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Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.
This story is set in the year 2770 TA, about 11 years after “Spring Awakenings” and “Glorious Summer,” but you don’t have to have read those stories to follow this one. I hope. Enjoy!
1. Time at Home
Legolas paused at the desk of his brother’s aide. “Is he in, Calith? I think he is expecting me.”
“Yes, he said to send you right in when you got here.” Calith waved him toward the closed door of Ithilden’s office.
From the back of the room, a voice called, “Legolas! I did not know you were home. Surely it is not time for your next leave yet.” With his hand raised to rap on Ithilden’s door, Legolas froze and turned to see Tinár looking at him avidly from his desk behind Calith’s.
“Legolas’s comings and goings are none of your business, Tinár,” Calith said wearily, without turning around. “Have you finished making copies of that message yet? You need to be on your way with it before noon.”
“You do not need to worry about me doing my job,” Tinár frowned. “Ithilden depends on me for good reason. I am the best messenger he has.”
Legolas saw Calith’s hand tighten on the Oliphant-shaped paperweight he had just picked up, and for a second, he thought Calith was going to throw the thing at Tinár. Instead, he slid a paper under the weight and banged it sharply down on the desk again. “Then you will undoubtedly want to be gone as soon as possible.”
Legolas could not help being amused, even though his sympathies were all with Calith. Legolas would not want to have to spend much time in the same room with Tinár. Indeed, he rather thought that Tinár occupied his current position because so many warriors and their officers felt that way about him that Ithilden had had to remove him from service in a patrol or face rebellion from his troops. He gave Calith a smile of commiseration and then rapped on Ithilden’s door.
“Come!” called his brother’s deep voice, and Legolas pushed the door open, entered the office, and put his hand over his heart in salute. Ithilden looked up with a smile. “Sit down,” he invited, and Legolas dropped into the chair in front of his desk. “I am glad to see you woke up in time to eat the mid-day meal if not the morning one.”
Legolas smiled, as he knew Ithilden expected him to do. Ithilden had left for his office long before Legolas had rolled out of bed that day. He had barely risen in time to get the message that Ithilden wanted to see him before the mid-day meal. “It seems I am on leave. I am entitled to sleep late.”
“Indeed you are,” Ithilden agreed. “And as soon as you give me a few more details about your last mission, you will be entitled to forget all about the defense of the realm for a week.”
Legolas could feel his smile fading. “I thought Sórion wrote a report.”
“He did.” Ithilden paused and then continued with his voice gentle. “I know this is difficult for you to talk about, but I need to know a little more about how Naran died, and Sórion was not there when it happened. Naran’s adar came to me late yesterday and asked questions for which I had no answers.”
Legolas closed his eyes for a moment. As the lieutenant who had led the mission on which Naran died, Legolas was indeed the person who could and should answer any questions about it. He drew a deep breath and opened his eyes. “Do you want me to talk to Naran’s adar again?” He had spoken to the dead warrior’s parents when he returned their son’s body to them the day before.
“No. I will do it.” Ithilden looked at Legolas soberly. “It has been obvious to me that you are taking this hard, Legolas, even though you were clearly not to blame for Naran’s death. I assume that is why Sórion sent you home on leave a month early. Can you tell me why this death bothers you so?”
Unable to bear the sympathy in his brother’s eyes, Legolas shifted his gaze to the wall behind Ithilden. He hesitated. Why did this death bother him more than the others he had seen among the warriors he helped to command? He was not sure he knew the answer. “He was so young,” he finally ventured, “perhaps too young to have been in the Southern Patrol.” He flicked his glance to Ithilden in time to see his brother’s face grow guarded. “I am sorry,” Legolas said hastily. “I did not mean to question your decision to send him. I am sure you evaluated his readiness as well as anyone could have. It is just--.” He shrugged helplessly. “He was young, Ithilden.”
For a moment, Ithilden did not answer. Then he sighed. “I know. He seemed that way to me too, but he was no younger than many other warriors you had serving under you there, and he wanted to go, and according to his previous captains, he was ready to go. Did he do anything to indicate to you he was not experienced enough to be there?”
Legolas thought for a moment and then shook his head. “No. It was just one of those things. It was Naran’s bad luck that the Orc’s arrow found him rather than the warrior right next to him, unless, perhaps, I should have positioned them differently to start with.” He felt worry beginning to gnaw at his heart again, as it had done off and on since Naran died.
“You have shown good ability to position your troops in the past. Do you have reason to believe you did it badly this time?” Ithilden’s tone was patient.
For the hundredth time, Legolas recalled the details of the patrol on which Naran had died – the rain, the way the Orcs had emerged from the cave with bows in their hands, the Orc archer who had turned and shot seemingly at random into the tree in which Naran crouched. He sighed. “No. We had no way to know they had so many bows. They were not carrying them when the scouts saw them go to ground.”
“Then blaming yourself serves no purpose.” Ithilden met his eyes steadily, and Legolas immediately felt a little better. Ithilden had been a warrior for centuries before Legolas was born and had been an officer for most of them, whereas Legolas had been a lieutenant for only a little over ten years. He trusted Ithilden’s judgment and also trusted him to tell the truth if he thought Legolas’s leadership had been inadequate.
Legolas braced himself. “What is it that Naran’s adar wants to know?”
Ithilden sighed. “Who his son was partnered with that night, what his mood was like, whether he suffered.”
“I told him Naran died quickly, although in truth, Ithilden, I do not know that with certainty. The battle went on for a time after he was shot, so we could not attend to him right away.”
“I know, but his adar and naneth have been thinking about it and want to be able to picture their son’s last few minutes, hoping they were not too horrifying. It is common enough, as you probably know by now. I imagine you get the same sort of letters from grieving families that all officers get, asking for the same kind of information.”
That was true enough. Legolas was eternally grateful that it usually fell to his captain to answer such letters. He drew a deep breath and settled down to give Ithilden as detailed an account of Naran’s death as he could. Ithilden listened intently. He made no notes, but Legolas knew he would remember everything he was told. There was little enough to tell at that. Naran’s death had been like many others. It was only to those who loved him that this loss was unique. At last, Ithilden said, “Thank you, Legolas. If the family has more questions, I will let you know, but I think this should be sufficient.”
Legolas nodded. “Is that all?” He made to rise, assuming the interview was over, but Ithilden surprised him.
“No, that is not quite all.” Lowering his eyes to his desk, Ithilden ran his hand over his dark hair. Then he looked at Legolas. “I think you need to be away from the south for a while, Legolas, and so does Sórion. When your leave is finished, you will report to Elorfin to serve as his lieutenant in the Northern Border Patrol.”
Legolas blinked. “You do not need to do that, Ithilden,” he protested. “You know I have been back there for only six months.”
“I know, but you need to be away for a while, and I can send Lómór to replace you as lieutenant. He has been in the Northern Border Patrol for several years now and is itching for a little action.” Ithilden’s voice was firm, and rather to his shame, Legolas suddenly realized he was thankful to hear it. He would be only too glad to be away from the devastation and shadow of the south, if only for a time.
He looked away, hoping Ithilden would not see his relief. “Very well.” He glanced back to see Ithilden still watching him, his face unreadable.
“You have done everything I asked of you, Legolas, and it is not as if I am sending you home to rest in the shade in the garden. I am afraid you will be back into a more dangerous posting soon enough. As Naneth used to say, take a chance for joy.”
“Good advice,” Legolas acknowledged. Feeling a little more light-hearted, he smiled. “I suppose I could become accustomed to being among healthy trees again.”
Ithilden returned the smile. “I expect you could.” Suddenly, he turned his head to look expectantly toward the closed door of his office. A few seconds later, someone knocked, and Calith poked his head in.
“Lady Alfirin is here, my lord,” he announced, his eyes gleaming with suppressed amusement. He stepped aside, and Ithilden’s wife came into the room, carrying a picnic basket with a blanket folded across its top. Both Legolas and Ithilden rose.
“Good day, Legolas,” she said and then turned to Ithilden. “Are you ready?”
Legolas glanced at Ithilden, who avoided his eyes. Ithilden came out from behind his desk, took the basket from Alfirin, and kissed her brow. “I am.” He turned to Legolas and, with determined casualness, said, “She seems to think I will not eat unless she feeds me. We are going on a picnic.”
Legolas smiled blandly at him. “I can see that.” He eyed the blanket on top of the basket. “A thick blanket is a good thing. I would imagine that pebbles and twigs can dig into one’s back and knees if one has no cushioning when one is on a ‘picnic.’”
Alfirin giggled and blushed, and Ithilden bared his teeth. “Then again, I could send you to stand guard duty in the Great Hall while Adar holds court.”
Legolas laughed and snapped into formal salute. “Please do not do that, my lord. The Northern Border Patrol needs me.”
Ithilden laughed and gestured for Alfirin to lead the way out of his office. “I will be back in an hour or so,” he told Calith, who responded with an indulgent smile. Legolas noticed that Tinár had gone, so Calith’s day was undoubtedly looking brighter. Legolas waved to him and then left the building. For a moment, he watched Ithilden and Alfirin walk away toward the woods, with Ithilden’s head bent to listen to something she was saying and his arm around her waist. Then Legolas gave himself a shake and started off along the path that led through the training fields.
The day had grown warm, and most of the fields were empty now, as warriors and novices went to their mid-day meal in their common dining room. But as Legolas approached, a lone figure detached itself from the deep shade under an oak. Legolas grinned and hurried forward to clasp the other’s arm and then embrace him. “Annael! You cannot know how happy I was to find your invitation waiting for me this morning.”
Annael smiled back at him. “The minute my naneth heard you had arrived home yesterday, she announced that you would eat with us, so it is fortunate that you knew enough to obey the summons or there would have been trouble.”
Legolas laughed. “Your naneth has been feeding me from the time I was first old enough to toddle along the path to your cottage. I would never pass up an opportunity to let her do it again. How are things in the Home Guard?” The two of them started down the path toward Annael’s cottage.
“We have seen a good many spiders this summer, but not so many that we could not manage. How are things in the south? I saw Eilian yesterday, so I assume he is still on leave.”
“He is,” Legolas agreed. “Ithilden more or less forced it on him, I think.” Annael grimaced sympathetically. Ithilden had removed Eilian as the Southern Patrol’s captain only a month earlier. Legolas had liked serving under Eilian. He and his brother read one another well and made a formidable joint menace to the enemy. But like all of the warriors who had served longest in the battle against shadow that had worn on in the years since the end of the Watchful Peace, Eilian had been showing signs of weariness, and Ithilden had begun to give long leaves to those who needed them most. Legolas could not say he was surprised that Ithilden had placed Eilian on one, and indeed, was relieved that his oldest brother had not done the same thing to him today. Accepting such a leave while others continued the fight seemed like a dereliction of duty, especially given his role as Thranduil’s son.
“Eilian will not know what to do with himself if he cannot spend his time slaughtering Orcs,” Annael said.
Legolas grinned. “Celuwen will think of something.” Annael laughed the laugh of a long-married husband.
They entered the clearing in which Annael’s cottage stood, and Annael led the way inside. Almost immediately, his mother emerged from the kitchen doorway near the other end of the little hallway. “Legolas!” she cried and opened her arms to embrace him.
“Mae govannen, Elowen.” Legolas bent to kiss her check. “As I have believed since I was ten, you are the most beautiful female I know.”
She laughed. “You are beginning to sound like your scamp brother, although I suppose Eilian has settled down a bit now that he is married.”
“I hope so,” Legolas laughed.
“Come. The meal is almost ready.” She led them into the kitchen. As Legolas entered the room, he paused for a surprised second. He had expected to find Annael’s wife in the room, and so she was, turning to smile a greeting at him from where she was ladling stew from a pot over the fire into a large serving bowl. But he had not expected to find the maiden who was just placing a loaf of bread on the table. He glanced at Annael and caught a startled look on his face too.
Beliniel picked up the bowl of stew, and Annael hastened to take it from her and carry it to the table. “Legolas, this is my friend Elithraniel,” Beliniel said.
“Mae govannen,” Legolas greeted her, inclining his head.
“Mae govannen, my lord,” Elithraniel returned, dropping a little curtsy. She had smooth, dark hair that shone in the beam of sunlight coming through the kitchen window.
“Sit here, Legolas,” Elowen instructed, touching the back of one chair. “And Elithraniel, you sit here.” She touched the next chair and smiled hopefully at them both.
Suppressing a rueful smile, Legolas did as he was told, while Annael shot him an apologetic look. This was far from the first time he had been the target of Elowen and Beliniel’s matchmaking.
“I do not believe we have met before,” he said to Elithraniel. “Have you recently moved near the king’s stronghold?”
She looked startled. “No. I was born here. Perhaps you know my brother, Fandil. He is in the Home Guard.”
Embarrassed by his failure to recognize the maiden, Legolas was sorry to have to say he did not know her brother. “I know few of the youngest warriors,” he apologized. Most of the Home Guard warriors were young, for it was a safe first posting. From conversations with Annael, Legolas knew he often led patrols made up chiefly of warriors who had only recently finished their novice training. He suddenly realized just how young Elithraniel was too. He suspected she was not many years past being of age.
“Really, Legolas, this is a sign you are gone far too much,” Beliniel declared. “Elithraniel has been tending the gardens at the palace for the last year. She created that little grotto near the pond where you and Annael fished when you were children.”
“Unfortunately, I am gone a great deal,” Legolas agreed. And given the realm’s need for warriors and his duty as the king’s son, that situation was unlikely to change any time soon. Not that he would voice that thought aloud here, of course. He had no wish to spoil the good cheer of these people, among whom were some of those he held most dear.
Annael reached to pour more cider into his wife’s cup. “Leave Legolas alone,” he smiled. “Surely you have enough to do keeping me in order. Moreover, I enjoy having you tell me the way of things and will be jealous if you do it for Legolas too.” They all laughed, and Legolas’s glance lingered for a moment on his friend’s face, which suddenly looked lit up from within. Then fearing that he was violating Annael’s privacy, he turned his gaze to his plate.
“Will you be home for a while now, my lord?” Elithraniel asked.
“Only for a week,” he said. He considered telling her about his new assignment in the Northern Border Patrol but decided against it and instead asked her about the grotto she had created in the palace gardens.
Legolas entered his father’s stable to answer his third summons for that day. He thought he knew what this one was about, and he could not help smiling a little ruefully to himself. At the other end of the wide aisle between the rows of stalls, he saw his father and the stablemaster leaning against the wooden divider and watching the horse in the last stall. At his approach, they turned. “Legolas,” Thranduil smiled, “come and see. I have a gift for you.”
Legolas could not suppress a grin. So he had been right. He went to stand next to Thranduil and look at the bay stallion, who stood with his ears pricked, eyeing Legolas. “He is beautiful, Adar,” he said honestly. “Thank you.” The horse was indeed a handsome beast, with a gleaming coat and a well-muscled body. He would be a very welcome replacement for Legolas’s previous mount, who had taken a wound from an Orc arrow and needed time to heal.
Thranduil smiled with satisfaction. “And the stablemaster and his assistants have done an excellent job of training him. I think you will find that he will obey well and will carry you with or without tack.”
“That is good to hear,” Legolas murmured, trying to sound sufficiently impressed. His father had always maintained that Legolas did not have the heart to train his horses to sufficient obedience, and he had evidently decided to take remedying the matter into his own hands. Legolas did not particularly mind. His father was an excellent judge of horses. The bay would undoubtedly be a pleasure to ride.
“He is also fast, my lord,” put in the stablemaster from Thranduil’s other side. He was smiling slightly, having a reasonably good idea of what was happening between father and son here.
Legolas grinned at him. He and the stablemaster had spent enough time talking about horses that the stablemaster knew Legolas would value the horse’s speed at least as much as his unquestioning obedience. “Thank you.”
Thranduil raised an eyebrow. “Fighting in these woods, a warrior seldom needs great speed from his horse.” He looked forbidding for a moment, and then the corners of his mouth quirked. “Of course, warriors do occasionally engage in races.”
Legolas laughed. “Occasionally, they do,” he agreed. He reached for the latch on the stall door, intending to go in and make the bay’s acquaintance.
“By your leave, my lord,” the stablemaster said, “I will go and tend to some other duties.” Thranduil nodded his permission, and the stablemaster walked away. Legolas approached the horse, murmuring sweet words and then stroking the animal’s neck. The horse flicked his ears in Legolas’s direction and stood quietly under his touch. Legolas was seized by a sudden desire to feel this animal’s power between his thighs.
“Will you ride with me, Adar?” he asked, glancing toward where his father still lingered.
“I do not have time to ride today,” Thranduil said regretfully. He seemed to hesitate and then said. “Did you meet with Ithilden this morning?”
Legolas ran his hand lightly along the horse’s flank. “Yes.” He looked at Thranduil. “He told me he was assigning me to the Northern Border Patrol. Is that what you are asking?”
Relief flitted momentarily across Thranduil’s face before it became carefully neutral. “Yes, it is.”
A sudden idea send a flash of resentment running through Legolas. “Did he do that at your behest, Adar?” For years his father had fretted over every dangerous assignment Legolas had, and he could not help feeling that his father’s anxiety showed a lack of faith in his abilities.
Thranduil frowned slightly. “Watch your tone of voice, Legolas. While Ithilden told me he intended to transfer you, he did not do it because I asked him to, but because he thought you needed a change, a judgment that I shared.”
The horse shifted nervously under Legolas’s hand, and he drew a deep breath, deliberately relaxing the muscles that had tensed in his shoulders. “I beg your pardon.” He looked at the well-groomed coat in front of him for a moment, wondering whether it would be selfish to tell his father that he was relieved by the change of patrol. He did not like to worry Thranduil, but rather to his surprise, he had found him a good listener when he wanted to talk about his experiences as a warrior. In the end, he turned to give his father as much of a smile as he could muster. “Ithilden urged me to see the transfer as a chance to be among healthy trees and seize a moment of joy, and I have decided to listen to him.”
Plainly recognizing his dead wife’s words, Thranduil visibly relaxed. “Good.” He smiled and gestured to the horse. “Enjoy this moment now, and think of me listening to what are likely to be some very tedious petitions.”
Legolas laughed. “I will,” he promised and began to lead the horse out of the stall, while Thranduil walked away toward the palace.
Legolas left the stables and took the path that led through the palace gardens toward the bridge over the Forest River. The bay had been as good a mount as his father and the stablemaster had said he was, and he had had a very pleasant ride through the woods. He mulled over possible names for the horse. Alasse, he thought suddenly and smiled to himself. Given the use they all made of his mother’s words urging them to take a moment for joy, his whole family would be amused if he named his horse “joy” in Quenya.
He was passing the fish pond when he recalled Elithraniel’s description of the new grotto she had created and decided to take another moment of joy and look at it. He took the small path that led past a bench and around a thick clump of lilac bushes to where water now trickled merrily down over mossy rocks and water plants to run in a small stream back toward the pond. A wooden bench had been placed next to the little waterfall, and a climbing rose grew on a trellis set just behind the bench.
Pleased by the spot, he settled onto the bench and thought for a moment about Elithraniel. She had been pleasant enough, he thought, but then all of the maidens that Elowen and Beliniel introduced him to were pleasant. The problem was that none of them seemed to have the magic for him that Beliniel so obviously had for Annael and that Ithilden’s and Eilian’s wives had for them. Perhaps it was for the best, he thought a little wistfully. He was away much of the time and in danger. He would be asking a great of any maiden if he expected her to bond with him.
As if conjured by Legolas’s thought of him, the sudden sound of Eilian’s raised voice reached him. “No!”
“I do not understand why you will not even consider this, Eilian,” Celuwen’s strained voice answered. “You have this leave. You are obviously restless. Why should we not go and live in the settlement for a few months?”
Legolas sat still, not wanting to let them know he was listening to this quarrel and assuming they would soon walk on. But their voices did not move away, and he realized that they must have stopped at the bench by the fish pond. That bench was really quite close to this spot even though he could not see it because of the lilac bushes that screened him from their view and it screened them from his.
“You know that your adar and I cannot possibly live in the same place for more than a day or two,” Eilian declared heatedly.
There was a second of silence. “True,” Celuwen admitted, sounding regretful. “But we could live in a different settlement. Why should we not do that?”
“I cannot leave the stronghold.”
And again, for a second or two, there was silence. “I would feel irresponsible.” Suddenly, Eilian gave a short laugh. “I cannot believe those words just came out of my mouth.” Legolas found the words odd too. Thranduil had often enough accused Eilian of being irresponsible, but Legolas had never before heard Eilian accuse himself of it.
“How would spending a few months in the woods be irresponsible?” Celuwen sounded exasperated now. “You are on leave!”
“I--,” Eilian seemed to hesitate in his explanation. “I am the king’s son. I cannot just go off and enjoy myself. And what about your service as the king’s councilor? How can you just walk away from that?”
“Are you suggesting that I am the irresponsible one?” Celuwen’s voice was sharp. “I am supposed to advise your adar about matters to do with the settlements, and a few months in one might help me do that. If I have to, I can return to the palace periodically for council meetings. As for you, of course you can go off and enjoy yourself! That is what you are supposed to do. Eilian, I need to be away from the palace for a while, and I think it would do you good too.”
“I am sorry,” said Eilian contritely. “I know you find life in the palace a trial at times. It is just that--,” he paused and then forged on determinedly. “I think my adar would see it as irresponsible if I walked away from the palace and the family entirely.”
“Eilian--,” and this time it was Celuwen who hesitated. “You know as well as I do that Ithilden could not possibly have made you take this leave without your adar’s agreement, and the king has not asked you to do anything else in court.”
Even from where Legolas sat, he could hear Eilian snort. “He is wiser than that. He has seen me struggling to stay awake while he deals with courtiers.”
“But he would still require you to attend court if he thought it fitting. You know he would. So it seems to me that he must approve of your having time away from all responsibilities. And anyway, surely it is time you began doing what you think is right rather than worrying about gaining your adar’s approval.”
This time the moment of silence was longer. Then suddenly Eilian laughed outright. “Celuwen, you are amazing. So you think I should just go off with you to a settlement, even if Adar objects?” To Legolas’s relief, Eilian’s anger seemed to have ebbed and he sounded amused.
“He will not object, but yes, I think you should go even if he does. I think we should go.”
When Eilian’s voice came again, it was husky. “How would you feel about making love in a garden?”
Celuwen laughed, and then, to Legolas’s relief, she said, “Too many people come through here, my love. If you want to provoke your adar, making love here would be the way to do it.”
“Do you know, I believe that would add to the excitement,” Eilian wheedled.
“No. Come now. I will let you help me bathe before the evening meal.”
Legolas heard the rustle of their clothes as they rose and began to walk away. He sat waiting for all sound of them to fade before he too rose and made his way back to the palace to bathe and dress for the evening meal. He had a new horse and a new posting in the northern woods. He had family and friends. He would take any chance for joy that presented itself. And he would not be jealous of Eilian, or Annael, or Ithilden. The Valar had blessed him. What did he have to be jealous about?
Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter for me.
AN: If you are wondering where this story falls in my series, I have a list of all my stories on my author page. It’s arranged in chronological order by Legolas’s age.
2. Leaving for the Woods
Legolas slid the last clean tunic into the pack, closed it, and drew the strap tight. He set it next to its companion near the door, where his quiver, bow, and sword also waited, and then left his chamber in search of his morning meal. Singing softly to himself as he strode along the hallway, he felt a certain amount of regret at the idea of leaving home again, but rather to his surprise, he also found that he was looking forward to going north. The week at home had left him much more relaxed than he had been when he arrived, and he could already see that some time in the relatively uneventful Northern Border Patrol would help him further. He would go back south eventually; Ithilden had said he would. As closely as he could figure it, he would probably go back about the same time Eilian did, and he was confident now that he would be ready when the time came.
He entered the small family dining room to find Thranduil and Ithilden already seated at the table. “Good morning, Legolas.” His father greeted him with a smile that Legolas thought looked a bit regretful. His father would miss him, he knew, but he also knew that Thranduil would never so much as hint that Legolas should not do what his duty required of him.
Legolas took his place between Ithilden and Thranduil, glancing toward his father for permission to sit. “If I have beaten Alfirin here, then I must be early,” he observed, placing his napkin on his lap. Because Alfirin ran the king’s household, including matters concerned with the king’s table, she was nearly always the first person to arrive for the morning meal so that she could assure herself that everything was in readiness for it.
Ithilden smiled. “She is packing up two new tunics to send to Sinnarn. She fears he will go naked if she does not clothe him.”
Reaching to help himself to some stewed fruit, Legolas laughed. “I knew I would not be bored in the Northern Border Patrol when I recalled that Sinnarn was posted there. As I recall, he has been a challenge for many of the officers in command over him.”
Ithilden grimaced. “As I told you when we spoke yesterday, my son will take watching. He is still far too likely to be thinking about how to amuse himself rather than the business at hand. I think you will be good for him, Legolas. He knows you are not much older than he is, and seeing you in a responsible position should sober him a bit.”
“Sinnarn will be fine,” Thranduil said, with the tolerance that, much to his sons’ amazement, he almost always displayed toward his grandson. “He enjoys making merry, and he makes mistakes, but he has never shirked his duty.”
“True enough,” Ithilden conceded, and Legolas could see he was comforted by the thought.
The door opened, and Alfirin came into the room, carrying a package wrapped in stout, waterproof cloth. Legolas rose, as Ithilden did too, reaching to draw out his wife’s chair at the foot of the table and hold it for her. “I have something for Sinnarn, Legolas,” Alfirin said, holding up the package to show him and then setting it on the sideboard and coming to take her seat. “I did not think you would mind taking it.”
“I do not mind,” Legolas said equably, resuming his place. He could see Alfirin running her eye over the table to make sure everything was as it should be. Evidently it was, because she relaxed and shot Ithilden a smile as he helped her to fruit and bread.
The door opened again, and Eilian and Celuwen came in, holding hands and looking pleased with the state of everything in Arda. Trying to suppress his grin, Legolas stood until Eilian had seated Celuwen across from him. These two had both been in fine feather since two days ago, when Eilian had spent an hour closeted with Thranduil and emerged with permission for him and Celuwen to spend his leave in the woods. Legolas had asked Eilian if their father had been difficult to persuade, and apparently, he had not been. “Adar went on a bit about the how the settlers would see me as his representative and how I would need to be diplomatic,” Eilian had grinned, “all of which is undoubtedly quite true, but I would say that he seemed relieved by the idea of our going. I do believe he feared I would grow restless and make trouble if I stayed here with no duties.” Legolas had laughed, although privately he thought that if that was what his father feared, he was probably quite right.
“When you finally decide where you will spend your time, you must let me know, Eilian,” Legolas said now. “I want to know where to write to you.” Any letter Legolas wrote would be likely to go home first in a dispatch bag, and then be routed to Eilian, but if Eilian and Celuwen chose to live in one of the northern settlements, Legolas might be able to send letters to them directly when members of his patrol were going in the right direction.
“But we have already decided which settlement we will grace with our presence,” Eilian said, with a grin. Legolas could see the rest of his family looking at Eilian with eyebrows raised inquiringly, and Eilian looked pleased by the drama his announcement had produced. “We will go to the settlement along the river near the forest’s eastern edge.”
Legolas blinked uncertainly. “You do not mean Anyr’s settlement? You are not going to the settlement that Anyr leads?”
Eilian looked at him, obviously puzzled by his tone. “Yes, that is the one. Celuwen knows Anyr and says that she thinks that his settlement would be a pleasant place to live for a few months.”
Legolas gave a hoot of laughter. “Eilian, do you not remember what I told you about Anyr? No, on second thought I suppose you do not. You had been bonded for about two days when I told you, and you had other things on your mind.”
“What is wrong with Anyr and his settlement?” Eilian asked.
“Nothing is the matter with them,” Celuwen declared, and Legolas suddenly became aware that she was frowning at him. He struggled to control his demeanor but could not help laughing a little still.
“I am sorry, Celuwen,” he said contritely. “You are right of course that that setting along the river is pleasant. It was flooded the last time I saw it, and even in that condition, I could see its attraction. But you must admit that Anyr is exceedingly vague.” Legolas had acted as his father’s representative and taken food to this settlement when it flooded after the snows melted at the end of the Long Winter. He had found Anyr to be maddeningly impractical, one of those Elves who truly believed that Arda would provide anything he needed and thus he had no need to worry.
Celuwen looked a little mollified. “He is vague, but he is truly good-hearted, and now that I think of it, his weakness as a leader is another reason Eilian and I should stay there. We will enjoy ourselves among the trees, and we may be able to help Anyr create a bit more structure in that settlement.”
Eilian looked at her. “That should be fun,” he said dryly. “I am always patient when dealing with featherheads.”
“I think this is an excellent idea,” Thranduil put in. Legolas saw Eilian’s head swivel sharply toward their father. “Anyr will trust you, Celuwen, because he knows you have his best interests at heart. And in serving as a captain, Eilian has proven himself to be a capable leader.”
Eilian’s mouth dropped open.
“Of course,” Thranduil went on, “you will both have to be circumspect and tactful in encouraging Anyr to make changes, but Celuwen has a good sense of what the settlement dwellers will expect, and because she is my advisor, you can let her do much of the necessary negotiating, Eilian.”
Eilian’s mouth tightened again. “I promise you I will be wise enough to stay out of such matters and let Celuwen manage them, Adar,” he said, his voice edged with sarcasm.
Legolas saw Thranduil’s jaw set in almost the same manner as Eilian’s, but before Thranduil could say anything, Celuwen reached over to touch Eilian’s hand lightly. “Truly, I do think we will find that settlement a good place to live, Eilian. We could be happy there, and we could do some good too.” Legolas saw Eilian and their father both turn to look at her, and confronted by the honest hope in her face, they both relaxed.
“I am sure you are correct,” Thranduil said and returned to eating his morning meal.
Legolas relaxed too. In the face of tension between Eilian and Thranduil, Legolas had seen Celuwen make timely interruptions before. In truth, he was not even sure that she made them deliberately. At the moments she made them, she usually seemed to be focused on Eilian, to be responding to his emotional state, and to be utterly unconscious of Thranduil. Every time he saw it, Legolas was surprised and amused by her complete lack of fear of his father and even more so by Thranduil’s restrained response. Whatever the case was now, he was relieved not to have his last morning at home spoiled by a quarrel between his father and brother. He loved them both and was constantly vexed by their inability to get along with one another.
Eilian turned to Legolas. “It occurred to me only last night that Galelas is still in the Northern Border Patrol, Legolas. You will have to let me know how he is doing.”
Legolas tried to keep from grimacing. In truth, he was concerned about having Galelas under his command. He and Galelas had been novices together, and even then Galelas had resented what he saw as the favored treatment Legolas received as the king’s son. Galelas would undoubtedly conclude that Legolas’s parentage was the reason he had been made a lieutenant when Galelas had not and might try to make trouble.
Moreover, Legolas had to admit that he probably had been promoted partly because of who he was. Ithilden would never have done it if Legolas were incompetent, but all of Thranduil’s sons had been fated for leadership from the day of their birth. It was a fate Legolas was not always entirely comfortable with. In truth, he thought he was probably far less ambitious than Galelas was, but ambition had nothing to do with the obligations under which he lived.
For reasons Legolas could not fathom, Eilian had taken Galelas under his wing and was interested in his progress. “I will let you know,” he said noncommittally.
Eilian evidently read his tone because he raised an eyebrow. “He is a good warrior, Legolas. At least, when he curbs his competitiveness, he is.”
Legolas could feel his mouth twisting. “I will do my best to manage him, of course, but he can be very difficult.”
“You would be difficult too if Tinár were your brother,” Eilian said dryly. “I cannot understand how Ithilden’s aide tolerates sharing an office with the fool. And their idiotic parents dote on Tinár and ignore Galelas.”
Legolas laughed and tried to shift the subject. Talking to Ithilden or Eilian about dealing with a warrior under his command was one thing if they were in Ithilden’s office, but he did not want to be drawn into a discussion of such matters at the family table. “I have probably been made difficult enough by having you and Ithilden as my brothers.”
They all laughed. “I have frequently noticed how impossible you are,” Eilian agreed with a fond smile and let the matter drop. He probably recognized the inappropriateness of pressing the matter too, Legolas thought. Eilian was usually discreet about personnel issues in his own patrol. He would not expect Legolas to be any different.
When the meal was over, Legolas took the package Alfirin had made for Sinnarn and went to his chamber to gather his packs, weapons, and cloak. He managed to cram the package into one of the packs and went back out into the hall to find his family waiting for him, just as he had known they would be. Eilian took his packs, and Thranduil put his arm lightly around Legolas’s shoulders. Without conversation, they all made their way out of the palace to find the stablemaster waiting just across the bridge with Legolas’s new bay stallion standing contentedly at his side. The horse lifted his head and whinnied when he saw Legolas.
To no one’s surprise, Beliond also waited, his hand on his own horse’s neck. Legolas did not know how his bodyguard always knew when Legolas planned to leave to return to the field, but Beliond always did. Beliond saluted Thranduil and Ithilden, nodded to the rest of the family, and then turned to Legolas. “I like the new horse. He is obedient.”
Legolas laughed. “Why am I not surprised that that is the standard you apply? Did you have enough time by yourself this week to cure your temper?”
“My temper is as even as it always was,” Beliond snorted. He studied Legolas’s face and then smiled approvingly. “You look as if you had enough time at home to lift your spirits at any rate.” He took Legolas’s weapons and then reached to take his packs from Eilian. When he went to drape them over Alasse’s back, Legolas turned to face his family.
“Give Sinnarn our love,” Alfirin said wistfully as she embraced him and then released him so he could clasp arms with Ithilden, who brought his other hand up to squeeze Legolas’s shoulder.
“I will,” Legolas promised.
Celuwen stretched to kiss his cheek, and then Eilian refused his proffered arm and embraced him tightly. “Take care, brat.”
“You too. Keep him out of trouble in the settlement, Celuwen.”
“I will try,” she laughed.
Last of all, Legolas turned to face the tall, comfortingly solid figure of his father. “I am sorry to part with you so soon, iôn-nín,” Thranduil said, putting his hands on Legolas shoulders, “but I am certain you will do well with your new responsibilities, and I take comfort from knowing that the summer woods will be beautiful in the north.” He drew Legolas close, clasping the back of his head for a moment, in a long, elegant hand. Then he released him.
“Thank you, Adar,” Legolas said. “I will do my best.”
“You always do,” Thranduil smiled, and more gratified than he could say, Legolas leapt onto his horse’s back, while Beliond too readied himself for the ride north.
Legolas looked one more time at this little group of people whom he loved then asked, “By your leave, my lord?” Thranduil waved him on his way, and Legolas and Beliond trotted off into the summer morning.
Evening was slipping among the trees when Legolas and Beliond rode into the camp of the Northern Border Patrol. “Legolas!” cried Sinnarn, strolling up to greet him as he slipped from Alasse’s back. “I have been watching for you. Welcome!”
“Your parents send their love,” Legolas told him, embracing him.
The dark-haired form of Elorfin approached through the twilight. “How are you, Legolas? Beliond, it is good to see you again.” He clasped arms with both of them and then gestured for a young warrior who was hovering nearby to take their horses.
Before Alasse was led away, Legolas fished a handful of letters from a pack, took one, and then grinned and handed the rest of the letters, both packs, and his weapons to Sinnarn. “Make yourself useful and put these on my flet. Then you can distribute those letters from home to the patrol.”
“I see I am expected to fetch and carry for you, just as I have always had to do,” Sinnarn grumbled, but Legolas could see he was still pleased by his arrival. Sinnarn led Beliond off to show him where he and Legolas would be lodged when they were in camp.
“There is venison stew if you want it,” Elorfin invited, leading Legolas toward where logs had been arranged as seating around the fire.
“Thank you. I would welcome some hot food. Ithilden sends you this.” He handed the letter he still held to Elorfin.
“Bring the lieutenant a dish of stew, Vanduil,” Elorfin called and opened Ithilden’s dispatch as another young warrior hastened to obey. Legolas eyed Vanduil and some of his companions in bemusement. He had thought that some of the warriors serving under him in the south were young, but even younger faces predominated here, because this patrol and the Eastern Border Patrol were common postings for warriors after they had spent their first few years of service in the Home Guard. In recent years, Legolas had spent most of his time in the west or the south, which were more dangerous and thus were patrolled by more experienced warriors. He was going to need to adjust his thinking if he was to be an effective leader of the youths he saw around this campfire.
“How are things at home?” Elorfin asked, folding the dispatch.
“Peaceful. Parts of the forest may have fallen into shadow, but it has not yet managed to creep near the stronghold.”
Beliond emerged from the growing darkness, helped himself to food, and sat down some distance away next to Sinnarn’s bodyguard, Nithron. Sinnarn returned and circulated around the camp, passing out messages, much to the delight of his fellow patrol members. Then he sat down on Nithron’s other side to read his own letter, glancing up at Legolas from time to time, but evidently reluctant to interrupt while Legolas was talking to the captain. As Legolas ate the stew, Elorfin looked around at his patrol. Legolas recognized his assessing gaze: Elorfin was checking on the mood of his warriors.
“You have served here before, I know, Legolas, so I do not need to explain how we operate,” Elorfin began. “Our task is the same as it has always been: patrolling the border here, making sure that no one enters the realm without our knowledge. Now that you are an officer, the other thing you will be responsible for here that you probably did not do in the Southern Patrol is developing young warriors.”
Legolas smiled slightly. “So I see.”
Elorfin smiled in response. “Over half of the patrol consists of seasoned warriors, and we pair them with the less experienced ones. In truth, watching them learn is very rewarding.”
Legolas nodded. “Eilian says that too.”
“Eilian is uncommonly good at working with them, once he resigns himself to doing something that does not involve haring off after excitement. I hear he is on an extended leave.”
“He is,” Legolas agreed.
“How loudly did he howl when Ithilden told him abut it?” Elorfin grinned.
Legolas laughed. “I was not there, but I do believe I heard him all the way from the south.” Elorfin laughed too.
“Captain?” came a voice from the dark, and reluctantly, Legolas turned toward it when Elorfin did. He already knew who was speaking.
As he had expected, Galelas walked into the glow of the fire. He had been big for his age as a novice, and he was now a solid, mature warrior, but Legolas saw a familiar discontented set to Galelas’s mouth as his eyes slid over Legolas. “We brought down a deer,” Galelas told Elorfin. “The others are dressing it now.”
“Good!” Elorfin looked pleased. “We were running low on meat. Get yourself something to eat.” Galelas nodded and walked toward the fire to help himself to stew. Elorfin turned to Legolas. “Game is plentiful here. Our hunting parties find deer rather easily.”
“Good.” Legolas finished his meal and set the bowl aside. “Did you want to go over my duties tonight, Captain?”
“No. Get some sleep. I will probably send you off with a patrol right away tomorrow so you can refamiliarize yourself with our territory and start getting to know those you will command.”
Legolas nodded and then rose. Seeing him move, Sinnarn jumped to his feet too and came toward him. “Let me show you where you will stay,” Sinnarn offered, and Legolas followed his nephew toward a tall oak. They climbed quickly to emerge on a flet with two pallets rolled up against two small, waterproof chests. A tarp was neatly folded near the chests, ready to be raised in the event of rain. Legolas’s packs stood on one side of the flet, while Beliond’s gear had been stowed on the other.
“Our last lieutenant used this flet,” Sinnarn told him. “He shared with Galelas, but Elorfin said that Beliond would have to stay with you, so Galelas is with Vanduil now, which is all right because they often patrol as partners anyway.”
Legolas grimaced. Beliond would indeed insist on staying by Legolas’s side. Thranduil would have had his hide if he did not. But Legolas could not help believing that Galelas would have been annoyed by being made to move. Not that he would have wanted to share a flet with Legolas, of course. Ah well. Galelas was going to have to accept the fact that Legolas was his lieutenant. Legolas knew the danger that lay in letting any warrior subvert his orders, and he did not intend to tolerate open defiance from Galelas. Moreover, he hoped that Galelas was a seasoned enough warrior that he would not engage in it.
“I understand the more experienced warriors often work as partners with the newer ones,” Legolas said. “Have you ever been paired with Galelas?” He was curious about whether Galelas’s resentment toward the king’s family extended to Sinnarn as well as himself. It had always made him faintly uneasy that Galelas admired Eilian. He had wondered if maybe it was not just his position that annoyed the other warrior, but rather something about him personally.
Sinnarn looked exasperated. “You are like everyone else in the family! I will have you know that I count as one of the experienced warriors here. So no, I have never been paired with Galelas, which is probably a good thing. He seems less than charmed by me.”
Legolas raised an eyebrow. “You and he do not get along?”
Sinnarn shrugged. “No. He just ignores me, and I return the favor.” Sinnarn was obviously not particularly interested in Galelas, but then, Legolas thought, Sinnarn and Galelas had never been novices together. “I am glad to see you here, Legolas,” Sinnarn went on, “but I was surprised to hear you were being transferred. How are you?”
He eyed Legolas appraisingly, and Legolas realized that Sinnarn probably knew quite well why Ithilden transferred warriors away from the south. “I am fine,” he assured his nephew. “I think your adar really sent me here because he wanted me to keep an eye on you.”
Sinnarn laughed. “That is probably only too true.” He sank down to sit cross-legged on the flet while Legolas moved his belongings from the packs to a chest and the two of them chatted about the people at home.
With no noise of warning at all, Beliond dropped onto the flet, making them both start. “Nithron is looking for you, Sinnarn,” Beliond said, looking smug at his performance. “He wants to tuck you in for the night.”
Sinnarn rolled his eyes but rose obediently and bid them both good night. As he was disappearing over the edge of the flet, he paused and jerked his head toward Beliond. “Legolas, has it ever occurred to you that we members of the king’s household are much put upon by those who are supposed to guard us?”
Legolas laughed but had no time to answer before a scowling Beliond moved toward where Sinnarn’s hand still rested on the flet, and seeing his danger, Sinnarn hastily let go and slipped away. Beliond turned to shoot a repressive look at Legolas. “Do you need me to put you to bed?”
“No, I think I can manage,” Legolas laughed. He unrolled one of the pallets and removed his weapons to lay them where he would be able to reach them if he were awakened suddenly. As he readied himself for sleep, he was aware of the night song of the forest around him and the pleasant drone of tree frogs. Stars had opened and were making their slow march overhead. He had been right to be grateful to Ithilden for sending him here, he thought. He would go back to hard duty when he had to, but for now, he was happy to be where he was.
AN: Legolas took the food to Anyr’s flooded settlement in “Spring Awakenings,” which is also the story in which Eilian and Celuwen bond.
Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter for me.
With the thick green leaves of summer rustling overhead, Legolas slipped through the forest, and as it had since he had first led this scouting mission into the woods, his body thrummed in harmony with the contented song these trees sang. He marveled yet again at how alive the forest was here, in contrast to the twisted trees in the shadowed south. He had almost forgotten what it felt like to be so at one with the woods, he realized. He had nearly lost his memory of this normal, everyday reality in the face of what was happening in the southern part of the Woodland Realm.
The little group he led had spent the last two days examining the ground and undergrowth for signs that an intruder had passed, listening for disturbances in the song of the trees, and checking the places in this part of the forest where strangers would be likely to camp if they were innocent or hide if they were not. Legolas had been pleased to find that he remembered this terrain well, although he had also seen that, since his last posting here, two streams had carved out new beds and a forest fire had destroyed old trees and left room for new growth at the edge of the territory this patrol was scouting. Yesterday, they had checked that area, and now they were moving back toward camp, sweeping once again through ground they had examined two days ago.
Legolas caught the sound of running water ahead and whistled a signal meant to draw the patrol’s members to him. Almost immediately, Beliond emerged from the trees to Legolas’s right. He had no doubt been keeping Legolas well in sight, but his bow was still on his back, so he too must sense the trees’ placidity and not be worried that some enemy would descend on them without warning.
“Unless the squirrels start hurling acorns at us, I think we are safe so far,” Beliond observed. Legolas grinned. He rather thought that Beliond had mixed feelings about the serene life of the Northern Border Patrol. Beliond was probably relieved that Legolas was out of danger, but given the wide-ranging life he had led before becoming Legolas’s bodyguard, he had to be bored on occasion too.
Gweddyn and Deliwyn appeared from Legolas’s left. Legolas glanced to Gweddyn for an assurance that all was as it should be, but he gestured for his much younger partner to speak. “We saw signs that a black bear has taken up residence near the border, Lieutenant,” Deliwyn said eagerly, “but nothing else was different.”
“Deliwyn found the claw marks,” Gweddyn said. The younger Elf tried to look indifferent, but he could not suppress a smile
“Good,” Legolas approved. He had watched with interest as these two worked together, occasionally asking Gweddyn how Deliwyn was doing, and he had been impressed by the way Gweddyn was unobtrusively offering guidance. Legolas had been young himself the first time he had served in this patrol, but he had not realized that the older warriors engaged in such deliberate care. Of course, he had always had Beliond by his side and that relationship had had its own quirks. It still did, for that matter.
Legolas turned as the remaining two patrol members approached. Galelas and Vanduil had been scouting well beyond where Beliond had been, so Legolas was not surprised that they were the last to arrive. Legolas lifted an eyebrow at them. “Nothing,” Galelas said.
Legolas waited to see if he would say anything more, but when he did not, Legolas shrugged and began giving orders. “As you no doubt hear, we are approaching the stream. We need to check the banks again, and then we will stop to eat.” Vanduil and Deliwyn both brightened, and Legolas had to suppress a smile. He had forgotten how hungry young warriors always were. “Gweddyn, you and Deliwyn search to the north until you get to where the banks rise. Then cross and start south again on the other side. Galelas, you and Vanduil do the same in the other direction. Beliond and I will cross immediately and begin searching on the other side.”
They all nodded and then fanned out slightly to approach the stream with the caution that was appropriate when drawing near to anyplace where animals or other, less harmless creatures might come to drink. Legolas raised a hand to halt them in the last of the trees that stood just where the ground began to slope away to the water. Elsewhere, the banks of this stream rose high and steep, but for about a mile here, they were low and the stream spread out more widely and flowed more slowly, making it an ideal place to come for water.
Legolas looked in either direction from where he stood but saw nothing stirring except the butterflies that floated in the tall grass. When no one else sounded an alarm either, he motioned them forward. Gweddyn and Deliwyn immediately approached the stream and then turned to their left and began moving away, scanning for signs that anyone unexpected had been there. Galelas and Vanduil did the same to the group’s right.
For a second, Legolas watched them go, noticing the way Galelas stayed slightly behind Vanduil and let his own search pattern slightly overlap Vanduil’s to lessen the chance that they would miss anything. He felt a stab of reluctant admiration for the care Galelas was taking. Then he turned his attention to the task at hand and led Beliond straight ahead to wade through the cool, knee-deep water.
On the other bank, they paused to drink and fill their water skins and then began searching to the north, knowing that the low banks ran further in that direction. Legolas saw tracks of deer and fox, although he saw no sign of the bear that Gweddyn and Deliwyn had reported. It must have another drinking place, he thought. We will have to find it and make certain that nothing more dangerous than bears shares it.
At that moment, a signal came from ahead, bringing him to sharp attention. Gweddyn and Deliwyn had found something. He began trotting toward the signal’s source, aware of Beliond off to his side doing the same thing. Almost immediately, he saw the two warriors. They had evidently reached the end of their assigned area on the other bank and had crossed to begin working their way south again. They were crouched, looking at the ground, but Gweddyn rose and came forward a little when he saw them. Without a word, he pointed to the tracks near which Deliwyn still squatted.
Legolas approached carefully, watching where he stepped so as not to disturb anything, but he need not have worried. The tracks Deliwyn guarded were deep and clear. Legolas looked at them for a long moment. “Now what do you suppose Dwarves are doing in the king’s woods?” he asked aloud.
“Getting a drink,” said Galelas’s voice, and Legolas turned to see that he and Vanduil had just arrived.
Legolas eyed Galelas coolly. “And have you an explanation for why they are drinking here?”
Galelas’s mouth tightened. “No,” he said grudgingly.
Legolas looked at him steadily. Then, satisfied, he turned to the others. “Spread out and see if you can find where they went.” He glanced at Gweddyn. “You saw no sign of them on the other side of the stream?”
“No,” Gweddyn said.
“Then they are here somewhere. Those tracks are not more than a few hours old.”
The group scattered and began to search, their efforts gradually taking them away from the stream and into the edge of the trees. Suddenly Legolas lifted his eyes from the ground and turned his head to listen. The trees to the east seemed to be disturbed. He whistled softly, calling his patrol to him. “That way,” he said, pointing east.
“What of it?” Galelas asked, his tone a little cautious. He obviously had no wish to draw another sharp word from Legolas.
Legolas glanced at him, more surprised than annoyed. “Listen. The trees are puzzled over something unusual. Do you not hear it?”
Galelas grimaced. “Perhaps.”
Legolas saw Vanduil and Deliwyn exchange a look and then turn round eyes on Legolas. Galelas eyed their faces and then turned abruptly to start in the direction Legolas had indicated.
As Legolas moved to go after him, Beliond slid to his side. “I have told you about that before,” he said smugly and then moved off a little distance away. Legolas glared at him for a second before turning to concentrate on the search. Every Elf Legolas knew could hear the song of the trees, but Beliond had always claimed that the king’s sons were more in harmony with the woods than others were. Legolas had begun to think that Beliond might be right, but he did not have to like being told so.
Within a hundred yards, Galelas spotted the broken tips on a shrub that showed where the Dwarves had passed. “There were only two,” he said, “although they were probably fetching water. There could be others.”
Legolas nodded, and they moved cautiously forward. Suddenly a familiar scent filled Legolas’s nostrils. He paused, sniffing the air.
“Someone is roasting venison,” Vanduil murmured gleefully. “Perhaps they will invite us to mid-day meal.”
Legolas shot him a warning glance, and he sobered. It would not do for this young warrior to get too cocky, Legolas thought. “Those doing the roasting are not very far away,” he said. “Everyone move into the trees. Encircle them and wait for my signal.”
Without a sound, the other disappeared among the branches. Legolas leapt into a nearby maple and, with Beliond a short distance to his left, he jumped from branch to branch, moving toward the source of the smell. Suddenly, through a break in the greenery, he saw them – four Dwarves gathered around a fire, over which they had suspended the haunch of a small deer. He slid to a lower branch, eyeing the campsite. He counted four packs, suggesting that the Dwarves in front of him were the sum total he was likely to find.
He slid his bow from his shoulder and, with his heart quickening a little, he waited to be sure the others had had time to position themselves. Then he pulled an arrow, fitted it to his bowstring, drew in a deep breath, and gave the signal. With a single push of his legs, he leapt down into the area near the fire, landing with his arrow pointed at one of the Dwarves and his face as stony as he could make it.
At the same moment, Beliond landed next to him, his arrow trained on a second Dwarf, and Gweddyn and Deliwyn appeared as if by magic on the other side of the fire. A second or two later, Galelas and Vanduil slid silently into view, their arrows at the ready. The Dwarves froze, one of them in the act of reaching out to turn the meat that sizzled over the fire. From the corner of his eye, Legolas caught a glimpse of another Dwarf’s hand twitching toward his axe. He drew his bow and pointed it at the offender. “If you are wise, Master Dwarf, you will remain still.” For a moment, no one moved.
Legolas swept his eyes over the Dwarves and settled on the one with the longest beard. “What are four Dwarves doing in the Elvenking’s woods?” he demanded.
The Dwarf drew a deep breath and straightened his shoulders. “We have the right to travel to and from Erebor,” he declared defiantly, making Legolas give him grudging points for courage. “Your king and mine agreed to that.”
“What Lords Thranduil and Thrór agreed to was that you could travel through the woods directly west of Erebor and north of there. You are south of where you should be. Or are Dwarves unable to tell where they are in a forest?”
The Dwarf bristled, but to Legolas’s satisfaction, he evidently recognized the cleft stick in which he was caught. He could admit to being lost, and thus look like a fool, or he could admit to deliberately violating the kings’ agreement, with consequences he could not predict. In truth, looking at the scene in front of him, Legolas was reasonably certain that the Dwarves had been hunting the deer and had continued to pursue it when it fled south. If they had been intent on something more threatening, they would not be sitting in the open, with the smoke of a fire and the smell of roasting meat to give them away.
The Dwarf finally decided to ignore Legolas’s question. Moving slowly, he held his hands out, palms up, in a mime of injured innocence. “We are on our way to the mountain and have simply paused to eat. We will be on our way again as soon as we have finished.”
Legolas gave a short laugh. “You will be on your way now.”
One of the other Dwarves made a disgusted sound. “You mean to rob us of our meal?” he cried.
Legolas could see the other Elves stiffen, and the Dwarven leader must have seen it too because he hastily gestured his companion into silence. “The venison is surely ready by now, Master Elf,” he said, “and there is enough for us and you too. Perhaps you will eat with us before we leave?”
Legolas raised an eyebrow at him. “You are generous with the deer you have caught in King Thranduil’s wood,” he said dryly.
“It would be a shame to waste the meat,” the Dwarf said.
No one moved, as Legolas stood for a moment, weighing his choices. Wasting the meat would indeed be shameful. What the forest gave should not be lightly tossed away. Besides, he knew his patrol was hungry. “Very well,” he said finally. “You four sit over there.” He gestured with his still-drawn bow to a spot a little away from the fire, and with their eyes on his arrow, the Dwarves did as they were told. “Gweddyn, you keep an eye on our ‘hosts.’ Deliwyn, if that venison is cooked, see to it that everyone has some.” Legolas eased his bow out of its draw and then returned the arrow to his quiver. Except for Gweddyn, who stood guard, the other Elves followed his lead.
Deliwyn moved toward the fire, examined the meat, and then, with a smile of anticipation, drew his eating knife and began to drop slices of it onto the elegantly wrought Dwarven plates that had been laid ready. He brought the first of it to Legolas, who eased his pack off his shoulders, removed his own eating utensils, and accepted the food. “Serve the Dwarves’ leader next,” he murmured, and Deliwyn nodded.
“They were probably poaching,” Beliond muttered from his seat next to Legolas.
Legolas nodded. “We will try to make sure that the next time they do it, they at least have enough sense to take their kill back to their own territory before they cook it.”
Beliond snorted, but said nothing further.
For the next few minutes, they ate. The Dwarves huddled silently together, continuing to eat and watching the arrow on Gweddyn’s bow. Legolas looked approvingly at Gweddyn’s blank face. He did look menacing. Glancing across the fire, Legolas saw Galelas speaking quietly to Vanduil and decided he wanted to have a word with them. He rose and went to where they sat, watching Galelas fall silent and look away at his approach.
“You two were late responding to my signal,” Legolas said. “What happened?”
Vanduil looked at him with stricken eyes, but before he could speak, Galelas said, “Nothing happened.” Vanduil looked at him from the corner of his eye.
Legolas gazed at them steadily. Finally, he said, “Vanduil, go and take the guard from Gweddyn so he can eat.” The young warrior nodded, leapt to his feet, and trotted off to obey. Legolas waited until he was engaged in watching the Dwarves and then spoke to Galelas in a low voice. “How is Vanduil doing, Galelas?”
“He is doing well,” Galelas declared.
“Was there a problem in getting into position around the Dwarves?”
“As you saw, we were where we were supposed to be.”
Legolas suppressed his exasperation. “Very well,” he said. “Then I must conclude you were simply slow. That could have disastrous consequences in the wrong situation.” With his mouth stubbornly set, Galelas gave a single sharp nod. Legolas gave the matter up and walked to where the Dwarves were finally showing signs of having had enough to eat. A glance told him that Gweddyn was polishing off the last of the venison, while Deliwyn had extinguished the fire and was making sure the ashes were scattered.
“We will escort you to your proper path now,” Legolas said. “I expect that my captain will send word of your trespass to my king, and it would not surprise me if he sent word to yours.” The Dwarves all flinched. Thrór would probably not be happy they had violated the agreement he had made with Thranduil. Legolas gestured the Dwarves to their feet, and they gathered their packs. “You and Galelas, lead the way,” Legolas ordered Vanduil, and the young warrior immediately started north at a brisk pace, with Galelas at his side and the Dwarves falling in behind. Legolas motioned Gweddyn and Deliwyn to precede him, and then he and Beliond brought up the rear of the party.
Beliond gave Legolas a satisfied look and murmured too low for anyone else to hear, “You certainly put the fear of the Valar in them. I expect that venison is churning away in their stomachs right now.” Legolas could not decide if he was gratified or not by his keeper’s assessment of his actions.
They walked for slightly over a league before Galelas and Vanduil halted and stepped apart to let the Dwarves pass between them. “Here we are,” Vanduil said, cheerily.
The Dwarves looked slightly uncertain. Legolas had noticed before that Dwarves were not always able to tell exactly where they were in the woods. It was an observation that never failed to rouse deep pity in him. “I suggest you travel a bit further north before you turn east again,” he said. “That way we can avoid any more unpleasantness.” The Dwarven leader nodded once and then, without a word, led his companions north.
Legolas turned to his own patrol. “Come. We need to finish scouting. Elorfin will be looking for us this evening.” The group set off and was soon once again sweeping through the forest, searching for signs of intruders.
Evening had fallen by the time they reached camp. “Mae govannen,” called the sentry in a familiar voice. “You return late.”
Legolas looked to see Sinnarn approaching, with his bow in his hand. Something white on Sinnarn’s hand caught his eye, and he waved the rest of his party on while he turned aside to speak to his nephew. “What happened?” he asked, indicating the bandage wrapped around Sinnarn’s left hand.
Sinnarn grimaced. “That is none of your business, Legolas.”
Legolas blinked and immediately knew that Sinnarn had been imprudent in some way. “As this patrol’s lieutenant, an injured warrior is my business,” he said sharply. “What happened to your hand?”
Sinnarn sighed. “I was fire jumping, and when I landed, I fell back with my hand in the fire.”
Legolas gaped at him. “Fire jumping! What possessed you to take such a foolish risk? I suppose neither Elorfin nor Nithron was around at the time?”
“You suppose correctly,” Sinnarn said. “I am not an idiot, after all. But you cannot tell me you have never engaged in fire jumping. I saw you do it after the mid-summer festival two years ago. I think you were trying to impress a maiden.”
Legolas could feel his temper rising. He had indeed leapt over a fire after the summer festival, competing with some of his fellows to see who could jump the farthest, but Sinnarn was incredibly cheeky to raise that memory now. “What I did after a festival and few cups of wine is completely unrelated to what you should be doing as a warrior in this patrol,” he said sharply. “And I am your lieutenant here, Sinnarn. Speak to me with respect.” In the back of his head, he suddenly heard both of his older brothers saying more or less the same thing to him when he had made the mistake of addressing them too familiarly while on duty.
Sinnarn sighed slightly. “Yes, Lieutenant,” he said woodenly. “It will not happen again.” It occurred to Legolas that Sinnarn had probably heard the same speech too.
Legolas drew a deep breath and relaxed a little. “Sometimes I believe you do not understand the seriousness of what we do, Sinnarn.”
Sinnarn looked away and then back again. “I understand it only too well,” he said defiantly. “How could anyone raised in the palace not? But surely that is all the more reason to amuse ourselves as we can.”
Legolas blinked at him. He had never heard Sinnarn take this slightly bitter tone before, but then, he had not been posted to the same patrol as Sinnarn for some time. “I would not want you to cease taking joy in your life,” he said slowly, “but while you are here, you owe it to your fellow warriors not to take foolish risks.”
Legolas started to walk away, but then stopped. “Was your hand badly burned?”
Sinnarn smiled. “No. The bandage can probably come off tomorrow.”
“Good,” Legolas said and then made his way into camp, intending to report to Elorfin. He spotted his captain across the camp’s central clearing, talking to Galelas.
When Legolas approached, Galelas glanced at him and then spoke to Elorfin. “Is there anything more, Captain?”
“No,” Elorfin said, and Galelas saluted and withdrew, with his back stiff. “I hear you found some wandering Dwarves,” Elorfin said.
“Yes, we did.” Legolas wondered for a second if Galelas had been presumptuous enough to give Elorfin the patrol’s report, but he dismissed the idea. Every member of the patrol had probably been full of the tale of the Dwarves the minute they walked into camp. Even now, behind him, he could hear Gweddyn regaling two other warriors with the story. In as much detail as he could, he told Elorfin about the encounter.
When Legolas had finished, Elorfin nodded. “You made the right choice to simply send them on their way, I think. They do not sound threatening, and we are supposedly friendly with the Dwarven king.”
Legolas could not help smiling at his tone. “So Lord Thranduil says.” Indeed, Thranduil’s tone when he spoke of the Dwarves was very much like Elorfin’s.
Elorfin laughed and then said, “Galelas tells me that Vanduil is still having trouble keeping aware of the need to position himself correctly when he is excited.” Legolas’s mouth dropped open, and Elorfin’s eyes suddenly narrowed. “You did not know?” he demanded.
“No,” Legolas admitted. “I did not. They were late responding to my signal to show ourselves to the Dwarves, but when I asked Galelas if there had been a problem, he denied it.”
Elorfin frowned. “He did? That surprises me because he told me what happened as soon as I asked him how Vanduil did.”
“I did ask him, Captain,” Legolas defended himself.
Elorfin looked at him shrewdly. “Is there something between you and Galelas?”
“Perhaps,” Legolas sighed.
“Then take care of it quickly, Lieutenant,” Elorfin said crisply. “I will not have this disrupting my patrol. Galelas has served well here. I will speak to him about not undermining you if I have to, but it would be far better if you can come to a truce so he does not have to be ordered into behaving well.”
“Yes, Captain.” Legolas saluted and made his way toward his flet, his mind busily seeking – and not finding – some way to “take care” of what was wrong between him and Galelas.
Thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter for me.
4. Visitors in Camp
Legolas finished checking the patrol’s healing supplies, noted that they were low on haru, and then hung the bag back on the branch where it was always kept. He looked around for Elorfin and found him seated at the smoothed tree stump that served as his desk, writing rapidly. Ithilden’s courier should arrive some time today, and Elorfin was, as usual, writing his report of the patrol’s activities at the last possible moment.
Elorfin looked up with a scowl as Legolas approached. He had evidently been rubbing his chin because there was a smear of ink on it. “Well?”
“We are well supplied with everything but haru, and we do not need to ask the troop commander for that. Most people are still on patrol, but I can send the hunters out to gather it when they return.”
“Do so.” He frowned at his report and then, as Legolas started away, he called him back. “Have you led enough patrols that you have been through our entire territory and had a chance to get to know everyone?”
“Yes.” Legolas had been away from camp leading small patrols for most of the first few weeks he had spent here, and the experience had indeed given him an opportunity to settle into the Northern Border Patrol. And now that he had gotten his feet well under him, he had been a second in command long enough to know exactly what was coming next.
“Good. From now on, you can write the reports. Here. See if I have left anything out of this one.” With a look of intense relief, he shoved the report toward Legolas.
Legolas accepted it with resignation, but not surprise. As a lieutenant, he had done this chore in every patrol in which he had served so far. Hatred of writing reports seemed to be universal among Wood-elf officers. He had just finished reading the report when a sentry’s signal announced the approach of a visitor, and a moment later, a courier rode into camp. Legolas handed the report back to Elorfin. “It looks fine to me, Captain.”
Elorfin nodded, signed the report with a flourish, and reached for the candle and stick of sealing wax. Legolas glanced up to see Vanduil, Galelas, Sinnarn, and Nithron returning from hunting for the patrol’s evening meal. Vanduil toted a bulging sack of what was probably rabbit meat. “I will see to getting the herb gathered,” he said and withdrew as the courier approached.
He intercepted the hunters as they left the campfire, where they had handed the meat over to the day’s appointed cooks. Galelas had been laughing over something Vanduil said, but as usual, he fell silent as Legolas drew near. Legolas suppressed a grimace. Galelas had been in two of the scouting patrols he had led since that first one, but they had been uneventful. Galelas had spoken to him as little as possible, but he had followed orders.
After that first patrol, Legolas suspected that Galelas had said something about him to Vanduil, or perhaps the young warrior had only read his partner’s body language, but he had been wary around Legolas for a time. However, along with the other young warriors Legolas had led, Vanduil had apparently been impressed by Legolas’s ability to respond to the forest, and when Legolas had consistently treated him with normal respect and no more than normal sternness, he had gradually relaxed, and indeed, had made an effort to stay near Legolas when they were tracking, apparently hoping to see him read the woods again. Legolas suspected that Galelas had observed his young partner’s admiration and had not liked it.
“It looks like you had a good day’s hunt,” Legolas said, “but I have another task for you before the evening meal. You need to go back out and gather haru. We are low.”
They had been heading toward the courier, no doubt hoping for mail, and now Sinnarn and Vanduil both grimaced. “Yes, Lieutenant,” said Nithron, turning away, and reluctantly, the younger warriors began to follow him.
“My mail is calling to me,” Sinnarn groaned as he walked away.
Legolas laughed. “You are just hoping for a package of your naneth’s honey cakes.” Legolas could understand that particular hope. Alfirin’s honey cakes were the envy of the whole patrol.
Suddenly, Galelas spoke up, his voice heavy with sarcasm. “Which do you think is more important, Sinnarn, making certain we have an herb to stop bleeding or opening a package of your naneth’s home-made honey cakes?”
Sinnarn turned, his mouth gaping in surprise.
“Leave it alone, Galelas,” Legolas snapped. He knew his voice was sharp, but Galelas was overstepping the boundaries of a warrior’s authority over his companions. Legolas had never seen him do that before, and Sinnarn, Nithron, and Vanduil all swung startled glances first at Galelas and then at Legolas.
Color flooded Galelas’s face. The hands at his sides opened and closed, and he seemed to struggle for control. Then, through stiff lips, he said, “Yes, my lord. Of course.”
Legolas felt the muscles in his shoulder tense. He was never called “my lord” when he was on duty, and Galelas knew it. Moreover, Galelas’s tone had stopped just on the safe side of insulting. “In this patrol, I am your lieutenant, Galelas, and you would do well to remember that.”
Galelas compressed his mouth in a thin line. Legolas waited, trying to make his face as hard as possible. Finally, Galelas all but choked out, “Yes, Lieutenant.”
Satisfied, Legolas turned to the others, who were all shifting from foot to foot in obvious discomfort. “Go get the haru. Your mail will still be here when you return.”
“Yes, Lieutenant,” Sinnarn said and turned to the other two, obviously relieved to be in motion. “There are a great many beeches east of here. We are most likely to find it there.”
“Indeed,” Nithron agreed, regarding Galelas with narrowed eyes. It occurred to Legolas that the haru-gathering party was going to be a tense one. He hoped he could rely on Sinnarn’s bodyguard not to let things get out of hand.
Galelas turned and saw what was obviously a sympathetic look on Vanduil’s face. “Get a clean sack for the herb,” he snapped, startling the younger warrior. Vanduil opened his mouth, shut it again, and then trotted hastily away. Nithron and Sinnarn drifted after him, while Galelas stood stiffly, staring after their retreating backs. He threw Legolas a single sharp look and then strode off to join the others.
Legolas watched him go. He was uncertain whether he had made things better or worse by publicly reprimanding Galelas, but he knew he could not let Galelas get away with undermining his authority. When he turned away from Galelas, he saw Elorfin watching him, with his face impassive. He waited a moment to see if the captain would want to speak to him, but Elorfin lowered his gaze to the dispatch he held.
“Do you want to tell me what is going on with Galelas?” said a voice behind Legolas, and he turned to find Beliond standing just behind him. “Because it looks like a personal grievance to me, one connected to who you are.”
Legolas grimaced. He knew that Thranduil had charged Beliond not only with guarding Legolas but also with training him, first as a warrior and now as an officer, and he was grateful for the help Beliond had given him. But sometimes he could not help feeling that every move he made was under scrutiny. “It probably is personal. He has resented me from the time we were both younglings learning to use a bow.”
Beliond shrugged. “Then he is jealous. You are exceptional with a bow, and I would guess you always have been.”
“We had come more or less to a truce over the years,” Legolas said, ignoring Beliond’s assessment of his skill, “but my promotion seems to have upset it.” He thought fleetingly of leading the patrol in which Naran had died and of standing on the doorstop of his parents’ cottage, with the young warrior’s body on a litter held by two warriors just behind him, steeling himself to knock and shatter the world of the people who lived there. If Galelas was jealous of that, Legolas thought he might be willing to trade places. Quickly, he suppressed the thought. Given his obligations as the king’s son, walking away from command would amount to failing in his duty. He glanced at Beliond. “Have you any advice on how to deal with him?” His keeper had been an officer long before Legolas was born.
Beliond pursed his lips. “He might respond if you could appeal to his pride as a warrior. He is unlikely to let his resentment interfere with his performance. But you did right to establish your authority with him. He will simply have to learn to live with that.”
“Mail for you, Lieutenant,” said a cheerful young voice, and Deliwyn put a letter in his hand and then went on his way, distributing letters to the few patrol members scattered around the campsite. Legolas’s mood lifted, and he felt a sudden flood of pleasure as he recognized Eilian’s sprawling script. This was the first he had heard from Eilian since they both had left home. He was eager to know how his brother found life in the settlement.
He turned to take his leave of Beliond and realized that to Legolas’s surprise and evidently his own, Beliond was also holding a letter. He never received mail, for his wife was in Valinor and his son was long dead. “Who is it from?” Legolas asked, unable to control his curiosity.
Beliond raised an eyebrow at him. “It is impolite to pry.”
Legolas gave an incredulous laugh. “You would check to make sure I had changed my underclothes if I let you.”
“That is an entirely different matter,” Beliond said serenely. He turned the letter over, looked at the seal, and smiled. “I believe this is from Maltanaur. Now that Eilian is safely tucked away in a settlement under his wife’s supervision, his guard is probably enjoying his own long leave and has time to write.” He looked at Legolas. “I will be in the woods but will be close enough to hear you if you signal. Do not go anywhere without me.” And with that, he departed, leaving Legolas looked exasperatedly after him.
As Beliond disappeared into the surrounding woods, Legolas turned his attention back to his own letter. Deciding to make himself comfortable to enjoy it, he swung up into the embrace of a nearby maple, opened the letter, and began to read.
Here we are at last, Celuwen and I, nesting in a flet in Anyr’s settlement, and planning to stay for the rest of the summer and the autumn. We arrived last week and already we seem to be accepted members of the community, invited to share our time with friends if we like or spend the days and nights with only one another. We have had more privacy on this flet than we ever had in the palace, and I am happy to say, we have made good use of it. Are you blushing, brat? I know I am! But then, as you know, I am shy.
I begin to understand why Celuwen was so eager to come here for a few months. I cannot remember when I have had time to live like this – to sit under the trees or fly through their tops, to just listen to their song and that of the river, to spend the night singing under the stars if I choose. On most nights, the Elves here gather together to share a meal and make music in the woods. And I must say they are rather like the friends that Adar always wanted me to avoid because they seize any excuse that Arda gives them to celebrate. I think that in addition to the common meal there has been a festival of some sort on at least half the nights we have been here, and during those, the wine flows freely and the dancing grows wild, with the males bounding in great, leaping turns, and the females loosening their hair and spinning, their skirts floating around them. I will have you know that my wife is most fetching when she runs barefooted to join in the merriment. Away from the palace, she is enjoying herself mightily. I had not realized how difficult she has found it to live under constant public scrutiny and have her actions limited by the demands of palace protocol.
As you can probably tell, I find I like these rather feckless settlers. They know how to enjoy themselves, a talent that Adar would no doubt say I share, and his tone would not be entirely approving when he said it. At last night’s festival, I challenged another Elf to a race through the tree tops. This Elf’s name is Enuldor, and his flet is not far from ours. He has taken me on as a project, I believe, and has led me around to meet all of his friends and share in their doings. To my dismay, he turned out to be more than ready for the contest, and I barely managed to beat him. It seems that racing is common sport here. Enuldor jumped from tree to tree with a recklessness that left me in awe, and I had to take a chance or two myself in order to secure the victory. Celuwen was rather put out, actually, but I managed to charm my way back into her good graces.
I am less taken by Anyr than I am by his people. To my surprise, ten minutes with him told me you had not exaggerated when you described him. In our first conversation, he told me that the king did not understand him (which is certainly true), and he hoped I would speak to Adar on his behalf. I nearly laughed aloud. Then he told me that the people in the settlement were peaceful, and thus I would not find it necessary to wear my sword while I was there. I tried and failed to follow the logic of that. I had never thought that the settlers were the ones who would cause me to use my sword. However, Celuwen has convinced me to leave the sword on our flet and make do with my bow, knife, and dagger. I have to admit that I laugh as I write that. I sound as if I am armed to the teeth as I go about trying to ward off settlers who want me to go berrying with them, but I assure you, Legolas, I am subtle and sneaky. My new neighbors will never know what a savage I am, at least by Anyr’s reckoning.
Celuwen is concerned less about defending the settlement from the enemy than about defending it from the ForestRiver. It will perhaps not surprise you to learn that the settlers have made no efforts to protect themselves from floods since you were here several years ago. The river has not flooded badly since then, but of course it eventually will. When Celuwen suggested to Anyr that the settlement might build a dike to keep the flood waters from destroying their cottages, he looked at her with such horror that she might as well have suggested that the settlers cancel all feasts for the foreseeable future.
To my embarrassment, I find I think as Anyr does. (Please do not tell Ithilden that. He would think I had gone mad. And by the way, it is with a great deal of delight that I imagine the look on big brother’s face if he had to deal with Anyr!) But why should the river be bent to our needs? And truly I do not think that Celuwen’s heart was in the idea either. Now she has begun talking about building cottages on the flets, the way some of those dwelling near the stronghold have done. Several of the settlers – among them my friend Enuldor – seem to think this is a good idea. I suspect they are tired of having their homes periodically destroyed and are less willing than Anyr to let the future fall out as it may.
On the other hand, Anyr looks a little puzzled by this project. His people have built cottages and flets, but putting the two together seems beyond Anyr’s ability to imagine. The Elves who have responded to the idea just began constructing the first, necessarily larger flet today. There is to be a feast again tonight so they will have to stop working early to help prepare for it, but Celuwen is contended, and hence, so am I.
Still, I am a little unnerved by the fact that the settlers set no guard at all. You will recall that several years back, at Celuwen’s suggestion, Ithilden sent warriors to all the settlements to teach those who lived there how to defend themselves. Apparently, Anyr refused to allow the training here and then also refused to allow a warrior to be posted to the settlement. “We welcome anyone who wants to live here,” he told me when I asked about it, “but only if they wish to live as we do, and we do not wish to take up arms against other people.” I cannot imagine what he thinks will happen if the “other people” are carrying bows and swords and are pointing them at him.
I have tried to recall if I have ever before slept in an unguarded setting, and I do not believe I have. Even during the Peace, the palace was guarded. So while Celuwen sleeps here as trustfully as a child, I sometimes lie awake, probing the forest for any sign of danger. I suppose I have had the enemy come down upon me in the night too many times to really relax my guard. And then, of course, Celuwen is here, and I would not leave her open to danger if I could help it.
I have told her that I would be happy to train some of the settlers to protect their homes and families, but she says that Anyr would never allow it, and while she sees the need herself, she respects these people’s right to live as they choose. In my opinion, that is somewhat like allowing elflings to live as they choose, but as you might expect, I have not told her that.
I must close now because I am sending this letter to the stronghold on the raft from Esgaroth, which has stopped here (do not ask why – Celuwen swears she it taking care of it) and is ready to leave again. I trust it will be forwarded to you soon. Let me know how you are faring in your new posting. Tell Elorfin he owes me a rematch so I can win my cloak pin back. Give my regards to Galelas. And take care, Legolas. I look forward to seeing you soon, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and well recovered from your time in the south.
Your loving brother,
Legolas smiled as he finished the letter. Eilian had been very angry when Ithilden had insisted he take an extended leave, but he had needed it. During the last month or so that they had both been stationed in the south, Legolas had heard the despair in his brother’s voice every time he spoke. He had tried to talk to Eilian about it and had even considered writing to Ithilden and telling him of Eilian’s growing weariness. But then Eilian had gone home for his regularly scheduled leave, and Ithilden had saved Legolas the trouble by seeing Eilian’s state and extending his leave.
By the time Legolas had gone home on leave, Eilian had at least been resigned to the temporary loss of his command and had looked far more rested than Legolas had seen him in a long while. And now, in this letter, Eilian sounded happy. Time in the forest with Celuwen was working its magic on his heart. Legolas glanced back over the letter, noticing with something like wistfulness how many times his sister-in-law’s name appeared. Eilian and Celuwen had been married for eleven years now, and while Legolas’s duties meant he seldom saw them together, he could feel the change in Eilian even when he and Celuwen were apart. Legolas did not like to think of what Eilian would have been like in those last few weeks if he had not had his connection to Celuwen to sustain him.
As Legolas’s eyes skimmed over the letter, they came to rest on Eilian’s request that Legolas give his regards to Galelas. He grimaced. Try as he might, he could not understand how Eilian could not only tolerate Galelas but actually seem fond of him. He supposed that the answer lay in the sympathy Eilian always expressed over Galelas’s dreadful family and the way his parents failed to recognize Galelas’s good qualities even as they doted on Tinár. Legolas saw few good qualities in Galelas either, so he usually kept quiet about him around Eilian. Legolas was willing to acknowledge that Galelas was skilled with weapons, and while it pained Legolas to admit it, he had also seen Galelas doing a careful job of training Vanduil. But beyond that, he was not able to go, and yet, he knew that Eilian sometimes sought out Galelas’s company to while away the time. He could not make it out at all.
He let the letter fall to his lap and leaned back against the rough bark of the trunk, letting his blood’s flow settle into harmony with the flowing life of the tree. For the moment, he had no duties, and like Eilian, he had time to be a peace in a healthy forest. He thought of the concern he had seen on Ithilden’s face when his brother had decided he needed to be away from the south for a while and smiled a little ruefully. He would have to thank Ithilden for this gift of time and peace the next time he wrote to him.
Below him, the life of the camp went on, and Legolas kept half an ear cocked for any sign he was needed, but everyone seemed to be doing well enough without him. Most of those who were off duty were reading letters from home and sharing news with one another. He did take note when the herb gatherers returned, but so far as he could tell, they had survived their errand without descending into internal warfare. With a cry of delight, Sinnarn swooped down on the package that awaited him, one that indeed was full of sweets from the palace kitchen. He settled next to the fire, with the open package on his lap, doling out bits of honey cakes to Nithron and Vanduil, who had claimed their letters too and opened them with sticky fingers. Familiar with the kinds of packages Sinnarn usually received, other patrol members drifted up to share in the spoils. Only Galelas ignored them, taking the haru the group had gathered and sorting it into packets to be stored in the pouch of healing supplies.
The signal for approaching visitors sounded once again, this time from the northern boundary of the campsite. Surprised, Legolas turned in the branches to see who might have come. So far as he knew, the courier had been the only visitor they were expecting. For a moment, he saw no one. Then, through the leafy screen of branches, he spotted a sentry escorting another Elf into the camp. In his perch in the maple, Legolas was at the wrong angle to see the Elf’s face well, but he could see from the Elf’s clothes and the fact that he carried a bow but no sword that their visitor was not a warrior.
He tucked Eilian’s letter into his belt and stood up, ready to spring to the ground in case he was needed, and as he stood, the sentry and the strange Elf moved apart, and through the gap between them, he saw that there was a second visitor. And for a moment, he ceased to breathe. This visitor he recognized.
She was slim and graceful in the way of all Elf maids, and top of her head came to the level of the sentry’s eyes. It would come a little below that on Legolas, he knew. That drift of untidy brown curls would be just at the height from which he could inhale its sweet, clean fragrance. And then, as he stood staring, she lifted her grey eyes to look straight at him, and she too froze where she was. Tuilinn, he thought. Tuilinn has just walked into this camp. And with a rush of indrawn, leaf-scented air, he began to breathe again.
Thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.
Like a nail drawn by a magnet, Legolas leapt to the ground and started toward where Tuilinn stood immobile, as if waiting for him. He was vaguely aware that Elorfin was greeting both visitors, but he saw only Tuilinn. He had not set eyes on her in eleven years, not since the Forest River had flooded at the end of the Long Winter and Thranduil had sent him with food to Anyr’s settlement. Legolas had found this maiden there and assumed the settlement was her home, and then she had disappeared without a word to return to her true home, which, with typical, maddening imprecision, Anyr had said was “somewhere in the north.” Legolas had had to go back to his patrol with no chance to search for her, although he had looked for her at every gathering of Elves he had attended in the intervening years. And given the way she had left, he had feared that she did not want him to find her and so had stayed away.
And now here she stood, looking at him with her wide grey eyes, reminding him of nothing so much as a doe who cannot decide if she is alarmed or charmed by the Elf who is approaching her. He stopped about five feet from her, waiting to see how she would react, but she remained frozen in place. The pounding of his own heart made it hard for him to make out what Elorfin and the other Elf were saying, but he suddenly became aware that Elorfin was speaking to him. With a pain that was nearly physical, he tore his gaze from Tuilinn and looked at his captain.
“This is Fyndil, Legolas. Shall I assume you already know our other guest?” Elorfin lifted an eyebrow at him.
Legolas was not sure he had enough air in his lungs to speak, but he managed to say, “Tuilinn and I have met.” Because he had doubted the maiden’s feelings for him, he had not spoken about her to anyone, and now her name felt strange on his tongue.
Elorfin cocked his head to one side and looked faintly curious, but he made no comment on Legolas’s announcement. “Legolas is my lieutenant,” he told the other Elf. For the first time, Legolas took a good look at him. Fyndil was dark haired, with even features, and a pleasant aspect. And suddenly Legolas wondered what he was doing with Tuilinn. He glanced quickly at Tuilinn’s right hand and felt his shoulders sag with relief when he found it ringless, but he could not help being apprehensive over the fact that these two were traveling together.
Elorfin nodded at the sentry to send him back to his post and then gestured toward the stumps and logs around the campfire. “Come and sit and tell us if there is anything we can do for you. Our meal is almost ready, and I invite you to eat with us.”
“Thank you, Captain,” Fyndil smiled, and then he turned to offer his arm to Tuilinn, who stood next to him, still staring at Legolas, with her lips slightly parted. With a start, she seemed to notice that all three of the males were looking at her. A flush of pink stained her cheeks, and then, to Legolas’s dismay, she took Fyndil’s arm. Looking slightly puzzled, Fyndil glanced from her to Legolas and back to her again.
Legolas felt as if someone had struck him. “Legolas,” Elorfin prodded, and he realized that the captain wanted to walk toward the fire, and he was in the way.
Abruptly, Legolas remembered that he was standing in the middle of a public place. Get hold of yourself, he thought, trying to subdue the despair that threatened to choke him. You spent a pleasant evening with her and then she left. What did you think that meant? But his treacherous heart remembered an evening that was more than pleasant, and the warm touch of her mouth against his.
Resolutely, he turned to walk toward the fire and sit on Elorfin’s right. Fyndil seated Tuilinn on a log to the captain’s left and then sat down next to her and helped her remove her pack before easing his bow and his own pack from his shoulders. Legolas was aware that other patrol members were throwing curious glances their way, and he wondered just how big a fool he had already made of himself. With his back rigid, and misery settling in his stomach, he stared at the fire, keeping his face averted from the sight of Tuilinn sitting next to someone else.
“We are from a settlement southwest of here and are on our way to Dale,” Fyndil said. “We wondered if we might spend the night in your camp.”
“Of course you may,” Elorfin said. “What takes you to Dale?”
“I am taking medicines and herbs to a healer in Dale.” Tuilinn spoke for the first time since entering the camp, her speech more clipped that Legolas remembered it.
“Are you a healer, mistress?” Elorfin asked.
Legolas realized he did not know the answer to that question. You scarcely know her at all, he admonished himself a little bitterly. You made too much of a two-day acquaintance.
“No, I am not,” Tuilinn said, “but our settlement’s healer is friendly with this Man and trades knowledge with him. She does not like to leave the settlement without a healer, so I said I would take the things and explain them to him.”
That was like her, Legolas thought with reluctant pleasure in her generosity. After all, she had gone to care for the children at Anyr’s settlement simply because the Elves there needed help.
“Tuilinn assists our healer and has learned a great deal,” Fyndil put in. “I think some day our settlement will have two healers.” Unwillingly, Legolas glanced toward him and found him looking approvingly at Tuilinn, who was smiling gratefully back. Legolas looked hastily away again and saw Beliond seated a short distance away, watching him gravely. He immediately lowered his gaze to the ground, picked up a stick, and began to poke savagely at the dirt. Beliond had been with Legolas for the last day of his stay in the settlement and had seen Legolas and Tuilinn together. He had better stay out of this, Legolas thought with his jaw set. This is my business and only mine.
“Legolas, I do not recall seeing you in our settlement.” Fyndir’s voice made him look up again to find Tuilinn watching him, with her face unreadable. “Where did you meet Tuilinn?”
Legolas held Tuilinn’s gaze, and almost against his will, he found himself smiling at her. To his gratification and pain, she smiled slowly back, self-consciously reaching to tidy a curl that had escaped from the clasp at the back of her neck. He would have given anything to be the one to push it away from her brow. He swallowed hard. “After the Long Winter, she was in Anyr’s settlement when I went there on a mission from the king.”
“Ah!” said Fyndir. “I remember when you went to help Anyr’s people, Tuilinn. As I recall, while you were gone, your naneth slid from the roof of your cottage when she and your adar were repairing the thatching. She broke her wrist, I think.”
“Yes, she did,” Tuilinn said, still looking at Legolas. “My adar sent a message that I was needed at home.”
Is she trying to tell me why she left so suddenly? Legolas wondered, with a small shiver of hope.
“Captain?” Vanduil had approached. “The stew is ready. Would our guests like some?” Vanduil stood smiling at Tuilinn with his shoulders back and all the wrinkles in his tunic smoothed out. Sinnarn stood just behind him, holding a plate of stew in both hands, as if it were a precious gift.
Elorfin looked in amusement from one to the other. He was married, Legolas knew, but he no doubt remembered what it was like to be a young male whose glimpses of pretty maids came only at long intervals. “I am sure that both of our guests would like some stew,” he said dryly as Sinnarn bowed to present the food to Tuilinn. Vanduil had the good grace to blush and hurry back toward where the stew was being ladled out to fetch some for Fyndil.
“Thank you,” Tuilinn said to Sinnarn, and she gave him a much easier smile than any she had been able to muster for Legolas.
Legolas flung away the stick he still held and rose to fetch stew for himself and Elorfin. At the campfire, Vanduil spoke in an eager whisper as he dished up Fyndil’s stew. “How long will she, I mean they, be staying?”
“Just overnight, I think,” Legolas said.
“She is quite pretty!” Vanduil confided. “Do you think the one with her is her betrothed? She is not wearing a ring, but perhaps they have simply not exchanged them yet. After all, they are traveling together.”
“Stop gossiping and take the stew to him,” Legolas snapped. Vanduil recoiled, and then, obviously both surprised and wounded by Legolas’s tone, he marched away with the plate of stew, leaving Legolas feeling guilty.
Stop being a horse’s arse, he admonished himself wearily. He stood for a moment with the plates of food in hand. The sensible thing to do would be to talk to her, but he was not sure he wanted to face the humiliation of an outright rejection. She would be kind, he knew, but her kindness was not what he wanted. He would seize his courage and speak to her if he could, he vowed. And if she made it impossible for him to approach her, then he would know what that meant too. If she wanted the past forgotten, he had no wish to embarrass her by letting Fyndil know about the time they had spent together in Anyr’s village.
He walked back to his place, handed Elorfin’s meal to him, and sat down to try to eat, but his mouth was dry and his stomach tied in knots, and he managed to choke down only a few bites. He took it as encouraging that Tuilinn too seemed to eat little and that, like him, she sat silent while Elorfin and Fyndil talked about any dangers the Northern Border Patrol had seen and the weather that the travelers were likely to encounter during the rest of their trip to Dale.
He tried to keep his eyes from straying to her, but he really could not help himself, and to his enormous gratification, he sometimes found her stealing a look at him too. Slowly, the meal drew to its close. The sentries who were on duty came in and got something to eat; the night sentries went out to replace them. The patrol members who were on clean-up came and collected all their dishes. And still Legolas could see no easy way to get time alone with Tuilinn. Could he simply ask her to walk with him for a while? He did not see how he could do that as long as he was unsure of her relationship with Fyndil.
“Captain?” This time it was Galelas who had approached. Elorfin looked up inquiringly. “I have a flet ready for the lady, and her escort is welcome to share with Vanduil and me.”
Elorfin turned to Fyndil and Tuilinn. “You must be tired. If you are ready, Galelas will show you where you are to sleep.”
“I confess this has been a long day,” Fyndil said, rising and gathering his belongings.
Before Legolas could move, Galelas hurried to pick up Tuilinn’s pack. “This way,” he said, smiling at her and gesturing toward an oak. Fyndil rose and held his hand out to Tuilinn, who hesitated, shot a quick look at Legolas, and then accepted Fyndil’s hand to rise, although she dropped it once she was on her feet. Legolas’s heart contracted. Was she simply going to walk away again?
He came politely to his feet, and she gave him one more level look. Then, she said, “Thank you,” and followed Galelas and Fyndil away from the red glow of the fire.
For a moment, Legolas stood in bewildered immobility. Was that it? Was this maiden lost to him? He felt as if his throat was constricting, and he could not breathe for the pain of it. Abruptly, he knew that he had to get away. “I will check on the night guards,” he told Elorfin, who looked at him oddly but simply nodded. Checking on the guards was part of Legolas’s regular duties. While he thought he still had control over his face, he strode away from the fire into the darkness.
Away from the warmth of the fire, in the cool darkness under the trees, he stopped, leaning with his hand and forehead on the trunk of an oak and his heart twisting in despair. He could hear the song of the tree shifting, adjusting to his presence, and adding a note of sympathy to its sleepy nighttime murmur. I am in love with her, he thought in astonishment. I have loved her since I met her and have not known it, and now she is with someone else, and I will have to go on without her through all of time.
I do not think I can bear it, he cried silently, digging his fingernails into the oak’s bark.
For a time he did not measure, he stood by the tree, trying to master what he felt. He could not indulge his grief. He could not give into it. He had duties to perform whether he was happy or not. He drew a deep breath, and then, feeling as if he were walking in a fog, with all his senses dulled, he made the rounds of the sentries. He knew he spoke to each one, but when he walked on to the next posting, he could not remember what he had said, although he did recall a startled look on Deliwyn’s face, so he feared he might have been less clear-headed than usual. He could not help it. All he could do was stumble on.
At last, he had finished. Rather than return to the center of camp or the flet where Beliond was only too likely to be waiting for him, he made his way to a thick stand of beeches that was just inside the ring of sentries. Here he was likely to have as much privacy as it was possible to have in a camp full of warriors. Even in his anguish, he knew he could not escape beyond the sentry line. Given his rank, the sentries would probably not try to stop him, but they would be worried, and he would have reprimanded anyone else who did such a thing. Too weary even to climb, he leaned back against a silvery trunk and looked up at the stars. Was this what his life would be like from now on?
Suddenly, he became aware of someone approaching, although he could not see them yet and knew he had not heard them either. Frowning, he looked through the trees to his right. And out of the darkness of the summer night walked Tuilinn. She wore the same gown she had worn during the evening meal, but she had removed the clasp from her hair. It now cascaded down her back, held away from her face by a green ribbon.
For a second, neither of them spoke, and then she quavered, “If you wish me to leave you in peace, Legolas, I will, but I could not bear the thought of going away without speaking to you.”
His eyes were still on the ribbon. In the back of his mind, he remembered himself saying, “You need a ribbon. A green ribbon.” And then he had bent to kiss her. He shifted his gaze to her strained face. He had vowed to speak to her and he would. “Tuilinn, are you and Fyndil --.” He stopped, unable to say what he thought was true.
A look of unmistakable surprise appeared on her face, and then she seemed to catch her breath. “Fyndil is one of the Elves in my settlement who has been trained as a guard. He was kind enough to agree to accompany me so that I might travel more safely.”
Legolas felt suddenly lightheaded. “You and he are not--.”
“No,” she interrupted breathlessly. “We are not.”
He took a tentative step toward her. “You are happy to see me?”
She made a sound between a laugh and a cry. “It is shameless of me to confess it, but I have longed for you to come to me since the minute I returned home from Anyr’s settlement.”
He blinked. “How could I do that? You left without a word, and I did not know where you lived.”
She advanced a foot toward him. “But could you not even ask Anyr where I lived? Did that time we spent under the stars mean so little to you?”
“He told me he did not know where your village was!” Legolas suddenly felt a savage hope that Eilian would lose his small patience and kick Anyr into the Forest River for an unexpected swim.
She stared at him, and then, somehow, he had crossed rest of the distance between them, or perhaps she had crossed it, and he had his arms around her, and his face was buried in her hair. Her fingers twisted in his tunic, and he could feel her warm, quick breaths on his chest. With his fingers tangled in her hair, he tilted her head back slightly and, as if it were the most natural thing in Arda, he kissed her.
With an intensity that shocked him, he felt an upsurge of desire stronger even than what he had felt as an adolescent first learning to control his sexuality. This will never do, he realized in dismay. He pulled a bit away from her, breathing hard. He could feel her trembling slightly under his touch, and she looked up at him with wide eyes.
“You are leaving in the morning?” he asked. She nodded, and he loosened his arms to take her hand and draw her toward a beech. “Then let us spend the time we have with one another.” He put his hands on her waist, lifted her to the first branch, and followed her toward the starlight.
Dawn was creeping through the forest when he gathered her untidy curls in his hands and held them for her while she retied the ribbon. He bent to kiss the side of her neck where he had bared it, and she laughed softly. He could not remember ever hearing any sound more joyous. Reluctantly, he released his hold on her and backed away.
“I will come to see you when I can,” he said. “This time, I know where you live.” They had told one another many things during the short hours of the night, but the location of her settlement was the first question he had asked.
“I will ask Fyndil if we can come this way on our journey home.”
“I am on patrol sometimes, so I might not be here, but I swear I will come to you as soon as I can, so we can speak to your parents.” He took her hand, and they began walking toward the center of camp, where he knew his day-to-day life would already be waiting for him. But that would not be his whole life, he thought, his heart soaring. There would be love and joy waiting for him in a settlement a half-day’s journey away.
Suddenly, he realized that someone was leaning against a tree at the end of the beech grove. Tuilinn glanced at him, as he hesitated for a second before grinning and leading her forward. “Good morning, Nana,” he greeted Beliond cheerily.
Beliond narrowed his eyes but said nothing to Legolas. He did, however, bow slightly in Tuilinn’s direction. “Good morning, mistress.” He smiled broadly. “I hope you passed a good night.”
Tuilinn blushed, but she also laughed. “I had a very good night,” she said demurely. “Did you sleep well under that tree?”
“I stood guard duty,” he told her. “One would not want intruders to approach unexpectedly.”
“True enough,” she agreed, the color in her face deepening.
He laughed and offered her his arm. “Come and let me find you a place near the fire this fine morning. We will let this one fetch us both some porridge.” To Legolas’s regret, she let go of his hand, slipped her arm through Beliond’s, and allowed herself to be led away, looking back over her shoulder and smiling at him.
He hastened after them and entered the clearing around the fire to find Sinnarn cooking the morning meal. He picked up two bowls from the stack and held them out. Sinnarn bent to peer around him at Beliond and Tuilinn, who were sitting behind him, and then turned to look at Legolas with shrewd eyes that reminded Legolas uncomfortably of Ithilden’s. “The old bear had the gall to tell Elorfin that you were busy last night and should not be disturbed,” he muttered, flicking a rather thick ladleful of porridge into one of the bowls.
Legolas could feel his face growing warm. Did everyone in camp know how he had passed the night? I do not care, he thought suddenly, and gave Sinnarn a grin. “Good for Beliond,” he said.
Sinnarn laughed. “What will Grandfather say? Another settlement maiden! He has only just recovered from Eilian dragging Celuwen off into the woods and bonding.”
Legolas cocked a warning eyebrow at him. “I do not believe that Celuwen had to be ‘dragged.’ But as it happens, Tuilinn and I intend to behave ourselves and do this with some decorum. And I want to tell my adar about her myself, so I would appreciate it if you would keep your mouth shut.”
Sinnarn grinned. “If you say so.” He used a finger to scrape porridge out of the ladle and into the other bowl. “This seems to have gotten rather thick,” he frowned. “Sorry.”
Legolas grunted. “You should concentrate more on your cooking and less on my business.” Sinnarn simply laughed, and Legolas took the food to Beliond and Tuilinn, went back for his own, and then sat down next to Tuilinn to spend his last few moments near her. With warriors coming and going all around them, Legolas felt no need to speak, for they had said most of what they wanted to say during the night, and besides, there would be time now. There was no hurry.
Suddenly, Galelas stood before them, his whole body stiff with disapproval. “There is hot water on your flet if you would like to wash, mistress,” he said to Tuilinn.
“Thank you,” she answered, blushing slightly and rising. Legolas took the empty porridge bowl from her and watched her walk away. When she had disappeared, he turned back to find Galelas still looking at him with venom in his eyes. They stared at one another for a moment, and then Galelas turned and went to where Vanduil sat eating his second bowl of the glue-like porridge. He sat, but he kept his eyes on the ground and did not join in the talk.
Fyndir appeared just as Tuilinn returned, with her hair firmly brushed and already escaping from the clasp at the back of her neck. Legolas rose to meet them, and Elorfin joined them from the other side of the fire. Fyndir bowed to both Elorfin and Legolas. “Our thanks to you both,” he said. And with a smile at Tuilinn, he dryly added, “The Elves of the Woodland Realm are indeed fortunate to have warriors guarding them so closely in the night.”
She blushed to the roots of her hair, and Legolas could feel his own face growing warm too, but he could not stop himself from smiling widely, and Elorfin laughed. “You will have to visit us again,” Elorfin said.
“We will,” Tuilinn answered firmly. She looked at Legolas. “Farewell.”
“Farewell,” he answered and had to restrain himself from darting forward to kiss her brow.
Fyndir began to move away, and slowly Tuilinn started to follow. Legolas swayed toward her, struggling to restrain himself from going too. And then, suddenly, she turned, ran back, grasped his tunic in both hands, and drew his head down to kiss him firmly on the mouth. Next to Legolas, Elorfin laughed softly. “Take care, Legolas,” she said and turned away to run back to Fyndir, leaving Legolas with his face burning and his mouth tingling. With a long look back at him, she let Fyndir lead her away into the forest. He stood watching them disappear, aware of Beliond approaching to stand just behind him.
“She led me straight to you last night,” Beliond murmured thoughtfully. “That was how I knew where you were.”
Legolas turned to look at him, gauging the satisfaction in his face. “I take it you approve?” he asked dryly.
Beliond smiled, but his tone was serious. “I approve of love. Love makes warriors cautious.” For a moment, he regarded Legolas and then he turned away. “Come,” he called back over his shoulder. “You have a patrol to lead today, and I expect I will have to keep track of you until your head is out of the clouds and your feet are back on solid ground again.” Legolas moved slowly after him, savoring the way that Tuilinn’s very existence made every duty seem different.
Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter for me.
6. Heading East
From his concealment in the undergrowth, Legolas watched as Galelas examined the ground on one side of the cave’s mouth, while Vanduil did the same on the other. Legolas was relieved to see both of them staying close to the wall of the low cliff, out of the line of sight of any intruders who might be standing guard in the cave. Not that Legolas thought there really was anyone in there. The patrol had seen no marks of a stranger’s passage, and they had searched with their usual thoroughness. Still, Galelas and Vanduil were going about this in the safest way, and Legolas approved of that. He did not want to have to send another warrior’s body home to his family, and in his youthful eagerness, Vanduil reminded Legolas entirely too much of the dead Naran.
As Legolas watched, Galelas darted a quick look at his partner, and Legolas realized that he too was worried that Vanduil might not be where he was supposed to be. But the younger warrior was conscientiously keeping near the cliff, and Galelas quickly returned to searching. When he had finished, he flattened himself against the rocks on one side of the entrance and waited with his bow at the ready. After a moment, Vanduil too completed his search and took up a matching position on the other side of the cave. Then they looked to where they knew Legolas was hidden and waited for the order to go into the cave.
Legolas raised his own bow, and without further delay, sounded the signal, simultaneously rushing forward to support his warriors as they slid through the cave entrance. He saw Sinnarn and Nithron running toward the cave too, and without looking, he knew that Beliond was right behind him. But as soon as he entered the cave, he knew it was empty, just as he had anticipated. They all lowered their bows.
“Nice job,” he told Galelas and Vanduil. Galelas slapped his young partner approvingly on the back, and Vanduil beamed. Vanduil was doing better, Legolas thought. There was no way to predict how he would do in a true emergency, but at least he was keeping his head in the routine searches the patrol had carryied out in the last few days on their scouting mission east. He might yet be made into a Wood-elf warrior.
Legolas stepped out of the cave into the failing light of early evening. “I think we have come far enough today. We will go back toward that stream and camp for the night.” No one said anything, but the way their shoulders relaxed and the promptness with which they started toward the stream told him they were all happy to be settling in for the night. They set up camp with practiced efficiency. Sinnarn and Nithron dropped their packs and went off to see if they could find small game to roast for their evening meal. Galelas went to fetch water, while Vanduil constructed a fire pit and Legolas and Beliond gathered wood.
Legolas dropped his armload of wood near Vanduil, but, when he turned, intending to claim a seat with his back against a large oak, he found Galelas just behind him, returning from the stream. Galelas made an ostentatious display of stepping out of his way. Legolas could feel his jaw tightening, but he said nothing and continued to the oak. Surely Galelas was getting tired of his surliness by now, he thought. The Valar only knew, Legolas was. The only time Galelas reacted pleasantly to Legolas was when he praised Vanduil. He seemed to take genuine pride in the young warrior’s progress, and Legolas had been forced into a reluctant admiration for Galelas’s generosity with him.
Thinking about Galelas made him recall the letter from Eilian that had come just before the patrol left on this mission. He pulled the letter out of his belt pouch and unfolded it to read again. Eilian’s letters were nearly always worth reading more than once.
I hope this letter finds you well and in good spirits. I trust that the slowness with which mail reaches me here accounts for why I have not heard from you yet. I do not want to meddle in your private life, but anyone could see you were suffering from the Shadow when you came home the last time. Please write to me and let me know that you are recovering. As you know, I have had my own troubles with Shadow sickness, so I know what it is like. Troublesome as you are, you are dear to me, brat, and I am anxious to know how you fare.
Legolas grimaced. He had replied to Eilian’s last letter as soon as he could, but the courier had been late and his letter would then have had to wait until someone was going near Anyr’s settlement. He hoped Eilian had received it by now. And he knew only too well how Eilian had suffered from the Shadow. Eilian had been far more despondent than Legolas had when Ithilden had removed him from active duty. Legolas fervently hoped that his brother was healing now.
Life in this settlement goes on in ways that I could not possibly have anticipated when Celuwen persuaded me to pass the summer here. First, I must tell you that as the weather has grown warmer, I have discovered that these settlers have a most charming custom in which I have no doubt you will be interested. Until now, I have been bathing in the river shortly after dawn. The birds have sung to me while I splashed about, but they and the flashes of morning sunlight on the water are all that have kept me company as I did so – unless you count the mornings on which Celuwen joined me, but of course I would not be indiscreet enough to write about those.
A week or so ago, however, the afternoon grew uncomfortably warm, and I decided a dip in the river would feel good on my sweaty skin. So I collected my wife (I assumed she was hot too – you know what a thoughtful husband I am) and we made our way innocently to the place where we have been bathing in the mornings. Given the heat of the day, I did not expect to find the river deserted, and as it happened, we found half-a-dozen Elves already frolicking merrily together in the water. I caught a glimpse of Anyr, and we hesitated for a moment in the shelter of the trees, trying to decide whether we should both go elsewhere or whether I should join the males here and Celuwen should try to learn the place where the wives and maidens swam.
And then, out from behind Anyr jumped a maiden whom I have previously met only when she was skipping through the woods gathering roots to cook for that evening’s meal. I tell you, Legolas, I was reduced to open-mouthed astonishment because, so far as I could see, everyone there was clad only in water drops and sunshine. From the look on Celuwen’s face, I believe she was as surprised as I was.
In my usual cheery way, I suggested that we join our neighbors and assured her that because I am married, this array of bare skin would be like a display of art to a blind Man, but for some reason she did not believe me, and we went elsewhere to swim. She swore that in the settlement she is from, such mixed bathing is not customary, and given that her adar is that settlement’s leader, I can well believe it. Sólith is about as likely to allow mingling in the bare as he is to send me a scroll declaring what a fine son-in-law I am.
Even reading this for the second time, Legolas let out a whoop of laughter that made Vanduil and Galelas turn toward him with startled looks, so he tried to muffle his glee. Only Eilian could have stumbled on such an unexpected scene, Legolas thought in wonderment. His own visit to Anyr’s settlement had produced no such amusements. Of course, the river had been rushing over its banks and swirling among the trees at the time, but who would ever have guessed that the settlement Elves engaged in a practice that would have been judged scandalous at Thranduil’s stronghold.
Suddenly it occurred to him to wonder what life was like in Tuilinn’s settlement. Celuwen’s reaction to the mixing of male and female bathers showed that the settlements’ customs varied. For a moment, he pictured a naked Tuilinn slipping through the water, but the effects of that thought on his body made him hastily turn his mind elsewhere.
Still, he wondered, what if Tuilinn were used to behaving as freely as Anyr’s people did? Celuwen had lived near Thranduil’s stronghold for most of her youth, but Tuilinn had been born in a settlement. How would she adjust to life in the palace? He quailed a little at the thought. Perhaps she would not even be willing to make such a change. In their night together, they had had things that seemed far more important on their minds and had not talked about whether she would leave her village.
There is no point in worrying about that now, he told himself firmly. We will cross that bridge when we come to it. He turned his attention back to Eilian’s letter.
You will, I trust, remember my telling you that Celuwen has been trying to organize some of our neighbors to build cottages in the trees. I regret to report that this project is making only slow progress. Everyone here has built both flets and cottages of course, so in theory, they know how to do it, but Celuwen has had to organize a crew of workers to carry out this larger scale construction, and I fear her efforts are sometimes frustrated by the tendency of her laborers to drop their tools and depart without a second’s warning if some opportunity to amuse themselves arises. They are willing enough to start a day’s work, but they lack what our tutor used to call “sufficient perseverance.” (Was he still talking about that when he taught you, brat? He used to lecture me on it at some length. If anyone had “sufficient perseverance,” he did, much to my dismay.)
Yesterday, for example, Celuwen greeted the Elves who showed up in the morning with a list of lengths to which boards would need to be cut, and set them to sawing and smoothing them. I worked with them for a while, so I know they began industriously enough. But I had to leave, and when I returned, it was obvious that they must have stopped working after only a short time. My friend Enuldor told me later that someone had come by with the news that the strawberries had finally grown ripe enough to pick, and they had all gone off to gather them. He was a bit apologetic, because I believe he really does think that the settlers need to take measures to protect themselves against floods, but as he said, the berries were ripe today, and who knew when the floods would come again?
Celuwen is trying to be patient, but I am afraid she is increasingly discouraged by how hard it is to make any progress with her plans. And on this occasion, she was angry with me because I too had left. What she said was that I am an adult and she is not my naneth, so I may do as I like, but what she meant was that if she were my naneth, I would be confined to our flet so as to have time to think about my actions.
As it happens, she is mistaken about what I was doing when I left the building site, for I was not out gathering strawberries, but I am not certain she would be any more pleased if she knew what I was really doing. I am feeling the urge to confess to someone, and you will no doubt be honored to know that I have chosen you as my confidante.
I am enjoying myself here in the woods. Truly I am. But I have become increasingly worried about the inability of these people to defend themselves. I see no reason to believe that the forces of Shadow will abandon these woods and leave us all to live in an Anyr-designed dream world. Evil could sweep down on this charming place at any moment, and these people would be like children before its onslaught.
So in secret, I have been training half a dozen of them to use a sword, to arrange themselves well for battle against Orcs, and to shoot something other than game with their bows. They are all good shots and willing pupils. I think they may be as worried as I am about the lack of defenses. After all, their families live here. Enuldor is one of those I have been training, and I think he might make a good leader for these settler-warriors after I leave.
I have not told Celuwen about this of course. Anyr does not object to building the cottages in the trees. Indeed, I think he finds the idea charming. But he almost certainly would object to my training his people as warriors, and Celuwen firmly believes that we should not violate his wishes. Ordinarily, I trust her wisdom, but in this case, I fear too deeply for these people’s safety to allow the situation to continue as it is. So while Celuwen would be vexed with me if she knew what I was up to, I intend to continue doing it anyway. It turns out that marriage is not always an easy state, even when one is a model husband like me!
Legolas grinned. Eilian had courted Celuwen for years and married her in defiance of her father’s wishes and, even more impressively, Thranduil’s express orders. Even when he and Celuwen quarreled, which they did, he was obviously deliriously happy in his choice. Any complaints he made about marriage were just so many puffs of empty air.
For a moment, he wondered if his father would object to his own plans to bond with Tuilinn, but he rejected that thought out of hand. Tuilinn had no irate father forbidding the match. At least, Legolas assumed she did not. And Eilian’s marriage had worked out well, which meant that Thranduil would be more likely to approve of Legolas’s. Besides, Legolas knew in his bones that his father wanted what was good for him and what could be better for him than Tuilinn?
He had, of course, been watching for her during this whole scouting mission to the eastern part of the Northern Border Patrol’s territory. She should be returning from Dale any day now and his patrol was searching for intruders in an area through which she would have to pass. He smiled to himself. What if she were to walk into this camp right now? They could spend the whole night together again.
He shook himself out of this fantasy and looked again at the passages in Eilian’s letter that told of his worries for the settlement. Legolas found them sobering. About this one topic, Eilian was as serious as Ithilden ever was. Legolas’s anxieties rose again. What if Tuilinn wanted to continue living in her settlement? Would she be safe there?
He glanced up as Sinnarn and Nithron came back into camp, each carrying a brace of rabbits that they had already prepared for cooking. They handed them over to Vanduil, and then Sinnarn came to plop down next to Legolas. “Where is Nana?” he asked and then gave a sharp cry and raised his hand to his head as an acorn bounced off it.
Legolas laughed. “I think he is in the tree.” Another acorn came pelting down, striking Sinnarn on the ear as he tried to dodge.
“Truce!” he cried. “I apologize.” Leaves rustled overhead, but no more acorns rained down on Sinnarn, so Legolas assumed that Beliond was pacified. Sinnarn cautiously relaxed, and Legolas turned back to Eilian’s letter.
I hesitate to bring up the topic of Galelas because I fear the subject is a sore one for you, but I have been thinking of him as I train these Elves, and I hope that you have been able to overcome your dislike of him and see the good warrior who lurks under his sometimes discontented surface. He wants to do well, Legolas, and he needs to be recognized for what he can do, which as a matter of fact, is a great deal. Please tell him I wish he were here to help me teach these over-aged novices. He is quite good with young warriors. He would no doubt be good here too.
I almost forgot to tell you that I have made friends with an acquaintance of yours. His name is Ródien, and he is as bright an elfling as I have met in some time. He asked me if I knew the “captain” who had brought food to his people after the flood, and after a few moments of cudgeling my brain, I realized he was talking about you! Does Ithilden know about your promotion? The little scamp has been nosing around the area in which I conduct the warrior training, and I am a bit concerned that he will discover what we are doing, but if he does, I think I can just swear him to secrecy. He looks to be the type who would enjoy knowing a secret.
Legolas grinned to himself. Ródien had been one of the children Tuilinn was caring for when Legolas met her, and even then, the child had been eager to see Legolas’s sword. He had apparently not changed much, and if Eilian was not watchful, he would be exacting sword fighting lessons as his price for silence. I will have to tell Tuilinn when I see her, he thought, and then felt a flush of pleasure at how natural the thought felt.
Write to me, brat. Do not make me ask Beliond for a report on you! For some reason, his messages to me are often surly. I suppose I could write to Sinnarn. He always tells everything he knows so I am sure of a thorough account of what you are up to. But you know I like to hear from you and determine for myself that all is well.
Your loving brother,
Legolas let the letter fall into his lap. The smell of the roasting rabbits made his mouth water, and he felt a flush of contentment with his family, with his future, and with this moment in the woods.
“How is Eilian?” asked Sinnarn, and Legolas realized that Sinnarn too was rereading a letter, one written in Ithilden’s small, precise hand.
“He sounds much better.” Legolas grinned. “He has discovered that the males and females in the settlement all swim together.”
Sinnarn laughed. “Perhaps I should go and visit him!”
Legolas gave an answering laugh and then gestured to Sinnarn’s letter. “How is Ithilden?”
Sinnarn’s mood suddenly sobered. “He is the same as he always is – weighed down with all the cares in Arda. But there does not seem to be anything in particular.”
Legolas eyed him thoughtfully. As he had several times lately, Sinnarn sounded almost angry at his father. “Surely Ithilden is not complaining.”
“No, of course not.” Sinnarn twisted his father’s letter between his hands.
Legolas hesitated. “You sound as if you blame him for being burdened.”
“He chooses to live the way he does,” Sinnarn snorted. “He could let others take some of his responsibilities off his hands. He should not have to shoulder them all just because he is the king’s oldest son.”
Legolas frowned. “Your adar’s responsibilities are not a matter of choice, Sinnarn. He is who he is, and he has a duty to the people of the Woodland Realm. We all do.”
Sinnarn made an exasperated gesture. “Well, I have decided that I will not live that way, and fortunately any fool can see that I am not fit for the kind of responsibility he carries anyway.” He turned a tense face to Legolas. “And you are a fine one to talk! I know you were worn down after that last tour of duty in the south, and I know the family was worried about you. So do not pretend that you do not find ‘duty’ to be wearisome sometimes!”
“I never said that,” Legolas protested. “I said it was unavoidable.”
At that moment, Vanduil called, “The rabbits are ready!”
Saved the trouble of answering, Sinnarn got to his feet. “I will get your meal too,” he offered and strode off toward the fire. Struck by a sudden notion about what might lie behind his nephew’s sometimes irresponsible behavior, Legolas watched him go but then was distracted by a glimpse of motion from the corner of his eye. He turned to see Galelas, who was obviously returning from the stream with his and Vanduil’s refilled water skins. Galelas nodded curtly to him and crossed the little clearing to put the skins with his and Vanduil’s gear.
Beliond leapt lightly down to land beside Legolas.
“Was Galelas eavesdropping?” Legolas asked him.
Beliond shrugged. “Not deliberately. The stream is behind you and he was just returning. But he did hear much of what you and Sinnarn said, I think.”
“As did you,” Legolas said dryly.
Beliond gave him a bland smile. Sinnarn returned with two plates of food, and as he handed one to Legolas, Beliond relieved him of the other. “Thank you, young one,” he said and began to eat. Sinnarn rolled his eyes but went back without protest to get another plate, which he took to a place next to Vanduil.
As he ate his meal, Legolas found that his eyes kept drifting to Galelas, sitting next to Nithron on the other side of the fire. He was a little ashamed of the fact that he had not passed Eilian’s greetings on to Galelas. It is better if I keep away from him, he told himself, but the excuse suddenly seemed weak. He was happy enough himself that it felt ungenerous not to tell Galelas something that would probably please him.
When he had finished, he rose, took his dirty dishes to Sinnarn, whose turn it was to wash them, and then walked to stand in front of Galelas, who looked at him in surprise. “I had a letter from Eilian, Galelas. He asked me to give you his regards.”
For a moment, Galelas did not answer. Then he said, “I heard he was on an extended leave.”
With a start, Legolas realized that Galelas sounded worried. “He is,” Legolas agreed, “and it seems to be doing him a great deal of good.” He could not suppress a smile as he thought about Eilian’s letter. “At present, he is in Anyr’s settlement. Do you know it? Tinár has been there.”
At the mention of his insufferable older brother, Galelas’s face stiffened. “I have heard Tinár talk about it.”
Legolas could hardly blame Galelas for his reaction. If Tinár were his brother, he might have to leave home. “Eilian is training some of the settlers in defense,” Legolas told Galelas. “He says to tell you that he wishes you were there to help him because you are good with novice warriors.” Galelas blinked, and Legolas could have sworn a faint pink tinged his cheeks, although by the firelight, it was hard to be certain. “I can see that in the care you take with Vanduil, of course,” he added a little awkwardly.
Galelas made no answer but looked at Legolas with his face unreadable. He probably thinks I am patronizing him, Legolas thought in exasperation. He gave Galelas a nod and then turned to go back to where Beliond had decided he was to sleep that night. He would set the watches, and then he would go back to thinking about Tuilinn and forget all about the irritating Galelas. He had passed on Eilian’s message, and that was all that could be expected of him.
Sinnarn carted the dishes off to the stream while Vanduil cleaned up around the fire and then banked it for the night. Sinnarn returned, and Nithron climbed a tree to stand the first watch. The patrol settled in for the night. Legolas rolled up in his blanket to walk a dream path with Tuilinn’s hand in his.
In the morning, they began the last part of their journey east. They should reach the edge of the forest around mid-day, and then they would turn to go back to their home base. The morning passed in unruffled routine, and again, Legolas was pleased with the performance of everyone in the group, including Vanduil. As they drew near to the place where the trees gave way to the grasslands, Legolas’s thoughts turned even more persistently to Tuilinn. The sharp pang he felt told him how much he had been hoping to see her on her return journey. Surely the patrol had not missed her? She must still be in Dale.
He emerged from the last of the trees, eager to look east across the grasslands, toward where the mountain loomed over the town. One could see far here. Perhaps he would be able to see her and Fyndil approaching. He turned his eyes toward Erebor, and abruptly, he froze. For a second, he could not understand what he was seeing. Smoke smudged the sky over the mountain, and rivers of red ran up its slope. With a jolt, he accepted the knowledge of what his eyes were telling him.
The mountain was on fire.
Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter for me.
With a snap, Legolas came to himself again and glanced left and right to catch glimpses of Sinnarn and Vanduil staring incredulously at the mountain. He sounded a signal meant to call the rest of the patrol to him in all haste. Galelas came running, touching Vanduil’s arm as he passed, and then suddenly, they were all there, looking at Legolas with alert faces, awaiting his orders.
“What is it?” he demanded of Beliond and Nithron. “What could have caused those fires? They are far too widely spread to come from lightning.”
The two keepers looked doubtfully at one another. “I do not know,” said Beliond unhappily. Legolas knew that Beliond hated being uncertain of what danger Legolas might be encountering, and even in this tense moment, he was grateful for the restraint Beliond showed in leaving him to do his job.
“We need to find out what is happening,” Legolas said. The Woodland Realm was entirely too close to the mountain for the Elves to ignore events there. If Sauron’s followers were attacking Erebor, then Thranduil’s people could easily be their next target. “Come.”
He turned to lead them out of the trees and into the grasslands, gradually speeding up from a trot to a steady run that would eat up the leagues between the woods and the mountain by the time the light began to fail. Beliond ran just behind Legolas’s left shoulder, and when he flicked a glance to either side, Legolas could see Nithron shadowing Sinnarn, and Galelas watching over Vanduil. At the sight of Vanduil, Legolas could not help feeling a moment’s worry. We will soon find out if the youngling has learned enough, he thought grimly, and then he settled down to husbanding his breath.
And then his thoughts turned with single-minded concentration to Tuilinn, and fear twisted in his gut. Dale lay close by the foot of the flaming mountain. He could not see it clearly yet, but it seemed to him that the smoke rose from the town as well as the mountainside. Surely she has already left, he reassured himself, but he found he could not believe it. She was still there, and in his heart, he knew it.
They had run for perhaps an hour when he saw a scattering of half-a-dozen short, stocky figures running toward them, with the tall grasses parting before them like a river before the prows of so many small boats. He recognized their build and gait almost instantly: Dwarves. Dwarves could move quickly when they wanted to, and these were going fast enough to freeze his blood. They were fleeing, he thought in despair. And a fire on the mountain was not enough to make a Dwarf run. With sickening certainty, he knew that his worst fears had been correct: Something evil had descended on Erebor.
He increased his speed and changed his course slightly so that his patrol’s path would intercept that of the Dwarves. They ran on, closing the distance between them and the Dwarves with a speed that reflected an urgency Legolas knew they all shared.
He could tell the exact moment when the Dwarves finally caught sight of them, for the long-bearded leader faltered for a second and then made a quick gesture that sent four of the Dwarves veering off to one side, so as to keep out of the Elves’ way. Two of those sent to the side looked small to Legolas. Children, he thought. They are being sent off to safety while the other two meet us.
As the two older Dwarves approached, he saw to his increasing alarm that both of their beards were blackened around the ends and edges. They were singed, he realized in horror. These two had been very close to the fire. Moreover, they were without gear or weapons, suggesting the haste with which they had fled their home.
Legolas slowed to a stop and motioned most of the patrol to stay in place while he and Beliond went forward to speak to the Dwarves. He had inherited his father’s suspicion of these creatures, but they were the neighbors and allies of the Woodland Realm. Moreover, they would be able to tell him what the trouble at the mountain was. The bearing of the Dwarf in the lead looked familiar to Legolas, and suddenly he realized that it reminded him of Thranduil’s. Obeying his instinct, he put his hand over his heart and bowed deeply. “Legolas Thranduilion at your service.”
The two Dwarves exchanged a sharp glance, and then they both inclined their heads. “Thrór, King under the Mountain,” said the first Dwarf, “at yours and your family’s.”
Legolas tried to conceal his surprise. No wonder this Dwarf reminded him of Thranduil. Thrór had been King under the Mountain for 180 years now, ever since he had led his people back to Erebor after they were driven from the Grey Mountains by the reappearance of dragons there. “My lord, you are obviously in distress. Can we help you? Can you tell me what has happened?”
Thrór gave a short, mirthless laugh. “Help us? I do not think so. Ruin has followed us, even as we tried to escape it, and now we must survive as we can.” His tone was bleak, and with a sudden jolt, Legolas knew what Thrór was talking about. And now that he realized what the trouble must be, he could not believe he had not seen it before. Only one thing he knew of could rain fire onto a mountain.
“A dragon,” he breathed. “A dragon has come.” When Legolas had been a young warrior, first stationed in the Northern Border Patrol, he had seen a dragon kill a family of Dwarves and attack an Elven patrol. Indeed, everyone in this small group except Vanduil had been there. Legolas’s heart began to pound so loudly that he was surprised when no one looked askance.
Thrór nodded grimly. “He descended on us with only the wind from his wings for a warning. He set the trees on fire, and then he waited by the Great Gate and destroyed my people as they tried to flee.”
“What about Dale?” Legolas demanded. From the corner of his eye, he saw Beliond shift slightly and knew he that he probably should have expressed some sympathy for the plight of the Dwarves before he asked about the Mannish town, but he could not help himself.
Thrór’s face twisted sarcastically. “The worm is crawling through the tunnels of the mountain, but he will not forget Dale.”
Using every ounce of self control he possessed, Legolas kept his voice from shaking as he asked, “Do you know if there are Elves in Dale, my lord?”
Thrór looked at him, and suddenly his face softened slightly. Legolas realized that he must not have sounded as cool as he had hoped to. “No,” said Thrór, “I regret that I do not.”
“Then we will go on.” Legolas hesitated. “I would give you a weapon, my lord, but I fear we will need ours. But when you enter the forest, look for Elorfin and the rest of the Northern Border Patrol. I am certain that they will see to it that you have the supplies and weapons you need.”
Thrór grimaced. “Weapons are the least of my concerns right now. We cannot fight this enemy, and I doubt if you can either, son of Thranduil, but I wish you well if you are searching for any of your people.” He jerked his head at the Dwarf who stood by him, and the two of them pivoted and began trotting toward where the other four waited. For a second, Legolas looked after him, seeing not a member of an untrustworthy race, but someone who had lost nearly everything he had. But he had no time now to sympathize with anyone else’s loss, as his thoughts turned worriedly to Tuilinn.
“Legolas,” Beliond began, “are you going to be--.”
Legolas cut him off and signaled to the four warriors waiting behind them. Ignoring Beliond’s concerned look, Legolas set off again, the others in his wake. With the whip of his fear driving him on, he set a rapid pace, and his patrol seemed equally determined to lose no time. Even apart from any concern they might feel for the inhabitants of Dale, they had all met Tuilinn and Fyndil.
They ran for what seemed like far too long a time, but gradually the mountain and town drew near, and Legolas saw that he had been right. Sending him into near panic, smoke rose from behind the walls of Dale as well as from the flames dancing over the mountain. They had reached the point where a road ran between fields to the town gates, and he could see people hurrying out of the gates, a few driving or dragging carts, but most simply clutching bundles. Their frenzied haste made their terror obvious even from where Legolas was.
Suddenly he smelled the smoke and realized that the wind had not only shifted but was rising, blowing the dark smoke in their direction. And then he caught the wild clang of bells. The people on the road began scrambling wildly, as if looking for cover, and over the sound of the bells, he could hear their shrieks.
“Come,” he urged and redoubled his pace.
The wind rose still further, filling his ears with its roar. And then he saw it. From around one of the spurs of the mountain, a flash of light sailed into view, and his breath caught, for now the light resolved into a huge shape like that of a gigantic red-gold bat. Legolas stared incredulously at the size of the monstrously beautiful thing. It was far bigger than the one he had seen nearly two-hundred years ago.
But he had no time to waste, he realized abruptly. With terrifying speed, the dragon roared down upon the field to their right, loosing a tongue of flame that turned the half-grown grain into a fiery wall, driving some of the fleeing people back onto the road, screaming in their panic.
With frantic speed, Legolas fitted an arrow to his bowstring and shot, but he knew even before the arrow flew that it was pointless. The angle was wrong. The dragon was too low and any darts would simply bounce off the iron-hard scales that clad the great beast’s sides and back.
The dragon wheeled and slowed only twenty feet over the heads of the shouting, scrambling people on the road, and then, while Legolas and his patrol were still running toward the terrifying scene, the dragon swooped down, extended a huge clawed foot, and seized a young woman who had frozen in terror in the middle of the road.
Legolas heard a cry of horror and glanced to see Vanduil rooted to the spot, staring at the scene before him. “Vanduil, move!” he shouted and was relieved to see Galelas taking Vanduil’s arm and shaking it firmly. As if coming out of a trance, the young warrior gave a small moan and then reached for another arrow.
Loosing arrows as he ran, Legolas leapt forward but was far too late to help the writhing, screaming woman. With a single flap of its wings, the dragon soared aloft again and flew back toward the mountain, ignoring the Elves’ arrows as if they had been so many fleas taking irritating little digs at his sides.
Breathing hard, Legolas skidded to a halt where the other fleeing people were now stumbling back onto the road. He tried to speak with a man whose face was filthy with ashes, but the man ignored him and ran in the direction from which Legolas had just come. When Beliond tried to block his path, he dodged around him as if Beliond were simply a rock that had somehow landed in the road.
“Adrylle! Adrylle!” shrieked a grey-haired woman, who was tottering back toward the town, her eyes on the dwindling dark shape of the dragon.
Another woman caught at her arm. “No!” she choked. “We cannot help her. We must get away before it comes back!” Tears streamed down her face, but she held on to the older woman’s arm, refusing to let her return to Dale.
A man now came running toward them and seized the older woman’s other arm. “Come, Kaayn.” He began urging the two women along the road, but Legolas put out a hand to stop them.
“Good sir,” he beseeched, “what is happening in the town?” This time both Nithron and Sinnarn were in the trio’s way, and they stopped, with the older woman’s keening rising to a sharp wail. Legolas caught a glimpse of his nephew’s distressed face as Sinnarn put out a hand to try to soothe the hysterical woman, but then he brought his attention sharply back to the man.
As if he had only just noticed this patrol of Elven warriors, the man turned toward him, and Legolas could see that his eyes were wide and dazed with what he had seen. “Did you not see it?” the man asked, his voice trembling a little.
In the face of this man’s distress, Legolas curbed his anxiety and made his voice gentler. “Where are King Girion’s soldiers?” The soldiers of Dale should at least be cool-headed enough to tell him if there were Elven visitors about, he thought, swallowing the terror that had arisen in his breast at the sight of the young woman being carried away.
The man pointed a shaking hand back toward the town. “There were some in the market. They told us to leave while we could.”
Legolas released him. “Go. May the Valar be with you.” He waved his patrol onward, and they raced toward the town gates as the shattered refugees hurried unsteadily in the other direction. Dodging a woman carrying a small child, Legolas led them through the gates and turned right. He had been to Dale occasionally over the years and seen it flourish and grow after the Dwarves returned. But he had never spent much time in any town and had not wanted to. And while he had seen the aftermath of many battles between warriors and creatures of darkness in the forest, he had never before seen the results of an assault on a town full of people. If he had not known where he was, he was uncertain that he would even have recognized Dale.
Dark smoke billowed from dozens of flaming thatched roofs, stinging his eyes and clogging his throat, and with it mingled a hot mist that felt like steam, the two together making it impossible to see more than a dozen yards in front of him. Large stones had been knocked from the town wall and lay strewn in the Elves’ path as they hurried along the chaotic street, dodging frightened townspeople who emerged from the muck and then disappeared into it again in the direction of the gate. From all sides, Legolas could hear the frightened babble of voices, including the higher pitched tones of women and the wails of small children. He was nearly overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster through which his patrol was moving.
They swept into the area where he knew the market had to be, and suddenly, he had to put out his arms to prevent a man in the armor of the soldiers of Dale from running into him. “Where is your captain?” Legolas demanded.
“Further back,” the soldier said, pointing behind him, “up the street toward the palace.” He did not react at all to what surely must have been the unexpected appearance of Elven warriors, but Legolas supposed he had seen so many shocking things that day that he had no more emotion left to give to Legolas and his patrol. From off to the side of the street, the sound of someone moaning caught all of their attention, and the soldier hurried toward it. For a second, Legolas hesitated, but then he assured himself that whoever had been moaning was being tended to and signaled his patrol forward.
They picked their way through the rubble in the marketplace. Legolas could see that most of his patrol had lowered their bows, but Vanduil still had his clutched in his hands as he scanned the sky. Legolas moved toward the young warrior. “We will have plenty of warning if it comes back,” he said in what he meant to be a reassuring tone. Vanduil jumped a little at being spoken to but then swallowed and lowered his weapon. Galelas was close enough to Vanduil’s other side to hear Legolas speak and patted Vanduil on the shoulder, shooting Legolas a look that could only be described as grateful.
They turned up the street that led to the palace, and almost directly in front of him, Legolas found a soldier clad in dazzling Dwarven armor and issuing crisp orders to those around him. “Clear that street,” he instructed two soldiers. “Tell them the dragon is gone for now, and they can flee if they want to.” The two nodded and ran off.
“Captain,” Legolas said, and the Mannish leader spun to face him. Legolas put his hand over his heart in salute. “I am Legolas Thranduilion.” He hesitated. He knew what he wanted to ask, but he also knew what his duty required him to ask. He drew a deep breath. “Can we help you?”
The Mannish captain returned his salute. “I am Gwigon, son of Girion.” Legolas blinked. This then was the oldest son of the king of Dale. Gwigon swept his eyes over the six Elves. “Is this all of you?” he asked.
“Yes.” Ordinarily, Legolas would have been insulted by the question. Six Wood-elf warriors could do a great deal of damage, but given what he had just seen, he understood Gwigon’s skepticism.
Gwigon made a small sound that Legolas would have understood as a laugh if they had not been standing in the middle of the ruin of hundreds of people’s lives. “I do not know that anyone can help us now. We are urging people to escape to the woods or the river. Indeed, my father is at the river now directing the evacuation and sending my mother and younger brother to safety if he can manage it. You and your warriors can help us evacuate people if you are willing. And I suppose you might as well keep your bows at the ready. The creature is not invulnerable, after all. We just have to get a good shot off from directly under him.” Legolas’s breath quickened a little at the thought of such a dangerous ambition.
“We will help of course.” He hesitated again but decided that he was entitled to take special care with his father’s people. “Can you tell us if there are any Elves in Dale? We have reason to believe that two of our people are visiting the healers here.”
Gwigon grimaced. “Yes, they are here, but I have not seen them today.” At the news, Legolas’s heart leapt, although he could not have said if it was with elation or despair at the idea of Tuilinn’s presence in this devastated town. “The healers are busy enough, I am afraid,” Gwigon went on. “Your people were staying with old Deric. Go back to the market and take the street that will slant down to the left. You might as well clear that street as any other, and you might find your own people too.” He turned away as a soldier ran up the street from the marketplace.”
“The river is still steaming, my lord,” the soldier panted, “but it is navigable.”
“Good,” Gwigon nodded. “Go and tell the others to send people that way if they are nearer to the river than the gate.”
Legolas wasted no more time but spun and led his patrol hastily back through the marketplace to turn into a street that ran downhill on their left, disappearing into the steam that was evidently rising from the river. As Legolas looked down its length, he could see a scattering of people at the lower end. Here, near the market, the dragon had struck hard, and the air was thick with the acrid smell of burned roofs, but further down, the houses were still intact.
She is there, he thought suddenly, and he felt an almost irresistible longing to run to her at once. Who could say what danger she was in? But he knew what he had to do. “Check the houses,” he told his warriors, and then glanced at the ruined structures around them and added, “or any other place where people might be sheltering. Tell them to go to the river or the forest and do it quickly while the dragon is busy elsewhere.” He shut his mind to thoughts of the woman the dragon had carried away and just what it might be “busy” doing.
He climbed over a fallen beam that partially blocked the entrance to what had probably been a dwelling and scanned the front room, into which some of the still-smoldering embers of the thatched roof had collapsed. Looking for anyone who might be hiding or trapped, he quickly crossed to the doorway leading to the hall and the two bedrooms behind, but the place was empty. He went back into the street and then on to the next place, quickening his pace a little, as his desire to get Tuilinn away became ever more urgent.
He rapped loudly on the door of the next house. “Anybody there?” He had put his hand on the latch to push his way in, when the door jerked open a crack, making him draw a quick breath of surprise. But he steadied himself and looked down into the eyes of an obviously frightened woman. Trying to make his face and voice as reassuring as possible, he said, “Mistress, Lord Gwigon has sent us to tell you to flee the town now while you can.”
She stared at him for a dazed moment. “It is safe to flee?”
“Yes, but you must go now.”
She hesitated for only another second and then spun back into the house, letting the door swing open to show Legolas the cause of her concern. A wizened old man huddled in a corner, clutching a woman’s shawl to his chest. “Come, Grandfather,” the woman said, drawing him to his feet and attempting to help him toward the door.
“I need your grandmother’s shawl,” he pleaded.
“Of course you do,” she crooned. “No one will try to take it from you.”
“Hurry,” Legolas urged, his impatience growing by the moment.
The woman shot him a harried look and tried to hasten the old man along, and immediately struck by guilt, Legolas stepped forward to take his other arm and help him out onto the street where he saw Sinnarn coming out of the house opposite with a baby in his arms and Nithron right behind him escorting an anxious looking woman. These people were going to need help getting anywhere, Legolas realized.
“Sinnarn!” he called, and his nephew turned toward him. Legolas helped the old man across the street. “You and Nithron take these two with you and get them all down to the river.” Sinnarn nodded, and Nithron hastened to take the old man’s other arm. They hurried off down the street, and Legolas scanned the next two houses to see Beliond emerging from one, while Galelas and Vanduil came out of the other, none of them evidently having found anyone.
Legolas was trotting down the street toward the next building, when all at once his hair whipped into this face from behind. He pushed it back impatiently and then suddenly froze with his hand still lifted. Wind! The wind was rising again! And at the same time, he heard the town’s bells begin to clamor and a rumble sounded in the distance, growing louder by the second. The dragon was coming back.
“Take cover!” he shouted, sending an agonized glance down the street to where Nithron had picked up the old man, and he and Sinnarn and the two women were disappearing at a run into the fog from the river. On his hasty passage across the street, Beliond seized Legolas’s upper arm and yanked him into the shelter of a pile of rubble, where Galelas and Vanduil were already fitting arrows to their bowstrings.
Legolas grabbed for an arrow, darting a quick look at Vanduil as he did so. “Stay under shelter,” he told the young warrior. “Wait until its head has passed over and then step out only enough to take a shot at its belly. And then be ready to get out of sight again because it is likely to come back.”
Vanduil nodded. His face was paper white, but his hands seemed steady enough on his bow. Legolas shot a glance at Galelas, who was just behind Vanduil. Galelas gave a small nod, and Legolas turned to find an opening through which he hoped to be able to see the dragon’s approach. He had no doubt that Galelas would look after Vanduil.
The wind rose more quickly than Legolas could have imagined. He realized that his breathing was too quick and deliberately slowed it. He needed to be steady if he was to shoot at the dragon. And then, suddenly, he saw it – a great, dark shape sweeping over the buildings. And at the same moment, over the roar of the wind, he heard a sound it took him a second to recognize as the wail of a frightened child.
Frantically, he snapped his head around, searching for the sound’s source. And then his heart seemed to stop altogether, for there, running up the street, was Tuilinn, carrying a child of about two, who was sobbing hysterically.
Without a second’s hesitation, Legolas darted out from under the shelter of the fallen stones. “No!” cried Beliond, grabbing at him, but Legolas was far too quick. From the corner of Legolas’s eye, he could see the gigantic form of the dragon sailing directly toward him, but he had no time to worry about it. Tuilinn turned a face to him that was first startled and then dissolved into a sob of relief.
And then he saw flame from the dragon’s nostrils flicker toward them, and with a speed he had not known he possessed, he grabbed her around the waist and pulled both her and the child out of harm’s way and into the ruins, aware as he did so of Galelas standing in the open, shooting arrow after arrow to drive the dragon off.
“You fool!” cried Beliond. Legolas took the shrieking child from Tuilinn and shoved him into Beliond’s arms, startling the keeper so that he stopped scolding and backed away a little, automatically jiggling the child and then starting to croon to him. Legolas turned to look with wonder into Tuilinn’s wide grey eyes.
“It is coming back!” Vanduil shouted from Beliond’s other side. Legolas grabbed Tuilinn’s arm and shoved her deeper into cover and then hastily reached for an arrow, seeing Galelas already loosing a shaft. But before Legolas could get to an opening, a loud crashing sound smote his ears, and the roof of their hiding place tumbled down upon them.
Thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter for me.
8. Caught in the Ruins
A chunk of stone grazed the left side of Legolas’s head and slammed into his shoulder. Pain blossomed in both his shoulder and his ear, and he cried out once and then instinctively threw up his hands to protect his head as the continued shower of rocks drove him to his knees. Dirt filled the sparse air, clogging his nose and throat and making him close his eyes against its sting. Despite the pain in his left ear, he could hear the roar of the dragon directly overhead and then a loud bang and the noise of more stones crashing on top of those around him. He had a quick, dazed vision of the dragon whipping its tail into buildings, just as the debris in front of him shifted and pushed him hard enough that his head banged against the wall of the house behind him.
The clamor of bells penetrated the din, and for a confused second, he thought they were warning him that the dragon was wheeling for another attack, but suddenly it dawned on him that he could hear the bells because the noise of the dragon’s passage was diminishing. The shower of rocks had slowed and now stopped, although dust still filled the air and darkness blanketed him completely. And as the noise faded a little, he could hear a child shrieking in terror beyond the rocks that walled him in from the left.
Irritably, he wondered what Beliond wanted. Surely he must know that Legolas had an unexpected situation to deal with. And besides, Beliond’s shouts were probably upsetting the screaming child even further. Suddenly, Legolas’s head cleared. Tuilinn! he thought in panic, and then his mind skipped to his last glimpse of Sinnarn and everyone else in the patrol too, and he began frantically shoving at the stones in front of him, realizing only belatedly that he was moaning. He had to get free and find out what had happened. He was in command. His warriors depended on him, and Tuilinn could be in danger.
“Legolas, answer me!”
At least Beliond was still alive, Legolas thought with grim humor. He opened his mouth to respond to Beliond’s urgent shout but found dirt stopping his tongue. He spat and then gave a call that even he knew was probably too feeble to be heard over the wails of the child. Beliond made a loud, heartfelt comment on Sauron’s anatomy. Legolas pictured Vanduil blinking and hoped that the child had been too absorbed in his own woes to hear. He did not want to have to explain to the child’s parents where he had learned the phrase, assuming, of course, that the child still had parents.
His hand unexpectedly slid past the end of a stone, painfully barking his wrist but finding empty space. He groped around its edges. It was probably too narrow for him to go through wearing his pack and quiver, and the space was too confined for him to remove them. He pushed his bow through the opening and then tugged at one of the rocks, trying to widen the space so he could follow. The stones overhead rustled ominously, and he froze. Then, cautiously, he tugged again and began wriggling through the opening, gasping and then clenching his teeth against the pain in his left shoulder as he did so.
The stones shifted again, and with his shoulder adding its screams to the child’s, he heaved himself quickly forward, emerging into a larger space just as the stones under which he had sheltered collapsed with a loud rumble. Once again, he flung his arms over his head to protect it from the smaller stones raining down upon him.
“Legolas!” Beliond sounded almost as hysterical as the child.
“I am here,” he managed to call, even as he lifted his head and frantically scanned for signs of Tuilinn. He knew he had neared the spot where he had shoved her, thinking she would be safe.
“Thank the Valar. Are you hurt?”
“Not much.” Legolas continued to look around him, crawling forward as he did so. The last rockfall had left an opening about ten feet above him, and light now filtered down through the dust laden air.
“What does that mean?” Beliond’s voice was rough with anger, and Legolas recognized it for the sign of affection that it was, but it evidently frightened the child, for his cries grew louder. “Vanduil!” Beliond’s voice was slightly muffled as if he had turned away. “Take him. And then look out and see if you can spot Sinnarn and Nithron. We are going to need help getting them out of there.” The child’s sobs faded a little, and then Beliond’s voice grew clear again. “What about Galelas and the maiden?”
“I do not see them yet.” Legolas heard the slight quiver in his own voice but was too frantic to care.
Then he saw it, and his heart stopped. A slender hand emerged from under a pile of stones. He dove toward her, struggling for breath against the dusty air and the band that had suddenly been drawn tight around his chest. “Tuilinn,” he half sobbed, scrabbling at the stones across her face. Ignoring the pain in his shoulder, he heaved a stone away and at last saw her.
She lay as if asleep, but he knew at once that she was not. Her face was serene and unbruised, but the back of her head was crushed, and her blood had poured out and soaked the ground beneath her. She was not there. He could no longer feel her presence.
The world swam in and out of focus, and for a long moment, he was not sure where he was. He was here, staring at Tuilinn’s body, and he was questing somewhere else, seeking her.
“Legolas, did you find Tuilinn?” Beliond was talking to him again from somewhere far away, but Legolas ignored him. He put out a finger and touched Tuilinn’s face. “Legolas,” called Beliond again, “what about Galelas?”
As if Beliond’s question had conjured the sound, Legolas heard someone give a low groan. He turned his head incuriously toward the sound and saw a spread of dark hair not three feet away. One of Galelas’s legs was caught under a large square stone, and as the dust drained from the air, his upper body had become visible. He was bleeding from a cut in one temple, but he was also beginning to regain consciousness.
“Legolas, I am talking to you! Answer me!” Beliond’s voice was sharp, and Legolas responded with the obedience that he had learned was best when Beliond had neared the end of his patience.
“Galelas is here,” he said, hearing the dreaminess in his own voice. “Tuilinn is dead.”
There was a second’s silence. “I am sorry, Legolas.” After a pause, Beliond asked in a gentler voice, “Is Galelas all right?”
Knowing he had to answer Beliond or face repeated questions, Legolas looked at Galelas. “He is hurt.” For a long moment, he stared at Galelas, knowing that he should do something to help him, but feeling as if he might be too far away now to do it. Then Galelas moaned again, and suddenly Legolas found himself tearing his hand away from Tuilinn’s face and moving toward the trapped warrior.
As Legolas approached, Galelas turned his head toward him, but his eyes were glazed with pain, and Legolas was not certain that Galelas really registered his presence. He turned his attention to Galelas’s leg. Bracing both hands under the stone’s edge, he tired to heave it away, but his shoulder protested and after two more tries he had to admit to himself that he was not going to be able to remove the stone. He sat back on his heels, rubbing absently at his left shoulder and allowing his eyes to go once more to the pale form of Tuilinn.
“Is it broken?” Galelas croaked, and with an effort, Legolas brought his gaze back to Galelas.
“I do not know.” He crept toward Galelas’s head, as pity stabbed its way through the fog in which he seemed to be floating. “Are you thirsty?” he asked, reaching for his water skin. He propped up Galelas’s head so that he could drink and then took a long swallow himself, suddenly conscious of how dry his own dusty throat was.
He looked at Galelas, automatically trying to assess his condition. Galelas was pale and his eyes kept sliding in and out of focus, so Legolas strongly suspected that he might be less than completely present. His gaze settled on the cut on Galelas’s temple. “We should clean that cut,” he said and sluiced water over it. Galelas flinched away, but Legolas caught his head and held it until he was satisfied that all of the grit was out of the wound. He retrieved bandaging from the small bag of healing supplies at his belt and wrapped it around Galelas’s head. The air was still full of so much dirt that he did not dare to leave the cut uncovered.
As he tucked the bag of supplies away again, he heard Beliond shout again. “Legolas! Can you move away from the stones on this side? We are going to try to dig you out.” To Legolas’s relief, he could hear Sinnarn’s voice murmuring to someone on the other side of the stones, and blessedly, the child had stopped crying.
He eyed the pile of stones dividing him from Beliond. Galelas was already well away from it, and Legolas could slide into a small space near Galelas’s head. But Tuilinn’s body was not far from the stones that needed to be moved. She is dead, he told himself savagely. She cannot feel anything. But he could not bear it. He crawled to her, reaching behind him to pull his rolled up blanket loose from the top of his pack. Choking from the pain in his throat and chest, he shook it out as best he could and smoothed it over her exposed face, shoulders, and arm. Only by an effort of will was he able to move away from her again, and even then, he stopped, pulled the blanket away from her face, and bent to kiss her brow. Then he covered her and went to take his place near Galelas.
“We are ready,” he called to Beliond, his voice a little unsteady. “But Beliond,” he hesitated and then went on. “Tuilinn is close to the stones.”
There was a second of silence. He heard the swift, low murmur of Sinnarn’s and Beliond’s voices on the other side of the rock wall. Then Beliond said, “We will be as careful as we can.”
At once, Legolas heard the sound of a stone being carefully wrenched away. This will be slow, he thought. They will not want to cause another cave in. He let his head drop back against the wall behind him. Perhaps I am dreaming badly, he thought, and then his eyes went to Tuilinn and his heart twisted in despair. And again, he felt himself starting to drift as his mind reached desperately out to search for her.
Galelas turned his head. “What is happening? Where are we?”
Legolas pulled himself from his stupor. “The dragon knocked down the second story of the house we were near. Beliond and the others are digging us out.”
Galelas frowned. “I thought the stones fell on you, not me,” he said vaguely. “Eilian was afraid for you.” He gave a short, unpleasant laugh. “He would rush to your aid if he thought you had stubbed your toe.”
Legolas blinked and slowly came far enough to attention to conclude that Galelas must be talking about the patrol the two of them had been part of years ago, when a dragon had indeed knocked stones down on Legolas. Eilian had been their captain, and he had, of course, been worried about Legolas. Or rather, it had seemed like a matter of course to Legolas, but it apparently still rankled in the mind of Galelas.
“You know how families are,” Legolas said a little defensively. He did not see why he should have to apologize for having his brother’s affection.
“Oh, yes,” Galelas said bitterly. “I know how they are.” He frowned at Legolas. “Is Eilian here yet?”
“No. We are in Dale, Galelas, not the north.” And again, for a moment, he hoped he might be dreaming. This whole conversation sounded like one in a dream.
Galelas turned his head from side to side. “My family is not here either. Why should they be? After all, Tinár is safe.”
Even though he already knew that Galelas’s parents doted on his older brother, Legolas could not help taking a quick, shocked breath. He was at a loss for what to say. Finally, he ventured, “I have served with both of you, Galelas, and as a warrior, you are worth ten of Tinár.”
It was the simple truth, but it seemed to startle Galelas, who snorted incredulously. “How nice to know you think so,” he said sarcastically.
Legolas bristled a little. “I do think so, and what is more, so do Eilian and Ithilden. Tinár has trouble even following orders. Why do you think he is in Ithilden’s office as a messenger?”
Galelas frowned in apparent concentration. “Eilian and Ithilden think I am a better warrior than Tinár?”
“Yes. What is more, Eilian thinks you are a better person than Tinár,” Legolas answered, and it occurred to him that he thought that too. Galelas was difficult to get along with, but he was a thousand times better than Tinár. He did not tell Galelas, though, because he assumed that Galelas would not care what he thought.
Galelas considered Legolas’s answer for a moment but seemed unable to take it in. He turned his head restlessly, and his eyes settled on the covered form of Tuilinn, upon which a few pebbles but no large stones had fallen. “She is dead?” he asked in surprise.
“Yes,” Legolas answered dully. He, too, looked at the still, slender form.
“I am sorry,” Galelas mumbled. He was losing his battle to keep alert, and Legolas was aware of him falling still. He glanced to see that Galelas’s chest was still rising and falling in shallow breaths, and then he let his gaze go back to Tuilinn.
He stared at her, and the sounds of stones being moved faded from his consciousness, and his world narrowed to her. In his mind, he began to play over again scenes of what had been between them and scenes of what he had hoped their life together would be. He saw her playing with the children in the settlement, struggling to keep her curls from her face, turning her face up toward him and drawing near to kiss him, with wonder in her eyes. He saw his father bending to kiss her brow and welcome her to the family. He felt her in his arms, in his bed. He felt her warmth and saw her looking at him with joy in her face and their own child in her arms.
He blinked to find Beliond bending over him with his face puckered in anxiety.
“Is this blood all from your ear?” Beliond demanded roughly, touching his shoulder and provoking a spasm of pain that made Legolas flinch away. “What is wrong with your shoulder?”
“A stone fell on it,” Legolas said slowly.
Sinnarn shot him a concerned look from where he and Vanduil crouched next to Galelas. Then he turned back to Vanduil. “Can you lift the stone enough to let me pull him out?” Vanduil nodded, and Sinnarn moved to grasp Galelas under his arms. Vanduil gave a mighty heave, and Sinnarn dragged Galelas out from under the stone. Galelas let out a shout, struggled a little, and then apparently fainted. Sinnarn took a quick look at his leg and then turned to Beliond. “His leg is broken. We have to splint it before we move him.”
Vanduil was already on his feet searching for lengths of wood that might have fallen from the building.
But Legolas had no more attention to spare for Galelas. He had turned back to stare at where, with tears running freely down his face, Fyndil was pulling rocks away from Tuilinn’s immobile form. I am not weeping, Legolas thought dully. Why is that?
Pain stabbed through his shoulder, and he realized that Beliond was easing the pack off it. “I want to take a look,” Beliond said. “I am guessing it is just bruised, but I want to make sure.” He waited for Legolas to answer, but as far as Legolas was concerned, Beliond could do whatever he liked. Beliond’s mouth tightened, but Legolas ignored him and craned his neck to look around Beliond to where Fyndil was still uncovering Tuilinn. He continued to watch as Beliond unlaced his tunic, checked his shoulder, and then, with painful care, washed and bandaged his torn ear.
“Are you finished, Sinnarn?” Beliond asked in a strained voice. “We need to get out of here. There is no point in staying, and the dragon could be back at any moment.”
“We are done,” Sinnarn said, “but Nithron is not back yet.”
“Go look for him,” Beliond instructed, and Sinnarn got to his feet and slid out through a narrow opening in the rocks.
“I will carry Galelas,” Vanduil put in.
Beliond nodded and turned to Fyndil. “Are you ready?”
Fyndil was wrapping Tuilinn’s body in Legolas’s blanket. “Yes. I will carry her.”
“No!” Legolas broke out, fumbling to his feet. “I will.”
“You will not,” Beliond snapped. “Your shoulder is injured.”
Legolas spun to face him, but before he could protest, Sinnarn and Nithron came back through the opening.
“What happened?” Fyndil asked.
“I gave him into the care of a woman in one of the boats,” Nithron said. They were talking about the child, Legolas realized, the one Tuilinn had had in her arms.
“You found his mother?” Fyndil asked.
“No,” Nithron said in a despairing voice. “No one recognized him or knew who his parents were. But we had to get him out of here. Dale is not safe.”
“We will go now,” Beliond ordered. Before Legolas could escape Beliond’s grip on his arm, Fyndil stooped to pick up Tuilinn’s shrouded body, while Vanduil carefully lifted Galelas. Both of them disappeared through the opening, with Nithron and Sinnarn in their wake.
Legolas stared after them, looking through the space into which Tuilinn had vanished. She was gone, he thought. And suddenly, tears were washing the grit from his eyes and a shuddering sob shook him. And to his surprise, the thought that was uppermost in his mind was, That poor little boy!
Beliond put his arm around Legolas’s shoulders. “Come,” he said gently. “We will go back to the forest.” And he led Legolas out of the ruins.
Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter for me.
Legolas could sense Beliond’s driving need for haste as they left the devastated town behind them. Legolas ran as if through a nightmare, keeping his eyes on Fyndil, who ran just ahead of him with Tuilinn still in his arms. But he knew that his minder never left his side, although Beliond had his bow ready in his hands and kept scanning the sky anxiously. Even after they left the road and ran through fields and scattered small woods, they saw fires raging. As if it were a part of his own pain, Legolas could hear the note of mourning in the song of the trees through which they ran. The dragon was devastating not only the town, but the living world around it.
A low moan drew his attention, and he looked away from Fyndil long enough to catch a glimpse of Galelas’s face, pale even under its coating of dirt and bruises and twisting in pain as he lay in Vanduil’s arms. Legolas saw the distressed look on Vanduil as he tightened his grip, and then Galelas relaxed and Legolas knew he had lost consciousness again. Vanduil was undoubtedly doing his best, but he could not help jostling Galelas as he ran. Galelas needs to rest, Legolas thought vaguely, and then turned his gaze back to Fyndil.
He frowned to himself. Darkness was closing in on them, and he could not see Tuilinn as clearly as he would have liked to. He sped up slightly to draw nearer to Fyndil, but to his astonishment, he stumbled and would have fallen had Beliond not caught his arm. He could not suppress a cry at the pain the jolt caused his shoulder.
“Bear left toward those trees,” Beliond called, and Sinnarn and Nithron, who were leading the group, obeyed. They entered the shelter of a band of trees growing along a stream. “We will stop here for the night,” Beliond said. Nithron gave him a long look. “We are far enough, I think,” Beliond said, “and we need rest.” Nithron seemed to accept the argument, although he did not look happy. How far was ‘far enough’? Legolas wondered idly. He supposed he ought to try to determine that, but he could not quite see how.
With great care, Vanduil lowered Galelas, who was unable to suppress a groan. Hearing it, Legolas took a quick look at where Fyndil was putting Tuilinn down and then walked to where Galelas lay. “How is he?” he asked Vanduil, his eyes straying back to Tuilinn.
“He will be fine once we get him to the healers.” Vanduil turned his dirt-streaked face toward Legolas. “Why do you not rest a little, Lieutenant?”
Legolas blinked at him. This young warrior was under his command. It seemed incongruous for Vanduil to be telling him to rest. But he nodded without speaking and then went to drop to the ground next to where Fyndil had laid Tuilinn’s body and now sat near her. Legolas’s blanket was still wrapped around her, so he could not see her face, and he reached to move it, but then stopped, with his hand hovering over her head. She is dead, he reminded himself miserably. Leave it alone. He pulled his hand back, examining without interest a large black bruise on the back of it, and then leaned against the tree under which he sat, trying to draw comfort from its solid presence.
“I am very sorry for what happened, my lord,” Fyndil said. “She spoke of you. She glowed with what she felt for you.”
Legolas blinked hard, knowing that if he began to weep, he would have difficulty stopping. “What was she doing in that street, Fyndil? Why had she not sought shelter or even escaped on one of the boats?” He had pondered this question obsessively since they had left Dale. What had put Tuilinn in that street at that moment?
“It was the child,” Fyndil sighed. “Someone said they thought he lived in the next street, and she was taking him to try to find his parents.”
Legolas could feel his mouth trembling and he pressed his lips firmly together. What if she had not run down that street? What if he had not seen her and dragged her into the ruins in which the patrol hid? What if he had not pushed her into the corner where the wall had fallen on her?
Stop it! he scolded himself. You cannot know what would have happened. If you had not seen her, the dragon might have snatched her up. If you had not pushed her into one place, she might have been in another just as dangerous. Ithilden told you that you could not have prevented Naran’s death in the south, and this is just the same. He wondered bleakly if he would ever believe that.
The ache in his left shoulder had eased a little now that they were no longer running, and he rubbed it absentmindedly. Long experience with injury told him it would be stiff by the next day, but he found he did not care. Tomorrow was immeasurably far away. The idea of planning for it left him utterly exhausted.
Beliond approached. “Drink,” he commanded, holding out a water skin. Obediently, Legolas took it and swallowed some of the cool water. Beliond took the skin back, patted his arm, and went to give orders to the others about setting up camp. I should be doing that, Legolas thought. He leaned his head against the tree. I will get up and do it soon.
Sinnarn came over and sat down next to him. “How are you, Uncle?”
Legolas crooked the corner of his mouth at him. Sinnarn called him “uncle” only when he wanted to make it clear that whatever he was talking about was private rather than a part of the patrol’s business, and Legolas knew that his nephew was trying to offer comfort. He wished Sinnarn would leave him in peace though. He was finding it hard to talk even to Beliond. “I am well enough.”
Sinnarn gave a sympathetic grimace. “We will get you home as quickly as we can.”
Legolas frowned. “Galelas needs to go home,” he said slowly. “He needs the healers.”
“He does,” Sinnarn agreed. “He is in a lot of pain. I suppose Beliond is steering us south because he is hoping to get Galelas at least onto a raft on the Forest River for the trip home. That would be far easier on him.” Legolas felt a stab of guilt that he had not even noticed the direction of their flight. But Sinnarn was right. If Galelas could make the trip home by water, he would be far more comfortable.
Beliond came back. “You cook, Sinnarn. Stew some of the dried food. I do not want anyone off hunting. Keep the fire low and under as much shelter as you can, but we could all use something hot, and we need to brew willow-bark tea for Galelas.”
Sinnarn rose obediently and went off to do as he had been told, while Beliond dropped to his knees next to Legolas and removed his pack. He rooted around in it for a moment before pulling out a tunic. He considered it and then pulled his knife from his belt and began cutting the cloth.
Legolas watched him without interest for a moment and then dropped his head back against the tree again. Its song altered, and as he noticed the change, he could feel his blood beginning to flow in time to the tree’s song, and the tightness in his chest eased a little. It had been here a long time, this tree, he thought, listening to the song. It had endured many a harsh northern winter. He supposed the comfort he felt was temporary, but that did not make it less real.
Beliond crouched beside him. “Lean forward,” he instructed. Startled by the interruption to his thoughts, Legolas obeyed, and Beliond draped the cut up tunic across his chest to tie it behind his neck. Then he took Legolas’s left arm and slid it into the makeshift sling.
“What are you doing?” Legolas asked.
“What do you think I am doing? That shoulder is going to be very sore tomorrow, but it will help if we support your arm.”
True enough, Legolas thought wearily. But a sore shoulder hardly seemed worth fussing about. Beliond’s grey eyes scanned his face. “Do you want to talk about it?” he asked softly.
“No.” Legolas swallowed. Even if he had wanted to talk about Tuilinn, he did not think he could. He seemed to have forgotten how to say anything that mattered.
Beliond grimaced and looked away. “You have suffered a great blow, Legolas.” He hesitated and looked back again. “Do not let it destroy you, son. They are with Namo and we may see them again one day.”
Legolas stared at him, feeling suddenly self-indulgent as he thought of Beliond’s dead son and long gone wife. “I will be all right,” he told Beliond, although at the moment he could not imagine how.
Beliond smiled slightly. “I know you will.” Just then, someone who was most definitely not an owl warbled an owl’s call. Beliond’s shot to his feet, and without even realizing it, Legolas did too, reaching for the bow he still wore on his back and then realizing he could not use it and grabbing for his sword instead. He edged closer to Tuilinn’s body to stand guard over it.
From the corner of his eyes, Legolas could see Sinnarn jumping away from the telltale light of the campfire while grabbing for his weapons, and Vanduil standing guard over Galelas, and he caught a glimpse of Fyndil moving swiftly into the branches overhead. It must have been Nithron who sounded the signal, Legolas thought, and then was appalled that he had not even known who was keeping watch. They waited tensely for another signal that might tell them who and how many approached.
Instead, a low hoot signaled that the visitors were friendly, and Nithron emerged from the shadows. “Elves approach,” he said.
Legolas sheathed his sword. These were almost certainly some of Thranduil’s people, warriors from the Eastern Border Patrol perhaps. If they had been at the northern edge of their territory and seen the fires on the mountain, they would have done what Legolas’s patrol did and come to see what was happening. “Who is it?” he called, surprised by how strong his voice sounded despite the constriction in his chest.
“Legolas?” came a startled voice from the darkness.
For a second, Legolas could not believe his ears, and then Eilian walked into the clearing with a lowered bow in his hand, followed by three Elves whom Legolas did not know. Eilian’s eyes swept rapidly over the sling on Legolas’s arm and the two figures lying on the ground. “What happened?” he demanded, sounding every inch a captain in the forces of the Woodland Realm despite the fact that he was on leave.
Legolas opened his mouth but found he could make no sound come out of it. What could he say that would convey the enormity of what had occurred in the last twelve hours?
Beliond shot him a glance and then spoke into the silence. “A dragon has descended on Erebor and Dale. Galelas’s leg is broken, and a maiden from one of the settlements was killed.” Legolas blinked. That was it? The ruin of hundred of lives and the destruction of his hope for happiness could be summed up in two sentences?
“What about you, brat?” Eilian asked, eying Legolas’s arm in the sling and then letting his gaze sweep over what Legolas suddenly realized were his torn and filthy clothes. Eilian had not missed the fact that Beliond had answered for Legolas.
“My shoulder is bruised,” Legolas answered as steadily as he could, “but it will heal.”
Eilian frowned. Legolas could see he was still worried, but Eilian had other matters on his mind too. He turned back to Beliond. “A dragon, you say?” His voice was sharp with anxiety. “Is it on the move or is it staying there?” He narrowed his eyes. “The Dwarves of Erebor are reputed to have great wealth stored in the mountain. I wonder if the dragon is seeking their treasure.”
Beliond lifted his hands helplessly. “I do not know. When we fled, the creature was in the process of destroying the town, and we had met some Dwarves who told us that it had already devastated the mountain.”
Eilian exchanged a concerned look with one of the Elves who had come with him and then gestured to all three of them. “These are Enuldor, Tebril, and Silman. They are from the settlement where I have been staying. We were in the grasslands engaged in some training when we saw flashes of fire on the mountain. And,” he added grimly, “if a dragon has moved onto our doorstep, even Anyr might concede that weapons training was a good idea. How is Galelas?” He started toward where Galelas lay.
“As Beliond said, his leg is broken,” Legolas said, following him. He found he wanted to stay close to Eilian. “The dragon knocked a stone down upon it.”
Eilian glanced at him again, apparently still hearing something in his voice. “You must have been close.”
Eilian squatted next to Galelas, who turned his head restlessly and blinked when he saw Eilian. “Captain!” he exclaimed and smiled weakly. “What are you doing here?”
“Checking on you,” Eilian smiled back. He ran his eyes over Galelas’s splinted leg. “I expect that hurts.”
“Not much,” Galelas answered stoutly.
Eilian patted his shoulder. “I would have thought you had learned by now that a dragon is much bigger than you and will probably win a fight.”
Galelas rewarded him with a laugh as Sinnarn approached holding a cup of tea.
“Mae govannen, Eilian,” he said. “So it is just as Grandfather has always said: You do have a talent for finding any trouble within a hundred leagues.” He crouched to prop up Galelas and offer him the tea. “It will ease the pain,” he protested, as Galelas scowled at him.
Eilian grinned. “You can be very annoying, Sinnarn. No wonder he looks at you like that.”
Legolas felt a faint twinge of irritation at Galelas’s bad temper, but Galelas was in pain, and anyway, it scarcely seemed worth bothering about. His attention wandered back to Tuilinn. Eilian must have been watching him, for he immediately rose and sobered as he looked toward where Tuilinn’s body lay. “Who was she?” he asked Legolas, leading the way toward the body.
“Her name is Tuilinn,” Legolas said, and to his horror, his voice roughened with the tears he suddenly felt welling.
“What is the matter?” Eilian asked, spinning sharply toward him. “Legolas?”
Legolas looked into his brother’s concerned face and was appalled to feel a tear slide down his cheek. “Tuilinn,” he repeated helplessly.
Eilian’s mouth dropped open in astonishment, and his eyes darted behind Legolas where Beliond hovered. Then he put an arm around Legolas and drew him a little further into the shadows of the trees. “You knew this maiden?”
“Yes.” Legolas’s legs suddenly weakened under him, and he slipped from Eilian’s grip and sat down abruptly.
Eilian was crouched at his side before he had time to draw a deep breath. “You knew her well?” he prodded, an edge of incredulity in his voice.
Legolas looked into his brother’s familiar face, one that had warmed with love for him from the time of his earliest memories. He swallowed. “We planned to bond.”
Eilian’s mouth opened and closed, and then he sat down and wrapped his arms around Legolas. “I am so sorry.” Legolas shuddered and rested his head on Eilian’s shoulder, aware as he did so of Beliond quietly moving away. He could hear the others speaking in low voices and smell the stew that Beliond had sent Sinnarn to prepare. But for a long time, Legolas said nothing, as he continued to shudder, and Eilian stroked his hair and murmured noises of comfort. Finally, Eilian said, “Tell me about her.”
Legolas drew a deep breath and lifted his head. “She was caring for the smallest children in Anyr’s settlement when I went there, but when she left, Anyr could not tell me where her home was.” Eilian nodded, his mouth twitching wryly. He apparently had no trouble believing that Anyr had not known where Tuilinn went. “But then, a little over a week ago, she stopped in our camp on her way to take herbs and medicines to Dale.”
“So there were only those two meetings?” Eilian asked carefully. “That was all?”
Hearing the skepticism in Eilian’s voice, Legolas struggled to explain. “She loves children. She helps the healer in her settlement. Her curls escape from any kind of clasp she puts them in.” He leaned forward, willing Eilian to understand. “I knew her, Eilian. The first time I saw her, I knew her.”
As the concern in Eilian’s face deepened, Beliond appeared, carrying two bowls of stew. He handed one to Eilian and extended the other to Legolas. “Eat,” he ordered gruffly. Legolas looked at the stew and nearly gagged at the thought of trying to swallow it.
Eilian reached for the second bowl. “I will take care of it.” To Legolas’s relief, Beliond withdrew, although his reluctance was obvious. Eilian put the stew in Legolas’s lap, but the smell of it turned Legolas’s stomach, so that he had to put it as far aside as he could. Eilian sighed. “You never could eat when you were unhappy.” He looked thoughtful as he ate a few mouthfuls of his own stew.
Legolas watched him dully and was suddenly aware that he was swaying, even though he was sitting down. Eilian hastily put his food aside. “You need to sleep,” he said firmly. “Wait a moment.” He rose, and Legolas watched as if from a great distance while Eilian made his way to speak to Sinnarn near the campfire. Sinnarn fussed about for a moment or two, and Eilian returned with a mug of tea that he handed to Legolas.
For a second, Legolas hesitated. He knew perfectly well that Sinnarn must have put something in the tea to make him sleep, and the thought crossed his mind that he was this patrol’s lieutenant, and he ought not to allow his alertness to be dimmed. Eilian watched his face. “Go ahead, brat,” he coaxed. “I will take care of your patrol.”
Legolas grimaced. Like his father, his two older brothers sometimes showed an alarming ability to know what he was thinking. But he trusted Eilian to do exactly as he said he would, and swallowed the tea.
“Where is your gear?” Eilian asked.
Legolas frowned. “I do not know. Sinnarn had my pack, I think, and my blanket--.” He hesitated. “My blanket is around Tuilinn.”
“You will use mine.” Eilian rose, went a short distance, and returned with his pack and blanket. He spread the blanket on the ground, and Legolas obediently lay down on one side and let Eilian removed his scabbard and lay it aside and then draw the other edge of the blanket over him. He had half expected that Eilian might go off to check on the others then, but instead Eilian sat down next to him. Legolas considered telling Eilian that he did not need to be tended like an elfling but decided he did not want to.
“The stars are beautiful tonight,” Eilian observed.
Lying on his back and looking at the sky, Legolas saw that Eilian was right. The stars were scattered thickly across the inky sky, and he wondered briefly how it was possible that the world should go on so when the peoples of Erebor and Dale had seen their homes go up in flames and Tuilinn was dead.
“Do you remember when Naneth died, Legolas?” Eilian asked softly, still looking at the sky.
Legolas stirred, reluctantly turning his mind to Eilian’s question. “No.” Both his mother and the aftermath of her death lived in a large, blank space in Legolas’s mind, one he had never been able to penetrate.
Eilian sighed. “For a time afterwards, I was not sure I wanted to go on living.” He lowered his eyes to Legolas. “And you were devastated. I would be lying if I said I know how you feel now because I cannot even imagine what it would be like to lose Celuwen, but I do know that you are made of tough stuff, Legolas. After Naneth, you and I both learned that it was possible to go on and be happy again in time.”
Legolas made no answer. The sleeping draught was beginning to take hold, and the stars were blurring. Still, he clung to Eilian’s words. He had trusted and drawn comfort from his brother all his life, he thought dreamily. He wanted desperately to believe that Eilian was telling him the truth now.
The stars faded, and then a slender figure walked along the path ahead of him. Suddenly he realized it was Tuilinn, and his heart leapt with such ferocious joy that he could not even speak, although he wanted to call out to her. It was a mistake after all, he thought, weak with relief. She is not really dead. As if in response to his desire for her, she turned and smiled at him, and he tried to hurry so as to catch up with her, but to his dismay, his feet seemed rooted to the spot. Abruptly, he knew that he was dreaming, and with that realization, Tuilinn faded from his sight, and he found himself slipping along a path that led him to the little woods where his patrol was sheltered.
“But I have never even heard him mention her before,” said Eilian in a low voice.
“I know,” Sinnarn murmured. “But make no mistake, Eilian. This was serious.”
“He needs to go home,” Beliond insisted.
Galelas needs to go home, Legolas thought. The sleeping draught caught at him again, and he slid away on another path, searching for something but uncertain what it was. A sweet, feminine face bent over him and smiled. Perhaps it was what he sought, he thought uncertainly, and then the path dipped deeper, and the night song of the trees swept over him and drowned out all else.
When his eyes focused again, he saw the trees around him glimmering in the pale dawn and heard the songbirds calling to one another about matters that were no doubt of great import to them, and probably to Ilúvatar. Today, I will get hold of myself, he decided. I remember telling Sinnarn we had obligations, and I need to live up to mine now.
Beliond lay next to him, wrapped in his blanket with only the top of his head visible. Legolas shoved Eilian’s blanket off him, intending to get up, but a hot stab of pain from his shoulder made him gasp and hold still for a moment. It had grown stiffer overnight.
“Where are you going?” Beliond demanded in a muffled voice.
“Where do you think?” Legolas asked a little unsteadily. “I need to check with the watch to find out if there has been any sign of the dragon coming this way, and then I should see how Galelas is.”
Beliond pushed his blanket away from his face and eyed Legolas narrowly. “Let Eilian do that.”
“No. I am in command here.” The idea of leading his patrol again struck Legolas as exceedingly appealing. If he could not be happy, he could at least be useful.
Beliond sat up, looking ready to protest, but Legolas was already on his feet, buckling his scabbard to his belt, and after a second, the worry in Beliond’s face eased a little. “Do what you have to,” he sighed. “Perhaps it will do you good.”
Legolas walked toward the campfire, where Sinnarn was already stirring the fire back to life so he could cook the morning porridge. Sinnarn looked him up and down. “How are you?”
“Better,” Legolas said determinedly “Who stood the last watch?”
“Vanduil did,” Sinnarn told him, waving a hand toward where Vanduil and Eilian both crouched next to Galelas. “I heard him tell Eilian that he could see fire toward the mountain, but nothing came within a league of us.”
Legolas nodded and went toward where Galelas lay. Both Eilian and Vanduil looked up as he approached, and from his place flat on his back, Galelas’s eyes flicked toward Legolas too. “How are you this morning?” Legolas asked.
“Not bad,” Galelas said. He looked as if he, like Legolas, was too worn down to bother being resentful. Legolas supposed the mood would not last, but it made a nice change.
“You can travel more slowly today, I think,” Legolas said, “so you will not be jostled about quite as much.” He looked at Eilian. “Can you and your friends take Galelas home? It would be easiest for him if you can do the last part by water.”
Eilian jerked to attention and then rose to his feet. “What are you talking about? Of course, I will help you get him home, but that is where you are going too.”
Legolas shook his head. “I am on duty, and I have obligations.”
“If you think you are going back to the border patrol, I can tell you that you are not,” growled Beliond, who had come up behind Legolas.
“Sinnarn, Nithron, and Vanduil are going back to the patrol,” Legolas said coolly, pleased by the extent to which he was in control of himself. “Elorfin needs to know what has happened to us and to Dale. You and I are going to go with Fyndil to take Tuilinn home, and only then are we rejoining the patrol.”
Beliond’s mouth fell open. “We are not! You need to be with your family.”
“I am in command here,” Legolas snapped. “The injury to my shoulder is minor, and I will do as I think best, which is what you and everyone else will do too.” This was better, he thought with satisfaction. He was functioning well, doing what he should. And besides, he had promised to go to Tuilinn’s village and speak to her parents. He would now do in grief what he had planned to do in joy. He would take care of Tuilinn in death as he had not been able to do in life, and then he would carry out his duties and not think about any of this too much.
A flush rose up Beliond’s neck, and he turned to Eilian. “Have you nothing to say about this?”
Legolas too looked at Eilian to find his brother eying him appraisingly. “Eilian is on leave,” Legolas declared. “He has no authority here.”
Eilian raised an eyebrow but said nothing. Legolas was aware of Vanduil looking at them with wide eyes and of Galelas’s startled gaze going from Legolas to Eilian and back again. He must have seen us quarrel before, Legolas thought irritably, and fleetingly, he wondered if Galelas had any idea at all of how normal brothers behaved.
Slowly, Eilian’s face softened. “If it is important to you to take Tuilinn’s body to her family, then I would not try to stop you, Legolas. I will see to it that Galelas gets home.”
Beliond took a step forward, his mouth open in protest, but Eilian caught his eye and shook his head, making Beliond gape at him. “Does Maltanaur know where you are?” he demanded.
Suppressing a grin, Eilian said, “Maltanaur is home with his wife, enjoying his leave.”
“He is going to be most displeased with you,” Beliond sniffed, making Eilian laugh outright.
Ignoring them, Legolas turned stiffly to walk toward where Fyndil had opened Legolas’s blanket and was scattering flowers and herbs over Tuilinn’s body. “We will eat, and then you and I and Beliond will take her to her parents,” he told Fyndil, who nodded without surprise and began to rewrap the body. Legolas bent to tuck in a stray curl and then walked away with a lump in his throat that made him avoid the campfire around which the others were now gathered to eat their morning meal. He could not imagine choking down porridge. Eilian and Beliond sat talking quietly together, and Legolas hoped Eilian was telling Beliond to leave him alone. He had no wish to listen to Beliond’s nagging for the three days it would take them to get Tuilinn home.
While the others ate, he caught up his pack, walked to the stream and eased his left arm out of the sling long enough to splash water on his face and then struggle out of his filthy tunic and put on a clean one from his pack. There were bruises all along his arms where he had thrown them up to protect his head, but they seemed too trivial to worry about. I can do this, he thought and then stood staring at the leafy tree tops, absentmindedly rubbing his shoulder.
“You will feel better if you use the sling.” Eilian’s voice startled him out of his abstraction, and he turned, slipping his arm back into the sling. “We are ready to go,” Eilian said. Legolas nodded and started forward, but Eilian moved in front of him. “Take care, brat,” Eilian said, embracing him.
For a moment, Legolas thought that the warmth of his brother’s affection might undo all his resolve, and he pulled away. “I will be fine,” he told Eilian, who simply nodded and turned to walk with him.
One of the settlers had already picked up Galelas, and Legolas saw Vanduil hovering anxiously at his elbow. Eilian smiled at Vanduil, scooped up his pack, and with a nod at Legolas and a last glance at Beliond, led his group southwest toward the mouth of the Forest River.
Legolas turned to Sinnarn. “I am putting you in charge of getting yourself, Nithron, and Vanduil back to camp and telling Elorfin what happened.” Rather to Legolas’s surprise, Sinnarn did not blink at being given this responsibility, but simply nodded, gestured at the other two, and set out heading northwest toward the territory of the Northern Border Patrol. Legolas watched them go for a moment and then glanced at the grim-faced Beliond and Fyndil, who held Tuilinn. “Come,” he said and led them west, intending to take the most direct route possible to Tuilinn’s village.
When he looked back on it later, Legolas never was able to recall much about the next three days, during which they journeyed west. He wanted to travel during every hour of daylight and some of the night, but Beliond flatly refused to allow it, insisting that Legolas needed to rest. Having won his point about not going home, Legolas decided the matter was not worth quarreling about, although he saw very little point to the extra rest time because he was sleeping badly and laid awake for long stretches, thinking about Tuilinn and drawing what comfort he could from the stars and the trees.
For the first two days, Beliond and Fyndil traded off carrying Tuilinn because Legolas’s shoulder needed time to heal, but on the morning of the third day, Legolas glared defiantly at Beliond and took her into his arms. She had grown light during the days of their travel, he thought. She was feather light in his embrace. He cradled her more tightly to his chest, reassuring himself of her presence.
They were near the village now, with Fyndil guiding them. And then Legolas caught a glimpse of a cottage off through the trees on his left and realized that the grass under his feet had been beaten into a path that threaded its way among yet more cottages. With his pace slowing slightly, Fyndil led them through the trees to the door of a little house, hesitated, and then raised his fist to knock.
Almost immediately, the door flew open, and a worried looking Elf-woman stood in the doorway, with her curly hair stirring slightly in the breeze. She scarcely glanced at Fyndil, but her grey eyes flew unerringly to Legolas, who stood holding his burden, with his heart twisting at the sight of the sorrow that suddenly bloomed in her face.
“No!” she cried, and then she began to wail inconsolably. And like water breaking through a dam made of sand, Legolas felt his control flow away, and he fell into the depths of her grief and his own.
Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter for me.
10. In Tuilinn’s Village
Fyndil took a quick step forward to put his arm around the shoulders of the sobbing woman who was, no doubt, Tuilinn’s mother. “I am so sorry, Eliviel,” he murmured. She clapped her hand over her mouth as if to try to contain her grief, but she could not stop her moans. “Is Nildur here?” Without taking her eyes off of the burden in Legolas’s arms, Eliviel shook her head. “Shall we bring her in?” Fyndil asked gently, and Eliviel nodded and backed away with Fyndil still close by her side.
Reeling from the shock of the Elf-woman’s grief, Legolas carried Tuilinn’s light form out of the bright afternoon sun to stand blinking in the shadowy cool of the cottage.
“Where would you like Lord Legolas to put her?” Fyndil asked.
Still without speaking, Tuilinn’s mother pointed to a doorway on Legolas’s left. Fyndil glanced at Legolas, and he stirred from his stupor to carry Tuilinn through it into what he saw without surprise was a small sleeping chamber. For a second, he hesitated. He was holding Tuilinn for what would probably be the last time. The chances were, he would never touch her again.
“You can put her on the bed,” said a strangled voice from behind him, and he glanced over his shoulder to see Eliviel standing in the doorway with tears running down her cheeks. Reluctantly, Legolas lowered the body onto the bed, bent to kiss the shrouded head, and then straightened.
The sound of running footsteps came outside and someone burst through the still open door of the cottage. “Eliviel?” cried a male voice. “Someone said that Fyndil has returned with strangers, and they were carrying a body.”
Tuilinn’s mother spun and all but collapsed into the arms of a tall, terrified looking Elf, who looked over her head at the figure on the bed. “No,” he breathed, but his protest lacked conviction. They must have known, Legolas thought dully. They must have felt the disturbance in their tie to their daughter and been worrying for days. He looked back at Tuilinn. She scarcely seemed to make a bump under his blanket now. He felt his chest tighten. Even her body would soon be beyond his reach.
Beyond the doorway in which Tuilinn’s stunned parents clung to one another, Legolas could see Fyndil looking at Beliond, who had wedged himself out of the way in a corner of the bedroom. “I will get the village leader,” Fyndil said and slipped out of the cottage.
Tuilinn’s father took a tentative step toward the bed with his hand stretched out to catch at the blanket, but Beliond lunged forward and caught at his wrist. “It happened four days ago,” he said, a note of warning in his voice. The Elf looked at him and then drew a deep, shuddering breath.
“What happened?” he asked.
“A dragon attacked Erebor,” Beliond told him, “and she was caught in the destruction when it knocked down a building.” He paused and then added gently, “I do not think she suffered.” His face was twisted with pity, and again, Legolas remembered that Beliond too had lost a child to death. Legolas knew he should be trying to comfort these people and felt slightly guilty for his inability to do so, but at the moment, he did not seem to be able to walk away from the edge of Tuilinn’s bed.
Voices sounded from the other room, and Fyndil appeared again, this time accompanied by two other people. Tuilinn’s parents turned toward them. “Eliviel, Nildur, I am so sorry,” said the Elf who was probably the village leader. His face was creased with distress.
“Come and sit by the fire,” coaxed the white-faced Elf-woman who was with him. “I will make tea.” For a moment, no one moved, and then Tuilinn’s father put his arm around her still weeping mother and guided her back into the central room.
Legolas watched them go, relieved that their raw grief was no longer before him. Then he looked down and touched the edge of the blanket in which Tuilinn was wrapped.
“Legolas,” Beliond’s voice pierced his abstraction, and he looked up to see Beliond beckoning to him. “Come. We need to go into the other room now.” Legolas hesitated. “Come,” Beliond repeated firmly, and slowly Legolas put one foot in front of the other and made his way back into the central room. As he and Beliond left the tiny sleeping chamber, Fyndil and the village leader entered. Legolas looked after them, wondering resentfully why they were allowed to stay with Tuilinn when he was not. He suddenly felt very tired and leaned against the wall next to the chamber door. Beliond sent him a concerned look, but Legolas ignored him.
Tuilinn’s mother was huddled in a rocking chair in front of the fire, while her father sat on a stool at her side, holding her hand. Legolas eyed them. He knew that her father – Nildur? Was that his name? – probably thought he was comforting his wife, but to Legolas, he looked as if he was clinging to her in his turn. The Elf-woman who had come with the village leader brought cups of tea to them both. “Drink it,” she coaxed. “It will do you good.” Both of them obediently sipped at the hot liquid, but Legolas would have been willing to wager that they had no idea what they were drinking.
I probably looked like that when Eilian was dosing me with the sleeping draught, he thought suddenly. He had had four days now to become accustomed to the idea that Tuilinn was dead, but while her parents had probably feared for her, they had known of her fate with certainty for only a brief time. He felt a stab of worried sympathy for these two people who had loved Tuilinn. This must be the most horrifying moment of their lives, Legolas thought, almost in wonder.
Fyndil and the village leader came out of Tuilinn’s room. “We will have the funeral at the hour of star opening if you do not object,” the leader said soberly.
Eliviel looked at him with anguish in her face, and Legolas knew how she felt. The body in the other room was the only tangible part of Tuilinn they had remaining to them. The funeral would make her absence complete.
“Thank you,” Nildur said with a small quaver in his voice. “That seems best.”
“I will take care of everything,” the leader said, and he and Fyndil left the cottage.
The Elf-woman who had come with the village leader was fussing about near the fireplace, apparently looking to see what there was to eat in the house. The neighbors would probably be cooking for Nildur and Eliviel for the next few days, and this Elf-woman would be asked what they needed. She looked at Legolas and Beliond. “Would you like tea?”
“No, thank you,” Legolas said hastily. His throat seemed clogged, and he did not want to have to pretend to drink tea.
“We would like some,” Beliond put in. “Thank you.” The Elf-woman furrowed her brow and looked from Beliond to Legolas and back again, but then she set about making more tea.
Suddenly, Eliviel looked up from her cup of tea and focused on Legolas, and his breath caught at how much her grey eyes looked like her daughter’s. “You are Legolas, the king’s son?” she asked.
He straightened a little, his attention caught by the slight edge in her voice. “Yes.”
“You were in Anyr’s village when Tuilinn was there after the floods?”
“Yes.” He swallowed against the painful lump in his throat. Both of Tuilinn’s parents were looking at him now.
“She spoke about you,” Nildur said stiffly. “She told us you might come to visit, but you did not.”
Legolas blinked at the bitterness in his tone. From the corner of his eye, he could see Beliond frowning, but his keeper held his tongue while Legolas groped for something to say. “I wanted to come,” he said, hearing with dismay how his voice shook. “But I did not know where she lived. She did not tell me, and no one seemed to know.”
“But you know now,” Nildur said. “How did you come to be with her?”
Beliond spoke up, apparently spurred by the skepticism in Nildur’s tone. “Tuilinn came through our camp on her way to Dale, and then we happened to be nearby when the dragon attacked, and we went to look for her and Fyndil. We found her helping a lost child, but we could not get her away quickly enough.”
Legolas could not allow Beliond’s account to be the only explanation of why he was with Tuilinn. He found he wanted her parents to know what had happened between them. He did not want them to think that he had toyed with Tuilinn’s affection. “This time I made sure I knew where she lived,” he said. He drew a deep breath. “I was going to come to speak to you as soon as I had spoken to my adar.” And suddenly a tear ran down his cheek. It does not matter, he thought wearily and let it fall.
Nildur and Eliviel both stared at him. Then as one, their faces softened, and suddenly, to Legolas’s utter amazement, Eliviel made a small sound, set her tea down, and rose to come toward him and pull his head down to kiss his cheek. She wiped the tear away with one finger. “Then you made her last days joyful, child,” she said in a shaky voice.
Legolas hesitated for a second, and then, a little awkwardly, he embraced her. “Finding her again was a gift from the Valar,” he said into the curls that were so like her daughter’s. He could feel Eliviel’s shoulders beginning to shake, and he patted her back, looking helplessly over her head at Nildur, who rose and came to put his arms around his wife and lead her back to the rocking chair, where he sat and drew her onto his lap. She buried her face in his shoulder and wept quietly while he stared off at nothing.
The neighbor tentatively approached with a cup of tea for Legolas, but Beliond intercepted her, took the cup to the table, and added honey from the pot that stood there. “Here,” he said, shoving it into Legolas’s hands. “Drink it all.” Legolas opened his mouth to protest, but decided against it when he saw the fierce scowl on his keeper’s face. Beliond was worried about how little Legolas was eating, he knew, but he could not help himself. Bracing himself, he made the effort and took a sip and swallowed, making Beliond nod with satisfaction.
A knock sounded at the cottage door, and the Elf-woman making the tea opened it to admit the village leader. He looked at the couple sitting huddled together in the chair near the fire. “The arrangements are being made. Would you like us to help you get Tuilinn ready?”
Eliviel lifted her head from Nildur’s shoulder and wiped at her face with her hand. “No,” she said determinedly. “We will do it.” She rose and went to a chest in the corner from which she drew out a large linen sheet and hugged it to her breast. Then, followed by Nildur, she went into the sleeping chamber.
For a moment, Legolas feared that the sip of tea was going to come right back up. Hastily, Beliond set his own cup aside and said, “Come outside, Legolas.” They brushed past the village leader to go out into the late afternoon of a beautiful summer day, and then Legolas just kept going and walked unsteadily out of the little clearing in front of the cottage and into a stand of old oaks. He swung himself up, climbing until he found a broad branch and then nearly collapsing upon it. A second later, Beliond arrived next to him.
Legolas rubbed his left shoulder. He had not used the sling for over a day now, and although his shoulder was unexpectedly slow to heal, it had been feeling better. If it ached now, he supposed it was from pulling himself up into the tree. He could not believe that Tuilinn’s slight weight had done him any harm. Leaning back against the tree, he let his eyes wander through its dense greenery and scan the scattered cottages below him, the world in which Tuilinn had lived. In a clearing to one side, he could see Elves piling dry wood, and abruptly, he realized that they were building Tuilinn’s funeral pyre. Aware of Beliond watching him, he hastily turned to look in the other direction.
They sat in silence while Legolas tried not to think about what was happening in the cottage. Abruptly, he felt a passionate rebellion against the way things had turned out. Why could things not have been different? “I wish there had at least been time to exchange pledges!” he cried. “I wanted her to know I loved her. I want her parents to know that.”
Beliond sighed. “From what I saw of her in our camp, I think she did know, and I think now they do too.”
Legolas bit his lip and turned his face away from his keeper. Even Beliond’s sympathy was beginning to weigh to on him. If he had thought it would do any good, he would have told Beliond to go away and leave him in peace. Dully, Legolas watched the people who occasionally appeared on the path below him, going to or from the cottage of Tuilinn’s parents.
“I will be back in a moment,” Beliond said suddenly, and dropped to the ground to trot after an Elf who Legolas now saw was Fyndil. Beliond must have called to him because Fyndil stopped and turned, and the two of them spoke briefly. Fyndil nodded and turned back the way he had come, while Beliond returned to sit beside Legolas. He offered no explanation for his conversation with Fyndil, and Legolas did not ask for one. What did it matter what they had been talking about? He closed his eyes and tried to bring himself into harmony with the song of Arda, but somehow the music seemed discordant. And why not? he thought bitterly. Tuilinn was dead. How could there be beauty?
Slowly, the day faded. At one point, Beliond left again and returned with bread, some cheese, and a small skin of wine. “You have to eat,” he pleaded when Legolas shrank away from it. “You need all your strength to heal.”
Legolas knew he was talking about something other than the injury to his shoulder, but he could no more have choked down the food than he could have turned into a bird and flown away. “I cannot,” he said helplessly.
“The wine then,” Beliond coaxed, and Legolas managed a swallow. A sound beneath the tree drew his attention, and grateful for the distraction, he glanced down to see Fyndil.
“It is time,” Fyndil said, and Legolas looked quickly toward where he had seen people piling wood. Elves had begun to gather around the pyre. A little shakily, he followed Beliond to the ground. As he turned away from the tree, he saw Fyndil hand something to Beliond and then withdraw into the twilight, leaving Legolas and Beliond alone.
Beliond drew a deep breath and took a step closer. “You must do and say what will comfort you and Tuilinn’s parents, Legolas, but if you want to use this, here it is.” He pressed something into Legolas’s palm.
Legolas stared at small the object in his hand, and suddenly, it began to swim before him. “Thank you,” he managed, closing his fist tightly around the object.
As if to steady him, Beliond put his hand on Legolas’s shoulder and guided him to stand among the Elves near the pile of wood. Feeling very much like an intruder among them, Legolas kept his eyes on the ground until a murmur from the crowd made him look toward the cottage. Tuilinn’s parents were emerging. Nildur carried his daughter in his arms, wrapped in the sheet Legolas had seen her mother take from the chest in the cottage. Legolas could feel his breath coming in gasps, and for a moment, he was afraid he was going to disgrace himself by fainting.
The village leader and another Elf hastened to help him, and between them, they laid Tuilinn carefully on top of the pyre. Then Nildur stepped back and stood next to his wife, taking her hand in his. He looked straight at Legolas. Their eyes met, and, after a second’s hesitation, Nildur beckoned to Legolas. He froze, uncertain for a moment what Nildur wanted. And then he understood. Nildur was offering him a chance to mourn for Tuilinn, not as a stranger but as someone who was close to her. He walked on trembling legs to stand beside her parents. He stared at the figure on the pyre, closed his eyes, and swallowed.
The village leader spoke the ritual words. “People of the Woodland Realm, we have come to honor Tuilinn, daughter of these woods, known by us all and loved by many among us. What words can we say about her?” Legolas opened his eyes to see who would respond to the question.
There was a second of silence and then a dark-haired maiden began to speak. “She was my friend from the time we were small,” she said, tears running freely down her face. “We played together in these woods, and many of my most joyous moments were those I shared with her. In my first memory of dancing, I am skipping along holding hands with Tuilinn.” Legolas blinked rapidly, suddenly uncertain of how wise he had been to come to this funeral. But really, it did not matter whether he had been wise or not. He owed his presence to Tuilinn and to her parents.
An Elf-woman holding a baby took up the thread. “She was there when my son was born. She eased my pain and added to my joy, and I had hoped to share the moment with her when the time came for her to have children too.” With a feeling almost like relief, Legolas gave up the fight and let the tears come. He would weep for Tuilinn. He would weep for himself.
The voices of those speaking blurred, and he was aware of Beliond appearing at his elbow ready to support him as he stood and endured the endless moments. Finally, the voices ceased. The village leader looked around at them all. “Does anyone else wish to speak?”
Legolas knew he was beyond speaking, but certain that what he did was right, he stepped forward, opened his hand, and laid the object Beliond had given atop Tuilinn’s body. Then he stepped back to stand next to her mother, keeping his eyes on the silver ring that glinted in the starlight against the sheet in which Tuilinn was wrapped. Eliviel reached for his hand and squeezed it, and he put his arm around her.
After a moment’s pause, the village leader came toward them, lit the torch in his hand from one that was stuck in the ground, and gave it to Nildur. Nildur held it toward Eliviel, who put her hand over his. Then they both looked at Legolas, who hesitated. Could he do this? With bone deep sorrow, he knew he had no choice, and he joined his hand with theirs. They reached toward the pyre and set it aflame. Unable to watch the fire work, Legolas lifted his eyes to watch the smoke rise into the starry sky, trying not to see as the fire consumed its burden and fell in on itself.
More quickly than he would have believed, the moment was over, and the crowd began to drift away from the pyre, giving Tuilinn’s parents a last private moment with her. Legolas could feel Eliviel trembling next to him. Nildur cleared his throat and spoke. “Will you stay with us, Legolas? You would be welcome.”
Beliond had stood quietly by during the last part of the funeral, but now he stirred. “I fear we must be on our way,” he said, much to Legolas’s relief. The thought of sitting in that claustrophobic little cottage with Tuilinn’s grieving parents was more than he could bear.
Nildur looked at him knowingly. “When you can, you should come to see us again.” Legolas nodded, without speaking.
“Wait,” Eliviel said and broke from her husband’s embrace to run toward their cottage. She entered, and they waited in silence to see her emerge few moments later carrying a small cloth bundle. She ran back and handed it to Beliond. “I baked seed cakes this morning,” she said unsteadily. “You should take some with you.” She flicked a glance at Legolas, and Beliond nodded. Then she stretched to kiss Legolas’s cheek. “Take care.”
Legolas kissed her brow and exchanged bows with Nildur. “I will come when I can,” he finally managed to say. He felt Beliond’s hand on his elbow, gently guiding him toward where their gear was piled under the tree in which they had sheltered earlier, but he had a hard time tearing his eyes away from the smoldering fire.
“Can you manage your pack?” Beliond asked, drawing Legolas’s attention to him with a snap.
“Of course.” Legolas slipped the pack onto his shoulders, annoyed that Beliond would question his strength.
“Then come.” Beliond led the way into the forest, leaving Legolas no choice but to follow.
Because night had already fallen, they did not walk far before making camp, but Legolas was grateful to be in the forest instead of the village. They camped in a beech grove, and the trees murmured a sleepy tune whose harmony he could hear and draw comfort from. He collapsed wearily to lean against one of the trees and let Beliond take care of matters. I should help, he thought, but he was just too tired.
Beliond approached to offer him two seed cakes, but did not seem too surprised when Legolas refused them. “At least drink the tea,” he pleaded, and grateful for the way Beliond had not pressed the matter of food, Legolas managed to choke it down.
“I will stand the first watch,” Legolas offered.
“No,” Beliond said. “I will stand the first one. You rest for a while.”
Legolas lay back on the single blanket they had between them. He did not believe he would really be able to sleep, but he was also too worn out to resist Beliond’s offer. And then the stars overhead began to go blurry. There was something in the tea, he thought irritably. I will put my foot down in the morning. And then he slid away onto a dream path that was mercifully empty.
When his eyes focused again, Beliond had just set another cup of tea next to him. Legolas sat up. “What did you put in this one?” he asked sarcastically.
Beliond frowned at his tone. “Nothing. And you needed the sleep.”
“Tonight we will share the watch,” Legolas declared. “You cannot be the only one to stand guard all the way back to our patrol.” Beliond regarded him silently and then set about scattering the ashes of their campfire, while Legolas sipped at the tea.
They were on their way within a very short time, with Beliond in the lead and Legolas following behind, thinking about Tuilinn. He saw her laughing, felt her warmth as she pressed against him, and was grateful that Beliond was not looking at him, as he angrily wiped a tear away.
They walked for the morning, stopped at , and then had walked for no more than two hours further when Beliond halted them. “We will rest for a while,” he declared.
Legolas frowned. It was soon to stop, but he had to admit that he was tired. He sat down gratefully and took a sip from his water skin. Then he looked at the way the sun’s rays were slanting through the trees, and suddenly he snapped to attention. “Where are we, Beliond?” he demanded.
Beliond looked at him without apology. “We are about three leagues north of the stronghold.”
Legolas stared at him incredulously. “The stronghold? Just what do you think you are doing?”
“Do not argue with me about this,” Beliond snapped. “You are not fit for duty right now, and if I have to take you home by force I will. You need to be with your family.”
Legolas was outraged. “Elorfin will be expecting us! I am your lieutenant, Beliond. We will do as I say.”
“We will not. The king gave me the right to use my judgment in matters of your safety, and I am doing so now.”
Legolas was speechless with rage and helplessness. It was only too true that his father had given Beliond authority in matters related to his post as Legolas’s bodyguard. Moreover, as he looked at the determined expression on Beliond’s face, Legolas believed that he meant what he said when he threatened to use force to make sure Legolas went home. “You are outrageous,” he said coldly.
“Rail all you like,” Beliond said. “We will go home anyway.”
At that moment, a faint sound reached Legolas’s ears, and he turned his head to look southeast. Horses were coming, perhaps as many as half a dozen. He rose to his feet and automatically slid his bow from his shoulder. Those approaching were probably an Elven hunting party, since few others rode through this forest, but they were far from the stronghold if they were hunting. It did not hurt to be careful.
The horses drew closer, and Legolas caught a faint glimpse of motion through the trees, and then abruptly, he saw who approached, flanked by two guards who each led a riderless horse. “Adar,” he breathed.
Thranduil was off his horse before it had come to a complete halt. Without a second’s hesitation, he strode toward Legolas and embraced him. “I am so glad to see you, iôn-nín,” Thranduil murmured in Legolas’s ear. “After I heard Eilian’s tale, I have been worried about you.”
And suddenly, all the strength seemed to go out of Legolas’s legs, and he collapsed against his father.
“We will go home now,” Thranduil said simply and helped Legolas toward one of the horses.
I owe Nilmandra many thanks for her beta reading on this story. She has helped me more than I can say.
Legolas hurried along the path, aware as he did so of the very odd feeling that time was limited, that if he did not do something soon, he would not be able to do it at all. But what? What did he need to do? He rounded a bend in the path, and there, not twenty feet away, was Tuilinn, walking away from him. Tuilinn, he thought with relief. He needed to find Tuilinn. How could he have forgotten?
He took a single step foward, and then someone called his name. He glanced over his shoulder but saw no one and turned hastily back to Tuilinn. But somehow she had moved much farther off along the path. He tried desperately to call her but no sound came out of his mouth. He tried to run after her, but in a way that he suddenly, hopelessly recognized as familiar, he seemed caught in place. As he watched in despair, she rounded another bend in the path and disappeared.
His eyes snapped suddenly into focus, and he lay with his heart pounding for a disoriented moment, staring at his pack, which sat open on the floor, spilling out a filthy tunic. He blinked, and then the memory of his arrival home came flooding back. He had been so exhausted that he had nearly nodded off while still on horseback, and Thranduil had ridden up next to him and pulled him off his own horse to ride in front of his father, where he had promptly fallen asleep.
He had awakened only partially when Thranduil roused him enough to stagger into the palace. Now he remembered Ithilden’s arms reaching to help him down from Thranduil’s horse, Eilian’s anxious face, and Alfirin’s cry that she would fetch some broth, but to his eternal gratitude, Thranduil had half carried him into his room and shut the door on everyone else. Legolas had a vague memory of his father helping him undress and then pulling the covers over him as he fell into a black well of sleep.
He thought about that. For the first time since Tuilinn died, he had slept deeply without being dosed with some sort of herb. A wave of guilt washed over him. Could he really have forgotten her enough to sleep?
Slowly he pushed the covers back and sat up, his brain still a little foggy with the last wisps of sleep. From force of habit more than anything else, he struggled to his feet and made his way into his bathing chamber, where he opened the tap and watched as the hot water flowed into his tub and he tried to decide how he felt about being home. Judging from his father’s manner on the previous day, he was going to have to surrender all hope of returning to his patrol for a while. Thranduil had seemed even more certain than Beliond was that Legolas belonged at home, and while Legolas thought that in a pinch he could ignore Beliond’s orders, he could not imagine defying his father.
How was he going to manage without the press of duties to keep him busy? he wondered despairingly. With a sigh, he slipped into the hot water, allowing it to soothe his stiff shoulder. There was no point in worrying. He would simply have to take things as they came. He lay in the cooling water, listening to the sounds of someone moving about in his room, probably a servant who had come to tidy up. Unwilling to face anyone else just yet, he waited until he heard the door of his room close before he dragged himself from the tub, wrapped a towel around his waist, and padded through the door of his sleeping chamber.
Abruptly, he halted. Someone had indeed tidied the room and gone. Whoever it was had probably also brought the tray of fresh bread, butter, jam, and tea that sat on the little table near the chairs by the fireplace. But additionally, in one of the chairs, with a pile of petitions in his lap, sat his father. His face grave, he looked up as Legolas entered the room. “Good morning. How did you sleep?”
Legolas drew a deep breath and crossed the room to his cupboard to begin drawing on clean clothes. “I slept well, thank you, Adar.” He kept his back to his father, hoping Thranduil was not going to begin fussing as if Legolas were some sort of invalid. His father held his peace, however, and Legolas finally finished lacing his tunic and had to turn to face him.
“Come and sit,” Thranduil said simply. “Alfirin has sent bread and strawberry jam, and she will be demanding an account from me of whether you ate any of it. You will make my life easier if you take a bit.”
Legolas could not help smiling at that. Alfirin had run Thranduil’s household with a firm hand from the day she married Ithilden. Legolas had been a youth at the time and, as much as she could, she had seen to it that he ate his vegetables and dressed warmly enough in the winter. He had not even minded particularly, for he had taken pleasure in being tended to as all his friends were. If it would make Alfirin happy, he would try to eat some of what she had sent.
He seated himself across the little table from his father and smeared jam on a slice of bread, while Thranduil poured tea for both of them. Cautiously, Legolas took a small bite and chewed, finding that the sweetness of the jam made the food unexpectedly easy to swallow. He took a sip of tea, aware of his father quietly doing the same thing, his eyes not on Legolas but rather on the fire that Legolas suddenly realized had been lit despite the fact that it was summer. He had to admit that the warmth was welcome; he had not realized how cold he had been feeling and was surprised that his father had known.
Thranduil waited until Legolas put his plate of half-finished bread aside before he spoke. “If you are willing to talk, Legolas, I would like to hear about Tuilinn. What is important to you is important to me, and aside from what Eilian told me, I know nothing about her.”
Legolas sat in silence for a moment. Could he speak about Tuilinn? His heart contracted at the thought. And yet, he realized, he wanted to talk about nothing else. Moreover, he wanted his father to understand what she had meant to him. “I know that Eilian thought I had not known her very long,” he said slowly, “but, Adar, I have heard you talk often enough about the night you met Naneth. You knew at once, did you not? You knew she was the one?” He stopped and swallowed as his voice began to quaver.
“Yes.” To Legolas’s relief, his father’s eyes were on his tea. “I knew. We both did. She dragged me off to meet her mother at once.” He smiled slightly and then looked up at Legolas. “Are you saying you felt that way, iôn-nín?” he asked gently.
“Nearly.” Legolas managed what he hoped was a smile. “When I first saw her at Anyr’s settlement, she was playing with children, just as Naneth was doing when you met her. But I was a little slower than you, Adar, because I did not know how I felt until I walked with her that evening.” He drew a shaky breath, trying to steady himself. “And then, in our camp and in Dale, I felt her presence. And when she,” he hesitated and then braced himself and went on, “when she died, I knew she was gone. I could not feel her any more.”
And suddenly, his eyes stung and he had to gasp for air, and then, at last, his tenuous grasp on himself gave way with a completeness that left him helpless, and he began to weep with great, shuddering heaves of his shoulders. Hastily, Thranduil rose and drew Legolas onto his feet and into an embrace, where he grasped the back of Legolas’s neck and made wordless comforting sounds.
“I am so sorry,” Legolas choked out.
“Grieving is nothing to be sorry for,” Thranduil said. “You would have to be heartless to avoid grief in this life, and I would never wish that for you, much as I regret your pain now.”
Legolas laid his head on his father’s shoulder and, for a long moment, allowed himself to be comforted by the warmth of the familiar embrace. It occurred to him that his father probably knew from experience exactly how he felt. He looked up in wonder. “How did you bear it when Naneth died, Adar?
Thranduil sighed. “I can scarcely remember now. I had you to care for and your brothers to worry about, and I had the well-being of the realm to consider. And then, remember that I had already seen my adar die, so I knew that if I could just survive for long enough, I would again be able to sense the bond your naneth and I share.” He smiled slightly at Legolas. “You know that we Elves are somewhere in Arda for as long as it lasts, and I have found it is possible to draw comfort from that.”
Legolas knew that Thranduil was right, that Tuilinn was in the Halls of Waiting and would someday be in Valinor, but he found that thought to be a poor substitute for having her in his arms. He drew back a little, and Thranduil released him with a last pat on the shoulder. “You must have things to see to, Adar. You do not have to stay with me.”
Thranduil shrugged. “My advisors can manage without me for a while. You are more important.”
Gratified beyond what he could have imagined, Legolas nonetheless said, “Really, Adar, you do not have to stay. I have had almost no time alone since it happened, and I would like to just sit in the garden or spend some time in the woods.”
Thranduil hesitated only briefly and then nodded. “Very well.” He paused again, “But do not go too far into the woods without telling someone, please. I would worry if I did not know where you were.”
Legolas had to bite his tongue to keep from giving way to his irritation at being treated like an elfling or an invalid. He had given his father good cause to be concerned after all. Indeed, he supposed in some ways he was an invalid. “Very well,” he said as peaceably as he could manage.
Thranduil nodded, and the two of them made their way out of Legolas’s room and down the hall toward Thranduil’s office. “Is Eilian still home?” Legolas asked. He thought he had seen his brother on the previous evening, but when he considered the matter, he was surprised that Eilian had not yet returned to the settlement.
“Yes. He will be here for a while, I think.” Thranduil offered no explanation, and Legolas suddenly suspected that he already knew why Eilian was staying at the stronghold. He and Eilian had always been close, and his brother was probably worried about him. They were all going to fuss over him, he thought in despair. How would he ever be able to feel normal again?
At the office door, Thranduil paused and reached again to pull Legolas’s head toward him and kiss his brow. “Enjoy the garden, iôn-nín. I know you may find this hard to believe just now, but Arda is still beautiful, and it welcomes us to our place in it.” Legolas nodded, and when Thranduil had disappeared into his office, he went on his way through the antechamber and out the Great Doors.
It was early yet, he realized with surprise. The sunlight still filtered through the tops of the trees, and he drew in the sweet scent of damp grass and rich earth as he made his way down the steps, across the bridge, and through the gate into the palace gardens. He walked along the path to take refuge in the grotto where he had sat what seemed like an eternity ago when he had overheard Eilian and Celuwen arguing about spending time in a settlement. He was nicely hidden away here, he thought, as he sat down on the bench. For the first time in what seemed an age, he drew a deep breath and settled to listen to the birds and the familiar song of this part of the forest, the part that was his home. But to his dismay, he found it difficult to bring himself in tune with that song, distracted as he was by the pain that seemed permanently lodged in his chest.
He had been there for only a few moments before he heard two sets of footsteps approaching, and almost instantly, he recognized them. Thus he was not surprised when he heard Ithilden’s and Alfirin’s voices through the screen of lilac bushes. He surprised himself by feeling amused at the way he seemed fated to eavesdrop on his family whenever he came to this spot. I will have to remember to be careful what I say when I am on the path near here, he thought.
“But he scarcely ate any of what I sent for his morning meal,” Alfirin lamented.
Legolas stiffened. They were talking about him. Of course they were, he added to himself with some resentment. What else had he expected?
“Try not to worry.” Ithilden sounded as if he were soothing her. “I will not allow him to go back to his patrol until he is better. Come, love,” he added. “Kiss me good bye. I will try to be home to eat with you at mid-day.” There was a muffled sound to which Legolas tried to close his ears as a wild longing for Tuilinn swept through him. Then he heard the two sets of footsteps part as Ithilden went on toward the other end of the garden and the path to the training fields while Alfirin retreated toward the palace.
For a long time, Legolas sat, wrestling with his irritation at how weak his family all seemed to assume he was. They love you, he reminded himself. It is only natural that they worry about you. But even as he knew it was true, he despaired at being able to tolerate their pity. And even more, he admitted with some shame, he despaired of being able to witness with peace the happiness of those who still had what he had lost.
Two days later, he gazed sightlessly at the book in his lap, while Alfirin worked at her loom at the other end of the family’s sitting room and Eilian sat at a nearby table, fletching arrows and singing softly to himself. From the corner of his eye, Legolas could see Alfirin look up from her work to smile in Eilian’s direction.
“You are in fine feather this morning, Eilian.”
He laughed and held up one of the feathers he was cutting to use on his arrow. “I am generally considered to be the best fletcher in the Southern Patrol.”
She laughed good naturedly at the silly joke. “Should I assume your good mood has something to do with the letter you received the morning?”
“You may assume all you like, as long as you assume that Celuwen is on her way home,” Eilian said with satisfaction.
“Then you will have to begin behaving yourself again,” Alfirin told him.
Eilian grinned. “On the contrary, when Celuwen is here, I can let my wicked imagination run riot.”
Alfirin laughed and reddened slightly. Legolas gripped the edges of his book and wondered if he had enough energy to get up and leave the room. If he did, both Alfirin and Eilian would ask where he was going in worried tones, and Eilian might offer to go with him. Even now, he saw Eilian glance his way and abruptly sober, looking a bit guilty. Legolas sent him a reassuring smile. Why should he mar his brother’s happiness, just because his own had slipped from his grasp?
A knock sounded at the sitting room door, and a guard appeared. “Beliond is here to see Lord Legolas,” the guard announced.
Legolas could have sworn that Alfirin looked slightly dismayed, but she gamely said, “Show him in.”
The guard disappeared, and after a moment, Beliond stalked through the open door to the sitting room. He bowed to both Alfirin and Eilian. “My lady. My lord,” he greeted them. Then he turned to Legolas. “Get your gear. We are going camping.” Legolas’s mouth dropped open.
“Legolas needs to be home just now,” said Alfirin sharply, rising from her place behind her loom.
“Nonsense,” declared Beliond. “He needs to be in the woods.” He turned to glare at Eilian. “Are you going to object too?”
Eilian raised his hands in protest. “I would not dare.”
Much to his astonishment, Legolas could feel himself grinning. He snapped his book shut and rose. “I will be ready momentarily.”
Alfirin looked at him in dismay. She opened her mouth to speak, but Eilian forestalled her. “Are you sure you want to go, brat?”
“Yes.” Legolas was already in the doorway, ready to go to his chamber to throw clothes and supplies into a pack.
“Then have a nice time,” Eilian said and looked apologetically at Alfirin, who sank resignedly back onto her bench.
Legolas glanced to his left. Beliond was there somewhere, Legolas knew, but it took him a long moment before he could spot his keeper among the trees. In theory, they were hunting this morning, looking for deer in the silvery light of dawn, just as they had done on the previous morning. But in practice, Beliond did not seem to Legolas to be particularly intent on bringing down a deer. Legolas had seen Beliond hunting for meat when they were on patrol and knew that he was an efficient and effective hunter, so he was a little puzzled by Beliond’s unfocused manner.
Beliond beckoned Legolas toward him and then swung up into a large maple with broad, spreading branches. Legolas made his way toward him and joined him in the tree. “Is something the matter?” Legolas asked.
“Be quiet and enjoy the sunrise.”
Legolas grimaced and then made himself comfortable. He and Beliond had passed most of the last two days in a silence that Legolas found restful, so he was not surprised by his keeper’s brusque instructions. He leaned back against the bole of the maple, comforted when he heard the familiar way its song shifted to include him. Slowly the grey sky of dawn took on a pink and then a golden hue as the sun made its way over the horizon, stirring the dew into mist. He thought of the dawn that he and Tuilinn had watched together in the camp of the Northern Border Patrol. She would have liked this, he thought wistfully.
“I have always liked this spot,” said Beliond, startling Legolas from his memories.
“Is this where you come then, when we are on leave?” Legolas asked slowly.
“This is one of the places.” Beliond looked thoughtfully at Legolas. “I have always found it comforting simply to be here. The forest goes on, requiring very little from me but reverence. I do not need to do anything while I am here. I just live and take joy in what I find.”
Legolas lowered his gaze, thinking about the losses Beliond had endured in his long life. For a moment, he was tempted to ask how Beliond had stood it when his son died, but upon reflection, he suspected that that was the question that Beliond had just tried to answer. Instead, he asked, “Are we going to look for deer?”
Beliond shrugged. “Do you want to?”
Legolas considered. “Not really. We have plenty to eat.” He had not been particularly hungry in any case, and they had caught fish the night before. They could do that again.
Beliond nodded. “Then perhaps we will just enjoy the moment. In silence,” he added forbiddingly. Legolas smiled ruefully and leaned his head back against the maple. Beliond was right. He had no place he needed to be just now. He was in no hurry. He would enjoy the moment as much as he could, tinged with pain though it might be.
Ithilden finished reading the letter Alfirin had handed him and looked up with a faint smile. “Sinnarn says Elorfin had him leading a patrol last week.”
Legolas grinned at him. “Sinnarn can manage responsibility when he has to. He just does not want anyone to expect him to do it all the time.”
Ithilden grimaced. “Surely ‘doing it all the time’ is what is meant by being responsible.”
Eilian’s eyes had been on the door, but now he turned to Ithilden. “Why should Sinnarn take responsibility when you are so eager to take it all on yourself, big brother?”
Ithilden frowned, but Thranduil raised an appeasing hand. “Sinnarn does what he needs to, and that is surely all we can ask. Would you like more soup, Legolas?”
“No thank you, Adar.” Legolas had managed to eat at every meal since he had come home from the camping trip with Beliond, but doing so had been a chore he had undertaken only because it pleased his family to see him eat, and it had seemed selfish not to do what he could to make them happy when they were so obviously concerned about him.
The door to the dining room opened, and Legolas turned to see Celuwen coming through it, smiling broadly. With a cry, Eilian leapt to his feet and caught her in an embrace. “I felt you were near!” he cried. “But I feared I was only listening to my desire!”
“I have missed you so,” she murmured with her face buried in his chest.
Legolas’s heart twisted, and he had to look away, catching Thranduil’s eyes on him as he did so. He could not help himself however, and when he met his father’s gaze, it was to say, “By your leave, Adar, I will be on my way. I am going riding with Annael.” Thranduil looked at him thoughtfully for a moment, but then he nodded, and Legolas rose. “I am glad to see you, Celuwen,” he said, as she broke away from Eilian to look anxiously at him. “I look forward to hearing about what has been happening in the settlement.”
She frowned suddenly and turned to look at Eilian, and Legolas made good his escape. He found Annael waiting for him in the stable yard, leaning against a fence and chatting with the stable master. They straightened as he approached, and the stable master signaled to one his assistants, who ducked through the wide open stable doors and led Alasse out into the yard. The bay snorted when he saw Legolas and came trotting eagerly toward him. For some reason, Legolas found the horse’s obvious pleasure on seeing him to be touching. “Good afternoon, beautiful,” he said, scratching behind Alasse’s ear.
“He is full of himself today, my lord,” the stable master said, patting the horse fondly. “You would do well to let him run.”
“I intend to. Annael is skeptical when I tell him how fast Alasse is. I think he needs a lesson in recognizing the truth when he hears it.”
Annael laughed and walked toward his own horse, who was peacefully cropping grass at the edge of the yard. “Are you talking about racing through the meadow or the trees?”
Legolas grinned at him. “The trees.” The stable master rolled his eyes but said nothing. He had seen young Elves with gleams in their eyes lead horses into the woods for too long to believe he could stop them by offering common sense advice. Legolas and Annael mounted and trotted off toward the woods, warming the horses’ muscles and their own. The spot they sought was well out of sight of the last of the cottages and was known to every young male Elf whom Legolas knew. The trees were old here, with wide avenues beneath their dense shade. Legolas paused, eying the spaces in front of him, aware of Annael doing the same thing a short distance to his right. Alasse pricked up his ears, and Legolas could feel the horse quivering beneath him.
“On the count of three,” Annael said. “One. Two. Three!”
The horses surged forward, and for a time Legolas forgot everything else as he concentrated on the complicated task of weaving his fleet-footed way through trees without breaking his own neck or Alasse’s. He was vaguely conscious of hearing Annael off to his right, but his attention had narrowed to the path right in front of him and the present moment, in which he, his horse, and the trees around him seemed to unite in a single, exhilarating sense of speed and control. He burst out of the trees and into the meadow, exalting in the certainty that he had beaten Annael, who closed the distance between them to ride alongside Legolas as they slowed their horses to ride more sedately down the length of the meadow.
Legolas turned toward his friend, whose face was flushed with the excitement and exertion of the race. “Let that be a lesson to you,” he laughed, and Annael laughed in return. They entered the trees again at the meadow’s other end, and settled to riding side by side, enjoying the summer afternoon. Finally, Annael glanced at the sun. “I need to be getting back,” he said reluctantly. “I go on duty soon.” Legolas turned his horse toward home as Annael did the same thing.
For a time, they rode in silence, and then, tentatively, Annael said, “My naneth wants to know when you are coming to see her.”
Legolas hesitated. A little to his shame, he had avoided Elowen since he had come back from the disastrous trip to Dale. He had been reluctant to face her sympathy, not least because he was afraid he might break down in the face of it. But now, suddenly, he thought about Annael’s father, who had died the year that Annael and Legolas came of age, and he had a vivid memory of Elowen’s lonely face as she watched the dancing at Legolas’s coming-of-age ceremony. Abruptly he was struck by the recognition of how courageous she had been in facing the loss of her husband. Why had he never realized that before? he thought in amazement.
“Now,” he told Annael. “I will come now.”
Annael sent him a surprised look and then smiled. “That will please her.”
Legolas smiled too. “Good.”
Legolas came out of Annael’s cottage and whistled for Alasse to follow him as he started away down the path, walking slowly and thinking about Elowen. She had sympathized with him, just as he expected, but then she had moved on to telling tales about her forester granddaughter. She clearly doted on Emmelin as much as Thranduil did on Sinnarn. Legolas was glad for her.
He came to a place where the path branched off and paused, reluctantly aware of a duty that still awaited his attention. I have put it off too long, he thought resolutely, and turned to follow the branching path. He went through a stretch of trees to emerge near a cottage in front of which sat the person he sought and, to Legolas’s surprise, Eilian. They turned their heads as he approached.
“Good afternoon, Galelas,” Legolas said. He looked at Galelas’s leg, propped up on a stool in front of the bench on which he and Eilian sat. “How is your leg?” It was the first time Legolas had seen Galelas since he had sent him home with Eilian. I should have come sooner, Legolas thought guiltily. I am Galelas’s lieutenant, and his well being is my concern.
“It is healing well,” said Galelas, a little stiffly. He hesitated for a second, glanced at Eilian, and then indicated a second bench set at an angle to his. “Would you care to sit for a while and have some cider?”
Legolas too glanced at his brother, who was looking exasperated. “Thank you. Cider would taste good on a warm day like this.” He sat on the bench and smiled wryly when Eilian nodded in approval.
“I will get another cup,” Eilian said and jumped up to disappear through the open door of the house.
Legolas and Galelas sat in awkward silence for a moment, and then Galelas held up the letter that he held in his hand. “I have had a letter from Vanduil. He tells me things are going well in the north. The dragon has apparently not ventured very far from the mountain. But then,” he added, withdrawing a little, “you probably knew that.”
“I did not,” Legolas said. He hesitated and then said, “My family tends to withhold any news they think might upset me. As you have no doubt seen with Eilian, they are a little overprotective.”
Galelas looked taken aback, but then he sobered and said, “I am sorry about the maiden.” Legolas nodded but said nothing. His feelings about Tuilinn were too raw to share with outsiders.
Eilian emerged from the cottage, with a tray containing a cup and a plate of fruit, and Galelas’s mother hovering at his elbow. “How are you, my lord?” she cried as Legolas rose. “I was so sorry to hear about what happened in Dale. When I think of the times my son Tinár has been there carrying messages, I just thank the Valar that nothing worse occurred.”
Legolas blinked and shot a quick look at Galelas, whose face was reddening. “Thank you for your good wishes, mistress,” he managed to say. He hesitated to say more but could not bear the injustice in her words. His family might be overprotective, but at least they made it clear that they recognized Legolas’s worth. “Galelas was extremely brave in the face of the dragon’s approach. I was lucky to have him with me.”
Galelas’s mother beamed at him. “Yes, both of my sons are brave.”
Eilian set the tray down on the bench next to Legolas. “Thank you, mistress,” he told her. “I would not dream of taking you away from your no doubt many responsibilities. We can manage.” He reached for the skin of cider next to Galelas and poured some for Legolas.
She hesitated, apparently torn between wanting to claim that she was overburdened and wanting to stay in the presence of two of the king’s sons. “I am busy,” she admitted finally. “You must call me if you need anything.”
“You are too kind,” said Eilian, and she bustled back inside. Eilian grinned, took a handful of berries, and dropped back onto the bench next to Galelas. “Did Galelas tell you that he seems to have acquired an admiring little brother?” He tossed a berry into the air and caught it in his mouth. “I have told him that they are an annoying species, but he is determined to think that having Vanduil look wide-eyed at him is a good thing. Could you look at me that way more often, do you think?”
Legolas could not help laughing. “What are you doing out of the palace, Eilian? I would have thought you would be barricaded in your apartment with Celuwen.”
Eilian grimaced. “Celuwen has learned that I was training some of the settlement Elves in combat and that that was what we were doing when we saw the flames on the mountain. I told her we were hunting,” he added a little shamefacedly.
“I take it she is annoyed?”
Eilian nodded. “It cannot be helped though. The arrival of the dragon only shows how much the settlers need to learn such things.” His tone had turned somber, which did not surprise Legolas, since light-hearted as he was, Eilian was always serious about his responsibilities as a warrior.
“She will get over it,” Legolas sympathized.
Eilian flashed an impudent grin. “I think I can persuade her to do that. I just have to let her cool down first.”
Legolas became aware that Galelas was looking at Eilian with concern written on his face. It occurred to him that Galelas was unaccustomed to watching a family quarrel and make up, and he felt an unexpected stab of pity. “Do you know when you will be ready for duty again?” he asked, trying to change the subject.
Galelas turned to him. “Another week perhaps. I am exercising now to get my strength back.”
Legolas nodded, set his cider aside, and rose to go. “I am glad you are doing so well. I meant what I told your naneth.”
Galelas flushed slightly. “Thank you,” he said woodenly.
Eilian stood too. “I will go with you, brat. Perhaps I can hurry Celuwen along a little if I try hard enough.”
Legolas laughed. “I expect you can.” They both bid farewell to Galelas and started along the path toward home. Once more, Legolas looked off down a side path when they came to a branching point. He hesitated and then grimaced. There was another call he had been thinking about making and today seemed to be the day for it. “Will you see to my horse, Eilian? I need to see someone along here.”
Eilian glanced down the path Legolas indicated, frowned, and then flinched in enlightenment. “Of course I will if you want me to.” He paused and looked at Legolas with his brows drawn down. “But you do not really have to do this, Legolas. They would understand if you did not.”
“I know. I want to.”
Eilian hesitated, and then, reluctantly, he nodded, whistled to Alasse, and went on his way home as Legolas went along the new path. He paused outside the cottage at the path’s end, steeled himself, and then raised his hand to knock. After a moment, Naran’s mother opened the door. It was the first time Legolas had seen her since he brought home the body of her son. “How are you, mistress?” he asked gently. And then he took her in his arms as she burst into tears.
Legolas walked along the garden path, still slightly shaken by his visit to Naran’s parents. They had been having a hard time. Legolas knew now how painful the death of a beloved one was. He hoped he had been able to comfort them a little by listening to them talk about their child.
“Come and sit with me for a while, iôn-nín.”
He looked up from his absorption in his own thoughts to see Thranduil sitting on a shaded bench in the part of the garden that Legolas had been told was his mother’s favorite. He hesitated. It was rare for his father to sit in the garden before their evening meal, for Thranduil usually did not have the time. “Were you waiting for me, Adar?” he asked mildly, as he took the seat his father indicated.
Thranduil smiled but did not answer the question. Instead he looked around. “Your naneth loved those roses,” he said. Legolas looked at the roses that sprawled untidily up a trellis and nodded. He had heard that before. “I have been thinking of her a great deal in the last few weeks,” Thranduil said. He shrugged. “Well, I suppose I always think about her a great deal, but since I have seen you struggling with Tuilinn’s death, I have thought about her even more.”
Legolas looked down at his hands, thinking about how long it had been since his mother died, and aware as he had somehow never been before of what his father had lost.
“One of the things I remember from the time just after your naneth died was how hard I found it to be in the company of happily married people,” Thranduil went on, “and I thought perhaps that you might be feeling the same way.”
Legolas darted a look at him and then looked away again. “I have found it hard. I suppose I am jealous.”
“Yes, I was too. But I ask you not to pull away from your brothers when they are with their wives, Legolas. If you do, you will be shutting yourself out from a life with people who love you and want you near them.”
Legolas watched a bee darting in and out of the roses. “I know, Adar. It is odd, but I am somehow more comfortable just now with those who have suffered the same kind of loss I have than I am with those who are happy.”
Thranduil nodded. “I can remember feeling that way too. All I can suggest is that you make an effort to treasure both what you had with Tuilinn and what you have now and keep on with your life. Surely that is what Tuilinn would have wanted you to do, just as I believe it is what your naneth would have wanted for me.”
They sat quietly for a while, and Legolas became aware that his father was eying the roses and smiling. He raised an inquiring eyebrow, and Thranduil laughed. “I was remembering the time your naneth was out here pruning that vine in the spring. She had you with her, and she was trying to keep you away from the roses because the thorns are wickedly long and sharp. She thought you were happily arranging pebbles on this bench, but you got hold of the extra pruning shears she had in her basket and when she looked down, you had hacked away all the new growth at the bottom of the vine. You smiled up at her and said ‘I help.’ What could she do?”
Legolas sat utterly immobile. The warm day that had surprised him after long months of cold, the too-big shears working awkwardly in his hands, his mother looking down at him. “She laughed,” he breathed. “And she said, ‘That is enough help for now, my heart.’”
Thranduil stared at him. “Did she? She did not tell me that.” He looked away. “She laughed often. Eilian is like her in that.” He sat quietly, while Legolas marveled at the suddenly clear memory of his mother. Where in Arda had that come from?
Thranduil turned to face him again. “Loss can break us, Legolas, or it can make us stronger, more compassionate, more aware of what is important and what is simply trivia. I know how strong a person you are. I have faith that you will weather this well and be happy again.”
To Thranduil’s obvious surprise and pleasure, Legolas leaned forward and kissed his father’s cheek. “Thank you, Adar. I can have no better example to follow than you.”
Thranduil smiled and rose. “Come. Let us go in and let Alfirin feed you.”
Legolas laughed, rose, and walked with his father along the path that would take them home.
AN: Thranduil’s meeting with Legolas’s mother is described in a story by my beta, Nilmandra, called “First Celebrations.” That story is available at Stories of Arda.
Thank you to everyone who has followed this story and especially to those who have reviewed it. This story has been much more angsty than my usual fare, and I’ve been entirely in Legolas’s head. I’ve enjoyed myself mostly, and I hope you have too.
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