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Interrupted Journeys: Part 7 The course of love  by elliska

AN: This is a continuation of a series of stories titled Interrupted Journeys. Parts One through Seven have already been posted. It should not be necessary to read those parts of the series to understand this story, though you might understand the characters a bit better if you did.

This part of the story is set in Legolas's childhood. He and his cousins and friends are at the age when they are trying to figure out ellyth. Poor things. ;-)



Think not you can direct the course of love,

for love, if it finds you worthy, 

directs your course.


Gibran Kahlil Gibran

Chapter One: Flirtations and frustrations

TA 1981

Legolas pivoted on his left foot, half-voiding Galithil's attack and half-deflecting his cousin's practice blade with a hanging guard. It was not an elegant move. It certainly was not one that would earn Langon's praise. But it did have the virtue of preventing another bruise. Moreover, it should leave him in a good position for a counter attack regardless of where Galithil's charge left him. Legolas gathered himself and began to swing his sword in a cutting arch, aiming at Galithil's exposed shoulder.

Laughter--giggling really--from the far edge of the training field caught Legolas's attention and he glanced in its direction. Then he scowled. The giggling elleth was not Maidhien, as Legolas had expected it to be. Maidhien often watched he and Galithil train and she teased Galithil whenever he made a misstep. That happened rarely enough. But Maidhien was not laughing at Galithil now. Eirienil was giggling in response to something the First Year she currently favored was saying. That was bad enough. Neither Legolas nor Galithil liked that particular First Year.  But to make matters worse, Aewen was with Eirienil and she was giggling too. The First Year's friend, another First Year, was grinning at her. 

Legolas started to turn his attention back to his attack, but then he froze and glared at the ellyth and the First Years even harder. First Year Number Two had his hand on Aewen's waist. It looked like he was trying to lure her off somewhere.

The ellyth were supposed to be waiting for Galithil, Berior and Legolas to finish their sword practice. They were supposed to go swimming after it and Legolas had been looking forward to that swim all afternoon. If the First Years dragged Aewen and Eirienil off, he was going to be...well he was not really sure. Angry? Jealous? Both? Probably both.

Thwack!

Before he knew what happened, Legolas found himself on his knees, practice sword on the ground in front of him, clutching his calf where Galithil had struck him full force.

"Well that serves you right!" Langon's voice boomed from above him, speaking over Galithil's apology.

Legolas winced. The upcoming lecture was going to be far more painful than the blow Galithil had dealt him. Especially since he could not deny that he deserved it. With effort, he picked up his practice sword and straightened to face Langon. He could not help but favor his still throbbing leg, placing no weight on it at all. He also could not help but notice that the giggling and chatter on the edge of the training field had fallen silent. Perfect, Legolas thought. The only thing better than facing the sword master's temper was doing so publicly, with the First Years and the ellyth watching.

"One," Langon began, holding up a finger, "watch your range. Either close on your opponent or stay outside. Two," he continued, his voice rising a level, "Stay on balance. Either void the attack or block it. If you were on balance, you could have properly voided that attack. Three, if you had to block, you chose the correct block, but why did you not follow through. Tell me that, Legolas. Why did you not finish your follow through."

Legolas's throat convulsed. He knew perfectly well that Langon already knew he had been distracted. And he knew exactly how much trouble he was in for allowing that. He steeled himself and met the sword master's glare directly. "I was distracted, Master Langon," he said, serving up the expected response as respectfully as he could.

Langon gave him a shove that forced him to stumble back on his sore leg. It cramped painfully, but Legolas knew better than to react. Instead, he drew a long breath to steady himself for Langon's continued lecture.

"Distractions will get you killed," he yelled. "If Galithil had been an orc, the least that would have happened is that you would have lost a leg. And if, by the grace of the Valar, the orc that took your leg did not finish you off with another blow, such a wound might kill you anyway. Focus! And if you are, as yet, too young to focus, do not come onto my training field until you can manage it. Do you understand that?"

"Yes, Master Langon. I understand. It will not happen again," Legolas replied, trying to look very serious. Langon threatened on a regular basis to stop training he and his cousins. He had been ordered to train them by the King, despite the fact that they were all too young to join the training program, but Legolas, Galithil and Berior all had concluded long ago that Langon was just the type to not bother to obey Thranduil if it suited him better not to. They did not care to be in the center of that sort of conflict. And they truly wanted the sword lessons. So they strove to stay on Langon's good side, at least as much as anyone could.

Langon scowled at him. "Take five laps around the field. The lot of you. Then get out of my sight for the day."

With that he snatched their practice swords away from them and stalked off towards the weapons shed.

Legolas grimaced. "Sorry," he said quietly, as he and his cousins jogged off towards the edge of the field to make their laps.
Galithil and Berior only shrugged.

"I have had enough of Langon for today anyway," Galithil responded. He made sure to speak quietly enough that Langon had no hope of overhearing him. "I am ready to go swimming. And we do not have to practice again until after the festival. By then Langon will have forgotten about this."

"That will not make him less cross," Berior responded. "He always finds something to be cross about."

Legolas agreed with that assessment, but at the moment he did not care. He only hoped the five laps would help loosen up his sore calf.

Aewen and Eirienil put their hands on their hips as Legolas and his cousins jogged past them without stopping. Anastor, Noruil and Brethil, who were also waiting with them, rolled their eyes skyward at the added delay.

"Five laps and then we can go swimming," Berior called back to them.

Legolas's back stiffened involuntarily when the First Years laughed.

*~*~*

"Stop! Stop it! Turn me loose!" Aewen and Eirienil squealed between giggles and gasped breathes. Their pleas were nearly drowned by the splashing of water.

Much to the younger ellyn's disgust, Eirienil's First Year and his friend had invited themselves along to go swimming and now one of them was holding Eirienil and Aewen tightly against himself in chest deep water, arms about their waists, while the other splashed them wildly. The ellyth were writhing this way and that, trying to escape without much real effort. Both First Years were grinning broadly. Especially the one currently holding the ellyth.

Legolas and Berior stood to one side of this spectacle watching it silently. Anastor and Noruil stood to their other side, watching with narrowed eyes. Legolas had suspected for some time that Anastor fancied Eirienil, though he could never persuade him to admit it. But here was certain proof of it. Galithil was holding Maidhien on his lap in the hot spring only a short distance away and Anastor had not even noticed. He was too busy fuming over the First Years. That was almost enough to make Legolas forget how much he was fuming himself. At least he had a chance with Aewen. They had been friends since their early childhood, and all this summer they had been dancing closer and closer to becoming more than just friends. Anastor did not have the slightest hope of ever winning Eirienil, not even if he somehow managed to single-handedly save the forest one day.

"Here!" Anastor finally exclaimed. "Enough of that. You will drown them!" He reached for Eirienil's arm and pulled her away from the First Year.

She looked at him coolly for a brief moment and then floated over to the First Year that had been splashing them. He offered her an arm and she took it with a smile, moving much closer to him than she would have done if her father had been present.

Aewen also took advantage of the opportunity to free herself, but instead of taking the arm that the other First Year offered her, she ignored him and swam over to Legolas.  Pretending to hide behind him, she put her arms about his neck. "Save us, Legolas," she begged playfully, still giggling.

From the corner of his eyes, Legolas could tell that she was grinning at the other First Year, but for once he did not care. Indeed, he did not have much thought for anything else other than how soft Aewen felt, pressed against him as she was.

Berior raised an eyebrow and gave Legolas a knowing smirk.

Legolas pointedly ignored him and focused on the good fortune given to him. "We should go sit in the hot spring for a while," he suggested, turning enough to slip an arm around Aewen's waist to hold her against him. To his delight, she nodded and left her arms around his neck as he half-swam, half-walked in the direction of the pool.

"Yes, I think Galithil and Maidhien need a chaperon," Eirienil added, a little too loudly.

That comment had the desired effect, causing Anastor to look away from her, spinning his head instead towards the pool.

"Mind your behavior with my sister," he demanded, pointing at Galithil as everyone swam towards them.

Maidhien shook her head and moved out of Galithil's lap, but not by much. A thin piece of cloth might have fit between them.

"You keep them in line, Anastor," Berior teased.

Anastor looked as if he intended to say more, but he lost his chance when Maidhien stood up and began to climb out of the pool. Legolas automatically averted his gaze and as he did, he saw Eirienil and Aewen scowl at Maidhien's boldness.

"It is really time to dry off and go home for dinner," Maidhien declared, heading towards the screen of bushes where the ellyth normally stood to ring out their shifts.

"Maidhien!" Legolas called after her. He glanced up in her direction as he spoke, and noticed that Galithil was frankly watching her. So were the First Years. He frowned. "We still have a few moments to sit and talk," he said, obviously hoping she would come back. He had not yet released Aewen and she had not made any effort to pull away.

"You spoil my fun and I will spoil yours," Maidhien retorted as she slipped behind the bushes.

Aewen loosed a dramatic sigh and pulled away from Legolas. "It does not matter if we go home now. We will have from now until the festival to..." she hesitated, as if searching for a word. "To talk," she finally concluded with a look that Legolas hoped he was reading correctly--one that seemed to imply she might like to sit with him a do a bit more than talk. Then she fixed him with a stern look. "No lessons, right? And no more training? Not until after the festival?"

"Yes," Legolas confirmed with a nod. "We are free until after the festival."

"And you can still go camping?" Aewen pressed. She had asked about this everyday since they had all won their parents' permission to go on the camping trip. The repetition might have annoyed Legolas if anyone else had nagged him so. His cousins were certainly annoyed, if their exasperated expressions were any indication. But Legolas saw her constant questioning as a sign that she wanted to spend time with him. And that was certainly good.

"Yes," Galithil fairly growled as he hauled himself out of the pool. "For the last time, we are going camping. Tomorrow. For pity sake stop asking about it."

Berior, Anastor and Noruil moved to follow him, but Legolas lingered in the water, still enjoying Aewen's closeness.

"You and your parents are going camping?" Eirienil's First Year asked, emphasizing the word 'parents.' "I would not have thought the King and his advisors would have time to go camping, what with the festival in a few days and all their other duties."

Legolas glared at him. "We are going by ourselves," he answered coolly.

"To the forest's edge," Aewen added, excitedly. "The King is letting us take some horses from the training program, since you will not be using them this week, and with horses, we can easily make it to the forest's edge."

The First Year raised both eyebrows.

"We are taking the horses, but we are not going all the way to the forest's edge," Galithil corrected, looking down at them from the riverbank.

"But we have six whole days to camp. We can make it to the forest edge and back," Aewen argued, taking a few steps toward the bank. "It would be an adventure. And our parents need not know about it."

"But our guards will know," Galithil retorted. "And even if we could somehow convince them to let us go and not tell our parents..."

"Which you could not," Tulus and Colloth's voices said in unison from somewhere in the trees above them. Aewen quickly ducked back down in the water until it covered her up to her chin.

"...there is no possibility that the Eastern Patrol and the Path Guard would not notice how far we went," Galithil continued. "They would report it to their captains, who would report it to Dolgailon, who would report it to our parents. It is not going to happen, Aewen, so put it out of your head or we will not take you camping."

That threat made Aewen stand again, her hands on her hips. "You cannot stop me from going where ever I please, Galithil," she declared.

"And that is why we must be able to trust that you will not do something stupid like bolt off on a horse to the forest edge," he countered calmly.

Aewen loosed a frustrated noise and glared at him.

"Aewen is going," Legolas said quietly, coming to stand beside her. "And she will stay with us. Now stop arguing." He cast his cousin a warning look to silence him.

Galithil turned his back to them both.

"Come on," Legolas said quietly, taking Aewen's arm to help her up the bank. "Let's go dry off."

Everyone climbed up the bank but Aewen. She caught Legolas's arm, holding him back.

"Make Tulus and Colloth come out of the trees," she whispered.

Legolas fought not to roll his eyes. She had no problem with he and his cousins seeing her in her shift. She did not even seem to mind those First Years seeing her. But Tulus and Colloth always had to stay where she could see they had their backs fully turned. He drew a breath to call to them, but they both leapt to the ground next to Galithil before he could speak. They pointedly turned their backs to the river and began speaking with Galithil. Lecturing him, no doubt, despite his earlier assurance that they had no intention of going to the forest's edge. Legolas escorted Aewen the rest of the way out of the river and she hurried off with Eirienil to the screen of bushes to dry off her shift. Legolas preferred the way it clung to her when it was wet.

"I wonder if Glilivan would let us take a few days off before the festival so we could go camping with you," Eirienil's First Year said, mostly to himself. "He might not mind."

Leoglas stifled a snort. He knew exactly what Glilivan's response to a trainee asking for time off would be. "I think you should definitely ask him," he responded, nodding his encouragement.

*~*~*


Legolas turned over the page he had just finished reading and added it to the stack of papers to his left. He straightened the stack automatically while continuing to read the next page. The Eastern Patrol's daily report had been particularly long for the last few days. Legolas knew perfectly well that was because they had been ordered to do extra patrols since he and his cousins and friends were going camping tomorrow. That was just fine with Legolas, so long as they did not find any evidence of orcs or spiders or men or dwarves or anything else to report to his father. He finished the last page of the report and picked up his quill to write a summary of it. There was nothing to write but a list of the places the warriors had patrolled and the statement that they had seen nothing to report--just what both Legolas and his father wanted to hear.

The door to Thranduil's office opened and the guard admitted a warrior. 

Legolas and Galithil both stopped writing and looked over at him. Thranduil and Hallion looked up from their work as well, greeting him.

"I have just come from the border, my lord. My fellows and I were to meet with the Men delivering supplies to the eastern edge of the Path. We met them, and they had the supplies, but they said that they expected payment with this shipment. They refuse to turn their goods over to us without payment, but no one has sent us any coins to pay them with," the warrior explained. "My lieutenant sent me for instructions."

Galithil grinned and nudged Legolas under the table with his foot. He derived a twisted sort of delight at seeing his uncle's temper when it was directed at Men or Dwarves.

And Thranduil did not disappoint. "We agreed to pay them after their last delivery, not their first," he responded through a clenched jaw.

The warrior straightened his tunic and then ran his hands down its front. "I do not know anything about that, my lord. I only know what the Men told me. They said they want paid now, " he repeated, shifting from foot to foot as he spoke.

Thranduil frowned severely, but before he could say more, Hallion stepped between him and the warrior. "Thank you for delivering their message. Tell your lieutenant that we will send someone to manage the Men," he said quietly and he gestured towards the door with his chin.

The warrior smiled at him gratefully, sketched a quick bow and all but fled the room.

Thranduil watched him leave with a scowl. "Who do you propose we send to 'manage' the Men?" he asked the moment the office door closed again. "And how shall we 'manage' them?" I am not paying for goods until they are delivered."

"Of course not, my lord," Hallion responded. "They should be delivering half of what we contracted to purchase, so we will deliver half their payment. If they do not like that, then they can keep their goods."

Thranduil shook his head and seemed prepared to say more.

"But they are delivering the salt," Legolas interrupted. "Nana will need that after the festival to salt the boars and deer that we do not eat during the festival. So that the meat will be ready for the winter stores."

Hallion shrugged. "There is more than one spice trader in Esgaroth," he replied.

"Still, who will we send, Hallion?" Thranduil repeated. "If we send the half payment with one of the warriors and the Men refuse to take it--and you know they will--we will have that warrior back here asking for more coins or more instructions. We need someone who can negotiate with the Men and there is no one to send. Lindomiel is in the north, managing the berry harvest. She will not be back for at least two more days. Celonhael, Golwon, Engwe and Amglaur have all gone on the hunt for the festival. Dolgailon is visiting the Western border and will not be back until the festival. Limmiel and Arthiel are needed here to manage the preparations for the festival until Lindomiel returns. I cannot possibly spare you. And if you think I am going myself, you are mistaken."

Hallion smiled at that. "It would serve the Men right for demanding to alter our bargain," he commented under his breath. Then he grew more serious. "Isteth or Ollwen could probably be spared from the preparations from the festival," he said.

Golwon and Celonhael's wives were the only members of the family that Thranduil had not already mentioned.

Thranduil shook his head. "They have never dealt with Men. Or with trade."

"And Men have an odd attitude towards dealing with ellyth under the best of circumstances," Hallion agreed. Then he turned towards Legolas. "How did you know what the Men were delivering, Legolas?" he asked quietly.

"It was in the Eastern Patrol's report that I summarized yesterday. The captain mentioned he had dispatched some warriors and a lieutenant to meet the Men. And it was mentioned in nana's kitchen order from last month. I copied that order too," he replied.

"So you are familiar with the quantities we are expecting? And the price?" Hallion asked.

Legolas nodded and his eyes widened slightly as he recognized the reason for Hallion's questions. Galithil gave him another nudge under the table. He was trying to conceal it, but he looked plainly excited. Legolas turned his father. Fortunately, Thranduil was shaking his head again.

"Legolas is still a child, Hallion. I am not sending children to negotiate trade agreements."

Legolas loosed the breath he had been holding. Under any other circumstances, he would be bitterly disappointed with his father's decision. But in this case, he did not want anything to get in the way of his camping trip.

"Legolas is every bit as close to adulthood as many of the messengers the Men of Esgaroth and Dale send to us," Hallion countered.

"They are also children," Thranduil interrupted.

"But old enough to serve their realms in the eyes of Men," Hallion retorted. "So they will think nothing of Legolas's age, if they even recognize he is under age. Moreover, Legolas could not be mistaken for anyone but the Elvenking's son. The Men will think twice before arguing with him over the half payment. If the Men try to refuse the half payment, they will have no doubt Legolas has the authority to cancel the agreement altogether and send them back to Esgaroth with nothing."

"And if it comes to that, I do not want Legolas going into Esgaroth to buy salt from some other trader. He has never been to Esgaroth and he simply does not have the skill as yet to negotiate such an agreement."

"Of course not, my lord. By the time it comes to that, if it does, Lindomiel will be back from the northern villages and she can go herself. But if we send Legolas now and the Men accept the half payment, by the time Lindomiel gets back to the capital, the salt will be waiting for her." Hallion paused. "Your choice is Isteth, Ollwen, Legolas or myself, my lord," he prompted when the King did not argue further. "And Legolas--along with Tulus and Colloth--was already prepared to travel east to camp with his friends. It would only be a short detour in his plans."

Thranduil studied Legolas for a long moment. "Very well," he finally said. "Tulus and Colloth will be there, after all. Legolas may take the half payment to the forest border and try to convince the Men to take it. Your naneth would prefer that they do accept it, Legolas. For some reason she prefers dealing with these spice traders, though at the moment I cannot imagine why, so do make your best effort to convince them to take the payment." He paused for emphasis. "If they will not take it, send them back to Esgaroth, but do not go there yourself. Your naneth is more knowledgeable about the traders in Esgaroth than anyone else. She will choose the new one."

Legolas stared at his father silently with his mouth partially open. "Can Isteth not go?" he finally said.

That earned him a hard kick in the shin and an astonished glare from Galithil. Thranduil's expression was not much different.

"I beg your pardon, Legolas?" he replied softly.

Legolas had no difficulty recognizing that tone. Realizing his mistake too late, he quickly tried to think of some response that he might give that was both the truth and something that might appease his father.

"I would have thought you would be pleased to have this duty," Hallion said when Legolas did not immediately speak.

Legolas slumped a little. There was nothing for it. "I would." He hesitated again. "Normally," he continued. "But we have planned this camping trip for a long time," he finally admitted. From the corner of his eye, he saw Galithil cringe and shake his head.

Thranduil frowned. "You said yourself that we need the salt to preserve meat for the winter stores. You obviously recognize the significance of this purchase," he said.

Legolas was certain he heard sympathy in his father's voice. He also heard resolve.

"Your friends can go with you to the forest border, if their parents allow it," Thranduil continued. "And after you deliver the payment to the Men, you may certainly still camp until the festival begins. I do not normally ask you to perform such duties, but at the moment I have no one else to ask, as you just heard. I need for you to do this."

Legolas nodded. "I will take the payment, adar," he affirmed, but he was not entirely able to conceal his disappointment.

That earned him a scowl from his father and a somewhat confused look from Hallion. Legolas did not care. Right now he was only concerned with how he was going to explain this change in plans to Aewen.

*~*~*
Elleth/Ellyth -- Female elf/elves

Ellon/Ellyn -- Male elf/elves

Adar/ada -- Father/dad

Naneth/nana -- Mother/mum

See, what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love!

Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet Act III, scene iii

Chapter Two: To kill your joys with love

Legolas, Galithil, Berior and Eirienil jogged across the Green and into the forest on the path that led to Anastor's cottage. Legolas should have been excited--both at the prospect of the camping trip and the meeting with the Men--but he was not. Quite the opposite. In fact, he was so worried about Aewen's reaction to their change in plans that he wished there was a way to comply with his father's request while not telling the others about it at all. As they approached the cottage, he sighed and tried to derive some pleasure from the one amusing sight he was likely to see this morning--two additional members of the morning work detail, chopping firewood for use in the stronghold: Eirienil's First Year and First Year Number Two. They had obviously taken Legolas's advice and asked for time off from the training program. At least they would not able to do more to spoil this trip for Legolas.

Legolas and his cousins were the last of the children to arrive at Anastor's cottage, just as Legolas had intended. Explaining what his father was requiring him to do and listening to his friends' complaints was something he wanted to get over with all at once, not repeat with each new group of arrivals. Everyone, including Dannenion, who was sitting on the cottage steps helping Anastor hurriedly finish fletching arrows to take on their trip, turned at the sound of their arrival.

"It is about time!" Anastor exclaimed, hands on his hips. "We thought you would never come. We should hurry. By dusk, I want to be where we saw those tracks the last time we went hunting. The huge ones. I want to try for that buck again this trip."

Legolas looked away from Anastor and gathered himself to explain why they would not be that far north of the Path, at least not tonight.

"What?" Anastor asked, before he could speak. "Let me guess. You have different plans and, of course, we will all do want you want. As always."

Legolas scowled at that, but still could not find the words to tell them about the Men, especially since Aewen was now looking at him warily.

"What is wrong, Legolas?" Brethil asked.

"And what is in the little bag?" Noruil added, eying the purse tied to Legolas's belt. It jingled.

The answer to that question was as good a way to start this conversation as any, Legolas decided. "Gold coins," he responded bluntly.

The other children laughed until they noticed Legolas appeared serious.

"What is going on?" Maidhien demanded, looking at Galithil.

Galithil grinned at her. "We have to go to the border. To pay some Men for a delivery they are making."

"So you cannot camp?" Aewen asked.

Her disappointed exclamation was almost drowned out by the other children's questions.

"Can we see the coins?" Noruil asked, taking a step towards Legolas.

"Men!" Anastor cried at the same time.

"All the way to the border?" Brethil asked, speaking over all of them. "We agreed we would not go that far. My adar would never have given permission if we had told him we were gong that far."

Legolas looked at Dannenion, the one parent present, and was grateful they had chosen to gather at his cottage for their departure. Dannenion never cared much what Anastor and Maidhien did. His response to the fact that they were going to the forest border was simply to shake his head and continue fletching arrows. Brethil was right. If they had been speaking in front of his father, they would have been in for at least an hour of convincing him that they would be safe traveling that far since Colloth and Tulus were with them. Brethil normally won all such debates with a well-placed usage of the argument 'Well, the King judges it is safe for Legolas and Galithil to go.' And Legolas was certain that the same argument would have won Crithad over this morning. But then Crithad would have sent them to Aewen's cottage to secure her father's permission as well and the whole scene would have been repeated, wasting even more of their precious camping time. It was bad enough to argue about it once with his friends now.

"Only I have to go all the way to the border," Legolas replied, answering Brethil's question in an effort to avoid facing Aewen for just a little longer. "Adar has sent me to make payment to the Men because there is no one else to send. But you do not have to go all the way with me. We could set up our camp where we were planning on setting it up anyway and I could just leave for a bit, go deal with the Men, and then come back. It need not affect everyone else's trip at all."

"We are going all the way to the border with you, Legolas," Anastor replied excitedly. And Noruil nodded.

Legolas frowned. Men who were expecting full payment and were about to receive half payment would be bad enough without Anastor and Noruil to complicate matters.

"You stay away from those Men," Dannenion interjected, pointing an arrow at Anastor and then swiveling it to point at Noruil. "Tricky, unpredictable, treacherous lot they all are and I do not want you anywhere near them,"

Anastor and Noruil nodded innocently in response and their expressions made Legolas shake his head. The same look would have prompted Thranduil to lock up anyone he saw wearing it. But Legolas was grateful for Dannenion's words at any rate. Tulus and Colloth would take his statement as an order to keep Anastor and Noruil away from the Men and that could only be good.

"The point of the trip was to have fun together," Aewen finally piped up. "I do not want to be anywhere near Men. And my adar would not want me anywhere near them either. Legolas, you promised you would be able to just spend time with us, without lessons and training and other duties."

Legolas frowned. He had promised that. Problem was that he only realized now that it was the sort of promise he could not really keep. "Dealing with the Men should not take much time from our trip," he tried to assure her, not really expecting her to be much appeased.

"You were the one who wanted to go all the way to the border yesterday," Noruil interrupted to add. "Here is our chance. Tulus and Colloth have orders to take us there. We can go and not be in trouble at all."

Aewen contemplated that silently.

It was a good argument after all. Precisely the one Legolas had been planning to use. Although he had intended to deliver it a bit more politely.

"We have orders to take the King's son to the border so that he might represent this realm in trade matters with the Men," Tulus cut over any remaining argument. All the children looked at him and then at Legolas. Legolas returned his guard's gaze fixedly, trying to ignore Anastor and Noruil's snorts and Maidhien and Brethil's wide-eyed stares. Aewen, he noticed, was not looking at him at all. "I do not have orders to take the lot of you anywhere at all, so do nothing to interfere with Legolas's business. Understood?"

"Of course, Tulus," Anastor hastened to answer. As he spoke, he sidled up next to Legolas and gave a sharp tug on the purse on his belt.

Legolas had expected that. The purse was tied very securely.

"I will go get the horses," Aewen said quietly. She glanced at Eirienil and walked towards the barn without another word. Eirienil looked apologetically at Legolas and followed her friend, mouthing the phrase 'I will try to calm her down' as she went.

"She will come around, Legolas. You will see," Galithil reassured him. "Once she sees we are still going to have fun. And once she gets all the way to the forest edge. That will be exciting."

Legolas shrugged. There was nothing he could do about it.

"Maybe we can impress her with our hunting," Brethil suggested.

Maidhien laughed out loud at that. "Ellyth are not impressed by rabbits skewered on arrows Brethil."

Brethil glared at her and turned his back to her.

Galithil grinned. "Maybe find her some flowers, Legolas," Galithil suggested. "She would probably be more impressed with flowers than a dead rabbit, that is true."

Maidhien took Galithil's hand. "Yes, flowers are very nice," she agreed.

Dannenion was fitting the arrows he had fletched into Anastor's quiver during that exchange. When Maidhien took Galithil's hand, Dannenion's face contorted into an angry scowl and he drew a breath to speak. To order Galithil to keep his hands off his daughter, as he always did if he caught them anywhere near each other. But he cut himself off suddenly and glanced over to the window in Maidhien's room. Legolas followed his gaze. There was a vase of flowers on the window sill. Legolas looked at the vase more closely. It was one of Tavoren's vases. One of the style of vases that she made for the King's family. Legolas looked from the vase to Galithil.

So did Dannenion. Then he stalked over to the window and snatched the vase from the sill.

"Put that back!" Maidhien shouted, rushing over and making a grab for the vase.

Dannenion evaded her easily and thrust the vase in Galithil's face. He did it forcefully enough to earn Colloth's attention. The guard went to stand directly next to his charge. "Did you give these to Maidhien?" Dannenion demanded.

"No, he did not," Maidhien answered quickly, making another grab for the vase.

Dannenion held it above his head, out of her reach.

Galithil pressed his lips together and said nothing, so Dannenion repeated his question. "You answer me! Are you responsible for these flowers?"

"Yes, I am," Galithil responded, looking apologetically at Maidhien.

Dannenion's eyes narrowed and he turned the vase over sharply, dumping the flowers at Galithil's feet. Then he took a step closer to Galithil, stepping on the flowers and grinding them into the grass as he did. "I told you over a thousand times that you are not welcome to court my daughter..." he began. And that was true. Legolas had been present to hear such an argument at least one thousand times. Yet Galithil had never been deterred.

Dannenion was poised to continue yelling when he noticed some folded papers that had fallen from the vase with the flowers. They were damp now, splashed by the water that had been in the lower portion of the vase. Apparently the papers had been stuffed higher up in the neck of the vase, above the water. Maidhien and Galithil both tried to grab them, but Dannenion got to them first.

"Those are mine," Maidhien protested, grabbing the one her father was unfolding and managing to tear a bit of it away from him.

Galithil, in the meantime, took a step back, away from Dannenion. His face was grim, lips drawn in a tight line, gaze fixed straight forward.

It was not until Dannenion's fist convulsed around the papers that Legolas caught on to what they must be--love letters! Legolas fervently prayed that Galithil had had the good sense to not put anything too compromising into a letter. Then he blinked and studied his cousin more closely.  What compromising things had he done to mention in a letter!

Colloth had apparently figured out what the papers were as well. Or, at the very least, several yen of serving as a guard had taught him to recognize danger when he saw it. He stepped forward, the better to shield Galithil from Dannenion's gathering rage.

"What is the meaning of this!" Dannenion shouted, waving the fragment of the letter he had scanned in Galithil's face.

It occurred to Legolas that it was a pity that Dannenion could read.

Colloth moved to grasp Dannenion's arm, but Galithil stepped forward and shook his head. "This needs to be dealt with, Colloth," he said quietly.

"No, Galithil," Maidhien said, trying to step between him and her father.

Dannenion grabbed her arm and pulled her aside so sharply that even Legolas instinctively took a step forward in her defense.

"Leave her out of this, Dannenion," Galithil said softly. "This is between you and me. I love her and I am courting her. That cannot come as such a surprise to you. Please explain to me why you object so strongly..."

That was the beginning of a proper little speech. Legolas recognized it as well rehearsed, even if Dannenion might not know Galithil well enough to do the same. And under the right circumstances, it might have had the hope of initiating a dialogue. But there was no possibility it would do so today.

Dannenion shook the letter in his closed fist in Galithil's face. "You stay away from my daughter. You are not welcome to court her. You never will be. No member of your family is welcome to become part of my family. Ever. Get out of my yard." Then he turned to Maidhien. "Get in the cottage," he ordered, dragging her in that direction, by the arm that he still had not released. "You are not going anywhere with him."

Maidhien tried to protest, but in vain. She was pulled, fighting every step of the way, into the cottage. The door slammed behind her. Voices could still be plainly heard through the door all the way in the yard.

Galithil took a step towards the cottage.

Both Colloth and Anastor stopped him with a hand on each shoulder.

"She should not have to face that alone. I am as much a party to it as she is, and if Dannenion is going to treat someone in that manner, better he take it out on me than her," he argued.

"He will only yell," Anastor said. To Legolas's astonishment, he was not berating Galithil as he normally did about his sister. "She is good at yelling back at him. She can take it. But if you go in there, it will fuel his anger and make him yell all the longer. Let him get it out of his system."

Galithil looked doubtfully at the cottage door.

"He will yell for a while and then put her in her room and she will leave through the window. She always does. You know that," Anastor said, still holding on to Galithil's shoulder.

"Yes, and it is me she usually comes to. I am not going camping," Galithil replied.

"Of course you are. And so is she. As soon as she escapes. She will expect you to be with us. Not here in the capital," Anastor replied.

Galithil looked at him for a long moment and turned his gaze to the cottage door. Finally he relented and moved to pick up his pack and bow.

"Do you truly think she will follow us, Anastor?" Colloth asked, and Legolas understood why. If she did, and Dannenion followed her and found her with Galithil, he might be angry enough to do something more than yell at that point.

Anastor shrugged. "Yes. And then when she comes back, she will be restricted to her room until winter and she will have to climb through her window whenever she wants to do anything with us. It is nothing we have not done before. We should get out of the yard before Adar comes back out."

Colloth and Tulus exchanged a glance, but they neither did nor said anything as the children filed quietly towards the barn to get their horses.

*~*~*

"I am a member of this court. I am entitled to see him if I wish. Now you let me in there, curse you!" a voice shouted from the hall. At the same time, the door to the office flew open.

Normally, if the door to his office burst open in such a manner, Thranduil would already be standing, knife in his hand, ready to face whoever had forced his way in. Normally, Hallion would be standing in front of him, knife also drawn. Normally, the guard at the door would be throwing himself on any such attacker, no matter how badly injured he already was. But everyone had already recognized Dannenion in one of his rages. Thranduil and Hallion had not even lifted their eyes from their reading. And the guard stood, sighing loudly, in the open doorway.

"My apologies, my lord. He would not stop," he said.

Still reading, Thranduil simply waved his hand and the guard closed the door.

Dannenion's fist slammed down on the paper Thranduil was reading. "You look at this!" he demanded. "You look at this and tell me the meaning of it! And then you can explain to me where he has carried off my daughter and what you intend to do about it!"

"Remove your fist from in front of my face, Dannenion, or I will remove your fist from the end of your arm," Thranduil replied. The calmness of his voice took some of the sting from his threat, but his brow furrowed angrily when the fist only waved closer yet to his nose, the paper in it all but hitting him.

"Look at what your foster son has done, Thranduil! Now I mean it! I will not tolerate this. I demand that you do something about him!" Dannenion continued.

Thranduil leaned back and then stood, looking at Dannenion for the first time since he had burst into the office. The sight of him made Thranduil pause. These were not Dannenion's typical histronics. He was well and truly angry.

"What, precisely, do you believe Galithil has done?" he asked, reaching for the paper that was still fluttering around his face.

Dannenion's agitated breathing was the only sound in the room as Thranduil read. A poem. A fairly decently composed one at that, even if the subject was well worn. It compared an elleth to a flower. He read on. It did include a rather unfortunate verse likening the elleth's skin to the softness of flower petals. Yes, Thranduil could see how that line might anger the father of a daughter just a bit. He had a passing thought that he was glad to have a son. He reached the end of the letter and frowned. "Meet me by the waterfall tonight," is how the poem ended. And it was undeniably written in Galithil's hand. Well, this confrontation was long in the making. Better slay this dragon now rather than later.

Thranduil looked up to meet Dannenion's gaze evenly. "It surely does not come as a surprise to you that our children are courting?" he asked, offering Dannenion the poem.

Dannenion snatched from his hands and gaped at him, his mouth opening and closing and only blowing out incoherent puffs of air. "You knew this was happening and you did nothing? You knew and you did not see fit to tell me?" he finally managed to ask.

Thranduil sat back down at the meeting table and gestured for Dannenion to join him. "Dannenion, they are constantly together. Hardly to be separated. You could scarcely argue Galithil has conducted a secret affair with your daughter."

Dannenion's fist slammed down upon the table hard enough to make the ink jar slosh ink. "I have told him repeatedly to stay away from my daughter, and this is how he obeys me?"

"This is how he obeys his heart," Thranduil replied. "And your daughter's heart, apparently, if she saw fit to keep the letter rather then burn it, or return it to him."

"Your foster son is not welcome to court my daughter. You make that plain to him," Dannenion demanded. And he turned to leave the room.

"I have made it plain to him that I feel it will be difficult to win your consent," Thranduil answered his retreating back. "Though I do require him to win it before he may marry her."

Dannenion froze with his hand on the door knob. He turned, his mouth again popping open and closed. "You cannot possibly approve of such a...an unsuitable match."

Thranduil raised his eyebrows. "I think they are very well matched. Both of them are very bold and direct. Maidhien thinks a bit more carefully before diving into a situation than Galithil does, but frankly, Galithil is more knowledgeable about most situations. So between the two of them, they might make a good decision or two. And they share a good many interests--Maidhien's desire to be a forester, for example. Galithil would do that himself if he did not have other responsibilities. But Arthiel has agreed to apprentice Maidhien..." Thranduil drifted off when it became apparent from Dannenion's expression that this was all news to him. "You did not know that Maidhien was working with Arthiel and Master Ruscuil?"

Dannenion frowned and shook his head. "And it is irrelevant if she is," he said, stalking back over to the table. "Common interests aside, my daughter has no place in your family. The very idea is absurd."

"I admit, I had some reservations initially, though none stemmed from Maidhien. I have always liked her, from the moment I met her. Your family's history with mine is certainly an issue. Galithil recognized that as well and expressed proper concern over it..."

"What does Galithil know about our history?" Dannenion interrupted.

"Everything I know about it," Thranduil replied smoothly. He enjoyed watching Dannenion's jaw drop this time. "But Galithil and I agree that Maidhien has nothing to do with your past crimes, since she was not even born at the time. And she has never displayed any disloyalty to me. In fact, she and I get on very well. If she had not been so interested in forestry, I would have invited her to work with Rodonon."

"My daughter is not serving in a Sindarin court!" Dannenion exclaimed. Then he pressed his lips together and drew himself up, as if expecting a reprimand.

Something about the vehemence of that statement took Thranduil back to a previous Age. He heard his father's voice booming in the Hall of another court. "My son is not serving kinslayers in a Noldorin court!" Did Dannenion look at him in the same way his father had looked at the Noldor? If so, that was a barrier that might never be overcome. "Sit down, Dannenion," he ordered, keeping his voice carefully quiet.

Dannenion dragged a chair away from the table and threw himself into it, never taking his eyes off Thranduil.

"You have served a Sindarin court for the last fifteen years. You have done so in the hopes that you would learn that same Sindarin court consistently responds in good faith and to the best of its ability to serve this forest. Now tell me truly, once and for all, is there any hope that you will learn that lesson?"

Dannenion lifted his chin and returned Thranduil's gaze defiantly. "And if I answer no, will my family and I be banished from this forest? Will you take Maidhien from me and give her to Galithil?"

Thranduil's eyes narrowed. "What do you think the answer to that is, Dannenion?"

Dannenion glared at him a moment longer. "Do I think you would banish me and my family if I did not serve this court as you expected? In the blink of an eye you would do it." Then he loosed a breath and relaxed a bit. "But do I think you would take my daughter from me by force? No, I confess I do not believe that."

Thranduil shook his head. "Well I suppose I must accept that as progress then," he said under his breath. Then he turned a level glare on Dannenion. "Would I banish you in the blink of an eye? I would indeed if I thought you were a threat to this forest, and to be perfectly frank, I would count myself blessed to be rid of your constant, tiring acrimony. I will give my life in the defense of this forest, Dannenion. That is what I am trying to make you see and you simply refuse to see it. Will I allow Galithil to force himself upon your daughter without your consent? No. In fact, as I already told you, I have informed both Galithil and Maidhien that I will consent to nothing until they have won your consent. But if you think you can keep them apart forever, I suggest you take a closer look at them. Do you think I want you as a member of my family? Do not be a fool. But I would rather that then watch Galithil fade away from an undeniable love that I made impossible for him. I love my foster son too much to allow that. My expectation is that you love your daughter too much as well."

Dannenion leaned forward. "I love this forest enough to commit treason to protect it, as you well know. But I will leave this forest and never look back, taking my daughter with me, before I will see her married to Galithil."

"Then I recommend you take her to Aman, where she might find the pity of Nienna to ease her grief," Thranduil replied.

Dannenion's only response to that was to glare at Thranduil for a long moment. "What do you intend to do about the fact that Galithil has carried her off? he finally asked.

Thranduil did not even bother to stop himself from rolling his eyes as he picked up the paper he had been reading before this distraction. "What do you mean, he carried her off? All the children have gone camping together."

"I forbade her to go when I found this letter," Dannenion shot back. "But when I went to speak to her..."

"Yell at her," Thranduil corrected quietly.

"...further," Dannenion's eyes narrowed even more, "she was gone from her room."

"Your daughter's disobedience is not my concern, Dannenion. Manage it as you will," Thranduil replied, without looking up from his letter.

Dannenion hurumphed and stood to stalk from the room.

*~*~*

"What is this?" the lieutenant asked, standing to face the struggling figure that two of his warriors were dragging before him. It stank, but not enough to be an orc. Not that his warriors would give an orc any quarter to begin with. It must be a Man. The figure's bearded face, when he finally managed to look up at him, confirmed that guess. A Man from Esgaroth, he appeared to be. A wealthy merchant, from the looks of his cloth. And he was spitting like wet a cat.

"You have no right to detain me," the Man began.

One of the warriors cuffed him on the back of the head hard enough to silence him. His expression made it clear that he had already heard that statement enough times to not want to hear it again.

"I have every right to detain and question anyone who is trespassing in this forest," the lieutenant replied coldly. "In fact, that is my duty as one of the Elvenking's warriors. Perhaps you would like me to take you to him so he can clarify matters for you? Or perhaps you would prefer for me to return you to the Master of Esgaroth with a charge of trespassing in the Woodland Realm. I assure you, in my experience, the Master will not take that charge lightly."

The Man looked up at him and then quickly looked away. His gaze fell on another warrior that had come to stand behind the officer and then on several warriors in the trees, all openly armed and watching this interchange closely. He obviously found no comfort in either place.  He finally settled his gaze on the forest floor and remained silent, ceasing his struggles against the warriors holding him.

The lieutenant nodded once. "Now explain to me why you are trespassing in the Woodland Realm," he ordered calmly.

The Man's jaw clenched. After a pause, he managed an answer, still without looking up. "I am searching for the man that murdered my son-in-law. He came into this forest and I intend to find him. You have no right to interfere with justice."

That caught the lieutenant's attention. "You claim there is a murderer in this forest?"

The Man glanced up, nodding. "He broke into my son-in-law's house and ran him through with his own sword. Then, the witnesses say, he fled straight down the road to this forest. I intend to avenge my son-in-law at any cost."

The lieutenant's brow furrowed. The only travelers on the Forest Path in the last week were the spice traders, camped and awaiting their payment at the forest's edge. None of them had left their group. The lieutenant studied the Man closely. Something about him looked...wrong. Not entirely truthful.

He crossed his arms across his chest and gestured east towards the forest border. "Escort him to the border of the forest and let him go," he ordered the warriors holding the Man.

The Man looked up and held the lieutenant's gaze this time, angrily. He appeared ready to protest, but the lieutenant did not give him the opportunity.

"If there is a man wandering in the forest, we have a much better chance of finding him than you do," the lieutenant explained reasonably. "If this murderer is here, we will find him and bring him to the Master in Esgaroth. I suggest you remain with the Master and seek justice from him."

For a moment, he thought the Man would argue, but in the end he seemed to think better of it. "As you wish," he finally said, quietly. "If your warriors kill the man, it will be no loss. Be sure to tell them that."

The lieutenant's face contorted in a scowl. "We are not in the habit of executing trespassers without trial. A fact for which you should be grateful," he responded disdainfully. And he gestured for the warriors to remove the man before he could say more, while signaling for still more of his warriors to begin searching for this supposed murderer. 

*~*~*
Adar/ada -- Father/dad

Elleth/ellyth -- Female elf/elves

Chapter 3: Good choices and not so good ones

"He is going to make me, Galithil," Maidhien repeated for what seemed to Legolas to be the hundredth time. Despite the repetition, Legolas could not find it in his heart to be annoyed with her. She was truly upset and she had been all day without any sign of improvement.

Maidhien had caught up to them while they were still on the Path heading for the forest border. They rode slowly at Galithil's insistence, in case she tried to follow them. No one but Galithil had really believed she would pursue them straight down the Path, but he was right. They were breaking camp the morning after their departure when she came running into the camp and flung herself into Galithil's arms, sobbing something about how her father intended to send her to live with cousins in a village far in the southwestern corner of the realm. That threat had dominated their conversation their entire ride that day.

"He cannot seriously intend to force you to do something so dangerous," Galithil countered. "It is too dangerous for a young elleth that far south."

Legolas clenched his jaw in an effort to remain silent. He had abandoned trying to reason with Galithil and Maidhien at least three rounds of this debate ago. It was fruitless and he refused to be drawn into it again.

"Yes, he could be serious," Anastor and Noruil replied in unison. They were still determined to make Galithil see their version of reason.

"The King would never allow it," Galithil responded, sounding just as reassuring as he had the first time he said this.

"The King is not going to interfere in a family's personal affairs," Anastor replied.

In the first round of the debate, it was Colloth that quietly made this statement. It elicited a sob from Maidhien and a black look from Galithil that stunned Legolas. Galithil had to know that Colloth was right. Thranduil would never tell a father how to manage his own daughter, much less if that father were Dannenion.

"I told you," Anastor continued, "the best thing to do at this point is to just pretend to obey adar's demand that you stop courting and wait. When you are both of age, you can marry regardless of what he says."

"Galithil already told you the King will not allow us to marry without adar's permission," Maidhien shot back. Her voice was hoarse from arguing.

"So, when you come of age, marry anyway, with or without permission. Or move away and get married," Noruil replied with exasperation. Then he rolled his eyes dramatically skyward and threw his arms in the air. "Oh, but wait, Galithil cannot do that because he has responsibilities." Noruil cast a disgusted glare at Galithil and Maidhien. "He either loves you or he loves his 'responsibilities,' Maidhien, he has to choose," he concluded harshly.

Every time the argument came to this point again, Galithil turned to Maidhien, who was riding behind him on his horse. He kissed her cheek and whispered something into her ear. What he was whispering, Legolas desperately wanted to know. Where Maidhien was concerned, Galithil was completely unpredictable. Legolas would not put it past him for a second to do exactly what Noruil was suggesting. He would not put it past Galithil to do it right now. Legolas glanced at Colloth. The guard looked grim. No doubt he had the same concerns.

"That is idiotic, Noruil," Eirienil intervened. Again.

Legolas had originally made this part of the argument. Eirienil took it up once Legolas had grown tired of it. He enjoyed hearing her argue it better anyway. Since she was an elleth, she enjoyed immunity from being punched, so she had the freedom to use the words that Legolas had truly wanted to use, like 'idiotic,' but had to refrain from using in the interest of not dragging the debate down to a full-fledged fight.

"Oh my, look at that!" Aewen exclaimed in an awed voice, interrupting Eirienil's reasons why Galithil could not be expected to simply run away with Maidhien. Aewen was pointing east, ahead of them, down the Path.

Legolas turned his attention in the direction she was pointing and his mouth nearly fell open. In front of them, only a few dozen feet in front of them, was...nothing. Not a single tree, not even a sapling. Just long shafts of sunlight shining on grass. Tall grass, waving gently in the breeze. And not a few dozen feet of grass, like the Green in front of the stronghold.  The grass stretched out before him as far as he could see. And that was all the way to the horizon! They had arrived at the edge of the forest. Legolas looked around himself with a bit of a start. How could he have failed to notice how close they were to the border? The trees were so much younger and thinner here. He tensed involuntarily and quietly cursed his lack of attention. He had been so focused on Galithil, Maidhien and pointless arguments that he had not given a moment's thought to what he intended to say to the Men he had come to negotiate with. Before he could regret that too deeply, two warriors, armed with bows and swords, jumped down from one of the larger trees spanning the Path, landing so close to Legolas and his cousins that Legolas's horse skittered nervously to the side.

The nearest of the two warriors reached to soothe the horse, stroking its velvety nose, while looking between Legolas and Galithil, the other children and finally, Tulus and Colloth. There he paused, one eyebrow raised, obviously expecting, from the only adults present, some explanation for the arrival of nine children at the forest border.

Tulus returned his gaze blandly. "The King has asked Lord Legolas to interrupt his hunt for the festival in order to negotiate with the spice traders for the payment they are demanding," he said.

That inspired the warriors to stand a little straighter and look back at Legolas sharply. The one patting Legolas's horse removed his hand from its nose.

Legolas had no idea what to say as the warriors' studied him silently, but he felt he should say something just to make them stop staring at him. Perhaps showing him where the Men are would be a good idea, he thought, and he drew a breath to ask them to do that.

At the same time, the warrior that had been patting his horse seemed to recover himself. "We can show you where the traders are camped, my lord," he said, offering Legolas a bow before turning towards the forest border. The second warrior also bowed and followed his comrade.

From the corner of his eyes, Legolas saw Anastor roll his eyes.

Legolas could not remember ever being addressed in that manner. And he was certain no one had ever bowed to him before. He could not deny that both gestures caught him by surprise and he did not need Anastor making the situation more difficult. At least neither Anastor nor Noruil had groaned or made some other comment out loud. He looked towards Galithil while trying to ignore the fact that his heart was beating a little faster. His cousin was whispering something to Maidhien. She slid off his horse and he caressed her cheek before turning and nodding to Legolas. Legolas smiled gratefully at him. He did not care to speak to the Men alone.

"Stay here and stay together. Do not go far out onto the plain. It is not safe," Colloth was admonishing the other children. He mostly directed himself to Anastor and Noruil, but he did glance at Berior, Brethil and especially Aewen. She was still staring at the treeless land in front of them. Legolas wished he had time to enjoy the sight with her, but he did not. Instead, he and Galithil urged their horses to follow the warriors. Tulus and Colloth were directly behind them.

As they rode, the Men's camp quickly came into view. Legolas felt Tulus looking at him intently. A glance back at him gave Legolas the impression that his guard was debating something with himself. He appeared to want to say something, but was hesitant.

Colloth suddenly cut his horse behind Galithil's and rode up between Legolas and his cousin. "Do not show the Men the gold until they have shown us the goods we are trading for and you are certain they have brought the proper amount," he whispered with no preamble what-so-ever.

Legolas's hand automatically reached to cover the pouch on his belt. He nodded.

That was all the invitation Tulus needed. He guided his horse to Legolas's other side. "And do not give them the gold until we have at least begun loading the goods onto our horses," he added, also in a low whisper. "If they want to see it, show them the bag, but do not hold it where they could reach it. If they want the coins emptied from the bag so they can see them, give them to Colloth or to me."

Again, Legolas nodded.

"You and Galithil stay on your horses," Colloth whispered. "And when it comes time, ask one of those two warriors to load the goods onto our horses."

This was making Legolas even more nervous. "These are men that nana deals with regularly, Colloth. They are not dangerous."

Colloth fixed him with a stern glare. "It is less likely they will recognize that you are children if you stay on your horses," he explained. "And we do not know it is the same man. It is not normal for him to demand payment in advance. Perhaps he has died and we are now dealing with his son. If it is the man's son, we know nothing about him. So be cautious."

Legolas frowned at that and looked to Colloth. "Have you ever gone with nana to meet with this man? Will you recognize whether it is him or his son?"

Colloth nodded. "I have been in the Great Hall when he came to bring her samples. I will know him."

"Good," Legolas replied.

They were close enough now to the Men's camp that they had been noticed. Three men stood and watched their approach.

"The one to the left is the man the Queen trades with," Colloth whispered quickly, before they came too close. "I do not know the other two."

Legolas studied the man on the left and then the two men with him. They were both younger, or at least they had considerably less white hair than the first man. The one in the middle might look enough like the older man to be related to him, but it was difficult to tell for certain under their beards. The man standing to the right was definitely not related to the other two, however. His skin was darker and his hair blacker. He was from the far east, near Rhun, Legolas realized with a start. He reflexively fingered the sheath of the knife on his belt and wished that he had his bow in his hand rather than with the quiver on his back.

"These are the ones that will pay us?" the older man called in Westron to the warriors as they entered the camp. He stepped forward to stand in front of their campfire, taking a closer look at the four riders. When his gaze fell on Legolas and Galithil, he looked at first surprised and then concerned. "You're kin to Queen Lindomiel herself, I'd wager," he said, pointing a finger first at Legolas and then at Galithil. "Queen Lindomiel never sent me her kin to pay me before."

"You have never tried to alter an established bargain with the Queen before," Legolas replied softly. "She does not normally pay you until you have delivered all your goods."

The man frowned. "Well, first time for many things then, isn't it?" He paused, again looking from Legolas to Galithil to Colloth and Tulus, who had stopped side to side with their charges. Legolas could think of nothing to say in response to the man's comment, so he said nothing. The man shifted his weight from foot to foot. "You going to pay me or not?" he finally asked after a moment's silence.

"You were to have brought one half of the full order of salt. Three sacks? Is that correct?" Legolas asked, intending to ask to see it, as Colloth had advised, before discussing the payment. He had had no time to think about this transaction before arriving. He was going to stick to what little advice he had now.

The man nodded readily. He gestured to the dark man, who strode over to their cart. He threw open the flaps that covered the cart to reveal three sacks, all the size that Legolas knew they should be. The dark man drew his knife, cut the tie on one of the bags and reached into it, pulling out a handful of salt. He offered it to one of the elven warriors. That warrior took it and tasted it. Making a bit of a face, he nodded to Legolas.

"Exactly as we promised," the older man said, smiling in what he clearly thought was a friendly manner. The problem was, he had very few teeth. "My payment?" he repeated, still smiling and now holding out his hand.

Legolas remembered Tulus's advice to not give the man the gold until he had turned over the salt. But the dark man still stood between the warriors and the salt. His knife was still unsheathed and in his hand.


Still, he had been shown the salt. It was fair to show them their payment, he determined, so he reached to untie the purse on his belt. "The King has agreed to pay you for the delivery of three bags of salt," he explained, showing them the pouch, but not offering it to them. "I have half the agreed upon payment with me. You will receive the rest when you deliver the rest of the salt."

The two younger men spoke swiftly to the older one in the language spoken by many of the merchants in Esgaroth. Legolas did not speak that language well, but he knew enough to recognize both men were clamoring that they needed full payment. The older man hissed at them. The younger man that might have been his son quieted down instantly. Probably his son, Legolas thought. The dark man also quieted, but he glared aggressively at Legolas.

"Unfortunately," the older man began, still smiling, "we will need the full payment. Without it we cannot give you the salt."

Legolas's heart raced a bit faster. He had truly hoped the men would simply be satisfied with the half payment. He really had no idea what to say now. His father had said to tell the men to take their salt back to Esgaroth if they would not accept half payment for half delivery, but it did not seem to be a good idea to simply tell them that immediately and walk away. After all, Hallion had said to try to get the men to agree to the half payment since they needed the salt after the festival. Legolas had spent most of the night before they left the stronghold thinking about how to explain this side trip to Aewen. He had spent last night and all day today talking about Galithil and Maidhien's problems. Unfortunately, he had given no time to thinking about this problem.

The men continued to look at Legolas.

Legolas could also feel the gazes of his cousin and guards.

His mind raced. He considered just repeating that he was only authorized to give them half payment, just to stall for time, but that response seemed to only emphasize their stalemate. How would his father or Hallion handle this? He tried to think of some similar transaction he had seen either of them manage in the Great Hall.

"Why should we pay for goods that we have not yet received?" he finally asked. Oftentimes both his father and Hallion tried to show people how their position was unreasonable by asking them to explain it. And asking for full payment for half delivery seemed unreasonable to Legolas.

The smile on the old man's face faded and was replaced with a scowl. "We have to have the full payment. We have to have it," he answered, sounding a bit desperate. "I have brought my salt to the Woodland Realm for 30 years. And my father did the same for 30 years before me. And his father before him. Have we ever delivered poor quality goods? Or shorted you? Or failed to bring your goods on time? Surely we are trustworthy. This time we are asking for full payment in advance."

Legolas wished he had spent at least a small amount of time in the library looking at this trader's record with the Woodland Realm so he could know if any of those claims were true. Not that it would matter if they were. "The King never pays for goods before they are delivered," Legolas responded, trying to sound reasonable. "If you need the gold quickly, perhaps the best solution is to bring the second half of the shipment more quickly. We can pay you for it as soon as you can bring it." That much Legolas did know. Salt was a vital commodity that had to be purchased with coins. His father always made sure to reserve enough coins to pay for a standard quantity of it every year.

"More quickly? Are you fool?" The dark man exclaimed. "Do you have any idea how far we travel to bring you this salt?"

The older man snapped at him to be silent. "I cannot bring you the rest of this order any faster than we agreed upon. And I cannot bring it at all unless you give me full payment now," he said to Legolas. His tone was final.

Legolas sighed. "And you will not give us this half of the shipment for half of the payment?"

The man shook his head.

"Then it seems we cannot reach an agreement." He knew he sounded openly disappointed and he truly was. He feared his father, and certainly his mother, would be as well. But there was nothing for it. He did not see a way the man could be convinced. He began to turn his horse.

"Wait!" the older man called, taking a step towards them. The younger man was looking at him, nearly panicked and clearly desperate. The dark man looked angry. "You cannot mean to send us on our way with nothing. My family has traded with you for three generations. You cannot do this to us."

Legolas frowned. "And we would continue to trade with you, but we will not pay for goods you have not delivered. That is the King's decision."

"Then let me talk to the Queen. She is who I have always done business with. She will not turn us away," the man pleaded.

For a brief moment Legolas wondered who would win if his mother truly decided to fight his father on an issue such as this, but he certainly knew better than to give the men any hope that strategy would work, regardless. "I have told you the options you have: accept the half payment and, if you want the rest of your payment sooner, bring the rest of the shipment sooner. That is all there is to discuss."

"But we cannot even get home without the full payment!" the younger man exclaimed, also taking a step towards them.

The older man hissed at him to be quiet.

"Not a statement that shows great promise for delivery of the rest of the salt if the King were foolish enough to give full payment now," one of the warriors muttered under his breath in Sindarin.

Legolas agreed with him. "What does that mean?" he asked, none-the-less.

The older man glared at the younger one. "My cart is broken," he spat without looking at Legolas. "The front axle is splitting. There. You know it now. I've bound it up to hold it together as long as I could to make it here and the wainwright in Laketown wants more gold than I have to repair it. If you don't give me the full payment, I can't pay for the repair of my cart. And if I can't repair the the cart, there will be no more salt trade for my son and I. Worse, I'll have to sell one of my horses to pay Kadril his wages, because I don't have what I owe him now either." 

Legolas could not deny he pitied the man. And he wondered for a moment if that argument might move his father. He was certain it would win his mother over, but she did not control the treasury. As he silently pondered if he should advise the men to wait for him to speak further with his father, he heard Eirienil hurriedly translating what the man had said into Sindarin for their friends. When she translated the part about the split axle, he heard Brethil reply that was serious damage, not to be trifled with. Hearing that, he turned and looked at his friend. Then he looked back at the old man.

"Your axle is split?" he asked. "And all you want is to repair it?"

The man snorted bitterly. "Yes, that's all I need. Enough coins to pay the wainwright."

"How badly is it damaged?" Legolas asked, peering at the wagon.

"The wainwright said I'd need to replace the entire axle. He said it would take him near a month to get the wood and carve it out to fix it."

Legolas scowled.

"Sounds like a thief to me," Galithil said quietly in Sindarin.

"Me too," Legolas replied in kind. Then he jumped off his horse. Tulus followed suit immediately and it was obvious the guard could barely restrain himself from grabbing Legolas to pull him back to his horse when he strode between the old man and the dark man to have a closer look at the wagon. "Brethil, come here for a moment," he called, waving his friend over as he walked.

Brethil did not move for a long moment. Then, after a hard shove from both Eirienil and Maidhien, he trotted from the forest edge to the men's camp, skirting around behind Legolas and Galithil's horses to avoid coming too close to either of the younger men. He stared at the older one for a moment before tearing his gaze away from him and focusing on Legolas.

"What?" he asked in Sindarin. "My adar would not like this at all, Legolas."

Legolas shook his head dismissively. "Have a look at that axle. Could your adar fix it?"

Brethil leaned over a bit and peeked under the wagon. Then, after checking to make sure the younger men were not too close and that the guards and warriors were being especially attentive--they were--he knelt down and crawled part way under the wagon for a better look. Then he stood back up and faced Legolas. "I could fix that, Legolas," he said, brushing dried grass and dirt from his leggings. "It is the most basic sort of axle and pinion. I learned to make those when I first started working for my adar."

Legolas allowed himself a slight smile. "So, it would not be fair to ask for this entire bag of gold to fix that," he asked, jingling the pouch he had tied back to his belt.

Brethil loosed a scoffing laugh. "My adar would replace that axle in exchange for a couple rabbits. It is simple work," he said.

"Well these men are ready to pay twice this amount of gold to replace that axle," Legolas retorted, "So ask for a little more than a rabbit."

Brethil's eyes widened. "Are you serious? You want my adar to fix that for them?" Brethil shook his head slightly. "I do not know...I mean, the King does not allow us to trade with foreigners... I mean, how would adar get the axle to measure it and pull off its caps to use on the new one. And what would adar do with gold anyway?"

"Can you take the axle off that wagon?" Legolas asked. "If you can, then it can be delivered to your adar for measurement. The King will not object to him doing this work for the men," I hope, Legoals silently added. "And you do not have to ask for gold, but if you did, your adar could purchase some new, metal chisels like the ones you were telling us a few days ago were finally wearing out."

Brethil still hesitated.

"If I can give these men an alternative way to get their wagon fixed," Legolas pressed, "they might give us the salt. We need the salt to cure the spare meat after the festival, Brethil. That meat goes to the warriors. Surely your adar will not mind doing this under those circumstances."  

"Of course he would not," Brethil agreed readily. "But how much gold would buy some chisels? How much should I ask for?"

That, Legolas had no idea. He glanced at Tulus and Colloth.

"I saw Lord Aradunnon buy two fine knives in Esgaroth for three coins once," Colloth said, "There is more metal in chisels, but it is not as finely worked. If these men were willing to pay the wainwright a sack of coins for the axle, they should be relieved to hear a price of five coins from us. And that should surely be a good start for the chisels, at least."

Brethil nodded. "Then tell them adar will fix their axle for five coins," he said, frowning a little. Then he smirked at Legolas. "And a rabbit," he tacked on.

Legolas grinned at him and then turned back to the old man, who had been watching he and Brethil talk, looking back and forth between them. "This is my friend Brethil," he said. "His father is the master woodwright in the Woodland Realm. The woodwright the King employs. Brethil is his apprentice. He says he can remove your axle and take it to his father. His father will replace it in exchange for five gold coins."

The old man blinked. "How could he do that for so little when the wainwright in Laketown wants so much?" he asked with obvious disbelief.

"Brethil says that replacing that axle is work he learned to do in the beginning of his apprenticeship," Legolas explained. "He said it is quite easy. Of course, he has been an apprentice for his father for around 25 years now, so perhaps he has more experience than the apprentices of your wainwright in Laketown." Legolas doubted the wainwright in Laketown had been practicing for 25 years, and he knew the old man would know that too. Such a length of experience--nothing to an Elf--was impressive to Men, he knew. "If you accept the half payment for the half delivery of salt, minus the five coins Brethil has asked for, we will fix your wagon and you can keep the rest of the gold you are receiving from us."

The old man appeared to be very tempted. "I do not know anything about your woodwright," he said out loud, looking between Brethil and his wagon. "But elves! How can elves not do a good job? But for so little? How could you even afford the wood much less the workmanship?" He looked at Legolas. "What will the new axle be made of?"

Legolas translated that question to Sindarin for Brethil.

"Oak, of course," Brethil answered, and Legolas translated that back for the man.

"Oak!" he exclaimed "The wainwright only promised me hickory! How can you give me oak for so little?"

Legolas smiled at him. "There are many oaks in the Woodland Realm," he answered.

The old man burst into laughter. "Well, I suppose you are right about that! We have a deal," he said, offering Legolas his hand.

Legolas grasped the old man's forearm to shake on the deal and breathed a quiet sigh of relief, as he did.

*~*~*

Legolas laid on his back and tried to rest, ignoring Galithil's conversation with Colloth, Tulus, Anastor and Maidhien. Since their business at the border was concluded, Colloth had been trying to persuade Maidhien to return to her father's cottage. She refused to go, so he was now trying to persuade either Anastor or Galithil to take her. That conversation had dominated the ride to their camp, so Legolas had little opportunity to determine whether Aewen was still angry with him. And now that the Men were behind him, Aewen was all Legolas cared about.

He suspected she was a least a little angry. He had had to stay with Brethil the entire time it took him to remove the axle from the men's wagon. And it took him longer than he expected because, he said, the load in the wagon was improperly distributed. The men insisted that it was not--that it was just as they always loaded it. And that prompted Brethil to comment that it was not too surprising that their axle had broken. Legolas did not bother to translate that observation. But in the ensuing delay, Legolas noted that Aewen thoroughly explored the forest border, talked with several of the warriors stationed there and then settled against a tree to wait impatiently. To be fair, Anastor, Noruil, Berior, Maidhien and Eirienil had done exactly the same thing. But it was only Aewen that Legolas was concerned about. Perhaps tomorrow he would finally be able to spend some time with her.

He tried to clear his mind by focusing on the steady breathing of his cousins and friends sleeping around him. Better that then Galithil and Colloth. Slowly, he began to slip into oblivion.

He was almost asleep when someone lightly brushed his hair with their hand. Legolas loosed an annoyed groan and tried to focus his gaze. If someone wanted to awaken him, why not just shake him? When he saw who it was, his mouth fell open involuntarily. Aewen was leaning over him, so close her hair tickled his face and neck. He drew a breath to ask what she was doing.

Before he could speak, she laid a finger softly across his lips. "Be quiet. I do not want to awaken the entire camp," she whispered.

Legolas tried to breath, but found he could not, at least not quietly or normally. He took her hand in his and drew it away from his lips. "What do you want to do then?" he found himself whispering back to her as he held her hand.

She smiled at him. "Let's go away from the fire and talk for a while before we go to sleep. I have not had a chance to speak to you all day," she responded, leaning back and pulling Legolas's hand.

He rolled to sit up and look around himself. Colloth, Tulus, Galithil, Anastor and Maidhien still had their heads together several dozen paces away from opposite side of the campfire. All his other cousins and friends were indeed in their bedrolls, sleeping.

Aewen stood and tugged at his hand, pulling him up  with her and towards the far side of the camp from the guards. Legolas allowed her to guide them a short distance away, until they were only very dimly lit by the fire. Then he leaned against a broad tree trunk and started to slide down it to sit.

"Sit with me here," he invited and his heart raced with anticipation. There was no reason for her to have awakened him when everyone else was asleep unless...well, unless she was indeed not angry with him, at least.

But she did not join him. Instead, still holding his hand, she continued to pull at it. "Let's go just a little further into the forest," she begged. "Where they cannot see us."

Legolas frowned. "I cannot do that, Aewen. Not without telling Tulus where we are going..."

Her brows drew together in a bit of a pout and she took a step closer to him. "Legolas, they have been talking to Maidhien and Galithil for hours," she whispered. "They are going to be talking to them for hours. They will never notice if we are gone for just bit. And nothing will happen. At least not anything that concerns your guards," she added, now smiling and leaning closer to him still. "I would like just a few moments out of their sight. Surely that is not too much to ask for?"

She was standing so close to him that Legolas could have kissed her there and then. He wanted to slip into the forest with her. Very much.

"Please, Legolas," she pleaded. "We never have any time to speak privately."

As she said that, she raised her free hand--she still used the other to hold one of his--and touched his face lightly.

"Come just a little further from the fire. They will never know," she whispered again, taking a step away from him into the forest.

Legolas followed.

*~*~*

Adar/ada -- father/dad

Naneth/nana--mother/mum

elleth/ellyth--Female elf/elves

How far away the stars seem, and how far is our first kiss
William Butler Yeats

Chapter Four: How far is our first kiss

At first, it was only a few steps into the forest, away from the fire, and Legolas thought--if he was thinking at all--that it should be no problem because Tulus and Colloth could probably have still seen him. Surely they could have, if they had craned their necks. Aewen's soft hand in his, leading him away, had been too much to resist.

If they had gone a bit more than a few steps, Legolas did not really notice. Aewen had her arm entwined with his as they walked. She was so close to him that her skirts brushed his legs. So close that he could have slipped an arm around her waist. His thoughts were focused on deciding if he dared do that, not on how far away from camp they were.

Before he mustered the courage, Aewen stopped and seated herself on a soft patch of grass, pulling Legolas to sit with her.

"I love the forest at night," she whispered as he settled next to her. She scooted over so that she was pressed against his side. "It is so serene in the starlight," she said, entwining her arm around his again and leaning against his side as she spoke. She turned her face towards his. "Do you not think the forest in the starlight is beautiful?"

Legolas nodded, looking down at her, trying not to look at her lips. "You are beautiful in the starlight," he whispered in reply, without thinking. Then he tensed, held his breath and looked at her closely, praying she would not think him overbold.

Apparently she did not. Her eyes lit at the compliment. "I wondered if you thought me pretty at all," she said, turning her gaze demurely towards her lap. He could still see the smile on her lips. "You hardly ever have time for me."

Legolas tried not to frown, lest she think him cross with her. He was not feeling cross, just confused. "Aewen, we dance together every night on the Green." He paused. "And you are beautiful when you are dancing," he added.

Her smile deepened, but she still kept her eyes lowered. "We have danced every night on the Green since we were five years old, Legolas," she said dismissively. "You have danced on the Green every night since you were five with Eirienil too."

"Perhaps, but I never wanted to kiss anyone but you," he answered, again without thinking. And again, he tensed and held his breath.

Aewen's eyes widened and she turned swiftly back to him, appearing both delighted and shocked by his words.

Legolas raised an eyebrow slightly in response to her obvious surprise, but he did not ponder her reaction for long. Her gaze turned to his lips and then, slowly, she leaned towards him. He drew a soft breath in an attempt to quiet his racing heart and reached for her cheek with his free hand to draw her nearer still. He felt her body press against his just as his lips were about to brush hers.

Before they did, Aewen gasped and pulled away from him sharply.

Legolas stiffened, unable to believe he had completely misread her, but he must have--she scrambled as far away from him as she could, until her back was pressed against the tree they were sitting near. She pressed one of her hands to her mouth to stifle a frightened, strangled noise that was somewhere between a whimper and a scream. Legolas stared at her, unable to move. Finally, she dragged her hand away from her mouth and reached for the knife she wore at her waist. She raised her other hand and pointed over his shoulder.

Realization dawning, Legolas spun around, fumbling at his boot for his own knife as he did and cursing himself for not even having a bow. Cursing himself for slipping his guard. As he turned, he heard snorting several paces away and hoped, for a moment, there was only a boar behind him. A boar, or even a wolf, he could manage, despite how poorly he was armed. But he quickly recognized the snorting noises were the horses they rode to the border, also reacting to whatever Aewen had seen. Legolas turned and what he saw made him freeze. A man was holding one of the horse's headstalls in one hand, while pointing a knife at Legolas with the other.

"You just stay right where you are," the man said in Westron, "and nobody has to get hurt." His voice shook.

Legolas stood slowly, holding his knife at the ready in plain view, and positioned himself between the man and Aewen. Aewen pressed herself against him, shaking, but he saw her knife also in her hand.

The man was an adult, young and broad of shoulder. He had the flaxen hair of the men of Dale. His clothes were worn and, like the knife in his hand, they were obviously made by the man himself. The hand holding the knife shook almost as much as his voice.

Legolas remained perfectly still, holding his knife at the ready in case the man should suddenly do something more threatening, but not willing to provoke him. It did not seem wise to start a fight simply to prevent the man from taking a horse. Especially when the Eastern Patrol and Path Guard could and would easily recognize a horse wearing the ornaments of the House of Oropher and arrest the man for stealing it.

The man jerked the knife in his hand.

Legolas crouched instinctively in a defensive posture, but the man made no other move towards them. Instead, Legolas's attention was drawn to another shadow moving amongst the trees. The man had been signaling for someone else to come join him.

Legolas's hand tightened around the hilt of his knife. That changed the situation. One man, armed with a knife, might not attack an elf, also armed with a knife. But two men would believe they had an obvious advantage, especially over a child. Legolas quickly considered if he had better attack the man now, or at least risk provoking him by calling for help, before his companion arrived with better weapons. But the approaching footsteps seemed light for a man's. And they were uneven somehow, as if the person was dashing forward and then hesitating, like a frightened animal. Legolas decided to hold his attack.

Finally, from the shadows of the trees to the east, a woman ran into the man's arms.

Legolas's eyes widened in surprise. He had not expected the approaching person to be a woman, much less a woman like this one. She wore a fine gown. Granted, it was torn around the hem and stained in various places, but it was every bit as richly made as any of his mother's gowns. If the woman had not just willingly thrown herself into the man's embrace, Legolas would have assumed he had abducted her.

The man motioned for her to mount the horse he held. As she moved to do so, she spied Legolas. She loosed a startled squeak, spinning around to face him fully and jumping back against the man at the same time. "Please don't hurt us!" she begged in Westron.

Legolas frowned.

"Get on the horse so we can get out of here," the man ordered, trying to guide her towards the horse, while still holding the headstall so the horse could not run away and while still brandishing the knife at Legolas.

The woman looked back at the man. "We cannot steal it," she whispered.

The man looked exasperated. "We already talked about this. We can't hide in that cart forever. It's going nowhere. We have to make our own way and to do that, we need one of these horses. Now, get on it."

Legolas drew a sharp breath, suddenly grasping the meaning of their argument. "You were hidden in the traders cart," he exclaimed. "You are why the load was unbalanced. Why the axle broke."

The woman looked back at him, guiltily, but shook her head. "It was already splitting when we asked Kadril to help us escape Laketown, but we did not know that until I had already given him a coin to hide us and share his bread with us. He was supposed to hide us for six days travel from Laketown." She looked down. "He hid us for six days, but we only traveled for one of them, to the forest edge. He told us tonight to leave or give him another coin."

"And we're not giving that greedy, conniving..." He cut himself off when the woman's eyes widened. "We're not giving him another coin so we can spend another six days smothering under old sacks, going no where, in a cart with a broken axle. We'll make our own way," the man interrupted. "But we need a horse to make it across the forest," he said, again pulling the woman's arm. "Let's go, before we are caught."

"You are caught already," Legolas said as calmly as possible. "This part of the forest is currently heavily guarded, both by patrols and by my guards. You will not get far. You would be much wiser to take your lady's advice and not try to steal one of the Elvenking's horses. If you needed to 'escape' Laketown in secret, you are obviously in trouble there. Do not add to your troubles by committing a crime in the Woodland Realm."

"None of your guards have shown up yet, boy," the man responded gruffly. Then he tugged on the woman's arm. "Get on the horse," he repeated.

The woman hesitated, clearly frightened, looking between Legolas, the man and the horse. Then she took a step towards Legolas, holding out her hands when Legolas took a step back, "Please help us. My father intends to kill us both. We are only trying to get away from him. We do not want to steal from you. I can pay you for the horse." Her hand moved towards her waist, but froze when Legolas raised his knife. "We only want to get to the other side of the forest." Her voice was pleading and, as she spoke, she began to cry.

Legolas had tensed when she stepped towards him, and even more so when she reached to retrieve the purse tied to the sash of her gown. He was not willing to underestimate her just because she was a woman. But when she said her father intended to kill her... Her own father! He did not lower his weapon, but he did stare at her, completely unbelievingly. Surely his command of Westron had failed him there.

The man gave up holding his knife on Legolas and reached for the woman's arm to pull her back to him. "Almiel, get on the horse, before it is too late," he pleaded, sounding every bit as desperate as the woman did. But it was already too late.

A bow's twang rang out in the silent forest.

At the same moment, a screech owl's call echoed amongst the trees--the signal the night watch used to announce danger.

Legolas leapt back, pushing Aewen behind a tree. The man grabbed the woman around the waist and threw her roughly to the ground, crouching over her and searching the woods. An arrow narrowly missed his head and drove into a nearby tree. The horse the man had been trying to steal reared up, whinnying wildly, and bolted back towards its fellows. The other horses also bolted, deeper into the forest. Another man, an older man, rushed towards the man and woman, his bow drawn, an arrow pointed at the woman on the ground. The man jumped between them and the older man turned his bow on him. The woman screamed and struggled to get up to help the man.

Just as Legolas was gathering himself to try to help the man defend the woman, four elven warriors jumped from the surrounding trees, their bows also drawn, some aiming at the old man, some at the younger one.

"Stop where you are!" one of the warriors shouted in Westron. Legolas recognized him as one of the lieutenants of the Path Guard.

The older man faced that warrior, never turning his bow from the man. "This is none of your concern. It is a family matter. Leave me to it and I will be on my way."

"What happens in the Woodland Realm is my concern," the lieutenant answered.

The old man narrowed his eyes. "If that is how you want it." He spun around and aimed his arrow at Legolas. "Either agree that my business is my own and leave me to it, or I will make certain that this becomes your business too."

Legolas watched the lieutenant's eyes widen when he realized where the old man was now aiming--at whom.  The warrior's gaze darted quickly between the man and Legolas and the surrounding trees, judging the odds of bringing this situation under control.

The old man strained to draw his bow even further. "You might kill me," he declared, "but I have nothing left to lose, so I don't care. If I die and this arrow is loosed, it's going to kill him and probably the girl behind him too. Now, if you lower those bows and leave me to my business, I'll let you take them with you when you leave."

The lieutenant lowered his bow and signaled for the other warriors to do the same.

Legolas glanced behind himself, searching for Aewen, to make sure she was still hidden behind the tree where he had shoved her earlier. She was. He held his breath. The warriors would not allow the old man to shoot a defenseless woman. They only wanted him to turn his bow from Legolas. Once he did, one of the warriors on the ground or another still hidden in the trees would end this standoff. But Legolas knew a good deal could go wrong with that plan. And there was still another armed man, desperate to protect his woman.

The old man hesitated, still holding his bow on Legolas. He recognized his predicament, it seemed.

Before the old man could decide what to do, Tulus appeared in front of Legolas, jumping from the trees to land between him and the old man. Legolas found himself thrown behind a tree along with Aewen. At the same moment, Colloth pounced on the old man, grabbing the shaft of his arrow while driving him to the ground with the full force of his weight.

Instantly, there was a flurry of movement. Two of the warriors dove towards the younger man, disarming him, throwing him to the forest floor and pinning his arms roughly behind his back. The lieutenant helped Colloth do the same to the older man. The last warrior seized the woman. He pushed her against a tree and held her there, his sword to her neck.

"Please do not harm her," the young man cried, struggling to turn so that he could see the woman. "She is with child."

Legolas' eyes widened at that and his gaze darted over to the woman. He stepped around Tulus, aware that his guard was speaking to him, but not really registering what he was saying. The woman was sobbing, nearly hysterical, trembling so violently that she risked injuring herself against the sword held to her neck. Legolas came to stand in front of her. "What is going on here?" he asked her as gently as he could in Westron. "Is that man truly your father?" In his peripheral vision, Legolas saw the warriors react in shock to that question.

The woman nodded and, eyes fixed on the sword at her neck, answered him. "I married Sadron and my father does not approve. He wanted me to marry the silversmith."

"You are married to the silversmith," the older man managed to grunt out, despite the Colloth's knee pressing on his back. "Or widowed of him, at least. Sadron murdered him."

"To defend my wife," the younger man countered. "She was pregnant with my child when you gave her to him. What did you think I would do?"

"She is not your wife and if you laid hands on her, I will have your lands, pitiful as they are, confiscated and you drawn to the town square and hanged." He laughed coldly. "I intend to do that whether or not you laid hands on her. You murdered your better and the Master will see to it you pay for that."

Legolas listened to this interchange, hoping that he had not understood it well, but the woman's sobs in response to her father's threat confirmed he had. She looked at him and the warriors around her pleadingly. "Please help us. We only want to raise our child in peace. Take us to the far side of the forest and let us go. I swear we will never bother you again," she begged.

"At the very least," the younger man interjected, "let Almiel go. She has done nothing." His voice was equally pleading.

"You are both going back to the Master in Laketown," the old man declared. "That is what the elf captain promised me he would do with you. And the Master will give me justice."

The woman began to cry again in response to that. "Please do not send us to him. The Master owes my father a good deal of money. Sadron will never get a fair trial from him," she moaned.

Legolas stared at the old man and the woman. He had heard his father accuse Men of being inconstant and untrustworthy. He had seen, first hand, the evils of Dark Men. But these were not Dark Men. This was a man from Esgaroth! Intent on killing his own daughter! Legolas knew that men occasionally murdered other men. But he had just seen this man attempt to kill a defenseless woman who was his own daughter. And if what the younger man said was true--that the old man had tried to give his pregnant daughter in marriage to another man. That was...utterly unthinkable. The old man must be insane. Surely the Master in Laketown would not allow this? But what of the woman's claim about the Master? Legolas frowned. He had also heard his father say, numerous times, that Men were driven by greed. If the Master owed the old man enough money..... Legolas looked at the woman, sobbing, her eyes begging him for help, and his heart went out to her. He truly wished he could help her. He looked at the lieutenant, expecting him to order the warriors to remove the men and woman to Laketown.

His mouth fell open when he saw the warriors, including the lieutenant, looking back at him, as if waiting for him to speak. He looked down and quickly brought his expression under control. He would be happy for the opportunity to help the woman if he could and the warriors seemed willing to let him.

"Take them to the King," he said quietly, turning to the lieutenant and looking at him cautiously, not certain at all how he would respond. He released a long, quiet breath when the lieutenant simply nodded. His relief was short-lived, however.

Tulus laid a hand on Legolas's shoulder to get his attention. "The King does not make a habit of interfering in Mannish crimes, my lord," he said softly, obviously unwilling to openly contradict Legolas, but the warning in his tone was plain.

Legolas was completely aware of that. He also was aware that he was overstepping his bounds. He was not of age. Despite Tulus's deferential treatment, he was not yet anyone's lord and he was certainly not an officer. He had absolutely no right to give any orders to anyone, and he knew that perfectly well. He suspected the lieutenant did as well and, like him, could not live with himself if he did not try to help this woman. Legolas's presence was as good excuse as any to ignore his captain's orders and try to find a better solution to this situation.

"You are certain you will not get a fair trial from the Master in Laketown?" Legolas asked the woman.

"Never," she answered. "He is too much in debt to my father. But I do not want to be tried by the Elvenking either. Please just let us go."

Legolas shook his head. "That is not within my authority to order. I must take you to the King."

"The Elvenking has no right to judge Sadron for murder or the theft of my daughter. Those crimes took place in Laketown," the old man exclaimed.

"True enough," Legolas shot back, "but you threatened me with an arrow in this Forest. And Sadron threatened me with a knife and tried to steal my horse. The Elvenking does have the responsibility to respond to those crimes." He faced the lieutenant again. "They are both going to the King to answer to those charges before you take them to Laketown to answer for any crimes in a Mannish court. Take them to the stronghold," he said firmly.

The two men began to protest that order, the older man claiming he was not subject to Elvish laws and the younger again begging that the woman be set free, since she had done nothing wrong in any land.

As they argued, the lieutenant signaled to his warriors to secure the men to take them to the stronghold. Then he turned to speak into Legolas's ear. "My lord, if you send them to the King with the charge that they threatened to kill you--if that is what I report to the King--he may well execute them both himself. And if you send them merely to ask him to try the case they have tried to plead to you, he will send them straight to Laketown. I sympathize with what you are trying to accomplish, I truly do, but I am not certain this will turn out as you wish."

Legolas sighed. That was an accurate assessment of what was likely to happen, that was certain. And that meant one thing. With a great effort, he suppressed a groan and looked about himself for Aewen. She was still standing next to the tree he had tried to use to shelter her earlier. She did not speak a word of Westron and Legolas realized she likely had no idea what was going on. She was looking at him with wide eyes.

She was going to be absolutely furious.

"We are taking them to the King," he said with finality, speaking Sindarin so Aewen would understand him. "I will go with you and explain the reasons for their appearance before him myself."

The lieutenant nodded, smiling with obvious satisfaction. "As you wish, my lord." 

Aewen, in contrast, stared at him as if he had lost his mind.

*~*~*

When love is not madness, it is not love.

Pedro Calderon de la Barca

Chapter Five: When love is not madness, it is not love

"Announce us to the King as soon as he is available," Legolas said to the guard at the door of the Great Hall.

They had arrived at the stronghold in the middle of petitions if the gathering of Elves in the antechamber was any indication. Those Elves moved as far away from the Men that Legolas brought with him as the space in the antechamber allowed. Some even left altogether. Legolas shrugged. No doubt they would be better off coming back another day rather than having their cases heard after Thranduil spoke to the Men about threatening his son.

While he was waiting, Legolas idly wondered how long it would take his father to realize that he should never have been in a position where Men could have threatened him to begin with. Whenever that moment came, it would be an unpleasant one indeed. Of course, the whole affair was unpleasant already. He honestly did not see any alternative to taking the men to his father--he could not have lived with himself if he had not tried to help them. But everyone was so angry at him. Aewen, his friends, and even his cousins made no effort to hide how disappointed they were that the camping trip had been ruined. And Tulus and Colloth were plainly furious with him for slipping away from the camp. They had performed their duty to him, guarding him closely in the presence of the Men on the way back to the stronghold, but they had barely spoken to him. Legolas hated that he had betrayed their trust. And he hated that he now had no choice but to bring that fact to his father's attention under most difficult circumstances. And he hated that none of his friends, except maybe Galithil and Eirienil, seemed to understand why he was doing what he was doing, and even they were being contrary.

The doors to the Great Hall opened and two Elves hurried through them, dodging, startled, around the Men when they saw them. Legolas glimpsed Hallion speaking into Thranduil's ear at the far end of the Hall, undoubtedly reminding him of the subject of the next scheduled petition. All the scribes and the assistants of the king's councilors were still in the Hall as well, working at the tables that lined both walls. Legolas had truly hoped the entire court would not be in attendance to witness this, but there was nothing he could do.

At one of the tables, Legolas saw Dannenion stand, glaring at the back of the room. He had obviously spotted Maidhien and Galithil.

Before Dannenion could move from the table, the guard at the door stepped into the Hall and announced him, as Legolas had asked. His father's head shot up when the guard called 'Lord Legolas.' He arose from his throne and stood at the top of the dais, staring at the back of the Hall almost as if he did not recognize his own son.

Legolas swallowed, trying to choke down his nervousness, and kept his gaze on the stone floor as he walked up the center aisle of the Hall to the throne, followed by the warriors escorting the men and woman and by Tulus and Colloth. His cousins and friends filed into the Hall behind him, but they huddled along the back wall to watch, not to face this with him.

By the time he had reached a spot a few paces from the foot of the dais, Legolas could feel the intensity of his father's gaze, demanding an explanation. Thranduil took a step back and to the side of his throne as he often did when Legolas spoke to him between petitions, to give him room to join him on the dais. Despite the fact that his father seemed to expect it, Legolas knew better than to take that liberty now. Instead, he stopped with everyone else at the foot of the dais and knelt on one knee. The warriors pushed their prisoners to their knees as well.

Thranduil's eyes widened. "What is this about?" he demanded, in Westron due to the presence of the Men, gesturing sharply for Legolas to stand.

Legolas did, along with Tulus and Colloth. He looked up at his father and found it difficult to speak in the face of his obvious displeasure.

"What is this about, Legolas?" Thranduil asked again, making more effort to speak calmly. Then his gaze shifted to the men. "These could not be the spice traders you negotiated with." He turned to Hallion. "I thought that was finished. That we received the salt this morning, along with a wagon axle, if I am not mistaken."

Hallion nodded. "We did, my lord," he answered quietly, eyeing Legolas with open concern.

"They are not the traders, my lord," Legolas affirmed, finally finding his voice. "They are still awaiting their axle at the forest border, as far as I know. The warriors arrested these men and this woman in the forest and..." he hesitated. "And I...asked that they be brought here rather than to the Master in Laketown."

"Why," Thranduil asked, simply.

Legolas easily recognized the irritation that short question hid. He tried not to grimace. "The reason the lieutenant agreed to bring the men here, rather than to Laketown, is because amongst their other crimes, the men, both of them, threatened me and that is a crime you should hear..."

Legolas got no further.

"My husband would not have hurt anyone," the woman blurted out. "And I do not believe my father would have either."

"I only intended to get my wife to safety," the younger man said at the same time. "I never even saw the boy and girl there until they saw me and it was too late to avoid them, else I would have."

"My daughter is not your wife, murderer!" the old man boomed.

Thranduil, his voice low and soft, was heard above them all. "What did you say, Legolas? How, precisely, did these men threaten you?" He descended the first step of the dais, glaring at the men. Even the old man fell silent and cowered back.

Definitely a mistake to start off the explanation from that point, Legolas thought to himself. Too late now. His father would hear nothing else until he heard the rest of this part of the story, so Legolas hurried to finish it. "The younger man, Sadron is his name, and I threatened one another with our knives when he was trying to steal one of the horses my cousins and I rode to the border."

Thranduil's jaw openly dropped in response to that and he looked at Tulus. The guard was looking fixedly at the tapestry behind the throne.

Legolas pressed on, fearing his courage might fail him. "Before the man and woman could leave on the horse, the warriors chased the older man to where we were. He tried to kill his daughter with an arrow, but missed her because Sadron threw her to the ground, and when the warriors tried to prevent him from making a second attempt, he turned his bow on me to make them back off."

Thranduil's gaze locked on the older man and he descended the rest of the stairs like a hawk diving on its prey. "You threatened a child so you would be allowed to kill...did I hear that correctly? You tried to kill your own child? You threatened..." he paused and looked at one of the warriors, since Tulus would not face him, "With a drawn bow?" he asked. The warrior nodded and Thranduil's face contorted with rage. He pulled the man up by the front of his tunic. "You threatened my son with a drawn bow in an attempt to kill your own daughter?"

Legolas held his breath. Before the man could speak, Thranduil's right hand closed around the hilt of the knife on his belt and he yanked it from its sheath.

"Sadron ruined her," the old man managed. Rather than raging as he had the entire march back to the stronghold, now his accusations sounded more like pleas for mercy. "He is a murderer! He killed my daughter's husband and stole her and her dowry from him."
 


"You gave my wife to the man you call her husband because he is wealthy and I am not. But Almiel is carrying my child!" the young man shot back.

Thranduil looked between the two men. The meaning of this situation was now obviously clear to him. Then his gaze fell on Legolas's friends in the back of the Hall. Legolas was turned enough to see that Maidhien had both her hands over her mouth and Aewen had turned her face to hide it against Berior's tunic. Thranduil glared at the old man a moment longer and then shoved him roughly, making him stumble back to the guards that originally held him. "Get them out of my sight," he said, still breathing heavily, "Before I do something that will be difficult for Hallion to explain to the Master of Laketown. Take the lot of them and lock them in a store room while I sort the rest of this out."

Legolas stepped forward, drawing a breath to speak. He looked first at the guards, already removing the men, and then at his father. He did not want to publicly contradict his father, but... "Separate rooms, my lord, please," he whispered, "lest they kill each other and make your judgment irrelevant."

Thranduil regarded his son coolly for a moment. "Separate store rooms," he finally called after the warriors, thrusting his knife back into its sheath as he spoke.

A deafening silence reigned over the room until the doors of the Hall closed once again.

"Adar," Legolas began, as soon as they did.

But Thranduil cut him off with a wave of his hand and went to stand in front of Tulus and Colloth, neither of whom had moved throughout the entire affair. "I have one question only," Thranduil said. "How did not only one, but two men threaten my son with deadly weapons?"

"I do not know, my lord. I was not there to see it," Tulus responded.

Legolas cringed.

"I lost track of him," Tulus continued, "and by the time I found him again, the older man was threatening to shoot him if the warriors did not allow him to shoot his daughter."

Thranduil stared at Tulus for a long moment through narrowed eyes and then he moved to seize him by the arm.

Without hesitation, Legolas rushed forward, stepping between his father and his guard. "It is not his fault, adar," he said, hands out, intending to hold his father back. "It is not his fault. I slipped out of the camp when my cousins were asleep and Tulus and Colloth were focused on trying to convince Maidhien to go back to her father's cottage. Tulus trusted that I was safely asleep, but I betrayed that trust."

Thranduil glared between Tulus, Colloth and his son. Then he took a step back. "I will deal with that later," he growled.

Legolas did not doubt that he would.

Thranduil turned on his heel and paced back to the foot of the dais. When he reached it, he spun around and faced his son. "What do you expect me to do here, Legolas? You are correct that I have the right to judge these men for attacking one of my citizens. But if I judge them guilty of knowingly attacking a member of my household, I will execute them myself for that crime. That is clearly not what you want. If, as is more likely, I judge that they attacked you not knowing who you are, while trying to steal horses, I normally send such criminals to the Master in Laketown for punishment. Sending them to Laketown is what I gather you are trying to prevent, since you 'asked' the warriors to bring them here instead of Laketown as they should have done. So, tell me, what did you have in mind for me to do with these men?"

Legolas's gaze darted around the room in response to that question. The scribes and most of the councilor's assistants were looking resolutely at their work, making an obvious effort to hear and see nothing. Isteth and Hallion were looking with some concern between father and son. Dannenion and Legolas's friends in the back of the room were also staring--most of his friends with varying degrees of nervousness or even fear in their expressions, but Dannenion appeared to be very interested in how Thranduil would judge the men. Legolas frowned and looked down. Making an even greater spectacle of this situation than it already was was not his intent.

"It is your judgement to make, my lord. I do not doubt that. But my conscience would not allow me to permit a father who had given his pregnant daughter to a man not the father of her child--who had tried, before my eyes, to kill his own daughter--to take that same daughter out of this forest without trying to help her. Especially after she begged for my help. I have no idea how resolve this, but I trust you to know better than I."

Thranduil took a deep breath and released it slowly. Then he turned and climbed back to the top of the dais. "I understand your predicament, Legolas. I admit that I do," he said softly, seating himself on his throne. "But my choices are very limited. The older man claims that the younger one has murdered a citizen of Laketown and...mistreated his daughter. I cannot allow a criminal that has been named to me to escape through my forest. To do so would show lack of respect for Laketown's laws and encourage the men of Laketown to show no respect for mine. I have no choice but to return them to Laketown. We must trust the Master in Laketown to fairly hear the whole story, including the woman's side of it, and pass judgement according to their laws." Thranduil's voice plainly revealed his doubt that this would happen.

"The woman says the Master in Laketown owes her father a substantial amount of money. She says there is no possibility he will rule against him," Legolas said quietly, daring to press his father, since he did not seem satisfied with his judgment himself.

Thranduil closed his eyes. Then he clenched his fists. "This is precisely why I despise dealing with Men," he muttered under his breath. Then he spoke more clearly. "Unless someone can offer me an alternative, I must send the men to justice in their own lands," he repeated.

Hallion came to stand next to him. "The older man and his daughter are clearly merchants of some sort in Laketown," he began.

"The old man is a userer," Legolas confirmed.

Hallion openly snorted his disapproval of that. "But the younger man did not appear to be an apprentice or merchant of any sort. His clothes did not equal the quality of even the poorest of merchants in Laketown that I have seen. Where is he from?"

"Sadron sells vegetables in Laketown," Legolas said. "Almiel told me that she met him when she went with her servants to the market to buy foodstuffs for the family meals. She said he and his father are free men with their own land near the mountain. She had hoped to live with them until her father made it impossible."

Hallion turned to Thranduil. "The younger man is the one accused of a crime. If his farm is near the mountain, then he is a subject of the Lord of Dale, not the Master in Laketown."

Thranduil looked at Hallion appraisingly. "If that is the case, I might possibly be within my rights to send him to his own lord for judgment, rather than the Master. Especially given the testimony that the Master will not be an impartial judge. Fengel would be a much fairer judge of this matter than the Master. How angry do you think Fengel will be with me for bringing this to his doorstep? And how angry do you think the Master will be with me for not simply sending them to where the crime was committed? Will this damage our trade with them?"

Hallion shook his head. "The Master will not make any threats regarding trade with the Woodland Realm. His merchants expect that trade. He will not interrupt it. No matter how much money he owes the older man, Laketown's trade with our realm is worth much more. As for Fengel, I do not doubt that he will recognize this for what it is when he hears the entire story. And Fengel can be counted upon to listen to the entire story. He will understand precisely why you made the choice you made. And he will likely know how to put pressure on the Master in Laketown to accept his ruling."

"Very well, then," Thranduil said. "Write some sort of explanation for all this--have Legolas help you draft it--and send it along with the men and the woman to Dale and let Fengel sort it out." He paused and turned to Legolas. "Does that satisfy you, Lord Legolas?" he asked.

Legolas's looked sharply at his father, not certain how to read his tone or expression. "Yes, of course it does, my lord," he replied. He was relieved when his father finally smiled at him.

"Good," Thraduil said softly and motioned for Legolas to join him on the dais. Legolas hastened to obey, and when he stood in front of his father, Thranduil looked him over closely. "You are not injured?" he finally asked, speaking so that only Legolas could hear him.

"No, adar," Legolas replied quietly.

"And neither are any of your cousins or friends?"

Legolas shook his head. "No, adar."

"Good," he repeated, Then, he stood. "I will not hear any more petitions today. Hallion, inform anyone left waiting that they will have to return tomorrow. Tulus, Colloth, come with me." He put a firm hand on Legolas' shoulder and guided him towards the doors of the Hall. He raised his hand to gesture for Galithil and Maidhien to wait for him, but the children in the back of the room were already fleeing the Hall, Galithil and Maidhien the first to leave. Dannenion was hurrying down a side aisle to pursue them.

Legolas bit his lip. That was another battle waiting to happen and his father already knew it, obviously. Dannenion probably complained to him. Legolas found himself wondering how badly he was betraying his cousin by wishing that his father would deal with Galithil first, rather than him.

*~*~*

Legolas drummed his fingers on the surface of the meeting table in his father's office while staring tensely at the pile of papers that Hallion had left there. Papers his father should be reading now rather than taking time to speak with Tulus and Colloth. Papers that would have to continue waiting for the King while he spoke to Legolas. It would have been more efficient to speak to all of them at once, Legolas thought with a sigh. At least then he would not be forced to anticipate what was certain to be a very unpleasant conversation or wonder what was happening to Tulus. That was the worst of it--that Tulus would be reprimanded for something that Legolas had caused. Legolas flinched away from that thought and looked around the room for anything he might use to distract himself.

The door to the office opened and Legolas jumped to his feet.

"You do not have to stand for me, Lord Legolas," Galithil said with a grin, slipping into the office. Maidhien followed him closely.

Legolas made a face at him and groaned silently to himself when he saw from his cousin's amused expression that his reaction had only provoked him further.

"So what do you think you are in the most trouble for?" Galithil teased. "Slipping Tulus," he began enumerating, holding up one finger. "That truly was stupid," he added seriously. Then he grinned again and held up a second finger. "Giving orders to the officers of the Eastern Patrol. Or forcing the King to deal with Men when he should not have been involved," he concluded, holding up a third finger.

"Be quiet, Galithil," Legolas muttered, turning away from his cousin. He was in no mood for joking.

Galithil laughed. "Sorry, Legolas. I should not tease you. I know I should not," he paused and then continued in a slightly more serious tone. "But I also should not be standing here, but rather over a deer in our camp. At the very least, I should have had at least a dozen more days before Maidhien and I would be forced to face her father. But instead, we are here with you today."

Legolas rolled his eyes and spun around to face Galithil. "You are worse than Anastor. You know I had no other option but to bring the men to adar, so leave me alone."

That brought Galithil up short. No one would like being compared to Anastor. He scowled. "You brought this down upon yourself when you could have avoided it so easily if you had just stayed where you were supposed to be," he retorted. "Could you not find anyplace better to kiss her than half way back to the border and hundreds of paces from the camp? That was really stupid."

Legolas glared at his cousin. He did not intend to talk about kissing Aewen, especially around Maidhien. "Do not exaggerate how far we went from the camp when adar might hear you. I am in enough trouble as it is. In case you had not noticed, I am waiting to speak to him in his office, not my room. That cannot be a good sign."

Maidhien nodded. "He is right, Galithil. He is in a lot of trouble," she said with obvious concern. "But why did you go so far away from the camp, Legolas? Was it really just to kiss Aewen? You could have just kissed her right there. Everyone was asleep, so no one would have been watching."

Legolas closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He was not discussing this. "We did not pay attention to how far we had gone. We were talking," he said as calmly as he could when the silence in the room seemed to demand a response.

"Talking!" Galithil snorted. "You did not even get a kiss for all the pains you will suffer now?" he asked incredulously.

"You want to shut up, Galithil," Legolas said, getting truly angry.

"You did not even kiss her?" Maidhien exclaimed, speaking over both of them. "Legolas, if you do not kiss her soon, she is going to give up on you. Really! You are handsome, but how long do you think someone will wait?"

Legolas's mouth fell open and he leaned forward, staring at Maidhien. He could feel his face growing hot. "I beg your pardon," he said stiffly.

Maidhien put her hands on her hips and looked down her nose at him. "Do not get haughty with me, Legolas. I am only giving you good advice. She is really getting impatient with you."

"How would you know that?" Legolas blurted, despite himself.

Maidhien shook her head incredulously. "Because you are all she ever talks about!" she exclaimed. "Honestly, Legolas, what must an elleth do to get your attention?"

Legolas gaped at Maidhien for a long moment, horrified. Then he looked at Galithil.

Galithil shook his head and waved his hands. "Not to me. Or to Berior or Brethil, I would wager. But to Eirienil and Maidhien? Well, ellyth do talk, Legolas. About ellyn. We talk about ellyth, after all. What did you expect?"

"Glorious," Legolas said under his breath, certain he was red to the tips of his fingers and toes. "Well, at least I can be certain she wants to kiss me now."

Maidhen tried to stifle a giggle. "Legolas, when an elleth spends all her time talking to you, and dancing only with you, and holding your hand whenever you walk together and looking at you as Aewen has been looking at you, you can be certain then that she wants to kiss you. Just do it."

Legolas looked at the ceiling and turned away. "Please make her be quiet, Galithil, or I swear, I might forget that she is an elleth."

From the corner of his eyes, he could see Galithil smirking, but signaling Maidhien to be quiet just the same.

"You are hopeless, Legolas," Maidhien said quietly.

Legolas looked over his shoulder at her sourly.

"You truly are," Galithil agreed with a grin.

"Indeed?" Legolas replied, going on the offensive. "Why? Because I have not yet done anything to inspire Aewen's adar to react as insanely as that old man?" he asked, pointing in the general direction of the storerooms. He arched an eyebrow when Galithil's expression became instantly serious. "You know that as soon as adar is done with me, he is going to turn on you. Dannenion practically chased you both from the Hall. He must be locked up in a storeroom himself, since he is not pounding on the doors to the family quarters demanding Maidhien. There is no way adar can avoid addressing this now, and he is not going to like that any better than dealing with Men."

"Quiet, Legolas," Galithil said warningly.

Legolas started to laugh at his cousin's sudden change in attitude until he saw Maidhien. Tears had filled her eyes.

"I told you adar was just like him, Galithil," she fretted.

Galithil glared at Legolas. "Your adar may be insane, Maidhien. I cannot deny that," he said grimly. "But he is not like that old man and he is not about to start trying to kill you or me."

"He is sending me south," Maidhien shot back. "With out you. That is close enough. And he might try to kill you. He really hates you. Even more than he hates lord Thranduil now, I would wager." She glanced at Legolas. "Sorry," she said.

Legolas shrugged. He knew Dannenion hated his father. Moreover, he knew why and therefore precisely how close to the truth Maidhien fears came. So did Galithil. They looked at one another over Maidhien's head.

"Oh my!" she whispered, reacting to their expressions. "You believe he might!" She seized Galithil's hand in both of hers. "There is absolutely no possibility I am going south and leaving you here with him."

Both Legolas and Galithil immediately shook their heads to deny they had thought any such thing, but they did not get a chance to speak.

"I am absolutely astonished with you both," Thranduil declared, standing in the doorway of the office.

Involved in their argument, none of the children had heard the door open. They looked at him now with wide eyes.

"Neither of you," Thranduil continued, "were raised to be so completely discourteous--simply heartless--as to bring an elleth to tears! And you would have to know that discussing such a thing with her would do so. I am disgusted with both of you, but especially with you, Legolas. I cannot believe you would compare Dannenion to the man you brought to my court at all, much less do so in the presence of any of his family and particularly in the presence of his daughter."

Legolas opened his mouth to defend himself, looking wordlessly from his father, who was openly furious, to Maidhien, who was looking at him apologetically. She and Galithil did start it by teasing him about Aewen. Still, tears still rimmed Maidhien's eyes. Legolas deflated with a long sigh. "I apologize, Maidhien," he said softly. "Adar is right. I could not have been more rude. I am truly sorry and I certainly do not believe there is any comparison between your adar and that insane old man."

Maidhien nodded her head without looking at him. Her gaze was instead focused mostly on the floor, but she did peek furtively once or twice at Thranduil. "It is not your fault, Legolas. We were teasing you first," she whispered.

Thranduil's scowl deepened, but it was still directed at Legolas. "You and Galithil may tease each other all you wish, but ellyth are not appropriate targets for such behavior," he said. Then he turned to Maidhien. "Come," he said gently, putting an arm around her shoulders and turning her towards the door. "We will go to the sitting room, get you something to drink and eat, and then we will plan how to manage your adar. It can be done, I am certain," he said, reassuringly.

Legolas took a step after him. "What about...?" he began, but fell silent when his father turned to glare at him.

"You can continue to wait," Thranduil replied. "Dannenion is indeed demanding Maidhien's immediate return. Three messengers from the Gates interrupted my meeting with Tulus and Colloth looking for her. I will deal with this first." He paused and looked back at his desk, gesturing to it with his free hand. "Those papers on my desk are supply requests from the villages. Summarize those while you are waiting if you need something to keep out of trouble. And you could write that explanation for Lord Fengel as well."

With that, he turned and did not look back, guiding both Galithil and Maidhien from the office.

Legolas slumped back against the meeting table. Well, he had his wish. His father was going to deal with Galithil first. Somehow, that seemed much less appealing now. He really needed to talk to Aewen.

*~*~*

After three interruptions from Dannenion, Thranduil had concluded his discussion with Tulus and Colloth hurriedly, intending to go look for Maidhien and send her straight home, despite Tulus and Colloth's warnings that she was very upset and convinced that her father intended to send her away. Thranduil did not approve of that at all, of course, but there was nothing he could do about it. Dannenion's family was his own to govern. Thranduil certainly could not hide his daughter from him. But the last thing he had expected was to find her crying. Faced with tears, all thoughts of simply sending her home fled his mind. He seated her in a comfortable chair in the family sitting room and gestured for Galithil to fetch her something from the tray of drinks and snacks always present in the room. Watching her wipe tears from her cheek while staring resolutely at the floor, Thranduil was suddenly exceedingly glad not to have a daughter.

"Now tell me what has prompted you to run off from your adar's house without his permission, Maidhien," he began gently, as Galithil handed her a plate with some fruit.

Maidhien turned a tear stained face to him. "He intends to send me to stay with a cousin of his, far in the southern part of the forest, near the mountains. I met this cousin once, and he is just like Adar. I could not bear staying there, so far from Galithil, and I will not. I will not go and no one can make me. They cannot make me." She pounded her fist on the cushioned arm of the chair to emphasize her words.

Thranduil was strongly reminded of one of the first times he spoke with Maidhien. She was convinced that he was about to break his word to her and, refusing her father's order to go inside, she stubbornly plopped down on the ground and planted herself in place to make sure Thranduil kept his word. Willful, he had thought her then. Now she appeared a hundred fold more so. Thranduil doubted Dannenion's ability to command his daughter.

"And Adar is very angry with Galithil," she continued. "What if he and Galithil cross paths after I am gone and have words and the argument gets too heated and Adar...does something? It is possible. I believe he might lose his temper so badly that he could...react more strongly than he would do if he were thinking more clearly."

Thranduil frowned. The problem was, as much as he would like to deny it to Maidhien, he believed that too. That was part of the reason Galithil and Legolas had guards at such an early age. And Thranduil found he could not lie to her. So he decided to ignore that question all together and focus on the basic problem--the fact that she would have to go home and face whatever her father's decision was. He leaned forward, intending to speak to her firmly. He tried to fix her with the same stern scowl that served so well against unruly sons and courtiers, but he was shocked to find he could not muster it in the face of Maidhien's tears. Still, he must make an effort. "Maidhien, your adar is very angry, that is true," he said, not sounding nearly as firm as he had intended. "He is demanding that Galithil return you to him. He is your adar and you must respect him..."

"Why?" Maidhien immediately interrupted. "What has he ever done to merit respect?" she asked.

Thranduil had no answer for that. There was none, in his opinion, but that did not help him resolve this situation. So he ignored that question as well and pressed on. "Or at least obey him, until you are of age," he continued. "You have only, what? Less than a dozen years until you reach your majority. Once you do, you can choose to live where ever you wish. It is not that long a time..."

"Yes it is. Without Galithil? Yes it is," she said firmly.

"Would you allow me to live for the next fifteen years in my adar's village, uncle?" Galithil interjected. "Because if you will, Maidhien will go. The village where Dannenion wants to send her is very near adar's village. If I were there, we could visit. And I could make sure Maidhien stays safe."

Thranduil leaned back in his chair, recoiling at the very thought. "You most certainly may not live in your adar's village," he replied immediately and with every bit of the firmness he intended to use in this argument.

Galithil looked at him and nodded. "Then you understand why I agree with Maidhien that she should not be made to live in the southern villages," he said.

"Of course I do, Galithil. You know I would prefer for all of those elves to move closer to the stronghold. Of course I would not like to see Maidhien go there. But it is not my place to command where she lives. Nor is it yours. Nor is it even hers. She is underage and must obey her father's wishes." He held up his hand when Maidhien moved to protest. "If you go now, peacefully, after asking for pardon for already disobeying your adar by following Galithil on the camping trip...if you and Galithil promise to obey your adar's wishes concerning your courtship, then it is likely that your adar will not make you stay with your cousin in the south very long."

"But that is not a promise I can make," Maidhien responded. "I love Galithil and I will not deny it." Tears filled her eyes again, but she sounded resolute.

"Nor will I, uncle," Galithil added.

"You may have to, at least until you come of age," Thranduil replied, but he frankly sounded regretful.

Galithil shook his head and put his arm around Maidhien. "And what if we do? What is accomplished? When we come of age, we will still want to marry and Dannenion still will not allow it. You told me I must win his consent. Given his reaction to a simple letter, do you think I will ever win it? He is willing to risk Maidhien's life to keep us apart, for pity's sake!"

Thranduil released a long breath. "I do not think Dannenion believes he is risking Maidhien's life. He refuses to believe the southern forest to too dangerous for villages," he replied, and again held up his hand for silence when Galithil drew a breath to argue. "But I admit," he pressed on, "that I doubt you can win Dannenion's consent. When he spoke to me about the letter he found, he said to me that he would not see his daughter serving a Sindarin court. He sounded just like my adar when he spoke of the Noldor. I do not think he will ever willingly allow you to marry her."

Thranduil intended to say more, but cut himself off when Maidhien's face crumbled and tears again began flowing down her cheeks.

For the briefest of moments, Thranduil considered promising them that they could marry once they came of age without Dannenion's permission, but of course he knew that was not possible.

"Then what can we do, uncle? When we are both of age and we still want to marry, what will we do? Imagine the accusations Dannenion would undoubtedly hurl at you for abusing your authority to divide his family and steal from him what he would never have given freely if Maidhien and I marry without his permission! You know that is how he will respond, and in truth, he would be within his rights to do so. We need a solution that will win Dannenion over to keep Maidhien safe now and allow us to marry later."

Thranduil pressed his lips together. He could not deny his nephew was completely correct, on all counts. But what the solution was, he could not imagine. He had never successfully turned Dannenion's resolve on any matter.

Maidhien looked between Galithil and Thranduil's very serious expressions. "Why does my adar hate you so?" she demanded quietly. "And why do Galithil and Legolas, and apparently you, feel that the idea he might threaten Galithil is believable? What did he do to earn arrest in the capital?"

Thranduil frowned deeply. Those were extremely difficult, but unfortunately very pertinent, questions. "You do not know what your adar did? He has never discussed it with you?"

She shook her head.

Thranduil hesitated. "It is not honestly my place to tell you, Maidhien," he said softly.

Her brows drew together and her chin jutted out.

Stubborn, Thranduil thought again.

"It would help her understand her adar's behavior, even as knowing helped Legolas and I understand it, uncle," Galithil prompted softly.

Thranduil sighed. "And it will frighten her, given how you and Legolas were behaving earlier," he retorted. But he had never been one to censor information. He faced Maidhien squarely. "I have asked your adar how I offended him many times and he has never directly answered me, so I can only speculate. Some of the Silvan blame my family for bringing evil with us to this forest. That is, of course, not true, but they think it just the same. Many people blame me for their losses in the War in Mordor and I do not deny they have every right to do so. I convinced my adar to enter that war and when he died, I convinced our people to continue fighting in it and I commanded them. I am directly responsible for everything that happened there and I do not deny it. Finally, some people, and certainly your adar included, blame me for the damage the Evil One has done to this forest. I will concede they have some right to do so--I have done all I could, but it has not been enough. These are the issues people normally take with me." He paused. "I have been told, though not by anyone in your family, that your adar and uncle resent my family because we arrived in this forest at the same time they had been made lords of the Silvan by the people in their villages and they felt my adar usurped their authority upon his arrival in the forest."

Maidhien nodded. "I can believe all of that. I have heard adar and Uncle Dolwon make all those complaints at some point or another." She frowned and continued in a forceful voice. "But I do not think anyone has any right to blame you if people died fighting in a war. You never forced them to go. They went willingly. And when you march to war, you must expect some people will die. And as for the forest, anyone can tell you are doing all you can. It is not fair to expect more than that and people should not criticize you for it."

Thranduil smiled at her. "I appreciate your loyalty, Maidhien, especially since you give it to me in the face of your own family's arguments against me. Still, I recognize these are evil times and I do not deny anyone their right to speak their mind about their difficulties or present their ideas to me. I have, however, been entrusted by the people of this forest to rule it and until the people as a whole withdraw their trust in me, I am obligated by my oath to them to do so. I cannot, therefore, allow small groups of elves to ignore the will of the people by trying to overthrow my rule."

Maidhien now looked at Thranduil with wide eyes.

He nodded gravely. "Your adar and uncle are guilty of treason. They plotted to overthrow my rule of this forest," he said in as gentle a voice as he could muster.

Maidhien drew a deep breath and looked down. "I had imagined many things, and that was the worst of them," she replied softly.
 
Thranduil was surprised and a little saddened that she did not seem shocked at all to hear her father's crime. It spoke volumes about her home life.

Then Maidhien looked back at Thranduil, her brows knit tightly together. "Adar did not...try to..." she struggled to make herself complete her sentence.

Thranduil relieved her of the need. "He, and the others conspiring with him, did not try to kill anyone, Maidhien," though deaths were still the result, he silently added. "He did try to abduct Legolas and Galithil's naneths, assuming he could force me to leave the forest if he threatened them."

Maidhien stared at him and her brow furrowed even further. "And that would work, too. How could it not! Legolas's naneth. His naneth! And yours," she looked at Galithil and then looked quickly away. "Adar will never allow us to marry," she said flatly. "Never. And Galithil is right." She turned to Thranduil. "You cannot possibly lend credence to adar's accusations by allowing us to marry without his consent, given all that is at stake if you do. It is impossible."

Thranduil found himself held by her gaze. He had seen many emotions in it during this discussion--mostly fear and grief and determination. Now he saw nothing. Well, almost nothing. A touch of grief in the recesses of her eyes, but otherwise emptiness. Hopelessness.

"We need only endure until we are of age. Then we will leave," Galithil said to her softly. "We could go to Lorien. Legolas's daeradar says it is even more beautiful than Eryn Galen. We will be together, your adar would not pursue us there, and if we do it alone, he will have no place to blame the King."

Thranduil's eyes shifted to Galithil and widened.

"I do not want to leave my responsibilities here, uncle. I would not if I could avoid it. But I love Maidhien. I will not allow her adar to make life impossible for her. I cannot allow it," he said. "And I will not give him more arguments against you than I can possibly avoid. It is the only solution."

Thranduil studied his nephew silently. He was a child. This is a childish threat, born of lack of understanding of both his own feelings and duties. That was Thranduil's first thought. As soon as it entered his mind, he dismissed it. Galithil was not a child--in a few years, he would be old enough to begin formal training as a warrior. Moreover, he had been aware of his duties to this realm since the day he began walking and speaking. They had not always, or even often, agreed on how Galithil might best fulfill those duties, but Thranduil could not question his nephew's determination to do so. Nor could he question Galithil's devotion to Maidhien, since nearly the moment they met. Thranduil looked back at Maidhien. She was looking at the floor. In several places the skirt of her gown was damp from where her tears had fallen on it.

"We cannot run to Lorien either, Galithil," she whispered, so low Thranduil could barely hear her. "How could I take you from the only family you have left. You have a wonderful family. You cannot leave them or abandon this realm. You could never be happy if you did that. It is impossible," she repeated. "It will never happen. We must forget about it."

Galithil looked back at Thranduil. "Uncle, how can I win Dannenion's consent? What can I possibly do?" he asked, frustration, or perhaps more accurately, desperation clear in his voice.

"Perhaps we can find something that would persuade him," he said, suddenly as determined as his nephew to find a solution, for Maidhien's sake. "But we cannot do it here. Come with me," he said, taking Maidhien's hand and pulling her to her feet. He placed her hand on his arm and covered it with his own comfortingly, leading her from the sitting room. "We will go to speak to your adar. When we do, you must be in control of yourself. Try to look repentant and at least keep quiet and let him have his say. Then we will see what we can find to make a marriage between you and Galithil seem more palatable to him."

As they walked, Thranduil laughed to himself at the absurdity of reasoning with Dannenion. Nothing moved him to reason. There was nothing he could use to bargain for his consent. Nothing short of buying his permission with my abdication, Thranduil thought. That would certainly work.  

Not likely.

Much more pleasing was the idea of finding a way to win Maidhien as a daughter while ridding the realm of Dannenion altogether. Thranduil raised an eyebrow. Getting rid of Dannenion might indeed be possible.

*~*~*

Love, like a river, will cut a new path

whenever it meets an obstacle.


Crystal Middlemas

Chapter Six: Cut a new path

Thranduil led Maidhien, her arm still entwined with his, into the Great Hall. "Clear the Hall," he called.

The scribes and his councilors' assistants quickly picked up whatever they needed to continue their work and began filing out the back doors to the Hall. Hallion, in contrast, walked toward the table where Thranduil was leading Galithil and Maidhien. "You too, Hallion," Thranduil said, seating himself at the table and gesturing for Maidhien to sit next to him and Galithil next to her.

Hallion's eyebrows rose. "My lord?" he asked, clearly unwilling to question the King in front of Maidhien, but he had never been excluded from any dealings of the realm.  

Thranduil regarded him sternly. "Galithil, Maidhien and I are meeting with Dannenion to discuss a betrothal. He is opposed, as you well know. 'My daughter will not serve in a Sindarin court,' were his exact words, if you will remember. And that was one of the few wholly honest phrases he has ever uttered to me. We both understand precisely what that means. This affair with Dannenion is lost and I will do what I can to profit from it before I finish it. I intend to use certain threats as leverage to get what I want--threats that you have always opposed, in the strongest of terms. You may stay if you will hold your tongue, but leave if you will not. My decision is made and I will not be challenged on it further."

Hallion silently sat at the table, next to Galithil, since Maidhien was seated in his normal place next to the king, and returned Thranduil's gaze evenly.

Thranduil only nodded.

Moments later, the doors of the Hall flew open and Dannenion burst through them, accompanied by the servant that Thranduil had dispatched to inform him that Maidhien was waiting in the Great Hall. While the servant bowed to Thranduil and left the Hall at his signal, Dannenion charged up the center aisle, without waiting for an invitation, glaring at Galithil all the way.

"Both of you sit and be silent," Thranduil ordered. Galithil nodded once. Maidhien continued staring nervously at her father. She appeared ready to flee. "Stay and be silent. Understood?" Thranduil repeated, touching her elbow to draw her attention. She looked at him and nodded with wide eyes. Thranduil stood, ostensibly to greet Dannenion. In truth, he stood because, in doing so, he blocked Dannenion's path to his daughter, who now was fully obscured behind the King.

"Give her to me," Dannenion demanded, with no preamble when he reached the table. He tried to lean around Thranduil to reach for Maidhien, without success. "Get yourself back to the cottage this instant," he ordered instead, pointing at her.

"She is going, Dannenion," Thranduil said calmly. "Of course she is. But first we should take advantage of this opportunity to discuss our children's futures together."

"They have no future together," Dannenion said, refusing to sit as Thranduil had gestured for him to do. "I will not allow my daughter to marry your foster son. I have already told you that," he said.

"Certainly they cannot marry now," Thranduil replied, still not reacting to Dannenion's hostile attitude. "They are not of age. Naturally they must wait. And Maidhien tells me that you are sending her to live with a cousin of yours in one of the southern villages. I agree that is not a terrible idea, to give them some time apart to decide if this is truly where their hearts are leading them. But there are many aspects of that we must discuss, of course, before she can leave."

Dannenion loosed a scoffing noise. "Where I send Maidhien is none of your concern," he shot back.

"I fear I must beg to differ with you, Dannenion. It is my business. First there is the matter of how a child her age could travel such a distance safely. I presume you intend to ask my permission to travel with her, since you may not leave the capital without it. So I must arrange an escort for you both. And that will take some time, because, naturally at least two of the guards I send with you will need to stay in the village to guard Maidhien while she is there. Possibly three, because they will need to guard her morning and night in such a dangerous location."

Thranduil fell silent in response to Dannenion's furious splutterings, appearing for all the world confused as to why Dannenion might be so surprised. To his right, Thranduil heard Galithil strangling not to laugh. He sobered him with a glance.

"Why do you think my daughter needs your guards around her? Is she now also under arrest? What was her crime?" Dannenion finally managed to ask around his rage.

Thranduil smiled blandly. "The guards are not to hold her under arrest, but rather to keep her safe. All members of my family are assigned guards, Dannenion. You know that, certainly."

Dannenion actually growled. "My daughter is not a member of your family. That is what I am sending her to my cousin to prevent!"

Thranduil nodded. "Yes, I know. And I can see that you believe it will work. But I have spent more time with Maidhien and Galithil together than you have, I am certain of that. Perhaps that is why it is easier for me to see that even a separation until they come of age will not dull their love for one another. But I agree with you that it is a perfectly reasonable thing to try, assuming that Maidhien is kept safe."

Dannenion ground his teeth listening to that explanation. "My cousin will keep her safe," he spat. "That is all the guard she needs. And this is none of your business because she will never be a member of your family. Even when she comes of age, she still needs my permission to marry and I will never give it. Never. I told you I would take my entire family from this forest and never look back before I would allow her to marry Galithil."

That threat wrung a sob from Maidhien, despite her best efforts to obey Thranduil and remain silent.

Thranduil allowed his reaction to her tears to show plainly on his face. He stood aside so Dannenion could more clearly see his daughter and turned her face towards his with a finger under her chin. "Your daughter's tears do not move you at all, Dannenion? They move me. Honestly, I spent a good part of the afternoon trying to reassure these children that you are not as stubborn and foolish as the old man in my storeroom. Will you prove me wrong? If you refuse to allow Maidhien and Galithil to marry, you will kill her with grief as surely as the man would have killed his daughter with an arrow. Are you truly willing to do that?"

For a moment, Thranduil thought he saw Dannenion waver ever so slightly, but in the end, he only continued glaring at his daughter. Love simply did not motivate Dannenion. Very well, that was not terribly surprising, no matter how disappointing it was. There were other tactics. Thranduil stepped between them again. "Please explain to me why you find Galithil so objectionable," he said, changing tactics, "while he is still young enough that I might endeavor to correct any character flaws you see in him."

Dannenion looked over Thranduil's shoulder at the wall behind him, refusing to answer.

Thranduil did not need a response. He knew the reason already. "Or is his greatest flaw in your mind simply that he is a member of my family and you will never see past your hatred of me? Not even for the sake of your daughter's happiness? You avoided answering that question when I last asked it. Now I am asking again and I expect an answer: Is that the true issue, Dannenion?" There was a definite edge to the King's voice.

"If I answer 'yes' you will banish me, believing me a traitor," Dannenion said, still looking at the wall. "And if I answer 'no' and name reasons why I do not approve of Galithil, you will argue them with me until I grow tired of argument and consent. It is plain that you intend to take my daughter from me, one way or another."

Thranduil sat down and put a comforting arm around Maidhien. "We have already discussed this. I will not take your daughter from you by force." He paused long enough to let that assurance fully register. "I had hoped to encourage you to put her happiness before your own stubborn ideas about me, Dannenion, but I see that is not possible. So I will try another approach: What can I offer you to persuade you to give your permission for them to be betrothed? My only concern is for Maidhien's happiness. And Galithil's, of course. If there is a price you would name for your consent--a reasonable one--name it. If it is within my power to grant it, I will consider it."

Dannenion studied Thranduil for a long moment with a look that was outwardly insulted, but surprised, tempted and calculating also. Then he looked at Maidhien and Galithil. Thranduil threw a glance in their direction. Maidhien's expression would have brought Thranduil to his knees, were she his daughter. He had no doubt of that. She looked miserable. Galithil, he was pleased to see, was looking at his hands in his lap with a completely neutral expression on his face--nothing there to incur Dannenion's wrath.

"I want my freedom," Dannenion finally answered. "Freedom to leave the capital and travel as I will. Dolwon's too. I want you to release us both from arrest." He paused a moment, frowning thoughtfully, and then smiled briefly as an argument obviously occurred to him. He rushed to make it. "Freeing Dolwon and I would be a token that we--our families--can begin to trust one another and work together again. I have served you properly for fifteen years, after all. So has Dolwon." He spoke quickly, sounding at once doubtful and hopeful that he might get his wish.

Thranduil did not so much as blink. That was precisely what he had expected Dannenion to say, since asking for Thranduil's abdication was precluded by the stipulation that the request be reasonable. "You would like to be released from your duties to this court?" he specified, still curious about that detail.

Dannenion shook his head. "No, no. I, for my part at least, would like to continue serving the court. I enjoy doing it."

Thranduil raised an eyebrow. He had not been certain what Dannenion's response to that question would be, and he did not at all trust the truthfulness of the answer he had been given, but he was happy to give Dannenion all the rope he wanted.

Dannenion raised his chin as he got another idea for a demand and decided to push for it, having not yet seen an objection to his first. "But I would like more responsibility. To truly serve the court rather than just be a scribe and local messenger for Golwon. I want to be able to state my ideas and be heard. I did lead a village for many an Age, you know. I can provide valuable input. If you want my daughter to marry into your family, then that is my demand. Treat the rest of her family with the respect we deserve for the knowledge we have of this forest."

He fell silent, watching Thranduil intently for a reaction.

"Granted," Thranduil said after a moment's pause. Maidhien's whispered "you cannot be serious" and Galithil's sharp intake of breath were drowned out entirely by Dannenion's exclamation.

"Truly? Dolwon and I are freed? And we, or I, at least--I will not speak for Dolwon--may serve this court in a more meaningful fashion?" he repeated, completely incredulous.

"Yes, on both counts. In exchange, Maidhien and Galithil are betrothed, that betrothal will be publicly announced and you will publicly bless it. At the upcoming festival. One year after Maidhien comes of age, they may marry if they still wish to do so and you will bless their marriage. Finally, Maidhien will also serve this court as she and I agree best fits her talents, beginning now. You will not object to that," Thranduil enumerated the terms of their bargain, regarding Dannenion coolly.  

"Agreed," Dannenion said swiftly.

"Agreed," Thranduil confirmed.

Dannenion broke into a broad smile and held out his hand towards Maidhien. "Come Maidhien, let us go tell our wonderful news to your naneth, aunt and uncle," he said.

Maidhien shrunk back from his outstretched hand and Thranduil felt his temper rise, despite his best efforts to quench it for Galithil and Maidhien's sakes. He was certain that the 'wonderful news' Dannenion wanted to share with his family would not even include a mention of his daughter's betrothal. Dannenion was the most egotistical Elf Thranduil had ever met. "Maidhien, Galithil and I have to discuss how Maidhien could best serve this court. And we should go to the store rooms to choose a pair of silver rings for them. I will send her to your cottage shortly." He paused. "Unless you would like to stay and supervise these plans? You are welcome to do so, of course."

Dannenion's smile faded and he shook his head. "I want to speak to Dolwon and Anastor. Surely Maidhien can discuss her duties to you some other day. And, as for rings, I can have one made for Galithil. I do not need for her to choose a ring from your store room."

"But I want to stay and speak to the King about what he expects me to do," Maidhien declared with determination.

"And perhaps she would like to choose the ring that Galithil will give to her," Thranduil added.

Dannenion rolled his eyes. "Very well," he said. Then his expression hardened and he focused on Galithil. "Thranduil may discuss with my daughter what he expects of her, but here is what I expect of you," he said pointing to Galithil.

Galithil quickly turned his attention from Maidhien to Dannenion, somewhat startled to be addressed in such a threatening tone. He put his hands on the edges of his chair as if he intended to stand. He would certainly stand if Thranduil had addressed him thusly, but he hovered over his seat now, less willing to show Dannenion the same courtesy.

Thranduil's eyes narrowed at Dannenion's treatment of his nephew, but he held his tongue.

"I will make an effort to tolerate the flowers and other foolish tokens you send to her," Dannenion all but snarled, "but mind your behavior with her. You are betrothed, not married, and betrothed as children, at that. I do not want to hear, ever again, about my daughter sitting, half clothed, in your lap kissing you or..."

Dannenion might have intended to say more, but Thranduil's reaction to that statement precluded further speech. He spun around to fully face his nephew, and his entire posture radiated a demand for an explanation.

Galithil rose instantly, shaking his head. "I...we...never..." was all he managed to stammer, face flaming red.

Maidhien jumped up as well, glaring at her father and stepping between Galithil and Thranduil. "We were swimming," she said quickly. Color also crept up her cheeks. "Eirienil, Aewen and I always swim in our shifts. All the ellyth do. And the ellyn always take off their tunics to keep them from being ruined. That is why we were 'half clothed.' And if I was sitting in Galithil's lap, it was because the ledge in the hot spring is too narrow for two people to sit next to each other on it." Then she raised her chin. "And of course I have kissed Galithil. There is nothing wrong with a kiss. Eirienil has kissed half the ellyn in the First Year. And Aewen..." She stopped speaking abruptly and turned a glare on Galithil when he kicked her in the shin.

Dannenion growled and looked between Galithil and Thranduil, his expression plainly saying, 'You see why I object.'

Thranduil, however, had deflated from rage to mild disapproval. "I have never silenced my lady wife by kicking her, Galithil," he began sternly. Hallion almost succeeded in stifling the laughter that reprimand elicited. "And as for your behavior together, you will find I am quite conservative in this area." He looked at Galithil. "You let Maidhien sit on the ledge in the hot spring and tread water yourself."

Galithil nodded. "Yes, uncle," he replied hastily.

Maidhien scowled, but said nothing.

Thranduil sighed and rubbed his brow. "May I speak with your daughter now?" he asked.

Dannenion looked at her and frowned. "What do you intend to say to her? Or more to the point, demand of her?"

"I only intend to suggest some ways that she might become more familiar with my household and the court. She may choose which ever of them might interest her."

Dannenion snorted and faced Maidhien. "You will be as deep in study and duty as your betrothed husband there," he said, jerking his chin in Galithil's direction. "Spending the better part of your day learning to speak in the tongues of Easterlings or only the Valar know who. By all means, stay and learn what you have contracted to do." He turned to Thranduil. "I expect her home for dinner," he concluded. And with that, he turned and began marching down the center aisle of the Hall.

Thranduil stood. "Dannenion."

Dannenion turned and looked at him.

"Members of my court, even those who also count themselves as members of my family, ask my leave before walking away from me. And in my throne room, they bow before leaving."

Dannenion fought a largely loosing battle not to scowl. "By your leave, my lord," he managed to say quietly. And he sketched a bow when Thranduil nodded his permission to leave.

Thranduil watched him leave with a cold glare.

"Uncle," Galithil began in a very quiet voice the moment Dannenion passed through the doors of the Hall, "I appreciate what you just did. Maidhien and I both do, more than we could ever express to you." Maidhien nodded. She was near tears again, Thranduil was alarmed to see, but was looking at him as if he had just granted her a stay of execution. "But..." Galithil hesitated and looked down. "It is certainly not my place to question how you judge criminals in your own court," he glanced at Maidhien apologetically, "but..." he seemed uncertain how to finish his sentence. Or unwilling to do so.

"But you should not have given adar leave to travel where ever he wants or to meddle in your affairs," Maidhien concluded for him. "He does hate you still. He will find a way to take advantage of what you just did."

Galithil frowned and looked torn between kicking Maidhien again and piping up to agree with her. In the end he settled for taking her hand. Apparently he squeezed it rather tightly, because Maidhien scowled at him.

Hallion was grinning at Maidhien.

Thranduil smiled at her as well. He stepped towards her. Cupping her face in his hands, he bent over to kiss her forehead. "Welcome to the family, Maidhien. You will fit in well."

Maidhien smiled back him, somewhat shyly and obviously wondering if his tone implied more than she understood.

"But never fear, my dear," he continued. "I do not trust your adar." His face grew serious. "I will be frank with you, Maidhien, because this concerns your family and I do not want you to be caught at unawares and therefore hurt when what I have done today draws to what I believe will be its natural conclusion. I trust you to keep my confidence," he said, pausing.

"I will not repeat what you say to me," Maidhien promised swiftly. "I never told anyone about the secret door in the cave."

Thranduil nodded. "Then the truth of the matter, Maidhien, is that this is the last opportunity I intend to give your adar and uncle. If they use it well, that would be wonderful. But I do not expect them to. Rather, I expect your adar to violate the trust I just gave him. I will be watching for whatever he decides to do. And when he acts..." Thranduil hesitated. When Dannenion moved against him again, the very least Thranduil intended to was banish him and anyone that supported him, but he could think of no delicate way to tell Maidhien that and he did not believe she should suffer any further harsh treatment this day.

But Maidhien's eyes widened in understanding none the less. "When he does, you will send him from the forest for good," she finished for him. "Adar always said you would do that eventually."

"Only if he forces me to, Maidhien," Thranduil replied.

She shrugged. "He probably will."

*~*~*

"You honestly told him you would help the Queen with household management, Maidhien?" Eirienil asked, leaning forward. Her tone was cautious.

Maidhien shrugged. "No one has come forward to help her since Galithil's naneth died. She needs help."

Like Eirienil, Legolas tried not to openly react too strongly. He was still reeling from the news that his cousin was betrothed. He knew it was coming, of course. But now? That had surprised him. As had Galithil's account of how Thranduil had secured Dannenion's consent. That story had been related to Legolas alone, in the privacy of Thranduil's office. It was a topic not even remotely appropriate for public consumption. But however it was done, Legolas was very thankful that Galithil's news was such that his father could hardly deny him the privilege of accompanying his cousin to the Green to share it with their friends. He had feared he would not see the light of either the sun or stars again until his father had spoken to him about Tulus, and Thranduil seemed to be in no rush to have that conversation. In fact, Thranduil had appeared quite eager to get he and his cousins out of the family quarters. Legolas wondered if that had anything to do with the fact that his naneth was due back to the stronghold at any moment and might take Thranduil to task for agreeing to a betrothal without even speaking to her. Not that Lindomiel would object, but Legolas imagined she would not be pleased to be completely left out of the decision either and he suspected that omission had occurred to his father rather belatedly.

None of that was his priority at the moment. He glanced over at Aewen, trying to judge the possibility of luring her out of the tight little circle he, his cousins and friends sat in on the Green. He wanted to talk to her, but she had been resolutely ignoring him since they had come out for the evening dancing, focused instead entirely on Galithil and Maidhien's news.

"A guard!" Aewen was exclaiming now. "He is going to assign you a guard?"

Maidhien shook her head, scowling at her brother.

"Adar said that Thranduil said he would assign you a guard," Anastor replied, clearly delighting in teasing his sister.

"He only said that when he thought Dannenion was going to send her to live in your cousin's village," Galithil argued back.

"Adar thinks he will still do it," Anastor insisted. "Everyone in Thranduil's family has a guard."

Galithil turned to Conuion. He had accompanied the children to the Green instead of Tulus and Colloth. "Will uncle assign Maidhien a guard?" Galithil asked.

"The King has not spoken to me about arranging a guard for her," Conuion responded. "Of course, he has hardly had time to do so."

Legolas hoped his father would not assign Maidhien a guard. Three guards would be one worse than two, and Aewen already hated two.

Indeed, Aewen was staring at Maidhien as if she had just declared she intended to marry a dwarf rather than Galithil. "Guards and learning Westron..." she began.

"I asked for those lessons," Maidhien interrupted, "so I can understand what is going on when Galithil speaks to Men and Dwarves and things like that."

"...and helping the Queen!" Aewen continued without pause. "I hope you know what you are doing, Maidhien."

Maidhien only raised an eyebrow at that. She completely ignored Anastor's remarkably sincere, "So do I."

"Never fear," Galithil replied with a bitter tone, It was almost enough to distract Legolas from Aewen's obvious dismay over Maidhien's new duties. "Uncle Thranduil reminded her that we are children and a child's betrothal is much more easily broken if she comes to realize that she did not know what she is doing."

Legolas blinked and looked at Maidhien.

"I know exactly what I am doing and I will not break it. You know that," Maidhien said, while reaching to take Galithil's hand. "He only wants me to be certain, Galithil. Your family is very different from any other and he is 'conservative' as he said."

Galithil nodded. "True enough," he admitted. "Would you like to dance?"

Maidhien nodded and stood, clearly eager to dance with Galithil.

Legolas had almost choked earlier when Galithil and Maidhien had been telling him the whole story in private and he had heard exactly what precipitated the 'conservative' comment. He understood his cousin's desire to not revisit that conversation in public. He turned to look at Aewen, thinking this might be a good opportunity to ask her to dance too, to draw her aside so they could talk, but she was still studiously avoiding his gaze. Legolas looked away as well. How long did she intend to stay angry with him for something he could not control!

He looked to the other side of the Green just in time to see Tulus emerging from the trees. Glilavan was with him, almost dragging him, it seemed. Legolas watched his guard, considering if he should go speak to him, since Aewen refused to so much as look at him.

Tulus took a few steps onto the Green, following his son towards the tables where one of Galion's assistants was dispensing wine. He stopped short when he saw Conuion. Then his gaze traveled to Legolas. He quickly said something to Glilavan, turned and walked straight to the path that led back to the cottage he shared with his son.

Legolas frowned and pushed himself off the blanket he and his cousins had spread to sit on. He had managed two steps before a hand closed over his arm. Conuion.

"Stay on the Green," Conuion ordered.

"I want to speak to him," Legolas said softly. "I owe him an apology. At least let me go see if he is ready to hear one."

Conuion pressed his lips together. "He is angry, Legolas," he warned in a low voice.

Legolas's expression did not change. He was willing to face Tulus's anger if it would help fix things between them.

"Go straight to his cottage," Conuion said after studying Legolas. "Do not even dream of straying anywhere else, what ever the reason. And tell him that I require him to bring you back here when you are finished speaking, regardless of how the conversation goes."

Legolas looked at the captain of his father's guard with raised brows. "You are not coming with me?"

Conuion shook his head. "If his captain is there, the tone of the conversation would much different than if you go alone. And you managed to get yourself safely to and from your friends' cottages often enough before the King decided to assign you a guard. I judge you can manage alone again just this once."

Legolas supposed he should be grateful for the trust Conuion was willing to show him. "Thank you, Conuion," he said and then jogged off across the Green.

*~*~*

Legolas knocked softly on Tulus's door and waited for a response. He knew it was possible that Tulus would not agree to speak to him, but he hoped he would. After waiting a long moment, Legolas heard a chair scrape across the wooden floor of the cottage. Then, the door opened.

"You will forgive me, my l..." Tulus began, speaking as formally as he might to Thranduil himself, but he cut himself off after looking out his door. "Where is Conuion?" he asked. Then his eyes widened and he looked incredulously at Legolas. "Where is Conuion?" he repeated.

"On the Green," Legolas replied. "He said he did not want to come with me to speak to you. He feared his presence might influence our conversation in some way." 

When Tulus studied him doubtfully, arms crossed over his chest, Legolas found he was hurt enough to be unable to meet Tulus's gaze. "I am not lying, Tulus," he said softly. "Conuion said you were to bring me back to the Green, regardless of how our conversation went, so you can confirm with him that I am telling the truth when you do."

Tulus stepped out of his cottage and onto the path that led back to the Green. "I beg your pardon, Legolas. It is not my place to question the word of the King's son," he said stiffly while gesturing for Legolas to proceed him down the path.

Legolas bit his lip. "Of course, it is plain to me why you might not trust me," he replied without moving. "Will you not listen to an apology, Tulus?"

Tulus allowed the arm pointing down the path to fall to his side and said nothing. He did not, however walk away down the path or reenter his cottage and close the door. Legolas assumed that was the only encouragement he could expect. He would take it. This was one of those apologies he truly felt, and so it was easy to make.

"I violated your trust, Tulus," he began. "A trust that we must share if we are both to perform our duties to this realm, especially when I become a warrior. Moreover, I made it impossible for you to carry out the oath that you made to the King. And my actions endangered your life, Colloth's life and the lives of four warriors. When you agreed to be my guard, while still bearing a nearly mortal wound that you earned protecting my life, I swore to myself that I would never do anything to recklessly endanger you again, because we are friends and have been since I was an infant. I truly regret my actions, Tulus. I beg your forgiveness and an opportunity to re-earn your trust."

Tulus averted his gaze from Legolas only a few words into his apology. Towards the middle of it, Legolas watched him slump slightly. When Legolas mentioned recklessness, Tulus's jaw clenched and he looked back at him angrily. "Do you have any idea how frightened I was when I heard the patrol's warning, looked where I thought you were sleeping and saw that you were not there?" he asked, when Legolas stopped speaking.

"I am certain that was both a shock and frightening," Legolas replied quietly.

Tulus took a step toward him. "Indeed it was. Just as it was when Colloth and I found you and a Man had an arrow pointed at your chest," he continued, voice raised.

Legolas grimaced. "I do understand that, Tulus."

Tulus took another step forward and grabbed Legolas's arm roughly. "Do you? Well, you understand more than your actions implied you do then. Facing armed criminals with only your knife in your hand! Where was your bow?," he asked, tightening his grip on Legolas's arm. "Lying useless next to your empty bedroll, that is where!" He gave Legolas a shake. "When I saw you had crept off into the forest without even taking your weapons...when I found you in the middle of a battle, I was not certain if I intended to save you from the Man or..." he cut himself off and the angry expression was replaced first with a horrified one and then with regret. "I forgot to whom I am speaking. I am angry, but that is no excuse. I beg your pardon."

Legolas stared at him silently for a moment. He could not think of a time that anyone had been angry enough with him to physically shake him. And he was not certain what Tulus was about to say, but he suspected it was something neither his father nor Conuion would approve of. Tulus was indeed angry. "I am sorry, Tulus. I truly regret that I frightened you. And believe me, I had plenty of time to regret where my weapons were. I know I was a fool to leave them behind. But most of all I regret that you are in trouble for something that I did. I would take all the blame for this if Adar would allow it, because it is truly my fault." Legolas paused, remembering something his father had said that worried him. "Adar has not spoken to me yet, but I know he has spoken to you. He told me that you and Colloth were 'unavailable' to take my cousins and I to the Green. Will you tell me what that means?" If Thranduil had dismissed Tulus, Legolas intended to try to fight that.

"The King was more understanding than I have any right to expect him to be," Tulus replied. His tone implied he did not feel he deserved the King's mercy and that made Legolas feel still worse than before. "He was angry, to be certain, but I think his anger was at least partially deflected from Colloth and I by your words in the Great Hall. I do thank you for that. Conuion also spoke privately with the King, and he told us he did so on our behalfs. In the end, the King left me to Conuion's discipline and Conuion has not yet decided how to respond, but the King did make it clear that I was not to be dismissed. Since that is the very least that I expected to happen, I am relieved and quite prepared to accept whatever Conuion decides upon."

Legolas frowned, wondering what Tulus expected to happen, if being dismissed was the least of the punishments he imagined.

Tulus finally looked at Legolas. "The King also asked me if I wanted to continue serving as your guard. He told me he would understand if I did not."

Legolas could not conceal his shock in response to that. Before he could master himself, he gaped at Tulus.

The guard looked back at the ground.

Legolas did the same and strove to bring his expression back under control. "I suppose I would also understand if you did not, Tulus. You have to be able to trust me to do your duty and I did betray that trust," he said as evenly as he could manage. "I hope that whatever you decide, you will eventually forgive the fright and trouble I have caused you so that we might still be friends. I have truly cherished your friendship since my cousins and I were infants. We all have."

Tulus's brow knit. "Many people cherish you as well, Legolas," Tulus said, still looking at the ground. "Do you have any idea what it would have done to your parents if that old man had...?" He closed his eyes. "I have imagined a hundred times over the last day having to bring your body back to your father. I am not certain I would have had the courage to do it." He looked back at Legolas. "Do not misunderstand me. I do not lack the courage to face the just consequences of my failure. I would do that willingly. I lack the courage to see what your death would do to the King. And the Queen. It would destroy them, Legolas, and I do not think I could bear to watch it. No punishment the King could impose on me for failing in my duty would be worse than seeing that. If he killed me in his anger, I would consider it a blessing, honestly. The King and Queen would not be the only ones to grieve your loss."

Legolas chewed on his lip throughout that speech. His father had reminded him many times that losing him would be more than he could bear. Now that Legolas was older and knew well the history of his father's people and what he had already born, he alternated between finding that statement to be an outrageous exaggeration or a terribly sobering doom. Legolas found himself wondering why hearing it from someone other than his father made it feel even more weighty. But Legolas was stunned to find himself blinking back tears in response to Tulus's last statement. He and Tulus had always been friends, but since Tulus became his guard, and they spent so much time together, Legolas felt as close to him as he did to his uncles. The fact Tulus apparently looked on him in a similar fashion made Legolas's betrayal all the worse. He could not even look him in the eye.

"I do apologize, Tulus," he said softly and stepped onto the path. "Will you take me back to the Green?" he asked. He had no desire to allow Tulus to see how upset he was at the prospect of losing him as a guard.

Tulus nodded and gestured again for Legolas to proceed him down the path. This time Legolas hurried to comply.

Legolas set a fast pace back to the Green. It was a good distance, but they did not exchange a word as they walked. When they reached the Green, Tulus did not venture far onto it. He and Conuion exchanged the signal that acknowledged Tulus had yielded his watch to Conuion. Then, with a quiet 'fair evening,' Tulus slipped back into the shadows of the forest.

And Conuion made no move to approach Legolas.

Trying not to roll his eyes, Legolas strode over to him. Then he frowned. "Where is Galithil?" he asked. Surely his cousin had not already gone back into the stronghold. It was still quite early. The dancing was only beginning to reach its peak and the games under the Oak had not even begun.

Conuion nodded towards the broad beech on the western side of the Green.

Legolas followed his gaze and saw Maidhien and Galithil sitting under it, holding hands and talking. He raised an eyebrow and looked back at Conuion. "Are you not supposed to be with them?" he asked. He knew it took no small amount of nerve to question the attentiveness of the captain of the King's guard, especially given his own recent misdeeds, but if Colloth and Tulus had ever given he and Aewen this much space, Legolas might never have been tempted to slip away from Tulus.

Conuion shrugged. "I have my bow and we are standing on the very roots of the stronghold. I command your family's security and I deem Galithil to be safe enough. I can see him, after all." Conuion paused and turned his gaze towards the river. "I can see Aewen too," he said with an overly neutral tone.

Legolas blinked at him. Then he searched the river bank for Aewen, catching sight of only a flounce of fabric. It dawned on him that if Conuion knew to point out Aewen to him, he at least suspected a good deal more than Legolas was entirely comfortable with. He looked back at Conuion. Maybe that was just as well.

"You know I made a stupid decision, Conuion," Legolas said. "Tulus tells me that Adar has left it up to you what the consequences of my decision will be for him. I know it is not my place to try to influence your command over your own warriors, but if I could, I would take all the blame for what happened on myself. Tulus trusted me and it should not have been wrong for him to do so."

To Legolas's surprise, the ever-stern captain of his father's guards smiled at him. "Tell me that again in fifty or a hundred years, when you have reached your majority and have gained the benefit of some experience, and I will agree with you. It will be your hide that I will be after and not Tulus's at all. But you are still young. Youth does not always stop to think, and even when it does, it does not always know what all it should be thinking about. That is why your adar assigned you a guard."

His tone was kind. So much so that Legolas was not even inclined to be annoyed at the reference to his youth. But he was worried that he had apparently not moved Conuion at all as far a Tulus's guilt was concerned.

Conuion's smiled deepened. "Never fear. I am sympathetic to Tulus's plight. I have guarded the members of your household for three generations. I have commanded the security of your household for this entire Age. I have seen several guards make the same mistake Tulus did and they all remain in the King's service." He laughed. "I made the same mistake myself when guarding your adar in his youth and both he and I survived it, though only by the grace of the Valar." He shook his head. "Your adar is not nearly as fearsome as your daeradar was. Be thankful for that. You and Tulus both will suffer some consequences, and they will undoubtedly be unpleasant, but nothing that you cannot both survive. Be thankful for that also." He gestured towards the river. "I have guarded three generations of your family, as I told you. All of them eventually managed to marry, despite the presence of guards. Go find Aewen."

Legolas did not wait for a second invitation, if for no other reason than to prevent Conuion from seeing him turn bright red. He jogged off towards the river.

"I cannot see through trees or rocks, Legolas," Conuion called after him. "Do not go too deep along the bank."

Legolas waved back at him without turning around to acknowledge that order. And he understood the reason for it. Legolas could not even see the little bit of Aewen's dress that he had seen a moment ago. Reaching the trees along the river, he slowed to a walk and peered amongst them, looking where he had last seen her. After walking a while, he caught sight of movement, close to the bank, near the pools where he and his friends swam. He ducked under a low branch to take a few steps towards her, careful to stay where the trees were thin enough not to obscure him from sight.

"Aewen," he called.

In response, he heard a hasty shuffling of feet and a gasp that turned into a little squeak.

Legolas took a few more steps towards the bank, concerned. Then he froze. Aewen was indeed near the bank of the river. And so was the First Year that had gone swimming with them the day before their aborted camping trip. Aewen was looking at Legolas with wide, guilty eyes. The First Year appeared quite annoyed and a little smug.

Legolas gaped at her. It was perfectly obvious what he had just interrupted. Still, he could scarcely believe his eyes. It took him a full minute, gaze locked with hers, to recover himself. When he did, he quickly turned around. "I beg your pardon," he said, pleased at least by the fact that his voice betrayed nothing of what he felt. He wanted...well he was not sure what he wanted, but he certainly did not want to give that First Year the satisfaction of any sort of reaction. So, he simply turned and walked back up the bank, silently and at a normal pace.

Behind him he heard a whispered conversation and then Aewen's light footsteps following him.

"Legolas, wait," she called, a little breathless.

Legolas saw no reason to wait. Why had she bothered to follow him? What could she possibly have to say? He had tried to speak to her the entire trip home and she had refused to acknowledge him. What could she say now?

What could she say now, indeed! He turned to face her without a word. When he did, she stopped following him and her eyes widened. With supreme effort, and only because he truly did care about her, Legolas wiped the bitter scowl from his face and replaced it with as neutral an expression as he could muster. He had no idea how successful he had been, but at least she looked less frightened.

They looked at one another silently. Legolas waited for her to speak. After all, she had followed him. He had nothing to say at all. Except, perhaps, to ask why she had seemed ready to kiss him--had pulled him away from camp to do so--and now she was kissing this First Year, whose name Legolas could not even dredge up from the recesses of his mind at the moment. She barely knew him!

He took a deep breath, imagining that his face must be growing cross again.

Aewen suddenly put her hands on her hips and lifted her chin. "It is Galithil and Maidhien that are betrothed, Legolas. Not you and I," she finally said, her tone openly defiant.

Legolas blew out a short breath. "I know that," he shot back, much more angrily then he intended. He took another deep breath, determined to govern his tone. He was not going to make this situation worse by treating her as badly as he felt she had treated him. "I clearly misunderstood...." He stumbled, not sure what to say. How did one explain 'misunderstanding' how they had behaved with one another over the last summer. Even Maidhien had said.... Well, no matter. "I misunderstood," he repeated, without elaborating. She knew perfectly well what he was referring to.

Her haughty facade crumbled. "You did not misunderstand, Legolas," she whispered, taking a step closer to him. "I just..." Now she struggled for words. Then she looked at him, brow furrowed deeply in her frustration. "Guards and lessons in Westron and helping manage the King's household!" she managed. "Seeing you fighting with Men! You were going to fight the older man to defend the woman! And seeing the King..." she could not even bring herself to describe what Thranduil had been about to do to the old man. "We were supposed to go camping!" she exclaimed, sounding near tears. "To have some fun before the festival. That ends up with you going to the border to trade with Men. And if that is not bad enough, with you arresting two more Men and taking them back to the stronghold, ruining the camping trip all together!"

"What would you have me do, Aewen?" Legolas exclaimed. "The King asked me to pay the Men. Would you tell him 'no' if he asked you to do something? And that old man was going to kill his own daughter! Would you have me ignore that and go hunting as if I had known nothing?" Despite his best efforts, he could not deny he had raised his voice before he had finished speaking.

"Of course not," she fired back, also yelling. "You had to respond the way you did. But I do not."

Legolas frowned at that, confused.

Aewen looked down. "You are the King's son. Those types of duties will dominate the rest of your life. You have no choice but to do them. I do have a choice whether I do or not. Your adar told Maidhien to think if she really wanted to marry Galithil. Well I did some thinking too. I do not want to learn Westron or manage the stronghold or see Men threatening to kill you."

Legolas's mouth dropped open. "Only a moment ago it was you that pointed out to me that we are not betrothed, Aewen," he snapped without thinking.

"Then we should not be doing anything together that might lead down that path. It is not one I want to take, so I think it is fair to be clear with you about that," she said softly.

"Well, you certainly have been clear," Legolas responded and he turned to walk away.

"I am sorry, Legolas," she whispered. Her voice sounded tearful again.

Legolas paused, but he did not want to turn back around to face her tears. He did not know how to deal with what he was feeling. He did not know how to respond to what she was saying at all. "So am I," he said, sounding every bit as miserable as she had. And he continued up the bank.

Let us remember that a traitor may betray himself and do good that he does not intend. It can be so, sometimes.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (spoken by Gandalf in 'The Siege of Gondor')

Chapter Seven: Do good he does not intend

Legolas marched up the bank of the river, straight towards the bridge that led into the stronghold. He did not so much as glance at the Green, where he was sure at least Conuion, and possibly his cousins, and worse, Anastor and Noruil, were watching him. He wanted to get inside the stronghold and into his room, preferably behind a locked door, before anyone could catch up to him and ask unwanted questions. He picked up his pace when, from the corner of his eye, he saw Galithil and Maidhien stand. All he needed was to hear Maidhien say, 'I told you Aewen would not wait much longer for you,' and he was certain he would forget that she was an elleth and his cousin's betrothed wife. Legolas was in enough trouble as it was without incurring his father and cousin's wrath for punching Maidhien, but he felt capable of it at the moment.

He made it all the way to the entry hall in the stronghold before 'Wait for me!' rang out behind him. It was Galithil.

Legolas did not pause, not even when he realized that he only heard one set of footsteps behind him. This was not something he wanted to discuss, even with Galithil. He charged without hesitation towards the doors that led to the family quarters. The guard standing outside them swiftly moved to hold the door open for him and Legolas passed through it without acknowledging him. He heard a quiet 'thank you' right at his heels. He was walking so fast already that to move faster, he would at least have to jog. He considered doing so.

Galithil edged around him and blocked his path forward, holding him back by a hand on each shoulder when Legolas tried to dodge around him. "What happened?" he demanded, holding Legolas in place.

"Obviously, I do not want to talk about it," Legolas answered, still trying to step around his cousin.

"Aewen ran off the Green crying, Legolas. Everyone saw her," Galithil persisted. "Now what happened?"

That made Legolas stop trying to shove Galithil out of the way. He frowned without looking at him, but still said nothing.

"Explaining it to me would be good practice for when you have to face your adar. And Aewen's, from the looks of things. At least I will be more sympathetic than either of them, and I might be able to help you think of how you can excuse to your adar that you brought another elleth to tears today, this time publicly."

Legolas cringed. Public displays ranked right up there with making ellyth cry or punching ellyth as certain ways to incur his father's wrath. Perfect. And curse it all, this was not his fault! Aewen was the one that went off and kissed that First Year. Why she should be crying about it now was beyond Legolas. If anything, he was the one with the right to be upset. And he was. He shoved Galithil's hands off his shoulders roughly, turning on the only target that presented itself. "This is partly your fault, Galithil," he began, voice raised. "In the first place, you of all people should have understood perfectly well why I had no choice to bring those men to the stronghold. You should have stuck up for me rather than joining in with everyone else complaining about it. That only made Aewen think she was justified in being angry at me. And honestly! You are betrothed? We are barely forty. That is absurd!"

Galithil took a step back and glared at Legolas, hands on his hips. "I will grant you that I should have stuck up for you, but Eirienil and Berior should have too and they did not, so do not take it all out on me. And what does my betrothal to Maidhien have to do with anything?" he asked.

"She has lessons with us now and she will be helping nana in the stronghold," Legolas replied, bitterly. "Maidhien has Aewen worrying about things she has no need to think about."

Galithil loosed a surprised little laugh. "She has no need to think about them if you are only trifling with her. I thought she meant more to you than that."

Legolas's fists clenched involuntarily. He pushed past Galithil in an effort to not punch him. "It does not matter what she might have meant to me," he said.

"What does that mean? Why does it not matter?" Galithil asked. He grabbed Legolas's sleeve to hold him in place. That might have been enough to push Legolas's temper past the breaking point, if not for the obvious concern in his cousin's voice.

Legolas pulled away brusquely. "It means she does not want me courting her," he said, and he almost managed to not sound tearful. He refused to face his cousin lest his expression betray what he had managed to prevent his voice from revealing.

"She told you that?" Galithil asked softly, his tone clearly shocked.

Legolas did turn back to look at him now and Galithil took another step back in response. "Yes," Legolas affirmed. "But more importantly, she showed me. When I found her on the river bank, she was kissing that First Year that went swimming with us before we left to go camping."

Galithil's eyes widened and he loosed a soft whistle. "I have thought for a while that that First Year was a meddling, arrogant snot. I could not believe it when you did not tell him to leave Aewen alone, since you are courting her. I had a mind to speak to him myself and I see now that I should have done it. But even so, he had to have known that you were courting and he continued flirting with her anyway. Completely without honor. He needs to be taught a lesson."

Legolas snorted and slumped against the corridor wall, at least a little mollified by his cousin's obvious anger on his behalf. "Well, apparently I am not courting Aewen, so it is a moot point now," he said tiredly.

"No, it is not a moot point now," Galithil said. "He needs a lesson, Legolas. And I know just how to provide him with one."

Legolas regarded his cousin cautiously. "I am already in enough trouble, Galithil."

"Well," Galithil said, seizing Legolas's sleeve and marching him towards his room, "you will only be in more trouble if we cannot manage to prevent your adar from finding out about what I want to do. And he need not find out if we hurry."

*~*~*

Maidhien fairly skipped along the path to her parents' cottage, singing softly to herself as she went. Today had started out as one of the worst days of her life and had ended as one of the best. Better still would be the day of the festival, when she and Galithil exchanged silver rings. She patted the pocket of her apron and smiled at the hard, circular little imprint she found there. She loved the ring she had chosen for Galithil from the King's store room. It was beautiful, and all the more so since her father had no hand in its selection. He would be angry with her for taking it, but his anger was nothing new to her.

She slowed her paced and sighed when she approached her cottage. She could hear her father and uncle talking. A peek through the trees showed them sitting on the logs in the yard with their heads together. Maidhien had hoped her father would be at her uncle's cottage, or at least already in the room he shared with her mother if he were home. 'Oh well,' she said to herself. Then she patted the ring again to recapture her good mood. She refused to allow it to be dampened. And if she really wanted to guarantee that, she could always climb in through the window in her bedroom, avoiding her father all together. That was a good idea. With a pleased smile at having thought of it, she began circling the cottage to approach the window from behind it.

"Even given the promises you won from him, the price was quite high," her uncle was exclaiming as she got closer. "Maidhien is your daughter, after all. If he has a daughter of his own, my son will never marry her, even if he promised to leave the forest in exchange for my permission."

Maidhien paused, hidden behind a tree, and scowled, immediately angry at her uncle. Her father's decision that day had been the best she had ever seen him make. She did not want her uncle trying to talk him out of it. And besides, any daughter that the King raised would certainly have better sense than to like Noruil anyway, she thought.

"I am tired of others--others far, far less worthy than us--contributing so much when we have so little voice, so much less ability to act," her father answered.

His tone was irate, as when she refused to agree with him about something. Maidhien wondered how long he and Uncle Dolwon had been arguing and derived a bit of satisfaction out of the idea that it might have been a good while, causing her father a good amount of annoyance.

"I am telling you--this will give us more opportunities. In the long run, it will be worth it. You will see. Trust me," he concluded.

"Still, the point is that it will be a 'long run' and Maidhien will suffer during it," Dolwon countered. "We barely have time to provide for our wives and children with all that Thranduil and Golwon demand of us. And we are adults. Maidhien is a child yet. Now she is facing multitudes of worthless lessons and the types of duties we have on top of that. She is too young and should not have to endure such things. It is a very high price."

Maidhien peeked around the tree and glared at her uncle. What she should not have to endure, she thought, was life in a family suspected of treason at every turn because of her father and uncle's foolish ideas. She watched her father roll his eyes.

"She will survive," he said. "We both have survived fifteen years in his court, all in the name of progress towards a better life. Maidhien is old enough to do her part. And besides, I told you, it will never ultimately come to fruition. If I thought it might, I would have never agreed to it. But the King's foster son must come of age before he can marry my daughter. At the rate he gets into trouble, it might not even take any intervention to prevent that."

Maidhien's breath caught in her throat. What did her father mean by that? She pressed herself against the tree in front of her, straining to hear her uncle's whispered reply.

"Will you keep your voice down!" he hissed, looking around himself and searching the trees with special care before continuing. "Galithil is much more subdued since his adar's death," Dolwon argued. "And remember, Maidhien is almost always with him, and will be so even more frequently now. Any danger Galithil is in, she will be in as well."

Her adar shrugged. "He is guarded and so will she be guarded. Those guards will manage to keep her safe from orcs and spiders. And anyone that slips through those guards will not be targeting my daughter. So I am confident that, in the long run, all our sacrifices will be worth it and I will end up with the best end of this deal. You will too. You will see."

Maidhien heard her uncle begin to make a reply, but she did not hear him. Fear and outrage made blood pound in her ears, obliterating anything that he might have said. She stared at her father and uncle. Those were threats, as certain as the rough surface cutting into her hands right now was the bark of a tree. She clutched the tree trunk harder still to keep from shaking. What could she do? Her first instinct was to storm from out behind the tree and confront her father, telling him that she would marry Galithil and she would live with him until the end of Arda in this forest! But as soon as she thought that, a vision of her father dragging her and their entire family from the forest that very night sprung into her mind. What could she do? Tell Galithil? There was nothing Galithil could do except run away with her to avoid trouble with her father, and she had already decided she could not allow him to do that. Her nails dug into the bark, prying a piece loose. She turned it over and over in her fingers as she thought. What else could she do? Galithil was the only person she trusted and she did not see what he could do. Then she stopped playing with the bark as an idea came to her. For a long while, she had liked Galithil's parents and the King and Queen. Truly trusting them, or anyone, came to her with difficulty, to be certain, but surely today the King had earned her trust. He would know what to do. She spun around and dashed silently back down the path to the Green and the stronghold.

*~*~*

Lindomiel leaned forward in her chair. The goblet of wine that Thranduil had poured for her sat completely forgotten on the table beside her and both her hands covered her mouth. Thranduil's expression as he spoke was grim, as it always was when he could not avoid telling her something he knew would distress her.

"But no one was injured and the men and the woman are on their way to Dale to face Fengel," he was hurrying to assure her.

Lindomiel frowned slightly at that. Normally, she tried not to interrupt her husband when he told her these tales, else he never got around to telling her the details. "To Fengel and not to the Master? Esgaroth is much closer," she asked, for that was an unusual decision and a detail that he seemed about to skip over in his rush to finish his story.

"Legolas did not want to see them sent to the Master," Thranduil said dismissively.

Lindomiel's eyebrows climbed at that. It seemed to warrant explanation rather than to be an explanation in itself.

Thranduil sighed. "It is an ugly story, Lindomiel, and one I will not repeat to you if I can avoid it. Suffice to say that the men threatening Legolas had their own quarrel and sending them to Laketown would have complicated it in a way that Legolas wanted to avoid for the sake of the woman with them. That is why he had the warriors bring them to me rather than Laketown--in hopes that I might be able to help them."

Lindomiel's brows climbed higher. "Legolas had them brought to you? And he was the one that influenced you to send them to Dale?" She laughed. "And he expected you to help them?" she repeated. "He thought you might help men that threatened him with a weapon? You did not mention that he was struck in the head. Has Nestoreth determined if the damage is permanent or not?"

One side of Thranduil's mouth turned down harshly. "It is not a joking matter, Lindomiel. This was a...grave situation and Legolas was very lucky it turned out as well as it did, without him being 'struck' in any way."

Lindomiel smiled and leaned forward to place a light kiss on his lips. "Very true. And you would not have to endure me making such comments if you would only tell the story thoroughly in the first place. I suppose that I have little hope of hearing anything of the Men's quarrel if it was truly ugly as you say, and likely you are right that I do not honestly want to hear that anyway, though it grieves me that Legolas apparently heard it at such a young age. But I do want to know what you have done with Tulus and with Legolas. And I reserve the right to alter whatever decision you have made if I find it too harsh. Before I left to manage the berry harvest, I had meant to speak to you about telling Tulus to give Legolas a bit more space to court Aewen, but I was rushed and did not have the opportunity. I feel partly to blame for all that has happened because of that. After all, they would not have tried to hide themselves away if they could have found a little privacy without doing so."

Now it was Thranduil's turn to raise his eyebrows. "Space to court Aewen? Legolas is courting Aewen? When did this happen?" he asked. His voice sounded a little high pitched and that made Lindomiel laugh softly.

"I invite you to dance with me on the Green every night. Most nights you find an excuse not to come," she chastised him teasingly. "If you came, you could see our son making overtures to Aewen. He is very charming, really. And she is lovely. I can see why they have caught one another's eyes."

Thranduil shook his head. "Tulus did not mention they were courting. He was respecting Legolas's privacy, I suppose. I can see where Tulus of all people would not want to give any appearance of interfering with Legolas's courtship of maidens. Still, he might have mentioned it. I admit that knowing the cause does make Legolas's actions a bit more understandable. Not tolerable," he added swiftly. "But understandable. I remember well how easy it is to abandon good sense when overcome by love. And it is hard enough to figure out how to court ellyth without adding guards to the equation." He looked back at Lindomiel. "I have done nothing, as yet, with either Legolas or Tulus. I told Conuion to manage Tulus, but I will suggest to Tulus that he give Legolas and Aewen more privacy to the extent that it is safe to do so in his judgment." He smiled. "Legolas and Dollion's daughter! That would have pleased Aradunnon." Then he shook his head. "They are children, of course. It is not likely to last."

Lindomiel nodded. "Aewen is a lovely girl, as I said, but she is quite self-centered. Unless she matures into a much different adult, I would not approve of her as a match for Legolas," she said seriously.

Thranduil laughed. "Poor Legolas. My naneth was the same way when I was young. No elleth was good enough for me in her mind."

Lindomiel raised her chin and looked down her nose at him, though she could not subdue how brightly her eyes shone with amusement. "Who ever Legolas marries must be prepared for a difficult life, helping her mother-in-law manage the King's household and the realm's food stores. Festivals will become responsibilities..." She trailed off because she was unable to hold back her laughter. She was mimicking what Thranduil said to her over and over when they were courting and it had brought such a grave frown to his face. She leaned forward and kissed him again. "I am sorry, meleth, I could not resist. I am at least partially serious, of course. But you did drive me insane repeating that to me over and over as if I did not know it. I was raised for a life in court, but you still insisted on reminding me repeatedly."

Thranduil continued to regard her seriously. "Then how do you feel about Maidhien? For she is the next topic we must discuss."

Lindomiel sat back in her chair in response to the intensity of his gaze. A warning. Clearly a warning to brace herself for what he would say next. Millennia of experience told her that when so warned, she had better heed the warning.

"Today Dannenion and I agreed that Maidhien and Galithil may be betrothed. Maidhien indicated to me that she would be willing to help you in the household management, so I want you to begin teaching her whatever you think is appropriate for her to assist you with," he said.

Lindomiel stared at him. "Betrothed!" she exclaimed. "Galithil is only forty! And Maidhien is even younger than that! They are too young to be betrothed and certainly she is too young to be asked to begin helping to manage your household, especially since she was not raised for such a life." Lindomiel loosed a quiet, scoffing breath. "She was barely raised to read and write."

"She began lessons in Westron with Rodonon today," Thranduil countered.

Lindomiel again stared at him.

"She asked for those lessons. And when I asked her what duties she thought she might do in my court, her immediate answer was, 'No one has come forward to help Legolas's naneth since Galithil's naneth and daernaneth went West. Someone must do that, so I will.' And I could not dissuade her. We agreed that at the same time Legolas and his cousins are working in the court, Maidhien will work with you doing whatever you assign her. And she will spend lessons with them from now on too. She asked to learn Westron and I am insisting she learn more history and geography, at least." He smiled. "I fear to have her taught rhetoric. She argues quite forcefully enough without being taught."

Lindomiel ignored his joke. She was dismayed with all that was being imposed on Maidhien. "That is a very radical departure from how she normally spends her days. Is your goal to drive Maidhien to break with Galithil?" If it was, Lindomiel intended to put a stop to that.

But Thranduil shook his head swiftly. "Not at all. I want her to have the same opportunities Galithil has so she has the best possible chance of adjusting well. I fear for her and for Galithil if she does find it too difficult to be his wife. Even at their young age, it could not be more plain that they are in love." He looked down. "And I confess, Maidhien captured my heart the day we met her, coming to apologize to Galithil about the boar. So brave she was! And so alone. I want her to have a family, Lindomiel. A decent one."

Lindomiel reached over and took Thranduil's hand. "We will help them make this work," she assured him. "I can have her help with the harvests. There is plenty more to do there this year, so it will be a good place to begin. She enjoys working with Master Ruscuil and helping with the harvest is similar work. Even Arthiel likes it. We can ease Maidhien into these sorts of duties starting there."

Thranduil smiled at her gratefully. "A fine idea."

*~*~*

Maidhien took the steps onto the bridge across the river in one leap. She had not seen Galithil, Legolas or anyone else in the King's family on the Green. Galithil had said he intended to find out why Legolas had stormed away from the river and she guessed they were discussing that now in one of their rooms. Well, she would have to persuade the guards at the Gate to go get Galithil so she could tell him to go get the King. She slid to a stop in front of the Gate.

"I want to see Galithil," she demanded with no further explanation.

"Of course," was the guard's only reply and he waved inside the stronghold as if she should go in by herself.

She frowned, but ran through the Gates. Normally the guard at the Gate called for the other guard at the door to the family quarters to fetch Galithil and that guard opened the door to the family quarters and called that request inside. She ran towards the guard at the door to the family quarters, intent upon repeating her request to see Galithil. As she approached, he opened the door and stood aside to let her pass through it. She stopped anyway, staring at him with surprise. "I want to see Galithil," she said again.

He nodded. "Go ahead. But mind, the King does not approve of running in the family quarters and much less so at night. Go quietly in case anyone is already asleep."

Maidhien blinked. She had gone unescorted into the family quarters twice, once pursued by this very guard, who she had kicked in the shin to earn passage, and once after sneaking through the unguarded door. She had not expected to have to find Galithil by herself. She straightened her shoulders and walked quickly through the door, only looking briefly over her shoulder when it closed softly behind her. Despite the guard's warning, she almost immediately began trotting along the corridor to Galithil's room. When she reached his family's suite of rooms, she hesitated before knocking on the door, glancing instead at the guard that stood in front of the door that she knew led to the King's own rooms. She studied him. It was one of the younger, friendlier guards.

"May I help you?" he finally asked, when she had stared at him for longer than just a moment or two.

She twisted the sash of her gown tightly around two fingers. "I need to talk to him," she said, nodding towards the King's door. "About something I just heard my adar say. I was going to ask Galithil to get him. Can you ask if he will see me?"

The guard hesitated. "The King has retired for the evening. But...something your adar said? Something he said about the King?"

Maidhien did not miss the emphasis the guard had placed on the phrase 'your adar.' She was accustomed to people reacting badly to her adar, but given what she now knew about him, the guard's reaction made her even more embarrassed. He was fishing to find out what adar said, Maidhien thought. He does not want to get in trouble for waking up the King for nothing, but he does not want to keep important news from him either. She could understand that. "Something he said about Galithil," she corrected. "And it sounded like a threat. I need to talk to him." She did not know what she would do if the guard did not get the King. She hoped he would not take her back outside.

Still the guard hesitated. "I will send someone to find Conuion for you. You can tell him," he suggested.

Maidhien pulled the sash tighter around her fingers. She did not want to talk to the Captain. He frightened her more than just a little. She wanted to talk to Thranduil.

"But Conuion is with Legolas and Galithil on the Green," the guard muttered to himself, before Maidhien could voice a protest. "And Hallion is in the Hall still, last I heard." He sighed, looked at the various doors up and down the corridor, and discounted each in turn, probably because everyone was away from the stronghold. Then he looked back at her. "Definitely a threat? Your adar threatened Galithil?"

Maidhien held her breath and nodded. "Please let me speak to him," she whispered.

"Very well," he said. "Wait here."

With that, the guard knocked on the King's door. "My lord?" he called, but he did not enter.

"Yes, Galuauth, what do you need?" the King's voice answered.

Maidhien sagged a little in relief when the voice did not sound sleepy or overly irate.

The guard opened the door and slipped through it. "Maidhien is here to see you, my lord," she heard him say through the closed door. "She says she wants to tell you about a threat Dannenion made. Against Galithil. She seems very upset, else I would have asked her to speak to you in the morning."

Maidhien heard nothing else from inside the room. Then the door opened and it was Thranduil. He was wearing a night robe over a beautifully embroidered nightshirt. Further back in the room, the Queen was refastening the laces of the traveling dress she was wearing. Maidhien bit her lips and wished she had simply confronted her father rather than disturbing the King and Queen.

But he reached for her hand and drew her into the room, nodding to the guard, who resumed his place in the corridor. "What has happened, Maidhien?" he asked gently.

Maidhien studied his expression for any sign of annoyance. He appeared very concerned and nothing more. Suddenly she could breath again. "I heard adar say something," she began, hesitating only a moment when the Queen approached them. Then she hurried on in a flood of words. "Adar and Uncle Dolwon were talking about the betrothal. Uncle Dolwon was saying that adar should not have agreed to it because I will have to do too much now and also because Galithil was always getting in trouble and now I would get in trouble with him too. Adar said any work I did in the stronghold would be worth it for him in the end. Then he said that Galithil was well guarded and so would I be, so orcs and spiders would not get us. And he said that anything else that might be able to get past the guards would not be targeting me, so I would still be safe. And he said Galithil would never come of age for us to be married, else he would have never given his consent. I think he is implying that he knows something is going to happen to Galithil and I will not let that happen. You have to stop it, whatever it is."

Maidhien fell silent after making that demand and waited to see what the King would say. Both he and the Queen had listened to her story gravely. When she stopped speaking, the Queen looked at the King with obvious concern. Thranduil sat very still for a moment and then stood. "I am going to ask Galuauth to fetch Conuion. I want you to tell him exactly what you heard your adar say."

"Galuauth already said he wanted me to tell the Captain," Maidhien called after him as he walked towards the outer door. "But then he said he thought he was on the Green with Legolas and Galithil. I do not think that is right. I think he is probably already asleep in his cottage, because Legolas and Galithil are not on the Green. But I do not want to talk to him anyway, because I am afraid of him,"

That made Thranduil stop and turn back around. Two deep wrinkles formed between his eyebrows. Maidhien had seen the King upset for many reasons on many occasions, given all the trouble she and Galithil did regularly get into, but she only saw those two wrinkles appear when her father was also involved in the trouble somehow. Instead of walking to the door, he walked to an elaborately carved desk near a bookshelf in the room. He sat down in its chair, took a pen, ink jar and paper from one of its numerous compartments and gestured for her to join him. She trotted over to the desk and the Queen followed her.

"First of all," Thranduil began, uncapping the jar of ink, "you must not be afraid of Conuion. He seems stern because it is his job to make sure that everyone is safe. That is a very serious responsibility and to do it, he has to find a way to make even me obey him. Believe me," he said with an almost mischievous smile, "that can be quite difficult at times. But he is completely dedicated to his duty so you can trust him. Second of all, because Conuion and Colloth and all the rest of my guards are so dedicated, and because they know their business very well, you must rest assured that Galithil will indeed remain safe until he comes of age and you are married. Those guards will ensure that both you and he will have a very long, safe life together. Third," and here, Thranduil seemed to hesitate, "I want you to tell me, as precisely as you can remember it, what your adar and uncle said. I will write it down and discuss it with Conuion tomorrow. He may still want to speak with you, though, and I confess, Maidhien, I am a bit uncomfortable with that myself. I did not tell you about your adar's crime to make you into a spy for me. I do not want to put you in a position where you are forced to betray your own adar."

Maidhien frowned so hard that she imagined she must have two little wrinkles on her own brow. "Well I am not going to stand by and do nothing when I see him or Uncle Dolwon doing something that might hurt Galithil. Or you. If I find out about something like that, I am going to do what I must to prevent it and you cannot stop me, or undo what you told me, so it really does not matter whether you like it or not. Besides, it is adar's own fault if he does something like that anyway, so he gets what he deserves," she concluded, hands on her hips.

Thranduil looked at her with raised eyebrows and then looked over her shoulder at the Queen. Maidhien glanced at her as well. She appeared very amused. That made Maidhien scowl. She was being serious, not funny. The Queen bit her lower lip in an obvious effort to not offend Maidhien.

"You tell the King what your adar said, exactly," she said softly. "He and Conuion will make certain it is taken care of. While you do, I will find Galithil to take you home."

"I can go home myself," Maidhien retorted.

"I do not doubt that," the Queen said, smiling again. "Indeed, while I appreciate greatly your willingness to help me with the household duties, I think you would be equally fit to join the training program..."

"Lindomiel!" Thranduil scolded softly without looking at his wife.

"You are certainly brave enough," the Queen continued, ignoring him.

Maidhien decided that was a compliment, since she knew how much Galithil and Legolas and even her brother valued bravery, so she smiled at her. Some ellyth did join the training, after all, but Maidhien doubted Galithil or her adar would like her to do it. They seemed concerned enough by the prospect of the household duties.

"But still, your adar will want to have words with someone for how late you are returning home. That is Galithil's burden to bear, since he should have seen you home in the first place, so I will go remind him of that," the Queen concluded.

"But Galithil needed to speak with Legolas because he was upset. I told him I would go home by myself," Maidhien said, worried she had gotten Galithil in trouble with his naneth. Concern again clouded the Queen's face at the mention of Legolas being upset.

"Well, he will have to interrupt his conversation for a moment to take you home, just the same," she said. And she turned and left to get him without listening to another word.

Since she could not stop the Queen, Maidhien concentrated instead on relating to Thranduil exactly what her adar and uncle had said. He wrote it all down precisely as she told it to him, word for word, marking through sections of what he wrote when she corrected herself. Maidhien liked his handwriting. He used bold, thick strokes and she enjoyed looking over his shoulder as he filled the paper with her words. He was reading it back to her, to make sure he had it all correct, when Lindomiel came back into the room alone.

"Legolas and Galithil are not in either of their rooms," she said quietly, looking at Thranduil.

Maidhien looked at him as well. It was late. Late enough that her own adar would indeed be upset with her--and she was allowed to stay on the Green much later than Galithil was.

"I checked with one of Dollion's lieutenants and he said that the report says Galithil and Legolas came into the stronghold briefly to fetch their bows. Then they went back out to the Green. Conuion has not made his final check for the day either. The lieutenant said he assumed Conuion was still with them on the Green." She paused. "I went to the Gates and looked out on the Green. I did not see them."

Maidhien let her gaze slip from the Queen to Thranduil, fearing what she would see there. If Galithil and Legolas had their bows and were not on the Green, there were only a few activities they might be doing and she knew Thranduil would not approve of any of them. To her surprise, his expression appeared completely calm.

"You take Maidhien home, please," he said softly, standing and walking towards a large cabinet against the wall. He opened it and pulled out the first tunic his hand encountered. "I will find Legolas and Galithil," he continued, pulling out a pair of leggings.

The Queen nodded and moved to lead Maidhien from the room with an arm around her shoulder. She looked grim and that seemed to be in such stark contrast to Thranduil's even tone. Maidhien shrugged and allowed herself to be escorted from the room so the King could dress. She imagined the Queen was grim because now she had to face Dannenion herself rather than making Galithil do it. Facing her adar was always a good reason to lose one's cheer in Maidhien's mind.

*~*~*

Adar/ada--Father/dad

Naneth/nana--Mother/mum

Elleth/ellyth--female elf/elves


The course of true love never did run smooth.

William Shakespeare

Chapter Eight: The course of true love

Legolas nodded wordlessly to the guard standing at the entrance to the family quarters as he and Galithil walked past him. They both ignored his raised eyebrows. After all, Conuion had been the one to allow them to stay on the Green until the stars had completed well over half their evening course across the skies, and he was this guard's captain.

Silently, they strode down the corridor to their respective rooms. Galithil winked at Legolas before turning towards his door. Legolas smiled back at his cousin and watched him disappear into his room. Then he slowly turned his own doorknob, easing it carefully past the place where it normally squeaked. Unlike Conuion and the guard, his father would have every right to chastise him if he were awakened to find his son coming in this late. Legolas did not need or want anymore trouble with his father.

When he slipped into his room, it was quite dark. Only one dying lamp flickered weakly all the way back in the bedroom. The others that the servants had lit for him in the sitting room had long since run out of oil. No matter. Legolas did not need a light to find his way in his own chambers. He crossed to the table where he and Galithil did their studies. Once there, he unstrung his bow, unbuckled his quiver and laid them both on its surface. He removed his knives and their sheaths from his belt and boot and placed them on the table as well. With a grin, he reached into the pocket of his tunic and pulled out a gold coin. He looked at it a moment and then slid it under one of the sheaths. Then he turned to walk towards his washroom while working to unfasten his tunic.

"Fair evening, Legolas," a voice said quietly, as the lamp in his bedroom flared to life. "Or perhaps, fair morning describes it more accurately."

Legolas spun towards the voice and saw his father seated in one of the chairs next to the fireplace. Legolas swallowed, tunic hanging half open. He was unable to speak to return the greeting and he doubted it would turn out to be a remotely appropriate one even if he could.

Thranduil held out his hand, palm up. "The coin," he said simply.

Legolas bit his lip and went back to the table to retrieve the coin. He delivered it to his father.

Thranduil looked at it and then glanced at the bow on the table. "The Oak?" he asked.

Legolas's heart began to race. Two word commands and questions were not a good sign.

The coin glimmered in the lamp light. It was worth it.

"Yes, adar," Legolas confessed readily, trying to appear penitent. That was a much more difficult task than normal, since he could muster no true regret at all.

Thranduil's fist closed around the coin. "From whom did you win it?" he demanded.

"A First Year," Legolas replied. "I do not remember his name. I was competing with the warriors in the training program."

"You will either remember his name or find it out by lunch time. Once you tell me who it was, I will ask Glilivan to send him to the Hall and you will return this coin to him. It probably represents the sum total of the gold his parents gave him to provide for his needs during his training and his senses were likely too addled to understand what he was doing when he wagered it." Thranduil's tone was disgusted and he was studying Legolas closely.

"Addled?" Legolas repeated. "Are you suggesting that he was drunk, adar? Or that I am?" That was a suspicion that had better be laid to rest and swiftly, else this situation would be exponentially worse.

Thranduil raised an eyebrow. "Coming in this late after gaming at the Oak? I would not be surprised if you drank to excess in that company. Did you?"

Legolas's back stiffened. "Certainly not," he replied. "And neither did any of the First Years. We were having a competition, nothing more. You occasionally participate in the contests during festivals. Uncle Aradunnon often gamed at the Oak, with Dollion, and he is a captain. Dolgailon still games with Dollion..."

"Foolish child," Thranduil interrupted, leaning forward in the chair and openly raising his voice. "You slip away from your guard, give orders to officers of the patrols and then go out to the Green and gamble as if there is nothing wrong with any of that! And now you are going to argue with me about  the propriety of it? You know better and you would be wise to hold your tongue."

Legolas pressed his lips together and looked at his boots. "I will return the coin as you asked," he said quietly after a moment. Returning the coin did not return the victory it represented, so Legolas did not care.

"You will," Thranduil confirmed. "And to teach you the value of that coin--since you clearly have no idea what that might be, else you would not have wagered so much more than you could possibly satisfy had you lost the bet--you will personally prepare one gold coin's worth of the salted pork we are trading with the Men this season. You will begin that work immediately after the festival. Understood?"

Legolas stifled a sigh. His father had chosen one of the most difficult and certainly the messiest of the trade items that Legolas had the skill to prepare. And preparing an entire coin's worth by himself before the meat went bad would mean working nearly non-stop during all the remaining days Legolas and his cousins had free after the festival.

It was still worth it.

"Understood, adar," Legolas acknowledged. "But, just so you know, I do know the value of the coin. I have seen this particular First Year on the range. I knew without any doubt that I could best him, else I would not have made such a bet."

Thranduil only glared at him. "I was willing to accept your right to have asked the warriors to bring their Mannish prisoners to the stronghold, since you managed the way you spoke to me about it in the Hall appropriately. But I am far less impressed with the arrogance you are displaying now. Perhaps my tolerance for the manner in which you clearly overstepped your authority is not warranted."

Legolas tried not to react openly to that statement. He knew his father could justly criticize what he had done with the warriors. But he was not correct in assuming that Legolas was being arrogant about the First Years and they were a sore enough subject that the mention of them still made Legolas's temper rise. But temper would do him no good here. "The two are unrelated issues, adar," he countered with as even a tone as he could manage. "It is not arrogance to state that I am a better archer than the the First Years I was competing with. It is simply a fact. I have seen their skill and I know my own. I knew I would win. If I had not known that, I would never have made the bet. I only wanted you to know that because I do not want you to think that I would be foolish enough to ask you for a coin from realm's stores to satisfy my gambling debts."

"So you knew your skill exceeds that of the First Years', did you?" Thranduil repeated. "That is not an arrogant assertion?"

Legolas only responded by lifting his chin.

"Very well," his father conceded quietly. "I have also seen your skill with a bow. Perhaps your confidence was justified. But you will still prepare the boars. Doing so will serve as a reminder that I have no tolerance for gambling at all, and especially when such ridiculous sums are involved, even if you feel assured you can win." He paused to see if he would hear any further argument. Legolas was not stupid. He kept his mouth shut. Thranduil nodded once and continued. "As for the men...."

"I told you already that my conscience would not allow me to respond differently to them," Legolas interrupted, "so I do not regret what I did. But I also do not deny that I had no right to give orders to the warriors. I knew that when I was doing it. So did they, I think, but they were willing to do as I asked. I think they wanted an excuse to help the woman too. It was hard not to want to help her, crying and pleading as she was."

Thranduil leaned back in his chair. "Tulus and Colloth both said the same--that the warriors, even the officer present, seemed to be looking for an excuse not to obey their captain's orders to find the men and take them to Laketown. I am not so pleased that they would use a child to find that excuse. Better that they take the men to their captain to tell their story and let him make the decision. But, that is a matter between the warriors and their captain. My only concern is my son and deciding if he truly overstepped his authority. I would definitely say you had, if you were one of the warriors disobeying that captain, but you were not. Indeed you were that close to the forest border because you were serving as my representative in a trade negotiation. If Celonhael had been in your place under the same circumstances, I certainly would have expected him to bring the men to me and I would have expected the warriors to obey his orders to do so. Unlike Celonhael, you are underage, but that does not change the fact that your decision to help the woman was undeniably the correct one, difficult as it must have been for you to make, since you sacrificed your camping trip to do it. So, I am proud of you for that," he concluded, his tone warming considerably.

Legolas closed his eyes. Normally, he would have been very happy to have earned such praise from his father, especially when the topic also apparently served to distract him from his anger over the gambling, but the last few days had not been normal days. His father's comment was the first kind thing that anyone had said to him since he had left to go camping. He was startled to find that kindness was nearly enough to bring tears to his eyes. "Thank you, adar," he whispered.

Thranduil was silent for a long moment. Legolas could feel his father's gaze upon him, but he could not face it.

"I am also quite pleased with how you handled the traders," Thranduil continued, still speaking softly, but now he sounded cautious. "You not only resolved the issue of the payment and obtained the salt for our realm, but you did so in a manner that helped the traders as well, for indeed, the wainwright in Laketown was taking advantage of their need. You demonstrated you could listen and manage an unexpected problem to derive a solution that benefited everyone. Again, I was very proud of that."

"Thank you, adar," Legolas repeated, and hoped his voice had not sounded too rough.

"Perhaps, however, despite how well you handled both situations, I should not have put you in a position where you were forced to do so," Thranduil suggested. "You are, as yet, entitled to uninterrupted time for camping and hunting with your friends and cousins. I think I regret that you had to sacrifice your trip."

Legolas remained still for a moment, taking quiet, calming breaths as unobtrusively as possible, until he was certain that he had mastered his emotions. He did not want his father to think he could not manage the small amount of responsibility that he had been given. He certainly did not want his father to regret giving it to him. When he could, he forced himself to face his father squarely. "I do not regret it," he said firmly. "Despite the attitude I had when you asked me to do it, I was perfectly willing to deliver the payment to the traders. I am glad I was able to help them in the process. And if I had not been at the border, it is likely the man and woman's fate would have been considerably worse than it is now. At least with lord Fengel, they have more hope of a just outcome. I do recognize the relative importance of obtaining the salt and helping the men over preserving a camping trip, my lord."

Thranduil adopted a satisfied expression in response to that answer, but he was apparently not well enough satisfied to abandon his current line of questioning. "Tulus and Colloth told me that your friends and cousins have treated you poorly since the camping trip was cancelled, Since you are plainly upset about something, given your reactions to this conversation, I thought it might be that, but apparently not. Once again, I am quite proud of you, much more so than I am of your cousins, at the moment," he said sternly. Then he fixed Legolas with a concerned expression that was enough to force him to once again look away in order to maintain control over himself.  "Please tell me what is upsetting you then, ion nin," he requested.

Legolas shifted from foot to foot. He wished that he could just walk away from his father as he had walked away from his cousins' complaints over the last few days. Unfortunately, he could not. "I confess that I am upset tonight, adar, but the reason is personal and beyond repair. I truly do not wish to speak about it."

Thranduil frowned sadly. "If the camping trip is not what is troubling you, then I suspect that the reason you are upset and the reason that you slipped Tulus are one and the same. Do I hit close to the mark?" he asked softly.

Legolas could not hide an angry grimace and his thoughts raced. How could his father know that! He could not possibly know anything. Legolas said nothing.

"I see I do," Thranduil continued. "I will respect your reticence to talk about Aewen if I must. I have always been equally reluctant to talk about affairs of the heart, so it is an attitude that I understand well but...."

Legolas put his hands behind his back to hide that they were now balled into fists. "Tulus told you that I was...with Aewen?" he guessed.

Thranduil shook his head. "No. I asked both Tulus and Colloth why you slipped away from the camp--what you might have been doing away from it. Tulus refused to answer me. He said it was not his place to discuss your personal affairs and he would not set that precedent. Colloth responded similarly and reminded me that he had responded the same to my adar when asked about Aradunnon. Your naneth mentioned to me tonight that you are courting Aewen. She suggested that you might have left the camp to seek some privacy with her away from your guards. I do not condone you slipping your guard for that or any reason, but I admit I understand the action a bit better with that as the excuse. And before you declare your affair with her to be 'beyond repair' simply because she is cross with you over nothing more than a ruined camping trip, you must allow that I have more experience in this area than you, so I might be able to help you if you will let me try."

Legolas puffed a heavy sigh, mortified that his parents had been discussing he and Aewen, angry that his father, along with everyone else, insisted upon forcing him to talk about her himself, and miserable because the situation was so much worse than his father understood. "First of all, I admit I did walk away from the camp for some time with Aewen, but I never intended to offer that or anything else as an excuse for slipping Tulus. There is no possible excuse and I know that. Second of all, Aewen is not merely cross with me. She is angry about the camping trip, to be certain. She asked about it everyday for the last few weeks, so she was disappointed when I had to go to the border. And she was all but furious when I decided I must take the Men to you personally and thereby ruin the camping trip altogether. But, on the Green tonight, talking with Maidhien about her betrothal and new lessons, duties and guard, Aewen was frankly distraught. While we were all talking, I saw Tulus and I went to speak to him. When I came back to the Green and looked for Aewen, I found her by the river. Kissing a First Year."

Legolas looked sidelong at his father to watch his reaction. Thranduil's eyes widened and then darted to the closed fist that still held the coin.

Legolas laughed bitterly and nodded. His father could always be counted upon to add up all the facts. "I walked away, obviously," he continued. "I was so embarrassed...and angry.... She followed me and told me that Maidhien might be willing to become part of our family, but Aewen said she was not. She does not care, in her own words, to help naneth manage the stronghold or see Men threaten to kill me or you threaten to execute Men. And she does not want to do anything further to give me the impression that she might make that choice. So, I fancy this is fairly beyond repair and I simply have to live with it."

Thranduil closed his eyes for a moment. Then he stood, walked over to Legolas and embraced him.

Legolas tensed. All he had wanted to do was describe what had happened and drop the subject as quickly as possible. But as soon as his father's arms were about him, he could not deny that he truly needed and wanted the comfort that his father was offering him. Indeed, he found himself taking long, deep breaths in an effort to not break down into tears. The arms around him only tightened, holding him without a word until he had mastered himself. Then, his father released him and gestured to the chair next to the one he had occupied. "Sit down, Legolas," he said softly.

Legolas dropped into the chair, but focused his gaze on its arm, studying the pattern of the fabric that padded it as if he had never noticed it before.

"I am sorry about Aewen," Thranduil said after seating himself.

"So am I," Legolas replied, almost in a whisper, still not trusting his voice.

The room remained silent for several moments. Then, Thranduil laughed softly and Legolas looked up at him in shock, unable to imagine what could possibly be funny.

""I find myself wishing your Uncle Aradunnon was here, since he found it so easy to court so many ellyth," Thranduil explained.

Against his will, a smile tugged at Legolas's lips at memories of his uncle. Stories of his somewhat...'indiscriminate' was the term his father used when he was in a kind mood...lifestyle prior to his marriage had always entertained the family. Legolas could see how his advice on this matter might prove at least amusing, if not helpful.

"On the one hand," Thranduil continued, "I wish he were here now so that he could tell you that there are many ellyth in the forest--though he might not have limited himself to just the forest, but rather included all of Arda. He would have told you that you are better off free to take your time and acquaint yourself with all of them. That claim would be so much more believable coming from him than from anyone else."

As his father had doubtless intended, the smile found its way to Legolas's face, despite the pain of all that had happened with Aewen.

"On the other hand, I suppose I should be grateful that my brother is not here to be a terrible influence on my son, since both his own sons failed so miserably to live up to their father's example. Dolgailon was always such a quiet child, very serious about Arthiel from his youth. And, worse still, Galithil is betrothed before he is even of age. As soon as that could no longer be denied, Aradunnon would have turned to his only other potential victim--you--and tried to lead you down a scandalous path. He and I would have certainly quarreled over that."

Legolas grinned at his father and Thranduil smiled back at him.,

Then Thranduil's expression grew more serious. "I cannot imagine how Aradunnon managed to conduct himself with ellyth as he did. Such behavior is not really a luxury someone in our position can afford. Not without creating a wake of hurt feelings, at the very least, and long lasting political repercussions at worst. Somehow my brother avoided that, though I cannot imagine how. I found courting ellyth extremely difficult after my adar became king of the Silvan, primarily due to the very objections Aewen raised--any elleth that marries you is destined for a much more difficult life than if she had chosen any other ellon. I admit I am more impressed with Aewen than either your naneth or I expected to be. It is very mature of her to recognize that she does not want the heavy burden that would fall to her if she became a member of the King's household."

Legolas's smile turned sharply downward. "Mature?" he scoffed, not bothering to hide his disdain for that description of Aewen. "I simply do not see that, adar. How is it mature to be unwilling to serve this realm? It is an honor to do so, not a burden."

"So you have been raised your entire life to believe," Thranduil answered evenly. "Your naneth was raised similarly, to serve in her cousin Amroth's court, which is undoubtedly why she stepped into my household and began managing it with such ease. But your Aunt Amoneth and Arthiel were not raised expecting such responsibilities and they both found them to be quite difficult to bear."

Legolas tried not to openly scowl, turning his face away from his father when he failed. As much as he wanted to, he could not deny that he had heard Arthiel and Dolgailon arguing about how Arthiel could best serve the realm many times. Indeed, Legolas himself thought her selfish for continuing to work as a forester after Aunt Amoneth died. And the stories he had heard of Aunt Amoneth's courtship with Uncle Aradunnon! She had openly caused turmoil, so much so that Thranduil had initially denied Aradunnon permission to marry her. Obviously she had not been prepared, at least at first, for life in the King's household. But the entire time Legolas had known her, she had done her duty, and often had done even more than anyone could expect, so obviously someone not born to such duties could learn to understand them. Aewen could have as well, if she had not gone off kissing First Years.

The stubborn, angry frown returned to Legolas's face, despite his best efforts to squelch it and he sighed loudly. Galithil was unbelievably lucky! He did not even have to make an effort to win Maidhien. She fell in love with him the day he jumped on that boar to save her. Well, jumping onto a boar, unarmed, was an effort, Legolas admitted, but still, she was perfectly willing to accept the 'burden' of becoming a member of the King's family. She was willing to help manage the household, of all things! He grimaced. Of course, only a few hours ago both he and Eirienil had looked at Maidhien as if she had lost her mind when she told them that. Legolas slumped a little in his chair. He really wanted to be angry at Aewen. He was completely unprepared for how much it hurt to see her kissing that First Year. But obviously it was not fair of him to worry for Maidhien's happiness and then not allow Aewen the right to be concerned for her own.

"I fear I have made a mess of things with Aewen," Legoas finally said out loud. "I did not handle what she told me very well. I was rude to her, at best."

Thranduil put a hand on his shoulder. "It would be extremely difficult to react well, given what you have described. None the less, you must respect her decision, for it is her right to make it. Perhaps you should try to talk to her again, now that you have calmed down a bit. Even apologize, if you think you were rude. You may still want to be her friend, even if you cannot be more than that.  And if that is the case, and if you owe her an apology, you should give her one."

"I will speak to her," Legolas agreed. Immediately dread of that conversation set in. He could not imagine what he would say or how to approach her.

Thranduil squeezed his shoulder and sat back in his chair. He opened his hand and looked at the coin on his palm for a moment. "You know perfectly well that I do not approve of gambling, especially for such large sums. Nevertheless." He hesitated. "You are certain that this First Year knew what he was doing when he bet this coin?"

Legolas raised an eyebrow. "Well, he was not drunk," he began. "And I know he has seen me practicing on the range. Many people watch Galithil, Berior and I practice, him amongst them, on several occasions. He should know my skill and therefore know that when I boasted that I could beat him, it was only the truth. But we...I," he corrected himself, not willing to get his cousin in trouble too, though he was certain his father would catch his mistake. He always did. "I may have goaded him a bit into making the bet so large. He is in the training program, after all, and I am still six years too young to join it, so it was hard on his pride to admit that he might not be able to beat someone so much younger."

Thranduil began to smile at that, but caught himself. His mouth ended up, at least for a moment, pursed in an odd sort of way as he strove to control his reaction. He did not manage to dim the amusement in his eyes. "And this First Year--he saw you by the river, just as you saw him, so he understood why you were goading him into this bet?" he asked.

"I expect so," Legolas replied. "He did see me at the river, certainly. And he could not have misunderstood how I felt about what I saw. He knew I was courting Aewen and despite that he had been flirting with her himself. He has known for a while that it annoyed me."

The amusement faded from Thranduil's face to be replaced by open disapproval. "And he knew Aewen is even younger than you? Much younger than he?"

Legolas nodded.

Thranduil tossed the coin back to Legolas. "You may keep it. If the First Year asks for a chance to win it back, I suppose, to behave honorably, you must grant him that chance, but do not wager anything else beyond possession of that single coin, do not agree to a dangerous game for the bet and do not think that this is an invitation to gamble whenever you choose." He paused. "I still want to know the First Year's name. I want Glilavan to keep an eye on him to make sure that he does not want for anything while in the training program. I will not allow this incident to bring him or his parents hardship on top of humiliation."

Legolas kept his gaze lowered to try to hide his surprise. "I will find out his name," he assured his father. "But I have no use for this," he said, offering the coin back to him. "Keep it for the treasury or to help the First Year, if it comes to that. I will let you know if he challenges me again and I need it back."

That caused Thranduil to stare at him. "I was about to add that you need not salt the meat either, but, honestly, Legolas, do you know the value of that coin if you are so willing to give it up?"

"Of course I know the value of the coin, adar, but I also know there is nothing I can do with it. I do not travel to Dale or Esgaroth to buy anything with it. Even if I did, what do I need that you have not already given me?" He laughed. "And I can imagine your reaction if I used it to gamble with someone else. I do not think I would be foolish enough to make that mistake."

Thranduil smiled as well. "Nor do I," he said.  Then he grew more serious. "So you will not salt the meat as a consequence of the gambling, but I think you will still help with it to keep yourself out of trouble for the remainder of your holiday. Doing so can be one of the consequences for slipping Tulus. One of the consequences," Thranduil emphasized. "Another is that Tulus may no longer be your guard. I gave him the option of being relieved of that duty and told him to consider his answer before he gave it. If he chooses not to guard you, I am giving Belloth that duty, at least until you join the training program. And I will tell him why Tulus was relieved of that duty--because you betrayed Tulus's trust."

Legolas struggled to conceal his horror at the idea of Belloth--the sternest of all the King's guards--as his personal guard and he could not hide a grimace at his father's last statement. "I know that I betrayed his trust, adar, and I did apologize to him for that tonight when I spoke to him. I almost had to beg him to even listen to an apology, to be honest. He told me that you offered to relieve him of his duty to me and I believe he will accept that offer. He was well and truly angry."

"He was well and truly frightened," Thranduil replied. "Tulus is a father with a son who is a captain. A son who has been a warrior in the patrols his entire life. He understands my fears for you all too well. He shares them when you behave as you did with Aewen."

Legolas closed his eyes. "I know, adar. He told me."

Again there was a moment's silence.

"Langon tells me that you and your cousins have progressed a fair amount in your sword training, when you bother to focus on your lessons," Thranduil finally commented.

Legolas's gaze snapped back to his father, both in response to the unexpected change in subject and, most importantly, the implied criticism. "We take those lessons very seriously, adar. We do focus..."

"Except when ellyth are watching, so he told me," Thranduil interrupted, his voice stern. "He says that you have learned enough to be able to do some sparring now," he continued and waited for Legolas to confirm that statement with a nod. "Well, in that case, rather than sparring only with each other, which is of limited benefit because you have limited skill, I am going to ask who ever is your guard when you return to training after the festival to spar with you. And I am going to ask Langon to extend your lessons an extra hour every day to accommodate that exercise. I am doing this for two reasons. First, after this incident, you must earn the trust of whoever is guarding you. It will no longer be given automatically. Training together will help to build that trust if you demonstrate that you are serious, can focus and can work and fight together with your guard. That is something you will need to learn to do anyway, so better to start learning it sooner rather than later. Second, between your normal duties, salting meat and an extra hour of weapons training, you will have little time to find trouble, and that seems fair under the circumstances, does it not?"

"Yes, adar," Legolas agreed quietly. Belloth would be a very unpleasant partner in those matches. Very unpleasant indeed.

Thranduil stood, bringing Legolas to his feet as well. To his surprise, Thranduil drew him again into an embrace. "It will also give you little time to dwell on Aewen, and for the time being that might be a blessing. Talk to her, by all means. Try to make sure you at least remain friends, certainly. And take your time to determine if something more might happen between the two of you. If you think it might--if you truly want that and believe she could be persuaded to want it too--you may have to be very patience to overcome the last few days, but they could be overcome if you show her how much you care about her."

Legolas only nodded against his father's shoulder. He did want that, but whether Aewen would or not remained to be seen.

*~*~*
Birds chirped happily as Legolas walked through the forest. He cut in and out amongst the trees rather than sticking to a path and tried to focus on the songs of the forest rather than on the conversation he hoped to have with Aewen this morning, if she would speak to him at all.

As had happened the night before, Conuion took it upon himself this morning to escort Legolas to Aewen's cottage, but again as the night before, he kept his distance, guarding Legolas much like he guarded Thranduil--hidden amongst the leaves and branches. Since Legolas did not care for an audience to this conversation, that suited him fine.

He stepped out from amongst the trees into the side yard of Aewen's cottage. Her father, Dollion, was in the yard, repairing a trap. He stood to greet Legolas when he saw him, his eyes briefly scanning the trees as he stood. Legolas was impressed when his expression indicated that he had spotted Conuion. Legolas could not always find his father's guards himself. Of course, Dollion was a captain, so it stood to reason he could spot a warrior in the trees.

"Fair morning, Legolas," Dollion greeted him.

Legolas tried not to frown. Dollion's greeting had sounded a bit stiff. Legolas wondered how much Aewen's father knew about what happened. The idea that he might know anything made Legolas very uncomfortable. "Fair morning, Dollion," he responded. Then he looked at the cottage door. It was closed. "Is Aewen about? I would like to speak to her, if I could." His voice sounded normal, he thought. Normal enough.

Dollion remained silent a long moment before he spoke and Legolas had to make an effort to stand still. "I am not certain if I care to tell her that you are here, Legolas. She came home to me last night, crying, and your name was the only coherent word her naneth or I could get out of her."

Legolas looked down at his boots and wished he could sink into them or hide behind them. His own father was fairly well skilled at sounding disappointed. Apparently Thranduil could yet learn a thing or two from Dollion. "We quarreled," Legolas responded quietly. "I would like to apologize to her, if she is willing to listen to me."

Dollion nodded. "Very well, I will try to encourage her to do so. Just a moment," he said, turning and entering his cottage.

Legolas stood where he was in the yard without moving. He hated this. He hated what both Aewen and her parents must think of him right now. He just hoped he could fix it, at least to the extent that Aewen did not hate him.

After what seemed an eternity, the front door of the cottage opened again and Aewen stepped through it. As soon as she saw Legolas, her face turned red and she began to pick at the embroidery on the front of her gown. The yellow gown, Legolas noticed. His favorite, for the way its very full skirts twirled when she danced in it. He looked away, trying to banish such thoughts from his mind. She took a few steps into the yard and stopped. No one else came out of the cottage, but Legolas noticed that the door to the cottage remained open. Like it or not, they were being chaperoned.

He sighed. "Aewen, I want to apologize for the way I spoke to you last night," he said softly. "You were honest with me and that took courage and maturity. Rather than respecting that, I responded rudely. I know that my behavior hurt you and I truly regret that. I did not think before I spoke. If I had, I would have never, for all of Arda, said or done anything to hurt you. I hope that you will be able to forgive me so that we can still be friends. We have been friends all our lives and I would hate to lose your friendship because I behaved so badly."

Aewen listened to Legolas speak with her eyes closed and face turned towards the ground. When he finished, she cast a backwards glance at the open cottage door and began walking quickly down the path that led into the forest, motioning for Legolas to follow. He did. Aewen did not stop until they were surrounded by nothing but trees. Then she looked into their branches. "Where is Tulus?" she asked.

"Not with me," Legolas replied. "Conuion is, but he is keeping his distance."

Aewen seemed to relax a bit at that. Then she bit her lip. "Legolas," she started slowly, obviously not sure how to say what she wanted to say. "I owe you an apology too, of course," she finally managed. "Torthil...." that was as far as she got.

That was the First Year's name, Legolas thought, only barely recognizing it. He shook his head. "Torthil is truly none of my affair, Aewen, You owe me nothing," he said trying not to sound as if he did not care, but trying to sound respectful of her choices at the same time. This is impossible, he said to himself silently.

She closed her eyes again and her face screwed up as if she was about to cry.

Legolas had to stop himself from gathering her in his arms. He did not know how she would react to such a gesture.

"I did not want to..." she finally began, only to cut herself off. "I was just so upset about the camping trip and everything Maidhien said and then you just up and left the Green without even asking me to dance. So, when Torthil asked me, I went with him."

Legolas looked down at her, confused. He had not asked her to dance? She had refused to look at him when he tried!

"I never intended..." she continued, not noticing his expression, "I did not really...I do not know how we..." She frowned severely and tears welled up in her eyes. "But I wish I had not..."

Legolas stared at her, his whole body tense. If he found out that First Year cajoled Aewen in some way, or simply took some liberty assuming she would welcome it, he would...well he did not know what he would do, but he was fairly certain his father would not approve of it. "Aewen," he said in a very low voice when she finally gave up attempting to speak or hold back her tears. "Did Torthil...do...something...you were not...expecting...."

Aewen quickly shook her head without looking at him. Then she made a face and loosed a frustrated breath. "Well, of course I did not plan to...I barely know him...but I can see where he might have thought I did want...Oh, Legolas, I made a fool of myself, both with him and with you and, honestly, I am so embarrassed that I wish I never had to see either of you again." With that she turned to flee back to her cottage.

Legolas stopped her, catching her hand. "Aewen, please," he begged. "You did not make a fool of yourself. Not with me. And not with Torthil. I participated in a game with some of the First Years last night and Torthil spoke about how he truly thought you lovely and how he hoped that you would see him again once you had...spoken with me." Torthil had indeed said those things. He has been speaking to his friends while Legolas took his turns in the contest, obviously in an attempt to distract Legolas and cause him to miss his targets. It had only made Legolas more determined to win, but if those words made Aewen feel better--feel as if Torthil had not trifled with her or thought less of her--he would repeat them to her now.

Aewen's brows drew together, and she still would not meet Legolas's gaze, but she gave up trying to flee down the path.

"For my part," Legolas continued, "as I said, you were very brave to speak to me honestly about how you felt. If anything, I made a fool of myself by acting like a petulant child that could not have what he wanted. I do apologize. All I want is for us to still be friends. Please allow that."

She finally looked up at him.

"I swear, we never need to speak of anything that happened ever again and, I promise, I will respect your decision. But I do not want to lose your friendship," he pleaded.

Aewen nodded and threw her arms around his neck. "I do not want to lose yours either, Legolas," she whispered.

Legolas struggled not to react too stiffly or too familiarly to Aewen's embrace. What he truly longed to do--what he could barely keep himself from doing--was put his arms around her waist and draw her against him. Instead, he put his arms around her shoulders, comforting her as he might comfort Eirienil or Maidhien. After a moment, she pulled away and looked up at him sadly.

He reached to brush the tears off her face. "Your adar might hang me from a tree if he sees I made you cry again," Legolas said, with an attempt at levity.

Aewen smiled, sadly, wiping her face. "I fear I might have worried him last night."

They looked at each other for a long moment. Now that Legolas had said what he wanted to say, he had no idea what to do.

"I promised adar, since we are not camping, that I would set his trap lines for him. Do you want to come and help?" Aewen finally suggested.

"Of course I will," Legolas responded, trying to sound pleased to accompany her. Or at least to sound normal. What he really wanted to do was go ride one of the horses down the Path at too fast a speed or destroy a target on the archery range. But he did not want to seem uninterested in doing something--anything--with Aewen after begging for her friendship.

Aewen smiled at him and started back towards her cottage.

Legolas started to take her hand as they walked, but caught himself.

"You participated in one of the games last night?" she asked, looking at him side long. "You are a good archer. Did you beat many of the First Years? Torthil? Did you beat him?"

Legolas nodded, keeping his expression neutral. "I won, actually. I beat Torthil and all his friends."

A bright smile lit Aewen's face. Was it Legolas's imagination that she seemed as satisfied as he did? "Congratulations," she said.

He smiled back at her. "Thank you."

*~*~*

Legolas walked quickly towards the training fields. He and Aewen had set her father's traps. Then he had helped her gather firewood for their cottage and draw water from the river, since their rain barrel was running low. He had even sat and talked with her while she did her sewing. By the time he excused himself under the pretense of returning to the stronghold for lunch, he was as tense as he had ever felt. Remembering not to take Aewen's hand or look at her in certain ways or lean close to her...being her friend when what he really wanted to do was kiss her was going to be difficult. But his efforts had been rewarded. She seemed truly happy with him when he had finally left.

But he was not going to lunch. He had asked his father if he could miss the afternoon meal if he and his friends were busy elsewhere. Since today was supposed to be a holiday for him, Thranduil had agreed. Legolas had no idea where his cousins or friends were, but he needed to burn off some pent up frustration much more than he wanted to eat, so he headed towards the weapons shed on the training field. He did not take his bow with him to visit Aewen, naturally, and he did not want to go back to the stronghold to retrieve it now, for fear of being waylaid by something on the way. So he intended to borrow one of the spares from the shed and use it to destroy a target.

He had not seen Conuion all day, though he was certain he was still in the trees somewhere. He wondered how the captain of the king's guards felt spending the whole morning watching Legolas and Aewen do cottager's chores when he normally guarded the king in court. Then he wondered, a little guiltily, if, after doing that all morning, Conuion really wanted to spend the beginning of the afternoon watching him on the archery range.

"Conuion, you would tell me if you had something better to do and needed to return to the stronghold, would you not?" he called to the thin air.

"I have no more important duty than to guard the king's son," Conuion's voice drifted down to him. He sounded a bit teasing.

Legolas snorted and shook his head.

"And frankly the forest is a pleasant change from the stronghold," Conuion added.

 Legolas laughed at that. "Now we come to the truth of why you did not simply assign another guard to me. You wanted an escape yourself."

"Officer's privilege," Conuion replied.

Legolas grinned. "Well, I am going to take a few shots at a target. Join me if you wish. It would have to be better than watching," he called back.

"May I join you, Legolas?" another voice called. It was Tulus, striding quickly down the path that led from the Green. He must have seen Legolas approaching the training fields and was taking long strides to intersect with him now.

Legolas looked over at him, a little startled. He had spent a difficult morning trying not to appear tense with Aewen. He was not sure if he had the strength to do the same with Tulus, but he did not want to refuse him either. "Of course, Tulus," he responded, trying to sound normal when he felt anything but. He was becoming good at that.

Tulus smiled at him and then looked into the trees. Conuion leapt down from one of them and he and Tulus nodded to one another. "It seems my freedom in the forest was destined to be short-lived. I will return to my other duties then," Conuion said. He turned to Tulus. "Bring him in at least an hour before supper, as the King requested."

Tulus nodded and Legolas raised his eyebrows. He did not know his father had requested that he return to the stronghold so early.

Before he could ask about it, Conuion sketched a semblance of the bow he customarily offered Thranduil when leaving his presence. "I will see you this evening," he said, heading off towards the Green and the Gates.

Legolas's brows climbed even further at that. "Do you know why adar wants me home so early, or why Conuion seems to think he and I will be seeing each other again this evening?" he asked Tulus, hoping that the answer to his question would not be, 'because we must make arrangement for Belloth to be your guard.' If it was, Legolas wanted to be forewarned right now so he could destroy two targets.

Tulus's expression darkened. "The King and Conuion received some information related to the security of this realm last night and they wish to share it with you, Galithil and the rest of the King's guards," he responded.

Legolas's eyes widened, but he asked nothing more. The middle of the training fields was no place to talk about such things. Instead, he resumed his march to the weapons shed. As he walked, he pondered what matter of security his father would specifically discuss with he and his cousin rather than Hallion or his other advisors. He could think of nothing except a new assignment for Belloth. Perhaps that was the case and Tulus simply did not want to face him with his decision directly. But if that were true, why would Tulus have relieved Conuion now? Legolas sighed as he jerked open the door of the shed. Hopefully, shredding a target would prove to be a good distraction. He needed one.

"Could I perhaps persuade you to spar with me instead of practicing archery," Tulus asked, as Legolas reached for one of the spare bows. He put his hands on the hilts of two practice swords, pulling them slightly forward out of their rack ."I should like to see a bit better how you handle your sword before Langon is standing over us both. It might make that exercise a bit more pleasant," he concluded.

Legolas turned to face Tulus fully as the meaning of that question registered. "Am I correct in assuming that you have decided not to ask to be relieved of your duty to guard me then, Tulus," he asked cautiously.

Tulus nodded. "I would not want to forfeit this duty, Legolas. It may sound presumptuous of me, but I fear I have come to care too much about you to trust your safety to anyone else."

Legolas relaxed into a broad smile. "How can that possibly be presumptuous, Tulus?" he asked, reaching for the practice sword. "I am every bit as close to you as I am to my uncles. I am very relieved to hear your decision," he said, gesturing for Tulus to proceed him to the training yard. "Very relieved. Did you know adar intended to give me to Belloth to guard?"

Not unexpectedly, for Tulus always treated Legolas and his cousins deferentially, Tulus held the door open and stood aside, waiting for Legolas to proceed him. "I did," Tulus replied with a grin. "I care about you too much to allow that too," he said.

Shaking his head but still smiling, Legolas bounded out of the shed, giving the sword a few practice swings to warm up his muscles as he did. Things were not exactly as he would have liked them, but they were, at least, getting better.

*~*~*

Maidhien sat at her family's dining table, a large book in front of her. With her father's pack and belongings also strewn on the table, she barely had room for the paper and ink Rodonon had given her. She was trying to write the lesson he had set for her, looking carefully at the book to make sure she was properly spelling the strange Mannish words. It was difficult to concentrate as her father dumped item after item on the table next to her, threatening to spill the valuable ink onto the precious book. She held the jar with one hand to prevent that, making writing on her paper with the other even more difficult. With a loud sigh, she gave up. She capped the ink and watched her father stuff shirts and leggings into his pack.

"How long are you going to be gone?" she asked with an exasperated tone when what seemed like a dozen shirts had been stowed away.

"I do not know," Dannenion responded. "It will be a pleasure to be free to be gone as long as I wish and I intend to enjoy that."

"I do not see why you will not take me," Anastor muttered, leaning against the hearth with his arms crossed over his chest.

"I told you that  your uncle and I will be taking care of business that is none of your concern. We do not need to worry about children getting themselves into trouble while we are doing it," Dannenion snapped back at him.

"You do not want witnesses," Maidhien said under her breath.

"What did you say?" Dannenion demanded, turning narrowed eyes on her.

Maidhien pressed her lips together, belatedly remembering the King's warning that she not challenge her father or involve herself any more than she could avoid in their feud.

"I asked you what you said," Dannenion repeated, leaning over the table so that his face was even with hers.

"I was practicing pronouncing my vocabulary words," she lied, pointing at the list of Westron words on the paper in front of her. "Who are you visiting in the south?" If he told her a name, she would ask Galithil if he recognized it. Despite the King's order that she not meddle in this affair, she found it impossible not to. She hoped that while her father might hate the King, he would not truly act against him. Unfortunately, she could not make herself believe that. So she could not stop herself from looking for signs of what he might be plotting.

"Old friends," Dannenion answered standing up. "Ones I have not seen in many years since Thranduil has seen fit to hold me prisoner here your entire life." He took her paper and looked over it. "Your pronunciation leaves much to be desired," he concluded, letting the paper fall back to the table. "Mind your own business more carefully and leave me to mine." He paused for emphasis. "And I suspect you would be wise to gossip less with your betrothed, as well," he said, his tone clearly a warning. "He could not possibly know everything you may think he knows."

She made a face at him--the same face she always made when he scolded her--but rather than holding his gaze while she did it, she looked at her book. "Be certain that I will speak to him as I wish," she replied.

Dannenion glared at her, picked up his pack and stalked from the cottage without another word.

"What was that about?" Anastor asked, looking from their father's receding back to her.

She shook her head and opened her book again. "Nothing. Do not get between us," she said, gesturing with her chin at their father. "It would mean nothing but trouble for you. And this trouble is serious."

"Whatever is between you, how much trouble does it mean for you?" Anastor asked in reply, sitting across from her at the table and fixing her with a demanding glare.

"No more than I can handle," she answered back. Then she focused fully on her lesson.

*~*~*

Tulus stood in front of the door to his cottage, blocking Glilivan's path out into the yard, where music from the Green sounded merrily. "I want you to listen to me," he said sternly.

Glilivan scowled, stopped trying to dodge around his father, and put his hands on his hips. "I heard you, adar. I told you that it does not matter to me."

"It matters to me, ion nin. He has reached the end of his tolerance for this. He is setting a trap for the lot of them and when it is sprung, I do not want you in it. I want your word that you are not involved..."

"I told you, this trap does not concern me. Is that not enough for you?"

Tulus shook his head. "No, it is not. It sounds like one of your half truths, but I will not allow that this time. I am in no position to turn a blind eye to it. But you are my only son. My only family in all of Arda. Do not think I will lose you too. Now give me your word. Say it."

Glilivan rolled his eyes dramatically and shoved past his father. He flung open the door and rushed out of their yard without pause.

*~*~*

Adar/ada--Father/dad
Naneth/nana--Mother/mum
Elleth/ellyth--Female elf/elves
Ellon/ellyn--Male elf/elves

AN: That is the end of Part 7. I hope to continue soon with the next part, which takes in the same year as this one. It will be called Journeys through Shadow and Flame (note the date of this story and it might ring a bell as a significant one). Thanks so much for reading!





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