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Swan Song  by Conquistadora

Early in the morning, Elessar heard the special case against the stable hands who had egregiously attacked the Elvenking during the night.  As Imrahil had predicted, the King was mortified and proportionately furious.  Thranduil, however, was still in an extraordinarily magnanimous mood and advocated for mercy.  They were young and misguided, he reasoned, and the Elves of Gondor would win no friends with harsh punishments.  The accused had sobered considerably during the intervening hours, and wisely held their tongues.  Elessar relented, but only slightly, sentencing them to simple imprisonment for the duration of Thranduil’s visit.  Later it was widely rumored that the Elvenking had condescended to visit the young men in their cells and speak at length with each in turn.  After an entire age on the throne, Imrahil mused, Thranduil had clearly mastered the art of kingcraft.

Queen Undómiel had not her elder’s serenity.  Her countenance was dark as she stood beside the King while all gathered for the otherwise festive occasion of the Rededication, her patience clearly at an end.  Elessar had recovered his composure for the sake of the ceremony, resplendent in his black and silver robes of state, but it was painfully clear that the royal couple would have words on that score when the formalities were concluded.

The ceremony was quickly coming to order under the capable guidance of a legion of organizers, and was nearly as grand as the coronation had been.  Every wall and window in the city was hung with proud banners and heraldry, ribbons and pennons.  The gathering was itself a triumph, Men and Elves and Dwarves and Hobbits, five kings and three ruling princes, such as had not been seen in one place since the war.  With the field full of the King’s guests, the population of the city leaned out of windows, stood upon the walls, and crowded into the lower streets to see what they could.  Unfortunately for Imrahil, he was now paying the price for his sleepless night, and he found it difficult to attend all the details of the proceedings.

The King made an impassioned speech about the origins of the city, the first kings and the heritage of Númenor.  He recalled how the city had been renamed Minas Tirith a thousand years ago as it stood the long watch over Mordor during the last age.  Now its watch was ended, and he solemnly declared that henceforth the King's city would be known again as Minas Anor, the name given at its founding.

Gimli the Dwarf proudly pulled a flaxen rope which brought the great canvas veil fluttering to the ground at last.  The Gates shone blindingly bright in the sun, made entirely of mithril, a startling and magnificent contrast to the impervious black stone of the Othram.  After an initial intake of breath, the crowds on both sides of the wall roared with enthusiastic applause.  Trumpets sounded and an impressive ensemble of minstrels struck up a spirited tune.

The Dwarves had done the job exceedingly well.  Within the framework of the gate were cast exquisite panels depicting scenes from the history of Gondor, the topmost being Elendil and his sons, the last the Fellowship of the Ring and the crowning of Elessar.  The great locks were then undone and the gates swung smoothly open to admit the population to the King’s reception.

It was a lavish but very informal affair on the common areas of the Pelannor.  Nobles and commons alike mingled together and sat on the grass, enjoying the beautiful spring weather.  Those who were permitted to attend were specifically those who would not be able to travel to Cormallen, the crippled, the very old, the very young, and those who could not be spared from their duties in the city.  The King did not wish to see anyone cheated of the grand occasion because of their circumstances.

Servants wandered through the crowds bearing large trays of food and drink as the minstrels continued their playing with astonishing energy.  It was much finer fare than that to which the ordinary citizens were accustomed, with an almost obscene abundance of meat, cheese, and wheat bread.  Some of it was genuinely Elvish, including the intriguing sweet buns which occasionally contained a gold coin.

Imrahil was standing with the King when the Queen approached them.  She had been smiling for her people for an hour and now clearly wanted a moment with her husband.  Imrahil moved to discreetly step away, but Elessar stopped him.

“No, Imrahil,” he said.  “This will concern you as well.”

“I would have you remove Baldor to Lamedon at once, my lord,” Arwen said brusquely so that she might be heard over the pipes and drums.  “I am certain he incited those young men to attack King Thranduil, and I would not risk him bringing any more dishonor upon your house.”

“If Baldor dishonors anyone’s house,” Elessar countered, “it is his own, not mine.  In any case, the young men in question deny his involvement, and the Lord of Lamedon has thus far abided by the terms of his continued presence among us.  It would be unjust of me to do any less.”

The Queen scowled, but could not dispute the fact.  “I expect worse will come if we do not remove him.”

“Or perhaps we may hope that the King’s law commands enough respect to discourage any more rash exploits,” the King insisted.  “We cannot make judgements against what may be.  Do not think it does not irk me, but King Thranduil himself was gracious enough to take no offense.  The matter is resolved.  Let us not draw undue attention to the incident.”

Arwen was clearly not satisfied, but she would not defy him in public.  “If that is your will, my lord,” she said.  “But I beg you would set guards to watch him.”

Aragorn smiled mischievously.  “The fact that you have not already observed them tells me they are doing their work very well indeed.”

She seemed reassured by that.  “Of course, you have already been very thorough.  I do not know why I expected otherwise.  I will abide by your decision, but I have borne that man’s insolence long enough.”

“I know, my love,” the King said, taking her hand sympathetically.  “Do not let him steal your joy.  I will deal with him in due time.”

Imrahil was distracted then by the approach of Ivriniel and Beleg, both of whom seemed to be in refreshingly good spirits.

“Brother Imrahil!” Beleg called to him, waving a mug of ale with his good arm, his abbreviated one wrapped warmly around his wife.  “Come, tell us the truth of the matter.”

“The truth of what?” Imrahil asked, bemused.

“Come now,” Ivriniel said, her eyes sparkling.  “We have heard the incredible account of what happened last night, how ten of Baldor’s ruffians dared draw blade against King Thranduil, and that he dispatched them all with hardly an effort!”

“No one was dispatched,” Imrahil insisted, “and they were only five stable boys with clubs and a hayfork.  Elessar has them in prison.”

“Oh.”  Ivriniel looked sincerely disappointed.  “That does make the tale less romantic.  No one writes a ballad about a hayfork.  Still, I imagine even ten armed men would be no challenge for him.”  She glanced across the field at the Elvenking with conspicuous admiration.

“No doubt,” Imrahil agreed flatly, a little embarrassed by his elder sister’s ludicrous flirtation, though her husband did not seem to mind.  “Let us pray we never have need to confirm his prowess.”

“What a folly that was.  What could they have been thinking?”

Imrahil shrugged.  “Thranduil himself asked Elessar for clemency because it seemed that ale had done a great deal of their thinking for them.”

“Ill-equipped and drunk!” Beleg laughed.  “My dear, I am afraid no part of this affair is worthy of a ballad.”

Nerdanel appeared at Imrahil’s side and slipped her arm around his.  “These are wonderful,” she said, handing him a pastry.  “I have sent a servant to discover the recipe if he can.  With any luck, it will not require some mysterious Elvish magic.”

“Indeed,” Imrahil agreed with a smile.  “It may prove very expensive for me to have them regularly sent from Ithilien for you.”

She laughed.  They both knew she would never ask for anything so impractical, but that he would not deny her if she did.

“Tell me what else you have discovered during your foray into the public,” Imrahil said playfully.  It was easier to let her keep him abreast of all the best gossip.  “Unless, of course, you were completely distracted by sweets.”

“The Elves and the Dwarves seem to enjoy a more agreeable relationship than legend would have us believe,” she said.  “They are by no means the best of friends, but they do not seem abhorrent to one another, with perhaps a few exceptions.  Perhaps we may attribute that to the good influence of Legolas and Gimli.”

“Perhaps,” Imrahil agreed.  “To judge by what I have heard, that must be a recent development.”

“King Thranduil may have made light of that incident last night,” Nerdanel continued, “but his guard are of quite a different temper.  They will not leave his side for a moment, and they bristle like badgers when anyone approaches him.  His manservant insists upon tasting all his food despite the unlikelihood of any poisoning attempt here.”

“Yes, Gwaelas,” Imrahil said, remembering the Elf’s name.  “If someone tries to poison anyone at this event, we are all at risk.”

“Lord Erellont is paying an extraordinary amount of attention to our Lady Éowyn,” she said, abruptly changing the subject.  “He seems almost infatuated with her.”

“Many are,” Imrahil said.  After all, it was hardly to be wondered at.  “Poor Erellont.  Come, let us have a proper look at these gates.”

There was a perpetual crowd gathered around the city’s newest adornment, constantly shifting as those who had already inspected the details made way for newcomers.  The gates were actually more impressive upon closer inspection than Imrahil had expected.  Each figure in the crowd had been sculpted to an exacting standard despite the limited space available for the design.  “There!” he said, pointing at a recessed but regal figure in the coronation scene.  “I think that is supposed to be my likeness.  It is less impressive perhaps than that of Legolas, who I notice features prominently in very heroic pose, but that I think I may attribute to bias on the part of the craftsman.”

He elicited a wry laugh from both Legolas and Gimli, who stood nearby.  “I deny all knowledge of it,” Legolas insisted, though his smile was fleeting.  

It was so rare to see him in bad temper that Imrahil was immediately concerned, though he could guess the cause.  “It was truly unfortunate, what befell your father last night,” he said, moving closer.  “I hope you found the sentence satisfactory.”

“How can I not, when my lord father is prepared to absolve them?”  Legolas replied in a deceptively even tone.  It was clear that he was not satisfied, that he, like the Queen, had endured all the abuse he was prepared to tolerate.  “Fools,” he hissed unexpectedly.  “They are indeed fortunate he is still in such high spirits.  There was a time not long ago when they would have paid dearly for their audacity.  I sincerely hope they do not try his patience to the breaking point.”

“Might do them good,” Gimli said gruffly.  “Someone must teach them respect for kings, including their own.”

“That task belongs to Elessar,” Legolas insisted, “not to Thranduil.”

“Agreed,” Imrail said.  

“It must be very bitter for Arwen,” Legolas continued.  “She has not complained to anyone, but I am truly sorry to see her happiness marred by this senseless unrest.”  

“Let us hope it may yet come to nothing,” Imrahil said.  “As the Elves are known more widely in Gondor, Baldor’s rhetoric will cease to be credible.  It believe that was partly Elessar’s purpose in arranging this celebration.”

Legolas thanked him with a tolerant smile, but he would not be so easily put off his guard.

“I wish I might have a word with him,” Gimli said, fingering his ceremonial axe.  “I have quite a bit to say about the virtues of the Elves, and many arguments which I have had occasion to use against my father and the old guard of Erebor.  But I suppose people like that will not be convinced by anything but their own experience.”

Lord Baldor was conspicuous by his absence.  Perhaps it was wise of him to avoid the King’s events altogether if he felt incapable of keeping quiet, especially in the compromising light of recent events.  No one missed him.

Wandering aimlessly across the green with his wife on his arm, Imrahil surveyed the crowd.  King Thranduil seemed to be enjoying an animated conversation with his northern neighbor, King Bard of Dale, and the Hobbits, Meriadoc and Peregrin.  Ivriniel and Beleg were speaking to Faramir and Éowyn, and the Dwarves were largely keeping their own company.  Children scampered across the grass wearing chains made of the first spring flowers.  Jugglers and acrobats plied their trade hoping to attract some lucrative attention, although Elessar had certainly already paid them for their services.  The King and Queen were graciously receiving every citizen who approached them even though it seemed the endeavor would occupy them long into the evening.

“Come with me, my lord,” Nerdanel said, taking his hand and gently pulling him toward a lively game of rings which the Rohirrim had begun on the grass.  “Let us see if your arm is as good as it ever was.”

The event lasted all day and into the evening, a tedious social chore.  Despite the excellent food, Falathar was quite happy to retire at the earliest acceptable opportunity.  Erellont accompanied him, in a strangely wistful and melancholy mood.

“I saw you fawning over the Princess of Ithilien,” Falathar scolded him as they walked.  “In fact, I believe almost everyone saw you.”

“She is a very admirable lady,” Erellont protested.  

“This is no time for frivolous flirtations.  Surely you remember we are actually endeavoring to murder her husband.”

Erellont grimaced.  “I wish you would not remind me.”

“Now above all we must keep clear heads, and you will be the ruin of us all if you start clouding your mind with lust.  You must not be associated with them at all before we take action.”  Falathar smiled grimly.  “Baldor has positioned himself perfectly, the fool.  Did you hear that some of his compatriots actually dared to assault the Elvenking in the street last night?  The Queen is merely waiting for the slightest excuse to condemn him.  The right bloodshed at the right moment will be his ruin.”

Erellont again looked scandalized.  “You intend to waste the lives of these Elves to mask your purpose?”

“Our purpose,” Falathar corrected him, “and, yes.  It could not be a more perfect time.  There are masses of them here, and they have already been publicly threatened.  Whatever should befall them, Baldor will be suspected immediately.  Should Prince Faramir happen to come to harm, it will be merely a tragic accident.”

Erellont scoffed incredulously.  “Father, Elves have not been my study, but even I have seen enough to know that these are not benign scribes or musicians.  The Lasgalenath may seem peaceful now, but they are dangerous.  By all accounts, their king is ruthless.  Do not wake that beast.”

“You misjudge me, son,” Falathar said grimly.  “If I am to have my way, their celebrated king will never wake again.”

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