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Blizzard!  by Nilmandra

Chapter 3: Guardian Elleth

Tinánia walked slowly through the softly falling snow, stopping at times to watch a particular flake drift from the sky and land on a leaf or branch, or gather with others, similar but always different, on the ground.  This snow was the first snow of the winter and would make their Mid-Winter’s Eve celebration all the more beautiful.  A dusting of snow would land on the lanterns, muting and reflecting their light.  She twirled once in the snow, laughter escaping her as she did so.

As she walked along the path near the river, her eye caught a slight depression in the earth, the snow emphasizing its presence.  The footprint was small, deep enough to indicate it was made by a child running in haste, and led away from the homes and the palace.  No accompanying adult print was near it; though an adult walking at normal pace might not leave any print.

Tinánia looked to the night sky, now filled with snow, and trepidation filled her.  Bellion had just said that a storm was brewing and the pretty, light snow just starting would turn heavy, with the blowing and gusting winds obscuring all within sight. She quickened her pace, thinking to check at the Great Hall to see if any elflings were missing. The snow seemed to fall thicker and harder even as she moved forward, and she realized that she might not be able to find the child’s trail again.  Something tugged at her, telling her to follow the trail.  Determinedly, she turned and followed the tracks.

As she walked, the snow did indeed begin to fall harder, and after a short way she began marking her own trail. If a child were missing, someone would come in search of them. She slowed, as she had to begin to look more closely to ensure she was still on the trail, for the footprints were becoming lost beneath the snow cover.  Occasional broken branches still guided her, however, and she thought of her tracking lessons, of how a panicked or upset person would leave such a trail.  She turned her thought again to the elfling she was following, to what fear or hurt had led the little one to run off in such a manner. 

* * *

Tathiel rocked Emlin until she quit crying, then wiped her face with a cool cloth that someone brought for her, and set the child back on her stool and watched her return happily to her task.  She smiled at how quickly a child’s world could change from tears to smiles.  As everyone who had gathered round her dispersed, she turned, looking for Legolas. He was not waiting for her and she glanced toward the doors, assuming he had gone out to hang more decorations from the trees.

When Tathiel next turned to look at the treat bags that Emlin was helping Elumeril fill, she saw that there was now quite a pile of them. She looked again to the doors, but did not see Legolas.  “I will be right back, Emlin,” she said.

She walked the length of the great hall, then stepped outside to stand in the falling snow. Legolas was not in sight, but she saw several empty bags on the ground beneath the tree, and the stool he had been using to climb up into the tree was knocked over and covered in a light dusting of snow.  Unease settled in the pit of her stomach.  She walked out onto the large of expanse of lawn and then to the bridge, but she saw no sign of him.  He did not answer her calls.

Turning, she ran back into the Great Hall. “Elumeril, did Legolas tell you he was leaving?” she asked breathlessly.

“No, Tathiel,” answered Elumeril, her eyes filling with fear as saw the fear in Tathiel’s eyes.  “Is he missing?”

“Go check his chamber and the family rooms,” instructed Tathiel briskly, quickly masking her own face. “He probably just returned to his room for something.”

Elumeril ran off to do as she was bid, and Tathiel gathered Emlin in her arms and turned her search to the rest of the Great Hall and the chambers that were nearby. No one had seen Legolas, however.  She met Elumeril in the hall, and the child wordlessly shook her head. Unease turned to real fear, and Tathiel went in search of the king.

* * *

Thranduil was meeting with his advisors when a guard stepped into the room unbidden.  He bowed and stepped forward, not waiting for the King’s leave, and Thranduil knew immediately that something was amiss. Before the guard could speak, however, Elumeril and Tathiel burst into the room behind him.

“Adar, we cannot find Legolas!” blurted out Elumeril, heedless of the roomful of elves, as she ran to his side.

Thranduil held out his arm to her, pulling her close, but turned to Tathiel, who did look nearly frantic.

“I am sorry to interrupt, my lord,” she said in a low voice as she bobbed her head in respect. “We have searched the Great Hall and his chamber and the family rooms, and we cannot find him.  I have walked only as far as the bridge, but I cannot see him and he did not answer my calls and the snow is falling quickly.”

Bregolas was already on his feet, issuing orders that would organize a search party within the palace as well as without. Lathron had pulled up a chair and gently pushed Tathiel into it, as she began recounting the afternoon’s events since Thranduil had left Legolas in her care.  As she finished, Bregolas spoke, “I have sent guards to find the children he was playing with this morning. Perhaps they have seen him.”

Thranduil could not help but check the family quarters himself, and he led the way to them with Lathron, Tathiel and Elumeril following behind him.  As they approached the apartment that Tathiel, Rawien and Emlin shared, Rawien walked out.

“You are back!” Tathiel cried as she ran to him.  As he embraced her, she thrust Emlin into his arms.  “I must go out and look for Legolas!”

Rawien caught her arm, confused, and Thranduil quickly retold the story.  The captain placed Emlin gently back in her mother’s arms and stepped back into his apartment, retrieving his cloak and weapons.  “Stay here with Emlin,” he said.  Then he turned to Thranduil. “Where is Bregolas?”

* * *

Legolas awoke in the darkness, a heaviness upon his back that felt like Lathron had piled thick blankets on him, burying him in some game.  He did not remember playing with Lathron, though, and his nose was cold.  Lifting his head, he felt something fall from his head, and it was not until he felt a cold wetness on his cheeks that he realized it was snow. He shook it from his head and sat up, feeling the weight of snow slide off his back.  It was dark and cold and the snow was blowing so hard that he could not see more than a few feet in front of him.

Memory filled him, but then fear took its place. He remembered running away from the Great Hall, but he did not know how far he had come or whether he had stayed on any kind of a straight course.  He felt tears fill his eyes and begin to run down his cheeks, and he buried his head into the neck of his cloak.  He cried for a few minutes, but then took a deep breath. As he calmed and took more deep breaths, he began to think about what Bregolas would do.  Bregolas would not be scared.  More importantly, Bregolas had told him that if one is lost in the snow, he should not just wander blindly, but find a shelter and stay put.

He tried to think of what Bregolas had said about shelters, and he suddenly sat up straight and looked around him.  He still could not see anything, but that meant nothing could probably see him either.  Bregolas had said not to take shelter with something that would not want to share its shelter, like a bear.  Or spiders.  But spiders would not be this far north, he reassured himself.  Surely he had not run so far as to go into their territory. He thought for a moment, his brow furrowing as he considered bears.  They would not like the snow, he decided, and were likely asleep for the winter.  He would be careful not to go where they were sleeping.

He took a few steps away from the tree, the wind biting at his nose and making his eyes sting and he could not see anything but snow. Trepidation filled him again, and he ran back to the oak tree, for it was the only big thing he could see that looked like it might protect him. He leaned against the comforting presence of the large oak, feeling the roots cradle him, and he wrapped his arms about the tree’s trunk.  He felt a soothing, comforting song coming from the tree, and then realized that the snow was no longer pelting against him. He looked out from beneath the tree again, and saw the wind whipping the snow in clouds of white.  Finally, he looked up, and saw that the tree’s branches were pressed up closely to one another, forming a canopy over his head.  He smiled, and leaned back against the tree. It would protect him.

* * *

Bregolas could hear the preparations continuing in the Great Hall. Musicians were tuning their instruments and the tables were being set.  The trees between the doors to the Great Hall and the bridge were decorated with lanterns, now shining beneath their coverlets of snow. He turned his back to all of it, waiting as his captains gathered to report what they had seen around the palace grounds.  He had already received reports from guards in the palace; they had searched all the long winding halls, the cellars, the pool and baths, and every place an elfling could conceivably find himself lost.

“Bregolas,” called Ethiwen as she approached.  “Tinánia is also missing.  She left the archery field after practice and never made it home.  Her bow, arrow, and quiver are missing.”

The group was in motion immediately, running lightly over the snow to the archery fields.  From there they formed a line, and began searching the path Tinánia would have followed.  Snow had covered any potential footprints, lessening their hope that they would easily find a trail to follow.

Bregolas was bent over, examining the branches just within the forest and trying to determine if any marks were recent, when he sensed the presence of his father.  He always knew when Thranduil was near, or when he was using whatever power he possessed to determine the presence of evil in his forest.  He looked up as Thranduil approached him.

“He is to the northwest and he is afraid,” said Thranduil calmly, the wind billowing his cloak out behind him as he looked in the direction he suspected Legolas to be.

Bregolas watched as his father closed his eyes, and he could feel the energy coursing through the air around them as he attuned himself to the forest.  He could not help but wonder if the storm was limiting the reach of Thranduil’s power. However, his father had sensed what direction Legolas had run, and it matched their conclusions that Tinánia might have followed him.

A guard ran up to them, the snow nearly obscuring his arrival until he was next to them.  “My lord, the children and their families are awaiting you in your receiving room.”

Thranduil did not immediately acknowledge the message, but instead turned to look into the blinding snow obscuring the forest beyond.  Bregolas could read his frustration, for he wished to search out his son, not interview the children who had upset his child earlier in the day.

“Adar, I will send word when we locate a trail,” he offered, slipping from commander to son in his advice.

Thranduil sighed and turned to the guard.  “I will be there shortly.” The guard moved a respectful distance back as the king lingered in the snowy wood a while longer, then followed him back to the palace.

Bregolas watched him leave only for a moment, then bent over again in search of clues.

* * *

Tinánia stopped beneath a large beech tree, to shelter a moment from the wind and snow and regain her bearings.   Several times she had lost the trail and had to back track to find it again, for the child had veered on and off the path.  As the snow depth increased, she knew she risked losing the trail she followed altogether, and she took great care to mark her passage as best she could.  She was actually surprised she had not overtaken the child, for her stride was much longer and by her estimation, this child was no bigger than Legolas.

She drew in a sharp breath.  There were not many children Legolas’s size living near the palace. Although, perhaps more had moved closer for the winter or the Yule celebrations.  Perhaps one had come that wanted to return home.  She began to sing, hoping her voice would carry to the lost child.  After a few moments, she resumed her search, though it was becoming harder to see by the moment.

She had gone only a few hundred yards further into the forest when the song of the trees changed. They were comforting someone!  She began calling again, and this time there came an answer.

“Hello!” came the response.  “Who is there?”  She detected only a small note of fear, but then, bears and orcs and spiders would not call to him in Elvish, either.

“Legolas?” she called, recognizing his childish voice.  “It is Tinánia!  Keep calling, so I may find you.  Sing to me!”

His voice rose in song, and minutes later she reached him.  Snow had begun to pile up around the canopy of the branches that hung protectively over him, and she stepped carefully over the drifts, for they were some protection from the storm.

“Legolas!” she cried, and she caught him as he flung himself into her arms.  “What are you doing here?  Are you injured?”

As she spoke, she was running her hands over him, checking for injury, but he seemed well and she felt him shake his head against her shoulder.  She wrapped her arms tightly around him and squeezed.  “You are cold,” she stated matter of factly.  She pulled the folds of her cloak apart and pulled him close, then wrapped them back around both of them.  “What are you doing here?”

Legolas hung his head. “I do not know,” he finally answered with a sigh. “But it was not very smart.”

Tinánia laughed.  “Running into a storm is not very smart, I agree.  But I am here now and we will survive the storm just fine.  I imagine your brothers and father are already looking for you, and I have left a good trail for them to follow.”

She waited for a few moments, while Legolas relaxed against her, and she gently stroked his hair beneath his hood.  “Why did you run away?”

Legolas took her hand in his, rubbing on her thumbnail, stirring memories of him doing that many years earlier when they were trapped in the Iron Hills. “Does Tathiel have to take care of me?”

“I think anyone who tried to prevent Tathiel from caring for you would have quite a fight on their hands,” answered Tinánia with a smile.  “You belong to your adar and brothers and sisters, but you were Tathiel’s baby too.”

“But would she rather be taking care of Emlin?” he pressed.

Tinánia tipped his head back so she could see his eyes. “Why would she want to choose? Why can she not take care of both of you?” When he did not answer, his brow furrowing as he considered his answer, she continued, “My naneth does not have to choose between Eärundra and me, and your adar does not have to choose between caring for you and Elumeril.  Sometimes children need different things at the same time and a parent must choose the order in which they provide for those needs, but they are determining what need must be met first, not which child is more important.”

Legolas suddenly sat up straight.  “Tinánia, were you there when I was born?”

“I was.” Tinánia smiled at the memory.  “I had never seen a baby born before. It was amazing.”  She paused for a moment.  “Your brother Alagos was there, and me and Tathiel and Eärundra. Everyone was so happy. Your naneth was so happy.”

“But if I had not been born, my naneth would not have died?” Tinánia heard the statement turn into a question as Legolas asked it, and though she did not know why he was asking these questions, she somehow knew that these questions had driven him out into the storm.

“I think that the guards would have had us take refuge in the cave even if your naneth had not been in labor; we would have stayed there that night even if the orcs had not come.  If you had not been born, but still been in your mother’s womb, it would have been so much worse because then you would have died too when those Men killed her.  No, Legolas, your birth had nothing to do with what happened,” she finished.

He looked at her incredulously, and she knew that her words were very important. “Legolas, did someone tell you that? Did someone tell you that it was your fault your naneth died?”

“Sort of,” answered Legolas.  He told her briefly about Abronwë and what he had said. “I do not know why he should care when I was born,” he finished.

“People like to gossip, talk about what happened, and the king is known by everyone, so people like to talk about him,” said Tinánia carefully. “What happened to us, to you and me and Eärundra and Tathiel was very unusual.  Many people thought we were dead.  But Tathiel kept us alive and your adar kept looking for us, and it was amazing we all came home.  It was especially amazing that you came home, Legolas, for you were just a baby. And because you are the king’s son, everyone knows about it.”

When Legolas remained silent, absorbing her words, she rubbed his arms and back, trying to keep him warm. “I can tell you what I do, Legolas, when people talk about it or ask me questions that seem tactless.” When he looked up at her, she continued, “If they say wrong things, I correct them nicely.  If they ask why I train with the novices in archery, I tell them because I like to shoot arrows and the warriors are kind enough to let me join them.  When they ask how I became so good with my bow, I tell them it was a gift from the Valar.  Sometimes it hurts my heart, deep inside me, because they do not know how scared we were or how awful some of the things were that happened to us, but the people who matter the most to us do know.  And because they love us, we can ignore the things people say that hurt us. Usually they do not mean to hurt us, Legolas; they are just curious.”

Legolas snuggled against her, content with her answers, and she realized night was settling upon the forest.  What light filtered through the leafless branches of the trees was replaced with blackness, even the falling snow could not be seen.  She could tell the temperature had dropped, but Legolas still felt warm cuddled against her, now sleeping.  She pulled her feet cross-legged beneath her, in hopes of warming them, and she sang softly to the tree, thanking it for the protection it was providing.  The snow walls growing around their canopied shelter were now several feet deep, blowing snow drifting into and adding to what had fallen. Soon it would reach the lower branches of the tree, forming a snow cave right around them.

* * *

Thranduil entered the smaller chamber adjacent to his receiving area in the Great Hall to find two families waiting anxiously for him.  Lathron stood impassively at the side of the room, his gaze lingering on the two ellon before him.  The mothers and the children squirmed beneath that gaze, while Thranduil thought the fathers seemed confused. All bowed as he entered the room, and he quickly motioned for them to rise as he sat before them.

“My youngest son, Legolas, is missing,” he began without preamble.  “This morning he was playing your children. I need to know if they saw him in the Great Hall this afternoon, and if they know where he has gone.”

Thranduil noted that the smaller of the two ellon immediately squirmed, while the other looked away.  He decided to ignore Abronwë for now; he also did not wait for acquiescence on the part of the parents for him to speak. “Narthan, did you see Legolas this afternoon?”

“Yes, Sir,” said Narthan timidly, yet Thranduil could see that he wanted to say more.  He smiled, and gently motioned for the child to come closer. “Did he become upset again?”

Narthan nodded, his fear dissipating at Thranduil’s kinder tone and gaze. “He ran out into the woods! He was very upset.”

“Had the snow started to fall yet?”

“It had just started. I had just caught a snowflake on my tongue,” Narthan informed him.

“Did you see which direction Legolas went?”

“He ran up toward where we had been playing. He said his brother taught him to skip stones there,” replied Narthan. “We called him, but he did not even look back.”

Lathron moved at those two key pieces of information, slipping from the room. Thranduil felt torn, his desire to follow and join the party great.   He paused for a moment, searching within himself for his bond to his youngest son.  He knew he should further question the children, but he wanted to be the one to find his son, fold him into his warm cloak, hold him close, and bring him safely home. Nothing else mattered at the moment.

He stood abruptly. “Please, attend the feast.  I will wish to speak with you later,” he informed them.  He turned and followed Lathron.

He flung his cloak over his shoulder, the swishing of the cloth causing Lathron to turn as he was fastening his own cloak. Thranduil noted the pack fastened to his son’s back. “You are joining the search, Adar?” he asked.

“I am,” replied Thranduil. “I will not wait at home this time.” He saw a flash of something in Lathron’s eyes; memory of years past, waiting. “Lathron, do you sense anything?”

“He is sleeping,” answered Lathron.

Neither voiced their thoughts, but fear filled their hearts.  If Legolas had not found shelter, then sleep might be the first step in succumbing to the cold.  He was too young to know that he must stay awake.

They stepped out into the cold and the nearly blinding blowing snow.  A blizzard was upon them.

* * *

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