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Thranduil's Shadow  by Mimi Lind

Prologue

Mirkwood, Third Age 3019

Thranduil’s chest swelled with so many emotions they threatened to break his calm mask of indifference; relief, love, white-hot anger. How he had worried! Yet here his son was walking into the palace like nothing had happened; as if he had not left on a dangerous quest to Mordor, risking his life and the succession to the throne, and as if he had not conveniently “forgotten” to send word of his plans to his father before it was too late. 

Legolas looked up at him from beneath the throne. Thranduil could read reserve, defiance and a hint of anxiety in those big, expressive eyes; his son’s ability to hide his emotions had always been nonexistent. It was a relief that at least that part of his innocence remained. That Legolas’ journey had not changed him irrevocably.

Checking his features to make sure he betrayed none of his own feelings, Thranduil sternly met his son’s gaze, well knowing the effect his icy stare would have and secretly despising himself for using his father’s methods. 

The defiance very soon left Legolas eyes and he lowered them, but not before Thranduil saw the hurt that had come in its place. Ignoring the pain ignited in his own chest, he held his prepared speech, revolving around topics such as disobedience, disregard of duty, recklessness and irresponsibility. If he could, he always carefully thought out beforehand what he would say. Spontaneous conversation had never been his strength. 

When he had finished, Legolas was silent for a long time, staring at the floor. Thranduil wanted to run down the steps and wrap his arms around him, admitting how much he had missed him and how worried he had been, but his feet would not move. 

When was the last time they had hugged? He could not remember. He did remember a much earlier occasion, however, when he had held that wrinkled, ugly little baby in his arms for the first time, his chest painfully contracted, promising his son that he would be a better father than Oropher. 

Had he failed? He probably had. Why else would Legolas have left him?

“Ada… I am sorry I caused you pain, but I did consider what was best for our realm,” Legolas said at last. “The quest was necessary, and in the end, the destruction of Sauron will benefit us all.”

“The Ring had to be destroyed, aye, but you did not have to go!”

“I did not want to cowardly hide behind our walls forever. There is a world outside our realm.” He said it without any trace of accusation, but yet the words hit Thranduil like an arrow in his chest. Legolas’ mother had said the same thing, many times over the years. Called him weak and a coward. 

“Wanting to protect one’s people is not cowardice,” he said coolly, fighting hard to remain impassive. 

“I know that, and I do not blame you!” said Legolas earnestly. “I heard you achieved a lot here at home when I was gone, finally clearing out Dol Guldur and everything. It made me proud to hear.” 

Thranduil could not get any words out. He wanted to say how proud he was over Legolas too, and how much he loved him. “I did enjoy myself,” he admitted instead. “And it was good to meet my old friend Celeborn again after so long. Perhaps, in the future, I shall see him more often.” Perhaps his friend could help him become a better father too? 

“That sounds great.” Legolas smiled and Thranduil cautiously returned it. Thank the Valar, his son was such a sweet, complacent ellon. He did not deserve him. 

When Legolas had left and Thranduil was alone in his grand throne room, he finally relaxed his features. His wife had hated his “glass face” as she would call it; nothing could annoy her more than when he hid his emotions from her. And now he had done the same thing to Legolas. 

With a pang of grief, he wished, not for the first time, that she could have stayed and helped him raise their son. Everything would have been easier then. 

Oh, how much he missed her, especially at times like this! He felt a tear trickle down his cheek. Damn. He should not think about her, or he would cry his eyes out. It was pointless to mope anyway – especially now, when he would soon join her in Aman, after fulfilling his promise to stay with Legolas. Perhaps in only a couple of decades he could sail to her.

He was patient. He could wait.

He grinned through his tears when he thought of what might happen when they finally met, after some hundred years of pent-up longing. Oh yes. It should be fun! The physical part of their marriage had never been wanting. That had been just about the only advantage the first millennia… 

Thranduil had never told Legolas what a disastrous marriage it had been at first; that was way too humiliating. Yet, it had been worth it in the end. Those last, sweet years of true happiness had made all the preceding heartache worthwhile.

How long was it since they met, now? It had been late in the First Age, he recalled, so it must be over sixty centuries ago. 

Thranduil chuckled when the memories flooded him, and for once, he allowed himself to wallow in them. 

She had been so cute. And annoying! Quite the little shadow... 


A/N:

In this story I will follow Thranduil from a young, rather insecure elf until he becomes a cold and majestic Elvenking in the Hobbit. Revolving around how he met his wife – Legolas' mother – and their relationship, I will also describe many of the more important events in Tolkien's book Silmarillion through his eyes, beginning in the First Age and continuing through the history of Middle-earth. 

In the next chapter the real story begins, some 6500 years earlier, with a young and slightly awkward Thranduil... :) Feedback is much appreciated! 

Rated for (tasteful) mature scenes in later chapters. 

Translations: Ellon=male elf, ellyn is the plural form. Elleth=female elf, ellith is the plural form. Nana=mum, Ada=dad. 

1. Thranduil's Shadow


Menegroth, Doriath, First Age 412

“Here comes Tharan’s shadow.” Beleg sighed theatrically. He was a couple of decades older than everyone else and informal leader of the group. “She is like a bee around a honeypot.”

“Look, it is your girlfriend,” said Amroth, nudging Thranduil. 

Thranduil ignored them and the elleth they talked about, calmly focusing on the target, adjusting his stance, feeling the wind. He released the arrow he had nocked and was gratified with a satisfying thud when it hit bull's eye.

“Good one.” Beleg gave his shoulder a friendly punch. Then he almost nonchalantly shot an arrow of his own, which planted itself so close to Thranduil’s that his fell off. It was unfair; the other was a natural with his bow. He made it seem so easy.

The elleth meanwhile had seated herself on the stone wall surrounding the water well, her scrawny legs peeking out from under her plain apprentice’s dress. She was in that age when an elf is more or less a tangle of feet, knees and elbows; soon fully grown but still an elfling. 

“You will fall down,” warned Beleg, frowning. For some reason he had taken an early dislike to the kid.

“Just ignore her.”

“Nay. She should leave Tharan alone. He doesn’t like her.” Beleg took a threatening step towards her.

“You mean you do not like me.” The elleth’s voice was clear and melodical. Then she sang a few notes, and suddenly a splash of water jumped out of the well to land straight in Beleg’s face.

Thranduil could not hold back his laughter as his friend, spluttering and cursing, chased after the fleeing elfling. 

“One point to the elleth,” snickered Amroth.

Thranduil returned his focus to the target and released another handful of arrows, until his quiver was empty. It was getting late, and one by one the others dropped off until he was alone, squinting in the meager light as he fired a few more times.

“Were you impressed?” The elleth had come back. “I bet you didn't know I can work water magic?” Her blonde hair was dirty and full of leaves, and there was a bruise on her arm where Beleg probably had hit her. Thranduil felt a little sorry for her, even though she should have known better than to attack an ellon twice her age. 

“Nay.” He fired another arrow, and frowned when it missed the mark by several inches. Just when she was watching too. Not that he cared what she thought, really, but still…

“I like to watch when you shoot. Your arms are so strong.”

”Hm.” He was secretly pleased someone had noticed, even if it was just a kid. All those pushups were slowly beginning to pay off.

“So, today I finished my first batch of lembas without any aid at all. Queen Melian said they tasted just like her own.”

He nocked his last arrow, but then lowered the bow. It was too dark; he would only miss again. Instead he went to collect the other arrows.

“Now that I learned the recipe I shall probably be going home very soon,” she said when he came back. She was rubbing her arm absentmindedly. “Will you miss me?”

Thranduil did not know what to say, and unstringed his bow in silence. What time was it? The training grounds were outside the city; it would take him at least half an hour to get back and Father would not accept tardiness.

“Will you?” she repeated stubbornly.

“I shall not miss you talking my ears off.” He had meant it as a joke, but the elleth looked hurt and her large eyes filled with tears. 

Thranduil hated when ellith cried; it made him feel like the worst kind of scoundrel. He tried to think of something nice to say to smooth it over, but could not come up with anything, so he just left. He could hear her sad sniffles behind him as he walked home.

  .

The dining room was already full of people when Thranduil hurried inside, his hair moist after a quick freshening up and change of clothes before coming downstairs. 

“I am glad you finally cared to join us.” Oropher’s furious whisper was barely audible, and Thranduil winced inwardly. 

The supper was extravagant tonight, and the guests were served wine of the finest quality. Oropher and his family members had their usual apple juice, of course. His father despised alcoholic beverages as they corrupted one’s mind and was the foundation of mischief and foolish behaviour.

“The quails are delicious,” complimented the king, and his wife nodded heartily in agreement, her mouth too full to speak. 

“I am glad to hear that. It is a new recipe.” Mother smiled shyly.

It was not the first time Oropher and his wife had the king and queen as guests at their table, but it was also no everyday occurrence. King Thingol had a busy schedule, and many in his court seeked the honour of his presence, as well as the other notable elves who usually followed him on these social visits. Elves that Oropher also wished to establish good relations with; particularly Princess Lúthien, the king’s beautiful daughter. He hoped his son would catch the eye of the princess, seeing as he was considered a very handsome young ellon and she was unwed.

At the table, Thranduil was seated between Galadriel, Queen Melian’s golden-haired friend, and Daeron, the king’s minstrel. The latter instantly entered into deep conversation with Galadriel’s husband Celeborn across the table, so Thranduil found himself obliged to speak with the lady. He would have prefered to remain silent, of course, but that would not have sat well with Oropher, whose hawk eyes never missed a thing. 

Thranduil’s mind went blank at the prospect of talking with someone he did not know well, so he took to his old trick, and thought up a sentence beforehand.

“I hope you and your husband like it here in Menegroth. Is it not a very beautiful city?” He discreetly wiped his moist palms on his trousers, hoping they would not leave a stain.

“It is beautiful. One can hardly believe one is underground, here is so light and airy, and the pillars look like real trees.” Galadriel smiled politely, probably not very enthusiastic about her dinner partner’s nonexistent social skills.

“The dwarves helped the king build it.” Why had he said that? What a stupid thing to say to someone who had lived here several centuries.

“I know.” 

Thankfully Daeron took over then, and soon he and Galadriel were engaged in the interesting topic of architecture. Thranduil could safely listen, and supply a small remark here and there. He loved architecture, really, and would probably have said more if he had had the gift of speech.

After they finished the dessert, Oropher cleared his throat to gain the other’s attention.

“Let us have some music next. Thranduil, will you fetch your lyre and entertain us?” 

Thranduil’s mouth went dry and his heartbeat increased. No, please no! He mutely conveyed the plea to his father, shaking his head very slightly. Oropher’s dark eyebrows furrowed and his gaze grew flinty. “Do not let the guests wait, my son.”

Weak at the knees, Thranduil brought the instrument and sat on a padded stool by the window. The feeling of the strings against his fingers was somewhat reassuring, it reminded him of his bow, but then he noticed the others’ gaze at him and knew he had to begin. Sending a silent prayer to the Valar that he would not make a fool of himself, he began the Lament over the Two Trees which was the king’s favourite. 

" A! the Trees of Light, tall and shapely, gold and silver, more glorious than the sun. "

It was a sad song about the time before the sun and moon, when all light except for the starlight came from those two trees. Over four hundred years had passed since the Dark Lord Morgoth killed them, and only a few of the guests had seen them, the king being one of those. Galadriel and her brother must have seen them too; they were Noldor elves who had once lived in Aman where the trees had stood.

Thranduil knew his singing voice was not bad, but he could feel his trembling fingers stumble over the strings, producing one or two false notes, and there was a nervous tremor in his voice as well. Nevertheless, the ambience in the room was emotional when he had finished, and the king’s eyes were moist.

“Can you sing of the Silmarils too?” he asked as the last note had died out.

“I-I do not know any songs about them, My Grace, I am sorry.”

“I do.” Daeron stepped forward, carrying a beautiful lute. “If I may take over?” He had turned to Oropher, who nodded his consent.

Thranduil almost ran back to his seat, glad to have been let off so easily. He understood why Thingol had wished to hear about the Silmarils; the king had long craved to own one of those gemstones, because they contained some of the light of the lost Trees. Morgoth had stolen them after he killed the Trees and put them into his crown, and was now hiding deep inside his fortress Angband. The Noldor had been laying siege to the fortress for several hundred years without success.

The minstrel tuned his lute and began a smoldering tribute to the three gems. He looked almost exclusively at Lúthien as he sang, probably wishing to impress the beautiful princess. She, however, was engulfed by his music only. Her bright eyes were distant as she absentmindedly toyed with the hem of her long sleeve.

  .

It was late when the guests had left, and the cheerful sound of merry, slightly drunk elves ceased. Oropher slowly closed the door and turned to face Thranduil, who braced himself to stand straight and meet his father’s gaze. He knew what would come. 

“This is for being late.” Oropher struck his son across the cheek hard enough for him to stumble. Biting down the pain, Thranduil straightened his back and willed himself to again meet those cold, grey eyes. “And this is for hesitating when I asked you to entertain.” Another slap. He could feel his cheek begin to swell up. “And this ...” smack “...is for not learning to play right, and embarrassing your mother and I! Only to think, that stuck up minstrel had to take over!” Oropher was shaking him now, his self-control lost. 

Thranduil clenched his teeth to avoid involuntarily biting his tongue. A tiny part of him wished to tore himself free of Oropher’s hard grasp and strike back. His father was still stronger than he, but not much, and they were the same height. But his father was right, he had made a fool of himself as usual. He deserved to be punished. Why could he never learn ?

Oropher released him and turned away, visibly shaking and breathing heavily. Thranduil cautiously touched his cheek. The skin seemed intact. He was too agitated to feel the pain now; that would come later. Seeing his father lose his temper like this was disconcerting, and knowing he was the cause of that distress filled him with self-loathing.

“Go now.” 

“Aye, Father.” 

  .

“Thranduil?” Oropher spoke in a subdued voice, as if he was afraid to wake him up. As usual it had taken an hour until he calmed down, and – also as usual – he seemed ashamed of having lost his temper.

“Aye, Father?”

He came inside and sat on the bedside, reaching out to stroke his son’s long hair. 

“I am very proud of you, son. I see greatness and fame in your future.” He bent down to plant a kiss on Thranduil’s forehead. “I know you will not disappoint me.”

“I will work harder, Father.” His heart swelled with love.

“Splendid. Splendid. Well, good night then.”

“Good night.”

  .

The training grounds were empty when Thranduil arrived, shortly after sunrise. A blackbird in a nearby tree greeted him with its warbling song, and the surrounding forest smelled of earth and fallen leaves. 

He had brought his waster, a wooden replica of his sword. It had the same shape and balance, but was slightly heavier to help build up his muscle strength and make his real sword seem weightless. He began a few routines, slicing air with his waster while trying to vary the angle and force of his thrusts, never allowing his imaginary foe to relax. The trick was not to be predictable.

Then he switched swordhand to his right and repeated the action, keeping it up slightly longer because it was his weak hand.

Thranduil felt a presence and paused. Someone was watching. He peered about him, and tried to see them through the yellowing leaves of the surrounding trees.

“I know you are there. Come out!” he called.

No answer, but now he heard the slightest rustle. That oak, there… on the lowest branch. 

He walked slowly towards it, realising who it was. He ought to say sorry, but somehow that little word was one of the hardest to utter.

“Aerneth… I will miss you.” He realised it was true as soon as he had said it; the open adoration in the young elleth’s eyes was very flattering. And he had not minded listening to her chattering on about baking lembas, learning healing, or all the fascinating animals that lived in the sea by her hometown.

The oak rustled again and two bare feet emerged, followed by a thin body and a bush of blonde strands. She flopped to the ground rather clumsily.

“What happened to your face?” she wondered.

“Training accident.” That was always a valid excuse for a warrior.

“I shall leave for Eglarest tomorrow.” Her gaze grew wistful. “I have missed my parents. And the sea. Have you ever been to the sea?”

“Nay.”

“You should come there sometime. I can ask Ada to invite you.”

“And what should I do there? Build a ship?” He smiled.

“Yes, you could help my father.” She looked so adorably hopeful. Did she believe he was really considering it?

“I am sure Lord Círdan manages quite well without my messing things up.” How he wished he could talk this easily with older elves! The words were just coming naturally without any preparation.

“You are only teasing me. You do not want to go.” She pouted, looking ever so much like an elfling.

“Nay, not now. Maybe some other time.” He ruffled her hair, and was rewarded with a dark glare. “You are a sweet elleth, Aerneth.”

That made her face light up. 

“I love when you say my name… Thranduil ,” she breathed, eyes brimming with worship.

“I have to continue my training.” Her stare made him uncomfortable.

“And I shall go pack my things. Farewell, Thranduil!” 

“Farewell, Aerneth.”


A/N:
Thanks for reading!

2. Hair of Uinen


Eglarest, First Age 458

There was a knock at the door. Aerneth's father wearily looked up from the report he was reading. "Who might that be at this late hour?" He turned to his wife but she had not heard, being too absorbed in her painting. When Falasiel had begun a new project she was blind and deaf for everything except the motive evolving on her canvas.

"I will check." Aerneth left the table where she had been wrapping up lembas for the seal hunter's expedition leaving Eglarest tomorrow. She was fairly sure she knew who it was, and when she opened her suspicions were confirmed.

"Hello, Arminas." She smiled politely.

"My Lady." The ellon bowed. "Would you come out and walk with me? It is my last evening ashore for a while as you know."

"I have not finished the lembas yet, but I guess… A short walk could not hurt." She called to her parents. "I am going out."

Her father grunted something incoherently that she interpreted as meaning yes. Grabbing her coat she left the house.

The couple walked towards the southern part of the bay, Aerneth's favourite route. Even on a winter evening like this she enjoyed being close to the sea, to smell the salt on the air and hearing the booms of the rolling surf. She had a thick sealskin coat; the sharp wind did not bother her.

The ellon held out his arm for her and she took it, wishing she could enjoy the feeling of his strong arm under her glove. Or enjoy being together with him at all, for that matter. Arminas looked handsome, was pleasant company and he liked her, he would have been the perfect match. If only she could have liked him that way…

But she could not. Like she had with all the ellyn who had wooed her the past decades, Aerneth could not help compare him to another ellon, one never far from her thoughts, and just like them Arminas came out short in that comparison. None other were as tall and strong, none had such silver blonde hair or expressive eyebrows, none had his dark, tantalising voice.

It was Thranduil she wanted, and only him.

Aerneth would never forget the moment she saw Thranduil for the first time. She had recently arrived in Menegroth, alone and afraid although she tried not to make it show. Queen Melian was kind but their baking lessons were irregular, depending on when she was not occupied otherwise. The rest of the time Aerneth would be ambling around, feeling out of place in the underground caves of the city, longing for the sea and her parents.

She had no friends among the other young elves, but then, she had never been good at making friends even back home. She talked too much, or said the wrong things perhaps. She had never quite understood what she did wrong.

That day she had wandered outside the city to at least catch some sun and smell the wind, when she came across the training grounds. The warriors practicing archery and sword fighting fascinated her, she admired their skill, their suppleness and strength. But very soon she had been caught by a couple of young ellyn who promptly shooed her away, telling her it was not allowed to watch. She believed their lie and morosely left the area, hearing their jeering laughter behind her and feeling wretched. Caught up in her misery she did not watch her feet and stumbled over a root, but a strong hand had caught her and prevented her fall. When she looked up, the most beautiful ellon she had ever seen was standing before her.

The ellon had been Thranduil, of course, and he had not only helped her remain on her feet, he had also asked if she would like to watch him shoot. Only out of politeness, naturally, but young and naïve as she had been, Aerneth had believed herself singled out. 

Thranduil had saved her, and from that moment he had been on her mind constantly. She had followed him around every day, usually discreetly, but more often than not he had known she was there. Oh, he had hated it of course, she was not stupid. She had annoyed him and embarrassed him in front of his friends but she had been unable to stop. It was like a spell, or, as it had felt after her return to Eglarest, a curse.

It was a long time ago now, and Aerneth had tried hard to get over her infatuation – but obviously failed. Perhaps finding another elf to love was a hopeless endeavour? Maybe she would just have to accept a future without a husband and elflings. She had her parents and a few friends, and she had the city's appreciation for her work with the lembas recipe. Did she need more? She could live without an ellon in her life; many ellith did.

Arminas began talking about the hunting expedition and she dispelled her brooding thoughts, trying to give him her attention. She could be his friend at least, even if he had prefered something more.

They were almost back at her house again when Aerneth felt a warmth in her mind. Someone was thinking about her. Normally this meant that her father or a friend was trying to contact her, but now it felt different. It was someone else – and she instinctively knew who. It made no sense at all, but yet… with absolute certainty she could tell: It was him !

"I must go now. Goodnight, Arminas, I will see you off tomorrow at the port."

He looked disappointed. "So soon? I shall be gone for weeks perhaps. Could you not give me something to remember you by?"

"Here." Aerneth took off her glove and held out her hand for him. The ellon's face brightened and he pressed his lips against it, holding the kiss a little too long. Why could he not hurry? She must go find water before it was too late.

"I shall miss you, lovely Lady!"

"Thank you. Goodnight!"

"Promise to be there tomorrow?"

"I promise."

"Then… I shall watch out for you. I must memorise your fair features to last me during those long hours at sea, and–"

"I really must go, Arminas."

"Tomorrow then. Adieu!"

When Aerneth finally had closed the door in front of the ellon's infatuated smile, she hurried to her room and filled her washbasin. Through Uinen's hair, all rivers, lakes and ponds were connected, and if a person was near water and thought about her, Aerneth could use that to see them from afar – and speak with them too, if she wanted.

Uinen was a Maia, and a servant of the Vala Ulmo together with her husband Ossë. While he was known to be wild and dangerous, causing great waves and making the seas dangerous for sailors, Uinen was gentle. She was the only one who could calm her spouse.

Despite Ossë's temper, Círdan had made friends with him a long time ago, and soon their wives became friends too. Uinen had taught both Falasiel and her daughter water magic, but where the former used her knowledge to draw the most lifelike sea-paintings imaginable, the latter prefered more practical uses such as distance communication.

Aerneth sang a short spell while reaching out with her mind, and soon an image formed in her bowl. A forest with bare branches, a glimpse of sky between them and there – a young ellon. Thranduil.

Finally she saw him again after so many years! Thranduil, the only one she could ever love and who – no matter how hard she tried – she could not forget. Whose name alone sent shivers through her body.

He was sitting on a log, leaning slightly forward so his hair framed his handsome face. The golden strands were moist as if he had just bathed, and plaited in a pattern popular by warriors. He was so beautiful her chest hurt. Her memories had not done him justice! Those dark eyebrows over his pale, blue eyes, his long lashes and…

She moved closer to the surface to see better. Why did he look so nervous?

He was wearing armor; a chainmail shirt it looked like, and he held a helmet in his hands. Was he going to battle? Or had he just been at one and injured himself?

Then suddenly his eyes met hers and he jumped up in surprise.

Aerneth quickly moved away from the bowl and closed the connection. She was not ready to be seen, not yet. First she needed to find out what was up. Why had Thranduil thought about her, and why was he so worried?

She ran back to the living room and roughly shook her mother's shoulder to get her attention. "Nana, I need help. Can you get Uinen for me?"

"Uinen?" Falasiel dazedly looked up from the wave crest she was painting.

"Aye! I need to speak with her. It's about Thranduil."

"Thranduil?"

" Yes nana, Thranduil – the ellon I met in Doriath, remember? I think he may be in danger."

"Oh, him , of course I remember." Falasiel smiled tiredly. "You speak of him often."

"Please call Uinen now. Hurry!"

Sighing, her mother reluctantly laid her brush aside and went to pick up her own water bowl. Technically any water worked for the purpose, but they both prefered bowls. They were easy to carry around and one did not have to go outdoors to use them.

Soon Uinen's face appeared with her familiar, greenish curls billowing around her cheeks like seaweed. She was wearing a coral circlet on her brow.

Aerneth quickly explained the situation.

"Doriath, you say? Hmm." Uinen's ocean-blue eyes went distant as if she was searching for something. "Aye… Near the Sirion. Almost all elves of Doriath are there, and humans from a nearby forest also. Ah. I see why now. Further north the fair river waters are tainted, soiled by a legion of foul creatures. Morgoth's evil spawn!"

"What creatures?" Aerneth breathed.

"Orcs." The Maia said the word like a curse.

"Can you see what's going to happen? Will Thranduil be safe?"

"The enemy outnumbers the defenders, and they will become divided. I see your loved one fleeing, running towards the river."

"Help him. Please!"

"Aye. I see victory – if he and his people are saved, I foresee a great victory for the defenders. I shall help hide them."

When the Maia had left the bowl, Aerneth paced the room restlessly, hoping her mother's friend really could do something. A legion of orcs! It sounded terrible. Thranduil must not be hurt!

Seeing his beautiful face again had made her feelings reawaken. She knew she still loved him with the same passion as before.

If he survived – should she do something about it?

Thranduil had never seemed to like her much that summer, but young and inexperienced as she had been, she had hoped he would miss her when she was gone and that she would later feel him thinking about her or even receive a letter from him. Of course those hopes had been crushed, and when the years passed and Aerneth grew older she had tried to forget him and come to terms with being alone.

But now… Should she contact him? Ellyn found her attractive now, what if he did too? Maybe then he would not mind how annoying she had been as an elfling. Or maybe he would not recognise her?

A plan formed in her mind. She could visit Doriath again, make her father send her there on some errand or other… surely something plausible could be worked out. And then she would get a fresh start over – as a stranger!

She must use another name at first, of course, but after he had gotten to know her and fallen in love with her she would reveal her real identity. By then he would understand and forgive her guile. It might actually work!

Right in the middle of her grand plotting, she felt a warm glow within. Thranduil again! He was thinking about her twice in one day, and this after not thinking of her at all in over forty years. Aerneth could not believe her luck as she established the connection.

This time Thranduil was standing up to his waist in water, and the air around him was white and smoky. That must be Uinen's doing! She had succeeded in hiding him. He did not look happy, but who would under the circumstances? The water was probably cold and he might worry the orcs would discover him despite everything. Aerneth wished she could be there physically with him and hug him, perhaps rub his shoulders to warm him and say something comforting.

Then Thranduil caught sight of her face again, and his eyes widened. Aerneth looked back at him with a pounding heart. He did not seem to recognise her! Instead he looked curious, with one eyebrow cocked and his eyes narrowing slightly as he scrutinized her. His gaze was so intense she could hardly breathe. 

Before she could stop herself a word slipped through her lips: "Thranduil…"

The curiosity instantly disappeared from his features and was replaced with shock and a hint of fear. Aerneth cursed herself inwardly. How stupid she was! She should not have revealed that she knew his name. He knew she could work water magic, it would not take him long to figure out who she was and realise she was chasing him again like she had done when she was younger. He would be annoyed and think she had not changed at all.

Stupid! She was such a bloody idiot!

Aerneth hurriedly closed the connection, slamming her fist at the table beside the water bowl and biting her lip to restrain a frustrated cry, not wanting to worry her parents needlessly.

She had ruined her chances again.

Damn.

After a sleepless night, Aerneth went up in the morning to finish her work with the lembas. The hunters needed food on their journey and heartbreak was not reason enough to abandon her duty. Her head felt heavy and her eyes were swollen from crying. Why was she so unlucky? And why must she love one who was so unattainable? It was unfair.

After a while, Falasiel joined her in the room, but instead of taking up her brushes and palette she sat down to help her daughter wrap the waybread. "Uinen just let me know the orcs are dead and your ellon is safe."

"Thank you Nana." Aerneth sighed, relieved. Even though her plan had failed she still wanted Thranduil to live.

"You seem unhappy, my dear."

A bit surprised, Aerneth looked up from her lembas. Her mother rarely paid attention to her daughter's mood. "Well, I guess I just miss him. And regret I cannot be with him."

"Why not?"

"You know why. He doesn't like me."

"He will like you now . You are a beautiful elleth who just saved his life."

"But what if he remembers how obnoxious I used to be!"

"He's not stupid, he knows people grow up. Just give him time to get to know you and don't pressure him. Shall I ask your father to send you back to Doriath?"

"Oh Nana!" Aerneth threw her arms around her mother's neck. "Aye. Please do! Thank you."


A/N:

The next chapter we shall find out what Thranduil thought of the vision in the water, and what happened with the orcs. Most of this story will be from his perspective, but I will throw in one from Aerneth’s every now and then. :)

Translations: Ellon=male elf, ellyn is the plural form. Elleth=female elf, ellith is the plural form. Nana=mum, Ada=dad.

On Valar and Maiar: The Valar were a sort of demigods, and the Maiar their powerful servants. All of them were created by Eru Ilúvatar – The One God, and together they sang the world into existence.

3. Face in the Water


Forest of Brethil, First Age 458

The canopy overhead hid the sky completely, and the only source of light was moonlight reflecting in the calm surface of the river Sirion to their right. The terrain was difficult to traverse; moss covered trunks and dense ivy littered the ground. It was a very different forest from the one surrounding Menegroth; wilder, fiercer. A bit like its inhabitants, actually, the Men of Haleth. 

Thranduil had never met a human before this campaign, but now here he was, trying to lead people of that race into battle. They made too much noise, he figured, but otherwise they seemed friendly enough. The little he could tell from the short time he had known them. 

“Shall I bid them to be more quiet?” he murmured to the ellon beside him. 

“Nah, it is still at least a league left, and my guess is it will take an hour or more in this rough terrain until we get close enough for the orcs to hear us.” Amroth bent to tore off some brambles that had got caught in the metal greave protecting his leg. “Perfect. Now my trousers ripped, too,” he grumbled. Their leg armour covered the front of their calves, but behind them the fabric was bare. “How typical of our dear captain to assign us this route on the ground with the humans, while the other units get to move through the trees.”

Amroth was Thranduil’s closest friend since Beleg had become captain of the march-wardens. Cúthalion – strongbow – they called Beleg now, because of his almost uncanny skill with his favoured weapon. The past decade he had spent nearly all his free time with the much older Captain Mablung, and only deigned to notice his former friends when he wanted to point out something they did wrong. To be corrected – and on one occasion even punished – by his former best friend was beyond humiliating, but perhaps that was part of growing up. Your friends changed, and so did you.

“My Lords, can I have a word?” It was Halmir, the leader of the human troup, speaking in his heavy Mannish accent. Thranduil was still not used to seeing men’s faces up close, and it was all he could do not to stare rudely. They were wrinkled, with an assortment of spots and marks, and their chins were overgrown with thick hair. Only the really young were smooth and unblemished like elves. 

“Of course,” said Amroth. “Any problems?” 

“The men are growing tired, My Lord; they are not used to this fast pace, wearing full armor too.”

“Oh. Are they?” The two friends exchanged surprised looks. Humans really were exceptionally weak, it would seem, they had barely been walking five hours.

“Aye, and there are several younger boys, as you know. We need to rest a while.”

“If you must,” acceded Thranduil reluctantly.

They stopped in a glade, where a huge fir tree had fallen partly into the river. Thranduil selected four elves as sentries to climb the trees around and look out, while the others sat or lay down to rest.

As usual during breaks, the company became divided with the men on one side and the elves on the other. Not by design, it just happened. They were so very different, and in addition many of the men seemed slightly intimidated by the taller and stronger elves. Besides, the humans smelled , as if they only washed themselves once a week or less.

Thranduil removed his helmet and gloves, and drank his fill of the sweet river water. He sat on the shore, allowing the light breeze to cool his moist temples. Tonight was unusually warm and humid for the season, and the thick, padded jacket he wore under his chainmail was not helping much. 

It was good to be here, anyway, out on his first real wartime mission, even if it was only to secure the safety of their own borders. Thranduil had hated the past two years when the war between Morgoth and the Noldorin elves had raged in the north, while he was unable to do anything. King Thingol had refused to send out the march-wardens, despite their captains’ urging, saying he would never aid the Noldor after what they had done to his kin in Valinor. 

Sure, killing elves to steal their ships and chase after the Silmarils was pretty grave as crimes go, but this was not just about helping the Noldor. They had a shared foe in Morgoth. If the Lord of the Dark continued to breed his dragons, balrogs and orcs unrestrained, he might be impossible to stop. The strong magic fence around Doriath would protect their city, but if everything around it became desolate and ruined by dragon fire, what good would it do them?

“Quit those bleak thoughts,” said Amroth cheerfully, and splashed a handful of cold water in Thranduil’s face.

“Stop it,” he hissed, and looked around to make sure nobody had noticed. “I am your commander now.”

“You look just like Beleg did that time.” Amroth grinned. “Remember? When the elfling who fancied you nearly drowned him.” He dipped his hands into the river again, but Thranduil dodged his attack. 

“Do that again I will punish you.” He glared at his friend. “We are on a serious, dangerous mission. This is not the time, nor the place for fooling around.”

“Valar, Tharan, you are such a bore sometimes.” Amroth shook his head and stalked off.

Thranduil calmly wiped his face. Amroth would probably sulk a while as usual, and then pretend nothing had happened. 

He pondered over the other’s words. Maybe he had become a bore, but being a leader weighed on his shoulders, even though it was over such a small unit of elves and humans as this. If something bad happened, it would be he who took the blame, not Amroth. As Oropher had said once: With great power comes great responsibility .

Then he smiled wryly; of course he remembered the incident Amroth had talked of. A soaking wet Beleg chasing after the skinny little elleth was actually one of his funniest childhood memories. Beleg had always been rather arrogant, and that had been something they could tease him about whenever he showed off his archery skills or bragged about his other achievements. 

Aerneth, that had been the elleth’s name. She had been such an annoying shadow that summer, but thankfully she moved back home afterwards and he had never seen her again. However flattering her adoration had been, it had not been worth all the taunting from his friends.

A ripple in the river drew Thranduil’s gaze, and he quickly jumped to his feet when he perceived a pair of eyes looking at him from under the surface. 

A fish? Or something dangerous? His breath caught.

The eyes were gone again. Had he imagined them?

Very carefully he moved closer, squinting to see better in the twilight. Nothing. No fish, no diving orc; only the gravel and stones of the riverbed beneath. 

Perhaps it had been a trick of the light, or the reflection of two stars? 

It was time to go anyway; or he would be late for the impending battle. 

.

Thranduil’s unit arrived at last to the edge of the Brethil forest, its northeastern part. They had made it on time despite the delay; there was still no sign of the approaching orc legion.

The company spread out to find good hiding spots in the dense clusters of young shrubs. 

If everything had gone according to plan, several other warrior units would be hiding further west, positioned at regular intervals on both sides of the Old South Road. When the orcs got to the road, they would have to regroup and walk in a thin file. The road itself was hardly more than a footpath anymore, it was not used much and very narrow between the trees, but the orcs had to follow it to reach the elven cities in the west. It was the only way for an army to pass over the river Teiglin.

When the last of the orcs were on the road, they would be ambushed; shot by elven archers in the trees on the sides, and attacked from behind by Thranduil’s footmen. That would force them to run forward – unless they wanted to enter the forest, where more elves hid, which was unlikely. In effect, they would be herded towards the Crossing of Teiglin, where they would be even more exposed and vulnerable, and this was where captain Beleg and the bulk of the march-wardens would attack them from the other side of the river. Hopefully that would be the last anyone saw of those orcs.

It was anxious waiting, especially for the humans who could not see well in the twilight and needed to trust their elven companions’ eyesight. The leather of Thranduil’s left glove was rough against his fingers, as he repeatedly gripped the swordhandle and then relaxed. Grip and relax, grip and relax. Beside him Amroth toyed with the end of one of his many black braids. To battle, Thranduil wore his hair plaited as well, but he had chosen two fishtail braids that kept his hair away from his face. 

A sound reached their ears at last; the tramping of many feet. Thranduil’s and Amroth’s gazes met, and in his friend’s eyes he perceived the same mingle of excitement and anxiety he felt himself. It was time! Today would be their first encounter with real flesh and blood foes, rather than the stuffed leather orcs on their training grounds. 

Soon they could see the approaching legion; a dense mass of different-sized helmets, banners, a forest of spears, and in the front, an assortment of mismatched shields. No two orcs wore the same armour or weapons – it looked like they had just scrambled together any warring equipment they had gotten their hands on. There was no conformity, and seemingly not much discipline either. They walked together, but not in unison, and not in straight lines such as the elves prefered. 

Again Thranduil met his friend’s gaze. They did not have to speak, he could see the other thinking the same as he. What a bunch of ruffians! 

Thranduil wrinkled his nose as he caught the orcs’ horrid stink. He had expected it, older elves who had fought orcs during the earlier battles of Beleriand had described what those creatures were like, but experiencing it was something else. Bile rose in his throat, and he had to fight down an urge to throw up. 

Just as predicted, the orcs began to regroup and walk ten or fifteen abreast along the road, keeping some distance to the trees. The line would be long; there must be many thousands of them. 

Only a small part of the army had come up on the road when there was a disturbance among them. The hidden elves could hear the enemy talking in their harsh language. What had happened? 

The orcs began to spread out, coming closer to the forest. They walked slowly and cautiously, like they searched for something. A few of them were close enough that Thranduil could see them clearly. Just like with their weapons, there was no uniformity to their looks; most of them were short in stature and had protruding canines, but some were fairer in colour, others darker, some had big, deformed faces, others looked almost like scarred elves. 

The orcs’ noses were twitching, and with a twinge of fear Thranduil realised they were smelling them , his company! But how? Then it struck him: the men . The orcs must have perceived the scent of the unwashed humans! 

He cursed under his breath. He should have foreseen this, and made the chief part of his unit hide deeper inside the forest until the orcs had passed. A few scouts close to the border would have been enough. But there was no point in dwelling over past mistakes.

Fall back ,” he mouthed to Amroth, and beckoned the way they had come. He gave the same silent order to the other elves and humans nearby, who spread the instruction further. Soon the whole company was retreating, as soundlessly as they could. 

Walking quietly was hard for the men, they could not see where they went and the dense undergrowth tangled in their feet. More than once a faint crack or rustle made Thranduil wince. He sent a silent prayer to Tulkas, the Vala of war, begging him to hide their noise from the orcs. 

It did not help; after only a few minutes an orc’s guttural roar and a cry of pain told him one of them had been caught. 

A man came scurrying, jumping over a fallen log and halting in front of his commander. He clutched his bleeding shoulder. “They almost got me!” he hissed.

Thranduil did not bother to be silent anymore; they were already exposed. “Run! Return to the river!” he called. 

They dashed through the forest, where the undergrowth still was trampled after their coming through earlier. The orcs would be able to follow them easily, Thranduil realised; the flattened vegetation was a dead giveaway. 

It was very tempting to just abandon the humans and take to the trees, but of course he could not do that.

He glanced at the river ahead, here was a shallow part; the Ford of Brithiach. On the other side he saw the land of Dimbar, a stretch of empty grassland which usually was waterlogged this time of the year. They would be able to run faster there than in the forest. 

“Over the Ford!” He waved for the others to go into the water, while he stayed to cover their backs. The river was wide, and it was slow walking over the slippery stones, but the orcs had not caught up with them yet. He heard them coming through the forest, but saw none.

The few warriors who had made it to the other side were clearly visible when they began to jog over the grass, but there was no helping it. Hopefully the orcs were not as fast as them, and with luck there were no archers among them. 

If only they could hide somewhere! Then the orcs would probably continue following the company’s old tracks down south along the Sirion, until they came to the magic fence around Doriath and had to turn back. 

Again he thought of the elleth Aerneth and her water powers, and wished he had those too. He could have made the river part to let them hide under the surface, with a bubble of air to breathe. 

As if the river had heard his wish to hide, a thick mist began to form in its middle. It welled up in a cloud and spread out in all directions, upstream and downstream, and a few yards up the shores on either side. Thranduil gaped in surprise and shock as he felt the tiny droplets against his face, and watched the forest behind him disappear in opaque, white clouds.

Then he regained his composure; whatever this fog was, they must use it. 

“Gather in the middle,” he commanded. 

He heard faint splashes as the others’ obeyed. The last two men went past him, and he followed them down into the cool water and began to wade. 

The chilly surface reached his thighs and filled his boots; they would be absolutely ruined, and they were almost new, too. He had liked those boots. Then he scolded himself for thinking about clothes now; if this worked they might survive, that was the only thing that mattered!

Thranduil had nearly reached the center of the river when he saw two blue eyes in the water. It was the same pair he had seen earlier tonight! Then they had been real. A face surrounded the eyes this time, a female face with blonde hair, and it did not disappear immediately as it had before. 

He stared at the apparition, his heart beating fast. What was this? Some new vile monster of Morgoth’s?

Full, pink lips moved as the image whispered a single word.

“Thranduil…”

And then it was gone.

.

The mysterious mist lasted several hours, long enough for the orcs to do what Thranduil had predicted; follow their trail south, fail to find them, and then return back to the road. Meanwhile his company waited, huddling close together, shivering and cold, but alive.

When the last orc had passed, the fog thinned out and soon it was entirely gone. The warriors looked at each other, not knowing what to think.

“The Vala of the water must have saved us,” said Halmir, the human leader.

“Aye,” agreed others. “Ulmo saved us!”

“Ulmo saved us… Ulmo hid us…” The words echoed among them.

As they waded ashore, Thranduil was deep in thought. Could it have been Ulmo he saw? But the face had been female , he was sure of it. The cheeks and chin had been rounded, almost heart shaped, and the eyebrows delicate. The Valar were neither female, nor male, they just chose such appearances when they took physical form. Ulmo always used a male form, and he was said to wear a dark, foamy helmet. The face Thranduil saw had worn nothing on its head.

Maybe it was one of Ulmo’s helpers, the Maia Uinen? The Maiar were like elves, only more powerful, and they were real males and females. Queen Melian was a Maia, who had married Thingol, an elf. But why would Uinen visit Thranduil, show herself to him and hide him from orcs? It would have made more sense if it was the Vala of war, he whom Thranduil had prayed to before.

They were all gathered on the shore now, wet and bedraggled, and Thranduil decided he would think more about the face in the water later. They still had a job to do, an orc army to chase. By now the orcs would be back on the road, and soon the elven archers would attack. Thranduil must hurry if his company was going to be able to block the orcs’ retreat path.

Halmir and a younger man came up to him.

“Milord, me sons are miss! Me two boys!” The man’s accent was almost unintelligible. 

“What boys?”

“His sons, my grandsons. Huor and Húrin,” said Halmir. “They were among the first to cross the river, and I think they might not have heard when you called us back to hide in the fog.”

“We cannot look for them now, but they will be safe in Dimbar. As far as I know, there are no dangers in that land. We return for them once the orcs are defeated.” Thranduil tried to sound reassuring, while secretly wondering how they could be so stupid as to bring young boys into battle. 

“They might stray too far east,” Halmir protested. “Huge spiders dwell there. The youngest is only thirteen!”

“Am I in charge of this unit, human, or are you?” Thranduil snapped, losing patience. They had to leave now

The man gave him an angry stare, but then bowed curtly. “You are, My Lord.” He spoke to the other man in their own language, probably trying to convince him they would have to come back for the boys later.

Thranduil had his company regroup, and then began to follow the now rather wide trail back to the road. The orcs had been cutting down plants and shrubs to widen the way, and Thranduil was not the only elf to frown at the needless violence. 

When they were almost back where they had first been hiding, Thranduil motioned for his unit to wait. Choosing a handful of elves to follow him, he climbed a nearby tree. The orcs had likely left sentries behind to guard the tracks in case they returned – at least that was what he would have done in their shoes – and it would be a good idea to come from a direction they did not expect. 

Soundlessly passing from tree to tree, they creeped closer. Soon a foul smell reached their nostrils; Thranduil had been correct in his assumption. 

Amroth waved to catch Thranduil’s attention, and pointed below him. He nodded, he saw them too. They were five, stupidly sitting together in the open instead of hiding among the shrubs. They breathed so loud he could have shot them in the dark.

Thranduil slid his sword out of its scabbard, and held his breath as he slowly passed to a tree just behind the orcs. He felt, more than heard his companions on either side of him, advancing on their unsuspecting prey.

His gaze met Amroth’s, and a surge of adrenaline flowed through his veins. His friend’s eyes shone. 

“Doriath!” With that warcry, Thranduil dropped to the ground and decapitated the first orc in one swift stroke.

“Doriath!” The others jumped a heartbeat after him, and ended the rest of the orcs just as efficiently as he had done.

It was over so soon, they almost did not know how to react. Standing beside the corpses, the elves looked at each other, smiling rather foolishly, trembling with surplus energy. Neither of them had been in a real fight before; King Thingol had stayed out of war ever since the First Battle of Beleriand over four hundred years ago.

Then the reality of what they had done hit them, and their smiles waned as they took in the scene. Cut off body parts littered the ground, and on the head Thranduil had severed, milky blue eyes bulged out like dove’s eggs. The tangible smell of blood mingled with the odour of the other body fluids the creatures had expelled when they died, together with the ever-present orc stink. Thranduil felt sick again, and as they returned to the waiting company he noticed one of the others silently bending over a bush to vomit. 

Killing was ugly; they had known this with their minds, but nobody could have prepared them beforehand for what it was actually like .

They continued, upholding as fast a pace the humans could muster. Thranduil tried not to think about the dead orc head, instead he focused on the annoying squelching of his wet boots. 

It took several hours until they caught sight of the orc legion ahead. The sun was high, and the orcs were resting, night creatures as they were. The humans in the troop needed rest too, so Thranduil had them pull back into the forest where they made a simple camp. It felt good to finally be able to remove his boots and dry his feet. But they were indeed ruined, he noticed. A shame.

Late in the evening they broke camp and continued, and soon they spotted the orcs trudging along the road. By then, the shooting must have already commenced, they could hear growls and yells in the distance, and the orcs in the rear were trying to hurry forward.

Thranduil had his company spread out across the road and a little way into the forest on both sides. The men and a few of the elves were armed with axes, the rest of them with swords. Then they marched. The orcs had still not spotted them, and they were in no hurry to catch up; the closer they got to the river crossing before the battle began, the better. 

After a while, they came to the site of the first archer ambush. Here clusters of orc corpses were scattered, the many arrows still protruding from their bodies. When Thranduil’s company came close, they were joined by the archers themselves, who elegantly dropped down from the nearby trees. Most of them had empty quivers, but after retrieving some arrows from the corpses they were good to continue. A few of the shot orcs proved to be still alive, but the newcomers helped put an end to them.

Somehow Thranduil found it harder to kill a wounded orc, who was unable to defend itself, than it had been to decapitate the sentry before. The sound his victim made when he drove his sword into its heart was one he would not easily forget.

Along the way, the rest of the archers joined them. When they finally arrived at the battlefield by the Teaglin river, Thranduil’s footmen had grown into a small army, and Galadriel, who had been with one of the archer units, had taken over leadership. She was a war veteran unlike him, and Thranduil was happy to fall back. 

Along the road, Thranduil had killed nineteen wounded orcs, and he had found it became easier with each time. 

Of the battle itself, he could not remember much with clarity later. It was so chaotic, and he had a hard time sorting through the various events. Was it early or late in the encounter he was hit in his shoulder by an orc spear? It did not pierce his chainmail, but left an ugly bruise. And when he fought three orcs alone, was that before or after the spear incident? He did not know, but the sight of Oropher coming to his aid then, was something he would not forget. Never had his father seemed taller, stronger and more fierce. Never had his son loved him more. 

The sounds and smells of battle were repressed into Thranduil’s subconsciousness after a while, as well as most of his coherent thoughts; he let his reflexes take over. He had trained for this his entire life, and he found he was good at it. All those endless running laps, pushups, swordplay routines and footwork exercises were paying off. His hands and legs moved like he were dancing, and around him foe after foe fell to the ground.

The battle lasted for hours. Not until the last orc was dead, did the pain and exhaustion catch up with Thranduil. He could not remember ever being this tired before; his sword hand trembled so bad he could hardly sheathe his weapon. His shoulder ached dully, and a multitude of small nicks and cuts stung.

“Well fought, friend.” Captain Beleg touched his shoulder, unfortunately just where the spear had hit him. He tried hard not to wince. His childhood friend's praise should not mean anything to him, but apparently it did; and some of the weariness left him. 

Beleg, too, had cause to be proud today. He had led his first battle, with the older veteran Mablung serving as his second in command, and he had won with hardly any losses. For every fallen elf or man, he could count at least thirty dead orcs. 

Thranduil watched the other as he moved on. Maybe one day it would be he who was the great leader, he who could take credit for such an impressive victory as this.

Halmir came up to Thranduil then, and even before the other opened his mouth he knew it was about the missing boys. Darn. He had almost forgotten them. Being the grandchildren of the human leader, they were important . He had to find them.

“Aye. We will go to Dimbar and search for the boys now.” With a sigh, Thranduil gathered the remainder of his unit.

Somehow he had a feeling these boys, these Huor and Húrin were important. He could not say why – they were humans after all, what could such achieve? But the feeling would not leave him, and all the way back he mulled over both them and the face in the water.


A/N:

Because this story focuses on the grey elves (the Sindar), I have decided to use Sindarin words sparsely in dialogue. Assume that everybody speaks Sindarin, unless it’s stated otherwise. Back in those days almost everyone did, because the grey elves would not speak Quenya (Noldorian) or Khuzdul (Dwarfish). However, some Sindarin epessës (taken or given surnames) will be used, such as Thingol (meaning grey cloak), Círdan (shipwright) and Cúthalion (strongbow). 

If you have questions, don't hesitate to review!

4. An Emissary from Eglarest


Menegroth, Doriath, First Age 462

They were nearing the end of their ten mile morning run, and Thranduil’s legs had become slightly tired. This part of their route was his favorite, especially in early spring like now. The air smelled moist and earthy, and parts of the Esgalduin river still had a thin cover of ice from last night’s frost. A soft mist covered the clear water, reminding Thranduil of that time a few years back when his company had been hidden from orcs. He would never forget the mysterious face he had seen in the water. 

After the battle, when he had returned with his unit to look for the two missing human boys, Thranduil had scrutinised the river for clues about the apparition but found nothing. They had not found the boys either, which had been oddly disturbing, mostly because of their father’s and grandfather’s strong reaction. The two men had refused to give up even after a full day of thorough raking over the area, and were still searching when the elves returned home to Doriath. Thranduil had realised then, that even though their lives were very short, humans too could care a lot about each other and grieve for the loss of their loved ones.

That reminded him. 

“Did you hear the news about the lost boys?” A small cloud formed around his lips when he spoke. 

“Nay.” During exercise, was the only time Amroth was nearly as tongue-tied as himself.

“Apparently they showed up in southern Hithlum after a year. Their father lives there.” He stopped to catch his breath, bending forward with his hands on his knees. Hithlum was a Noldorin realm northwest of Doriath, but the southern part of it had been given to the humans as a fiefdom some years back.

“Did they.” The other ellon followed his example. 

“Aye, but they did not look like they had lived in the wild. They wore fine clothes, new weapons – elvish weapons.”

“Now, that is odd.” Amroth’s interest was finally caught. “Where had they been, then?”

“They would not tell.” Thranduil made a motion to indicate his mouth sealed close.

The elves began to run again, a bit slower now. 

“Could they have lived with the Outlaws of Dorthonion?” mused Amroth.

“Not likely.”

“True,” he agreed. “Dorthonion is miles from Dimbar where they were lost, and they would have had to pass through Nan Dungortheb where the giant spiders live. Cannot see two human kids surviving that.”

“Besides, the Outlaws were wiped out by Morgoth.”

“Not all of them. Rumor has it, one remains, and he is so powerful even the Lord of the Dark is afraid of him. They say he took on a host of orcs single-handedly!”

“Says who ?” 

“Everybody.”

Thranduil only snorted at that, and increased his pace to ascend a hill. A cluster of yellow coltsfoot grew beside the path, braving the chill to bloom first of all flowers. A little way off to the side a deer couple watched them calmly. They were not afraid of elves, even though those sometimes would shoot them for the meat.

“So, if they were not with the Outlaws… where were they? Could it be... the hidden city ?” Amroth sounded excited about the idea. 

“I thought of that, too. If it exists...”

“It must exist; Turgon and his people could not just have disappeared. If Morgoth had taken them he would have gloated about it. No, they must still live somewhere. There is a hidden city, I’m sure of it, and if the boys found their way there, it means it is not very far off from where we lost them!”

The rest of their run, Amroth chatted enthusiastically about getting Captain Beleg to organise a search party, and how they would begin in Dimbar and scout the mountains until they found the legendary secret realm of Turgon.

Thranduil thought the idea was stupid, but held his tongue. The lands outside Doriath were more dangerous than ever; Morgoth was free and still going strong, the Siege of his fortress Angband long since broken. After their defeat at the Crossing of Teiglin, his orcs had not ventured that far south again, but Thranduil feared it was only a matter of time before they tried again. It was safest to stay put until they knew what the Lord of the Dark was up to. Not that Thranduil liked to cower inside their realm’s magic fence, but he figured if they were going outside it would be on a more relevant mission than searching for a Noldorin city that may or may not exist.

When they were back at the training grounds, Amroth suggested some sparring, but Thranduil had an appointment and must decline.

“Oh I see. Perhaps a certain lady involved?” Amroth winked.

Thranduil only smiled noncommittally and returned home. There was no time for a bath, but he washed his face and torso and dabbed a drop of scented oil behind each of his ears, before changing into an elegant blue coat that matched his eyes and went well with his new knee-high boots. He kept the small braids on his temples which had held back his hair during the run, figuring they looked rather nice and made him appear like the warrior he was. A final touch was his thick silver ring inlaid with rhinestones, a gift from his father on his thirteenth decade day a few years back. 

Thus dressed the part, Thranduil wandered over to the royal part of the city and bid one of the palace guards tell the princess her suitor had come. Their chaperone was already waiting. Daeron always brought a musical instrument on these occasions, either a flute, lyre, tambourine or, as today, a slender lute carried in a woven strap over one shoulder. He too had dressed up, but even in fine silk the older ellon was not handsome; his face was too narrow and his eyes too close together.

The gate opened to let Lúthien out, and Thranduil greeted her with a flourished bow. 

“Shall we?” He offered his arm, and she took it with a polite smile. She looked as beautiful as ever in a mantle sewn with golden flowers, over which her black hair cascaded in orderly curls. Daeron followed a few steps behind them.

They took the same route Thranduil had just come, back towards the bridge leading out of the city. He never needed to ask the princess where to go, she always wished to walk in the forest. They passed under an avenue of stone beeches, whose leaves were so delicately carved and painted that one almost expected to see them rustle in the breeze. A bright peacock had perched in one of them, right beside a silver dove. The city was full of silver animals and lots of live ones as well; mostly birds like that peacock and several sweet-singing nightingales, but the greater part of them were sparrows – much to everyone’s annoyance because of all the guano. Thranduil hardly even noticed their ever present chirping anymore.

He bent his neck to trail the tallest pillars with his gaze, until they connected with the distant ceiling of the huge cavern, dimly lit by a broad seam of quartz extending from one end to the other. Not much daylight reached down into the city, which instead relied on oil lanterns, but the quartz led some of it through and by looking up Thranduil got a hunch of the weather and time of day outside. He always checked the ceiling before going out, it had become a habit, like a good luck charm for when he was leaving the safety of his home. 

While walking over the bridge that was the only way in or out, Thranduil and Lúthien undertook the mandatory small talk about how their morning had been, to which the answers were always the same. Thranduil had exercised or practiced with his weapons, Lúthien had either been singing, reading or done needlework. Usually all three of those.

Normally, Thranduil would have a hard time thinking of anything to say after this, but today he actually had something to talk about; she had recommended him a book last time and he had read it. He was no great reader, and normally only would do it if his father had assigned him a book as part of his education, and those covered entirely different subjects; warfare or politics mostly. This book had been one of poetry with beautiful illustrations. The poems were too sentimental for his taste, but he had really admired the artwork.

The book was a pleasant enough topic which seemed to actually interest the lady, unlike most Thranduil had chosen before. Unfortunately their chaperone was equally captivated, and it did not take long until he took over the conversation entirely, moving on to other books Thranduil had not read. When he began to recite old romantic tales from when the world was new, Thranduil knew he had lost.

Thranduil’s walks with his intended always ended the same way. Like it was Daeron who wooed her, and Thranduil who was their chaperone. Had he really cared about the princess, he would not have allowed it, he would have rather punched the minstrel in his ugly face than let him steal his bride. But as for now… Thranduil figured it might be for the better. If Lúthien exchanged him for Daeron, Thranduil would be let off the hook, and it would not be his fault. It would not be he who ended things with her.

They were well outside the city now and walked under bare branches, above which Thranduil caught glimpses of a pale blue sky. He rarely saw the sky; never back inside Menegroth of course, and even out here it was hidden by dense foliage most of the year. He felt an ambivalence towards it, it was beautiful in a way, especially at night with all the stars out, but it was also so vast and open. It made him feel insignificant and small, naked and exposed. He turned his gaze away, taking in their surroundings instead. They had come to a glade in the woods, where the warming rays of the early spring sun had awakened some of the grass; tiny green tufts peeked shyly through the thick carpet of last year’s discarded leaves. There were a few flowers too, and Thranduil bent to pick a purple violet and put it behind his ear.

Lúthien laughed at the sight.

“Come, Daeron, play something merry,” she asked. The minstrel had no objection, and as he began, the princess invited Thranduil to a dance. Her hands were warm and soft in his large, calloused ones as he twirled her around in a flutter of rustling leaves. He felt Daeron’s glare on his back but ignored it, resting his eyes instead on the lovely elleth he danced with. There was no other in Doriath to match her beauty, perhaps not in the entire Middle-earth – so why could he not feel it? Instead, another face formed before his inner eye, framed by golden curls, with large blue eyes and full lips. The vision had been slightly distorted from the ripples of the water, but her features had etched themselves into his brain nevertheless. Hers was another kind of beauty; the tempting, alluring kind that made his thoughts linger on forbidden subjects.

Who was she? And would he ever see her again?

 

.

His parents were arguing again. They fought more often these days, and usually Thranduil had no idea what it was about. It could be anything big or small; that she had made the food too cold, that he had come home too late, that she refused to make social visits. This time however, their dispute probably concerned Mother’s drinking. As always, Oropher took fruit juice or water with his meals, but the past year Eiriendîs had begun to drink wine, claiming she did not need a clear head because politics did not interest her. Her husband had frowned upon it but said nothing at first, but lately she drank more, enough to make her sometimes embarrass them in front of guests. 

Thranduil tried to close his ears to his parents' agitated voices; they kept them down but the walls inside their abode were thin. In all the home caves of Menegroth the outer walls were of massive stone, but the inner walls were usually of wood with only the tapestries the ladies wove to muffle the sounds.

Tonight was a bad night, the angry voices had given way to sounds of violence. Oropher never beat his wife, but if he was upset enough to lose his self-control he might shake her, or even push her into something. Her bruises the next day would tell what had happened. 

Soon she began to cry, and Oropher’s voice grew soft, soothing. “I am sorry. I love you so much. I am sorry… I am so sorry…”

Thranduil knew what would come next and stuck his fingers into his ears, before burying his face below his pillow. It did not help. Mother’s low moans of pain changed and became louder, of pleasure now, and soon he heard the rhythmical pounding of their bed. 

Not until their lovemaking was finally over, could Thranduil get some well-earned rest. He must rise early tomorrow, he had palace guard duty and it did not do to be late.

 

.

King Elu Thingol’s throne room was the most beautiful cave of all the thousand dwellings in Menegroth. The pillars were formed into trees twining together in stony embraces, and the pink granite floor underneath was polished so smooth one could use it as a mirror. On either side of the raised throne were silver fountains, and the chair itself was of silver too, carved with reliefs of forest animals. Thingol was no less elegant, clad in a cloak woven with silver threads, and on his head a matching circlet with a pale blue diamond set in the front. The cool grey of Thingol’s furniture and outfit did not really suit him; his dark hair called for warmer colours. Had Thranduil looked like him, he would have worn golden or red nuances.

Thranduil liked palace duty, despite the dullness of standing straight by the door for hours at end; the surroundings were pleasant to rest one’s eyes on, and the topics discussed between the king and those seeking his audience were usually interesting. Unlike his mother, he found politics quite engaging. Hearing all the matters Thingol had to address and make decisions about, made Thranduil realise what a demanding office he had; being king was so much more than idly sitting on a throne, wearing fine clothes and a crown. 

A page came in, he whispered his errand to Thranduil as to not interrupt the king’s conversation with one of his lords. Thranduil nodded, and in turn passed the message on to one of the courtiers, who edged closer to the throne where he caught the king’s attention with a small cough. 

“Ah, our guests from Eglarest are here,” Thingol acknowledged. “They have been riding fast, Melian felt them pass through the Girdle but four hours ago. Pray, let them in.”

The Girdle of Melian was the king’s name for the magic fence surrounding Doriath, and it was rather fitting, as it was the queen who upheld it with her Maia magic. None could pass through it unless they were stronger than her, and so far nobody had proven to be. Only Sindar elves were allowed entrance, except Galadriel and her brother despite their Noldorin heritage. They claimed to have had nothing to do with the crimes committed by their kin in Valinor, and in addition, Galadriel was a very close friend of the queen.

The page returned with the visitors, a small group of simply dressed elves. They went to stand before the throne and greeted the king politely. 

“We bear tidings from Lord Círdan,” said one of them. Positioned by the entrance, Thranduil could not see the ellon's face, but his black hair was unusually long and almost reached his knees. 

Círdan's message turned out to originate from Fingon, the new high king of the Noldor, who because none of his people were welcome in Doriath had bid the Shipwright to deliver his plea. Apparently a huge orc army was coming against him, marching towards a mountain pass near the river Sirion’s source which was the only way into Hithlum from Morgoth’s realm. Fingon was greatly outnumbered and had called for aid to resist the foe. 

Círdan and his people, the Falathrim as they were called, already sailed their ships north along the coast meaning to join Fingon that way, and from his southern fiefdom came many human warriors. Still, Fingon feared he would not be strong enough. Would not the grey elves help this time? King Thingol had large numbers of skilled march-wardens, if he would send them north to the Pass of Sirion the orc army would be hit from two sides, by the Noldor and the Falathrim from the west and by the Sindar of Doriath from the south.  

Thingol listened in silence until the emissary had finished, and when he responded, his voice was cold. “If I did not hold Círdan Shipwright in such high regard, I would have had you thrown out of Doriath for wasting my time.” He rose to tower over them, his height accentuated by the upraised position of his throne. “Círdan and the Noldor knows my position; never shall my people lose their lives defending those who killed my kin in Valinor!”

Thranduil winced. Why could not the king see that Morgoth was a threat to them all? If he beat the Noldor in Hithlum, he could easily turn south and attack the rest of Beleriand. This time it was only orcs, but he still had his balrogs and his dragon!

“Lord Círdan knows this well.” Another of the visitors had spoken, an elleth this time, with a single dark braid trailing down her navy blue dress. “Yet, he would have you know how grave this matter is. The orc army is immense, the scouts reported their numbers to be uncountable, a host greater than has ever been seen since the Dark Lord came to Beleriand. Your queen's magic cannot protect you forever.”

“It can, and it will. Now, leave me.”

As the emissaries trooped out, Thranduil could see their faces for the first time. They looked tired and dejected, and some seemed annoyed too. He could understand them, they had undertaken a long journey from Eglarest all in vain.

Suddenly a chill seeped into Thranduil’s veins. One of the ellith… Her hair was blonde, in a more golden hue than Thranduil’s own, her eyes blue, and those full lips… It was her ! The elleth he had seen before his inner eye every day the past four years. The face in the water!

As she passed him, the elleth turned her head slightly and their eyes met. She smiled and winked at him. 

“Hello, Thranduil!”

And then she was gone.


A/N:
Next chapter we shall find out who this mystery elleth is! Any guesses? ;) 

5. Water Magic

The rest of that day’s guard duty was exceptionally tedious. Thranduil wanted nothing more than to be able to leave, so he could find those emissaries and ask the elleth who she was and how she knew his name. She had looked familiar, but it had been over so soon he had not been able to see her clearly. He fervently wished the visitors would stay in Menegroth for a while, that they would not have been offended enough to return home immediately. But even if they did, he would find a way to follow them somehow, he would not let that elleth disappear again.

When he was finally relieved by the evening shift and free to go, Thranduil hurried home with a clever idea about how he could get close to the elleth. 

He found his mother in the sitting room, mending his and Oropher’s clothes while the latter was reading aloud to her. The scene would have looked like a perfect example of marital bliss, if not Eiriendîs’ ear had been red and swollen and if there had been no finger-shaped bruises on her arm. With a combination of anger, shame and helplessness, Thranduil recalled the fight he had overheard yesterday night. 

He managed to suppress his emotions, forbidding his features to betray them. There was nothing he could do about his parents’ relationship. It was what it was. Instead he brought up his errand.

“Some important guests came to Doriath today, from Círdan Shipwright. They were not very well received by the king. Can we invite them to supper?”

His parents looked up, surprised by their son’s unusual request. 

“I suppose… well, it depends on how many they are, really… what with the food, and all.” His mother sounded a bit hesitant.

“They were six.”

“That is nothing, just have Thranduil run away to the butcher’s for some extra rabbits,” said Oropher. “But why were they not well received? I do not wish to anger Thingol by inviting an enemy of his to my table.”

Thranduil explained the emissaries’ errand, stressing the fact that they were allies from Eglarest; the king had nothing against them personally, he just did not like their message. Thus calmed, Oropher decided to visit the palace guest house and deliver the invitation personally.

When his father returned with a favourable answer, Thranduil’s stomach made a nervous flip. He hurried to his room to decide what to wear, rummaging through his clothes chest and finding nothing suitable. At last he settled for a tunic in pale blue and gold brocade with tight fitting sleeves, which accentuated the shape of his arms nicely. The disadvantage was the lightness of its colour, he worried that he with his fair hair and complexion would look pallid in it. But it was the best he had, it would have to do. He reminded himself to use his next payroll exclusively at the tailor’s. 

Next he brushed his hair with extra care, adding an oil to make it smooth and give it luster as well as smell nice, and then plaited a couple of thin warrior braids on each temple. Glancing in his silver mirror, he saw a tall, very nervous young ellon looking back at him. But he looked handsome, he had to admit, and he knew that if he went out like this, ellith would turn after him, and not only the unmarried ones.

When he walked down the steps to the dining area, Thranduil all but trembled, and it took every ounce of his self-control not to let it show. But then he spotted the first guest, and his heart plummeted. Who had invited Princes Lúthien? 

She came up to him, smiling politely the way she always did. He wanted to tell her to stand somewhere else and pretend that they did not know each other, but instead he was forced to speak with her; it did not do for a march-warden to be rude to the king’s daughter. His only relief was that the other guests had not arrived yet. 

Never had Thranduil fought more to find words, never had he felt more awkward, but thankfully Lúthien did not seem to mind. By now she was probably used to his lack of social skills.

Then there was a knock at last and Thranduil joined his parents at the door.

“You look very nice,” said Mother in passing, hastily stroking his cheek. She also looked well; she had covered her bruised ear with her hair and wore a long-sleeved dress, but he had not time to look closely because now the guests filed in. 

And there she was… his water maiden. He stared at her, drawing in a quick breath in surprise as realisation dawned. No wonder she had seemed familiar! 

“Greetings, Master Oropher, I am Aerneth Círdaniell. Greetings Mistress.” Her melodic voice had not changed. She bowed her head and placed a thin, elegant hand across her heart. Then she turned to Thranduil, and her smile widened. “Greetings Thranduil Oropherion, well met again.” She had barely been more than an elfling last time, but she had certainly grown up gracefully.

“Greetings, My Lady.” He wanted to say something more, but before he could think of anything the other visitors came forward and he had to focus on them. 

As Oropher led the way into their dining room, Thranduil discreetly observed Aerneth. He found that he recognised her well, even after so many decades. She was still the same elleth who had been his shadow that summer, but what had been skinny and flat then had matured into enticing curves. Her waist was as thin as it had been, but above and below it… He had to force himself to avert his gaze from her shapely body, fervently hoping he was not blushing. 

Thranduil had Lúthien to the table, of course, and Aerneth was seated too far away for him to be able to talk to her. He longed to get her alone and ask if it had been she who called forth the mist that likely saved his unit’s life, and if so, how she had known they needed it. He found that his eyes kept being drawn her way, and whenever she noticed it she would smile. 

Why had he not realised all those years ago how captivating her smile was? Nothing like the refined, polite ones he got from Lúthien. He wondered if she still liked him. 

The conversation during their meal revolved around the impending war in Hithlum. Círdan had brought most of his warriors with him when he sailed north, leaving only a small unit to protect the Falas, the region surrounding Eglarest. Unlike Thingol, Círdan had long since forgiven the Noldor for the slaying of his relatives in Valinor. 

”It is unfortunate we cannot help this time,” said Oropher. ”I am as concerned as you about the new orc army, Morgoth has grown too powerful for my liking. But I agree with my Lord King – he smiled at the princess – that one cannot trust the Noldor. And Fingon of Hithlum was one of those who supported Fëanor and his sons in that awful deed.”

”In that we differ,” replied the other female of the emissaries, the elleth with the single, dark braid. ”The Noldor have proven true to us Falathrim many times, protecting us against Morgoth and aiding in the rebuilding of our cities. One must lay aside old quarrels in the face of a common foe.”

Thranduil secretly agreed with her, but would not speak up publicly against his father. 

Clearly wishing to avoid a heated discussion, Oropher changed topic and asked Aerneth about her family. Who was her mother, had she any siblings? She replied graciously. Her mother’s name was Falasiel and Aerneth was an only child, but her parents talked of having another elfling when times became more peaceful.

Thranduil could not take his eyes off her as she spoke. Her voice was so mellow and her behaviour so pleasant. 

“Let us have some music, son,” said Oropher after the final course of nuts and dried fruits was cleared away. Thranduil was not surprised, his father always expected him to entertain their guests. He would never be a master performer, but he played the lyre tolerably well nowadays and had been told his singing voice was pleasant. 

“Lúthien, you decide what your suitor shall play.” 

Thranduil groaned inwardly. Why did Oropher have to reveal that they were courting? He stole a glance at Aerneth but her face was turned away. With luck, she had not heard.

“Play something merry,” said Lúthien. 

He chose a song about the sea, thinking it might please Aerneth who lived by it. Lúthien clapped her hands and stamped her foot to the beat, and very soon she was up, dancing. She loved to dance and did it beautifully, and when Thranduil had finished one song she asked for another. 

Again he glanced at Aerneth. She was looking at Lúthien as if she were an orc, clearly not appreciating the other’s dance skills at all. Then she turned to the ellon next to her, the one with the very long hair, and mumbled something in his ear. He nodded, and when Thranduil began a new piece the couple rose to join Lúthien on the floor. Now it was Thranduil’s turn to scowl as he watched them twirl around, hand in hand. At least it seemed the ellon was shorter than him, but that was a very small comfort. 

Thranduil would not have thought things could go more wrong after this, but then his mother rose to join the dance, her movements unsteady and awkward from the wine she had consumed. Oropher’s countenance became stony, and Thranduil feared there would be another argument tonight. When the song had finished, Oropher promptly rose.

“I think this will be enough entertainment for tonight, my son, the hour is growing late and our guests must be tired.”

The guests took the hint and made ready to leave. Thranduil tried to catch Aerneth’s gaze but she would not look at him, ever since the dancing she had ignored him completely. 

The evening had not worked out at all like he had hoped. He could not let her go like this, he must get to talk to her! But how to do it with everybody around? His parents, Lúthien… They would wonder why he wished to speak with a foreign elleth alone. He feverishly tried to think of a way, but his brain felt clogged. 

When she turned to him to say goodbye, he got his chance.

“Farewell, Thranduil.” Her voice was cool. Only a tiny quiver of her lip betrayed that she maybe felt more than she pretended to.

“How long are you staying in Menegroth?” he asked.

“We leave tomorrow.” The quiver was more prominent now.

“I shall be exercising tomorrow, at sunrise. With my weapons. At the training grounds, you know, where I always exercise.” He lowered his voice to a murmur. “I remember finding someone in a tree there once, perhaps I shall find someone in that tree again tomorrow? I hope I will. I really, really do…” He was babbling, he knew that, but he hoped his eyes would convey the message if his words failed. He wanted to talk to her. He had to talk to her before she left.

Her eyes widened slightly. They were big, their shade a deep blue, framed by long lashes. 

“Please,” he mouthed.

“One never knows what can be found in trees,” she said, lifting her pretty nose haughtily. “We shall see.” And with that she left him, his heart beating fast from a flutter of hope.

.

The night passed slowly, and Thranduil turned restlessly in his bed, wide awake. At first he had to endure his parents’ fight, and afterwards their usual reconciliation lovemaking. He hardly knew which was worse. Now it was silent, with only light snores sounding from the other side of the wall, yet sleep would not come to him. Instead he turned the evening’s events over and over in his head. 

At first Aerneth had seemed to still like him, if he interpreted her smiles correctly. But then Oropher had ruined everything with his revelation about Lúthien. Had he done it intentionally? Not much went past that ellon’s sharp perception, maybe he had puzzled the pieces together; Thranduil’s unusual request to invite the emissaries to supper and his repeated glances at the elleth. 

What would Thranduil say to her if she came to the training grounds tomorrow? He pondered this for a while, using his old trick of constructing the sentences beforehand in his head, repeating them until he felt sure he could say them without hesitation.

He did drowse off eventually, but awoke long before the lamplighters had begun their morning round, when Menegroth was still cloaked in shadows and the only light outside his window came from the red night lanterns. He checked his hourglass by the bed. Two hours until sunrise. With open eyes he laid back again, just waiting, willing the minutes to go faster. Would Aerneth come?

When at last it was time to rise, Thranduil dressed in his guard clothes that were more suitable for training than the finery he wore yesterday, but he took extra care to brush and plait his hair. He forced himself not to run when he entered the deserted street, he might encounter Aerneth on the way and did not want to seem too eager. But he did not see her. Instead he met Amroth who had city gate duty this morning, and Thranduil tried to look innocent as he changed a few words with his friend before continuing out. 

On this early hour the training grounds were equally empty as the city had been. Again no Aerneth in sight. He moved his gaze to the tree he had found her in so many years ago, but its bare branches were empty too, this time of year he would have spotted her easily had she been there. 

He could not hold back a sigh. She had not come. 

But he did not want to give up. She could be late, maybe she had overslept. And there still was a while left until the sun would rise over the treetops. 

He began to pace to and fro, his hands behind his back. 

“Hello, Thranduil!”

He spun towards the sound, his heart beating faster. Aerneth stepped out from behind the thick tree trunk, a cheeky smile playing on her lips. The rising sun made her hair shine like fire. 

Mutely he closed the distance between them in a few strides. This was it, his chance. But now that she was here no words would come. His mouth felt dry, his tongue thick and unwilling to cooperate. 

Aerneth saved him. 

“You still look the same,” she said. 

“You do not.”

“Nay?” She smiled. “Changed for the better or worse?”

“Better.” He swallowed. 

“Your sweetheart is very beautiful.” Her eyes narrowed.

“Lúthien is not my sweetheart! We… our fathers want the match, but she means nothing to me.”

“I see.” Her smile was back. “So, were you not going to exercise? I had the impression I was coming to watch you practice.” 

He jumped to grip the lowest branch of the tree she had hidden behind, pulling himself up by his arms and then dropping, up and drop, up and drop. 

“Impressive.” She observed him with apparent interest. In a surge of delight and pride he made a dozen more pullups, nearly bursting with energy. 

“Walk with me,” she demanded after a while. Thranduil happily obliged, dropping from the branch to offer her his arm. He loved the feeling of her hand on his forearm as she took it. 

“The Esgalduin is beautiful this time of year,” she said. Thranduil had led her onto the river path he often took on his morning run.

“This is its nice part.” 

“Is there a bad part then?”

“Aye, after the city.” He grinned. “All of our waste water empties in it.” He picked a flat stone from the riverbed and threw it across the water, satisfied when it bounced two times before sinking.

Aerneth picked another stone and threw it like he had, with the addition of a short wordless song. Thranduil gaped as the stone bounced all the way across to the other shore, at least fifty yards off. 

“How did you do that?” he asked. “And the mist that saved me, that was you, was it not?”

“Aye.”

“But how ?” He had to know. 

“Uinen taught me how to make the waters obey, a long time ago. She is friends with my nana. But the mist was her work, I asked her to do it.”

“Uinen…” he breathed. The Lady of the Seas, helper of the Vala Ulmo. He had actually thought it might be her he had seen in the water that time. “But how did you know I needed help?”

“You thought about me.” She shrugged. “When someone is near water and thinks about me, I can pick it up. That is how I communicate with Ada when he is away sailing.”

“Really?” He did not remember thinking of Aerneth then, but perhaps he had? 

“Look into the river and think about me,” she ordered, walking a few yards upstream. He obeyed, peering into the clear water. As soon as he pictured Aerneth before his inner eye, her face formed on the surface, looking so real he had to glance over his shoulder to make sure it was not just her reflection. When the image spoke, he heard it in a strange stereo, coming both from the water and from her physical person. 

“Hello Thranduil, you look surprised.” The image and Aerneth both laughed.

“Can you hear and see me too?” he asked the image.

“Aye. When I create the connection it goes both ways, until I end it.” The image disappeared.

Thranduil moved his gaze back to the real her. “When you leave… can I talk to you this way?”

“If you want to.”

“I do.” He took her hand. “Ever since I saw you in the river I have thought about you.” He wanted to add that this would probably get even worse, now that he had seen her in real person. She was the loveliest elleth he had met. 

“I’ve been thinking about you too.” She suddenly looked very young, her cheeks colouring. 

“Aerneth…” He pressed her hand to his lips. “You saved my life. All of our lives. It means a lot.”

“Oh. So you were grateful? That was why you thought about me?” She sounded disappointed.

“Not only.” He met her gaze, drowned in it, again at loss for words. 

She stepped closer, so near he could smell the oil she used in her hair, something fruity. Lemons? Whatever it was made him giddy. 

His eyes were drawn to her lips. He wanted to taste them, and it took all his self-control not to bend down and kiss her. Just being alone with her like this was inappropriate, he must not take advantage of the situation. Kissing her would be unpardonable.

“Why else did you think of me then?” she asked, her voice low and silky. 

“I could not forget your beautiful face.”

“You think I’m beautiful?”

“Aye. Oh aye…” His head moved on its own accord, and her face turned up to meet his. Her lips were soft, sweeter than honey. He never wanted to stop. 

With huge effort he managed to break the kiss. “I’m sorry!” he burst out, guiltily taking a step back.

“Why? Did you not like it?” She licked the lip he had just kissed, tasting him.

“I did. Very much. But I should not… it is not right. We are not even courting…”

“True.” Her smile waned. “You ought to end things with her first.” 

“I will!”

“Besides, I have to go now. We were planning to leave shortly after sunrise, and the others are probably waiting for me. Call me through the water in ten days from now, when I’m sure to be back home. Then I shall know I can trust you.”

“Ten days. I promise.”


A/N:
Guys never call when they say they will. But maybe Thranduil is different? 

The suffix ‘-iell’ after a name means ‘daughter’ in Sindarin, and ‘-ion’ means ‘son’. Thus, Círdaniell means Círdan’s daughter and Oropherion means Oropher’s son. ‘Nana’ means mum and ‘Ada’ means dad.

On elves and sleeping with open/closed eyes: Tolkien is not very clear about this subject. Legolas slept with his eyes open when he chased orcs in the Two Towers, but that was an exceptional situation, where he was in a great hurry. The drunk guards in the Hobbit seem to have slept normally since they did not spot the fleeing dwarves. As Tolkien left it so vague, I let the elves in my stories mostly sleep normally like humans do, but they can enter a sort of meditative resting state in case of wartime or hurry. They can also go without sleep entirely for many days because of their greater stamina.

6. Long Distance Calls

Seldom had the route to the river felt so long, and Thranduil all but ran the last part. The past days had been taxing. Time after another he had felt his mind wander as he recalled the meeting in the forest. Those lips… Over and over he had replayed their kiss, and many times his mind added things that had not happened. He daydreamed of holding her close to him, feeling her softness against his hard warrior’s body and exploring her curves with his hands.

At one point he had been so lost in thought he had accidentally dropped his spear when he stood guard in Thingol’s throne room, with an embarrassingly loud clatter as a result.

As he finally arrived at that same spot where the kiss had happened, Thranduil’s body tingled with a combination of excitement and nervousness. Would this work? 

“Aerneth? Are you there?” He stared anxiously down into the river. 

Nothing. Only a big stone with green moss growing underwater, and a dead moth following the stream past him. His stomach sank.

“Aerneth?” 

Why would she not come? Had she forgotten about him so soon? Or was she angry because he had acted so indecently? But she had kissed him back. She had seemed to like it.

“Aerneth, please answer…” Closing his eyes, he pictured her face, her body, how she had looked after he kissed her. He wanted so badly to see her again.

When he opened his eyes, she had appeared. Her thin eyebrows were drawn together and the full lips turned down, but she still looked amazing. His chest fluttered at the sight. Oh how he wished she could have been here in person!

“You call this ten days?” she scowled.

“Oh. Sorry… I had palace duty yesterday.”

“And you could not find any water that entire day? Don’t they wash their hands in the palace? Besides, you could have used a fountain.”

“There were so many others around.” He swallowed, his mouth becoming dry. This did not go as planned. “I am sorry Aerneth.”

“All right then.” Her countenance softened somewhat.

“How was your journey home?” he asked. How strange it felt to talk to a person so far away! Eglarest was almost ninety leagues to the west of Menegroth, an eight days ride on a fast horse.

“It was all right, I guess. Tiresome. And boring.” She smiled. “I thought about you.”

“You did?” He smiled back.

“Aye. I remembered our kiss and pretended it was longer.” She licked her lips. Thranduil felt blood rush to his lower abdomen. Oh, how he agreed! 

“I wish it were longer too.” And that they could have done more than kissing, but he did not say that loud.

“Next time it could be,” she suggested.

“When will next time be?” 

“I don’t know. When you come visit me? I have been twice to Menegroth now, and you have never been to Eglarest.”

“I wish I could…”

“Why couldn’t you?”

“I am a march-warden. My captain and my king decide where I go.”

“Oh.” She looked disappointed.

“I must stop now. I am supposed to train new recruits today… Cannot be late.”

“Oh.” Her frown was back.

“I will call you again soon. I promise.”

“I might be busy washing my hair,” she grumbled.

That, of course, gave Thranduil some very interesting mental images to ponder over on his way to the training grounds. It seemed they could use any kind of water for this. What would happen if he called her when she bathed? 

.

That evening Oropher had some dinner guests over who stayed until very late, making another call impossible, and the next two days Thranduil and a few other march-wardens were called out to track down a wounded brown bear and end its misery. A couple of wood gatherers had been surprised by the creature and been forced to defend themselves when it attacked them, but unfortunately it had fled before they could kill it.

On the fourth evening after their first call, Thranduil finally found a new opportunity. This time he stayed in his room since going to the river was complicated at this hour. Instead he carefully filled his wash basin to the brim, hoping such a small amount of water would work too. 

Afraid his parents might hear, he did not say Aerneth’s name out loud, only forming a mental image of her. It worked sooner than he had dared hope, her face appeared almost instantly as if she had been waiting for him. This time he saw a little of her surroundings. She was in a building with wooden walls and a wooden ceiling, apparently a house of sorts. Was it her room? She probably was using her wash basin for this as well.

“Hello,” he whispered, holding a finger to his mouth so she would not answer too loudly. 

“Hello Thranduil,” she replied, her voice low. Hearing her image in the water whisper through those lovely lips was the most sensual thing Thranduil had yet experienced. The excited flutter from the other day returned in full force.

“Were you going to bed too?” she asked. He noticed she only wore a thin chemise, and his trousers suddenly felt very tight.

“Aye.” He swallowed, picturing her in a bed. Naked.

“Why are you not undressed then?” That impish smile of hers would be the death of him!

Still meeting her gaze in the bowl, Thranduil undid the lacing partway down the front of his tunic and pulled it over his head. It felt strange and forbidden to stand before her in only his linen undershirt, but at the same time it did not feel quite real. She was not actually here .

“Better,” she whispered, her eyes large and dark. “You look stronger than I remembered.”

“Shall I take off the shirt?” he offered.

She nodded, so he did, trembling slightly as he hung the garment on his chair. 

Would she remove her chemise if he asked her? He wondered what her breasts might look like. Their shape hinted through her flimsy garment.

”Your hair is so long,” she breathed. “Do you wear those braids when you sleep?” 

”Nay.”

”Then take them out. I liked your hair the way it was when we first met. Free… like seagrass.”

”Seagrass?” He grinned while undoing his warrior braids. 

”When you come to me I shall show you seagrass. Can you swim?”

”Aye.”

”I like to swim without clothes.”

He found no words. 

”I could– Darn. I must go. Nana comes! Bye Thranduil!” She blew him a kiss and disappeared. 

Thranduil remained a long time staring into the bowl with unseeing eyes, his imagination painting vivid images of a golden haired elleth swimming naked in clear waters. He did not feel the chill of his room. Inside, he was on fire.

.

Gliding into the hot water of his bath, Thranduil’s body throbbed with anticipation. It was well worth all the carrying of buckets and heating the water to be finally able to do this! He and Aerneth had planned it for several months, it had been hard to find a time that was suitable for them both, especially for Thranduil who worked many evenings and rarely was alone in his free time. 

Luckily, tonight Oropher and Eiriendîs were dining with his colleague Amdír and his wife, Amroth’s parents. Oropher and Amdír both held leading positions in the Royal Office of Economy. Doriath was a small kingdom with less than three thousand inhabitants but nevertheless there was much to organise to make it run smoothly. When necessary, most of the residents could take up weapons and join the march-wardens to battle, like that time in the Forest of Brethil a few years back. But in addition almost everybody had a civil profession. Within the thousand caves of Menegroth worked palace staff, guards, cleaners, healers, foraging teams, butchers, tailors, smiths and more. Their wages and taxes were a lot to administrate, and the king could not do it alone.

Normally Thranduil would have gone with his parents on their visit, but tonight Amroth was working the evening shift in the palace, so Thranduil had feigned tiredness to be allowed to stay behind. Aerneth for her part had only her mother to worry about now that Círdan was on his way to Hithlum, and apparently Falasiel was prone to long, lone walks along the shore nearly every evening.

Thus, they found themselves with several solitary hours before them.

“Aerneth,” murmured Thranduil into the water, after making sure the soap lather well concealed the lower half of his body. He had washed his hair first and it now covered his bare shoulders in moist strands.

“Hello handsome!” Her face appeared, and part of her torso. She was covering her breasts with her arms in a very appealing way, the soft swellings of her exposed cleavage promising an interesting view below.

“Hello beautiful,” he responded hoarsely. Sweet Elbereth, how gorgeous she was!  

“Enjoying your bath?” She grinned cheekily.

“Much. You?”

“Aye, I do now. It was a bit lonely first.” She lowered her arms a fraction. 

He swallowed, unable to reply. His hand trailed down between his legs.

“I like that look on your face,” she said. Her right hand disappeared from view, presumably on the same errand as his left one. The remaining arm barely managed to cover her extraordinary bosom. He stared at her arm, willing it to go away.

“Say something dirty,” she suggested.

“You are so gorgeous. I want to…” He hesitated. 

“Aye?” Her impish grin widened and her remaining arm dropped. 

He drew in his breath sharply. She was magnificent. 

“You want to…?”

“I want to bed you.”

“How?”

“Take you. Pin you down with my body and take you.” 

“Say my name,” she ordered.

“Aerneth,” he murmured in that low, purring voice he knew she loved.

Her eyes were closed now and she breathed faster, her arm moving rapidly. Seeing her glazed eyes and flushed cheeks drove him over the edge, ripples of pleasure surging through his body. 

“Aerneth,” he said again, and that seemed to be enough to bring forth similar sensations in her.

A moment of companionable silence followed, while they caught their breaths and waited for their hearts to slow down. The warm water was relaxing and Thranduil leaned back, closing his eyes. He wondered when they could do this again. Hopefully it would be sooner than the many months this had taken to arrange. Maybe next time he could persuade her to bath without soap lather?

“So, when are you coming to ask for my hand?” she asked, effectively chasing away the alluring image of her naked lower body. He stifled a sigh. How many times were they going to have this conversation?

“Not much can be done while Lord Círdan remains in Hithlum.” He scooped up a soap bubble and blew on it. It flew away to land on the chair where his folded linen towel waited.

“Have you told your father about us yet?” 

“Aerneth, please…”

“Are you ashamed of me?”

“Of course not. Must we speak of this again?”

“I’m tired of waiting.”

“I know… I know. I will tell him. But it is complicated, what with the king, and–”

“...his daughter, yes thank you, I get that.” She frowned. “Well, it was nice bathing with you, Thranduil. Call me when you’ve ended your present relationship.”

“Don’t do this Aerneth. Please.”

“Good night.”

“Wait!”

But she was gone. 

Thranduil rubbed his face tiredly. Aerneth did not understand what Oropher was like, or King Elu Thingol for that matter. They were stubborn elves and when their minds were set not much could budge them. He needed more time. 

In addition, there was the matter of the war. Weddings were best celebrated in peacetime, when the proper ceremonies could be held. 

Despite the protective fence around Doriath, Thranduil was worried about the situation in the north. Morgoth’s orcs were very near the Hithlum border now, and scouts brought back news that they had broken through the first resistance at Eithel Sirion, the old fortress by the spring where the river Sirion began. Many had been slain, both humans and elves, and the new Lord of the humans fought desperately to keep the enemy at bay in the mountain passes. 

Surprisingly this leader was Húrin, one of the boys Thranduil had lost in Brethil and who later mysteriously returned. 

Word had it that Húrin had become a mighty hero despite being a mortal, and was holding his stance so far. But for how long? What would happen if he fell, if Hithlum fell? Would Morgoth turn south and try once again to cross the Sirion into west Beleriand? If so, Doriath would have to defend its borders and Thranduil would likely be called to the front with the rest of the march-wardens. And battles were always risky, there were always losses.

No, now was not a good time to enter a marriage. 

Thranduil knew that Aerneth worried of these things too, but she came to a different conclusion. Instead of waiting, she wanted to hurry. What if her father was killed in Hithlum? What if Morgoth attacked the Falas where she lived? She wanted to be properly married before the impending disaster, to at least have a few days of happiness before either or both of them died. She was often dramatic like that.

.

Red and yellow leaves littered the surface of the Esgalduin, and the grass on the riverbank was coated in powdery, white frost. Thranduil sat on a large stone and peered into the water while thinking of Aerneth, more from habit than from any real hope she would reply. He had endured several months of silent treatment now.

To his surprise, her face formed between the leaves. When he brushed them aside he could see her surroundings; clear, open sky high above her like a blue canopy. She was silent, but in the background he heard a rumbling, mighty sound. The sea! She must be sitting on the beach.

“I did not think you would come,” he said. Now that they had not talked for so long, he did not know what to say.

She remained silent, and now he saw she was crying. It was hard to spot the tears in her image among the ripples of the river, but her lip was trembling and her shoulders shaking.

“What is wrong?” He leaned closer to the surface. “Aerneth… talk to me.”

“I’m so worried,” she sobbed. “Ada just called. There will be a huge battle tomorrow. He is marching towards the orcs now, with King Fingon’s people and the humans. What if he doesn’t survive?”

“I am sure he will survive.” 

“How can you be sure?”

“Did you not say before he is friends with Ossë the Maia? He will protect him, just like his wife Uinen protected me that time.”

“There is no water there.”

“Oh…”

“If Ada dies then Nana will take one of his ships and sail to Aman, I’m sure of it. She longs to go there even now… But...” Her voice broke. “But I’m not sure I’m ready to leave yet.”

“Leave?” An uncomfortable chill seeped down his spine. “Why would you leave?”

“Why should I stay? I would be all alone.” She was meeting his gaze for the first time now, her eyes red rimmed and swollen.  

He wanted to say she would not be alone, that he would marry her, but nothing came out. He could not promise her this without speaking to his father. A conversation he had kept postponing, knowing his father would not approve. Oropher wanted that alliance with King Thingol so badly, the princess was a much more eligible match.

“Why am I even talking to you? If you cared about me one bit you would have come for me instead of making up excuses. This was a mistake. Let’s end it.” Her expression was hard, but her trembling lip betrayed how much it hurt her to speak those words. 

Thranduil found his voice at last. "No! Please, I don't want to end it. I want to marry you!"

“Then prove it.”

“I will. I will tell my father I intend to wed you. And I shall stop seeing Lúthien.”

“When? You keep promising me this, and yet here we are. So tell me when. When will you speak to your father? When will you break up with that princess?”

“The hunting season begins tomorrow so I will be away for some days, a week perhaps, but after that… I promise, as soon as I return I will do it.”

She was silent a long time, and Thranduil felt his heart beat so fast it hurt. He could not lose her. 

“Please,” he begged again, his voice barely more than a whisper.

“All right. I give you two weeks.” Her image disappeared.

Thranduil remained by the river a long time, his mind full of apprehension. What would he say to his father, how could he explain what Aerneth meant to him? He was so bad with words, especially when talking to Oropher. Even if he thought out the sentences beforehand, his father had a tendency to ask questions he had not prepared answers for, rendering him dumbfounded and stupid. He had a very bad feeling about the outcome of this heart-to-heart.

At least he would have some days to compose his speech. He could not give up, he must persuade his father somehow, he had to. This was his last chance or he would lose Aerneth.


A/N:
The longest I ever managed a long distance relationship was 3 months… Will it work better for Thranduil and Aerneth? And what will Oropher say? I love to hear your thoughts! Feedback is so important for a writer’s creativity and confidence in their story. 

On elves and sex: Tolkien writes in Laws and Customs Among the Eldar that elves marry only once, and of free will. The physical union is the wedding, even though it’s usually preceded by a betrothal period and a ceremony. Other elves can see if an elf is married in his ‘eyes and voice’. While pleasuring yourself together with someone certainly is a sexual act, I’ve decided it’s not enough to make them married in the sense that others could tell.

7. Autumn Hunt

The autumn was normally Thranduil’s favourite season, and in particular he loved the yearly hunt. Every elf who could handle a bow took part, as well as those who knew how to skin and butcher. The city’s storages would be restocked with salted and conserved meat to last the entire year, food that would not spoil even on longer journeys and serve as a complement to what little fresh game they could get during the winter months. 

The elves would spread out in smaller groups, dividing the kingdom between them. When they returned with their catch a huge feast would be held in celebration of the forest’s bounty. There would be bonfires, dancing, singing and of course meat aplenty, roasted over charcoal until crisp on the outside and pink and savory within. 

The feast might be a good opportunity for the conversation with Oropher about Aerneth, Thranduil figured. His father loved hunting and would be relaxed and content. Hopefully that would make him more likely to comply with his son’s wishes.

As usual, Thranduil went out together with his childhood friends, Amroth, Medlin, Taurandir and Beleg. On the hunt, Beleg was no longer his and Amroth’s captain, here they were all equals just like they used to be in their childhood. 

When they arrived in their secluded clearing, a flood of happy memories filled Thranduil. He loved everything about this place; the cosy wood cabin they had built on their first hunt, barely more than elflings, the small brook where they fetched their water and bathed, even their simple fare of lembas, Queen Melian’s famous waybread. Apart from the food they had only brought their weapons and one barrel of salt each to store the meat and hides in. They needed to travel light, if their hunt was successful there would be a heavy load to carry back to Menegroth.

Before taking to the trees for their first day of hunting, the friends had to make the old cabin fit to live in again. They cut fresh rushes from the creek to cover the holes in the roof and swept the earthen floor clean of old leaves, spiderwebs and mouse droppings. When they nearly were finished, another ellon surprisingly showed up, alone and dressed very simply in hunter’s green. How had Captain Mablung known where to find them?

They all turned to Beleg, who had the decency to look a bit guilty. 

“I hope you did not mind me inviting another friend?” He greeted the other captain with a firm hug.

Thranduil shared a look of annoyance with Amroth. Of course they minded, this place was theirs . Mablung was much older, and whenever he was around, Beleg tended to ignore his other friends in favour of him. But there was not much to be done. 

Their first day went unusually well. Together they felled one young stag, a boar sow with seven striped piglets and three hares. The boar family had been Beleg’s contribution, for which he was exceedingly proud, and rightly so – felling a boar with merely a bow and arrow was indeed a feat. The only way was to target an eye and hit it with great force. With the sow down, the piglets were easier because they would remain by their mother’s carcass. 

Thranduil had only shot one of the hares but he had been very close to fell a doe. The animal had turned her head just when he released his arrow, missing her with an inch. 

When the prey was skinned and slaughtered, cut up in smaller chunks and stowed away in the salt barrels, darkness had already fallen. They lit several smoky fires to keep the flies away and Thranduil went to bury the waste some way off to avoid attracting predators and scavengers to their cabin. 

They gathered around one of the fires munching their evening lembas and sharing an amphora of wine that Mablung had brought. Thranduil abstained, he had tried wine once many years ago when he was very young, and that had not gone well. His father had smelled the alcohol on his breath when he returned home, and as punishment for his disobedience, Oropher had collected another bottle from their kitchen and forced Thranduil to empty it all by himself. He had never been so sick in his life, spending the night vomiting in a bucket, and the morning after with a horrible taste in his mouth while his head pounded like the Vala Aulë’s mighty hammer. Ever since, the wine smell alone made him queasy.

Medlin, who was the only married ellon among them, began a long and rather boring anecdote about his mother-in-law. Thranduil’s mind wandered to Aerneth, but first he made sure the brook was at a far away enough distance. It did not do to have her eavesdrop on the ellyn’s conversation, which could sometimes linger on subjects not fit for the sensitive ears of a lady.

He held back a smirk. Sensitive ears and Aerneth did not really fit well in the same sentence, she was actually bolder than any ellon he knew. Like that amazing bath call they had had, when she begged him to talk dirty. Unfortunately it had been a one time experience. Maybe she would agree to another bath after he had spoken to Oropher…?

Thinking of his father curbed Thranduil’s amorous feelings effectively. He ought to prepare himself, not daydream about bathing ellith. 

Still deep in thought, Thranduil’s gaze fell on Beleg and Mablung who were talking intently in subdued voices, ignoring the rest of them just as he had anticipated. Mablung’s fingers were touching Beleg’s knee in a rather intimate way. What was that all about? His curiosity piqued, Thranduil noticed other cues, such as how close they sat and the way their gazes locked. It reminded him of when Medlin was courting his then future wife. Were they lovers? 

He hurriedly looked away. If so, it was none of his business. 

The conversation had left Medlin’s mother-in-law and moved on to the hidden city, Amroth’s favourite topic. 

“We really should have done like Lord Círdan wanted and sent aid to Hithlum,” he said. “If we had helped them protect their country, the humans might have been willing to tell us where to find the hidden city. One of those boys who disappeared is lord there now, young Húrin.”

“Why do you want to find it anyway?” asked Medlin. “Let Turgon hide if he wants to. Sooner or later he will come forward.”

“It is just so intriguing to imagine a whole city full of elves that nobody knows about.”

“I find it more intriguing with the mortals, how resourceful and talented they are despite their short lifespan,” said Taurandir. “Húrin’s skill as a commander is said to be one of the reasons the orcs still have not broken through the Hithlum border.” Taurandir worked as a professional hunter all year, and often roamed the forests outside Doriath. He had lived with the Men of Haleth in Brethil for extended periods, learning about their ways. 

“Aye, like that wildman in Dorthonion. The one remaining Outlaw,” Amroth agreed. “He who killed a host of orcs all by himself!”

Thranduil smiled at that, but as was his habit when in company, he said nothing. Amroth would believe any rumour however ill-founded, and he had a thing for heroes.

“What was his name again?” mused Amroth. “Beleg, do you remember?”

“Who?” Beleg looked up rather guiltily and Mablung snatched his hand back from the other’s leg. 

“The Outlaw, what was his name?”

“Beren, I think. He is said to be Barahir’s son.”

“Barahir sounds familiar,” said Taurandir. “Was that not the man who saved Galadriel’s brother?”

“Aye, he did.” 

”Men really are remarkably brave.”

As Amroth returned to the topic of the lost boys and the hidden city, Thranduil thought about Barahir and the mentioned deed. It had happened early in the war, a few years before Thranduil’s own first battle in the forest of Brethil. Morgoth had just broken the siege and come out of his fortress Angband with his dragon, balrogs and orcs, burning the Noldorin country Ard-galen to the ground. Finrod, Galadriel’s brother, had left his city Nargothrond and marched north along the Sirion to help his kin resist the onslaught. But when he reached the marshlands near Hithlum, he was cut off from most of his army and would have been killed if Barahir and his men had not surrounded the fens, forming a wall of spears and thus detained the enemy long enough for Finrod to escape and be reunited with his forces.

It was rather surprising, really. What had processed those short-lived beings to risk so much just to save one elf? But maybe it was because of Finrod himself, he had always been special, becoming friends with both dwarves and men. He had taught the mortals to speak Sindarin, and as far as Thranduil knew, he was the only elf who could speak Mannish. It was also he who first arranged lands for them near Doriath, after convincing King Thingol that men were useful allies. 

Thranduil had met Finrod a few times when the ellon visited his sister in Menegroth. He looked like her, blond and very tall, but there ended the likeness. While Galadriel was fierce and strong her brother appeared wise and kind, more inclined to make music than war. Thranduil could not say which he preferred. Perhaps both kinds of elves where needed to make the world safe and beautiful?

That night Thranduil rested well in their cabin, lulling himself to sleep with sweet thoughts of Aerneth and a selection of the more interesting of their water calls. Before he drifted off, he spotted Mablung moving his mattress closer to Beleg’s. He imagined their situation must be a lot harder than his, and was grateful that his own troubles only concerned wanting to marry the wrong elleth in his father’s eyes. At least she was an elleth.

.

The following days of hunting were less productive than the lucky first, but on the fifth afternoon they had finally filled all their barrels and could drag their haul back to Menegroth. Since the bow was not Thranduil’s favoured weapon, he was glad for the few hares and quails he had shot and the stag he had felled together with Amroth. 

Thranduil was beyond nervous when he went to the Feast of the Hunt the evening after their return. This was where he had decided to break the news to Oropher that he no longer wanted to court Lúthien. 

The festival was held just outside the city in a clearing near the training grounds, one of the few places where the sky was open above, allowing the stars to twinkle down on them. In the outskirts of the area crude tables were set up with long benches to sit on, and in the center several bonfires spread their light and warmth. Around them elves joined hands to form dance circles, moving in beat with the cheerful music produced by Daeron the minstrel and his fellow musicians. The wine flowed freely from many barrels and soon the ambience was merry.

As the evening proceeded, Thranduil kept postponing the moment he would speak to Oropher. Lúthien loved dancing and he told himself it was not right to ruin her evening, instead he joined her, keeping up the pretense of being her partner a little longer. His heart was not in it though, and whenever their hands joined in the ring of dancers he felt guilty, like he was cheating on Aerneth. 

“You seem tired,” she said at last. 

He thought about what to answer, and when he finally did his lie made him feel even more guilty about his double dealings.

“Aye, maybe I am. Please, do continue enjoying yourself while I sit down a little.”

As he left her, he knew he could not delay it anymore. 

Oropher was talking to his friend Amdír, Amroth’s father, at one of the nearby tables. Thranduil joined them, silently listening while waiting for an opportune moment. The older ellyn were discussing the war and trying to predict the outcome, a popular topic these days. 

Thranduil’s opportunity came when Amdír’s wife walked up to them, pulling her husband with her to the dance circles. Finally alone with his father, Thranduil asked if he would join him for a walk. This conversation was one he did not want anyone else to overhear.

“Was it anything in particular you wanted to speak of?” asked Oropher as they had come away from the fires. They were walking on the edge of the clearing, under the yellowing leaves of the beeches and oaks. Lanterns hung from their branches, emitting a warm, pleasant light.

Thranduil drew a breath, steadying himself.

“Aye. It is about Lúthien. I cannot court her anymore.” He knew his father prefered when he was direct, not beating around the bush. 

“Why?” Oropher stopped abruptly.

“Because I love another.” There, it was said. He felt cold with anticipation. How would Oropher react to the news?

“Tell me everything.” Oropher’s forehead was creasing slightly, but apart from that he seemed calm enough.

Holding his carefully prepared speech, Thranduil recounted how he had met Aerneth when she was very young, and how she later saved the life of him and his company in the Ford of Brithiach. He told of when he had recognised her among the emissaries from Eglarest, which was why he had wanted Oropher to invite them home. He also mentioned his and Aerneth’s meeting outside the city the next day, wisely leaving out their kiss. 

“Since then we have been speaking several times through her water magic, and decided we want to marry.” He withheld what else they had done during those calls.

Oropher nodded slowly when he had finished. “I noticed your interest in her during that supper and wondered what was the cause of it. She seemed not so special to me. Beautiful, aye, though very inferior compared to Lúthien. But now I better understand your infatuation.” 

Thranduil opened his mouth to object to his father’s choice of words, this was more than an infatuation ! But Oropher stilled him with a motion of his hand.

“Thranduil, at such a young age one cannot discern between love and desire, and a marriage begun without love is doomed to bring misery and grief only. You are grateful to this elleth, flattered by her continued interest in you for so many years, and her mysterious appearance in the water that time must have intrigued you. This sounds to me like an obsession, powered by your youthful urges and your inexperience.”

“Father! That’s not it at all!” 

“You cannot possibly know her well enough to love her after such a short time – and that meeting in your youth does naturally not count. Love takes time to build. It is hard work. For ten years I courted your mother before we were wed, not until then had we built the foundation on which our marriage now firmly rests.”

Thranduil thought of his parents’ repeated fighting and secretly wondered about the quality of that foundation, but it was not his business to meddle in their affairs. 

“Son, I am not asking you to wed Lúthien if you do not love her, a loveless marriage with her is no better than one with Círdan’s daughter,” Oropher continued. “I am just saying you must be patient. Lúthien might grow on you yet. The two of you have so much in common, and you look stunning together. A couple others envy.”

“It is Aerneth I want.”

“I have no doubt your body wants her. I am not blind, I saw how you looked at her that time, nor am I too old to understand the physical needs of an ellon.”

Thranduil felt his cheeks heat up and could not think of an answer. His father had hit too close to the truth for comfort.

Oropher placed his hand on his son’s shoulder, in what he probably intended to be a comforting gesture, but his grip was a little too tense and the frown remained on his forehead. He was angry, but for once he was managing to control his feelings. 

“These are troubled times, and no weddings will be held until we know what happens in the north,” he said. “Even if it turns out in the future that you really do love this other elleth and wish to spend your life with her, you still have plenty of time to marry her then. But it is unwise to turn Lúthien down prematurely, you should not close that door too soon.”

“Can I at least go visit Aerneth?”

“That is not for me to decide, ask your king. But I would be surprised if he allowed it when war rages so close to our borders. He needs his march-wardens around.”

Thranduil nodded, realising his father was right. He could not travel to Eglarest yet. And as for breaking up with Lúthien, he did not dare to push that matter further. At least Oropher knew about Aerneth now, he would need time to accustom himself to the idea.

.

It took another two days until Thranduil finally mustered the courage to call Aerneth. He had a strong feeling she would not be happy when she learned he had not spoken with Lúthien. He debated with himself beforehand whether to lie about it but decided not to, sometimes it was best to boldly grab the warg by its tail and deal with the situation.

He chose the river to call her through; now that Oropher knew about their water communication he did not dare doing it from home. When she appeared she looked happier than last time, more like her normal self.

“I like your clothes,” she said by way of greeting, grinning cheekily. It was warm despite being late in the year, so he had taken off his tunic and wore only his shirt. 

“I figured you would,” he said, returning her smile. He was relieved she was not crying this time, it must mean her father was yet alive. “Is Lord Círdan all right?” he asked, just to make sure.

“Aye! They beat the orcs. They won!” Her smile broadened. “That human lord Húrin chased half of them out into the Anfauglith desert while Ada and Fingon hunted the rest of them up north to the Iron Mountains.”

“Really?” Thranduil felt his shoulders lose some of their tension. If the orcs were beaten, that would mean the war was finally coming to a new standstill. Unless Morgoth had another card up his sleeve, that was.

“How did those conversations you promised to have go?” She turned serious, businesslike almost. 

Thranduil had already thought out exactly what to say about that, weighing his words extra carefully. He had to convince her to be patient.

“Oropher was not against it as such, but he cautioned me – us – to take things slowly and get to know one another better. While there is still a threat in the north I cannot leave Doriath anyway, but we will keep in touch until things calm down. And then I shall court you properly.”

Her beautiful eyebrows drew together and a crease appeared on her forehead, but she did not say anything, allowing him to finish.

“As for Lúthien, my father wishes me to stay in her good favour, to still be her friend and not drive a wedge between my family and hers. The king’s goodwill is important for my father and his position in the court. I will stay only friends with her,” he emphasized. “We never were more than that anyway. She does not love me, nor do I love her and never did. It was all out of convenience and respect for our fathers’ wishes.”

Aerneth was silent first, mulling over his words.

“I disagree with your father,” she said at last. “You and I have known each other for years , what’s there to wait for? Morgoth’s orcs have been defeated. This is a good time to marry.”

Thranduil let out his breath, unaware he had been holding it. Aerneth looked displeased but not angry, she would probably fret about the necessary waiting some more but then accept it. He was fairly certain she did not actually want to end things, considering how long she had liked him.

“Do we really, though? Know each other, I mean,” he countered. “We haven’t actually talked very much.” He smiled inwardly as he recalled what they had been doing instead of talking.

“Talking is overrated.” Her expression told him she thought about those calls also. 

“I agree.” He had lowered his voice, meeting her gaze challengingly. “Aerneth.”

“You drive me crazy with that voice, Thranduil. It’s not fair.” Her lips were slightly parted.

“I know,” he said smugly. And it was fair, she drove him crazy too. Those lips… he imagined feeling them all over his body. 

Their call developed very interestingly from there, involving a fair deal of stripping off clothes on either part. When Aerneth much later closed the connection, they were again on friendly terms and Thranduil went home with an unusually hopeful feeling about the future. 

The Noldor’s victory against the orcs was a good omen. Perhaps Morgoth was not as impossibly strong after all. Hopefully he would be completely defeated soon, and then life could finally go back to normal, with no more threat of a Dark Lord and his monsters to cast their shadows over everything.

Soon. Thranduil was patient, he could wait. 


A/N:
.
On elves and age: Elves are considered adults around the age of 50-100 and can marry at that time, although it seems from Tolkien’s books many are thousands of years old when it happens (like Arwen was when she met Aragorn). 

On elves and sexual orientation: It’s never stated anywhere whether they could be gay, but presumably they could, being fairly similar to humans in most ways regarding love. Since there are no known cases of same sex elf relationships in Tolkien’s canon, one could also assume that just as in our past, it was frowned upon and nothing one announced publicly. Like back in the days, they would probably pretend to be just very good friends.

8. Luthien's Lover

Menegroth, Doriath, First Age 465

Thranduil shifted into a more comfortable position, leaning his back against the beautifully crafted tree-shaped pillar. Gate duty was particularly taxing this night, time dragging on ever so slowly and his eyes growing heavier by the hour. He had slept horribly for months and right now he felt like he could have dozed off on the spot, just stretching out right here on the cave floor. It was so silent, the fresh night air coming in through the city gate so calming. If he could just...

“This is ridiculous.” Amroth punched his shoulder, making Thranduil’s eyes guiltily snap open. “What’s wrong with you nowadays, Tharan?”

“Nothing. Just tired, I guess.”

Amroth growled and grabbed him roughly by the arms, pushing him hard against the pillar. “You’re an elf, not a damn human! Since when has a mere night’s lack of sleep bothered you? You have gone weeks without before.” 

Thranduil stared mutely at his friend, shocked by his outburst. 

“I have kept silent, waiting for you to tell me when you were ready, but it’s been years of this crap now and I’m frankly tired of it.” He released Thranduil and rubbed his forehead. “I thought we were friends.”

“What?” What was he talking about? Surely he did not… Thranduil had told nobody about his miserable love life. Had Amroth suspected all along?

“You don’t sleep, you hardly eat, you frown continuously and have become mute like a tree. Before, you would speak to me a little, at least. Something is troubling you and it bloody hurts that you don’t trust me enough to share it.”

The pain in Amroth’s eyes hit Thranduil like a well-aimed punch. 

“I am sorry. Valar, Amroth, I had no idea it was so obvious. I just… I did not want to…” He searched for words. “It is such a mess, I did not want to drag you into that. I have brought it upon myself.”

Amroth’s impatient gaze urged him to continue.

“Do you remember that elleth who soaked Beleg when we were younger?”

“Of course.” 

“Well, three years ago, I met her again. It was… she had grown so beautiful.” He sighed, and described everything that had happened during Aerneth’s visit, and how it had led to their distance relationship. It was relieving to finally share it with someone, even though he as usual had to struggle to find the right words. 

“So, if you have this amazing elleth, why are you looking so downcast?”

“My father is against our relationship. When I told him about Aerneth he advised me to keep seeing Lúthien, because King Thingol might see it as a betrayal if I end things with his daughter. He considers me more or less betrothed to her, even if we never were, formally I mean.”

“That is just stupid. You never loved Lúthien, surely the king understands that? After all, he married for love.” Amroth’s eyes narrowed. “Nay, this sounds like wishful thinking on your father’s part. It is Oropher who wants the match with the princess, he has everything to gain from it, but the king does not.”

Thranduil met his gaze with surprise, realising he probably was right. Then his frown returned.

“Well, maybe that is so, but it is not relevant anymore.” He sighed. “Over the years, Aerneth has become… needy , you know? Constantly nagging me. She would have me call her every day no matter how busy I am, and she pesters me about Lúthien, wanting to know every detail whenever I have been taking her out for a walk.”

“Well, that ought not to have surprised you, she was very clingy that summer, I recall. Quite the little shadow.”

“She was.” Thranduil nodded his head.

“You feel trapped?” Amroth guessed.

“Aye.” He nodded again. “As if I do not know her anymore. She has changed. And honestly, it makes me want to do the opposite. Call more seldom, go out with Lúthien more.” His frown deepened when he realised how childish that sounded. Thankfully Amroth took his part completely.

“She has no right to dictate your time.” He touched Thranduil’s shoulder reassuringly. “If you do not feel the same about her anymore, maybe you should break up? There’s plenty of game in the forest, lots of ellith around here would be happy if you would notice them.” He grinned. “Or you could do like me and keep your freedom. I mean, who would want to end up like poor Medlin with that harridan of a mother-in-law? An orc would win a beauty contest before an elleth managed to snare me.”

That had Thranduil smile. He felt so relieved, like a huge burden had been lifted from his shoulders. Break up. Amroth made it sound natural and easy, and perhaps it was. 

.

The Esgalduin glittered invitingly between the tiny new leaves of the birches and alders. Thranduil watched the river with apprehension, not daring to approach until he was ready to see Aerneth. 

Easy. This is easy, he told himself, but somehow now he was going to do it it felt not easy at all. What if she would cry? He hated when she did, and lately that had happened on more than one occasion. If she could cry over Thranduil taking a harmless walk with Lúthien, she would most assuredly do so after a break-up.

When he had finally mustered enough courage to call her, Aerneth appeared with the displeasured scowl that had become her habitual look lately.

“Why, if it isn’t Thranduil! I am thrilled that you managed to squeeze me into your busy schedule.”

“Anytime, dear ,” he snided. So, she was in one of her moods. He was actually grateful for that, it would make this so much easier.

“What do you want?” She seemed impatient, and he noticed she wore her cloak. 

“Were you going out?”

“Aye.” She did not elaborate, and he did not really care. He just wanted this done and over with.

“Let us end this.” He had already decided to be blunt and not wrap it in. 

“What?” 

“You heard me.”

She was silent as his words sank in. Thranduil swallowed, an uncomfortable knot forming inside him. She would cry, he saw the signs; her lip beginning to tremble, her eyes going wide and glossy. 

“Why?” she whispered, and yes, there was the first tear, trickling down her cheek.

He swallowed again, and spoke his prepared words without looking at her. “We have grown apart, as I am sure you realise too. Nowadays we seem to only hurt each other. My father is still against our relationship, and the way things stand between us I could never convince him we are truly in love.”

“Your father. This is all about him, is it not? Why can’t you be an adult and decide for yourself?” She sounded angry rather than sad, but when he glanced at her he saw more tears falling.

He frowned. “I am an adult, and my father knows nothing of my decision to break up with you.”

She flinched at the words ‘break up’ and bit her lip. “Please,” she begged. “I am sorry I said that. Can’t we have a fresh start? I will try not to annoy you anymore.” Now she was crying in earnest, and Thranduil again averted his gaze. 

“We tried for so long. Perhaps we are just not meant to be.”

“We are! I know we are,” she sobbed.

“You will find someone else, I am sure.” He did his best to sound kind. Her distress made him waver in his decision, but nothing would be better if they continued. A clean break was probably less painful than a dragged out one. “Bye Aerneth.” 

As he walked away from the river he could hear her call his name, and it took all his willpower to keep going. He knew that if he turned back he would not have the strength to resist her pleas.

It was for the best. He kept repeating that to himself all the way home, while pushing the pain in his chest deep down.

.

It rained heavily outside Menegroth, but Lúthien had seemed anxious to talk with him in private so Thranduil stoically pulled up his hood and bent his head against the torrents. Behind him, he noticed Daeron the minstrel doing the same. Lúthien on her part seemed not to care at all that her dress became soaked, exposing inappropriately much of her slim form. Not that Thranduil minded. He did not desire the princess as a lover would, but she was pleasant to look at. It had been weeks since his break up with Aerneth and he had to admit he missed one aspect of their calls, or at least a certain body part of his did.

They stopped in Lúthien’s favourite dancing glade, taking cover under the dense foliage of an oak. At her bidding Daeron chose an oak some yards away, out of hearing range.

“Thranduil, I have something to confess.” Lúthien looked miserable. 

Thranduil was intrigued. Whatever could she be guilty of? 

“I… I have met someone,” she continued. “And I love him. I have only seen him two times but it was like lightning struck me! I know he is the one.” Her eyes filled with tears. “We have done nothing untowards, I would never go behind your back. As soon as I realised my feelings were true I came to you. I am so sorry Thranduil. Can you ever forgive me?”

“No need! Do not apologise.” Thranduil felt his cheeks heat up horribly. He had been going behind Lúthien’s back for years without ever stopping to think of her . What a complete jerk he had been! 

“Oh Thranduil, I do not deserve such kindness from one so slighted.”

“You have done nothing wrong, Lúthien.” Her gratefulness increased his mortification manifold, especially since he could not tell her the truth about his deception now . In addition, she seemed to think he had harboured romantic feelings towards her, and it would be both rude and embarrassing to tell her he had only courted her because his father wanted him to. Instead he had to endure further apologies and comforting words from the princess, while trying his best to look mollified instead of relieved. It was easily the most awkward moment Thranduil had ever experienced.

When they finally returned to the city, Lúthien bid Thranduil not to speak to anyone about what she had told him. She wanted to break the news herself when she was ready. Apparently her lover was someone not considered suitable and she needed to think of a way to make King Thingol accept him. Thranduil promised to keep silent, thankful for the opportunity to ease his guilt a tiny bit by helping her.

In his bed later that evening Thranduil mused over the irony of it all. Now that he was finally free of his obligations to Lúthien, he had already broken up with Aerneth. Why could he not have done like the princess and told about his new love immediately? Lúthien would have ended their relationship for sure, and Thranduil would have been spared so much trouble. He might even have been married by now. 

He had been so tired of Aerneth prior to their break-up, but now he found it hard to remember what had annoyed him so. Most of the time she was quite lovely, and not without regret he recalled their intimate moments. In addition, he realised she may have been right, though it pained him to admit as much even to himself. He had treated her unfairly in his double-dealing; both her and Lúthien actually.

Maybe he ought to call her? He could tell about Lúthien's lover and they could get back together again. Oropher would probably not mind the connection once he learned Lúthien was out of the picture.

Thranduil felt an expectant stir in his nether regions at the thought of seeing Aerneth's lovely face again, and perhaps some of her body too...

He had just fetched his washing bowl when it struck him how embarrassing it would be to call after the manner in which they parted. To admit he had been wrong. What would he even say? 

‘Hi Aerneth, how have you been? Sorry I broke up with you and crushed your heart, but thankfully Lúthien just broke up with me, so now we can get back together.’

No. No, he could not do it. He could never humiliate himself like that. 

With a bitter taste in his mouth he laid the bowl aside. He had ruined his chances with Aerneth, and he just had to forget her.

It was just that forgetting her was so damn hard.

.

Summer had come late this year, but today was exceptionally hot even down here in the city. Thranduil felt damp in his thick guard’s attire as he hurried through the palace caves. He was a little late to relieve Amroth and take over guard duty, but he knew his friend would not mind. Next time it could be the opposite around.

Something was up in the throne room when Thranduil arrived. There was a crowd gathered, and before the throne stood Lúthien, her head hanging down miserably. King Thingol sat above her, his beautiful face distorted in anger. What had happened? 

Amroth filled Thranduil in on the details.

“Daeron has discovered that the princess has been seeing someone secretly behind the king’s back,” he whispered.  

Thranduil nodded, this was no news to him.

“It’s not just anyone either, it’s a human ! That wildman, you know? The Outlaw! I knew he existed.” Amroth looked smug. “The king has sent the minstrel to fetch him now.”

Thranduil stared at his friend. No wonder Lúthien had been so secretive when she told of her lover a few months back. A human! How gross. 

“I know it’s rude to say ‘I told you so’, but…” Amroth’s smug grin widened into a smirk.

“Alright, alright… you win. But I shall still demand proof before I believe he killed an army of orcs alone, like you claim,” Thranduil murmured back.

Soon Daeron entered the cave with the human in tow. Thranduil regarded the man closely as he passed by, curious about how a mortal who had caught the most beautiful elleth in Doriath might look. 

He was rather disappointed by what he saw. The fellow looked strong and proud, his broad back straight and his head held high, but like all human males his face was hidden in a mess of coarse facial hair. His clothes were old and worn, with ingrown stains and signs of having been frequently repaired, and his hands and nails were dirty. 

Thranduil could not for his life understand how Lúthien could have fallen in love with him, and how she thought that relationship would go – the mortal would die in no time, leaving her a widow. 

Another thought struck him. If they wed, would they even be compatible enough to consummate their marriage? Thranduil had no idea what humans looked like underneath their clothes, and he assumed neither did Lúthien. Unless… Thranduil winced, trying hard to push that thought back. The mental image of Lúthien and the human naked together was frankly disgusting. 

“So, you are the man my daughter claims to love.” Elu Thingol regarded him coolly.

“I am, Your Grace.” The man bowed. “My name is Beren, son of Barahir, from the House of Bëor in Dorthonion.” He had a dark, pleasant voice. “I would have come forward sooner to ask for Princess Lúthien’s hand, had she not cautioned me to wait.”

“And why would you do that, daughter?” 

She calmly raised her head. “Because I knew this is how you would react, father, with suspicion and distrust. I had to make sure my feelings were true, that I had not misinterpreted them.” She moved closer to the man, taking his hand. “I am certain now, however. My heart belongs to Beren, and I shall never love anyone else.” The adoration in her eyes and the worship in his spoke the truth clearer than words.

Thingol’s face visibly fell as he realised his daughter was a lost cause. 

“You have made your choice then?” he asked her, anger tinting his voice.

“I have.”

“I cannot allow you to give yourself to a mortal, surely you understand that. He is not worthy of you.” 

Lúthien did not reply, her beautiful features matted with sadness and resignation. 

Queen Melian, who had been standing below the throne in silence, spoke for the first time. “This man passed through my Girdle unnoticed.” She regarded the man with something bordering on awe. “This is not just any mortal.”

Thranduil looked at her in surprise. Nobody could pass through Melian’s magic fence except for other Sindarin elves, and even they could not enter Doriath unnoticed.

“You know that only someone stronger than me could do so.” Melian looked up at her husband. “I think this man might be worthy.”

The king nodded reluctantly. He seemed to think deeply for a while, then his features turned smug as he apparently thought of an idea.

“Well then. My queen has spoken true, but I need one more proof of your worth. A quest. There is something I deeply desire, and have done so for many centuries. Fetch me this item, and you shall have my daughter’s hand in marriage. This I promise upon my honour, and all assembled here shall be my witnesses.”

“And what would this item be, Sire?” The man sounded suspicious, probably guessing the king was trying to trick him.

“A gem. A stone containing the light of the long lost trees of Valinor.” He leaned forward, almost glaring at the man. “Fetch me one of the Silmarils in Morgoth’s crown, and Lúthien shall be yours.”

Amroth’s and Thranduil’s gazes met. The king had won. Nobody could manage such a feat, to enter the impenetrable fortress of Angband, guarded by a dragon, many balrogs and an unknown host of orcs, and steal one of the most treasured items of the Lord of Darkness. Least of all a man, a mortal human.

“I accept your proposal. You shall have your gem.” With a last look at his beloved, Beren turned and walked out of the throne room.

.

“I heard in part about what happened at the palace today. Would you fill me in on the details?” Oropher had come to meet Thranduil at the door on his arrival home after finishing his guard duty for the evening.

Thranduil obediently described everything, including the suicide mission the human was about to enter upon. 

“He will die,” Oropher concluded. 

Thranduil nodded, that was obvious.

“And Lúthien will probably waste away from grief not long after.” He shook his head in annoyance. “I guess that door is closed for good, then. Such a shame.”

“I thought a few months was too short a time to know one’s heart.” Thranduil could not resist throwing his father’s words back into his face.

Oropher frowned. “Do not be ridiculous, son, Lúthien is many centuries older than you. She knows.”

He began to pace the room, looking thoughtful. Then he stopped.

“That elleth you used to fancy, Círdan’s daughter, I shall arrange for you to go see her. You can follow the next trade delegation to Eglarest.”

“What?” Thranduil stared at his father, a knot forming in his stomach. He could not go to Aerneth, not after how he had broken up with her. The humiliation!

“Círdan is lord of the entire Falas region, he has become nearly equal to Thingol in importance, even though he still owes him allegiance. An alliance with Círdan might not be so bad.”

“But… I thought you were convinced it was no real love between me and Aerneth.”

“Of course! I do not expect you to marry her on the go.” He smiled coolly. “I only ask you to see her again, and if you still find her desirable you can begin to court her. Perhaps invite her back here to stay in Menegroth for a while. We will see how she is like, if she fits in here.”

“But…”

“Oh, for the Valar’s sake.” Oropher was beginning to lose his patience and Thranduil took a step backwards. “You were so sure of your feelings before. Did it take such a short time to lose them?” 

“No! But…”

“Make up your mind, then. Either you like the elleth or not! It is simple.” He had grabbed his son’s arm rather painfully.

Thranduil swallowed his protests. 

“I like her. I will go.” 


A/N:

Thranduil, Thranduil… you have so much to learn about females. 

Soon he shall meet Aerneth again. What do you think will happen? Will he swallow his pride and make up with her? Maybe she hooked up with that long-haired ellon she travelled with before. Comments are much appreciated!

Note: I have not copied the exact quotes from the scene where Beren comes before Thingol, because the way they speak in the Silmarillion does not really fit with the rest of the dialogue in my story. I have also changed the scene slightly, to fit better with my narrative. I think of the Silmarillion as Daeron’s and other minstrels’ more poetic chronicles of past events, whereas I write what actually happened. ;)

9. Falas by the Sea

Once Oropher had made up his mind about sending Thranduil to Eglarest, things were set in motion with speed and efficiency. Through his position in the Royal Office of Economy, Oropher decided the city needed more smoked herrings, and within days he had organised a trade delegation to the Falas and asked Captain Beleg Cúthalion to assign Thranduil to be one of their guards. 

Only a week after Beren left Menegroth on his quest for the Silmaril, Thranduil found himself in a group of heavily armed guards preparing to escort a moderately sized caravan of riders and pack horses.

Bringing guards with the envoys had become increasingly necessary of late, even after the latest orc army had been defeated in Hithlum. A new danger had begun to infiltrate Beleriand from the north; werewolves, evil monsters bred and controlled by a mighty lieutenant of Morgoth’s known as Sauron. So far the werewolves had only ventured into Dimbar and northern Brethil, but people feared it was merely a matter of time before they advanced further south.

The journey to Eglarest would take an estimated eight days ride. The stables were located outside the city near the training grounds, and all the horses belonged to King Thingol. If an elf wanted to ride, he had to sign a ledger and be assigned a horse by the stable ward. Today, Thranduil would ride a chestnut stallion, he had asked for it because its colour went well with his new rusty red coat with gold trimmings. Since he was going to be forced to endure a humiliating reunion with Aerneth, he might as well arrive there in style.

Many in the delegation prefered riding bareback but Thranduil always used a saddle. He hated to get his clothes covered in tiny, prickly hairs, and he liked the control the saddle gave him, making sword fighting with precision possible. 

Soon everything was ready, the horses mounted and the elves had finished saying their goodbyes. In a clatter of hoofbeats and jingling of chainmail, the company took off. 

Thranduil found himself enjoying the trip despite the apprehension he felt of meeting Aerneth again and the discomfort of riding. Like most elves he had always dreamed of the sea, and he looked forward to finally seeing it.

They headed west through the forest all day, following a narrow path along the Esgalduin. A few hours after they had crossed the bridge over the larger river Sirion, the forest ended, giving way to a vast heathland called Talath Dirnen. Here the ground became covered with yellowing grasses, gorse, heather and a sparse scatter of trees; mostly old, twisted pines, bent low in the everpresent wind coming in from the sea in the far west. Herds of deer and wild horses roamed the plains, holding back the expansion of the trees by their continuous grazing. Most of the other elves in the delegation had traveled this route before, they were used to the open view and boundless sky above, but for Thranduil it was disconcerting. The naked landscape made him feel exposed and small, and he hated it. 

The first night, they camped right there by the edge of the forest. Thranduil, who found it hard to relax anyway, opted to take all the watches. He spent the night gazing at the stars, reconciling himself to being an insignificant dot on the flat surface of the Earth. On the morrow he was more at ease and found he could soon disregard the blue dome entirely.

Later that day the company arrived at the Amon Rûdh, a hill rising over a thousand feet above the ground. Its sides were covered in white aeglos, also called snow-thorn, and on its cap grew dark red seregon flowers which gave it an almost eerie appearance, like someone had spilled blood over a mound of snow. They rode a little way up its western slope to spend the night there, halting when it became too steep for the horses. 

As Thranduil dismounted and got a better look at the view for the first time, he was mesmerised by the beautiful panorama. League after league of heathland stretched out between the hills in the north and south, until it reached the blue expanse of the mighty ocean in the far west. The setting sun was red and large as it descended towards the horizon, colouring the sky a flaming pink. Thranduil could not take his eyes from the brilliant show, enthralled by both the sea and the sunset, both of which he experienced for the first time in his life. Only when all that remained of the sun was a thin strip of red where it had disappeared, did Thranduil turn back to the others.

The evening meal consisted of lembas, the usual fare on a journey. Thranduil munched on his dry, sweet cake, still absorbed with the wondrous sight he had just witnessed while idly listening to the others’ conversation. They were discussing a rumour about this hill, saying that it was inhabited by petty dwarves. The small folk allegedly had dug out nearly all of its inside, burrowing deep until they found gold. Now they hardly ever left the hill anymore, afraid to be robbed of their treasure.

“Hold on tightly to your things tonight,” an older ellon advised Thranduil. “Or you might discover on the morrow that a sly dwarf sneaked out to mug you in your sleep!”

Thranduil just smiled at the other, he was not so easily scared. This night he only had one watch and he slept through most of it, resting well under the protecting eaves of a crooked pine. All his belongings remained when he woke up. 

Later in the day the sky clouded over and a persistent summer rain came over them, rolling in from the southwestern hills. Combined with the strong wind across the open plains, the moisture easily penetrated the elves’ clothes and soaked them to the bone. Thranduil braced himself against the torrents and ignored the chill. As a march-warden, he had experienced prolonged periods of rainy weather many times when patrolling the borders of Doriath. He had long ago learned to accept the weather, be it rain, snow, or scorching summer sun. He would not let it bother him, in the same way he endured pain, hunger and lack of sleep. Not allowing one’s body to take control over one’s mind was part of being a warrior, and one of the first things a young novice had to learn.

After a miserably wet, but otherwise uneventful night, the trade delegation continued southwest. In the evening they passed another tall hill, the Amon Ethir, which Finrod had built as a lookout for the guards of Nargothrond. The march-wardens were careful to hold the banner of Doriath aloft as they passed, knowing for certain they were being watched, and had probably been so for the past two days. 

Not far from the hill, the wide river Narog cut south through the heathlands. The ground became increasingly damp as they neared it, and the horses periodically sank to their knees in wet holes, treacherously hidden by thick carpets of green moss. Thranduil tried to steer his chestnut to the more solid areas, where tufts of grass grew together with scrawny pines, fighting to survive in the hostile environment. 

Two Noldor ellyn came to meet them when they finally arrived at the riverbank. A timber ferry was tied to a post behind them, and in a wooden shelter next to it a bored looking elleth sat cross-legged. All three were clad in chainmail and armed with swords.

“State your errand, Sindars” said one of them.

“Trade. We are on our way to Lord Círdan of the Falas,” said Sadoreth. She was the leader of the trade delegation. 

“From Doriath?” he nodded at the banner.

“Aye.”

The elleth left the protection of her hut and joined them. “That is where that human came from, he who started all the ruckus.” She frowned. “I cannot believe your king went and did something so thoughtless! Sending a human after the Silmarils.”

“Beren Barahirion went here?”

“Aye, he arrived a few days ago, and because he is Barahir’s son, now our Lord Finrod must follow him on that mad mission!” 

When perceiving the others’ surprise at this, she recounted how Beren’s father had saved the life of Finrod, a story Thranduil had already heard part of. Afterwards, Finrod had been so grateful towards Barahir that he vowed eternal friendship with the man, and as token had given him a silver ring with his House’s emblem; two serpents and a flower crown. 

Now Beren had come before Finrod and explained the quest King Thingol had sent him on, asking the other’s aid and providing the ring as proof that he was who he said. Finrod had readily agreed, much to the annoyance of many of his people, in particular two of them – his cousins Celegorm and Curufin.

“Celegorm and Curufin!” exclaimed Sadoreth. “What are two sons of Fëanor doing in Nargothrond?” 

“Morgoth defeated them in Aglon during the Battle of Sudden Flame, they have been staying here since.”

The Battle of Sudden Flame was what they called the war following Morgoth's breaking the Siege of Angband ten years ago, when he first brought forth his dragon and balrogs. It was during this war Barahir had saved Finrod, and it was in its aftermath Thranduil and the rest of the march-wardens had fought orcs in the Brethil Forest.

The elleth continued to describe the unrest Celegorm and Curufin had caused when the Silmarils were mentioned. They were still bound by the oath they and their father once swore, pledging to kill anyone who laid hands on those precious gems. That now Finrod, their own cousin, would become one such thief was naturally not something they could accept. 

“And I agree with them,” stated the elleth. “Thingol has no business stirring up trouble in the north, when the Lord of the Dark is relatively calm for once!”

“Thingol was wrong, aye, but Finrod had to stay true to his promise to Barahir,” said one of the ellyn. “Because of the meddling of Fëanor’s sons, hardly anybody will go with him now!”

“An oath to a mortal means nothing. Besides, Barahir is dead and Finrod doesn’t owe his son anything!”

A heated argument followed between the two, with a word here and there added by the second ellon. Thranduil and the others did not understand much of it because they had switched to Quenya, their own language, but it was apparent the quest had created a rift among Finrod’s people.

“What will happen now, will Finrod go to Angband with Beren?” asked Sadoreth when she finally managed to cut in again.

“Aye, he plans to leave in a month or so, but only ten warriors will follow him, myself included,” said the first ellon. “His brother Orodreth will rule in his stead.”

“Ha, not for long, I’d say. He is weak.” The elleth said, contempt tinting her voice. “I think Celegorm would be a much stronger ruler, one not so easily swayed by stupid promises made to humans .”

“Well you certainly make it clear where your loyalties lay. You are just attracted to him.” 

“And if I am, what is it to you?” She scowled at him, and then turned back to Sadoreth. “Sorry about all this. Come, I will help you operate the ferry.”

The elleth untied the wooden vessel and showed how they could pull themselves across the water by the aid of a rope stretching from one side to the other. It took a while, only two horses at a time could be ferried over, and while they were busy the Noldor continued arguing in subdued voices. 

Thranduil wondered how the quest would go. He had been certain Beren would be killed instantly, and poor Lúthien left to grieve him, but now it would seem the man’s odds had improved. Finrod was a peaceful elf, but that did not mean he could not fight if he had to.  

The company left the river Narog behind and made camp about a mile further west where the ground once again was relatively dry. It still rained, but at least it was soft to lay with springy heather under their blankets, and Thranduil slept better than he had expected. 

After another day and night, they finally reached Eglarest on the eighth morning since they left Doriath. The surroundings were even more open here, with dry grass and patches of soft sand under their feet, and in the air a fresh, tangy scent that Thranduil could not quite describe, but that he knew must come from the sea. The entire day yesterday they had seen it ahead, and now they could also hear it through the pervading wind; a rhythmic surging of rolling waves. 

Eglarest lay just south of where the river Nenning met the sea and was larger than Thranduil had expected. The houses were made of stone, nearly white from being exposed to the sun and wind, built in rows along trampled sand roads. A great wall surrounded the city, with a tall lookout tower right by the shore.

The tower must have been manned, because they were clearly expected. A small group of elves waited for them outside the city gates, greeted them kindly and escorted them to a guest house with a lovely view over the many stone piers, to which elegant swan ships were moored. 

“Lord Círdan will see you once you have refreshed yourself. Take all the time you need.”

Thranduil gratefully used the full bathtub already prepared in his room, not minding the coldness of the water. Now that he was finally here, he felt increasingly nervous. Would Aerneth be with her father? What would she do when she saw him? He picked out clothes with care, and brushed his hair until it hurt, fighting to get all the tangles out. Riding and sleeping in rain for many days tended to have that effect, despite his attempt to protect it by plaiting it in a single, long braid. He would wear no braids now, the way Aerneth prefered it.

As he walked with the others towards Círdan’s house, Thranduil arranged his features as best he could, hoping he would look casual and unbothered if she was there. He would not grovel, he would not beg. Just calmly convey his father’s wish that they would begin courtship, and ask if she allowed it. 

The Lord of the Falas lived in a house looking exactly like the others, not bigger, not prettier. He greeted them personally at the door, bowing to each of them with a hand over his heart. 

Thranduil watched Aerneth’s father with curiosity. He was very tall and had golden hair a shade darker than Thranduil’s own, braided in a pattern he had never seen before. He looked kind and wise. When the turn came to Thranduil to present himself, he noticed a certain look in the other’s eyes, followed by a knowing smile. He realised Aerneth must have mentioned him to her father, and wondered what she had said. 

They were shown into a large dining room, much more airy than was common in Menegroth, where thousands of elves lived in a rather confined space and the home caves were sized accordingly. This room had several windows, sharing the same beautiful view as the guest house. One was open, letting in the now familiar smell of the sea, mingled with the wet scent of rain. A long table was laden with refreshments, many of which seemed to originate from the sea. Several of the dishes were unknown to Thranduil. 

“I hope you will take your lunch with me and my family, even if you come in business and not pleasure. We do not often receive guests from Doriath, and I would love to hear the latest gossip.”

Thranduil was both pleased and surprised as he seated himself. It was generous indeed for the lord to invite so many strangers to his private table, even lowly guards like himself! Would Aerneth come too? He had said my family , surely that must mean his daughter? Thranduil’s heart beat too fast for comfort, and it took all his strength to pretend calmness.

There was a shuffle at the door, and then two ellith and an ellon entered. 

“Ah, there you are,” said Círdan. “For you who have not met them before, allow me to introduce my wife Falasiel, and my daughter Aerneth. And this is Galdor, her good friend.”

Galdor. Thranduil easily recognised the ellon with the unusually long hair. He had been one of the emissaries Aerneth had come with to Doriath the last time, the one she had danced with. Why was he here?

  .

The meal turned out to be exactly as exhausting as one might expect under the circumstances. The conversation lingered on Beleg and the quest for the Silmaril, as well as the news they had just received about Finrod’s intention to join him, but Thranduil paid very little attention to it. All his focus was on the elleth sitting at the other side of the table. 

Aerneth had not looked at him once, but the way she so pointedly ignored him while talking with nearly everyone else, made it obvious she knew very well he was there. Mostly she talked to Galdor, but with some relief Thranduil noted the ellon seemed slightly uncomfortable by her attention. So, they were not courting then, that was something at least.

Thranduil had not been prepared for the effect the mere sight of Aerneth would have on him. Valar, how lovely she was! How could he have forgotten? The flat image in the water calls had not done her justice. If only she would look at him! He wanted to kiss her again. Would she forgive him if he begged? Only a little begging would perhaps not be so bad...

But how could he beg if she would not even speak to him? He morosely moved his shrimps around on his plate. 

“Try them,” encouraged Círdan. “They are fresh from this morning.”

He smiled politely and picked one up. It looked back at him with its peppercorn eyes. It could not be healthy to eat something with that many legs. 

With a sigh Thranduil put it down, taking his glass instead, suspiciously sniffing the purple liquid. Blackberry wine, Círdan had said, and it smelled different than the variety served back home. Perhaps he should try some? Oropher would never know, and besides, Thranduil was an adult now. If he wanted to drink wine he could do so.

Resolutely he swallowed a mouthful. Not bad! He took another, and then a third. It tasted very good actually, and brought a warm feeling with it. 

When the lunch was over, Thranduil had emptied two glasses and felt unusually brave. He figured he ought to just do it, go talk to Aerneth and try to make up. This could be his only opportunity and he had to take it. Who knew if he would see her again during his stay? Círdan might not invite them a second time.

Before he could change his mind, he quickly rose and went straight to where Aerneth sat. He bowed. “May I have a word, My Lady?” She could not avoid looking at him now, and so she did, albeit haughtily down her nose. 

“Can you wait for me, dear Galdor? I will just see what this ellon wants, it should not take long.”

Thranduil winced. This did not start well.

She walked with him a little way off, her arms firmly crossed over her chest. 

“Well?”

“Aerneth...“ He had thought of what to say before as he always did, but with her so close, his mind went blank. He had forgotten everything. Instead he just stared at her dumbly, feeling like the worst simpleton alive. His throat tightened and his eyes burned. He wanted to hold her close and never let go, but now he feared he would lose her for good. 

To Thranduil’s huge surprise his stupid behaviour did not make Aerneth stomp off angrily with the other ellon. Instead her gaze softened as that unnatural coldness melted away from her.

“You are such a fool.” She sounded tired. 

He nodded vigorously, a twinkle of hope fluttering in his chest. His voice returned. “I’m sorry.” 

“You hurt me.” She was looking at him now, meeting his eye. He could have drowned in those clear pools, as if they were the nearby sea. 

“Yes.”

“Don’t do it again.”


A/N:

Will she really forgive him so easily? What will happen next? Let me know! Comments often give me ideas. :)

I have borrowed the elf Galdor from Tolkien’s lore, you may remember him from the Council of Elrond in the Lord of the Rings (as the messenger from Círdan). Another canon character named Galdor in this story, was the late human lord of Hithlum, father to present Lord Húrin and his brother Huor, a.k.a. the lost boys. 

I also borrowed some lines from the movie Pretty Woman. ;)

On elves and riding: Elves have an ability to communicate with animals and plants, more or less strong in different individuals, so they don’t need reins to steer. Tolkien wrote in one of his letters that some elves prefered riding bareback (e.g. Legolas) but that others used saddles (e.g. Glorfindel). They use bridles without bits, if they use any at all. 

On admiring the view: In the First and Second Ages, the Earth was flat, which meant elves with their improved eyesight could see incredibly far when standing on, for example, a hill.

10. Persuation

Thranduil went back to the guest house in a daze. Aerneth had told him to meet her by the western city gate in an hour. She wanted to be alone with him! He would have a chance to talk to her again! He could not believe his luck, all notions of acting calm and unconcerned were completely forgotten. 

He left his room after only a quick check in the mirror. He looked flustered but found that a little colour to his cheeks suited him, he had never liked the paleness of his features. 

The western gate was easy to find, it was on the opposite side of the city from where he had come in, located near the shore. Thranduil was early but did not mind waiting, especially since the rain had finally subsided. 

He went out on one of the piers to look at the boats. They were shaped to look like swans, some very big, obviously to transport warriors in, but most of them small with nets and barrels in them for fishing. Maybe someday he could try riding in one of them.

All around the boats white birds swooped about, moaning and crying in shrill voices. They were called gulls, he knew, he had seen pictures of them in books back home but this was the first time he saw them live. They were larger than he had expected, the biggest almost an arm’s length from beak to tail, and seemed not at all afraid of him. 

When he reached the edge of the pier, Thranduil curiously peered down. A flock of translucent, round animals were floating here, contracting and relaxing rhythmically, and further out a school of tiny fish came swimming at a slow pace. Suddenly they turned, impossibly synchronised, and disappeared into the deep as a larger fish began to chase them. On the stones of the pier grew other creatures, these were mussels he knew, he had tried one during lunch but did not like the taste. Between them sat a violet star-shaped thing, which Thranduil thought was a flower until it began to move. It slowly crawled up to cover a tiny mussel entirely, wrapping its five arms around it. 

It was all very fascinating, but he had not the patience to stay for more than a few minutes, there was a nervous restlessness in him at the prospect of soon meeting Aerneth on more friendly terms.

The wind was strong out on the pier, and as he walked back towards the gate it caught his hair, whipping his face almost painfully. There went his careful brushing. 

He spotted a small elfling by the waterside, maybe in her thirties or so, who looked to be fishing. Next to her was a leather bucket with some water. He peered curiously inside, noticing several shelled animals crawling around, threatening each other with sharp looking claws.

“What are those,” he asked.

“Crabs.” The elleth did not look up, her eyes intent on the end of her twine where she had tied a broken mussel. Thranduil sat down on his haunches and looked too. Soon there was movement under a bush of brown, leaflike water plants and another crab emerged, pouncing on the mussel and starting to tear meat from it with its claws, greedily stuffing its little mouth. The elleth carefully began to haul in the twine, and the crab was so busy eating it would not let go even when it was lifted above the surface. Not until the elfling shook it over her bucket did it lose its grip and drop down to its fellows.

“Well done!” Thranduil clapped his hands.

“Thank you.” The elleth looked up for the first time and peered at him curiously. “I don’t know you.”

“I am a visitor from Doriath.”

“Really?” The elleth’s eyes popped wide open and her little face lit up excitedly. “Have you met the king?”

“Aye.” He smiled. Elflings were so cute.

“What does his crown look like?”

“He has four of them.”

“Four…?” the elfling breathed, awed that an elf might own more than one such marvellous item.

“Four. The one he uses now is his summer crown, it is made of gold with painted green leaves and rubies symbolising red berries, but soon he will change to his autumn crown with yellow sapphires, golden leaves and acorns. In the winter he wears a silver circlet with a blue stone and white gold snowflakes, and in the spring also one of silver with pearls symbolising snowdrops and catkins.”

“Whoa… He must be very rich! I only own one pearl, but I am looking for more in every mussel I crack. When I find another my Ada promised to make me a pair of earrings.”

“I bet those will look lovely on you.” He ruffled her shoulder length brown hair. 

The hour had nearly passed, and Thranduil returned to the gate, eagerly looking up the road in the direction of Círdan’s house. 

Suddenly he felt two hands covering his eyes from behind. “Guess who?”

How embarrassing, a warrior caught unawares! He excused himself with not being in his right frame of mind at the moment.

Turning around, he was face to face with Aerneth, of course. She smiled sweetly. “Come, follow me.” She took his hand and pulled him with her. Her hand felt so soft and small, he loved how perfectly it fit in his. 

They walked for a while along the shore in silence. Thranduil first felt he ought to think of something clever to say, but figured he did not have the energy. It was such a lovely day and he enjoyed simply being with Aerneth. 

Soon however, he began to feel intimidated by the openness surrounding him. The way nothing separated him from the endless sky above and the vast ocean to his right was nauseating, making his stomach churn uncomfortably. He was very grateful for Aerneth’s warm hand in his, it soothed and protected him, like she was an anchor preventing the empty air from sucking him up and away.

There was a darker shade near the horizon, and with a twinge Thranduil realised that it must be Aman, home of the Valar. His great grandparents, whom he had never met, lived there. They had followed Ulmo west across the sea during the Great Journey of the Elves early in the history of Middle-earth, but their son had decided to remain with Thingol in Doriath where he later married Thranduil’s grandmother and became father to Oropher and his two brothers. Only Oropher remained of his family now, the others had perished four centuries ago in the First Battle of Beleriand, killed by Morgoth’s orcs. 

Those who had later travelled back to Middle-earth, such as Galadriel, claimed that all who died were reborn in Aman eventually, after spending some time in the Halls of Mandos. Did that mean his grandparents and uncles lived on that distant shore now, with Thranduil’s great grandparents? And his mother’s relatives as well? Eiriendîs was alone in Middle-earth just like her husband, being the last survivor of her family. She was of the green elves and had lost everybody before moving to Beleriand.

Yet, even if all the deceased lived across the sea, it would take a long time until Thranduil could meet them. He did not wish to sail there, departing to the unknown. What if he did not like it in Aman? There was no easy way back. No, he would try his best to survive, and protect his loved ones so that they would stay in Middle-earth as well. 

When Aerneth and Thranduil had passed the last pier they came to a stretch of bare, desolate sand beach that followed the bay for miles ahead. A group of elflings were bathing some way off and it looked like they had a lot of fun, splashing water on each other, diving and swimming. Aerneth dropped his hand and removed her leather sandals, giving them for him to hold while she went closer to the water. She let the waves brush over her bare feet as she walked, every now and then bending down to pick up a pretty shell which she made Thranduil carry as well.

“This is great, my own pack horse.”

Thranduil smiled at her antics, not at all minding to carry anything she liked. She was beginning to be more like when he first had met her, playful and whimsical, and her cheerfulness effectively chased away his somber thoughts from before. Even the open sky was beginning to lose its edge.

“When we come to our cabin I shall show you my seashell collection.”

“Cabin?” 

“There.” She pointed at a small wooden hut a couple of miles ahead. “Nana and I spend a lot of time in it during the summer. It’s much nicer than in the city.”

“Why were you in town today then?” 

“Because it’s been raining. The cabin leaks.” She took his hand again, apparently done with the shell picking. 

The afternoon sunshine was strong. Thranduil soon felt steaming hot in his woolen tunic, and since Aerneth only wore a light linen dress he figured it was alright for him to strip to his shirt. She looked at him with appreciation as he removed his outer garment, and he revelled in the pleasant feeling of her eyes on him. He enjoyed being desired.

A seagull landed by Thranduil’s feet. It regarded him calmly with a red rimmed, yellow eye. 

”Hello,” he said to it, beginning to feel whimsical just like Aerneth. It was apparently contagious.

The bird opened its beak, it sounded like it replied. “Nín. Nín. Ca-ca-ca mee-ah!”

“First you say I am yours, and then you laugh at me. Rude.” His grin widened when Aerneth laughed.

“Aye, Master Gull, he is taken already.” She squeezed his hand and he looked at her, feeling warm and fuzzy inside. He wanted to kiss her but did not dare.  

“Well?” she said, a challenge in her voice as she tilted her head slightly upwards. 

That was all the invitation he needed. Thranduil bent down, brushing over her lips with his. When she did not protest, he repeated the action, closer now. Her hand came up to cup his cheek and he buried his fingers in her soft hair. 

“Mee-ah! Ca-ca-ca,” said the gull, ruining the moment. They broke the kiss, laughing. 

“I prefer to do that without an audience,” said Thranduil. 

“Indeed, one can do so many more fun things when alone together.” Aerneth laughed again as Thranduil hid his flushing face behind his hair. “You are such an innocent little elfling,” she teased.

“Because you are so experienced?” he returned, secretly wondering if she was. They seemed to be less rigid in this city, the little he had seen so far, perhaps ellyn and ellith associated more freely here.

“I am. I have practiced in the bath.”

“Valar!” He pulled his hair to cover his face completely while he tried to not picture Aerneth in a bath, a particularly difficult feat because he had seen it once.

“Are you going to walk like that all the way to the cabin?”

“Aye.”

“I shall lead you then.” She pulled on his hand. 

When they arrived at the building, Thranduil found he recognised its insides. Aerneth had called him from there many times. Her room was tiny, with only a narrow bed and a shelf where she kept her shell collection, and a glassless window covered by a wooden shutter. 

“Where is your mother?” Thranduil asked, trying to sound innocent. He very much wanted to kiss Aerneth again, but like he had said, preferably not with an audience. He realised he had not paid attention to Falasiel at all during lunch earlier, and could not even remember what she looked like. 

“Out. She takes long walks in the summer, or works in her studio. I don’t see her much this season.” Aerneth closed the door, and now the room felt even smaller. 

“I see.” Thranduil took a step towards her. She tilted up her face, her eyes inviting him to repeat what he had done on the beach. As his lips again found hers she snuggled close, her hands starting to explore his back and shoulders over the thin fabric of his shirt. She tasted so good and smelled so good, his senses were overwhelmed by her. He fondled the silky tresses of her hair and trailed her neck down to her shoulder with his fingertips. He wanted to feel her breasts but knew that was too early, they were not even courting officially yet! Instead he stroked her back, slowly working his way down to the interesting curve of her hips. 

A sound from the other room made them both start guiltily and jump apart. Someone had entered the cabin.

“I’m home, my love!”

“It is Nana!” Aerneth’s cheeks were pink and her hair a bit tousled but she seemed not to care, for she opened the door and hurried to meet her mother, giving her a hug. Thranduil followed, feeling extremely uncomfortable about coming out from an elleth’s bedroom wearing only his shirt. 

Círdan’s wife was a tall, thin elleth with golden brown hair, darker than her daughter’s. The two were very unlike each other; the mother had none of the soft curves and ample loveliness that he liked so much in Aerneth. Her face was long, her nose a little too big and her chin pointed, making her look almost like an ellon. She was dressed in a simple linen dress, rather wrinkled and covered with odd, grey smudges and her feet were bare. 

“Oh, you brought your friend. Greetings, Thranduil.” She bowed, one hand across her heart. Her fingers had the same grey smudges as her dress. There was something dreamy over both her soft voice and the distant look in her pale eyes. “I’m glad to finally meet the ellon my daughter has talked so much about over the decades. I can see why she likes you; you are very beautiful.” 

“Nana!” Aerneth blushed furiously.

Ignoring her daughter, Falasiel took Thranduil’s hand between her own and her strange gaze penetrated him, like she was looking at something far away but yet within him, reading his mind, or perhaps analysing it. 

“Your temper is violent, but you have a kind soul and your heart is pure,” she said at last. “Forgiveness is the cure; learn to forgive, learn to ask forgiveness – then your anger will never get the better of you.”

Thranduil stared back at her, not knowing what to answer or how to react. Could she really see those things in his eyes? Forgiveness is the cure. He had said sorry to Aerneth today and it had worked, she had forgiven him easily. It should not be so hard to do the same again, if need be.

“I will try,” he said.

“Then you have my blessing to marry Aerneth.” She pressed his hand, smearing off some of the grey matter. He wondered fleetingly what it was and how he could wipe it off discreetly without offending her.

The elleth turned to her daughter. “I will be sorry to see you go, my love.” Then she changed the subject completely. “Have you shown him my studio yet?”

“Nay Nana, I figured you would want to do that yourself. I will make us something to eat meanwhile. Don’t forget to wash your hands before you come back.” The way she spoke, it sounded like Aerneth was the mother and not the other way around. 

Falasiel took Thranduil to an octagonal building behind the cabin. “See how light here is,” she said as she showed him in. It was, sunshine poured through many large windows facing in all directions, making the room almost as bright as the beach outside. In the middle stood a table, laden with grey mounds of clay and several molded sculptures. So that was what the grey stains came from. 

Thranduil went closer, curiously examining the figurines. All of them were sea creatures; fish, seals, seagulls, crabs and those strange star animals he had seen below the pier. The detail put into the artwork was incredible, from the tiny bead eyes of the crabs to the individual feathers of the birds’ wings.

“These are beautiful!” He lightly touched one of the gulls. It smudged his fingertip.

“They are not hardened yet, I have an oven in our city house where I finish them.” She took his arm. “Now look at the paintings!” 

The pictures were even more outstanding than the clay animals. They covered the walls between the windows, all of them variations of the same theme: the sea. Water in every imaginable colour, sometimes meeting the sandy beach of the bay, sometimes licking the stones of the pier. Many portrayed water alone, close studies of a rippling wave or sunlight playing on the surface. Thranduil imagined they would feel wet to the touch, that was how realistic they were.

“I love them. They are amazing,” he said earnestly, and was rewarded with a wide smile from Falasiel making her androgyn face light up from within.

“I know. Now, we must eat. Come!”

.

During supper around a small table in the cabin, Thranduil was treated like one of the family, as if Falasiel had known him forever. By her many hints he realised that for her it felt that way; apparently Aerneth had spoken about him ever since her return from Doriath when she was little and her parents had also known about their distance relationship later. He could only silently pray she had not told of all they had done during those calls.

Falasiel seemed to think Thranduil had come to Eglarest to take Aerneth home with him – that their courtship was already over and they were ready for marriage. He did not know how to respond to that. His own father expected him to go by the book, this first journey was only to ask permission to begin courtship and then there would be a betrothal ceremony attended by both families. The wedding would not be held until at least a year had passed after their betrothal, probably more if he knew Oropher. 

Thranduil settled for silence on the matter, allowing Falasiel to believe what she wanted for now, but his mind was working hard. Maybe he could send a pigeon with a message to his father, asking to have the betrothal ceremony sooner? If they were betrothed, Aerneth could come live with him in Menegroth until the wedding. Now that they were together again he did not want to leave her so soon, they had already proven being apart was bad for their relationship.

When they had eaten, Aerneth opted to follow Thranduil home to the guest house. Back in the city, she asked if he wanted to see where she worked, and to this Thranduil had no objections. The longer he could be with her, the better.

Aerneth worked in a bakery, making lembas to be used as fare for warriors during wartime as well as by fishermen and travellers. Inside was a large oven and several workbenches, and the air smelled heavenly of bread and spices. The room was empty now and the oven cold, the city’s stores were full and no more batches were planned until later that year. 

“Where do you get grains?” Thranduil asked, scratching his nose which had begun to itch from all the flour dust. Back home, Melian’s farmers planted corn on top of the rocky hill that contained the caves of Menegroth. 

“They grow it on the slopes of Brithombar, and the elves there collect the seeds twice a year and ship them to us.” She opened a door to a second room. “Here is the mill where I grind the flour.”

Thranduil peered inside and sneezed. “How can you stand working in this place?”

“I’m used to it, but it will be sad to leave nevertheless. My apprentice makes tolerable lembas now though, I dare say she shall manage without me.”

With a twinge of unease, Thranduil realised that not only Falasiel was under the impression he had come to take Aerneth home with him. He did not look forward to having to explain the situation, she was not the most patient of ellith.

“Here.” Aerneth picked up a piece of lembas for him. “Try it.”

“I know what lembas tastes like.” 

She smiled secretively and held it to his mouth. “Open up!”

He obeyed, and as he tasted the bread his eyes widened in surprise. “What did you put in it?”

“Ginger and honey.” She looked very pleased over his reaction.

“Brilliant.” He reached out to take another piece but she slapped his fingers. 

“You just had dinner. Greedy ellon.”

He laughed and pulled her to him for a kiss. In here, her mother could not interrupt them. She responded eagerly, her fingers resuming the exploration they had begun in the cabin. They slipped in under the hem of his shirt, making him draw in a sharp breath.

“Maybe… maybe we should take things a bit slower,” he murmured, still with her lips against his.

“I don’t want to take it slow. I want you.” Her palm touched his nipple.

She was irresistible! He let his own hands move to the softness of her round breasts on the outside of her dress. 

“Shall I take it off?”

“Please, don’t... I will not be able to hold back much longer.”

“You don’t have to hold back, Thranduil,” she purred, pulling the garment up and tossing it on the dusty floor, standing before him in only her underpants. She was magnificent. Again, the water images had not made her beauty justice. 

“Gorgeous,” he gasped, blood rushing down through his body with every frantic beat of his heart. Her smooth skin against his palm felt indescribable good as he cupped her breast. He burrowed his nose into her hair and nuzzled her skin just above her collarbone, drawing in her mesmerising scent. How badly he wanted her. He could picture himself pushing her down on one of the workbenches, taking her against it. Why did they have to wait so long? It was torture.

With huge effort he pulled back, trying to calm his breath. “We can’t… not like this…” 

“We could go to your bedroom,” she suggested. 

“Nay. We must wait. Aerneth… My father wants us to follow tradition. A betrothal ceremony, a formal wedding. All of that.”

“Still you want me to wait? I thought you had come to marry me.” Frowning, she picked up her dress and pulled it back on. It was sprinkled with flour.

“I know. I know...“

She jumped up to sit on one of the benches, dangling her sandaled feet. Thranduil felt his cheeks flush as he again pictured taking her against it. What was happening to him? His self-control used to be immaculate, he had always prided himself over his ability to resist the cravings of his body. But Aerneth had only to look at him with those large, blue eyes, and all his sense of decorum flew away like a seagull.

He sat beside her, taking her hand and kissing it. “I will send a message to my father as soon as possible, asking to have the betrothal ceremony here, finishing it before my return. That way you can still come back with me as my bride-to-be.”

“Why does your father have to decide? Are you not an adult?”

“I respect and love him, and I want his blessing.”

“Very well. But if he says no, we do it anyway.”

“Aerneth…”

“What? You can make your polite request, but if he is being impossible and refusing what is so natural after all the years we have known each other, we must decide for ourselves.”

.

Just after sunrise the next morning, Thranduil went to the city’s pigeon coop to send a message with one of the Menegroth birds kept there. Every trade delegation brought birds with them, and similarly there was a coop in Doriath containing pigeons from Eglarest for the return mail. The clever fowls always found their way home, and they were fast too, usually it would take less than five hours for a bird to cover the distance between the two cities. Thranduil expected to have an answer from his father before supper.

The rest of the morning he spent with Aerneth, sightseeing in the city and the havens, even climbing up to enjoy the amazing view from the lookout tower. From there they could see Aman more clearly, but it was too far away to discern any of its cities.

They had lunch with Aerneth’s parents, and this time it was only the four of them in the spacious room. Lord Círdan asked Thranduil many questions about his home, his family, his occupation as a march-warden. The answers seemed to satisfy him.

“My daughter, you have chosen well,” he said. “Thranduil will make you a good husband.”

“I know.” She smiled smugly.

Thranduil said nothing. Tension was beginning to build up inside him, he worried that Oropher would say no, and what would he do then? Aerneth seemed intent on following him home, and in all honesty he dearly wanted her to. What would his father do if he was disobeyed? It might turn him against Aerneth, and unfortunately Oropher was not one to soon forget an offense. 

Círdan served berry wine again, and Thranduil drank several glasses, knowing the alcohol would calm his wound up nerves. It helped a little. 

After lunch, Aerneth made him temporarily forget his apprehension when she suggested they bath together. Wearing only their shifts, they swam and dived, enjoying themselves immensely. Aerneth showed off her water magic, singing forth a multitude of shapes similar to the clay artwork her mother created. Thranduil liked the water dolphins best, she made them jump and bounce in circles around them, hiding them from the view of bypassers. He used the diversion to steal several wet kisses. Aerneth’s white dress had become slightly transparent and the sight was driving him nearly mad with desire, and under the influence of the wine he found it harder than ever to resist touching her.

Afterwards they sat in the sand, letting the wind and sun dry their clothes. Thranduil imagined Aerneth lying on the soft surface, naked, with himself on top.

“Can’t we just skip the boring ceremonies and marry tonight? Only the two of us.” Apparently her thoughts had lingered on similar topics.

“I want our parents to attend, and for them to bless the union. Besides, I did not bring any rings.”

“Rings?”

“Aye, do you not use them? Silver rings for betrothal, and gold for marriage.”

“We use plaiting of our hair here, one pattern for courtship, another for marriage, every couple chooses their own.” She regarded his pale, moist strands. ”I like your hair best without them though. But our pattern could be that; no braids.” 

”Fine by me.” He knew her hair would look lovely whatever she did. 

Aerneth began to undo the small braids that had held back part of her hair. “Anyway, if you think rings are important, we could get them when we come to Doriath. And we can have all sorts of celebrations there. My parents will not attend either way, I think, Ada is still weary of travel after the war in Hithlum and Nana never leaves the sea.”

“You make it sound so easy.” He sighed.

“It is easy. We undress. We pray to Eru. We do it.”

He chuckled and stroked her cheek. 

“Don’t laugh.” She punched his arm lightly.

“I’m not laughing.”

“Liar.”

  .

Dear son. Answer is no. Return here, arrange betrothal, she comes with parents later. With love, Oropher

Dismayed, Thranduil read the short note over twice. But what had he expected? Of course Oropher would say no, he wanted a proper ceremony and had likely neither time, nor inclination to hurriedly travel to Eglarest.

Aerneth had read over his shoulder. “That was short and to the point,” she remarked.

“Sorry,” Thranduil mumbled.

“Don’t be. Be an adult instead and make your own decisions. This is your life, your future. Our future.”

He looked at the note in his hand again, slowly shaking his head. He could not do that, his father would not only be angry, he would be hurt. It was wrong.

“Come.” Aerneth took his hand. “Mother is staying in the city tonight, we can have the cabin to ourselves.”

He met her gaze. Her eyes looked darker inside the pigeon coop, her large pupils turning them nearly black, and they sucked him in. She wanted to wed him like elves did when there was not time to observe customs, their physical joining alone sealing the bond. We can have the cabin to ourselves. 

Silently he followed her, allowing her to lead him out of the city, his mind a turmoil of conflicting thoughts. Do it. Don’t do it. He knew that with every step, turning back would be harder. 

As they entered the cabin and Aerneth’s room Thranduil felt the last of his resolve melt away. Her scent filled the confined space and he wanted her so much it hurt. 

She sat on her narrow bed. “We pray first, and then we bond. Aye or nay?”

Defeated, he sat down next to her, taking her hands in his and closing his eyes. He hoped the Valar would not only bless their marriage, but also protect them from Oropher’s wrath when they came before him as husband and wife.

“Aye,” he whispered. 


A/N:

What do you think, will they get married ‘the speedy way’ or will Thranduil resist after all?

On seagulls: “Nín”, as the gull says, means “my/mine” in Sindarin. Yes I know, I stole that from Finding Nemo. Again. :D

On elvish races: The first elves who awakened became four clans; Avari, Vanyar, Noldor and Teleri. The Teleri later were divided into Falmari, Sindar, Silvan and Laiquendi (green elves). King Thingol’s adversity towards the Noldor originated from the first kinslaying, where Noldorin elves assaulted the Falmari in Aman, stealing their ships to chase after Morgoth and the Silmarils he had stolen. Since the Falmari were Teleri like Thingol, he never forgave the Noldor for killing his kinsmen.

11. Meeting the In-laws

A dream come true – there was no other way to describe the magic happening between them. This ellon, this glorious person that she had loved for so long, was finally becoming hers , hers alone. Nobody would be able to separate them again, they would be wife and husband for all eternity.

A thin strip of light came in through a crack in the window shutter, illuminating his face and bare shoulders, making him shine like one of the Valar. He reminded her of Ulmo and of the sea itself; strong and powerful, his voice dark and his eyes clear as water – eyes one could drown in. Tiny droplets of perspiration coated his body as he moved between her legs, his intense gaze never leaving hers, his sensual lips slightly parted. She pulled down his face so she could kiss them. His hair tickled her chest and she moved it back behind his ear, stroking his smooth, white cheek and neck. 

“Say my name.”

“Aerneth.” His deep voice sent shivers through her body. “Aerneth.” He sounded breathless and hoarse, and his gaze was turning inwards, becoming glazed. Somehow that made him even more mesmerising. Thranduil was losing his self-control because of her . It made her feel powerful.

A tremor went through him, and another. With a low groan he froze, his body tensing. She knew that look from before, he had reached his finish point just like in his bath that time, only now it was happening with her, inside her. 

She was close as well, but not there yet. “Say my name.” Again he readily obeyed, holding his position over her. She guided his hand to where she was most sensitive, showing how to touch her. How different it felt with him doing it! She closed her eyes and tensed her legs, focusing on his fingers and his magical voice. It did not take long until waves of pleasure shook her body.

Their eyes met. She could not entirely interpret his expression, so many emotions were mingling; worry, unease, a lingering want – he would likely not be averse to a reprise of this. But her heart ached as she realised he did not quite share her happiness. He had wanted to wait and she had persuaded him otherwise. Was he angry with her? Or just anxious of what his father would say? She had not imagined him to ever be afraid of anything, but she had met Oropher once and he did seem rather intimidating. 

Still resting on his elbows, Thranduil bent down to kiss her. His touch was a tender, featherlight caress. As he pulled back, her throat constricted at the overwhelming sadness she read in his eyes. It was painfully clear he regretted what they had done.

She did not want to see it. Gently pushing him down to lie beside her, Aerneth nestled back against his chest, feeling the warmth of his body behind her as he enveloped her. His strong arm held her close and he burrowed his nose into her hair. She stroked his hand, touching his calloused palm and interlacing her fingers with his. 

Whatever troubles awaited them in Doriath they could handle them, solve them together one way or another. He was finally hers . Her husband, her mate, joined before Eru with Varda as her witness. This was right, this was perfect and she refused to feel bad about it. 

Doriath… Soon she would be back there, back to stay, not only for a summer but indefinitely. She hoped she might fit in better than last time. At least now, Thranduil would not mind having her around.

The thought of Doriath made her recall when they met there for the second time, shortly after Aerneth and Uinen had helped save him from the orcs. She had travelled to Menegroth at first opportunity, her feelings strengthened by seeing his face again, but she had also been almost scared out of her wits to meet him. She was certain he would recognise her as the annoying elfling she had been, and treat her with that slightly condescending kindness he had used to, like a well-meaning older brother. 

Thankfully her worries had come to naught, he had looked at her in a completely new way, a way that made her heart beat fast and her stomach flutter. 

This time she took care not to repeat the mistake of her youth when her open adoration had scared him away. She had guarded her deeper feelings, acting secure and unconcerned. It worked better than expected. To see Thranduil at loss for words, saying awkward things, gaze at her with desire! Their roles had been completely reversed.

The memory made her smile with fondness now. She pressed his hand and brought it to her lips, contemplating telling him how much she loved him. But no, this was a bad time, he was still so worried. 

”Your hand smells good,” she said instead. 

He did not reply, only pulled her in tighter in response to her words. She did not like his tendency to be silent, but knew from experience that trying to coerce him into saying what was on his mind would not work. Their distance relationship had proven that.

That relationship… Ouch. What a farce those hateful three years had been! Aerneth was certain now it was the distance that had ruined things between them, making Thranduil forget that he liked her. 

It had started so well, with the romantic water calls, and the dirty talk... But all the while his refusal to end his courtship of Lúthien had hurt. She had tried to make excuses for him, but the more time passed, the harder it had become. Lúthien was so beautiful, and the king's daughter at that. Aerneth was terrified he would eventually choose her instead.

And then came that horrible, horrible day when he completely out of the blue had ended their relationship, breaking Aerneth’s heart in a million pieces. She had lost him. He was her one, true love, and she had lost him to Lúthien.

She had not expected to meet Thranduil again, ever, so when she got the news of his arrival in Eglarest she could hardly believe her luck. Had the Valar granted her a second chance? If so, maybe, just maybe she could persuade him to take her back... 

She was pathetically eager to see him, but at the same time terrified he would think her clingy again. Thus, she had gone to that lunch in a flutter of nerves, even forcing poor Galdor to go with her as support, trying to act unaffected while at the same time aching to just fall into Thranduil’s arms and kiss him. 

To Aerneth’s surprise, he had seemed very different from how she expected. He had been looking at her in that way… 

With a new hope awakening, she had realised getting him back might not be so hard after all. But just in case, she decided she would make him come to her this time, and apologise for hurting her. She did not want him to know how desperate she was! Well, so much for that determination… all he had had to do was look at her with puppy eyes and her resolve dried up like a jellyfish in the sun. 

In retrospect it was a bit frightening, the power he held over her. Did he realise it? No, she did not think he did, or he would have been less insecure around her when he first came here. Well, after this it would seem they were even, clearly she must have some power over him too, seeing as she had managed to talk him into marrying her on the spot. 

A disquieting thought struck her. Did Thranduil blame her? If he was having second thoughts, would he think it her fault he had agreed to it? 

She knew whose fault it really was; his father’s. If only he had been less stubborn and difficult they could have married in Menegroth when they arrived there, and Thranduil would not have to regret anything. However, the flat, unyielding reply Oropher had sent proved that he would never have agreed to that, and she instinctively knew Thranduil would have been harder to persuade once under the influence of that ellon. Their arguments before had shown how dependent he was, how much he bothered about the other’s opinion. He had not even been able to break up with Lúthien until the elleth did it herself! 

No, waiting had never been an option. This was the only way, and with time, hopefully Thranduil and his parents would come to terms with it.

She heard him sigh behind her. It was not right that he should be unhappy, that he should feel they had hurried – as if courting for three years before the wedding was to rush things! Turning to face him, Aerneth decided it was time to give him something else to occupy his thoughts with. 

.

“Here, I want you to have this.” Falasiel placed a rolled up canvas and a bundle in Aerneth’s hands. Opening them, she found her favourite painting and favourite clay figurine, both picturing a spotted harbor seal Aerneth had made friends with. She would miss the seals and all the other animals, and she would miss swimming. But most of all she would miss her mother.

“Thank you, Nana.”

“Don’t cry, little one, you can call me anytime, you know.”

“I know.” She sniffed and wiped her eyes. 

Her father had also brought a gift, a silver box full of top quality pearls from the Isle of Balar. “You, son, have already received my most valued treasure,” he said to Thranduil. “But your parents will get an extra mouth to feed, and more so with the arrival of grandchildren. These might come in handy.”

Giving a valuable present to the family-in-law was a Doriath custom, which Círdan naturally knew about. Unlike in Eglarest, there were no empty homes in Menegroth where newlyweds could live, so instead the couples moved in with the bridegroom’s family. To compensate for the extra expenses, the bride’s parents gave them something of value to sell or trade if need arose.

Parting with her father was easier than with her mother, Círdan was a busy ellon who had always left Aerneth much to her own devices, trusting in her ability to take care of herself. With Falasiel it was different, it was like she needed looking after, someone who told her to eat and sleep. With Aerneth gone, who would do that?  

When they were on their way a little while later, Aerneth felt hollow and empty from all the crying. She stroked the smooth neck of Nênlinna, her dun coloured mare, feeling the warmth of her body through the fabric of her riding dress. 

“You should use a saddle, look at all those hairs on your dress,” said Thranduil. 

“I don’t mind.”

“You need to take better care of your clothes,” he chided, feigning seriousness. 

“Yes Ada.” She grinned weakly at him. 

He chuckled and moved his chestnut stallion up to the front of the company. She knew he was trying to cheer her up, taking her mind off the painful separation from her family. She appreciated his effort, especially since he obviously still worried about meeting his parents – he covered his emotions with a mask of indifference, but he could not hide the look in his eyes.

Thranduil’s initial gloominess after their wedding had thankfully subsided during the first few days afterwards, as he came to terms with the definiteness of what they had done, and perhaps Aerneth’s parents’ acceptance of him as her husband had helped too. Oh, her father had scolded them of course, both he and Nana had been disappointed that their daughter had not invited them to witness the exchanging of vows, but as they had expected the wedding to be held away from them anyway, their slight vexation had soon passed. 

Oropher’s reaction had been harder to assess. Thranduil had sent a bird to Doriath the morning after their wedding to convey the news, and received a swift reply later that day.

Received your message. Will talk more home. Oropher

No “dear son” or “with love” this time, which probably was a bad sign. But Oropher would have two weeks before they returned to come to terms with his son’s decision, he would hopefully have cooled down by then. 

So far, married life was very enjoyable. Today marked their first week as husband and wife, and what a week it had been! They had spent most of it getting to know one another. Well, at least getting to know each other’s bodies, they had not actually talked very much. Who wanted to waste time talking when such an amazing alternative was available? 

Thranduil was a thorough ellon, it was as if he had decided her body was a challenge and the ability to please her a skill he was determined to master. With ready zeal he had studied and memorised her reactions to every new thing he tried. For her own part, she would just do what she felt like and touch him where she wanted to, whether it was with her fingers or her lips. Thankfully he seemed to like almost anything she did, except tickle his knees. Of course, she would often tickle his knees. He was too good for her, really.

The upcoming days would be the first trial of their marriage, as the vicinity of the rest of the guards and the members of the trade delegation would make intimacy between the newlyweds impossible. How would they survive eight days of involuntary celibacy? 

Aerneth cast a glance at the broad shoulders and waist long hair of her husband before her, feeling a twinge of longing. The stallion he rode was very interested in Nênlinna, so they could not even ride next to each other. If Aerneth ached so badly to have him close already now, how would she feel tonight? Tomorrow? The day after that? 

She would be miserable. 

With a deep sigh, Aerneth leaned down to hug Nênlinna, burying her face in her pale mane to avoid the temptation of watching Thranduil. It would be a long journey.

.

“Why does it have to rain?” Aerneth wiped her face for the umpteenth time. Her lashes were beginning to glue together in the downpour.

“It always rains when one is trapped out of doors.” Thranduil shrugged. “Try to ignore it.”

“I tried and failed.”

“Weakness. A warrior would never complain like that.” He smiled as if he were joking, but there was an undertone of annoyance in his voice. They neared his home now and he had been edgy the past two days. 

Aerneth frowned and returned her attention to the soggy lembas she was trying to swallow down. She and Thranduil sat some way off from the rest of the company, as had been the case every evening so far. Ever since the others learned of Thranduil’s marriage they had treated him with badly hidden contempt. As if he had done something bad, something criminal! It was enough to make one want to throw things and stomp one’s feet, but of course no well-brought up elleth would behave so childishly. 

“At least tomorrow I can have a bath. That will be something,” she said, watching Thranduil’s face. His bleak features changed slightly and she knew he was picturing her naked, bathing. Good. He must stop worrying about his father and think of sex instead. “Warm, soapy water covering me up to my… bosom. Ahh...” He still did not return her gaze, but he was smiling now. She lowered her voice, not that it was really necessary, in the heavy rain nobody was likely to hear anyway. “And then maybe I would feel lonely. So I would call for my husband to wash my back for me…” 

Finally he met her eyes. He moved a little closer, and with a guilty look around, gave her a quick peck.

“Teaser.”

“I know. I am so bad.”

“Aye. I like that.”

“Good.”

.

Nênlinna protested against being left alone in a foreign stable and Aerneth felt guilty about leaving her. The grooms seemed to be good people though, they connected well with the horses and shared her own ability to bond with other living things. Her mare would be treated well, and in addition Aerneth promised to come visit every day. Just in case, she bribed the horse with her last pieces of lembas. 

Thranduil waited impatiently outside and she joined him with some trepidation. Ever since they passed through Melian’s Girdle and entered Doriath he had been taut as a bowstring, ready to lash out at her for the slightest offense. 

“Finally.” The tension in his voice was almost palpable.

“Sorry. She did not want me to go.”

“She’s a bloody horse.”

Aerneth bit down a harsh answer. Thranduil was just nervous, probably later tonight he would apologise and make it up to her. Hopefully physically.

She followed him over the bridge and through the main street of Menegroth. As always, the air down here was slightly chilly and there was a musty cellar smell she knew she would soon get used to and not feel anymore. The beauty of the pillars, carved animals and home cavern entrances on either side of the street made up for the lack of light and fresh air. Partly, at least. 

Outside his home, Thranduil paused and straightened his back, seemingly gathering strength to enter. The look on his face made her chest ache with sympathy. Was his father really that bad? His unease was contagious and suddenly she felt afraid. She hated arguing, she hated when others were angry. In her own home that almost never happened. Would there be yelling now? She had a horrible suspicion it would.

Thranduil took her hand and opened the door. His grip was a little too tight.

“Father, mother, we are home.” His voice was steady and his features unreadable, the distress he had shown outside completely hidden. She wished she could do that too, and stop trembling like a hare before a fox.

“Ah, Thranduil. Welcome back. And you must be his new wife.” The ellon’s voice was sated with badly hidden rage and his glare at Aerneth positively scalding. Obviously two weeks had not been enough to placate him. She almost felt like turning on the spot and bolting back home.

Eiriendîs, Thranduil’s mother, was much calmer as she greeted her son with a light kiss on his cheek and Aerneth with a bow, her hand over her heart. 

“Welcome, my dear. I hope you shall enjoy it here.” Despite her polite words, there was no real warmth in her voice. 

“Come, I will show you our room and you can unpack your things.” Thranduil seemed anxious to get away from his parents and Aerneth heartily agreed.

When they were alone, Aerneth drew a long, ragged breath and wiped her moist hands on her dress. At least he had not yelled. Yet.

Thranduil’s room was on the second floor, right beside his parents bedroom. It was small, with barely room for a narrow bed, a washstand and a large clothes chest.

Unpacking the gifts from her parents brought tears to Aerneth’s eyes. She placed the clay seal on the windowsill and Thranduil hung the painting on the wall opposite from his bed. The chest was full to the brim with his clothes, so it was a bit difficult to make room for her garments in one corner of it, but thankfully she did not have that many.

“Are those all the dresses you own?” he asked incredulously. “We really need to go shopping.”

His remark somehow struck her as very funny and she could not hold back a giggle, which grew into a fit of laughter. Despite all the tension and worry and missing her parents, she could not stop laughing, or perhaps she laughed because of that.

Thranduil seemed to understand. He pulled her to him in a tight hug, silently allowing her to calm down. She did not know if she was laughing or crying now, but it felt good to be held.

When she finally had regained some composure, Thranduil released her and picked up the box of pearls her father had given him. 

“I should bring this to my father. And I think… he probably wants to speak with me alone.” Again his face was blank, all emotions locked up somewhere inside. 

She nodded, wiping her eyes. “Good luck,” she whispered. 

After he had gone, she strained her ears to perceive what was happening. She heard subdued voices below but still no yelling, thank the Valar. 

The door opened to let in Thranduil’s mother with a vase of dried flowers. 

“I figured you would want to make this room a bit more feminine.” She placed the vase beside the clay seal. “Oh, this is beautiful!” She stroked the figurine. “Did you make it?”

“My mother did.” Aerneth’s breath hitched. Eiriendîs’ kind words felt like balm for her wound up nerves. 

Eiriendîs did not reply, she had caught sight of the painting and seemed completely spellbound by it. In the middle, the seal from the figurine was sunbathing on a rock, its chubby, spotted belly upturned. Small waves licked the rock’s sides, so realistically painted it looked like they moved. Further away was the horizon and a thin strip of blue sky, with two seagulls as white specks. Between the sky and the ocean, the distant shore of Aman stretched out in a grey line. Eiriendîs slowly raised a finger to touch it.

A loud crash from below made them both start, and Eiriendîs snapped out of her entrancement. The corners of her lips turned up but the smile did not reach her eyes. 

“Well dear, I shall get going, the partridges for today’s supper will not pluck themselves!” 

Aerneth stared at the door when the elleth had left. There were more noises from below, a series of dull thuds. Aerneth’s heart beat fast, what was happening? Was Oropher breaking something? She considered going down to them, but that would probably only make matters worse. It was best to let Oropher get his scolding done and over with so he and Thranduil could make up and be friends again.

Oropher’s voice was louder now and Aerneth could make out part of what he said. “Deliberately disobeying me… shame... public disgrace… laughing stock.”

She did not want to hear. Laying down on Thranduil’s bed – their bed now – she put a pillow over her head. Silent tears poured down her cheeks. Would Thranduil really be laughed at? He would hate that, she knew how much he cared about what others thought of him. For the first time, Aerneth began to question whether marrying privately had been the right thing to do after all. 

Thranduil returned some time later, carefully closing the door behind him and sitting down next to Aerneth on the bed. She anxiously peeked out from below the pillow. He looked the same as when he had left, his features smooth and calm, the only evidence of any agitation being a slight redness of his eyes and a hint of moisture in his lashes. 

She sat up, tossing away the pillow.

“How did it go?” 

“He was not happy.”

“I get that. Did he… did you make up? Did he forgive you?”

“Nay.” The definiteness of that short answer and the accompanying pain she suddenly read in his eyes hit Aerneth like a punch in her belly. He did not seem inclined to elaborate, so the next hour they just sat there in silence, occupied with their own thoughts. 

When Eiriendîs called that supper was ready, Thranduil rose, making an involuntary grimace. Aerneth stared at him. Those noises before… But surely…?

“Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine.” He walked out of the door before she could ask anything else. She tried to shake off her suspicions as she followed him down the stairs, perhaps she had only imagined things. 

Supper was a very silent affair. Oropher and Thranduil both looked down at their plates, focusing on their food, while Eiriendîs hardly touched hers. She emptied several goblets of wine instead. The ellyn had fruit juice, and after a glance at Oropher’s stern face Aerneth did too. She had no appetite whatsoever but ate anyway, mechanically chewing and swallowing without tasting anything. The only conversation were a few polite questions from Thranduil’s mother if they liked the food and if anyone wanted a second plate. Nobody did.

It was a relief to be finally returning upstairs.

Aerneth and Thranduil needed a bath after their journey, and took one bucket each to fill the bathtub from the kitchen pump while his mother heated some of it over the fire. Aerneth’s suspicions from before returned when she noticed how stiffly Thranduil carried the water, but when she asked again he repeated his ‘I’m fine’ in a tone that made it clear he did not want to talk about it.

When the tub was full, Thranduil politely allowed Aerneth to use it first. She naturally could not resist suggesting they share, but he did not even smile. She was really becoming worried now, what was wrong with him?

Aerneth did not stay long in the bath. It was lovely to become clean again, but she was too anxious to enjoy it fully. She just wanted to go to bed and make Thranduil talk to her.

While he was in the bathroom, she used his washbowl to call her mother, brushing out her hair meanwhile.

Falasiel readily replied. “Hello my love! So good to see you. How was your journey?” 

Seeing her mother’s familiar face almost had Aerneth burst into tears, and it was all she could do to remain calm. There was no need to worry her mother with her father-in-law’s resentment, he would probably come around and forgive them soon and this would all be forgotten. Instead she talked about her room, and the new clothes Thranduil wanted to buy her and that she had eaten partridge for dinner. Her mother thankfully did not see through her forced cheerfulness.

Aerneth had just closed the connection when Thranduil came back, wearing a long, white shirt and a towel slung over his shoulders. He smelled lovely of some unknown herbs from his soap. 

He cast her an almost wary look. “It is late and we have travelled all day. We ought to sleep now.” His tone was wary too. Did he mean they could only sleep? But why? They had been forced to abstain for eight days, surely he must want to do it as badly as she did...

When he lay down with a faint grunt Aerneth suddenly understood. He did not want to do it because he did not want her to see his body, because he was hurt . Damn that ellon and his pride! She sat up, scowling down at him.

“Take your shirt off.”

“Nay.” A faint blush spread over his cheeks. Her scowl deepened. He was ashamed, embarrassed because of what his father had done to him. 

“He hurt you, didn’t he? How could he? His own son.” 

“Keep your voice down,” he hissed, casting a nervous glance at the wall. Sounds came from the other side, footsteps, a low cough. Dismayed, Aerneth realised how thin the wall was and how well sounds travelled through it. 

She raised the hem of Thranduil’s shirt and he did not resist anymore as she helped him pull it off. Seeing the ugly bruises on his left hip and shoulder brought tears to her eyes. 

“What happened?” she whispered.

“He lost his temper and pushed me into the wall. It looks worse than it is, don’t worry.”

“But you’re a warrior, you could have resisted,” she accused. 

He nodded. 

“Then why didn’t you?” 

“I don’t know.” He shrugged his good shoulder.

Aerneth took off her own nightshirt and snuggled close to him, skin against skin, pulling the quilt up to their necks. Nothing had gone as planned. She already hated this house, and Thranduil’s father too. They could not live here. 

When sounds of arguing seeped through the wall, a while later followed by sounds of love-making, Aerneth’s determination to move somewhere else increased tenfold. Especially when she realised they would be heard equally well, should they engage in the same activity – not that she felt even the slightest desire to do so anymore.


A/N:

There you go, Aerneth’s point of view for a change. :)

On elves and sea-longing: Many elves experience that after seeing the western sea for the first time, meaning that they ever afterwards long to sail to Aman. Depending on the individual, this could affect them differently. Legolas felt it strongly, and it led to his sailing west in the Fourth Age. In my story, Thranduil is not much affected, and in the previous chapter he even decides that he does not want to sail west yet. Aerneth is different, which maybe Legolas inherited, I picture him as being a lot more like his mother in many ways.

12. Living in Doriath

Thranduil had often found that no matter how bleak a situation seemed in the evening, things would often feel much better after a good night’s sleep, and this morning was no exception. His shoulder and hip hurt less today, the swelling was down so he was fairly sure nothing was broken. Yes, his father was probably still angry, but at least Thranduil had borne the brunt of his fury now. Oropher would be sulking a few more days, giving them the silent treatment except for the odd acidic remark, but in time he would come to terms with the situation. 

It was early, the morning lanterns not yet lit. Thranduil looked at the sleeping elleth beside him, her rounded cheek tinted pink from the reddish night light. Waking up with Aerneth in his arms was easy to get used to, even though sleeping together in his narrow bed was a bit crowded. Perhaps he could buy a larger one, like the one his parents’ shared.

He reached out to slide his fingers through her silky hair, fascinated by the play of the dim light on its golden hue. Her long lashes fluttered and she opened her eyes. He looked deep into them, allowing his own eyes to convey his desire. He moved a finger to touch her lips, following their curve. She parted them and her tongue slid out to slowly lick his finger, a teasing glint in her eye. Naughty. He approved.

As he moved closer to kiss her the bed creaked and they booth froze, listening for sounds from the other side of the wall. Nothing. He relaxed and returned his gaze to Aerneth, but she was frowning now.

“I’m not doing it with them listening,” she whispered angrily.

He glanced at his hourglass but he had forgotten to turn it yesterday. Still, it was probably early, he always woke long before his parents. “They sleep for at least an hour more,” he murmured, picking a time at random. 

“This creaky thing will wake them up.” She deliberately bounced, producing a low thud as it connected with the wall. 

“So lets do it somewhere else then.” He slid one of his arms under her thighs and the other under her head, promptly lifting her up, ignoring the twinge of pain in his left shoulder. A subdued squeal slipped her lips, but she was smiling. He had found that even though she had always been the one most forward of them concerning their relationship, she loved it when he was bossy in bed. 

He carried her to the windowsill, putting her down beside the clay seal and flower vase and positioning himself between her legs. Perfect, this was just the right height, a bit like the working benches in her bakery. The look in her eyes told him she remembered those too. Before leaving Eglarest they had spent a very pleasant day in the bakery, finding new uses for the benches, the table, a tiny storage room and even the floor in one instance.

Glancing out the window, Thranduil made sure nobody was around. Even if they were, they could hardly see anything other than a pale shape, this was the second floor after all and their room was dark.

He returned his attention to Aerneth’s lips, tilting his head to get a better reach. Her fingers buried themselves in his hair, pulling him closer as she eagerly responded. He stroked her neck, following it to her ear. He fondled her earlobes and felt her breathe out against his mouth. 

“My butt is freezing,” she complained. 

He fetched a pillow from the bed, lifting her up to place it between her lovely backside and the stone of the windowsill.

“Spread your legs,” he ordered. She smiled and obeyed. “Wider.” When she again did as told, he moved close. “Good wife. Obedient.”

“What would you do if I did not obey?” she whispered, her eyes nearly black with want.

“I would punish you. With my mouth.” He took an earlobe between his teeth, nibbling it.

“Oh please do. I have been very naughty.”

That had them both laughing, nearly choking to keep the noise down. 

Another deep kiss smothered the laughter effectively. Thranduil cupped her heavy breasts, one in each palm. He was left-handed but practicing fighting with two swords had made him nearly as capable with his right, he could even write tolerably with it. That talent was convenient now, as he let one hand slide all the way down between her legs while the other continued rubbing and stroking her breast. 

She made low sounds of pleasure, and her fingers which had been caressing his chest and shoulders stilled their motions as she was becoming too distracted to know what she was doing. He loved that unfocused expression in her eyes. 

“Take me,” she breathed.

She did not have to ask twice. Lifting her legs he pushed inside. He murmured her name with each stroke, and it did not take long until they both shuddered with surges of pleasure as they reached climax.

When his heartbeat had slowed down, Thranduil carried Aerneth back to the bed and they snuggled down close together again.

“We cannot always do it in the window,” she whispered.

“I will think of something.”

“Can’t we live somewhere else?”

“There is nowhere else. The city is full.”

“We could move to Eglarest.”

“Don’t be silly.”

“I mean it.”

He rose on one elbow to meet her gaze. She did mean it, he realised. Wherever did that odd notion come from? It was not that he had disliked the sea, or Eglarest for that matter, but his place was here in Menegroth. He could not leave his friends and he owed the king his allegiance. And, with all his faults, Thranduil loved his father and would also do his duty to him by staying at his side.

“I am a march-warden, I work here.” He kissed her lightly. “Things will get better soon, Father will come around. Don’t worry.” 

“Hm.” 

He changed the subject, anxious to take her thoughts off his parents. “I have a free day today, no guard duty. Shall we go shopping? We could buy wedding rings and more clothes for you.”

“Whatever you say.” She still did not look happy but at least she had stopped talking about moving. 

.

Making ready for the day with Aerneth was enjoyable, much like waking up next to her had been. Thranduil offered to brush out her hair, which she readily accepted and then commenced to do the same service to him. Her careful touch was immensely pleasurable in a completely different way than bedding her. He closed his eyes and all but purred with satisfaction.

When they were ready, they ghosted down the stairs to not wake his parents. Neither of them wanted a repeat of yesterday’s awkward meal and prefered skipping breakfast. If they felt like it, they could buy something from a vendor downtown.

The commercial part of Menegroth was located in the streets closest to the city gates. They went to the tailor’s shop first, and since Aerneth did not care at all about fashion she let him decide everything. Thranduil had a great time, choosing between various materials and designs, and watching the tailor take his wife’s measurements. The dresses would be delivered as soon as they were finished.

At the jeweller’s, Aerneth was more interested, and together they decided on matching rings shaped like a golden snake coiling itself around the wearer’s finger. 

“I can pretend mine is an eel,” she said, waving her hand to make the gold catch the faint daylight seeping down through the quartz of the distant ceiling. 

“You and your sea creatures.” He smiled.

“What? I happen to like sea creatures and this design was the closest I could get. If there had been a seal ring I would have picked it on the spot.”

The purchases today would eat up most of Thranduil’s savings, but it was well worth it. He loved beautiful clothes and jewellery, and when he realised how much Aerneth liked the ring he bought her a matching pair of golden snake earrings in the spur of the moment. She rewarded him with a sound kiss right in front of the jeweller, to the latter’s amusement.

It was nearing noon and they ought to get back home to have lunch. Oropher would not be easier to deal with if they avoided him, more likely the opposite. Yet, they both involuntarily dragged their feet, and the closer they got, the slower they went. But of course they got there in the end and had to go inside.

“Where have you been?” Oropher looked up from his book when they passed through the sitting room. His eyebrows were drawn together into a single line.

“We bought wedding rings.” Thranduil held out his hand and Aerneth did the same. Her fingers trembled and he felt a pang of sympathy for her sake. He had to remember that she did not know his father the way he did – she had never seen his softer side. 

“Even that done belatedly.” Oropher shook his head.

“They do not use them in Eglarest.”

“No? I knew the Falathrim were a bit behind on many things, but to be so ignorant? Even the Noldor use rings.” Oropher’s voice was brimming with contempt.

“We are not ignorant! We have other traditions.” Aerneth scowled at him. Thranduil gave her hand a warning squeeze, talking back to Oropher was not a good idea. 

“Oh, do you.” He glared at her. “Let me guess. The tradition of disobeying one’s parents? Or the tradition of rushing into irreversible, life changing, everlasting decisions? Or is it perhaps the fine tradition of luring young ellyn into one’s bed?”

“I did not –”

“Aerneth!” He pulled her to him. “Come, let us go upstairs and freshen up before lunch.”

“But I–” 

“Now!” 

As he closed the door behind them, she furiously turned to him. “Why did you let him say those things, like it was all my fault?” she hissed.

“Speaking back to him will only make things worse. I know my father, the best call is to wait until he calms down and forgives us.”

“But he humiliated me!”

“After what we did, he is entitled to be angry.” He pulled her into a hard hug. “Please, let us not fight over this. Just trust me.” 

She did not return the hug, remaining tense in his arms, but thankfully she did not voice her complaints anymore. 

She would just have to come to terms with this, it was what it was.

.

“I had hoped my father would be calmer by now. He probably would have too, if Aerneth had behaved better in his presence and not talked back all the time. It is like they bring out the worst in each other. And to make matters worse, my mother is taking her part, so now my parents argue all the time as well.” Thranduil sighed heavily.

Amroth and Thranduil had gate duty together today, which marked the ninth since he had returned to Doriath as a married ellon, and this was his first opportunity to speak in private with his friend about his troubles. 

“I do not know what to say. What a complicated mess you’ve gotten yourself into.” Amroth pressed his shoulder. ”I wish you would have taken my advice and broken up with her for real. Nothing good comes from dealing with ellith, I say.”

”There are some perks.” Thranduil could not hold back a smug smile. 

Amroth pretended to be sick. ”Please, I don’t want to know. Anyway, I guess there is no point looking back, you are stuck with a wife now. But maybe you should speak with Medlin for advice, he knows about being married.”

“True. Perhaps I should.” Even though Thranduil was not the talkative kind, he for once felt the need to share his troubles with his friends. 

When his shift was over, Thranduil was reluctant to go home. Every dinner was a trial to endure, an obstacle to go through in order to reach the night. The nights were just about the only positive thing in his life right now, apart from his work, for even after a heated argument Aerneth was never unwilling in bed – now that he had bought a bigger, non-creaking one.

He took a route that led him past Medlin’s home cave, where he lived with his wife’s parents. In their case it was he – the bridegroom – who had moved in with his in-laws. Medlin had two married brothers, so his own parents’ house was already crowded.

Medlin readily agreed to a walk before supper. They strolled under the silver tree pillars in the nearby park, while Thranduil again recounted the story of his rushed marriage and his problems.

“The past week Aerneth has been either angry or sad all the time, and sometimes I think she deliberately picks fights with Father. Such as drinking wine during our meals, which he really hates. She has become so petty.”

“Perhaps you should try to cheer her up? Give her presents, take her out – do things you know she likes. I personally find some time alone every now and then to be necessary, or I would never have survived the past decade.” He grinned. “When is your next leave from work?”

“After the Autumn Hunt. Hm. Maybe I should take her to our cabin, while it is still clean and in order.”

“Ugh, don’t do anything… disgusting in it.” Medlin made a grimace, chuckling.

“Cannot promise that, sorry.” Thranduil grinned. 

When he walked back home, Thranduil felt a little more hopeful. Presents were a good idea, Aerneth had loved the earrings he bought the first day and wore them all the time, and to get some time alone would be great as well – for one, they would be able to make love without the need for silence.

During supper, only Aerneth and Thranduil’s mother were talking, and exclusively with each other. The topic was the behaviour of peacocks for some reason, but Thranduil did not really pay attention to either their conversation or the food. He was apprehensively watching his father’s features grow darker with each goblet of wine emptied by their wives. Would this be the evening he snapped, or would he manage to control his temper yet another day? Sometimes family meals felt like sitting beside a drawn bow, anxiously anticipating an arrow to be released and cause irrevocable damage.

When the ellith began to clear off the table and disappeared into the kitchen to do the dishes, Thranduil at last felt his tension ease somewhat. He followed Oropher to the sitting room, where the other picked up a book on economic theory.

“How was your day, Father?” he asked. 

“Hm,” grunted Oropher, not looking up. Thranduil figured it might mean yes, at least it did not sound like no. The fact that his father replied at all was a progress of sorts.

“I look forward to the Hunt,” Thranduil said, trying another subject. Hunting was Oropher’s favourite pastime. “With this mild weather it should be successful.”

“Hm, aye. Been a good summer.” The other nodded. “Now, be quiet, I try to read this.”

“Sorry Father. I was going to bed anyway.” Thranduil carefully schooled his features to hide a hopeful smile. This was by far the longest polite conversation he had with his father since his marriage. 

“Goodnight, Father.”

“Goodnight, Thranduil.”

.

Thranduil drained the bathtub and went to his room. His mother and Aerneth were there, and he paused in the doorway to watch them. His mother was gazing at their sea painting again, she had grown very fond of it, and Aerneth sat on the windowsill looking out.

“I miss the stars,” she said with a sigh.

“Do you think your mother would sell one of her paintings to me?” asked Eiriendîs. There was an odd longing in her voice.

“Sure. I can ask her when I call her tomorrow.”

“Maybe I can join your call? I could see what she looks like and talk to her.” Eiriendîs’ eyes did not leave the painting when she spoke.

“She would love that, I am sure.” Aerneth smiled, seeming very pleased with the suggestion. Thranduil’s chest constricted. He wished he could make her look happy like that, and suddenly he felt a pang of jealousy. 

He went inside, frowning. “This is our room. You should leave, Mother.” Both ellith looked at him with surprise first, and then with disapprobation – like he was a troublesome elfling. 

“Of course.” Eiriendîs turned to Aerneth. “Goodnight, dear. Tomorrow then.”

“Tomorrow.” She smiled again.

Thranduil’s frown deepened and he felt an urge to push his mother forcefully to make her go faster.

The door closed behind her and Aerneth’s smile disappeared. “Why are you like that? She can come in here, it is her house too.”

Thranduil could not say why he was angry, he just was. All he knew was that he wanted Aerneth to smile again when she looked at him, not frown like now. 

He went to her in two strides, feeling another pang in his chest when she flinched. Why? Did he scare her now too? Frustration and pain was building up within him as he took her in his arms, kissing her urgently.

She whimpered and cupped his cheeks. “Easy… You’re hurting me.”

He pulled back, drawing a couple of deep breaths and fighting to control the dark storm of feelings tearing at him. 

Aerneth reached up to kiss him more softly, teasing his lower lip with her tongue. He groaned against her mouth, his self-control again failing. He needed her now . Scooping her up into his arms he placed her on the bed and tore off her chemise and his shirt, carelessly tossing the garments on the floor, for once not minding if they got dirty. His lips left her mouth to trail all over her body, kissing, nibbling, licking. Below him she squirmed, breathing fast, and then she drew him closer, helping him push inside. He could not restrain his frenzied tempo but she met every hard thrust. Her climax came fast and his own not long after.

As he rolled off her, tears stung his eyes. He was a monster. “Sorry,” he mumbled, his chest an inferno of aching remorse.

“For what?” She was still breathless.

“I hurt you.”

“Only at first, not after I said it.” She rose on her elbow and regarded him closely, touching his cheek where a treacherous tear spilled over. “Thranduil, what is the matter?”

“I don’t know.” He turned his back towards her. Even though they had just been intimate he did not feel satisfied, and he did not quite dare believe he had not hurt her. It frightened him that he had lost his control like that, it reminded him too much of his father.

On the other side of the wall, his parents’ voices were getting loud. Another argument on its way.

“It’s this place,” Aerneth said behind him. “We would have been happier alone.”

“It is what it is.”

“It doesn’t have to be.”

He did not reply, he knew what she was about to say, they had had this conversation several times already.

“Thranduil, we could move. I don’t like it here, I am lonely. You are away all day and I am bored, I have nothing to do and no friends. Your mother is nice but all she does is sewing or cross-stitching.”

“Sewing and embroidery are fine occupations for ellith.”

“They are boring and I hate them. At home what I did meant something.” 

The sounds from his parents’ argument ceased abruptly and the door slammed as Eirendîs stomped down the stairs. That was her habit recently, in the morning Thranduil would find her asleep in a chair in the sitting room with an empty goblet next to her.

“Baking lembas was an important task, as well as healing. If I had a real occupation here too, I could–”

He interrupted her litany with a soft kiss, pulling her on top of him. If only she would stop dwelling on the impossible all the time and just accept the way things were. 

”I had not finished,” she mumbled but returned his kiss, and as he stroked her back and soft behind she moaned softly. This time he would do this properly, focusing on her pleasure instead of selfishly taking what he wanted like a brutish animal. 

.

“What are you doing?” Aerneth looked at him in surprise when Thranduil took her hand and pulled her out of the kitchen, leaving his mother to do the last of the supper dishes alone.

“You will see,” he said secretively.

“It better not be anything dumb,” she said, but she was smiling for once. His heart ached, he loved when she smiled. This was a good idea.

He took her to their bedroom, placing his hands over her eyes. “Close them. No peeking.” He steered her inside, shutting the door behind them. “Now, look!”

She opened her eyes slowly, peering around in the dark room. Then she turned her gaze up and gasped. “Stars…!” 

All over the dark ceiling twinkled tiny pinpoints of light, sparkling, glittering as they caught the slight light from outside.

“You like them?” Thranduil’s grin nearly cleaved his face in half.

“Aye! But how did you do it?”

“They are tiny crystals, I bought them today.” 

“They are beautiful. How did you know I wanted stars?” She jumped into his arms, kissing him soundly. “Thank you.”

“Nothing could be more beautiful than you,” he said truthfully. That was a rather cheesy line, but Aerneth seemed not to mind – if her enthusiastic kisses were anything to go by.

Thranduil inwardly thanked Medlin for his advice. Presents seemed to be quite the thing! Soon he would try the second suggestion and organise some time alone with Aerneth, and then hopefully she would finally get over her melancholia and accept the situation. 


A/N:

On elves and equality: Gender roles were not so rigid for elves as humans in Middle-earth, but I’ve made Oropher set in his ways which has influenced his son. To them it is natural their wives should do the domestic chores since they work away from home.

Another thing: I have noticed from comments and reviews of this story that many take Thranduil's side against Aerneth, which is not strange since he is the main character, and usually the narrator. However – and this is important – he is not a reliable narrator. You as a reader get only his point of view. To Thranduil, fighting and arguing is normal, as well as his father beating the crap out of him, and having sex after a dispute is his way to compensate for any mistakes on his side (rather than say sorry), just like his father does… For Aerneth this is all shocking and horrible, and she's also not a passive victim who meekly accepts what she perceives as deeply wrong. She tries to be strong, and hence her talking back to Oropher, acting 'difficult' (in Thranduil's eyes). Bear this in mind as the story progresses!

13. White Pearls

It was the last day of the annual Autumn Hunt, and Thranduil did not look forward to returning home. The week had gone way too fast this year.

He should have anticipated that Aerneth would want to come with him and that she would not understand why she could not. She was no hunter, and besides, Thranduil’s friends always went alone. Medlin never brought his wife. 

That had led to another of their heated arguments and they had parted as enemies. 

Thranduil had felt like an escaping prisoner when he walked out of Menegroth with his friends. But it had been worth it, he had had such a relaxing week with them; tracking animals, shooting prey, cutting and storing the meat, all the while listening to the others’ conversation without joining in. Out here there were no bickering wives, angry fathers or drunk mothers to worry about. It had been almost like before, when he was unmarried and free.

But no more of that until next year, he supposed. At least tonight he had the feast to look forward to, and maybe if Aerneth behaved civilised he would give her the new present he had prepared. Her tenth decade was coming up, and the Feast of the Hunt would be a great opportunity to celebrate it, but if she was still mad at him he did not really feel like it.

The walk home was lovely as usual this time of year, the forest burning in a cascade of warm colours; yellow, orange, red and purple. Had he not been carrying the full barrel of salted meat, Thranduil might have lingered, taking time to gather some ripe hazelnuts and climbed a tree to eat them and enjoy the view. Instead he trudged on beside Amroth, slowly but steady approaching the hill that contained Menegroth.

After delivering the meat to the elves responsible for the city’s food storages, Thranduil went to his home cave and felt a surge of relief when he found it empty. Apparently the others’ had already gone up to the feast area making it ready for tonight, which would give him another few hour’s respite. He knew he was being silly, but he just could not muster the energy to fight anyone right now.

After a week’s camping, Thranduil felt dishevelled and unkempt, and decided to take a long, hot bath before the feast. While he waited for the water to boil on the stove, he thought up a few sentences to say to Aerneth when they met. Something to placate her. 

He nearly jumped when her face showed in the cauldron. 

“Yes?”

“Valar, you scared me.” He smiled. “This brings back memories.” Since their wedding they had never called through water. 

To his relief Aerneth smiled too, and he realised he missed her. Suddenly he looked forward to the evening, and even more to the night afterwards.

“It sure does,” she said, and winked. “A certain bath comes to mind.” She was holding a ladle in her hand, probably she had been cooking when she felt his thoughts.

Another face came in view, with almost the same hair colour as Aerneth’s. It was Galadriel.

“Is that Thranduil? How did you do it?” she asked, looking very interested. 

“It’s water magic. The hair of Uinen connects all water, and she taught me and my mother how to use it for distance communication.” Aerneth turned back to Thranduil. “I am closing this now, see you later.” She disappeared.

When Thranduil later sank down into his hot bath, he felt much less apprehensive about the upcoming feast. Before he knew it, his thoughts drifted to what might happen later that night, and he carefully schooled them. If Aerneth felt it and reopened the connection in the middle of the feast preparations, showing him naked and bathing, it would be beyond embarrassing! But of course, not thinking about something was nearly impossible, and he had to spend the rest of the time in the bath slowly counting backwards from five thousand to zero. 

Back in his and Aerneth’s room, Thranduil picked a suitable outfit. During the short call before, he had noticed Aerneth wore one of the new dresses he had ordered for her at the tailor’s, woven in similar colours as his rusty red, gold trimmed coat. It was a perfect choice for an autumn feast, and he liked the idea of wearing matching colours with his wife. 

When dressed and with his hair dry and brushed until it shone, Thranduil took out his gift from its hiding place in the bottom of his clothes chest. It had taken a while to organise it and cost a fortune, but when he looked inside the pretty box he knew it would be worth it. 

Thus prepared, Thranduil walked up to the feast area with uncommon eagerness.

When he arrived some minutes later, he scanned the crowd of happily chatting elves to find his wife among them, and soon spotted her next to Galadriel. They were still discussing water magic, it sounded like, their two golden heads close together. The sight gave him mixed feelings – it was positive that Aerneth finally seemed to be making friends in Menegroth, but of all ellith there were, why should she choose someone with such a masculine and dominating personality as Galadriel? Thranduil hoped she would not get unsuitable ideas from the acquaintance.

During the meal, Thranduil noticed the ambience between his family members was almost neutral for the first time ever, as if they worked hard to be polite, even Oropher and Aerneth. Galadriel and her husband Celeborn sat together with them, which might be a reason, but still it made Thranduil cautiously optimistic about the future. 

At the head table the royal family looked the more morose, Lúthien was practically drooping like a wilted flower. 

“Poor soul, she must be worrying sick for her lover,” said Galadriel, who had noticed Thranduil’s gaze. “I worry too,” she added, sadness filling her clear eyes. 

“I am sure Finrod will manage. He is a powerful warrior,” said Thranduil, but he did not even believe that himself. Galadriel’s brother would go against Morgoth, the very Lord of the Dark, bringing only ten elvish warriors and a human. If there ever was a suicide mission, this was it.

“I wish there was a way of knowing how he fares,” Galadriel sighed. “Aerneth, you must teach me water magic so I too can see my loved ones from afar.”

“Certainly, I would love to.” Aerneth shone with pride, honoured by the much older elleth’s interest in her abilities.

Soon after, dance circles were forming in the open area in the middle of the clearing. Celeborn pulled Galadriel with him to one of them, and the couple was soon followed by Oropher and Eiriendîs. Aerneth looked expectantly at Thranduil, but he only smiled secretively and took her to the edge of the glade where they could be alone under the shadow of the trees.

“Shall we not dance?” she asked.

“Soon. First I want to do this.” He pulled her close and kissed her, not caring about who saw them. On this night married elves would do a lot more than kissing in the surrounding woods. She responded eagerly, clinging to him.

“I missed you,” he said when they had to pause and breathe.

“All your fault.” Her soft voice took the edge of the reprimand.

“Do not bring that up again. Let us be happy tonight and forget our quarrels.”

“Alright. But only because I missed you too.” She buried her fingers in his hair and tugged him down for another passionate kiss, teasing his tongue with her own. 

He pulled her further in among the trees and their kiss intensified. He fondled her shapely curves through the fabric of her lovely red dress, wanting badly to lift its hem and take her right there and then, but restraining himself with some effort. There would be plenty of time for that sort of thing later. 

“I got something for you,” he said the next time they came up for air, taking the elaborate wooden box from his pocket. It was round, with a relief of fish swimming around its lid, and in the centre a starfish. “Happy tenth decade in advance.” 

“Thranduil, this is beautiful! Did you carve it?”

He nodded, pleased over her reaction. He had finished the box in the cabin during the evenings of the hunt. He was no expert woodworker but enjoyed a little whittling now and then, it was a good pastime in the wintertime when they often were snowed up inside Menegroth for long periods of time, or when out on longer field drills with the march-wardens. 

“Open it,” he prompted.

She did, and gasped when she saw its contents. “Pearls,” she whispered, almost reverently taking out the creamy white, iridescent necklace. “But… how?”

“I purchased them from your father, and he sent them here with the latest trade delegation a couple of weeks ago. Do you like them?”

“I love them, silly.” She covered his face with enthusiastic kisses. When she had calmed down, Thranduil helped her put on the necklace and a matching set of tear-shaped earrings.

“I wanted you to wear them tonight, outshining everyone else, or I would have waited until your real begetting-day.”

“We will make people jealous,” she agreed smugly, turning her head this way and that to make the earrings dangle, using a small puddle as a mirror. “I’ll make you something pretty too.” She ripped off a few colourful branchlets from a nearby maple tree and nimbly twisted them together into a wreath, placing it on Thranduil’s head. “There. An autumn crown.”

He looked at his reflection in the puddle and grinned. “I like it. Looks better than King Thingol’s even.”

“Of course it does, his is made from dead metal. I prefer living things.” She made another, smaller wreath for herself and stood beside him before the pool. “Perfect! King Thranduil and Queen Aerneth at your service!” 

Thranduil straightened his back, trying to assume a kingly pose. “Shall we join our subjects, my queen?”

“Aye, my king, we must not keep them waiting for the guests of honour!”

Arm in arm they returned to the festivities to join one of the dance circles.

.

Ever since he was very young, Thranduil had been slightly jealous of the married couples during the four annual holidays; the Feast of the Stars in the summer, the Hunt in the autumn, Yule in the winter and the Spring Festival. Married elves always had a dance partner, and then of course their stealing away into the darkness later at night had intrigued him. For the first time, he was now one of them. 

Thranduil felt other elves’ eyes on them as he and Aerneth twirled around, circling one another, their feet moving in the age-old pattern elves had known ever since the Awakening, when they took their first steps under the newborn stars. 

Whenever their legs grew tired they rested at the tables, refilling their plates and goblets, before returning to the circles for another round, and a third, and a fourth. The hours rushed by as they enjoyed one of the best evenings of their lives. 

On their short breaks, Aerneth drank wine as was her habit, and late at night when Oropher and Eiriendîs had disappeared into the forest, Thranduil let her persuade him into trying it again. For once, the taste did not remind him of the time in his youth when his father had made him drink too much. Perhaps the many times recently when he had tasted it on Aerneth’s lips had waned him, or maybe he had just grown out of his bad memory, for this time Thranduil found himself enjoying the rich flavour very much. 

Well past midnight, Aerneth and Thranduil sneaked away into the shadows like so many had before them. They had to cling to each other for support, swaying not only a little and nearly stumbling over other couples who lay soundly asleep in tangles of arms, legs and dishevelled clothes. 

Finding a spot where they would not be disturbed was not easy, but finally they came to a densely overgrown hollow with a sea of butterburs, their round leaves large as cauldron lids. Underneath, it felt like being inside a tiny, cosy house.

Aerneth eagerly crawled onto Thranduil and kissed him hungrily, pushing him down on his back. He pulled up her dress to feel her smooth skin under the palms of his hands, too tired and drunk to bother with uncovering more than was necessary to make love. Sliding a finger between them he made her squirm with want, pressing down hard on him. 

She fumbled with his pants, touching him through them. “Hurry,” she moaned. Her eagerness was almost enough to make him come prematurely, but somehow he managed to hold back long enough to ease his pants down and push into her.

Once he was inside she seemed less urgent, grinding herself against him agonisingly slowly.

“May the Valar help me,” he mumbled. “You are a cruel elleth, Aerneth.”

“Say my name again and I shall reward you,” she teased.

He promptly complied, murmuring her name in the tempo he wanted her to move, which had the intended effect. Neither of them lasted very long after that.

“I think I prefer beds,” Aerneth murmured afterwards, resting on Thranduil’s shoulder.

“Oh, aye.” Thranduil rubbed his back where a stone had chafed him.

“The advantage of this place is that we are alone, though.”

“I know somewhere else where we can be alone,” he said, and explained his plan to spend some time just the two of them in the hunting cabin, celebrating her begetting-day.

“Perfect!” She kissed him. “That would be just perfect.”

.

“So, how does it feel to have lived ten decades?” Thranduil was leisurely stretched out on a deer pelt on the earthen floor, supporting his weight on one arm and holding his wine cup in the other. The only light in the windowless cabin came from the lantern they had brought, and Aerneth looked unusually lovely in its reddish sheen. She sat cross-legged by his head, leaning her back against the crude wall.

“I feel very old. Soon I shall be as wise as you.” She poked him in the ribs, trying to find a ticklish spot and failing. Or, not failing actually, but he kept his features smooth so she would not know she had found one. “Thank you for this,” she added, becoming serious and moving her fingers to lightly touch his cheek. “I had forgotten how nice it is to be alone with you.”

He replied with a smile, it had indeed been very pleasant so far. Downing the contents of his cup, he set it aside and rested his head in Aerneth’s lap, gazing up into her eyes. They looked dark in the dim light. 

She followed the contours of his face with her finger, up to his eyebrows and down over the bridge of his nose. Her eyes filled with an emotion he could not quite interpret, her gaze becoming unusually intense. 

“Thranduil, I...“ She hesitated, and began again. “I like you. A lot.” It sounded like she had meant to say something else but changed her mind at the last moment. 

He brought her fingers to his lips and kissed her fingertips, one at a time. Had she meant to say she loved him? He felt a warmth in his chest at the thought, but then a slight worry. Did he love her back, if so? Being honest with himself, he did not know. What did love feel like? When he looked at her now, he felt desire, and when she was not arguing or nagging him about things, she could be quite lovely. It was safe to say that he was fond of her, but more? 

Aerneth’s features had changed while Thranduil pondered over his feelings, she was looking slightly disappointed. Was he supposed to say he liked her too? But she must know he did, he had given her pearls and taken her here to the cabin and everything. 

“You know I care about you too,” he said just to be on the safe side, and was rewarded with a relieved grin. Did she really need to be reassured like that? He hoped she would not mention love then, because he would not lie to her, and it would likely not sit well with her if he gave her a hesitant answer.

“I wish it was just us in the whole world,” she said. “No matter how hard I try I can’t… I can’t like your father.”

He frowned. Why would she bring Oropher up now? 

“And when he is around, you… You can be quite like him, at times. But that is not you , it’s as if you change when he is near. Like he is your shadow. Or you his, I don’t know.”

“Don’t do this.” He rolled out of her lap, feeling irritation building up. Of course this bliss could not last, of course Aerneth had to go and ruin the moment.

“Why cannot we move back home? There are plenty of houses in Eglarest. And we could visit your parents from time to time.”

Thranduil turned his back to her and refilled his cup. She just could not let matters rest, over and over again she would bring up the same things. It was enough to drive an ellon insane.

“You know why we can’t move to Eglarest and can you for once give up?” He drank half his cup in one go, not tasting the wine. 

“I don’t agree with your reasons. My father needs warriors too, he could hire you. Thingol does not own you.”

Thranduil paced a few steps in the confined space, forcing down his annoyance. He could not lose his temper, not on her begetting-day. Still with his back turned he closed his eyes, drawing several slow breaths, imagining his face was sculpted in ice.

Turning back towards her, he was completely calm.

“You can move if you wish it. I don’t own you either, Aerneth.” He sipped his wine with feigned nonchalance to get an excuse to break eye contact. He was not exactly lying, but naturally he did not want them to live apart. He just needed her to understand there was no middle way in this, he was not leaving Menegroth, so the only way for her to move to the Falas would be if she did it without him.

“You don’t mean that.” Her voice had become insecure.

“Of course I do.”

She gave him a long look then, screwing up her eyes. “Nay, you don’t,” she finally stated. “You just said you care about me.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Can I not care about you at a distance?” 

“Don’t use that face on me,” she said accusingly. 

“What face?” He took another sip. He knew exactly what face she meant, his father hated it too, but sometimes hiding one's emotions was the only way.

“The one where you look like you’re coated with glass.” 

He raised his eyebrow again, purposely refraining from an answer. That would wind her up, but she started it after all.

“Thranduil Oropherion!” She actually stamped her foot, and he had to bite the inside of his cheek not to laugh. Somehow his mood had changed from anger to amusement, and now he saw the corner of her mouth twitch.

He was not prepared for her next move. Quick as a warm lizard she jumped onto him, wrapping her arms around his neck, and gave him a long, wet lick all the way from his chin to his eye.

“A-ha! Glass face gone,” she said smugly. 

“You are such an elfling.” He wiped his cheek with the sleeve of his tunic while trying – and failing – to banish the smile from his lips.


A/N:

If you ever wondered how Galadriel got the idea for her water mirror, now you know. ;)

A note on elvish birthdays: Elves celebrate their begetting-day, e.g. the day they were sired (which indicates that elves can control if and when to create a child). To complicate matters further, there are two kinds of elvish years, the coranar (solar years) and yén (144 solar years).

Since elves live such long lives, I’ve decided they don’t celebrate their annual begetting-days very much, but rather the decade days when younger, and when older soon only their yén-days. In this chapter Aerneth turns 100, which is her 10th decade day, and in another four solar years Thranduil will celebrate his first yén as he turns 144. 


To you who left comments so far: I’m so grateful for your support! When writing a long, complex story like this, it’s easy to lose faith in the project, doubting if it’s any good and if anyone still reads.

I don’t think many readers understand how important feedback is. Even a short comment can be reason enough to continue writing – and I think lack of reader interaction is a common reason for many abandoned stories out there.

14. Tree Prison

Thranduil and Aerneth were fast asleep, exhausted after a long night’s experimenting with new uses for their mouths and tongues on one another’s bodies, when a knock woke them up. 

“A messenger from the king was here, Thranduil,” said Eiriendîs through the door. “You are summoned to the palace.”

He quickly rose and got ready, kissing a sleepy Aerneth goodbye before hurrying out. What did Thingol want at this early hour? 

At the palace he met more fellow march-wardens. Only a select few had been summoned, it seemed, and Thranduil saw Amroth and Beleg Cúthalion among them. Soon the king entered, followed by Lúthien and Daeron, the minstrel. Lúthien looked absolutely wretched, her face was sickly pale and her eyes red from crying.

“I have some disturbing news and an unusual request for you, march-wardens,” the king began. He too looked troubled, tired and with ruffled clothes like he had slept in them. “It seems my wife and daughter have gone behind my back, but thankfully my faithful friend Daeron intervened before a disaster came about.” 

King Thingol had them all promise to keep silent of what they were about to hear, for he was anxious to avoid unrest in the city. Then he told them everything. 

It had all begun yesterday, when Lúthien had felt a precognition of ill tidings, a heavy weight on her chest. She asked her mother to use her Maia powers and find out what had happened with her lover on his quest. Melian had complied. First she saw Beren, Finrod and the other ten walking through the Pass of Sirion, cleverly disguised as orcs to evade notice on their way to Angband. Then she saw Sauron, Morgoth’s lieutenant, when he discovered the intruders from his watchtower on an island in the middle of the river. He saw through their guise and had them brought before him. 

Now followed a battle of magic, where Sauron and Finrod Felagund sang spells and enchantments, seeking to outpower each other. However, Sauron was much stronger – he had once been one of the Maiar like Melian – and thus the other was defeated, despite his valiant attempts.

Terrible werewolves roamed in the tower, and Sauron threatened his captives that the monsters would devour them unless they told him who they were and what their mission was, but none talked. Then he threw them into the werewolf pit, and there they now awaited a gruesome death. 

As soon Melian had told Lúthien this, she decided she would hasten to the tower and aid her beloved. She asked Daeron to help her, but thankfully the minstrel told the king about it before she could go.

The reason Thingol had now gathered his most trusted march-wardens was that he needed them to guard Lúthien.

“It is clear to me that my daughter needs to be restrained, for she tells me she will leave at first opportunity. I do not allow this!” He was talking about her like she was not present. “She is not going to throw her life away to save a mortal from a disaster he brought upon himself. It is bad enough that this human has risked the life of my ally in Nargothrond, one of the few decent Noldor in the world!” He rose from his throne, angrily walking to and fro as he kept talking, reminding Thranduil very much of his father. “No, Lúthien must be confined here, but I do not wish to lock her up in a dungeon; one so used to roaming the forest needs light and air. Instead, you shall build her a secure prison in a tree of great height with no other trees nearby she could escape to. There you must guard her well and never once leave her alone.” 

Thranduil and the others spent the better part of the day building the prison. The tree they had chosen was one of the famous beeches a bit north of the city, which had three huge branches on which they could build the house, and to reach it they made a tall ladder. 

Lúthien was then escorted up to her new home and the ladder removed, effectively trapping her there.

It felt strange to lock away the elleth Thranduil had formerly courted, and he was sorry for her to be so harshly treated. Still, he could well understand the king, should his daughter be allowed to leave Doriath she would meet with certain death. What father would not try to stop that?

When Thranduil returned home in the evening, Aerneth was very curious about what Thingol had wanted, and naturally would not accept his refusal to reveal anything. During supper she did not say much, their family meals were still a very quiet affair, but later in bed she was all the more persistent.

“I’m your wife, you can tell me.”

“Nay.”

“I’m sure the king meant you cannot tell anyone outside family. Wives do not count.”

“Let us speak of something else. How was your first water magic lesson with Galadriel?”

“It went well, she is a fast learner. I like her. Anyway, about the king’s summon, I will die of curiosity if you do not say what he wanted. And you were gone all day too, what were you doing?”

“I cannot tell.” He moved in to kiss her but she turned her face away.

“Yes you can.”

“I can but I am not going to.”

“Hm.” She frowned and tapped her chin thoughtfully.

He tried to kiss her again and this time she responded, deepening it. After a while she left his lips to kiss her way down his chest, and Thranduil forgot all about kings and locked up princesses. He closed his eyes and ground his teeth together to not make a sound as he felt her soft lips and tongue caress him. It was clear Aerneth had learned well yesterday what he liked.

And then she stopped. She bloody stopped.

“Can’t you tell, though… I think about it so much I get distracted.” The expression in her eyes as she looked up at him was downright evil.

“Valar, wife… this is not fair!”

She sniggered and gave him a teasing lick, making him shudder. He knew he was defeated.

“Alright, I… maybe I can tell some of it. But promise you spread it no further.” 

“Of course!” Her triumphant smile was dazzling.

She dragged everything out of him eventually, and unsurprisingly did not at all agree with the king’s decision, calling him a cruel tyrant and a bad father. Thranduil did not mind that her opinion differed from his, but it was disconcerting that she held such power over him, and worse, that she knew how to use it to her advantage. 

  .

Thranduil leaned his back against the trunk of the prison tree, Hírilorn – Tree of the Lady – as they had begun calling it. It was only the second day, but already he loathed this place, and the sobs they occasionally heard from above did not help. Since so few of the march-wardens knew about the situation, they would be working long hours nearly every day.

“At least being out of doors is nicer than guarding the boring throne room,” said Amroth. 

“I like the throne room,” he objected. Not that he disliked the beech wood, especially this time of year when the ground was covered in crispy leaves and the air smelled lovely fresh, but he enjoyed the beauty of King Thingol’s halls, the designs and patterns, the choices of metals and gems – there was so much thought gone into it.

“You are a strange elf.” Amroth smiled fondly.

“I suppose I am.”

Then he spotted someone approaching at a distance and his stomach plummeted. Damn his obnoxious wife, what was she doing ?

As she caught sight of them, Aerneth clasped her hands over her mouth theatrically. 

“Thranduil! I was just taking a nice evening walk, fancy finding you here!”

Thranduil noticed Amroth raising his eyebrows. Clearly he had seen through her ruse.

“It is late, you ought to return home,” Thranduil said sharply, scowling angrily at her. 

“Alright, alright.” She turned to leave. “I will see you tonight… in bed.” 

Thranduil groaned as she left, glancing guiltily at his friend.

“You told her.” 

“I… yes. She can be quite persuasive.” His shoulders slumped.

“I am amazed. What did she do to make you speak? I mean, silence is kind of your signum. I doubt even a balrog with a burning whip could loosen your tongue if you chose to hold it.”

He must have blushed, because Amroth peered closely at him. “Now I am even more intrigued.”

“I don’t think you want to know.”

“No, I think I do. I dare say it would be… educational. From a more experienced ellon to another, so to speak.”

Thranduil grinned then. His physical experiences with Aerneth was just about the only positive thing in his life right now and the fact she liked it so much made him proud. He did not really mind telling, and did so without further prompting. 

Very soon it was Amroth’s turn to colour. “Why, I… the notion one could do that had never occured to me. Maybe this marriage thing has its upsides.”

“It does.” Thranduil smiled smugly.

“Still not worth it though, considering you get a nagging wife and the loss of your freedom in the bargain. I shall stay single forever.”

  .

There were advantages with Aerneth’s knowing about the tree prison. Following that day, she came to keep them company whenever it was Thranduil’s and Amroth’s turn to guard it, which made the task a lot more pleasant. 

Amroth, who had been so against their relationship at first, had to grudgingly admit she was nice company, easy to speak with and had a good sense of humour. Thranduil for his part felt slightly ambivalent. As much as he liked having his wife there, the growing camaraderie between her and his friend unsettled him. It reminded him too much of his walks with Lúthien and Daeron, and how the minstrel always would take over the conversation leaving Thranduil out, feeling dull and stupid.

Tonight Aerneth spoke of her recent meeting with Galadriel while they shared a bottle of wine. 

“She is amazing with the water now, she has learned to do things even I cannot, although she has no control over what images she gets. Like today, when she was opening a connection with me, she began to see things that had already happened. She saw me and Thranduil walking along the beach in Eglarest on our wedding day.” 

Thranduil winced. How had she known it was their wedding day, unless she had seen what they did after that walk? 

Aerneth laughed at his expression, reading his thoughts. “Obviously she did not know it was that day before I told her. I doubt she would want to look at us doing…” She glanced at Amroth. “... things.”

He grinned widely. “What things? No need to be shy.” 

“Well, you see, when an ellon really loves an elleth...” She winked.

“Aye? What happens then?” He smirked. “I wonder why people always stop when they get that far into their explanation.”

“Oh, I am not shy. I can continue.” 

This she did, and very soon Thranduil fled, not wanting his friend to see his physical response to her descriptions. Aerneth really had a way with words.

When he returned, the topic thankfully had changed to more mundane things, but later that night Thranduil made Aerneth pay for the discomfort she had caused him by having her act out everything she had spoken of. Not that she seemed to mind – quite the opposite.

The next day when Thranduil got home, he found Aerneth pacing to and fro in their room, looking very worried. 

“What is wrong?”

“It’s Galadriel. She has been experimenting with her visions in the water all day, and found she could see her loved ones through it. Not the way I do, where I can communicate with them, for her it’s only pictures but she does not need them thinking about her to find them. And so of course she summoned up her brother, and saw horrible things!”

“She saw his battle with Sauron?” Thranduil spoke in a low voice to make sure his parents could not overhear. 

“Aye, but that’s not all, she saw him suffer in a dark prison, while one by one his companions were eaten by a werewolf, until only he and the mortal man remained. And then she saw Finrod grapple with the monster, killing it with his bare hands, but he got so badly injured he died too. He gave up his life for a human!”

“Whyever would he do that?”

“Don’t ask me. And also, Galadriel did not know if this had actually happened, or if it was a vision of a potential future. Her words.”

“Please do not say she wants to go fight Sauron too now?” Thranduil groaned. 

“Well…” Aerneth bit her lip. “I may accidentally have told her that Lúthien and Queen Melian saw nearly the same thing, and now she has gone to ask the king for warriors…”

“Aerneth! You promised !” Thranduil all but shook his wife, frustrated and angry. How could she be so disloyal? What would Thingol think when he realised the secret was out?

“It was just… she looked so miserable when she saw her brother die, and I wanted to give her hope that he still lived, because in Melian’s vision he did…”

“That was several days ago, he may well be dead now, and the human too,” Thranduil hissed. “Sauron is a bloody Maia, and he got werewolves! Do you really want Thingol to send elves there? Because it could be me , Aerneth.”

She blanched as understanding dawned.

“I am a warrior, I full well know I might be killed in action and I would not hesitate to go where my king would direct me – but the prospect of a suicide mission does not appeal.”

Aerneth shook her head. Her eyes were moist.

“Oh, please do not cry.” He turned his back so he would not have to look.

“I’m sorry I told her.” She sniffed.

His anger slowly drained off. He felt bad for making his wife worry – of course Thingol would not send out his march-wardens, not for a Noldo and a human he hated. Thranduil’s outburst had just been melodrama, he had wanted to scare her although he did not really know why. Perhaps as a punishment for betraying the secret.

Turning back to her, he drew her into his arms and wiped away her tears. “It will not happen, the king is not that stupid.”

“Don’t ever leave me, Thranduil.”

He kissed her instead of replying, how could he promise something like that? Even though it would not be now, it could happen some other time; as a warrior Thranduil would face danger and death, that was part of the deal. 

  .

After Galadriel had spoken to the king – who naturally refused her any aid, just as Thranduil had predicted – the news began to spread throughout the city, both about what had befallen the unlucky questers and that Princess Lúthien had been locked up, although nobody yet knew where her prison was. That the king would do such a thing to his daughter caused discontent among his subjects, a brewing unrest, and people were also concerned about the proximity of Sauron and his werewolves. His tower in the river Sirion was less than thirty leagues to the northwest of the Doriath border, and though his breeding werewolves had been known, it was worrying that there were such large numbers of them now. 

Galadriel was wiser than Lúthien in the respect that she did not try to leave Doriath alone, instead she sent a bird to Nargothrond where her brother Orodreth ruled in Finrod’s absence, asking him to organise a rescue party. As far as Thranduil knew, she had received no answer. Perhaps Orodreth wanted Finrod to die so he could keep the crown? With the Noldor, everything was possible.

The days following Galadriel’s audience with the king, Thranduil feared Thingol would summon his march-wardens and demand to know who had leaked the secret. Even if Thranduil held his tongue, Amroth might not – he knew that Thranduil had told his wife and that she had spent time with Galadriel, and it did not take a genius to put the facts together. 

During their next guard duty together, Amroth thankfully calmed him in that department. 

”Really, Tharan, who do you take me for?” He gave him a friendly punch on the shoulder. “I would never betray a friend, even one as foolish as you.”

“Thank you.” He returned the punch, smiling awkwardly. The other’s loyalty gave him a warm glow within. 

“Don’t mention it.”

A bit more at ease, Thranduil raised the ladder and climbed up with Lúthien’s supper. As always, he knocked once before entering her house, but this time the door seemed stuck.

“Do not come in,” came her voice. “Just put the tray outside.” 

“Are you alright?”

“Aye!” she snapped. “Go away.”

“But…”

“Just go! I do not want to see anyone for a while. Can you at least respect that wish, if you cannot respect my freedom?”

“Aye. Of course. Well, good night then, My Lady.”

As he climbed down, Thranduil pondered over the princess’ odd behaviour. Had somehow the rumours reached her too? Maybe she was mourning her dead lover. Either way, she had the right to be alone if she wanted to.

Lúthien isolated herself for several days, but since she ate the food they brought her and always answered through the door, nobody worried about it. 

After about a week, Thranduil and Amroth had the night shift, and as usual Aerneth came along with a basket of food and wine to keep them company during the evening. 

“What if she is fading? Mourning herself to death, just pretending she is eating to fool you,” Aerneth suggested when Amroth returned down with Lúthien’s empty tray. 

“Her voice sounds as strong as ever, and she blocks the door if we try to enter. If she were fading she would be weak by now. I think she just wants to be alone.”

They shared a pleasant meal of venison, rounding it up with almonds and dried berries. The strong blueberry wine cheered their spirits and made the hours go by much faster, and when Aerneth returned home well past midnight the ellyn felt both relaxed and sated.

Thranduil picked up a piece of wood and his knife and began to whittle. He was making a seagull pendant for Aerneth, thinking it could be a good Yule gift. Since he had spent all his earnings on pearls for her begetting-day, it would have to be something inexpensive. 

There was a movement behind him, and the unfinished gull fell from his limp fingers as Thranduil sagged to the ground, fast asleep.

When he opened his eyes, it was dawn. Bewildered and afraid, he scrambled to his feet. Why had he slept? He never slept on his guard. 

Looking down, he saw Amroth just waking up as well. How could they both have fallen asleep like that?

“What happened?” The other looked as confused as Thranduil felt, and a chill trickled down his spine. The wine . Had Aerneth put something in the wine? 

That was when he saw it. A shiny, black rope hung in the tree, from the now very empty prison. The ellyn stared at each other in horror. 

Lúthien had escaped.

  .

When Thranduil entered his home a few hours later, his fear had turned into white-hot fury. How could she? How dared she?

Storming inside, he yelled Aerneth’s name. She was in the sitting room with his parents, and they all jumped up in surprise at his sudden appearance.

“Thranduil?”

“Why did you do it? Why? Why ?” he growled, clenching his hands into fists to stop himself from wringing her neck.

“What did she do?” Oropher’s face had quickly clouded over.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Aerneth’s lip trembled and her eyes were wide with shock. 

“Of course you do, you lying little witch. Was it the wine? Or the food?”

“Calm down and tell us exactly what happened.” Oropher took a step closer, piercing him with his stare like he used to do when Thranduil was young. Like then, it helped him focus. 

Forcing himself to breathe calmer, and turning his features into an expressionless mask, he told his father everything; how he had been guarding Lúthien on the king’s orders when Aerneth had brought food and wine to him and Amroth, sedating them, and then helping the princess escape. As a consequence, Thranduil had now lost his place among the march-wardens, his good grace with the king and his income. 

When he had finished, Aerneth and Oropher both looked like pale ghosts, the former with fright and the latter with rage.

You ,” said Oropher, slowly advancing on Aerneth. 

“It’s not true,” she whispered, vigorously shaking her head. “I-I-I went home. I’ve been sleeping. I put nothing in the wine or food, I promise!”

Thranduil felt a flicker of doubt, either she was a very talented actor or she was telling the truth. But who else could have done it?

Oropher had Aerneth trapped in the corner. “Ever since you snared my son, you have been nothing but trouble.” He grabbed her arm, shaking her. “Can’t you see what your actions have brought upon us? Ruin. Disgrace. I will lose my position at court, and our family will be blackened forever.” He shook her again.

“Father.” Thranduil tried to pull him away but was forcefully thrown aside and nearly lost his footing as he stumbled over a chair. 

Aerneth said nothing, she was staring at Oropher like a trapped animal.

Hardly believing his eyes, Thranduil saw his father lift his hand.

“No!” He jumped forward but was too late to interrupt the strike. Clutching her jaw, Aerneth tumbled to the floor, with blood from her cut lip trickling between her fingers.

“What have you done?” Now it was Thranduil’s turn to shake his father, pushing him into the wall, trapping the other with his body. “She is my wife! If you ever touch her again I’ll…” He broke off. He wanted to say he would kill him, but knew he would never do that. 

Beside them, Eiriendîs helped Aerneth stand and led her out of the room.

“Sorry Thranduil, I did not mean to hit her.” Oropher looked ashamed. “I lost my temper. You know I struggle to control it, but sometimes one just cannot…” 

“Stop making excuses.”

“But look at what she did! She has crushed our family.”

“Just shut up.” Thranduil let go of his father. He felt the other’s arms encompass him but evaded the hug. “Don’t touch me.”

Turning his back to leave, he suddenly felt sick with worry. Was Aerneth badly hurt? 

He dashed upstairs and found the ellith in his room. His mother was hugging her sobbing daughter-in-law, the shoulder of her dress blotched with blood and snot. Eiriendîs’ gaze was locked on the sea painting and silent tears streaked her cheeks. 

Thranduil gently pulled Aerneth from her, tilting her chin to assess the bruise. She whimpered when he felt along her jaw. It was swollen, but not broken, and her teeth intact. He breathed out with relief.

“I’m going home.” Her voice was thick, and when she moved her lips they began to bleed again.

“Shh, don’t speak.” He pulled her to him, stroking her back soothingly. 

“I am coming with you,” said Eiriendîs. Her eyes never left the painting.

“Don’t… let us not be drastic now. We can settle this. And Father will never touch you again, I will protect you.”

Aerneth suddenly stiffened in his arms and pushed him away. She stared at him with flaming cheeks, anger and pain filling her eyes.

“Like you have protected your mother?”

He did not know what to answer. What did she mean? He could not go between his parents, their arguments were theirs to settle, he had no business trying to meddle in their affairs. But now he felt a twinge of insecurity. Had he been wrong? Should he have interfered?

Eiriendîs began to sob, loud, ugly sobs that felt like daggers in Thranduil’s heart. 

“Mother, I… I’m sorry.” 

Her weeping grew louder and she hurried out of the room, burying her face into her hands.

“This is sick.” Aerneth’s eyes were hard. “This family is just wrong. You act like it’s normal for an ellon to beat his wife and fight with her every day, and then bloody fuck her afterwards! I am going home, and I will take her with me, and you can choose. Either you come with us or you stay with that monster you call father.”

He stared at her mutely, feeling his eyes burn with tears.

“What will it be, Thranduil?”

His eyes spilled over and with a strangled sob he turned away, biting his lip to regain control. 

“I will come with you.” 


A/N:

I’m adding this A/N a while after this chapter was published. Some readers have taken Thranduil’s part and become angry with Aerneth despite what just happened to her. But remember this is written from Thranduil's perspective, and as a reader you only get his version. He suspects Aerneth of poisoning him without any evidence at all, and even tells his father she has done so, not listening to her objections. She has never lied to him previously. And in consequence her father-in-law beats her up...

Still, I hope you are not too harsh with Thranduil either. Children who grow up in abusive homes often become codependent with the abuser, finding excuses for his behaviour, adapting to it and not always understanding just how unhealthy the environment is. Especially if nobody outside the family knows. In this case, both the mother and her son suffered from codependency with Oropher.

Laying part of the blame on Thranduil like Aerneth did is not right either. A child is not supposed to protect their parent, it’s the other way around.

Trigger warning: Suicide


15. Sorrow

“Mother, will you not come inside? Autumn evenings are cold here by the sea.” As usual Thranduil had found Eiriendîs as far out as she could get on the longest pier. She was gazing at Aman, and it disturbed him more than he would admit. Her obsession with their painting back home in Menegroth had been bad enough, but this was the real thing. From here elves could sail over the ocean and never come back, spending the rest of their days on that distant shore, in a country to where Eiriendîs’ deceased relatives presumably had been reborn. 

“Soon, dear, just a little while longer. It’s so beautiful.” Her voice was soft and dreamy.

With a sigh, Thranduil turned to slowly walk back. His feet felt heavy, his entire body did. Ever since that horrible fight after Lúthien had escaped, he had been dull and sluggish, like he was caught in a bad dream, trying to run but unable to even move.

His family was crushed, all because of one incident. One failure. Even now, he did not know who to blame for it, but he had stopped caring. 

Oropher had beseeched them to stay. Thranduil would never forget his father’s tear-soaked face, red and swollen almost like Aerneth’s bruised cheek had been. He had humiliated himself, fallen on his knees and begged. Actually begged. 

Turning his back and walking away from his stricken father had been the most difficult thing Thranduil had ever done, but for once he had hardened himself. Aerneth was right, he had to get her and his mother out of that house.

The first night after the fight, Thranduil had brooded long over what Aerneth had said about how he had failed to protect his mother, and the more he thought about it, the more ashamed he became. Looking back, he realised he had taken her for granted and more or less treated her as if she were invisible; never showing her the same respect he did his father, seldom talking with her or asking how she fared.  Why had he been such an inadequate son?

He wanted to compensate for it now, but Eiriendîs made it so hard with her elusive behaviour. During their long journey here – on foot, because naturally King Thingol refused to lend them horses – she had hardly spoken two words, even to Aerneth, and since they arrived yesterday she had spent every waking moment gazing at the rolling waves.

Círdan and Falasiel had tried to cheer her up, but the whole situation with their daughter’s sudden return had been so strange and disturbing to them that it had affected their behaviour too, they were simply too confused to be good hosts. They knew nothing about the argument between Aerneth and her father-in-law, nor about Thranduil’s disgrace with the king. He had entreated Aerneth to keep her silence about it, both because he was ashamed, and because he was afraid it might cause ill feelings between the Falas and Doriath. 

Thranduil had reached the end of the pier now, and found Aerneth waiting for him. She snuggled in under his arm and he bent down to kiss her forehead. She had been different since they left Menegroth – in a good way. Warm and caring, both towards him and his mother, never once complaining or trying to pick a fight. Being at this beach with her brought back bittersweet memories from their wedding and those first sweet days after, but for once he did not feel like reviving their spicy moments, and he did not think she did either. They had not been intimate since the night before Lúthien escaped.

“A bird came for you,” Aerneth said. “From him.” She did not need to explain who ‘he’ was. 

Thranduil took the cylinder, unenthusiastically rolling out the message, expecting another apology and request for them to return. 

Dear son. So sorry. Wife innocent, Galadriel saw in mirror. Lúthien caused sleep – with magic. King forgiven you. Please come home. Love Oropher

When he had read the short note, Thranduil felt ill. Why had he accused Aerneth in front of his father? Had he only restrained himself, managed self-control and waited, none of this disaster would have happened. They could have still been a family.

“I’m glad the truth is out.” His wife had read over his shoulder. “I wonder how she did it? Maybe she planned the whole thing when she was hiding inside her house those days before.”

“Maybe.” 

He ought to say sorry to Aerneth but did not know how to, without sounding pathetic. 

“And the king forgave you too, that must feel good. Not that it matters much when we live here.” There was a hint of anxiety in her voice. She probably suspected he would want to return home now that he could be a march-warden again. 

She was right, he did want to return. He wanted to make things right, start over again and build a family where he would be a better son and husband, and Oropher a better father. Was that so strange a wish?

Meeting her gaze, he tried to think of a way to explain.

“No.” She shook her head before he could say anything. “I can never go back there. Don’t ask it of me.”

“It would be different this time.” He cupped her cheek. “I would protect you and Mother, and I think my father learned his lesson now–”

“No! No, Thranduil!” Her eyes filled with tears and she backed away, still shaking her head vigorously. 

“Wait…”

But she was running back into the city, shoulders shaking. Thranduil looked after the retreating figure. He must convince her somehow, but first he needed to bring the good news to his mother. 

Thranduil went out on the pier with very different feelings from only moments ago when he had come the other way. Hope. That was what he felt. Hope and relief. He was forgiven! He and Amroth had done nothing wrong, neither had Aerneth. They could all forget this ever happened and put it behind them.

“Mother! Father wrote to us. Very good news!”

Eiriendîs listened to his explanation, while still gazing into the distance.

“I’m glad you are happy again, my love,” she said, finally meeting his eyes. Hers were blank. 

“This time will be better. When we get home we will begin afresh. Turn a leaf. We will never fight again. I promise, Mother.”

Instead of replying, she reached out to caress his hair softly. Thranduil got a sudden flashback from when he was very little, crying in his bed after being punished by his father for some reason or other. This one time Eiriendîs had sat down beside him and stroked his hair – much like she did now – until he fell asleep. He could only recall it happening that once, his mother had never been very physical.

When she finally spoke, her voice was matted with remorse. “I have failed you. I’m so sorry, Thranduil.” 

“No Mother, I failed you . I should have–”

“Nay. Never blame yourself. None of this was your fault.” She pulled him into a hug and he awkwardly returned it. He hardly knew how to react, rare as it was to be hugged by his mother. His throat tightened, a lump forming as he struggled to contain the burst of emotions bubbling up within. 

“Remember that, Thranduil. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.”

“I don’t understand.” 

“You will understand soon. Just remember it’s not your fault, and I’m sorry.” She released him. “Now go. I will see you… later.” 

He nodded quickly, turning away to hide his face. “Good night then, mother. Don’t stay up too late.”

“Goodbye, Thranduil. I love you.” Her voice sounded strangled.

“I love you too.” 

He hurried down the pier, rubbing his eyes, still confused about what had just happened. 

He had nearly reached the city gate when a sound from behind made him break his stride and stop dead. A splash. 

No. No! She could not have… NO!

“Mother!” He had never ran so fast in his life before. “Mother!” The pier was empty. Eiriendîs was gone, Eiriendîs who unlike Thranduil had never bathed in the river in the summers, Eiriendîs who could not swim. 

Thranduil did not pause to look, he just jumped, gasping at the piercing coldness of the late autumn sea. Diving under, he tried to see through the darkness, straining his eyes and holding his breath until his lungs burned. He came up for air and went down again, swimming along one side, searching under the swan ship keels. Nothing. Another breath, and he rounded the pier to search its other side. 

There, something pale, floating just below the surface. It was her! He pulled her to him, holding her head up so she could breathe, but she would not do it. Her mouth was slightly open, her eyes too. Staring blindly at him.

He struggled to drag her up on the pier. Barnacles teared up his hands and knees but he hardly felt it. When she was finally up, he stretched out her limp body and shook her, trying to make her move, fighting to get a reaction. 

“Wake up. Please.” 

How had it happened, how could she have fallen into the water just like that? She knew she could not swim, why had she gone so close to the edge? It was stupid. 

You will understand soon. Had she planned it? Had she… No. He pushed the thought down.

“Mother, please wake up.” He was crying like an elfling, alternately shaking his mother and caressing her face, stroking her wet hair back and kissing her cool cheek. 

You will understand soon. 

He felt cold, like he had seawater in his veins instead of blood. Why would Mother not move? Could she be… Dead?

Dead. Death. Two words that were so foreign. Death happened to enemies, like orcs, or foolish Noldorin elves who went to battle with Morgoth. Death was unnatural. 

He heard running steps behind him and recognised them. Aerneth.

“No!” she whispered, falling on her knees beside him, touching Eiriendîs’ cheek and quickly withdrawing when she felt how cold it was. “What happened?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is she…?”

“I think so.” 

She moved close to him and he threw his arms around her, clinging to her. He was shaking violently, a hard knot forming in his stomach. Dead. His mother was dead.

  .

“I have to tell him myself. Sending a bird with a message like that… it would be too cruel.” Thranduil held Aerneth in his arms on the narrow bed in her room. It was cramped, but he was grateful for her closeness. 

“I understand. But I can’t come with you. I just… I just can’t.”

He buried his nose in her neck, drawing in her familiar scent. Going alone on such a long journey would be awful. He still needed her close.

It had been such a strange week, so confusing, but Aerneth’s comforting presence had made him function. He hardly remembered the first hazy days, when he had been the most numb and bewildered. Lord Círdan and Aerneth had taken care of everything, organising the funeral, choosing a burial site on a hillock overlooking the sea and having a mound constructed over her resting place. It was a good spot with a beautiful view, one that she would have liked.

Now Thranduil was slowly becoming more his normal self. As long as he did not ponder over the possibility his mother had not slipped and fell from the pier by accident, he was fine. Those thoughts only came late at night, and usually he managed to push them down before the burning guilt overwhelmed him. 

“I do not want to part with you,” he murmured.

“I don’t want to part with you either. But it will only be for a couple of weeks, and then you will return. You can borrow my father’s fastest horse.”

“I will miss you terribly.”

“And I you.” She kissed him tentatively, and for the first time in weeks he felt his body respond. That he desired to bed his wife so soon after his mother’s demise added badly to the guilt he already felt, but he pushed that down too. 

A burst of need overtook him, and he kissed and touched her with a passion he for once could not restrain at all. She was warm and compliant in his arms, not daunted by his ardour. In a hurry, though he did not understand why, Thranduil plunged into her, moving with total abandon, his thrusts hard and rapid. He could not hold back and too soon he was driven over the edge, the force of his climax rendering him weak and trembling. He collapsed over her, exhausted. 

He realised he must be nearly crushing her with his weight, but again she seemed not to mind. 

“That was… intense,” she mumbled and kissed him hungrily, stroking his moist neck and shoulders, arching her back to press up against him.

“I don’t know what got into me.” He rose on his elbows to allow her to breathe. “I will make it up to you.”

“There is nothing more arousing than you losing your self-control.” Her expression gave emphasis to her words. 

Smiling, he began to slowly kiss his way down her body, and the combination of his caresses and his murmuring her name soon brought her to completion as well.

.

Thranduil’s ability to push back his guilt lasted until his first evening on the road. He had never travelled alone before, and the combination of the vast plains surrounding him on all sides, the open, starry night sky above him and his utter loneliness beneath it, made him unable to control his thoughts. The suspicion he had tried so hard to quell now demanded attention; a sensible inner voice analysing the circumstances surrounding his mother’s death. 

You will understand soon. Why had she said so? And why had she said sorry? The sensible voice said she had apologised for dying. In advance. Which meant she had known it would happen, which meant she had made it happen. I will see you… later. She had talked about Aman, about being reunited after death. 

Thranduil buried his head in his blanket, biting his lip to keep himself from crying again. Why had she killed herself? The analytical voice was fairly certain it was the prospect of returning to Menegroth that had dismayed her, she had dreaded moving back in with Oropher. And since it was Thranduil’s wish to return, the voice told him he was to blame. It was his fault. His mother had died because Thranduil wanted to return to the march-wardens. To the bitter end he had failed her. 

He could not hold back a sob, which grew into a wail of grief. “Nana… I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Nanaaa…” His forlorn cries rolled over the empty plains. 

When dawn broke, Thranduil had no more tears left and in his chest only a hollow ache remained. During the last few hours of involuntary vigilance he had come to a decision: from then on he would never talk or think of his mother’s suicide again. It had been an accident. In the bleak twilight of the morning, Thranduil assumed the smooth, emotionless face he would need to keep that guile up. Mounting his borrowed horse, he went on his way.

.

Only a little over a day’s ride remained when Thranduil spotted a unit of march-wardens walking some way ahead. He nudged his horse into a gallop and soon caught up with them. He discerned Amroth in the group, and it was cheering to see his friend in his warrior’s gear. Oropher must have been correct in that the king had forgiven them. 

“Tharan!” Amroth’s face broke up into a wide grin. “I thought I would not see you again in a long time.”

Thranduil dismounted and found himself caught by the other in a bearhug. He returned it warmly, realising how glad he was to be back with his friend. 

Leading his horse, Thranduil commenced to walk with the march-wardens. He hoped Amroth would not ask about Aerneth and his mother, and thankfully he did not, eager as he was to recount all that had happened in Doriath recently.

“I assume you do not know how Lúthien escaped?” he began, and at Thranduil's negative reply, continued: “It was very clever. You remember how she locked herself up those last days? Well, it appears she was busy in there. Galadriel saw all of it in her water mirror. Lúthien must have inherited some of Queen Melian’s Maia powers, for she magically grew her hair out and used it to weave a coat and plait a rope. With the rope she climbed down from the tree, and the coat made us fall asleep – I know, it sounds like an elflings’ tale, right?”

“A hair coat put us to sleep? Aye, it does sound like a tale.”

“Well, it’s the truth, and the king confirmed it with Queen Melian too, once Galadriel had shown him. The queen would not say anything first, I think they are…” He lowered his voice. “...not on speaking terms, if you get me. Queen Melian was rather upset that he treated their daughter so badly, and the whole Silmaril quest too, it displeased her.”

“Where is Lúthien now?”

“Ai, this is where it’s gotten dramatic! She was caught – by Celegorm and Curufin, Fëanor’s sons you know. And Celegorm, the bastard, decided he wanted to marry Lúthien and sent emissaries to Doriath demanding King Thingol must agree to it, and even had the nerve to claim the king owed them his allegiance!”

“He did not!” Thranduil was genuinely surprised. How stupid could Celegorm be? He must know King Thingol hated all Noldor, particularly the sons of Fëanor – and thus the notion that he would be giving his daughter’s hand to one of them was ridiculous. What kind of stuck up ego would it take for an ellon to believe it possible? And even if her father for some obscure reason did concede, Lúthien would surely refuse, and what would Celegorm do then? Take her by force? The thought alone was nauseating.

“He sure did. Nearly caused a war too! The king was so angry, you should have seen him. I thought he would explode, or order the emissaries killed on the spot, or both. He wanted to launch an attack on Nargothrond! But first he sent us out – this unit I mean. We have just returned from spying on them, investigating if Lúthien really was there.”

“And?”

“Well, sure enough, she was taken to Nargothrond and imprisoned, but thankfully she had escaped before we arrived. A hound helped her – Celegorm’s own hunting dog, that they say the Vala Oromë himself once gave him! Lúthien fled riding the hound’s back like on a horse. Presumably she is well on her way to Sauron’s tower by now.”

“So, no war then?” 

“I hope not.”

They continued in silence. The concept of a war between elves was disconcerting, so far that had only happened once – in Aman when Fëanor and his people fought the Teleri shipbuilders at Alqualondë. What if it would be another one, and Thranduil was involved in it? Could he raise his sword against another elf and kill him? Killing orcs had been bad enough, and those were monsters, but an elf? 

Either way, he would have to. He was a warrior, he would follow orders.

  .

Full of apprehension Thranduil entered his home next evening; the time had come to bring the horrible news about Eiriendîs’ demise to his father. The hall was unusually gloomy, and further inside, the rest of the house lay in darkness too. Why had Oropher not lit the lanterns?

“Father?” he called, tentatively taking a few more steps. Was he not home yet?

“Thranduil?” came a hoarse voice from the sitting room. 

When Thranduil entered it, his father had just risen from one of the chairs. Enough light came in from outside to expose the ruffled state the ellon was in, his hair unkempt and his clothes wrinkled. Had he been sleeping in the chair? At this early hour? 

“You came back!” Oropher gave his son a hug, and Thranduil had to force himself to stand still when the stench of sweat and unwashed hair attacked his nostrils.

“Are you alright, Father?”

“Nay… nay, I am not. Thank the Valar you are back! I have been… Oh, tired, I guess… I have been so busy at work, coming home late most nights. Today was my first free day in a long time, so I have been catching up on my sleep. But no more of that.” Oropher went to light one of the wall lanterns. “Where is Eiriendîs? I could do with a nice breakfast. Or is it lunchtime already?”

Thranduil looked about him in the now lighted room, struggling to keep his face neutral. The place was a mess. Dust and grit covered the floor, with muddy footprints from his father’s boots crisscrossing it, and the tables were cluttered with books and unwashed dishes. 

“I know, I know.” Oropher indicated the disarray sheepishly. “I did not have the energy to keep the place in order, what with… Well, but you are back. I am so relieved! Where are the others?”

“Father… there is something I must tell you.” Maintaining his carefully crafted mask of calmness, Thranduil related his mother’s unlucky accident on the pier. When Oropher weakly sank back into the chair he had slept in, Thranduil drew another close to it and sat, taking his father’s dirty hand in his and caressing it. He described the funeral, and how the mound looked, how well the place was chosen, and how touching a speech Lord Círdan had held. He explained his choice not to send a bird but deliver the message personally. Lastly, he delivered the heartfelt condolences he had brought from his parents-in-law and his wife.

Oropher was silent for a long time, his face a sickly pale hue, and then he began to tremble so violently a nearby book fell onto the floor. Thranduil awkwardly patted his back, while desperately trying to smother the new wave of guilt that his father’s reaction stirred up.

“How… how can I manage without her?” Oropher said at last in a distorted voice. “I need her.” The look of absolute desolation in his eyes pierced Thranduil’s heart, shattering his mask at last. 

“I am so sorry, father.” He bent down his head, hiding his face in his hands.

“I guess it is just you and I now. We shall have to take care of each other.” 

  .

Much later, Thranduil filled his washing bowl and sat on the bed to call his wife.

“Aerneth?”

“Thranduil! How did it go?”

“Alright, I guess… he sleeps now, I helped him to bed. He has not been taking care of himself at all since we left. You should have seen the house! I tried to clean up the worst of it, but…” He sighed. “I must stay for a while, helping him get to terms with this.”

“For how long?” Her face clouded.

“I cannot say… And there is unrest in the city too, the king was on the verge of starting war against Nargothrond! It is a bad time to leave. Could you… Could you not reconsider? And come back? Father is a broken wreck, he could not harm a rabbit in this state.”

There was a long silence.

“Please? I miss you.” Seeing her determination waver, he added: “Aerneth… I need you.”

Her face was deeply troubled when she finally replied. 

“I will come with the next trade delegation.”


A/N:

If you struggle with depression, thoughts of self-harm or suicide, find a crisis center for your country here: https://www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres/ 

Death is not natural for the immortal elves, and hence I believe the reaction when someone close to them dies to be manifold. The shock, disbelief, and grief will be so much stronger felt, and after experiencing it the first time it will change them irrevocably. 

16. The Adventures of Lúthien and Beren

Menegroth, Doriath, First Age 466

With Aerneth’s return to Doriath, life slowly settled back to normal in Oropher’s house. Both ellyn returned to work, and while obviously still in mourning, they managed to hold it within themselves and keep up their appearances outwardly.

Aerneth took to running the household, and did it well. Oropher had no complaints about her anymore, at least none he would speak out loud, and their conversation around the dinner table was polite, albeit still a bit stiff. 

Autumn turned into winter, and winter into spring, and all was well. On the surface.

.

“Why did you wake me?” Thranduil gave Aerneth an angry glare.

“You were crying in your sleep again. I cannot stand it.” She tried to touch his cheek but he pushed her hand away.

“Just leave me be.” He turned his back. He did not want her pity, why could she not understand?

She sighed in a sad way that grated on his nerves. 

“I just wish you would speak about what is troubling you. I can see it is something.”

“Can an ellon get some rest in this room or will you talk all night? Shall I go down and sleep in the sitting-room?”

That silenced her for a couple of minutes. Thranduil felt himself slowly beginning to relax when she again piped up. 

“You have changed.” Her voice was small and disappointed.

Furious, Thranduil rose, pulled on a shirt and slammed the door behind him as he went downstairs. Nagging elleth of a wife! Why could she never do as told? She just had to keep prying. 

Pouring himself a glass of wine, he sank into one of the chairs, remembering his mother used to do the same. But he would not think of her. She was gone.

Instead his thoughts went to the troubled times the kingdom was going through. Ever since Lúthien’s escape, the city had been bubbling with unrest, and a few elves had even left and moved to the Falas or just disappeared, one of them the king’s best friend, the minstrel Daeron. 

And then other strange news had reached Doriath earlier this year; that Lúthien and the hound had arrived at Sauron’s island, and somehow they had single-handedly defeated that evil Maia and all his werewolves. As incredible and impossible as that sounded, it must be true, because many elves who had been imprisoned by Sauron had returned home afterwards and told the story. They had also carried the sad report that Finrod Felagund, former ruler of Nargothrond and Galadriel’s brother, was dead.

Now, all would have been well, had Lúthien just returned home, but this was not the case. Many months had passed since Sauron was defeated and it had become obvious she must have followed Beren on his quest, continuing further north to Morgoth’s fortress where she would surely meet her dire end. Overthrowing a former Maia was one thing, but to best Morgoth who was more powerful than any of the Valar – that was something else entirely. 

The queen still refused to speak with or counsel the king, so in desperation Thingol had sent out Captain Mablung with a group of march-wardens to beseech the sons of Fëanor to help stop his daughter’s mad endeavor. Celegorm and Curufin had captured her before, and her escaping a second time was their fault, the king reasoned. 

Thranduil thought the plan was terrible and he had not volunteered to go with Mablung. Celegorm had behaved despicable towards the princess in trying to wed her against her will, and Thranduil could not for the world understand why Thingol wanted anything to do with such an elf. Even the weak new ruler of Nargothrond, Orodreth, had turned against Celegorm and driven him and Curufin out of his lands. They were said to live to the northeast now, in Himring, with their eldest brother Maedhros. 

There was a knock on the door and Thranduil went to open, wondering who disturbed his house at this early hour. It was Amroth, and he looked absolutely terrified.

“Come in. What is wrong?”

“It’s Captain Mablung, he just returned. I was guarding the gates and he stopped to tell me. They are all dead, Tharan. All who went with him!”

“What?” A chill spread through Thranduil. Dead? A whole unit of march-wardens?

“They met with a monster. Mablung described it as best he could, he thinks it was a werewolf but much larger and stronger than those Sauron were breeding, he thought this one must have been the creation of Morgoth himself. But the worst part is, he found it inside the Girdle! Inside Doriath! And after eating all the warriors and all their horses the beast chased after Mablung when he fled, so it’s likely coming for us.” Amroth sank down in a chair and Thranduil sat beside him. “It’s coming here .”

“That’s impossible,” said Thranduil. “Nothing can pass the queen’s fence.”

“Well this beast did!”

“Come, let us go to the king. We are probably needed there.” Thranduil hurriedly got dressed, not bothering to answer Aerneth’s alarmed questions about what was up. She was better off not knowing about the approaching danger anyway.

“At least tell me when you will return,” she cried after him. 

“I do not know.”

Then he was out of the door, and together he and Amroth jogged to the palace. 

They had nearly arrived when they met with a strange group, and to his great surprise Thranduil recognised them; it was Princess Lúthien, Beren and a huge dog – the hound! Had they not gone to Morgoth after all? 

They looked worn, their clothes dishevelled and dirty, and the man’s hair and beard were even wilder than when Thranduil had first seen him. Wildman and Outlaw had he been called, and never had those descriptions seemed more fitting.

The hound gave Thranduil and Amroth an unsettlingly sentient look, and nodded its head at them in greeting. 

“How good to see you two!” said Lúthien. ”I am sorry I had to put you to sleep, I hope it did not cause too much trouble.”

The ellyn shared a glance. There was no polite way to reply to that. Not too much trouble? Because of Luthien’s escape, Thranduil’s family had been crushed, his mother was dead and his marriage strained. 

But Lúthien did not seem to notice his dismay, she and Beren had already hurried inside the castle and the ellyn and the hound followed suit.

Soon the throne room was full of people; a large number of march-wardens, Beleg Cúthalion with a comforting arm around the dejected Captain Mablung, a huddle of homeless elves who had lived in the woods and barely escaped the werewolf, some sleepy courtiers wondering what all the ruckus was about, princess Lúthien and her lover, and finally came the king and the queen.

Queen Melian dashed ahead of her husband, throwing her arms around her daughter. Her cheeks were streaked with tears.

Thingol looked relieved to see the princess as well, but also annoyed. He pierced the mortal with his gaze.

“How did the quest go? Did you get the Silmaril?”

The man straightened his back, fearlessly meeting the king’s eyes. “I did, My Lord. It is in my hand right now.”

“Show it to me!”

Beren lifted his left hand, slowly opening it – it was empty. Then he held out his right arm, and there was a hiss as the assembled elves drew in a collective breath at the sight; the man’s arm ended in a deformed stump, crisscrossed with scar tissue, red and ugly. 

“My hand with the Silmaril is inside the werewolf’s belly.”

The king’s gaze finally softened and he indicated for the couple to sit beside his throne. “Tell me all that befell you.” 

This they did, recounting the most amazing tale Thranduil had ever heard, and when they were done his view of Lúthien as a somewhat distracted elleth who liked to sing and dance in the forest was forever changed. She was a true warrior and a hero, there was no other way to describe her part in that quest.

“When I learned from Mother that Beren was in trouble I instantly tried to find a way to go to him,” Lúthien began. “And when Father imprisoned me in the tree, I spent every waking moment trying to find a way to get out. Finally I thought of using my hair. Do you remember, Mother, how I would bespell my hair to lull myself to sleep when I was little and had nightmares?”

“I do.” Melian nodded.

“Now I turned that spell outward, and hiding inside the tree house I encouraged my hair to grow out fast. When I had enough to plait a rope and weave a cloak I used them to escape, and my cloak made my guards fall asleep.” She cast another apologetic glance and Thranduil and Amroth. “I hurried out of Doriath, but had only come to the Plains near Amon Rûdh when Celegorm and Curufin found me, they were out hunting with Huan.” She indicated the hound, who were still by her side. “They captured me and took me to Nargothrond, and kept me locked up there for several months. It really was a horrible time, seldom had I felt more lonely and I was afraid that Celegorm might take me as his bride by force.” 

The audience again gasped, despite having heard of the evil deeds of Celegorm already before, and an angry soar erupted. It was different to hear the story from Lúthien herself, to realise what a terrifying situation she had been in and how awful things might have turned out.

“Silence,” said Thingol.

“Thankfully Huan came every night to keep me company, making me feel a little less frightened,” Lúthien continued. She stroked the grey head of her companion, and he leaned in to her touch. “And one night he found a way to bring me my cloak, and then he spoke to me – in actual words, like an elf – and told me how to flee, hidden by my cloak just like when I escaped Doriath. We left together, there was a secret path out of the city, and he let me ride on him all the way to Sauron’s island.”

“And there I was, the only one left of the company who set out from Nargothrond,” Beren broke in, sounding morose. “A werewolf ate us, one by one. And then it came for me, but Finrod broke loose of his bonds and fought it, killing it with his bare hands and teeth. He died shortly after, his wounds were too grave.” The man’s voice broke and his shoulders slumped. “He was a true friend of my House to the very end. Finest ellon there ever was.”

Lúthien took his hand, soothingly stroking it with her fingers.

“Then I heard Lúthien sing,” he continued. “The power of her song made the werewolves howl in fright and the entire tower shook, but I was so broken with grief and dismay I thought I was imagining it.”

“But he was not,” said she. “With my song I alerted Sauron of our presence, and stupidly he sent his werewolves at us one at a time. Had they come all at once he might have defeated us, but as it were, now Huan easily killed each one. The last one, larger and stronger than the others, actually survived long enough to return to its master and tell him who we were. And this was when he came for us in person – which I only later realised, because he had shifted shape into another werewolf. The werewolf-Sauron pounced on Huan, and he moved to the side so the monster came in front of my cloak, and my magic then of course made him drowsy. Now Huan could pin him to the ground, catching his neck in a deadly grip.” Again she stroked the hound, almost absentmindedly. “Sauron tried to wrangle free, changing into a snake, and when that did not work, he shifted back into his Maiar form. That’s how I knew it was him, for he looked like an elf in that shape.”

“And then you got soft hearted,” said Beren, smiling weakly at her.

“Well, he said he yielded, and I felt it was not right to kill him then. So we let him go, and he changed into a batlike vampire and flew away. Then all we had to do was clear the island of the few remaining monsters, and free all the captive elves. And in the lowest dungeon I finally found Beren and the body of Finrod.” She squeezed her lover’s hand. 

“We buried Finrod on the island,” said Beren, his voice again filled with sorrow. 

Thranduil appreciated that the human at least had that decency – that he realised how incredible and unusual it was for an elf to give up his immortality to save a human, a mortal who would be dead in hardly no time anyway. 

“Then we went back towards Doriath, because Beren insisted I could not come with him, and I agreed because he was so very sad. But secretly I was planning a way to persuade him.”

Beren gave her another besotted smile. 

“However, we only got as far as the Forest of Brethil until we again crossed paths with Fëanor’s sons. They attacked us, and Beren managed to get Curufin down. They were wrestling on the ground when Celegorm came at them with his sword, but Huan bravely went against his former master and scared his horse so it bolted away with its rider.”

“And then you again went soft and said I couldn’t kill my foe,” added Beren. 

“Aye, I did not want his blood on our hands, I am not like the Noldor!”

“You did the right thing, daughter,” said Thingol.

“I took his horse and Angrist, his mighty knife, and then let him run,” Beren continued. “His brother picked him up on his own horse and they rode off together. And I guess I thought he would be honourable in his turn, so I turned my back to them, which in retrospect was stupid. But I did, and that damned elf took his brother’s bow and tried to shoot Lúthien.” 

“First Huan saved me,” said she. “He caught the arrow in his mouth, but the second arrow Beren took for me. Then Huan finally chased the brothers off for good. Meanwhile it was all I could do to save Beren’s life, and he would have died had Huan not come back with a tuft of Athelas in his mouth. With the power of those herbs I could in time nurse Beren back to health.” 

“I was still very weak, but I really did not want Lúthien to risk her life by coming with me, so when she slept I left her and Huan and continued on my quest, galloping north on Curufin’s horse.” Beren looked at his feet to avoid his lover’s glare.

“And obviously I followed him. Huan and I went back to Sauron’s deserted island and disguised ourselves, he in one of the dead werewolves’ pelt, and I wore a vampire’s wings. This vampire apparently was very important, because on our route north we passed many orcs and other monsters and they were absolutely terrified!”

“Then they caught up with me, and I until they removed their disguises I thought my last moment had come.” Beren chuckled, but then got serious. “Now, Huan spoke again, and this time I heard it too.” He gave the hound a bashful glance. “He basically scolded me for being so stupid and that I must not turn Lúthien away for then she would die of grief. And I guess then I realised there was nothing for it, I had to let her come.”

“It was about time, too.”

”Huan said farewell and gave me the werewolf pelt, and Lúthien and I went on to the Gate of Angband. There we found the fellest monster we had yet seen, a werewolf like the one whose pelt I wore, but much, much larger and more clever. He understood we wore disguises and was about to attack us, but my brave Lúthien just tossed her bat suit to the side and went to stand unafraid in front of him. Like a tiny mouse before a vicious lion.”

“I was afraid,” she objected. “I am not stupid. But I trusted my cloak would make him fall asleep, and thankfully it did.”

“So we went inside, and it was a veritable labyrinth down in that fortress.”

“But you have an amazing orientation ability.” Lúthien beamed at him.

“Maybe.” He grinned sheepishly. That they were heads over heels in love could not come as a surprise to anybody by now.

She continued: “We still wore our disguises, but when we finally found his throne room, Morgoth managed to see through mine.”

“You would think she would be afraid and escape then, I mean, he is a bloody Vala! Excuse my language. But instead she offered to be his minstrel and sing for him, and he looked at her in a way I did not appreciate and accepted. It was obvious what he planned to do to her.”

“Well, I did not intend to give him the opportunity.” Lúthien grinned almost naughtily. “I put all my magic into my song, and in addition with my cloak it was enough to blind him and to put all of his minions to sleep. And then I threw my cloak over his head and he fell off his throne, sleeping soundly.”

“You overcame Morgoth, Lord of Darkness, second in power only to Eru Ilúvatar himself?” Thingol gaped at her, and Thranduil felt his own jaw slacken too. Was this really the elleth he had courted and taken on awkward forest walks?

“Aye…”

“And then I saw his crown had fallen off his head, and the Silmarils glowed brightly,” said Beren. “So I used Angrist, the knife I took from Curufin, and cut off one of the Silmarils. And, sadly, their beauty and power enthralled me, for I suddenly felt a need to take them all,” he admitted. “I tried to loosen another, but the knife broke, and a shard of it flew off to pierce Morgoth’s cheek.”

The audience, by now completely engrossed by the captivating tale, let out a joint groan.

“Morgoth stirred in his sleep, and we fled,” Beren continued. “But by the Gate, the huge werewolf had woken up. I tried to scare him away with the light from the Silmaril, holding it up against him.” He raised his handless arm. “And so he bit it off.”

“It was horrible,” Lúthien added. “They both screamed so heartbreakingly, Beren from the loss of his hand and the werewolf from the burning fire of the Silmaril in his stomach. The monster ran away howling, while I tried to stem the bleeding and suck out the poison from Beren’s wound. Again he would have died if not for Huan.” She gave the hound a hug. “On his way back south, Huan met the Lord of the Eagles in the mountains north of Dimbar and asked him to keep an eye on us. The eagles found us outside the Gate of Angband and carried us back to the woods north of Doriath.”

“We stayed there until yesterday,” said Beren. “Huan came with more Athelas, and together he and Lúthien healed me a second time. When I was finally well, we decided to return here.”

When he had finished, the room was absolutely quiet, everybody waiting for the king’s reaction.

“Beren son of Barahir, after listening to your adventures, and hearing you describe my daughter’s zeal in aiding you, I realise her heart is committed.”

Thranduil hid his mouth behind his hand. He only figured that out now?

“Thus, I see no other option than allowing your courtship.” The king was silenced by Lúthien who jumped up and threw her arms around him.

“Thank you, Ada!”

“I would only ask one last thing of you, Beren,” he said, mildly shoving his daughter to the side. “Namely that you join me and my best warriors to hunt down the werewolf who maimed you. He still roames free, and he has come here within our borders. That fell beast must be killed ere he reaches our city, and I still desire the jewel he carries inside. Would you do this?”

“Of course, Your Grace.” Beren bowed.

  .

“You shall volunteer for the hunt, I suppose?” Oropher took a sip of his juice. They had just finished supper, during which Thranduil told them everything he had learned today.

“Aye, as is my duty.” Thranduil tried to ignore Aerneth’s frowning face on the other side of the table. What she thought was obvious.

“The werewolf killed all the march-wardens who went with the captain,” she said.

“Maybe I am stronger than them. Or do you think I am weak?”

“I will not have anyone say my son is a coward. If he wins glory in this hunt, he could rise in importance with the king. Maybe even become captain, if Mablung or Beleg are slain.”

Thranduil stared at his father, a bit shocked at his open ambition. But come to think of it, it was no secret to him that Oropher had long sought to make their family rise in importance. 

Later when he went to bed, Thranduil heard Aerneth crying silently. As always, her sadness twisted his gut painfully, he simply could not stand it.

“What is wrong?” 

“I do not want you to die,” she sniffed.

“You knew I was a warrior when you married me.” He moved a little closer, pulling her into his arms, feeling her tremble. 

“Aye.”

He sighed. “I will be careful.” 

He kissed her softly, and then a bit more earnestly, trying to make her forget her sadness. When he rubbed and fondled her breasts she responded with her usual fervour and willingness, pressing herself against him, and her smooth fingers mirroring the action on his own chest. He rolled her over and pushed into her, but when he bent to kiss her cheek he tasted salty tears trickling down them. She was still weeping silently when she climaxed.

  .

To Thranduil’s dismay, his offer to help slay the werewolf was turned down. The king did not want to lose any more of his march-wardens, and had decided to only take his two captains, Huan the Hound and Beren.

They left early the next morning, with nearly all of the city silently watching them go. If they failed, the kingdom was doomed; bereft of their leaders and with no chance to ever defeat Morgoth’s monstrous wolf.

Oropher, who stood beside his son, apparently did not think that altogether a bad thing. “Now you have shown your courage in volunteering to join the hunt, and if they fail, you shall surely become captain. And maybe in time, one of us could find a way to take over the crown.” This he said in a low voice, barely more than a whisper. 

Thranduil did not reply. Speaking that way was close to treason. Had his father lost his mind? 

For his part, Thranduil sincerely hoped the king would succeed. What good would it be to rule a kingdom that was terrorised by a werewolf? For if the departing heroes did not succeed, Thranduil was sure nobody else would either. He knew the limits of his skill, he was nowhere near Beleg’s talent with the bow or Mablung’s with the sword.

The rest of the day Thranduil spent outside the city gates with Amroth and a few other march-wardens, officially assigned with the task of guarding Lúthien who again had been forced to stay behind. The guards knew now that they had no chance to stop her, should she really want to go, so why she stayed anyway Thranduil could not say. Maybe she wanted to give Beren an opportunity to prove his worth to her father, so he would bless their union?

Either way, it was no calm waiting for any of them. Lúthien paced back and forth all day, restlessly wringing her hands and murmuring to herself, and the guards too were edgy and nervous. There was an ominous ambience among them, like something important was about to happen, something which would affect their future in ways they could not foresee or understand.

  .

The hunters returned late that night. They carried a stretcher, upon which lay Beren and the slain body of Huan. Lúthien grasped her lover’s shoulders anxiously, but when she saw his pale countenance and lifeless gaze she apparently realised he had not long left to live. His injuries must be graver than even her great powers or the strength of Athelas could heal.

“Wait for me, Beren,” she beseeched him. “Wait for me in the Halls of Mandos. I shall come after you soon. I will not lose you. You hear me? I will not let you go.”

The man weakly looked her in the eye, and something seemed to pass between them. Then he breathed out one last breath, a long, silent sigh, and was gone. Lúthien fell over his limp body, shaking as grief overcame her.

Thranduil lifted his gaze to the other elves, his king and his captains. Beleg was bleeding from a chest wound, but otherwise they looked as well as one might expect under the circumstances. Then Thranduil noticed the king was clasping something with whitening knuckles, and whatever it was shone so brilliantly his hand looked like a lamp.

So, they had succeeded then. King Thingol had got his desired Silmaril at last.


A/N:

Most of the story of Beren and Lúthien is taken directly from Tolkien’s Silmarillion, only transformed into a first person perspective. I take no credit for his amazing imagination!

17. Forebodings

Menegroth, Doriath, First Age 467

The burial grounds of Doriath were located in a calm and beautiful spot north of the city, not far from the tree where Lúthien had been imprisoned. Aerneth was not sure if she liked the place or not. Sure, the white daisies planted on the grave mounds were pretty, and the surrounding beeches, now covered in tiny, new leaves were somber and polite when she reached out to them with her mind, but she hated to be reminded of death. It was unnatural, yet lately so many had succumbed to it. 

Only last year she had been at her previous funeral, when Beren had been honoured with a spot among the elves, and not long before that had been the mass burial of all those who had died when Captain Mablung’s unit was attacked by the werewolf. And then of course she was always reminded of the first funeral she had ever been to, in Eglarest, after Thranduil’s mother’s tragic accident.

Now for the fourth time she had to witness the tear streaked faces of the mourning as another body was lowered into the ground and covered with stones and dirt. 

Today it was the most famous elleth on Middle-earth who had departed; Lúthien Tinúviel, princess of Doriath, fair of face and voice, a powerful and unafraid heroine. Grief had done what even Morgoth himself had failed, and taken her life. The past year she had wasted away, her soul slowly fading until her body was naught but an empty shell, and now even that did not remain.

The king looked to be still in shock. His face had almost the same colour as the garment that had given him his epessë – Thingol, greycloak. Beside him Melian was much more calm and collected, she had known her daughter would die since shortly after the burial of Beren, and had had time to come to terms with it. She had seen it in Galadriel’s mirror – a foreboding of this , of Lúthien’s funeral. 

The afternoon was chilly and Aerneth pulled her cloak together. She glanced at her husband, he only wore a tunic but the cold seemed not to affect him. His face was pale and smooth, forming an expressionless mask, one that he very rarely dropped nowadays. She loathed it. 

Still, even with Thranduil so closely guarding his feelings, she could read him. The slight slumping of his shoulders, the tenseness of his jaw, his clenched hands; all told the same story: that the loss of Lúthien affected him deeply. In addition, his sleep had become troubled again, much like the first year after his mother’s demise. It was strange, for surely Lúthien had not meant that much to him? He had always claimed he only courted her out of convenience, to placate Oropher. But why else would he be so troubled now?  

A couple of years back the suspicion that he may have harboured warmer feelings towards the princess would have made Aerneth jealous, but now she realised she actually did not care. Not many things about her husband affected her anymore, not even his foul moods and tendency to stay away from home until late. Even his bad dreams and nightly crying which had worried her so much before had become merely a nuisance that disturbed her sleep. Did she even love him anymore?

She wanted to believe she did, that deep down, her feelings were the same. That not only desire remained between them. But with every passing day it was harder to remember the ellon he had been.

Thranduil must have felt her eyes on him for his gaze met hers. Calm, unblinking eyes, all emotions locked behind their clear surface. It angered her, and unlike him, she knew she showed it in her face. 

He looked away. 

Around the supper table a while later, Oropher made it clear that he did not think highly of the late princess.

“I am sure she was doing it on purpose – refusing to eat, moping every day, of course it led to her death. I do not hold with it. Thingol should have seen it coming and put a stop to it before it was too late.”

Thranduil did not reply, but Aerneth noticed his knuckles paling around his spoon. Strange.

“And all this for the sake of a human that she will not even meet in the afterlife! Where he goes, she cannot follow.” Oropher shook his head. “That she would rather be dead than live without him is a sign of weakness, of feebleness of mind.”

“I would not call Lúthien weak,” Aerneth protested. “Quite the opposite.”

“Of course you would not. You ellith always hold each other’s backs,” he sneered. 

“That is not true. I hardly knew her.” Aerneth tried to restrain her annoyance at her father-in-law’s scorn.

He did not notice. “I wonder if she will be held accountable for killing herself, when she comes to the Halls of Mandos? Will the Valar disapprove? I think they might.”

Thranduil hastily rose, turning to Aerneth. “Thank you, the soup was lovely. I have to… be somewhere.” He left the table and soon they heard the door close.

Something about all this obviously disturbed him, but by now Aerneth knew he would not share whatever it was with her. 

.

The commercial part of Menegroth was busy as usual in the morning. Aerneth stood at the fish stall, examining a few striped tails critically. She had come too late for trout again and only a heap of sad looking perch remained. The problem was, she hated perch. They tasted mud and smelled like sewer, and in addition they were so full of bones they were a bother to eat. In her opinion, the only acceptable freshwater fish were trout or salmon, which tasted more like the saltwater species she had been used to back home. Those were fished upstream of Menegroth, where the Esgalduin was still clean, whereas perch, carp and pike were fished in a dam the beavers had built some miles downstream. All the city’s wastewater ended up there, and in consequence the water was coloured a sickly, greenish brown. But there was no helping it, it was winter and the food stores were almost empty, this time of year one had to settle with what food one could get.

She had just paid for the fish and put the package into her shopping basket when a commotion from the city gates caught her attention. Two familiar looking persons had entered Menegroth. 

She blinked. Was that… But no, they were long gone. Surely it could not be them…?

Aerneth walked fast towards the newcomers, hardly noticing where she placed her feet. Among the shops and stalls around her, others were staring too, murmuring in disbelief, a soar of bewildered voices filling the air. 

Lúthien and Beren… The princess… Back from the dead… Returned from Aman.

It really was them, alive and healthy looking, but also changed somehow, especially the princess. Something about her eyes… Aerneth could not say what it was.

“Lúthien! Lúthien!” King Thingol’s loud wail echoed between the stone walls when he came running from the direction of the palace in a mad dash, carelessly throwing aside any elves in his path. He wore no cloak and no crown, not even boots on his feet, as if he had just risen. Perhaps he had, rumour said the king had not been himself since his daughter passed away, and that he would spend entire days in bed sometimes.

The princess came to meet her father, who caught her in a bear hug that seemed painful. Then he held her out at an arm’s length, scrutinising her as if he could not believe it really was she, his eyes overflowing with tears. 

“You came back… you really came back…”

“Aye. I did.” She fondly touched her father’s wet cheek, smiling, but it was a sad smile. 

The king grinned, and then he began to chuckle. “Oh my dearest daughter, I am so happy! Thank the Valar! Blessed Mandos who allowed you to return to me.” He was laughing now, a hearty, rich laugh that Aerneth had never heard from the ruler before. 

The queen had arrived as well now, silent and composed as always, and like her husband she hugged her daughter close before holding her out to look at her. However, unlike Thingol, Melian did not laugh or even smile. As she gazed upon Lúthien her eyes filled with a deep sadness.

“So, this is the path you have chosen.”

“I am sorry, Mother,” breathed Lúthien. “It was the only way.”

Thingol’s laughter abated when he noticed their grave appearances. “What is wrong? Tell me what is wrong,” he demanded.

“Can you not see it?” Melian shook her head. 

“Father, I… I had to give it up. For Beren.” The man still stood some yards behind, looking demure and troubled. What had she given up? 

Aerneth realised it at the same time as the king. His eyes grew wide and hurt, and he grabbed her shoulders, shaking her. “What have you done? What have you done ?”

“I have become mortal.”

.

Aerneth rested her head on Thranduil’s moist chest, listening to his heartbeat slowing down, enjoying the fact that he had not turned away immediately after intercourse like he usually did nowadays. He seemed relaxed, content even, and had been so ever since Lúthien returned to life.

She and Beren had only stayed a few weeks in Doriath, Aerneth was not sure why, but maybe being the only mortals in a city of elves was reason enough. Or perhaps it was too painful for Lúthien’s parents to see her, knowing that she would begin to age, and that soon they would be forever separated when she died. She now had the Gift of Men – the ability to die and not be reborn – and it was said that even the Valar did not know where a mortal’s soul would go after their death. 

Aerneth mused over Lúthien’s choice and all she had given up to be with Beren – her life, her home, her parents. Would Aerneth have done the same for Thranduil? She wanted to think she would. In moments like this he was easy to love, when his arms were around her and she felt his fingers comb through her hair. 

“I think it’s very romantic,” she said. ”What Beren and Lúthien did for each other, I mean.” Looking up at the tiny crystal stars in the ceiling, she remembered how romantic she had once thought her husband was. But they were newlyweds then, he had wanted to impress her, now she could not recall when he had last given her anything. 

”Dying is not romantic.” His fingers stilled their motions.

”Of course not. I meant their sacrifices. That Beren waited so long in the Halls of Mandos for Lúthien instead of leaving for his unknown afterlife adventure, not knowing when or if she would come. And Lúthien’s love must be really strong for her to choose him over her family, opting to never be with them in Aman. Even Mandos himself took pity over her when she sang about all she had gone through to be with Beren. The depth of her feelings impressed him.” 

“Stupid, I would say, to give up one’s immortality.” Thranduil’s peaceful expression took the edge of his words, for once his mask was down. “They will hardly have any time together anyway. I mean, how long do mortals live? Rarely even ten decades.”

Aerneth only smiled. She thought ten decades was better than nothing, but refrained from saying so, not wanting to ruin Thranduil’s mood by arguing – especially not about an elleth he had used to court. 

”I am glad Mandos liked her enough to humour her, and sent her back,” he added thoughtfully. ”I was… I never quite dared believe Galadriel’s stories about reborn elves in Aman.”

She turned to face him, meeting his eyes imploringly. ”You worried you would never see your mother again? That was why you slept bad and... all that?”

He tensed and broke eye contact, his gaze becoming guarded. 

Aerneth quickly changed the topic before he could push her away. “Now that Lúthien and Beren are married, they have all sorts of fun things to learn. All alone in the wilderness too.” She stroked circles on his chest with her fingertip, pinching his nipple.

He chuckled, relaxing again. ”Indeed.”

”I wonder if Lúthien’s babies will be mortal.” Humans appeared to generally have many children, and get them at a young age too – even before their second decade sometimes, but obviously they must reach maturity much sooner than elves. An elf of twenty was still an elfling. Perhaps humans compensated for their short lifespan by an ability to give birth early and often?

“Probably. If they are compatible to breed.”

“Compatible… hm. I wonder how Beren looks naked. Do you think he is hairy all over, like he is in his face? Maybe even on his–”

“Hush.” Thranduil placed a finger over her lips, indicating the wall. His father might be listening. 

Aerneth licked his hand playfully. She loved the taste of his skin. “I am just curious,” she whispered, nibbling her way from his fingers up along his arm. 

“You should not think such thoughts about another… male , even if it is only a human,” he whispered back, frowning like only he could – but his enlarged pupils were proof he did not entirely disapprove.

“When Lúthien strokes him like this maybe it will feel like petting a bear,” she breathed. 

His lips quirked up involuntarily. “You have such a dirty mind.” 

“Sorry. I shall practice my virtue and purity.” She rolled away playfully.

“Don’t.” He came after her, pressing his hardness against her buttocks. “Now you made me think of bears mating.” He kissed her neck and slid a hand forward to her breasts.

“I dare say your mind is dirtier than mine,” she decided. And then he pushed into her from behind and she was too preoccupied to speak for some time.

.

It was the first day of the month, and the appointed hour for Queen Melian’s regular water call with her daughter. Lúthien lived in Ossiriand now, many leagues southeast of Doriath on an island in one of the many rivers coming down from the Blue Mountains.

Galadriel emptied a pitcher into her silver bowl, and when Aerneth felt Lúthien think her name she sang a few words to start the spell. Soon a beautiful face formed in the water. 

“Are you well? How is the baby?” Melian sounded worried. As if her daughter might die any day, now she was mortal.

“I am fine, mother.” Lúthien smiled, and disappeared out of the picture. When she returned a small face was beside hers. “There, Dior, look at your grandnana. Say hi to grandnana.”

“Da.” The baby pointed a chubby hand at the queen. He showed all signs of taking after his father both in looks and race.

“Ai! Hello my love, such a big boy you have become,” she cooed. 

Aerneth and Galadriel respectfully moved back, allowing the queen some privacy. 

When Melian had finished her call she looked demure. “I wish so much I could hold him in my arms.” 

The others tried their best to comfort her. Galadriel put her arm around the other’s shoulder, and Aerneth chatted cheerfully about how healthy the boy looked, and how living on a river island must be similar to her own happy childhood by the sea. 

Despite their different backgrounds and ages, the three ellith had grown closer the past couple of years, when the queen had had to rely on their water powers to keep in touch with her daughter. With her own farseeing she could only look, not speak – hers were internal, mental images, not working well as a form of communication. 

Only the queen was present during their calls, Thingol had not spoken with his daughter even once since she left Doriath. The king prefered to spend his time in the treasury, admiring his Silmaril.

”Are you busy tonight, or might we continue with the mirror some longer?" asked Melian after a while. "I worry about the upcoming war and the sons of Fëanor. Maybe the water can show us something of the future."

“I do not mind trying.” Galadriel took the silver bowl, a few drops spilling over the edge as she moved it closer. Her gift lay in calling forth visions for whomever held the mirror, images of their past and future. Only Aman beyond the western shore was closed to her scrying abilities. 

Aerneth decided to stay as well, the war Melian had mentioned worried her too. It had become known outside Doriath that Beren and Lúthien had taken one of the Silmarils from Morgoth’s crown, and Maedhros, eldest of the sons of Fëanor, had decided to attack the Dark Lord and retrieve the final two. He had gathered a huge union of both humans, dwarves and elves. All over Beleriand preparations were afoot; weapons being forged, plans drawn up, warriors honing their skill. 

Maedhros had sent emissaries to Doriath as well, wanting the king to return the Silmaril to him and his brothers, who claimed it rightfully belonged to them – it was their father Fëanor who had created them after all. Queen Melian had counseled Thingol to hand it over, but he refused, already much affected by the brilliance and power of the gem. He had also refused to aid them in their planned attack against Morgoth. 

Many in Menegroth now feared another kinslaying over Thingol’s Silmaril; it was rumoured Celegorm and Curufin were plotting to kill him and take it if they survived the war.

The mirror was ready. Galadriel whispered her spell and peered deeply into the waters. When she had finished, her face was very pale. “I have ill tidings. Never before have I seen such bleak visions.”

“Tell us,” said Melian.

“I saw Morgoth sending a huge host of orcs south of his realm, led by a dragon. My brother Orodreth was slain and the city of Nargothrond taken over by the fell beast.” 

The queen’s eyes widened. “Let me see.” She leaned over like her friend had done, but very soon she withdrew, sadly shaking her head. “Doriath will fall,” she whispered. “I saw Thingol wearing the Silmaril in a necklace, and he was slain over it by a dwarf.” She turned to Aerneth. “You should look as well. I hope yours is a less daunting future.”

Aerneth took the mirror with shaking fingers, anxious and not really wanting to watch. 

First she saw a swirl of dense smoke, and when it cleared a familiar city appeared. Eglarest, her home. It was burning heavily, its once proud walls and stone buildings broken and cracked from the armada of siege machines surrounding it. 

The angle was from a bird’s perspective, and she could see that the entire Falas region was swarmed over with orcs and warg riders. They were killing and chasing elves, torturing their captives and doing unspeakable things with the ellith.

With a strangled cry Aerneth turned away, no longer able to watch the gruesome scenes. Her parents… were they among the captives? Would her mother be ravished like that? “We cannot let this happen,” she wailed, tears pouring from her eyes.

“Hopefully it is only a possible outcome,” said Melian.

“Aye. Maybe,” said Galadriel, but she looked worried. So far all the visions in the mirror had either happened already or come true later.

“Is there no way to persuade the king to join the war?” asked Aerneth, still shaken. “With Doriath on his side, maybe Maedhros has a better chance of winning. Morgoth could be stopped.”

“I will talk to my husband, but I fear it is useless.” Melian sighed. “He has sworn never to help a son of Fëanor, as you well know.”

“I will talk to my husband too,” said Aerneth. “He can tell the other march-wardens what we saw. They hated to be left out of the last war against Morgoth, I am sure they will want to fight in this one.” 

“Celeborn and I had already planned to join anyway,” said Galadriel. “My cousin Fingon will be leading the western host of the union.”

“I wish I knew some fighting like you. I will hate to be alone here if Thranduil goes to war.” 

“You should go with him anyway, your water magic could make a difference. The western host will march north along the Sirion and many battles might be fought near water. And then there is your ability of communication too, you could help the different units keep in touch and coordinate their attacks.”

When Aerneth hurried home, she felt a mingle of apprehension and hope. Was it really possible for the Union of Maedhros to defeat Morgoth and all his balrogs, wargs and orcs? Not to mention his fire-breathing dragon. Or would the horrible visions come to pass anyway? She had to hope they could be hindered, she just had to.

Should she do what Galadriel suggested and go to war herself as well? She wondered what it would be like to meet all those monsters, see them attack other elves. Perhaps see Thranduil get hurt or even killed. The thought was terrifying, and made her realise she really did care about him still. However bad their marriage was, she did not want to lose him.

She had reached the home cave now and went inside. Oropher came to meet her with a scowl. 

“Thranduil will be home soon and there is no supper. Where have you been?” 

“Out. Obviously.” She removed her cloak, it was late in the year and Menegroth was chilly.

“Mind your manners, young elleth!” He took a step forward, piercing her with his icy glare. Aerneth forced herself to meet it calmly, hiding how much he still intimidated her. She had not forgotten how easily he had raised his hand against her before, and despite Thranduil’s promises to protect her she feared it could happen again.

“I have met with Queen Melian.” 

That mollified him; ambitious as he was, he encouraged her friendship with the queen. Aerneth let out a breath of relief when he returned to his books in the sitting room. 

She had just prepared a meal of smoked venison with reed roots when her husband returned. Aerneth was eager to speak about what she had seen in Galadriel’s mirror but knew she had to wait until they had finished their supper. Oropher was of the opinion that eating was to be done in silence, and talking saved to after.

Aerneth hardly tasted the food, feeling too nervous to have any appetite. Oropher as usual took his time, sipping his water, chewing every piece of meat a long time before swallowing. Finally he was done, and she could tell her news. 

“I was with Galadriel and the queen today, and we saw some disturbing things in the water. About the future.” She commenced to describe all they had seen.  

”All the elven cities of Beleriand in the hands of the enemy?” asked Oropher, frowning. ”It sounds highly unlikely that Doriath would fall. We have the Girdle protecting us and the city is hidden.” 

“The mirror has never been wrong before, but we are hoping we can change the future.”

”Change it, how?”

”By persuading the king to join Maedhros’ Union. Increase his strength.”

“If there will be an attack on our realm, we cannot leave it unguarded.” Oropher rested his chin on his folded hands. 

“Not undguarded, but–”

“What do you think, Thranduil?” Oropher interrupted.

“The Girdle was breached twice before, and Beren who did it first was only a human. It is certainly possible Morgoth could do it too,” he mused. “I do not like this.”

“Aye. Doriath falling! Grave prospect indeed. You must share the news with your captains, and I will find Amdír and seek an audience with the king.”

“Melian is already speaking with the king,” said Aerneth.

“Trying to dictate what he should do, no doubt,” he huffed, shaking his head. “You did well to tell us about your visions, but now you ellith must leave this matter to those who are adept at war strategy.” His tone was patronising, and with that he and his son left the table. 

Aerneth collected the plates to wash them up, nearly fuming with indignation. She wished she dared speak back, make her father-in-law understand that ellith were not stupid just because of their sex. Or at least that Thranduil would take her side once in a while. But that was wishful thinking.

In addition, she did not like the turn the conversation had taken, with both Oropher and Thranduil mostly concerned about their own city’s safety. Would they really prefer hiding back here while the world around them went to pieces?

It was very late when Thranduil returned, and Aerneth had almost fallen asleep. 

“What did they say?” she mumbled drowsily.

“Well… we came to no conclusion, but I am sure the discussion is far from over. We – the march-wardens – want to go to war, but our king worries it will bring unwanted attention to our people. He has a point, actually. What if Doriath’s fall will be caused by our joining with Maedhros, instead of prevented by it?”

“But what about the Falas and Nargothrond? You would sit on your hands and just watch them burn? Allow my home to be demolished and my people taken by orcs?” Aerneth was wide awake now, feeling annoyance build up. 

“It’s pointless to discuss my opinion, I can only do what my king and captains command me.”

“Galadriel and Celeborn are going, and I will go with them.” She said it with more conviction than she really felt. 

He stared at her in surprise. “What?”

“Someone has to do something, and I can help. I am sure you have not forgotten I saved you with my water magic.”

No Aerneth, you are not going!” He grabbed her arm as if she was on her way already, his dark eyebrows drawn together.

His reaction only made her more determined. “Am too.” She tried to match his frown with her own, pushing down a voice that said she was acting immaturely.

"You cannot go. It’s...” He paused. ”Father needs you here if I am away.” His grasp was painful now. She realised his frown was not of anger as she had first thought – it was one of worry. 

"You are hurting me."

He instantly dropped her arm and retreated, obviously trying to regain his self-control. When he looked at her again, he had assumed the glass face she hated. She wanted to punch him in it. 

"I would rather you stayed here. But you do as you please." He turned away.

Aerneth tried to glare a hole through the back of his head. Yes, she would do what she pleased, and if he was leaving she would too.

But what if he had to stay? Would she really go to war without him? She had hated being separated from him before, but with their strained relationship now... maybe it would be a relief to leave. 

Father needs you. 

She wished Thranduil had needed her. That Oropher's wellbeing was not his first concern. 

Sure, last time they left the ellon alone it had not worked out very well, but he had been broken with grief then. There was no reason to believe an adult of several centuries could not take care of himself and manage his own housekeeping.

"Your father needs no babysitter," she said sourly.

"That is not the only reason." His back was still turned. "War is not for ellith."

"You mean Galadriel is an ellon? Or your female march-wardens, ellyn too?"

"They are exceptions."

"You know... You are starting to sound just like your father." She could not hold back the scorn from her voice. Maybe it was Thranduil that needed Oropher, not the other way around.

“Goodnight Oropherion,” she said to his back. She noticed him stiffen, but he did not reply.


A/N:

Communication is the key… Aerneth and Thranduil would benefit from marriage counselling. Too bad it was not invented yet!

War is getting near, and a bleak future predicted… how will it go? Will the march-wardens join Maedhros, and will Thranduil try to stop Aerneth from joining as well? 

18. Unnumbered Tears

Eithel Sirion, First Age 472

It was Mid-Year’s Day, and Aerneth was shaking with the effort of upholding her connections. She had not anticipated how physically draining water magic could be; normally she hardly even had to think about it when calling someone, but now in her assigned room in the fortress Barad Eithel she was dead tired – and yet the war had not even begun. 

On a table before her were three bowls of water. In the first she had a connection with her friend Galdor, who was hidden in the mountains west of the fortress with the rest of her father’s people and the Noldor from Hithlum. In the second bowl a bearded man with curly hair and tanned skin looked back at her, she did not know his name. He was one of the human warriors who also hid in the mountains, some of whom were from the Forest of Brethil near Doriath and the rest from the southern part of Hithlum. The humans were led by two brothers, Húrin and Huor, who had fought with the elves before.

The final bowl was connected to an ellon from Nargothrond named Gwindor. He was leading a small unit from that city, who had left against their ruler's will. Orodreth, just like King Thingol, held a deep mistrust of the sons of Fëanor after the trouble Celegorm and Curufin had stirred in his realm when they imprisoned Lúthien there, and he had refused to aid them in the upcoming battle. But Gwindor had told Aerneth he needed to come; his brother had been captured in the last war against the Dark Lord and he could not rest until he had avenged him. The few who followed him here had similar reasons.

Gwindor and his followers had positioned themselves right beneath the fortress together with another, equally small unit of march-wardens from Doriath under Captain Mablung’s command. They were effectively covered by a dense mist from the spring of the river Sirion, called forth by Uinen on Aerneth’s bidding, much like that time when Thranduil was chased by orcs. 

Aerneth would hold the three connections open continually, only taking short breaks. It was the perfect way for Fingon to stay in touch with the various parts of his western host and make sure they would make a coordinated attack when time was nigh. 

The minute he found out about Aerneth’s abilities Fingon had assigned her with this task, only regretting she did not know anyone of Maedhros’ people of the eastern host so she could have established a line with them also. But it did not matter very much; the two parts of the Union of Maedhros would fight independently.

Fingon was outside on the parapet now, looking for Maedhros’ signal, but in the room with Aerneth several messengers were ready to fetch him as soon as he was needed.

Maedhros’ plan was well thought out. He was leading the larger, eastern host, consisting of his younger brothers and other elves from eastern Beleriand and of his allies; a large company of men called the Easterlings and fierce dwarves from the Blue Mountains. With this great force he would march north from his realm in Himring, through the Pass of Aglon to the southeastern part of the desert Anfauglith and continue towards Angband, Morgoth’s fortress. This would alert the Dark Lord, who hopefully would respond to the challenge by coming out to meet them.

As soon as Maedhros had entered the desert his banner would be spotted by lookouts in the Dorthonion mountains, right between Fingon’s and Maedhros’ hosts, who would then light a large beacon. This was the signal for Fingon’s troops to leave their hiding places and march northeast, where the two hosts would catch Morgoth between them as hammer to anvil.

It was a good plan, but everybody knew that no plan was flawless. Anything could happen, and it was anxious waiting for the battle to begin.

Another face joined Gwindor’s in Aerneth’s third bowl, one framed by blonde tresses. Galadriel. She and her husband were among the few who had followed Captain Mablung and Beleg Cúthalion when the king finally gave them permission to join the war – under the condition they would only be in Fingon’s western host and have as little as possible to do with Maedhros and the other sons of Fëanor. 

Thranduil had stayed in Menegroth on Oropher’s advice, his father was no doubt hoping the captains would be killed so his son could get a promotion.

“Hello Aerneth. Tell Fingon we are ready down here.” Galadriel looked different in helmet and chainmail, fierce and unstoppable. “You seem tired. Are you well?” she added.

“I can handle it.” 

When Galadriel disappeared, Aerneth pondered over her own words. Could she handle it? If she already felt this exhausted, how could she keep the connections open for an entire war, which could take many days – weeks even? But she had to do it. Fingon and Maedhros must win. 

Perhaps it was her personal worries that made the water magic more taxing. Her mind kept returning to the morning she left her husband and father-in-law. How Thranduil had looked at her like she had betrayed him – his face was devoid of emotions as usual, but he had not managed to banish the deeply hurt look from his eyes. 

And then came Oropher’s frosty parting words, which still sent a chill through her whenever she recalled them: “I am done trying to talk you out of this madness. You know it is not right for a wife and husband to go separate ways, and yet you persist, risking your life and our goodwill with the king to help a foreign people. Well, you obviously are a stubborn and cruel elleth, caring only for yourself. If you survive, do not bother to return. You are not welcome under my roof anymore.” 

Just like that, she was thrown out.

And Thranduil had remained silent. Why had he not protested? Did he not want her to come back either? The thought made her furious. He would not have hesitated to leave her had his king sent him out, but when she wanted to go he acted like this?

The worst part was how much she missed him already. Despite everything. She hated sleeping alone, hated sitting here not knowing how he fared. Did he miss her too? Was he sad? Worried? Angry? She had no idea. 

Galdor’s voice came from the first bowl: “Our lookouts have spotted movement in the desert. It seems to come from the direction of Angband, but so far we cannot say exactly what it is. Only that it’s coming this way.”

“Wait, I will notify Lord Fingon.” Aerneth refused to refer to the Noldo as ‘king’. She was under his command, but her ruler was still Thingol, no matter how much she disliked that ellon.

One of the messengers in the room had heard and instantly left, returning after a minute with Fingon and his advisors in tow. 

The high king of the Noldor was tall just like his cousin Galadriel, but with his thick eyebrows and nearly black hair, neatly braided back from his face, he looked very different from her. On his head he wore a thin gold circlet, and his plaits were decorated with gold threads, but apart from that he appeared no more kingly than anyone else in his worn chainmail and stout leather vambraces. 

Coming to stand beside Aerneth, he listened carefully when Galdor repeated his message. 

“I do not like this,” he mused, tapping the table with his fingers. “Why is there no signal from Maedhros? If he has not yet reached the desert, I cannot charge to meet this new threat.”

“What shall we do, my lord?” asked Galdor.

“Hold your positions.” 

In the other bowls the human and Gwindor repeated the instruction to their bystanders: “Hold your positions.”

More anxious waiting followed, with Fingon restlessly walking to and fro, and every now and then disappearing out to alternately study the desert and look for the signal. Where was Maedhros? Had something gone wrong? 

An ellon came in with refreshments, and Aerneth gratefully emptied a goblet of water and swallowed several pieces of lembas. She was moist with perspiration now, and her fingers trembled as she ate, but the food strengthened her. Afterwards she felt a little less fatigued.

“We think it’s orcs. The movement we saw, I mean,” said Galdor after perhaps an hour. “They wear clothes in the same colour as the sand, that must be why it has been so hard to spot them.”

“Devious! I never knew those filthy creatures could be that clever,” growled Fingon. “How many are there?”

“We cannot say for sure, but they cover a large area. A great host, most likely. What are your orders?”

Fingon did not reply directly, apparently thinking hard. His fingers again thrummed the table nervously.

The human in the second bowl spoke, his strong accent making it somewhat difficult to understand: “My Lord Húrin ask: He can talk the high king?”

“Of course.”

The man disappeared and soon the face of the human leader became visible. Húrin had golden hair and blue eyes, reminding Aerneth slightly of her father. 

“Your Highness,” he greeted politely, dipping his head. “I fear it could be a trap, they want to lure us out into the open. I advise you to let us stay hidden as long as possible and allow the orcs come close to the fortress. When they arrive, we can attack them from all directions.” His accent was much less pronounced than that of his fellow’s.

“Hm. Maybe you are right.” Fingon contemplated the plan a moment. “Well then, for now we abide, but keep your eyes open for any changes in their route.”

“Aye,” came answers from all three bowls.

Fingon went to a map that had been rolled out on another table, its four corners weighed down with stones. He gazed at it in silence, probably musing over the strategy. 

Aerneth could understand his unease. If Maedhros had encountered problems in the east, Fingon would have to beat the orc legion alone. Could he do it? His western host was much smaller than its eastern counterpart.

A great host , Galdor had said. How many orcs did that mean?

She wiped her forehead, wishing she could go outside and look at the orcs for herself but did not dare leaving the bowls. Holding the connections open was hard enough as it was. She was curious, but also horrified about seeing an orc up close, and not a little frightened that they would soon be just outside these walls, perhaps firing arrows at the building or fighting with Galadriel and the others down by the river. 

She had been hot from the effort of working water magic for so long, but now she felt a cold tendril seep through her body. The war was near. This was for real. Would they lose against Morgoth even before they had a chance to come close to his abode?

In the bowls she saw that the others were nervous too. The battle had not even begun properly and already the plan had gone awry. Everybody wondered the same: Why had the signal not come? Where was Maedhros?

Then a sudden sound from afar made them flinch, a series of sharp, brazen notes. Trumpets.

Fingon hurried to one of the arrow slits facing southeast, peering intently through the narrow window. “Another host… another host comes down from the mountains. They are countless! Many thousands at least!”

“Can you make out their banner?” asked one of the advisors.

“I do not have to, I know those trumpets. It is my brother!” Fingon hastened back out on the parapet.

The revelation produced a buzz of excited voices from the others present.

“Turgon! He lives! The hidden city exists!”

“Wonderful! More warriors to our aid!”

“Reinforcements! What perfect timing.”

“With Turgon, we can do this. We can beat the orcs!”

Aerneth felt a wide grin form on her face. Fancy that... the hidden city that Thranduil’s friend had always talked about really did exist! Amroth would gloat so much when he heard the news. 

But of course, now that she was banished from Oropher’s home she would never get to see that. Her grin waned.

Outside, she heard Fingon’s voice, strong and exultant, carrying far across the open expanse surrounding the fortress. 

“The day has come! Behold, people of the Eldar and Fathers of Men, the day has come!”

From the mountains and the river came answering calls from the hidden troops, soon melding into a single war cry: “The night is passing! The night is passing!”

Aerneth could not help but join the chant; the jubilant ambience was contagious. “The night is passing!” she cried. “The night is passing!”

“Gondolin comes?” asked Húrin, who had lingered in the second bowl.

“What?” Aerneth had no idea what he was talking about. 

“Gondolin, the hidden city… I promised never to speak of it, but if they have come I guess the secret is out.” He smiled under his beard.

You have been to the hidden city?”

“Aye, with my brother. When we were merely young boys. The fog – you helped create a fog that time, or so I am told?”

Aerneth nodded, vaguely remembering Thranduil telling her about that battle and the lost boys. “It was the Maia Uinen who called forth it, not me. But aye, I was involved.”

“We were separated from the others and got lost in the mountains. There were monsters – giant spiders and such, and we thought our last moment had come. But a couple of Great Eagles picked us up and took us to Gondolin, where King Turgon treated us kindly and allowed us to stay for a long time. The elves taught me almost all I know about warfare, and...” Húrin broke off, looking at something Aerneth could not see. “The orcs are nearing, I must go. Halvar, you take over here.” The last was to the man with the curly hair.

“Do you see the orcs yet?” asked Aerneth, turning to Gwindor in the third bowl. 

“Aye, and they are within hearing range,” he murmured, keeping his voice down to avoid exposure. “They are saying some rather nasty things.” He frowned.

Fingon had come back inside and heard the last part. “Do not let their taunts get to you. Stay where you are.”

“Aye.” 

“A smaller group is detaching, they approach the fortress,” said Galdor. From his position in the mountains he had a good view over the orcs’ movements. “They are dragging someone after them in a rope. It almost looks like… Oh no! It’s an elf. They have an elven prisoner!”

“Hold your arrows,” Fingon ordered. “We cannot risk hitting their captive.”

“No… no! ” came Gwindor’s anguished cry. “It’s my brother. The captive – it’s my brother. And his eyes…” His voice broke. “They have blinded him. Cut out his eyes.” 

How could they do something so cruel? Aerneth swallowed down the bile that rose in her throat. 

The orcs were so close now that their foul voices could be heard inside the fortress when they yelled: “How d’you like our pretty elf, eh? We changed him for the better, don’t you think?”

Aerneth was glad she was inside and could not see.

“Let me kill them,” growled Gwindor. “Please My Lord, let me rescue him.”

But before Fingon could answer, the orc continued: “We got many more such at home, but you must make haste if you wanna find them – for we’ll deal with them like this when we return.” And then came the most heart-wrenching sound Aerneth had ever heard; four drawn-out wails of utter agony. They ended abruptly.

Fingon had run back to the narrow window at the same time as Galdor reported in a strangled voice: “They cut off his hands and feet one by one… and lastly his head.” 

From Gwindor came no sound at all, he had abandoned the bowl.

“He has gone after them alone,” said Fingon from the window. “And I cannot blame him. We must punish these orcs, this black deed cannot go unrevenged.” He returned to the bowls. “Make ready to charge. When you hear my trumpets that is the signal. Let us get those monsters!”

“Aye!”

“Aye!”

He turned to Aerneth. “You can close the other connections now and open one with me instead, I will take a bowl with me on my horse. You stay in the fortress, but move out on the parapet where you have a good view over the mountains. Maedhros may still come, and when they light that beacon I need to know.”

“Aye, My Lord.” She bowed, hugely relieved. Holding just one connection with Fingon would be effortless in comparison to this morning's hard work.

Soon Aerneth was alone. She took the bowl with her to the parapet, and for the first time she could see what was happening on the battlefield. Out in the desert a dust cloud showed the progress of the Nargothrond elves with Gwindor in the lead, and in their wake lay the scattered bodies of the orcs who had killed his brother. The main orc host was still a dense mass further away, their yellow and brown clothes making them blend in well with the background.

To the west, humans and elves scurried down from the mountains, forming orderly ranks at the edge of the desert. Her father was among them, she saw his banner with the white seagull against a blue background. Her mother had designed it.

Refusing to worry about Círdan, Aerneth forced her gaze away. 

Right beneath her vantagepoint, Fingon emerged from the mist, flanked by his advisors and the march-wardens from Doriath. She easily spotted Galadriel and Celeborn, two light hair manes among the dark heads, and not far from them Mablung and Beleg shared a hard hug before taking off to join the others. 

One of the king’s advisors put a trumpet to his lips. The clear sound echoed between the mountains and the stone walls of the fortress, and soon the entire host was on the move, charging over the desolate sand of the Anfauglith.

In Aerneth’s bowl Fingon’s face was grim. The Fifth Battle of Beleriand had begun.

.

Mercifully, Aerneth did not have to experience much of what happened when Fingon’s host and the orcs clashed together, for after only a few chaotic images Fingon must have accidentally emptied the bowl. But what little she did see of those horribly distorted faces was enough to make her nearly sick with a mingle of fright and disgust. 

In her head, she kept picturing such monsters forcing themselves on ellith, like she had seen in Galadriel’s mirror – only, in the mirror their faces had been vague, but now she could envision them in all gory detail. 

When a male voice unexpectedly called up to her, she was relieved to get something else to think about. He had spoken Quenya, the language of the Noldor, but when he saw her peering out through the battlements he switched into Sindarin, the common speech: “Hello? Anyone else there?”

She saw two unusually handsome ellyn below, one golden blonde and one dark. 

“Only me. Who are you?”

“I am Glorfindel of Gondolin.” The fair one greeted her in the customary way with his hand over his heart.

“And I am Ecthelion. We are with King Turgon,” said the other.

“He did not follow Fingon to the battle then?”

“Nay, our king decided our people should guard the Pass in case there was a trap,” said Glorfindel. “Morgoth may have more orcs up his sleeve.”

“That would be crowded,” remarked Ecthelion.

“I meant it figuratively.” Glorfindel apparently lacked humour. “Can we come in? Our king sent us here to gather information on how his brother fares, and it will be easier to see from up there.”

“Of course.”

Aerneth went downstairs and unbolted the gate, letting them inside. This close, Glorfindel was even more good looking than she had first thought, almost on a par with Thranduil. He wore a mantle in the same colour as his hair over a long chainmail shirt, a sheathed sword and a shield with a yellow sun. As his gaze trailed over her with equal curiosity she felt a flutter within. She pushed it down firmly, this was not a good time to be attracted to a stranger, she had been separated from her husband too long, that was all.

Instead she led him and Ecthelion up the stairs and out on the parapet. 

Glorfindel shadowed his eyes as he peered through the battlements. His hand was large and looked strong.

“I had hoped to see the combat better,” he said after a while, sounding disappointed. “Everything is covered by that infernal desert dust.”

“Maybe if you wait a while, Fingon will reopen the connection. Assuming he survives.” She showed them the bowl and explained her water powers.

The ellyn were very interested in her gift.

“Distance communication? That is a useful talent indeed!” said Glorfindel, giving her an admiring look that made her stomach flip.

“Are you hungry? Shall I bring something?” She was suddenly eager to get away from the confined space. 

The others nodded gratefully and she went to fetch some lembas and dried fruit in the storage room. She glanced at a wine amphora but decided against it, she needed a clear head when Fingon reconnected with her.

The sun had disappeared behind the western mountains and the parapet was dark when she returned, making the hour feel later than it was. Out in the desert the battle still went on but had moved further away. Did that mean Fingon’s host was winning?

They shared the food among them in the twilight, not daring to light the lantern in case there were enemies nearby. 

The ellyn made very pleasant company despite being Noldor. Without them, Aerneth would probably have been both frightened and lonely when the hours went by without Fingon calling, but now she almost forgot the time as she listened to their friendly banter. Ecthelion was clearly the brightest of them, witty and talkative, reminding her very much of Amroth back in Doriath. Glorfindel was more of the strong, silent type which she really preferred, and there were moments when he was so like her husband she had to avert her gaze. 

Soon they had an interesting conversation going about Gondolin, that exciting city which had been kept secret for so long. The ellyn would not reveal its exact location as Turgon wanted it to remain safely hidden, but described what it looked like with such fondness that Aerneth felt herself longing to go there too. And not only because of the looks Glorfindel gave her. Did he not mind that she was married?

After a while Ecthelion took out a flute and entertained them with sweet music. Aerneth rested her back against the battlements beside Glorfindel, not quite touching him but sitting so close she felt his body heat. Being near another elf was comforting and made her feel safe, but also terribly guilty. Her eyes kept being drawn to his linen shirt under the chainmail, slightly open in the front, and every now and then she would perceive a whiff of his scent, a mixture of metallic armour, masculine musk and something flowery from his hair oil. He was not Thranduil, but close enough for her treacherous body to react like he were. 

She loathed herself for having such inappropriate emotions in the middle of a war, when her father and friends might even now be killed by orcs – even if he had been her husband it would have been disgusting. But her brain would not listen to reason.

Well into the night Aerneth finally felt Fingon think her name, and she hurried to reopen the connection. It was hard to see his face in the darkness, especially since he seemed to be coated by a fine layer of dust, but it looked like he was still on horseback. 

“We have defeated most of the orcs with hardly any losses, and the rest of them are falling back towards Angband. We are pursuing them now. Any news from Maedhros?”

“Nay, nothing. But I have two lords of Turgon’s people here with me.” She moved back so Glorfindel and Ecthelion could take over. Fingon clearly knew them well, and soon they talked animatedly about what sounded like common acquaintances and a shorter version of the history of Gondolin – since they spoke Quenya Aerneth understood only in part.

While they conversed, Aerneth again thought of her father and friends; Galadriel, Galdor, Celeborn. Were they among the ‘hardly any losses’ or had they made it? Before Fingon closed the connection for a few hours’ rest she took the opportunity to ask him, and learned that her friends were still alive and unhurt. Of that worry, at least, she was relieved.

When the sky became rose-tinted in the east, the two Gondolindrim decided they had been away long enough. It was time to bring their news to Turgon. 

“Must you go?” Aerneth said, suddenly frightened to be left alone.

“Maybe I can stay with her, and you go to our king?” Glorfindel suggested. Ecthelion gave him an odd look but then shrugged.

“Sure.”

Glorfindel sat down next to Aerneth again, closer now. His arm felt burning hot against her own. What was he doing? What was she doing? Had she encouraged him with her glances? It was because he reminded her so much of Thranduil, but now her guilt increased tenfold. 

“Try to get some rest,” he said. “I will keep watch.”

She nodded and tried to relax, but it was impossible. Restless thoughts tumbled around in her head like broken butterflies; worries for the future, remorse about the past. 

She was a horrible wife who had abandoned her husband, and now at first opportunity she flirted with another ellon. The war would not go well either, somehow she knew it would not. The forebodings she and her friends had seen would come to pass. 

Tomorrow or the day after, Fingon would reach Angband, and still the greater part of the host had not come; Maedhros and his allies. 

In the last war, the Dark Lord had had both a dragon and balrogs – his fearsome fire demons. It was obvious he still had many more monsters to send against them. What if this whole maneuver with the orcs and the killing of Gwindor’s brother was his way to lure the eastern host out into the desert? If so, Aerneth would probably never see her father and friends again.

What would become of her then? She could not return to Doriath unless Oropher decided to forgive her, which was not likely, and in Eglarest her mother would be broken with grief. And Thranduil… since she left, he had not tried to contact her even once. 

Did he care about her at all? He had never said he loved her, but she had thought… hoped that he did, deep down. That underneath the emotionless face he showed the world, there were still some genuine feelings. But now… Far away in this Valarforsaken place she felt doubt. What if his mother’s death had taken away his ability to love? 

A sharp pang of longing hit her, an almost tangible pain, like an arrow to her heart. She wanted Thranduil’s arms around her and his body close – not in a sexual way, not this time, she just wanted to hear him breathe and smell his familiar scent. 

She was lost, a wanderer gone astray. She needed him. Only with him she felt at home.

“Is something ailing you, My Lady?” Glorfindel’s voice was soft, and somehow she found herself leaning against his shoulder. 

“I worry about the war… my friends, and my father,” she said, not wanting to talk about Thranduil when almost in another ellon’s arms.

“I understand,” he said kindly, and now his arms really were around her, his fingers stroking her back soothingly. He touched her cheek, turning her face up to meet his gaze. His eyes were large and dark. 

She saw what he was about to do but did not stop him when he bent down and kissed her. Just a peck on the lips, but she let him do it, and when he deepened it she responded. 

The Valar damn her! Every particle in her body screamed at her how wrong this was. 

At last she managed to murmur feebly: ”Nay…”

“Sorry,” he said and instantly broke the kiss. “I should not have been so hasty with a maiden I only met yesterday. But I feel like I have known you longer.”

Maiden? Did he think– 

“These are troubled times and I may not live to see another day. I shall take this memory with me and cherish it. Perhaps, if we win the war–”

“I am no maiden,” she blurted out.

“What?” His eyes widened.

“Surely you can see… Surely you knew that–” She stared at him but read only puzzlement in his honest eyes. Then his features changed. Surprise, shock… disappointment.

He hastily rose, pushing her away as if he had burned himself. “You are married?”

“I thought you knew,” she whispered.

He shook his head vigorously. “You think I am the kind of ellon who would kiss a married elleth? I was never good at perceiving such things. How could you let me do it?” His voice was accusing.

“I… I don’t know.”

“I must go.” 

She could hear him running down the stairs like chased by wargs. When he was gone Aerneth buried her face into her hands and wept bitterly.

.

Aerneth received a new visit the next day. When she heard the knock she jumped with fright, fearing it was Glorfindel coming back to lash out at her for tricking him. Instead another ellon stood outside, looking so much like Fingon that she in her confused and distressed state of mind almost thought it was him. 

The ellon was Turgon, the king of Gondolin, coming to speak with his brother for the first time in several hundred years. 

The brothers’ reunion via the water call was hearty and they talked for a long time. When Turgon finally left the bowl his eyes were red with unshed tears and Aerneth respectfully turned away until he had composed himself.

”Thank you for this, My Lady,” he said at last. ”I shall keep guarding the Pass of Sirion while my brother heads onwards to Angband. I leave two elves here with you to keep me informed on how he fares. In addition, can you establish a new connection with one of my scouts? I am sending him to find out what happened to Maedhros.”

Aerneth readily agreed, not at all minding to handle two bowls again; the increased strain would keep her mind busy. She did not want to think.

She was also thankful for the ellon and elleth the king left with her, both for keeping her company and for not being Glorfindel. She hoped she would never meet him again so this horrible mistake could be buried and forgotten. 

.

Two days later, after riding hard along the Dorthonion mountains, Turgon’s scout reported he could finally see Maedhros’ host. The troops still lingered north of the Pass of Aglon in the outskirts of the desert, and as far as the runner could tell they seemed unhurt. He saw no particular reason for their remaining behind.

Aerneth passed the information on to Fingon, who had just arrived at Thangorodrim, the three volcanic peaks that guarded the entrance to Angband. He had not been able to catch up with Gwindor and his followers, who had ridden day and night in their murderous rage and were already pounding on the black gates. 

It worried Fingon greatly to hear that Maedhros lingered. “Has he deceived us?” he mused. But soon he got something else to think about. “Tulkas help us!” he exclaimed. 

Aerneth felt a trickle of chill when she saw the king’s pale face. “What happened?” If he invoced the Vala of war there must be something gone terribly wrong.

“Gwindor’s company has disappeared through the gates but more orcs are pouring down from the cliffs and out from caves in the volcanoes… I have never seen so many. They are cutting us off from the others. I must go, but I shall try to keep the connection up as long as possible.”

With that he charged against the orcs, and soon the bowl was flooded with chaotic battle images. Aerneth tried not to look, all the blood and cut off body parts made her sick, but she could not shut out the sounds. The shrill shrieks of agony from the most grievously injured were the worst. 

“I shall bring word to my king of this new threat,” said the elleth Turgon had left with her. “I think we must march now, this does not look good.” She indicated the turbulent images in the bowl.

While the fight went on outside Morgoth’s black gates, Turgon’s scout arrived at the eastern host and was taken to see their leader. Maedhros was just appearing in her second bowl when Aerneth felt another presence in the back of her mind, a warm, red glow she instantly recognised. It was Thranduil. Of all possible moments, he had chosen this chaotic day to finally reach out to her – but of course he could not know how hard-pressed she was. 

Even if she had not been busy, Aerneth was not ready to face him just yet, and thus it was with some relief she shut him off. Instead she focused on the eldest son of Fëanor before her, regarding the famous ellon with curiosity. His hair colour was striking, it had an auburn hue she had never seen the like of before, and his face was angular with a slightly too big nose. He looked grim, and knowing some of his history it was not hard to understand why.

“I heard that my cousin has already reached the gates of Angband,” he said. “Loath though I am to admit it, I realise now that I have been deceived by my own men. I had human scouts sent west to watch the Pass of Sirion, and they reported back to me that Fingon had been delayed by assaults from hidden Angband forces. To no avail have I remained here, waiting for word of his arrival. I know not if the mortals were mistaken or wilfully duped me – but they shall be punished, for sure.”

“How unfortunate. Fingon is even now battling a large host of orcs, and I do not know how he fares, but Turgon has come forth from the hidden city with a great number of elves so maybe all is not lost.”

“Good news indeed.” Maedhros brightened. “I shall march north at once, and hopefully between the three of us, Fingon, Turgon and I can still succeed.”

Now Fingon appeared in the first bowl, his face dirty and a sprinkle of red drops scattered over his chainmail. “Was that Maedhros you spoke with? Tell him he must hurry, we are hard-pressed. The Brethil humans have all been slaughtered, and I fear the same goes for the elves of Nargothrond. The rest of us are falling back into the desert now.”

Aerneth did as told, conveying Fingon’s message and then Maedhros’ reply, becoming a facilitator for a tactical conference between the cousins. Although the bowls were placed side by side, the ellyn could not hear each other or communicate directly.

During their conversation she glanced at Maedhros’ stump of a hand and shuddered at the thought of how that had come to be. Caught by Morgoth, he had hung from his right arm for three decades, shackled by his wrist to one of the peaks of Thangorodrim. Fingon had valiantly braved the Lord of Dark and gone there alone, finally spotting his cousin in his plight. Maedhros’ had begged Fingon to end his misery with an arrow to the heart, but instead the other had called upon the Great Eagles to help him and been able to rescue Maedhros by cutting off his hand. 

No wonder the ellon wanted his revenge on Morgoth. It was not only his oath to his father – the promise to retrieve the Silmarils – that drove him on. This was personal.

After the ellyn had ended their talk, the hours passed slowly. Turgon had begun his march, taking his messenger with him and leaving Aerneth alone, and he had brought a water bowl to communicate with the other leaders through her magic. Again she was forced to maintain three simultaneous connections and the exertion made her so weak she could barely hold her eyes open. 

Thranduil tried to contact her several times, leaving her with a nauseating pang of guilt. She could not avoid him forever; soon the battle would be over and she had no excuse to shut him out. What would she do then? Admit to what she had done or try to hide it? She was not sure she could manage the latter, but the thought of doing the former frightened her. Thranduil had a horrible temper, although he controlled it better than his father. Yet, did she not deserve his wrath? Should he turn her away and never want to see her again, it would be a justified punishment.

But who was she fooling? He already had turned her away, or at least his father had – without him protesting. Maybe the easiest solution was to return to the Falas with her own father after the war. Keeping her distance to Thranduil until long enough time had passed for her to be able to conceal her infidelity.

.

On the sixth morning since Fingon had left Barad Eithel, two of the hosts finally met as Turgon came to Fingon’s and Húrin’s aid. Aerneth witnessed the happy reunion of the elven brothers as well as the reunion of Húrin and Turgon who had known each other in Gondolin. In the midst of everything, they found a moment’s joy.

With great relief, Aerneth ended the connection with Turgon, again back to only two bowls.

The battle instantly turned in Fingon’s favour; with Gondolin’s great numbers and strong weapons behind him he could finally push back the orcs. In addition, Maedhros was almost there now too, Fingon and Turgon saw the cloud of dust announcing the rapid progress of their cousin’s troops.

This was when Morgoth released his real strength.

“No…” whispered Maedhros, his face ashen as he stared at something in the distance. “The dragon… he has multiplied! The Valar protect us! Glaurung is leading his brood hither – a crowd of smaller dragons.”

Dragons. Aerneth went cold, for she could see them herself now, despite the distance – that was how huge they were. One of those fire-breathing monsters was bad enough, and here came several. 

Right then Fingon cried from the other bowl: “Balrogs and wargs are coming at us from the north! Their numbers are countless.” 

Aerneth’s stomach twisted painfully. This would not work. Dragons and balrogs! The balrogs were twisted Maiar with immense powers, both magical and physical. They wielded deadly whips of liquid fire, and their frames were surrounded by smoke and shadow. 

Wargs, although less deadly, were fast and strong, twice the size of normal wolves and possessed with evil spirits making them both fearless and bloodthirsty.

“I have to fall back,” said Maedhros grimly. “I have no chance of beating the dragons in the open, but if I can lure them south between the cliffs of the Pass they cannot attack all at once. I hope Fingon and Turgon can manage alone.”

“They are facing balrogs and wargs,” said Aerneth. 

“Damn!” swore Maedhros. “I will try to get to them, but the dragons are between us.”

Suddenly there was some disturbance, Aerneth could hear screams and yells from the ranks surrounding Fëanor’s son. His face disappeared for a short while and then returned. “I have to close this temporarily,” he said hurriedly. “Some of the Easterling humans are attacking our rear. I am betrayed by my allies – I should have known they were all rotten when they brought false news of Fingon. Treacherous pigs!”

When he had gone, Aerneth stared at the empty water. It was all coming apart. They would lose.

In the other bowl Fingon was fighting again, she heard growls from the wargs and saw glimpses of matted fur and glowing eyes. Then he too disappeared as the bowl was beaten from his hands, but this time another caught it, an ellon Aerneth did not know.

“The king is fighting the leader of the balrogs,” the ellon reported through clenched teeth. He seemed to be on the ground, sitting or lying, and blood poured from a deep gash cleaving half of his face. “The fight is over for me, I shall die soon,” he continued impassively. Then he smiled crookedly, unable to move the damaged part of his face. “King Fingon appears to be winning. It’s… I have never seen anyone fight like that.” He looked awed. “The balrog is bleeding now and takes a step backwards, and my lord king is onto him. His sword moves so fast it looks blurred – or maybe that is from the blood in my eye. The balrog retreats again and ouch! Good hit. The king stabbed his foot. Now the balrog tries to lift his axe but the king sweeps it away with his sword. That sword is some good quality! And now– No! Another balrog joins the fight. He caught Fingon with his whip. The Valar help him… The balrog leader lifts his black axe.” The ellon silenced. A loud clang made him flinch and shudder. “He is dead. The balrog cut his head in halves, right through his helmet.” His voice was strangled. “They are trampling him and his banner into the dust. The monsters… the monsters!” He rose shakily and with a roar he left, making one last, mad dash against the offenders. ”For Fingooon!” The cry ended abruptly.

In the abandoned bowl Aerneth now saw nothing but the sky as the sounds of the battle continued around it. The grievous moans from the wounded shook her to her core. 

She did not want to hear any more and closed the connection. Crawling away from the empty bowls she huddled against the cool stone wall, biting her knuckle as her mind raced. Fingon was dead. What was she to do? They were losing. Should she abandon her post and try to flee back to Doriath?

Before she had time to decide, she again heard battle sounds, this time coming from outside the fortress. She peered through the battlements. What remained of the western host came slowly closer, fighting still but being forced backwards step by step. 

Hugely relieved, she discerned Turgon’s and her father’s banners in the chaotic mass of elves, humans, orcs, wargs and balrogs. They were nearing the wetlands east of the Pass of Sirion, probably trying to protect the way south. If Morgoth gained access to the Pass, all of Beleriand would be open to him.

Aerneth

It was Turgon’s scout. Was it Faraion his name was? Or Faron? She could not remember. With a sigh Aerneth went back to the bowl. She did not really want to hear his news because she knew they would be bad, but of course she had to, Turgon might contact her again and he would want to know how the situation was in the east.

The ellon who looked back at her was almost unrecognisable from the one she had talked to before. He seemed physically unhurt, but something had frightened the wits out of him, and his cheeks were so pale he seemed near fainting.

“I saw Glaurung,” he whispered through trembling lips. His hands holding the bowl must shake badly as well, it made his face oddly distorted from the ripples. “I looked him in the eye.”

“I am sorry for you,” said Aerneth, trying to sound comforting. “Can you tell me how Maedhros fares? Did he manage to beat the humans who turned on him?”

“He was bigger than my house back home. And it has three floors so it’s not small.”

“I see. Where is the dragon now?” Aerneth tried not to let her impatience show. She wanted to return to the battlements so she could see what happened in the Pass.

“The dwarves fight him. But they will lose. Nothing can beat him. He will burn us all to ashes, or maybe he will fry us lightly and then devour us. I know not what I would prefer.” Tears were trickling down his cheeks. It was always hard to tell another’s age, but Aerneth got the impression that this ellon was very young, perhaps not even ten decades.

“And Maedhros? Where is he?”

“Gone. They are all gone. Only I am left. I am hiding under a rock. But the dragons will smell me and come for me soon. Then I shall burn.”

“Gone where?” Valar, getting information out of this ellon was worse work than hauling a swan ship ashore.

“Dead, most of them. Heaps and heaps of corpses. Humans, elves. Heaps. But the sons of Fëanor went to the mountains. They fled.”

“Stay there, I have to check on Turgon and my father.” Aerneth went back to the wall and peered through the opening. Both banners remained up, thank the Valar. They had almost come to the river now. 

The mist! She could help them hide. Singing a quick prayer to Uinen, Aerneth begged her to help Turgon and his troops. 

The Maia’s reply was swift, a warm, comforting presence in her mind. 

I will try, my dear. But I fear their enemies are too many this time.

Instantly grey clouds formed over the river, spreading out to cover the western host and their surroundings. From the balrogs, wargs and orcs who chased them came howls of disappointment. It was something, at least. A moment’s respite.

After a while she felt her father’s voice in her head. Hurrying back to the bowls, she connected with him. “Ada! I am so glad you are alive.” 

Círdan was kneeling on the shore of the Sirion, peering down at her in its water. He looked as tired as Aerneth felt and was dirty and dishevelled. 

“We are losing, Aerneth. The host will split up – Turgon and Húrin have just settled it among them. The humans mean to stay here and guard the Pass alone. A suicide mission, but they insist. Saying the world needs us – that elves bring them hope. Turgon is returning to Gondolin and I will take what remains of our people and return to Hithlum and our ships there. Thanks to your mist I should be able to get to the fortress and pick you up – unless you would prefer to return to Doriath? Captain Mablung is taking the remains of his march-wardens there, and Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn are going with them. The enemy seems reluctant to enter the fog so I think it should be a fairly safe passage south for as long as Uinen can keep it up.”

“Nay. I– I will go with you.”

“Good. We must hurry back to the Falas and fortify our cities against the Dark Lord, for I am certain he will come after us, seeking revenge – just as you saw in Galadriel’s mirror. Meet me outside the fortress, I will be there soon.” He disappeared.

“Aerneth!” It was the ellon in the other bowl. “The dragon! The dwarves hurt him and he’s retreating! The dragons are crawling back from where they came, all of them.”

“That is good news.” She tried to smile. It was useless, the war was still lost.

“The dwarves are leaving, though. Their leader was killed in the fight. So I shall be all alone.” He sighed forlornly.

“Go south to the Pass of Aglon, and then west until you reach Doriath. Tell them that you come from Gondolin, then I am sure they will allow you in. You will be safe there. It is an underground city.”

“Really? Maybe I will try that. Thank you.”

“I must close this now, I am leaving the fortress.”

Aerneth gathered the few belongings she had brought and went downstairs. When she opened the heavy gate she felt horribly exposed, expecting wargs or balrogs to assault her at any moment, but they still seemed to be far away, the sounds that drifted to her from the Pass were faint.

Then she heard the pounding of hooves. A rider was approaching, but who could it be? Círdan and the other Falathrim had come on their swan ships, they had not brought horses. 

Her breath hitched. Was it the enemy? But this sounded like a horse, not a warg. 

A shape emerged from the mist. When she recognised him her mouth went dry and her heart began to pound. It was too soon! She was not prepared!

“Aerneth!” Thranduil jumped off the horse and ran the last way, catching her in a hard hug. He smelled of sweat and his hair was tangled. 

“Why are– How did you get here?”

“You did not reply. I called you over and over, but you were not there. I thought–” He hugged her harder, she had to struggle to breathe. 

“I was just busy. I had so many connections open… I couldn’t…”

“I understand. Think no more of it. I am so relieved you are alive! I left without asking permission, I just went. I have been riding day and night to get here. Then I came across Lord Círdan and he said you were here! Oh sweet Elbereth. Thank the Valar. Blessed be Ulmo and his Maiar and anyone else who helped you.” He cupped her cheeks and kissed her, a deep, needy kiss. 

The taste of his lips was bittersweet; only a few days ago another ellon’s lips had caressed hers and she had allowed it.

“Come home with me, please. My father did not mean what he said. And if he did we will live somewhere else. I need you.”

Seeing his face completely open like this, Aerneth felt a wave of love mingled with a remorse so strong it threatened to choke her. Why had she been so weak, so stupid? She had ruined it all.

“There is something I need to say,” she murmured.

“Me too! I should have told you years ago but I was so blind. Only after I lost you did I understand my heart.”

Aerneth forced her gaze not to waver. She knew what would come. Something she had longed to hear for so long. 

“I love you Aerneth.” 

She could not reply, no words would come out. How could she confess to him after this ?

His eyes narrowed slightly. “What were you going to say?”

“That I missed you too,” she said quickly, her voice hoarse.

He peered at her intently, clearly suspicious now. The openness from before was disappearing fast. She hated herself for doing this to him.

“Shall we go then?” She kissed him to avoid those far too perceptive eyes. He did not respond, instead he took a step back, his gaze sharp as swords.

“What did you do?” When she did not reply he grabbed her shoulders roughly. “Tell me what you did!” he yelled.

“I kissed an ellon.” There. It was out. 

Thranduil stared at her in disbelief, his features shifting from shocked to deeply hurt. Then came raw anger. His grip on her shoulders was painful now, but she allowed it. She deserved it.

“Punish me,” she whispered.

He clenched his hand into a fist and she almost thought he would hit her. Instead he rammed it straight into the stone wall of the fortress, roaring out his pain. “Who is it? Tell me who it is. I will kill him. I will kill you .” 

He loomed over her menacingly, his fist still clenched. It had bruised, his knuckles were swelling. Then he suddenly straightened up, drawing several breaths, his face settling into the cool mask she despised so much.

“Return to your lover if you will. I do not care.”

No, not this! Not this coldness, she could not bear it. “He’s not my lover! I only love you. I always loved you. Please, Thranduil, don’t look at me like that. Be mad if you want, anything but this glass face!”

He just stared at her haughtily, almost contemptuously.

“I’m so sorry! It was just one kiss. He did not know I was married. I was so afraid and tired and lonely and I know it’s no excuse but…” When he still would not reply she pounded on his chest with her own fist. “Stop it! Just stop it!”

That got her a reaction at last. His rage returned in full might and he pushed her against the wall with such force she hit her head. “Can’t you understand how much you hurt me? You left me, running away to a war you did not have to fight, one that could have killed you. Can’t you understand how that felt for me? You left me. And now you tell me you found another.”

She shuddered as the dam burst and the full flood of his emotions hit her. 

“I don’t want to feel this pain, can’t you understand that? I don’t want to love someone who abandons me.” His eyes filled with tears, they trickled down his cheeks, making lines in the grime. “That’s how ellith are, you leave those who love you, abandon them. Just like my mother. Had she loved me, she would not have left.”

“Calm down. It was an accident… she did not abandon you and neither did I. She loved you. As do I.”

“She left me. You both left me!” He was shaking her but seemed not aware of it. “You want me to show emotions? I will show you emotions. Is this how you want me to be? Is it my anger you want to see? Do you want a husband who frightens you? You are trembling. I scare you. But you said you wanted it.”

“I am not afraid of you! If I tremble it’s because I am angry too. It was just one kiss , and aye I know it was wrong, but you are overreacting! I did not abandon you, you could have come with me to battle. It was the right thing to do. But you would only listen to your father. Every day you are turning more into a copy of him, Thranduil Oropherion. No wonder your mother left Doriath with two such ellyn in the house!”

Everything had become dead silent as she spoke, with only the distant sounds of battle from afar. Thranduil’s face was as white as a sheet. What had she said? She had not meant it.

“My mother killed herself. Her death was no accident.” He had lowered his voice almost to a whisper, and it was teeming with ice cold fury. 

“I’m sorry… I did not know…”

He looked absolutely murderous now and for the first time Aerneth really was afraid of him. She took a step back, and another one, but he easily caught her by the arm, again pushing her against the wall. She whimpered as her shoulder connected painfully with the unyielding surface.

“My mother killed herself but it was not my father’s fault. If you ever accuse him of that again, I shall–”

“Why do you keep protecting him? He does not deserve it.” 

“Shut up!” He pushed her again and she tried to break free of his vice-like grip, but to no avail. 

She caught sight of the spring, the pool where the river Sirion began. Singing a quick spell, she caused the water to lash out, catching Thranduil and dragging him down. The surprise made him let go of her at last.

From under the surface he looked up at her, his eyes wide with shock and then fear, but she kept him down, angry again. How dared he threaten her? How dared he hurt her?

“Aerneth! Stop that at once!” Her father’s strong voice made her flinch and come to her senses. What was she doing? She instantly released Thranduil who broke to the surface, panting from lack of air.

Ignoring Círdan, Aerneth and Thranduil looked at each other in silence, he dripping water and still out of breath, she rubbing her smarting shoulder. How had it come to this?

“We are bad for each other,” Thranduil said at last. There was genuine regret in his eyes. 

She nodded mutely. He was right. They were. 

“Return to Eglarest with your father. I am going home.” He mounted his horse in a swift leap and galloped away.


A/N:

I feel I keep blacken my poor main characters… cheating, physical fights… This is almost becoming an elvish version of Breaking Bad. But I hope you feel Aerneth and Thranduil are not impossibly ruined yet. Unlike humans, elves have long lives to atone for their sins and hopefully grow wiser. 

About the “People of the Eldar” who Fingon refers to in his battle-cry: Originally all elves were called Eldar, but later it came to mean only those who had been to Aman (Valinor), such as the Noldor and the Teleri.

19. Adopted Son

Near the Doriath border, First Age 473

The hare was almost invisible against the snow but it could not hide its black eye. Thranduil aimed at that with his nocked arrow. He breathed slowly, forcing himself to hold the strenuous stance while waiting for the animal to slow its pace and be still. 

A drop of sweat trickled down into the corner of his eye. It stung. The need to wipe his forehead was overwhelming but he resisted. 

Finally the hare halted and Thranduil released his arrow. It hit the snow a few inches left of the target, which quickly scurried away.

“Cock.” He scowled at the bow as if it had wronged him. Then he swung down from the branch he had perched in and went to retrieve the arrow. This would be the third night he returned to the cabin empty-handed, and that was bad. Really bad. 

On a normal year, the spoils from the Autumn Hunt would last Menegroth through most of the winter, but after Morgoth’s victory his orcs and wargs had come into Beleriand and they had butchered nearly every animal outside Doriath. The king had forbidden his subjects to leave the realm and thus they had to rely on what game they could find within its borders. The larders and cold stores were all empty now and they were even running out of fish.

Most of the march-wardens were out hunting presently and Thranduil’s friends had thankfully managed better than he – he was the only of them who still had not brought anything back. It was humiliating, but he excused himself that he was not feeling well. 

Physically he was fine, of course, but there was a darkness inside him. And his heart felt heavy. He tried not to think about the cause of that, he needed to stop brooding! But his mind would not obey. 

He missed Aerneth and wanted her back, that was the truth of it, despite knowing they could never be together again. 

He had hurt her. Just like his father, he had failed to control his anger and hurt her. Nothing could justify his actions. 

Oropherion . She would not even take his own name in her mouth anymore, and he deserved it. 

As always when he pursued this line of thoughts – and he did that often – the shame and remorse hit him with full strength, in combination with his black jealousy over what she had done, and of course the what-ifs that kept nagging him. What if he had not allowed her to go to the war? What if he had gone with her? She might never have kissed someone and Thranduil would not have been angry and hurt her and all would have been well. 

But if he was truly honest with himself all would not have been well. Their marriage had been a disaster from the start. He was a disaster. 

No wonder your mother left Doriath; Aerneth’s words came back to taunt him. They were true and that was why they had infuriated him so. He had failed his mother, failed his wife, and now he was failing his kingdom too with his inability to hunt.

Thranduil angrily kicked away a stone from the path. As if his personal troubles were not bad enough, there was the fact that the Dark Lord had won the war to worry about. Morgoth had wiped out nearly the entire Host of Maedhros and stacked all the corpses in an enormous pile in the desert to lie there and rot. The Battle of Unnumbered Tears people called it now, but its aftermath was proving to be even worse; orcs and evil humans roaming free in Hithlum and northern Beleriand, killing, stealing and burning homesteads, capturing the males and doing unspeakable things with the females.

Perhaps by now they had reached even further, to the western sea… Thranduil fought down the surge of panic that always followed on that thought, forcing his heart to slow down. Eglarest was safe. Galadriel would have told him if the situation had changed.

He was nearly back at the cabin when Faraion, the ellon he least wanted to see, joined him on the narrow footpath. Amroth, that traitorous so-called friend, had dragged the young elf along with them on the hunt. But of course he could not have known how much Thranduil despised the Gondolinian. 

“Hello Tharan, any luck today?” Faraion looked happy to see him, a feeling which was not in the least reciprocated.

“Sadly, no.” Thranduil forbade his face to betray any emotions.

“Ai, I am sorry.”

Beleg and Mablung dropped out of a nearby tree. The archer carried three pheasants nonchalantly slung across his shoulder.

“Tomorrow will be your turn, do not worry,” he said. Beleg had an infuriating ability to sound kind and concerned while it was obvious he was secretly gloating.

Outside the cabin, Amroth was busily cleaning out the entrails of a young doe and Thranduil went to help him. Some use he would still be. Thankfully the other refrained from commenting on his lack of prey, Amroth knew what ailed his friend and why he was in no mood for banter.

“What did you hunt in Gondolin, Faraion? Must have been hard to find game in the mountains.” Amroth had been bombarding the Gondolinian with questions about the hidden city ever since he arrived in Doriath.

“We kept mountain goats. There was this lovely vale surrounding our city, with the sweetest grass and flowers for them to graze.” The young ellon’s gaze became distant.

“How interesting. But did you not run out of goats after a while?”

“We bred them.”

”Bred?”

”Aye. We captured them alive and brought them into the vale, where we fed them well. Then they became almost tame, staying near the city and birthing their young there. We only slaughtered the kids and always made sure to spare a few, and so the herd grew every year. By now there are several hundred of them.”

“What a clever idea! We ought to take after that, do you not agree, Tharan? Maybe we could breed deer in Doriath.” He turned back to Faraion. “What did you feed the goats with?”

“We used some of the corn Princess Idril grew on the slopes of the hills – the kind used for lembas.”

“Splendid. We can ask Queen Melian if she has any to spare. Maybe we could construct some sort of fence too so the deer cannot stray.”

They kept discussing animal breeding for a while, and then followed another favourite topic of Amroth’s; the war. Faraion did not like to speak of it, especially not about the dragons which had appeared late in the battle, but Amroth was too curious to leave the subject alone. Mablung and Beleg were much more outspoken about their experiences, but they had been in the western host and only met orcs, wargs and balrogs. It was the dragons that fascinated Amroth.

“Do you think Morgoth bred the dragons in the same way you did with your goats?” he asked now.

Faraion shuddered. “I have no idea. But some were smaller, so maybe they were young. They were still huge though.”

“How big? And how many were they?”

Thranduil listened intently to their conversation despite the sickening feeling any mention of the war still gave him. He was searching for clues. 

Who was it? That was the question which would not leave him alone. 

He suspected Faraion himself the most. When the young ellon came to Doriath this autumn, weak, half-starved and terrified, he told them he had been directed there by an elleth named Aerneth, whom he had communicated with through water. That meant they must have met in person first; Aerneth could only establish water connections if they had. What had happened during that meeting? Faraion was barely eight decades, far too young for her, but she would probably not care. He was good looking, almost as tall as Thranduil and with striking, raven hair. Every time he looked at the other, Thranduil involuntarily pictured Aerneth in his arms, his hands roaming over her curvy body, their mouths intimately joined.

She had admitted to kissing another ellon, but what kind of kiss? Short, long? Deep? With or without tongues? Undressed? 

Even if it were only a peck, Thranduil wanted to strangle Faraion, but without proof he could not do anything. It could be someone else and then Faraion was innocent. Maybe even Mablung or Beleg. Beleg Cúthalion who so often seemed smug, like he kept some interesting secret. Yes, he clearly loved Mablung, but Aerneth loved Thranduil and yet she had kissed someone else.

Or was it Galdor, that Falathrim with the long hair? She had pretended to like him before, but what if it was not only pretence? Maybe there were some real feelings underneath, and now they had been together in a war and one thing had led to the other.

At other times Thranduil suspected Celeborn. He looked a little like himself, blonde and tall, and Aerneth was good friends with his wife. Galadriel and Celeborn did not seem to be very close as a couple – Galadriel was too independent, he suspected, she would never lean on an ellon. Maybe she was busy fighting orcs and Celeborn got lonely, seeking out his wife’s friend for some cuddling?

It could be one of the royal elves too; Fingon before he died, or Turgon of Gondolin, the new high king. Or one of the sons of Fëanor? It was not known whether they had survived; Faraion had seen them escape into the mountains but since then nobody had heard from them.

It could be just about anyone. The army was full of handsome warriors. 

Not knowing was the worst. Thranduil felt like one of the dragons had settled inside his intestines and was eating him from within.

.

The next day Thranduil was tracking a boar when he heard the sound of Beleg’s horn, a signal that he had felled something big and needed assistance to carry it back. 

Thranduil glanced at the tracks in the snow. Never mind. He would probably fail to kill the boar anyway, he might as well go help his captain.

Beleg had apparently defied the king’s prohibition of going outside the Girdle, for Thranduil found him perhaps a mile north of the border. The archer was proudly standing in a small glade next to the carcass of a huge moose, its large, flattened antlers sporting no less than fourteen points. Had he killed a stag of that size with only his bow and arrow? Thranduil was awed, but his face remained neutral as he approached the other.

“Congratulations. A fine prize,” he said politely.

“Thanks. Good of you to come, I need all the hands I can get to bring back this beauty to the cabin.”

There was a rustle in an oak and Amroth dropped out of it, whistling between his teeth at the sight of the animal. “Amazing!” He dunked the older ellon’s back. “I have never seen a stag with antlers of that size.”

“I am sure there are some who have larger,” said Beleg with false modesty. 

They had just constructed a sled of branches and rolled the moose onto it so they could pull it with them, when a most unusual trio emerged from the surrounding woods. Humans! Two old men, dirty and bedraggled with long, unkempt hair and beards, and a small boy.

“Halt right there and state who you are,” said Beleg sternly.

The little boy straightened his back, unabashedly looking up at the twice as tall ellon. "I am Túrin, son of Húrin. But he was lost in the war so I am the Lord of Dor-Lómin now. And my companions Gethron and Grithnir here are servants of my House." He looked so proud and serious despite his dishevelled state that Thranduil had to hide a smile. 

Húrin, he had said. So this was the son of the boy Thranduil had lost in his first battle. Humans grew up so fast it was staggering to fathom; it felt like hardly any time had passed and now that boy already had a child of his own.

“What is your errand in these lands?”

“My mother Morwen sent me to stay with my relatives. She is the daughter of Baragund, who was cousin to Beren son of Barahir, the husband of the Elvenking’s daughter.”

“I see.” Beleg’s lips were twitching with mirth. “But Beren Barahirion no longer lives here.”

“I know that.” Túrin frowned. “I had to leave my home or I would become a thrall to the Easterlings, and Mother would not say what a thrall is but my friend Sador Onefoot told me it’s one who has to work every day or he’ll be beaten. And if his lord tires of him he sends his dogs after him and they rip his throat out.” He formed his small hands to claws, showing how that might look like.

“Then what boon would you have of King Thingol?” Beleg sat on his haunches to reach the boy’s level. 

“I want to be one of his knights, to ride against Morgoth and avenge my father!” The boy’s eyes gleamed.

Beleg smiled openly now. “And this may well happen, once you grow a little taller. You have the makings of a valiant man; a worthy son of Húrin.”

The boy’s back straightened even further. “I shall grow fast.” He swallowed. “I may need some food to do so, however. We have not eaten for days.”

Beleg had some lembas with him which he gave to the starving trio, while Amroth hurried back to Menegroth to ask whether the king and queen would allow the humans inside Doriath.

When the young lord had eaten his fill, Beleg resumed his questioning. “You say your mother is Beren’s relative, but why has she not come here also?”

“Mama carries my sibling in her belly and could not go.” Túrin’s chin trembled slightly, showing how young he really was despite his grown-up way with words. A child missing his mother. 

Thranduil felt an urge to hold the boy and comfort him. He was so small and lonely. 

It struck him he might never have a son or daughter of his own; never carry a baby in his arms and hear it call him Ada. How could he be a parent when his wife had left him? The thought left a bitter taste in his mouth. 

Then he noticed the face Beleg was making and realised the older ellon might feel the same. He too would never be a father, unless he entered into a loveless marriage of convenience.

Turning away, Thranduil blinked a few times, drawing a deep breath to calm down. It was what it was.

.

While Amroth was gone, the others made camp right there in the glade. Beleg sounded his horn for Mablung and Faraion to join them, and together with the humans they cut up and salted the moose. It would be a shame to let all that meat go to waste.

The next day Amroth returned with a message from the king: The young Lord of Dor-Lómin and his followers were welcome.

The walk back took much longer than usual, both because the boy was so small and because his followers were old – and in addition they were humans, with their lesser stamina and need for sleep. They were also very weak after their lengthy journey and lack of food.

But at last they saw the hill of Menegroth and could cross the bridge over the Esgalduin.

Inside the city, Túrin and his companions looked around in awe, taking in the beautiful quartz ceiling, the tree-shaped silver pillars, the birds and the sparkling fountains. When they entered the palace, their eyes were so big they threatened to pop out of their eyes. Thranduil found it both amusing and a bit flattering.

Before they could be presented to the king and queen, the humans were taken to the guest rooms to have baths and get new clothes. Thranduil surprised even himself when he volunteered to help the boy, who was not used to that kind of finery. 

“Shall I comb your hair?” he offered when Túrin was scrubbed clean and sat wrapped up in a linen towel on the narrow guest bed. 

The boy nodded, his mouth full of lembas. He had been eating almost continuously the past day, probably making up for many lost meals. When Thranduil had helped him out of his bath before, he had seen how wretchedly thin the small body was, with protruding ribs and a swollen stomach. 

“Can I have warrior braids like Beleg?”

“Of course.” Smiling, Thranduil sat down next to the boy and began to untangle his black tresses with a soft brush. Túrin closed his eyes with pleasure, even forgetting to chew his lembas. In no time he was fast asleep, his body heavy against Thranduil’s chest.

Looking down at the small frame with the still half-finished braids and trail of breadcrumbs on his rounded chin, Thranduil felt his heart swell with affection. Túrin was a mortal and a stranger, but he was also a child who needed protection. No matter what the king’s decision might be, Thranduil would make sure the boy was taken care of.

When the old men came to fetch their young lord a while later, he still slept. The men wore fine clothes now, with their well-combed greying hair fanned out over their shoulders in the fashion of humans.

Thranduil sheepishly roused the child, mumbling an excuse that he had seemed to need the rest. 

Túrin yawned and filled his mouth with more lembas while Thranduil swiftly finished the braids and dressed him in a burgundy coat and knee-high leather boots, clothes outgrown by an elfling of the distant past. The result was stunning. With the elegant outfit and braided hair he could almost pass for an elf. 

Soon Túrin stood proud and straight before the royal couple in the throne room, promptly answering the king’s many questions in that bold way he had, making him seem much older than his eight years. 

Before long Thingol waved him closer and placed the child on his lap.

“You shall stay in my kingdom, Túrin Húrinion, and live here in the palace as my foster-son.”

The assembled march-wardens and palace workers gasped in surprise. A human boy, to be treated so? Thingol certainly had changed since he met Beren in this very same room not long ago.

But perhaps it was not so strange. Elflings were rare in Doriath; the surrounding world had been troubled for so long and nobody felt the time was appropriate to rear a child. This boy was both beautiful and intelligent – like Beleg had said, he had the makings of a valiant man.

In addition, the fact that Thingol’s own daughter and grandchild was inaccessible to him may have increased his benevolence. 

Thus it happened that the king gained an adopted son and Túrin got himself a new home, much to the delight of almost every elf in the city.

.

Galadriel poured water into her bowl, and the king leaned in to see better. Since the Battle of Unnumbered Tears he had made good use of Galadriel’s friendship with Aerneth to get news from the outside world. 

Eglarest had a high tower called Barad Nimras, the Tower of the White Horn, from which Círdan’s lookouts had a great view over the open heathlands between Doriath and the Falas. Tidings of the movement of Morgoth’s minions were invaluable in these troubled times, for Thingol feared that the Dark Lord might find out about the two hidden elvish cities, Menegroth and Nargothrond, and try to take them over.

When Galadriel made these calls, the king's captains and other march-wardens were usually present as well, and one of them was always Thranduil. He would stay in the periphery, able to see but not be seen. 

He knew it probably did him more bad than good, but he just could not keep away. Even if it only was a glimpse, he needed to see his wife’s face and hear her voice, to know she was still alive and well.

Today Aerneth had troubling news to share; a great host of Easterlings, orcs and wargs had laid siege to Eglarest and Brithombar and she feared the Falas might fall. 

Thranduil held onto a nearby pillar to remain standing, his legs suddenly weak as jelly. So it was beginning then; the foresights the ellith had seen in Galadriel’s mirror. Eglarest would be ruined, and Nargothrond, and Doriath. 

Aerneth’s face was unusually pale in the clear water. “Since the war ended we have been working hard to strengthen our city walls, but the enemy has built towers on wheels and other strange contraptions – we do not like the look of them.” She paused. ”My father wishes to speak with the king of Doriath, if he is there?”

“I am.” Thingol took Galadriel’s place before the mirror, and in the other end Lord Círdan did the same. 

“My Lord King, longstanding is the friendship and allegiance between the Falathrim and the Grey Elves of Doriath. Now we need your assistance. With your march-wardens we may still be able to beat the enemy, for you would come at him from behind. These war machines he is constructing – you could destroy them.”

“I hear you, my friend. And I wish I could help, I most certainly do – but our strength lies in stealth. Should we leave Doriath at this point Morgoth will know where to find us and strike back with full force. He might even send out his fiery dragons to burn down the forest that protects us. And then he would soon come for you anyway. Sending out the march-wardens could only give you a slight respite, but the outcome would be the same, only that Doriath would fall as well.”

Círdan’s face became stern. “You cannot possibly know this. The dwarves injured the leader of the dragons, he might be dead. And besides, even a slight respite would be better than nothing, it would buy us time to regroup and strengthen our forces, and to send for the aid of Turgon in Gondolin and Orodreth in Nargothrond. Still many great elven hosts remain – we do not need to give in to the Dark Lord prematurely!”

“I am sorry, but I cannot do what you ask.” 

“I see.” His jaw set and his eyes grew hard as flint. “Farewell then, king.” Círdan disappeared and Aerneth returned. Pink spots had appeared on her cheekbones. 

“You disgust me. All of you. Cowards.” She closed the connection.

Thranduil could not breathe. The walls were closing in on him and flashes of white appeared in the edges of his vision. He half-staggered, half-ran out of the room, desperately needing to get away from there, out from the heavy stone of the city which for once felt confining, like a tomb.

When he finally was outside he slumped down with his back against a beech tree, hiding his face in his arms.

Merry birds were chirping all around him and the smell of spring flowers was sweet, but in his mind was only darkness.

Would Aerneth survive? Just like when she went to war without him, pictures of her lifeless body paraded before his inner eye and he could not dispel them. He loved her – he had realised it then, and despite everything that had happened since, he knew he still did. 

Perhaps she would live and the orcs would take her captive, turn her into one of the thralls young Túrin had spoken of. Or worse, an Easterling man might make her his wife, another fate not uncommon for females according to the same source. 

Thranduil swallowed the bile rising in his throat as he saw new images – of Aerneth naked, taken by force by an unkempt human. 

He should never have let her go with Círdan, he ought to have restrained his anger and brought her back here despite her infidelity. He could have learned not to harm her – and besides, anything was better than the fate she would meet now. He would gladly let her kiss all the ellyn of Doriath as long as she was safe.

Could he rebel against the king? Gather his friends and attack the host’s rear like Círdan had wanted? But he knew they would never agree to that. Despite Thingol’s often irrational behaviour his subjects were loyal.

No, Thranduil was completely powerless. There was nothing he could do to save his wife. He could only wait and pray, beseech the Valar to assist the Falathrim; for Tulkas to bring their warriors strength and for Ulmo to aid them through the water.

He felt a hand touch his shoulder and nearly jumped. Looking up, he met the grey eyes of Túrin, and further away stood Beleg and Mablung with their arms full of practice swords and arrows.

“Are you well, uncle Tharan?” 

“Nay,” he admitted. Before the boy he could rarely uphold his emotionless air.

“Want to talk about it?”

He shook his head.

“Want to come with us and practice archery, then? Uncle Beleg promised to let me use sharp arrows today. I am going to hit bull's eye.”

“That sounds fun.” Thranduil managed a thin smile. No matter how bad he felt, the king’s adopted son could always lift his mood. 

.

A few nervous days followed with the situation gradually growing worse at the coast. Aerneth refused to open any official connections with the king, but she still communicated privately with Galadriel, and it was through her Thranduil got his information. 

The contraptions the enemy had built proved to be some sort of giant slingshots, capable of throwing rocks with great strength. Piece by piece the mighty stone walls of Eglarest and Brithombar crumbled away under the assault.

The Falathrim still defended their cities valiantly, but the enemy were just too many, and on the fifth day of the siege Aerneth no longer answered Galadriel’s calls.

“Call her again.” Thranduil wanted to shake the tall elleth to make her obey, but after he lost his temper with Aerneth that summer he had become better at restraining himself. 

“If she is fighting, it would merely distract her needlessly. We can only wait and see.” Galadriel's beautiful face was calm but the look in her blue eyes was both understanding and deeply worried. 

Thranduil had to admit the wisdom of that and resorted to a long, fast run in the woods. Anything to keep his mind off what was happening in the west. 

When he had run his normal ten mile route thrice he could not stand the suspense anymore. Walking down to the river, he tentatively reached out to Aerneth in his mind. 

No answer. Nothing at all.

He slumped down on the ground, not caring about the mud soaking his pants. Was she lost? He touched his heart, wondering if he would be able to feel it if she was dead. He did not know.

Tears trickled down his cheeks. If only there was a way to find out.

Then it struck him. Galadriel’s mirror. Could she not try to see Aerneth even if she did not reply? Or maybe he could?

He was already on his feet and running back to the city. It was worth a try. He had to try.

Galadriel was in her home. Celeborn looked surprised when he opened the door and found the younger ellon outside, panting heavily, soaked with sweat and wearing mud stained clothes. 

Inside, Thranduil hardly paid attention to their tasteful furniture and many carpets, he had only eyes for the silver bowl on a side table.

“Can you help me see her? Please?”

“I can try. But the mirror cannot be controlled, it shows what it shows. You might not like what you see.”

“Please?” he repeated.

Sighing, Galadriel filled the bowl and sang the spell, and Thranduil eagerly leaned over it. 

There was only white mist at first, but when it cleared he saw a battle, elves against orcs, and in the middle a blonde ellon was struggling hard. His enemies outnumbered him manifold and he was bleeding from many wounds. Just as the ellon sank to the ground, clutching his heart, Thranduil saw it was Oropher. Would his father die in battle? When?

Before he could dwell on it, the vision changed. A person was standing with his back towards Thranduil, tall and strong looking, and he wore a steel helmet with gold details. Long, black hair flowed down his back, and in front of him was a huge monster. A dragon. 

And then they too were gone and he finally saw Aerneth. She was sitting in a stone building beside another blonde person, an ellon Thranduil did not recognise. The ellon bowed down and kissed her. After much too long, he pulled back and said something. When she replied he looked shocked and then angry, and suddenly ran away.

So this was how it had happened. If Thranduil ever met that ellon, he would… 

But now the image changed a third time to show a swan ship, one of those he had seen tied to the pier in Eglarest, but now it was leaving. Behind its white sails Thranduil saw a burning city.

Aerneth was standing alone in the stern, her beautiful face blotched and smudged black with soot, tears streaming down her cheeks.

“Aerneth...” He reached out to touch her but his finger met only water. The image dissolved in ripples and was gone.

“What did you see?”

“She was on a ship.” He met Galadriel’s gaze, making his face smooth to hide what else he had seen. “That means she has escaped? It must mean that.”

“It could. I do not yet know how the visions work, whether they always come to pass or not.”

When Thranduil left Galadriel he was temporarily calmed. Aerneth likely had survived, and in addition he no longer had to be jealous of poor Faraion or Beleg or anyone else he knew. The one she had kissed was a stranger.

The other visions he had seen, Thranduil still could not understand, but there was no use dwelling on them. He did not know who the person with the dragon was, and as for his father, all he could do was stay with him, protecting him as best he could. If Doriath was attacked Thranduil would not leave his father’s side.

A couple of days later, when Thranduil was at the training grounds with Túrin, Galadriel came to tell him she had been in contact with Aerneth again. His wife lived, she was still at sea with her parents and the other survivors, planning to take refuge at the Isle of Balar in the south. 

Finally Thranduil could relax completely. Aerneth’s city was no more, and many of her people had been either slain or taken captive, but she was alive and her parents were too – and that was all that mattered to him.


A/N:

Aerneth survived the Fall of the Falas and Thranduil has found someone to love again, but is it wise to care so much about a mortal? And will he ever become a father himself? 

Well, at least we all know the answer to the last question. ;)

20. Dragon Helm

Menegroth, Doriath, First Age 481

Oropher leaned against the wooden fence. “Elves keeping animals captive.” He shook his head with displeasure. “I do not hold with these modern ideas. Your father does not either.”

Amroth looked up from the sow he was petting. “We have kept horses ever since the Years of the Trees, why should we not keep boar and deer? Have I not provided Doriath with food in these troubled times?”

Thranduil said nothing but secretly agreed with Oropher. The deer were alright, but the pigs were dirty and trampled the ground, their pen could be smelled from miles away. Amroth was a warrior, this work was beneath him.

“We have a fine tradition of hunting for meat, if you had forgotten,” replied Oropher. 

“Well, you are entitled to your opinion, and I as an adult ellon am entitled to do what I will with my spare time.” Amroth turned back to the sow. 

“Come Father, Túrin’s competition is starting soon.” 

They left Amroth with his pigs and went to the training grounds, where they found seats on one of the benches surrounding the sparring ring. 

King Thingol was holding trials for aspiring march-wardens today. He needed more warriors; with the growing unrest near their realm he had decided to delegate a new border guard outside Melian’s Girdle to keep orcs and wargs from coming too close. Ever since Beren and the werewolf had managed to pass through it, the king had been nervous about the strength of his wife’s magic fence.

Two ellith were already fighting in the ring and the air was full of their grunts of effort, small yelps of pain and the dull thuds of their wooden wasters hitting one another’s shields or bodies, along with the cheering from their friends. 

Thranduil recognised one of them; she was his friend Medlin’s wife. With a shudder he imagined Aerneth fighting like that and hoped she would never get such a horrible idea.

“When Thingol has resorted to recruiting female march-wardens, one knows the situation must be exceptionally grave,” Oropher mumbled in his ear, apparently having similar thoughts.

“Indeed,” Thranduil agreed.

“Have you thought more about joining Beleg outside the borders? I think it would be beneficial to your career; an opportunity to prove yourself in real battle and perhaps rise in grade. Doriath ought to have more than just two captains.”

“I have. But I worry about leaving you.” Thranduil pressed his father’s arm.

“Your concern becomes you, son. But you need not fear, with you guarding our country I would feel entirely safe. And I can manage the household. Last time you were gone was exceptional, as you well know.”

“I do not doubt your capability, Father.”

The sparring between the ellith was over and Thranduil clapped politely as the winner received her victory token. It was Medlin’s wife, as it were. Next up was Túrin, and both ellyn sat straighter to see better. 

And there he was, his dark head easily spotted in the crowd, reaching above almost everybody else. He looked older in chainmail, like an adult despite his mere seventeen years, and his shoulders were broad and muscular. Thranduil felt a surge of affection and pride at seeing him like this, mingled with a hint of anxiety that he would not prove himself worthy in the upcoming combat. Saeros, the ellon he was going against, was a former stone worker who had helped delve several home caves in Menegroth and his biceps were impressive. 

Thranduil had never liked Saeros; he had been friends with Daeron and just like the minstrel he was too full of himself for Thranduil’s taste. If Túrin took him down a notch or two it would probably do him good.

“He is a strapping young man, for sure,” said Oropher. “And stubborn. He will win, I know it.” Just like Thranduil, Oropher had taken an early liking to the human when he first arrived in Doriath. Túrin had often been a guest at their table. 

“Aww, our little boy, look at him. A grown man already!” Amroth squeezed himself down on the bench next to Thranduil. A whiff of pig reached his nostrils and he fought not to make a face.

The king raised his arm and Thranduil tensed, drawing in his breath in anticipation. The combatants donned their helmets and shields, drew their wooden wasters and positioned themselves face to face. Then Thingol’s arm dropped and the game was on.

Túrin began aggressively as always, he could never compete with the stamina of an elf so he needed to beat his opponent fast. The onslaught of his hard strikes would weaken them and sometimes intimidate them as well, especially since the human often outmatched his opponent in strength – Thranduil had noticed men were generally more heavily built than elves and Túrin was no exception. He had felt the blunt force of the other’s waster many times, occasionally with resulting bruises.

Saeros was strong for an elf, however, and parried Túrin’s weapon with seeming ease, every now and then lashing in a hit of his own. 

Thranduil winced inwardly whenever Saeros’ wooden sword connected with his opponent’s unprotected lower arms or legs, knowing how much the boy would suffer for it later. Túrin’s less resilient body was his biggest disadvantage; even hits over his chainmail covered torso and upper arms would leave marks. But he compensated for it with an almost complete disregard of pain during the actual encounter and would only acknowledge it afterwards. 

The pair was evenly matched, it had gone several minutes and still none of the combatants had scored any points; for that they needed to make a hit that would have been mortal or crippling, such as against the torso or head. Disarming the opponent also rewarded a point.

But then Saeros feigned a hit on Túrin’s lower leg, and when he bent to parry it with his shield the ellon quickly whacked his neck just under the helmet. Thranduil winced. 

“Saeros one-nil,” said Mablung, who was supervising the trials. 

Túrin grunted in annoyance and made a swipe at Saeros’ right side, then rapidly two more at his left, finally unbalancing the other and forcing him to take a step backwards. Sparring with Thranduil, who was left-handed, had taught Túrin to focus on his opponent’s weak side. This he used to his advantage now as he alternated his strikes between the ellon’s left legs and his head. Saeros was beginning to show signs of tiredness, his shield arm was trembling and he panted heavily, but unfortunately so was Túrin. He needed to score the last points quickly if he wanted to win.

The young man abruptly switched sides and slashed at Saeros’ right side, and when the other moved his shield to deflect an expected second hit Túrin jabbed his sword against his exposed heart.

“One-all.”

Despite his protective chainmail, the force of Túrin’s blow had knocked the air out of Saeros’ lungs, and before he could catch his breath Túrin resumed his assault, now at the ellon’s right side, scoring two more points by first beating the waster out of the other’s hand and then hitting his head.

“Three-one. We have a winner!” Mablung caught Túrin’s hand and raised it. The cheer was deafening, Túrin was almost universally liked in Menegroth. Only Saeron did not smile, and his gaze was scorching as he stomped away. 

Thranduil hoped the ellon would not hold a grudge against Túrin after this, but he suspected the chances were slim; Saeros was a proud fellow.  

When Túrin left the sparring ring, Thranduil, Oropher and Amroth pushed through the crowd to greet him.

“Well done, my boy,” said Oropher, grasping his shoulder. “This calls for a celebration. I have a couple of fine hares prepared if you would take your dinner with us.”

“Thank you, I would have loved to, but I just promised Beleg I would join him at Mablung’s table. We are discussing my new post. I am offered leadership of my own border unit, can you believe it!” Túrin’s cheeks were flushed with excitement. 

”I see.” Oropher could not hide his displeasure, but the young man was too busy with the many others coming to congratulate him to notice.

Thranduil soon left the crowd, frowning. Túrin was too young to join the border guard. And to become a leader! That would put him in the front where he would be at the greatest risk.

“This settles it,” said Oropher. “You have to go with Beleg too now – to protect the boy.”

Thranduil nodded. He did not like this at all.

Galadriel approached them. “May I have a word with you? It is about your wife.” 

“Of course.” Whenever Aerneth was mentioned Thranduil felt a chill inside. Was she in danger? He schooled his face to remain neutral. 

They left the training grounds and walked a few yards into the surrounding woods.

“What is the matter?” He was careful to not let his voice sound as anxious and eager as he felt.

“I worry about Aerneth. Her mother has still not come back.”

Thranduil nodded. Sailing west had been a vain attempt. Círdan had built seven ships after the war and sent them to Aman to ask the Valar for help defeating Morgoth. Falasiel had been aboard one of those, having long wished to see the island again. But nothing had been heard of the ships in several years, and by now everyone assumed they must have perished at sea.

“Why do you worry?” he asked. “You said before that Aerneth was coming to terms with the situation.”

“Aye, but today she talked of following them.”

“She cannot go!” Thranduil’s feigned calmness instantly disappeared. “If the first ships could not make it to Aman hers will be lost as well. The Valar has closed that route.”

“Call to her. If anyone can persuade her to stay in Middle-earth, it is you.”

“I most certainly will! How could she even think such a stupid thing?”

“Calling her stupid will not help, though.” Galadriel frowned slightly.

But Thranduil did not pay attention to her, he was already striding towards the Esgalduin to make the call.

“Reckless elleth!” he muttered to himself. 

He sat on a stone by the river, trying to calm down. When he felt sure his face again was blank – although he knew she would hate that – he thought her name. 

Thranduil had not spoken to Aerneth in over nine years and he was not entirely sure she would answer now. When her face formed, he felt a surge of relief and a painful stab as he realised how much he still missed her.

She looked wary. 

“Oropherion. You called?”

Another stab. He was not his father! Not exposing how much that simple greeting hurt him, Thranduil answered impassionately: “Wife. I heard your mother has gone missing and I wanted to offer my sympathy.”

“She sailed years ago and you only heard it now?”

“I had been aware of it since it happened,” he admitted. 

“Seeing as it obviously did not bother you before, you need not concern yourself now either. Anything else?” Her face showed no emotions at all. When had she learned that? 

“I was told… are you really planning on following her?”

“I might. Why?” Her cold eyes were like glass marbles.

“You must not go. It is stupid. You will get yourself killed!” 

She did not reply. Thranduil wished she was there in person so he could shake her, get a reaction out of her. 

The thought instantly sobered him. That was precisely why she could not be here, because of such notions; he was clearly still not safe to be around. And he had not even apologised for hurting her. 

A sentence surfaced from his memory, words spoken by the now late Falasiel. Forgiveness is the cure; learn to forgive, learn to ask forgiveness. He had been terrible at it.

“About last time…” He broke off, searching for words. Then he noticed Aerneth’s almost terrified expression. 

“I have to go,” she said, her voice strained. 

“No, wait!”

“What?” Her lip trembled. Now he wanted to hold her instead. Had he scared her so badly that time? He was a monster.

“Please stay.” He had lost his neutral appearance and voice completely. Why did her tears always unwind him so? “I cannot lose you too.”

“You don’t actually have me, do you?” 

“You are alive, at least. If you go… what if there is no rebirth?”

“There has to be. I will meet Nana again.” 

Thranduil changed the subject, hoping to calm her. “How is the town building going?” Círdan and his people had recently left their refuge at Isle of Balar to build a new city at the mouth of Sirion. 

“You knew that too? You certainly keep yourself updated.” She wiped her eyes. “It goes well, I guess. Becoming a bit more than a few houses scattered in the reed now. Nothing like Eglarest of course, but… it is better than the barren island we first came to. Galadriel told you this?” 

“Aye.”

“And about my plan to sail, as well, I assume. Got a loud mouth, that elleth.” But she did not look angry. 

After a short silence she spoke again, her voice serious. “You know… I think we should keep in touch like this. I mean, more often than every nine years. Despite…” She faltered. 

Thranduil only nodded, at loss for words. She wanted him to call her again. That was something, at least...

“I ought to leave this shore after what I did,” she continued. “But I will stay if you want me to.”

“I do.” Thranduil was a bit surprised at her words. After what I did . Did she mean the kiss? But surely that was not reason enough to sail to certain death? 

Having seen it happen in Galadriel’s mirror, Thranduil felt a lot less bad about the whole kissing situation. At least they had both been fully clothed and the ellon was a stranger that she would hopefully never meet again.

Aerneth looked like she would cry again but then composed herself. “So, what have you been up to then?” She smiled weakly.

“I have helped raise a human boy.”

“You what?” She stared at him incredulously. 

Thranduil told her all about Túrin and how the boy had captured almost everybody’s heart in Doriath. “But now he wants to join the border guard, which is worrisome. There are so many dangers around our kingdom now. Father wants me to go with him, to protect him but also try to make a name for myself. I like the idea; I want to be useful for once.”

“Oh, so now it's suddenly a good idea to leave your cosy, safe forest? Because Ada says so.” Aerneth’s mouth was a thin line.

“This is the first time my king wants it. I am his subject; I owe him my allegiance.” Thranduil frowned.

“Whatever you say, Oropherion.” Then her countenance softened. “I have to go now. But do call again soon, I meant what I said. And… be careful out there. Don’t get yourself killed.”

“I shall try not to. Promise to stay in Middle-earth?”

“I promise.” 

When her image had disappeared, Thranduil stayed a long time watching the rippling surface. 

She wanted to keep in touch. Despite how unsatisfying these calls were, they were better than nothing, and maybe… just maybe, if he practiced controlling his temper, they could be together again in the future? He felt a sliver of hope. 

That night in his lonely bed, Thranduil recalled some of his favourite intimate moments with Aerneth and used them to bring himself to climax for the first time in years. 

.

It was a cold morning when the new border guard made ready to leave Doriath. Oropher had come to send Thranduil and Túrin off, and after a while Amroth joined them from his animal pens. He would remain in Menegroth with Captain Mablung and the palace guard.

Mablung was there too, looking emotional and giving his ‘friend’ Beleg an extra long hug. It was clear their parting was not easy; from now on they would only see each other a few times per year.

Túrin came sauntering, late as usual. His chin was covered in dark stubble that Thranduil secretly envied. When he had first seen a bearded human he had found it strange, but somehow it suited Túrin well, giving him a masculine and exotic look. Especially in combination with his round human ears. It distinguished him, making him different in a good way.

The young man was carrying a large bag slung over his broad shoulder.

“What are you bringing?” asked Thranduil.

“Thingol gave me new weapons for my assignment, along with this .” He picked up a bulky item wrapped in cloth. “My mother sent it to me; it was my father’s and his father’s before him, and he got it from the High King of the Noldor.” The boy proudly unwrapped a large steel helmet with a golden crest, shaped like a dragon. 

Thranduil’s breath hitched. He had seen that helm before… in Galadriel’s mirror. The man in his vision – was it Túrin? Would he fight a dragon? 

“Is it not amazing? Mother says the dwarves forged it hundreds of years ago!”

Swallowing hard and arranging his features to hide his fear, Thranduil said all the right things about the value and quality of the item and how well it would look on the young man in battle. But it was with a bitter taste in his mouth he watched the boy pack it back down. Surely a combat between a human and a dragon must end in disaster? Disturbing images of the boy burnt into a crisp came unbidden before him; Faraion the Gondolian had told enough such stories for them to become permanently etched into Thranduil’s brain.

When they finally set off towards the border a while later, Thranduil tried to turn his mind in a more positive direction. It was a glorious spring morning, the air was crisp, the trees were covered in swelling buds and the flowers smelled nice. The chainmail covering his chest and upper arms jingled cheerfully and on his hip hung the shiny, new longsword his father had bought him. 

He was going into battle for the first time in three decades and he might return as a famous ellon. 

Orcs beware, the march-wardens of Doriath are coming for you!


A/N:

Hm... why did Aerneth want to sail? Was it just the kiss or something else? Hit me with your thoughts. :)

On practicing fighting: I always find it amusing in stories where the characters spar with sharp weapons. Not only is it dangerous, it’s also very ineffective training because they obviously can’t practice potentially deadly strikes. In my stories they either use wasters – wooden replicas of swords (which is historically correct, and how you practice fencing today as well) or blunted metal weapons.

21. The Naked Ellon

Near the Doriath border, First Age 484

Thranduil missed his bath. He missed many other things too; his bed, his comfortable city clothes, his father and his friend Amroth, his wife. But right now he really longed for a long, hot, scented bath.

For three years he had been roaming these Valarforsaken woods and marshlands and nothing good had come of it. Túrin had proved perfectly capable of taking care of himself, and the fame Oropher had wanted for Thranduil was yet to present itself. Sure, he had killed many orcs and wargs and he was leading a small unit of elves, but he was still no more captain than when he left Doriath.

Sighing miserably, he pulled his hood tighter under his chin to keep the rain out and tried to find a more comfortable position on the pine branch where he was perching. This was one of those years when summer decided to be wet and cold, and Thranduil hated it. He could not remember the last time he was dry. 

At least there was only a couple more weeks until the Feast of the Stars, and this year it was his turn to go home for the holidays. That was something to look forward to. But time passed agonisingly slowly without any enemies to fight; the orcs were not stupid, in this weather they probably hid in a cosy cave somewhere, gathering around a merry fire, gobbling roasted rat or whatever those creatures liked to eat.

The imitation of an owl hooting nearby brightened Thranduil’s mood. Finally Túrin’s unit was here to relieve him! He would be able to get a roof over his head for a few hours and catch up on his sleep.

With a jingling of chainmail Thranduil and his company dropped out of the trees. He stopped to exchange a few words with the young man.

“Morning, Tharan. Any incidents tonight?” Túrin secured the clasp of his dragon helmet and pulled on his gloves.

“Nothing. Even wargs remain in their lairs on a night like this.”

“And only elves and men are stupid enough to stay out.” Túrin chuckled and gave Thranduil’s shoulder a friendly punch. “See you later.”

Back at the large cabin they shared, Captain Beleg was just coming in with his unit from another part of the forest. He dropped a doe beside the door. “Shot this on my way back. Anyone up for a warm meal?” 

“Very much,” said Thranduil, his stomach purring expectantly. “I can prepare it if you want.”

“Great. Thank you.”

“Will do it after I sleep, though.” He yawned and peeled off his soaked armour and clothes, hanging the latter on one of the lines crisscrossing the room in the futile hope they might dry while he slept. He did not care that the two ellith in Beleg’s unit saw him in his underpants; privacy was nearly impossible out here. In the beginning he would use his blankets to cover himself but it did not take long until he gave up. If they wanted to look, let them. It was not as if he was ashamed of his body – even though the assortment of pale scars and nicks he had collected the past few years disfigured it slightly.

After some hours of well-earned rest, Thranduil pulled his moist shirt back on and took the doe outside where he skinned and cleaned it before cutting it up to make a stew. The smell was enticing after many days of being restricted to soggy lembas and dried meat.

When the meal was ready and everyone had eaten their fill, it was late afternoon. Beleg and Thranduil retreated to their bunks, the only place to sit in the crowded building.

The two ellyn had grown a lot closer recently. Chasing orcs and fighting together, holding each other’s backs and helping treat one another’s wounds had tightened their bond.

“Looking forward to the Feast?” Beleg asked with envy in his voice as he stretched out on the blanket. He would be staying here at the border this year. 

“I look forward to having a bath and changing clothes.” 

Beleg laughed. “I bet. You and Mablung would make a fine couple. Always clean and neat, wearing pretty coats and lavish jewellery.” He reached out to poke Thranduil’s snake-shaped wedding ring.

Thranduil smiled. “I think he likes another. As do I.”

“Talking of Mablung though…” Beleg rummaged in his pack and pulled out a bundle of assorted deer horns. “This is for him. He carves spoons, knives and such and always needs more material. Could you take them to him? And a letter.”

“Of course.” Thranduil gave him a sympathetic smile. Being separated from your loved one was taxing – as he knew from experience. At least Thranduil could always call his wife through water. They were still not on very good terms but he called her often nevertheless – ever since she asked him to three years ago – and if they stayed clear of sensitive topics they usually managed to be polite. 

“I was going to ask Túrin, but I do not trust him to remember it,” Beleg continued. “I am sure he will be swept away the minute he arrives in Menegroth, going from one party to another and forgetting all about the errand until the day he is about to leave the city.”

“Probably.” Thranduil grinned fondly.

“Or, he will roam the forest with that strange elleth who likes him so much. Nellas.” He shook his head. “I miss the good old days when he was half as tall and called me uncle.”

“Me too.” Thranduil was painfully reminded of how fast the boy had grown up. He was only two decades old but for humans that was a lot – maybe even a quarter of his expected lifespan.

There was a long silence with both of them deep in thought.

“I envy you,” said Beleg suddenly. “Unlike me, you can become a father one day.”

Thranduil did not know what to reply and felt a hard knot form in his stomach. It was improbable he would ever be a parent, but he had not discussed his disastrous marriage with his friend. They seldom spoke of anything personal. 

“You could sire more elflings than Fëanor,” continued the other. “Break his record.”

“My wife does not live in Doriath anymore.”

“Aye, I heard she went with her father after the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. But the war must surely end eventually. Then she can return.”

“She will not return.” And the war will not end, he added mentally. Morgoth was only growing stronger with every passing year.

Beleg looked up, a bit surprised. “No? Why?”

“We do not get along very well,” Thranduil reluctantly admitted. “And my father…” He did not finish the sentence. How could he even begin to explain how infected their relationship was?

“Sorry Tharan, I did not mean to upset you or pry about your personal life. Let us talk of something else. Have I told you about my father?” 

“Nay. Please do,” said Thranduil, grateful for the other’s consideration and the change of topic.

“Belthronding used to be his.” Beleg pulled his great bow closer, stroking the black wood fondly. “See? He carved his name there. And under it, my mother’s name to give him luck.”

Thranduil bent closer to look, admiring the beautiful craftsmanship of the weapon. He knew Beleg had lost his father early, but he had never told how and when it happened. It must have been before Thranduil was born, for as long as he had known him, Beleg had only had his mother.

“My adar was a hunter, one of the best in Doriath back then. He would walk far outside the realm and bring home great antler trophies to put on our walls, and of course make sure we never lacked meat. This was during the Siege, you know? When Morgoth was locked up in Angband and Beleriand was safe. Ah, those were the days. I hope they shall return one day so I too can walk far again. I have yet to see the western shore!”

“It is a beautiful sight.” Thranduil thought about when he had walked there with Aerneth. Those had been the days too, carefree and happy. Well, at least before they married.

“I remember how I kept touching Belthronding and trying to draw it, and Ada would shoo me away.” Beleg chuckled. “He had to make me my own bow eventually, tiny to fit my arms. And small arrows with feathers and everything. They were blunted of course, but sharp enough to pierce a straw target.”

“No wonder you were always better than the rest of us if you had begun so early.” 

Beleg’s smile waned. “That was not why. I did not begin to practice in earnest until after… After his death.”

“Sorry. I–”

“Nay, I do not mind speaking of it. It was an accident. Happened during the Autumn Hunt one year, a fellow huntsman mistook him for game and the arrow pierced his head. Very unlucky.”

“How dreadful!” It was extremely rare that elves killed fellow elves and Thranduil could only recall three such occasions happening during his lifetime; two drunken brawls gone awry and one case of a jealous husband murdering his wife’s lover. All three culprits had been imprisoned in one of the deepest caves of Menegroth for many decades before the king banished them from the realm.

“It was. Poor ellon. He was so ashamed that he left Doriath, but it really was not his fault.”

“You are more forgiving than I would have been.”

Beleg shrugged. “What good would it do to hold a grudge? Unnecessarily spent energy. Anyway, afterwards I inherited Belthronding and I promised myself to practice hard so I could wield it honorably one day. Making Ada proud when we were reunited in Aman.”

“You certainly succeeded,” said Thranduil earnestly, though he could not help envying the other his faith. How could everyone be so confident they would be reborn and meet their lost ones again?

“I did. I became the best.” 

Thranduil did not dispute that, and for once he did not begrudge Beleg his pride. It was well earned and well deserved.

.

The pork stew tasted amazing and Thranduil had just refilled his plate for the third time when Amroth came sauntering by, a cup of berry wine in his hand.

“Enjoying the food?” He smirked smugly.

“Very much. Your hog breeding pays off, I give you that – but I still cannot see why you have to do the work yourself.”

“I don’t trust others to do it right. To get healthy offspring you need to make sure the right boars and sows mate. It is–”

“I believe you, you do not have to go into detail,” Thranduil interrupted, not at all interested to hear about mating pigs. 

“You should be grateful for my work. There are so many animals in my pens now I could afford to slaughter four dozen young boars for the Feast of the Stars – enough to serve half the city or more. We will roast them whole on spits.”

“Looking forward to tasting them.”

Amroth sat down and soon they were busily catching up on the news since last time. Nothing much had happened in the city besides the pigs multiplying, it would seem, but Thranduil described his latest skirmishes at the border and Amroth listened with interest, looking a bit jealous. 

“Sounds like great fun. I would join you if I could.”

Thranduil smiled. He had purposely omitted all the negative aspects of his border service; the cold and damp weather near the river marshes, the multitude of mosquitoes, the bad food, the dull nights on watch duty and the cramped lodgings in their wood cabins. And of course the complete lack of hygiene.

A commotion nearby drew their attention. Túrin was standing up, scowling furiously at a snickering Saeros.

“Take that back!” he growled, giving the elf a hard shove.

Saeros rose too. “Keep your filthy hands off me, human!”

Thranduil hurried to get close before a fight broke out, but Mablung was faster, quickly positioning himself between the two. 

“What happened?” asked Thranduil.

“He said I’m a stinking wildman,” Túrin spluttered, trying to get past Mablung. 

“I simply said that in these halls one should not walk around with hair like a thicket of brambles and clothes not fit for Amroth’s pigs to wear. He’s a disgrace.” Saeros grinned nastily.

“He just returned from the border where he served our country – your country. Changing clothes was perhaps not his first priority,” said Thranduil, trying to defend his young friend. He did smell a bit and the hem of his tunik was splashed with mud, but just because he was not an overly cleanly person Saeros had no right to insult the boy. But this was probably a revenge for losing the sparring match against Túrin three years ago. How typical of that proud ellon to bear a grudge for so long!

“If male humans of Hithlum are as dirty and unkempt as he, maybe the females are likewise. Wild and natural.” Saeros leered. “Do they run around wearing only their hair?” 

Túrin growled something incoherently and tossed his goblet of wine with full force in the other’s face. Saeros howled in pain, clutching his bleeding mouth. Túrin drew his sword and tried to charge, but was held back by the joint forces of Mablung and Thranduil.

Saeros spat a mouthful of blood on the table. “Can we get rid of this ruffian now?” he slurred through his cut lip. “I wonder why Thingol keeps such a wildman. Drawing a sharp weapon in the king’s halls, and against an elf, no less! Come outside and I will show you I can handle a blade too.”

But thankfully Túrin had calmed down, perhaps brought to his senses by the sight of all the blood. He broke free from Mablung and Thranduil and stomped out of the room. 

“Why did you taunt him like that?” said Mablung. “A cut lip serves you right.”

“If that wildman draws his sword on me again I will kill him,” hissed Saeros. “You know as well as I do it's against the law.”

“Calm yourself, this behaviour is more fitting in Angband than in Doriath! Are you an elf or an orc? You ought to know better.”

“I know what I am.” And with that Saeros left the hall as well.

Mablung sighed. “Those two are too temperamental. I regret matching them as sparring combatants now; I ought to have foreseen Saeros would not take lightly to losing against a human.”

“How could you have foreseen such a thing?” said Amroth. “For an adult ellon to speak that way to a young human! Nobody could have predicted it. Now, let us forget this. The evening is still young and we have wine and food aplenty.”

.

“Have you seen Túrin?” Captain Mablung joined Thranduil at the training grounds where he was about to set out on his morning run. 

“Nay. I thought he stayed at your place?”

“He did not come home after the unlucky party last night, and now I worry he has done something stupid.”

“Like duelling with Saeros? I doubt that, I could see he had restrained his temper when he left the hall. Maybe he just decided to stay at someone else’s place? He has many friends.”

“I hope so. It is just… I have a bad feeling about all this.”

A noise in the distance made them both turn their heads. There was shouting some way off in the forest.

“It’s Túrin!” Mablung started running with Thranduil close in his wake.

Soon a disconcerting scene unfolded before them. Starch naked, Saeros came scurrying between the trees and after him ran Túrin with his sword drawn, laughing and jeering at the retreating ellon's back.

“Faster! Or I shall nick your bum again!”

Thranduil gaped at the strange sight. ”What is he doing ?”

“May Námo have mercy on him…!” Mablung turned to follow the pair, increasing his gait to catch up.

“Put down your sword,” yelled Thranduil, not far behind.

“This is orc-work, Túrin! Stop it!” cried Mablung.

But Túrin either did not hear or did not care. He just kept running.

More elves joined the chase but nobody managed to gain on the two; Saeros ran like his life depended on it and Túrin on his long legs was faster than most.

Up hills and down again they went, jumping over fallen logs, pushing through bushes and crisscrossing between the trees, but Túrin still did not seem inclined to slow down.

Then suddenly Saeros disappeared from view with a terrified yelp and they heard a rumble and a splash. Now Túrin halted at last and the others caught up. Panting heavily and soaked in sweat they went forward to see what had happened.

“Oh no…” Mablung’s voice was strained.

Thranduil saw it too; hidden by the underbrush was a steep ravine with a creek running through it, and in the shallow water among a pile of stones and broken branches lay Saeros, motionless and bleeding. 

Carefully Mablung climbed down. The ravine was not very deep but with that speed the ellon must have fallen hard. 

“Did you make him take off his clothes?” asked Thranduil reproachfully. 

“He deserved it. Now he can be a wild animal,” muttered Túrin, but he sounded frightened.

Mablung crouched beside the prone body, touching Saeros’ neck. If the captain felt the need to search for a pulse then it must be really serious. 

“Why did you do it?” Thranduil wanted to shake the boy. How unnecessary! 

Túrin looked sullen and did not reply. 

Down in the ravine Mablung turned up to the onlookers, his face sickly pale. “He is dead.” The words echoed eerily between the cliffs.

No… Thranduil felt his jaw slacken and a chill running down his spine. It was only a few yards. How could he not have survived that fall?

He turned to Túrin but he was not there anymore.  The young man was running again, already far away, and soon he had disappeared between the trees.

.

“Can you cease speaking all at once?” The king banged his fist on the armrest of his throne. “Mablung, tell me what happened and the rest of you – be silent!”

The captain obeyed. In an afflicted voice he described both the ruckus at the party the night before and the unfortunate chase through the woods which had ended in the former stone worker’s demise.

Thranduil had a lump in his throat. Why? Why had Túrin not controlled his temper better? But a tiny voice told him he was no good judge of that, for had he not pushed his own wife into a stone wall? 

“This is bad,” said Thingol when Mablung had finished. “Under the circumstances, I could have forgiven him for drawing his sword on an ellon and threatening him, but this today – shaming Saeros like that! Scaring him and chasing him to his death! Although it pains me, I see no other option than banishing Túrin forever from my realm.”

A collective sigh was heard in the throne room. Banished forever! Harsh indeed, but understandable. 

“Wait!” 

Everyone turned their heads to the entrance where Amroth came in, leading an elleth by the hand. She walked slowly and reluctantly, shyly peering at the many bystanders through a strand of her tousled hair. Thranduil recognised the elleth from description although they had never met; it was Nellas, Túrin’s friend in the woods. She was something of a lone wolf who hated the city and never came there, spending all her days wandering through the forest or in the remote treehouse where she lived. After he took up animal husbandry, Amroth too had become friends with Nellas, who was very fond of all that was alive. 

“Here is a witness,” he said. “Túrin may not be as guilty as we first thought.”

“Speak then, lady,” said the king.

“Lord, I was sitting in a tree…” she began in a barely audible voice, and then broke off. 

The king smiled. “As have many others before you, I dare say, but they did not feel the need to tell me.”

“Others, aye...! Even Lúthien,” said Nellas, her voice a little stronger. “I was thinking of her this morning, and of the human Beren.”

The king’s smile disappeared.

“Túrin reminds me of Beren,” she continued. “They are kin, I was told, and if you look close you can see it.”

“Well, you shall have no more opportunity to compare their likenesses, for Túrin son of Húrin will be banished from Doriath,” said Thingol, scowling.

“Wait! Please, bear with me,” said Nellas earnestly. “Let me finish.”

The king impatiently beckoned with his hand for her to continue.

“I sat in a tree to look at Túrin as he went by, and then I saw Saeros coming out from the woods, armed with sword and shield, and he charged at Túrin from behind.”

A murmur rose in the hall. Attacking from behind? How cowardly! 

“But Túrin heard him and turned around in time to draw his own sword, and he cut Saeros’ shield in halves. Then they fenced, and Túrin was the better of the two and wounded Saeros’ arm so he dropped his sword. And Túrin put his foot on it, saying that Saeros ought to run home and his clothes would be in the way – but he could wear his hair. I don’t know what he meant by that. Then he jumped on Saeros and they wrestled, and Túrin was the strongest. So he stripped the other of his clothes and pricked his … um. Backside. With his sword. And then he chased after him and I saw them no more.” Nellas fidgeted with her hair. “Please forgive Túrin, My Lord.”

King Thingol sighed. “This casts a new light on the events indeed.” He was silent for a while, musing. Then he continued: “Aye, I shall pardon him – clearly he was wronged by Saeros and acted in self-defence.”

Thranduil felt his body relax. The boy would be safe! He had done some stupid things but after being provoked that badly it was no wonder he had wanted a revenge. 

“But how can we tell him he is forgiven? He left Doriath,” said Nellas. She had tears in her eyes.

“Beleg Cúthalion is my best tracker. I will call him back from the borders and send him out to find the boy.”

.

When Captain Beleg returned to Menegroth a week later, King Thingol gathered the leaders of the march-wardens at the palace.

“With Cúthalion gone, I need a new captain at the borders,” he said. “Yesterday I asked Mablung and Beleg to choose a suitable successor. Have you had time to make a decision?” 

“We have, Your Grace,” said Beleg. “Thranduil Oropherion has proven himself skilful and a good leader. He shall be acting captain until my return.”

Thranduil forced his features to remain neutral. It did not do to grin stupidly like an elfling. “I am honoured, Captain.”

“Then so be it,” said the king. “And as for you, Beleg, I said you could have any weapon you wanted from my armory to aid you in your search. Have you found anything to your liking?”

“Aye, my Lord King.” He held out a longsword in a black scabbard. “I normally prefer the bow, as you know, but alone in the wilderness I may need a sword as well. This seemed of great quality. I have never seen steel like that.” He drew the weapon and the bystanders came closer to get a better look. The steel indeed was strange, it almost looked like it glowed. 

"This sword is called Anglachel – flaming iron," said Thingol. "An ellon named Eöl forged it from a meteorite, or so he claimed. He gave it to me as payment for allowing him to settle in Nan Elmoth."

Queen Melian stepped forward and took the sword from Beleg, examining it closely. “I advise against choosing this,” she said. “I sense malice in it – its smith had a dark heart and part of it still dwells in his creation.”

“I am not superstitious,” said Beleg, taking it back. “It shall serve me well.”

And so Beleg left Doriath on his lone quest while Thranduil returned to the border as acting captain, one step closer to the power and fame he and his father had seeked for so long.


A/N:

Going against the advice of a Maia is not good...

22. Land of Helm and Bow

Northern Brethil, Doriath, First Age 485

Right hand, left hand, left, left. Thranduil’s swords sliced an arm off one orc and the head of its partner. In the edge of his vision he spotted an orc trying to come at him from behind. Turning swiftly, Thranduil let one of his swords swipe its shield aside while his other one pierced its eye, killing it instantly. He had to tug on his sword a few times to release it from the corpse. 

Drops of sweat trickled down his forehead, stinging his eyes; it was high summer and the night was hot and clammy. His shoulders hurt. Valar, his entire body hurt.

A black arrow whizzed by over his head and he ducked instinctively, wishing he had a third arm to hold a shield with. The past year he had laid the shield aside in favour of a second sword, but the twin sword strategy had its drawbacks.

Then came a new orc charging at him with its crude scimitar and Thranduil stopped thinking about shields, sweat or pain. His body worked on pure adrenalin as he mindlessly focused on eliminating the enemy. And the next, and the next. 

At last the path was clear and he could catch his breath and wipe his forehead. To his left young Faraion did the same. It was hard to recognize the ellon as the one who had come to Doriath after the Battle of Unnumbered Tears twelve years ago, terrified and half-starved. For one, these days Thranduil trusted the ellon with his life. The past year he had become a veteran, hardened and deadly.

“Damn filth.” Faraion looked at his gloved hand, black with orc blood.

“Disgusting,” Thranduil agreed, trying to shut his nostrils to the fluids seeping from the piles of mutilated carcasses around them.

Maeldir, one of the new recruits, jumped down from a tree. “Another band on their way, Captain.” He had been scouting further to the north.

Thranduil sighed. The orcs just kept coming, pouring out on the Old South Road from the Pass of Sirion in an endless avalanche. How much longer could his march-wardens hold them off? 

“How many?” he asked tiredly.

“Between eighty or a hundred, give or take.”

Thranduil refrained from saying an ugly word. He was the captain; he ought to set a good example. If only he could see an end to this. 

They had been fighting for two days straight now, and as usual he had to use the entire border guard. The orcs were so numerous lately it was not possible to keep up the shift system Beleg had devised. This meant that they would have to fall back and rest eventually, and then the orcs could continue undisturbed down to the Crossing of Teiglin. From there, Beleriand was completely open to them.

It had happened before – on several occasions only this summer. And each time, when he helplessly watched the orcs return with their plunder and slaves from the human settlements along the road, Thranduil had felt like a failure. A sham. 

The rumour of Túrin’s dragon helmet and Beleg Cúthalion’s bow had spread far and wide, intimidating the enemy and holding them back, but after a year without those two famous warriors around, the orcs had grown bolder. 

Try as he might, Thranduil could not fill Beleg’s shoes. It appeared he was just not cut out to do heroic deeds like his predecessors.

The new orcs were upon them now and Thranduil resumed his stance; legs bent, swords held low. Every muscle in his body screamed at him to go lay down and rest. Ignoring them, he charged.

“For Doriath!”

Around him his elves joined in: “For Doriath!”

But this time the orcs were too many and the march-wardens too tired, and in the trees beside the road the archers were out of arrows. Yard by yard the enemy pushed them back.

Thranduil was just about to issue the order to retreat into the forest when a familiar couple of arrows embedded themselves in the head of the orc he was engaging. Wailing, it toppled to the ground. 

He did not have to turn around to look for the archer; he knew those feathers. Beleg was finally back!

Seeing more expertly aimed arrows soaring past, the march-wardens fought with renewed energy until the road was clear again. 

“Acting Captain Thranduil, I presume?” Beleg stepped out from behind a tree trunk, grinning.

“I do not think I have ever been so glad to see you.” Thranduil wiped his glove on a patch of grass and touched his heart, but before he could complete the polite greeting Beleg had swept him into a rough embrace.

“Good to see you too. I worried when I heard from Mablung you had suffered losses recently.” 

Thranduil awkwardly hugged his friend back, never one for public displays of affection. “We are holding out – barely.” 

Maeldir returned with the welcome news that the Pass in the north was finally empty. Another blessing! That meant at least a day’s respite and a chance to rest at last; the sun would soon rise and orcs were creatures of the night.

On the way to their camp, Thranduil filled Beleg in on the dismal situation at the border. For the first time in many years they had lost elvish warriors this spring and summer, and lately there had been funeral processions sent to Menegroth almost weekly. 

He did not have to add how much it had shaken him to handle those dead elves, elves he knew well after the years together as border guards. War was ugly, Beleg knew that already.

When he had finished, Thranduil was very eager to hear about his friend's adventures. “How did it go? Did you find Túrin?”

Beleg looked grim. “I did.”

“And? Will he not come back? We could need him and his helmet here. The orcs fear it.”

“I looked for him all around Doriath, and finally picked up his trail south of Brethil. He had been living with a band of humans – criminal humans. The Outlaws, as the settlers in the area call them – thieves, murderers… rapists. That kind of people.”

“No…!” Thranduil stared at his friend. “Thieves and ra…” He shook his head to dispel the horrible images he was getting. Images of his sweet boy doing unspeakable things. “But why? Why did he not go to the Men of Haleth if he wanted to live with his kin, or back to Hithlum?”

“You tell me.” Beleg shrugged.

“Has he also…? I mean… Did he…”

“I hope not, but… how am I to know? Though it does seem he means to reform the Outlaws, and make them fight orcs instead of their fellow humans. Túrin saved a girl from his companions once – and that was actually how I could get to him at last, for the father was grateful and told me where he had gone. But he was not easy to find, even for me!” 

Beleg described how he had tracked the Outlaws from one place to another, until he finally caught up with them – only to discover Túrin was not there at the time, and his comrades proved to be none too friendly against elves. 

“I laid down my weapons to show my good intentions but the brigands paid me back with hostility. They tied me to a tree for two days without food or water.” His voice sounded strained. “I honestly thought that was it… I was so weak and they were murderous, to say the least. Fancy dying like that. After all I have been through, all the battles I survived – only to lose my life to the hand of a dirty human thief.” He frowned. 

Thranduil could well imagine the feeling; there had been moments the past year when he too had feared for his life and those had not been pleasant.

“They gathered around me and one of them held a burning torch,” Beleg continued. “I would have prefered the sword, I think. I reckon burning to death is rather horrible…” He clenched his hands. “Anyway, right then Túrin returned and talked them out of it.”

Thranduil nodded sympathetically, still shocked to learn Túrin would have anything to do with such scum. How was it possible the young man could have changed so much, so soon? 

“But after you told him the king had pardoned him – surely he relented then?” he asked.

“He did not. He is proud, our boy… too proud for his own good. He seems to think people in Doriath would pity him. And also… these bandits he lives with have made him their captain, so now he has some grand plans of becoming a lord of Amon Rûdh and thereabouts.”

“I see.” Thranduil said nothing more, knowing all about ambition and seeking power. To rule a realm was not only his father’s dream; he desired it too. He may not be a great military leader but that was not really what he had wanted either. He longed to have what Thingol had: to organise a community, settle disputes, improve the people’s wellbeing and wealth – and, he had to admit, to live in style. 

Back at their camp, Thranduil delegated the task of preparing breakfast to those who had scouted during the fight and therefore were less exhausted, while the rest of them drooped down on their blankets and bedrolls at any available spot to get some sleep before they ate.

For his own part, Thranduil could not rest until he had cleansed himself from the past days’ orc blood and filth. Removing his armour, he hurried to the river where he scrubbed his skin until it was red and raw before vividly attacking his clothes with a hard bar of soap. 

Afterwards he stretched out on his back, floating naked with extended arms and legs in the cool water. He gazed up at the patch of sky between the overhanging eaves on either side of the river, still dark and starry but with a hint of orange in the east announcing dawn. 

It was soothing to just be . To relax his sore muscles and forget about death and blood and the overpowering threat of Morgoth’s endless minions, if only for a moment. 

Sirion ran slow and wide at this spot, being not far south of the Ford of Brithiach. Thranduil had been hiding from orcs up there in what felt like ages ago, but it could not be more than six or seven decades since. That had been the first time he felt the heat of battle; the sounds, the smells, the chaos. The first time he killed a sentient being.

Elves should not fight; it was unnatural. They were not like orcs. Or humans. Nothing like those horrible companions Túrin apparently fraternised with. To think they would force themselves on women! And steal from their own kin. Kill them, even.

If he had his own realm in the future, Thranduil would do like Thingol had tried and keep his people away from war. And he would make sure he succeeded too. His subjects would never have to sink to this .

To think he had been annoyed with his king in the past! He had wanted to join the wars raging around Doriath, the Siege of Angband and the Battle of Sudden Flame. Even when his father advised him to stay away from the Battle of Unnumbered Tears he had wanted to go, follow his wife there and prove himself valiant. But as always, Oropher had been right. War was not the Sindar way. 

Yet, here Thranduil was, an acting captain of the border guard, fighting and killing day after day. Waiting for the inevitable moment when the enemies would be too numerous and his troops would succumb to them. Waiting for his death.

Death. Such an unnatural thing. 

They all felt its presence now, hovering around them, never far away. Nobody talked about it; at least not with him. Leadership did that, he had noticed, it made you lonely. Even when surrounded by others. 

At least Beleg had returned. Assuming he meant to stay, the burden of leadership would again belong to him, with Thranduil as second in command, and he would have someone to talk to as well. That was something.

A part of him wished that Beleg would release him entirely so he could go home. He repressed the thought, squashed it down almost angrily. That was the coward’s way out and whatever he was, he was no coward. 

Besides, home was not the same anymore. Not without… He avoided thinking her name; he was in water after all, and naked. 

Although… 

It had been such a long time. Maybe… Just maybe. 

Slowly letting his feet sink until he was standing on the muddy riverbed, Thranduil gazed at the surface. Aerneth, he thought without much hope of a reply. The hour was too early. She would be still asleep. 

Instead her image formed, dark and slightly fuzzy from the ripples of the Sirion. He saw the same twilight sky above her as the one here. She was outdoors then.

“Oropherion.” She looked sad. Just like he felt. 

“Wife.” 

Neither of them seemed capable of greeting each other politely anymore. Suddenly the corners of his eyes burned unbearably. Why? Why must things be like this?

“Are you swimming?” She was standing in water too. The river? It struck him it would be the very same river as he stood in then, only further south. 

“I was,” he answered. “You?”

“Aye. It is horribly hot down here, and swarming with mosquitoes.” She waved one away. “Swimming helps a little.”

“Here too. Mosquitoes – and orcs.”

“Is it very bad?” There was a hint of worry in her appearance. 

“Aye.” He did not elaborate.

“You know it cannot last. The foresight… the queen saw Doriath fall.”

“I know.”

“Maybe… You could come here.” Her voice was barely audible.

“I can’t.” He blinked to stop his eyes from welling over. “Even if… we… you and I were…” He paused to draw a breath. “Even if we would try again I… I cannot abandon my post. I have to prove I can do it. That I can be a leader.”

“You don’t have to prove yourself. Power is not important. Status cannot make you happy.”

“It is all I have left.” He reached out towards her, dipping his finger where her cheek was. Her image became distorted a short while and then cleared. “I do miss you though.” He took another deep breath, trying to dispel the heaviness in his chest. 

“I miss you too.” She reached out her hand to meet his. 

If he closed his eyes he could imagine their fingertips touching through the water. Opening them again, he let his gaze follow her arm, admiring its delicate shape, remembering how soft her skin felt. He continued to where the top of her breasts were visible above the surface.

“It seems very deep where you stand.”

“It is more shallow over there.” A faint smile hinted on her pink lips and they parted slightly. He remembered how they tasted and the feeling of her tongue caressing his. Her smell and the sounds she would make when he traced kisses along her jaw and down her neck.

She took a step backwards and another one. The image followed her, so to Thranduil she remained in the same spot, only now there was less water to cover her. He breathed faster at the sight of her bared chest, feeling blood rush down between his legs. 

“You could move somewhere more shallow too,” she suggested.

Thranduil glanced at the path leading back to their camp. He could already smell the food the scouts were preparing; someone might come at any moment saying breakfast was ready. Still… the temptation was overwhelming. Perhaps if he hid himself partly in that alder thicket over there? He would be unseen from the path but not from the water.

Smiling at the nerve of it, he went through with his plan, seeing Aerneth smile as well when the water sank to his calves. 

“Gorgeous,” she said.

“I do my best.”

“Cocky.”

“I do have one of those, aye.”

Chuckling she moved a few more steps until he could see almost all of her naked body. Reflecting the brightening sky, her skin glowed. He drank her appearance like a cup of fine wine, revelling in her long, slender legs, her curvy hips and mesmerising breasts. To him, she was perfection. 

She slowly ran her hands down her body until she was touching herself, and he followed her example. Damn, it felt good after such a long time.

He closed his eyes to narrow slits so he could still watch her while turning his focus inward. Pretending it was not his own hand but her warmth coating his hardness, he increased his pace. In the dim light, the colour of her flushed cheeks appeared amber as she did likewise.

“I wish you were here,” she murmured. “You could lift me up and we would do it standing in the water.”

Thranduil grunted. He was beyond speaking at this point.

“I would feel your hands on my bottom. And you would feel my legs wrapped around your hips. My breasts would rub against your chest as you pushed in deep. Again and again.”

Drawing in a sharp breath, Thranduil came so powerfully it felt like an explosion. In the water image, Aerneth shook with her own climax.

“I wish you were here,” she repeated. 

“I wish that too.” His voice was hoarse.

“Maybe one day…”

He nodded a little too quickly, his throat tightening. “One day.”

.

“You look relaxed. Had a good swim?” Beleg’s innocent question made Thranduil drop his gaze and bite the inside of his cheek to hide a smile.

“I did.” He fetched his bowl and filled it with the thin vegetable soup Maeldir and the other scouts had prepared. Meat was scarce now despite the bounty of the season; nobody had time to hunt.

“So… what shall we do about Túrin?” he asked as he sat on a fallen log beside the captain.

“What can we do? The boy wants to stay with his horrible new friends.” Beleg smiled mirthlessly. “He wanted me to join them, and was quite convincing about it too. I almost…” He broke off, and then sighed. “I love that boy so much; I would do almost anything for him. But that? To live with that motley crew of brigands… and to abandon my king. I could not do that, could I?”

Thranduil’s chest tightened. He loved Túrin too. “What did Thingol say when you returned? It is his adopted son, after all.”

“He was not happy with Túrin’s decision, obviously, but he is just as powerless as I. We cannot very well drag the boy back to Doriath and lock him up. Thingol tried that with his daughter already, and see how well that went.”

“True.”

“However… Queen Melian gave me this.” Beleg went to get his pack, a large and bulky satchel, and opened it to show row upon row of packages wrapped in silvery leaves, with Melian’s flower emblem pressed into their wax seals.

Thranduil whistled silently. “Lembas… that must be the entire first summer batch.” 

“She told me to do what felt right. I think she wants me to go to him and protect him, but I have not made up my mind yet. With the critical situation up here and everything…” He sighed. “I don’t know.”

They were silent for a while, pondering. Then Thranduil got an idea. “Maybe we could join our forces together.”

“How do you mean?”

“The border guard could relocate to Amon Rûdh. I remember the view was magnificent the only time I was up there; if we placed scouts on the top they would see the enemy when they crossed the Teiglin. Then we could place smaller units along the road, ready to ambush them. The orcs still fear Túrin – or at least his helmet. Maybe we could be more useful there than here in the marshes.” And in addition the environment would be more pleasant without the dampness and mosquitoes.

“The plan has merit,” said Beleg thoughtfully. “Whatever happened to his helmet?”

“He left it here, in our lodgings near the border. We could return it to him.”

“We would have to get the king’s permission.” 

“He listens to you. If you say it is a good plan he will agree to it.” Thranduil felt a twinge of hope. Would he finally get to leave this horrible place?

“Dimbar would be lost, though, and if the orcs are feeling brave they might enter Brethil and bother the Men of Haleth.”

“The Halathrim are a clever folk and have traps all over the place; the orcs dare not venture into their forest. At least they never did before we began to guard the marshes.”

“True that.” Beleg’s face suddenly broke into a grin. “You know Tharan, I think this might actually be a good plan. We could make western Beleriand safe again and keep an eye on Túrin.”

.

The relocation took a while to organise, and it was decided that the bulk of the march-wardens would stay the winter in Doriath and join the Outlaws when the lands thawed. Orcs seldom ventured out of Angband that season anway; with Morgoth’s growing power, the winters were increasingly severe.

Thus, it was early spring when the elves of the border guard finally crossed the bridge to the Talath Dirnen, the Guarded Plain, setting out towards the hill of Amon Rûdh after a couple of months spent pleasantly in the comforts of Menegroth. The ground was still frosty and the trees naked, but buds were swelling and the air was full of birdsong.

When they got closer, Thranduil looked around with interest. The scarcely forested moorland seemed untouched and there was no trace of any humans. Where were the Outlaws hiding? All he could see was the tall hill looming ahead, bald and naked this early in the year.

Then suddenly Beleg emerged from behind a thornbush and came to meet them. He had come here several weeks earlier to prepare the Outlaws of their arrival, wishing to avoid a hostile reception like last time, and to plan with Túrin where to build their camps.

“We will camp here at the foot of the hill. Túrin does not want too many to know where he and the Outlaws hide.” He lowered his voice. “It is inside the hill itself. Almost like Menegroth but not at all as pleasant. And there is a dwarf – but I should not speak more now, you will see.”

While the others were occupied preparing their new lodgings, Beleg brought Thranduil around to the side and up a narrow path to a ledge, where some shrubs effectively hid a flat, rocky surface. 

“Sharbhund,” he murmured, and suddenly faint lines in the rock appeared, revealing a door. Pushing it open, they went inside into a low tunnel. It was almost completely dark, but further in Thranduil saw a dim light.

“What was that strange password? Mannish?”

“Dwarfish.” Beleg’s eyebrows drew together. “Before you meet Túrin and the Outlaws, I must warn you. These halls are owned by a dwarf named Mîm and his son, who apparently are the last of their kind hereabouts, and I do not trust them at all. The father has become friends with Túrin, or pretends so anyway – but he hates the other humans, that is clear, and even more so elves. He has tolerated me so far, albeit barely, and I expect he will try to get rid of us at first opportunity. You have to be careful. Very careful.”

“I will,” Thranduil assured him, curious about the owners of this place. He had never met a dwarf before. 

“Another thing… do not call Túrin by name. He calls himself ‘The Wronged’, and none of his men knows who he really is or anything about his past.”

“Noted.”

They went through the dark passage, which was so low they had to walk almost bent double. After many twists and turns they came to a larger room, about the same size as Thranduil’s sitting room back home but with a much lower ceiling. The rough stone walls were without colour and ornaments and from the ceiling hung many iron lamps in thin chains, dimly lighting up the place.

In the middle of the chamber, Túrin and twenty-odd humans sat around a long, crude table, busily oiling weapons and polishing armour. Túrin’s elven sword and chainmail stood out; the others’ equipment was simple and worn, forged in many different styles. Just like their weapons, the Outlaws were a ragtag band of men, with some older, some young, some fair, some dark skinned. They had one thing in common though: their smell. Thranduil had never seen a more unwashed and unkempt company before. Orcs excepted. 

At the arrival of the two elves, Túrin jumped to his feet and came to meet them. He looked older, with a longer beard and more worn features, and his face was too thin. Had he been starving?

“Tharan! Did you bring my helmet?”

Thranduil smiled. In some ways the boy was still the same. “I did.” He put a linen bag onto the table which the young man eagerly opened, his companions gathering around him to see. 

When Túrin picked up the helmet and put it on, there was a collective cheer.

“Awesome!” 

“Terrifying! Orcs beware.”

“Can I try it?”

All of them had spoken Sindarin with a Mannish accent.

“I am already your captain, and now I will also be your lord,” said Túrin proudly. “I shall no longer be known as Neithan – The Wronged, but as Gorthol – the Dread Helm.”

“Gorthol!” cried the men, some waving swords and axes, others banging their weapons on their shields.

A movement in the corner of his eye made Thranduil turn his head. An incredibly short and stocky person had appeared in a doorway in the far end of the room; his head nearly bald and his face covered in a large, grey beard. So this was what dwarves looked like.

The dwarf had been gazing at Túrin, but now he lifted his eyes to the newcomers. His bushy eyebrows instantly knitted together; his whole being emanating an almost palpable hostility. Like Beleg had said, it was obvious what the dwarf felt about elves. Without a word, the small figure turned on the spot and left. 

This did not bode well. Not well at all.

Túrin meanwhile had positioned himself where all could see him. When wearing the helmet, his head touched the ceiling. "With my dragon helm and aided by my friends, I shall be invincible." His voice was strong and clear, echoing between the walls. “This area shall be known as the Land of Helm and Bow; a realm ruled by two great captains, with two great companies of warriors – the elves and the former Outlaws! I say former, for no longer shall you be outcasts and exiles, hated by your own people. I will make you great heroes.”

The cheer became almost deafening.

When the men had calmed down and Túrin removed his helmet, Beleg took him to the side. “I never agreed to creating a realm with you,” he said reproachfully, keeping his voice low. “My march-wardens are still under Thingol’s rule.”

“I know, I know.” Túrin shrugged casually. “I just wanted to incite courage in my men. As far as they are concerned, the elves follow me. They do not need to know the truth.”

“They will spread it, though. There will be rumors. If those reach Angband – and they will, Morgoth has many spies – we are doomed. We can resist small raider orc bands from here, but not full-scale war! The Dark Lord still has his balrogs and dragons.”

“Don’t worry, uncle Beleg. We will be safe, hidden inside the hill. I know what I am doing.” Túrin had fallen back to his childhood name for the other, perhaps involuntarily, or perhaps to play on his friend’s feelings.

“I hope you do.” 

“I have to do this, I have to avenge my father! You know I always meant to strike back against Morgoth. This is my opportunity.”

Beleg’s shoulders slumped in defeat. “Though I do not like this, I promise to do my best to help you. You have my bow.”

“And my swords,” added Thranduil.


A/N:

Sorry about the last two lines haha… I’m a hopeless quote thief. But with all the foreboding of this chapter I dare say we need a smile. :) In the next chapter hell breaks loose… 

Note: I have taken some liberties with canon in this chapter. In the Silmarillion and the Children of Húrin, which tell Túrin’s story, only Beleg went to join the Outlaws, more or less abandoning the march-wardens who subsequently lost Dimbar and the northern marshes to the orcs. Meanwhile, Beleg and Túrin’s heroic deeds in what became known as ‘The Land of Helm and Bow’, attracted many humans and elves who joined them there. 

23. Bloodstained

Amon Rûdh, First Age 489

Thranduil morosely peeled the brown bulb and took a bite of its yellow flesh. He had liked them at first, the potatoes as the dwarf called the underground roots, but since they had almost nothing else to eat during the winter he had soon grown tired of them. Boiled tubers were a meagre substitute to the varied diet back home in Doriath. There, they probably had just finished the Autumn Hunt and their storages would be full to the brim with cured and dried meats, fried and smoked fish, berry- and fruit preserves, dried apples and bushels of hazelnuts.

The dull food the dwarf supplied was one of the many disadvantages of this place; the damp, constant chill of the cave was another, and the presence of a dozen unwashed humans a third. 

No elves except Thranduil and Beleg lived inside the mountain; their dwarf host had refused to accept anyone else. It was Túrin who insisted on having his friends there, or they would probably have been banned as well. 

The rest of the march-wardens resided in a permanent camp by a strip of forest some ten miles north of Amon Rûdh, not far from the Crossing of Teiglin. There were also several human camps along the Old South Road, full of new recruits who had heard about the Land of Helm and Bow and their two great captains. Like the original Outlaws, these were outcasts and dispossessed, attracted by the opportunity to prove themselves valiant and worthy, and to become part of the realm of Lord Gorthol – the Dread Helm.

In order to control all these elves and men, Túrin had promoted several of the original Outlaws to unit leaders, who now lived in the outer camps. The Amon Rûdh hill served as a hub to coordinate those companies, with Thranduil and Beleg working as sentries on its top, spotting any enemy movements from afar and alerting the unit leaders with their horns. The sound carried well over the open landscape and could easily be heard even at the farthest camp, which was a good two hours’ walk from the hill.

The downside of this arrangement was that whenever Thranduil and Beleg had to come inside to eat or rest, they were obliged to assign human sentries, despite the limited eyesight of that race. The elves would usually spend nine or ten hours each on their post, which meant that some hours every day there would only be human lookouts – such as now, during supper. But as long as no more elves were allowed inside the hill, there was no helping it. 

Spending so many hours on sentry duty meant that Thranduil had not taken part in any actual fights for a long time, which made his days beyond dull – another downside of the arrangement. 

Across the table, Beleg was trying for the umpteenth time to persuade Túrin to leave Amon Rûdh. He needlessly spoke in a subdued voice; the men at the other table were drowning all sounds with their ear-splitting clamour. They were talking, clattering with their eating knives and belching, being just as disgusting and annoying as only they knew how.

“We have become too numerous; these lands cannot support so many. It was well as long as there were just your Outlaws and fifty march-wardens, but now with all the newcomers joining us, we will soon count two hundred.” Beleg lowered his voice even further, and Thranduil strained his ears to hear. “The settlers around the Old South Road are complaining that our men are hunting game on their grounds, and I fear some may be tempted to do worse… perhaps begin to raid storehouses again. You cannot be everywhere and control everyone, and these humans were criminals after all, most of them.”

“It will not happen. They know I would punish such behaviour severely.” Túrin put his arm around the elf’s shoulder. ”You worry too much, old friend. Stop sounding as if our numbers are a disadvantage! When was the last time a larger orc host tried to cross the Teiglin? You can’t remember, right? That is how long it was. The orcs hear the sound of our horns and run like their pants are on fire.”

“And you worry too little, boy.” Beleg frowned. “Do not think Morgoth is so easily intimidated. Aye, you have burnt his fingertips the past years, but he still has his main host and he will retaliate, do not fool yourself into believing otherwise. This is not a good place to keep a large army, and not only because of the lack of food. It is too open, and Amon Rûdh is too conspicuous and hard to defend. Unlike Dimbar and the northern marshes of Doriath, this–” 

“It’s perfect! And it’s mine.” Túrin interrupted. “I am not returning to Doriath and I wish you would stop bringing that up all the time!” He left his half-finished potato and angrily stomped out.

Beleg met Thranduil’s gaze and shook his head. “I never knew someone could be so stubborn,” he muttered. 

In a dark corner of the room, Mîm smirked with glee, as always when Túrin and Beleg quarreled. The dwarf was plainly jealous of their friendship.

Túrin was the only person Mîm seemed to like, and the young man treated him respectfully in return – though Thranduil could not for the world understand why. 

Their shady dwarf host was high on his growing list of disadvantages of this place.

.

“I wonder why Mîm has not come back yet. It is almost dark.” Túrin glanced at the passage to the entrance door. “I hope nothing bad has happened to him.”

Thranduil stifled a grimace. If the dwarf never returned, none would be happier than he, but Túrin had a soft spot for the creature.

“The dwarf knows these lands like the inside of his pockets; he can take care of himself,” Beleg retorted. The lack of love between the dwarf and the elf was mutual.

“He never stays out this long. He’s been gone since dawn. I mean, how long can it take to gather some roots?”

“Perhaps he – unlike you – realises we have grown too many, and decided to take his potatoes and his son elsewhere,” said Beleg wryly.

“He would never do that. We are friends.”

“Friends.” Beleg snorted. “One of your men killed his other son when you first came here, right? He tolerates you, perhaps even likes you, but he will never be your friend.”

“You are wrong.” Túrin locked eyes with the elf until he dropped his gaze. Not many could win a staring contest with the young man.

“I just want you to be careful.” Beleg sighed, rising from the table. It was his turn to take the first watch this night.

“I am. And I am also a good judge of character.”

There was a noise from outside, like stones rattling on the hillside. 

“It is probably just Mîm returning. I will check.” Túrin left through the narrow passage, but quickly returned, his cheeks flushing. “Orcs! The hill is swarming with them!”

“But how?” Beleg jumped up, scrabbling for his sword and bow. “The sentries–”

“Dead. One lay just outside the door, shot through his head with a black arrow.” Túrin hurriedly donned his dragon helmet. 

Around them, the Outlaws were all on their feet and the room filled with the clang of metal as swords and axes were gathered.

“The dwarf!” Beleg growled. “He led the orcs here! I knew it.”

“You don’t know that,” Túrin snapped. “Anyway, the enemy is trying to climb the hill, but the door is invisible so we should be safe. Let us take the inner stairs to the top and you can shower arrows on them from above. That should teach them.”

If the dwarf betrayed us they know where the door is, and the password too. We must barricade it, or they will come at us from two sides.”

“He didn’t! But sure, if you insist.” 

Together with the men, they rolled a large stone before the door. 

“Waste of time,” Túrin grunted.

“Better safe than sorry.”

With the entrance safely locked, they hurried up the narrow stairs in a single file and came out on the flat summit. Thranduil cast one look down and felt his stomach twist. Swarming indeed! Amon Rûdh was dotted with crawling, climbing orcs, possibly a hundred or more, making it resemble a giant anthill. How had they got here unnoticed?

Beleg drew his great bow and began to shoot orcs in quick succession, but for every one tumbling down with shrill shrieks, two more took its place. A few of the Outlaws were fairly decent archers and helped the elf, while those armed with swords and axes joined Thranduil and Túrin to push back all who came over the edge. 

The defenders might have managed to hold the hill, had not the enemy been equipped with bows as well. The flat top was too open, with nothing to cover behind, and the orcs too many. One by one the Outlaws were shot down, and despite Beleg’s best efforts, the number of orcs who managed to reach the top increased. Thranduil and Túrin were soon hard pressed.

At last Beleg lay down his great bow and drew his sword. “Retreat to the stone,” he cried.

Those still on their feet obeyed, falling back to a boulder in the middle of the summit. They formed a circle with their backs against it, desperately holding the horde at bay.

Thranduil was engaging three orcs simultaneously now, sweating profusely and bleeding from several nicks and cuts, and in his ears his pounding pulse drenched all other sounds. He had never been in a more dire, desperate situation before, but for some reason he was not afraid. His heart sang, and his blood rushed, and he felt alive in a way the tedious days on sentry duty had failed to provide. Of course, he knew that the feeling would not last, he would not be alive much longer. Still, if he was going to die he preferred it happening like this, taking as many foes with him as he could.

A sharp sting in his calf made Thranduil lose his footing. Dropping down on one knee, he managed to destroy two of the orcs he fought, leaving him with one opponent for a while. He risked a quick glance to see how the others did. Only Beleg and three Outlaws were still standing. Túrin lay on the ground, caught in a crude net and disarmed, but unhurt as far as Thranduil could tell. They wanted him alive, then. He was not sure that was an advantage – Morgoth was known to do horrible things to his captives, and Túrin had annoyed him for a long time. Burnt his fingers, as Beleg had put it.

Thranduil returned his full attention to his foe, which had been joined by two fellows. He tried to rise, but his throbbing leg would not hold his weight and he sank back on his knees. They must have teared his muscle badly, but he did not think the bone was broken.

An orc slashed his curved sword in a wide arc, and from his awkward position Thranduil could not reach to parry it. He ducked, avoiding a possibly mortal hit, but did not entirely escape the blade. A line of burning pain sprang up from above his ear to his forehead, and blood trickled into his eyes, making it hard to see. 

He dodged a new sword stroke, but the action brought him in the reach of another orc. Its hard boot blew the air from his lungs, flooring him. Before Thranduil could scramble back up, a decapitated Outlaw collapsed on top of him, knocking his breath out a second time and nearly crushing him under his weight. 

Beleg jumped forward, cutting down one of Thranduil’s antagonists with his mighty Anglachel, the black sword King Thingol gave him many years ago. Thranduil helplessly looked on from the ground, his view rose-tinted from his own blood and that of the dead Outlaw. 

With another swipe, Beleg managed to beat the sword out of the second orc’s hand. That did not help much, for new orcs were crowding in on him from all sides. Dismayed, Thranduil realised his friend was alone; there were no more Outlaws standing. 

A net like the one they had used on Túrin was thrown over the elf, tangling him, and then it did not take long until he lay disarmed beside his friend.

Thranduil did not move, even to roll out from under the corpse. Maybe if they believed him dead, he could somehow sneak up on the orcs and set Beleg and Túrin free. 

Snickering and jeering, the ugly creatures dragged Beleg to a flat part of the ground. They hammered four iron pegs into the rock and bound him to them, his arms and legs splayed out like a cross. 

“Leave him alone!” Túrin cried, thrashing against his own bonds.

“Oh, we will,” replied one of them in a heavy accent. “He’s for the dwarf to toy with.” It laughed evilly.

“Mîm? Why would he want Beleg?” The young man’s eyes widened in disbelief.

“No idea. Perhaps he fancies him? He asked for him as payment for showing us the way, and for telling us when your pretty elf mates weren’t watching.”

Thranduil swallowed. So this was how the orcs had managed to catch them unawares. If only he and Beleg had not been so predictable, and avoided eating and sleeping on fixed hours! 

“He betrayed me,” Túrin whispered, tears coming into his eyes. 

How young he was, and how naïve. Of course the dwarf had betrayed him, just like Beleg predicted.

“Well, he did want you to be set free. Not that we ever intended to do that.” It smirked, revealing a row of crowded fangs.

“Oy! Look here. A stair,” wheezed another orc. It had found the entrance.

“Finally. A way down to the good stuff.” The other’s eyes gleamed with greed. It picked Túrin up and flung him across its shoulder like a sack, disappearing into the hill. The rest of the surviving orcs followed suit, and soon cheers and sounds of furniture breaking echoed up from below as they ransacked the place. Good riddance to them; Mîm had no riches, all they would find was potatoes and spare clothes.

Sure enough, it did not take long until the echoes died out and the hill became quiet again. Straining his ears, Thranduil caught a muffled trample when the orcs walked off in silence, probably to avoid notice by the outer camps. They were heading north of course, returning to Angband with their loot and their captive.

Beleg was desperately trying to wrestle free of his bonds, cursing under his breath. Thranduil rolled the dead man aside and started to move towards his friend, but the sound of footsteps on the stairs made him freeze and hold his breath.

The door opened and Mîm stepped out. As he caught sight of the fettered elf, his face cleaved into a spiteful smirk. “Ahh, there you are. My payment.” He drew a short blade from a scabbard in his belt. Thranduil recognised it; it was his eating knife.

“You treacherous bastard. This is how you repay the kindness you have been shown?” Beleg’s voice was matted with contempt. 

“They took my son. I had no choice.” 

“There is always a choice to do what is right.”

“Well, in all honesty… I had a choice. I went to them deliberately.” A slow grin spread on Mîm’s lips. “Morgoth’s spies have been coming here for months, a few at a time, hiding all over the place. I knew exactly where they were, of course, they could not hide from me. But you… Oh, you elves think you’re so clever! But you had no idea they were here. No idea!” The dwarf picked up a stone and began to sharpen his knife with slow, deliberate movements.

“You do not want to do this. Release me so I can go after the boy and free him. He may even forgive you.”

“No, I think I do want to do this. I’ve looked forward to it, actually. One can have so much fun with a knife.”

“Coward,” spat Beleg.

“Maybe. Maybe I am a coward. But nobody will ever know, for you will soon be unable to prattle. It’s difficult to speak without a tongue.”

Thranduil realised he had to act before it was too late; any moment now the dwarf would cease his gloating and begin to hurt his prisoner. As silent as possible, he crawled closer, wincing in pain when his damaged leg was dragged over the uneven ground. 

It went excruciatingly slow, and his head throbbed. How deep was the cut? He tried to shake off a sudden bout of dizziness. 

The dwarf crouched with his back turned to Thranduil, bending over Beleg’s outstretched form. He stroked the elf’s face with his knife, letting it caress the other’s eyelid and then his lips. “Why are you shivering, pretty elf? Don’t you like it? Perhaps it’s a man’s spear you prefer? I know your kind. An abomination, is what you are. Your lustful looks at the young man made me sick!”

“I never thought of him that way! He is like a son to me! Let me go. Please,” begged Beleg. There was a desperate tone in his voice now, the fear finally growing too strong for him to hide it. 

Suddenly Thranduil hated the dwarf for humiliating Beleg so. He was the greatest archer of Doriath, a renowned captain, famous in all of Beleriand. This was unworthy.

The anger infused Thranduil with new strength and he clumsily came on his feet, supporting his weight on his good leg.

A weapon. He needed a weapon. He caught sight of a sword and fought to wrench it from its dead owner’s cold fingers.

“I know what I saw,” said Mîm, and suddenly sliced a long gash in each of Beleg’s cheeks. ”Not so pretty now, are we? I wonder how you’ll look without a nose.” 

Beleg clenched his teeth and closed his eyes. His breaths were quick and shallow.

Thranduil had finally managed to free the sword and awkwardly charged, hopping on one leg.

Mîm turned around, crying out in surprise and pain when the sword sank deep into his shoulder. He scuttled backwards on all fours like an upturned crab, and when at a safe distance, jumped to his feet and fled towards the exit with a trail of blood in his wake. Thranduil tried to follow but lost his balance and tumbled heavily to the ground. Thankfully Mîm did not see that, he had already disappeared into the hill and slammed the door behind him.

Thranduil wormed his way over to Beleg and cut him free.

“Thank the Valar you are alive!” Beleg grasped his shoulders briefly. Then he noticed the injuries. “Damn. Are you alright?”

“Don’t worry,” Thranduil mumbled. The dizziness from before had returned. “Go after the dwarf. Kill ’im.”

“He is no threat anymore. When I am not tied down like a drying deer pelt he cannot harm me. And you need to be sorted out before you lose all the blood you got.”

“You’re bleedin’ too,” said Thranduil unsteadily. Why was he suddenly so tired?

“It is not deep. Just a scratch. Now, let me look at you.”

Neither of them wished to go back inside the hill – though they were fairly certain Mîm was far away, licking his wounds in a remote cave somewhere. Instead Beleg ripped off a piece of the hem of his shirt and used that to wipe off the blood, singing a healing spell as he worked. 

It felt good to be tended to. Thranduil closed his eyes, feeling his slashed temple close under the other’s fingers. The cut did not disappear entirely, but the bleeding stopped. 

His calf was a harder match even for someone with Beleg’s gift of healing; the wound was deep and like Thranduil had suspected, much of the muscle was ruptured.

His friend did his best with what he had available, splintering and binding the leg temporarily.

“There. All set. Our healers at the camp can fix it more permanently.”

“Nay. I have to follow the orcs. Túrin–”

“I shall go after him. You need a healer.”

Thranduil sat up. “I feel much better now. I am coming with you.”

“Don’t be so stubborn. You are in no state to walk.”

“I will use a cane.”

They stared at each other, neither of them willing to yield.

“Alright,” Beleg said at last. “Perhaps they can heal you on the way, then.”

With some effort, they began to descend along a narrow footpath, which wound its way steeply down the side of the hill. It was slow going, with Thranduil leaning heavily on Beleg’s shoulder.

After a short while, Beleg spoke in a subdued voice: “Did you… Did you hear what the dwarf accused me of?”

“I did, but I did not believe him,” Thranduil assured him. 

“Thank you,” said Beleg simply.

“Actually… If anyone had that sort of feelings for Túrin, I would say it was the dwarf. Whenever you two were talking his eyes would turn black with jealousy.”

Beleg chuckled. “No wonder he called me an abomination. Know others and know yourself.”

They had almost reached the ground, when suddenly flames erupted in several places in the distance, painting the night sky an eerie orange.

“The camps…!” gasped Thranduil, nearly losing his footing. 

“The orcs must have ambushed them. Damn. Damn! ” Beleg broke into a run and Thrandul limped after him as fast as he could, only pausing briefly to cut a crude crutch from a young birch.

When Thranduil finally arrived at the first camp a couple of hours later, he was dripping with sweat and faint from exertion and blood loss. The sun was rising over the Doriath treetops in the east, illuminating the near total destruction the orcs had rendered.

Pausing to take in the grisly scene, Thranduil felt bile rise in his throat. “No…” he whispered, hardly believing what he saw.

The fire had smothered when it reached the living trees of the forest, but nothing remained of the camp. No cabins, no storages, no laundry peacefully drying on lines, no elves. The stench was horrible, a sickening blend of burnt flesh and smoldering wood.

Beleg stood among the ashes of a building, now only a skeleton of charcoal, raking out pieces of bone from under it. He had already gathered a large pile. Together, fifty elves contained a lot of bones.

“How stupid I was!” he half-growled, half-sobbed when he caught sight of Thranduil. “Why did I not blow the horn from the hill directly when the orcs attacked? I was these elves’ captain and sentry. They trusted me to warn them.”

“Why didn’t I? Neither of us were thinking clearly, and besides, we were fighting for our lives at the time.” 

“Yes but afterwards, once you had cut me loose… But all I could think of was Túrin and how to save him.”

“Do not torment yourself. It is what it is.” But Thranduil did not even believe that himself. Why had they not sounded the alarm? It was unforgivable.

.

After burying the bones of their friends in a shallow trench, the two ellyn followed the orc trail for many days. The journey was the bleakest Thranduil had ever experienced. Everywhere they came, the orc band had killed, burned, plundered and taken hostages. Sometimes they found the remains of such victims along the road; mutilated, tortured wretches whose wounds had finally become too much for them.

Thranduil’s head was healing well, but his leg hurt all the more. For lack of rest it grew worse with each passing day, until every step was pure agony. He figured he probably deserved being tormented and kept his mouth firmly shut about it. 

Beleg was silent as well. Mîm’s knife cuts on his cheeks had left ugly scars, and his once so beautiful face now looked grim and dangerous. The two of them were like a couple of ghosts; not talking, not sleeping, barely eating, just trudging on endlessly. 

They reached the Crossing of Teiglin and turned northeast, and then after a while the Ford of Brithiach. On the other side, the trail went north through Dimbar and the Pass of Anach, one of the more desolate routes into Morgoth’s lands. 

In the mountains the orc tracks were much harder to follow. Thranduil began to worry they had lost the trail, but if so, there was not much to do about it. On the other side was the desert of Anfauglith; if not sooner, they would without doubt be able to spot the orc host in that open landscape. 

Onward they went, day after day, and often a good part of the nights as well.

Then, one afternoon, they finally found something which broke the monotony. An elf.

Coming closer, they saw that the poor ellon was just barely alive. He was starved, with hollow cheeks and large eyes, and a soiled bandage covered his arm.

When the ellon noticed them, his face brightened. “Have you any food?” he asked.

“I have lembas.” Beleg picked up a packet of waybread from his satchel; it had remained almost untouched since they left Amon Rûdh. Neither of them had had any appetite.

The elf quickly devoured the food, as if he had not been fed for years. Between the mouthfuls, he told them his name was Gwindor and that he came from Nargothrond originally. During the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, he had been among the first to charge against the Gates of Angband, but sadly he and his followers had all been killed or taken captive. Since then he had been forced to slave away in Morgoth’s dark mines.

“For seventeen years I toiled there, until I finally managed to overcome my guards and escape. I lost my hand in the process, but gained my freedom so I dare say it was a fair exchange.” Gwindor uncovered his arm, which looked horrible. He had pulled a leather thong tightly around the stump to stop the blood flow, but the uneven cut was dirty and wet. 

Beleg again proved himself a gifted healer. He removed the thong and cleaned the wound with fresh water, while singing a spell to seal it. Afterwards he dressed the arm in clean linen, this time a contribution from Thranduil’s shirt.

The food and healing strengthened Gwindor considerably. When they told him where they were heading, he decided to follow them, even though it was back whence he had come. “I am probably safer in your company,” he figured.

And thus, onward they went, one elf stronger.

By dawn the next day, the three of them had come to the edge of the forest and stood on a crest which overlooked the Anfauglith wastelands, and there, just below, they saw the orcs at last. They were setting up their camp, driving the prisoners into the centre with cruel whips and placing warg sentries all around the area.

“Damn,” muttered Thranduil. He hated wargs.

“If it is only wargs I can handle them. An arrow through the eye, and they will not even know what hit them,” Beleg replied. “The sun is rising, the orcs will probably sleep soon. Let us bide our time.”

It seemed, however, these orcs had no plans of sleeping. Ladened with food and drink from their plunderings, they drank and feasted, and for entertainment they played with their prisoners. 

“There… it is him!” whispered Thranduil. “They are tying him to a tree.” It was far away, but yet he was sure it was Túrin.

“The monsters! It looks like they are throwing things on him,” growled Beleg.

“Knives. They throw knives around his head, as a game. See? They aim to miss.” Thranduil stared in dismay at the horrible display below.

In the evening, the orcs finally fell asleep, drunk and exhausted from all carousing. The three onlookers waited another few hours, until the sun had set and they could sneak forward in the protection of darkness.

After a while they saw the first warg sentry some way ahead, a black silhouette against the pale grey desert. They had come up to it on silent feet and against the wind; it had not noticed them. 

Beleg drew his bow and released an arrow. Almost without a sound the warg toppled to the ground. 

Thranduil squeezed his friend’s shoulder in appreciation of his skill, before they continued onwards. The next warg in their path met the same fate as its comrade, and so did the third. 

They had reached the lonely tree now. Túrin lay slumped against its base, stripped of his shirt and coat, and a score of shafts from the orcs’ knife throwing game protruded from the rough tree trunk around him. His face looked haggard and worn, and his arms and back were covered in what appeared to be lashes from a whip. Thranduil’s chest contracted painfully at the sight, and he wished he had had a huge army behind him, so he could pay the orcs back for every cut and every nick on Túrin’s body.

The young man seemed unconscious, and did not move when Beleg bent over him to check his pulse. “He lives,” he whispered. Drawing his black sword, he swiftly cut Túrin free. 

At the sound of metal slicing through rope, Túrin’s eyes popped open and he hissed in shock when he saw Beleg bent over him, his sword drawn. He clearly did not recognise his friend in the darkness, and threw himself at the imagined enemy. 

A desperate wrestling followed. Thranduil vainly tried to pull them apart; in the dim light it was impossible to see which arm or leg belonged to who.

Túrin had always been a strong, adept fighter, and even now after days of torment and starvation he managed to overcome his opponent. He snatched Anglachel from Beleg’s hand and drove the sword deep into the elf’s chest. 

Emitting a horrible, gurgling noise, Beleg fell and became still, lying on his back in a growing pool of blood. 

“Túrin…” he gasped. 

“No…!” Too late, the young man recognised his friend, and understood what he had done.


A/N:

Túrin is cursed indeed; everything goes against the poor boy… Next, he shall have to flee again, but in his new home a certain messenger from Círdan will arrive – and I think you all know who she may be!

Note: I've now added all my pre-written chapters from AO3, so from now on I'll update when I've finished a new chapter. Usually every two weeks or so, because the chapters are long and I research them a lot, which takes time. :)

24. Messenger of Círdan

The Mouths of Sirion, First Age 489

Aerneth was just locking up the corn storage, after filling her sack for today’s work in the bakery, when she felt Thranduil’s thoughts in her head. As usual her heart beat faster in anticipation. She both loved and hated his calls; she loved to see his face but hated the horrible, empty feeling she would get afterwards. And in addition she was always nervous there would be bad news. That he was hurt or in danger.

She brought her sack with her to the river and squatted beside it, waving aside a few fallen leaves from its calm surface. It ran wide and slow down here, and the water was brackish. 

When she had established the connection, Thranduil’s face formed. He was in his room; she recognised the ceiling with the many glittering crystals he had once put there to resemble stars. When the picture had cleared, Aerneth saw that Thranduil wore his cool, neutral expression that made him look like a statue of smooth glass. Bad news, then. 

She suppressed the mixed feelings of worry and annoyance and took on a cool face herself. “Good morning, husband.”

“Wife.” He nodded curtly.

“To what do I owe the honor?” He normally only called her a few times a year, usually at the holidays – and it was less than a month since the Autumn Hunt feast.

“I wanted to inform you I have moved back to Menegroth with the remaining march-wardens, and after the demise of Beleg Cúthalion I am now made full captain.” His face got even stiffer. 

Something disastrous must have happened. Last time Thranduil called he had lived in Amon Rûdh and claimed to be successfully defending the Guarded Plain. 

“How did he die?” Aerneth had never liked Beleg, but hearing about the demise of an elf was always sad.

“It is a long story.”

Aerneth sat down. “I am in no hurry.” She was; a whale hunting team was setting out tomorrow and she had promised them lembas, but she instinctively knew he wanted to tell her, and probably needed it too.

Sighing, Thranduil told of the dwarf’s betrayal and the orc attack, and how he and Beleg had gone after Túrin when he was captured. “When we finally found him he had been tortured for many days and was confused. Beleg cut him loose, but somehow the sword… somehow it nicked him, and Túrin thought he was attacked by an orc and wrestled Beleg down and… Killed him.” His voice wavered ever so slightly. “Queen Melian always said Anglachel was an evil sword. I wish Beleg had taken another.”

“What did Túrin do?”

“He… Was shocked at first. For many hours. And then, after he came round, we buried Beleg there. In… In the wastelands. A horrible place for a grave, really.” Thranduil seemed to fight hard to uphold his neutral face now. “Afterwards, Túrin took the evil black sword and went with Gwindor, perhaps to Nargothrond, I do not know. He told me not to follow. So I returned home to tell Mablung about… his friend’s death. Excuse me.” Thranduil disappeared from view. When he returned, his face was smooth again. “At least I have learned my lesson now,” he continued. “I will never again follow someone against my better judgement. Túrin was young and foolish, as one might expect from a human, but Beleg knew better. Had he insisted on bringing Túrin back to Doriath, forcing him if needed, none of this would have happened. As Beleg’s successor, I will keep our realm safe without taking unnecessary risks. From now on, the march-wardens shall stay inside Melian’s Girdle as our king always prefered.”

His forced calmness and smooth mask was starting to grate on Aerneth’s nerves. Would it hurt him to show his feelings at least once?

“So you will hide there, while Morgoth roams Beleriand freely. I see.” 

“Say what?” His eyebrows drew together threateningly.

“There is a world outside your precious realm. But I guess if you follow a cowardly king, you would not care.”

Red spots of anger appeared on his pale cheeks. Finally he was reacting; the unnatural, hateful mask was gone. Aerneth prefered his fury over that feigned indifference.

“You know what is cowardly?” His voice was low and frosty as the Helcaraxë ice waste. “The dwarf selling his friends’ lives to the enemy. Morgoth’s orcs ambushing my people in their sleep, and torturing their bound captives for days on end. That was cowardice.”

Aerneth did not reply, feeling slightly regretful for her choice of words. She knew Thranduil did not lack courage. 

“Beleg and I brought over fifty march-wardens with us to Amon Rûdh. Do you know how many survived?”

She shook her head.

“Twelve. Twelve! Think of their families, their spouses, their sons and daughters – think of all that loss! Just because Beleg and I relocated them to a hard to defend area. It was our fault. My fault. And you speak of cowardice!” He had raised his voice now, and his eyes were flashing. “All those years we fought there, what good did they do? Morgoth still has his armies; his orcs, his balrogs and his dragons. It was for naught! A total waste of lives.” He took a deep breath, and another. “If risking others’ lives is bravery, then I am rather a coward.” He pushed the bowl over and was gone.

Aerneth stared sadly at the empty water. How come Thranduil always brought out the worst in her? And she in him. He would probably not call her again for some time now, and perhaps that was for the better. It would give them time to calm down, and start missing each other, and the next time they would take pains to behave.

At least his decision to stay put in Menegroth meant he was safe for now.

.

The Mouths of Sirion, First Age 495

It was early spring and time for their annual small boat race, and the Bay of Balar was full of small vessels with brightly coloured sails. The whole town was out there, cheerful and expectant.  

Aerneth had just put the floating goal in its position when suddenly the surface started to bubble and seethe under her dinghy, and a vast being appeared beneath, rising from the deep to a great height. Riding a giant, gnarled blue whale, he was clad entirely in a mail of fishlike scales, with a helmet of foam on his head and a trident in one hand, and on his chin grew a beard of seagrass-like tendrils. He was The King of the Sea, Ulmo himself.

Two smaller shapes flanked the Vala; his Maiar Ossë and Uinen. The former straddled a black-and-white killer whale, and the latter rode in a sled pulled by dolphins. Large waves followed in Ossë’s wake, but behind him Uinen calmed the sea with her breath, and the result was a rippling surf making the many boats in the Bay stir restlessly.

On his swan ship, Aerneth’s father greeted Ulmo with a hand over his heart. “My Lord… I am honoured.”

“Shipwright.” The Vala’s voice was a deep roar, and a spray of water cascaded from his enormous hand when he placed it on his scaly chest, returning the greeting. “I bear grave tidings.” 

He explained that he and his Maiar had had visions of the future. Uinen had seen the river Sirion once more tainted by foul creatures pouring down from Angband, turning the ground black and charred in their wake. Ulmo had seen the destruction of the last remaining elvish realms; first Nargothrond, then Doriath, then lastly, Gondolin. Ossë had seen the entire Beleriand gone under and replaced by a wide ocean.

“There is a new lord in Nargothrond, and he is too bold,” said Uinen in her motherly voice. “He has counselled the weak king to fight the enemy, sending warriors north, and spanning the river Narog with a bridge to ease their passage. But Morgoth will retaliate, and his dragon will walk over the bridge into the city, and it shall burn.”

“And in Gondolin an evil seed grows in their midst, one who shall betray them all to ruin,” boomed Ulmo. “Thou shalt warn them, Shipwright. They must leave ere it is too late, and come to thee. From this shore a new star shall arise, and save the children of Ilúvatar.”

“I will, My Lord.” Círdan bowed, his face pale. “I shall send messengers to warn Turgon, Orodreth and Thingol, and I shall invite them here. However… There is one thing I would ask you, My Lord. Some years back I built seven ships, which sailed west to find a way into Aman, where they would beg your brethren for aid against the Dark Lord. My wife was upon one of those ships. Pray, tell me… did they get there?”

The Vala’s large, ocean green eyes grew distant a moment, and then he turned them back to Círdan. “Nay, Shipwright. They all perished. All save one, a Gondolindrim, whom I brought to the shore far north of here.”

Círdan hung his head. “Thank you, My Lord. I feared this might be the case.”

Aerneth’s breath hitched and she sat heavily down in her little boat. Then it was as she too had feared. Her mother was dead, drowned, just like her mother-in-law. Ossës waves had taken them, though she could not hate him for it, it was his nature after all. 

Tears started to trickle down her cheeks. Nana was gone. Now she knew that for sure. It was a relief in a way; it had been awful not knowing, keeping up a tiny spark of hope all these years. 

Still weeping, Aerneth pondered over the rest of Ulmo’s tidings. Doriath would be destroyed. Would she lose her husband as well now? They had seen it in Galadriel’s mirror many years back, seen the ruin of both Nargothrond and Doriath. When only the Falas fell, Aerneth had somehow started to believe the other visions would not come to pass. 

How could she warn Thranduil? Since their fight a few years back, he had not called her. But she had to make him leave Doriath, she had to make him understand. 

She must go there. Return to Menegroth and not leave without him.

With a pang of pain she remembered the last time she and Thranduil met in person, when she had almost drowned him. We are bad for each other, he had said. But after such a long time, maybe they had learned? Maybe it would be different now? There was no helping it. She had to try. She could not lose him too.

When the Vala and his Maiar had left, Círdan cancelled the sailing race and instantly began preparations for sending the messengers. Two Noldor elves volunteered to make the journey, Gelmir, and Arminas. Aerneth knew them well, and the latter had even tried to woo her some four decades ago when they were still living in Eglarest. He and his friend were from Dorthonion originally, survivors of the Battle of Sudden Flames, and had been staying with Círdan’s people ever since. Now they longed to return into the world and perhaps find surviving kin in Gondolin.

Círdan decided the best route would be to ship the messengers up the coast, via the firth of Drengist into Hithlum, and put them ashore so they could continue on foot across the mountains to where Gondolin was thought to be. And after they had warned Turgon, they would turn south to Nargothrond and Doriath.

“I am going with them,” Aerneth told her father. 

“Why? I have many apt sailors who can take them into Hithlum.” His eyes narrowed. “You mean to follow them ashore?”

“I do.”

He nodded slowly. “Your husband. You want to warn him.”

“I have to go, Ada. If he reaches out to me through the water before I leave the ship, I might stay onboard and follow it back, but if not… I need to go to Doriath.”

“I understand.” His face looked grim, but he did not object. Perhaps he knew she would not listen anyway. “Be careful.” In his eyes she saw the deep sadness and pain he felt after the loss of his wife, and his worry he might lose his daughter too. 

She nodded, too full of emotions to speak.

.

The journey to Hithlum took several weeks, and being confined aboard a ship with an ellon who apparently still had feelings for her proved extremely awkward. How could he have committed his heart with so little encouragement? He ought to at least have been cured after Aerneth got married, but apparently this was not the case. She felt a pang of guilt every time she noticed his longing gaze on her. 

To avoid him, Aerneth stayed in her cabin as much as possible, staring out the porthole and brooding over the dark future predicted. Beleriand gone, replaced by the ocean! No more elvish realms, and Morgoth taking over. Could things really get that bleak? Now she wished she had appealed to Ulmo to call the other Valar here. She was beginning to believe only they could defeat the Dark Lord.

She thought a lot about Thranduil too. She pictured the look on his face when he saw her again, and planned out in detail what she would say to persuade him. The problem with planning conversations ahead, however, was that they never went accordingly, and she was terrified it would end in disaster just like last time. What if things went even further? She had lost control over her water powers, and it had frightened her to the extent that she had not dared use them since – apart from the communication part, of course.

Other times, she imagined the opposite. That it would go well. She pictured Thranduil’s gaze turning soft as he pulled her into his arms, mumbling against her neck how much he loved her. That he forgave her for cheating on him and for trying to drown him. It was a bittersweet daydream which always left her with blank eyes and a lump in her throat. She knew it would not happen.

.

The firth of Drengist was a channel of the sea, leading into Hithlum like a triangular wedge between sheer cliff faces on either side, ending in a narrow, tunnel-like passage. Soon after the tunnel they cast anchor, wishing to avoid coming too close to the inhabited parts of Hithlum, which was controlled by the Easterlings nowadays. Instead the messengers would continue on foot along the southern highlands that circled Dor-Lómin all the way east to Sirion, and on the other side of that river they hoped to find the path into Gondolin.

Taking leave of the sailors, Aerneth and her two companions disembarked on a barren strip of beach with a rough cliff wall looming over them. They carried only little; lembas of course and a change of shifts, but not much else. No weapons, as neither of them were warriors. 

When they climbed the cliff, Arminas had some misguided notion that Aerneth was a frail elleth who needed support. He repeatedly turned back to her, reaching out a helping hand. It annoyed her to the extent where she put all her strength into recklessly speed-climbing past the ellyn, arriving at the top first of all. 

When Arminas' head became visible over the edge several minutes later, she held out her hand. “Here, let me help you,” she said, hiding a smirk.

It was beautiful at the hilltop, with an astonishing view on all sides. Behind them was the open sea, and at the mouth of the firth they could see the swan ship that had brought them, already looking like an elfling’s toy. Further south were the ruins of Eglarest, her childhood home; they had passed them by a couple of days back.

To the north, the fertile soil of Dor-Lómin unfolded, where the humans later in the year would grow crops and vegetables after their habit. The fields gave the ground a striped appearance from above, and columns of chimney smoke showed where there were settlements. It looked peaceful, but Aerneth was not fooled by it. The Easterlings had made thralls of the original inhabitants, taking the women as wives and mistresses and forcing the males to slave away on the fields – all according to Thranduil, who had heard it from Túrin, the boy he had raised.

Turning southeast, she looked at the Guarded Plain where the many arms of Sirion and its tributaries cut through the sparse pine woods and heathlands. The one closest to them must be Narog, the river that led to Nargothrond. Further east a mass of hazy brown and pink showed where the bud-covered trees of the forests of Brethil and Doriath began. Somewhere in there was her husband.

With a chill, the full impact of Ossë’s foresight suddenly struck Aerneth. If he was right, all this would be gone. Sunk under the sea.

The thought was unfathomable. Could it really be true?

A movement much closer drew her eyes, and a blonde man came out from behind a large oak. His clothes looked haggard and worn, and his chin was covered in a bristly beard after the fashion of humans. He smelled horribly, like one who had not washed himself for weeks.

“You are elves,” he stated, and greeted them the polite way with a bow and a hand across his chest.

“We are.” They returned the greeting, all three regarding him with curiosity.

“I am Tuor, son of Huor, of the House of Hador, if those names mean anything to you?”  

“Nay.” Arminas and Gelmir both shook their heads, but Aerneth squinted and looked at him more closely. He reminded her of another human with those golden tresses and the sky blue eyes. Then she remembered.

“Huor! He fought with his brother Húrin in the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, right? I only ever saw Húrin, but you look just like him.” 

“Húrin was my uncle, aye. They were both killed in the war, and I was born shortly after, so I never met either of them. And my mother died when I was very little. I was raised by the elves in Mithrim, but then I got caught by the Easterlings and was forced to work three years for them. I recently escaped.”

“I am sorry to hear that.” No wonder he looked so harrowed. 

“I have been trying to find the tunnel from Dor-Lómin to the sea. You don't happen to know where it might be?”

“Oh aye, it is down there. We just came through it.” Gelmir smiled and pointed.

“Thank you.” He bowed politely. “I must continue, then. They are probably searching for me.” Soon his golden curls disappeared over the edge and he was gone.

“It is strange how fast humans grow,” mused Aerneth as the three elves continued east. “It felt like hardly no time has passed since I saw his uncle, and then this man was not even born yet.”

“Imagine having elflings who grew that fast. You could be a grandparent before your tenth decade day!” Gelmir chuckled.

“I will never have elflings,” said Arminas bitterly. 

Aerneth clenched her jaw and silently wowed to keep her mouth shut the rest of the journey.

.

“Can’t we just give up?” Aerneth wiped her forehead and rested her back against a crooked pine. They had been climbing among the rocky cliffs east of the Pass of Sirion all day in the pouring rain, and yesterday too, and the day before that. For weeks they had scoured the area for a passage to the hidden city.

“Nay! The entrance must be here somewhere,” growled Arminas, who was trying to braid his soaked hair out of his eyes. His gallantry from the first days of their journey had disappeared entirely, and it even seemed his feelings for her had subsided. Travelling over rough landscape in rainy spring weather, while sleeping on the ground and eating only cold food tended to do that to people.

“Well it clearly is not,” Aerneth retorted sourly. She knew they had to warn Turgon, or she would have refused trying to find Gondolin at all. Both because she suspected it was futile – after all, it had been hidden for over thirty decades without anyone finding it – and because there was a certain blonde warrior living there who she hoped never to meet again.

“Let us try a few more days at least. We owe it to Turgon.” Gelmir was cowering under a juniper. Then he sat up straighter. “What is that?” He was looking at a point below, and then he gasped as he lifted his gaze further.

Aerneth squinted through the shower, until she saw it too. A huge orc army came marching over the Anfauglith wastelands, even greater than the one she had seen during the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, and it was heading straight at the Pass. The first companies had already reached the river. If the weather had been clear and the sounds not muffled by the rain, they would have discovered them much sooner.

“Damn. It’s beginning!” She jumped up. “We cannot linger here. This is it. The army that will destroy Doriath and Nargothrond! We must warn them.” 

“But what of Gondolin?” Arminas had gotten on his feet too.

“Ulmo said it would fall last of them,” said Gelmir. “Maybe it will remain hidden.”

“I hope so.” Arminas clenched his fists in frustration.

The rest of that day and all through the night, the three of them hurried south over the mountains as stealthily as they could. Every now and then they tried to get a glimpse of the orc movements. They seemed to be gathering at Tol Sirion, the island where Sauron once had kept Beren prisoner, and where his tower still remained. Maybe they would regroup there, and use the island as base for their assault. It was a spot easy to defend – as if any elvish realm had enough warriors to match that host.

After another couple of days they had finally reached the end of the mountains, and began descending a steep slope full of rocks and loose stones. Below, they saw the Ford of Brithiach. 

“That is Doriath.” Aerneth pointed eagerly. “We should go there first, it is the closest!” 

“But Nargothrond will fall first,” Arminas objected. He seemed very reluctant to go to Doriath, possibly because he knew Aerneth’s husband lived there.

“I agree with Arminas,” said Gelmir, and Aerneth was downvoted.

At least now they were walking on more even ground, and could follow the Old South Road all the way to their destination. The weather had cleared too, and south of the road the ground was covered in sweet smelling wood anemones under the Brethil trees. If they had not been in such a hurry, it would have been a great spot to set up their camp, and perhaps try catching a fish or two in the river and have a warm meal for a change.

Instead they trudged on, day and night, postponing sleep and most meals until later.

They were spotted very soon after they crossed the Teiglin, another of Sirion’s many tributaries, and came out onto the Guarded Plain. Not for naught was it called so, for apparently Nargothrond had scouts all over the place. Within a few hours a small guard company on horseback came galloping up at them, asking who they were and what their errand was.

“We must speak with King Orodreth,” said Gelmir. “We bring an urgent message from Lord Círdan.”

“We shall take you to our commander,” said the guard. 

They were given spare horses and brought by a couple of the guards to a large camp, with many tents and rows of colourful banners billowing in the breeze. Behind the camp rose a hill, where a stone bridge led to a set of huge double gates. A roaring sound came from under the bridge; the river Narog. 

So this was what Uinen had spoken of. The once secret city of Nargothrond had become wide open and inviting, and the river which could have protected it from attacks had been spanned. If the multitude of orcs they had seen came here, they would effortlessly take the city.

In the largest of the tents they were met by a tall person with raven hair, looking so much like a Noldor it took several minutes until they realised he was actually a human.

“You are not Orodreth” said Gelmir.

“I am his counselor. You can speak to me.” The man even sounded like an elf, and his chin was smooth. Had he no beard, or had he cut it off?

“Lord Círdan specifically said the message was for the king’s ears. You must take us to him.”

The man waved at a nearby ellon, almost casually. “Get him.”

The other nodded and left, presumably to fetch Orodreth. 

“What is your name?” asked Aerneth. She suddenly had a horrible suspicion she knew already. A man – looking like an elf – living in Nargothrond. Could it be anyone else?

“I go by many names here – Mormegil, after my sword, or Bloodstained, son of Ill-fate, which is what my name should have been.”

“You are Túrin, Húrin’s son,” she said.

His eyes widened in surprise and then he frowned. “Who told you that?”

“Thranduil, my husband.”

He flinched and suddenly looked terribly guilty. “Oh. I did not know he was married. Did he… What did he say about me?”

I did not know he was married. How could those words hurt so much? Thranduil had loved this man as a son, but apparently never once mentioned her existence to him. “He told me everything.” If she hurt, he could hurt too, and she knew why he seemed nervous. 

“Everything?” He suddenly straightened up, and the commanding air returned. “So then you know not to cross me. Keep my name a secret, or may Morgoth take you and burn your tongue!”

Aerneth stared at him, surprised over his outburst. But before she could reply, a group of elves approached, one of them wearing a thin circlet on his brow. King Orodreth was blonde like his sister, but apart from that he did not look much like Galadriel. His face was more narrow and he had a weak chin.

“You have a message for me from Círdan? Then why do you come from the north? That is suspicious, don’t you think so, Mormegil?” 

“Indeed.” Túrin glared at Aerneth.

“We were searching for Turgon, My Lord,” Arminas explained. “For Gondolin, his hidden city.”

“Then you have gone wrong. There is no Turgon here.” Orodreth turned as if he wanted to leave again.

“Wait, My Lord!” exclaimed Gelmir hurriedly. “A great host coming hither. The whole of Anfauglith was littered with orcs.”

“I do not fear orcs.”

“Nargothrond will fall, the Vala Ulmo has foreseen it, and Círdan Shipwright sent us to invite you to his realm, where you can be safe. The following words are from Ulmo: ‘The evil of the north has defiled the springs of Sirion. You must close your fortress and cast the stones of your pride into the river.’”

The king turned to Túrin. “What do you make of this?”

“Let Círdan deal with what he knows best – boats,” he sneered. “If Ulmo has a message for us, he ought not speak in riddles.”

“That is what I thought also.”

“He is talking about the bridge.” Aerneth could not keep silent. “‘The stones of your pride.’ The bridge. Cast it down and close your gates. Let Morgoth clash against them in vain, thinking you are in there, while you bring your people south to my father.”

“Círdan is your father?” Túrin’s contemptuous look disappeared. “My apologies for belittling him, My Lady. But we will not abandon Nargothrond, and Morgoth is welcome here with his troops! This is what we have been waiting for; a chance to finally end him.”

“Indeed.” Orodreth smiled and nodded at the man.

Were they stupid? Did they think they could resist the entire host of Morgoth? Unlike them, Aerneth had seen it. His dragons, his balrogs… One dragon alone would burn this camp with all the tents and banners into a crisp. 

She met her companions' gazes, and read the same shocked disbelief in their eyes. 

“We are grateful for Lord Círdan’s concern, and you must thank him upon your return,” said Túrin. “The hour is growing late, however, and you look weary. Allow us to reward your troubles with our hospitality. Let us share a pleasant supper, and you can tell us more about your travels in the north, and have a comfortable night’s sleep in our guesthouse. Now you must excuse me, I have much to discuss with my captains.” And with that, they were dismissed.

After a brief conference among themselves, they decided to accept the offer. They were weary, and hungry, and a night in a guesthouse sounded very appealing. 

Tomorrow they would continue to Doriath, where they would hopefully get a better reception. There was of course the overhanging threat of the orc host, but hopefully they could afford to stay here one day. 


A/N:

Another little derivation from the Silmarillion: Ulmo only told Círdan to warn Orodreth in Nargothrond – so in canon, the messengers went to search for Gondolin on their own accord. Doriath was not mentioned at all. However, I find it more logical to warn all three realms, and it fits my story better. :) 

25. Father of Dragons

A palace servant led the way to Nargothrond. When they crossed the bridge, Aerneth peered down at the stormy waters and shook her head. Stupid not to keep such a great natural defense.

Then it struck her how ironic it was that she had chided Thranduil for trying to keep his march-wardens safe, when here she was on a mission to tell the king of Nargothrond he was too bold and out in the open! But if she was honest with herself, she had not meant what she said to Thranduil, it was just her usual compulsion to wind him up and make him lose that hateful glass face. She did want him to stay safe – or even better, to get as far away from Doriath as possible.

Inside, Aerneth reflected that Nargothrond looked very much like Menegroth. It had similar silver trees and animals, and hidden skylights providing a faint illumination. It even smelled the same way, slightly damp and cellar like. 

It was heavenly to take a bathe and change clothes after such a long time on the road, and when she went with her companions to the palace, Aerneth felt a little hopeful again. Perhaps if they could speak more with Orodreth, they could still persuade him to relent? Especially if Túrin was not around. It seemed the man was a bad influence on the weak king.

Sadly, they would not be so lucky, for when she entered the dining area, Túrin was the first person Aerneth saw. With his height and proud air, he dominated the room. He was talking with a blonde elleth, and when the messengers entered he waved them to him. 

“Allow me to introduce you to my good friend Princess Finduilas, daughter of the king.” 

Finduilas politely exchanged a few words with them, but very soon her attention returned to the man beside her. Aerneth could see why; dressed in fine clothes, but with the physique and bearing of a warrior, he looked very handsome – if you were into the dark, arrogant type. Aerneth prefered blonde, strong and silent ellyn, but had to admit that Túrin had charisma. No wonder Thranduil had seemed so fond of him, when he talked about the boy during their water calls.

An ellon joined them, casting a dark look at Túrin before turning to Aerneth. “My Lady Aerneth. I am happy to see you are well!”

She looked at him in surprise at first, but then recognised him. “Gwindor!” Last time she saw that face was in her water bowl at the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. It had been shortly before his brother was severed right before his eyes, after which he had charged prematurely, leading all the elves he brought from Nargothrond to their death. 

Aerneth’s eyes were drawn to the stump that was all that remained of his left hand.

“I was taken captive by Morgoth,” he explained. “I managed to escape at last, but lost a limb in the process.”

“I am sorry,” Aerneth mumbled.

“I have only myself to blame. I rushed the attack, and my comrades had to pay for it.” He spoke low, only for her ears. “If you do not mind – would you tell me what happened after I left Barad Eithel?”

“Of course.” She gave him a detailed description of the battle, from the beginning to its bleak end. When she had finished, they were alone; Túrin and the elleth had gone to speak with the king, and Gelmir and Arminas had followed them.

“That man…!” Gwindor’s jaw set. 

“What about him?”

“Finduilas and I are betrothed to marry. But ever since he came here, she has loved him more. He claims only to think of her as a sister, but yet he singles her out all the time.” He clenched his remaining fist.

“That must be awful.”

“Mormegil is cursed. Wherever he goes, evil follows. Perhaps I should not expose who he is, but…”

“I know already. My husband is a captain of the Doriathrim march-wardens, and was with the outlaws.”

Gwindor’s eyes widened. “Captain of the march-wardens… I hope… I hope your husband is not Beleg Cúthalion?”

“Nay. Nay, he is Thranduil Oropherion. I heard what happened with Beleg. Thank the Valar, my husband survived.”

“I have met Thranduil; I was there at that time. Afterwards I brought Túrin home to Nargothrond with me – which I bitterly regret now, may I add. Is your husband well? He seemed a nice ellon, though he was understandably not himself when we parted shortly after the death of his good friend.” 

“I have not heard from him in many years, but have no reason to believe otherwise than that he is well. We are leaving for Doriath tomorrow, to warn them also.”

“Warn?”

“Aye.” She repeated Ulmo’s words. 

Gwindor paled and swallowed hard. “These are grave news indeed! From the beginning, I spoke against opening up our city, but of course nobody would listen. I was trapped in Angband for many years; I know Morgoth’s strength. The only way to beat him is for the Valar to return and help us. Leaving our hiding place has only made him aware of our existence – no wonder he will retaliate.”

“But how can we reach them? My father tried to send ships to Aman many years ago. None returned.” Aerneth pushed down the still fresh grief over her mother’s demise.

“There must be a way. There is a prophecy among our people, that one day a messenger will get through.”

Aerneth remembered Ulmo’s final words: From this shore a new star shall arise, and save the children of Ilúvatar . A chill crept along her spine. Did he mean that the Valar would help them? If so, that made it all the more important for the last elvish realms to stay hidden and safe until then – or there would be no children of Ilúvatar left to save.

“I wish I could go with you to Lord Círdan,” Gwindor continued. “I would, if I could persuade Finduilas to come with me. But I know she will stay with him, and I cannot leave her.” He sighed heavily.

During the course of the evening, Aerneth and her companions again tried to speak with Orodreth and make him relent, but to no avail. He was intent on fighting valiantly and not showing weakness. Instead of destroying the bridge, he and Túrin meant to strengthen it and make it wider, so an even greater army could pass. Beginning tomorrow, they would recruit more warriors among the Nargothrond people, increasing their numbers further.

“You should stay and fight too,” Túrin suggested. “Perhaps after you deliver the message to Doriath, you can return here?”

“You could ask Thingol to join forces with us,” added the king.

“We would gladly await battle with our kin, but we promised Lord Círdan to bring back word to him afterwards,” said Arminas smoothly.

.

The three messengers slept well in the royal guest rooms, and left the city shortly after sunrise. They had not come far, however, when a rider caught up with them at a gallop, bringing three loose horses in tow.

“You must return. Our scouts have seen a great host of orcs south of the Teiglin crossing, and there is a battle going on between them and the humans of Brethil. They must have come during the night. The king will send a company there shortly, but the area is not safe for wanderers.”

“We are not going that far north,” Aerneth protested, dismayed at the prospect of further delay. “There is a secret bridge over the Sirion which is much closer. It is the route the trade emissaries from the Falas used to take.”

“Some of the orcs have come far south, almost to Amon Rûdh. You cannot go there. I have orders to bring you back with me.”

The three messengers looked at each other. Then Gelmir shrugged. “I guess we have to wait a while longer.”

They mounted the spare horses and followed the messenger back. When they had climbed the hills and reached the bridge across the river Narog, Aerneth turned around. Shadowing her eyes against the morning sun she could now see the raging battle in the distance. The orcs were so numerous the area looked black.

“This is bad,” Arminas muttered. “They are too many.”

A few slow days followed, after Túrin and the king had left with a large company to aid the humans and push back the invading orcs. Aerneth and her companions spent the meantime restlessly walking around in the city, sleeping long in the mornings and eating too much, just to have something to do.

After a little over a week, Aerneth felt someone calling her, and hurried to one of the many silver fountains nearby to establish a connection. A somber, tired Gwindor appeared in the water.

“Good to see you,” she said. “How are you faring?”

“We are holding the enemy back, but only barely. The orcs have control over most of the northern Guarded Plain. But that is not why I’m calling. Tú– uh, Mormegil wants to speak with you.” He turned to someone standing next to him, and Túrin’s face replaced his in the fountain. He looked cheerful and excited.

“Do not let that old pessimist frighten you. We are not budging, and with the new recruits I plan to engage, we should soon be able to push back the enemy where they belong. I was very pleased when Gwindor told me about your gift with water magic. This is just what we need! I hope you can stay the duration of this skirmish and be my voice in the city. Could you do it? It would be beneficial to you as well, for the sooner we rid the Plain of festering orcs, the sooner you can deliver your message to Doriath.” He smiled winsomely.

Aerneth nodded reluctantly. She might as well accept, for at least then she would have something to do other than eating.

“Wonderful! Then you shall soon hear from me again. Oh, by the way… Gwindor asks you to send his love to Finduilas, and please greet her from me also.” He disappeared.

Aerneth turned to Arminas and Gelmir, who were with her. “You heard him. We are still stuck here.” She sighed.

Arminas shook his head. “I don’t want to be caught up in this. We all know what will happen; it is not safe to stay!”

“I agree,” said Gelmir. “We should return to Lord Círdan. If we take the river route it should be safe.”

“But what about Doriath?” Aerneth bit her lip.

“Maybe their scouts will discover what is happening, and then someone there might reach out to you.”

“Maybe, might… It’s not good enough! I have to warn my husband!” 

“I am not staying. Sorry.” Arminas stubbornly crossed his arms. 

Aerneth felt like punching him in the face. How could he be so unfeeling!

“Well I am. You can leave, and I will deliver the message myself,” she said firmly.

“Aerneth, be reasonable…”

But she had already stomped off. 

Gelmir and Arminas left Nargothrond the next day, walking on foot along the river but planning to build a simple raft once they got further downstream where the water slowed a bit. Despite their disagreement, Aerneth went out to see them off. 

“Círdan will have our hide when we return without you,” said Gelmir, giving her a quick hug.

“He will understand. Tell him to reach out to me through the water if he worries.”

“Be careful.” Arminas took her hand, and some of his earlier affection for her returned to his eyes. 

“I can take care of myself.”

“I know.” He kissed her hand, and turned away.

Aerneth watched her former companions as they gradually became smaller. Soon they disappeared behind a cliff and were gone.

.

The battle on the Guarded Plain continued all summer without much change. The humans lost their leader early on, and soon afterwards retreated back into the deep Brethil forest where the many traps and dense undergrowth made it hard for the orcs to follow. After their departure, only the Nargothrond elves remained to resist the enemy.

The front line wavered back and forth; sometimes the elves were driven back and sometimes the orcs had to retreat, but Túrin never managed to push them further than to the Crossing of Teiglin.

Aerneth made herself useful as Túrin’s delegate whenever he needed more warriors at the front, or a refilling of provisions such as food, medicaments, arrows and similar, but apart from those occasions she lived a quiet, rather dull life in the now almost deserted city. Less than a hundred females remained, together with a small city guard, for by now most of the able adults had joined the army. 

Aerneth had offered to come too, but both Túrin and Gwindor had begged her to stay. She was no warrior, and she was more useful as their messenger – and in addition, both of them wanted her to keep an eye on the princess. Since Finduilas seemed perfectly capable of looking after herself, this left Aerneth with not much to do. 

Thus the summer passed fairly uneventfully. Not much longer however, for in the autumn the foretold doom reached Nargothrond at last. 

The nights had just begun to grow chilly, when something dire came forth from the mountains in the north: a dragon. Once again, Morgoth had let loose one of his most fearsome weapons.

Despite the distance, the remaining citizens of Nargothrond could see it clearly where they had gathered on the terrace outside the city gates. An enormous, scaly beast, crawling down onto the Plain. It was following the river Narog from its spring, burning the ground as it went, and in its wake came an even greater host of orcs fresh out of Angband. 

Panic erupted among the onlookers, for what could they do now? Idly await the inevitable destruction? They could never hope to defend against such a monstrous foe, even if they had time to destroy the bridge.

Aerneth tried to speak over the din, again suggesting they escape to her father down by the Mouths of Sirion, but in her heart she knew it was too late. The dragon moved with inhuman speed on its tree-trunk legs; it would catch up with them in no time.

Still, she had to try, though it hurt to leave without a chance to warn Thranduil. There was no helping it – she would be no use to him dead. 

Before anyone had time to leave, Aerneth felt Túrin in her mind. When she picked up her bowl, his face in the water was pale and blackened with soot, and of his former pride nothing remained. “The king is dead, and I have just dragged Gwindor to safety. But he… did not make it. Before he… passed away, he begged me to save Finduilas, and said this is my only chance. That the curse… That there is a curse upon my father and his descendants, and only Finduilas stands between me and that curse. Can you… gather the ellith and bring them to the river? Gwindor said you can make Uinen create a mist to hide them in. Please. Can you beg her to help us? I’m coming home as fast as I can, but I’m still far away.”

“I will do my best,” Aerneth assured him, thankful for the advice. 

She hurried to climb down the rough ravine, until she was close enough to the roaring fall of the river. There she called Uinen, using a bowl she had brought for the purpose. The Maia instantly appeared as was her habit, but her fair face was distraught and she looked physically ill. 

“My waters…” she hissed. “Defiled! Dragon stench! Orc filth!”

“You must save us,” begged Aerneth. “Make a mist like you did before, and cover our retreat. Please!”

“I cannot. I cannot.” Her voice was strained. “The water is ruined and I cannot come near it. You must find another way.”

“No! Please! You can’t abandon us.”

“I am sorry, child.” And she was gone.

Desperately scrambling back up, Aerneth saw that the dragon was almost upon them now. Only one hope remained then; that the huge iron gates leading into the city would hold. 

Others had come to the same conclusion, and there was a crowd gathered at the entrance, fighting to push inside. Aerneth was hit in the face by someone’s elbow, and nearly trod on a fallen ellith. Someone yelled for the others to calm down, but nobody heeded them.

When finally inside, people ran to get as deep into the city as possible, and Aerneth was caught by the current of fleeing elves, helplessly dragged along.

They were still in plain view of the entrance when a deep, thunderous boom shook the entire hill. Even the ground trembled, like from an earthquake, and the escapees halted in dismay. Further down the street a couple of rocks fell from the distant cave ceiling, hitting the pavement with sharp cracks. 

Everyone turned this way and that, desperately trying to assess which direction was the least perilous. 

There was another boom, and more stones rained down. The throng dissolved and the elves scattered in all directions like a flock of startled birds. 

Aerneth stumbled and her ankle twisted painfully. Before she could get on her feet, the gates fell inwards with a final boom, and the giant lizard came creeping down directly towards her. 

The monster’s horrible stench preceded it, and it weakened her, numbing her senses. She tried feebly to stand, but her legs felt useless and heavy. 

A lidless, yellow eye with a narrow pupil turned her way, and she stared into its depth, mesmerised. 

.

When Aerneth came to, she was standing on the terrace overlooking the bridge, just outside the broken city gates. She was surrounded by a group of huddling ellith, her hands bound with a dirty, rough rope, so tight her skin had broken. A few orcs guarded them, laden with jewellery and bulky sacks, probably containing more spoils of war. 

Dizzily looking around, Aerneth noticed Finduilas among the survivors, but her head hung and she was bleeding from a head injury. What would happen with them now? All the horror stories she had heard about how orcs treated their captives came unbidden to her mind.

She looked away in dismay, and her gaze fell on the bridge. It was strong and well built; even the weight of a full-grown dragon had not broken its proud stones. Where had the beast gone now? 

Then she heard it. Heavy steps from inside the hill, accompanied by thuds and crashes as the city was looted. 

Another sound made her turn her head to the Guarded Plain below. She saw a scatter of tiny dots in the distance; riders, and one of them must be yelling on top of his lungs. Was that all that remained of the entire Nargothrond army? She regarded them as they slowly came closer.

After a while she recognised Túrin in the front, it was he who yelled. She wanted to tell him to flee, but just opening her mouth felt like a too difficult task. 

Some orc warriors had discovered the small elf troop and went to meet them, but Túrin nonchalantly struck them down, his gaze locked on the captives. 

He had almost reached them when there was a thump and a crack from the fallen gates, and the dragon’s head poked out, shortly followed by the rest of its scaly body. 

The elves accompanying Túrin fled, but he did not budge. Seemingly fearless, the young man approached the monster, his black sword held high. When it captured the red beams of the setting sun it appeared to be burning.

“Hail, son of Húrin. Well met!” The dragon's voice was a deep rumble, loud and terrifying. “I am Glaurung, Father of Dragons.”

Túrin tried to charge, but the Glaurung only opened one of its eyes. Remembering how she had been paralysed before, Aerneth quickly turned away, but in the edge of her vision she noticed Túrin standing immobile and stiff like a statue.

Glaurung continued speaking: “As for you, you are all that is evil: a thankless fosterling, an outlaw, slayer of your friend, thief of love, foolish captain, and deserter of your kin. You live like a prince here, while your mother and sister slave away in Dor-lomin, dressed in rags. Your father must be so proud,” he sneered. 

Still captured by the dragon’s gaze, Túrin remained frozen to the ground, while the orcs began to brusquely push and shove Aerneth and the other ellith away over the bridge. 

When she passed Túrin, Finduilas suddenly woke from her own trance and screamed his name, feebly fighting against her bonds, but he did not react.

All the way down to the Plain, Aerneth heard the dragon’s voice in the distance, continuing to work its suggestive spell on Túrin. It wanted him to go to Dor-lomin and rescue his mother and sister, that much was obvious, and Aerneth knew with frightening clarity he would heed it. It must be a trap – why else would the beast not slay him immediately? This was all part of Morgoth’s vicious plan, she was sure of it.

As for Aerneth and the rest of the captives, nobody remained who could come to their rescue, despite the continuous wailing and pleading from Finduilas and many of the others. After a while their orc guards grew tired of the noise, and by means of a cruel whip they very soon put an end to all complaints. Only silent tears and stifled sobs remained afterwards.

They kept walking all through the night, and not until the sun stood high the next day where they allowed a short rest. They were only given foul water to drink, but Aerneth was too thirsty and exhausted to refuse it. The dizziness caused by the dragon’s stench and gaze had left her completely now, leaving terror and gruesome pain in its wake. Every part of her body hurt, from her sprained ankle to her head where she had caught an elbow the day before, and in addition she had gotten her fair share of the lashes generously dealt by their captors.

She fell asleep almost immediately, and when she was roused by an orc’s hard boot it felt like hardly no time had passed. Her head hurt worse now, if from stress, lack of sleep, or damage, she could not say.

On and on they went. They reached the Old South Road and followed it past the burnt remains of farmsteads and reeking tree corpses. Everywhere Aerneth looked the ground was black; there was not a single living strand of grass to be seen. Had the dragon done all this? 

She wondered what had happened to Nargothrond. Burnt too? All those elegant silver trees and fountains, gone forever. She had only lived there a short while, but it had reminded her of her other home, in Menegroth. Would Doriath also be burned to ashes when Glaurung had finished his evil work in Nargothrond? Could he penetrate Melian’s magic fence? She did not know, but now that she had seen the power of the dragon, she would not be surprised if he could. 

The bleak journey continued, and with each passing day the ellith grew weaker from thirst, starvation and lack of sleep. Their wounds were left untended and beginning to fester, and the utter hopelessness of their situation was beginning to take a dangerous toll on many of them. More than once an elleth refused to rise after their short daytime rests, and were either already dead, or soon beaten to death by an orc whip.

The ones who died without aid frightened Aerneth the most. It was as if the will to live had left them, as if their very soul had withered. Could that happen to her too? 

Aerneth tried to feel within herself, and thought her soul was still there. And she certainly did not want to die. On the contrary, an escape plan had formed in her head when she spotted the Teiglin river in the distance, knowing they would have to cross it at the shallow wading area on their way to Morgoth’s realm. Uinen may not be able to help her anymore, but she had water powers too. She had nearly drenched her own husband, and a smaller orc must be even easier to hold down. Aerneth knew she was not powerful enough to save them all, but she could try to free as many as possible. 

The plan helped her keep her spirits up, and she thought about it day and night.

When they finally reached the Crossing, Aerneth was jittery and almost weak with anxiety. This was it, her only chance! But her captors must not suspect anything; she had to remain impassive and try to look as downcast as her fellows.

She waited until they were halfway through the river. The water was black and smelly, full of ash, dead plants and animal carcasses, and she cringed at the thought of diving into it, knowing she would have to; it was part of the plan. 

She was just about to sing her spell, when she heard a zinging noise, followed by a yelp as one of the orcs caught an arrow through his head. A second arrow pierced the arm of another, but now the element of surprise was lost and the orcs raised their shields. 

A bunch of rowdy humans emerged from between the trees on the other side of the river, all clad in greens and browns. The men of Brethil! They would be saved!

Aerneth’s relief was short-lived, however, for the orc leader turned to his companions and barked: “Kill the prisoners.” 

The guards lost no time; they instantly drew their grim swords and spears, preparing to do as told.

Aerneth finally shook off her shocked passivity, singing a few notes until a black wave emerged to engulf her captor completely. With a splutter he lost his grip on her bonds. 

Before another orc could catch her, she dived under the dark surface, desperately shutting her nose and mouth to the foulness of the water.

All sounds became distant as she let the current pull her with it. The shrill shrieks of the dying ellith, the grunts of the orcs, the shouts of the men – all of it sounded as if coming from the far side of a long tunnel.

When her lungs burned with lack of air, Aerneth cautiously popped her head up, allowing her feet to reach the rocks of the riverbed. She had drifted several yards, but as far as she could tell, all orcs were effectively being killed. 

Soon the men began to drag the corpses off the road, gathering them in two piles; orcs in one, ellith in another. 

Crawling ashore, Aerneth limped towards them.

“Oy!” cried one of the men, pointing at her and speaking to his comrades in his own language. 

She paid him no attention, for a golden mane of hair had caught her gaze. It was Finduilas, leaning against a tree trunk, feebly clasping the crude shaft of an orc spear emerging from her chest. Her breathing was shallow and laboured, and bloody froth trickled from her pale lips.

Aerneth placed her hand over the others' cold fingers, knowing instinctively there was nothing to be done, but at least wanting to offer her some small comfort. 

A man joined them, sadly shaking his head. “She won’t make it,” he said in a strong human accent.

“Mormegil…” Finduilas’ voice was barely more than a whisper, and she met the man’s gaze unsteadily. “Tell Mormegil Finduilas is here.” She breathed out one last time, and her body went limp.

“Who’s Mormegil?” asked the man, turning to Aerneth. “But forgive my manners. I’m Dorlas of Brethil.” He bowed in the way of men. ”Let me help you with that.” He proceeded to untie her bound hands. 

“Mormegil is… was a captain in Nargothrond. I do not know whether he still lives.” Aerneth rubbed her raw, chafed wrists. “Tell me… were there any survivors?”

“None but you, My Lady.”

None but you. She had saved herself, but all the other captives were dead. A surge of guilt hit her almost painfully, but she pushed it down.

“I need… I need to go to Doriath. Can someone direct me to a path?”

“Pardon me, but you’re in no state to go anywhere. Come with us, and have your wounds tended to.”

“Nay! I have to.” She frowned at the man. She had delayed too long, and even now the dragon might be on his way to Doriath. There was no time to lose, could not this scruffy oaf see that?

The man visibly cowered at the look on her face. “In that case… it’s that way. You can see where the path begins, between the twin beeches.”

“Aye, I see it. Thank you.” She gave him a curt nod before leaving, feeling him and his fellows looking long after her.

The path was narrow, and the trees still covered with leaves, coloured in the merry reds and yellows of autumn. The result was a dimly lit tunnel through the forest, and in Aerneth’s exhausted state it was hard to see where she went. Many times she lost her way and had to retrace her steps. 

Soon she was dragging her feet behind her. The only thing keeping her going was the horrible vision of Glaurung setting fire to Menegroth, and Thranduil covered in flames. 

It must not happen. It must not happen. It must not happen. She repeated the words to herself like a spell.

Many hours later, Aerneth finally reached the outskirts of Doriath and felt the slight warmth of Melian’s Girdle against her face as she passed through it. She wanted to lay down and sleep right there, but knew she could not risk it. There was still a long way left to the city.

She heard a rustle in the fronds above, and a shape dropped down from the tree. In normal circumstances, Aerneth would have been frightened, but now she did not react at all. She regarded the approaching ellon impassively.

Then she suddenly recognised him, and gasped in surprise. 

“Amroth?”

He looked equally baffled. “Aerneth?” He sounded a happy yelp and caught her in his arms, nearly crushing her. “Blessed be the Valar, it’s you!” Then he seemed to realise what a sad state she was in, and changed his grip so he could support her on one shoulder instead. “What happened?” he asked concernedly. “You are hurt.”

“I must warn you. A dragon… a dragon approaches.” All energy had left her now that she had found someone, and she had a hard time staying awake.

“I shall take you to the captain at once,” he said.

Aerneth only mumbled something incoherently, resting heavily on the other as they began to walk, and after a short while Amroth picked her up in his arms and carried her the rest of the way.

Under half-closed eyes, she dimly perceived a familiar wood cabin between the trees, and a group of elves clad in the march-warden colours emerging as they approached. Aerneth had only eyes for one of them; the tall one in the middle, with his long, straight, silvery blonde hair. She wanted to call his name, but nothing came out.

All colour left the ellon’s face as he hurried towards them. “Is she…? Is she–” His voice was distorted. 

“I’m alive,” she murmured. 

He breathed out slowly. Taking her from Amroth, he gently pressed her against his own chest. 

Aerneth drew in her husband’s familiar scent, and felt his strong arms around her, and all she wanted to do was cry her heart out and never leave his embrace. But there was no time. A dragon was waiting for them, and whether from his fire or some other, unknown horror, Doriath would be ruined. There was no time.


A/N:

At least now our long-separated couple is united, but for how long? Can they manage to behave this time? By the Prologue you know they get a kid… :) So despair not!





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