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Chapter Three: Oh Careless Love!

Part Three: Oh Careless Love!

Thranduil felt himself taken by the hand and hauled to his feet.

"Ah, so very tall. I like that in a woman," said the Elf-lord, eyeing Thranduil in the manner of a hungry warg surveying a haunch of venison. "I am Celeborn, Prince of Doriath and Lord of Ost-in-Edhil. Alas, both are no more. I shall be but a humble guest in Amroth's realm."

Thranduil resisted a roll of his eyes. Whenever Celeborn's name had come up in conversation, Oropher had usually snorted and muttered the phrase, 'Pompous horse's behind.' Although, being the plain-spoken sort, he had often used a word stronger than 'behind'. Clearly, his late father had spoken true.

"Randiriel." Thranduil felt Elrond jab him in the ribs. "Remember your manners."

"Charmed, I'm sure," Thranduil said tersely, wishing Celeborn would look him in the eye rather than the chest. Fortunately, he had not yet taken his potatoes out for the night.

"The name evokes the sweet sound of the Vanyar singing," Celeborn said with a sigh.

"You flatter me overmuch. And I think you can let go of my hand now."

Celeborn smiled and complied.

Thranduil dropped a stiff curtsey. "If my lord will forgive me, it is time Ronneth and I returned to our beds." He turned and dragged a reluctant Elrond back towards the steps of the wagon. Celebrían gazed after them with a wistful smile on her lips.

In the lee of the wagon, Elrond took his elbow and held him back. "Did you see her?"

"The infamous Lady Galadriel? No, you were on top of me, blocking my view, but just the sound of her voice was enough to wither me for the next ennin. Now I understand why Ada moved us north. Twice."

"No, not her -- Celebrían."

At the tone in Elrond's voice, Thranduil almost blurted out his first thought, 'You're interested in a girl?' before catching himself. Would wonders never cease? "Yes, she's pretty enough if you like blondes, which, I guess, you do."

"She's beautiful." Then he sighed.

"In that case, pay her court. Oh, wait -- you're in a dress and officially have no gweth. That may prove to be an impediment to your suit."

"It isn't that," Elrond said morosely. "It's my blood. She's the daughter of a princess from the House of Finwë."

"I fail to see what's wrong with your blood. You're the great-grandson of the High King of the Grey-elves and descended from that same Finwë. You could probably lay claim to the High Kingship of both the Golodhrim and the Grey-elves here in the Middle-lands if you chose to press the issue." Here Thranduil paused, with an unwelcome feeling of envy. King though he might call himself, he knew all too well that he was but one generation removed from a commoner. "Besides, I imagine your blood will flow red enough if Isildur and Círdan ever get within striking distance."

"But I'm . . ." Elrond paused, again allowing Thranduil's mind to fill in the blank. "I'm a Peredhel."


"Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn will no doubt wish their daughter to wed with someone who can give them grandchildren who will not be mortal at the whim of fate. She is above me."

He sounded so forlorn that Thranduil had no answer to that. He merely gave Elrond a brotherly pat on the shoulder. "Come inside. We should sleep now."

* * *

Thranduil caught the third of his flaming torches and extinguished it in a handy barrel of water with a dramatic hiss. He took a bow and exited to enthusiastic applause. "I told you I'd find a way to make them watch something other than my chest," he whispered aside to Elrond.

"I hate to break it to you, Randiriel," Elrond shot back, "but they were still staring at your chest."

Thranduil made a sour face, which became even sourer as Lord Celeborn and his family approached them.

"Wonderful show! Splendid," he enthused, "especially the juggling act at the end!"

"I don't know, Ada," said Celebrían with a shy smile directed at Elrond. "I liked the first part of the show. With the singing."

"Wait until we get back to Lothlórien," Galadriel said. "You'll hear real singing then, as only the Noldor can. Proper singing, dancing and feasting. And maybe time for some courting. It's high time you found yourself a husband, young Missy, now that the war is over. I don't want it whispered that you're likely to have a strange fate." Oblivious to her daughter's uncomfortable fidgeting, she gave a dramatic sigh and a nostalgic smile spread over her face. "How fondly I remember those days when your father, entranced by my beauty, courted me back in Doriath! Alas, those days are long vanished, and our thoughts have turned to other things, as is proper. Isn't that so, dear?"

"Indeed, my pet -- other things," said Celeborn who had managed to edge over to the two 'lady minstrels'. He gave Thranduil a surreptitious pinch on the behind, making Thranduil look him askance and sidle hastily out of range.

"It's so nice that Celebrían can make friends on the journey. I'll leave you young ones to your girlish talk," said Galadriel. "Come, Celeborn."

Off she went, with her reluctant mate in tow. Immediately, Thranduil bolted for the sanctuary of the wagon as if his arse was on fire and his hair was about to catch, leaving Elrond and Celebrían alone together.

"I apologize for Nana," Celebrían said. "She's vexed that we didn't join the train in time to be riding at the very head with Amroth of Lórien." She lowered her voice. "I think she hopes to marry me off to him now that he's king of that realm."

Suddenly Amroth, who Elrond had always felt to be a likeable if harmless chap, became his worst enemy. "Would you like to marry Amroth and be a queen?"

"I don't know. He's nice enough. I suppose I'll have to. You wouldn't understand duty, Ronneth, not being royal and all. But . . ." Here she paused and sighed. "When I saw you and Gwaeloth singing that duet of A Elbereth Gilthoniel tonight -- and however do you get your voice so nice and low? -- I thought, how wonderful to be able to do something so beautiful. To just be free and make people happy. I wish I could be a singer like you!"

"I think, perhaps that could be arranged," Elrond said, his mind racing with the possibilities. At the very least he'd have an excuse to spend some time with this lovely maiden. "If you can find a way to slip away and meet me, we can come up with something that will surprise everyone."

"Really?" Celebrían beamed. "Ronneth, you're the best friend a girl ever had!"

* * *

The next afternoon, Mistress Aiwen took Thranduil aside for a talk in her private cubicle at the rear of the wagon.

"Randiriel, there will be no show tonight. Lord Celeborn has requested your company for the evening."

"No need to cancel the entertainment on my account, Mistress Aiwen. I have absolutely no wish to take the moonlight with Lord Celeborn."

Mistress Aiwen frowned. "Perhaps you should put aside your personal feelings and reconsider -- for the good of the troupe."

They sat in silence for a while, as the wagon creaked and swayed its way northward. Thranduil pondered the meaning of her words -- all too clear -- and recalled the previous time he had sat at Mistress Aiwen's little table. "But, Mistress, I thought that seldom were tales of lust told of your all female minstrels."

"First of all," she replied with a sweet smile, "the word was 'seldom'. Second, I said no men in the wagon. What happens on the banks of the Anduin is none of my concern. What harm could there be in an innocent walk in the moonlight? And third, this is Lord Celeborn we are discussing. We reach Lothlórien in two days, and his continued goodwill shall be important to us during our stay. Truly, Randiriel, all that is required of you is that you be pleasant. What more did you think I was suggesting?"

Thranduil had a coarse term for it, but he exercised over two thousand years worth of princely diplomacy. "Nothing, Mistress," he replied meekly.

* * *

"Hold still, Randiriel," said Lalie, giving Thranduil's left braid a tug. "I'm almost finished."

"You're such a lucky girl," added Gwaeloth.

"You have no idea," Thranduil replied. He found himself both surprised and touched by the attention the other ladies of the troupe were paying him since his assignation with Celeborn had slipped out. 'Ronneth' had disappeared almost the moment the wagons had stopped for the night.

"Well, I wouldn't say no to him. Lord Celeborn can park his light elven shoes next to my bed any time he likes."

"He isn't my type," Thranduil said sourly.

"What is your type, Randiriel?" said Eleniel, giving him a speculative look.

"I haven't met the lucky --" He barely caught himself. "-- man yet, but he won't be married, that is a certainty."

"Oh, pooh," said Lalie. "Don't be so picky. There you go -- I'm finished. How do you like it?"

Thranduil examined his blurry reflection in the polished tin mirror of the wagon's tiny dressing table with a sense of disquiet. He looked almost . . . beautiful. "Nice. Thank you," he muttered.

"Much finer than mortal -- or immortal -- man deserves," exclaimed Lalie happily.

"Before you go, Randiriel, take this." Gwaeloth held out an object that looked rather like a baton with the feathers of an exotic bird waving off the end.

"What's this?"

"A fan."

"Why would I need a fan on a cool, dark night in Ivanneth?"

Gwaeloth let out a tinkling laugh and flipped the fan open. Her eyes peered coyly at him over the feathered top. "It's to flirt from behind, silly. You are very new to this, are you not?"

"Again, you have no idea. Thank you." Thranduil accepted the fan. No doubt he would wish to be hiding his expression frequently during the evening. "All right -- I'm off, then."

'The sacrificial virgin goes forth,' Thranduil thought to himself as he hopped down from the wagon's tall step onto the soft ground. He had not gone more than a few steps when Lord Celeborn materialized from behind a tree.

"Well met, my lovely one," said Celeborn.

Thranduil barely had time to mumble out his polite reply before the lord had him by the elbow and was propelling him away from the grouped wagons.

"I must say, Randiriel, you look very fetching tonight. And what is that enticing scent you're wearing?"

Thranduil took a careful sniff. Perfume had not been among his lady colleagues' gifts to him that night. All he wore was man-sweat -- Elf-man-sweat to be sure -- and nervous at that. "I think you're smelling the river."

"Oh no, it's something far more elusive. It brings to mind the cook tents of the Westmen and those delicious starchy tubers they brought with them from the fall of the Land of Gift."

Thranduil gulped and decided it was time he replaced his bosoms.

Celeborn led them to a spot overlooking the river. He sat down on a fallen tree and patted the bark beside him. Thranduil sank down gingerly, keeping as much distance as possible. To no avail --Celeborn snaked an arm about his waist and dragged him so close their hips were touching.

"Randiriel," he said by way of a conversational opener, "my wife does not understand me."

"Oh, I am so very sorry to hear that, my lord," Thranduil replied sweetly. "I would have supposed that after almost four thousand years together, a man's helpmeet ought to understand him very well indeed."

"I fear we just grew apart over the ages."

Before Thranduil could succumb to the temptation of asking what part the Lady Galadriel had grown, Celeborn moved even closer. "A man has needs, Randiriel." He punctuated his sentence by making a grab for Thranduil's upper thigh.

"Oh, you!" simpered Thranduil and gave Celeborn a playful swat with his closed fan.

Celeborn picked himself up out of the dirt and shook his head as if clearing it of stars. "A feisty one! I like that in a woman. Now, as I was about to say --"

"CELEBOOOORN . . ." A voice that could have shattered one of Feanor's fabled jewels pierced the night. "Celeborn, where are you? That was the longest tinkle in the history of Arda!"

Thranduil quickly flipped open his fan to hide his sudden smile.

With a sigh, Celeborn raised Thranduil's hand to his lips and kissed the backs of his fingers. "Alas, I fear our evening must come to a premature end. However, there will be other . . . opportunities. Until later, my sweet."

As the tall, silver-haired figure trudged dejectedly off toward the wagons, Thranduil almost felt a fleeting sympathy for Celeborn. Almost.

On the way back to the camp, Thranduil met up with Elrond, who himself stepped out of the trees.

"Spying on me?" Thranduil said peevishly.

Elrond shook his head.

"Draining the dragon?"

Again, Elrond gave his head a negative shake. "No, I was with Celebrían."

"You dog," said Thranduil, giving Elrond a glare. "If you break that girl's heart . . ."

"It's nothing like that. We're just working on a little project together. If anyone's heart is to be broken, it will most likely be mine."

"That is all it had better be," Thranduil warned. "Come on and do something useful for a change. Stand guard for me. After tonight, I really need a bath."

The two of them moved even further away from camp and possible spying eyes. Thranduil took out his potatoes, stripped off his clothing, and with a running leap he grabbed his knees and cannon-balled into the river.

* * *

Continued in Chapter Four: Heaven Help the Working Elleth

Gweth: Manhood
Ennin: Yen, a Long-year, 144 years