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Thranduil's Begetting Day  by daw the minstrel

This story is set soon after “Time’s Turnings,” in which Legolas, his brother Eilian, and their bodyguards all visit Dale.  You should not have to have read that story to follow this one, I hope.  This story does have a cast of thousands, but I’ve tried to clarify who’s who.

Legolas is about 80, so a very young adult.  His brother Eilian is about 140, also a young adult.  Their nephew Sinnarn is about 40, the equivalent more or less of a human 16-year-old.

There will be three chapters.


Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this for me.


Chapter 1: Guests Arrive

The Elves in the Great Hall parted to allow the new arrivals through.

“Glilan!”  Thranduil rose from his carved chair and descended from the dais to embrace his wife’s aunt.  “It has been far too long.”

Glilan blushed happily in response to the obvious affection his greeting.  “Indeed it has.  Since the spring after Ithilden’s wedding.  You must have had begetting days between then and now.”

He laughed.  “Indeed.  They seem to come every other month.”

Glilan reached for Ithilden, who had moved from his station on the right side of Thranduil’s chair to let her hug him.  Then she extended the same greeting to Legolas, who stood to Thranduil’s left.  “How are you, child?” she asked him, patting his cheek.  “I hear you are quite the warrior now.”

Legolas gave what to Thranduil’s eyes was too plainly a pained smile.  With a diplomacy long practiced in dealing with his in-laws, Thranduil moved to distract Glilan.  “Who is this?” he asked, looking beyond her to where a maiden stood with downcast eyes.

“This is my neighbor’s greatniece, Iseniel,” Glilan said, turning to urge the maiden forward.  “Her naneth kindly agreed to let her come as company for me on the journey.”

Iseniel curtsied deeply, then lifted her eyes to meet Thranduil’s.  She had a sweet, round face and blue eyes fringed with dark lashes.  “My lord.”

“Welcome, Iseniel,” Thranduil said.  He caught sight of Alfirin hovering nearby and beckoned to her.  She hurried forward with a smile and hands outstretched in greeting to Glilan.

“Welcome,” she said.  “I am so happy you could be here to help us make Adar’s begetting day one he will long remember.  But you must be tired after your journey.  Let me have someone show you both to your rooms.”  She crooked her finger at an attendant.  Thranduil was impressed once again by his daughter-in-law’s aplomb.  She could not have planned to accommodate Iseniel, but no one would have known that from the gracious way she smiled at the maiden.

“I thought Legolas could show Iseniel to her chamber,” Glilan said.  “They are the same age, and you know how young people like to be together.”  She beamed at Legolas, whose mouth fell open, giving him a slightly soft-headed look.  Iseniel’s face turned bright red.

On Thranduil’s other side, Ithilden gave a barely suppressed snort.  Legolas straightened and said, “I would be honored.”  He extended his arm.   Without looking at him, the maiden laid her hand on it, and he led her from the Hall, following Glilan and the attendant Alfirin had summoned.

Alfirin watched them go, then turned to Thranduil and Ithilden with her lips quivering.  “Is Aunt Glilan matchmaking?”

Ithilden grinned.  “Oh, yes.”

Alfirin laughed.  “Then Legolas will have an even more entertaining leave than I hoped for when I talked you into getting him and Eilian both home for this celebration.”

A stir at the door announced another arrival, and Alfirin withdrew to the fringes of the group.  “Master Helad of Dale,” the door attendant said.   An elegantly dressed, bearded Man made his way forward to drop to one knee in front of Thranduil.

“Mae govannen, Master Helad,” Thranduil said, gesturing for him to rise.

The Man shifted slightly from foot to foot.  He tried to look Thranduil directly in the eye but could do so for only a fleeting moment before he had to look away.  “My lord, I bring greetings to you and the best wishes of King Bram of Dale.  He sends a gift which is among my baggage.  I look forward to the honor of presenting it to you.”

“We are most grateful for the good wishes of our brother Bram,” Thranduil said.

“I hope to renew my acquaintance with Lord Eilian while I am here,” Helad said, glancing around the room.  “Perhaps you know we met in Dale last year.  Will he be present?” To Thranduil, it was obvious Helad had been hoping for a familiar face.

“Indeed Eilian will,” Thranduil said forcefully.  From the corner of his eye, he saw Ithilden grimace. 

Alfirin beckoned to another attendant as she came forward.  “Will you not take some rest before the evening meal, Master Helad?”

“Thank you, Mistress.  I would welcome the chance to refresh myself.”  He bowed to her and to Thranduil and withdrew with the attendant.

“Where is Eilian?” Thranduil asked Ithilden.  He had become increasingly annoyed at his middle son as the afternoon wore on and guests arrived without Eilian there to take part in receiving them.  “It is irresponsible of him not to be here, particularly when the Men arrive.  A large part of the reason for this gathering is to secure our good relationship with the Men of Dale and Esgaroth and give them a chance to come to better terms with one another.”

“No, Adar,” Alfirin said firmly.  “The reason for this gathering is to celebrate your begetting day.  I understand that you and Ithilden must conduct the business of the Realm too, but do not forget why we are really here.”   She stretched to plant a kiss on his cheek.

Thranduil felt an absurd flush of pleasure.  Over Alfirin’s head, his eyes met Ithilden’s, and they shared a smile.  Alfirin backed away without ever seeing the sign of their joy in her presence.

“Eilian went riding with Toviel,” Alfirin said.

“Toviel?” Ithilden said.  “The one who plays the harp?”

“Yes,” Alfirin said.  “And you need not sound so incredulous, Ithilden.  She is very nice.”

Thranduil let out an exasperated breath.  “He should be here.”

“He asked me if I needed him,” Alfirin protested.  “I told him you two and Legolas would be here, and he did not need to stay.  He promised to be present at this evening’s feast.  If that was wrong, I am sorry, but it was my fault.”

Thranduil suppressed his desire to tell her Eilian had taken advantage of her.  Eilian knew perfectly well what was expected of him on these occasions.  He caught sight of a servant waiting nearby.  “Yes?”

“I need to speak to Lady Alfirin,” the Elf said.

“What is it?”  Alfirin turned.

“Nawien believes she may have misunderstood you,” the Elf said.  “Are you certain you do not want the tables set up on both sides of the Green as they always are?”

“No.” Alfirin sounded dismayed.  “I thought I made it clear I wanted to try something different.”  Already moving toward the doors, she looked around at Thranduil.  “By your leave, Adar.”

He nodded his permission for her to go.   As she hurried away, Thranduil felt a twinge of doubt.  Perhaps Eilian had only been realistic in seeking Alfirin’s rather than Thranduil’s permission to absent himself.  This party was her project, and all of them would do well to remember that.


Eilian rode into the busy stableyard with Toviel at his side.  The place was teeming with grooms and the horses of Thranduil’s guests.  The stablemaster stood in the center of the yard, calling out instructions for which horses should go where.  Eilian raised a hand in greeting.

“Mae govannen, Galendil,” he said.  “You look busy.”  Galendil was the son-in-law of Eilian’s bodyguard, Maltanaur, and Eilian knew him well.

“Mae govannen, my lord,” Galendil called.  “I will get my son to come and care for your horses right away.  He is around here somewhere, probably still tangled up in the Men’s tack.”

Eilian laughed.  “No need to trouble Calylad.  I will do it.”

Galendil nodded his gratitude and hastened away to sort out a situation between a mare and a stallion that promised to create a surprise for the mare’s owner in a little under a year.

Eilian swung his leg over his horse’s back and leapt down.  Then he reached up to grasp Toviel’s waist and lift her off the horse.  She felt satisfyingly warm and slender under his hands, and her skirt slipped up so he had a pleasant view of shapely calves.

He brought his gaze to her face and found her watching him.  She fluttered her eyelashes, then turned to pat the horse’s neck.  “What a sweet animal he is.  You must thank the king for loaning him to me.”

Eilian had no intention of telling his father he had borrowed a horse for Toviel from the royal stables.  “Shall we take them in?”  He gestured toward the open stable doors.  They led the animals into the dusky interior, toward the closest stalls, which always housed the horses owned by the king and his family.  Eilian sent his own horse into a stall and went to open the gate of the next one for Toviel.  He ducked inside with her and the stallion, shutting the gate behind them.

“Can I brush him?” Toviel asked.

Eilian put his arms around her from behind.  “I would rather you brushed me.”

She giggled, and he turned her to face him.  Pulling her close, he bent to touch his mouth to hers.  She made a sound like that made by an elfling enjoying a treat and parted her lips.

“You there,” said a harsh voice.  A hand rattled the stall gate.  “Stop that and come tend to my horse, or I’ll tell the stablemaster how you’re spending your time.”

Eilian turned to find a Man scowling at him.  He bit off the intemperate speech he had been about to utter.  If this was one of the representatives from Dale or Esgaroth, then Thranduil wanted him handled with care, and Eilian would be wise to follow his father’s wishes, especially since he had just spent the afternoon with Toviel instead of in the Great Hall.  He probably should try to tactfully tell the Man who he was.

“Be quick about it,” the Man said.

Of course, there were limits to how restrained an Elf could be.

Toviel stiffened in indignation, but Eilian spoke before she could say anything.  “I am coming, master.”  He turned his head to wink at Toviel, then left the stall.

The Man was leading a nervous looking gelding with an elaborately decorated saddle and bridle.  One of the packs flung over the horse’s back bore the blue insignia of Esgaroth.  Eilian took the reins the Man thrust at him and drew near the prancing horse to lay a hand on its neck and whisper in its ear.  “Now, now.  No need to worry.  We have oats aplenty here, and we will get rid of this leather contraption so you can have a good roll in the grass.  Would you like that?”

The horse’s eyes widened, as it stilled and flicked an ear in Eilian’s direction.  He chuckled, then turned to look at the Man.  To Eilian’s satisfaction, the Man met his gaze for no more than a few heartbeats before he looked away.

Another Man dressed in the uniform of an Esgaroth soldier approached.  “Shall I take your pack, Master Eman?”

“Do,” Eman commanded.  He spoke to Eilian without looking at him as the soldier relieved the horse of part of its burden.  “Has Helad of Dale arrived yet?”

“I do not know,” Eilian said.  Eman pursed his lips.  No love lost there, Eilian thought.  Thranduil’s spies had been right.  There was tension between Esgaroth and Dale, probably due to Esgaroth’s control over shipping through the Long Lake.

Eman pulled a coin from his belt pouch and flicked it into the air toward Eilian, who caught it reflexively.  Without another word, the Man left the stable.

“Of all the nerve!” Toviel came out of the stall.

He grinned at her.  “I apparently have several horses to care for.  I will understand if you want to go home.”

She laughed, stood on her toes to kiss his cheek, and followed in Eman’s wake.

“What are you going to say when you meet him again?” asked a voice from behind Eilian.  He turned to see Maltanaur’s grandson, Calylad.  He was about the same age as Eilian’s nephew, Sinnarn, and the two of them were thick as thieves, a fact Eilian suspected did not entirely delight Calylad’s family.  Sinnarn was adventuresome and occasionally unpredictable, so much so that Ithilden and Alfirin had kept him out of the novice training program this year and set him to work with Alfirin’s forester father.

Eilian shrugged.   “I will just avoid him, or perhaps he will not recognize me when I wear my son-of-Thranduil get up.”

Calylad laughed.  “Grandfather says you are the most optimistic Elf he knows, and I can see why.”

“Go ahead and be impertinent,” Eilian said with a grin.  “I will enjoy telling Maltanaur how I threw you in the watering trough.”  He tossed Eman’s coin to Calylad.  “If you take care of this poor tack-burdened fellow, I will manage my own and the one I borrowed.”

Calylad tucked the coin out of sight.  “With pleasure.”  He took the reins and led the gelding away while Eilian went back into the stall and began to groom the horse Toviel had ridden.


Legolas sipped his wine and watched the crowd milling around, talking and helping themselves to the food laid out on a long table near the edge of the Green.  Ithilden’s son, Sinnarn, and Maltanaur’s grandson, Calylad, were pestering the minstrel who was trying to entertain the guests with softly strummed music.  As Legolas watched, the minstrel laughed and surrendered his harp to Sinnarn, who immediately struck up a loud, lively tune that all but begged Elves to dance, despite the people crowded together on the Green, many of them holding cups of wine and plates of food.

Calylad leapt in a wide whirl, applauded by a youngster who could not have been more than thirty.  With his high forehead and ink-dark hair, the boy looked familiar, but it took Legolas a moment to recognize Nalden, the son of Ithilden’s aide, Calith.

Legolas nearly laughed.  Calith was one of the most sensible Elves he knew. What had he ever done to merit having his son look at Sinnarn and Calylad with that admiring gaze?

Before anyone else could join Calylad in his dance, Alfirin hurried up to them, snatched the harp from Sinnarn, and said something Legolas could not hear.  Sinnarn grinned at her, but he raised his hands in surrender.  She thrust the harp toward the minstrel, put one hand on the shoulder of each tall youth, and sent them both off toward the food with Nalden trailing behind them.

Eilian came to stand next to Legolas, holding a cup of wine in one hand and a honey-coated pastry in the other.  He popped the pastry into his mouth and wiped his fingers on his formal robe.  “How did things go in the Great Hall this afternoon?”

Legolas snorted.  “How do you think they went?  The Men were as nervous among us as a rabbit in a fox den, and Aunt Glilan brought a maiden with her that she all but threw into my arms.”

Eilian laughed and slapped him on the shoulder.  “Shall I congratulate you on your betrothal?”

“Not likely.  Iseniel is nice enough, but I prefer to find my own mate.”

“Aunt Glilan is a romantic,” Eilian said.  “She has never done this to you before only because you were too young.  Until Ithilden married Alfirin, she used to bring him maidens and a silver ring every few years.”

“Did she never bring them for you?” Legolas asked.

Eilian grinned at him.  “Only once.”

Legolas could not resist laughing.  He was about to let need overwhelm good sense and ask Eilian how to discourage Aunt Glilan when he was distracted by the sight of Helad of Dale.  Followed by one of his attendants, the Man was picking his way carefully among the assembled Elves. He waited to take each step until the crowd left him space. Then he darted ahead, holding his arms in tightly so he would not brush up against anyone.  He was moving toward Thranduil, who sat nearby.  Legolas and Eilian had both met Helad in Dale the previous year.  He was one of King Bram’s advisors, and one of his aides had turned out to be an Easterling conspiring to drive a wedge between Men and Elves.

Eilian shoved an elbow into Legolas’s ribs.  “Look at Beliond,” he muttered gleefully.

Legolas nearly choked on the sip of wine he had just taken.  His bodyguard was slipping through the crowd behind Helad, watching the Man with narrowed eyes. “Bram said Helad was innocent. Do you think Beliond still distrusts him?”

“Beliond distrusts all Men on general principle.”  Eilian caught Beliond’s eye and beckoned to him.  Beliond slid up next to them, then ignored them to watch Helad greeting Thranduil.

The Man waved his attendant forward, and Legolas saw that he carried a sack made of what looked like waterproofed silk.  Brightly colored panels of the fabric had been sewn together in stripes that ran around the bag in diagonal lines.  Legolas grimaced.  The Men of Dale had terrible taste.  The bag’s contents must have been heavy, or perhaps the bag was fragile, because the attendant kept one hand under it to support it.

“Your majesty,” Helad said, “I told you King Bram sent a gift for the occasion.  I present it to you now.”  He took the sack from the attendant and offered it to Thranduil, who set it on his lap, looked into it, and smiled.

“You must thank our brother Bram,” Thranduil said.  He scanned the nearby crowd.  “Sinnarn!”

Sinnarn turned away from the food and trotted toward Thranduil.  “Yes, Grandfather?”

Thranduil handed him the sack, which Sinnarn took in one hand and swung from the laces at its top.  Helad opened his mouth as if to protest but then shut both it and his eyes.  “Put this away, please,” Thranduil said.  He glanced at Helad and took pity on him.  “Treat it with care, child.  It is a gift from our valued friends in Dale.”

Sinnarn was used to court talk.  “Of course, my lord.”  He hugged the sack in one arm and started toward the palace.

Helad watched him go, then turned back to Thranduil.  “I will tell Bram of your good wishes.  They will be most welcome to him because he believes stronger ties between our peoples will benefit us both.”

“I too hope for strong ties between us,” Thranduil said.  “The enemy will be easier to defeat with friends at our side.”

Helad edged closer to him, and Legolas leaned forward to hear better.

“We agree.  And of course, the stronger Dale and the Woodland Realm are, the better the battle will go.  Unfortunately, Dale’s resources are limited by the difficulty we face in sending our goods to lands south of us.”

Thranduil raised an eyebrow.  “Have the waters of the Long Lake become difficult to navigate?”

“Perhaps I misspoke,” Helad said.  “The matter is not so much one of difficulty as expense.  Esgaroth has raised its docking fees again.”

“For our rafts too,” Thranduil said.

Helad’s face set in dismayed lines.  Next to Legolas, Eilian gave a low laugh.  “Helad is good,” he said.  Beliond shot him an irritated look.

“If the Men of Esgaroth are charging you these exorbitant fees too, then we must work together to force them to be more reasonable,” Helad said.

Thranduil smiled.  “All the realms will need to be strong and united.  You and I and Eman of Esgaroth must talk about this matter, but tonight you must enjoy our hospitality and think of happier things.  Have you tried the excellent venison?”

Helad hesitated.  “Not yet, your majesty.”

Thranduil gestured toward the food-laden table.  “Then you must do so at once before it is all gone.”  Helad accepted his dismissal and withdrew.

“How much will you wager that Adar has Helad and Eman both thinking of him as their ally before he is done?” Eilian asked Legolas.

Beliond gave him no time to answer.  “They are Men and therefore unsuitable allies.  Thranduil is entirely too trusting sometimes.”

Legolas and Eilian both gaped at him.  Then Eilian smiled.  “You know, Beliond, I think you are right.  You should keep an eye on Helad and possibly Eman too.”

Legolas rolled his eyes.

Beliond scowled at him.  “I cannot believe I am saying this, but for once you should listen to your harebrained brother.  Both Men bear watching.”  He slithered away in Helad’s wake.

“Harebrained?” Eilian echoed.  “I am crushed.”

“Why did you encourage him?” Legolas asked.

Eilian shrugged.  “I am bored.  Come.  We should help ourselves to the venison too.”

They moved toward the table with the food and found Sinnarn, Calylad, and Nalden all heaping food onto plates.  “I thought you were putting Helad’s gift away,” Legolas said, reaching for a plate.

“I left it in the family sitting room,” Sinnarn said.

Calylad was looking over Legolas’s shoulder into the crowd.  “Eman of Esgaroth is coming this way,” he said to no one in particular.  Legolas turned to speak to Eilian but found he had vanished.

A few heartbeats later, Eman of Esgaroth edged up next to Legolas holding a plate of food.  “Good evening, my lord.”  He looked beyond Legolas at Sinnarn.  “That sack looked heavy,” he said with an encouraging smile.  “Dale’s gift must have been a fine one.”

Sinnarn’s eyes gleamed.  “Very fine indeed.”

Eman waited for him to say more.  “And it was….?”

“It was very fine,” Sinnarn said.  He moved one last piece of venison onto his plate.  “Ready?” he asked Calylad and Nalden.  They nodded, and the three of them moved away.

Eman sighed and ate a forkful of beans roasted with garlic.   “The food is delicious,” he told Legolas.  Then, seemingly deliberately, he let out a loud burp.  Every Elf in the vicinity glanced toward them, then looked hastily away. Legolas struggled to keep his composure.

“I am glad you are enjoying it,” Legolas said.  Eman wandered disconsolately away.  A rustle of skirts sounded behind Legolas, and he turned to see Aunt Glilan with Iseniel in tow.

“There you are, Legolas,” Glilan trilled.  “Would you look after Iseniel while I get some more wine?”  She was gone before he could answer.

Legolas could not think of a single sensible thing to say.  The maiden stood with her eyes cast down.  She edged closer to him and cleared her throat.  “I have been hoping for a chance to speak to you.”

He nearly groaned aloud.  He did not want to court this girl, but he also did not want to hurt her feelings.  He needed to discourage her interest in him and do it quickly.  Only one possible course of action occurred to him.  He drew a deep breath, roused every bit of internal strength, and belched.

Iseniel’s head jerked up sharply, and she stared at him in wide-eyed astonishment.  He felt the heat creeping up his face.  With a small cry, she turned and fled.


Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter for me.  Just as a reminder, Calylad is Maltanaur’s grandson.  He’s about the same age as Sinnarn.  Nalden is Calith’s son. He’s 10 years younger than the other two boys.


Chapter 2.  The Perfect Gift

Peering into each stall as he went, Sinnarn made his way down the central aisle of the stable with Nalden at his heels like an eager puppy.  From the stableyard came the calls of grooms going about their morning routine.

“Will he have a shovel for me too?” Nalden asked.

“Probably,” Sinnarn said.  He was used to Nalden’s constant presence now.  Nalden was so good-hearted that Sinnarn had been unable to be irritated at him for very long.

In the last stall, he found Calylad with a pick in his hand, cleaning the hooves of a little grey mare.  “I am just finishing,” he said when he saw them.  He dropped the foot he was holding, gave the mare a friendly slap on the rump, and came out into the aisle.  “The shovels are over there.”  He pointed to three shovels leaning against the stable’s back wall and grinned at Nalden.   “I thought you might be coming too, Nalden.”

Nalden blushed but nonetheless looked pleased by the attention.  They each shouldered a shovel.

Calylad glanced toward the sound of the grooms’ voices.  “We should go out the side door.”

Sinnarn nodded.  Today was his grandfather’s begetting day and thus theoretically a holiday, but with so many horses in the stable, Calylad’s father probably expected him to lend a hand.  But what Sinnarn had planned would be much more interesting, and he did not see why his friend should miss out on it.

They slipped out the stable’s side door and made their way along a path that quickly took them into the forest.  Sinnarn led the way.  He wanted to go to a spot he had found the previous week when he was out with one of the foresters, checking for signs of disease among the maples.  If he was right in what he thought he saw there, he would have a perfect gift for his grandfather.  They neared a maple grove.

“Look for arrowhead mushrooms,” Sinnarn said.  “There should be a whole bed of them.”  They spread out.

“Here!” Nalden cried almost immediately.  Sinnarn hurried around a stand of scalebark bushes to find Nalden all but jumping up and down in excitement and pointing at the mushrooms growing in the bushes’ shade.

“Good job, Short Stuff,” Sinnarn said.  Nalden glowed.

Calylad came up to stand beside Sinnarn.  “You think rilliums are under there?”

“Maybe,” Sinnarn said.  “I hope so.  When my grandfather found them on our camping trip, he said arrowheads like the same conditions, so you can use one to find the other.  They will be about a forearm’s length down.  Dig carefully.  We do not want to cut them.”  They began to ply their shovels.

“Is it true rilliums stink?” Nalden asked.  In his desire to heed Sinnarn’s words and be careful, he was lifting the soil away a finger’s width at a time.

“Only when you cut into them,” Sinnarn said.  “I brought a bag to keep them fresh because we will need to put them someplace until I can surprise my grandfather tonight.”

“I would worry more about poisoning someone than the smell,” Calylad said.  He dragged his arm across his sweaty forehead.

“My grandfather says you just have to cook them right,” Sinnarn said.

He pushed the tip of his shovel into the dirt, and a powerful stench leapt up and punched him in the nose.  He reeled and was instantly transported back to that day in the woods the previous summer.  His grandfather had sliced the rilliums to cook them while the guards backed away with horror on their faces.  It had taken all of Sinnarn’s love for his grandfather to make him hold his breath and eat a few of the things.

“We have found them!” he cried.  “Stop digging.”  He scraped at the dirt with the side of his shovel, and there they were:  juicy black lumps connect to one another by thick twists of curling roots.

“I take it back,” Calylad said in a voice muffled by the hand over his nose.  “I would worry more about the smell.”  Nalden scuttled away, his eyes wide and his hands clasped over the lower part of his face.

“I have no idea what you are complaining about,” Sinnarn lied.  Careful to breathe through his mouth, he used his belt knife to slice the roots and pry the rilliums out of their dark bed.  Juice oozed from the cut roots.  Sinnarn heard Nalden gag.  He reached hastily into his belt pouch, drew out the brightly-colored sack he had brought, and began shoving the rilliums into it.

“Is that the bag the Man from Dale brought?” Calylad asked.


“What was in it?”

Sinnarn shrugged.  “Mannish rubbish.”  He pushed one last rillium into the sack, then drew the drawstring tight, hoping that would contain the smell.  He wiped his hands on a tuft of grass and turned to his friends, holding the bag as far away from him as he could and thinking hard.  He had planned to take the sack to the palace kitchen and ask Cook to keep it for him until it was needed, but he could see now that would not work.  Cook would clout him over the head and throw the rilliums in the fire.  “Can I hide them in the stable until it is time to give them to my grandfather?”

Calylad snorted.  “Of course not.  The stink would drive the horses into a frenzy.”

“Where then?” Sinnarn asked.

“How about the cave by the rapids where they store the boats?” Nalden said.

“Good idea,” Sinnarn said.

“It is a good idea,” Calylad agreed.  “That cave is far enough up the river that people are unlikely to wander in and throw up from the fumes.  Nalden and I will go first Sinnarn.  You keep well behind us.”

Sinnarn snorted.  “You are being ridiculous.”  The snort cleared his nose a little.  He did it again and then followed his friends toward the Forest River.

They turned upstream, away from the palace, at a point where rapids churned in a long, rock-strewn stretch.  A short distance beyond the rapids, a narrow cave snaked deep into the river bank.  Calylad opened the door that had been fitted to the cave’s mouth to keep animals from claiming it as a den.  He and Nalden stood aside as Sinnarn arrived.

“We will wait here,” Calylad said.  He and Nalden had both pinched their noses at Sinnarn’s approach.

Ignoring their efforts to outdo one another’s reactions, Sinnarn entered the cave. As soon as he was an arm’s length inside, Calylad let go of the door and it slammed shut.  Sinnarn heard him mumble something to Nalden that made them both laugh.  Enough light seeped in around the door that Sinnarn did not care if it was open or closed.  Except for the fresh air, of course.

He edged his way past the line of stored boats to where the cave narrowed and continued on.  It went back a long way, and Sinnarn judged it wisest to store the rilliums well away from the entrance.  He finally found a place where rocks lay jumbled against one wall and hollowed out a storage space.  He deposited the bag in it, balanced a rock to screen the bag from view, and stepped back to examine his handiwork.  Good enough, he decided, and went back to rejoin his friends.

When he shoved the door open, he found Calylad and Nalden sitting near the water’s edge. They climbed to their feet as he emerged. Both of them sniffed at his approach.

“You might want to wash your hands,” Calylad said.

Sinnarn raised his hands to his nose and immediately crouched by the river to rinse them as best he could.  The other two waited at a short distance. At last, Sinnarn decided he had gotten most of the rillium juice off, and when he approached Calylad and Nalden, they did not flinch, so he assumed he was clean enough.

“I need to get back to the stable,” Calylad said.  They started along the path toward home.

They had taken only a few steps before a smiling Eman of Esgaroth emerged from the trees and walked toward them. They halted.

“Mae govannen,” Sinnarn said.   Then he wondered if he should have greeted the Man in Common. Even his grandfather would be displeased if Sinnarn offended the Mannish guests, but he had not had much contact with Men and found them an odd lot.

“Good morning,” Eman said cheerily.  “The king has fine weather for his celebration.”

“He does,” Sinnarn agreed.

Eman hesitated, then snapped his fingers.  “I just remembered.  Wasn’t it you to whom the king entrusted Dale’s gift last night?”

“Yes, it was.”

Eman leaned closer to him.  “We of Esgaroth would dearly love to know what Dale gave the king.  We would not want to give a gift that was less than your grandfather merited.”

Sinnarn smiled.  Something about this Man made Sinnarn long to torment him.  “I am sure the king would welcome any gift Esgaroth gives, no matter how small.”

Calylad shifted from one foot to the other, and Sinnarn read the message he was sending.  If Calylad’s father had missed him, he would be growing annoyed by now.  “We must be on our way,” Sinnarn told Eman, and he led his friends into the woods.  He glanced back once to see a frowning Eman looking after them.

“That’s the one who thought Eilian was a groom yesterday,” Calylad said as soon as they were out of earshot.

“He is nosy,” Nalden said.

Sinnarn had to agree.  “I would not want him messing about with the rilliums,” he said.  He considered what to do.  “I think perhaps we should lock the cave door.  I will get a padlock from my grandfather’s store room.”

“I have never seen a padlock,” Nalden said.  “Will it really keep people out?”

“Oh yes,” Sinnarn said.  “They would need the key to get in, and I intend to keep that.”

They made their way back to the stronghold and went first to the stables to return the shovels.  The moment they stepped into the stables, Calylad’s father emerged from a stall.  “Where have you been?” he demanded.

“I was helping Sinnarn prepare his grandfather’s begetting day gift,” Calylad said.

His father had looked ready to scold, but at Calylad’s answer, he paused.  “Very well.  But I need you now.  Do not go running off again until I say you may.  And Sinnarn, I hear your naneth is looking for you.”  A groom called to him, and he grimaced and went off to hear what the Elf wanted.

Calylad took the shovels and rolled his eyes at Sinnarn.  “You will have to wait until later to check on Eman and the boat cave.”

Sinnarn took his leave with Nalden following him.  On the way out of the stable, they passed Calylad’s grandfather, who sat on a bench just inside the doors.  “Mae govannen,” Maltanaur said.

“Mae govannen,” Sinnarn returned, his mind on what to do about locking the cave.

As they neared the palace, he turned to Nalden.  “Can you come in with me, Nalden?  I will give you the lock and you can put it on the door.  I will show you how.”

“Of course.”  Nalden’s face lit up with eagerness.

“You can keep an eye on the cave while Calylad and I are busy,” Sinnarn told him as they started over the bridge leading to the Great Doors.

“You can count on me,” Nalden said.


Eman of Esgaroth blew out his breath in exasperation.  Elves were the most maddening creatures on the face of Arda.  In Eman’s plain hearing, Thranduil had told his grandson to put Dale’s gift away, and yet Eman was sure he’d seen it in the boy’s hand just a short while ago.  Why would Thranduil store his begetting day gifts so far from the palace?

He grimaced.  A begetting day.  How could Elves celebrate such a thing so openly?  How did they even know when such an occasion should be celebrated?  Did a male keep track of every time he bedded his wife and do it so seldom he was certain when he had gotten her with child?  Did he then tell his children about it?  The whole matter was too odd to spend much time thinking about.

But then Elves were odd.  Eman had expressed his appreciation for last night’s feast in the strongest terms possible, and Thranduil’s youngest son had looked at him as if he dropped his trousers.  Maybe he should have announced his intentions to make this a begetting day.  Maybe they would have liked that better.

And another thing.  How was he supposed to sort out the amount of deference due various Elves when the high and the low mixed together without rhyme or reason?  The groom who had cared for his horse when he arrived had turned up at the previous night’s gathering in silk robes.  Eman did not understand it at all.

He walked moodily onward.  The wretched grandson had not had the colorful bag with him just now, so where could he have left it?  Almost instantly, a possible answer to that question appeared.  A door was set in the rocky bank of the river.  His heart quickened.  This must be where the gift from Dale was stored.  He would just duck inside and have a quick look.  The Trade Council would want to know if Dale had put Thranduil in their debt because, if that had happened, the Elven King was likely to join with Bram in demanding the docking fees be lowered.

He pulled open the door and peered inside.  A cave stretched ahead of him with a line of overturned boats stored down its center.  He stepped inside.  The heavy door slammed behind him, plunging him into almost total darkness.  He swore, pushed the door open again, and propped it against a rock so he would have enough light to see what he was doing.

He made his way back into the depths of the cave, peering under each boat as he went but seeing no sign of the gaudy sack.  When he reached the last of the boats, he hesitated.  The light grew faint this far from the door.  Moreover, a faint, unpleasant smell lingered in the air.  Still, he had come this far.  He might as well see what he could find while he had the chance.

He moved carefully through the cave, feeling his way as he went.  A pile of rocks loomed against the wall on left, and he had kicked one of them before he realized how far out the pile extended.  The rocks slid a little apart, and the smell grew stronger.  He was starting to back away when he glimpsed a patch of yellow.  He leaned forward with narrowed eyes.  There it was!  Helad of Dale’s gift to Thranduil.

Stepping gingerly over the loose stones, he reached for the sack, turned toward the light coming from the door, and opened it.

A powerful stench flowed out of the bag and formed a cloud around his head, burning his nose and making his eyes water.  He had never smelled anything like it.  If some plague had killed every fish in the Long Lake and all the carcasses had piled up on the shore and been left for two weeks in the hot summer sun, they would not have smelled worse than this.  He dropped the bag and ran toward the entrance, erupting out into the clean air like a drowning man leaping out of the water.  He kicked the stone away from the door and let it slam shut, closing in the putrid fumes.  Then he dropped to the ground and just breathed.

What in Arda had been in that sack?  Was this the “very fine” gift Dale had given to Thranduil?  Surely not.  If it was, then Esgaroth had nothing to worry about when the time came to negotiate over docking fees.

But what was it?  He pictured the dark, juicy looking lumps and was alarmed to realize there was something vaguely food-like about them.  Were the lumps some sort of Elven delicacy? Could anyone actually bring themselves to eat them?  And horror of horrors, what if the things were served at tonight’s banquet and he was expected to put them in his mouth?

No one could make him do it, he vowed.  To Mordor with diplomacy.

He drew one more lungful of blessedly stink-free air and climbed to his feet.  He was feeling shaken and wanted to go back to his room and lie down for a while.  He took the path that led to the palace, and as he rounded a bend, he came face to face with Helad of Dale.  The man’s face looked strained.  He nodded curtly to Eman and went on his way without speaking.  Eman judged that Helad was feeling the stress of the constant presence of Elves about as much as he was.

He set off again only to find a determined looking Elf coming toward him.  He groped his memory for the Elf’s name.  Beliond, that was it.  Eman had seen him watching Helad during the previous night’s feast.  Beliond brushed past Eman as if he were not there, his attention all on the fading form of Helad.  For a moment, Eman almost felt sorry for the man from Dale.  Beliond was a little frightening.

Once again, he started for the palace and once again he found an Elf coming his way. This time though, it was the smallest of the three boys he’d seen near the cave.  The boy carried something small wrapped in what looked like an old tunic.  He eyed Eman suspiciously and raced past him, intent upon whatever errand was taking him back toward the cave.  Eman didn’t care.  The child was too young to worry about.  He went on his way, and this time the path was empty.


Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter for me.

Chapter 3.  The Best Laid Plans

Maltanaur made his way along the path toward the cave.  He had no idea what the boys had seen here earlier, but he did not like what he had overheard in the stables.  If Eman of Esgaroth was up to something, Maltanaur did not want his grandson and Thranduil’s “checking” on it.  The two of them got into enough trouble as it was, and now they seemed to have drawn Calith’s son into their antics.  None of them should be anywhere near this cave if trouble was brewing there.

He emerged from the trees into the area in front of the cave and stopped short.  The door was padlocked.  He had never seen a lock on this door before.  Indeed, he had seldom seen a lock anywhere in the Woodland Realm.  He walked toward the door and fingered the lock.  What was going on here?  What could Eman have put in this cave that needed to be locked up?

He thought for a moment about how he might be able to answer his question.  Then he set off into the woods again.  He needed to get past this lock, and he knew of only one person who could make that happen.


Alfirin dropped her embroidery into her lap and looked around the garden where Ithilden’s female relatives chattered happily in a glow of well-being after a very fine mid-day meal.  Everything was going so well.  She had hoped to give her father-in-law an unforgettable begetting day, and she thought she was entitled to believe he was getting just that.

“How long will Legolas be home on leave?” asked Aunt Glilan from her place on the bench next to Alfirin.

“He will be here another three days yet,” Alfirin said.

Seated on the other side of her, Iseniel frowned and thrust her embroidery needle through the tapestry she was working with what seemed to Alfirin to be unnecessary force.  She laid the tapestry down on the bench beside her.  “If you do not mind, Glilan, I think I will go for a stroll.”

“Go ahead, my dear,” Glilan beamed.  Iseniel rose and set off down the garden path.  “Such a beautiful garden,” Glilan said.  “I remember Lorellin planting those roses.”

“They are lovely,” Alfirin agreed.  “Perhaps we should picnic out here tomorrow. Adar would like that.”

Aunt Glilan’s eyes widened.  “Not here!  On that little island up the river.  You know the one. It has an ash grove in the center.  Thranduil and Lorellin used to paddle up the river and picnic there all the time before their sons were born.  I am sure Thranduil would enjoy going there again.  And it would be so romantic for the young people.”

Alfirin thought she knew exactly which young people Glilan was talking about, and she doubted that Legolas would see the romance in the situation.  But she did think her father-in-law would like the idea of a picnic on the island.  “That is a good idea, Aunt Glilan. I will ask Ithilden to have someone check on the boats. We have not used them yet this spring.”

“Excellent,” Glilan said.

Alfirin rose and went in search of her husband.  After the mid-day meal, he had gone to Thranduil’s council chamber with his father, some advisors, and the Men of Dale and Esgaroth.  The discussion must have been over, though, for she found him just leaving the palace to go to his office.  When she told him what she wanted, he smiled.  “I have not been to that island in years.  What a good idea.  I will ask Calith to check on the boats.”

“Thank you,” Alfirin said.  “How did things go with the Men?  Is your adar pleased?”

Ithilden grimaced.  “They are difficult. I think Adar is ready to smack them both.  They are all going riding, and I hope the exercise will help settle their tempers.”  He kissed her cheek and set off to the warrior training area while Alfirin returned to the garden.


“I saw Eman along here earlier,” Beliond said.  “I was following Helad and did not have time to learn what Eman was doing, but now that I think of it, I am almost certain I heard the door to the cave slam shut shortly before Eman appeared.”  He scowled.  “Thranduil should never let more than one Man near the stronghold at a time.  I cannot be expected to be everywhere.”

Maltanaur ordinarily found Beliond’s suspicion of Men amusing, but just now he was concerned about what Eman might have locked away in the cave and felt no inclination to smile at all.

They approached the cave in which the boats were stored.  Beliond bent over the lock and frowned.  “Are you sure the Man put this here?  It looks to be of Elven make.  Indeed, it looks like the locks Thranduil has in the palace storeroom.”

“That makes no sense,” Maltanaur said.  “Unless Thranduil had this cave locked for some reason and Eman was snooping around to find out what was in it.”

“I heard the door slam,” Beliond said.  “Eman must have been in here, but how did he get in?”

“I suppose he could have picked the lock,” Maltanaur said.

“You really have to be suspicious of a Man who would do such a thing,” Beliond said. He pulled his dagger out of his boot and set to work picking the lock.  It sprang free, and he pulled the door open.

The two of them paused in the doorway and looked at one another.  “Do you smell that?” Maltanaur asked.

“Yes.  Come. We need to investigate.” Beliond led the way into the cave and Maltanaur followed.  The door swung shut behind them.


Calith strolled along the path, happy to be out of the office and in the woods on such a fine spring day.  Ithilden had been apologetic about sending him on this errand, but everyone else had already left to enjoy the king’s begetting day celebration.  Calith would just check on the boats and report what he found, and then he too would be free.  Perhaps his wife could be persuaded to take a long stroll in the woods.  He felt a warm tingle at the thought.

He drew near the cave entrance and stopped.  What was a padlock doing on the cave door?  It was unlocked, but who had put it there in the first place?  Something was not right.  He rested his hand on the hilt of his belt knife and pulled the door open.

The sound of voices came faintly from the rear of the cave.  “Who is there?” he called.

A pause and then, “Calith?  Is that you?  It is Maltanaur. Come and see what you make of what Beliond and I have found.”

Calith let go of his knife and started into the cave.  Something foul must have crept in here and died, he thought, as the door swung shut behind him.  He made his way past the line of boats to find Maltanaur and Beliond near a pile of rocks against one wall.  Beliond was crouched down, looking at something on the floor, while Maltanaur stood as far to the opposite side of the cave as he could get.  Calith recognized the multi-colored sack Helad of Dale had given Thranduil the previous night.

The stench was stronger here.  Calith breathed through his mouth.  “Is that odor coming from the sack?  What is in it?”

“Rilliums,” Maltanaur said.  “Have you never eaten them?”

“No,” Calith said around the air going in and out.  “My naneth always said it was too easy to undercook them and poison yourself.”  Saliva poured into his mouth, trying to wash away the bite of the fumes passing through it.

Maltanaur grimaced.  “My wife says the same thing, but Thranduil likes them.”

“The only reason he ate them was that he wanted to defy Oropher and prove how daring he was,” Beliond said.  “Surely he stopped doing it once he became king.”

Calith blinked at him.  He did not think he had ever heard anyone speak quite so bluntly about the king.   But then Beliond, Maltanaur, and Thranduil had been friends in their youth.  The two bodyguards probably knew many things about the king that he would not choose to share with his sons, for instance.

“Did Helad give the rilliums to Thranduil last night then?” Calith asked.

“He must have,” Maltanaur said.

Beliond’s eyes narrowed.  “Helad must have found out Thranduil likes them and hopes he poisons himself.”

“I thought you heard Eman coming out of this cave,” Maltanaur said.

“I did.” Beliond frowned.  “I followed Helad all morning, and he never was in here.”

“Thranduil gave the rilliums to Sinnarn to put away last night,” Calith said.  “How would either Man have gotten hold of them again?”

Maltanaur inhaled sharply and then coughed.  “Sinnarn and Calylad were the ones I heard talking about Eman and this cave,” he wheezed.  “Nalden was with them too.  Could they have put the rilliums in here?”

Calith cringed. He had served as Ithilden’s aide for centuries.  He liked and respected him.  But his own son’s admiration of Ithilden’s made him very nervous.  Sinnarn was far too much like his Uncle Eilian for Calith’s comfort.  “Why would they do that?” he asked, but he knew the question was weak.  The boys would do it because it somehow struck them as a good idea even though no one else followed their logic.  What in Arda were they up to?


Nalden hurried along the path.  The games on the Green would start soon, and he did not want to miss them, but he had promised Sinnarn to keep an eye on the cave, and he wanted to show Sinnarn he could be trusted.  As he hurried up to the cave entrance, he was shocked to see that the padlock hung loose from the door handle.  He must not have fastened it correctly.  He put the free end of the lock’s loop through the protruding curve of the door clasp and shoved the lock home.  Then he gave it a light tug. There. All tight.  Pleased with himself, he scrambled up the river bank and leapt into an oak.  He would return to the Green through the trees. That would be much faster than walking.


Beliond pulled the bag’s laces tight and stood up.  He put a hand under the flimsy bag’s bottom but jerked it quickly away again.  Juice from the rilliums had soaked through. If Thranduil could tolerate the smell of these things, then so could he, but there was no point in getting the juice all over his hand. After all, he might touch someone else afterwards, and they might not be as tough as he was.  “Whoever stored the rilliums here, we cannot leave them.  They are too dangerous, and I am still not convinced the Men had nothing to do with their presence.  Come.”

Calith and Maltanaur followed him toward the cave entrance, keeping a distance between him and them.  They were far too fussy, Beliond thought.  A little smell never hurt anyone.  Still, the air outside would be fresher.   He increased his pace toward the door and gave it a shove.

It jerked under his hand but failed to open.  He shoved again, harder this time, but the door continued to defy him.

“What is the matter?” Maltanaur asked.  “Is it stuck?”

Calith made a sound in his throat as if he were going to spit.  “Let me help.”  He moved up next to Beliond and they both pushed.  The door stayed closed, but Beliond heard a metallic rattle.  An unbelievable thought occurred to him.

“Could someone have come along and locked us in?” he asked.

“Surely not,” Maltanaur said with something like panic in his voice.  He leapt forward to pound on the door with his fists.  “Hey!  Anyone!  We are in here!”  Calith joined in pounding and shouting, and after a moment, Beliond threw dignity to the wind and did likewise.

As he did so, the sack of rilliums swung in his hand and slapped wetly against the door.  Beliond heard a soft tearing sound.  The weight of the bag suddenly lessened as something splatted against the floor.

Beliond had sometimes been in thunderstorms where the lightning blinded him and the thunder assaulted his ears.  The stench that now filled the cave did the same sort of thing to his nose.  If a dozen possums had become trapped under a cottage and died and sprouted mushrooms for six months, they would smell like this. 

Maltanaur swore and Calith leaned one hand against the cave wall and vomited.  Beliond started on what he liked to think of as a strategic, if rapid, retreat away from the area just inside the door.  As he did so, he stepped in something very, very slippery.  His feet shot out from under him, and he sat down hard with the stink rising almost visibly all around him.

He could not believe it. Someone had left the rilliums in the cave and closed it with a padlock that they must have known he would pick.  Then the bastards had been heartless enough to lock them all in.  As he sat there, one thought became clear in Beliond’s mind.

Someone was going to pay.


Legolas strolled along the path, staying a careful distance away from Iseniel and trying desperately to think of some way to tell her he was not interested in her.  She too was silent and appeared to be thinking.  He had to come up with some way to put her off before she said something romantic and the situation grew even more awkward.

She drew a deep breath.  “Legolas,” she began, but he cut her off.

“What a glorious spring day,” he babbled.  “It makes me feel like singing.”  He braced himself to put into the effect the desperate stratagem that was the only one to occur to him.  He opened him mouth and began to sing.  More or less.  Mostly less.

The song he chose was one he had heard in an inn where he and Beliond had spent part of a night when they were in Dale the previous year.  Legolas was not sure he understood everything about the song, but the Men in the inn had found it very amusing, which meant Iseniel probably would not, particularly given the way Legolas strained to sing it.  He had to concentrate hard, but he aimed to be just off key with at least half the notes.  Judging from the look on Iseniel’s face, he thought he succeeded.

“Why in Arda are you caterwauling like that?” asked a familiar voice.

With a sigh of relief that quickly turned to embarrassment, Legolas spun to find Eilian just behind them, a wide grin splitting his face.  “Do you need me?” Legolas asked.  He held his breath and hoped Eilian would understand his tone.

Eilian’s eyes flitted from him to Iseniel and back again.  For a heartbeat, he seemed to waver, but then he took pity.  “Yes, I do.  Sorry to interrupt whatever it is you are doing.”

“That is quite all right,” Iseniel said with a haste that was nearly indecent.  “I must be going anyway.”  She hastened back along the path and was soon lost to sight.

“I take it you are trying to discourage her interest in you?” Eilian asked.


“You could just tell her that you like her as a friend,” Eilian said.  His eyes danced.  He knew perfectly well what response “liking as a friend” would probably evoke.

Legolas shuddered.  “I do not want to hurt her feelings, and Aunt Glilan would be disappointed.  It would be much better if Iseniel were the one to decide this is a bad idea.”

“You are growing devious, brat,” Eilian said approvingly.  “I will have to remember that.  Have you seen Maltanaur or Calith?”

Legolas blinked at the abrupt change of topic.  “No.”

“A little while ago, Maltanaur’s wife sent Calylad to ask me if I knew where he was, which I do not.  And Ithilden seems to have mislaid Calith too.  He sent him to check on the condition of the boats in the storage cave, but that was nearly three hours ago, and he is not back yet.”

“Have you been to the cave?”

“No, I was just on my way there when that noise you were making attracted my attention, as it undoubtedly attracted the attention of every dog between here and the Lonely Mountain.  They are all probably howling in response.”

“I was desperate,” Legolas said.  “If you like, I will go with you to check the cave.”

“Meaning you do not want to chance running into Aunt Glilan or Iseniel again,” Eilian said.  “A wise decision.  Come along then.”  They made their way along the path to the boat storage cave.

“Why is it locked?” Legolas asked.  “Did Ithilden order that?”

“Not that I know of,” Eilian said.

They both jumped back as someone began pounding on inside of the door.  “Eilian?  Is that you?” called Maltanaur’s voice.

For a moment, Eilian simply gaped at the door.  “Yes.  Why are you locked in the cave?”

“Get the key, you imbecile!” shouted Beliond.  “Some villain lured us in here with rilliums and then locked the door.”

Legolas looked at Eilian, who was plainly struggling for self control.  Abruptly, Eilian let out a whoop of laughter.  He doubled over with mirth, and to his dismay, Legolas could not help joining him.  The two of the howled, clutched hold of one another, and collapsed on the grass.

“You are in there with rilliums?” Legolas finally managed to gasp.

“I am glad you find this amusing,” Beliond said, his voice thickly laced with threat.

Legolas sobered.  “I do not suppose Calith is in there with you too?”

“I am,” Calith’s voice said.  “And I would appreciate it if you would find a key for the lock.  If one cannot be found, get the smith to come and saw through the metal.”

Legolas and Eilian climbed to their feet, Eilian still giving way to occasional puffs of laughter.  They bent their heads together over the lock.

“It looks like one of Adar’s,” Eilian said.  “I will run back to the palace and see if I can find a key.”

“No need,” Legolas said.  He drew his dagger from his boot and wiggled the tip into the lock.

Eilian looked impressed.  “Are you picking the lock? Where did you learn to do that?”

Legolas shot him a grin.  “If you think I will teach you to do it, think again.”

Footsteps sounds behind them, and Legolas glanced over his shoulder to see Sinnarn, Calylad, and Nalden approaching.  At that moment, he felt the lock give way, and he pulled it free and flung the door open.

A reek like a live thing jumped out of the cave and slammed into them all.  Legolas clapped his hand to his face and backed away.  Beliond, Maltanaur, and Calith stumbled gasping out the cave.  Beliond’s clothes were smeared with some sort of putrid muck.  Glistening black lumps were scattered across the cave’s floor just inside the doorway.

“My rilliums!” Sinnarn cried.

“Your rilliums?” Beliond echoed.  He froze in place, glaring at Sinnarn.

“Yes, I was going to give them to Grandfather and now you have ruined them!”

With a roar, Beliond grabbed a rillium and flung it at Sinnarn.  It splatted against Sinnarn’s chest, making him reel back, brushing frantically at the slime on his chest as if he were trying to drive away a swarm of bees.  Behind him, Nalden’s eyes grew huge.

“Beliond!” cried Calith.  “Get hold of yourself!”

Legolas could not help it.  The look on his nephew’s face was so horrified that despite the smell, he once again bent over laughing.  Next to him, Eilian did the same thing.  Then he felt something smack against his shoulder.  It stank like a thousand unwashed Men crammed sweating into a room where ale was served.  He looked up to find Sinnarn just loosing a rillium in Eilian’s direction.  It hit Eilian on the forehead.

“To Mordor with this!” cried Eilian.  Legolas was already moving.  He and Eilian dove for handfuls of the rilliums and turned simultaneously to pelt their nephew.  Calith hastily grabbed his son and dragged him from the battlefield.  Legolas caught a glimpse of Calylad and Maltanaur standing well to one side, laughing like fools.

Legolas took a second rillium, and in a fit of daring beyond anything he had ever imagined himself to possess, he threw it to hit Beliond on one shoulder.  As if in slow motion, his keeper turned to him with his eyebrows lowered and fire in his gaze.

Legolas, Eilian, Beliond, and Sinnarn were shoving at one another in the cave doorway, trying to grab more missiles, when an authoritative voice said, “What is going on here?”

For a heartbeat, Legolas froze.  He exchanged a wide-eyed look with Eilian.  Then the two of them backed away from the cave entrance to look up at the top of the river bank where a party of riders had paused to watch them.  Most of the party, including the two Men, had moved away from the edge with their hands over their noses, but one tall figure stood glaring down at them.

“Mae govannen, Adar,” Legolas said weakly.

Thranduil ran his gaze over Legolas, Eilian, Sinnarn, and Beliond, who stood in a bedraggled line.  To Legolas’s utter amazement, Thranduil’s mouth twitched in what looked suspiciously like an attempt to avoid laughing.  “Would I be correct in thinking you are throwing rilliums at one another?”

“I got them for you for your begetting day, Grandfather,” Sinnarn cried.  “And now they are all ruined.”

“That was very thoughtful of you, child,” Thranduil said, smiling at Sinnarn.  Eilian elbowed Legolas and rolled his eyes.  Legolas could not help but agree with the unspoken message.  As far as their father was concerned, Sinnarn could do no wrong.  Thranduil looked them all over again.  “I advise you all to bathe well before you go home,” he said and turned away.

The sound of his laughter bubbled over the riverbank as he disappeared.


Legolas climbed the steps to the palace, ignoring the way the guards were eyeing his dripping clothes.  He was sure he had washed all of the rilliums off in the river, but he could not shake the notion that he still reeked.  When he entered the family quarters, he met Iseniel just coming out of the sitting room.  He suppressed a groan.

She looked started at his dripping state, but then she pulled herself erect, glanced over her shoulder as if to make sure the hallway was empty and came toward him with a determined look on her face.  About three yards away, she stopped, wrinkled her nose, and took a pace backward.   “Legolas, I have something I want to say to you.”

He put his hands up to stop her.  His patience with this maiden was at an end.  “Iseniel, please, before you go on, I have something to say to you too, something I should have told you from the start.  You are very nice, and I like you, but I am not interested in a romance just now.”

Her mouth fell open.  “A romance?” she squeaked. “You think I want to engage in a romance with you?  Are you mad?  I have tried to be kind, but I must be honest.  I would not be interested in you if you were the last Elf in Arda.  I can only thank Eru I have someone sensible at home who loves me, even if Glilan does not approve of him.  I approve of him and that is what matters.  You will have to excuse me if I avoid you for the rest of this visit.”

She spun on her heel and marched down the hall to turn into the corridor where the guest rooms were located, leaving him staring after her opening and closing his mouth in a manner he suddenly realized probably made him look like a fish.


Thranduil leaned back in the comfortable chair in his private sitting room, sipping wine, and occasionally chuckling to himself as he recalled the sight of his sons, grandson, and Beliond throwing rilliums at one another.  A knock sounded at his door.  “Come,” he called.

Ithilden entered the room. Thranduil waved him into the chair opposite and held up the flagon of wine inquiringly.  “Yes, please,” Ithilden said. Thranduil poured a cup and handed it to him.

“What did you do with Eman and Helad?” Thranduil asked.  “I thought you were going to try to help them come to better terms.”

Ithilden grinned.  “I found them drinking ale together in a corner of the Great Hall.  I suspect their mutual horror at the scene near the cave has driven them into one another’s good graces.”

“I hope so,” Thranduil said.  “How is Alfirin?”

“She is lying down with a cold cloth on her head,” Ithilden said.  “She had to burn the clothes Sinnarn was wearing.  She asked me to apologize to you.  She wanted to give you an unforgettable begetting day and she fears things got out of hand.”

Thranduil laughed.  “I suppose I will have to speak to Legolas and Eilian about setting a good example for him.  Eilian seems to have deceived Eman in some way.  The Man kept asking me about stablehands.  Moreover, Legolas has upset Glilan.  I should do something about that too.  But not now.  Just now, I am enjoying my begetting day.   The gift from Dale was worthwhile on its own, of course, and I cannot remember when I last laughed so hard.  I think you may tell Alfirin that this is one I will never forget, just as she promised.”

The End

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