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This chapter does not follow on from the first - not really. The first section was, originally, the beginning of the story, but it just didn't really fit with the turn taken by the tale and was, therefore, excised! However, it just didn't want to take rejection - and developed into something slightly different. I was considering posting it separately, but it is really part of this story - so here it is.
Little Acorns Grow
Strong arms wrapped round her, warm and comforting. When had he grown to be so big? It only seemed a moment ago that he had been newly-born, resting trustingly in her protective clasp. Idherien held back a sigh and stroked loving fingers along a hand trained to hold a sword rather than an infant.
‘Have we not lost enough?’ she asked, even as she scolded herself for her foolishness. That was not how the world worked. She knew that. The higher they climbed, the further they had to fall – and fall they would. Had not the drowning of Beleriand taught her that?
He did not answer, but rested his cheek on the top of her head and just let his presence reassure her.
‘You know Adar,’ he said eventually. ‘He is a loving elf and a good king – but he holds on to grudges ages old. He will never forgive the dwarves – and he will always loathe the Exiles.’
‘I have been happy here,’ Idherien said wistfully. ‘Amon Lanc has become home – and I do not want to leave it. Why should we be driven out?’
‘If you cannot persuade Adar to stay, then no-one can.’ Thranduil was philosophical about the change – but then, his mother thought, smiling at him, he was still young enough to think that change was automatically a good thing. And he had spent enough of his life following his parents as they sought a place to call home, that he doubtless thought that settling down was not an enviable fate.
Idherien sighed. She was not sure that it was not a mistake to leave this hill to bury themselves more deeply in the forest – in some ways, it would leave them more vulnerable – but Oropher would not be convinced, and she had long since learned that he was easier to guide if she let him have his head. Only once had she put her foot down and demanded that he give her her way – and the result of that was standing behind her. Which only went to show, she thought wryly, that she knew what she was doing – for their son provided an immense amount of joy to them both.
‘Has your adar decided where we will go?’ she asked.
Thranduil could not entirely suppress his excitement. ‘Not entirely,’ he admitted with attempted nonchalance. ‘He has commissioned me to lead a group to seek the site.’
His mother smiled. No wonder the ellon was less than distressed at the prospect of leaving the home they had built up over the last yeni – Oropher had offered him the perfect enticement. ‘He could not find a better scout,’ she declared. ‘You know what we need – and the Silvan will follow you willingly.’ She squeezed his hand. ‘You may be Sindar-born,’ she said, ‘but the elves of the forest have taken you to their hearts.’
‘Naneth,’ he protested, a wave of colour heating his fair skin.
‘Not least,’ she added dryly, ‘because you throw yourself whole-heartedly into activities of which your adar would thoroughly disapprove.’
That did not discompose him at all. Ellyn were funny creatures, she thought. Embarrassed by open affection – but quite indifferent to accusations of intemperate behaviour that would mortify a sensible elleth.
‘I doubt that Adar is ignorant of anything I do,’ he observed. ‘Or that I do anything he has not done himself! Silvan customs …’ he grinned at his mother, ‘are – as everyone has been telling me since we arrived in the Greenwood – different. In taking part, I am … I am showing my respect for tradition!’
‘The Silvan,’ she said lightly, ‘have a tradition of marrying young. I have not observed you attempting to follow that custom.’
‘Nor will you,’ her son declared instantly, loosening his clasp on her and stepping back, eager to run from the repetition of a conversation that went round in circles. ‘I have not yet found the one who is right for me – and I am not looking.’
‘It is not one of those things you can force,’ Idherien agreed. ‘But both your adar and hers would have been happy if you and Matheniel …’ She sighed. ‘Especially since …’
Thranduil grinned wickedly. ‘Matheniel has always been too much of a sister to me,’ he said. ‘And her adar reconciled himself to her choice in the end – even if they all ended up taking refuge in Lórien just to get away from Adar’s glowering.’
‘Oropher has reason not to care for the Noldor,’ his mother reproved him.
‘As a general rule,’ Thranduil agreed. ‘But he is …’ He looked cautiously at Idherien. His mother did not take kindly to criticism of her husband. ‘He is blinkered,’ he said carefully. ‘He sees evil intent where none exists and refuses to look at individuals and judge them on their own merits.’
‘That is not entirely true,’ Idherien said, unable to deny that there was something in her son’s words. ‘He has learned that distrust honestly – and is not beyond suspending it, once his respect has been earned.’
‘He had better learn to suspend it with Matheniel’s husband – if he wants her adar back on his council.’ Thranduil grinned at his mother’s frown. ‘You know it, Naneth.’
‘Some things, my son, are best left unsaid.’ She reached out to tug on one of his blond braids. ‘When are you to leave?’
‘After the festival,’ he told her. ‘Adar sees no reason to rush – not now the decision has been made. He wants us to do this right.’
Idherien’s smile dimmed a little and he moved closer to put an arm round her shoulders. ‘And you must tell me what I am to seek.’
She could not resist giving in to a wisp of mischief. ‘A bride,’ she declared.
In the shadows beyond the broad dancing lawn, Idherien fought nobly to hold back her laughter.
Oropher scowled, only too aware that her sympathies did not rest with him. ‘I am not asking much,’ he protested. ‘Only that …’
‘Only that our son should choose himself a wife to suit his adar,’ his wife nodded, almost as if she were agreeing with him. ‘Decide he loves whomsoever he likes, as long as she fits your idea of a perfect wife.’
‘I am happy for him to take a Silvan bride,’ Oropher objected. ‘Do not twist my worries to make it seem as if I am not!’ He drew closer to her, frowning in a way that would have made many step back – but they did not know him as Idherien did. She smiled and took his hand as he continued, quietly enough that only she could hear him, ‘But what do we know of her? What does anyone know of her?’
‘Perhaps she has bewitched him,’ Idherien suggested.
He began to nod before he picked up the edge under her grave tone.
‘Did you know about this?’ he asked more sharply.
‘Know? As in being in my son’s confidence? No. Know – as in observing that he has, for some time, been clearly desirous of something he could not have, seeing him seek solitude among the trees, noticing his flare of interest in the arrival of strangers from distant parts of the forest – yes. I have noticed that, since he returned from the task of seeking out our new home, Thranduil has shown all the signs of having met somebody in whom he was more than interested.’
Oropher linked his fingers with hers and drew up her hand to kiss her knuckles. ‘I suppose you think I am stupid to have been so … flabbergasted?’ he said.
‘No,’ she said, squeezing his fingers, ‘I think flabbergasted is a very good word.’ She leaned forward to kiss him gently. ‘But I think it best if no-one else realises quite how – flabbergasted – we are. Or they might start to believe that our astonishment means that we are not happy to welcome this elleth to our family.’
‘I suppose we have no say in the matter?’ He sounded wistful. It would be so much easier to put his foot down and inform Thranduil that it was too soon and too sudden – that he needed to take time to learn to know the elleth, while his parents negotiated with hers the intricacies of bonding their houses.
‘None whatsoever.’ Idherien sounded distressingly unconcerned. She looked at him and laughed. ‘Your son, my husband, is as stubborn as you are … and as quick to make decisions.’ She brushed her fingers over his cheekbone and let them linger at the corner of his mouth. ‘How long did it take you to decide to make me your wife, my love? And how much attention did you pay to your family’s concerns?’
‘This is different.’ Oropher hunched a shoulder defensively. ‘I did not announce our intentions on our first meeting!’
‘No …’ Idherien’s lips twitched. ‘I think you waited until the third. And then declared yourself in front of Elu, when my adar felt you were overwhelming me with too much attention and suggested that you should restrain your ardour. It was no wonder that he took time to warm to you.’
Oropher cleared his throat. If asked, he would have said frankly that his wife’s adar would only warm to him if he were on fire. ‘Yes, well …’ he said awkwardly. ‘That is as may be – but what do we do now?’
‘We smile,’ Idherien instructed him. ‘We smile and offer her a kiss of kinship and we take her into our household. And,’ she pointed a warning finger at her husband, ‘we withhold judgment.’ Her sigh was almost imperceptible. ‘We can change nothing,’ she said. ‘Thranduil has made up his mind and she has accepted him. We live with that – or we lose our son … and that is a price I am not prepared to pay.’
Her husband held her close and murmured, his breath warm in her ear, ‘Nor I, my love. Nor I.’
Anor had risen above the trees and gleamed down onto the waters of the lake, turning it into a mirror and the forest appeared to be sleeping after the revelries of the night. Thranduil hesitated. Idherien perched motionless in the dappled shade of the old willow, her posture suggesting that she would prefer not to be disturbed, but she turned and smiled at him and patted the broad root that provided her with a seat.
He hesitated, feeling oddly like an elfling hoping for his mother’s approval when he knew he deserved a scolding.
‘I could not be sure she would come,’ he said.
The tilt of her head made him question that.
‘She said she would come,’ he amended, ‘but not when – or whether she would come straight to my arms. I did not want to …’ he paused, already unsure what had made him keep his love secret, ‘presume,’ he finished.
She continued to watch him.
‘And you told me to go and seek a bride,’ he reminded her airily.
Her narrowed eyes told him that he was unlikely to get away with that.
‘And is she not …’ Even thinking about her warmed him and distracted him and made the glory of the day dim. ‘Is she not beautiful?’
Idherien’s face softened. ‘She is beautiful,’ she agreed. ‘And, for some reason, she seems as unable to take her eyes from you as you are to think of anything but her.’
‘The only way I could endure the wait,’ Thranduil confided, suddenly aware of the reason behind his silence, ‘was to keep my hopes locked away – confine them to a tiny part of my mind and just continue as if they were not there.’ He sat next to his mother, offering his hand, palm upwards, in a gesture of peace. ‘And now … they fill me.’
He shone, Idherien realised, with the glory of love realised and acknowledged. And, for all she had wanted this happiness for him, it still hurt a little to know that he would never again be her son in quite the same way. He had moved on – and was at the brink of a new stage of his life. Which was, she sighed silently, as it should be.
Thranduil looked at her sideways. ‘Adar is less than pleased, is he not?’
‘What makes you say that? Why would he not be happy for you?’ Idherien evaded a direct answer.
‘He does not care for being surprised.’ Oropher’s son grinned ruefully. ‘Or for being put in a position where he cannot express his doubts.’
‘If you know that, then why did you not behave with a little more discretion?’
‘Oh, you know.’ Thranduil’s smile took on a more intimate depth. ‘Sometimes emotions simply overwhelm good sense. I could not risk the possibility that Laerwen would leave me – it seemed only natural to ask her to remain by my side. And, when she agreed …’ He took a deep breath. ‘Nothing else mattered. Nothing! Even though I knew, somewhere in a corner of my mind, that Adar and you might feel I was rushing matters.’
Idherien laughed. ‘I cannot imagine your adar’s son behaving in any other way,’ she admitted, turning to face him squarely. ‘But,’ she warned, ‘your marriage is a different matter! Convention demands that you wait a year – and your adar will expect you to do so.’ She ignored her son’s frown. ‘And it is a wise custom. You need to know more of each other – we need to come to know your bride – and she needs to learn what will be expected of her as wife to Oropher’s heir.’ She silenced him with an admonitory finger. ‘No arguments! What is a year, after all? It can take longer than that to embroider a gown.’
His initial urge to object fizzled away. It was a small thing to ask – even if the passage of the seasons would be a torment to him – and a part of him acknowledged that he and Laerwen knew very little of each other beyond the fact that they belonged together.
‘As it is,’ Idherien mused, ‘Laerwen will have everyone watching her and wondering about your relationship.’ She looked at Thranduil quizzically. ‘You could not have made yourselves more obvious had you tried – it is almost enough to make one suspect that you did it on purpose.’
There was no doubt about it. His mother knew him far too well.
Oropher found her in the arms of an enormous beech only because the joyous murmur of the leaves and the throb of the tree’s pulse revealed an unusual presence. He hesitated, unexpectedly uncertain whether he was wise to approach her in this way. He did not, after all, want his son to think he had been interfering.
She revealed no sign of nerves – just a mild curiosity. He was not altogether sure he approved of that. It was not every day that his son claimed a strange elleth from the deep forest as his bride and he rather felt that she should be more anxious to explain herself. On the other hand, he had to admit that he admired courage and appreciated the refusal of his Silvan people to be overly impressed by their Sindar rulers. It was what an elf did, after all, that should earn reputation – and what he had done had made him king.
He put a hand on the smooth grey trunk and let the tree feel his authority. ‘May I join you?’ he asked politely.
The tree welcomed him, but he found he was rather less certain of the elleth’s feelings on the matter. ‘Of course, my lord,’ she said, but her voice contained the fresh nip of a spring breeze and he wondered what he had done to earn this coolness.
She bowed as he settled on a broad branch opposite her and drew one booted foot up to rest his elbow on his knee. A fair braid slipped over his shoulder to dangle over his tunic, weighted down by the heavy carved bead adorning the leather tie. He remained silent, inspecting her mildly. She bore up well, neither shifting nor looking away, and a slight smile began to lift the corners of her mouth.
‘Are you surprised that your arrival is – disconcerting?’ Oropher asked finally. ‘Or offended, perhaps, that Thranduil’s parents have not embraced you with uncritical enthusiasm?’
‘Not in the least,’ she replied promptly. ‘You would be unusual parents indeed if you were not suspicious of so … immediate … a declaration.’ Her smile widened. ‘I was surprised myself. I had not expected Thranduil to be so … so certain.’
‘Why should he not be? If you were sure of your feelings for him …’ Oropher stopped. Was he now defending his son’s headstrong leap into betrothal? ‘You need to take time to learn to know more of each other than that you are in love. There is more to building a life together than looking into each other’s eyes.’ He raised his chin to look down at her. ‘What of your family, child? What will they think of this?’
‘My adar did not survive the First Age,’ she said, ‘and my naneth would not endure without him. My daernaneth… well, she has consented – but she had little desire to linger here to learn to know those come newly to the forest. She will not dwell where there are so many elves – although she concedes that you care well for the trees. She, too, says that it would be folly to rush – that I might find that I could not be happy among you.’
Oropher bristled. He was almost insulted – who was this Silvan elleth to disregard his people or doubt that her granddaughter would be happy with his son? Only the recollection of Idherien’s words kept his tongue still long enough for him to realise that they all sought the same end. ‘Will you stay with us?’ he asked cautiously. ‘At least for a while? I am sure my wife will want to spend long hours in consultation with you – weddings seem to require more planning and debate than wars.’
‘Some might say that the ill-effects of injudicious marriage can linger longer,’ the elleth said, ‘and cause as much harm.’
She was no innocent, Oropher realised, for all he thought of her as young. There was experience in the lichen-grey eyes and determination enough to take – and abide by – hard decisions. She would be Thranduil’s equal and stand with him through adversity as surely as in prosperity. Perhaps, after all, he did approve of her. The forest certainly did – and it would be no bad thing to be tied to the Silvan by bonds of matrimony. Thranduil’s children – his grandchildren – would be part of the Greenwood in a way that he never could be.
She smiled – and, for a stomach-dropping moment, Oropher felt as if his thoughts were as clear to her as Anor’s light through the leaves. This was not, he knew Idherien would inform him emphatically, an occasion for politics – and he could not think of a better way to blight his relationship with his son’s bride than to have her believe that he looked on her as no more than a diplomatic coup. He softened, anxious to offset an error she could not even suspect.
‘Will you walk with me?’ he suggested. ‘Before my son comes seeking to bear you away? I would like to show you some of the changes we have made here to help the forest accommodate us – and I always enjoy a good excuse to walk the lake shore in preference to meeting with my advisors.’
She nodded her agreement and stood, stepping down the curved branch to where it dropped to the grass as easily as if she were strolling across a woodland glade, and he followed her, taking note of the simplicity with which the forest responded to her. ‘I look forward to coming to know you,’ Oropher informed her, making up his mind. If he could come to appreciate the qualities of his friend’s Noldo son-in-law – even if it was through gritted teeth – he could welcome this elleth. ‘My wife always told me that we should have had a daughter.’
Laerwen smiled – as if she understood him. It was quite worrying – he would face any number of open enemies in preference to a knowing female. Oropher placed the elleth’s hand on his arm and patted her fingers paternally. It would be all right. He would show his approval of the match by walking with her through the heart of the community and then hand her over to his wife. The thought comforted him. Idherien was definitely the one to deal with this – she, at least, would take it in her stride.
The gown was magnificent in its simplicity, Idherien thought. Not for Laerwen a heavy encrustation of pearls from a sea she had never seen. Not for her threads of mithril from the depths of the dwarven realm. Not for her the glint of faceted stones cut by Noldor jewelsmiths. Of the softest green, like the haze of a spring dawn, her robe was adorned with a twining embroidery of small flowers, while in her hair she wore a wreath of leaves and blossoms.
Idherien’s lips twitched. Oropher had been outraged when Thranduil had declared that he, too, would wear leaves in preference to the gleaming circlet that was one of the few treasures that had followed them from Doriath, and it had taken considerable patience and subtlety to convince her husband that this change from tradition was a good thing – symbolic of the new lives they led in forest, and growing out of respect for an ancient custom.
Laerwen, though, had been unimpressed by Oropher’s outburst – what that said of her own family made Idherien wonder, for there were not many who could withstand Oropher at his most forceful. And she was going to be left to wonder, for none of the elleth’s kin had emerged from the deep forest to stand with her on this day. She had seemed unconcerned, saying that it was unnecessary, but Idherien could not help but be indignant on her behalf. What was approval of the match, if it did not include being at the elleth’s side as she and Thranduil claimed each other?
‘You look beautiful,’ she said reassuringly, noticing Laerwen’s fingers shake as she wriggled a twined band of honeysuckle over her hand so that the trumpet-like blooms dangled like charms. ‘Thranduil will be stunned when he sees you.’
‘He will not even notice the effort that has gone into it all,’ Laerwen demurred.
‘But the effect!’ Idherien grinned impishly. ‘The effect will leave him gasping. He will not know what to do with himself.’
‘I doubt that either of us …’ Laerwen puffed out a breath and strove to calm herself.
‘Not much longer.’ Idherien spoke soothingly. ‘I remember my naneth saying something similar to me when Oropher and I … Of course, his adar was not there to stand by him, but Elu did his best to keep Oropher waiting patiently.’ She smiled. ‘And to make him wait a respectable amount of time before he carried me off from the festivities.’ She enveloped her future daughter in a careful hug, unwilling to disturb any of the skilfully-arranged finery. ‘It will be worth it,’ she assured the younger elleth. ‘You will be very happy together. Thranduil is – a worthy recipient of your love. Although, I am his naneth – of course I would think that!’ Her fingers lingered on the back of Laerwen’s hand. ‘My adar, though – he was never really happy with my choice of Oropher. I hope …’ she paused, ‘I hope that your kin …’ She let the suggestion hover between them.
‘They are content with my decision,’ Laerwen declared. ‘They may not altogether understand why I should choose to bind my life with a Sindar prince, but they accept it. And my grandmother may not be here today, but many more distant kin will be with us – and they will celebrate our joining with enthusiasm.’ She turned towards the glade where people were already gathering to watch the brief ceremony that would confirm the new couple’s decision to become one, and the trees around them seemed almost to shiver in anticipation.
‘Not long now. Not long,’ Idherien soothed automatically in the tones of a naneth calming a fretful child. ‘Be patient a little longer. Anor is nearly at rest and Gil Estel will soon begin his path across the sky.’
‘This has been the longest day I have ever passed,’ Laerwen avowed. ‘Every minute has lasted a full year.’
‘Soon you will be hard pressed to pick out a single second of it,’ Idherien informed her. ‘And you will be wishing that you could do it all again, so that you can savour every moment.’
The hum of the trees appeared to intensify momentarily as birdsong subsided and small, scuffling creatures sought their homes, dropping then to a steady throb as the pulse of the forest slowed for the night. The sound of joyous singing swelled among the trees, growing louder as the fires of Anor subsided and the first star brightened.
Idherien smiled and released a breath she had not realised she was holding. ‘Everything is ready,’ she said. ‘And the time has come for you to claim each other … Come, my daughter.’ She extended her arm in a formal gesture, as she prepared to lead Laerwen through the gaggle of maidens waiting to escort the bride. ‘Let us make our way to the place where your groom waits for you, knees knocking – so that you might begin a journey like no other.’ Her voice softened to a murmur as she offered a mother’s blessing to her children. ‘And may you live in happiness together until the world is remade.’
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