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55. Pride and Vanity
Today’s meeting was held in King Elessar’s throne room, and Thranduil looked about him with appreciation. It was a large room, with high pillars similar to the ones in the feast hall Merethrond. The floor was tiled stone, smooth after centuries of feet walking on it, and the walls had several large tapestries between the arched windows. Before the throne, chairs were set out in a semicircle, and Elessar already sat on one. So typical of that man, to sit among his inferiors like an equal rather than use his throne. Thranduil had to hold back a smile at the thought of himself doing something similar back home.
While waiting for the meeting to begin, Thranduil slowly walked from one tapestry to the other, admiring the colors and materials and trying to figure out which part of history they pictured. This one was easy, the Battle of the Pelennor Fields – the oliphaunts were a telltale clue. They had made his son a lot taller than he really was, he noticed. And had he killed an oliphaunt single-handedly like that? He certainly had not mentioned it when he recounted his adventures. Probably artistic license.
It was time to begin the meeting, and Thranduil took his place next to Nugu and Sidra, curiously eyening the others. There, was the Rohirric king, Thranduil had changed a few words with him yesterday and he had seemed rather rough and uncouth. Then, beside him, Elessar and Queen Arwen, and on his other side Prince Faramir, Lady Éowyn, Legolas and his dwarf friend. Then followed a row of Gondorian lords, and a similar row of Rohirric lords, including that horrible woman who was Wynne’s mother.
Everybody stared at the uruk couple next to Thranduil, and he could tell from Nugu’s nervous fingering the hem of his tunic, that it unsettled him. No wonder, too, Thranduil was thankful to not be in the other’s situation.
As the council began, it very soon turned into a heated argument. The Gondorians seemed mostly positive to the suggested peace treaty, and the Rohirrim not at all. Wynne’s mother was clearly the most averse of the lot. Even though Nugu sat right before her, she unabashedly compared the uruk-hai to a horse, and described how a stallion with bad traits would pass them on to all his offspring. Many of the other nobles seemed to take her side, but Thranduil could not discern if it was because they shared her opinion, or if they just did not dare oppose her.
As the discussion droned on at length without really getting anywhere, Thranduil found his thoughts begin to drift.
That woman . Why did he feel a slight chill everytime she opened her mouth – which was often – and every time he looked at her? She was beautiful for a human, with well shaped, regular features and dark hair in an intricate updo, she dressed elegantly and moved gracefully. Her manners were polite of sorts, albeit unrefined, but that went for most of the other Rohirric nobility he had spoken to. Was it her pride and ambition that made him uneasy? But those were not necessarily faults; he himself would not have become king without them, and the same went for his father.
His father, that was the reason. There was a certain ruthlessness and cruelty about Wynne’s mother that reminded him of Oropher. A complete lack of regard for others’ feelings. She had beaten her daughter yesterday, and that had not been the first time. Wynne’s lie had come too naturally – he should know, having fabricated the same falsehoods so many times over the years.
To have this woman as his son’s mother-in-law would mean he must accept her into his own life. He could imagine her in his court, conspiring and plotting, perhaps even scheming to turn his subjects against him if it could increase her influence. It would either work, or make his people laugh at him, Thranduil knew not which was worse.
His temples were beginning to throb. Why had his son drawn him into this mess?
The meeting lasted well into the afternoon, with only short breaks for refreshments and luncheon in Merethrond. When Elessar finally decided they would continue tomorrow, Thranduil’s throbbing temples had matured into a splintering headache, and he longed to remove his circlet. Not wishing to speak to anyone, he just made to leave when Wynne’s father and that woman came up to him, asking to exchange a few words in private, if they may?
Thranduil could not think of an excuse to refuse, and soon found himself listening to an elaborate oration – by the father, surprisingly – about the benefits of accepting his daughter as wife to his son. He brought up future connections with Rohan, trade deals, a dowry – jewels, pearls, horses, anything could be arranged, it would seem. The man spoke like he held a well rehearsed speech, and it was not hard to guess who had written it.
How did this couple know so much about Thranduil’s circumstances, his kingdom – and about Legolas’ and their daughter’s attachment? Before this meeting, they had only been in the city one day. He had a growing suspicion, which, if it was true, annoyed him more than a little. Yet, he said nothing until the father had done.
He let them wait for a minute, while he restrained his emotions and gathered his thoughts. He could not refuse, not yet – he needed more information.
“I shall consider your offer, and return my answer as soon as I have done so.” He bowed curtly, and left to talk with Wynne. He would get the truth out of her.
Thranduil found the girl on the lawn outside the King of Gondor's private house, where she had been babysitting his and Faramir’s sons and the orclings, together with Galion. She seemed almost as tired as he felt.
“May I have a word in private?”
She nodded, looking almost terrified, and he realized he must have been frowning rather deeply. Well, let her sweat.
He took her to his rooms in the guest house and bid her to sit in one of the chairs. He had been provided with a comfortable apartment; a large sitting room, a bedroom, and a private bathroom with a copper tub and running water, which he had made good use of so far. He longed to take a nice, scalding hot bath before supper, but first things first.
Thranduil removed his circlet and placed it on a sideboard, before seating himself opposite to Wynne. As usual, he said nothing for a while. It was a very good way to make someone anxious to talk, he had found, and of course it provided time to think of what he would say himself.
The poor girl looked very small in his chair, and was pulling at a loose thread in her hose. She was back in one of the simple tunics she had worn during their journey, and had her hair loose, without the pretty little hairnet. Such a shame.
“Your parents came to see me,” he said at last, noticing her cheeks blanch. “They offered your hand in marriage to Legolas.”
Wynne did not look up, or seem surprised. She knew about it, then.
“W-what did you answer?” Her lower lip trembled. She thought he had refused.
“I said I needed to think.”
Now, she met his gaze, a tendril of hope in her gray eyes. She was nearly as easy to read as Legolas.
“And then I thought.” He paused to give impact to his words, and to construct the next sentence in his head. “I thought of how you, unasked for, came along with the Mearas .” He emphasized the word, sending the message that he had not forgotten he had been tricked about the horses, as well. Her gaze immediately dropped, and the pallor in her face was replaced with a blush. “And I remembered a certain time… more than once, actually – when your behavior had seemed rather flirtatious.”
She was crimson now, guilt written plainly in her countenance. Thranduil’s anger flared, and although he held it back he could not ban it entirely from his voice.
“Tell me the truth, Wynne.”
To his surprise, she promptly did, without hesitation or even trying to defend herself. In a trembling voice, she confessed that her mission had been to catch either himself or Legolas and make them marry her. She also said how very sorry she was. Well, she should be!
Even though this was exactly what Thranduil had suspected, it was all he could do to remain calm. The nerve of this girl! He recalled the way she had been in the beginning, so innocent and yet tempting. There was one instant when he almost had been affected by it himself, despite everything, and only the thought of his wife had sobered him up.
How dared she! Cold fury ran through his veins. He wanted to shake her until her teeth rattled, this devious, false girl, and then yell at her to leave and never show her face to him or his son again.
She was crying silently, and he could tell she expected him to do exactly this. Oropher would have, without doubt, but Thranduil was – thank the Valar – not his father. Instead he remained impassive, willing his heart to cease its frantic pacing, forbidding his features to betray the storm within. He had learned the hard way never to act rashly, never to make decisions in a rage.
As his breath finally slowed, he noticed the slight swelling on Wynne’s cheek, where her mother had struck her. He saw her red eyes and runny nose, how her slight body shook uncontrollably. He did not like it when females cried.
Thranduil rose and turned his back on the sobbing child. It helped. A little.
She really was a child, though. Nothing of this had been her idea. What had he expected her to do? Come clean to him that first day by the Anduin, and expose her mother’s schemes, say sorry, and leave the horses? Of course she could not have done that, it did not take much imagination to picture what would have happened to her when she came home.
Wynne was not to blame for doing what her mother had forced her to, no more than Nugu was to blame for Saruman’s evil. They had both been slaves, bent under the strong will of someone else. Thranduil knew well how hard it was to break free of that kind of shackles.
He realized he had been unconsciously pacing back and forward, and stopped.
What about her alleged feelings for Legolas, were those a lie too? No, that was a ridiculous notion. He was not blind, the tension between the kids was almost palpable. It might not be real love yet, but they certainly were attracted to one another, and there was a great deal of fondness too.
Legolas claimed his heart was already committed, and the more Thranduil had seen them together lately, the more he believed it might be true. If so, giving up Wynne meant his son could never love someone else.
Whatever decision Thranduil made, would have a bad outcome. If he accepted, Legolas could only be married a few short years anyway, until Wynne died like all mortals did. Meanwhiles he would have that deceitful dragon for a mother-in-law. She would probably come between them and ruin what they had, unless Wynne broke with her entirely – and that was not likely, given how intimidating the woman was. Even Thranduil had felt it.
If he refused the match, on the other hand, Legolas would be miserable, and possibly alone for the rest of his life – but was that not better than being in a very short and unhappy marriage? And as for Wynne… if she survived the certain fit of temper her mother was bound to have, she would be back on square one, under her mother’s shadow. She deserved better.
At least he ought to ease some of her pain. He returned to his chair and placed his hand over Wynne’s small one. Hers was dead cold, and she flinched at the touch like a beaten dog.
“I am not angry with you.” He tried to make his voice soft.
She met his gaze with red rimmed eyes, clearly not believing him.
“I am, however, livid with that vain woman you had the misfortune to be born by.”
“Sorry.” She sniffed.
“Do not apologize for her actions.” He carefully turned her face to expose her swollen cheek. There was a faint reddening near the ear where the skin had almost broke.
Her jaw set stubbornly, she did not like that he had seen it. He knew that feeling. The shame.
Thranduil’s chest grew tight. He might be able to make her life a little easier, at least. He could talk with Elessar, see if there was something to be done. An invitation to stay in his court, perhaps?
For, the more he thought of it, the more certain he became. He would have to refuse her mother’s offer.
How will poor Wynne and Legolas solve this complicated mess of plots and plans?
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