1. Thoughts of a Dry Brain
Prologue: Thoughts Of A Dry Brain
"Thou hast nor youth nor age
But as it were an after dinner sleep
Dreaming of both."
TS Eliot, Gerontion
For the past two hours, Thranduil Oropherion had sat with his back resting against the broad bole of an ancient oak, wineskin in hand, watching his woods fill up with snow. The snowfall had ceased now, the storm moving off to the east, and the stars had come out in the moonless sky. He felt older than the oak, which indeed he was, and yet those stars had not changed from the well-remembered patterns of his earliest youth.
He hefted the wineskin and took another deep draught. No, not enough yet for tonight's purposes, judging from the weight of what remained and the stubborn clarity in his head. Had he ever been young? Had he ever felt free of care? So hard to remember . . .
Chapter One: A Thousand Small Deliberations
"We have all the time in the world for such joys. Now go to your wife. Take her to her parents and make it right with them, as a man should . . ."
Easier said than done, Thranduil thought, as he followed his wife of less than a day along the steep mountain path, with Oropher's parting words still ringing in his memory. The aromatic pine fragrance of the Emyn Duir filled his nostrils, the soft whisper of the wind through the branches filled his ears, and trepidation filled his heart. Oh, why had he not kept his head? Had be been more in control of himself, more prudent, as the son of a king ought to be, he would be bringing Lalaithiel's father a dead deer or whatever it was that these Evyr gave as a polite bridal offering, rather than coming before him to make amends.
Perhaps they won't notice, he told himself, and just as quickly discarded the thought. Helegui, his father's seneschal, had noticed and scowled down his bladelike nose. Galion had noticed and laughed, telling Thranduil it was high time. The Laegrim had winked and grinned, and the Iathrim had raised their aristocratic eyebrows at the untoward behavior of their prince. Oropher himself had been surprisingly decent about it, but not a one of them had failed to notice how things had changed when Thranduil and Lalaithiel came out of the woods together that morning. His wife's parents could hardly be any different.
Watching Lalaithiel's slender body as she walked in front of him, Thranduil felt an overpowering urge to rush ahead, take her by the waist and carry her into the bushes for more of the delightful pastime in which they had passed the previous night. His breath, already rapid from the exertion of the hike, quickened as he envisioned her writhing beneath him in passion, and above him and . . .
'Now, you see, that is the same brilliant thinking that has brought you to this sorry pass,' said a small voice of reason inside his head, a voice that had been too silent of late. Had it been a little louder last night, or had Thranduil been more of a mind to pay it heed, he would now be going before his beloved's parents in courtesy to ask for her hand in marriage, rather than presenting that marriage as a fait accompli. It would surely not help matters to bring her to them with the tips of her ears still pink and her lips bruised from a recent tupping.
Who could blame him, though? His love for this girl had hit him blindside with the suddenness of a thunderclap in a summer tempest. Thranduil had been long unwed. Galion had married young. Galion's children had married young, and his children's children in turn, until Thranduil had lost track of his friend's progeny, and yet the same joy never seemed to happen for Thranduil. The ennin passed, and Thranduil saw Oropher eyeing him sidelong, as if the King felt his son might be turned to the love of other males. Thranduil knew this was not the case. He desired women fiercely -- always, it was some faceless elf-maiden he pictured as he lay nights alone with his own hand -- yet never did he meet one with whom he wanted to spend eternity. At length he wondered if there might be something wrong with him and decided that life as a family man was not to be his fate. Until one morning when, out pursuing a stag, he had stumbled upon a girl bathing in a forest pool, and since that moment his heart had not been his own. His mind neither.
On the night she accepted his betrothal token and agreed to become his, too many long-years of loneliness and pent up need had broken over him like a tidal wave rushing across the land, sweeping away duty, virtue, and wisdom itself. A future life without her was unimaginable, and he felt his heart clench at the thought that, even now, he might lose her.
"Whatever is amiss with you, you great royal fool?" Thranduil came out of his musings to see that Lalaithiel had stopped, turned and stood staring at him, hand on hip. "You look as if you were heading to your own execution, rather than to meet my mother and my father."
Thranduil was not so sure that an execution would not be the case. "What if they don't like me?" he asked lamely.
"How could they not?" she laughed.
Easily, Thranduil thought. Of late, some dwarves in Moria disliked him intensely, and Thranduil knew he was lucky to have escaped that incident with his life. There were some among his father's nobles who found him a disappointment for precisely the sort of rash behavior that had taken him alone into Moria, and the lack of judgment that brought him before Lalaithiel's parents now. "Your father would be well within his rights to have me thrashed," he said unhappily.
Lalaithiel merely snorted and rolled her pale grey eyes. He loved that about her -- her utter lack of awe for the fact he was the son of the elf who called himself king of this land, and her readiness to mock him whenever he took himself too seriously. "If I recall aright, it was I who first said the vows and I who first kissed you, thus." She stepped forward to show him, thus, and pressed into him. "I have a mind of my own, Thranduil," she teased. "And who could resist me when I am bent upon something I want?"
Thranduil sighed, enjoying the sensation of her body against his. "Only someone with far more self-control than I." He exercised what little self-control he had now, setting her gently away from him, or else he really would take her to her people fresh from a tumbling. "So tell me, wife," he said, letting the new and unfamiliar word roll off his tongue as if he were tasting a sweetmeat, "how much farther do we have to go before we reach your home?"
"No farther," she said. "We are here."
Thranduil blinked to clear his vision and looked around. Had not Lalaithiel made him look more closely, he might have missed the strange dwellings entirely, clad as they were in bark and roofed in leaves that made them fade into the background of the forest. How very unlike his father's own palace, which looked as is if had grown out of the earth, yet stood proudly and plainly visible against the trees that surrounded it. "Oh, this is marvelous!" he whispered.
As he spoke the words, an elf-woman, dressed in green and brown hues that made her nigh unto invisible against the foliage, materialized out of the woods, carrying a leather bucket. "Please, allow me," Thranduil said, rushing to relieve her of her burden. "Where would you like me to put this?"
The woman nodded toward one of the huts. "Next to the house will do." She looked from Lalaithiel to Thranduil and back again. "Well, daughter," she said finally, raising one dark eyebrow. "I see you have taken yourself a man. Is he of any use -- besides hauling water, that is?"
Thranduil saw the tips of his wife's ears flush. "I have no complaints, Amèh," she said.
The other woman nodded. She raised her voice and called out, "She's home, Tûron, and she was not eaten by a warg."
A tall elf-man came out of the hut's door, bending his head as he went beneath the lintel. He seemed to have been cooking, Thranduil thought, for he smelled of charcoal and roasting meat, and he wiped his hands on a piece of rough cloth as he approached. He also looked from Thranduil to Lalaithiel and back again several times, but said nothing, although the expression on his face made it plain he understood the situation.
He went first to his daughter and laid his head against her forehead in an unmistakable gesture of affection. He drew back then, pausing to run through his fingers the necklace of mithril and moonstones that Thranduil had fastened at Lalaithiel's throat the night before. "Very pretty. But you can't eat it."
Thranduil swallowed. Oropher had congratulated him this morning for winning the allegiance of the Forest Folk all in one night. He now had a feeling that his father might have been overly optimistic.
"Atèh, Amèh, this is Thranduil."
"I am Tûron," said the man gravely.
"And I am Nîwel," added the woman.
Looking at his wife's parents, Thranduil could see traces of Lalaithiel in each -- her pale grey eyes from her father, her delicate beauty and dark hair from her mother. Even clad in humble garb, the couple had an unmistakable majesty about them.
"Hîr Adar," said Thranduil, bowing ceremoniously. He turned to Nîwel. "Hiril Naneth."
"Well, daughter," said Tûron, thawing just the slightest, "you've chosen yourself a mannerly one, I will grant him that."
"And a pretty one too," chimed in Nîwel. "Where ever did you get that hair, Prince?"
Thranduil had no idea where his bright golden hair had come from. Growing up and looking around among the folk of his father's realm he had seen nothing but shades of black and dark brown like Galion's hair, or silver, and pale flaxen like Oropher's. Never a one who looked like him, and he had come at long last to think of himself as the sole cuckoo in the nest. But more surprising to him was Nîwel's use of his title.
"Do not wonder at this, lad," said Tûron, noting his startled look. "We may live simply, but that does not mean we are ignorant fools or live with our heads in our--" he paused as Nîwel cleared her throat and gave him a sharp look, "ah . . . armpits. I knew you were courting our daughter, and I have long been curious as to what brought a prince of the Grey-elves among those whom your folk call the Evyr."
Evyr, the Unwilling. Thranduil knew this was the term his father's Iathrim used for the strange folk who had come west following the destruction of Cuivienen. Dark-elves, they called them when being less polite, despite that fact that their own great king, Thingol, had bridled at the term. Thingol, who alone of the Grey-elves had seen the light of the Trees and had turned from it, remaining in Ennor for love. Thranduil would show he was made of the same stuff.
"I am as Morben as you," he said solemnly. "I love Lalaithiel, and I would die for her."
"Is that your lover-name for her?" said Tûron, with a smile. "Well-spoken, for I see you know her heart. There is not a man among us, Thara-ndhul, who in the first days of taking a woman to be his own, does not say the same thing -- that he is willing to die for her. The question, son, is are you willing to live for her?"
Thranduil raised an eyebrow and shook his head. "What do you mean?"
"Your father came east to find a simpler life and to live as elves should. Are you willing, Thara-ndhul, to follow that path to its end?"
"I am willing to do whatever it takes to be a proper husband to Lalaithiel and to show honor to her folk," Thranduil replied solemnly.
"Indeed," Tûron said. "Are you willing to undergo our manhood ceremonies and become one of us? This would be only courteous for one who wishes to take one of our women to wife."
Thranduil began to nod earnestly, until a worrisome thought crossed his mind. He had heard disquieting rumors of the strange customs of the Forest Folk. "These rites do not involve, ah, cutting anything off, do they?" Beside him, Lalaithiel let out her tinkling laugh, and Nîwel snorted softly.
Tûron merely quirked his lip. "No, son -- not even your princely braid." As Thranduil relaxed, he continued, "I cannot promise it will be entirely painless. But what is a little pain if the prize is worth having?"
Thranduil smiled wanly. 'Heh, right -- what's a little pain?"
As Thranduil and Tûron conversed, elves with curious eyes had come drifting out of huts and the surrounding forest. They now had quite an audience. A rustle in the tree branches made Thranduil look up, as three young men dropped to the forest floor.
"What are they doing?" he asked, as each of them untied a brace of dead squirrels from his belt and cast them on the ground.
"They have been out hunting," Nîwel said. "Sometimes, when the terrain is rough, it is swifter to travel through the tree-tops."
"You can do that?" Thranduil had never seen the like of it, not even among the Laegrim.
"Any elf worthy of the name ought to be able to run along the branches," Tûron said dismissively, although Thranduil noted that Lalaithiel gave her father a warning glance.
Any elf worthy of the name, indeed! "Then so can I," Thranduil said, rising to the implied challenge in Tûron's voice.
"Is that so? Very well, then; climb up into the branches and run from this tree over to that one." Tûron indicated two trees on either side of the settlement, about half an arrow's flight apart. This earned him a disapproving look from his wife and a gasp of dismay from Lalaithiel. "At least I am sending him across the commons, not out over the ravine," he said peevishly.
"I will be all right," Thranduil reassured his wife. "I can do this." He strode confidently over to the first tree Tûron had indicated, a massive oak, and leapt high, swinging himself up onto its lowest branch. He stood, balancing himself lightly.
The forest in these parts was mixed hardwood and pine, and the branches of the oaks and beeches intertwined thickly. Thranduil planned his route to the other side, moving in a slight half circle to avoid several pines whose sloping branches could not possibly support him. He saw only a few sparse spots where he would have to leap a void. He was a strong runner, he told himself; he could manage it with ease.
"What are you waiting for?" he heard Tûron say, and he sprang forth, running out along the branch until he felt it dip beneath his weight. He leapt up and to the left, aiming for a main branch on a big beech. This time he proceeded in to the center, up slightly and out again to the periphery. Again came another oak, with its branch slightly lower and with a longer jump required to reach it. Thranduil sprang and came down again, moving in past the massive trunk and out to the end of yet another branch. 'This is fun,' he told himself, just before he felt nothing but thin air beneath his feet and he saw the ground come rushing up at him with alarming speed.
The next thing Thranduil felt, as he struggled his way up from blackness, was the sensation of cold on his cheeks and forehead. He opened his eyes to see the worried face of his wife peering down at him. Lalaithiel had a bucket beside her, the very bucket he had carried for her mother, and her cupped hand still held some of the water she had been splashing on him.
"Huitho," he muttered weakly. Immediately he heard a burst of female laughter from across the clearing, and, struggling to bring his vision into focus, he saw the men, Tûron among them, shaking their heads in disgust.
"I'm fine, fine -- just got the wind knocked out of me," Thranduil said, moving his arms and legs experimentally one by one to discover if it were actually true. Everything seemed to be working, and there were no outrageously sharp bursts of pain in his limbs. So far, so good. He sat up and immediately sank back down again with a groan.
Lalaithiel took his head in her lap and stroked his hair, making little cooing noises. Thranduil stared up at the green canopy of leaves until Tûron's face filled his field of vision.
"Do you still think you have the strength and courage to undergo our rites, son of Ornâpheren?" he asked, looking decidedly unimpressed at his new son-in-law's performance thus far.
"Aye, Hîr Adar," Thranduil said, trying his utmost not to let it come out in a bleat. "Just tell me the time and the place."
He swore he could see the faintest ghost of a smile on Tûron's face. "Very well, then, Thara-ndhul. Right here. Tonight. There is no point in waiting."
* * *
To be continued . . . .
Evyr: Sindarin for Avari
Laegrim: Nandor, Green-elves
ennin: yeni, long-years
Amèh: Mother. Reconstructed Primitive Elvish
Atèh: Father. See Above
Hîr Adar: My lord Father
Hiril Naneth: My lady Mother
Morben: Moriquendi, Dark-elf
Huitho: The affirmative command for the marital act. Thranduil's favorite cuss-word.
Thara-ndhul: Primitive Elvish for 'Tall and slender-dark and secret.' While I believe that Thranduil's name in Sindarin translates to 'Across the Great River,' Tûron is bestowing another name entirely upon him. One that fits him just as well.
Ornâpheren: Primitive Elvish for Oropher, 'Tall beech.'
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.