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Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter for me.
5. Is Everything Well?
At the sound of the dining room door opening, Legolas turned to see Ithilden entering the room, looking preoccupied. Legolas lowered his spoon into his porridge bowl and waited, bracing himself a little. He had not seen Ithilden since his brother had hauled him home the day before, because Ithilden had been so busy in his office that he had not been at evening meal and had returned to the palace only after Legolas had retired and then been called out again that morning. Legolas found that he still resented Ithilden’s lack of trust, but he did not particularly want to continue quarreling with him in front of their father.
Ithilden’s mind was evidently on other things though, because he simply greeted both Thranduil and Legolas, seated himself, and ladled porridge into his bowl.
“Is everything well?” Thranduil asked.
“Yes.” Ithilden gave no further information, nor had Legolas expected him to. Thranduil and Ithilden seldom talked about the details of the realm’s defense in front of Legolas. Ithilden reached for the pitcher of milk, and as he did so, he focused on Legolas, who realized he was still watching his brother apprehensively. Legolas could see the memory of yesterday blossoming on Ithilden’s face. For a second, Ithilden hesitated. Then he said, “I saw the stablemaster leading your horse out to the pasture this morning, Legolas. Sadron was in fine feather.”
Legolas relaxed. Ithilden evidently had no more desire to continue scolding him than Legolas had to be scolded. “If Annael and Turgon have time, I hope we can ride this afternoon when I am finished with my lessons.”
Ithilden’s gaze flicked momentarily to Thranduil, but he said nothing. For a moment, Legolas could have sworn there was some tension between his father and brother, but he was too glad that Ithilden seemed to be offering a truce to worry about it.
“A ride would be pleasant,” Thranduil said. Remembering the day before, Legolas waited for his father to demand to know where he and his friends planned to ride, but instead Thranduil said, “I hope to have time to ride too.”
Pleased, Legolas picked up his spoon again. You are seeing doubt where there is none, he admonished himself. He had been allowed to ride where he liked within certain boundaries for years now, and he had no reason to suppose that his father would change the rules. He scooped up the last of his porridge. “By your leave, Adar, I will be on my way to training.”
“Have a good day,” Thranduil said, nodding his permission for Legolas to leave.
He stopped in his chamber to pick up the weapons that he was not supposed to carry in the palace and hesitated for only a minute before buckling his knife sheath to his belt. He had worn his knife all along and he would not stop now, he thought with determination. Moreover, he resolved, he would ask his father to spar with him, even though his stomach tightened at the thought. He picked up his bow, savoring the familiar feel of it and rejoicing that today he would be able to go to training gladly.
Pleased with himself and with the day that lay before him, he set out for the training fields. The morning was glorious. Spring was in full flower and the warmth of the sun on his face suggested that summer was on the way. He walked briskly along the path and approached the training fields to find most of his classmates already happily sprawled on the grass. He dropped to the ground next to Annael.
“I was just telling Annael about all the fish we caught yesterday,” said Turgon from Annael’s other side. “We should have gotten him to come too.” Annael looked expressionlessly at Legolas, who could only shrug helplessly. He could not very well tell Annael that he had been unable to stomach the thought of sparring with long knives.
“Fishing?” said a voice behind him. “You went fishing? If you two get away with that, it is going to be so unfair!”
Legolas turned his head sharply to see Galelas standing a foot away, his face flushed with resentment.
“What do you mean ‘unfair’?” Turgon asked. “If you want to go fishing, just go. I am sure no one here would be sorry to see you leave.”
Galelas ignored him, keeping his gaze focused on Legolas. “Anyone else who did that would expect to spend a week running the training track or cleaning armor, but not you, Legolas. You come to class only when you find it convenient and do just as you like, and you know that the masters will not say a thing. All I can say is that if we are ever warriors together, I hope I never have to depend on your skill with weapons to protect me!”
For a second, Legolas sat, quivering, every muscle tensed against Galelas’s scathing attack. Then suddenly, he could bear it no longer. Almost without his willing it, he dropped his bow, pushed off from the ground, and threw himself at Galelas, catching him in the knees with his shoulder and sending him crashing down, with the arrows from both their quivers scattering around them. Frantically, he scrambled up Galelas’s squirming body, throwing punches as he went.
From somewhere nearby, Annael shouted his name, but Legolas ignored him, as the older, heavier Galelas managed to shove him off and roll on top of him, sinking a fist into Legolas’s mid-section as he did so. Legolas grunted but managed to keep rolling, his legs tangling with Galelas’s until they came to rest with Legolas on top again.
He drew his arm back, intending to slam his fist into Galelas’s hateful face, but a hand caught at his elbow and then someone got hold of the strap of his quiver and lifted him onto his feet. “Stop it!” commanded Penntalion. “Both of you, stop it right now!”
Legolas stood, breathing hard, Penntalion’s hand still on his quiver, as Galelas scrambled to his feet. To Legolas’s savage satisfaction, Galelas was dabbing with his fingers at a cut at the corner of his mouth. “Explain yourselves!” Penntalion ordered.
Utter silence followed. Legolas dropped his eyes to the ground, picking out his arrows from Galelas’s and trying to get control of his emotions.
“Very well.” Penntalion let go of him. “Collect your things and go home. I do not want to see either one of you in an archery class for a week, and then you had better be able to behave yourselves. I will be telling your parents exactly why you are not welcome until then.”
Dismayed, Legolas looked up to see that the archery master’s face was set in lines suggesting he would brook no argument. Slowly, Legolas picked up his bow and then bent to gather his arrows. His face both sympathetic and horrified, Annael hurried to help him, and Turgon joined in too.
“The rest of you go and get the small targets and set them up halfway down the field,” Penntalion ordered, and after a second, the other class members, who had been silently watching, hurried to obey.
Legolas avoided Penntalion’s eyes as Annael slid the last two arrows into his quiver, patted Legolas’s shoulder, and then ran off to do as they had all been told. Galelas was already striding away, his head down, looking at no one. With his head lowered too, Legolas started toward the path leading to the palace. Penntalion caught his arm. “Do you need anything, Legolas?”
He jerked his arm free. “No.” And he trotted away, running faster and faster until he reached the cover of the trees.
“That will be all,” Thranduil said. “I will let you know how the mayor answers our questions about the tariffs his merchants are imposing.” His council members rose, bowed, and took their leave.
On Thranduil’s left, Ithilden gathered his notes together. “Are you and I meeting with the mayor right away?”
“He and his attendants are refreshing themselves. I will send word for them to wait on us shortly.” Thranduil signaled to the servant who had appeared in the doorway as his council dispersed. “Tell the mayor I will await him in the Great Hall in half an hour.”
“Yes, my lord,” the servant said. He offered Thranduil a folded piece of parchment. “This came while you were in the meeting.”
Thranduil accepted the note, and the servant departed. Thranduil opened the message, read it, and then read it again. Legolas had been fighting? Thranduil could barely contain his dismay. He looked up at Ithilden, who was watching him inquiringly. “Was Legolas’s class working with blades today?”
Ithilden looked surprised. “No. Not as far as I know. They were scheduled to do archery, and I did ask the masters to let you know if they were using knives. Has something happened with Legolas?”
“He apparently got in a fight with another student and was sent home.” Thranduil frowned. He had been so sure that Legolas would be happy at least in an archery class.
Ithilden groaned. “The masters take fighting very seriously, as well they should. If Legolas has only been sent home for today, then they are treating him unusually gently.”
“He is not to go back to the archery class for a week.”
Ithilden grimaced. He knew what being barred from archery would mean to Legolas.
Thranduil tapped the parchment against the palm of his other hand. He knew that Legolas was suffering, but he had also thought that the youth was gradually getting better. If Legolas was actually fighting with other students, then he was not healing nearly as well as Thranduil had hoped. He sighed and rose. “I will go and speak to him. If the mayor arrives before I return, please deal with him.”
Ithilden nodded, and Thranduil left the council chamber and made his way to Legolas’s chamber. He knocked on the door and then opened it without waiting for an answer. The room was empty. “Legolas?” he called, looking toward the open door of the bathing chamber. No answer came. Legolas was not there either.
Thranduil’s mouth tightened in annoyance. He was going to have to hunt his youngest son down, which meant he might not have time to speak to him before the mayor of Esgaroth arrived. He left the room and strode down the hallway to speak to the guards at the entrance to the family quarters. “Do you know where Legolas is?”
“He has not yet returned from training, my lord,” said the guard.
Thranduil blinked. Legolas had not come back yet? He had been sent home at the start of the morning classes. Where could he be? In a flash, any irritation he felt turned to full-blown worry. Legolas might simply be in the nearby part of the forest, seeking comfort from the trees. But he also might have wandered off, trying to hide himself away from a situation that gave him pain. Thranduil was not at all happy about that idea. He paused. What he wanted to do was go after his son. What he probably should do was deal with the mayor of Esgaroth and send someone else to hunt for Legolas. After all, for all he knew, the youth was sitting in a tree somewhere, singing himself into a happier frame of mind. Thranduil’s worry was probably exaggerated.
He returned to the council chamber, where Ithilden was reading over his notes again. Ithilden rose when Thranduil entered. “Legolas did not return to the palace this morning when the archery master sent him home,” Thranduil told him. “See if you can find him.”
Ithilden took only a second to absorb the news. “Of course. I will check with Turgon and Annael first. They usually know where he is. I am sure there is nothing to worry about.”
Thranduil nodded. Ithilden must surely be right.
Alfirin picked her way carefully among the rocks, searching in the hollows for the low-growing yellow flowers that she had been able to find only in this area near the river, west of Thranduil’s stronghold. The flowers were beautiful, but what she actually wanted was the pale green leaves, that, when boiled, would provide her with a silver dye. She spotted a golden clump and crouched to cut the sturdy stems of the leaves and add them to those already in her basket.
Straightening, she stretched her back and drew her hand across her forehead. The day had grown oppressively warm for spring. Summer really was on the way, she thought, and then made her way to the edge of the rocky patch, where the trees would provide her with some shade while she ate the meal she had brought with her.
She dug her water skin and oil-cloth wrapped bread and cheese from her basket. The water had grown tepid over the course of the morning. She would refill it from the stream that she seemed to recall lay a bit further along once she had finished her meal. She cut a slice of the cheese, laid it on the bread, and took a crumbly mouthful, thinking as she did so about kissing Ithilden.
She had thought about kissing him off and on ever since she had stormed away from him the previous day. She had even lain awake in the night thinking about it. She shivered a little, despite the warmth of the day, and touched her fingertips lightly to her lips. She pictured Ithilden’s strong shoulders and the serious gaze of his dark grey eyes, and warmth spread through the pit of her stomach.
Sighing, she looked down at the bread in her hand. Last night, when she had not been thinking about kissing Ithilden, she had reveled in how angry she was at him. She had to concede that she did not know what was bothering Legolas, while Ithilden did. She also knew that he had been genuinely worried about Legolas. But judging by how Tonduil reacted to the way she and her parents treated him, she believed that Legolas needed loving acceptance from those close to him, even when he was at his most difficult. She could not deny that he also needed discipline, but surely Ithilden should have been able to see that his treatment of his little brother hurt him.
And then, when she had awakened, after having slept for what could not have been more than an hour or two, she had lain on her side, looking at the dawn coming through her window, and found that not only had her anger faded, but also she was looking forward to tackling the challenge of managing the palace household, of making it warmer and more comfortable for Ithilden and his family. Assuming, of course, that Ithilden ever came near her again.
Now she sighed and wrapped up the remains of her meal. Her mother had been confident that Ithilden would come back, and her mother was usually right. She contemplated getting up to hunt for more flowers, but the midday sun overhead was still very warm, and after her restless night, she was beginning to feel sleepy. She would stretch out in the shade and nap for a while. She lay down with her arm across her face to block the sunlight, and almost instantly, her mind began to drift and then she was walking along a dream path with Ithilden’s arm around her waist.
Legolas slid from Sadron’s back and then stood patting the horse’s neck. “Are you happy to be out in the woods, my friend?” Sadron nuzzled Legolas's hair and Legolas rubbed his cheek against the animal’s velvety nose. His horse was indifferent to whether Legolas did well or badly in weapons training. Sadron loved him wholeheartedly either way, and indeed, would probably be glad if Legolas never went to training again, but spent his days riding. The morning they had just passed together had been pure pleasure for the horse.
“Go and find some grass,” Legolas told him, and then swung himself up into the arms of a beech tree. He looked down. Sadron was still watching him, but now he apparently decided that Legolas was not going anywhere without him, and he lowered his head and began searching for the sweetest blades of grass he could find.
Legolas watched him for a few minutes and then leaned his head back against the tree, which was humming happily at his presence. His mouth twisted in a rueful smile. Why was it that pleasing the forest and his horse was so easy, while pleasing everyone else was so hard? Including himself, of course, he added honestly. He did not think that even Ithilden could be unhappier with him just now than he was.
How could he have let Galelas get to him like that? He should have ignored the irritating little Orc-spawn. After all, Galelas had no idea why Legolas had missed so much training, so to him, it probably did look as if Legolas was being given special privileges. Legolas plucked at a leaf, feeling its complex vein system rasping against his fingertips. Of course, if he were honest, what had really stung was not Galelas’s accusation of favoritism, but his doubt about whether Legolas would be a reliable fellow warrior. That could not be true, he thought angrily. He was having trouble right now, but his father and the healer and the weapons masters all seemed to think he would recover. In addition to being an obnoxious loud mouth, Galelas was simply wrong.
He let the leaf flutter from his fingers to the ground. He supposed he would have to go home soon. Sadron was apparently finding enough to eat, but Legolas was growing hungry. He leaned over to see where the horse had gotten to and found Sadron standing stock still, staring into the distance with his ears pricked. Legolas blinked and then turned his own head to listen. A deep throated rumble came from the west, and Legolas heard Sadron snort and shuffle uneasily. Now that Legolas was paying attention, he realized that he had been hearing the distant sound of thunder for some time. Moreover the sound was drawing closer.
He climbed a little higher to get a view of the sky unimpeded by the thick treetops and found that dark storm clouds were piled high in the sky to the west. As Legolas watched, he heard thunder again and saw lightning flashing in the clouds. A cool breeze bathed his face. He grimaced. There was not the slightest chance he could reach home before the storm was upon him. He did not mind the rain, but he should not be sitting in the treetops while lightning played.
He swung himself lightly to the ground and had started toward Sadron, meaning to soothe him, when he heard the sound of another horse approaching. He waited for a moment, and then with a stab of annoyance, saw Ithilden’s big grey stallion come trotting out from between the trees. His brother brought the horse to a halt, and for a second, the two of them regarded one another without speaking.
“I am within my boundaries,” Legolas finally said. “And I was on my way home.”
Ithilden could hear the resentment in his voice and grimaced slightly. During a largely sleepless night, he had concluded that Alfirin had been right when she said that Legolas was hurt by Ithilden’s lack of trust the previous day, and he had tried to make peace at morning meal. But Legolas had apparently not yet forgiven him entirely. He kept his voice as matter-of-fact as he could. “Adar was worried. He got a note from the weapons masters saying you had been sent home, and he could not find you.”
Ithilden could see Legolas’s struggle with his resentment reflected in his face, a face with a purple bruise on the left cheek, Ithilden noted. “I am sorry,” Legolas finally said, albeit a little grudgingly. “But he really should not have been worried. I am not an elfling.”
Ithilden smiled wryly. “Neither is Eilian, nor am I, but I think you will find that Adar worries about us too.”
Legolas’s face relaxed. “True enough,” he admitted. He hesitated. “I was in a fight,” he said rather aggressively.
Ithilden nodded. “So I heard.” He had decided that Legolas’s behavior was a matter for Thranduil and the weapons masters to deal with. Thunder rumbled again, much closer this time. “We should be on our way, although I suspect we are going to get very wet anyway.”
Having apparently come to the satisfying conclusion that Ithilden was not going to scold him, Legolas nodded and called to Sadron, who was pawing nervously at the ground. He mounted, talking soothingly to the animal, and then rode to Ithilden’s side. Ithilden smiled at him, pleased by how easily Legolas had accepted his companionship today. He still did not like the idea of Legolas roaming the forest alone, but he thought that perhaps he needed to take a different approach to preventing it, one Alfirin might be more likely to approve of. They started back toward the palace, moving as quickly as the twisting path between the trees would allow.
Thunder clapped, and Ithilden’s horse jumped slightly beneath him. He could hear the patter of rain on the leaves overhead. A cold, fat raindrop struck him in the face, and then the rain came down in a roar, soaking through his tunic and hair within minutes, and sending a stream down the back of his neck. He glanced back to see Legolas hunched over against the rain, trying to comfort the increasingly alarmed Sadron.
As he turned to look forward again, he caught a glimpse of someone moving on the hillside to their left. He lifted his hand to signal to Legolas and brought his horse to a halt. Had someone else been caught in this downpour? As he watched, the person emerged from a dense copse, and he was startled to realize that the slim figure sliding on the slippery wet grass of the hillside was Alfirin. Jumping to the ground, he started hastily toward her. Her mouth opened slightly in surprise at the sight of him, and she stopped dead in her tracks.
“You are soaked,” he said in dismay, reaching for her hand to help her to the level ground.
For a horrible second, he thought she was going to refuse to take his hand, and then, suddenly, she grinned and placed her hand in his. “You have rain dripping from your nose, so I do not think you are in a position to talk.”
And as quickly that, they were easy with one another again.
He ran his eyes down her wet clothing, which was clinging to her body in a way he could not help finding interesting despite the fact that he knew she must be uncomfortable. He took a quick look at where her nipples, hardened by the cold, pushed against the fabric of her gown. Then he flushed and glanced to where Legolas stood next to his horse, watching them with a knowing smirk. He turned back to Alfirin. “Let us take you home. Unless, of course, you want to find shelter until the storm lessens a little.”
She laughed, and it occurred to him that she was as happy as he was, a thought that made his heart leap. “It is only rain,” she said. Thunder rattled the ground around them. “And thunder and lightning,” she added with a smile, and as contented as he had ever been, he turned to lead her back to the horses, already looking forward to riding with her in front of him.
At that moment, a loud crack split the air around them and the hair on the back of Ithilden’s neck rose, soaked though it was. The world in front of him seemed to tilt crazily, and then he realized that what was really moving was the tree near which Legolas and the horses stood.
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