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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.
4. Do Not Worry
It is probably fruitless to say do not worry about me, but I will say it anyway. Do not worry about me, Adar. I am well, and you may believe that I speak truly when I say that Beliond uses every means possible to insure that I remain so. There are times when I am surprised he does not tuck me into my bedroll and sing me a lullaby.
Know that I think of you often, you and everyone else at home too. You have my love always.
Thranduil raised his eyes from Legolas’s letter and gazed unseeingly at the rose bush next to the garden bench on which he sat. As overjoyed as he always was to receive a letter from his youngest son, he had to admit that reading the letters always intensified both the pain he felt that his child was away from home and the fear he felt that Legolas was in the realm’s dangerous southern reaches.
He looked back at the paper covered in Legolas’s neat, clear handwriting and tried to read between the words that his son had written. Thranduil had seen both Ithilden and Eilian serve in the south, and he knew how living so near to the Shadow had worn on them. Was Legolas tired, worried, frightened? Those were the things that his father’s heart really wanted to know, and they were the very things that Legolas was unlikely to tell him. He sighed. Legolas was well and surely that was what mattered most.
Thranduil wondered for a moment how his youngest son was faring in his role as a lieutenant. Legolas had said nothing about that, but Thranduil thought that he would do well. He got along well enough with others, although unlike Eilian, he was slow to make friends. He was responsible and capable, although unlike Ithilden, he was also unassuming. And Legolas was attentive to the needs of those for whom he held himself accountable, something that would matter to the warriors who served under him.
The latter quality had gotten him into occasional trouble as he was growing up when, out of loyalty to friends, he had sometimes allowed himself to be led into actions he knew were wrong. But those days were long past, and his judgment as a warrior and as Thranduil’s representative had proven good. It might take both Legolas and his fellow patrol members some time to recognize his strengths as an officer, but Thranduil was confident it would happen eventually. He simply wondered if it had happened yet.
He looked up to find Ithilden standing just at the edge of the rose arbor. Ithilden’s eyes traveled to the letter in Thranduil’s hand. “How is Legolas?”
“He tells me he is well,” Thranduil said, a little dryly. Ithilden smiled in rueful understanding. Sinnarn did not always tell Ithilden about everything that happened while he was on patrol either.
“Your council is assembled and waiting for you,” Ithilden said.
Thranduil nodded and stood, tucking the letter into the breast of his robe. He would read it again later, after his morning council meeting. He and Ithilden followed the path that led out of the garden, and then crossed the bridge and climbed the steps to the palace, with the guards on both sides of the Great Doors snapping to attention when the king and the troop commander passed. They entered the council chamber, drawing everyone there to their feet. Thranduil strode to his place, seated himself, and then motioned everyone else into their chairs. He glanced around the room, taking time to smile at Celuwen, who still looked a little dazed to find herself at the king’s council meeting.
“Before we begin our other business, I want to tell you that I have had word of the war being waged by the Men to our south,” Thranduil began, thinking with satisfaction of the message he had received from one of his spies only the night before. “The tide has turned against the invaders from the east and Dunland. Gondor has apparently dealt with its own invaders and has come to the aid of the Rohirrim. And the melting of this year’s heavy snows left the enemy in a sorry plight, I am happy to say. The Entwash and the Anduin both flooded, trapping many of them and depriving them of access to their supply wagons. I understand they were easy prey for the Horse Lords and the Men of Gondor. I do not believe we have to worry any longer that the enemy will rule the lands that are south of us.”
A murmur of approval swept around the table, and Thranduil saw Ithilden’s shoulders relax a little. Ithilden had evidently been worried about the Men’s war. But then, Ithilden tended to worry about many things. “What have we to discuss today?” Thranduil asked, glancing at his chief advisor who kept the list of reports to be made and topics to be raised. The advisor announced the first subject for discussion and the meeting began.
The morning wore on with routine report after routine report. The cavern’s emergency supply of grain and dried stuffs was slowly being rebuilt after the previous winter’s dearth. The Men in a village just east of the forest had agreed to pay a small river toll even when trading with a nearby Elven settlement. The armorers had been supplied with a new shipment of metal for weapons at a reasonable price. Thranduil listened, asked questions, gave directions, and gradually gained a satisfactory sense that his realm was under his control and doing as well as could be expected in the dark days in which they lived.
They had reached the end of his chief advisor’s list of topics. “Is there anything else?” Thranduil asked, not expecting anyone to answer.
“My lord,” came Celuwen’s slightly nervous sounding voice, “I would like to raise an issue about the settlements.”
Thranduil blinked at her and then shot Thrior a glance that the advisor apparently knew how to read only too well, for he flinched and lowered his gaze. Had it not occurred to him to tell Celuwen that she should speak to Thranduil in private before she raised an issue at the council meeting? The king very much disliked being surprised by his own advisors. Thranduil considered cutting Celuwen off by saying that their time had expired so that whatever she wanted to speak about would have to wait until the next meeting, but he liked his daughter-in-law, liked the steadying influence he thought she was on Eilian, and he believed that as someone who had lived in the settlements, she had insight to share with him and his councilors. “What is it, Celuwen?” he asked a little cautiously.
She looked from him to Thrior, confused, but aware that some message had been sent that she could not interpret. Then she apparently gave up, grimaced a little at whatever mistake she had made, and turned back to Thranduil. “As you know, the Home Guard has been pulling back and making its territory smaller, leaving two settlements outside its area and a third one very close to the edge.” She paused, and Thranduil gave a small nod of agreement. From the corner of his eye, he could see Ithilden leaning forward and frowning a little. The decision to shrink the Home Guard’s territory had been his.
“The settlers in these three villages moved to where they are now because they were assured they would be safer there,” Celuwen went on, her stiff posture the only sign of how tense she was over delivering what she must have known would be an unwelcome message. “So I do not think it is fair to ask them to move again.”
“But—,” began Ithilden, but she pressed on, ignoring his interruption.
“And more importantly, the settlers themselves will not think it is fair. I know you want better relationships with these people, my lord, and you must be aware that you cannot have them unless you take the settlers’ feelings into account.”
“I believe I have always attended to the needs of my people,” Thranduil said, trying to keep his tone neutral and wondering yet again if he should cut her off.
“I know you have,” Celuwen said eagerly, “but the other settlers do not necessarily know that. And I have a suggestion for something you could do now that I think would show your concern and might allow them to continue living where they are.”
Thranduil hesitated for a moment, while she waited, her face flushed with excitement about what she wanted to say. He sighed. “And what is that?”
“I propose that you send two warriors to each of these settlements to train them in ways to defend themselves. I think it would be best if the warriors then stayed in the village to serve as head guards. And in exchange,” she went on hurriedly, as Ithilden opened his mouth in obvious protest, “if the guards taught them how, the settlers could help to keep watch on the borders and send you and Ithilden word of any suspicious activity they see.”
“I cannot spare the warriors,” Ithilden said immediately. He was plainly not happy about this scheme.
“It would require only six warriors,” Celuwen protested.
“It might be six now,” he retorted, “but sending warriors would undoubtedly encourage new settlements to form.” Thranduil moved his hand slightly, and they both fell silent, frowning at one another across the table, Ithilden obviously vexed and Celuwen frustrated and puzzled by the resistance to her plan.
There was a moment’s pause as Thranduil considered the proposal that Celuwen had made. It was true that his life would be made easier if relationships with the settlements were better. More importantly, he did need to find a way to make the settlers safer, and he suspected that Celuwen was correct when she said they would think it unfair to be asked to move again. Indeed, they would probably simply refuse to do it. On the other hand, Thranduil had no intention of doing anything with Ithilden’s troops that his oldest son felt was unwise.
He turned to Ithilden. “How many warriors could you spare permanently for such an effort?”
Ithilden opened his mouth as if to protest and then snapped it shut and glanced at Celuwen. He liked her, Thranduil knew, and was glad that Eilian had bonded with her, but just now, to Thranduil’s eyes, he was plainly annoyed. Ithilden thought for a moment. “I could spare three,” he finally said, “but no more.” The idea obviously made him unhappy.
Thranduil looked at Celuwen. “I like the idea of training the settlers to defend themselves better, and I certainly would value more sets of eyes in the forest, but I do not believe that we could leave two warriors there permanently. Ithilden, could we send two warriors to conduct the training and then leave one?”
Ithilden drew a deep breath. “Probably,” he conceded. “It would take a certain kind of warrior to be willing to essentially move to a settlement, perhaps taking his family. I would have to choose them carefully.”
Celuwen was beginning to look excited. “Such an arrangement might work.”
Thranduil leaned forward. “Do you believe the settlers would be willing to accept such training and to keep watch for us? I have not always found them to be grateful or cooperative in such matters, and part of the purpose of this would be to improve relations and gather information. I want my people to be safe, of course, but the other purposes would have to be met too.”
Celuwen brought herself up short. “They might need to be approached carefully,” she admitted after a moment’s pause. She bit her lip. “I could speak to Félas and see how he reacts,” she offered.
Thranduil considered her offer. It was for just such purposes as this that he had appointed Celuwen to his council. The leader of her parents’ settlement would listen to her as he would to no one else that Thranduil could send. And the idea she had proposed had merit. He did not like to send her off on a mission so soon after she and Eilian had bonded, but she would need to be away for only a short time, and in any case, this was probably a situation in which Eilian needed to set aside his own desires for the good of the realm. Thranduil felt a brief stab of the anger he knew he still harbored at his second son for disobeying him and bonding with Celuwen without her parents’ permission. That action alone was likely to make relations with the settlements more difficult.
“Very well,” he said. “Can you be ready to leave in the morning? That would allow you to make the whole trip in one day.”
Celuwen nodded eagerly. “I can do that. Thank you, my lord.”
Thranduil could not help smiling at her obvious excitement. “Thrior will meet with you this afternoon and help you to practice what you will say to Félas as our representative.” Celuwen blinked, having obviously not realized that she could not simply speak to her settlement’s leader as she always had. “You will make no promises, of course, simply find out if he would be willing to cooperate.”
She nodded, her face serious.
Thranduil looked at Thrior. “He will also tell you how to have an issue entered on the list of things to be discussed ahead of time.” This time, Thrior nodded.
“I believe we are finished here,” Thranduil said and rose, dismissing his council for the day.
“But, of course, I did manage to find them in the end.”
Eilian closed his eyes as Tinár self-satisfied voice defeated all his efforts to ignore it. Sometimes he enjoyed toying with his obnoxious office mate, but today he was feeling that he had been confined in a small room with Tinár for far too long. With a suddenness that made even Calith jump, he slapped his hand down on the desk. “Be quiet, Tinár,” he ordered.
Tinár turned to look at him, opened his mouth as if to speak, and evidently thought better of it when he saw the glare that Eilian deliberately made more threatening when he saw Tinár wavering. Eilian could almost see him remembering what had happened the day before when he had ignored Eilian’s command to stop talking, and, with Ithilden’s blessing, Eilian had finally dragged him off to the training fields to spar. Tinár was good with a sword, but not as good as Eilian, and he undoubtedly still had the bruises to prove it. Tinár scowled and then returned to making copies of the message he was supposed to carry to three different Home Guard outposts. Eilian let out a small breath and thought about how much better the day would become when Tinár left.
Once again, he turned his attention to the bundle of dispatches Ithilden had given him to read when he left to attend Thranduil’s council meeting. “I have not read these yet,” Ithilden had said, “but I will do so when I return. If you see anything unusual, tell me then.”
Eilian had been through all these dispatches once and now found himself lingering over the one from his own patrol. The scouts had seen evidence that Men had ventured into the patrol’s territory and then left. For some reason, that made him very uneasy. He thought for a moment and then shuffled through the papers again to find one that did not appear to be a dispatch, but rather looked like a summary of information that had come from Thranduil’s spies. Although Eilian knew his father used such sources, he had never spoken to either Thranduil or Ithilden about them. Still, Ithilden had been including their reports among those he wanted Eilian to analyze.
He found the paper he was looking for and then read the report again: Woodmen in a tiny village on the western edge of the forest, just north of the ford, had driven away several Men who had tried to steal food from a storage shed. The Woodmen had actually killed one of the thieves, for in this time of scarcity after the Long Winter, stealing food was not an offense taken lightly. None of the Woodmen recognized the dead Man or the other thieves, who had run off into the forest. Their clothing was ragged and had also looked unfamiliar, suggesting the Men might be from some distance away.
Eilian had just set the two reports next to one another and begun to study them with his brows drawn when Ithilden walked through the door, greeted them all briefly, and then continued on into his own office. Eilian got up and went to Calith’s desk. “I want to speak to Ithilden,” he told the aide.
“Come in, Eilian,” called his brother’s voice from inside the office, where he had evidently overheard, and Calith smiled and gestured for him to go in.
Ithilden was just settling behind his desk. He slapped his notes from the council meeting onto his desk with a force that suggested that events there had not gone his way. Moments when he did not get his way were rare for Ithilden, who generally met them only at Thranduil’s hands, and Eilian usually felt a certain amount of secret glee at his forceful older brother’s discomfort. Still he managed to look sympathetic and ask, “How was the council meeting?”
Ithilden regarded him with a look that Eilian could have sworn was half-amused. “I think I will leave you to discover the answer to that question yourself,” he said enigmatically.
Eilian frowned. What in Arda was Ithilden talking about? Whatever it was could wait. At the moment, he had a pressing concern. He touched the chair in front of the desk inquiringly and sat down when Ithilden nodded his permission. “I do not like the fact that Men have been seen in the Southern Patrol’s territory. And when I put that together with the fact that strangers attempted to raid one of the Woodmen’s storehouses, I get a very nasty feeling in my gut.”
With one eyebrow raised, Ithilden held out his hand for the reports, and Eilian handed them to him. He scanned them and then looked up. “With food so scarce after this past winter, a certain amount of moving about hunting and foraging would have to be expected,” he observed.
“But who are they?” Eilian persisted.
“Perhaps they are Woodmen from a village further south. That area was flooded this spring, so hunters might have been driven far and wide. At any rate, Sórion says they left the patrol’s territory.”
“He says Orcs drove them out,” Eilian corrected, “but they were originally headed east. I do not like it.”
Ithilden regarded him steadily for a moment, tapping the papers against his desk. “Eilian, are you sure that you are disturbed by the reports and not by the fact that someone else is making decisions for the Southern Patrol?”
Eilian stiffened. “You were the one who decided I would be useful in your office thinking about how separate reports fit together, Ithilden. I am doing my best to do just that.” Eilian could scarcely believe that Ithilden had just added the insult of questioning his judgment to the injury of removing him from the captaincy of the Southern Patrol.
Ithilden grimaced slightly and glanced away. Then he looked back down at the reports. “There is another possibility,” he said slowly. “Men have been at war south of us. It is very unlikely that any of those involved in that battle would be this far north and west, but I suppose it is just possible that they could have been driven here by the floods and the chances of war. The strange clothes of the thieves would be explained if that were the case.”
Eilian felt himself grow very still as every instinct in his body responded to the suggestion Ithilden had just made. “That must be it,” he breathed.
Ithilden looked at him sharply. “We cannot know that yet,” he said. “I will ask Sórion to check on the Men and see what he can find out.”
Eilian gnawed on his lower lip, trying to decide whether to chance arguing with Ithilden, who in this office was his commanding officer rather than his older brother. “I suppose that would be best,” he finally conceded. “There were only three or four of them after all.”
“If they look dangerous, Sórion will know what to do,” said Ithilden, and Eilian stood.
“By your leave,” he said, and Ithilden nodded his permission for Eilian to go. He went into the outer office, dropped into the desk chair, and stared at the blank wall opposite him, wishing with every fiber of his being that he was back with his patrol, far from central command, choosing his own actions and seeking answers for himself rather than sitting here biting his tongue.
Eilian entered the sitting room, well aware that he was late. “I am sorry,” he apologized to his assembled family. He bent to kiss Celuwen’s cheek, inhaling the sweet scent of her as he did so. “I went the archery range and lost track of the time.”
“No matter,” Thranduil said peaceably. “You have time for a cup of wine if you want one.”
Eilian poured himself the wine and sat down next to his wife, who, he suddenly realized, looked ready to burst with eagerness to tell him something. “Did you have a good day?” he asked her.
She smiled at him. “I had a very good day. I made a suggestion about the settlements that Adar’s councilors agreed to.”
Eilian sent a smiling glance at his father and abruptly noticed that everyone else in the room was looking wary. A small alarm went off in his head. “What was your suggestion?”
“I am going to negotiate with Félas to see if he will allow two warriors to come and train his people to defend my parents’ settlement, and in exchange, provide Adar with a warning if any danger appears. Oh, and I am to make sure he is very grateful too,” she added with a grin and a look at Thranduil.
For a moment, Eilian froze. Surely he was mistaken in what he thought she had just said. “What do you mean you are going to negotiate?”
Something in his tone must have alerted her, for she turned to look at him when she answered. “I am leaving tomorrow morning to go and see Félas.”
“No.” The word jumped from his lips unbidden, and he knew immediately that he had made a tactical error because her eyes narrowed slightly.
“This is not your decision to make, Eilian,” she said, her voice tight.
“Celuwen, such a trip would be dangerous,” he said, struggling to sound reasonable when his stomach was knotting in fear. “Strange Men have been seen in the forest.”
She frowned. “You and I were there just one month ago,” she protested, “and I lived there for years. It is no more dangerous now that it was then. The Woodmen are always in the forest.”
“These are not Woodmen,” Eilian cut in.
“We do not know that,” said Ithilden. “And I will send two guards with her.” Eilian turned to glare at him.
“Despite our discussion about the Men, you knew of this plan and did not tell me,” he accused his brother.
Looking exasperated, Ithilden shrugged. “There were three or four Men, and they might very well have been Woodmen out hunting. There is no evidence that they are dangerous, and they were a good long way from the settlement. Moreover, the plan was council business.”
“It was my business,” Eilian snapped. “She is my wife.”
“But not your property,” Celuwen said heatedly, her face flushed.
“I want to be one of the guards,” Eilian told Ithilden, ignoring Celuwen.
“You are not on active duty yet,” Ithilden retorted, his own voice growing severe. “And you have other duties.”
“Control your tone of voice, Eilian,” Thranduil interrupted sharply. “Celuwen has duties as my advisor, and neither she nor I have to consult you as to whether they should be fulfilled.”
“Please stop,” Alfirin pleaded. “I do not want us to quarrel during this time or during our evening meal.”
Eilian sat back, breathing hard, and next to him, Celuwen drew away a little, her body stiff with anger. At that moment, a servant entered the room to announce that the meal was ready, and they all stood to go to the dining room.
Eilian held the door of their apartment open so that Celuwen could enter and then followed her in and down the hall to their bedroom. Neither of them had eaten much of their evening meal. He stood with his back against the bedroom door as she sat down at the dressing table and began pulling pins out of her hair and flinging them onto the table. One of them bounced off and hit the floor just beyond the edge of the carpet, making a small pinging noise.
“Celuwen, please do not go. I tell you this is dangerous.”
She whirled to face him. “You have no idea how difficult the last month has been for me.”
“I do,” he insisted in distress, taking a step toward her. “I admit I had not realized ahead of time that it would be so hard, but I have seen how you are struggling.”
Her mouth began to tremble, and all at once he realized that she was close to tears. With an inarticulate cry, he crossed the room and gathered her to him, pressing her face into his tunic. “I am so sorry, my love. I never wanted to make you unhappy.”
“I am not unhappy,” she protested, her voice muffled in his midsection. “I just want to spend some time in the woods again, and I want to see my parents, and I want to be useful.”
He ran his right hand over her dark hair, now coming loose and tumbling down her back. What could he say? He knew how much he hated being caged in Ithilden’s office. Was he willing to cage Celuwen, even for her own safety? And even if he wanted to, could he do it? With the silk of her hair under his hand, he thought about his wife. He had known her from the time they were very small children, and he knew that she would do as she thought best no matter what argument he made.
“Promise me you will be careful and will stay with the guards,” he said.
She pulled away to look up at him. “I promise.” She looked at him for a long moment. “I will not be careless as your naneth was, Eilian.”
He cringed, closing his eyes against the pain she had just evoked and remembering his mother, refusing to wait for the escort Ithilden was sending for her and riding off to her death. She still had two guards with her, he thought in despair, but he said nothing. How had Celuwen known that that was in his mind? He had not even known it himself.
He pulled her up and lowered his mouth to hers. If this was to be their last night together for a while, he was determined they would make the most of it.
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