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Thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this for me.
Thranduil let the door to his sitting room close behind him, more grateful than he could say that this eternally long day had finally ended and he could at last withdraw to his own rooms. Without bothering to light a lamp, he made his way across the room and sank wearily into his chair in front of the fireplace.
I should go to bed, he thought, but he was so tired that even getting up from his chair and preparing for bed seemed like too much effort. He reached for the decanter on the table next to him. A cup of wine would not come at all amiss. He poured the wine, and then, just as he was reaching for the cup, he suddenly caught sight of the three small pictures standing in a row on the table, and his hand froze.
The pictures always stood there, and he was so accustomed to them that he seldom noticed them any more. But now their images called to him. In each, Lorellin sat with an elfling on her lap. Thranduil saw Ithilden’s serious dark eyes, Eilian’s infectious grin, Legolas’s shining fall of blond hair, so like Thranduil’s own.
Unable to look away, he picked up the one nearest to him, the one of Ithilden, remembering the day that Lorellin had told him that she had a friend who was going to draw her and their son, using colored chalks. Thranduil had frowned, for he had known that this artist friend was half in love with Lorellin, but she had laughed and told him not to be silly. And then she had asked the friend to draw the other two pictures too, when each son was the same age that Ithilden had been in the first one.
Thranduil set the picture down, and as he ran his eyes over the little row of childish faces, his heart contracted at their vulnerability, their hopefulness and their trust in a world that seemed to him to have gone awry. And suddenly his mind was flooded with memories of his sons’ childhoods, coming in flashes and glimpses that seemed connected only by the joy he had taken in them.
We arrived at the Southern Patrol’s camp about to find them recovering from a battle on the previous night. They had encountered a band of about forty Orcs heading west through the forest, perhaps to join those that the Woodmen have seen searching for some unknown person or object along the Anduin. The captain tells me that about half-a-dozen of the enemy escaped, but the patrol killed the rest. Unfortunately, four of our warriors were wounded, one seriously, and Nindel Tandelion was killed.
I am taking this opportunity to send you my latest information with those who are bearing home the wounded and the body of Nindel. Please tell Tandel and Amáwen that I grieve for them.
I remain your loving son and devoted servant,
Thranduil put down the dispatch from his oldest son, leaned back in his chair, and closed his eyes. He tried to picture Nindel and decided he must be the slim, laughing youth who had been almost through with his novice training when Eilian started his. So when Nindel entered the warrior training, he would not have expected to be in fights like those in the south, for the Peace had still been in effect then. Thranduil rubbed his temples. He would have to visit the grieving parents, but he would wait until the next day to do it. They needed time to emerge, blinking, from the stunned pain through which they were no doubt now struggling just to breathe.
He opened his eyes and looked again at Ithilden’s message. To his father’s eyes, the stiffness of the language told him as clearly as a confession that Ithilden, too, was struggling with grief and probably guilt. His oldest son tended to take as his own every failure to keep the enemy from doing harm to the Elves of the Woodland Realm. He would visit Nindel’s parents tomorrow, but he would also write to Ithilden, sending him, not a message from a king to his troop commander, but a letter from a father to his overly conscientious and careworn son.
With a sigh, he set the dispatch aside and rose to his feet. He was finished with his tasks for today. As he tried to do each day, he would join his wife and their youngest son in the garden before the autumn day slipped away entirely.
Outside his office, a servant waited, holding Thranduil’s dark green suede cloak. The servant settled it around the king’s shoulders. “The queen and Legolas went out some time ago, my lord,” he said with a smile. “The little one was restless indoors.”
Thranduil gave a smile of his own. He could well believe that Legolas had become restless indoors on the beautiful autumn day that he had glimpsed as he passed the open Great Doors on his way to hear petitions in the Great Hall. Now he paused at the top of the steps leading down from the doors and looked across the green at the brilliantly colored trees, flaming red, orange, and yellow. He inhaled the scent of wood smoke and fallen leaves. His realm still flourished here around his stronghold, even if the situation Ithilden had found in the south was very different.
As soon as he had gone through the gate into the garden, he could hear a familiar, high-pitched voice coming from further along the path. “Look at me, Nana! Look at me!” He rounded a bend to see his youngest son and his wife, holding their cloaks out wide and spinning and swooping on the wide grassy patch next to the path. As Thranduil watched, Legolas spun a little too enthusiastically and nearly toppled over with dizziness, but Lorellin caught him, and he leaned against her, laughing.
Suddenly he caught sight of Thranduil, and his face lit up. “Look, Ada! We are leaves twirling in the wind!” He hopped and turned, happily flapping his green cloak. Beside him, Lorellin stretched out her deep red cloak and spun, letting it swirl gracefully around her.
Thranduil laughed. “So you are!” He lunged forward, grabbed his son around the waist, tossed him squealing into the air, and caught him again. “You look just like a little leaf sailing through the air.” He pulled the child close and nuzzled his neck, inhaling the sweet scent of him. “You are my little green leaf.”
“No!” Legolas shrieked, pulling back and giggling.
Thranduil let him lean back in his arms, and the two of them regarded one another. He was aware of Lorellin watching them, with fond amusement on her face. “Do that again,” Legolas demanded, and Thranduil laughed and nuzzled him again, as Legolas once again squawked in mock protest. Somewhere nearby were parents who had lost a son, but Thranduil’s son was safe in his arms, where he would stay as long as the king could keep him there.
Thranduil entered the nursery to find his son in his night clothes, squatting on the floor, piling blocks on top of one another. He hopped up when he saw Thranduil.
“Ada, look!” He pointed to the block tower.
“Very nice,” Thranduil said admiringly. He turned to the Elf-woman who stood smiling nearby. “Thank you, Nimloth. You may go. I will put him to bed.”
“Will his naneth be back tomorrow then?” Nimloth asked, gathering her knitting in preparation for departing.
“Yes.” He scooped the child into his arms. “And we are glad, are we not, sweetling?”
His son nodded vigorously. “I miss Nana.”
“I do too,” Thranduil agreed. “Bid Nimloth good night now.”
“Good night, Nimloth.”
“Good night, elfling.” She kissed his cheek and then, bidding Thranduil good night, went on her way home.
Thranduil carried his son toward his bed.
“Wait, Ada! I need my bankie.”
Thranduil paused. “I thought you were too big to need your blanket at night,” he ventured. With great pride, his son had announced about a month previously that he no longer needed the soft knitted blanket that he had cuddled to himself at night since he was an infant.
“When Nana is here, I am too big, but when she is gone, I need it,” the child explained earnestly.
Thranduil suppressed a smile. “Very well. Where is it?”
The child’s eyes grew wide. “Do you not know? Nana always knows.” His tone had become anxious.
“Is it in here?” Thranduil asked, glancing around the nursery.
“I do not know.” The child’s lower lip was starting to tremble.
“We will find it,” Thranduil said soothingly. With his son on his hip, he circled the nursery, opening drawers and cupboards and searching without success.
“Is my bankie lost?” the child asked, horror in his voice.
“No, of course not,” Thranduil assured him, although he was beginning to fear the blanket might indeed be among the missing. “Where did you have it last?”
His son considered. “I had it when I took my nap.” His face suddenly brightened. “And then I had it when I went to draw letters with Galeril.”
“Ah! Perhaps you left it in the library when your lesson was over then. Let us go look.” Still carrying his son, Thranduil went out into the hall, where a servant skirted around them, smiling at the sight of the king with the night-shirted little one clinging to him. They went into the darkened library, and Thranduil held the door open so the light from the hall would supplement the low light of the banked fire.
“There it is!” cried his son, leaning out to reach toward a shadowy splotch on one of the chairs. Thranduil held onto his waist while he grabbed the blanket. With a contented sigh, the child snuggled back against him with the blanket clutched to his cheek.
“Bed now,” Thranduil said firmly. They made their way back to the nursery, where he tucked the small figure into the bed. “Good night, little one,” he said, kissing the dark hair.
“Good night. I love you, Ada.”
“I love you too, Ithilden.”
“There is your ada,” said the guard, sounding relieved. “We will ask him.”
Just emerging from the door into his office, Thranduil turned toward the exit from the royal family’s quarters to see one of the guards from the Great Doors leading Thranduil’s son by the hand. In his free hand, the child carried a small bucket of what looked very much like mud. The sleeves and front of his tunic were also smeared with mud. What in Arda had he been doing? Thranduil wondered.
“Ada!” the child cried, his face brightening. He tugged his hand free from the guard’s and ran toward Thranduil, lifting his arms to be picked up. A glob of mud slopped from the bucket onto the floor.
Thranduil gave a short, dismayed laugh and took the bucket from his son before he picked him up, and set him on his hip. “What have we here?”
“I need mud,” the child announced. Thranduil raised an eyebrow at the guard.
“He appeared at the Doors with the bucket, my lord,” the guard explained, rubbing the muddy hand the child had just released on his tunic and sounding more amused than anything else. “I went down to the riverbank with him because I did not think it was safe for him to go alone, and it can be hard to stop him. But I told him we would have to check with you or his naneth about bringing the mud inside.”
“Thank you. You may return to your post.” Thranduil smiled ruefully at the guard, who saluted and turned to go back to the Great Doors, looking a little reluctant at the loss of his chance to learn the end of this adventure. Thranduil turned his attention to his son. “You know you are not supposed to go to the river alone,” he said sternly.
“Yes,” the child answered impatiently. “The guard came. But Ada, Nana and I saw otters on the river today! One was balancing a pinecone on his nose, and then he pulled it under the water and it came up first, and then he shot up and jumped on it!”
Even though he was still worried by this little one’s forbidden trip to the river, Thranduil found himself smiling at the child’s glee. “Otters are amusing to watch,” he agreed.
“And they slid on the mud down the riverbank into the water, and I wanted to slide on the stairs by the library, but they are not slippery enough, so I need mud too.”
Thranduil could not help himself: he let his need to scold slide away and laughed outright. “You cannot have mud indoors, sweetling. Nana and the servants would join together to skin us both alive if I allowed you to do that.”
The child thrust out his lower lip. “Then how can I slide like the otters?”
As Thranduil pondered that question, a long-ago memory stirred into life. “Do you know where your sled is?”
The elfling nodded. “It is in the big cupboard under the stairs. I saw it when my friends were here and we played hide-and-go-seek.”
“We will need candle wax,” Thranduil told him, “but I think you will find that if we wax the bottom of your sled, it will go down the stone steps quite nicely.” Also noisily, if Thranduil recalled correctly, but children had to make noise sometimes, and this one especially.
His son’s eyes widened. “What a good idea, Ada!” He tightened his grip around his father’s neck, pulling Thranduil’s head toward him with muddy hands and planting a kiss on his cheek. Thranduil grinned in response.
“We will have to see if Nana thinks it is a good idea,” he warned the child, who did not seem at all worried.
“Ask her,” his son commanded.
“Where is she?” Thranduil had been wondering about his wife’s whereabouts since he first saw his son alone with the guard.
“She is in the sitting room talking to Cook. She said not to interrupt, so I did not,” the child added virtuously.
Still holding his son in one arm and the bucket of mud in the other hand, Thranduil started down the hallway toward sitting room. Just as they reached it, a worried looking Lorellin emerged with the cook right behind her. At the sight of her, Thranduil’s consciousness of his son’s disobedience flared again. The child knew better than to slip away like this and worry his mother.
“There you are!” she cried, reaching for their son.
Thranduil drew hastily back. “He is a little muddy. Perhaps you would get a wet cloth?” Her mouth curved in a questioning smile as she eyed the smears on Thranduil’s neck and tunic, as well as those on their son, and then turned to fetch the cloth. “And some candles!” Thranduil called after her. She looked back over her shoulder with a raised eyebrow, but she said nothing.
“By your leave, my lord,” said a grinning Cook.
Thranduil nodded permission for him to leave but then called, “Wait!” He handed the bucket of mud to Cook. “Dispose of this, please.”
Holding the bucket away from him, Cook made his way down the corridor to return to the kitchen, where he would no doubt regale the rest of the kitchen crew with a new tale about the antics of the youngest member of the royal household.
Lorellin returned, handed him three candles, and began wiping the worst of the mud off both Thranduil and their son. “What are you two up to now?” she asked.
“I am going to show him something my ada showed me a long time ago,” Thranduil said. “That is, I am if he promises me he will not go near the river on his own.”
Lorellin’s brow creased in worry again, but their son did not hesitate. “I promise,” he said eagerly.
“See that you remember that,” Thranduil admonished him, setting his own worry aside for now. He looked back at Lorellin. “Ignore any loud noises you might hear in the next hour.”
She laughed. “You two behave yourselves.”
“We will, Nana,” his son pledged, and Thranduil carried him off to find the sled.
“Nana says you worry,” the child confided, “and I should not scare you. So you do not have to ride the sled if you do not want to.”
Thranduil could not help himself. He burst into laughter that shook off any lingering tension from his day’s work. “I love you, Eilian,” he said, dropping a kiss on the child’s hair.
“I love you too, Ada. Can I ride the sled down the big steps?”
Thranduil started and focused his eyes to see Ithilden bending over him, looking concerned. “Was I asleep?” he asked in surprise.
“I think so. You should go to bed.”
Thranduil grimaced. The fire had faded enough that the room was now in deep shadows, but he caught a glimpse of movement behind Ithilden and realized that the lean form hovering in the doorway was Eilian. Even at this distance, Thranduil smelled wine. His own cup sat untouched on the table. Eilian must have been drinking heavily. Thranduil opened his mouth and then decided that he was too tired to say anything tonight.
“I will go to bed now,” he told Ithilden, and with what seemed like all the effort he could muster, he stood up. He could feel himself swaying slightly as he watched Ithilden bank the fire and then set the screen carefully in front of it. Drawn by worry, he glanced toward the door again, but Eilian had disappeared.
“You should get some sleep too,” he told Ithilden.
“I will,” Ithilden nodded, and Thranduil made his way to his bedchamber and began to undress.
Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this for me.
Thranduil stared up into the darkness. With irritating perverseness, his mind refused to go to sleep now that he had actually gotten into bed. This is pointless, he thought wearily, and sat up and lit the lamp next to his bed. Then he thrust his long legs out from under the covers and went to take a book from the shelves on the opposite wall. He chose randomly, and when he had gotten back into bed, he found that he had a book of poetry in his hands, not his usual reading.
For a brief time, he resolutely tried to read, but his attention kept wandering. Finally, he gave up and leaned his head back against the padded headboard. He would get up were it not for the fact that he had promised Ithilden he would go to bed.
He gave a twisted smile. Life had been simpler when he had been the one telling his sons what to do. And again, as in the sitting room, he thought of how easy life with his sons had been when they were all small.
Thranduil found that he was having a hard time concentrating on the details of the petition he was supposed to be reading. He glanced at the small figure on the floor of his office. His son lay on his stomach, with his feet in the air, thumping them together as he laboriously formed the letters of the essay he was writing.
The child was supposed to have written the essay earlier, when his tutor was with him, but he had apparently had trouble settling down to work and thus the tutor had left instructions that he was to finish it on his own. Thranduil knew very well that the only way that would happen was if the child was kept inside and supervised until he completed his task. Hence, his son’s presence in his office.
As if feeling his eyes upon him, the elfling looked up. “I think I am done now, Ada,” he said hopefully.
As was often the case with this child, Thranduil had to suppress a smile. “Let me see,” he said and held out his hand. The child rose and handed over the paper. Thranduil squinted slightly and gradually made out the wobbly letters. With a shock, he recognized the name at the head of the page.
Elu Thingol was a king. He had no nana or ada. He lived in a cave just like I do. He was married to a Maia and his daughter was Luthien. She was pretty. She got married and he did not like her husband. Some dwarves came. There was a fight and Elu Thingol died. I wish I had been there. If I had been there, I would have had a sword and I would have saved him because he was the king, like my ada. My ada is strong. No one could kill him.
For a moment, Thranduil’s breath stopped, and he was once again in the caves of Menegroth. He had been no older than the child in front of him when Thingol died and doom descended inexorably on his people, but he still remembered the confusion and the haste and the blood. Oh yes, he remembered the blood. He had never seen a dead person before.
He looked up into his son’s concerned face. “Is it enough, Ada? Do I have to write more?”
Thranduil drew a long, shaky breath. “This is enough,” he said soberly.
“Ada?” His son had drawn near and was leaning against Thranduil’s knees. He sounded excited, now that his lesson was finished. “Ada, did you know Elu Thingol?” To his delight, the child had learned that his father knew or had at least seen many of the people he studied in his lessons.
Thranduil grimaced. “Yes, I knew Elu Thingol.”
“Were you there when the Dwarves came?” the child asked eagerly.
“Was I where? I was in Menegroth when Thingol died, but not in the treasury, of course.”
“But when the Dwarves came back, were you there then? Did you have a sword? Did you fight them?”
Thranduil’s mouth twisted in a smile. “I was about your size, sweetling. My parents hurried me to safety as quickly as they could.” But not quickly enough to keep me from seeing things I hope you never see, he added to himself.
His son’s eyes grew huge. “You were little?” The fact that his parents had once been small had only recently dawned on this child. He seemed to find it particularly hard to picture Thranduil as an elfling. “But Ada, if you were little, what would have happened if a Dwarf had come where you were?”
Thranduil looked again at the essay he still held in his hand, and this time, he focused on the last two sentences. My ada is strong. No one could kill him. He remembered feeling that way. He also remembered Dagorlad. He looked up again into his son’s face and hesitated. Then he reached out and drew his son onto his lap.
“If a Dwarf had come where I was, one of the adults who took care of me would have protected me, just as one of the guards or I would protect you.”
The child looked at him soberly for a moment and then seemed to relax. He leaned against Thranduil’s chest. “When I grow up, I am going to have a sword and be a warrior, like Ithilden,” he said with deep satisfaction. “I will ride my horse fast, and exciting things will happen all the time.”
Thranduil put his arms around his son and pulled him close. “Not too exciting, I hope,” he said. Surely he was allowed to hope that. They were at peace now, after all. He understood Eilian well enough to know that he would find excitement wherever he went, but perhaps he would not find it with a sword in his hand.
“Ada, look! I am a pony!” His son pawed the ground and then, with a whinny and a toss of his head, he galloped in a circle around Thranduil. The other two elflings followed him, making similar noises.
Thranduil laughed. “What a fine herd of ponies!”
“My name is Carrot because pony-me likes them. And this is Oats and Apple.” He pointed to the other two elflings.
“Are you ponies enjoying yourselves among the trees?” Thranduil asked, as he strode along the path to where he was to meet the forester. He had offered to take the three elflings with him when he saw how busy Lorellin was with the preparations for the feast that was to be held that night, and the children had leapt at the chance to be outdoors.
“We are frisky,” said Carrot, obviously trying out a word he had heard the stable master use the day before when Thranduil had taken him for a ride with him.
“I can see that,” Thranduil agreed. Carrot gave a little snort and trotted ahead to where Apple was jumping over a log. Oats climbed onto it and walked its length.
“Ponies cannot walk on logs,” Apple reprimanded him.
“Yes, they can, if you train them,” protested Oats. He jumped down, and the three of them trailed after the king.
They rounded a curve in the path, and the forester stepped out from among the maple grove. Thranduil eyed the trees, whose leaves were already dropping, far sooner than they should have been, and his heart misgave him. Surely these trees were too close to his stronghold to be damaged like those in the southern reaches of his realm. “What seems to be the trouble?” he asked.
The forester handed him a leaf with blotches running along the veins. “I think it is just the spot disease, my lord.”
Thranduil let out a quick breath of relief. Spot disease was bad enough, but it was natural and his foresters had dealt with it before. “What do you want to do about it?” he asked briskly, and the forester laid out a plan for managing the disease and lessening its damage.
“I do not think it is anything to worry about, my lord,” he finished, stroking the trunk of the maple tree. “The spring was cool and wet, and the spot disease thrives in that weather. We will clear out the affected leaves as much as we can. These are good strong trees. They will survive.”
“Good.” Thranduil fingered the blotchy leaf. “Let me know if you need more help. We can probably get some of the Elves in the area to assist you for a few days if you need them. No one wants these trees to suffer.”
Suddenly, he became aware of how quiet it was. He turned his head sharply and found that the children were nowhere to be seen. “Did you see where the children went?” he asked the forester hastily.
The forester looked around. “No, my lord. I am sorry. I did not even realize they had left.”
Even as he assured himself that the elflings could not possibly be far enough away to be in any danger, Thranduil could feel his heart speeding up. “You go back down the path and see if you spot them,” he ordered the forester. “I will go ahead.” He and the forester were both in motion before he had finished speaking.
With sudden visions of spiders, deep streams, and unexpected chasms in his head, Thranduil half ran down the path, calling the children’s names. He was just hurrying past a deep thicket when a small giggle caught his attention, and he spun to narrow his eyes at the underbrush. There amid the dense branches, he caught a sudden glimpse of movement.
Nearly limp with relief, he jumped toward the bushes and pulled the branches apart. Three small faces looked up at him. “Come out of there,” he ordered, sharply enough to make their eyes widen. The three of them crawled out of the thicket by means of a tunnel too small for Thranduil ever to have used. “Why did you not answer me?” he demanded when they all stood in front of him.
“You did not use the right names, Ada,” his son protested. “I told you my name is Carrot now.”
Thranduil bit back the too harsh words that trembled on his lips. The elflings had only been thoughtless. “You know better than to wander away like that, Carrot,” he said, glad the forester was out of earshot.
“Apple wanted to look for a place where deer had slept. Ponies like deer.”
Thranduil frowned at Apple, who looked back with serene innocence. Then he turned to Carrot again. “You have seen the ponies in the near pasture. They do not stray very far from their nanas, because if they do, their nanas become frightened and go after them. Nana is not here, so you need to stay by me when we are in the forest.”
Carrot’s face became solemn. “Were you frightened, Ada?”
Thranduil nodded. “I was, my heart. You are more precious to me than any pony ever was to its sire and dam.”
Carrot flung himself at Thranduil, who caught him up in his arms. “I will stay with you always, Ada,” the child pledged, hugging Thranduil fiercely around the neck. “I will not frighten you by wandering far away.”
Thranduil sighed slightly. Ithilden and Eilian were both much farther away than their father would ever have chosen to send them if the choice were purely his. Legolas was only too likely to join them one day. But perhaps not. Perhaps the world would change in time for him to keep this precious little one at home, where he belonged.
Thranduil raised his hand to silence his advisor. “Did you hear a knock?” he asked.
“No, my lord.” The advisor was plainly impatient. He had been trying to gain Thranduil’s attention for days to talk about the problems of the Men of Gondor, but the king had been absorbed in the Woodland Realm’s own troubles and had been unavailable before now.
The unmistakable sound of a light knock came again. “Come,” Thranduil commanded. The guards would not have admitted anyone to this hallway in the royal family’s quarters unless their business was important. But when the door opened, the figure that slid through the narrow opening was that of Thranduil’s small son.
Thranduil frowned. “What is it, iôn-nín? You know you are not supposed to disturb me while I am with an advisor.”
The child stood arrow straight under the mild scolding, but his lower lip began to tremble. “Ada, I have something important I must tell you.” Thranduil opened his mouth to send the child on his way, but something in the woebegone figure made him hesitate.
“Can it wait?” he asked.
The child hesitated and then shook his head. “I do not think so,” he said in a voice so low that Thranduil had to strain to hear.
Thranduil looked at the advisor. “Was there much more?”
The advisor sighed resignedly. “No. I do not suppose you wish to take any action or, indeed, that there is any action we can take, but I thought you should be informed.”
Thranduil nodded. “Thank you.”
The advisor rose and gave a small bow. “By your leave, my lord.” Thranduil nodded his permission, and the Elf took his departure, closing the office door behind him.
Thranduil beckoned his son closer. He was tempted to take the child on his lap, but this had all the earmarks of a confession, and he decided that he would do better to wait until it had been made before he decided if sympathy was in order. “Now, what is so important that it cannot wait?”
His son drew a deep breath. “It is First Snow,” he offered. Thranduil nodded. The first snow of the winter had fallen around his stronghold that day, and in the evening, the Elves would feast in celebration. Even now, people were busy decorating the Great Hall and cooking the delicacies that would be served there. “We went sledding,” his son continued, and Thranduil nodded again. Elflings always went sledding on the day of First Snow, if only as a means to keep them out of the way of their elders, who were busy preparing for the evening’s feast.
His son drew a deep breath. “We sledded, and then I said we should pile the snow up to make a hill. And then we did that, and we tried to jump our sleds the farthest, and then I said we should stand up on our sleds, and some of us did that. And I jumped my sled the farthest, but then Celedë tried to beat me and she fell, and she hurt her wrist. I think it might be broken, Ada.” The words came out in a single gush, and then the child paused and regarded Thranduil as if to see how he would react.
Thranduil sorted through what he had just been told and picked out what seemed most important. “How is Celedë?”
“I put her on my sled and took her home, and the healer came.” His son bit his lip. “Her adar was angry,” he continued in a small voice. “He said he was going to come to talk to you.”
“Ah!” Thranduil suddenly saw the point of this conversation. This child liked to please adults and was accustomed to receiving their approval. “Was he angry at you?”
The child nodded. “He said I was a bad influence.” His voice trembled, and suddenly a tear ran down his cheek.
Thranduil’s heart twisted, and he reached out and drew his son onto his lap, where the elfling buried his face in Thranduil’s chest and began to cry in earnest. Thranduil rocked slightly, making soothing sounds. “Celedë’s ada is just frightened for his daughter, sweetling.”
The child pulled away from Thranduil’s chest and turned his tear-streaked face up. “But Ada, it really was my fault. I was the one who said we should stand up on our sleds.” He dragged the sleeve of his tunic across his runny nose.
“But you were also the one who took Celedë home.” Thranduil brushed a strand of hair out of his son’s face.
“I am not going to do that again,” he son vowed, leaning back against Thranduil’s chest.
Thranduil kissed the top of his head. “I think that Nana is probably waiting for you. She will want you to bathe before the feast tonight.”
His son slid obediently from his lap. “I told Celedë I was sorry,” he said. And then suddenly he smiled slightly. “She should not have tried to beat me though.”
Thranduil suppressed a smile of his own and raised an eyebrow. “Arrogance is unbecoming, iôn-nín.”
“Yes, Ada,” said the child, not looking particularly chastised.
“You may go.”
The child skipped from the room looking much more cheerful than he had when he arrived. Thranduil had to wait for only a very few minutes before Celedë’s father arrived with no cheer in his face at all. Thranduil smiled at the Elf.
“If you would wait for one moment, I will send for my wife,” Thranduil said. “I am sure she will want to be part of this discussion of our son.” He summoned the servant to send a message to Lorellin, thinking with satisfaction of how she would respond to anyone else criticizing Ithilden.
Thranduil entered the nursery to find a scene that reminded him of one from long ago. Already dressed in his night clothes, his son crouched on the floor playing. He seemed to be arranging pine cones in some pattern known only to himself, but when he saw Thranduil, he jumped to his feet, grabbing the blanket that lay on the floor next to where he played.
“Ada! You came!” He ran toward his father to be picked up, and Thranduil swung him up onto his hip.
“Of course I came. I told you I would put you to bed every night while Nana was gone.” He had made this pledge two weeks ago and carried it out ever since, but each night, the child responded with delight to his appearance. Thranduil had to admit that, while he was proud of his older sons, he missed that enthusiasm for his very existence.
He looked at Nimloth. “Thank you, Nimloth. Only one more day of this, you will be glad to hear.”
She smiled. “I do not mind, my lord. He is easy enough.” She kissed the top of Legolas’s head. “By your leave.”
Thranduil nodded and she left the room. He carried his son to his bed, laid him in the spot where the blankets were already turned down, and then tucked them all around Legolas. “How is that?”
“Comfy cozy,” Legolas chirped, echoing his mother.
Thranduil laughed. “Would you like a story tonight?”
Thranduil went to the shelf over the chest to get the book of tales about the forest creatures that he had been reading to Legolas since Lorellin had gone to visit her family. He came back and seated himself on the bed, his back against the headboard. Legolas snuggled against him, with his blanket in his fist, and his thumb suspiciously near his mouth.
“Tell me again when Nana will be home, Ada.”
“Tomorrow, my heart. Ithilden is going to send the guards for her at first light, and she will be home by nightfall.”
“Good,” said Legolas. “I miss Nana.”
“So do I,” said Thranduil. He opened the book and began to read.
Thranduil started, the book slid from his hands, and he realized that he must have been asleep again. But almost simultaneously, he also realized what had awakened him: Legolas was crying and calling for him. He leapt from the bed, pulling on a night-robe as he went.
He crossed the sitting room, and as he entered the hallway on his way to his small son’s room, he saw Eilian just coming out of his room, having obviously heard the same thing Thranduil had. Ithilden’s door opened too. “I will take care of him,” Thranduil said. “You go back to bed.”
Eilian stared at him for a moment. He was fully clothed, Thranduil suddenly realized, and had probably not been to bed. Then Eilian nodded silently and retreated to his room. Ithilden stood in his own doorway for a moment and then crossed to Eilian’s, knocked once, and entered, closing the door behind him.
“Ada! Ada!” Legolas’s cries were becoming more frantic, and Thranduil had no time for his older sons now. He entered Legolas’s room to find the elfling sitting up in bed, with tears streaming down his face. He put out his arms when he saw Thranduil, and Thranduil picked him up and drew him close.
“Shh. Shh, my heart.” He retrieved Legolas’s blanket, handed it to him, and carried him to sit in the rocking chair near the hearth.
Legolas buried his face in Thranduil’s chest. “I want Nana,” he hiccupped. “I do not want her to be dead. I want things to be the same as they were.”
“I know. I know,” Thranduil murmured soothingly, rocking his child and wishing for the same things he did, all the while knowing with his sad millennia of knowledge that things would never be the same as they were.
Thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this for me. Happy birthday, Meckinock!
Ithilden leaned against the door, waiting until Legolas's wails had dwindled to a muffled sob. He crossed to the fireplace and added another stick of wood to the flames. Their rooms had stood empty while they destroyed the orc band, and the fires in the rooms' grates had so far failed to warm them.
Slouched in the chair in front of the fire, Eilian barely lifted his head before bending again over the cup of wine in his hand.
Ithilden moved to the table at Eilian's elbow and rested his fingertips on the handle of the wine flagon. The oak leaf carving on its side marked it as coming from the dining room. Eilian must have brought it with him after the silent evening meal none of them had been able to eat despite Cook's best efforts and the anxious attention of the servants.
Eilian snatched the flagon out from under Ithilden's hand and set it on the floor. He had shed his belt, shoes, and surcoat and opened the top two buttons on his shirt, but other than that, he had not bothered to ready himself for sleep. If Ithilden did nothing, Eilian would probably show up for morning meal in the same clothes. Well, in truth he probably would not show up at all. He would be too sick.
"Do you really believe more wine will do you any good?" Ithilden asked.
Eilian dropped his head back against the chair. "'Good'? I confess I am not sure what that means." He swirled the wine, studying the eddies. "I did 'good' when we hunted down Naneth's murderers, and when I go back to my patrol, I will do 'good' again. I suppose I have decided that is my 'good,' as good as it gets anyway. Naneth is still dead, so it is too late to do any real good."
Too late. Too late.
The words beat time in Ithilden's head, like the hooves of horses galloping toward disaster. He should have sent the escort sooner. He should have kept the orcs out of his father's realm in the first place.
He licked his lips. "You will not go back to your patrol at all unless you show a little more self-control." The sharpness of his own voice surprised him.
Eilian raised an eyebrow. "You mean like you?"
"And what if I do? I am not talking only about that." Ithilden jabbed a finger at the wine cup. "You were ungovernable on this hunt. You listened to no one, not me, not Adar, not any of my captains. No one. You survived only because Maltanaur stayed within an arm's length of you the entire time."
Eilian slammed the cup down on the table, sloshing ruby wine all over his fingers. "You hypocrite! I saw you, Ithilden. You were like a sheet of ice hurtling down a mountain, and the Valar help anyone or anything in your way." Eilian's dark eyes blazed at him. "What were you feeling, Ithilden? Cool detachment? Satisfaction at a job well done? I think not."
Ithilden froze, unable even to move his tongue enough to say that what he had felt was nothing. He had felt as if he were emptied out, leaving a hollow over which a winter gale howled.
"Do not talk to me about control," Eilian said. "I am going back to my patrol, preferably tomorrow, and if you try to keep me here, I believe I will go anyway."
Ithilden grabbed the wine cup and flung it with all his strength. It crashed into the wall next to the wardrobe, spattering wine in a wide arc. The red liquid ran in streaks down the pale plaster.
Eilian jumped to his feet. "Have you lost your mind? Is that what you call control? Adar and Legolas will hear that!"
Ithilden stared, transfixed, at the red stains. Was that how his mother's blood had splattered and spread? He did not know. He had not been there. He knotted his trembling hands into fists.
"You are frightening me, Eilian." His throat was so dry, his voice came out as a croak. He swallowed. "Stop it. Stop being so selfish. Adar needs you. Legolas needs you. For that matter, I need you. I need your skill, and I need to know you will be all right if I send you back south."
Eilian dropped into the chair with a thump. "Who did you say the frightening one was?"
Ithilden ran his hand over his hair. "I beg your pardon. I lost command of myself."
Eilian sighed. "Is that so bad? Maybe you needed that." He bit his lower lip. "Naneth might have said you did."
Ithilden blinked hard and cleared his throat. He scooped the cup up from the floor and crossed the room to the bathing chamber to fill it with cold water. He thunked it down on the table next to Eilian. "You will feel better tomorrow morning if you drink that and go to bed."
Eilian's mouth twisted. "I doubt it."
Ithilden squeezed his shoulder, picked up the wine flagon, and left the room. He glanced at the door to Legolas's room, standing ajar, and set the flagon on a table along the wall.
Outside Legolas's door, he paused. The only sound was the creak of the rocking chair. He pushed the door a bit further open. His father slumped in the chair, cradling Legolas, who was curled around his ragged blanket, his face buried in their father's chest.
Though Ithilden stood in plain sight, his father showed no sign of seeing him. Thranduil pushed off with his foot, rocking Legolas and himself, his face dazed and blank.
Ithilden's gut twisted.
Eilian had not been the only one to frighten Ithilden over the last two weeks. He had been at his father's side for almost all of it and had never felt farther away from him. Thranduil had been lost in his grief and his need for revenge, as if he had entered a tunnel that led him only to the slaughter of his enemies and let no one else touch him.
Legolas stirred, and Thranduil dropped a kiss on the elfling's head and stroked his hair.
Ithilden put his hand on doorframe, paused, and decided not to disturb them. Legolas had spent the evening in their father's lap. Perhaps they would help each other heal the broken bonds to Ithilden's mother.
He stiffened. A broken bond. Was that why he felt empty? Was this chill emptiness what it felt like when a bond to a parent ceased to exist?
His gaze fell on his hand. A thin line of black curved under his thumbnail. He narrowed his eyes, snatched the hand away, and shook it. Orc blood. That should have washed away in the bath. Icy despair rose in his throat.
He went back to his room and climbed into bed still wearing his night robe. It was too cold to sleep naked. He lay on his side, thinking about his family. It was too late for his mother, but he could guard the rest of them. He would keep them close and watch without sleeping. He stared at the chilly flames burning on his hearth and waited while the night drifted past him, thick with memories and pain.
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