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A Creature of Fire  by daw the minstrel

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

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9. Escape

Legolas could sense Beliond’s driving need for haste as they left the devastated town behind them. Legolas ran as if through a nightmare, keeping his eyes on Fyndil, who ran just ahead of him with Tuilinn still in his arms. But he knew that his minder never left his side, although Beliond had his bow ready in his hands and kept scanning the sky anxiously. Even after they left the road and ran through fields and scattered small woods, they saw fires raging. As if it were a part of his own pain, Legolas could hear the note of mourning in the song of the trees through which they ran. The dragon was devastating not only the town, but the living world around it.

A low moan drew his attention, and he looked away from Fyndil long enough to catch a glimpse of Galelas’s face, pale even under its coating of dirt and bruises and twisting in pain as he lay in Vanduil’s arms. Legolas saw the distressed look on Vanduil as he tightened his grip, and then Galelas relaxed and Legolas knew he had lost consciousness again. Vanduil was undoubtedly doing his best, but he could not help jostling Galelas as he ran. Galelas needs to rest, Legolas thought vaguely, and then turned his gaze back to Fyndil.

He frowned to himself. Darkness was closing in on them, and he could not see Tuilinn as clearly as he would have liked to. He sped up slightly to draw nearer to Fyndil, but to his astonishment, he stumbled and would have fallen had Beliond not caught his arm. He could not suppress a cry at the pain the jolt caused his shoulder.

“Bear left toward those trees,” Beliond called, and Sinnarn and Nithron, who were leading the group, obeyed. They entered the shelter of a band of trees growing along a stream. “We will stop here for the night,” Beliond said. Nithron gave him a long look. “We are far enough, I think,” Beliond said, “and we need rest.” Nithron seemed to accept the argument, although he did not look happy. How far was ‘far enough’? Legolas wondered idly. He supposed he ought to try to determine that, but he could not quite see how.

With great care, Vanduil lowered Galelas, who was unable to suppress a groan. Hearing it, Legolas took a quick look at where Fyndil was putting Tuilinn down and then walked to where Galelas lay. “How is he?” he asked Vanduil, his eyes straying back to Tuilinn.

“He will be fine once we get him to the healers.” Vanduil turned his dirt-streaked face toward Legolas. “Why do you not rest a little, Lieutenant?”

Legolas blinked at him. This young warrior was under his command. It seemed incongruous for Vanduil to be telling him to rest. But he nodded without speaking and then went to drop to the ground next to where Fyndil had laid Tuilinn’s body and now sat near her. Legolas’s blanket was still wrapped around her, so he could not see her face, and he reached to move it, but then stopped, with his hand hovering over her head. She is dead, he reminded himself miserably. Leave it alone. He pulled his hand back, examining without interest a large black bruise on the back of it, and then leaned against the tree under which he sat, trying to draw comfort from its solid presence.

“I am very sorry for what happened, my lord,” Fyndil said. “She spoke of you.  She glowed with what she felt for you.”

Legolas blinked hard, knowing that if he began to weep, he would have difficulty stopping. “What was she doing in that street, Fyndil? Why had she not sought shelter or even escaped on one of the boats?” He had pondered this question obsessively since they had left Dale. What had put Tuilinn in that street at that moment?

“It was the child,” Fyndil sighed. “Someone said they thought he lived in the next street, and she was taking him to try to find his parents.”

Legolas could feel his mouth trembling and he pressed his lips firmly together. What if she had not run down that street? What if he had not seen her and dragged her into the ruins in which the patrol hid? What if he had not pushed her into the corner where the wall had fallen on her?

Stop it! he scolded himself. You cannot know what would have happened. If you had not seen her, the dragon might have snatched her up. If you had not pushed her into one place, she might have been in another just as dangerous. Ithilden told you that you could not have prevented Naran’s death in the south, and this is just the same. He wondered bleakly if he would ever believe that.

The ache in his left shoulder had eased a little now that they were no longer running, and he rubbed it absentmindedly. Long experience with injury told him it would be stiff by the next day, but he found he did not care. Tomorrow was immeasurably far away. The idea of planning for it left him utterly exhausted.

Beliond approached. “Drink,” he commanded, holding out a water skin. Obediently, Legolas took it and swallowed some of the cool water. Beliond took the skin back, patted his arm, and went to give orders to the others about setting up camp. I should be doing that, Legolas thought. He leaned his head against the tree. I will get up and do it soon.

Sinnarn came over and sat down next to him. “How are you, Uncle?”

Legolas crooked the corner of his mouth at him. Sinnarn called him “uncle” only when he wanted to make it clear that whatever he was talking about was private rather than a part of the patrol’s business, and Legolas knew that his nephew was trying to offer comfort. He wished Sinnarn would leave him in peace though. He was finding it hard to talk even to Beliond. “I am well enough.”

Sinnarn gave a sympathetic grimace. “We will get you home as quickly as we can.”

Legolas frowned. “Galelas needs to go home,” he said slowly. “He needs the healers.”

“He does,” Sinnarn agreed. “He is in a lot of pain. I suppose Beliond is steering us south because he is hoping to get Galelas at least onto a raft on the Forest River for the trip home. That would be far easier on him.” Legolas felt a stab of guilt that he had not even noticed the direction of their flight. But Sinnarn was right. If Galelas could make the trip home by water, he would be far more comfortable.

Beliond came back. “You cook, Sinnarn. Stew some of the dried food. I do not want anyone off hunting. Keep the fire low and under as much shelter as you can, but we could all use something hot, and we need to brew willow-bark tea for Galelas.”

Sinnarn rose obediently and went off to do as he had been told, while Beliond dropped to his knees next to Legolas and removed his pack. He rooted around in it for a moment before pulling out a tunic. He considered it and then pulled his knife from his belt and began cutting the cloth.

Legolas watched him without interest for a moment and then dropped his head back against the tree again. Its song altered, and as he noticed the change, he could feel his blood beginning to flow in time to the tree’s song, and the tightness in his chest eased a little. It had been here a long time, this tree, he thought, listening to the song. It had endured many a harsh northern winter. He supposed the comfort he felt was temporary, but that did not make it less real.

Beliond crouched beside him. “Lean forward,” he instructed. Startled by the interruption to his thoughts, Legolas obeyed, and Beliond draped the cut up tunic across his chest to tie it behind his neck. Then he took Legolas’s left arm and slid it into the makeshift sling.

“What are you doing?” Legolas asked.

“What do you think I am doing? That shoulder is going to be very sore tomorrow, but it will help if we support your arm.”

True enough, Legolas thought wearily. But a sore shoulder hardly seemed worth fussing about. Beliond’s grey eyes scanned his face. “Do you want to talk about it?” he asked softly.

“No.” Legolas swallowed. Even if he had wanted to talk about Tuilinn, he did not think he could. He seemed to have forgotten how to say anything that mattered.

Beliond grimaced and looked away. “You have suffered a great blow, Legolas.” He hesitated and looked back again. “Do not let it destroy you, son. They are with Namo and we may see them again one day.”

Legolas stared at him, feeling suddenly self-indulgent as he thought of Beliond’s dead son and long gone wife. “I will be all right,” he told Beliond, although at the moment he could not imagine how.

Beliond smiled slightly. “I know you will.” Just then, someone who was most definitely not an owl warbled an owl’s call. Beliond’s shot to his feet, and without even realizing it, Legolas did too, reaching for the bow he still wore on his back and then realizing he could not use it and grabbing for his sword instead. He edged closer to Tuilinn’s body to stand guard over it.

From the corner of his eyes, Legolas could see Sinnarn jumping away from the telltale light of the campfire while grabbing for his weapons, and Vanduil standing guard over Galelas, and he caught a glimpse of Fyndil moving swiftly into the branches overhead. It must have been Nithron who sounded the signal, Legolas thought, and then was appalled that he had not even known who was keeping watch. They waited tensely for another signal that might tell them who and how many approached.

Instead, a low hoot signaled that the visitors were friendly, and Nithron emerged from the shadows. “Elves approach,” he said.

Legolas sheathed his sword. These were almost certainly some of Thranduil’s people, warriors from the Eastern Border Patrol perhaps. If they had been at the northern edge of their territory and seen the fires on the mountain, they would have done what Legolas’s patrol did and come to see what was happening. “Who is it?” he called, surprised by how strong his voice sounded despite the constriction in his chest.

“Legolas?” came a startled voice from the darkness.

For a second, Legolas could not believe his ears, and then Eilian walked into the clearing with a lowered bow in his hand, followed by three Elves whom Legolas did not know. Eilian’s eyes swept rapidly over the sling on Legolas’s arm and the two figures lying on the ground. “What happened?” he demanded, sounding every inch a captain in the forces of the Woodland Realm despite the fact that he was on leave.

Legolas opened his mouth but found he could make no sound come out of it. What could he say that would convey the enormity of what had occurred in the last twelve hours?

Beliond shot him a glance and then spoke into the silence. “A dragon has descended on Erebor and Dale. Galelas’s leg is broken, and a maiden from one of the settlements was killed.” Legolas blinked. That was it? The ruin of hundred of lives and the destruction of his hope for happiness could be summed up in two sentences?

“What about you, brat?” Eilian asked, eying Legolas’s arm in the sling and then letting his gaze sweep over what Legolas suddenly realized were his torn and filthy clothes. Eilian had not missed the fact that Beliond had answered for Legolas.

“My shoulder is bruised,” Legolas answered as steadily as he could, “but it will heal.”

Eilian frowned. Legolas could see he was still worried, but Eilian had other matters on his mind too. He turned back to Beliond. “A dragon, you say?” His voice was sharp with anxiety. “Is it on the move or is it staying there?” He narrowed his eyes. “The Dwarves of Erebor are reputed to have great wealth stored in the mountain. I wonder if the dragon is seeking their treasure.”

Beliond lifted his hands helplessly. “I do not know. When we fled, the creature was in the process of destroying the town, and we had met some Dwarves who told us that it had already devastated the mountain.”

Eilian exchanged a concerned look with one of the Elves who had come with him and then gestured to all three of them. “These are Enuldor, Tebril, and Silman. They are from the settlement where I have been staying. We were in the grasslands engaged in some training when we saw flashes of fire on the mountain. And,” he added grimly, “if a dragon has moved onto our doorstep, even Anyr might concede that weapons training was a good idea. How is Galelas?” He started toward where Galelas lay.

“As Beliond said, his leg is broken,” Legolas said, following him. He found he wanted to stay close to Eilian. “The dragon knocked a stone down upon it.”

Eilian glanced at him again, apparently still hearing something in his voice. “You must have been close.”

“We were.”

Eilian squatted next to Galelas, who turned his head restlessly and blinked when he saw Eilian. “Captain!” he exclaimed and smiled weakly. “What are you doing here?”

“Checking on you,” Eilian smiled back. He ran his eyes over Galelas’s splinted leg. “I expect that hurts.”

“Not much,” Galelas answered stoutly.

Eilian patted his shoulder. “I would have thought you had learned by now that a dragon is much bigger than you and will probably win a fight.”

Galelas rewarded him with a laugh as Sinnarn approached holding a cup of tea.

“Mae govannen, Eilian,” he said. “So it is just as Grandfather has always said: You do have a talent for finding any trouble within a hundred leagues.” He crouched to prop up Galelas and offer him the tea. “It will ease the pain,” he protested, as Galelas scowled at him.

Eilian grinned. “You can be very annoying, Sinnarn. No wonder he looks at you like that.”

Legolas felt a faint twinge of irritation at Galelas’s bad temper, but Galelas was in pain, and anyway, it scarcely seemed worth bothering about. His attention wandered back to Tuilinn. Eilian must have been watching him, for he immediately rose and sobered as he looked toward where Tuilinn’s body lay. “Who was she?” he asked Legolas, leading the way toward the body.

“Her name is Tuilinn,” Legolas said, and to his horror, his voice roughened with the tears he suddenly felt welling.

“What is the matter?” Eilian asked, spinning sharply toward him. “Legolas?”

Legolas looked into his brother’s concerned face and was appalled to feel a tear slide down his cheek. “Tuilinn,” he repeated helplessly.

Eilian’s mouth dropped open in astonishment, and his eyes darted behind Legolas where Beliond hovered. Then he put an arm around Legolas and drew him a little further into the shadows of the trees. “You knew this maiden?”

“Yes.” Legolas’s legs suddenly weakened under him, and he slipped from Eilian’s grip and sat down abruptly.

Eilian was crouched at his side before he had time to draw a deep breath. “You knew her well?” he prodded, an edge of incredulity in his voice.

Legolas looked into his brother’s familiar face, one that had warmed with love for him from the time of his earliest memories. He swallowed. “We planned to bond.”

Eilian’s mouth opened and closed, and then he sat down and wrapped his arms around Legolas. “I am so sorry.” Legolas shuddered and rested his head on Eilian’s shoulder, aware as he did so of Beliond quietly moving away. He could hear the others speaking in low voices and smell the stew that Beliond had sent Sinnarn to prepare. But for a long time, Legolas said nothing, as he continued to shudder, and Eilian stroked his hair and murmured noises of comfort. Finally, Eilian said, “Tell me about her.”

Legolas drew a deep breath and lifted his head. “She was caring for the smallest children in Anyr’s settlement when I went there, but when she left, Anyr could not tell me where her home was.” Eilian nodded, his mouth twitching wryly. He apparently had no trouble believing that Anyr had not known where Tuilinn went. “But then, a little over a week ago, she stopped in our camp on her way to take herbs and medicines to Dale.”

“So there were only those two meetings?” Eilian asked carefully. “That was all?”

Hearing the skepticism in Eilian’s voice, Legolas struggled to explain. “She loves children. She helps the healer in her settlement. Her curls escape from any kind of clasp she puts them in.” He leaned forward, willing Eilian to understand. “I knew her, Eilian. The first time I saw her, I knew her.”

As the concern in Eilian’s face deepened, Beliond appeared, carrying two bowls of stew. He handed one to Eilian and extended the other to Legolas. “Eat,” he ordered gruffly. Legolas looked at the stew and nearly gagged at the thought of trying to swallow it.

Eilian reached for the second bowl. “I will take care of it.” To Legolas’s relief, Beliond withdrew, although his reluctance was obvious. Eilian put the stew in Legolas’s lap, but the smell of it turned Legolas’s stomach, so that he had to put it as far aside as he could. Eilian sighed. “You never could eat when you were unhappy.” He looked thoughtful as he ate a few mouthfuls of his own stew.

Legolas watched him dully and was suddenly aware that he was swaying, even though he was sitting down. Eilian hastily put his food aside. “You need to sleep,” he said firmly. “Wait a moment.” He rose, and Legolas watched as if from a great distance while Eilian made his way to speak to Sinnarn near the campfire. Sinnarn fussed about for a moment or two, and Eilian returned with a mug of tea that he handed to Legolas.

For a second, Legolas hesitated. He knew perfectly well that Sinnarn must have put something in the tea to make him sleep, and the thought crossed his mind that he was this patrol’s lieutenant, and he ought not to allow his alertness to be dimmed. Eilian watched his face. “Go ahead, brat,” he coaxed. “I will take care of your patrol.”

Legolas grimaced. Like his father, his two older brothers sometimes showed an alarming ability to know what he was thinking. But he trusted Eilian to do exactly as he said he would, and swallowed the tea.

“Where is your gear?” Eilian asked.

Legolas frowned. “I do not know. Sinnarn had my pack, I think, and my blanket--.” He hesitated. “My blanket is around Tuilinn.”

“You will use mine.” Eilian rose, went a short distance, and returned with his pack and blanket. He spread the blanket on the ground, and Legolas obediently lay down on one side and let Eilian removed his scabbard and lay it aside and then draw the other edge of the blanket over him. He had half expected that Eilian might go off to check on the others then, but instead Eilian sat down next to him. Legolas considered telling Eilian that he did not need to be tended like an elfling but decided he did not want to.

“The stars are beautiful tonight,” Eilian observed.

Lying on his back and looking at the sky, Legolas saw that Eilian was right. The stars were scattered thickly across the inky sky, and he wondered briefly how it was possible that the world should go on so when the peoples of Erebor and Dale had seen their homes go up in flames and Tuilinn was dead.

“Do you remember when Naneth died, Legolas?” Eilian asked softly, still looking at the sky.

Legolas stirred, reluctantly turning his mind to Eilian’s question. “No.” Both his mother and the aftermath of her death lived in a large, blank space in Legolas’s mind, one he had never been able to penetrate.

Eilian sighed. “For a time afterwards, I was not sure I wanted to go on living.” He lowered his eyes to Legolas. “And you were devastated. I would be lying if I said I know how you feel now because I cannot even imagine what it would be like to lose Celuwen, but I do know that you are made of tough stuff, Legolas. After Naneth, you and I both learned that it was possible to go on and be happy again in time.”

Legolas made no answer. The sleeping draught was beginning to take hold, and the stars were blurring. Still, he clung to Eilian’s words. He had trusted and drawn comfort from his brother all his life, he thought dreamily. He wanted desperately to believe that Eilian was telling him the truth now.

The stars faded, and then a slender figure walked along the path ahead of him. Suddenly he realized it was Tuilinn, and his heart leapt with such ferocious joy that he could not even speak, although he wanted to call out to her. It was a mistake after all, he thought, weak with relief. She is not really dead. As if in response to his desire for her, she turned and smiled at him, and he tried to hurry so as to catch up with her, but to his dismay, his feet seemed rooted to the spot. Abruptly, he knew that he was dreaming, and with that realization, Tuilinn faded from his sight, and he found himself slipping along a path that led him to the little woods where his patrol was sheltered.

“But I have never even heard him mention her before,” said Eilian in a low voice.

“I know,” Sinnarn murmured. “But make no mistake, Eilian. This was serious.”

“He needs to go home,” Beliond insisted.

Galelas needs to go home, Legolas thought. The sleeping draught caught at him again, and he slid away on another path, searching for something but uncertain what it was. A sweet, feminine face bent over him and smiled. Perhaps it was what he sought, he thought uncertainly, and then the path dipped deeper, and the night song of the trees swept over him and drowned out all else.

When his eyes focused again, he saw the trees around him glimmering in the pale dawn and heard the songbirds calling to one another about matters that were no doubt of great import to them, and probably to Ilúvatar. Today, I will get hold of myself, he decided. I remember telling Sinnarn we had obligations, and I need to live up to mine now.

Beliond lay next to him, wrapped in his blanket with only the top of his head visible. Legolas shoved Eilian’s blanket off him, intending to get up, but a hot stab of pain from his shoulder made him gasp and hold still for a moment. It had grown stiffer overnight.

“Where are you going?” Beliond demanded in a muffled voice.

“Where do you think?” Legolas asked a little unsteadily. “I need to check with the watch to find out if there has been any sign of the dragon coming this way, and then I should see how Galelas is.”

Beliond pushed his blanket away from his face and eyed Legolas narrowly. “Let Eilian do that.”

“No. I am in command here.” The idea of leading his patrol again struck Legolas as exceedingly appealing. If he could not be happy, he could at least be useful.

Beliond sat up, looking ready to protest, but Legolas was already on his feet, buckling his scabbard to his belt, and after a second, the worry in Beliond’s face eased a little. “Do what you have to,” he sighed. “Perhaps it will do you good.”

Legolas walked toward the campfire, where Sinnarn was already stirring the fire back to life so he could cook the morning porridge. Sinnarn looked him up and down. “How are you?”

“Better,” Legolas said determinedly “Who stood the last watch?”

“Vanduil did,” Sinnarn told him, waving a hand toward where Vanduil and Eilian both crouched next to Galelas. “I heard him tell Eilian that he could see fire toward the mountain, but nothing came within a league of us.”

Legolas nodded and went toward where Galelas lay. Both Eilian and Vanduil looked up as he approached, and from his place flat on his back, Galelas’s eyes flicked toward Legolas too. “How are you this morning?” Legolas asked.

“Not bad,” Galelas said. He looked as if he, like Legolas, was too worn down to bother being resentful. Legolas supposed the mood would not last, but it made a nice change.

“You can travel more slowly today, I think,” Legolas said, “so you will not be jostled about quite as much.” He looked at Eilian. “Can you and your friends take Galelas home? It would be easiest for him if you can do the last part by water.”

Eilian jerked to attention and then rose to his feet. “What are you talking about? Of course, I will help you get him home, but that is where you are going too.”

Legolas shook his head. “I am on duty, and I have obligations.”

“If you think you are going back to the border patrol, I can tell you that you are not,” growled Beliond, who had come up behind Legolas.

“Sinnarn, Nithron, and Vanduil are going back to the patrol,” Legolas said coolly, pleased by the extent to which he was in control of himself. “Elorfin needs to know what has happened to us and to Dale. You and I are going to go with Fyndil to take Tuilinn home, and only then are we rejoining the patrol.”

Beliond’s mouth fell open. “We are not! You need to be with your family.”

“I am in command here,” Legolas snapped. “The injury to my shoulder is minor, and I will do as I think best, which is what you and everyone else will do too.” This was better, he thought with satisfaction. He was functioning well, doing what he should. And besides, he had promised to go to Tuilinn’s village and speak to her parents. He would now do in grief what he had planned to do in joy. He would take care of Tuilinn in death as he had not been able to do in life, and then he would carry out his duties and not think about any of this too much.

A flush rose up Beliond’s neck, and he turned to Eilian. “Have you nothing to say about this?”

Legolas too looked at Eilian to find his brother eying him appraisingly. “Eilian is on leave,” Legolas declared. “He has no authority here.”

Eilian raised an eyebrow but said nothing. Legolas was aware of Vanduil looking at them with wide eyes and of Galelas’s startled gaze going from Legolas to Eilian and back again. He must have seen us quarrel before, Legolas thought irritably, and fleetingly, he wondered if Galelas had any idea at all of how normal brothers behaved.

Slowly, Eilian’s face softened. “If it is important to you to take Tuilinn’s body to her family, then I would not try to stop you, Legolas. I will see to it that Galelas gets home.”

Beliond took a step forward, his mouth open in protest, but Eilian caught his eye and shook his head, making Beliond gape at him. “Does Maltanaur know where you are?” he demanded.

Suppressing a grin, Eilian said, “Maltanaur is home with his wife, enjoying his leave.”

“He is going to be most displeased with you,” Beliond sniffed, making Eilian laugh outright.

Ignoring them, Legolas turned stiffly to walk toward where Fyndil had opened Legolas’s blanket and was scattering flowers and herbs over Tuilinn’s body. “We will eat, and then you and I and Beliond will take her to her parents,” he told Fyndil, who nodded without surprise and began to rewrap the body. Legolas bent to tuck in a stray curl and then walked away with a lump in his throat that made him avoid the campfire around which the others were now gathered to eat their morning meal. He could not imagine choking down porridge. Eilian and Beliond sat talking quietly together, and Legolas hoped Eilian was telling Beliond to leave him alone. He had no wish to listen to Beliond’s nagging for the three days it would take them to get Tuilinn home.

While the others ate, he caught up his pack, walked to the stream and eased his left arm out of the sling long enough to splash water on his face and then struggle out of his filthy tunic and put on a clean one from his pack. There were bruises all along his arms where he had thrown them up to protect his head, but they seemed too trivial to worry about. I can do this, he thought and then stood staring at the leafy tree tops, absentmindedly rubbing his shoulder.

“You will feel better if you use the sling.” Eilian’s voice startled him out of his abstraction, and he turned, slipping his arm back into the sling. “We are ready to go,” Eilian said. Legolas nodded and started forward, but Eilian moved in front of him. “Take care, brat,” Eilian said, embracing him.

For a moment, Legolas thought that the warmth of his brother’s affection might undo all his resolve, and he pulled away. “I will be fine,” he told Eilian, who simply nodded and turned to walk with him.

One of the settlers had already picked up Galelas, and Legolas saw Vanduil hovering anxiously at his elbow. Eilian smiled at Vanduil, scooped up his pack, and with a nod at Legolas and a last glance at Beliond, led his group southwest toward the mouth of the Forest River.

Legolas turned to Sinnarn. “I am putting you in charge of getting yourself, Nithron, and Vanduil back to camp and telling Elorfin what happened.” Rather to Legolas’s surprise, Sinnarn did not blink at being given this responsibility, but simply nodded, gestured at the other two, and set out heading northwest toward the territory of the Northern Border Patrol. Legolas watched them go for a moment and then glanced at the grim-faced Beliond and Fyndil, who held Tuilinn. “Come,” he said and led them west, intending to take the most direct route possible to Tuilinn’s village.

When he looked back on it later, Legolas never was able to recall much about the next three days, during which they journeyed west. He wanted to travel during every hour of daylight and some of the night, but Beliond flatly refused to allow it, insisting that Legolas needed to rest. Having won his point about not going home, Legolas decided the matter was not worth quarreling about, although he saw very little point to the extra rest time because he was sleeping badly and laid awake for long stretches, thinking about Tuilinn and drawing what comfort he could from the stars and the trees.

For the first two days, Beliond and Fyndil traded off carrying Tuilinn because Legolas’s shoulder needed time to heal, but on the morning of the third day, Legolas glared defiantly at Beliond and took her into his arms. She had grown light during the days of their travel, he thought. She was feather light in his embrace. He cradled her more tightly to his chest, reassuring himself of her presence.

They were near the village now, with Fyndil guiding them. And then Legolas caught a glimpse of a cottage off through the trees on his left and realized that the grass under his feet had been beaten into a path that threaded its way among yet more cottages. With his pace slowing slightly, Fyndil led them through the trees to the door of a little house, hesitated, and then raised his fist to knock.

Almost immediately, the door flew open, and a worried looking Elf-woman stood in the doorway, with her curly hair stirring slightly in the breeze. She scarcely glanced at Fyndil, but her grey eyes flew unerringly to Legolas, who stood holding his burden, with his heart twisting at the sight of the sorrow that suddenly bloomed in her face.

“No!” she cried, and then she began to wail inconsolably. And like water breaking through a dam made of sand, Legolas felt his control flow away, and he fell into the depths of her grief and his own.





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