Chapter one: A most devious plan
« It is of the uttermost importance that he knows nothing of this little…arrangement!”
Thranduil’s voice was calm but there was a small hint of mirth within it, he put down his goblet and smiled towards Elrond who stood at the window, watching the gardens.
Elrond had a strange expression on his face, he looked as if he really didn’t know whether he should laugh or scowl. “ I understand that Thranduil, I know your son pretty well. But are you absolutely sure that none of the ellith back in Mirkwood have caught his attention?”
Thranduil sighed. “ Yes, the problem is that he knows all of them, he’s grown up with them and I guess that they are too familiar in a way. There is nothing exciting about them. A stranger on the other hand, someone who isn’t even supposed to interact with him in any way? That could be just what’s needed. The Valar knows it’s about time he does find the right little elleth and settles down.”
Elrond saw the wisdom in Thranduil’s words, forbidden fruit is always more tempting than the one dangling right in front of you and Thranduil’s attempt at using reversed psychology could in fact be a success, or maybe an utter disaster.
Thranduil grinned, he looked a bit mischievous there and then. “ The elleth for my son must be rather special, she has to catch more than his eye. Good looks can be deceitful, and over time it becomes boring without a matching personality. “
Elrond poured some more wine into Thranduil’s goblet, the king was there on official business but he had found the time to discuss this delicate matter nonetheless. And of course it all had to be kept as a strictly guarded secret, Legolas should never learn of this attempt at playing matchmakers. Elrond made a grimace. “ You are asking for much Thranduil, an elleth suitable for a prince, suitable to one day maybe become queen. “
The tall silvery blond elf turned around, he shrugged. “ I know, and I will not feel too disappointed if there is nobody who fits the demands, I care deeply for him Elrond, he is my only child and I want him to be happy. Oh there are plenty of ellith swarming around him but they are after his title damn it, not one of them sees him as the lovely person that he is, all they see is a prince and a crown and a chance to increase their social status. I am rather sick of it!”
Elrond could understand Thranduil, cold and intimidating as he usually appeared he was nothing like that on the inside. He loved his son dearly and would do anything to avoid seeing him heartbroken. To find a suitable wife for his son had to be a task he had to handle with the outmost caution, things could go terribly wrong.
Elrond sighed and stared out at the lovely garden and the waterfalls of Imladris, he nodded slowly. “ Well, I remember my youth and I do clearly remember that the one elleth all the young ellyn were after was the one who just didn’t want any of them.”
Thranduil tilted his head, there was a short glimpse of something almost a bit wicked in his eyes, he had gotten an idea, that was rather obvious. “ So, the one elleth I should choose should be one who is uninterested? That may actually work!”
He turned toward the dark haired Peredhel and grinned. “ I assume that there is no such person here? I am asking for a lot, and I know it. But I would feel overjoyed if he finally finds love and peace. “
Elrond nodded. “ That is what every parent wants for their child. Well, actually…”
Thranduil raised a perfect eyebrow in an expectant way. “ Yes?”
Elrond had a strange expression on his face. “ There is one elleth here in Imladris who may suit your plans and criteria. But I am warning you, she is out of the ordinary in almost any way imaginable”
Thranduil looked very eager. “ Really? Tell me more please, who is she?”
Elrond grinned and mimicked for the king to follow him. They walked along a corridor and out into the gardens, then they followed a narrow path and stopped on top of a waterfall. Underneath it was a small glade with some trees and a pavilion. Some ellith were gathered there and they were singing and chatting merrily while they sewed on what had to be a tablecloth of some kind. Elrond nodded and pointed his finger. “ There, by that statue, that is her. Her name is Mariliel and she is sort of my protégé. Her parents died when she was a mere child and she has been raised here, she is a very distant relative by the way. “
Thranduil stared and he looked a bit silly, he was really staring hard at this elleth because he had never in his long life seen anyone like her. Out of the ordinary? That was no exaggeration to say the least. First of all she was a redhead but not like any other red haired elves he had met, no, her hair was a color of deep dark red like fine burgundy wine and some locks were of a lighter color which almost resembled blood on color. Her skin appeared to be milky white as it often is on red haired women and she was tall and extremely elegant. He saw that she got on her feet, her hair reached the back of her calves and she was wearing a gown in rather dark colors, green and copper and it made her hair and skin even more striking.
Elrond grinned. “ Now, watch!”
Thranduil stared in fascination as the elleth picked up a flute and tried to play something, she obviously was unsuccessful because he could see that she lifted her leg, broke the flute over it with a shriek and then threw the flute on the ground and trampled on it before she turned around with her chin held high and an almost regal expression.
He could see that she was a very curvy one, a lot more than most ellith and she appeared to be fit too.
Elrond chuckled. “ Mariliel is one of a kind I tell you, she is extremely smart and intelligent, has a heart huge as a hobbits appetite and she can be trusted like few others. But, and that is the small problem my friend. She does also have the temper of a dragon with a toothache, she is impulsive, reckless, has a foul mouth at times, starts fights just to see if she can win and she has a way with horses like none other I have seen. “
Thranduil just stared at Elrond in disbelief. “ On the other hand, she is very protective of those she loves, an excellent archer and even better at swordplay. She is brutally honest and never shies away from anything, perhaps a bit too bold is how you can best describe her.”
The elven king was a bit shocked by what Elrond told him, this had to be one exceptional elleth indeed. Elrond continued. “ And she is also very modest, her moral is impeccable and she knows all there is to know of etiquette. She has never had any scandals tied to her name or even been caught alone with an ellon. She appears to be almost afraid of males, why I don’t know.”
Thranduil was staring at her again, she was beautiful and mysterious and he knew that those two traits combined would catch his son’s attention for sure. Heck, he knew that she would have had a possible suitor in himself had he been a young and single ellon. He felt almost jealous of his son, she was truly unique and her strange quirks were just fascinating.
“ I have found the right one, I am sure. He will be smitten by her, as sure as daylight follows the night.”
Elrond smiled but the smile was somewhat sad. “ Yes, but be warned, many have tried to find a way into her heart and none has succeeded. She is stubborn, headstrong and sure of what she wants. But she is also soft and caring and she can be very compassionate. It is just that her mood seems to swing in every thinkable direction and for no apparent reason. She is as happy as a horse in a green meadow one moment and the next she’s weeping because she saw a dead bird in the woods. She is not very mature I fear.”
Thranduil frowned. “ How old is she? “
Elrond looked at the peaceful scene. “ Seven hundred and fifty two so she is a mature elleth, she has spent almost all of her years here, and she is very well educated. She loves reading and she adores books so I think I know how we may accomplish this little plot of yours without any of them knowing the truth behind it”
Thranduil grinned. “ I am listening!”
Elrond turned and started walking back to his study. “ I am aware of the huge amount of ancient books and scrolls which were gathered by your father, there could be much valuable information within them, information we need. If I send her on a mission to explore your fathers library and make an inventory of everything within it she will be occupied for at least half a year if not even more, and there will be plenty of opportunities for the two of them to bump into each other by chance. “
Thranduil nodded slowly. “ A good plan, I will make sure that no others disturb her, we wouldn’t want any rivals to her attention now do we? And I will tell my son to stay away from the scholar from Imladris, that should tick him off I think. He loves to disobey me whenever he can!”
Elrond laughed. “ Now, I think we do have a plan. I will talk to her and see if I can convince her to handle the task of going through the library. I do know her well, she will be thrilled and proud and eager to start and she will never be able to see that she’s a part of our little plan.”
Thranduil almost rubbed his hands together in anticipation. “ Good, I pray the Valar that we may succeed. I know that there is a chance that the two of them will end up hating each other or just feeling nothing at all but there is a chance is there not? If I just present him with a young elleth and demand that he gets married he will buck and rear and fight me in any way that he can.”
Elrond cocked his head and opened the door to his study. “ I am sure he will yes. I will try to send her too Mirkwood before autumn, if she has to spend winter there the chances of our little plan ending with success are good. “
Thranduil bowed his head slightly. “ I am most grateful my friend, if I can make my son happy and whole it doesn’t matter that we play a little dirty does it?”
Elrond shook his head. “ No it doesn’t, in love and war everything goes!”
The next day the king of Mirkwood and his entourage left Imladris and Elrond prepared the final stages of their plan. He waited for a few more days until everything went back to normal and then he sent for Mariliel. She arrived at his study just as he had asked her to do, she appeared to be a little confused and Elrond put on a very friendly but still serious facial expression. He smiled at her and bid her sit down and she looked at him with trust and curiosity. Elrond moved some papers on his desk and smiled once more. She moved in her chair, she was always a bit restless. “I am here, why did you want to see me?”
She was always the impatient one and he took out a book from his desk and opened it. It was a list of all the books and scrolls in the Imladris collection and Mariliel had helped making the inventory. He saw that she recognized the book and her curiosity peaked, she stared at him and her emerald green eyes were shining. “ Mariliel, I have summoned you for a very specific reason, I have a question for you and I want you to think it over before you answer to it. It is a very important task that I need to have done and I have come to the conclusion that you are the only one I trust it with.”
Mariliel was leaning forward on her chair and she was apparently very curious now, she was almost shivering like a racehorse on the starting line. “ Yes my lord, I am listening?”
Elrond tried to look as serious as he possibly could. “ As I am sure you are aware of we were recently visited by the king of Mirkwood and he told me of the great collection of ancient scrolls and books gathered by his late father. It is an entire library, almost as large as the one we have here and of course completely unregistered. It is a mess, that’s all I know. But it is of the outmost importance that we get an overview of what it contains of information. These are dark times and everything may prove to be valuable. There could be priceless information stored away in those vaults.”
Mariliel bit her lower lip, she seemed eager and Elrond sighed and stared at her, his gaze very friendly but stern. “ I had a discussion with Thranduil, he is not too fond of having a group of strangers running around within his palace but he did at least agree with me on some points. The library has to be explored and an inventory made of every book and scroll. Since he didn’t want a group I asked if a single person would be acceptable and he did accept, under doubt mind you. So here I am trying to find that one suitable person to send to Mirkwood, it will be a very important mission and one that will require someone with both integrity and wisdom. And first and foremost impeccable manners and a good ability to work with efficiency and speed.”
Mariliel was staring at him with huge eyes, she was obviously hoping that this person could be her but she did not really dare to think that it would be possible. He continued while watching her reactions out of the corner of his eye. “ I first thought about sending Lindir but by the Valar, he is much too timid and well behaved to be sent on such a journey, those Mirkwood elves will spin him around their little finger in a flash. No, so I decided that the person had to be someone with a bit more guts, someone used to stand up for herself. So I am asking you Mariliel, would you do me a favor and go to Mirkwood on my behalf?”
Mariliel just gasped, she stared at Elrond and then she grinned so widely he could count all of her perfect teeth. “ Oh I want to, I most definitely want to. I am so honored by your trust my lord”
Elrond smiled at her, petted her hand gently. “ Do not give me a final answer just yet dear child, think about it. It will be a lot of work and it may be very lonesome work too. Just you and the books.”
Mariliel almost jumped up and down. “ I know, it is perfect! I want to go, please? I am not afraid of hard work, you know that.”
Elrond sighed, she was of course right, she was able to work as hard as anyone and she was so stubborn she often pushed herself way too far before she finally had a complete breakdown.. “You will have to leave in about two weeks and the journey will be long and rough, I will of course send some of my best guards with you to keep you safe.”
Mariliel was beaming with joy, her eyes were shining and she looked as if she was ready to leave there and then. Elrond got on his feet. “ I trust you Mariliel, I know that you will be able to fulfill this task in the best possible way, just make sure that you don’t cross anyone, those Mirkwood elves are a proud and somewhat stubborn bunch. They don’t appreciate strangers that much.”
Mariliel just smiled, she was obviously already planning on how to start her job. “ That won’t be a problem at all. I will only think of my duty, not of mingling with the locals.”
Elrond grinned, that would be just fine as long as she did mingle a bit with one in special. “ I am sure it won’t. Well, then we have an agreement, I will make the necessary arrangements and send a dove to Mirkwood with a message. They should be prepared for your arrival.”
Elrond saw how she was practically dancing out of the door, prepared? More like warned! Mariliel had caused quite a few scenes in her life and he just prayed that this would end well and not in some utter disaster.
Mariliel was running down the paths toward her small home. She had a tiny cottage and she felt how the excitement threatened to overwhelm her completely. She was going to Mirkwood, to go through an entire library on her own, imagine that Elrond trusted her this much. She was so humbled by this fact and she swore that she would be worthy of his trust in every way thinkable. She would do an excellent job, one which would be remembered for centuries.
She had to run around her home a couple of times just to get the restless energy out of her, she felt like she was flying. She could not believe her own good fortune, she would be allowed to travel, to read many ancient books and maybe discover secrets long forgotten. It was just so exciting, she could not wait. Two weeks? That was such a long time, she would go utterly mad, she wanted to go tomorrow but she of course knew that it was impossible. She had to tell her friends of this, and of course she would have to prepare Erenion also. The horse would need some new shoes and she would have to ride him every day so he would get in shape for the journey. She spun around herself a few times before she ran towards the stables.
She had her own horse there, she had found him as an abandoned colt in the woods and it was rather obvious to everybody that he was no ordinary animal. First of all the stallion had grown to become the largest horse anyone had ever seen, black as a starless night and with a temper of an almost imperial type. She was the one person he would accept and she was the only one who could ride him. To her he was as kind as a kitten, to everybody else the horse was a hazard. But she would be safe on his back, Erenion could outrun even a mearas and if she had been willing to sell him she could have been very rich indeed.
She stopped by his stall and the huge animal whickered and nuzzled her gently. She fed him a carrot and petted the black coat. He had been steel gray as a colt, therefore the name which meant iron, but he had gotten darker over the years and that was just opposite of what was normal for horses. They usually started off as dark and became lighter as they grew older. “ My friend, we are soon going on a long trip, so I’ll have the farrier check on you tomorrow.”
The horse flicked his ears and nodded, she was certain that he understood every word she said, he was very smart and had often opened the stable doors and run off to find her. She gave him one more carrot and then she went home to prepare a list of the things she needed to bring along.
Two weeks went surprisingly fast, Mariliel was so busy making preparations she barely had time to register that the days flew by. She met her friends and bid them a kind goodbye and she packed her clothes and the equipment she needed. Elrond was not interfering with her preparations at all, he trusted that she could handle it on her own. She had to laugh by the notion of Lindir being sent to Mirkwood, he always looked as if he was afraid that something was going to attack him or that he would do something wrong. No Elrond was wise to send her, she knew how to stand up for herself and talk her way out of trouble. At least most of the time she did, unless she lost her temper.
She had scared some elderly ellith once by screaming curses in khuzdul after she spilled ink on her best dress and those curses were so bad even dwarfs would have been deeply shocked by them, quite a feat when considering that the art of making insults and curses is in high regard among the dwarves. She went for a ride every day and she met the five guards who were to accompany her on the way, They had to travel light and fast and a small group is easier to hide that a huge one. Mariliel wasn’t even a tiny bit nervous, she was so looking forward to starting her work, it would be the challenge of a lifetime and she could not wait.
The night before she was to leave she had a nightmare, she had not had any bad dreams for a while but she always had the same one. She could not remember what it was about when she woke up but she always woke up with a scream, soaking with sweat and so terrified she barely could breathe. It had been like that since she was a child and Elrond and the others had tried to help her and get to the bottom of why she had such terrible dreams but nobody managed to get any answers even with the help of magic and so the dreams continued to haunt her from time to time.
Mariliel had a feeling of dread whenever she even thought about those dreams, it was as if she feared to remember what she dreamt because it would be too horrible to endure. All she ever had remembered was seeing a shade over her, something grasping a hold of her, and then there was only fear and despair. Perhaps it was best to never know the meaning of those nightmares, it could be months between them and they often started again when she was under a lot of stress. She just hoped that they wouldn’t interfere with her work.
She was tired when she got dressed and ate a quick breakfast before she went to the stable. She got the saddle on Erenion and prepared the horse. She then rode up towards the center courtyard to meet her guards and bid Elrond goodbye. He was already there and so were the guards. They were on the backs of their horses and they had her equipment and things on a pack horse. Elrond smiled when he saw her, she was ready and he crossed his fingers. He hoped that the Valar would bless this little scheme of theirs and steer her in the right direction. She would make a perfect spouse for someone like Legolas.
Mariliel nodded and Elrond grinned and bowed his head. “ May the Valar guard your path my friend, and know that I am truly proud of you. Do not let anything distract you from your work and I pray we will see you again soon.”
Mariliel grinned. “ I will not disappoint you my lord, I will do a marvelous job I swear.”
Elrond nodded and there was a hint of mirth within his eyes. “ I am sure you will my friend, have a safe journey and send a dove as soon as you reach your destination.”
Mariliel grinned and kicked Erenion into a trot. “ I will, just you wait and see!”
Elrond watched how the group rode up from the valley, then he went back indoors. He could just pray that the plan didn’t backfire, it would be interesting indeed to see how this went. And if it went to hell then it was of course Thranduil’s idea to begin with. He sat down with glass of wine and a grin, Mariliel would most certainly turn a few heads when she arrived and he just hoped that her hot temper and untraditional behavior didn’t get her into trouble, at least not too soon.
I do not own these characters, they belong to Tolkien. I am just borrowing them. This is romance and drama and a bit of mystery too.
Thranduil is trying to convince Elrond of the honesty of his plan and they do find an elleth who seems Perfect but will anybody ever be the same after Meeting this fiery one?