|About Us News Resources Login Become a member Help Search
Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter for me. And my thanks to all reviewers at Stories of Arda for their thoughts on Celuwen's guards.
9. Doing Well Enough
“I cannot see that one guard is going to do us much good,” Sólith grumbled.
“The king’s warriors are needed all over the realm,” Celuwen said as patiently as she could. Judging from the strained look around his eyes, her father’s headache was bothering him again.
“So he says.”
“So they are,” she insisted. “Adar, I sit on the king’s council. I hear the reports of what is happening everywhere. Thranduil has too few warriors to send more than one to any settlement on a permanent basis.”
Sólith looked away from her and sighed. At the hearth, Isiwen stirred the stew with what seemed like unnecessary vigor, banging the wooden spoon against the side of the pot. Celuwen’s eye was caught by the white bandaging peeping out from beneath her mother’s rolled up sleeve. The cut Zalan had made in her arm was shallow but long and was probably sore. Celuwen involuntarily touched the bandaging on her own throat and then snatched her hand away and shuddered a little. She would not think about Zalan, she vowed.
“All we want to do is live peacefully in the forest,” Sólith said at last. “I hate the idea that we are now to be trained as if we had chosen to be warriors. Is that the only fate left for any of us?”
For a moment, Celuwen wavered, recognizing the tragedy her father saw in what was happening in the Woodland Realm. And then, in her mind’s eye, she saw Eilian snatching the dagger from his boot. She saw Legolas bursting through the cottage door, with his sword gleaming in the firelight. She saw their neighbors pouring into the cottage, with their bows in their hands. And she had had enough.
With a force born of frustration, she banged her fist on the table, making her father jump. “How can you be so stubborn?” she cried, rising to her feet and leaning toward him. “Can you see nothing beyond your own desires? Do you think Eilian and Legolas want to spend their lives as warriors? Do you think that they would not like the chance to live among healthy trees in harmony with the song of Arda?”
He put his hands up as if to stem the tide of her anger, but she went relentlessly on. “You are glad enough for the protection of the king’s warriors, and if you had seen what happened in here last night, you would have been gladder still. And our neighbors seemed only too eager to help when danger was in this room.” She banged the table again, and her father winced and put one hand to his head. “How can you even think about not allowing them to be trained and to have a warrior here to lead them if danger comes again?”
Her legs wobbled, and she sank back hard into her chair, suddenly aware that she was trembling. Her mother made a sound that was surprisingly like a snort, and when Celuwen glanced her way, she saw Isiwen, with her mouth pressed in a thin line, nodding as she prodded the stew.
Sólith drew a deep breath. “I did not say I would not allow it, only that doing so was painful.”
Celuwen narrowed her eyes at him. “So you will allow it?”
He started to nod, thought better of it, and said, “Yes.”
“And you will send word to Thranduil of any change or possible sign of danger you see?”
He blew out a long breath. “Yes.”
They regarded one another for a moment, and then she smiled at him. “Good,” she said, as sweetly as she could. She rose, darted around the table, and kissed him on the top of the head. He patted her hand weakly.
“Maltanaur’s meal is ready, Celuwen,” Isiwen said and handed her a spoon and a bowl of the stew.
“Thank you, Naneth.” She carried the stew to the door of her own room, shoved it open with her hip, and went in, hearing behind her her father’s plaintive mutter and her mother’s sharp response. Maltanaur lay in the bed, his pale face turned toward her as she entered. He had obviously heard the scene in the sitting room.
“Very diplomatic,” he said with a straight face as she propped him up with pillows so he could eat. “Do you talk to Eilian that way too?”
“I have done so,” she admitted a little sheepishly. “We have known one another a long time, and Eilian can be quite maddening sometimes.”
Maltanaur grinned. “I have noticed that myself.” He opened his mouth obediently as she offered him a spoonful of stew.
She noted his increased appetite with satisfaction. Eilian would be pleased.
Eilian tested the edge on the dagger and then slid the whetstone over it again.
“What are you doing out here?” Gelmir’s voice asked, and Eilian looked up to see his friend smiling at him quizzically. He gestured to the grass beside him, and Gelmir folded his long legs under him and leaned back against the tree under which Eilian sat.
“Celuwen is meeting with her father about her proposal that a warrior be stationed here and train the settlers to protect themselves. I had no intention of getting caught between them. I had enough of death last night.” He ran the whetstone over his dagger again. He had meant to make a joke but somehow his words did not sound amusing.
Gelmir looked at him thoughtfully. “Surely that blade is sharp enough by now,” he said gently.
Eilian regarded the blade, in his mind’s eye seeing it once again sailing through the air to lodge in Zalan’s throat. Was it sharp enough? How sharp did it have to be to make sure that no danger ever touched Celuwen again? He drew a deep breath and then slid the dagger into its sheath in his boot. “What have you been doing?”
“I just came from taking my turn guarding Khi in the healer’s cottage. She says he will survive, but I cannot believe how slowly Men heal. Legolas says he intends to send him back to the stronghold for the king to dispose of, and I think he is going to have to travel in a litter.”
Eilian smiled. “I cannot tell you how odd it feels to watch Legolas issuing orders to the Southern Patrol warriors while I sit idly by.”
Gelmir grinned. “I know you have just enough discretion not to ask me, but I will tell you anyway that your little brother is doing well as an officer. He has enough of Ithilden in him that he can give orders with the best of them, but he looks after us, and he makes good decisions. For an officer, of course,” he added.
Eilian laughed. “I realize one has to make allowances.” He smiled to himself, thinking of his earnest little brother, now all grown up and commanding the respect of seasoned Wood-elf warriors. He wished that his father and Ithilden could be here to see it. At that thought, he brought himself up short. His meetings with his father and older brother would come soon enough. He shifted slightly, feeling the slight pull in his side where Susta had cut him and the ache in his hip from the wound he had suffered there in the spring. Neither wound bothered him much, he was happy to note.
Two maidens appeared from among the trees in front of them, one of them carrying a basket. Evidently they were gathering mushrooms, for they stopped in a patch where some were visible and began to pick them. Gelmir eyed them judiciously. “The one on the left is very pretty,” he said softly.
Eilian looked at her. “She is all right,” he shrugged.
Gelmir laughed. “I would not have believed it, but I think you are becoming a husband, my friend.” Eilian made a face, and Gelmir grinned at him. “In truth, I am glad. I think we were in our first year as novices when I realized that you and Celuwen were in love.”
Eilian raised his eyebrows. “Why did you not tell me?” he asked in mock exasperation. “It took me years to learn that.”
Gelmir shrugged. “You were busy being a pain in the backside. And Celuwen is my friend too, after all. I could not wish you upon her.”
Eilian laughed. “That is true enough,” he admitted. He leaned his head back against the tree trunk, considering Gelmir’s words. It certainly was true that he had spent many years hurting Celuwen and then resenting it when she hurt him back. “I am afraid I might be a pain to her yet,” he said slowly, not looking at Gelmir. “I love being with her. I feel complete with her near me. But I have been driven mad by this time in Ithilden’s office, and I am not sure the Home Guard is going to be any better. I seem to crave excitement like an elfling craving honey cakes.” He frowned. “Sometimes I think my adar is right about me. I do need to grow up and realize that I cannot have everything.”
Gelmir snorted softly. “I notice that no one objects to your love for excitement when it means you excel at fighting Orcs.”
Eilian shook his head. There seemed to be no answer to his dilemma. And for now, he was unlikely to be going anywhere except the Home Guard in any case, assuming that Ithilden was not angry enough at him to think of something worse.
One of the maidens dropped the last of the good mushrooms into the basket, and they both turned and came toward Eilian and Gelmir. “Mae govannen,” said the one Gelmir had admired, dimpling prettily at him.
“Mae govannen,” they chorused back and then watched as the maidens sauntered off through the woods in search of more mushrooms.
“I think she likes you, Gelmir,” Eilian murmured.
“Really?” Gelmir looked after the two departing backs.
Gelmir threw him an apologetic look. “Do you mind?”
Eilian grinned. “Not at all. I probably should go and check on Celuwen anyway.” Gelmir scrambled to his feet and set off after the maidens, while Eilian rose and made his more leisurely way back to Celuwen’s cottage.
As he drew near, he caught sight of Isiwen working in the family’s vegetable garden. She was hacking at the ground with a hoe, bringing it down in sharp, vicious strokes that threatened to cut down the pole bean plants around her feet. Eilian halted and then began to move toward her, thinking of the tremor he had heard in her voice the night before when she told one of her neighbors that Félas was dead. While he was still some distance away, however, Sólith came around the corner of the cottage, saw her, and immediately went to put his arms around her. For a second, she stood rigid in his embrace. Then she dropped the hoe, buried her face in his shoulder, and began to weep.
Eilian paused for a moment regarding them and then took a roundabout way through the woods, thinking how hard it was to understand how anyone’s marriage worked, including his own. He entered the cottage to find Celuwen on her hands and knees, trying yet again to wash away the blood stains where Félas had lain and Susta had fallen. She turned her face up to him as he stood in the doorway. For a moment, they regarded one another in silence. Then she looked at the floor again.
“It will never come clean,” she said, sitting back on her heels.
He took a step toward her. “In time, the stain will wear away.” And then he imitated his father-in-law and went to pull her to her feet and into his arms. She did not weep like Isiwen, but she did lean against him. They stood for a moment, holding one another. He slid one hand under her hair to rub the back of her neck and felt the leather thong of the necklace he had made her so many years ago. When he had finally persuaded her to go to bed the night before, she had pulled it put it from a drawer and put it on, declaring in a shaking voice that it was her “rune of protection.” He wished it did possess some form of powerful magic that would keep people like Zalan away from her forever.
“Do you know what the worst thing is?” she asked, not raising her eyes to look at him.
He kissed her hair. “What?”
“I keep reliving the moment when I threw that knife at Susta and it landed in his chest, and all I feel is glee.”
He tightened his arms around her but could not think what to say.
She pulled back and looked at him. “As soon as Maltanaur and Khi can travel, I want to go home.”
He nodded, feeling a sudden flood of gratitude that her “home” was now with him.
A slight movement next to him drew Legolas’s attention, and he glanced over to see Eilian taking Celuwen’s hand. She looked close to tears as settler after settler stepped forward to speak about Félas, while Sólith waited patiently to light the firewood piled beneath the funeral pyre. She must have known Félas since she was a child, Legolas thought, and he had been killed right in front of her. No wonder she was upset.
He returned to listening to the funeral speeches. Even apart from Eilian’s need to support Celuwen, neither he nor Legolas had had any doubt that they needed to be present for this ceremony, although Legolas had never met Félas before and Eilian had met him only rarely. They were officers in the forces of the Woodland Realm, and more than that, they were the king’s sons. In that capacity, they both had attended more rituals and ceremonies than they could count, and sometimes been more bored than Legolas could begin to say. But he was not bored now. Félas had died at the hands of Men who had held his brother and sister-in-law hostage. The body on the pyre could so easily have been Eilian’s.
In his mind, Legolas relived the moment when he had shoved the cottage door open, leapt through it, and thrust the point of his sword between the ribs of the Man who was pointing his own sword straight at Eilian’s heart. It had not been until later, when he was standing outside talking to Beliond, that his hands had begun to shake. Beliond had taken one look at him and barked an order sending him off to his bedroll. Legolas had considered resisting, if only for the sake of his dignity, but he had suddenly realized that he was exhausted almost to the point of being unable to keep his feet.
His keeper had followed him away from the cottage, intending to make sure that Legolas did as he was told. And then he had sat next to Legolas, who had collapsed onto his blanket, and tentatively said, “When we broke into the cottage, Legolas, your sword was already moving.”
Legolas had blinked uncertainly. “Susta was right there by the door.” He had not understood what Beliond was asking.
“Our eyes had to adjust to the firelight in the cottage. How did you know it was one of the Men standing there and not Eilian?”
Legolas had opened his mouth to reply and then found he was uncertain of the answer. “I just knew,” he said, shrugging his shoulders helplessly. For a terrible moment, he had considered what would have happened if he had been mistaken. But I was right, he had thought, and Eilian is still alive.
Now, as the last speaker finished sharing his memories of Félas, Legolas put the memories of the previous night aside, and watched as Sólith put a torch to the pyre, and fire flared up around the empty husk of the settlement leader’s body. Someone began a song of mourning, and Legolas joined in along with everyone else. The voices rose and fell as the flames did their work, and then the pyre collapsed in on itself, and people began to drift away. He saw Celuwen pat Eilian’s arm and walk away with her parents to join some of the other settlers in comforting one another.
Eilian watched her go and then turned to Legolas. In silent agreement, they strolled off among the trees, not wanting to intrude on the grief of the settlers. A light breeze was stirring the tree tops, and the scent of the leaves filled Legolas’s head like wine. I will miss this when we go back to our own territory, he thought wistfully.
“Gelmir tells me that you will send Khi to Adar,” Eilian said. “If he can travel by the day after tomorrow, I can take him if you will loan me some guards. The healer says that Maltanaur will be ready to ride by then.”
Legolas nodded. He had been hoping to do just what Eilian suggested, but he had not wanted to cut short his brother and sister-in-law’s visit to Celuwen’s parents. “When is your leave up?”
“Leave?” For a moment, Eilian looked baffled, and then he grimaced. “In truth, I am not here on leave.”
Legolas frowned. “I do not understand.”
Eilian seemed to be groping for words. “Adar sent Celuwen here without me to negotiate with the settlers about a plan for their protection,” he finally admitted, not meeting Legolas’s eyes. “But I was worried about her, and as soon as I was put in charge of the Home Guard, I assigned myself to come after her. I am on duty as the Home Guard’s captain even now.” He stole a glance at Legolas, who realized that his mouth had fallen open.
“You did not clear this trip with Ithilden or Adar?” Legolas was incredulous. Surely he was mistaken in what he thought Eilian had just told him.
“No, I did not.” Eilian looked unhappy, but his mouth was also set in a stubborn line that Legolas recognized all too well. His brother did not look forward to the anger that would probably rain down on his head as soon as he reached home, but he still felt he was right in doing as he did. And as Legolas thought about it, he realized that Eilian had been right. Legolas was simply uncertain if Thranduil and Ithilden would be placated by that.
A sudden thought occurred to him, and he turned to Eilian in dismay. “I am so sorry. If you are the Home Guard’s captain now, then I should have deferred to you on the question of what to do with Khi. I thought you were still working for Ithilden.” He had already felt presumptuous giving orders to warriors who, on some level, he still regarded as Eilian’s, and now it appeared he had been stepping on Eilian’s toes as Home Guard captain too.
Eilian grinned at him. “You are doing well enough on your own, Legolas, and I have enough sense as a captain to let any competent lieutenant who wanders my way do as much work as he likes.”
Legolas felt a warm flush of pleasure. Eilian thought he was doing a good job. He thought that Legolas was competent. He felt a grin growing on his own face as he regarded his smiling brother. “Thank you,” he said, and Eilian nodded and rested a hand on Legolas’s shoulder.
They walked in companionable silence for a while, until Legolas’s thoughts returned to the trouble that Eilian was probably in at home. He fervently hoped it would not be too serious. He found it almost unbearable when Eilian quarreled with Thranduil in particular. And he realized that something in Eilian’s confession puzzled him. “Did you say Celuwen made the trip here by herself?” he finally asked. That she would be allowed to do anything so dangerous seemed highly unlikely to him.
Eilian shook his head. “Ithilden sent two guards with her.”
“Where are they?”
Eilian sighed. “I have hesitated to ask, but I would guess that she dismissed them once she arrived here.”
Legolas let out an incredulous snort. Every member of the royal family lived with the need for guards. Even those who were warriors could not escape the requirement. Legolas had served with Beliond at his side for years now, just as Eilian had served with Maltanaur. Ithilden did not even allow their father to take a ride through the woods without guards by his side. “They let themselves be dismissed?”
Eilian nodded. “I am afraid so. She can be very determined when she wants to be.”
Legolas gave a short laugh. “Ithilden will have their heads.”
“And other body parts too,” Eilian agreed. “I would go after them myself, but as I say, I know how stubborn she can be.”
“He will not be happy with Celuwen either,” Legolas added, remembering with painful clarity Ithilden’s forceful reaction to his own youthful complaints about Beliond.
Eilian shrugged. “That is Ithilden’s problem. If he wants to try to scold her, I will stay out of his way. Hers too,” he added.
Legolas could not help laughing. “The guards are probably on their way back here right now, with Ithilden’s boot print on their backsides. Once they arrive, they can help you get Khi and Maltanaur home, but if you have Celuwen with you too, I think you should have one or two more warriors as escorts. Do you not agree?” he asked, taking care to defer to a more senior officer.
Eilian only nodded however. “I would be grateful.”
Legolas drew himself up. If Eilian was going to rely on him, then he would do his best to serve him as well as he could. “My patrol should probably leave this afternoon. We have no excuse for staying any longer, and Sórion will be looking for us. But I can let you have two of my warriors. They are burying the Men right now, but I will tell them as soon as they are finished. Riolith is due for a leave soon. He should be one of those who go with you. And I think that Gelmir is the one who is next in line.” He was pleased at being able to send his brother’s friend home with him for a while, even though he was simply following his patrol’s custom of choosing those who had been away the longest to escort the wounded home.
Eilian nodded, but the corners of his mouth had twisted into a frown. “I am sorry to see you go so soon, brat. I understand, but I am sorry.”
“I am too.” Legolas felt the truth of the simple words. “But my leave will be here soon, and I will see you then, always assuming that Adar and Ithilden have left you in one piece.”
“Yes,” Eilian agreed, “always assuming that.”
Legolas knew he should go and ready his patrol for departure, but he could not bring himself to go just yet. A few more minutes in these green woods with his brother were surely not too great a self-indulgence.
|Home Search Chapter List