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Thranduil's Shadow  by Mimi Lind

21. The Naked Ellon

Near the Doriath border, First Age 484

Thranduil missed his bath. He missed many other things too; his bed, his comfortable city clothes, his father and his friend Amroth, his wife. But right now he really longed for a long, hot, scented bath.

For three years he had been roaming these Valarforsaken woods and marshlands and nothing good had come of it. Túrin had proved perfectly capable of taking care of himself, and the fame Oropher had wanted for Thranduil was yet to present itself. Sure, he had killed many orcs and wargs and he was leading a small unit of elves, but he was still no more captain than when he left Doriath.

Sighing miserably, he pulled his hood tighter under his chin to keep the rain out and tried to find a more comfortable position on the pine branch where he was perching. This was one of those years when summer decided to be wet and cold, and Thranduil hated it. He could not remember the last time he was dry. 

At least there was only a couple more weeks until the Feast of the Stars, and this year it was his turn to go home for the holidays. That was something to look forward to. But time passed agonisingly slowly without any enemies to fight; the orcs were not stupid, in this weather they probably hid in a cosy cave somewhere, gathering around a merry fire, gobbling roasted rat or whatever those creatures liked to eat.

The imitation of an owl hooting nearby brightened Thranduil’s mood. Finally Túrin’s unit was here to relieve him! He would be able to get a roof over his head for a few hours and catch up on his sleep.

With a jingling of chainmail Thranduil and his company dropped out of the trees. He stopped to exchange a few words with the young man.

“Morning, Tharan. Any incidents tonight?” Túrin secured the clasp of his dragon helmet and pulled on his gloves.

“Nothing. Even wargs remain in their lairs on a night like this.”

“And only elves and men are stupid enough to stay out.” Túrin chuckled and gave Thranduil’s shoulder a friendly punch. “See you later.”

Back at the large cabin they shared, Captain Beleg was just coming in with his unit from another part of the forest. He dropped a doe beside the door. “Shot this on my way back. Anyone up for a warm meal?” 

“Very much,” said Thranduil, his stomach purring expectantly. “I can prepare it if you want.”

“Great. Thank you.”

“Will do it after I sleep, though.” He yawned and peeled off his soaked armour and clothes, hanging the latter on one of the lines crisscrossing the room in the futile hope they might dry while he slept. He did not care that the two ellith in Beleg’s unit saw him in his underpants; privacy was nearly impossible out here. In the beginning he would use his blankets to cover himself but it did not take long until he gave up. If they wanted to look, let them. It was not as if he was ashamed of his body – even though the assortment of pale scars and nicks he had collected the past few years disfigured it slightly.

After some hours of well-earned rest, Thranduil pulled his moist shirt back on and took the doe outside where he skinned and cleaned it before cutting it up to make a stew. The smell was enticing after many days of being restricted to soggy lembas and dried meat.

When the meal was ready and everyone had eaten their fill, it was late afternoon. Beleg and Thranduil retreated to their bunks, the only place to sit in the crowded building.

The two ellyn had grown a lot closer recently. Chasing orcs and fighting together, holding each other’s backs and helping treat one another’s wounds had tightened their bond.

“Looking forward to the Feast?” Beleg asked with envy in his voice as he stretched out on the blanket. He would be staying here at the border this year. 

“I look forward to having a bath and changing clothes.” 

Beleg laughed. “I bet. You and Mablung would make a fine couple. Always clean and neat, wearing pretty coats and lavish jewellery.” He reached out to poke Thranduil’s snake-shaped wedding ring.

Thranduil smiled. “I think he likes another. As do I.”

“Talking of Mablung though…” Beleg rummaged in his pack and pulled out a bundle of assorted deer horns. “This is for him. He carves spoons, knives and such and always needs more material. Could you take them to him? And a letter.”

“Of course.” Thranduil gave him a sympathetic smile. Being separated from your loved one was taxing – as he knew from experience. At least Thranduil could always call his wife through water. They were still not on very good terms but he called her often nevertheless – ever since she asked him to three years ago – and if they stayed clear of sensitive topics they usually managed to be polite. 

“I was going to ask Túrin, but I do not trust him to remember it,” Beleg continued. “I am sure he will be swept away the minute he arrives in Menegroth, going from one party to another and forgetting all about the errand until the day he is about to leave the city.”

“Probably.” Thranduil grinned fondly.

“Or, he will roam the forest with that strange elleth who likes him so much. Nellas.” He shook his head. “I miss the good old days when he was half as tall and called me uncle.”

“Me too.” Thranduil was painfully reminded of how fast the boy had grown up. He was only two decades old but for humans that was a lot – maybe even a quarter of his expected lifespan.

There was a long silence with both of them deep in thought.

“I envy you,” said Beleg suddenly. “Unlike me, you can become a father one day.”

Thranduil did not know what to reply and felt a hard knot form in his stomach. It was improbable he would ever be a parent, but he had not discussed his disastrous marriage with his friend. They seldom spoke of anything personal. 

“You could sire more elflings than Fëanor,” continued the other. “Break his record.”

“My wife does not live in Doriath anymore.”

“Aye, I heard she went with her father after the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. But the war must surely end eventually. Then she can return.”

“She will not return.” And the war will not end, he added mentally. Morgoth was only growing stronger with every passing year.

Beleg looked up, a bit surprised. “No? Why?”

“We do not get along very well,” Thranduil reluctantly admitted. “And my father…” He did not finish the sentence. How could he even begin to explain how infected their relationship was?

“Sorry Tharan, I did not mean to upset you or pry about your personal life. Let us talk of something else. Have I told you about my father?” 

“Nay. Please do,” said Thranduil, grateful for the other’s consideration and the change of topic.

“Belthronding used to be his.” Beleg pulled his great bow closer, stroking the black wood fondly. “See? He carved his name there. And under it, my mother’s name to give him luck.”

Thranduil bent closer to look, admiring the beautiful craftsmanship of the weapon. He knew Beleg had lost his father early, but he had never told how and when it happened. It must have been before Thranduil was born, for as long as he had known him, Beleg had only had his mother.

“My adar was a hunter, one of the best in Doriath back then. He would walk far outside the realm and bring home great antler trophies to put on our walls, and of course make sure we never lacked meat. This was during the Siege, you know? When Morgoth was locked up in Angband and Beleriand was safe. Ah, those were the days. I hope they shall return one day so I too can walk far again. I have yet to see the western shore!”

“It is a beautiful sight.” Thranduil thought about when he had walked there with Aerneth. Those had been the days too, carefree and happy. Well, at least before they married.

“I remember how I kept touching Belthronding and trying to draw it, and Ada would shoo me away.” Beleg chuckled. “He had to make me my own bow eventually, tiny to fit my arms. And small arrows with feathers and everything. They were blunted of course, but sharp enough to pierce a straw target.”

“No wonder you were always better than the rest of us if you had begun so early.” 

Beleg’s smile waned. “That was not why. I did not begin to practice in earnest until after… After his death.”

“Sorry. I–”

“Nay, I do not mind speaking of it. It was an accident. Happened during the Autumn Hunt one year, a fellow huntsman mistook him for game and the arrow pierced his head. Very unlucky.”

“How dreadful!” It was extremely rare that elves killed fellow elves and Thranduil could only recall three such occasions happening during his lifetime; two drunken brawls gone awry and one case of a jealous husband murdering his wife’s lover. All three culprits had been imprisoned in one of the deepest caves of Menegroth for many decades before the king banished them from the realm.

“It was. Poor ellon. He was so ashamed that he left Doriath, but it really was not his fault.”

“You are more forgiving than I would have been.”

Beleg shrugged. “What good would it do to hold a grudge? Unnecessarily spent energy. Anyway, afterwards I inherited Belthronding and I promised myself to practice hard so I could wield it honorably one day. Making Ada proud when we were reunited in Aman.”

“You certainly succeeded,” said Thranduil earnestly, though he could not help envying the other his faith. How could everyone be so confident they would be reborn and meet their lost ones again?

“I did. I became the best.” 

Thranduil did not dispute that, and for once he did not begrudge Beleg his pride. It was well earned and well deserved.

.

The pork stew tasted amazing and Thranduil had just refilled his plate for the third time when Amroth came sauntering by, a cup of berry wine in his hand.

“Enjoying the food?” He smirked smugly.

“Very much. Your hog breeding pays off, I give you that – but I still cannot see why you have to do the work yourself.”

“I don’t trust others to do it right. To get healthy offspring you need to make sure the right boars and sows mate. It is–”

“I believe you, you do not have to go into detail,” Thranduil interrupted, not at all interested to hear about mating pigs. 

“You should be grateful for my work. There are so many animals in my pens now I could afford to slaughter four dozen young boars for the Feast of the Stars – enough to serve half the city or more. We will roast them whole on spits.”

“Looking forward to tasting them.”

Amroth sat down and soon they were busily catching up on the news since last time. Nothing much had happened in the city besides the pigs multiplying, it would seem, but Thranduil described his latest skirmishes at the border and Amroth listened with interest, looking a bit jealous. 

“Sounds like great fun. I would join you if I could.”

Thranduil smiled. He had purposely omitted all the negative aspects of his border service; the cold and damp weather near the river marshes, the multitude of mosquitoes, the bad food, the dull nights on watch duty and the cramped lodgings in their wood cabins. And of course the complete lack of hygiene.

A commotion nearby drew their attention. Túrin was standing up, scowling furiously at a snickering Saeros.

“Take that back!” he growled, giving the elf a hard shove.

Saeros rose too. “Keep your filthy hands off me, human!”

Thranduil hurried to get close before a fight broke out, but Mablung was faster, quickly positioning himself between the two. 

“What happened?” asked Thranduil.

“He said I’m a stinking wildman,” Túrin spluttered, trying to get past Mablung. 

“I simply said that in these halls one should not walk around with hair like a thicket of brambles and clothes not fit for Amroth’s pigs to wear. He’s a disgrace.” Saeros grinned nastily.

“He just returned from the border where he served our country – your country. Changing clothes was perhaps not his first priority,” said Thranduil, trying to defend his young friend. He did smell a bit and the hem of his tunik was splashed with mud, but just because he was not an overly cleanly person Saeros had no right to insult the boy. But this was probably a revenge for losing the sparring match against Túrin three years ago. How typical of that proud ellon to bear a grudge for so long!

“If male humans of Hithlum are as dirty and unkempt as he, maybe the females are likewise. Wild and natural.” Saeros leered. “Do they run around wearing only their hair?” 

Túrin growled something incoherently and tossed his goblet of wine with full force in the other’s face. Saeros howled in pain, clutching his bleeding mouth. Túrin drew his sword and tried to charge, but was held back by the joint forces of Mablung and Thranduil.

Saeros spat a mouthful of blood on the table. “Can we get rid of this ruffian now?” he slurred through his cut lip. “I wonder why Thingol keeps such a wildman. Drawing a sharp weapon in the king’s halls, and against an elf, no less! Come outside and I will show you I can handle a blade too.”

But thankfully Túrin had calmed down, perhaps brought to his senses by the sight of all the blood. He broke free from Mablung and Thranduil and stomped out of the room. 

“Why did you taunt him like that?” said Mablung. “A cut lip serves you right.”

“If that wildman draws his sword on me again I will kill him,” hissed Saeros. “You know as well as I do it's against the law.”

“Calm yourself, this behaviour is more fitting in Angband than in Doriath! Are you an elf or an orc? You ought to know better.”

“I know what I am.” And with that Saeros left the hall as well.

Mablung sighed. “Those two are too temperamental. I regret matching them as sparring combatants now; I ought to have foreseen Saeros would not take lightly to losing against a human.”

“How could you have foreseen such a thing?” said Amroth. “For an adult ellon to speak that way to a young human! Nobody could have predicted it. Now, let us forget this. The evening is still young and we have wine and food aplenty.”

.

“Have you seen Túrin?” Captain Mablung joined Thranduil at the training grounds where he was about to set out on his morning run. 

“Nay. I thought he stayed at your place?”

“He did not come home after the unlucky party last night, and now I worry he has done something stupid.”

“Like duelling with Saeros? I doubt that, I could see he had restrained his temper when he left the hall. Maybe he just decided to stay at someone else’s place? He has many friends.”

“I hope so. It is just… I have a bad feeling about all this.”

A noise in the distance made them both turn their heads. There was shouting some way off in the forest.

“It’s Túrin!” Mablung started running with Thranduil close in his wake.

Soon a disconcerting scene unfolded before them. Starch naked, Saeros came scurrying between the trees and after him ran Túrin with his sword drawn, laughing and jeering at the retreating ellon's back.

“Faster! Or I shall nick your bum again!”

Thranduil gaped at the strange sight. ”What is he doing ?”

“May Námo have mercy on him…!” Mablung turned to follow the pair, increasing his gait to catch up.

“Put down your sword,” yelled Thranduil, not far behind.

“This is orc-work, Túrin! Stop it!” cried Mablung.

But Túrin either did not hear or did not care. He just kept running.

More elves joined the chase but nobody managed to gain on the two; Saeros ran like his life depended on it and Túrin on his long legs was faster than most.

Up hills and down again they went, jumping over fallen logs, pushing through bushes and crisscrossing between the trees, but Túrin still did not seem inclined to slow down.

Then suddenly Saeros disappeared from view with a terrified yelp and they heard a rumble and a splash. Now Túrin halted at last and the others caught up. Panting heavily and soaked in sweat they went forward to see what had happened.

“Oh no…” Mablung’s voice was strained.

Thranduil saw it too; hidden by the underbrush was a steep ravine with a creek running through it, and in the shallow water among a pile of stones and broken branches lay Saeros, motionless and bleeding. 

Carefully Mablung climbed down. The ravine was not very deep but with that speed the ellon must have fallen hard. 

“Did you make him take off his clothes?” asked Thranduil reproachfully. 

“He deserved it. Now he can be a wild animal,” muttered Túrin, but he sounded frightened.

Mablung crouched beside the prone body, touching Saeros’ neck. If the captain felt the need to search for a pulse then it must be really serious. 

“Why did you do it?” Thranduil wanted to shake the boy. How unnecessary! 

Túrin looked sullen and did not reply. 

Down in the ravine Mablung turned up to the onlookers, his face sickly pale. “He is dead.” The words echoed eerily between the cliffs.

No… Thranduil felt his jaw slacken and a chill running down his spine. It was only a few yards. How could he not have survived that fall?

He turned to Túrin but he was not there anymore.  The young man was running again, already far away, and soon he had disappeared between the trees.

.

“Can you cease speaking all at once?” The king banged his fist on the armrest of his throne. “Mablung, tell me what happened and the rest of you – be silent!”

The captain obeyed. In an afflicted voice he described both the ruckus at the party the night before and the unfortunate chase through the woods which had ended in the former stone worker’s demise.

Thranduil had a lump in his throat. Why? Why had Túrin not controlled his temper better? But a tiny voice told him he was no good judge of that, for had he not pushed his own wife into a stone wall? 

“This is bad,” said Thingol when Mablung had finished. “Under the circumstances, I could have forgiven him for drawing his sword on an ellon and threatening him, but this today – shaming Saeros like that! Scaring him and chasing him to his death! Although it pains me, I see no other option than banishing Túrin forever from my realm.”

A collective sigh was heard in the throne room. Banished forever! Harsh indeed, but understandable. 

“Wait!” 

Everyone turned their heads to the entrance where Amroth came in, leading an elleth by the hand. She walked slowly and reluctantly, shyly peering at the many bystanders through a strand of her tousled hair. Thranduil recognised the elleth from description although they had never met; it was Nellas, Túrin’s friend in the woods. She was something of a lone wolf who hated the city and never came there, spending all her days wandering through the forest or in the remote treehouse where she lived. After he took up animal husbandry, Amroth too had become friends with Nellas, who was very fond of all that was alive. 

“Here is a witness,” he said. “Túrin may not be as guilty as we first thought.”

“Speak then, lady,” said the king.

“Lord, I was sitting in a tree…” she began in a barely audible voice, and then broke off. 

The king smiled. “As have many others before you, I dare say, but they did not feel the need to tell me.”

“Others, aye...! Even Lúthien,” said Nellas, her voice a little stronger. “I was thinking of her this morning, and of the human Beren.”

The king’s smile disappeared.

“Túrin reminds me of Beren,” she continued. “They are kin, I was told, and if you look close you can see it.”

“Well, you shall have no more opportunity to compare their likenesses, for Túrin son of Húrin will be banished from Doriath,” said Thingol, scowling.

“Wait! Please, bear with me,” said Nellas earnestly. “Let me finish.”

The king impatiently beckoned with his hand for her to continue.

“I sat in a tree to look at Túrin as he went by, and then I saw Saeros coming out from the woods, armed with sword and shield, and he charged at Túrin from behind.”

A murmur rose in the hall. Attacking from behind? How cowardly! 

“But Túrin heard him and turned around in time to draw his own sword, and he cut Saeros’ shield in halves. Then they fenced, and Túrin was the better of the two and wounded Saeros’ arm so he dropped his sword. And Túrin put his foot on it, saying that Saeros ought to run home and his clothes would be in the way – but he could wear his hair. I don’t know what he meant by that. Then he jumped on Saeros and they wrestled, and Túrin was the strongest. So he stripped the other of his clothes and pricked his … um. Backside. With his sword. And then he chased after him and I saw them no more.” Nellas fidgeted with her hair. “Please forgive Túrin, My Lord.”

King Thingol sighed. “This casts a new light on the events indeed.” He was silent for a while, musing. Then he continued: “Aye, I shall pardon him – clearly he was wronged by Saeros and acted in self-defence.”

Thranduil felt his body relax. The boy would be safe! He had done some stupid things but after being provoked that badly it was no wonder he had wanted a revenge. 

“But how can we tell him he is forgiven? He left Doriath,” said Nellas. She had tears in her eyes.

“Beleg Cúthalion is my best tracker. I will call him back from the borders and send him out to find the boy.”

.

When Captain Beleg returned to Menegroth a week later, King Thingol gathered the leaders of the march-wardens at the palace.

“With Cúthalion gone, I need a new captain at the borders,” he said. “Yesterday I asked Mablung and Beleg to choose a suitable successor. Have you had time to make a decision?” 

“We have, Your Grace,” said Beleg. “Thranduil Oropherion has proven himself skilful and a good leader. He shall be acting captain until my return.”

Thranduil forced his features to remain neutral. It did not do to grin stupidly like an elfling. “I am honoured, Captain.”

“Then so be it,” said the king. “And as for you, Beleg, I said you could have any weapon you wanted from my armory to aid you in your search. Have you found anything to your liking?”

“Aye, my Lord King.” He held out a longsword in a black scabbard. “I normally prefer the bow, as you know, but alone in the wilderness I may need a sword as well. This seemed of great quality. I have never seen steel like that.” He drew the weapon and the bystanders came closer to get a better look. The steel indeed was strange, it almost looked like it glowed. 

"This sword is called Anglachel – flaming iron," said Thingol. "An ellon named Eöl forged it from a meteorite, or so he claimed. He gave it to me as payment for allowing him to settle in Nan Elmoth."

Queen Melian stepped forward and took the sword from Beleg, examining it closely. “I advise against choosing this,” she said. “I sense malice in it – its smith had a dark heart and part of it still dwells in his creation.”

“I am not superstitious,” said Beleg, taking it back. “It shall serve me well.”

And so Beleg left Doriath on his lone quest while Thranduil returned to the border as acting captain, one step closer to the power and fame he and his father had seeked for so long.


A/N:

Going against the advice of a Maia is not good...





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