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Chapter 10: Innocence
Three elflings broke into the clearing at the riverbank and scampered over the rocks to the water’s edge as quickly as their small legs would carry them, breathlessly debating what they would do first on their day’s adventure. Following at a more sedate pace and yet to emerge from under the shady boughs of the trees were their elders.
“I am going to swim in the river this time,” declared Galithil, already stripping off his tunic and casting it to the ground. “The pools are no fun.”
Eirienil frowned as she carefully unbuttoned the tiny buttons of her dress. “You are not. You are still too young. You do not swim well enough,” she replied with a scornful tone. “Besides the water in the pools is nicer. It is warmer. The river is cold.”
Galithil cast a disgusted glare at his older cousin who was now standing in her shift as she folded her dress neatly.
“We will all be going straight back home if you go near the pools or the river before ada gets here,” Legolas warned quietly, eyeing the eagerness with which his cousin was tearing at the fastenings on his shirt. Galithil redirected his glare in response and Legolas met his cousin’s displeasure with a smirk. “But ada might take us in the river if you ask.”
“What was that about the river, Legolas? You know you are not allowed in it. Stay in the pools,” a deeper voice commanded.
The elflings turned to see the adults striding into the sunlit clearing.
Oblivious to his uncle’s stern tone, Galithil tossed aside his shirt and, with a joyous whoop, leapt towards the nearest pool. Aradunnon planted a hand firmly on his son’s chest to halt his forward motion. When Galithil looked up at him obviously confused, Aradunnon silently pointed to his feet.
Galithil giggled. “I forgot my shoes,” he said, dropping to the ground to tug at them.
Chuckling along with his son, Aradunnon knelt to help him and to gather his discarded shirt and tunic.
While his cousin struggled with his shoes, Legolas looked up at his father, brows furrowed. “I did not suggest we go into the river, ada. Galithil wanted to,” he said.
Thranduil laughed and turned to wink at his brother. “Why does that not surprise me, ion nin?” he replied, reaching down to caress Legolas’s cheek with his free hand as he passed him. In his other hand, he carried a large basket.
“Can we please go in the river, ada?” Galithil immediately began to beg.
Aradunnon shook his head. “Go swimming with your cousins in the pools for now. Perhaps later I will take you in the river. If you mind me carefully.”
Galithil scowled for a brief moment before seizing Legolas and Eirienil by the hands and pulling them to the nearest pool.
As resounding splashes erupted from the water behind him, Aradunnon picked up Legolas and Eirienil’s clothes and strode to where Thranduil and Golwon were spreading a large blanket on the ground. He tossed the clothes at its edge and sat next to Celonhael, who was trying vainly to help his young son remove his shirt. Berior had celebrated his first Begetting Day only a few months earlier and was a whirlwind of unsteady activity, anxious to keep up with his older cousins but not yet nearly as coordinated as they. Celonhael’s wife, Ollwen, propped herself up against a sun-warmed rock and reached out her arms.
“Come here, Berior. Nana will help you with your shirt while ada takes off his own,” she said with a meaningful tone.
Celonhael raised his eyebrows slightly. “You do not want to swim with him, meleth?” he asked, unable to keep his concern from showing in his voice. She normally loved the river.
Ollwen pulled Berior into her lap to hold him still as she unfastened his shirt. From the corner of her eyes she could see the rest of the family waiting for her answer. With a quiet sigh, she smiled warmly at Celonhael and Berior. “I will swim later. I want to spend a few moments enjoying the river’s song before I join you in disrupting it.”
She laughed when Berior jumped from her lap, stumbling a little as he pulled at his father’s leggings. “Come on then, ada,” he pleaded. “Everyone else is already swimming.”
With a backward glance at Ollwen, who was leaning against the rock with her eyes closed, Celonhael allowed himself to be dragged to the water where the other three children immediately pounced on him. He quickly found himself shoved into the shallow water, pulled to his knees and soaked by four elflings splashing him with both hands and feet.
Still unpacking the basket, Thranduil smiled and shook his head as his trusted advisor eagerly reverted to childhood, returning the elflings’ assault with a powerful swipe of his arm that sent a wave of water flying at his attackers. Like the children, he was already gasping for breath through his laughter.
“Surely I am not to be the only one to have the pleasure of enduring the abuse of Ulmo’s sea monsters,” he said to the other adults while fixing Galithil with a mischievous gleam. “Really, why would Ulmo make a creature that swims so poorly?” he asked, slowly reaching for the elfling. Galithil squealed delightedly when Celonhael seized him by the arms and pulled him around in a wide circle in the water.
“Do it again,” he demanded, shaking water from his face and reaching for Celonhael’s hands. The other elflings followed suit, all shouting for their turn.
With an amused grin, Lindomiel finished helping Thranduil and Dieneryn set out the food in the basket. She stood and slipped her gown from her shoulders. “No Celonhael. I will help the children…” she paused, raising one eyebrow and smirking dramatically when Celonhael looked over at her with wry amusement. “I meant I will help with the children, of course,” she corrected herself, smiling at Legolas who laughed at her intentional mistake. She stepped into the pool and knelt, sinking gratefully into the soothing, shallow water. Legolas swam over to his mother and put his arms around her waist.
From the blanket, Thranduil smiled, watching his wife smooth their son’s already tangled hair.
“I think one more adult will probably be necessary,” Amglaur said sourly, looking at Celonhael disdainfully.
Amoneth nodded in agreement but pointedly settled herself against the rock next to Ollwen. “Indeed. Those elflings only intend to maul Celonhael, and Lindomiel cannot be expected to hold them all back.”
“I will join them,” Golwon said sternly, watching his daughter, Eirienil, push Galithil over onto his backside after he splashed her in the face.
Thranduil and Aradunnon looked at each other and then Golwon as he strode down the bank towards the water. They laughed quietly. “Everything will be under control now,” Thranduil said softly, causing both his brother and Golwon’s wife, Isteth, to laugh again.
The sounds of churning water, squealing elflings and laughing elves echoed throughout the clearing as Thranduil passed Ollwen, Isteth and Amoneth some of the food and wine they had brought for lunch. Then he leaned back against a rock shoulder-to-shoulder with his brother and closed his eyes, losing himself in the forest’s song. The trees sang a cheerful greeting in response to his presence.
“Lindomiel and I said many times when she was pregnant that we hoped the birth of your son would encourage you to spend more time in the forest simply playing and I am glad that it has,” Amoneth said quietly after a few moments.
Though his eyes were closed, Thranduil felt his brother nod and could hear the smile in Amoneth’s voice. He could not help but respond in kind. “Children are an excellent excuse to put aside work or foist it upon others as I have done today. Poor Hallion,” he quipped. “But it is my responsibility to see to Legolas’s education by spending time with him in places such as this. It is a terrible burden,” he concluded with a dramatically suffering tone accompanied by a content smile as he continued to bask in the afternoon sun.
Everyone laughed at the contrast between his serious voice and rather silly expression. After a moment, Thranduil gave in and laughed with them, opening his eyes to return his family’s good-natured smirks and watch the children play with his wife and advisors. For the moment, Golwon had distracted Legolas and Galithil’s roughhousing with a game. One child was ‘it’ and had to tag another in order to make them ‘it.’ Currently, Legolas was intent on tagging his mother. Thranduil watched as Lindomiel easily sidestepped her son’s lunges, water flying from the pool as they chased one another.
“I think I will go help as well,” he said, standing and unfastening his tunic and shirt.
“Legolas or Lindomiel?” Dieneryn asked, eyes bright with amusement.
Thranduil smiled at her. As much as he enjoyed seeing his advisors reduced to nothing more than children’s toys, he knew his family found it doubly amusing to see him similarly mistreated. “I have not decided yet,” he replied airily as he walked towards the shallow pool.
“It matters not at all,” Thranduil heard Amglaur say as soon as his back was turned. “The moment he steps into the pool, the children will turn on him and their parents right along with them. The king inspires such loyalty in his subjects,” he concluded dryly, causing Thranduil’s family to laugh again.
But Amglaur was correct. Thranduil was still picking his way over the rocks that formed the edge of the pool when Legolas abandoned his pursuit of his mother and turned abruptly, slapping his father’s leg.
“You are it!” he yelled.
But Galithil, Berior and Eirienil did not care that Thranduil was ‘it.’ The game degenerated into another wrestling match as Thranduil was attacked from all sides by four shouting elflings. With obvious delight, he collapsed in the water, causing them to giggle madly as he pretended to be overcome by their assault.
As the children played, the animals and birds frightened into hiding by their boisterous behavior cautiously began to creep back into view. A large gray heron was the first to return, gliding gracefully down to the river’s edge from where it had fled to an awkward perch in the trees. It spent a moment eyeing the noisy elflings before it turned its attention to the river and its search for a tasty fish for lunch. A pair of kingfishers, nearly as noisy as the elflings, emerged next, arguing over a particularly choice perch on a branch that hung out over the river. And a lithe otter slipped quietly into the water from his muddy hiding place on the bank to flee a safer distance down the river before resuming his hunt.
The last creature to return to the clearing was a wary green heron. Naturally secretive in the best of circumstances, this little bird was very reluctant to emerge from the brush next to the pool. Slowly, it stole closer to the water and the splashing elflings to sit in its customary place at the edge of the pool. Finally, it crouched, stock-still and well camouflaged amongst the mossy rocks, watching the water for little fish.
Thranduil smiled as Legolas and Eirienil quietly withdrew from the tangle of elflings and adults in the pool to watch the heron. Legolas had always liked this particular type of heron’s dark green feathers and Thranduil knew his son very much wanted to coax the bird to sit on his hand. He doubted any elf could persuade a nervous little green heron to come that close, but there was no harm in allowing him to try. And he enjoyed watching his son’s completely enchanted expression as he slowly edged closer to the heron and studied the bird’s delicately wispy green plumage.
A particularly loud splash drew Thranduil’s eyes to the others in the pool. It was accompanied by a shriek from Lindomiel and Galithil and Berior’s gasps for breath as they laughed. They were again intent upon drowning their aunt and Celonhael and Golwon were trying to keep them from playing too roughly.
When Thranduil turned back to watch Legolas and Eirienil, the little elleth had just pointed over the ridge of rocks that formed the barrier between the pool and the deeper river. Both elflings stopped for a moment and stared with wide eyes into the water. Then they walked directly to the edge of the pool, the heron forgotten in the wake of whatever this new distraction was.
Thranduil tensed as his son climbed onto the moss-covered rocks and leaned down to better gaze into the swift river water. He heard Lindomiel draw a sharp breath and the sounds of the frenzied play died behind him, but before she or Golwon could react any further to the sight of their children perched on the precarious ledge, Thranduil had already reached their side and had placed an arm securely around each of their waists. Both children turned delighted smiles on him.
“Look ada,” Legolas said, pointing into the deep water of the river in front of him. On the other side of the ridge of rocks, a large school of silvery-blue fish was swimming in a tight circle, swirling like a whirlpool in the water. The sunlight glinted off their intricate scales making them sparkle like a cascade of gems. Legolas looked up at his father with wide, curious eyes. “Why do they do that?” he asked as everyone gathered next to the ledge.
Celonhael held Berior firmly in his arms while Golwon sat and drew Eirienil into his lap. Lindomiel held Galithil by his shoulders, preventing him from leaning too far over the edge.
“There is a vent from one of the hot springs there, Legolas,” Thranduil responded pulling his son to his lap as Lindomiel sat next to him on the ledge still holding Galithil. “The water that comes out of it is much warmer than the water in the river and the fish are enjoying playing in the warmer water.”
Legolas and Eirienil nodded as Galithil and Berior studied the fish. “They are so pretty. They look like they are dancing together. What kind of fish are they, ada?” Eirienil asked. She still had not taken her eyes off the sight below her.
Golwon glanced at them. “I think they are some type of perch,” he replied uncertainly.
Lindomiel nodded. “They are blue nose perch,” she said. She had always loved fish.
The children admired the glittering creatures for several moments before Legolas stiffened and looked at his father nervously. “We are not allowed to sit on this ledge,” he said softly, glancing to Eirienil. Her eyes widened and she looked at her father guiltily.
Thranduil simply nodded. “That is true,” he replied in a quiet voice. “Do you remember why?”
“Because we might fall in the deep water,” Legolas responded, looking at the river with a frown. “I am sorry, ada, we just spotted the fish and we wanted a better look. We were not thinking and we forgot.”
Thranduil sighed and hugged his son tightly against him. “I do not want to see you injured, ion nin. That is why we have rules like not climbing on this ledge. You are young and exciting things will sometimes make you forget rules. That is why nana and I are with you to keep you safe. But you must try to think before you do things like climb up onto dangerous ledges. Do you understand that?” He paused and looked at Eirienil and then the other children, who were also listening to him. “All of you?”
He was answered by nods and a chorus of ‘yes’s.’
“Very well, then,” he said, drawing his hand down Legolas’s hair. “Do you want to play another game?” he asked producing a cloth pouch.
All the children focused on it with excited eyes. It represented a favorite game when they swam in the pools. Thranduil opened it and a handful of rather large, colorful stones—purple, yellow, smoky and white quartz along with a few green gems—spilled out onto his palm.
Legolas nodded enthusiastically. He hugged his father briefly and then leapt from his lap into the pool, joining the other children who were ready to play. Still smiling, Thranduil tossed the colored stones into the air and they fell, sinking to the bottom of the pool. Four elflings immediately dove in after them.
Lindomiel laughed and watched the children swimming under the water, gathering the bright stones as fast as they could. “An excellent idea, Thranduil. I think I have been dunked, splashed, shoved and climbed upon enough for one afternoon,” she said tiredly.
Thranduil leaned over to kiss her cheek. “They are pure energy and unbridled curiosity. It is at once an invigorating and exhausting combination,” he replied as four heads broke through the surface of the water, thrusting handfuls of gems in his face.
“Who found the most?” Eirienil demanded breathlessly.
“I think you did,” Thranduil laughed as they dumped the crystals back into his cupped hands. “This time you have to find at least one of each color,” he said, throwing them again.
“I had forgotten how much life they have and how bright they are,” Celonhael said as he watched them scramble under the water.
Thranduil nodded, looking at his son. “I would never have imagined that it was possible to love someone as much as I love him,” he said quietly, taking Lindomiel’s hand and drawing her to him.
“True,” Lindomiel said, “or to be loved and trusted as he loves and trusts us. It is almost frightening.”
The children burst out of the water again, showing Thranduil their rocks. He gathered them back up and announced a new condition as he tossed them again.
Golwon nodded. “They are amazing.” Then he smirked at Thranduil. “And if you keep them chasing those stones at this pace, they will also be thoroughly worn out, which is a feat in itself.”
All the adults laughed at that.
The game continued until Berior did indeed give up competing against his older cousins and collapsed tiredly against his father. Celonhael lifted his son and cradled him easily in his arms.
“I think it is time for you to go sit with naneth on the bank for a while, ion nin. Perhaps you should eat some lunch,” he suggested softly.
“No,” Berior protested but he snuggled his face against his father’s chest.
Golwon, Thranduil and Lindomiel smiled.
“Take him to Ollwen, Celonhael,” Thranduil said, gesturing toward the blanket. “And send Aradunnon to battle. It is his turn to help control his son,” he added as Galithil emerged first from the water with a handful of white gems. Their task this round had been to find all the stones of an assigned color.
Galithil watched Celonhael leave pool as the other children surfaced with their stones, handing them back to Thranduil. His face lit up excitedly as his father and grandparents, along with Legolas’s grandparents, approached. “Ada, can we go into the river now?” he begged excitedly.
That question caused Legolas and Eirienil to look hopefully at their fathers as well.
Thranduil frowned, both in response to his nephew’s question and Amglaur’s sharp glare, but he remained silent as Aradunnon looked between he and Golwon briefly before nodding.
Galithil beamed at his father. “Can we jump from the rock into the river?” he pressed, taking his father’s hand to hurry him out of the pool and towards the open river.
“Yes,” Aradunnon replied with a smile at his son’s thrilled expression.
Thranduil’s frown deepened. “Remember to jump,” he said sternly. “Never dive into the river.”
Legolas and Galithil rolled their eyes. “And never jump until an adult has checked the water for debris,” they chorused tiredly. Legolas looked at his father with exasperation. “You say that every time we come to the river, ada. We remember.”
Thranduil stopped and turned Legolas to face him, hands on his shoulders. The elfling stared up at his father with wide eyes, clearly afraid that his tone had angered him but Thranduil only looked at him very seriously. “This is a very important rule and it bears repeating, ion nin,” he said. “I ignored it when I was only a little older than you and learned the hard way how dangerous diving into the river could be.”
Legolas drew in a sharp little breath. “Did you get hurt diving off that rock, ada?” he whispered, looking at the rock in the middle of the river.
Thranduil smiled and shook his head. “Not this river, Legolas. I lived near another river called the Esgalduin. But yes, I got hurt diving into it. I was very lucky that I was not much more injured.”
Leoglas frowned. “We remember this rule, ada,” he repeated sincerely. “We will not be hurt,” he said patting his father’s knee.
Thranduil’s smile broadened and he picked up his son to carry him into the river. “Good, Legolas. It is very important to me that you are safe from harm.”
As the adults waded into the river with long strides, the children hung on their fathers’ arms, excitement in their eyes at the prospect of being in water so deep that it reached the adults’ chests.
Aradunnon and Galithil headed straight for a rock that jutted out of the water. Aradunnon lifted his son onto it and then pulled himself up. Golwon and Thranduil helped Eirienil and Legolas up as Lindomiel and the grandparents inspected the water around the rock. When they declared it free of dangerous debris, the elflings could barely wait their turn to jump off the rock to the waiting arms of their parents below. This activity was a rare treat, reserved for when their behavior had been especially good. Their excited screams as they jumped proved that from their perspective the day could not be better.
Lindomiel and Amglaur stood next to Thranduil as the children played and Thranduil found it difficult not to fidget under his father-in-law’s harsh gaze. Finally he looked over at him directly. “This is a safe enough activity as long as we are right here, Amglaur,” he hissed quietly enough that the children could not hear the argument.
Amglaur adopted an innocent expression and shook his head. “I do not intend to be critical, Thranduil. I think it is perfectly safe given that there are eight adults here and three children.”
Thranduil eyed him suspiciously a moment and turned away.
Amglaur frowned. “Thranduil, if I was staring at you, and I suppose I was, I was not doing so because I disapprove of your parenting. On the contrary, I have been positively impressed by it,” he said. Thranduil once again turned the suspicious gaze on his father-in-law and Amglaur sighed. “After your experience in the Esgalduin, I am shocked that you will even swim, much less let your son do so. I have seen how you struggle not to protect Legolas too much…to give him the freedom he needs to learn. And I know how difficult that is. After all, when Lindomiel was born, I knew she would be my only child.” He paused and looked away. “I admire your restraint with Legolas. You are a good adar, Thranduil.”
Thranduil had been staring at Amglaur since he mentioned the Esgalduin. Amglaur’s last statement caused his jaw to fall open.
Amglaur grimaced. “Close your mouth, you fool, before you swallow half the river.”
Thranduil shut his mouth but continued staring at Amglaur. “How did you know what happened to me in the Esgalduin?” he asked with sincere curiosity.
Amglaur frowned. “I was your adar’s friend,” he answered irritably. “And your naneth’s. Naturally I was interested in your childhood.”
Thranduil’s eyes widened in amusement. “You were my adar’s friend,” he repeated. “I will remind you of that the next time you make some snide comment about him.” Then he sobered and looked away, knowing it was hardly appropriate to respond rudely to a compliment. “I apologize, Amglaur. I cannot think of anything that you have ever said to me that shocked me more than this. I am not certain how to react.”
Amglaur shook his head and turned his back on his son-in-law to focus solely on his grandchild. Legolas loved his grandfather and happily jumped to him from the rock when Amglaur beckoned to him.
As her father played with Legolas, Lindomiel swam closer to Thranduil, wrapping her arm around his. “Tell me, meleth,” she said softly. “Your little accident in the Esgalduin did not happen when you and your cousin went there against your adar’s wishes did it?”
Thranduil looked at her sidelong. “Possibly,” he answered.
Lindomiel raised her eyebrows. “Were you badly hurt?”
He shook his head. “Just badly frightened, as was Ninglor who had to pull me out of the river.” He paused. “I learned a lesson and I hope Legolas never has to learn one similarly.”
Lindomiel smiled at Legolas riding on her father’s back, arms around his neck, as he swam around the rock. “We will do our best,” she said.
The children were completely exhausted by the time their parents insisted that they return to the clearing to dry off but even so, they left the river reluctantly.
“I jumped the furthest,” Galithil declared as Amoneth wrapped him in a small blanket and began to rub him dry.
“You did not,” Eirienil replied sharply, scowling at her cousin. “I jumped twice as far as you did,” she insisted, turning around so Isteth could comb her hair.
Their argument continued as Lindomiel collapsed next to Amoneth and reached for a piece of bread amongst the plates of food still lying on the blanket. Thranduil smirked at her obvious exhaustion as he helped dry Legolas. She had spent the entire afternoon in the water with the children. She loved swimming as much as they, but their energy level exceeded even hers. Thranduil could not deny that he was tired as well.
“Let me take care of him, Thranduil,” Ollwen offered, reaching for Legolas. “You did not eat before you went into the water.” Ollwen’s own son, Berior, was sleeping soundly in Celonhael’s arms.
Legolas shook his head and put his arms around his father’s waist.
Thranduil smiled at her appreciatively. “Thank you, but I can wait a few more minutes to eat, Ollwen. Legolas will not even allow his nanny to comb his hair. I can manage him.”
Legolas frowned. “Seidreth pulls my hair when she brushes it. It hurts,” he said with a whining tone.
Lindomiel laughed. “And here is an example of one of the ways Legolas takes after his father—they both become a little cross when they are tired,” she said.
Thranduil and Legolas looked at Lindomiel with nearly identical betrayed expressions as everyone laughed heartily at that assertion and their reaction. After glaring at Lindomiel playfully for a moment, Thranduil settled Legolas in his lap and began carefully working the tangles from his hair. Lindomiel handed Legolas a plate with fruit, eliciting a smile from the child as he eagerly reached for a berry.
The children were only just beginning to eat their lunches when one of Thranduil’s messengers emerged from the forest. Thranduil stood in response to his approach and the messenger bowed when he entered the clearing.
“I am sorry to interrupt your afternoon with your children, my lords,” he said glancing between Thranduil and Aradunnon. “But lord Hallion requests that you both return to the stronghold immediately.”
Thranduil raised his eyebrows at that and looked at his brother. Hallion had stayed in the stronghold to manage the day’s affairs in the king’s absence. There was virtually nothing that the steward could not settle on his own, so his request struck the adults as alarming. That was especially true since he had requested Aradunnon return as well, indicating the emergency was military in nature.
Behind him, Thranduil saw Celonhael, Golwon and their wives looking at him concernedly. Conuiön, Tureden and several others guards had stepped out of the shadows at the tree line where they had been performing their duty as unobtrusively as possible until hearing that cryptic request.
“No, ada. We are swimming today,” a soft voice pleaded, interrupting Thranduil’s silent speculation about the meaning of this interruption.
Thranduil sighed but Lindomiel had turned Legolas to face her. “It is time to go back home anyway,” she said quietly.
That announcement was met with a chorus of protests from the children that were ignored by the adults as they gathered blankets and clothing and the remnants of lunch.
“No need to wait for us,” Amoneth said. “We can take care of the children.”
Thranduil nodded. “Do not hold dinner for us,” he said to Lindomiel, leaning over to kiss Legolas’s head. Then he crouched on the ground in response to his son’s sad expression, amazed at how easily the child ruled his heart. “We had long afternoon playing here, Legolas. And we had fun, did we not?” he asked soothingly.
“Yes, ada,” the child responded quietly, disappointment still evident in his voice.
Even though he had been about to insist they return to the stronghold, Thranduil knew this abrupt interruption was more difficult for the children to accept than the long process normally required to pack up and persuade them to go home.
Thranduil kissed his son again. “If you like, you can come with me back to the stronghold and we will have one of the servants or guards help you find Seidreth, but only if you promise to go along with her quietly while I meet with Hallion.”
The downcast eyes lit at that suggestion and Legolas nodded eagerly, holding up his arms to be carried. Galithil immediately looked to Aradunnon for a similar offer and the two fathers picked up their children. Thranduil nodded once to Lindomiel, who was laughing at him quietly, and turned to follow the messenger back to the stronghold. Legolas waved his goodbyes to the others over his father’s shoulder.
When the rest of the King’s family arrived in the stronghold they saw Thranduil, Aradunnon and Hallion in the Great Hall with two rode-worn figures that no one recognized. Their Mannishly styled clothing was stained and torn and their hair and suntanned skin was filthy, as if they had journeyed a long way to speak to the Elvenking. It was difficult for anyone in the family to imagine Thranduil speaking so intimately with Mannish strangers but he was so engaged with his visitors, leaning over maps that they had spread out on one of the tables in the Hall, that he did not even notice his family stop in the doorway to stare at him momentarily before turning to the family chambers.
Dolgailon sat behind his desk, drumming his fingers on its smooth surface while flipping through the papers that summarized the next day’s schedule. He was anxious for this day to be over but he had to wait for his lieutenants to arrive with their final reports. His mind, however, was far from focused on those reports. Arthiel had planted some very interesting ideas in his head as he was leaving their chambers that morning and he intended to explore them fully the moment he arrived home.
He found himself unconsciously toying with the gold band on his finger. Married for less than a year, he often found thoughts of his new wife were…distracting. Initially his conscience had struggled with that apparent dereliction of duty, but he took comfort in the fact that the king was pleased with the progress of the training program and even more so with his nephew’s obvious bliss. Dolgailon smiled. Of course the entire household was learning to balance new responsibilities with old ones, so Dolgailon was perfectly aware that Thranduil was likely being more indulgent than he normally would be. He made every effort not to abuse his uncle’s goodwill, but days such as today sorely tried his restraint.
Dolgailon looked at the closed office door and willed his lieutenants to come through it. When they did not, he looked back down at the papers in front of him and tried to think if there was anyway he could improve the tactical drill he intended to lead the next day.
Nearly an hour later when Tirithion, Langon and Hebor entered his office, Dolgailon had made very few modifications to the drill. He frowned slightly as he gestured for his officers to sit. “Where are Pathon and Glílavan?” he asked shortly, wincing inwardly at his tone of voice.
Tirithion smiled at him. The archery master was old and experienced—one of the Sindarin elves that had followed Oropher east. Dolgailon had heard, but had never asked to confirm, that he had been one of Thranduil’s teachers as a child. The cause of his captain’s impatience was apparently all too obvious to Tirithion and Dolgailon found that more than a bit embarrassing but he knew he had nothing but his own lack of control to blame.
“Glílavan is helping Pathon with Brannion,” Tirithion replied. “We were not present but apparently Brannion took exception to the fact that Pathon paired him with one of the elflings today when they were working on tracking over rocky terrain,” he added in explanation when Dolgailon raised his eyebrows.
Dolgailon’s frown deepened. “Perhaps it would help the older students if we all stopped referring to the younger ones as elflings,” he said, trying to keep his voice quiet.
Glílavan should have spent the afternoon teaching a basic class on terrain analysis. Dolgailon could not imagine how he had become involved in a dispute amongst Pathon’s students, but he sincerely hoped it would not escalate to an incident that came to the attention of the troop commander. Dolgailon had enough trouble convincing his father to bring Glílavan to the capital to participate in the training program without him calling negative attention to himself now that he was here.
He sighed and shoved the papers in front of him to the side. “How are the first-years proceeding with their weapons training?” he asked, changing the subject to the reports that needed to be delivered and looking at Tirithion for him to begin.
“Very well, captain. Everyone successfully completed the basic marksmanship today as expected. We will begin working on increasing their speed and working on the flat terrain target course in the next lesson unless you want to review them first.”
Dolgailon shook his head. “I think you are far more qualified to judge their readiness to proceed to the next course of training than I, Tirithion. But when you have taken them through the new target course a few times, I would like to see how they perform on modifications we made to it. Let me know when you are ready for me to watch a few of them go through it.” He paused. “And you are working with the third-years and I on the tactical drill tomorrow,” he reminded Tirithion with a smile.
Tirithion’s eyes brightened. “I am very anxious to see if they fall into the trap you have laid out for them. It is not really fair, you know. Orcs would never think to lure their enemies into a gully like that and we have just spent the last two weeks discussing the advantages of the heavily treed terrain that leads into it. They are sure to go straight for it when they see the tracks we have laid, thinking they have the advantage.”
Dolgailon raised his chin and looked at Tirithion with an exaggeratedly patient expression. “Men might be that tricky and we have seen our share of those in the south and east,” he suggested. “And besides, they all know that gully is there. Everyone plays in the little caves found in it as children. We will see if they walk willingly into our trap. I am very interested to see who figures it out and how they handle pointing the mistake out to their captain.”
Langon grimaced. “It sounds as if you still intend to put Lotheril in command,” he said, looking at Dolgailon uncomfortably.
Dolgailon nodded. “Unless you can suggest a good reason not to. He is arrogant and I think he needs to be shown the error of his ways.”
Langon made a face before looking directly at Dolgailon. “Well, captain, he pushed me to the limit of my temper today. I think I might have given him a memorable lesson on his own limits. I do not think he needs another failure tomorrow. He was fairly thoroughly humiliated today.”
Dolgailon blinked. “Dare I ask what you did?” None of the officers in the training program liked Lotheril, Langon least of all.
Langon sighed. “I have told them one thousand times that the footwork drills are important…that it takes a year to make these moves automatic and another before they will be able to perform them fluently under pressure. But as soon as he can do anything once, he thinks himself the master of it.” Langon looked wryly at Dolgailon. “He would not take the drill seriously today so I asked him to spar with me. I sat him on his behind in ten straight matches until he was too tired to hold his sword. He is still cleaning the practice swords now.”
Dolgailon pursed his lips. “Very well. The next time any of you have trouble with him, send him to me. In the meantime, we will hope that he has learned some humility. Perhaps we should put Mendelir in command of the drill tomorrow,” he said looking at Tirithion.
The archery master nodded and Dolgailon turned back to Langon.
“Other than Lotheril, are the third-years progressing as we wished?”
Langon nodded enthusiastically. “For the most part. They are doing much better with the multiple opponent drills than the new warriors did when I only had one year to push them through the training.” He laughed lightly. “But I think we will need considerably more work on fighting with an off-hand weapon. No one successfully completed the drills on that today so we will continue with them the next time we meet.”
“How did Lotheril do in those drills?” Dolgailon asked.
Langon shrugged. “Slightly better than average. So he immediately declared himself an expert, of course.”
Dolgailon shook his head but before he could reply, Glílavan and Pathon walked into his office. Dolgailon looked at them with concern but his eyes truly widened when Aradunnon strode into his office behind them, along with the captains of the Palace Guard, Path Guard, Hallion and the king. Everyone present stood automatically as Thranduil entered the office.
“My lords,” Dolgailon said by way of greeting looking at his father warily.
Aradunnon nodded to his son as he drew a chair from the wall for Thranduil and himself.
“Good evening, captain,” Thranduil said, seating himself. As he did, he gestured for the others to do the same. “I am sorry to interrupt your meeting but some information came to my attention this afternoon that I need to act upon. To do so, I need your help.”
“I am at your service, my lord,” Dolgailon replied quietly. His uncle was tense and that could mean nothing positive.
Thranduil nodded. “I want you to make a list of the fifth-year warriors in this program that are skilled enough in your opinion to serve in the Path Guard without being individually paired with a senior warrior. I would need them in the regular patrols that stay in the field but they will be within close range of the stronghold. How many warriors do you think will be on that list?”
Dolgailon hesitated a moment. “No more than five, my lord. I am sorry but there are less than ten fifth-years total and as it stands now and most of them we would have recommended to serve first in the Palace Guard. You have to remember that this program has only been functioning for three years. Only the adults that tested out of most of the first and second year courses are that advanced already.”
Thranduil looked disappointed but not surprised. “I do understand that, captain,” he replied. “I also need a list of third and fourth year students that you feel could serve a regular shift in the Palace Guard. They would be restricted to simple duties such as standing at the Gates or the doors to the Great Hall or the family chambers. Ideally, I would like six guards per day—two at each of those posts—but I can make due with four.”
Dolgailon blinked at that. “You mean to rotate them through so each serves once a week at that post?”
Thranduil nodded. “I assume you would prefer that so you could still rearrange your schedule to allow them to continue training.”
“Yes, I would prefer that but there are only around forty adults between the third and fourth year classes. If all of them took a rotation that would only give you the minimum number of guards you asked for,” he said, brow furrowing when the king frowned. “May I ask what the regular Palace and Path Guard will be doing?” he asked cautiously.
“No you may not,” Aradunnon replied firmly, speaking before Thranduil could respond. “Not at this time.” The fact that Aradunnon was studiously ignoring his son’s lieutenants made the reason for that decision perfectly obvious.
Dolgailon’s expression did not change as he silently accepted his father’s answer.
Thranduil sighed. “Lord Aradunnon is correct that this is not the place to discuss the details of my decision,” he began softly as Aradunnon scowled. “But the answer to your immediate question will be obvious to everyone that lives in the capital soon enough.” He looked at Dolgailon evenly. “As soon as the troops I recalled from the north borders arrive, I am moving them and as much of the Palace and Path Guard as lord Aradunnon has advised me I safely can to the southern and eastern borders. We hope they can leave within a week under his command.”
Dolgailon fought to keep his expression neutral as his lieutenants all reacted with varying degrees of shock. “I see,” he replied evenly.
Aradunnon’s posture stiffened. “Dollion and Morilion are here to discuss how we plan on repositioning their warriors and still protect the stronghold. I would like you to join that conversation since your students will be involved.” He glanced at the lieutenants. “Were you almost finished here?”
Dolgailon nodded. “Glílavan, I would like you to take my place in that tactical drill in the morning with Tirithion. I will need to figure out the details of how we will reorganize the third and fourth year schedules. Send Lotheril to me before you depart so I can speak to him. If none of you have anything else, that is all for the day.”
The lieutenants stood and, with a bow to Thranduil, left the room. Dollion and Morilion took their chairs around Dolgailon’s desk and fell to discussing troop deployments.
Ion nin—my son
Meleth nin—My love
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