I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien, but they are his, not mine. I gain only the enlarged imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this for me.


1. New Beginnings

Realizing that he was fingering the rune of protection that hung from the thin chain around his neck, Legolas forced himself to stop. The rune had a curious flat spot on its back that he found irresistible when he was tense. Next to him, Annael let out a deep breath, and Legolas knew that his friend, too, was nervous.

He glanced toward the side of the training field, where friends and families of the novices watched and waited for the ceremony to begin. His sister-in-law, Alfirin, stood in the shade, holding one of her small son's hands, while Annael's mother, Elowen, held the other. Next to Elowen, stood a slim, dark-haired maiden, who had eyes only for Annael. Legolas smiled a little wistfully to himself. Annael and his mother had had more than their share of sorrow, for Annael's father had been killed less than a month ago. But Beliniel's love for Annael and his for her created an almost palpable warmth around them whenever they were together.

Legolas turned his attention forward again, looking between the two long lines of warriors that stretched ahead of him across the field. At their end stood his father, with Ithilden, Legolas's oldest brother, next to him. Not his father and brother, Legolas corrected himself, his king and his troop commander, for today he would pledge his faith as a warrior of the Woodland Realm. Silence settled on the crowd. It was time. He dropped his hands to his sides and stood respectfully still.

Lómilad, the novice master, stepped out of the line of warriors and turned to face Thranduil and Ithilden. "My lords," he said, "I bring these Elves before you, for they desire to serve the Woodland Realm with their weapons and their strength." He speaks of Annael and me, Legolas reminded himself in wonder. He had heard these words spoken about other novices each spring for nearly ten years and could scarcely believe that they were now being spoken about him.

"Let them each advance," said Thranduil, and Lómilad signaled first to Annael, who drew a deep breath and walked between the two lines of warriors to stop in front of Thranduil and lay his bow and his sword at the king's feet. Legolas knew the words his father and Annael must be speaking, but he could not hear them over the pounding of his own heart. Annael picked up his weapons and bowed to Thranduil. Then he turned to clasp arms first with Ithilden and next with Anolith, who would be his captain in the Home Guard. Then he turned and walked back down between the rows of warriors to take his place at the end nearest Legolas. He looked far more relaxed now and grinned at Legolas.

"Your turn," he murmured, under his breath.

Legolas gave him a shaky half smile and then, in response to a signal from Lómilad, he began his own walk between the two rows, first passing the youngest warriors and then those of gradually increasing age and experience. His brother Eilian smiled at him from the row on his left, and Legolas's heart lurched slightly at the sight. Eilian was home only because the healers had ordered him there to allow time for his shadow sickness to heal. His normally cheerful temper had been darkened lately, and he had smiled little. Legolas thought it probably cost him an effort to do it now, and he was suddenly aware of how much he loved this brother, who had suffered greatly and suffered still from what his service as a warrior had cost him.

Legolas walked on between the experienced warriors. The weapons masters were here, the archery master beaming at him and even the usually stern unarmed combat master looking satisfied. And near the end of the line, stood Beliond, the warrior whom Thranduil had assigned to be his body guard. Legolas knew him so slightly that he had no idea of what might lie behind his sober face, but he knew that it was unlikely to be wholehearted approval. He and Beliond had not made good first impressions on one another.

At last, he halted before his father. He pulled his sword from its sheath and laid it at his father's feet and then took his bow from his shoulder and placed it too on the ground before Thranduil. Then he looked up and met his father's grey eyes. Over the years, Legolas had learned to read his father's face well, but he realized a little apprehensively that he could not read it now. The impassive face of his king looked gravely back at him.

"What is it you ask of us?" Thranduil asked in a remote voice.

"My lord," Legolas responded as steadily as he could, "I ask to be allowed to join the ranks of your warriors that I might defend the realm and its people from whatever harm may threaten them."

"Do you pledge to use your strength to serve the cause of good and to give your obedience to the command of those set over you?" Thranduil asked.

"I do, my lord," Legolas answered, as certain of the rightness of this declaration as he had ever been of anything in his life. Thranduil laid his hands on Legolas's shoulders, and suddenly, his impassivity gave way. He smiled at his son, and the pride in his eyes was unmistakable. "Then we welcome you to our service and that of our people," he said. "Take up your weapons and join the ranks of our warriors." He squeezed Legolas's shoulders gently and then dropped his hands and let him go, and he did so, something bleaker mixed with the gratification in his face and then quickly faded.

Legolas blinked at him and then could not help smiling. With exhilaration beginning to build, he picked up and sheathed his sword and shouldered his bow. Grinning widely now, he turned to face Ithilden who grasped his forearm in a warrior's greeting.

"Congratulations, Legolas," Ithilden told him and brought his free hand up to brush gently against the right side of his brother's head. Legolas scarcely felt the touch but was clearly aware of the rather rueful satisfaction in Ithilden's face. He would now be responsible for sending Legolas into dangerous situations, and Legolas knew that Ithilden did not like the idea, despite the pride he also took in Legolas's skill with weapons.

Legolas turned and clasped arms with Todith, the captain of the eastern Border Patrol, for which Legolas would be leaving in the morning. "Welcome, warrior," Todith said, smiling at him and then releasing his arm.

And that was it. He was now a warrior of the Woodland Realm. Legolas drew a deep breath and turned to walk back between the rows and take his place at the end of the line across from Annael. They grinned at one another. Legolas felt a sudden stab of dismay that he and this friend would now be taking different paths, but while Legolas was excited about leaving home, he knew that Annael needed to stay with his bereaved mother. Moreover, being in the Home Guard was the only way he would be able to bond with Beliniel at any time soon.

Behind Annael, he could see their families, and Alfirin now had her arms wrapped about Elowen, whose face was buried in Alfirin's shoulder. It was a good thing that Annael had his back to them, Legolas thought. Beliniel held Legolas's nephew and was pointing to where Annael and Legolas stood. Legolas was willing to wager that she had not taken her eyes off Annael for the whole ceremony.

Then one of his father's minstrels began to play, and the warriors all lifted their voices in a song of the realm that he had just pledged to defend. I cannot believe that I am finally a warrior, Legolas thought, and sang along with the others.


Legolas made his way through the crowd on the field, looking for Eilian. He had not seen his brother earlier that day because Eilian had had an appointment with the healers. The glimpse Legolas had had of him during the ceremony had reminded him of how much he would miss Eilian. Someone touched him on the shoulder and he turned to find Beliond extending his arm to be clasped. "Congratulations," he said somewhat awkwardly, as Legolas took it. "This is a day you will never forget, for on it, you have taken the first step toward becoming a warrior."

Legolas could feel himself stiffening. He knew that he lacked experience, but surely his years of training counted for more than Beliond implied. Why did this Elf always seem to find a way to disparage what Legolas could do? He deliberately made his tone as icy as he could. "Thank you. I look forward to serving the realm."

Beliond's mouth twisted slightly. "And I am sure the realm looks forward to having you at its service," he said. Legolas jerked back, stung by the unmistakable sarcasm in his tone, but before he could say anything, Beliond said, "I will see you in the morning, my lord." He turned and strode away, leaving Legolas staring after him, both angry and somehow in the wrong.

There was nothing wrong in what I said, he thought resentfully.

Someone clasped him from behind and tightened his grip enough to life Legolas off his feet. "Congratulations, brat," said Eilian and released him. Legolas turned with a grin to be warmed by the sight of his brother smiling at him.

"You have to stop calling me that," he announced. "I am a warrior now and might get insulted."

Eilian laughed. "That is the idea," he said. "What would be the fun if you were not insulted?" He embraced Legolas again. "Congratulations, really. I am proud of you." Legolas let his joy at Eilian's good mood and the warmth of his affection drive away the smart of Beliond's disdain.

Another warrior approached from behind Eilian, and Legolas saw that it was Maltanaur, the older Elf who functioned as Eilian's body guard, his 'keeper' as he and his brothers had always called him. "Congratulations, Legolas," said Maltanaur and clasped his arm. Then he turned to Eilian. "My grandchild awaits me, Eilian," he said with a smile. "I will see you tomorrow morning." Eilian nodded and Maltanaur left, with another nod at Legolas.

"So the healer has decided to allow you to go to the northern Border Patrol?" Legolas asked, realizing suddenly the source of Eilian's improved temper.

Eilian nodded. He would undoubtedly have preferred to return to captaining the Southern Patrol, but the Border Patrol needed a captain and the healer was adamant that Eilian should not go closer to Dol Guldur for a time. The shadow was deep there and had darkened the spirit of many warriors besides Eilian. "I will see you off and then I will go."

Legolas thought of the scene he had just witnessed between his brother and Maltanaur. "Have you and Maltanaur always gotten along so well?" he asked.

"Always?" Eilian raised an eyebrow. "I assume that you are concerned about getting along with Beliond?" Legolas nodded reluctantly. He did not like to worry Eilian. And besides, he thought it was time that he began to solve his own problems rather than relying on his family.

Eilian considered. "I seem to recall that we annoyed one another rather extensively at the beginning and, as a matter of fact, we still have our moments." He smiled wryly and patted Legolas on the shoulder. "I will give you advice that I probably could not have heeded myself: learn what you can from him and remember that he has what he believes are your best interests at heart."

Legolas frowned resentfully. "Surely I can decide where my own best interests lie now. What do you know of Beliond any way?"

Eilian shrugged. "Not much. I have never served in the same patrol with him, although I think Ithilden has. He is a friend of Adar's. He was at Dagorlad."

"I just want him to treat me with respect," Legolas muttered.

Whatever Eilian might have said was lost as Thranduil and Ithilden approached, followed closely by Alfirin with a very wriggly Sinnarn in her arms. Ithilden took their son from her. "Did you see me, Adar?" Sinnarn asked. "I was very good."

"Indeed you were," Ithilden responded, kissing first his cheek and then Alfirin's.

Whatever cloud had crossed Thranduil's face during the ceremony was gone now. He smiled broadly and embraced Legolas. "I could not be more proud of you, iôn-nín," he declared.

"Come along home," Alfirin invited. "The cooks have spent the last three days preparing a feast for us."

"I am sorry, Alfirin, but I have other plans," Eilian said. He had been out of the palace most evenings of late and had frequently been the worse for wine in the mornings.

Thranduil frowned. "You are going north in the morning, are you not?" Eilian nodded. "Then I want you home this evening," Thranduil went on, in a tone that brooked no argument.

Eilian looked as if he would protest but then pressed his lips together and was silent for a moment. "I will send word to my friends that I will be late," he finally said and looked defiantly at Thranduil, who hesitated and then grudgingly nodded.


Eilian walked along through the summer night, drawing what comfort he could from the stars and the night song of the trees. His heart had lightened somewhat during the last several weeks during which the healers had forced him to take an extended leave, but he still found himself brooding on his problems in quiet moments, so he had simply taken care that such moments were scarce. His father had forced him to stay for the family celebration tonight, and he was ashamed to admit that he had found it difficult to rejoice for Legolas, who was being allowed to do something he thought was exciting, or to take satisfaction in the cozy family togetherness that Ithilden had found.

It was not that he wished his brothers ill, he thought unhappily, but that his own life seemed so colorless compared to theirs. Unlike Legolas, he doubted he would find much excitement in a border patrol, not after the constant tension of hunting Orcs and giant spiders in the southern part of his father's woods. And as for cozy families, the maiden he wanted to bond with had made it clear that she saw her duty lying elsewhere.

Celuwen could do what she liked, he thought savagely. Let her see if duty kept her warm in the night.

He came to his destination and knocked on the cottage door. It was opened almost immediately by a maiden with curly brown hair tumbled appealing around her face. "You are late," she declared, taking his hand and drawing him inside the cottage. "And you look as if you need a glass of wine." She started down the hallway, but he stopped her, gathered her in his arms, and kissed her hungrily. She struggled away from him with a laugh. "Behave yourself," she admonished with a grin.

He grinned back. He doubted very much if he would have to behave himself for long.


Legolas tossed a set of packs across his horse's back and hoped that he had remembered everything. He supposed that he could send for anything he had forgotten. Messengers rode between the palace and the eastern Border Patrol's camp at frequent intervals, for the trip took less than a day. But he did not want to look unprepared when he joined his new unit.

He heard someone walking between the rows of stalls and turned, expecting to see his father, who had heaped food on his plate at morning meal and had hovered over him ceaselessly in the moments since then. But it was not his father who now stood next to him.

Annael smiled almost shyly. "I did not want to let you go without saying goodbye," he said, extending his arm. With a cry of delight, Legolas grasped his arm and then embraced him.

"I am going to miss you," he declared. Indeed, he was having trouble imaging life without Annael to share his experiences and confidences. Then he sobered. "Take care, Annael. And remember that if you ever need anything, you have only to ask."

His friend nodded. "You take care too. I do not want to hear about anything happening to you." His face clouded for a minute, and Legolas knew that Annael would indeed have trouble if he suffered another loss so soon after the death of his father.

"I will be fine. Beliond will not let me do anything foolish. Or, at least, he will certainly tell me if I do."

Annael grinned. He was well aware of Legolas's feelings about his keeper. "Your adar and brothers are waiting outside," he said. "For that matter, so are Beliond and Todith. I told them I would send you out right away."

With a cry of dismay, Legolas immediately called to his horse and led him out of the stables, with Annael trailing after. Thranduil turned to him and, without a word, caught him in an embrace. "May the stars shine upon your path, iôn-nín," he murmured, squeezed him once, and then released him. Each of his brothers in turn clasped his arm and embraced him too. And then, almost before he knew what had happened, he was on his horse and riding with Beliond and Todith away from his father's stronghold. He was on his way to his first posting as a warrior.


Eilian chirped softly to his horse and started to lead him out of the stables to go and say goodbye to his family and then meet Maltanaur. He smiled to himself. Legolas had looked as excited as Eilian had ever seen him, and he had to admit that, contrary to his expectations, he too was excited to be off.

"A word with you, Eilian," his father said, and he looked up to find Thranduil blocking his path.

"Yes, Adar?" he said, knowing that there was a note of impatience in his voice. His father had been the one who had told the healers about his shadow sickness and gotten Eilian removed from his post in the south, and Eilian could not help but resent what he saw as interference in his affairs.

"Do not take that tone with me, Eilian," said Thranduil sharply. "I have done a difficult thing this day, letting Legolas go without protest. I want to assure myself that you are ready to be cautious so that I can let you go too."

Eilian grimaced and stroked his horse's neck, not looking at his father. "What would you have me say, Adar? The healers believe I am ready and so do I." He looked at Thranduil, who held him in his gaze for a long moment and then nodded.

"Very well." He smiled a little then. "I have something for you." Eilian suddenly realized that Thranduil was holding a silver chain. He now reached forward and put it around Eilian's neck. Eilian brought his hand up to touch the rune hanging from it, and instantly, he knew what it was. He felt an unexpected rush of gratitude.

"I know that you gave your rune of protection to Legolas," Thranduil told him. "I will not let you go without one."

Eilian cleared his throat. "Thank you, Adar."

Thranduil embraced him. "May the stars shine upon your path, Eilian. Come home safely."

"I will certainly try." Eilian smiled at him, feeling better than he had in a while, and Thranduil stepped back to gesture that Eilian was free to go. He mounted and rode toward the stableyard, where he knew that Maltanaur would be waiting. He had a new patrol to see to, and he meant to find what satisfaction he could in that.