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A Creature of Fire  by daw the minstrel

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


10. In Tuilinn’s Village

Fyndil took a quick step forward to put his arm around the shoulders of the sobbing woman who was, no doubt, Tuilinn’s mother. “I am so sorry, Eliviel,” he murmured. She clapped her hand over her mouth as if to try to contain her grief, but she could not stop her moans. “Is Nildur here?” Without taking her eyes off of the burden in Legolas’s arms, Eliviel shook her head. “Shall we bring her in?” Fyndil asked gently, and Eliviel nodded and backed away with Fyndil still close by her side.

Reeling from the shock of the Elf-woman’s grief, Legolas carried Tuilinn’s light form out of the bright afternoon sun to stand blinking in the shadowy cool of the cottage.

“Where would you like Lord Legolas to put her?” Fyndil asked.

Still without speaking, Tuilinn’s mother pointed to a doorway on Legolas’s left. Fyndil glanced at Legolas, and he stirred from his stupor to carry Tuilinn through it into what he saw without surprise was a small sleeping chamber. For a second, he hesitated. He was holding Tuilinn for what would probably be the last time. The chances were, he would never touch her again.

“You can put her on the bed,” said a strangled voice from behind him, and he glanced over his shoulder to see Eliviel standing in the doorway with tears running down her cheeks. Reluctantly, Legolas lowered the body onto the bed, bent to kiss the shrouded head, and then straightened.

The sound of running footsteps came outside and someone burst through the still open door of the cottage. “Eliviel?” cried a male voice. “Someone said that Fyndil has returned with strangers, and they were carrying a body.”

Tuilinn’s mother spun and all but collapsed into the arms of a tall, terrified looking Elf, who looked over her head at the figure on the bed. “No,” he breathed, but his protest lacked conviction. They must have known, Legolas thought dully. They must have felt the disturbance in their tie to their daughter and been worrying for days. He looked back at Tuilinn. She scarcely seemed to make a bump under his blanket now. He felt his chest tighten. Even her body would soon be beyond his reach.

Beyond the doorway in which Tuilinn’s stunned parents clung to one another, Legolas could see Fyndil looking at Beliond, who had wedged himself out of the way in a corner of the bedroom. “I will get the village leader,” Fyndil said and slipped out of the cottage.

Tuilinn’s father took a tentative step toward the bed with his hand stretched out to catch at the blanket, but Beliond lunged forward and caught at his wrist. “It happened four days ago,” he said, a note of warning in his voice. The Elf looked at him and then drew a deep, shuddering breath.

“What happened?” he asked.

“A dragon attacked Erebor,” Beliond told him, “and she was caught in the destruction when it knocked down a building.” He paused and then added gently, “I do not think she suffered.” His face was twisted with pity, and again, Legolas remembered that Beliond too had lost a child to death. Legolas knew he should be trying to comfort these people and felt slightly guilty for his inability to do so, but at the moment, he did not seem to be able to walk away from the edge of Tuilinn’s bed.

Voices sounded from the other room, and Fyndil appeared again, this time accompanied by two other people. Tuilinn’s parents turned toward them. “Eliviel, Nildur, I am so sorry,” said the Elf who was probably the village leader. His face was creased with distress.

“Come and sit by the fire,” coaxed the white-faced Elf-woman who was with him. “I will make tea.” For a moment, no one moved, and then Tuilinn’s father put his arm around her still weeping mother and guided her back into the central room.

Legolas watched them go, relieved that their raw grief was no longer before him. Then he looked down and touched the edge of the blanket in which Tuilinn was wrapped.

“Legolas,” Beliond’s voice pierced his abstraction, and he looked up to see Beliond beckoning to him. “Come. We need to go into the other room now.” Legolas hesitated. “Come,” Beliond repeated firmly, and slowly Legolas put one foot in front of the other and made his way back into the central room. As he and Beliond left the tiny sleeping chamber, Fyndil and the village leader entered. Legolas looked after them, wondering resentfully why they were allowed to stay with Tuilinn when he was not. He suddenly felt very tired and leaned against the wall next to the chamber door. Beliond sent him a concerned look, but Legolas ignored him.

Tuilinn’s mother was huddled in a rocking chair in front of the fire, while her father sat on a stool at her side, holding her hand. Legolas eyed them. He knew that her father – Nildur? Was that his name? – probably thought he was comforting his wife, but to Legolas, he looked as if he was clinging to her in his turn. The Elf-woman who had come with the village leader brought cups of tea to them both. “Drink it,” she coaxed. “It will do you good.” Both of them obediently sipped at the hot liquid, but Legolas would have been willing to wager that they had no idea what they were drinking.

I probably looked like that when Eilian was dosing me with the sleeping draught, he thought suddenly. He had had four days now to become accustomed to the idea that Tuilinn was dead, but while her parents had probably feared for her, they had known of her fate with certainty for only a brief time. He felt a stab of worried sympathy for these two people who had loved Tuilinn. This must be the most horrifying moment of their lives, Legolas thought, almost in wonder.

Fyndil and the village leader came out of Tuilinn’s room. “We will have the funeral at the hour of star opening if you do not object,” the leader said soberly.

Eliviel looked at him with anguish in her face, and Legolas knew how she felt. The body in the other room was the only tangible part of Tuilinn they had remaining to them. The funeral would make her absence complete.

“Thank you,” Nildur said with a small quaver in his voice. “That seems best.”

“I will take care of everything,” the leader said, and he and Fyndil left the cottage.

The Elf-woman who had come with the village leader was fussing about near the fireplace, apparently looking to see what there was to eat in the house. The neighbors would probably be cooking for Nildur and Eliviel for the next few days, and this Elf-woman would be asked what they needed. She looked at Legolas and Beliond. “Would you like tea?”

“No, thank you,” Legolas said hastily. His throat seemed clogged, and he did not want to have to pretend to drink tea.

“We would like some,” Beliond put in. “Thank you.” The Elf-woman furrowed her brow and looked from Beliond to Legolas and back again, but then she set about making more tea.

Suddenly, Eliviel looked up from her cup of tea and focused on Legolas, and his breath caught at how much her grey eyes looked like her daughter’s. “You are Legolas, the king’s son?” she asked.

He straightened a little, his attention caught by the slight edge in her voice. “Yes.”

“You were in Anyr’s village when Tuilinn was there after the floods?”

“Yes.” He swallowed against the painful lump in his throat. Both of Tuilinn’s parents were looking at him now.

“She spoke about you,” Nildur said stiffly. “She told us you might come to visit, but you did not.”

Legolas blinked at the bitterness in his tone. From the corner of his eye, he could see Beliond frowning, but his keeper held his tongue while Legolas groped for something to say. “I wanted to come,” he said, hearing with dismay how his voice shook. “But I did not know where she lived. She did not tell me, and no one seemed to know.”

“But you know now,” Nildur said. “How did you come to be with her?”

Beliond spoke up, apparently spurred by the skepticism in Nildur’s tone. “Tuilinn came through our camp on her way to Dale, and then we happened to be nearby when the dragon attacked, and we went to look for her and Fyndil. We found her helping a lost child, but we could not get her away quickly enough.”

Legolas could not allow Beliond’s account to be the only explanation of why he was with Tuilinn. He found he wanted her parents to know what had happened between them. He did not want them to think that he had toyed with Tuilinn’s affection. “This time I made sure I knew where she lived,” he said. He drew a deep breath. “I was going to come to speak to you as soon as I had spoken to my adar.” And suddenly a tear ran down his cheek. It does not matter, he thought wearily and let it fall.

Nildur and Eliviel both stared at him. Then as one, their faces softened, and suddenly, to Legolas’s utter amazement, Eliviel made a small sound, set her tea down, and rose to come toward him and pull his head down to kiss his cheek. She wiped the tear away with one finger. “Then you made her last days joyful, child,” she said in a shaky voice.

Legolas hesitated for a second, and then, a little awkwardly, he embraced her. “Finding her again was a gift from the Valar,” he said into the curls that were so like her daughter’s. He could feel Eliviel’s shoulders beginning to shake, and he patted her back, looking helplessly over her head at Nildur, who rose and came to put his arms around his wife and lead her back to the rocking chair, where he sat and drew her onto his lap. She buried her face in his shoulder and wept quietly while he stared off at nothing.

The neighbor tentatively approached with a cup of tea for Legolas, but Beliond intercepted her, took the cup to the table, and added honey from the pot that stood there. “Here,” he said, shoving it into Legolas’s hands. “Drink it all.” Legolas opened his mouth to protest, but decided against it when he saw the fierce scowl on his keeper’s face. Beliond was worried about how little Legolas was eating, he knew, but he could not help himself. Bracing himself, he made the effort and took a sip and swallowed, making Beliond nod with satisfaction.

A knock sounded at the cottage door, and the Elf-woman making the tea opened it to admit the village leader. He looked at the couple sitting huddled together in the chair near the fire. “The arrangements are being made. Would you like us to help you get Tuilinn ready?”

Eliviel lifted her head from Nildur’s shoulder and wiped at her face with her hand. “No,” she said determinedly. “We will do it.” She rose and went to a chest in the corner from which she drew out a large linen sheet and hugged it to her breast. Then, followed by Nildur, she went into the sleeping chamber.

For a moment, Legolas feared that the sip of tea was going to come right back up. Hastily, Beliond set his own cup aside and said, “Come outside, Legolas.” They brushed past the village leader to go out into the late afternoon of a beautiful summer day, and then Legolas just kept going and walked unsteadily out of the little clearing in front of the cottage and into a stand of old oaks. He swung himself up, climbing until he found a broad branch and then nearly collapsing upon it. A second later, Beliond arrived next to him.

Legolas rubbed his left shoulder. He had not used the sling for over a day now, and although his shoulder was unexpectedly slow to heal, it had been feeling better. If it ached now, he supposed it was from pulling himself up into the tree. He could not believe that Tuilinn’s slight weight had done him any harm. Leaning back against the tree, he let his eyes wander through its dense greenery and scan the scattered cottages below him, the world in which Tuilinn had lived. In a clearing to one side, he could see Elves piling dry wood, and abruptly, he realized that they were building Tuilinn’s funeral pyre. Aware of Beliond watching him, he hastily turned to look in the other direction.

They sat in silence while Legolas tried not to think about what was happening in the cottage. Abruptly, he felt a passionate rebellion against the way things had turned out. Why could things not have been different? “I wish there had at least been time to exchange pledges!” he cried. “I wanted her to know I loved her. I want her parents to know that.”

Beliond sighed. “From what I saw of her in our camp, I think she did know, and I think now they do too.”

Legolas bit his lip and turned his face away from his keeper. Even Beliond’s sympathy was beginning to weigh to on him. If he had thought it would do any good, he would have told Beliond to go away and leave him in peace. Dully, Legolas watched the people who occasionally appeared on the path below him, going to or from the cottage of Tuilinn’s parents.

“I will be back in a moment,” Beliond said suddenly, and dropped to the ground to trot after an Elf who Legolas now saw was Fyndil. Beliond must have called to him because Fyndil stopped and turned, and the two of them spoke briefly. Fyndil nodded and turned back the way he had come, while Beliond returned to sit beside Legolas. He offered no explanation for his conversation with Fyndil, and Legolas did not ask for one. What did it matter what they had been talking about? He closed his eyes and tried to bring himself into harmony with the song of Arda, but somehow the music seemed discordant. And why not? he thought bitterly. Tuilinn was dead. How could there be beauty?

Slowly, the day faded. At one point, Beliond left again and returned with bread, some cheese, and a small skin of wine. “You have to eat,” he pleaded when Legolas shrank away from it. “You need all your strength to heal.”

Legolas knew he was talking about something other than the injury to his shoulder, but he could no more have choked down the food than he could have turned into a bird and flown away. “I cannot,” he said helplessly.

“The wine then,” Beliond coaxed, and Legolas managed a swallow. A sound beneath the tree drew his attention, and grateful for the distraction, he glanced down to see Fyndil.

“It is time,” Fyndil said, and Legolas looked quickly toward where he had seen people piling wood. Elves had begun to gather around the pyre. A little shakily, he followed Beliond to the ground. As he turned away from the tree, he saw Fyndil hand something to Beliond and then withdraw into the twilight, leaving Legolas and Beliond alone.

Beliond drew a deep breath and took a step closer. “You must do and say what will comfort you and Tuilinn’s parents, Legolas, but if you want to use this, here it is.” He pressed something into Legolas’s palm.

Legolas stared at small the object in his hand, and suddenly, it began to swim before him. “Thank you,” he managed, closing his fist tightly around the object.

As if to steady him, Beliond put his hand on Legolas’s shoulder and guided him to stand among the Elves near the pile of wood. Feeling very much like an intruder among them, Legolas kept his eyes on the ground until a murmur from the crowd made him look toward the cottage. Tuilinn’s parents were emerging. Nildur carried his daughter in his arms, wrapped in the sheet Legolas had seen her mother take from the chest in the cottage. Legolas could feel his breath coming in gasps, and for a moment, he was afraid he was going to disgrace himself by fainting.

The village leader and another Elf hastened to help him, and between them, they laid Tuilinn carefully on top of the pyre. Then Nildur stepped back and stood next to his wife, taking her hand in his. He looked straight at Legolas. Their eyes met, and, after a second’s hesitation, Nildur beckoned to Legolas. He froze, uncertain for a moment what Nildur wanted. And then he understood. Nildur was offering him a chance to mourn for Tuilinn, not as a stranger but as someone who was close to her. He walked on trembling legs to stand beside her parents. He stared at the figure on the pyre, closed his eyes, and swallowed.

The village leader spoke the ritual words. “People of the Woodland Realm, we have come to honor Tuilinn, daughter of these woods, known by us all and loved by many among us.  What words can we say about her?” Legolas opened his eyes to see who would respond to the question.

There was a second of silence and then a dark-haired maiden began to speak. “She was my friend from the time we were small,” she said, tears running freely down her face. “We played together in these woods, and many of my most joyous moments were those I shared with her. In my first memory of dancing, I am skipping along holding hands with Tuilinn.” Legolas blinked rapidly, suddenly uncertain of how wise he had been to come to this funeral. But really, it did not matter whether he had been wise or not. He owed his presence to Tuilinn and to her parents.

An Elf-woman holding a baby took up the thread. “She was there when my son was born. She eased my pain and added to my joy, and I had hoped to share the moment with her when the time came for her to have children too.”  With a feeling almost like relief, Legolas gave up the fight and let the tears come. He would weep for Tuilinn. He would weep for himself.

The voices of those speaking blurred, and he was aware of Beliond appearing at his elbow ready to support him as he stood and endured the endless moments. Finally, the voices ceased. The village leader looked around at them all. “Does anyone else wish to speak?”

Legolas knew he was beyond speaking, but certain that what he did was right, he stepped forward, opened his hand, and laid the object Beliond had given atop Tuilinn’s body. Then he stepped back to stand next to her mother, keeping his eyes on the silver ring that glinted in the starlight against the sheet in which Tuilinn was wrapped. Eliviel reached for his hand and squeezed it, and he put his arm around her.

After a moment’s pause, the village leader came toward them, lit the torch in his hand from one that was stuck in the ground, and gave it to Nildur. Nildur held it toward Eliviel, who put her hand over his. Then they both looked at Legolas, who hesitated. Could he do this? With bone deep sorrow, he knew he had no choice, and he joined his hand with theirs. They reached toward the pyre and set it aflame. Unable to watch the fire work, Legolas lifted his eyes to watch the smoke rise into the starry sky, trying not to see as the fire consumed its burden and fell in on itself.

More quickly than he would have believed, the moment was over, and the crowd began to drift away from the pyre, giving Tuilinn’s parents a last private moment with her. Legolas could feel Eliviel trembling next to him. Nildur cleared his throat and spoke. “Will you stay with us, Legolas? You would be welcome.”

Beliond had stood quietly by during the last part of the funeral, but now he stirred. “I fear we must be on our way,” he said, much to Legolas’s relief. The thought of sitting in that claustrophobic little cottage with Tuilinn’s grieving parents was more than he could bear.

Nildur looked at him knowingly. “When you can, you should come to see us again.” Legolas nodded, without speaking.

“Wait,” Eliviel said and broke from her husband’s embrace to run toward their cottage. She entered, and they waited in silence to see her emerge few moments later carrying a small cloth bundle. She ran back and handed it to Beliond. “I baked seed cakes this morning,” she said unsteadily. “You should take some with you.” She flicked a glance at Legolas, and Beliond nodded. Then she stretched to kiss Legolas’s cheek. “Take care.”

Legolas kissed her brow and exchanged bows with Nildur. “I will come when I can,” he finally managed to say. He felt Beliond’s hand on his elbow, gently guiding him toward where their gear was piled under the tree in which they had sheltered earlier, but he had a hard time tearing his eyes away from the smoldering fire.

“Can you manage your pack?” Beliond asked, drawing Legolas’s attention to him with a snap.

“Of course.” Legolas slipped the pack onto his shoulders, annoyed that Beliond would question his strength.

“Then come.” Beliond led the way into the forest, leaving Legolas no choice but to follow.

Because night had already fallen, they did not walk far before making camp, but Legolas was grateful to be in the forest instead of the village. They camped in a beech grove, and the trees murmured a sleepy tune whose harmony he could hear and draw comfort from. He collapsed wearily to lean against one of the trees and let Beliond take care of matters. I should help, he thought, but he was just too tired.

Beliond approached to offer him two seed cakes, but did not seem too surprised when Legolas refused them. “At least drink the tea,” he pleaded, and grateful for the way Beliond had not pressed the matter of food, Legolas managed to choke it down.

“I will stand the first watch,” Legolas offered.

“No,” Beliond said. “I will stand the first one. You rest for a while.”

Legolas lay back on the single blanket they had between them. He did not believe he would really be able to sleep, but he was also too worn out to resist Beliond’s offer. And then the stars overhead began to go blurry. There was something in the tea, he thought irritably. I will put my foot down in the morning. And then he slid away onto a dream path that was mercifully empty.

When his eyes focused again, Beliond had just set another cup of tea next to him. Legolas sat up. “What did you put in this one?” he asked sarcastically.

Beliond frowned at his tone. “Nothing. And you needed the sleep.”

“Tonight we will share the watch,” Legolas declared. “You cannot be the only one to stand guard all the way back to our patrol.” Beliond regarded him silently and then set about scattering the ashes of their campfire, while Legolas sipped at the tea.

They were on their way within a very short time, with Beliond in the lead and Legolas following behind, thinking about Tuilinn. He saw her laughing, felt her warmth as she pressed against him, and was grateful that Beliond was not looking at him, as he angrily wiped a tear away.

They walked for the morning, stopped at , and then had walked for no more than two hours further when Beliond halted them. “We will rest for a while,” he declared.

Legolas frowned. It was soon to stop, but he had to admit that he was tired. He sat down gratefully and took a sip from his water skin. Then he looked at the way the sun’s rays were slanting through the trees, and suddenly he snapped to attention. “Where are we, Beliond?” he demanded.

Beliond looked at him without apology. “We are about three leagues north of the stronghold.”

Legolas stared at him incredulously. “The stronghold? Just what do you think you are doing?”

“Do not argue with me about this,” Beliond snapped. “You are not fit for duty right now, and if I have to take you home by force I will. You need to be with your family.”

Legolas was outraged. “Elorfin will be expecting us! I am your lieutenant, Beliond. We will do as I say.”

“We will not. The king gave me the right to use my judgment in matters of your safety, and I am doing so now.”

Legolas was speechless with rage and helplessness. It was only too true that his father had given Beliond authority in matters related to his post as Legolas’s bodyguard. Moreover, as he looked at the determined expression on Beliond’s face, Legolas believed that he meant what he said when he threatened to use force to make sure Legolas went home. “You are outrageous,” he said coldly.

“Rail all you like,” Beliond said. “We will go home anyway.”

At that moment, a faint sound reached Legolas’s ears, and he turned his head to look southeast. Horses were coming, perhaps as many as half a dozen. He rose to his feet and automatically slid his bow from his shoulder. Those approaching were probably an Elven hunting party, since few others rode through this forest, but they were far from the stronghold if they were hunting. It did not hurt to be careful.

The horses drew closer, and Legolas caught a faint glimpse of motion through the trees, and then abruptly, he saw who approached, flanked by two guards who each led a riderless horse. “Adar,” he breathed.

Thranduil was off his horse before it had come to a complete halt. Without a second’s hesitation, he strode toward Legolas and embraced him. “I am so glad to see you, iôn-nín,” Thranduil murmured in Legolas’s ear. “After I heard Eilian’s tale, I have been worried about you.”

And suddenly, all the strength seemed to go out of Legolas’s legs, and he collapsed against his father.

“We will go home now,” Thranduil said simply and helped Legolas toward one of the horses.

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