This story is set between "When Shadow Touches Home" and "Battles Won," but you don't have to have read those stories to understand this one. Legolas is 11 or about 4 in human terms. This story uses flashbacks to several different time periods. In particular, you're going to see Legolas's brother Eilian in two different times: about ten days before the story starts and about 20 years before it starts. I'll try to keep things clear, but readers should let me know if I don't.
Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.
Chapter 1. At Home
Legolas's eyes came slowly into focus. He lay quietly for a moment, trying to decide if it was morning yet. The fire was low and the night lantern was still lit, but that only meant that Nimloth hadn't come to get him up yet. He made a picture in his head of what the forest looked like outside his father's stronghold. Stars glittered in fiery points overhead, and darkness lay thick between the trees where the leaves had drifted. It was still night then.
His feet were cold. He pulled his knees up to his chin and tried to tuck his feet under his nightshirt. Where were his stockings? When Ada got him ready for bed, he always left Legolas's wool stockings on now that it was so cold out. Then he remembered that Ada had been busy last night. That was all right. Ada would eat with him and walk him to his lessons this morning. Eilian had been the one to put him to bed.
He smiled. Eilian was home! Well, he was home from patrol anyway. He had been in a hurry to put Legolas to bed because he had been going out to see friends, but maybe he was home from that too. Legolas pushed the big quilt away, gathered his special blanket, and slid out of bed. The braided rag rug next to his bed felt good on his feet, but the stone floor felt like the ice on the pond.
He went out into the dimly-lit hall and trotted down it until he came to Eilian's door. He pushed the door open and entered the dark room. Eilian didn't have a night lantern in his room when he slept, but his fire made enough light for Legolas to see a big lump in the bed. Good. He had come home. Legolas climbed into the bed next to Eilian, pulled the quilt up to his chin, and put his feet on his brother's warm back.
"Orc spit!" Eilian cried, twisting out of the way.
Legolas drew his feet back and clutched his blanket. What a funny thing to say. He tried out the words, savoring the novel feel of them on his tongue. "Orc spit."
Eilian flopped back on his pillow and turned his head to look at Legolas. "Do not let Ada hear you saying that," he groaned. "Wipe it out of your mind. Forget I ever said it."
"Because Ada will kill us both if you repeat it." Legolas would have asked why again, but Eilian reached an arm around him and pulled him close, so he wriggled up against his brother instead. Eilian took both Legolas's feet in his other hand. "Your feet are freezing."
"You forgot to leave my stockings on."
"Sorry," Eilian sighed. Legolas sniffed. Eilian smelled like wine. Legolas did not mind, but sometimes Ada did. "Go back to sleep, brat. You can stay here if you like."
Legolas rested his head in the hollow of Eilian's shoulder. "Stay home," he whispered.
Eilian drew him closer. "For now, I will."
"But when your guard is better?"
"When Maltanaur is better, we will go back to our patrol." Eilian kissed the top of his head. "Try not to worry. Maltanaur watches out for me, and I am careful."
Eilian hesitated, and Legolas lifted his head from Eilian's shoulder to look into his brother's grey eyes. Eilian raised an eyebrow at him. "Did Ada send you in here?"
Legolas frowned. "Ada is sleeping."
Eilian laughed softly. "I was only joking, brat." He drew Legolas's head down again and murmured. "Go to sleep."
Legolas rubbed his cheek against Eilian's chest and let his eyes slide out of focus. At once, the dream path came up to meet him. He skipped along it with someone big holding his hand. For a minute, he thought it was Nana, but then he knew that was wrong. Sometimes she walked the dream path with him, although less often than she used to, but this person was singing to him in a decidedly male voice. It was Eilian, he thought with satisfaction and slid deeper into the dream.
The noise bored into Eilian's brain like a red-hot skewer.
A sharp little elbow dug into his rib cage, and he barely dodged in time to avoid a flailing foot headed straight for his crotch. He heard Legolas slide from his bed and patter to the door. "Good morning, sweetling," Nimloth's voice said. "I thought I might find you here."
"Eilian will help me get dressed," Legolas announced to his caretaker.
Suddenly conscious that he was naked, Eilian pulled up the covers that Legolas had disturbed and squinted toward the open doorway. "Go with Nimloth, brat. I want to bathe before morning meal."
Nimloth looked at him with narrowed eyes. "A cup or two of water will help that headache. If you had used what good sense you have, you would have drunk it last night."
Eilian gave her the most charming smile he could manage. "As I am sure you remember, sense has never been my best quality." Nimloth had cared for him occasionally when he was an elfling too.
"You have plenty of sense when you choose to use it," she sniffed. She put her arm around Legolas's shoulders. "Come, sweetling. We will get you ready to eat morning meal with your ada and brothers."
Legolas lifted a hand and waved. "Goodbye," he chirped and went out into the hall. Nimloth closed the door with an unnecessary bang, and Eilian collapsed back on the pillows with his hands over his face. He was uncertain if Nimloth had been suggesting he should have drunk water before going to bed so that the effects of too much wine would be less acute this morning or if she was saying he should have replaced a cup or two of wine with water in the first place. In either case, she would have been right. He groaned. He needed to get moving. He should try to eat before he reported for duty.
He swung out of bed and padded into his bathing chamber. The boiler hissed in the corner, promising plenty of hot water. Good. He needed it. He filled the tub and climbed in to try to soak some of his morning fog away.
Of course, being in even a permanent fog would not present too big a problem, given his current assignment carrying out routine missions for the Home Guard. He slid under the water, as if that could wash the thought out of his head, but when he surfaced, reality was still there. He might very well have to spend the day guarding his home's front door.
He stared glumly at his toes, braced against the other end of the tub. This assignment was just temporary, he assured himself. He would go back to the Southern Patrol as soon as Maltanaur was better. Assuming that ever happened, of course. His stomach twisted. I will not think about it, he told himself determinedly. I will not think about what happened.
By the time he went back into his bedroom, a servant had stirred the fire to life, made the bed, and vanished. Legolas's blanket lay neatly folded on the bed, or as neatly folded as it could be, given how worn and ragged it was. Eilian smiled at the sight. He would have to drop the blanket in Legolas's room on his way to eat or Nimloth would have a very unhappy elfling on her hands when Legolas realized it was missing. His little brother had given up the blanket for a while, Eilian knew, but that had been before their mother was killed the previous spring. He needed it again now.
For a moment, Eilian froze where he was, remembering his mother tucking the blanket into what she called her "treasure chest." "Are you keeping that?" Ithilden had laughed. "Surely it is fit only for the rag bag."
"Legolas may change his mind," she had said and then turned and grinned mischievously at Ithilden. "I keep all such treasures," she said.
Ithilden had looked puzzled and then horrified, and Eilian had laughed, "Never tell me that my fearsome big brother had a 'special blanket'!" Ithilden had shot him a murderous look.
Eilian sighed. What was done was done and could not be changed now for his mother any more than for Maltanaur. He crossed to the wardrobe, dropped the towel he had wrapped around his waist, and reached for the green tunic and brown leggings that marked him as a member of his father's troops. He needed to hurry. He was late enough already.
Thranduil walked into the family dining room to find Ithilden and Legolas already there. Ithilden rose at his entrance, and Legolas jumped down from his chair and ran to greet him with his arms out to be picked up. "Ada!"
Thranduil scooped him up and kissed his cheek. "Good morning, my heart. Did you sleep well?" He set the child back in his chair, nodded his permission for Ithilden to sit, and took his own place.
"I woke up in the night and went to see if Eilian was home and he was." Legolas watched as Thranduil ladled porridge into his bowl. "So then I slept with him."
Thranduil nodded. Since Lorellin died, Legolas had taken to wandering in the night, checking on anyone who was supposed to be home to be sure they were. Thranduil would like to know what time Eilian had come in, but he was not going to ask Legolas.
He added honey and cream to the porridge and set it in front of Legolas. The child poked at it for a moment before putting a spoonful in his mouth and rolling it thoughtfully about, reminding Thranduil of the way his steward tasted wine. Legolas apparently approved of this vintage of porridge because he spooned more into his mouth. Thranduil relaxed and turned his attention to his own morning meal. Legolas was still too thin, but his appetite had improved to the point that Thranduil's heart no longer constricted in fear every time he looked at his youngest son.
Ithilden cleared his throat. "You asked me to decide who would serve as your escort to this meeting, Adar, and I have the roster of guards if you need it at this morning's Council meeting."
Thranduil glanced at Legolas, who sat swinging his legs and peacefully eating his porridge, apparently assuming that this 'meeting' was just another in a long string of them that occupied too much of his father's time. Thranduil turned back to Ithilden. "I asked you about it only last night. Did you work late? There was no need for that."
Ithilden smiled. "No. I had been thinking about it since you first told me about the meeting, so I had it more or less ready." He hesitated. "I will lead the escort myself."
Thranduil was startled. As his troop commander, surely Ithilden had better things to do than captain Thranduil's escort for a meeting in the forest with leaders of some of the Woodland Realm's villages. "Do you think that is wise? Can you be away from your office for the time it will take?"
Ithilden pressed his mouth in a tight line and then said, "Deler can manage while I am gone, and he will know where to find me."
"I did not mean to question your judgment," Thranduil said. "If you think it best to lead the escort yourself, then of course, that is what you should do." The tension in Ithilden's face eased, and Thranduil ate a few spoonfuls of porridge, thinking about the guards Ithilden now insisted go with him when he took his afternoon ride. Ithilden might have ceased blaming himself for his mother's death, but he evidently had no intention of leaving the rest of them unguarded.
The door opened and Eilian entered the dining room. "Good morning. I am sorry I am late." He paused by his chair, looking to Thranduil for permission to sit. Thranduil raised an eyebrow at him and took grim satisfaction in the fact the Eilian looked as if the lantern light pained him. Thranduil said nothing, and Eilian grimaced and shifted from one foot to the other. After a moment, Legolas looked up from his porridge, turning from Thranduil to Eilian and back with a concerned crease between his eyebrows. Thranduil relented and nodded his permission, and Eilian sat, having the good grace to look chastened.
He helped himself to a bowl of porridge, ate a cautious spoonful, and paused. Thranduil knew quite well that Eilian was testing his stomach's readiness to accept food, but the results must have been satisfactory, because Eilian shot him a triumphant look and settled down to eat.
A knock sounded and the door opened to admit a servant. "I am sorry to interrupt, my lord, but the steward sent a message he wanted to be sure you received before the Council meeting."
Thranduil put up a hand to stop the servant from speaking further and turned to Legolas, who was scraping up the last of his porridge. "You need to run along to your lessons, Legolas."
Legolas slid down from his chair. "You have to take me."
"You will have to go by yourself today. I have things I must do."
Legolas frowned. "I want you to take me."
Thranduil repressed the urge to snap. Until she was killed, Lorellin had always walked to the library with Legolas after their morning meal. Thranduil usually did it now, and he knew that Legolas treasured his company. But Legolas did not make the rules, and in the long run, he would be happier if he knew it.
Before Thranduil could say anything, Eilian slid his chair back and said, "I can take you, brat."
Legolas hesitated, and for a moment, Thranduil thought he would accept Eilian's offer, but he said, "Ada always takes me."
"The steward's message is short, my lord," the servant put in, looking indulgently at Legolas. "He needs to know if you require supplies only for yourself and your party on your trip or whether you will be entertaining."
Thranduil glanced at Legolas and saw at once that he had taken in exactly what the servant had said. "We will let the steward know after our plans are set," Thranduil said. The servant nodded and withdrew.
Legolas stared at the closed door. Then he rounded on Thranduil. "What trip?" he gasped. "Are you going away?"
"Only for a few days," Thranduil said, holding out his arms to invite Legolas into them. "I have to visit some other Elves in the forest, but I will come back as soon as I can."
"No," Legolas said, staying where he was. "Do not go."
Even from where Thranduil sat, he could see Legolas trembling. Despite the fact that he had just been thinking that Legolas did not make the rules, Thranduil's heart turned over in pity. This trip would be the first time he would be away from Legolas since he had hunted the Orcs who killed his wife, and Legolas sometimes had difficulty letting any of them out of his sight, let alone out of the area around the stronghold. "Come here," he coaxed.
"No! No! No!" Legolas's voice rose to a wail. Thranduil rose and gathered his son in his arms. Legolas struggled stiffly against him for a moment before collapsing against him, burying his face in Thranduil's neck, and beginning to cry. Thranduil could see Eilian's and Ithilden's distressed faces.
"Tell my Council I will be a few moments late," Thranduil told Ithilden and went out into the hallway to carry Legolas to his room. I should have just walked him to the library, he thought ruefully. But even though he knew Legolas was still recovering from his mother's death, Thranduil hesitated to give in to his demands. The consequences of spoiling would be hard to undo.
He shoved the door open and found Nimloth gathering laundry. "What is the matter?" she asked, evidently alarmed by Legolas's sobs. "Did he hurt himself?"
Thranduil sat in the rocking chair next to the fire and began rocking with Legolas cradled in his arms. "No, he is just unhappy about the trip I have to take next week." He glanced up. "Would you tell his tutor that Legolas will be a few moments late?" Nimloth nodded and left the room.
Thranduil stroked Legolas's hair and continued rocking as his son's sobs eased. "Nimloth will take good care of you, my heart, and I will not be gone long. I will have guards, and Ithilden will lead them, so you know I will be safe." Legolas said nothing, but Thranduil knew he was listening because he drew a wobbly breath and rested his head against Thranduil's chest.
Nimloth came back in the room. She picked Legolas's blanket up off his pillow and brought it over to hand to him. "Thank you," he said in a small voice and clutched it to his stomach as if he were pressing a bandage on a wound.
She went into the bathing chamber and came back with a wet cloth. "Let me wash your face, sweetling." Obediently, he lifted his face to her.
When she had finished, Thranduil said, "Can you go to your lessons now?" Legolas drew a deep breath and nodded. Thranduil set him on his feet. "Would you like to take your blanket?" Legolas nodded again. "All right." Thranduil leaned forward and kissed his cheek. "Go on then." Legolas marched out of the room without looking back. Thranduil rose to his feet, feeling as if the day had already gone on far too long.
"My lord," Nimloth said. Thranduil turned to her inquiringly. "I would be happy to take care of the little one here, of course, but if you like, I am willing to go with you. Then you could have your meeting, and Legolas would not have to do without you."
Thranduil opened his mouth to say no. He wanted Legolas tucked safely away in the stronghold where danger would have to bore through solid rock to get at him. But he stopped and turned Nimloth's offer over in his head. He was going less that a day's ride away to a village where other village leaders would assemble to meet with him about trade. The village was well within the territory protected by the Home Guard, and unlike villages that were deeper in the woods, this one was safe enough that children still lived there. He thought fleetingly of his wife, who had been on her way home from visiting her family in just such a village when the Orcs attacked. Of course, she had not bothered to wait for the guards Ithilden sent, he thought, and then guiltily suppressed the flash of bitterness. The more he thought about it, the more appealing the idea of having Legolas with him became. He had been nearly as unhappy at the idea of leaving him as Legolas was at the idea of being left.
"Are you certain you would not mind?" he asked. "You have family of your own."
Nimloth smiled. "My son is away most of the time, and my husband can look after himself for a few days. He might even enjoy the chance to drop his clothes where he likes and eat salted meat three times a day."
Thranduil laughed. "Then I accept your offer. You may tell Legolas as soon as he is done with his lessons. Indeed, I do not suppose his tutor will object if you interrupt to tell him now. I regret I must meet with my Council now, so I cannot do it myself."
He held the door for her, and she departed wearing a smile that Thranduil knew was echoed on his own face.
Ithilden sank unhappily back into his chair as Thranduil left the dining room with a sobbing Legolas in his arms. "That was not the way Adar wanted to tell him about this."
Across the table from him, Eilian stood, half looking as if he would go after Thranduil and Legolas. Slowly, he sat down. "Legolas would have been upset no matter how Adar told him." He looked at Ithilden. "What is this trip about anyway? I heard rumors about it at the Home Guard headquarters yesterday."
Ithilden paused. Ordinarily he objected to telling Eilian more than he would know as an ordinary warrior. Keeping the lines of command clear was hard enough without giving Eilian special treatment. But Thranduil would announce this trip at his court today anyway. "Adar is going to Feldor's village to meet with the leaders of all the villages. We need to work out some system for getting goods from Esgaroth distributed to them, especially flour, salt, and wool. And of course, Adar would like to have something to trade back to Esgaroth, so he is looking for the cooperation of the village leaders."
Eilian snorted. "Good fortune to him in getting that." Eilian was courting a maiden from a village, and just the day before, he had crumpled up a letter from her and flung it into the fire, crying that all villagers were as stubborn as rocks in a river. Ithilden thought it was probably the letter that had sent Eilian out the door to drink with friends the previous night. Ithilden watched now as Eilian frowned down into his porridge for a moment and then looked up at him. "If you are looking for guards to make the trip, I would like to do it."
Ithilden snorted. "Why does that not surprise me?"
Eilian looked exasperated. "You know I am bored with what I am doing now. Why should I not be one of the guards? You are not even leaving the Home Guard territory, so this would be within the boundaries of my current posting."
Unexpectedly, Ithilden found himself groping for an answer. In the week since Eilian had ridden wildly up to the infirmary door with Maltanaur in his arms, Ithilden had grown accustomed to thinking of Eilian serving near the stronghold until his bodyguard was better. He had not even considered sending his brother on this trip. "I cannot give you an assignment just because you would like it," he finally said. "Others would enjoy the trip too, and anyway, you will be going back south as soon as—." He hesitated. "As soon as you can." That had not been what he had started out to say, but the report on Maltanaur that he had had from the infirmary the previous evening had leapt into his mind just as he was about to say "as soon as Maltanaur is well again."
Eilian flung his spoon down in disgust. "Show some mercy, Ithilden! I am bored beyond endurance."
Ithilden narrowed his eyes. A bored Eilian was a potential problem, and they both knew it. "I expect you to behave with some discipline, Eilian," he said sharply. "It will not hurt you to wait to do what you want."
Eilian's face went pale. "What do you mean?" he demanded stiffly.
"What do you think I mean? I am not giving you a new assignment just because you are bored. You will be south again eventually."
Eilian pushed his chair back abruptly. "If you will excuse me, my lord, I will be on my way." Without waiting for Ithilden to reply, he strode out of the room.
Ithilden sat for a moment, struggling not to go after his brother and tell him to grow up. Eilian was only 70, but Ithilden was sure he himself had far been more sober when he was that age.
He frowned. Despite what Eilian's captain told him about his performance on patrol, Ithilden sometimes thought Eilian was as unable to govern his own behavior now as he had been 20 years ago when he had first become a warrior. Ithilden had been appalled as his younger brother spent every free evening then playing the fool with his wilder friends and every stint of duty testing the patience of the Home Guard's captain. Eilian's evening behavior had been Thranduil's problem, but his behavior on duty had become Ithilden's when Deler had filed disciplinary reports and put Eilian on punishment duty.
When Ithilden had called Eilian into his office, his brother had offered the same explanation then that he did now. "I am bored, Ithilden," he had complained and then, seeing the look on Ithilden's face hastily amended, "I am bored, my lord. Shadow is attacking the realm, and I am wasting my time here. Deler has me standing night guard duty at the palace!"
"You might ask yourself why your captain assigned you to that duty," Ithilden had snapped.
"I thought I saw signs of spiders," Eilian defended himself. "Should I just have ignored them?"
"You should have reported in at the time you were expected to so Deler did not feel compelled to call out every warrior at his disposal to look for you and Maltanaur, something I am sure Maltanaur also told you. Believe me, Deler would know how to follow up on any report you made if you had turned up to make it." Eilian had set his mouth in a thin line and looked mulish, driving Ithilden to cry, "Grow up, Eilian!"
Eilian had raised an eyebrow. "Yes, my lord," he had said, stressing the last two word, and Ithilden had flushed, knowing that he would never have said the same thing to any other young warrior under his command.
"You are dismissed," he had barked, and Eilian had saluted and left his office.
Ithilden shook himself and sighed. At least so far, Eilian seemed to be carrying out his duties with the Home Guard this time around, and he thought the two of them had a better sense of what they owed one another as commander and warrior rather than as brothers. In any case, he did not have time to worry about Eilian now. He needed to be on his way to tell his father's advisors that Thranduil was delayed. He pushed back his chair and rose with his mind on the details of the meeting that was his first responsibility of the day.