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Interrupted Journeys: Part Three--Journeys Begin

Chapter 4: Rumours and Treachery

by ellisk

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.

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Chapter name
Rumours and Treachery
Created
19 Feb 2005
Last Edited
19 Feb 2005
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6955