2. Swaddled With Darkness
Chapter Two: Swaddled With Darkness
"I don't suppose you could have picked a night with a moon for this," Thranduil grumbled as he tripped over yet another tree root.
"The Kwenn-dai awoke to life under starlight, and starlight alone. This is the light of old Cuivienen, and the three nights of moon-dark are the only proper time for our solemn business," Tûron said from up ahead. "Be patient, Thara-ndhul; your eyes will remember."
Tûron was right. Already Thranduil felt his vision adjusting, and the trees began to take shape in the gentle, restful light of the stars. He and Lalaithiel had returned to the group of huts as soon as night fell, and a party of women had immediately hustled her off into the forest, bent on some female business he could not quite understand, while Tûron and two Avorren men had led Thranduil in the opposite direction.
The trail opened out into a small clearing. In the center of the area rose a tall columnar rock with two boulders at its base, plainly visible in the starlight. Thranduil bit back a smile, thinking that perhaps his recent initiation into the joys of the flesh had put his mind to seeing the symbols of bed matters in every little thing. Politely, he forbore to say what the grouping of stones reminded him of.
"What next?" he asked.
Tûron gestured at the rocks. "Sit."
Doing as he was told, Thranduil sank down onto one of the boulders, ignoring the embarrassing aspects of sitting on what looked like a giant testicle, while Tûron placed his pack on the ground and began to search through it. He set a wooden bowl out on the ground and poured a measure of dark powder into it from a small piece of folded skin.
Tûron turned back to Thranduil. "Remove your shirt," he said, taking his knife from its sheath and laying it beside the bowl. The starlight glinted strangely off the dark blade.
Thranduil felt his blood turn cold, and he looked nervously at the two Avorren elves who stood to either side of him, in a perfect position to grab his arms and restrain him. He had no wish to bare his chest before strangers, especially in the presence of a knife as sharp as Tûron's looked to be.
"Do you give in to fear, son of Ornâpheren?" Tûron asked, as if sensing his thoughts.
"I fear nothing," Thranduil lied, well aware that in this lonely spot if Tûron's knife wished to find his heart, a thin layer of cloth would be no barrier.
"Is that so? I think you do fear me, son, and you are right to do it." Tûron laughed softly. "It is just as well; trust needs to be earned. Now, off with the shirt."
Thranduil took a deep breath and undid the fasteners of his shirt. He shrugged it off and tossed it aside. He set his chin and looked his wife's father boldly in the eye. "Very well. Whatever it is you brought me here for, do it and be done."
Tûron's face warmed slightly, and Thranduil knew he had passed a preliminary test. "A bold one, you are! But I would have expected no less, given your father's reputation." He bent and picked up his knife. "Which is your clever hand?"
Thranduil held out his right, half expecting to feel the bite of the blade in his palm. Instead, Tûron grabbed Thranduil's forefinger, making a tiny nick and holding it out over the wooden bowl to squeeze out blood. That done, he did the same with his own forefinger and stirred the blood into the powder. Thranduil could not tell the color of the resulting mixture, for by starlight it looked as black as the blade of Tûron's knife.
His father-in-law spoke then, his tone grave. "Tell me, then, Thara-ndhul, what skill do you have to offer as a gift to our people? With this clever hand of yours, what service will you give us?"
Thranduil raised a golden eyebrow, for a philosophical interrogation was the last thing he had been expecting. What uses had his hand? Many, but few that Tûron would appreciate. The designing of pretty jewelry such as had captivated Lalaithiel the night before, the wielding of a pen in the service of Oropher's account-keeping, the playing of his harp, a few other private uses that did not bear mentioning -- none seemed designed to impress a Dark-elf used to the simpler life of the forest.
"Think, Thara-ndhul," Tûron prompted, dipping the tip of his knife into the dark substance in the bowl. "What is it you do best?"
It came to Thranduil suddenly -- the feeling of his sword pommel in his grasp and the sensation of swinging it. "I am strong," he said. "I can protect Lalaithiel and I can protect you. Strength."
Tûron nodded, and beside him the two other Evyr made approving sounds. "A good choice. Belê." He took Thranduil by the back of his right arm, bringing his knife up. "Hold still."
The tip of the knife touched the skin of his bicep. So sharp was it that at first he felt no pain, just a soft glide -- until the night air hit the cuts and the strange dark substance bit into the flesh. Burning agony bloomed, and Thranduil hitched in his breath. "Ai!"
"The sensation is memorable, is it not?" Tûron smiled. "It will serve to remind you of this moment, for it will be the first of your promises to us."
Thranduil looked down, expecting to see himself cut to ribbons, but instead he saw very little blood seeping from the dark marks where the ink had been driven into his skin. He gasped. The runes seemed strange and the word was in a language unfamiliar to him but . . . "You can write!"
"Of course we can write. Simple does not mean ignorant, I told you." Tûron rocked back on his heels and refreshed the tip of his knife from the wooden bowl. "The runes of Ornâpheren were his greatest gift to the Greenwood."
"Runes of Daeron," Thranduil corrected softly. "Daeron of Doriath created them; Adar merely learned them and carried them here."
"No matter. They are the reason the Laegrim followed your father and the reason we suffer him to rule over us. We quickly learned them and adapted them to our own use, for with the runes, the words of the singer live on though he fall prey and his voice be stilled." Tûron smiled. "And because of these runes, you, Thara-ndhul, will always bear a reminder of your service to us."
"I would need no reminder," Thranduil said. "My people, never forgetting the example of an oath gone bad and turned to afflict its takers, will swear none, except for the vow we make to a spouse at our bonding. But we take our promises very seriously, and that will last long after this ink has faded."
"It will not fade," Tûron said. "These marks are set by starlight and spell. And your own will, as long as you hold true. They are more than mere decoration, such as the Edain wear."
Thranduil swallowed. "You mentioned more than one promise. I presume you have plans for the other arm?"
Tûron nodded. "Your spirit-side is your heart-side as well. That is good. So tell me, Thara-ndhul, what is your nature? For that will define your duty among us and your bond to our folk."
Thranduil sighed. Tûron posed a hard question, even harder so than the first, for up until now, Thranduil had not been given to much introspection concerning his own character. Immediately the oft-heard exasperated voice of his father popped into his head: 'You are stubborn, Thranduil, stubborn! What am I to do with you?' He smiled inwardly. Stubborn described him well, for once bent on a thing he could rarely be swayed, even if that course of action took him to the very Pits of Moria.
Stubborn he was indeed, but he fished about for a better way of describing it. "I am steadfast -- loyal unto death."
"That is good, for we forest folk call ourselves The Steadfast," Tûron replied. "Loyal to the will of the One who set us in the world to awake at Cuivienen. Bor shall be the word you wear." He smiled as he bent to his work.
"What do you find so amusing?" Thranduil said, gritting his teeth against the familiar burning pain. Ironically, now that he expected it, he felt the tip of Tûron's knife even more keenly as it scored his skin.
Tûron chuckled. "For neither facet of your nature do you choose wisdom. I find that interesting."
Thranduil shook his head and smiled wryly despite his discomfort. "Alas, Hîr Adar, wisdom has never been my strongest suit."
Tûron chuckled and sat back. "Very good. It is done. Nènlû and Mâlô will fill in the marks now, while I set the spell." He began to reach into his pack once more.
"No," said Thranduil. "There is one more mark I would have you give me."
Tûron raised an eyebrow. "No matter how many long-years pass, I have not forgotten the sting of these cuts. Do you wish to multiply your pain? It is not necessary."
Thranduil swallowed. He knew it would hurt like a demon, given the unusual methods of the Evyr, but he thought on a mark of Galion's, now faded almost to invisibility although his friend had renewed it several times in the last age, and his faer told him he must do this thing. "Right here," he said, tapping his left breast. "Among the Laegrim, a mark in this area signifies the heart's desire. As long as this night is for promises, I wish to wear mine. It is necessary."
"You would bare your heart to my knife, son?" Tûron asked.
Thranduil shrugged and nodded.
"It seems we have come a long way in trust, then," Tûron said. "What is this mark you wish to wear?"
Thranduil looked from side to side at the two Avorren men flanking him. He held up his hand, beckoning Tûron in closer. His father-in-law bent his head near, and Thranduil whispered into his ear the secret name that Lalaithiel had revealed to him last night in the moment of their bonding.
Tûron drew back, a smile on his face. "Whoever was it said you lacked wisdom, Thara-ndhul? He knows little, for you have chosen very wisely indeed."
"Chosen with my heart, not with my head," Thranduil said, setting his teeth against the coming pain.
"Sometimes, that is the greatest wisdom of all." Tûron replied and began to cut.
Again, it hurt, but Thranduil fortified himself with the thought that this mark was accepted completely of his own will. Lalaithiel had suffered pain for him last night when he first took her, and he knew she would endure even more as she bore the many children Thranduil intended to give her. This fleeting hurt seemed like such a small thing in exchange. His heart swelled with hope to think of it -- a quiver-full of strong sons, and beautiful daughters. Perhaps he would even give that legendarily fecund Lachenn, Feanor, a run for his money in the begetting sphere once he and Oropher returned from that cursed Golodhren war in the south. He had all the time in the world for such joys . . .
"It's a rare man who smiles when I'm cutting on him," Tûron remarked wryly. "But I am done. With this part at any rate." He took out another folded deer hide from the pack and opened it, revealing a multitude of sharp thorns bound with twisted grass into small bundles four to five to a grouping.
Thranduil's eyes widened.
"For pricking in the remainder of the ink," Tûron said. "We will be using all of them, for they tend to dull rather quickly." He nodded to his two helpers. "Begin."
Nènlû and Mâlô fell to their task as Tûron stood, stepped back a few paces, threw back his head and began to sing. "E-lew i jâra nar, Aa! An-jâr-ma . . ."
As Tûron gave his song to the night sky, Thranduil gasped to see that the Avor's eyes reflected the starlight as if he were a cat or some other night-visioned creature. Thranduil, for all the ennin of his life a denizen of candlelight and torch, had never seen the like of it. Would his own eyes glow that way, he wondered?
All questions ceased as the first ink covered thorns pierced his skin. "Ai, Elbereth!" Thranduil gasped, trying not to cry out. The sensation of the sharp tips plunging into already tender, rent flesh was pure agony, but he would be cursed if he would whimper in front of these Morben. To his shame, Thranduil broke a sweat, feeling a chill despite the warmth of the summer night air.
"A-danat danaî chîni-an, binj ard-lo, gill belt-jê. . ." Tûron knelt between Thranduil's legs and began, still singing, to fill in the mark on his breast, while Nènlû and Mâlô worked on each arm, alternating between driving in the thorns and dipping forefingers into the bowl to rub extra pigment into the skin for good measure.
To hide the fact that his eyes were threatening to fill with tears, Thranduil laid his head back against the tall stone and stared upward. The stars were brighter and more numerous than he had ever seen them before, now that he was away from any source of light. 'They are, like white gems,' he thought. 'White gems! I can never be poor in such a world. And how blessed I am to have seen the sky as it should be!"
Thranduil focused on the sound of Tûron's voice. "i ann rot-lipti-lâ dôllûmi, ath elni bidj-tê . . ." Instinctively, his breath quickened to rapid panting, and he began to feel light-headed. Fixing his attention on the grandeur of the heavens and letting Tûron's song lull him, Thranduil endured . . .
* * *
"Thara-ndhul? Thara-ndhul . . .?" He felt a hand tap his cheek, bringing him back to reality. "We are done here. It is time to return to the others. Can you stand, son?"
"Of course," Thranduil snapped, although he felt not entirely certain. The pain had filled his blood with the prickle of battle-readiness, and in its aftermath his knees felt wobbly. "Kindly give me my shirt."
Tûron shook his head. "You are still bleeding. Nènlû will carry your shirt for you, for you will not be wearing it for the rest of this night."
Thranduil rose carefully to his feet.
"Ready?" Tûron asked.
Thranduil took a deep breath and nodded. "Quite ready. That was not so bad."
At this, the Evyr exchanged a three-way glance and burst out laughing.
"You Grey-elves are good liars," said the one called Mâlô. "One out of three of us is weeping like a maiden by this point, and the third has been cursing throughout."
"He has a wegê on him, eh, Atèhrenjeh?" said Nènlû.
Tûron merely grunted and nodded as the trio, taking care not to touch Thranduil's rent flesh, took him by the arms and led him back the way they had come.
* * * * * * *
To be continued . . .
Kwenn-dai : The Quendi, Speakers. Primitive word for all elves.
Bor: Loyalty. Faithfulness.
faer: Sindarin for the spirit
Lachenn: Flame-eyed. Not entirely flattering term for a Noldo.
"E-lew i jâra nar. Aa! An-jâr-ma!" : "We who are old. Oh! Most old!"
"A-danat danaî chîni-an, binj ard-lo, gill belt-jê.": "Give to these children, new from the world, quiet and love."
"i ann rot-lipti-lâ dôllûmi, ath elni bidj-tê . . .": "long dew-dripping night hours and stars in the heavens . . ."
The words of Tûron's spell have been translated into Primitive Elvish/Avarin by Darth Fingon. Thank you, Darth Fingon!
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.