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Oak and Willow: 3. Good news?
Thingol looked up, "I know many were injured in the attempt to re-open the road to the Sea. What forces do we have to spare?"
Celeborn, who stood by his elbow, leaned down to reply. "Mablung has returned, lord. He is hale, and many of his warriors with him. We can assemble a company."
A company, Thingol thought, sighing. It already seemed so long since the days when he had last seen peace, and a great regret rose up in him for those times - before the sun, before the great Enemy, Morgoth, came to dwell at Angband, as his neighbour. The promise of Tilion and Arien had been an empty one, and the doubts of Melian had proved wise. "In what time?"
Celeborn spoke with one of his captains. "By the first hour after noon."
Thingol nodded, bestowing a faint, weary smile on the Green-folk messenger. "All those we have to spare will be made ready to accompany you. Refresh yourself and take rest until then. My hope goes with you."
He raised a hand, dismissing this, the last of the petitioners. The emeralds, clasped in the bracelet around his wrist, gave a burst of light under the lamps, and he saw leaves; leaves and moss, and the roots of trees, going down into the bones of the earth. His land, his folk, his to protect with every last breath in him.
"They should remove to Doriath," said Melian, taking his hand in her own more delicate one, "Where I could keep them safe."
"Ah, Lady," Thingol said, raising the linked hands to his lips, "You of all people should know that the Quendi value freedom over safety. I will not ask the Green-kindred to abandon their lands. Not while I have strength to defend them."
"But our strength declines daily," Celeborn broke in. Since the formal audience was over he left his place at the king's left hand to sit on the steps of the dais. "Unless we can somehow learn to breed like orcs, we will soon by overwhelmed by sheer numbers."
"You have a foul mouth, nephew." Grief at the knowledge that the words were true did not prevent Thingol from a bitter smile at the way it had been put, "And clear sight." A weight like that of Thangorodrim seemed to settle on him, and he straightened his back in defiance, struggling to breathe deep. "Indeed, even if the Nandor and the Green-folk withdraw within Doriath, what will that achieve, save to have us all like fish in a net?"
He reached up to take a lock of his wife's raven hair, smoothed it gently between his fingers. "You are mighty, Melian, Queen among Maia, and what peace we have is because of the Girdle of Defence you have wrought about this kingdom. Yet can your will prevail over that of a Valar, though he be fallen? I think not. Did Morgoth have us all in one place, it would but hasten the end."
Gazing into her grey eyes he could forget all of this, return in memory to the glades of Nan Elmoth where they had first met, where they had stood, enraptured, hand in hand while the stars wheeled overhead and the trees grew tall. She smiled at him now, and somehow, though he had not hope, he found the will to endure. "Well, the end will come yet swifter if we give up. I will not despair. Any victory over me will be dearly bought!"
There was a stir by the door, and courtiers drew aside in a flutter of silk as a grey-cloaked scout burst through. He raced into the centre of the floor and flung himself to one knee. "Lord King, I have great news!" His upturned face was stunned with good fortune, and Thingol felt wary interest. Good news would be welcome.
He signalled for the messenger to speak and, glowing with importance, the young elf burst out; "A great host of Eldar has landed on these shores from Aman. They are numerous and glorious - splendid with banners and trumpets, with armour and shield and sword. It's said that they touched ground at the same time that the sun first arose - I can't vouch for that - and have been travelling since. I spoke with some of their servants, and they said their lords were Fingolfin and the sons of Finarfin. They have returned to do battle with Morgoth."
About time! Thingol thought, slow ebbing despair making him feel bitter even towards these potential allies, About time the Departed gave some thought to those of us they abandoned to live in safety in the West. And what will be their price for this sudden aid? But he tried to ease the grimness as far as he could. Whatever change these new Eldar introduced, at least Doriath was no longer in danger of being overrun. "Valar be praised," he said grudgingly, "In the very hour of our need. Do I know these princes?"
"They are spoken of as the sons of Finu." The messenger's smile was broad, and at last Elu Thingol could mirror it. Doubts were swept aside at the name, and a great flame of joy rose in his heart that had been so bowed down only moments before. "Finwë?" he cried, leaping to his feet, "My greatest friend! The brother of my heart! Long we have been apart and yet he has not forgotten me in my need. Has he not come himself?"
"That I do not know, Sire. I lingered only briefly and then hastened away. They drew nigh to the lake of Mithrim as I departed. Beyond that, I know no more than I have told."
"Return to them swiftly then, and let one of the Princes come to me. I will send an escort behind you, so that all will be ready once your message is sped."
"My King," the scout bowed his way out, grinning, and Thingol turned to his great-nephew, the closest male kin he had left in Doriath. Celeborn was watching him with a curl of the lips catlike in its smugness.
"Ai! Now you will claim you knew all along what the rising of the Sun portended. Take your gloating gaze from out my sight...for you are the only one of rank I have to rightly welcome these sons of Finwë, and I would have you do it as a prince. So go, finish those things that need to be done, make yourself stately and stand ready to depart."
"My Lord," Celeborn left promptly, and Melian watched him go with amused eyes.
"Even if you had twenty messengers of equal rank, you would have still sent him," she said, "You do know that?"
"I do," he said, and laughed at her maternal ferocity, "But he need not. He is unruly enough as it is."
Standing, he offered her his arm, and side by side they walked from the throne room into the gardens and radiant caves of many fountains where the folk of Menegroth gathered to converse and dance. News of Finwë's return made him feel like singing in reprieve and joy... and yet. And yet a small corner of his mind whispered still that this was far too good to be true.
You are ever churlish, and ever suspicious, he rebuked himself sternly, Think only that your chosen-brother will soon be with you once more and rejoice. He called for his harp and drowned the small disquiet in song.
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