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A Creature of Fire  by daw the minstrel

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

AN: If you are wondering where this story falls in my series, I have a list of all my stories on my author page. It’s arranged in chronological order by Legolas’s age.

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2. Leaving for the Woods

Legolas slid the last clean tunic into the pack, closed it, and drew the strap tight. He set it next to its companion near the door, where his quiver, bow, and sword also waited, and then left his chamber in search of his morning meal. Singing softly to himself as he strode along the hallway, he felt a certain amount of regret at the idea of leaving home again, but rather to his surprise, he also found that he was looking forward to going north. The week at home had left him much more relaxed than he had been when he arrived, and he could already see that some time in the relatively uneventful Northern Border Patrol would help him further. He would go back south eventually; Ithilden had said he would. As closely as he could figure it, he would probably go back about the same time Eilian did, and he was confident now that he would be ready when the time came.

He entered the small family dining room to find Thranduil and Ithilden already seated at the table. “Good morning, Legolas.” His father greeted him with a smile that Legolas thought looked a bit regretful. His father would miss him, he knew, but he also knew that Thranduil would never so much as hint that Legolas should not do what his duty required of him.

Legolas took his place between Ithilden and Thranduil, glancing toward his father for permission to sit. “If I have beaten Alfirin here, then I must be early,” he observed, placing his napkin on his lap. Because Alfirin ran the king’s household, including matters concerned with the king’s table, she was nearly always the first person to arrive for the morning meal so that she could assure herself that everything was in readiness for it.

Ithilden smiled. “She is packing up two new tunics to send to Sinnarn. She fears he will go naked if she does not clothe him.”

Reaching to help himself to some stewed fruit, Legolas laughed. “I knew I would not be bored in the Northern Border Patrol when I recalled that Sinnarn was posted there. As I recall, he has been a challenge for many of the officers in command over him.”

Ithilden grimaced. “As I told you when we spoke yesterday, my son will take watching. He is still far too likely to be thinking about how to amuse himself rather than the business at hand. I think you will be good for him, Legolas. He knows you are not much older than he is, and seeing you in a responsible position should sober him a bit.”

“Sinnarn will be fine,” Thranduil said, with the tolerance that, much to his sons’ amazement, he almost always displayed toward his grandson. “He enjoys making merry, and he makes mistakes, but he has never shirked his duty.”

“True enough,” Ithilden conceded, and Legolas could see he was comforted by the thought.

The door opened, and Alfirin came into the room, carrying a package wrapped in stout, waterproof cloth. Legolas rose, as Ithilden did too, reaching to draw out his wife’s chair at the foot of the table and hold it for her. “I have something for Sinnarn, Legolas,” Alfirin said, holding up the package to show him and then setting it on the sideboard and coming to take her seat. “I did not think you would mind taking it.”

“I do not mind,” Legolas said equably, resuming his place. He could see Alfirin running her eye over the table to make sure everything was as it should be. Evidently it was, because she relaxed and shot Ithilden a smile as he helped her to fruit and bread.

The door opened again, and Eilian and Celuwen came in, holding hands and looking pleased with the state of everything in Arda. Trying to suppress his grin, Legolas stood until Eilian had seated Celuwen across from him. These two had both been in fine feather since two days ago, when Eilian had spent an hour closeted with Thranduil and emerged with permission for him and Celuwen to spend his leave in the woods. Legolas had asked Eilian if their father had been difficult to persuade, and apparently, he had not been. “Adar went on a bit about the how the settlers would see me as his representative and how I would need to be diplomatic,” Eilian had grinned, “all of which is undoubtedly quite true, but I would say that he seemed relieved by the idea of our going. I do believe he feared I would grow restless and make trouble if I stayed here with no duties.” Legolas had laughed, although privately he thought that if that was what his father feared, he was probably quite right.

“When you finally decide where you will spend your time, you must let me know, Eilian,” Legolas said now. “I want to know where to write to you.” Any letter Legolas wrote would be likely to go home first in a dispatch bag, and then be routed to Eilian, but if Eilian and Celuwen chose to live in one of the northern settlements, Legolas might be able to send letters to them directly when members of his patrol were going in the right direction.

“But we have already decided which settlement we will grace with our presence,” Eilian said, with a grin. Legolas could see the rest of his family looking at Eilian with eyebrows raised inquiringly, and Eilian looked pleased by the drama his announcement had produced. “We will go to the settlement along the river near the forest’s eastern edge.”

Legolas blinked uncertainly. “You do not mean Anyr’s settlement? You are not going to the settlement that Anyr leads?”

Eilian looked at him, obviously puzzled by his tone. “Yes, that is the one.  Celuwen knows Anyr and says that she thinks that his settlement would be a pleasant place to live for a few months.”

Legolas gave a hoot of laughter. “Eilian, do you not remember what I told you about Anyr? No, on second thought I suppose you do not. You had been bonded for about two days when I told you, and you had other things on your mind.”

“What is wrong with Anyr and his settlement?” Eilian asked.

“Nothing is the matter with them,” Celuwen declared, and Legolas suddenly became aware that she was frowning at him. He struggled to control his demeanor but could not help laughing a little still.

“I am sorry, Celuwen,” he said contritely. “You are right of course that that setting along the river is pleasant. It was flooded the last time I saw it, and even in that condition, I could see its attraction. But you must admit that Anyr is exceedingly vague.” Legolas had acted as his father’s representative and taken food to this settlement when it flooded after the snows melted at the end of the Long Winter. He had found Anyr to be maddeningly impractical, one of those Elves who truly believed that Arda would provide anything he needed and thus he had no need to worry.

Celuwen looked a little mollified. “He is vague, but he is truly good-hearted, and now that I think of it, his weakness as a leader is another reason Eilian and I should stay there. We will enjoy ourselves among the trees, and we may be able to help Anyr create a bit more structure in that settlement.”

Eilian looked at her. “That should be fun,” he said dryly. “I am always patient when dealing with featherheads.”

“I think this is an excellent idea,” Thranduil put in. Legolas saw Eilian’s head swivel sharply toward their father. “Anyr will trust you, Celuwen, because he knows you have his best interests at heart. And in serving as a captain, Eilian has proven himself to be a capable leader.”

Eilian’s mouth dropped open.

“Of course,” Thranduil went on, “you will both have to be circumspect and tactful in encouraging Anyr to make changes, but Celuwen has a good sense of what the settlement dwellers will expect, and because she is my advisor, you can let her do much of the necessary negotiating, Eilian.”

Eilian’s mouth tightened again. “I promise you I will be wise enough to stay out of such matters and let Celuwen manage them, Adar,” he said, his voice edged with sarcasm.

Legolas saw Thranduil’s jaw set in almost the same manner as Eilian’s, but before Thranduil could say anything, Celuwen reached over to touch Eilian’s hand lightly. “Truly, I do think we will find that settlement a good place to live, Eilian. We could be happy there, and we could do some good too.” Legolas saw Eilian and their father both turn to look at her, and confronted by the honest hope in her face, they both relaxed.

“I am sure you are correct,” Thranduil said and returned to eating his morning meal.

Legolas relaxed too. In the face of tension between Eilian and Thranduil, Legolas had seen Celuwen make timely interruptions before. In truth, he was not even sure that she made them deliberately. At the moments she made them, she usually seemed to be focused on Eilian, to be responding to his emotional state, and to be utterly unconscious of Thranduil. Every time he saw it, Legolas was surprised and amused by her complete lack of fear of his father and even more so by Thranduil’s restrained response. Whatever the case was now, he was relieved not to have his last morning at home spoiled by a quarrel between his father and brother. He loved them both and was constantly vexed by their inability to get along with one another.

Eilian turned to Legolas. “It occurred to me only last night that Galelas is still in the Northern Border Patrol, Legolas. You will have to let me know how he is doing.”

Legolas tried to keep from grimacing. In truth, he was concerned about having Galelas under his command. He and Galelas had been novices together, and even then Galelas had resented what he saw as the favored treatment Legolas received as the king’s son. Galelas would undoubtedly conclude that Legolas’s parentage was the reason he had been made a lieutenant when Galelas had not and might try to make trouble.

Moreover, Legolas had to admit that he probably had been promoted partly because of who he was. Ithilden would never have done it if Legolas were incompetent, but all of Thranduil’s sons had been fated for leadership from the day of their birth. It was a fate Legolas was not always entirely comfortable with. In truth, he thought he was probably far less ambitious than Galelas was, but ambition had nothing to do with the obligations under which he lived.

For reasons Legolas could not fathom, Eilian had taken Galelas under his wing and was interested in his progress. “I will let you know,” he said noncommittally.

Eilian evidently read his tone because he raised an eyebrow. “He is a good warrior, Legolas. At least, when he curbs his competitiveness, he is.”

Legolas could feel his mouth twisting. “I will do my best to manage him, of course, but he can be very difficult.”

“You would be difficult too if Tinár were your brother,” Eilian said dryly. “I cannot understand how Ithilden’s aide tolerates sharing an office with the fool. And their idiotic parents dote on Tinár and ignore Galelas.”

Legolas laughed and tried to shift the subject. Talking to Ithilden or Eilian about dealing with a warrior under his command was one thing if they were in Ithilden’s office, but he did not want to be drawn into a discussion of such matters at the family table. “I have probably been made difficult enough by having you and Ithilden as my brothers.”

They all laughed. “I have frequently noticed how impossible you are,” Eilian agreed with a fond smile and let the matter drop. He probably recognized the inappropriateness of pressing the matter too, Legolas thought. Eilian was usually discreet about personnel issues in his own patrol. He would not expect Legolas to be any different.

When the meal was over, Legolas took the package Alfirin had made for Sinnarn and went to his chamber to gather his packs, weapons, and cloak. He managed to cram the package into one of the packs and went back out into the hall to find his family waiting for him, just as he had known they would be. Eilian took his packs, and Thranduil put his arm lightly around Legolas’s shoulders. Without conversation, they all made their way out of the palace to find the stablemaster waiting just across the bridge with Legolas’s new bay stallion standing contentedly at his side. The horse lifted his head and whinnied when he saw Legolas.

To no one’s surprise, Beliond also waited, his hand on his own horse’s neck. Legolas did not know how his bodyguard always knew when Legolas planned to leave to return to the field, but Beliond always did. Beliond saluted Thranduil and Ithilden, nodded to the rest of the family, and then turned to Legolas. “I like the new horse. He is obedient.”

Legolas laughed. “Why am I not surprised that that is the standard you apply? Did you have enough time by yourself this week to cure your temper?”

“My temper is as even as it always was,” Beliond snorted. He studied Legolas’s face and then smiled approvingly. “You look as if you had enough time at home to lift your spirits at any rate.” He took Legolas’s weapons and then reached to take his packs from Eilian. When he went to drape them over Alasse’s back, Legolas turned to face his family.

“Give Sinnarn our love,” Alfirin said wistfully as she embraced him and then released him so he could clasp arms with Ithilden, who brought his other hand up to squeeze Legolas’s shoulder.

“I will,” Legolas promised.

Celuwen stretched to kiss his cheek, and then Eilian refused his proffered arm and embraced him tightly. “Take care, brat.”

“You too. Keep him out of trouble in the settlement, Celuwen.”

“I will try,” she laughed.

Last of all, Legolas turned to face the tall, comfortingly solid figure of his father. “I am sorry to part with you so soon, iôn-nín,” Thranduil said, putting his hands on Legolas shoulders, “but I am certain you will do well with your new responsibilities, and I take comfort from knowing that the summer woods will be beautiful in the north.” He drew Legolas close, clasping the back of his head for a moment, in a long, elegant hand. Then he released him.

“Thank you, Adar,” Legolas said. “I will do my best.”

“You always do,” Thranduil smiled, and more gratified than he could say, Legolas leapt onto his horse’s back, while Beliond too readied himself for the ride north.

Legolas looked one more time at this little group of people whom he loved then asked, “By your leave, my lord?” Thranduil waved him on his way, and Legolas and Beliond trotted off into the summer morning.

***

Evening was slipping among the trees when Legolas and Beliond rode into the camp of the Northern Border Patrol. “Legolas!” cried Sinnarn, strolling up to greet him as he slipped from Alasse’s back. “I have been watching for you. Welcome!”

“Your parents send their love,” Legolas told him, embracing him.

The dark-haired form of Elorfin approached through the twilight. “How are you, Legolas? Beliond, it is good to see you again.” He clasped arms with both of them and then gestured for a young warrior who was hovering nearby to take their horses.

Before Alasse was led away, Legolas fished a handful of letters from a pack, took one, and then grinned and handed the rest of the letters, both packs, and his weapons to Sinnarn. “Make yourself useful and put these on my flet. Then you can distribute those letters from home to the patrol.”

“I see I am expected to fetch and carry for you, just as I have always had to do,” Sinnarn grumbled, but Legolas could see he was still pleased by his arrival. Sinnarn led Beliond off to show him where he and Legolas would be lodged when they were in camp.

“There is venison stew if you want it,” Elorfin invited, leading Legolas toward where logs had been arranged as seating around the fire.

“Thank you. I would welcome some hot food. Ithilden sends you this.” He handed the letter he still held to Elorfin.

“Bring the lieutenant a dish of stew, Vanduil,” Elorfin called and opened Ithilden’s dispatch as another young warrior hastened to obey. Legolas eyed Vanduil and some of his companions in bemusement. He had thought that some of the warriors serving under him in the south were young, but even younger faces predominated here, because this patrol and the Eastern Border Patrol were common postings for warriors after they had spent their first few years of service in the Home Guard. In recent years, Legolas had spent most of his time in the west or the south, which were more dangerous and thus were patrolled by more experienced warriors. He was going to need to adjust his thinking if he was to be an effective leader of the youths he saw around this campfire.

“How are things at home?” Elorfin asked, folding the dispatch.

“Peaceful. Parts of the forest may have fallen into shadow, but it has not yet managed to creep near the stronghold.”

Beliond emerged from the growing darkness, helped himself to food, and sat down some distance away next to Sinnarn’s bodyguard, Nithron. Sinnarn returned and circulated around the camp, passing out messages, much to the delight of his fellow patrol members. Then he sat down on Nithron’s other side to read his own letter, glancing up at Legolas from time to time, but evidently reluctant to interrupt while Legolas was talking to the captain. As Legolas ate the stew, Elorfin looked around at his patrol. Legolas recognized his assessing gaze: Elorfin was checking on the mood of his warriors.

“You have served here before, I know, Legolas, so I do not need to explain how we operate,” Elorfin began. “Our task is the same as it has always been: patrolling the border here, making sure that no one enters the realm without our knowledge. Now that you are an officer, the other thing you will be responsible for here that you probably did not do in the Southern Patrol is developing young warriors.”

Legolas smiled slightly. “So I see.”

Elorfin smiled in response. “Over half of the patrol consists of seasoned warriors, and we pair them with the less experienced ones. In truth, watching them learn is very rewarding.”

Legolas nodded. “Eilian says that too.”

“Eilian is uncommonly good at working with them, once he resigns himself to doing something that does not involve haring off after excitement. I hear he is on an extended leave.”

“He is,” Legolas agreed.

“How loudly did he howl when Ithilden told him abut it?” Elorfin grinned.

Legolas laughed. “I was not there, but I do believe I heard him all the way from the south.” Elorfin laughed too.

“Captain?” came a voice from the dark, and reluctantly, Legolas turned toward it when Elorfin did. He already knew who was speaking.

As he had expected, Galelas walked into the glow of the fire. He had been big for his age as a novice, and he was now a solid, mature warrior, but Legolas saw a familiar discontented set to Galelas’s mouth as his eyes slid over Legolas. “We brought down a deer,” Galelas told Elorfin. “The others are dressing it now.”

“Good!” Elorfin looked pleased. “We were running low on meat. Get yourself something to eat.” Galelas nodded and walked toward the fire to help himself to stew. Elorfin turned to Legolas. “Game is plentiful here. Our hunting parties find deer rather easily.”

“Good.” Legolas finished his meal and set the bowl aside. “Did you want to go over my duties tonight, Captain?”

“No. Get some sleep. I will probably send you off with a patrol right away tomorrow so you can refamiliarize yourself with our territory and start getting to know those you will command.”

Legolas nodded and then rose. Seeing him move, Sinnarn jumped to his feet too and came toward him. “Let me show you where you will stay,” Sinnarn offered, and Legolas followed his nephew toward a tall oak. They climbed quickly to emerge on a flet with two pallets rolled up against two small, waterproof chests. A tarp was neatly folded near the chests, ready to be raised in the event of rain. Legolas’s packs stood on one side of the flet, while Beliond’s gear had been stowed on the other.

“Our last lieutenant used this flet,” Sinnarn told him. “He shared with Galelas, but Elorfin said that Beliond would have to stay with you, so Galelas is with Vanduil now, which is all right because they often patrol as partners anyway.”

Legolas grimaced. Beliond would indeed insist on staying by Legolas’s side. Thranduil would have had his hide if he did not. But Legolas could not help believing that Galelas would have been annoyed by being made to move. Not that he would have wanted to share a flet with Legolas, of course. Ah well. Galelas was going to have to accept the fact that Legolas was his lieutenant. Legolas knew the danger that lay in letting any warrior subvert his orders, and he did not intend to tolerate open defiance from Galelas. Moreover, he hoped that Galelas was a seasoned enough warrior that he would not engage in it.

“I understand the more experienced warriors often work as partners with the newer ones,” Legolas said. “Have you ever been paired with Galelas?” He was curious about whether Galelas’s resentment toward the king’s family extended to Sinnarn as well as himself. It had always made him faintly uneasy that Galelas admired Eilian. He had wondered if maybe it was not just his position that annoyed the other warrior, but rather something about him personally.

Sinnarn looked exasperated. “You are like everyone else in the family! I will have you know that I count as one of the experienced warriors here. So no, I have never been paired with Galelas, which is probably a good thing. He seems less than charmed by me.”

Legolas raised an eyebrow. “You and he do not get along?”

Sinnarn shrugged. “No. He just ignores me, and I return the favor.” Sinnarn was obviously not particularly interested in Galelas, but then, Legolas thought, Sinnarn and Galelas had never been novices together. “I am glad to see you here, Legolas,” Sinnarn went on, “but I was surprised to hear you were being transferred. How are you?”

He eyed Legolas appraisingly, and Legolas realized that Sinnarn probably knew quite well why Ithilden transferred warriors away from the south. “I am fine,” he assured his nephew. “I think your adar really sent me here because he wanted me to keep an eye on you.”

Sinnarn laughed. “That is probably only too true.” He sank down to sit cross-legged on the flet while Legolas moved his belongings from the packs to a chest and the two of them chatted about the people at home.

With no noise of warning at all, Beliond dropped onto the flet, making them both start. “Nithron is looking for you, Sinnarn,” Beliond said, looking smug at his performance. “He wants to tuck you in for the night.”

Sinnarn rolled his eyes but rose obediently and bid them both good night. As he was disappearing over the edge of the flet, he paused and jerked his head toward Beliond. “Legolas, has it ever occurred to you that we members of the king’s household are much put upon by those who are supposed to guard us?”

Legolas laughed but had no time to answer before a scowling Beliond moved toward where Sinnarn’s hand still rested on the flet, and seeing his danger, Sinnarn hastily let go and slipped away. Beliond turned to shoot a repressive look at Legolas. “Do you need me to put you to bed?”

“No, I think I can manage,” Legolas laughed. He unrolled one of the pallets and removed his weapons to lay them where he would be able to reach them if he were awakened suddenly. As he readied himself for sleep, he was aware of the night song of the forest around him and the pleasant drone of tree frogs. Stars had opened and were making their slow march overhead. He had been right to be grateful to Ithilden for sending him here, he thought. He would go back to hard duty when he had to, but for now, he was happy to be where he was.

*******

AN: Legolas took the food to Anyr’s flooded settlement in “Spring Awakenings,” which is also the story in which Eilian and Celuwen bond.





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