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My Brother's Keeper  by daw the minstrel

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.


4. Helping Out

Legolas swung the practice sword experimentally, testing its balance. Every one of the practice swords was balanced slightly differently, and he could never be sure what one would feel like when he chose it from the rack. The master said it was good for them to learn to use different swords. A warrior never knew when he might lose his own sword and have to use whatever was to hand. He sat down on the grass between Turgon and Annael.

“So what do you think Eilian was doing last night?” asked Turgon.

Legolas shrugged. “I do not know.” He was not sure he wanted to talk to Turgon about Eilian, although he had spend a large part of the night worrying about the same question that Turgon had just asked. On his right, he felt Annael shift slightly and suddenly he remembered the look he had surprised on Annael’s face the previous evening when they had seen Eilian near the river. He turned sharply. “Do you know something about Eilian, Annael?”

Annael grimaced, obviously dismayed at being drawn into the conversation. “Not really.”

“But you suspect something,” Legolas persisted. “Or more likely your adar told you that he suspects something.” Annael opened his mouth and closed it again. “Please tell me,” Legolas begged, throwing dignity to the winds. “I am worried about him.”

“My adar said that Eilian is a brave warrior, and he has shadow sickness,” Annael finally said.

“I know that,” Legolas said impatiently. “What else?”

Annael’s reluctance was almost painful to see. “He said that the healers use an herb to treat bad shadow sickness, and sometimes people cannot stop taking the herb and it makes them act foolishly.” He looked miserably at Legolas. “He said that we should be grateful to warriors like that for what they have done for us and not scorn them but try to help them get better.”

Legolas stared at Annael, wanting to disbelieve him but knowing immediately that he was right. His tutor had asked the gardener to explain the properties of dangwath only a few days ago, and even then, Legolas had wondered if the healers had given the herb to Eilian. He felt sick.

And as if his thoughts had conjured his brother, he saw Eilian walking with Maltanaur between the field they were in and the next one, going along a path that would lead them into the woods. Immediately, his worry deepened. At this time of the day, Eilian should have been in Ithilden’s office. And what was Maltanaur doing with him anyway? Maltanaur was supposed to protect Eilian, but on the previous night, he had seemed to be cooperating in whatever it was Eilian was doing and now he was with him again. Without thinking, Legolas rose to his feet and took a step toward where he had just seen his brother disappear into the forest.

“What are you doing?” Annael asked anxiously.

Turgon had listened to Annael’s explanation and now was watching Legolas with excitement on his face. “We should follow them!”

“But we have a class,” Annael protested.

“Legolas is worried,” Turgon declared, “and your adar said we should help warriors like Eilian.”

Legolas looked down at the practice sword in his hand. If there was one area in his life that he always treated seriously, it was his warrior training. He never missed a class if he could help it, and he valued every small thing a master taught him and every moment he had to practice it.  But he knew just then that he could not stay on the field and spar while Eilian might be sinking deeper into trouble. He walked to the rack that held the practice swords and slid his into place.  With a little crow, Turgon did the same thing, and then, more reluctantly, Annael followed suit. Legolas was more grateful than he could say for his friends’ support. He started to trot toward where Eilian had gone, passing Tonduil, who was just arriving.

“Where are you going?” Tonduil asked, his eyebrows drawn down in confusion.

“Tell the master we were called away,” Turgon answered over his shoulder, as Legolas broke into a run.


“I asked around about Hiolith last night after you left,” Maltanaur said, “and again this morning. It took me hours to find someone who knew where he lived. No one seems to have seen much of him.”

Eilian grimaced. He could not imagine what it would be like to fight shadow sickness and the loss of his entire family at the same time. When his mother died, he had drawn strength from the simple presence of Thranduil and Ithilden and even more from the uncomplicated love of Legolas, who had been small at the time. He knew that his father and brothers supported him without hesitation now, as he struggled to escape the grip of shadow. And, that did not even count Maltanaur’s support or that of his fellow warriors in the Southern Patrol, whose concern for him had been obvious once he had been willing to see it. He did not want to think what his life would have been like if he had been in the position Hiolith was in, seemingly lost even to friends and neighbors. How could this have been allowed to happen?

He thought of the glimpse he had caught of Legolas, waiting on the training field with his friends for his sword fighting lesson to start. What would he have done if Legolas had been with their mother when the Orcs attacked and killed her? He shuddered and thanked the Valar that his little brother was safely tucked away under the care of the weapons masters. Legolas had been far too close to him last night when he had finally found someone who could supply him with dangwath. Eilian did not want Legolas around at all as he tried to find out if Hiolith had enough of the stuff to function as a continued source.

Maltanaur led him along narrower and narrower paths and finally left the path altogether to pick his way between trees, pausing once to reorient himself, and finally emerged in a tiny clearing holding a ramshackle cottage that probably consisted of a single room. “Let me speak to him first,” he said in a low voice. “We were friends of a sort at one time.”

They advanced to the door and Maltanaur knocked. Hiolith opened it almost immediately, which did not surprise Eilian, given how small the cottage was. “Mae govannen, Hiolith,” Maltanaur said. The other Elf blinked at him and then looked over Maltanaur’s shoulder at Eilian, recognition plain on his face.

“Maltanaur,” he said slowly, “it has been a long time. Did you come to talk about this one?” He pointed with his chin at Eilian.

“I did,” said Maltanaur. “May we come in?”

Hiolith hesitated for a second and then backed out of the way to let them enter. Eilian glanced quickly around the room. As he had expected, the cottage was tiny. A single chair sat near the hearth with a small table next to it.  A pot, a plate, and a cup stood on the mantelpiece. A narrow cot was wedged into one corner with a shabby blanket spread over it. A cloak and single change of clothing hung from pegs on the wall. With the three of them in it, the cottage was crowded. Hiolith did not ask them to sit, and Eilian could not see where they would have sat down if he had. He saw Hiolith eyeing him and shifted restlessly from foot to foot, drumming the fingers of one hand against his thigh.

“How are you?” Maltanaur said. “I confess I did not know you still lived so close to the king’s stronghold. I even thought you might have sailed.”

Hiolith shrugged. “What do you want, Maltanaur?”

Eilian repressed a grimace. This was not going well.

Maltanaur gestured toward Eilian. “You know that the king has charged me with his son’s well being?”

Hiolith nodded but said nothing.

“He is sick with the shadow,” Maltanaur said. “And I think you have something that will help him feel better.”

Hiolith looked at Eilian from under half-lowered lids. “If he already needs more of what I gave him last night, then he is sicker than you realize.”

Eilian bit his lip. “I just want to be sure there will be more when I need it,” he broke in. Maltanaur threw him an unhappy glance.

Hiolith looked thoughtful. “You have been in the south?”


Hiolith seemed to consider that. “I have what you want, but I do not have it here,” he said slowly.

“Do you grow it?” Eilian asked. Hiolith nodded. “How can I be sure it will be there?” Eilian knew his voice sounded strained. “And what if you are not around when I need it?”

Hiolith looked at the floor for a minute and then sighed. “I will show you.” He gestured for them to follow and led them out of the cottage and along a lightly worn trail. They walked in silence for perhaps half an hour, and then Hiolith stopped on the edge of a clearing. Eilian came up beside him, and his breath caught. He had expected to find a small garden patch of dangwath. Instead, the herb spread before him in an area that was perhaps twenty feet by thirty. No wonder Hiolith claimed he had enough of the herb. Even after he picked and dried enough to see himself through the winter, there would be enough here to supply two dozen people.

They stood in silence for a minute. “There is far more than you need here,” Maltanaur observed mildly. Hiolith looked at him sharply.

“And given that, may I take some?” Eilian asked hastily. “I do not want to take a chance on being without it.”

“You may take what you need now or later,” Hiolith said.

Eilian gathered a few of the leaves and tucked them into a pouch at his belt. “I can pay you,” he offered.

Hiolith shook his head. “I know what the south is like. I would not deny some comfort to a fellow warrior.” Eilian blinked. He did not quite know what to make of Hiolith. The Elf was not what he had expected. “You can come here any time,” Hiolith said. “You do not need to come to the cottage again.” And with that, he turned and started for home, leaving Eilian and Maltanaur standing in the clearing looking after him.

“We should go, Eilian,” Maltanaur finally said. “You are overdue to your brother’s office.” Eilian nodded, and the two of them struck off toward the stronghold.


Turgon dropped to the ground and ran toward the cultivated area in the clearing, with Legolas and Annael following more slowly. Legolas looked off in the direction Eilian and Maltanaur had taken. He could hardly believe what he had heard as he and his friends listened from the trees. Annael’s father had been right: Eilian was still taking dangwath, even though the healers had apparently stopped giving it to him. How could this be happening to his gallant brother? he thought, feeling something akin to panic.

“Is this the herb Annael was talking about?” Turgon asked, bending over the plants.

Legolas looked at the characteristic thick, grey leaves. “Yes,” he admitted. “That is dangwath.”

“Why do people take it if they are not sick?” Turgon demanded. “I hated the taste of the herbs I had to take when I broke my arm, and they made me sleepy and I hated that too. Why would people keep taking herbs when healers were not making them do it?”

“My adar says it makes them feel better when they are ill,” said Annael, “and they want to keep feeling that way, and they think the herb will help them do that. And then their bodies get used to having the herb, so they feel sick again when they stop.”

Legolas was barely listening. What was he going to do? How could he help Eilian? How could he stop him? The task seemed overwhelming. Should he tell his father what he had learned? He recoiled at that idea. He had seen how angry Thranduil was with Eilian at the solstice feast. He did not want to get Eilian into any more trouble than he was already in.

“We should leave now,” Annael urged. “We will be late for our mid-day meals.” He looked worried, and Legolas recalled that they were all supposed to be at the training fields rather than wandering in the woods.

He and Annael climbed back into the trees, and after a moment, Turgon followed. They leapt rapidly through the branches, coming to ground again as they neared home. As they hurried along the path back to the fields, Legolas suddenly became aware that Turgon had taken something he had tucked in his belt and was moving it into the pouch attached to it. And almost instantly, he knew what it was that Turgon had.

“Do you have some of the dangwath, Turgon?” he asked.

Turgon blew out an exasperated breath. “I just want to see what it is like.”

“Give it to me,” Legolas demanded, advancing toward his friend with his hand out. He could not believe that Turgon would be so stupid. But then again, he could. This was exactly the kind of thing that Turgon was likely to be curious about, and he seemed to have absolutely no fear. And Legolas knew quite well that Turgon’s parents were not likely to notice what he was doing, much less try to stop him.

“Give!” he insisted, and reluctantly, Turgon handed over the crumpled leaves. Legolas shoved them into his own belt. “I will see you both after my lessons are over,” he said and took off for home at a run, intent on being on time for his mid-day meal.


“Legolas, what did I just say?” Galeril asked in some impatience.

Legolas looked blankly at the tutor. He had been trying yet again to think of how he might be able to help Eilian, and he had no idea of the answer to Galeril’s question. “I am sorry. I was not listening,” he admitted.

“So you told me five minutes ago too. Is there something on your mind?”

Legolas lowered his eyes. If he had not been able to look untroubled in front of even Galeril, then he counted himself lucky that Thranduil and Ithilden had both been too busy to eat mid-day meal with him. “Nothing is the matter.”

“Stand up,” said Galeril.

Legolas sighed and pushed himself to his feet. Sometimes when he was inattentive, Galeril made him continue his lessons while standing, thinking that might leave him less susceptible to daydreaming.

Suddenly, Galeril frowned. “What is that in your belt?”

Legolas glanced down, flinched, and clapped his hand over the dangwath leaves that protruded from the top of his belt. He looked up quickly at Galeril’s serious face and realized that concealment was pointless. Galeril had plainly recognized the leaves. Slowly he removed his hand and stood meeting his tutor’s eyes as steadily as he could. Galeril held out his hand, and Legolas pulled the herb from his belt and gave it to him.

“I think we need to talk to your adar, Legolas.”

Legolas all but moaned. His father would not take this well. “I did not use any of it and I would not have,” he protested. “You could punish me for my inattention, and that could be the end of it.”

Galeril shook his head. “This is too serious for me. We need to see the king. Wait here.” He left the library, presumably to send a servant to see if Thranduil could see them now. Legolas sank into his chair, propped his elbows on the table, and dropped his head into his hands. He could not imagine what his father would have to say about this.

Galeril came back. “Come,” he said, and Legolas got reluctantly to his feet and followed the tutor down the hall to his father’s office, the door of which stood open. Galeril rapped on it once to announce their presence and then they filed in. Thranduil was seating himself at his desk, having evidently just arrived. He ran his eyes over them both, and Legolas dropped his gaze.

“You have something important to tell me, Galeril?”

The tutor stepped forward, and from under his half-lowered lids, Legolas could see him put the dangwath on Thranduil’s desk. “Legolas had this in his possession, my lord.”

There was a moment of absolute silence and then Legolas saw his father’s hand reach to touch the herb with an extended finger. He raised his eyes to look anxiously at Thranduil’s face, which was as unreadable as Legolas had ever seen it as his father looked at the dangwath.

“I have seen no sign he has taken any of the herb,” Galeril added, much to Legolas’s relief.

Thranduil cleared his throat. “Thank you, Galeril. You may go.” The tutor bowed and withdrew from the room, closing the door softly behind him. Thranduil raised his stony eyes to meet Legolas’s. “Have you an explanation?”

Legolas swallowed hard. “I would never have used it, Adar.”

Thranduil regarded him steadily. “I trust that that is true. Where did you get it?”

Legolas bit his lip and remained silent. He saw no way to answer that question without implicating both Turgon and Eilian.

“I am waiting for an answer, Legolas.”

Legolas flinched at the bite of his father’s whip sharp voice. “Not from Eilian,” he finally said, and watched the flicker of relief in Thranduil’s face.

“Who then?”

Legolas dropped his gaze again and held his tongue.

“The weapons masters have sent me word that you, Turgon, and Annael were not at training today,” said Thranduil. Legolas looked up swiftly in alarm. He had forgotten all about the fact that he and his friends had left the training field that morning. “That is another matter I intended to speak to you about. I assume the three of you were together. Annael is highly unlikely to have had anything to do with dangwath, but Turgon strikes me as a different matter.” Thranduil’s face was grim as he watched for Legolas’s reaction to his suggestion.

“He did not use any of it either,” Legolas declared desperately. He found he could not make himself say that Turgon would not have used it given enough time.

“Where did Turgon get it?”

Legolas bit his lip and looked down again.

Thranduil drew a deep breath. “Very well. Except for your lessons, you are confined to your chamber until I tell you otherwise. A guard will escort you to and from the library and will keep watch outside your room.”

Legolas’s mouth fell open. “You are putting me under guard?” he asked incredulously. “And what about weapons training?”

“This is a matter of your safety and I am taking no chances. You know as well as I do that you have occasionally slipped out of the palace without permission, and today you were not at training when you were supposed to be. I must say I am surprised at you, Legolas. I thought you were serious about your training. If you miss classes now, it is your own fault.” Legolas could barely contain his dismay. His father’s last barb had hurt. And even more crucially, he would be of no use to Eilian if he was confined to his room.

“But Adar--,” he began and Thranduil silenced him with a quick move of his hand.

“I will also send word to Turgon’s parents that he had dangwath and ask them to ask him where he got it. This is a serious matter, Legolas.”

“I know,” Legolas said miserably.

Thranduil regarded him in silence for a long moment. “You may go.” Legolas left his father’s office and started toward his own chamber, unable to remember when he had last felt so wretched.


Eilian came out of the door of the building housing Ithilden’s office and started down the path for home. He needed to get something to eat as quickly as he could because then he wanted to be on the move in the woods again. He blinked when someone fell into step beside him and then realized that it was Annael’s father, Siondel.

“Mae govannen,” Eilian said cautiously. He and Siondel were about the same age, but while they had never been enemies, they also had never been friends. Siondel was far too serious for Eilian to find him a good companion.

“I wish to speak with you, Eilian.”

Eilian bristled at Siondel’s tone, but nonetheless he smiled at him. “Then speak.”

“Annael left the training fields today and went off into the woods with Legolas and Turgon. The only thing I could get out of him was that Legolas was worried about you, and they were trying to help you.”

Suddenly, Eilian found it hard to breathe. Legolas had been in the woods today? What had his little brother been up to?

“Eilian, I sympathize with the strain you have been under in the south,” Siondel went on. “I know that you are a courageous warrior. Use some of that courage now. Whatever you are doing is unworthy of you. Consider the example you are setting for Legolas. Let the healers help you.”

Eilian was tempted to draw himself up into the best imitation of his father that he could manage, but instead he bit his tongue and kept quiet. He supposed that if he acted the way he been acting, then Siondel had a right to rebuke him. After all, the well-being of Siondel’s son was one of the things at stake here.

Siondel waited for a moment, evidently to see if Eilian was going to respond. “Good evening to you,” he finally said. “May the stars shine on your path.” And he veered off again, as suddenly as he had come.

Eilian drew a deep breath and let it out again. He hated being admonished even by his father, much less by people like Siondel. Never mind, he told himself. I will feel better once I get going tonight. His blood began to thrum in excitement at the thought.


Eilian entered the sitting room and found it empty. Evidently the rest of his family was not yet gathering before their evening meal. He did not intend to stay himself, for he had already had a meal brought to his room, but it was not quite time for him to leave yet. He crossed to the small table, filled a goblet half full of wine, and topped it off with water. Then he sat down and let his head droop against the back of his chair. He had to admit that he was tired. He had been on the move both day and night for a while now, and the healers had warned him that the shadow sickness would leave him less resilient than usual.

The door opened and Thranduil entered, drawing Eilian to his feet. He said nothing but poured himself some wine and then turned to Eilian, with his face grim. “Well?”


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