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            The blond elf strode boldly into a reception room full of over dressed courtiers, doing his level best to not sneer at them. He was quite tall, even for an elf, and could easily see over most of their heads anyway, so he was not obliged to make unnecessary eye contact. If he could not completely avoid their gaze, fixing them with his piercing blue eyes was usually enough to clear his sight line. The ladies around him admired his midnight blue and gold trimmed tunic, athletic figure, and ruthlessly straight hair, but he did not see them.

As he walked past the throne, he glanced over to assure himself that the king and queen were not, in fact, in the room, then continued relentlessly forward. The crowd parted slightly, and the elf stopped before another blond male, and bowed politely.

“Father, you sent for me?” The young man's voice was flat. His father, who could have been his twin, offered his son a slight smile.

“You are late, Thranduil.”

“I was riding,” Thranduil countered.

“The king and queen will be here soon, and I wanted to talk to you before then.”

“Regarding?” his son asked. His father, Oropher, took his elbow and directed his son's gaze across the room, where a group of nervous looking young ladies were waiting near the door. Thranduil had noted them as he entered, as a mass of colour and too much perfume, so he had taken the long way around to avoid them.

“Pretty things, are they not?” Oropher asked his son. “They are being presented today. I think you should try to get introduced to one or two of them.”

Thranduil looked balefully at his father. “Why? I see nothing at all to recommend them. The lot of them appear quite silly and ignorant.”

The smile fled Oropher's face. “Thranduil, you are almost 2,500 years old. How much longer do you intent to put off getting married? There is no reason on earth for you not to wed.”

“No, indeed,” Thranduil agreed with a slight nod. “Save the fact that I do not wish to be. I have had no good examples of the married state, and see no reason to torment myself or anyone else. I may fall in love one day, but today is not that day.”

His father frowned. “Do you prefer boys?”

Thranduil turned visibly green. “No, Father! I prefer the freedom of being single.” He gestured offhandedly towards the gathering at the door. “Besides, they are all blond, a colour you know I do not care for.”

Oropher looked annoyed, “That is no impediment.”

“Is it not?” Thranduil demanded, one thick, dark eyebrow sliding up. “So, in your opinion, I should choose a random female with attributes I abhor, marry her for the sake of you boasting that I am finally wed, and somehow, someday, I might learn to tolerate her? Marriage is forever, Father, and I refuse to spend eternity with an ugly wife.”

“You are being far too picky,” Oropher countered. “Besides, you have blond hair.”

Thranduil sighed and began looking around in the hopes that one of his friends was close by so that he could escape his father. Thranduil had found over the years that he preferred dark haired girls, who were a rarity among the pale blonds and red-heads of the Doriath court. His continuing in singleness was not a new argument, but it had begun to resurface lately with alarming regularity.

Every fifty years or so, Oropher would bring up his son's lamentably unmarried status, then pressure him on its correction. Thranduil would draw back, and his father would complain bitterly, and finally retreat.

Thranduil was beginning to despair of deliverance, when he spotted his friend Dorondir. He sketched a brief bow to his father and hurried away. He reached Dorondir's side before his father noticed he had left. The shorter elf gave Thranduil a grin.

“I saw you when you came in,” he told Thranduil. “And it has been some months since I saw you last. Where have you gotten off to?”

Thranduil sighed. “I was about the king's business. He and my father are cousins, and I am a Gentleman of the Bedchamber.”

Dorondir nodded. “I know.” He glanced at the girls by the door. “Pretty, aren't they?”

Thranduil shook his head. “Father called me out to get my opinion on them. Or rather, he wanted me to have his opinion on them.”

Dorondir laughed. “So do none of Doriath's beauties strike your fancy at all?”

“Not one,” Thranduil sighed. “Father finds it most vexing, but I find I have more time to draw and play, since I'm not forced to deal with a wife.”

He looked over the room again. He saw no reason why he should marry. His father had disliked his own wife, and Thranduil had spent his childhood watching his mother love her husband without reciprocation. She had gradually retreated inside herself in despair. Just before her son reached his Century, she finally Faded. Oropher didn't really seem to notice, which offended his son’s sensibilities, and Thranduil was still not sure he had truly forgiven his father yet. With such an example to hand, Thranduil had little confidence in his own chances of matrimonial felicity.

Dorondir nodded. They had been friends long enough for him to know the whole, sordid tale.

            “Well, perhaps you might be happier with a less permanent connection,” he suggested.

Thranduil's eyebrow rose. “I do not understand. You know as well as I do that we cannot take lovers the way Men are want to do.”

Dorondir shook his head. “No, indeed. I was thinking more along the lines of a temporary wife.”

Thranduil frowned. “As in . . . take a mortal for a wife?” He shuddered. “What if she becomes pregnant? Father would be furious with me for diluting the bloodline.”

His friend shrugged. “So take precautions.”

Before he could continue with his outrageous thought experiment, the main doors opened. Everyone in the room turned and smoothly began separating into two groups, creating an aisle for the king and queen to pass. The herald's announcement was somewhat drowned out in the shuffle and rustle of heavy, expensive fabric and the click of shoes as the courtiers cleared the way. As the king and queen entered, a low murmur began rising in their wake. The king was entertaining a small group of dwarves. That was no surprise, as Doriath often traded with them, and this group was well dress, as was proper for a formal visit, but what had caught everyone's attention was the fact that several of them were wearing dresses. No-one in the room recalled ever seeing a dwarrowdam before.

Dorondir's eyebrow rose as he studied the small beings. “Well now,” he said finally. “This is most amusing! I wonder how they tell the difference.”

Thranduil rolled his eyes. “I am sure they have learned to distinguish which bits belong to whom.”

Dorondir laughed. “Oh, of that I have little doubt—”

“Then stop saying stupid things. It bores me.” Thranduil sighed.

His friend laughed again. “But, they come so easily to my lips.” Thranduil didn't argue with him, and his grin grew cheeky. “What about them?”

“What about whom?” Thranduil asked.

“One of the girl dwarves. Marry one of them. They live a bit longer than Men, and the chances of you having a child instantly drop from seventy-five percent to zero.”

“Indeed they would,” Thranduil agreed dryly. “As I would never touch her.”

Dorondir shook his head in amusement. “Maybe your father is right; you are too picky.”

Thranduil huffed and studied the visitors. Some of the dwarrowdams had beards, some long, but well groomed sideburns, and a few even had totally smooth skin. These latter were slightly smaller than the others, so Thranduil dismissed them as children, or young adolescents. The amount of facial hair they all sported seemed split generationally; the older they appeared to be, the more likely they were to be sporting fuller beards. What struck him most was the fact that they all had dark hair.

Princess Lúthien and the queen had dark hair, but that was a colour that tended to run through the common, Silvan elves to the east. The ladies at court admired the royal ladies, but made no effort to emulate them. His obsession with hair colour annoyed him, but he knew it was born out of desperation for variety more than anything else.

One of the dwarrowdams, who had been studying the men in the room, leaned over to whisper to her companion. They both looked at Thranduil and Dorondir, who were near the front of the crowd, and began giggling. Dorondir gave them a wink, making them flush and giggle more.

“Well, now. My friend, we seem to have caught the attention of our tiny guests. Shall we—”

“No, Doron,” Thranduil pleaded. “Please, I beg you stand and be still. Do not make—”

“Thranduil,” the queen, Melian, barely had to raise her voice to be heard. “Come here.”

Thranduil glanced desperately at his friend, silently praying he would behave himself, and moved to the queen's side.

“Your grace,” he greeted her with a bow.

She looked him over for a moment, then smiled. “Cousin, I am pleased to see that you have returned to us, safe and whole.”

Thranduil nodded his thanks, and she looked over at the dwarves.

“Lord Hegan and his sister, Lady Kasin, are come from Amon Rûdh, on their way east. Lady Kasin is to be married in the Misty Mountains in the summer.”

Thranduil glanced over the dwarrowdams. Lady Kasin was tiny, almost too small to be a dwarf but for her large nose and well rounded features. Her thick, dark brown hair carried a faint, auburn tint, which the rich, burgundy and gold velvet gown she wore emphasized. The square neck line hugged her ample bosom, but a white lace fichu added a demure air to the otherwise shockingly daring gown.

She was one of the ladies with long, styled sideburns that framed her face nearly to her chin. The ladies around her that Thranduil now assumed were her attendance, were similarly dressed in rich gowns, but Lady Kasin carried herself in a more aloof manner, that made it clear that she was the most important among them. Thranduil looked at Lord Hegan.

“Congratulations to your sister. Is it not rather late in the season to be setting out on such a journey?”

Lord Hegan nodded. “It is, indeed. That is why we will be staying here over the winter. I look forward to King Thingol's hospitality.”

Thranduil nodded and turned to walk away.

“Thranduil,” the queen called him back.

“Your Grace?”

“While they are here, it would please the Throne for you to act as Lady Kasin's personal liaison.”

Thranduil only just kept a contemptuous sneer from his face with a low bow. He turned back to Lady Kasin.

“It would be my honor.”

He walked over to join the cluster of people around her. As he did, he noticed several of the ladies signing to each other. Lady Kasin noticed as well and made a small, firm motion with her hand. They stopped instantly, and she turned to look up at Thranduil. He was surprised at how green her eyes were. They studied each other for a long moment.

“Lady—” he started, but Lord Hegan broke in.

“Is it wise to put a male in such a close position to my sister?”

Queen Melian smiled slightly. “Though he is unmarried, Thranduil's reputation regarding the fairer sex is unimpeachable. She could not be in better hands.”

Lord Hegan's eyebrow rose. “Unmarried? Why? You seem to have an embarrassment of fine ladies here.”

The queen laughed and the king shrugged. “My cousin enjoys solitary pursuits — reading, hunting, music.” He gave Thranduil a grin. “But, he does enjoy dancing as well, so we have not totally despaired of him.”

Lady Kasin offered Thranduil a politely blank smile. “I do believe that we will suit.” She looked at her brother. “I feel as if I am in safe hands.” She rose and nodded to the queen. “You will excuse me. The journey here was long, and I am quite fatigued.”

She was dismissed, and Thranduil hesitated for a second before following them from the room. If he was to be her go-between, he needed to know where she would be staying. The dwarrowdams paused in the hallway after the door closed behind them. Lady Kasin, took a deep breath and turned to look up at Thranduil again.

“I have been a guest in this city many times. I do not need, nor did I request a minder. I realize you cannot countermand your queen, so let us do this: in public, you will be at my side, and all will look well, but in private, I do not want you anywhere near me.”

Thranduil was taken aback by her bluntness. “As you wish,” he said. “I have no desire to take part in this exercise either. I will still need to know where you are staying, otherwise it will look odd for me to be roaming the halls in search of your quarters.”

She nodded once and set off briskly. He was surprised anyone so small could move so quickly, but he kept pace with her to the north wing. Outside of her door, she stopped.

“I will tell my brother that I will call you if I need you. Which I will not.” One of her ladies opened the door, and in a moment, Thranduil was alone in the hallway.

 

***

 

Lady Kasin kept her ear pressed to the door until she was sure that the elf in the hallway had departed. She huffed in relief and turned to look at her ladies.  They were watching her with varying degrees of alarm.

            “What?” she demanded, pushing away from the door.  The maids looked at each other again, and finally one of them said:

“The queen is a Maia. Almost a goddess. She commanded that male to stay with you. You cannot disobey her.”

“I have not,” Kasin went to sit in the chair beside her bed. “I have no need of him, so I sent him away.” She closed her eyes. She had not lied to the queen, she was tired.

Kasin and Hegan were only two weeks away from home and had not anticipated the need for a three month delay in their journey, but the outriders had spotted an unusual number of orcs on the Northern Road, and it was too late to turn back and head south. After a lengthy debate, they took the Dwarven Road to Doriath. King Thingol had agreed to let them stay over the winter. When the weather cleared, they would be hooded and escorted south until they cleared the Girdle, and from there, they could continue on to the Misty Mountains.

Kasin was not looking forward to her marriage. Hegan wanted a connection in the east, and the only way to get one — a real, lasting one, was through a diplomatic marriage. Hegan had two sisters to offer on the Marriage Mart, so he was often sought out. Her older sister, Kinus, had married into the Durin Clan — a prize match indeed. She had written to Kasin to reassure her little sister that she was happy with her husband. They would be stopping briefly at Kinus’ home in Erid Luin, and Kasin was anxious to see her sister again.

Hegan had told the elf king and queen that a groom was waiting for Kasin, and she supposed that was true, in a way. But when they reached the Misty Mountains, Kasin knew the real work of searching for a husband would begin. Hopefully, Hegan would stay with her, however long it took. Kinus had been lucky — she found her husband within a month, but Kasin knew that she was the ugly sister. She would be married, of that she had no doubt. Dwarrowdams were too rare a gem to pass up, but as tiny as she was, most dwarrow men saw her and assumed she was still a child.

‘One hundred and one,’ she thought. ‘And I still look like I am thirty.’ She sighed again. “Is there to be a ball tonight?”

One of the maids nodded. “And I am sure that huge elf will be back to escort you.”

Kasin went to lie down on the tall, enormous bed. “Maybe he does not know,” she mused. “Then we will not have to attend.”

Her ladies exchanged glances and went to begin laying out her evening clothes. Three hours later, a firm knock brought an end to her hopes. The maids had let her sleep for an hour, then dragged her, protesting, from the bed to begin preparing her for the ball. Her assurances that he would not come fell on deaf ears. One of the maids opened the door, and Kasin rose from the dressing table to look over her escort.

Thranduil was wearing another dark blue robe, though this one was calf length, with black leggings, and soft leather shoes for dancing. She huffed.

“I was rather hoping you would not come,” she muttered.

“And I was rather hoping that you were planning to run away. Is that not the usual modus operandi for a young lady being led reluctantly into marriage?” He countered.

Kasin was so shocked by his reply that she laughed. “Is it that obvious?”

Thranduil shook his head. “Your brother’s question about me earlier tipped me to it. He would not be so concerned with your virtue, if he knew that you loved the man waiting for you at your journey’s end.”

“Ah,” she nodded. “I supposed that is true.” She raised her eyebrow. “So, am I safe with you?”

“Beyond any shadow of any doubt,” Thranduil assured her. “As long as you are with me. If Dorondir is with you, I can guarantee nothing.”

Kasin frowned slightly at the name. “What an odd assortment of names you all have here. This . . . Dorondir . . . was that the person you were talking to when we were introduced?”

Thranduil nodded as Kasin followed him into the hallway. They walked down the corridor, he slightly behind her.

“Yes. He is an old friend.”

“Then, I am sure that I will be meeting him very shortly.”

Thranduil didn’t reply. He stepped in front of her to open the door to the reception room. Her brother, Oropher, and the king and queen were waiting for them. After a half hour of polite chatter on the weather, the state of the roads, and many assurances by Lady Kasin that her rooms were quite to her taste, they moved into the ball room to  receive the rest of the guests. The line was nearly at its end when Dorondir finally joined it. He nodded to Thranduil and offered Lady Kasin a low, courtly bow.

“Ran, is this the lovely lady you will be keeping company this season?”

Thranduil rolled his eyes. “Lady Kasin, Lord Dorondir.”

She nodded, recognizing him, and offered him an indifferent smile. “Yes, Thranduil mentioned you.”

“Did he now? Did he also tell you how much I look forward to dancing with you?”

She rolled her eyes and Thranduil shooed him away. Dorondir gave Kasin a wink as he departed, and she looked at Thranduil.

“Do the ladies here really find his nonsense charming?”

Thranduil declined to answer her as the receiving line broke up, which, as far as she was concerned, was its own reply.

 

***

 

            At supper, Dorondir managed to get a seat beside Lady Kasin. Thranduil sat on her other side, glaring at his friend as he flirted with the tiny dwarrowdam. Kasin was already bored with Thranduil. It was clear that he was determined to be her bodyguard, and she had hardly danced at all that night. Her brother’s obvious disapproval of Thranduil’s friend made her even more determined to talk to him, and over supper, he was happy to oblige her.

Thranduil wondered, as he listened to them, how they found anything about which to talk. Lady Kasin loved to ride, hunt, and fish. Dorondir thought rising precipitately from one’s chair was a vulgar exertion, emblematic of ill breeding. They had read none of the same books; she played, he did not. Lady Kasin could sing. Dorondir did too, but only after a pint or twelve with the lads. She was the youngest of three; Dorondir was an only child.

By the time they left the table, Kasin was half in love with his friend, and Thranduil could only shake his head in grudging admiration. He knew that he could never talk about literally nothing for an hour with a woman already predisposed to dislike him, make her laugh, and have her heart in his hands before the last dance. Truly, Doron’s skill was one to be admired.

Thranduil withdrew, watching over the tiny woman from the sidelines until the ball was nearly over. She was surprised to see him when he appeared at her side.

“Lady Kasin, it is time for us to retire.”

She looked over the virtually empty ballroom in surprise, then rose and curtsied to Dorondir. “You will excuse me, my lord. It is rather later than I had anticipated.”

Dorondir kissed her hand. “I look forward to our next meeting, Lady Kasin.”

Thranduil shook his head disapprovingly at his friend, and led her away. “I told you to be cautious of him,” Thranduil told her in the hallway.

“You misrepresented him to me,” she scolded Thranduil. “He is very nice. I can see why the two of you are friends. He is your polar opposite in every way; he’s charming, interesting, funny —”

“Short,” Thranduil added. Kasin snorted.

“That is a matter of perception,” she disagreed.

“No,” Thranduil shook his head. “Dorondir is considered short for an elf.”

“And I am a short dwarf,” she countered. “So that is something else we have in common.”

            They reached her door and Thranduil waited until he heard the lock on her door catch before he left the guest wing. He wasn’t surprised to see Dorondir leaning against the wall by his apartment door a few minutes later.

            “I like her,” he told Thranduil as the taller man unlocked the door and led them inside. “She’s tiny and adorable. And smart. And I dare say, cute.”

            Thranduil shut the door and sighed. “Doron, you fall in love once a day, every day, and twice on Sunday. Lord Hegan is taking his sister to be married in the Misty Mountains. The queen put me in her path, to block yours. You cannot stop what will happen, so do not even try.

            Besides, she’s a dwarf.”

            “I did notice,” Dorondir dropped onto Thranduil’s couch and sighed. “But I am serious this time. I was not flirting with her for the sake of flirting. I wanted to hear her voice, to understand what is going on inside her head. I want to know her! Everything she told me about tonight was fascinating!

            She likes fishing, did you know that?”

            “She might have —” Thranduil started, but Dorondir rushed on.

            “She doesn’t like using live bait. Instead, she makes the little flies she uses. Makes them! By hand!”

            Thranduil rolled his eyes and went to pour himself a drink, while Dorondir exalted the intricacies of fly-fishing to his best friend, who had been trying to get Dorondir to join him on such an outing since they were in the schoolroom.

            It was going to be a long night.

 

***

 

            Thranduil very soon found himself in the awkward position of disaproving chaperon, older brother, friend, and confidant, as Dorondir and Kasin used him as a way to spend more and more time together. Thranduil didn’t want to be involved in any of this. He did not think it was wise for Kasin to be alone with his friend, so he stuck to her like a burr. He did not want Dorondir’s reputation to ruin her chances of making a good match. Her maids thought the whole situation was quite romantic — star-crossed lovers, with only a season to live it all, and they in their turn, went out of their way to get the pair alone.

            Dorondir continually came to Thranduil, seeking advice and counsel, all of which he would listen to only slightly, because what he really wanted to do was rave about how wonderful his tiny girlfriend was. Thranduil started drinking more and paying closer attention to the calendar than he ever had in his life. He liked Kasin, she was a nice, sheltered, intelligent young woman, about to do a bad thing. Thranduil was waiting for it.

            He spent many nights up, pacing his apartment, wondering how he could explain to the king and queen, and Kasin’s enraged older brother that his best friend had eloped with the girl.

            ‘I will, of course, be blamed,’ he thought. ‘After all, I was the one there all the time, and through me, they are much thrown together. Holy Valar, please do not let Doron do anything foolish. Please.’

            The winter passed, and Thranduil had never been so relieved to see the copious mud the snow melt always left behind. Lady Kasin was still safely within the walls of the city, and Thranduil had yet to hear his friend mention taking off with the girl. Lord Hegan was cautious in his thanks when they finally departed. Thranduil had declined to be a member of their escort, and he refused to let Dorondir volunteer, either. Lady Kasin’s maids wept at the hopelessness of it all as they rode away, and Hegan was silently determined to see the whole lot of them married off. Clearly, leaving dwarrowdams with elves made them soft and useless with alarming speed.

            Thranduil followed his friend back to his rooms once everyone was well away.

            “I cannot say that I will miss her,” Thranduil said, pouring himself a drink. “Though . . .” he eyed his friend. “She was rather sober for a female leaving behind the male she claimed to love. As are you. What is brewing here?”

            Dorondir shook his head. “Nothing, my friend. We said our goodbyes already.” He sighed deeply. “I shall miss her eternally.”

            “Truly?” Thranduil asked. “And tomorrow, when the Lady Lúthien appears with a new maid of honor, you will be in love all over again.” He emptied the glass.

            Dorondir shook his head.  “No, my friend. I am finished with all of that. Permanently.”

            Thranduil made a disbelieving sound, then paused as he prepared to pour himself a refill. He turned around slowly to look at his friend.

            “Please, please tell me you did not do anything so foolish as to Dishonor the lady.”

            “No, no, no.” Dorondir shook his head. “She left the maid she came. But, it was a hard choice! One that I will regret forever.”

            Thranduil recapped the decanter and walked away from the bar and his empty glass. “You sound like a pampered princess on her fainting couch. What are you planning, Doron?”

            “Nothing, Ran! I swear! Kas made me promise that I would not do anything foolish.” Dorondir rose and circled the room restlessly. “I can feel her getting father and father from me. Once they pass beyond our borders, then, will my suffering truly begin.”

            Thranduil groaned and scrubbed his hands over his face. “Stop being so melodramatic; there is nothing at all the matter with you. Go home and get some rest. I know you have not slept in weeks. Tomorrow, we can go to the pub. After a drink or two with the boys, you’ll be fine.”

            Dorondir gave Thranduil a cold look. “You have never loved anyone but yourself. I am not being miss-ish or anything else you might accuse me of. I just let the woman that I love walk away! She is being taken far beyond my reach, to be the wife of some other man! She will lie in his arms, and bear his children! And one day, in a lifetime for her, but a mere blink for me, she will die. I will never see her again . . . and I   . . . cannot bear the weight of that loss. And yet, I must.

            You will never understand this. One day, Oropher will force you to marry some female he fancies, but who will not have him, and you will spend eternity, locked in misery with a female you cannot abide on one side, and your father drooling down her blouse on the other. Your sons will be your brothers, and you will do nothing to stop it, because you care about no-one but yourself.

            And I weep for the day you remember my words.”

            Dorondir left, closing the door softly behind him, and Thranduil sat, contemplating the whole, sordid mess for a long time.

            He wasn’t really surprised that he did not see Dorondir in the city again. He wasn’t surprised when Lord Hegan returned in the late summer, much travel stained and more harassed, demanding to see his sister.

            “She is not here,” he was told again and again. Searchers went out in all directions, and many parties stayed until the winter chill began creeping in, but the Lady was not to be found. Lord Hegan finally returned home, furious with the elves for the loss of his sister.

            Thranduil was sent by the queen to take a message south the following spring, and Thranduil found himself being accosted by dwarves demanding the location of the missing Lady at every turn. Several of them even followed him almost to Nargothrond before turning back. Thranduil half expected to see his friend, but silently hoped that the world was big enough that he never would. He silently wished them well, and dismissed the rumors aloud.

            “No elf would lower himself to such a thing. It is unthinkable. Perhaps she was taken by orcs. It has been known to happen.”

            Court gossip is fickle, and soon moved on to other things. After a while, Thranduil stopped thinking about his former friend, and all was forgotten.

 

***

 

2,000 Years Later:

 

            Thranduil shifted his weight, trying to get the feel of this new armor. Beside him, his valet, Glánor, shifted it slightly to test the fit, then stepped back.

            “This one might just work, my lord.”

Thranduil grunted softly. The End of the Second Age was drawing near, and the shadow of war was looming closer. Some of the Men of the West had angered the Valar and lost their Reward. The few Faithfull had returned to Middle Earth, determined to remain True to their beliefs, and destroy the evil that had haunted it for the last two Ages. Oropher, nominally king of the remaining elves from Gondolin, Doriath, and the silvan elves in the East, had tentatively agreed to help fight in the war.

            Thranduil was looking forward to proving himself on the battlefield once more, and had heartily begun preparations, but his father had balked at the expense.

            “The men can supply their own gear,” his father told him. “All will be well; we have good fighters among our people.”

            Thranduil was horrified. They may have the numbers, but without armor, they could all be cut down in one swath. So he was trying to find something light and inexpensive that his father would not immediately veto, but might yet save the lives of some of their people.

            The door opened and Oropher entered his son’s room without knocking. Glánor bowed slightly to the king, and started to leave, but Thranduil put out a hand to stop him. He went still, but Oropher didn’t even notice him.

            “Today is a day of rejoicing, my son.”

            Thranduil’s eyebrow rose. “Why, Father?”

            “Because, today you will be betrothed, and when we return victorious, you will be wed.”

            Thranduil frowned slightly. “How?” he asked. “I am seeing no-one.”

            “Well,” his father said, circling him, his hands crossed behind his back. “You are quite beyond the age when you should have married. I have tolerated it until now, because there was truly no pressing need. But now, you are the Crown Prince of Greenwood the Great, and a kingdom needs Heirs to survive.” His father eyed him speculatively. “Do you remember Lady Eril?”

            Thranduil suddenly felt lightheaded. He remembered her alright. She was a willowy blond, with huge blue eyes, and as far as he could tell, little personality. She liked crafts, and Oropher had been attempting to court her for nearly half a century, but she was having none of it.  She had even relocated for a decade or two to Lothlórien, in a concerted effort to escape his father and his over bearing attentions.

            “What . . . about . . . her?” Thranduil asked slowly. His father smiled.

            “She has returned. And I think that this kingdom would well benefit from your marriage with her.”

            ‘Your sons will be your brothers . . .’ Dorondir’s words from so long ago flashed through his mind, and it took every ounce of his will to keep Thranduil on his feet. He felt sick.

            “And what says the lady?” he asked, his voice tight. Oropher shrugged.

            “She is amenable,” his father said off handedly. “As you know, she has been long away, but she was rather surprised by your change of heart.”

            “My what?” Thranduil demanded. “I have never said two words to the lady!”

            “Oh, you’ve been writing to her for almost five years now.”

            “Holy Valar,” Glánor whispered softly, his usual convenient deafness and dumbness momentarily abandoning him. Thranduil silently agreed.

            “Father, that’s revolting! She has agreed to marry you, not me! You take her to wife! Have more sons, and the Line will be quite secure! I will have no part in this gross deception and grievous folly!”

            “No, no,” Oropher said mildly, unaffected by his son’s words. “Marriage is for the young, not old men like me. It will be so nice to have a woman’s touch in the house again.”

He went, and Glánor only just caught him as Thranduil’s knees gave way. He knelt on the floor, head down, panting and focusing on not being sick. He wanted to vomit, but he had not eaten in several days, and there was nothing to come up.

            “No, no, no, no, no. I will not let him do this to me,” Thranduil muttered. Glánor knelt beside him, rubbing Thranduil’s back.

            “This is wrong, my lord. Against the lady. Against you. Against this Kingdom. How can we survive if deception is to be the Rule of Law?”

            Thranduil swallowed hard a few times, trying to push back the bitter taste still rising in his throat.

            “We cannot. My father has taken leave of all sense of decency. I will not take part in this. The lady must know what she is walking into. I will not be cuckolded by my own father.”

            He ran his fingers through his hair and slowly got to his feet. “Do not let my father see you. Find the lady; tell her what you can, however you can, then come back here. I will not see her  my father’s puppet.”

            Glánor nodded. “Will you be alright?”

            Thranduil swallowed again. He still felt queasy. “No. But that is irrelevant. You must hurry. Knowing my father, he will make his announcement at sunset.”

            Glánor departed, and Thranduil gave in to the urge to be sick.

 

***

 

            Thranduil was stone faced at dinner. He sat beside his father, refused every dish that was brought to him, and took no drink. Across from him, bland, willowy Lady Eril sat with her head down. She refused to look at anyone, least of all at Thranduil. When she had come down for dinner, her eyes were red, and she would not speak to anyone who approached her. Instead, she hovered around the edges of the room, wringing her hands, and pleating a wrinkle into the front of her blue and silver gown.

            Oropher and the rest of the guests ate and chatted, but the supposedly happily in love couple looked nothing of the sort, and it cast a pall over the entire table. Finally, Oropher signaled for the table to be cleared, and wine was poured for everyone. He rose and looked over the guests, and Thranduil silently regretted what he was about to do. It was always a sad day when a good vintage had to suffer for the good of all.

            “My lords, ladies, and gentlemen. As you all know, in just a few weeks, we will be marching south to try and rid Arda of the last stain of Mordor. It will be a glorious battle, and the victory will be all the sweeter when we return, to grow our new home.

            My only son, Thranduil, has finally agreed to take a wife. Tonight, we wish him and the Lady Eril much happiness and joy. Thranduil, do you have the ring?”

            Thranduil looked up at his father, then reached one long finger across the table and tipped over his goblet. The red wine flowed over the tablecloth like blood. Eril raised her head slightly, as the rest of the guests gasped in horror, and Oropher’s face went dark.

            “I do not,” he said softly. “You courted the girl in my name, and without my consent. It is you she has agreed to wed, not I. Do you have the ring, sir?”

            Eril’s face went red and she began to cry. She jumped up from the table, knocking over her chair, and fled. The door hung open in her wake, allowing her sobs to be heard for a long time as she retreated into the palace. Thranduil rose without a word and marched out of the room. Everyone turned to stare at Oropher, who looked like he wanted to kill his son.

 

***

 

 

            Thranduil had never understood why the poets called battles glorious. They were nothing of the sort. They were horror, and screaming, and dying, and utter wretchedness, expanded by a factor of ten thousand. But, perhaps that didn’t sound well in a poem. The battle was over, and he sat in a smallish tent with the other remaining commanders, counting their losses. His father’s unwillingness to properly prepare their people for battle had cost him close to two-thirds of his men, and made him king before the first sortie was even supposed to begin. Oropher didn’t want to take orders from a noldor elf, and had, on his own authorization, jumped prematurely into battle. Countless lives were needlessly thrown away, his own being among the first.

            Thranduil had been waiting for the signal from Gil-galad with his own men, and had refused to let them follow his father prematurely. They were now all that remained of his army. His father’s body could not be recovered, and Thranduil was still waiting to feel some form of regret, but so far, he only felt desperately tired. Across from him, Lord Elrond of Imladris, looked near sick with weariness and regret. His kinsman on his brother’s side, had chosen not to destroy the Ring of Power. Sauron was physically gone, but with the Ring still in the World, his Spirit, and the hate and evil it created would linger, like a bad odor, likely for centuries.

            A pyrrhic victory.

            Thranduil finally rose without a word and went outside. The air in the tent was getting close. and he couldn’t breathe. He needed to gather his men and return home. So many had left, and so very, very few would be returning. He turned and stopped short. Covered in dirt, blood, and grime, the elf before him was nearly unrecognizable, but Thranduil had known him far too long.

            “Doron?” He asked, taking a step towards him. The elf offered him a half lopsided grin and shook his head.

            “That is my name, sire,” he said. “But I do not think I am, who you think I am.”

            Thranduil drew back slightly. This was a mere boy, and the voice was wrong; his accent attesting to his eastern origins. “Who are you, then?”

            “I was named for my great-grandfather, Lord Dorondir of Doriath. But Mother said that name was far too archaic for this day and age, so it was shortened to Doron.”

            “Great . . . grandfather?” Thranduil asked. The youth nodded. “And what happened to him?”

            “He died,” the boy said. “My grandfather said his parents lived a long, long time, and that they went with no regrets.”

            Thranduil felt like crying for the first time in centuries. “They were happy?”

            “Very. They had three children, which is a lot for dwarrow.” Doron rubbed the back of his head. “At least, it would be if we were proper dwarrow. But my grandfather married into the world of Men, and my mother is a dwarrowdam. So, we’re all a bit mixed up.”

            “Why are you here?” Thranduil asked. The youth gestured towards the battlefield.

            “There was always talk in my family that there would be a great war. And no matter whose lifetime it came in, we were to side with the Elves and the Men of the West.”

            “Ah,” Thranduil nodded. “Doron? Are your grandparents still living?”

            “No, sire. It’s just me and my mother now. Mother wants to go to Moria, to live with the Longbeards from Erid Luin. I understand they are my cousins.”

            “They are,” Thranduil told him. “Where is your mother?”

            “She’s around. She’s pretty handy with an axe, and getting her to stay home without me was next to impossible.”

            “The elves of Greenwood the Great are leaving tomorrow. Get your mother and come with us. We will see you through the Misty Mountains. There are still loose orcs about, and it will not be safe for you two to travel alone.”

            The boy nodded and bowed, running off in the opposite direction.

So, Dorondir had taken the tiny dwarrowdam from her brother, spirited her away to who knew where, and had lived a long, happy life. Thranduil sighed. It was far more than he could boast, and he was excessively sorry that their final words, after so many centuries of friendship, had been bitter.

            ‘I hope he forgave me,’ Thranduil thought. He couldn’t bear the thought that his best friend had died hating him. He glanced back over his shoulder. Doron had stopped running some distance away. He was talking to a dwarf with thick curly blond hair and pointing in Thranduil’s general direction. The dwarf hugged the boy and they set off together with purpose. Thranduil continued back to the command tent. It would be an interesting trip home.

 

***

 

            Outside the gate to the Greenwood, Lady Eril was waiting for Thranduil and his army to arrive. Behind her, the citizens were gathered, fearing the worst, and hoping for the best. A low voice began a lament as the much diminished army came into view. Thranduil rode before them, and dismounted at the gate. The soldiers drew up in ranks behind him, and they stood as the crowd took up the song. The very trees themselves seemed to be weeping when the last, mournful notes finally died away.

            Lady Eril stepped forward and dropped into a low curtsey before Thranduil. “The king is dead. Long live the king.” The crowd repeated the words as one. Thranduil was officially King of Greenwood the Great.

            Lady Eril rose and looked at Thranduil. “I burned your father’s letters,” she said. There was steel lining her voice now. The weepy child he had briefly been introduced to was gone. “What he did to both of us is utterly reprehensible. But I came here to marry a king.”

            He held her gaze. “I do not know you.”

            “Nor I, you,” she replied. “But there is work to be done here that has been too long neglected. I have seen to some of it. If it is not to your satisfaction, then you are free to seek out another. If, however, you are willing to accept that we have both been badly used, we can take the steps needed to repair what has been broken. Together.

            I do not ask for love. That is for children. I do demand respect and courtesy, and perhaps, one day, we may yet be friends.”

            Thranduil was silent for a long time, considering, then he offered her his arm. She took it, her fingertips just resting on his sleeve.

            “I am Thranduil, son of Oropher,” he told her. Eril inclined her head.

            “I am Eril, daughter of Arlyn.”

            Thranduil waited as the crowd parted, bowing as the couple passed between them.

            “Let us see, my lady, what has yet to be done.”

 

 

The End

ChibiMethos

2014

 

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