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A Creature of Fire  by daw the minstrel

Thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.

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5. Tuilinn

Like a nail drawn by a magnet, Legolas leapt to the ground and started toward where Tuilinn stood immobile, as if waiting for him. He was vaguely aware that Elorfin was greeting both visitors, but he saw only Tuilinn. He had not set eyes on her in eleven years, not since the Forest River had flooded at the end of the Long Winter and Thranduil had sent him with food to Anyr’s settlement. Legolas had found this maiden there and assumed the settlement was her home, and then she had disappeared without a word to return to her true home, which, with typical, maddening imprecision, Anyr had said was “somewhere in the north.” Legolas had had to go back to his patrol with no chance to search for her, although he had looked for her at every gathering of Elves he had attended in the intervening years. And given the way she had left, he had feared that she did not want him to find her and so had stayed away.

And now here she stood, looking at him with her wide grey eyes, reminding him of nothing so much as a doe who cannot decide if she is alarmed or charmed by the Elf who is approaching her. He stopped about five feet from her, waiting to see how she would react, but she remained frozen in place. The pounding of his own heart made it hard for him to make out what Elorfin and the other Elf were saying, but he suddenly became aware that Elorfin was speaking to him. With a pain that was nearly physical, he tore his gaze from Tuilinn and looked at his captain.

“This is Fyndil, Legolas. Shall I assume you already know our other guest?” Elorfin lifted an eyebrow at him.

Legolas was not sure he had enough air in his lungs to speak, but he managed to say, “Tuilinn and I have met.” Because he had doubted the maiden’s feelings for him, he had not spoken about her to anyone, and now her name felt strange on his tongue.

Elorfin cocked his head to one side and looked faintly curious, but he made no comment on Legolas’s announcement. “Legolas is my lieutenant,” he told the other Elf. For the first time, Legolas took a good look at him. Fyndil was dark haired, with even features, and a pleasant aspect. And suddenly Legolas wondered what he was doing with Tuilinn. He glanced quickly at Tuilinn’s right hand and felt his shoulders sag with relief when he found it ringless, but he could not help being apprehensive over the fact that these two were traveling together.

Elorfin nodded at the sentry to send him back to his post and then gestured toward the stumps and logs around the campfire. “Come and sit and tell us if there is anything we can do for you. Our meal is almost ready, and I invite you to eat with us.”

“Thank you, Captain,” Fyndil smiled, and then he turned to offer his arm to Tuilinn, who stood next to him, still staring at Legolas, with her lips slightly parted. With a start, she seemed to notice that all three of the males were looking at her. A flush of pink stained her cheeks, and then, to Legolas’s dismay, she took Fyndil’s arm. Looking slightly puzzled, Fyndil glanced from her to Legolas and back to her again.

Legolas felt as if someone had struck him. “Legolas,” Elorfin prodded, and he realized that the captain wanted to walk toward the fire, and he was in the way.

Abruptly, Legolas remembered that he was standing in the middle of a public place. Get hold of yourself, he thought, trying to subdue the despair that threatened to choke him. You spent a pleasant evening with her and then she left. What did you think that meant? But his treacherous heart remembered an evening that was more than pleasant, and the warm touch of her mouth against his.

Resolutely, he turned to walk toward the fire and sit on Elorfin’s right. Fyndil seated Tuilinn on a log to the captain’s left and then sat down next to her and helped her remove her pack before easing his bow and his own pack from his shoulders. Legolas was aware that other patrol members were throwing curious glances their way, and he wondered just how big a fool he had already made of himself. With his back rigid, and misery settling in his stomach, he stared at the fire, keeping his face averted from the sight of Tuilinn sitting next to someone else.

“We are from a settlement southwest of here and are on our way to Dale,” Fyndil said. “We wondered if we might spend the night in your camp.”

“Of course you may,” Elorfin said. “What takes you to Dale?”

“I am taking medicines and herbs to a healer in Dale.” Tuilinn spoke for the first time since entering the camp, her speech more clipped that Legolas remembered it.

“Are you a healer, mistress?” Elorfin asked.

Legolas realized he did not know the answer to that question. You scarcely know her at all, he admonished himself a little bitterly. You made too much of a two-day acquaintance.

“No, I am not,” Tuilinn said, “but our settlement’s healer is friendly with this Man and trades knowledge with him. She does not like to leave the settlement without a healer, so I said I would take the things and explain them to him.”

That was like her, Legolas thought with reluctant pleasure in her generosity. After all, she had gone to care for the children at Anyr’s settlement simply because the Elves there needed help.

“Tuilinn assists our healer and has learned a great deal,” Fyndil put in. “I think some day our settlement will have two healers.” Unwillingly, Legolas glanced toward him and found him looking approvingly at Tuilinn, who was smiling gratefully back. Legolas looked hastily away again and saw Beliond seated a short distance away, watching him gravely. He immediately lowered his gaze to the ground, picked up a stick, and began to poke savagely at the dirt. Beliond had been with Legolas for the last day of his stay in the settlement and had seen Legolas and Tuilinn together. He had better stay out of this, Legolas thought with his jaw set. This is my business and only mine.

“Legolas, I do not recall seeing you in our settlement.” Fyndir’s voice made him look up again to find Tuilinn watching him, with her face unreadable. “Where did you meet Tuilinn?”

Legolas held Tuilinn’s gaze, and almost against his will, he found himself smiling at her. To his gratification and pain, she smiled slowly back, self-consciously reaching to tidy a curl that had escaped from the clasp at the back of her neck. He would have given anything to be the one to push it away from her brow. He swallowed hard. “After the Long Winter, she was in Anyr’s settlement when I went there on a mission from the king.”

“Ah!” said Fyndir. “I remember when you went to help Anyr’s people, Tuilinn. As I recall, while you were gone, your naneth slid from the roof of your cottage when she and your adar were repairing the thatching. She broke her wrist, I think.”

“Yes, she did,” Tuilinn said, still looking at Legolas. “My adar sent a message that I was needed at home.”

Is she trying to tell me why she left so suddenly? Legolas wondered, with a small shiver of hope.

“Captain?” Vanduil had approached. “The stew is ready. Would our guests like some?” Vanduil stood smiling at Tuilinn with his shoulders back and all the wrinkles in his tunic smoothed out. Sinnarn stood just behind him, holding a plate of stew in both hands, as if it were a precious gift.

Elorfin looked in amusement from one to the other. He was married, Legolas knew, but he no doubt remembered what it was like to be a young male whose glimpses of pretty maids came only at long intervals. “I am sure that both of our guests would like some stew,” he said dryly as Sinnarn bowed to present the food to Tuilinn. Vanduil had the good grace to blush and hurry back toward where the stew was being ladled out to fetch some for Fyndil.

“Thank you,” Tuilinn said to Sinnarn, and she gave him a much easier smile than any she had been able to muster for Legolas.

Legolas flung away the stick he still held and rose to fetch stew for himself and Elorfin. At the campfire, Vanduil spoke in an eager whisper as he dished up Fyndil’s stew. “How long will she, I mean they, be staying?”

“Just overnight, I think,” Legolas said.

“She is quite pretty!” Vanduil confided. “Do you think the one with her is her betrothed? She is not wearing a ring, but perhaps they have simply not exchanged them yet. After all, they are traveling together.”

“Stop gossiping and take the stew to him,” Legolas snapped. Vanduil recoiled, and then, obviously both surprised and wounded by Legolas’s tone, he marched away with the plate of stew, leaving Legolas feeling guilty.

Stop being a horse’s arse, he admonished himself wearily. He stood for a moment with the plates of food in hand. The sensible thing to do would be to talk to her, but he was not sure he wanted to face the humiliation of an outright rejection. She would be kind, he knew, but her kindness was not what he wanted. He would seize his courage and speak to her if he could, he vowed. And if she made it impossible for him to approach her, then he would know what that meant too. If she wanted the past forgotten, he had no wish to embarrass her by letting Fyndil know about the time they had spent together in Anyr’s village.

He walked back to his place, handed Elorfin’s meal to him, and sat down to try to eat, but his mouth was dry and his stomach tied in knots, and he managed to choke down only a few bites. He took it as encouraging that Tuilinn too seemed to eat little and that, like him, she sat silent while Elorfin and Fyndil talked about any dangers the Northern Border Patrol had seen and the weather that the travelers were likely to encounter during the rest of their trip to Dale.

He tried to keep his eyes from straying to her, but he really could not help himself, and to his enormous gratification, he sometimes found her stealing a look at him too. Slowly, the meal drew to its close. The sentries who were on duty came in and got something to eat; the night sentries went out to replace them. The patrol members who were on clean-up came and collected all their dishes. And still Legolas could see no easy way to get time alone with Tuilinn. Could he simply ask her to walk with him for a while? He did not see how he could do that as long as he was unsure of her relationship with Fyndil.

“Captain?” This time it was Galelas who had approached. Elorfin looked up inquiringly. “I have a flet ready for the lady, and her escort is welcome to share with Vanduil and me.”

Elorfin turned to Fyndil and Tuilinn. “You must be tired. If you are ready, Galelas will show you where you are to sleep.”

“I confess this has been a long day,” Fyndil said, rising and gathering his belongings.

Before Legolas could move, Galelas hurried to pick up Tuilinn’s pack. “This way,” he said, smiling at her and gesturing toward an oak. Fyndil rose and held his hand out to Tuilinn, who hesitated, shot a quick look at Legolas, and then accepted Fyndil’s hand to rise, although she dropped it once she was on her feet. Legolas’s heart contracted. Was she simply going to walk away again?

He came politely to his feet, and she gave him one more level look. Then, she said, “Thank you,” and followed Galelas and Fyndil away from the red glow of the fire.

For a moment, Legolas stood in bewildered immobility. Was that it? Was this maiden lost to him? He felt as if his throat was constricting, and he could not breathe for the pain of it. Abruptly, he knew that he had to get away. “I will check on the night guards,” he told Elorfin, who looked at him oddly but simply nodded. Checking on the guards was part of Legolas’s regular duties. While he thought he still had control over his face, he strode away from the fire into the darkness.

Away from the warmth of the fire, in the cool darkness under the trees, he stopped, leaning with his hand and forehead on the trunk of an oak and his heart twisting in despair. He could hear the song of the tree shifting, adjusting to his presence, and adding a note of sympathy to its sleepy nighttime murmur. I am in love with her, he thought in astonishment. I have loved her since I met her and have not known it, and now she is with someone else, and I will have to go on without her through all of time.

I do not think I can bear it, he cried silently, digging his fingernails into the oak’s bark.

For a time he did not measure, he stood by the tree, trying to master what he felt. He could not indulge his grief. He could not give into it. He had duties to perform whether he was happy or not. He drew a deep breath, and then, feeling as if he were walking in a fog, with all his senses dulled, he made the rounds of the sentries. He knew he spoke to each one, but when he walked on to the next posting, he could not remember what he had said, although he did recall a startled look on Deliwyn’s face, so he feared he might have been less clear-headed than usual. He could not help it. All he could do was stumble on.

At last, he had finished. Rather than return to the center of camp or the flet where Beliond was only too likely to be waiting for him, he made his way to a thick stand of beeches that was just inside the ring of sentries. Here he was likely to have as much privacy as it was possible to have in a camp full of warriors. Even in his anguish, he knew he could not escape beyond the sentry line. Given his rank, the sentries would probably not try to stop him, but they would be worried, and he would have reprimanded anyone else who did such a thing. Too weary even to climb, he leaned back against a silvery trunk and looked up at the stars. Was this what his life would be like from now on?

Suddenly, he became aware of someone approaching, although he could not see them yet and knew he had not heard them either. Frowning, he looked through the trees to his right. And out of the darkness of the summer night walked Tuilinn. She wore the same gown she had worn during the evening meal, but she had removed the clasp from her hair. It now cascaded down her back, held away from her face by a green ribbon.

For a second, neither of them spoke, and then she quavered, “If you wish me to leave you in peace, Legolas, I will, but I could not bear the thought of going away without speaking to you.”

His eyes were still on the ribbon. In the back of his mind, he remembered himself saying, “You need a ribbon. A green ribbon.” And then he had bent to kiss her. He shifted his gaze to her strained face. He had vowed to speak to her and he would. “Tuilinn, are you and Fyndil --.” He stopped, unable to say what he thought was true.

A look of unmistakable surprise appeared on her face, and then she seemed to catch her breath. “Fyndil is one of the Elves in my settlement who has been trained as a guard. He was kind enough to agree to accompany me so that I might travel more safely.”

Legolas felt suddenly lightheaded. “You and he are not--.”

“No,” she interrupted breathlessly. “We are not.”

He took a tentative step toward her. “You are happy to see me?”

She made a sound between a laugh and a cry. “It is shameless of me to confess it, but I have longed for you to come to me since the minute I returned home from Anyr’s settlement.”

He blinked. “How could I do that? You left without a word, and I did not know where you lived.”

She advanced a foot toward him. “But could you not even ask Anyr where I lived? Did that time we spent under the stars mean so little to you?”

“He told me he did not know where your village was!” Legolas suddenly felt a savage hope that Eilian would lose his small patience and kick Anyr into the Forest River for an unexpected swim.

She stared at him, and then, somehow, he had crossed rest of the distance between them, or perhaps she had crossed it, and he had his arms around her, and his face was buried in her hair. Her fingers twisted in his tunic, and he could feel her warm, quick breaths on his chest. With his fingers tangled in her hair, he tilted her head back slightly and, as if it were the most natural thing in Arda, he kissed her.

With an intensity that shocked him, he felt an upsurge of desire stronger even than what he had felt as an adolescent first learning to control his sexuality. This will never do, he realized in dismay. He pulled a bit away from her, breathing hard. He could feel her trembling slightly under his touch, and she looked up at him with wide eyes.

“You are leaving in the morning?” he asked. She nodded, and he loosened his arms to take her hand and draw her toward a beech. “Then let us spend the time we have with one another.” He put his hands on her waist, lifted her to the first branch, and followed her toward the starlight.

***

Dawn was creeping through the forest when he gathered her untidy curls in his hands and held them for her while she retied the ribbon. He bent to kiss the side of her neck where he had bared it, and she laughed softly. He could not remember ever hearing any sound more joyous. Reluctantly, he released his hold on her and backed away.

“I will come to see you when I can,” he said. “This time, I know where you live.” They had told one another many things during the short hours of the night, but the location of her settlement was the first question he had asked.

“I will ask Fyndil if we can come this way on our journey home.”

“I am on patrol sometimes, so I might not be here, but I swear I will come to you as soon as I can, so we can speak to your parents.” He took her hand, and they began walking toward the center of camp, where he knew his day-to-day life would already be waiting for him. But that would not be his whole life, he thought, his heart soaring. There would be love and joy waiting for him in a settlement a half-day’s journey away.

Suddenly, he realized that someone was leaning against a tree at the end of the beech grove. Tuilinn glanced at him, as he hesitated for a second before grinning and leading her forward. “Good morning, Nana,” he greeted Beliond cheerily.

Beliond narrowed his eyes but said nothing to Legolas. He did, however, bow slightly in Tuilinn’s direction. “Good morning, mistress.” He smiled broadly. “I hope you passed a good night.”

Tuilinn blushed, but she also laughed. “I had a very good night,” she said demurely. “Did you sleep well under that tree?”

“I stood guard duty,” he told her. “One would not want intruders to approach unexpectedly.”

“True enough,” she agreed, the color in her face deepening.

He laughed and offered her his arm. “Come and let me find you a place near the fire this fine morning. We will let this one fetch us both some porridge.” To Legolas’s regret, she let go of his hand, slipped her arm through Beliond’s, and allowed herself to be led away, looking back over her shoulder and smiling at him.

He hastened after them and entered the clearing around the fire to find Sinnarn cooking the morning meal. He picked up two bowls from the stack and held them out. Sinnarn bent to peer around him at Beliond and Tuilinn, who were sitting behind him, and then turned to look at Legolas with shrewd eyes that reminded Legolas uncomfortably of Ithilden’s. “The old bear had the gall to tell Elorfin that you were busy last night and should not be disturbed,” he muttered, flicking a rather thick ladleful of porridge into one of the bowls.

Legolas could feel his face growing warm. Did everyone in camp know how he had passed the night? I do not care, he thought suddenly, and gave Sinnarn a grin. “Good for Beliond,” he said.

Sinnarn laughed. “What will Grandfather say? Another settlement maiden! He has only just recovered from Eilian dragging Celuwen off into the woods and bonding.”

Legolas cocked a warning eyebrow at him. “I do not believe that Celuwen had to be ‘dragged.’ But as it happens, Tuilinn and I intend to behave ourselves and do this with some decorum. And I want to tell my adar about her myself, so I would appreciate it if you would keep your mouth shut.”

Sinnarn grinned. “If you say so.” He used a finger to scrape porridge out of the ladle and into the other bowl. “This seems to have gotten rather thick,” he frowned. “Sorry.”

Legolas grunted. “You should concentrate more on your cooking and less on my business.” Sinnarn simply laughed, and Legolas took the food to Beliond and Tuilinn, went back for his own, and then sat down next to Tuilinn to spend his last few moments near her. With warriors coming and going all around them, Legolas felt no need to speak, for they had said most of what they wanted to say during the night, and besides, there would be time now. There was no hurry.

Suddenly, Galelas stood before them, his whole body stiff with disapproval. “There is hot water on your flet if you would like to wash, mistress,” he said to Tuilinn.

“Thank you,” she answered, blushing slightly and rising. Legolas took the empty porridge bowl from her and watched her walk away. When she had disappeared, he turned back to find Galelas still looking at him with venom in his eyes. They stared at one another for a moment, and then Galelas turned and went to where Vanduil sat eating his second bowl of the glue-like porridge. He sat, but he kept his eyes on the ground and did not join in the talk.

Fyndir appeared just as Tuilinn returned, with her hair firmly brushed and already escaping from the clasp at the back of her neck. Legolas rose to meet them, and Elorfin joined them from the other side of the fire. Fyndir bowed to both Elorfin and Legolas. “Our thanks to you both,” he said. And with a smile at Tuilinn, he dryly added, “The Elves of the Woodland Realm are indeed fortunate to have warriors guarding them so closely in the night.”

She blushed to the roots of her hair, and Legolas could feel his own face growing warm too, but he could not stop himself from smiling widely, and Elorfin laughed. “You will have to visit us again,” Elorfin said.

“We will,” Tuilinn answered firmly. She looked at Legolas. “Farewell.”

“Farewell,” he answered and had to restrain himself from darting forward to kiss her brow.

Fyndir began to move away, and slowly Tuilinn started to follow. Legolas swayed toward her, struggling to restrain himself from going too. And then, suddenly, she turned, ran back, grasped his tunic in both hands, and drew his head down to kiss him firmly on the mouth. Next to Legolas, Elorfin laughed softly. “Take care, Legolas,” she said and turned away to run back to Fyndir, leaving Legolas with his face burning and his mouth tingling. With a long look back at him, she let Fyndir lead her away into the forest. He stood watching them disappear, aware of Beliond approaching to stand just behind him.

“She led me straight to you last night,” Beliond murmured thoughtfully. “That was how I knew where you were.”

Legolas turned to look at him, gauging the satisfaction in his face. “I take it you approve?” he asked dryly.

Beliond smiled, but his tone was serious. “I approve of love. Love makes warriors cautious.” For a moment, he regarded Legolas and then he turned away. “Come,” he called back over his shoulder. “You have a patrol to lead today, and I expect I will have to keep track of you until your head is out of the clouds and your feet are back on solid ground again.” Legolas moved slowly after him, savoring the way that Tuilinn’s very existence made every duty seem different.





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