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Time's Turnings  by daw the minstrel

Many thanks to Nilmandra, who beta read this story. She has helped me more than I can say.


12. Families

“Come in,” Sinnarn called, and Ithilden entered his son’s room. He caught a glimpse of Sinnarn’s face, softened by the music he had been making for himself, and felt a stab of pain when that face grew impassive at the sight of him. “Would you like to sit down, Adar?” Sinnarn asked politely, having evidently learned that Ithilden would reprimand a ruder invitation.

Ithilden took the chair opposite Sinnarn’s, vividly recalling again how his mother had taken up a similar position opposite him so many years ago. He looked at his son’s guarded face, and his heart twisted. Surely, he could help this elfling-verging-on-adult become the best person he was capable of being. If he could not, then what good were centuries of hard won wisdom? “Sinnarn,” he began, “you have pointed out repeatedly that you will cease having lessons in June when you become a novice.”

Surprise and then a brief flare of hope flitted across Sinnarn’s face. He had not yet learned to control his aspect completely, Ithilden noted with relief and the sad knowledge that in time he would. “Yes,” Sinnarn acknowledged cautiously.

“Suppose you could cease having lessons but not join the novices just yet. What would you want to do?”

Sinnarn frowned. “What do you mean?” He had plainly hoped that Ithilden was going to give in but now was not so sure.

Ithilden drew a deep breath. “Do you want to become a warrior, Sinnarn?” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he could scarcely believe he had said them. He hoped that Sinnarn would never know what it had cost him to offer this chance to veer from the family path. He wanted his son to be able to make his choice freely, without guilt or regrets.

But Sinnarn seemed to understand only too well what he was being offered. “We all do that,” he said stiffly. “I know what I owe the realm.”

“But is that what you want to do?” Ithilden persisted.

Sinnarn hesitated, his eyes meeting Ithilden’s. For a long moment, he seemed to consider the question. “Yes, I think so,” he finally said and then hurried on. “I know so. I want to defend the realm like you and Legolas and Eilian do.”

Ithilden could not help feeling relieved. He would let Sinnarn become something other than a warrior if he wished it, but his own sense of duty would make that course of action a hard one, and his son’s answer made him think that they need not come to that pass quite yet. He settled down to the issue that he and Alfirin had agreed had to be decided. “Are you sure you want to become a novice this year? You do not have to, you know. People join the training at different points. Legolas waited half a year beyond the normal age.” He felt a momentary twinge of guilt that he might have revealed something Legolas would not wish to discuss, but he knew that Sinnarn admired his young uncle and thought the information would comfort him.

Sinnarn was clearly surprised. “He did?”

“Yes, he did. And you could do something else for a while if you wanted to.” Ithilden paused, wondering how much to press his son. In truth, he and Alfirin had decided that Sinnarn was not ready to become a novice yet, and Ithilden was ready to enforce the delay if he had to. But it would be better if the decision came from Sinnarn, he thought. He held his tongue, waiting to see what his son would say.

Sinnarn looked a little dazed. He had clearly never imagined that he would have a choice of what to do the next year. “What else could I do?”

Ithilden spoke carefully, afraid that if he sounded too definite, Sinnarn would dig in his heels as a matter of principle. “I wondered if you might like to spend some time working as a forester with your grandfather Erendrinn.”

Sinnarn wet his lips and looked away. Ithilden wondered what he was thinking. Sinnarn did not seem to be angry about the suggestion, and Ithilden was surprised by his hesitation. He would have guessed that as long as Sinnarn did not feel pressured, he would jump at the chance to seize a little freedom. Finally, Sinnarn looked back again to meet his eyes. “Adar, do you not think I will do well as a warrior?” Sinnarn was trying to sound casual, but there was no mistaking the anguish in his tone.

“I do,” Ithilden said hastily. “Of course, I think you will do well at it or at anything else you try. I simply think there is no hurry. And you can serve the realm among its trees for a while too.”

The muscles in Sinnarn’s shoulders suddenly relaxed, and Ithilden thought he could actually see the idea of spending a year in the forest taking hold in Sinnarn head. He decided to let well enough alone for now. “Think about it,” he said, rising with the intention of leaving. “We can talk about this again whenever you like.” He thought – he hoped! – that Sinnarn would decide in favor of the delay, but he would have to see.

He looked at the harp, still in Sinnarn’s hands, and thought again of his mother. “Did I ever tell you that my naneth gave me my first harp?”

Sinnarn nodded. “You have told me several times.” His tone was once again the impatient one that Ithilden had come to expect, but Ithilden refrained from protesting.

“Your grandmother would have said there was no need to hurry. Indeed, that is exactly what she told me when I was your age.”

Sinnarn blinked at him, unexpectedly drawn from his parent-induced world weariness by the news that Ithilden might have had to wait for something at his age. He opened his mouth, probably to ask for more details, but Ithilden bent to kiss his brow and left the room, smiling to himself as he did so. It would not hurt for Sinnarn to realize that he did not know everything.


Thranduil entered the family sitting room to find that he was the first one there. He crossed to the small table against the wall, poured himself a cup of wine, and took it to sit near the fire that had been lit against the chill that had set in with the onset of evening. He thought with satisfaction of the letter he had just written to Educ, telling him that the Elves would not pay a larger commission on the purchase of the Dwarven iron. For once, things had gone well. Eilian had done a good job in Dale, he thought. Or rather, Eilian had done a good job in dealing with Bram, while Beliond had been his usual resourceful self in ferreting out evidence of the Easterlings’ treachery.

And apparently Legolas had immediately been suspicious of the spice merchant. Thranduil supposed that was not surprising, given Legolas’s history with Easterlings. Thranduil’s diaphragm tightened slightly at the idea that Legolas had once again been exposed to the dangers inherent in dealing with Men, a race that Thranduil had always found highly unpredictable. Indeed, if Eilian was to be believed, Todith had sent Legolas on this mission because he had been curious about Men and enthusiastic about seeing more of them.

Thranduil sighed. In his more rational moments, he knew that Legolas was well on his way to becoming a strong adult, but he still worried that his youngest son was too inclined to take on the battles of others and thus place himself in unnecessary danger. He hoped Legolas was not about to add Men to the list of those he felt obligated to protect.

The door opened and Ithilden entered the room. “Good evening, Adar.” He crossed the room to pour himself some wine.

“Good evening. Is Alfirin not coming?” Thranduil had not expected to see Sinnarn, who was still confined to his room, but Alfirin and Ithilden usually came into the sitting room hand-in-hand, a sight that always touched Thranduil.

“She is dealing with some crisis that has apparently occurred in the kitchen,” Ithilden said with a smile. “I did not press for details.” Ithilden looked at him inquiringly and sat when Thranduil signaled his permission. Thranduil could well understand why Ithilden left Alfirin to cope with whatever had happened. His son had enough problems as troop commander, and Alfirin ran the household with a competent hand.

The door opened again, and Eilian came into the room, although it was immediately obvious that he did not intend to stay. He had a cloak over one arm and carried a skin of wine. “I just stopped to say I will be out this evening. I saw Alfirin in the kitchen and told her so.”

With an effort, Thranduil refrained from asking about Eilian’s plans for the evening. As each of his older sons had come of age, Lorellin had insisted that he grant them more freedom and privacy. Indeed, he vividly remembered her kicking him under the table the first time Eilian had said he was going out after his coming-of-age ceremony. Eilian had been testing him, of course, trying to see if he would be allowed the same license Ithilden was. Thranduil had not been willing to go quite that far, but Lorellin had been firm in her belief that Eilian would behave better if he felt trusted, and Thranduil had had to admit that she was usually right about her sons, especially Eilian, whom she understood in a way Thranduil despaired of ever being able to do.

Certainly, Thranduil’s trust in Eilian had not gone awry on this trip to Dale. Eilian had done well, although Thranduil rather thought that he had not yet been told about everything that had happened on the trip. He was cautiously hopeful that whatever had been omitted was inconsequential anyway. Surely Eilian had better sense than to withhold something important. And if not that, then enough fear of the consequences of trying to deceive Thranduil.

Eilian looked at Ithilden. “Say good night to Sinnarn for me, Ithilden. I understand from Alfirin that you have him locked up. What did he do this time?”

Ithilden made a face. “The story is a long one, but sometimes I think he is as bad about seeking excitement as you used to be.”

And still are sometimes, Thranduil thought but did not say.

Eilian shrugged. “Surely you do not want his spirit to be destroyed by life in the palace?” He shot Thranduil a provocative grin.

“What I want is for him to survive to adulthood,” Ithilden said emphatically. Thranduil could only sympathize. At times, he had been reduced to wanting the same thing for each of his own sons.

Eilian laughed. “I suppose one needs some basic goals, and that one sounds pretty rock bottom. I will be on my way now, with your permission, Adar.” Thranduil nodded, and Eilian was gone.

Thranduil hesitated, wondering how much he could say before it would count as interference. “Sinnarn must have frightened you half out of your wits,” Thranduil said. Ithilden nodded and took a sip of wine. “Of course, your naneth used to say that it was hard to keep young males away from weapons and adventure, especially when they were fated for them eventually.”

Ithilden gave a small snort. “Naneth would never have approved of Sinnarn being so far from the stronghold.”

“True,” Thranduil agreed. “And she was never one for hurrying her sons into adulthood. She fought me fiercely to give you that extra year before you became a novice.”

Ithilden frowned. “What do you mean she fought you?” A startled look suddenly crossed his face. “Are you saying you considered allowing me to become a novice early?”

“I considered it,” Thranduil conceded, “although not for long. I was angry about you deceiving Lómilad, but I also knew that I needed you, and Lómilad said that if I wanted you to enter the novices a year early, he thought you would do well. Not that you fooled him, of course.”

Ithilden was still gaping at him. “You never told me what Lómilad said.”

Thranduil shrugged. “It was irrelevant. Your naneth and I decided to keep you back with your age mates, and I still believe it was a wise decision. In that extra year, you learned some things about using your strengths to foster those of others.” He took a drink of wine, watching Ithilden over the rim of his cup. His son was plainly still mulling over what Thranduil had told him. In as neutral a tone as he could manage, Thranduil asked, “What will you do with Sinnarn?”

Ithilden sighed. “We have decided to keep him back. We will let him do something else for a year, probably work with Alfirin’s adar as a forester, although he can choose to do something else if he likes.”

Thranduil let a relieved breath ease out of him. He should have known that Ithilden and Alfirin would make a sensible decision.

Ithilden looked at him. “Being a good parent is a subtle task.”

Thranduil smiled. “It is indeed. What you want, of course, is for your children to learn to stand on their own. You want to be able to trust that their decisions are good even if they are not the ones you would make.” He paused and then added wryly, “I find that last part is the hardest.”

Ithilden was regarding him thoughtfully. “Adar,” he began, “I think I will transfer Legolas to the Northern Border Patrol.”

Thranduil stiffened. “Surely that is not necessary yet. He is young.”

Ithilden smiled slightly. “And you will recall the novice masters saying that he sometimes lacked confidence and should be allowed to try his wings a little to build it. That is why I sent him to a border patrol rather than the Home Guard to begin with.”

For a long moment, Thranduil hesitated. Then he bit back what he really wanted to say and instead gave a single, brusque nod. “Very well. He seems to be doing fine. Perhaps he is ready for a new patrol.”

“You have much to be proud of in him, Adar,” Ithilden said gently. “I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been for you to be his only parent.”

Thranduil rubbed his hand over his face. “I shelter him too much even yet.”

Ithilden smiled ruefully. “We all do that a bit.”

The door opened, and Alfirin came into the room, looking harassed. “The spit gave way and dropped the roast into the fire. It is a bit charred, but I judge we can still eat most of it.”

“Is the meal ready then?” Ithilden asked, rising.

“Yes.”  She put her arm through his.

Thranduil too rose. “How long are you going to keep my grandson from my table?” he asked them.

They both turned to look at him, and Alfirin’s mouth pursed slightly but Ithilden’s lips twitched before he said, “He can spend a few more days contemplating his faults, and then he can probably be allowed to eat with us again.”

“Good,” Thranduil said, leading them from the room. “I miss having a young one about.”


Eilian leaned back against the wall of Galelas’s cottage, sipping cider and watching the morning sun streaking through the trees to dance over the grass in front of him.

“I have never been to Dale,” Galelas said. “It sounds like a lively place.” He looked better. There was more color in his cheeks.

Eilian grinned. “I think it is, although it is probably not usually as lively as it was when we were there.”

The sound of a raised female voice drifted out the open window of the cottage. “You cannot be serious! I know for a certainty that other warriors mend their own clothes. Their wives have told me they do.”

“When I am on patrol, I am busy. I have no time for such things.”

“Well, I am not going to do it for you. I am not your servant.”

The voice of Galelas’s mother broke in. “You are being unreasonable, Gewiel. You should be glad to do these little things for one of our warriors.”

“And why did you not teach him to do it himself? Oh, never mind!” A door slammed, and Eilian could hear only Tinár and his mother murmuring to one another.

He glanced at Galelas, whose face was red. “How much longer will you be home?” Eilian asked.

“I see the healer tomorrow. He will decide then if I am fit to return to duty. I do not think it will be long.”

Eilian hesitated. What he was about to suggest sounded forward, but he liked Galelas and wished he could have a happier life. “You have beautiful trees here. Have you ever considered building a cottage or flet for yourself?”

Galelas looked quickly at him and then turned his face away. “I am not here much,” he said in a muffled voice. After a second, he added, “And they are my family.”

Eilian watched a bird that was perched on a nearby branch singing its heart out in a lonely song that no one but Eilian seemed to be noticing. So far as he was concerned, the fact that the people inside the cottage were Galelas’s family was a large part of his problem. But what could he say? Even “I am sorry” sounded insulting. “I am fond of my family,” he finally ventured, “but sometimes I find I need to get away from them too.” That was true enough. He knew he was fortunate in having the love of his father and brothers, but sometimes the weight of their expectations fell heavily on him.

Galelas turned back to Eilian and smiled slightly. “I think that is what one’s friends and fellow warriors are for.”

Eilian returned the smile. “I believe you are right.” He leaned back and took another drink of his cider.


“That should do it,” Legolas said, flinging the last shovelful of dirt. Tynd nodded and wiped the sweat away from his forehead with the sleeve of his tunic. It had been their turn to dig the new latrine and bury the old one.

“How old do you think we will have to be before we are exempt from this chore?” Tynd asked.

Legolas laughed. “I would not get your hopes up that it will happen any time soon. Fóril still has to do it, so I think we probably have several hundred years to wait.”

Tynd looked at him. “Life here must be very different from what you were used to growing up,” he said mildly, plainly curious rather than critical.

Legolas shrugged a little self-consciously. His fellow warriors seldom mentioned his role as their king’s son, a discretion for which he was grateful. He loved being only Legolas the Warrior during his time on patrol. “True,” he acknowledged. “And I cannot tell you how relieved I am not to have to go to formal banquets here.”

Tynd laughed and then turned as Fóril came trotting up. “Beliond is looking for you, Legolas. He is in your flet.”

“Thank you.” Legolas handed Fóril the shovel. “Would you put that away for me please? My lot will be happier if I do not keep Beliond waiting.” The other two laughed.

“The old grouch has something up his sleeve,” Fóril said. “He spent most of the morning off by himself, thinking.”

“How is that different from always?” Tynd asked. “Beliond is never what I would call sociable.”

“He is all right,” Legolas defended his keeper, although in truth, Beliond’s constant criticism sometimes wore on him. He knew he should be trying to learn from it, but he could not help occasionally letting it wear him down. Beliond never seemed to have much confidence in Legolas’s abilities, and no matter what else Legolas thought of him, he knew that Beliond was a far more experienced and skilled warrior than he was. Yet Beliond constantly told him things he already knew, and what was more, that Beliond knew that he knew.

Still, lately Legolas had been feeling more able to judge when he had merited Beliond’s rebuke and when his keeper was simply speaking out of his own fear for Legolas’s safety. Although he had never said so, Legolas knew that Beliond was fond of him, and in turn, he had developed a great deal of respect and affection for the Elf whom Fóril aptly called “the old grouch.”

He crossed the camp and scaled the tree to his flet to find Beliond waiting for him. Beliond looked up from where he sat cross-legged in the middle of the flet, holding a good-sized wooden box in his lap. “I am sorry to be slow,” Legolas said. “I was burying the latrine.”

Beliond waved his concern away. “I have decided that you have earned the right to learn to open a lock without a key,” he said.

Legolas blinked. “You mean pick it?”

Beliond frowned. “That is a low term, but yes, that is what I mean.”

“Why?” Legolas asked bluntly. “When we were in Dale, you said you would not teach me.”

Beliond shrugged. “It occurred to me that I had admonished you not to let your longing for adventure make you careless, and yet, when we were in Dale, that was exactly what I did myself.

Legolas considered that confession and frowned uncertainly. “But what is the connection between that and teaching me to pick locks?”

Beliond sighed. “I decided that you had been clever outside the spice shop and that you had saved me from being discovered. So I thought that perhaps you deserved a reward. Enough,” he said impatiently. “Sit down here and do as I tell you.”

Legolas sat down next to his keeper and eyed the box Beliond held. “This will have to do for now,” Beliond said. “There are not many things with locks on them in camp.”

Legolas saw that the box closed with a lock whose key was in it. Beliond pulled the key free and handed the box to Legolas. “You should use your own dagger for this,” Beliond instructed, “so you will get the feel of working with its width and length.” Legolas pulled the dagger from his boot and held it poised, looking at Beliond inquiringly.

“First slide your dagger all the way in and then pull it out while twisting the lock.”

Legolas did as he was told.

“If you are lucky,” Beliond told him, “you have just made your job easier because some of the pins holding the lock in place have been knocked free. Now you need to move the rest of them.” Legolas frowned and Beliond said, “Think about how a key looks. Each protrusion on the key is meant to turn a catch inside the lock. You need to feel for those catches with the tip of your dagger.”

Legolas hesitated for only a second before inserting the slender dagger in the lock and beginning to probe its internal mechanisms. As he manipulated the tip of the dagger, he could feel it brushing up against places where the lock was solid and places where there seemed to be gaps. He could angle the dagger into the gaps well enough but sometimes he could then twist it to lift a catch and sometimes he could not.

“Not too much pressure,” Beliond instructed him. “Start with the one furthest back and listen for the sound of the catch sliding into the top of the lock.”

Legolas struggled, trying to feel what he was doing through the contact of the dagger with the lock and listening for the faint click that meant he had moved a catch. It was much harder than it had looked when Beliond did it. And then just when he was about to give up in frustration, he felt something give and the lid of the box sprang loose. With a crow of triumph, he lifted the lid and threw Beliond a grin.

“Good,” Beliond said. “Do it again.” He held up the key, ready to relock the box.

Legolas turned his gaze back to the box and was just lowering the lid again when he caught sight of what looked like a leather knife sheath with a leaf design worked all around it and the letter L embossed on it. For a confused second, he thought it must be his, but then he saw that it was not, and with a shock he realized that the sheath must have belonged to Beliond’s son, whose name he knew had been Lalorn.

Embarrassed to be prying, he hastily shut the box and held it out for Beliond to lock. Their eyes met and held, and then Beliond lowered his gaze and put the key in the lock. For the next half hour, Legolas worked with his dagger until he could open the box in just a few seconds. Each time he lifted the lid, he saw not only the sheath, but also the letters underneath in a hand he did not recognize and a rune of protection on a silver chain.

“That is good enough,” Beliond finally said. “You will have to practice with other locks too. I suggest you do so on your next leave.”

Legolas pictured himself picking locks in the palace and had to suppress a grin.  He was willing to wager that that would ruffle a few feathers. He closed the box for the last time and handed it to Beliond. His keeper rose to place it carefully in the small trunk that held his belongings.

“Beliond,” Legolas asked on impulse, “would you tell me about your son sometime?”

Beliond glanced back over his shoulder and then turned to slam the lid of the trunk shut. He kept his back to Legolas and said, “He was young, younger than you. He was brave. He was a fool.” He stopped and Legolas thought he was not going to say anything further. Then suddenly his hands tightened on the straps of the chest and he said, “There are times when I am furious with him and with Oropher too. Lalorn thought he was good enough to wipe out Sauron single-handed. But he misjudged his own strength.”

Legolas felt a lump grow in his throat. “I am sorry.”

Beliond still did not look at him. “He will be there in Valinor.”

“Are you ever tempted to sail west now?” This was something Legolas had often wondered but never dared to ask before.

Beliond turned to him and shook his head. “How could I leave the woods?” he asked simply.

Legolas looked off into the treetops and sighed. “Beliond, you do know that I am not Lalorn, do you not?”

“Of course I do,” Beliond said roughly. “Do not talk like a halfwit.”

Legolas looked back and met his keeper’s eyes. “I need you to protect me and to teach me. But I also need to know that I can take care of myself.  Having a constant bodyguard sometimes feels like having my adar around all the time.”

Beliond’s mouth gave a miniscule tremor. “Is that so bad? I wish someone had been around to protect my son.”

In the face of Beliond’s pain, Legolas nearly backed down, but he knew he needed to speak now or he never would. “How can I judge my strength accurately if you never leave me alone?”

Beliond stared at him and then gave a small snort. “Leave you alone? I do not think so. Thranduil would have my head. But I think perhaps you may no longer need as much nana-like advice as I tend to give.”

Legolas grinned. “How would I know enough to wash behind my ears if you cease giving me advice?”

“I am not going to cease,” Beliond said, “just give you less until you prove you need it. Why not? I need a rest.”

And now Legolas laughed outright. “Good.  Then I will not tell my adar it was you who taught me to pick locks.”

Beliond grinned. “He will know anyway,” he said confidently. “Never underestimate your adar.”

“I do not,” Legolas said fervently.

“But never underestimate what you have learned either,” Beliond added, surprising Legolas. “Thranduil should be proud of you.”

“Thank you.”

From beneath the tree, someone shouted that the evening meal was ready. “Come,” said Beliond, starting to descend. “You need to eat. You are still growing.”

Legolas laughed and started after him. It was true. He was still growing.

The End


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