Cheated & Charmed
The world was in its second age; an age when the danger in the world was not as prominent nor as dominant as it is today. It was an age when the great forests to the East were still named Greenwood, and it was an age when the darkness that resides there at present was regarded as nothing more than a shadow that, like the clouds that hover high above the trees, was sure to pass.It was in this time that the king of the woodland realm set about training his son in the military arts; combat, archery, swordsmanship... everything that would be expected of the young princeling in due course. But Oropher knew little of how soon his son would need to utilise these skills, and he knew even less of how little his son was prepared to rule a kingdom of his own.
It was June. The forest was alive and the kingdom's favourite prince was finally considered of age. Mature. No longer would he be regarded as princeling, or elfling, or any other title one could think of and attach 'ling' to the end of it. He revelled in it, and believed that he was ready and old enough for anything. Albeit, this would prove false and ill founded before the end, but now we are getting ahead of ourselves. His father had requested that he train with an elf from Lorien; he did not know much about the ellon save that he was sent by his uncle Celeborn to inquire into the policies and politics of the Greenwood. Just as his father was training him for war, Thranduil assumed that Celeborn was preparing his young nephew for a life in politics, especially those regarding communication between realms. However, the young ellon had been granted to train with Thranduil during his stay and Thranduil was more than happy to oblige – he had been training with the longsword for a while now; it was an acquired skill and he believed he was the best in the realm."My lord, the visitor from Lorien." Galion remarked as Thranduil's opponent entered the clearing where they would be practising. Galion was one of his fathers most trusted servants, he was not much older than Thranduil himself but already he was high in the household and one of the more respected nobility at the Elven court. On this day however, his task was not to assist the king in his daily tasks but rather to keep the young prince under a close watch.Thranduil nodded and turned his attention to the Lorien elf. His face was covered with a thin mask, as common when partaking in practice sword fights, and his hair was tied elegantly back in an elaborate braid. He was almost an entire head shorter than Thranduil and much more slender."Do they not greet their opponents in Lorien?" Thranduil asked, slightly irritated that his royal status appeared to be of little importance to this stranger."No my lord, I believe it is custom in Lorien to wait until after the duel; conversation beforehand tends to lead to distraction." Galion contributed from where he sat, leaning against a tree, at the side of the clearing. The stranger merely nodded in response."Very well." Said Thranduil, "We shall commence." He picked up his own sword and swung it down towards the Lorien elf with no lack of grace or surety. It would hit its mark. Thranduil was therefore remarkably surprised when he was met with the harsh sound of clashing swords, the echoing ring of the metal that reverberated in the silence of the clearing. His opponent hit first the next time, swinging his sword and aiming it low; quite literally a low blow. Thranduil realised quickly, and blocked it. Again their swords clashed. This continued for some time, their paces slowly increasing until they were moving almost as swiftly as lightening. That is, until Thranduil caught his opponent of guard and threw him to the ground in one fell swoop; a thrust to the back of the knees with the flat side of his sword. As the stranger fell, his thin helmet tumbled from his head, revealing the rest of those elaborately worked braids and, to Thranduil's surprise, a female face."You're a girl?" He demanded. Galion smirked. She laughed."I knew you would not fight me properly had you known I was female. I wanted to be equal, your grace." The elleth said, finally addressing the prince by a royal title."Your name, elleth?" He asked, attempting to regain his composure. It is true, had he known her gender, he would have not have been so fierce, nor as determined to best her."It is Astariel, your highness."Thranduil smiled in response and the training session was ended with Thranduil feeling both cheated and charmed.
"I might have thought I would have found you in here." Thranduil remarked as he entered the library. He was older now, and though Astariel spent months at a time away from Greenwood, she also spent months at a time in it. She had been appointed the official ambassador between Lorien and Greenwood, and yet preferred to spend her time in the forests of Greenwood rather than the forests of Lorien. Over the years, Thranduil had found that she spent increasing number of hours in the library during her stay in the Greenwood."It is, as one might say, my safe haven.""And what, pray tell, is it protecting you from?" He asked, taking a seat on one of the engraved wooden benches that ran alongside the wall."Heathens like you who do not read." She smirked."I do read, I just care little for history and poetry and so read it seldom." Said he, and she rolled her eyes, much like she always did."There is a danger growing, Thranduill, both my aunt and uncle are weary of it and fear it greatly. I fear we may all be heading for the Grey Havens sooner than we think." She said quietly."The world has faced a darkness before, if it must endure it once again, the world will prevail." He said, gently closing the book in her hands. By human standards, Thranduil was a man, whereas before he was but a teenager. But there was a quality in his eyes that aged him, a quality that stripped away his youthful arrogance and superiority complex. The cause of this was mainly due to the death of his mother. She had passed into non-existance one cold, cold winter and neither Thranduil nor his father had been the same since. As a consequence, the entire Elvish court seemed to be in a constant balance between extreme melancholy and an extreme celebration to compensate for the aforementioned melancholy. The two almost went hand in hand – there was never one without the other following close behind."She would be proud of you." Astariel said softly. It was she who had consoled Thranduil upon the death of his mother and it was she who would bring him food and water, and sometimes wine, when he locked himself in his bedchamber and would open it for no one else.He said nothing, only gazed at the bookshelves on the walls. The windows were stained glass and coloured with beautifully crafted images from Elven history – the Silmarils had a full pane of glass to themselves. As the light shone through them, the shelves that lined the walls became a prism of colour, containing a thousand different colours and hues. It was, Thranduil would reluctantly admit to his Lorien companion, rather aesthetically pleasing."Why do they comfort you so?" He asked, his gaze not straying from the books bound lovingly in leather."They do not change. They are constant. They do not waver or falter and you can always depend on them to give you the answer your seek, should you consult the correct one. They are pure and raw emotion and contain the entire history of our world. We should embrace them." She answered passionately. He admired the way her eyes lit up and the edge of fire in her voice. He only wished he had something he could speak that way about.
"Astariel should be sent home; it is no place for a young elleth when we are preparing for war. She should go now while it is safe to travel in these lands. Before long we will not be able to do even that." Oropher said to his son."She cannot! Her position is not finished here! She is needed as an envoy between our realms! She is vital to our alliance with Lorien, we cannot so lightly send her away." Thranduil replied, outraged at his father's mere suggestion of sending her away."I am sure Celeborn will send another. An ellon this time, perhaps."Thranduil recalled the first day he had met Astariel in the clearing. How she had fought just as well as himself and had almost beaten him."She can do just as good a job as any ellon. Father, it would be folly to send her away. We cannot be sure that the routes are safe even now, you would not make her leave the safety of our walls?""She can find safety behind her own." Oropher replied, sitting himself at his desk."You forget father, she spends as much time here as in Lorien. These are her walls." And with that, Thranduil left, finally finding the thing he could speak most passionately about. She had grown on him, though he was reluctant to admit it. When they had first met, their friendship was a back and forth exchange of insults and comebacks – he had yet to find anybody in any realm that could think of a comeback as quick as she, and he had yet to find anybody in any realm to get under his skin quite as she. Over all the time they had known one another, their friendship had grown – at least on his end – into something much more beautiful and much more complex.
It was a much darker day that Thranduil returned home after Dagorlad. His father had fallen, as had much of his army, and the young prince was forced to lead them home.She was waiting at the gates with the rest of those who had stayed behind. Her eyes scanned those returning for sign of his father, and when it was clear he was not among them, her eyes filled with understanding and rushed forward to meet Thranduil. There was no need for an exchange of words between them. She knew exactly what he was thinking and he knew exactly how she would react.He caught her in his arms as she ran forward and continued moving; he was in a haze. He was only slightly aware that he was holding her, save from the pressure of her head on his shoulder and the warmth on his chest. He did not speak a single word that day.He was broken from his reverie later that night, when there was a familiar knock on his door. She was stood with enough wine to drown even the worst of one's sorrows and no less than three books of Elvish poetry. He said nothing, he only opened the door wider to allow her in. He sat in silence, drinking his wine, whilst she read the most apt poetry to him aloud. She was right, he thought, poetry does bring some form of comfort in times of deep despair.
"I am to be king." He said, his eyes unmoving from the embers of the fire."Indeed." She said quietly. "I do not doubt your ability to rule a kingdom with just as much grace and ability as your father did." She placed a comforting hand over his. His eyes finally moved away from the fire. He drained the rest of his (rather large) goblet of wine, and she was already filling it up before it had barely left his lips."Are you trying to get me drunk?" He asked, raising one eyebrow whilst a smirk spread across his lips."No, your highness." She said coyly. "I am merely helping you forget your melancholy."He sighed heavily."My melancholy is going to need much more than wine to cure.""I know. But wine is as a good a start as any."
"Your grace, the coronation is merely weeks away. It would be…unwise to crown a king with no preparations being made for a queen." Spoke one of Thranduil's advisors at the mid-August council meeting."I shall not marry a foreign princess. If I am to marry, you are all aware of who I shall choose and I shall have no one else." Thranduil said lazily, sprawling on the wooden throne that was soon to be his officially."If I may, your highness, the elleth you would choose is rather… inappropriate." The councillor said nervously."Is she now? Would you care to explain how?" Thranduil said menacingly."A marriage should form alliances, therefore the princess should be somebody from a highly influential family. And a princess indeed should she be, she should not be an ambassador for your foreign relations.""You are forgetting, master councillor, that she is the niece of Celeborn of Lorien, and so is therefore kin to both he and the Lady of Light. I do not think she could have a family any more influential." Thranduil replied, rolling his eyes and dismissing the argument with a flick of his hand."Ah yes, forgive me sir, but she is not a princess. And Celeborn has daughters that would be much more suitable, although a marriage alliance with Lorien would not be the most beneficial. I fear, my lord, that Lorien would seek to control the Greenwood and would override the policies you currently hold in place. We have different military policies in Greenwood. This would change your highness, and I do not think it would be for the better." The councillor said. "I think you would soon lose your power as king and hold the title only as an honour. The people here are naturally wary of Lorien - You forget that they are reluctant to help us quell the darkness that is beginning to nest on the edges of the forest and that it is our people that are being harmed!"Once the councillor had finished his rather lengthy lecture, Thranduil was forced to acknowledge that some of his points were valid. Celeborn had expressed a desire to control the Greenwood's laws and customs, and he did not approve of the differences between cultures. And it was true that the people of the Greenwood were not entirely inclined to be friendly towards those that resided permanently in Lorien – they had shown no concern for their Greenwood kin."I do not think the people would so readily dislike her. She has lived here for a number of years and is loyal to us. I do not think the people regard her as a Lorien elf.""Your highness, although that may be, I myself am vehemently against an alliance with Lorien. And I am sure that a number on this council would join me. You forget, your highness, that this council was appointed to advise you on your decisions and you are bound by law to listen to and take our advice should you be outnumbered. In this case, sire, I fear you are."Thranduil sighed heavily. The infernal councillor was indeed correct. Should the council be united and ultimately against an action of the king's, they had the power to override it."Very well. I shall not marry her. But I shall not marry at all."But the council went one step further. They demanded the one thing Thranduil was loath to accept, and yet by law he was forced to. It was quite possibly the worst council meeting of his life.
"You need to leave."Once again, she was in the library. She was always in the library. He had taken the liberty of expanding it, adding an extra six book cases and filling them all with new books she had yet to read. He had, rather foolishly, thought her presence in Greenwood was guaranteed for a few more years yet, at least."The library? But why? I thought-" She said, closing the book in her hands and standing up from her spot on the window bench."No, not the library. The kingdom." He said. He shut his eyes. He could not bear to look at her whilst delivering the news that he was kicking her out of his land."This is a joke, isn't it? Who put you up to this? Was it-"He put his hand up to stop her. Her face fell and she gently placed the book back on the shelf."And what has brought this on? Was it your council?" She was smart, too smart, he told himself. He was under strict instructions from his council to not tell her the truth. She must not think she was being forced from the kingdom for political reasons."No. I… I cannot be king with you here. You are too much of a distraction for me. I cannot hope to rule fairly and justly with you by my side. As I said, you are too much of a distraction. A distraction that I cannot afford once king."The crestfallen look on her face was almost enough to make him take it all back."Is that all I am to you? A distraction?""No. Yes. I don't know. All I know is that I need you to leave this kingdom and never come back. You will tell your uncle that you left because you disagree with my political style and he will appoint a new ambassador. You will not breathe a word of what we had together and it shall stay buried within the both of us."She had gone past confusion, past sadness, and now she was angry. Just angry."You are the single most heartless, selfish, spoilt and childish person I have ever had the misfortune of knowing. I thought I had known you. I see now that I was wrong. I hope you rule successfully, king, for I am beginning to doubt that you will very much." She spat."You dare to speak to your king in this way?""Forgive me your grace, but you are most definitely not my king."She left and slammed the door behind her, unknowingly taking a small part of his heart with her.
She was gone by the time the sun had risen the following morning. Once his council were satisfied that they had gotten their own way, Thranduil fired them all, and threatened them with treason should they refuse. He appointed new councillors and could only speculate how different things might have been had he replaced his council sooner.
He entered her library – he still called it hers, for no one else ever entered. The shelves were covered with dust. In a fit of anger he cast the books from the shelves and shattered the windows that he had once admired. The glass lay in a thousand tiny coloured pieces on the floor, much like the state of his council, his kingdom, and his heart.
A/N - Astariel is a character of my own creation, however everything else is purely the works of Tolkien and I do not own anything.