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Glorious Summer  by daw the minstrel

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter for me.

*******

3. Small Moments

Legolas sat a little distance from the low-burning campfire, writing a letter to his father and half listening to the conversation among the warriors seated around the fire. “In my opinion,” Riolith was saying, “your first shot at an Orc should always be aimed at his face. Even if he has armor on, it will not protect him there.”

“Surely that depends on the angle from which you are approaching him,” Fendîr protested. “If you are behind him—“

“If you have set the ambush up correctly, then you will have the right angle to take that shot,” Riolith interrupted fiercely. Legolas glanced up to find him leaning forward and jabbing his finger at Fendîr to reinforce his point. “Do you understand what I am saying?” Riolith asked. Fendîr threw up his hands, evidently unwilling to continue the argument.

Legolas frowned. He had known Riolith a long time. Riolith had been almost through with his novice training when Legolas had begun his, and while Riolith had always tended to underestimate the strengths of others, Legolas did not remember him being so difficult.

“So, Isendir,” Gelmir said, obviously changing the subject, “did you remember to shake your bedroll out with extra care last night?”

Legolas stole a look at Isendir and found him frowning. “No,” he said. “Of what are you speaking?”

“Did the captain not tell you that here in the south one has to be careful of Black Tree Beetles?” Gelmir was all astonishment, and like the warriors around the fire, Legolas had to lower his gaze to hide the smile he could feel creeping onto his face. Gelmir had told him the same story when he was new to the patrol four months ago.

With his eyes lowered, he could not see the look on Isendir’s face, but he could certainly hear the skepticism in his voice. Isendir had been a warrior long enough to know that new members of any patrol were likely to be fed some highly suspicious tales. “Sórion said nothing of any beetle.”

“You must have noticed that the trees here are ailing,” Gelmir said, waving his hand to indicate the twisted forest around them and drawing Legolas’s eyes up again to see the pathetic trees. “The beetle feeds on them, and it can get into your bedroll. You want to be careful because it has quite a nasty bite.” The others around the campfire nodded in solemn agreement.

“I do not believe there is any such beetle,” Isendir said flatly.

Gelmir shrugged. “It is your own hide you are risking,” he said indifferently.

Riolith leaned forward with his elbows out and his knuckles resting on his thighs. “When I was serving in the northern border patrol, I once saw a beetle the size of a dinner plate,” he announced. His voice was grating, and Legolas felt an almost irresistible urge to tell him to be quiet. He saw the others look exasperated too, and Isendir got up and walked away from the fire, ostensibly to check his gear.

It occurred to Legolas that, as the patrol’s lieutenant, he should probably be doing something to ease the situation. He stood up. “Riolith,” he said, “go and check our supply of feathers for fletching. Let me know if we need more.” Riolith blinked at being given the order, but after a second, he obediently rose and went to do as he was told.

“Thank you,” muttered Gelmir. Legolas ignored him and set off after Isendir, whom he found examining his spare bow strings.

Isendir looked up as Legolas approached and then abruptly shoved the strings back in his pack. “You do not have to say anything, Legolas. I know better than to quarrel with him.” His tone was clipped.

Legolas looked thoughtfully across the camp to where he could see Riolith examining their supply of feathers. “I do not remember him being that way when we were novices. Do you?”

Isendir shook his head. “I do not remember him being that way when we served together in the eastern border patrol a few years ago,” he said in disgust.

Legolas looked back at him. “When I first came here, Eilian was in command,” he said slowly, “and he approached me the first night while we were waiting for the scouts to return and the battle to start.” He paused for a moment, remembering the night that now seemed long ago, when living near the shadow had been new. “Eilian said that almost everyone who serves here so close to the shadow feels its effects. He said it worms its way into our hearts and fans our secret fears and makes us do things we would not otherwise do, and that it can be hard to keep track of our true selves.”

Isendir had looked down as Legolas spoke but it was obvious to Legolas that he was listening.

“I know I am tenser before battle here than I am in other patrols,” Legolas went on, “especially when I have been here for a while and my leave is almost due. Perhaps Riolith is feeling the effect of shadow.” He hesitated. “And you may feel it too.” Isendir shifted his weight but kept his eyes cast down. “You may not, of course,” Legolas added hastily, “but I thought I would tell you.”

There was a moment’s silence, and then Isendir looked up with a wry smile on his face. “Thank you, Legolas.”

Legolas nodded, feeling absurdly pleased that he had apparently been able to help the other warrior. From across the camp, Sórion called his name, and Legolas turned to go. “The scouts will go out soon,” he said. “We will probably see battle again tonight.”

“We seem to see it every night,” Isendir said, and Legolas found he could not read the other’s tone. He started toward Sórion, thinking that that was not surprising because he himself was ambivalent about the constant action the Southern Patrol offered. It was exhausting but it was also exciting, and the time between battles often seemed flat.

Legolas could see why Eilian enjoyed serving here. His brother craved excitement and, much to Thranduil’s dismay, often manufactured his own when there was none already available. But Legolas knew that he was beginning to feel the strain of constant action coupled with his new rank. He only hoped he was not about to fail to live up to the faith in him that Ithilden had shown by promoting him.

He approached Sórion, who seemed to be just finishing a dispatch about the actions in which the patrol had engaged the previous night. In the morning, he would add news of anything that happened tonight and then he would send it to Ithilden.

“How is Isendir doing?” Sórion asked, not for the first time. Legolas had to give him credit for being concerned about his warriors, although he thought that Sórion was probably underestimating Isendir.

“I think he is still adjusting to the atmosphere here,” Legolas said honestly. He hesitated. “He has fought well, but I think he would benefit from being paired with someone other than Riolith.”

Sórion looked at him sharply, and Legolas recalled once more that he and Riolith were friends. “Why?” Sórion demanded.

Again, Legolas hesitated, wondering if he was stepping out of line. “I think that Riolith is feeling the strain of the shadow too. He is due for a leave soon, is he not?”

Sórion grimaced and flicked his gaze away to where Riolith was still sorting feathers before bringing it back again. “Yes, he is.” He sighed. “I could put Isendir with Gelmir, I suppose, and match his usual partner, Fendîr, with Riolith.”

Legolas thought about how irritated Fendîr had looked during the conversation around the campfire. Of course, Fendîr was an experienced Southern Patrol warrior and could probably stand the annoyance better than Isendir could, but still, he would be better off without Riolith serving as a thorn in his side. “We will have an odd number tonight because Nandir is wounded,” he finally said. “Riolith could work with Beliond and me, and Fendîr could work with Nandir’s usual partner. That would be Análas, as I recall.”

Sórion raised an eyebrow at him but said nothing, and Legolas continued to regard him steadily. He did not particularly look forward to having Riolith on his hands, but with Beliond along, he did not think that dealing with the other warrior would be a problem. “Very well,” Sórion finally said, smiling faintly. He glanced down at the unfinished letter, still clutched in Legolas’s hand and the smile faded. “You are writing to Ithilden?” he asked lightly.

Legolas stifled a sigh. He had had captains ask him that question before. “I am writing to my adar,” he answered. “He likes to hear about the small things that happen, but I am sure you know how it is when one writes home. One does not like to worry those who can do nothing to change the situation one is in. So, of course, I do not tell him everything.”

Sórion flushed slightly. “I did not mean to pry,” he said stiffly, but Legolas thought he looked relieved nonetheless. “You can send the scouts out now,” Sórion added and turned to scan his report again.

Legolas glanced around, catching the expectant eyes of the four warriors who would be sent out in pairs to scout for Orcs tonight. They would go out now, while the evening light lingered, moving swiftly through the trees and searching for broken or trampled underbrush that might mean that Orcs had passed. They would drop to the ground long enough to check these signs and then follow any Orc tracks far enough to know where the creatures were sheltering or, if they were too late to catch them still sleeping, where they were going so that the Southern Patrol could follow them.

“We are almost to the northwestern corner of our territory,” Legolas reminded them, “so keep the boundaries in mind and hunt south and east of here.”

“What if we see signs that Orcs have come through recently and either left our area or gone to that of one of the other patrols?” one of the scouts asked. “Eilian sometimes told us to follow them if that was the case.”

Legolas blinked. He had not known the Eilian sometimes sent his troops beyond their territory; he had served under his brother for only a week before was injured and sent home, and this was the first time since he had been a member of the Southern Patrol that it had been so close to the edge of its area. He hesitated. He doubted very much if Sórion would be enthusiastic about violating procedures by impinging on another patrol’s territory.

“Do not venture out of our area,” he finally said. “If you see signs that Orcs have recently crossed out of it, come back and tell Sórion. He will decide if the danger from them is immediate enough that we need to go after them rather than just report them so someone else can deal with them.”

The scouts nodded and set off to start sweeping through the surrounding section of the Southern Patrol’s territory. In the unlikely event that they found nothing tonight, the patrol would begin moving back east and south again, continuing their constant search for danger.

Legolas sought out a spot under a tree to try to finish his letter so that it could be sent home with the dispatch the next day.

“We have enough feathers for perhaps three more days,” Riolith’s voice said, and Legolas looked up to find him standing nearby. “If we see heavy action, they might not last quite that long.” Legolas nodded. “I hear I am working with you and Beliond tonight,” Riolith went on, with a broad grin. “That should be fun. Between the three of us, we should really be able to do some damage.” Without waiting for an answer, he swaggered off to begin checking his weapons.

Legolas looked after him for a moment. Warriors always worked in pairs so that they would each have someone to watch their backs, and such joint work, demanding as it did total trust, often led to deep friendships between warriors. Riolith and Sórion had been partners before Sórion became captain. Because Legolas had always been paired with Beliond, he had never had to adjust to a new partner as Riolith was now doing, but he had seen others struggle with the change. Riolith was probably not having an easy time of it.

As he started to turn back to his letter, he caught a glimpse of a gleeful Gelmir, leaning against a tree just beyond Riolith and looking across the campsite. Legolas followed the line of his gaze and saw Isendir carefully shaking out his cloak which he evidently anticipated wearing when the night chill set in. Legolas could not help laughing too, and then began to add an account of Gelmir’s joke to his letter.

Beliond settled to the ground next to him. “I am happy to see you laughing,” he said.

Legolas eyed his keeper’s placid face. He had learned long ago that there was no point in trying to tell Beliond to stay out of his personal life. “Have I been too solemn?”

“You have been serious, as I would expect given your new responsibilities and your tendency to believe that you have no right ever to make a mistake.”

Legolas considered. “Surely it is good to take my responsibilities seriously. Other people’s lives could depend on my actions.”

Beliond nodded. “Of course. But when you serve so close to the shadow, you need to enjoy what small moments of satisfaction you can, or you will never survive. Sometimes when real troubles are upon us, a joke is the only thing we have to turn to.”

Legolas gave him a slow smile. “I will remember that the next time Gelmir plays a joke on you.”

Beliond snorted. “He values his life far too much to try,” he announced calmly and then leaned back against the tree, running one finger back and forth over his bow as Legolas had seen him do countless times when calming himself before battle. “On the other hand, the next time I want to take your mind off your worries, I intend to ask you who the maiden is you have been dreaming about.”

Legolas looked at him sharply. How had Beliond known he had been dreaming recently about the maiden he had met while on a mission for his father? He flushed slightly. “Am I to have no privacy at all?” he asked in disgust.

Beliond smiled blandly. “Not from me. I have kept watch over you since you were an ignorant elfling, and since you are only a little less ignorant and a little bit older now, I intend to continue keeping watch.”

Legolas made a face at him, and then, with a half laugh, he returned to his letter. For a while the camp was quiet, as warriors waited to learn if they would need to spring into action. He had just sealed it and risen to take it to put in the dispatch bag when two of the scouts came racing back into camp. Everyone tensed at the excited looks on their faces, and Legolas hurried to join Sórion and hear their report.

“We found a large group of Orcs just stirring,” one of them reported a little breathlessly.

“How many?” Sórion demanded.

“About sixty, with maybe twenty archers among them.”

Legolas grimaced. The fact that only a third of the Orcs were archers meant they would be easier for the Elves to dispose of, but it also meant that the troop was not hunting game – at least not any game that Legolas cared to think about. The patrol needed to get rid of them.

“They are about two leagues south of us, moving east,” the scout continued.

The other scout had been looking as if he wanted to say something, and now he spoke up. “There is something else too, Captain. When we were on the ground checking tracks, we found signs that three or four Men had crossed trails with the Orcs.”

Legolas drew in his breath sharply. A handful of Men could be in a great deal of danger with Orcs so near.

“Were the Men captives?” Sórion demanded.

“We do not think so,” the scout answered. “It looked as if they saw the Orcs’ trail and then went west to evade them. They left our territory, we think, although we did not follow them because we were after the Orcs.”

Sórion’s brow crinkled in worry. “I suppose Woodmen could have ventured this far into the forest, hunting probably.” He bit his lip, plainly disliking the idea of letting the Men go unprotected and uninvestigated, and yet feeling the pressing need to go after the Orcs. Legolas could see how much his cautious captain was struggling. “I do not want to split up the patrol,” Sórion finally said, with obvious reluctance. “We need every warrior to make sure that Orc troop is destroyed.” He looked at the scouts again. “Get ready to lead us to them. Legolas, get the patrol underway.”

Legolas turned and started through the camp, calling orders as he went, but these experienced warriors were already standing with their weapons fastened to their backs and hips, eager to be underway. Riolith came trotting toward Legolas, tightening his quiver strap, and behind him, Legolas could see Isendir give a little salute in his direction. He nodded slightly, but his attention was elsewhere. The Southern Patrol was on the move again.

***

“As the situation in the forest has deteriorated, we have drawn back, and the Home Guard’s territory has been made somewhat smaller,” Thrior said, tracing his finger in an arc across the map of the Woodland Realm that lay on the table in the library. “If the state of affairs continues to worsen, we may have to ask some settlers to relocate.”

Celuwen grimaced as she looked at the space the king’s advisor had just marked out. The settlement from which she came was close to its edge, and two other settlements fell outside it altogether. “Some of these people moved not too long ago,” she protested, thinking but not saying that her parents were among them.

Thrior looked regretful. “I know, but there is nothing we can do about it.”

Celuwen frowned and wondered if that was true. Surely there must be some way the king could help these Elves continue to live in the forest they loved. Their presence was a blessing there, for it helped to keep the shadow at bay. She thought of the letter she had just received from her father, telling of the spiders that had been seen close to the settlement and declaring his unwillingness to give in to the forces of darkness.

Thrior began gathering up the papers he had been using to explain some of the problems that Thranduil and his other councilors saw with the current state of the settlements. “I fear I have another appointment, my lady. If you have any other questions about the king’s position on the settlements, we can meet again at any time that is convenient for you.”

“Thank you,” Celuwen said automatically, still mulling over some of the things her father had said about conditions at home. Thrior bowed and withdrew, and she sat for a moment longer before rousing herself. She had time to go and see what progress was being made on laying the carpets in her and Eilian’s apartment.

With a light step, she started down the hallway. This apartment was the first home that she and Eilian would have together, and she looked forward to making it their own. As she turned the corner to the hallway where the rooms were located however, she was startled to see two servants maneuvering a large wardrobe through the door into the apartment. She recognized the wardrobe as part of the furnishings that she had selected from a storeroom for use in her and Eilian’s rooms. “Put it there,” she could hear Alfirin saying, and when she followed the servants through the door, she could see that the carpets were all laid and several pieces of furniture had already been placed in the sitting room. The servants were carrying the wardrobe through to the largest sleeping chamber.

With a vehemence that startled her, she felt a flood of outrage that the task of arranging her own furniture had been taken from her. As she stood in the doorway of the sleeping chamber, struggling neither to give vent to angry words nor to burst into tears, Alfirin turned and saw her. “Look!” she cried, her face lit up with eagerness to deliver her good news. “They finished with the carpets early. You and Eilian should be able to move in tomorrow.” She stood for a few seconds waiting for Celuwen to respond, and gradually, her smile faded.

Celuwen drew a deep breath and chose her words carefully. “That is wonderful, Alfirin. I think I would like to be here when the rest of the furniture comes, though, because I would enjoy arranging it.”

Alfirin froze for only a second and then drew herself erect. “Of course,” she said, a little stiffly. “When would you like to do that?”

Celuwen felt a stab of guilt that she angrily suppressed. She would not allow her genuine gratitude to Alfirin keep her from speaking up for her own desires. “Tomorrow morning, if that is possible.”

Alfirin turned to the servants, who were studiously looking anywhere but at them, and said, “Thank you. That will be all for today. Please come back tomorrow to help Lady Celuwen with the rest of the furniture.” They bowed slightly and left the room. When they heard the door from the apartment to the hallway close, Alfirin turned to Celuwen with her jaw set. “I am sorry that I did not think about how much you might enjoy this, Celuwen.”

Instantly, Celuwen felt contrite. “Please do not believe I am ungrateful, Alfirin. I know you have been trying to ease my way into being ‘Lady Celuwen,’ and I am fully aware that you are the one person who knows exactly how big an adjustment it is to marry one of the king’s sons and move from a cottage to the palace. But sometimes I feel as if I were an elfling again, with someone else deciding everything from how I should dress to what I should think about political problems.” She heard the rising notes of her own voice, bit her lip, and stopped speaking.

To Celuwen’s surprise, Alfirin darted toward her and hugged her. “I am sorry,” she said contritely. “It is just that I do remember how hard it was for me when I married Ithilden, and I had the betrothal year to learn about what life in the palace was like, and even after we were married, I could go home for a few hours respite whenever it became too much for me.”  She stepped back again and looked earnestly at Celuwen. “I will try to wait to offer help until you ask for it, but, Celuwen, situations will be complicated in ways you could not possibly anticipate, so you might not know enough to ask for advice.”

Celuwen heard the concern in Alfirin’s voice and was suddenly aware of the effort that Alfirin was making. She and Alfirin were about the same age but had never spent much time together; Alfirin had played with other little maids and Celuwen had driven her parents to distraction by choosing Eilian and Gelmir as her best friends. Moreover Celuwen knew perfectly well that Alfirin had been shocked by the fact that she and Eilian had bonded without ceremony and against her father’s wishes. Despite that, however, Alfirin was trying to help, and Celuwen knew she meant it kindly.

“In truth, I want to ask your advice about something even now,” Celuwen said and then was a little abashed by how pleased Alfirin looked.

“Anything!”

“I know that I will need the help of servants,” Celuwen began, “but I also would like as much privacy for Eilian and me as can be managed. How do you balance the two things?”

Alfirin blinked. “I had forgotten about dealing with that,” she said with a rueful smile. She straightened her shoulders a little as she organized her thoughts. “Two servants usually take care of our apartment. They come in early in the morning, sweep the grates, and lay new fires. Then they check the boilers in the bathing chambers to make sure they are burning and that there is hot water. They come back later, while we are at morning meal, and clean the bathing chambers and dust and sweep the rest of the rooms. They take away the laundry and bring the clean things back later.” She smiled at Celuwen a little shyly. “When Sinnarn was little, of course there was more to do, but I do not think you are planning on needing a nursery maid any time soon.”

Celuwen laughed. “You have the right of it there. So I should expect to need two servants to manage our apartment too?” Alfirin nodded, and Celuwen paused. “I would like to choose them myself,” she finally said. “Not hire them,” she added hastily when she saw Alfirin’s brows drawn into a frown. “I know these people have worked in the palace for years, and anyone you have hired is undoubtedly well-trained and capable. But I would like to choose which two servants work for me.”

Alfirin pursed her lips. “That seems reasonable,” she said briskly. “I will send several to you any time you like so that you can interview them.”

“Good.” Celuwen let out a long breath. She might still be subject to restrictions she had never even considered before she married Eilian, but at least she could arrange her own home and choose who would help her manage it. Not all victories were large ones.

“Then that is settled,” Alfirin went on with a smile. “And since I have no more decorating to do, I think I will go and bathe before evening meal.”

“Thank you, Alfirin,” Celuwen said, and Alfirin left the apartment. Celuwen stood in the middle of the room and then slowly turned, inspecting her new sleeping chamber. So far, the only furniture it contained was the wardrobe, which Alfirin had had placed along the wall next to the bathing chamber. Celuwen frowned. She had intended to place it on the opposite wall, near the door. She would have it moved tomorrow, she vowed.

Her eyes were drawn to the door of the bathing chamber, and suddenly she pictured Eilian coming out that room and walking directly to the wardrobe to get his clothes. It would be extremely convenient to have the wardrobe there, she realized and blew out a vexed breath.

Strong arms caught at her from behind, making her jump a little. “I had better pin your arms down,” Eilian said, “until I know if that annoyed sigh was directed at me.” She laughed and twisted to face him, and he kissed her, making her heart race. “Alfirin said you were in here,” he went on, pulling back to look down at her. “What is the matter?”

“I wanted that wardrobe against the wall by the door,” she told him, glancing back over her shoulder at the offending piece of furniture.

“At least that is something I can fix,” he said, releasing her and starting toward the wardrobe. “I will move it for you.”

“No! Leave it alone!”

He turned to face her with one hand resting on a corner of the wardrobe. “I thought you wanted it moved,” he said cautiously, plainly puzzled.

“I like it there,” she declared, feeling her face redden. “That is the best place for it.”

He raised one elegant eyebrow, looking for an unexpected moment remarkably like his father. “Then why are you upset?”

“It was Alfirin’s idea to put it there, not mine.” She knew she sounded childish, but she could not help herself.

He regarded her steadily, and then, slowly, his face split in a wide smile. “Allow me to be sure I understand. You are angry because that wardrobe is not where you wanted it, but you do not want me to move it because Alfirin’s choice of a place for it was better, but you are still angry because the choice was Alfirin’s?”

The heat in her face intensified, but she nodded sharply anyway. “This is our home,” she declared. “I want it to be all ours.”

He cocked his head thoughtfully to one side and then turned back to pull open both doors to the wardrobe. “It is very large,” he observed. “What do you intend to put in here?”

“Gowns,” she spat out. “It seems I will need a great many of them.”

He bent into the wardrobe and then, to her surprise, stepped inside and sat down with his back against one side and his legs stretched out in front of him. He held his hand out to her. “Come,” he invited, and if the tone of his voice had not told her what he had in mind, the gleam in his eyes would have.

“Eilian,” she laughed, her annoyance abruptly forgotten, “you cannot be serious.”

“I am always serious about making my wife happy,” he declared. “We shall make this wardrobe our own, and Alfirin will have nothing to do with it.”

She ventured a little closer. “There is not enough room.”

“Oh, but there is,” he said with a wicked grin, catching at her hand and drawing her down to sit on his lap. “You are dealing with a resourceful Wood-elf warrior, my love.” He leaned forward to nuzzle her neck while grasping for the edge of one of the doors and pulling it shut. “Can you close the other door?” he murmured, and she found that if she leaned back, she could just reach it, while her husband’s exceedingly resourceful hands found their way under her skirts.

 





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