly at their parents as Fengel asked his aid to bring him a pen, ink and paper.

Separate from the festivities on the lawn, two elves sat quietly, side by side under a tree watching the king, his family and his guests with quiet fury.

“The southern villages suffer for supplies in the winter while the king has a feast for the Lord of Dale,” Dolwon whispered bitterly.

Dannenion nodded. “He accuses us of nothing short of treason and will not permit us to leave the capital because we traded for a few weapons to defend our village, but when he invites them into the forest it is cause for celebration. He wastes valuable resources guarding our village to make sure no one speaks to men while his son is singing with them,” he replied resentfully.

“It is disgraceful,” Dolwon growled. “But it will not be so for much longer.”

Dannenion nodded. “Being in the capital has its benefits,” he said calmly.

*~*~*

Thranduil sat on his throne in the Great Hall listening to a village leader from the western forest. He was arguing that his people deserved a better return for the flax they harvest from where it grows naturally in the grasslands on the edge of the forest. The Men that lived in the plains harvested the flax as well, but the elves had greater skill processing it into fine cloth. Thranduil traded that cloth to the Men in Dale and Esgaroth for wool. It was an important petition but the king was having trouble focusing on it. Something nagged at the back of his mind.

“With more of my people joining the patrols, my lord, we do not have time to gather and process the flax as well as prepare properly for winter. Either you must help us by providing a larger share of supplies or we will not be able to continue sending the same amount of cloth,” he said.

“That is likely not an exaggeration, my lord,” Hallion whispered quietly in Thranduil’s ear. “At least five elves in the training program come from Nandoril’s village.”

Thranduil frowned and motioned for Golwon. “Can we give him what he is asking for without depriving any of the other villages?” he asked softly as his advisor stepped forward. The cloth was a valuable trading commodity that he was hesitant to do without.

Golwon nodded. “This year, my lord, but only because this has been a particularly bountiful year. I cannot guarantee we will be able to continue giving them so much in future years.”

Thranduil sigh and turned back to the elf. He was about to order Golwon to provide the village with the supplies they requested when the doors to the Great Hall burst open and Aradunnon strode into the room.

“I must speak to you immediately, my lord. It is of utmost importance,” he said, coming to stand next to Nandoril. The village leader stared at him with wide eyes.

Thranduil motioned for the guards at the back of the room. “Lord Golwon will see to the provisions you have requested and speak to you further about this matter,” he said calmly.

With a glance between Thranduil and Aradunnon, Golwon and one of the guards escorted Nandoril from the Hall.

Aradunnon walked directly to Thranduil as the other guard closed the doors of the Hall. “I have just received word from the Path Guard that lord Fengel’s traveling party was attacked by Men,” he said with no preamble.

Thranduil’s eyes widened. “Where? He only left the stronghold this morning. He could not be more than four leagues from here by now.”

“He was not. He was attacked on the Path about an hour ago. My information is still very rough but I understand that lord Fengel survived the attack.”

Hallion stepped forward, looking at Aradunnon and Thranduil nervously. “Forgive the interruption, my lord, but has Conuiön received news of this attack?”

Aradunnon frowned. “I have sent messengers to inform the rest of the officers in the Path Guard and the Palace Guard. I have not informed Conuiön yet.”

Thranduil turned towards his steward, suddenly unable to breath. “Why do you ask that, Hallion?”

“Do Lindomiel and Amoneth not take the children riding westward along the Path in the mornings, my lord?”

Thranduil stared at his steward for a moment and then began to walk swiftly towards the doors of the Hall. “Bring my sword and bow, Hallion. To the stable. Tell Conuiön and Tureden to meet me there,” he ordered without slowing his gate.

AN: Tulus, Glilivan's father, was dismissed as a member of Thranduil's Guard in Interrupted Journeys: New Journeys (the first story). He was dismissed for an incident involving Lindomiel.


*~*~*

Elleth –Female elf

Ion nin—My son

Adar/ada—Father/dad

Naneth/nana—Mother/mum

Mellon nin—My friend

Yen/yeni—An Elven measurement of time—144 years (singular and plural)

Mae govannen—Well met.

Man eneth dîn, ada?—What is his name, dad?

Pedo ten—Speak to him.

Man eneth lín?—What is your name.

A mas dorthach?—And where are you from?

Fengel i eneth nín a dorthon vi Dale.—My name is Fengel and I am from Dale.


Chapter 12 - Loss

“Daernana will like these, nana,” Legolas exclaimed, dashing down the hill into a small clearing in the trees. He fell to his knees on the ground and excitedly waved his mother to his side.

Lindomiel glanced at Amoneth, grinning, and walked into the bright sun where Legolas was stroking the tiny yellow clusters of blooms of a plant growing in the soft grass. When she saw it, Lindomiel’s eyes widened and she called to Amoneth and Galithil.

“Do you know what that plant is, Legolas?” she asked, kneeling next to him.

He looked up at her, shaking his head. “But it is pretty,” he said with a smile. “I bet these flowers make a pretty yellow dye.”

Lindomiel smiled back at Legolas. Every morning she and Amoneth took their sons with them into the forest where the children could play while their mothers accomplished whatever task their daily duties required of them. Today they were helping to gather plants that the artisans in the palace would use to dye the fabrics soon due from the western villages. Lindomiel and Dieneryn also used the dyes in their weaving. They had enjoyed a long ride to a relatively unpopulated area of the forest that had a wide variety of plants growing in a wide gully. That gully also had numerous small caves that the children liked to play in and that was why Lindomiel and Amoneth had decided to look for plants there.

“Oh Lindomiel!” Amoneth exclaimed as she joined her friend.

Lindomiel nodded with a wide grin. Then she turned back to her son. “Legolas, if you do not know what a plant is, then you should not touch it. What if that plant were poisonous?” She laughed quietly as Legolas hastily pulled his hands back and looked at her with wide eyes.

“Is it, nana?” he asked with a quietly nervous little voice. Earlier in the summer he had discovered the perils of particular varieties of sumac and it was an experience no one in the family wished to repeat, least of all Legolas.

“No, Legolas. This plant is not poisonous and you were correct that daernana will be absolutely thrilled that we found it. But since you cannot call it by name, you should not touch it,” she said gently.

Legolas scowled at his mother. “You scared me, nana,” he said reproachfully.

Lindomiel laughed and ruffled his hair. “Well, you scared me first. I could not see what plant you were playing with and I do not want you as miserable as you were after the sumac. But this plant, Legolas, is very valuable. This is woad. In the plains just a little further south, where it is sunny and the winters are milder, it is a terrible weed. It chokes out the grasses. But it almost never grows in the forest or this far north.”

She took her knife and dug around the base of the plant, removing it carefully from the ground. Then she took a cloth, spilled a little water on it from the skin she carried so the children had something to drink after they played, and wrapped the damp cloth around the little root ball she had extracted.

“We want to make sure this plant lives so we can plant it in the garden. One plant will not make enough dye, but the flowers from this one will give us enough seeds for dozens of plants next year.” She handed the woad to Legolas, placing his hands so they held the cloth around its roots. “Can you take care of this plant for me, Legolas?”

He nodded, the pride of being entrusted with the valuable plant driving away his anger at the scare his mother had given him. “Why is this plant so special, nana? Lots of plants make yellow dye.”

Amoneth and Lindomiel laughed shortly. “Yes they do, Legolas,” Amoneth said. “But woad makes a deep blue dye. There is only one other plant that makes such rich blue dye and it grows far, far to the south. It is extremely rare and expensive. We can make blues from elderberries, whortleberries, chicory leaves or blue bottle flowers, but the berries are more valuable as foods and the colors are not nearly as nice. Chicory is also more valuable as a food or medicine, especially since it does not grow well in the forest. And blue bottle cannot be made colorfast. But woad is a deep blue, colorfast dye. Your daernana has not had any nice blue dye for many years, so she will be very pleased with you for finding this stray plant.”

Legolas beamed at that.

As they spoke, Lindomiel was aware of the guards with them studying the woods on the northern rise of the little clearing. She stood, wiping her knife against the skirt of her gown to clean the dirt from it and looking in the same direction. The forest around them, she suddenly noticed, was very quiet.

“We need to leave, my lady,” Himion said softly. “Back to the horses. Now.”

Lindomiel’s heart began to race but she nodded silently, leaning over slightly to guide Legolas southward towards the Path. To her left, Amoneth picked up Galithil to climb more quickly from the gully. The guards followed them, still half turned to look behind them as they hurried their charges forward.

Lindomiel was reaching to pick Legolas up as well when she felt him start in reaction to a strange sound that she quickly recognized was the twang of a bowstring. Legolas looked over his shoulder towards the noise as Lindomiel involuntarily loosed a little shriek hearing the arrows hit their targets. Before she could react, the weight of her guard slammed into her, knocking her to the ground. She felt a sharp pain in her back and the world around her became a blur of motion.

Lindomiel raised her head to see Legolas staring wide-eyed and mouth agape at her and the guard on top of her.

Amoneth put Galithil on his feet on the ground next to Legolas.

“Run children. Run as fast as you can to the Path. Now,” she said urgently.

As Amoneth spoke, Lindomiel felt the weight of the guard roll off her, accompanied by a tearing pain, and she heard the sound of screaming voices and charging feet explode behind her. Amoneth pulled her up with one hand as she drew the sword from the scabbard of the fallen guard with the other. An arrow was in his back and its point protruded from his chest. Lindomiel felt something sticky running down her side. She ran her hand over it and realized it was blood.

The clang of swords and a rough grip on her arm tore her eyes from her bloodied hand to the fight erupting around her.

“Nana!” she heard Legolas yell, as one of the men pulled her around to face him. The children were still standing, rooted to the spot in horror as men swarmed into the clearing.

“Run Legolas. Run,” she shouted while instinctively slashing out at the man grasping her arm with the knife she still held in her hand. His grip on her loosened as blood spurted across her dress. Struggling to take in the scene, Lindomiel saw a dozen men before her. The remaining guard, Candirith, stood in front of the ladies, attempting to hold the men back. Amoneth stood at his flank, clumsily wielding the sword she had taken. Clumsily but affectively—a man fell under her blade as Lindomiel watched.

“Which one is the queen?” a voice shouted in Westron.

“Take ‘em both,” another replied. “We’ll figure it out later. And get them children too.”

Lindomiel slashed at another man rushing towards her. He staggered, clutching his face, blinded—the blade had fallen across his eye. Lindomiel turned.

“Run to those little caves and hide in one. Right now!” she yelled.

She felt an arm grab her around the waist, hard leather pressing into her back as she was pulled against a reeking body. Legolas stared into his mother’s eyes, horror and terror in his own, as Lindomiel stabbed down, burying her knife in the man’s thigh. The man swore, tightening his grip on her and groping with his free hand for the knife. As she struggled to free herself, another man moved past her, reaching for the children. Galithil screamed and shrank back against his cousin as the man’s hand descended towards them. Lindomiel tore the knife from her captor’s leg and threw it. It buried itself in the man’s neck and he fell at the children’s feet.

“Run!” Lindomiel screamed again.

Legolas and Galithil turned and ran.

*~*~*

Thranduil and Aradunnon were already mounted on their horses when Conuiön, Tureden and Hallion ran into the stable yard. They reached wordlessly for the weapons that Hallion carried and strapped them on as the guards mounted their horses.

“I called for Colloth, Galuauth and Pendurion as well, my lord. They should be here shortly,” Conuiön said.

Thranduil did not spare him a glance. “They will catch up to us,” he said, urging his horse forward, towards the gate in the yard. Reacting to the anxiety of his rider, Thranduil’s war stallion snorted eagerly and lurched forward.

Conuiön quickly nudged his horse and it stepped forward blocking the king from leaving the yard. “We are waiting, my lord,” he said firmly. “Four of us will be little help if there are more Men in the forest.”

Thranduil glared at his guard. “How many accompanied my wife and son this morning, Conuiön?”

Conuiön’s mouth formed a hard line. “Two,” he admitted.

“Also very little aid if men attacked her as they did lord Fengel,” he replied coldly. “Now stand out of my way.”

“I already sent messengers to the patrols with all the information I had about the attack on lord Fengel and the queen’s location. They are already looking for her. We need to wait for the rest of the guards and discuss how we can narrow this search down, my lord,” Conuiön said without moving.

Thranduil drew a deep breath and glared at his guard silently. He could not argue that.

Conuiön sighed quietly and nodded. “The guards escorting her this morning only reported to me that they were accompanying the queen, lady Amoneth and the children west along the Path. Does anyone have any more specific information?”

Thranduil shook his head. “She told me this morning that she intended to look for plants for dyes,” he said and looked over at his brother. “Do you know where they go for such things?”

Aradunnon shook his head. “Nana would know,” he replied. Then his already grim expression clouded further. “Assuming she did not go with them,” he added.

Thranduil closed his eyes.

“She did not,” Conuiön intervened. “Lady Dieneryn is in the laundry this morning—if they are looking for plants, she must be overseeing the preparation of the mordents.” Conuiön turned to Hallion and looked at him expectantly.

The steward nodded. “I will ask her where Lindomiel and Amoneth might have gone,” he said, turning to run back to the stronghold. At that moment the three guards ran into the yard along with Lindomiel’s father, Amglaur. He was pale and Thranduil saw unconcealed fear in his eyes when he looked up at him.

“Do we know where to look for them?” Colloth asked as the stable hand hurried forward with his horse.

Conuiön shook his head. “Only that they went looking for plants for dyes. Lord Hallion is going to ask lady Dieneryn where they normally do that.”

Galuauth, already mounted, brought his horse up next to Thranduil. “The queen prefers to look in the ravine where the small caves are. The tansies and broomtops that she likes for the green dye both grow there.”

Aradunnon nodded. “That makes sense. The children love to play in the caves.”

Thranduil looked at Galuauth. “If we find no sign of them there, do you know where else they gather plants for dyes?”

The guard nodded. “Yes, my lord. I have escorted both your lady wife and mother many times on this errand. But in the last two years, since the children were born, they went there. The children like the area, as lord Aradunnon indicated.”

“Very well. We will go to the ravine first,” Thranduil said firmly, maneuvering his horse past Conuiön.

*~*~*

Lord Fengel and his small traveling party rode east slowly, returning to the stronghold with injured, but fortunately no dead. Though not injured himself and anxious to deliver his news about the Wainriders to his cousin, Forthwini, Fengel had decided it would not be wise to continue his journey that day. Three of his five traveling companions were wounded. The stress of traveling would not speed their recovery, nor was it safe to travel with so few able bodies to protect them. Besides that, one of the elves that Thranduil had sent to escort them from the forest was amongst the injured. He could not return alone and his fellow warrior had ridden ahead of them at full speed to inform the king of the attack. So Fengel retraced the steps of his earlier merry departure, now considerably more alert for signs of danger.

He tensed when the guard riding at the head of their party held up a hand. He turned and pointed down a little side trail off the Path.

“There are horses in the forest. Riderless. Four of them,” he said quietly, pulling his horse to a full halt and scanning the forest around them narrowly.

Fengel drew his sword and the only other fully able-bodied guard in their party strung his bow.

The injured elven warrior raised his head and squinted into the forest where the guard had pointed. “I see them. I believe those are Elvish horses. Men ride with more tack than that,” he pointed out.

Fengel frowned and urged his horse forward so he was able to look down the trail and see the horses better. “But where are their riders?” he whispered after studying them a moment. He focused on the front guard. “Go look around in that area--see if you can find their riders or catch the horses,” he said.

“Take care,” the elf warned. “There is no immediate danger but something evil passed this way.”

Fengel looked at the warrior sharply. “And how do you conclude that?” he demanded, tightening his grip on the hilt of his sword and holding out his hand to signal his guard to wait.

“The trees. They witnessed something that disturbed them and their song reflects that. It is…mournful,” he replied.

Fengel’s mouth quirked downwards and he sighed. “Go carefully,” he said to the guard, who was staring doubtfully at the Elven warrior.

The guard dismounted and, with furtive glances in each direction off the path, cautiously approached the horses. They snorted nervously at his approach, dancing back as he reached out his hand, but they did not bolt. After talking to them soothingly for several moments, the guard gave up.

“They are not going to run, but they will not let me get too close either. They are stubborn beasts. Loyal to someone,” he laughed appreciatively. “The headstall on two of them is decorated with square studs engraved with a tree. An oak, I think. The other two bear the same markings but the oak is flanked by two arrows, just so,” he said, holding two fingers up in a V shape.

The Elven guard drew a sharp breath. “Then those are not any of the patrol’s horses. The first symbol you described is used by the royal family. The second is used exclusively by their personal guards, not the regular patrols,” he said.

Fengel frowned, gazing concernedly at the horses. “You said ‘there is no immediate danger.’ How certain of that are you?”

The guard was silent for a moment. “Fairly certain,” he finally answered. “The forest creatures are quieter than I would expect but not silent—cautious, not frightened. That is likely in response to your presence.” He looked at Fengel. “If someone will help me down from this horse, I want to see if I can find any signs to explain why the king’s horses are alone in the forest.”

Fengel shook his head. “You are staying right where you are,” he ordered brusquely. “You are in no condition to do anything more than sit there. You,” he said, addressing the guard that had tried to catch the horses, “come with me. We are going to have a look around. We will stay within sight of the path,” he said, drawing a dagger with his left hand. His right still held his sword.

Fengel and the guard walked slowly down the trail towards the loose horses, searching the forest on either side of it. They had drawn near enough to the horses to cause the jittery animals to stomp nervously when Fengel stopped and gestured with his sword towards a spot on the side of the trail.

“Someone has been cutting plants here,” he said softly.

They searched a bit more and found several other patches of plants that had been cut, making a trail that led back into the trees.

“What have you found?” the elf called.

“Someone has been cutting plants here recently,” Fengel replied.

“The queens—both lord Thranduil’s lady wife and mother—come here to gather plants for dyes in the summer,” the elf said. He had long served to guard the Elf Path and knew the activities that happened along it well.

Fengel’s frown deepened. “I do not like this,” he said to no one in particular. Then he turned to the elf. “What will I find if I go back into the forest a bit? There appears to be a clearing a good way back there.”

The elf nodded. “There is. A ravine. Rather large—we use it for training drills for the young warriors to teach them to shoot on hilly terrain. There are a lot of small caves in it. I imagine the earth there collapsed at some point but it is stable now. Leading out to that area, the land is flat and well forested with little undergrowth. It is mostly young beech trees.”

Fengel smiled in response to that last detail, wondering what it would mean to one of the elf’s fellow warriors. “And those beeches do not tell you that anyone strange is nearby?” he asked, a hint of mirth in his voice.

The elf cast him an impassive look. “Only you and your men, my lord,” he replied dryly. Then his expression became serious. “But I definitely think something has happened here. Recently.”

Fengel sighed. “I am going back as far as that low area that you mentioned,” he said. “You listen to the trees and for any signal from your fellow warriors. I do not care to have an arrow planted in my chest for wandering off the Path, but I do not need the trees to tell me something is not right here.” Signaling his guard to follow, Fengel walked cautiously deeper into the forest.

He followed a zigzagging path amongst the trees where he saw plants had been cut. It led as far as the top of the little valley. Fengel and his guard glanced at each other. The grass in the clearing was trampled and the ground scarred by many feet. Fengel could easily read the signs of a battle on the ground below, but the elf had said warriors trained here. Walking into the gully, especially if it had caves in it, was just not smart when he knew dangerous enemies were at large somewhere in the forest.

Then he saw his guard tense. “Look at the far edge of the clearing. Amongst that tall grass there are some stones—the opening of one of those caves. What is that sticking out? It is hidden by the way the grasses have been bent.”

Fengel swallowed. “It is a boot.” He scanned the tree line carefully along the rim of the gully. “We are going down there,” he said, beginning to pick his way quickly down the slope.

They descended into the ravine cautiously and went straight to the boot they had spotted from above. Fengel closed his eyes when they came in full view of it. Two Elven bodies were stuffed into the little cave at unnatural angles. Fengel and the guard each took a foot and pulled, laying the bodies properly on the soft grass. When they were able to see them, it was clear that there was no need to check for signs of life.

“We will go back and get two blankets from our supplies,” Fengel said softly. “If we can catch two of their horses, we can take them back with us. If not, we can at least cover these poor fellows properly until someone can come back for them. I do not think our remaining horses can carry any more weight.”

“Should we look in the other caves for the riders of the other two horses, my lord?” the guard asked, looking hesitantly at Fengel. “These are obviously the guards. Where are their masters?” He paused. “Or, Valar forbid, mistresses, if what the elf said was right and the Elvenking’s womenfolk come looking for plants out here.”

Fengel grimaced but nodded and they began to search the ground for more caves.

They moved around the clearing systematically checking the cave openings silently. They soon found the bodies of five men similarly stuffed into the small caves or behind rocks and covered with grass. As they were approaching the last of the caves on the southern edge of the ravine, Fengel saw his guard jump back from the cave he had leaned down to inspect. Fengel turned swiftly, readying his sword as the guard spun to look at his lord.

“There is something alive in there. It moved,” he said, pointing his sword toward the small opening.

Fengel shook his head. “Be careful. That opening is too small for a person. It must be some animal’s home.”

The guard frowned. “You must be right, my lord,” he said doubtfully, crouching down to look into the cave. He poked his sword at it, embarrassed to have been startled by a forest animal.

That action elicited a little whimper from the cave.

Fengel and the guard exchanged an alarmed look.

“That was no animal,” Fengel said. He leveled his sword at the small hole in the ground and knelt in front of it, squinting into the darkness inside. Two small, frightened faces looked back at him. Fengel dropped his sword. “Valar!” he exclaimed. “There are children in here. It is Legolas and Galithil.”

The guard’s eyes widened. “The Elvenking’s son? And his brother’s son?”

Fengel nodded but he was focused on the elflings. “Come here, children,” he called gently, frowning when they only stared at him with wide eyes. “Come Legolas, Galithil, do you not recognize me? I am Fengel. You know me. Come out of that hole,” he coaxed.

They only huddled together, looking up at him suspiciously.

“Can you reach them, my lord?” the guard asked.

Fengel nodded. “Probably, but they are terrified and I can imagine why. I do not want to make it worse by pulling them unwillingly from their hiding spot. Go ask how I tell them that I will not hurt them and to come out of the cave,” he ordered.

The guard shook his head slowly. “I do not think I should leave you alone, my lord,” he said.

Fengel turned bodily and glared at his guard. “Go ask right now,” he said, keeping his voice cheerful so as to avoid further frightening the children. His expression left no doubt that the guard would regret not complying.

As the other man reluctantly climbed back out of the ravine, Fengel turned back to the elflings. “Come out, children. I will not hurt you. I can take you back home.” Fengel searched in his mind for any words he knew in Elvish that might be soothing. “I can take you to your adar and nana,” he said but his blood ran cold when the children sniffled at the word ‘nana.’ “Do you want to sing a song?” he asked quickly and began to quietly sing the song he had taught them at the feast.

A few moments later, his guard came running back down the embankment. He knelt on the ground next to Fengel. “Come here is ‘tolo sí.’ I cannot remember the ‘I will not hurt you’ part. It is too difficult,” the guard said hastily.

Fengel turned his head and scowled at the guard. “Well, ‘I will not hurt you’ was the important part, was it not? They know I want them to come out,” he said with some irritation. Fengel took a deep breath and reached his hand into the cave. “Tolo sí, Legolas. I promise I only want to help you.” To his great relief, Legolas eyed him a moment longer and then slowly took his hand. Fengel did not move. “Tolo sí,” he repeated in an encouraging voice. Legolas, followed slowly by Galithil, crawled out into the sun and looked at him fearfully.

Fengel’s eyes filled with sadness. The contrast between their current expressions and the ones he remembered as he sang with them on the green was almost overwhelming. He pulled them against his chest, one in each arm, placing a kiss on both their dirty heads. “Oh you poor things. What did you see here?” he asked softly.

The elflings immediately collapsed into tears and clutched his tunic in relief. Fengel rubbed their backs and made soothing sounds for a moment. Then he stood, lifting them in his arms. “I am going to take you back to the stronghold,” he said and kept up a quiet monologue in a soothing voice as he carried them from the ravine.

Their arrival back at the Path inspired a flurry of rapid Elvish when the children saw the Elven guard. Fengel frowned as their small fingers dug into his arms and tears continued to stream down their cheeks, but the elf spoke to them calmly and by the time the frantic conversation ended, the elflings had stopped crying and had relaxed marginally in Fengel’s arms. He found little comfort in that since the guard’s posture had stiffened considerably, though he was obviously trying to conceal it.

“They said they were gathering plants with their mothers when men attacked them. They saw part of the fight before they ran into a cave to hide. They saw one of the guards shot with an arrow. The other was already injured but still fighting when they fled.”

Fengel nodded. “We found the guard’s bodies and five Easterlings. No signs of the elf women,” he answered quietly.

“We must get back to the stronghold with all speed to report this to one of the officers there,” the elf said.

Fengel nodded. “I intend to do just that. These children need to be somewhere they feel safe,” he said turning and handing them to one of his guards. They whimpered nervously again in response until Fengel mounted his horse and gestured for the guard to lift them up in front of his saddle. “One of you with me, the other stay back with the wounded,” he said, looking at his guards. They appeared uncomfortable with that order but his tone brooked no argument. Fengel looked at the elf. “Tell them I am taking them to the stronghold and that we are going to ride there quickly. I do not want them to think I am carrying them off.” As soon as the Elven warrior finished speaking and two little faces looked up at him nodding to show their understanding, Fengel kicked his horse, urging it to a canter and then a gallop when he was certain he could balance the children securely in front of him.

*~*~*

Thranduil, Aradunnon, Amglaur and their guards moved along the Path as quickly as they dared. Haste was clearly needed, but they did not want to miss any sign that indicated Lindomiel, Amoneth and the children had veered off the Path at some location other than the one they intended to search. Both Thranduil and Aradunnon rode silently, listening intently to the forest and the bond they still felt to their wives and children. That connection told them their family was still alive but through it they could also clearly feel their terror.

“Two horses approach from the west riding fast,” Conuiön called from his position in the front of their search party.

Thranduil and Aradunnon’s eyes were already trained on the Path before them, their bows in their hands. It was extremely doubtful that two lone enemies would ride straight down the Elf Path. The approaching riders were most likely members of the Path Guard returning to the stronghold with a report. But no one was taking any chances.

As the riders came into sight, Thranduil and Aradunnon exchanged a look that held both deep relief and grave concern and then urged their horses forward to meet the riders—lord Fengel, a Mannish guard and two elflings.

“Ada!” the children both cried when they recognized their fathers. They immediately began scrambling to climb over to their fathers as soon as the horses were near enough to suggest the possibility.

Thranduil looked at Fengel wordlessly as he enfolded Legolas in his arms, laying his cheek against the top of the child’s head and pulling him tightly against him. Then he pulled him back slightly, running his hands over him, searching for any signs of injury, before kissing him on the forehead and wiping his tear stained cheeks gently. Aradunnon did the same with Galithil and the children clung to their father’s tunics breathing hard, on the verge of crying again and obviously not certain if their ordeal was over.

“You are safe, Legolas,” Thranduil crooned softly as the child clung to him. “Ada is here. Everything is fine.”

Legolas raised his head from his father’s tunic and looked up at him with tear-filled eyes. “No it is not, ada. Some men tried to hurt us and they did hurt nana and Aunt Amoneth and we do not know where they are,” Legolas whispered as Galithil nodded his agreement.

The adults exchanged worried glances before Thranduil looked at Legolas calmly. “Can you tell us anything about what happened this morning, ion nin?” he asked.

They nodded.

“We were gathering plants,” Galithil began, his face pressed against his father’s tunic.

“And Himion said we needed to leave,” Legolas interrupted. “So we started back to the horses.”

“And an arrow came out of the trees and I saw it hit Himion in the back and he knocked Aunt Lindomiel down because he was right behind her when it hit him,” Galithil continued.

Legolas looked up at his father with wide, frightened eyes. “Nana was hurt. She was bleeding,” he said quietly. Thranduil drew in a quiet breath but forced himself not to otherwise react to that statement. Instead he stroked a soothing hand down his son’s hair.

“At first I thought someone was hunting and did it by accident,” Galithil continued. But there was another arrow and I think it was supposed to hit Candirith but it did not. Then about 12 men came running towards us yelling and angry. It was no accident that they hit Himion with an arrow. They did it on purpose,” Galithil said with horrified confusion. “Nana pushed Himion and took his sword and she and Candirith fought with the men.”

That caused Aradunnon and Thranduil to look at each other grimly over their sons’ heads as Legolas continued the narrative with a breathless voice.

“And Aunt Amoneth pulled nana up and a man tried to get her but she cut him with a knife and another man tried and she cut him and then she turned to tell us to run again and another man did grab her so she stuck the knife in his leg.”

“And another man tried to grab us…” Galithil said in a shaking voice.

“But nana took the knife from the man’s leg and threw it at the man trying to get us and he fell down,” Legolas paused and he looked at Thranduil frowning deeply. “But then nana did not have the knife anymore,” he concluded quietly.

Thranduil felt his heart contract in response to his son’s obvious concern that his mother no longer had a weapon.

“And we ran and hid in one of the caves,” Galithil continued.

Legolas nodded. “And there was a lot of shouting and we could hear them still fighting and then it was quiet. They must have gone away. We peeked out and we could not see nana or Aunt Amoneth.”

“And we were too afraid to come out of the cave until lord Fengel came,” Galithil whispered.

“He had and elf with him. He was injured—he said he fought with men today too—but he told us lord Fengel promised to take us back to the stronghold,” Legolas said, leaning his cheek against his father’s chest again, completely exhausted.

“Can we go home, ada? Is nana there?” Galithil asked.

“Yes, ion nin. You are going back to the stronghold,” Aradunnon said, brushing a kiss on his son’s hair.

“Indeed you are,” Thranduil confirmed, rubbing Legolas’s back. The child’s breath still came in gasps. “Nana and Aunt Amoneth are not there yet but Uncle Aradunnon and I are going to look for them.”

Legolas’s brows knit and he looked up at his father. “Nana is not still with the men, is she? They were horrible.”

“I do not know Legolas,” Thranduil replied. “But I am looking for her and so are Conuiön and the rest of these guards and many others. Just as we were looking for you and we found you. I am very thankful to lord Fengel for helping…for bringing you here.”

Legolas and Galithil nodded.

“Lord Fengel is nice,” Galithil said, looking at him and smiling weakly.

Fengel returned the smile, though with obvious concern. He did not need to understand Elvish to know what was being related.

Thranduil tilted Legolas’s chin up. “Legolas you said you hid in a cave. One of the caves in that ravine where nana likes to find plants for her weaving?” he asked gently.

Legolas nodded and then pulled away from his father. “I am supposed to give this to daernana,” he said holding out a crushed little plant. Thranduil had noticed it but had not deemed it important enough to question why his son clutched it. “Nana said it was valuable and she wanted to plant it in the garden. It is woad. It makes a blue dye, not a yellow one.”

Thranduil looked at the plant and could not suppress a short, almost hysterical laugh at the absurdity of Legolas clinging to it despite all he had been through.

“Daernana will be extremely glad to see you, Galithil and your plant, Legolas,” he said, smiling at his son. “And it is very important that you told us where you were with nana. That is going to make finding her much easier. I appreciate that very much,” he replied.

Legolas and Galithil again smiled weakly at their fathers.

Thranduil turned to the lieutenant of his guard. “Take the children home, Tureden. We will return when we have found Lindomiel and Amoneth,” he said quietly, putting his hands around his son’s waist to lift him to Tureden’s horse. Aradunnon was doing the same, handing Galithil to Pendurion.

“No!” Legolas protested the moment he understood what was happening. He seized his fathers braid, preventing Tureden from moving him.

Galithil clutched his father’s tunic with both hands. “We want to stay with you,” he said with a tremor in his voice.

Thranduil and Aradunnon looked at each other helplessly as Thranduil tried to free his hair from Legolas’s grasp. “Are you not tired and ready to go home, ion nin,” he asked gently. “Daernana can take her plant and you can have a nice hot bath and some lunch…”

“I cannot take a bath without you there, ada. Who will comb my hair?” Legolas demanded. “You have to come home too.”

“We are going to be home soon,” Aradunnon assured them. “We are just going to find your naneths first. And we need to do that quickly.”

“We want to stay with you,” Legolas repeated, twining a different strand of his father’s hair around his hand as soon as Thranduil freed the other.

“Legolas,” Thranduil began sternly, but a gentler voice interrupted him.

“What if I took you home, Legolas?” Amglaur offered, holding out his arms. “Will you come home with me? We will not take a bath until ada comes back. And we will stop in the kitchen on the way back to your room to get some of the tarts they made for dinner. You and Galithil can have some with your lunch. Would you like that?”

Legolas and Galithil looked at Amglaur measuringly.

“Can we plant nana’s plant?” Legolas asked.

“Of course we will. Daernana and I will help you,” Amglaur promised.

Thranduil eased his son into his grandfather’s arms and slowly pried his fingers open to free his hair. “Go with daeradar, Legolas. I will be home as soon as I can.”

Legolas frowned tearfully. “And nana with you?”

Thranduil drew a deep breath to answer with a steady voice. “We are looking for nana, Legolas,” Thranduil replied.

Legolas’s frown deepened at that answer but Amglaur was already turning his horse.

“Come back with my daughter, Thranduil,” Amglaur said in Westron, glaring at Thranduil over Legolas’s head.

Thranduil nodded grimly and watched as Amglaur and the guards rode away with his son and nephew.

AN: Sorry for leaving you hanging. I decided this chapter was too long posted in one chunk so I split it in half.

*~*~*

Naneth/nana—Mother/mum
Adar/ada—Father/dad
Daeradar/daernaneth—Grandfather/grandmother
Ion nin—My son


Chapter 13 - Aftermath

Now certain of where they could pick up the men’s trail, Thranduil’s search party rode at full gallop towards the ravine, their horses’ hooves kicking clumps of earth into the air as they negotiated the sharp turn off the Path onto the side trail without slowing. The lady’s horses, still grazing along the trail, bolted back amongst the trees in panic as the guards’ stallions pounded towards them. Seeing them, Conuiön held up his hand to rein in his own horse and the entire party’s largely ungoverned charge towards the ravine.

A quick signal sent Pendurion into the trees to search the western rim of the ravine while Galuauth circled around to the east. The rest of the party remained where they were.

Thranduil tensed and glared at his guard. From the corner of his eye, he saw Aradunnon mirror his actions. Both were accustomed to commanding the troops they accompanied so they naturally baulked when Conuiön automatically took charge of the search. Somewhere in the back of his mind, where reason warred for dominance over icy fear, Thranduil recognized that the captain of his personal guard did not fall under Aradunnon’s command nor even, strictly speaking, his own. Conuiön was trusted to make his own judgments to preserve the family’s safety and that was the authority he was exercising now. Thranduil understood Conuiön’s caution, but reason did not completely rule him at this moment.

“What are you doing, Conuiön?” he demanded, looking towards the ravine. “We need to get down there and find which direction the men have taken Lindomiel and Amoneth.”

Conuiön met his lord’s angry gaze calmly. “Yes, we do. But let us be smarter than Himion and Candirith and not rush straight into an indefensible position. Even orcs would be smart enough to use lady Lindomiel to bait a trap for you. I intend to do this as quickly as possible, but I insist we do it safely too,” he replied firmly.

Thranduil’s brows knit. “Fengel was not attacked removing Legolas and Galithil from that ravine,” he pointed out impatiently.

Conuiön nodded once. “That is lucky for lord Fengel’s guard. I am yours and I do not rely on luck. Pendurion and Galuauth are half way to the other side. Be patient for another few moments, my lord.”

Thranduil scowled but remained silent, watching the guards systematically search the rim of the ravine with mounting tension. Next to him, Aradunnon’s finger tapped rapidly on his thigh where it rested. Mouth a tight line, he also glared at the guards and Thranduil could almost feel him willing them to signal that all was clear.

When they did, Thranduil and Aradunnon stormed down the slope without the need for further encouragement. Conuiön dismounted and drew his sword. With a sigh and a grim glance at Aradunnon’s guard, Colloth, he followed, signaling Pendurion and Galuauth to remain in their vantage points in the trees above.

“I would say Himion and Lindomiel fell here,” Colloth said quietly to Conuiön, indicating an area where the grass was crushed.

Conuiön nodded. “And Candirith stood here,” he replied, pointing to an area where the ground was marked by the light prints of an elf.

“With lady Amoneth here,” Colloth added, prodding a smaller set of prints. “That is consistent with what Galithil described.”

They spent a moment studying the men’s tracks that deeply scarred the earth.

“From the looks of this, Candirith and Amoneth were doing a respectable job holding them off,” Conuiön said.

Colloth nodded and pointed to another area slightly east of where his captain still studied the ground. Conuiön joined him and frowned. A man’s boot prints, his feet planted widely, faced west. Between them were a series of smaller prints, also facing west, apparently struggling.

“Legolas said a man grabbed the queen from behind and she fought with him,” Conuiön said.

Colloth nodded and pointed to another indentation in the earth slightly in front of the prints. “She knelt here—either she fell to her knees or was forced to them.”

Conuiön nodded. “I would say she was made to kneel because I can see where lady Amoneth did the same over here. I imagine they surrendered or were subdued after Candirth fell, but there is no evidence that he did. On the contrary, his tracks lead away from the battle towards where his body is now. It appears he walked there. Calmly.”

“He might have surrendered if this man threatened the queen,” Colloth suggested, pointing to the tracks.

“Then why is he dead?” Conuiön asked. Then he tensed. “Unless they killed him after he surrendered.”

They exchanged a sickened glance and walked towards the bodies of their fallen comrades. Lifting the blankets that Fengel had laid over them, Conuiön and Colloth could see that was plainly the case. From a slight distance, listening to Conuiön and Colloth’s analysis of the fight, Thranduil and Aradunnon also stared at the body grimly.

“They went north,” Aradunnon declared after a moment, focusing on their immediate goal of finding their wives. He and Thranduil stood over a trail of crushed undergrowth that led out of the northern rise of the ravine and deep into the forest.

“It appears so,” Conuiön agreed, joining them and kneeling down to study the tracks.

Aradunnon let out a long, frustrated breath and stared at him. “A five-year-old could follow this trail, Conuiön,” he exclaimed.

Conuiön frowned but did not cease examining the tracks.

Colloth sighed quietly. “You are worried about lady Amoneth, Aradunnon. You are anxious to find her and you are making mistakes. These are men we are tracking. They are devious. It would make sense for them to split up and leave one obvious trail for us to follow while taking their prisoners away on another. We have to take a moment to analyze these tracks and you know that.” He paused and looked between Aradunnon and the king. “You also know that you need to rein in this impatience or you are going to be a threat to their safety once we find them.”

Aradunnon clenched his fists, closed his eyes and sighed. Then he sighed again and looked at Colloth. “You are correct. I did not even think of that and it is something a first year warrior should know.” He forced himself to relax marginally. “I will slow down and think. It is just very difficult to do so when I can feel how frightened Amoneth is.”

Thranduil nodded his agreement. “I admit that I honestly cannot tell if I am simply over-anxious because Lindomiel is involved, but I cannot escape the feeling that time truly is of the essence,” he said quietly.

Conuiön looked up at Thranduil and regarded him narrowly. Then he stood. “I learned the value of lord Thranduil’s instincts a very long time ago,” he said quietly. “There are seven sets of large, heavy boot prints here and two sets of small, light tracks. The children said a dozen men attacked them and there are five bodies in the ravine so that likely accounts for all of them if we trust a two-year-old’s account of the battle. Of course we have no choice in that matter.” He signaled Pendurion and Galuauth to him. “Galuauth, their tracks are clear enough that you can follow them from the trees. I want you to go ahead of us as swiftly as possible and signal us if you catch them. Pendurion, stay with us but stay in the trees and keep an eye open any signs of further enemies. We are staying on the ground and concentrating on this trail so we do not miss any signs that the men split up after they started out together.”

At his signal, Galuauth moved swiftly through the trees while Conuiön and Colloth moved along the crushed undergrowth, studying the their path carefully to ensure that there were no other trails more skillfully disguised leading in another direction. Thranduil and Aradunnon followed tensely, trying to take comfort in the fact that the trail indicated their wives were apparently in good enough condition to walk.

*~*~*

A rough hand clamped around her upper arm pulled Lindomiel through the low undergrowth. The delicate fabric at the hem of her gown was damp and shredded from constantly catching on the thin branches of the brush they trampled. She was breathing hard through the cloth the men had used to gag her and she heard Amoneth behind her panting heavily as well. The rapid pace the men had set north through the forest would not normally be difficult for elves, but both Lindomiel and Amoneth were injured and the men had done nothing to treat their wounds. Lindomiel’s back ached where the arrow that killed Himion had stabbed into her. She could not tell if the wound still bled, but pain shot through her left side from her hip to just under her shoulder blade with each step. She knew that without the hand on her arm holding her up, she would fall to the ground from dizziness and exhaustion.

Lindomiel was not certain if it was the injury, hunger and thirst or the way her mind raced that caused her to feel so faint. She had seen very little violence in her life, having been sheltered very carefully first by her father and then her husband. The horrors of this day had been nearly overwhelming.

Nearly overwhelming, but not entirely so. Lindomiel was thoroughly ill-equipped for this situation but she had faith that others were better prepared. She knew Thranduil’s warriors would easily and swiftly track their march through the undergrowth once they discovered she and Amoneth were missing. She also knew those warriors would follow her to the ends of Arda to recover her from her captors’ hands. But most importantly, Lindomiel still strongly felt her bond to her son. There was no doubt in her mind that he was alive and that knowledge alone gave her the strength to endure anything she had to in order to survive and return to him.

But just as their bond told her Legolas was alive, she could also feel that he was terrified. She was terrified for him. He had witnessed the attack against his mother and aunt and had been forced to flee with only his cousin to accompany him. Her heart broke at the idea of Legolas and Galithil alone and frightened in the forest. Besides their emotional distress, there were many dangers in the forest that children so young were completely incapable of recognizing, much less surviving. And worse still would be Legolas’s fate if these men should kill her and leave him motherless.

Lindomiel knew she should try to focus and be alert for opportunities to escape but every time she tried, thoughts of Legolas or the battle dashed through her mind and the pain from her wound spiked through her side leaving her breathless.

She was certain that they had marched several hours through the silent forest when the sound of a bird’s song floated through the trees to her left. Lindomiel frowned and wondered how such normal, beautiful things could continue in the world. When the call was answered by another to the south, she stiffened slightly.

The forest was quiet, in reaction to the men’s presence. Those were not birds, she realized.

As surreptitiously as she could, leaving her head bowed, she raised her eyes and scanned the trees. Her heart began to pound when she saw movement—someone pacing them to their west. Hardly able to believe her eyes, she looked again, to confirm what she had seen and she stumbled. She was prevented from falling only by the man’s harsh grip on her arm. He swore.

“This ain’t worth it,” he exclaimed irritably, releasing Lindomiel’s arm and letting her collapse to the ground.

The man holding Amoneth propelled her forward and shoved her to the ground next to Lindomiel. “I agree. They’re slowing us down. I say we kill them. We get the same payment for their heads and their heads are easier to carry and faster to get out of this cursed forest.”

The first man nodded and drew his sword.

Before he could raise it, the leader of the group stepped forward and grabbed the man’s wrist. “We get the same payment from our employer whether we deliver them dead or alive, but if we can keep them alive we are free to get further profits from them. I think that Elf King will pay a high price for his wife and if he don’t want to pay, then I’m sure we can find someone to buy her.” He laughed. “I might keep her myself. She’s got looks.”

One of the other men shook his head. “I hear elves don’t last long like that,” he said skeptically. “And we don’t get paid nothing if we get killed in this forest. I think we should kill ‘em and get out of here.”

“We dragged them this far. We’re keeping them. Now get them up and quit wasting time if you’re so worried about getting out of the forest. We ain’t far from our horses,” said the leader.

The man that had been dragging Lindomiel pointed his sword at her. “She ain’t going to last long with that wound anyway. You can’t sell her like that; she ain’t worth nothing. Not even her husband’s going to buy her back like that. Why would he?”

The leader hesitated over that argument.

“Sure money is better than death. Let’s not be greedy like Khimad,” the man with the sword warned, referring to the ill-fated leader of the men that followed Lindomiel out of Dale. “He should have just killed her rather than trying to catch her. Look where that got him.”

The Mannish leader stared at Lindomiel and Amoneth a long moment. “Fine. Kill her,” he said, pointing to Lindomiel. “But we’re keeping the other one. Ain’t nothing wrong with her. If she don’t move faster, we can make her want to.”

The leader stepped past his captives, already moving forward while one man reached to pull Amoneth to her feet and the man with the sword raised it over Lindomiel.

*~*~*

Thranduil, Aradunnon and the guards took to the trees when they heard Galuauth’s signal. As they raced forward, the men came into view. Thranduil was pleasantly surprised to see they were stopped and distracted by some sort of argument. That would make surrounding them easier. From the trees, six elves would be able to put arrows through seven men before they even realized they were under attack.

Conuiön signaled Colloth, Aradunnon and Pendurion to approach the men from their eastern flank while he and Thranduil moved to join Galuauth on their western flank. Just as the two groups split to take up their positions, Galuauth sounded another signal—one meant to signal imminent danger. The approaching elves looked sharply at him, perched above the men in a tree, and saw him nock his bow. Thranduil heard Conuiön draw a breath to signal Galuauth to wait until everyone was in position. Then he silenced himself. At the same moment Thranduil saw why Galuauth had drawn his bow. One of the men was poised, sword raised, over Lindomiel. Thranduil froze, suddenly unable to breath.

Galuauth loosed his arrow. It flew silently into the man’s throat. He convulsed, drew a gurgling breath and collapsed, partially falling on Lindomiel.

The other men spun around and gaped at him. Then they burst into action.

Before they could organize themselves, Galuauth loosed another arrow and struck the man leading Amoneth away from Lindomiel. That man also fell. Three of the remaining men quickly strung their bows, crouched and loosed a volley of arrows into the tree, forcing Galuauth to take cover behind the trunk of the tree.

The other two men went for their captives.

One stood directly between Lindomiel and Thranduil and drew his sword. The other grabbed Amoneth by the arm and spun her around, wielding a knife in his free hand. Thranduil looked at the man standing over Lindomiel and the positions of the elves in the trees. He could not shoot the man threatening his wife for fear that his arrow, at this close range, would penetrate the man’s body and strike Lindomiel as well. The others were in no better position, save Galuauth, who was still pinned down and busy maneuvering to a better location in the trees.

Thranduil drew his sword and leapt from the tree to the ground, charging the man and cursing as he ran to draw his attention. Thranduil heard Conuiön utter a similar curse, though likely for a different reason, as he jumped from the tree to follow him. The man spun in time to deflect Thranduil’s initial thrust, but in doing so, lost his balance. Thranduil cut the man from his hip to the bottom of his sternum. He fell to his knees next to Lindomiel clutching his gut.

Thranduil turned and stood next to Conuiön, between Lindomiel and the main group of men. He saw the man that had drawn a knife on Amoneth was doubled over in pain, holding his arm against his body, an arrow stuck through his wrist and his knife on the ground. Colloth was bringing his sword down across his neck as Aradunnon shouldered his bow and leapt from the trees to join the fray.

Conuiön and Pendurion both brought down two of the men that had been firing arrows into the trees as they followed the king and prince into the battle. The last man broke and ran. Before any of the elves could give chase, Galuauth, still in the trees, sent an arrow into his thigh. The man stumbled forward from the impact, falling to his hands and knees and struggling to stand. Galuauth loosed another arrow into his other leg. The man fell, writhing on the ground. Galuauth nocked a third arrow and drew but he did not loose the arrow. Instead he looked at Conuiön.

Conuiön held up his hand. “I would very much like a prisoner, my lord,” he growled, turning to Thranduil.

Thranduil’s expression was fell. “So would I,” he said coldly.

Galuauth lowered his bow and Pendurion ran over to secure their prisoner while Thranduil and Aradunnon turned to their wives.

Thranduil drew a sharp breath as he took in the sight of Lindomiel, half-lying, half-sitting in a heap amongst the ferns where she had fallen. Her dress was torn and bloodied and she was staring in horror at the men that had been struck down near her. He stepped over them, drawing her attention.

“You are safe, meleth. It is over,” he whispered as he knelt next to her and pulled her into his arms. His body tensed involuntarily as he reached to pull the gag from her mouth. He glanced at Conuiön. His guard was dispatching the men that were mortally wounded but not yet dead. For a moment, Thranduil considered ordering him to stop. He would enjoy seeing the men that had done this to his wife suffer a little longer. Instead, he drew a deep breath and focused on her.

“Thranduil…” she whispered as he pulled the gag down.

“Shhh, be still Lindomiel,” he replied, cutting the cloth that bound her hands.

Her arms flew around him and she buried her face against his neck. “What are you doing here, Thranduil?” she asked, voice rough. Her throat was dry.

Thranduil held out his hand and Galuauth swiftly placed a water skin in it. “Do you honestly believe I would leave finding you and Legolas to someone else?” he replied as he held the water skin for her to drink.

Her eyes widened with fright. “Where is Legolas? Have you found him?” she gasped out.

“He and Galithil are on their way back to the stronghold with your adar. I imagine they are already there,” he replied soothingly.

Lindomiel closed her eyes and collapsed against him, drawing in a few heaving breaths. Then she frowned and tensed once again. Wincing, she twisted to look around her. “Amoneth?” she called, eyes darting to where Aradunnon, like Thranduil, was kneeling on the ground.

“Lindomiel are you alright?” Amoneth asked, lifting her head to peer over Aradunnon’s shoulder as he held her.

“Yes,” Lindomiel answered, her voice flooded with relief. “You?”

“I am not badly injured,” she replied, “but you are hurt, Lindomiel.” She looked between Thranduil and Aradunnon. “The arrow that killed Himion struck her as well. The men did nothing to staunch the bleeding or clean it. The reason we stopped was because she collapsed,” she reported with frightened voice.

“It is not that bad, Thranduil,” Lindomiel contested tiredly, but she did relax into her husband’s arms. “I will be fine now that I know Legolas is safe.”

Thranduil nodded, stroking his hand down her hair. “Of course you will, meleth,” he whispered, signaling Galuauth, who stood over them, to examine her wound. “Be still while Galuauth has a look at your injury and then we will go back to the stronghold where Nestoreth can treat it properly.”

Lindomiel only nodded against Thranduil’s chest.

*~*~*

Returning to the stronghold, Lindomiel and Amoneth rode with their husbands despite Conuiön’s protests that such an arrangement made them one easy target for any men that might remain in the forest. Fortunately, they encountered no further dangers on their return trip. His arm securely around her waist, her hair blown against his cheek by the wind, Thranduil tried to draw comfort from the feel of his wife’s body against his as they rode. But he could not ignore the pain the motion of the horse clearly caused her or the trembling that she tried to hide from him.

He felt no better. Since Aradunnon stormed into the Great Hall earlier that morning, Thranduil’s heart had refused to beat normally, pounding too fast and too irregularly instead. A sick, tight feeling was settled in the pit of his stomach and his neck and shoulders ached from tension. These were familiar feelings. He first experienced them staring down at his cousin Ninglor’s body in Menegroth and he had felt them many times since. Thankfully, this time they were not accompanied by the overwhelming sense of emptiness caused by the loss of someone he loved. Throughout the ride home, Thranduil found himself unable to resist placing soft kisses on Lindomiel’s cheek or neck or shoulders just to remind himself she was still there.

When they finally arrived in their chambers and Nestoreth stepped forward to examine Lindomiel’s wound, Thranduil collapsed into a chair and watched as if from a distance as the healers did their job. Now that Lindomiel and Amoneth were safe…now that Amglaur confirmed Legolas and Galithil had reached the stronghold and were asleep in the nursery…now that he was certain his family remained intact…now that he had no emergency to focus him, Thranduil felt the emotions that had raged within him all day waning and leaving him exhausted.

“This wound is superficial,” Nestoreth confirmed calmly. “The arrow struck no organs. It tore muscle and I have no doubt it is painful,” she added in response to Lindomiel’s incredulous and irate snort. “But the only danger it presents is that the queen has lost a good deal of blood. That is something we can manage now that we can treat her.”

The room was a flurry of activity as Nestoreth treated Lindomiel’s wound, the apprentice healers dressed Amoneth’s less serious cuts and the family fussed over them both. Amidst the chaos, Thranduil drew a deep calming breath and silently watched his wife.

They had not been home long when a small noise drew Thranduil’s attention to the door leading into the nursery. Turning, he saw Legolas and Galithil peeking through the cracked door into the busy room with wide, frightened eyes. Thranduil felt his heart contract as he realized they were likely feeling exactly the same sick feeling that he was at this moment.

He stood and strode quickly to the door. Picking the children up, he carried them into the nursery.

“Why is Nestoreth here, ada? Is nana hurt?” Legolas whispered as Thranduil sat in a cushioned chair by the fireplace and settled the children on his lap, holding one in each arm. They looked up at him tearfully and grasped at his tunic.

“A little, Legolas, but Nestoreth is going to take care of her just as she cares for you when you hurt yourself playing. Then nana will be fine just as you always are,” he assured his son, placing a kiss on his forehead. Then he caressed Galithil’s cheek. “And your nana has a few bruises and cuts that look a little frightening but nothing more. She will also be perfectly fine once Nestoreth puts some bandages on them.”

“Can we go see nana and Aunt Lindomiel?” Galithil asked softly, looking at the door. Both the children had strained to peer over his shoulder as he carried them back into the nursery and were plainly anxious to see their mothers for themselves.

Thranduil nodded. “We will let Nestoreth finish her work but very soon I am certain your naneths will be demanding to see you both. They are very worried about you.”

“We are worried about them,” Legolas said and Galithil nodded.

Thranduil pulled them closer and rubbed their backs. “There is nothing to worry about. Everyone is home and safe,” he assured them in a soothing voice. The tension in his own shoulders eased as the children snuggled against his tunic.

But they were far from finished asking anxious questions.

Legolas seized one of his father’s braids and began to slowly twist it around his finger.
“Did you see those men, ada?” he asked with a timid voice, so different from his typical lively curiosity that it made Thranduil frown.

“Yes, I did, ion nin. They are no longer in the forest. They will never bother you or your naneths again,” he answered firmly.

Galithil sat up straight to look at Thranduil with a puckered brow. “But if they came into the forest once, they could come again,” he whispered.

Legolas also raised his head and looked at his father intently, waiting for his response to that suggestion.

Thranduil tightened his arms around the children again. “If I promise you that those men will never come into the forest, will you believe me?” he asked, looking at them solemnly.

Legolas and Galithil nodded automatically. “Promises can never be broken,” Galithil said earnestly. “But how can you promise that? How can you make them not come back?”

Thranduil stroked a hand down Galithil’s hair. “Promises can never be broken, Galithil. You are absolutely correct about that. And I promise you that those men will never hurt you again. You must simply trust that.”

Galithil sighed but nodded slowly. Then he looked back at Thranduil anxiously. “What about other men? Might other men who do not know that you promised that come?”

Thranduil tried not to sigh. “Your adar commands many warriors, Galithil,” he said gently. “It is their duty to make sure that dangerous creatures, like these men, do not come into the forest. They do their best at that task, and it is very rare that they fail, but sometimes they do, as we saw today. You are correct that I cannot promise nothing will ever threaten you again.” He paused and looked at them firmly. “But I can promise you this: every adult in this family will always try their best to protect you and your cousins from anything that might cause you harm. Just as we did today. You must trust that we will do that.”

“We trust you, ada,” Legolas replied sincerely “But we do not want you to be hurt either.”

Thranduil smiled. “In the same way that we take care of you, we take care of each other, Legolas. We are all safe. I know that is difficult to believe after a day like today, but try not to worry about these things. It is your parent’s duty to do that. Your only concern is to learn things like what color dye we make from woad. All right?”

Legolas and Galithil looked at Thranduil skeptically but nodded.

Almost immediately, Legolas frowned again. “But why did those men want to hurt nana and Aunt Amoneth and Himion?” He stopped at that name and looked about. “Where are Himion and Candirith? Did you find them too, ada?”

“We did find Himion and Candirith,” Thranduil said quietly. The children looked at him expectantly when he did not continue and he sighed. This was not a topic he had ever expected to explain to two-year-old elflings. “We have told you stories about Aman, where the Valar live. Do you remember those stories?” he began.

Two little heads bobbed.

“And we have told you that some elves live in Aman with the Valar and that we can go live in Aman also, if we choose. Do you remember that?”

The children nodded again.

“Well, Aman is a place of great beauty and comfort since the Valar live there. Sometimes if an elf is hurt, they decide to go to Aman to be healed by the Valar. In fact there is a particular Vala that is responsible for healing the fëar of elves that go to Aman seeking his aid—Námo heals us in his halls, which are called Mandos. Himion and Candirith fought very hard against the men today. They were injured and they went to Mandos for healing.”

Legolas and Galithil blinked and looked at each other. “When will they come back?” Legolas asked in a small voice.

“They will not come back, Legolas. Some elves choose to leave Mandos when they are healed and some do not. I cannot say what Himion and Candirith will choose but even if they leave Mandos, most elves stay in Aman once they go there,” he answered gently. “Aman is a joyous place. It is the home that the Valar made for their Firstborn Children. We do not need to worry about our friends that go to Mandos. We will miss Himion and Candirith but we mourn our own loss—the absence of our friends and the fact that they were injured—not their journey to Mandos. Finding healing in Mandos is the gift the Valar gave to the Elves.”

The children were quiet for several moments absorbing that story and clearly saddened to hear that the guards would not come back.

Then Galithil looked back at Thranduil. “What about the men, uncle? Why did they hurt nana and Aunt Lindomiel and Himion and Candirith?”

Thranduil drew a deep breath. “That is a very difficult question, Galithil. I am not really certain that I understand why some people are willing to hurt other people.” He sighed. “Let me try to explain it this way. Sometimes when you are playing with your cousins, you all want the same toy. How do you handle that?”

“We share,” both children answered readily.

Thranduil nodded. “But you had to learn to share. Berior, for example, is very young. He does not always remember to share. What do you do then?”

They scowled. “We are patient because if we are not we get in trouble because we are older and should know better,” Galithil responded irritably, clearly repeating a phrase he had heard numerous times from his father.

Legolas giggled softly at his cousin’s tone. “Or we can offer to trade him another toy for the one we want. Sometimes that works.”

Thranduil smiled at them. “And the reason you must be patient or try to trade is because, if you fought with Berior over the toy, one of you might get hurt, correct?”

They nodded.

“Well, adults have to share too. We share very valuable things, like products in this forest. This forest belongs to the Elves but there are many animals and plants in it that Men need. Men like lord Fengel’s people trade with us to get what they need. But some men, like the ones that attacked you today, do not want to trade. They just want to take and they are willing to hurt people to obtain what they want.”

“But why would they do that, ada?” Legolas asked. “Why does someone not teach them to share?”

Thranduil drew a hand softly down the length of Legolas’s hair. “Some people simply do not want to learn that lesson, Legolas. I agree that it is hard to understand why they behave that way.”

“How do you know which people will behave like that, uncle?” Galithil asked, looking at Legolas sidelong.

Legolas glanced at his cousin and nodded. “After the men tried to grab us today, when we saw lord Fengel, we were afraid of him. We did not know if we should come out of the cave.”

Thranduil regarded the children sadly. “You did the right thing to trust him, though I understand why you might have been afraid to,” he said gently. “Tell me, what made you decide to come out of the cave?”

“We came out because lord Fengel is your friend,” Galithil said.

Legolas nodded. “He was very nice to us during the feast on the lawn and taught us that song,” Legolas added.

Thranduil nodded. “Then I am very proud of you. You made a very good judgment. That is one way we know if we can trust people—through our previous experiences with them. I have known lord Fengel for many years and I knew his father and his father’s father. Since I have known them for a very long time, I feel confident that he will treat me properly. Because I trust him completely, I introduced him to you when he asked to meet you. I will never allow anyone near you unless I fully trust them, so if I have introduced you to someone, you can be certain you are safe with them.” He paused. “But judging whether people are trustworthy or not is something we only learn to do with experience. Until you are older and have more knowledge of the world, you must rely on your family to help you learn to make these types of judgments.”

Legolas and Galithil sighed and looked away at that answer.

Thranduil stroked their hair. “I know that is not a very satisfactory answer,” he said. “The problem is that you have seen something today that you are simply too young to understand. I remember very well how frustrating it is to be young but sometimes the only thing we can do to understand something is to wait until we are older. As you grow, you experience many things that help you understand the world around you better.”

“I do not want to experience anything like today again,” Galithil said resolutely.

“I do not want you to either and I promised you that the adults in this family will do everything we can to prevent that,” Thranduil responded softly.

“But it was so scary,” Legolas whispered, his hand tightening around Thranduil’s braid. “The men running down towards us and Himion and nana hurt and everyone fighting.” He looked at his father with tear-filled eyes. “It was horrible ada and it still is.”

Thranduil’s brow furrowed and he looked at Legolas and Galithil sadly. “I know, ion nin. You saw a terrible thing today and it is normal to feel frightened and worried about your nana and your aunt and your guards. I was worried too…”

The children’s eyes widened. “You were?” Galithil asked.

“Of course I was,” Thranduil replied softly. “I was worried that you were frightened and I was worried about finding you and your naneths as quickly as possible. And I am still worried because you are upset and I cannot make your fears go away immediately, as I would like to do. But I can promise you that they will go away soon.”

“Are you certain, ada?” Legolas asked.

“Yes,” Thranduil replied confidently. “I am certain. After a few days, when you see your naneths are fine and you are fine, you will begin to feel better. And the best way to make that happen is to focus on more pleasant experiences. For example, did you and daernana plant the woad?”

Legolas and Galithil’s perked up a bit at that topic and they nodded.

“Daernana said the woad would still make seeds even though some of the stems were broken. We planted it and gave it some water and it did look better after that. And she promised we could help gather the seeds this Fall and help plant them in the Spring,” Legolas replied with a weak smile.

“And after we planted it, daernana gave us some of the pastries from the kitchen—the ones with the nuts in them—because we found such an important plant,” Galithil added.

Thranduil smiled indulgently, fairly certain that the woad had little to do with that treat. “Those are your favorites, I think,” he said

The children nodded again, still grinning at the memory of the treats. Thranduil pulled them against him again, kissed their heads and rubbed their backs. He was at once amazed by how difficult that conversation had been but how much better he felt after simply holding them. As they buried their faces against his tunic, enjoying the security of Thranduil’s embrace, he looked towards the bedroom door, intending to try to determine if all was well inside. Instead he saw his mother, brother and father-in-law smiling at him.

Before Thranduil could say anything, Aradunnon cleared his throat, drawing the elflings’ attention.

“There are two nanas in here that are absolutely desperate to see their children. I wonder where those elflings could be hiding now,” he said pretending to look around the nursery.

Legolas and Galithil leapt from Thranduil’s lap. “We are right here, ada,” Galithil said, laughing, as both children ran towards him, anxious see their mothers.

With a wink to his brother, Aradunnon stood aside to let them precede him into the bedroom and run to their mothers. Instead of following, Dieneryn and Amglaur walked over to Thranduil.

“That was quite possibly the most difficult conversation I have ever had in my life,” he said tiredly as they approached. In the background, he heard his son and nephew’s delighted squeals and their naneths’ laughter.

“You handled it well, ion nin,” Dieneryn said, kissing her son on his forehead.

Thranduil smirked at her.

“Indeed you did,” Amglaur added, placing a hand on Thranduil’s shoulder. “We have seen to the children and their naneths. What about their adars? How are you, Thranduil?” he asked gently.

Thranduil tried, and utterly failed in his exhaustion, to hide his astonishment at Amglaur’s tone. “I am ready to collapse,” he replied honestly.

“I do not doubt it,” Amglaur responded calmly. “We will give the children a few moments and then Dieneryn, Limmiel and I will chase everyone to their own rooms. You and Lindomiel need some rest and so do Aradunnon and Amoneth. It is none of my affair, but may I suggest that you instruct Hallion that you will not be available tomorrow?”

Thranduil stared at Amglaur a moment and then nodded. “That is undeniably good advice. I will.” His hand tightened around the arm of his chair and he looked at his father-in-law coldly. “Besides, as you may have noticed, we have a prisoner. I am very much looking forward to speaking with him tomorrow. Would you care to join me?”

Amglaur nodded. “Absolutely,” he said with the same expression.

Dieneryn shook her head. “Enough of that. You do not need to worry about the Easterling tonight. I am going to start clearing the room.” She fixed her son with a stern glare that made him sit up straighter automatically. “You come with me. You need some rest and Lindomiel needs you near. Come,” she ordered, turning to go back in the bedroom.

Thranduil looked after his mother with amused, wide eyes before he stood with a laugh and made to follow her. Amglaur caught him by the arm. “Be careful of the tea. Nestoreth has mixed a sleeping draught in it,” he said quietly.

Thranduil smiled at him. “Thank you for the warning,” he replied, a touch of amusement in his voice. He began to walk away but Amglaur did not release his arm.

“Thank you for finding my daughter,” he said evenly.

Thranduil looked away and closed his eyes. “If we had arrived a second later, you would not be saying that to me. I would be returning with her body,” he whispered. Of everything that had happened this day, that was what had frightened Thranduil the most—the success of their search had hinged on arriving at precisely the right moment to avert disaster.

Amglaur stiffened and his eyes widened. Then he forced himself to look at his son-in-law calmly. “I would still be thanking you, Thranduil. For loving my daughter, making her happy and doing everything in your power to keep her safe. That is all I can ask of you in this world; all I could do for her myself. And that is all you can ask of yourself,” he said gently.

Thranduil stared at Amglaur for a long moment and then loosed a long breath. “Right now I am I having a difficult time believing that I have done everything I should have done…”

Amglaur waved his hand to silence him. “For now, go hold your wife and son and focus on what is important. When you can think more rationally, you will be comforted by the fact that you do provide the best defense you can for your family and this forest, just as you told Legolas.”

Thranduil studied his father-in-law a moment. “Thank you, Amglaur,” he finally said quietly and they moved to return to the bedroom.

Both Thranduil and Amglaur smiled warmly at the sight that greeted them there. Lindomiel lay on the bed, propped up by pillows with Legolas snuggled in her arms. Dieneryn had just finished driving the rest of the family and the healers from the room. Thranduil strode silently to his bed and sat on its edge, listening as Dieneryn, Amglaur and Limmiel said their goodnights to Lindomiel and Legolas. When they were finally alone, he stretched out on the bed along side his wife and carefully drew her close. Legolas was still snuggled against her side, already nearly asleep. Lindomiel pillowed her head on Thranduil’s shoulder, softly stroking Legolas’s hair.

“How do you feel, meleth?” Thranduil whispered, concern evident in his voice.

She smiled at him tiredly. “Now that I am home, with you and Legolas, and I know Amoneth is safe, I feel better,” she said softly. Then her expression grew more serious. “Will you go speak to Candirith and Himion’s families tomorrow?”

Thranduil looked down. “Yes. Conuiön spoke to them tonight but I will also. Likely tomorrow.”

Lindomiel nodded. “I would like to go with you,” she said.

Thranduil looked back at her sharply. “Lindomiel, that is going to be a very difficult visit,” he began.

Lindomiel raised her eyebrows. “I think I gathered that already. They gave their lives protecting me, Thranduil. The least I can do is speak to their wives and children about their bravery.”

Thranduil sighed. “As you wish, meleth,” he replied quietly.

Lindomiel focused on Legolas, who was now fast asleep with a little frown on his face. “My poor baby,” she whispered, her voice heavy with emotion. “I cannot bear to think of how terrifying this was for him.”

Thranduil reached to smooth his hand across his son’s cheek. “He was frightened when Fengel brought him to me,” he admitted softly. “He was mostly worried about you. Now that he has seen you are safe, his world will quickly return to normal.”

“I sincerely doubt that, Thranduil,” Lindomiel contested sadly. “He saw Himion die today and he saw me kill a man.”

Thranduil let out a long breath. “He and Galithil asked me about Himion and Candirith. I told them that their guards have gone to Mandos for healing and that they will not see them again…that it is normal to miss them but that we should not worry about them. They seemed to understand that as well as they could.” He paused. “They also asked me why the men wanted to hurt you. I could not really give them an explanation for that. More then anything else, they need reassurance that they are safe. We will keep them close to the stronghold and close to us until they have recovered from this. ”

Lindomiel closed her eyes. “It never occurred to me that it would not be safe to take them with me to that ravine,” she said sadly. “I have taken them there before. I have gone there thousands of times myself.”

Thranduil frowned. “I have no idea how those men got so deep into the forest, meleth, but I intend to find out,” he began.

She lifted her head from his shoulder to look at him. “This is not your fault, Thranduil,” she said firmly. “I am not blaming you, I am blaming myself. I should not have taken them so far.” She drew a shuddering breath. “I should have been able to do something to defend myself and them. Amoneth took Himion’s sword and she fought with it very respectably with it.” Tears filled her eyes. “If the man had not caught me, Candirith might be alive now. He surrendered because one of the men held a knife to my throat. When Candirith laid down his weapons, they killed him, Thranduil.”

Thranduil inhaled sharply. “Candirith’s death is not your fault, Lindomiel. The men are responsible for it…” he began, but Lindomiel ignored him and continued speaking.

“After they killed him, they argued about whether to take us prisoner or kill us too—in their own language, but the meaning was clear enough. When they stopped arguing, one of them came towards us with his knife drawn and I was certain that he was going to kill us. Amoneth is the closest thing I have to a sister, Thranduil, and I was sure I had caused her death.” She drew a deep breath. “But he only used his knife to cut strips from our gowns to bind us. Then one of the men went searching for Legolas and Galithil and we were forced to sit and watch that helplessly. What if they had found them?” She paused to calm her breathing as Legolas yawned and put his thumb in his mouth. She returned to stroking his hair and when she was certain he was asleep, she looked at Thranduil with determination. “I will not be in that position again. I want to learn to use a sword.”

Thranduil blinked and his jaw dropped. “You want to learn to use a sword,” he repeated incredulously.

Lindomiel nodded. “Amoneth can. Or least she can wield a sword far better than I could. I want to be able to protect myself and my son, Thranduil.”

He looked at her sadly, running a finger across her cheek. “As much as I like to pretend it might not happen, I know my son and my nephews will one day become warriors. I had to accept that before I could agree to conceive him because I know it is unavoidable. But watching you learn to use weapons is something that I had hoped I would never see. I hope with time you will believe that you were not responsible for endangering Legolas or the guards.” He shook his head when she pressed her lips together angrily. “That is not a denial, Lindomiel. You know I have never denied you anything that you have asked of me. I would certainly not refuse you something that would make you feel safer. I only wish that I could shield you from this fate.”

Lindomiel frowned. “Learning to use weapons to defend oneself does not equate to surrendering oneself to the Shadow, Thranduil,” she said softly. ‘On the contrary, it means I will be better prepared to resist the Shadow. I have never been particularly interested in learning to use a sword in the past, so I have never questioned your resistance to the idea that I might learn—though I know Conuiön has suggested it to you several times. Will you explain to me why you are so opposed to me doing this?”

He shook his head. “I am not, meleth. I will speak to Langon tomorrow. As soon as you are healed, if you still wish to do this, I will have Langon give you the same training he is giving the warriors.”

“But the idea obviously saddens you. Why?” she asked.

Thranduil sighed. “I understand the necessity of training warriors to defend this forest, Lindomiel. That should be obvious—I maintain a standing army almost half the size of the entire force my adar assembled to take to Mordor. What I oppose is seeing any elf forget the beauty of the forest to become nothing more than a hardened warrior focused on destroying the Shadow. That is not the fate my adar promised the Silvan when he became their king and it is not what I want for my family.”

Lindomiel raised her eyebrows. “Surely you do not believe that I will ask to join the Southern border patrol?” she asked with a mocking tinge to her voice.

“No, meleth. But I do mourn the scars—emotional and physical—that this day has left you with and I would do anything to undo them. And I do fear that my son and Galithil will follow Dolgailon’s footsteps and become exactly what he is—a captain in the patrols who I must force to do anything but be a warrior. I fear they will follow me—I was forty when I first wielded a weapon and I did not put it down again for nearly a millennium. Despite the fact that we are surrounded by the Shadow, I am determined that Legolas’s life will not be consumed by it. I accept that he will be a warrior. Indeed, I expect that, for he may one day lead this realm’s warriors as their king. But, he will know more than strategy and tactics. He will be able to rejoice in all the beauty of the forest as well. And Lindomiel, of the two of us, you are far better equipped to help him do that than I. You are one of the few things in this forest that is untouched by the Shadow.”

She sighed. “I do not feel ‘untouched by Shadow’ at this moment, Thranduil,” she whispered. “But I agree with everything you have said. We have to help Legolas find a balance in his life between the duties that he will bear and the joy he deserves. We will. I promise you that.” She drew his attention with a finger under his chin. “I know everything you saw in Menegroth and Sirion. After today, I have the smallest understanding of it, whereas before I knew I did not. But despite that Thranduil, or possibly because of it, you have just as much to teach our son about the beauty in this world as I do. You often tell me that I have brought light to your life—you bring an equal light to mine. And to Legolas’s.”

Thranduil laughed lightly at that and leaned forward to kiss her cheek. She smiled as he pulled away and looked down at Legolas sleeping between them with his thumb in his mouth. Her smile deepened. “We are so lucky, Thranduil. He is such a blessing.”

Thranduil nodded. “You both are,” he said, kissing her again, this time lightly on the lips. “You need some rest, meleth. Do you think you can sleep or do you want this vile tea that I promised Nestoreth you would drink?”

Lindomiel raised one eyebrow. “You promised her I would drink it and you are offering me a choice?”

He smiled back at her. “Specifically, I promised her that I would see to it that you rested. It is her fault for not noticing the difference.”

Lindomiel loosed a weak laugh. “Then I would prefer not to drink it. I do not want to sleep so soundly that I will not awaken if Legolas has a nightmare. I cannot believe that he will not.”

“I will see to Legolas’s nightmares tonight, meleth, and yours, if necessary. You truly need to rest,” he said, running his hand very softly over the bandage on her back.

“I will be fine, Thranduil,” she whispered as she drew the blankets over herself and Legolas, who slept tucked in the crook of her arm.

*~*~*

Late the next afternoon, Thranduil strode into his office with Aradunnon and Conuiön to find Hallion sitting at a table in the room working through the day’s reports. Hallion stood as the king entered and his eyebrows rose subtly in response to his somber expression.

“I assume you spoke with your prisoner, my lord,” he said quietly as Thranduil seated himself at the table.

The king merely nodded and gestured for the others to sit. “Clear this, Hallion,” he said waving his hand at the papers strewn across the table. “We have other matters to discuss.”

Hallion’s eyebrows climbed a little higher and he began to gather up the papers. “He actually told you something useful then?” he asked idly. “I admit I am surprised by that. I assumed he would refuse to speak to you.”

Hallion frowned when Thranduil remained grimly silent.

“I think we all know that Thranduil can be quite persuasive,” Aradunnon responded quietly when no one else spoke. “The Easterling was very eager to speak with us after he was properly impressed with how angry Thranduil is over this incident.”

Hallion blinked at that and looked back at Thranduil intending to ask what that statement meant. When his eyes met Thranduil’s, he thought better of his question.
Instead, he quickly finished organizing the papers and waited for Thranduil to speak.

“The man told us that an elf woman met several times with his captain over the last few years,” the king began in a quiet, overly-calm voice. “Three years ago she paid him in jewels to capture or kill Lindomiel on her trip to Dale. This month she traded information about lord Fengel’s the travel plans for this most recent attempt on Lindomiel.”

Hallion’s jaw had dropped nearly the moment Thranduil began to speak. “An elf woman?” he repeated incredulously when Thranduil paused.

The king nodded and Hallion’s eyes shifted to Aradunnon as he took up the narrative. “The Easterling was able to tell me the patrol routes and schedules followed by the Northern Patrol and the Path Guard every bit as thoroughly as the captains of those patrols would be able to describe their duties,” he said.

Hallion’s eyes widened. Suddenly the reason for the king’s grave demeanor was perfectly clear. “How do you intend to act on this information, my lord?” he asked quietly.

Thranduil shook his head. “The man did not give a good description of the elf his captain met with. He said she looked like an elf,” he replied dryly. “He did indicate she came from a village in the east near the mountains—at least they normally met her that far south. We need to determine who this elf woman is and where she is getting such detailed information about our patrols. And we need to find a way to restrict access to that information without crippling the patrols until we can determine who our traitors are.”

Hallion frowned. “That will not be easy to do, my lord. All the warriors know the movements of their own patrol and those of neighboring patrols. Any one of them might have discussed this information with their wives or children, who mentioned it to a friend who might be our traitor. For that matter, the villagers that live in the patrol areas know the movements of the patrols around them. I do not see how we can hide this information—the purpose of the patrols is to be a presence in the villages to protect them.”

Thranduil nodded. “Gathering information about the patrols would be fairly easy for any one that can move freely in the forest,” he agreed. “But not many knew of lord Fengel’s travel plans. And the Easterling said they knew Lindomiel and some of the other ladies normally take the children into the western forest the morning until lunch.”

Hallion scowled. “The queen’s movements are also really something anyone in the capital might know. The ellyth that live in the capital often join Lindomiel in whatever task she is about—they gather plants for dyes at the same time the palace does. Lord Fengel’s travel plans, on the other hand, provide us the best opportunity to narrow down who provided this information to the Easterlings. There were not many who knew he intended to travel through the forest to lord Forthwini’s lands. I suggest we start there.”

“I agree,” Thranduil replied. “Make a list of everyone—guards, household staff, our own family, lord Fengel’s guards—who knew he intended to travel west. I want to speak with those people to find out who they may have told about lord Fengel’s plans. I also want to speak with the guards that are watching Dolwon and Dannenion to find out if they have had any visitors recently.” He turned to Aradunnon. “While we are investigating this, I want all patrol routes and schedules randomized to the fullest extent you can do so without compromising security and impress on the officers that information they put in their reports is not suitable to be discussed elsewhere.”

“Dollion, Morilion and I already spoke about those issues this morning,” Aradunnon confirmed. “I have sent a messenger to Geledhel in the Western Patrol. Medlion, from the Northern Patrol is going to meet with me this afternoon. I will discuss this with him then.”

Thranduil raised an eyebrow. “I would like to speak to Medlion myself,” he said softly.

Aradunnon tried to conceal a grimace. “As you wish, my lord,” he replied with a neutral voice.

Thranduil smirked. “I will not bite poor Medlion, I only want to speak to him. Half of his patrol is in the south, where I sent it. This situation is of my making and I know Medlion is doing the best he can,” he said. Then he paused and looked at his brother apologetically. “I am sorry, Aradunnon, but as soon as Amoneth and Galithil are fully recovered, I want you to go to the southeast border. Leave Dolgailon in command of the warriors. I want you to investigate the identity of this elf woman, any connection she might have to Dolwon and Dannenion and any other allies she might have in the south and here. You have a good many friends in the south—find out if any of them have seen anything that might be connected to this.”

Aradunnon nodded. “It has been a good while since I went that far east. I agree it is time for a visit.”

Thranduil nodded grimly.

*~*~*

Meleth nin—My love
Naneth/nana—Mother/mum
Adar/ada—Father/dad
Daernaneth/daeradar—Grandmother/grandfather
Ion nin—My son


Chapter 14 - Realizations

Tulus sat on his hearth, preparing the rabbits he had removed from his traps and tossing their meat into a pot over the fire. He looked up from his work when a shadow fell across the open door of his cottage. Recognizing the figure on his doorstep, he stood hastily and bowed as much to hide his expression as to offer respect.

“My lord Aradunnon,” he said in as polite and neutral a voice as he could muster in his surprise. “Please come in.”

Aradunnon acknowledged Tulus’s greeting with a nod and stepped into the small cottage, seating himself in the chair Tulus had indicated. His guard, Colloth, lingered in the doorway. Tulus noted Colloth scanning the room, his eyes falling briefly on the knife on the hearth and Tulus’s sword and bow by the door. With a quiet sigh, Tulus moved away from both objects.

He remained standing and turned his attention to his guest, studying him surreptitiously while his mind raced. Dolgailon had frankly told him two weeks earlier that his father and the king suspected him of involvement with the Easterlings. Tulus believed that he had convinced his young friend that they were mistaken, but Aradunnon’s presence seemed to indicate otherwise.

“What can I do for you, my lord?” Tulus asked when Aradunnon did not speak. Then another thought much worse than any associated with the Easterlings occurred to him and he looked at Aradunnon with fear in his eyes. “Surely nothing could happen to Glílavan while he is training new warriors in the capital?” he asked, the words tumbling forth rapidly.

Aradunnon looked at Tulus narrowly for a moment. “No, Tulus. When I left the capital, Glílavan was perfectly fine. He was preparing to lead the second-years on a tracking exercise,” he finally answered with a calm voice.

Tulus let out a long breath. “Good,” he said quietly. Then he looked at the floor with embarrassment. “Perhaps it is selfish of me when there is so much danger in the south and east, but I was very pleased when Glílavan told me you had assigned him to a duty in the capital. I know he enjoyed serving in the south, but I think he needs some time elsewhere,” he continued in an even quieter voice.

Again Aradunnon studied Tulus closely before responding. “You must miss not having him near, however.”

Tulus’s brows knit and he returned Aradunnon’s intense scrutiny with a cautious but steady gaze of his own. Given his stern demeanor and the fact that he had not yet asked him to sit, Tulus did not understand why Aradunnon had pursued this topic of conversation. This was clearly not a social visit. “I saw Glílavan very infrequently when he was in the patrols so there is little difference except that I worry about him less in the capital,” he answered slowly. Despite his confusion, Tulus smiled as he spoke about his son. “But he is a good son. He writes me as often as he can. I must say that I very much look forward to the sight of the king’s couriers these days.”

Aradunnon merely raised his eyebrows and nodded. “Tell me, Tulus, I have had very little opportunity to speak to your son—what does he tell you about living in the capital? He has served in the patrols since before the Shadow began to spread. The capital must seem strange to him.”

Tulus’s frown returned. “He has said very little about the environment in the capital, to be honest. He writes mostly about his duties in the training program and about the people in it. He seems happy in his new position. He has always liked working with younger warriors and under your son in particular.” Tulus paused and looked directly at Aradunnon. “But I sincerely doubt you traveled three days to visit old friends and discuss my son with me. Lord Dolgailon told me that I am suspected of having dealings with the Easterlings as our village leader did. I assume that is why you are here.”

Aradunnon’s eyebrows rose. “Very well,” he said coolly. “Yes I am here to discuss your dealings with the Easterlings. Yours and your son’s.”

Tulus looked at Aradunnon sharply. “As I told lord Dolgailon, I have never spoken to an Easterling,” he said firmly. Then he straightened his shoulders and fixed Aradunnon with an angry glare. “And if my son has ever spoken to an Easterling, it was while serving in the patrols. Clearly there is no way he could encounter one in the capital. Neither of us were involved in Dolwon’s trade with the Easterlings. I admit that I was aware Dolwon acquired some weapons for the village guards through such dealings but I was not one of those guards. I have always had my own weapons. Even if I did not, I would not fight with a sword obtained from the same enemy I may face in battle.”

“Why did you not report his actions to the patrols?” Aradunnon asked.

Tulus scowled. “In the southern part of the realm, far from the aid of the palace, we often engage in minor trade with neighboring realms and travelers. I thought it was foolish to trade with Easterlings, but I am not the leader of this village.”

“It was not only foolish to deal with enemies of this realm. It was treason, Tulus,” Aradunnon replied.

Tulus scowled. “And I understand Dolwon and the neighboring village leader, Dannenion, were held in the palace for a year while the king investigated their deeds and they will be required to live under guard in the capital until the king is convinced he can trust them. They have answered for their crime. If you believe I have committed a crime, arrest me and tell me what it is,” Tulus said coldly.

Aradunnon regarded Tulus silently for a moment. “I have been in the south for several days, Tulus, and here in your village since early this morning. I have spoken with many of your fellow villagers. All of them tell me that you and a group of your friends have been very vocal regarding your disapproval of the king’s rule. A good many of the statements repeated to me bordered on sedition. And that, Tulus, is a crime. One I can readily believe you would commit knowing how you spoke of the queen in the past. Should I arrest you for sedition, Tulus?”

Tulus frowned but looked down and replied in a soft voice. “I have never made a secret of the fact that I do not care for you or the king. I accept the king’s reasoning for dismissing me but not yours for barring me from the patrols—at least not permanently. I was a warrior in this forest long before your family ever knew it existed. I served lord Oropher faithfully for millennia. I love my home and I want to defend it. Moreover, I believe that your refusal to promote my son, when he has not received a single reprimand in two millennia of service, is nothing but unjust. As for the king, like many others that live in the south, I do not agree with all of lord Thranduil’s decisions—especially those that surrender more of this forest to the orcs. I am open in expressing that disapproval and I do not deny that.” He paused for emphasis and his tone hardened. “Before the Sindar came east, the Silvan were allowed to have and discuss differing opinions. Does lord Thranduil intend to forbid that now?”

Aradunnon’s eyes narrowed. “You are entitled to your own beliefs, Tulus. And I invite you to discuss them—if you can think of any reasonable action I might take to reclaim the forest south of the Forest Road, please tell me what it is and I will happily implement it.” He paused and Tulus remained silent. “I thought not,” Aradunnon continued, nodding grimly. “And the fact is that you have gone beyond expressing your disagreement with the king’s decisions and you have progressed to trying to convince others that the king is not fit to rule. Is that not true, Tulus?”

Tulus glared at Aradunnon for a long moment, lips pressed tightly together. He was not anxious for his actions to come to light and not simply because they were a crime. It had been a long time since he had agreed with many of the statements he had made in the past. But asked directly, he would not lie. “It is true,” he confessed in a quiet voice.

Aradunnon nodded slowly. “Very wise, Tulus. Will you show yourself to be equally wise and cooperate with me regarding your dealings with the Easterlings?”

Tulus shook his head. “I have had no dealings with the Easterlings,” he replied firmly.

Aradunnon scowled. “Many people in this village have told me that you and Dolwon worked very closely together, Tulus. They suspect you were involved with Dolwon’s interactions with the Easterlings. If you disagree with the king strongly enough, I can easily believe you would turn to someone else for alliances…”

“I have traded with the Northmen,” Tulus interrupted firmly. “And even the dwarves that pass on the Forest Road. Everyone in this village has. But I have never dealt with the Easterlings. They are the servants of the Enemy. To ally with them is to ally with him. I will have no part in it.”

“Then you were not associated with the group of elves that recently arranged for the Easterlings to assassinate the queen?” Aradunnon asked directly, watching Tulus closely.

Tulus’s jaw dropped at that question. “Assassinate? You are accusing me of attempting to kill an elf? An elleth?” he exclaimed, gaping at Aradunnon. “I suppose you think that because the queen was involved in the incident that led to my dismissal, I am seeking revenge against her. By killing her? Well, either you are insane or you think I am. Or perhaps both are true.” Then he paused, frowning, and looked at Aradunnon. “Latest attempt? I had heard the Path Guard killed men that threatened the queen several years ago. Has something else happened?”

Aradunnon studied Tulus carefully. “Yes. The queen, Legolas, my lady wife and my son were attacked a little over a week ago.”

Tulus shook his head. “Dolgailon? But he is in the south. I just saw him two weeks ago…” he trailed off in confusion.

“Not Dolgailon. My youngest, Galithil.”

Tulus’s eyes widened dramatically. “But he, and Legolas too for that matter, are infants. What happened?” he asked. “Surely they are all uninjured? Any different news would have already reached us.”

“The children escaped during the attack and hid. The queen and my wife were taken by the men and we found them just as the men were about to kill them. They were injured but they will recover. The guards with them, Himion and Candirith, were killed,” Aradunnon reported in a calm voice.

Tulus stared at Aradunnon a moment before closing his eyes. “Valar!” he exclaimed in a strangled voice. He walked unsteadily to a chair and collapsed into it, burying his face in his hands. Aradunnon remained quiet, watching Tulus’s reaction.

“Candirith was the son of one of my wife’s brothers,” Tulus whispered into the silence. “I remember his naming ceremony. It was I that encouraged him to follow lord Oropher to Mordor and remain in lord Thranduil’s service after we returned to the forest. He was the only member of my wife’s family to survive that war. His adar died with the king.” He paused. “How is Candirith’s wife?” he asked without looking up. His voice was thick with emotion.

“She is doing as well as can be expected. I did not know that Candirith was your nephew, Tulus….” Aradunnon began.

Tulus snorted derisively. “Obviously not. Else you would have undoubtedly dismissed him from the Guard as well,” he said bitterly in a low voice.

Aradunnon shook his head. “Else I would not have told you of his death so bluntly,” he corrected gently.

Tulus turned toward Aradunnon. He had stood and was leaning over him with concern. Tulus straightened and looked up at him with grief in his eyes. “Even if he were not my nephew, I served with those guards, my lord. I have known most of them my entire life, though I have not spoken to them in millennia. Do you think I would be unaffected to hear of their deaths?”

“I am sorry, Tulus,” Aradunnon said softly.

Tulus shook his head and looked away. “Did you speak to Candirith before he died? Was his wife able to speak to him?” he asked.

Aradunnon looked down as well and spoke in a gentle voice. “He was dead when we found him.” He hesitated. “The details of his death are disturbing. I will tell you if you wish to hear.”

Tulus’s brow knit. “Tell me,” he replied, voice rough.

“The men executed him after he surrendered,” Aradunnon replied.

Tulus closed his eyes again and was silent for a long moment. “Other than Glílavan, Candirith was the only family I had on this side of the sea,” he said quietly opening his eyes and staring into the empty space in front of him. “He would not see me or even accept letters from me after…. I had not spoken to him for a very long time. I wish there were something I could do for his wife. We were once friends,” he concluded in a whisper. “What about Himion? He died as well?” he continued a moment later in a slightly stronger voice.

“He was killed by an arrow when the men launched their attack. The arrow struck the queen as well,” Aradunnon said.

“But she survived?” Tulus asked, looking back at Aradunnon.

Aradunnon nodded.

“He did his duty,” Tulus said softly. Then he took a deep breath and stood, facing Aradunnon resolutely. “I had absolutely no knowledge of this, my lord. I was not involved in planning it. Candirith is my family. Himion was a dear friend before I was dismissed. And I am no kinslayer.”

Aradunnon nodded solemnly. “I believe you, Tulus,” he said sincerely. “But I also believe you have knowledge of the elves that did plan this. I want you to tell me what you know before more of our people are killed.”

Tulus held Aradunnon’s gaze silently for a long moment. Then he looked down and nodded.

*~*~*

Conuiön and Tureden entered the throne room and approached the meeting table occupied by the king and his full council. Coming to stand at the end of the table, they bowed.

“You called for us, my lord?” Conuiön asked, tensing slightly in response to the somber mood that hung heavily over the room.

Thranduil nodded gravely. “Sit down. We have a report from lord Aradunnon to discuss. You will be interested in its contents.”

Conuiön glanced at the paper in the king’s hand as he and Tureden seated themselves at the end of the table.

“Aradunnon spoke to the new leaders in Dolwon and Dannenion’s villages,” the king began in a quiet voice. “He also spoke to all the citizens in those villages. This report describes those conversations. I will give it you Conuiön,” he said passing it to his guard. “I have already sent word to Aradunnon informing him which people I want to speak to personally. You may wish to add to the list. Feel free to do so.”

“Thank you, my lord,” Conuiön replied, eyeing the letter.

Thranduil looked at his guard a moment and then his gaze swept over the other members of the council. “The information Aradunnon obtained is far more serious than any I expected. Hallion and I have spent the morning discussing it and we have decided on a course of action. The purpose of this meeting is to inform you what we have learned and how I intend to handle it. No part of this conversation is to be repeated to anyone outside this room. Is that clear?”

Everyone nodded, studying Thranduil and Hallion with concern.

Thranduil took a deep breath and looked at the table before turning his gaze resolutely back to his council. “We assumed any elves involved in passing information to the Easterlings did so in exchange for aid or products of some type. We assumed it was the men they dealt with that found lord Fengel and the queen to be valuable targets. We were not correct. The information Aradunnon has obtained indicates that a group of elves in the south is unsatisfied with my rule and is intent on removing me. The attack on Lindomiel was motivated by that goal.”

Thranduil’s council stared at him for a moment in stunned silence and then glanced at each other. Finally Dieneryn turned to Thranduil and Hallion who both wore inscrutable expressions.

“How large is this group of elves, Thranduil?” she asked quietly.

“We believe that it is no larger than a dozen or so, mostly the guards in Dannenion and Dolwon’s villages. Dolwon and Dannenion were involved as well. We suspected they were never entirely truthful with us and this explains why,” Thranduil replied.

“Have all the parties involved been arrested, my lord?” Conuiön asked, looking intently at Thranduil.

Thranduil frowned. “Most are being escorted to the capital. They are the people I indicated earlier that I wished to speak to personally,” he replied quietly.

Everyone turned sharply to Thranduil in response to that answer.

“You wish to speak to them, Thranduil?” Engwe repeated, voice rising. “What, beyond speaking, do you intend to do with them?”

Thranduil turned his frown on his uncle. “That depends greatly on how they respond to me, Engwe.”

Engwe snorted and stared at Thranduil. “How they respond to you? They plotted with Easterlings to kill your wife in order to overthrow your rule and you want to see how they respond to you? Do you plan on arming yourself in anticipation of their response, Thranduil?”

Thranduil fixed Engwe with a cold glare. “What would you have me do, Engwe? Shall I execute them as Men do?” he asked with obvious sarcasm. “I thought I shocked you when I referred to the way Turgon managed Eöl.”

Engwe returned the king’s gaze disdainfully. “Of course I am not suggesting that you execute them, Thranduil. But you were perfectly willing to imply to Dolwon and Dannenion that you might react to threats against your family in such a way if they could be proven. Now we apparently have the proof and you want to talk with the elves guilty of plotting to kill your wife to overthrow your rule. Surely you intend to respond to this with more than a simple conversation.”

“Dolwon and Dannenion were lying to me, Engwe. They needed to be encouraged to tell the truth,” Thranduil retorted. His tone, restrained until now, took on a dangerous edge. “And I thought I was dealing with elves that had traded with our enemies for some sort of personal gain. If I had suspected they were allying themselves with the Easterlings to remove me, I would have handled the situation with more care. There has to be a reason why these villagers were driven to such extreme actions. Elves do not normally resort to kinslaying because they are dissatisfied with some political decision. Even in Ost-in-Edhil, when Celebrimbor’s people displaced Celeborn, they did not do so by assassinating him or attempting to assassinate his wife.”

Hallion looked down. “Of course, the Valar help the being—elf, man, dragon, balrog—that threatens lady Galadriel,” he said under his breath.

Thranduil spared a moment to smirk at his steward before continuing. “The point is, I want to know why they felt it was necessary to pursue the path they chose. Did they not know they could approach me with their concerns? Did they not feel comfortable doing so? Did they feel I would not respond to them? Did they approach me and I did not respond? Unless I banish them, I must find a way to bring them back inside this society and to do that I must understand what caused this. I am extremely hesitant to banish them unless they are completely lost to us. The Silvan have lived in this forest for far longer than I. I do not care to build resentment by turning them from their home. And I prefer to keep my enemies where I can watch them. So yes, Engwe, I intend to speak to everyone involved at length. I assure you, there will be consequences for their actions, but not ones that will serve to fuel whatever drove them to turn away from us if I can possibly avoid it.”

Engwe looked at Thranduil doubtfully but remained silent.

When no one else spoke, Conuiön looked at the king with concern. “My lord, you said most of the parties involved are being escorted to the capital. Not all?”

Thranduil shook his head. “Unfortunately no. Aradunnon is remaining in the south to try to find two people that seem to have disappeared—an ellon and an elleth. The ellon is already well known to us—it is Fuilin.”

Conuiön and Tureden nodded grimly hearing that name. Dieneryn and Engwe looked at Thranduil with concern, obviously recognizing the name.

Celonhael and Golwon, however, were plainly confused.

“Forgive me, my lord,” Celonhael said. “I do not think I know that name.”

Golwon glanced at him and nodded, looking to Thranduil for an explanation.

“I suppose you might not. You were not involved in dealing with him,” Thranduil replied. “Briefly, we arrested Fuilin and some of his family for dealing with men nearly a millennium ago when we were preparing to move the capital north. They protested the move and helped some Woodsmen in the Narrows enter the forest to hunt in exchange for promises of aid against the orcs. Moreover, Fuilin approached Amoneth in an attempt to ply her for information she might have heard from Aradunnon regarding troop movements.”

“Just as the person that planned this attack against the queen clearly was well informed regarding troop movements,” Golwon said softly.

Thranduil nodded. “Precisely. You can see why I am not overly surprised by this information. The fact that Fuilin has disappeared is only further evidence in my mind that he is a central figure in this plot.” He paused and looked at the letter in Conuiön’s hands. “The other person Aradunnon is searching for is an elleth and we are fairly certain that she is the one our prisoner named. Several villagers have stated that she purchased items from the Northmen using jewels just as our prisoner said his captain had been paid in jewels for the first attempt on the queen.” He looked at his family around the table. “Her name is completely unfamiliar to me however, which strikes me as very unusual, especially since the villagers insist that she is Sindarin not Silvan.”

Everyone at the table raised their eyebrows at that. They all knew everyone that had traveled east with Oropher.

“What is the name, my lord?” Dieneryn asked.

“Manadhien,” Thranduil replied.

Nearly everyone in the room responded similarly to that announcement, shrugging and shaking their heads without recognition. Only Dieneryn reacted differently. Her brow knit and she stared at nothing for a moment. Then she looked at Hallion.

“Hallion what the Quenyan equivalent of ‘manadh?’ Do you know?” she asked softly.

Thranduil’s expression soured in response to his mother’s question.

Engwe grimaced dramatically. “It is manar, if we must endure that language,” he intervened with a disgusted tone. “I would prefer that we do not. Why could you possibly be interested in that?”

Hallion ignored Engwe. Instead he responded to Dieneryn’s question with an alarmed tone. “I think that is one translation. Is ‘marto’ not another?”

Thranduil’s irritation increased. “Why must we be subjected to vocabulary lessons in the Forbidden Tongue? I have no more desire to hear that language than did the High King. Possibly less.”

“This is one language lesson I think you should apply yourself to, Thranduil,” Dieneryn replied firmly. “If Manadhien is not a familiar name, perhaps Marti is?”

Thranduil, Conuiön and Tureden’s eyes all darted to Dieneryn. Then Thranduil turned to his uncle. “Could Manadhien be a Sindarization of Marti?”

Engwe drew a quiet breath and nodded. “I think so,” he replied seriously, the derision gone from his tone. “I always thought Marti was an unusual name. I assumed it was based on some Silvan word I did not know. It could be Quenyan. I thought I remembered hearing the name Manarindë amongst the Exiles, which is why I remember the word ‘manar,’ but I can see Marti as another variation meaning the same thing. I never imagined Quenya to be the origin of Marti’s name.”

Thranduil let out a long breath. “If she uses a Quenyan name, she must be Noldorin. That would explain why the Silvan do not recognize her as one of their own and why we do not either. Regardless of the origin of the name and person, if this Manadhien and Marti are the same person, that would be very serious news indeed,” he said quietly. “It would explain why the queen and not I was targeted by the men. That is certain.” He turned to Conuiön. “I thought you were confident that she had left the forest. I thought you searched for her thoroughly.”

“We did, my lord,” he replied. “My guards and the patrols all searched for her for nearly a yén. We even sent messages to Lorien, Imladris and Mithlond. How she could have remained in the forest and escaped those searches, I cannot imagine.”

“She could have left and returned when it was safer,” Hallion suggested as everyone exchanged worried glances.

Conuion scowled and stood. “By your leave, my lord, I do not want any delay in informing Colloth of our suspicions. I am not comfortable with the idea of lord Aradunnon being near Marti while he is unaware of her presence. I intend to send Tureden with a few more guards to help him search for her and I would like your leave to ask lord Aradunnon for the help of the southern and eastern patrols.”

“I doubt you will need my permission to use the patrols when Aradunnon learns who he is looking for,” Thranduil replied. “And I want the guard on Lindomiel doubled in response to this information as well. But before you leave, there is one more person named in this report that might interest you.”

Conuiön looked at the king silently for a moment, his posture tense. “Lord Aradunnon has confirmed that Tulus is involved,” he guessed in a quiet voice.

To the guard’s surprise, Thranduil shook his head. “Aradunnon seems convinced Tulus was a pawn at best. Apparently he cooperated when he was questioned. Unfortunately, he was not able to provide any more information than the other villagers. Nevertheless, he is one of the people I have asked Aradunnon to send to me. I thought you should know he will be arriving within the week and I intend to question him further.”

Conuiön frowned. “I think I will stand guard in the throne room personally that day,” he replied.

*~*~*

Thranduil walked down the dimly lit corridor of the family chambers, past the deserted sitting room, with his eyes fixed on the door to his private chamber. A full day of dealing with Aradunnon’s news had left him more exhausted than he had felt after many a battle…and as dispirited as he felt after fighting a loosing one.

Reaching the door, he opened it quietly. It was late and he expected Legolas and possibly even Lindomiel would be asleep. The lights in the sitting room were extinguished so he crossed it silently to the partially open door to the bed chambers. As he slipped into the room, he saw two still forms on the bed. To his surprise, they stirred as soon as he fully entered the room and a little blonde head popped out from the bed covers.

“Ada,” Legolas exclaimed, his tired voice a ghost of its normal excitement when greeting his father. The child struggled to throw off the bed covers and stand on the bed, holding out his arms.

Behind him, Lindomiel pulled herself up and helped him.

Thranduil looked at the sight before him and could not help but laugh. Legolas stood unsteadily on the bed, his hair tussled and desperately trying to stay awake long enough for his father to reach the bed and wish him goodnight.

Thranduil walked straight to him and enveloped his son in his arms. “What are you doing up so late?” he whispered as the child wrapped his arms around his father’s neck.

“Waiting for you, ada,” Legolas replied sleepily, snuggling his face against his father’s neck.

“He would not sleep. He was determined. I have never seen such a valiant fight against any enemy,” Lindomiel added with an indulgent smile.

Legolas only responded by tightening his arms around his father’s neck.

Thranduil sighed and shook his head, pulling Legolas into his lap and holding him against his chest. He placed a kiss on his son’s head. “Well I am here now,” he said in a soothing voice. “It is time for bed,” he whispered, swaying slowly to lull his son to sleep in his arms. After a moment, he closed his own eyes and reveled in the simple pleasure of holding his son.

“Where were you ada?” Legolas whispered just as his parents thought he might have fallen asleep.

Thranduil looked down and drew a finger across his son’s cheek. “I was working in my office. Sometimes I have to work late and you should not exhaust yourself waiting for me. I am certain nana told you to go to sleep.”

A little frown formed on Legolas’s face. “I was afraid you had gone like uncle Aradunnon,” he said with a voice that trembled slightly.

Thranduil’s brow knit at that statement. His concern deepened when he glanced at Lindomiel.

“Galithil was upset too, Thranduil. I think you should be certain to see him in the morning to reassure him that you are still here,” she said quietly.

Thranduil tightened his arms around his son. “Legolas, I would never go anywhere without saying goodbye to you first. I was working on something very important tonight and I simply could not stop until I was finished, but I should have come to see both you and your cousin to bed. I am sorry,” he said kissing Legolas on the top of his head. Then he looked at Lindomiel. “Why did you not bring them to my office if they were upset?” he asked, looking at her with a frown.

“I was going to,” Lindomiel responded quietly, “but daernana said that you should not be disturbed. She said that whatever you were working on was very serious.”

Legolas looked up at his father with wide eyes. “What happened, ada? Did more men come?”

Thranduil looked at Lindomiel with dismay.

“No, Legolas,” Thranduil said firmly. “There are no more men. This is a very large forest and there are many elves in it and sometimes I simply have a great deal of work to do to make sure everyone has what they need. Just because I am working late does not mean that something bad has happened. You do not need to worry about such things.”

“But uncle Aradunnon went away because of the men and so did Dolgailon,” Legolas said, his concern obviously not diminished.

“Uncle Aradunnon and your cousin are both warriors, Legolas. Captains. Your uncle commands every warrior in this forest. That is a very important duty. Sometimes he has to go talk to the warriors that live in other villages in person but he will come back as soon as he can. He is only doing a normal part of his duty. It is nothing to be worried about.”

Legolas frowned and clutched the fabric of his father’s robe in his fists. “You are king, ada, and that is important. Do you have to go do things like that?”

Thranduil sighed quietly. “Sometimes, Legolas. And sometimes nana goes to speak to Lord Fengel in Dale. Sometimes uncle Celonhael and uncle Golwon go to visit Mannish towns or other villages in the forest. And when you are older, you will certainly have duties that take you away from home. It is normal to miss people when they go away, but it is nothing to worry about. And you will see that it is very nice when they come home. Try to look forward to that.”

Legolas brightened a little. “Arthiel said you will have a festival on the green when Dolgailon comes home. She said you did the last time.”

Thranduil laughed quietly. “Yes, I did. And if you and Galithil want to have one when Dolgailon and Aradunnon come home this time, then we will have one. And you can help your naneths plan it. Would you like that?”

Legolas nodded, smiling contentedly at that promise.

Thranduil smiled in return. “That is what I want to see,” he said, pinching Legolas’s nose and making him squirm and giggle. Thranduil laid Legolas on the bed and pulled the covers over him, leaning over to kiss his forehead. “I look forward every evening to leaving my office and seeing the smile you always have for me, Legolas,” he said, lying next to his son on top of the covers and pulling him against him. “It brightens the room like the sun itself and, no matter how difficult my day has been, seeing you makes it better. That may be the most important duty in the whole realm and it is one only you and your nana can perform.”

Legolas laughed. “You are being silly, ada. Smiling is not a duty. Everyone smiles.”

“Everyone does smile, my heart, but only your smile and your nana’s can right anything that is wrong in my world because only the two of you are that special to me. I am very sorry that I disappointed you by not coming to see you to bed.”

“It is all right, ada,” Legolas said with laughter still in his voice. Then he looked at Thranduil with bright eyes. “Do you want to hear the story nana and I made?”

Thranduil’s eyebrows went up with amusement. “You and nana made a story?”

Lindomiel smirked at her husband. “Since I cannot tell stories as well as you, ada,” she began with a dramatically insulted tone. The fact that neither Legolas or Galithil were satisfied with their mothers’ stories was fodder for many jokes in the household. “Legolas agreed to make up a story with me while we were waiting for you. We took turns telling parts of it.”

Legolas nodded enthusiastically. “It was funny. It was about dwarves and they came to help make a stronghold for elves and the king of the elves did not really like the dwarves but the dwarves were clever and…” Legolas drifted off in response to his father’s expression.

Thranduil had raised one eyebrow and was looking at Lindomiel indignantly. Lindomiel giggled quietly.

“It was a wonderful story,” she said with as straight a face as she could muster. “Legolas tell your adar what the king did when the dwarves….”

“I do not want to know,” Thranduil interrupted firmly and Lindomiel’s eyes sparkled. He glared at her playfully for a moment before looking down at his son. “I will tell you a proper story Legolas and then you must to go to sleep.”

The somewhat confused expression on Legolas’s face was replaced by an excited grin and he looked at his father expectantly.

Thranduil smirked at Lindomiel before beginning. “Be thankful that he does not like stories about princesses,” he quipped.

Legolas wrinkled his nose and shook his head, causing Lindomiel to giggle again.

Once Thranduil began his story and Legolas snuggled against his pillow, oblivious to any world other than the one created by his father’s deep voice, Lindomiel turned a steady gaze on her husband. Thranduil frowned and focused resolutely on Legolas. Despite his best efforts to ignore his wife’s demanding gaze, he knew once Legolas drifted asleep, Lindomiel would expect an explanation. He was simply not prepared to supply one. Marti was not a topic he had ever wanted to readdress with his wife. And he was determined to avoid doing so now, at least until he had confirmed his suspicions.

*~*~*

Sorry for the delay in this update. I had a lot of extra curricular activities last weekend and I was buried at work this week. Again. I also decided to split this chapter as well (it was 25 pages and that was too much). So that required a little rewriting. The next chapter will be up on Sunday and the Epilogue on Wednesday. I appreciate folks sticking with me through the delays.

adar/ada—Father/dad

naneth/nana—Mother/mum

daeradar/naneth—Grandfather/mother

meleth nin—my love


Chapter 15 - Imprisoned by past evils

As Hallion’s voice murmured in the background, concluding the details of the last interview and preparing for the next, Thranduil leaned against the back of his throne, reflecting on the testimony he had heard thus far. Since early that morning, he and his steward had questioned the villagers that Aradunnon sent to the stronghold. It was an exhausting and oddly painful process and the recurring themes of the separate confessions disturbed Thranduil more than he had expected they would.

“We are ready to continue when you are, my lord,” Hallion stated, climbing the stairs of the dais to take his place next to the king. Conuiön and Galuauth also returned to attention where they stood flanking the dais. They had been a presence in the throne room throughout the day. Now they stood tensely.

Thranduil’s brow furrowed slightly at their stance and he nodded to the guard at the door to admit the next person. “Who will this be?” he asked Hallion quietly as the guard opened the door and signaled to someone outside it.

“Tulus,” Hallion whispered.

Thranduil nodded, understanding Conuiön and Galuauth’s tension a bit better. This was the encounter they all expected to be the most difficult. Thranduil composed his face in neutral lines as his former guard passed through the tall, carven oak doors of the throne room, glancing around the Hall with wide eyes as he did. When his gaze fell on the king, Tulus looked down and strode swiftly along the center corridor of the Hall until he reached a distance of several feet from the throne. There, he knelt on one knee, eyes on the floor before him.

As he had done many times this day, the king took a deep breath and reined in the emotions that would not help him make fair judgments. He found that exercise unusually difficult as he looked at the elf before him—one who had once been trusted with his family’s lives and who now stood accused of plotting their assassination.

“You may stand, Tulus,” Thranduil said quietly.

Without lifting his gaze, Tulus rose. He stood rigidly, hands clasped behind his back, shoulders squared tensely, head bowed.

Thranduil glanced at Hallion and his steward returned his gaze, eyebrows raised.

“Tulus, the information that you volunteered to lord Aradunnon has been proven true through the interviews I have already conducted today. It was invaluable in resolving this situation and I appreciate your willingness to provide it,” he began. “I have a few further questions that I would like to discuss with you. Then I want to try to understand what caused you to take part in this group’s activities. Do you understand?”

Tulus glanced up quickly. “I do, my lord,” he replied in a low voice returning his eyes to the floor.

Thranduil paused and studied Tulus. He had not been as surprised as Aradunnon by Tulus’s willing confession. Honesty had never been the guard’s problem; restraint had. While Thranduil supposed that Tulus might have learned to govern his tongue over the last millennia, he found it much easier to believe that he would argue to justify his actions as he had in their last encounter. His utter lack of defiance was quite surprising.

“Very well,” Thranduil said, musing to himself that he should be thankful for Tulus’s reserved behavior. “The foremost question in my mind involves this elleth, Manadhien. You know her, correct?” he began.

Tulus nodded slowly without looking up. “Yes, my lord. I know her,” he answered gravely.

Thranduil raised an eyebrow at Tulus’s tone but continued his questioning. “I believe you might also remember an elleth named Marti who lived in the old capital. I want to know if you remember Marti and if Manadhien and Marti are the same person.”

Tulus looked at the king fully for the first time with furrowed brows. “Yes, my lord. I remember Marti. She uses the name Manadhien now. They are the same person,” he answered readily.

Thranduil’s mouth formed a thin line and he heard Hallion loose a quiet breath. From the corner of his eye he saw Conuiön and Galuauth tense.

“Do you know where either she or Fuilin are now?” Thranduil continued, not allowing his tone to reflect how that confirmation had disturbed him.

“I do not, my lord,” Tulus replied quietly.

Thranduil frowned. “Do you know where she lived before she joined your village or do you know where her family lives?” he asked.

Tulus shook his head regretfully. “I do not know, my lord. She came to live in my village about a yén before you moved the capital and she moved with us when we relocated north of the mountains. She occasionally left the village for extended periods—sometimes months—but she never told anyone where she went during her absences. I do not think she visited family and no family ever visited her. She never spoke of her parents or siblings so I assumed her family had all been killed or had sailed as mine has. We often spoke of my losses and she always seemed to understand them well.”

Thranduil nodded, smiling slightly. When planning the questioning of the villagers, he and Hallion had discussed the possibility that Tulus’s naturally loose tongue might provide more information than the guard intended if he were questioned properly. This last answer had been more characteristic of Tulus than his other responses—it was long-winded and overly thorough and it was the type Thranduil wanted to encourage.

“Do you know anything about her past that might help us find her?” he asked, assuming a conversational tone.

Again Tulus shook his head. “She did not speak much about herself. I think she is noble born. I know at least that she has wealth because her clothing and jewelry are far beyond anything I have ever seen in this forest. I know she lived in Doriath before it was destroyed. That is the only past home she has ever mentioned to me but clearly she has not returned there so that will not help you find her. I am sorry, my lord.”

Thranduil felt Hallion lean subtly again his shoulder but he hardly needed to have the significance of that monologue pointed out to him. “You know she lived in Doriath?” he repeated, unable to entirely conceal his surprise. “What makes you think that?”

Tulus’s brow furrowed and he looked up at the king nervously. “She spoke of it,” he answered evasively.

“What did she say of it,” Thranduil demanded, eyeing Tulus suspiciously.

“Nothing kind,” he replied softly, the muscles in his arms flexing as he wrung his hands still clasped behind his back. “Neither about the realm, the High King or your family, my lord. I will repeat her words if you wish to hear them but I think they will anger you.”

“My family,” Thranduil said with open incredulity, looking at Hallion. The steward shook his head almost imperceptibly. Thranduil returned his focus to Tulus. “I would very much like to hear what Marti said about Doriath, the High King and my family, Tulus,” he said with a sharp edge on his voice.

Tulus shifted uncomfortably. “She said you rule this forest as poorly as Elu Thingol ruled the forests in Doriath,” he began in a quiet voice, eyes on the floor. “She compared your unwillingness to fight the orcs here to the High King’s unwillingness to join Maedhros against Morgoth in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. She said you are repeating the mistakes here that led to the fall of Doriath.”

“Those statements only retell historical facts,” Thranduil replied, “although in a twisted manner,” he added under his breath. “They do not necessarily indicate that she lived in Doriath.”

Tulus’s brow puckered and he shook his head. “She spoke of those events as if she remembered them first hand though I admit she was never specific about anything she said,” he replied. Then he hesitated. “She did occasionally remind me of a particular story involving lord Oropher that made it clear she lived in Doriath.”

Thranduil blinked. “What story did Marti tell involving lord Oropher?” he asked.

“One about a meeting in the High King’s court in Doriath. Apparently her family was there asking the High King for some sort of aid and lord Oropher said something damaging about them…she was very bitter about that incident. She always claimed lord Oropher had begun persecuting her that day and had not stopped until nothing was left of her family to destroy.” Tulus looked up at Thranduil and, when he spoke, his voice was hard. “She learned not to say things like that around me too often. I was amongst the warriors that lord Oropher first encountered when scouting this forest. I accompanied him to escort your people here, as you may remember. He always treated me well and I would not listen to Manadhien disparage him.”

Thranduil regarded Tulus silently for a long moment. “That rather begs the question of why you were so willing to listen to Marti disparage me,” he said in an even voice.

Tulus looked down and shook his head slightly. “I had many reasons in my head, my lord. I cannot deny that the primary reason was that I was embittered by the way you and lord Aradunnon have treated me…”

Thranduil raised his eyebrows.

Tulus frowned seeing the king’s reaction and continued in a determined voice—one that shook with millennia of resentment. “I do not deny that I was wrong to speak the way I did about the queen and I was a fool to respond to you as I did when you confronted me. I deserved to be dismissed from your Guard. But I never believed that I deserved to be barred permanently from serving in the patrols and essentially banished from this realm. I certainly do not believe my son should continue to suffer for my mistakes but he has. He has served this realm faithfully since he came of age. He has never had a single reprimand. Yet lord Aradunnon refuses to consider him for promotion because of who his father is. I see that as very unjust.” He stopped and looked down, as if suddenly aware that his tone was heated. “Forgive me, my lord,” he continued in a softer voice. “I am not trying to justify my behavior. I committed a crime and I am here to accept the consequences for it. You asked why I betrayed you and that is the honest reason. Manadhien tried to make us see our actions as noble. She told us repeatedly that we were acting to protect the forest when you had failed to do so. But, I am here to be honest with you and I will not hide behind those lies because I have known for many yeni that they were a distortion of the truth. I would not have fallen in with this group if I had not allowed myself to be manipulated by my anger towards you.”

Thranduil remained silent for a moment, taking time to see past the anger directed at him to better hear the words behind it. After a moment’s reflection, he could not deny their validity and that pained him. But he was also interested that Tulus’s statement, like those of the villagers who had already testified, led straight back to Manadhien.

“You were manipulated?” he asked softly.

Tulus sighed and looked down. “I do not intend to blame others. My actions were my own, my lord.”

Thranduil nodded. “I recognize that you wish to accept responsibility for your deeds, Tulus, and your willingness to do so will not go unrewarded. But you are not the first guard from your village to say that you felt ‘manipulated’ and that is something I must understand better. Can you explain it? Who manipulated you?”

Tulus hesitated a moment as he struggled to formulate his thoughts. “Manadhien is very good at controlling people, my lord. She could portray actions that would normally seem abhorrent as utterly justified,” he finally replied. “As I said, she reminded us constantly that we had to protect the forest since its king would not. She said that our actions were necessary since you had already broken faith with us by not defending our homes. When she spoke of such things, she would emphasize recent difficulties…a raid by orcs or some lack of supplies or any request that you refused to grant. Her words sounded very logical and convincing.” He sighed. “And she could read what was important to people…what motivated them.” He paused and looked at Thranduil. “She repeated that story about lord Oropher to me, saying that he had set out to destroy her family and she said you were doing the same to my son and I. She cited the facts that I had been barred from the patrols and Glílavan had been refused promotions as evidence. It seemed very believable when she said it. That is what makes me think she was noble born more than her wealth. She spoke as someone accustomed to commanding people. It was hard to deny her demands.”

“So when she turned from calling for me to abdicate and began to plot my removal, you found it difficult to resist taking part in that plot?” Thranduil asked coolly.

Tulus looked at Thranduil directly and shook his head. “I swear I did not participate in those plans, my lord. When you chose to retreat so far north, I was willing to try to persuade others that you had not upheld your vow to defend this forest. But I was never willing to do more than that. Manadhien, Fuilin and possibly Dannenion were the only ones sympathetic to more extreme proposals. I first heard the suggestion that you should be forcibly removed only in the last few years, but in retrospect I believe someone, probably Manadhien and Fuilin, has been planning it for a long while. They know the Easterlings far too well.” He paused for emphasis. “While I freely confess to sedition, my lord, I swear that I was not involved in any of the dealings with the men and I did nothing to support those dealings.”

“But you knew about them,” Thranduil stated.

Tulus grimaced. “Yes, my lord. I knew Manadhien had hired the men to try to capture the queen when she went to Dale. Very recently I had heard Manadhien and Fuilin imply that another attempt might be made, but nothing else was said about it.”

Thranduil spoke in a carefully controlled voice. “I admit that I am very disturbed to hear that a guard I once trusted with my life and the lives of my family members knew in advance of these attacks and did nothing,” he said, his tone implying he wanted an explanation.

Tulus looked down. “To the best of my knowledge, the men were not supposed to injure the queen, only capture her,” he began.

Thranduil could not conceal his reaction to that statement—it was the sort he expected from Tulus. His expression hardened. “You thought the men only intended to capture the queen?” he interrupted, voice rising. “And it did not occur to you, a former member of my Guard, that elves, including the queen, would be injured and possibly killed in the attempt?”

Tulus closed his eyes. “No, my lord. I did not believe the men could get into the forest, much less overpower your guards. I thought, if anything, the men and not elves would be killed. They were in the first attempt.”

“Well, we were not so lucky in the second, were we?” Thranduil said harshly. “Himion and Candirith were killed, my wife was injured and my infant son and nephew were forced to watch men attack their mothers and kill their guards.”

Tulus remained silent, eyes on the floor.

Thranduil glared at the guard, reining in his anger. Tulus’s silence was an improvement over what Thranduil remembered of his normal reactions.

“Does your failure to prevent these incidents not make you complicit in them, Tulus?” Thranduil finally asked, again in the same calm tone he had held to throughout most of the interview.

Tulus nodded. “Yes, my lord,” he admitted. “I tried to distance myself from Manadhien and Fuilin and even the village leaders when they began plotting with the men. I should have reported them.” He looked down and continued in a whisper. “I did not intend for this to happen. I have been very troubled in the last years by how extreme Manadhien’s schemes have become. I wanted it to end but I did not know how to make it end.”

Thranduil leaned forward to draw Tulus’s gaze. “You wanted it to end because you feared it would end in violence?” he asked softly.

“Yes, my lord. And it did.”

Thranduil nodded. “Indeed it did. Tulus, if you feared it would end in violence, why did you not come to me? Even if you had to incriminate yourself to do so, what could I possibly do to you that would be worse than the death of two innocent elves?”

Tulus closed his eyes again. “I know I was a coward, my lord. Manadhien and Fuilin made it clear that if I spoke against them, I would fall with them. And worse, they threatened to accuse my son as well. I was afraid of what you would do to us…more afraid for my son than for myself…but I was afraid.”

Thranduil frowned. “Is Glílavan involved, Tulus?” he asked, looking at him intently.

“No, my lord,” Tulus whispered.

“Are you certain? Someone passed information about the patrols to the men. Glílavan would certainly be in a position to provide that information. And some of the village guards stated that Manadhien got her information from letters that Glílavan sent to you.”

The fear that had radiated from Tulus when he first came to stand before the king returned full force as he responded to that statement. “My son did not betray his fellow warriors, my lord. If it is true that Manadhien got her information from my son’s letters, that was not his intent when he wrote me. He only wrote letters to his adar about his new duties.”

Thranduil regarded Tulus narrowly for a long moment. “Very well,” he said quietly. “I have no other questions for you, Tulus. Now we must discuss what to do with you.” He paused and Tulus straightened, looking at him tensely. Thranduil continued in a soft voice. “You have confessed to sedition, Tulus, and given the activities that you described to lord Aradunnon, I believe you are indeed guilty of that crime. That disturbs me greatly. I am not a tyrant, Tulus. If the villagers in the south or anywhere else in the forest have grievances, encourage them to speak to me, not call for my removal. I am happy to hear their concerns and address them however I can without sacrificing the overall safety of the realm. Do you understand that?”

Tulus nodded. “Yes, my lord.”

“Do you believe it?”

“Yes, my lord. I realized many years ago that I was allowing my own resentment to prevent me from reacting to you fairly. I know that you have done all you can given the enemy that you face.”

Thranduil nodded once. “As an experienced warrior, one more familiar than most of the citizens in this realm with the cost of weaponry, the requirements of training, and the complexity of guarding a forest this large, I would expect you to understand the difficulties presented by the orcs and spiders in the south, Tulus. I am relieved to hear you say that,” he replied. “May I take your response as an indication that you are willing to continue living in this realm under my rule?”

Tulus looked up at the king with surprise and a spark of hope at that question. “If you allow it, my lord, then yes I am.”

Thranduil sighed. “It has never been my goal to drive any of the Silvan from their home or allow the forest to fall to ruin, Tulus. If you wish to live here and you are willing to accept my rule and law, then you are welcome to do so. I have made the same offer to everyone else involved in this incident.” He paused and looked at Tulus firmly. “But you must be willing to accept my law and that means that there will be consequences for your actions.”

Tulus returned Thranduil’s gaze. “I expected so, my lord. I came here willingly to accept those consequences,” he replied.

Thranduil nodded. “I find you guilty of sedition, Tulus, and of failing to report Manadhien and Fuilin’s treason,” he said formally. “But I believe it was not your intent to actually commit high treason and I believe that you wanted to report your co-conspirators’ actions but were too afraid to do so. You did behave honorably when directly confronted and that took courage that I wish to reward.” He paused. “If you want to continue living in this forest, you must remain in the capital, under guard, until such a time that I am convinced you can be trusted. I will not hold you in the stronghold—you may build a cottage or talan—but if the guard reports to me that you are engaged in any crime, I will be forced to banish you from this forest for the safety of all the citizens of this realm who depend on me for protection. That banishment will be permanent because then you will have betrayed the mercy that I have shown you today and I will have absolutely no tolerance for that. Do you understand?”

Tulus looked down and bowed. “I understand, my lord. Thank you,” he said with relief in his voice.

Thranduil nodded and continued in a softer tone. “Furthermore, I acknowledge your complaint that you and your son have not been treated fairly.”

Tulus looked up with surprise but Thranduil continued without pause.

“As for Glílavan, I was not aware until recently that lord Aradunnon had denied him promotion. Lord Dolgailon brought Glílavan to my attention with his recommended that he serve as a lieutenant in the training program. I supported lord Dolgailon and of course you know Glílavan did receive that appointment. I believe that satisfies that situation.”

“It does, my lord. I was very pleased when Glílavan told me he had been promoted. I did not know you were involved. Thank you,” he replied.

Thranduil looked at him sadly. “As for yourself, I never intended for your dismissal from my Guard to result in a permanent expulsion from military service. I would have supported a temporary ban from general service since you were dismissed for insubordination, but not a permanent one. If I had known that had been the result, I would have clarified my intent to lord Aradunnon sooner. Given the current situation, the only thing I can offer you is this: after you have convinced me that you should be trusted, I will speak to lord Aradunnon about permitting you to join one of the patrols if you still wish to do so.”

Tulus blinked and looked at Thranduil incredulously before finding his voice. “Thank you, my lord,” he repeated. “I am very grateful, both that you have allowed me to continue living here and that you have given me hope that I might return to the patrols. I know that after everything that I have done, that is a great boon. I expected much worse than this.”

“And that expectation, born of the results of our last meeting, is what prevented you from coming forward and allowed this situation to escalate to the point it did,” Thranduil responded. “You are required to regain my trust, Tulus, but I realize that I must also earn yours in order to truly rectify this situation. I will strive to do so if you will allow it.”

Tulus looked up at him. “This conversation has gone a long way towards achieving that goal from my point of view, my lord,” he said softly.

Thranduil nodded and stood, stepping down from the dais to speak to Tulus. “I am aware that you and my adar were closer than you and I ever were. Perhaps your stay in the capital will change that and we will come to know each other better. And as for your son, lord Dolgailon has always spoken highly of Glílavan and I know he considers him a true friend. I honestly I never realized who his father was until we discussed the training program. Since he is in the capital and is now an officer in my military, I will make an effort to get to know him better as well.”

Tulus smiled at Thranduil cautiously. “I am sure Glílavan will like that, my lord. He and lord Dolgailon have long been friends.” The smile faded from Tulus’s face. “Before this, Lord Dolgailon and I were friends,” he added sadly.

Thranduil looked at Tulus steadily. “Lord Dolgailon is fair minded, Tulus. Speak to him as you just did to me and he may understand all that has happened better than you think.” He paused. “Are you not concerned what Glílavan will say to you when you tell him why you are here?” he asked.

To Thranduil’s surprise, Tulus only snorted. “Glílavan is going to be furious with me,” he said readily. “You will likely hear the argument all the way in the stronghold. He has never hesitated to express his opinions to me and I am certain this incident will not be the exception.”

Thranduil pressed his lips together in an effort not to laugh. “Forgive me, Tulus, but it sounds to me that Glílavan is his father’s son,” he said, earning a wry smirk from his former guard. After a moment, he grew more serious. “But you believe he will not turn you away? I ask only because in his report to me, lord Aradunnon said that several statements you made implied that you have felt very isolated in the south…that your remaining family and friends had turned away from you after you were dismissed. You said to me earlier that you felt ‘essentially banished.’ That was never my intent and it is not my intent now. I will speak to Glílavan if you wish.”

Tulus stared at Thranduil a moment, surprise and gratitude in his eyes. “I greatly appreciate that, my lord, but I do not believe it will be necessary. Glílavan and I are all the family we have ever had since his naneth sailed. He will be furious. I may even be made to sleep on his doorstep for a few nights. But since you have given me another chance, he will as well. I am sure of it.”

“Very well,” Thranduil replied, gesturing for a guard standing at the back of the Hall. “Then I suggest you go look for your son. The report I had from the training masters this afternoon indicated Glílavan had returned from an exercise this morning so he will be either in his cottage, on the green or possibly at an Oak tree that the warriors sometimes gather near for merrymaking. I am sure your guard can direct you to it if you cannot find Glílavan anywhere else. I wish you a happy reunion with as little argument as possible.”

A faint smile brightened Tulus’s face. “Thank you, my lord,” he said. With a bow, he turned and left, followed by the guard Thranduil had called.

Conuiön eyed his departure until the doors to the throne room closed behind him.

“Tulus was the last of them, my lord,” Hallion said, descending the dais to stand next to Thranduil.

“Good,” he replied, a hint of the exhaustion he felt in his voice. Then he turned to face his steward and guards. “What are your thoughts? Have we found everyone? Do you believe we have the entire truth of the matter now?”

Hallion nodded thoughtfully. “I believe so, my lord. None of the villagers mentioned any names other than the people we have in the capital. With the exception of Manadhien and Fuilin, of course. We still must find them,” he began.

“I am not satisfied that Glílavan is not involved,” Conuiön interrupted firmly, taking a step forward to join the conversation.

Thranduil nodded. “Nor am I. But that is the advantage of keeping Tulus and the others in the capital. We can watch them. I sincerely hope that they are all as willing to return to productive lives in this forest as they appeared to be, but if they are not, they eventually will grow comfortable and return to their scheming. I intend to give them the impression that they have the freedom to do just that. Perhaps they will lead us to Marti and Fuilin and whoever passed the information about the patrols—whether that is Glílavan or not.”

Conuiön scowled. “That may work and it may not but I do not recommend that we wait to find out. We have at least three of the conspirators at large, two known to us and one unknown. And those still at large appear to be the most dangerous,” he said.

Again, Thranduil nodded. “I agree, Conuiön. I intend to have Golwon send word to every village describing Marti and Fuilin and asking the village leaders to inform me if they are seen. Aradunnon will speak to the officers in the patrols to have them search the forest.” He sighed. “Amoneth and Galithil will be disappointed but I intend to ask Aradunnon to remain in the south and be a presence in the villages until we are confident we have overcome any damage Marti and Fuilin might have done there. And of course Dolgailon must stay until we are certain the Easterlings will confine their attack to Gondor.” He paused and looked between the captain of his guard and his steward “Do either of you have any further suggestions?”

Hallion sighed softly. “I do not think we will find Marti in the forest, my lord. We searched for her after your wedding to no avail. I believe she left the forest then and I think she will do so again since her co-conspirators have clearly been discovered. When they are not exiled, she will have reason to believe she has been betrayed so she will be cautious. I recommend that we ask lord Fengel and the Master in Esgaroth to watch for her in their lands.”

Thranduil frowned at that. “I do not like the idea of involving men any further in this,” he protested quietly.

Hallion could easily read that statement was an automatic reaction, not a position the king believed he could hold. “I do not think we have a choice if we want to be certain to find them, my lord,” he pressed.

Thranduil sighed. “You manage that, Hallion. Delicately. And perhaps you should include lord Forthwini’s people as well. Marti and Fuilin could go west as easily as east.”

Hallion nodded his agreement.

Thranduil paused a moment, his expression growing grim. He looked sidelong at his steward. “I assume you did not know that my adar had any association with Marti in Doriath?” he asked, turning to the most surprising revelation of the day.

Hallion’s eyebrows went up and he shook his head. “I could have fallen over when Tulus mentioned lord Oropher in connection with Marti or Manadhien…whatever her name may be. I do not recall ever meeting her in Menegroth but it is very unlikely that I would have. I did not attend the court. I did research; others advised the king. That duty fell to me only very rarely.”

Thranduil looked to Conuiön and the guard’s eyes widened. He also shook his head. “I was a warrior on the marches in Doriath, my lord. I had no contact with the court. I first met lord Oropher when the Dwarves invaded the stronghold. It was only after we fled to Sirion that he asked me to join his household. You know that very well for your own actions inspired that decision.”

Thranduil smirked at that memory. “True. But I also know guards often see far more than kings. Now that the connection has been made between Marti and Doriath, do you remember seeing her traveling on the roads, for example? Or living in the forests?”

“Not that I recall, my lord,” Conuiön replied. “The High King allowed very few of the Noldor into his lands and I cannot remember seeing Marti amongst them.”

Thranduil frowned in response to that reminder. “Marti, one of the Exiles…this only continues to grow worse. When we were waiting to ask Tulus if Marti and Manadhien were the same person, I was concerned, of course—the idea that a spurned elleth would plot against my rule as revenge after nearly two millennia was very disturbing. It would clearly show that she is insane. But this—if her actions against me are inspired by some offense my adar caused her in Doriath three Ages ago… that is clearly much more serious. If nothing else, it demonstrates a frightening level of determination.”

Hallion nodded. “I was greatly disturbed by each of the villager’s testimony regarding her ability to twist others to her way of thinking. Villagers are bound to disagree with some of the decisions that are made for the greater good of the realm. The idea that someone is inflaming their displeasure and driving it to rebellion is very troubling.”

“Agreed. It is especially troubling since such behavior is not exactly foreign to the Noldor—Curufin and Celegorm in Nargothrond and Celebrimbor in Ost-in-Edhil are two obvious examples,” Thranduil said gravely.

Hallion looked at Thranduil thoughtfully in response to that comment. “Do you intend to discuss this with anyone else who might remember Marti in the High King’s court? Lord Engwe and lady Dieneryn, for example?”

“I will discuss what we have discovered with the entire council,” Thranduil replied. “But nana could not possibly know anything about Marti or she would not have allowed her to weave in her workshop for so long. And Engwe did not seem to recognize her name.”

“Still, I think you should ask. This altercation between lord Oropher and Marti must have happened at least six millennia ago. It would be easy to forget. Perhaps some memory will come to the surface if you mention what Tulus told us,” Hallion suggested. He paused and regarded Thranduil cautiously. “And perhaps you should write Celeborn and even lady Galadriel about Marti giving them both the names we know she uses and a description of her. Lady Galadriel would have known almost all the Noldor that came to the High King’s court. And since Marti did not live in Eryn Galen during your adar’s reign, she may have lived in Lorien or Ost-in-Edhil and they might be acquainted with her.”

Thranduil loosed a long breath. “It is a good idea,” he said with resignation. “I doubt Marti lived in Lorien or Amglaur would have recognized her when Lindomiel and I were courting—Marti even spoke to him directly once. But as you said maybe the connection between adar and Marti will help Amglaur remember her. I will speak to him and to nana and Engwe.” He smirked at his steward. “As for Celeborn and Galadriel, again I will leave the composition of the foreign correspondence to you, Hallion.”

Hallion returned his smirk and bowed his head in acknowledgment.

Thranduil looked between Hallion and Conuiön silently for a moment. When neither said anything further, he turned towards the door. “Then let us go seek some dinner and the company of family,” he said tiredly.

They both nodded, clearly as relieved as the king that the day was behind them, and moved to follow him from the Hall.

*~*~*

As Thranduil entered the family chambers his eyebrows rose in response to how quiet it was.

Hallion smiled at his reaction. “It is amazing how quickly we grow accustomed to the excitement that children bring to our lives, is it not?” he asked.

Thranduil nodded, also smiling. “It is indeed. And amazing how I miss them when they are not here,” he replied, turning into the family sitting room to see if anyone was already there awaiting dinner.

The only person in the room was Amglaur. He sat in a chair by the fireplace with a cloth in his lap. It was covered with wood chips. He held a knife in one hand and a piece of a pine in another. On the table next to the chair was an army of little figures—archers with bows and warriors on foot and mounted on horses carrying swords and spears.

Thranduil looked from the figures to his father-in-law silently.

“Forgive me for not standing, Thranduil. I do not want to spill these shavings all over the floor,” he said, beginning to rise and stopping himself when he recognized the futility of the attempt.

Thranduil shook his head. “I quite understand,” he replied, still eyeing the little army. “I will be satisfied if you tell me where the children are and what you are doing,” he said expectantly, amusement in his voice.

“The children are with Arthiel and Ruscil, the forester she is studying under. I believe they will return soon. As for me,” Amglaur said cutting a curved piece from the wood he was holding and beginning to shape a little bow. “I am making an army for Legolas, Galithil and Berior. I intend to teach them Orthor.”

Thranduil’s brows knit together. “They are a little young for such games I think,” he said coolly.

“They are,” Amglaur replied evenly. “But Legolas and Galithil spent a good part of the morning questioning me about warriors and their duties and I mentioned this game while trying to answer their questions in a way they could understand and now they want to play it.”

Thranduil’s frown deepened and he sat in the chair next to his father-in-law. “What did they ask you about warriors and how did such a topic come up?” he asked, concern in his voice.

Amglaur sighed and laid the knife on the cloth. “Galithil asked me if I knew when Aradunnon and Dolgailon would come home,” he began, looking at Thranduil sadly, “and he was very concerned that they might be so injured fighting men as to go to Mandos instead of returning here. I tried explaining to them that Aradunnon and Dolgailon are very well trained and experienced warriors. That alarmed Legolas because he knows Lindomiel is training with Langon and he thought she would go fight the men too when she finished. I told him Lindomiel was only training because she was interested in skills involved and she would not become a warrior. To make a long story a bit shorter, I told them about the game to distract them from the more frightening aspects of being a warrior and now they are curious about it.” He shrugged. “I think they will be more interested in helping me paint the figures than the game itself. They are too young to understand the strategy.”

Thranduil leaned back in the chair and rubbed the bridge of his nose between two fingers. “I would give nearly anything to erase that day for them,” he said, voice barely above a whisper. “And for Lindomiel for that matter.” His voice grew hard. “Legolas is worried because his naneth is training. That is unacceptable.”

Amglaur watched Thranduil silently for a moment. Then he placed a hand on his arm. “You cannot erase the evil in this world, Thranduil, nor can you hide from it. Your adar moved his household from Lindon, across all of Eriador, over the mountains and to this forest to shield you and Dieneryn from harm, but evil followed him. He moved these people deeper into the forest and it still pursued him. We all fought in Mordor and, despite our sacrifices, the Shadow still endures. You cannot shelter Legolas from the Enemy. It is simply not possible. He will be a presence in this world until the time comes to destroy him once and for all. May those who fight in that battle succeed where their parents, or forefathers in the case of Men, did not.”

Thranduil turned an angry glare on his father-in-law. “Legolas is two, Amglaur. I do not even want him to know about such things. I certainly do not intend to teach him about them.”

Amglaur met his anger calmly. “Of course not. I am not suggesting that you should. I am simply suggesting that you accept what your own adar never could: you cannot prevent the Enemy from touching Legolas’s life any more than your adar could keep you safe from him by moving to this forest.”

Thranduil frowned. “I know adar moved here to try to shelter nana and I. He told me that he did not want me ensnared by the curse the Noldor bore by being forced to serve them. But when he led us here, he was not fleeing from anything; he was seeking something—a more wholesome life. The song of elves and the Song of Arda.” He paused and looked at Amglaur. “I was forty when Elu Thingol was murdered and I saw my cousin die. I was forty-three when I witnessed the second kinslaying in Menegroth and the deaths of nana’s parents. I was barely of age when I fought in the third kinslaying in Sirion. My adar knew very well what those experiences did to me. Anyone that knew me before the dwarves came to Menegroth could see the change in me. I could see that change in myself but I did not know how to resist it. I may not be able to shield Legolas from the Enemy, but I can see to it that the focus of his life is on the beauty in Arda, not the evil.”

Amglaur nodded. “I agree with that, of course, Thranduil.” He hesitated and then continued in a softer voice. “But I do not agree with your assessment of yourself. I remember you as a very young child. I often watched you and Ninglor playing outside the gates of Menegroth and I heard all the stories of the trouble you caused. I remember thinking how very much like your adar you were—daring, willful and determined to the point of being stubborn. But as much as I wanted to see Oropher’s negative qualities in his son, there was one other trait I saw in you that I could not deny—you were deeply caring. I do not doubt the effect everything you saw in your youth had on you. Indeed I can see that you are embittered by the losses you have experienced. But evil never claimed you, Thranduil. Whatever you saw in the past, it does not dictate the way you respond to the world now—surely you can see that in the way you rule this kingdom. I still see in you the same caring personality that I remember from Menegroth—that was what persuaded me to allow you to bond with Lindomiel.”

Thranduil had been struggling to conceal his various reactions as Amglaur spoke but this last statement made him look wryly at his father-in-law. Amglaur smiled at him.

“My point is that Legolas is naturally a very happy little elfling,” he continued. “Even now, when he is still worried about the men, he is easily engaged in some game or distracted by a bird or some other wonder in the forest. I do not doubt that you will be able to nurture that part of his personality. Have faith in yourself and in him.”

Thranduil looked at Amglaur silently for a long moment, thinking about his words.

“He is right, Thranduil,” Hallion said softly from his other side.

Thranduil glanced at his steward sidelong and loosed a long breath. Then he picked up one of the figures Amglaur had carved. “These are quite good, Amglaur,” he said, inspecting it. “I have no talent for carving what-so-ever. I admire your ability and I am grateful for it since it has provided my son, nephews and niece with so many toys.” A smile crept to his lips. “You are spoiling, Legolas, to tell you the truth. You must have been carving this little army all day.”

Amglaur looked down his nose at Thranduil as he continued to carve the archer in his hand. “Daeradars are supposed to spoil their daerelflings. That is my privilege, ion nin, and you will respect it.”

Thranduil’s eyes snapped to Amglaur. He had never used that form of address.

“You will learn that when you become a daeradar,” Amglaur continued airily, apparently unaware of what he had said. “I hope your son does not force you to wait nearly two millennia before he has children and I hope you do not force me to wait another two millennia before you have a daughter,” he concluded with a dramatically disgusted tone.

Thranduil snorted. “Is that what you are waiting for? I have sworn to Lindomiel that we are only raising one child at a time so I fear you will wait at least fifty years for more daerelflings.”

Amglaur shrugged. “Limmiel and I intended to stay here until Legolas comes of age,” he replied. Thranduil’s jaw dropped at that declaration and Amglaur raised a single eyebrow. “You have often invited us to come live in your realm. Surely we are still welcome? Or were those invitations idle courtesies?”

Thranduil looked down and laughed lightly. “Of course you are welcome,” he replied quietly as Hallion looked at him with bright, amused eyes. He knew perfectly well those invitations had indeed been idle courtesies.

*~*~*

“Please tell me that you were not involved in this,” Tulus’s voice pleaded quietly. He stood in the main room of his son’s small cottage.

Glílavan glanced at the member of the Palace Guard visible through his window briefly before returning his incredulous gaze back on his father. “You confessed!” he finally managed to exclaim.

Tulus eyed his son with increasing concern. “I asked you to tell me that you were not involved in this, ion nin,” he repeated more firmly.

Glílavan turned his back to his father. “I cannot believe that you betrayed Fuilin and the other guards,” he said in a hoarse whisper.

“Himion and Candirith are dead, Glílavan” Tulus exclaimed. “I would say that they were the ones betrayed.” He grasped his son’s arm and pulled him to face him. “Answer me. Did you give the information about the patrols to Manadhien?”

Glílavan shook his head without looking at his father. “Did you give my name to Thranduil?” he countered with a neutral tone.

“Of course not,” Tulus replied, his voice barely above a whisper. “I swore to him that you were not involved. And you no longer will be, do you hear me? I will not have you killed for Manadhien’s insanity, ion nin.”

“It is not insanity to defend this forest, adar,” Glílavan began.

Tulus grasped him by both shoulders. “Then serve in the patrols. Train the new warriors. But do not follow Manadhien. She is gone. If she approaches you, I want you to report it to whoever is serving as your captain while Dolgailon is in the south. Promise me,” Tulus said urgently.

Glílavan frowned and looked away. “I promise, adar,” he said readily.

Tulus’s eyes narrowed and he gave his son a slight shake to draw his attention. “You make sure you mean that, ion nin. I will not allow you to come to harm. You are all I have left in the world. Do you understand me?”

Glílavan looked at his father for a long moment. Then he nodded.

*~*~*

Manadhien sat silently, staring at the deep blue jewel in her hand—a gift from her father so long ago. It was the color of the sea, he told her as he fastened its silver chain around her neck. The sea they would cross to find a better fate. A greater one. He gave identical stones to her brother and sister. They had been lost many Ages ago along with those that held them.

Manadhien closed her hand and thrust the sapphire into its pouch. She still sought the destiny her father had promised her, but this jewel was a thing of the past. A past she had no desire to recall. Nonetheless, it was one of two gems that she would not part with at any cost. It would fetch little price, for it had been damaged and its silver chain lost long ago in one of the many battles she had fled, but it was her only remaining connection to her family.

The soft footfall of Elven boots brought her attention fully to the present. She stepped deeper into the shadows of the dense forest and drew the dagger that hung at her waist.

Fuilin’s eyes widened and he glanced from it to her face as he approached their hiding place.

“From what I have been able to gather, the king’s patrols are looking for both of us by name and description. It seems the village leaders are being informed to watch for us as well. Thranduil has arrested everyone and is holding them in the capital,” he said in a whisper though there was no one about but them.

A bitter look flashed across Manadien’s face. Then she shrugged and smiled at him. “No matter. There are many advantages to having our allies so close to the king…”

“I have the impression many of them confessed willingly, Manadhien. That the king has persuaded them that he is no harm to the forest,” he interrupted.

“Then they are fools,” she replied firmly. “But we still have allies, as you know. And they are better placed than ever before. This is a setback. I do not deny that. But we have gained some important ground as well. We will prevail in the end if we are patient.” She smiled at him. “You will see.”

*~*~*

Naneth/nana--Mother/mum

Adar/ada--Father/dad

Daeradar/daernaneth--Grandfather/grandmother

ion nin--my son


Chapter 16 - Epilogue: A Special Day

1946 Third Age

“Galithil! Uncle Aradunnon! Aunt Amoneth!” Legolas cried, staring at them with his mouth agape a moment before he began to race down the old beech tree, leaping from branch to branch. He and Thranduil had been waiting for the rest of the family to join them in the family garden to celebrate Legolas’s fifth Begetting Day. They had expected Hallion, Engwe, Legolas’s grandparents, and Celonhael and Golwon’s families, but neither Legolas nor Thranduil knew that Aradunnon had returned from the south to the stronghold.

Thranduil was as pleased and surprised to see his brother and nephew as Legolas was, but Legolas’s descent from the tree held his full attention for the moment.

“Legolas, slow down and be careful,” Thranduil said firmly.

“Yes, Legolas,” Aradunnon agreed, though with a broad smile. “We will still be here when you reach the ground.”

Legolas slowed his pace marginally in response to the adults’ admonition but Galithil’s eager expression as he gazed up at his cousin, hopping in place at the foot of the tree only spurred him on again. The moment Legolas’s feet touched the grass, Galithil hugged him and then fell to rough-housing with him, both children giggling merrily. Within a moment, all Legolas’s cousins had rushed to join them.

Aradunnon and Amoneth, along with Lindomiel, arrived at the tree as Thranduil jumped from its lowest branch. Thranduil greeted his brother with a strong embrace and kissed Amoneth on the cheek before drawing Lindomiel to his side, her hand in his. Allowing the elflings to continue their foolishness, Thranduil looked at Aradunnon expectantly with raised eyebrows.

Aradunnon shrugged. “Surprise, Thranduil,” he replied to his brother’s implied question, the grin still on his face. “Galithil did not want to miss his cousins’ Begetting Days and Spring Festival as he did last year so I decided to bring him home. I can return south after the Festival if you wish.”

Thranduil shook his head and put his arm around his brother’s shoulder. “I am very happy to have you home, Aradunnon,” he replied, watching Galithil, Legolas, Berior and Eirienil with a smile. “Unless you have some reason to believe that you might find something new about Marti and Fuilin—and I doubt that since we have had no useful leads regarding their whereabouts for over a year—then I would prefer to have you and your family in the stronghold.”

Aradunnon also watched his son as the children scurried off several feet from their parents and huddled together, speaking in an excited whisper. “I will stay then. I am glad Amoneth brought Galithil south after we were certain the Wainriders’ attack would not endanger the Wood for it was very difficult to be separated from them when he is so young. But the south is no place to raise elflings. Besides that, I have missed Legolas, Berior and Eirienil and so has Galithil. We are happy to be back in the capital.”

Thranduil nodded once. “Excellent,” he said happily. Then he looked sidelong at his brother. “Command of the warriors is yours, of course, but I would also like to have you bring Dolgailon back to the capital and the training program now that the southeastern border is safe.”

Aradunnon smirked at his brother, knowing full well that was a politely couched command from both the head of his House and his king. “Dolgailon is already here.” he replied. “He returned with Amoneth and I but he wanted to find Arthiel before he joins us.”

“She is visiting her parents this morning,” Lindomiel added. “They will be here shortly.”

Aradunnon turned a conspiratorial smile on his brother. “You will undoubtedly be as pleased as I was to hear that Dolgailon was quite eager to come back to the stronghold when I gave him his orders to turn command of the Southern Patrol over to Talith.”

Thranduil’s eyes widened and lit with happy surprise. “That is wonderful. I had hoped that marriage might help him find some balance in his life.”

Their attention turned to the children when Legolas loosed a plainly jealous exclamation.

“We lived in a talan in the trees,” Galithil was saying in an excited voice. He had his cousins’ rapt attention.

“You lived in the trees?” Legolas repeated, half incredulously and half longingly.

Galithil nodded. “But the trees there are different. They are darker and twisty and gnarled. They do not seem as happy.” He paused dramatically. “Galasserch says that is because they are afraid of orc axes,” Galithil said with an ominous tone.

Hearing that, Thranduil’s eyebrows shot up and his eyes darted to his nephew.

Aradunnon scowled. “I do not want to hear a word about what Galasserch says,” he scolded, striding over to them and dropping to his knees to fix his son with a stern glare. “I told you that child is far too old for you to play with. And he speaks with authority of topics he knows nothing about. That nothing short of lying and it is not behavior that I will see you imitate.”

“But ada, he said he saw orcs…” Galithil began.

“Enough,” Aradunnon interrupted harshly. “Do you not have any sort of greeting for your aunt and uncle?” he said turning his son to face Thranduil and Lindomiel and giving him a little push in their direction. Then he smiled at Legolas, Berior and Eirienil. “And where is my hug? I have missed you so much,” he said holding his arms open. The children happily rushed into his embrace.

As his father fussed over his cousins, Galithil looked up at his uncle, making an effort not pout in response to his father’s scolding. “Hello, uncle,” he said in a subdued voice.

Exchanging a silent glance with Lindomiel, Thranduil reached down and lifted his nephew into his arms. “I am very happy you are home, Galithil,” Thranduil said as Lindomiel leaned over to kiss the child’s forehead. “Your aunt and I have missed you and so have your cousins.”

Galithil nodded. “I missed you too. And them,” he said leaning his cheek against Thranduil’s silk tunic and looking resentfully at his father.

Thranduil caressed his cheek. “It sounds as if you had quite an adventure in your adar’s village and you made some new friends there. I am sure you will miss them too.”

Galithil frowned. “Galasserch was the only elfling there and he is over twenty. Ada does not like him. It is more fun here with all my cousins,” he said softly.

“And we prefer having you here,” Lindomiel said, pinching the tip of Galithil’s nose and finally making him giggle again. “Legolas missed having someone to share his father’s stories with at night—after all, uncle has to tell two stories when there are two of you listening.”

Galithil looked hopefully at his uncle. “Can we still do that even though ada is home too? Maybe you can tell us one story each,” he suggested.

Legolas, who had heard his cousin’s request, nodded eagerly.

Thranduil smiled at his brother. “Your adar and I will discuss it. Maybe we will do that on nights that you have been especially good.”

Two elflings opened their mouths to protest that condition but Lindomiel distracted them.

“I think we should go join everyone else at the table to eat before all the tarts are gone,” she said teasingly. The children looked at her sharply, concerned they might really be missing that special treat.

Thranduil bit back an amused snort at their reaction. “Indeed. You know uncle Engwe and daeradar will steal all the sweets and presents too if we do not watch them,” he joked loudly enough to be heard by the adults at the table set up in the middle of the garden.

The children dashed to it as Engwe and Amglaur rolled their eyes.

*~*~*

After lunch, Dolgailon walked through the Great Gates and stepped onto the bridge, the warm, spring breeze blowing a wisp of Arthiel’s hair against his cheek. He took a deep breath and savored the clean smell of the fresh grass and the fragrant wildflowers that decorated it. In response to his obvious pleasure, Arthiel put her arm around his waist and gave him a playful squeeze.

“I am very glad that you are back,” she said, leaning closer to him as they followed the rest of the family onto the lawn.

Dolgailon placed a kiss on her cheek. “I am very glad to be back,” he said with a smile.

He watched as the elflings ran ahead of their parents, leaping off the bridge and sprinting along the riverbank to where they would play with Legolas’s Begetting Day gifts and, best of all, their parents. Then his gaze drifted idly to the nearby trees. The beech branches were covered with tender, budding leaves. His smile broadened at the sight of them.

“I have spent so much time in the south since I joined the patrols that the darkness and decay there seemed…completely normal to me. Now that I have been there again after spending time here, I think I have greater appreciation for the beauty of the forest in the capital and the sadness of it in the south.”

She turned her eyes to his face, concerned by his words, but seeing his content smile, her expression grew mischievous. “Is the beauty of the trees the only thing that you have a greater appreciation for, my lord?” she asked, her eyebrows delicately arched.

Dolgailon smirked. “No, my lady. I missed you far more than I could have ever imagined possible over the last two years,” he confessed readily. “I feel somewhat guilty to leave the warriors I once commanded in the south to return here, but if adar had offered me the choice of remaining with them or returning to lead the training program rather than simply ordering me home, I cannot deny that I would have chosen to come back here.”

Arthiel studied him a moment with raised eyebrows before leaning her head against his shoulder as they walked.

Dolgailon did not doubt that his wife understood all the implications of that declaration. She would realize that his sense of duty had warred with his love for her before allowing him to return to the capital. But Arthiel also understood duty to the forest—she had followed where her conscience led her despite how her choice disappointed her parents when she left the family profession to become a forester.

“The training of the warriors is a very important task. I have heard the king say so many times over the last years,” she said softly, offering him as much absolution as she could for his decision.

Dolgailon smiled gratefully at her but remained silent.

After a moment, an arm draped across his shoulders. Startled, Dolgailon turned quickly to see his father grinning at him.

“Iell nin, that training program has absolutely nothing to do with Dolgailon’s desire to return to the capital. Or at least I hope it does not. A young elf, married only a little over two years and separated from his bride for the majority of that time, should not be thinking about military matters. It would simply not be normal.”

Arthiel looked between Aradunnon and Dolgailon and despite her best efforts to not giggle at her father-in-law’s implication, laughter bubbled in her throat at Dolgailon’s plainly embarrassed expression. Any comment she might have contributed to tease him further was interrupted by elflings tugging insistently at the skirts of her gown.

“Come play with us,” Galithil demanded, looking up at the adults expectantly with excited eyes.

She automatically smiled at her young brother-in-law. “What are we going to play first?” she asked, winking at Dolgailon as she allowed herself to be dragged off by his brother.

Aradunnon began to follow but stopped when Dolgailon laid a hand on his shoulder. “Do you truly believe what you said, adar?” he asked quietly.

Aradunnon looked at his son sincerely. “Yes, I do, ion nin. You and I see very much eye-to-eye regarding the importance of defending this forest and I do not doubt your commitment to that duty. But Thranduil said to me once that there are many types of defeat and many types of victory and I agree with him. Focusing solely on killing orcs and spiders and other fell creatures is a defeat because in doing so you surrender yourself willingly as a thrall of the Evil One. It is his goal to enslave the world in never-ending destruction. When I see you happy in your wife’s arms…when I see Galithil, his cousins and their friends playing carefree in the forest…that is when I claim a victory over the Enemy. We fight so these elves are able to dance and sing under the stars. We are entitled to occasionally do the same.”

Dolgailon loosed a quiet sigh and nodded.

“It may help you to know that I struggled with exactly the same problem when your naneth and I were first betrothed,” his father continued, sympathetically. “I spent much more time in field command then and I had to ask your uncle to allow me to command the warriors from the capital. I was very reluctant to make that request because I felt I was shirking duty for personal pleasure. But Thranduil was all too happy to have me in the capital and in truth, after some adjustment, I found I could command the warriors better from a central location.” He paused. “I know you will miss field command, but you know the duty you are doing here is equally important—both in the training program and with our family. Come play with your little brother, ion nin. Assuring that he grows up as a happy elfling is also an important way to fight the Shadow.”

Dolgailon smiled in response to that and started to follow his father to join the game the elflings and adults had already begun when a familiar voice drifted to his ears from the stables in the yard. He stopped in mid-stride and turned toward it. Aradunnon paused as well and followed his son’s gaze. Emerging from one of the barns was Tulus.

“I will join you in a moment, adar,” Dolgailon said softly, starting towards the stables.

Aradunnon caught his arm. “Remember that Thranduil has already passed his judgment, ion nin,” he said firmly.

Dolgailon frowned. “This has nothing to do with the king’s judgment, adar,” he replied curtly and strode quickly across the lawn to the stables.

As he entered the gate and crossed the yard, he saw Tulus look up casually from his work to see who approached. When his eyes fell on Dolgailon, he tensed and turned his gaze to the ground.

“Can I help you with something, my lord?”

Dolgailon’s frown deepened in response to Tulus’s stance and formality. Glancing at the other hands in the yard, who were watching them intently, he replied in a neutral voice. “Will you come speak to me for a moment, Tulus?”

Without waiting for a reply, Dolgailon turned to walk over to the stone fence that surrounded the barns.

Tulus followed silently.

When he reached the fence, Dolgailon faced Tulus, looking at him wordlessly for a long moment. “You lied to me, Tulus,” he finally said, his voice tinged with betrayal despite his intent to speak calmly. He watched as Tulus closed his eyes.

“I am sorry, my lord,” he said softly.

Dolgailon shook his head and grasped Tulus’s arm causing him to look up with alarm. “I am not speaking to you as the king’s nephew, Tulus, I am speaking to you as a friend. One that has respected you for five hundred years. I stayed in your home when my warriors and I were on the eastern edge of our patrol range just as I stayed in my adar’s home when we were on its western edge. We have hunted together. Dined together. I have gone to you for advice. I looked up to you as I do to my own adar. And all this time you have been lying to me.”

Tulus’s brow knit and regret filled his eyes. “I was involved in this four hundred years before you were born, Dolgailon—since the king moved the stronghold north despite the southern villagers’ efforts to persuade him to put more effort into defense. I truly believed that he was wrong and that I was acting to defend the home where I have lived for three Ages of this world. By the time I met you, I had realized that what I was doing was actually harming this realm, but I had been enmeshed with these people a very long time and it was…complicated…too difficult to extricate myself.”

Dolgailon released Tulus’s arm and waved him silent. “I know all this, Tulus. I read the confession you gave my adar and the records of your testimony to the king. I know that you no longer supported this conspiracy and I know that you wanted report it to the king but were afraid to.” He paused. “Tulus, if you needed help and did not trust the king to provide it, could you not have trusted me? Or was your friendship with me false? Some sort of scheme to get closer to the king’s family?”

“Dolgailon, I love you as I love my own son…” Tulus began, his tone leaving no doubt that he was sincerely hurt by Dolgailon’s suggestion.

“Then why did you not come to me? I would have helped you, Tulus, and lives could have been saved.”

Tulus flinched at that reminder and he replied in a very soft voice. “In hindsight, I see that I should have confessed what I knew to you when you asked me about the men. Candirith and Himion might be alive if I had. But I feared the king’s judgment; I feared what would become of Glílavan if I told you that I was plotting against the king; and truthfully, I feared involving you. As yet you are beneath the notice of these people,” Tulus looked up and fixed Dolgailon with a pleading look. “Please stay that way, Dolgailon,” he said urgently. “Let the king manage this.”

Dolgailon scowled. “If you had told me five hundred years ago that you had once served on the king’s guard, were dismissed and resented the troop commander’s subsequent treatment of you, I could have helped you solve that problem then and there and you would have had no need to fear the king’s judgment, Tulus. And I am a warrior. I do not fear either this elleth or Fuilin.”

“If the captain of the southern border patrol were killed in an ambush, no one would question how that could happen. The southern patrol is full of dangers,” Tulus replied quietly. “I would fear Manadhien and Fuilin if I were a member of your family.”

Dolgailon blinked at that open threat and responded heatedly. “I earned the rank of captain, Tulus. It was not given to me because I am the king’s nephew. I am capable of defending myself, you and this realm against those that threaten it. I would have helped you and you should have trusted me to do so.”

Tulus looked down again and nodded. “I should have trusted you. I do not deny that,” he confirmed. “And I should have trusted the king. After speaking to him, I plainly saw how badly I had misjudged him. I was a coward and a fool.” He paused and looked up at Dolgailon sadly. “I do not expect you to forgive me, but I apologize just the same. I truly never meant to harm you. Or your family.”

Dolgailon nodded. “I believe that, Tulus,” he said reining in his temper and speaking with a calmer tone. “If you had not confessed to this, no amount of evidence would have convinced me that you were guilty because you have always treated me as a son. And I am relieved to hear you say that you realize you misjudged the king. He is a good ruler. He loves this forest every bit as much as he loves Legolas,” he said, looking across the green at his family playing with the elflings.

Tulus looked at them too and a slight smile lit his face. “I know,” he said, “and I am grateful to have an opportunity to begin again here in the capital.”

Dolgailon looked back at Tulus intently. “Use this opportunity well, Tulus,” he said firmly.

“I will, my lord,” he said, responding automatically to Dolgailon’s commanding tone.

Dolgailon sighed and reached over again to lay his hand on Tulus’s shoulder. “I am still speaking to you as a friend, Tulus,” he said softly. When Tulus looked at him, a glimmer of hope in his eyes, Dolgailon returned his gaze evenly. “I am hurt, Tulus. Hurt that you did not let me help you, especially after I came to you and asked you if you were involved with the men. I thought our friendship was stronger than that. But because our friendship was important to me, if the king is willing to give you another chance, I am as well.”

Tulus loosed a long breath. “I am very relieved to hear that,” he whispered. “I make you the same promise that I made the king—I will do what I can to regain your trust.”

Dolgailon nodded and was about to respond when a cheerful voice sounded behind them. “Good afternoon, Dolgailon, and welcome home. I did not know you had returned to the capital.”

Dolgailon turned to see Glílavan approaching them from the direction of the training fields. He looked at his lieutenant impassively, causing him to raise his eyebrows.

“Am I interrupting something, captain?” he asked, assuming a more respectful attitude in response to Dolgailon’s demeanor.

“Not at all, Glílavan.” Dolgailon responded, his expression still unreadable. “Indeed, I wanted to speak to you on this topic as well so I am glad you are here. Tulus testified that you had no knowledge that he was involved in this conspiracy. I would very much like to hear you confirm that for me.”

Glílavan glanced at his father before looking at Dolgailon. “I was not involved, captain,” he said decisively.

Dolgailon studied him a moment and then looked away. “Very well,” he replied quietly. He turned back to them. “Remember, I am your friend. Trust me to help you when you want help.” He focused on Tulus. “And do not forfeit this opportunity.” Then he looked at his family on the green. “I think my wife and my brother will have my hide if I do not join them. We are celebrating Legolas’s Begetting Day. If you will both excuse me, I will see you in the morning, Glílavan.”

Dolgailon nodded as Glílavan sketched a salute. Then he climbed over the stone fence and jogged across the green to join his father and uncle in the game they were playing with the children. They looked at him expectantly as he approached.

“I hope you were not too hard on Tulus,” Thranduil said quietly when Dolgailon did not speak. “I believe that he truly regrets betraying your friendship.”

Dolgailon shook his head and looked down, frowning. “I told Tulus that I remain his friend. I believe him when he says that he intends to take advantage of the opportunities offered him here in the capital.”

“Then what has upset you, ion nin? It is obvious that something has,” Aradunnon asked with concern.

Dolgailon looked at his father and Thranduil. “I have known Glílavan since I came of age. He is my closest friend in the patrols. I just asked him to tell me that he was not involved in this conspiracy and he told me he was not.” Dolgailon paused and continued in a strained voice. “He lied to me. I have no doubt that he was lying when he said that.”

The three elves exchanged an unreadable look before being interrupted by four elflings charging down the green at them.

*~*~*

The high-pitched squeals of excited children mixed with their fathers’ deeper laughter as they chased each other on the green in front of the stronghold.

“I got him this time!” Galithil yelled breathlessly.

He threw the ball in his hand as hard and fast as he could but his target dodged it with disappointing ease, laughing lightly. The target was Thranduil—currently the parent that the children very much wanted to tag. Their mothers had already been thoroughly assaulted with the ball and were now happily ‘out,’ sitting on the sidelines of the designated playing field and shouting pointers to the children to help them tag their fathers.

Berior and Legolas both ran towards the fallen ball as Thranduil put enough distance between it and himself to allow the children’s next attack to be interesting. Aradunnon, Golwon, Celonhael and Amglaur called taunts to Berior as he picked the ball up, playfully goading him into turning his attack from Thranduil to them. Berior looked sidelong at his father before resolutely turning his attention back to Thranduil. He stalked after him with a determined expression that renewed Thranduil’s laughter. Just as Berior approached within striking distance of Thranduil, he turned suddenly and threw the ball quickly at his father.

Celonhael smothered a laugh and took a small step to the side a moment too late. The ball hit him hard in the leg and flew off to the side where Eirienil caught it. She quickly turned it on her father, hitting him as well. The children screamed with delight as their mothers clapped their hands.

“I got you, ada,” Berior laughed, running over to his father.

Celonhael lifted Berior from the ground, hands around his waist, and swung him swiftly over his head. “Yes, you did, ion nin. That was a very good throw and very sneaky of you.”

“We still have ada, daerada and uncle Aradunnon to get,” Legolas called, picking up the ball. “And you are both out,” he said, looking at his uncles sternly.

Celonhael and Golwon exchanged amused glances with the remaining parents before going to sit with their wives. Legolas, meanwhile, focused on his father.

“Surround him,” he shouted to his cousins. With excited giggles, they nodded and enthusiastically complied, encircling their target.

Thranduil laughed harder as his ‘enemies’ closed in on him.

“Come closer so you can get the ball before he can get away if I miss him,” Legolas said, drawing closer to his father himself. Again his giggling cousins obeyed but Thranduil backed away from them.

As he moved to evade them, Galithil loosed a frustrated growl. “Just get him!” he cried, charging Thranduil and wrapping his arms around his leg. Yelling excitedly, Eirienil and Berior followed suit, grabbing an arm and his other leg. With a surprised exclamation, Thranduil allowed himself to be dragged to the ground. Pinned by elflings, he watched laughing helplessly as Legolas walked over to him and dropped the ball on his chest.

“You are out, ada,” Legolas giggled.

Thranduil smiled for a moment at his son’s flushed face before pulling himself to a sitting position against the combined efforts of the children to prevent him from doing so. He raised his eyebrows at Amglaur and Aradunnon who were nearly choking with laughter.

“That was, of course, cheating,” he said with an overly dignified air.

His tone and the accusation only made his brother and father-in-law laugh harder.

“It was not cheating, ada. I never touched you except with the ball. It was they that cheated,” Legolas said looking at his cousins with a broad grin.

Thranduil shook his head at that logic but before he could respond, Amglaur came over and scooped Legolas into his arms. “Ignore him, Legolas, he is out,” Amglaur assured his grandson. “Your adar just does not lose very well.”

Thranduil snorted as he stood. “Your strategy likely would have worked very quickly anyway, Legolas. That was very clever,” he said, placing a kiss on his son’s head. Legolas beamed as his father looked at Amglaur. “I suggest you try it next on your daeradar,” he said, tossing the ball to Legolas and turning to join Lindomiel where she leaned comfortably against an old beech. From the corner of his eye, he was very satisfied to see the children spreading out to surround Amglaur.

Thranduil settled himself on the ground next to Lindomiel, pulling her closer against his side and leaning into the embrace of the old beech. It hummed happily with the presence of the elflings.

“They are having a wonderful time,” Lindomiel said. “I am so happy Aradunnon, Amoneth and Galithil returned in time for this.”

Thranduil leaned over and kissed Lindomiel’s cheek. “I am having a wonderful time and I am happy they are home. Where is Dolgailon?” he asked, glancing around.

Lindomiel smiled. “He is off with Arthiel. They walked back along the river,” she replied looking towards one of the paths amongst the trees.

Thranduil raised his eyebrows, looking quickly at the path before he turned back to his wife. His eyes were bright. “Arthiel is good for him exactly as you are good for me,” he said, kissing her again, this time lightly on the lips.

Lindomiel leaned her head against his shoulder and took his hand in hers, hiding her amused reaction to that rare public indulgence.

*~*~*

Several hours later the children were still as active as before, running on the green engaged in a different game with their parents and Legolas’s new toys, when a strange figure in brown robes emerged from the trees on the path leading to the bridge. His presence caught Legolas’s attention first and soon the game on the green was forgotten as the children turned to stare at him. From this distance, he appeared more Mannish than Elvish from his dress but not really either. Silently drawing closer to Amglaur and taking his hand, Legolas watched the person now speaking to the guards at the bridge. They pointed towards the king and his family further down the green and the brown clad man began walking toward them. Legolas looked at his father by the tree line. He had stood and was wearing an expression of pleased surprise.

“Who is that, daerada?” Legolas whispered, leaning against Amglaur and stepping slightly behind his legs as the stranger bowed to Thranduil.

The other children, also standing closer to their parents, looked to Amglaur for his answer.

“If I remember correctly, and it has been a long time, I think that is a friend of lord Elrond of Imladris. His name is Radagast,” Amglaur said softly, eyeing the stranger now speaking to Thranduil.

Aradunnon nodded, lifting Galithil into his arms. “His name is Radagast,” he confirmed. “He is lord Thranduil’s friend also. The king allows him to live on the western borders of the Wood and to wander the forest freely.”

Four young pairs of young eyes moved from the brown figure to Aradunnon. Like Amglaur, he was tensely watching the scene between Thranduil and Radagast.

After a moment, Thranduil called to them.

“Come here children,” he said, waving them over to him. His tone left no doubt that Thranduil was very happy to see this odd guest.

Legolas looked between his father and the man. He had a small sack in his hand and was smiling at the children. After a moment, Legolas obeyed his father’s summons, pulling Amglaur along side him and not releasing his hand. The other children followed suit, also staying close to their parents.

When they reached Thranduil, Legolas let go of Amglaur’s hand and took his father’s, looking up at Radagast with ever widening eyes. The man had a weather worn face, long, dark, unkempt hair and a brown beard but his eyes were kind. He seemed different from Fengel in a way Legolas could not identify and did not really understand.

With a hand on Legolas’s shoulder, Thranduil introduced him. “Legolas this is Radagast. He is a friend of mine that lives in the south.” He gestured towards the other children. “Radagast, these are my nephews, Galithil and Berior, and my niece, Eirienil.”

“Mae govannen,” the children chorused quietly, tilting their chins sharply upwards to look at Radagast.

Legolas and Galithil had relaxed visibly at Thranduil’s introduction, knowing that anyone he recognized as a friend could not represent any threat. But they still stared at the tall stranger with awe at his odd appearance.

“Mae govannen,” he replied cheerfully and he knelt on the ground, his robes tangling around his legs. “Here is this better? I think we can talk more easily this way,” he said, now looking at the children eye-to-eye.

Legolas blinked and he glanced up at his father. “Does he speak Sindarin, ada?” he asked. “That was more than lord Fengel knew.”

Radagast laughed a deep, rich laugh. “Of course I speak Sindarin, Legolas. I speak many languages but the first I learned here was Sindarin,” he answered as Thranduil and the other adults settled on the ground around him.

Legolas brightened at that. He was still fascinated by the idea of learning other languages. “Many languages? Like what?” he asked, seating himself and scooting a bit closer.

Radagast smiled. “Well, I speak your language, as you see. And lord Fengel’s since I live near his kin between the forest and the mountains….”

“Do you speak Westron?” Legolas interrupted. “Ada said I am going to start learning Westron soon and lord Fengel sent me a book of his people’s children’s stories written in Westron,” he said excitedly.

Radagast looked at Thranduil, who was shaking his head in amusement at his son’s enthusiasm. “Yes, pen neth, I speak Westron too. It is a very important language. And I have brought a gift for you as well, if your adar will allow it,” he said with a smile. Then he drew forth his little sack and offered it to Thranduil. “When I sent word to Mithrandir that you had a son and I intended to come visit you, he sent me this to give to the child. He says the Periannath children he knows liked them immensely and the few elflings he has showed them to in Imladris liked them as well.” Radagast’s expression grew mischievous. “However I remember your reaction to Mithrandir’s ‘entertainment’ at lord Aradunnon’s wedding, so you may wish to inspect them first.”

All of the children looked curiously at the bag, Thranduil’s wary expression and Aradunnon’s failing effort to conceal his laughter.

“Who is Mithrandir, ada, and what entertainment did he provide for your wedding?” Galithil asked.

Aradunnon answered while Thranduil slipped the string that tied the sack closed. Many dozen small, colorful paper tubes and cones fell from it to his lap. “Mithrandir is one of Radagast’s people. He lives in Eriador across the mountains but he visited here once when we first moved to the stronghold.” Aradunnon hesitated, trying to formulate the best way to explain Mithrandir. “He is quite good with magic, especially that involving fire and smoke. He made something he called fireworks…” he shook his head, not sure how to explain that. Finally he shrugged. “They were colorful. Quite pretty, really.”

Thranduil scowled, holding one of the paper cones gingerly between two fingers and glaring at it. “It was only by the grace of the Valar that he did not set the forest ablaze with them,” he said coolly, turning his eyes to Radagast. “What does one do with these things?” he asked, holding out the cone.

“With your permission, I will show you. I think I remember how Mithrandir lit them,” Radagast responded, reaching for it.

Thranduil closed his fist around the cone. “You think you remember?”

“I remember, my lord,” Radagast said, chuckling and holding out his hand. “Not to worry.”

He took the cone that Thranduil reluctantly released and set it a good distance away from the trees on a rock. Then he walked over to where the elves were beginning to gather for the evening merrymaking. They made way for him silently, not rude to their king’s guest, but cautious of him just the same. He took a faggot from a pouch on his belt and lit it in one of the torches they were beginning to ignite. Then he went back over to the cone.

“This may seem a bit frightening at first, children,” he said gently. “But it is safe as long as you do not get too close. And pretty, as lord Aradunnon said. Do not be alarmed.”

The children shrank back into their parents’ arms as Radagast lit the paper on the top of the cone and stood back quickly. As soon as he did, blue and gold and red and green sparks spouted from the top of the cone and it emitted a shrieking whistle that rousted the birds from the trees.

As one, the children—and most of the adults on the green—started and gasped. Then everyone watched the magical display with wide eyes. The cone sparked for several minutes, changing colors as it did.

While it erupted, Radagast walked back to the trees and looked regretfully into their branches. The birds in them glared at him in a reproachful manner and scolded him with chirps that were drowned by the noise of the firecracker.

Legolas looked between the brilliant display on the lawn and Radagast under the tree, not sure which was more fascinating. The fireworks were certainly spectacular, but the birds seemed to be responding to the strange figure in brown even more than they did to his father and that surprised Legolas—all the creatures in the forest loved the king as their protector.

When a few of the smaller birds flitted down to Radagast’s hand, Legolas gasped louder than he had when the wizard had lit the cone. Eyes fixed on the birds, he silently climbed from his father’s lap and slowly crept towards Radagast. The birds turned towards him and crouched lower in Radagast’s hand, but did not fly away.

“They flew to your hand,” Legolas whispered. From the corner of his eyes he could see his mother and father watching him intently with broad smiles, but the birds held his full attention.

Radagast nodded casually. “My friend Mithrandir is good with fire. I am better with animals. They are all my friends, but especially so are the birds.” He nuzzled the little birds in his hand against his cheek. “And I am sorry, my friends, for frightening you. I should have warned you as well as the children,” he said softly.

The birds chirped bitterly at him.

Legolas’s eyes widened. “How would you warn the birds, Master Radagast?” he asked inching closer.

Radagast smiled. “You asked earlier what languages I speak. I speak to Men and Elves sometimes, but I most often speak to birds. And they speak to me. They have many languages. The crows are different from the thrushes which are different again from the eagles and these little birds but I know them all.”

Legolas stared at him, amazed.

“Legolas, come on. Uncle is going to light another firecracker,” Galithil yelled from behind him. Legolas turned to see his cousin hopping from foot to foot, a paper cylinder from the sack in his hand. A few other elflings in addition to his cousins had gathered around including Arthiel’s younger brother, Bretheril, and the captain of the Palace Guard’s daughter, Aewen. “They are your gift. He says we must wait for you to light them. Come on,” Galithil shouted.

“You may light a few without me,” Legolas replied. “A few,” he emphasized, “I will be there in a moment.”

When he turned back to Radagast, the wizard was looking at him with surprised eyes.

“I like Mithrandir’s gift very much,” he said hastily, not wanting to give offense. “But I would love it if you could ask one of those birds if it would allow me to hold it.”

Radagast’s face brightened in response to that request. A thrush still sitting in the tree sang a complex song. The wizard knelt on the ground next to Legolas, glancing up at the thrush. “I think they will sit on your hand if you hold it open and very still,” he said taking Legolas’s hand and positioning it palm up in front of him. A sparrow hopped into it willingly, much to the child’s obvious delight. “They love you, Legolas. They only know that elflings are a little unpredictable, so they are cautious of you.” He smirked at the elves eyeing him on the green. “Just as your people are a little cautious about wizards.”

Legolas looked from the bird to Radagast. “You are a wizard?” he whispered.

Radagast smiled. “That is what the men call Mithrandir and I, along with our friend Curunir.” He smiled at the child’s wide eyes. “The thrush tells me that there is a green heron by the river that he has watched you admire. I have no gift like fireworks to give to you, but I believe I could help you persuade that heron to come meet you. Would you like that?”

Legolas nodded enthusiastically.

“Very well. You go play with the fireworks for a while and then we will go find the heron before he roosts for the night.”

“Thank you, Master Radagast,” Legolas said, as the bird flitted from his hand to Radagast’s head. Legolas smiled at it a moment before running to join his cousins with Mithrandir’s fireworks.

*~*~*

Much later that night, the elflings had finally collapsed from exhaustion and lay silently in their parent’s arms under the eaves of the forest in the light of the stars. As the children drifted onto the path of Elven dreams, their family had turned to discussing news from the south with Radagast and the newly returned Aradunnon and Dolgailon.

“Though we were well prepared, we thankfully saw only a few minor incursions into the Wood by the Wainriders—mostly those were men fleeing battle and not looking for it,” Dolgailon was explaining to Radagast.

The wizard nodded. “I know lord Forthwini was very relieved to avoid more loss as I am certain you were as well.”

Aradunnon and Thranduil nodded solemnly.

“I heard the same from lord Fengel,” Thranduil added quietly.

“Gondor faired more poorly,” Dolgailon said sadly. He turned to Thranduil. “You heard, of course, that lord Ondoher and both his sons, Artamir and Faramir, fell in battle north of the Black Gate. I was wondering if you have heard anything about the new king in Gondor. Have you formed any impression of him?”

Thranduil shook his head. “Lord Fengel informed me that Ondoher had been killed in the first battle of the war, but I heard nothing about his sons. I am sorry to hear they were lost as well. But I assumed that this…” his brow furrowed and he looked at his steward, “what is his name, Hallion?”

“Eärnil, my lord,” Hallion responded, sharing a smile with Dieneryn at Thranduil’s utter disinterest in the affairs of Men.

Thranduil nodded. “Eärnil,” he repeated. “I assumed he was one of Ondoher’s sons since he is now king. Is he a brother?” he asked curiously.

Dolgailon’s looked at his uncle with surprise. He had not expected to know more about the new King of Gondor than Thranduil. “No, Uncle. He is a captain. He led the victory at the Battle of the Camp from what I heard. I assume he is descended from Gondor’s Royal House, though I do not know how.”

“Lord Forthwini told me he is a descendant of Telumehtar Umbardacil,” Radagast said quietly. “Ondoher’s daughter might have been Queen but her husband, Arvedui, King of Arthedain, laid claim to the throne and the Steward of Gondor rejected that claim.”

Thranduil shook his head. “Mannish politics are too complicated for my tastes,” he said. “But it must have been a terrible shock for the people of Gondor to suffer a war and in it lose their king and both his sons. It speaks well of them that their government transferred peacefully after such a loss.”

Hallion nodded. “It surprises me that lord Ondoher and both his sons fought against the Wainriders,” he commented. “I thought I remembered that Gondor has a law requiring the king to leave a direct heir as regent before he may lead the realm’s troops into battle.”

Thranduil raised his eyebrows and looked at his steward incredulously.

“It is a wise law,” Engwe said dryly, causing Thranduil to turn his glare on him.

“Indeed,” said a voice standing some distance away from the family in the tree line. It was Conuiön.

Thranduil looked at him and snorted. “Thankfully, I make the laws in this realm and it will be a very dark day in Arda when I agree to any law that limits my ability to defend this forest in battle. And little good the law did Gondor. Though I am curious,” he said turning his gaze back to Dolgailon and Radagast. “Do you know how both Ondoher’s sons came to be in battle with their father if they do have this law?”

Dolgailon nodded. “I heard from the men on the western border that the youngest son, Faramir, was left as regent but he went into battle in disguise.”

Engwe frowned. “He did no service to his realm with that reckless decision,” he said disdainfully.

Aradunnon and Dolgailon nodded solemnly in response.

Thranduil remained silent. Too many times as a youth in Beleriand and even as a prince in this realm he had followed his own judgment rather than obeying his father or mother’s commands. He knew any one of those choices might have led him to a similar end. And he remembered well the bitter argument he had with his father regarding which of them would stay in Greenwood to defend it when Oropher decided to join Gil-galad in Mordor. In the end, they both had gone but only one had returned.

Looking down at his son sleeping in his arms, Thranduil wondered if his father’s insistence that he remain in Greenwood had been based solely on his desire to ensure the defense of the forest should their efforts in Mordor fail.

Thranduil closed his eyes as a great wave of pity for Ondoher and his family washed over him. “I am certain Faramir made his decision based on a desire to protect his people. We cannot know all his motives and it is wrong to speak ill of the dead,” he said softly, tightening his arms around Legolas slightly and silently adding a prayer that he would never see his son in battle in Mordor.

In response, Legolas shifted in his father’s embrace. “Gondor is boring, adar. I do not even know where it is,” he said sleepily.

Thranduil blinked and, with the other adults around him, looked at Legolas with surprise.

Galithil nodded against Aradunnon’s chest. “Tell us a story, instead,” he pleaded, his voice muffled by his father’s tunic.

Aradunnon and Thranduil looked at each other, eyebrows raised, and Dolgailon turned to his father guiltily.

“I apologize, adar. I would not have mentioned this subject if I thought they were awake,” he said softly.

Oblivious to the concern of the adults, Legolas rolled onto his back to gaze up through the canopy of trees. “Tell us the story about the stars again, ada,” he said.

Thranduil drew a quiet breath, looking between Legolas and Galithil. Something in his son’s tired voice took him back in time three Ages of the world.

Thranduil’s head rested on his father’s shoulder as they lay in the tall grass. Next to them sat Dieneryn and Engwe. Nearby, Ormeril also lay in the grass with Ninglor’s head pillowed on her stomach. Engwe was playing his harp and singing softly. Earlier, they had been celebrating Thranduil’s Begetting Day by teaching the elflings various dances and songs and games. Now Thranduil and his cousin were struggling to stay awake for it was late and the stars were bright in the sky.

“Those look like a bird, ada,” Thranduil said sleepily, pointing into the night sky at a bright constellation of stars.

“That constellation is called the Eagle,” Oropher replied, stroking his son’s hair.

Thranduil propped himself up on one elbow to look at his father’s face eagerly. “Tell us the story about the stars again, ada,” he begged.

Oropher smiled at him and nodded, drawing his son closer to his side. Thranduil settled happily next to him, head now resting on his chest. He could feel the rumbling of his father’s deep voice as he spoke.

“When it was time for the Firstborn children of Ilúvatar to awaken by the Cuiviénen, the Valar took counsel and saw that the world in which we would walk was dark. And the Valar loved the Elves so Elbereth took the silver dews from the vats of Telperion, the Silver Tree. From them she kindled new, brighter stars for our comfort. Since then we have been blessed with an evening sky lit by Carnil and Luinil…”

“I know where they are, ada,” Thranduil interrupted, pointing to the Red Star and the Blue Star.

“That is right, ion nin. Do you remember the names of any other stars that Elbereth created for us?”

Thranduil nodded proudly. “There is Nénar,” he said pointing again.

“And there is Lumbar,” Ninglor added, raising his arm tiredly towards that star.

These were simple names that the elflings could manage.

“Help us find the constellations, ada,” Thranduil begged. “Where is Wilwarin?”

Oropher smiled. Thranduil had discovered the beauty of butterflies the previous Spring and was disturbed to find they were not present when the winter snows froze the flowers. Wilwarin, bright in the winter sky, reassured him that the butterflies would return, so it had become one of his favorite constellations.

“She is there,” he said tracing a group of stars with his finger. “Can you see her wings?”

The elfling nodded.

“And what is that one? With the three bright stars on his belt?” Oropher quizzed.

“Menelvalgor, the Swordsman” Thranduil answered swiftly. “And the seven stars are the Valacirca.”

Oropher reached to ruffle his son’s silvery-golden hair. “That is very good, ion nin,” he praised.

Thranduil laughed. “They are so bright that they are easy to find.”

“Bright as you are, sweetling,” Dieneryn said, leaning over to kiss her son’s forehead, which caused Thranduil to squirm closer to his father.

“Tell us a story about Menelvalgor,” Ninglor demanded. His voice sounded sleepy again.

It was not long before Oropher’s deep voice had lulled the children to sleep.

Since Thranduil had not replied to Legolas’s request, Aradunnon was now telling the children about the stars and constellations. As Thranduil listened to his brother’s voice, he looked at his mother and Engwe, wondering if they remembered that long ago Spring evening. From the expression on their faces, he could tell that they did. For a moment Thranduil marveled at the thought that these were the same stars that he had laid in his father’s arms to study in Beleriand so long ago and he felt the absence of his cousin and father acutely.

Thranduil’s eyes were drawn to the Valacirca. As a child, Menelvalgor and the Valacirca had always appeared so beautiful to him—the brightest constellations in the sky. His father never told him that Menelvalgor was a symbol of the Last Battle and Valacirca a challenge to Melkor and symbol of doom. He learned that later, when he was older.

“What does Valacirca mean, ada?” Eirienil asked, peering at the seven stars.

Thranduil forced his thoughts to the present and looked at his advisor.

“Vala refers to the Valar, of course” he responded quietly, “And a sickle is a tool. It has a blade and men use it to harvest the crops of their fields.”

“Do the Valar harvest crops in Aman, ada? Why do they not live in a forest? Are there no forests in Aman? Is that why we do not go there?” Eirienil asked rapidly.

Isteth smiled at her daughter. “I am certain there are beautiful forest full of ancient, wise trees in Aman, iell nin. But do you not love this forest? Why would you want to leave it?”

“I do not want to leave it. But what about the Elves that live in Aman? And the Valar? They need forests too. I do not see why they need sickles.”

Golwon sighed softly. “A sickle can also be a weapon,” he admitted. “Elbereth placed the Valacirca in the sky as a warning to the Evil One. To make him stay away.”

Eirienil frowned doubtfully. “Lord Thranduil and lord Aradunnon make the Evil One stay away. I think they do a better job than those stars would do,” she said firmly.

Thranduil, who had been listening to this discussion with some surprise at Golwon’s honesty, stifled a shocked snort in response to that appraisal.

“I appreciate your confidence, Eirienil,” he replied as seriously as he could, studiously ignoring the grins of his family.

Isteth gathered her daughter in her arms. “I think it is time to go to bed,” she said softly.

That pronouncement was met with tired protests from all the children but they did not resist as their parents picked them up.

“Did you enjoy your Begetting Day, Legolas,” Thranduil asked as Lindomiel and Amoneth folded the blanket the family had been sitting on and Isteth and Ollwen gathered the children’s toys.

Legolas nodded in answer to his father’s question, snuggling his face against his tunic. Then he looked over at Radagast. “Thank you for helping convince the heron to meet me, Master Radagast,” he said.

The wizard reached over and stroked Legolas’s cheek. “I am always happy to encourage kinship between my animal friends and anyone who might love them, pen neth.”

Legolas settled against his father’s tunic again as they began to walk back towards the Great Gates. The elves still dancing on the lawn smiled at the sight of the sleepy elflings as the Royal Family passed them.

“Ada?” Legolas said.

“Yes, Legolas?” Thranduil answered quietly, wanting to encourage his son to sleep, not begin to chatter.

“Since I can write all my letters, can I ask Master Rodonon to help me write to lord Fengel and Mithrandir to thank them for their presents?” he pressed.

Thranduil and Lindomiel smiled at that. “Yes, you can, Legolas. Indeed you should. You tell Rodonon what you want to say tomorrow during your writing lesson and he will help you with the words.”

“And you will send the letters with a courier?” Legolas asked.

Thranduil nodded. “The next one going to Dale and…” he hesitated and looked at Radagast.

The wizard laughed lightly. “I can have someone carry the child’s letter to Mithrandir,” he offered.

Legolas smiled contentedly. “And ada will you make me a seal with a beech tree on it for my letters?” he asked.

Thranduil saw Hallion smirk and shake his head in amusement. “Go to sleep, Legolas,” Thranduil admonished softly. “Seals are a discussion for another day.”

Legolas raised his head and looked at his father anxiously. “No, ada. You promised me you would tell me tonight why daeradar’s seal is an oak tree.”

Thranduil sighed but nodded indulgently. “I did promise that so I will tell you the story if you can stay awake for it,” he replied.

“I can stay awake,” Legolas replied, leaning his head against his father’s chest again.

Thranduil smiled and kissed his son’s hair. What the future may hold, Thranduil did not know but for that moment, all the world was perfect for both father and son.

*~*~*

AN: This is the end of New Journeys. The story will continue in Interrupted Journeys: Part Four—Journeys of Discovery. I am also going to start posting A New Dawn: First Age, which is a sort of prequel to this and tells my version of Oropher’s family and Thranduil’s youth in the First Age. It has many of the same characters as this story. I should start posting both of those stories soon.

I want to thank everyone who has stuck with this story so far. I know this last part was fairly complex, so I appreciate people staying with it. The next part is a bit lighter. I appreciate your reviews very much and I hope you continue to enjoy.

There are about 20 of you reading here on this site (at least that's how many hits I get each chapter). I might not continue to post this here because I am posting it in so many places and it's difficult to keep them all updated. If not, and you do want to keep reading, I will definitely keep posting it at Stories of Arda.

*~*~*

Adar/ada—Father/dad

Naneth/nana—Mother/mum

Daeradar/naneth—Grandfather/mother

Ion nin—My son

Iell nin--My daughter

Mae govannen—Well met

Pen neth—young one
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