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Interrupted Journeys: Part Two--Journeys Perforce

Chapter 13: United again under one will

by ellisk

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But ever the shadow in Mirkwood grew deeper, and to Dol Guldur evil things repaired out of all the dark places of the world; and they were united again under one will, and their malice was directed against the Elves and the survivors of Númenor. Unfinished Tales

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Amoneth entered Thranduil’s office and, at the king’s bidding, seated herself next to Galuon, the kitchen clerk. Seeing the openly impatient look on the king’s face, Amoneth squirmed slightly in her chair. She had not requested this early morning meeting—Galuon had, without informing her of it. Apparently, Thranduil had not been pleased by that and had called for her to join them. Despite the unexpected nature of the summons, she had a fairly good idea why Galuon had asked to speak to the king. The kitchen clerk had exploded the night before when she went over the instructions for the feast Thranduil had ordered her to organize. He intended to use it to celebrate his announcement of the move north.

“Now that Amoneth is here, what can we do for you this morning, Galuon,” Thranduil asked with an outwardly calm tone of voice. Amoneth knew him well enough hear the edge on it.

Galuon frowned and glanced at Amoneth. “I want to speak with you about the feast for the village leaders, my lord. The first problem is that Lady Amoneth has requested that we not use any of the wheat flour for the baking. I explained that means we cannot prepare any pastries or desserts and people expect such items at the king’s banquet. It is absurd. Our stores of wheat flour are perfectly satisfactory.”

Thranduil blinked at Galuon, his impatient expression changing to an undeniably irate one. Amoneth drew a breath to explain why she wanted to conserve the flour but Thranduil spoke first without so much as glancing at her. “Why is my presence required for this discussion, Galuon?”

Galuon eyes widened, plainly surprised by the question. “She will not listen to me, my lord. I told her it was unacceptable to not make the desserts but she would not agree to use the wheat flour,” he began.

Thranduil interrupted him. “Then you will not be using it. You may discuss alternatives to pastries, or whatever it was, with Lady Amoneth but do not expect me to involve myself with such things. Lady Amoneth is responsible for managing the household, not I.”

Galuon looked at the king reproachfully. “The queen would never make such a decision, my lord. She understands what people expect. More importantly, she knows that not meeting their expectations reflects badly on you…” he began again only to be cut off again.

“The queen is not here. Lady Amoneth is. I placed her in charge of the household until we move to the stronghold. It is her decision. It most certainly is not mine. Is that clear?”

Galuon’s mouth formed a hard line. “Yes, my lord,” he said curtly.

“Dismissed,” Thranduil said and watched as Galuon stood, bowed and left the office.

Amoneth stood uncertainly as well, not knowing if that dismissal included her. Thranduil glanced at the papers in front of him with a resigned expression and then motioned for her to sit.

“I apologize that this happened, my lord,” she said hastily looking down at the floor. “I can explain the flour. I was with Lindomiel when she spoke to Gimstan last. He said heavy rains destroyed the second wheat crop and we will not be getting more this year so we must make our supplies last through the winter. But Galuon would not listen to me when I tried to explain that to him. He simply insisted on the pastries. I thought candied fruit would do just as well…”

She drifted off when she focused on Thranduil and realized that he was trying to silence her.

“I do not require an explanation, Amoneth. I assumed you had a one and I certainly do not want to concern myself with desserts.”

Amoneth blinked at him and tried to conceal her surprise. She had expected she had been brought to the king’s office to explain herself so she was surprised by his reaction. He seemed very unconcerned; especially given that Galuon had implied her orders for the feast would make Thranduil look bad.

The king continued, apparently without taking notice of her confusion. “I only want to spend a moment giving you some advice. I remember naneth and Lindomiel discussing Galuon when Lindomiel and I were first married.” He smiled wryly. “I remember the conversation because it was the first time I saw Lindomiel that furious. I seem to recall nana’s advice was: when explaining to Galuon that you want to do something differently from the norm, always state your reasoning first and forcefully. Then explain the change you want. He has a very set way of doing things and does not like to alter it. I gathered from nana’s comments that he does not listen very well.”

Amoneth snorted softly and looked down. “No, he does not listen well. And he certainly does not like change,” she said quietly.

Thranduil raised his eyebrows, easily reading the implication in that statement. “If you need to speak to him about accepting authority—and it seems that you do given that he chose to speak to me and not you about his complaints—feel free to do so. If you would like my advice on formulating such a conversation, please ask for it. But I think I would prefer for you to conduct the discussion yourself.”

Amoneth’s eyes remained on her hands in her lap for a moment. Then she looked at Thranduil gratefully. “Thank you, my lord. Both for the advice and for the support.”

Thranduil simply nodded, directing his attention back to the papers on his desk. “You might as well stay,” he said absently, already absorbed again in his reading. “The rest of the council should be here momentarily. Go sit at the table. I will join you when I am finished with this letter.”

Amoneth stood silently and walked to the table where the council briefed the king in the mornings and received his instructions before addressing the day’s business. For the last month, Amoneth had been attending the morning meeting at Thranduil’s request—it was part of his tutelage. She understood little of what was discussed in the meetings and cared still less about it. She had no idea why Thranduil wanted her there and he did not offer an explanation. But she did find it interesting to watch Aradunnon interact with the other members of the council.

Hallion, Celonhael and Golwon treated Aradunnon in council with much more deference than they did around the dinner table—their treatment of him seemed nearly identical to their treatment of Thranduil. Even Engwe, who Amoneth had always gone out of her way to avoid, spoke softly to Thranduil and Aradunnon most of the time. And the majority of each morning was spent discussing defense. Those interchanges made it clear that the king depended on Aradunnon and trusted him, a fact that filled Amoneth with a sense of pride and even a little awe. That aspect of the morning meetings she thoroughly enjoyed.

Amoneth stood by the table, near her place at the end farthest from where the king would sit, and studied him. He was completely engrossed in his reading, taking notes and mumbling with a stern expression on his face. After a moment, she quietly slipped out of the room.

Thranduil did not notice her absence until he folded the paper he had been reading and looked at the table to see if he had time to examine one more document. The room was still empty. He sighed, shook his head and picked another paper from the stack on his desk. He was nearly finished with it when he heard the guard admit someone to the room.

Looking up and expecting to see Hallion, Thranduil involuntarily raised his eyebrows when Amoneth set a plate with fruit and a knife beside his papers on the desk. He looked at her silently, a question in his eyes, and she looked down.

“You did not come to the morning meal. I thought you could at least eat some fruit while you meet with your advisors this morning,” she explained without looking at him.

Thranduil’s expression softened. “Amoneth, I am not angry with you about Galuon. He was wrong to question you and ask to speak to me. You did nothing wrong.” He paused and smiled at her. “You do not have to placate me with food.”

Amoneth stared at Thranduil for a moment. It had not occurred to her that Galuon had done anything wrong. Then she laughed nervously at the last part of his statement. “I am not foolish enough to try to placate you, my lord. I have gone with Lindomiel many times to prepare a plate for you when you refused to appear at the table. She would be angry with me if I let you starve in her absence.”

Thranduil glanced at the plate. Indeed it held the same fruit, his favorites, that some servant brought to his office each time he missed breakfast. Thranduil had always assumed the kitchen staff was responsible for sending them though, now that Amoneth mentioned it, he did realize that practice had begun after Lindomiel moved to Greenwood. He took a deep breath and cut the apple, keeping half and handing the other to Amoneth who took it automatically. “I miss Lindomiel,” he said quietly, leaning back in his chair. “More than I imagined I would.”

Amoneth nodded somberly. “I understand…all those trivial things you did not even notice until she was not there to do them. Aradunnon and I are not even married yet but he does so much for me and I enjoy doing little things for him. I always missed him terribly when he was gone for months with the patrols. I cannot deny that I have enjoyed the last year since he began commanding the warriors from the capital.”

Thranduil looked at her sharply for a moment, causing her to look down again and blush slightly for fear that she had said something to offend him. When Thranduil finally spoke, his voice was soft. “There are certain aspects of Aradunnon’s life that you must understand better, Amoneth, and certain behaviors that are simply unacceptable. But perhaps my family also has not made enough effort to understand your perspective of this situation.”

Amoneth tried and failed to conceal a surprised and somewhat confused expression so Thranduil continued.

“For example, I know that Lindomiel is in the north performing an important service to me and to this realm by helping to build the new stronghold. I know that I have to let her perform that service. But that does not make me miss her less. Lindomiel and I have not been separated since our wedding for more than a few weeks at a time so I never realized how difficult it could be. I suppose I have a better understanding of how you feel when Aradunnon is away now.” He paused and she smiled cautiously at him. Then he continued, still in a soft voice. “I needed to understand how difficult it was for you to be separated from your betrothed for so long. You need a better understanding of Aradunnon’s duties. After attending these council meetings for the last month, are you beginning to develop such an understanding?”

Amoneth frowned slightly, the reason for making her attend morning council suddenly clear to her. “Yes, my lord,” she replied a little guiltily, ashamed that she had not understood before. “I am always impressed by how much Aradunnon contributes.” She looked at him. “You seem to depend on him,” she said quietly in a voice that revealed she was not sure how well that observation would be received.

She was surprised when Thranduil agreed readily. “I do, Amoneth. More than any other person in this realm with the possible exception of Hallion. I admit that freely. Without my council, but most especially without my troop commander and steward, I would be very hard pressed to govern this kingdom. Everyone in my family contributes to its governance.”

Amoneth nodded but before she could reply, the guard opened the door to admit the rest of Thranduil’s council. Aradunnon looked with some concern at his betrothed and his brother. Instead of heading to the table with the others, he went to stand in front of Thranduil’s desk instead.

“Fair morning, Thranduil,” he said, looking at his brother closely to try to read in his eyes what had been happening.

Much to his relief, Thranduil smiled at him and stood. “Fair morning, muindor nin,” he said cheerily, eating a berry and holding the plate out to offer him something.

Aradunnon shook his head with a smile and drew Amoneth against him. “You are in a fine mood after what appears to have been a very serious conversation,” he fished.

Thranduil nodded but his expression was light. “Serious, perhaps. But I think we took a step towards understanding each other better. Do you agree, Amoneth?”

Amoneth smiled. “Yes, my lord. I do agree.”

“Good,” he said moving towards the table. “Let us get some work done then. The lot of you are late,” he declared, raising his voice so everyone at the table could hear him. “We are going to be late beginning petitions.”

Hallion glanced at Aradunnon and then looked back at Thranduil. “I have canceled the petitions this morning, my lord. We have two more pressing matters. That is why we were late.”

Thranduil’s expression became instantly more serious and he looked at his steward questioningly as he seated himself at the table. “What has happened?”

“There are some disagreements amongst the village leaders moving from the Narrows over the settlement sites in the north,” Golwon said, diving straight into the issues.

“And my captain in the Narrows sent word that he arrested a group of Men who were in the forest,” Aradunnon added. “They were in possession of several sacks of medicinal plants and a good amount of meat and skins. It seems they took advantage of the fact that the south is relatively unguarded now that all but two of the villages have moved.” He paused. “But they insisted they were invited into the forest by elves and my captain states he saw no lie in their eyes when they said that. We need to determine if that is somehow true.”

Hallion nodded. “We did not know if you would want the Men brought here or released to the Mannish authorities, so the messenger is waiting for that decision. And the village leaders disputing the settlement sites will be arriving tomorrow to attend the feast so we will be pressed to resolve that issue then. That is going to require some thought.”

Amoneth was aware of Thranduil addressing the incident with the Men first and his tone was angry. For a moment she contemplated how thankful she was that she and Galuon had met with him before he got this disturbing news. Then as the king began issuing orders regarding the deployment of forces along the borders in the south and summoning representatives of the Prince of Rhovanion to Greenwood, she turned her mind to analyzing her earlier conversation with Thranduil, wondering what other lessons the king had subtly provided that she had not recognized.

*~*~*

Several days later, Amoneth walked with the rest of the family behind the king to the High Table. As she always did during festivals, Amoneth delighted in the view provided by the elves in their finest attire—soft, flowing green and yellow gowns, richly embroidered cloaks, bright flower garlands. The guests sang with the music of the minstrels or talked animatedly. Some had even begun to dance amidst the rows of tables covered with fine linen and colorful flowers while waiting for the appearance of the king and his family. When he appeared, the celebration quieted, save for the music that announced his entrance, and all stood as he proceeded to his place.

As they followed the king to the High Table, Amoneth watched Thranduil looking over the decorations and general set up on the lawn. She tensed slightly and Aradunnon looked down at her. Focused on Thranduil’s reaction, she did not notice her betrothed’s attention. Amoneth normally helped Lindomiel with festivals. Every available member of the household always took on their fair share of the tremendous amount of preparation they entailed. But Amoneth’s contribution in the past had mostly consisted of relaying the orders Lindomiel or Dieneryn had made and helping with the physical work of baking breads and subtleties. For this feast, she had organized everything, from the menu to the decorations to the seating arrangement to the entertainment.

Seeing the final outcome of her work, she did not think he would be disappointed. The courtyard sparkled in a sea of rich decorations, twinkling lantern and candle light and the glow of the elves themselves. Thranduil reached his seat and turned to address his guests but before he did he glanced at Amoneth, his smile indicating his obvious satisfaction with what he had seen thus far. She smiled weakly back at him, suddenly realizing she had been holding her breath in anticipation of his reaction. She felt Aradunnon’s arm go about her waist as she leaned against him.

“Welcome to all,” Thranduil began as the musicians fell silent. The king’s deep voice carried over the crowd that faced him with merry expressions. “And a special welcome to the leaders of our villages who have joined us tonight,” he continued, smiling at the guests in question seated in places of honor nearest the High Table. Then he paused and his expression grew serious. “We come together often to celebrate traditional feast days but tonight I have asked us to gather for a specific purpose. Over the past yén we have united to fight the foul spawn of Morgoth that once again despoil the beauty of Arda in this forest. I offer this feast tonight in honor of those that have contributed to that fight.” He was forced to pause as a somber cheer rose amongst the elves present—nearly every family had a relative that served as a warrior. When the roar dulled, he continued. “Unfortunately, we must continue to battle that evil for it is powerful and its defeat promises to be a long time in the coming. But we can lessen the burden on the warriors by doing what we can to keep their families out of harm’s way. To that end—to ensure the safety and prosperity of our people—I am building a stronghold north of the Forest River. This stronghold and the forest around it will be a safe haven for the people of this realm while its warriors continue to fight against the evil in the south.”

All of the elves present knew the purpose of this feast was this announcement and many already knew the details of the announcement. Early that morning, Thranduil had stopped the frenzied preparations for the feast and gathered his entire staff in the Great Hall. There he had informed them of the specifics of the move north and the construction of the stronghold, showing them copies of the maps of the chambers in the caves and answering their questions about the surrounding forest and when they would be expected to move. He told them they were not required to follow him—they were welcome to remain further south if they preferred. No one had indicated they would.

After that meeting, he spoke with the village leaders that had come to hear his announcement. As he had done with the village leaders from the Narrows, he explained the capital was moving north and they were encouraged to do so as well. All of the village leaders already knew Thranduil planned to move the capital north. Some were surprised to hear confirmation that he was building a stronghold or that the capital would be so far north but no one complained—after all, a stronghold could only be seen as a positive development and the orcs made it clear that moving north was the only option. Most villagers had resigned themselves to that fate. Indeed they were well pleased by the king’s efforts to make the move easier. The scouts that had investigated the northern forest were present for this meeting to describe in detail each recommended settlement site. Thranduil and his advisors answered questions about defense and trade. By the time the meeting concluded, the village leaders’ concerns were satisfied.

Since they were not surprised by his announcement, the elves listened in solemn silence as Thranduil continued speaking.

“Elves are fated to endure until the end of Arda and we will,” he stated with a cold determination that stirred the heart of everyone listening. “Here in this forest we will see the final destruction of Morgoth’s minions—we will defeat the evil in Dol Guldur and prosper in these woods long after it is utterly destroyed. That is my oath to you.”

As heated cheers rose in response, no one present felt the slightest doubt that their king could fulfill that vow.

“So let us celebrate the valor of our warriors and the prosperity of our realm.”

With that, the musicians again began to play, people cheered merrily and the servers began to bring out wine and the first trays of food—a light dish meant to prepare the palette, normally some sort of bread with honey. Tonight the opening dish consisted of small muffins made of amaranth and nut flour in the shape of animals and trees and arranged in a forest scene on the serving platters. As soon as each table had its bread, the first course of the meal was served—a soup with almonds, roasted boar with pepper sauce, sliced breast of pheasant in cinnamon sauce, baked mushrooms, a great pie of venison and rabbit, greens with chestnuts, and sliced pears. As everyone at the High Table and the lower tables turned to the food with relish, Amoneth finally began to relax.

Engwe glanced down the table at Amoneth as he enjoyed the meat pie. “Well done, Amoneth. I admit I did not think you could manage this by yourself. But you seem to have done a fine job,” he commented with his typical frank manner.

Amoneth had never enjoyed Engwe’s company. She merely kept her eyes on her plate at his half compliment. Aradunnon, on the other hand, openly bristled, swallowing his food quickly to make a retort, but Thranduil beat him to it.

“Do you think me a fool, uncle?” Thranduil asked with a low voice and forced smile. “The success of this feast reflects upon me. It colors everyone’s attitude towards the move north. I recognize its importance. I asked Amoneth if she felt ready to manage the feast and she assured me that she could.”

Amoneth looked over at Thranduil. She had wanted to do a good job with the feast to show the king that she was trying to take her place in his household more seriously. She had listened to Galuon’s comment that if the feast were a failure that would reflect badly upon the king. But only vaguely had it occurred to her that it would be very bad politically if the feast celebrating the move north was not successful. She looked away from Engwe and Thranduil uncomfortably, flinching slightly as Aradunnon’s arm wrapped protectively around her shoulders. His posture was tense waiting for Engwe’s reply. It did not disappoint.

“Of course Amoneth’s conduct in the past has never poorly represented this House so it was completely safe to trust her promise in this very public instance,” he said airily, looking out over the guests pointedly.

Thranduil’s eyes narrowed slightly. “I have entrusted Amoneth to serve this kingdom by managing my household in my wife and mother’s absence. Likewise, I trust my uncle to serve this kingdom by not making a spectacle of the family at the High Table during a feast,” he said in a dangerous tone of voice.

Engwe did not reply. He simply continued eating.

Thranduil frowned openly at that response. “Apologize for your lack of respect, uncle,” he demanded.

Engwe looked over at Thranduil, clearly surprised. A blush crept over Amoneth’s cheeks and Aradunnon glared at his uncle. Engwe drew a quiet breath. “I apologize, Amoneth. You have done an outstanding job, truly worthy of the event. I should not have denigrated it.”

Thranduil nodded once and turned to Amoneth himself with a pleasant smile. “Indeed, Amoneth. This is wonderful. Precisely what I expected for this important occasion. I appreciate your work and the staff’s greatly.”

Amoneth looked at her food. “Thank you, my lord. I will pass your comments to the staff tomorrow,” she replied quietly.

With that, Hallion turned the conversation to a comical story teasing Golwon, who could be counted on to react indignantly, and the mood at the High Table gradually became festive. After an interlude of music and a second course of foods as elaborate as the first, everyone present felt very celebratory indeed. Amoneth was relieved when the final subtlety—fruits and nuts baked in honey and spiced wine and arranged in a bright kaleidoscope of colors—was received with delighted exclamations by the guests.

Thranduil sampled it and turned to her with raised eyebrows and a merry expression. “This is your doing. I have never had this dish. I would remember it.”

Amoneth responded with a pleased smile. “It is my adar’s design. He makes it for my naneth occasionally to celebrate her begetting day.”

“Much better than the pastries Galuon makes, my dear. I think he will be quite bitter in the morning.”

Amoneth managed a giggle in response and tried to relax as the minstrels performed the final dinner entertainment before the king signaled for the tables to be cleared for dancing.

*~*~*

The dinner over, Amoneth tried valiantly to conceal her relief at being released from the High Table to dance and speak with her friends. Aradunnon danced with her until late in the evening. He only glanced once the games on the far side of the lawn and did not run off to join them until Amoneth sent him to do so, laughingly pleading for some time to herself. After that, she found herself wandering peacefully amongst the revelers speaking to her friends and enjoying the music of the harpist, flautist and trees. Finally, she sat thankfully alone against a tree and quietly watched Thranduil and Aradunnon compete against one another in an archery contest. Absorbed by their good-natured rivalry, she jumped slightly when someone standing to her side spoke.

“Pity the king and his brother do not show the same prowess hunting orcs in the Narrows,” the voice commented softly.

Startled, Amoneth stood and turned to face the elf speaking her. She recognized him as one of the elves from the villages that often came to the capital to complain of security in the south. She did not believe he was a village leader, just a very vocal citizen, and she could not remember his name. He was studying her with a cautious expression.

“I, for one, am very happy the king and his brother, my betrothed, have the sense to recognize a losing battle when they see one. I am thankful the king has withdrawn from the Narrows,” she answered back swiftly and firmly. Then she drew a quiet breath and reviewed in her mind what she had just thoughtlessly said, praying nothing could be construed as negative. She relaxed slightly after determining she had not misspoken and resolved to keep her mouth shut, not wanting to ruin an otherwise positive evening.

The elf did not seem offended by her contradiction. “So you are the troop commander’s betrothed. I thought you were,” he replied in a conversational tone. “My name is Fuinil,” he said bowing towards her.

She smiled automatically and offered him her hand. “I am Amoneth,” she replied as he bent over her hand.

He smiled as well. “Naturally you are happy to see your betrothed husband back in the capital and away from the dangers in the south,” he continued, returning to the original topic. “But surely you can understand the frustration of those of us who have moved repeatedly under the rule of the House of Oropher. This is the third home I have lost. Of course you are young and would not remember such things.”

Amoneth did understand their frustration. She shared it. She had moved away from her family in Lorien to Greenwood to stay with Lindomiel. She did not want to move again either. But greater than her unwillingness to move was her mortification when Thranduil threatened to exile both she and Aradunnon due to her behavior. She remembered that discussion and made no reply, instead merely staring at the elf before her. It was a reaction she had seen Lindomiel employ many times when someone said something inappropriate in her presence.

Fuinil did not appear to be fazed by her reticence. “There are those of us that refuse to move,” he said casually, studying her and waiting this time for a reply.

Amoneth frowned and looked away. “I cannot believe the king would force you to move,” she commented quietly, making the most neutral response she could think of.

Fuinil nodded. “He is not. But he is not providing us with protection any longer either. We must provide our own.”

Again he stopped, waiting for her reply. Amoneth blinked, very uncomfortable. “I know very little about defense,” she said, looking over Fuinil’s shoulder at Thranduil and Aradunnon. Aradunnon had apparently won the contest because he had a surprised and utterly triumphant expression on his face.

Fuinil’s eyebrows went up. “Surely the troop commander’s wife knows something about the deployment of the realm’s warriors,” he replied, overly cheerfully. “Can you not tell me anything about how much defense we can expect in the Narrows now that the king is moving north?”

Amoneth’s brows drew closer together. She knew Thranduil intended to offer absolutely no defense of the Narrows and she was tempted to tell him that, since it was only a statement of fact, but something in his intense expression made her hesitate. Aradunnon never discussed such things publicly and neither did Lindomiel or Dieneryn. Amoneth never had before either but that was primarily because she was not privy to much information about governance. Now that she attended the morning council meetings she knew quite a bit more. And Thranduil had made it crystal clear to her that anything she heard inside his office was not to be repeated outside his office. She fished about in her memory, trying to think of how Aradunnon responded when people asked him such questions. “I imagine Lord Aradunnon could tell you more than I,” she finally said.

Fuinil adopted an overly disappointed air. “Come, my lady. I am certain he could, but I am speaking with you now,” he paused and fixed her with a forceful look. “And I know that you harbor no love for Thranduil’s decision to move to the north. Surely you can be sympathetic to my plight and help me with whatever information you might have about my future.”

Amoneth looked at Fuinil, stunned and fairly certain she had not said anything in this conversation to give that impression. “What makes you say that I do not approve of the king’s decision?” she asked nervously.

He laughed lightly. “My brother spoke with you and Aradunnon on this topic before, when he was in the capital during the king’s last absence,” Fuinil said, gesturing to an elf sitting on one of the nearby benches drinking wine and watching them. “He said you seemed very disapproving when discussing the move north.” Fuinil looked at her sharply. “And you appeared to be arguing with the king and his family at the High Table after his announcement tonight. We had the impression that you might be willing to help us in our fight to survive in the south.”

Amoneth stared at Fuinil, completely flustered by that response. “I cannot imagine what help I could possibly be,” she replied with obvious confusion. “I would help you if I could, as would Lord Aradunnon and the king, but I have no help to offer you.”

Suddenly Fuinil’s gaze seemed very dark. “It would be a tremendous help if you could tell us how the troops intend to patrol the Narrows. With that information we could work with the rest of our allies to guarantee our safety.”

Amoneth blinked. “The rest of your allies? I am certain Lord Aradunnon will coordinate any efforts needed to defend the southern villages,” she stammered, lost.

Fuinil leaned forward. “The king will not let Aradunnon do anything to protect the villages in the Narrows. We must move or be left to the orcs. But the king is not the only source of protection. There are others that Aradunnon does not coordinate. Indeed, Aradunnon’s warriors are now only in the way. That is why we need to know how they are deployed.”

Amoneth’s jaw fell open as Fuinil’s words finally made sense. “You are involved with the Men the warriors found in the forest.” Her expression became even more incredulous when he did not deny her statement. “You intend to barter with Men for protection against the orcs? Have you lost your mind? Men could not possibly offer you adequate defense. If they could, the king would have allied with them to attack the orcs at Dol Guldur.”

Fuinil’s expression was now angry. “The king refused to ally with them, I heard, as he refused to ally with Amroth of Lorien. The Men we have spoken to told us of the king’s unwillingness to fight to preserve our homes even as they offered to help us. Why should we refuse their help?”

“Because they lie?” Amoneth suggested angrily. “I was in Lorien when the king spoke to Amroth, my cousin. It was he that refused Lord Thranduil’s request to join Eryn Galen to attack Dol Guldur while it was still possible.” Her mind raced with the details of the council’s discussion of the captured Men that she had half-listened to a few days earlier. “Those Men will do as much damage to the forest as orcs. They do not want to help you. They want your help to get into the forest so they can steal plants and poach game…”

“They ask for their due in exchange for helping us defend ourselves…”

“Do you think sacks of plants and piles of skins and meat are their due? They take more than the king would ever allow for the health of the forest. With their ‘help’ soon the Narrows will be depleted and you will not be able to support your families there. I cannot believe you would consider this.” She snorted. “I cannot believe you thought I would help you. I certainly will not.” Amoneth turned and started to march angrily towards the High Table.

Fuinil grabbed her arm roughly. “I will do anything to protect my home,” he stated coldly.

Amoneth looked with wide eyes between Fuinil’s hand grasping her upper arm and his face. He glared icily at her. Her expression hardened and she tried to twist from his grip. He only tightened his hold on her and she opened her mouth to demand he release her when a guard appeared from the shadows of the trees.

“Take your hands off the lady and come with me,” Galuauth said calmly but with a deadly expression.

Amoneth’s eyes darted to the guard and she was suddenly hyper-aware of Fuinil’s grasp tightening angrily on her arm; the guard’s tense posture; Fuinil’s brother rising to his feet a few steps away—all as the merrymaking continued unabated on the lawn.

She jumped violently as a hand touched her waist.

“I suggest you take your hands off my betrothed wife,” Aradunnon’s voice rang in her ear, frighteningly cold.

She looked over her shoulder to see both Aradunnon and Thranduil standing behind her, their guards at their shoulders, hands on their weapons.

Fuinil’s fingers released their grip on her arm and his eyes fixed briefly on his brother before they lowered to the ground. Amoneth gasped in surprise as Galuauth pulled her away from Fuinil and stepped between them. “Turn and walk directly to the Great Hall,” he ordered in a low voice. “I think you will want to address this, my lords,” he added, glancing at the king and prince as he discreetly pushed Fuinil away from the crowds.

*~*~*

Amoneth sat silently in a seat near the door and at the opposite end of the Great Hall from where the king was speaking to Fuinil angrily. She certainly could have heard what they were saying if she had wished to. On the contrary, she was making every effort to ignore them, knowing her turn would come. With Galuauth still standing next to her and Aradunnon glancing back at her with concern every few moments, she simply wanted to disappear.

Thranduil had listened with barely controlled rage as she recounted what she and Fuinil had said. Then Galuauth and finally Fuinil himself related their recollections of the conversation. When Thranduil asked her to wait for him in the back of the Hall, she was very happy to remove herself from his furious presence. Every now and then the word ‘treason’ or ‘sedition’ or ‘conspiracy’ floated the length of the Great Hall to her ears and she cringed.

Finally, one of the guards with Thranduil escorted Fuinil from the Hall. Seeing Thranduil and Aradunnon turn their attention on her, she stood. She was surprised when, instead of signaling for her to come to him, the king walked the length of the Hall, followed closely by Aradunnon, to speak to her.

“Are you alright, Amoneth?” Thranduil asked in a carefully controlled voice as Aradunnon drew her tightly against him.

Amoneth looked between them nervously. “I am fine, my lord,” she began but Aradunnon cut her off angrily.

“She already has a bruise on her arm, Thranduil,” he declared in a voice that was much less controlled than his brother’s.

Amoneth glanced at her arm, surprised, and then at the king.

His mouth formed a thin, angry line. “We will discuss it further in the morning, Aradunnon. When we are both more calm and when Hallion is present to offer some restraint,” Thranduil replied curtly.

Amoneth looked at Thranduil fearfully. “If we could, my lord, I would prefer to discuss it now,” she said in a quiet voice. “I do not want to spend the night wondering what your reaction to this will be.”

Thranduil frowned angrily. “My reaction? How do you think I have reacted to hearing that my own citizens are indeed responsible for ignoring my decisions and plotting with foreign powers to help them violate the borders of this realm? How do you think I react when my own citizens threaten members of my family? I assure you, Amoneth, if I were to make a decision about this tonight, it would be much harsher than is likely deserved. That is why I intend to do nothing until the morning.”

Aradunnon was much less willing to let matters lie overnight. “He threatened my betrothed wife, Thranduil,” he said dangerously, arm tightening reflexively around Amoneth’s waist. “He is lucky to have walked out of the Hall undamaged…”

“Enough, Aradunnon. We will address it in the morning. We should return to the lawn,” he commanded firmly, turning to do so.

Amoneth did not move. She only looked at Thranduil, obviously confused. “You are not angry with me, my lord?” she asked.

Thranduil turned back to her and blinked. “Why would I be angry at you, Amoneth?”

She looked down. “I fear that I said too much,” she replied without looking at him. Then her brows knitted together. “And he spoke to me because he thought I would help him…because he thought I opposed your decision to move north.” She looked up at Thranduil and his eyes widened at her fearful expression. “I do not want to move north any more now than I did before, but I do understand the decision a little better. And I swear I did not intentionally say anything to demonstrate a lack of support for your rule.”

Thranduil stared at her a moment. “Amoneth, I do not believe you did anything wrong tonight,” he finally said with a sigh. “Some of the things you said bordered on making promises in my name, which clearly you cannot do. And I would have prefered that you simply call for a guard when you figured out what he was asking you rather than arguing with him. But I cannot fault you for your reaction--you spoke out of shock and anger. I cannot deny those emotions were justified." He paused for emphasis. "I agree that it is a serious issue that Fuinil thought you would help him and I hope you understand how your own actions led him to that belief. I hope this incident makes you understand why you cannot behave as you have in the past.”

She nodded vigorously without looking at him and shame colored her cheeks.

“Good. This was not how I would have chosen for you to learn that lesson, Amoneth, both because I do not want to see my subjects involved in such activities and because this has clearly frightened you.” He looked at Aradunnon. “I do not think you should return to the feast. Take her back to her talan,” he said quietly, looking at her with concern. He frowned when she leaned heavily against Aradunnon. “You truly did a wonderful job organizing this feast, Amoneth,” he said softly. “I am sorry that this happened to ruin your enjoyment of it.”

Amoneth looked down. “I suppose I have myself to blame,” she whispered.

Aradunnon tensed. “You are not at fault for Fuinil’s conspiring behavior,” he began.

Thranduil’s jaw clenched and he put a hand on her shoulder. “I want you to go back to your talan and put this incident out of your mind, Amoneth,” he said gesturing Aradunnon to the door. He led her out without another word.

They walked silently to her flet and Aradunnon watched a myriad of emotions play across Amoneth’s face. When they reached her door, there was no question in his mind that he was not leaving her alone. Without waiting for an invitation, he followed her into her flet and drew the curtains for privacy. Aradunnon studied Amoneth sharply as she collapsed onto a cushion in the sitting room.

“Did Fuinil hurt you, Amoneth? Or threaten you in some way you did not tell us?” he asked tensely when she did not look at him.

Amoneth did look at him then, startled. She shook her head. “No, not at all, Aradunnon. He held my arm and that was all. I was not thinking about him.”

He sat next to her and gathered her in his arms, stroking her hair as she laid her head on his shoulder. “What are you thinking about, meleth?”

“The fact that he thought I would betray Thranduil,” she replied, voice muffled against his neck.

Aradunnon sighed. “Well, he did not even see his own actions as a betrayal of the king, this realm or the forest. Just a defense of his home.” He sighed. “I do not want to make you feel worse but I do not want to make light of this either. I am not sure what to say to you, Amoneth.”

“You need not say anything. A fool could understand the significance of this.”

They were quiet for a few moments as Amoneth thought. Then she snorted softly.

“What?” Aradunnon asked.

“I do not deserve Thranduil’s reaction to this. Tonight, I tried to keep my silence when Fuinil was speaking to me but not because I agree with the king’s decision to move north—only because I do not want to be sent to Lorien for speaking my mind. It was selfish.”

“If Thranduil had not threatened to banish you, you would have helped Fuinil bring Men into the forest?” he asked doubtfully.

“Of course not,” she began. “But I did not stay quiet because I support his decision either.”

Aradunnon shook his head. “You do not have to agree with it. I do not agree with it. It is not the choice I would make if I were king. You support the decision by not openly opposing it. That is all Thranduil expects, meleth.”

Amoneth sighed. “But I think I have been selfish. For example, I wanted the feast to be a success because that would reflect well on me. Its importance in helping Thranduil positively present his decision to move north never even occurred to me until he said that at the High Table tonight. And remember that serious discussion you saw Thranduil and I having? He was asking me if I understood why he wanted me to attend the morning council. It is because he wants me to understand your duties better. I admit I do. But do you know what my only thought was about the council meetings before he explained that to me? I thought they were boring. Their only saving grace was that I enjoyed watching you—my betrothed—in them. Selfish.”

Aradunnon frowned. “Amoneth, I do not think it would help our situation for me to deny that you can be selfish. You must learn to put the realm before yourself. We have discussed that before. If you are starting to see your selfishness, that is only a good thing. I am not being critical, meleth. I remember very well how my own form of selfishness—my flirting and gaming—hurt you. I have tried to stop both those behaviors because I love you.”

She lifted her head from his shoulder to look at him. “You have, Aradunnon. I know that.”

He nodded and kissed her forehead as she laid her head back on his shoulder. “Good.” He was silent for a moment. “It concerns me that you did not understand why Thranduil asked you to attend morning council. Did he not speak to you about it at all?’

“Not beyond telling me I was not to repeat what I heard in the meetings.”

He laughed shortly. “Well, that is a good start. You know, I could have told the reasoning behind having you attend those meetings. Why did you not ask me?”

She shrugged. “I just assumed it was a punishment. Some way to occupy me.”

Aradunnon laughed openly now. “I would tend to agree with you that council meetings are punishment, meleth, but I am certain that is not Thranduil’s intent. He wants you to learn, not suffer. There will be some lesson in everything he asks you to do.”

Amoneth sighed. “I fear that I have missed a good many lessons that he intended to provide through some example. I often do not understand his reactions.”

“Then ask him, meleth. He will not bite you. If you feel he does not have time or that the time is not appropriate, ask him later.”

“I do not want to make him think I am completely lost,” she whispered.

He tightened his arms around her. “Then ask me. Surely you do not fear I will think less of you.”

She shook her head. “I will ask. You or him.” She paused. “I felt so terrible hearing him defend me to Engwe. I know Engwe could tell the importance of this feast never occurred to me.”

Aradunnon kissed the top of her head. “Regardless, it was marvelously well done and Engwe was behaving poorly, as usual. Just as you cannot gainsay the king, Engwe has no right to criticize you in such circumstances. Had Thranduil thought you did a horrible job—and I assure you, you did not—he would defend you publicly and speak to you about it privately. That is precisely what he wants you to learn, Amoneth. Engwe needed his own lesson tonight.”

Amoneth laughed weakly. “Engwe needs that lesson often in my opinion. At least as often as I do.”

Aradunnon smiled. “Indeed.”

Amoneth sat silently his arms, head against his shoulder, for a good while. Finally, she snuggled closer and drawing a deep breath and obviously trying to relax. She enjoyed the soft fabric of his formal robes and his scent. Aradunnon, arms around her waist, pulled her firmly against him.

“I love you, meleth,” he whispered, brushing his lips against her hair.

When she lifted her head to reply, his lips claimed hers in a tender kiss.

It was much later when Aradunnon finally rejoined his brother on the lawn where the festival was still in full swing.

“How is Amoneth?” Thranduil asked quietly as Aradunnon sat next to him.

“When I left her, she was nearly asleep,” Aradunnon replied. “Fuinil apparently did nothing to hurt her beyond shocking her with his belief that she would betray you.”

Thranduil did not look at his brother or reply.

“She is very upset, Thranduil,” Aradunnon pressed.

“I know that. There is no harm in it,” he replied. “And you did stay with her until she calmed down, surely.”

“Of course I did,” Aradunnon responded with a scowl. After a few moments he looked at his brother. “She told me she often does not understand why you ask her to do things, Thranduil. You might consider being more direct with her.”

Thranduil smiled. “She rarely understands immediately what I am requiring of her, Aradunnon. She often does not even see that a lesson is being given. But I can tell that she is trying to do make good decisions. And a few times I have seen her thinking about my orders or reactions. I am satisfied with her progress.”

Aradunnon frowned. “Do you not think you would be more satisfied if she recognized the lessons?” he asked somewhat testily.

Thranduil turned and looked at his brother. “Tell me, Aradunnon, have you discussed her daily activities with her at all since we spoke?”

Aradunnon’s frown deepened. “Not really.”

Thranduil raised his eyebrows. “Perhaps Amoneth is not the only person who does not recognize that a lesson has been administered. Is it possible that I thought it might be your responsibility to speak with your betrothed? She is going to be your wife, muindor nin. Not mine.”

Aradunnon’s eyes widened with surprise. Then Thranduil watched them fill with anger. “I am not an elfling, Thranduil. And I do not appreciate being treated as one. Especially by you. Please do me the courtesy of speaking to me plainly.”

Thranduil frowned but he responded calmly. “No, you are not an elfling, Aradunnon. But neither do you have the slightest idea how to be a husband because you have never treated any maiden properly in your life. I am giving Amoneth a chance to learn something about being a member of my household by letting her observe the council, by having her run my household and by setting her a good example of leadership in my dealings with her. That is her lesson. You already know how to be a good leader, Aradunnon. You are an excellent troop commander and I believe you would make a fine king. Help your betrothed wife with that concept and teach yourself to be a supportive husband in the process. That is your lesson. With any luck, you will end up with a supportive wife as a result.”

Aradunnon opened his mouth and drew a breath to make a retort. Then he shut it again. “You are right, Thranduil,” he said softly. “I told her just now to speak to me if she does not understand something you have asked of her. But I admit I did not understand that was your intent.”

Thranduil smiled at his brother. “Good. I see that you, like your betrothed, can learn even if you do not recognize the lesson, delos dithen.”

Thranduil barely controlled his laughter as his brother’s jaw clenched involuntarily in response to that very old and much hated nickname from his early youth.

“Watch yourself, Thranduil,” Aradunnon threatened, though he could not entirely hide the mirth in his voice. “Continue to treat me as an elfling and I will behave as one. Do you recall why you stopped calling me that name?”

Thranduil loosed his laughter at that memory. “Yes, muindor nin. And Conuiön would never let you get away with such a thing now.”

“Conuiön is in the north with Lindomiel, Thranduil. Do not forget that.”

Thranduil smirked at him. "Then I will not let you get away with it again."

Aradunnon's eyes widened. "Let! Let me. You did not let me the last time, muindor nin."

Thranduil only continued to laugh.

*~*~*

Muindor nin--My brother

Adar/ada--Father/dad

Naneth/nana--Mother/mum

Delos dithen--Little pest

*~*~*

AN: A big, big apology for being so long in updating. I plead four excuses: Thanksgiving and all my relatives were here; my dog had major liver surgery; work is still insane; and my friend who is beta'ing this for me and I had some major disagreements about the last chapters over how much of what we originally wrote should be cut to move the story along vs what should stay because otherwise certain plot lines would not seem to be satisfied. This is a big compromise. Smile smiley face Thanks for reading and sorry for the delay.

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United again under one will
Created
05 Dec 2004
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05 Dec 2004
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