Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.
This story is set in the year 2770 TA, about 11 years after "Spring Awakenings" and "Glorious Summer," but you don't have to have read those stories to follow this one. I hope. Enjoy!
1. Time at Home
Legolas paused at the desk of his brother's aide. "Is he in, Calith? I think he is expecting me."
"Yes, he said to send you right in when you got here." Calith waved him toward the closed door of Ithilden's office.
From the back of the room, a voice called, "Legolas! I did not know you were home. Surely it is not time for your next leave yet." With his hand raised to rap on Ithilden's door, Legolas froze and turned to see Tinár looking at him avidly from his desk behind Calith's.
"Legolas's comings and goings are none of your business, Tinár," Calith said wearily, without turning around. "Have you finished making copies of that message yet? You need to be on your way with it before noon."
"You do not need to worry about me doing my job," Tinár frowned. "Ithilden depends on me for good reason. I am the best messenger he has."
Legolas saw Calith's hand tighten on the Oliphant-shaped paperweight he had just picked up, and for a second, he thought Calith was going to throw the thing at Tinár. Instead, he slid a paper under the weight and banged it sharply down on the desk again. "Then you will undoubtedly want to be gone as soon as possible."
Legolas could not help being amused, even though his sympathies were all with Calith. Legolas would not want to have to spend much time in the same room with Tinár. Indeed, he rather thought that Tinár occupied his current position because so many warriors and their officers felt that way about him that Ithilden had had to remove him from service in a patrol or face rebellion from his troops. He gave Calith a smile of commiseration and then rapped on Ithilden's door.
"Come!" called his brother's deep voice, and Legolas pushed the door open, entered the office, and put his hand over his heart in salute. Ithilden looked up with a smile. "Sit down," he invited, and Legolas dropped into the chair in front of his desk. "I am glad to see you woke up in time to eat the mid-day meal if not the morning one."
Legolas smiled, as he knew Ithilden expected him to do. Ithilden had left for his office long before Legolas had rolled out of bed that day. He had barely risen in time to get the message that Ithilden wanted to see him before the mid-day meal. "It seems I am on leave. I am entitled to sleep late."
"Indeed you are," Ithilden agreed. "And as soon as you give me a few more details about your last mission, you will be entitled to forget all about the defense of the realm for a week."
Legolas could feel his smile fading. "I thought Sórion wrote a report."
"He did." Ithilden paused and then continued with his voice gentle. "I know this is difficult for you to talk about, but I need to know a little more about how Naran died, and Sórion was not there when it happened. Naran's adar came to me late yesterday and asked questions for which I had no answers."
Legolas closed his eyes for a moment. As the lieutenant who had led the mission on which Naran died, Legolas was indeed the person who could and should answer any questions about it. He drew a deep breath and opened his eyes. "Do you want me to talk to Naran's adar again?" He had spoken to the dead warrior's parents when he returned their son's body to them the day before.
"No. I will do it." Ithilden looked at Legolas soberly. "It has been obvious to me that you are taking this hard, Legolas, even though you were clearly not to blame for Naran's death. I assume that is why Sórion sent you home on leave a month early. Can you tell me why this death bothers you so?"
Unable to bear the sympathy in his brother's eyes, Legolas shifted his gaze to the wall behind Ithilden. He hesitated. Why did this death bother him more than the others he had seen among the warriors he helped to command? He was not sure he knew the answer. "He was so young," he finally ventured, "perhaps too young to have been in the Southern Patrol." He flicked his glance to Ithilden in time to see his brother's face grow guarded. "I am sorry," Legolas said hastily. "I did not mean to question your decision to send him. I am sure you evaluated his readiness as well as anyone could have. It is just." He shrugged helplessly. "He was young, Ithilden."
For a moment, Ithilden did not answer. Then he sighed. "I know. He seemed that way to me too, but he was no younger than many other warriors you had serving under you there, and he wanted to go, and according to his previous captains, he was ready to go. Did he do anything to indicate to you he was not experienced enough to be there?"
Legolas thought for a moment and then shook his head. "No. It was just one of those things. It was Naran's bad luck that the Orc's arrow found him rather than the warrior right next to him, unless, perhaps, I should have positioned them differently to start with." He felt worry beginning to gnaw at his heart again, as it had done off and on since Naran died.
"You have shown good ability to position your troops in the past. Do you have reason to believe you did it badly this time?" Ithilden's tone was patient.
For the hundredth time, Legolas recalled the details of the patrol on which Naran had died – the rain, the way the Orcs had emerged from the cave with bows in their hands, the Orc archer who had turned and shot seemingly at random into the tree in which Naran crouched. He sighed. "No. We had no way to know they had so many bows. They were not carrying them when the scouts saw them go to ground."
"Then blaming yourself serves no purpose." Ithilden met his eyes steadily, and Legolas immediately felt a little better. Ithilden had been a warrior for centuries before Legolas was born and had been an officer for most of them, whereas Legolas had been a lieutenant for only a little over ten years. He trusted Ithilden's judgment and also trusted him to tell the truth if he thought Legolas's leadership had been inadequate.
Legolas braced himself. "What is it that Naran's adar wants to know?"
Ithilden sighed. "Who his son was partnered with that night, what his mood was like, whether he suffered."
"I told him Naran died quickly, although in truth, Ithilden, I do not know that with certainty. The battle went on for a time after he was shot, so we could not attend to him right away."
"I know, but his adar and naneth have been thinking about it and want to be able to picture their son's last few minutes, hoping they were not too horrifying. It is common enough, as you probably know by now. I imagine you get the same sort of letters from grieving families that all officers get, asking for the same kind of information."
That was true enough. Legolas was eternally grateful that it usually fell to his captain to answer such letters. He drew a deep breath and settled down to give Ithilden as detailed an account of Naran's death as he could. Ithilden listened intently. He made no notes, but Legolas knew he would remember everything he was told. There was little enough to tell at that. Naran's death had been like many others. It was only to those who loved him that this loss was unique. At last, Ithilden said, "Thank you, Legolas. If the family has more questions, I will let you know, but I think this should be sufficient."
Legolas nodded. "Is that all?" He made to rise, assuming the interview was over, but Ithilden surprised him.
"No, that is not quite all." Lowering his eyes to his desk, Ithilden ran his hand over his dark hair. Then he looked at Legolas. "I think you need to be away from the south for a while, Legolas, and so does Sórion. When your leave is finished, you will report to Elorfin to serve as his lieutenant in the Northern Border Patrol."
Legolas blinked. "You do not need to do that, Ithilden," he protested. "You know I have been back there for only six months."
"I know, but you need to be away for a while, and I can send Lómór to replace you as lieutenant. He has been in the Northern Border Patrol for several years now and is itching for a little action." Ithilden's voice was firm, and rather to his shame, Legolas suddenly realized he was thankful to hear it. He would be only too glad to be away from the devastation and shadow of the south, if only for a time.
He looked away, hoping Ithilden would not see his relief. "Very well." He glanced back to see Ithilden still watching him, his face unreadable.
"You have done everything I asked of you, Legolas, and it is not as if I am sending you home to rest in the shade in the garden. I am afraid you will be back into a more dangerous posting soon enough. As Naneth used to say, take a chance for joy."
"Good advice," Legolas acknowledged. Feeling a little more light-hearted, he smiled. "I suppose I could become accustomed to being among healthy trees again."
Ithilden returned the smile. "I expect you could." Suddenly, he turned his head to look expectantly toward the closed door of his office. A few seconds later, someone knocked, and Calith poked his head in.
"Lady Alfirin is here, my lord," he announced, his eyes gleaming with suppressed amusement. He stepped aside, and Ithilden's wife came into the room, carrying a picnic basket with a blanket folded across its top. Both Legolas and Ithilden rose.
"Good day, Legolas," she said and then turned to Ithilden. "Are you ready?"
Legolas glanced at Ithilden, who avoided his eyes. Ithilden came out from behind his desk, took the basket from Alfirin, and kissed her brow. "I am." He turned to Legolas and, with determined casualness, said, "She seems to think I will not eat unless she feeds me. We are going on a picnic."
Legolas smiled blandly at him. "I can see that." He eyed the blanket on top of the basket. "A thick blanket is a good thing. I would imagine that pebbles and twigs can dig into one's back and knees if one has no cushioning when one is on a 'picnic.'"
Alfirin giggled and blushed, and Ithilden bared his teeth. "Then again, I could send you to stand guard duty in the Great Hall while Adar holds court."
Legolas laughed and snapped into formal salute. "Please do not do that, my lord. The Northern Border Patrol needs me."
Ithilden laughed and gestured for Alfirin to lead the way out of his office. "I will be back in an hour or so," he told Calith, who responded with an indulgent smile. Legolas noticed that Tinár had gone, so Calith's day was undoubtedly looking brighter. Legolas waved to him and then left the building. For a moment, he watched Ithilden and Alfirin walk away toward the woods, with Ithilden's head bent to listen to something she was saying and his arm around her waist. Then Legolas gave himself a shake and started off along the path that led through the training fields.
The day had grown warm, and most of the fields were empty now, as warriors and novices went to their mid-day meal in their common dining room. But as Legolas approached, a lone figure detached itself from the deep shade under an oak. Legolas grinned and hurried forward to clasp the other's arm and then embrace him. "Annael! You cannot know how happy I was to find your invitation waiting for me this morning."
Annael smiled back at him. "The minute my naneth heard you had arrived home yesterday, she announced that you would eat with us, so it is fortunate that you knew enough to obey the summons or there would have been trouble."
Legolas laughed. "Your naneth has been feeding me from the time I was first old enough to toddle along the path to your cottage. I would never pass up an opportunity to let her do it again. How are things in the Home Guard?" The two of them started down the path toward Annael's cottage.
"We have seen a good many spiders this summer, but not so many that we could not manage. How are things in the south? I saw Eilian yesterday, so I assume he is still on leave."
"He is," Legolas agreed. "Ithilden more or less forced it on him, I think." Annael grimaced sympathetically. Ithilden had removed Eilian as the Southern Patrol's captain only a month earlier. Legolas had liked serving under Eilian. He and his brother read one another well and made a formidable joint menace to the enemy. But like all of the warriors who had served longest in the battle against shadow that had worn on in the years since the end of the Watchful Peace, Eilian had been showing signs of weariness, and Ithilden had begun to give long leaves to those who needed them most. Legolas could not say he was surprised that Ithilden had placed Eilian on one, and indeed, was relieved that his oldest brother had not done the same thing to him today. Accepting such a leave while others continued the fight seemed like a dereliction of duty, especially given his role as Thranduil's son.
"Eilian will not know what to do with himself if he cannot spend his time slaughtering Orcs," Annael said.
Legolas grinned. "Celuwen will think of something." Annael laughed the laugh of a long-married husband.
They entered the clearing in which Annael's cottage stood, and Annael led the way inside. Almost immediately, his mother emerged from the kitchen doorway near the other end of the little hallway. "Legolas!" she cried and opened her arms to embrace him.
"Mae govannen, Elowen." Legolas bent to kiss her check. "As I have believed since I was ten, you are the most beautiful female I know."
She laughed. "You are beginning to sound like your scamp brother, although I suppose Eilian has settled down a bit now that he is married."
"I hope so," Legolas laughed.
"Come. The meal is almost ready." She led them into the kitchen. As Legolas entered the room, he paused for a surprised second. He had expected to find Annael's wife in the room, and so she was, turning to smile a greeting at him from where she was ladling stew from a pot over the fire into a large serving bowl. But he had not expected to find the maiden who was just placing a loaf of bread on the table. He glanced at Annael and caught a startled look on his face too.
Beliniel picked up the bowl of stew, and Annael hastened to take it from her and carry it to the table. "Legolas, this is my friend Elithraniel," Beliniel said.
"Mae govannen," Legolas greeted her, inclining his head.
"Mae govannen, my lord," Elithraniel returned, dropping a little curtsy. She had smooth, dark hair that shone in the beam of sunlight coming through the kitchen window.
"Sit here, Legolas," Elowen instructed, touching the back of one chair. "And Elithraniel, you sit here." She touched the next chair and smiled hopefully at them both.
Suppressing a rueful smile, Legolas did as he was told, while Annael shot him an apologetic look. This was far from the first time he had been the target of Elowen and Beliniel's matchmaking.
"I do not believe we have met before," he said to Elithraniel. "Have you recently moved near the king's stronghold?"
She looked startled. "No. I was born here. Perhaps you know my brother, Fandil. He is in the Home Guard."
Embarrassed by his failure to recognize the maiden, Legolas was sorry to have to say he did not know her brother. "I know few of the youngest warriors," he apologized. Most of the Home Guard warriors were young, for it was a safe first posting. From conversations with Annael, Legolas knew he often led patrols made up chiefly of warriors who had only recently finished their novice training. He suddenly realized just how young Elithraniel was too. He suspected she was not many years past being of age.
"Really, Legolas, this is a sign you are gone far too much," Beliniel declared. "Elithraniel has been tending the gardens at the palace for the last year. She created that little grotto near the pond where you and Annael fished when you were children."
"Unfortunately, I am gone a great deal," Legolas agreed. And given the realm's need for warriors and his duty as the king's son, that situation was unlikely to change any time soon. Not that he would voice that thought aloud here, of course. He had no wish to spoil the good cheer of these people, among whom were some of those he held most dear.
Annael reached to pour more cider into his wife's cup. "Leave Legolas alone," he smiled. "Surely you have enough to do keeping me in order. Moreover, I enjoy having you tell me the way of things and will be jealous if you do it for Legolas too." They all laughed, and Legolas's glance lingered for a moment on his friend's face, which suddenly looked lit up from within. Then fearing that he was violating Annael's privacy, he turned his gaze to his plate.
"Will you be home for a while now, my lord?" Elithraniel asked.
"Only for a week," he said. He considered telling her about his new assignment in the Northern Border Patrol but decided against it and instead asked her about the grotto she had created in the palace gardens.
Legolas entered his father's stable to answer his third summons for that day. He thought he knew what this one was about, and he could not help smiling a little ruefully to himself. At the other end of the wide aisle between the rows of stalls, he saw his father and the stablemaster leaning against the wooden divider and watching the horse in the last stall. At his approach, they turned. "Legolas," Thranduil smiled, "come and see. I have a gift for you."
Legolas could not suppress a grin. So he had been right. He went to stand next to Thranduil and look at the bay stallion, who stood with his ears pricked, eyeing Legolas. "He is beautiful, Adar," he said honestly. "Thank you." The horse was indeed a handsome beast, with a gleaming coat and a well-muscled body. He would be a very welcome replacement for Legolas's previous mount, who had taken a wound from an Orc arrow and needed time to heal.
Thranduil smiled with satisfaction. "And the stablemaster and his assistants have done an excellent job of training him. I think you will find that he will obey well and will carry you with or without tack."
"That is good to hear," Legolas murmured, trying to sound sufficiently impressed. His father had always maintained that Legolas did not have the heart to train his horses to sufficient obedience, and he had evidently decided to take remedying the matter into his own hands. Legolas did not particularly mind. His father was an excellent judge of horses. The bay would undoubtedly be a pleasure to ride.
"He is also fast, my lord," put in the stablemaster from Thranduil's other side. He was smiling slightly, having a reasonably good idea of what was happening between father and son here.
Legolas grinned at him. He and the stablemaster had spent enough time talking about horses that the stablemaster knew Legolas would value the horse's speed at least as much as his unquestioning obedience. "Thank you."
Thranduil raised an eyebrow. "Fighting in these woods, a warrior seldom needs great speed from his horse." He looked forbidding for a moment, and then the corners of his mouth quirked. "Of course, warriors do occasionally engage in races."
Legolas laughed. "Occasionally, they do," he agreed. He reached for the latch on the stall door, intending to go in and make the bay's acquaintance.
"By your leave, my lord," the stablemaster said, "I will go and tend to some other duties." Thranduil nodded his permission, and the stablemaster walked away. Legolas approached the horse, murmuring sweet words and then stroking the animal's neck. The horse flicked his ears in Legolas's direction and stood quietly under his touch. Legolas was seized by a sudden desire to feel this animal's power between his thighs.
"Will you ride with me, Adar?" he asked, glancing toward where his father still lingered.
"I do not have time to ride today," Thranduil said regretfully. He seemed to hesitate and then said. "Did you meet with Ithilden this morning?"
Legolas ran his hand lightly along the horse's flank. "Yes." He looked at Thranduil. "He told me he was assigning me to the Northern Border Patrol. Is that what you are asking?"
Relief flitted momentarily across Thranduil's face before it became carefully neutral. "Yes, it is."
A sudden idea send a flash of resentment running through Legolas. "Did he do that at your behest, Adar?" For years his father had fretted over every dangerous assignment Legolas had, and he could not help feeling that his father's anxiety showed a lack of faith in his abilities.
Thranduil frowned slightly. "Watch your tone of voice, Legolas. While Ithilden told me he intended to transfer you, he did not do it because I asked him to, but because he thought you needed a change, a judgment that I shared."
The horse shifted nervously under Legolas's hand, and he drew a deep breath, deliberately relaxing the muscles that had tensed in his shoulders. "I beg your pardon." He looked at the well-groomed coat in front of him for a moment, wondering whether it would be selfish to tell his father that he was relieved by the change of patrol. He did not like to worry Thranduil, but rather to his surprise, he had found him a good listener when he wanted to talk about his experiences as a warrior. In the end, he turned to give his father as much of a smile as he could muster. "Ithilden urged me to see the transfer as a chance to be among healthy trees and seize a moment of joy, and I have decided to listen to him."
Plainly recognizing his dead wife's words, Thranduil visibly relaxed. "Good." He smiled and gestured to the horse. "Enjoy this moment now, and think of me listening to what are likely to be some very tedious petitions."
Legolas laughed. "I will," he promised and began to lead the horse out of the stall, while Thranduil walked away toward the palace.
Legolas left the stables and took the path that led through the palace gardens toward the bridge over the Forest River. The roan had been as good a mount as his father and the stablemaster had said he was, and he had had a very pleasant ride through the woods. He mulled over possible names for the horse. Alasse, he thought suddenly and smiled to himself. Given the use they all made of his mother's words urging them to take a moment for joy, his whole family would be amused if he named his horse "joy" in Quenya.
He was passing the fish pond when he recalled Elithraniel's description of the new grotto she had created and decided to take another moment of joy and look at it. He took the small path that led past a bench and around a thick clump of lilac bushes to where water now trickled merrily down over mossy rocks and water plants to run in a small stream back toward the pond. A wooden bench had been placed next to the little waterfall, and a climbing rose grew on a trellis set just behind the bench.
Pleased by the spot, he settled onto the bench and thought for a moment about Elithraniel. She had been pleasant enough, he thought, but then all of the maidens that Elowen and Beliniel introduced him to were pleasant. The problem was that none of them seemed to have the magic for him that Beliniel so obviously had for Annael and that Ithilden's and Eilian's wives had for them. Perhaps it was for the best, he thought a little wistfully. He was away much of the time and in danger. He would be asking a great of any maiden if he expected her to bond with him.
As if conjured by Legolas's thought of him, the sudden sound of Eilian's raised voice reached him. "No!"
"I do not understand why you will not even consider this, Eilian," Celuwen's strained voice answered. "You have this leave. You are obviously restless. Why should we not go and live in the settlement for a few months?"
Legolas sat still, not wanting to let them know he was listening to this quarrel and assuming they would soon walk on. But their voices did not move away, and he realized that they must have stopped at the bench by the fish pond. That bench was really quite close to this spot even though he could not see it because of the lilac bushes that screened him from their view and it screened them from his.
"You know that your adar and I cannot possibly live in the same place for more than a day or two," Eilian declared heatedly.
There was a second of silence. "True," Celuwen admitted, sounding regretful. "But we could live in a different settlement. Why should we not do that?"
"I cannot leave the stronghold."
And again, for a second or two, there was silence. "I would feel irresponsible." Suddenly, Eilian gave a short laugh. "I cannot believe those words just came out of my mouth." Legolas found the words odd too. Thranduil had often enough accused Eilian of being irresponsible, but Legolas had never before heard Eilian accuse himself of it.
"How would spending a few months in the woods be irresponsible?" Celuwen sounded exasperated now. "You are on leave!"
"I," Eilian seemed to hesitate in his explanation. "I am the king's son. I cannot just go off and enjoy myself. And what about your service as the king's councilor? How can you just walk away from that?"
"Are you suggesting that I am the irresponsible one?" Celuwen's voice was sharp. "I am supposed to advise your adar about matters to do with the settlements, and a few months in one might help me do that. If I have to, I can return to the palace periodically for council meetings. As for you, of course you can go off and enjoy yourself! That is what you are supposed to do. Eilian, I need to be away from the palace for a while, and I think it would do you good too."
"I am sorry," said Eilian contritely. "I know you find life in the palace a trial at times. It is just that," he paused and then forged on determinedly. "I think my adar would see it as irresponsible if I walked away from the palace and the family entirely."
"Eilian," and this time it was Celuwen who hesitated. "You know as well as I do that Ithilden could not possibly have made you take this leave without your adar's agreement, and the king has not asked you to do anything else in court."
Even from where Legolas sat, he could hear Eilian snort. "He is wiser than that. He has seen me struggling to stay awake while he deals with courtiers."
"But he would still require you to attend court if he thought it fitting. You know he would. So it seems to me that he must approve of your having time away from all responsibilities. And anyway, surely it is time you began doing what you think is right rather than worrying about gaining your adar's approval."
This time the moment of silence was longer. Then suddenly Eilian laughed outright. "Celuwen, you are amazing. So you think I should just go off with you to a settlement, even if Adar objects?" To Legolas's relief, Eilian's anger seemed to have ebbed and he sounded amused.
"He will not object, but yes, I think you should go even if he does. I think we should go."
When Eilian's voice came again, it was husky. "How would you feel about making love in a garden?"
Celuwen laughed, and then, to Legolas's relief, she said, "Too many people come through here, my love. If you want to provoke your adar, making love here would be the way to do it."
"Do you know, I believe that would add to the excitement," Eilian wheedled.
"No. Come now. I will let you help me bathe before the evening meal."
Legolas heard the rustle of their clothes as they rose and began to walk away. He sat waiting for all sound of them to fade before he too rose and made his way back to the palace to bathe and dress for the evening meal. He had a new horse and a new posting in the northern woods. He had family and friends. He would take any chance for joy that presented itself. And he would not be jealous of Eilian, or Annael, or Ithilden. The Valar had blessed him. What did he have to be jealous about?