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While the Company is True...

By Magicbunni

Fantasy / Adventure

Blurb

This Short Story continues the events of the Mirkwood Royals novels (in order) 'The Cord', and 'Bind Them'. Please read those first! Thanks! | Dutiful Lusis Buckmaster, Ranger Chief, and -- recently -- Sworn Companion of the Elvenking, chafes under the restrictions of Istari-dom in Lake Township. She's a woman of action not of... journal entries. More worrisome is the Elvenking's silence from within The Halls. What's befallen him? With her assignment to Lake Township Council she doesn't know the work of two Kingdoms has bent his mighty shoulders... but she'll soon find out.

Complete novella

The problem with the Elvenking becoming the monarch at Long Lake is

Lusis tapped her reed pen against the page and gnawed her lower lip for a while. The problem was… there was no one problem to resolve. The challenges were manifold, branching out like cracking ice, so that, given enough pressure, the entire lake broke free. For a girl like Lusis, who had been raised a warrioress in the High North among the famed Northern Rangers known as ‘The Messenger-men’, that meant there was no one mission – no one delivery to lay down one’s life for. She was a leader. She wasn’t a King.

She wasn’t by a long shot an Elvenking.

Each goal? It was a tiny, thankless string in a tapestry of goals.

That was the life of the Elvenking of Mirkwood.

She gave her attention to the blue sky and grey-winged gulls of Lake Township – hang her logbook. There were… too many problems in the interface between a thriving human town, whose various denizens loved and resented their new Elvenking, and the essentially timeless culture of The Halls. She picked at the page before her, because she often wanted to write about these things… but she wasn’t Redd, the great Hoard Librarian in her troop. That puzzled labyrinth could not be packed into the brevity of lines she liked to call a journal entry.

Lately, he was too busy with the peregrine Buckmasters, come from the High North to Lake Township to evade the new Lord there. Too busy with what was, to her, critical work – seeing as her own family and stepmother were here among the other exiles – of helping his Chief.

“I miss my life,” she realized, and wrote that down.

The new-fledged Yellow Istari, much as she doubted the designation, sat back and huffed at the page before her. So much paper. So little text. She pushed a hand through her hair and sighed at the walls around her. So much for Radagast’s advice that she keep a journal, and by that, get in touch with her ‘inner Istari’, or whatnot. He thought that the action of writing out her thoughts would somehow deepen her understanding of her own nature. It had succeeded in doing one thing. She knew, better and better, her own isolation, now that she wasn’t simply Lusis Buckmaster, daughter of her father, and of Buckmaster Keep… such as that now was. No. Now she was the Yellow Istari, and that was a thing apart. Or so it was beginning to seem. She laid down her pen and looked at the nearly empty page.

I miss my life.

What that really meant… she couldn’t say. She wasn’t sure anymore. But that sense of great adventure, of freedom, of great risk and great mission… that her actions all had importance, was gone.

But she had a dogged sense that this was wrong, somehow. That her life was supposed to matter.

Arrogant? Maybe. But… the rest of her thoughts on the matter slipped through her fingers on an errant breeze through the window. She wasn’t accustomed to dwelling on her emotions… and the early summer air smelt so dreamy beyond the panes.

Lusis plucked her bottom lip a few times before she slammed the book closed and climbed to her feet.

She paced the row of windows along the upstairs hall. Lusis spent a lot of her time in Lake Township in the great house behind the docks – Jan Kasia’s residence. This was where the Elvenking preferred to stay when he came here from what humans had come to call ‘The Capital’ – the Halls. Moreover, the Elite warrior elves who guarded the Elvenking preferred this location, since they knew the layout of the building and how to defend it. They disliked much about the architecture of men, and so it was well known that a structure was being raised as the Elvenking’s Residence, but… it hadn’t made much progress so far. For one thing – she smiled as she cranked a window wider – the Elfking wouldn’t set foot inside, and when Kingdom’s seneschal, Eithahawn, had gone in, he’d made it clear by that most elven of means, that no human artisan could build an elven Hall, when he made no comment and never again returned.

It had to be pretty bad. For an elf, anyway.

She chuckled at the next memory that struck her. Which was of Dorondir Hastion, ‘spy’ of Rivendell in the Mirkwood, talking about the intended residence. ‘Spying’ having a wholly inhuman meaning, and ‘spies’ representing an essential profession among the greater elven communities. Lusis had written about that, at least, and compared elven spy-craft to many things: handicapping in horse racing, a mutually agreed upon ‘necessary evil’, a civility that was equally beneficial and detrimental at the same time. The fact she couldn’t nail it down in Westron told her that it was an alien concept. An elven spy was a completely edhel construct that humans couldn’t easily understand.

A few visits ago, Dorondir had told her the Elvenking had ordered him to explore the Residence at night. He’d described it to her, afterwards, in lurid detail. It was a ‘colossal square’ with a ‘kitchen in the basement’, he’d added, ‘In. The. Basement.’ It had ‘long beds’, ‘endless walls’ and ‘hall on hall’ of doors. He’d been dazed, which had made Lusis laugh until his face went red. Even among elves, Dorondir was known to despise the close halls of human habitations. Whenever he came to visit her in Lake Township, he met her in the fields or the broad upstairs. Kasia had renovated the uppermost rooms so that the hall was wider than ever. The windows opened on cranks – as per designs from The Halls. The now double doors rolled on casters and could be left open.

The displaced Messenger-men of Buckmaster Spur were flooding the area of late, and so her stepmother, Mellona, had made a bid on the property already, and the King was expected – a surety, given Dorondir’s feedback– to grant it to her.

The ideal position for housing the Elvenking was closest the Silver Beech claiming-tree. But that was the location of Jan Kasia’s manor house. And so… that was where the King stayed, and the upstairs rooms that were, de facto, his own now, had been altered by the great Noldor elf, Osp, and changed their entire nature.

Because elves needed space. They dearly loved it.

Loved it too much. She leaned in the casement and listened to lake gulls cry out over the dockyards. The bells rang somewhere over the misted peaks of human houses far to the distance, calling the humanity hereabouts from work and to their suppers. The town had more than doubled in size since the Elvenking had claimed it. The numbers of humans under his aegis had vastly increased.

“Miss Lusis,” said one of Kasia’s staff members from the end of the wide balsa hallway. “Will you be joining us this evening?”

She dusted off her leathers and headed in the woman’s direction. For the most part, Lusis still wore the clothes of a Buckmaster Messenger-man and Northern Ranger, but… even there, there’d been some concessions. Her clothes were of elven make, for one thing, and so they didn’t precisely resemble her real fighting leathers: the chainmail was lighter and silvery, and, she suspected, Mithril. The boots were tapered little works of art. Nothing was mismatched, dirty, threadbare, or timeworn anymore. And while the new leathers felt amazing and moved like a second skin she felt like a different woman in them. A different Lusis.

In the downstairs, the major table was empty, and at the minor table a family meal was in the process of being laid out.

“Master Kasia has been delayed,” said a footman. “Miss Avonne is with him on a tour of the docks, at the moment.”

Lusis made no comment. She could simply nod her head here. There were no elves for her human body-language to trouble. She turned and went out through the large front doors of the house to stand on the stoop. She smiled down at the baskets of tributes to the Elvenking there. She’d thought they might decrease but… the simple tributes had gone in the other direction. At least no one threw flaming bottles at him anymore.

From there she started off on the white stone path to the King’s Tree. The massive silver beech was the embodiment of the Elvenking’s claim to Lake Township. It had sprung up from the very point at which he’d committed himself to the land. Now it was encircled by wooden guard’s offices and wrought iron railings. Kind of… like her. Every effort was made to protect it. Its power had granted the lands and waters unparalleled generosity, and it was his living connection to this place.

Above her, the expanse of the tree glowed softly in the setting sun, its broad limbs thick with leaves and heavy with nuts and nests. Full of life. Having an Elfking, for all the problems it could present, had also brought this place outrageous prosperity.

She loved that great silvery tree, but she kept walking.

Lusis passed the dockyards and the wide grazing field bobbing with lazy bees, a pasture now topped with a fountainhead and full of deer where it stood at the edge of the Township. Several hares crossed her path, and, further on, she flushed a dozen ptarmagin. A wild ox and calf ate among geese, all of them under the groaning of a tree pregnant with red apples. The richness of this land was the double-edged gift of the Elvenking’s ‘Claiming’, for if you didn’t harvest, and didn’t manage the land, it grew out of all control.

She watched elk bolt from the shallows along the edge of Forest River, onward, fish rises dimpling the gullies. His work was beautiful. Up until she realized with a jolt, she’d reached a white-wood marker of the Elvenking’s sections. The white markers were for travelers and children lost in the woods – elven Scouts checked them daily and nightly. But they were far along the river.

So was she.

“I can’t just… walk back to the Halls,” she turned to find the lamps of Lake Township just a distant glow. “Can I?”

“Why not?”

Lusis’ sword swung free with terrific speed.

A deft hand blocked the blade’s motion. She backed away, but he followed, so she looked quickly up into the pale oval face and tilted green eyes of… Dorondir? She jolted to a stop at his nearness. “Fires, man!” or… she thought he was Dorondir. It might have been Annundir, the twin, though that was unlikely.

“Lusis,” his voice came out a soft purr of sound, and his head tipped right and down. His smile faded. “What is wrong?”

She backed away a step.

“Lusis-Istari… do you know me?”

Her reply came in fits and starts. “Yes. Yes, of course. Of course, I do.” What she wasn’t as sure of… was herself. How had she come so far, and why? Hadn’t the Elvenking charged her with overseeing Lake Township in his place? And, now what? She’d just decided to abandon her post? Her assignment? He’d entrusted his city of Men to her. She looked around in a fog: What was she doing? Handle the matter at hand, Lusis. “Why are you out here, Dorondir?”

“Ah,” he looked at the deepening sky. It was his turn to hesitate, and he lowered his forgotten hand from the blade, and eased a fraction away. She studied his dark head as it drooped forward and his green gaze averted – one had to know what these elven motions meant, one had to catalog them, and that that was not so straightforward a thing. “I have free time some evenings, Lusis-dess, when the Kingdom’s seneschal is in his residence at his books for the night. Then he sends me out in the world under my own power. So he has, tonight.” His voice trailed away to a soft motion of his shoulder and head that she… had seen too infrequently to classify.

Lusis bit down on the urge to imitate the graceful gesture.

“And… and so this is what you do with your free time?” She gave a little scoff and motioned his attention toward the surrounding woods and river – beauteous and wild, yes, but also devoid of company of any kind. “You run around among the trees in the dark?”

Baw. No, indeed,” his humbled expression and soft laugh were comely, even for him. This was before his eyes, the colour of fresh leaves, met and held her gaze. “With my free time… I visit you.”

He looked suddenly serious. Vulnerable.

In the elven way.

Where she could glimpse something painfully innocent inside of an elf.

Lusis knew she’d walked into this forbidden terrain, thoughtlessly, and she wasn’t talking about the river-paths to The Halls either. There was history between her and this elf. Standing in front of such a confession, she… didn’t know what to say to him. She loved his visits. Dearly. But she couldn’t say as much. To encourage him was wholly unfair, since, before she’d contracted as a Companion to the Elvenking, this very man had stolen in and pleaded with her not to bind herself to the Elvenking. That action, brave or brazen, left no room for confusion about his feelings, and she’d… had to choose.

Now his head tipped low toward her, so close that his dark hair brushed the front of her shoulder. Some of the lengths brushed her cheek. And she loved elven hair. It was always so smooth and full of weightless gloss. She reached up to stroke the fine darkness of it – like the dark chocolate cocoa back at Kasia shipyards. Ah, to just touch elven hair again – divine!

His fingers tightened on the tree beside them. He sighed.

When he spoke, his voice was soft, “You are the Elvenking’s representative in Lake Township and… he has left you there. Alone. As you are ever alone. And, so, I find myself plagued with thoughts. Does it speak to your Contract that he leaves you thus? Does it indicate… feeling he might possess, or not possess? And on and on until I am graceless with thinking, Lusis-meleth.”

“We said we wouldn’t talk about this again.” She told him.

He exhaled, “And you are so warm, before me – I feel the heat in waking dreams, I swear it.”

She had to release his hair. But didn’t. She looked at his hand braced on the tree, and the tension in the tendons there as he held himself in check. What would he have liked to do… if she’d allowed it.

Ma. Yes.” His soft exhalations on her bare collarbone felt damp and light. “There has been more shared between us, surely than ever shared with-”

“No,” she tugged the dark braid she still held. “Don’t speak of him that way, Dorondir. And. And we’ve been over this ground. It’s a circle. You need someone in your life, my dear friend.”

“I do… need someone.” His head turned just a fraction, and that was enough for his temple to push against her hair and his curved ear to brush her temple in turn. Soft. Elven. Skin. “Must we avoid this conversation, meleth? It will come to no good. Neither your King nor I are human. Words we bury under silence will surface in the flesh. Or… is that what you want?”

Want? She couldn’t even follow what that meant. The new Istari was, after all, very human. Lusis released his hair and felt her face screw up with sudden pain. It surprised her. She caught hold of herself quickly as she backed away. “What does the word mean?” she asked him. “Meleth?”

His body twitched. It was wonderfully curious, and she glanced in his direction, fascinated, even as he leaned away from her.

Dorondir’s expression was artless. “Have you never heard it, Lusis?”

“Nope,” she shrugged at him. “Never.”

A certain silence.

“I see….”

Dorondir eased toward her again, and his warmth loomed against her. It felt wonderful to have someone close, and this elf she cared for so deeply, this spy of Rivendell, this guardian of Eithahawn, this man was ever constant.

But he’d only paused to fold her into that rarest of elven things – an embrace. “You are right and I am sorry,” he apologized against her hair. “To whatever end, we must not speak of it. Your choice is made, and has been made. You live by it and… so much I. So must I accept that our ways… diverge.”

Lusis gathered herself and stepped away when she most wanted to cradle him to her. She had never wanted to cause him pain.

The tall Noldor offered no resistance, but followed her instead. For a while, they walked toward the Halls in silence, and then he said, “Please forgive my fondness. I am reckless. Thoughtless.”

“There’s nothing wrong with you.” She told him, and meant it. He did nothing she didn’t first allow, and, so, nothing to forgive.

He pulled out a long-knife and wheeled it in air, all business again. “Yellow Istari, if you wish to travel to the Halls, I will take you there in all safety.”

“You’re afraid a wolf will get me?” She snickered and then shot him a look. “Are you thinking that I’m rusty?” Apart from biweekly Council meetings, she spent most of her day training Argus’ recruits how to fight like Northern Rangers. She was the polar opposite of rusty right then.

He sucked air in a soft inward hiss. “When that look could cut a man down? I’m sure it would skin a wolf.”

“Then don’t be a wolf,” she smiled as she started into a jog along the river.

“Lusis-Istari,” he bounded by, passing ahead and above her along the limbs of beech trees, “do keep up.”

She shot him a dirty look that dissolved into amusement. He was too fun, this elf.

They stopped to collect leaves and berries for a tisane some time later. It was summer, and the most luscious teas came out of The Halls in summer! Now that Long Lake humans knew of the teas, but not which, or where to find the separate ingredients, teas from The Halls were eagerly awaited, and quite exclusive, when supplies traveled into Lake Township. She hiked up a tree full of hazelnuts and filled her pockets. There were few things more delicious than these nuts as a base for elven teas.

Humming to herself, Lusis asked, “Do you think he’s forgotten?”

“We have agreed not to-”

“Right. Just answer,” she sat back against the trunk and looked up at him, above her in the same tree, taking leaves from the runners along the trunk there.

Dorondir kept working in silence for nearly a full minute before he said, “It does not matter what I think.” He eased down to sit beside her, his long legs folded up so that he could wrap his arms around them. “Only what you do.”

“I don’t think he has,” Lusis rolled her lower lip out of her teeth. “I think he regrets.”

Dorondir turned in the dark, “Regrets… you?”

“I believe that I haven’t grown into the Istari he hoped,” she admitted. “That’s one reason to regret the association – our Companionship. He seized on me at the same time he forsook the white stones of Erebor – the stones from the so-called Lake of Light inside the Lonely Mountain. I was meant to somehow replace these great wheels of white stones he’s planted through, I swear, half the Mirkwood forest. This network through which his energy can pass, and through which he can monitor the comings and goings of beings. But… none of that has materialized. I have no idea how to take the place of that web of protective stones.”

Dorondir look up at the stars, “So you believe he is disappointed and has set you aside.”

Well. “Maybe, if I cannot be a haven for his people, he has no further use for me?” The thought burned inside of her squirming chest, nearly intolerable, and she clutched Dorondir’s hand. His body jumped with surprise, but he endured it. Unsurprisingly.

“Lusis, he is not a man for… for play. The Elvenking of the Great Greenwood is not one to ever misplace his advantages.” Dorondir squeezed her fingers comfortingly. That was impressive to Lusis, given how strong he was. It was almost as if he’d practiced. His head rolled a fraction, which let him look down at her and also rest against the crown of her head. “He cannot regret such a boon as your attention. Tell me no. For there will be no curbing me if the answer is Yes.”

Whoa.

Lusis released the hand she held so dear, rose to her feet on the branch and, in a calculation most elven, dropped to the ground below.

“Ah! Well done!” Dorondir was genuinely impressed. He then pivoted and tugged the long knife from where he’s sunk it into the tree in a single, artful turn. He caught the silver vessel that had hung beneath, and capped it on his way to the ground. “And… tree-sap. We’re ready. All that remains is your safe escort to The Halls, Yellow Istari.”

She fell in beside him. “And do you see him in the halls?”

“Enough,” Dorondir’s chin dropped in what was a nod to an elf. “But the Elvenking is busy beyond measure, and not my charge. My obligation is to the Lord of the Halls, Eithahawn, as you know. His days are long, I can assure you that.”

“There must be a lot of extra work in holding Long Lake.”

Baw. Nothing at all.” Dorondir’s sword looped home to its sheath. “But holding the Men of Lake Township when they are, as a population, utterly confounding. Try to envision the work of that.”

“There is a lot of dissension even in Council about this,” she realized. “Some of the people of Lake Township believe that this King sews not just rich harvest with his land-claiming, but… somehow that he brought bad luck and evildoers in his wake. Elves are becoming rare commodities in the wider world and, trouble follows something that precious.”

He glanced in her direction and revealed something very secret. “Ah… we are not so rare as all that, still, Lusis-Istari. The Western Wall, as it has been called, had stalled. There are yet elves in Rivendell who haven’t put a stitch of clothing into a single package to go. And their numbers are yet… impressive, Age or Man or no. Or… did you suppose we had lived here so long and developed… no feeling for this land of ours, as the Western Emissaries seem to believe.”

“I suppose I’d come to think of you and your kind as… compliant.”

“Ah, but there is also an essence among us, Lusis Buckmaster, that makes us wild eagles vaulting above the world on our own, is there not? And, oh, the whispers now: They will leave when he leaves, and he will leave when they leave – not either one, before. Or they gather together and speak in low voices The Age of Men shall blunder by out of our sights, for we shall endure, girded between the High King to come and the Maiar Lady, in the new Doriath.”

New Doriath? Lusis didn’t understand that that meant. “Sounds exhausting… but… encouraging.” She breathed deeply the fresh air and exhaled happily.

His fingers tangled with hers as they walked, and she marvelled at the warmth of his hand.

This.

This was what came of not letting Dorondir air his feelings. Words surfaced in the flesh.

What could not be said would be shown.

When that realization dawned, Lusis knew she needed, desperately, to speak to her King. Sorely, she wanted to make her place by his side, and stand with his people.

If he had any further use for her.

Anymore.

It was about then that Dorondir’s soft humming turned into a low song, and she forgot about everything else.

***

It was well past midnight, close to the small hours of the morning, when Lusis and her long-legged escort arrived at the Halls. Even from a quarter mile out, the river and wide rift through which it passed rang with human activity. Humans whistling, or singing verses of Northern songs, laughing and cooking meat over the crackle of fires, inevitable with the elves’ newfound closeness with Men.

“Ai!” Dorondir said of the slow trickle of lights to the gates of the Halls – lanterns held by petitioners to the Elvenking, most of which were men or the rare woman, of business. Above her, Dorondir’s voice was soft, his elegant face lit by the traffic. He looked excited to her eye, which made Lusis grin. He no longer hid his enthusiasm from her. They’d gone beyond that months ago. His elven head twitched right fractionally. His voice was rueful, “It’s a wonder the Kingdom’s seneschal rests his head anymore. Look at them teeming to the gates down there. It’s as though they never cease their worries. Is that how Men are?” He stood about four feet above her head in a beech tree.

“Pretty much,” Lusis hopped off the trail and onto the rocky outcropping that overlooked, below her, a line of humanity wending from docked ships toward The Halls of the Elvenking. Her hair riffled in the wind, elf-like.

The Men must have queued at the great gates. Even the elves needed moments of rest, and the Silvan sealed The Halls at night. It could be unsafe to wander these shores after dark, seeing as Slaughters of Orcs had been active on the land just the winter before.

Her eyes scanned the far shore.

Something glinted.

Elven steel.

Of course, they saw her looking for them.

Lusis inclined her head to whatever Section of elves patrolled there.

Likewise, Lusis felt certain this line of Men was morning traffic. That would mean she’d walked and jogged down to the Halls through the night, but hadn’t made a mad rush of it. She looked up at Dorondir’s trim Noldor silhouette in the trees. She could run here, full-tilt, at blazing Ranger speeds, with the air pounding in and out of her chest, and the woods ripping by. But she’d had good company. As was their wont, they’d told each other stories on the way. He had great experience in his role, Dorondir, but had next to no one to talk to about his secretive adventures, and she was new to everything she was doing, and grateful for his open mind and lack of judgement.

He had become one of her closest friends.

She needed him. And it was strange, needing someone outside her own troop.

Not that she’d seen her troop together and in one place recently.

His green eyes found her, and he crouched. “Lusis-Istari… your face is full of cares. Is all well?”

Not. At. All.

“Hail, Dorondir.” A section head’s voice was sibilant from… somewhere above. Whoever she was, she likely commanded the elves in this area. “Hail, Lusis-Istari.” The disembodied voice seemed to sound from all directions. “Welcome home!”

She listened to their fast-moving hails echo through the woods and spook the humans down the hill.

Then she started downward in a rush of clay and stones tumbling. The descent was something short of vertical. Somewhat dangerous for her human limbs, but she wanted to walk in the warm embrace of the lantern lights. She was causing a disturbance in the line below as detritus fell down along people wending along the riverbank. Swords came out.

Lusis gathered herself and leapt. She sailed outward and landed in a crouch on the soft turf along the Forest River. She straightened as Dorondir landed beside her.

Lusis straightened up and looked at the startled line of humans. Some had gone for weapons, such as they were.

“Lusis-Istari harms none. It will be death to threaten her,” Dorondir’s chin dropped – elven confirmation. “Please. Lower your guard, Men of Long Lake.”

“I recognize her,” said a woman carrying Council folders. “Lusis Buckmaster, the envoy of the King in Long Lake.”

“Bet she’ll get us in the gates in a hurry,” one of the Men in the line said merrily. “Join us, King’s Ranger!”

She went among them in the light of their lamps. Even as she turned the corner on the gates, they opened before her. There was a surprised gasp from the humans gathered there, but Lusis didn’t slow going into the petitioner’s hall. She went straight up the beautifully polished stone floor to where Lord Eithahawn Auronion leaned against the front of his desk. His lovely face was cool, his long and willowy body clad in deep red that glimmered with white thread in the shape of a long antler along his chest. But then, the royals’ clothes were always spectacular.

He wasn’t yet ready for the day, to be sure. His long aqua-blue eyes blinked. “And, so, she arrives.”

Early,” said Farathel, an elven guard at the petitioner hall who held Lusis in particularly high esteem, since the Istari had saved the life of her kin.

“Hello Kingdom’s seneschal.” Lusis bowed herself. “You are a sight for sore eyes.”

His mouth curved a fraction, in spite of the tide of humans now entering the hall and standing, astonished at the informality of the powerful elf. After all, his piercing wits and wry humour had some of them convinced he suffered from an absence of feeling. Nothing could be further from the truth. He seemed very different now, because he was not yet ready for the world of Men to invade his Halls. He straightened from the desk and, as he walked down to greet Lusis, he laid a hand over his heart and brought his hand out toward her. “My friend, you are too long away.”

She blinked at him. “The King positioned me in Lake Township as his rep.”

Rrrrep,” Eithahawn drew out the ‘r’ and his golden brows drew up. Elves didn’t commonly abbreviate positions or stations. It took a moment for him to place it, or… he was being a pain on purpose. He could do both.

Lusis cocked her head at him and her brows rose in challenge.

“So, he did. So, he did.” Eithahawn thought better of prodding her and his upper body tipped a little left in censure. “But he didn’t evict you. There is the matter of your Contract to join you. You do… remember that.”

She turned her head away, unconsciously emulating the elves around her. “Right. The paperwork that joins us.”

There was a long silence then, even with the humans arriving.

“Friend Lusis,” Eithahawn said softly. “Your words have raised greater complications for me than beginning my day full hours early.” He bent his head low and left to look into her face. “You have returned to the right place with this… very serious difficulty of yours. Please go in. Farathel, please escort her to the Elvenking, to witness his cares.”

Lusis turned toward the sound of humans welling into the halls. There were already so many here and… they were still coming. And glance to and fro as she might under the great glass lamps that dangled from the bone wing of a dragon – far above – there were no elves to be seen in among them. This was… all mad. This Kingdom hadn’t been seeded to Lake Township whole-cloth…. She blinked, “You can’t manage them all.”

“My days are long,” now Eithahawn turned his face away, and it wasn’t possible for him to conceal from her that he was exhausted.

“And your… your adar? Does he help you with-” the numbers of humans coming to see him were boggling. There were just so many. Elves came to petition, surely, but there were none now. Likely, they would not risk this flood, or even understand the human dynamics of it. It came to her that direct petition to the throne worked for the Silvan because they made an effort not to use it. Perhaps, they, as a people, knew their troubles were not the troubles of a King. But there was no doubting that they had generations to work at social cohesion, and that, in the spirit of edhel cooperativeness, they generally settled things amongst themselves. That also meant that Humans must be coming here for reasons elves never would. They hadn’t Ages of the earth to grow unified and mend fences.

Several finely dressed human women paraded by, slowly wafting their fans at their faces as they whispered and looked all around them. One seemed to gesture at the absence of benches, tables or chairs, and shook her head before she fell into smirking. Her little crowd laughed.

Lusis half-turned in their direction, stung – sight-seeing? Smirking? Did they think the Silvan quaint?

A soft hiss reached her. It was Dorondir. He was between her and the crowd, long-knife in hand, and staring at the mass of them. She could imagine he was less than thrilled with the security problem the crowd presented for the Kingdom’s seneschal. Men didn’t embrace the values of elves, nor did they have a universal philosophy akin to ‘a habit of peace’ in all circumstances. Her gaze shot upward at the ceiling, as she wondered how many soldiers massed on the inevitable pathways above the lights, flinching at the tide of humanity, all the voices hailing ‘Seneschal! Hear me, Seneschal!’, and hands out to stroke the fine fabric of his long-coat, or touch the young Lord’s golden-blond hair – unacceptable things that humans did.

No doubt Eithahawn was trying to adjust to the change in his situation, even now. But that was part of the malfunction in this grand place, because it was the humans who needed adjusting.

She tried again, “Where is… the Elvenking?”

Eithahawn gathered himself, so that his chest rose and fell over his exhalation. He told her, “You will see.” He stood and gazed at her a moment before his head tipped in the way of affection. “Be closer to me, friend-Lusis. The world seems… more manageable with you in it.”

She reached a hand and laid it against his arm, which looked a trivial gesture to the human crowd. But it was always a highly personal act, to touch an elf. His pale hand leapt up to cover that small touch, and he held it in place for a number of seconds. Dorondir glanced over at the pair of them and turned his back to offer them both privacy and avoid the influence of such intimate emotion.

But Lusis didn’t flinch, she leaned in and told him. “I’m always your friend.”

Eithahawn lowered his head, the slender oil lamps suspended above them glinted against the jewels in this seneschal’s clip. He shut his eyes before he released her, a sure sign that, when she withdrew, he didn’t want to see it.

“They are many,” she agreed with the fears inside his head, “but they are well behaved, or they’re trying their best to be.” She glanced at where the petitioners of Lake Township had, for the most part, queued up along the edge of the hallway…. They watched goings on with Lusis Buckmaster and the Kingdom’s seneschal – now a Lord in his own right – carefully.

“I am so glad to see you,” he whispered in reply, quite honestly too exhausted to make headway. “You must find your way to my father. Promise me you will.”

“I promise you,” she told him, “I will.”

He straightened from her, “Now I know it will come to pass.” He turned his attention to the humans in line and noted, “Now it is my turn, and I must try for their sakes.”

“Pace yourself. They have boats along the river and can petition again tomorrow,” Lusis said.

“Then they will, again, double.”

It was mad. Eithahawn was so close to her heart that she automatically thought of him as family. Her urge was to save him from this tide, but the only way for some things was through. She stepped away with a stern reminder, “My friend, you must speak to me later about these petitioners. I have things to tell you. Things that will help you.” She’d learned that much from her time in the Lake Township Council.

Farathel stood aside and awaited her, and Lusis hurried to follow the helmed guard, though, she did half-turn to watch Dorondir’s gesture of greeting sweep outwards from his chest, it ended with a hand facing toward Eithahawn, a reception that seemed to help restore some of the will of the sagging Kingdom’s-seneschal.

She hurried out of the flood of petitioners, the last place in The Halls of the Elvenking where concessions were made for Men. She hurried through a pair of thick wood doors that Farathel barred behind her, and she was suddenly, unmistakably among the Mirkwood elves. The smell of trees, of fruits and vegetables, the verdant breeze through open heights that trailed butterflies, all combined with the scent of baking bread. Elves went in unhurried splendor. Music played somewhere not far off, and several voices sang in the gorgeous yet eerie vocal blending that only elves could achieve. Water splashed somewhere, followed by the light sound of elven laughter. This was one of her fondest memories of The Halls. Lusis opened her arms to it.

But she also knew… that the Kingdom’s seneschal, and, very probably, the Elvenking, paid dearly for these idylls.

“Lusis-sell!” an Elite called from high above on the arched pathways between platforms. When she looked upwards, she saw several of the elves that she and her band of Rangers had once sparred with. Among them, the tall figure of Merilin Ewonion swept his black hair over his shoulder and bowed to her.

Lusis’ heart was lighter at the sight of him, and she returned that bow.

***

She leaned on her writing desk and rubbed her sleep-numbed face, one-handed, betting elves had no need to do such a thing. The pen she used was less quill and more… event. Firstly, it was made of glass, and the ink into which she dipped it was a fine, deep violet – somewhat thicker than human writing ink. Lusis, who had been watching elven missives with their gorgeous, ancient handwriting, pass between hands all of the day before, now tried to do justice by her Westron lettering.

Lusis-I – Day 3 – The Halls of the Elvenking.

The ‘I’ stood for ‘Istari’, likely the only reason anyone would ever read a record of her doings – or her lack thereof. She would have signed ‘Buckmaster’, as for a letter, and often did at the bottom, but… it was sometimes simpler to lead with the big titles. Her Buckmaster name was second to none in her heart – her foster father’s name. But an Istari moved around on a world stage, even if she had trouble accepting that was what she was now.

She tapped the pen on the edge of the little well of ink and wrote: The Halls never disappoint. All the Silvan to and fro on the pathways overhead – bustling about their businesses with one another, content and eager, prepping for their timeless tomorrows. They’re different elves here – everything I hope a people could be. I’m surrounded by my elven friends, and am told that Redd is deep, deep in the King’s Library… somewhere in this place. And though Farathel and I gave valiant pursuit, we haven’t had time with the Elvenking yet.

She twiddled her pen and looked at the broad hall beyond the divot in which her bed sat. It was so strange that she’d been here a pair of days and hadn’t seen him. So… alarming to her. She paused to write.

I will find him today.

She set the book aside to dry, well aware that it would not be touched, supposing she left the room and didn’t return for the next ten years of her life. She set out at a jog out of the Guest Hall. It was shortly after dawn, in fact, and she was close enough to the surface with the windows open that she could hear the bells from Lake Township ringing in the distance. It was one of the things that brought her back here.

Even this early, everywhere she looked was full of morning activity, and the closer she drew to the petitioner hall the worse the noise and commotion.

Once, only once, she’d spotted the sweep of his long, white-blond hair along a path below her. When her eyes looked and really saw, she spotted the gleam of his threaded train as he passed through an archway and out of sight. She wasn’t an elf, and couldn’t simply dive the forty feet down to intercept him. She stood and whispered his name, but only the pair of scribes toting paperwork had looked up at where she stood. Shortly, a second light appeared – a broad-shouldered and pale-haired elf who glided the way the Elvenking had gone, his sky blue cloak not in the style of the Mirkwood though softly aglow under the light from above. His head rose, angled just so, and she knew he was aware she was watching. She shied back from the several elves in darker blue, their helms unfamiliar, as they followed close behind.

And who are you, then?

She remembered the King saying the Sinda were ‘of a type’. So, whomever broad-shoulders was… he was one of them.

“Lusis-Istari!” Amondir – a friend from her first days inside the Halls – hailed her, “Can we assist you?” He appeared to have several young elves with him.

“I seek the Elvenking.” She sighed, already aware this was unlikely to happen for her today.

Amondir’s pale eyelids fluttered and he opened his hands, “While you’re waiting, may we entertain you?”

The rest of the day became a tumble of being feted and visited by her elven friends, several of whom tried to bring her to the Elvenking at different hours. She succeeded in spotting Eithahawn abroad in the hallways, rushing from the petitioner’s hall to a cluster of the same blue-clad elves, one of which appeared very short of patience with the half-Silvan Seneschal.

She stood with Farathel, the guard from the petitioner’s hall when she witnessed this.

Neither of them liked what they had seen.

***

Lusis-I – Day 5 – The Halls of the Elvenking.

I’ve had sightings, but no time with him. I saw him yesterday. His long blond hair is so well-missed. He wore the Living Crown and his head was bent over a heavy tome he carried. I couldn’t see but the briefest glimpse of the profile of his face. He was with Elites – Ewon and Amathon and four more Elites I don’t yet know – and there were humans in mail with red crosses on the white field of their surcoat. Try as I might, I don’t recognize their livery. And they seemed afraid of him.

I wonder if Redd would know?

She was still wrapped in the thick sheet-like cloths that elves used after soaking.

Her clothes had been taken up as she’d soaked and were now hanging to dry. The elves had dropped by to suggest a better room – one that showed her greater status as Istari, but, as she refused, they quietly attended to her in the Guest halls. She glanced before she headed to dress, and, sure enough, elven garb had been laid out for her. Elf clothing was all about the deliciously soft underclothes. They were made to fit and incredibly comfortable. Layers came afterward, especially in the winter. She pulled on leathers and tweaked the bindings, before sliding on a sleeved and hooded jerkin. Elves favoured the most comfortable yet beautiful boots, but even her sword belts were new and clean, as were her elven sword and fighting knives.

What had looked like simple light brown clothing was liberally embroidered with golden thread. A yellow star sat in the middle of her chest, below where her actual Istari ‘star-point’, her own divine light, glowed in the nest of her throat, but she understood and appreciated the sentiment, and the clothes were so beautiful and felt so fine.

She smiled as she folded the gloves into her pockets.

“Thank you,” she said to elves she knew were nearby. She knew they could hear her. “You are so kind.”

She was met in the hall by Farathel, and this might have been only the second time she’d seen the guard in something other than the golden armour of the Elvenking’s soldiers. Farathel wore a Scout’s dress and long-coat – all in a soft green. Her head tipped curiously, and she seemed almost shy, perhaps worried, as she spoke to Lusis. “Do you recognize me, friend?”

She glanced over the girl and her gaze landed on the bright gold fire inside her chest. Then Lusis smiled. “Of course I do, friend-Farathel. I would know your fire anywhere.” It was so like Celondir’s, who Lusis knew from his being among the Elites, and from his long recovery after battling Eboa and the invasion of worm-headed dragons at Lake Township. He might have died if Lusis hadn’t stumbled upon him among the rubble of a dragon-torn amphitheatre.

“Will you walk with me?” Farathel reached a surprisingly well-kept hand, usually invisible behind her armoured gloves. Lusis reflected that the petitioner hall’s guard was so beautiful she looked like the stem of a rose with her sweet face and long hair the blossom.

“I’m sorry, I must see the King,” Lusis inclined to the elf.

Her eyes widened, “Not yet? Oh yes, and I’m here for the same – to take you to him as I was directed by Lord Eithahawn.”

“I hope he’s not out of bed early today,” Lusis felt badly about her rude arrival days before.

“He and the Elvenking have yet to be abed.” Farathel’s expression changed to one of solemnity. “My friend and Lady, Lusis-Istari… I am… accepting of the Men of Lake Township. Who would see the Elvenking and not wish to be part of his bright Kingdom? But these Men…. Their cost to King, Seneschal, Prince, and Silvan is… my Lady of the Halls, it is grave indeed.” Her lips clamped tight, she averted her eyes downward, and immediately bowed to Lusis.

It was a barefaced grievance, something almost unheard of among the elves. For a moment, Lusis froze in disbelief and then… she felt a deep pang of sympathy for the desperation that must have driven Farathel to this extremity.

It was a petition all her own. And she still hadn’t straightened from her bow.

Lusis stood poised and careful, “Friend, do others feel as you do?”

Ai, Lady,” Farathel sounded pained.

“And have they asked you to come to me with this concern?”

She responded like an elf would, “I shall not implicate any others when I feel, myself, that it must be said.”

“Of course,” Lusis thought hard on what she should do now. First, she took a small step forward, and then she tipped slightly right, because this was the body language of an elf who was kindly concerned with what she was hearing. “But you have to tell me… is this concern – that Men are weighing too heavily on the Kingdom – a common one?”

“My Lady, there are no edhel in the petition line anymore. There have not been for moons. The Men are all. They are everywhere. They exhaust our leadership, and their questions are… unfit for our kind.” She nodded at the flag-stone floor.

“Can you bring me records that show this?” Lusis straightened and felt very calm about this matter now. The elves simply didn’t know what to do to alleviate the problem. It was their nature, in the face of impossible odds, to die trying. That wouldn’t be happening on her watch.

“I can Lady.”

She let her chin drop in an elven nod, “I can find the King on my own. The records, though, I want them by end of the day. Rise, and go, and serve the Kingdom well.”

Unless Lusis was mistaken, Farathel’s eyes glittered as she straightened, averted her gaze, and said, “My thanks, Lady. I shall bring you the records, even as you ask.” She departed quickly, her head carefully down so that other elves might not notice that she had been in distress.

For a moment, Lusis stood rooted. Then she announced to the seemingly empty Guest Hall – a hall that had been kept vacant for her benefit, clearly – “Please summon Farathel’s brother to her. She has done a brave thing, but it’s taxed her,” Lusis added, “please see to her comfort and send my regards.”

A slender Elite seemed to part himself from a curve of hallway some fifteen feet ahead of where Lusis stood. He briskly went to do exactly as she had suggested.

She exhaled and realized that this present trouble took precedence even over finding her way to her Elvenking. Lusis accepted this and broke into a jog. The Halls were vast under the old orogeny of Mirkwood and wonders blurred by as she ran. Really, Lusis knew only a small part of this place – almost everything she’d ever seen here belonged to the public holdings. She lodged in the Guest Halls. She ate in the public rooms. She knew only official stops such as the gymnasium of Elites, the petitioner’s hall, and… anywhere the Elvenking might be expected to carry out governmental business. The elves that she saw every day, Farathel herself, now somewhere behind Lusis in the stone maze, presumably lived in the Halls. This meant there were streets and streets within this place, where there were residences, and she’d never seen a one. Lake Township? She could make her way around quite reliably now, without getting lost.

The Library was one of the places she’d never been, but that she expected to know and find in the public places common to all elves. It was just on the edge of the hustle and bustle of those political establishments she knew so well, and close beside a place she’d seen, but never visited before – that wide bread-basket of valley enclosed by the Mirkwood mountains, where elves planted crops and kept livestock for milk. She ran along walls of windows open to the morning air and watched a shepherdess herding deer and several mares heavy with foal. In Long Lake there was a strong preference for cow’s milk, but wild milk was standard fare, here.

She skidded to a stop when she saw Icar seated on a sun-warmed stone with several elves, all of whom were drawing a sunny young elf woman in long and shining robes. She hadn’t seen the Awnson boys since winter, and… a sudden painful wonder passed through her at the very idea Icar was… what was he doing? Taking art instruction among elves? She could hardly believe it.

Lusis sidled up beside him and sat along the warmed stone on his left.

She didn’t disturb him until, suddenly, he said, “Amathon, my friend, is that you?”

“Not exactly,” she gave a very human nod.

He nearly dropped the book as he rose and turned to her. “Chief!”

It was necessary to hop to her feet to hug him close, and it was very disturbing to the elves. They forgave it when they saw that it was a reunion. Icar hugged her so hard that it was difficult to breathe for a while.

“What brings you to The Halls?” Icar was moved enough that he had to wipe his eyes with one curled hand before he went on. “Fires, it’s good to see you.”

She slung an arm over his shoulder and led him from the figure drawing he’d been doing. No one seemed to find this unusual in the slightest, and he was unresisting.

“Your work gets better and better,” she said moments later, when they sat together in an alcove away from the main thoroughfare. “Where’s Aric?”

“He’s lately been up to Tatharion House with Steed,” Icar corrected himself, “Well, Inilfain when he’s there, I guess. Of course, the King has made it so that Steed can no longer travel to Tatharion alone, being that there’s still some bad blood between the Halls and that place.”

“Steed would only appreciate the company,” Lusis ate an almond as she said so, tossing it up in air and catching it in her mouth in a way that caused an elf laden with bottles of jam to nearly upend her good work. “What were they doing all that way North?”

“Mending fences, or trying,” Icar chuckled. “Though that’s a mixed bag itself. Lord Eithahawn appointed Steed – well, Inilfain in this capacity, I suppose – as a diplomat of the Crown. He’s the principal liaison between Tatharion and The Halls. So, you can imagine he’s relishing that duty.” They both sat grinning at the thought of Steed Roanhead, who wanted nothing more that to roam, untamed, up mountains and along forest rivers, sitting quietly, and making nice with the most privileged and influential of his family back in Tatharion House.

“Oh, that’s rich,” Lusis giggled.

Icar rubbed his stubbly cheek and tried not to laugh outright, “You have to save him. Poor guy.”

“I do,” she noted and looked around her. “Maybe I need to save us all.”

“Thinking of roving?” Icar looked interested.

“Thinking of nipping up North to eyeball Buckmaster Keep, in fact,” she admitted quietly. “My trust for Kirstman probably couldn’t fill a child’s thimble, and Mellona has been asking if the King has any intention to monitor that situation. Though… I don’t think she regrets the warmer climate of Lake Township one little bit, mind you.”

“Who would?” Icar stretched in the sun and, she realized, was a little taller and more angular than when she’d last seen him.

She flipped through several drawings of elven maidens that, unsurprisingly, seemed to have captured his imagination. But there were still sketches – of ever-increasing quality – of the outdoors and of Long Lake and Lake Township included. He was getting better indeed, “I need to see Redd,” she nodded at him. “Is he close?”

“We’re practically sitting on top of him.” Icar broke into smiles. “There’s a reason I brought you this way.”

She folded the notebook shut and handed it over to Icar before she rose and dusted off, “What’s he doing, lately?”

“Writing a chapter around the Claiming of Lake Township, and the… well…” he snuck a look at Lusis, “Chief… he’s sort of writing your story. Your story as it pertains to the Elvenking.”

Lusis rolled her eyes, “Fires, that man has to be bored. Take me to him.” She made up her mind right there that she would again have management of her Rangers. Writers, artists, gamblers, and spies as they were, they were her own. She exhaled on the end of this, and realized she could also use the return of Telfeth to her number, particularly if she had designs to go North and spy on the Keep.

The Library was packed. There were elves absolutely everywhere, and a soft din in the air above the stacks where so many of them milled and discussed the books they’d read or were reading. As the library opened up to the valley, they walked along in groups with one reading and many listening. Two young women with linked arms held a book between them as they paced. And, that rarest of things, she saw a group of elven children – no more than toddlers – hopping and frolicking along together. They rushed to gather around several adults who were reading aloud. She took from this that reading books was a great social undertaking in the lives of elves. They could have been speaking mind-to-mind, after all… and probably were, but they also spoke about it together.

A sudden swell of pride made Lusis straighten, “He’s built a great place for them here.”

Icar looked at her for a number of steps. “The King?”

“Who else?” She nodded to herself. “All his sacrifices, and those of his sons… they come to this for his people. It’s his one joy, I think.”

Icar walked backward a few steps, his brow wrinkled. “His one joy? What about you?”

“He’s not called on me or seen me for months,” Lusis chuckled. “Sadly, though I love my King, I’m no joy of his.”

There was nothing that Icar knew to say in response to that. He brought her into the library through promenades of elves, many of them carrying flowers, fresh breads, cups of juice or wine. It was overflowing with elves in couples and throngs. A girl flew by, so slight and light in her adolescence that she scarcely saw Lady Lusis, and her bare feet flitted over a round rock, up to the back of a curving chair occupied by a reader, and she passed over the shoulders of the elves before her, skirt flying, lyre strings glinting in the overhead light. And, yes, here, finally, elves sat! Among the glowing wood stacks and stone of the library, they perched on chairs and benches that were circular enough to allow them to tuck their legs under them. Lusis ambled along, nearly skipping as she went, and turned to look at the appointments on the ceiling – great paintings of elves riding along Greenwood the Great, all of them headed up by a massive white elk ridden by a king with ripples of white blond hair. Beside him, on a smaller black elk, rode a figure so upright and beautiful that she knew, at once, it was Thranduil. Lamps in the shapes of swans hovered overhead on great chains.

On the arches of stone above her, she saw several elves with instruments she didn’t even recognize, one of them strolled along with a stringed instrument tucked under his chin, drawing a bow across it so that long, sweet sound breathed above the readers.

“He protects all this,” she marvelled and then realized, “We protect all this.”

Further on down the way, she found great rooms cut from living stone, laden with books and scrolls, each roped away with white elven rope and assigned to a name. One of the ropes held a wooden sign with Sindarin and something she could read: Westron. It said ‘Redd Ayesir of the Northern Hoard’, and she could see him in the light of a window, like a massif grown from the stone, where he pored over a book under one of the arches. He scanned a page, bit the end of a wooden pen before he set in again, writing, her best friend.

“Redd!” Lusis exclaimed, and elves, suddenly aware the Lady of Greenwood was about, made way for her and favoured her with bows.

Redd jolted. He looked around him, saw her, and shot up to his feet, which was impressive seeing as he was taller than every other elf in the area! He threw wide his arms and rushed at her, “Lus! My Stars, what a sight to behold running to greet me!”

She smacked into his chest, bounced, and he had to grab her before she toppled. Well, Lusis was doubly glad he wasn’t wearing the axe across his acreage of pectoral muscle today. He set a hand over the top of her head – which easily covered her entire crown – and all but jogged up and down in place. Excitedly, Redd asked, “Can I lift you up?”

“Nope.” She smiled at him.

When she looked up at him across his now neatly trimmed, short beard, she saw his brows were hopefully raised, “Reconsider?”

“No!” she burst into laughter at last and then clocked her head against the valley between his bulging pectoral muscles just to feel him chuckle.

Moments later, she was seated on one of the oddly round chairs and Redd was pouring tea for her, seeing as his book room came with tea service on demand.

“You found me on your own?”

“Well, Icar was here a few minutes ago.”

“He’s usually at drawing classes in the morning.” Redd noted, “They like the area of the Library lately, so I often have him for breakfast – this morning too.”

“I don’t know where he’s gone,” she glanced at the tides of elves going in all directions. “They love their books, I suppose.”

“Their books are highly entertaining,” Redd grinned and raised his teacup – absurdly small in his huge hands – to her. “Nice to have the Lady of the Greenwood visit me.”

“Icar said you’re writing about me?”

“All of us,” he made a round gesture with the cup as an elf appeared and set down a basket of rolls and sweetened butter for them. “It’s about what happened with the… I guess, the cord, and how the cabal thought they’d bound the Elfking in darkness. It’s about all of us.”

“Much better,” she took up a roll and dipped it in the sugared butter.

“What have you been up to?” Redd cut open a steaming roll and sighed, “Ah, the food here!”

“Mm,” Lusis agreed while chewing. “I’m integrated with the Council at Lake Township now. I stand in for the King like a seneschal, so they can’t simply run roughshod over his will.”

“That’s work!” Redd sipped his tea and nodded in her direction. “And the Istari thing?”

Lusis simply shrugged. She’d never been one for book-learning a thing. Talking with Radagast was simply a diversion. Lusis learned by doing, and there wasn’t much in her current assignment that required the power of an Istari, anymore. Rather, she’d become somewhat sharper around the politics of humans in Lake Township, though, her brothers and mother tended to be better still, with that. “Have you seen him lately?”

“Who’s him?”

She laid down her tea cup and gripped her thighs, right above the knees. “Who’s him?” Lusis repeated slowly.

“You mean our Greatest King?” Redd noted aloud and tapped the book before him. “He commanded for me to write these accounts, and so I do. I don’t see him much, though he does pass through the library time-to-time, late into the night. I don’t see him like you do.”

“I don’t see him at all,” she popped the last of her roll into her mouth and sipped tea. “But I have caught sight of him since I’ve arrived.”

“You… don’t see him?” Redd looked concerned. “Are you arguing?”

It wasn’t as if they hadn’t been known to quarrel. Lusis recalled, with a wince, that though the Elvenking rarely raised his voice, they’d stood close to shouting at each other more than once. “Uh… no, we’re not arguing, Redd. He assigned me to Long Lake and I’ve been doing his work, no different than you.”

“Very different than me,” his eyes widened. “Lusis….”

“What?” she felt her head tip to one side and start to fall slightly forward, and she stopped herself from making the elven motion.

“Lusis, no less than an Elite, a soldier of his Raiments or his Storm, no less than his personal dresser, his valet, or his teams of scribes, I’m a servant of the King.”

“And so am I.”

“No,” he threw up his arms. “You are his Companion, Lusis, his contracted Companion. You are not his servant.” Redd seized up his book and pointed at the pages. “He chose you to act beside him. With him, and you mean to tell me you haven’t come to see him?”

“I can’t decide that,” she felt herself up on her feet. “I can’t just decide his schedule, Redd!”

He elected to give you that power,” Redd swept a hand over his beard and shook his head.

“There’s no getting between him and the soldiers in blue – that blue-Sinda Lord-”

Redd’s brows drew down. “What? The Galadhrim of Lorien? Lord Celeborn? They’re keeping you away from him? I thought nothing could do that.” Redd paused, “I imagine he thought so too.”

Lusis got to her feet. “Celeborn?”

“Even so,” Redd said gravely.

“Lady Galadriel’s husband?” She remembered the towering beauty that was Galadriel, who had agreed to travel West with Loss the Vanyar and Glir the Teleri. Celeborn and Thranduil should be a comfort to each other, Galadriel had once told Lusis, but neither of them have enough tempering in them. Lusis could remember promising the Lady that she would intervene if the King and Lord were to meet, in the hopes they would be kinder to one another.

She shot to her feet. “Redd, I’ve got to go.”

“I should say so,” he nodded at her.

Lusis tore out of Redd’s book-room, passed between Aric and Icar, and nearly stumbled over Steed. She turned in place, backwards for a moment. “Form up and come to me – I’m off to the King!”

“Wait!” Aric called woefully after her.

But Lusis could wait no longer.

***

In the end, she stalked into the petitioner’s hall through the back exit and walked the length of the swollen room in search of Lord Eithahawn. He paced at his wood and elk-horn elven desk – for the comfort of humans – on the dais before the seat the King used for public audience.

She’d been told before that the true throne, once Oropher’s, was generally seen only by elven guests, and stood in some other, though nearby, hall.

Lusis felt sure that Thranduil wasn’t in either seat.

Dorondir saw her first, and pivoted back, and made for her through the elven guards arrayed around. She nodded at his approach, her skin prickling when he leaned over her shoulder, “Good morning, friend-Lusis. How may we serve you?”

“I have a petition of my own, I admit,” she told him in return.

“I shall take you to the Lord.” He straightened, and his long, slender figure pivoted around. Because he was an elf, his slight backward glance telegraphed that Lusis was to follow, and so she did. She made her way to where Eithahawn bent and gently jotted into a large book. She recognized nothing of the elegant swirls of handwriting – that, she guessed, would be Sindarin.

Eithahawn spared a glance at a pugnacious-looking man before him. The man saw and frowned down on the bending elf, seeming to enjoy his short-lived ability to tower over the half-Silvan. The man growled, “I don’t see why I should pay any of you. Haven’t you taken enough, even our city as your own?”

“It was not a city,” Eithahawn’s voice was disciplined and unruffled. “Not until the Elvenking claimed it. Much has changed since the relationship between Lake Township and The Halls blossomed, as this attitude must change.”

The man guffawed, “Do you expect us to simply do as you say? As he says?”

Ma. We are no longer neighbours, you and I,” Eithahawn straightened to his full height and sunlight played over his honeyed hair so that the air around him glowed red-golden. “He is no longer a foreign power, close by your door. He is your King. This was your decision.”

The man leaned in, “I didn’t decide for some Elflord to come steal our lands!”

“King. Elfking. And quite right. Your leaders decided it against the, methinks, better judgement of the King of the Great Greenwood, these many Ages. I trust you can submit your will to theirs, at least.” Eithahawn gently dusted his hands together in one of the motions that humans and elves seemed to share in common, though, Lusis remembered, it was very much the conversation that Eithahawn was brushing away. “Your service to the Elfking is a matter quite apart from your patronage of the river,” Eithahawn continued calmly, “wherein your debt to the Kingdom is substantial, my friend.”

“I’m no friend to any grasping elf!” the man spat.

“Do not diverge,” Eithahawn was wholly unfazed, “You must arrange repayment.”

“You troop of slick creatures, travelling through the Ages and increasing your wealth on the backs of mankind! Why, I should remind you that my own people have yet-”

Eithahawn’s bejeweled head tipped left, and his knuckles rapped the desk a moment of ringing sound that shocked the man up short. “Focus…. And repay.” The Lord demanded.

“Oh,” Lusis was smiling, “Underneath it all, he has a smidgeon of his father’s temper!”

The man leaned in and raised a hand at Eithahawn.

Lusis wasn’t alone when she swung a fighting knife out in air and stepped forward. The tip of her impressive knife landed just short of the petitioner’s throat. She stood in a throng of elves doing just the same, in fact, and Eithahawn had stepped aside for Dorondir, whose short-bow was pulled to full draw weight with a Mirkwood-fletched arrow notched.

“That arrow will pin you to the flags in this world,” Lusis growled, “and hurtle you into the next.”

The man pulled a face, “Oh, I see the wench of the Elvenking is off her back and abroad.”

And willing to rearrange your insides with her fighting knife.” Lusis gave a jab at him, her teeth bared with the effort of restraining herself.

Dorondir’s voice was truly chilling, “Dartha,” he drew out the command for all others to wait and his voice thrummed, “I shall have him.”

As one, the other elves drew back. Only Lusis and Dorondir remained.

His low, slow voice carried over the heads of the collected, elegant and resonating with nobility. “What is this wildfire of disagreement in my Halls?”

The humans in the room seemed to inhale as one, and it was easy to tell that they had never heard or beheld the Elvenking of Great Greenwood before. Lusis did not lower her sword, but she, in her every cell, listened for the nearly nonexistent sounds of his approach.

There were some clues.

Adar,” Eithahawn said aside, as the Elvenking arrived by him.

The light struck him and his clothing and threw itself back, a suffusion of white-gold.

The air around her brightened with sunny fire-glow.

Then his voice was directly behind her. “This noise? This quarrelsomeness alike to a child long fawned upon? Who are you, human?”

When the belligerent man could do no more than work his gawping mouth – and Lusis swore for all the world, that she could see the glowing shape of the King thrown back from the glassiness of his wide eyes – the young Lord of the Greenwood took up his docket and enunciated. “He is… Dergu Burry of Larches Green, Lake Township, in fact.”

“Ah.” He sighed the word, “And there you are.” His moving voice echoed through lofty graven caverns as his chin slowly rose, “Now your name is known of your Elvenking…. How… unfortunate for you.”

The man shut his mouth and breathed, “Are you him? Are you real?”

The Elvenking ignored this. There was a sudden ringing sound and the silver elegance that was Lossivor, a long and terrible sword so bright that it was nearly white beside meaner metals, insinuated itself between Dorondir’s arrow and Lusis’ fighting knife. “I am real…. I am him.” he said with great deliberateness, and, after a heartbeat exhaled the words, “If this one will not respect the Kingdom, he shall not sail its waters. Go. Seize his ships. Begin remunerations there.”

Lossivor snapped back in a blur that swept harmlessly along Lusis’ hair like fingertips.

Dergu sputtered, but was swiftly pulled aside by elven soldiers in full armour.

On her right, the Elvenking passed his foster – the Kingdom’s seneschal, Eithahawn, who graciously inclined himself to his King – and he slowly glided down the trio of stairs to the petitioner’s floor. Humans reacted like oil in water, suddenly parting around him, whether from terror or in response to his grandeur, they clumped together like startled children. And he was a sight to behold, indeed: tall, lithe, hale. That he was a famed beauty among elves was apparent across every inch of his figure, every iota of his features. His pale gold long coat swept the sun-bright floors behind him, and no wrap or cloak disguised the breadth of his shoulders, given the summer. On his white-golden head, whose hair was longer than she ever remembered, fully down to the small of his back, the living crown stood tall, and in full bloom, but studded with small yellow flowers.

She peered at these cheerful additions to the crown.

“It does flower so… as never before,” Eithahawn came to rest beside her, his expression graceful as he turned his head a fraction to take her in. “With the little lamps we call glauriela – those blushing yellow flowers that are so radiant.”

Lusis, being that she was the Yellow Istari – or so Radagast had proclaimed her – felt herself smile as she looked on the Elvenking.

Weight lifted from her shoulders. She straightened around a great, deep breath. He was with her again. His long back, just there, before her. His white cascade of hair and serpentine movements, both so soft. His deep, round voice and his cracking-sharp mind. A golden lamp lit inside of her, warmed her through her middle and flooded out into her skin and fingertips. But this light was unrelated to her Istari starpoint – her light of Ilúvatar. This was simply love. Even with her poor understanding of human emotion, she knew that much.

The humanity around him slowly, curiously, closed in, and the Elvenking did nothing to prevent this, though his guards took bead with their arrows far overhead.

“Why do you come in such numbers,” the Elvenking’s voice was mild now that the disgust of earlier had fallen away from it. “Do you not have your Council of Lake Township around you? Did I not leave you the Yellow Istari in my stead?”

“My… my King…” a human man clutched his hat off his thinning hair and wrung it till the threads bulged, nervous since his tongue had tried on the title for the first time. “My… great King, a Council may debate a thing for many moons and longer, and a… a wizard is like a will-of-the-wisp, sire – here and gone, there and gone. There’s rock, nor rope, can hold her to course long enough that you may be answered, for their eyes look upon another place.”

“Spoken like one who has had occasion to meet Radagast the Brown, indeed.” The Elvenking, full head and shoulders above the crowd, tipped slowly to one side and averted his silver gaze, a gorgeous and seemingly obliging motion that Lusis knew they couldn’t decipher.

The human went ahead, “Aye, but… a King… a King is solid. A King is a mountain, sire. He and his will stand and reign. His will is steely, and his word is final.”

The Elvenking’s long, pale fingers came to rest on the wringing of the hat before the man could pop its stitches entirely, and the man froze at the light touch. “A finality has no place in most matters, good-human. It is the irrevocability of Ages,” his tone had changed to something more personal, and, Lusis was tempted to think, kinder, of a King known among men for battle skills and taciturn brilliance. “You bring before a being from the First Age, a slayer of wyverns and dragons, the trivialities of life? Save for me,” he took back his faintly glowing hand and turned his broad shoulders, “the things that cannot be helped. That cannot be changed or salvaged. Trouble us not with lightness.”

He said this last on his way up the steps to the dias where Eithahawn watched his progression. “Le fael, Aranel,” Eithahawn murmured with a subtle genuflection reserved for his King, and, to his father, he softly said, “My heart is glad.”

“May it be,” the Elfking said aside.

That was it. And Lusis, who had been awash in a world of mankind for many months, stared at this with her sword dangling beside her, the carefully marshalled emotions of elves. That resolve of floodgates before a deep Sound.

“Wait.” She whispered, confident that, in among the shifting of silent elves, and the din of petitioner humans, he could still hear it. “Wait, Aran.” She resorted to the Sindarin for King.

He didn’t wait. He didn’t hesitate and turn, just so, to peer over his shoulder. She was in no way invited to follow him as he made his way out of the patchy sunlight brought down by glass intrusions in the cavern overhead. She glanced aside at Dorondir, who was, like her, staring after the King. His expression was mild and tinged with fondness, something Lusis didn’t share at that moment.

“Where is he going?” she put to Dorondir.

His hand made a soft upward gesture that was accompanied by a gentle tip of his head in the same direction, by which he wordlessly told her that he wasn’t privy to the information. Well, that made the two of them.

She trotted up the dias and glanced at Eithahawn, “Where’s he going?”

“He hasn’t rested in so long time,” the Kingdom’s seneschal shut one docket and opened another for perusal, his voice low and succinct. “Where does one retire in such a state?”

Lusis thought she knew. She left all behind with a ground-eating trot that, nevertheless, never caught King or Elite as she travelled the hallways. She’d been dimly aware that her good elf-friend, Ewon, had been in the room as the Elfking had moved through it. She assumed Nimpeth and Amathon, that sterling trio of guards he kept closest, had also been nearby, but she heard nothing from them.

The twisting halls of the Elvenking’s home bested her for close to twenty minutes, but she backtracked, held her patience with the lack of assistance from the Elites she felt must be there, and then found her way to the royal suites.

Nestled in a vein of white stone through the golden, stood the receiving hall of the Elvenking of Mirkwood. Its white-wood gates stood open and the sunny room beyond, filled with softly golden wood, was hewn to such magnificence that Lusis skidded to a halt rather than enter. Gates. Doors. Elves used them sparingly. This had to be the right place. The golden guards there, anonymous under their glinting helms and armour, became a line that pivoted and strode to each side of the doorway. They stood waiting then, utterly motionless.

Lusis, Companion of the King by signed contract, glanced one way and the other, and then charged through the doors and onward, for, at the back of the room, tall wooden doors – a mild red this time – stood just slightly ajar. Through them, a golden stone hallway flecked with white crystals and many wide passages to other spaces. There was a huge library to her left. A great room glowed with polished wood floors on her right. She flew by a room with a large harp on hand-loomed rugs at its center. A room of maps. A room of oddities. A room for pacing with a fine morning table. Dressing room. Bath-house. She was getting winded when she arrived at the end of that hallway of arches.

The final room had no door, but, instead a sheer and gently swaying froth of foamy red curtain that, by the looks of things, was normally pinned aside on a golden hook. This beautiful fabric was as tall as a ship’s sail. She first had to stand and marvel at its make… before she pushed its smoothness aside and stepped through into… a large rounded space, the stone a pale gold with glints of white crystal here and there. It was remarkably uncluttered, with much room for pacing. This room was dominated by softly blowing fabric at the glassine windows. By a collection of candles and beautiful crowns placed along the walls – one of which was the living crown of the Mirkwood. But… the most beautiful paintings she thought she’d ever seen encircled the upper walls and covered the ceiling. They looked… like nothing she’d ever seen. Like the elves there might breathe and their chests leap with heartbeats. Like there was a distance that pulled the room up into an endless sky. She looked for fire in them in vain. Lusis stared at them close to five minutes, unable to tear her rapt gaze away. At least not until her attention stumbled against the pool of darkness and glinting crystals at the back wall. A dais of stone was completely engulfed in thick curtains in the colour of red wine.

She walked up to the suspiciously circular construction.

The curtains were embroidered with branches, tree limbs, and leaves.

The fabric had been sewn with gleaming stones that represented drops of dew scattered on the tree and leaves.

The curtains were shut.

She could not find the way in after a minute of searching with her hands.

Suppressing a swear, she got to her knees on the wooden floor and crawled under them, and, by so doing, she left a world of gleaming daylight for the twilight inside the curtains. Lusis stood up and marvelled. Inside, the red curtain was dark blue, and the room was bathed in half-darkness through which the glow of an unrisen sun could be detected where the blue curtain – shot with star-like crystals – gave way to the red. She turned in place at the foot of a great wooden bed, cut with swirling elk antlers.

Sindarin. The elves of twilight.

Here, his eyes would have all advantage.

This was his twilight bed.

She glanced at the edge of Lossivor, simply leaned against the wooden curve of headboard, and looked at the round, nest-like shape of this bed. How wrong the humans had gotten the space they had planned for the Elvenking! How human their assessment of him had been! How many feet long was the King? How broad the shoulders? Assess. Build a long rectangle.

All wrong.

As he lay, his golden glittering long-coat was gone.

He was heavily on his side, curled, now clad in a silky silver robe with a soft simple collar and belt. The sheets were a rumpled mess of soft material, tossed around his long legs.

His back was to her, a tide of white-blond hair thrown out behind him.

He was still as if in slumber. She knew he was quite unaware of the world, seeing as her sleep had turned into this distant reverie of ideas. It was just as restful, she found, and worried at interrupting him when he was, reportedly, so exhausted. For a while, she simply stood and wondered at the lack of pillows strewn about. But elves preferred their soft and cottony blanket rolls, bound up on the ends in woolen strings. There was a bank of the same at the top of the bed. She stared at the firelight her Istari eyes could see inside of his broad back, soft golden, like candle-light, it could go from yellow to white hot, and even a blue flame. She hadn’t seen another whose light of Ilúvatar behaved in such a way, but Lusis was accustomed to his fire, she just wasn’t used to the inaction and doubt she felt.

She backed away a step and decided herself.

Lusis climbed up onto the nest-like bed, amazed that there were no Elite guards falling from the ceiling – which she peered up at – to stop her. She pushed his hair back from his long, curved ear, and set her hand on his shoulder.

“Are you here?” he asked faintly. “Your touch is so light… perhaps I dream?”

“I’m here,” her fingers gave the weight of muscle a squeeze.

“Why did this come to pass?” He was sounding slightly more awake now. “When you had forgotten about me?”

Lusis curled her legs up, lotus, and set aside her fighting knives, each as long and vicious as her powerful arms. She sucked a breath and exhaled slowly before she spoke. “Well…. Every morning, when I wake up, I sit in front of my journal and I think about these faraway Halls – how Eithahawn is managing, where my friends are, if… Aric is causing trouble, or Icar has snapped and locked him in the cells under this place. I think to myself, ‘I wonder if Legolas has dropped by’, and how much you would love for him to. I have had no opportunity to forget about you.” She patted his shoulder, “You’re under my thoughts like a river. You may not be conscious of thinking of the Forest River as it passes through the Mirkwood, day and night, but it is ever present. Like that, I think of you.”

He shifted a fraction. “Tell me why… why has it come to pass that you’re here right now?”

She thought about it and decided. “I walked out of Lake Township one morning, and didn’t stop until I arrived in the Halls.”

His head turned and his upswept, cat-like eyes, silver under a thatch of golden lashes, found her hand on his shoulder. “You walked… through the night?”

“Several days ago,” she drummed her fingers on his shoulder.

“And on into The Halls?” he seemed surprised.

“Yes. I did. You’re a busy man.”

The Elvenking sighed, which was actually uncommon of him and he slowly turned on the bed. The silken robe showed her the length of his throat and the strength of his upper chest as he settled again. He’d changed his direction and curled around her knees on the sheets. His long, pale hand curled over its closest knee and she reached down and wrapped her fingers around his.

His silver eyes could scarcely stay open.

His hand was warm, but wan with enervation in her own. “You need rest, my King.”

Now his silver eyes opened and he paused a beat, “Thranduil.”

Some time back, in these very halls, the King had had guests from the West and had employed his wit and Galadriel’s will to the task of getting them to depart without him. In that they had been wildly successful. So far. But, during that time, Galadriel had bent Lusis’ ear with the admonition that she must reach beyond the title and join hands with the edhel who was Mirkwood’s King, or else he would risk despair. Sadness could kill an edhel. It was something she never forgot. Now she listened to the glowing elf-woman inside of her head, and Lusis swallowed her pride. It took a force of will to set aside her other beloved – that shrine of veneration she felt for this bright and beautiful creation – but she settled herself to the idea that someone truly must say his name to him. For the good of his own spirit, he must hear it from someone close to him. She had agreed to a contract with him to save herself, but… she was not so selfish to misunderstand that he needed a friend.

She nodded, a very human moment, “Rest for me, Thranduil.”

He took her hand down and dropped a warm brush of his lips atop a white demilune of scars on her knuckles, satisfied. Lusis immediately cursed that she felt so little in those detestable scars. Her opposite hand clapped against her upper chest, atop a ragged breath of disbelief.

He returned her hand to her knee where it curled to a fist and she held it tight to her, as if it had transformed into a precious stone.

Beyond that, she was blissfully unable to process – a soul in idyllic freefall.

“You will stay, Lusis-dess?”

Wordless. Frankly, unable to compose much more in the way of thought than a simple gesture, Lusis nodded at him. She had no idea if he understood the motion or not, but she rooted about, turned, kicked off her boots, and lay down beside him on the bed.

And, like the closing of a flower at nightfall, he curled around her, and she blinked, slowly, the scent of deep forests and fresh river that was his presence in the half-light. His breathing began to even out, and Lusis stroked his smooth hair as he drifted.

Forgotten him?

Such trivial things went awry between them with distance.

His limp hand curled in the twilight of his bed, resting on her sternum as it did, searching for someone to hold on to in his long life.

And hers.

She was an Istari now.

“There must be no more…” she whispered a vow to herself, “no further assignments, appointments, no more extensive separations between us, Thranduil Oropherion, no matter what your clever head designs.”

He shifted some, circled more. She touched the firelight just below the nest of his throat.

Ah.

Warm.

Lusis lay back beside him, still again, but with one hand pressed over his fire. She drifted, herself, still beside him, but also aloft in The Halls of the Elvenking.

***

She was dreaming. But didn’t know that at first.

Lusis saw herself walking up along the golden heights of the eroded mountain chain that made up the roof of The Halls at Forest River. Trees and greenery studded the rocky escarpments. Vegetation was lush wherever the Elvenking dwelt. She looked right, up along the Forest River and, as if she’d borrowed the vision of a Great Eagle, she saw she could make out Lake Township – its hives thick with buttery honey, its lake bubbling with several species of fish, and berry runners growing so thick along walls that they had to be trimmed regularly lest they pull down the stones. Life followed the King.

She smiled at the passage of ships along the Forest River. They sailed under diverse flags. Not only did they come down from river ports, or portage points at the Anduin, they came up-river from the inland sea of Rhun. Lake Township, always more of a merchant town than the estate of some Master, was officially booming with trade. She knew its borders had grown to encircle half the lake by now. Watching the boats crawl along the river did make her proud of the tireless work the Lake Township Council put in. Their steady-mercantile-heads operated with the oversight of an inventive Elvenking, and there was no doubt he had a business savvy all his own.

Lusis turned back to the screen of green forest between The Halls and Forest River, and scanned down along the majority of the Kingdom until she saw the Gates of the Elvenking. In the brief courtyard behind those blue-stone doors, there was one elf alone – his dark red robes billowing, and his white-blond hair like a candle hard-pressed by wind. He climbed the narrow stair to stand atop the stone ramparts above the gates.

The Elvenking stood alone in the sun, his eyes also, she presumed, on the River.

Or so they were until he slowly pivoted to look to the North-West toward his old dragon-slaying grounds, toward – her gaze bounced up, able to see at a great distance – her Keep. The great, dark clouds along the mountains far to the North, as they seemed to roll with the spikes of dragon’s manes.

She sucked in a breath that mingled fear with outrage.

That was her homeland. And her father had been laid to rest there.

When she looked down at the Gates of the Elvenking, she saw that the tall figure in crimson had turned yet again. But now he seemed to look directly at her, half-hidden, as she was, in the green of the mountain. She raised a hand to her chest and then, tentatively, opened it in offering to him. Below, his motions were like a mirror to her own… somehow.

An imperious voice, underpinned with a most beautiful resonance, cut through what she might have done next.

And it was irritated, indeed. “You waste my time with your indolence, O King.”

Her eyes popped open.

She was looking into the matchless silver gaze of her King, from so close, she realized that she lay on his long, blond hair.

The voice beyond them echoed in the King’s Chamber. “Ai, this is what comes of assigning a man a King, a presumptuous creature of flashing eyes, yes, but little more than ambition, cleverness, and pretty wits. There is no strain of nobility in you, no right to power, and so your comportment ill fits the company of your betters. It. Is. Clear.”

Lusis blinked at her King. He’d already been awake. He’d been, in fact, gazing at her with an expression both sweetly innocent and wholly surprised. So close, he looked cut in semi-precious stone, with beautifully mussed hair. And his eyes were so lovely that she felt she might have stared into them for years, unaware of the passage of time.

“Hello,” he greeted her softly. “I thought I dreamt you, Lusis-dess.”

“Uh… me… me too,” her voice was quiet with shock, waking as she had. “Good morning.”

“Oh, it’s afternoon,” the Elvenking stretched himself and happily curled his fingers around hers, abandoned as they were, on a pillow. His pale eyes narrowed in irritation in the twilight of his bed, “I’ve missed appointments, clearly.”

“I’d miss that if I were given an option,” Lusis jerked her thumb, in an entirely human gesture, at the sound of low and urgent pleading beyond the curtains.

The room beyond had begun to fill.

Within seconds, Ewon’s deep voice rebuked the newcomer, ignorant of station, “I must protest. You cannot simply storm into these quarters, child.”

“Do you call me child?”

Spoken with amazement.

Ewon sharply replied, “I do, indeed. Heed me – I am a servant of the King.”

“Thranduil, come and tame your wild Silvan,” came the retort.

Lusis winced and clapped a hand over her face in dismay.

“Sire, for the sake of grace, you must not,” urged another elf. To no effect, it seemed.

“Grace? He does not know of it.” The pitilessly beautiful voice went on, “Wake yourself, O King, oh white stoat curled up like a lazing dragon, and attend to your-”

Lusis heaved up to her knees and threw aside the splendid bed curtains. “What’s the point of this racket!?” Her fingers found the hilt of one fighting knife… and released it.

And then she froze.

A grand elf turned. He raised his august head to face her. He was clad in broad-shouldered silver and blue and his skin softly shone in the late-day sun so that it looked partly-composed of moonbeams. In fact, he was so breathtaking that she searched him for signs of relatedness to the Elvenking. His colours – white blond, and with pale blue eyes – seemed to insist on it. And, as she gazed at him, his pale blue eyes widened in a moment his elven politesse, such as it was, could not attempt to disguise.

Doom’s Fires,” he gasped and floated backward with that damnable elven grace, the back knuckles of one long, lily hand pressed to his lips. “I see.”

Fires was a very un-elven thing to say. It made Lusis smile a little. Behind her, though, she heard the Elvenking actually chuckle. She glanced down and back at him in an attempt not to miss such a marvel, but he read this as the Istari urging him to proper elven deportment, and quickly returned his expression to one as neutral as he could manage.

Which was not very neutral at all.

For her own part, Lusis stepped to her feet and set her hands on her hips. “What do you see?”

Celeborn glanced between her and the Elvenking behind her, but offered no spoken answer.

“Hello, Celeborn.” Thranduil eased upward, his silken robe open nearly to one shoulder as he shook out his straight blond hair. “Have you met the Yellow Istari?”

Lusis pulled her gaze away from him. Though it dearly wished to linger, a noise distracted her.

Thud-thud went Amathon and a second Elite as they dropped from the high paths of stone above them, down to sheepskin rugs. Really, nothing transmitted elven shock like elves making actual noise.

Ai. She thought, looking at the dark-cherry that was Amathon. That’s about as unreadable as I’ve ever seen your face, friend-Amathon.

His dark red brows rose a fraction, but he made no comment.

It was wise of him.

Astonishing how many years could fall away from the experience of an elf when one sprang such a surprise on him. Lusis looked away from the Lord of Lorien and dusted off, uselessly. There was no dust or disarray here.

She glanced beyond the silvery Lord of Lorien and found Ewon glaring, hand on his sword. The Silvan Elite stood at the ready to engage the pair of blue-clad guards who had accompanied Celeborn, who was almost certainly the husband that Galadriel spoken of with such fondness. But when Ewon saw her emerge from the bed curtains, even fully-dressed in rumpled Scout-style fineries, his gaze darted away from the blue-clad elves, repeatedly. She could almost hear his Silvan thoughts pleading ’What does it mean?’

Fires if she knew.

“I’m sorry to startle you, Lord Celeborn,” Lusis said as graciously as she could muster – her mother would have been proud.

He relocated the hand blocking his lips to his chest. “And I you, gwenn. Truly.”

“It is all right,” King Thranduil drifted by in a cloud of sunny forest scents taller than all others in the room, his voice a graphic of indolent irritation, “spare no concern for me.”

Celeborn’s sweetly abashed expression, at once so ageless and so innocent in that muted way of elves, now cracked down the middle to reveal exasperation. “I am in no mood for you, Thranduil.”

“You came into my room,” the Elvenking vanished into a second hall, his silvery robe on the floor behind him, and his elegant voice reaching them at some distance. “I would suggest by that, that you’re wrong.” Water splashed in the nearby room.

“You living, breathing nuisance,” Celeborn strode after the Elvenking as did every other soul in the room, including Lusis, though, being human and having a concept of modesty that had utterly missed elven-kind, she paused in the archway to pick up her King’s robe and… peek in. Beyond, the cavern was bright and partly infiltrated by strawberry runners that reached through opened casements. Predictably, there was nowhere to sit – elves seemed only to sit to read or eat. The floor was flagged with warm yellow stone, and rugged with fine wools, where it could be, and by that she meant where the long punctuation of pool didn’t reach. The water made soft sounds beyond where she could see.

“Peace, Lord Celeborn,” the Elvenking caught the frayed edges of patience and pulled Kingship, whole cloth, around him. “Let us discuss something more productive to you and your people.”

“I’m uncertain you are sound enough – serious enough – King enough to make good on any such discussion.” The fact that Lord Celeborn paced revealed that it wasn’t a barb, to his mind, his concern was real. As irritating as it was to the Elvenking.

And Lusis.

It had to be dealt with and assuaged.

The water made soft protest as he disturbed it, “Doesn’t the faith Lady Galadriel, a companion of us both, rested in me soothe any of your worries?”

“If it weren’t for you,” Celeborn had to draw breath before he could continue, lest he – it seemed to Lusis – openly show anger, “she would be here, with me, instead of spending her precious energies pleading your case in the West. And you… you should be there. You, who would have such a woman do your work, when you are-”

“Is there something wrong with that?” The Elvenking’s voice was pleasantly flat. “Did you ever imagine yourself superior to her in some way, or her mighty bloodline, Prince of Doriath? Is there something about her that makes her, and all the weight of her abilities, and the might of Nenya that she brings to bear on behalf of my Kingdom, unfit for the job of pleading my case?”

“Only that you are no one.” Celeborn said coldly. “You are nothing but the son of a soldier – a man of the glaive. Not even a bowman. For all her efforts, you are noth-”

“She disagreed,” Thranduil replied above the soft cluck of water on skin. “She disagrees, my friend. Moreover, if I am no one, there is no case to plead, and I certainly cannot make it. Ai! We are kith and kin.”

“Kith and kin?” the Lord of Lorien gave a burble of laughter. “You may be Sinda, but you are kin to no one of any particular importance, Thranduil Oropherion. That is the truth.”

There was a long pause then, wherein the Elvenking seemed to marshal his arguments, or maybe thuggishly beat his temper back – Lusis bet some of the latter from the white-hot firelight she could see on the walls and ceilings of the cavern beyond. She, herself, was torn by Celeborn’s words. Was Thranduil’s beloved father, King Oropher? Was Eithahawn ‘no one of any particular importance’? Was Legolas?

When the King spoke again, there was throttled rage mingled with the pragmatism of his voice, “Let us work together. There are, though they speak Sindarin now, so many Silvan in your lands. They are separated brethren of my own Silvan. I can but wish for their safety as the numbers of true Sinda dwindle and Lorien becomes a beautiful relic among the trees. Let us work together. Let us protect our own together, as she long fought to protect them.”

“She had a right to rule them,” Celeborn was back to fretful pacing. Still troubled.

Thranduil exhaled, his reasoning cool and calm, “And now that right falls to you. It’s by their decision, make no mistake, Celeborn.”

The handsome elf paused, stunned by this suggestion. He was, after all, from the blood of Princes, and he’d never heard as preposterous a proposal as his right to rule hinging on the choices of the people over which he reigned. It was… so Thranduil. “This is why you cannot be a King.”

The Elvenking actually laughed, “Silvan follow who they elect to, not who they are told.”

Amathon bumped gently against her shoulder, his expression unreadable. “Welcome back.”

“I missed you, friend-Amathon.” She looked to him for some reprieve from the hard words in the room before her.

“If we may say,” he seemed a little shamefaced, “We missed you too, Nimpeth and I, friend-Yellow Istari.”

“Friend-Lusis,” she reminded him with a soft nudge back. “Ewon too, of course. He is a sight for sore eyes, indeed.”

“I’m sorry about your eyes,” Amathon said worriedly and she had to press down on a smile, because he’d heard the human saying enough to know very well what it meant. The smart-mouth.

She gave his wrist a squeeze in greeting, even though it was very presumptuous of her to touch him. Amathon rewarded this with a sudden and unrehearsed smile that brightened everything about him. “Yellow Istari, the King is having a swim. It is very much a part of his morning ritual. Given a choice in company,” he glanced at Celeborn, his expression glassy, “I’m sure he would prefer you join him, at least for conversation.”

Lusis looked up at her elf-friend and showed him the bolts and bolts of silvery robe – Stars, the amount of material it took to cover the figure of so tall and broad-shouldered a man. It might cover a table in Buckmaster Keep.

“Oh yes,” Amathon’s eyes brightened with humour – entertained by her distress. “Do you know, they say Doriath did not rise in a day. Of course… it did rise, Lady. Will you not also begin somewhere?”

“Say any more,” Lusis promised him, “and I’ll repeat every word to Nimpeth.”

There was no authority more fearsome to Amathon than his warrioress-wife. Not even the King could command him so. Not even Ewon, Nimpeth’s father. And she’d just had a baby, if Lusis was counting right. She suddenly badly wanted to see the little elf! She might have launched into that, but then, in a picture-perfect imitation of Avonne Kasia, Amathon made the motion to lock up his bow lips and throw away the key. In spite of herself, Lusis buckled and dissolved into bubbles of laughter. It distracted Celeborn and the Elvenking from their diverse ramparts.

She could see the Elvenking, his pale hair soaking and his expression light with happiness, pause at the stone edging of his pool, itself cut to look like dragon’s scale, and he asked, “What amusement are we having, Lusis-Istari? And what has Amathon to do with it?” Light glanced off his wet, sculpted shoulders.

Off behind him, Lusis swore, long-suffering Ewon put his head in his hand. Amathon was his son-in-law, of course, so, at best, Ewon bore some responsibility here, and, at worst, Nimpeth would have to be told.

“Forgive me,” Lusis went enough in through the archway to witness the Elvenking rest his chin on his crossed wrists. His expression was something of a vision as it always was when she caught him both happy and curious. And he was so beautiful in the sun, dotted with water droplets that gleamed. Maybe he would prefer her company, at that?

His voice sighed, “For what? What have you done?”

The Lord of Lorien, Celeborn, turned his handsome head to look between the Istari and the Elvenking, and something in him… shifted. Elves were not known for strong expression, but Lusis was long enough among them to catch this difference, even peripherally.

Ai.” Celeborn drew the word long and glanced at his blue-clad elves, themselves pictures of inquisitiveness at the transformation in the ElfKing of the Great Greenwood. “What do I see? Is there some… possibility?”

“I’m unsure what you mean?” The Elvenking gripped the edge of the pool and Lusis just looked up at the ceiling in time to avoid seeing him gracefully hoist himself out.

Shame. For good or ill, they had none.

She could hear two of the attendant elves come to help him dry.

“It’s all right,” Amathon nudged her again, a habit he’d picked up from her own Ranger troop. “Little Istari, he is now in drying robes and you are safe from the light of him, lest his silver flesh do injury to those large dark eyes of yours-”

“I warned you,” Lusis told Amathon and swallowed her smile.

“Indeed,” he failed to conceal his smile, “but do come by, friend, if you find time. There’s a new little girl so eager to meet you.”

She couldn’t help but wrap an arm around him to hug him then. Amathon seemed thrilled by this human expression, but stepped aside when she released him. The Elvenking was coming her way, clad in dark red brushed velvet. His wet hair attended by two tall Silvan women doing their duty and strictly ignoring Lord Celeborn.

One reached for the silver robe, but Lusis pulled it closer to her, reflexively.

The Silvan woman’s lips curved in a knowing smile as she passed.

“You are different,” Celeborn followed Thranduil through his suites.

“We are both different,” the Elvenking replied, his voice quiet. “Do you think I miss in you, the deep impact it has been, that Galadriel has left you on these shores to do her good work for me and mine?”

“Why,” Celeborn stood just an arm’s length from Lusis now, and his voice was, at last, bare and hollow. “She left my side for your sake? Why is it so? Does she love you?”

“Oh, most certainly,” The Elvenking stopped on his way to the dressing dias where, even now, three women laid out his morning clothes. He pivoted to take the other Sinda in, “And why would she exact from me the promise that I would, above all else, safeguard you and her people? That I would do nothing to drive you away, and maintain my temper with you at all times?”

Lusis blurted, “Because she also hates you?”

Both elves blinked at her.

“Just… spit-balling,” her voice fell away because, of course, she’d learned this word from Redd, the eternally educated Hoard Librarian, and no elf could yet know what it meant.

Thranduil redirected to Celeborn, “Because she is full of love, but loves you, good-Celeborn, more than anyone or thing. More than she does herself. All these months of rows and insult, and I will not fail her, I swear. I endure all to uphold my word to that woman.” He padded toward the dressing tables.

Lusis crossed to where the blue-clad Lord stood, tall, hale, and princely in bearing. He looked so refined to button-up so much anger. She dropped her chin in greeting through her own aggravation with this strange elf and he returned the motion in her direction.

“The Lady Galadriel does love you,” Lusis sighed up at the second tall, blond Sinda in her life. “If she’s letting you torment my great King, she must. I do wish you’d stop. It’s a waste of energy you could put into protecting your people.”

“Mine,” he said softly.

“They’re no longer Lady Galadriel’s if she’s so far away,” Lusis folded the King’s robe on her arms and inhaled the scent of his pine-needled and black-berried sleep. “That means she’s put them into your care, yes? While you lament that she’s gone to the West without you… what will become of them if she doesn’t make a way for Silvan there? Your own, and the Elvenking’s? If a King is ‘no one’ among them, what are these star-gazers to your separated kin? If someone as brilliant and beautiful as the Elvenking must be appointed guard post over a door, forever… as I’ve heard rumoured… what is the fate of these star-gazers? What hope do they have?”

Celeborn’s long back straightened as he considered what she’d said, and his eyes, which had seemed to burn with glacial force to Lusis, now took on an air of deep reflection. He brought his slim hands together and up before him, to look at them. They were, she felt herself sigh in appreciation, they were such fine hands.

He also brought his fingers up to touch the Mithril collar on his upper chest, and the single moonstone there, and Lusis had the feeling this was something he’d been given by Galadriel, much in the same way Thranduil wore the ring his wife had once given him.

She blinked and looked back at him, now that he was being tucked into a soft green long coat, with several people gently fussing with his blond hair. The glinting at his neck… was the necklace of the Ringbearer, Mithril with pearl stations. And one jade leaf where she’d repaired the break caused by the Lammia’s dark power. Lusis had noticed a glinting of chain when she’d fallen asleep last night.

She’d given it back to him, and now… he wore it.

Over at the dias, his silvery head turned and he looked into her night-dark eyes.

Lusis stared back, unable to hear the room around her, lost in a peaceful vacuum of white noise and his staring silver eyes.

She pulled away to cross the room back to the bed-curtains and retrieve her fighting knives.

If she’d found Lossivor where she’d seen it last night, she might have brought the great weapon to her King, but… the elves had already seen to it, just as they’d already made the bed in which they’d rested. Now, she set down the sloppily folded robe the King had slept in and stared at her shoddy work. It made her chuckle. How, oh how, her father had tried to teach her to neatly fold her clothes.

On her way out, she glanced over her shoulder and found Celeborn standing at the archway to the King’s dressing chamber. He stared after her with arresting blues, and Lusis decided to pause to strap on her knives.

She opened her arms, “What is it?”

Celeborn glided across the polished floors and onto the rugs toward her. “Did he make some troth to you, Istari… if I can be forgiven for asking?”

She exhaled. “There is a contract between us.”

“Is that all?” Celeborn turned his head aside and gracefully touched his forehead. “Ai. As notarized paperwork did inspire the Veil of Melian about Doriath? He is a well-meaning fool. And it is foolish for me to rest my faith and hope for my own Silvan in such a man.”

Lusis felt her teeth clack together, and she strode out to meet him, her not unimpressive arms and shoulders flexed and ready, as if she might have to wrestle with the edhel’s attitude alone. “Did you call him a fool? You? Grieving for a woman gone bravely ahead to meet the Western elves… when my King’s wife was torn from him?”

“That is a tragedy of which we do not speak… and as for the rest? The Contract? You do not understand.” Celeborn, taller than her, joined his hands behind his back and strode toward her, his long blue robes fanning from his long legs.

“Neither do you,” Lusis got into his path so that he had to pull up short, formidable as he was. Her voice dropped to a low throb of outrage, “What do you think they’ll do to him? What do you think is waiting? A barracks for him? Yes? Because of the prowess of his swords in battle, and he’ll lead men against… what exactly? Will he light lamps through the night, alone? Snuff them out at dawn in an endless immortality of walking in circles around city streets?”

She felt shaky with anger.

“Yellow-Istari,” Celeborn said tightly, “you must contain yourself.”

She had to harness her emotions before they affected him.

But she’d heard too much from this great elf that sounded like a preview of her fears for the Elvenking when he had to go into the West, and Lusis felt perilously close to shouting, “Will they punish him for what he’s become here?”

“Peace, Istari,” said the Lord of Lothlorien. “I was told that all would be assigned a place. All of these Silvan shall be, as he shall be. It is to ease with transition.”

“Only… in his Kingdom they assign themselves a place.”

Celeborn’s head dipped right in sympathy, “Istari, that is not how a Kingdom works. What is needed by the King, is what one does. So I, a Prince, have behaved, and so he, a soldier, must.”

“Learn a new way.” Lusis strode away from him, and felt him follow in spite of the fact she did not invite him to by glancing back at him. “Or don’t.”

“What are you afraid of?” Celeborn’s tone was sharp and he almost took hold of her arm to pull her around, he was so motivated. It would have been a huge mistake, and he was far too wise an elf to make such an error.

“That they’ll destroy him,” Lusis wheeled around and opened her arms. “He’s a miracle. That they’ll try to turn him into… into….”

“Into what?” Celeborn urged her.

“An elf. Just treat him like any edhel, without distinction.” She was almost at the end of the King’s Chambers now, and the guards beyond the archway here edged away as Lusis’ voice spiked with emotion. “You want to know what I’m afraid of? One of the first things I learned about him when I arrived at The Halls is that he’s long been considered a famed beauty among elves. Look at him. His enemies call him fair. And I’ve never heard a soul debate that,” her hands curled into fists. “What will become of him when he sets his fine boots on those shores, being that he’s brilliant, a soldier, an innovator, and a leader above all else. But so beautiful. So storied and talented?”

Celeborn reasoned from this, “You worry that his strain of… charisma, I suppose… may be read as a danger to the establishment.”

“He married a Silvan. His sons are half that race of elves. Loss and Glir, the Vanyar and Teleri who visited here, and who left with Galadriel, they clearly didn’t consider Silvan to rank among the Eldar. His children. His wife. If you don’t understand why I’m afraid of this-”

Celeborn straightened coldly, “My people are kind. They do not yoke and subjugate others.”

“Not in so many words,” she leaned in to face him. “Are they right now debating that his beautiful face belongs in parlours, in theatres at the seat of a harp – he can play, you know – and how many years would he be waylaid in one retinue or another for his beauty and his cleverness? He’s a dragon-slayer. Do they even know? He is a King.”

Ai, Istari.” He sounded almost forlorn, “Kings are not handed crowns by their people. That is what they will tell you.” Celeborn spoke without heat, or cold, or any other discernable emotion. He made an incomplete gesture toward her that she didn’t know how to read, but it was almost as if he wished to take her hand in his own. Most elves did not touch others randomly, but Celeborn had long been married, and he seemed to be missing that essential connection, that hand his had, for so many years, found even in the dark.

Haltingly, Lusis extended her much darker hand and waggled her fingers, just slightly, toward his own. His pale hands closed around her scarred knuckles and cradled there, like the wings of a bird. That this edhel’s touch was so gentle surprised her.

“Galadriel gave you your crown, did she not, Prince of Doriath?” His skin was so smooth and warm. She found herself missing the Elvenking, as if she were still back in Lake Township at her Istari journal. She reminded herself that those days were done.

His brows rose, which made him look younger. “I am merely a Lord in Lothlorien,” Celeborn looked at their joined hands and Lusis closed her fingers and held onto him.

Lusis sighed. “You’ll be with your Lady again. Happy again. But what of the Elvenking’s Silvan wife? Whatever form a soul takes in that faraway land?”

It took a moment for him to reply, “Oh, child… that woman dwells in the Halls of Mandos. There she has chosen to stay, as deep suffering can choose for any elf.” He looked at the dressing room beyond before he said in a hush, “He is alone. That is a truth he cannot admit. But we have long known.”

Fires. She blinked rapidly, her fingers curled up. Oh Fires. She was breathless.

Celeborn raised a hand as if to steady her, “Lady Maiar, I am sorry. Are you well?”

Lusis shut her eyes and felt the strange sensation of long years – deep time – curled around an aching wound, a hollow place inside, that no one attended, or even looked upon, and as soon as she felt it, she extended her hand and touched the edges. Slow golden light from her starpoint bled into her hands, urgent to fill it, heal it.

In the waking world, Celeborn gasped. The power of this woman coursed through his entire person like summer wind. He blinked. Lights rolled behind his eyes.

For a moment, for him, time was suspended.

But for Lusis, there was only the desperate need to serve and protect. “You can’t know.” She murmured. “She may be born again on those shores. She may be waiting.”

Rather than cause her further pain, Celeborn said nothing.

“And if they’re bent on teaching Thranduil his place, will he see his Queen again? What’s allowed for him, Lord? What’s not allowed?”

Now the Lord’s graceful fingertips came away from her. He sealed his lips in distress with one hand and barely contained his sudden wave of suspicion. “Ai, Lusis-Istari… if she is not an Eldar, of what importance is it that they meet again? Glir did reveal that she found the ‘pretender-King’ fascinating. Perhaps they would consider it a waste of his skills to dwell on a would-be Queen… or a waste of beauty that must be a gift of the Trees to all elves. And, having laid claim to his forbidden title – a King – to the power such a thing carries in Middle Earth….”

“What?” Lusis urged him. When he didn’t respond, she reached out and enclosed his slightly curled free hand. She squeezed his fingers lightly. He was the only elf she’d known to seek out contact this way. But that need for connection was a key to unlocking his inner thoughts, albeit a key Thranduil had no proper disposition to use.

To Celeborn’s broken heart, touch was comforting. Just as for an injured human.

He gripped her hand a little too tightly, but Lusis endured what Galadriel would have found normal. His blue eyes were troubled, “His sons? Can there be reproach for one such as Legolas… with what he faced? Was he not sent forth by his father? What harm has Eithahawn’s keen mind ever done? Thranduil, himself, joined Galadriel and I to throw down the walls of Dol Guldur. And if he is to be faulted for such bitter bravery, why not fault us all? Istari, will they? Will they let him be free in the West?”

Lusis pulled a deep breath and told him the truth as she’d assessed it, particularly after many long conversations with Osp. “No.”

When he released her, Lusis stepped back, turned, and left the King’s Chambers. His pale blue stare followed her every move, long after he couldn’t look into her dark eyes.

Short though their acquaintance was, she’d felt Celeborn had seen the culture of Western elves as an extension of his own. For sure, if there were an ‘Us’ and ‘Them’, he was naturally one of ‘Them’, and thought the Western elves must surely agree. But this had been an assumption. If one power out of Middle-Earth could not be free, why would another be? And if the Silvan of Middle Earth had to be assigned roles so as not to disrupt the orderly world of the West with their unruly arrival, well, wasn’t he also from Doriath and the wild woodlands of Middle Earth?

“No.” He seemed to breathe the disappointment into her thoughts.

Already on her way out of the controlled area used by the royal family, Lusis lowered her chin in elven assent. They were in agreement.

Maybe, somehow, she’d opened his eyes.

***

It was dark when they met up again, and Lusis had changed from her beautiful elven clothes into her dark Ranger leathers, and her chainmail.

She felt herself again.

Ranger Chief, and Buckmaster, she strode down the hallway to one of the meeting-halls, and behind her shoulders walked the Awnson brothers. Behind them came Steed and Redd. Her crew were armed and ready, as was common of Northern Rangers.

The trio of stone archways ahead were lit by billowing firelight in bronze braziers along the wide hallway. This path led to a platform outside – she could see the moon flying against the clouds through the arches. Outside was preferred for meetings in good weather. In winter, she’d seen this whole wing sealed away. The elves did not feel cold, but they didn’t like snow and rime on their fineries either. And there were sometimes Men here now. It was a simple kindness.

She stopped.

Her Rangers stopped.

She could see her King with his fair hair lifted on the wind, billowing crimson robes flagged behind his long body. He stood near the edge of the platform beyond, he looked out over the green forest below them. His senses extended as long as the expanse ran – from the cedars and spruce at the foothills of her homeland to the peach and orange trees so far to the South that Lusis’ Northern boots had never trod there. The night beyond him put on a show. It sent up plumes of birds in the fading sun, their silver bellies shifting back and forth in the sky like dancers.

Swans broke from the Forest River and flew along The Halls like wishes on their way to Long Lake, Lake Township, and the Lonely Mountain.

For a long moment, she was unaware of the bustle of so many elves in the rooms below her, or even on the path with her, hurrying back-and forth with banks of flowers, platters of food, and flasks of wine. Her eyes didn’t see their smiles. She missed the pride with which they carried themselves. The waves of musicians arrayed along the pathways below, their rising music echoing in the cavern, were all invisible to her. She could only see him waiting.

Redd extended his hand and reached her easily, even from the back of the group. He set it upon her shoulder, and covered her, there, like a bone pauldron. But she didn’t look away from her King for long enough to see Redd’s knowing smile. “Ready, Chief?”

Right. She blew a breath of air through her pursed lips and started forward again.

They reached the Greenwood guards that lined the path. All bowed as she passed them.

Lusis concentrated on steadiness, breathing deeply, when that happened. Keep going.

Dressed in gold and green fineries, Eithahawn and Legolas bracketed the central archway. Dorondir stood beside Eithahawn and he bowed toward her with an irrepressible smile. None other than Lusis’ young elf-friend, Telfeth Damiell, stood with fellow archer, Legolas Thranduilion. She couldn’t do it. Lusis couldn’t see them without smiling. She cared for them too much.

Incurably blithe Prince Legolas grinned as he fell in beside her, “Are you feeling well, my friend?”

Were elves immune to nerves? Perhaps… though she honestly no longer thought that was true of them. She caught his hand and squeezed it. “What would an elf say here?”

“My eyes are happy…” he gave her – quite seriously – a human nod, “to behold you.” He blinked at the sentiment clouding the end of that. After all they’d done for one another, they were good friends.

She felt Eithahawn step in beside her, and Lusis cleared her throat and agreed, “Well… yes, that’s it, exactly.”

Lusis released him and silently swore she would not sit idle while the Western Eldar continued to underestimate the matchless elves of the Great Greenwood.

They would not be consigned some ‘lowest rung’ on her watch. She would deliver them safely into their new world if she had to die to do it. That was her one mission.

She could see that the platform was outfitted with an actual table for sitting – not a favourite of elves who were neither dining, nor reading – and its surface was covered in maps and paperwork. There would be work here tonight.

The side-boards were covered in a feast of foods that included cooked meat for Lusis and her Rangers… and Jan Kasia, who stood to one side in awe, his Council was arrayed around him on the left of the cavernous meeting place. The meat, though, was downwind of the elves.

Elsenord Buckmaster was standing a little behind the other Councilmembers, riveted, with his dazzled eyes on his sister. This place was out of the fondest fairy-tales of his childhood, and it was inevitable that, seeing it, he would think of their father. She’d been there. It hurt, but it was also beautiful. She nodded at him, human-style, because she knew the pain would fade and he’d earned the right to stand here and see these things.

Songs rose up from below – haunting voices that pushed and sighed through the wind. They wrapped around the humans in the room, who were unfamiliar with them, with overwhelming force. Bess Bowman swept a hand along her cheek, and Lusis understood the sentiment. Look at all they had to see tonight. All that was before them!

The King was several feet away, outlined by night, moon, running clouds, and rising stars, his white blond hair downy on the summer breeze.

Celeborn stood opposite the Elvenking near the platform’s edge, his blue cloak likewise aloft, and his pale hair like a banner from his shoulders. Lusis blinked and looked between golden Legolas and red-golden Eithahawn.

The King and Lord were something like… separated brothers.

Kith. Kin.

As she swept by them, she raised a hand high in greeting to Lake Township’s Council.

They raised their hands high in return.

Two rows of Lothlorien Silvan gathered along the right side of the sheltered chamber. She caught a wink of metal in the heart of them and reached for her elven sword. “Hold. What are they doing?”

“Peace, Lady,” Eithahawn’s hand was on her hilt as soon as hers was. “It is not the steel of war, but…” his voice dropped, “but the Mithril of a King they’ve come to offer to their Lord tonight.”

She looked aside at him, dumbfounded. Celeborn? He’ll never accept it.

Legolas smiled, “Adar has been talking to him for months, Lusis-Istari. Rail and storm as Celeborn must, with missing Galadriel as he does, rebuke the Elvenking, decry and offend him, there is one inexorable force in this Kindgom, and it is my father. That truth has sunken into Celeborn’s wise skull.”

“Wreck and ruin, adar keeps his promises,” Eithahawn appeared to have forgotten himself. He was smiling at the King. She nodded at the boys, not in the human way, but in the incline and slow rise of the head favored by elves.

Eithahawn told her, “It is true that Lord Celeborn suffers his wife’s decision, but he will see that we are here. He will not suffer it alone.”

She stepped out and turned to face the pair of elves, “And they’re offering Celeborn, Kingship?”

“Yes,” Eithahawn noted. “The Elvenking will offer Celeborn the Southern Greenwood for his Kingdom should they overcome their differences tonight. They shall be safe within our lands.”

Lusis’ brows rose, “Won’t they be Celeborn’s lands?”

Legolas chuckled, “The land will never forget adar. Adar is the land – he cannot Release what he has Claimed now. And, in any case, if you stay beside him, concerns of title will all be for naught.” His graceful hand made an elegant wave she didn’t understand.

She wasn’t sure that was the case, but she continued down through the room without them.

When she was halfway in, Lusis stopped and pulled a deep breath. She decided herself, and called above the bustle of elves, “Thranduil.” She waited.

Both great elves turned, but their expressions were vastly different in that moment. The Lord, Celeborn, looked up with an air of confidence and serenity, finally contented. Inside his vast thoughts, he saw the spark of Doriath rise again… in these lands. There was hope for a safe place for his people.

The Elvenking turned in great surprise. He found her in the room and his eyelids did that moth-like fluttering she was familiar with, but had yet to decode. What he didn’t do was avert his eyes and turn his head aside, which was what she had come to expect after such a reaction. Instead, he held her gaze and, slowly, bit by bit, composed himself again.

She felt her chin rise. Lusis extended a hand to him.

His crimson cloak waggled around him, and he came to her to join hands.

Lusis wasn’t sure what was going on here. But his hand in hers was good enough.

Motion and noise in the room resumed. Rows of elves brought in baskets of flower petals to flock along the edge of the platform, and every gust of wind sent them spinning along the floor, raining along the side of the mountain. Because a celebration was building.

She noticed Silvan of Lorien bowing to the Silvan of Greenwood, and saw the gesture returned. In Lusis’ mind they were little different from Legolas and Eithahawn as well – distinctive, separate, but siblings too long apart from one another. She looked up at the King beside her, as he surveyed the growing excitement of the Silvan around him, too long apart.

“Lord Celeborn,” Lusis inclined herself to him out of respect and acted the Lady of Greenwood she was. “Welcome to the Great Greenwood.”

Thranduil’s chin rose as he added, “Will you join us?”

Celeborn’s proud blue gaze pinned the pair of them – King and Maiar, hand in hand – into his memory, and he remained blessedly unfathomable a moment longer, before his head tipped right and he inclined himself in return. “I will join you.”

He came to stand on Lusis’ right, and she cautiously extended a hand to cover his wrist. He gratefully swept his hand over her fingers. And maybe that’s what he missed most about his wife. Just the simple contact. He seemed to need connection.

“You’re welcome here,” she reassured him. “You’re welcome.”

For the first time, she saw Celeborn’s eyelids do the wingbeat of elves, and saw him avert his gaze and turn a little away. She squeezed his hand and sent a wish to Galadriel, that, wherever she was, she could know about this moment. Just see him now. The silver elf-woman had gone West to protect Thranduil; Lusis would stand and protect Celeborn.

She exhaled and looked about her. The three of them were the vanguard of these Silvan.

Ewon, beside the table, straightened under her gaze. His chin dropped a fraction.

“All right, elven Lords and Kings.” She released them and gestured at the maps. “Open your minds. For the good of the elves of Middle Earth, we have work to do tonight.”

“The Council of the West is in Imladris this night, I hear.” Celeborn revealed. He looked up at the cowed humans of Lake Township Council and tipped his head over and down to indicate the table. None of them could quite read the gesture. But… Bess Bowman and Jan Kasia gambled on the meaning and they drew the Council forward.

Thranduil’s gaze glided over maps, over Lusis, and up to Celeborn of Doriath, a man who remembered him as little better than a savage, a blood-soaked slayer of orcs, a piston under his command, and found… something different in the steel of those commanding eyes.

Something had happened… his gaze checked with his children. They were nothing more than happy at that moment. What had he missed?

His head tipped fractionally to the left in confusion.

That got deeper still.

For, Celeborn paused and inclined himself. “We shall begin… with the King.”

Two could play at that game.

Thranduil’s chin rose, since he could enjoy a good irony. “Ai, so, we shall.”

His long fingers motioned at the elves of Lorien.

And the new crown.

***

Thank you, everyone, for never forgetting the work I put into the Mirkwood Royals! For telling me how you’ve read, and re-read it, and for loving it the way I do. I couldn’t ask for more. :D

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you.

Write a Review Did you enjoy my story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, Magicbunni
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May_Mystic: Such a great book, this was the first book I ever read on Inkitt and this totally raised my expectations for all books😊😊

redbat98: This is a good book and I like how its done! However there is a lot and I mean A LOT of grammar and spelling errors...perhaps find an editor to help you? But I would definitely recommend this to a friend even with the errors!

StarlightRyder: Wonderful characters with a story that is a truly joyful read. I've read everything this author has written and I am never disappointed. The characters make you want to live next door to them, or better yet, take you home with them. Thanks for another really excellent read.

203: I love the book. It’s well written. Has a great plot. I love how she explained every type of creature in the beginning. The story flows really nice as well.

HardRdr1: You're still keeping the suspense on high.

Tati Monet: Although it was a short story I would have liked to see more detail in the writing in regards to the plot and how fast everything accelerated. When reading a historical book, you also like to hear about historical references - what they did in that time, foods they ate, music that was listened to...

Curlylocks: I loved reading this book. It's one of those feel-good books that just left me mesmerized by it. I'm looking forward to reading more from this author.

Mhz SweetCharmz: Best Werewolf Book Ever!!!!!!!!!

Rose: The book is great I actually read it more than once. It's so great

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Ayana D: I love the details. I was able to visualize every place and person within the story. I even went and read the first story despite this story standing alone, just to better understand the story and its characters. I look forward to completing this story and reading others by yourself.

Sweta : This is one of the best werewolf books I have read so far and one of my favs too! I was first recommended about it on Wattpad and read this engaging and amazing tale. And now reading the re-written version is an amazing experience for me. Thank you author for writing this book!

lavendercotton: When I first started this book I was hooked I knew I had to finish this book, I'm not big on reading. Because it's hard for me to find a book I can be hooked on to, but the first five minutes of reading I was hooked. After that, I knew I had to read more.

AbiPull: I absolutely loved this story. I couldn’t put it down, and very well written!

Aa_xoxox: you have written well that is all i think is important to tell you . but i think its been a long time since you last updated .

Layla: Loved it I also hope it continues

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