11. The Paths They Tread
“Ada?” she asked worried.
“Anoriel, I have been thinking. Answer me frankly. Do you like the Prince?” he asked seriously.
Anoriel blushed before mumbling almost inaudibly, “I think so, Adar. I like him, his character, his valour, his chivalry, his gracefulness, his company. I think him the most beautiful elf I have ever seen. And more than that, I feel a flutter in my stomach whenever I see him.”
Amdir sighed, “It is cruel on my side, but , do you know of the stories concerning him?”
Anoriel asked curiously, “What stories, Adar? I only know what you and Lord Celebron and Lord Elrond told me. I heard nothing else. All my impressions of the Prince are formed on these views and the short while I spent in his company at Lindon.”
Amdir nodded and walked further into the woods, leaving her alone. Shrugging, she put down her father’s stress to the war and made her way to her brother’s flet for Amroth had arrived that morning. He would return to the borders only after winter. Until then the more experienced Haldir would assume charge of the patrols.
“Amroth!,” she exclaimed joyously as she was swept into a pair of strong arms.
“Anoriel!” Amroth laughed as he twirled her about once making her squeal. He put her down and ran an eye over her to make sure she was all right. It was an old habit, when he had been the elder brother who would nurse a little elfling’s injuries. His smile widened as he took in his sister’s healthy, well-formed figure. There was a strange lightness in her manner that was reflected in her sapphire blue eyes.
“You are in love,” he said bluntly, he knew that expression, he had seen it on his mirror reflection many a time. Ah! Nimrodel! He sighed internally.
Anoriel fidgeted saying nervously, “I do not know, brother. It is a feeling I have never had before. The Prince makes my heart flutter,” her eyes took on a dreamy look.
Amroth laughed, “To think I have lived to see a day I would never have imagined. That my fiery, much pampered sister would fall in love! Who is it? Someone at Ada’s court?”
“Did Ada tell you nothing?” Anoriel frowned. Seeing Amroth shake his head, she proceeded blushing, “’Tis the Prince of Green wood, Thranduil Oropherion.”
Amroth stared at his sister in stunned silence. How did she fall in love with one so unlike her? He remembered the Prince well, so very well, from a night in Lindon.
All his protective, fraternal instincts rose as he said sternly, “And Ada agrees?”
Anoriel shrugged, “He and King Oropher were the persons responsible for this proposal to strengthen alliances. I was not happy. But then I met the Prince and I…I guess it was like when you heard Nimrodel’s song the first time. But Ada, I do not know, he has been brooding recently.”
“As he well should!” Amroth bristled, “Anoriel , you are too naïve to bond to such an elf as Thranduil Oropherion! You do not have any idea what he is capable of!”
Anoriel lifted her chin proudly saying, “What do you mean?”
“He, Anoriel! He is fickle in his affections! I do not know how to explain it to you. But Thranduil Oropherion holds the dubious distinction of having bedded more than half the elves in the courts across Middle Earth!” Amroth spat disgustedly, “It is not a match I would countenance for my sister.”
Anoriel stood shocked and flushed crimson, for her family rarely spoke of such intimate matters so openly in her presence, then she said in a quiet voice, “He is not fickle. The love he bears his father is evident in his every action.”
“That is another reason why I would not have you marry him. He loves his father more than he can love anyone else!” Amroth said furiously, “I will not have my sister married to an elf who cannot give her his entire heart!”
“Will you stop loving Nimrodel even though you know well that she can never be yours?” Anoriel retorted, she knew it was low on her part to tell so to her brother.
Amroth’s face convulsed as he spoke in a pained voice, “If you love him the way I do Nimrodel, then , I shall not oppose your choice. Though I pray it were not so.”
Glorfindel hugged Gil-Galad warmly as he was received by the court of Lindon. He was weary after the battle and the long ride and now wanted nothing more than to be embroiled in one of those conspiracies at court.
“Come, Glor,” Gil-Galad ushered him away from the main dining hall, “I thought we would have the proper celebration tomorrow eve as you must be exhausted.”
“I am grateful,” Glorfindel said thankfully.
Gil-Galad mercifully led him to his own chambers and bade the maids bring a meal there. The King helped Glorfindel settle down and finally seated him in a comfortable chair by the fire and placed a glass of warm wine in his hands.
Glorfindel said wearily, “Erestor has never listened to anyone. The most I could do was to send him with Elrond to safety.”
Gil-Galad took a seat opposite to Glorfindel and said wryly, “It made an excellent beginning to my dream marriage, Glor, I can tell you that. I woke up to find myself alone in the bed except for a prize hangover. But I am glad that he is safe and happy, from what I can sense through our bond.”
“Elrond and him, they get along well. They will be fine” , Glorfindel offered.
“My cousin,” Gil-Galad sighed, “He is a cause of concern,” he shook his head, “let me not sully your return with my fears and worries.”
Glorfindel did not broach the topic again and they ate quietly, conversing desultorily about the battle and its effects.
A sudden pounding on the door brought the conversation to a halt. Glorfindel made to get up, but Gil-Galad motioned him to stay seated and the King opened the door to find himself face to face with a very angry Menelwen.
“Where is he?” she demanded furiously.
Glorfindel stood up and watched her apprehensively, “Why are you here?”
Gil-Galad moved back uncertainly.
Menelwen said angrily, “I am tired, Glorfindel. Tired of waiting for you. My brother’s bonded though he is younger than me. Perhaps you are just stalling because you do not in truth love me.”
Glorfindel stepped forward, the pain her words caused etched across his handsome visage. He said quietly, “I am not ready to take that step. Marriages are for eternity. And I love you too much to see you in an unhappy marriage, to cause you pain.”
Menelwen said in a low voice, “I am done with this waiting. Either we bond as soon as my brother arrives or we end this. How long will I wait uncertainly for a message concerning your safety to arrive whenever you ride to battle? If we bond, I can atleast sense your safety!”
Glorfindel said simply, “I need time, .”
Menelwen said frostily, “I shall not wait anymore, Lord Glorfindel. I bid thee a good day.”
Elrond smiled as he watched his mare frolic with Ebony. He was seated cross-legged on a jutting rock that looked over their camp. Down below, he could see Erestor supervising the construction of the tents for the women and the children. The Chief Counsellor was certainly in his element as he raised his high, clear tone confidently to boost the flagging morale in the camp. Elrond’s smile vanished.
It had been weeks on the trail with barely enough food, water and fodder for the mounts. The guards were weary and the refugees bone tired. Now winter would set in. Both Elrond and Erestor had realized the folly of going on towards Lothlórien. One of Amdir’s riders had arrived bearing a message from the Lothlórien King stating that he had enough on his platter without sheltering refugees. Gil-Galad was reluctant to have them travel to Lindon. But on Erestor’s persuasion, he had agreed unwillingly. So they were now bound west. Now they were camped in a valley underneath the Hithelagir, the torturous Misty Mountains. They had decided to wait out the winter here. It was clear they could not go on without supplies which Gil-Galad had promised to send soon.
“What are you thinking?” Erestor demanded as he plopped down beside Elrond and closed his eyes tiredly. However it was evident that he enjoyed the administrative work despite the absence of Glorfindel. Gil-Galad’s rider had borne a message stating that Glorfindel was safe and they had been relieved of their anxiety.
Elrond rested his weight backwards onto his hands and stretched out his legs before saying lazily, “Was admiring the view.”
“View?” Elrond did not turn to look at Erestor, who, he was sure, would have raised an eyebrow, “What is so pleasing from here?”
Elrond did not reply.
“Well,” Erestor said thoughtfully, “The valley is sheltered from the winds blowing from the Hithelagir and also well-watered. The soil is fertile, exceedingly so. The pastures are green, the trees friendly, the birds and animals carefree. I can see why you are relaxed. For I find myself strangely soothed and in some way attracted to the valley.”
“It is so for me also,” Elrond agreed, “I feel more at home here than I was at Lindon or the Havens of Sirion or even with Ada Maglor.”
Erestor grasped Elrond’s forearm in a show of companionship and said warmly, “I do understand what it means to be not loved enough by one’s own parents. But that was the past, Elrond. Now we are here because of ourselves, not because of what our parents’ deeds. Is that not enough for us to proud of ourselves?”
“Yes,” Elrond lay his other hand atop Erestor’s, “That is true,” he watched Dance being chased around by Ebony, “but yet I find myself wishing that someone would chase me like my mare is being chased right now.”
“As Gil chased me, you mean?” Erestor sniggered, “That is a dangerous dream, . I was scared witless when he first talked of it that night in Lindon!”
“It makes you feel valued,” Elrond said pensively.
“You say that to Glor! He wrote to me that he has broken up with my sister, the idiot. His reason was to keep her safe! I do not know what side I shall choose when I reach Lindon; Glor’s or my sister’s. It will require all of the lessons I have learnt in politics! And you are much valued, Elrond. Gil-Galad is all fired up with the intense desire to marry off his heir to Galadriel’s child!,” Erestor reminded him, “You will find yourself being chased around soon.”
Elrond said bleakly, “I do not know if I can be happy with a lady I share nothing in common with and I certainly do not think I can keep her content!”
Erestor said seriously, “Do you then prefer male company?”
“I have no idea,” Elrond shrugged.
“Same here,” Erestor admitted, “I did not even know half the uses of my body until Thranduil tutored me. And to think that I had excelled in physiognomy!” He lowered his voice before saying, “I am not even sure how women differ from males, I mean, in the bed. Thranduil offered to teach me, but I opted out.”
Elrond laughed helplessly, as he digested the last piece of revelation.
Erestor said in a surly tone, “You are not supposed to laugh. I expected sympathy.”
“I do sympathize,” Elrond assured him recovering from his laughter after a particularly murderous glance from the dark-haired counsellor, “It was funny though!”
Erestor suddenly pinned him down onto his back and lightly strangled him. A part of Elrond watched detachedly as Erestor’s silken hair obscured his face. There was a lightness in them both, Elrond felt the influence of the valley.
He cupped Erestor’s cheek and kissed him lightly on the brow saying, “If you wish to regain your honour, Lord Erestor, I suggest you adopt ways more suited to warriors than elflings. Shall we duel?”
The valley must have been working its magic on Erestor too, for he returned Elrond’s gesture and sat up saying, “Why not? But I admit, there is something in the air that makes me reckless! We should cap the swords lest we injure each other!”
They duelled awhile on the rock before running to the Bruinen to wash the grime off. The valley had made them so light-hearted that they dunked each other several times, before tiredly climbing on to the bank and sunning themselves dry.
In the days that came, they worked together to supervise the food rationing, patrols, wood gathering and a score of other mundane activities. It was soon a bustling community in the valley. Elrond and Erestor escaped to the wilds often taking long walks, or riding across the pastures on their mounts. Everyday began and ended with a long leisurely swim in the Bruinen, they would talk of daily matters, weightier concerns and even personal experiences. In the days that passed, their attachment to the land that sheltered them grew stronger and they half-dreaded their return to the city of Lindon.
Celeborn watched Thranduil dance with the ladies at court, a wistful expression on his face, as he sipped from his goblet of wine.
Oropher, who sat next to him at the head of the table, smiled and said wickedly, “Would you enjoy dancing? Shall I ask my son to take you to the floor? I would take you for the dance myself, but I have not danced for centuries.”
Celeborn shook his head, “I was merely thinking of happier days, cousin. These days I care not much for dancing.”
Oropher said quietly, “Let me make this day a happy one for you, Celeborn,” he called for Thranduil, who arrived flushed after a particularly vigorous dance, “My son, would you do your duty as the Crown Prince and take our royal guest to the dance floor?”
Thranduil bowed and extended his hand to Celeborn saying, “Allow me the honour of the next dance with you, My Lord.”
Celeborn shrugged and throwing a wickedly smiling Oropher a disdainful look, he took Thranduil’s hand. The minstrels started playing a slow romantic ballad, one, which Celeborn was reminded, had been played at his wedding centuries ago. Trust Oropher to make him uncomfortable!
Thranduil said enthusiastically, “Shall we?”
“I’m not much good at dancing, ,” Celeborn tried to opt out, “Maybe for a less complicated dance.”
Thranduil replied pleasantly, “I know enough dancing to sustain us both through this dance, My Lord,” he snaked his arm around Celeborn’s waist and pulled him close to his chest.
The on-looking elves cheered lustily and the dance floor emptied leaving them in sole possession of the arena. Oropher was on his feet now as he laughed at Celeborn’s flushed expression.
Celeborn sighed. Thranduil was stubborn and he thought it would be easier to stop protesting and submit to the Prince’s will. As the music picked up, Thranduil’s fingers threaded through his silver tresses.
Celeborn remarked, “You are insufferable, Thranduil Oropherion. Have you forgotten that I am married and that I have a daughter your age?”
The Prince laughed, Celeborn noted that the sound was low and musical and extremely sensual, “My Lord, that does not diminish your radiance even a little. I love your company in more ways than one.”
“Are you seducing me on the dance floor?” Celeborn queried, “Before your father and the entire court of Green wood?”
Thranduil laughed, “Why Lord Celeborn? I am merely doing my duty as the Crown Prince to make you comfortable in my father’s realm,” his face darkened slightly, “I am no prostitute, My Lord.”
Celeborn said sincerely, “I have never thought so in my wildest dreams, . You are as a son to me. Never forget that. I love your father as my brother.”
The music picked up and Thranduil suddenly twirled him around causing Celeborn to lose his balance. He held onto Thranduil to prevent himself from falling and landed against Thranduil’s chest. He tried to regain his footing and tripping on his robes, fell down clumsily. Celeborn cursed Oropher for his predicament and hauled himself up.
Thranduil said apologetically, “I did not mean for you to fall. I am sorry, My Lord,” there was genuine regret in those green eyes.
Celeborn shook his head saying, “I was always a poor dancer, My prince. It is not your fault that I tripped on my own robes. If anything it is your Adar’s fault to have got me into this situation despite knowing my lack of skills in dancing.”
Thranduil knelt on a single knee and kissed Celeborn’s fingers lightly before leading him off the dance floor.
Oropher hurried to them and asked concernedly, “Cousin, are you all right?”
Celeborn saw no reason to forgive the King so easily. He grumbled, “My bones ache. I am going to retire, King Oropher.”
Thranduil suppressed a smile as he took in his father’s worried expression and hastily left the scene.
Oropher asked, “Since when have you called me King?”
“Since when have you ordered me onto a dance floor for a romantic dance with your son?” Celeborn retorted and turned away haughtily.
He left the hall quickly, but he did not miss hearing Oropher excusing himself from the rest of the festivities. So like his concerned cousin to follow him and make things all right between them! Celeborn shook his head wryly, It was fortunate that Oropher had not married Galadriel. It required a lot of lying and scheming on both their sides to make that marriage comfortable.
Celeborn entered his chamber and stepped out onto the balcony overlooking the forest. He heard Oropher’s footsteps and the sound of a closing door.
“Cousin,” Celeborn said reassuringly, “I am all right.”
Oropher sighed, “I should have taken the dance in my son’s stead. He has this annoying habit of twirling people midway through the dance. I do apologize on his behalf.”
“It is nothing, cousin,” Celeborn waved away the apology, “I was just eager to get away from the festivities. To spend some time with you. Come, join me.”
They stood together watching the beautiful forests in the starlight. The night was truly magical, Celeborn thought. He turned to look at his companion. Oropher’s face was peaceful as he gazed up at the stars. But there was an ever haunting sorrow in those green eyes. Celeborn realized that he missed the Prince of Doriath, his companion in many a mischief, spirited and adventurous. Love had changed Oropher even as it had changed him.
“How can you do it?” Celeborn asked quietly.
“What?” Oropher asked curiously turning to face his cousin.
“Celibacy. I find it impossible not to seek pleasure even if I know my wife will see it in the cursed mirror of hers,” Celeborn said bitterly.
“I have a son,” Oropher reminded him.
“I have a daughter, whom I cherish more than anything else in this Middle-Earth. I would die to keep her safe and happy. Yet that does not improve my loose morals in marriage,” Celeborn remarked.
“You love your daughter as I love my son, cousin,” Oropher said slowly, “Yet the fact remains that you will be able to live for your own sake. I cannot. My life is measured by my son’s need for my presence in his life.”
Celeborn said sadly, “I know that is true though I wish it were not so. If you wish, I will warm your bed and your heart tonight. It will not assuage the permanent wounds on your fea, but it may help you find some rest.”
Oropher said smiling bitterly, “As much as I wish it, I cannot take that offer, cousin. My heart and my passion are closed. I love you too much to insult you thus,” he hesitated, then uncertainly cupped Celeborn’s cheek with his right hand and said softly, “May Elbereth bless you and watch over your house always, cousin. You must find your own happiness before it is too late.”
“Will you ask nothing for yourself?” Celeborn asked sadly, “What I offer I do so of my own will.”
“Never have I heard you of doing otherwise, my dear cousin. No, I shall not ask anything of you other than this, watch over my son if I cannot,” Oropher said quietly, “I would not leave him alone and unguided in this Middle-Earth.”
“Are you thinking of going West?” Celeborn asked shocked.
Oropher smiled, “Nay, cousin. I will not sail and be parted from my son willingly. I was merely asking your assurance if something should happen.”
Celeborn nodded unhesitatingly as he said, “Your blood is my blood. Your son is my son, Oropher. I shall watch over him always and vow to keep him safe by whatever means I possess. But tonight, I insist on watching over your sleep, cousin. You are weary and unable to sleep. Do not bother to oppose me,” he said dangerously, “You were never good at lying, I shall see you rested atleast one day before my stay ends.”
Galadriel tried to make sure that her husband was safe through their ever weakening bond, but she found herself blocked from his thoughts. She frowned. He had never done so before. Even in the midst of his liaisons, she was tormented by images of pleasure and pain as it unknowingly flowed through their bond. She tried to find out his doings through her mirror. But it showed her nothing. She was reminded of Melian’s words, “Use these gifts never for your own purposes.”
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.