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I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien, but they are his, not mine. I gain only the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.
Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.
Ignoring Alfirin, who was hovering nearby, Legolas lowered himself carefully into the chair in the family’s sitting room and then laid his crutches on the floor where he could easily reach them.
“You seem to know what you are doing,” Alfirin said with approval. “Your adar may forgive me after all for letting you out of your own room.”
Legolas grinned at her. “You cannot imagine how much I needed a change of scenery.”
She laughed. “I suppose you did. Would you like something to read while I weave? I can go to the library and get something for you.”
“I would like that. Some tales of the First Age, perhaps? Maybe something with dragons.”
She made a disapproving noise. “I will get you some poems,” she said emphatically and left the room.
Left alone, he leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes. He certainly would not tell Alfirin, but he was exhausted just from making his way from his sleeping chamber to the sitting room. I will have to use the crutches as much as I can, he thought. I need to regain my strength if I am to go north again. For a moment, he wondered what Ithilden had meant when he said that Eilian had ‘plans’ for him, but he put that thought aside. Eilian had the right to decide what penalty he would pay for leaving camp, and he would deal with it when the time came.
Alfirin came back into the room carrying a book, which she placed on the table near him. “Beliond is here to see you, Legolas. Do you feel up to a visitor?”
“Of course,” Legolas managed to respond. He wanted to see Beliond for he had been worrying about him, but he also was a little apprehensive about what his keeper might have to say to him about going to retrieve Sinnarn and Amdir without telling anyone. Alfirin left the room, and a moment later, Beliond came in.
“How are you?” Legolas asked immediately. Beliond’s arms were heavily bandaged from elbow to wrist, but in all other ways, he looked surprisingly normal rather than like the ailing patient that Legolas had been picturing.
“How I am is tired to death of having people ask me about my injuries,” Beliond grumbled. “Do you want me to ask about yours?”
Legolas could not suppress a grin. “No.”
Beliond sat down in the chair opposite him. “The healers poke at my arms and then ask me if they hurt. They wait until I fall asleep and then they come in and tell me it is time to eat or to change my bandages.” His disgust was patent.
“They drugged me senseless until I wanted them to knock me out, and then they refused to do it,” Legolas responded, in complete sympathy.
Beliond stopped his own grumbling and turned a keen gaze on Legolas. “The king tells me you have had trouble recalling events.”
Legolas grimaced. He should have known that his father would tell Beliond about Legolas’s problems. Thranduil had appointed Beliond to see to Legolas’s safety, and he would certainly believe that his keeper needed to know about his memory loss. “I did have trouble. I no longer do,” he said rather stiffly.
His tone must have betrayed his discomfort, and Beliond’s face softened a little. “There are times when forgetting for a while is the only sensible course of action,” he said. And Legolas was suddenly struck by thoughts of Beliond’s son, dead at Dagorlad. For a moment, they sat in the silence of mutual sympathy.
“I keep thinking about the Dwarves,” Legolas finally said, feeling his chest tighten. “I keep thinking there must have been something I could have done differently.” He looked at Beliond beseechingly. “You were there. What should I have done?”
Beliond sighed. “I am afraid I have no wise advice, Legolas,” he said gently. “You did as well as any of us would have done against a dragon. You killed it after all.”
Legolas blinked. “I did?”
Beliond raised an eyebrow. “Yes, you did. Has no one told you that?”
“No.” Legolas thought for a moment. “I do not think I have asked,” he said in surprise.
“It was falling when it knocked the rocks down on you,” Beliond told him. “The rest of us shot at it too, but it was already dying.”
“Then if I had been further from the cave and had been able to shoot earlier, I could have saved the Dwarves!” Legolas exclaimed in distress.
“Legolas, listen to yourself,” said Beliond, and now he sounded exasperated. “You are talking as if you think you could know everything that will happen ahead of time and react in precisely the manner that events then prove would have been best. But you are as limited as the rest of us! Except for your skill with a bow, of course,” he added as an aside. “In that, you truly are exceptional. But you could not have known what would be the best course of action against that dragon. Hear me and hear me well, young one: The Dwarves’ fate was not in your hands. It is best not to have any illusions about one’s power to stop the inevitable.”
In his frustration, he had allowed his voice to rise slightly as he spoke, and Alfirin now put her head in the door. Legolas was suddenly aware that he was staring at his keeper with his mouth open. His father and Ithilden had both let him know that they disapproved of his deception, but they had offered nothing but sympathy over his anguish for the Dwarves. He felt as if someone had thrown a bucket of cold water on him.
“I think it is time for Legolas to rest now,” Alfirin said, eying Beliond disapprovingly.
Beliond rose. “Now that the healers are allowing me to move about,” he told Legolas, “I plan to spend most of my time in the woods. They can do what is needful if they see me twice a day. I will be back when you are ready to resume training. The king has said that we go back to our patrol only when I say you are ready to go.”
He turned to Alfirin. “He will not break with a little rough handling, you know. He is tougher than you all give him credit for.” And with a dignified bow to her, he left the room.
“Really, he is impossible,” said Alfirin.
Legolas looked at her outraged face, and suddenly, he laughed. “He is,” he agreed, when she frowned at him. “And he is also always so very much himself that he is wonderful. I want to stay here and read for a while,” he added hastily, when she moved toward him. “I am not tired.”
She studied him for a moment and then gave a small smile. “Perhaps he was good for you after all.” She seated herself at her loom, and the two of them spent the next hour in a silence that Legolas found peaceful.
“Again!” said Beliond, and Legolas dragged his sleeve across his forehead to wipe away the sweat and then once again brought his practice sword into guard position. “Go,” said Beliond, and Legolas quickly thrust at his keeper’s midsection. Beliond blocked and shoved Legolas’s blade to one side. Legolas allowed his sword to keep going and circled it in under Beliond’s, thrusting again, this time at an angle. Beliond managed to block him again, and for a while, they battled back and forth across the practice field, with novices who had finished their day’s training stopping to watch from the field’s edges.
Finally, Legolas managed to get in under Beliond’s guard and touch him lightly on the ribs. “Enough,” Beliond declared, with an approving look. “You are moving more easily, I think.”
“It seems that way to me,” Legolas agreed. “How do your arms feel?”
Beliond grinned. “Like I just spent three hours fighting with a mad young warrior.” Legolas laughed. He had seen for himself that Beliond’s reach was growing longer again. The skin on his burned arms showed almost no sign of the injury that had been done to them.
The two of them moved toward the rack where the practice swords were stored, and Legolas suddenly became aware that the novices had scattered away from the area, leaving a single tall figure, who had evidently watched most of the last bout. “Hello, Adar,” he said.
Thranduil smiled, but his eyes were somber. “You grow stronger,” he observed, and Legolas nodded. Thranduil looked at Beliond. “When?” he asked.
“Another week or so, I think, my lord,” Beliond answered.
Legolas shifted his weight a little. It was clear to him that his father was reluctant to see him go back to his patrol. “I will be fine, Adar,” he said. “You should not worry.”
Thranduil gave a short laugh, and then put his hand on Legolas’s shoulder. “I know that you will be fine. You are obviously a skilled warrior. But I will worry anyway.” Legolas recognized the effort his father was making and, with a flood of affection, put his hand over Thranduil’s.
Beliond bent to gather the gear he had left near the sword rack. “By your leave, my lord,” he said. Thranduil nodded, and Beliond turned to Legolas. “I will see you tomorrow at the same hour,” he said and then walked off to disappear in the woods that closed in on one side of the field.
With Thranduil’s hand still on his shoulder, Legolas watched his keeper go. The trees were in full summer leaf and a light breeze stirred them. Even from where Legolas stood, he could hear the songbirds, persistently warbling their songs, going on with their lives no matter what evil moved elsewhere. And suddenly he felt an almost overwhelming desire to be in the woods. He turned to his father.
“I think I will camp tonight, Adar,” he said. “The time of year is too beautiful to sleep indoors.”
Thranduil looked for a second as if he would protest, and then his face softened. “You have always liked being out at night,” he said rather wryly.
Legolas laughed. As a child and a youngling, he had crept from the palace at night without permission too many times to count. “You should come too, Adar,” he urged. “It is a chance for joy, and we should take it while we can.”
Thranduil blinked in surprise, and his face registered recognition. “Your naneth was wise,” he said, “wiser than I always had the sense to recognize.” He smiled slowly. “Perhaps I should join you,” he said, sounding more lighthearted. “She is certainly checking on my behavior even now.”
Legolas laughed again and the two of them moved off toward home.
“Mae govannen, Beliond. You too, Legolas,” called the sentry. “Welcome home.”
Legolas grinned at him, for in an odd kind of way, the camp of the northern Border Patrol did feel like home. Or at least, it felt like where he belonged. Other voices called to him too now, as he and Beliond rode into the camp and dismounted. He turned a little apprehensively to scan the campsite for his brother, but suddenly Eilian was there, embracing him. “I cannot tell you how good it is to see you, brat,” he murmured in Legolas’s ear, and Legolas felt a flood of relief mixed with the familiar love he bore for this brother.
Eilian released him, reached to clasp arms with Beliond, and hesitated, but Beliond smiled and grasped his arm. “The healers say it will take more than dragon fire to do me permanent damage,” he announced, and, with an answering smile, Eilian grasped his arm in return.
“I have dispatches, Eilian,” Legolas told him, pulling his packs from his horse’s back and beginning to fumble in one of them.
“Get settled and bring them to my flet,” Eilian said, slapping Legolas’s shoulder. He turned and walked away, whistling cheerfully.
“He seems glad to see you,” Beliond commented as they led their horses away. “The Valar know why.”
Eilian did seem glad to see him, Legolas thought, and he was glad for it. Despite Ithilden’s assurances, he had been worried that Eilian would be angry with him for having gone after Sinnarn and Amdir without telling anyone. He patted his horse’s side and then picked up a twist of dry grass to use to brush his horse’s coat. Next to him, Beliond did the same.
“Hello, Beliond,” said Maltanaur, and Beliond nodded his greeting. “Let me finish tending your horse. I want to talk to Legolas.” Beliond raised an eyebrow, and Legolas turned to stare at his brother’s keeper. What was this about?
With a half suppressed smile, Beliond picked up their gear to take it to the flet they shared. “Wait,” Legolas said and fished the packet of dispatches out of one of his packs. “I will deliver this to Eilian when I am finished here.” Beliond nodded and moved off without a word.
Maltanaur began peacefully brushing Beliond’s horse. “I am glad to see you back,” he observed. “Eilian has been fretting about you.” Legolas looked at him from the corner of his eye, still tending his own mount. “He has had a difficult time,” Maltanaur went on, “worrying about you and Sinnarn, deciding what to do with the bodies of the Dwarves, dealing with the idea that there is a very dangerous new foe in the north, and trying to keep the morale of the patrol high despite the injuries and death its warriors had seen.”
Legolas grimaced. The purpose for Maltanaur’s visit was now obvious to him. Eilian’s keeper had looked after him for a long time now and saw the worries that Eilian hid from most people with his cheerful manner. “I did not mean to add to his troubles by getting injured,” he said rather stiffly.
Maltanaur laughed. “I am sure you did not,” he agreed heartily. “But you might think about the burdens your brother bears when you judge his actions toward you.”
Legolas had finished with his horse now and stood with one hand resting on the animal’s flank. “He needs to stop babying me, Maltanaur.”
Maltanaur nodded. “Yes, he does.” He smiled blandly and patted the neck of Beliond’s horse. “If you are done, I am sure he is waiting for you. He really has been worried about you. You are more precious to him than you can know. Eilian gives his heart wholly to those he cares about.”
Legolas had to acknowledge the truth of Maltanaur’s assertion. With a nod of farewell, he picked up the packet of dispatches and started off to find his brother. He scaled the tree to Eilian’s flet, calling a greeting while he was still some feet below it. Eilian came to the edge. “Come up,” he called with a grin, and reached a hand to pull Legolas toward him.
Legolas handed him the dispatches and Eilian dumped them onto a small table and then sat in one of the chairs near it. “Sit,” he invited, and poured cider into one of the two cups that waited there.
“Eilian,” said Legolas, accepting the invitation, “I want to tell you that I am sorry I left the camp to go after Sinnarn and Amdir without telling you.” With Maltanaur’s words ringing in his head, he wanted to try to make peace with Eilian so that they could start again to work toward being captain and warrior as well as brothers.
“Ah, yes,” said Eilian, poking absently at the pile of letters, “we should talk about that.” He looked at Legolas with an odd little smile. “You have to let Sinnarn make his own mistakes, Legolas. You cannot protect him forever.”
Legolas stared at him, open-mouthed. Surely Eilian knew how ridiculous that advice was directed from him to Legolas.
Eilian laughed out loud. “I know,” he assured Legolas, as if he had read his thoughts. He leaned back and sipped the cider. “Do you remember that last evening when you and I quarreled and Beliond dragged you off?”
“Yes,” said Legolas, a little defensively. “I remember everything now.”
“I did not mean to suggest that you did not,” Eilian assured him. “I do not know what Beliond told you that evening, but Maltanaur cornered me and told me that I was acting like an overprotective mother hen and you had a right to be annoyed. Not a right to tell me, mind you,” he hastened to add, for a second turning into the patrol’s captain again, “but a right to feel that way.”
Legolas could not help smiling, and Eilian laughed again. “I make no promises, Legolas, and I really cannot tolerate disrespect from you any more than I can from anyone else I command, but I will try to remember that you are a competent warrior and not an elfling.”
Legolas’s smile broadened. “Can I remind you of that if I do so respectfully?”
“Very respectfully,” Eilian responded, with a hint of a warning in his voice. “But there is something else, Legolas.” And now he was serious again. “The person to whom you really owe amends is Beliond.”
“What do you mean?” Legolas asked, frowning.
“He is supposed to be guarding you,” Eilian said, patiently. “When you crept off, you made it impossible for him to do his job. He was frantic when you turned up missing, and he knew it was you sounding the alarm. How do you think he felt when you were badly hurt? Do you think you are the only one blaming yourself that someone else was injured?”
Legolas drew in a dismayed breath. He had not thought of any of this, and while Beliond had scolded him for what he saw as self-indulgent agonizing about the Dwarves, he had not mentioned Legolas’s creeping away from camp. “You are right!” he cried. He rose and started toward the edge of the flet. “I should speak to him.”
“No,” said Eilian firmly, rising too. “This was a public offense, and I intend to deal with it publicly.” With a bitten-back protest, Legolas turned to look at him, but he found that Eilian’s attention had been caught by something on the table.
Eilian reached slowly out to select a letter from those that lay there, and Legolas was puzzled, because even from where he stood, he could see that it was unopened and was addressed to someone in Eilian’s own sprawling handwriting. How could a letter that Eilian had written wind up in the packet of dispatches coming back to him? Legolas wondered, and suddenly it dawned on him. The letter had been refused and returned, and he knew to whom his brother’s letter had been sent. He raised his eyes to Eilian’s stricken face and tried to think of something to say. But abruptly Eilian seemed to come to himself. He tucked the letter into his belt. “Come,” he said, giving Legolas a smile that looked only slightly forced. “We will do this now.”
He followed Eilian unhappily down from the flet. What could his brother be planning? Eilian stood in the center of the camp and called the patrol members to him. Legolas was not sure whether he was reassured or not by the fact that they were smiling. Eilian summoned Beliond to stand in front of him next to Legolas and then turned to take a length of rope from Lómór.
“Legolas,” he began, “like your fellow warriors, I value the bravery and skill you showed in going to the aid of others, both those who were members of this patrol and those who were not.” Legolas looked into Eilian’s grey eyes and felt a flash of gratitude for the pride he saw there. “However,” Eilian went on, “when you left the campsite without telling anyone, you did a grave disservice to Beliond, who, like you, has obligations to fulfill. You need to remember that, in a patrol, your actions are tied to those of others.” He stepped forward and tied Legolas’s right arm to Beliond’s left one. “From now until sunset, you will not be able to go anywhere without informing Beliond,” he said. He was smiling, but there was an underlying note of seriousness in his voice. “Not anywhere,” he emphasized, and the Elves around them chuckled.
Legolas looked down at the rope and then up at Eilian. He opened his mouth and then shut it again and finally settled for saying, “Yes, Captain,” as meekly as he could. Eilian grinned and then went off to read his dispatches. The rest of the patrol dispersed too.
Legolas looked at Beliond, who was smiling smugly. “You knew about this,” he said accusingly.
“I suggested it,” answered Beliond. He started toward a fallen log that the patrol used as a bench, and of necessity, Legolas followed. The two of them sat down.
“Why did you not tell me how much my actions had cost you when we were home?” Legolas asked, still vexed that he had not thought of apologizing to Beliond then.
“It was not home business,” Beliond answered briefly. “It is a matter of how we act in this patrol, and it should be dealt with here, among just the patrol’s members.”
Legolas sighed. He supposed that Beliond was right, and Eilian certainly could have imposed a worse punishment than this purely symbolic one.
“Has Ithilden ever told you about serving under me in the south?” Beliond asked.
“Yes,” Legolas nodded. “He told me just recently.”
“Then you know the price that can be paid if warriors go off on their own,” Beliond said, and Legolas nodded again. “I would not have you pay that price, Legolas,” Beliond said seriously. “Even if it were not my job to protect you, I would feel that way.” Legolas felt a spurt of pleasure at his keeper’s obvious affection. “You made a small mistake,” Beliond went on. “Learn from it, but do not torture yourself with it, because for the most part, you made the right decisions.”
“Thank you,” Legolas breathed. Over the last few weeks, he had gradually begun to feel better about his actions around the Dwarves. He had done what he could. No one could do more than that.
Beliond smiled. “Against all odds, I find I enjoy watching your back, young one. Do not frighten me like that again.”
Legolas grinned. “I think most people would say that I am the one who is working against the odds.”
Beliond looked at him with mock severity. “Curb your tongue. You have no idea of the unpleasant places I could lead you to just now.”
Legolas laughed and turned his head to the sky to wait for the stars to emerge, not because he would then be freed from his keeper, but because it was a chance for joy.
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