DISCLAIMER: Alas, I own nothing… otherwise there would be no reason for me to be writing fan fiction, would there?

~~ Chapter One: Doriath ~~

            "The fastest way to Menegroth is by boat," Valendil, captain of Doriath's border patrol, told the five Noldorin visitors as he led them down to the banks of the Esgalduin river.  "Galathil, Irisun, and Lieutenant Uncómien will accompany you there.  Whether the king will accept you or turn you away, I do not know."

            Finrod, the leader of the small group, nodded in understanding,  "We thank you, Captain Valendil," the golden-haired Elf lord said.  Then, as a precaution, he added, "We are not spies."

            Valendil had been considering that possibility, but hearing Finrod voice his thoughts surprised him.  He didn't like being surprised.  "I did not say you were spies," Valendil said defensively.

            "I know," Finrod said, "but you were thinking it."

            "We are kinsmen of King Thingol," said Finrod's younger brother, Orodreth.  "Our grandfather Olwë is his brother.  What reason would we have to rise against him?"

            "These are dangerous times, brother," Finrod said.  "The captain is merely taking the necessary precautions."

            Valendil didn't like being patronized, either.  What annoyed him even more was that he knew Finrod intended neither.  He looked away from Finrod so the Noldrin Elf wouldn't see the irritation in his eyes.  His attention rested briefly on Orodreth, but then passed on to the other three Noldor; Finrod's two youngest brothers, Angrod and Aegnor, and the youngest, a fair maid called Artanis.  Artanis felt Valendil's eyes on her, and she glanced over at him.  The two stared each other down for a few moments, and then Valendil looked away, unable to endure her gaze for long.

            "Oh, lighten up, Vallie," came the cheerful voice of another Elf, the fair-haired Uncómien, second in command after Valendil.  He smiled and clapped his hand on his captain's shoulder.  "The queen already let them through, didn't she?"  He turned his smiling face toward the Noldor.  "Don't mind him," he said.  "He means well."

            Valendil glared at Uncómien and pushed his soldier's hand off his shoulder.  Uncómien's cheerfulness was annoying, and besides, he hated being called Vallie.  "Be gone with you," he said.  "Take them to the boats."

            Two more Elves stepped out from the ranks of the border patrol; one with black hair and one with auburn.  Valendil joined the remainder of them, and they dissipated into the forest called Region.  "The boats are not far, Lord Finrod," the black-haired Elf said.  "This way."

            "What is your name, friend?" Finrod asked as he, his brothers and sister, and the other two Elves of Doriath fell into stride behind him.

            "I am Irisun, son of Elecon," he answered.  He nodded toward Uncómien and the auburn-haired Elf.  "This is Galathil and Lieutenant Uncómien, both sons of Galadhon."

            The ever-pleasant Uncómien smiled broadly at them.  Galathil smiled, too, but his was nowhere near as broad as his brother's.  Finrod noticed that, and he faltered for a moment, as if he wasn't sure Galathil trusted them.

            Uncómien's smile turned from outgoing to comforting.  "It's all right," he assured Finrod.  "Galathil is just not as… gregarious as I am."

            "'Gregarious'?" Irisun repeated, and chuckled.  "You mean loud."

            Uncómien let out a warm laugh.  "All right, loud."

            Galathil's smile grew more comfortable.  "It seems to be a trait in our family," he explained to the Noldor.  "Galadhon's sons become more receptive to strangers as they get younger."

            "How many of you are there?" asked Artanis.

            "Three," Uncómien answered.  "Celeborn, our oldest brother, is not a member of the militia.  He was for a time – the captain, actually – but had to leave our numbers."

            "Why is that?" inquired Aegnor.

            They never found out, as they arrived at the boats just as Aegnor was finishing his question.  "In we go," Irisun said, motioning to the two boats floating in the water.  They were tied to a tree on the river's bank.  "I'll take one; Galathil, Uncómien, you take the other."

            Finrod, Artanis, and Angrod got in the boat with Irisun.  Galathil stepped into the other, and Orodreth and Aegnor joined him.  Uncómien remained on the shore, and when everyone was seated, untied the ropes, then placed his foot on the bow of Irisun's boat and gave it a gentle push.  It moved away from the shore, and then Uncómien jumped into the other boat, colliding with Galathil.  The boat rocked back and forth with the sudden movement and nearly tipped over.  Orodreth and Aegnor seized the sides of it and braced themselves, but to their relief, their vessel did not capsize.

            Irisun, Finrod, Artanis, and Angrod all laughed heartily.  "I think the sons of Finarfin are regretting their decision to ride in that boat, Uncómien!" Irisun called.

            "And I have not even started yet," Uncómien said to his passengers.  Then he picked up an oar and winked.

            In their boat, Irisun, Finrod, and Angrod all took oars as well.  Artanis reached for one, but Irisun stopped her.  "The lady need not row," he said.

            Artanis arched a golden eyebrow.  "Oh, no?" she said.  "We will arrive faster if I do.  I assure you that I am as strong as any of your men."

            "Stronger," mumbled Angrod, remembering an incident in their youth in which he and his brothers walked away with bruises after finding out just how strong their sister was.  Artanis and Finrod chuckled.

            "Ai, Iri!" Uncómien shouted.  "Race you to Menegroth?"

            Artanis picked up an oar and grinned.  "What say you now, Irisun?"

            Irisun merely smiled.

            "We will see you in Menegroth, Uncómien!" Finrod called, dipping his oar into the water.

            "Ha!" Uncómien said.  "You wish!"

            Finrod got his wish.  His boat was a good two hundred feet ahead of Uncómien's when they arrived at the dock constructed along the side of a cliff some three hours later.  Carved into the massive cliff above the was Menegroth, the Thousand Caves, capital of Doriath.  A long, steep staircase etched into the stone rose from the dock to the city.  Finrod gazed up at Menegroth in wonder.  Never had he seen anything like this.  It was nothing short of amazing.

            "Unfair advantage," Uncómien said when his boat pulled up to the dock.  He tossed his fair head toward Artanis.  "You had her."

            Artanis laughed.  "How does that generate an advantage, Lieutenant?"

            "The river always moves swifter for its most beautiful voyagers," Uncómien replied.

            "No wonder you were going so slow," Irisun said with a laugh.

            Uncómien pointed his finger at Irisun and said, "I would push you into this river if I did not know you were talking about Galathil."

            Galathil was caught completely off-guard.  "Now wait just a moment!" he exclaimed when he realized what his younger brother had said.

            Uncómien looked at the Noldor and smiled.  "Welcome to Doriath.  I hope you enjoy your time here."

            Finrod grinned.  "I'm sure we will."

            "Come," said Irisun, moving toward the stairs.  "We will take you to the king."

            It took them most of half an hour to reach the audience chamber of King Elu Thingol, located near the top of the massive cliff.  Normally, it would not have taken them that long, but they were stopped every few feet by Finrod, who was fascinated by the architecture and kept asking questions.  After they were introduced, Finrod apologized for their tardiness to the king when they finally arrived, explaining that Menegroth was unlike anything he'd ever seen before, and the sight of it was too amazing to overlook.

            Thingol smiled at Finrod, rose up from his throne, and joined the five Noldor and three soldiers.  "Often have people told me of their interest in my city's structure, but never quite so passionately as you, son of Finarfin.  The Dwarves are excellent craftsmen, are they not?"

            "'Excellent' hardly does them justice," Finrod replied, gazing upward at the intricately carved ceiling above his head.  "Not even the fair cities of Valinor can equal Menegroth."

            "Then I must show you around at some point during your stay," Thingol said.  "How long did you plan on remaining here?"

            "As long as you keep us, Highness, or until we can regroup with the rest of our people; whichever comes first," Finrod answered.  "The Noldor are scattered throughout Beleriand, seeking refuge from Morgoth and Sauron.  Our numbers are few, and those that remain have grown weary."

            Thingol placed his hand on Finrod's shoulder.  "You will always be welcome in Doriath, children of Finarfin."  His hand dropped, and he looked at the others.  "You must be weary," he said.  "I will allow you a few hours rest, and then extend an invitation to dinner tonight.  You are all welcome to come if you so desire."

            "Thank you," said Orodreth.  "We will be there."

            "Would you like us to show them to some rooms, Highness?" Uncómien asked.

            Thingol looked confused.  "We have attendants for things like that, Uncómien… besides, shouldn't the three of you get back to Valendil and the others?"

            "They'll be fine without us for a few more hours," Uncómien said dismissively.  "No sign of danger from outside has been spotted for weeks, and the interior has never given us trouble."

            "The interior?" Aegnor asked.

            "Wild animals, mostly," Irisun explained.  "We've got a large population of wolves, and sometimes they can get out of hand."

            "Very well," Thingol said.  "If you really want to, then I suppose you can show our guests to some rooms.  Finrod?"

            "Yes?" Finrod said.

            "Would you like me to show you around the city now?"

            "Yes!" Finrod exclaimed, displaying more excitement than he intended to.  He smiled sheepishly, then said less exuberantly, "Yes, I would like that very much."

            "Would anyone else care to join us?" Thingol offered.

            No one else said anything, and then Artanis spoke for them all.  "Thank you, but we are very tired, and would like to rest for a while."

            "Understandable," said Thingol.  "Oh, and Artanis, my wife and daughter are studying at the moment, but they should be done soon.  I know they will want to meet all of you, but especially you."

            Artanis nodded.  "Thank you.  I will be ready if they call on me."

            Irisun elected to go back to his duties as a soldier, but Uncómien and Galathil remained in Menegroth with the Noldor, with whom they were becoming fast friends.  They were tired, though, so soldiers took them to the area of the palace where bedchambers were located, and then assigned empty rooms with promises to see each other later that night.

"Aegnor, Angrod, we'll put you two in here," Galathil said, showing them to a room.  "Orodreth, you and Finrod will be in the room across the hall.  Artanis, we'll put you down there, in the room next to Princess Lúthien's."

            "Follow me," Uncómien said, leading Artanis down the hall.  They passed three doors, then stopped at the fourth.  "Here we are," he said, opening the door.  "You should find everything you need, and if not, someone will aid you."

            Artanis stepped inside the large guestroom.  It had every amenity one could wish for, including the one thing she wanted most: a bed.  "Thank you, Lieutenant," she said.  "I'm sure I will be fine."

            "You need not call me Lieutenant," he replied.  "Uncómien will do."

            She smiled at him.  "If you insist.  Forgive me, Uncómien, but you are still rather young, are you not?"

            "Seventy-five," Uncómien said with a grin.  "Barely walking."

            "And yet you are the militia's lieutenant."

            He chuckled.  "Oh, that's nothing.  My brother has me beat; he was captain at age thirty-two…"

            "Galathil?" Artanis asked.

            "No, Celeborn," he said.  "He was the captain for over forty years… then…"  His cheerful expression darkened.  "… terrible accident…"

            "What happened?"

            Uncómien sighed.  "I… I would rather not talk about it."

"I understand."

"Thank you," he said.  "Will you be coming to dinner tonight?"

            She nodded.  "Yes, I had planned on it."

            "I shall look forward to seeing you," he said, and smiled at her.  "Until then, Artanis."

            "Good-bye, Uncómien."

            The lieutenant's words echoed in Artanis's ears as she moved toward the bed.  What could have happened?  Perhaps she would meet this Celeborn later.  Then she would find out.  For now, though, her priority was to rest.