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Trigger warning: Suicide
“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.”
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.
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.”
“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.”
“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.
“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.”
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.
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