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The Tide of Times  by daw the minstrel

I borrow characters and situations from Tolkien but they are his. I draw no profit other than the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this for me.


9.  After the Fire

In numb silence, Eilian and Maltanaur walked through the blackened remains of what had once been living trees.  Morning was presumably breaking in the east, but the drizzling rain meant the sky was still gray.  The ashy remnants of leaves and underbrush lay in a thick, wet layer over the forest floor. Is there nothing but death here? Eilian wondered in despair, thinking of their companions who were still burning the bodies of their slain enemies and even more of the Home Guard warriors who would soon be following them at a slower pace, burdened by the body of their captain.

In his mind’s eye, he once again saw himself ordering Siondel to take his troops and pursue the fleeing Orcs.  And then he relived the moment in which he had ordered his own warriors to disengage and let the rest of the enemy hurry in the Home Guard captain’s direction.  I cannot think about that, he told himself desperately, and put the memory away in the dark corner of his mind where he had hidden more thoughts than he had ever dreamed he would have to forbid himself to recall.

And what would he find ahead?  The patch of woods he and Maltanaur were now crossing was less devastated than the first one.  The underbrush had burned and some of the trees were blackened, but their leafy canopies were intact.  He steeled himself as he rounded the last group of rocks and came into sight of the first cottage.  He paused, unable to believe his eyes.  The walls of the cottage were charred and part of the roof had fallen in, but despite all that, it stood.  It stood, and in front of it, an Elven couple could be seen, dragging debris from the fallen roof out through the door.

As Eilian and Maltanaur approached, the two of them paused in their labors.  Their faces were sooty and blistered, and their hands were bandaged, presumably against blisters there too.  “Are you injured?” he asked, ready to send for those among his warriors who were best at emergency healing, but the husband shook his head.

“We came through the fire well,” he said in a raspy, smoke damaged voice, “but there were others who were not so lucky.”

Eilian’s heart caught.  “Where?” he asked.

The Elf pointed further along the path with his chin.  “Up that way.”

‘Up that way’ was towards Celuwen’s cottage.  Eilian’s step quickened, and, with Maltanaur right behind him, he strode up the path toward the site of Celuwen’s home.  He was watching anxiously for it through the blackened tree trunks and, when he did not see it, he thought for a moment that he had misjudged the distance. Suddenly he realized that the still smoldering wreck in front of him was all that remained of the building in which he had last seen Celuwen and Legolas.

He stopped and then nudged tentatively with the toe of his boot at the still warm beam that lay across what had been the doorstep. His hands began to tremble slightly.  Maltanaur touched his shoulder.  “Legolas and Celuwen were almost certainly not here,” he said.

Eilian stared at the collapsed cottage for a second longer.  ‘Almost certainly’ was not good enough.  And what of Celuwen’s parents?  He could not imagine what Celuwen would feel if her parents turned out to have been inside the wreck he saw before him.  He whirled and started down the path toward the building where he and Siondel had met with Sólith and Félas.  If there was anyplace where news was to be had, it would be there.

He and Maltanaur emerged from between burnt tree trunks to find half a dozen Elves standing near the doorway of the public building.  Eilian recognized Sólith among them and was starting toward Celuwen’s father when he was struck by the incongruous smell of roasted meat in the air.  Suddenly, he noticed that on the ground near the small group lay two still forms wrapped in dirty blankets. All else faded from his awareness.  With a smothered moan, he dashed toward them and was tugging at the edge of one of the blankets when Sólith caught his arm.

“It is not them, Eilian,” he said urgently.  Eilian raised his head to look into the eyes of the older Elf, who for once looked sympathetic.  Eilian straightened and Sólith released his arm. “Legolas and Celuwen left with one of your warriors before the fire came,” Sólith said, now sounding tired.  “They were not here.” He nodded at the two bundled figures. “This was a young couple who had the bad luck to live in the cottage closest to where the fire first reached us.”

Eilian looked down at the unmoving bundles and abruptly knew where the smell of cooked meat was coming from. His gorge rose, but he choked it down again, and suddenly, he was furious.

“I saw your cottage,” he said tightly.

Sólith nodded.  “We were helping a neighbor,” he said sadly.  “There were simply not enough hands to keep everything wet.”  He rubbed at his temple and then flinched and jerked his hand away as he encountered a blister on his face.

“I suppose you think that Celuwen should have stayed and helped you,” Eilian said.  He was still trying to keeping control over his voice, but he knew he sounded critical.

Sólith stiffened.  “I do think that,” he said.  “You should not have forced her to make a choice like that, Eilian.  Do you care nothing for what she wants?”  His voice was rising, and the Elves who were nearby drifted further away to give them more privacy.

“I care for her safety,” Eilian snapped, no longer bothering to restrain himself, “which seems to me to be more than you do.”  Sólith’s face reddened but before he could retort, Eilian went on. “What if she had stayed?  She might have been inside that cottage when it burned down, and Legolas certainly would have been.”

“The warrior you sent could have taken your brother,” Sólith spat, now well and truly angry himself. “You had no need to make Celuwen responsible for him.”

“Celuwen should not have been here during a forest fire,” Eilian cried. “None of you should have been.”  His voice shook in fury. “The price you pay for staying here is too high, Sólith.”

“If the king would send us guards, we would be safe enough,” Sólith retorted.

Eilian pointed to the two dead Elves on the ground.  “Would guards have saved them?  A warrior died defending you! What more do you want?”  Again, he shut the thought of Siondel out of his mind.

Sólith stared at the bodies.  Suddenly, to Eilian’s amazement, he looked away and blinked, as if he were fighting back tears, and Eilian felt his anger dissipating.  “Get your people out of here,” he pleaded. “At least get your family out.  Take them to live in the woods elsewhere, if you like, maybe to the east of the king’s stronghold or to the north of the Forest River.  There are places you could live where your wife and daughter would not risk death daily.”

Sólith looked back at him. “I hate what the Shadow is doing to the trees,” he said with angry defiance, “what it is doing to us all.  How can you even suggest that we abandon the forest to it?”  Then he turned away and scanned the wrecked scene around him and, after a long moment, his shoulders slumped in defeat.  “Go away, Eilian,” he said, and his voice was bitter. “You evidently cannot help us. Go back to your camp and send Celuwen home, although you might warn her that she has no home to come to.”

“Celuwen will do as she chooses,” Eilian said, and felt a sudden, hopeless stab of longing that she would choose to stay with him.

Sólith raised an eyebrow at him.  “I suspect that you will find that is truer than you would like,” he said dryly and then turned and went into the building.

Eilian stood for a moment staring after him.  Thranduil would not be pleased if he knew that Eilian had taken it upon himself to suggest a course of action to these Elves.  His father undoubtedly had already decided what he wanted them to do and was probably trying to coax them into doing it.  Eilian decided that he did not care.  He could not bear the thought of Celuwen living here any longer.


Legolas stiffened, and Annael glanced up anxiously from his examination of Legolas’s foot.  “Did I hurt you?” he asked.

Legolas shook his head, although in truth the pain in his foot was growing by the minute. Annael regarded him suspiciously for a moment and then frowned down at the foot again.  “It is swelling,” he said.  He cradled the foot in his warm hands and, with audible curiosity, asked, “You say that you reinjured it?”

“Yes,” Legolas answered, unwilling to provide any further information. He had never fallen off a horse before, and if he could help it, no one would know he had done it this past night.

Annael waited for a moment to see what Legolas would tell him and then, with a small smile, gave up, as he had been forced to do twice before. He looked down at the foot, sighed, and put it gently back on the ground.  “You need a real healer,” he said.  Legolas was afraid his friend was right.  Most warriors could give emergency care to the wounded and even set simple broken bones, but he suspected he had done enough damage to his foot by now that someone with real skill would need to tend to it.  He hoped that he would not be laid up for too long, he thought dismally. He hated being inactive.  At least his father was away, which would reduce the chances of him being pent up any longer than was absolutely necessary.  Thranduil could be maddeningly overprotective sometimes.

Celuwen approached carrying a cloak she had borrowed from a forester.  “This one is more or less dry,” she told him and draped it over him.  He drew the cloak up to his chin and leaned carefully back against the tree under which they were sheltering from the rain.  With the passing of the fire, the spring dawn had become chilly and, in his wet clothes, he felt cold.  Celuwen settled herself next to him.  “How do you feel?” she asked him.

“Better,” he said, and in some ways it was true.  His head was clearer, and he could tell that his chest and back had already begun to heal.  If only his foot would stop throbbing, he thought, he would feel almost like himself again.

“Good,” Celuwen said. “I intend to return you to Eilian in good order.” She smiled briefly at him, and then she laid back on the ground and closed her eyes.  She looked tired.  The forester from whom she had borrowed the cloak approached with a second one in hand.  He bent to place it over Celuwen, and she opened her eyes long enough to smile her thanks.

Annael sat down on his other side. He picked up a twig and began to scratch at the ash covered ground with it. “I wish we would hear how things were going,” he said.

Legolas nodded.  “I do too.” He was worried about Eilian.  They had all seen the fire climbing the ridge from the Home Guard campsite, and the sight had been sobering. He moved his leg restlessly, trying to find a more comfortable position for his foot.

A stir of activity made him turn his head and, as if in answer to Legolas’s wish, Eilian and Maltanaur emerged from the trees into the campsite.  They were both sooty and grim-faced, but Legolas’s relief was immediate and, next to him, Celuwen sat up and let out a soft sigh.  Eilian stopped to speak briefly to the Home Guard warrior who had brought Legolas and Celuwen here, and then he came toward them.

He stooped and kissed Celuwen’s brow, with his hand on the back of her head. “Your parents are well,” he told her, and then cradled her head against his chest when she sagged against him in her relief at the news. He looked over her head at Legolas and gave a small smile.  “You are looking better, brat.  Of course, the last time I saw you, what small wits you have had been turned to porridge.”

“I had the wits to ride off with a pretty maiden,” Legolas declared, “so that puts me one up on you.”

Eilian laughed and then his gaze shifted.  “Annael,” he said, and his face was suddenly unreadable, “I would speak with you.”  He released Celuwen, rose, and waited while a surprised-looking Annael came to his feet.  “Come,” Eilian beckoned and led him off a small distance into the shadows of a pine tree.

Legolas gazed after them curiously.  Annael’s back was to him.  He saw Eilian put his hand on Annael’s shoulder and bend his face close to speak to him.  He heard Annael give a strangled cry.  And then Eilian put his arm around Annael’s shoulders and drew him further into the shadows.


“We can be ready to leave by mid afternoon,” the Home Guard warrior told Eilian, “as soon as everyone has had a chance to rest.”  Like many of Siondel’s warriors, this one was young, and his face was drawn and hollow-eyed.  Eilian nodded his acceptance of the plan, and the warrior saluted and walked off, leaving Eilian to stand for a moment staring off into the trees.  In his mind, he saw again the even younger face of Annael, stunned by his loss and yet somehow finding the strength and courage to accept possession of Siondel’s body.  Eilian too had lost a parent, and he knew the pain that lay in the future for this young Elf who had now irrevocably walked away from his childhood.

Footsteps approached from behind him, and he knew who it was without turning.  “I know you have things to see to, Eilian, but I would like a word with you,” said Maltanaur.  Eilian grimaced.  Maltanaur rather often wanted a word with him, usually when Eilian was least willing to give it.

He turned.  “What is it?” he asked resignedly.

“You are brooding,” said Maltanaur bluntly.  “You feel for the youngling, and you are blaming yourself for Siondel’s death.”

Eilian cringed.  “I directed the battle,” he said.  “I am responsible for all that happened.”

“Responsible perhaps, but not to blame,” Maltanaur said.  “When the fire was upon us, you could have done nothing other than what you did.  Siondel’s death was not your fault.”  He put his hand on Eilian’s shoulder.  “Let it go,” he said simply.

Eilian forced a small smile.  “Tell me that again in a week’s time,” he said.

Maltanaur smiled, patted his shoulder, and then dropped his hand. “I will,” he said and walked away.

Eilian moved wearily over to stand next to Celuwen, who was warming her hands at the campfire.  He glanced over toward where Annael sat, bleak faced, next to the body of his father, with Home Guard warriors standing in a close, protective ring around them. Eilian had wanted to give Annael a sleeping draught, but he had refused to take it, and now he sat erect, although silent tears ran down his face.  Legolas sat by his side, his shoulder against that of his friend, but he was plainly tiring, and Eilian thought that he was soon going to have to go and retrieve his brother and insist that he sleep so that he could make the trip home that the foresters, novices, and Home Guard warriors would start later this afternoon.

Celuwen took his hand in hers and squeezed it comfortingly, and Eilian turned to her in gratitude. This was the first time they had been able to speak more or less privately since he had arrived at the campsite.  He put his arm around her and drew her to him. “Thank you for taking care of Legolas,” he said.  He braced himself to tell her about what had happened to the settlement, something he had had no opportunity to do until now.

“Walk with me,” he invited her, and she tilted her head against his shoulder as he kept his arm around her and led her off a way into the trees.  He still could not get over the fact that the trees here looked as they always had, except for the layer of ash all around of course.  He reveled for a moment in their spring song, touched as it was with a note of mourning for what had happened all around them.

When they had gone a sufficient distance from the campsite to have some privacy, he stopped, turned her toward him and then with only a moment’s hesitation, he kissed her. Her mouth was soft and honey sweet beneath his, and she seemed to him to respond to his touch with a longing of her own.  His body thrummed with her nearness and his desire that she should be nearer yet.  And then, with seeming reluctance, she broke the contact, although she kept her hands on his shoulders.

“Tell me about what has happened, Eilian,” she said.

He sighed.  “Your parents are well,” he repeated what he had told her earlier, knowing with Annael’s suffering vividly before him, that this was what was most important, “but your cottage was destroyed in the fire and at least two of the settlers have been killed.”

Her hands tightened reflexively, twisting his tunic awry.  Then she drew a deep breath. “Cottages can be rebuilt,” she declared stoutly, and he felt a flash of pride for her bravery even as he despaired over what was clearly her determination to go home.

“They can be rebuilt,” he said, “but that does not mean you have to be the one to do it.  Go back to my adar’s stronghold with Legolas, Celuwen,” he pleaded.  “You could live there. We could bond.”

She pulled away a little.  “We have been through this before,” she said, sounding unhappy. “I do not want to be hanger-on in your adar’s palace, passing my time by doing needlework.  Do not press me, Eilian!  Do you think I do not feel pain over this?”

Suddenly, he was angry.  He wanted this maiden and he had no conscience at all about doing anything that might make her more likely to come to him.  If appeal would not work, then reproach might and he felt entitled to be reproachful in any case.  “I am not the one who has caused us both pain,” he said sharply.  “I would have us be together.”

“Together when you are on leave, you mean,” she retorted.  She stopped, drew breath, and then spoke more calmly.  “You manipulated me into leaving the settlement to see to Legolas’s safety, Eilian, and I allowed it because he needed seeing to and because - ."  She stopped, her voice catching. “Because I do love you,” she finished in a hopeless tone.  She looked at him with tears in her eyes.  “But I cannot do what you ask of me, so I beg you not to ask it.”

He looked down into her wide dark eyes and felt tears coming into his own.  “I love you,” he said simply.  “I do not see why we simply cannot do what would make us both happy.”  He buried his face in the top of her head.

“Because we would wake up in the morning, and we would both still have duties to fulfill that would draw us apart,” she answered, her voice muffled against his chest.  She looked at him again. “I must go,” she said simply.  “I have stayed here because I thought that you or Legolas might need me, but I can stay no longer.  I am needed at home, and you,” she stroked his face gently, “you, my fine Woodland Realm captain, are needed by your patrol.”

She stretched up to kiss him quickly.  Then she pulled the cloak off her shoulders. “This belongs to one of the foresters,” she told him. “Thank him for me.”  And she pulled away and ran lightly up the path toward the settlement.


Eilian lowered him carefully to the blanket, and Legolas knew that his brother had been right. He was tired enough to feel almost light headed, and he needed to rest if he was to be fit to travel later that day.  And yet still he felt guilty for abandoning Annael to carry out his vigil next to his father’s body alone.  He needs me and I have failed him, he thought miserably.  In his mind’s eye, he saw Annael and Siondel, standing facing one another at Annael’s coming of age.

“What do you surrender?” Siondel had asked.

“I surrender my right to protection and guidance,” Annael had answered.

Legolas blinked away the tears.  Surely his friend was not meant to so thoroughly lose his father’s sheltering presence.

Eilian appeared next to him again.  “Drink this,” he ordered, propping him up and putting what was undoubtedly a sleeping draught to his lips.  Legolas thought about resisting, but decided he was too tired and obediently drank what Eilian gave him.  Eilian lowered him to the blanket again and put another blanket over him.  Then he sat down next to Legolas, probably to wait until he fell asleep.

Legolas looked across the campsite at Annael.  Siondel’s warriors had drawn even nearer to Annael, and one of them was now crouched next to him, speaking softly. 

“Annael just had his coming of age,” Legolas said, knowing he sounded bewildered.  “How can Siondel be dead?”

Eilian’s hand stroked his hair and moved to block Legolas’s view of his friend.  “Sleep now,” he said.  They sat silent for a moment, and then Eilian spoke hesitantly.  “I am sorry I will not be there for your coming of age, but as I told you in my letter, I will not be due leave again for a month after that. I will be there when you pledge your faith as a warrior, though.”

Distracted from his grief for Annael, Legolas thought about this.  “Are you coming because I will join your patrol?” he asked.  Traditionally, the captains who would command the new warriors were there to receive them when they left the ranks of the novices.

Eilian’s looked startled, and his hand stopped moving over Legolas’s head.  Then he met Legolas’s gaze.  “You cannot join the Southern Patrol right away,” he said steadily, his hand beginning to move again. “That would be far too dangerous. You need some experience first.”

“But I thought - ,' Legolas stopped and frowned to himself.  He was growing drowsy and even the pain in his foot was beginning to blur. He would think about this when he felt more alert.

“Who did you decide to have stand in for naneth at your coming of age?” Eilian asked, changing the subject.

“No one,” Legolas responded.

Eilian frowned. “Surely Alfirin would do it.”

“She would,” Legolas agreed, “and I am fond of Alfirin, but she has Sinnarn now, and I really do not need anyone.”  He found it hard to explain why he did not want anyone to stand in his mother’s vacant place, but he had found that he did not.

Eilian looked troubled, but Legolas found that his attention was wandering.

“Where is Celuwen?” he asked sleepily.  “I like her.”  At this, Eilian smiled rather shakily.  There was something else Legolas had wanted to tell Eilian about Celuwen, but he could not for a moment remember what it was. Then he recalled it.  “Did you know that she loves you?” he asked, feeling his eyes sliding out of focus.

“Yes,” came Eilian’s voice from a great distance. “I did.”


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