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Swan Song  by Conquistadora


The next morning, it was plain that something had finally and indisputably changed.  The sun shone as brightly as ever, but there was an oppressive mood of indignation on the air.  The Elves were now uniformly grim and taciturn, all of them rebelling as one against their social obligation to endure the abuse of shortsighted Men like Baldor of Lamedon.  


Imrahil emerged from his pavilion cautiously.  He had no reason to personally fear the wrath of Thranduil’s people, but the discontent was palpable.  It was dangerous.  There was an uneasy quiet over the field of Cormallen, nothing like the tranquility of the previous morning.  No one seemed to know what to do or say.  Everyone was talking, but no one dared to raise their voices or disturb the uncanny hush.  


The ceremonies which had been planned for later that morning were deferred until the King had taken counsel on the matter.  Imrahil could see him now, a brooding figure of black and white and silver, stalking across the field in a foul temper.  He went to join him.


Elessar seemed pleased to see him, or at least as pleased as he could be under the circumstances.  “I have spoken to Thranduil,” he said.  “His patience is at an end, although he will take no action yet out of deference to me.  He has asked that Lord Baldor be taken into my custody by the end of this day and that an inquiry be made into his activities, or he will withdraw to Emyn Arnen.  He suspects, as do I, that the majority of the Elves will follow him without having to be compelled.”


Imrahil frowned.  “That would be a grievous blow.”


“It would be insufferable!” Elessar growled.  “I cannot blame him for securing his own safety and that of his people, but I would not have the safe-conduct of the King of Gondor made worthless!”


“Many are wondering now if it might not be best to forego the remainder of the festival.”


“That would be worse,” Elessar insisted.  “If I cannot enforce my will in such a trifling matter as this, then my reign is impotent.  I have already agreed to Thranduil’s terms, but the Lord of Lamedon is proving elusive.”


“I have not laid eyes upon him since the day we arrived in Minas Tir—, excuse me, Minas Anor,” Imrahil said, turning where he stood to survey the encampment behind them.  “Did he come to Ithilien at all?”


“I have had mixed reports of him, even rumors that he is here in disguise.”  Elessar glowered back at the pavilions as well, his keen eyes even now searching through the figures moving about in the morning light.  “If he is here I will have him, even if I must comb the forest until sundown.  Perhaps the Queen was correct in her suspicion that I have been too lenient.”


“A just king could have done little else,” Imrahil assured him.


Faramir came out of the camp to meet them on the hillock where they stood.  The stern set of his features did not bode well.


“What report have you for me, Prince of Ithilien?” Elessar demanded.


“I regret that it is not better news, my lords,” Faramir frowned, coming to stand with them.  “There has yet been no report of Lord Baldor, nor of Beleg, despite the night search.  The mood among our guests could not be much worse; the Elves are ready to come to blows, and there are not a few of our people who are willing to oblige them.  As much as I am loath to admit it, I believe it would be folly to continue here.”


“No.”  The King was unmoved, though it seemed his agitation was building.  “Thranduil can hold his own in check, and any Man of Gondor found to be goading them is to be immediately seized.”


Faramir looked exasperated.  “Legolas is too incensed even to speak,” he said, “and I hazard to say that he is the most even-tempered among them.  That is how far gone our situation is, my King.  To stay would be to lay tinder near the fire.”


Elessar pressed his lips into a firm line.  “I know your counsel is sound, Faramir,” he said, “but I will not disband this gathering yet, at least not until we have made an effort to meet Thranduil’s conditions.  Continue the search and detain anyone behaving in hostile manner.”


A page boy came running toward them over the grass.  Winded by the urgency of his errand, he bowed and gave a folded paper to Faramir.  “The Elvenking would see you at once at his pavilion, my lord,” he said.


All three of them scowled.  “What can he want with you?” Elessar asked aloud.  “I just spoke with him.”


Faramir shrugged and turned back.  “It would be best to find out,” he said, “especially in this climate.”


Elessar and Imrahil watched him go, each brooding over his own thoughts for a moment.  A contingent of Rohirrim emerged from the wood, exercising their horses around the perimeter.


“I am concerned about Beleg of Pelargir,” Elessar said slowly, turning the conversation.  “I cannot help but feel that his disappearance is of greater consequence and worth more consideration than this tiresome devilry.”


“I agree, my lord,” Imrahil said.  “There seems to be greater danger afoot than we suspected, and that alone may be reason enough to act on Faramir’s counsel and remove to Minas Anor.”


“Only when all other recourse is exhausted,” the King insisted adamantly.  “We have a small army gathered here in good men and loyal allies.  Surely we can apprehend a few cowards skulking in the wood.”


A tremendous force threw them both to the ground with a wave of blistering heat and a sound like a thunderclap.  Momentarily stunned, Imrahil forced himself upright.  The thundering continued in a storm of crackling explosions, engulfing Thranduil’s pavilion in a roaring inferno of red fire and screaming green embers.  Angry plumes of black and white smoke billowed into the sky, intermingling to form a dirty grey soot which began pelting down on the screaming crowds stampeding from the scene.  


Elessar regained his feet, startling Imrahil out of his horrified stupor.  They rushed toward the devastation as quickly as they could manage along with a small host of frantic Elves and the bravest Men present, cinders falling all around them.


The explosions had ceased as they drew near, but the ruins of the pavilion were well alight.  Disembodied limbs lay strewn amidst the burning debris.   As if by some miracle of survival, Thranduil had been blown clear of the flames and was just pulling himself up as they approached.  He was scorched and lacerated with blood seeping from his ears, but he was very much alive.  


“My lord!” Imrahil called to him over the roar of the flames and the ringing in his own ears.  He ran to his side and offered his hand, helping him to his feet.  “Are you badly hurt, my lord?  Anírach i dulu nín?  Aphado nin!  We must move away from here!”


Thranduil seemed thoroughly shocked for a moment, unable to comprehend what had just happened.  Imrahil had some doubt that he could hear him at all.  But, deafened or not, the Elvenking’s vacant eyes soon became hard and wild, and he threw aside Imrahil’s hand.  “No, no, no!” he shouted, at once panicked and enraged.  “Not here, not now!  What has he done?”  He choked, coughed, and spat blood onto the ground.


“My lord, go!” Imrahil commanded, although he did not expect the king to obey him.  “You are injured and need attention!”


What remained of Thranduil’s guard appeared looking no better than he did, but they took him in hand as best they could, mindful of their first duty.  Éomer had set his Rohirrim to the forward-thinking task of cutting down the pavilions adjacent to the blaze lest they be lost as well.  Other wounded were gathered and shepherded away from the area.  Legolas emerged with some difficulty, burnt and battered and calling urgently for assistance, dragging Faramir from the flames by the collar.  


Imrahil ripped off his cloak.  He and Elessar lay Faramir across it and bore him away by the corners.  Physicians, their apprentices, and anyone with even a passing interest in medicine were gathering at a field hospital which had spontaneously formed safely beyond the fire’s reach. They brought Faramir there, and a physician went to work on him at once.


“Aragorn!”  Gimli’s anxious voice rose above the confusion as he and a few other Dwarves pushed their way through the crowd.  “Does he live?  Ah, then there is not a moment to waste!  Frár has seen and treated these sorts of injuries many times and will know what to do.”


Nerdanel came running, closely followed by Amrothos and Erchirion, and threw her arms around Imrahil.  She choked back a sob at the sight of the victims.  “Oh, Faramir!” she cried.  “I pray they have not killed him!”


Rather than move them again, Queen Arwen ordered a tent erected over the victims where they lay to shield them from the sun and falling ash.  The dead were gathered elsewhere.


Much of the rest of the day passed in a haze of urgent activity and false calm.  Everyone was shocked by the brutal crime, but there was too much to be done to dwell on it yet.  Since they lacked any effective means to extinguish the fire, it was left to burn itself out.  The dead were shrouded in bedding or whatever else was close at hand, and prepared for a hasty burial.  The King’s Guard and their auxiliaries were dispatched to keep order in the festival grounds and to alert the others on duty in Minas Anor.  The search for Baldor of Lamedon was no longer a quiet affair, and a royal warrant was issued for his capture.  Witnesses were sought, but no one seemed to have seen anyone placing the stolen fireworks in the Elvenking’s pavilion or noticed anything out of the ordinary.  


By late afternoon, there was nothing left to do but to let the healers and the soldiers do their work.  King Elessar resumed his principal duties and relieved Imrahil to find some solace with his family.  Too restless to stand down yet, Imrahil returned to visit the wounded once again.  The air in the tent was thick with the smell of blood and crushed athelas.


Faramir was conscious, but struggling to breathe and obviously suffering terribly.  Éowyn and Nerdanel attended him closely.  They both looked up as Imrahil approached.


Despite his condition, Faramir managed a cheerless smile.  “Fate, it seems, is determined to see me burned alive,” he whispered.  The effort set him coughing and spitting up blood.


“Hush,” Éowyn commanded, wiping up the mess and wetting her husband’s lips with a cloth.  “He is supposed to cough,” she explained to Imrahil.  “Frár says it will eventually clear the damage to his lungs.


Imrahil nodded.  “Listen to your lady wife,” he agreed.  The mere fact that Faramir still had spirit enough to make light of the situation was reason to hope, but he was fortunate to be alive at all, and certainly not out of danger.  His leg was splinted from the hip to the ankle, and his hands were heavily bandaged.  It would be a struggle to keep morbidity from setting in.  “We have sent for boats from Osgiliath,” Imrahil told them, “and we will be withdrawing to Minas Anor in the morning.  Rest as well as you can until then.”


“Who has done this, Imrahil?” Éowyn demanded then, her voice venomous.  “Who would dare?  Was it the Lord of Lamedon?”


“I can assure you the Lord of Lamedon will not escape whatever punishment is due him,” Imrahil said icily.  “Your husband needs your concern now more than he.”


“Find him,” she said.  “Find him and burn him!”


“He will not escape the King, my lady,” Imrahil insisted sharply.  “And if his intent was indeed to destroy the Elvenking, I suspect he will heartily regret missing his mark.”  He sighed, and softened his tone.  “I swear to you both, justice will be done, little comfort though it may be now.”


Imrahil and Nerdanel shared a tense glance.  She held her peace, but she clearly shared Éowyn’s feelings on the matter.  


Continuing his rounds, Imrahil left the healer’s tent, walked across the open expanse of the field and approached with some trepidation the Elvenking’s new quarters.  The spare pavilion had been pitched a haughty distance from the rest, and was guarded by at least sixty Elven soldiers.  Recalling that Thranduil had originally ridden from the north with only six, Imrahil recognized just how completely his confidence in Elessar’s protection had been destroyed, and justifiably so.


The guards eyed Imrahil warily, and seemed reluctant to allow him to pass.  “What business brings you here?” the senior commander demanded gruffly.  He was not Dorthaer, which could only mean Thranduil’s chief guardsman was either dead or incapacitated.  


“I am Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth and Marchwarden of King Elessar,” Imrahil said solemnly.  “I have come to inquire after our friend, the King of Eryn Lasgalen.”


“The King is not disposed to receive anyone, whatever his rank,” the commander informed him bitterly.


Under the circumstances, Imrahil forgave his temerity.  He knew how ardently the Lasgalenath revered Thranduil, and any attempt on his life would have been insufferable without it being so callous and ignoble as this.


“Captain Tavoron.”  Another Elf emerged from the pavilion, one who seemed vaguely familiar to Imrahil.  After a moment, he recognized him to be Erelas, one of the party that had visited Dol Amroth and was usually attached to Legolas.  “Prince Imrahil is deemed an Elf-friend and is not to be refused.”


Tavoron glowered at him, but did not object.  Erelas, like his brother, Gwaelas, had that singular air of one who was accustomed to speaking for kings and princes.  The guards briefly stood aside to allow Imrahil to pass, then immediately closed ranks behind him.  Erelas admitted him into the pavilion.


Legolas was seated within the first partition.  The impression would have been that he was holding court in his father’s absence, or that he had set himself as a final guard between their wounded and the world outside, but the grim dignity of his position was lessened somewhat by the fact that he was finally having his arm set and bound.  Imrahil was mildly surprised to find Gimli there, but upon reflection realized he probably should not have been.


“He would not let anyone attend him until now,” Gimli complained gruffly, observing the proceedings from a cushion in the corner.  “Far too noble for his own good.”


“I am in no danger of dying, my friend,” Legolas insisted, his voice was roughened by the wet cough that seemed to afflict all those who had been nearest the blast.  “Many others could not say the same.”


“How many?” Imrahil asked grimly.


Legolas’ features hardened as the physician deftly wrenched his upper arm back into alignment and set about applying a splint.  “Ten dead,” he said at last.  “Four who will be fortunate to last the night.”


“Your father, the king, is not among those, I trust.”


“Indeed not.”  The wry tilt of his brow seemed to imply quite the opposite.  “His injuries are not insignificant, but he has survived much worse.  He is too angry to be debilitated for long.”


Something in the pit of Imrahil’s stomach turned cold.  “May I speak to him?” he asked.


Legolas shook his head.  “He is sleeping now to better heal himself, but I tell you he will wake in a matter of hours, and he will be terribly refreshed.  You may let it be known that Baldor Angborion would do well to cast himself upon Elessar’s mercy before Thranduil comes for him.”


“We cannot be certain yet of Lord Baldor’s guilt,” Imrahil ventured to remind him.


“Perhaps not,” Legolas said sternly, clenching his jaw as his wrist was stabilized.  “But someone has violated a royal safe-conduct, spilt immortal blood in a time of peace, and by the most craven means attempted to murder our king.  In Eryn Lasgalen his life would be forfeit, and we will have him one way or another, be he titled or not.”


Several apologies, objections, and cautions rose in Imrahil’s mind, but before he could decide which was most appropriate he noticed Legolas scowling and turning his head from side to side.  “My lord, are you still unwell?” he asked.


“My hearing remains somewhat impaired,” Legolas explained, uncharacteristically cross and impatient.


“Happens after a blast,” Gimli said.  “Knowing him, it will set itself right sooner than I expect, but considering how much he usually hears, it must feel like walking blind.”


“What news of Faramir?” Legolas asked suddenly, changing the subject.  “I did attempt to shield him from the fire, but he seemed already more seriously injured than I.”


“Faramir still lives,” Imrahil told him, “and that I believe we owe to your quick action and the expertise of Master Gimli’s friends.  He is well attended by his wife and mine, but his condition is indeed serious and may yet worsen.”


“It all seems so crude and thoughtless,” Legolas complained as his arm was secured against his chest.  “I cannot understand what would make any man so desperate to assault my father that he would risk endangering so many.  Surely it was not worth the Steward’s life!”


“Faramir was present quite by accident,” Imrahil assured him.  “He and I were with King Elessar only moments beforehand, and it was only to answer your father’s summons that he left us.”


Legolas’ eyes narrowed sharply.  “You say my father summoned Faramir?  When?  I was with him when he spoke to Elessar and until a moment before the blast.  He summoned no one.”


The noise of another confrontation began outside.  Captain Tavoron was a very jealous gatekeeper.  Erelas quietly excused himself to investigate and returned in a matter of moments.  “You are summoned before King Elessar, Prince Imrahil,” he said.  “The messenger believes it to be an urgent request.”


“Indeed it must be,” Imrahil agreed.  “He only just dismissed me.”


Imrahil abruptly took his leave and accompanied the messenger to the King’s quarters.  The blast site was still smoldering as they passed it, an ugly scar in the midst of the bright festival grounds.  It did anger him, now that he had time enough to indulge his own emotions.  Legolas was quite correct; the brutal indifference of the crime merited death by Gondor’s law as well as Eryn Lasgalen’s.  He did not expect Elessar to refuse Thranduil satisfaction when the guilty man was apprehended.  


The King’s Guard did not bother to announce him as he arrived at Elessar’s pavilion, allowing him to pass unhindered into the soft light filtering through the white and silver-spangled roof.  The King was waiting for him with a collection of Rangers, both northern and southern.  “Imrahil,” he said, beckoning him to join them, “I fear it is more ill news.”


“A site of significant bloodshed has been identified by hounds not far from the bonfire,” a Ranger explained.  “There is also evidence to suggest a fight took place.”


“Can it not simply be the blood of carrion?” Imrahil asked.  “Perhaps the work of a beast?”


The Ranger looked grim.  “The beast who spilled this blood did its utmost to stem the flow before dragging its victim several paces away and putting it onto the back of a steel-shod horse,” he said.


The implications were obvious, and the evidence seemed beyond question when so many experienced Rangers concurred.  Imrahil felt sick again.  “Has Lady Ivriniel been informed?” he asked.


“It may not be Beleg’s blood,” Elessar insisted.  “I would not grieve her until I can confirm the worst.  I have not the means of doing so at present, but no others have been reported to be missing, at least not before this morning.”


“We tracked the horse as far as the east river,” the Ranger continued, “but there it entered the water and the trail was lost.”


“Increase your presence along all likely avenues of travel,” Elessar commanded them.  “I and a great deal of the army will be otherwise occupied by a manhunt of our own.  Report to me as you see fit.”


The Rangers bowed and went to do as they were commanded, leaving Elessar and Imrahil strangely alone.  The majority of the King’s attendants had been dispatched upon other errands as they struggled to contain the disaster.


“Walk with me, Imrahil,” Elessar said.  “I crave your counsel.”


“I am at your service, my lord.”


The King’s Guard hovered as close as propriety would allow, lest any grave misfortune befall more than one crowned head today.  


“It seems Faramir’s warnings were nigh prophetic, as usual,” Elessar said bitterly.  “It was folly not to suspend the festival after the incidents of yesterday.”


“Nothing happened yesterday that could not be attributed to drunken swaggering and loose lips,” Imrahil assured him.  “This is different.  There is malice and calculation behind this act, and I doubt it was the work of a drunken lout.”


“Perhaps,” Elessar admitted.  “Do you suspect the Lord of Lamedon?”


Imrahil hesitated.  “He is the obvious suspect,” he said.  “Might he not be too obvious?”


“Guilty or not, I will have him seized,” Elessar said.  “Even if he be innocent of this, he may yet have some insight to offer.”  His expression softened.  “I have yet to hear you mention your sister’s son.”


“I would rather not speak of it, my lord,” Imrahil said.  He suspected that if he did, he may be unable to contain himself.  “As a marchwarden of Gondor, I cannot allow myself to be compromised by personal affection.  Until Faramir has recovered, I must prove equal to his duties as well as my own.”


“Indeed,” Elessar agreed, “and I suspect I shall have great need of you.  Rest now, if you can; there is little to be done except to maintain order until we remove the wounded tomorrow.  I deem it best to leave Éomer and the Rohirrim to garrison this place until we know better what has happened.  Bard and Thorin have offered their parties to reinforce them.  The perpetrator has seriously offended the Dwarves by using their fireworks in his crime, and they say they have destroyed what few remained.”  The King paused and sighed heavily, seeming to recognize that he was talking merely to fill the silence.  “Go and sleep, Imrahil,” he said at last, waving him away.  “We may soon be glad of the opportunity.”


“Yes, my lord.”


As he walked back through the growing dusk, Imrahil was dimly aware of being very tired despite his restless mind.  This day had certainly not made him any younger.  He did not want sleep; he wanted to act.  The anger and resentment he had subordinated to his primary duties was burning inside him.  His only consolation was the knowledge that soldiers, Rangers, and Elves alike were already scouring the surrounding country and did not need his assistance to do their duty.  It was his duty to be present when Elessar required him, and that meant he should sleep while he may.


He stopped to see Faramir once more before retiring to his pavilion.  His nephew was resting as well as he might while Éowyn carefully observed his breathing and Nerdanel steeped more athelas.  The steam made the atmosphere inside the tent rather heavy, but was no doubt soothing to bruised lungs.  Faramir’s man, Beregond, was there keeping vigil, acting as a personal guard.  Outside, an informal choir of Elves had seated themselves in the shadows beyond the torchlight, singing for the benefit of their friend, the Prince of Ithilien, and those other Men of Gondor who had been wounded alongside their king and kinsmen.  Their strong but gentle voices seemed to have laid a preternatural calm over the place, although those who understood their lament recognized that it held abundant promise of vengeance.


Imrahil said nothing, not wishing to disturb the tenuous peace.  He merely put his arm around his lady and kissed her forehead.  Nerdanel slumped against him for a moment, drawing what strength she could from his presence.  He could not stay, and she understood why.  They all knew their duty.  


As Imrahil returned into the darkness, suddenly wearier than he had felt for years, he saw a child approaching.  Assuming it to be Alphros come to see his uncle, Imrahil knelt to intercept and dissuade his grandson from interrupting Faramir’s rest.  At the same moment, the torchlight revealed someone very different.  Imrahil realized he must be very weary indeed.  “Good evening, Master Peregrin,” he said.


Pippin was momentarily startled, his thoughts obviously elsewhere.  “Oh, Prince Imrahil!  Please forgive me, I was . . .”


Imrahil raised a hand to forestall any explanation.  “We each have our own griefs today,” he said.


“I have come to relieve Beregond’s watch,” Pippin explained.  “He must be exhausted by now.  Merry and I may be small, but we have our duties as well, and we want to be of some service.”


“Surely the capabilities of Hobbits can no longer be doubted,” Imrahil observed with a wan smile.  “By all means, attend your duties, Peregrin.  Guard him well; it would be hard on me if anything worse were to befall him.”


“I will, my lord.”


Ciryon was dead asleep when Imrahil finally reached his pavilion.  Rather than wake him, Imrahil preferred to attend his needs himself.  He removed his circlet, cape, and sword, and sat to remove his boots.  One of their great black dogs approached and lay her head on his knee, gently wagging her tail, attentive to his silent distress.


The raw emotion Imrahil had been suppressing all day rose suddenly to drown him.  He bit his tongue rather than make a sound, but the tears would not be contained.  He remembered Faramir in his youth, those brief years he and Boromir had lived at Dol Amroth, their father too absorbed in his own grief to grieve with them.  Imrahil loved that boy, Finduilas’ last child, and he was not prepared to lose him.  


He calmed himself with a great effort, resuming a flinty expression.  He would let his anger make him whole again, even as Thranduil did.  He took up his jeweled sword, drew the blade and thrust it into the earth.


“If the Valar are yet attentive to what remains of the Men of Númenor,” he said, “let them hear now.  I swear upon my honor that this treachery will not go unpunished, nor this injury unrequited, not while I yet live.”


 




“My lord.  My lord, forgive me.”


Imrahil sat bolt upright, waking suddenly from a dream he could not remember.  Ciryon had been shaking him gently, and now retreated a pace.  It seemed only a moment ago that he had closed his eyes, and yet the brilliant colors of dawn were glowing against the tent cloth.  “What is it?” he demanded.  “Has King Elessar summoned me?”


“King Thranduil has requested your presence, my lord,” Ciryon clarified.  


He was awake.  That news alone was enough to shock the sleep from Imrahil’s mind.  He leapt out of bed and quickly dressed in the clothes Ciryon provided, a thousand thoughts competing for his attention.  “What have we heard of Faramir?” he asked first of all.


“Prince Faramir has survived the night,” Ciryon reported, helping him with the finer details.  “He is not much improved, but he does not seem to have weakened.”


“That is perhaps the best we could hope for under the circumstances,” Imrahil said, securing his belt and stamping into his boots.  “Have any arrests been made?”


“Several, but no one seems to know any more about the plot.”


“Somewhere there is someone who knows it all,” Imrahil said darkly.  “Secrets so dreadful as this cannot be hidden for long.”


The moment he was fit to be seen, Imrahil stepped outside and steadied himself with a deep breath.  One of Thranduil’s grim guardsmen waited at a decorous distance.  The Elf offered the Prince of Dol Amroth a slight bow before turning on his heel and leading the way toward the river.  Imrahil followed at once.


A small fleet of swift Elvish boats had appeared overnight and lay moored on the banks of the Anduin, each bearing a rower and shrouded corpse.  The Elvenking stood in the midst of the somber preparations, motionless and silent.  The guardsman stopped several paces distant, and indicated with the slightest nod that Imrahil should proceed.  He would have felt he was intruding had he not been summoned.


“I understand you came to inquire after me yesterday,” Thranduil said in a deliberate and apparently dispassionate tone.  “I regret that I was not fit to receive you.”


“It is of no matter, my lord,” Imrahil said reflexively, though he took care to enunciate clearly, remembering that the Elvenking’s hearing may yet be compromised.  He was immediately struck by how whole Thranduil looked otherwise.  The bloody lacerations of yesterday had already faded to pale pink scars, as if he had closed them by the sheer force of his will.  Also, as Legolas had predicted, Imrahil could feel an unpleasant aura radiating from him, a potent boil of wrath and sorrow and rancor, all veiled by a fragile calm.  It was so distinct, Imrahil almost perceived it as heat.  It was extremely discomfiting.  “Please allow me to express how profoundly we regret the loss of your people.”


Thranduil’s expression darkened, and as he turned toward him, Imrahil could see that some of that uncontainable passion had expressed itself in tears.  “Lancaeron,” he said bitterly, gesturing toward the body in the boat at his feet, “had been with me since before the foundation of Gondor.  He survived the siege of Mordor, all the wiles of the Necromancer and the War of the Ring, only to be murdered in Ithilien.  Ponder that for a moment, and then I believe you may be one of the few Men in this country who may be capable of understanding my loss.”  


His last words were bitten off sharply, and Imrahil could see his rage rising, but Thranduil deliberately suppressed it again with a shuddering breath.  “I am not accustomed to being powerless in these matters,” he said, obviously keenly frustrated, “but a king’s sovereignty in his own realm must not be made a mockery, especially not by other kings.  I am trusting a great deal to Elessar, and to you.”


“You will have your satisfaction, my lord,” Imrahil promised.  “I will do all that lies within my power to see justice done, not only because I desire satisfaction of my own.”


Thranduil nodded gravely.  “Legolas told me that Faramir was injured with us.  I am sincerely relieved that he has not been killed.  I am certain the healers of Gondor know their business, but consider any of mine to be at your disposal should there be a need.”


“Thank you, but I am assured that he is receiving the best of care without depriving your own wounded.”


Thranduil nodded again, and was silent for a while.  “As regards the Prince of Ithilien,” he finally said, “I have also been told that he came to harm because he believed I had summoned him.  Might there have been some misunderstanding?”


“None whatsoever,” Imrahil told him.  “I was present when the message was delivered.  The boy said the Elvenking desired Faramir’s presence immediately.”


“This disturbs me,” Thranduil said, “intriguing though it is.  Find that boy, if you can.  Whoever employed such a clumsy ruse obviously did not intend that I should live to contradict him.”


The boats from Osgiliath arrived later that morning, a mismatched collection of many shapes and sizes, some bearing the royal crest and others that had been temporarily pressed into service.  They were enough to bear away the most seriously injured and all those who would travel with them.  The majority would be taken to Minas Anor with the King, but the wounded Elves were to travel on to Emyn Arnen with Legolas where it was expected that they would be safer.  Thranduil had determined to return to Minas Anor at Elessar’s behest in order to keep abreast of the search for the Lord of Lamedon and the subsequent resolution of the matter.  It was very gracious of him to accept the invitation, and did much to heal the breach of trust between them which the disaster of the previous day had created.  Imrahil knew Thranduil would have no peace if he did not observe the proceedings in the capital, but his going did seem to entail some personal risk, and the doubling of his guard was not questioned.  Imrahil was gratified to see that Dorthaer was not in fact dead, and that he had clawed his way back to health in time to resume his duties; Gwaelas, however, had been so severely wounded that he had yet to awaken, a fact which did much to explain Thranduil’s restless anxiety.


In the back of it all, Beleg’s disappearance remained unresolved.  Ivriniel was sick with worry, and would not be persuaded to return to the city with them.  Failing to convince her, Imrahil charged Amrothos to remain at Cormallen and attend her.  The knowledge of what the Rangers had found in the forest burned in his mind like a toxic secret, but he would not destroy her hope without absolute certainty.  He had not even told Nerdanel.


As they mounted their horses to follow the boats along the river, Imrahil wondered just how many such secrets might reveal themselves in the upcoming days.  He felt certain of nothing except that they would be ugly and unsettling.




 






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