Saeros knelt briefly before Thingol, then rose. Never before had he feared to do his duty to his liege, but times were changing.
"You did poorly, my King."
Thingol, shocked for a moment by the blunt rebuke, hesitated a few seconds before replying, evenly, "How so?"
"The Mortal, you mishandled him doubly."
The King of Doriath looked tired. "So the Queen tells me."
"What does she tell you?"
"That I have doomed Luthien to suffering, and invited the wrath of the Feanorions, if not the Valar."
"That may be, but I came to speak of more immediate concerns."
At that, Thingol stood up. Weariness vanished and he looked sternly down on his counsellor. "I have done yet more harm?"
Saeros cringed, but knew he must bring the grim news. "Many of the people are shocked that you would offer Luthien for a jewel, as though she were..."
"Beren will not return!" the King bellowed. "I made that plain. Not for all the riches of the Earth would I give Luthien to one unworthy!"
"Of course," Saeros replied, "but the rumor spreads through your lands all the same. And ...."
"And? There is yet more?"
"And others are of like mind with you as to the worthiness of Beren and the chances of his return, but say that nonetheless it was an ill thing to send him to torment in Angband. What was he but a witless, misguided child? If his actions merited death, better the swift sword of mercy from us than what he will face in the hands of the Enemy."
"Such was your earlier council to me, in private. Whence came these rumors?"
"Not from me, Lord." Saeros replied, appalled at the suggestion. "Have I ever served you with less than my full heart?"
"Nay. Ever you have served well, Saeros. Forgive me - our troubles weigh heavily. Truly. What is your council?"
Saeros tried to give a diplomatic turn to the substance of what he had to say, but for once failed, and the words came out in a rush.
"Stop driving friends and allies away! First Eöl left, and most were glad to be rid of him. But we still have none who can match his skills. And since then, you have heeded those who say aught against your decisions less with each passing year! How long since you lent your ear to Elmo? Your own brother, who held our people back for your sake! He knows he is forgotten and dwells on the south-border. His descendants and their families - they are yet loyal, but you try them! In all this appalling business, where were Galadhon, Galathil, and Celeborn, and even, dare I say it, Galadriel? Do we even know? They all hold the respect of the people, to say nothing of being princes of the realm."
"Which of our lords and captains still stand close by you, my King? Beleg, Mablung and I. Few others. And even Beleg wavers. Beleg! The mere thought is unimaginable, to voice it almost treasonous, but I am sorry to say it is true!"
"And, though there will be no open rebellion, if you do not take action to stem this tide, many will simply leave. And the ones that leave, on balance, will be more spirited than those who remain. Talk spreads again, particularly in the South and the East, that the Girdle is an ill thing, at least as ... it is currently used."
"And - " Saeros looked truly fearful at last - "Daeron has gone mad! I've begged him for many long-years to let go his foolish longing for Luthien, and take a wife like the rest of us. Being what and who he is, he could have any unattached elleth in these woods, save only Luthien, but he would never listen to reason. And now he is..." Words failed.
At the mention of Daeron, Thingol's defiant countenance faded into a morosity singularly unfit for the Elf he had once been. "Poor Daeron - ever was he my friend as well. What curse is laid upon him, I do not know. Nay, I know all too well, and though it is one for which few will lay blame at my feet, I regret it the most. Luthien's beauty is as a rock on which many good men have broken themselves. Though most have moved on, sensibly, not all can. Most are unimportant, but Daeron is vital. Doriath needs him, even more than Mablung, perhaps as much as Beleg. They are all irreplaceable."
"She must marry, my King. If she loves Daeron not, she must choose another. A troublesome rock may be buried, but it would be better to set a guard on it to warn others off. And, though you are King, you cannot be that guard - only a husband can. Though of course none wish Luthien to come to grief, and she in turn means no harm to any of us, I must say that our realm is coming to harm because of her."
"And who would you recommend for her?"
Daeron, of course! Or at least I would, had your daughter's long toying with his heart not finally ruined him! But such words, even Melian dared not say to Thingol. Saeros sighed, knowing he had already said too much. Yet he must answer, and there were indeed other fitting options.
"If our laws permitted it, Beleg. Alyri his wife was slain so long ago by the Hunter, or whatever evil creatures stalked the woods in the very earliest days, that our laws seem cruel, and designed to punish the guiltless. Was Beleg not already a widower even in your youth, my King?"
"Yes, but that law, even I cannot set aside, Saeros, as well you know. Have we not seen enough would-be couples pleading before us, and have I not denied them all, sending them away with naught but empty words of pity and cold comfort? Few of my duties have been more painful, but that law is the doom of all the Quendi, not only of the Sindar."
"I question the truth of that, my Lord. Not your sincerity, only your interpretation of what must be. The Avari do not obey that law, and little harm has come to them. Even some of the Nandor have broken it and remarried, saying they do not believe their spouses imprisoned in Badhron's halls wish them either to remain forever lonely here in Ennor or to follow them into death needlessly. Nor do they believe that is the Valar's intent. I myself do not believe either fate was intended for one such as Beleg. He is worthy of your daughter. Kind, yet strong enough not to be overwhelmed by her."
Thingol now grimaced, having had a most unpleasant premonition that Saeros had hit the mark, but not the one he had intended; that Beleg would rejoin his beloved Alyri soon, after all. Thus he said only "Even so, I may not overturn that law for those who dwell within my bounds."
Saeros saw an untoward look of pain pass over his King's face, but knew better to question Thingol after a vision. "As you wish, Sire."
"I will think on your words, Saeros."
"I wish your wife and all your family well, as ever. Please tell them that. You may go to them now; I have no more need for you today."
Saeros, throat constricted, nodded and took his leave.
It was all coming to an end.
A/N: The discussion of Elven marriage customs, and the troubles they must have caused, owes much to Jael's "All Lies and Jest".
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