Menrial of Mirkwood: Chapter 12 - Release

A few days later, covered by evening's shadows, the army of Elves and Men landed in the valley of Dale, and set up camp. To those who watched angrily from the mountain's gate, their campfires seemed to outnumber the stars.

Several things happened the following morning, the least of which was that Alduin Tevmir opened the last of the packing crates, and discovered, to his chagrin, that the herbs therein had not survived their river journey unscathed.

"Everything's there.", he told Rothgar. "But some of the jars are cracked."

With a frown, the chief Healer put down the mixture he'd been working on, and came over to inspect the damage. He picked up the comfrey, which bore one of the deepest fissures, and held it up to the light.

"I'm sorry.", Alduin said guiltily."That's one of the worst. The vials were all on the inside, though, so they weren't damaged."

"Good.", said Rothgar, setting the damaged jar back down on the work table. He looked at his young charge reprovingly. "We don't have enough spares to go around as it is. You must remember to put more dried grass in when you re-pack the crates. That way, even if the supply train is careless, the glassware has some protection."

Alduin spent the next hour sealing up the cracks in the jars, and when the damage was too great, transferring their contents into spares. Then they needed to be re-packed, very carefully, for Rothgar said that it was likely the elven camp would not remain long in Dale. After that, Rothgar sent him over to another tent to help the other healers with their work. Alduin had met several apprentices and journeymen back at Laketown, but only briefly.

Now, as they examined the rest of the supplies to make sure everything was in one piece, there was time for talking. All in all, Alduin found them a very nice lot. Even thought they knew that he was only there because Rothgar had been feeling merciful, they were very friendly and not resentful in the least. It was very different environment than that of the 24th Company, where Vanyar had been the only one who even bothered to talk to him.

They finished their work just in time for midday meal. Alduin and the others sat outside in front of the tent, chewing tough dried meat until their jaws ached, and setting bets as to who would break a tooth first on the decidedly stale biscuits. Despite the cold weather, and the menacing way the Lonely Mountain loomed in the distance, he was rather enjoying himself.

After half an hour or so, the merry company began to disperse, each having something that had to be done. Alduin got up, albeit reluctantly, and headed back to Rothgar's tent for more instructions. He was only halfway there when who should he run into - literally - but Vanyar.

"Oh! Dreadfully sorry about that, I wasn't - why, hello, Alduin!"

"Hello.", said Alduin, his good mood somewhat diminished by the fact that Vanyar had just trodden hard on his right foot."What's the hurry?"

"Well, it's a long story. But short of it is, I've had word that a friend of mine arrived in camp, and I was just going to meet her - "

"Her?" Alduin stared at him, perplexed. "Who are you talking about?"

A mischievous grin spread across Vanyar's face. "Why don't you come along and see?", he suggested.

"But I have to report back to Master Rothgar -

"I'm sure he can wait a moment or two. It won't take long."

"Fine, then.", Alduin agreed, figuring if it did end up taking too long he could always excuse himself. Besides, the hour for midday meal wasn't quite up, so technically he didn't have to be back at the healer's tent just yet.

Vanyar started off through the tents at a determined lope. Alduin followed, his curiosity piqued.

"Now, remember.", Halen said to Menrial for what seemed like the thousandth time, as they stood outside the royal tent. "All you need to do is keep quiet, and only speak if you're spoken to. You do know the traditional bows, don't you?"

"Halen, do stop fretting.", broke in Taurewen, before Menrial could open her mouth. "Everything's going to be fine."

Halen frowned, but he stopped haranguing Menrial, something the elf-maid was quite grateful for. Her court etiquette was rusty, but that couldn't be helped. Anyway, she was very good at keeping her mouth shut and fading into the background of things, and that would be her main job during the audience. She just had to stand around, and let Taurewen and Halen deliver their report on the enemy and the terrain to the King. Then, when the future of a certain runaway became the topic of discussion, she'd have to try to look both repentant (something she would have to work hard at, for she'd found working under the two experienced scouts quite agreeable, and no longer regretted disobeying Captain Feanil's orders in the least) and very cowed (which would be quite intuitive in the presence of the King, the crown prince, and several of the most prominent captains of his army).

She, Halen, and Taurewen had seen the lights in Dale last night from their rocky base of operations, and had packed everything up and come down into the valley. Over the past few days, they had taken notes on everything from the terrain to the local wildlife to the new inhabitants of the mountain. They'd even made rough maps of the area. Now it was time to deliver the notes and the maps directly to the King.

For Menrial, it had been somewhat of a shock, after all her days of relative solitude, to come down into the army camp. It was enormous, its hundreds of tents and cook-fires stretching all over the valley, and there were elves everywhere. Most of them were male, but occasionally another female would hurry by, wearing healer's garb.

She was very nervous, as well as somewhat impatient. They'd been waiting for nearly half an hour now to be admitted into the royal tent. She wondered if anyone had found the Otter. Its hiding place in the ruins was not far from the outskirts of the new camp.

"Taurewen!" A tall elf was striding towards them. And behind him -


Alduin hurried to catch up with Vanyar, who had bounded ahead. Outside the brightly painted royal tent, with its banners of green and gold whipping in the wind, two elves were standing. It was at the sight of them that Vanyar had hastened, and now he was talking merrily with the taller of the two.

Vanyar turned to Alduin as he finally reached them. "And this is Alduin Tevmir.", he said to the taller elf, who Alduin rather belatedly realized was female, and very pretty. "Former member of the 24th, now an official volunteer with the Healing Corps. Alduin, this is my sister, Taurewen Nanir, a master scout in the King's Service. And this is Halen, her working partner and also a master scout." He indicated a rather gloomy looking male elf, standing by Taurewen, who nodded in recognition.

The female elf, however, smiled down at Alduin with a look of friendly interest. "Tevmir?", she said. "The name sounds familiar. Aren't you one of Nenthel's - "

"Shh.", Vanyar said, with a conspiratorial wink. "He's under Master Rothgar's jurisdiction now."

"Ah.", said Taurewen, the smile vanishing, to be replaced by a slight frown.. "You're very lucky, then, elfling. Others in your position actually have to explain their over-enthusiasm to the King."

She glanced behind her, and the frown deepened. "Menrial,", she said. "You can come out from behind Halen now."

What?! Alduin barely had time to think that it wasn't a very common name before a familiar, scowling face came into view as a very familiar elleth, who barely came up to Taurewen's shoulder, stepped out from behind Halen.

"What are you doing here?", Menrial demanded finally, as they stared at one another in disbelief. But she already knew the answer - he'd snuck along too. Except that he'd managed to get away with it.

"I might ask the same of you," Alduin retorted, stung. Trying to be the grown-up one again, was she? "Lady Someone-has-to-stay-home."

Menrial winced, but her rejoinder was just as harsh. "At least I just left, and didn't spend two days beforehand whining about it!"

"Now, now.", Vanyar broke in. "No need to snap at one another. Old friends?"

"Scouting partners.", said Menrial, between gritted teeth.

"Ah.", said Taurewen wisely. "That certainly explains a lot."

Halen only smiled.

At that moment, the door guard finally emerged from the royal tent."Taurewen Nanir, Halen Thorol, and Menrial Istaril, King Thranduil is ready to see you now."

Taurewen bid a hasty farewell to her brother, Alduin and Menrial exchanged one last glare, and the three scouts headed inside.

The King's tent had a higher ceiling than most, and in the middle of the interior was a low table covered with various scrolls of parchment. Around it were gathered six elves, all looking quite important. In the midst of them, silvery hair bound back with a simple gold circlet, sat the most important-looking of them all. Menrial knew in merely a glance that this was King Thranduil. Next to him sat an elf with similar features, and the same air of authority, although this was lessened somewhat by his lively bearing, and the fact that there was far more gold in his hair than silver. This was no doubt Legolas, the crown prince. Standing next to him was, curiously, a dark haired Man. Four elves in military garb also stood around the table. Three of their faces were unfamiliar to Menrial, but the fourth -

It was Feanil.

Oh, Eru., she thought. First Alduin, and now him again...

The three of them stood there silently, until the King looked up, and those around him followed his example. Taurewen and Halen bowed: Menrial followed theirs and bowed too.

"Welcome back,", said Thranduil. "You may make your report."

This was the cue for Taurewen and Halen to step forward and spread their maps and notes upon the table, and explain all they had learned of the area around the mountain's gate. Menrial stood behind them in silence, staring very hard at the floor and doing her best to make herself invisible. For the moment, it was working. Feanil had not noticed her.

Taurewen delivered the report expertly."...and so, you see, your Majesty, the heights of the mountain can only be reached by these narrow paths. The dwarves have blocked up the main entrance. There are around thirteen, by our count, give or take one or two...."

"That is reassuring.", said Thranduil. "Captain Ranil - ", here he nodded at one of the military elves Menrial did not recognize - "sent a group of elves and men up to the gate early this morning. One of the dwarves called out to them, and named himself Thorin son of Thrain, King Under the Mountain. He seemed very confident for one who has so few behind him...disturbingly so."

"Perhaps they think to summon allies?" The Man spoke up for the first time. All the elves turned to regard him. The King and his son regarded him with respect, but some of the captains looked at the tall Laketowner with open dislike. That's stupid. Menrial thought. He's making a good point. Even if he is a human.

"That is a possibility, Bard of Laketown.", acknowledged Captain Ranil, with careful neutrality. "However -"

"I think it's a very likely possibility.", interrupted Legolas. "Who knows what kin they may have in the mountain reaches?"

Ranil's lip curled scornfully. "Yes, but how are they to contact them? The Mountain is tall, but not so tall that a dwarf may stand on its top and shout for aid so that the whole world may hear him."

"Perhaps they have already contacted them. They say that there is a long friendship between the ravens and the kings under the mountain. It's a serious mistake to underestimate one's enemy - we should prepare ourselves against a larger attack just in case."

There was much military talk after that, about numbers and advantages and a rather testy warning from Feanil about how his supply lines could not last into winter, all of which sent Menrial's head spinning. After what seemed like a very long time, the King reached a decision.

"We will move camp today, across the river, to the flat lands between the eastern and western spurs. Captains, go and organize your men. You are dismissed."

Ranil and the other three captains - including Feanil, to Menrial's extreme relief - saluted and left. She did not think he had noticed her. The prince, too, rose from his chair and departed. Menrial was momentarily confused, but then remembered that it was traditional for the sons of kings to be given command of a company on their five hundredth birthday - the prince, no doubt, had passed that age long ago.

"Now,", said Thanduil to Taurewen and Halen. "I presume you wanted to speak to me about the elleth who's been hovering behind you for the past hour?"

"Yes.", said Halen. "Menrial Istaril. We dragged her out of the Running the day we arrived here. She had traveled to the Mountain by boat, after being ordered home by the commander of the supply train."

Thranduil frowned at Menrial. "Why were you with the supply train?", he asked.

Menrial bit her lip. But this was not the time to keep any secrets. "I was helping carry supplies to Laketown, Majesty."

"You are a recent scouting recruit, are you not? With less than two hundred years in my service?"

"Yes, Majesty."

"Were you aware of the decree that forbids scouting recruits to participate in military campaigns?"

"Yes, Majesty." This time, she couldn't keep her voice from trembling.

King Thranduil turned back to the two master scouts. "I think you all know the just punishment." he said. " If an elf - or an elleth - cannot be trusted to obey the King's Law, or the orders of his officers, then they do not deserve to be in his service."

"Majesty - ", started Taurewen, with a dark look on her face. "I hardly think -"

Thranduil silenced her with one pass of his hand. "I know what you would say. This type of misbehavior goes unpunished often enough. But the law is there for a good reason, and it must be upheld. Come forward and kneel, Menrial."

Menrial obeyed, very numbly, her thoughts almost detached as they'd been when she had been trapped in the freezing grip of the Running. She'd taken a gamble - and she'd lost. It wouldn't do her any good to feel sorry for herself. So why was she crying?

Because you could have become someone like Taurewen or Manoth, whispered a voice inside her head, if you'd only stayed at home and followed the rules. If you'd only been more careful. If you'd only thought seriously about what you were doing before you went gallivanting off into the wilderness...

She felt King Thranduil's hand on her shoulder, and heard the him speak the fatal words as though from a great distance. "Menrial Istaril, I release you from my service..."

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Author's Note: I apologize sincerely for all of the following:
1. Severe Lateness of Chapter
2. High Probability of Severe Lateness for Next Chapter
3. Horrible Cliffhanger
4. Evil Thranduil
(Not neccessarily in that order.)

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