Stories of Arda Home Page
About Us News Resources Login Become a member Help Search

Time's Turnings  by daw the minstrel

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.


10. Telling Bram

“Would you like a berry tart, my lord?” the queen asked, offering him the small plate that had been set between them.

Eilian bent his head toward her and smiled. “I would like anything you have to offer me,” he told her. She giggled. He strongly suspected she had had too much wine, but since she was a cheerful, dignified drunk, he did not much mind.

He took a sip of his own wine, running his eyes over the lower tables as he did so. The Men in attendance here seemed peaceful enough, but Eilian had been in his father’s court long enough to know that people who were dining and drinking around a well-filled table in the evening were quite capable of strapping on swords and armor the next morning. Indeed the headaches they sometimes had from too much wine made them all the more willing to do something violent the next day.

Maltanaur was glaring at him, he saw. He grinned at his keeper as provocatively as he could. Maltanaur undoubtedly disapproved of Eilian flirting with the queen, but Eilian could not see what the fuss was about. He was just playing a little, enjoying himself while he could. Bram was occupied in talking with the advisor seated on his other side, and anyway, Bram surely could not take offense. He had lived near elves long enough to know that they took marriage – their own and others’—seriously. Eilian knew he craved the company of females he had no intention of bonding with more than most young Elves did, but his parents had made very sure he understood the limits of honor, and he had always managed to live within those limits. Not without a struggle sometimes, of course, but he had always managed to do so in the end.

For a moment, a picture of Celuwen’s mobile face flitted through his head, and he was struck with a fierce pang of longing. Perhaps he would ignore her request to stay away and try to visit her on his way back to his patrol. Surely she would not turn him away, he thought wistfully.

A movement in the Hall brought him to attention: A servant had approached Maltanaur, who had risen and was leaving the room. Eilian tensed slightly. What could that be about? He thought instantly of Legolas. What could Todith have been thinking in sending his little brother along on this mission? Eilian knew it was irrational, but there were times when he actually woke up in a sweat, alarmed over the simple fact that Legolas was serving with the relatively safe Eastern Border Patrol. Having him along on this trip out of their father’s realm made Eilian very uneasy. His head told him that Legolas was more or less an adult, but his heart still longed to protect the elfling who had loved Eilian uncritically at a time when he needed it most.

“How long will you be staying in Dale?” the queen asked him, and he turned to answer her.

“I do not know. No more than a few days. I am afraid I have obligations elsewhere.” Ithilden had promised to extend Eilian’s leave, but he did not like to leave his patrol in the hands of others for too long. He did not want Ithilden to get the idea that the patrol could function well without him.

“You must allow me to show you some of the beauties of the town,” the queen told him with another giggle.

Eilian smiled. He would have to see if the queen remembered making this offer in the morning. He had a sudden sense of eyes upon him and turned to see Maltanaur standing in the doorway, looking straight at him. His face was impassive, but Eilian knew immediately that his keeper wanted him and his alarm instantly rose. He glanced at Bram, who was still occupied, and excused himself to the queen. “You will pardon me for a few moments, my lady.” She smiled vaguely, and he stood and skirted around the edge of the room to the doorway.

Maltanaur said nothing until he had led Eilian into what looked like a reception chamber and closed the door. Then he rounded on him. “Leave Bram’s wife alone, Eilian,” he said heatedly. “Have you no sense at all?”

Eilian was annoyed. “You are being ridiculous. I am only flirting with her. We are amusing ourselves!”

“Has it occurred to you that Bram might have asked her to flirt with you to see if she could learn anything to their advantage?”

Eilian blinked, brought up short by the question. “No.” He ran his mind quickly back over the conversation he had had with the queen. Had she asked questions about the Woodland Realm? Perhaps she had. He shook the idea off impatiently.

“More to the point,” said Maltanaur, “you do not know how Men would interpret your actions, and I am telling you to stop it!”

“Is this what you dragged me away from the table to tell me?” In Eilian’s opinion, Maltanaur was crossing the line from protecting him to interfering in his personal life.

“No.” Maltanaur brought himself up short and gestured to the other end of the room.

Eilian suddenly became aware of the presence of Legolas and Beliond, watching them and shifting awkwardly from foot to foot, evidently embarrassed at overhearing the argument. For a moment, Eilian was dismayed that Legolas had heard Maltanaur’s warning, and then every other feeling dropped away in his realization that something must be wrong if these two had turned up at the palace. “What is the matter?” he asked sharply, taking a step toward them. He ran his eyes from head to toe over Legolas and then relaxed slightly. His little brother at least looked unharmed.

It was Beliond who answered. “Maltanaur told you about the spice merchant that Legolas and I saw in the market?”

Eilian nodded brusquely, still too worried by Beliond and Legolas’s sudden appearance to have much concern to spare for the merchant who evidently had spices from the east.  The story Maltanaur had passed along had seemed vague to Eilian, and although his experience with Beliond was limited (for which he thanked Eru), he thought the keeper might be overreacting to the presence of a few spices. What, after all, did he expect to find in a spice shop?

Wordlessly, Beliond extended a sheet of paper. Eilian took it and then frowned at the incomprehensible jumble of what were presumably words. “What is this?”

“Evidence that the merchant is the source of the rumors about us,” Legolas put in with barely contained excitement in his voice.

Eilian raised his head to look at him quizzically. “How do you know what it says?”

Beliond took the paper from him, and, to Eilian’s surprise, he began to read. As he did so, Eilian suddenly found himself brought fully to attention. Whoever had written this letter had been aware of the tension between Bram and Thranduil, indeed had been eager to see it grow. And they had intended to take advantage of it.

“Were did you get this?” he demanded as soon as Beliond had finished, breaking off in mid-sentence at the bottom of the single page.

There was a second’s silence, and Legolas’s eyes slid sideways to Beliond. As a captain, Eilian had seen that look before. Legolas was waiting for Beliond to make an explanation that he himself was not eager to give.

“We found it in the merchant’s room,” Beliond said.

Eilian frowned. “What do you mean, you ‘found’ it?” A sudden, unbelievable idea occurred to him. “Are you telling me you broke into the merchant’s shop?” he asked sharply.

“I did,” Beliond said stolidly. “Legolas did not.”

“It was my idea,” Legolas put in hastily. Beliond rolled his eyes in exasperation, and Legolas frowned at him. “We had seen the merchant in the common room of the inn, so we knew no one would be there. I stood lookout,” he added, looking defiantly at Beliond.

Eilian opened his mouth to speak and then closed it again as he struggled to get hold of his temper. “Allow me to be clear,” he said finally. “On your own initiative, you broke into the shop of one of Bram’s people and stole a letter.”

Beliond knew enough to hold his tongue, but Legolas apparently did not. “Eilian, look at it,” he urged. “If you show that to Bram, he will know that we are still friendly to him and that the idea we are not is a deliberately planted lie. Surely that is more important than how we got it.”

“I am your captain here, Legolas,” he snapped, “and I will thank you not to forget it.”

Legolas flushed. “I am sorry, Captain,” he muttered, and Eilian knew from his tone that he was hurt.

Eilian clamped his mouth shut, breathing hard through his nose. In truth, he knew that Legolas was right about the importance of the letter. Moreover, in one treacherous part of his mind, he could not help feeling jealous that Legolas and Beliond had had such an exciting evening while he had whiled away the time flirting. But the two of them had taken an enormous risk, one whose consequences could have been disastrous. “I suggest you contemplate what might have happened to relations between the two realms and to both of you if you had been caught,” he finally said, putting as much ice into his voice as he could manage.

“Yes, Captain,” said Beliond, and after a second, Legolas echoed him, although he still sounded unhappy. Too bad, Eilian thought, hardening his heart. Legolas needed to think about the furor that would have been caused by the discovery of the Elvenking’s son committing a crime against a citizen of Dale. Eilian shuddered slightly at the thought. Even apart from contributing to the destruction of the alliance between Dale and the Woodland Realm, such a crime was sometimes punished with incredible cruelty among Men. And under the best of circumstances, if Bram simply sent the two “thieves” home for Thranduil to deal with, the consequences would be extremely unpleasant, particularly since Eilian thought that his father was unlikely to let the major part of the blame fall on Legolas. Not that that would be anything other than fair, Eilian knew. Legolas was under his command on this trip, and he was responsible for the actions of everyone who served under him.

He drew a deep breath. “We have to tell Bram,” he said and grimaced. “By which I mean I have to tell Bram. Unfortunately, I think the two of you will need to be present to answer questions too.” For a moment, he considered sending Legolas to safety with Maltanaur to look after him, while Beliond told Bram what had happened. But much as he longed to do it, his sense of fairness would not let him. Besides, the chances were that Maltanaur would not leave Eilian anyway.

He stepped to the door and summoned one of the guards in the hall. “Would you please tell the king that I beg the favor of an audience?” The guard nodded and disappeared in the direction of the dining room. Eilian went back into the reception chamber, trying to decide how best to present his information. He looked at Maltanaur, who had been silent through the whole unpleasant scene. “Have you any advice?”

Maltanaur made a small face. “All you can do is tell the truth. Bram is no fool and will know if you are lying.”

Eilian nodded and then glanced at Beliond. Aside from his display of annoyance at Legolas’s confession, Beliond had kept his face impassive. Eilian sighed. If the Valar were on their side, then the letter Beliond had found might salvage an alliance that was important to the Woodland Realm. “However you obtained the information, it should prove very useful,” Eilian told him.

Beliond nodded and jerked his head at Legolas, who was looking subdued. “Legolas was clever as a lookout. I do not think the Men even suspect we were there.” Even in his current tense state, Eilian had to suppress a smile at the surprised pleasure that sprang to his younger brother’s face at this unexpected praise.

A rap at the door announced the return of the guard Eilian had sent to speak to Bram. “Will you come this way, my lord?” he invited, and Eilian followed him from the room, indicating that Maltanaur, Beliond, and Legolas should accompany him. The servant led them through a side door into the Hall where Eilian had first seen Bram. Inwardly, Eilian groaned. Bram had somehow guessed that whatever Eilian wanted was important and had chosen to make this meeting formal. He even had one of his advisors by his side, the one who had offered to accompany him when he and Eilian first spoke.

Eilian approached Bram’s chair and knelt, aware of his three warriors taking up similar postures behind him. Bram surveyed them for a moment and then signaled them to rise. “You wished to speak to me?”

Eilian drew himself as erect as possible. “My lord, as you and I have discussed, rumors have circulated that we Elves have cooled in the affection in which we hold our Mannish neighbors. And as I have told you, these rumors are untrue. I am now in a position to tell you the source of these rumors and to demonstrate to you that an enemy hostile to us both has been trying to drive us apart for his own ends.”

Bram raised an eyebrow. “And who might the source of these rumors be?”

“We believe that these rumors come from an Easterling who has been living in Dale as a spice merchant.  What is more, we have proof that this is so.” He turned to Beliond, who was still holding the letter he had taken from the merchant’s room. Beliond stepped forward to show the letter to Bram.

Bram glanced at the paper in Beliond’s hand but did not take it. “What language is this? I cannot read it.” As he had when he had shown the letter to Eilian, Beliond now read it out loud to Bram, and Eilian saw Bram’s face darkening.

The advisor at Bram’s side stirred slightly. “My lord, how do we know that this Elf is telling us what the letter really says?”

Eilian glanced at Beliond, whose face had tightened at the insult, and was about to protest when Bram raised a placating hand. “Let us hear them out,” he told the advisor. He turned to Eilian. “Who did you say wrote this?”

“The spice merchant whose shop is in the marketplace,” Eilian said.

“His name is Acild,” Legolas put in, and Eilian kicked himself for not having told Legolas ahead of time to keep silent.

The advisor looked outraged. “Acild is the brother of one of my aides.” He turned to Bram, “He is Rhadry’s brother, my lord.”

“Yes,” Eilian put in urgently. “And think of the access that gives him to you, my lord. Think of how easy that would make it to pour poison into your ear.”

The advisor opened his mouth, but Bram flicked a finger and silenced him. He studied Eilian and then swept his eyes over the other Elves. “Where did you get this letter?” he asked Beliond. Inwardly, Eilian flinched. He had hoped to avoid this question, but he had always known the hope was small.

“I found it in his living quarters,” Beliond answered stolidly.

There was a second of silence, and then Bram’s eyes narrowed. “Am I to understand that you entered his house without his permission or knowledge?”

“Yes, my lord.”

This time it was Eilian who opened his mouth only to be silenced by a curt gesture from the king. “I do not know what elves do,” Bram snarled at Beliond, “but in Dale, we have laws forbidding such actions.” He swung to face Eilian. “Did you know about this? Shall I assume that your people did this while you ate at my table?”

From the corner of his eye, Eilian saw Legolas’s tense face and guessed that, like Eilian himself, Legolas had recognized a temper not unlike their father’s. Ah well. At least Eilian had had plenty of experience in facing a king in full fury.

“I did not know, but I accept responsibility for everything my warriors have done,” Eilian said steadily. It was the only possible answer. “I apologize for their overzealousness.” He saw Legolas bite his lip and lower his gaze to the floor.

Bram’s hands tightened on the arms of his chair, and then he seemed to deliberately relax. For a moment, he sat, apparently considering what he had been told. “How do I know that you are telling me the truth?” he asked coolly. “How do I know that this letter is not of your warrior’s own making?”

Eilian was about to vouch for Beliond’s truthfulness, for all the good it would do, when Beliond spoke up. “There are more letters where I found that one, hidden in a secret cache in Acild’s desk. And I think you will see that the hand in the letters matches that of Acild’s account book.”

At Beliond’s assertion, Eilian saw the subtle shift in Bram’s face and knew he had to seize the opportunity. “These men have manipulated you, my lord,” he urged, “meaning to make trouble between us to our mutual harm.”

Bram sat for a moment longer and then called, “Guard!”

“My lord!” the advisor protested.

Bram eyed him narrowly. “Surely you wish to learn the truth, Helad. Or should I also be suspicious of you?”

The advisor’s face went pale. “I swear to you I am loyal, my lord.”

Bram turned to the soldier who had answered his summons. “Take half a dozen others and go to the shop of Acild, the spice merchant. Bring him to me. If Rhadry is there, bring him too.” He turned to Beliond. “Tell him where the letters and account book are,” he ordered, and Beliond hastened to comply. Bram finished his instructions to the soldier. “Get the Men first and then get the letters and book if they are there. Do not let the Men see you getting the papers.” He waved his hand to send the guard on his way.

“Maltanaur and I will go too,” Eilian put in hastily. His excitement had been rising as Bram had given his orders. It would be intensely satisfying to seize these Men who had sought to harm Thranduil’s people.

“No,” Bram said. “A guard will show you back to the reception room, and you will wait there.” He rose and swept from the room before Eilian could protest. He had no option but to follow the guard who returned them to the room they had been in and closed the door upon them, obviously intending to take up a position outside the room. The suspicion in Bram’s words had been as clear to him as it was to Eilian.

As soon as they were alone, Eilian made his frustration known. “That was unreasonable,” he fumed, flinging himself into a chair. “Men have slandered us, and Bram is still treating us as if we were suspect. I should insist that we be included in taking the merchant.”

“Stop being an idiot, Eilian,” Maltanaur said sharply. “You cannot blame Bram for being leery of us. Beliond and Legolas did break into the merchant’s shop.”

Eilian glanced at his brother to see him looking wide-eyed first at Maltanaur and then at him. It occurred to him that Legolas might never have heard Maltanaur taking him to task before this evening, and he could not help grinning. “They have no respect for us. Have you noticed that?”

Slowly, Legolas smiled. “Yes, I have.” He paused a moment and then added, “Captain.”

His temper spent, Eilian laughed. “Watch your mouth,” he said easily and then leaned back in his chair and tried to relax. Maltanaur was right. Bram was within his rights to be suspicious. The Valar only knew Thranduil certainly would have been. It would be all right, he assured himself. He turned to Beliond, who had dropped onto a bench near the window and sat leaning against the wall with his arms crossed. “Leaving some of the letters there was clever, Beliond. Good work. And it must have taken a sharp eye to see that the same person wrote the letters and kept the accounts.”

Beliond shrugged slightly. “I am not certain about that, but the hands were similar enough that I decided to take a chance.”

“You made that up?” Legolas demanded incredulously.

“No, I did not ‘make it up.’” Beliond sounded impatient. “The hands are similar.”

Eilian grinned to himself and mustered his small patience to wait for Bram to summon them again. He did not have to wait long. It could not have been more than half an hour before the guard rapped at the door. “The king wishes you to attend him in the Hall,” he said, his face giving no indication of the tone of Bram’s message.

Eilian jumped to his feet and, with the others at his heels, followed the guard to find Bram seated in the Hall again, with his unhappy looking advisor by his side. “I thought you might wish to observe this meeting,” Bram said, his eyes hard.

“We do,” Eilian agreed and took up the place that Bram indicated along one wall. Bram might still decide the Elves had lied and probably wished to keep one eye on them while he talked to the merchant, but Eilian took his severe bearing as a good sign.

They stood quietly for a moment, and then Eilian could hear the sound of a Man protesting and an unhappy-looking Acild was brought through the door, with a soldier clutching each arm. Behind him was another Man whom Eilian took to be the brother, also with one of Bram’s soldiers on either side of him. Both Men fell silent and then dropped to one knee when the soldiers released their arms and left them standing in front of the king.

Bram gestured for them to rise. “You are Acild, the spice merchant?” he asked.

“Yes, my lord, I am.” Acild’s eyes flicked to the Elves lined up along the wall, and for Eilian, there was no mistaking the hostility in them.

“I wish to hear your explanation of a letter found in your room.” Bram crooked his finger at Beliond. “Read it,” he instructed. As Beliond obeyed, Eilian watched Acild’s face, and he had to give the Man credit for nerve. After the first shocked second, Acild controlled his expression with almost Elven discipline. Beliond finished reading and Bram said, “Well?”

“My lord,” Acild said, “I have no idea where that letter came from or what these Elves are talking about. That one,” he stabbed a finger in Legolas’s direction, “asked my brother and me if we knew where he could find a whore, and then his father,” he gestured at Beliond, “came and hauled him away.”

Eilian’s jaw dropped, and he glanced quickly at Legolas, whose face had gone scarlet. Not possible, Eilian told himself firmly despite Legolas’s guilty look. “My lord,” he addressed Bram indignantly, “you know that Elves do not join bodily with those to whom they are not wed.”

Bram looked down his nose at him. “No?” he asked dryly.

Eilian suddenly recalled the fact that he had spent the last two hours flirting with Bram’s wife. Standing beside him, Maltanaur snorted softly, but Eilian determinedly ignored him. “No,” he said firmly.

Another soldier entered the room and, at Bram’s signal, approached the king. He handed Bram a small bundle of paper and a book. “They were right where the Elf said they would be, my lord,” the soldier said. Eilian glanced at Acild and saw that he had gone deathly pale.

Bram glanced at the letters, and Eilian assumed they were in the same strange language as the page Beliond had had because Bram made no attempt to read them. “Can you tell me why these were in your room, Acild?” he asked, his voice iron hard.

Acild was plainly struggling to recover. “My lord, I have never seen them before. If the Elf says they were there, it must be because he put them there.”

Bram opened the account book and laid one of the letters against a page. “Judging by the entries, this is the account book from your shop. The same hand would seem to have written both it and the letters.”

Acild’s brother abruptly spun to stare at him in open-mouthed horror. “Acild! How could you have done this?” He turned to Bram. “My lord, I had no idea my brother was engaged in anything so treacherous.” Acild gaped and then suddenly growled and leapt at the other Man with his hands extended to grab his throat.

Looking disgusted, Bram waved at the guards, and they waded in to drag the two Men apart. Acild struggled like a madman, kicking and punching at the guards, until one of them shoved the point of his sword into the Man’s throat. Even then, he spat at his brother, who still cowered on the floor, and shouted to Bram, “It was his idea, my lord! I would never have done it on my own.”

Bram gave a short laugh. “No doubt you are both innocent as babes,” he said dryly. “Take them away.” The guards seized both Men and began to drag them from the room. Eilian could still hear Acild shouting in a language Eilian did not know even after he had been hauled off.

There was a moment of shaken silence in the Hall. Eilian cleared his throat. “My lord, may I assure King Thranduil of the continued friendship of the Men of Dale?”

“That depends on what these Men have to say,” Bram said, “but if things fall out as I suspect, then you can at least assure Thranduil that I will not stop the sale of iron.”

To his surprise, Eilian felt a knot ease in his stomach. He had not known he was particularly nervous about this mission, but it suddenly occurred to him that he was glad to be able to tell his father that he had succeeded in gaining an assurance of Bram’s cooperation. “Thank you, my lord,” he said.

He glanced at Legolas, whose was looking soberly toward where the shouting Acild and his brother had disappeared. Eilian flinched a little. It would not do to think too much about what would happen to the Men now. “Perhaps my warriors could stay here tonight,” he suggested to Bram. Letting Legolas out of his sight again struck Eilian as a very bad idea.

“Of course, if you wish,” Bram agreed. “I believe I will join my lady wife in our chambers,” he told Eilian, with a small smile, and left the room.

Eilian decided to ignore the look on Maltanaur’s face. “Where is your gear?” he asked Legolas.

“In the entry,” Legolas indicated, and the four of them went to fetch Beliond’s and Legolas’s packs and weapons.

“Legolas, you will stay with me,” Eilian decided, leading the way back toward their rooms. It had been a long time since a small brother had crept into Eilian’s bed in the night and put his cold feet against Eilian’s back, but the bed in his room was wide and he wanted to be sure that Legolas did not go wandering off on another adventure. He looked back over his shoulder to the two bodyguards. “I assume you two can get along without us for the night?” he said with a grin and grasped Legolas’s arm to draw him into his own chamber, shutting the door behind them.

Looking suddenly weary, Legolas gave a long sigh and dropped his pack. Eilian almost felt sympathetic enough not to ask the question that trembled on the tip of his tongue. Almost, but not quite. “What was Acild talking about when he said you were looking for a woman, Legolas?”

Legolas turned to him with a groan. “It was an act,” he protested. “I had to tell them something to give Beliond time to get out of the shop, and she had approached me in the inn common room.”

Eilian grinned.  “I am surprised you would recognize a prostitute, little brother. What have you been doing while I have not been around to keep an eye on you?”

Legolas drew himself up in an obvious effort at dignity. “Of course I recognize one. What kind of naïve child do you take me for?”

Eilian laughed. “Tell me about her,” he teased. “Is she pretty?”

Legolas opened his mouth, closed it, and then cautiously asked, “Are you my captain now or my brother?”

The answer to that one was easy. “Brother,” Eilian declared.

“Then shut up.” He dropped into a chair and started to remove his shoes.

Eilian laughed hard enough that Legolas threw a shoe and hit him in the head.


“So,” said Maltanaur, pouring hot water from the jug into the washbasin, “it would seem that old habits die hard and old skills can be useful.” He glanced at Beliond, who smiled smugly. Maltanaur threw handfuls of water onto his face to hide his grin. “How did you manage to keep Legolas mostly out of it?” he asked, wiping his face and hands with the towel. “Eilian would have been very difficult to manage in that situation.”

Beliond considered. “I intimidated him, but I think also he understood that one of us did need to stand lookout.” He sounded almost surprised by this realization.

Maltanaur moved away from the washstand to make room for Beliond and began to unlace his tunic. “I have found with Eilian that it can be tricky to keep him in line. I have no real authority over him, after all. I think I did a fair amount of intimidation at first too, but in the long run, appealing to his better nature turned out to be the most useful thing to do.”

“What do you mean?”

“Eilian knows I would put myself between him and an arrow or sword, and he has decided he does not want to endanger me unnecessarily. And he also seems to have decided that my greater experience can sometimes result in useful advice for him.” He pulled the unlaced tunic over his head.

Beliond seemed to be mulling that notion over as he washed his hands and face. “Legolas nearly always does as he is told if he understands and accepts the reasons behind the action.”

Maltanaur nodded and then hesitated. “How well does he manage without instructions?” He thought he already knew the answer to that question, but he believed it would be useful for Beliond to give voice to it.

Beliond frowned. “He is quite reliable in the kind of battle we face in the border patrol. He knows what to do, and he does it. I do not like to see him without guidance in unfamiliar situations though.”

Maltanaur raised an eyebrow. “He seems to have done well tonight. Indeed, it sounds as if he thought quickly and saved your hide.”

Beliond snorted. “Perhaps he did,” he conceded. He looked at the bed. “Do you think that the Men have managed to keep that bed free of insects?” he asked

Maltanaur could not help laughing. “We are in the king’s palace, Beliond.”

“I suppose that counts for something,” Beliond conceded with a sigh.


<< Back

Next >>

Leave Review
Home     Search     Chapter List