Stories of Arda Home Page
About Us News Resources Login Become a member Help Search
swiss replica watches replica watches uk Replica Rolex DateJust Watches

The Seeds of Time  by daw the minstrel

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


Chapter 4.  Games

"There is enough?" Lorellin asked the elf slicing the roasted boar.

"Oh yes, my lady."  He dropped a juicy slice into the plate one of Thranduil's advisors held out to him, then gave it an approving little prod with the end of his knife.  The advisor nodded to Lorellin and moved away.  "There will be more than enough."

"Good.  Send any extra home with people."

"Of course."  The elf grinned at a group of young warriors descending on him with noisy cheer, plates in hand.  "Back for more?"

Lorellin smiled at them.  This lot were all among Eilian's many friends.  She had watched them at feasts since they were Legolas's size.  "Are you having a good time?"

"Yes, my lady," they chorused.

"Good.  Refrain from too much foolishness if you can."

"Foolishness?" one of them said.  "Us?"  They all laughed.

She laughed too, then returned to the head table and resumed her seat between Thranduil and Legolas.  Thranduil was turned toward Ithilden, and the two of them had their heads bent in conference with one of Ithilden's captains.   Doubtless, they were continuing the talk from the meeting about which Eilian had been so scornful.  Thranduil had not yet told her what had happened.   There had been no time, and besides, she thought he was still turning options over in his head.  Even after all these years, she was sometimes astonished by her husband's ability to hold his impatience in check while he considered the left, right, up, down, and sideways of some course of action.

Ithilden was even worse.  His meal looked nearly untouched, and despite his love of music, she doubted he was listening to the rich baritone of the new minstrel.

She glanced beyond her husband and son to where Amila and her parents sat chatting and teasing Amila's newly married sister and her husband.  Lorellin suppressed a smile.  If Ithilden provoked her enough, she might really have to push him into Amila's lap.  That would certainly ruffle some feathers.  Ithilden would corner her at home and protest, and she would have to apologize.  Unless Amila turned out to be the right maiden for him, of course, the one who would see how sweet and kind and thoughtful he was underneath the stiff exterior.

She considered prodding Thranduil and making him sit back, have some wine, and enjoy the music, but she refrained.  He and Ithilden might have to issue orders for a perilous action.  She would leave them to their debate and then try to ease whatever pain the result of it caused.

On her other side, Legolas swung his feet and chattered to Eilian.  "My friend Turgon is here.  Did you see him, Eilian?  And when Annael's nana came to get him, she said I should come to play."

Eilian was cutting up the last bit of Legolas's meat.  "I know her.  She is very nice.  There.  Eat that."  Legolas forked a bit of boar into his mouth.  Eilian grinned at her over Legolas's head, plainly amused by Legolas's enthusiasm for his new friends.

Lorellin rejoiced in Eilian's smile.  What had happened on Eilian's patrol was another thing no one had yet told her, and she suspected they did not intend to do so.  But no matter what the trouble, Legolas was good for Eilian.  And she was glad for Legolas too.  She would have to take him to play at the other boys' cottages, perhaps tomorrow.  He was old enough to venture out a little.

Thranduil's arm came around her shoulders and pulled her against his warm side.  He kissed the top of her head.   "The feast goes well.  What would I do without you?"

Trouble lay thick in his heart.  She could feel it through their bond and hear it in the edge in his voice.  As she rubbed her cheek against his chest, she glimpsed Ithilden vanishing into the dark and lacked the spirit even to bemoan his failure to notice Amila.

"Can you get along without me now that Nana is back?" Eilian asked Legolas.  "I see a friend I want to talk to."  When Legolas nodded, Eilian leaned toward his parents.  "By your leave, Adar?"

Thranduil waved his permission, and Eilian pushed back his chair and strolled away.  A moment or two later, Lorellin glimpsed him speaking into the ear of a very pretty maiden.  She giggled and put her hand through his arm.  The two of them drifted away toward where Lorellin strongly suspected Eilian's friends were celebrating the Equinox with somewhat less decorum that she saw on the Green.

Thranduil's steward spoke to the minstrel, who stopped playing and went off to sit by his wife and eat the well-deserved meal she had waiting for him.  The smiling steward turned in a slow circle.  "I am looking for some elflings who would like to play Fox and Rabbit.  Would you like to play?  If you would, come join me."

The bigger children grinned as the smallest elflings scrambled around and under tables to gather in a buzzing crowd near the steward.

Legolas wriggled in his chair.  "Nana, can I play?"  He pointed.  "Turgon and Annael are there."

"Of course you can play.  Go ahead."

He hopped out of his chair and raced to join the others, squirming into the space between Turgon and Annael.

She watched, surprised by the dismay flooding her chest.  "None of them needs me," she moaned to Thranduil.  "Maybe we should have another baby."

He laughed.  "I need you, my love, so perhaps you will postpone thinking of another baby."  He bent to murmur in her ear.  "We can go through the motions, of course.  I would not want to forget how."

She laughed.  "Perhaps I will just go visit my family.  My cousin's baby should be a sweet age by now."

For a moment, he was silent.  His hold on her tightened.  "Perhaps you should postpone thinking about that too."

She shot him a look.  He had never objected to her visiting her family.  Why was he doing it now?  She scanned his face, trying to read the blank mask he had firmly in place.  Then she relaxed against him, and his body told her what his face had not.  He was worried.   In her heart, answering worry flared.

***

"Everybody hold hands and make a circle," the steward said.

Legolas clasped hands with Annael and Turgon.  Turgon wriggled and danced in place.

"You are pulling on my hand."  The girl holding Turgon's other hand frowned at him.

Turgon scowled at her.  "You are not in charge, Miriwen."

The steward clapped his hands.  "In this game, we must all practice being very quiet."

Turgon looked at Legolas and pressed his lips together so hard, they folded to the inside of his mouth.  Legolas laughed.

"Quiet."  The steward looked at Legolas and Turgon, and Legolas tried to hold still and be quiet like a mouse.

"Annael."  The steward beckoned to Annael, who was already being quiet, so that seemed fair to Legolas.  "Tonduil."  The steward summoned another boy out of the circle.  "Annael, you are going to be the fox in our game, and, Tonduil, you are going to be the rabbit."  The steward looked around.  "Everyone drop hands and take one step backwards to make a bigger circle."

Legolas let go of Turgon and backed up.

"You are all trees," the steward told them.  "Your task is to keep the rabbit and the fox inside the circle.  Your feet are your roots, so you cannot move them, but you can move your branches and brush them against the fox or the rabbit to keep them from straying.  Let me see you move your branches."

Legolas waved his arms overhead and then to the sides.  He bent his body a little too.  He thought it was a breezy day, and his tree might sway, but a squirrel and some robins had built nests in him, so he had to be careful not to let them fall out.

"Good," the steward said.  "You must also make only tree noises."

Legolas nodded.  That made sense.  He hummed a tree song under his breath and then murmured like fluttering leaves.

The steward pulled two brightly colored scarves from his belt.  He tied one around Annael's head to cover up his eyes.  Then he tied the other one around Tonduil's head.  "Our hunt is happening at night, so our fox"—he touched Annael's shoulder—"will have to listen for our rabbit"—he touched Tonduil's shoulder.  "And our rabbit will have to listen for our fox and avoid him.  Do you understand?"

"Yes."  Tonduil and Annael spoke at the same time.  Legolas could tell they were excited.

The steward placed one hand on Tonduil's shoulder and one hand on Annael's.  He spun them both around and around, then stepped back.  "Go."

Legolas wiggled his fingers and hummed.  Tonduil and Annael both staggered.  Then Tonduil stretched his hands out in front of him and shuffled away in little baby steps, coming toward Legolas.  Annael took a few steps in the other direction, halted, and cocked his head.  He turned slowly and stopped, looking straight at Tonduil.  But his eyes were covered up.  How had he done that?

Annael turned his head one way, then the other, and Legolas gasped.  Annael was listening.  Legolas listened too, and sure enough, he heard the soft whisper of Tonduil's feet over the grass.  He heard the other trees making noise too, but only Tonduil was walking.

He should stand still, Legolas thought.  Tonduil should crouch down and not move.  That was what a real rabbit would do.  When Legolas had his turn being the rabbit, he would do that.

Annael walked toward Tonduil, sweeping his hands in front of him.  Miriwen gasped, and Tonduil jerked his head toward her.  He ran two steps, and Legolas got ready.  He bent his branches and brushed their tippy tops against Tonduil's arm.

"Go back," he sang.  "Go back, little rabbit."

But before Tonduil could move, Annael found him.

"Yay!" Turgon cried.  "The fox wins."  He turned to Miriwen and clacked his bared teeth together.  "The fox is going to gobble him up."  She wrinkled her nose at him.

The steward came forward and took off the blindfolds.  Tonduil looked disappointed.  "Being the rabbit is difficult," the steward said.  He beckoned to Turgon.  "Turgon, I think you should be our next rabbit, and Miriwen can be the fox."

"I want to be the fox," Turgon said.

"Everyone will have a turn being both creatures," the steward said.  "Both paths are worth treading.  Come."

Miriwen skipped into the circle and let the steward blindfold her.  Turgon dragged his toes on the grass when he walked, so Legolas knew he still did not want to be the rabbit.  The steward blindfolded Turgon and spun him and Miriwen.  "Go."

Turgon raised his hands over his head and ran straight ahead, shrieking so loudly that Legolas put his branches over his ears.  The trees in front of Turgon jumped out of his way.

"Turgon!" the steward called.  "Stop!"

Turgon skidded to a halt.

The steward hastened to him and took off his blindfold.  "Turgon, you have to stay inside the circle."

Turgon scowled.  "The fox is inside the circle.  The rabbit should leave."

Legolas blinked.  Why had he not thought of that?  Turgon was very clever.

The steward put his hands on his hips.  "We all live in the same woods, Turgon.  You cannot just leave."

"Unless your body gets too small," Legolas said.

"I beg your pardon, Legolas?"  The steward turned toward Legolas.  A line appeared between his brows.

"Like Fithral," Legolas said.  "His body got too small for his spirit, so he left."

The steward held still for a moment.  He sighed.  "Yes, he did."  He came back into the circle, Turgon trailing after him.  "Come, Legolas.  You can be the fox next."

Legolas jumped up and down.  He trotted into the circle and turned his back so the steward could cover up his eyes.

***

Eilian took another pull at the wine skin and offered it to Amadith.  She shook her head, so he passed it to Gelmir.  Gelmir hesitated, then gave it to Tithrandir without drinking.

Eilian could have kicked himself.  The healers had summoned Gelmir that afternoon, and Eilian had insisted he go, shooing him along to the infirmary the way his mother shooed Legolas to his lessons.  The healers had given Gelmir an herb that was supposed to help, but they had told him not to drink wine until he felt better.  That struck Eilian as a bizarre order.  Surely wine was one of Arda's gifts meant to make an elf feel better.  Besides, once Gelmir felt better, he would go south again, and no one would drink wine while on duty, even if there were wine to be had.  A warrior needed all his wits about him.

Eilian clapped his hands.  "Come on, Calólas.  Tithrandir is waiting for me to take custody of the coin he showed me."

Calólas threw more wood on the fire, then turned to grin at him.  "You could help, you know."

Eilian put his arm around Amadith.  "I would rather observe and offer advice."  The small crowd of young warriors and maidens laughed, but two of the warriors went to help build up the fire.

Amadith tilted her head and slanted a look at Eilian from her big, doe's eyes.  "I have heard you are quite good at fire jumping, my lord.  Does the wine help or hurt?"

"Sometimes one, sometimes the other," Eilian said.  "And I think I will make up a new game.  Every time you call me 'my lord,' I get to claim a kiss."

He bent toward her, but she laughed and put a hand on his chest.  "Not here, my lord."

He groaned and swept his arm overhead, offering her the star dusted sky.  "When Elbereth gave us stars, surely she meant for us to kiss beneath them.  They are too beautiful to waste."

"Not here, my lord."

He raised an eyebrow.  "I am keeping count, you know."

She laughed again, and he rubbed his hand up and down her arm.  Not here did not mean not ever.

The elves around the fire stepped back.  The fire sent tongues of flame into the blue-black night.

"I think that is about right."  Calólas grinned.  "To start with, anyway.  Who will go first?"

"I will."  Tithrandir moved to the end of the small clearing.  Without pausing, he ran toward the fire and leapt over it, one leg stretched ahead, the other trailing behind.  Scattered applause rose from the watchers.  The jump was an easy one, but Tithrandir was graceful.

"Shall we double the wager, Eilian?" Tithrandir called.

Eilian shrugged.  "Why not?"

The others laughed.  "I have wagered a silk scarf on you, my lord," Amadith said.  "You will not let me down, will you?"

"Never," Eilian vowed.  "And that makes four."

She gave a smile whose meaning Eilian could only hope he read accurately.  He moved to take his turn, aware of his pulse quickening.  He had been waiting for this game all evening.  He dug his toes into the dirt, sprinted toward the fire, and pushed off with all the strength in his legs.  For a moment, he soared, arms wide, head thrown back.  Then he came to ground, ran a few steps, and spun on the ball of his foot to trot back to Amadith's side.  Applause rang in his ears.

"Go ahead," Tithrandir said.  "Leap like a deer when a rabbit hop will do.  Did the novice masters never tell you to husband your energy?"

Eilian laughed.  He felt better than he had all day.  Sitting still drove him wild; moving always eased whatever stress he might feel.  The tension that had flooded his body was already seeping out of him, draining into the fire as he flew above it.

Half-a-dozen others made their first jumps, though Gelmir refused a turn.  Eilian thought that might be a good thing.  Gelmir seemed to lack energy to do more than drag himself from place to place, or rather, let Eilian drag him.

Calólas built the fire a little higher, then flicked his gaze along the row of warriors.  "Is that the best you can do?  You call yourselves wood elves?  I tell you I am ashamed."  He grinned and stepped aside.

Along with the others, Eilian jeered a response.  Tithrandir jumped, twisting in mid-air this time, so he landed with his face to the fire.

Eilian went to the starting place and paused, gathering his concentration and his strength.   The fire flared, and for a moment, he saw Fithral's bones, falling into his funeral pyre.  Guilt wrapped a familiar fist around his heart, and remembered terror knotted his gut.  Then he ran and flung himself into the air, letting all his pent up emotions propel him.  He wrenched his body into motion, turned, and turned again, to land with the fire at his back.  He drew in a deep breath of night air, tinged with the scent of rich earth and growing things.

For an instant, he heard only the thud of his own heart.  Then cheers and applause swept over him.  Grinning, he strolled back to Amadith's side.

She laughed.  "You look pleased with yourself."

"With good reason," he assured her.

Two of the other warriors fell back among the watchers.  "I yield," one of them said, raising his hands when Calólas lifted an eyebrow at him.  "I would just as soon not burn my backside.  Deler might wonder why I did not want to ride out on patrol tomorrow."  His fellow warriors laughed and passed him the skin of wine.

The game went on, and Eilian jumped and spun.   The pull of the ground could not hold him; he was full of too much power and pain.  How could he be hurt in this game?  He might as well throw caution to the winds.  He hurt enough already, and the game made him feel better.  At length, only he and Tithrandir remained in play.

Calólas stoked the fire one more time.  Eilian eyed it.  It was higher than he had ever seen used in fire jumping.  He swept away the wisp of doubt whispering in the back of his mind.

At the starting point, Tithrandir frowned in concentration.  Then he ran, legs pumping in a blur, and leapt over the threatening flames face down, back curved, arms and legs extended as if he were diving into the river.  At the last moment, he snapped his legs down and under him.  He stumbled when he landed and wound up sitting in the dirt, but everyone cheered anyway, including Eilian.  Tithrandir bounced to his feet and trotted to the sidelines to take a drink of wine.  "Your turn," he told Eilian through a grin.

Eilian stood, his body quiet, his mind in a whirl.  He had no intention of losing to Tithrandir or anyone else.  He gave one last look at the flames.  Then he ran toward them and pushed off.  He pulled his knees up, wrapped his arms around them, and ducked his head.  The fire spun into sight, then a blur of faces, then the sky.  Heat licked along his back.  He flung his arms high and thrust out his legs to land, standing, on the other side of the fire.

As the others cheered and stamped their feet, Gelmir rushed toward him and slapped him on the back.

Exhilaration flooded Eilian's body, and he laughed.  "Not so hard."

"Your tunic is singed."  Gelmir's voice shook a little.  "Is your back burned?"

Eilian jerked his head around to look over his shoulder, trying to see his tunic.  "No.  At least, it did not feel burned while you were pounding on me."  He caught sight of the end of one of his braids, gray and bristled where the fire had licked over it.

Tithrandir came up and clasped one arm while Amadith took the other.  "I yield," Tithrandir said.  "I know a lucky fool and a winner when I see one."

Eilian smiled a little weakly.  Tithrandir was right.  He had been lucky.  That was all right, he decided.  He deserved a little luck.

"Eilian."  Gelmir's voice brimmed with dismay.  When Eilian glanced at him, he gestured toward a stand of hawthorns.

Three small faces gazed at him, and behind them, her hand on Legolas's shoulder, was his mother.  He suppressed a groan and went to join them.

Turgon's eyes were huge in his flushed, excited face, but Annael was looking at Legolas, whose face was pale.  Legolas's hands were pressed against his chest, as if trying to shove something back.  He was frightened, Eilian realized with vexation.

Eilian crouched in front of his little brother.  "I am fine, little one.  No need to worry."  He prodded Legolas's stomach with a gentle finger.

"The three of them should not be here anyway."  Naneth's voice was cool.  "They are supposed to be playing with the other elflings on the Green, not slipping away to watch foolish elves who really are old enough to know better."

Eilian glanced up at her.

"That is enough now, Eilian," she said in a low voice.  He heard the tiny quiver and flinched.  "I understand, sweetling," she went on, "but that is enough.  Come along, you three."  She took Legolas's hand and led him and his friends away.

Eilian pushed up from his crouch as Gelmir came to stand next to him.

"Is she angry?" Gelmir asked.

"Not really."  Eilian wriggled his shoulders.  He might have burned his back a little after all.  "Still, I think that might be enough fooling about for one night."  He looked at Gelmir's strained face.  "What would you say to a walk to the meadow?"

Gelmir's face eased a little.  "I would not say no."

"Then, let me just collect my wager from Tithrandir, and we will go."

"What about Amadith?"

Eilian shrugged.  "She will keep."

Gelmir laughed softly.  "I wish I had your confidence, Eilian."

"Sometimes I wish I had it too," Eilian said and went to find Tithrandir.





<< Back

Next >>

Leave Review
Home     Search     Chapter List