13. Adults

Legolas shifted the deer off his shoulders and laid it out carefully near where palace servants had prepared a roasting pit on the green.  He looked with satisfaction at the single wound that had brought the animal down.  It had not suffered.  "We take from the forest reverently," his father had said, speaking the ritual words that had begun his hunt for the meat for this evening's feast.  "A child is fed by those who love him.  An adult provides for those who are hungry."

Now, Thranduil handed him a knife.  "Prepare this food for the fire," he intoned. "It will be your gift to those who share this day with you."

In a gesture meant to ask the animal's forgiveness, Legolas laid his left hand gently on the deer. Then he began the process of preparing it to be spitted over the fire.  He felt rather than heard his father and brother withdrawing a distance away to leave him to his task.  He was alone here, for the servants too had been sent away until he had completed it.

As he worked, he was aware on one level that he was becoming tired and hungry, but he had found in the last year or two that he was increasingly able to set these feelings aside.  He had taken pride in this ability because it was one that only adult Elves had; the young felt lack of sleep or food far more acutely.  From what he had been taught about the coming-of-age ritual, he knew that last night's vigil and his ongoing fast were meant to remind him of his ability and obligation to discipline himself, so he ignored his body's demands and concentrated on what he was doing.

All at once, he paused and smiled, struck by a sudden vivid memory of himself as a child, desperate to bring down his first deer.  It had felt to him then as if he would never be one of the big Elves who could so casually set out to hunt and bring home meat for the evening meal.  And now here he was, doing just what his elfling self had longed to be able to do.  He shook his head, smiled again, and then turned to his task.

***

Thranduil could not help feeling a rush of pride as he watched his youngest son carefully dressing the deer he had brought down.  Legolas was a reverent, capable hunter, one who had listened attentively to everything his father had tried to teach him.  Thranduil's people were safer from hunger because of Legolas's skills, and yet his son managed to stay tied to the forest even as he took from it.

"Adar," said a voice softly in his ear.

He spun and, to his shock, found Eilian standing right behind him.  After a frozen moment, he gave a grunt of delight, clasped at his son's arm, and then drew him into an embrace.  And the instant he touched him, he knew that something was wrong.

"I do not wish to disturb you or Legolas," Eilian apologized in a low voice, "but I wanted you to know I was home.  I traded leaves with another warrior, but I have to go right back, tomorrow actually."

Thranduil eyed him anxiously.  Of his three sons, it was Eilian with whom he had always had the most troubled relationship.  Eilian was impulsive and independent and had often resisted the rules that Thranduil had tried to impose upon him.  The problem had grown worse when Eilian had entered the years between childhood and adulthood, and worse again when his mother had died.  Of late, they had been reconciling, but Thranduil knew that Eilian still approached him tentatively sometimes.  One consequence of the difficulty between them was that the tie that had bound him to each of his sons from the moment they were conceived was weakest with this middle son.  Eilian somehow shut him out, and Thranduil did not always know when he was troubled or hurt.  But one touch on his son's arm was all it took to bridge the gap between them and tell Thranduil that shadow sat heavily on Eilian.

Seeing the look on Thranduil's face, Eilian raised an inquiring eyebrow.  "Adar?

Thranduil struggled to recover himself.  "Legolas will be very glad you are here."

Eilian nodded.  "Do not tell him. It will be a surprise."  He hesitated and then diffidently said, "I thought that perhaps I would do what Naneth would have done at the ceremony, greet guests and give him a gift?"  His tone was inquiring, for he was evidently unsure how his father would react to this idea.

Controlling himself with difficulty, Thranduil nodded.  "I would like that," he said steadily.  "Legolas has not wanted anyone else to take your naneth's place tonight, but I think he would be glad to have you."

Eilian smiled, obviously pleased.  Ithilden had now seen Eilian and drifted toward them, careful not to distract Legolas. The two brothers embraced and murmured a few words to one another, and then, with a nod, and a look at Legolas, Eilian took his leave. Thranduil stood staring after him.

"I will be back in a moment," he told Ithilden, who raised an eyebrow in reaction.  It was unusual for the adults to leave the young person during the coming-of-age ritual.  Thranduil went only far enough to speak to one of the servants who were quietly hanging lanterns in the trees. The servant nodded and left the green, and Thranduil returned to watching over his youngest son as he went through the steps that would take him to official adulthood.

***

Legolas followed his father and brother into one of the rooms in the palace's central baths.  The ritual bath was his last step before the actual coming-of-age ceremony.  He drew a deep breath.  He had been calm during the previous night's vigil and today's hunt, but now he was beginning to feel excited again.  The moment he had been waiting for was almost at hand.

In the center of the room was a large pool of steaming water.  Benches ran around the outside and the things that would be needed for the bath had been left in orderly array upon one of them.  A fire burned in the fireplace, and on a bench on the opposite side of the pool were three piles of clothing.  Thranduil stopped near the first bench and turned to smile at him.  "I do not know about you, Legolas, but I, for one, am grateful that we are now obliged to relax in hot water for a while."

Legolas grinned at him.  They were all still wearing the clothing they had worn all night, and while he had washed his hands after dressing the deer, his tunic and leggings were the worse for wear.  "Whoever devised the ritual was wise indeed."

Thranduil laughed and then grew serious again.  "Very well. We will begin."  Ithilden stepped to his side and the two of them faced him.  "The purpose this bath is to cleanse your body and bring it and your fëa into harmony so that you might face your future with grace and hope."  He picked up a dish in which dried herbs were piled. "Your body is tied to earth," he said, "the earth from which we take these herbs."  He scattered the herbs over the surface of the pool.

Ithilden picked up a small vial holding a powdered substance and emptied it into the fire, releasing a sweet odor.  "Your body is tied to fire and air," he said, "the elements that warm you and send the breath through you."

"You body is tied to water," Thranduil said, "that quenches your thirst and cleanses you of the sweat of toil."  The two of them came toward him and began to unfasten and remove his clothing.  Ithilden unclasped and removed his belt and then unlaced his tunic and lifted it over his head.  His father untied his shoes and pulled them off, steadying him carefully, and then unfastened his leggings and slid them down and off too.  Then he unbraided Legolas's hair.

Legolas ordinarily stood in his father's presence until given permission to sit.  When he was with the novices, he stood for Ithilden too.  Between the two of them, Thranduil and Ithilden ruled most aspects of his life.  It felt exceedingly odd to have these two powerful Elves tending to him as if he were an elfling, but he knew that was part of the point. These two had been among those who cared for him when he had been too small to care for himself.  The scene that was unfolding reminded him that they had dressed him and fed him and washed him.  And loved him, he thought, with sudden tears in his eyes.  Soon he would be counted among those whose duty it was to care for others.

Thranduil and Ithilden now stripped off their own clothes and then his father gestured toward the pool.  With the two of them right behind him, Legolas made his way down the steps and sank into the warm, fragrant water. 

With a grin, Ithilden pushed him all the way under and then let him up.  "You can relax and enjoy this part," he said, and then he and Thranduil picked up the sponges that lay on the edge of the pool and began to bathe him.

***

Eilian sat staring off at nothing much.  He was dressed in brown velvet leggings and a brown silk tunic, with a gold-trimmed brown silk robe worn over them.  His circlet sat on the table at his elbow.  He had not lit the lamps, but he did not really need the light, for there was a glow from the low fire in the grate.  It would soon be time to go to the green and begin greeting guests, but for now, he need do nothing.

He looked down for a moment at the fine silver chain in his hands.  From it, hung a silver rune of protection, its carved surface polished and worn slightly flat where it had rubbed against his chest in the years since his mother had placed it around his neck.  He had broken the chain twice, but other than those occasions, this was the first time since then that he had had it off.  He had not had time to get a new one made for Legolas. He would give this one to his brother.

A knock sounded at the door to his chamber. "Enter," he called, assuming it was a servant, come to tell him that guests were beginning to arrive.

The door opened and Belówen entered.  He was the healer who normally treated warriors.  Eilian frowned and straightened in his chair.  "Mae govannen, Belówen," he said, uncertainly.

"Mae govannen, Eilian," the healer responded and came further into the darkened room, shutting the door behind him.  He paused for a moment and then walked to the fireplace, lit a spill from the fire, and lit the lamp on the table next to Eilian. Then he sat in the chair across from him and leaned forward to put his hand on Eilian's wrist.

Eilian jerked his arm free. "What are you doing? There is nothing wrong with me."

Belówen gently put his hand back over Eilian's.  "I am here to find out if that is truly the case."

Eilian stared at him. "I cannot stay long."

"Then I will not take long," Belówen replied.

***

Legolas drew a deep breath and walked out of the Great Doors, with Thranduil on one side of him and Ithilden on the other.  They crossed the bridge and approached the green, where Legolas could see that a large crowd of Elves was assembled.  Because he was Thranduil's son, his coming-of-age was a much more public event than Annael's had been.

Suddenly his attention focused on a tall, lean figure approaching them from the edge of the crowd.  For a moment, he could scarcely believe his eyes and then joy flooded through him.  "Eilian!" he exclaimed and, without thinking, flung himself at his brother and embraced him.

"Mae govannen, brat," Eilian murmured, patting his back and then releasing him.  He gave a small smile, and something about it made Legolas pause, although whatever it was was gone in flash.  "Go on," said Eilian. "Your guests are waiting."

His attention called back to the matter at hand, Legolas composed himself, turned and led the way to the small platform at the end of the green, with his father and brothers following closely behind.  They stepped onto the platform, and he turned to face Thranduil.  Silence settled over the crowd.

***

Thranduil looked at the strong young adult who now faced him and felt the same blend of pride and dismay he had felt when Ithilden and Eilian each came of age, mixed with the knowledge that this was his last child, his baby. He drew a deep breath and, as steadily as he could, he asked, "Are you ready to take your place as an adult and put aside the freedom of childhood?"

"I am," answered Legolas.

In his mind's eye, Thranduil saw the newborn infant lying at his mother's breast.  He saw himself reaching out in wonder to touch the downy blond hair that stood up like a bird's plumage on the top of the tiny head.  Lorellin turned her tired, joyous face toward him.  "He will look like you, my love," she crowed.  He smiled down at her and kissed her sweaty hair and thought that she had never looked more beautiful.

"What do you surrender?" he asked Legolas.

"I surrender my right to protection and guidance, but not my right to love and counsel." His son's face was grave, for he understood the seriousness of what he was doing, but his eyes gleamed, and Thranduil knew he was also excited by the world that was opening up before him.

"Adar, I can do it myself," said the child, struggling to string the bow that was almost as long as he was.  Thranduil withdrew his hand and waited until his son gave a grunt and a final pull and then looked up at him in triumph.  "I am ready to learn to hunt," he declared, drawing himself up to his full height, which came just above his father's elbow.  Thranduil nodded, keeping his face as serious as Legolas's was.  The child was ready for this moment, Thranduil thought in amused dismay, but he was not sure he was.

"What do you accept?" Thranduil asked.

"I accept responsibility for my own choices and my own actions."

Legolas's face was pale.  "I know I was supposed to be back before dark, Adar, but Turgon and I went further into the forest than we realized.  I am sorry."  Fury replaced Thranduil's fear.  Legolas was almost old enough to start novice training; he should know better than to lose track of time in the woods.  The youngling could apologize all he liked; Thranduil had no intention of letting him get away without punishment for such carelessness. Legolas looked him square in the face.  "I am so sorry I worried you.  I make no excuse.  The fault is mine."

"What do you promise?"

"I promise to listen to my own wisest voice and to be a source of strength for my family and my people."

Thranduil regarded him for a long moment.  Legolas would never be as tall or as broad through the chest and shoulders as were Ithilden and Thranduil himself.  He shared with Eilian the lithe build that was more typical of Elves.  But he was plainly strong and, in his eyes, Thranduil thought he saw the beginnings of the wisdom that would grow with experience.  His son was ready.  Thranduil gestured to Eilian, who stepped forward to face his younger brother.

"Legolas," he began, "I acknowledge you as an adult of this household. I give you this gift as a token of my love and my respect for the person you have become."  He slid a chain over Legolas's head.  Thranduil blinked at the charm that hung from it and then glanced quickly at Eilian's bare neck as his middle son moved back into his place.  He felt a flash of worry that he temporarily set aside and then turned to accept the sheathed sword that a nearby servant had been holding.

Thranduil walked toward Legolas and smiled slightly at the way his son's face had lit up when he saw what Thranduil held. "Legolas, I acknowledge you as an adult of this household. I give you this gift as a token of my love and my respect for the person you have become."  He turned the sword so that the hilt faced his son and watched in satisfaction as Legolas drew the gleaming, rune-carved blade from its sheath and then looked gratefully at him.

"Thank you, Adar," he said simply and then resheathed the sword and took the weapon into his possession.  And suddenly Thranduil felt a stab of sadness that weapons were the gift that marked a male child's attainment of adulthood in the Woodland Realm.

Ithilden now stepped forward. "May the Valar's blessing be with you," he said to Legolas, smiling into his brother's excited young face. "May the stars shine upon you. Be strong, be courageous, be wise."  Legolas obviously could contain his own delight no longer and smiled happily back at Ithilden.

With a lump in his throat, Thranduil put his hand on Legolas's shoulder and turned him toward the crowd. "I present to you my son, Legolas, who now takes his place as an adult among us. Come and feast and rejoice with us."

A cheer went up from the crowd, and Thranduil's minstrels began to play and sing.  There would be feasting and dancing to last the night.  He would rejoice in son's achievements now and mourn for his own loss in privacy later. That was the real gift he could give his son now.

***

"Congratulations," Annael said, and then, with a grin, added, "my lord."  Legolas blinked at him and then laughed.

"I charge you to remember that the next time it is my turn to wash dishes and pots when we are on a training mission."

Annael laughed and embraced him again.  "I will get you some food," he said.  "You will be here accepting congratulations for a while yet, and I know you are hungry."  Suddenly, Legolas realized that he was starving.  He wanted to break his fast and he wanted to do it now.

"Go," he urged and Annael grinned and went off in pursuit of a plateful of venison and bread.

Legolas stayed where he was, with his father and brothers nearby, politely accepting the congratulations of the seemingly endless stream of guests who approached him.  He knew some guests only slightly but was more than happy to see Tonduil and his fellow novices.  Then, in a reflex reaction he could not suppress, he straightened slightly as he found himself face to face with Maldor.  The unarmed combat master unexpectedly looked at him with something like amusement in his eyes.  "Congratulations, my lord," he said and then went on to speak to Thranduil.

Legolas stood with his mouth hanging open. Eilian leaned closer to murmur in his ear.  "I advise you not to get too used to that.  From experience, I can tell you that the next time you are on the training fields you will once again be 'Legolas-am-I-boring-you?'"

Legolas laughed and then turned to face Mithrandir.  "A very impressive ceremony," the wizard said, sounding thoughtful.  "I look forward to seeing you live by those answers."

Legolas smiled slightly. "So do I," he said truthfully, and then found Annael at his shoulder steering him to one of the tables where Beliniel already waited and putting food and drink before him.

Between mouthfuls, he glanced around.  The stream of well-wishers had dried up for the moment as people settled to the feast. Thranduil sat talking to Mithrandir, and Ithilden's back was to Legolas as he stood at one edge of the green conferring with Belówen.  When Sinnarn ran up and threw his arms around his father's thigh, Ithilden turned to pick him up and Legolas caught a glimpse of his sober face.  Someone must be hurt, he thought regretfully, watching as Alfirin came to claim her son and carry him off to sit next to his grandfather.  Ithilden parted from Belówen and went to sit by Eilian, who was uncharacteristically alone, with what looked to be an untouched plate of food in front of him.

As people sated their hunger, they gradually began to move onto the green to dance to the minstrels' music.  Annael and Beliniel joined them, and Legolas watched them weaving gracefully through the lines of dancers with eyes only for one another. He glanced across their empty chairs at Elowen, who was also watching her son, and caught her wiping a tear from her cheek. He was about to move toward her across the empty chairs when Thelion sat down in the chair on the other side of her and asked her whether she thought this year's strawberry crop would be large.  She visibly pulled herself away from memories and into the present to answer him.  He sat back nodding and listening.  Legolas smiled at him over her shoulder, and Thelion smiled back slightly but kept his attention on Elowen.

Then a very pretty maiden approached and held her hand out to him.  "Come, my lord," she invited. "You must dance at your own coming-of-age."  With a flush of anticipation, he rose, took her hand, and went to join in the dance.

***

"Are you not hungry?" Ithilden asked, eyeing Eilian's full plate.

Eilian started. His mind had obviously been far away.  He glanced at the food and then took a mouthful of bread.  "I have not been fasting as you have," he said by way of excuse, evidently conscious that Ithilden was watching him.  A forced smile appeared on his face. "The rumor is that Anolith will captain the Home Guard," he said.

Ithilden nodded. He was not surprised that Eilian already knew about Anolith's transfer from the northern Border Patrol.  Eilian had many friends and usually knew all the gossip.

"Who will you appoint as Border Patrol captain?" Eilian asked.

"I have not decided yet," Ithilden temporized.

Eilian shrugged.  He was used to Ithilden's close mouthed habits.  "Anolith will be a good captain for Legolas," he observed.

Ithilden hesitated.  He had not yet told Annael and Legolas where they were to be posted and so would ordinarily not have told anyone else who was not directly involved, but this piece of news was one that Eilian probably should know about.

"Legolas does not know it yet, but he is not going into the Home Guard," Ithilden said. "I am sending him to the eastern Border Patrol."

Eilian dropped the piece of bread he was pretending to eat.  "Have you lost your mind?" he demanded.  "That is far too dangerous for a new warrior."

Ithilden smiled wryly to himself.  At least we of the House of Oropher are all consistent, he thought.  "Legolas will be fine," he assured Eilian who was obviously growing increasingly alarmed.  "Adar has assigned him Beliond as a keeper, and Todith will know how to look after him."

"Ithilden," Eilian began, but Ithilden interrupted.

"Come and see me in my office tomorrow morning."

Eilian blinked, his protest over Legolas's posting halted by this sudden order.  "I have to go back to my patrol tomorrow."

Ithilden shook his head. "I have already sent word that you will not be going back just yet." Eilian looked completely taken aback by this information.

Suddenly Sinnarn stood at Eilian's elbow. "Dance with me, Uncle Eilian," he begged.

Eilian turned a startled face toward the dark-haired sprite beside him and then, after a moment, he gave a short laugh.  "It has been a long time since an elfling asked me to dance," he said.  "I think that your ada would like to dance with you, Sinnarn.  You should do it now, Ithilden." He nodded at Sinnarn and then jerked his head toward where Legolas was dancing with a maiden who kept looking up at him through long, dark lashes.  "They go from this to that in about five minutes."

Ithilden could not help smiling at his son's sweet, hopeful face.  He set the problem of what to do with his brother aside for the moment, swept the elfling up in his arms, and whirled him away, laughing, into the pattern of dancers.

***

Smiling at the sight of Ithilden swinging Sinnarn about among the dancers, Thranduil turned to Alfirin.  "Do you not wish to join them, daughter?"

She, too, was smiling at Ithilden and their son, as indeed were most of the Elves who danced near them.  "In a moment," she answered and then turned to regard him.  "But I have something I wish to speak to you about first, Adar."

Thranduil raised an eyebrow.  His daughter-in-law's tone suggested that she did not find it easy to say whatever was on her mind.  "And what is that?" he inquired as gently as he could.

She drew a deep breath.  "Adar, I know that you love Sinnarn, and it is obvious to anyone that he adores you. He is fortunate to have someone to treasure him without question as you do." She stopped and Thranduil nodded encouragingly, although he knew in his heart that she was about to say something he would not like.  She leaned toward him and put her hand on his.  "But Adar, he is our son, Ithilden's and mine. We are responsible for him, and we must be the ones who decide what he is or is not allowed to do."

Thranduil sat for a moment, with Alfirin looking anxiously into his face.  "That is true," he finally acknowledged slowly, "and you and Ithilden are fine parents.  Have I interfered, then?"

She smiled at him rather timidly. "In the garden yesterday, I wanted Ithilden to lift Sinnarn off the wall, and he, too, was frightened by seeing our son in such a precarious position, but you stopped him from acting.  Adar, you must let us decide such things."

Thranduil stiffened slightly. "Sinnarn was safe enough," he insisted. "I would never risk him coming to harm."

She patted his hand.  "You must let us decide," she repeated.

He looked at her appraisingly.  She was a gentle soul, but he thought that she would probably fight like a Warg to protect those she loved, and there was no doubt in his mind that she loved his son and her own.  He looked back to where an amused looking Ithilden now had Sinnarn on his hip, with the elfling chatting into his ear.  He sighed.  "I do not always find it easy to avoid giving orders, Alfirin."

She smiled, making a dimple appear in her right cheek.  "I already know that, Adar," she said.

He smiled back at her. "I may give advice," he warned her.

"I will tell you when you are doing it."

He laughed.  "Leave your husband to his own devices, my lady.  Come and dance with me."  He extended his hand to her and he led her away, spinning her past Ithilden and Sinnarn, who pointed a small finger at them and gabbled excitedly to his father.  Ithilden whispered back to him and then they whirled over to where Eilian sat alone, and Ithilden held onto Sinnarn's waist as the elfling leaned far out and reached a hand to his uncle.  For a moment, Eilian hesitated and then he grasped Sinnarn's hand and allowed himself to be drawn into the dance.

***

"Lord Eilian is here," the aide said, Eilian brushed past him into Ithilden's office.  He looked ready for an argument.  Ithilden gestured to the chair in front of his desk, and his brother sat, but he did not relax.

"What is this about, Ithilden?" Eilian asked.  "Why are you keeping me here?  Does this have anything to do with that little visit I had from Belówen yesterday?"

"Yes, it does," Ithilden said, deciding to be forthright.  "Why did you not tell me you were suffering from the shadow, Eilian?"

Eilian blinked at him.  "You already know I do. Everyone who comes near it does."

"But you are feeling it more than you usually do, are you not? Belówen says that you are close to despair.  He was adamant that you should not go south again for a time."

Eilian opened his mouth as if to deny the truth of what the healer had said, but then, abruptly, he closed it again.  He looked away.  "I am having a hard time," he admitted, still not looking at Ithilden, "but I will get through it." He turned face to Ithilden. "I am not unfit for duty," he said emphatically.

Ithilden paused.  He did not like to pry, but whatever was bothering Eilian was no longer his private business.  He leaned forward a little. "Can you tell me what the trouble is?" he asked gently.

Eilian grimaced.  For a moment, Ithilden thought he was not going to answer, and then he began to speak in a voice so low that Ithilden had to strain to hear him. "I do not believe I ever fully recovered from the scouting trip to Dol Guldur."  He sighed. "And then Siondel was killed, and Legolas was hurt, and young Elves were burned to death in that fire, and Celuwen . . ." His voice trailed away.

Ithilden leaned back and sighed. In his own opinion, Eilian had simply spent too long in the Southern Patrol without a break.  It was customary to rotate warriors out of that patrol after a time, but Eilian had resisted being moved and was so good at captaining it that Ithilden had let him stay.  "I am going to reassign you, at least for a while," he said.

Eilian drew in his breath sharply. "No."

"Yes," Ithilden insisted. "The northern Border Patrol will be without a captain when I send Anolith to the Home Guard.  I want you to fill his place there for at least three months. Then we will see how you are."

"Ithilden, you do not need to move me!"

"I am not going to argue about this.  My decision is made.  And at Belówen's insistence, you are to have two weeks of home leave before you take up your new post."  He eyed his brother, who was obviously struggling to keep from speaking his mind.  "Accept this, Eilian.  Behave yourself and you may be back where you want to be in three months, assuming you still want to be there."

Eilian glared at him.  "Yes, my lord," he snapped and then got to his feet. "Is there anything else?"  Ithilden shook his head, and Eilian strode from the room.

Ithilden sat for a moment, staring out his office window.  Why did Eilian have to be such a constant pain in the backside? he wondered, with some asperity.  His aide's voice brought him out of his reverie. "Lord Legolas is here," he said, and Legolas entered the office, looking somewhat bemused at the way he had been announced.

Ithilden smiled at him.  "It takes some getting used to, as I recall. Sit down, Legolas."  His younger brother took up the place that Eilian had recently vacated.  "I want to talk to you about where you will be posted next month after you pledge your faith as a warrior, but we will wait for Beliond."

The degree to which Legolas stiffened was clearly visible.  He evidently did not like Beliond.  Ithilden had suspected as much when Legolas had stormed into his office just after meeting him.  He fervently hoped his brother would change his mind about his keeper once he got to know him because there was almost no chance that Thranduil would change his.  The aide showed Beliond into the room, placed a chair for him, and withdrew.

Ithilden eyed the two of them.  Legolas was actually turned slightly away from Beliond, and the older warrior looked both irritated and disdainful.  He probably believed that Legolas was a spoiled brat, Ithilden thought resignedly.  His little brother had not made a good first impression any more than Beliond had.  Suppressing a sigh, he decided to get straight to the point. He wanted these two out of his office. Let them work out their problems on their own time.

"Legolas, after the warrior ceremony next month, you will be assigned to the eastern Border Patrol."

Legolas stared at him in stunned silence for a moment.  "Really?" he asked, sounding dazed.  Then he broke into a wide grin.  "The Border Patrol!" he said jubilantly before he remembered his dignity and reined in his enthusiasm.  Ithilden could not help smiling at his reaction, and even Beliond loosened up enough to look amused.

"Todith is that patrol's captain." Ithilden glanced at Beliond, who nodded to indicate that he knew Todith.  "He was captain of the Southern Patrol before Eilian, so he has a great deal of experience. Eilian liked serving under him, and I think you will too, Legolas. You still have a lot to learn, and Todith is a good person to learn it from."

His brother nodded happily.  "You will not be sorry for this, Ithilden.  I promise you."

Ithilden smiled at him again and rose, extending his hand to clasp Legolas's arm. "I am sure you will do well.  You may go."  He clasped Beliond's arm too, and the older warrior swept his withering gaze over Legolas one more time and left the room.

Legolas grimaced at his back and started from the office but then hesitated in the doorway as if he had just thought of something.  "Ithilden, is Annael going to this patrol too?"

Ithilden felt a sudden sympathy. "I have not talked to Annael about his posting yet, so I cannot tell you what it is."  Legolas scanned his face, trying to read it. He probably saw the sympathy at least because his own face fell a little.

"I will talk to him later then," he said in a more subdued tone and left the room.

Ithilden collapsed back in his chair.  Perhaps all his warriors were plagues to their families and he simply did not know it, he thought glumly.  He picked up his pen and tapped it on his desk.  It was going to be hard to see Legolas leave home, he thought, and yet, he was going to have to do it.  And if the eastern Border Patrol was as far as Legolas ever went, Ithilden feared he would be lucky.  Events seemed to be carrying them along into a time of darkness whose outcome he could not predict.  Legolas was as ready as the novice masters could make him.  Ithilden would just have to trust that he would become the warrior he seemed meant to be.

*******

And that's it.  I've enjoyed writing this and I hope you've enjoyed reading it.  Special thanks to everyone who reviewed.

Draekon:  Believe me, I understand end of semester crunch.   I just looked up Thranduil in the Dragon Flame Sindarin dictionary and I can't find what it would mean.  Same goes for Lorellin.  Perhaps the names are of Quenya origin?

Feanen:  I think Legolas will be very happy about his posting, although I think he will immediately realize that he will miss Annael.  And in the long run, he's going to find that he misses his family too.

PokethePenguin: This is the last chapter of this story, but there are always other stories.  I have a long list of them.  Readers will probably tire of reading about these characters long before I tire of writing about them.

French Pony:  Smaug is not yet at the Lonely Mountain.  On my list of possible stories is that event. Imagine how Thranduil's people would have reacted!    It never occurred to me that children would be afraid of a beard because my husband has one, so our son just took it as normal.  I can see how an elf child would be though.  The vigil did Legolas some good. He had some grown up thoughts and may even be able to stick to them.

Jambaby: I got your review for chapter 11 about 5 minutes after I posted chapter 12, so I missed replying to you. Sorry. Indeed, Legolas should not have blown up at his brother.  That was unwise, to say the least. And there are always more stories!  PS. Being without a computer for an extended period would make me crazy.

Deana:  Now, now. Legolas is working on accepting Thranduil seeing him as his child forever.  You can do it too!  But running off and hiding with Legolas would also have its charms.

StrangeBlaze:  It really tickles me that people liked the vigil part of the last chapter. I thought it might be boring and almost cut it!  I think of Mithrandir as the link between Thranduil and the outside world. He seems to know Thranduil well; he had Aragorn take Gollum there anyway.  I think there was some tie before the Fellowship.

Nikki:  You are so right!  Legolas accepts the Home Guard as his fate just as the novice masters have decided he should go elsewhere. Irony is at work.

White Wolf:  I also feel bad that Legolas and Annael won't be serving together. They have been inseparable since they were small children and Legolas trusts Annael as he trusts on one else outside his family. This is going to be hard, I think.

Alice:  The novice masters are an interesting lot. They have these young elves on their hands for about 10 years. They must get to know them quite well.  I'm glad you regret that this story is ending. I do too, but there are always more stories.

Bluebonnet:  Legolas is growing up.  Few of us are ever completely grown up, I suppose, and he has it tougher than most because the demands on him are great.  But he's trying!  I feel very bad for Thranduil too.

Legolas4me:  Now you're making me blush.  I am glad you've enjoyed this story and I hope you will come back to read the next one.

Dragon of the North: You *are* suspicious! Remind me to be careful in reading any plot that you contrive.  I didn't envy Ithilden having to tell Thranduil of the novice masters' recommendation.  He was lucky that Thranduil gave him an opening.

Dy:  I'm looking forward to writing another story about Legolas's first few patrols, away from home, with Beliond to deal with!  That will be fun.

Erunyauve:  I actually feel worse about separating Legolas from Annael than about separating him from his family.  They've always relied on and confided in one another.  But I think Legolas may find that leaving home is harder than he thinks it will be.

Frodo3791:  I think that Elves were very much one with nature, especially the Wood-elves.  They were tied to Arda in a way that Men were not.  I look forward to writing about Legolas and the eastern border patrol!

JastaElf:  The novice masters amused me.  And as you can see, Eilian is as bad as his father and brother in wanting to shelter the 'brat.'  But he has problems of his own, poor guy.

Elfie5:  Your comments made me feel really good because they suggest that I've captured some real family dynamics.  Maybe your mother sees you going to the city about like Thranduil sees Legolas going into the Border Patrol!