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Time's Turnings  by daw the minstrel

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter for me. This chapter in particular would have been far weaker without her advice.


9. Evening Activities

Sinnarn moved his fingers across the strings of his harp, seeking the notes that would match his mood and singing softly to himself. His friends would now be out under the stars, wandering along the riverbank, listening to the music made by the Elves gathered there, and he was here, confined to his room, missing it. The beauty of the night was going on without him. He needed sad music tonight, music that would give voice to his melancholy.

He played the last, fading note, and then sat for a moment with the harp in his lap, caressing the warm wood. His father had given him this harp on his last begetting day. With a passion that Sinnarn had come to see as more and more unexpected as he grew older, his father loved music and could create songs of heartrending loveliness. Until recently, they had sung together often in the evenings. For just an instant, Sinnarn longed to be sitting cozily with his parents, harmonizing his voice with theirs. Then he recalled how deeply irritating he found them these days and recoiled at the thought.

He set the harp aside and rose to pace the room. His confinement was making him desperate. He really needed to get out.

A knock sounded at his door. Only two possibilities existed as to who might be asking for entrance, and he was not eager to see either of them. He had been lectured quite enough. “Come in,” he said resignedly, and his father entered the room. They stood looking at one another for a moment, and then Sinnarn waved to the chairs in front of his fireplace. “I assume you want to speak to me. You might as well come in and do it.”

“Do not be impertinent,” Ithilden snapped.

Sinnarn bit his lip. There was no sense in picking a fight he would only lose. “I beg your pardon, Adar.”

Ithilden sighed. “As it happens, you are right. I do want to speak to you. Sit with me for a while.” He smiled wryly. “I assume you have no place to go.”

“Very funny,” Sinnarn muttered. He dropped into one of the chairs while his father took the other.

Ithilden hesitated. “Sinnarn, I am worried about you. You seem unhappy with your lessons, although I know you are bright and curious, and even with weapons training, although I know you are doing well at it. I confess that I do not understand you. What is it that you want?”

Sinnarn lowered his gaze to his hands, knotted together in his lap. Of course his father did not understand him. His father was happy to live a life that was so consumed in duty that he did not even notice that anything else existed. If his father wanted to see something that was not understandable, then Sinnarn thought he should take a good look at his own life. Sinnarn would go mad if he had to live the way his father did, and one of his secret fears was that, as his father’s heir, he would be expected to do exactly that. He was ashamed of his reluctance, because he knew he owed service to his grandfather’s realm, but he could not help what he felt.

“Sinnarn?” his father prodded gently.

Still avoiding his father’s eyes, Sinnarn pulled one knee up and clasped his hands around it. How could he explain? He drew in a deep breath. “Sometimes it feels like every minute of my life is ruled by other people. I learn what other people want me to learn, go where they want me to go, do what they want me to do. I feel like I have no time to even breathe on my own.”

He stole a glance at Ithilden, sitting across from him with his brows drawn together. “I understand your feeling, but we can not always see ahead to know what is important for us to learn.”

Sinnarn turned his head impatiently to look at the fire. “I knew you would say that. You say you understand, but you do not.”

“Then help me understand. Explain it to me.”

To Sinnarn’s surprise, his father sounded as if he were pleading. Sinnarn tried again. “I just want--,” he broke off helplessly. “I do not know what I want sometimes. I just want.”

For a long moment, the only sound was the crackle of the fire. “When I was year younger that you are now,” Ithilden said slowly, “what I wanted most in all of Arda was to become a novice, even though I was a year under the usual age. A year seemed of no consequence when I thought about my age, but it seemed like forever when I thought about waiting.”

Sinnarn looked at him, startled. He had never heard this story before. But now it was Ithilden who looked into the fire, a faint smile on his face. “I pushed your grandfather hard, trying to make him allow it, but he would not budge. We had quite a ‘discussion’ about the matter. Indeed, we had several ‘discussions’ that grew so heated that I wound up spending extra time with my tutor as a consequence.”

Sinnarn blinked. So far as he had ever been able to tell, his grandfather was occasionally vexed with Eilian and Legolas, but he was invariably pleased with Ithilden, as he nearly always was with Sinnarn himself. Sinnarn had trouble imagining his father and grandfather at odds. “What happened? Did you finally convince grandfather to let you do what you wanted?” That seemed the most likely outcome to Sinnarn. His father nearly always got what he wanted.

Ithilden sighed and turned to smile at him. “What happened was that your grandparents saw to it that I got what I really wanted rather than what I thought I wanted.”

Sinnarn could barely contain his disgust. He might have known that his father would say something like that. The smile on his father’s face faded as he looked at Sinnarn. He frowned and lowered his gaze to the harp, sitting on the table next to the chair. He picked it up and ran his fingers lightly over the strings, sending a trill of liquid beauty dancing through the room. Then he looked up to meet Sinnarn’s eyes. “What I really want to say is that your naneth and I love you, Sinnarn. You are the most precious thing in Arda to us. I know you are not pleased with us right now, but we will still do everything in our power to help you make good decisions about how to get whatever it is you decide you want.” He set the harp down and rose.

Sinnarn stared up at him, astonished by the raw emotion in his usually reserved father’s voice. Ithilden leaned down to kiss his forehead, patted his shoulder, and then left the room, closing the door quietly behind him. Sinnarn found himself blinking away tears.


Beliond pressed himself into the shadows along the building behind him, gesturing for Legolas to do the same thing. At the end of this little alleyway, Beliond could see the spice shop on the other side of the street into which this one emptied. Next to him, Legolas shifted impatiently. “What are we waiting for?” he muttered. “We need to do this while we know the merchant is in the inn.”

Beliond had to suppress an urge to snap at him. He had promised he would let Legolas be part of this mission, and he would do that, but he knew that Legolas was not going to like the part Beliond planned for him to play, and Beliond was already annoyed by the protests that were yet to come. His annoyance was only increased by the fact that he himself was none too happy about what he planned for Legolas to do. The youngling had no sense of danger, and from stories Beliond had heard about his childhood, he never had had one. Beliond was going to have to inspire what fear he could on his own if he was to be sure that Legolas would do as he was told.

“Hush,” he admonished sharply. “We need to do this carefully. Remember that we may be wrong about the merchant, and relations between Thranduil and Bram will not be improved if we are caught breaking into the shop of one of Bram’s subjects.”

Beliond thought but did not say that they would have trouble enough with Eilian if they were caught. They were on a mission of their own devising here, one they had not cleared with Eilian, who was in command on this trip. Beliond had once been a captain in the realm’s forces, and if any of his warriors had done such a thing, Beliond would have seen to it that he regretted it. Beliond supposed he should have pointed that out to Legolas. After all, he was meant to be furthering Legolas’s warrior training against the day he would have to take command of others himself. But truth be told, Beliond had not been able to resist the idea of searching the spice shop. He did think that something was fishy with the merchant, and besides, the Eastern Border Patrol had had a peaceful spring and Beliond had to admit that he was bored. He was ashamed of himself, but the thought of this unauthorized side trip had made his heart quicken.

He studied the shop for another long moment looking for any sign of life, and to his relief, Legolas settled down to watch it too. The horizontal shutters that had been let down to serve as a counter for the merchant’s wares were now pulled up into place and presumably barred from inside. A door stood to the left of the window, and on the second floor, where the merchant probably lived, was another closely-shuttered window, fitted into a dormer. He and Legolas had already determined that the building backed onto one of the town’s walls, so the front door was the only entrance – or exit. If the merchant returned, anyone inside the shop would have a difficult time leaving without being seen.

He drew a deep breath. It was time to break the bad news to Legolas. He turned to face him. “With so few exits, it would be much too easy to get caught in that shop like a rat in a trap. We cannot take the chance. One of us needs to search the shop while the other keeps watch against the merchant’s return.”

For a long, unbelieving moment, Legolas stared at him. “You cannot be serious,” he hissed.

With a ferocity meant to shock his charge into submission, Beliond seized a fistful of his tunic and pulled Legolas’s face down within an inch of his. ““If Todith or Eilian or anyone else was leading this little foray into crime, would you challenge his right to use his warriors as he thought best?”

Legolas tried to pull free, but Beliond kept a firm hold on him. “No,” Legolas admitted. “But--.”

“Then do not do it with me!”

“You agreed I was to be part of this mission!”

“And you are part of it! One of us needs to go inside. I was searching buildings when your nurse was wiping dribble from your chin with your bib, so do not tell me that should be you. I will go, and I need a lookout, and you are it.”

He could feel Legolas trembling with fury, but he also saw his mouth tighten with reluctant acceptance of the truth. “Very well,” he said stiffly.

Beliond shook him one last time, and then released his tunic, took a step back, and drew a deep breath. “Stay here and keep out of sight. If the merchant comes, sound a warning but leave him alone. Do you understand?”

Legolas’s eyes were narrowed and hostile, but he nodded and then faded back into the shadows next to the wall.

Beliond immediately turned and moved off. He hoped he had been sufficiently intimidating. He hated the idea of leaving the young fool on his own to do anything that popped into his head, but he solaced himself by vowing that he would beat the snot out of Legolas if he violated orders.

At the end of the alleyway, Beliond stepped out of the shadows and walked across the street to the spice shop. He had seen no indication that anyone was in the building, but it was better to be sure. He walked boldly up to the door, knocked, and then waited to see if anyone would answer. After a moment, he casually tried the door. As he had expected, it was locked. He glanced quickly up and down the street, and then pulled the slim dagger from his boot and inserted the tip into the keyhole. He probed delicately, feeling for the mechanism, and was more pleased than he liked to admit when the lock snicked open. After all this time, he had not lost his touch.

The door swung open on a darkened interior, and Beliond stepped through and closed it behind him. Before the door shut out the moonlight, he had seen that he was in a tiny, square hallway with stairs directly ahead of him and a closed door to his right, presumably leading into the shop. Now he waited for a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dark so that the stairs and door took shape again. He would never have admitted it to Legolas, but he could feel his blood singing with excitement at the idea of this clandestine search. He had missed this, he thought. Before he did anything else, he relocked the street door. If the merchant came home, the locked door would slow him down and give him no sign that someone had entered.

He tried the door to the shop, and when it clicked open, he slithered through as soon as the space was wide enough, shutting the door silently behind him. From his encounter with the merchant when he and Legolas were in the marketplace, he knew what the shop looked like: The space was small and lined with shelves, but coming at it in the dark from an unfamiliar angle, he was momentarily disoriented. A line of moonlight pierced the space at the top of the shutter and sliced across the bottles and baskets of herbs and spices. The mingled smell of them was nearly overwhelming.

In his earlier look into the shop, he had seen among other things that there was a doorway in its back right hand corner, so the first thing he did now was move swiftly toward it with his sword in his hand. He rounded the doorjamb to see what was obviously a workroom and felt tension in his diaphragm easing. He had evidently not been as purely enthusiastic about this expedition as he thought he was, he realized with a grimace. Sheathing his sword, he set about the familiar task of looking for something he would recognize only when he saw it – any sign that the merchant was not what he seemed.

Aware of the wisdom of speed, he started on the workroom. Bunches of drying herbs hung from the ceiling. A scarred table filled the middle of the room, holding basins, pots, empty bottles and corks, and a brazier stood in one corner, undoubtedly used to boil the various herbal remedies the Man probably made. Beliond moved swiftly around the small space, touching as little as he could but examining everything. He found nothing but familiar herbs and the tools of the merchant’s trade.

He reentered the front room and started methodically checking every container on every shelf, aware of time slipping away, with every passing second increasing the likelihood of the Man returning and Legolas doing something stupid. He paused briefly to consider a shelf containing perhaps a dozen bottles of a dark liquid. Cautiously, he uncorked one and sniffed it. Poppy syrup, he thought. More than he would have expected, but not precisely incriminating for a seller of herbs and spices. He replaced the stopper in the bottle, placed it carefully back on the shelf, and finished working his way around the room.

A bell suddenly began to toll, and to his disgust, he jumped slightly. The dratted thing was quickly joined by others, reminding him mockingly yet again of the night slipping away. He was going to have to go upstairs, into what were probably the merchant’s living quarters, and he had no time to waste in doing it. Leaving the shop, he climbed noiselessly up the stairs to find another closed door. He tried the knob, but the door was locked. Immediately, he stiffened to attention. The door from the entrance hall to the shop had been left unlocked, despite the fact that it held all of the merchant’s stock, but this door was locked. In the dark stairwell, he smiled to himself. What was it the merchant had in there that was so precious? He intended to find out.

Again, he drew his dagger to spend a few seconds probing at the keyhole. Then he pushed the door open. The locksmith who had fitted these doors had really done shamefully poor work, Beliond thought disapprovingly as he relocked the door.

Then he turned around and inspected the room. It was small because the roof slanted back sharply from the wall along the street. The only window was the one he had seen from outside, and he noticed immediately that, unlike the window in the shop which was barred, this one was closed with a padlock threaded through metal loops on each of the vertical shutters. He could scarcely contain his glee. If even the window was locked, there was something here worth finding.

His first action would need to be unlocking that window though. He wanted a clear way out if the merchant came home. He grimaced as he examined the padlock; the keyhole was small and might present problems his dagger, but he set to work on it grimly. With growing urgency, he struggled with it and finally was driven to spit out a word he had learned from Oropher. As if in response, the lock sprang open.

Smiling in satisfaction, Beliond pulled one shutter back far enough to allow him to peer out and check on Legolas.  He had to search for a moment before he spotted the darker shape among the shadows against the wall opposite. Good, he thought. Perhaps Legolas had some sense after all. He glanced down at the cobblestones and hoped he would not have to jump out onto them. Paved streets were a menace. An Elf on a mission could break something much too easily.

He pushed the shutter closed again, hung the lock through one of the loops, and pushed it closed. Then he began working his way around the room. Aware of time slipping away, he glanced at a table with three straight backed chairs around it, decided it was unlikely to conceal anything and started with the bed. He ran his hands under the bedding and the mattress, then moved on to poke carefully through the folded clothes in the chest, and lift the cushions on the chair near the fireplace. The only other item of furniture in the room was a promising-looking desk, which, feeling like an elfling with a treat, he had saved for last.

The top of the desk was bare. Beliond pulled out the drawer and drew out what looked like an account book. He rifled quickly through the pages, found nothing interesting, and set it aside to turn back to the drawer. A visceral thrill ran through him as he saw the small metal box that had been under the account book. He pulled it out, set it on the desk, and, as a matter of form tried the catch before reaching for his dagger again. To his surprise, the box opened easily, and he found himself staring at a pile of small coins. He prodded them with his fingertip but already knew that they concealed nothing.

Beliond blew out an exasperated breath. He found it impossible to believe that the merchant was innocent. The Man gave off waves of evil in the same way the drunken Man in the inn had given off the stench of ale. But what was he to do? There was no place left to look here.

Suddenly, a sound came from outside, and he jerked around to stare at the window. The signal! Legolas was telling him that someone was coming. Hastily, he pulled the drawer out all the way so that he could replace the box, and then suddenly he straightened, with all his attention on the shape of the drawer.

“I wonder,” he murmured to himself and then grasped the drawer and pulled it completely out of its hollow. With mounting excitement, he set it on the floor and crouched to shove his hand into the opening, feeling along the back of the space where the drawer had been until his fingers encountered what he had decided had to be there: a small shelf that held what felt like papers. Feeling immensely pleased with himself, he grasped the papers and pulled them out.

In the dim light, he hastily examined them. The handwriting in the letters looked to him to be the same as that in the account book, but he could not be sure. Swiftly, he scanned the first letter. And then he heard Legolas again, sounding the signal more sharply this time. His time was gone. Indeed, he had pushed his luck beyond what was reasonable. If Legolas had done the same thing, Beliond would have smacked him.

He shoved a sheet of paper inside his tunic, hastily crammed the rest back where he had found them, and jammed the drawer into place. The merchant could not suspect that anyone had been here, or he would be on his way before any of Bram’s soldiers could take him.

Then he was in motion toward the window. He pulled the shutter open, hoping that in the dark, the Man would not see him crawling out onto the roof. He tugged the shutter shut behind him, trusting that the padlock, fastened to one shutter instead of two, would look normal enough to attract no attention. It occurred to him that he still had not heard the front door opening below him, and he looked down into the street to see what was going on. Had Legolas been mistaken in sounding the warning? Or worse, had the Man spotted him on the roof?

Suddenly, he froze. There at the end of the alley stood Legolas talking to two Men. And although the Men’s backs were toward Beliond, he knew at once that one of them was the spice merchant. He nearly moaned. The fool had let himself be caught! Beliond had to get down there, and he had to do it now. Nearly panting with fear, he slid to the edge of the roof, looking for hand and footholds that would let him make his way to the street.

Then, bizarrely, he heard Legolas’s voice raised in what sounded almost like a whine. “But where would she be?” he bleated. “You know Raena. You called her by name in the inn. Where should I go to look for her?”

Beliond’s mouth fell open in shock, and then he snapped it shut again. The idiot was playacting, of course. Legolas had disobeyed Beliond’s instructions and accosted the Men, probably trying to keep them from noticing Beliond. Even in his fury, Beliond noted with approval that Legolas had maneuvered the Men to have their backs to the shop. With grim haste, he made his way to the ground and all but ran across the street.

“I have no idea where the whore is,” the merchant said. “Let go of me!” He yanked his tunic free of Legolas’s grasping hand.

Beliond circled around the Men and descended on Legolas like a vengeful Dwarf. With the strongest grip he could muster, he seized him by the upper arm. “What do you think you are doing?” he hissed and gave Legolas a shake that rattled his teeth. Legolas blinked in astonishment but was at least temporarily rendered silent. Beliond turned to the two Men, noting immediately how much the second Man resembled the merchant. The brother, he thought, the one who works for one of Bram’s advisors. “I apologize if my son has been bothering you,” he said and dragged Legolas down the street and around a corner.

There he stopped, released a still reeling Legolas, and edged back to the corner to see what the Men were doing. He was just in time to see them disappear into the shop. He turned back to Legolas, who was rubbing his arm where Beliond had gripped it. Legolas grimaced. “You certainly reacted quickly,” he said. “And you were a very convincing angry adar. At first, I was not entirely sure you were acting.”

Beliond glared at him. “I was not entirely acting! I told you to stay away from the Men!”

Legolas frowned. “You were right that we needed a lookout, but I would have been useless if I had let them see you.” He rubbed his arm again. “And that hurt for real!”

“A reminder never to do something so stupid again!” Beliond snarled, and then, with a struggle, he got hold of himself. In truth, Legolas had thought quickly and had kept the Men from seeing him. He was a young fool, but he was a capable young fool. “You did well as lookout,” he admitted stiffly.

Legolas stared at him and then, to Beliond’s surprise, suddenly laughed. “Beliond, you are outrageous. Do you know that?” Before Beliond could reply, Legolas asked, “Did you find anything?”

Trying to repress a smile that he knew must look self-satisfied, Beliond pulled the sheet of paper out of his tunic and held it up for Legolas to see. Legolas frowned. “I do not recognize the language.”

Beliond grinned at him.

Legolas blinked. “You can read it,” he said, in what sounded like a statement rather than a question.

In answer, Beliond read out loud: “The time to move is not yet. But before another year passes, the situation will have changed. Bram is on the verge of stopping the shipments of Dwarven iron, and when he finally does do it, Thranduil will find it hard to forgive.” He looked up. “There is more, but that is the gist of it.”

Legolas let out a soft whistle. “We need to get that to Bram.”

“To Eilian first,” Beliond said, tucking the page away. He turned and started toward the palace at a trot with Legolas right at his heels.

“You picked the lock on the front door,” Legolas said. “Can you teach me to do that?”

Beliond turned his head to glare at him. “No.” He shuddered to think of what Thranduil’s reaction would be if he taught his youngest son to pick locks. As a matter of fact, it would undoubtedly be best if Thranduil never learned about tonight’s venture at all. Even telling Eilian was not going to be all that pleasant, but that was nonetheless what they needed to do next. He sped along, wondering if Eilian and Bram would still be at the table. But with one part of his mind, he was also feeling a small glow of pride at how well Legolas had done at a task he had been angry at being assigned. The youngling might be turning into a warrior after all.

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