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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.

In this story, Legolas is about 35, or 14 in human terms, so it’s set between two of my other stories, “Growing under Shadow” and “See the Stars,” but you should not have to read either of them to follow this one. At least, I hope that’s the case!

*******

1. Lessons

“Turgon, you know I could outshoot you at this distance,” Isendir scoffed.

“You could not!” Turgon protested.

Legolas idly twirled an arrow as he listened to the other two argue. He looked off down the archery training field to the targets, placed at the farthest possible point from where they sat. They had never trained with the targets at such a distance before, and he was looking forward to the archery master’s return so they could begin their lesson.

He privately thought that Isendir was right, because Turgon’s form was erratic. Sometimes he would surprise you and hit something you would have sworn he could never come near, but usually his arrows landed more or less in the vicinity of the target, and Turgon would shrug and say, “Good enough.” So Isendir would probably win a contest between the two of them. On the other hand, Legolas knew that he would beat them both, a fact that made him glow with secret pleasure.

“You are such a braggart, Turgon,” put in Galelas in disgust. He and Isendir were friends, and Galelas was competitive enough himself that Turgon got under his skin on a regular basis. Legolas glanced at Turgon and grimaced to see his friend’s face reddening, a sign that his temper was rising, which would be unfortunate because Turgon was impulsive enough under normal circumstances.

“Let us see who the braggart is, shall we?” Turgon said, jumping to his feet and pulling an arrow from his quiver. “Are you game, Isendir? How about three shots each?”

Isendir frowned. “You know as well as I do that we are not supposed to use our weapons on the training fields unless a master is present.”

“That is certainly a good excuse if you are afraid I will beat you,” Turgon taunted.

Legolas groaned and glanced at the two class members who had been quiet so far. Annael shrugged and rolled his eyes at Legolas. He and Legolas and Turgon had been friends since before any of them could remember, and he knew as well as Legolas did that there was no stopping Turgon once he had taken an idea like this into his head. Sitting next to Annael, Tonduil was pale and wide-eyed with excitement. He was not competitive himself and usually steered clear of anything like a contest.

Isendir apparently also knew Turgon well enough to realize that the other would keep after him endlessly, for he got slowly to his feet. “Let us get it over with then,” he said reluctantly, pulling an arrow of his own.

“You aim for the first target on the left, and I will use the one next to it,” Turgon instructed. “Shoot at will.” He took more careful aim than usual, loosed his first arrow, and swiftly drew another. Isendir too settled quickly to his task now that he had agreed to it. Neither of them wanted to be caught using their bows without a weapons master present. Within a minute, they had each shot three arrows.

The other four students had all stood up as the contest started, and now, led by Turgon and Isendir, they all ran down the field toward the targets. Legolas had not been able to tell from the other end of the field who had won, but he thought that both of the archers had done well. They crowded around the two targets.

“I knew it!” crowed Galelas. Legolas looked and grimaced. Isendir had put two of his three arrows closer to the bull’s eye than Turgon had.

“Best two out of three!” Turgon cried in vexation, but Isendir only laughed, pulled his arrows from the target, and slid them into his quiver. Annael retrieved Turgon’s arrows and handed them to him. Scowling, he stored them and they all started back to the point where their class was supposed to gather.

They had gotten about two-thirds of the way there when Legolas heard Annael murmur, “Uh oh.” He looked up. Penntalion, the archery master, stood at the end of the field, his arms crossed and his mouth pressed into a thin line. Legolas’s stomach tightened, and he stopped for a second before following his companions to stand before their teacher.

Penntalion ran his eyes over the row of them, and along with everyone else, Legolas dropped his eyes to the ground. “What is going on here?” No one answered. “Look at me,” he commanded, and Legolas raised his head with a snap to meet Penntalion’s gaze. “I asked you all a question. What is going on here?”  Legolas carefully did not look at Turgon, who stood next to him. He would be grateful if Turgon and Isendir confessed, but he did not expect them to. Turgon had been in too much trouble lately, and another offense was likely to get him thrown out of the class and ruin his chances of becoming a warrior. And, of course, that anyone else would tell on them was out of the question.

Penntalion drew a deep breath. “Very well. If you will not tell me, then I will tell you. You were using your bows when no master was present. I confess I am appalled and disappointed in you. You are not elflings. Some of you will be novice warriors before too many years have passed. If you cannot be trusted to follow rules now, how will your officers ever be able to trust you? I think you have all indulged in quite enough archery for today. I suspect you would all learn more discipline from doing push ups and then running the warm up track. On the ground, all of you.”

Legolas managed to suppress a groan and thanked the Valar that his companions did too. Penntalion was in no mood to forgive complaining. He dropped to the ground between Turgon and Annael and began doing push ups. As he felt the heat beginning to flare in the muscles of his arms and chest, he wondered how he could be both someone who would soon be a novice and someone who was not allowed to use a weapon on his own.  But he kept that thought to himself too.

***

“I think that is enough for today,” said Penntalion, eying them as they stood panting and red-faced before him. “I will see you in two days, at which time I hope you will actually be ready to learn some archery rather than try to prove your skills to one another. I assure you that Orcs are far harder to impress than you are. You are dismissed.” He turned away from them and started toward a group of younger students, who waited for him while looking at Legolas and his companions with open curiosity.

Legolas resolutely ignored them and walked over to where Annael and Turgon were already trading the dipper from the water bucket back and forth and gulping down huge swallows. He accepted the dipper from Annael, took a long drink, and then poured the remaining water over his head. “I am sorry,” Turgon muttered. “That was all Isendir’s fault though.”

Legolas nodded but said nothing. What would be the point of reminding Turgon of his own contribution to the incident? Legolas dropped the dipper back into the bucket, and the three of them moved away to make room for Galelas, who ignored them, and Isendir, who made an apologetic face. Legolas gave him a faint smile, and then he and his friends began walking along the path that would take them all home for their mid-day meals.

“Ah well, I do not care,” Turgon declared. “I am going hunting with some of the older students this afternoon.” He turned to Legolas and Annael. “You two should come.”

Legolas grimaced. About a month earlier, Turgon’s parents had given into his repeated pleading to be allowed to cease having lessons. As a consequence, he had a great deal of free time, including the entire afternoon when Legolas and Annael were both still meeting with their tutors. “You know we have lessons and will not be free until later,” Legolas said.

“Do not go,” Turgon urged impatiently.

Annael gave a short laugh. “My parents would make my life very unpleasant if I did that, Turgon, and I cannot even imagine what Legolas’s adar would do if he did.” Legolas could not imagine either.

Turgon frowned. “You should tell your parents how unreasonable they are being.” Annael and Legolas both burst out laughing at the suggestion, and Turgon finally gave in. “How about tonight then?” he asked. “In this fine weather, there will be music along the riverbanks. Come with me to listen to it.”

“I might be able to do that,” Annael said. “I will ask.” He was sometimes allowed out at night if he stayed within certain boundaries and was home at the hour his parents had set.

Legolas made a face. “I will ask, but do not count on my being there.” His father almost never allowed him out at night without an adult, a state of affairs that Legolas found increasingly frustrating as he saw his friends being granted more freedom.

“Most of the people singing and harping will be adults,” Annael offered. “Perhaps that will be good enough.”

Legolas shook his head slightly. “I will tell my adar that, but I doubt if it will make any difference.”

“You should just come out anyway,” Turgon said, and Legolas laughed. “You should!” urged Turgon.

Legolas was no longer listening, however, for he had spotted a familiar tall, lean figure leaning with a companion against the fence that separated the path from the field where the warriors had their sword training. Annael had seen him too. “I thought your brother was still in the infirmary,” he observed.

“I thought so too,” Legolas said happily. “He must be better.” Eilian ordinarily captained the patrol that hunted the enemy in the southernmost part of Thranduil’s realm. He had arrived home three days ago, suffering from the depression of spirit that sometimes struck those who spent too much time in the shadow spreading into the woods from Dol Guldur. Thranduil usually insisted that his sons be cared for at home when they were injured, but the healers had told him that warriors so afflicted recovered more quickly if they were in a room with a window that opened to the trees and the fresh air, so Eilian had been staying in the infirmary rather than in the cave that formed Thranduil’s palace. Legolas had visited his brother each day and was overjoyed to see that he had recovered so quickly. He had been surprised to know that Eilian had shadow sickness in the first place, because his brother was usually cheerful and optimistic.

“I will see you later,” he told his friends, who waved as he trotted toward his brother. “Eilian!” he called, and his brother turned with a grin as Legolas approached.

“How are you, brat? Did you manage not to shoot anyone this morning?”

Legolas smiled but did not respond. He had no intention of telling anyone in his family that he and the other students in his class had spent their entire time today doing push-ups and running. He nodded at Eilian’s companion, Maltanaur, who served as his brother’s bodyguard. “Mae govannen.”

“Mae govannen, Legolas.”

Legolas turned back to Eilian. “Have the healers released you then? Are you better?” He scanned his brother’s face, which still looked unusually tense to him.

Eilian smiled briefly.  “I have been sent home to plague you and Ithilden and Adar. You need not worry about me, Legolas. I am not one of those who collapse easily under the strain of shadow. It was just a passing thing.”

“Will you be going back to your patrol now?” Legolas asked. He hated the thought of Eilian leaving so soon, but his brother’s absence from home and exposure to danger were facts he had learned to live with.

Eilian looked back toward where the sword drill had just ended. “The healers want me to spend some time on light duty, so I am going to work for Ithilden for a little while.”

Legolas frowned. Eilian usually hated spending time on the kind of paperwork that seemed to proliferate in their oldest brother’s office as he managed all the activities involved in commanding the troops of the Woodland Realm. If Eilian was accepting this assignment so calmly, then perhaps he was not as well as he claimed.

A warrior who had been taking part in the sword drill now approached. “Mae govannen, Eilian. It is good to see you out again.” He and Eilian clasped arms, and the warrior nodded to Maltanaur and Legolas.

“You swing your sword as if you mean to do some damage,” Eilian observed approvingly, as he turned to rest his hand on the fence again. And suddenly, Legolas drew in his breath with a little hiss at the way his brother’s hand shook slightly before Eilian stilled it by gripping the fence so hard that his knuckles went white. Legolas glanced at the other warrior and saw that he, too, was looking at Eilian’s hand.

“Take care,” said the other warrior, patting Eilian’s shoulder sympathetically. Eilian kept his gaze on the training field, and the other warrior nodded to Legolas and Maltanaur and left.

“Are you coming home for mid-day meal?” Legolas asked. Having Eilian under their father’s watchful eye struck him as a good idea.

Eilian shook his head. “I am not very hungry. You go on, though. Frankly, you smell sweaty enough that I expect Adar would appreciate it if you bathed before you turned up in the dining room.” Legolas laughed and took his leave, but, in his mind’s eye, he kept seeing his brother’s trembling hand. Eilian might be better, but Legolas doubted if he was well.

***

Legolas entered the library to find his tutor waiting for him. “Mae govannen, Galeril,” he said with a sigh and flopped into his chair. The knowledge that Turgon was free for the entire afternoon weighed on him today, and he fervently wished that his father would allow him, too, to cease having lessons, although he knew there was absolutely no chance of that happening.

Galeril raised an eyebrow. “Mae govannen, Legolas. I am happy to see you too.”

Legolas laughed and straightened in his chair. “I wrote the essay you assigned,” he offered, pulling the paper from between the pages of his book and handing it to the tutor.

“Good. You read the scroll I have set out for you while I look at your essay.”

Legolas turned to the scroll that lay spread open on the table. Pictures of various plants had been sketched along one edge of it, and the text dealt with their medicinal uses. He examined the pictures with interest. He had seen some of these plants in the forest, but some of them were new to him. He hoped that Galeril’s selection of this scroll meant they would be going outside for a botany lesson once they had talked about his essay.

Galeril cleared his throat, and Legolas looked up to find that his tutor had finished reading his essay. The assignment Galeril had given him was to discuss what Elrond and Círdan should have done when Isildur took the One Ring for his own after the defeat of Sauron at the end of the Second Age, and Legolas had found the essay difficult to write.

“Isildur’s actions have had disastrous consequences,” Galeril said thoughtfully. “You see them around you every day.”

“Yes,” Legolas agreed.

“Elrond and Círdan might have prevented those consequences if they had taken the Ring from Isildur.”

“Yes,” Legolas agreed, “but I did not think Isildur or his warriors would have let that happen very easily, and it would have been wrong for Elrond or Círdan to kill Isildur. And then, I thought that the Men and the Elves might end up fighting with one another, and I did not think that would be a good thing. They were supposed to be allies.”

“But if they had killed Isildur, they would have saved many lives over the last millennia.”

“I know,” said Legolas, “but I still thought it would be wrong.” In truth, he had been very tempted to say that killing Isildur was exactly what Elrond and Círdan should have done, but in the end, he had recoiled in horror from the act.

“So what do you think the Elves could have done differently?” Galeril asked.

“I do not know,” Legolas admitted. “Maybe they should have stayed with him and kept trying to get him to do the right thing. The trouble is that Isildur was killed so soon. If it were not for that, they could have kept trying to convince him. He was their friend, and he was brave. He saved the White Tree from being completely destroyed in Númenor. They should not have abandoned him to the Ring, and I thought maybe they did.”

“Of course, they had concerns of their own to see to,” Galeril observed. “And my guess would be that Isildur would have been less than happy if they had tried to accompany him and his Men anyway.”

“I know.” Legolas grimaced. He hoped that Galeril was not going to make him write the essay over again.

“I think your answer is as good as any,” Galeril said, to Legolas’s relief. He laid the essay aside. “I thought we would spend some time in the healers’ herb garden today.” Legolas’s spirits soared immediately.  The healers’ herb garden was normally off limits to anyone but them, for in it grew many plants that were both precious and potentially dangerous if someone who was ignorant of their powers consumed them indiscriminately. A glimpse of these plants would be interesting and might some day be useful to a warrior with a wounded or sick companion on his hands.  And besides, the day was a beautiful one, and he longed to be outdoors.

Together, he and Galeril walked to the infirmary and then circled around it to the walled garden behind. The gate was usually closed but today it stood open. They passed through it, and Legolas filled his nostrils with the thick, tangy scent of the herbs. “Let us see what you can identify first,” said Galeril, and the two of them walked among the beds with Galeril pointing to plants and Legolas naming those he recognized and talking haltingly about their uses. Galeril nodded approvingly when he was right and provided correction and further information when he was not. They turned a corner and found a gardener working in a large patch of low plants with thick, grey leaves.

Galeril greeted the gardener and then pointed to the plants. “Do you recognize these, Legolas?”

Legolas frowned. If he had seen these plants before, he had not seen them often.

“They are rare,” Galeril conceded. “Perhaps the gardener will explain them to you. I am sure he knows more than I do.”

The gardener straightened and smiled at Legolas. “This is the dangwath plant,” he said. “The healers dry the leaves and grind them into a powder. Then they mix the powder with wine and use it to treat shadow sickness.” Legolas looked at the plant with renewed interest, wondering if the healers had given this herb to Eilian.

He looked at the size of the herb bed. “Do we need so much of it?” he asked, sobered at the thought.

“No,” the gardener answered. “We supply it to the Men of Esgaroth too. Dangwath is difficult to grow outside of the forest.”

Galeril frowned. “I thought the herb was dangerous for Men.”

“It is dangerous for anyone who is careless with it,” the gardener replied promptly. “Used wisely, it helps the mind recover from shadow sickness. But Men especially can come to enjoy the lift it provides to their spirits and find it hard to stop taking it. Few Elves are so foolish as to harm their bodies so, but it has been known to happen.”

Legolas looked at the herb bed and thought for a moment about the consequences of Isildur’s actions. Perhaps he had been wrong. Perhaps Elrond and Círdan should have used any means possible to rid Middle-earth of the Shadow. He sighed. Sometimes the questions Galeril asked him had no good answer.

***

Legolas pushed open the door to his family’s private sitting room. “You have to trust him,” he heard his brother Ithilden saying, and when he entered the room, he found that his father and Ithilden had preceded him. They turned their heads toward him and there was a second’s silence. “Good evening, child,” Thranduil greeted him. “Would you like some wine?”

“Yes, please,” Legolas answered. He wondered if he were the one whom Ithilden was urging their father to trust. He hoped so. Maybe his father would allow him out at night if he trusted him more. Now that even Annael was sometimes allowed out at night, Legolas was beginning to think that Thranduil was really ridiculously overprotective. Whatever it was that his father and Ithilden had been talking about, however, the conversation was plainly over. Thranduil poured some wine into a goblet, filled it with water, and handed it to Legolas. He gestured his permission for Legolas to sit.

“How was your day?” Thranduil asked, but before Legolas could answer, the door opened again and Eilian came into the room. He was dressed in a black tunic and leggings trimmed in silver and was plainly not intending to spend the evening in his family’s company. Legolas felt a stab of disappointment. He had been looking forward to having his brother home for a few days, now that he was out of the infirmary, and he was hurt that Eilian seemed to have no interest in spending time with him.

“I only stopped to tell you that I will be out this evening, Adar,” Eilian said.

Thranduil frowned. “Do not overtire yourself.”

Eilian gave him a crooked smile. “I will not. I slept most of the time I was in the infirmary, I think. I look forward to being awake for a while.” He turned to go, caught sight of Legolas, and paused. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but then closed it again, approached close enough to ruffle Legolas’s hair, and was gone.





        

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