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Disclaimer: I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien but they belong to him. I gain no profit from their use other than the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.
Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.
1. Left Alone
Thranduil felt himself being pulled inexorably away from the paths of his uneasy dreams. His eyes snapped into focus and he lay in the lonely dark, puzzling over what had roused him. It took him only a moment to realize that the source of his wakefulness was not without, but within. The tie that bound him to his youngest son told him that something was wrong with Legolas.
He reached immediately for a night robe and started toward the elfling's sleeping chamber, next door to his own suite. He knew only too well what he was likely to find when he got there, for being awakened at night had become an all too familiar occurrence both for him and for his youngest son. He pushed the door open, and by the light of the dim night lantern that was set high on the wall, he could see Legolas moving restlessly in his sleep.
"Nana," the child moaned in agitation. "Nana!"
"Legolas," Thranduil called, advancing toward the bed and touching his son lightly on the shoulder. "Wake up."
The child's eyes widened, and he turned toward his father with a gasp. "Nana," he said frantically. He focused on Thranduil for a moment, and then he began to cry.
Thranduil gathered Legolas in his arms, wrapped a quilt around him, handed his son the soft blanket that he had again started sleeping with, and settled in the rocking chair with the sobbing child on his lap.
"Orcs," Legolas choked out incoherently. "Orcs came."
Thranduil's chest tightened at the terror in his son's voice and face. "You had a bad dream," he crooned softly, rocking and stroking the elfling's hair. "There are no Orcs here."
Under Thranduil's gentle caresses, Legolas's sobs gradually lessened and he sat quietly for a moment, leaning against his father's chest. Then his eyes met Thranduil's. "Nana died," he said.
"Yes," Thranduil agreed. "She did."
"I want Nana to be here," Legolas told him insistently.
Thranduil kissed the top of his head. "So do I," he said.
Legolas fell silent and the two of them rocked quietly together by the light of the banked fire until the child's breathing slowed and his eyes began to lose focus. Thranduil rose carefully, settled his small son in the bed, and tucked him in.
He stood for a moment looking wearily down at the little figure. Surely these nightmares should stop soon, he thought unhappily. Then, with a sigh, he went back to his own cold bed, knowing that in all likelihood he would lie awake for what remained of the night, for there was no one to comfort him.
Legolas woke slowly, emerging gradually from the fog of sleep into the clarity of a new day. It felt late to him and he wondered why Nana had not yet come to get him up. Then he remembered. Nana was dead. An Orc had eaten her, and she was never going to come and get him up again. He pulled his blanket closer to him and buried his face in its softness. The blanket was starting to smell. Legolas liked the smell, but Nimloth did not, so she would probably take his blanket away and wash it today while he was having his lessons. Perhaps he could hide it under his pillow.
Just then, the door opened and Nimloth came into his chamber. "Time to get up, sleepy head," she said cheerfully and pulled the blankets off him. Legolas rolled toward her and slowly sat up, rubbing his eyes. "We have to hurry or you will be late for morning meal," she told him. "My oldest son is visiting, and I lingered too long at home this morning."
Nimloth took care of him during the day, but she was someone else's nana and went home to them every night. Ada put him to bed unless he was too busy, and then one of the maids did it. Legolas wished that Ada would take care of him during the day too, but he was too busy being king. He slept next door in the big bed that Nana used to share, though, and when Legolas had bad dreams, Ada always came. Legolas frowned and tried to remember if he had had bad dreams last night. He remembered Ada holding him and rocking him, but he could not be sure if that had been last night or the night before.
Nimloth had pulled a tunic and leggings out of a cupboard. She turned back to him. "Come now," she urged. "Get up and wash your hands and face, and I will brush your hair." He slid from the bed and padded into the bathing chamber to do as he had been told. When he came back into the room, Nimloth had already made his bed and had tossed his blanket into a basket with his dirty clothes.
Too late, he thought regretfully. He held his arms up so that Nimloth could take his sleep tunic off.
"You can do that yourself," she chided gently and waited.
"I want you to," he pleaded.
She studied him. "You can dress yourself," she told him. "But you need to hurry because your ada is waiting for you."
Legolas hesitated, tempted to be angry with Nimloth for not taking care of him properly, but he liked having morning meal with Ada, and Ithilden would be there too. He began to struggle out of his sleep tunic. Nimloth caught at it, pulling it off his arms, and then handed him his leggings, turning them the right way round for him. His mind on seeing his ada and brother, he tugged on the leggings and his tunic and then stood impatiently while Nimloth brushed the tangles from his hair and braided the locks at his temples so that they would stay out of his face.
"There you are," she said, lacing up his light shoes and then dropping a kiss on the top of his head. "Run along now." He smiled at her and ran out of the room and along the hall to the royal family's small private dining room.
Nimloth added the discarded night tunic to the laundry in the basket and then picked the basket up. Poor little mite, she thought, as she started from the room. The flash of his smile had been sweet enough to pierce her heart, for she saw it too seldom these days.
Thranduil frowned and leaned back wearily in his chair. He had been up in the night with Legolas again, and the news that Ithilden was giving him seemed to weigh on him more heavily than usual.
"The scouts got back last night but waited until this morning to report," Ithilden was saying. "Unfortunately, they confirm what we had heard. Orcs are multiplying in the Misty Mountains."
"Where are they coming from?" Thranduil wondered.
"I do not know," Ithilden answered unhappily, "but I fear that they are spreading westward from the southern part of the forest. We have been unable to defeat them or even contain them and now others are paying the price of our failure."
Thranduil shot his oldest son a sharp glance. Ithilden's face was creased with worry and it seemed to Thranduil that it had been so since he had arrived home two weeks ago. Ithilden commanded the Mirkwood troops. For many years, he had been doing so from the field, leading a small patrol himself and moving about to check on the status of those under his authority. But since the return of the Shadow thirty years ago, the number of warriors under his command had grown and the task of coordinating them had become more demanding. Thranduil thought that Ithilden was soon going to have to give up going into battle himself and begin directing the training and disposition of others from an office at home. He also thought that Ithilden was too likely to take every battle lost as a personal failure. Before he could say so, however, the door opened and Legolas bounded into the room.
" Ada!" he cried. Thranduil opened his arms to his youngest son, and the child ran eagerly into the hug.
"Good morning, little one," Thranduil said. "You should sit down and eat your morning meal before Ithilden takes it all."
"He would not do that," Legolas protested, but he climbed into his chair all the same and then looked unenthusiastically at the bowl of porridge that sat there.
"No, I would not," Ithilden readily agreed.
Thranduil had to repress a smile at the look on Legolas's face. "Would you like some honey in your porridge perhaps?" he asked, and when Legolas nodded vigorously, he spooned some of the sweet stuff into the bowl. "Now eat it all," he admonished. Legolas's appetite had been less than hearty in the last few months, and he was thinner than Thranduil thought he should be.
"Ithilden did not eat all of his," Legolas observed, beginning to take small spoonfuls and raise them slowly to his lips.
"He is going to," Thranduil said and shot an amused glance at his oldest son, who laughed, made a small face, and then began to scrape up the rest of his porridge.
"What are you going to do today, Legolas?" Ithilden asked his little brother.
"I have lessons," the child answered, concentrating on the well he was scooping out in the middle of his bowl. "And then I am going to play at Turgon's house."
Ithilden raised an eyebrow at his father. Legolas most often played with Turgon and another elfling called Annael. Annael was a nice child with sensible parents, but Turgon was endlessly creative at getting into trouble, and Ithilden was well aware of his father's dismay over Legolas's attachment to the mischievous elfling.
Thranduil grimaced. "Finish your porridge, Legolas," he said. "Galeril is probably waiting for you."
"Do I have to go to lessons today?" Legolas asked plaintively.
"Yes, you do," said Thranduil firmly. "Finish your porridge, and I will walk you to the library."
Legolas shoveled three more spoonfuls of the porridge into his mouth and then stood up. "I am ready," he announced.
Thranduil looked at the amount of porridge that was still in the bowl but decided not to force the issue. He would tell the cooks to fix something more likely to tempt his son's appetite, he thought. He stood up and took Legolas's hand. Then he looked at Ithilden. "We will continue our conversation on the other matter later," he said.
Ithilden had stood when Thranduil did. "I need to see if any other scouting reports have come in," he said. "I will come to you in your office once I have all the news there is and some idea of what I want to do about it." Thranduil nodded in response.
Legolas turned to Ithilden. "Are you talking about Orcs?" he asked with unfortunate perceptiveness. Thranduil could not imagine how he made such acute guesses sometimes, but then, he seemed to have Orcs on his mind for reasons that were only too clear. Ithilden glanced at Thranduil, passing the responsibility for answering Legolas's question to his father.
"Yes, we are," said Thranduil, "but the Orcs we are talking about are far away." He did not want to add to whatever fears were causing his youngest son's recurrent nightmares.
"Are they where Eilian is?" Legolas pursued.
"No," answered Thranduil. The answer was only slightly dishonest. That there were Orcs where Eilian was, Thranduil knew only too well, but they were not the ones that he and Ithilden were talking about.
"Good," said Legolas. "I do not want Eilian to be eaten by an Orc." Thranduil and Ithilden both flinched slightly at the vivid image that Legolas's speech called to mind.
"Eilian has a bow and a sword, Legolas," Ithilden put in, "and he is with many other warriors. Any Orc that came near him would be very sorry that it did."
Legolas considered this, nodded solemnly, and allowed his father to lead him off to the library where his tutor waited for him.
Ithilden left the palace and walked toward the warrior training grounds where he was using an office in the headquarters of the Home Guard as a place to receive reports and meet with his captains. As he walked along through the autumn morning, he thought about what he had told Legolas about Eilian's ability to defend himself from Orcs. He only hoped that he had been right. In truth, like his little brother, Ithilden worried about Eilian. Indeed he worried about all the warriors now under his command.
Ithilden had come to adulthood in a time of great peril for the Woodland Realm. He had battled the evil things in the southern part of the Realm and then, in what seemed an almost unbelievable reversal of fortune, Sauron had been driven out of Dol Guldur and the Realm had been at peace for four hundred years. It had still been at peace thirty years ago when Eilian first became a novice and started to train for the routine guard duties that the warriors under Ithilden's command had then been accustomed to. But that had been the last year of tranquility, and by the time Eilian had pledged his faith as a warrior, the peace had well and truly ended and Shadow had begun to flow forth again from Dol Guldur. The trees had twisted, giant spiders had spread ever northwards, and Orcs had multiplied and begun to attack Thranduil's people. Six months ago, they had killed Ithilden's mother.
The thought of that event sent such pain through him that he all but stopped in his tracks. Lorellin had been visiting a cousin an easy two-day ride west of the palace. On the day of her death, she had waited for a group of his warriors who were to come to escort her home and had grown impatient when they were later than she had anticipated. So she had decided to ride out to meet them, accompanied only by the two warriors who had remained with her throughout the visit. They had been set upon by Orcs against whose numbers they could not hope to defend themselves, and they had all been dead by the time the escort reached them. For the thousandth time, Ithilden wished that he had sent the escort earlier, that he had insisted that more warriors stay with her during the visit, that he had led the escort himself, that he had managed to succeed in confining the Orcs in the southern part of the woods. There were times when he was unable to understand how his father could bear to be in the same room with him.
He shoved the unproductive thoughts into the dark spaces at the back of his mind and entered his office, returning the salutes and greetings of his aides. "Another scout has returned, my lord," one of them told him.
"Good," he replied, settling down behind the desk. "Send him to me." And he turned his attention to the business of learning everything he could about the enemy so that he might never again have such cause for regret.
His head resting in his hand, Legolas stared dreamily at the rows of books and scrolls on the shelves in Ada's library. The different colors of the book bindings looked pretty, like a jumbled up rainbow, and the visible ends of the scrolls made a nice design along the bottom.
"Have you finished the addition problems, Legolas?" Galeril asked, interrupting his reverie.
Legolas lifted his head from his hand and looked down at the numbers on the paper in front of him. He shook his head. He had not added the boring numbers, and he had very little interest in doing so.
Galeril was bending over him now. "What is this?" he asked gently, pointing to the heavily inked drawing that Legolas had scribbled along one edge of the paper.
Legolas considered the drawing and tried to decide what it was. "I think it is a hole," he said, "and it is very dark there."
There was a moment's silence, and then Galeril said, "I wonder if you would like to show the picture of the hole to your ada and tell him about it?"
Legolas pondered that idea for a moment. He did not want to try to show the picture of the hole to Ada, he thought. Ada was busy, and Legolas was not sure that he would understand about things like dark holes. What he wanted was to show the picture to Nana.
After a moment in which no answer came, Galeril sighed, pulled a chair up next to him, and sat down. "Come," he said, "we will add the numbers together."
Thranduil tried to concentrate on what Ithilden was telling him but found that his attention kept wandering. What was the matter with him, he wondered irritably. He was far more tired than he should have been, even allowing for the fact that he was up with Legolas two or three nights a week, for he was not sleeping well even when Legolas did not wake him. His bed seemed huge and empty, and he was constantly aware of the absence of his wife, of the part of himself that had gone missing with her.
"Adar?" Ithilden prodded, apparently having asked something.
"I am sorry, iôn-nín," admitted Thranduil. "My attention was wandering. What is it you asked?"
Ithilden's gaze was unreadable, and very briefly, Thranduil wondered what was behind his oldest son's stoic face. Over the years, he had come to value Ithilden's judgment and skills, and Thranduil knew that the two of them shared a passionate desire to serve the Woodland Realm well. But of late, they seemed barely able to make themselves mutually understood.
"I think that I need to go south toward Dol Guldur and see the situation for myself," Ithilden repeated. "With your permission, I will take a patrol and leave in the morning."
Thranduil hesitated. He hated the idea of Ithilden going toward center of Shadow, but he had to admit the validity of his son's need to understand what was happening if he was to arrange the best defense against it. "Very well," he agreed, and Ithilden stood, bowed with his right hand over his heart, and departed.
Thranduil's attention wandered to the paper on his desk where, next to some all but illegible addition problems, he could see the scribble that Galeril had told him Legolas said was a dark hole. What could Legolas be thinking, he wondered. Thranduil worried about the fears that haunted the elfling's sleep, of course, but at least during the day, Legolas had seemed to be functioning not well exactly, but as well as could be expected. He rubbed his temples. Lorellin, he begged silently, what am I to do without you?
Disclaimer: I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien but they belong to him. I gain no profit from their use other than the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.
Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.
AN: Warning to Dragon-of-the-North: Unreasoned violence against Orcs in this chapter. My apologies.
2. Getting into Trouble Abroad
Eilian moved silently and rapidly through the branches, straining with all his senses to catch any sign of Orcs moving through the dark forest. Here, in the southern reaches of the Woodland Realm, the chances were good that he would be lucky and spot some of the beasts so that the Southern Patrol could intercept them and do battle. In the last few months, no one had been better at scouting out Orcs than Eilian had. It was as if he had developed an instinctive feel for where they were most likely to be.
To his right, the starlight showed him Maltanaur also gliding smoothly through the trees, but he knew that the older warrior's attention was divided between the woods and Eilian himself. Maltanaur was of Thranduil's generation, and the king had made him responsible for Eilian's safety and training when he had first been assigned to the Southern Patrol nearly twenty years ago now. Even yet, Eilian seldom was allowed to make a move without Maltanaur at his side. Todith captained the Southern Patrol, and in theory decided how its warriors were to be arranged, but he evidently had no intention of defying the king. Eilian thought that using Maltanaur as a body guard for him was a waste of one of the Realm's precious few warriors. Moreover, he rather resented the implication that he could not take care of himself, but he also knew from experience the futility of arguing with his father or Ithilden on this topic, and exposing such a family disagreement to Todith was out of the question.
Suddenly, he felt the hair on the back of his neck rise before he had even consciously noted the presence of what he sought. A second later, he heard the heavy tromping and then caught the stench of Orcs. A band of them was ahead and just to the left. He paused and glanced over at Maltanaur to make sure that he, too, had noticed the Orcs. Maltanaur signaled and the two of them cautiously advanced toward the band to see how many there were and how heavily they were armed.
Eilian came to a halt in a large oak, and a second later, Maltanaur was on the limb beside him. They crouched in silence, and then the Orcs came into view beneath them. Eilian frowned, for the first thing he noticed was that at least half of the Orcs carried bows. That would make the coming battle harder for the Elves, for it meant that they were vulnerable even in the trees. He shifted his attention to counting and was gratified to note that the band was not a very large one, consisting of, at most, thirty Orcs. They should be easy prey, he thought with satisfaction, even with the archers. The Orcs were lightly armored with breast plates only, so the Elves' arrows should be able to strike home easily enough.
As the experience of the Southern Patrol had taught its warriors was wise, he and Maltanaur waited until the last of the band had passed beneath them, for they wanted to be sure there were no hidden weapons or trailing groups that would make for nasty surprises when the Elves finally engaged them. Moreover, they both knew that they could fly through the trees much more quickly than the Orcs could move on the ground, so there would be plenty of time to warn their fellow warriors and prepare for battle even if they took these few extra minutes for which caution called.
The band had passed into the woods and Eilian had just turned to signal Maltanaur that they should leave, when suddenly a smaller group of half a dozen or so more Orcs appeared. One of these caught Eilian's attention, for he was unusually large with an arrogant bearing and a golden band worn diagonally across the armor on his chest. The group's leader, Eilian realized. As were several of the other Orcs, this one was carrying his sword in his hand and, as Eilian watched, he swung it casually at a tree, leaving a wound in the bark. Eilian was unexpectedly choked with anger at the idea of this Orc defiling the forest, and he was seized with an almost overwhelming temptation to draw his bow and bring the overconfident Orc down now. There were only a few warriors in this group, he thought suddenly, and he and Maltanaur would easily be able to handle them and get away before the noise they would make would draw the rest of the band back on them.
As if he sensed what Eilian was contemplating, Maltanaur put a restraining hand on his arm. The Orc leader and his companions moved beneath them and disappeared in the direction the rest of the band had taken. Maltanaur jerked his head firmly in the direction of the Patrol's current camp, and reluctantly, Eilian followed him back along the way they had come.
They encountered the Patrol's sentries a few hundred yards from the campsite and dropped to the ground and hurried toward Todith. Eilian could feel excitement sweeping through the camp at the sight of them, for it must have been clear from their manner that they had found something. He could see warriors who had been lounging by the low campfire start to gather their weapons.
"There is a band of about thirty a league or so southeast of us, heading north," Eilian told his captain. "About half of them have bows. A group of six, including one who looks to be their leader, trails a little behind the main band."
Todith immediately began issuing orders, but his warriors had begun to move even before he spoke. The Southern Patrol consisted of only two dozen or so warriors, for the kind of stealthy, mobile warfare in which they engaged was better carried out by a group of limited size. But these warriors were among the most daring in the Realm and most of them took a certain grim pleasure in a skirmish of the kind they were about to embark on.
"Sórion," Todith was addressing his lieutenant, "take half a dozen warriors and get ahead of them so that they are driven back to us. Everybody stay in the trees as long as you can. Aim for their archers first."
"Captain," Eilian urged, "if I take Maltanaur and Gelmir with me, can I go around to their rear and take out their leader?" Todith had reprimanded Eilian for rashness the week before when, to Eilian's mind, he had only been a bit too aggressive during a battle. He was trying to tread carefully with his captain now, but he could not get the picture of the arrogant Orc leader out of his mind.
Todith threw him a severe glance. "You may," he said, "but keep in mind that battle is not a solo activity."
"I will," Eilian promised eagerly.
Maltanaur had been hovering at his elbow since they returned from the scouting mission and had heard the order. Both of them turned to find that Gelmir was right behind them, strapping on his quiver. "This should be fun," he said.
Eilian grinned. He and Gelmir had been friends since they were Legolas's age. It did not surprise him that Gelmir had come to his side now without being called.
"Wait for my order to begin the actual attack," Todith told them. "Everybody go!"
The Elves were into the trees and away, moving east and spreading out to trap the Orc band between Sórion's small force and the rest of them. Eilian, Gelmir, and Maltanaur kept to the right of the main group of Elves so that they would be in a position to engage the group at the Orcs' rear.
As they reached the area where Todith had decided they would take their stand, Eilian managed to issue a quick admonition to his two companions before they all had to fall silent. "You two take out the small fry in the trailing group," he told them. "Leave the leader to me." Maltanaur did not look happy at this division of labor, but he held his tongue and gave a quick nod that Gelmir echoed.
They could hear the Orcs moving before they saw them, and Todith quickly had his main force lying in wait for the band to cross under them. With an arrow already nocked in his bow, Eilian crouched on a branch and watched, his breath quickening, as most of the Orcs passed beneath him and his two companions. The smaller group had just come into sight when he heard the bird call that was Todith's signal to attack. As one, the Elves rose to their feet and began to fire.
They had apparently taken the Orcs completely unaware, for their archers still had their bows on their shoulders. Now they scrambled to make ready to return fire, but their unprepared state had cost them dearly and, within moments, more than a third of them lay on the ground, dead or dying, and the others were scattering or making ineffectual efforts to bring the Elves down from the trees.
With a small part of his attention, Eilian was aware of this, but he was more than willing to let his fellow warriors take care of the main party of Orcs, for he was totally focused on the leader and the Orc warriors who were now defending him. He, Gelmir, and Maltanaur had risen and fired at Todith's signal, and his companions' arrows had struck home, for two of the leader's companions fell. But Eilian had not been so lucky. He had intended to shoot the leader but, to his fury, had been unable to get a clear shot. His arrow had wounded one of the Orc warriors who had accidentally stepped in front of his captain, but the leader had reacted to the Elves' attack more quickly than Orcs usually did and had dodged aside and entered thick underbrush to the east.
Incensed at the idea that the big Orc might escape, Eilian leapt over the top of the remainder of the smaller party and slid through the trees near the underbrush. He heard a muffled exclamation from Maltanaur but he ignored it, intent as he was on his search for the leader. Unfortunately, the underbrush was dense and in the darkness, he was unable to catch a glimpse of his prey. With the noise of the battle behind him, he was having trouble tracking the leader even by sound from his perch in the trees. He needed to get closer, he thought. Without a second's hesitation, he jumped to the ground, drew his sword, and began tracking through the bushes and brambles.
Inside the underbrush, the noise of the battle was muffled, and he could now make out the sound of breaking twigs that told him which direction to take. In contrast to the Orc, he moved silently, grim glee beginning to rise as he closed in. The noise ahead had stopped now, however, and he crept cautiously forward. Suddenly, he found himself face to face with his startled prey. The Orc had evidently been working his way back toward the battle and had his scimitar raised in anticipation of rejoining it. Now, with a roar, he charged at Eilian, swinging his blade with ferocious strength.
Eilian had no time to get out of the way of the sword that was slicing toward his waist, but he managed to step in close and get his own sword in position to parry the blow, using his left hand to support the wrist of his sword hand against the Orc's brute strength. In a move he had practiced over and over as a novice, Eilian then shifted his weight backwards, lowered his blade as if he intended to stab his opponent with his sword's tip, and instead drew it back so that its edge sliced a deep cut in the Orc's sword arm.
Although the Orc leader hesitated for a split second, he was undeterred by his wound. Indeed, he seemed incensed that Eilian's sword had touched him and charged again, with another horizontal swing that seemed aimed to slice the Elf in half. With a fierce sense of triumph, Eilian danced back out of the way and then immediately came in behind the strike. He put both hands on his sword hilt and swung with all his strength, ferocious joy flooding his system as he separated the Orc's head almost completely from his body. Black blood spurted into the night in a fountain that was as beautiful to Eilian as anything that had been wrought in his father's garden.
"Eilian!" Gelmir's voice shouted in warning, and an arrow flew over his head. He spun to see an Orc falling to the ground a few yards behind him, his scimitar dropping from his hand. He turned back quickly again and saw Gelmir standing in a tree at a little distance, nocking another arrow. His struggle with the Orc leader had taken them out of the underbrush and into the treed area. Maltanaur came up behind Gelmir.
"Get into the trees, you fool," snapped Maltanaur, and Eilian scrambled back to the safety of the branches to find both Gelmir and Maltanaur there with nocked arrows. Maltanaur said nothing more but led the way toward where their companions were finishing off the last of the band.
Eilian followed the other members of the Southern Patrol back into camp, weariness now making itself felt as the excitement of battle faded. Eilian wondered if it would be worth scouting for more Orcs yet tonight, but he reluctantly concluded that Todith would probably send everyone but the watch to rest. He stowed his weapons, checking and cleaning his retrieved arrows as he did so, and then went to see if he was needed to tend the wounded. Only three of the Elves had received minor wounds, however, and Sórion, who was the most skilled healer in the patrol, had already seen to them.
Suddenly, Todith was by his side. "I want to talk to you, Eilian," he said, and Eilian flinched slightly at his tone. He greatly feared that this was going to be another reprimand for his supposed "recklessness." He saw with dismay that Todith was now signaling Maltanaur that he wanted him too. Eilian could see Gelmir sending him a sympathetic look, and he grimaced back at his friend. Todith led him and Maltanaur a small distance from the center of the camp and then turned to face them.
"I believe I have a pretty good idea of what happened tonight," he said forbiddingly, "but why do you not tell me about it, Eilian?"
Eilian paused and then spoke carefully. "We attacked when you gave the order," he said, "killing two of their warriors and wounding another. The leader tried to flee, and I pursued him and killed him. Gelmir and Maltanaur killed the other members of the group." He stopped and looked at Todith hopefully, but his captain gazed at him with an unreadable expression on his face.
"Tell me about killing the leader," he said.
Eilian's heart sank. "He had hidden in some underbrush," he said resignedly, "so I had to get onto the ground in order to follow him. We crossed swords and I won. One of their warriors had followed us and Gelmir shot him."
"Gelmir was with you when you pursued the leader?" Todith asked.
"No," said Eilian. "He followed too. The Orc leader would have gotten away if I had waited," he said defensively.
"So you allowed yourself to be separated from your fellow warriors?" Todith asked. "Indeed, if I understand what you are telling me, you separated yourself from them widely enough that you would be dead by now if Gelmir had not arrived in time. You could not wait to take other warriors with you to pursue the leader who was on foot, on the ground, and undoubtedly making enough noise that an elfling could have tracked him."
Reluctantly, Eilian nodded.
Todith's eyes flicked to Maltanaur. "Have you anything to add to this sorry tale?" he asked crisply.
"No, Captain," Maltanaur responded. Eilian glanced at him. He had been able to tell from the way that Maltanaur spoke to him that he had frightened the older elf badly tonight, as he had done on several other occasions lately. He regretted that, but nonetheless felt that he had done only what he had to.
Todith sighed. "Then I have no choice," he said, and Eilian's attention snapped back to him. "You are a danger to yourself and to your fellow warriors. Tomorrow I am sending you home. You can carry my dispatches to Ithilden, and he can decide what is to be done with you. I will not have you in my patrol as long as you are behaving so undependably."
Eilian's heart stopped and he stared at Todith in shock. "You cannot be serious," he cried.
"I am only too serious," Todith responded grimly. "Maltanaur will accompany you, of course."
Eilian opened his mouth to protest further but shut it again at the look on his captain's face. He felt Maltanaur touch his arm lightly. Using every ounce of self control he possessed, he put his hand over his heart to salute Todith and then turned away. He walked stiffly toward where he and Gelmir had laid their bed rolls. Maltanaur caught up to him just as he reached Gelmir's side.
"I am sorry, Eilian," the older warrior said and then went on to where his own gear lay.
"What happened?" Gelmir asked anxiously.
"Todith is sending me home tomorrow," Eilian managed to get out, his chest tight.
"On leave?" Gelmir asked.
"No," Eilian could hear the bitterness in his own voice now. "Apparently I am to stay away as long as I behave 'undependably.'" He flopped down on his bed roll and, putting his hands to his face, drew a long breath and then let it out and rested his hands on his chest. "What Ithilden is going to say, I cannot imagine," he said, staring unseeingly at the stars overhead.
"Or your adar," Gelmir added almost reverently. Eilian cringed. He had not thought about Thranduil's reaction to his unexpected arrival home. Trust Gelmir to remind him. He had seen Thranduil angry on enough occasions when the two of them had gotten into trouble as younglings that he was permanently wary of Eilian's father.
The camp was settling slowly to sleep around them. Keyed up warriors had gradually calmed down and were now tired. Moreover, a hunting party would have to go out at dawn, for the Southern Patrol needed to provide most of its own food, and those to whom that task would fall knew they needed to sleep now.
"I will talk to Todith again in the morning," Eilian finally resolved. "Perhaps he will have cooled down enough to change his mind."
"Good idea," Gelmir agreed sympathetically as he lay back. The sound of his even breathing soon told Eilian that his friend was asleep, but Eilian himself lay awake long. Unless he had exhausted himself, he often found sleep hard to come by these days. The stars had wheeled far around the heavens before he finally drifted off.
Except for the hunting party and those on watch, the camp slept late the next morning, and Eilian and Gelmir were just rousing themselves when they heard the sound of approaching horses. Eilian blinked, for it seemed to him as if he must still be sleeping and one of his most unpleasant thoughts had just come to life in a nightmare. Ithilden, along with his aides and guards, had just ridden into the campsite.
"That is bad timing," observed Gelmir with massive understatement as they watched Ithilden exchange greetings with Todith.
Eilian could only nod in dismayed agreement and then go forward to greet his brother.
Ithilden paused for a moment to make sure he had a firm hold on his temper and then crossed the camp to where Eilian and Gelmir were tending several roasting rabbits. Gelmir looked up first. "Hello, Ithilden," he said.
Ithilden nodded at him and then turned his attention to Eilian, who had not looked up at his approach. "Walk with me, brother," he said, knowing even as he heard himself speak that it sounded more like a command than an invitation. Resignation written on his face, Eilian rose and accompanied him to a sheltered spot just inside the camp's sentry line. Here Ithilden stopped and faced his younger brother. "Just what was it you thought you were doing?" he heard himself say and knew that all hope of remaining calm for this conversation was gone. He was furious, and he was not going to be able to pretend to be otherwise.
Eilian was evidently ready for his question. "I was doing my job," he protested. "Ask Todith who has scouted out the most Orcs in the last month. Ask him who has taken on the enemy most readily!"
"And shall I ask him who has failed to follow battle plans or who has leapt blindly forward, endangering himself and his fellow warriors?" Ithilden asked sharply. "I cannot believe that you have behaved so badly, Eilian."
His brother's face went white. "I was doing my job," he repeated stubbornly.
"Then it is time you had a different job," Ithilden answered, and Eilian's gaze snapped to meet his.
"What do you mean?" he asked tightly.
"I mean that I am reassigning both you and Gelmir to the Home Guard," Ithilden answered promptly. "I never should have agreed to posting the two of you here in the first place. You are too young and inexperienced."
Eilian stared at him open-mouthed. "What does Gelmir have to do with this?" he asked in apparent bewilderment.
"Do not pretend to be stupid," Ithilden rebuked him. "He is the same age you are. Neither one of you should be here."
Eilian stared at him and then gave a snort of scornful laughter. "You cannot protect everyone, Ithilden. Someone has to fight Orcs."
"I do not have to protect everyone," Ithilden snapped, growing even more heated, "only those who do not know enough to protect themselves."
Some flash of insight flitted across Eilian's face, and with fraternal ruthlessness, he went straight for the jugular. "Naneth is already dead, Ithilden," he spat. "You cannot do anything about that now."
It was all Ithilden could do to keep from striking him.
"You and Gelmir will leave in an hour," Ithilden said with tight control. "It will take me that long to make sure all the dispatches are ready for Adar. Report to Deler when you get home. I am keeping Maltanaur here. He, at least, is likely to be of some use." He spun on his heel and started back toward Todith.
An hour later, Eilian and Gelmir were mounted and ready to start the long ride back to Thanduil's stronghold. Ithilden approached them and handed a packet of papers to Eilian. Then he turned to Gelmir. "Avoid any trouble you can on the ride home," he said. "Do not engage in battle unless you are forced to do so. The two of you are not a large enough force to stand against an enemy and be certain of victory."
Eilian flushed as he watched Ithilden issue orders to his friend rather than himself, but he held his tongue. Gelmir looked at him apologetically.
"Go," said Ithilden, and they were off.
Thanks to all reviewers, whether you sent comments via ff.net or www.StoriesofArda.com or email or Yahoo.
Dragon-of-the-north: I appreciate your patience with my portrayal of the Orcs. Eilian is really coming a little unglued in this chapter.
Caz-baz: Well, Eilian is here but he's not his usual cheery self. And it's not even raining where he is!
Levade: Legolas has a little kid's bluntness. As you say, he doesn't know that he's not supposed to talk about getting eaten by orcs. He'll be back in the next chapter.
Kay: Some heartbreak in this chapter too, although it's a little more disguised than Legolas's is. And all the worse for that, I think.
Tapetum Lucidum: Turgon and Legolas in trouble? Who would ever imagine such a thing? ;-)
PokethePenguin: I wouldn't worry too much about the ending. You know how this family looks 30 years from now, so it's just a question of getting them there.
Emmitajo: Eilian is being pretty snotty here, but he's hurting, so it's understandable.
Luin: I really feel bad for Ithilden. I think he's the one I feel worst for at the moment, although they are all in a bad way.
Lily: I actually feel a little freakish starting a new story so quickly, but I've had this one in my mind and in my notes for a while now, so it was ready to roll.
Frodo: Oh yes. Eilian will be in this story. I love the guy and want him around, although he's not at his best right now.
JustMe: So how do you like Eilian now? I think he needs that hug you have on offer.
Naneth: What a great name for someone reviewing this story! Legolas is sad right now. Poor kid.
Faervarya: You certainly guessed right about Eilian. Legolas is about 11, which makes him 4 or so in human terms.
Erunyauve: Oddly enough, I used the "eaten by an orc" thing as a childish delusion, but then my beta pointed out a line in TTT that goes: "We are the servants of Saruman the Wise, the White Hand: the Hand that gives us man's – flesh to eat." So, it's unfortunately canon that Orcs eat men. I presume they would also eat Elves, although I haven't seen a reference to that fact.
Dot: They're all hurting right now. Poor Thranduil. As I was writing this, I could see more how he might miss his wife. Legolas was only 10 when she died, which means that they were still at the child-bearing stage.
Dy: Yeah, it is sad. But they do get better, as you can see from stories set in a later time. It's just a question of how.
Sekhet: Everyone in this family is sad right now. I can hardly bear to write about them. On whether Orcs eat their victims, see my reply to erunyauve above.
HardcoreWWnut: Ithilden is having a rough time right now. He doesn't show up as vulnerable very often. And reading all my stories in a few days must have left you on severe overload!
Fadesintothewest: I'm hoping I don't dig these poor Elves so far into their misery that I can't get them out again. I'd like to show them becoming what they are later, as you say! And review wherever you like. It doesn't matter to me.
StrangeBlaze: So here's Eilian, but he's behaving rather badly unfortunately.
TreeHugger: Ithilden came out sadder than I expected him to in the opening chapter and he's still having trouble. He's a strong person, so it's really surprising to see him struggling.
Nilmandra: So now we have the whole family, everybody suffering. What angst! How on earth do people write this stuff routinely?
JastaElf: I repeat what I said to Nilmandra above. How do those of you who write angst routinely manage to do it? This is so painful!
Orangeblossom Took: The king is going to have to learn how to mother his childen a little, I think. Poor guy.
Jay of Lasgalen: Lonely Thranduil is awful. And guilty Ithilden is almost startling. But it seemed to me that someone with his strongly developed sense of responsibility would be prone to guilt.
Disclaimer: I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien but they belong to him. I gain no profit from their use other than the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.
Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.
3. Getting into Trouble at Home
"Last night's rain left the river higher than ever, my lord," the adviser said. "I fear that if we do not take these measures, it will overflow its banks at some time in the next few weeks and some of the cottages to the east will be flooded."
"Very well," Thranduil signaled his agreement. "Go ahead with the temporary reinforcement of the banks. However, you should also make sure that the Elves who live in the area know that if there is more rain than usual, we might not be able to prevent flooding entirely."
"Yes, my lord," the adviser said as he gathered up his papers. "By your leave," he said, and he bowed and started toward the doors of the Great Hall where Thranduil was completing his regular morning meetings with his advisers.
"Who is next?" Thranduil asked his chief counselor, who had been keeping track of those scheduled to see the king today.
"I believe you are through, my lord," the counselor told him, to Thranduil's relief. He had planned to ride for a while in the late morning, thinking that the exercise might ease his mood. A sudden commotion caused them both to look toward the doorway.
"Lord Eilian, my lord," announced the herald, and to Thranduil's surprise, his middle son did indeed enter the Great Hall. He had evidently just arrived, for his cloak and boots were mud-splattered and his face was ruddy from the cool autumn air. He dropped to one knee in a formal salute and then advanced with a small smile as Thranduil stood to meet him.
"Eilian!" Thranduil exclaimed, embracing him. "I was not expecting you home. Is all well?"
Eilian hesitated and years of dealing with him immediately told his father that he had something to say that was not going to be welcome. He answered Thranduil's query pleasantly enough, however. "I have brought dispatches from Ithilden, Adar," Eilian told him, handing over the packet of papers. "He was well when I left him, and, as you see, I am intact also." Thranduil passed the dispatches to his counselor and studied Eilian's face dispassionately. There was trouble here, he thought, probably of a kind best discussed in private.
"Sort through those for me, summarize the less important ones, and have the others ready for me to examine by this afternoon," Thranduil told the counselor. Then he turned back to Eilian. "Come," he said, leading the way toward the royal family's private quarters. "We can talk in my office with goblets of wine in our hands."
In Thranduil's office, Eilian dropped his cloak onto a chair near the door and then accepted the wine his father offered and seated himself in front of the desk. Thranduil took a sip of his own wine and then began to probe for whatever it was Eilian had to tell him. "I am happy to see you, iôn-nín," he said, "but I would have expected Ithilden to send the dispatches with one of his regular messengers. Have you a task to complete for your brother here at home?"
Eilian's eyes were on the goblet in his hands. He opened his mouth to reply and then shut it again. Finally he seemed to take his courage in hand. "Ithilden has reassigned me to the Home Guard," he said and then looked up quickly as if to see how Thranduil was reacting to this unexpected piece of news.
Thranduil frowned at him uncomprehendingly. "Why?" he asked. Eilian had nagged his brother unceasingly to assign him to the Southern Patrol soon after he had become a warrior. Ithilden had done so reluctantly, for warriors were ordinarily expected to have a fair amount of experience before they undertook that dangerous posting, but Eilian had rewarded his brother's decision by serving with distinction and earning his captain's unstinted praise. Thranduil could not imagine what would lead Ithilden to move Eilian now.
Again Eilian hesitated before replying, this time so long that Thranduil began to grow impatient. "Out with it, Eilian," he said abruptly. "Whatever you have to say will not be improved by delay."
Eilian grimaced slightly. "He disapproved of my aggressiveness in battle."
Thranduil had been leaning back in his chair, but he now sat up straight and fixed Eilian with a hard stare. "What do you mean 'aggressiveness in battle'?" he demanded. What had Eilian been up to, he wondered, to cause Ithilden to react so strongly.
"I mean taking advantage of unexpected opportunities," Eilian answered.
Thranduil continued to stare at him. "Would these opportunities be 'unexpected' in the sense that they involved actions your captain felt were unwise?" he finally asked.
Across the desk from him, his middle son was beginning to radiate defiance. Thranduil was only too familiar with the look that had now settled on Eilian's face. Lorellin had always maintained that Thranduil provoked obstinacy in their middle son by criticizing him too quickly rather than letting him find his own way to the right path, but Thranduil had no patience for the kind of deliberate bad judgment that he was beginning to suspect Eilian had displayed.
"It was actually Todith who was displeased with my actions," Eilian said, "but he convinced Ithilden that I was being reckless, whereas really," he hurried on, "I was only doing what everyone should have been doing and pursuing the enemy."
With an exclamation, Thranduil slammed his goblet down on the desk and sprang to his feet. Looking startled by his vehemence, Eilian rose when his father did. "You mean," Thranduil hissed, biting off every word, "that you have been careless enough that your captain felt he could no longer trust you."
Eilian bridled. "I was not careless," he protested, "but it is not always possible ahead of time to predict the course a battle will take."
"Do not lecture me about the unpredictability of battle, Eilian," Thranduil snapped, his voice shaking with fury and something that he distantly recognized as fear. "I was at Dagorlad. I know the difference between risks that come at one unaware and risks that warriors take because their blood is up." He glared at his son, who was biting his lower lip and looking obstinate. "If Ithilden and Todith both say you were reckless, then you were reckless." He sat down heavily again but left his son standing before him.
"Whatever you call what you have been doing, your behavior is unacceptable, Eilian," he said in a calmer voice. "You are too good a warrior not to know that."
"I am too good a warrior to be standing guard duty at the palace," Eilian said vehemently.
"Ithilden is your commanding officer, and he is responsible for deciding where you should be posted," Thranduil said. "As your adar, I am responsible only for telling you that I am disappointed in you."
Eilian's face had become unreadable. "Then by your leave, my lord, I will go and report to Deler at the Home Guard," he said.
"Do so," Thranduil bade him shortly. "Send Maltanaur to me," he added as Eilian bowed and turned to pick up his cloak and go.
"He is not here," Eilian said stiffly. "Ithilden kept him with the Southern Patrol."
Thranduil was incredulous. "He sent you home by yourself?" he demanded.
"Gelmir came with me," Eilian told him. "Ithilden has reassigned him too."
Thranduil waved him on his way and sat for a moment in angry silence. Did Ithilden really think he had the right to countermand Thranduil's orders that Maltanaur should accompany Eilian in his postings? Had both of his grown sons lost all understanding of what was expected of them?
Finally, he rose and strode toward his chamber to change into riding clothes. An hour or two of hard exercise might possibly put him in a fit temper to be around his counselors this afternoon. Then again, it might not.
Legolas watched as Turgon's nana kissed him on the top of his head. "Be good," she said rather vaguely, and then she went inside, leaving Legolas, Turgon, and Annael in the shady clearing behind Turgon's cottage. Turgon and Annael immediately ran toward the muddy area that the rain had created under the edge of the trees. Legolas followed along more slowly. His stomach hurt.
His two friends had already begun gathering bits of bark to float in the puddles and stones to throw at them and sink them. They had played this game last week when it rained too. When Nimloth had come to take him home, she had exclaimed over the mud that had splashed onto his clothes, but then she had asked Legolas if he had had a good time. He had nodded energetically, and she had said that the clothes could be washed.
Turgon turned toward him. "Come on," he said impatiently. "The boats are sailing." Sometimes Legolas did not understand what Turgon was talking about. Turgon made up stories in his head, and he did not always explain them to Legolas and Annael.
Annael looked at him too. "Here," he said encouragingly, handing Legolas a stone. "You can go first."
Turgon made a sound of protest but all he said was, "Hurry up. They're getting away!"
Legolas flung the stone toward the nearest puddle and one of the bark boats spun and then upended before righting itself again. Pleased with his success, he grinned, whooped, and ran forward with his friends to attack the hapless boats. Muddy water splashed everywhere. Legolas felt very daring.
"We need swords!" shouted Turgon, grabbing a long stick. Legolas seized a stick too and began to fence with Turgon as he had seen his older brothers doing on the warrior training fields.
"My nana says that is dangerous," Annael said disapprovingly, watching them from the side. Turgon snorted in disgust and stopped sword fighting to argue with Annael.
"My ada says I can have a sword on my next begetting day," he said.
Legolas was immediately intrigued by Turgon's claim. "A real sword?" he asked in excitement. Turgon nodded.
"You are lying, Turgon," Annael said flatly. "My ada says we are too little."
"I am getting one," Turgon insisted. When Annael looked unconvinced, Turgon scowled and flung his stick away.
"Do you want to go pick apples?" he asked, in a quick characteristic shift of mood and attention.
"Yes," said Legolas promptly and dropped his own stick. He liked the short walk through the woods behind Turgon's cottage to the apple orchard on the other side. The trees always hummed comfortingly, and he liked to touch each one as he passed.
The three of them trotted lightly through the forest, kicking at the piles of brightly colored leaves that lay in heaps beneath the trees. Red, orange, and yellow leaves flew into the air and drifted down around them again. Legolas carefully touched each tree he passed, but he did not hum back to them. He thought that they liked it when he hummed, but they did not seem to mind that he was silent today.
Turgon led them into the orchard and was up in a tree in a flash. The other two quickly joined him. Legolas picked one of the ripe red apples and then sat in the embrace of two branches to nibble at it. He studied the tiny white dents that his teeth made in the red skin of the fruit.
"Is it very muddy here," Annael observed, swinging upside down from a branch and eating at the same time. Indeed, a much-traveled path ran next to the orchard, and Elven feet and horses' hooves had worn away the grass and left an expanse of dirt that the heavy rain had turned to deep mud puddles.
Turgon leapt down from his tree, holding an apple clenched in his teeth, and picked up a stick to poke experimentally into one of the puddles. He took the apple from his mouth. "We need boats," he proclaimed. He took three more hasty bites of his apple and then tossed the core into the trees and set about searching for bark to float in the puddles.
Annael's apple was already gone. He swung down from his tree, and Legolas set his apple carefully on a branch before jumping down to join him and Turgon, who had just put a piece of birch bark in the muddy water. Legolas snatched up a stone and threw it to land squarely on target.
"I can do that," Turgon proclaimed and the three of them were soon sending a hail of stones into the puddle.
"You are making a mess, and we cannot walk by," announced a new voice, and the three of them turned to see two ellyth scowling at them from the path. Legolas knew them, for they were his own age, and he had occasionally played with them when children's games were organized during feasts. Their names were Miriwen and Aerlinn.
Turgon grinned at them and threw another stone into the puddle closest to them. Mud splashed onto Aerlinn's light green gown.
"Turgon, you are a pig!" she gasped and then charged at him, catching him off guard. He tried to dodge out of her way, but his foot slipped and he sat down hard in the mud.
They all gaped at him for a surprised moment, and then he was on his feet roaring. "We are Orcs," he shouted, "and you will be very sorry you did that!" He ran at her, as if to shove her back, and Miriwen grabbed at him, getting a good grip on his hair as he passed.
Legolas was moving before he had time to even think. He scooped up a handful of the mud and threw it with all his strength at Miriwen. "We are Orcs," he echoed Turgon's cry. The mud splattered across her back, and she let go of Turgon's hair to spin toward him.
Triumphant at saving his friend, Legolas dug in the mud and flung more of it at her. This time, he caught her squarely in the face. She gasped, and he reached for another handful. From somewhere, an authoritative voice snapped, "Legolas!" He gave the fiercest Orc growl he could manage and heaved a handful of mud at her chest.
A strong arm grabbed him, pinning his hands to his side. "Stop it!" commanded the voice. He struggled fiercely but the grip tightened and the arm shook him slightly. "Stop it right now!"
He twisted his head around and saw that he was being held by Ada, looking as angry as Legolas had ever seen him.
Thranduil had galloped along the paths near his stronghold, his anger at Eilian fueling the concentrated energy of his ride. The two guards that Ithilden now insisted accompany him everywhere had been hard put to keep up with the king's great stallion when its rider was so intent on working out his fury. He had finally slowed, knowing that it was almost time to return to his duties, and was trotting along the path toward home when he spotted the battling children. With a shock, he had realized that the most active of the fighters was his own youngest son.
He had first called to Legolas and then, when his son had ignored him, he had been required to slip from his horse and physically restrain the child. Had all of his children gone mad? he wondered briefly.
"Stop it right now!" he ordered sharply, giving his son a shake, and Legolas finally stopped struggling and turned to meet his eyes. He looked so angry that Thranduil was startled.
"Just what do you think you are doing?" Thranduil hissed and was alarmed to see almost the same mutinous look on Legolas's face that he had earlier seen on Eilian's.
"She pulled Turgon's hair," Legolas cried.
Thranruil released his grip on Legolas and turned him so that they were facing one another. He put his hands on his son's shoulders. "I did not ask what she was doing!" he scolded. "I asked what you were doing. But, as it happens, I could see that only too well. You were being mean to someone."
He scanned the muddy children. They had all gone quiet. They would probably have been sobered by the appearance of any parent, but the fact that this was the king had evidently dismayed them all.
"Legolas, you and your friends need to apologize to the ellyth," Thranduil said firmly.
"I am sorry," said Annael promptly, followed more reluctantly by a similar admission from Turgon.
Thranduil tightened his grip on the shoulders of his still silent son. "Legolas," he said warningly, "apologize for your actions."
"'Pologize," muttered Legolas.
Thranduil hesitated for a moment and then decided that that was the best he was going to get at the moment. He glanced to where his two guards had waited at a discreet distance while he dealt with his errant offspring. They might as well make themselves useful, he thought. "Please see to it that all of these children get safely home," he instructed the guards. The children's eyes widened at the idea of the escort, and Annael and the two ellyth both looked dismayed. Thranduil supposed they were not looking forward to having to explain to their parents what they had been doing to merit such attention. Only Turgon looked unmoved, he noted, resignedly but without surprise.
He lifted Legolas onto his horse and then mounted behind him, keeping a firm arm around his son's waist as they rode toward his stables. "I am very disappointed in you," Thranduil told a son for the second time that day. Legolas's head was down and Thranduil could not see his face, but he somehow doubted that the child looked repentant.
They reached the stables and Thranduil lifted Legolas down and left his horse in the care of the stable master. As they walked hand-in-hand toward the palace, he asked, "What led you to be so unkind, Legolas?" He genuinely wanted to know what answer the elfling would make.
At first he thought that the child was not going to answer, but, then, almost under his breath, Legolas muttered, "We were Orcs."
Thranduil flinched. "I would say you were acting like a little Orc, at any rate," he said grimly.
As he was leading the foot-dragging Legolas through the door into the family's private quarters, they met Nimloth. "My lord," she said in surprise, eying the filthy Legolas in dismay, "I was just going to fetch him. What has happened?"
Thranduil handed his son over to her. "Ask him to tell you," he said shortly. "You will undoubtedly want to clean him up, and then I think he should sit in a corner and consider his actions until evening meal."
Eilian knocked on the door of Legolas's chamber. He had decided that he could not bear to eat evening meal at his father's table, so he intended to go out, but he wanted to see Legolas first. He had not laid eyes on his little brother since arriving home.
Nimloth opened the door, and he could see beyond her into the room where, to his dismay, Legolas sat in a child sized chair facing a corner. "Hello, Nimloth," he greeted her with a peck on the cheek. She had been his caretaker and Ithilden's too when they were each younger, although in their cases, she had simply watched them when their mother could not.
At the sound of his voice, Legolas turned a joyous face toward the door and half rose. "Legolas," Nimloth said firmly, "sit down." Crestfallen, he resumed his seat, but he kept his face turned toward Eilian.
"May I speak to your charge for a few moments, Nimloth?" Eilian asked in his most charming manner. "I see he is being punished, but I am going out tonight and will not have a chance to greet him otherwise."
She hesitated. "Very well," she said, "but only for a short while. His ada wants him to think about his behavior."
Eilian strode toward where Legolas sat and dropped a kiss on the top of his head. "Hello, little one," he said and pulled up another child sized chair. He sat next to his brother, with his knees up around his chin. He had once had plenty of opportunity to study this corner too, he thought. He eyed a crack that had not changed since he was Legolas's size.
He and Legolas cast simultaneous glances at Nimloth, who had withdrawn to the rocking chair and taken up her knitting. "What happened?" Eilian asked conspiratorially.
Legolas scowled. "I threw mud at some ellyth," he said.
Eilian ruthlessly smothered a laugh. He found Legolas endlessly amusing, but if Nimloth thought he was encouraging his brother to make light of misbehavior, she would banish him from the room. "Why did you do that?" he asked, genuinely curious.
Legolas looked at him sidelong. "We were Orcs," he said with every sign of satisfaction.
Eilian blinked at him, somewhat less amused now. "Were you?" he asked neutrally.
"Yes," said Legolas, "I was big and mean and scary. Miriwen was pulling Turgon's hair, and I made her stop." He smiled to himself at the memory.
Eilian looked at him thoughtfully. "It feels good to be strong and save our friends," he said carefully. Legolas nodded emphatically. "But it is really not very nice to throw mud at ellyth. And I am afraid you are almost certain to regret it one day," Eilian added, with a small smile. Legolas looked skeptical, and Eilian could not resist laughing and hugging him.
"Eilian needs to leave now," Nimloth said, rising from her chair and moving to escort Eilian to the door.
"Will you be at evening meal?" Legolas asked eagerly.
Eilian shook his head. "Not tonight," he said, memories of his quarrel with his father flitting briefly across his mind.
"I want you to eat with me," Legolas cried.
"I will eat with you tomorrow," Eilian promised him. Then he gave his brother another kiss and left the chamber.
Thranduil smiled slightly as Legolas came slowly through the door to the dining room, his eyes cast down. At least the child looked more conscious of being in disgrace than he had earlier, Thranduil thought ruefully, although it probably would not be wise to probe too deeply into exactly how contrite Legolas was over his actions. He opened his arms. "Come, Legolas," he said, and his son looked up and then sprang gratefully into the hug.
"Sit down and eat your meal," Thranduil told him and settled the child in his place. The servants put a platter of small, fried meat pies and some fruit on the table. Thranduil was certain that Legolas liked the meat pies and hoped that his son's appetite would be improved by the sight of them. He put some of them on Legolas's plate and took some for himself.
Then he groped for a moment for a topic of conversation. Ordinarily, he asked Legolas what he had done during the day after finishing his lessons, but since he knew that part of that time had been spent flinging mud at ellyth and the rest sitting in a corner, that hardly seemed an appropriate subject to raise. "Galeril tells me that you read a whole story out loud to him yesterday," he finally said.
Legolas nodded, pushing the meat pies around on his plate with his fork. "We are going to take turns reading stories to one another," he said.
Thranduil watched him for a moment. "Legolas, you have to eat something," he said abruptly.
Legolas continued to push at the pies. "My stomach hurts," he said.
Thranduil sighed in frustration. The palace healers had looked at his son and told him that the stomach aches Legolas sometimes had stemmed from his continued grief over the death of his mother. "He is still sick with sorrow," they had said. "Be patient." Unfortunately, Thranduil knew that patience was not something with which he was greatly gifted.
What would Lorellin have done? he wondered. He really did not know.
He pushed his chair back a little and reached over to draw Legolas into his lap. The child settled against his chest with a little sigh of contentment, and Thranduil felt an unreasoned rush of gratitude for the warmth of this small body against his own. He broke off a corner of one of the meat pies and brought it to Legolas's lips. The elfling opened his mouth and absentmindedly accepted the morsel.
"Ada, did I have bad dreams last night?" Legolas asked.
"Yes, you did," answered Thranduil steadily. He offered his son another bite, and the small mouth opened and took it.
Legolas chewed quietly for a moment, eyeing Eilian's empty place. "Eilian said he would eat with me tomorrow," he informed his father.
"That will be nice," said Thranduil, still feeding him. For Legolas's sake, he and Eilian would need to declare a truce, Thranduil thought. It would not do to continue their quarrel in front of him.
"Is Eilian going to stay home now?" Legolas pursued.
"For a while," Thranduil answered.
"Good," Legolas approved, accepting the last bit of the pie.
Thranduil wished he were as certain as Legolas was that Eilian's return was a good thing.
As always, my appreciation to everyone who took the time to review. I love reading your comments on what you see in the tale.
Coolio02: I hope you like this update too. It makes me feel good to know that someone is impatient for my chapters!
StrangeBlaze: Do you somehow have access to my PC? You are really right on about Thranduil's reaction, Ithilden's motivations, and the value of Eilian and Legolas spending time together.
Elemmire: I think there is some parallel to Elrond's sons, but I fervently hope that Thranduil's sons will not have as long-lasting a reaction as they did.
Luin: You're right: Ithilden internalized his grief and beats himself up, while Eilian externalizes and decapitates orcs. I'm glad you like the action scenes. I am getting more accustomed to writing them, but they do not come naturally for me.
LOTRFaith: Legolas has indeed been traumatized. But his father and older brothers aren't doing too well either!
Kay: My big worry here is that I've given the Brothers Thranduilion such grief that I'm not going to be able to figure out how to heal them!
Frodo: Well, Thranduil had plenty of opportunity to be angry in this chapter. Poor guy. It's hard to remember that he's also lonely in the night.
Dy: Ithilden was not being rational, but then he has problems of his own.
Lamiel: I am writing quickly right now, well aware that summer will soon be over and I'll be back to teaching. I tried to write an adult Legolas in "Question of Duty," but he's not around his family there and that would, indeed, be interesting to see.
Lily: Yes, Eilian has "issues." I think that in some ways he and Legolas are two of a kind really.
JustMe: I have actually had more problems reading funny stories at work. I can cry quietly, but I seem to be unable to keep from guffawing out loud over the funny stuff.
Orangeblossom Took: One of the things I wonder about with elves is the effect of the big age spread in the siblings. If you're an adult when your brother is born, would you be more likely to be parental? Or do those sibling feelings still come through? I try to balance it with Legolas's family.
Naneth: I'm kind of getting into the angst. I have to sit for a while and stare at my screen and get into their heads. Then it kind of flows out. Ouch.
TreeHugger: I suspect that you are right and Eilian might have been better off if he had thought of Thranduil's reaction in the first place! Btw, I read your latest review of Nilmandra's story and was very amused by the picture of your 9 year old objecting to the noise!
PokethePenguin: So Legolas is back in this one. Poor baby. He's having problems.
Jay of Lasgalen: I'm trying to avoid having my characters be too wise all at once. I like them flawed and learning.
Fadesintothewest: Poor Eilian indeed. Adar was not sympathetic.
Dragon-of-the-north: Maybe little Snuga would like to play with Orc!Legolas. I plan to explain what the Orcs are doing roaming around the woods eventually. And I hope that I can motivate Eilian to get a grip on himself. Blood lust is not pretty.
Tapetum Lucidum: The ride home must have been tough on Eilian. Imaging spending a couple of days anticipating having to tell Thranduil about what he's been up to.
Nilmandra: The males in this family are an awful lot alike in some ways. Now that I've seen your picture of Lorellin, I feel even worse for them, especially for Thranduil.
Bodkin: I had in my head that Thranduil and Ithilden had been having trouble just talking to one anther for a while but I don't show it. I thought there would be topics that were off limits, many of them having to do with Ithilden's work and thus with something that was a point of contact for Thranduil and his oldest son. I'm still working on your picture. After the ff.net upgrades this weekend, I'll try again.
Dot: Oh yeah, guilt and revenge. Those are pretty big themes for Ithilden and Eilian.
JastaElf: You are absolutely right that it was Lorellin who held them all together. Now they have to figure out a new way to do that.
Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.
AN: The story notification bots at ff.net were not working when I posted Chapter 3 last Friday, so if you depend on them to know I updated, you may have missed the chapter.
4. Serving the Realm
Ithilden ducked and felt the faint breeze created by the Orc's sword whistling just a finger's width over his head. Then, coming up from his crouch, he shoved the tip of his own sword into the Orc's belly, just below the bottom edge of his chest armor, and drove it home. With a startled look, the Orc grunted and then his knees began to buckle, and Ithilden wrenched the sword free and spun to search for his next opponent. As had happened repeatedly during this night's battle, he found Maltanaur at his back, struggling with yet another of the Orcs who had made up the large band that Todith's scouts had found attacking a party of Dwarves who were camped near the road that ran through the forest. Ithilden stepped in quickly to dispatch this Orc too and moved off as the Orc collapsed almost on top of the older warrior.
Years of command led him to scan the battleground to assess what was happening and see if he needed to direct warriors into some new action. Orcs were beginning to scatter under the joint assault of the Elves and Dwarves. He could see Todith off to his left shouting orders to his warriors and the members of Ithilden's staff who had joined in the fight, but he could not hear him over the clash of weapons and the shouts of Elves, Dwarves, and Orcs. Between Ithilden and Todith, a group of four dwarves were swinging two-handed axes with a savage strength that Ithilden could not help but be impressed by. In the brief seconds during which Ithilden scanned them, one of them clove through an Orc's armor and the Orc itself, pouring yet more blood onto the defiled floor of the forest. Ithilden turned and beckoned to the Elven warriors near him.
"Into the trees," he called. "Get ahead of their retreat and take them out!" He set an example by sheathing his sword, leaping into the trees, and moving as rapidly as he could in the direction that most of the fleeing Orcs were taking. He stopped, seized his bow, nocked an arrow, and began firing at the Orcs who were now running into his line of fire. Responding to his command, other Elves had taken up positions around him and were firing too. Maltanaur leapt onto a branch across from him, raised his bow almost casually, and sent an arrow into an Orc's throat.
The stream of Orcs began to thin, slow, and then stop. The sounds of battle gradually died away, leaving only the groans of the wounded and dying. Followed by the other Elves who had been trying to stem the Orcs' retreat, Ithilden made his way back to the main battleground, checking along the way for any sign of wounded Elves or Dwarves. He found one Elf from the Southern Patrol lying on the ground under an oak tree, clutching at his thigh from which an Orc arrow protruded. He sent two of the Elves following him to the ground to tend to the wounded warrior and continued to the Dwarven camp that had been the main battle site.
The Dwarves had opened their packs and were grimly tending to their wounded. To one side, two form lay, covered in Dwarven cloaks. Ithilden flinched at the sight. We were too late, he thought unhappily. Todith was moving about between the trees, bending over the Elven wounded and calling orders to warriors who were tending them. Ithilden dropped from the trees to the ground and approached him.
"What is the toll?" he asked crisply.
Todith grimaced. "Two of the Dwarves are dead," he reported, "and many are wounded. We have all survived, but we have taken more wounded than usual. At least six are hurt, I think. Two of the injuries look serious."
"There is another back some distance the way I came," Ithilden told him. "I left warriors tending to him, but he has an arrow in his thigh, and it probably should come out before he is moved back to our camp."
Todith nodded. "Sórion oversees the treatment of our wounded," he said, indicating his lieutenant, who was binding a wound in the shoulder of one of Ithilden's aides. "Tell him where you saw the injured warrior." He moved off toward where other warriors were improvising a litter from branches and cloaks and preparing to move an Elf with a deep sword wound in his side.
Ithilden stopped to speak to Sórion and then approached the nearest Dwarf and asked after their leader. The Dwarf silently pointed to a broad figure who was evidently cleaning a cut in another Dwarf's arm. The Dwarven leader rose just as Ithilden approached him.
"I am sorry for your losses," Ithilden told him. "Is there aught we can do for your wounded?"
"There is naught you can do for us at all," the Dwarf spoke angrily, "unless you can manage to keep the Orcs from the road. How can we carry out our trade if you Elves cannot control what lurks in your forest?"
"Do you think we are not making every effort to control the Orcs?" Ithilden asked sharply.
"What has happened here tonight shows that whatever efforts you are making are not succeeding," the Dwarf snapped.
Ithilden bit his tongue to keep from snapping back. Unfortunately the Dwarf was only too right, for Ithilden had so far been helpless to keep evil creatures from spreading. If he did not find a way to keep the Orcs from the road, it soon would become too dangerous to travel, and that would seriously limit trade and any other kind of interchange between those west and east of the Misty Mountains.
"If you do not need our aid," he said stiffly, "then we will be returning to our own camp as soon as our wounded are ready to move." The Dwarf nodded gruffly and returned to caring for his own people.
Ithilden scanned the scene before him. The battle had been unusually bloody, for the Orc band had been large and the Elves and Dwarves had been badly outnumbered. Todith had always preferred to keep the Southern Patrol small, but Ithilden did not believe he was going to be able to continue operating that way, not with the increased Orc activity the area had seen in the last year. The Southern Patrol needed more warriors, and indeed if Ithilden had had the foresight to assign them, tonight's toll might not have been so high. He wiped his hand wearily across his forehead and grimaced when he realized that the hand was sticky with black blood. Then he moved to do what he could for his own wounded in preparation for taking them back to their camp.
Sórion straightened up from his crouch near the badly wounded Elf and came over to where Ithilden and Todith sat waiting and sipping tea in weary silence. Warriors were gradually settling to sleep around them, but neither Ithilden nor Todith had felt able to rest until they knew the extent of the injuries.
"Tinedë, at least, is going to have to be taken home where the real healers can treat him," Sórion told them. "That wound is deep. I am less sure about Hárith. I may be able to manage caring for him here if he can be kept quiet for a week or so. I will know better in the morning."
"Very well," Todith told him. "We should all get some sleep. It has been a long night."
Ithilden could not have agreed more, and he threw himself down on his blankets believing himself so exhausted that he would sleep immediately, but his mind kept running about, trying to find some pattern in the Orc movements he had seen and had reports of in the last months.
He had been over and over these reports by himself and with Todith. Orcs moved sometimes in large bands, sometimes in small. Sometimes they seemed to be traveling west or north, but sometimes, they simply drifted, seeming to have no fixed destination at all. Wargs and giant spiders seemed to increasing in number too, but the area where they were likely to appear was more predictable, for they were clearly spreading north from the twisted shades of Dol Guldur. It was the Orcs who seemed to appear in places where the Elves did not anticipate their being, and thus it was the Orcs who were doing the most damage. The grey light of dawn was creeping into the eastern sky before Ithilden finally drifted off.
When he woke, the sun was high. He stretched and then rose stiffly, nursing the several bumps and bruises he had gained in the previous night's battle. He approached the campfire where several warriors squatted, sipping tea and chewing venison left over from the previous day's evening meal. Maltanaur was among them, and he offered food and drink. Ithilden accepted and considered some of what he had observed during the battle as he ate. When he had finished, he rose and said, "Walk with me, Maltanaur. I would speak with you." The warrior next to Maltanaur looked curious, presumably at Ithilden's imperious tone, but Maltanaur merely complied with Ithilden's request.
"Were you, by any chance, watching my back during last night's battle?" Ithilden asked without preface.
"Indeed, my lord," Maltanaur answered serenely. "Warriors do watch one another's backs, and I was watching yours."
"I am asking if you were watching mine in particular," Ithilden said sharply, "in the way that my adar asked you to watch my brother's."
"The king did indeed order me to watch his son's back," Maltanaur admitted, "and Eilian is not here."
Ithilden looked at him in astonishment. "Are you being flippant with me?" he demanded. "I would remind you that you are speaking to your prince and your commander."
Maltanaur looked unfazed. "I mean no disrespect, my lord," he maintained, "but my orders come from my king."
Ithilden's mouth dropped open. It had been a long time since a warrior had dared to brush off his ire so easily. Other than Eilian, of course, he reminded himself. Indeed, the last time had probably been just before he reassigned the warrior whom Thranduil had appointed to be Ithilden's body guard. Nithron had held that position from the time Ithilden became a warrior until he became commander of the Woodland Realm's forces and decided that a warrior of Nithron's skill was wasted in such a role. Thranduil had raged at the decision, but Ithilden had held firm and, in the end, his father had not wanted to undercut his command. Nithron had rather frequently ignored Ithilden's expressions of annoyance, a fact that had been added to his skill in motivating Ithilden's decision to reassign him.
"Then perhaps you will enjoy the opportunity to speak with your king when I send you to escort the wounded home," he finally snapped.
Maltanaur smiled at him indulgently. "I do not think so, my lord," he replied. "The king told me to ignore any effort his son might make to dismiss me."
"You know perfectly well that he was referring to Eilian!" Ithilden cried, glaring at him.
Maltanaur's expression became unreadable. "I believe that you need me, my lord," he said. "You ask a great deal of yourself, and someone needs to make sure that you do not ask too much. The king would not forgive me if I let you come to harm when he had already lost so much."
Ithilden felt a sharp stab of pain at the reminder of his father's loss, but before he could reply, the sound of a rapidly approaching horse reached them, and they turned to find one of Ithilden's messengers entering the camp. He slid from his horse, scanned the campsite for Ithilden, and started toward them.
He put his hand over his heart in salute, and then presented Ithilden with his packet of messages. "My lord," he said, "I am sorry to be overlong in getting these to you, but I did not know that the Southern Patrol had moved camp again."
Ithilden nodded and accepted the packet. When he was on the move through the Realm, messages came to him and went elsewhere in a complicated system of messengers and signals. As the effects of the shadow spread more widely through the Realm, this system was becoming harder to maintain. Ithilden knew that Thranduil believed he would soon have to stay home and control his troops from one place, and he recognized the wisdom of that move, but he also believed that he needed to see for himself what was happening. It made him very nervous to rely on the judgments of others, even his own seasoned and well-trained captains.
He glanced at Maltanaur. "We will continue this conversation later," he said in his sternest voice. The older warrior bowed calmly, much to Ithilden's irritation. Ithilden carried the packet to the large rock he had been using as a makeshift desk and began to sort through its contents. They were mostly messages from the captains of the border patrols and the Home Guard, letting him know what had occurred in the time since their last report. He frowned over them and then pulled a well-worn map from the pack that lay near his bed roll.
Todith approached him. "We are sending the two most seriously wounded warriors home," he said.
"Very well," said Ithilden, not raising his eyes from his map. "Send Maltanaur as one of their escorts."
Todith hesitated and Ithilden looked up at him questioningly. "My lord," Todith said, "when an escort is needed, it is customary to send home those who have been in the south the longest. The shadow weighs on the minds of those who stay here for long."
Ithilden had known that but forgotten. He had actually served in the Southern Patrol when he was younger, before the years of the Watchful Peace. He had felt the oppression of the shadow himself and knew how important it was to escape occasionally. "Very well," he said reluctantly. He would deal with Maltanaur himself. He turned his attention back to the map. "When you have them underway, come back and look at this with me," he said. "I want to try to make sense of this one more time."
Todith bowed, left, and quickly returned to the sound of horses moving carefully with a litter suspended between them. Ithilden did not watch the departure of the wounded. He was already well aware of what wounded warriors looked like. He had seen too many of them.
Together, he and Todith looked at the map. On it, Ithilden had marked every reported sighting of Orcs in the last two months. When he had the information, he had also marked the size of the band and the direction in which they had been traveling. He now added information from the reports he had just received and then straightened to look at the marks.
"Where is the pattern?" he asked urgently. "Why can I not see it?"
"Last night's battle suggests that perhaps they are trying to close Dwarf Road," Todith suggested tentatively.
"I can well believe that," Ithilden answered, "but that does not explain these large bands headed west nor those that turn up in seemingly random spots north of the road. Those bother me, for some of them are entirely too close to settlements."
They stood looking at the map in silence for a moment. Then Ithilden spoke slowly. "Perhaps they have several goals," he said. "Closing the road, for instance, but also something else, driving out the settlements, for instance."
"And the ones moving west?" Todith asked.
Ithilden shook his head. "I do not know," he said. "Perhaps they are joining the Orcs in the Misty Mountains. We know they are present there in ever increasing numbers." He studied the map with an increasing sense of despair. He simply did not have enough warriors to hold back the kind of invasion he was now picturing. He would never be able to protect the inhabitants of his father's realm from the evil that now seemed to be bearing down upon them.
Eilian finished a sweep of his part of the area north of the Forest River and returned to the place near the beech tree where he was to meet Gelmir. In a repetition of what he had found on every patrol since he had returned home, he had sensed no danger during his sweep. He marveled anew at how the area around his father's stronghold could be so secure while only thirty or forty leagues to the south, Orcs and giant spiders lived amidst the twisted, darkened remnants of Greenwood the Great.
He was glad that his home was secure, of course, but he found patrolling it to be unspeakably monotonous. There were times when he felt that he would burst if he could not somehow act against the evil that he knew was growing. He simply was not cut out to wait patiently for it to come to him, and he hoped it never would get this close to his home anyway. At least Deler had not assigned him to palace guard duty, he thought. That would have been truly unbearable!
Gelmir emerged from the trees to his right. "Did you find anything?" Eilian asked.
Gelmir snorted. "There was more excitement at last night's meeting of my naneth's knitting circle."
Eilian laughed. "Then I think we are done for the day," he said, and the two of them began to walk back toward the Home Guard's headquarters to report in.
"Will you be coming to the grove tonight then?" Eilian asked. The grove was nothing more than a clearing in the trees where younger Elves gathered to drink wine and dance in the starlight. Older Elves were often a bit suspicious of the place because their children met there on their own, and it was true that the wine flowed more freely there than it did in most Elven homes and that the wagering that all Elves enjoy was sometimes carried out there with very high stakes. Eilian had passed many evenings there since his return home, avoiding his father and seeking a bit more excitement than could be found in Thranduil's palace.
"Yes," Gelmir responded. "My naneth seems to think that if I have evening meal with her, she can then do without me."
Eilian had at first felt guilty that his actions had been the cause of Gelmir too being reassigned to the Home Guard, but Gelmir had assured him that his parents were only too glad that he was home. His father was a warrior who had recently been transferred from the Home Guard to the Border Patrol, and his mother had been feeling lonely. And it turned out that Gelmir himself was happy to spend some time closer to home. He apparently felt less need for the excitement of the Southern Patrol than Eilian did.
They walked in companionable silence through the fading sunshine of the late afternoon and drew in sight of the low building housing the Home Guard. Deler sat just inside the doorway, listening to reports and making sure that the warriors who would be on night patrol knew where their assigned areas were. "All quiet," Eilian told him.
"Good," Deler nodded and sent Eilian and Gelmir on their way home. Eilian rather suspected that Deler had, at first, been as unenthusiastic about Eilian's new posting as he was. Eilian had served six months in the Home Guard when he first became a warrior, and the experience had not been a good one for either one of them, for Eilian had let his boredom lead him into occasional carelessness while on duty and intemperate language to his captain. He believed that he had learned something about being a warrior since then and was trying to be responsible about his duties, tedious though they were, and find an outlet elsewhere for his love of excitement and the tension that occasionally made him touchy. Deler seemed to be cautiously deciding that Eilian was trustworthy, and for that, at least, Eilian was grateful. He did not need to have this captain angry with him too. His previous captain, father and older brother were quite enough.
He and Gelmir parted with promises to meet later, and then Eilian went home to bathe and dress for evening meal. He found Thranduil and Legolas already in the small dining room.
"Eilian!" Legolas cried happily. "I knew you were coming."
"I promised I would," Eilian told him, dropping a kiss on his little brother's forehead and then taking his own seat. Legolas extracted such a promise from Eilian every day at morning meal, or he probably would not have been in such regular attendance at his father's table. "Good evening, Adar," he told Thranduil politely. The servants began placing food on the table. "How was your day?"
Thranduil shrugged. "I spent most of it with a delegation from one of the settlements to the southwest. They have been having occasional problems, and they want us to send troops to protect them." Eilian noticed that his father was careful not to specify the nature of the problems in front of Legolas, but they both knew he meant Orcs.
Eilian was immediately interested. "Are you going to send them?" he asked.
Thranduil shook his head. "I do not see how we can defend all the small settlements and homesteads scattered through the forest," he said. "I believe the Elves living in them are going to have to move nearer the palace." A portion of Thranduil's people had moved further away from his stronghold during the Watchful Peace, sometimes drawn to parts of the forest where they had been born or lived previously and sometimes simply giving in to their love of roaming the woods. Eilian had heard his father say before that he thought they would have to draw back now. The thought of Elves being driven from the forest made him angry.
"I played with Turgon today," Legolas piped up from across the table. Thranduil and Eilian both turned their attention to him. So far as Eilian could tell, he had eaten very little of what was in front of him. Eilian had been surprised by and grateful for the patience his father was showing over Legolas's eating habits. Eilian himself remembered once being served a bowl of porridge for mid-day meal that he had refused to eat in the morning. "Annael's nana would not let him play with us," Legolas went on, "but we played Orcs again."
"What did you do when you were Orcs?" Thranduil asked Legolas, sounding apprehensive.
Legolas suddenly looked very guilty, and Eilian had to bury a laugh behind his napkin when his father threw him a warning glance. "We chased squirrels," Legolas offered, looking at Thranduil hopefully.
"And what else?" Thranduil asked wearily.
"We made a fire," Legolas said in a small voice. Thranduil and Eilian both gaped at him, and Eilian no longer found his brother's antics funny.
"What did you burn?" Thranduil asked in a tight voice.
"Some leaves," said Legolas, beginning to look resentful of the questions.
"How many leaves?" his father demanded.
"Not many," Legolas answered sullenly, his eyes on his plate. "Annael's nana came and put the fire out, and then she said that Annael could not play any more."
Thranduil put his fork down and addressed himself to his youngest son while Eilian watched unhappily. "Legolas," he said firmly, "you know better than to play with fire. Fire is very dangerous, both for you and for the forest." He paused, as if waiting for Legolas to acknowledge the truth of what he said but was met with only silence. He gave an exasperated sigh and continued, "You will go to bed immediately after evening meal tonight, and you will not play with Turgon for a week. Do you understand me?"
Legolas kept his eyes fixed on his meal and then, to the astonishment of both his father and brother, he let out a low growl.
"Do not growl at me!" Thranduil snapped. Legolas poked at his food with his fork and said nothing. They ate the rest of their meal in silence.
"I will be going out this evening, Adar," Eilian said as they were finishing.
Thranduil frowned at him but said nothing. Eilian had to acknowledge that, once he had come of age, Thranduil had never stopped him from pursuing his own amusements, but he had also never been reticent about showing his disapproval at some of them. Eilian felt a flash of resentment. He was serving the Realm faithfully in the Home Guard. Surely he had earned the right to do as he liked when he was not on duty.
He rose and went around the table to hug a sulking Legolas. "Good night, little one," he murmured, kissing him on the top of the head. "I will see you in the morning."
Legolas stretched to brush a quick answering kiss on Eilian's cheek, but the look on his face was still so angry that Eilian was startled. Of course, these days Eilian felt angry enough himself at the losses he had suffered, so he supposed it was not surprising that Legolas did too. He straightened. "By your leave, Adar," he said, and at Thranduil's nod, he left the room.
The walk along the river toward the grove was pleasant this evening. Eilian and Gelmir were in no hurry and occasionally stopped to listen to the music being played and sung in various small groups of Elves along the way.
"Eilian!" called a voice from one of the groups, and Eilian turned to see a slender, dark-haired maiden running gracefully toward him.
"Celuwen!" he cried in surprise and then drew her into a laughing hug. "What are you doing here? I thought you and your family were still living in the settlement."
"We are," she assured him, "but my adar is worried about Orc activity in the area, so when a delegation was coming here to speak to your adar, he took the opportunity to send my naneth and me to live with my uncle for a while." She peered around him. "Hello, Gelmir," she smiled.
"Hello, Celuwen," he responded with a grin. "It is good to see you."
"I am surprised that you two are here, too," she said. "I thought you were with the Southern Patrol now."
Eilian hesitated. "That is a long story," he said. "I am with the Home Guard just now."
She looked at him shrewdly. "Shall I assume that you are in trouble again?" she asked lightly.
He laughed. "Assume what you like," he invited. "It is probably true."
"Shall I leave you two?" asked Gelmir.
"No," Eilian answered. "I am coming." He turned to the maiden. "Are you coming to the autumn dancing tomorrow night?" he asked. "I would like to talk to you again."
"I will be there," she promised. "Go and do whatever bad thing it is you are off to do."
He laughed again and kissed her lightly on the cheek. "Until tomorrow," he said and then removed the hands that he had not known he still had on her waist. She ran back to the group where he could now see her mother waiting. He waved and then turned to go with Gelmir.
"You have a silly grin on your face," Gelmir told him.
Eilian laughed. "I am glad to see her," he admitted. Celuwen had been his first sweetheart. Indeed, they had still been children when they had become attached to one another. But then they had begun to grow up, and in Eilian, the adventurousness of childhood had turned into risk-taking that Celuwen had found hard to accept. Moreover, he had been unable to resist flirting with the pretty maidens who were increasingly drawn to him and who seldom questioned his judgment as she did. They had grown apart, and then she had gone with her family to live at some distance southwest of Thranduil's stronghold, and he had eventually ceased to think of her except for occasional fond memories. Seeing her tonight brought all those memories back, and he was not surprised if he was wearing a grin, silly or otherwise. It would be good to spend time with Celuwen again, he thought.
He and Gelmir had now reached their destination. The grove was busy tonight, with young Elves scattered here and there amidst the lantern-lit trees. A minstrel was playing and some of the Elves were dancing, but Eilian and Gelmir joined a group of young warriors who were stretched on the grass, drinking wine and bragging about their exploits. Eilian accepted a goblet of wine and then sat leaning against a tree, drinking and listening to tales of daring behavior that he suspected were being rather wildly embroidered and were growing more so as the night wore on.
"I must have been ten feet ahead of him when we reached the finish line," an Elf named Tithrandir was now boasting about a race through the trees that he and a companion had engaged in. The others all laughed.
"Are you sure this race took place in the daylight and not in a dream?" Eilian teased. He tried to take a sip of wine and found to his surprise that his goblet was empty again.
"I was that far ahead," Tithrandir insisted rather heatedly.
"Perhaps you would care to prove your speed now," Eilian challenged, "with a wager to make it worthwhile."
Tithrandir smiled slowly at him. "An excellent idea," he said, and a buzz of excitement went up from their companions who immediately began laying bets. "What shall we wager?"
Eilian considered. "How about the clasp from my cloak against your deerskin gloves?"
"Done," Tithrandir agreed. The whole group had now risen, and the two racers shed their cloaks.
"Where shall we race to?" Eilian asked. "You set the course."
Tithrandir looked around. "We can start at that clump of beeches," he said pointing, "but we need to go some distance to make this worthwhile. Do you see that tall oak sticking up through the trees over there?" Eilian looked and nodded. "We will race to there," Tithrandir said. "Someone needs to go there first to watch for the winner."
Gelmir and another warrior eagerly volunteered and set off through the trees. The other Elves in the grove could now see that a race was in the offing and had gathered to watch. The minstrel agreed to serve as the starter. They waited for five minutes to make sure that the judges would have time to get in position and then Eilian and Tithrandir took up positions beneath the beech trees. "Go!" shouted the minstrel and they were off.
Like all Wood-elves, Eilian had traveled through the trees from the time he was small, and this was not the first race through the branches he had engaged in, so he knew exactly what was needed to win such a contest. The winner had to keep an eye well ahead to make sure there were no gaps in his route that would be too wide to jump across. Other than that, he had to throw caution to the winds and trust in his own agility and luck. With reckless abandon, he now flung himself forward, leaping from handhold to handhold and swinging his legs onto perches from which to leap yet again.
From the corner of his eye, he could see movement among the leaves that showed him that Tithrandir had not been lying when he said that he was quick. He could hear Elves cheering from the ground and from other trees, but he narrowed his focus to the trees ahead of him. Tithrandir would do what he would do. Eilian was determined to win anyway.
He was nearing the oak tree now and knew that he was in the lead. Exultation was rising in his breast when, all at once, he saw an open space yawning in front of him just before the oak. Somehow he had misjudged his course and was now heading straight for a large gap in the trees, and Tithrandir was far enough to his left that he was still going to be among branches when he needed to make his last jump to the oak.
He glanced down for a split second and found that the ground was a good fifty feet below. What do I have to lose? he thought. Then he gathered himself and leapt across the gaping space toward the oak. His fingers scrabbled for an instant, and then the oak tree seemed to reach out to him and gather him in. A cheer rang from nearby and he heard Gelmir's voice shouting, "Eilian wins!"
Eilian clung, shaking, to the trunk of the oak where he had come to rest. The tree rocked him slightly, murmuring in disapproval and in comfort. I am still alive, he thought, in surprise, and then unexpected tears stung his eyes.
Many thanks to all reviewers. Fanfiction.net has been more temperamental than usual lately, so I'm not really sure I got all reviews. I do know that it posted some that it didn't send me and sent me some it didn't post. I have no idea if some fell into a black hole in between.
Karenator: Glad you figured out the review system! And you flatter me, but I like it! I am not sure that this chapter is so sweet, but these people are suffering after all.
TigerLily: If you could really picture Thranduil feeding Legolas, then I am gratified. And you're an attentive reader.
StrangeBlaze: I first wrote about the mud flinging incident in a story that's called "In Mirkwood" on some sites and "Prodigal Sons" on others. This was a good opportunity to show it happening!
Orangeblossom Took: Yes, I think Eilian needs Legolas at least as much as Legolas needs him. Legolas loves him and doesn't judge him.
Coolio02: Glad you liked the update. I am surprised you could find it in the ff.net madness.
Dy: I guess this story would count as "harsh." It's a pretty grim situation between the death of the queen and the return of shadow.
Alice: Legolas *is* cute as a little kid. He would also be cute as a pirate or Paris of Troy! ;-)
Caz-baz: Yours was one of the reviews that ff.net did not send me last time so I missed you. Sorry. I appreciate your continuing to read the story.
JustMe: You know, if my characters would just listen to us, they would be so much better off!
Nilmandra: Since you were the one who pointed the difference between showing and telling to me, I am glad you think that I am now doing more showing!
PokethePenguin: Since Elves don't get diseases, Legolas's stomach ache will get better as soon and his grief lightens a little.
Gwyn: I’m glad you like the story. I usually update pretty quickly. I have no life. :-)
Feanen: I'm glad you like the chapter. Thank you for letting me know you're still reading.
Naneth: I do feel sorry for Legolas. He's too young to really understand what's happening, but the even his big brothers are having problems.
Dot: I love writing about Eilian. He's such an interesting mix of self-awareness and blindness to his own misdeeds. And I'm trying to show that he's more blind here than he is in the chapters set later. But he's still perceptive about Legolas, I think, maybe more so than Thranduil is.
Erunyauve: I was really horrified when I realized that Orcs do eat their victims and then decided that this must be one of the horrid facts that kids tell one another. My bet's on Turgon.
Tapetum Lucidum: I laughed at your story about your kids. No fiction writer could make up half the stuff that kids do on a daily basis. I think that before Lorellin died, Thranduil thought of himself as the one making his sons toe the line, but now he finds that with his wife gone, he can't get through to them any more.
Karri: I'm looking forward to seeing them work through their grief too! I'm a little worried I'm going to have to leave them stuck in it.
Legolas4me: Legolas is awfully young to have lost his mother. It seems to me it's a loss that would affect him all his life.
TreeHugger: You caught me on the way out the door to post! I think that Eilian being home is good for Legolas and I think Legolas is good for him. Legolas loves him uncritically and it must seem to him that no one else does.
Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.
AN: The story notification bots at ff.net were once again working erratically when I posted Chapter 4, so if you depend on them to know I updated, you may have missed that chapter and possibly also Chapter 3. I am posting this story at www.storiesofarda.com and they will send you notifications for free that actually seem to work.
5. Dancing with Memories
Thranduil set Ithilden’s latest message down on his desk and sighed. His oldest son’s dispatches told a consistent story. The strength of the enemy was growing. The Woodland Realm would need more warriors, with better training and better weapons. That was what Ithilden wanted, and Thranduil rather thought that he was going to have to accept his recommendations. The question was how to go about fulfilling them. Among his people, there were Elves who had once been warriors but had chosen other ways of life during the Watchful Peace. If they believed the situation of the Realm was dire enough, many of them would probably take up arms again. But where was he to get the arms? Should he rely on the skill of his own armorers, or should he trade with the Dwarves at the Lonely Mountain?
Moreover, in addition to these longer term decisions, he needed to decide now if his warriors should fight to keep the Dwarf Road open or if he should order a withdrawal to areas north of the road and perhaps even north of the Mountains of Mirkwood. Ithilden was worried about both the outlying settlements and east-west travel, so he wanted to take a stand south of the road and try to drive the forces of shadow back. Thranduil was inclined to believe, however, that trying to defend the Dwarf Road was futile and would only waste the lives of his warriors.
There was a discreet knock at the door and his steward entered. “My lord, the arrangements for the autumn dancing are completed.”
“Good,” grunted Thranduil, and the steward withdrew. The autumn dancing was one among many occasions when Thranduil’s people met to celebrate their connection to Arda and to one another. It was ordinarily an occasion that Thranduil enjoyed, but this year, he found that he was dreading the event. For him, it resonated too painfully with thoughts of the spring dancing six months before, the last evening he had spent with Lorellin.
He sat for a moment with his eyes closed, remembering dancing with his wife in a long line of Elves, and then with her and Legolas in a small circle. When Legolas had begun to grow sleepy, Thranduil had picked him up, and his son had clasped his arms around his father’s neck and his legs around his lean waist. Thranduil had used one arm to hold his son and his free hand to clasp Lorellin’s. She had put her other hand on the arm holding Legolas, and they had danced with their small son nestled between them.
Then, after they had put their child to bed, they had gone to bed themselves and made love with an intensity the memory of which still left him aching for her. The next morning, she had left to visit her cousin, and he had never seen her alive again. He groped again for the gossamer thread that he knew still bound him to her and was once again unable to find it. It takes time, he reminded himself, trying to draw comfort from his experience of his father’s death. At first, grief had filled him so completely that he had been unable to sense their bond. Only when he had begun to heal had he again been aware of the touch of his father’s fea on his own. He would be able to sense Lorellin again too, he knew. But now he felt only her absence.
Another knock sounded at the door and Eilian entered. “You wanted to see me, Adar?” he asked warily.
“Yes, I did.” Thranduil was abruptly pulled out of his reverie. He indicated the chair in front of his desk and Eilian sat, obviously expecting something unpleasant. As well he might, thought Thranduil. They had been unpleasant to one another on enough occasions in the last month or so. Thranduil gathered his thoughts for a moment.
“I am told that you engaged in a rather incautious race through the tree tops last night,” he said at length.
Eilian stiffened. “Your spies are as efficient as ever,” he said resentfully.
“Do not be impertinent!” Thranduil snapped. There was a moment’s silence during which he feared that this difficult son would remain obstinately defiant, but as he watched, the tight set of Eilian’s shoulders eased slightly.
“I apologize for my rudeness,” he finally ground out with obvious difficulty. “But sometimes, Adar, I feel as if I cannot breathe without someone reporting to you.”
Thranduil snorted. “In this case, it is the possible cessation of breath that I am concerned about. What were you thinking, Eilian? Where is your judgment, your self-control?”
His son’s face was reddening and he lowered his eyes, but then, rather than launch into excuses for what Thranduil saw as his self-indulgent behavior, he surprised his father. “I admit that I was not as careful as I should have been,” he said. He raised his gaze from his hands to look at Thranduil steadily.
Thranduil blinked, caught off guard by the frank confession. He could feel his anger easing and the fear underlying it rising to the surface. “Does your life mean so little to you that you are determined to throw it away here if Ithilden has prevented you from doing so in battle?” he urged in a gentler voice. “If you cannot take care for your own sake, then do it for your brothers and me. I tell you, Eilian, I am not sure we could survive another loss.”
Eilian’s dark eyes clouded, and then he smiled wryly. “Then you should not object to last night’s race, Adar. It taught me that I have no wish to die.”
Thranduil’s breath caught in his throat. Just how close had Eilian come to falling? He rose, drawing Eilian too to his feet, and came around the desk. He put his arms possessively around his surprised son and hugged him tightly. “Please remember that,” Thranduil admonished. He released Eilian and stepped back, studying his bemused face. “You are going to the dancing tonight?” he asked, deliberately shifting the subject.
Eilian’s smile broadened. “Yes, I am. Did you know that Celuwen came with the delegation from the settlement? I am looking forward to seeing her tonight.”
“I did not know she was here,” Thranduil responded. He looked at Eilian thoughtfully. Thranduil had always liked Celuwen. She had six times the common sense that Eilian did, and Thranduil thought that she was good for him. Not that Eilian was in a position to enter into a permanent relationship with anyone, Thranduil reminded himself, not in the situation that Ithilden’s dispatches were describing.
“I will see you at evening meal, then,” Thranduil said and turned to go back to his desk. Eilian bowed wordlessly and left.
Thranduil sat for a while, supposedly reviewing the information that Ithilden had given him but really unable to keep himself from thinking again about Lorellin. What would she have said about Eilian? he wondered. She had frequently been the buffer between Thranduil and his middle son, and he missed her insight into what made Eilian act as he did. “You want him to please you before you will give him your approval,” she had always said. “But if you give him your approval, he will try harder to please you.” Thranduil had never accepted her reasoning. He was responsible for his sons’ characters, and he took that responsibility seriously, even when they were theoretically adults. He sighed and turned again to the dispatches.
“Legolas,” Thranduil called, shaking his shoulder gently, “wake up. It is time to get ready for the dancing.”
Legolas’s eyes came slowly into focus, and then he raised his fists to rub them. He was too old to nap routinely, but he had agreed to rest this evening so that he could stay up late for the autumn dancing. Now he sat up but failed to get out of bed.
“Come,” Thranduil beckoned him, picking up the brown velvet leggings and brown and gold silk tunic that Nimloth had left laid out when she went to spend the evening with her husband and grown son and his wife.
Legolas scowled at the unfamiliar festive clothing. “Where are my dancing clothes?” he asked.
“These are yours,” his father told him patiently. “They are new because you have gotten too big for your old clothes.” Usually, mention of how much he had grown pleased Legolas, but now he continued to glower at the tunic and leggings. He slid reluctantly from the bed and came to stand passively before Thranduil. He had been put down for his nap in his underclothing, and now Thranduil began to wrestle the seemingly boneless child into his leggings. He fastened them and then dropped the tunic over Legolas’s head, pulled his arms into the sleeves, and tried to button the cuffs only to have his son pull away.
“Stop squirming, Legolas,” Thranduil commanded.
“Those are too tight,” Legolas whined.
“They are not,” Thranduil said firmly. “You are simply not accustomed to this kind of cuff.” He loosened the child’s braids and then reached for a brush to smooth his sleep tousled hair.
“Not that brush,” Legolas cried. “Nana always used the blue one.”
Thranduil opened his mouth to deny that the color of the brush made a difference, but then glanced at his small son who looked as if he were about to cry. With a sigh, he picked up the blue brush, but even its use failed to mollify Legolas, who continued to jerk his head away.
“I thought you wanted to go to the dancing,” Thranduil said in exasperation.
“I do want to go!” Legolas cried. “You are pulling my hair.”
“I am sorry,” Thranduil soothed him. “I think that we are finished any way. Come.” He took the elfling’s hand, and the two of them headed for the sitting room where Eilian was waiting for them.
Eilian sat staring into the fire, waiting for his father and little brother to appear so that they could leave for the autumn dancing. He was not really seeing the flames, however, for he was reliving yet again that moment when he had clung to the oak tree at the end of last night’s race and suddenly realized how close he had come to dying. What had he been thinking? Thranduil had asked, and that was the question he had asked himself repeatedly today and indeed as he had lain awake during most of last night too.
Had he really wanted to die? He knew the answer to that question immediately. No, he had not. As he had sat in the tree’s embrace, he had been limp with relief and with the sheer joy of still drawing in breaths and letting them out again. Then what had he been thinking?
He finally concluded that he had not been thinking at all, that he had let his grief and anger consume him and had been flailing blindly in the darkness trying to feel something else, anything else. He had gone over the edge, and he had frightened himself. He had spent most of the time since in thinking about what might have happened, so that he had not protested when Thranduil chided him. His father had been only too right.
He stood and moved restlessly around the room, stopping to finger the brightly colored leaves that someone had heaped in a bowl on a side table. He did not want to die, he thought, but he did not want to live the life he was living now, either. He knew himself well enough to know that he could not bear carrying out patrols for the Home Guard for any extended period of time. He needed to get back to the Southern Patrol, but the point of going back to it was not to die in some battle with the stink of Orc blood in his nostrils. The point was to make some use of his anger and then live to fight another day. So his task now was to convince Ithilden that he could be a danger to the enemy and not to himself. That was going to be hard to do with his older brother so far away.
He sighed and put the task aside for now. His thoughts drifted for a moment to Celuwen. What a surprise it had been to see her yesterday. The door opened and Thranduil came in with Legolas dragging along behind him looking disgruntled.
“What is the matter, little one?” Eilian laughed. “You should be smiling. You have been waiting for the dancing and now it is here.” Legolas scowled at him but took his hand readily enough when Eilian offered it. Thranduil led them out the door and toward the green from which the sound of music was already flowing. Legolas’s mood improved almost immediately, and he began to skip excitedly along to the music, tugging on Eilian’s hand.
Thranduil headed toward one end of the green, where a large chair had been set up for him. As they entered the green, Turgon came running up to Legolas. “Come and sit by me,” he invited.
Eilian and Thranduil both opened their mouths, but Legolas forestalled them. “My ada says I cannot play with you until next week,” he said sadly. Turgon frowned but then, without a word, put his arms around Legolas and hugged him. Then he turned and marched off without protest. He was probably used to being banished from his friends’ company, Eilian thought in amusement. He saw Thranduil grimace. His father would have had an easier time deciding what to do about Legolas’s friendship with Turgon if he had been only naughty and not affectionate, Eilian knew, and if Legolas had not also been so obviously fond of him.
Then another voice spoke. “Good evening, my lord,” Celuwen told Thranduil. She was dressed in an elegant green silk gown and green ribbons had been threaded through her dark hair, but, as always, Eilian was most struck by the expressiveness of her mobile face.
“Good evening, Celuwen,” Thranduil responded, obviously pleased to see her. “You are looking well.”
“Thank you, my lord,” she answered and then looked at Legolas. “And who is this?” she asked.
Eilian made the introductions. “Legolas, this is my friend Celuwen.” He lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “She is first maiden I ever kissed, but three of her friends had to hold me down to make me do it.” All of the adults laughed but Legolas scowled. Stories of kissing were not yet amusing to him.
Thranduil reached to take Legolas’s hand, for the agreement that Thranduil and Eilian had come to while Legolas napped was that Thranduil would take the child while Eilian went off to see Celuwen. Reluctantly, the elfling let go of Eilian’s hand and took his father’s. He looked accusingly at Eilian for a second and then turned his back on him and trotted off with Thranduil.
“I believe your little brother thinks I am stealing you,” Celuwen said in laughing dismay.
“He will get over it once he is absorbed in the dancing,” Eilian told her, leading her away to a grassy spot from which they could watch the Elves who were whirling merrily around the green. “For some reason, he has really been looking forward to it.”
She settled gracefully to the ground beside him. “I have missed music like this,” she sighed.
“What have you been doing in that settlement of yours?” Eilian asked lightly, plucking a stem of grass and running it up and down her arm. She slapped it away and they both smiled. It was a familiar game.
“For the most part, I have been keeping house,” she said, “growing vegetables and flowers, hunting, sewing. Doing everything that is needful when one lives in the woods and not in a king’s palace.”
Eilian laughed. “That sounds so domestic,” he teased her. “I cannot picture you in such an undemanding role.”
“Undemanding!” she exclaimed. “You try doing it. If you are still as quick to wager as you once were, I would wager anything you like that you would not last a week.”
“You are probably right,” he admitted good naturedly. He thought fleetingly of the previous night’s wager and race. He hoped she had not heard about it, for she had always hated being around him when she thought that he was out of control, which he certainly had been last night. “If it is such hard work,” he asked, “why do you do it? You could surely come back here to live with some of your relatives permanently.”
She lay back on the grass, heedless of her fragile gown, and gazed up at the night sky. “My parents love the place, and it pleases me to see them happy,” she said slowly, “and you cannot imagine how serene it is to live so simply, so easily among the trees. I have heard my naneth singing to the stars throughout the night sometimes.” She stopped and looked at him. “I am so sorry about your naneth, Eilian. I have been so selfish that I have not told you that yet. You must miss her.”
Eilian lay stretched on his elbow on the grass beside her. “I do miss her,” he said and realized with surprise that this was the first time he had actually said this to anyone. “I notice her absence more now that I am at home.”
“Do you remember the time we found that dagger in the long grass near the river?” Celuwen asked. “I have never seen you so immediately taken with anything.”
Eilian gave a laughing groan. “Do not remind me. I still dream about it occasionally. It was the most beautiful weapon I have ever seen.”
“We were taking it to the palace so you could clean it,” Celuwen went on, “and we met your naneth in the garden. She was cutting roses.” She paused and they both lay in silence for a moment remembering the sweet smell of the garden and the buzz of the bees in the heavy summer air. Eilian plucked at the grass, and Celuwen put one of her hands over his. “You were so excited to show her the dagger,” she continued. “And she admired it almost enough to satisfy you, but then she asked how you were going to find the owner. Do you remember?”
Eilian smiled wryly. “Yes. She sounded as if she took it as a matter of course that I was looking for the owner. It would never have occurred to her to keep the thing, so she assumed that it would never occur to me.” He gave a short laugh. “She usually believed I was better than I am.”
Celuwen turned her head toward him. “But you did find the guard it belonged to, and you did give it back.”
Eilian sighed. “That was naneth,” he said. “I never could bear to disappoint her.” He sat up and scanned the green restlessly. Thranduil was sitting talking to one of his advisers, but Legolas had gotten down from his lap, and he and Annael had joined hands and were hopping among the dancers.
He turned to Celuwen. “Come for a walk,” he invited. “There are stars here too, just as beautiful as those in your settlement.” He rose and put out a hand to help her up. “You have grass all over the back of your gown,” he told her, brushing at it. He paused, suddenly realizing that he was running his hand over the curve of her backside. “Perhaps you had better do that,” he said with a laugh, and she slapped at him lightly. They strolled off among the trees, letting starlight and moonshine show them their path.
They walked far enough that the sounds of the night began to emerge over the sounds of the music - crickets and tree frogs and an irate owl that they had apparently disturbed. Eilian stopped and leaned against a tree, drawing Celuwen against him to lean back and look up at the sky. “See,” he said. “There is Menelvagor’s silver belt. And Valarcirca swings through the night sky here too, remember?”
She craned her neck to follow where he pointed, and he nuzzled the top of her head, inhaling the scent of her hair. And like the return of life to the forest after it had been encased in winter ice, he felt the stir of desire pierce the numbness through which he had moved since his mother’s death. He held his breath. He had flirted lightly with more maidens than he could count in the years since he had left childhood, and in so doing, he had enjoyed them but kept them at a distance. He did not want to flirt like that with Celuwen.
“Celuwen,” he murmured, brushing his lips against her ear, “no one would have to hold me down to make me kiss you now.”
She turned toward him, face grave, and he saw the stars reflected in her dark eyes. He hesitated only for a second before he bent and began to trail small kisses on and around her mouth. He slid his hand along her jaw to cradle it in his palm. She made a little moaning noise as he drew her lower lip between his own. Then he pulled away and they stood for a moment looking at one another, with their eyes full of questions.
“This is not a good idea,” she said, sounding breathless.
“Perhaps not,” he agreed, touching her forehead with his own.
“We have been down this path before and it led us nowhere.”
“I know,” he answered.
“We should go back,” she said.
“Yes, we should,” he agreed again. He put his arms around her, and they danced together in the starry night to the faint sound of music from the green.
Eilian had no idea how much time had passed when he and Celuwen returned to the green. As it was, they simply stepped out of the woods and onto the grass and began once again to dance.
“Eilian, dance with me!” a high-pitched voice demanded.
He and Celuwen pulled apart and looked down at Legolas who was bouncing impatiently on his toes next to them.
“Ada does not want to dance,” Legolas told him. “You should dance with me.”
“Come on, little one,” Eilian invited with a laugh and put out one hand to him as Celuwen did likewise.
“No,” Legolas scowled, tucking his hands into his folded arms. “I want just you to dance with me. I do not like her.”
“Do not be rude,” Eilian said, in a tone that was a good bit sharper than the one he normally used to his little brother. Celuwen touched his arm, and Legolas’s eyes flashed at the gesture.
“Go away!” he told her vehemently. “Eilian wants to dance with me now.” His voice had risen and people near them were turning to look.
“Legolas, you are being a brat!” Eilian snapped. His little brother turned a defiant face toward him, and, suddenly, he burst into loud, angry sobs and flung himself against Eilian’s legs, kicking and flailing his fists. Eilian could see Thranduil half rising from his chair at the end of the green. He wrestled Legolas rather roughly into his arms, struggling to get hold of his fists and legs at the same time. Finally he had the child’s body firmly grasped in a slant across his. He shot a look at Thranduil meant to convey that he could manage, and then turned to Celuwen.
“I will be back as soon as I have taken care of this one,” he said over the sound of Legolas’s loud cries.
She nodded. “Take your time. I think he wants you to himself for a while.”
Eilian strode angrily toward the palace. “No!” Legolas was shrieking and still struggling against Eilian’s grasp. “I want to stay at the dancing. No!”
By the time they had crossed the bridge to the palace, however, the elfling’s struggles had ceased and the shrieks had turned to gut wrenching sobs. Cautiously, Eilian adjusted his hold, turning the child more upright. Legolas flung his arms around Eilian’s neck and clung to him, sobbing now as if he had lost his dearest friend. But of course, thought Eilian suddenly, his anger easing a little, Legolas had lost the one dearest to him. He carried Legolas into his room, sat down in the rocking chair, and rocked his little brother until, at last, his crying eased.
“Were you thinking about Nana tonight?” Eilian finally asked, wondering if he had guessed correctly about the cause of the highly uncharacteristic tantrum.
The blond head that was buried in his tunic nodded resignedly.
“What were you thinking?” Eilian prodded gently.
Legolas sighed. “Nana and Ada danced with me the last time there was dancing,” he said sadly, his voice muffled against Eilian’s chest. Eilian tightened his hold on the child a little. No wonder Legolas had been eager for the dancing and then upset for most of the evening, he thought.
“Are you sad about Nana, little one?” Eilian ventured and Legolas nodded once. “And maybe angry?” Eilian pursued, thinking of his own furious actions. There was a pause, and then Legolas nodded again. He finally raised tearful blue eyes.
“Why did Nana have to die?” he asked sadly, still hiccupping slightly. “Why did she leave me?”
Eilian continued to rock him. “She did not want to leave you,” he finally told Legolas. “But sometimes bad things happen whether we want them to or not. Warriors try but even with all the swords and bows in the world, they cannot always stop them.” He allowed his thoughts to drift for a moment to his own angry efforts to strike back at the creatures who had caused bad things to happen in Legolas’s life and his own. He smiled wryly to himself. He and this elfling were more alike than he wanted to admit.
He glanced at Legolas. The child looked exhausted.
“We should put you to bed now,” Eilian said gently. He stood Legolas on his feet and stripped off his clothes.
“Where does Nimloth keep your sleep tunics?” Eilian asked. Legolas indicated a cupboard, and Eilian pulled out a clean tunic and slid it over the child’s head and raised arms. He pulled the covers back on the bed and waited for Legolas to climb in, but the elfling still stood in the middle of the room looking doubtful.
“We should wash my face and hands now,” Legolas informed him.
“Perhaps we could skip that for tonight,” Eilian proposed, but Legolas looked horrified, so he led the child into the bathing chamber and wiped at his hands and face with a wet cloth. “Is that good enough?” Eilian asked and Legolas nodded, apparently satisfied. They went back into the sleeping chamber and the child climbed into bed.
“Will you stay with me until I fall asleep?” he asked anxiously, as Eilian was tucking him in.
“Yes, I will,” Eilian promised and pulled a chair up near the bed. Celuwen would understand when he did not return to the green, he thought. She had never been one to raise a fuss when he really had to be elsewhere.
Legolas lay for a moment, fidgeting with the blankets. “Are you still angry at me?” he asked anxiously. “Am I a brat?”
Eilian bent and kissed his forehead. “Sometimes you are a brat,” he said, “but it turns out that I love you anyway.”
Legolas smiled sweetly. “I love you too, Eilian,” he said.
Eilian smiled tenderly back. “Good night, brat,” he said.
Thranduil approached as Eilian was leaving Legolas’s chamber. He glanced through the still open doorway. “Is he asleep?” he asked.
“Yes,” Eilian answered, pulling the door to.
“Come into my sitting room and tell me what the scene at the dancing was about,” Thranduil commanded and led Eilian into his suite next door to Legolas’s room. He settled wearily into one of the big chairs near the fireplace. He and Eilian both looked at the other chair, which had been Lorellin’s, and then Eilian drew up another chair and sat.
“He wanted to dance with me, and he did not want Celuwen around,” Eilian told his father.
Thranduil shook his head. “I think that his friend Turgon is a very bad influence on him. I should probably take steps to separate them.”
“Yet there is real affection between Turgon and Legolas,” Eilian said cautiously, “and Legolas needs to feel loved right now.” He knew he was treading on dangerous ground, for Thranduil usually allowed no interference in his handling of his youngest son.
“The decision is not yours to make, Eilian,” Thranduil told him firmly. Eilian held his tongue only with difficulty.
“Is the dancing over?” he asked. The dancing usually went on most of the night, so Eilian would be surprised if it had already ended.
“No,” said Thranduil. “I believe that Celuwen left with her naneth, though.” Neither of them chose to take up the topic of why that should matter to Eilian.
“Are you going back to the green then?” he asked.
“No,” said Thranduil. “I will stay here and listen for Legolas.”
“Is he still waking up with nightmares?”
“Yes,” Thranduil told him, “but less often. The Orcs seem to have moved out of his dreams and into his play, unfortunately,” he added with a grimace.
“But surely that is better,” Eilian protested.
Thranduil raised an eyebrow and his voice became very cool. “He is learning now to be the person he will be for long years to come. I would hope that person is not one who sets fires or fights with other children.”
“But, Adar,” Eilian argued, ignoring the signs that Thranduil was becoming impatient, “he is behaving badly because he is angry about Naneth’s death.”
“Are you speaking about Legolas or about yourself?” Thranduil asked sharply and, so far as Eilian was concerned, only too accurately. “You might consider your own behavior when you are around Legolas, Eilian. He adores you, and so far as he is concerned, you can do no wrong. That is pleasant but it is also a responsibility.”
Eilian bit his lip. His father was not going to listen to whatever he had to say about his little brother. It would be better not to stay and perhaps start a real quarrel. “I will endeavor to set a better example,” he said stiffly and then rose. “By your leave, Adar, I will go to bed now.” And at a sign from his father, he left the room.
Thanks to all reviewers, whether you left them at ff.net or storiesofarda.com, or sent them via email. I am ALWAYS happy to hear from you.
Brenda G: I’m really glad you can see that the characters and details here seem to gibe with those in the other stories too. I sometimes can’t remember what I’ve written, which is why, to my horror, characters’ names will occasionally change their spelling.
TreeHugger: You are an exceptionally good guesser! Either that or you have a direct line to my PC. Eilian’s near escape has indeed sobered him up a bit, as you can see.
BlueBonnet: That is absolutely right. Eilian does often act first and think later. Ithilden has seen to it that he has a fair amount of time to think here, though. Sort of like Legolas being sent to the corner! Maybe he’ll make use of it.
TigerLily: It is a good thing the tree was paying attention because Eilian certainly wasn’t!
Bodkin: Whatever you want to do to the picture is more than fine with me. I am just grateful to have it. I thought your little brother did sound a lot like Legolas in his admiration for his older sib.
Erunyauve: Author confession: I was thinking of the tree as being like Eilian’s mother. It rocked him and comforted him, even as it scolded a little. It’s a bit corny, I know.
Dragon Confused: Legolas thanks you for your hugs and hugs you back! You have a really good sense of what little kids are like, I think.
StrangeBlaze: You may have thought it was cute when Legolas growled at Ada, but Ada did not! As for Eilian’s girlfriend, all I can say is if she turns out to be less widely hated than Miri was, I will be contented.
Levade: So you see it wasn’t long at all until Legolas completely lost it. The tantrum is unusual for him, I think. Thranduil thanks you for your concern over his hair and wonders what you can possibly mean by your remark about the justice of him having stubborn children.
Alice: Yes, Eilian does need someone with good sense. It would be best if it were him, but maybe Celuwen?
Kay: I feel really bad for Ithilden. We’ll see him in the next chapter. And I have to admit I was pleased by the way the scene of Eilian clinging to the tree came out.
PokethePenguin: Legolas is having trouble in this chapter too, poor thing.
Fadesintothewest: I think, as you say, that Eilian and Legolas can help one another.
Legolas4me: I love good ada Thranduil. I think he got used to interacting with his sons in one way while their mother was alive to balance him out. Now his way doesn’t work as well anymore and he has to learn a new way to interact.
Dot: The tree scene was my favorite in Chapter 4. But I do worry about Ithilden too. I think Maltanaur and he need to have a little talk.
Terryb: It’s actually interesting to try to think about how all these people would be when they were younger, to have them be consistent and yet different from what they later become.
JustMe: Legolas never could lie to Ada! Not convincingly anyway. He almost always fesses up.
Luin: You are so right: Eilian sees so much and then he sees nothing at all. That’s a great way to put it. His insight is spotty, like most of ours, I suspect.
JastaElf: You know, I’m glad Eilian’s home too. Legolas needed him and he needed his little brother who loves him uncritically.
Gwyn: Ada/ion time is exactly what Legolas needs. I’m working on it!
Naneth: I think Eilian is at his turning point. I’ll have to see what I can do for the rest of them.
Aure_enteluva: I was interested in your advice, especially the comments about the adverbs. That was useful. I can’t make myself put contractions in the mouths of Tolkien’s elves though. Hobbits use them, of course, but I’ve never been able to find a place where an elf does.
Dy: I’m glad you’re enjoying the story. I hope your computer is better.
Feanen: I glad to know you are still reading!
Karenator: It’s hard for Thranduil to know what to do about Turgon, I think. He’s trouble but he’s not bad. And Legolas is both fascinated by him and fond of him.
Hardcorewwnut: It’s sick of me, but I’m glad I made you cry!
Elemmire2: Oh yeah. Eilian is reckless. Bad Elf!
Tapetum Lucidum: I enjoyed writing Ithilden in battle too. I hadn’t done that in a while and I didn’t want him too look like an armchair warrior.
Nilmandra: A bored Eilian is a problem waiting to happen. Thank you for pushing me on this chapter a bit.
Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.
6. Coming to One’s Senses
Ithilden pointed to a place on the map that was slightly to the east of where the Southern Patrol was now camped and just south of the Dwarf Road. “What about here?” he asked. “Two of the bands we have seen in the last four days were heading in this direction. It would be worth scouting it out tonight, I think.”
Todith nodded. “Very well. I will send the scouts out now. It will soon be dark enough for Orcs to be on the move, and that should give the scouts time to get into position.” He moved away to issue orders and then returned to eye the map for a moment. “I wish Eilian would get hold of himself,” he said regretfully. “He is by far the best scout I have ever had.”
Ithilden frowned. “Eilian is too inexperienced to serve in a patrol such as this one.”
Todith looked at him in surprise. “I do not agree,” he said respectfully but firmly. “He had become too reckless during the last few months he served here, but he performed admirably for years before that. He even withstood the effect of the shadow better than most do.” He shrugged wryly. “I always thought that optimistic, adventuresome streak in him made him enjoy the unpredictability of serving here, so I was sorry when he let it get the better of him, but I would take him back in an instant if I thought he had control of himself again.”
Ithilden turned back to the map. “You are unlikely to have the opportunity,” he said coolly. The decision as to which warriors were to serve where rested entirely in his hands, and so far as he was concerned, Eilian was staying where he was. Ithilden’s lack of anticipation had already cost his mother’s life; he would not let a similar failure cost his brother’s. He pushed thoughts of Eilian from his mind. He needed to concentrate on deploying his forces to hold this position south of the road if he was to succeed in keeping it open.
The sound of an approaching horse made him look up again almost immediately to see a messenger attached to one of the border patrols riding into the camp. He stiffened. He had already received his routine reports, and he could see ominous black stains marring the cloak of this unlooked-for messenger. He stepped forward and the messenger saw him and slipped from his horse to hurry toward him.
“My lord,” he put his hand over his heart formally, “I bring a message from Elorfin.” Elorfin captained the patrol that guarded the southwest borders of Thranduil’s realm, beyond the territory of the Home Guard. The messenger looked unhappy and glanced around at the curious warriors now regarding them. “I fear the news is not good,” he murmured.
Ithilden gestured for the Elf to accompany him a small distance away from the center of camp, so that whatever news he bore could be conveyed more privately. “What have you to tell me?” he asked.
“Yesterday morning, our patrol saw smoke rising from an area near where the Enchanted River flows down from the Mountains of Mirkwood,” the messenger told him. “We hastened toward it, but by the time we got there, it was too late.” Ithilden steeled himself for news of something else he had been helpless to prevent. “We found a homestead that had been overrun by Orcs,” the messenger went on, “and completely burned to the ground. Every living thing had been killed, even the livestock, and the Orcs were gone.”
“How many Orcs?”
“Perhaps forty. They went into the mountains.”
“Did you track them?”
“Yes, they had gone to ground for the day, but we flushed them out. We killed most of them, but a handful escaped.”
Ithilden stood in silence for a moment. “There were no survivors at the homestead?” he asked woodenly.
“No, my lord,” the messenger answered. “None.”
“Do we know who lived there?” Ithiden went on.
The messenger nodded soberly. “An Elf named Voniel, his wife, their son and daughter, the son’s wife, two grandchildren.” There was a moment’s silence, and Ithilden looked unseeingly at the thick, dark trees closing in on the clearing.
“Thank you,” he finally told the messenger. “Get something to eat and take some rest. I may have some orders for you to take back to Elorfin.” The messenger nodded and started back to retrieve and care for his weary looking horse.
Ithilden returned to the rock where his map lay. He bent close to it in the gathering dusk and carefully added a small, precise mark where the burned homestead had been. Then he stood looking down at the map, which suddenly blurred before him. I am so tired, he thought irrelevantly, and then put his pen down and walked off into the woods, startling a warrior who was guarding the camp’s perimeter as he passed.
He reached the shelter of a beech grove and stood leaning against one of the trees, with his head pressed against it. The trees here were not so withered as those further south, but they were clearly suffering. He could feel that the beech’s life force was fading. The chances that it would survive another winter were not good. And yet, he could also feel the tree responding to his presence with sympathetic distress. You would do well to be distressed for your own fate, he told it, because there is almost certainly nothing I can do to change it. He stared at the ground near his feet, where a broken branch lay. Suddenly, he snatched up the branch and threw it as far as he could, giving an incoherent cry as he did so.
Footsteps sounded behind him and he whirled to find Maltanaur a short distance away. Two guards came running, probably in response to his shout, but Maltanaur waved them off, and after a moment’s uncertainty, they turned back toward the camp. Ithilden supposed they were not eager to confront their evidently demented commander and were only too happy to leave Maltanaur to do it. He turned his back on the older Elf and leaned against the tree again.
“Did that make you feel better?” Maltanaur asked from close behind him.
Ithilden stifled an impulse to order the Elf to leave him. He had not yet had an opportunity to have things out with Maltanaur, and this was as good a time as any. He was considering what he wanted to say when Maltanaur spoke.
“I have been wishing for an opportunity to have things out with you, Ithilden,” he said, “and this is as good a time as any.”
Ithilden’s jaw dropped, and he spun to face the Elf, spluttering incoherently.
“I have known you all your life,” Maltanaur began in a tone that suggested he had much to say, “and I have always thought of you as level-headed. So I have been puzzled by your determination to seize responsibility for every evil thing that happens in the Woodland Realm. I have concluded that your understandable grief for the death of your naneth has left you more vulnerable than usual to the effect of the shadow that weighs upon us all here.”
Ithilden had finally found his tongue. “That is quite enough!” he snapped, his eyes narrowing.
“I doubt very much if it is,” Maltanaur said placidly. “You seem to be exceedingly stubborn in your belief that your power is, or should be, infinite.”
“Be quiet,” Ithilden hissed. “I may not have infinite power, but I certainly have the power to see to it that you are transferred to a permanent post watching the road to Esgaroth -- the far end of the road!” He could feel his hands shaking in his fury, and he balled them into fists as he shoved his face intimidatingly close to Maltanaur’s. “You talk so easily about my responsibility. My responsibility is what it has always been: the safety of those who live in the Woodland Realm. I command the troops. If I am not responsible when they are not where they are needed when they are needed, then who is? I may not always live up to my responsibility, but at least I know what it is! And my grief,” suddenly his voice broke, and he struggled for control. “My grief is my own business.” He clenched his jaw, unable to go on.
Maltanaur regarded him calmly. “The weather grows cold,” he said. “Are you responsible for that too? For the chill the warriors feel in the night? Can you control it?”
Ithilden opened his mouth to reprimand Maltanaur for speaking when he had been ordered to silence, but suddenly found himself answering the older Elf’s question. “Of course not,” he said through stiff lips. “But as it happens, I can control the troops.” To his horror, his voice was wavering again. “And I would say that recent events prove that I need to do a better job of it than I have been doing.”
Maltanaur’s face was serious but gentle. “Everyone has limits, Ithilden,” he said, “and mistakes and failure are the lot of us all. You are so competent and hardworking that you have seldom been confronted with your own imperfections. But you have them, just as the rest of us do. And you need to learn to forgive yourself for them. No one sees everything or knows everything. Not even you.”
Ithilden stared at him, blinking hard. “Surely the question is not whether I can forgive my failures, but whether others can.”
Maltanaur cocked his head and eyed him. “Do you mean the king? My guess would be that it has never occurred to your adar to forgive you for anything because he has never thought there was anything to forgive.”
Ithilden stared at him wordlessly, dumbstruck by the idea that Maltanaur was proposing.
There was a sudden stir behind them and they both turned. “Ithilden,” Todith said, his words quick with excitement, “the scouts came across a large band of Orcs just beginning to stir. We need to move now.”
Ithilden and Maltanaur were both instantly in motion toward the camp. “How did the scouts get into position so quickly?” Ithilden asked as they ran.
“They stumbled on them accidentally shortly after they left camp,” Todith answered with a grim smile. “Sometimes all the planning in Arda is worth less than a bit of good fortune.”
In the campsite, Elves were scrambling to ready their weapons. Ithilden seized his bow and strapped on his quiver. “There are as many as seventy of them,” Todith told his warriors. “We should be able to surprise them, so make as much use of your bows as you can to even the odds. Then be ready to cut them off if they start to retreat.” His warriors, accompanied by Ithilden’s party, moved quickly into the trees and toward the Orc band.
They came upon the Orcs within twenty minutes after leaving the campsite. In deadly silence, the Elves ranged themselves in the trees around the band, who were still shaking themselves awake. Like everyone around him, Ithilden drew his bow and waited for Todith’s signal. In ironic beauty, a nightingale’s call sounded, and a rain of arrows fell upon the Orcs.
For the next short span of time, Ithilden drew and fired and drew and fired. He did not even need to move from the tree limb on which he stood, for the Orcs milled in surprised confusion below him. Then their archers began to launch their own arrows, and the battle was joined in earnest. Ithilden tried to keep his focus wide so that he would see arrows speeding toward him, but he had to focus tightly each time he targeted an Orc. An arrow whistled next to his ear, and he ducked instinctively but knew that his movement had come after the arrow had already passed and that it had missed him only by chance.
Finally, like most of the Elves around him, he realized that the Orcs were now too close upon them for arrows and jumped from the tree, drawing his sword. As he had unconsciously expected, he found Maltanaur at his back. For once, he was glad to have the older Elf there. A warrior without someone protecting his blind side would not last long in these close quarters.
“Watch out!” Maltanaur shouted, shoving him aside, and he felt the breeze from an Orc’s scimitar passing over his head.
The battle was over soon after that, for the Elves had done so much damage at the start that the Orcs were forced to break and run. With Todith’s forces around him, Ithilden joined in the chase after those who were fleeing, grimly determined that none of these would ever again trouble the Woodland Realm.
Ithilden returned at last to the battle site to find Todith’s lieutenant, Sórion, already directing the care of the wounded. “How did we fare?” Ithilden asked him.
“Not too badly,” Sórion told him. “Most of the wounds are minor. I think that Maltanaur will probably need to be sent home for a while though. He has a nasty scimitar wound.”
Ithilden turned to find two warriors bending over Maltanaur off to one side where he had not noticed them before. He made his way hastily toward them and dropped to his knees by Maltanaur’s side. He could see immediately what Sórion meant. On Maltanaur’s left shoulder, a gash that was deep enough to touch bone was bleeding copiously. Ithilden remembered the Orc’s sword passing over his head as Maltanaur shouted a warning. He knew as certainly as if he had seen it that Maltanaur had taken a blow meant for him. To his surprise, he found that he was immeasurably touched.
“You fool,” he said in exasperation, as Maltanaur focused on him woozily. “I can take care of myself, you know.”
“You are far better at taking care of others than of yourself, ion,” said Maltanaur faintly. He groaned as the Elf beside him began to bind his wound. Ithilden moved out the way and then stood to look around him.
How could I ever have thought I could be in total control of all this? he wondered suddenly. For all his planning, the scouts had found the Orcs by accident. His warriors had fought well, for they were well trained and well armed. But when he thought of the arrow that had nipped past his ear, he knew that his own survival had been due to fortune as well as skill. Not to mention Maltanaur’s sacrifice on his behalf, he reminded himself. What was true for him was probably true for the others too. For every aspect of the battle he had had power over, there had been another that had happened only by the sweet will of the Valar. He would have to let go of the idea that he could order the whole Realm, he thought, if he was to have energy to order his forces.
“My lord, can you help?” called the Elf tending Maltanaur.
“Yes, I can,” said Ithilden and he turned to help carry the wounded Elf back to camp.
When they arrived, he found Todith seeing to the disposition of the wounded and setting the watches. Ithilden approached him.
“That was well fought,” he said. Todith nodded and said nothing, but Ithilden knew that he valued the praise, for Ithilden did not give it often. “In the morning,” he went on, “I want you to take your patrol and withdraw to a position north of the Dwarf Road. You will continue your hunting from there. Keeping the road open is a lost cause. There are simply too many Orcs for us to continue holding them back. If the road is their target, then they may harry us less if we withdraw north of it and concentrate on protecting the Elves living in that area.”
Todith turned to him in surprise. “Are you sure that is what you want?” he asked cautiously, for he knew that Ithilden had fought bitterly to keep from making this concession, even in the face of strong suggestions from Thranduil that he consider it.
“Yes, I am sure,” Ithilden responded. “Moreover, I have decided that you need to expand the size of the Southern Patrol. You cannot continue fighting with the small number of warriors you have been using.” Todith nodded resignedly. He had known that Ithilden was planning this increase. Ithilden had complete faith that he would adjust the patrol’s style of hunting to its expanded size and use the new warriors well.
“You will not have to deal with a larger force immediately,” Ithilden told him wryly, “for at the moment, I have no idea where I will get the warriors to send you.” Todith smiled at this weak jest but still said nothing. Dredging up more warriors was Ithilden’s problem, not his.
Ithilden looked over to where Sórion was settling Maltanaur for what remained of the night. “Sórion says that Maltanaur will need to go home,” he said.
“Yes,” said Todith. “The wound is deep.”
“My staff and I will take him,” Ithilden told him. “In the morning, we will leave for home. I need to talk to the king about recruitment and training.” He left his captain and went to his own blanket to get what sleep he could before morning. For the first time in what seemed like weeks, he walked the paths of Elven dreams in an unbroken stretch until the sun was high and it was time to prepare to leave for home.
“Tithrandir wants to know when you will be coming to the grove again,” Gelmir informed Eilian. “He wants a rematch but only if you have come to your senses, he says. He claims that no sane Elf would have attempted that last jump you made, so he blames his loss on your temporary lunacy.”
Eilian grinned and guided his horse easily among the trees. He and Gelmir were riding tonight because they had been assigned to patrol an area at the southwest edge of the Home Guard’s territory. Tonight was their last night on this duty. Tomorrow they would return to the tamer daytime patrols along the river.
“Tithrandir may be right,” he said lightly. “But you may tell him that I will not be to the grove any time soon and will not be giving him a rematch at all. I have decided that I value my skin too much.”
Gelmir grunted approvingly. “It is about time.”
Eilian raised an eyebrow at him.
“You know you were being reckless, Eilian,” Gelmir defended himself. “That is what got us both sent home so that we could spend our nights taking these pleasant rides through the woods. Not that I am objecting, mind you. And anyway, I will wager that Celuwen says the same thing.”
“Celuwen does not know about it,” Eilian said promptly. “And I mean to keep it that way. She tends to disapprove if she thinks I am taking unnecessary risks.”
They rode in silence for a few moments. “So are you and Celuwen becoming serious?” Gelmir finally ventured to ask.
Eilian grimaced. “I am not sure,” he answered. Then, unwilling to continue the conversation, he urged his horse a bit ahead. He had spent much of his free time with Celuwen in the last two weeks and had finally admitted to himself that he would like to deepen their friendship into something more. He thought that she would like that too, but, ever careful, she was holding back, keeping him at bay. And he had to acknowledge the wisdom of her caution. Leaving aside his recent actions, which would certainly make her draw back if she knew about them, his goal right now was to return to patrolling in the south of the Realm. Neither of their parents were likely to consent to a match in which he was away most of the time and in such danger. And it would not be fair to Celuwen either, he knew.
Something dark brushed against his consciousness. He stiffened abruptly and looked around, trying to identify what had alarmed him. His horse shifted nervously, sensing his concern. He turned to Gelmir. “Do you feel any danger?” he asked.
Gelmir paused. “No,” he said, “but your instincts are better than mine.”
They both scanned the forest, seeing what they could by the light of the moon and the stars. Eilian noticed for the first time that the trees were uneasy. He slowly focused on the area south of where he and Gelmir had halted. “That way,” he murmured. He hesitated for only a second before leaping lightly to his feet on his horse’s back and then into the trees. He hated to leave the horses to whatever danger was stalking them, but he and Gelmir could move much more quietly through the trees. He knew his friend was right behind him although he could hear nothing. Whatever had alarmed him would hear nothing either.
The two of them moved carefully, bows at the ready, scanning the night dark forest. A sound of breaking twigs came from their left and at the same time, Eilian smelled the unmistakable odor of Orcs. A tiny intake of breath from Gelmir told Eilian that he had smelled it too. They crept toward the source of the noise.
Suddenly a darker shadow emerged from the undergrowth and took on the shape of two Orcs moving cautiously in what they probably assumed was silence. They were heading toward the spot where Eilian and Gemir had left their horses. As one, the two Elves stood erect on the tree branch, drew their bows, and let their arrows fly. Both Orcs stopped suddenly and then crumpled to the ground with arrows in their throats.
Eilian jumped quickly to the ground to make sure they were dead. Then he gestured urgently to Gelmir. “You scout on that side and I will take this one,” he said. “Let us make sure that these two did not have friends hanging about. Meet me by the horses.” They both moved off and scanned the area as carefully as they could. When Eilian emerged from the trees to reclaim his horse, Gelmir was already there.
“Nothing,” Gelmir said, shaking his head. “I think they must have been alone.”
Eilian did not like to admit it even to himself, but he was shaken by finding these two Orcs within the territory of the Home Guard, so close to Thranduil’s stronghold. The settlement where Celuwen lived was actually not far beyond this spot, which meant that the Orcs had probably passed it. At least he hoped they had. He turned anxious eyes in that direction but could sense nothing, and the trees had now returned to their normal, nighttime murmur.
“They were strays then,” he concluded worriedly.
“Or scouts,” Gelmir answered grimly.
Eilian’s breath tightened. He did not like that thought at all. “We should report to Deler right away,” he said. “He can see to it that the Border Patrol checks the area beyond this.” Gelmir nodded, and they both mounted and started home.
Eilian knocked on the door of the cottage belonging to Celuwen’s uncle. “Eilian,” her uncle greeted him when he opened the door, “come in. We are in the sitting room drinking wine and trying to ward off this cold weather. We will have First Snow early this year, I think.” He led Eilian into the sitting room, where a number of Elves from the settlement were gathered, including Celuwen and her mother.
Eilian greeted them, accepted wine from his host, and sat down next to Celuwen, who smiled a welcome at him. There was a moment’s awkward silence and Eilian was suddenly aware that his arrival had interrupted a conversation.
“We were just discussing your adar’s reluctance to send warriors to guard the settlement,” one of the Elves finally said.
Eilian was immediately cautious. He had had the importance of keeping private what he heard at home drummed into him from the time he was Legolas’s size. He took a sip of his wine. “Has the king reached his decision then?” he asked.
The Elves in the room looked at one another. “We were hoping you would know that,” one of them said bluntly.
Eilian shrugged. “My lord does not consult with me about these matters.”
The Elf who had spoken continued to press the subject. Eilian recognized him now as the leader of the delegation. “Thranduil would do well to realize that the presence of Elves in the forest is one of the things keeping our links to it alive. To live there is to answer shadow with light. We cannot all retreat into caves!”
Eilian’s grip on his wine glass tightened, but he answered evenly, “You should tell him that the next time you meet with him.” And that would make for a lively meeting, he thought privately. The Elves in the room looked disappointed at his apparent refusal to take up their cause.
Celuwen rose abruptly. “Eilian and I are going for a walk, Naneth,” she told her mother. Eilian rose too, relieved to be going. He took leave of the gathered Elves, helped Celuwen into her cloak, donned his own cloak and gloves, and stepped out with her into the clear, late autumn night.
“I am sorry, Eilian,” Celuwen apologized. “They should not have tried to use you like that. They are worried or they would not have done so.”
Eilian shrugged. It was by no means the first time someone had tried to take advantage of his position as Thranduil’s son, and it would undoubtedly not be the last. “I am just as happy to have you to myself in any case,” he told her, smiling and putting his arm around her shoulders.
“How is Legolas doing?” she asked.
Eilian sighed. “He is a little better, I think. He still is not eating well though, and he is giving his tutor trouble. And Adar sees only the bad behavior, not the grief behind it. He knows Legolas is sad, and that pains him. He just refuses to see the connection between the two things.”
Celuwen put her hand up to cover his. “Give them both time,” she counseled sympathetically. “Your naneth’s death has to be hardest for them. You and Ithilden are away much of the time, but their daily lives at home still revolved around her.”
Eilian nodded. “I know,” he said. “And in some ways, Adar and Legolas are very close. It will be all right.”
They strolled in silence for a few moments. Then they reached the shadows of a large oak tree, and Eilian turned her so that her back was to it and bent to kiss her. She met his lips willingly enough but then put her hands to his face and pulled away. He found himself looking into her serious eyes.
“Eilian,” she said, “why are you home? Why are you not with your patrol?”
He tried to look away, but her hands kept his face turned to hers.
Finally, reluctantly, he answered, “Ithilden thought that I was becoming too reckless.” He could not lie to her. The chances were she had heard rumors of the truth anyway.
“And were you?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said straightforwardly. “I can see now that he was right. But I think that I can act with more care now. Indeed, I know that I can.” His heart twisted at the pain in her face.
“Promise me you will take care,” she said. “I am too selfish to go further with this if you are going to throw your life away. If I let you closer, I will not be able to bear to lose you.”
“I promise,” he murmured and bent to kiss her again. He nuzzled at her mouth gently first and then more urgently. She parted her lips and he slid his tongue over them to take in the heady taste of her. At that moment, he would have promised her to fly to Mordor and back.
And again, thank you to all reviewers, whether you reviewed at ff.net, storiesofarda.com, or via email. I am shamefully wrapped up in my own story and love hearing other people react to it.
Kay: You are so right. Legolas wants everything to be the same as it once was, but it’s not going to happen. It’s so sad I can hardly bear it and I wrote it myself!
Dragon Confused: I was struck by your comment that nothing is in Legolas’s control. That is so true. His father and brothers at least are able to control some things, but Legolas’s fate and even his day to day activity is in the hands of other people. Poor thing.
Fadesintothewest: Legolas would be hard to live with in some ways right now, I think, especially for people whose own temper is being tested by their grief. It’s really one of the tragedies of this kind of loss that the people who could help him are the very one who have been hurt themselves and so have less help to give than they normally would.
Luin: I adore the picture of you dancing with your parents in a clown costume. And I think that Lorellin’s carelessness impulsiveness did contribute to her death, although no one in her family is going to admit that! Eilian is more like her than he thinks.
Lamiel: I like it that Eilian helps Legolas to heal a little, but Legolas helps him too. He understands his own behavior better when he sees it reflected in his little brother. I think Ithilden sending him home to think about his actions is about the same as Thranduil sending Legolas to the corner to do the same!
StrangeBlaze: Another difference with Celuwen is that she and Eilian are both adults, young adults but adults, whereas Miri and Legolas were still adolescents. And in this chapter, you see where Ithilden was while the dancing was going on.
TigerLily: Turgon cracks me up. He’s like a little savage with good instincts and no guidance. No wonder Thranduil cringes at his approach.
Legolas4me: I picture Thranduil as quite good looking! His sons didn’t get all that charm and looks from nowhere.
Karenator: Legolas’s sweet memories must have been a terrible contrast to the reality of the dancing. And Turgon is a mixed bag, as you say. It would be hard to know what to do about him. I think you’ve said that you son(s) had a friend like Turgon. I know my son did!
TreeHugger: You know, I think if you had asked Legolas if he expected his nana to appear at the dancing, he would have said no. But he remembered how he felt and he wanted to feel that way again, and he was holding on to the hope that he would. Instead, Ada was too sad to dance and Eilian was with an icky girl.
Alice: Per your request, Ithilden is on his way home. And thank you for reminding me that Thranduil is a confident parent in later stories. Note to self: Remember that that’s where you’re trying to get him!
Gwyn: Legolas is so young. I can’t imagine that he’ll ever get over the loss. In a way, it’s easiest for Ithilden and Eilian because they are adults and their mother was no longer part of their daily lives. But Thranduil and Legolas must feel like a giant hole just got ripped through their existence.
Orangeblossom Took5: I think Celuwen would do Eilian a world of good. Does your name mean that there are 4 other Orangeblossom Tooks at ff.net? That seems excessive!
Bluebonnet: Eilian and Legolas are pretty easy with one another, more so than either of them is with their father or Ithilden. Partly that’s Eilians’ easy personality, but also it’s their closeness in age and the fact that neither one of them is an authority figure.
Dot: I like to try to remember that Thranduil is king and has a public life with responsibilities. I wrote myself a long list headed “What Does Thranduil Do All Day?” because I was having trouble picturing him in action as king. And you’re welcome to become as attached to Celuwen as you like! ;-)
JustMe: Clever observation on the timing of a romance for Eilian. ;-) I wish Thranduil would listen to Eilian too, but in the king’s eyes Eilian is the troublesome one and he’s not going to be taking advice from him easily. We need someone that Thranduil trusts more!
EarlGrey: Oh, good to hear from you again. I know people get busy. It’s OK. And cruelly enough, I am glad I made you cry. Legolas did indeed lose it, poor little guy.
Coolio2: Legolas does struggle with the death of his mother. He’s so young. For a kid that age, his mother is his whole world.
Naneth: You were the first reviewer to notice the advent of the “brat” nickname! I was glad. I thought everyone had missed it. I had fun writing about Eilian putting Legolas to bed. He hadn’t done it too often and wasn’t quite polished in his technique. Legolas had to tell him what to do!
Karri: You put your finger on what Legolas needs: a secure relationship with Ada. I’ll have to do something about that.
Caz-baz: Power failures make me crazy. And having my computer gone makes me even crazier!
Erunyauve: Oh that is so good that all the adults would remember Thranduil dancing with his wife and feel sympathetic with him but forget that Legolas would remember it too. It’s like he was just a prop in the scene. But to him, it was a treasured memory of one of the last times he saw his mother.
Brenda G: Eilian did indeed need some time out to think (and Ithilden made sure he had it!). But he’s coming around.
JastaElf: I have vivid memories of trying to put shoes on small children who suddenly had no bones in their feet. Poor little Legolas. All he wanted was the impossible: to have everything be as it once had been.
Jay: Good to have you back from vacation. I hope you had a nice time. Thranduil and Legolas are having the hardest time here. They lived with Lorellin, unlike the older sons, and they needed her.
Feanen: I’m glad you liked the chapter. Thank you for letting me know.
Tapetum Lucidum: Eilian is a romantic guy with a way with the maidens. He might be kind of maddening for anyone who took him on permanently.
Wild Iris: That tree scene is my favorite. It did give Eilian a shock. Ithilden needed someone to slap him with a 2 by 4 too and Maltanaur tried to do it here.
Nilmandra: Thranduil needs to smarten up. We’ll work on him.
Levade: Of all these characters, Thranduil is the hardest for me to keep a handle on. I tend to see him in relationship to his sons, but I need to remember to see him in himself and in his broken relationship with his wife. Nilmandra wrote me a birthday fic about Thranduil and Lorellin that helped me see them both. It’s at Royal Mirkwood Home if you want some happy/sad reading.
Dragon-of-the-North: You must have angered the server gods, but I appreciate your persistence. I think you’re right that Thranduil doesn’t open up or get close to anyone easily, and his relationship with his sons is always going to have that authoritative edge to it that makes real openness unlikely. His wife probably was the only one who got close to him.
Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.
7. Going Home
Legolas crawled into the cave and crouched next to Annael. "Shhh!" commanded Turgon. "I hear the enemy nearby."
Legolas listened, but all he could hear was Annael's nana in the kitchen. He knew she was making bread because he could smell it. His stomach grumbled. Ada had made him eat four spoonfuls of the stew that had been put in front of him at mid-day, but he had not wanted anything more then.
Annael's nana was moving pans around with a metallic clink. "I hear their swords," Turgon proclaimed. "We should attack."
Annael's eyes grew wide. "Not really," he protested.
Turgon turned to him in disgust. "We are playing," he said, stressing the last word. He turned back and once again assumed his Orc expression. "Legolas, scout to see if the enemy is in sight."
Legolas picked up a corner of the blanket that they had dragged from Annael's bed into the sitting room and draped over three chairs to form their cave. He peered cautiously out and then ducked back in. "No one is there," he whispered and then giggled in excitement. He quickly put his hand over his mouth because, while he had never seen an Orc, he knew that they did not giggle.
"Get ready," Turgon ordered, and the three of them tensed. "Now!" shouted Turgon.
They erupted from the cave and ran out the sitting room door and down the hall to the kitchen, screaming all the way. They thundered into the room and surrounded Annael's nana, who looked at them with a rather strained smile. "Goodness," she said, "have the Orcs come again?"
"It is only us, Nana," Annael cried in glee. "Did you hear us coming?"
She laughed. "Yes, I did," she said. "Perhaps the three of you should try creeping up on your foe very, very quietly. Remember how Ada said that warriors have to be able to do that, so you should practice?"
Legolas had a sudden thought. "We should not be Orcs any more," he said. "We should be warriors like Eilian."
"Like my ada!" Annael agreed enthusiastically.
Turgon smiled. "I am getting a warrior's sword for my begetting day." Annael's nana shut her eyes for a moment.
"Remember to sneak up on me," she cautioned them as they started back toward the sitting room. Then she called, "Wait a moment, Legolas. Your shoe is untied." She crouched before him and tugged at the laces on his left shoe. She looked up at him and smiled. "There you are, sweetling."
He smiled slowly back at her. He liked Annael's nana and in truth did not mind Ada's new rule that he could only play with Turgon at Annael's cottage or in the palace. He did not even mind that freezing rain had driven them inside today. The inside of Annael's cottage was always warm and fragrant. He ran after his friends.
"This is a tent now, not a cave," he told Turgon and Annael when he crept back under the blanket. "My ada is a warrior, and he has a tent sometimes."
"Your ada is king," Turgon frowned.
"Yes, but he is a warrior too," Legolas insisted. "Everyone in my family is a warrior, and I will be one too. Orcs will run away from me." He was very pleased by this idea.
"Is my nana an Orc now?" Annael asked doubtfully.
Turgon looked at him pityingly. "We are playing," he repeated.
"We should protect Annael's nana from the Orcs," Legolas said seriously. "That is what warriors do."
Turgon sighed. "Very well," he said. "We will sneak into hiding places and guard her." They tiptoed out of the tent and took up positions in the hall. Legolas hid under a table.
Annael's nana came to the kitchen doorway. "If there are any mighty warriors hiding here, they should come into the kitchen for bread and jam now," she called. Legolas suddenly found that he wanted some of the good- smelling bread, and he jumped out from his hiding place so quickly that he hit his head on the sharp edge of the table. He put his hand to his head and tried not to cry.
"Did you hurt yourself, elfling?" Annael's nana asked sympathetically. She bent and kissed the place he had bumped. "Is that better?" she asked. He tested the spot judiciously and then nodded. Annael's nana had very powerful kisses. "Good," she said and led them to the table.
They scrambled into their places. Their plates each held a thick slice of bread, and a knife and glass of milk stood at each place. Annael's nana put a jar of strawberry jam in the middle of the table. She always remembered that they liked to put the jam on the bread themselves.
Turgon had the jam first and then passed it to Legolas. Legolas felt a little sorry for Annael, who had to go last because it was his cottage and that was only polite. He scooped a knifeful of the translucent red stuff onto his bread and spread it carefully so that it reached to the edges on all sides. He took another knifeful and then passed the jar to the patiently waiting Annael while he built up the thick layer of jam on his own bread. Sometimes, he only played with the jam and did not eat the bread, but today, he put the knife down, raised the bread, and took a large, sweet bite. As he sat contentedly chewing, some of the jam slid off his bread and onto his tunic. He scraped it carefully onto his finger and then sucked it off. He looked up to find Annael's nana watching him with a smile on her face. He did not know why she was smiling, but he smiled back at her.
"My lord," the Elf argued, "our Adar intended that jewel to belong to me. He told me so when he decided to sail west."
"You have no proof of that," said his brother in exasperation.
Thranduil slapped his hand down on the arm of his chair. "Enough!" he said. "I have heard enough. So far as I can see, neither one of you has any proof of what your adar's intentions were. The only thing that you have demonstrated with any certainty is that this argument is unseemly. I would admonish you to recall that you are of one family and that this trinket is trivial compared to that, but I do not think you would listen to me." The two Elves standing before him in the Great Hall both held their tongues, but they also both continued to look obstinate.
"I therefore declare that you shall share ownership of your adar's jewel," Thranduil went on. "You will trade possession of it for a month at a time. Neither of you may dispose of the jewel without the consent of the other."
The quarreling brothers both looked dismayed at his ruling, but they apparently knew better than to continue to argue. They bowed and left the hall, not looking at one another and keeping as much distance between them as they could.
"That is the last piece of business, my lord," his advisor told him, much to Thranduil's relief. He rose and started toward his own chamber, intending to rest before evening meal. Legolas was awakening him less often in the night, but he still was not sleeping well. He kept rolling over and finding empty space.
As he left the hall, he met Nimloth, wrapped in her cloak and just leaving the palace. "Good afternoon, my lord," she greeted him. "I was just going to fetch Legolas from Annael's."
"I will do it," Thranduil volunteered. Perhaps some outdoor exercise would be as useful as resting in dispelling his fatigue, he thought. Moreover, Eilian had been after him to spend more time with Legolas. He thought that Eilian was inclined to be too forgiving of Legolas's misbehavior, probably because he wanted his own misdeeds to be forgiven too. The two of them had quarreled over the subject of Legolas often enough now that Thranduil had forbidden Eilian's raising the subject again. But Thranduil had to agree that he had been spending less time than he would have liked with his youngest son, as the pressure of the Realm's needs continued to grow.
"Are you sure, my lord?" Nimloth asked.
"Yes," he answered. "Why do you not go home? I can manage Legolas for the rest of today." Gratefully, she started toward her own cottage while Thranduil fetched his cloak and started toward Annael's. He would take Legolas to his office, he thought, and write a letter to Ithilden while the child worked on the lesson he had refused to finish with his tutor that morning.
He strode through the chilly autumn afternoon, finding that he enjoyed the smell of the woods and river from which he had been shut away all day. The rain had stopped and, though the path was a bit muddy, the walk was still a pleasant one. It would be a clear, starry night, he thought. He felt a familiar stab of grief that Lorellin would not be there to share it with him.
The door of Annael's cottage was opened by his mother, who was wiping her hands on her apron. She had undoubtedly been expecting Nimloth and was surprised to find her king on her doorstep. "My lord," she gasped and then recovered herself. "Come in. Legolas is in the kitchen." She led him down the little hall to the kitchen doorway.
He stood in the doorway for a moment taking in the sight of his son holding a half eaten piece of jam-laden bread. Jam was also smeared on his face and appeared to be running down his chin. He was laughing at Annael and Turgon, who both had glasses of milk raised to their mouths and were blowing bubbles in them.
"Stop that, you two," Annael's mother reproved them lightly. "And you should stand up because the king is here."
Legolas looked up and saw him. "Ada!" he cried, jumping to his feet and running to throw his arms around Thranduil.
"Legolas, wait until I wipe your hands and face," Annael's mother said in dismay.
Thranduil laughed. "Too late," he said, examining the jam stains on the fine wool of his cloak. She made the effort anyway, using a wet cloth to wash the jam from his son.
"Are you walking me home, Ada?" Legolas asked, his delight at the idea obvious.
"Yes, I am, but perhaps you want to finish your bread first," Thranduil suggested. From the looks of him, Legolas was enjoying the jam, and the last thing Thranduil wanted was to stop him from eating.
"I have had enough," Legolas declared, to his father's disappointment.
"It is his third slice, my lord," Annael's mother said gently, observing the look on the king's face. Thranduil sent her a quick, grateful glance.
"Where is your cloak?" he asked Legolas, who ran to get it from Annael's room. Thranduil fastened it under the elfling's chin and then bent to whisper in his ear. "What do you say?"
Legolas turned to Annael's mother. "Thank you," he said. "I had a lovely time." Thranduil suppressed a surprised snort. It was the phrase Lorellin had always used when they had been guests at formal parties. "Goodbye," Legolas called to his friends. "I will see you tomorrow." And he skipped happily toward the door.
Annael's mother walked toward the door with them. "I am sorry about the jam on your cloak, my lord," she apologized.
He turned toward her. "There is no need to apologize," he told her. "Rather, I thank you for your care of my son." He smiled at her warmly, and she responded in kind and then closed the door behind them.
Legolas took his hand as they started up the path. "We played Orcs again," he said. Thranduil braced himself for some new outrage. "But then we decided to be warriors like Eilian," Legolas went on. Thranduil contemplated the implications of that and put them aside for the moment, grateful that at least Legolas had rejected his Orc role. He hoped that was a permanent state of affairs.
"Ada," Legolas asked excitedly, "can we go and see if there is ice on the pond? It is on the way home."
Thranduil raised one eyebrow. The pond was on the way home only if one took an extremely long way around. "The ice will certainly not be thick enough yet for anyone to walk on," he told his son, worried about misadventures on the ice.
"But please can we go and look?" Legolas begged.
Thranduil hesitated. By rights, he should take Legolas home to complete his unfinished lessons. But he suddenly remembered an occasion on which Lorellin had dragged him away from work to go with her and Legolas to see if the forget-me-nots had bloomed yet. How long had it been since he had done something playful? he wondered.
"Very well," he said. "But if we do, do you promise to finish your lessons as soon as we get home?"
"I promise," Legolas said, a little too promptly for his father's liking. Thranduil resisted the tug on his hand by which Legolas was trying to draw him down the path that would take them toward the pond.
"A promise is a serious thing, Legolas," he warned. "Be sure you mean what you say before you give one."
Legolas stopped pulling on his hand for a moment and appeared to be considering. "I promise I will do the lessons," he said more soberly.
"Good," said Thranduil, with an approving smile. "Let us go and inspect the pond."
They walked among pale birches whose yellow leaves had already fallen, crossed the path that led to Thranduil's stables, and finally came to the pond. A light skin of ice had begun to form in the last two days, but it had not covered the whole pond and was, as yet, only a hint of the thick covering that would form as winter closed in. Legolas immediately began picking up sticks of various sizes and tossing them out onto the ice to see if it would hold them. Thranduil stood watching his small son play, rejoicing in the pleasure the child was taking in the moment and glad that he had agreed to make the side trip to the pond.
The sound of approaching horses drew his eyes to the path. A group of warriors came into sight, and to his surprise, he recognized Ithilden at their head. Upon seeing his father, Ithilden raised his hand to halt his warriors and flashed a grin at Thranduil. Then he turned and said something to the aide next to him. Thranduil realized that one of the warriors was Maltanaur and that, although he rode on his own, he was obviously hurt, for he was hunched over and Elves kept close to him on either side as if to be sure that he did not tumble from his horse. He started to walk rapidly toward the group, just as the other warriors rode off toward the infirmary and Ithilden began walking his horse toward him.
"Ithilden!" shouted Legolas, who had suddenly become aware of the warriors. He ran toward his older brother with his arms raised. "Lift me up," he commanded. He was usually allowed to ride in front of his father and brothers if he came upon them riding toward home. Ithilden reached a hand down and Thranduil bent to boost Legolas onto the horse in front of his brother.
"Wait!" said Legolas suddenly. "I am walking home with Ada." He frowned, obviously torn.
Ithilden laughed. "Are you? We cannot disrupt that then." He slid from the horse and into his father's embrace.
"I am very glad to see you, iôn-nín," Thranduil said, keeping his arms around Ithilden for a second longer than usual. He had not needed the sight of the wounded Maltanaur to remind him that Ithilden had been in a very dangerous place.
"And I you, Adar," his oldest son told him. Perhaps Ithilden too had been feeling the danger, Thranduil thought, for he looked unusually grateful for Thranduil's greeting
Then his oldest son scooped his little brother up and set him on the horse's back. "You ride my horse, little one, and Ada and I will both walk with you." Legolas's face lit up and he dug his hands into the horse's mane. Ithilden whispered in the animal's ear and the horse snorted gently and began to walk docilely along with Thranduil on one side and Ithilden on the other, keeping a hand on his neck.
"How is Maltanaur?" Thranduil asked, trying to keep his question vague enough that Legolas would not be disturbed.
"Not too bad, I think," Ithilden answered. "He has a deep cut. He needs a healer and some time to rest, but then he should be fine." Legolas was ignoring them and gabbling happily to Ithilden's horse who was twisting his ears in response.
"How long do you plan to be home?" Thranduil asked.
Ithilden hesitated. "I am not sure," he said. "I need to talk to you about recruiting and arming more warriors." Thranduil nodded. Ithilden's dispatches had already made it clear that they needed to create some plan to expand the Realm's forces. They had reached the stables, and Thranduil lifted a reluctant Legolas down from the horse which was now being fussed over by one of the stablemasters.
"Tell Ada he needs to get you a pony," Ithilden murmured in the child's ear just loudly enough for Thranduil to hear, and Legolas turned to his father excitedly.
"I do need a pony, Ada," he cried. "A warrior should have a horse."
"We will talk about it," Thranduil told him, shooting a reproving look at Ithilden, who laughed and looked completely unrepentant. They started toward the palace, with Legolas running ahead.
"He is big enough for a pony, you know," Ithilden said mildly.
"Yes, I believe you are right," Thranduil admitted. "I have been so busy that I have not had time to notice."
"I have news, too, Adar," Ithilden said in a more serious tone. "I have drawn the Southern Patrol back north of the Dwarf Road. I have concluded that you were right: the road is a lost cause."
"I think that is a wise decision," Thranduil nodded, watching Legolas drop a stick off the upstream side of the bridge leading to the palace and then run to the downstream side to see it emerge.
"Also," Ithilden said, stopping to be sure they were still out of Legolas's hearing, "I received word two days ago of Orcs attacking and burning a homestead about twenty leagues southwest of here." His eyes on Thranduil's face were anxious. "There were no survivors."
"Who lived there?" Thranduil asked, wondering if his son's concern meant that the slain Elves were dear to him personally rather than in the way that all of his people were dear.
"An Elf named Voniel and his family."
Thranduil searched his memory and recalled an independent minded forester who had been one of the earliest to move far from the palace after Sauron had been driven from Dol Guldur. He had not even wanted to live with a group of others in a settlement as Celuwen's family did. "I am sorry," Thranduil sighed. "I am afraid that the homesteaders are going to have to move closer to the palace, however. It is unreasonable of them to think that we can possibly protect them all with things as they are."
Ithilden blinked at him. "You think it cannot be done," he said, as if he were confirming something.
Thranduil was puzzled. "I think not," he agreed. "No one could do more than you and your warriors are doing, and even you cannot stop the spread of danger."
Ithilden drew a deep breath.
"Ada! Ithilden! Look at me!" called Legolas.
They turned to see him crouching on the bridge's handrail. When they looked at him, he let go of the handrail, stood up, and ran along the rail. One of the guards from the palace doors had moved within reach of him, but he was sure-footed enough that there seemed no danger of his plunging into the river. He grinned at them in triumph.
"Time to get down now," Thranduil called and strode toward him. He knew that Legolas was as sure-footed as all Wood-Elves were, but he still flinched at seeing him in any sort of danger. He would have to watch himself, he thought. It would be very easy to become over protective of this last child.
The three of them walked together into the palace and entered the family's private quarters where they met Eilian just coming from his chamber. "Ithilden," he said in surprise. He hesitated for a second, and Thranduil could see the cautious look on Ithilden's face. Thranduil had forgotten that these two had evidently parted on bad terms. Then Eilian walked toward them and clasped his brother's arm. "It is good to see you," he said and drew him close.
Ithilden visibly relaxed. "You look well. I hear good things about your performance in the Home Guard."
Eilian smiled at him blandly, and Thranduil groaned inwardly. So Eilian was still harboring hopes of escape from the Home Guard. Ithilden could deal with him, Thranduil thought, but a family quarrel was probably on the horizon.
Thranduil's gaze settled on Legolas, who was tugging at the closure on his cloak. Thranduil moved to help him unfasten it and the handed it and his own jam-smeared cloak to a servant who cautiously inspected the stains. Thranduil considered the child for a moment. He wanted to get as much information as he could from Ithilden before evening meal, but the conversation was one for which he did not want Legolas to be present.
"Legolas," he said, "you go to the library with Eilian and finish your lessons. Ithilden and I need to talk a little."
Legolas opened his mouth to protest and shut it again. Thranduil smiled to himself. He could almost see his youngest son recalling his promise. Eilian made a face and took Legolas's hand. "Come along, brat," he said. "We elflings will go do lessons while the grown ups talk." Thranduil threw him a sharp look but he appeared to be joking.
"Do warriors have to add numbers?" Legolas could be heard asking plaintively, as the two of them disappeared into the library. Thranduil did not hear Eilian's answer. He hoped it was yes.
"Go and get rid of your weapons and cloak," he told Ithilden, "and then come to my office. We have time to talk."
In his office, Thranduil set wine to warm near the fire so they would be able to ward off the late afternoon chill. He turned when his son entered the room. He had something unpleasant to say before the two of them sat and discussed what Ithilden had seen in the last few weeks.
"Before you begin your report," Thranduil said sternly, "there is one thing I wish to say. You had no right to countermand my orders that Maltanaur should stay with Eilian. He should have come home when Eilian did."
There was a moment's silence. "I judged that he would be useful where he was, and as it happens, he saved my life," Ithilden answered evenly.
Thranduil regarded him with dismay and then moved forward to embrace him. "Then I am most grateful to him, iôn-nín," he said, knowing that his voice had suddenly gotten husky, "for I could not have born to lose you."
To his surprise, his tall, serious son actually rested his head on Thranduil's shoulder for a moment. "Adar," he said, "you cannot imagine how happy I am to be home." He drew a deep breath and then suddenly smiled at his father. "As it happens, however, I have decided that you are right about Maltanaur, and I intend to assign him to serve next to Eilian from now on." He picked up the wine, poured some for both Thranduil and himself, and, at his father's invitation, sat down with his wine in his hand and a very satisfied look on his face.
Eilian took Celuwen's hand as the door to her uncle's cottage closed behind them. They began to walk toward the palace. It was growing too cold to spend much time out of doors at night, and he wanted more privacy than the shadows of the trees provided anyway. Her uncle's cottage was always crowded, but he suspected that by now, his family's sitting room would be empty. Thranduil had been getting ready to put Legolas to bed when Eilian had left to get Celuwen, and he and Ithilden would probably talk in his father's sitting room afterwards so that he would hear Legolas if he awoke with a nightmare. Eilian had briefly considered taking her to his own chamber, but he had no separate sitting room and his father would be livid if he thought that Eilian had compromised Celuwen's honor in any way.
They passed a group of Elves going in the other direction. "Hello, Eilian," called a feminine voice.
He waved in the general direction of the voice but said nothing. A small smile appeared on Celuwen's face. "Is that someone I should know about?" she asked.
He thought for a moment and then grinned. "No," he said blithely. She laughed.
"Eilian," she said, her voice growing more serious, "we have heard a rumor that I want to ask you about."
"Yes?" he was surprised.
"They say that warriors who returned with Ithilden today are talking of a homestead being burned. Is that true?" She was clearly worried.
"I do not know," he answered slowly. "Ithilden would probably not tell me directly about something like that. He would tell Deler, and Deler would tell us warriors tomorrow morning when the day's patrols were being assembled."
Her brow was furrowed. "They say it was Voniel's home," she said. "I know those Elves. That homestead is not far from the settlement, and they sometimes come to trade. And my adar is still there, you know."
Eilian's hand tightened its grip on hers. "That settlement is a dangerous place," he told her emphatically.
She raised her eyebrows at him. "All of the Woodland Realm is dangerous," she said simply. "But we cannot let that drive us from the woods."
He bit his tongue. He did not want to argue with her about this, and, so far as he knew, she had no plans to return to the settlement anyway. He wished he knew what her plans were though. For that matter, he wished he knew what his plans were. With Ithilden home, he could begin maneuvering for a return to the Southern Patrol, which he knew he wanted. But he also wanted Celuwen in every possible way and had begun to fantasize that they might be able to be bonded even if he did return south. Visits home would be unimaginably sweet with her waiting there for him. He drew her arm through his and kept his eyes on the narrow path they trod.
Thank you to all reviewers, whether at ff.net, storiesofarda.com, or my email. I love hearing your reactions to the chapters.
Wild Iris: Maltanaur's sacrifice did touch Ithilden, but it does not seem to have made him desire the brave warrior's permanent company!
Karen: Ithilden is having a hard time seeing Eilian straight. Even Thranduil has that problem, I think, although in some ways, Eilian's brother and father know him better than anyone else does.
Kay: Thranduil tries to teach Legolas that promises are serious. For Celuwen's sake, I hope he taught Eilian that too.
TreeHugger: Legolas is trying to wise up in his own kid-specific way, which is an enormous amount of fun to write about. I can see why you like to write about the Tricksy Trio.
TigerLily: I picture Ithilden as self-confident to the point of arrogance. I think cockiness is probably a common Elven vice.
Karri: Eilian is still very young by Elven standards. I think he has a way to go before he convinces his father and older brother than he is a fully trustworthy adult.
Naneth: I missed Legolas and Thranduil in the last chapter too, so in this one, there's lots of them. It's a delicate business trying to make the characters of Eilian and Ithilden grow to be what appears in my other stories set later in Legolas's life.
Bryn: You *think* Eilian has kept his shirt intact but he is being pretty discreet. ;-) One of the most enjoyable things to try to write is a scene where the characters are oblivious but the readers understand. I love it when it comes off.
JustMe: Ithilden is such a big brother! What a pain it is for Eilian that he's also the commanding officer. Adar and the brat are making some progress too, I think.
Lamiel: I'm actually a little self-conscious about all OC chapters and am happy when I get to one like this one. But it's also true that I love my OCs. I'm just not sure how a chapter about them would stand up to the arguments about what constitutes fan fiction.
Feanen: Thank you. I hope you like this chapter too.
PokethePenguin: Legolas is gradually learning to enjoy life again, but he's not completely out of the woods yet. He's an elf and they feel deeply.
Alice: I think Celuwen is very smart and strong too. She could probably manage Eilian quite nicely if events would ever allow them some peaceful time together.
Veryawen: I think you're perceptive to say that Eilian seems lonely. He keeps busy so he doesn't always notice. And he's an affectionate guy, witness his treatment of Legolas, so it's sad.
Dot: Ithilden is, not surprisingly, coming to his sensible self. Thank goodness. An amok Ithilden is a scary thing. He is not usually one to let his feelings run away with him. Now Eilian can do that, which is both what makes him loving to the brat and a scary person to be courting Celuwen.
Caz-baz: Brothers are probably genetically programmed to kill sisters! And I think Celuwen is very good for Eilian.
Erunyauve: I think the elves of Greenwood have had a terrible time watching the shadow rise and fall and rise again. It must be dreadful to think you've defeated evil, only to have it sweeping over you again and feel helpless to stop it.
Fadesintothewest: Romance is probably not going to be entirely smooth, but, the Valar willing, life is long for an elf.
Tapetum Lucidum: "Please don't kill him." Why do you people suspect me? I haven't killed anyone (except bad guys) since Turgon!
Orangeblossom Took: Legolas seriously needs to have someone from his family spend large amounts of time with him. In the meantime, Annael's nana is nice to be around!
JastaElf: I loved writing the stuff about Ithilden coming quietly to pieces. He's so controlled that it was tough, but I was pleased by how it turned out.
Gwyn: You're scaring me, talking about Legolas having to harden in order to heal. I think his family is about ready to give him some attention, now that some of them have started to heal a little themselves.
Bluebonnet: I think it must have been a shock for Ithilden to admit that so much is out of his control. And not to worry, Eilian is never going to be completely without that reckless streak.
Nilmandra: I'm working on Legolas and Thranduil, but it's not easy! Actually, I'm finding it harder to write about healing than about the turmoil they've been in.
Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.
8. Forbidden Excursions
Ithilden glanced up from the dispatches he was reading to see Eilian entering the family's dining room. "Good morning," Eilian greeted him, as he seated himself. "I see your messengers have already been here."
"Some of these came last night while I was busy with Adar," Ithilden answered, putting the papers aside. He recalled Thranduil's guess as to where Eilian had disappeared to on the previous evening and smiled inquiringly at his brother. "Adar says that Celuwen is back."
Eilian grinned. "She is," he said, with every appearance of being delighted by that fact.
Ithilden was glad. He liked Celuwen. He thought she was sensible and would probably be good for Eilian, and he took satisfaction from the fact that Eilian was now assigned to a post where a lasting relationship was possible. At least that worked out well, he thought.
Eilian was turning to him now, looking more serious. "She asked me last night about a rumor she had heard of a homestead being destroyed by Orcs. Is that true?"
Ithilden hesitated. He did not ordinarily take Eilian into his confidence about information he had as troop commander, preferring to treat his brother like any other warrior. But Eilian was likely to hear the facts from his captain this morning anyway. "Yes, it is," he answered briefly, turning his attention to his meal to signal that he did not wish to discuss the matter further.
"She is worried," Eilian went on, undeterred by Ithilden's terseness, "because the homestead is in the same area as the settlement where she has been living and where her adar still is. Is the area secure?"
Ithilden felt a flash of annoyance. "No, Eilian, the area is not secure," he snapped and then regretted it when he saw the startled look on his brother's face.
"I only asked," Eilian said defensively. "She is worried."
"I beg your pardon," Ithilden said. "I should not have been so sharp. I suppose I am touchy because I wish I had more information than I do. I am going to be sending scouts into the area soon, and I will know more then."
Eilian blinked. "Then you should send me," he said, as if he were stating an obvious conclusion. "I am probably the best scout you have."
"Do not presume to tell me what to do about this, Eilian," Ithilden retorted, the edge back in his voice.
Eilian was opening his mouth with the plain intent of arguing when Legolas came trotting into the room. "Good morning," he cried happily and scrambled into his chair. "Where is Ada?" he asked. He liked having them all together.
"His horse hurt its foot and Ada went to look," Ithilden told him. "He will be here soon." Next to him, Eilian was taking angry stabs at the butter. Ithilden was exasperated by the seemingly endless thrill that Eilian got from taking risks. He could really be quite childish at times. Legolas eyed them suspiciously.
"How is Celuwen otherwise?" Ithilden hastened to ask, trying to make it clear that he and Eilian were not quarreling.
Eilian made a visible effort. "She is well. She seems to have flourished in the woods."
"She made Eilian dance with her," Legolas scowled from across the table. "And she kissed him." Ithilden suppressed a snort of laughter.
"How do you know that?" Eilian asked him, looking suddenly amused.
"Turgon saw her do it," Legolas responded. "And he says that you - "
"Do you want me to open your egg for you?" Eilian interrupted him hastily.
"Yes, please," Legolas answered. He watched as Eilian reached across the table and neatly sliced the top off his egg. "I did not believe him," he assured his brother and began twirling a piece of toasted bread in the soft egg yolk. This time, Ithilden could not stop himself from laughing out loud, earning disapproving glares from both of his brothers.
The door opened and Thranduil entered, drawing them all to their feet. "Good morning, Legolas," he said, hugging him. He nodded to his older sons, and they all sat down.
"How is the stallion?" Ithilden asked.
"He will be well in a day or two," Thranduil told him. He began tapping on his eggshell. "I know you wanted to meet with some of your captains this morning, Ithilden," he went on, "but the delegation from the settlement has asked to meet with both you and me as soon as possible. Can you put your captains off?"
"If you wish," Ithilden answered.
"Will you think about what I said about scouting?" Eilian asked.
"I will make my own decisions about this," Ithilden said emphatically. Legolas had stopped playing with the bread and was now watching them again.
"Whatever you are talking about will wait until later," Thranduil warned them, glancing at his youngest. "Legolas, eat some of that egg."
Legolas picked up the piece of toast, poked again at the egg yolk, and then ate a tiny bite of the yolk-covered toast. Ithilden watching in queasy fascination as egg yolk dripped slowly from the toast to the child's tunic.
Legolas chewed meditatively and then turned to his father. "Ada," he said, "can I have a sword?"
Thranduil smiled. "Not yet, little one."
Legolas frowned and poked at his egg. "A warrior should have a sword."
"When you are a warrior, you will have one," his father told him.
"Turgon is getting a sword," Legolas said stubbornly. "I should have one too."
To Ithilden, it was obvious that his father's patience was wearing thin. "If Turgon gets a sword, you may not be anywhere near it or him when he has it," Thranduil declared emphatically. "Do you understand?"
Legolas scowled at his plate. "Yes," he muttered.
Ithilden could sense Eilian shifting unhappily next to him. "Why do you want a sword, Legolas?" Eilian asked.
Thranduil let out an exasperated breath. "It does not matter why he wants it, Eilian. He is too young to have one and giving him one would be dangerous."
Legolas was looking back and forth between them, wide-eyed.
There was a moment's silence and then Eilian looked at Legolas and said, "Adar is right, of course, brat. You need to get bigger and then you can have a sword." He stood up. "By your leave, Adar," he said through tight jaws, "I must be going." And at a signal from Thranduil, he left the room.
What was that all about? Ithilden wondered.
Legolas walked slowly down the hallway toward the library, trailing one finger along the wall. Ada had sent him off to his lessons by himself this morning because he and Ithilden needed to talk with some other Elves. Legolas could tell that Ada and Ithilden felt serious today. He thought they were probably going to talk about Orcs.
He slid his finger around the doorjamb of the family's sitting room, along the door, and back out onto the wall again, never losing contact. He wished he had a sword. With a sword, he could scare Orcs away. He came to the door of Ada's study and paused, thinking hard. Then he looked up and down the hallway to make sure that no one was watching him, reached to turn the knob, and slipped into the room. He crossed to Ada's desk and then climbed onto the chair.
There on the desk, just where he had expected it to be, was the jeweled dagger that Ada used to open sealed messages. Legolas paused for a moment to admire it. There were shiny green stones in the hilt and the blade gleamed wickedly. It was true that he was too little to use a big sword like Eilian's very easily, he thought, but this dagger was just the right size for him. He picked it up carefully and then climbed down from the chair.
Once safely on the floor, he examined his prize with satisfaction. Surely Orcs would run away from anyone who had such a weapon, he thought. He grasped the hilt in his right hand and waved the dagger menacingly. Then he examined it closely again. He wondered if the blade was sharp and touched it with his finger to test it the way he had seen his brothers do.
Blood welled out of the cut, and a drop fell to the floor. In horror, he stared at it, and as if in response, his finger began to hurt. He dropped the dagger and it spun around on the floor and then went under Ada's desk. He clutched his bleeding finger, sank to the floor, and started to cry.
"What is the matter, Legolas?" asked an alarmed voice, and he looked up to see Ithilden. He pulled his hurt hand closer into his chest and hunched his shoulders. Ithilden was someone who made you feel safe, but he sometimes got angry like Ada, and Legolas did not like to be bad in front of him.
Ithilden crouched down before him. "Let me see," he commanded, taking Legolas's hand in his. He opened the hand gently and found the cut. "It does not look very deep," he said. "Does it hurt?" His voice was sympathetic.
Legolas nodded. His finger did hurt. "Do I have to go to the healer's?" he asked tearfully.
Ithilden smiled reassuringly. "I do not think so. Come with me." Taking Legolas's uninjured hand, he led him down the hall to his own chamber and then into the bathing chamber beyond, where a boiler hissed softly in the corner. He put warm water in the basin and then grasped Legolas's wrist and put his hand in the water.
The water stung. Legolas tried to pull his hand back but Ithilden held it firmly. "Only for a minute," he said soothingly. "We have to be sure it is clean." He reached for a towel and blotted the hand dry. "We will put a bandage on it," he said. "Would you like that?" Legolas nodded. A bandage would make his finger feel better.
Ithilden led him back into the sleeping chamber and lifted him up to sit on the bed. Then he turned to search in a pack that lay on a chair. Legolas looked around curiously. He liked being in his brothers' rooms, but he was not allowed in them unless they were present, and they were not home much. Ithilden's room was less interesting than Eilian's because he usually put everything away. Not today though. Today the things he had brought home with him yesterday were still in plain sight. His cloak lay over the back of one chair, and the pack he was searching was the one that had been over his horse's back when Legolas rode it yesterday.
Most fascinating of all was what lay on top of the chest along one wall. There were Ithilden's unstrung bow and his sword. Legolas stared at them. The sword was in a brown leather scabbard with gold tracings along its length and what Legolas recognized as magic runes woven around it.
Ithilden was now back in front of him, opening a small pouch and taking out some bandaging. He took his own knife from its sheath on his belt and cut a small strip. "How did you hurt yourself?" he asked, as he bound the strip around the cut. He looked into Legolas's face and waited for an answer.
Legolas wanted to lie, but he flinched away from the ugliness, and told the truth quietly instead. "I cut it on Ada's dagger," he murmured.
Ithilden frowned. His ears were very sharp. "The dagger on Ada's desk? Were you playing with it? You know better than that, Legolas. A dagger is dangerous."
Legolas looked at him wonderingly. Sometimes he did not understand grown ups. Of course a dagger was dangerous. He knew that. That was why he wanted one.
"Please do not tell Ada," he begged. "He will be angry with me."
Ithilden was still frowning as he tied off the bandage. "As well he should be. That was a foolish thing to do." Legolas lowered his gaze away from his brother's serious grey eyes. There was a moment's silence and then Ithilden sighed. "If you promise me you will not touch the dagger again," he said, "I will not tell Ada."
"I promise," Legolas told him reluctantly. He really needed a weapon.
Ithilden nodded. "Very well. Come along then. I will walk you to your lessons." He lifted Legolas down from the bed and led him toward the library where Galeril was undoubtedly waiting for him.
Eilian rode ahead impatiently. Gelmir was really impossibly slow sometimes.
"What is wrong with you today?" his friend asked in exasperation when he finally caught up. "Did you fail to brush all the burrs out of your horse's back?"
Eilian bit his tongue to keep from answering too sharply. "I am sorry," he said with an effort. "I argued with both Ithilden and my adar this morning. I swear that neither one of them ever listens to me. I sometimes think that they both believe any idea I raise is a bad one simply because I raise it." He stared moodily off into the trees.
He and Gelmir were riding through the same distant region in which they had previously found the Orcs while on night patrol. They were unlikely to encounter such trouble during the day, but Eilian kept looking off in the direction he knew Celuwen's settlement lay. For some reason, he was edgy. He suspected he was only feeling the aftereffects of his morning's quarrels, but he was still uneasy.
"Did you ask Ithilden about going back south?" Gelmir inquired.
Eilian rolled his eyes. "I have not even gone near that topic yet. I merely suggested he use me to scout off further in this direction, and he acted as if I were trying to take over his command."
Gelmir shrugged. "It is his loss, then," he said. "You are a good scout. A very bad judge of horseflesh but a good scout."
Eilian turned to him and smiled reluctantly. "That horse should have won," he said.
Gelmir nodded. "But it did not," he said simply. Suddenly they both laughed and were on easy terms again.
Eilian looked off to the southwest again. Was it his imagination, or was there really something menacing there? "Do you sense danger in that direction?" he asked.
Gelmir paused for a moment and then shook his head. "No. Do you?"
"I think so." He murmured to his horse, who pranced lightly in a circle while Eilian thought. "Let us ride a little way further," he said.
Gelmir hesitated. "We are at the edge of the Home Guard territory now. If we go further, we will be in the Border Guard's area."
Eilian grimaced. He knew what Gelmir meant. Their captain, Deler, was conservative and a believer in the chain of command. If they ventured into another captain's area, he would not be happy. "I feel something there," he said stubbornly. "We cannot just ignore it."
Gelmir sighed. "Have I ever told you that my naneth thinks you are a bad influence on me?" he asked.
Eilian grinned at him. "Many times. And so has she. Come on." He rode off toward the southwest, with Gelmir trailing behind him.
They spent the better part of two hours combing the woods and at the end had found nothing. But Eilian was even more uneasy than he had been before. "Something is there," he repeated.
"We will tell Deler to tell the Border Guard to check," Gelmir consoled him. "I do not think we need to mention this little side trip though."
"Probably not," Eilian agreed readily.
"I am finished," Legolas said. Galeril looked up from the book he had been reading while Legolas worked the addition problems.
"Let us see how you did," he said and moved next to Legolas so he could look at the paper on which the child had been working. He checked the answers rapidly and was pleased to find that they were for the most part correct. The fives were all written backwards, of course, but as Galeril recalled, Eilian had done that too at this age and then had simply walked in one day and written them correctly. "Try this one again," he encouraged Legolas, pointing to the one incorrect answer.
Legolas bent over the problem, scrawled a new answer, and looked up hopefully.
"Good," the tutor told him and then studied him thoughtfully. He was not surprised that Legolas could do the problems correctly, but he had to admit that he was a little surprised that he had done them so willingly. The elfling had been profoundly uninterested in his lessons for the last few months. "Have you decided that you like numbers after all?" he asked.
"I do not like them," Legolas answered promptly, "but Eilian says that warriors have to add the number of Orc toes and ears so they know how many arrows to take into battle with them."
Galeril choked back a laugh. He had vivid memories of teaching Eilian. They were not always pleasant memories but they were all lively. "Then you will be an effective warrior," he told his pupil, "for you have added these numbers very well." He smiled fondly at the child. "We are done a few minutes early, but I think you can go now. You have earned the right by working so hard."
Legolas's face brightened. He jumped down from the chair and ran toward the doorway. "See you tomorrow," he called and was gone.
Legolas trotted happily down the hall toward his own chamber. Nimloth would make sure his hands were clean and then he would go and have midday meal with Ada and perhaps Ithilden too. Eilian was on patrol so he would not be there. Ada would be pleased that he had finished his lessons today.
Suddenly, he slowed. The door to Ithilden's chamber was ajar. Perhaps his brother was here and would walk with him. He peeked around the door. "Ithilden?" he called, but his brother did not answer. Legolas edged into the room and then looked through the open door to the bathing chamber. Ithilden was not there. He turned to go, but as he did, his eye was caught by the sword that still rested on top of the chest.
Slowly he walked toward where the polished leather scabbard lay. He stretched one finger forward and ran it along the runes. He could almost feel their magic running up his arm. With a sword like this, a warrior would be very strong even if he were little, Legolas thought. His hand closed on the shiny silver hilt, and he gave an experimental tug but the sword stayed firmly tucked in its scabbard. He dragged the sheathed sword off the chest. It was so long that its sharp end rested on the floor when Legolas held the hilt. He put one foot on the scabbard to hold it down and used both hands to pull on the sword. With a whispery whoosh, the weapon slid free.
He stared at it. The sword too was covered with engravings. Legolas thought he had never seen anything so beautiful. He reached one hand toward the blade and then remembered Ada's dagger and swiftly snatched his hand back. He tried to lift the sword so that he could threaten an imaginary enemy, but even when he used both hands, it was too long and heavy for him to wield. He swung it a little, with its tip just inches from the ground. Then, with two hands on the hilt, he began to spin around, and to his delight, the sword lifted.
"Legolas!" cried someone, startling him. His hands opened and the sword went flying across the room, nicking the loose trouser leg of a white-faced Ithilden, and then clattering to the floor behind him.
They both froze for a second and then, with an incoherent cry, Ithilden strode toward him, seized him by the shoulders, and began to shake him. "You little fool! What do you think you are doing? You could have hurt me! You could have killed yourself!"
Terrified, Legolas began to cry. "I am sorry," he choked out, his teeth rattling from the shaking. "I am sorry!"
With a moan, Ithilden stopped shaking him, picked him up, and then sank into a chair, holding Legolas in a tight embrace. "What were you doing?" he repeated. "Did you not learn your lesson from Ada's dagger?"
It was hard to talk because he was still crying, but he suddenly felt desperate to make someone understand. "I need a sword," he sobbed. "If I had a sword, an Orc would never eat me. And if I had been with Nana and had a sword, the Orcs would have run away and not eaten her either."
Ithilden's grip on him tightened. "Oh, little one," he murmured into Legolas's hair. To Legolas's puzzlement, he sounded as if he might be crying too. He had never seen a grown up cry, and he struggled in his brother's close embrace to turn and see his face. Ithilden was not crying but he was blinking his eyes suspiciously hard, like Annael had done when he had accidentally closed his hand in the doorway and had not wanted to be a baby.
Ithilden drew a deep breath and brushed a loose strand of hair from Legolas's face. "Legolas, you know that I command all of Ada's warriors." Legolas nodded. When Ithilden told the warriors around the palace to do things, they all ran to do them. Legolas had seen it happen. And they did not like to have Ithilden be angry with them any more than Legolas did.
"Those warriors are there to protect you and your friends from Orcs," Ithilden went on. "There are warriors like Eilian guarding you day and night. Do you think that Eilian would let an Orc get near you?" Legolas immediately shook his head. Eilian would never let an Orc eat him.
"In four years, you will be old enough to start using a bow. The weapons masters will teach you and, if you like, Eilian and I will teach you too. And then, when you are twenty, you can start training with a blade. You have seen the dagger I gave Eilian for his twentieth begetting day, and I promise you I will give you one too. If you want to be a warrior, you will be one, and you will have all the weapons you need." Ithilden's face had become grim as he talked. Legolas stopped looking at him and leaned his head against his brother's broad chest.
"But you know that you are not a warrior yet," Ithilden now said, making it sound as if Legolas should listen hard, "and you could not have saved Nana even if you had had a sword. Believe me. I know." They sat for a moment in silence.
"But I will be a warrior some day," Legolas murmured into Ithilden's tunic.
Ithilden's grip tightened again. "Probably you will," he said, and to Legolas's ears, he sounded sad.
Thranduil drank deeply of the warmed wine and then leaned back in his chair. It had been a long day. As he had expected, the delegation from the settlement had refused to see reason. They were furious that he would not send warriors to guard their cottages and only those with children had agreed to say near Thranduil's stronghold. The rest were determined to return to the woods. He understood their desire and even admired them for it. It was their sense of self preservation he despaired of.
The door opened and Ithilden entered. He had been present for most of the discussions and Thranduil knew that he was, if anything, even more exasperated than Thranduil was with the settlers' stubbornness. He seemed to take their deliberate return to danger as a personal affront. "Have some of this excellent wine," Thranduil invited. "I suspect you need it."
Ithilden poured himself a cupful and then sat down. "Before Eilian or Legolas joins us, Adar, I have something I want to talk to you about."
Thranduil sighed. Ithilden undoubtedly wanted to talk about Eilian. His middle son had been unusually argumentative this morning.
"I am worried about Legolas," Ithilden said.
Thranduil blinked. "Legolas?"
"Yes," Ithilden answered. "I think he somehow feels guilty about Naneth's death, as if he should have done something to stop it." He was looking at Thranduil steadily, but there was something lurking in his eyes that his father could not quite put his finger on.
"That makes no sense," Thranduil protested. "He is an elfling."
"No, of course not," Ithilden agreed, "but I think he feels that way nonetheless. Also, I think he is still worried that Orcs will attack him too. I think you said he still has occasional nightmares."
"Yes, but less often," Thranduil agreed. He thought for a moment. "What makes you think he is feeling this way?"
Ithilden hesitated and then smiled slightly. "Something he said. I promised him I would not tell you about something he did, but there was also some - " he paused, "unwise behavior."
Thranduil snorted. "There has been a good deal of that lately," he said dryly.
Ithilden shrugged. "Perhaps it is all connected," he said.
Before Thranduil could answer, the door opened and Legolas came running in. "Ada!" he cried and flung himself into Thranduil's arms.
Thranduil hugged him and pressed his lips to the top of the child's head. "Good evening, my heart," he said and drew his son onto his lap. Over the top of Legolas's head, Ithilden smiled at him and then turned to look at the fire.
Thank you to all reviewers, whether you responded at ff.net, www.storiesofarda.com, or via email.
Alice: He did play pooh sticks! I thought about Jocelyn's story when I wrote that. I love both "Nudge" and "Places"
Aranel: I think Legolas is having a little "play therapy"! And I too am shocked that I ever considered killing Eilian. What was I thinking?
Bluebonnet: I think Legolas would not like the idea of any of his family members going off to fight Orcs. I have plans!
Brenda G: You know, I think Turgon would be a lot of fun to have for a friend. He would never be dull and he really is affectionate. But he makes Thranduil crazy.
Casualis: Long time, no hear from! I love writing about family dynamics. To me, it's such a central part of the human (and Elven?) experience. We don't all have great adventures, but we all have parents.
Caz-baz: I suspect that elves were less hung up on rank than men sometimes are. They respect their leaders, but they don't get in a snit about who outranks whom.
Coolio02: This story is nearing its end, I'm afraid, but for now, I hope to be updating quickly.
Dot1: Poor Celuwen indeed. But also poor Eilian. I think he needs comfort. He should come to my house. (Wait, that's where he lives already!)
Dragon-of-the-North: I know I update freakishly quickly. I get obsessed and write all the time when I'm on a streak (at meetings, during meals, in the middle of the night in my head). And Legolas seems to have a primitive understanding of why he needs math. I personally have never found any use at all for algebra. None.
Feanen: Thank you. I hope you like this chapter too.
Frodo3791: They're starting to heal, I think. Legolas is a little squirrely in this chapter but at least he's decided to be a warrior rather than an Orc. That's progress!
Gwyn: You make me feel better! Legolas is still struggling here. He's doing better though.
Judy: I was exceptionally pleased to have you say that I have adolescent Legolas down. I'm not always sure. It's very tricky actually. Little Legolas is somewhat easier and quite a lot of fun to write. My beta says I think like a four year old when I'm writing him.
Karen: Thranduil does need some playful time. I think his wife provided him with opportunities for that and Legolas can do it too, if he lets him.
Karri: They're making progress. Now if they can just keep Legolas from impaling someone or slicing an artery, they should do fine!
Legolas4me: I think Thranduil is struggling to be a good father and good king while he's in pain himself from his loss. But his love for his children is central to him.
Levade: Legolas will love going to Annael's cottage for years to come, even when he is an adolescent. Celuwen is not really wearing a red shirt at the moment. I have plans for her, actually.
Naneth: Not so warm and loving this time, but at least Legolas's family is beginning to see what's on his mind.
Nilmandra: Annael is extremely lucky. He has wonderful parents. Thranduil is a good ada too, but this is a tough time for all of them and none of them is at his best.
PokethePenguin: I hope Legolas is cute. He's a pain and not always well behaved, but he has an excuse after all.
Sekhet: You are so right. Healing is starting without their noticing. It's still like a thin skim of ice on a fall pond, but it will get stronger. :: blush :: I am honored to be grouped with Jasta.
StrangeBlaze: Ithilden is hard to capture, but I think you're right: he's serious and stubborn and he's devoted to his family and the realm. He needs to loosen up and have some fun.
Tapetum Lucidum: I'm not sure that Thranduil can be wrapped around anyone's little finger, but he does love his baby. And you can leave reviews anywhere you like. Whatever is easier for you. I'm just grateful to hear from you.
Terryb: I liked that moment with Thranduil and Ithilden too. I'm glad he eventually found Alfirin. And I'm working with Legolas here. Thranduil is the tough one!
TreeHugger: Legolas and Thranduil love one another. They just don't always understand one another! And the moment with Ithilden putting his head on Thranduil's shoulder turned out to be one that readers liked. I never can tell what people will react to.
Xsilicax: Annael's nana is wonderful. I can see why Legolas and Annael wind up hanging out at this cottage when they are older. Although his ada did deliberately make them sick when they were hung over.
Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.
Ithilden laid the map out on the desk in his makeshift office. “Show me,” he told Elorfin. The captain of the Border Guard patrol bent over the map.
“In the last two weeks, we have seen Orcs here, here, and here,” he said, pointing. “We have seen signs of their passage in this area here also.”
Ithilden and Deler both looked at the map. “They are entirely too close to the settlement,” Ithilden frowned, “not to mention the homesteads scattered in that area.”
“My patrols have sensed danger in that direction, too,” Deler added. “As you know, one of the night patrols even encountered two Orcs in Home Guard territory recently.”
Ithilden straightened up. This had gone past the point where further scouting was the reasonable course. “I think we need to take some concerted action to push them out of that area,” he said slowly. Elorfin bristled visibly. “I mean no criticism,” Ithilden hastened to assure him. “You have a great deal of territory to cover with a limited number of warriors. But I think we need to concentrate our efforts for a week or two.” He turned to Deler. “How many warriors could you loan to the Border Patrol for that length of time?”
Deler hesitated. “Perhaps as many as a dozen,” he finally said reluctantly. “But it would mean warriors riding patrol singly rather than in pairs in the safer areas.”
Ithilden ignored his reluctance. “That will help.” He looked at Elorfin again. “I will be commanding this mission,” he declared, watching the other Elf’s reaction. He intended to command the mission whether Elorfin objected or not, but it would be easier with the captain’s wholehearted cooperation.
Elorfin grimaced but nodded. Then he turned to Deler. “Send some of your more seasoned warriors, Deler.” The Home Guard was traditionally the posting to which young Elves were sent when they first became warriors, and Elorfin plainly was worried about being saddled with a dozen green recruits. “They need to have experience with Orcs. And if they are capable scouts, that would help. Our biggest problem is finding the Orcs before they do damage.”
Deler nodded. “I will let you have Eilian,” he said. “He has experience, and he is the best scout I have had in a while.”
Ithilden stiffened but said nothing. He would not undercut Eilian with his captain by bringing up his brother’s recklessness, and it was true that Eilian had the right kind of experience for mission, but Ithilden still found him a worrisome choice. It is only temporary, he consoled himself.
Ithilden rose to let them know the meeting was at an end. “Choose the warriors you intend to send and let them know today,” he told Deler. “We will leave to join Elorfin’s patrol tomorrow morning.” Both captains nodded, bowed with their hands over their hearts, and departed.
Ithilden sat again and stared at the map for a moment. If Deler assigned Eilian to this mission, he would be under Ithilden’s direct command for the first time. That should be interesting, he thought wryly and began to place marks on the map at the points where Elorfin’s patrol had seen Orcs.
Thranduil smiled at the startled look on the face of Maltanaur’s wife when she opened the cottage door to his knock. “Hello, Nindwen,” he said, leaning forward to kiss her on the cheek. “It has been too long since I have seen you.”
“My lord,” she greeted him with an answering smile, “come in. It has been too long. Maltanaur will be happy to see you.” She, Thranduil, and Maltanaur had all been younglings together, and their friendship remained beneath the layer of formality existing between king and subject.
“How is he?” Thranduil asked, following her toward the sitting room.
“I am well enough that the healers have given me permission to return to duty,” Maltanaur answered for himself, getting to his feet as Thranduil entered the room. They clasped arms in a warriors’ greeting.
“I am not surprised,” Thranduil rejoined. “You are far too old and tough to succumb to a little scimitar wound.”
“Sit,” Nindwen told them. “I will fetch some cider.” She bustled off toward the kitchen.
“When are you returning to duty?” Thranduil asked.
“As a matter of fact, I am going with Eilian tomorrow on this mission that Ithilden is leading,” Maltanaur told him.
Thranduil was startled. He knew about Ithilden’s plans for the mission, of course, but he had not realized that Eilian was going. He was suddenly very grateful that Maltanaur was well enough to resume his duties, a fact that reminded him of the reason for this visit.
“Mellon nin,” he began, “Ithilden tells me that you saved his life. I am here to thank you.”
Maltanaur made a deprecating gesture. “He would have done the same for me, my lord. Indeed, he is far too inclined to believe that the well-being of others is his personal responsibility. Ithilden is a fine commander, but he still needs to learn that he is not responsible for the individual safety of everyone in the realm, even those most dear to him.”
Thranduil blinked uncertainly and was suddenly struck by the memory of Ithilden telling him that Legolas felt guilty for not protecting his mother. "What do you mean? Are you -- could you possibly be speaking of Lorellin?”
Maltanaur looked at him strangely. “Of course I am.”
At that moment, Nindwen came back into the room, carrying cups of cider. “Did you know that our daughter and your head groom have decided to bond with one another?” she asked as she passed drinks around.
“No, I did not,” Thranduil said. He sat back in his chair to listen to the family gossip, but his mind was on the shuttered face of his oldest son as he tried to explain the pain of his youngest.
Thranduil entered the family dining room for evening meal to find that only Ithilden had preceded him, a situation that suited him. He went the long way around the table toward his son, who had come to his feet when Thranduil entered, and, to Ithilden’s obvious surprise, embraced him. Then he pulled back.
“I visited Maltanaur this afternoon,” he said, “and seeing him reminded me to tell you of how proud I am of how well you lead the Realm’s forces. I could not ask for a more effective commander.”
Color had risen in Ithilden’s face. “Thank you, Adar.”
“The only thing I would ask of you,” Thranduil went on, “is that you be less hard on one of your officers. I believe that you are asking things from him that no one could accomplish.”
“Of whom are you speaking?” Ithilden asked, bristling slightly over what he evidently saw as his father’s interference.
“Why of you, iôn-nín,” Thranduil said gently and pulled Ithilden’s head forward so that he could kiss his brow. Then he sat down, leaving Ithilden blinking in wonderment. Finally, he sat down too.
“Evidently Maltanaur is well enough to speak at some length,” Ithilden said dryly. And then he added more gently, “Thank you, Adar.” Thranduil smiled serenely at him as Legolas skipped into the room and climbed into his chair.
“How are you, little one?” Thranduil asked. “Did you have a good afternoon?”
“I played with Annael,” Legolas responded happily. He looked at Ithilden. “His ada was home, and he had his sword, and I did not touch it,” he said, sounding pleased by his own virtue. Thranduil froze. Years of experience as a father led him to find Legolas’s claim less reassuring than it might otherwise have seemed.
But Ithilden only said, “Good.” Thranduil fervently hoped that Ithilden’s calm tone meant that he had reason to believe that not touching a sword would be a consistent state of affairs for Legolas. And even then it would probably be best to make sure that weapons were hung out of his reach for a while. He would have to talk to Ithilden later.
They all looked up as Eilian strode rapidly into the room and took his place. He was smiling broadly. He turned toward Ithilden, as a servant finished placing the meal on the table and left the room. “Thank you,” he said wholeheartedly.
“For what?” Ithilden asked cautiously.
“For allowing me to go on this mission with you. I realize that you have had doubts about my judgment, and I acknowledge that you have had every right to do so, but I promise you that you will not regret your decision.” He spoke rapidly, his eyes shining with excitement.
“Where are you going?” Legolas asked, sitting bolt upright with his fork stopped halfway to his mouth.
There was a moment’s pause, and Eilian looked suddenly dismayed as he realized the effect of his speech on Legolas. “Ithilden and I are going to go on a mission with some other warriors,” he finally said evasively.
“Will there be Orcs there?” Legolas immediately demanded, as everyone at the table had known that he would. Thranduil could see Eilian flinch, obviously regretting his careless words. And he should regret them, Thranduil thought unsympathetically. Legolas was going to be deeply disturbed if he realized what kind of mission his brothers were undertaking, and realize he almost inevitably would, for he was impossible to distract on the question of Orcs and none of them would lie to him outright.
For a moment, no one answered the elfling’s question. Then Thranduil spoke reluctantly. “Yes, but there will also be many warriors to keep your brothers safe.”
Legolas was having none of it. “No,” he said flatly. They all looked at him. “No,” he repeated, “you should not go.” He was addressing Ithilden now. “You should send the other warriors. They will do what you say. You and Eilian should stay here.”
“We are warriors, Legolas. Remember?” Ithilden said gently. “We protect the people. I cannot send other warriors into battle and stay home myself because I want to be safe. And I cannot keep Eilian home so he will be safe either.” He ignored the glance that Eilian flicked his way, although Thranduil thought he probably registered it. Ithilden usually missed very little. “There will still be warriors here. I would not leave you unguarded,” Ithilden finished, regarding Legolas steadily.
Legolas’s lower lip began to tremble, and he put his fork down. Thranduil sighed, slid his chair back, and reached toward Legolas. “Come and eat with me, little one. I am lonely without you.” For a moment, he thought the child would ignore him and persist in increasingly overwrought demands that his brothers stay home, but then Legolas launched himself across the gap and onto his father’s lap where he buried his face in Thranduil’s chest.
“Make them stay home, Ada,” he begged, but he sounded as if he was without much hope.
Thranduil gathered him in close and murmured, “We must trust your brothers to take care of themselves and come home safely again to us.” He glanced up at Ithilden and Eilian, who both clearly understood the message he was sending.
Surprisingly, it was Eilian who spoke. “We will be careful,” he promised and seemed to really mean it. Ithilden looked at him with raised eyebrows, but he ignored his older brother’s skepticism.
Thranduil took a deep breath, and made an effort to reestablish normality. “I am told that Maltanaur’s daughter is going to be bonded to my head groom,” he said as calmly as he could, stroking Legolas’s hair with one hand and reaching around him with his fork for a piece of roast pheasant. He would see to it that Legolas had something to eat later, he thought. There was no point in trying to get him to eat now.
Celuwen smiled a greeting as she opened the cottage door in response to Eilian’s knock. “Good evening, beautiful,” he said, brushing a kiss on her cheek. He smiled at her. “I do not know why I bothered looking at the stars on the way here. I should have just waited to look at you.”
She laughed, as he had known she would. “Come in before your silver tongue carries you into yet further extravagance,” she invited, and he followed her into the empty sitting room.
“Where is everyone?” he asked in surprise. Celuwen’s uncle’s cottage was always full of Elves from the settlement, usually planning some sort of campaign against his father.
“They are meeting elsewhere tonight,” she told him. “They are making final plans to gather supplies before they go home and to see to it that the families with children are well taken care of here.” She sat on a padded bench near the fire and resumed mending the shirt that lay there. He strode restlessly about the room and then stood toying with the carved animals that were lined up along the mantelpiece.
“They are wise to leave the children,” he said. “Your adar is a brave Elf, but he did well to send you and your naneth to safety too.”
She put down the mending and looked questioningly at him. “Do you have something to tell me? Have you news of danger in the area?”
He ran a finger along the back of a graceful little fawn that reminded him of Legolas. He did not want to worry her further, but he needed to tell her that he would be gone for a week or so, and also, he trusted her enough to believe that she deserved to hear the truth. “Yes,” he finally sighed. “The number of Orcs in the area is increasing, and Ithilden is leading a war party out tomorrow to try to clear them away.”
He looked at her. She sat still for a moment with her dark eyes meeting his and then asked, “Are you going?” He nodded and then sat beside her and put his arms around her, drawing her close.
“I will be careful, I promise,” he murmured into her hair. It smelled cleanly of soap and the scent that was uniquely Celuwen. She hugged him fiercely and then turned her face to his. He kissed each eyebrow and then touched her lips gently, but she surprised him and deepened the kiss with an urgency that took his breath away and sent fire flickering through him.
When they parted, she had tears in her eyes. “Come back safely,” she commanded, with a ferociousness that startled him anew.
He drew her close, his heart soaring at her desire for his return. He wanted this maiden. He wanted her in his bed, oh yes. But more than that, he wanted her by him when he sat by the fire on winter evenings, when he walked under the stars on spring nights, when he rejoiced and when he was unhappy and when he struggled to do what was right or needful. He wanted her with him for the rest of his life.
Legolas’s eyes came into focus. It was early, he knew, too early for Nimloth to be here yet. He was good at waking up early when he wanted to. He struggled out from under the covers, hopped down from the bed, and padded over to the cupboard where Nimloth kept his clean clothes. He found a tunic and put it over his head, being careful to get it the right way around. Then he felt around with his arms until he found the sleeves. He sat on the floor to pull on his leggings and his shoes. Tying the shoes was tricky, and the laces on one tangled into a knot. He had no time to fix it, though, and left it as it was.
He started toward the door and then paused and looked at his cloak, still hanging on its hook. Nimloth would be angry if he went outside without his cloak. He dragged a chair to where his cloak hung, got it down, and struggled with the button that he could not see under his chin until it slid through the hole. Then he jumped down from the chair and once again went toward the door. He cracked it open and peeked out into the hallway. No one was in sight, and he slid out of his room and tiptoed toward the doorway that led into the big antechamber in front of Ada’s Great Hall.
Usually there were two guards at this doorway, but this morning there was only one and he was looking the other way because he was supposed to keep bad things from coming down the hall where Legolas lived. He never stopped anyone from going out. Legolas trotted past him and toward the Great Doors.
“Legolas!” called a startled voice, and he turned to see the guard walking toward him. “Where are you going? Where is Nimloth?” The guards by the Great Doors had turned to listen too.
“She is not here yet,” Legolas answered. “I am going to the garden. I am going to watch for her.” All of this was true, and Legolas was proud of himself for not lying.
The guard looked down at him and hesitated. One of the guards from the Great Door said, “I will walk him to the garden. He cannot get into much trouble there.” Legolas turned, pleased by the Elf’s offer. He had been worrying how he was going to open the garden gate. The guard walked over the bridge with him, opened the gate into the garden, let Legolas in, and closed it after him. “If you need anything, call and we will hear you, little one,” the guard told him with a smile and Legolas nodded.
When he thought that the guard had moved far enough away again, he began to run toward the other end of the garden. Nimloth walked this way when she came to take care of him, so he needed to watch for her, just as he had told the guard he would, but he reached the gate at the other end of the garden without meeting anyone. This gate was easy to open. He moved the latch carefully and then was out of the garden and onto the path leading to Ada’s stables.
He met no one on the path, but he had to hide in the bushes next to the path when he came to the stableyard because an Elf was walking a horse there. Legolas waited until they had gone around the corner and then scooted across the yard and into the stable. He paused just inside the doorway. He could hear Elves talking but he could not see them. He crept carefully along the aisle. Horses put their heads out of their stalls on either side to look curiously at him. He wished he could stop to talk to them, but he did not have time this morning.
He came to the stall where Ithilden’s horse lived. “Hello,” Legolas greeted him softly. The horse eyed him and then snorted. He had been friendly when Legolas had ridden him, and Legolas could tell he remembered him. He looked around for something to stand on and found a bucket. He upended it in front of the stall, stood on it, and lifted the stall latch. Then he had to get down and move the bucket so that the stall door could swing open. Ithilden’s horse moved tentatively out into the aisle and then started for the open stable doors.
Legolas could not stay to watch him go, though, for now he had to release Eilian’s horse.
Thranduil entered the dining room and was not surprised to find Eilian already there. Thranduil knew that Eilian had returned home very late the previous night and by rights should have been tired, but he was eager for this mission and he radiated energy. “Good morning, Adar,” he said cheerfully.
Thranduil could not help smiling at him, although he shook his head slightly. “I have never seen anyone as happy as you are to get up in the morning and go out and have someone swing a scimitar at him.” Thranduil came around the table to embrace him. “Be careful, Eilian,” he admonished gently.
Eilian rolled his eyes. “You cannot imagine how many people have said that to me in the last two days,” he protested.
Thranduil patted his shoulder. “If you are tempted to ignore us all, think of that scene with Legolas at evening meal last night.”
Eilian blinked. “I have promised to be careful and I will,” he said more soberly.
“Good.” Thranduil made his way to his own place and sat down.
Ithilden hurried in. “I am sorry I am late,” he apologized. “At the last minute, there were problems with the supplies.” He had not yet taken his seat when Nimloth appeared in the doorway.
“I am sorry to interrupt, my lords,” she said breathlessly, “but have you seen Legolas?”
Thranduil’s heart contracted. “No,” he answered swiftly, and Ithilden and Eilian were shaking their heads too.
“He was not in his room when I got here this morning,” she said. “I have looked in the library and the sitting room, and he is not in either place.”
Ithilden was already on his way out the door. “I will check with the guards to see if they have seen him,” he said. He was back in a moment, looking grim. “The guards say that Legolas went out a little while ago,” he reported. “He went to the garden and said he was going to watch for you, Nimloth.”
“By himself?” asked Thranduil incredulously.
“Apparently,” Ithilden responded.
“He was not in the garden when I came through it,” Nimloth said.
Thranduil started toward the door and found his sons, too, in motion. “Eilian, you and I will search the garden,” he ordered. “Ithilden, go to the other end of the garden immediately and see if you can find any sign of him there. Get one of those fool guards to help you.” He strode out the doors, guards scattering unhappily before him.
The gravel path in the garden yielded no useful information, and Thranduil and Eilian began searching the bushes. What could Legolas be doing? Thranduil wondered frantically. He had been sullen and uncommunicative after learning of his brothers’ mission at evening meal last night, and yet, at the same time, he had clung to his father and insisted that Thranduil stay with him until he fell asleep. What had the child been thinking?
Suddenly Ithilden called, “He has been this way!” They rushed toward the far end of the garden, where the guard pointed them after Ithilden down the path toward the stables.
They found Ithilden in the stableyard, where a groom was holding his horse and the stablemaster was holding Eilian’s. “We have not seen him,” the stablemaster was saying, “but we have been busy. I have no idea how it happened, but both of these horses got loose this morning. I am so sorry, my lords.”
Thranduil looked at the two horses and suddenly thought he understood what had happened. He strode into the stables. “Legolas!” he called. Eilian and Ithilden had followed him and now ran down the line of stalls on either side, peering into each.
“Here he is, Adar,” Eilian’s relieved voice called. Thranduil approached to find Eilian opening the door of an empty stall near the other end of the row. In the corner, on a pile of hay, huddled Legolas, with his knees clutched to his chest. His small face looked up at his father and brothers, and then he put his head down on his knees and started to cry soundlessly.
Eilian started toward him, but Thranduil put a hand on his arm. “No,” he said, “You two go. I will take care of this one.”
Eilian hesitated. “Adar, he just did not want us to go,” he pleaded.
Thranduil met his troubled eyes and thought for a second of what Eilian had been saying about Legolas for weeks now. “I know,” he assured him. After a moment, Eilian’s face cleared as he seemed to accept Thranduil’s assertion. He darted forward to kiss Legolas on the top of his head and then rejoined Ithilden. The two of them started down the aisle toward the open doorway.
“Take care,” Thranduil called after them.
“We will,” they chorused back and were gone.
Thranduil entered the stall, picked his son up, and carried him cradled in his arm to a bench near an open window. Legolas continued to cry with his head pressed against his father’s chest. Thranduil stroked his hair gently. Two grooms moved quietly about their morning chores, and through the window, Thranduil could see horses trotting through a field with morning energy. The stablemaster approached hesitantly, offering a blanket, and Thranduil realized that he was cold. In his anxious rush to search for his son, he had not taken time to put on a cloak, and although Legolas wore one, he had lost a shoe somewhere. The stablemaster wrapped the blanket around both of them, and Thranduil took the small, icy foot in his hand to warm it. Finally the crying stopped, and Legolas sat with his head leaning against his father’s chest while he watched the horses outside.
“Are you afraid for your brothers?” Thranduil finally asked him. Without looking up, Legolas nodded.
“I worry for them too,” Thranduil admitted, causing Legolas to raise a small, surprised face. “Like you, I want to protect them, but the best I can do is make sure that many other warriors are with them to help keep them safe. Now you,” he added, tickling Legolas’s stomach gently, “you, I can protect. But if I am to do so, you have to follow the rules I have made for you. Those rules are to keep you safe. You know that, do you not?”
Legolas nodded reluctantly. “Like not touching your green dagger,” he said.
Thranduil paused. He had found the dagger with the emeralds in the handle on the floor under his desk the previous day and had wondered how it got there. He thought about the worries that Ithilden had voiced about Legolas’s state of mind and even those that Eilian had raised. “Why would you touch the dagger, Legolas?” he asked carefully.
“I wanted a weapon to keep Orcs away,” Legolas sighed, “but Ithilden says I should let him and Eilian do it until I am grown up.”
“Ithilden is right,” Thranduil agreed. He paused again. “I miss your nana,” he said tentatively. Legolas leaned his head against Thranduil’s chest again and made no reply. “Sometimes,” Thranduil went on, “I even get angry that she is no longer here with me. Do you ever feel that way?”
After a long moment, Legolas nodded. “You should come and tell me when you feel that way,” Thranduil said. “And we can make one another feel better.”
Legolas considered this. “What if you are busy being king?”
Thranduil hesitated. He tried to be as honest with his children as he expected them to be with him. “Sometimes then, you will have to wait. But I think that sometimes I will have to tell my advisors that I am busy being Ada.” He kissed the top of the blond head. “I love you, Legolas.”
“I love you, Ada,” said the small, tired voice.
Thank you to reviewers from all directions: ff.net, www.storiesofarda.com, or email. I love hearing from you, and cheer every time a review alert pops up.
Judy: It turns out there are volunteers to hug Eilian. Shall I add your name to the list? ;-) I am a middle child, so I sympathize with him greatly.
Kay: I’m glad you’re still reading. I think there will be only two or at most three more chapters of this story. Then I have to think of a new one.
Casualis: Here’s what I was thinking about Thranduil. I think he knows that Legolas is grieving. But his sons’ character development is very important to him and he tends to discipline first and look for motives after, if at all. He does that with Eilian even now. So until this chapter, he has not clearly seen that what Legolas is doing is what we now call “acting out.” That was my idea anyway.
StrangeBlaze: Legolas and Eilian are close. I think Eilian is more intuitive and open about his feelings that Ithilden is. So it’s tricky to create some close moments for Ithilden and Legolas.
First Mate: I love my OCs. I am shameless about it. So I like to know when other people appreciate them too. Thank you for telling me.
Caz-baz: More horse stuff in this chapter. I hope you like it.
Orangeblossom Took: I really must grind Eilian that Thranduil hears Ithilden about Legolas but could not hear him. Legolas is lucky though. His family all dote on him. (And I have it on good authority that their mother doted on all three of them.)
Bryn: I’m not sure Turgon’s parents were thinking about much of anything. ;-) And don’t worry too much about Celuwen.
TreeHugger: I think we’re getting some progress here. I was thinking about all the dangers in homes for children in this kind of culture: weapons and fire, for instance. How anyone survived, I’ll never know.
Bluebonnet: I love writing from Legolas’s point of view. The most bizarre things come to seem natural and right.
TigerLily: Stories of Arda is a great site. It always works and the story notices are reliable. Plus you can actually find some good stories!
Coolio02: Legolas’s desire to become a warrior is actually a useful way for him to use his anger, I think. That is, if he waits a few years to do it!
Luin: I absolutely wondered whether Celuwen’s parents thought he was good for her! I’m thinking of including a little talk between her adar and Eilian in the next chapter, assuming I can think of what they might say. And you are not the only one who wants to know what Turgon claims to have seen Eilian doing!
PokethePenguin: Let’s hope Legolas has learned his lesson about playing with swords and daggers. If not, he may wind up with quite a few scars!
Fadesintothewest: Ah, another one willing to comfort Eilian. You ladies are so generous. Unfortunately, my beta takes custody of him whenever I am not using him (get your mind out of the gutter), so I don’t know what to tell you!
Nilmandra: Hey, I was just talking about you. I have had several more volunteers for comforting Eilian if you get tired of it.
Erunyauve: Your analysis of Thranduil is really insightful. I think I’ll have to point people to it when they ask me what he’s thinking!
Alice: So Thranduil and Legolas are making a little progress too, I think. We’ll see.
Karenator: No one listens to Eilian, you’re right. And they should. He’s not always right but he’s right more often than they give him credit for, especially about people’s motives and emotions. He’s very intuitive.
Lamiel: I’m hoping that what I write in this story is good background for Legolas in my other stories, with his seriousness about his warrior training.
Gwyn: I did marry Ithilden off in a different story set later in time. It’s called “Joinings” and is only one chapter long if you want to see it. (How’s that for Shameless Self Promotion?)
Frodo: I suspect that Ithilden doesn’t cry nearly often enough. He’s very controlled and that’s good for some things (as he points out to Eilian), but not others.
Legolas4me: I wonder how elves usually dealt with the death of a parent, given that it probably wasn’t all that common. Poor baby Legolas!
Dot1: I actually hesitated about having Ithilden shake Legolas because I don’t think Elves were big on physical punishment and Ithilden is usually so controlled. But I thought maybe he was pretty tightly strung himself at this point and got pushed over the edge.
Feanen: Glad you liked it. Thank you for continuing to read and review.
Veryawen: They *are* stubborn, but then they are elves and male ones at that.
Jay of Lasgalen: Can you imagine having a four or five year old in a house full of sharp weapons? What must they have done to keep everyone from growing up minus a finger or two?
JastaElf: The age difference in elven children must have made for some unusual family dynamics I think, with the older sibs being more like parents. It’s hard to imagine. And thank you for struggling with ff.net. It’s a pain.
Naneth: Legolas does need a hug. Hell, they all do.
Xsilicax: And what a bizarre moment it is when Eilian has the most sense of any of them! But you’re right of course.
Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.
AN: The author alert at ff.net did not work for chapter 9, I think. So if you rely on it, you may have missed that chapter.
Eilian rode with his bow in his hand, as did Gelmir on his left and Maltanaur just behind him. There had been some desultory chatter as they had left home, but they had all shifted into guarded alertness automatically once they had entered the deeper parts of the forest. Eilian felt every one of his senses stretch to maximum alertness, and as the potential for danger increased, his body sang with the knowledge of his own aliveness. At the front of the line of warriors, Ithilden raised his hand to call a temporary halt. Eilian could see him consulting with Elorfin, who pointed off toward the west.
“I still cannot believe that you managed to talk Ithilden into letting us come on this mission,” Gelmir commented softly.
Eilian smiled slightly, still scanning the woods around them. “I had nothing to do with it. He must have changed his mind about me on his own.” He was feeling deeply grateful to his brother today. It must have been difficult for him, he thought.
Gelmir grinned. “As well he should. You have been behaving yourself admirably since that night in the grove. I blame Celuwen.” Eilian laughed.
Ithilden raised his arm again and they were back in motion. They rode until late in the afternoon and were picking their way through a dense growth of trees when an Elf dropped down from a branch and landed in front of them. “Welcome back, captain,” he greeted Elorfin.
“Mae govannen,” Elorfin greeted him. “It is good to be back.” They advanced into the campsite, dismounted, and began to sort themselves out. Eilian stored his gear next to Gelmir’s and looked curiously around at the Border Patrol camp. He had never served in the Border Patrol, but he knew most of these warriors nonetheless.
“Eilian,” one of them now greeted him. “What brings you here, with reinforcements and the troop commander, no less?”
“Hello, Galorion,” Eilian clasped arms with the Elf. “I think you are about to find out.”
Ithilden stood in the center of the camp and without his having to call for attention, everyone present focused on him. How does he do that? Eilian wondered but gave his attention as Ithilden began to speak. “Mae govannen, fellow warriors. I come to you today to ask you to undertake a mission for the next week or two that will be dangerous but not beyond the ability of this group, who have protected the borders of the Realm with such zeal and skill. Elorfin tells me that you have met an increased number of Orcs in recent weeks.” He grinned at them, and Eilian was suddenly reminded of an animal baring its teeth. “I think it is time we put a stop to that. Do you not agree?”
He glanced around. To a one, the warriors in the campsite wore looks that echoed Ithilden’s. Eilian blinked. He had never seen Ithilden getting troops ready for battle before, and he had to admit he was impressed.
“We will send out scouts as soon as darkness approaches,” Ithilden went on. “Sleep now. Tonight we will start to take this part of the Realm back into our own hands.” And he put his hand over his heart and saluted them. Every warrior in the camp returned the salute.
Like the warriors around him, Eilian dropped down onto his bedroll and stretched out. Ithilden was right, of course; he should sleep, but he found that he was too keyed up. He had forgotten how exhilarating it was to know that he was about to rush to the edge of safety, reach over it, and draw back at the last second, with those that he loved a little more secure because he had done so. Deliberately, he slowed his breathing and relaxed his taut muscles. Against all odds, he slept.
He woke to the sound of people beginning to stir again in the camp. He stretched and then sat up. To one side, he could see Ithilden and Elorfin. Ithilden had drawn out his battered map, and the two of them now looked at it.
Gelmir stirred next to him. “What does Ithilden have on that map, anyway?”
“Information on which you can be sure he is basing plans,” Eilian answered. “My brother places a great deal of trust in plans.”
“Do the Orcs know that?” Gelmir asked doubtfully.
Eilian glanced at Ithilden’s serious face, visible in profile. “It does not do to underestimate Ithilden,” he said. “Plans or no plans, I suspect that any Orcs that have encountered him have regretted it.”
“That I believe,” Gelmir agreed. The two of them got to their feet and wandered toward the campfire, where dishes of stew were being distributed. Eilian took some and ate because he knew he needed to rather than because he was hungry. He could feel his excitement beginning to rise again.
Ithilden looked up and scanned the campsite. “Gelmir,” he called. Gelmir started toward him. Ithilden scanned further and summoned three other warriors. Eilian blinked. What was going on? He watched as his brother and Elorfin conferred with the small group. The four warriors broke into pairs and went to gather their weapons.
“What is happening?” Eilian asked Gelmir.
Gelmir looked apologetic. “We are being sent out to scout,” he said. Then he shouldered his bow and ran to join the Elf with whom he had been partnered. They leapt into the trees and were gone.
Eilian stood stock still, hardly able to believe what had just happened. He whirled and started toward Ithilden, who had turned to confer again with Elorfin, only to find Maltanaur blocking his way. “Not now,” he said in a voice pitched only for Eilian’s ears.
Eilian tried to push past him. “Did you see that?” he demanded. “What does he think he is doing?”
Maltanaur kept himself firmly planted between Eilian and his goal. “He thinks he is commanding this mission, and he also undoubtedly thinks that warriors who serve under him should not approach him in public to tell him that they disagree with his decisions. In case it has not occurred to you, that would include you.”
Eilian snorted. “You know that particular decision had nothing to do with me being a warrior serving under him and everything to do with me being his ‘irresponsible’ younger brother who needs to be ‘protected’ from his own rashness.” His voice was bitter even to his own ears.
“That may be,” Maltanaur agreed, “and you may want to talk to him, but now is not the time. And when you do it, do it in private. Unless, of course,” he added, “you want to prove him right about your rashness.”
Looking over Maltanaur’s shoulder, Eilian could see his brother brooding quietly over his map. His face was shuttered and unapproachable, and abruptly, Eilian remembered the weight of responsibility under which he had seen Ithilden struggling when they had argued in the south. Reluctantly, he stepped back. “Very well,” he said. “I will bide my time, but this is not the end of the matter.” He went back to his bedroll, flung himself on it, and tried to remind himself that there were better targets for his anger at the moment than Ithilden.
Time passed with agonizing slowness, and the excitement he had been feeling made itself known now as edginess. A full three hours passed before one of the scouting teams returned with nothing to show for their search. Eilian held his tongue with difficulty. He could not help but feel that if he had been scouting, he would have found something. So far as he could tell, few other Elves could listen to the forest the way he could. It had occasionally occurred to him that this was one of the consequences of being Thranduil’s son, for he knew that his father had a mystical connection to his woods, but Eilian had never voiced that theory to anyone.
Eilian had just begun to give up hope of seeing any action this night when Gelmir and his partner came sprinting back into the campsite, excitement written plain on their faces. Around him, warriors immediately began to stir. Grabbing his bow, Eilian leapt to his feet and moved with the others toward Ithilden in time to hear Gelmir’s report. “We found a large band. About seventy, I would say, half of them archers.” He glanced at the other scout, who nodded confirmation. “They are east about two leagues, going northwest.”
“Show me on the map,” Ithilden ordered. Gelmir paused a moment and then pointed. Ithilden smiled grimly. “Good,” he said. “There is a nice ridge running perpendicular to the direction they are taking.” He looked up. “I want us moving out in two waves,” he said. “The first wave should get far enough ahead that the Orcs will pass between them and the second wave. Then we drive the Orcs toward the ridge, picking off as many as we can along the way. You,” he indicated a group of half a dozen or so warriors, “go around and get on top of the ridge so that when the Orcs come up against it, you are ready for them. Our objective is to kill all of them. Even one or two can do a lot of damage to one of the homesteads. Any questions?” No one spoke. These were experienced warriors who needed little guidance, and they were away into the trees within a very short time.
Eilian was assigned to the first group, led by Elorfin, and, with Maltanaur by his side, he leapt through the branches until the captain signaled a halt. Eilian liked Ithilden’s plan and now that they were about to engage the enemy, his resentment of his brother’s highhandedness had faded, and he could once again feel his excitement rising and his focus narrowing so that all of his attention was on this moment.
The group spread out and settled down to wait, with Eilian near Elorfin at the point they believed the Orcs would pass first. Suddenly, Eilian tensed and glanced back slightly over his left shoulder. And he knew as certainly as if he had seen them that the Orcs’ course had shifted so that they would now pass behind this group of Elves unless they moved quickly. He glanced at Elorfin and found that the captain was watching him. Urgently, Eilian pointed behind them. Elorfin hesitated for only a second before giving a series of bird signals and then rising to lead his group to another position some distance further on. Here they waited only briefly before they heard the unmistakable sound of Orcs moving through the woods. Then the beasts began to appear, first singly and in pairs, and then in a mass swarming below them.
Eilian’s hand tightened on his bow where an arrow was already nocked, but he made no move. At this end of the line of Elves, Elorfin would wait until he was sure that the whole group had passed into range before he would signal for the attack to begin. Just when Eilian thought he would burst from the tension, Elorfin sounded the bird call and the Elves rose and began to fire. Eilian was relieved to see arrows raining onto the Orcs from the trees opposite too, for that meant that the other group had heard and understood Elorfin’s command to move their lines.
As he had been trained to do, Eilian aimed first for any Orc archer within sight. Then he began firing at their swordsmen, who were no match for Elven archers in the trees but who could work terrible harm to a place like Celuwen’s settlement. Gradually, the Elves closed ranks behind the Orcs and began to drive them forward. As he began to move after them, Eilian caught sight of an Orc archer who had taken up a position behind some rocks that seemed impervious to the assaults of his fellow warriors. He began to circle around behind the rocks to see if he could get an angle on the archer and suddenly, from the corner of his eye, he saw one of the Elves on the other side of the battlefield fall to the ground. He immediately realized that the fallen warrior was Gelmir.
Eilian froze. For a second, he considered jumping to the ground and trying to hack his way through the Orc swordsmen to reach his friend, but with painful certainty, he recognized the idea for the ill-advised impulse that it was. He had a sudden vision of Legolas weeping in his father’s stables and then of Celuwen, and with every ounce of self-control he possessed, he held his position. To his immense relief, Ithilden suddenly appeared, directing two Elven warriors from Gelmir’s group who were now on the ground seizing him, with two more archers standing in the trees over them, firing arrows to keep the Orcs away. The Elves on the ground vanished into the trees again, with Gelmir between them. Ithilden looked up and their eyes met briefly before he turned to call another order to his troops.
Eilian resumed circling toward the Orc archer who was wreaking such havoc. With patient care, he slipped among the branches until he found himself looking down through a gap in the rocks at the Orc, who was just drawing his bow again. Eilian fired an arrow through the gap and into the back of the Orc’s neck. He waited only long enough to be sure his target would fall before moving forward in pursuit of the Orc’s now fleeing comrades.
The remaining Orcs had reached the ridge, where they should have been cringing away from arrows flying at them from above. Instead, they had their backs to the ridge and were making a stand, seemingly with impunity. With a sinking heart, Eilian realized that the Elves who had been ordered to take up a position atop the ridge had not heard the signals indicating that the Orcs’ course had changed.
The two groups of Elves had now merged, and Ithilden was suddenly next to him. “Go around to the right,” he ordered. “We need to surround them and stop them from slipping away.” Eilian nodded and began to work his way toward his right, dodging Orc arrows as he went and firing back when he could.
Maltanaur had now caught up with him and grabbed at his sleeve. “The one sheltering behind that fallen tree looks to be their leader,” he said, and indeed the Orc he was indicating did seem to be calling orders, as well as emerging from cover occasionally to take a shot at the Elves. As he did so now, Maltanaur drew and fired, but at this distance, it was easy for the Orc to see the incoming arrow and dodge. Several other Orcs surrounded the leader, evidently guarding him. They now launched arrows at Maltanaur, and he and Eilian quickly changed position.
“Keep watch for me,” Eilian told him. “I will see if I can lure him out.” He rose and took aim at one of the guards, making sure that the Orcs saw him. Then he ducked for cover, moved a few yards to his left and repeated the action, aiming for the same guard, but not releasing the arrow. His breath was coming fast. This maneuver was effective but dangerous because it required him to narrow his focus and thus made him vulnerable to arrows from Orcs he was ignoring. Maltanaur’s job was to protect him by firing enough arrows that the other Orcs could not take a good shot at him, but they both needed to concentrate on what they were doing. A flicker of movement from the Orc leader caught his eye, and for the third time, he stood and aimed at the guard. Then he swiveled at the waist and loosed his arrow at the Orc leader.
“Got him!” Maltanaur cried and, wasting no time, they both jumped out of the way of the arrows the guards were now sending their way. In their new position, Maltanaur slapped Eilian on the back and laughed. “You see? Patience pays,” he crowed.
Eilian laughed too and then turned his attention back to the Orcs. Suddenly he became aware of a new element in the battle. Arrows were raining down on the Orcs from overhead. The Elves on the ridge had apparently heard the fight and were now joining in. Within minutes, the battle was over, and Elves were moving to the ground to check on their victims, tend their own wounded, and retrieve their arrows.
Eilian was unable to find Gelmir among the wounded at the battlefield, for he had been among the first to be moved back to their camp. He found his friend lying near the fire with his leg being bandaged by another warrior. “How bad is it?” Eilian demanded.
“Not very,” Gelmir answered, rather more weakly that Eilian would have liked. “The arrow lodged in my calf. Now that it is out, I think the worst is over.” Eilian grimaced. He had had an arrow removed from a wound more than once and had never found the experience pleasant. Gelmir’s eyes were slipping out of focus, and Eilian realized he must have been given a sleeping draught. He patted his friend’s shoulder and then went to his bedroll to shed his weapons and fling himself down on his blanket in exhaustion.
“Good work tonight,” Ithilden called from the center of the camp. “Sleep well. You have earned it.” Eilian watched his brother through narrowed eyes. Now that the excitement of battle was over, he recalled his resentment of Ithilden’s treatment of him. Tomorrow he would speak to his brother. They had wasted several hours tonight waiting for scouts to find something. He had no intention of letting that happen again.
Eilian ate the dried venison with one eye on Ithilden, who was talking to Elorfin. As soon as Elorfin walked away, he swallowed the last of his tea and then walked toward his brother. “May I speak to you?” he asked, conscious of the fact that, despite his best efforts, his voice sounded challenging.
Ithilden studied him, his face impassive. “Perhaps it would be best if we walked off a bit?” he asked, and Eilian nodded. The two of them strolled into the woods, staying within the sentry line but moving out of view of the others in the camp.
Eilian opened his mouth to begin but Ithilden forestalled him. “Elorfin and Maltanaur have both approached me to tell me how well you fought last night,” he said. He looked off into the trees. “I was, quite frankly, a bit concerned about the maneuver you carried out against that Orc leader near the end of the battle. It seemed unnecessarily risky to me, but Maltanaur reminded me that it is taught to novices and pointed out that you carried it out with exemplary care.” He grimaced. “Has it occurred to you that your keeper is occasionally rude?” he asked, looking back at Eilian, with dry humor in his grey eyes.
Eilian found it difficult to respond with equal lightness. “Ithilden, why did you not send me as a scout last night?”
Ithilden sobered. “It is not your place to question my decisions,” he responded brusquely.
“It is my place,” Eilian insisted angrily, “when it is obvious that you are acting as my brother rather than as my commanding office and that your doing so cost us time last night.”
“I have no idea what you mean,” Ithilden snapped, “and I suggest you guard your tongue.”
Eilian took a deep breath and tried to make his tone of voice as respectful as he could. “Ithilden, when Legolas begged you to keep me home, you said it would be wrong to keep me safe when other warriors were taking risks. Do you really believe that, or was that just talk? Do you really think I am not able to be careful? Was I careless last night?” They stared into one another’s eyes.
“My lord?” said a tentative voice. They turned to find Elorfin standing nearby. “You said you wanted to speak to the wounded before they were sent home. They are ready to go now.” Ithilden nodded once and set out after him immediately, leaving Eilian in frustrated solitude.
He returned to camp to find Gelmir napping on the next bedroll, his wound having been judged insufficiently serious to require transport home, although it was going to render him unable to fight for a night or two. He turned his head as Eilian lay down next to him, intending to rest while he could. “You are wearing your ‘I have been arguing with Ithilden again’ look,” he observed. “Did it do any good?”
Eilian snorted. “Does it ever?”
Gelmir thought. “Once when were about forty, you talked him out of telling your adar that we had been out all night. That is the last successful argument I remember you having with him. Also the first,” he added.
Eilian grinned reluctantly and lay down. He tried to rest but he could not keep his eyes from Ithilden as he moved around the camp, eating, talking to warriors, consulting his map. He had always respected Ithilden’s abilities as a commander and his respect had increased when he saw his brother in action on the previous night. And he had always trusted in Ithilden’s sense of fairness and desire to do the right thing. His brother was responsible to a fault. Eilian found it hard to believe that Ithilden would persist in his misguided judgment and treatment of him. He waited.
Gradually the day wore on. Eilian could see Ithilden and Elorfin conferring, and then watched as Elorfin approached two warriors on the other side of the camp. They were obviously being sent to scout, for they were gathering their weapons. “Very well,” Ithilden’s voice startled him, and he looked to see his brother standing next to him. He climbed hastily to his feet. “Take Maltanaur with you and scout west of here,” Ithilden told him. “Stay away no more than three hours.” They regarded one another in silence.
“Thank you,” Eilian finally said. “You will not regret it.”
“I trust not,” Ithilden said. “You were right. I have heard from your various captains that you are an outstanding scout. You clearly should be scouting for us. I have not always been sufficiently willing to trust in the ability of others of late.” He smiled wryly and then clasped Eilian’s forearm and drew him close for a moment before walking away.
“Is Arda ending now?” Gelmir asked plaintively. “Surely that conversation was one of the signs.”
“Shut up and sleep,” Eilian told him as he strapped on his quiver, seized his bow, and joined Maltanaur. The two of them were gone no more than half an hour before Eilian spotted a band of thirty or so Orcs. When they ran back into camp, Ithilden stood waiting for them.
“I should have known you would turn out to be good at this,” he told Eilian rather sadly. “You never were content to be good at the safe thing.” He ran his hand over his tightly braided hair. “I suppose I am going to have to let you do it.” And he walked away to organize their battle plans.
They spent ten more days on the mission. True to his word, Ithilden sent Eilian with the scouts every night. Some nights, both sets of scouts found Orcs and the patrol attacked the nearer group first, tended to their wounded, and then went after other group. Some nights, Ithilden sent the scouts out again after they had dealt with the first band they found. When they could no longer find Orcs in one area, they moved camp and took up the hunt again.
At the end of ten day, Ithilden declared the mission a success. For the present, the area was as free of Orcs as any part of the Woodland Realm could be. No promises could be made for a month or even a week from the present, but they had done what they could. Ithilden said goodbye to Elorfin and left for home with the warriors who belonged by rights to the Home Guard.
The returning warriors took a roundabout course home, for Ithilden wanted to talk to every homesteader he could, tell them of the situation, and advise them to be ready to move closer to Thranduil’s stronghold. On the evening of the second day, they rode into the settlement where Celuwen’s family lived. Eilian looked about him curiously. The name “settlement” had led him to expect that the cottages would be close together. Instead, they were so widely scattered that when you stood near one, you could not see any other. Flets were evident in many of the trees, but they were not in use at this time of the year. They dismounted before a somewhat larger building that Eilian knew from Celuwen was probably the common space. Three Elves came out the building, and Eilian recognized one of them as Sólith, Celuwen’s father. “Mae govannen,” Ithilden greeted them politely.
“Mae govannen, my lord,” one of the Elves responded. “What brings you here?” Eilian was conscious of Sólith’s unfriendly eyes on him and nodded respectfully at him.
“Can we speak inside?” Ithilden asked. “I have important matters to discuss with you if you are willing.”
The Elf gestured toward the doorway. “Can we do anything for your warriors?” he asked.
Ithilden glanced back at the dozen Elves and their horses. “We would be grateful if you would allow us to camp here tonight.”
“Of course,” the other Elf answered and then they and Ithilden disappeared through the door.
Gelmir grinned at Eilian. “Sólith seems less vulnerable to your charms than Celuwen does,” he observed.
Eilian snorted. “Does your leg hurt? Perhaps you would like some of that foul tasting tea.” Gelmir laughed and the two of them tended to their horses and then found a grassy area for their bedrolls. Ithilden’s conference with the three Elves from the settlement lasted at least an hour, and when he emerged from the doorway, the look on his face suggested it had not been successful. He was accompanied by one of their hosts, however, and the two of them went to the only cottage in sight. Ithilden was evidently going to spend the night indoors.
Eilian was just contemplating the differences between a warrior’s lot and that of a troop commander, when Sólith approached him. Eilian came to his feet immediately. “Mae govannen, Sólith,” he said respectfully.
“Hello, Eilian. I would like to speak with you if you have a few moments.” Sólith glanced at Gelmir, who blinked back at him.
“I need to go talk to someone over there,” he said weakly and walked away, glancing back over his shoulder to make a face at Eilian.
Sólith wasted no time in getting to the point. “I am told that you and my daughter have been keeping company again.”
“Indeed, we have,” Eilian answered cautiously.
Sólith eyed him steadily. “I will be frank and say that I am not entirely pleased by that. My memories of you are not good, Eilian.”
Eilian flushed. “I would be the last one to deny that Celuwen deserves better than me,” he said through stiff lips.
Sólith grimaced. “I know you were young when I last saw you, but at that time, there were few Elves who seemed to me to be less likely to make my daughter happy. You were careless of your own well being. You drank too much wine at feasts and wagered for high stakes. I recall your once losing a horse in some trivial bet and never turning a hair. I assumed you knew there were plenty more where that came from in your adar’s stables.”
“I was young and stupid, and I no longer gamble for high stakes,” Elian said vehemently. Indeed the incident with the horse and the resulting scenes with his parents had cured him of that particular fault. Shame still flooded him when he recalled the words his father had spoken and even more those spoken by his mother.
Sólith went on as if he had not spoken. “A pretty maiden never walked past you but that you turned to look at her and more often than not to follow her. I do not say you ever crossed the line into dishonor. Your parents brought you up much too well for that, but you also never troubled to correct the behaviors that gave pain to my daughter.”
Eilian scarcely knew how to defend himself against this onslaught. “I will admit that I was foolish,” he said finally, “but I have grown up considerably since then. I learn slowly but I do learn.”
Sólith looked around. “If you have been spending time with Celuwen, you know how much this settlement means to her. For her, living here is not just a personal satisfaction; it is a way to hold back the Shadow.” He looked at Eilian. “If you bond with Celuwen, are you planning to leave the ranks of the warriors and come to live here?”
Eilian’s mouth fell open. Such a course of action had never occurred to him. “I do not see how I could do that,” he answered defensively. “My duty is to the defense of my adar’s Realm.”
“Then what did you intend to do?” Sólith went on mercilessly. “I would not wish for Celuwen to become some trivial decoration to a warrior’s leave time and live her life alone.”
For a moment, Eilian could not answer. What did he intend to do? he suddenly asked himself, but he pushed the question aside. “Celuwen would always be decorative,” he answered, “but she could never be trivial.”
Sólith looked at him steadily and then sighed. “I trust my daughter,” he said. “Celuwen is intelligent and cautious. If she decides she wants you, then I will not stand in her way. The betrothal year should give you both time to be sure of your course.”
Eilian felt himself relax. Sólith would not stand in their way. That was what mattered after all. “Thank you,” he said. “You must believe me when I tell you I would never hurt Celuwen.”
Sólith smiled for the first time, but the smile did not reach his eyes. “I hope not,” he said simply and turned to walk away.
Ithilden stood in the doorway of the cottage watching Sólith and Eilian in what was obviously a tense conversation. At length, Sólith walked away into the woods, presumably to return to his own cottage. Eilian stood looking after him for a moment and then slowly lowered himself to his bedroll. To Ithilden’s eyes, it was obvious that his brother was unhappy.
He could see Gelmir parting from a group of warriors and going toward Eilian. He moved quickly forward and grasped Gelmir’s arm. “Let me,” he ordered, and Gelmir immediately backed toward his friends. Ithilden suppressed a smile. He was well aware of the effect he had on Gelmir.
Eilian lay with his arm flung over his eyes. Ithilden settled on Gelmir’s bedroll. “I take it that conversation did not go well,” he observed.
Eilian jumped. He had obviously assumed that it was Gelmir who had sat next to him. He looked at Ithilden and then looked up through the trees. “My bad deeds have come home to roost, I am afraid. But he says he will not stand in our way,” he added. “And that is all that matters.”
Ithilden picked up a twig and began to play with it. “Are you planning to bond with Celuwen then?”
Eilian smiled slightly. “If she will have me.”
Ithilden considered this. “Then I should leave you in the Home Guard?” he asked tentatively.
Eilian turned his head quickly toward him. “No!” he exclaimed. He sat up. “Are you considering reassigning me?”
Ithilden nodded. “Elorfin actually asked for you to be assigned to his Border Patrol. He says you are wasted in the Home Guard. But I thought you would probably prefer to return to the Southern Patrol.”
Eilian blinked. “I would prefer that,” he said eagerly.
Ithilden smiled at him quizzically. “What about Celuwen?”
“We will work it out,” Eilian maintained stoutly.
Ithilden sighed. He loved his impulsive, intuitive younger brother, but Eilian often exasperated him with his blind faith that all could be worked out to his own satisfaction. “I hope so,” he said. He rose and started to leave but then turned back. “By the way, I have decided to send Maltanaur with you wherever you are assigned.”
Eilian grinned at him. “You cannot manage him, can you?” he asked.
Ithilden laughed. “No, I cannot,” he acknowledged and started toward a night’s sleep in a bed.
Thank you again to all reviewers. I think I can finish this story in one more chapter, but we’ll see.
Lamiel: Yes, I think things are starting to mend, but there are going to be some scars, I’m afraid.
Frodo3791: I’m glad someone likes my battle scenes. I find them hard to write. I would far rather write about families squabbling than Orcs and Elves shooting arrows at one another! But that seems to be rather essential in Tolkien. ;-)
Nelsonia: As I told you via email, “real characters” is a tremendous compliment, and I thank you for it.
Caz-baz: Legolas would certainly like a pony, and I think Ada is about ready to give him one.
Judy: Eilian is hoping to get hugs from Celuwen, I think. Hmm. Where is the fun in that? I mean, fun for me, not them.
Karri: Thranduil is really being a good ada now. He loves his sons and the feeling is mutual, I think.
Bluebonnet: It is tough on Legolas to know that he is powerless to stop his brothers from doing something that he has reason to know is dangerous. Poor baby.
Ana: Thank you so much. That Legolas seems like a real kid to you is very gratifying. I hope you continue to read and enjoy my stories.
Alice: The palace guards did kind of blow it, but I’ll bet their kids can go out the front door and play by themselves, so it probably seemed reasonable that Legolas could.
Dot: What a great review you write. I had trouble working out Ithilden’s attitude here. He takes Eilian on this mission because Deler sends him, but at first, he doesn’t have much faith in his brother. And yet, he’s ready to see the good in him too. So I tried to make it seem that he did.
Tapetum Lucidum: You really don’t trust poor Celuwen! You’re right, of course, that there can’t be a happy ending, at least not now.
Brenda G: It makes me sad too to think of Legolas without his mother so young. As you say, the other two had her present when they were growing up. And I like the idea that Legolas is loved “deliberately.” His family all see him as someone they can unconditionally dote on. Well, maybe Ada is less unconditional than Eilian is!
Philomena: I’m glad you like it. Legolas is a cute kid. But then, you probably expected that. ;-)
Karenator: I thought the Elven horses would probably come back immediately when called. And you’re right. All families should be so loving.
Gwyn: To me, Ithilden is an admirable character. He would do anything to protect those he loves and he takes his responsibility seriously. And however hard he is on anyone else, he is far harder on himself.
Coolio02: There are few better endings than “I love you.”
JustMe: Legolas is determined even now when it comes to keeping his loved ones safe. He will be a good warrior some day. And I have to say, the powerful kisses of Annael’s nana made me smile too. Annael is lucky!
Nilmandra: Thank you for your help in making that stable scene better. Heck, in making almost all the scenes better!
JastaElf: I like your insight into the helplessness of a youngest child watching the older ones go off to do things that seem exciting and scary. Poor Legolas!
Sekhet: You know what? As I worked on this story, I could see how I could set up lots of things for the later stories. “Teenage” Legolas resents being seen as his family’s baby and having them stop talking about serious matters when he enters the room? Well, you can see that he IS his family’s baby and they got in the habit of not talking about serious matters long ago. They look at him and they see the Legolas in this story.
LKK: I have to admit that my OCs have gotten away from me. It’s hard to write young Legolas stories without them because we know so little about Legolas’s childhood, so at first they were just necessary pieces for realism. Then they jumped off the page at me and started walking around. What can I do? ;-)
Feanen: Thank you. I appreciate your letting me know that you are still reading and enjoying.
TreeHugger: Ithilden is a serious person. Too serious. He needs to loosen up. I am glad you like the ending. I did too. “I love you” should end all stories!
Naneth: Legolas may not be able to swing a sword but he can still try to protect them! Hence the horses.
Levade: I think frustration is a very apt word for what Legolas must be feeling. Plus terror, probably, given the situation. I am a middle child, so my sympathies are all with Eilian.
Elemmire: I am glad you liked it! Little Legolas is sweet. I love him.
Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.
11. Not Alone
In the early evening of the next day, the warriors rode into the area before Thranduil’s stronghold. Ithilden had experienced such homecomings many times since becoming a warrior and, as always, he was touched to see family members running to greet the Elves who had been away. This time, the crowd was particularly thick because these were Home Guard members and, since the posting kept them close to home and relatively safe, many of them had bonded and had children.
He wondered briefly about Eilian’s reluctance to accept a place in the Home Guard, given his feelings for Celuwen. This mission had shown Ithilden first hand what others had been telling him: His brother was exceptionally good at finding and battling Orcs in unpredictable situations. The Southern Patrol was the natural place for those talents to be of use, but surely Eilian wanted some happiness for himself too. Despite the tension that occasionally flared between them, Ithilden certainly wanted it for him. Then he saw Thranduil emerging from the palace and coming toward them and set thoughts of his mercurial younger brother aside. He slid from his horse, and placed his hand over his heart and extended it in formal salute. Thranduil returned the salute and then embraced him.
“Welcome home, iôn-nín,” Thranduil murmured in his ear.
“It is good to be home,” Ithilden responded, and as always when he returned from a mission, he felt the truth and inadequacy of the words.
Thranduil turned to search for Eilian in the crowd, and then made his way toward him. Ithilden was starting to lead his horse toward the stables when he spotted Legolas running through the Great Doors with Nimloth trailing after him. The elfling flew down the stairs, threaded his way through the legs of horses and grown Elves, and climbed up his oldest brother into his arms.
“Ithilden! You are home!” he cried, flinging his arms fiercely around his brother’s neck.
Ithilden gave him a squeeze. “We missed you, little one.” Legolas looked over his shoulder and stretched out his arms to Eilian, who had approached with their father. Eilian grinned and took their little brother from him.
“Were you good while we were gone, brat?” Eilian inquired, suffering his head to be pulled to one side by Legolas’s hug.
“I was,” Legolas told him complacently. “I did all my lessons, and I did not touch any weapons.”
“Good for you,” Eilian laughed.
“Legolas,” Thranduil said, “go on back to Nimloth now. Your brothers probably want to bathe and rest before evening meal.”
“He is no bother,” Eilian protested. “I will take him to my room with me. He can amuse me while I unpack and bathe.” They made their way toward their apartments. Eilian disappeared into his chamber with Legolas still attached to his side, and Ithilden started to follow Thranduil into the sitting room. In his head, he had been organizing a report for his father as they rode the last few miles home.
“Not tonight,” Thranduil said gently, turning to him. “Go and bathe and then come and share some wine. Tomorrow will be soon enough to hear what you have found.”
Ithilden blinked. “I do not mind, Adar.”
“I do mind,” Thanduil said. “Tonight I want you to be just my son. Eilian too, if he stays in,” he added.
Ithilden felt a rush of love for this Elf whose opinion mattered more to him than that of anyone else in Arda. “Very well, Adar. I will be back soon.”
“I will be here,” Thranduil said placidly.
Legolas watched from his perch on the bed as Eilian unbuckled his sword and dropped it onto the desk and then came to dump his pack out onto the covers next to Legolas. He wrinkled his nose. “Your clothes smell funny,” he announced.
Eilian laughed. “I expect they do. They need washing.”
There were black spots on the tunic on top. “What is that?” he asked curiously.
Eilian hesitated, so Legolas knew that the spots were something he did not want to talk about, but if he waited, Eilian might talk about them anyway.
“It is Orc blood,” Eilian finally told him.
Legolas eyed the spots and then carefully reached out to touch one. It felt stiff but that was all. “Did you and Ithilden and the other warriors kill the Orcs?”
Eilian nodded soberly. “Yes, we did.”
Legolas felt very relieved. “Good. I knew you would.”
Eilian was now looking at him oddly. “Did you?”
Legolas nodded. “Ada says you are both very good warriors. I will be a good warrior too some day when I grow up. I am not big enough to really be one now, but I am big enough to have a pony. Ada says he will get me one.”
Eilian was smiling now. “Have you and Ada been spending time together while I was gone?”
“Some,” Legolas answered immediately. “But sometimes his advisors need him too because he has to be king.”
Eilian pulled off his tunic and threw it on the floor. Legolas stared at it. Nimloth would not like that at all if she were taking care of Eilian. Eilian started toward the bathing chamber, and Legolas hopped down from the bed to follow him. “Eilian, do you remember when I let your horse out?”
Eilian had opened the pipes to let water come into the big tub. Legolas watched with interest. He wished his tub were this big. He turned to find his brother looking at him. “Yes, I remember.”
“Are you angry at me? I am sorry I did it.” Legolas had been wanting to tell his brothers this, but they had been gone so he could not.
Eilian shook his head. “I am not angry, little one. Was Ada angry?”
Legolas considered this. He had actually been quite puzzled by what Ada had done in the stable. “No. He let me sit on his lap, and he said he missed Nana too.”
“I expect he does,” Eilian said, looking sad himself.
“When I am angry about Nana being dead, I am going to go talk to Ada,” Legolas told him. “And I will make Ada feel better too.”
Eilian ruffled his hair. “That is a very good idea. I know you make me feel better.” Legolas smiled happily. He loved Eilian.
The water in the tub was deep now, and Eilian closed the pipes. He pulled off his leggings and climbed into the tub. Legolas edged near. “Eilian?”
“Hm?” Eilian was sliding deep into the water, looking like the dog in the stable looked when you scratched her back. Legolas was sure that he never looked that silly in the bathtub.
“I will not let your horse out again. I did not want you to go away, but Ada says you will not let an Orc eat you. He says you are too tough anyway.”
Eilian sounded as if he were choking on the water. “You are being very brave, Legolas. I am proud of you.” Legolas was proud of himself too, but he thought it would not be good manners to show it.
He frowned at Eilian, who looked as if he wanted to go to sleep in the tub. “You should hurry. We are having meat pies for evening meal, and I am very hungry.”
Eilian laughed, sat up straight, and started to scrub at the dirt on his arms. “Whatever you say, brat.”
When Ithilden returned to the sitting room, Thranduil had warmed wine ready, and they settled into the chairs by the fireplace. “We still have some time before evening meal,” Thranduil told him. At that moment, the door opened and Eilian and Legolas came into the room. Legolas was apparently just finishing some long, involved tale.
“But then Annael’s nana said that we could not bring the mice into the cottage so we had to let them go,” he said. Eilian looked at them and rolled his eyes.
“Come here, child,” Thranduil said and drew Legolas onto his lap. He looked quizzically at Eilian. “Are you going out?”
“No,” protested Legolas immediately. “I want you to stay here, Eilian.” Eilian hesitated.
“I, too, would like to have you home tonight, iôn-nín,” said Thranduil mildly.
Eilian looked gratified and perhaps a little surprised by his father’s words. “Very well,” he said. “I will send a message to Celuwen.”
Ithilden could not suppress a smile at the scowl Legolas gave at the mention of Celuwen although Eilian grimaced in response. Ithilden settled back contentedly in his chair. He suddenly found that just being with his father and brothers was satisfying beyond measure.
On the following morning, Thranduil looked up at the knock on his door. “Come,” he bid, and Ithilden entered and took the chair that his father indicated.
“What have you to tell me?” Thranduil asked, and Ithilden launched into an account of the destruction of the Orcs in the area to the Realm’s southwest and then of his dealings with the Elves who had chosen to live in the woods there.
When he had finished, Thranduil sighed. “I feared as much. The delegation from the settlement is preparing to return too. The families with children will stay, but the rest would not hear of it.”
Ithilden ran his hand over his hair. “We have made their situation safer for the present, but surely they realize that the future is uncertain.”
“They do,” Thranduil responded, “but they see living in the woods not only as their right but also as their duty. They feel a bond to the woods and believe that their presence makes it less shadowed, and I cannot say that they are wrong.” He toyed with the elegant carved wooden letter opener on his desk. He had put the emerald studded dagger away until he was more certain that Legolas was trustworthy around it.
“There is one other matter, Adar,” Ithilden said hesitantly. His tone made Thranduil brace himself. This was going to be something that he would not like. Ithilden drew in his breath. “I am going to send Eilian south again if he wants to go.” He regarded his father warily, waiting for a reaction.
Thranduil froze. “That assignment is a dangerous one, particularly for someone who is unwilling to be cautious, and I fear your brother is not always wise.”
“He impressed me on this mission,” Ithilden said steadily. “He fought with discipline and judgment, and I believe he has learned his lesson as to the inadvisability of rashness. Moreover, I had not fully realized before just how good he is in unpredictable situations. He seems to have a feel for how things are developing and is able to react quickly.”
Thranduil sighed. Ithilden’s judgment was usually good and Thranduil knew that his oldest son too had been learning some lessons, only his were about the impossibility of completely protecting everyone, or even those he loved. For Ithilden, being willing to let Eilian go into danger was an achievement. Thranduil had allowed it before; he would allow it again.
He thought about Ithilden’s words and recognized a puzzle. “Do you doubt that he will want to go?” he asked.
Ithilden hesitated again. “I had thought he might want to stay near home and possibly bond with Celuwen,” he offered.
Thranduil was startled. It had never occurred to him that Eilian might have been thinking about bonding. He has assumed that his son’s duty to the realm would put that out of the question, although he also liked the maiden and believed she might be able to make Eilian happy. “Surely not,” he said. “Eilian knows his duty.” Ithilden said nothing, but his face became impassive. Thranduil blinked and then groaned inwardly. What had Eilian told his brother? Thranduil feared that he did not want to know the answer. He supposed he would learn what he needed to know soon enough, when Eilian accepted his brother’s offer or did not.
“One thing, Ithilden,” Thranduil cautioned. “Do not mention this in front of Legolas. I will tell him. He will not be happy, but perhaps the fact that you both came home safely this time will reassure him a little.”
Ithilden nodded and then stirred as if to leave but Thranduil stopped him. “I have another matter to discuss with you, Ithilden.” He looked at his son’s inquiring grey eyes. “I want you to begin commanding the troops from here. I know that you have been reluctant to do this, but I have made up my mind that it must happen. The task is becoming far too complex to manage while you are on the move.” Ithilden opened his mouth, but Thranduil put up a hand to stop him from speaking. “Moreover, I need you here. I want to spend more time with Legolas, and I believe that you are more than capable of taking care of some matters for me while I do.”
Ithilden blinked and then looked pleased. “As it happens, I, too, had concluded that I needed a central command. And, Adar, if you think I can be of any help to you, I will do my best to provide it.”
Thranduil smiled. “I know you will. There is no one I trust more.”
Now Ithilden did rise. “By your leave, Adar,” he said and Thranduil sent him on his way. He sat for a moment at his desk, thinking about his two older sons who now were beyond his help most of the time. He sighed. I will take Legolas for a ride, he thought. He, at least, is still within my care. When he entered Legolas’s room, however, he found it empty. Further inquiry led him to Nimloth, who was sitting and chatting with some of the other palace workers while she mended a small tunic.
“He is playing at Annael’s cottage,” she told him. “Shall I fetch him?”
“No,” Thranduil said, “I will find him myself.” He left the palace, feeling a moment’s flicker of irritation at the two guards who trailed him. I wonder if Ithilden has settled enough that he will allow me to dismiss them? he thought. Surely they can be put to better use. He got his horse from the stables and then led him toward Annael’s home, passing on the way the pond where he and Legolas had encountered Ithilden only three weeks ago. Then the ice had been a thin skin, but they had had clear, cold weather for almost a fortnight and the ice had thickened, looking almost ready to hold elflings who would run and slide and shout with glee.
There were no elflings on the pond today, but he could hear them not far ahead. As he rounded a hedge, he saw a scene that reminded him all too vividly of another moment with Legolas. Ahead of him, two ellyth stood shouting at three small Elves who, unfortunately, were Legolas and his friends, all facing the ellyth belligerently, with sticks in their hands. His heart sank, for he had thought that Legolas was slowly recovering his normal good nature. Irritated, he strode toward the children.
“We are guarding you,” Legolas was saying emphatically. “That is what warriors do.”
“We do not want you to guard us,” snapped one of the ellyth. “We do not want you near us. Go away.”
Thranduil came to a halt, irritation giving way to amusement. Legolas and his friends were apparently no more welcome as protectors than they had been as attackers.
“Legolas,” he called.
His son spun and saw him. “Ada!” he cried, dropping his stick and running into his father’s hug.
“Would you like to go for a ride with me?” Thranduil asked.
“Yes! Yes!” Warrior duties forgotten, Legolas ran toward the king’s stallion. Thranduil was turning to follow him when a small hand tugged on his cloak and he turned to see an elleth looking up at him.
“Could you please tell them we do not need to be guarded?” she said, pointing to Turgon and Annael. Thranduil felt a momentary stab of sadness, for in his realm now, all children needed to be guarded.
He took the elleth’s point, however. He eyed the two “guards” and like the experienced warrior he was, he chose his target and weapon with care. “Annael, does your naneth know that you are so far away from your cottage?” he asked. The child stared at him for a moment with a stricken look and then dropped his stick and turned and ran for home, with Turgon trailing after him disgustedly.
“They are not really warriors, you know,” the elleth told Thranduil and then returned to her companion.
Thranduil smiled broadly and made his way to his horse where Legolas waited for him with delight written on his face. He lifted the child onto the horse and then vaulted up himself and began to guide the animal toward one of the trails that would lead to the woods.
“There is Eilian!” Legolas cried suddenly, pointing off to his left. He raised his voice. “Eilian, look! I am going for a ride with Ada.”
Eilian had been following a path that led to some cottages but now he paused and waved. “I see that you are,” he called with a laugh. “Make sure that Ada behaves himself.” He began walking again.
“I will,” Legolas cried and then he laughed too. “Eilian is silly,” he confided to Thranduil, and he leaned back against him.
Thranduil reveled in the warmth of the small body pressed affectionately against own, and as he did, he was suddenly aware of a presence where for so long he had felt only a void. He held himself completely still, scarcely daring to breathe. And like the attraction of the first star opening in the evening, the bond that told him of his wife’s continued existence tugged lightly at the edge of his being, and joy abruptly flooded his heart.
Legolas twisted to look at him, having evidently sensed something in his father’s manner. Then he smiled. “Go fast, Ada,” he demanded.
Thranduil tightened his grip on his small son’s waist and, to Legolas’s delight, urged the stallion into a canter.
Eilian smiled contentedly to himself at the sight of his little brother going for a ride with their father. Even in the short time that he had been back from the mission, it had become evident to Eilian that Thranduil had established an easier relationship with his little brother. He was glad. He had, in truth, been a bit worried about leaving Legolas to return to his patrol, but he had concluded that their father had somehow managed to see through his need to insure good behavior and recognized the impulses that were driving Legolas’s more regrettable actions. Legolas would be all right, even if Eilian did go south again.
But really there was no “if” about it. After his conversations with Celuwen’s father and then with Ithilden, he had briefly considered asking to be released from his duties as a warrior and moving to the settlement, but he had quickly put the idea aside. As Thranduil’s son, he had been raised to know his duty to the realm, and even in his most erratic younger days, he had never faltered in his commitment to fulfilling it. He was good at hunting and fighting the enemy, and he should continue to do it. Living simply in the woods was an attractive thought, but for him, it would be a neglect of responsibility, and in the long run, it would eat at him and destroy him.
But neither could he bear to let Celuwen go. He had seen his father’s grief at the loss of a bonded partner and he knew that it was selfish to even consider tying Celuwen to him, but he could not stand the thought of losing her. He had had enough of loss and wanted, for a change, to rejoice in love. But he had to tell her about the opportunity he had to return to the Southern Patrol, and that was what he was steeling himself to do now. Surely she would understand. Celuwen had one of the strongest senses of duty he had ever encountered.
He knocked at the door to her uncle’s cottage and felt a flood of happiness when Celuwen opened it. Without a word, he clasped her in his arms and rested his cheek against her hair. She squeezed him in an answering embrace with her face buried against his chest. When he pulled back, she tilted her head to him and he saw, to his surprise, that there were tears on her cheeks. “There is no need for that, surely,” he cried, rubbing his thumbs over the tears. “I am here and I am whole. I am sorry if I frightened you, my love.”
She forced a smile. “Come in,” she said, drawing him after her and closing the door. She led him into the kitchen where boxes stood on the table and various food stuffs were spread out. She directed him to a chair by the fire, handed him a cup of cider, and then began packing the food into the boxes, checking things off on a list as she went.
He sat back and watched her, reveling in the grace of her movements. “I saw your adar,” he said. “He seemed well.” In truth, he was rather pleased with himself for that serene statement. Celuwen’s father had been physically well, but he had also been angry and scathing in expressing it. But Eilian was rewarded for his effort by the radiant smile Celuwen gave him.
“Is he? I have been worrying about him.”
“He asked about you,” Eilian added blithely. “I am sure he misses you too.”
Her face suddenly became serious. She put down the package of flour she had been holding and came slowly toward him. “Eilian,” she said, “I have something to tell you.”
Suddenly sobered, he recalled his own news. “I have something to tell you too.” He reached out and, taking her hands in his, tried to pull her into his lap, but she resisted. She did not withdraw her hands, but she stood before him with her face grave. He lifted her hands to his lips and kissed each palm. “Ithilden has asked me if I wish to return to the Southern Patrol,” he said, watching her anxiously, “and I have decided to tell him that I do.”
She blinked and then smiled sadly. “I thought you would go eventually. It is the right thing for you to do, and besides, you enjoy it.”
He could not deny it. “I will be home on leave as often as I can,” he told her eagerly. He pulled on her hands again, but she still held back.
“Please,” she said, “let me speak.” She drew a deep breath. “I have decided to return to the settlement with my naneth. We are leaving tomorrow.”
He stared at her in horror. “You cannot be serious. It is far too dangerous!” Even as he said it, he was aware of the irony. He had, after all, just told her that he was returning to the Southern Patrol. He shoved that notion aside and instead let anger flare. “I cannot believe that your adar would allow it.” He flung her hands down and stood up. “I will not allow it!”
She ignored his declaration. “Eilian, try to understand,” she pleaded. “It is my duty to go back. I cannot sit idly at home while you fight to hold back the Shadow. This is a fight we all must wage, and this is the way I can do that.”
“And what about me?” he demanded. “What about us?” He grasped her shoulders. “Bond with me, Celuwen,” he urged. “Today. Now.”
Tears had begun to flow down her cheeks again. She touched his face gently. “You know you do not mean that.”
“I do mean it!” But a hopeless anguish had begun to fill him.
“Eilian, Shadow could claim one or both of us. I will not tie you to me and then leave you alone. I want better for you than that.”
He stared down into her wide, dark eyes and then gathered her to him with a moan. At last she surrendered and sagged against him. “Do not do this, Celuwen.”
“My love,” her voice was muddled with tears, “do not make this harder than it is.”
They stood for a long moment in one another’s arms. She would do it, he realized. He could not stop her. He savored the feel of her body against his. I will remember this, he thought. I will remember exactly how she feels against me. He pulled back and put his hand behind her head, tangling his fingers in her hair. He pressed his lips to her forehead. “Be safe. I beg you,” he murmured.
She put her hand to his face and turned him to look into her eyes. “Be safe, my love. I beg you,” she echoed and then began to cry again.
Thranduil followed Legolas down the hall as he ran toward the sitting room. He really should send the child off to bathe and change before evening meal, but Legolas had wheedled a promise that, when their ride was over, Thranduil would read more to him from the book they had almost finished the evening before. He evidently did not intend to surrender his father’s company until he had to, Thranduil thought with some amusement, and then was glad that he had asked Ithilden to stay home and free him occasionally for more afternoons like this one.
Ahead of him, Legolas had stopped dead in the doorway, looking into the room. Thranduil came up behind him just as Legolas ran forward toward Eilian, who was sitting slumped near the fire, with his elbows on his knees, his head dropped into his hands, and all of his attention evidently on his thoughts, for he had not heard them until now. He raised his head and blinked as Legolas approached. Even from where Thranduil stood, he could see that the blinking was not simply from surprise. Ah, he thought, Celuwen.
“Are you sad?” Legolas cried anxiously, climbing into his brother’s lap. Eilian saw his father and tried to rise clutching Legolas, but Thranduil motioned him back into the chair. Legolas’s small hands were now stroking Eilian’s hair. “Are you sad for Nana? Do not worry. You still have me.” He planted a kiss on Eilian’s cheek.
Eilian hugged him. “Thank you, little one. That is very comforting,” he said in a less than steady voice.
Lorellin, Thranduil thought, help me now. He approached his sons. “Legolas, go and tell Nimloth that you need a bath before evening meal. I will come and get you when it is time.” Legolas looked ready to protest but Thranduil spoke firmly. “Go. I want to talk to Eilian now.” Reluctantly, Legolas got down from his brother’s lap and dragged his way out the door, which his father closed behind him. Now Eilian did stand. He and Thranduil regarded one another for a moment, and then Thranduil approached and, to Eilian’s obvious surprise, embraced him before waving him back into the chair. “Shall I assume this is about Celuwen?” Thranduil asked seating himself in the chair opposite.
Eilian nodded. “She has decided to return to the settlement,” he said, sounding bitter. “And she has refused to make any kind of commitment to me before she goes.”
Thranduil was dismayed. So Ithilden had been right in believing that Eilian was actually thinking of bonding with Celuwen. His flirtatious son must have been deeply love struck indeed to consider such a thing. “It does not surprise me that she intends to go back,” Thranduil said. “I have talked to other Elves from her settlement. They are a determined lot and deeply committed to the settlement and to one another.”
“I do not care about the others,” Eilian cried. “I care about Celuwen. How can she do something so foolish? Adar, I do not know how I will bear it if something happens to her. I do not even know how I will bear separating from her with no end in sight.”
The despair in his voice frightened his father. He leaned forward and put a hand on Eilian’s knee. “Listen to me, iôn-nín,” he urged. “Your brothers and I love you. You have friends and work that you are good at and that is worth doing. I would not have you be driven by grief to do anything reckless. Surely you have grown beyond that.”
Eilian made a wordless sound of protest. “Do not worry, Adar. I am not feeling reckless. I am not feeling anything. I am numb.”
Thranduil strongly suspected that Eilian only wished he were numb. “Do you believe that Celuwen really cares for you?” he asked quietly.
“I know she does,” Eilian responded vehemently.
“Then have faith in her,” Thranduil counseled. “Life is long, Eilian, and there are things that are worth waiting for.”
Eilian looked at him, and Thranduil thought he saw a glimmer of hope in his son’s eyes. “Do you think so?”
Thranduil rose so that Eilian would too and again drew him into an embrace. “I do. Take care for yourself and trust her to do the same. All things change. The Shadow will not threaten us forever.” Thranduil prayed that he spoke truly and hoped that Eilian would believe he did.
Eilian pulled away. “By your leave, Adar,” he said, “I would like to go and bathe now. Would you like me to fetch Legolas for evening meal?”
“No,” Thranduil responded with some satisfaction. “He should see that you are recovered tonight, but I have been enjoying being Ada today.”
Eilian smiled faintly. “Are you speaking about Legolas or me?” he asked and then kissed his father’s cheek. “Thank you,” he said simply and left the room.
Thranduil poured wine and sat for a few moments before going to get ready for evening meal himself. Eilian’s despair had distressed him, for it echoed his own only too closely. And yet also he realized that the despair he had felt over Lorellin’s death had faded over the last months without his even realizing it. Now, she was with him again. And he found that what he felt this evening was not despair but gratitude. He was deeply thankful for the sons that he and his wife had been given together as signs of their love. And he was determined that what he could do for them he would. He could not keep all grief from their door, but he could comfort them when it came. He was not alone and neither were they.
I think I’m done now. I enjoyed writing this. And I really loved knowing that other people were enjoying reading it. Thank you to you all.
Mer: That’s an interesting suggestion. I was thinking about it after I read your review and I wondered if Legolas’s experience would change his brothers’ attitudes toward him. Maybe he will always be their baby brother. And how annoying (and maybe simultaneously comforting?) that would be!
Kay: Eilian has matured in this. He has turned into a complex character who keeps sliding away from me.
Luin: Well, you called that one. He did make his plans without considering hers and it was painful to find that out. Poor Eilian. Fortunately there are volunteers to comfort him.
Dragon-of-the-North: I hope all your exams went well. It is hard to believe they would not. Ithilden and Eilian are interesting to try to write together because they do love one another but they are so different that they get on one another’s nerves some times. I think that happens less often in the later stories as Eilian grows up and they appreciate one another more.
Orangeblossom Took: Celuwen turned out to have ideas of her own that Eilian had not considered, poor lovestruck fool. He was used to being the one in danger for whom others waited!
Solaris: In this story, Legolas is 11, which makes him roughly equivalent to a human 4 year old. I arrive at that by dividing his age by 2.5, a rule that many authors use because Tolkien says that elves come of age at 50 and dividing that by 2.5 gives you 20. On my author page at ff.net, I posted a list of my stories and how old Legolas is in each.
Sekhet: Maltanaur is like an irresistible force. He just keeps speaking his mind and the king’s sons are eventually worn down. How smart Thranduil was to pick him!
Caz-baz: You were right. Eilian had to decide, but Celuwen really decided for him, I’m afraid. She is less likely to fool herself than he is to deceive himself.
StrangeBlaze: It’s probably mean of me, but I’m glad I made you cry! My work is done.
Alice: Celuwen’s father really did not hold back. It’s kind of hard to imagine what family dinners would be like on Elf holidays, isn’t it?
TigerLily: The thing about writing battles is that there are only so many ways to say “and he skewered the Orc” before it gets boring. I’m really far more interested in inner battles, so what I try to do is make sure that those come through while my characters are fighting the outer ones. I’m glad you liked it.
Xsilicax: In dealing with Legolas, Thranduil is dealing with exactly what you articulate: how to discipline the behavior while still dealing with the underlying motives. He’s getting there.
Dragon Confused: I appreciated you catching up on all the chapters. I was trying to finish before school started and I had to go back to work. And you were right. A big bundly muddle is about where they wound up. Poor people.
Jebb: I think there’s really no good solution for Eilian and it’s not really his fault. The realm needs him and his family has to accept that he will be in danger. And he enjoys that but then he also loses a chance for a normal home life in the process. So he can’t win. :-(
Fadesintothewest: Your comment about my battle scene made me feel good. It’s hard to make them twist (as you say) and not be wholly predictable. I am interested in seeing how you and other readers react to Celuwen’s decision. And I thank you mightily for your compliments on my OCs.
Gwyn: The two older brothers have come closer, you are right, which is a good thing because they have complementary strengths, so they could make a really good team.
Feanen: Thank you. I’m glad you liked the chapter.
BrendaG: I’m glad you liked the battle scenes. They’re hard to write though, especially since I really know nothing at all about military stuff.
Karenator: You’re right, of course. Eilian did behave unreliably so the more responsible folks around him can’t be blamed for wondering if he’s changed. I loved your question for the settlement dwellers: “How’s that working for you?” LOL
Frodo3791: Middle children ARE the best.
JustMe: What a good analysis of Ithilden and Eilian as a team. Their strengths do fit together remarkably well to balance one another off. Shall I list you as one of the volunteers to console Eilian?
Dot: I have to admit I amused myself by making it be Celuwen who decided that she was going into danger and had to let Eilian go. And I too love commanding!Ithilden. There’s a fantasy there somewhere.
Karri: I like Gelmir’s line too. And the unconditional love that Legolas gives and gets is healing for his whole family, I think.
Tapetum Lucidum: I think that Legolas would have given Celuwen quite a lot of trouble. He’s pretty possessive right now. But now the question is not going to arise.
Legolas4me: Legolas does adore his older brothers. And the feeling is mutual really.
Nilmandra: I cannot thank you enough for all your help on this story. You are always a good sounding board and a fount of ideas.
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