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Disclaimer: I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien but they belong to him. I gain no profit from their use other than the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.
Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.
3. Getting into Trouble at Home
"Last night's rain left the river higher than ever, my lord," the adviser said. "I fear that if we do not take these measures, it will overflow its banks at some time in the next few weeks and some of the cottages to the east will be flooded."
"Very well," Thranduil signaled his agreement. "Go ahead with the temporary reinforcement of the banks. However, you should also make sure that the Elves who live in the area know that if there is more rain than usual, we might not be able to prevent flooding entirely."
"Yes, my lord," the adviser said as he gathered up his papers. "By your leave," he said, and he bowed and started toward the doors of the Great Hall where Thranduil was completing his regular morning meetings with his advisers.
"Who is next?" Thranduil asked his chief counselor, who had been keeping track of those scheduled to see the king today.
"I believe you are through, my lord," the counselor told him, to Thranduil's relief. He had planned to ride for a while in the late morning, thinking that the exercise might ease his mood. A sudden commotion caused them both to look toward the doorway.
"Lord Eilian, my lord," announced the herald, and to Thranduil's surprise, his middle son did indeed enter the Great Hall. He had evidently just arrived, for his cloak and boots were mud-splattered and his face was ruddy from the cool autumn air. He dropped to one knee in a formal salute and then advanced with a small smile as Thranduil stood to meet him.
"Eilian!" Thranduil exclaimed, embracing him. "I was not expecting you home. Is all well?"
Eilian hesitated and years of dealing with him immediately told his father that he had something to say that was not going to be welcome. He answered Thranduil's query pleasantly enough, however. "I have brought dispatches from Ithilden, Adar," Eilian told him, handing over the packet of papers. "He was well when I left him, and, as you see, I am intact also." Thranduil passed the dispatches to his counselor and studied Eilian's face dispassionately. There was trouble here, he thought, probably of a kind best discussed in private.
"Sort through those for me, summarize the less important ones, and have the others ready for me to examine by this afternoon," Thranduil told the counselor. Then he turned back to Eilian. "Come," he said, leading the way toward the royal family's private quarters. "We can talk in my office with goblets of wine in our hands."
In Thranduil's office, Eilian dropped his cloak onto a chair near the door and then accepted the wine his father offered and seated himself in front of the desk. Thranduil took a sip of his own wine and then began to probe for whatever it was Eilian had to tell him. "I am happy to see you, iôn-nín," he said, "but I would have expected Ithilden to send the dispatches with one of his regular messengers. Have you a task to complete for your brother here at home?"
Eilian's eyes were on the goblet in his hands. He opened his mouth to reply and then shut it again. Finally he seemed to take his courage in hand. "Ithilden has reassigned me to the Home Guard," he said and then looked up quickly as if to see how Thranduil was reacting to this unexpected piece of news.
Thranduil frowned at him uncomprehendingly. "Why?" he asked. Eilian had nagged his brother unceasingly to assign him to the Southern Patrol soon after he had become a warrior. Ithilden had done so reluctantly, for warriors were ordinarily expected to have a fair amount of experience before they undertook that dangerous posting, but Eilian had rewarded his brother's decision by serving with distinction and earning his captain's unstinted praise. Thranduil could not imagine what would lead Ithilden to move Eilian now.
Again Eilian hesitated before replying, this time so long that Thranduil began to grow impatient. "Out with it, Eilian," he said abruptly. "Whatever you have to say will not be improved by delay."
Eilian grimaced slightly. "He disapproved of my aggressiveness in battle."
Thranduil had been leaning back in his chair, but he now sat up straight and fixed Eilian with a hard stare. "What do you mean 'aggressiveness in battle'?" he demanded. What had Eilian been up to, he wondered, to cause Ithilden to react so strongly.
"I mean taking advantage of unexpected opportunities," Eilian answered.
Thranduil continued to stare at him. "Would these opportunities be 'unexpected' in the sense that they involved actions your captain felt were unwise?" he finally asked.
Across the desk from him, his middle son was beginning to radiate defiance. Thranduil was only too familiar with the look that had now settled on Eilian's face. Lorellin had always maintained that Thranduil provoked obstinacy in their middle son by criticizing him too quickly rather than letting him find his own way to the right path, but Thranduil had no patience for the kind of deliberate bad judgment that he was beginning to suspect Eilian had displayed.
"It was actually Todith who was displeased with my actions," Eilian said, "but he convinced Ithilden that I was being reckless, whereas really," he hurried on, "I was only doing what everyone should have been doing and pursuing the enemy."
With an exclamation, Thranduil slammed his goblet down on the desk and sprang to his feet. Looking startled by his vehemence, Eilian rose when his father did. "You mean," Thranduil hissed, biting off every word, "that you have been careless enough that your captain felt he could no longer trust you."
Eilian bridled. "I was not careless," he protested, "but it is not always possible ahead of time to predict the course a battle will take."
"Do not lecture me about the unpredictability of battle, Eilian," Thranduil snapped, his voice shaking with fury and something that he distantly recognized as fear. "I was at Dagorlad. I know the difference between risks that come at one unaware and risks that warriors take because their blood is up." He glared at his son, who was biting his lower lip and looking obstinate. "If Ithilden and Todith both say you were reckless, then you were reckless." He sat down heavily again but left his son standing before him.
"Whatever you call what you have been doing, your behavior is unacceptable, Eilian," he said in a calmer voice. "You are too good a warrior not to know that."
"I am too good a warrior to be standing guard duty at the palace," Eilian said vehemently.
"Ithilden is your commanding officer, and he is responsible for deciding where you should be posted," Thranduil said. "As your adar, I am responsible only for telling you that I am disappointed in you."
Eilian's face had become unreadable. "Then by your leave, my lord, I will go and report to Deler at the Home Guard," he said.
"Do so," Thranduil bade him shortly. "Send Maltanaur to me," he added as Eilian bowed and turned to pick up his cloak and go.
"He is not here," Eilian said stiffly. "Ithilden kept him with the Southern Patrol."
Thranduil was incredulous. "He sent you home by yourself?" he demanded.
"Gelmir came with me," Eilian told him. "Ithilden has reassigned him too."
Thranduil waved him on his way and sat for a moment in angry silence. Did Ithilden really think he had the right to countermand Thranduil's orders that Maltanaur should accompany Eilian in his postings? Had both of his grown sons lost all understanding of what was expected of them?
Finally, he rose and strode toward his chamber to change into riding clothes. An hour or two of hard exercise might possibly put him in a fit temper to be around his counselors this afternoon. Then again, it might not.
Legolas watched as Turgon's nana kissed him on the top of his head. "Be good," she said rather vaguely, and then she went inside, leaving Legolas, Turgon, and Annael in the shady clearing behind Turgon's cottage. Turgon and Annael immediately ran toward the muddy area that the rain had created under the edge of the trees. Legolas followed along more slowly. His stomach hurt.
His two friends had already begun gathering bits of bark to float in the puddles and stones to throw at them and sink them. They had played this game last week when it rained too. When Nimloth had come to take him home, she had exclaimed over the mud that had splashed onto his clothes, but then she had asked Legolas if he had had a good time. He had nodded energetically, and she had said that the clothes could be washed.
Turgon turned toward him. "Come on," he said impatiently. "The boats are sailing." Sometimes Legolas did not understand what Turgon was talking about. Turgon made up stories in his head, and he did not always explain them to Legolas and Annael.
Annael looked at him too. "Here," he said encouragingly, handing Legolas a stone. "You can go first."
Turgon made a sound of protest but all he said was, "Hurry up. They're getting away!"
Legolas flung the stone toward the nearest puddle and one of the bark boats spun and then upended before righting itself again. Pleased with his success, he grinned, whooped, and ran forward with his friends to attack the hapless boats. Muddy water splashed everywhere. Legolas felt very daring.
"We need swords!" shouted Turgon, grabbing a long stick. Legolas seized a stick too and began to fence with Turgon as he had seen his older brothers doing on the warrior training fields.
"My nana says that is dangerous," Annael said disapprovingly, watching them from the side. Turgon snorted in disgust and stopped sword fighting to argue with Annael.
"My ada says I can have a sword on my next begetting day," he said.
Legolas was immediately intrigued by Turgon's claim. "A real sword?" he asked in excitement. Turgon nodded.
"You are lying, Turgon," Annael said flatly. "My ada says we are too little."
"I am getting one," Turgon insisted. When Annael looked unconvinced, Turgon scowled and flung his stick away.
"Do you want to go pick apples?" he asked, in a quick characteristic shift of mood and attention.
"Yes," said Legolas promptly and dropped his own stick. He liked the short walk through the woods behind Turgon's cottage to the apple orchard on the other side. The trees always hummed comfortingly, and he liked to touch each one as he passed.
The three of them trotted lightly through the forest, kicking at the piles of brightly colored leaves that lay in heaps beneath the trees. Red, orange, and yellow leaves flew into the air and drifted down around them again. Legolas carefully touched each tree he passed, but he did not hum back to them. He thought that they liked it when he hummed, but they did not seem to mind that he was silent today.
Turgon led them into the orchard and was up in a tree in a flash. The other two quickly joined him. Legolas picked one of the ripe red apples and then sat in the embrace of two branches to nibble at it. He studied the tiny white dents that his teeth made in the red skin of the fruit.
"Is it very muddy here," Annael observed, swinging upside down from a branch and eating at the same time. Indeed, a much-traveled path ran next to the orchard, and Elven feet and horses' hooves had worn away the grass and left an expanse of dirt that the heavy rain had turned to deep mud puddles.
Turgon leapt down from his tree, holding an apple clenched in his teeth, and picked up a stick to poke experimentally into one of the puddles. He took the apple from his mouth. "We need boats," he proclaimed. He took three more hasty bites of his apple and then tossed the core into the trees and set about searching for bark to float in the puddles.
Annael's apple was already gone. He swung down from his tree, and Legolas set his apple carefully on a branch before jumping down to join him and Turgon, who had just put a piece of birch bark in the muddy water. Legolas snatched up a stone and threw it to land squarely on target.
"I can do that," Turgon proclaimed and the three of them were soon sending a hail of stones into the puddle.
"You are making a mess, and we cannot walk by," announced a new voice, and the three of them turned to see two ellyth scowling at them from the path. Legolas knew them, for they were his own age, and he had occasionally played with them when children's games were organized during feasts. Their names were Miriwen and Aerlinn.
Turgon grinned at them and threw another stone into the puddle closest to them. Mud splashed onto Aerlinn's light green gown.
"Turgon, you are a pig!" she gasped and then charged at him, catching him off guard. He tried to dodge out of her way, but his foot slipped and he sat down hard in the mud.
They all gaped at him for a surprised moment, and then he was on his feet roaring. "We are Orcs," he shouted, "and you will be very sorry you did that!" He ran at her, as if to shove her back, and Miriwen grabbed at him, getting a good grip on his hair as he passed.
Legolas was moving before he had time to even think. He scooped up a handful of the mud and threw it with all his strength at Miriwen. "We are Orcs," he echoed Turgon's cry. The mud splattered across her back, and she let go of Turgon's hair to spin toward him.
Triumphant at saving his friend, Legolas dug in the mud and flung more of it at her. This time, he caught her squarely in the face. She gasped, and he reached for another handful. From somewhere, an authoritative voice snapped, "Legolas!" He gave the fiercest Orc growl he could manage and heaved a handful of mud at her chest.
A strong arm grabbed him, pinning his hands to his side. "Stop it!" commanded the voice. He struggled fiercely but the grip tightened and the arm shook him slightly. "Stop it right now!"
He twisted his head around and saw that he was being held by Ada, looking as angry as Legolas had ever seen him.
Thranduil had galloped along the paths near his stronghold, his anger at Eilian fueling the concentrated energy of his ride. The two guards that Ithilden now insisted accompany him everywhere had been hard put to keep up with the king's great stallion when its rider was so intent on working out his fury. He had finally slowed, knowing that it was almost time to return to his duties, and was trotting along the path toward home when he spotted the battling children. With a shock, he had realized that the most active of the fighters was his own youngest son.
He had first called to Legolas and then, when his son had ignored him, he had been required to slip from his horse and physically restrain the child. Had all of his children gone mad? he wondered briefly.
"Stop it right now!" he ordered sharply, giving his son a shake, and Legolas finally stopped struggling and turned to meet his eyes. He looked so angry that Thranduil was startled.
"Just what do you think you are doing?" Thranduil hissed and was alarmed to see almost the same mutinous look on Legolas's face that he had earlier seen on Eilian's.
"She pulled Turgon's hair," Legolas cried.
Thranruil released his grip on Legolas and turned him so that they were facing one another. He put his hands on his son's shoulders. "I did not ask what she was doing!" he scolded. "I asked what you were doing. But, as it happens, I could see that only too well. You were being mean to someone."
He scanned the muddy children. They had all gone quiet. They would probably have been sobered by the appearance of any parent, but the fact that this was the king had evidently dismayed them all.
"Legolas, you and your friends need to apologize to the ellyth," Thranduil said firmly.
"I am sorry," said Annael promptly, followed more reluctantly by a similar admission from Turgon.
Thranduil tightened his grip on the shoulders of his still silent son. "Legolas," he said warningly, "apologize for your actions."
"'Pologize," muttered Legolas.
Thranduil hesitated for a moment and then decided that that was the best he was going to get at the moment. He glanced to where his two guards had waited at a discreet distance while he dealt with his errant offspring. They might as well make themselves useful, he thought. "Please see to it that all of these children get safely home," he instructed the guards. The children's eyes widened at the idea of the escort, and Annael and the two ellyth both looked dismayed. Thranduil supposed they were not looking forward to having to explain to their parents what they had been doing to merit such attention. Only Turgon looked unmoved, he noted, resignedly but without surprise.
He lifted Legolas onto his horse and then mounted behind him, keeping a firm arm around his son's waist as they rode toward his stables. "I am very disappointed in you," Thranduil told a son for the second time that day. Legolas's head was down and Thranduil could not see his face, but he somehow doubted that the child looked repentant.
They reached the stables and Thranduil lifted Legolas down and left his horse in the care of the stable master. As they walked hand-in-hand toward the palace, he asked, "What led you to be so unkind, Legolas?" He genuinely wanted to know what answer the elfling would make.
At first he thought that the child was not going to answer, but, then, almost under his breath, Legolas muttered, "We were Orcs."
Thranduil flinched. "I would say you were acting like a little Orc, at any rate," he said grimly.
As he was leading the foot-dragging Legolas through the door into the family's private quarters, they met Nimloth. "My lord," she said in surprise, eying the filthy Legolas in dismay, "I was just going to fetch him. What has happened?"
Thranduil handed his son over to her. "Ask him to tell you," he said shortly. "You will undoubtedly want to clean him up, and then I think he should sit in a corner and consider his actions until evening meal."
Eilian knocked on the door of Legolas's chamber. He had decided that he could not bear to eat evening meal at his father's table, so he intended to go out, but he wanted to see Legolas first. He had not laid eyes on his little brother since arriving home.
Nimloth opened the door, and he could see beyond her into the room where, to his dismay, Legolas sat in a child sized chair facing a corner. "Hello, Nimloth," he greeted her with a peck on the cheek. She had been his caretaker and Ithilden's too when they were each younger, although in their cases, she had simply watched them when their mother could not.
At the sound of his voice, Legolas turned a joyous face toward the door and half rose. "Legolas," Nimloth said firmly, "sit down." Crestfallen, he resumed his seat, but he kept his face turned toward Eilian.
"May I speak to your charge for a few moments, Nimloth?" Eilian asked in his most charming manner. "I see he is being punished, but I am going out tonight and will not have a chance to greet him otherwise."
She hesitated. "Very well," she said, "but only for a short while. His ada wants him to think about his behavior."
Eilian strode toward where Legolas sat and dropped a kiss on the top of his head. "Hello, little one," he said and pulled up another child sized chair. He sat next to his brother, with his knees up around his chin. He had once had plenty of opportunity to study this corner too, he thought. He eyed a crack that had not changed since he was Legolas's size.
He and Legolas cast simultaneous glances at Nimloth, who had withdrawn to the rocking chair and taken up her knitting. "What happened?" Eilian asked conspiratorially.
Legolas scowled. "I threw mud at some ellyth," he said.
Eilian ruthlessly smothered a laugh. He found Legolas endlessly amusing, but if Nimloth thought he was encouraging his brother to make light of misbehavior, she would banish him from the room. "Why did you do that?" he asked, genuinely curious.
Legolas looked at him sidelong. "We were Orcs," he said with every sign of satisfaction.
Eilian blinked at him, somewhat less amused now. "Were you?" he asked neutrally.
"Yes," said Legolas, "I was big and mean and scary. Miriwen was pulling Turgon's hair, and I made her stop." He smiled to himself at the memory.
Eilian looked at him thoughtfully. "It feels good to be strong and save our friends," he said carefully. Legolas nodded emphatically. "But it is really not very nice to throw mud at ellyth. And I am afraid you are almost certain to regret it one day," Eilian added, with a small smile. Legolas looked skeptical, and Eilian could not resist laughing and hugging him.
"Eilian needs to leave now," Nimloth said, rising from her chair and moving to escort Eilian to the door.
"Will you be at evening meal?" Legolas asked eagerly.
Eilian shook his head. "Not tonight," he said, memories of his quarrel with his father flitting briefly across his mind.
"I want you to eat with me," Legolas cried.
"I will eat with you tomorrow," Eilian promised him. Then he gave his brother another kiss and left the chamber.
Thranduil smiled slightly as Legolas came slowly through the door to the dining room, his eyes cast down. At least the child looked more conscious of being in disgrace than he had earlier, Thranduil thought ruefully, although it probably would not be wise to probe too deeply into exactly how contrite Legolas was over his actions. He opened his arms. "Come, Legolas," he said, and his son looked up and then sprang gratefully into the hug.
"Sit down and eat your meal," Thranduil told him and settled the child in his place. The servants put a platter of small, fried meat pies and some fruit on the table. Thranduil was certain that Legolas liked the meat pies and hoped that his son's appetite would be improved by the sight of them. He put some of them on Legolas's plate and took some for himself.
Then he groped for a moment for a topic of conversation. Ordinarily, he asked Legolas what he had done during the day after finishing his lessons, but since he knew that part of that time had been spent flinging mud at ellyth and the rest sitting in a corner, that hardly seemed an appropriate subject to raise. "Galeril tells me that you read a whole story out loud to him yesterday," he finally said.
Legolas nodded, pushing the meat pies around on his plate with his fork. "We are going to take turns reading stories to one another," he said.
Thranduil watched him for a moment. "Legolas, you have to eat something," he said abruptly.
Legolas continued to push at the pies. "My stomach hurts," he said.
Thranduil sighed in frustration. The palace healers had looked at his son and told him that the stomach aches Legolas sometimes had stemmed from his continued grief over the death of his mother. "He is still sick with sorrow," they had said. "Be patient." Unfortunately, Thranduil knew that patience was not something with which he was greatly gifted.
What would Lorellin have done? he wondered. He really did not know.
He pushed his chair back a little and reached over to draw Legolas into his lap. The child settled against his chest with a little sigh of contentment, and Thranduil felt an unreasoned rush of gratitude for the warmth of this small body against his own. He broke off a corner of one of the meat pies and brought it to Legolas's lips. The elfling opened his mouth and absentmindedly accepted the morsel.
"Ada, did I have bad dreams last night?" Legolas asked.
"Yes, you did," answered Thranduil steadily. He offered his son another bite, and the small mouth opened and took it.
Legolas chewed quietly for a moment, eyeing Eilian's empty place. "Eilian said he would eat with me tomorrow," he informed his father.
"That will be nice," said Thranduil, still feeding him. For Legolas's sake, he and Eilian would need to declare a truce, Thranduil thought. It would not do to continue their quarrel in front of him.
"Is Eilian going to stay home now?" Legolas pursued.
"For a while," Thranduil answered.
"Good," Legolas approved, accepting the last bit of the pie.
Thranduil wished he were as certain as Legolas was that Eilian's return was a good thing.
As always, my appreciation to everyone who took the time to review. I love reading your comments on what you see in the tale.
Coolio02: I hope you like this update too. It makes me feel good to know that someone is impatient for my chapters!
StrangeBlaze: Do you somehow have access to my PC? You are really right on about Thranduil's reaction, Ithilden's motivations, and the value of Eilian and Legolas spending time together.
Elemmire: I think there is some parallel to Elrond's sons, but I fervently hope that Thranduil's sons will not have as long-lasting a reaction as they did.
Luin: You're right: Ithilden internalized his grief and beats himself up, while Eilian externalizes and decapitates orcs. I'm glad you like the action scenes. I am getting more accustomed to writing them, but they do not come naturally for me.
LOTRFaith: Legolas has indeed been traumatized. But his father and older brothers aren't doing too well either!
Kay: My big worry here is that I've given the Brothers Thranduilion such grief that I'm not going to be able to figure out how to heal them!
Frodo: Well, Thranduil had plenty of opportunity to be angry in this chapter. Poor guy. It's hard to remember that he's also lonely in the night.
Dy: Ithilden was not being rational, but then he has problems of his own.
Lamiel: I am writing quickly right now, well aware that summer will soon be over and I'll be back to teaching. I tried to write an adult Legolas in "Question of Duty," but he's not around his family there and that would, indeed, be interesting to see.
Lily: Yes, Eilian has "issues." I think that in some ways he and Legolas are two of a kind really.
JustMe: I have actually had more problems reading funny stories at work. I can cry quietly, but I seem to be unable to keep from guffawing out loud over the funny stuff.
Orangeblossom Took: One of the things I wonder about with elves is the effect of the big age spread in the siblings. If you're an adult when your brother is born, would you be more likely to be parental? Or do those sibling feelings still come through? I try to balance it with Legolas's family.
Naneth: I'm kind of getting into the angst. I have to sit for a while and stare at my screen and get into their heads. Then it kind of flows out. Ouch.
TreeHugger: I suspect that you are right and Eilian might have been better off if he had thought of Thranduil's reaction in the first place! Btw, I read your latest review of Nilmandra's story and was very amused by the picture of your 9 year old objecting to the noise!
PokethePenguin: So Legolas is back in this one. Poor baby. He's having problems.
Jay of Lasgalen: I'm trying to avoid having my characters be too wise all at once. I like them flawed and learning.
Fadesintothewest: Poor Eilian indeed. Adar was not sympathetic.
Dragon-of-the-north: Maybe little Snuga would like to play with Orc!Legolas. I plan to explain what the Orcs are doing roaming around the woods eventually. And I hope that I can motivate Eilian to get a grip on himself. Blood lust is not pretty.
Tapetum Lucidum: The ride home must have been tough on Eilian. Imaging spending a couple of days anticipating having to tell Thranduil about what he's been up to.
Nilmandra: The males in this family are an awful lot alike in some ways. Now that I've seen your picture of Lorellin, I feel even worse for them, especially for Thranduil.
Bodkin: I had in my head that Thranduil and Ithilden had been having trouble just talking to one anther for a while but I don't show it. I thought there would be topics that were off limits, many of them having to do with Ithilden's work and thus with something that was a point of contact for Thranduil and his oldest son. I'm still working on your picture. After the ff.net upgrades this weekend, I'll try again.
Dot: Oh yeah, guilt and revenge. Those are pretty big themes for Ithilden and Eilian.
JastaElf: You are absolutely right that it was Lorellin who held them all together. Now they have to figure out a new way to do that.
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