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Astonishment in Mirkwood
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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2
Promises to Keep

Summary: The Nandor Elves from Dor-Lelmin(1) finally arrive, and Legolas has to keep his promise.

Author’s notes:
The Nandor Elves in this chapter were originally characters of my very own fantasy universe. Their names are not genuine Elven names. They were always called like that, and I grew fond of the names, so I simply decided they would come from some obscure Danian dialect.

The story is still not very humorous, I fear – in fact, even less so than Chapter 1. So sorry! I swear I wanted it to be light-hearted, but these Wood-Elves are such a stubborn lot! I will keep trying, though, I promise.


~~~

Chapter 2: Promises to Keep

Silinde, captain of the Mirkwood archers, usually liked the seasonal feasts in the Palace. Even if it meant that her troops, together with the House Guard, had to watch the celebrations in shift and got very little from the overall merriment themselves.

She did not mind being on duty all the time. Having lost her husband in the Battle upon Dagorlad, she had no-one to celebrate with anyway. Her only son, Rhimlath, refused to go the way of the warrior and chose to become Galion’s right hand, calling himself modestly a mere servant of the Palace. Rhimlath, too, was on heavy duty during the Autumn Festival, and what little free time he could spare, he would want to spend with his young wife. They had entered the bond of matrimony less than a decade ago and were still in what Silinde called the cuddling phase.

Not that she would mind that, either. She was happy that her son had finally bound with his beloved – every one could see that their bond was a strong one, one that would last ‘til the end of Arda. ‘Til they fade away together. For the Silvan folk, part of which Silinde considered herself, despite her Nandorin origins, never thought behind that what was on this side of the Sea.

What she truly did mind, however, was the obligation to dress up nicely and partake in courtly events. Especially this one.

Originally, Silinde and her whole family belonged to the Lord Aghavannagh’s people, and they had even dwelt in his small realm, Dor-Lelmin, for half the Second Age. But one day Silinde accompanied her parents on a festival in Eryn Galen, and In Oropher’s court she met Nínnagor, her future husband. They fell in love and married fairly quickly – faster, indeed, than it was the custom of Elves, and Rhimlath was born only a few years before the Last Alliance of Elves and Men was formed.

During these years Silinde learned Sindarin in the Court, though most of the Silvan people kept their own speech, and the Grey Tongue was only used in council meetings. Ninmaeth, a Master Bowman from an other Nandor tribe, was part of these meetings, and after his death Silinde took over for him. She also learned to eat meat – something she adapted to rather eagerly, for Prince Thranduil (not yet King at that time) had already been a very talented cook, and never tired to prove his talent. But she was very much aware of the fact how much the Lord Aghavannagh despised what he called his people lowering themselves to the rustic Silvan customs.

But being part of the Royal council, Silinde could not avoid to face the dismay of her former Lord. So she put on the pale silk shirt and the long silvery-grey cloak that was customary among the nobility of the Forest at times of importance (she always clad like the males of her people) and hurried down to the King’s Gates as the magic doors of the Palace were called. She was almost late already, having spent too much time brooding in her chambers.

The King was there already, clad in a silver-embroidered russet robe and a soft, silver-grey cloak as it was his wont. To honour the occasion – and his most important ally – he even wore a delicately-woven mithril circlet upon his brow. This simple circlet was one of the very few hereditary treasures he had not yet been forced to hive away for food or weapons. One of most ancient pieces that made it out from the burning ruins of the First City, entrusted to Galion’s care by Elmö himself, the Eldest King of the Faithful.

On the King’s left stood Nelladel(2), his silver-haired sister with her husband Maelduin(3), a Doriathrim noble and chief counsellor to the court., and their daughter, fair young Silivren(4). On his right, clad according to his royal heritage for a change instead of the simple garb of a common archer, stood Prince Legolas, and Silinde felt a dull ache in her chest, for the young Prince resembled very much her beloved Queen, in spite of his delicate features that clearly came after Thranduil. The grief over the horrible fate of Queen Lálisin was still much too near, and all those that felt the pain of loss dearly, turned their love now to her only surviving son.

Not that Legolas had not been beloved among his father’s subjects before – far from that. But Queen Lálisin, last descendant of Nurwë and the last of the Earth-healers and truly powerful Wise Women of the Wood, had a very special place in the hearts of the Silvan folk, and now that Legolas was all that had been left from her, he naturally occupied that now-empty place in his mother’s stead.

And not alone by the natives of the Wood, Silinde admitted while greeting the assembled members of the Court and taking her customary place on Galion’s side. The Sindar who had come with Oropher and the Nandor who chose to live under the King’s rule, all of them loved and admired the valiant young Prince, who not only had the safest hand with the bow and the keenest eyes in the whole forest and beyond, but also was well-mannered, educated and all in all a pleasant company.

If he only had not fallen victim to the charms of that Peredhel, Silinde thought angrily, he would long have been married to the Lady Indreâbhan, and mayhap the King would have handled over the throne to him already. This… madness that had gone on for some four hundred years by now, caused the King great sorrow, and the whole Court shared the sentiment. It could not be helped, however. As if under some kind of spell, the Prince flatly refused t o end the unfortunate affair and wed his chosen bride as long as his lover still remained in Middle-earth. One could only hope that the Peredhel would leave soon, letting the Prince return to a life that suited the son of a woodland King.

"They are coming!" one of the keen-eyed guards called from a higher balcony, jerking the Captain of the archers of her grim musings. And indeed, at the end of the long, arched tunnel, created by the huge beeches on both sides of the path, a soft glimmer already appeared, slowly approaching the Palace.

Soon it was divided into many gleaming spots, lined up in a single file, and after another short while all could see that the spots, in truth, were three riders and about a dozen other Elves, walking on foot, leading a long line of heavily loaded beasts of burden. The Lord of Dor-Lelmin had not come with empty hands, it seemed, and Galion slowly let out a breath he had not even been aware of holding.

Watching the slow approach of her tribe, Silinde could not help but feel proud of her people. The family of the Lord Aghavannagh was a very noble and ancient one – both him and the Lady Vâsterdalawen could track their origins back to Lenwë himself, albeit along different lines, and this showed clearly on their looks. Tall and proud they were, even for Elves, and had a more slender built than the Silvan folk – just like Thranduil, their kinsman(5). Their long hair, adorned only with delicate, thin braids, fell down like silk, gleaming white-golden like moonlight, and their long eyes were wide and surprisingly dark.

Unlike Thranduil’s family, they never married outside the tribe, so the ancient Nandorin features – especially the high cheekbones and foreheads, but also the long, slender limbs and the narrow shoulders – remained among them like no-where else. They looked cool, elegant, detached – every bit as ignorant Men usually imagined Elves to be.

The horses they rode were magnificent, said to be the only ones that could match the mearas of the Rohirrim, so very different from the smaller, changing-coloured ones of the Silvan folk. These were big, yet graceful and clean-limbed, with a coat like pure silver, dotted with small white drops all over their bodies. Their long tails and wavy manes the same pale gold as the hair of their riders, and each of them bore a small white star in the middle of its forehead. They moved with easy grace, even the more common, dark grey ones carrying the heavy bags, as if they were dancing in the fading evening light.

All Elves of the princely escort were clad in white, just like their Lord and his family, save the soft grey cloaks upon their shoulders, the secret of whose making they had brought from Hithlum to Dor-Lelmin Ages ago. The only other place this sort of cloth was still woven was the Golden Wood, the other strong Silvan realm in Middle-earth.

The Lord Aghavannagh was about the King’s age – only a hundred years older or even less, Silinde was not entirely sure. Very tall he was, taller even than Thranduil himself, though only by an inch or so, and his easy manner radiated a strength that belied his elegant appearance. He was clad in white (save his cloak) and upon his brow he wore an unadorned silver circlet with a star-shaped white gem in the middle. He might not be called King by his people, yet in his small but fertile realm he possessed unquestioned authority. Not to mention that he was kinsman and most important ally to the mighty King of Mirkwood.

On his left – the heart-side – his wife rode, the Lady Vâsterdalwen – tall and willowy, fair and very wise. Her wisdom might be less ancient and her earth magic less powerful than that of the late Queen Lálisin, for no-one, not even the Green-Elves understood the Earth-mother (as they called Arda) as deeply as the remaining Faithful, yet she was loved and respected among her people nevertheless. For after the perishing of the Silvan Queen, she was still closest to the very roots of the Woodland Folk.

Prince Egilstadir, the Heir of Dor-Lelmin, rode on his father’s right. Hw was considerably older than his sister, being about the same age as Thranduil’s third-born son, Orchal(6) had been, even though he looked not a day older than Legolas himself. Yet Egilstadir had fought through the War of the Elves and Sauron that continued during half of the Second Age(7) and he had stood upon the battle plane of Dagorlad, leading the Nandorin archers in stead of his gravely wounded father, and a thin scar – the remainder of a poisoned wound across his left cheek – showed that he faced his enemies unwavering ‘til the last moment.

And yet, despite all that he had seen, Egilstadir remained a merry, easy-mannered Elf, unlike many that had faced the same horrors – mayhap because he had not lost any of his beloved ones.

Princess Indreâbhan, on the other hand, was fairly young for an Elf, born shortly after Sauron had been defeated. She was slightly shorter than the other members of her family and looked less aloof, more delicate. She had a fair, oval-shaped face, a soft smile and dark eyes that sparkled with mischief. Silinde knew, however, that the Princess was aught but weak – she taught her the fine tricks of archery and knife-fight personally, and Indreâbhan was very good at it. Even though her main interests were of more peaceful nature – those of earth-magic and healcraft.

In the years of her childhood she was taught by the Queen herself. Later she spent long seasons in Lórinand, as a pupil of the Lady Galadriel, for due to her birth she was selected as the leader of the Ivonwin(8) in her father’s realm, and who else could have taught her better than Galadriel who had been taught by Melian herself, the Queen of Doriath, who had given lembas to the Elves in the first place?

After that, Indreâbhan lived in Imladris for quite some time, learning the craft of the healers from Elrond, no less, an she became close friends with the Lady Arwen, Elrond’s daughter and Aquiel, the fiancée of Elrohir(9). Yet her heart yearned for the green fields of Dor-Lelmin, and as soon as her studies were complete, she returned to her father’s realm.

Silinde watched as the guests were greeted by the King in the most ceremonial manner and thought about the luck of Prince Legolas. ‘Twas not unknown to the Archer Captain that Elrond had proposed the Lord of Dor-Lelmin to marry the fair Princess to one of his sons (before Elrohir had fallen in love with the Lady Aquiel, of course), and there were other young, unbound Elves of high birth that would consider themselves lucky if they had been offered her hand.

Yet the Lord Aghavannagh preferred to bind his family to that of his royal liege through the bonds of matrimony rather than to that of the Half-Elven descendants of Noldorin Kings. With his son, he needed little persuasion, for Egilstadir fell for the glittering silver beauty of Silivren quickly enough. Indreâbhan hesitated longer to accept Legolas as her future husband, for at that time the young Prince was already devoted to the one he would never be allowed to bond with. But after a while she reluctantly agreed, though she kept the right to change her mind still.

Silinde often asked herself what the two could have discussed the whole night ere Indreâbhan finally gave her consent. That was a secret only the closest family knew – save Galion mayhap, who seemed to know just everything that happened in the palace. Whatever it was, it looked like the King had finally had enough – for the betrothal had been announced as the final act of the festivities, and though Legolas showed no outer sign of distress, Silinde knew him well enough to know that the Prince was decidedly unhappy with the way things had turned out.

Someone elbowed her in the ribs and she realized with a jolt that she had not greeted the noble guests yet. Hurriedly did she sink to one knee and lay a hand upon her heart, greeting the Lord of Dor-Lelmin in the ancient Danian dialect of her forefathers.

“May the stars of Elentári ever shine upon your paths, my Lord… my Lady,” she said.

The Lord and Lady of Dor-Lelmin responded in kind, and soon the group of Nandor Elves was busy with loading the goods from the horses and the servants of the palace helped them to carry everything into the pantries deep inside the hill. Thranduil, Nelladel and Maelduin retreated with their guests into one of the late Queen’s terraced gardens, to exchange the most important tidings (as they had not spoken to each other in person for a full loa), and while Silivren took Indreâbhan with her to discuss something only two young maidens would understand, Egilstadir and Legolas followed the horse-master to the open stables.

“So, your father is forcing the issue of your betrothal, I hear,” said Egilstadir, after the horses had been taken care for to his satisfaction. They had been fiends, Legolas and himself, for a long time, he taking over the role of an elder brother after all Thranduil’s other sons had fallen in battle.

“He is,” answered Legolas with a sigh,” and I cannot blame him for it. I am his only son and his Heir, and in these dark times he is right to demand that I made an heir myself. Still, I find it cruel towards the Lady Indreâbhan. You know that I like her and respect her very much – but my heart is taken already. She deserves better than being second in line for my devotion.”

“Do you not deserve better?” replied Egilstadir quietly. “You know as well as I do that you, too, are second in line in your lover’s heart. That would never change.”

“I know,” said Legolas sadly, “and I wish I had met your sister before I met him. For I could have fallen in love with her just as easily. But I cannot change my heart, either.”

Egilstadir remained silent for a while. What Legolas had said was very true, of course, but Legolas was still rather young for an Elf, his judgement blinded by the intensity of his first love. Being considerably older, Egilstadir knew that things were a little more complicated, more so considering the matters of the heart.

“I believe you underestimate my sister,” he finally answered. “She knows very well what she is getting herself into – she has known from the moment when she agreed to become your wife – and I have the feeling that she is prepared to fight for you. To conquer your heart eventually.”

Legolas gave a quiet, mirthless laugh. “Am I such a prize that it would be worth fighting for me?”

“You know you are,” Egilstadir laughed, too. “Not all your suitors are interested in the Prince of Mirkwood only. Truly, I believe that most of them are interested in you. And why should they not? You deserve to be loved, mellon nîn.”

“I am loved,” said Legolas stubbornly.

“In a sense you are, I doubt it not,” nodded Egilstadir, his dark eyes saddening; “nor is there any doubt that you did Middle-earth a great favour when you saved Elrond from fading. He is needed in the fight against the Darkness, even our fathers admit that much. But his heart and soul is already bound to the Lady Celebrían, and nothing will ever change that. He might love you now – I do believe that his heart is big enough for you as well – but he loved her first, and at the end it will be she to whom he will return. He never stopped to love her – you are only a substitute."

“I know that,” Legolas forced back his tears ruthlessly. “I have always known.”

Egilstadir nodded in sympathy. He never doubted that Legolas would be honest with himself, even if it hurt.

“Then know this as well,” he continued; “love can come in many shapes in the live of an Elf, and not just once – nor is it always obvious at the first sight. Would you believe me if I told you that neither of my parents was the other’s first choice?”

Legolas stared at him in disbelief. “You cannot be serious! People sing lays about their love from Mirkwood to Lothlórien!”

“I am serious,” said Egilstadir with emphasis. “They both used to have other lovers whom they loved with all-consuming passion but lost ere the vows could be exchanged. ‘Twas shared grief and the need for comfort that brought them together at first, and it took them half the First Age to understand what they had found in each other. Still, would you say that they do not love one another – or their children? That they are not happy together?”

The answer was so obvious that Legolas only shook his head. A stone troll could recognize the deep affection and love between the Lord and Lady of Dor-Lelmin. Seeing the dawning realization on his friend’s face, Egilstadir smiled.

“I fell in love with Silivren at first sight,” he added gently, “but that is only one way love can take. It can also grow out of friendship and understanding, if you give it a chance. You and Indreâbhan already have that much. Are you willing to let it evolve into something more?”

“I wish I had met her earlier,” admitted Legolas, “for she is funny and mischievous and yet wise beyond her age – and she is as beautiful as Varda’s stars. And I feel guilty that I cannot give her what she truly deserves.”

“Not now, mayhap,” Egilstadir agreed, “but one day you will.”

Legolas shot him a doubtful look. “Are you certain?”

“As long as you keep an open mind and an open heart, yea, I am,” answered Egilstadir and stretched. “Now, let me change into something more suitable for the woods and let us have some fun. I have been looking forward to put my woodcraft to test for a long time. As peaceful and satisfying it is, life in Dor-Lelmin can get boring at times.”

“I fear that there is not much we could find near our dwelling in these days,” said Legolas solemnly. “Things have not been going well lately. My father has allowed us to cross the Old Forest Road to hunt in Southern Mirkwood again, just to fill our empty pantries once again.”

Egilstadir paled a little hearing that. He never thought things in Mirkwood would be this desperate. “Are you going out with one of the hunting parties?” he asked.

“Of course. I am the best archer in the Wood, my bow will be needed.”

“You could get killed,” reminded him Egilstadir. “Straying into the Necromancer’s territory is something that should be avoided at all costs.”

“So is starving,” replied Legolas with a shrug,” and I do not intend to get myself killed. I have been to Southern Mirkwood before – and I came back every time.”

“Just be careful,” warned Egilstadir; then, with a broad grin, he added. “And see that you do not return with empty hands. I want to see that look on my father’s face again when King Thranduil dishes that famous roasted venison leg of his.”

Legolas laughed. “You should have a taste one day.”

But Egilstadir shook his head. “As long as our lands are fertile enough to feed us, I shall not eat animals. This has been the way of our people, ever since the Elder Days when they understood that the Noegyth Nibin(10) whom they used to hunt like animals were, in truth, fellow incarnates. First it started out of fear that we might unwillingly slay other incarnates. Then it has grown into respect toward the animals we shared our woods with. Now it is part of what we are.” He thought for a moment. “I fear Silivren will have a hard time to get used to it.”

“Not that she would have any other choice if she will get naught else but plants to eat,” Legolas grinned. “Is it agreed to, then? Are we going to have a double betrothal?”

Egilstadir nodded. “It is. But unlike you, I intend to have the wedding on next Midsummer’s Eve. I have been alone long enough.”

They returned to the Feasting Hall of Thranduil, where a frugal meal had already been prepared for the guests, and Legolas felt for his father, whose embarrassment was apparent, at least to him. Fortunately, there was still enough wine to make the welcoming feast moderately appropriate – not that either the Lord or the Lady of Dor-Lelmin would make any remark. They knew all too well how harsh life in Mirkwood was, and that their own peace and safety was mostly due to the bravery of the Silvan archers who kept the dark things from crossing the woods.

Thus the meal lacked the two Lords’ usual bickering about food and eating habits, for Aghavannagh would find it unseeming to mock his old friend in times of dire need, and they ate with little talk, listening to the minstrels instead. Not that Thranduil’s court would have any true minstrels with the Gift, but some of his Silvan subjects were skilled enough with their small, hand-held lutes and sang pleasantly. Their songs were different from those of the High-Elves: wilder, darker, full of passion and also with joy and fire. These were not the melancholic songs of a fading people.

Legolas felt his heart fill with music and the joy of life, and without thinking, he rose from his seat and offered a hand to the Nandorin princess. “Care for a dance, my Lady?”

Indreâbhan smiled and took his hand without hesitation, her knee-long, pale golden hair sweeping over the seat she had just vacated like a heavy silk veil. They swung over to the unoccupied part of the Hall, moving in complete harmony as if they had done this all their life.

Egilstadir grinned at Silivren across the table. “What about us?”

He barely finished speaking, Silivren was on her feet already, eager to join her cousin and soon-to-be sister-in-law. Other young members of the court followed their lead shortly thereafter, leaving the elders to their own worries.

Thranduil watched his son, laughing and jesting and dancing with the fair Lady chosen for him by his father and felt guilty. Never had arranged marriages been a custom in their House – his own father and grandfather were free to choose their life-mates, and the same freedom had been granted him and his sister… yea, even his older children had been allowed to do so. But Legolas was his last son, his only hope to continue their line – the woodland folk could not afford the luxury of remain childless, not even their future King. Death came all too easily in these dark days, and it was their duty to see that the Silvan folk would not lack leadership again.

“Do you not fear that we are making a grave mistake?” the King asked his friend. “Are we not making our children miserable by pushing them toward each other?”

The noble, ageless face of Aghavannagh remained unreadable. He did not gave an answer for a while.

“I know not,” he said finally. “I only know that I feel it necessary to get them bound, for the sake of our people. But mayhap we both have lived among mortals and in constant peril for too long. Mayhap we have begun to think as Men do. Mayhap the whole idea was a mistake, after all.”

“Nay, it was not,” the Lady Vâsterdalwen said quietly. “They do have what is needed to build a long and happy life together. They have much in common, yet they are still different enough to present a challenge fore each other, every time and again – ‘tis a good match. The… obstacle will not be there forever. They are young. Time works for them.”

“It certainly worked for us,” her husband agreed with a faint smile. “Tell me, old friend – have you already stated your demand for the betrothal to take place at the end of the festival?”

“I have. And Legolas obeyed, albeit reluctantly.”

“In that case we might have a problem,” said the Lord of Dor-Lelmin with a sigh. “Indreâbhan has not made up her mind yet.”

~~~

(1) Land of the Elm-trees. A small Nandorin realm between the northwest of Mirkwood and the Greylin River.

(2) Means "ringing-of-bells", not a canon character. Since I gave Thranduil a silver-haired daughter (Celebwen), I thought there should be another one with silver hair in the family.

(3) Name borrowed from a legendary Irish voyager because of the nice sounding. Not a canon character.

(4) Another insignificant OC whose name means (white) glittering.

(5) In my stories Thranduil’s mother is a granddaughter of Lenwë. Yes, I know. Elven inbreeding once again. What can I do? There were only so many royal families among them. And everybody being related to Thingol was Tolkien’s idea, not mine.

(6) And earlier name for Galdor from the Grey Havens, who in turn was Legolas’ predecessor in the early LOTR-drafts.

(7) The War of the Elves and Sauron began in the year 1697 (Second Age) and continued til the end of that Age (3441), ending with Sauron’s defeat.

(8) Yavannildi (Quenya) – the ‘maidens of Yavanna: Elven women, specially selected and taught to grow the corn from which lembas was made and to make lembas itself. No-one else was allowed to do this work but them.

(9) Another OOC of mine. More about her can be found in “Innocence” and “A Tale of Never-ending Love”.

(10) Petty-Dwarves. Actually, it was the Sindar who hunted them, not the Nandor, but the knowledge could have spread among the other tribes, too.


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