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Connections  by daw the minstrel

Happy birthday, Nilmandra, old friend

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Connections

Set between "My Brother's Keeper" and "See the Stars"

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"She said I was such an elfling." Legolas's outrage rose again, and he stopped walking so Eilian would have to stop too and turn to face him. "Can you believe that?"

His brother grimaced.

"What does that mean?" Legolas demanded.

"That she called you an elfling?"

"No. The face you made. What does it mean?"

Eilian flung aside the twig he'd been fiddling with. "What does it matter? You wanted to go star watching with your friends, and at your age, that was the right thing for you to do." He started walking toward home again.

"I--what?" Legolas had to hurry to catch up. "Is that what she was talking about?"

"Sounds like it to me." Eilian gave him the annoying smile adults--even Eilian--used when they were amused at some mysterious thought that had never occurred to you. In short, when you were being such an elfling. "She wanted you to come to the dancing," Eilian went on. "Maybe she even expected you to and waited for you, and when you went off with your friends instead, her feelings were hurt."

"I never promised to go to the dancing," Legolas said.

"Give her time, and she will remember that. Probably anyway."

"She was completely unfair," Legolas said.

Eilian clapped him on the shoulder. "She wanted you there. That is the point to remember."

"Maybe," Legolas muttered.

He let Eilian lead him across the Green and into the stronghold, where they parted to dress for the evening meal. When Legolas entered the family sitting room, his father and both brothers were already there. Eilian was just handing a cup of wine to Ithilden.

"Would you like some, brat?" Eilian asked.

"Please." Legolas waited for his father to nod permission for him to sit, but instead Thranduil picked up a letter from the table at his elbow.

"This came from Esgaroth for you, Legolas." Thranduil held it out with a smile.

Legolas seized it. "From Rodda?"

"I assume so." Thranduil nodded toward a chair, and Eilian set a cup of watered wine at its side. "Go ahead and read it now. The meal will be more pleasant without you gobbling your food so you can get to it."

Legolas sat, his finger already loosening the seal. He felt a stab of disappointment at how short the letter looked. He and Rodda had been writing to one another for a number of years now, and the Mannish boy was usually full of news. As he read, though, his heart quickened. He looked up at the other three who were all watching him, evidently sensing his excitement.

"Rodda has invited me, Turgon, and Annael to Esgaroth for his coming-of-age party." He heard the wonder in his own voice. The last time Legolas had seen Rodda, he had been Legolas's age, or seemed so. But of course, not really. He was a child of Men, and their ages ran differently. He was now almost an adult. How strange.

Thranduil frowned.

"Wait, Adar." Legolas spoke before his father could deliver the no that looked ready to jump out of his mouth. "We could take guards. I mean, of course we would," he amended hastily when Thranduil snorted. "And I've never been to Esgaroth. Annael went with his adar three years ago, and he says it's strange but fascinating."

"You have plenty of time to go to Esgaroth," Thranduil said.

"But not to see Rodda come of age. His life is flying past."

"Which shows why friendships with mortals are not a good idea," Thranduil said.

"Adar, one of our family should be there. After all, you check on how Men are treating him, right? As if you were his guardian. His guardian from the Greenwood. Plus Annael, Turgon, and I saved him, so now we're responsible for him."

"Enough." Thranduil scrubbed at his temples with his hands.

Eilian grinned openly. Even Ithilden looked amused. They both turned toward their father and waited, heads tilted at opposite angles.

The silence stretched while Thranduil studied the far wall. Legolas could almost see his father assessing any danger. Imagining it, in Legolas's opinion, as if Legolas really were an elfling. Sometimes he felt stuck in childhood while the world outside rushed past with him missing everything.

"Annael's adar would never have taken him if it wasn't safe," Legolas finally couldn't stop himself from saying.

"I can take them, Adar," Eilian said.

Thranduil's eyes flicked to him. "All three?" Thranduil said dryly. "Legolas, Annael, and Turgon?"

For a long moment, they all sat silent. Disappointment stung behind Legolas's eyes. Could he and Annael go without Turgon? No, that would be mean.

Unexpectedly, Ithilden cleared his throat. "As it happens, I have been meaning to visit the Eastern Border Patrol. We could combine the two trips."

"That would be very responsible," Legolas said eagerly. "An excellent idea."

Ithilden held up his hand just as their father had done earlier, and Legolas clamped his teeth to keep from babbling more inane praise of the notion. "All three of you would have to promise to do what I tell you. Eilian, too," he added.

"I do what you tell me?" Eilian asked. "Or they do what I tell them?"

"You know what I meant," Ithilden said.

"I'm not sure I do," Eilian said.

"We could do that," Legolas interrupted. In the back of his head, he was already planning what he and Annael would have to say to get Turgon to take such a promise seriously. They could make him give his word to them as well as to Ithilden. Turgon might "forget" a promise to an adult, but his loyalty to his friends was one of the things Legolas valued most in him. Plus he said what he thought. He and Annael both did. They would never think you promised to show up at a dance if you had done no such thing.

"When is this party?" Thranduil asked.

Legolas leaped to his feet. "Thank you!"

"I have not given my permission, Legolas."

"I know, but if you want to know when the party is, you mean to."

Ithilden and Eilian both burst out laughing.

Thranduil shook his head but looked amused. "True enough." He straightened as if gathering himself to lay down more rules for elflings.

Someone knocked, and Thranduil called, "Come."

An apologetic looking guard appeared. "My lord, I am sorry to interrupt, but Turgon is in the antechamber and refuses to leave until he has seen Legolas about some letter he received."

"May I go, Adar?" Legolas asked. "I can eat later."

"Go," Thranduil said.

Legolas was out the door while the word still hung in the air.

#

A week later, Legolas raised his face to the rustling leaves as he rode east with his brothers and his friends. Sun warmed his back, and the air was ripe with summer. Could anything be more perfect?

Eilian had been riding ahead, but now he slowed to let Legolas, Annael, and Turgon pass him so he could speak to Ithilden. "There are quite a few abandoned spider webs in the trees along here."

Legolas turned his head turned to listen to his brothers. He had seen the webs, of course, but he had also seen how tattered they were and, like Eilian, judged them to be old.

"I know," Ithilden said. "Those webs are one of the reasons I need to talk to the Border Patrol. The Home Guard has been plagued by more spiders than usual this summer, and Deler suspects the Border Patrol has driven them his way."

"The Border Patrol knows better," Eilian said. "More likely the spiders are on the move because their old nesting area is overcrowded. Maybe they had a bumper crop of young this year. Then it's instinct on their part to form a new colony."

"I agree," Ithilden said, "but I promised to check, and in any case, we don't want them near the stronghold."

"I notice you saw no need to mention this worry to Adar." Eilian grinned. "Afraid he wouldn't be able to shake the picture of one of these three trapped by a spider?"

"Which one?" Ithilden asked.

Legolas frowned over his shoulder. He wished Ithilden would stop joking about Turgon. Sometimes he did it in front of Thranduil, and sometimes his tone wasn't funny.

"You know what I'd do if I were a warrior?" Turgon piped up.

Ithilden and Eilian both briefly shut their eyes, and Legolas suppressed a laugh.

"Instead of letting spiders trap me, I would trap them," Turgon said. "I would lure them or drive them into a space and close it, like fireflies in a jar. Only uglier."

Ithilden and Eilian shared a surprised look. "If you ever do become a warrior," Ithilden said a little weakly, "tell your captain I said he should use you as a tactician."

"That sounds boring." Turgon shrugged. "Fighting would be more fun. Like I might let my trapped spiders out one by one and shoot them."

Annael had ignored the talk of spiders, probably because he heard enough of it from his warrior father. "Rodda was as tall as my adar when I saw him three years ago. He had a sweetheart and was a real soldier of Esgaroth. Do you think he will still want to be friends?"

"His letters are friendly," Legolas said. He had once been trapped in spider webs, choking on his terror as the spider talked of eating him. He was older now, obviously, better with a bow, and in the company of four other Elves, two of them his brothers, who were both fierce warriors, but he was just as glad to think of something else.

"Are we going to stop soon?" Turgon asked. "We need time to hunt for our evening meal."

"Good point, Turgon," Eilian said. "There's a place to camp not far ahead."

They found the place Eilian meant and set up camp. Legolas watched anxiously as Ithilden gave orders and Turgon followed them, rolling his eyes at Legolas all the while. Ithilden's speech grew more clipped, and Legolas began to suspect he was so annoyed that he was looking for more things to tell Turgon to do.

Finally, Eilian said, "We should hunt if we want to be back to camp by dark. Legolas can come with me." He paused for an instant, smiling blandly at Ithilden. "And Turgon," he added.

The tight lift of Ithilden's shoulders eased. "Good plan."

Indeed, Legolas thought. That way no one was likely to take a swing at someone shorter. Or taller, he had to add. Turgon looked pretty annoyed too.

"Small game only. No deer. Come, Annael." Ignoring Turgon's sigh of disappointment, Ithilden set off west from camp, followed by a shyly pleased Annael. Legolas had heard him admire Ithilden's skill with a bow. Annael would enjoy the chance to hunt with him.

"Let's go, you two." Eilian crooked a finger, and Legolas followed him with Turgon ambling along behind. After a few yards, Legolas quieted his step to match Eilian's silent glide, and Turgon too walked softly. As always when Legolas hunted with Eilian, he marveled at his brother's feel for the woods. Sometimes, he'd swear Eilian smelled where rabbits hid. In short order, they flushed two from a tangle of hawthorns, and Eilian let Legolas and Turgon take the shots just as Legolas expected him to. Eilian was better than Ithilden at remembering what it felt like to be new at providing the meat everyone would eat.

Eilian retrieved Legolas's kill and was tying it to his belt when something made him lift his head and look farther east.

"What is it?" Legolas asked.

A dozen yards east, Turgon bent to pick up the rabbit he'd shot.

"Draw, both of you!" Eilian cried. "And get out of the way." He darted north, yanking an arrow from his quiver. "Turgon! Move!"

Turgon straightened, frowned at Eilian, and turned to look east where Eilian's arrow was pointed.

A black cloud rolled through the treetops, a cloud that chittered and scuttled on long legs. Spiders! Heart jumping into his throat, Legolas started after Eilian.

"Turgon!" Eilian shouted. "Get to one side of them!"

As if he hadn't heard, Turgon seized an arrow and sent it sailing into the mob of spiders.

Eilian cursed and ran toward Turgon. "Go, Legolas!"

Legolas hesitated, covering Eilian and Turgon, ready to drive off any spider that might decide to dawdle for an evening meal. From behind him came a faint cry. He whirled and glimpsed a spot of bright blue. Surely that was a tunic. A small one. Shock focused to become a sharp question. What was a child doing out in the woods? He shouldered his bow and ran after the vanished figure.

He tore between the trees, hearing the first spiders sweep through the branches overhead. Amid the green, he glimpsed a small, Mannish boy carrying a child's bow. A thread of webbing unfolded in the boy's path. He squeaked and darted around it. Legolas followed, gaining ground. The boy looked over his shoulder, and his mouth rounded in astonishment. Legolas reached out, grabbed him around the waist, and dove into a thick stand of undergrowth. Twigs tore at his skin. He ducked his head, pressed the boy's face to his chest, and twisted to land in the hollow beneath the bushes with the boy on top of him.

Outside their hiding place, he heard the click and swoosh of spiders swarming and swinging past. The boy trembled in Legolas's arms as the spiders kept coming. There must be hundreds, Legolas realized, and then had the irrelevant thought that Ithilden was going to be deeply ticked off. At last, the sound faded.

"Are you all right?" Legolas asked.

The boy nodded, but a tremor ran through him.

Legolas turned so the boy slid off him. In the twilight of the thicket, his face was hard to see, but his sniffles were clearly audible. He kept his fingers latched onto Legolas's tunic.

"We should wait a bit to be sure they're gone," Legolas said. "What's your name?"

"Ithilden."

"Beg pardon?"

"My name's Ithilden." He sounded defensive like someone had teased him. "It's an Elf name, a good one. Elves are famous archers."

"I know," Legolas said. "It's my brother's name."

The boy pulled away, squinting at Legolas's face. "You're an Elf!"

"How old are you? About nine?" Legolas's memory coughed up details. "By any chance is your mother named Alitha?"

The boy's eyebrows drew together and then shot up. "You were there when I was born? You were the boy with the two grown-ups?"

"I was." Legolas frowned. "We're a good way from your house. What are you doing out here on your own?" To Legolas, Alitha had looked deeply protective of her son--of Ithilden, Legolas forced himself to think. Or maybe Little Squirt Ithilden. His brother's plain name was just too hard to keep in mind for a boy this small. Legolas wouldn't expect Alitha to let the child run into danger like this.

"It was an accident," Squirt Ithilden said. "I was with my little sister, picking berries, and a spider came. I yelled at her to run and chased it off, but then a whole river of them came, and I had to run too." His brow wrinkled again in a worried manner much like his namesake's. "I hope Mari did what I told her."

"Since you're her big brother, I'm sure she did." Legolas wasn't sure Mari would have had the chance to run, depending on where she was when the spiders swept through, but there was no point in telling this boy that.

Squirt Ithilden pursed his lips disapprovingly. "Probably, but you can't always count on little ones to do the sensible thing."

Legolas almost laughed. This Mannish boy sounded so much like a miniature version of his brother that it was funny. "Shall we see about getting you home? It must be growing late." The already dim light inside the thicket was growing fainter. He poked his hand between the branches they'd broken lunging into safety. His fingers caught on something sticky.

A growling voice hummed overhead. "Smaller," it purred. "Tender."

Squirt Ithilden sucked in his breath.

Legolas twisted, examining the branches around them. Gray webbing obscured the light in every gap.

"Tasty," the spider burbled happily.

For one instant, Legolas felt the terror he'd experienced years ago before his big brother Ithilden hacked him loose from a web. Then he put his hand on the child's cheek and turned it so the boy looked into Legolas's face, which he hoped he'd blanked of fear. "Listen to me, Ithilden. We need to leave now. I will go first and kill the spider. You stay here until I tell you to run."

"I can shoot." Squirt Ithilden gripped his child's bow, and Legolas gave him points for courage.

"Good," Legolas said. "But for now, stay here. When I tell you, run as fast as you can. Don't wait around for me. I'll be right behind you. Understand?"

"But--"

"Trust me." Legolas tried to smile. "I'm an Elf, remember? We're famous archers."

Squirt Ithilden nodded, biting his lip. Legolas suspected he was relieved and ashamed of it.

"It's a good thing you're here to watch my back," Legolas said, and the child looked a bit better. Ducking his head away from twigs, Legolas drew himself up to his knees and hacked with his knife at the web over the entrance.

"Stabber." The spider sounded annoyed, and new thread dropped over the point of Legolas's knife.

He glanced at Squirt Ithilden. "Do you have a knife?"

The boy pulled a small blade from a sheath on his belt.

"Good. You might need to cut a bit more here while I shoot at it." Legolas hoped not, and judging by the way Ithilden tightened his grip on the knife, he hoped so too. Legolas swept his blade through the new web and tucked it away. With one last steadying breath, he launched himself out of hiding. By the time he'd spun to find the spider hanging from a tree, he had his bow in hand and an arrow on the string.

"Another?" the spider squawked in surprise.

Legolas loosed the arrow, striking the spider in the eye. Black blood spurted. The spider dangled for a moment, then dropped onto the thicket, crushing the top branches.

"Run, Ithilden!" Legolas scanned the nearby trees, spotting far more webbing than he liked.

The boy spurted into sight and took off, colliding with the body of a second spider spiraling down on a thread. Ithilden shrieked and shoved at the spider, whose fangs dripped at the sight of prey.

Legolas ran toward them. "Drop to the ground!" he cried.

Squirt Ithilden wrenched himself loose and fell.

Legolas's first arrow bounced off the spider's carapace. His second hit one eye as another arrow flew from behind him to hit a second eye.

Legolas ran to the boy. "Are you all right, Ithilden?"

"Of course I am," boomed a deep voice behind him. "Scan the trees. There are spiders all over the area." His brother hovered behind him, searching for more spiders.

"Indeed there are," said a new voice. "What I want to know is why you Elves are chasing them our way." A man Legolas didn't know crouched on Squirt Ithilden's other side. "Are you hurt?"

The boy scrambled up and flung himself into the man's arms. "Da!"

Tamas, Legolas recalled. That was the name of Alitha's husband who'd been away when SIthilden was born.

Tamas embraced the boy, then gripped his shoulders and shook him. "What were you thinking?"

At the same instant, Ithilden grabbed Legolas's shoulder and spun him around. "What were you thinking?" he demanded. "Why didn't you stay with Eilian?"

"It wasn't my fault, Da," the boy said. "Didn't Mari tell you what happened? Is she all right?"

"She is." Tamas lifted his gaze to glare at Ithilden.

"This is Tamas," Legolas told his brother. "Alitha's husband. Remember her?" He grinned. "And this is Ithilden."

His brother's grip loosened, as did his clenched jaw. "Ithilden?" he repeated. "She really named him that?"

"I left Eilian to go after him," Legolas added. "I didn't think a child should be alone in the woods."

"You're the Elf who saved my wife from outlaws and then brought this one into the world?" Tamas wrapped one arm about his son's shoulders and advanced toward Ithilden with his hand extended. "I've waited for years to say thank you."

Ithilden took the hand and shook it, a gesture that looked very odd to Legolas. "Your wife brought the boy into the world. I just caught him."

Tamas's smile faded. "Your warriors really have been pushing the spiders toward us."

Ithilden ran a hand over his tightly braided hair. "I suspect the spiders are moving on their own, but I will make sure you have more protection." He looked at the boy clinging to his father, his face softening with thoughts Legolas couldn't read. Then he turned to Legolas. "We need to go. Turgon broke his leg in what was undoubtedly some spectacularly foolish move. Eilian is with him and Annael, and they're all anxious about you."

"Well, I'm grateful to you." Tamas reached to shake Legolas's hand too. "You seem to have looked after my boy."

Legolas imitated the way Ithilden had shaken the man's hand. Tamas's palm was warm and callused. "He was very brave."

The boy grinned. His father steered him one way while Ithilden steered Legolas elsewhere.

"You didn't think a child should be alone in the woods?" Ithilden quoted Legolas's words back to him as a question.

"No." Legolas frowned. "Don't you think that too?"

Ithilden sighed. "Indeed I do. Does it not occur to you that you are a child?"

"Not like that." Legolas jerked his head back toward where the little boy had gone. "He needed help, Ithilden."

"I know."

"I'm not an elfling."

"You're my little brother."

Legolas gave up. Ithilden would probably say the same thing on Legolas's eight hundredth begetting day.

They found Eilian and Annael standing over Turgon, whose leg was splinted. They all looked relieved when Legolas and Ithilden appeared. Legolas explained what happened while Ithilden mounted his horse and Eilian handed Turgon carefully up into his arms.

Turgon was white-faced with pain but undaunted. "You have the best adventures, Legolas. I wish I'd been with you."

"I'll never get to Esgaroth," Legolas moaned as he mounted his own horse. "I'll be lucky if Adar doesn't decide it's too dangerous for me to leave the stronghold because running off after the little boy means I'm such an elfling." He glared at Ithilden.

Eilian laughed, but Ithilden spoke soberly.

"You didn't act like an elfling today. Protecting the young is one of the things adults are supposed to do. I just wish we'd been able to spare you having to do such a thing so soon."

Legolas's mouth dropped open, and Ithilden half smiled.

"Keep close," Ithilden said, "and stay alert. It will be full dark soon."

"Cheer up, Legolas," Eilian said. "Adar still thinks I'm such an elfling sometimes, but he let me go out into the big bad world when he had to."

"After we saw Rodda in Esgaroth," Annael said, "my adar said becoming an adult works differently for Elves than Men. We have so many years that on their own they don't make the difference. Elves truly become adults when they take on responsibility."

"Now that sounds exactly like something my adar would say," Eilian said. "I think they all are handed the same book of proverbs when their first child is born."

"You can tell an adult because they lecture," Turgon mumbled. He groaned, and Ithilden shifted his grip.

"Better?" Ithilden asked.

"Yes, thank you," Turgon said.

Legolas looked back over his shoulder, still regretting what he was missing. At this rate, Rodda would probably be a graybearded grandfather the next time Legolas saw him. Why did Men and Elves have to be so different? Maybe his father was right, and friendship with mortals was foolish. No, he decided. Not foolish. Just risky because you never knew what part of a mortal's life you might share. But then, that was true of all your friends, mortal or not. He glanced ahead at Turgon, who was moaning again.

Eilian spurred his horse up next to Legolas's. "There's dancing tomorrow night, brat. Perhaps you can shed some of that elfling reputation."

Legolas laughed and settled in for the ride home.

#

AN: Rodda appeared in "Good Neighbors." Little boy Ithilden appeared in "Visitors." Legolas was caught in webbing in "Paths Taken."     





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