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8. Luthien's Lover
Menegroth, Doriath, First Age 465
Thranduil shifted into a more comfortable position, leaning his back against the beautifully crafted tree-shaped pillar. Gate duty was particularly taxing this night, time dragging on ever so slowly and his eyes growing heavier by the hour. He had slept horribly for months and right now he felt like he could have dozed off on the spot, just stretching out right here on the cave floor. It was so silent, the fresh night air coming in through the city gate so calming. If he could just...
“This is ridiculous.” Amroth punched his shoulder, making Thranduil’s eyes guiltily snap open. “What’s wrong with you nowadays, Tharan?”
“Nothing. Just tired, I guess.”
Amroth growled and grabbed him roughly by the arms, pushing him hard against the pillar. “You’re an elf, not a damn human! Since when has a mere night’s lack of sleep bothered you? You have gone weeks without before.”
Thranduil stared mutely at his friend, shocked by his outburst.
“I have kept silent, waiting for you to tell me when you were ready, but it’s been years of this crap now and I’m frankly tired of it.” He released Thranduil and rubbed his forehead. “I thought we were friends.”
“What?” What was he talking about? Surely he did not… Thranduil had told nobody about his miserable love life. Had Amroth suspected all along?
“You don’t sleep, you hardly eat, you frown continuously and have become mute like a tree. Before, you would speak to me a little, at least. Something is troubling you and it bloody hurts that you don’t trust me enough to share it.”
The pain in Amroth’s eyes hit Thranduil like a well-aimed punch.
“I am sorry. Valar, Amroth, I had no idea it was so obvious. I just… I did not want to…” He searched for words. “It is such a mess, I did not want to drag you into that. I have brought it upon myself.”
Amroth’s impatient gaze urged him to continue.
“Do you remember that elleth who soaked Beleg when we were younger?”
“Well, three years ago, I met her again. It was… she had grown so beautiful.” He sighed, and described everything that had happened during Aerneth’s visit, and how it had led to their distance relationship. It was relieving to finally share it with someone, even though he as usual had to struggle to find the right words.
“So, if you have this amazing elleth, why are you looking so downcast?”
“My father is against our relationship. When I told him about Aerneth he advised me to keep seeing Lúthien, because King Thingol might see it as a betrayal if I end things with his daughter. He considers me more or less betrothed to her, even if we never were, formally I mean.”
“That is just stupid. You never loved Lúthien, surely the king understands that? After all, he married for love.” Amroth’s eyes narrowed. “Nay, this sounds like wishful thinking on your father’s part. It is Oropher who wants the match with the princess, he has everything to gain from it, but the king does not.”
Thranduil met his gaze with surprise, realising he probably was right. Then his frown returned.
“Well, maybe that is so, but it is not relevant anymore.” He sighed. “Over the years, Aerneth has become… needy , you know? Constantly nagging me. She would have me call her every day no matter how busy I am, and she pesters me about Lúthien, wanting to know every detail whenever I have been taking her out for a walk.”
“Well, that ought not to have surprised you, she was very clingy that summer, I recall. Quite the little shadow.”
“She was.” Thranduil nodded his head.
“You feel trapped?” Amroth guessed.
“Aye.” He nodded again. “As if I do not know her anymore. She has changed. And honestly, it makes me want to do the opposite. Call more seldom, go out with Lúthien more.” His frown deepened when he realised how childish that sounded. Thankfully Amroth took his part completely.
“She has no right to dictate your time.” He touched Thranduil’s shoulder reassuringly. “If you do not feel the same about her anymore, maybe you should break up? There’s plenty of game in the forest, lots of ellith around here would be happy if you would notice them.” He grinned. “Or you could do like me and keep your freedom. I mean, who would want to end up like poor Medlin with that harridan of a mother-in-law? An orc would win a beauty contest before an elleth managed to snare me.”
That had Thranduil smile. He felt so relieved, like a huge burden had been lifted from his shoulders. Break up. Amroth made it sound natural and easy, and perhaps it was.
The Esgalduin glittered invitingly between the tiny new leaves of the birches and alders. Thranduil watched the river with apprehension, not daring to approach until he was ready to see Aerneth.
Easy. This is easy, he told himself, but somehow now he was going to do it it felt not easy at all. What if she would cry? He hated when she did, and lately that had happened on more than one occasion. If she could cry over Thranduil taking a harmless walk with Lúthien, she would most assuredly do so after a break-up.
When he had finally mustered enough courage to call her, Aerneth appeared with the displeasured scowl that had become her habitual look lately.
“Why, if it isn’t Thranduil! I am thrilled that you managed to squeeze me into your busy schedule.”
“Anytime, dear ,” he snided. So, she was in one of her moods. He was actually grateful for that, it would make this so much easier.
“What do you want?” She seemed impatient, and he noticed she wore her cloak.
“Were you going out?”
“Aye.” She did not elaborate, and he did not really care. He just wanted this done and over with.
“Let us end this.” He had already decided to be blunt and not wrap it in.
“You heard me.”
She was silent as his words sank in. Thranduil swallowed, an uncomfortable knot forming inside him. She would cry, he saw the signs; her lip beginning to tremble, her eyes going wide and glossy.
“Why?” she whispered, and yes, there was the first tear, trickling down her cheek.
He swallowed again, and spoke his prepared words without looking at her. “We have grown apart, as I am sure you realise too. Nowadays we seem to only hurt each other. My father is still against our relationship, and the way things stand between us I could never convince him we are truly in love.”
“Your father. This is all about him, is it not? Why can’t you be an adult and decide for yourself?” She sounded angry rather than sad, but when he glanced at her he saw more tears falling.
He frowned. “I am an adult, and my father knows nothing of my decision to break up with you.”
She flinched at the words ‘break up’ and bit her lip. “Please,” she begged. “I am sorry I said that. Can’t we have a fresh start? I will try not to annoy you anymore.” Now she was crying in earnest, and Thranduil again averted his gaze.
“We tried for so long. Perhaps we are just not meant to be.”
“We are! I know we are,” she sobbed.
“You will find someone else, I am sure.” He did his best to sound kind. Her distress made him waver in his decision, but nothing would be better if they continued. A clean break was probably less painful than a dragged out one. “Bye Aerneth.”
As he walked away from the river he could hear her call his name, and it took all his willpower to keep going. He knew that if he turned back he would not have the strength to resist her pleas.
It was for the best. He kept repeating that to himself all the way home, while pushing the pain in his chest deep down.
It rained heavily outside Menegroth, but Lúthien had seemed anxious to talk with him in private so Thranduil stoically pulled up his hood and bent his head against the torrents. Behind him, he noticed Daeron the minstrel doing the same. Lúthien on her part seemed not to care at all that her dress became soaked, exposing inappropriately much of her slim form. Not that Thranduil minded. He did not desire the princess as a lover would, but she was pleasant to look at. It had been weeks since his break up with Aerneth and he had to admit he missed one aspect of their calls, or at least a certain body part of his did.
They stopped in Lúthien’s favourite dancing glade, taking cover under the dense foliage of an oak. At her bidding Daeron chose an oak some yards away, out of hearing range.
“Thranduil, I have something to confess.” Lúthien looked miserable.
Thranduil was intrigued. Whatever could she be guilty of?
“I… I have met someone,” she continued. “And I love him. I have only seen him two times but it was like lightning struck me! I know he is the one.” Her eyes filled with tears. “We have done nothing untowards, I would never go behind your back. As soon as I realised my feelings were true I came to you. I am so sorry Thranduil. Can you ever forgive me?”
“No need! Do not apologise.” Thranduil felt his cheeks heat up horribly. He had been going behind Lúthien’s back for years without ever stopping to think of her . What a complete jerk he had been!
“Oh Thranduil, I do not deserve such kindness from one so slighted.”
“You have done nothing wrong, Lúthien.” Her gratefulness increased his mortification manifold, especially since he could not tell her the truth about his deception now . In addition, she seemed to think he had harboured romantic feelings towards her, and it would be both rude and embarrassing to tell her he had only courted her because his father wanted him to. Instead he had to endure further apologies and comforting words from the princess, while trying his best to look mollified instead of relieved. It was easily the most awkward moment Thranduil had ever experienced.
When they finally returned to the city, Lúthien bid Thranduil not to speak to anyone about what she had told him. She wanted to break the news herself when she was ready. Apparently her lover was someone not considered suitable and she needed to think of a way to make King Thingol accept him. Thranduil promised to keep silent, thankful for the opportunity to ease his guilt a tiny bit by helping her.
In his bed later that evening Thranduil mused over the irony of it all. Now that he was finally free of his obligations to Lúthien, he had already broken up with Aerneth. Why could he not have done like the princess and told about his new love immediately? Lúthien would have ended their relationship for sure, and Thranduil would have been spared so much trouble. He might even have been married by now.
He had been so tired of Aerneth prior to their break-up, but now he found it hard to remember what had annoyed him so. Most of the time she was quite lovely, and not without regret he recalled their intimate moments. In addition, he realised she may have been right, though it pained him to admit as much even to himself. He had treated her unfairly in his double-dealing; both her and Lúthien actually.
Maybe he ought to call her? He could tell about Lúthien's lover and they could get back together again. Oropher would probably not mind the connection once he learned Lúthien was out of the picture.
Thranduil felt an expectant stir in his nether regions at the thought of seeing Aerneth's lovely face again, and perhaps some of her body too...
He had just fetched his washing bowl when it struck him how embarrassing it would be to call after the manner in which they parted. To admit he had been wrong. What would he even say?
‘Hi Aerneth, how have you been? Sorry I broke up with you and crushed your heart, but thankfully Lúthien just broke up with me, so now we can get back together.’
No. No, he could not do it. He could never humiliate himself like that.
With a bitter taste in his mouth he laid the bowl aside. He had ruined his chances with Aerneth, and he just had to forget her.
It was just that forgetting her was so damn hard.
Summer had come late this year, but today was exceptionally hot even down here in the city. Thranduil felt damp in his thick guard’s attire as he hurried through the palace caves. He was a little late to relieve Amroth and take over guard duty, but he knew his friend would not mind. Next time it could be the opposite around.
Something was up in the throne room when Thranduil arrived. There was a crowd gathered, and before the throne stood Lúthien, her head hanging down miserably. King Thingol sat above her, his beautiful face distorted in anger. What had happened?
Amroth filled Thranduil in on the details.
“Daeron has discovered that the princess has been seeing someone secretly behind the king’s back,” he whispered.
Thranduil nodded, this was no news to him.
“It’s not just anyone either, it’s a human ! That wildman, you know? The Outlaw! I knew he existed.” Amroth looked smug. “The king has sent the minstrel to fetch him now.”
Thranduil stared at his friend. No wonder Lúthien had been so secretive when she told of her lover a few months back. A human! How gross.
“I know it’s rude to say ‘I told you so’, but…” Amroth’s smug grin widened into a smirk.
“Alright, alright… you win. But I shall still demand proof before I believe he killed an army of orcs alone, like you claim,” Thranduil murmured back.
Soon Daeron entered the cave with the human in tow. Thranduil regarded the man closely as he passed by, curious about how a mortal who had caught the most beautiful elleth in Doriath might look.
He was rather disappointed by what he saw. The fellow looked strong and proud, his broad back straight and his head held high, but like all human males his face was hidden in a mess of coarse facial hair. His clothes were old and worn, with ingrown stains and signs of having been frequently repaired, and his hands and nails were dirty.
Thranduil could not for his life understand how Lúthien could have fallen in love with him, and how she thought that relationship would go – the mortal would die in no time, leaving her a widow.
Another thought struck him. If they wed, would they even be compatible enough to consummate their marriage? Thranduil had no idea what humans looked like underneath their clothes, and he assumed neither did Lúthien. Unless… Thranduil winced, trying hard to push that thought back. The mental image of Lúthien and the human naked together was frankly disgusting.
“So, you are the man my daughter claims to love.” Elu Thingol regarded him coolly.
“I am, Your Grace.” The man bowed. “My name is Beren, son of Barahir, from the House of Bëor in Dorthonion.” He had a dark, pleasant voice. “I would have come forward sooner to ask for Princess Lúthien’s hand, had she not cautioned me to wait.”
“And why would you do that, daughter?”
She calmly raised her head. “Because I knew this is how you would react, father, with suspicion and distrust. I had to make sure my feelings were true, that I had not misinterpreted them.” She moved closer to the man, taking his hand. “I am certain now, however. My heart belongs to Beren, and I shall never love anyone else.” The adoration in her eyes and the worship in his spoke the truth clearer than words.
Thingol’s face visibly fell as he realised his daughter was a lost cause.
“You have made your choice then?” he asked her, anger tinting his voice.
“I cannot allow you to give yourself to a mortal, surely you understand that. He is not worthy of you.”
Lúthien did not reply, her beautiful features matted with sadness and resignation.
Queen Melian, who had been standing below the throne in silence, spoke for the first time. “This man passed through my Girdle unnoticed.” She regarded the man with something bordering on awe. “This is not just any mortal.”
Thranduil looked at her in surprise. Nobody could pass through Melian’s magic fence except for other Sindarin elves, and even they could not enter Doriath unnoticed.
“You know that only someone stronger than me could do so.” Melian looked up at her husband. “I think this man might be worthy.”
The king nodded reluctantly. He seemed to think deeply for a while, then his features turned smug as he apparently thought of an idea.
“Well then. My queen has spoken true, but I need one more proof of your worth. A quest. There is something I deeply desire, and have done so for many centuries. Fetch me this item, and you shall have my daughter’s hand in marriage. This I promise upon my honour, and all assembled here shall be my witnesses.”
“And what would this item be, Sire?” The man sounded suspicious, probably guessing the king was trying to trick him.
“A gem. A stone containing the light of the long lost trees of Valinor.” He leaned forward, almost glaring at the man. “Fetch me one of the Silmarils in Morgoth’s crown, and Lúthien shall be yours.”
Amroth’s and Thranduil’s gazes met. The king had won. Nobody could manage such a feat, to enter the impenetrable fortress of Angband, guarded by a dragon, many balrogs and an unknown host of orcs, and steal one of the most treasured items of the Lord of Darkness. Least of all a man, a mortal human.
“I accept your proposal. You shall have your gem.” With a last look at his beloved, Beren turned and walked out of the throne room.
“I heard in part about what happened at the palace today. Would you fill me in on the details?” Oropher had come to meet Thranduil at the door on his arrival home after finishing his guard duty for the evening.
Thranduil obediently described everything, including the suicide mission the human was about to enter upon.
“He will die,” Oropher concluded.
Thranduil nodded, that was obvious.
“And Lúthien will probably waste away from grief not long after.” He shook his head in annoyance. “I guess that door is closed for good, then. Such a shame.”
“I thought a few months was too short a time to know one’s heart.” Thranduil could not resist throwing his father’s words back into his face.
Oropher frowned. “Do not be ridiculous, son, Lúthien is many centuries older than you. She knows.”
He began to pace the room, looking thoughtful. Then he stopped.
“That elleth you used to fancy, Círdan’s daughter, I shall arrange for you to go see her. You can follow the next trade delegation to Eglarest.”
“What?” Thranduil stared at his father, a knot forming in his stomach. He could not go to Aerneth, not after how he had broken up with her. The humiliation!
“Círdan is lord of the entire Falas region, he has become nearly equal to Thingol in importance, even though he still owes him allegiance. An alliance with Círdan might not be so bad.”
“But… I thought you were convinced it was no real love between me and Aerneth.”
“Of course! I do not expect you to marry her on the go.” He smiled coolly. “I only ask you to see her again, and if you still find her desirable you can begin to court her. Perhaps invite her back here to stay in Menegroth for a while. We will see how she is like, if she fits in here.”
“Oh, for the Valar’s sake.” Oropher was beginning to lose his patience and Thranduil took a step backwards. “You were so sure of your feelings before. Did it take such a short time to lose them?”
“Make up your mind, then. Either you like the elleth or not! It is simple.” He had grabbed his son’s arm rather painfully.
Thranduil swallowed his protests.
“I like her. I will go.”
Thranduil, Thranduil… you have so much to learn about females.
Soon he shall meet Aerneth again. What do you think will happen? Will he swallow his pride and make up with her? Maybe she hooked up with that long-haired ellon she travelled with before. Comments are much appreciated!
Note: I have not copied the exact quotes from the scene where Beren comes before Thingol, because the way they speak in the Silmarillion does not really fit with the rest of the dialogue in my story. I have also changed the scene slightly, to fit better with my narrative. I think of the Silmarillion as Daeron’s and other minstrels’ more poetic chronicles of past events, whereas I write what actually happened. ;)
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