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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.


6. Taking Action

“Are you ready for your evening meal?” the guard asked cheerfully from the doorway. Legolas frowned at him, as he put down his book. He knew that the guard was not to blame for Legolas’s confinement, but he found it hard not to resent him. Wordlessly, he walked past the guard and started down the hall.

A familiar voice behind him made him pause and look back. Maltanaur stood in the doorway of Eilian’s room, his back to Legolas as he listened to Eilian’s low voice. “We will meet at his cottage at sundown then. I want to be sure we catch him before he leaves to gather the herbs.”

Legolas stiffened, and Maltanaur turned around and saw him. They stared at one another for a moment, and then Maltanaur smiled. “Mae govannen, Legolas.”

Legolas failed to return the smile. This Elf was supposed to be protecting Eilian. Legolas found it unforgivable that he would help Eilian get illicit dangwath. At Maltanaur’s words, Eilian came hastily out into the hall. He glanced quickly at Legolas, exchanged a look with Maltanaur, and then gave an exasperated sigh.

Maltanaur gave a short laugh. “I will take my leave then.” He nodded to the guard and gave Legolas a pat on the shoulder as he passed, but Legolas jerked away from his touch and glared at his back as he left the royal family’s quarters.

“Come, brat. We should not keep Adar waiting.” Eilian started toward the dining room. Legolas was acutely aware of the guard walking just behind him. He fervently wished he could talk to his brother in private, but before now, he had seen him only at the evening meal on the previous night.

They reached the door of the dining room. “Eilian,” he said, deciding he would have to simply ignore the guard and grabbing at his brother’s sleeve, “please do not go out with Maltanaur tonight.”

Eilian grimaced and reached to caress Legolas’s head. “Legolas, I know you are worried about me, but you really should not be. I promise you I will not do anything stupid.”

“But --.”

“Come,” Eilian cut him off. “We are late.” And he opened the door to the dining room, effectively ending the discussion. Reluctantly, Legolas followed him inside and pulled the door shut behind him, leaving his guard in the hallway. He considered Eilian’s claim that he would not do anything stupid but was unable to draw much comfort from it. How did he know that Eilian thought taking the dangwath was stupid?

The two of them took their places at the table where Thranduil and Ithilden were already seated. Thranduil glanced from Legolas to Eilian and raised his eyebrows slightly, but he said nothing and signaled the servant to begin serving the meal.

“Will you be visiting Alfirin tonight, Ithilden?” Thranduil asked as the servant withdrew.

For some reason, Ithilden glanced at their father sharply before he said, “Not tonight.” Legolas heard Eilian give what sounded like a suppressed laugh, turned to him in puzzlement, and then looked to see that Ithilden was glaring at Eilian.

“What is the matter?” he asked.

“Ithilden has a ripping good story to tell you,” Eilian said with a grin.

“Nothing is the matter,” Ithilden said in the tone that meant that any further questions would be met with a sharp reply.

Thranduil raised one eyebrow but then seemed to concede Ithilden’s right to privacy and allowed him to change the subject by asking how Thranduil’s horse was recovering from a pulled muscle in one leg.  Legolas quickly lost the thread of the conversation as he sat pushing his food around on his plate and considering his options.

He could ask Eilian to come to his room after the meal and try to talk to him there, but Eilian might very well refuse, especially since he had an appointment with Maltanaur and would have to leave before long to keep it, for sundown would come soon even on this long summer day. With the guard out in the hallway, Legolas would be able to do nothing to stop him. Reluctantly, he asked himself if he should simply tell Thranduil or Ithilden about Eilian’s appointment. He supposed he could do that but it felt like a betrayal, and in any case, he could not do it with Eilian sitting right next to him. There seemed to be no good option.

“Are you finished eating, Legolas?” Thranduil asked, and Legolas looked up to find the rest of his family all watching him. He looked down at the food still on his plate and felt his stomach rebel at the idea of eating any more.

He put his fork down. “Yes.”

“Then you can go back to your chamber now.”

He looked at Thranduil, suddenly realizing that he was being dismissed and was not likely to see Eilian again before he left. He turned to his brother and, in desperation, opened his mouth to say something, anything, that might make Eilian reconsider. Before he could speak, Eilian smiled at him. “It will be all right, brat,” he said. Not knowing what else to do, Legolas rose and started to leave the room, but Thranduil caught at his arm, pulled Legolas toward him, and drew his head down to kiss his brow.

“Good night, child,” Thranduil said, and Legolas stiffly pulled away. With one last miserable glance back at his family, he returned to his own chamber with the guard in tow. He simply could not think of a good course of action.

He had flung himself on his bed and was staring at his ceiling when he was startled by a knock at his door. “Come in,” he called, and to his surprise, Turgon bounced into the room, grinning and smelling of the outdoors and shaking rain off the shoulders and hood of his cloak.

“Where have you been?” he demanded happily. “Annael’s parents are angry that he left the training fields and will not let him come out in the evening, and you have disappeared, and I have had no one to spend time with.”

Legolas could not resist smiling as he sat up. There was something comforting in Turgon’s endless energy. “How did you get in?”

“I just said I was visiting you,” Turgon shrugged. “The guards always let me in to do that.”

Legolas considered that. Ordinarily, he was not allowed to have visitors when he was confined to his chamber, but apparently the guard at his door did not know that, and the ones at the Great Doors had not been told he was being punished. That did not surprise him when he thought about it. Thranduil often tried to keep such knowledge within the family. “Were your parents not angry about your missing the sword fighting class? And what about the dangwath? My adar said he told your parents that he thought you had had some.”

Turgon made a face. “My adar was very angry. He made me promise I would not touch the herb again.”

“And will you?” Legolas asked curiously.

“Probably not,” Turgon answered without much thought. “But why have you not been at training? And what is happening with Eilian? Is he taking dangwath?”

“My tutor found the dangwath I took from you, and my adar confined me to my chamber.” Legolas had decided that he would not tell anyone else about Eilian if he could help it.

Turgon looked surprised at what must have seemed to him to be an unbelievable overreaction on Thranduil’s part. He pulled his cloak off and tossed it onto the bed. “I will stay with you. What should we do?”

But Legolas did not answer. He was staring at Turgon’s cloak with his mind racing. He lifted his eyes and looked at his friend. “Can I borrow your cloak for a while, Turgon? And would you be willing to stay here while I did it?”

Turgon’s eyes widened. “I want to go with you!”

Legolas shook his head. “Only one of us can leave.”

Turgon eyed him for a minute and then gave a conspiratorial grin. “Will you tell me what happens?”


Hiolith opened the door in response to Maltanaur’s knock and slid his eyes nervously from Maltanaur to Eilian and back again. “I told you that you could just get the herb for yourself. You did not have to come here.”

“We need to speak with you,” Maltanaur said, pushing past Hiolith at the same time. Hiolith turned toward him with a scowl, and Eilian too entered the little cottage and shut the door behind him.

Hiolith’s eyes narrowed, and his hand went to the hilt of the knife at his belt. “What do you want?”

“What we want is to help you,” Maltanaur replied.

Hiolith gave a short laugh. “I had not seen you in years before you turned up wanting dangwath for your charge here.” He jerked his head toward Eilian. “I find it highly unlikely that you want to ‘help’ me now. Indeed, I cannot even think of what help you could give.”

Eilian studied him, trying to imagine what it must be like to be Hiolith. What would it be like to live in the world made by the dangwath with nothing else and no one else in your life? “You ask us what we want, Hiolith,” he said curiously. “But what is it that you want?”

Hiolith looked surprised at the question and then curled his lips scornfully. “If you do not know yet, then you soon will that when the shadow has sunk its teeth deeply enough into you, the question is not what you want but what you need.”

Eilian drew a deep breath. He had decided that he would help Hiolith if he could, but just now, they needed to get underway if they were to meet the Men tonight. “We know that Men are making you give them the herb. We want to make them stop doing that.”

Hiolith stiffened. “How do you know that? No, never mind. Do not tell me. You have been spying on me.” He regarded Eilian closely and a flash of insight showed in his eyes. “Let me guess. You do not really need the dangwath. You are working for the king, and I am about to be seized and dragged before him.” His breath quickened, and he turned wildly back to Maltanaur. “Is that your idea of ‘help,’ Maltanaur, my old friend?”

Eilian let his own hand move to his sword and held his breath as he waited to see if Hiolith would draw his knife, and Maltanaur put his hands up placatingly. “We are not going to take you into custody, Hiolith.”  That was true enough as far as it went, Eilian knew, but Thranduil was unlikely to let Hiolith continue to grow dangwath, even for his own use. He had declared a law against its being grown by anyone except the healers. Eilian’s heart misgave him a little at the deception they were practicing against this Elf.

“I cannot go to the king’s dungeons, Maltanaur,” Hiolith said desperately. “You do not know what that would be like for me!”

“We do not want to send you to the dungeons,” Maltanaur said soothingly. “And I will tell the king myself that you do not belong there.” Eilian glanced at him in surprise but he went on without acknowledging the look. “We want to stop the Men who are selling the dangwath to anyone and everyone in Esgaroth. Surely you do not think that is a good idea?”

Hiolith seemed to hesitate a little and then drew himself up with something resembling dignity. “There are warriors who need that herb. I know what it is like to feel the touch of the shadow on your spirit, and I would not see another warrior suffer if I could prevent it.” He glanced at Eilian in disgust. “That is why I offered some to you. I had heard that you had come back from the south with the sickness.”

“I did,” Eilian said simply. “But the healers helped me, and they would help you too.” He would see to it that they did, he vowed to himself. If necessary, he would beg his father to refrain from punishing this suffering ex-warrior. Hiolith made Eilian too uncomfortably aware of his own unhappiness and weakness for him to feel anything but dismay at the idea of imposing any further pain upon him. Surely Thranduil would be able to see beyond the Elf’s actions to the reasons underneath them.

“The healers would tell me to stop taking the dangwath,” Hiolith said wearily. “And I cannot do that.”

“Hiolith,” Eilian said, “I know that dangwath can help a person with shadow sickness. Believe me, I know. But those Men are selling it at exorbitant prices to people who would be better off in the healers’ care. They are exploiting those people. Take us with you to meet the Men tonight. We need to find out who they are working for, and then we will tell the Master of Esgaroth and he will take care of matters, and they will never bother you again.”

Hiolith regarded him in silence, plainly tempted by the offer, and Eilian tried again to put himself in Hiolith’s place and think as he would. If he were Hiolith, what would he feel now? What would he want to do? “You are a warrior, Hiolith,” he said, “one who has been injured in the fight against shadow, but you can fight it again here. Please help us.”

Hiolith stared at him and then looked away, and Eilian’s heart leapt in exultation as he recognized what he was seeing. “Very well,” said Hiolith. “I will take you with me.” He looked back at Eilian. “I assume you have a plan.”


“We have waited long enough, I think,” Legolas said and flung Turgon’s still-damp cloak around his shoulders. They had tried to judge just how long a guest would have to stay if the guard was not to become suspicious, but Legolas did not want to wait so long that he missed Eilian. He raised the cloak’s hood, and Turgon hastened to tuck a strand of his blond hair out of sight and pull the hood a little further forward.

Turgon looked him over critically. “That should do it,” he approved.

Legolas drew a deep breath, trying to calm the flutter in his stomach. His father would be furious if he ever learned about this little excursion, but Legolas just could not let Eilian do something so stupid and harmful without trying to stop him. He pulled the door to his room open slightly. “Good bye, Turgon,” he said, loudly enough to be sure the guard would hear.

“Good bye,” Turgon responded in a matching tone. His eyes danced with excitement, even though Legolas knew he was disappointed that he would have to stay behind. He only hoped that Turgon remembered his part of the bargain and did not give in to the temptation to leave and try to find out what was happening.

Taking one, final deep breath, Legolas ducked out the door and pulled it shut behind him. “Good evening,” the guard said pleasantly, and Legolas raised a hand to him and hurried down the hall toward the door leading from the family’s quarters. At each step, he expected to hear a voice behind him, calling to him to stop, but it never came. Instead, he found himself in the antechamber outside the Great Hall and then passing through the Great Doors and descending the steps leading to the bridge across the Forest River.

On the bridge, he paused, grasping the rail with a shaking hand. He could not believe that he had made good his escape. He realized that he was panting and deliberately slowed his breath. Then he released the rail and walked off toward the woods, trying to make his step as casual and as much like Turgon’s as possible.

The minute he was in the shelter of the trees, he felt better. They were singing their night song, and it comforted him as he swung up into them to make the trip to the cottage where he knew Eilian and Maltanaur would be. Before he had gone very far, the rain stopped, and the clouds parted enough to allow him to see stars. The forest was fragrant with damp earth and greenery, and he began to hope that he would succeed in helping Eilian.

When he reached the cottage, however, he could see no sign of life.  The windows were dark, and as far as he could tell, no one was in the trees around him either. He waited for a moment or two to be sure he was alone, and then, with his heart pounding, he dropped silently to the ground and crept forward to look through the window near the cottage’s door and confirm that the single room was empty. Eilian and Maltanaur had agreed to meet here at sundown, he knew. Where could they and the Elf who lived in the cottage have gone? But even as he wondered that, he guessed, and he had to bite his lip to keep from moaning: They had gone to pick dangwath.

He ran back toward the trees, scrambled up into them, and flung himself rapidly through the branches, going toward where he thought the herb patch was. He slowed only when he approached the patch and wanted to be sure he was moving quietly. He came to rest in a high branch and looked down to find that Eilian, Maltanaur, and the other Elf were at the far edge of the patch. The Elf wore a leather bag around his neck on a strap, and as Legolas watched, Maltanaur cut a bit of the herb and stuffed it into the top of what was obviously a full bag.

“There,” Maltanaur said. “That should be enough.”

“We need to go now,” Eilian said. “I want to be there before the Men arrive.” The three of them started through the woods on the other side of the clearing, and for a puzzled second, Legolas stared after them. What were they doing? Whatever it was involved a great deal of dangwath. Alarm flared in his breast. What kind of trouble was Eilian in? He began moving through the branches to follow them.

They led him toward a ravine that was not far from the river, and then they stopped to confer. He drew as near as he could, but he still could not hear what they were saying. Maltanaur pointed to a clump of maples standing just inside the mouth of the ravine, and Eilian nodded. Eilian turned as if to go, but then he stopped, and he and Maltanaur bent their head close together and exchanged a few more words before Maltanaur disappeared in the direction he had been pointing. Legolas quickly lost sight of him among the trees.

He turned to watch Eilian again. He was speaking to the other Elf, who responded by shoving one side of his cloak back and putting his hand on the hilt of his knife. Legolas tensed. Was the other Elf threatening Eilian? Eilian rested his own hand on the hilt of his sword, but the movement seemed casual.

The song of the tree he was in broke into a small quaver, and he jerked his head to look around in alarm. Suddenly, strong arms grabbed at him from behind. He had time to give only a terrified half cry, before someone clapped a hand over his mouth. Desperately, he pushed at the arms, trying to pry them away from him, but his assailant pulled him off his feet and jumped to a lower branch and then to the ground. Legolas kicked backward as hard as he could, connected with something solid, and felt a savage triumph at the strangled cry his attacker gave.

The arms that were holding him shook him hard. “Stop it, you little fool! I am not trying to hurt you, but I will give you a good whack if I have to!”

For a frozen second, Legolas could not believe his ears. Maltanaur. It was Maltanaur who had hold of him and was now dragging him toward where Eilian stood.


Eilian whirled with his sword in his hand, only to find Maltanaur dragging a kicking Legolas out of the underbrush. For a second, he stared in disbelief and then he gave a low moan.

“It is a child,” Hiolith said in surprise.

“It is my brother,” Eilian acknowledged, sheathing his sword again.

Legolas shoved Maltanaur’s hand away from his mouth. “How can you do this?” he hissed at Maltanaur, and Eilian could hear his voice shaking with fury. “This is your fault! The one with the dangwath is your friend and you led Eilian right to him. What is wrong with you? You are supposed to protect Eilian.” He sounded near to tears, Eilian thought in horror, even as he worried about the Men hearing them, for they were due any minute.

Maltanaur clapped his hand back over Legolas’s mouth and struggled to get a grip on him that would prevent Legolas from kicking him in the shins. “Be quiet!” he growled in a low voice. Finally, he shoved Legolas to the ground face down and put one knee on his back.

“Be careful!” Eilian admonished him sharply. “Legolas, just keep quiet and stop struggling!”

Legolas did as he was told, but he still quivered with wrath. He turned a dirt-smeared face to Eilian, who dropped to his knees beside him and stroked the blond head. “Are you all right, brat?” He still could not believe that his little brother was here.

With his knee still in Legolas’s back and his hand still over his mouth, Maltanaur looked at Eilian in some exasperation. “What do you want to do?”

Eilian looked at Legolas and then at Hiolith, who was shifting nervously from foot to foot. If they left the scene now, they might never again get a chance to find out who the Men worked for, and surely he owed something to this fragile ex-warrior who had agreed to help them. But he felt slightly sick at the thought of Legolas being anywhere near this potentially dangerous situation. “You take Legolas home,” he told Maltanaur, immediately provoking a muffled protest from his brother.

“No,” said Maltanaur firmly. “You are not doing this by yourself. For one thing, the king would have my hide if I let you.”

“The Men are coming,” Hiolith murmured. “I can hear them, and it will not be long before they can hear us.”

Eilian looked at Legolas, whose face was turned beseechingly toward him. And then he closed his eyes and drew a deep breath. “Legolas,” he said, a little unsteadily, “this is not what you think, but I do not have time to explain it to you now. You have to go with Maltanaur, and you have to keep quiet or someone might be harmed.” He avoided Legolas’s eyes and looked at Maltanaur. “Do not hurt him.”

“Of course not,” Maltanaur said and then pulled Legolas to his feet and hauled him off to hide among the maple trees. Eilian stood for a second looking after them and then hastened into the ravine with Hiolith right behind him.


The next chapter may be a bit slower in coming. Sadly, school starts tomorrow.

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