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Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter for me.
This story has been a response to a challenge issued by Karri at the Stories of Arda Yahoo list to write a “Mirkwood Vice” story. Many thanks to her for the wonderful idea.
Thranduil frowned at the chessboard. “Are you humoring me?” he asked sharply.
Ithilden looked up in surprise. “Of course not.” A faint color rose in his cheeks. “I am simply finding it difficult to concentrate tonight.”
Thranduil studied him and suppressed a smile. He could not remember the last time he had seen Ithilden blush. It was possible, of course, that Ithilden was distracted by worry about Eilian. Thranduil was certainly worried tonight. But while Ithilden had drilled Eilian thoroughly on what he planned to do, he had also shown complete confidence in his brother’s ability to handle the situation with the Men, and the blush told Thranduil that something very different was on Ithilden’s mind. “Is there something you would like to talk about, iôn-nín?” he asked as innocently as he could.
Ithilden’s eyes narrowed slightly. “No,” he said stiffly.
Thranduil laughed out loud. “Never fear, Ithilden. I do not mean to interfere in your private life, although I will tell you that I like the maiden.”
Ithilden glared at him for a moment before his face softened and he gave a rueful chuckle. “I like her too, Adar, but I seem to be fated to make a fool of myself in front of her.”
Thranduil picked up his wine and sipped it thoughtfully, recalling the tale of disaster that a courtier had told him earlier that day. Thranduil had frowned at the Elf for carrying gossip, and although he had been both amused and dismayed by the story, he understood how deeply Ithilden would be discomfited by such a humiliating experience. He hesitated. “There are worse things than making a fool of yourself.”
Ithilden grimaced. “She might disagree with you.”
“She might, or she might not. That will be for her to decide.” Thranduil smiled slightly. “You cannot control everything, Ithilden, and you have a strong enough self-love that it will survive even if she does decide that you are not the one for her. But if there is one thing you are not, it is a coward, and you surely would not let happiness elude you because reaching for it was sometimes painful.”
For a moment, Ithilden looked down into his own wine. Then he raised his head and smiled at his father, and Thranduil could not help but think that if the maiden did not see the worth in his handsome, strong, responsible son, then she was a fool. “Are you advising me to return to the battle?” Ithilden asked dryly.
Thranduil laughed. “I suppose I am.” He set down his wine and rose, signaling that Ithilden should stay seated. “If you are not going to give me a real game of chess, then I think I will go and look in on Legolas. He looked as if he could use some reassurance at evening meal.”
Ithilden immediately sobered. “For all our sakes, this thing with Eilian needs to be over soon.”
“Indeed,” Thranduil agreed and went out of the sitting room and down the hall to where the guard stood outside of Legolas’s chamber. He nodded to the guard, knocked once, and then opened the door and walked into the room.
The dark-haired youth sitting cross-legged on the bed sharpening a knife stared at him in surprise, and for a moment, Thranduil could not take in what he was seeing. He glanced swiftly around the room. “Where is Legolas?”
“He is not here.”
Thranduil took two swift strides toward the bed, and Turgon dropped the knife and whetstone he had been holding. “Where is he?” Thranduil demanded, making his voice as menacing as possible. He had absolutely no intention of fooling about with Turgon.
Turgon’s eyes widened. “He left.”
“Left the palace?” Thranduil asked incredulously. Turgon nodded. In one lunge, Thranduil crossed the rest of the short distance to the bed, grasped a handful of Turgon’s tunic, and pulled him up onto his knees. “Where did he go?”
Turgon swallowed convulsively. “He went to help Eilian.”
For a moment, Thranduil found that he could not breathe. Then he released Turgon, turned, and all but ran out into the hall again. “When did my son leave?” he demanded of the guard.
The guard blinked uncertainly. “He did not leave, my lord.”
“You imbecile! Of course he did! When did someone my son’s size leave?”
Suddenly, all the color drained from the guard’s face. “About an hour ago,” he croaked.
“Come,” Thranduil commanded and strode back down the hall to the sitting room, with the guard trailing anxiously behind him. “Legolas has gone to ‘help’ Eilian,” Thranduil told a startled Ithilden. “We need to go after him now.” He whirled and started back into the hall again.
“Wait!” cried Ithilden, hurrying after him. “Adar, we need to be careful that we do not do anything that would alarm the Men and thus endanger Eilian and Legolas too.”
Thranduil turned back to him. “I know that! Do you think I do not know that? But we are not letting Legolas run around at night, in the forest, near Men who deal in dangwath,” he said, biting off each word savagely.
“Of course not,” Ithilden defended himself. “But let me organize a patrol to carry out a silent search.”
“No,” Thranduil cut him off. “There is no time. We will have to make do with you and me, my guards and this fool.” He indicated the sick-looking guard with a curt gesture. “We will go through the trees and retrieve Legolas, and we will make sure that the Men never even know we were there. Get your weapons.” He started down the hall toward his own chamber, only to stop at the sight of Turgon venturing from Legolas’s room. “And tell someone to send for this one’s adar,” he ordered angrily. “He needs to be taken home and kept there for a year or two. By the time I am through with Legolas, he will be in no condition to have visitors anyway.” He swept past the hapless Turgon, whose eyes were round with fascinated dismay.
Legolas twisted furiously and tried to thrust an elbow back into Maltanaur’s stomach, but Maltanaur tightened his grip until Legolas felt as if the breath was being squeezed out of him. Maltanaur dragged him deeper into the underbrush and then put his mouth right next to Legolas’s ear.
“Stop it!” he breathed so softly that Legolas could hardly hear him. “You heard your brother. This is not what you think. He is not going to use the herb. He is trying to stop people who are selling it to Men.” Legolas froze. Could that be right? His heart leapt at the idea, but he was not sure he trusted Maltanaur to tell him the truth.
Maltanaur breathed into his ear again. “I need my hands free to use a weapon if things grow dangerous. You must keep quiet if you do not want to risk Eilian’s safety. Do you promise to be still?” Talk of needing a weapon made Legolas’s heart skip a beat. He nodded as much as he could with Maltanaur’s hand pressed to his mouth. If Maltanaur thought he needed a weapon to face whatever was about to happen, then Legolas was all for him having one.
Besides, Legolas wanted to be let loose, and if his momentary truce with his brother’s keeper proved unwise, he was not sure how much he was obligated to abide by a promise given under such circumstances anyway. Cautiously, Maltanaur loosened his hand and then the arm he had around Legolas’s chest. When Legolas stayed silent and immobile, he eased his bow from his shoulder and fitted an arrow to the bowstring. Then he stood, peering through the screen of branches before them.
Legolas looked in the same direction and realized that Maltanaur had positioned them so that they could see the mouth of the ravine through a screen of branches. The sound of approaching footsteps drew his attention, and three Men emerged from the trees and started into the ravine. Then from Legolas’s right, Hiolith emerged from the shadow of a boulder with Eilian slightly behind him. Legolas blinked. Eilian had seemed normal enough a few moments ago when he and Hiolith had run toward the ravine, but now he seemed agitated. He came to a halt when Hiolith did and stood jiggling one leg. Legolas drew a slow breath. Had Maltanaur been telling him the truth? Was Eilian only pretending?
The Men stopped in their tracks at the sight of Eilian. “Who’s this?” the big Man in the front demanded, drawing his sword. Legolas stiffened, and Maltanaur raised his bow and pointed the arrow at the
“He wants to talk to you about the herb, Sirard,” Hiolith answered. “He needs it.”
Sirard kept his sword at the ready as he eyed Eilian. “What do I care if he needs it?” he asked scornfully.
“Hiolith says I cannot have any because you want all that he grows except for what he uses himself,” Eilian whined, and Legolas flinched. He had never heard his brother sound like that. He glanced at Maltanaur, but the keeper’s face was impassive.
“Hiolith had better remember that,” Sirard said menacingly. He jerked his head at Hiolith. “Give the bag to Rhon.” Hiolith walked slowly toward the shorter of the two Men behind the leader, removing the strap of the bag from around his neck as he did so. Maltanaur exhaled softly, and Legolas glanced over to see him trying to edge slightly to his right so that he could keep his arrow aimed at the leader without having Hiolith in the way.
“I can help you,” Eilian sounded desperate now. “I can keep the Home Guard warriors away if you let me have a steady supply of the herb.”
Sirard laughed. “You have some sort of influence with the Elven guards? I doubt that.”
“I do,” Eilian insisted anxiously. He seemed to hesitate, and then he blurted, “I am the king’s son.”
“That’s a lie,” Sirard sneered. “I’ve seen the king’s son. He has a stick shoved permanently up his arse.”
Legolas stiffened and looked indignantly at Maltanaur, who was still trying to get a good angle on the leader. He seemed not to even notice the insult to Ithilden.
“That is my brother.”
Legolas turned to look at Eilian again, drawn by the scorn in his voice. And suddenly, he could not help smiling, for he knew with an absolute certainty that Eilian was pretending.
“My brother and my adar see eye to eye about everything, including me,” Eilian said bitterly. “And I swear to you I can keep the guards away. Is there someone else you have to ask? Let me talk to him. I can explain things to him.”
“He is telling you the truth, Sirard,” Hiolith unexpectedly put in. To Maltanaur’s increasingly agitated dismay, he had stopped midway toward Rhon and still clutched the bag of dangwath.
The tall Man behind the leader had lowered his sword and now spoke for the first time. “We should let him have it, Sirard. He really does seem to need it.”
“Shut up, Bierd,” Sirard snarled. He looked at Eilian from under half lowered lids. “If I let you have a constant supply of dangwath, you’ll keep the guards away? How are you going to do that?”
Eilian’s eyes narrowed slyly. “I do not think I trust you. I will explain how I would do it but only to someone in charge.”
Sirard snorted. “Then you get nothing.” He waved his sword toward Rhon. “Take the bag,” he commanded.
Rhon started to move forward, but Hiolith clutched the bag to him and took a step back. Legolas caught his breath as Rhon lunged and grabbed for it, bringing the hilt of his sword down to strike Hiolith on the side of head, but Hiolith raised his arm in time to ward off the blow and kept hold of the bag.
Legolas was aware of Maltanaur shifting frantically, but it was not until Sirard shouted “Hiolith!” that Legolas looked to find that the big Man had moved next to Eilian and was pointing his sword at Eilian’s side. Eilian seemed to have made no effort to draw his own weapon and was smiling weakly at Sirard, but what made Legolas draw in his breath sharply was the realization that his brother was now between Maltanaur and Sirard.
With a courage born of fear, Legolas snatched the knife from his belt and broke from the underbrush to run toward the Men. As he raced toward them, he had time to see the surprised looks on the faces of the Men, and the appalled look on Eilian’s. Then he heard Maltanaur erupting from shelter behind him and saw Eilian whirl to drive his fist into Sirard’s face and seize the wrist of the Man’s sword hand.
Rhon shoved Hiolith hard, and then, to Legolas’s surprise, he jumped forward to intercept him, knocking the knife from his hand with a painful blow to his forearm and then grabbing him. For the second time that evening, Legolas found himself held from behind, and this time, the blade of a sword was set against his throat.
“Back off or I’ll slit his throat,” Rhon snapped. Legolas froze, feeling his breath catch and his heart thump hard against his rib cage. Hiolith had started to rise, but now he stopped, and Maltanaur skidded to a halt a few steps away.
Across a space that abruptly seemed to be very wide, Eilian broke away from Sirard and stood looking at Legolas as Sirard brought his sword back around to point at Eilian. Eilian’s face was calm, but it had turned stark white.
Suddenly the tall Man was at Rhon’s side, with the point of his sword in Rhon’s neck. “He’s a child,” the tall Man said through clenched teeth. “Let him go.”
“Yes,” said a cold voice. “Let him go.” And if Rhon had not been holding him, Legolas’s legs would have given way beneath him when he saw Ithilden standing behind Sirard, with the point of his sword prodding the Man’s back.
“Drop the sword,” said Thranduil’s voice from behind Legolas, and after a frozen second, Rhon’s hand opened to let the weapon fall to the ground. He loosened his hold on Legolas, and Maltanaur jumped forward to pull Legolas away from him. Legolas could not help leaning against Maltanaur and shuddering, even as he turned to see his father standing behind Rhon, with the tip of his sword against the Man’s back.
“Are you hurt, Legolas?” Thranduil asked.
Thranduil smiled nastily at Rhon. “In that case, I will let you live,” he said, and Legolas saw Rhon sway slightly. “Bind them,” Thranduil ordered, and Maltanaur patted Legolas’s shoulder and moved off to help the guards who now appeared to bind Rhon’s and Sirard’s hands behind their backs, while Thranduil and Ithilden still held them at swordpoint.
“What about him?” a guard asked when he came to Bierd.
Thranduil eyed the tall
Bierd looked at Thranduil. “His name is Herat,” he said.
“Shut up, Bierd!” Sirard cried frantically. “Do you want to get us all killed?”
Thranduil raised an eyebrow. “Of whom do you speak?” he asked the tall
“The one to whom we take the dangwath,” said Bierd steadily.
“Fool!” Sirard spat.
Thranduil looked at Bierd thoughtfully. “Why do you do this? We provide the herb to the healers in Esgaroth. What need have you to obtain it this way?”
Bierd stood in passive dignity, allowing the guard to bind his hands. “Not everyone can do as the healers ask,” he said simply.
Legolas saw his father’s gaze go past Bierd to Hiolith, who had gotten to his feet and now stood holding the bag of dangwath. Maltanaur was speaking to him quietly. “That is true,” Thranduil conceded. He lowered his sword and turned to look at Legolas, with his eyes narrowed.
Suddenly, Legolas found himself caught in a hard embrace. “You little fool!” cried Eilian. “You could have been killed!”
Legolas pulled away from him and grinned. He was safe; Eilian was safe; and Eilian was not taking dangwath. “You are lucky I was here,” he said cockily. And then he jumped and gasped as something hard struck him on the backside. He spun to find his father directly behind him and realized with a shock that what he had felt was the flat of his father’s sword.
“Just what did you think you were doing?” Thranduil hissed. Legolas’s stomach tightened as he looked at his father’s furious face.
“I wanted to help Eilian.” Even to himself, his voice sounded shaky.
Thranduil closed his eyes for a moment. “Ithilden,” he said, opening them again, “you and I will take Legolas home. Eilian and Maltanaur will sort things out here.” Legolas bit his lip. Perhaps he was not yet as safe as he had thought he was.
Legolas pulled himself wearily from the cooling bath. He was used to incurring occasional injuries in weapons training, but he had been handled roughly by a number of different people tonight and he felt bruised and sore. He toweled himself dry, pulled on a clean sleep tunic, and made his way into his room. He sat down on the bed and then jumped up quickly before lying gingerly down on his side. He had forgotten about that particular bruise. He wondered what had happened to Turgon.
He wished he could just go to sleep and forget all about this day, but his father had sent him to bathe and said he would come to speak to him once he had sent a message to the Master of Esgaroth. The trip home had been nerve rackingly silent, as Legolas had moved through the trees with Ithilden ahead of him and Thranduil behind. Legolas wished his father would come to his room right now. He hated waiting.
As if in answer to his desire, a single sharp knock sounded on his door and Thranduil entered without waiting for Legolas’s response. Legolas started to get to his feet. “Stay there,” Thranduil bid him, and he lay down again. Thranduil pulled the blankets out from under him and drew them up to cover him. Then he sat down in the chair by the side of the bed and leaned forward with his forearms on his thighs and his hands clasped.
“How do you feel?”
Legolas shrugged. “I am all right.”
Thranduil looked away and then back again. “Legolas, I confess I am at a loss as to what to do with you. I thought I had taken sufficient measures to keep you away from a very dangerous situation, and you merrily slipped away into the night and rushed right into it.”
Legolas bit his lip and studied his father. Thranduil looked grave but far less angry than he had looked earlier. “I was worried about Eilian, and I did not know what else to do.”
“Both Ithilden and I told you not to worry.” Thranduil sounded exasperated.
“But you did not tell me what the matter was, and I could not help being worried! And I thought maybe you did not know everything Eilian was doing, and I did not want to tell you because that might get him into trouble.”
“Legolas, if Eilian had been taking dangwath, then you certainly should have told me, because if he was, then he needed help, more help than you could have given him. Surely you know that I would have done everything in my power to help him stop. You and Eilian and Ithilden are the most precious things in Arda to me.”
Legolas suddenly felt overwhelmingly tired and tears prickled his eyes. “I was afraid for Eilian, and you and Ithilden just kept saying not to worry, and I thought you were not doing anything, so I thought I had to.” To his horror, his voice quavered, and immediately, his father was out of the chair and onto the edge of the bed, drawing him into an embrace.
“I would never let any of you suffer if I could help you,” Thranduil said, stroking Legolas’s hair, and Legolas could not resist pushing his head into the caress. His father sighed, pulled away a little, and looked down into Legolas’s face. “I will admit that I probably should have told you something of what was going on, particularly once you were confined to your room and could not accidentally give Eilian away.”
Legolas felt a small surge of excitement. “I would like it if you would tell me things like Annael’s adar tells him.”
“Hm,” said Thranduil noncommittally. “You know that I am going to have to confine you to your room for a month, do you not? And you should assume that I will be checking regularly to make sure you are in it.”
Legolas grimaced. “I suppose so.”
Thranduil smiled, released him, and stood up. “You will go back to weapons training, though. And when you are not at lessons or training, you will attend me if I am holding court.”
Legolas tried to hide his dismay but feared he had not succeeded. He knew from experience that court was usually deadly dull. “I could just stay in my chamber,” he offered weakly.
Thranduil looked deceptively benign. “You will learn about the realm and its people by attending court, and I will be able to keep an eye on you. If you behave well, I may allow you out of my sight occasionally.” Legolas could not suppress a groan, but Thranduil ignored it. “When you see Turgon tomorrow, you should tell him that the guards have been told to admit no one to see you.”
Legolas lay back on the bed with a sigh. “Did you frighten him?” he asked curiously.
“I believe I did.” Thranduil sounded satisfied, as he moved toward the door.
Legolas grinned, even as he felt his eyes begin to slide out of focus. “I wish I could have seen that.” The door to his room opened and closed softly, and he ran lightly onto the dream path.
Eilian’s eyes focused on the bow hanging on the wall, and he knew at once that he was in his own bed, in his own room, in his father’s stronghold. He stretched beneath the sheets, and abruptly realized that he had slept long and well, something he had not done in at least two months. Rolling from his side to his back, he considered that fact for a moment. I must be getting better, he thought in surprise and felt a sudden, joyous surge of relief. I am getting better after all.
Propelled by a flood of energy, he rolled out of bed. His innate sense of time told him that it was late enough that he might have already missed his morning meal. He barely had had time to think that Thranduil would be displeased when he caught sight of a tray of bread and fruit set on the small table near the door. He blinked. His father must have ordered that his meal be brought to his room and left for him to eat at his leisure. He could not think of the last time that had happened.
And suddenly he laughed. He picked up the bowl of strawberries, tossed one up into the air, caught it in his mouth, and then started for his bathing chamber, taking the berries with him. He would have a long, hot soak, nibbling strawberries and deciding what to do for the rest of the day. He had done the task Ithilden and his father had asked him to do, and the healers had not yet released him for active duty. He supposed he should go to Ithilden’s office where he was theoretically assigned, but he doubted if his brother expected him. A bath was just the thing he needed to make every muscle in his body purr.
Nearly an hour later, he left his room and strolled down the hallway toward the door leading out of the family quarters intending to go out, but the guard stopped him. “The king left word that he wished to see you before you went out, my lord. He is in his office.”
For one dismayed second, Eilian considered ignoring the message, but he thought better of it and turned back to his father’s office. He knocked and then entered at his father’s invitation. Thranduil looked up from his work and smiled. “You look to be in good spirits this morning.”
“I am,” Eilian acknowledged with a grin.
Thranduil leaned back in his chair. “You did very well, Eilian, particularly given that you are still struggling against the shadow yourself. I wanted to tell you how proud I am of you.”
Eilian felt absurdly grateful for the praise, knowing that his father did not give it lightly. “Thank you, Adar.”
Thranduil rose from his chair and came around the desk. “Shall we go for a walk around the warrior training grounds?” he invited.
Eilian blinked. “I had thought I might go and visit a friend,” he said cautiously.
“She can wait,” Thranduil declared with a grin. Then he sobered. “You have done a great deal of damage to your reputation in the last week, ión-nín. Ithilden is making sure the truth is spread as widely as possible, but I think it best that everyone has a chance to see you walking with me while I look approving. Your ‘friend’ will welcome you more gladly afterward, I think.”
Eilian looked at him with open mouth. “Adar,” he said with a slow smile, “you never cease to amaze me.”
“I hope not,” said Thranduil serenely and put a hand on Eilian’s shoulder to steer him toward the door.
Ithilden walked out of the dim hall of the infirmary into the bright morning sunlight and nearly ran into Alfirin, who was presumably on her way to visit her mother. Both of them skipped sideways to avoid the collision, but she moved to her left as he moved to his right, and he found himself standing only four inches from her, looking down into her upturned face.
“I beg your pardon, mistress,” he apologized, feeling a little breathless.
She blushed slightly and took a step backward. “Think nothing of it, Ithilden.” And averting her face, she circled around him and went into the infirmary.
He stood looking vexedly after her for a moment and then sighed and started toward his office. He seemed fated to make a fool of himself every time he met her. Suddenly, he stopped in his tracks, recalling every one of the few words they had just spoken to one another. “Think nothing of it, Ithilden.” She had called him Ithilden! She had called him by name! He gave a shout of laughter that greatly startled the two warriors who had just saluted him and been ignored.
Maltanaur sat down in the bedside chair after Ithilden left the room.
“You do not have to stay with me,” Hiolith said. The healers had propped him up with pillows so he could talk to the troop commander, and he was still sitting up.
“I do,” Maltanaur answered peaceably. “You are fighting a hard battle, and you need someone to watch your back.”
Hiolith smiled slightly and reached with a trembling hand for the water glass on his bedside table. The glass shook so badly that water slopped over one side, and Maltanaur put one of his hands over Hiolith’s to steady it. Hiolith drank and then let Maltanaur take the glass and put it back on the table as he sank against the pillows.
“I have tried to stop, you know.”
“I thought you probably had,” said Maltanaur, “but I do not think this is something anyone should try to do on their own. The healers will help you now.”
They sat in silence for a moment. “I am sorry,” Hiolith said.
“So am I. I am ashamed that we all lost track of someone who had suffered in the service of the realm. We owed you better than that.”
Hiolith bit his lip, but Maltanaur saw, rose from his chair, sat on the edge of his bed, and took the now shuddering Hiolith in his arms. He began to rock slightly murmuring soothing words as he had done for his daughter when she was small, as he had done for Eilian when the shadow sickness had finally overwhelmed him, as others had done for him in those moments of his long life when grief had overcome him. This summer day would be long, but he had time. He would stay here as long as he was needed.
AN: Nilmandra has written a story about Thranduil’s first meeting with his future wife and he had some problems that suggest that Ithilden’s awkwardness is inherited. The story is called “First Celebrations” and it’s at Stories of Arda.
Many thanks to everyone who has read this story and particularly to those of you who have taken the time to review. You can’t know how much I appreciate it.
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