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The Tide of Times  by daw the minstrel

12.  Children

Thranduil leaned back in his chair, toying with a jeweled dagger he used as a letter opener.  “I cannot say that your tidings bring me much comfort, Mithrandir.”

“I am sorry.  I had hoped that the council was ready to take action, but I see that the time is not yet ripe.”

Thranduil tossed the dagger onto his desk.  “For my people, the time is more than ripe,” he said, knowing that he sounded bitter.  “Curunír is ready to leave us to our fates, and the others follow his lead.  I should have known better than to expect anything else.”

“I think that Círdan was ready to act,” Mithrandir said, “but he could do nothing alone and has the Havens to see to. Elves come to take ship in ever increasing numbers, I fear.”

Thranduil rose and began to pace his office.  “Círdan’s heart is turned to the sea, not to our day to day troubles here.  But Galadriel should know what we face.  Dol Guldur is closer to Lorien than it is to us, although for some twisted reason, the Shadow attacks us yet does not touch her.”  He felt again the resentment he always experienced at the thought of the peaceful city, smugly certain of its own centrality and indifferent to the suffering on the other side of the Great River.

“And Elrond should have known better,” he continued.  “Orcs tortured all the joy out of his wife, and his sons seem to spend their lives in avenging her.  Does he think that such evil will cure itself?”

Mithrandir sighed. “Elrond is not yet recovered from his loss, or I think he might have been a better ally too.  The shadow has crept into the mountains and he is not used to having it so close to home.  He feels its effect and it increases his suffering.”

Thranduil leaned one hand on the mantle and kicked at the empty grate. On this warm May morning, it held no fire.  He considered what Mithrandir was saying about Elrond. “Perhaps you are right,” he sighed.  “I know how hard it is to lose one you love.” He turned back to Mithrandir. “I understand that Elrond fails to act because he is in pain, but that does not lessen my people’s suffering.”

“Give him time,” Mithrandir urged.

“Time rushes past us,” Thranduil retorted, feeling something like despair.  “The shadow does not wait.  I will soon send my last son into the fight against it, Mithrandir, and still we retreat before it.”  Thranduil grimaced. He had thought he had reconciled himself to Legolas’s joining the warriors’ ranks, but to his surprise, he found it painful even to speak of it.

A small motion behind Mithrandir caught his eye, and he realized that the door had opened a crack.  He stiffened slightly and then relaxed, an exasperated smile on his face.  “Sinnarn,” he called, “what are you doing there?”

The door opened wider and his grandson peeked around it.  “I am not bothering you, grandfather,” he declared.

“Of course not,” Thranduil said dryly.  “Come in and be introduced to our guest.”  Sinnarn was still young enough to take his meals in the nursery, so he had not been present at the table on the previous evening.  The child edged into the room and came to stand before Mithrandir with his eyes wide.

“Mithrandir, this is Ithilden’s son, Sinnarn,” Thranduil said. “Sinnarn, this is Mithrandir.” To his pleasure, his grandson made a small, polite bow.  Thranduil looked up proudly at the wizard.

“I am most pleased to meet you, Sinnarn,” Mithrandir said gravely.  “I have the utmost respect for your adar.”

As if carried along by a current, Sinnarn crept toward him, put out a small hand, and carefully touched Mithrandir’s beard. Then he grinned.  “Look, Grandfather!” he cried, turning toward Thranduil while he still clutched a fistful of beard.  “His hair has grown all the way around to his face!”

Mithrandir winced, disentangled the elfling’s hand, and then looked up at Thranduil.  “He reminds me of his Uncle Eilian,” he observed with some asperity.

“Sinnarn, I will not tell you again that you are not allowed in your grandfather’s office,” came the firm voice of Alfirin, who had entered the room unseen. She picked the child up and rested him on her hip, where he hid his face in her neck.  “I hope he has not bothered you,” she said, looking from Mithrandir to Thranduil.

“Not at all,” Thranduil told her, ignoring a snort that came from Mithrandir’s direction.  “He bowed most charmingly when he was introduced.”

Alfirin’s face softened.  “That was well done, sweetling,” she murmured to the elfling, who looked up at her with gleaming eyes and then stretched to kiss her cheek.  She laughed. “Are you bribing me?” she asked and then carried him out of the room.

Thranduil watched them go and then turned back to Mithrandir to find the wizard eyeing him with an amused air.  “Time brings good things as well as evil, I see,” he commented, and Thranduil could not help but smile.

“Indeed, it does,” he admitted.


The four novice masters stood as Ithilden entered the meeting room.  “My apologies for my lateness,” he said and waved them to their chairs as he took his own.  He turned to Lómilad, who oversaw all the novice training.  “What have you to tell me?” he asked briskly.  As they did every year, the masters had assembled to give him an appraisal of the novices who would soon join the warriors’ ranks and to recommend the capacities in which they could best be used the next year.

“May I ask first if you have appointed anyone to replace Siondel as captain of the Home Guard?” Lómilad asked.

“Of course,” said Ithilden.  He knew that, among other things, the masters considered the match between warrior and captain when they made their recommendations, and the identity of the Home Guard captain was particularly important because new warriors almost inevitably were sent into that unit.  “I am transferring Anolith from the northern Border Patrol.  His wife will soon give birth to their first child.” They nodded.  They knew that Ithilden tried to accommodate warriors’ family needs when he could.

Lómilad nodded.  “Very well. Let us begin with Annael.”  He gestured to Thelion, and the blademaster began to give an appraisal that had undoubtedly been arrived at after joint discussion among the masters.

“Annael is competent with all weapons,” he said, “although he is better with a bow than he is with a sword.”  Ithilden nodded.  Most Wood-elves were better with a bow.  Indeed, he thought with some pride, they were the most feared archers in Middle-earth.  “He is unusually good at woodcraft,” Thelion went on.  “He could track a fly through the forest.”  He smiled at his own joke, and Ithilden smiled too, pleased by the obvious satisfaction that Thelion took in one of his pupil’s accomplishments.  “He is also exceptionally responsible, and he is even-tempered and calm under pressure.  We believe he would make a fine scout.”

Ithilden nodded.  What Thelion was saying matched his own impressions of Annael, whom he knew better than he usually knew the novices because of his friendship with Legolas.

“As you know, however,” Thelion was more serious now, “he is deep in grief for his adar, and we think that, for a time at least, he will not be able to concentrate fully on his work.  Anolith will have to be told.”

“You recommend the Home Guard then?” Ithilden asked, although he knew it was a formality.

“Yes,” Thelion answered, “preferably scouting the edges of the Home Guard territory, paired with an experienced warrior.  The Home Guard warriors will look after him well, for both his adar’s sake and his own.”

“I agree,” Ithilden said at once.  He thought that, unlike most new warriors, Annael might actually stay in the Home Guard rather than gaining experience there and then going elsewhere.  His mother needed him, and Ithilden had seen the maiden holding his hand at Siondel’s funeral.  He suspected that Annael would do as his father had done: marry early and make a career of the Home Guard.

“And what of Legolas?” he asked, keeping his tone carefully neutral.  He had listened to Eilian’s appraisal a number of years ago and knew how hard it was to react solely as a commander rather than as a brother.  Lómilad gestured that Penntalion, the archery master, should begin this report.

“Legolas is unusually skilled with all weapons,” Penntalion said, “but he is simply the finest archer I have ever taught.”  At this praise for his brother, Ithilden felt a glow of pleasure that he tried to keep from showing in his face.  “He is both quick and accurate,” Penntalion went on. “He can shoot down, up, on the move and from horseback.  And he does it as naturally as he breathes.”

Penntalion was waxing enthusiastic now, and Lómilad interrupted with an amused smile. “Yes, Penntalion, we take your point.”  The archery mastery subsided, looking a little abashed.  He was normally reserved.  Legolas’s skill must be remarkable indeed to call forth this level of enthusiasm from him, Ithilden thought happily.

Lómilad now turned to him and took up the appraisal.  “Legolas is also very serious about being a warrior.  He seems to feel personally responsible for doing all that he can to defeat the enemy, which, I suppose, is natural, given who he is.  He can be unpredictable though.  He is sometimes overeager to prove himself and makes mistakes that harm his self confidence further.”

Ithilden nodded but said nothing.  He had only to think of the recent scene in his office to recognize the truth in what Lómilad said.

Lómilad seemed to hesitate.  His eyes met Ithilden’s and there was something in them that caused Ithilden to feel a sudden trepidation.  “We believe that Legolas feels pressure from his position as the king’s son and as the troop commander’s brother.  We think that he will do better if he serves where his archery skills will be useful and where he will have a chance to make mistakes and learn his strengths with less scrutiny from his family.  We are therefore recommending that he be posted to the eastern Border Patrol.”

For a moment, Ithilden was tempted to react to what felt like criticism of himself and Thranduil, but then, his heart sinking, he forced himself to consider Lómilad’s words as fairly as he could and what he saw made him flinch.  He sank back in his chair.  There must be a safer way, he thought, in some desperation.  When Siondel had been captaining the Home Guard, he had contemplated putting both Annael and Legolas in the eastern Border Patrol, but after Siondel’s death, he had gratefully set that idea aside.  “Such a posting would be very unusual,” he said stiffly. “Surely it would be best to treat him as we treat everyone else.”

“But he is not everyone else,” Maldor put in, speaking for the first time.  “He is the king’s son.  He can expect to be a captain one day, and he is under constant scrutiny now.”  He held Ithilden’s gaze steadily.

“It is too dangerous,” Ithilden said abruptly, voicing what was uppermost in his mind.

Maldor shook his head.  “He is very good with weapons, and he will have Beliond with him.”

“Moreover, Todith would be his captain,” Lómilad put in.  “He has years of experience in the Southern Patrol and so has much to teach a new warrior.  And he served as Eilian’s captain so he knows what is involved in commanding the king’s son.”

Ithilden looked around the table at them.  “You all agree with this recommendation?”

All of them nodded.  “We believe it is what would be best for Legolas and what would, in the long run, make him most useful to the realm,” Lómilad said, his voice gentle.

Ithilden looked away for a moment and then sighed. “Very well,” he said.  He looked back at them.  “I do not suppose any of you wants to give your recommendation directly to the king?” he asked dryly.

They all grinned. “No,” said Lómilad. “We are more than happy to leave that in your capable hands.”


“Ada!” cried Sinnarn, jumping into Ithilden’s arms from the stone flowerbed wall he had been walking along.

“Hello, little one,” Ithilden greeted him, his heart warming at the open enthusiasm of his son’s greeting.

“He has been watching for you,” Alfirin told him with a smile from the garden bench that she shared with Mithrandir.

“You have decided to stay for Legolas’s coming-of-age then, Mithrandir?” Ithilden asked, setting Sinnarn back on his feet again, so that he could run off and play.  His brother’s coming-of-age ritual would begin that evening, but when Ithilden had left for the training fields that morning, Mithrandir had been undecided about his plans.

“Yes.  I have never seen a Wood-elf coming-of-age ceremony, and I am always interested in you sons of Thranduil.”

Ithilden raised an eyebrow, but Mithrandir looked imperturbably back at him and drew deeply on his pipe.  Ithilden wondered briefly how Alfirin could bear to sit next to him when he indulged in the noxious habit.  She had positioned herself upwind, he noted.

“Ada, look!” Sinnarn cried, and he turned to find that his son had somehow scrambled to the top of the stone wall surrounding the garden.  His breath caught.  The child was at least seven feet off the ground.

“Ithilden,” Alfirin’s gasped.

He started toward his son and then felt a strong hand grip his upper arm.  “He will be fine,” Thranduil murmured, having entered the garden just in time to see his grandson’s perch.   And indeed, as Thranduil predicted, Sinnarn stood up, ran along the top of the wall, and then descended to the ground again through the branches of a pear tree.

“Did you see me?” he cried gleefully.

“Yes,” called Thranduil, “we saw, but you should not climb that wall again without your nana or ada here to watch you.”

“Very well,” Sinnarn agreed and then ran toward his mother, who had risen and now took his hand.

“It is time to go inside,” she said, still sounding shaken.  She did not look at Thranduil, and Ithilden guessed she was angry.  Indeed he was not happy himself about his father’s interference in his management of Sinnarn.  He and Alfirin would talk about this in the privacy of their own rooms, he resolved, but he would speak to Thranduil about it now.  Mithrandir eyed Ithilden and Thranduil and then knocked the remains of the foul weed out his pipe and prepared to follow Alfirin.

“You will be at evening meal?” he inquired.

Thranduil nodded. “We will.  Even Legolas will. His fast does not begin until star opening.  We will eat early so that he is ready for it.”  Mithrandir nodded to them and left the garden.

Ithilden turned to Thranduil, but his father spoke first.

“You must show confidence in him if he is to have confidence in himself,” Thranduil advised.

Ithilden felt a mean satisfaction.  “Indeed?  And is that advice you also live by, Adar?”

Thranduil frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Let us sit for a moment,” Ithilden said, indicating the empty bench, and the two of them moved toward it.  “The novice masters gave me their recommendations today,” Ithilden said. “They have advised placing Annael in the Home Guard.”

Thranduil nodded. “A wise choice.”

“And they have advised placing Legolas in the eastern Border Patrol.” Ithilden sat back to watch his father’s reaction.

Thranduil blinked and then drew himself up. “I will not allow it,” he said flatly, and there was no mistaking the fear in his voice.

Ithilden was suddenly ashamed of his gratification over his father’s distress.  “He would have Beliond with him,” Ithilden pointed out, as Lómilad had done to him.  “And all of the masters believe that this is the best way for Legolas to develop as a warrior.”  His father’s mouth compressed into a thin line.  “Can you not show confidence in your son as you ask me to do in mine?” Ithilden asked gently.

“Do you believe this is a good decision?” Thranduil countered and Ithilden knew he was being asked to take responsibility for the recommendation if not the final decision.

“Yes, I do,” he said firmly.

Thranduil looked at the tree tops visible over the garden wall.  He stayed silent for a long moment and then looked back at Ithilden.  And the bleak look in his eyes told Ithilden that he had won.  For a moment, Ithilden felt the bitter irony that came with seeing as a victory the decision to send his young brother into danger.

“Legolas will not be told just yet,” Thranduil finally said.  “I do not want him distracted during his vigil.”

“Very well,” Ithilden agreed, feeling relieved.  It was irrational, but somehow as long as Legolas had not been told where he was to be posted, the decision seemed less certain.  It would be good to hold the future at bay for a little while yet.


Legolas led his father and brother deeper into the forest.  It felt distinctly odd to be weaponless. He had not gone into the woods without a weapon since he was twenty.  But tonight Thranduil and Ithilden would stand guard over him, while he opened himself to his connection to the forest and the stars.

It was his right to choose the place where he would keep his overnight vigil.  He had been thinking about this choice for weeks now and had finally decided upon the spot he wanted.  He halted at last when he reached it and surveyed it with satisfaction.  Giant beech trees stretched their leafy canopies overhead, and their smooth, silver gray bark glimmered in the moonlight.  A small stream was close enough that its water could be heard bubbling over rocks.  The streambed created a break in the trees so that the stars were clearly visible in thickly spangled array.  He turned to Thranduil and Ithilden.

“I would hold my vigil here.”

Thranduil nodded.  “It is a beautiful spot,” he said gravely.  “Are you ready then?”  Legolas nodded.

“Very well,” Thranduil said and gestured to the ground.  Legolas knelt and bowed his head.  He could not see his father approach, but he could hear him.  Thranduil placed his hands on Legolas’s head.  “You are fortunate, my child, for tonight you have time in which to feel how we Elves are linked to Arda.  Feel the soil and fallen leaves beneath your knees.   They are the source from which grows all that we need.”  He moved his hands to Legolas’s shoulders.  “Look up,” he commanded. Obediently, Legolas lifted his eyes to the sky. “We awoke under the stars,” Thranduil intoned. “They show us how small we are and yet how precious we are to Elbereth who placed them there for us to steer by and marvel at.”

Thranduil smiled at him rather wistfully, and then leaned down and kissed his brow.  “Rise now, my child,” Thranduil bid and Legolas came to his feet.  “We will be nearby to hold you safely in our keeping, but you will not see us, for this vigil is yours to stand alone.”  He stepped back, still regarding Legolas with eyes full of both pride and loss. Then he turned and disappeared among the trees as Ithilden touched Legolas’s shoulder lightly and then slipped off in the opposite direction.

Legolas stood alone for a moment, feeling vulnerable in his unarmed state.  Then he closed his eyes to inhale the night scent of the forest and hear the sleepy murmur of the trees.  Gradually, he calmed and began to feel the oneness with Arda that had sometimes come to him when he was able to spend a night in the woods.  He opened his eyes again and moved toward one of the beeches. He would pass this night high in the arms of the tree, with the stars over his head, and the song of Arda swelling in his heart.

He settled into the tree’s embrace, feeling it sway a little in the cool night breeze.  He had work to do now, for he knew that if he was to draw himself into oneness with Arda, he would have to let go of all the cares that had weighed on him so heavily in the last few weeks.

With deliberate attention, he turned his mind to each of them.  Strongest of all, was the sorrow he felt for the death of Siondel and the grief of Annael and Elowen.  He let his heart dwell on that for a time, while the stars wheeled overhead.  And then, he released it.  He could do nothing for Siondel but honor his memory.  He would love and support Annael and his mother, but they would decide for themselves whether their sorrow was bearable and he would accept their decision.

Then he thought of the other worries that he had fretted over of late, feeling how small all of them were compared to Siondel’s death.  His father wanted to keep him as a child for just a little longer, and when he thought about it and let the song of the tree soothe his petty irritation, he understood; for in his own secret moments, he wanted the shelter of his father’s arms, although it took him long to admit this even to himself.  He smiled slightly and wondered if he would ever be able to admit it to Thranduil.

He was not going to be posted to the Southern Patrol immediately and was, in all likelihood, going to serve in the Home Guard.  He had no control over that decision and had been foolish to think he did. He would serve the realm with all the faithful devotion of which he was capable.  It was what he owed to his people.

He released these cares and the other even smaller ones. He was going to have to serve with Beliond at his back; Eilian had managed well with Maltanaur, so Legolas could learn to do the same.  He had quarreled with Ithilden; he and his brother loved one another and no quarrel would undo that.  He had been injured; he would soon be almost fully recovered.  He had allowed his body to lead him to misunderstand Synia; he would be wiser next time.  At least, he hoped he would, he thought rather wryly.

He leaned back against the beech and contemplated the stars again.  He had always loved the woods at night.  How lucky he was to be spending this night here.

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