The rest of the council had already filed from the room, eager to be gone from a gruelling session that had seen some of them pay more attention to the wine glasses than the matters at hand – a trade agreement with Dale rebuilt, the Onodrim protesting the extensive timber shipments for the restoration of Esgaroth, and a revival of the barrel trade with Dorwinion. Only the necessity of relations to sustain the realm had moved Thranduil to consent to any of them, and afterwards Tauriel had been reluctant to bring up the war itself with them all in the room: several of the council members still wore earth-brown mourning garb, and even though spring had seen fit to carpet the grave-glade in flowers and bright new grass, that barely lessened the wounds and loss the war had cast on them. Tauriel glanced down at the list in her hand, and then to Tegilboreth, head scribe of the court, still hovering by Thranduil's shoulder.
"Sire." She cleared her throat. Thranduil, ever proud, refused to wear anything but his ordinary robes, but lately, whenever she had spoken with him, an open wine bottle seemed conspicuously present nearby. He looked up from his review of the council minutes, and signed them off with a flourish before handing it to the other woman, who bowed and left the room, shutting the door behind her.
"Sire, with the losses in the war we will need to enlist and train more soldiers. I have taken the freedom to draw up a list of possible recruits."
"Give it here, Tauriel," Thranduil said and extended one slender hand toward her and the paper she was clenching in her fist. "You are nervous. Why is this?"
"No reason, Sire. To resume training was... difficult today, with so many empty spaces. Surely you know what absences can do to the heart and morale of the troops." Tauriel bit her lips, hard enough for the skin to split.
"The heart... yes." Thranduil's sharp gaze turned inward for the barest moment, in a way that made Tauriel wonder which particular thought of his many losses he shut away in his mind, but no ripple over his skin betrayed any feelings at all. She suspected that the white stag would be roaming the forest that night, even as Thranduil returned his attention to the list.
"Almanand, Sigildur, Ectheleth, Gilchalar, Ealcedel, Amdiril, Dunnascell, Menelben, Istuieth, Gladínen, Lygniel..." He read down the rest of the list silently. "There are many more women than men among these, Tauriel. Why is that?"
"Sire?" she said and soothed her tongue over the bite mark on her lips. Thranduil had never before cared much whether men or women served in his forces, and that he should start now was odd; something else must be on his mind. "For much the same reason that I am serving in my capacity. Grief makes fighters, and it... these are the spouses of soldiers we lost in the battle."
"Vengeance, then, for lost loved ones. Have I not told you that fighting in such a way is not acceptable? It betrays sentiment. And sentiment will make useless all armour that you wear." He rose, and Tauriel fixed her eyes on the hem of Thranduil's red cloak dragging over the stone floor. "Find others. I care little who they are, but I will not have the safety of my people compromised by those who will rely on personal grief to be driven to protect the realm. I remember well, you were a member of my guard before your mother died." He walked past her, and turned his head to look in her face, craning his neck as he did so. She would have bitten back the response on her lips but for the noise he made as he returned the list, a wordless huff that spoke of derision more than understanding.
"But not before my father died. Neither did she. Having loss makes the wish to fight no less genuine. It always was our fight, it still is, and with all due respect, Sire – our tradition says that we must. By that logic, with King Oropher--"
"I will hear no more of it, Tauriel!"
"Yes, Sire." She bowed to his back and swept from the council room. All she could do was not to slam the door, but the metal door handle slipped from her grasp and the door fell shut with the resounding boom of a drum that reverbrated through the main hall of the palace. Below her on the main level, sitting the throne in her husband's absence, Maltheniel looked up and frowned. By the time Tauriel had made it down the stairs, the Queen of Mirkwood was waiting for her.
"Tauriel, a word if you will."
"Of course," she said. She had hoped to slip away, but she was as much under Maltheniel's command as under Thranduil's, if not more so. Her mother had joined the guard under Maltheniel's hand and protection; their shared ancestry had bound them together. Maltheniel, though she had come east at Thranduil's side, was one of the Laegrim, who had parted from their kin in the Vale of Anduin to wander westward into Beleriand and thence into the protection Doriath after a crushing defeat early in the First Age of the World - but she was part of the forest as much as Thranduil sometimes still lacked the instinctive understanding of it. The forest was lighter now, he had stated toward the beginning of the council, and she had not known whether to laugh or shake her head when the gloom still clung to the hearts of many, and he failed to see that he was not alone in his grief.
Maltheniel and Tauriel entered another, smaller chamber together, with a stained-glass window high up that was lit with sunset light and threw a gilded mosaic of tangled trees onto the floor. Tauriel carefully stepped around the projection and took a seat, finding that her hands were still unsteady when she pulled back a chair.
"Thranduil angered you," Maltheniel stated matter-of-factly. "He did not accept your proposal of the new guardsmen, I assume."
"He refused to even consider my reasoning." She spread the list out on the table and smoothed over the crumpled page, densely written with names. "One-hundred rejections for no fault at all; I do not understand how he can be so callous in refusing them their due vengeance? You have always told my mother that a realm's ruler is beholden to his people, but he is more beholden to his own self-righteousness! If he could only see that this has always been our way here rather than discount our traditions! I spoke to them! They know what to do as guards. They always do. You both came here long before I was born; why is it that he has not taken roots as you did? He claimed that personal grief will make these new soldiers unreliable when he fails to see that he himself is coping ill, and that the very fault he is judging is his own."
"Because he knows that the failing of the woods is drawing nearer. The threat in Dol Guldur may have been driven from our borders for the time being, and it may well be that we will live in peace from the dark for a brief while, but Thranduil has been uprooted often, and even though he is grateful for the reprieve we have now, he trusts only that the Shadow will grow again, and that makes him cautious. Overly cautious, even. It does not make him right." Maltheniel folded her hands before her on the table with an air of calm finality that reminded Tauriel of her mother.
"Does that mean – may I recruit those on my list that will answer the call?" Tauriel smoothed over the list again and gave it to Maltheniel, who, like Thranduil before, read part of it aloud, and then nodded. "If the King will not have them, the Queen will."
"As you wanted my mother?"
"As I wanted both Arasgell and you. It impressed me that even at so young an age you sought vengeance and retribution for your grief, rather than grieving at your father's grave as would have been a daughter's place."
"I did both," Tauriel says. She trusted her voice again at last; gratitude helped her calm it. "Of course I grieved, but sitting idly by would have slain me as much as any arrow might, and returning from sparring asleep on my feet made his absence less notable."
"Work and exertion often will - you remind me of myself when I was young. I do not know if your mother ever told you, but my mother also was a marchwarden, and she was lost on – on an expedition outside the borders of Doriath. My kinsman Mablung led the search for her afterwards, and I wandered with him for years seeking her and others of her company. I understand what you must be feeling, although I was much younger then than you are now. I understand."
"My mother never told me that. But the King lost his father on Dagorlad, he also ought to understand."
"Tauriel. Some respect." Maltheniel sighed and leaned back in her chair. It was only now that the light fell on her face, that Tauriel realized the Queen's eyes were shadowed and her face pinched tightly.
"I offended you," Tauriel said. "I am sorry."
"No, you did not offend me, but this is not an easy conversation. You rested your finger in a wound that remains unhealed, and that is to blame for much of Thranduil's behaviour. There is much of Dagorlad still within him. Wrecked land, if you will, and the forest suffers for it, but it does not mean we will have to stand for his caution, his isolationist thoughts, even his hostility and his blindness. He saw what recklessness did to his father, he saw what recklesness nearly did to you in battle a hundred times over, and he continually denies himself the same thing lest it compromise his leadership, so much that it has compromised his leadership in other ways and left him unable to acknowledge it. It is not easy, and often painful for me as well, but without your recklessness we would not be speaking now." Maltheniel reached out and clasped Tauriel's hand. "This rather than your descent is why he forbade you to approach Legolas in anything but friendship. A lowly Silvan Elf indeed," Maltheniel said softly, and a smile softened the lines on her face. "But one who has hope and uses her station to do what is necessary - and whom I regard highly."
"I -" Tauriel withdrew her hand, frowning. "I am not interested in Legolas; with or without your the King's blessing. I do not understand the assumption. There was - "
"- the dwarven archer, I know. His mother and I are in correspondence, now that she aids with the rule of Erebor – we are neighbouring realms, after all, and I shall be glad if trade with the Dwarves is resumed. It seems your... entanglement with him made quite the impression on the daughters of King Bard, also, and they and their brother are quite shrewd already when it comes to pressing economic advantages. It is their father's name they act in, but the mind behind the missives is theirs; small wonder when they grew up from childhood with the barest of necessities... but I think at the moment they are more interested in enjoying the childhood they were denied in Esgaroth. The younger – she is learning to read and write at last, and keeps asking for tales about the magic of the Elves and Dwarves."
Tauriel smiled despite herself. "And how are they keeping otherwise?"
Maltheniel laughed. "You are fond of them."
"Yes," Tauriel said. "I can hardly not be, after seeing them defend themselves against the orc attack on their house. They are so young, and brave already, but if they want stories of magic, you should tell them of the Enchanted River, or of the palace gates. Surely Lady Ethuridh's skills would be interesting to them." The evening light had slipped lower in the window during their conversation, and the room was beginning to darken. Maltheniel's eyes, golden in the sunset, shone a dark amber now, and her hair lay like shadow around her head.
"Even better, the Queen Mother herself requested that we travel there at the earliest convenient point, so she can speak of Melian's magics and teachings to them herself. Ethuridh realizes, as much as we do, that we are all needed to do our part and help with the realm's well-being - and I trust you will be accompanying us. "
Tauriel rose, smiling. "Then I would rather leave now. I already spoke with most recruits, and if you mean to travel, I need to return the guard to its full strength before that time. And - I want to be outside for the rising of the stars. My mother and father will be pleased to hear that their deaths were made a little less vain tonight."
"Of course," said Maltheniel, rising also. "But I think I will accompany you, if you allow me. There is much else that I would speak of with you. It did well to talk to you, and I would not have it end so soon. It must be lonely at times when the people you spend the most time with are bound to you by duty rather than friendship, or cannot answer."
Tauriel glanced sidelong at Maltheniel's face. "I imagine it must be." Maltheniel nodded and did not press the matter, and they passed from the darkening chamber together.