Disclaimer: I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien, but they belong to him.

As always, thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.

*******

1. Healing

Legolas ran lightly along the path toward the training fields. He had delivered the novice master's message to Ithilden's aide and now was looking forward to the individual archery lesson that was waiting for him back at the novices' fields. Penntalion, the archery master, had suggested that Legolas might want to learn to shoot two arrows at once. Legolas had jumped at the chance, and Lómilad, the novice master, had given permission for the unusual one-on-one session. Legolas had wasted no time in completing this errand and was eagerly heading toward his meeting with Penntalion.

Suddenly his attention was caught by a glimpse of a well-known figure with reddish brown hair who, in the company of another Elf, was walking toward the building that housed the armory and the infirmary.

"Miriwen!" he called, veering off from the straight course he was on and trotting up to the maiden who turned to greet him. "What are you doing here?" he asked, happy to see her but puzzled at her presence in the warriors' area. He nodded a vague greeting to the tall, dark-haired young Elf who accompanied her. Legolas had seen him occasionally but, at the moment, he could not remember his name. Legolas thought that, like Miriwen, he was an apprentice healer.

"Falad and I are going to accompany Belówen as he works today," Miriwen said, sounding excited. "It will be the first time that we have been allowed to see actual patients, rather than just read lore and work with herbs."

Legolas smiled at her enthusiasm. "That is wonderful," he said. "You will be very good with patients. Both of you, I am sure," he added politely, glancing at Falad, who nodded back impassively.

Legolas turned back to Miriwen. "I was planning to come and visit you tonight, if that is all right," he said.

"Of course," she answered, smiling at him. "I may be a little late, but please come. I have not seen you in while."

"I will be there," he promised.

"Come, Miri," said Falad. "We will be late." He took her arm and steered her toward the door. Legolas stood looking after them, frowning at Falad's hand on Miriwen's arm. And had Legolas heard correctly? Had Falad used the familiar form of Miriwen's name? Even Legolas did not do that in public.

Suddenly, he remembered the alluring archery lesson. It would not do to keep Penntalion waiting; he might change his mind about providing the special tutoring. Legolas started hastily down the path again, with thoughts of anything other than archery temporarily driven from his mind.

***

Eilian paced the small chamber, four long strides in one direction and then four in the other. He had always hated the infirmary, and today he found that he was particularly unsettled.

Then the door opened and Belówen swept in, accompanied by two young Elves, one of whom Eilian recognized as Miriwen, his brother Legolas's friend. "These are Miriwen and Falad," Belówen was saying. "They are studying to be healers and are working with me today."

Eilian flashed them a smile and then turned apprehensively back to Belówen. "Sit," the healer ordered.

Eilian sat at the small table in one corner of the room and stretched his left arm out for the healer's inspection. He had stopped wearing a sling almost two weeks ago, but the badly injured arm was still wrapped in a stiff leather brace that Belówen now unbuckled. Gently, he lifted Eilian's arm out of the brace and laid it on the table. Eilian grimaced. Even he could see that the muscles in his left arm had attenuated badly. He sighed and looked away as Belówen moved his long, sensitive fingers along the arm. Both of the apprentices were watching the healer attentively. Miriwen had a small frown of concentration on her face. Eilian could not help but smile to himself. She really was a pretty little creature. As if feeling his eyes on her, she glanced up at him. He winked at her conspiratorially, and she blushed and turned hastily back to watching Belówen.

Eilian too looked at the healer now. His arm must be better this time, he thought. He had been careful for almost two months now. He had spent most of his time teaching battle tactics to the novices or serving as Ithilden's adjutant. He had not lifted anything heavy or tried to use his left arm for anything more strenuous than weighing down the paperwork with which he had been helping Ithilden. For the paperwork alone, he surely deserved good news. And his arm felt better. The throbbing had diminished to such an extent that he noticed it now only when he was very tired.

"Falad," Belówen said, "come and examine Eilian's arm. See what you can feel." The younger Elf stepped forward and began to check the arm. "He broke it badly in two places over three months ago," Belówen said. "One of the breaks was here." He showed Falad where to press to feel the healed spot. "Can you find the other?" Belówen asked

Falad probed cautiously. "Here perhaps?" he said tentatively.

"Good." Belówen agreed. "Miriwen, you try now. Here is one of the breaks. You find the other." Falad backed away, and Miriwen placed elegant white hands on Eilian's arm and carefully prodded the muscles, trying to feel what was beneath. Eilian shifted impatiently. He understood the need to train the young healers, but he wanted to know Belówen's verdict on his arm.

At his movement, Miriwen glanced up at his face. "Did I hurt you?" she asked concernedly.

"No," he reassured her, with a smile. "I am simply eager to hear what Belówen judges to be the state of my injury."

"We will let Miriwen tell you," said the healer, unperturbed. "Do you feel the healed break, Miriwen?"

"I believe so," she nodded. "I think it is here."

"That is right," Belówen said approvingly. "And what of the muscles? They were torn when the original injury occurred, and then he injured them again by using the arm before it had healed properly." Belówen's disapproval was obvious. Miriwen smiled shyly at Eilian. He thought that she had probably heard from Legolas exactly how he had re-injured his arm and was less willing to criticize him for it than the older healer was.

"Run your hands over his right arm and see if you can feel the difference between them," Belówen went on. "Do you feel any misplacement of the muscles?"

Obligingly, Eilian presented his other arm for examination, and Miriwen probed it too. Finally, she sighed. "I can tell that his left arm is weaker, of course," she said apologetically, "but I cannot find any other difference between the muscles on the two arms."

Belówen looked at her for a moment and then slowly nodded. He looked at Eilian, who was regarding him with bated breath. "My lord," he said, "I think that you have finally managed to do what you should have done in the first place and let your arm heal itself."

Eilian blinked, then grinned broadly, and finally laughed aloud. He leapt to his feet and enfolded Belówen in a huge hug. Then he grabbed Miriwen by the waist and whirled her around, finishing with a kiss on her forehead. He approached Falad, who backed away hastily, and settled for clasping his hand.

"Now, now," said Belówen hastily. "Do not get carried away. You need to rebuild those muscles, but at least you can start doing it now."

Eilian grinned at him, looking like an Elf whose life had just been handed back to him.

***

Ithilden entered his and Alfirin's suite. He would have time for a leisurely bath before evening meal, he thought. He crossed the sitting room and entered the bed chamber where, with only mild surprise, he found Alfirin who had evidently been resting atop the blankets. She had heard him entering the suite and was beginning to rise.

"No, do not get up," he protested. "You need the rest." He seated himself on the edge of the bed and tenderly brushed a few small tendrils of his wife's hair back from her face. "How do you feel today?" he asked.

"I am a little tired," she admitted and then placed her hands on her stomach, where the swell of pregnancy was just beginning to show. "The baby is active today," she added.

Ithilden grinned. "My child is like me," he said, "a trouble and a plague to you." She smiled into his eyes and cupped his cheek in one hand.

He removed his boots and lay down on the bed, pulling her down too with her back to him. He wrapped his arms around her and drew her close. "Relax, bess-nín," he murmured into her ear. They lay quietly together, and gradually their breathing and their heart beats came into harmony and their minds opened to one another. They did not think in words, but rather felt their way to another. He sensed her love for him like a clear stream that murmured gently beneath everything he did and was; she felt his devotion to her like a warm fire that enveloped and her and kept her safe. And gradually, his strength began to flow across the bond between them, and her exhaustion, born from nourishing the life within her, eased.

Ithilden slipped his hand lower and laid it protectively over the baby. And as clearly as if the child had lain in his arms, he knew. "The baby is a boy," he said, in astonishment. "We have a son."

She smiled hazily. "Yes," she said. "A son, our son." The baby stirred, and for the first time, they both knew that the movement was a response to their touching it with their minds as well as with their hands on Alfirin's stomach. He raised up on his elbow, and she turned her face toward him. They stared at one another in unspoken awe, and then she smiled slowly. "Hello, Ada," she said.

He laughed. "Hello, Nana," he responded and then bent to kiss the side of her neck. Her hair was worked into a single braid that was as thick as his wrist and was fragrant with the spicy soap that she used. She tilted her head back to bare her throat to him, inviting him to bring his mouth to the point where her blood pulsed just beneath the skin. He suddenly hesitated, remembering the presence of the baby that they had both sensed just minutes ago. "I should bathe before evening meal," he said reluctantly.

Alfirin considered. "I believe that I, too, should bathe," she said and slid back closer to him, nestling her backside into his belly. He drew in his breath in a sharp hiss.

"Are you sure that we should be doing this with the baby here?" he asked, rather desperately.

She laughed and rolled toward him. "We will tell the baby to close his eyes, melethron-nín," she said. Then she put both hands on the back of his head and drew his mouth down onto hers.

***

Thranduil entered the small family dining room. It was almost time for evening meal, but only Eilian was present, and he did not seem to be ready to eat. Thranduil watched his middle son for a moment. Eilian was concentrating so hard on what he was doing that he was unaware of his father's presence.

He had pushed his chair back from the table and sat with his left upper arm clamped to his side and his hand extended in front of him. He held his sword, pointed straight up and was twisting it slowly to point outward and then inward, working the muscles in his damaged forearm. Beads of sweat on his forehead and the strained expression on his face showed the extent to which he was struggling with the weight of his own sword.

Thranduil watched silently. Of his three sons, Eilian was the one who worried him most. Ithilden had grown into a responsible, capable commander upon whom Thranduil depended, and, just as important from a father's perspective, he seemed to be happy in his personal life. Legolas was still at a difficult age, but he was also young enough to be in the care of either the novice masters or Thranduil himself. But Eilian frightened his father. He had always craved excitement. As an elfling, he had suffered repeated minor injuries when he climbed too high, rode too fast, or could not resist creeping into forbidden places. Now, he would be able to find "excitement" only too easily when he returned to his patrol in the south, and Thranduil feared that one day, he would get himself into a situation from which he could not escape. He knew that Eilian had found his time at home difficult, but Thranduil had sometimes secretly welcomed it.

Eilian lowered his arm with a sigh and suddenly became aware of Thranduil's presence. He rose to his feet. "Good evening, Adar," he said politely.

"Good evening, iôn-nín," Thranduil responded. He glanced at the sword. "Are you bringing weapons to meals now?" he asked mildly.

Eilian grinned. "Belówen has given me exercises to do to strengthen my arm," he said happily. "I have decided that following a healer's advice is a good thing after all."

Thranduil smiled wanly back at him. Despite his misgivings, he could not help being happy for his son, who genuinely enjoyed his dangerous work in the southern reaches of Thranduil's realm and who had, Thranduil knew, been despondent at the thought of losing it. "Perhaps you could put the sword away for now," he admonished lightly and took his seat. Eilian sheathed the sword, laid it carefully on the mantelpiece, and joined his father at the table.

The door opened and Legolas came bounding into the room. "Good evening," he cried happily and slid into his seat.

"You appear to have had a good day," Thranduil observed with amusement.

"I did," Legolas agreed and launched into an account of the archery lesson. He had just gotten started, however, when Ithilden and Alfirin entered the room.

"I am sorry that we are a bit late, Adar," Ithilden said, seating Alfirin and then taking his own place, "but I needed to bathe before I could be acceptable company."

Thranduil studied them, with one eyebrow raised. Both of their faces were relaxed and happy, and Alfirin's hair was clearly just as damp as Ithilden's. Not wishing to violate the young couple's privacy, Thranduil kept his comments to himself, but Eilian was not so discreet.

"Are you sure you did not find one another to be 'acceptable company' and that is why you are late?" he asked blithely.

Ithilden smiled sheepishly at him, and Alfirin blushed. With the modesty of the young when confronted by his elders' sexuality, Legolas too blushed. Then, as if reminded by something, he said, "Adar, I meant to tell you that I will be going to see Miriwen this evening."

"Very well," Thranduil nodded, looking serene while privately hoping devoutly that Ithilden and Alfirin's actions had not reminded Legolas too directly of his plans for the evening.

"Miriwen was with Belówen when he examined me today," Eilian told Legolas. Thranduil settled back and listened to his family share the news of their day as the meal was served and eaten. But his eyes kept coming back to Ithilden and Alfirin, sitting next to one another and occasionally touching hands or brushing against one another. And his happiness for them was touched with the longing he still felt for his own wife, who had been in the Halls of Mandos for more than thirty years.

He found himself remembering the almost overwhelming joy they had shared when Lorellin had been carrying Ithilden. Was it wrong, he wondered, to be jealous of his oldest son? He did not begrudge Ithilden the love that had enriched his life, but he passionately wished that he could have back what he had had, if only for a day.

***

Legolas found Miriwen's mother and father sitting on the bench outside their cottage enjoying the summer evening and watching Miriwen's baby sister playing in the grass. "Good evening, Legolas," Miriwen's mother said. "Miri is not home yet, but sit with us for a while and tell us about your day."

Legolas drew up a stool and sat down next to them. "Penntalion is teaching me to shoot two arrows at once," he began happily.

"How wonderful," Miriwen's mother murmured, and he went on with his account. The baby managed to play quietly for a while but then grew increasingly fretful. She pulled herself up against her father's knees, whining slightly, and he scooped her into his arms and stood up.

"I will go and put this tired elfling to bed," he said and carried the little one off, rubbing her eyes with plump little hands.

"How is Alfirin faring?" Miriwen's mother asked.

"She is well, I think," answered Legolas. "She is tired much of the time though."

Miriwen's mother nodded. "That is normal," she said. "It takes much strength and energy to bear a child. I saw Ithilden walking with her the other day. He looked as if he had the sun and the moon in his keeping. He reminded me of the way Thranduil looked when your naneth was carrying you."

Legolas looked at her with interest. His mother had been killed when he was ten, and he had only vague memories of her. "Did you know my naneth?" he asked tentatively.

"Not really," she answered. "I grew up in a village half a day's ride from here and came to live here only when I married. And, of course, I did not have any real contact with the king and queen." She smiled at him. "But I came across your naneth in the woods one day when I was carrying Miriwen and she was carrying you. She was sitting against a beech tree, singing to herself. It took me a moment to recognize her, for she was barefoot and her hair was down loose. And even more unusual, she was without attendants."

Legolas was fascinated by this picture of his mother. "Go on," he urged, hungry for more.

Miriwen's mother closed her eyes as if she were remembering. "When I realized who she was, I was so startled that I gasped out a question about what she was doing there. Then I was embarrassed, because obviously it was not my place to question the queen about her movements. But she laughed and said, 'I needed to get away from my husband for a while. You know what they are like.'" Miriwen's mother opened her eyes and smiled at Legolas again. "She really wanted to talk as one pregnant woman to another, I think. 'He treats me like something precious and breakable that has to be packed in cotton wool and kept in the palace,' she told me. 'And I wanted to be with my son in the woods.' And she put her hands on her stomach as if she were already caressing and protecting you."

For reasons he could not explain, Legolas suddenly felt tears in his eyes. He turned hastily away, so that Miriwen's mother would not see.

"Ah, here is Miriwen now," said her mother. And Miriwen came up the path, accompanied by Falad, the other apprentice healer whom she had been with when Legolas had seen her that morning. Legolas looked at them with narrowed eyes. He had decided that he did not like Falad.

"Good evening, Falad," said Miriwen's mother. "Your naneth has been watching for you, I think."

"Good evening," he responded. "I had better not linger then." He nodded to Legolas and went on to the next cottage, where he let himself in.

Miriwen's mother rose. "Come in, you two," she said. "I have your evening meal for you, Miri. Would you like something to eat too, Legolas?" The two younger Elves followed her into the cottage and sat down at the kitchen table, where Miriwen began to tell about her day.

TBC