“We were away, Estarfin friend, and have just returned,” said Parnard in explanation for their week-long absence, nodding at Danel.
“You were visiting the markets again?” Estarfin asked.
“Nay, Forlond,” replied Danel. “There is little to return there for, though. Enough Noldor are still there to keep the place in iron and steel.”
“Naught but old lobster traps and forgotten pottery,” said Parnard, unaware of the face Danel was making at him. “To think that island was once the top of a mountain,” he continued, for he thought that was a very interesting fact about Thargelion, former home of Danel and Estarfin in the land of Beleriand-now-under-the-Sea.
“Who told you that, cousin?" Danel scoffed, shaking her head at him in warning.
“Why, you did!” he said, wondering why she had forgotten what she told him just the day before, and then Danel made such a strange face at him, her eyes swiveling fiercely around in their sockets, so that he quite forgot what he was going to say next about Mount Rerir, and merely shrugged and drank more wine.
Danel, deciding it best to change the subject, or else he would entirely divulge their secret visit to Thargelion and ruin her surprise for Estarfin, said sweetly, “Parnard, do you not have something to say to Estarfin?”
The Wood-Elf stood there as if in a trance, so surprised by the suddenness of the question was he, until he finally drawled out:
“Wel-l-l-l-l…you recall that I was awaiting an answer to a message, Estarfin friend?” and seeing him nod in acknowledgement, told him that he wrote to Captain Brethenel inquiring how his daughter Brasseniel fared.
“You have had a reply?”
“Not that you mention it, no,” said Parnard.
Estarfin frowned. “The roads are grown dangerous, perhaps it did not make it.”
“That could happen, yes, that could happen," agreed Parnard, "there are any number of things that could happen, but what we wish to know is, what did happen. Now, what is the best way to go about finding out what happened?”
“You will write again?” asked Estarfin.
“I did consider that; I think the chances of a message reaching its destination are slim. Do you think I should write another?'
“That is your choice to make.”
“I have already decided that I will not write another.”
Estarfin’s frown deepened. “Then what? You will put aside what you desire?”
Parnard smiled. Of course he would not do that. “I shall go ask the Captain, myself. It is a far distance, but I have traversed it before. Well, not so much this side of the mountains, but I am sure that I can find my way back. More wine, Estarfin friend?” he said, and with great deference poured out more wine.
“You must keep your temper cool when you speak with him. It will be harder, but more worthy, than writing again,” Estarfin told him.
“More worthy, eh? I see: impress the Captain! Very wise advice. How should I speak to this Captain? What is the, ah, military decorum? He is the Captain of the King’s Guard, a very high rank.”
“You are not speaking with him about military matters, Parnard. Speak as yourself. Or do you seek a position as well, then?”
“No, I am not a soldierly sort of elf. You must understand me, there is a certain bearing that persons of his rank and status respect, and his own manner is very stern and cold. You see, I have met him before.”
“I have rarely made a good impression on Captains, Parnard. Perhaps you should ask others for advice if you wish only to impress him?'”
Parnard laughed. “I do not wish only to impress him. I wish to persuade him. And with every favourable point in my favour, marrying his daughter is a surety! As I told you once before, I must consider all angles of this thing.”
Estarfin made a slight smile. “Remove as many reasons to say no as you can?”
Parnard thought this over, then shaking his head sadly he sighed. "No, I do not think I can remove them all. I should tell you that Captain Brethenel may not think very favorably of me for what I did in the Greenwood.”
'When you led us through the darkness to Dol Guldur?'
“It is not of that time that I speak. Although I could tell the Captain about that dark and dangerous journey, I fear that he would not believe it from my lips. I speak of another time, a time not so long ago, yet long ago:
“It was the fifth night of the Autumn Festival. The merriment had almost reached its pitch. All was bright, the leaves shone on the tables, and the revelers, some of whom were members of the Court, glittered in their finery of the latest fashion.”
Parnard put his hand behind his neck in a rueful manner and looked reluctant to say anything more but continued:
“I was a friend of one of the serving boys there. He took an extra apron, and gave it to me, and in this guise did I gain entry into the feast. Good old Ailanthas!” he said, grinning to himself, and held up his glass of wine in honour of this comrade of his youth before drinking it down. “I had ne'er seen such delights before,” he went on, “I was quite carried away by the celebrating, being a newcomer to such things.”
Estarfin, who by this time had lounged back comfortably in a chair beside the fireplace to listen, said, “It must have been quite the sight.”
“It was indeed, it was indeed. Now, there was much capering and cavorting about: you cannot imagine seeing a feast hall crammed full of capering and cavorting Wood-Elves.”
Estarfin closed his eyes for a moment before replying, “Perhaps not.”
“There were hundreds and hundreds of Wood-Elves seated at long laden tables stretched to the walls, so long that you could not see the ends of them! Everyone was eating and drinking, and wildly dancing, and laughing, and singing, and doing a multitude of silly things! So it was quite natural that I took up a candelabra and put it on my head, and began running up and down the tables in a frolic-”
“- to the great wonder and delight of any who noticed me, I hasten to add. Do not be amazed, cousin. All was dazzlement, until - !” Here Parnard paused in his tale, and glared around the room before darkly muttering:
“Someone placed a fruit bowl on the table.”
Estarfin continued to drink his wine, wondering where the story was going. The evening had so far been only mildly amusing.
“And I happened to trip over it! One of the candles fell out of the candelabra, and rolled across the floor, under the tables, around the many dancing and stamping feet, under a curtain with fringe thereon; the candle caught the fringe on fire and the curtain went WHOOSH! up in flames like a torch soaked in tar!”
“How awful!” said Estarfin, his wine glass suspended in mid air.
“Smoke and fire quickly spread to the rafters-"
“None were lost in the fire though?” interrupted Danel again.
“No. You would think, oh! no one died, peradventure they would be lenient? Well…the fire caused a great clamour and the King’s feasting hall was nearly destroyed. There were a few persons injured in the smoke and panic. They did not take kindly to an uninvited guest doing such damage. At least Ailanthas ne’er got in trouble. I never told anyone about him until now.”
Estarfin nodded with approval. “As it should be,” he said.
Parnard seemed uneasy on this point, and asked, “‘Which, Estarfin?”
“Ailanthas,” he told him. “Have they rebuilt the Hall since?”
“Oh, yes. It was rebuilt within less than a year. They were so powerfully intent on getting that accursed feast hall rebuilt.”
“Then why would this Captain hold it against you? There is still a hall for feasting, after all.”
“It was an accident, Parnard, not an act of willful destruction,” said Danel.
“Captain Brethenel must think that I am one of the Wild Elves - a hut dweller, or even a Straggler,” said Parnard with a bitter shudder.
“Was the feast not a time for wildness?” asked Estarfin.
“If only my good reputation could be rebuilt as easily as the King’s Feast Hall,” cried Parnard, heeding him not, “but you and Danel could vouch for me!” His face brightened as he turned to face them. “You could speak to the Captain and tell him of my better deeds since, for I cannot tell them to him myself.”
“I would speak of your good deeds, my friend,” volunteered Danel.
Parnard already knew she would, as earlier she had assured him, but nevertheless, bowed deeply and thanked her again.
“Though I am not sure if that will impress your Captain,” she said.
She looked at Estarfin meaningfully. “Because we are not Wood-Elves,” she said.
“Ah! That is another point in my favour! You are the Golodhrim, the Deep-Elves, mightiest in craft and wisdom, the most renowned in deeds and song of the Three Kindreds,” but not hearing any response from Estarfin, who was staring at the fire, Parnard averted his gaze and said in a soft voice, “It is too much to ask.”
Then Estarfin roused himself and said, “You would have us travel to the Greenwood with you?”
“If you are willing. It is dark and dingy.”
“Do you believe in your heart that it will aid your cause?” he asked Parnard, and seeing him nod, he sighed, then made a slow nod in return.
Smiling, Parnard bowed low, and said, “You do me great honour, Estarfin friend. No one is as persuasive as you.”
Estarfin frowned again and finished his wine.
“You should present yourself in a manner that he cannot ignore,” Danel advised. “He thinks you are of little consequence, Parnard, and we must prove him wrong.”
“He thinks I am a miscreant, no doubt.”
“If he thinks of you as a lowly, wild-mannered Wood-Elf, show him what you are now.”
“Yes! Be who you are now! He may be angry at us Noldor, which is why it is even more important that you impress him.”
“Angry? I do not see how he would even know you. Little contact do my people have with outsiders.”
“It is commonly held that we are warmongers, that we brought war to the forests, that all was peace and happiness before we arrived. That is not true. There were no wars before we arrived, but they were brewing nonetheless. Morgoth was entrenched in the North and his orcs had already trapped Cirdan and his folk with their backs to the sea. Our ships made landfall, and we drew off the orcs attacking Cirdan so that he and his people were safe. Had the Noldor not arrived on these shores, the Falathrim would have perished. Though Morgoth had not attacked the forest dwellers yet, it did not mean he would not. He held back a time because he feared us. So you see, we were in many a battle, but you could have had no better defenders close by. But while Captain Brethenel may be angry at us, he cannot be angry at a Wood-Elf.”
“He can be, he can be,” Parnard said.
“Was he at the Dagorlad?” asked Estarfin.
“That I do not know. I ne’er asked Brasseniel about her father. I was, er, banned from Felgoth,” he said offhandedly.
“Oh?” said Danel. He never told her that.
“When I went back again, no one recognized me because I had my hood up. That Captain Brethenel did not lock me up is a good sign, a very good sign. I took a risk returning there. Perhaps that proved something to him.”
“Perhaps we can aid you in other ways as well,” said Danel, scrutinizing Parnard’s green tunic. Then the two Noldor began to speak of ways of improving his appearance, so that when all was said and done, he ended up looking more like a Noldor than a Wood-Elf because they in their eagerness to help their friend suggested the best of what they liked for themselves. There were certain suggestions Parnard refused to adopt, such as putting bells on his horse’s harness; he said he was not a jingler and that it is best to be swift and silent in the Greenwood, and he also disdained the idea of wearing a coat of arms, for his family had none, or carrying a banner, because he was not a page and did not see the reason for it. Danel observed that his manners could not be improved upon as these were already courteous and courtly (these Parnard said he learned by closely studying the comportment of the elves of Imladris), then Estarfin wished to know what the Captain commanded: calvary, spears, or archers, but Parnard did not know, saying there were many Captains in the Greenwood, and what Captain Brethenel commanded he knew not; and what the King’s Guard was comprised of, beside his bodyguards and palace guards, he was unsure.
“I would assume the King’s Guard would wear heavy armour, no? If they must be the last defence of the King - perhaps you should be in armour, too?” asked Estarfin.
“Armour, yes! They wear great gleaming sheets of armour,” Parnard said, thinking back to the times when he had seen the King and his knights ride forth to hunt in the gloaming.
And so it was settled: the three elves would set out to the Greenwood soon after the Autumn Festival, but not until they had hunted again in the woods nearby, where game roamed plentifully, as they needed meat not only for the feasting but for their larder as well, because winter was swiftly approaching.