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Chapter Four: Aman Help the Working Elleth

Part Four: Aman Help the Working Elleth

"Goodness, what a lot of flowers!" exclaimed Eleniel.

"I don't think goodness had anything to do with it," Gwaeloth said with a snigger. "Randiriel must have been a naughty girl last night."

"But . . . all we did was talk," said Thranduil, looking around in confusion. He and Elrond had awakened late to discover that the sleeping wagon resembled a flower-seller's stall in a Gondorian market.

"Whatever you say, dear. Lord Celeborn's footmen left this for you too." She handed Thranduil a black velvet sack and raised her eyebrow in a knowing look.

Thranduil opened the sack and let out a slow whistle through his teeth. "White gems!" He slipped the bracelet over his wrist and turned his hand this way and that to catch the sparkle. "My favorite."

He suddenly became aware that the three girls were staring and wearing identical smirks. Even Elrond was eyeing him speculatively. With his cheeks and ears flaming, Thranduil bowed and retreated to his bunk.

* * *

Their entry into Lothlórien was anticlimactic, as indeed Galadriel said repeatedly, in slightly more oblique terminology. Their two wagons split off from the column, which continued to trudge on northward, while the parties of Lord Celeborn and Mistress Aiwen took barges across the Anduin to the western bank. From there, they were led by a small escort of wardens to Caras Galadhon itself, where young King Amroth met them at the foot of the Royal Mallorn with a smile that looked, to Elrond's eyes, to be tightly nailed on around the edges.

A silver-clad footman led Mistress Aiwen and her crew to a sumptuous flet "courtesy of Lord Celeborn". At the bottom of the stairway, Thranduil took Elrond's elbow and drew him aside.

"So, what's the plan?"

Elrond looked sadly across the gap just in time to catch the trailing hem of Celebrían's gown as she disappeared into Amroth's palace. "I don't know. The intelligent thing to do would be to steal some trousers and hie ourselves on north, but . . ."


"I know I have a snowflake's chance in Orodruin of ever winning her but . . ."

"Hope springs eternal?"

"I suppose you could put it that way," said Elrond with a sigh.

"Don't worry. I have decided to tarry for a time myself."


Thranduil drew back the sleeve of his gown to reveal the glittering bracelet of white gems. "Have you any idea how expensive it is to raise and outfit an army?" He paused. "I daresay you do, but, correction -- have you any idea how expensive it is to raise an army in an economy that runs on nuts and furs? Ada near to bankrupted the treasury doing it. A few more of these little trinkets and Eryn Galen will be set for the next Age."

"I've heard of the duties of royalty," Elrond said, "but this price is steep."

Thranduil shrugged. "I think I can keep the old coot at arm's length for a while longer."

Elrond shrugged in return. "You Silvans are a practical lot, I'll grant you that."

Thranduil grinned and gave his bodice a tug that shifted his potatoes back to center. "Fix your hair, Ronneth. You have a side-curl coming undone. We girls are in for the duration."

* * *

"I need a favor from you," said Elrond. He stopped in the doorway and did a double-take. "Sweet Elbereth, not more flowers! This room is starting to smell like a Haradren brothel!"

"Recognize the scent do we?" said Thranduil cattily. He was sitting at the dressing table of the room the two of them now shared, buffing his nails and painting his lips with berry juice. "I think you're just jealous because I'm prettier and get all the attention."

"Some of us don't want that kind of attention," Elrond grumbled. "Your juggling act last night was a disappointment. They still all looked at your chest."

Thranduil sighed. "Who knew? I thought juggling Dwarven axes would do the trick for sure. I could have lost a finger, or worse, and no one cared! Mark my words, though, I'll come up with something that will make them all pay attention. Wait until tomorrow night."

"I'm sure we're all dying to see," said Elrond sourly.

"You're in a mood this afternoon. What's gotten up your backside?"

"What's gotten up yours, more like."

"Very funny. Now what was that favor you wanted?"

"It's about Celebrían," Elrond said. "We're working on something together -- a surprise -- but it's almost impossible to get any privacy. She says her father has a special talan off on the western edges. He calls it his 'workshop'."

"Hmm . . . I wonder what he makes there? I hadn't figured his Lordship for the handy type." The sarcasm in Thranduil's tone was impossible to miss.

"That isn't important. Celebrían says we could go there tonight. All we need is to make sure that someone keeps Celeborn away so that he doesn't walk in on us. If you could just distract him . . ."

Thranduil put down his nail buffer. "What a coincidence! It so happens I have an appointment to take yet another moonlight stroll with Lord Celeborn tonight after the show. You know, don't you find it odd how the moon always seems to be full here in Lothlórien? But trust me, Elrond, the last thing I want is to let him get me alone in his 'workshop'. You two should be safe enough."

* * *

"Life in the Golden Wood seems to suit you, Randiriel," said Celeborn as he stepped out from behind the trunk of a giant mallorn. "You're blooming like a rose!"

Thranduil resisted the urge to adjust his bodice. He had finally disposed of his potatoes, now become desiccated, and had replaced them with two medium-sized yellow fruits he had found packed in sawdust in a crate marked with Haradren lettering and set out behind the royal kitchen. Evidently the war in the south had awakened exotic tastes. The spherical fruits were larger than their predecessors, and the effect on the crowd at tonight's show had been spectacular. Thranduil now had five new gold coins to add to his growing hoard.

"And you're wearing a new scent," Celeborn continued, sniffing the air. "Citrusy, yet light."

Thranduil crooked a finger and placed it under Celeborn's chin to bring his gaze upward to eye level. "You flatter me, my lord." Then he blinked. "My lord, what in the name of Elbereth is on your head?"

Celeborn wore a triangular hat that seemed to have been folded out of some kind of metal, either silver or tin, that had been beaten paper thin.

"Oh, that." Celeborn gave a little nervous laugh. "Now that we are back in Lothlórien my wife has access to her mirror. The foil head covering interferes with the reception. A man is due a little privacy, do you not think?"

With that, he took Thranduil about the waist and led the two of them toward the outskirts of Caras Galadhon, staying close to the trunks of the huge mellyrn, avoiding big roots and the gazes of the other inhabitants. At length they came to a large pond with a stand of trees on its opposite shore.

"Yonder lies my private talan," said Celeborn, "where you and I will have the opportunity to deepen our understanding. I have many examples of fine art I would like to show you, including an ancient Doriathrin artifact which I think you will find very interesting."

"Oh no, my lord, that would be quite impossible," Thranduil simpered. He could imagine what ancient Doriathrin artifact Lord Celeborn had in mind and he had no wish to see it. Ever.

"But why, my pet? What harm could there be in some innocent art appreciation?"

"We have no chaperone," Thranduil explained. "I'm an old-fashioned type of girl. My naneth raised me right -- to obey the Laws and Customs brought to us by the Wise-elves from the West. I could never be alone in a private dwelling with a man who is not my betrothed. And a married man at that!"

"And if we were betrothed?"

"But that can never be, for even if -- Valar forbid! -- your dear wife were to pass to Mandos, you would still be a married man. And in the words of the Laws, 'it shall not be lawful for any of the Eldar to judge his own case.'" said Thranduil piously. Thank the aforementioned Valar that the idiocy of the Golodhrim was, for once, coming in handy.

Celeborn looked thoughtful. "My wit accepts the truth of this, but my heart, quite overcome by your beauty, says quite another thing. Is there any possibility I might entice you to change your mind?"

"About the same likelihood as Feanor being released from Mandos and rehoused."

"Aha, so there is a chance!" Celeborn exclaimed. "Trust me, meleth, I can be very persuasive." To bring the point home, he fingered the glittering white gems around Thranduil's wrist.

"I don't doubt that," replied Thranduil. "Just not tonight."

"Then how will we pass the time together?"

"We can . . ." Thranduil cast about for an activity that would keep Lord Celeborn occupied and himself out of harm's way. "We can dance! Surely you dance, here in Lothlórien?" He had seen King Amroth and his court dancing under the mellyrn, doing stately pavanes on the grass.

"Indeed we do, my pet," said Celeborn and swept Thranduil against his chest, bending him back almost horizontal.

"My lord, what dance is this?" Thranduil squeaked. "I am unaccustomed to dancing quite so close."

"It is a step done in certain Gondorian gentlemen's clubs for the purpose of breaking the ice and deepening friendships. It is called the Tan-goh."

So much for arm's length. Thranduil felt a juicy trickle running down toward his navel. It would be back to the potatoes on the morrow. He looked across the waters of the pond toward the talan. 'Curse it, Elrond,' he thought. 'I hope your little assignation is worth it.'

* * *

Elrond lurked beneath Celeborn's talan, careful to keep the thick trunk between him and the line of sight from the approach. He waited and he waited. He had begun to think he'd been stood up when Celebrían appeared, breathless, out of the twilight shadows.

"I'm so sorry, Ronneth," she said. "Mother and I were taking an after dinner drink with Amroth, and it took me forever to slip away."

She led the way up the simple wooden ladder to the talan, and Elrond followed, feeling out of sorts at the mention of his rival. His rival -- whom was he fooling? A halfblood of dubious political authority and a chequered past had no hope of achieving the hand of Lady Galadriel's daughter.

Lord Celeborn's 'workshop' had no furnishings other than a very large bed, freshly made with the sheets turned down, and a side table with a pitcher of wine and two cups. The walls were decorated with etchings that depicted naked Silvan elf-maidens bathing in forest pools or frolicking in sun-dappled clearings. In a place of honor hung a rather gaudy tapestry whose subject was an image of Elu Thingol smiling indulgently at a silver-haired child holding a pet squirrel. A gilt-painted plaque at the foot proclaimed: 'To my dear great-grandnephew on the occasion of his eleventh Begetting Day.' Elrond winced.

"Hmm," said Celebrían, looking about the room, "I've never been up here before. It's awfully empty. Daddy must have moved his tools out for the War and not had a chance to bring them back."

"Yes, that must be it," said Elrond tactfully. He cast about for another topic of conversation. "Your mother really seems fond of Amroth. I suppose we'll be hearing a betrothal announcement soon." He punctuated this last with a sigh.

Celebrían echoed the sigh. "It seems inevitable. I don't want to disappoint Nana, but kissing Amroth would be like . . . like kissing my brother." She paused. "Do you know what I really want, Ronneth? I don't want to have to find a suitable husband and be a perfect little princess daughter anymore. In fact, lately I've been so confused."

"Confused? About what?"

She gave him a look that managed to be both hopeful and unhappy. "I . . . I . . ." She shook her head. "I'm sorry, Ronneth. I have to go. I'm just not in the mood to sing tonight."

"That's all right, we've practiced enough already," he said to the disappearing top of her head as she descended the ladder. "You sang like a Vanya when I first met you. You don't need me. You never did," he finished, as she was long past hearing him.

He stood at the window and watched her slender form go out of sight among the trees. With a heart like lead, he sat down on the bed and stared at the untouched wine.

"Oh, who cares?" he whispered and poured himself a cup. He sat drinking while the light outside deepened into full dark and the full moon rose. And on the other side of the pond, two figures joined into one silhouette, continued their tango.

* * *

Completed in Chapter Five: Revelations