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Time's Turnings  by daw the minstrel

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


5. Trust

Legolas focused his eyes to see shafts of green-tinged sunlight penetrating the leaves overhead and falling almost straight down onto the flet. From somewhere nearby, a robin warbled a three part song. A real robin, Legolas thought, automatically checking for a signal from one of his fellow warriors. From a distance beneath him, he heard someone laugh and then caught the scent of roasting venison. It must be nearly time to eat.

Pushing the blanket off him, he rolled over and was not surprised to see that Beliond had already risen and left the flet. His pallet was neatly rolled and stowed against one of the two small chests. After a stint of night guard duty like the one they had stood the previous night, Beliond always fell asleep quickly but not for long. Legolas seemed to require more sleep, a need that probably arose from the fact that he was still growing, although he rolled his eyes in annoyance whenever Beliond smugly pointed that out.

Legolas got to his feet, took a towel and jar of soap from his chest, and clad only in his leggings, he descended to the ground, calling greetings to his companions as he made his way to the part of the nearby stream that had been set aside for bathing. He stripped and waded in, flinching slightly at the temperature of the water, still frigid from the spring melt of snow in the mountains of Mirkwood. As quickly as he could, he washed and then toweled himself dry and drew on his leggings again. He was still rubbing the towel through his hair when he reached the campsite again and saw that the patrol had visitors. To Legolas’s delight, Eilian stood talking to Todith, with Maltanaur at his side.

He gave a small exclamation and started toward them, and Eilian turned and saw him. Eilian’s face split into a wide grin. “Are you just getting up?” he demanded, coming forward to embrace Legolas. “I had not realized just how easy a life you border patrol warriors have!”

“I was up keeping the realm safe all night,” Legolas grinned back. “What are you doing here?”

“I am on a mission for Adar, and I need to speak to your captain about it.”

“Our mid-day meal is almost ready,” Todith put in. “Come and eat with me, Eilian, and you can tell me what brings you here.”

“Gladly,” Eilian agreed. He patted Legolas’s shoulder one last time. “I will see you later, brat.” He turned to speak to Maltanaur, who nodded to Legolas and then led their horses off to where the patrol kept its mounts. Then Eilian walked off to join Todith.

Legolas stood looking after him for a moment and then hastened back to his flet to dress. He had parted from Eilian only a few days earlier, but it was still good to see him again. He wondered what mission Eilian might be on.

By the time he was dressed, the patrol was gathering to eat, and he went to join them, sitting between Tynd and Fóril, and listening to them talk but really watching Eilian talking with Todith. Maltanaur had returned from caring for their horses and sat down with Beliond, who, as usual, was sitting a bit apart from the others. Tinár came to sit on Tynd’s other side. “What is Eilian doing here, Legolas?” he asked.

Legolas stiffened slightly. Tinár’s curiosity was natural enough, but it felt intrusive. “I do not know.” He took a small satisfaction in keeping from Tinár even the information that Eilian was on a mission for Thranduil.

Across the campsite, the conversation between Eilian and Todith seemed to be drawing to a close. Todith nodded and then looked up and scanned the group of warriors seated around the fire. Most of the patrol was away, searching the forest to the north and south of their campsite. Legolas and Beliond had returned late two days ago to tell Todith about finding the toy merchants in the forest, and the rest of their small group had returned yesterday. Todith’s eyes settled on Legolas, and he raised his hand and beckoned and then turned to gesture to Beliond too.

Surprised, Legolas set aside his plate and rose to obey the summons. “Yes, Captain?” Next to Todith, Eilian was looking bemused.

“Eilian needs an escort for a trip to Dale. You were enthusiastic about meeting the Men a couple of days ago. Here is a chance for you to see more of them.”

Standing at Legolas’s side, Beliond made a soft sound, but said nothing. Legolas ignored him. Serving as an escort was a simple enough warrior’s task, and if Beliond meant to imply that Legolas was not up to it, then he was mistaken. Besides, Todith was right: Legolas would enjoy a chance to go to Dale, especially in his brother’s company. “When do you want us to be ready?” he asked Eilian.

Eilian’s eyes slid from Legolas to Beliond and back again, and he smiled faintly. “As soon as possible. I would like to get most of the way there today.”

Legolas nodded. “I can be ready almost immediately. I just have to get my gear.”

“Good,” said Todith. “You are both under Eilian’s command for this mission.” He waved Legolas and Beliond on their way and leaned back to talk to Eilian again. “I hear you talked Elorfin into wagering on an archery contest and wound up regretting it,” he grinned. Eilian laughed but glanced at Legolas and said nothing.

Legolas raised an eyebrow at him and then turned and trotted toward his and Beliond’s flet, keeping a careful distance from where Tinár still sat with Tynd and Fóril. He would not have minded telling his friends about the trip, but he did not want to have to listen to Tinár moaning about people who got special treatment. Besides, he enjoyed the thought of keeping Tinár in the dark.

Beliond climbed onto the flet right behind him and began to gather his gear. Legolas shoved a set of clean clothes into his pack where his emergency healing kit, spare bowstrings, and whetstone already waited. He turned to leave and found Beliond blocking his way. “Do not say that I should not be going on this trip,” Legolas warned him. “If I cannot serve as a simple guard, then I am useless as a warrior.”

“Of course you can act as a guard,” Beliond said impatiently. “I simply want to remind you not to let your enthusiasm for meeting Men lead you into being careless.”

“When was the last time I was careless?” Legolas challenged him.

“I grant you it has been a while,” Beliond said with a faint smile. “Let us keep it that way.”

Legolas shook his head in exasperation, slid past Beliond, and made his way to where the patrol’s horses were kept. He found Maltanaur there, apparently fetching his and Eilian’s horses. Maltanaur smiled at him. “So Todith is sending you and Beliond with us. Eilian will be glad, although I suspect that your adar would be less than pleased if he knew that both of his younger sons were on their way to Dale.”

Legolas grinned. “I suspect you are right.”

“Judging from what I have seen, Eilian could not have a more protective guard,” Maltanaur said, “although I assume you have learned some things since the last time I saw you trying to protect your brother.”

Legolas blushed slightly. As a youth trying to help Eilian, he had once blundered into an encounter between Eilian and some dangerous Men and had wound up face down on the ground with Maltanaur’s knee in his back. “I hope I have learned enough to be useful to Eilian.” He whistled for the grey stallion, who came trotting toward him. “What do you think, Tavor?” he murmured, rubbing the horse’s muzzle. “Would you like to visit a town of Men?”

“Has he ever been in a town?” Beliond asked, coming into the clearing and summoning his own horse.

“I do not think so,” Legolas said. He raised his eyebrow at Beliond. So far as Legolas knew, Beliond never went near Men if he could help it. “Has your horse been in one, Nana?” he asked, knowing that the nickname with which Fóril had saddled him would irritate his keeper.

Beliond threw him a repressive look. “He will be fine. And watch your mouth.”

Legolas could hear Maltanaur chuckling softly as he started back to meet Eilian, leading their two horses. Clamping his mouth shut to avoid saying something he would regret, Legolas threw his pack across Tavor’s back and started after Maltanaur.


Sinnarn came to a halt on the broad branch of a maple. As he waited for Mewyn and Calylad to catch up to him, he leapt to a higher branch and scanned the sky. They had been making their way north for an hour or so now, and if they did not spot the eagle soon, they would soon have to turn around and start home. They were all beyond the boundaries their parents had set for them, so it would not do to be late and have to answer awkward questions.

His two friends arrived together. They had been dawdling, and Sinnarn thought they were losing their enthusiasm for the expedition. “Sinnarn, are you sure this is where Aniond says he saw the eagle?” Mewyn asked, confirming Sinnarn’s suspicion.

“Yes. And it makes sense really. The mountains around the stronghold are high enough that eagles could live here.”

Calylad blew out his breath. “Yes, but are you certain Aniond was not tricking you? He would be greatly amused if he thought he had sent us all this way on a wild goose chase.”

Sinnarn looked at the sky again and grimaced. In truth, he was not certain that Aniond had been being truthful with the story about the eagle. Sinnarn had wondered when Aniond told him about it just what Aniond had been doing this far north of home, but Aniond had claimed he was hunting with his father, which was possible, although scrambling over the low-lying mountains around the stronghold made this direction the least desirable one for hunting.

A sudden sound caught his ear, and he turned his head sharply to look down through the branches to the east. Beneath his feet, he could see Mewyn and Calylad both looking in the same direction. Again, he heard it: the sound of voices. Someone was coming. With his heart beating a little faster, he dropped silently to the branch next to his friends, where the leaves were thicker. It was probably just a Home Guard patrol, he assured himself, but it would not do to be seen by them anyway. They would almost certainly guess that the three youths were farther north than they should have been and might feel obligated to take them home and tell their parents where they had been.

But almost immediately, Sinnarn knew that his comforting theory was wrong. Whoever was walking through the forest had stopped talking, but they were much too heavy-footed to be Elves. He dug his fingernails into the bark of the maple and waited. Between the branches below him, he caught a glimpse of movement, and then, clearly, he saw them: two people carrying large packs. Men, he suddenly realized in excitement. He had seen Men coming and going from his grandfather’s court and had heard his father talking about them, but he had never had an opportunity to talk to any of them. The Men passed under the tree in which the three of them sheltered, moving west. Without thinking, Sinnarn leapt to the next tree, following after the Men. He heard Mewyn hiss in surprise, but he ignored him.

A sudden thought occurred to him. Aniond had almost certainly deceived them about the eagles and was probably laughing at them right now, but he would have to take a different tone if they went home with a story about meeting two Men. Ithilden seemed to find Men interesting; Sinnarn thought that there was no time like the present to test out his father’s judgment. With a flourish, he jumped to the ground, landing just in front of the two Men.

Their reaction was instantaneous and terrifying: As one, they seized the bows from their backs. Sinnarn froze, but before either Man had time to fit an arrow to his bowstring, three Elven warriors had leapt from the trees and stood with drawn bows and arrows pointing at the Men. For a second, no one moved. Then the warrior who was evidently in charge spoke: “Take your hands away from your quivers.” Both Men let go of the arrows they had seized and slowly lowered their hands.

Sinnarn breathed again and was suddenly aware that his knees were trembling. Where had the Elven warriors come from? He had had no idea they were there.

The warrior let out what sounded like a sigh and glanced upwards. “You other two, come down.” Amid a rustling of leaves, Mewyn and Calylad slid to the ground, both of them looking distinctly pale. The warrior looked at the two Men. “I am sorry the younglings disturbed you. They are going home now, and Tarion and I will escort you on your way west.” The two Men stared at him uncertainly, as he lowered his bow and glanced at the warrior to his right. “Nilas, see to it that these three are returned to their parents’ loving arms.”

Nilas grinned. “Yes, Lieutenant.” He shouldered his bow and beckoned to Sinnarn, who still stood in the spot where he had landed, immobilized by the terror he had felt when the Men had reached for their weapons. He swallowed hard and obeyed Nilas’s summons. Mewyn and Calylad too moved in response to the warrior’s gesture, and almost before Sinnarn had had time to realize what had happened, he was on his way home.

None of them spoke until they drew near Thranduil’s stronghold, by which time Sinnarn had regained his wits. “You do not have to escort us all the way to our doors,” he told Nilas, as they crossed a bridge over the Forest River and started along one of the paths that led toward the clusters of cottages in which Thranduil’s people dwelt. “You must have things to do.”

“Ah, but my lieutenant told me to return you to your families, so I think I had better do it,” said Nilas cheerfully. He evidently recognized all of them, because he stopped and knocked at the door of Mewyn’s cottage without being told which one it was. He stood on the doorstep to talk to Mewyn’s mother, speaking quietly enough that Sinnarn could not hear him, but still keeping an eye on Sinnarn and Calylad. Mewyn’s mother frowned and spoke to him, and he ducked into the house with his head lowered.

The unpleasant scene was repeated at Calylad’s cottage, and then Nilas led Sinnarn across the bridge and up the stairs into the palace. Sinnarn had assumed that Ithilden would still be in his office and that Nilas would deliver his news to Alfirin, a situation that he had counted as one small blessing, but to his dismay, as he and Nilas entered the antechamber, Ithilden came out of the Great Hall. He stopped short, with his eyes flicking from Sinnarn to Nilas.

“My lord.” Nilas saluted, and Ithilden focused on him.

“Yes, Nilas?”

Nilas launched into the tale of having found Sinnarn and his friends to the north of the stronghold and of Sinnarn’s attempt to speak to the Men. “As you ordered, we had been following the Men since this morning, my lord, and the lieutenant was planning to escort them until they were well west of here.  They were a bit shaken when we showed ourselves with our bows drawn, but we had no choice once they were going to point an arrow at your son.” He sounded apologetic.

From under lowered lashes, Sinnarn regarded his father. Ithilden’s face had gone white and rigid, and Sinnarn flinched. He recognized the signs; his father was furious.

“Thank you, Nilas,” said Ithilden. “You may go.” The warrior saluted again, and with a nod at Sinnarn, he went out through the Great Doors. Ithilden stood for a second looking steadily at Sinnarn, and then said, “We will take this up in private.” He gestured for Sinnarn to precede him into the family quarters, and Sinnarn glumly led the way to the sitting room of his parents’ apartment. His mother sat at her loom at one end of the room, but she looked up and smiled when they entered.

“You are home early, Ithilden!” Her smile faded abruptly as she looked at them. “What is the matter?”

His father’s voice was tight. “Our son was a good bit further north of the stronghold than he is allowed to be. Moreover, while he was there, he startled some passing Men so greatly that they might have shot him had there not been Home Guard warriors watching them.”

Alfirin’s face paled and she put her hand to her throat. “Are you all right, Sinnarn?”

“Yes,” he said impatiently, “and I did not mean to startle them. I just wanted to talk to them. You are always saying how interesting Men are, Adar.”

Ithilden rounded on him. “Sinnarn, your grandfather has been told that the Men of Dale have heard rumors about Elves that frightened them. The two you surprised had already encountered the Eastern Border Patrol and were obviously afraid despite the fact that our warriors assured them that the rumors were false. Your actions – which, by the way, I am going to have to explain to your grandfather – might very well make it harder for Men to trust us.”

Sinnarn blinked. “I had no way to know that,” he protested.

“No, but you knew better than to be where you were. There are reasons for the boundaries we set for you.” His father’s voice had begun to rise, and he stopped and drew a deep breath. “I do not know with certainty that you have affected the Men’s ability to trust, but you have affected mine. Except for training and lessons, you are confined to your chamber for a month. And when that time is up, you and I will discuss whether you need to be supervised more closely than you have been.”

“A month!” Sinnarn was appalled. He turned to his mother in appeal, but her mouth was pressed in a thin line. No help was forthcoming there, he saw. He turned back to his father, desperate to explain. “Adar, we only wanted to see eagles that we had heard were in that part of the forest.”

“You could have asked me or your naneth for permission to go. You knew you were doing something wrong, and I am not going to argue about it. Go to your chamber now.”

Sinnarn bit his lower lip and obeyed. He knew from unhappy experience that arguing would do no good when his father was in this kind of temper. He flung himself on his bed, and for a while, heard only the sound of his own angry breathing. Gradually he calmed. He could hear the rise and fall of his parents’ voices in the sitting room. His mother sounded upset, and Sinnarn found he regretted that. And then, quite clearly, he heard his father say, “I do not want him to be a self-indulgent adult!” Sinnarn rolled over onto his side with his arms wrapped around his middle. He was not self-indulgent, he thought indignantly. His father was wrong. He grabbed his pillow and put it over his ears. He did not want to hear anything more.


Eilian raised his hand to bring them to a halt. “We will camp here for the night.”

Legolas looked contentedly around at the proposed campsite and slid to the ground. He had ridden at Eilian’s side for most of the afternoon, with Beliond and Maltanaur behind them, and could not remember when he had passed a more pleasant few hours. “I will take care of our horses,” he offered, and the others nodded their acceptance. The four of them set about making camp, and when Legolas returned from seeing to their mounts, he found Maltanaur prodding a fire into life, while Beliond emerged from the woods with a pot of water he had fetched from a nearby stream.

Eilian took his pack from Legolas. “The water will be good for tea, but we do not have to stew any of the dried food. We still have bread, cheese, and fruit that we brought from home.” He pulled two carefully wrapped loaves from the pack and looked at Maltanaur. “Do you have the rest?” Maltanaur was already digging out the cheese and fruit. He spread it on a clean cloth on the ground; Eilian added the bread, and they all settled in to eat.

“I have already explained our mission to Maltanaur,” Eilian said, adding a slice of cheese to the chunk of bread he held. “But I need to fill you two in too because the nature of it requires you to keep your eyes and ears open while we are in Dale.” He took a bite of his bread and cheese, and Legolas waited impatiently for him to swallow it, marveling at how serious his brother had become when he started talking about their mission. “The king has received word that Dale is full of rumors that he intends to break off relations with both that town and Esgaroth. The Men apparently fear that the Woodland Realm is becoming hostile to them.”

Legolas blinked. “Our patrol met two Men in the woods a few days ago who said something similar. I think Todith sent word to Ithilden.”

Eilian looked interested. “I had not heard that. The information I was given evidently came from the Man who was acting as the Dwarves’ agent for the sale of iron. At any rate, our task is to find out if such rumors exist. If they do, I am to try to find their source, but even if I cannot do that, I am to try to convince King Bram that the tales are false.”

“Surely the fact that Legolas and Beliond met Men with the same fears means that the rumors really do exist,” put in Maltanaur.

Eilian nodded. “That is true.” He grimaced. “Then we will have to be careful in Dale. If Men think we are hostile, they may be skittish around us.”

Legolas saw Eilian’s eyes flick quickly to him and then away, but his brother said nothing. “I am one of the guards here,” Legolas said dryly. “I am supposed to be insuring your safety, not the other way around.”

Eilian laughed. “Old habits die hard.” He looked thoughtful “I had planned to take a quick look at the town as we rode through but to go straight to Bram. I thought he might be insulted if we did otherwise. Do any of you see any reason to alter that plan?”

The rest of them shook their heads. “You are good at this sort of thing, Eilian,” Maltanaur said, his attention on the apple he was slicing. “We will take our cue from you.” He looked at Beliond and to Legolas’s surprise said, “I know you have gathered information about Men, Beliond. Have you ever been to Dale?”

Beliond shook his head and dropped a handful of herbs into the boiling water. Legolas watched him remove the pot from the fire and set it aside for the tea to steep. Legolas had always assumed that Beliond had been one of Thranduil’s spies before he became his bodyguard, but he had not given much thought to just who Beliond might have spied upon. Beliond had never made any secret of his disdain for Men. It was difficult to picture him moving unobtrusively among them.

“I have been there several times, although it has been a while,” Maltanaur said. “Once I took you on, Eilian, I had less time for anyone else’s foolishness.”

Eilian laughed, apparently quite unoffended. “I seem to recall you telling me a story about your own foolishness in Dale, but I will not shock Legolas’s tender ears by repeating it now.” Maltanaur laughed and got up to pour the tea. “Tell me about the layout of the town,” Eilian invited, wiping his knife on his leggings and sheathing it.

Legolas listened attentively as Maltanaur described Dale, but part of his mind was busy noticing the easy relationship between Eilian and his keeper. Beliond had told Legolas almost nothing about himself, and Legolas could not imagine his keeper saying he would take his cue from Legolas. He wondered how long it had taken before Maltanaur began treating Eilian as a friend, as an equal. And he wondered if he would ever be able to get Beliond to do that.

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