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Thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this for me. Happy birthday, Meckinock!
Ithilden leaned against the door, waiting until Legolas's wails had dwindled to a muffled sob. He crossed to the fireplace and added another stick of wood to the flames. Their rooms had stood empty while they destroyed the orc band, and the fires in the rooms' grates had so far failed to warm them.
Slouched in the chair in front of the fire, Eilian barely lifted his head before bending again over the cup of wine in his hand.
Ithilden moved to the table at Eilian's elbow and rested his fingertips on the handle of the wine flagon. The oak leaf carving on its side marked it as coming from the dining room. Eilian must have brought it with him after the silent evening meal none of them had been able to eat despite Cook's best efforts and the anxious attention of the servants.
Eilian snatched the flagon out from under Ithilden's hand and set it on the floor. He had shed his belt, shoes, and surcoat and opened the top two buttons on his shirt, but other than that, he had not bothered to ready himself for sleep. If Ithilden did nothing, Eilian would probably show up for morning meal in the same clothes. Well, in truth he probably would not show up at all. He would be too sick.
"Do you really believe more wine will do you any good?" Ithilden asked.
Eilian dropped his head back against the chair. "'Good'? I confess I am not sure what that means." He swirled the wine, studying the eddies. "I did 'good' when we hunted down Naneth's murderers, and when I go back to my patrol, I will do 'good' again. I suppose I have decided that is my 'good,' as good as it gets anyway. Naneth is still dead, so it is too late to do any real good."
Too late. Too late.
The words beat time in Ithilden's head, like the hooves of horses galloping toward disaster. He should have sent the escort sooner. He should have kept the orcs out of his father's realm in the first place.
He licked his lips. "You will not go back to your patrol at all unless you show a little more self-control." The sharpness of his own voice surprised him.
Eilian raised an eyebrow. "You mean like you?"
"And what if I do? I am not talking only about that." Ithilden jabbed a finger at the wine cup. "You were ungovernable on this hunt. You listened to no one, not me, not Adar, not any of my captains. No one. You survived only because Maltanaur stayed within an arm's length of you the entire time."
Eilian slammed the cup down on the table, sloshing ruby wine all over his fingers. "You hypocrite! I saw you, Ithilden. You were like a sheet of ice hurtling down a mountain, and the Valar help anyone or anything in your way." Eilian's dark eyes blazed at him. "What were you feeling, Ithilden? Cool detachment? Satisfaction at a job well done? I think not."
Ithilden froze, unable even to move his tongue enough to say that what he had felt was nothing. He had felt as if he were emptied out, leaving a hollow over which a winter gale howled.
"Do not talk to me about control," Eilian said. "I am going back to my patrol, preferably tomorrow, and if you try to keep me here, I believe I will go anyway."
Ithilden grabbed the wine cup and flung it with all his strength. It crashed into the wall next to the wardrobe, spattering wine in a wide arc. The red liquid ran in streaks down the pale plaster.
Eilian jumped to his feet. "Have you lost your mind? Is that what you call control? Adar and Legolas will hear that!"
Ithilden stared, transfixed, at the red stains. Was that how his mother's blood had splattered and spread? He did not know. He had not been there. He knotted his trembling hands into fists.
"You are frightening me, Eilian." His throat was so dry, his voice came out as a croak. He swallowed. "Stop it. Stop being so selfish. Adar needs you. Legolas needs you. For that matter, I need you. I need your skill, and I need to know you will be all right if I send you back south."
Eilian dropped into the chair with a thump. "Who did you say the frightening one was?"
Ithilden ran his hand over his hair. "I beg your pardon. I lost command of myself."
Eilian sighed. "Is that so bad? Maybe you needed that." He bit his lower lip. "Naneth might have said you did."
Ithilden blinked hard and cleared his throat. He scooped the cup up from the floor and crossed the room to the bathing chamber to fill it with cold water. He thunked it down on the table next to Eilian. "You will feel better tomorrow morning if you drink that and go to bed."
Eilian's mouth twisted. "I doubt it."
Ithilden squeezed his shoulder, picked up the wine flagon, and left the room. He glanced at the door to Legolas's room, standing ajar, and set the flagon on a table along the wall.
Outside Legolas's door, he paused. The only sound was the creak of the rocking chair. He pushed the door a bit further open. His father slumped in the chair, cradling Legolas, who was curled around his ragged blanket, his face buried in their father's chest.
Though Ithilden stood in plain sight, his father showed no sign of seeing him. Thranduil pushed off with his foot, rocking Legolas and himself, his face dazed and blank.
Ithilden's gut twisted.
Eilian had not been the only one to frighten Ithilden over the last two weeks. He had been at his father's side for almost all of it and had never felt farther away from him. Thranduil had been lost in his grief and his need for revenge, as if he had entered a tunnel that led him only to the slaughter of his enemies and let no one else touch him.
Legolas stirred, and Thranduil dropped a kiss on the elfling's head and stroked his hair.
Ithilden put his hand on doorframe, paused, and decided not to disturb them. Legolas had spent the evening in their father's lap. Perhaps they would help each other heal the broken bonds to Ithilden's mother.
He stiffened. A broken bond. Was that why he felt empty? Was this chill emptiness what it felt like when a bond to a parent ceased to exist?
His gaze fell on his hand. A thin line of black curved under his thumbnail. He narrowed his eyes, snatched the hand away, and shook it. Orc blood. That should have washed away in the bath. Icy despair rose in his throat.
He went back to his room and climbed into bed still wearing his night robe. It was too cold to sleep naked. He lay on his side, thinking about his family. It was too late for his mother, but he could guard the rest of them. He would keep them close and watch without sleeping. He stared at the chilly flames burning on his hearth and waited while the night drifted past him, thick with memories and pain.
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