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Fire and Shadow  by daw the minstrel

7. The Rest of Ithilden’s Story

“No medicine,” Belówen declared.

Legolas regarded him in disbelief for a second and then let his head fall back on his pillow with a snort of disgust.  He might have known.  Healers were among the most perverse creatures in Arda.

“He may have trouble sleeping,” said Thranduil reluctantly.  He had kept hold of Legolas’s hand the entire time that Belówen had been examining him, and Legolas was deeply grateful for his continued presence.

Belówen grimaced.  “He probably will, but he should take nothing that will cloud his mind, my lord.”  He looked at Legolas disapprovingly.  “You should have told me about this memory loss earlier.”

“I am sorry,” Legolas said automatically, glancing at Thranduil.  He really felt no remorse for having withheld the information from the healer, but he knew he had owed a frank confession to his father.   And to Ithilden, he thought unhappily.  Ithilden was not going to be any more pleased than Thranduil was at what had been kept from him.

“I do have one piece of good news for you though, Legolas,” Belówen went on.  “I think you can get out of bed for a while today, and if all goes well, you can start moving around the palace on crutches tomorrow.”

Legolas felt his heart lighten slightly at that news.  At least he might be able to find something to do besides lie in bed and think.

Belówen turned to Thranduil. “Shall I send one of my assistants to help him dress and then stay with him, or is there someone here who can do it?”  He had treated Thranduil’s sons after serious injury before, and he therefore knew perfectly well what the king’s answer to that question would be, but he asked it nonetheless.

“I will do it,” Thranduil responded immediately.  “Or someone else from the family will if I cannot.”

Belówen nodded and began gathering up his belongings.  “Just sit in a chair for a while today,” he instructed Legolas as he packed his gear.  “And be careful. You may be dizzy because you have not been upright for a while.”

“He will take care,” Thranduil responded for him and then went with Belówen to the door.  Legolas could hear them murmuring to one another in the hallway, and then he could hear his father issuing orders to various attendants before he came back into the room.

Thranduil went straight into the bathing chamber, returning with a basin of warm water and a cloth.  “I will help you wash and dress,” he said.

“If you put the basin on the table, I can do that, Adar,” Legolas protested.  He was not helpless; he simply had a rapidly-healing broken leg.  And a recently returned memory that had left him gasping with pain, he reminded himself.  He knew that his father was far more worried about that than he was about any of Legolas’s physical injuries.

Thranduil hesitated for only a second before he put the basin and cloth within Legolas’s reach and then went to the cupboard to pull out clean clothes.  He used his dagger to cut the leggings so they would fit over the splints on Legolas’s left leg, while with only a minimum of fumbling, Legolas managed to pull off the sleep tunic he was wearing and wash himself.  Thranduil waited patiently until he was done and then helped him into his clothes. Then he carefully picked Legolas up and carried him to the chair in front of the fireplace.

“There,” he said, tucking a blanket around him.  “How do you feel?”

“Fine,” Legolas responded automatically, although he found that even these simple tasks had left him exhausted.  He felt as if all his perceptions had been dulled, and he looked at the world through a hazy screen.

Thranduil went to the door to call a servant and then sat across from Legolas while she lit the fire and then changed the sheets on the bed.  Legolas stared for a moment at the fire and then shuddered and looked away.  Thranduil quietly reached out and put a hand on Legolas’s knee.  The servant finished her work and withdrew.

There was a moment’s silence, and then Thranduil sighed. “Legolas, I wish there were something I could say to take this pain away from you.”  His voice was urgent and Legolas found that he could not look away from his father’s grey eyes.  “I cannot deny that there are evil things in this world, and you have unfortunately been witness to one of them.  But I would remind you that because you are willing to serve the realm as a warrior, there are fewer of those evil things than there would be otherwise.  You could not stop this dragon, but you have stopped other shadowed creatures from doing harm to the innocent.  The world is a better place because you are in it, iôn-nín.”

Legolas drew a somewhat wobbly breath.  “Thank you, Adar.  I will try to remember that.” And against all odds, he could feel the pain in his heart releasing its grip, just a little.

Thranduil patted his knee and then rose and walked toward the corner of the room.  He returned holding something that made Legolas draw in his breath. “I had not realized that you gave your sword to the Dwarf,” Thanduil said, drawing Legolas’s sword from its scabbard with a whispery whoosh.  Legolas blinked at the way the firelight reflected off the blade.  The weapon was truly beautiful. His father had chosen carefully when he selected it for Legolas.

“The Dwarf needed it,” Legolas said apologetically.  He knew Thranduil’s dislike of the Naugrim.

Still holding the sword, Thranduil looked at him.  “Yes, he did. He was a husband and father protecting those he loved from the creatures of shadow.”  He smiled slightly at Legolas’s bemused look.  “Still, I am glad that it came home with you, and it is here now waiting for you when you are ready to take it up again.”  Thranduil regarded the sword thoughtfully.  “A fine weapon for a fine warrior,” he said finally, slid the sword back into its sheath, and then turned to re-hang it on the hooks on the wall. Legolas swallowed the lump in his throat.

There was a knock at the door, and then it opened to admit a grave-looking Ithilden.  “The delegation from Esgaroth is waiting for you, Adar.”

Thranduil nodded.  “Ithilden will stay with you,” he told Legolas soberly. “You two have much to talk about.”  Legolas looked at his brother and flinched slightly, for it was obvious to Legolas that Ithilden now knew about his memory loss.  Belówen must have told him, Legolas thought, and Ithilden had not liked what he had heard.  As a consequence, when Legolas looked at Ithilden now, he saw not his brother but his troop commander, whom he had deceived about what healing would be needed before he was ready for battle again.  Thranduil walked from the room and closed the door behind him.

For a moment, Ithilden stood looking at him. “I would rise if I were able to, my lord,” Legolas said as evenly as he could. “As it is, all I can do is tell you how deeply I regret my deception.  I should have told you immediately about the problem I was having.”

“Yes, you should have,” Ithilden responded.  “And I trust you would have before you let me risk your safety and that of others by sending you into a responsible position again.”

“I would have told you if it had gone on so long,” Legolas answered.

Ithilden nodded and then said gently, “I would have found out anyway, Legolas, when I asked you for an official report on what happened.”

Legolas grimaced.  He had not thought of that.  “I would never have lied to you directly,” he said and knew that it was true.

Ithilden sat down in the chair that Thranduil had vacated.  And suddenly, he looked like Legolas’s brother again, the one who had bandaged his cut finger and let him ride before him on his horse when he was little.  “Belówen says that, for you, this memory is fresh, as if the events happened only this morning. I am sorry, Legolas. This must be very painful for you.”

Unexpectedly, Legolas felt tears stinging his eyes again.  He gritted his teeth and blinked them away.  “I keep thinking I should have been able to do something. I should have known what to do so that things would turn out differently.”  He looked at Ithilden a little desperately. Surely with all his experience, Ithilden could tell him how he could do better next time, for he was determined that he would never again feel so helpless when charged with the care of another creature.

Ithilden looked away.  “Everyone feels that way sometimes, Legolas, but in this case, I do not think there was anything you could have done.”

“If I had told Eilian immediately that Sinnarn and Amdir were missing, the whole patrol would have been there.”

Ithilden shook his head. “No, Eilian would have assumed what you did, that they were off on a lark. That is certainly what I would have assumed.  He would probably have sent Nithron and a companion to retrieve them, so there might have been four warriors instead of just three, but that would be all.  And no one in that patrol had any more experience than you did with dragons, Legolas. They have been hidden away for too long.”

Legolas let his head fall back against his chair, feeling an odd mixture of relief and despair that the dwarves would have fared no better no matter what he had done.  He lifted his head again to find Ithilden regarding him sympathetically.

“Shall I tell you the rest of the story of my first posting to the Southern Patrol?” he asked.

Legolas blinked.  “I thought you had finished,” he said uncertainly. “I thought you were trying to tell me not to feel guilty about Beliond being hurt because Nithron had been hurt while guarding you.”

Ithilden raised an eyebrow.  “Is it not possible,” he inquired with an injured air, “that I would tell you a story simply because I wished to amuse you?”

“No,” answered Legolas promptly.

Ithilden laughed outright. “That was part of my point,” he admitted. “But there is more to the story.”

“Then of course I would like to hear it,” Legolas said politely enough but somewhat mystified.  Why was Ithilden telling him this story now?

His brother settled himself more comfortably in the chair.  “As you say, Nithron had been hurt in the battle to keep the Orc patrol from warning Dol Guldur about our presence.   And Beliond had decided that we would take up the last part of our scouting mission at dawn and then leave the area. It was becoming too dangerous for us to stay.”

 

~*~*

Ithilden tightened his quiver strap and picked up his bow.  “Take care of him,” he said with a grin to the Elf who had been delegated to watch over the wounded Nithron while the patrol finished its last day of scouting.

Nithron frowned at him. “Take care of yourself,” he said emphatically.  “Your adar will have my head if something happens to you while I am lying here.”

“Surely you are not suggesting that the king can be unreasonable?” Ithilden said with an impudent grin.  Then he patted his keeper’s shoulder and started moving across the campsite in Beliond’s general direction.  The stars were fading, and Beliond would want them to be underway at any moment.

The other patrol members too were stirring about, and as he crossed the camp, Ithilden stopped here and there to speak to them, reading their mood.  They were feeling the strain more than they usually did.  They would all be glad to be away from the shadow so they could begin to regain their balance a little.

He had just turned to walk the final distance to Beliond’s side when Anilith walked past and picked up his pack, which had been lying open nearby.  As he lifted it, something fell from it onto the ground, and he bent hastily to retrieve the object and restow it.  Ithilden blinked, certain of what he had seen, but unable to believe it.  The object had been a whetstone. Anilith had Suldur’s whetstone and had not returned it.

Ithilden hesitated. Should he say something?  Not now, he decided, not while the patrol was getting ready to scout.  He would deal with the matter later.  He started toward Beliond again, aware as he moved away that Anilith was eyeing him smugly.  Later, he thought firmly.  I will deal with Anilith later.

He arrived at Beliond’s side just as the captain finished stringing his bow.  “Since Nithron is hurt, you will scout with Garion,” Beliond told him.  Ithilden nodded and then listened carefully as Beliond went over the arrangements one final time.

Ithilden hesitated. He was still doubtful about the way Beliond had paired the patrol members.  Should he tell Beliond what he thought?  He did not want to be presumptuous, but if he did not share what he knew, then he was not serving Beliond well, for he had not given him all the information he needed to make good decisions.  He took a deep breath. “May I comment on the way you have arranged the pairs?” he asked.

Beliond turned piercing grey eyes on him.  “You may,” he said, but his eyes suggested that whatever Ithilden had to say had better be worth listening to.

“You have Suldur and Imbelót working together,” Ithilden said carefully.  “They are both exceptionally good trackers.  Had you considered having each of them work with someone else who might not be as strong?”

Beliond frowned.  “I do not know Imbelót well.  He came to the patrol only a week before you did.  Is he so good?”

“I judge him to be excellent,” Ithilden answered.  “He was in the eastern Border Patrol when I served there last year.”

Beliond nodded.  “Then of course we will separate them,” he said matter-of-factly, and Ithilden could not imagine why he had ever hesitated to make the suggestion.  “Suldur will work with Anilith, and Imbelót will scout with Fend,” Beliond declared.  “Gather them together.” Ithilden paused for only a second, wondering if matching Suldur and Anilith was a good idea, but then he moved off to summon his fellow warriors to hear their last minute orders.  Suldur had been reasonable last night. The two of them should be able to get along today, no matter how much strain the shadow had put on their tempers.

“Remember what we are looking for,” Beliond told the assembled patrol, “anything unusual or different that might have moved westward and caused the Dwarves to flee Khazad-dûm.”  Then he told them who would be working with whom and how they would split up the area to be covered and, with a nod, sent them on their way.

Ithilden moved quickly to join Garion.  The two of them moved into the trees and were soon searching carefully through the area they had been assigned, moving apart and together again but never out of call of one another or the pairs of warriors to either side of them.  Beliond had given them four hours to make their search. After that, they were to return to camp and report.  By mid-day, the captain wanted them to be on their way north again. 

As the morning wore on, Ithilden began to question whether the source of the Dwarves’ movement was really to be found here in the Woodland Realm. The area they were searching was disturbing but no more so than usual, so far as he could tell.  He dropped to the ground yet again and bent to examine tracks, finding as he had before only the marks of the passage of Orcs.  He glanced up at the sun.  Their time was almost up.  He and Garion should check in with one another in a few minutes and then go back to camp.

Suddenly a signal pierced the air from off to his right, sending his heart pounding.  Before he even knew he had registered the sound, Ithilden was flying through the trees toward its source, and all around him, he could hear the faint sounds of the other patrol members responding in the same way.  Someone was in trouble.

The signal came again, more frantic this time, and Ithilden pushed himself to move faster, flinging himself from limb to limb with heedless haste, for now he could hear sounds that told him just what had alarmed one of his fellow warriors. From up ahead came the deep-throated growls of Wargs who were intent on their prey.

With a final burst of speed, Ithilden emerged into a clearing and found a horrifying scene before him.  Suldur was on the ground, standing over a limp Anilith and holding off four Wargs with the stream of arrows he was sending toward them.  Blood ran from a slash on his face, and the body of a fifth Warg lay near him.  Even as Ithilden spotted him, Suldur sounded the alarm again, apparently unaware that help had already arrived.

From the trees all around now, arrows began to fly with deadly accuracy. For a moment, the Wargs seemed not to realize what was happening and remained intent on Suldur and Anilith. But then, as the arrows bit deep, they began to back off in confusion.  Ithilden took careful aim and put an arrow in the neck on the Warg nearest the Elves. The creature staggered and then fell as a second and then a third arrow struck it.  The other Wargs seemed to hesitate and then suddenly, they were fleeing.

“Let them go,” Beliond ordered and jumped to the ground.  Ithilden too was on the ground, running toward Anilith and Suldur before the last Warg had disappeared from the clearing.

“We saw Warg tracks,” Suldur babbled, as Ithilden put his arm around the wounded Elf’s shoulders.  “I told him not to follow them, but he went anyway.  I should have sounded the alarm right away, but I did not do it until I heard the Wargs. He must have disturbed them.  We were quarreling,” he told Ithilden, and the horror of the last few minutes had finally begun to sink in because he suddenly sagged and would have fallen if Ithilden had not had hold of him.  “He had my whetstone. I saw it,” he said, almost in tears. “I was angry and I wanted him to get in trouble.  But I did not want him to be hurt!”

Ithilden looked over Suldur’s head to where Beliond was crouched over Anilith.  The captain looked up, his face grim, and then let his hand fall away from the body of his warrior.  What help they could give had arrived too late for Anilith.  “We need to get moving,” he said.  “How badly is Suldur hurt?” he asked Ithilden.

“He can travel,” Ithilden said briefly and Beliond nodded and then gathered up Anilith’s body to take it back to camp, the first stage of their long and hurried withdrawal from the area around Dol Guldur.

 

~*~*~

“But what had frightened the Dwarves?” Legolas asked.

Ithilden shook his head. “Our mission was not as successful as yours was.”  Legolas could not help grimacing at the idea that the mission he had been on was a ‘success.’ “We never found out why the Dwarves were leaving,” Ithilden went on. “We still do not know really, although we think it must have been something in the mountains or in Khazad-dûm itself.  We could find no change in the area around Dol Guldur.”

Legolas sat quietly for a moment, thinking about the tale that Ithilden had just told him. Then his brother’s deep voice interrupted his reverie.

“I should have acted right away,” Ithilden said, as if to himself. He was staring into the fire and seemed almost to have forgotten Legolas.  “That whetstone was a small thing, but I let it fester and it led to deadly consequences.  So we came home with no answers and a dead warrior.”

Legolas frowned.  “How can you blame yourself for that?  You could not have known that warriors would act like children.”

“We were near Dol Guldur, and I knew the shadow was affecting them,” Ithilden insisted.  He sighed and ran his hand over his hair. “I can tell you that I have never again let something like that slide.”  He looked at Legolas.  “You did the right thing to call for your patrol when you did,” he said. “You should not have gone after Sinnarn and Amdir without telling Eilian or, even more, Beliond, but when you saw something unexpected, you made the right decision and then you acted valiantly.  I am proud of you, brother.”

Legolas felt a lump rise in his throat again and he swallowed hard. “Ithilden,” he asked tentatively, “you went to the Southern Patrol when you were my age and you let Eilian go when he was even younger.” He hesitated and Ithilden looked at him with understanding growing in his eyes. “Is there some reason you have not let me go?  Have I given you reason to doubt me?”

As Thranduil had done before him, Ithilden leaned forward and put his hand on Legolas’s knee.  “Never doubt that you are a competent warrior, Legolas. I have not sent you south because I have not had to.”

Legolas tried to make sense of this.  “What do you mean?”

“Adar needed me to be ready to command the troops, so he sent me into responsible situations when I was still young.  Naneth was never happy about it, and in some ways, she was right,” Ithilden told him.  “I could see that when I had to start sending Eilian into difficult circumstances.  The Peace ended and I found I had fewer experienced warriors than I needed.  And there were other reasons for Eilian being sent south too that you would have to ask him about.”

Legolas looked at him curiously and tried to interrupt but Ithilden evidently had something he wanted to say.

“But, Legolas, I have no need to send you so close to the shadow so soon. There are others who can carry that burden for now. Your turn will come,” Ithilden assured him rather sadly, “but it is not yet.  For now,” he added with a small smile, “do what Naneth would have told you to do and take all chances for joy.”

Legolas felt a little catch in his throat. “I like to picture Naneth saying that,” he said.  “She must have been good for Adar.”

“She was good for all of us," Ithilden said. "I am sorry beyond what I can say that you did not have a chance to grow up with her there to remind you that you are a Wood-elf and should take time to play as well as live up to your duties.”

Legolas raised his eyebrows. “I never thought I would hear you say something like that, Ithilden.”

Ithilden shrugged. “When I was your age, I did not really understand what Naneth meant, and indeed, I am not sure I really did until I was in the position of having to send Eilian and then you and then Sinnarn into danger, when you all seemed so terribly young to me.”  He looked at Legolas. “I have been thinking about Naneth’s words since you and Sinnarn came home hurt.  I do not want either one of you to have to be so serious and responsible as I thought I had to be at your age.”

Legolas considered Ithilden’s words.  “You are not sorry that Sinnarn was transferred to the Home Guard,” he suddenly realized.

Ithilden shook his head.  “He deserved to be disciplined, and he has been sobered by the public reprimand that lies in being transferred home again. And as you say, I am not sorry for that. But besides that, I think it is a good thing for him to be free for a little while of the burden of the more dangerous patrols.  He should have a chance for joy as well as duty.”

“You are not going to transfer me too, are you?” Legolas asked in alarm.

Ithilden smiled sadly.  “No, you need to be a warrior.  You always have needed that. But I would remind you, little brother, that there are chances for joy all around us always. Do not lose sight of them in your desire to drive back the shadow.”

And suddenly Legolas dared to hope that there would be joy for him again too. Not today, but someday soon.  “Do you think that Eilian will have me back?” he asked tentatively.

Ithilden laughed. “Of that, I have no doubt at all.  I believe he has plans for you!”

 





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