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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.

*******

2. Summer Solstice

“Wait a minute,” Legolas said, crouching to fiddle with his right boot. “The hilt of my dagger is rubbing against my ankle.”

Ithilden halted and looked back at his little brother, torn between amusement and exasperation. Several years ago, he had taken a dagger away from Legolas on the grounds that he was too young to carry one, which he had been. But Thranduil had given Legolas this one the previous month on his thirty-fifth begetting day, and Ithilden suspected that Legolas particularly enjoyed pointing out its existence to him. Legolas finished adjusting the dagger in its built-in sheath and trotted toward him.  They started once again for the warrior area where Legolas would have a sword fighting lesson and Ithilden would go to his office.

“Is Eilian going to work for you today?” Legolas asked. Eilian had been absent from the table at morning meal, which Ithilden found unsurprising, given how late Eilian had gotten home the previous night.

“Yes. The healers have released him for light duty.” He glanced sideways at Legolas, who looked preoccupied.

“Eilian hates paperwork,” Legolas observed tentatively.

“I know he does,” Ithilden agreed. “I will find something else for him to do if I can.”

“I think, perhaps, that he is still ill,” Legolas said, turning a now-anxious face toward Ithilden.

Ithilden suppressed a grimace. He might have known Legolas would be worried about Eilian. “That is why he is only on light duty.” He smiled at Legolas. “Believe me, Legolas, Adar will make sure Eilian is healed before he allows him to go south again.”

Legolas laughed and his face cleared a little. He knew as well as Ithilden did that their father was a scourge to the healers whenever one of his sons was injured.

They were drawing near to the field where Legolas’s class was to be held, and when Ithilden looked ahead again, he suddenly caught sight of a slender figure with a basket in her hand just starting away from the field. Next to him, Legolas broke into a trot. “Why are you walking so fast?” he complained.

“You will be late,” Ithilden said briskly. “Look. Tonduil is already there.”

Legolas looked toward the training field. “He is always early when his sister walks with him. She goes out and gathers flowers and things to make dyes for her weaving.” He slid his eyes toward Ithilden and smiled smugly. “You like her, is that not so?”

“That is none of your business,” Ithilden said and then could not help smiling himself.

“She will like you too, then,” Legolas opined, with a grin. “She just does not yet realize that you always get what you want.”

“Go to your sword fighting lesson before I decide to teach you one in manners,” Ithilden grinned.

Legolas laughed and ran off to where Tonduil waited for him. Ithilden quickened his pace still further and caught up with Alfirin just before she turned off onto the smaller path that would take her into the woods.

“Good morning, mistress,” he greeted her.

She stopped and turned back toward him. “Good morning, my lord.” Her usually serious face softened into a smile, sending warmth flooding through his chest.

“I saw the weaving you made for the king’s council chamber. It is very beautiful.”

Her smile deepened, revealing the dimple in her right cheek, and his breath caught. “Thank you,” she said. She looked off toward the path she would take but made no move to take it. He interpreted this as a good sign.

“Will you be going to the summer solstice feast tonight?” he asked.

“Yes. My whole family is going.”

“I must attend on the king during the feast, but may I hope you would be willing to dance with me afterwards?”

“I would enjoy that,” she said demurely.

“My lord?” interrupted an extremely irritating male voice. Ithilden spun to find one of his messengers. The messenger took an inadvertent step backwards, from which Ithilden concluded that he looked as fierce as he felt.

“What is it?” he demanded, trying to control his annoyance, and aware, even as he did so, that Alfirin was edging toward the path that would take her on her way. He quashed a disturbing impulse to grab her arm and detain her.

“Your aide sent me to find you, my lord. The master armorer is waiting for you.”

Ithilden grimaced. He had forgotten about that appointment. “Very well. I will be there momentarily.” The messenger bowed and ran off, and Ithilden turned to bid good day to Alfirin, but she had already departed. He stood for a moment looking after her, and then started for his office. As he strode along, he thought about her. From past encounters with her, he was reasonably certain that she found his company pleasant, but she was often unaccountably reserved with him so he was still not sure if she found him anything more than pleasant. Despite Legolas’s claim, he was not certain he was going to get what he wanted with Alfirin, so he was moving cautiously. He did not want to make a fool of himself in public.

He reached the building housing his office, greeted his aide, and went through to his own room, where the master armorer awaited him. They talked for nearly half an hour about the weapons that Ithilden’s troops needed, and then the armorer left.  “Calith!” Ithilden called, and his aide appeared in the doorway. “Is Eilian here yet?”

“He just arrived.”

“I need to see Glarion,” Ithilden told him. The aide nodded and withdrew, and Ithilden turned his attention to the reports that had come in overnight. A border patrol had encountered spiders and disposed of them readily. The southern patrol had battled Orcs. Unfortunately, there was nothing surprising in that. The Home Guard had stopped three Men who had evidently been poaching deer in the king’s woods. Ithilden shook his head at that one. The same Men had been caught poaching six weeks earlier. If the Home Guard caught them again, they would be dragged before Thranduil for judgment. They must be fools. Game was plentiful this summer, so there was no need to risk his father’s temper.

Through the open door to his aide’s office, he caught occasional glimpses of Eilian, pacing restlessly as he read what looked to be supply requisitions.

Calith appeared in the doorway again. “Glarion is here, my lord.”

“Ask him to sit down and wait. I will be with him shortly.”

Calith opened his mouth as if to speak but shut it again and went away when Ithilden frowned at him.

Ithilden spent a good fifteen minutes sorting through the papers on his desk. Then he rose and went to the door.  Calith looked up immediately, relief on his face. Eilian sat at the second desk. He was jiggling one foot, and even from where Ithilden stood, he could see that the paper in Eilian’s hand was trembling. On the bench just outside Ithilden’s door sat Glarion, his wide eyes fixed on Eilian. Glarion, who supervised the supply warehouse, was known as an inveterate gossip, and it was obvious that he had just found something worth gossiping about.

“Go on into my office, Glarion,” Ithilden said. “I am sorry to have kept you waiting.” The Elf rose slowly and made his way into Ithilden’s office, still looking back at Eilian.  “Eilian,” Ithilden said, and his brother looked up. “Would you like to spend some time at the training fields?”

Eilian’s face relaxed immediately. “Yes, I would. I really hate sitting still.”

“Go.”

Eilian wasted no time in leaving the office. Ithilden exchanged a look with Calith, whose brow was puckered. Then he turned and went to meet with Glarion.

***

“One more time,” the sword master said, and Legolas nodded, rolled his shoulders, and slipped into a defensive stance. The sword master started with a slow overhand strike that Legolas brushed away, but then he advanced with vertical and diagonal blows that gradually increased in speed. Legolas blocked and danced out of harm’s way, as he had been taught, waiting for the horizontal blow that meant he was to attack rather than simply defend. When it came, it was such a departure from the rhythm of the vertical and diagonal strikes that he almost let it reach him. But he managed to dodge beyond the sword’s reach and then immediately press forward, coming in behind the sword master’s weapon and stabbing at his belly.

“Good!” the sword master cried, and Legolas could not suppress a grin. His swordwork was getting better. It would never be as natural to him as archery, but then most Wood-elves preferred the bow as a weapon.

“You have all done good work today,” the sword master told the class. Legolas looked around to see his companions all grinning too. After the previous day’s disastrous archery class, they had been dutiful and worked hard today. “Clean your weapons and put them away and then you can go. I will see you the day after tomorrow.” The sword master picked up his gear and walked off toward the hut where the weapons masters had their headquarters.

Legolas wiped off the practice sword he had been using and slid it into the rack so someone from the next class could use it. Annael and Turgon slid their swords in too. “My adar told me that some of the warriors were having an archery competition today,” Annael said. “It is probably still going on. Do you two want to go with me to watch it?”

“Yes!” Legolas and Turgon exclaimed simultaneously.  They trotted eagerly after Annael, who knew which field the competition had been scheduled to use. Legolas loved watching the warriors shoot arrow after arrow with seemingly effortless speed and accuracy. As they drew near the field, they could see warriors standing around the edges watching whatever was happening there. The contest must indeed still be underway, Legolas thought happily. Annael ran to his father, Siondel, who was one of the watching Elves, and Legolas and Turgon wormed their way to the front of the onlookers.

Two Elves stood in the middle of the field, and with a start, Legolas realized that one of them was Eilian. He recognized the other as a weapons master for the warriors, one who drilled them and made sure they had not fallen into bad habits in managing their bows or swords. From comments he had heard both his brothers make, Legolas knew that contests like this one were staged not just so that the warriors could enjoy themselves, but also so that the master could see how they performed.  The master was leaning toward Eilian and speaking to him so quietly that Legolas could not hear what he was saying despite the fact that, as he abruptly noticed, the crowd around him was silent. But he heard Eilian’s reply well enough.

“Just get out of the way and let me shoot,” Eilian snapped.

The master hesitated but then backed away and looked down the field. Legolas looked too and recognized the challenge being set. At various points down the field, wooden barriers had been erected, and behind each of them, a warrior stood, holding a wooden disk and watching the conversation between Eilian and the master. At a signal from the master, they all ducked down out of sight.

Excited about seeing his brother shoot, Legolas looked back at Eilian, who stood with an arrow nocked and his bow drawn, and to his puzzlement, he noticed tension in his brother’s stance.  Instead of the confident, deadly shot that Legolas knew him to be, Eilian looked like one of the younger students being tested on a new skill. What was the matter? Legolas wondered anxiously.

“Go!” called the master, and a disk sailed into the air from behind one of the barriers. Eilian’s bow twanged as he loosed his first arrow and then grabbed for the next one from his quiver. Two more disks flew as he shot and grabbed again, and then disks rose into the sky from all directions. Ordinarily, Legolas would have watched the targets, counting as the arrows found their marks and knocked them to the ground, but now he turned his attention abruptly back to Eilian. Not only had his first two arrows missed any of the disks, but his brother had actually fumbled and dropped the third arrow he had tried to pull from his quiver. Legolas had not fumbled like that in over ten years.

For a moment, Eilian stood immobile, looking at the arrow on the ground. Around Legolas, everyone seemed to be holding their breaths. Suddenly, Eilian gave an incoherent cry, kicked the dropped arrow, and began walking rapidly toward the edge of the field where it merged into the woods. With an answering cry of dismay, Legolas started after him, but someone caught his arm. He looked up to see Siondel, Annael’s father, looking sympathetic.

“You three need to go home now,” Siondel said, glancing at Turgon and Annael too.

“But Eilian--!” Legolas began, turning back to where his brother had just disappeared among the trees. His breath was so tight that his diaphragm actually hurt.

“Ithilden will hear about what happened,” Siondel said. “He will see to it.”

Legolas glanced at the many warriors around them who were now murmuring to one another, and with a sinking heart, he realized that what Siondel said was true. Ithilden would undoubtedly be told almost immediately about Eilian’s lack of control over his weapon and himself. And while he would try to help Eilian, he would also want to know exactly what the matter was. Legolas had a feeling that Eilian was not going to want to talk about that. His brother seemed bent on declaring that his shadow sickness was completely healed. Legolas bit his lip. He hated it when Eilian quarreled with their father or with Ithilden, and he was afraid that was what was about to happen.

***

Ithilden shifted slightly in his chair. The advisor who had approached Thranduil was droning on endlessly about the details of some agreement having to do with river tolls. Ithilden was practiced at tolerating occasional boredom during feasts, but tonight he was impatient for his father to signal that the meal was at an end and the tables should be moved out of the way so that the dancing could begin. The night was dark, and the sky was full of stars, and he wanted to dance with Alfirin.

The advisor sat down in Eilian’s empty chair so as to be more comfortable while making his point. Ithilden suppressed a sigh and glanced around at the Elves collected on the green. Eilian was nowhere to be found tonight, but Legolas was sitting with Annael and Turgon, laughing at some joke one of them had made. Ithilden smiled slightly. He was glad to see Legolas enjoying himself with his friends. He hoped his little brother took advantage of every chance he had to do so, because before too many more years had passed, Thranduil would decide that Legolas was no longer a child and would start requiring him to sit at the head table during feasts. Then he, too, would have to learn to sit patiently while his friends roamed free.

As Ithilden watched, two maidens of about his brother’s age walked arm-in-arm past the table where Legolas and his friends sat, and all three of them fell silent and watched with wide eyes until the maidens had passed, self-consciously ignoring their gazes.  Ithilden’s smile widened. For tonight at least, he was willing to wager that Legolas and his friends would not leave one another and the little maids would cling together, but that would not be so for long. One day soon, one of them would cross the territory that separated them and, one by one, the others would follow. He wondered with some amusement if his father was ready for that. Thranduil still tended to see Legolas as his baby sometimes.

“We should speak of this in the morning,” Thranduil said, and with a surge of excitement, Ithilden realized that he was dismissing the advisor. The advisor reluctantly realized it too and withdrew as Thranduil waved to the servants who leapt to move the tables, helped by many of the Elves who sat at them. Apparently Ithilden was not the only one who had been eager to dance.

Elves moved about in a confused swirl for few moments and then began to take seats on the grass in little groups of friends and neighbors. Then Thranduil’s minstrels shifted from the lays they had sung during the meal to the inviting rhythm of the dance. Thranduil turned his head toward Ithilden. “Do you wish to leave me, iôn-nín?” he asked dryly.

Ithilden laughed. His father did not miss much. “By your leave, Adar, I do.”

“Go,” Thranduil smiled, and Ithilden rose, walked around the end of the head table that still stood in place, and headed for the spot where he had seen Alfirin settle onto the grass with her family. As he approached the little group, an Elf whom he recognized as a healer hurried up to them and bent to speak to Alfirin’s mother, who was also a healer. She turned her head sharply at the other Elf’s message, rose quickly, and left with him.

Ithilden hesitated for just a second to watch her go and then turned his attention back to Alfirin. Those around her fell silent as he approached. “Good evening, my lord,” her father murmured.

“Good evening,” Ithilden responded with automatic courtesy. He held out his hand to Alfirin. “Will you dance, mistress?”  With her face reddening, she took his hand and rose. He led her out among the dancers, who moved a little away from them, although he half-noticed that they were drawing some curious glances. As Thranduil’s son, he was accustomed to being watched when he was in public, but it suddenly occurred to him that Alfirin might be uncomfortable. She kept her eyes straight ahead, and her face was still flushed. He smiled at her encouragingly, took her hands, and whirled her away.

***

Legolas watched anxiously as Tonduil’s mother left the green with the other healer. He could not help thinking about Eilian, whom he had not seen since the episode on the archery field. His brother had not come home for evening meal, and neither Thranduil nor Ithilden had seemed surprised. When he had asked if something was the matter, his father had simply told him not to worry, but he had worried then and was worried now. What if Tonduil’s mother was being called away to treat Eilian because he had had some sort of relapse?

“Legolas, are you listening to me?” Turgon asked impatiently.

Legolas sighed and returned his attention to his friend. “I am sorry. I did not hear you.”

“Did you hear what I said you should tell your adar about why he should allow you to come out with Annael and me?”

“Yes, I did hear that.”

“Are you going to tell him?”

Legolas grimaced. Turgon would keep after him until he gave in on this so he might as well do it immediately. Besides, he wanted to be allowed out at night with his friends as much as Turgon wanted it for him.  “Yes, I am. I will do it tomorrow.”

“Good.” Turgon looked pleased with himself. He was good at thinking up arguments, Legolas thought. Legolas usually found Turgon quite persuasive when he was suggesting things they should do, and only noticed the flaws in his friend’s reasoning after they were already in trouble.

He looked up to find Miriwen and Aerlinn strolling past them again. He dropped his gaze and watched them from under his lowered lids so they would not know he was looking. Miriwen’s hair was the color of polished autumn oak leaves, and it flowed like a broad ribbon down her back. And she was . . . rounder than she used to be. He could feel heat rising in his face.

“Mae govannen,” ventured a voice, and he turned to find that Tonduil had wandered to their side of the green.

“Mae govannen,” the three of them chorused.

“Sit with us, Tonduil,” Annael invited, and, looking pleased at the invitation, Tonduil dropped to the ground and folded his legs under him.

“I saw your naneth leave,” Legolas said. “Is someone hurt?”

Tonduil shook his head. “No. Something is missing from the infirmary, and she went to help look for it.”

Legolas let out a long breath. Good. Then at least Eilian was not back in the infirmary. They sat in companionable silence for a while, watching the dancers. Suddenly, a familiar laugh came from behind them, and Legolas turned quickly, feeling the tension in his shoulders ease instantly at the sound of it. The other three had turned too. Eilian and Maltanaur were walking along the edge of the green, and Eilian was talking animatedly and waving his hands about.

“I tell you if they give me half a chance, I will beat them all tomorrow,” Eilian cried loudly.  He stumbled suddenly, and Maltanaur put out a hand to steady him.

Turgon looked curious. “Has your brother had too much wine?”

“I do not know.” Legolas glanced toward the head table and saw his father frowning in Eilian’s direction. His mouth was set in a thin line, and Legolas flinched, in no doubt at all that Eilian had just provoked their father’s anger. Thranduil was unlikely to forgive public drunkenness from one of his sons.

He looked back toward Eilian to find that Ithilden had left the dancers and was taking Eilian’s arm and turning him toward the palace. “We will go home,” he said firmly.

Eilian jerked his arm away. “Do not tell me what to do, Ithilden. You are not my commanding officer here, and I want to stay and have a good time.”

Ithilden murmured something to Maltanaur and they each took one of Eilian’s arms and steered him toward the bridge leading to the palace, but he could be heard protesting until they had disappeared.

Legolas looked at Thranduil again and found his face set in forbidding lines. He could not remember when he had been so dismayed. Eilian was in some sort of trouble and there did not seem to be anything Legolas could do to help him.





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