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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. Well and Truly Snared
Eilian turned the last corner of the building housing his brother’s office, simultaneously turning to the last page of the list of supplies that the quarter master had on hand and his painstaking analysis of what he thought would be required under a seemingly endless variety of possible circumstances. There was something not quite right about someone who could anticipate such a wide range of disasters, he thought in disgust. Not only Orcs and spiders, but floods, dragons, drought, fire, blight, invasion, earthquake, coming singly or in any combination: the quarter master was anxious about them all.
He turned into the building, entering the outer office and tossing the report onto the desk of his brother’s chief aide. “I cannot think what I am to do with that,” he told Calith flatly. “I doubt he can gather all the supplies he thinks necessary to have on hand to meet every emergency, so I suppose someone is going to have to decide which of those events is most likely to happen, but I am not the one to do it.”
Calith’s mouth twitched with frank amusement as he looked from the quarter master’s report on his desk back up to Eilian’s face. “Lord Ithilden would like you to try nonetheless.”
Eilian glared at him for a moment, tempted to tell Calith exactly what Ithilden should do with the report, but he thought better of it and snatched the paper up again. “Very well,” he said stiffly and retreated to the back of the room to the desk to which he had been assigned. He refused to think of it as ‘his’ desk. He did not own any desk, and this stint of working in his brother’s office was temporary, something that would end once his wound had fully healed and he was fit for active duty again, which, if the Valar were kind, would surely happen any day now.
He flung the report on the desk, seated himself, propped his forehead in his hands, and began trying to imagine which of these appalling events was most likely to happen in the next few years.
“I did not think you would be able to make sense of that report while pacing around outside anyway,” came the unwelcome voice of Tinár from the third desk in the room.
Eilian looked up at Tinár with hooded eyes and a nasty smile. “I suppose you might find that puzzling, Tinár, but unlike you, many people can walk, read, and think at the same time.”
Tinár bridled. “I can walk and think at once!”
Eilian leaned back in his chair and prepared to enjoy himself. Calith’s back was to them as he sat at the desk near the door to the inner office, but Eilian saw him stiffen, put his elbows on his desk, and cover his ears with his hands. Eilian suppressed a grin. He strongly suspected that Calith was nearly as anxious for Eilian to be released for active duty as he was.
“Can you? Would you like to walk with me for a while now? I find that being in motion helps me clear my head, especially if I can do it outside.” Eilian fervently hoped that Tinár would not accept the invitation, but he thought he was safe in issuing it. Tinár had shown no great desire to spend time in Eilian’s company.
“I prefer to work at my desk,” said Tinár stiffly.
“So you can sit and think at the same time too,” Eilian praised him happily. “What other things can you do while you think? Can you eat? Can you relieve yourself? Can you decapitate a chicken?” Tinár frowned at him, certain he was being teased but not knowing quite how to object. Eilian opened his mouth to continue asking about things that Tinár might be able to do while thinking but was forestalled when Ithilden emerged from his office and beckoned to him.
“Eilian,” Ithilden summoned him and then disappeared back into his office. Calith’s shoulders sagged in relief, and he gave Eilian an exasperated look as he followed Ithilden. Eilian grinned at him in passing.
Ithilden waved him into one of the chairs in front of his desk and seated himself behind it. “What do you make of the quarter master’s report?” he asked.
“Not much,” Eilian responded bluntly. “Except for the continued assault of Orcs and spiders, we cannot possibly predict what will happen, so in my opinion, we should store a few months’ supply of food and medical supplies in the stronghold and deal with dragons or blight if and when they appear.”
Ithilden laughed. “I suppose that is what we will do, since we cannot afford to do more anyway, but I do not think I will put the recommendation in those words when I make it to Adar’s council.”
Eilian shrugged. “Better you than me as the one who has to go to those meetings.”
“Celuwen does not seem to mind them. She seems to be hanging on every word that Adar’s advisors utter there.”
Eilian grinned. “As you can see from the fact that she married me, Celuwen is a patient person.”
“True enough,” Ithilden conceded with an affectionate smile that took the sting out of his words. Then he straightened his already erect back, a sign that Eilian read easily: Ithilden was ready to get to the reason he had summoned Eilian into his office. He pushed a small pile of papers across his desk, and Eilian leaned forward to take them. “These are the latest dispatches I have from the various captains. I want you to read them all and then tell me if anything strikes you as unusual.”
Eilian nodded, feeling for once a pleasant sense of anticipation as he fingered a stack of paperwork. He had done this task before and actually rather enjoyed it. He found it interesting to try to see the state of Realm’s defenses as a whole. Moreover, he could not help being flattered that his older brother valued his opinion on the matter. Ithilden was so overwhelmingly competent himself that Eilian could scarcely imagine he needed anyone else’s help to know exactly what was happening.
“I will do it now,” he said, rising. When Ithilden nodded and waved him on his way, he returned to the outer office, which Tinár had blessedly left on some errand, and started skimming through the dispatches, stopping here and there to consider an account of some battle and place it on the map of the Woodland Realm that he carried in his head. He lingered longest over Sórion’s account of the patrol he still privately thought of as his.
Sórion had been the Southern Patrol’s lieutenant when Eilian was wounded and sent home, and it had been Eilian who had recommended to Ithilden that he be promoted to serve as its captain. He had known at the time that Sórion would be a more cautious, more deliberate leader than he was, but then, he had to concede, almost everyone was. Eilian did not think he was careless with the lives of his warriors, but he had found that he had an intuitive sense of what was going on in the forest that other people seemed to lack, and he was quite willing to rely on this intuition to make quick decisions and change his plans on the fly. Privately, he suspected that his feel for the forest had something to do with his being the son of its king, but he had never voiced that suspicion to anyone.
The dispatch he was now reading told him that Sórion was trying to plan the patrol’s actions more than Eilian thought anyone could, given the enemy’s unpredictability, and then was inspecting his own actions closely, looking for mistakes. Eilian grimaced. He still thought that Sórion would eventually settle down as a competent captain, but in the meantime, he was probably making himself quite uncomfortable.
Eilian went back over the dispatch again, this time studying the lines that referred to Legolas’s actions as an officer. Sórion was being very cautious in his assessment of Legolas, Eilian thought a little dryly. He supposed he could not blame him. Sórion was undoubtedly only too conscious of the facts that in Ithilden, he was writing to his new lieutenant’s oldest brother and that said lieutenant was the youngest son of his king. From what Eilian could tell, however, Legolas was doing well enough. Eilian knew from his own observations of his younger brother on patrol that Legolas was quiet, but he seemed to be managing troops well when he had to and was making himself useful doing the tasks that any sane captain shoved off on his second-in-command if he could.
He ran his eyes over all the reports that were now spread out on the desk, thinking about what he had just read. The Southern Patrol had encountered more Orcs than usual, probably because the winter snows and spring floods had made food so scarce that they were hunting farther away from home than they normally did. Nothing else struck him as out of the ordinary however, a fact that was not altogether heartening given the number of battles he had just read about.
He rose and went to knock on the frame of the open door to Ithilden’s office. His brother looked up and raised an inquiring eyebrow as Eilian dropped the dispatches on his desk. “It all looks normal to me,” Eilian told him.
Ithilden nodded. “Are you contented with what you read of Sórion?”
“Yes. He will be fine once he becomes a little more confident. And from what I can read between Sórion’s cautious words, Legolas seems to be doing well too.”
Ithilden smiled faintly at him. “Little brother is growing up.”
Eilian grinned. “Do not tell Adar.”
Ithilden laughed. “I will try to shelter Adar from that sad news for as long as possible.” He waved a hand in the direction of the door. “Go and do whatever training the healers are allowing you to do. You have suffered enough for today.”
Eilian’s spirits lifted instantly. Circling the building was better than sitting, but it was no substitute for feeling his muscles work as he shot a bow or crossed swords with a sparring partner. “Yes, my lord,” he said enthusiastically and then gave his smiling brother a formal salute and lost no time in leaving his office.
“Unless the healers come to their senses, I will be back tomorrow, Calith,” he told the aide on his way out.
“I will send an encouraging message to Belówen,” Calith told him, and Eilian laughed and started for the training fields.
He found several friends willing to test his swordwork and spent a satisfying two hours sweating out all the frustrations a day of inactivity had bred in him. By the time he was finished, the wound on his hip was aching again, but he was sure that the pain was less than it had been and he thought his footwork had been unaffected by it. He was due to see the healers again in a few days. Surely they would be sensible this time and release him for active duty. Not that the active duty for which he was slated was likely to be very exciting. Ithilden intended to appoint him as captain of the Home Guard, whose current captain was going to start training the novices on matters of strategy.
In truth, Eilian thought he saw the controlling hand of his father behind that Home Guard appointment. Thranduil still had not forgiven him for marrying without permission and was determined to force Eilian into a position where he would need to function without a constant supply of excitement. Eilian could not help but resent his father’s criticism, but he also had to admit that being kept at home with his new wife had its compensations.
He slid his practice sword into the rack and reached for the tunic that he had removed when he grew too warm.
“Come and have wine with Gîl-garion and me tonight,” his sparring partner invited, putting his own sword away. “We have not yet had a chance to congratulate you on your bonding.”
Eilian mopped his face with his tunic and then pulled it over his head, giving himself time to think about the invitation. There had been a time when his acceptance would have been instantaneous, and he did still value the company of his many friends, but evenings with Celuwen were so intensely sweet that he hated to part with even one of them, and his father was still being difficult enough that Eilian was trying to tread carefully. “Not tonight, I think,” he finally said, as he and his friend began walking toward home.
His friend said nothing but smiled knowingly, and, to his surprised chagrin, Eilian felt himself blushing like a raw youth.
“Good afternoon, Eilian,” called a female voice, and he had to turn sharply to see who had spoken to him.
“Good afternoon,” he called after the two maidens who had just passed them. For the life of him, he could not remember their names.
Next to him, his friend suddenly gave up his struggle not to laugh and burst into guffaws so hearty that he had to stop walking. “Gîl-garion said you were well and truly snared, Eilian,” he finally managed to gasp, “but I was not sure I believed him until now. You did not even see her before she spoke, did you?”
Eilian glared at him for a moment and then felt his own face dissolve into a rueful grin. “No,” he admitted. “I did not.”
Celuwen leaned on the broom and glanced around in wonder at what was going to be the sitting room of her and Eilian’s apartment. What had been a row of rooms along a palace hallway was nearly converted into a suite with a large sitting room and several sleeping and bathing chambers. The resulting space was larger than any cottage in which she had ever lived with her mother and father.
“We are finished for the day, my lady,” said a voice, and blinking at the still unfamiliar title, she roused herself to see one of the carpenters standing nearby. “I think we will finish all the woodwork tomorrow, and then you can begin laying carpets and furnishing the space.”
“Thank you,” she said, still a little dazed at the idea that she and Eilian were going to live here. The carpenter smiled at her and then he and his companions took their leave. Celuwen had not realized it was so late, so she had returned to sweeping up the sawdust with some speed, when a horrified feminine voice spoke from the open door to the apartment.
“My lady! We will do that!”
She turned to find two servants entering the room, laden with cleaning equipment. The one who had spoken took the broom from Celuwen’s hands. “Lady Alfirin sent us to clean up here, my lady,” she said firmly.
For a moment, Celuwen felt an almost overwhelming urge to snatch the broom back and demand the right to sweep her own home, to send these servants to tell Ithilden’s wife that she, not Alfirin, was mistress here, to feel useful and in control of her life again. But she knew the urge was childish and that acting on it would hurt the feelings of these servants and of Alfirin, who was only trying to be kind.
“Thank you,” she said, as graciously as she could, and marched off to Eilian’s room, where she shut the door firmly behind her, picked up a pillow from the bed, and clapped it over her mouth while she screamed. Then she lowered her arms and stood for a moment, wearily holding the pillow and wondering yet again if she was ever going to become accustomed to life in the palace.
She dropped the pillow onto the bed and, drawn by its irresistible softness and her own fatigue, she lay down to rest for a few moments. Only a month ago, before she had bonded with Eilian, she had been sick with grief because she thought he had abandoned her. The happiness she had found with him meant that she was slowly recovering her strength, but she was often still tired in the late afternoon. She crawled to the head of the bed and buried her face in Eilian’s pillow, inhaling the scent of him and feeling her body grow warmer and relax.
Quiet footsteps passed in the hallway and not for the first time she thought about how even the sounds here were different from the ones to which she was accustomed. For a second, she longed to flee her father-in-law’s windowless cavern and be somewhere where she could fling open a shutter to listen to the trees and the trilling of birds as she would have done in her tiny sleeping chamber at home. Instantly, she was ashamed of herself. This was home now, not the settlement in which she had lived with her parents for most of her life.
She wondered how her parents were faring without her. Were they lonely? Were they safe? Their settlement was a full day’s journey from Thranduil’s stronghold, and at that distance, the Home Guard was spread thin. She was now the king’s advisor about matters to do with the settlements, and she had spent a great deal of time over the last few weeks learning of how the settlements as a whole were viewed by the king and his council and considering what she might recommend to make life better for those who lived in them.
Her father had not been happy about her marriage to Eilian, but perhaps in her new position, Celuwen could help the settlers to get more support from the king. Surely, she thought vaguely, her father would see the benefit in that even if he did dislike Eilian. The path of dreams came up to meet her, and she ran barefoot beneath green trees with her parents standing in the distance, smiling at her.
The sound of a door closing brought her suddenly awake. She lay for a moment more, looking at the tunic that now lay on the floor in front of her, and then she heard the soft sound of water splashing in the bathing chamber. Every hesitation fled and contentment flooded her: Eilian was home.
She sat up, pushing aside the shawl that had been draped over her almost certainly by her husband. She briefly considered joining him in the bath and then reluctantly decided that, if she did so, they would be late for evening meal with Eilian’s family. Relations between Eilian and Thranduil were already strained enough that the rudeness involved in keeping others waiting for them would not be a good idea.
Still listening to Eilian, who was singing softly to himself, she slid off the bed and circled around his shed tunic, unlacing her gown as she went so that she could change into a more formal one for the evening. She hung the gown carefully in the wardrobe, ready to be worn again the next day, and paused for a moment, looking at the row of gowns that hung there, more than she had ever had at once before. She could not imagine that she would ever need this many, but Alfirin had insisted that she would eventually be glad she had them and had sent the palace seamstresses to her on an almost daily basis.
Celuwen knew that Alfirin had had to adjust to living in the palace too, so she probably knew what she was talking about, and if creating the gowns made Alfirin happy, Celuwen was willing to oblige her. She liked Alfirin and was grateful for her advice, even if she did occasionally wish that Alfirin would refrain from offering the advice until she was asked.
She shrugged into a green gown with lace on the collar, fastened it up, and then sat down at the dressing table to loosen the single long braid down her back and brush and arrange her sleep-mussed hair. She had just freed it and begun to run her brush through it when the door to the bathing chamber opened and Eilian walked into the room, stopping her heart as he always had from the time their childhood friendship had first begun to change into something deeper.
He was bare-chested, except for the rune of protection he always wore on a thin silver chain around his neck, and his leggings rested on the bones of his lean hips. The sight of his very male body sent a shiver down her spine, and in turn, his dark grey eyes lit up comfortingly at the sight of her. He bent over her and gently brushed his mouth against hers, leaving her longing for him to do it again. “Hello, my love,” he murmured. He smelled of spicy soap.
She put one hand up and touched his cheek, still amazed at the thought that this gallant, loving, generous Elf was her husband. “Hello, my love.”
He bent to kiss her again, and with what seemed to her to be a heroic effort, she put out a hand to forestall him. “We will be late.”
He paused and then grimaced and straightened. “Let me,” he said, taking the brush from her. He stepped behind her and began to brush out her hair while she watched him in the mirror. “How was your day?” he asked.
“Our apartment should be ready before another week is out,” she told him, stretching her neck with the pleasure of having her hair stroked.
“Good.” He braided her hair and then, with clever fingers, he began to weave the braids into an intricate knot at the nape of her neck. He had done this for her before. She had never asked him how he had learned to arrange a female’s hair and did not think she wanted to know. In the mirror, she could see him regarding her with his brows drawn together. “I am sorry you are lonely,” he abruptly said, his voice thick with pain. She realized with a start that he had sensed her mood through their newly-formed bond.
She put her hands up to cover his. “Never think for a moment that I regret my choice, Eilian. I love you with all my heart. I do miss my parents, but we will exchange letters and I will go to visit them, and then I will be glad to come home again.” She lingered over the word “home,” knowing with certainty that home was with Eilian now and to be anywhere else was to be in exile.
He kissed the top of her head. “I am so fortunate to have you.” Their eyes met in the mirror, and for a moment they were grave.
Then she took the brush from his hand and put in on the dressing table. “You should get dressed.” He made a face at her in the mirror and turned to search a chest for a clean tunic. “Eilian,” she said, and he glanced back over his shoulder with one eyebrow raised. “What do you think is going to happen to the tunic you dropped on the floor?”
Surprised, he turned to look at the offending garment as if he had never seen it before. “A servant will come and tidy the room and put it in the laundry basket.” He glanced at her, looking for all the world like an elfling eyeing his tutor to see if he has given the right answer to an unexpected question.
She considered the answer and thought about how she wanted to live. “I do not want servants in our rooms all the time once we have our own apartment.” She looked at him to see if the implication was clear, and slowly, he smiled.
“Then I suppose I had better start putting my dirty clothes in the laundry basket myself.”
She grinned at him. “I think that would be an excellent idea.”
He laughed, snatched up the tunic, and then dropped it in the basket in the foot of the wardrobe. “Soon I will have no bad habits whatsoever,” he said cheerfully, and she could not help laughing.
“I hope you keep a few,” she said, making her voice into a purr, “the ones I like.”
He stopped dead in the process of sliding the tunic over his head. “Are you deliberately trying to make us late for the evening meal?” he asked, the fabric muffling his voice.
“Get dressed,” she ordered, and he laughed and did as she had bid.
By the time they were ready, they were too late to have a cup of wine with the family before the meal and had to go straight to the dining room. Thranduil, Ithilden, and Alfirin were already seated when they entered. “Good evening,” Eilian said, holding Celuwen’s chair and looking pleasantly around the room. “I hope we are not late.”
“Of course not,” said Alfirin, signaling for the servant to begin serving the meal.
From the corner of her eye, Celuwen watched Eilian, who, in turn, was watching his father. It pained her to know that Thranduil was still annoyed with Eilian for bonding with her without his permission. Thranduil had made it clear that he liked her and thought she and Eilian were well-matched. But he had also make it clear that he thought Eilian should have waited for her parents’ permission, waited through a year of betrothal, waited until the proper ceremonies could be held, waited in general. Unfortunately, Eilian was not good at waiting, and in this case, Celuwen firmly believed that her father-in-law was wrong and was treating Eilian unfairly. So far, she had shared that thought only with Eilian, who had asked her not to provoke Thranduil on his behalf.
“Adar will calm down,” Eilian had assured her. “He is just worried that our marrying without your parents’ permission will somehow cause a rift with their settlement and perhaps with the other settlements too. And then he has always thought I am too impulsive and worries I will do something dangerous. But once he has time to get used to the idea, he will see that you are nothing but good for me, and he will be glad of it.”
So she bit her tongue and watched her husband approach his father with care. Tonight, all seemed well, and Thranduil smiled at them. “I am sure you had things to do,” he said dryly, and everyone laughed.
“I heard from Sórion today, Adar,” Ithilden said, as he accepted a portion of roast venison from the platter the servant offered. “Legolas seems to be doing well.”
“I had a letter from him,” said Thranduil with satisfaction, and Celuwen immediately recognized the source of his good mood. Her father-in-law tended to worry about his youngest son and welcomed the reassurance of the frequent letters Legolas sent.
“We heard from Sinnarn too,” Alfirin put in happily. Alfirin and Ithilden’s son was in the Northern Border Patrol.
The servant finished and left the room, and the family settled down to talk about their own days and the news from those they loved who were far away. And for a while, the palace felt like home to Celuwen, as she engaged in familiar talk with her new family.
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