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Interrupted Journeys: Part 7 The course of love  by elliska

Love, like a river, will cut a new path

whenever it meets an obstacle.


Crystal Middlemas

Chapter Six: Cut a new path

Thranduil led Maidhien, her arm still entwined with his, into the Great Hall. "Clear the Hall," he called.

The scribes and his councilors' assistants quickly picked up whatever they needed to continue their work and began filing out the back doors to the Hall. Hallion, in contrast, walked toward the table where Thranduil was leading Galithil and Maidhien. "You too, Hallion," Thranduil said, seating himself at the table and gesturing for Maidhien to sit next to him and Galithil next to her.

Hallion's eyebrows rose. "My lord?" he asked, clearly unwilling to question the King in front of Maidhien, but he had never been excluded from any dealings of the realm.  

Thranduil regarded him sternly. "Galithil, Maidhien and I are meeting with Dannenion to discuss a betrothal. He is opposed, as you well know. 'My daughter will not serve in a Sindarin court,' were his exact words, if you will remember. And that was one of the few wholly honest phrases he has ever uttered to me. We both understand precisely what that means. This affair with Dannenion is lost and I will do what I can to profit from it before I finish it. I intend to use certain threats as leverage to get what I want--threats that you have always opposed, in the strongest of terms. You may stay if you will hold your tongue, but leave if you will not. My decision is made and I will not be challenged on it further."

Hallion silently sat at the table, next to Galithil, since Maidhien was seated in his normal place next to the king, and returned Thranduil's gaze evenly.

Thranduil only nodded.

Moments later, the doors of the Hall flew open and Dannenion burst through them, accompanied by the servant that Thranduil had dispatched to inform him that Maidhien was waiting in the Great Hall. While the servant bowed to Thranduil and left the Hall at his signal, Dannenion charged up the center aisle, without waiting for an invitation, glaring at Galithil all the way.

"Both of you sit and be silent," Thranduil ordered. Galithil nodded once. Maidhien continued staring nervously at her father. She appeared ready to flee. "Stay and be silent. Understood?" Thranduil repeated, touching her elbow to draw her attention. She looked at him and nodded with wide eyes. Thranduil stood, ostensibly to greet Dannenion. In truth, he stood because, in doing so, he blocked Dannenion's path to his daughter, who now was fully obscured behind the King.

"Give her to me," Dannenion demanded, with no preamble when he reached the table. He tried to lean around Thranduil to reach for Maidhien, without success. "Get yourself back to the cottage this instant," he ordered instead, pointing at her.

"She is going, Dannenion," Thranduil said calmly. "Of course she is. But first we should take advantage of this opportunity to discuss our children's futures together."

"They have no future together," Dannenion said, refusing to sit as Thranduil had gestured for him to do. "I will not allow my daughter to marry your foster son. I have already told you that," he said.

"Certainly they cannot marry now," Thranduil replied, still not reacting to Dannenion's hostile attitude. "They are not of age. Naturally they must wait. And Maidhien tells me that you are sending her to live with a cousin of yours in one of the southern villages. I agree that is not a terrible idea, to give them some time apart to decide if this is truly where their hearts are leading them. But there are many aspects of that we must discuss, of course, before she can leave."

Dannenion loosed a scoffing noise. "Where I send Maidhien is none of your concern," he shot back.

"I fear I must beg to differ with you, Dannenion. It is my business. First there is the matter of how a child her age could travel such a distance safely. I presume you intend to ask my permission to travel with her, since you may not leave the capital without it. So I must arrange an escort for you both. And that will take some time, because, naturally at least two of the guards I send with you will need to stay in the village to guard Maidhien while she is there. Possibly three, because they will need to guard her morning and night in such a dangerous location."

Thranduil fell silent in response to Dannenion's furious splutterings, appearing for all the world confused as to why Dannenion might be so surprised. To his right, Thranduil heard Galithil strangling not to laugh. He sobered him with a glance.

"Why do you think my daughter needs your guards around her? Is she now also under arrest? What was her crime?" Dannenion finally managed to ask around his rage.

Thranduil smiled blandly. "The guards are not to hold her under arrest, but rather to keep her safe. All members of my family are assigned guards, Dannenion. You know that, certainly."

Dannenion actually growled. "My daughter is not a member of your family. That is what I am sending her to my cousin to prevent!"

Thranduil nodded. "Yes, I know. And I can see that you believe it will work. But I have spent more time with Maidhien and Galithil together than you have, I am certain of that. Perhaps that is why it is easier for me to see that even a separation until they come of age will not dull their love for one another. But I agree with you that it is a perfectly reasonable thing to try, assuming that Maidhien is kept safe."

Dannenion ground his teeth listening to that explanation. "My cousin will keep her safe," he spat. "That is all the guard she needs. And this is none of your business because she will never be a member of your family. Even when she comes of age, she still needs my permission to marry and I will never give it. Never. I told you I would take my entire family from this forest and never look back before I would allow her to marry Galithil."

That threat wrung a sob from Maidhien, despite her best efforts to obey Thranduil and remain silent.

Thranduil allowed his reaction to her tears to show plainly on his face. He stood aside so Dannenion could more clearly see his daughter and turned her face towards his with a finger under her chin. "Your daughter's tears do not move you at all, Dannenion? They move me. Honestly, I spent a good part of the afternoon trying to reassure these children that you are not as stubborn and foolish as the old man in my storeroom. Will you prove me wrong? If you refuse to allow Maidhien and Galithil to marry, you will kill her with grief as surely as the man would have killed his daughter with an arrow. Are you truly willing to do that?"

For a moment, Thranduil thought he saw Dannenion waver ever so slightly, but in the end, he only continued glaring at his daughter. Love simply did not motivate Dannenion. Very well, that was not terribly surprising, no matter how disappointing it was. There were other tactics. Thranduil stepped between them again. "Please explain to me why you find Galithil so objectionable," he said, changing tactics, "while he is still young enough that I might endeavor to correct any character flaws you see in him."

Dannenion looked over Thranduil's shoulder at the wall behind him, refusing to answer.

Thranduil did not need a response. He knew the reason already. "Or is his greatest flaw in your mind simply that he is a member of my family and you will never see past your hatred of me? Not even for the sake of your daughter's happiness? You avoided answering that question when I last asked it. Now I am asking again and I expect an answer: Is that the true issue, Dannenion?" There was a definite edge to the King's voice.

"If I answer 'yes' you will banish me, believing me a traitor," Dannenion said, still looking at the wall. "And if I answer 'no' and name reasons why I do not approve of Galithil, you will argue them with me until I grow tired of argument and consent. It is plain that you intend to take my daughter from me, one way or another."

Thranduil sat down and put a comforting arm around Maidhien. "We have already discussed this. I will not take your daughter from you by force." He paused long enough to let that assurance fully register. "I had hoped to encourage you to put her happiness before your own stubborn ideas about me, Dannenion, but I see that is not possible. So I will try another approach: What can I offer you to persuade you to give your permission for them to be betrothed? My only concern is for Maidhien's happiness. And Galithil's, of course. If there is a price you would name for your consent--a reasonable one--name it. If it is within my power to grant it, I will consider it."

Dannenion studied Thranduil for a long moment with a look that was outwardly insulted, but surprised, tempted and calculating also. Then he looked at Maidhien and Galithil. Thranduil threw a glance in their direction. Maidhien's expression would have brought Thranduil to his knees, were she his daughter. He had no doubt of that. She looked miserable. Galithil, he was pleased to see, was looking at his hands in his lap with a completely neutral expression on his face--nothing there to incur Dannenion's wrath.

"I want my freedom," Dannenion finally answered. "Freedom to leave the capital and travel as I will. Dolwon's too. I want you to release us both from arrest." He paused a moment, frowning thoughtfully, and then smiled briefly as an argument obviously occurred to him. He rushed to make it. "Freeing Dolwon and I would be a token that we--our families--can begin to trust one another and work together again. I have served you properly for fifteen years, after all. So has Dolwon." He spoke quickly, sounding at once doubtful and hopeful that he might get his wish.

Thranduil did not so much as blink. That was precisely what he had expected Dannenion to say, since asking for Thranduil's abdication was precluded by the stipulation that the request be reasonable. "You would like to be released from your duties to this court?" he specified, still curious about that detail.

Dannenion shook his head. "No, no. I, for my part at least, would like to continue serving the court. I enjoy doing it."

Thranduil raised an eyebrow. He had not been certain what Dannenion's response to that question would be, and he did not at all trust the truthfulness of the answer he had been given, but he was happy to give Dannenion all the rope he wanted.

Dannenion raised his chin as he got another idea for a demand and decided to push for it, having not yet seen an objection to his first. "But I would like more responsibility. To truly serve the court rather than just be a scribe and local messenger for Golwon. I want to be able to state my ideas and be heard. I did lead a village for many an Age, you know. I can provide valuable input. If you want my daughter to marry into your family, then that is my demand. Treat the rest of her family with the respect we deserve for the knowledge we have of this forest."

He fell silent, watching Thranduil intently for a reaction.

"Granted," Thranduil said after a moment's pause. Maidhien's whispered "you cannot be serious" and Galithil's sharp intake of breath were drowned out entirely by Dannenion's exclamation.

"Truly? Dolwon and I are freed? And we, or I, at least--I will not speak for Dolwon--may serve this court in a more meaningful fashion?" he repeated, completely incredulous.

"Yes, on both counts. In exchange, Maidhien and Galithil are betrothed, that betrothal will be publicly announced and you will publicly bless it. At the upcoming festival. One year after Maidhien comes of age, they may marry if they still wish to do so and you will bless their marriage. Finally, Maidhien will also serve this court as she and I agree best fits her talents, beginning now. You will not object to that," Thranduil enumerated the terms of their bargain, regarding Dannenion coolly.  

"Agreed," Dannenion said swiftly.

"Agreed," Thranduil confirmed.

Dannenion broke into a broad smile and held out his hand towards Maidhien. "Come Maidhien, let us go tell our wonderful news to your naneth, aunt and uncle," he said.

Maidhien shrunk back from his outstretched hand and Thranduil felt his temper rise, despite his best efforts to quench it for Galithil and Maidhien's sakes. He was certain that the 'wonderful news' Dannenion wanted to share with his family would not even include a mention of his daughter's betrothal. Dannenion was the most egotistical Elf Thranduil had ever met. "Maidhien, Galithil and I have to discuss how Maidhien could best serve this court. And we should go to the store rooms to choose a pair of silver rings for them. I will send her to your cottage shortly." He paused. "Unless you would like to stay and supervise these plans? You are welcome to do so, of course."

Dannenion's smile faded and he shook his head. "I want to speak to Dolwon and Anastor. Surely Maidhien can discuss her duties to you some other day. And, as for rings, I can have one made for Galithil. I do not need for her to choose a ring from your store room."

"But I want to stay and speak to the King about what he expects me to do," Maidhien declared with determination.

"And perhaps she would like to choose the ring that Galithil will give to her," Thranduil added.

Dannenion rolled his eyes. "Very well," he said. Then his expression hardened and he focused on Galithil. "Thranduil may discuss with my daughter what he expects of her, but here is what I expect of you," he said pointing to Galithil.

Galithil quickly turned his attention from Maidhien to Dannenion, somewhat startled to be addressed in such a threatening tone. He put his hands on the edges of his chair as if he intended to stand. He would certainly stand if Thranduil had addressed him thusly, but he hovered over his seat now, less willing to show Dannenion the same courtesy.

Thranduil's eyes narrowed at Dannenion's treatment of his nephew, but he held his tongue.

"I will make an effort to tolerate the flowers and other foolish tokens you send to her," Dannenion all but snarled, "but mind your behavior with her. You are betrothed, not married, and betrothed as children, at that. I do not want to hear, ever again, about my daughter sitting, half clothed, in your lap kissing you or..."

Dannenion might have intended to say more, but Thranduil's reaction to that statement precluded further speech. He spun around to fully face his nephew, and his entire posture radiated a demand for an explanation.

Galithil rose instantly, shaking his head. "I...we...never..." was all he managed to stammer, face flaming red.

Maidhien jumped up as well, glaring at her father and stepping between Galithil and Thranduil. "We were swimming," she said quickly. Color also crept up her cheeks. "Eirienil, Aewen and I always swim in our shifts. All the ellyth do. And the ellyn always take off their tunics to keep them from being ruined. That is why we were 'half clothed.' And if I was sitting in Galithil's lap, it was because the ledge in the hot spring is too narrow for two people to sit next to each other on it." Then she raised her chin. "And of course I have kissed Galithil. There is nothing wrong with a kiss. Eirienil has kissed half the ellyn in the First Year. And Aewen..." She stopped speaking abruptly and turned a glare on Galithil when he kicked her in the shin.

Dannenion growled and looked between Galithil and Thranduil, his expression plainly saying, 'You see why I object.'

Thranduil, however, had deflated from rage to mild disapproval. "I have never silenced my lady wife by kicking her, Galithil," he began sternly. Hallion almost succeeded in stifling the laughter that reprimand elicited. "And as for your behavior together, you will find I am quite conservative in this area." He looked at Galithil. "You let Maidhien sit on the ledge in the hot spring and tread water yourself."

Galithil nodded. "Yes, uncle," he replied hastily.

Maidhien scowled, but said nothing.

Thranduil sighed and rubbed his brow. "May I speak with your daughter now?" he asked.

Dannenion looked at her and frowned. "What do you intend to say to her? Or more to the point, demand of her?"

"I only intend to suggest some ways that she might become more familiar with my household and the court. She may choose which ever of them might interest her."

Dannenion snorted and faced Maidhien. "You will be as deep in study and duty as your betrothed husband there," he said, jerking his chin in Galithil's direction. "Spending the better part of your day learning to speak in the tongues of Easterlings or only the Valar know who. By all means, stay and learn what you have contracted to do." He turned to Thranduil. "I expect her home for dinner," he concluded. And with that, he turned and began marching down the center aisle of the Hall.

Thranduil stood. "Dannenion."

Dannenion turned and looked at him.

"Members of my court, even those who also count themselves as members of my family, ask my leave before walking away from me. And in my throne room, they bow before leaving."

Dannenion fought a largely loosing battle not to scowl. "By your leave, my lord," he managed to say quietly. And he sketched a bow when Thranduil nodded his permission to leave.

Thranduil watched him leave with a cold glare.

"Uncle," Galithil began in a very quiet voice the moment Dannenion passed through the doors of the Hall, "I appreciate what you just did. Maidhien and I both do, more than we could ever express to you." Maidhien nodded. She was near tears again, Thranduil was alarmed to see, but was looking at him as if he had just granted her a stay of execution. "But..." Galithil hesitated and looked down. "It is certainly not my place to question how you judge criminals in your own court," he glanced at Maidhien apologetically, "but..." he seemed uncertain how to finish his sentence. Or unwilling to do so.

"But you should not have given adar leave to travel where ever he wants or to meddle in your affairs," Maidhien concluded for him. "He does hate you still. He will find a way to take advantage of what you just did."

Galithil frowned and looked torn between kicking Maidhien again and piping up to agree with her. In the end he settled for taking her hand. Apparently he squeezed it rather tightly, because Maidhien scowled at him.

Hallion was grinning at Maidhien.

Thranduil smiled at her as well. He stepped towards her. Cupping her face in his hands, he bent over to kiss her forehead. "Welcome to the family, Maidhien. You will fit in well."

Maidhien smiled back him, somewhat shyly and obviously wondering if his tone implied more than she understood.

"But never fear, my dear," he continued. "I do not trust your adar." His face grew serious. "I will be frank with you, Maidhien, because this concerns your family and I do not want you to be caught at unawares and therefore hurt when what I have done today draws to what I believe will be its natural conclusion. I trust you to keep my confidence," he said, pausing.

"I will not repeat what you say to me," Maidhien promised swiftly. "I never told anyone about the secret door in the cave."

Thranduil nodded. "Then the truth of the matter, Maidhien, is that this is the last opportunity I intend to give your adar and uncle. If they use it well, that would be wonderful. But I do not expect them to. Rather, I expect your adar to violate the trust I just gave him. I will be watching for whatever he decides to do. And when he acts..." Thranduil hesitated. When Dannenion moved against him again, the very least Thranduil intended to was banish him and anyone that supported him, but he could think of no delicate way to tell Maidhien that and he did not believe she should suffer any further harsh treatment this day.

But Maidhien's eyes widened in understanding none the less. "When he does, you will send him from the forest for good," she finished for him. "Adar always said you would do that eventually."

"Only if he forces me to, Maidhien," Thranduil replied.

She shrugged. "He probably will."

*~*~*

"You honestly told him you would help the Queen with household management, Maidhien?" Eirienil asked, leaning forward. Her tone was cautious.

Maidhien shrugged. "No one has come forward to help her since Galithil's naneth died. She needs help."

Like Eirienil, Legolas tried not to openly react too strongly. He was still reeling from the news that his cousin was betrothed. He knew it was coming, of course. But now? That had surprised him. As had Galithil's account of how Thranduil had secured Dannenion's consent. That story had been related to Legolas alone, in the privacy of Thranduil's office. It was a topic not even remotely appropriate for public consumption. But however it was done, Legolas was very thankful that Galithil's news was such that his father could hardly deny him the privilege of accompanying his cousin to the Green to share it with their friends. He had feared he would not see the light of either the sun or stars again until his father had spoken to him about Tulus, and Thranduil seemed to be in no rush to have that conversation. In fact, Thranduil had appeared quite eager to get he and his cousins out of the family quarters. Legolas wondered if that had anything to do with the fact that his naneth was due back to the stronghold at any moment and might take Thranduil to task for agreeing to a betrothal without even speaking to her. Not that Lindomiel would object, but Legolas imagined she would not be pleased to be completely left out of the decision either and he suspected that omission had occurred to his father rather belatedly.

None of that was his priority at the moment. He glanced over at Aewen, trying to judge the possibility of luring her out of the tight little circle he, his cousins and friends sat in on the Green. He wanted to talk to her, but she had been resolutely ignoring him since they had come out for the evening dancing, focused instead entirely on Galithil and Maidhien's news.

"A guard!" Aewen was exclaiming now. "He is going to assign you a guard?"

Maidhien shook her head, scowling at her brother.

"Adar said that Thranduil said he would assign you a guard," Anastor replied, clearly delighting in teasing his sister.

"He only said that when he thought Dannenion was going to send her to live in your cousin's village," Galithil argued back.

"Adar thinks he will still do it," Anastor insisted. "Everyone in Thranduil's family has a guard."

Galithil turned to Conuion. He had accompanied the children to the Green instead of Tulus and Colloth. "Will uncle assign Maidhien a guard?" Galithil asked.

"The King has not spoken to me about arranging a guard for her," Conuion responded. "Of course, he has hardly had time to do so."

Legolas hoped his father would not assign Maidhien a guard. Three guards would be one worse than two, and Aewen already hated two.

Indeed, Aewen was staring at Maidhien as if she had just declared she intended to marry a dwarf rather than Galithil. "Guards and learning Westron..." she began.

"I asked for those lessons," Maidhien interrupted, "so I can understand what is going on when Galithil speaks to Men and Dwarves and things like that."

"...and helping the Queen!" Aewen continued without pause. "I hope you know what you are doing, Maidhien."

Maidhien only raised an eyebrow at that. She completely ignored Anastor's remarkably sincere, "So do I."

"Never fear," Galithil replied with a bitter tone, It was almost enough to distract Legolas from Aewen's obvious dismay over Maidhien's new duties. "Uncle Thranduil reminded her that we are children and a child's betrothal is much more easily broken if she comes to realize that she did not know what she is doing."

Legolas blinked and looked at Maidhien.

"I know exactly what I am doing and I will not break it. You know that," Maidhien said, while reaching to take Galithil's hand. "He only wants me to be certain, Galithil. Your family is very different from any other and he is 'conservative' as he said."

Galithil nodded. "True enough," he admitted. "Would you like to dance?"

Maidhien nodded and stood, clearly eager to dance with Galithil.

Legolas had almost choked earlier when Galithil and Maidhien had been telling him the whole story in private and he had heard exactly what precipitated the 'conservative' comment. He understood his cousin's desire to not revisit that conversation in public. He turned to look at Aewen, thinking this might be a good opportunity to ask her to dance too, to draw her aside so they could talk, but she was still studiously avoiding his gaze. Legolas looked away as well. How long did she intend to stay angry with him for something he could not control!

He looked to the other side of the Green just in time to see Tulus emerging from the trees. Glilavan was with him, almost dragging him, it seemed. Legolas watched his guard, considering if he should go speak to him, since Aewen refused to so much as look at him.

Tulus took a few steps onto the Green, following his son towards the tables where one of Galion's assistants was dispensing wine. He stopped short when he saw Conuion. Then his gaze traveled to Legolas. He quickly said something to Glilavan, turned and walked straight to the path that led back to the cottage he shared with his son.

Legolas frowned and pushed himself off the blanket he and his cousins had spread to sit on. He had managed two steps before a hand closed over his arm. Conuion.

"Stay on the Green," Conuion ordered.

"I want to speak to him," Legolas said softly. "I owe him an apology. At least let me go see if he is ready to hear one."

Conuion pressed his lips together. "He is angry, Legolas," he warned in a low voice.

Legolas's expression did not change. He was willing to face Tulus's anger if it would help fix things between them.

"Go straight to his cottage," Conuion said after studying Legolas. "Do not even dream of straying anywhere else, what ever the reason. And tell him that I require him to bring you back here when you are finished speaking, regardless of how the conversation goes."

Legolas looked at the captain of his father's guard with raised brows. "You are not coming with me?"

Conuion shook his head. "If his captain is there, the tone of the conversation would much different than if you go alone. And you managed to get yourself safely to and from your friends' cottages often enough before the King decided to assign you a guard. I judge you can manage alone again just this once."

Legolas supposed he should be grateful for the trust Conuion was willing to show him. "Thank you, Conuion," he said and then jogged off across the Green.

*~*~*

Legolas knocked softly on Tulus's door and waited for a response. He knew it was possible that Tulus would not agree to speak to him, but he hoped he would. After waiting a long moment, Legolas heard a chair scrape across the wooden floor of the cottage. Then, the door opened.

"You will forgive me, my l..." Tulus began, speaking as formally as he might to Thranduil himself, but he cut himself off after looking out his door. "Where is Conuion?" he asked. Then his eyes widened and he looked incredulously at Legolas. "Where is Conuion?" he repeated.

"On the Green," Legolas replied. "He said he did not want to come with me to speak to you. He feared his presence might influence our conversation in some way." 

When Tulus studied him doubtfully, arms crossed over his chest, Legolas found he was hurt enough to be unable to meet Tulus's gaze. "I am not lying, Tulus," he said softly. "Conuion said you were to bring me back to the Green, regardless of how our conversation went, so you can confirm with him that I am telling the truth when you do."

Tulus stepped out of his cottage and onto the path that led back to the Green. "I beg your pardon, Legolas. It is not my place to question the word of the King's son," he said stiffly while gesturing for Legolas to proceed him down the path.

Legolas bit his lip. "Of course, it is plain to me why you might not trust me," he replied without moving. "Will you not listen to an apology, Tulus?"

Tulus allowed the arm pointing down the path to fall to his side and said nothing. He did not, however walk away down the path or reenter his cottage and close the door. Legolas assumed that was the only encouragement he could expect. He would take it. This was one of those apologies he truly felt, and so it was easy to make.

"I violated your trust, Tulus," he began. "A trust that we must share if we are both to perform our duties to this realm, especially when I become a warrior. Moreover, I made it impossible for you to carry out the oath that you made to the King. And my actions endangered your life, Colloth's life and the lives of four warriors. When you agreed to be my guard, while still bearing a nearly mortal wound that you earned protecting my life, I swore to myself that I would never do anything to recklessly endanger you again, because we are friends and have been since I was an infant. I truly regret my actions, Tulus. I beg your forgiveness and an opportunity to re-earn your trust."

Tulus averted his gaze from Legolas only a few words into his apology. Towards the middle of it, Legolas watched him slump slightly. When Legolas mentioned recklessness, Tulus's jaw clenched and he looked back at him angrily. "Do you have any idea how frightened I was when I heard the patrol's warning, looked where I thought you were sleeping and saw that you were not there?" he asked, when Legolas stopped speaking.

"I am certain that was both a shock and frightening," Legolas replied quietly.

Tulus took a step toward him. "Indeed it was. Just as it was when Colloth and I found you and a Man had an arrow pointed at your chest," he continued, voice raised.

Legolas grimaced. "I do understand that, Tulus."

Tulus took another step forward and grabbed Legolas's arm roughly. "Do you? Well, you understand more than your actions implied you do then. Facing armed criminals with only your knife in your hand! Where was your bow?," he asked, tightening his grip on Legolas's arm. "Lying useless next to your empty bedroll, that is where!" He gave Legolas a shake. "When I saw you had crept off into the forest without even taking your weapons...when I found you in the middle of a battle, I was not certain if I intended to save you from the Man or..." he cut himself off and the angry expression was replaced first with a horrified one and then with regret. "I forgot to whom I am speaking. I am angry, but that is no excuse. I beg your pardon."

Legolas stared at him silently for a moment. He could not think of a time that anyone had been angry enough with him to physically shake him. And he was not certain what Tulus was about to say, but he suspected it was something neither his father nor Conuion would approve of. Tulus was indeed angry. "I am sorry, Tulus. I truly regret that I frightened you. And believe me, I had plenty of time to regret where my weapons were. I know I was a fool to leave them behind. But most of all I regret that you are in trouble for something that I did. I would take all the blame for this if Adar would allow it, because it is truly my fault." Legolas paused, remembering something his father had said that worried him. "Adar has not spoken to me yet, but I know he has spoken to you. He told me that you and Colloth were 'unavailable' to take my cousins and I to the Green. Will you tell me what that means?" If Thranduil had dismissed Tulus, Legolas intended to try to fight that.

"The King was more understanding than I have any right to expect him to be," Tulus replied. His tone implied he did not feel he deserved the King's mercy and that made Legolas feel still worse than before. "He was angry, to be certain, but I think his anger was at least partially deflected from Colloth and I by your words in the Great Hall. I do thank you for that. Conuion also spoke privately with the King, and he told us he did so on our behalfs. In the end, the King left me to Conuion's discipline and Conuion has not yet decided how to respond, but the King did make it clear that I was not to be dismissed. Since that is the very least that I expected to happen, I am relieved and quite prepared to accept whatever Conuion decides upon."

Legolas frowned, wondering what Tulus expected to happen, if being dismissed was the least of the punishments he imagined.

Tulus finally looked at Legolas. "The King also asked me if I wanted to continue serving as your guard. He told me he would understand if I did not."

Legolas could not conceal his shock in response to that. Before he could master himself, he gaped at Tulus.

The guard looked back at the ground.

Legolas did the same and strove to bring his expression back under control. "I suppose I would also understand if you did not, Tulus. You have to be able to trust me to do your duty and I did betray that trust," he said as evenly as he could manage. "I hope that whatever you decide, you will eventually forgive the fright and trouble I have caused you so that we might still be friends. I have truly cherished your friendship since my cousins and I were infants. We all have."

Tulus's brow knit. "Many people cherish you as well, Legolas," Tulus said, still looking at the ground. "Do you have any idea what it would have done to your parents if that old man had...?" He closed his eyes. "I have imagined a hundred times over the last day having to bring your body back to your father. I am not certain I would have had the courage to do it." He looked back at Legolas. "Do not misunderstand me. I do not lack the courage to face the just consequences of my failure. I would do that willingly. I lack the courage to see what your death would do to the King. And the Queen. It would destroy them, Legolas, and I do not think I could bear to watch it. No punishment the King could impose on me for failing in my duty would be worse than seeing that. If he killed me in his anger, I would consider it a blessing, honestly. The King and Queen would not be the only ones to grieve your loss."

Legolas chewed on his lip throughout that speech. His father had reminded him many times that losing him would be more than he could bear. Now that Legolas was older and knew well the history of his father's people and what he had already born, he alternated between finding that statement to be an outrageous exaggeration or a terribly sobering doom. Legolas found himself wondering why hearing it from someone other than his father made it feel even more weighty. But Legolas was stunned to find himself blinking back tears in response to Tulus's last statement. He and Tulus had always been friends, but since Tulus became his guard, and they spent so much time together, Legolas felt as close to him as he did to his uncles. The fact Tulus apparently looked on him in a similar fashion made Legolas's betrayal all the worse. He could not even look him in the eye.

"I do apologize, Tulus," he said softly and stepped onto the path. "Will you take me back to the Green?" he asked. He had no desire to allow Tulus to see how upset he was at the prospect of losing him as a guard.

Tulus nodded and gestured again for Legolas to proceed him down the path. This time Legolas hurried to comply.

Legolas set a fast pace back to the Green. It was a good distance, but they did not exchange a word as they walked. When they reached the Green, Tulus did not venture far onto it. He and Conuion exchanged the signal that acknowledged Tulus had yielded his watch to Conuion. Then, with a quiet 'fair evening,' Tulus slipped back into the shadows of the forest.

And Conuion made no move to approach Legolas.

Trying not to roll his eyes, Legolas strode over to him. Then he frowned. "Where is Galithil?" he asked. Surely his cousin had not already gone back into the stronghold. It was still quite early. The dancing was only beginning to reach its peak and the games under the Oak had not even begun.

Conuion nodded towards the broad beech on the western side of the Green.

Legolas followed his gaze and saw Maidhien and Galithil sitting under it, holding hands and talking. He raised an eyebrow and looked back at Conuion. "Are you not supposed to be with them?" he asked. He knew it took no small amount of nerve to question the attentiveness of the captain of the King's guard, especially given his own recent misdeeds, but if Colloth and Tulus had ever given he and Aewen this much space, Legolas might never have been tempted to slip away from Tulus.

Conuion shrugged. "I have my bow and we are standing on the very roots of the stronghold. I command your family's security and I deem Galithil to be safe enough. I can see him, after all." Conuion paused and turned his gaze towards the river. "I can see Aewen too," he said with an overly neutral tone.

Legolas blinked at him. Then he searched the river bank for Aewen, catching sight of only a flounce of fabric. It dawned on him that if Conuion knew to point out Aewen to him, he at least suspected a good deal more than Legolas was entirely comfortable with. He looked back at Conuion. Maybe that was just as well.

"You know I made a stupid decision, Conuion," Legolas said. "Tulus tells me that Adar has left it up to you what the consequences of my decision will be for him. I know it is not my place to try to influence your command over your own warriors, but if I could, I would take all the blame for what happened on myself. Tulus trusted me and it should not have been wrong for him to do so."

To Legolas's surprise, the ever-stern captain of his father's guards smiled at him. "Tell me that again in fifty or a hundred years, when you have reached your majority and have gained the benefit of some experience, and I will agree with you. It will be your hide that I will be after and not Tulus's at all. But you are still young. Youth does not always stop to think, and even when it does, it does not always know what all it should be thinking about. That is why your adar assigned you a guard."

His tone was kind. So much so that Legolas was not even inclined to be annoyed at the reference to his youth. But he was worried that he had apparently not moved Conuion at all as far a Tulus's guilt was concerned.

Conuion's smiled deepened. "Never fear. I am sympathetic to Tulus's plight. I have guarded the members of your household for three generations. I have commanded the security of your household for this entire Age. I have seen several guards make the same mistake Tulus did and they all remain in the King's service." He laughed. "I made the same mistake myself when guarding your adar in his youth and both he and I survived it, though only by the grace of the Valar." He shook his head. "Your adar is not nearly as fearsome as your daeradar was. Be thankful for that. You and Tulus both will suffer some consequences, and they will undoubtedly be unpleasant, but nothing that you cannot both survive. Be thankful for that also." He gestured towards the river. "I have guarded three generations of your family, as I told you. All of them eventually managed to marry, despite the presence of guards. Go find Aewen."

Legolas did not wait for a second invitation, if for no other reason than to prevent Conuion from seeing him turn bright red. He jogged off towards the river.

"I cannot see through trees or rocks, Legolas," Conuion called after him. "Do not go too deep along the bank."

Legolas waved back at him without turning around to acknowledge that order. And he understood the reason for it. Legolas could not even see the little bit of Aewen's dress that he had seen a moment ago. Reaching the trees along the river, he slowed to a walk and peered amongst them, looking where he had last seen her. After walking a while, he caught sight of movement, close to the bank, near the pools where he and his friends swam. He ducked under a low branch to take a few steps towards her, careful to stay where the trees were thin enough not to obscure him from sight.

"Aewen," he called.

In response, he heard a hasty shuffling of feet and a gasp that turned into a little squeak.

Legolas took a few more steps towards the bank, concerned. Then he froze. Aewen was indeed near the bank of the river. And so was the First Year that had gone swimming with them the day before their aborted camping trip. Aewen was looking at Legolas with wide, guilty eyes. The First Year appeared quite annoyed and a little smug.

Legolas gaped at her. It was perfectly obvious what he had just interrupted. Still, he could scarcely believe his eyes. It took him a full minute, gaze locked with hers, to recover himself. When he did, he quickly turned around. "I beg your pardon," he said, pleased at least by the fact that his voice betrayed nothing of what he felt. He wanted...well he was not sure what he wanted, but he certainly did not want to give that First Year the satisfaction of any sort of reaction. So, he simply turned and walked back up the bank, silently and at a normal pace.

Behind him he heard a whispered conversation and then Aewen's light footsteps following him.

"Legolas, wait," she called, a little breathless.

Legolas saw no reason to wait. Why had she bothered to follow him? What could she possibly have to say? He had tried to speak to her the entire trip home and she had refused to acknowledge him. What could she say now?

What could she say now, indeed! He turned to face her without a word. When he did, she stopped following him and her eyes widened. With supreme effort, and only because he truly did care about her, Legolas wiped the bitter scowl from his face and replaced it with as neutral an expression as he could muster. He had no idea how successful he had been, but at least she looked less frightened.

They looked at one another silently. Legolas waited for her to speak. After all, she had followed him. He had nothing to say at all. Except, perhaps, to ask why she had seemed ready to kiss him--had pulled him away from camp to do so--and now she was kissing this First Year, whose name Legolas could not even dredge up from the recesses of his mind at the moment. She barely knew him!

He took a deep breath, imagining that his face must be growing cross again.

Aewen suddenly put her hands on her hips and lifted her chin. "It is Galithil and Maidhien that are betrothed, Legolas. Not you and I," she finally said, her tone openly defiant.

Legolas blew out a short breath. "I know that," he shot back, much more angrily then he intended. He took another deep breath, determined to govern his tone. He was not going to make this situation worse by treating her as badly as he felt she had treated him. "I clearly misunderstood...." He stumbled, not sure what to say. How did one explain 'misunderstanding' how they had behaved with one another over the last summer. Even Maidhien had said.... Well, no matter. "I misunderstood," he repeated, without elaborating. She knew perfectly well what he was referring to.

Her haughty facade crumbled. "You did not misunderstand, Legolas," she whispered, taking a step closer to him. "I just..." Now she struggled for words. Then she looked at him, brow furrowed deeply in her frustration. "Guards and lessons in Westron and helping manage the King's household!" she managed. "Seeing you fighting with Men! You were going to fight the older man to defend the woman! And seeing the King..." she could not even bring herself to describe what Thranduil had been about to do to the old man. "We were supposed to go camping!" she exclaimed, sounding near tears. "To have some fun before the festival. That ends up with you going to the border to trade with Men. And if that is not bad enough, with you arresting two more Men and taking them back to the stronghold, ruining the camping trip all together!"

"What would you have me do, Aewen?" Legolas exclaimed. "The King asked me to pay the Men. Would you tell him 'no' if he asked you to do something? And that old man was going to kill his own daughter! Would you have me ignore that and go hunting as if I had known nothing?" Despite his best efforts, he could not deny he had raised his voice before he had finished speaking.

"Of course not," she fired back, also yelling. "You had to respond the way you did. But I do not."

Legolas frowned at that, confused.

Aewen looked down. "You are the King's son. Those types of duties will dominate the rest of your life. You have no choice but to do them. I do have a choice whether I do or not. Your adar told Maidhien to think if she really wanted to marry Galithil. Well I did some thinking too. I do not want to learn Westron or manage the stronghold or see Men threatening to kill you."

Legolas's mouth dropped open. "Only a moment ago it was you that pointed out to me that we are not betrothed, Aewen," he snapped without thinking.

"Then we should not be doing anything together that might lead down that path. It is not one I want to take, so I think it is fair to be clear with you about that," she said softly.

"Well, you certainly have been clear," Legolas responded and he turned to walk away.

"I am sorry, Legolas," she whispered. Her voice sounded tearful again.

Legolas paused, but he did not want to turn back around to face her tears. He did not know how to deal with what he was feeling. He did not know how to respond to what she was saying at all. "So am I," he said, sounding every bit as miserable as she had. And he continued up the bank.





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