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.


1. Currents of Change

"Mae govannen, Thranduil," said Elrond with a smile. "Welcome to Imladris."

Thranduil slid from his horse and reached to clasp Elrond's arm. "Mae govannen, Elrond." Behind him, he could hear his advisor and guards dismounting too, with perhaps the hint of a groan from Thrior. It had been a long two weeks of travel, and Thrior was far more used to a seat in a council chamber than one on horseback. Thranduil had to admit that even he was grateful to be at the end of their journey with a hot bath and a soft bed in his near future.

Elrond waved attendants forward, and the Mirkwood party was relieved of their horses and their packs. "Your people will be shown to their quarters," Elrond told him, "and perhaps you, too, would like a chance to refresh yourself before evening meal."

"I believe I would," Thranduil acknowledged. He glanced around him. He had not been in Imladris since the White Council was formed nearly seventy years ago. He had remembered the beauty of the airy buildings set amid the waterfalls but not the way that peace was a palpable and soothing presence. Spring was well-advanced here in the sheltered valley. The forget-me-nots had just begun to emerge in the woods at home and here the lilacs were already in flower.

"Come then," invited Elrond. He signaled yet another servant, and the Elf gestured down a hallway. "You will hear the bell for evening meal," Elrond added. "I look forward to seeing you then."

Thranduil paused before following the servant. "Are the others here?" he asked.

"We await only Curunír," Elrond told him, a small smile on his face. Thranduil supposed that his host found him abrupt, but he did not care. He had come to this meeting of the White Council only after much debate, both with his advisors and within himself, and he did not wish to be away from home any longer than was strictly necessary.

"Good," he responded and then turned to follow the servant to his guest chamber. The servant opened a door and ushered Thranduil into a room. His packs were already on the bed. Thranduil dropped his cloak on a chair near the door, and the servant hurried to pick it up and hang it in a cupboard.

"A bath has already been drawn, my lord," the servant murmured, indicating a door on the other side of the room. "I will tend to your belongings while you bathe." He opened one of the packs and began to put things away.

Ignoring the servant, Thranduil looked about him with appreciation. He had forgotten how open to the outside the rooms of Imladris were. One entire "wall" of his room consisted of a balcony overlooking a treed slope, descending to the river below. "I have lived in a cave too long," he thought with regret and then firmly put the thought from him and turned to seek the comfort of a hot bath and clean clothes

He sat on the bed to pull off his boots and then went through into the bathing chamber, unlacing his tunic as he went. True to the servant's word, a deep tub of steaming water stood waiting for him. He peeled the tunic over his head and tossed it into a corner, circling his shoulders to stretch out the stiffness in them. No doubt the solicitous servant would come around while Thranduil was at evening meal and spirit all his travel- stained clothing away. Good, Thranduil thought, a little waspishly. Let these dwellers in peaceful Imladris earn their keep. Having tested the water, he unfastened his leggings, pulled them off over his lean hips, and then climbed into the tub and sank back with a groan of pleasure.

He had to admit that Elrond certainly knew how to make a guest comfortable. The tub was actually big enough that Thranduil could stretch out to his full length. The hot water soothed the muscles of his thighs and backside, sore from two weeks of traveling on horseback and sleeping on the ground. I am becoming as soft as Thrior, he thought. I need to get away from the Great Hall and into the woods more at home.

At the thought of home, he opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. He hated not knowing what was happening there, and he doubted if the comforts of Elrond's house would cause him to feel any differently. It was not that he did not trust Ithilden. His oldest son had urged him to come to this meeting, for he had far more faith in the powerful members of the White Council than Thranduil did. And Thranduil had known that he could leave his realm in Ithilden's hands and be certain that it would be carefully governed. Ithilden was nothing if not responsible.

But times were perilous and he felt as if he were neglecting his duty by coming to Elrond's pleasant refuge to attend a council that he doubted would result in anything useful. Moreover, while the Woodland Realm was slipping deeper and deeper into Shadow and thus needed any help that the Council could provide (always assuming that it would provide any), it galled Thranduil to ask for such aid from outsiders. In his experience, when outsiders provided help, they too often believed that they were then entitled to also offer advice that they expected to have heeded.

From the next room came the sound of a door closing, and he assumed that the servant had finished his fussing about. He sighed and reluctantly pulled himself out of the cooling water. He toweled himself off and then padded on bare feet into his chamber to dress for evening meal. He would accomplish what he could at this council and then he would go home. At any rate, he needed to be back in time for Legolas's coming of age, a scant month away. If the White Council could not agree on what action to take in two weeks, then it was unlikely to do so at all. As it happened, he thought that endless debate was the most probable action in which the Council would engage.

The servant had laid his formal robes out on the bed, and he quickly pulled on loose trousers and a silk shirt and then slid the green velvet robe over them. He knew that weapons were not usually carried in Elrond's house, so he contented himself by shoving a dagger into the sheath in his boot. He would no more have gone about with no weapon at all than he would have gone about naked. Finally, he donned a gold circlet, feeling what a poor exchange it was for a wreath of spring flowers.

A bell sounded, calling the inhabitants of the house to evening meal, and he went out into the corridor to seek the Great Hall.


Thranduil sat back in his chair and watched the other people at Elrond's high table over the edge of his wine goblet. He had ruled the Woodland Realm for a long time, and was familiar with the way that meeting among the powerful worked, so he knew that the opinions of these people and the influence they could exert on one another would determine what the White Council did. He wondered idly how wrought up Elrond's steward had been when he tried to determine the seating arrangement. His own steward would have been clutching his head at the thought of having to arrange so many powerful people and strong personalities without giving offense.

"Did you have a difficult journey, my lord?" asked Arwen, who sat to Thranduil's left, between him and her father. She sat in the place that Celebrían had filled the last time Thranduil was here. The maiden was poised and unusually lovely, but her presence was a reminder of the loss that Elrond had suffered only twenty years previously when his wife sailed west. Thranduil had been widowed since his last visit to Imladris, and he knew the pain that Elrond must still be in.

"Not particularly," Thranduil answered. He had no intention of telling her about the Orcs they had met in the Misty Mountains. Their numbers had not surprised him because he had been receiving regular intelligence reports, but seeing the growing numbers for himself had nonetheless been sobering. His party had evaded most of them, and his guards had dispatched those they could not avoid with minimal difficulty, but for Arwen, such an encounter would be bound to recall painful events.

"And how are your sons? I do not see Lord Ithilden."

Thranduil smiled at her. Ithilden had accompanied him on his last visit to Imladris. "They are well. And I am happy to say that Ithilden has given me a daughter-in-law and a grandson since last we visited here."

She smiled delightedly back at him, sending a jolt even through Thranduil's experienced and very married heart. "How wonderful!"

"I do not see your brothers either," Thranduil noted, and a shadow flitted over her face.

"No, they are away," she said. He did not know why the topic of her brothers was painful, but he let the matter drop. If the activities of the sons of Elrond were important for him to know, he would soon find out about them.

His eye was caught by the sight of Elrond's head bent near that of Galadriel. He supposed it could be a coincidence or a simple recognition that he and Galadriel were both rulers of their own realms that had led to their being seated on opposite sides of their host and hostess, but he doubted it. He and Galadriel had never openly quarreled but he had made no secret of his unwillingness to subject himself or his people to her influence. For a fleeting moment, he wondered what it would be like to be Elrond and have Galadriel as his mother-in-law. He shuddered.

Galadriel had now turned to speak to Círdan, who was seated on her other side, and Thranduil considered possible alliances. He, himself, had had very little interaction with the ship maker, but he knew that Elrond had been raised in Círdan's household, and the two of them and Galadriel looked to be very much in one another's confidence. Thranduil wondered if it would be possible to draw these three to his point of view without somehow submitting himself to them. Away from his own woods, he felt less certain of his power to control events, and that made him very uneasy.

"I cannot think what is keeping Curunír," said Mithrandir, who was seated to Thranduil's right.

"He has far to come from Minas Tirith," said Radagast from Mithrandir's other side.

Thranduil turned to eye them appraisingly. Radagast he immediately dismissed. His experience led him to view the wizard as a harmless but useless inhabitant of the forest. But Mithrandir was another matter, and in him, Thranduil placed what little hope he had, for it had been Mithrandir who drove Sauron from Dol Guldur almost five centuries ago, and for that alone Thranduil would have respected him. Beyond that, Mithrandir seemed to be genuinely uninterested in power, a fact that led Thranduil to trust him as much as he trusted anyone who was not family.

"Tell me of your travels, Mithrandir," he invited, settling back with his wine. Perhaps the Council would take action and perhaps it would not, but Thranduil would learn what he could and build what friendships he could while he was here. One never knew what might be useful.


"Settle him down, Legolas," called Thelion warningly.

"Come on, Pilin," Legolas murmured to the horse, who was prancing sideways beneath him. "We have done this before. I am still here, even if the saddle is between us." Despite his coaxing, his sympathies were with his horse. The saddle and bridle made him feel as if a barrier had been raised between him and his mount, and his normal ability to sense Pilin's every impulse had been muffled. The horse stopped dancing but he continued to toss his head and snort. He did not like the bridle any more than he liked the saddle.

"Ready?" the blade master asked. Legolas raised his sword and nodded. "Go!"

He kicked Pilin's flanks, and the tense horse sprang forward to gallop straight at the line of four targets ranged across the training field. From the corner of his eye, he could see the other novices behind barriers ready to operate the wooden sword arms attached to each armored, warrior- shaped target, but he ignored them and concentrated on the sword arms themselves and the vulnerable areas of the targets.

As he approached the first target, its arm swung high and he braced his feet in the stirrups, parried the blow and then plunged his sword into the target's exposed armpit. Pilin galloped on without breaking stride, and Legolas managed to thrust his sword into the second target's throat and move on before whoever was operating the sword arm could take a swing at him. He felt a flash of satisfaction at his horse's speed. Pilin might not take well to wearing tack, but he could fly when he wanted to.

The sword arm of the third target came at him high, and again he used his own sword to deflect the blow and then strike at the target's throat and speed on toward his last objective. In a move that he knew enough to watch for but hated to see nonetheless, the last operator swung not at him, but at Pilin. The horse shied, and he had to shift his weight and tighten his thighs to keep the animal under control while he whirled his sword around to drive the target's sword up and out of the way. Momentum carried his weapon around and down again to slice at the target's face.

Still alarmed, Pilin galloped on and slowed only gradually as Legolas drew gently back on the reins and called to him. They wheeled and trotted back to where Thelion was waiting. The other novices, too, had now left the targets and were gathering around the blade master, for Legolas's run had been the last one of the day. Legolas slid from Pilin's back to join them and released his horse to roam with the others cropping grass peacefully at the edge of the field.

"Your swordwork was nice, Legolas," Thelion said, "but if you expect to use that horse when you join the warriors' ranks, you need to spend more time riding him under tack."

"Yes, Thelion," Legolas nodded. He knew that Thelion was right, but he truly hated the saddle and bridle nearly as much as Pilin did. He would make the effort, though, for he did intend to take Pilin with him when he was finally finished with his novice training and went to serve under his brother, Eilian, who commanded the Woodland Realm's Southern Patrol, and that much anticipated event was only a few weeks away.

Thelion turned to the group. "You all did well today. Our warriors do not engage in mounted combat very often, but you need to be prepared for it anyway." He smiled at them, and they responded in kind. Thelion was a favorite among the novices. "Tomorrow, most of you are working with Maldor on unarmed combat, I think. I will see you the next day. Put the targets away before you go." He turned to Annael, who was standing quietly next to Legolas. "I will see you this evening, Annael." Annael nodded, and Thelion gathered his gear and started down the path that led to the masters' hut.

The five of them began gathering up the targets to haul them into the shelter that stood on the edge of the field. "What did Thelion mean by that?" Elrál asked Annael.

"He is going to stand guard for me tonight when I keep my vigil," Annael answered. Legolas had already known that. The next day was Annael's fiftieth begetting day, the day he would come of age. He would keep a vigil in the forest tonight, and tradition required that two adult males stay with him to guard him and support him. His father would be one of them, but he had no other adult male relatives, so he had asked Thelion to be his other guard. The next day, along with his father and Thelion, Annael would engage in a ritual hunt, providing part of the meat for the feast that would be held in the evening. Legolas was looking forward to the feast, for, as Annael's closest friend, he had been invited.

"I wish I were coming of age this year," Tinéldor said plaintively. "I am not sure I can tolerate another full year of Maldor getting me in a choke hold on a regular basis." The rest of them laughed, only too familiar with what Tinéldor was talking about.

"I think we are supposed to practice silent killing again tomorrow," Elun told him, "so you will be lucky if you are only choked."

Tinéldor cringed. "The last time we did that, my neck was sore for a week."

"You poor thing!" Elrál cried, mussing Tinéldor's hair. "Perhaps you can get your naneth to tell Maldor to leave us alone." They all laughed again, and Tinéldor rolled his eyes. His mother was notoriously protective of him, and he fought a constant battle to keep her away from the novice masters.

They stowed the last of the targets in the shelter and called to their horses. Legolas gave a piercing whistle and Pilin began to gallop. As the horse swept by, Legolas leapt toward him and was in the saddle in a single fluid motion. He ignored the reins, now looped onto the saddle, and putting his hand on the horse's neck, he slowed and turned the animal using his voice alone. He trotted back toward his friends who were now mounted on their own horses. "Show off," Elrál accused without rancor, and Legolas laughed, knowing that he had indeed been flaunting his skills.

"Synia seems to like that move anyway," Annael said dryly, and the others grinned.

"Is that the only move she likes?" Elrál teased.

"She admires my mind," Legolas claimed, raising his eyebrows at them in an imitation of his father. They continued to grin but said no more, and he was once again grateful for the ability to intimidate that Thranduil had unconsciously taught him.

They rode off toward the warriors' stables and spent half an hour or so grooming their horses and cleaning their tack. By the time Annael and Legolas were finished, the cool late afternoon sunshine was beginning to fade. They walked together in the direction of their homes.

"Are you excited about tonight?" Legolas asked.

Annael smiled. "Yes," he admitted. "I am looking forward to being treated as an adult. I almost cannot believe it will happen."

"You are ready to be an adult," Legolas told him sincerely, "although I am not sure you will feel like one so long as the novice masters have us in their clutches."

"True enough," Annael laughed.

They rounded a bend in the path and there, on a fallen log, they found two female figures waiting for them. The slender, dark haired maiden on the left rose and came forward to kiss Annael's cheek. He kissed her forehead and then put his arm around her waist. "How were the elflings?" he asked. Beliniel was almost done with her training to teach small children.

"They were good today," she smiled. "Hello, Legolas," she added.

"Hello, Beliniel," he responded, reaching to clasp the hand that Synia offered. "And was my adar's library exciting today?" he asked her.

She grinned at him. "I enjoyed myself," she said. "The fact that you are too barbaric to want to spend time with ancient scrolls does not automatically make it a boring task. I only wish your adar's library were more extensive."

"I read," he said defensively. "I just cannot imagine doing it all day."

"No, you would far rather swing a weapon at Orcs," she retorted. She stopped on the path and looked back to where Annael and Beliniel had lingered in close conversation. She was silent for a moment watching them and then turned back to him. "Will you be coming to visit tonight?" she asked.

"No," he answered. "I am going to Annael's coming of age feast tomorrow night, so I will stay home tonight." He, too, watched the couple behind them. Annael bent to brush his lips gently against Beliniel's and then looked up at Legolas.

"I will see you tomorrow night," he called and left Beliniel and started down the small path that led toward his family's cottage.

"May the stars shine upon you tonight," Legolas called after him, and Annael turned back for a moment to wave. Beliniel came toward them, and Synia released Legolas's hand.

"I will see you tomorrow then," she said regretfully, and she and Beliniel also took a path that branched off from the main one, leaving Legolas to continue alone toward the palace. As he walked along, his thoughts were all on Annael. Between star opening tonight and the same time tomorrow, his friend would cross over into the world of adult freedom and responsibility. In a month, Legolas would follow. A month or so after that, they would complete their training and become warriors in his father's forces. Their lives were changing, and he could hardly wait to take up the roles for which he had trained for so long.


AN: Because I used the Elven name Mithrandir, instead of Gandalf, it seemed reasonable to use Curunír instead of Saruman. "Unfinished Tales" has a wonderful essay on the Istari that tells us that after many travels, Saruman went to live in Gondor. He did not go to Isengard until 2953 TA. My story is set in 2530.

Nilmandra reminds me to tell you that we do not know for certain that Elrond was raised in the house of Círdan, but it does seem to be a reasonable assumption.