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Menegroth, Doriath, First Age 467
The burial grounds of Doriath were located in a calm and beautiful spot north of the city, not far from the tree where Lúthien had been imprisoned. Aerneth was not sure if she liked the place or not. Sure, the white daisies planted on the grave mounds were pretty, and the surrounding beeches, now covered in tiny, new leaves were somber and polite when she reached out to them with her mind, but she hated to be reminded of death. It was unnatural, yet lately so many had succumbed to it.
Only last year she had been at her previous funeral, when Beren had been honoured with a spot among the elves, and not long before that had been the mass burial of all those who had died when Captain Mablung’s unit was attacked by the werewolf. And then of course she was always reminded of the first funeral she had ever been to, in Eglarest, after Thranduil’s mother’s tragic accident.
Now for the fourth time she had to witness the tear streaked faces of the mourning as another body was lowered into the ground and covered with stones and dirt.
Today it was the most famous elleth on Middle-earth who had departed; Lúthien Tinúviel, princess of Doriath, fair of face and voice, a powerful and unafraid heroine. Grief had done what even Morgoth himself had failed, and taken her life. The past year she had wasted away, her soul slowly fading until her body was naught but an empty shell, and now even that did not remain.
The king looked to be still in shock. His face had almost the same colour as the garment that had given him his epessë – Thingol, greycloak. Beside him Melian was much more calm and collected, she had known her daughter would die since shortly after the burial of Beren, and had had time to come to terms with it. She had seen it in Galadriel’s mirror – a foreboding of this , of Lúthien’s funeral.
The afternoon was chilly and Aerneth pulled her cloak together. She glanced at her husband, he only wore a tunic but the cold seemed not to affect him. His face was pale and smooth, forming an expressionless mask, one that he very rarely dropped nowadays. She loathed it.
Still, even with Thranduil so closely guarding his feelings, she could read him. The slight slumping of his shoulders, the tenseness of his jaw, his clenched hands; all told the same story: that the loss of Lúthien affected him deeply. In addition, his sleep had become troubled again, much like the first year after his mother’s demise. It was strange, for surely Lúthien had not meant that much to him? He had always claimed he only courted her out of convenience, to placate Oropher. But why else would he be so troubled now?
A couple of years back the suspicion that he may have harboured warmer feelings towards the princess would have made Aerneth jealous, but now she realised she actually did not care. Not many things about her husband affected her anymore, not even his foul moods and tendency to stay away from home until late. Even his bad dreams and nightly crying which had worried her so much before had become merely a nuisance that disturbed her sleep. Did she even love him anymore?
She wanted to believe she did, that deep down, her feelings were the same. That not only desire remained between them. But with every passing day it was harder to remember the ellon he had been.
Thranduil must have felt her eyes on him for his gaze met hers. Calm, unblinking eyes, all emotions locked behind their clear surface. It angered her, and unlike him, she knew she showed it in her face.
He looked away.
Around the supper table a while later, Oropher made it clear that he did not think highly of the late princess.
“I am sure she was doing it on purpose – refusing to eat, moping every day, of course it led to her death. I do not hold with it. Thingol should have seen it coming and put a stop to it before it was too late.”
Thranduil did not reply, but Aerneth noticed his knuckles paling around his spoon. Strange.
“And all this for the sake of a human that she will not even meet in the afterlife! Where he goes, she cannot follow.” Oropher shook his head. “That she would rather be dead than live without him is a sign of weakness, of feebleness of mind.”
“I would not call Lúthien weak,” Aerneth protested. “Quite the opposite.”
“Of course you would not. You ellith always hold each other’s backs,” he sneered.
“That is not true. I hardly knew her.” Aerneth tried to restrain her annoyance at her father-in-law’s scorn.
He did not notice. “I wonder if she will be held accountable for killing herself, when she comes to the Halls of Mandos? Will the Valar disapprove? I think they might.”
Thranduil hastily rose, turning to Aerneth. “Thank you, the soup was lovely. I have to… be somewhere.” He left the table and soon they heard the door close.
Something about all this obviously disturbed him, but by now Aerneth knew he would not share whatever it was with her.
The commercial part of Menegroth was busy as usual in the morning. Aerneth stood at the fish stall, examining a few striped tails critically. She had come too late for trout again and only a heap of sad looking perch remained. The problem was, she hated perch. They tasted mud and smelled like sewer, and in addition they were so full of bones they were a bother to eat. In her opinion, the only acceptable freshwater fish were trout or salmon, which tasted more like the saltwater species she had been used to back home. Those were fished upstream of Menegroth, where the Esgalduin was still clean, whereas perch, carp and pike were fished in a dam the beavers had built some miles downstream. All the city’s wastewater ended up there, and in consequence the water was coloured a sickly, greenish brown. But there was no helping it, it was winter and the food stores were almost empty, this time of year one had to settle with what food one could get.
She had just paid for the fish and put the package into her shopping basket when a commotion from the city gates caught her attention. Two familiar looking persons had entered Menegroth.
She blinked. Was that… But no, they were long gone. Surely it could not be them…?
Aerneth walked fast towards the newcomers, hardly noticing where she placed her feet. Among the shops and stalls around her, others were staring too, murmuring in disbelief, a soar of bewildered voices filling the air.
Lúthien and Beren… The princess… Back from the dead… Returned from Aman.
It really was them, alive and healthy looking, but also changed somehow, especially the princess. Something about her eyes… Aerneth could not say what it was.
“Lúthien! Lúthien!” King Thingol’s loud wail echoed between the stone walls when he came running from the direction of the palace in a mad dash, carelessly throwing aside any elves in his path. He wore no cloak and no crown, not even boots on his feet, as if he had just risen. Perhaps he had, rumour said the king had not been himself since his daughter passed away, and that he would spend entire days in bed sometimes.
The princess came to meet her father, who caught her in a bear hug that seemed painful. Then he held her out at an arm’s length, scrutinising her as if he could not believe it really was she, his eyes overflowing with tears.
“You came back… you really came back…”
“Aye. I did.” She fondly touched her father’s wet cheek, smiling, but it was a sad smile.
The king grinned, and then he began to chuckle. “Oh my dearest daughter, I am so happy! Thank the Valar! Blessed Mandos who allowed you to return to me.” He was laughing now, a hearty, rich laugh that Aerneth had never heard from the ruler before.
The queen had arrived as well now, silent and composed as always, and like her husband she hugged her daughter close before holding her out to look at her. However, unlike Thingol, Melian did not laugh or even smile. As she gazed upon Lúthien her eyes filled with a deep sadness.
“So, this is the path you have chosen.”
“I am sorry, Mother,” breathed Lúthien. “It was the only way.”
Thingol’s laughter abated when he noticed their grave appearances. “What is wrong? Tell me what is wrong,” he demanded.
“Can you not see it?” Melian shook her head.
“Father, I… I had to give it up. For Beren.” The man still stood some yards behind, looking demure and troubled. What had she given up?
Aerneth realised it at the same time as the king. His eyes grew wide and hurt, and he grabbed her shoulders, shaking her. “What have you done? What have you done ?”
“I have become mortal.”
Aerneth rested her head on Thranduil’s moist chest, listening to his heartbeat slowing down, enjoying the fact that he had not turned away immediately after intercourse like he usually did nowadays. He seemed relaxed, content even, and had been so ever since Lúthien returned to life.
She and Beren had only stayed a few weeks in Doriath, Aerneth was not sure why, but maybe being the only mortals in a city of elves was reason enough. Or perhaps it was too painful for Lúthien’s parents to see her, knowing that she would begin to age, and that soon they would be forever separated when she died. She now had the Gift of Men – the ability to die and not be reborn – and it was said that even the Valar did not know where a mortal’s soul would go after their death.
Aerneth mused over Lúthien’s choice and all she had given up to be with Beren – her life, her home, her parents. Would Aerneth have done the same for Thranduil? She wanted to think she would. In moments like this he was easy to love, when his arms were around her and she felt his fingers comb through her hair.
“I think it’s very romantic,” she said. ”What Beren and Lúthien did for each other, I mean.” Looking up at the tiny crystal stars in the ceiling, she remembered how romantic she had once thought her husband was. But they were newlyweds then, he had wanted to impress her, now she could not recall when he had last given her anything.
”Dying is not romantic.” His fingers stilled their motions.
”Of course not. I meant their sacrifices. That Beren waited so long in the Halls of Mandos for Lúthien instead of leaving for his unknown afterlife adventure, not knowing when or if she would come. And Lúthien’s love must be really strong for her to choose him over her family, opting to never be with them in Aman. Even Mandos himself took pity over her when she sang about all she had gone through to be with Beren. The depth of her feelings impressed him.”
“Stupid, I would say, to give up one’s immortality.” Thranduil’s peaceful expression took the edge of his words, for once his mask was down. “They will hardly have any time together anyway. I mean, how long do mortals live? Rarely even ten decades.”
Aerneth only smiled. She thought ten decades was better than nothing, but refrained from saying so, not wanting to ruin Thranduil’s mood by arguing – especially not about an elleth he had used to court.
”I am glad Mandos liked her enough to humour her, and sent her back,” he added thoughtfully. ”I was… I never quite dared believe Galadriel’s stories about reborn elves in Aman.”
She turned to face him, meeting his eyes imploringly. ”You worried you would never see your mother again? That was why you slept bad and... all that?”
He tensed and broke eye contact, his gaze becoming guarded.
Aerneth quickly changed the topic before he could push her away. “Now that Lúthien and Beren are married, they have all sorts of fun things to learn. All alone in the wilderness too.” She stroked circles on his chest with her fingertip, pinching his nipple.
He chuckled, relaxing again. ”Indeed.”
”I wonder if Lúthien’s babies will be mortal.” Humans appeared to generally have many children, and get them at a young age too – even before their second decade sometimes, but obviously they must reach maturity much sooner than elves. An elf of twenty was still an elfling. Perhaps humans compensated for their short lifespan by an ability to give birth early and often?
“Probably. If they are compatible to breed.”
“Compatible… hm. I wonder how Beren looks naked. Do you think he is hairy all over, like he is in his face? Maybe even on his–”
“Hush.” Thranduil placed a finger over her lips, indicating the wall. His father might be listening.
Aerneth licked his hand playfully. She loved the taste of his skin. “I am just curious,” she whispered, nibbling her way from his fingers up along his arm.
“You should not think such thoughts about another… male , even if it is only a human,” he whispered back, frowning like only he could – but his enlarged pupils were proof he did not entirely disapprove.
“When Lúthien strokes him like this maybe it will feel like petting a bear,” she breathed.
His lips quirked up involuntarily. “You have such a dirty mind.”
“Sorry. I shall practice my virtue and purity.” She rolled away playfully.
“Don’t.” He came after her, pressing his hardness against her buttocks. “Now you made me think of bears mating.” He kissed her neck and slid a hand forward to her breasts.
“I dare say your mind is dirtier than mine,” she decided. And then he pushed into her from behind and she was too preoccupied to speak for some time.
It was the first day of the month, and the appointed hour for Queen Melian’s regular water call with her daughter. Lúthien lived in Ossiriand now, many leagues southeast of Doriath on an island in one of the many rivers coming down from the Blue Mountains.
Galadriel emptied a pitcher into her silver bowl, and when Aerneth felt Lúthien think her name she sang a few words to start the spell. Soon a beautiful face formed in the water.
“Are you well? How is the baby?” Melian sounded worried. As if her daughter might die any day, now she was mortal.
“I am fine, mother.” Lúthien smiled, and disappeared out of the picture. When she returned a small face was beside hers. “There, Dior, look at your grandnana. Say hi to grandnana.”
“Da.” The baby pointed a chubby hand at the queen. He showed all signs of taking after his father both in looks and race.
“Ai! Hello my love, such a big boy you have become,” she cooed.
Aerneth and Galadriel respectfully moved back, allowing the queen some privacy.
When Melian had finished her call she looked demure. “I wish so much I could hold him in my arms.”
The others tried their best to comfort her. Galadriel put her arm around the other’s shoulder, and Aerneth chatted cheerfully about how healthy the boy looked, and how living on a river island must be similar to her own happy childhood by the sea.
Despite their different backgrounds and ages, the three ellith had grown closer the past couple of years, when the queen had had to rely on their water powers to keep in touch with her daughter. With her own farseeing she could only look, not speak – hers were internal, mental images, not working well as a form of communication.
Only the queen was present during their calls, Thingol had not spoken with his daughter even once since she left Doriath. The king prefered to spend his time in the treasury, admiring his Silmaril.
”Are you busy tonight, or might we continue with the mirror some longer?" asked Melian after a while. "I worry about the upcoming war and the sons of Fëanor. Maybe the water can show us something of the future."
“I do not mind trying.” Galadriel took the silver bowl, a few drops spilling over the edge as she moved it closer. Her gift lay in calling forth visions for whomever held the mirror, images of their past and future. Only Aman beyond the western shore was closed to her scrying abilities.
Aerneth decided to stay as well, the war Melian had mentioned worried her too. It had become known outside Doriath that Beren and Lúthien had taken one of the Silmarils from Morgoth’s crown, and Maedhros, eldest of the sons of Fëanor, had decided to attack the Dark Lord and retrieve the final two. He had gathered a huge union of both humans, dwarves and elves. All over Beleriand preparations were afoot; weapons being forged, plans drawn up, warriors honing their skill.
Maedhros had sent emissaries to Doriath as well, wanting the king to return the Silmaril to him and his brothers, who claimed it rightfully belonged to them – it was their father Fëanor who had created them after all. Queen Melian had counseled Thingol to hand it over, but he refused, already much affected by the brilliance and power of the gem. He had also refused to aid them in their planned attack against Morgoth.
Many in Menegroth now feared another kinslaying over Thingol’s Silmaril; it was rumoured Celegorm and Curufin were plotting to kill him and take it if they survived the war.
The mirror was ready. Galadriel whispered her spell and peered deeply into the waters. When she had finished, her face was very pale. “I have ill tidings. Never before have I seen such bleak visions.”
“Tell us,” said Melian.
“I saw Morgoth sending a huge host of orcs south of his realm, led by a dragon. My brother Orodreth was slain and the city of Nargothrond taken over by the fell beast.”
The queen’s eyes widened. “Let me see.” She leaned over like her friend had done, but very soon she withdrew, sadly shaking her head. “Doriath will fall,” she whispered. “I saw Thingol wearing the Silmaril in a necklace, and he was slain over it by a dwarf.” She turned to Aerneth. “You should look as well. I hope yours is a less daunting future.”
Aerneth took the mirror with shaking fingers, anxious and not really wanting to watch.
First she saw a swirl of dense smoke, and when it cleared a familiar city appeared. Eglarest, her home. It was burning heavily, its once proud walls and stone buildings broken and cracked from the armada of siege machines surrounding it.
The angle was from a bird’s perspective, and she could see that the entire Falas region was swarmed over with orcs and warg riders. They were killing and chasing elves, torturing their captives and doing unspeakable things with the ellith.
With a strangled cry Aerneth turned away, no longer able to watch the gruesome scenes. Her parents… were they among the captives? Would her mother be ravished like that? “We cannot let this happen,” she wailed, tears pouring from her eyes.
“Hopefully it is only a possible outcome,” said Melian.
“Aye. Maybe,” said Galadriel, but she looked worried. So far all the visions in the mirror had either happened already or come true later.
“Is there no way to persuade the king to join the war?” asked Aerneth, still shaken. “With Doriath on his side, maybe Maedhros has a better chance of winning. Morgoth could be stopped.”
“I will talk to my husband, but I fear it is useless.” Melian sighed. “He has sworn never to help a son of Fëanor, as you well know.”
“I will talk to my husband too,” said Aerneth. “He can tell the other march-wardens what we saw. They hated to be left out of the last war against Morgoth, I am sure they will want to fight in this one.”
“Celeborn and I had already planned to join anyway,” said Galadriel. “My cousin Fingon will be leading the western host of the union.”
“I wish I knew some fighting like you. I will hate to be alone here if Thranduil goes to war.”
“You should go with him anyway, your water magic could make a difference. The western host will march north along the Sirion and many battles might be fought near water. And then there is your ability of communication too, you could help the different units keep in touch and coordinate their attacks.”
When Aerneth hurried home, she felt a mingle of apprehension and hope. Was it really possible for the Union of Maedhros to defeat Morgoth and all his balrogs, wargs and orcs? Not to mention his fire-breathing dragon. Or would the horrible visions come to pass anyway? She had to hope they could be hindered, she just had to.
Should she do what Galadriel suggested and go to war herself as well? She wondered what it would be like to meet all those monsters, see them attack other elves. Perhaps see Thranduil get hurt or even killed. The thought was terrifying, and made her realise she really did care about him still. However bad their marriage was, she did not want to lose him.
She had reached the home cave now and went inside. Oropher came to meet her with a scowl.
“Thranduil will be home soon and there is no supper. Where have you been?”
“Out. Obviously.” She removed her cloak, it was late in the year and Menegroth was chilly.
“Mind your manners, young elleth!” He took a step forward, piercing her with his icy glare. Aerneth forced herself to meet it calmly, hiding how much he still intimidated her. She had not forgotten how easily he had raised his hand against her before, and despite Thranduil’s promises to protect her she feared it could happen again.
“I have met with Queen Melian.”
That mollified him; ambitious as he was, he encouraged her friendship with the queen. Aerneth let out a breath of relief when he returned to his books in the sitting room.
She had just prepared a meal of smoked venison with reed roots when her husband returned. Aerneth was eager to speak about what she had seen in Galadriel’s mirror but knew she had to wait until they had finished their supper. Oropher was of the opinion that eating was to be done in silence, and talking saved to after.
Aerneth hardly tasted the food, feeling too nervous to have any appetite. Oropher as usual took his time, sipping his water, chewing every piece of meat a long time before swallowing. Finally he was done, and she could tell her news.
“I was with Galadriel and the queen today, and we saw some disturbing things in the water. About the future.” She commenced to describe all they had seen.
”All the elven cities of Beleriand in the hands of the enemy?” asked Oropher, frowning. ”It sounds highly unlikely that Doriath would fall. We have the Girdle protecting us and the city is hidden.”
“The mirror has never been wrong before, but we are hoping we can change the future.”
”Change it, how?”
”By persuading the king to join Maedhros’ Union. Increase his strength.”
“If there will be an attack on our realm, we cannot leave it unguarded.” Oropher rested his chin on his folded hands.
“Not undguarded, but–”
“What do you think, Thranduil?” Oropher interrupted.
“The Girdle was breached twice before, and Beren who did it first was only a human. It is certainly possible Morgoth could do it too,” he mused. “I do not like this.”
“Aye. Doriath falling! Grave prospect indeed. You must share the news with your captains, and I will find Amdír and seek an audience with the king.”
“Melian is already speaking with the king,” said Aerneth.
“Trying to dictate what he should do, no doubt,” he huffed, shaking his head. “You did well to tell us about your visions, but now you ellith must leave this matter to those who are adept at war strategy.” His tone was patronising, and with that he and his son left the table.
Aerneth collected the plates to wash them up, nearly fuming with indignation. She wished she dared speak back, make her father-in-law understand that ellith were not stupid just because of their sex. Or at least that Thranduil would take her side once in a while. But that was wishful thinking.
In addition, she did not like the turn the conversation had taken, with both Oropher and Thranduil mostly concerned about their own city’s safety. Would they really prefer hiding back here while the world around them went to pieces?
It was very late when Thranduil returned, and Aerneth had almost fallen asleep.
“What did they say?” she mumbled drowsily.
“Well… we came to no conclusion, but I am sure the discussion is far from over. We – the march-wardens – want to go to war, but our king worries it will bring unwanted attention to our people. He has a point, actually. What if Doriath’s fall will be caused by our joining with Maedhros, instead of prevented by it?”
“But what about the Falas and Nargothrond? You would sit on your hands and just watch them burn? Allow my home to be demolished and my people taken by orcs?” Aerneth was wide awake now, feeling annoyance build up.
“It’s pointless to discuss my opinion, I can only do what my king and captains command me.”
“Galadriel and Celeborn are going, and I will go with them.” She said it with more conviction than she really felt.
He stared at her in surprise. “What?”
“Someone has to do something, and I can help. I am sure you have not forgotten I saved you with my water magic.”
“ No Aerneth, you are not going!” He grabbed her arm as if she was on her way already, his dark eyebrows drawn together.
His reaction only made her more determined. “Am too.” She tried to match his frown with her own, pushing down a voice that said she was acting immaturely.
"You cannot go. It’s...” He paused. ”Father needs you here if I am away.” His grasp was painful now. She realised his frown was not of anger as she had first thought – it was one of worry.
"You are hurting me."
He instantly dropped her arm and retreated, obviously trying to regain his self-control. When he looked at her again, he had assumed the glass face she hated. She wanted to punch him in it.
"I would rather you stayed here. But you do as you please." He turned away.
Aerneth tried to glare a hole through the back of his head. Yes, she would do what she pleased, and if he was leaving she would too.
But what if he had to stay? Would she really go to war without him? She had hated being separated from him before, but with their strained relationship now... maybe it would be a relief to leave.
Father needs you.
She wished Thranduil had needed her. That Oropher's wellbeing was not his first concern.
Sure, last time they left the ellon alone it had not worked out very well, but he had been broken with grief then. There was no reason to believe an adult of several centuries could not take care of himself and manage his own housekeeping.
"Your father needs no babysitter," she said sourly.
"That is not the only reason." His back was still turned. "War is not for ellith."
"You mean Galadriel is an ellon? Or your female march-wardens, ellyn too?"
"They are exceptions."
"You know... You are starting to sound just like your father." She could not hold back the scorn from her voice. Maybe it was Thranduil that needed Oropher, not the other way around.
“Goodnight Oropherion,” she said to his back. She noticed him stiffen, but he did not reply.
Communication is the key… Aerneth and Thranduil would benefit from marriage counselling. Too bad it was not invented yet!
War is getting near, and a bleak future predicted… how will it go? Will the march-wardens join Maedhros, and will Thranduil try to stop Aerneth from joining as well?
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