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Thanks to Gwynhyffar for beta reading this chapter for me.
The Mouths of Babes
Beliond strolled along the path toward the small cottage he had built now that Legolas was the Home Guard captain. While he was aware of the wind rustling through the treetops and a cardinal singing seductively to a female who had other things on her mind, he was thinking about how exhausted Legolas had looked today. The fool needed to give his lieutenant more responsibility, but like everyone else in the House of Oropher, he believed he was indispensable. Idiot.
Then Ithilden had refused to, as he called it, "interfere." If Ithilden told Legolas that Beliond had come to him, Legolas would be put out. Beliond did not particularly care. And anyway, "interference" did not enter into the matter. The king had charged him with seeing to Legolas's welfare, and Beliond intended to do just that.
He supposed he would have to talk to Thranduil, but he needed to manage that with a great deal of tact. Beliond frowned. Legolas sometimes accused him of being tactless. That was untrue, of course. He could be as tactful as the next elf. It was just that he usually did not see the point, and then sometimes he did not think of tact until it was too late. This time, he had thought of it ahead of time, so he would be able to plan.
A crash of branches yanked his attention to the underbrush on his right. He grabbed for his knife, then eased his grip when he glimpsed something pink.
"Loriel!" called a voice. "Loriel, where are you?"
A little maid burst from the bushes and barreled toward him. He leapt back only barely in time to keep her head from ramming into his belly. She jerked away and stood panting before him, her gown smeared with grass stains, her dark curls springing loose from her braids and vibrating with energy that seemed to shoot out of her body. Her dark gray eyes met his.
Beliond had seen her around the stronghold since her parents moved from the village where they had been living, so he recognized her. But even if he had not, those wide, eager eyes would have told him whose daughter she was.
A keg and half of trouble lay there, he thought. Served her adar right.
"Loriel!" called the voice again.
"Is that you they are calling?" he asked.
"Then why are you running in the opposite direction?"
"Nimloth is hurt. I am getting help." She tilted her head to one side. "Can you help?"
He strode in the direction from which she had come, then looked back over his shoulder. "Move it." She jumped and trotted after him as he plunged along the narrow path, fending off hostile branches with his arms. He ducked around a hawthorn and emerged in the meadow.
A slim woman was turning around calling "Loriel!" in increasingly frantic tones. At her feet, an older woman sat in the grass, her eyes scanning the trees along the meadow's edge. Beliond recognized her as Nimloth, whom he had seen around the stronghold with Loriel in tow. The other was Nimloth's daughter-in-law. Beliond fished for a name. Siriel, that was it.
Loriel darted around him and ran toward the women. "Here I am!" She scrunched up her brow. "Does it hurt, Nimloth?"
"A little. What have I told you about running off?"
Loriel's eyes widened at her sharp tone. "I am sorry. Siriel said we needed help, and I went and found it." She pointed at Beliond. "I found Uncle Legolas's Nana."
The corners of Nimloth's mouth twitched. Siriel asked, "Who?"
Beliond ignored the question. "What seems to be the trouble?"
"I stepped in a rabbit hole and turned my ankle," Nimloth said.
Beliond glanced to where her lifted skirt showed an already puffy bulge in her stocking. He crouched. "Put your arm around my shoulder. I will have you home in no time."
"I can help her home," Siriel said, "but I cannot manage Loriel at the same time. Can you take her to the palace?"
Loriel twirled on the ball of one foot. "I can go by myself. I know the way." She skipped two paces off before Beliond lunged and grabbed the back of her gown. He twisted his fingers in the linen, and she squawked. He loosened his grip, but only slightly.
Nimloth bit her lip. "I am not sure Beliond taking her is a good idea, Siriel. Perhaps you should take Loriel while Beliond helps me."
"I want to wrap that ankle right away," Siriel said, "but I do not want to keep Celuwen waiting." She turned anxious eyes on Beliond. "We promised we would have Loriel back in time to meet with her tutor."
Beliond sighed. "Very well." If Nimloth thought he could not manage an elf maid whose head came to his belt, she was sadly underestimating a warrior of the Woodland Realm. "Let me help you to your feet though." He lifted her onto her good foot, then draped her arm around Siriel. The two of them started toward Nimloth's cottage.
Hopping carefully, Nimloth looked back, brow wrinkled. "Be good, Loriel. Hold Beliond's hand."
"All right," Loriel said amiably. She extended a grubby paw. Beliond grimaced, then wrapped his hand around it. He headed for the path that would take them most directly to the palace, with her dancing along beside him, jerking on his arm. He increased his pace so she had to trot to keep up. That took care of the dancing.
"Are you really Uncle Legolas's nana?" she asked.
He snorted. "No, child. Males are adas, not nanas."
She grasped his forearm in both hands and lifted her feet of the ground to swing herself. "That is what I said. But then Uncle Legolas said anyone who nagged like you was a nana, male or female, and then my nana said he should hope you did not hear him talk that way, and he stopped. But when Nana was not looking, he winked at me and laughed."
"Did he now?"
"Yes, he did. Can we go to the stables and see the new puppies?"
"No." Beliond flicked his wrist, and she landed on her feet.
"My ada would take me to see the puppies."
That was undoubtedly true. Beliond had seen Eilian feeding the child honey cakes at the last feast. "Your ada is not here."
Silence. He glanced down to find her lower lip quivering and growled to himself. He should have remembered Eilian had left for the south again. The child probably missed him. He cast about for something to distract her. "You are a bit young to have a tutor. You must be very grown up."
She brightened. "My tutor is Beliniel. Nana says Beliniel likes little maids, and besides, she is related to Uncle Ithilden and Aunt Alfirin."
Beliniel's daughter was married to Ithilden and Alfirin's son. Emmelin had gone West after Sinnarn was killed. Beliniel was probably glad to be busy with a little one like this.
"I am grown up though. Grandfather is teaching me to play chest. Do you know chest?"
"Chess, not chest. Yes, I know the game."
"Grandfather likes it. He played with Uncle Legolas yesterday, and Uncle Ithilden hurt himself."
Beliond groped for the connection. "Your Uncle Ithilden did hurt himself. That is true." He had seen Ithilden limping about that morning with what looked like a painful groin pull. He grimaced and shortened his own steps slightly. "He evidently engaged in a bout of sword play that got a little too boisterous and slipped on the wet grass."
She stopped and stared at him, open-mouthed, forcing him to halt or drag her. She hooted with laughter. "He did not."
"All right, smarty. You know so much, you tell me what happened."
"Grandfather was playing chest with Uncle Legolas, and he beat him, and Uncle Legolas was angry. But I know a secret. Grandfather played a trick on Uncle Legolas. Shall I tell you what it was?"
Beliond hesitated but only briefly. Better she tell him than someone who might use the information for something other than good. "You can trust me."
"When Uncle Legolas left to talk to a warrior, Grandfather moved one of his pieces, and then Uncle Legolas came back and said 'Was that there?' Then Grandfather said"--she puffed out her chest and dropped her chin so her voice deepened--"'You need to concentrate better.'"
Beliond nearly laughed. She was dark-haired, round-cheeked, wearing a pink gown, and came up just past Beliond's waist, and she was Thranduil to the life.
"Your grandfather moved one of Legolas's chess pieces?"
"Yes. Then Uncle Legolas said 'There is no point in continuing if you are going to take that tack,' and he stomped out like this." She tugged her hand free and tromped along the path, hands clenched, head down.
This time Beliond did laugh. He had occasionally seen Legolas in that kind of temper, indeed had occasionally caused it. "Thranduil cheated at chess," he marveled.
"He did not cheat!" She sounded shocked. "Cheating is wrong, but my nana said Grandfather was not cheating. He was making Uncle Ithilden laugh because he is sad. You know that?"
She squinted up at him, and he nodded but said nothing. He did not know how much she had been told about how Sinnarn died, and it was not his place to enlighten her.
"And Grandfather did make Uncle Ithilden laugh. Well, really he laughed at Uncle Legolas, but it was because of Grandfather's trick. Uncle Ithilden was pouring wine, and when Uncle Legolas left, Uncle Ithilden laughed so hard he spilled the wine, and he jumped back so it would not get on his clothes." Her hands busy miming pouring, she skipped backward and fell to the ground, arms whirling, legs skittering.
Beliond jumped to help her, but when she beamed at him, he realized she had flung herself down on purpose. He straightened. "Ithilden fell?"
She nodded and scrambled to her feet. "He fell down, and that was how he hurt himself."
Beliond gaped at her, his mind racing. When he thought about it, Ithilden had not said he hurt himself on the training field, though he had certainly let everyone assume it. Slowly, he smiled. Well, well. Thranduil cheated at chess, and Ithilden slipped on spilled wine and pulled a groin muscle. How interesting.
They emerged onto the Green, and Loriel scampered across it with Beliond hurrying after her. She cried a greeting to the guards at the Doors and skipped into the antechamber, where Celuwen stood talking to Beliniel.
"Mae govannen, Nana! Uncle Legolas's Nana brought me home."
Celuwen smoothed away the curls dancing on the child's forehead. "Where is Nimloth?"
"She turned her ankle," Beliond said.
"I am not sure."
Beliond knew Celuwen probably felt real concern for Nimloth, but he was willing to wager she was also concerned about how to dispose of her lively daughter when she was busy with the king and his other councilors. Beliond would not want the job.
"If you need help, Celuwen, let me know," Beliniel said. "Shall we go draw, Loriel? And I have a story to read you too."
"Yes, please!" Loriel raced toward the door leading into the family's quarters. She fumbled with the latch, then waited while Beliniel caught up with her and opened it. Beliniel bent and whispered something in the child's ear. Loriel spun and cried, "Thank you, Uncle Legolas's Nana." Then she was gone, with a smiling Beliniel trailing after her.
"Indeed, thank you, Beliond," Celuwen said.
"You are most welcome." He cleared his throat. "I have a piece of advice, my lady."
"About Loriel?" Celuwen's voice abruptly cooled. She probably thought he was interfering.
"Yes, my lady. From things Legolas has said, I gather he was raised from babyhood to hold his tongue about things he heard or saw in the palace. I imagine your husband learned the same lesson."
A tiny line appeared between Celuwen's brows. "Yes, he did."
Beliond gestured toward the doorway through which Loriel had disappeared. "Until recently, this little one has lived in a village."
Celuwen's eyes widened. "And?"
"And you have work to do, my lady. After all, we would not want an innocent child to pass along information someone might try to use for his own gain, would we?"
For a moment, Celuwen looked at the floor. "Thank you. I will see to it." She hesitated. "Did she…?"
"Oh yes." Beliond allowed himself to smile. "And now, I think I would like to speak to the king. We have matters to discuss."
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