Chapter Fifteen: Thranduil

My son and nephew would take the field on this day in the Warriors Renewal Trials. At Lalaith's insistence that I would enjoy the time alone, I left her in the palace to complete her morning chores while Legolas fulfilled some of the studies he had missed while recovering. She assured me that they would follow soon.

When I stepped out onto the landing before the Great Doors, I took a moment to breathe in the sweet, clean air of mid-morning. The sky was a cloudless deep blue and the birds were busy and happily winging about. The pause from my daily routine was a welcome diversion and I truly enjoyed getting out into the forest, but I found, as I walked down the wide, well-worn path toward the warriors' training field, my thoughts were again on the western forest. The villagers had departed nearly a week past, but still, they stayed on my mind. I was greatly relieved that the spiders had been driven back, but I could not completely shake my anger and shock that my own people had engaged in such trickery. Never would I cease to be amazed at the foolishness that can take a person. I have made many errors in my life, some worse than others, but I cannot imagine what would make someone believe that he can meddle in the affairs of creation. Our enemy has done so, and this alone should serve as warning. Even though there are times when we must take chances, these decisions must be undertaken with thoughts for possible outcomes. Consequences, both good and bad, are assured no matter the course, but unexpected ones are almost as certain as the ones we anticipate. One would think that an Elf had lived long enough to know this simple truth. But then, I need only recall the history of my own kind to know that even Elves can be misled by their own passions.

The red-banded spiders had been as much a surprise to their creators as they had been to me. The unintended consequences had dwelt somewhere between good and evil, neither wholly one nor the other. Intent on the part of the instigators might have been altruistic, but their foresight had been dangerously limited. Did Calendon's people understand the sacrifices of playing with evil? I did not think they did. I knew that when I sent my troops into the forest to protect this realm that there would be casualties. I also knew that we would perish without the aid of the warriors to guard and defend us, but still, I had sacrificed good, brave Elves to our fight. The villagers were blinded by the desire to do as they saw fit and by the relative peace they had lived in until evil began to creep into their blissful safety. I could not fault them for wishing to bring betterment to their ways of healing, but I did indeed fault them for not considering what the consequences might be for overreaching the boundaries of good sense. I also could not forget the obvious fact that they hid their machinations from me and from the other villagers. They knew there would be protest of their experiments, and they learned all too well why these objections would have been valid. In this instance, they created a cure that was worse than the affliction.

My troops and all three of my sons had been thrust into conflict with these Elven-made creatures. That thought alone turned my stomach. I could have lost my own child. Other parents, spouses and children could have lost their loved ones to the shortsightedness of Calendon and his healers as well. The evil that we were already saddled with was enough.

I sighed; Legolas was well and for that I was grateful. As is the nature of the young, he was back to the happy adolescent that he was before, seemingly no worse for the experience he suffered. A part of me was pleased at his resilience, yet another part of me worried that he still did not grasp the dangers that awaited him in the future. As a father, I could rationalize and justify both sides of his nature. Perhaps a firm middle ground was what I should wish for him, but the fear a parent always holds close to heart prevented me from being entirely comfortable with either side. Struggling with allowing Legolas to venture from my protection was not new to me. I had done this with two older sons already, and I found that I was no better at it the third time than I was with the first two. My fears and worries for Aldamir and Erelas were no less now than when they were Legolas's age, but I had faith in their abilities. Still, I had lived through enough unexpected consequences to know that being well trained was not enough. Lalaith and I worried about them daily, just as did every other family who had someone serving. All I had was the firm resolve to not let my fears rule me. I could no more protect my sons from their destiny than I could my own father or Tarondor. I could merely pray that my sons would not be destined for the same fate.

But it seemed that fate was guiding much with or without my consent. Even as Legolas grew far too rapidly toward adulthood, my oldest son had tasted the first bittersweet experience of love. The moment I first saw Aldamir with Elenna, I knew that his feelings for her went far beyond anything he had ever felt. Aldamir had always been rather reluctant to get involved in serious relationships. As he grew up, I saw the mild interest he had in some maidens, and as he got older, there were a few elleths who seemed to stir a deeper interest, but nothing more ever came of those friendships. Elenna was quite a surprise to us all. But none, I think, was more surprised than Aldamir. My son was completely unprepared for the depth of feelings he found rushing him. I sighed; no appropriate or successful warning existed that could be given to someone who has tasted the first fruit of a blossoming love.

I should know. When I first realized that I was in love with Lalaith, there was no turning back. My way was set and my heart completely in her keep. I had thought that her father would be the greatest obstacle to our plans. But I was wrong; Tarondor proved more stubborn than Aranel ever thought to be. Had it not been for Noreth distracting him, I do not know if I would have ever broken through his shock and anger. Tarondor was my closest friend; indeed, a brother to me. And that was the problem. Lalaith had played the role of our little sister since the day she had been born. When I suddenly realized that I did not see her in a brotherly fashion, I was as appalled as Tarondor. Lalaith would not allow me to remain in a brotherly role and for this I am grateful. Tarondor had to have some time to come to terms with the fact, that while we had been protecting his sister from suitors, I had somehow become one of them. In the end, Tarondor gave us his blessing and embraced me, truly, as his brother. Working through the defenses of hardheaded relatives seemed mild in comparison to what Aldamir and Elenna have to work through.

From my own experience, I could easily understand how Aldamir fell so quickly and completely in love with Elenna. Fate is a tricky creature. She offers us our heart's desire and then tosses mountains into our path. I have learned that if this heart's desire is true, then there are no obstacles that will stand in our way. We will find a way to navigate the treacherous ground. Aldamir and Elenna were looking for the map that would take them through this foreign land. And if I knew people as I thought I did then I felt confident that they would find the path that would lead them back together. I supposed this recent trial could even be for the best. When we have to work for something we want, its value is increased. We cherish it dearly for we know what it is like to be without it.

I chuckled to myself. When I told Lalaith that I gave Aldamir a year to regain his footing, and then some mysterious errand would take him back to Elenna's village, she laughed at me and said it would be no more than six months. My wife tells me that our son is deeply in love with this maiden. Lalaith also tells me that Elenna returns these feelings. I did not need her gift to see this myself about our son, but I was gratified to hear what Lalaith had to say about Elenna. I would not see my son hurt again by this maiden. Time was what Aldamir and Elenna needed, and I hoped that once they were back together, they would take the time to slowly build a lasting and trusting relationship.

But in the meantime, fate had played us a kinder turn. I took pleasure in the cooler air that carried the laughter and shouts of the spectators gathered for the games. Summer had not yet drifted from us, but the cooler days felt as if autumn would soon come to stay. I could not help but find this thought pleasing. Every season has its own glory, but when the trees change from their green raiment into an earthy blaze, no matter how many times I have witnessed this change, I continue to find myself awed by its beauty.

A crowd had already gathered in a joyous circle around the field, placing the participating warriors within the warm embrace of grateful and admiring kin. I greeted those about me then went to the place my wife had prepared earlier for us. A soft woven blanket had been placed upon a grassy patch amidst the families who had come to observe. Baskets of food and drink awaited us for midday meal. Lalaith had kindly ordered a chair for me and for herself. She claims I am old and in need of such comforts, but I believe her thoughtfulness in this case had to do with her wishing a higher perch with which to gain a better view of our son and nephew as they participated. I snorted to myself; I was as hale as I was an Age ago and as sturdy as I will be with the passing of another Age. This was merely one of Lalaith's ways of never allowing me to forget that while I am the king, I am still hers to do with as she pleases. I remainl grateful for whatever hand played a part in bringing her into my life and heart; she is the center of my being; indeed, my queen is the heartbeat of this realm.

Ignoring the chair, I settled onto the blanket and leaned against the wide trunk of an ancient but hearty beech. I smiled and patted a gnarled root in camaraderie. "We are two of a kind, old friend," I said. An answering hum thrilled at my back.

As I watched the warriors who were sparring at the time, I sporadically glanced about to see the familiar faces of my people. Such a strong and beautiful people, they are: Silvan and Sinda folks brought together by a fierce love of this forest. Among them, I saw the magnificent blending of both Elvenkind in faces that smiled and laughed.

Across the field I spied Daeron. He was talking to his friends, laughing and by my estimation, betting on the outcome of the current match. I hoped he did not lose too much wagering, but thought again that such a loss might indeed be a good lesson learned.

I was proud of Daeron and the fine Elf he was becoming. In the spider attack upon the novices, he had faced his worst fears and triumphed. Perhaps he would never willingly share his seat with even the smallest garden spider, but he knew now that he could and indeed, would defend his home against a far worse threat than the innocuous spiders that had always frightened him. His adar, Tarondor, came to mind as he often did when I had a moment to reflect on his absence. And as always, I mourned that he could not see his sons. My old friend would be proud. My most heartfelt prayer is that he will be released from the Halls of Waiting so that on the day his sons finally sail into sight of the harbor of Aman, he will be waiting. I hope to be present for this meeting; I would not wish to miss the look on Tarondor's face when he sets his eyes upon his strong, handsome sons.

Behind me, I heard a stirring and knew the queen had finally made her way to the fields. I stood and watched as she led Legolas through the crowd toward me. Our people bowed and smiled as she passed. Her smile was radiant as she spoke to them, calling many by name and asking after children, parents and grandchildren. I am warmed by the affection our people have for her, and by the love she has for them. On most days I feel the urge to congratulate myself on choosing her to be my mate, but in truth, I think it was she who chose me. Perhaps I even like that notion better.

When she finally reached me, Lalaith kissed my cheek, lingering for just a second to let me know that she felt my love for her and to allow me to feel through our bond the depth of her feelings for me. I wanted a real kiss, but this was neither the time nor the place for intimacy. I would wait. Legolas smiled uncomfortably at his parents' public display, but dismissed us quickly enough as he turned to scan the crowds, looking to spend his time with his friends and not his disgustingly affectionate parents.

"I will only be a few moments," Lalaith said. "I wish to speak to Morwen about a new gown she is making for me. You will be pleased to know that I have decided on the color." I smiled weakly. I did seem to recall a recent conversation to do with color schemes, but I hoped that she did not require me to tell her which color I had suggested since I did not recall the original choices. She gave me wink and a wry smile. "Legolas will keep you company until I return."

He snapped back to us, his eyes wide with shock and despair that I would actually take his mother's offer. Obviously, visiting with me was not in his plans. However, I thought with amusement, I would indeed like to spend a moment with this whirlwind son of mine.

"I would like that," I said motioning our youngest son to me.

Legolas gave a resigned look to no one in particular. His shoulders slumped slightly, but he managed a rendition of a faint smile. "Yes Naneth. I will keep Adar company."

"Good," she smiled and wandered off to join Noreth and the seamstress.

"Adar…" Legolas began.

I held my hand up to silence him. "Come and sit with me, Legolas. Perhaps Aldamir and Seregon will soon take the field."

He dropped dejectedly down next to me. "I thought I was no longer on restriction. Will I be required to stay here all day?"

"That depends."

"On what?" he asked.

"On how much goodwill I feel toward you after I have spent time in your presence," I smiled. "Besides I did not realize that spending time with me is akin to punishment."

"Of course not, Adar. I did not mean that."

"But you want to be with your friends?"

"I would like to, yes," he said. "But I like very much being with you too."

I threw my arm around his shoulders and pulled him to my side in a hug. "We will sit here in companionable happiness for a short while, and then I will allow you to go to your friends. You will grow up and be gone from me far too soon, iôn-nín."

"I will always be here, Adar," he told me sincerely.

"I hope so, Legolas, but you are not long from coming of age and I wish to cherish what time we have together before you are gone on patrols and making a life of your own. I want this for you, but do not begrudge your adar for wishing to enjoy your youth."

I felt the gentle pressure of his body lean into mine. "I like being your son, Adar," he said. "I will always want to be with you."

My heart was full of love for this child. I knew he meant his words, but I also recalled being his age, straining at the tethers of youth, wanting to have what I thought would be the freedom from the limits of childhood. I found out once I reached my majority and assumed my duties that I had never been freer than when I was in the protective embrace of my parents. But I do not regret the paths that I have taken, the paths that have led me to his naneth and to having him and his older brothers. I accept the responsibilities of husband and father freely and with great joy. "I will always want you with me too, Legolas," I said as I placed a kiss on the top of his head. I breathed in the scent of his hair and tried to memorize the feel of his body tucked so comfortably in my arm. He would be fully grown too soon. I would miss the child, but I looked forward to knowing the adult he would become. "Now let us watch the remainder of this bout," I said.

As the duel on the field neared a certain end—the younger warrior was beginning to tire as the more experienced warrior ran him backwards in a swift assault—I saw Aldamir and Seregon move toward the rack of practice weapons. They did not select a sword, but stood talking as they watched the pair on the field carefully.

The close relationship of my oldest son and my nephew pleased me. They have always been good counterbalances for one another. They are enough alike to see their duties in the same vein, but different enough to offer new insights and challenges to push one another into reaching for ideas that each would not consider on his own. And they are devoted friends and allies. Aldamir was cautious by nature. When anything went wrong, he was quick to take all responsibility upon himself. I was pleased that he held to his duty so responsibly during the recent events, but I was also dismayed to know that he suffered so. Only experience as a commander would help him take less blame in the future when things went wrong under his command. Still, I knew from personal experience that one never completely gets past feeling some measure of blame when one is in command. But Aldamir was strong, and I trusted him to find a way to place these worries into their proper place.

"Adar?" Legolas's voice brought me back to the fields. "I think Aldamir and Seregon are readying to spar." I looked up to see that the warriors who had been sparring were walking from the field toward Melda.

"Indeed," I answered as I watched Aldamir shed his outer tunic and take up a protective leather breast plate. He walked slowly to the rack of practice swords. A mischief lit upon me as quickly as a touch of a butterfly. I turned to Legolas as I stood and motioned for him to remain seated.

"Where are you going? You will miss the bout," he said.

I smiled as I watched Aldamir, his back to us as he swung different swords, testing them for a weight and balance that suited his hand. "I think I should like some exercise," I said as I stepped over the fence separating the spectators from the field. I caught Seregon by the arm as he approached a weapons rack near me. He broke into a wide grin and bowed when I motioned him away from the rack. Quickly removing my outer tunic, I took the breastplate he offered me and slipped it on. After scanning the weapons on the rack, I chose one and swung it through the air. Letting my hand adjust to the feel of the sword, I reveled in the simplicity of a motion that felt so natural and at the same time so long missed. With the sword I chose in hand, I walked to the center of the field and waited. At my appearance, the crowd murmured softly and then fell silent.

Aldamir had not noticed the stir of the crowd, and when he turned, I could not help but be amused by the look of intensity on his face. He was completely focused on the sword he had drawn as he took a few steps forward. Finally, when he looked up to sight his quarry, the stunned expression on his face was worth all the wealth of this realm. Once the initial shock had passed, he smiled agreeably and bowed low--a bit dramatically, I thought. I returned his grin and tipped my sword in invitation. He came slowly toward me and began to circle. "You would have me best my king?" he asked.

"No, I would have you bested by your adar," I said, following him with my own circle. I caught sight of Lalaith, standing with her arms folded and an amused smile upon her lips as she waited at the fence with Legolas and Seregon. Daeron and Alar rushed to come to a halt at their side. "My lady is watching," I said, "and I would not have her disappointed."

Aldamir tilted his head in understanding. "Indeed," he grinned, obviously enjoying himself immensely. "My naneth is watching, and I would not have her disappointed."

"She will understand," I said as I made a quick forward thrust. Aldamir easily blocked it and moved back to circle. "Come on, child," I goaded him. "Surely, you can do better than that."

"I beg your pardon, Adar, but I am no child," he said.

"Then you fancy yourself a warrior?" I asked lightly as I mirrored his steps.

"I fancy myself your son," he said as he came against me with quick blows and equally as quick parries.

We feigned and parried, thrust and retreated, only to begin again and again. But he was still giving me my head, letting me lead this dance. "Why do you not come against me, child? I can take whatever you can wield," I smiled.

He barked a short laugh. "I am told that you are growing in years and do not have the stamina that you once had. I do not want to end this too quickly—as your lady is looking on."

"Why do you not put to the test how aged I am?" I beckoned him with my hand. I let down my defensive posture and allowed my sword to drift to my side. "You do not fear me, do you?" I asked as if incredulous at such a thought. As I expected, he charged me. I brought my sword back up to swiftly match him blow for blow, all the while allowing him the reins of this contest. When I had backed enough from him, I took an offensive tactic and pounded his sword until he was taking steps back from the power of my blows. We stayed with each other, pushing in turn toward the other until we were both drenched in sweat and breathing hard. Our swords rang out, echoing off the trees that stood around the field like amused old guards that were willing to allow us to finish one another.

Aldamir advanced again, thrusting his blade toward my mid-section. I leaned back enough to avoid his touch and swung my sword down to force his away. As I stepped into him, I swept my left foot out and caught him on the back of his calf. Our blades still locked, he stumbled backwards and fell with a dull thump onto the ground. I heard the air leave his chest. In a second's time, I had my sword poised at his throat. "Not bad for an aged Elf," I said as I dropped my sword to my side and held out my hand to him. He drew in a deep breath and took my offered hand to pull himself back to his feet. The crowd was roaring with laughter, shouts and clamorous applause. My eyes caught Lalaith's for a moment; she was clapping and smiling joyfully at us. I felt the thrill of a delightful promise reach me through our bond. With a smile of my own and a gentle tug, I pulled Aldamir onward into my arms and hugged him fiercely. He was flushed and dripping with sweat, but he was laughing. His laughter. To me, this was the most joyous sound of all.

The End

Thanks to all who have read and stayed with me for the story. The saga of Aldamir and Elenna is not over and will continue at a later date in another story. And Legolas and Daeron have more growing up to do. I've had a wonderful time writing this and each and every review means more to me than you'll ever know. Thanks so much for your kind support.

Sonya4LOTR: I'm so glad that you liked the way Aldamir and Elenna handled their 'talk'. They did take things a little fast in the beginning of their relationship. I think Elves often know pretty quickly when they meet the 'right' one, but there are practical matters to be addressed. Not very romantic, I know, but realistic. Liked the bleeding turtle, did you? LOL! What sort of cake did you end up baking? Since I have a lot experience with little boys, I'd say that one would just love a bleeding turtle for a birthday cake. I can't say about his mother. I would have probably been grossed out. Thanks so much for staying with me. Your kind reviews mean more to me than you'll ever know.

Moonshine: Poor Elenna. She's trying: ) I'm so glad that you still liked the way Aldamir and Elenna have begun to rebuild their relationship. I'm sure it will take them a little time to get back the trust that's been lost, but now that they see the dangers of diving headfirst into the murky waters of love, I think they'll be more cautious. Erelas agrees with you that he's been largely ignored. There won't be chapter for him in this story, but I think he'll be back later with more to say. I hope so anyway. I've got to get him home for more than two or three minutes so that he has time to do something. Poor elf. He works so hard! Thank you so much for your reviews and staying with me throughout this story. You're reviews have been such a bright spot for me. I've truly enjoyed them. Thanks again.

NYSarah: Thank you so much for your kind words. I find it quite easy to be nice when I have such sweet reviewers. I'm so grateful to you for taking the time to write and tell me what you think as you read. That's the joy of the whole writing business. Aldamir had a tough job in reprimanding the novices, but he tried to be fair. Of course, he had to be tough and almost parental in his talk to them, pointing out the worst case scenarios, but he cares that they not only become good warriors, but that they survive their duty too. Aldamir and Elenna will start over at a later date. They both need some time to sort out everything that happened and to learn how to avoid such mistakes again. But they do love one another and in the end, that'll count. Thank you so much for reading and reviewing. Your reviews are such a delight. I look forward to them with each chapter. I'll miss you now that this is the end. Hopefully, it won't take me too long to get started on another tale. Thanks again.