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A Creature of Fire  by daw the minstrel

Thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter for me.


4. Visitors in Camp

Legolas finished checking the patrol’s healing supplies, noted that they were low on haru, and then hung the bag back on the branch where it was always kept. He looked around for Elorfin and found him seated at the smoothed tree stump that served as his desk, writing rapidly. Ithilden’s courier should arrive some time today, and Elorfin was, as usual, writing his report of the patrol’s activities at the last possible moment.

Elorfin looked up with a scowl as Legolas approached. He had evidently been rubbing his chin because there was a smear of ink on it. “Well?”

“We are well supplied with everything but haru, and we do not need to ask the troop commander for that. Most people are still on patrol, but I can send the hunters out to gather it when they return.”

“Do so.” He frowned at his report and then, as Legolas started away, he called him back. “Have you led enough patrols that you have been through our entire territory and had a chance to get to know everyone?”

“Yes.” Legolas had been away from camp leading small patrols for most of the first few weeks he had spent here, and the experience had indeed given him an opportunity to settle into the Northern Border Patrol. And now that he had gotten his feet well under him, he had been a second in command long enough to know exactly what was coming next.

“Good. From now on, you can write the reports. Here. See if I have left anything out of this one.” With a look of intense relief, he shoved the report toward Legolas.

Legolas accepted it with resignation, but not surprise. As a lieutenant, he had done this chore in every patrol in which he had served so far. Hatred of writing reports seemed to be universal among Wood-elf officers. He had just finished reading the report when a sentry’s signal announced the approach of a visitor, and a moment later, a courier rode into camp. Legolas handed the report back to Elorfin. “It looks fine to me, Captain.”

Elorfin nodded, signed the report with a flourish, and reached for the candle and stick of sealing wax. Legolas glanced up to see Vanduil, Galelas, Sinnarn, and Nithron returning from hunting for the patrol’s evening meal. Vanduil toted a bulging sack of what was probably rabbit meat. “I will see to getting the herb gathered,” he said and withdrew as the courier approached.

He intercepted the hunters as they left the campfire, where they had handed the meat over to the day’s appointed cooks. Galelas had been laughing over something Vanduil said, but as usual, he fell silent as Legolas drew near. Legolas suppressed a grimace. Galelas had been in two of the scouting patrols he had led since that first one, but they had been uneventful. Galelas had spoken to him as little as possible, but he had followed orders.

After that first patrol, Legolas suspected that Galelas had said something about him to Vanduil, or perhaps the young warrior had only read his partner’s body language, but he had been wary around Legolas for a time. However, along with the other young warriors Legolas had led, Vanduil had apparently been impressed by Legolas’s ability to respond to the forest, and when Legolas had consistently treated him with normal respect and no more than normal sternness, he had gradually relaxed, and indeed, had made an effort to stay near Legolas when they were tracking, apparently hoping to see him read the woods again. Legolas suspected that Galelas had observed his young partner’s admiration and had not liked it.

“It looks like you had a good day’s hunt,” Legolas said, “but I have another task for you before the evening meal. You need to go back out and gather haru. We are low.”

They had been heading toward the courier, no doubt hoping for mail, and now Sinnarn and Vanduil both grimaced. “Yes, Lieutenant,” said Nithron, turning away, and reluctantly, the younger warriors began to follow him.

“My mail is calling to me,” Sinnarn groaned as he walked away.

Legolas laughed. “You are just hoping for a package of your naneth’s honey cakes.” Legolas could understand that particular hope. Alfirin’s honey cakes were the envy of the whole patrol.

Suddenly, Galelas spoke up, his voice heavy with sarcasm. “Which do you think is more important, Sinnarn, making certain we have an herb to stop bleeding or opening a package of your naneth’s home-made honey cakes?”

Sinnarn turned, his mouth gaping in surprise.

“Leave it alone, Galelas,” Legolas snapped. He knew his voice was sharp, but Galelas was overstepping the boundaries of a warrior’s authority over his companions. Legolas had never seen him do that before, and Sinnarn, Nithron, and Vanduil all swung startled glances first at Galelas and then at Legolas.

Color flooded Galelas’s face. The hands at his sides opened and closed, and he seemed to struggle for control. Then, through stiff lips, he said, “Yes, my lord. Of course.”

Legolas felt the muscles in his shoulder tense. He was never called “my lord” when he was on duty, and Galelas knew it. Moreover, Galelas’s tone had stopped just on the safe side of insulting. “In this patrol, I am your lieutenant, Galelas, and you would do well to remember that.”

Galelas compressed his mouth in a thin line. Legolas waited, trying to make his face as hard as possible. Finally, Galelas all but choked out, “Yes, Lieutenant.”

Satisfied, Legolas turned to the others, who were all shifting from foot to foot in obvious discomfort. “Go get the haru. Your mail will still be here when you return.”

“Yes, Lieutenant,” Sinnarn said and turned to the other two, obviously relieved to be in motion. “There are a great many beeches east of here. We are most likely to find it there.”

“Indeed,” Nithron agreed, regarding Galelas with narrowed eyes. It occurred to Legolas that the haru-gathering party was going to be a tense one. He hoped he could rely on Sinnarn’s bodyguard not to let things get out of hand.

Galelas turned and saw what was obviously a sympathetic look on Vanduil’s face. “Get a clean sack for the herb,” he snapped, startling the younger warrior. Vanduil opened his mouth, shut it again, and then trotted hastily away. Nithron and Sinnarn drifted after him, while Galelas stood stiffly, staring after their retreating backs. He threw Legolas a single sharp look and then strode off to join the others.

Legolas watched him go. He was uncertain whether he had made things better or worse by publicly reprimanding Galelas, but he knew he could not let Galelas get away with undermining his authority. When he turned away from Galelas, he saw Elorfin watching him, with his face impassive. He waited a moment to see if the captain would want to speak to him, but Elorfin lowered his gaze to the dispatch he held.

“Do you want to tell me what is going on with Galelas?” said a voice behind Legolas, and he turned to find Beliond standing just behind him. “Because it looks like a personal grievance to me, one connected to who you are.”

Legolas grimaced. He knew that Thranduil had charged Beliond not only with guarding Legolas but also with training him, first as a warrior and now as an officer, and he was grateful for the help Beliond had given him. But sometimes he could not help feeling that every move he made was under scrutiny. “It probably is personal. He has resented me from the time we were both younglings learning to use a bow.”

Beliond shrugged. “Then he is jealous. You are exceptional with a bow, and I would guess you always have been.”

“We had come more or less to a truce over the years,” Legolas said, ignoring Beliond’s assessment of his skill, “but my promotion seems to have upset it.” He thought fleetingly of leading the patrol in which Naran had died and of standing on the doorstop of his parents’ cottage, with the young warrior’s body on a litter held by two warriors just behind him, steeling himself to knock and shatter the world of the people who lived there. If Galelas was jealous of that, Legolas thought he might be willing to trade places. Quickly, he suppressed the thought. Given his obligations as the king’s son, walking away from command would amount to failing in his duty. He glanced at Beliond. “Have you any advice on how to deal with him?” His keeper had been an officer long before Legolas was born.

Beliond pursed his lips. “He might respond if you could appeal to his pride as a warrior. He is unlikely to let his resentment interfere with his performance. But you did right to establish your authority with him. He will simply have to learn to live with that.”

“Mail for you, Lieutenant,” said a cheerful young voice, and Deliwyn put a letter in his hand and then went on his way, distributing letters to the few patrol members scattered around the campsite. Legolas’s mood lifted, and he felt a sudden flood of pleasure as he recognized Eilian’s sprawling script. This was the first he had heard from Eilian since they both had left home. He was eager to know how his brother found life in the settlement.

He turned to take his leave of Beliond and realized that to Legolas’s surprise and evidently his own, Beliond was also holding a letter. He never received mail, for his wife was in Valinor and his son was long dead. “Who is it from?” Legolas asked, unable to control his curiosity.

Beliond raised an eyebrow at him. “It is impolite to pry.”

Legolas gave an incredulous laugh. “You would check to make sure I had changed my underclothes if I let you.”

“That is an entirely different matter,” Beliond said serenely. He turned the letter over, looked at the seal, and smiled. “I believe this is from Maltanaur. Now that Eilian is safely tucked away in a settlement under his wife’s supervision, his guard is probably enjoying his own long leave and has time to write.” He looked at Legolas. “I will be in the woods but will be close enough to hear you if you signal. Do not go anywhere without me.” And with that, he departed, leaving Legolas looked exasperatedly after him.

As Beliond disappeared into the surrounding woods, Legolas turned his attention back to his own letter. Deciding to make himself comfortable to enjoy it, he swung up into the embrace of a nearby maple, opened the letter, and began to read.

Dear Legolas,

Here we are at last, Celuwen and I, nesting in a flet in Anyr’s settlement, and planning to stay for the rest of the summer and the autumn. We arrived last week and already we seem to be accepted members of the community, invited to share our time with friends if we like or spend the days and nights with only one another. We have had more privacy on this flet than we ever had in the palace, and I am happy to say, we have made good use of it. Are you blushing, brat? I know I am! But then, as you know, I am shy.

I begin to understand why Celuwen was so eager to come here for a few months. I cannot remember when I have had time to live like this – to sit under the trees or fly through their tops, to just listen to their song and that of the river, to spend the night singing under the stars if I choose. On most nights, the Elves here gather together to share a meal and make music in the woods. And I must say they are rather like the friends that Adar always wanted me to avoid because they seize any excuse that Arda gives them to celebrate. I think that in addition to the common meal there has been a festival of some sort on at least half the nights we have been here, and during those, the wine flows freely and the dancing grows wild, with the males bounding in great, leaping turns, and the females loosening their hair and spinning, their skirts floating around them. I will have you know that my wife is most fetching when she runs barefooted to join in the merriment. Away from the palace, she is enjoying herself mightily. I had not realized how difficult she has found it to live under constant public scrutiny and have her actions limited by the demands of palace protocol.

As you can probably tell, I find I like these rather feckless settlers. They know how to enjoy themselves, a talent that Adar would no doubt say I share, and his tone would not be entirely approving when he said it. At last night’s festival, I challenged another Elf to a race through the tree tops. This Elf’s name is Enuldor, and his flet is not far from ours. He has taken me on as a project, I believe, and has led me around to meet all of his friends and share in their doings. To my dismay, he turned out to be more than ready for the contest, and I barely managed to beat him. It seems that racing is common sport here. Enuldor jumped from tree to tree with a recklessness that left me in awe, and I had to take a chance or two myself in order to secure the victory. Celuwen was rather put out, actually, but I managed to charm my way back into her good graces.

I am less taken by Anyr than I am by his people. To my surprise, ten minutes with him told me you had not exaggerated when you described him. In our first conversation, he told me that the king did not understand him (which is certainly true), and he hoped I would speak to Adar on his behalf. I nearly laughed aloud. Then he told me that the people in the settlement were peaceful, and thus I would not find it necessary to wear my sword while I was there. I tried and failed to follow the logic of that. I had never thought that the settlers were the ones who would cause me to use my sword. However, Celuwen has convinced me to leave the sword on our flet and make do with my bow, knife, and dagger. I have to admit that I laugh as I write that. I sound as if I am armed to the teeth as I go about trying to ward off settlers who want me to go berrying with them, but I assure you, Legolas, I am subtle and sneaky. My new neighbors will never know what a savage I am, at least by Anyr’s reckoning.

Celuwen is concerned less about defending the settlement from the enemy than about defending it from the ForestRiver. It will perhaps not surprise you to learn that the settlers have made no efforts to protect themselves from floods since you were here several years ago. The river has not flooded badly since then, but of course it eventually will. When Celuwen suggested to Anyr that the settlement might build a dike to keep the flood waters from destroying their cottages, he looked at her with such horror that she might as well have suggested that the settlers cancel all feasts for the foreseeable future.

To my embarrassment, I find I think as Anyr does. (Please do not tell Ithilden that. He would think I had gone mad. And by the way, it is with a great deal of delight that I imagine the look on big brother’s face if he had to deal with Anyr!) But why should the river be bent to our needs? And truly I do not think that Celuwen’s heart was in the idea either. Now she has begun talking about building cottages on the flets, the way some of those dwelling near the stronghold have done. Several of the settlers – among them my friend Enuldor – seem to think this is a good idea. I suspect they are tired of having their homes periodically destroyed and are less willing than Anyr to let the future fall out as it may.

On the other hand, Anyr looks a little puzzled by this project. His people have built cottages and flets, but putting the two together seems beyond Anyr’s ability to imagine. The Elves who have responded to the idea just began constructing the first, necessarily larger flet today. There is to be a feast again tonight so they will have to stop working early to help prepare for it, but Celuwen is contended, and hence, so am I.

Still, I am a little unnerved by the fact that the settlers set no guard at all. You will recall that several years back, at Celuwen’s suggestion, Ithilden sent warriors to all the settlements to teach those who lived there how to defend themselves. Apparently, Anyr refused to allow the training here and then also refused to allow a warrior to be posted to the settlement. “We welcome anyone who wants to live here,” he told me when I asked about it, “but only if they wish to live as we do, and we do not wish to take up arms against other people.” I cannot imagine what he thinks will happen if the “other people” are carrying bows and swords and are pointing them at him.

I have tried to recall if I have ever before slept in an unguarded setting, and I do not believe I have. Even during the Peace, the palace was guarded. So while Celuwen sleeps here as trustfully as a child, I sometimes lie awake, probing the forest for any sign of danger. I suppose I have had the enemy come down upon me in the night too many times to really relax my guard. And then, of course, Celuwen is here, and I would not leave her open to danger if I could help it.

I have told her that I would be happy to train some of the settlers to protect their homes and families, but she says that Anyr would never allow it, and while she sees the need herself, she respects these people’s right to live as they choose. In my opinion, that is somewhat like allowing elflings to live as they choose, but as you might expect, I have not told her that.

I must close now because I am sending this letter to the stronghold on the raft from Esgaroth, which has stopped here (do not ask why – Celuwen swears she it taking care of it) and is ready to leave again. I trust it will be forwarded to you soon. Let me know how you are faring in your new posting. Tell Elorfin he owes me a rematch so I can win my cloak pin back. Give my regards to Galelas. And take care, Legolas. I look forward to seeing you soon, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and well recovered from your time in the south.

Your loving brother,


Legolas smiled as he finished the letter. Eilian had been very angry when Ithilden had insisted he take an extended leave, but he had needed it. During the last month or so that they had both been stationed in the south, Legolas had heard the despair in his brother’s voice every time he spoke. He had tried to talk to Eilian about it and had even considered writing to Ithilden and telling him of Eilian’s growing weariness. But then Eilian had gone home for his regularly scheduled leave, and Ithilden had saved Legolas the trouble by seeing Eilian’s state and extending his leave.

By the time Legolas had gone home on leave, Eilian had at least been resigned to the temporary loss of his command and had looked far more rested than Legolas had seen him in a long while. And now, in this letter, Eilian sounded happy. Time in the forest with Celuwen was working its magic on his heart. Legolas glanced back over the letter, noticing with something like wistfulness how many times his sister-in-law’s name appeared. Eilian and Celuwen had been married for eleven years now, and while Legolas’s duties meant he seldom saw them together, he could feel the change in Eilian even when he and Celuwen were apart. Legolas did not like to think of what Eilian would have been like in those last few weeks if he had not had his connection to Celuwen to sustain him.

As Legolas’s eyes skimmed over the letter, they came to rest on Eilian’s request that Legolas give his regards to Galelas. He grimaced. Try as he might, he could not understand how Eilian could not only tolerate Galelas but actually seem fond of him. He supposed that the answer lay in the sympathy Eilian always expressed over Galelas’s dreadful family and the way his parents failed to recognize Galelas’s good qualities even as they doted on Tinár. Legolas saw few good qualities in Galelas either, so he usually kept quiet about him around Eilian. Legolas was willing to acknowledge that Galelas was skilled with weapons, and while it pained Legolas to admit it, he had also seen Galelas doing a careful job of training Vanduil. But beyond that, he was not able to go, and yet, he knew that Eilian sometimes sought out Galelas’s company to while away the time. He could not make it out at all.

He let the letter fall to his lap and leaned back against the rough bark of the trunk, letting his blood’s flow settle into harmony with the flowing life of the tree. For the moment, he had no duties, and like Eilian, he had time to be a peace in a healthy forest. He thought of the concern he had seen on Ithilden’s face when his brother had decided he needed to be away from the south for a while and smiled a little ruefully. He would have to thank Ithilden for this gift of time and peace the next time he wrote to him.

Below him, the life of the camp went on, and Legolas kept half an ear cocked for any sign he was needed, but everyone seemed to be doing well enough without him. Most of those who were off duty were reading letters from home and sharing news with one another. He did take note when the herb gatherers returned, but so far as he could tell, they had survived their errand without descending into internal warfare. With a cry of delight, Sinnarn swooped down on the package that awaited him, one that indeed was full of sweets from the palace kitchen. He settled next to the fire, with the open package on his lap, doling out bits of honey cakes to Nithron and Vanduil, who had claimed their letters too and opened them with sticky fingers. Familiar with the kinds of packages Sinnarn usually received, other patrol members drifted up to share in the spoils. Only Galelas ignored them, taking the haru the group had gathered and sorting it into packets to be stored in the pouch of healing supplies.

The signal for approaching visitors sounded once again, this time from the northern boundary of the campsite. Surprised, Legolas turned in the branches to see who might have come. So far as he knew, the courier had been the only visitor they were expecting. For a moment, he saw no one. Then, through the leafy screen of branches, he spotted a sentry escorting another Elf into the camp. In his perch in the maple, Legolas was at the wrong angle to see the Elf’s face well, but he could see from the Elf’s clothes and the fact that he carried a bow but no sword that their visitor was not a warrior.

He tucked Eilian’s letter into his belt and stood up, ready to spring to the ground in case he was needed, and as he stood, the sentry and the strange Elf moved apart, and through the gap between them, he saw that there was a second visitor. And for a moment, he ceased to breathe. This visitor he recognized.

She was slim and graceful in the way of all Elf maids, and top of her head came to the level of the sentry’s eyes. It would come a little below that on Legolas, he knew. That drift of untidy brown curls would be just at the height from which he could inhale its sweet, clean fragrance. And then, as he stood staring, she lifted her grey eyes to look straight at him, and she too froze where she was. Tuilinn, he thought. Tuilinn has just walked into this camp. And with a rush of indrawn, leaf-scented air, he began to breathe again.

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