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Sacrifice Under Shadow  by daw the minstrel

I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien, but they are his, not mine. I gain only the enlarged imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this for me.

*******

2.  Eilian’s Story

Legolas stirred, felt the cold air that the movement let in under his blanket, and groaned and drew the blanket tighter around him.  I should get up, he thought.  His innate sense of time told him that it must be nearly midmorning, and he had felt Beliond leave their sleeping den a short while ago.  At first, Legolas had been annoyed to find that Beliond had dug them a single den, but he had to admit that in the night, he had been glad of the warmth of another body, and that was despite the fact that he had slept only lightly so that he could stay in enough control of his body to keep from freezing.

You will feel warmer if you get up and move around, he told himself, and wrenched his eyes into focus.  The opening of his den framed pale winter daylight through which a few light snowflakes drifted. He lay watching them for a moment, distracted from his discomfort by their airy grace.  Then he brought himself back to the business at hand, which was getting up to face the day.  You are a warrior of the Woodland Realm and a son of its king, he told himself. Get up!

In a rush of motion, he flung off the blanket and launched himself out of the den and onto his feet.  He had slept in his cloak and now pulled it around him and made for the campfire, where several warriors, including Eilian, were seated, eating bowls of something that at least looked hot.  As he reached the fire, he found Eilian’s friend Gelmir serving himself thin porridge from the cooking pot.  “Did you have a lovely sleep, my lord?” Gelmir teased.  “I can send someone to look for your valet to help you dress if you like.”

“Shut up, Gelmir,” Legolas responded pleasantly.  Then he laughed.  He presumed that Gelmir was talking about Beliond when he referred to Legolas’s ‘valet,’ and the idea of Beliond waiting on him struck him as amusing.

Legolas had never been fond of porridge, but now his stomach grumbled over its empty state, and he reached for one of the bowls stacked nearby.  He poured a ladleful into the bowl and was reaching for another when he hesitated and glanced over at Eilian who was seated nearby.  “Is there enough?” he asked. The dearth of this winter had made him self-conscious about his appetite.

Eilian smiled. “We have plenty of porridge.  Ithilden has seen to it that we will not starve.” Legolas served himself and sat down next to his brother.  As he ate, he looked around for Beliond but did not see him.  The trees here were strange, he thought.  Their limbs were twisted, and the undergrowth around them was thick and tangled.  Beliond could be quite nearby and not be seen.  He shuddered slightly.

“Where is my ‘valet’?” he asked Eilian.

“He is tending to your horses, I think,” Eilian answered.

“Are we going to look for the larger band today?” Gelmir asked.  Legolas looked up attentively, finding that he was eager to be moving against the enemy again.

Eilian nodded.  “We will send scouts out soon.”

“Why wait?” Legolas heard himself ask a little sharply.

Eilian turned to him. “After last night’s battle, the patrol needs to rest.  An hour or two of delay will make no difference.”  He eyed Legolas steadily, and Legolas suddenly found himself remembering what Eilian had said about the nearness of the Shadow causing people to do and say things they would ordinarily avoid.  He looked across Eilian at Gelmir, who now sat staring moodily into the fire.  Gelmir was usually a cheerful sort, but one could not have told that from looking at him.

Legolas put his bowl down and sighed. “I am sorry, Eilian.  I should not have questioned you like that.” He gestured toward the misshapen trees.  “The Shadow is so real here.  I have seen its effects throughout the Realm, of course, but I have never felt them so strongly in myself.”

Eilian nodded.  “I understand. I remember what it was like when I first came south too. For that matter, Gelmir and I both remember what it was like when the Shadow came back to Dol Guldur and ended the Peace.”  He stared rather dreamily at the woods around them.  “So much of the woods was beautiful then, Legolas. You cannot imagine what it was like.”

Eilian was right.  Legolas could not imagine the Woodland Realm without the constant threat of enemy attack hanging over it.  “It must have been shocking when the Shadow returned,” he said.

“It was,” Eilian agreed.  “We were in our first year as novices. Do you remember, Gelmir?”  Wordlessly, Gelmir nodded.  “Of course,” Eilian went on with a grimace, “it took me a while to notice that there were big changes going in the world. I am afraid that I was too absorbed in the changes in my own life to pay much attention at first.”

“Tell me about it,” said Legolas, resting his elbow on his knee and his chin on his fist.

Eilian sighed.  “As I recall, my primary concern was finding some sort of escape from the boredom of daily training and drills.  We all thought we were training for routine guard duty, after all, and that did not strike me as a very exciting prospect. If I had not been the son of the king, I might have chosen to do something different.”  He paused as if wondering what that his life would have been like had it taken that other tack.

Then he went on.  “I remember one day the masters were busy with the older novices, and we young ones were sent on a kind of treasure hunt, following clues from one location to another to find a dozen arrows.” Legolas nodded. He was familiar with the game, having played it himself as a novice.  “You will probably find it hard to believe that we were sent by ourselves, but the woods near home were safe then. I remember that day partly because the hunt was fun while it lasted.  Also,” he added with a grin, “it was a hot day, hot enough that I feel warmer just thinking about it.”

 

~*~*~

“The last arrow has to be by this part of the river,” Eilian declared, running up to the edge of the high bank and peering down at the water running rapidly through the narrows far below.  “Down on that rocky strip along the edge, I would wager.”  He dragged his tunic sleeve over his sweaty forehead.  The river looked inviting, he thought.  They could at least splash cool water over their heads when they had reached the riverside.

His four companions came up to stand next to him and look down.  “It looks as if there is a path that zig-zags down,” said Gelmir.  “I wonder where it starts.”  He leaned forward to try to trace the path to its origin at the top of the ridge, but overhanging rocks and bushes made it impossible to see the path at the point where it neared the top.

“Come,” Eilian urged and started along the edge at a trot, scanning for a place to enter the path.

“Wait!” Siondel cried. “What is that?”

Eilian skidded to a halt and turned to see the other novice crouching near a rock that thrust out over the river. Siondel clutched at the rock with one hand, and leaning out and reaching with his other hand, he drew a rope back onto the bank.  “I noticed the bit tied around the rock,” he told Eilian, who was now next to him, and not for the first time, Eilian was impressed by the other’s sharp eyes.  Siondel began drawing up the rope and, in a short time, the end appeared with an arrow tied to it.

“The last one!” cried Fendîr triumphantly, grabbing the rope’s end and untying the arrow.

“How annoying it would have been in this heat,” Eilian said in disgust, “to work our way to the bottom and find the arrow dangling twenty feet over our head.”

“If we noticed it at all,” Gelmir added.

“Siondel would have seen it,” said Eilian offhandedly.  Siondel blinked at him as if a little surprised by the praise. Eilian had always found Siondel a bit too reluctant to engage in actions that he judged would lead to trouble and Eilian thought would be exciting, and the two of them did not spend time together outside of training.  But, to Eilian, fair was fair, and Siondel was undoubtedly good at seeing signs in the woods that Eilian missed. I will have to ask him to show me how he does it, Eilian thought.

“So now we go home,” said Gîl-Garion.  He looked along the bank and made a face.  “The only rope bridge along here is three leagues in the wrong direction,” he sighed. “We have been quick, but we will still be late getting home.”

Eilian glumly acknowledged that Gîl-Garion was right. He had hoped to have time to swim before evening meal and so wash away the heat of the day. And he had plans to go out tonight and wanted to be on his way as early as possible.  Suddenly his eye was caught by the rope that Fendîr was still holding.  “But we have rope here,” he cried.  “There must be some way we can make a bridge.  The two river banks are not far apart here.”

The rest of them looked doubtfully at him and then at the rope. “How do you propose to anchor it on the other side?” Siondel asked.

Eilian’s mind was working busily.  “We could attach the rope to an arrow and shoot the arrow into a tree on the other side,” he suggested.

Even Gelmir shook his head at that one.  “It would never hold,” he said.

“There must be a way,” Eilian maintained, looking around.  His mind still on the idea of using a bow to launch the rope across, he suddenly noticed a tall, slender young tree growing near the edge of the bank.  As if in a trance, he walked forward, staring at it, and his pulse quickened pleasantly.  “We can use this tree,” he breathed.

The others turned toward the tree, looking puzzled.  “What do you mean?” Siondel asked.

“We can tie one end of the rope to my waist, and the other end to the tree,” Eilian was speaking quickly now, his excitement building.  “I will climb the tree, and you four will use the slack of the rope to pull the top of the tree down.  Then when I tell you to, you release it.  I will jump as if I were simply going from one tree to another, and indeed that is what I will do because the bent tree will fling me far enough that I can grab hold of the maple that is on the other side.”

Gelmir groaned.

“Eilian, that is far too dangerous,” protested Siondel.

“Do not be silly,” Eilian declared, busy untying the rope from the rock.  “What could go wrong?”

“You could miss the maple tree and swing down to smash into the rocks on this side,” Siondel answered.

Eilian paused but only for a moment.  “Suppose you had a rock in those branches,” he reasoned, “and you pulled the tree back and let it go. Would you expect the rock to land on the other bank?”

The other four turned to study the tree and the distance. “Perhaps,” Siondel conceded reluctantly.  “It is hard to be certain.”

“And I will be pushing off from the tree,” Eilian argued.  “I will go farther than a rock would.”  He started toward the tree with his blood already singing.  Today had been more amusing than anything the novices had done for a long time.  He could not bear to go straight back to the humdrum of their normal routine.  The leap across the river would be a moment to treasure.

The others all followed close behind him.  “It might work,” Gîl-Garion said.  “It probably will.”  He sounded as if he was trying to convince himself.

“Of course it will,” Eilian said.  He tied one end of the rope around his waist and started up the tree.  And suddenly, the others were chattering with excitement too.  Eilian was pleased but not surprised that they had accepted his plan; his companions nearly always did.  Except for Celuwen, of course.  He frowned as that thought flitted across his mind and then shoved it aside.  Celuwen had become increasingly unsympathetic lately. He did not know what had come over her.  He found a solid place to tie the other end of the rope and knotted it firmly.

He looked down to make sure that the other novices could reach the loose part of the rope.  “Do you have it?” he asked.

“Yes,” called Fendîr. “Are you ready?”

Eilian moved as close to the top of the tree as he could.  “Yes,” he called to them. “Pull!”  They joined together to haul on the rope, and the tree bowed over away from the river.  Eilian could feel the tension in the trunk under his feet, and his own body tensed in anticipation.  He crouched, bending his knees and testing the feel of the tree a little.

“That is as far as we can go, I think,” Gelmir called, and Eilian glanced down to see them straining to hold the rope.

He looked across the river at the maple tree that was his target. Then he grinned.  “Go!” he shouted and they let go of the rope. With startling speed, the tree whipped upright, and he only just managed to catch the right moment to leap away from it.  Suddenly, he was sailing through the air like a bird.  The maple tree rushed toward him, and he reached out to embrace it.  For a heart-stopping moment, his finger tips scrabbled at its nearest branch, and then he had his hand firmly on it and then his arms around it.

With a cry of exhilaration, he swung up onto the branch.  He grinned across at the other novices who were jumping and down and cheering.  He felt wonderful, as good as he had felt for months, he thought.  He drew a deep, satisfied breath and let it out, and then began to climb to the ground so that he could tie the rope firmly to the maple tree’s trunk. Across the river, he could see Gelmir scrambling up to get the rope’s other end, so that it could be anchored more firmly to a larger tree on that side too. Within minutes, all of them were across, laughing and slapping him on the back.

“We are going to have to leave the rope here,” Siondel observed.

Eilian shrugged.  “We will tell the novice masters that we made a new bridge,” he grinned.  “They should thank us.”

Siondel raised an eyebrow but said only, “You never cease to surprise me, Eilian.”

Eilian laughed.  “Show me how you see so much in the woods, for that never fails to surprise me.” 

Siondel smiled.  “When we have a free day, I will show you if you like.”

Eilian nodded enthusiastically, and then they all started for home.  It was late afternoon when they reached the warrior training fields and knocked on the door of Lómilad’s office.  “We are back,” Eilian announced unnecessarily.

The head novice master raised his eyebrows.  “You were quick,” he observed.  “Are you sure you found all the arrows?”  Gîl-Garion stepped forward and laid all twelve arrows on his desk. Like the rest of them, he was quivering with glee at having completed their task speedily enough to surprise Lómilad.  The novice master ran his gaze over them, and his eyes narrowed.  “How did you do it?” he demanded.

“It was Eilian’s idea,” Fendîr bubbled.  “We rigged a new rope bridge at the point where the last arrow was hidden, so we did not have to take the long trip to cross the river.”

Lómilad’s gaze settled on Eilian, who abruptly felt apprehension flood him as he recognized a look of controlled exasperation that he had seen only too frequently on Thranduil’s face.  “Explain,” Lómilad ordered, and suddenly they all quieted, for his tone made it clear that the ground under their feet was none too solid. All of their eyes followed Lómilad’s in turning to Eilian.

Eilian licked his lips.  Surely Lómilad was not going to be fussy about the leap across the river. After all, he had predicted that it would succeed and it had.  He drew a deep breath and began an account of how they had gotten the end of the rope across the river.  When he had finished, Lómilad regarded him steadily for a long moment.

“The rest of you may go,” he finally said, and throwing sympathetic glances at Eilian, the other four novices lost no time in leaving.  An uncomfortable silence followed their departure.  Finally, Lómilad sighed.  “Must I point out to you that you took a needless and foolhardy risk, Eilian?” he asked.  “Is it possible that you do not already know that?”

“But I was certain that I could make the leap, Master,” Eilian protested.  “I did not see it as a risk.”

“You never do!”  Lómilad’s tone had sharpened.  “And unfortunately, you are quite good at convincing others, too, that no risk exists.  You have a gift for evoking loyalty in others, Eilian, but then you too often lead them toward potential disaster.  Where is your good judgment?  Where is your common sense?”

Eilian felt his certainty wavering, and suddenly he recalled the moment when his fingertips had just brushed the maple tree.  What if he had not been able to grab the branch?   But he had been able to, he reminded himself.  He had judged the distance and his own ability to jump it correctly. Did that not count as good judgment?  He pressed his lips together and waited in silence for Lómilad to finish.

The novice master was regarding him steadily.  Finally, he sighed again.  “I never want to hear about you engaging in such recklessness again, Eilian,” he warned.  “If you cannot learn to temper your daring, then you will be a menace not only to yourself but also to others, and I cannot allow that in a potential warrior.  If you wish to remain in the training program, then you will exercise more caution in the future. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, Master,” Eilian said woodenly.  At the moment, he was not sure he wanted to stay in the training program anyway.  Guarding the palace and retrieving lost elflings struck him as a less than appealing prospect, but he decided that now was not the time to make that feeling known.

“You may go,” Lómilad told him, and Eilian saluted and left the building.

As he came out into the heat of late afternoon, two figures emerged from the shade a large stand of oak trees.  Gelmir had waited for him, and Celuwen was with him.  Her dark hair, which was usually pulled back into a braid, curled damp and loose down her back, ending at her hips.  She had evidently already been swimming, and Eilian felt again the longing to dive deep into cool water.

“Was Lómilad angry?” Gelmir asked.

“Yes.”  Eilian really had no wish to elaborate on that answer.

“What about?” Celuwen asked.  “You did not tell me that Eilian was in trouble, Gelmir.”

Eilian grimaced as Gelmir began a spirited account of how Eilian had gotten the rope across the river.  He, Gelmir, and Celuwen had been playmates as children, sharing games, sleeping in one another’s homes, and trading confidences with one another as they did with no one else. But in the last few years, as they had begun to leave childhood behind, Celuwen had turned into a puzzle that Eilian did not always understand.  He was not sure how she would react to the jump across the river.

“You should have seen him flying through the air,” Gelmir said with relish.  “He looked like a bird.”  Then he and Eilian were both forced to stop in their tracks, for Celuwen was standing still with her mouth slightly open, drawing quick breaths.

“That was a stupid thing to do, Eilian,” she said emphatically.

Eilian felt the rise of exasperation that she often provoked in him these days.  “Why were you waiting for us, Celuwen?” he asked impatiently.  “Did you want something?”

She paused, seemed to pull herself together, and began walking again.  “I wanted to know if we were still planning to go star watching tonight,” she asked a little stiffly.

“Of course,” said Gelmir.

Eilian heard him but his attention was elsewhere, for he had suddenly become aware that two very pretty maidens were approaching.  He drew himself up a little, and from the corner of his eye, he could see Gelmir doing the same thing.  “Hello, Eilian,” said one of them with a sweet smile.  “And Gelmir and Celuwen,” she added.

“Hello, you two,” Eilian smiled back.  “You both look cool as spring rain on such a hot day.  It is a treat to see you.”  They giggled and continued on their way.  Both Eilian and Gelmir turned for a moment to watch their departing backs.

Gelmir snorted in disgust.  “How do you do that?” he asked Eilian, who laughed and turned to start toward home again, only to find Celuwen standing in his way.

“I am afraid I cannot come tonight,” she told him.

He blinked at her, for there was something in her face that he could not read. “Is something the matter, Celuwen?” he asked, concern flaring.

“No,” she said.  “I am simply needed at home tonight.  I came to tell you that, and now I must hurry.  My parents are waiting for me.”  And before he could say anything more, she had whirled and trotted off down the path toward her family’s cottage.

“What is wrong with her?” Eilian asked.  Gelmir looked at him sideways, but made no answer. Eilian shrugged.  “I know what we should do!” he cried suddenly. “Let us stop and swim for a while on our way home.”  And with a grin of agreement, Gelmir turned into the path leading toward the river.

 

~*~*~

“Eilian?”  Sórion had approached, and Eilian turned to hear what his lieutenant had to day.  “The scouts are ready.”  Legolas was abruptly dragged back from a hot summer day in his brother’s youth to the cold reality in front of him.

“Good,” said Eilian, getting to his feet.  “Send them on their way.  The Orc band those hunters came from has to be a large one to have that many archers out hunting for food.  We do not want them roaming this part of the woods.”  Sórion nodded and went off to dispatch the scouts.

Eilian glanced down at Legolas, who was still seated, fingering his empty porridge bowl.  “Are you shocked by how lightly I took my novice training?” he asked, cocking his head to one side and smiling a little.

“Of course not,” Legolas maintained, although in truth, he was a little taken aback by Eilian’s account of himself.

Eilian’s smile widened. “Liar,” he said easily.  “My only excuse is that I had grown up, to the small extent that I had done so, during the Peace.  You were serious about becoming a warrior from the time you were small, brat, but you had reason, and if I did, I did not know about it then.”

He started off to see to his day’s duties, and Legolas watched him go.  Legolas had admired Eilian’s skill and daring as a warrior for as long as he could remember.  He could not help but wonder how his brother had changed from the irresponsible youth he had just described to the formidable warrior and captain he had become.  He would have to ask Eilian for more of this tale when they both had time.  But now, he needed to get ready for possible battle, for Orcs were near and Eilian’s scouts were notoriously good at finding them.





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