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A Matter of Heart  by daw the minstrel

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

AN: This story is set between “See the Stars” (the first story I ever wrote) and another story called “In Mirkwood” or “Prodigal Sons,” depending on which site you read it on. Legolas would be about 16 in human terms. You don’t really need to read “See the Stars” to understand this one, but you do need to know that at the end of it, Legolas knifes and kills an Elf-woman who was betraying Thranduil’s people to Sauron. It was the first time he had ever killed another person.

*******

1. Getting Better

Legolas bit his lip as Tonduil swung his sword yet again at the thick rod that served as their practice target today. And yet again, the target quivered but remained intact. On Legolas’s left, Galelas let out a soft, scornful sigh. Legolas threw him a frown. They were not supposed to criticize one another’s sword work unless the master asked them to. And besides, anyone could see that Tonduil was already upset by his inability to slice through the target. He was doing his best, and derision would not make him do any better. Galelas ignored Legolas and poked impatiently at the ground with the tip of his sword. They were almost done for the morning, and Galelas, who had already had his turn, was probably ready to be off. He had never put much faith in the idea that he could learn from watching the other students.

Legolas turned back to the field to find Tonduil, his face flushed, coming to sit with his waiting classmates, while Thelion beckoned to Legolas, who took a deep breath and rose to answer the blade master’s summons. You can do this, he told himself sternly. But somehow, the reassurance did not help and his breath quickened a little. He faced the target and raised his sword into the high guard position. An image of the last time he had held a blade flitted suddenly across his mind, and he hastily shut it out. That was a dagger, he thought. This is weapons training, and I am facing a stupid post, not another Elf.

“Loosen your thumb and forefinger,” Thelion said. Suddenly realizing that he was gripping the sword so tightly that it hurt, Legolas adjusted his hold. “Take some practice swings,” said the blade master, and Legolas tentatively swept the sword down and around and then brought it up to swing it again. “Keep your elbow in front of your shoulder or you will lose power.  And remember, the object is not to club the target. Whip the sword around and let it do the work.” Legolas swung the sword again, trying to follow the blade master’s directions. “Good,” Thelion said. “Now try the target.”

Legolas faced the target. The substantial stick was nearly four inches thick and was sturdily anchored. They were using sharp swords today, rather than the usual blunted practice swords. They had sharpened them themselves and then gone through several sword forms, flourishing the gleaming weapons in the warm summer sunshine.

This was the first sword class that Legolas had attended in nearly a month, and on the previous night, he had dreamed badly, reliving yet again the moment when he had sunk a dagger into the body of a pretty Elf maid. She is a spy, he had pleaded with his dreaming self. She will kill the other Elf woman if I do not stop her. She is weaker than you, his dreaming self had cried. You could knock her weapon aside or talk her into stopping! He had awakened as he always did, drenched in cold sweat, and lain in the dark trying to slow his racing heart and convince himself that he had done the right thing.

Gradually his mind had turned to worrying about the sword fighting class he would begin attending again that day. The thought of stabbing at another with any sort of blade left him nearly sick, so he had been grateful to find himself facing only empty air instead of sparring with a classmate. Then Thelion had brought out the target, and everyone else had jumped enthusiastically at the chance to chop it in two with their shiny, sharp weapons. Legolas had feigned enthusiasm too, but he had immediately begun to worry that he might somehow disgrace himself by being unable even to strike at the post.

Now he stood here, facing both the target and the fear that every idea he had ever had about his future was about to be proved mistaken. He took a deep breath, stepped forward on his right foot, and swung. With a shock that he felt all the way to his elbow, the sword collided with the target and made a visible dent but did not slice through it. He let out a grunt of frustration and glanced at the blade master to see if Thelion’s face would show him to be disappointed in Legolas’s failure, if he would see it as part of Legolas’s prolonged weakness in coming to terms with his own actions.

The weapons masters all knew that he had stayed away from classes because he had been deeply shaken by the fact that he had killed another Elf. He had done it in defense of someone else, true, but to Legolas, it had still felt like a kinslaying. To his utter dismay, Ithilden had insisted that the masters be told, on the grounds that a student needed an explanation for missing so many classes, even if the student was the king’s son. Legolas had never expected special treatment from the masters, and he grudgingly admitted that his brother was probably right, but he had still been horrified to know that the masters were being told about what he had done. He wondered now what the blade master could possibly think of him.

“You let your elbow drift back,” Thelion said. “Try again.”

Legolas blinked at his matter-of-fact tone and then turned to the target again. He raised his sword over his left shoulder, carefully positioned his elbow and swung. With an ease that astonished him, the sword chopped right through the target. He finished his swing, brought the sword back into middle guard position, and held it there, elation sweeping through his body. He had done it! He could swing a sword after all!

“Good!” called Thelion. “You see what a difference the position of that elbow makes to the amount of power you have.”

Grinning in relief, Legolas dragged the sleeve of his tunic across his sweaty forehead and went to join his classmates, who were all now springing to their feet, preparing to be dismissed. “Nice cut,” Annael grinned. Legolas beamed at him. He knew that Annael wondered about what had kept him away from weapons training, but he also knew that his friend would never ask, just as he had not asked during the free time that they had idled away together during the two weeks that had passed since Legolas had been allowed out of the palace. Legolas knew no one who had a deeper respect for others’ privacy than Annael did. It was one of the many things that made him an easy companion for the king’s son.

“You all did well,” Thelion told them. “We will work with these swords again soon. For now, put them in the rack and then take the rack back to the storage hut.” He strode off the training field toward the hut the masters all shared, and the students buzzed around the rack, slotting their swords in place and chattering about the class.

Legolas found himself standing next to Tonduil, who still looked vexed by the difficulties he had had. Legolas did not understand why Tonduil did so poorly with weapons. He was certainly strong enough. Legolas had seen him working in the woods with his forester father, and he could manage any horse that had ever entered the area around Thranduil’s stronghold. But when they sparred, his fighting was almost purely defensive. Any attack was so tentative that his opponent easily drove it back. But of course, Legolas thought, he did not know what his own sparring would be like now. Today’s success had made it seem more likely that he would do well there too, but he was still uncertain.

“That was hard,” he told Tonduil, trying to offer comfort.

Someone snorted, and he turned to see that Galelas had come up behind them. “If you would show up for classes, you might find it easier,” Galelas said, sliding his sword into the rack. “But I forgot. Unlike the rest of us, you probably think you do not have to bother with that.” Legolas opened his mouth to protest, but Galelas had already turned his back. “Come on, Isendir,” Galelas said. “Those of us who consistently come to class should get some reward for it. We will let the ones who do nothing for weeks on end make up for it by putting the swords away.”

Fury rising, Legolas took a step after them, but Tonduil grabbed his arm. “Help me move the rack,” he said. He gestured toward the rack of practice swords, and reluctantly, Legolas took one end while Tonduil took the other and they began to move it toward the storage hut, with Annael walking along beside them.

“My sister is going to dine with your family tonight, Legolas,” Tonduil said, grinning at him. Legolas slowly let go of his anger and smiled back. His oldest brother had been tentatively courting Tonduil’s sister, Alfirin, for a while now, and both of them had been watching the progress of the romance with interest. Legolas knew that Tonduil admired Ithilden and would be only too happy to have him bond with his sister. Legolas liked Alfirin well enough, but he was a little uncertain of what it would be like if Alfirin and Ithilden actually bonded and she came to live in the palace.

“You will all have to use the silverware then, Legolas,” Annael observed, his face solemn. “No eating with your hands.”

Tonduil gaped at him, and then when Annael broke into a grin, burst out laughing. “I will tell Alfirin,” he pledged. “I would not want her to disgrace our family.”

They stowed the practice swords and then started back across the field to take the path home. Suddenly, Legolas stopped, for a tall figure had detached itself from the shade under a large oak and now stood waiting for him. How long had Ithilden been watching? he wondered resentfully. Had he been there throughout the whole class, afraid perhaps that Legolas would freeze up or run from the field, and big brother would have to step in?

Sometimes it felt to Legolas as if Ithilden and Thranduil had both watched him continually since the event. Since the killing, he corrected himself savagely. If his brother Eilian were not away on patrol, he would probably be doing the same thing. Suddenly, at the edge of the field, a second figure moved out of the shadows, and he recognized Alfirin, who had come to meet Tonduil. The tension in Legolas’s stomach eased. Was that why Ithilden was there? It must be. Relieved, he started walking again.

“Mae govannen,” Annael said, and Legolas remembered his manners and greeted his brother and Alfirin.

“How was your class?” Alfirin asked Tonduil, who was standing with his hands on his hips, watching Galelas and Isendir disappear down the path.

He grimaced. “All right,” he said noncommittally. “Galelas was as big an Orc as he always is though. Did you see him and Isendir leaving the rest of us to clean up?”

Legolas blinked. He had never heard Tonduil complain about Galelas before, although like all of them, he had had cause enough. He must have been more upset than Legolas had realized about his failure to cut the target.

Alfirin frowned slightly. “That was not very nice of them, I admit. But Tonduil, you do not know what reasons Galelas might have for his behavior, and until you know what it is like to be him, you should try to be more generous.”

“I know what it is like to be near him,” Tonduil said in disgust. “Is that not enough?”

Alfirin laughed and slid her hand through his crooked elbow to take his arm. “Walk me home, little brother,” she said, a bit ironically, since he was now the same height she was, “and I will feed you some of the vegetable soup I made for our mid-day meal.” Tonduil brightened immediately, and Alfirin smiled at them all, with her eyes coming to rest on Ithilden. “I will see you this evening then, my lord.” Ithilden smiled back at her, and she and Tonduil started along the path, with Annael accompanying them.

Legolas and Ithilden walked in the other direction, going toward the palace. “So did you have a good class?” Ithilden asked cautiously.

“Yes. We used sharpened swords.”

Ithilden’s face relaxed a little, and he smiled. “Thelion told me you would be using sharp swords today rather than sparring. I remember when I first used one to slice at a target. It was very gratifying to see that target fall.”

Legolas kept his head down so Ithilden would not see him frown. Had Ithilden and Thelion been talking about him? Part of Ithilden’s responsibility as their father’s troop commander was keeping track of weapons training, but Legolas could not recall him being so interested before. Stop it, he scolded himself despairingly. The healer said you are judging yourself and everyone else too harshly. That sounded right when the healer said it, but Legolas found he had trouble believing it all the time.

“The class went well,” he finally said, knowing that his voice was tight. “Just as the archery class did yesterday. You and Adar do not have to worry about me Ithilden!”

They walked along in silence for a few minutes, and Legolas glanced sideways and cursed silently to see his brother’s brow puckering. “Legolas,” Ithilden began, but Legolas cut him off.

“Tonduil says that Alfirin is dining with us tonight.”

Ithilden sighed and then accepted the change of subject. “Yes, she is.”

“She has never done that before,” Legolas commented. “Does this mean you have finally convinced her to treat your suit seriously?” He was pleased to see a faint flush creeping up Ithilden’s neck.

“That is none of your business,” Ithilden said stiffly. He looked at Legolas, who raised an eyebrow in a deliberate imitation of their father, and suddenly both of them laughed. “Point taken,” Ithilden conceded. He hesitated. “But Legolas, if you ever want to talk about what happened--.”

“I do not.”

Ithilden sighed and conceded the point. They entered the palace, and then parted as Legolas went to his chamber to shed the sweat and dirt of the training fields. He pulled off his tunic and went through into the bathing chamber, filled the basin with warm water, and scooped up a double handful of it to splash on his face. Then he reached for the soap and began scrubbing at his hands. Suddenly he realized he was still scouring at his right hand although the dirt had disappeared. He stopped and clenched it so hard that his nails bit into his right palm. It is clean, he told himself, but he kept seeing again the maiden’s blood that had stained it.

***

Thranduil entered the dining room to find Ithilden already there. “Good afternoon, Adar,” Ithilden said, rising to his feet.

Thranduil nodded in return and gestured Ithilden into his chair as he too seated himself. “Is Legolas coming?”

“Yes,” Ithilden said. “I walked back from the training fields with him.”

Before Thranduil could ask Ithilden how Legolas had done in the sword fighting class, the door opened and Legolas entered the room. His face was set much too tightly for Thranduil’s liking, and he felt a sudden helpless despair. His child was so plainly suffering, and Thranduil longed for nothing so much as to take Legolas in his arms and have him pour out the tale of his pain, but Legolas had refused to talk to any of them about killing the Elf-woman. He had agreed to talk to one of the healers about it, and she was teaching him to order his mind so as to calm it. Thranduil had finally decided that he was going to have to wait until Legolas was ready to speak. He had no other choice really. “How was your class?” Thranduil asked, trying to sound casual.

Legolas graced him with a faint smile, making Thranduil’s heart lift a little. “It went well, Adar.” He looked to Thranduil for permission to sit and took his place. The servant ladled stew into the bowls in front of each of them, put a basket of bread on the table, and then silently departed.

Thranduil sighed as Legolas lowered his eyes to his meal. “I have agreed to purchase some of the horses the merchant showed us yesterday, Ithilden.”

“Good,” Ithilden said, and the meal passed with the two of them talking lightly and Legolas eating in silence.

***

Feeling as if a weighty stone were lifting off his shoulders, Legolas dropped off the books he had used at his lessons, and then flew out of the palace and along the path to Annael’s cottage. It had been obvious to Legolas from the first that his tutor too knew about the killing, because he had suddenly stopped the history lessons about the First Age and set Legolas to learning the history of Gondor. Kinslaying was apparently a forbidden subject, Legolas thought with a grimace. At Annael’s, though, there would be people who were fond of him and knew nothing about what had happened.

He knocked on the door of the cottage, and a moment later, Annael’s mother stood smiling in the doorway. “Good day, Legolas,” she said, stepping back out of the way to let him in. “I understand the three of you are going riding. Come into the kitchen and have some bread and jam before you go.”

“Three of us?” Legolas asked in surprise. He had been expecting only Annael. Perhaps Tonduil was going to join them. When Elowen laughed and gave no explanation, he made his way willingly along the hall. He had had many a meal of Elowen’s bread and jam over the years. He reached the kitchen doorway and came to a halt. “Turgon!” he cried. “When did you get back?”

“This morning,” Turgon grinned. “I hope you and Annael have been behaving yourselves while I have been off riding with the patrols on my family’s woodland home.”

Fascinated, Legolas dropped into a chair. “Did you really ride with the patrols?” He accepted the slice of bread Elowen put on the plate in front of him and reached for the jam jar.

“I did,” Turgon assured him smugly.

Elowen ruffled his hair as she passed behind his chair on the way to take a seat at the end of the table and peel the vegetables she was carrying. “I, for one, am glad you are back safely and hope you do not intend to do anything so dangerous again until you are a few years older.”

Turgon scowled and reached to smooth his hair, but Legolas could see he was pleased by Elowen’s concern. For a second, Legolas wondered if having Alfirin in his family would be like having Elowen. If Legolas had had to make a list of his favorite people, Annael’s parents would both have been high on it.

“Have the two of you done anything except boring old training and lessons while I was gone?” Turgon asked.

There was a second of silence, and Legolas could see Elowen pause in peeling the vegetables. “No,” he said firmly, and after a further split second, Elowen resumed her work. Turgon did not even know that anything out of the ordinary had happened, Legolas thought with a kind of longing. Being with him would be like being normal again.

“Hurry up and eat,” said Turgon. “Annael and I have already finished, and I want to go for a long ride and see these woods again.” Under Turgon’s impatient eye, Legolas wolfed down two slices of bread, and then the three of them rose, bid Elowen goodbye, and set off toward the pasture, where all of their horses would be at this time of day.

“Annael says you used sharp swords at training today,” Turgon said.

“We did,” Legolas agreed, feeling a small flush of pleasure that he had managed to get through the sword fighting class without problems.

“I carried one when I was on patrol,” Turgon said, picking up a stick and swinging it with unconvincing casualness.

His pleasure fading, Legolas looked away and made no answer. Would he ever be able to do what Turgon had done with such apparent ease? I will, he vowed. I am getting better. Today’s class proved that.

They rounded a curve in the path and suddenly found themselves face to face with two maidens, who stopped short at the sight of them. Legolas recognized Miriwen and Beliniel. He pulled himself up a little taller and licked his lips, but it was Annael who spoke first. “Mae govannen,” he said.

“Mae govannen,” Miriwen responded. Her hair hung straight and heavy down her back and moved in a curtain when she turned her head to smile at Annael. Legolas felt an unexpected spurt of annoyance, but then Miriwen included him in her smile too, and he could feel the color rising into his face as his heart began to beat a little faster. “Are you going to the pasture?” she asked. “It is a fine day for a ride.”

“We are.” He smiled at her and felt unutterably stupid because he could think of nothing else to say.

“And we need to go now,” Turgon declared, “or the day will be gone before we have time to ride anywhere.” He stepped to one side to make room, and the maidens slid past them and walked on, with both Annael and Legolas watching them go. Miriwen inclined her head to hear something Beliniel was saying and then both of them giggled.

“Come on,” Turgon said impatiently. Legolas and Annael exchanged looks, and Annael smiled faintly before turning to follow Turgon. Legolas trailed along behind them, wondering what Beliniel had said and feeling rather meanly pleased that Turgon seemed oblivious to the maidens’ charms.  Turgon might have ridden with patrols around his family’s woodland home, but there were apparently some things he had yet to grow up enough to do. For a moment, he wondered again about Ithilden and Alfirin. Had Ithilden kissed her? The thought intrigued him.

“Hurry up, Legolas,” Turgon called, and he put aside thoughts of maidens and ran to catch up to his friends.





        

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