Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this story for me.
Eilian is the equivalent of a human 12-year-old here. Ithilden is, of coure, an adult, since he seems to have been born that way.
Happy birthday, Meckinock!
A Moment for Joy
"Hope your arrow does not slip," taunted Fendîr. The others laughed, then clapped their hands and whistled.
Eilian ignored them and concentrated on the pine cone hanging like a teardrop from the evergreen on the other side of the open space along the path. He drew his bowstring until the knuckle of his thumb brushed his cheek next to the eye tooth he had recently been using as an anchor point. At the last second, he remembered to lift his elbow as Penntalion had nagged him to do all during that morning's class. He held his breath and opened his fingers.
The arrow flew toward the pine cone like a hawk descending on a rabbit. It struck the cone and sent it spinning away into the trees.
"Yes!" he crowed. He shoved his hand under Fendîr's nose. "I will take that orc arrowhead you were foolish enough to wager."
Fendîr grimaced, dug a wicked-looking barbed dart out of his belt pouch, and handed it over. Eilian admired his prize.
"Here comes your brother," Gelmir said.
Eilian hastily tucked the arrowhead out of sight. Ithilden was indeed walking along the path from the Warrior Grounds, his eyes running over the group of them.
Eilian grinned at his friends. "You want to see someone really good with a bow?" He trotted toward Ithilden, who stopped when he saw Eilian coming. "Come and show them how you can shoot, Ithilden!" Smiling and beckoning to his brother, he took a step back toward his waiting friends.
Ithilden stayed where he was and frowned. "Were you using your bow there?"
Eilian felt his smile fade. He dropped his hands to his sides and tapped his bow lightly against his leg. "I shot a pine cone off that tallest tree."
Ithilden's eyes flicked to the tree. "Eilian, surely you know there is a berry patch beyond that tree. You could have hit someone."
Eilian slapped the bow hard, then flinched at the pain in his thigh. "I am not stupid, Ithilden. That patch is too far away. I could never hit anyone there."
"Shooting here is dangerous," Ithilden said.
"I told you, the berry patch is too far away! We were just having fun."
Ithilden put his hands on his hips, making himself look even bigger than he already was. He bit off each word. "Do not shoot here again."
Eilian glanced over to where his friends had been. They were drifting away, eyes averted from the scene on the path. He kicked at a stone. "You would not know fun if it bit you on the backside."
"Watch your mouth," Ithilden said. "Do you want me to tell Naneth you talk that way?"
Eilian grimaced. "No."
"Come. Our mid-day meal will be waiting." Ithilden strode off toward the palace, and after a moment, Eilian scuffed along after him.
He put his bow away, washed, and went to the dining room to find his mother the only one there. She was leaning over the table, reaching for the vase in the center to poke a rose into a more pleasing arrangement. She looked up at the sound of his entry and gave the radiant smile that never failed to lift his spirits.
"Fair day, sweetling." She cocked her head. "Why the long face?"
"Does Ithilden even know how to have fun?"
She straightened and looked at him thoughtfully. "Yes, he does. He just forgets sometimes."
"So I noticed."
"I have news that should cheer you up. Your tutor sent word he has to fix the thatch on his roof, so he will not be here this afternoon."
Eilian broke into a grin. "Really?"
"Really." She smiled. "You have the afternoon free."
"Not quite free," said a deep voice from behind him.
Eilian turned to see his father standing in the doorway, with Ithilden right behind him.
"Since you will not have lessons," Thranduil said, "you can come with me when I ride out to look at the new waterwheel in Farith's village."
Eilian suppressed a groan. An afternoon spent being polite to villagers and looking at machinery would be nearly as bad as lessons. "Can Gelmir come too? He likes things like waterwheels."
"This is not a pleasure trip, Eilian," Thranduil said.
"Believe me, I do not think it is," Eilian muttered.
Thranduil frowned, but before he could say anything, Lorellin intervened. "I think it would be a lovely idea for Gelmir to go too. You can both learn something about how the villages share their grain. After all, you or he may choose to live in one some day."
"I want to be a warrior, not live in a village," Eilian said.
His mother smiled. "You never know what life may bring you."
His father held his mother's chair, then moved toward his own place. "What about Gelmir's lessons?" He nodded permission for Eilian and Ithilden to sit.
"You could ask his parents to let him come," Eilian said.
"Yes, you could," his mother said, smiling sweetly at his father.
Thranduil laughed. "I suppose I could."
Two servants entered the room with platters of roast duck and fried mushrooms. The servants offered the food around the table, then set the platters down and left.
Lorellin turned to Ithilden. "Did you decide to do as I suggested and ask Alana to the summer dancing, Ithilden? You have only two more days to do it."
Ithilden lifted his eyes to the ceiling for a moment, and Eilian suppressed a grin at his brother's discomfort. "I have not had time, Naneth. Besides, I am not sure I will be free to go to the dancing."
"Why not?" Lorellin asked. "You cannot work all the time. Surely you feel the call of the summer woods. Take a moment for joy, dear one."
"Lorellin, leave him alone," Thranduil said. Despite his admonition, the corners of his mouth twitched.
She made a face at him, and the talk turned in another direction.
The next day, Ithilden tossed the completed duty roster on his aide's desk and stretched his back. He had been at his desk all day, and his muscles ached for movement. The building door stood open, framing the thick summer forest. The scent of growing things and the green odor of the river drifted around the room.
"Lovely day," the aide said. "If you need to be elsewhere, my lord, things are quiet today. I can manage here." Calith smiled, and Ithilden realized he was staring out his office door in much the same way Eilian looked longingly out the library door when he had been kept too long at his lessons.
For a moment, he hesitated. He was the commander of his father's warriors. What kind of example would he set by leaving his office in the middle of the afternoon? Then, in the back of his mind, he heard his mother's voice. "Take a moment for joy." Really, Calith was right. Things were quiet, the Valar be praised. He should enjoy the fine summer weather while it lasted.
"I believe I might ride out to check on some of the Home Guard patrols," he said.
Calith grinned. "An excellent idea."
Ithilden laughed. "I will see you tomorrow morning. If you need something before then, send to the palace, and I will come as soon as I am back."
"Enjoy yourself," Calith said, and Ithilden made good his escape.
He walked briskly toward the palace, intending to change into a lighter tunic before he left. The summer dancing was tomorrow night. If this weather held, people would find it hot work, not that a little heat would stop them. Wood elves danced under the trees at every chance that came along.
He smiled to himself. He would go, he decided. He would not ask Alana to go with him, of course. That would disappoint his mother, but he was not interested in Alana. She was pleasant enough, but he felt no pull when he saw her, and he did not want to play games with something as serious as seeking a mate. Not that he was doing much seeking, he supposed. His mother had pointed out several times that the right maiden was unlikely to report to him in his office.
At home, he changed into a loosely woven linen tunic and was still lacing it up when he met his mother in the hallway.
"Ithilden! How nice. I was just thinking about you."
"Did you need something?" he asked cautiously.
She grinned. "I need someone to check on Eilian for me."
He relaxed. At least that was a familiar task. "Of course. Where is he?"
"He told me that he, Gelmir, and Celuwen were building a waterwheel at the head of the river rapids and was a bit vague about what they planned to do with it. I would feel better if someone found that out and also inspected the thing to be sure it was not about to fall over and crush one of them."
Ithilden laughed. "I thought he sounded impressed by the one in Farith's village."
"I just want to be sure he is not so impressed he has let his imagination run away with him."
"Be easy, Naneth. I will make sure they are not doing anything more foolish than usual."
"Thank you, dear one. I knew I could count on you." She stretched to kiss his cheek.
He left the palace and started along the river path, pleased that he could please his mother. Putting off a visit to the Home Guard patrols was no great penance. The patrols would still be there tomorrow, and in the meantime, a walk along the river offered a pleasant relief from the heat. Besides, this would give him a chance to spend some time with his brother. Eilian thought Ithilden was incapable of play. Well, he was wrong and leaving his office today proved that.
The roar of the rapids covered his footsteps, and he spotted the three elflings before they realized he was there. Gelmir stood in the thigh-deep water, shoving a long pole sideways into the rocks along the riverbank. Eilian and Celuwen waited on the bank balancing an old wagon wheel on edge. Half-a-dozen buckets hung aslant from the spokes.
Ithilden eyed them with some amusement. Celuwen's mother usually managed to persuade her daughter into a gown, but today she, like the two boys, wore leggings and a tunic. The tunic was a bit too long for her, and Ithilden abruptly recognized it as one of Eilian's. He decided not to look too closely in the nearby underbrush. He didn't want to know where Celuwen had stuffed the gown she had undoubtedly worn when she left home that morning.
He walked toward them. "What are you doing?"
Eilian snapped his head around and frowned when he saw Ithilden. "Nothing wrong. You do not have to check on me, Ithilden."
Ithilden was a little hurt by Eilian's automatic resentment of his presence. "Naneth asked me to," he said as mildly as he could manage.
"Why?" Eilian's eyes narrowed.
"She is worried one of you is going to drown or send yourself spinning away into oblivion." He moved closer to the water's edge and bent to watch Gelmir, who had his head self-consciously lowered. "You plan to slip the wheel onto that pole?"
Gelmir looked up at him, and his eyes widened as his excitement overcame his wariness. "Yes, and then the water will fill the buckets and push the wheel around."
"What will you use it for?"
Gelmir hesitated and shifted his gaze to Eilian, who cleared his throat. "It would be good for pulling things." He met Ithilden's eyes, then looked away.
Alarm bells went off in Ithilden's head. "What things?"
Eilian shifted from one foot to the other and grimaced. "A boat. We could pull a boat up over the rapids."
For the first time, Ithilden noticed the small boat pulled up on the bank next to where the elflings were working. It had once been painted blue but was so scraped and gouged that only a few streaks of color remained. A long rope was tied to its stern, and two paddles rested against its edge. "This boat?"
"But it is already here," Ithilden said.
Eilian sighed. "It is here now, but it is not always here. Someone might sail it down the river."
Ithilden gaped at him. "You mean down the rapids? Have you three been riding this boat down the rapids?"
"Yes, we have," Celuwen put in. Her face was alive with excitement. He blinked at her. Of the three, she was by far the least worried by his presence. "The rapids make it feel like you are flying over the water. Of course," she added, "we have to use the paddles to keep the boat off the rocks, and then it is a lot of work to drag the thing up here again, so Eilian and Gelmir thought of using the waterwheel to do it." She beamed at him.
"You are not going to say it is too dangerous, are you?" Eilian moaned.
Ithilden snapped his mouth shut. He had been about to say that very thing. He looked at his brother's resentful face. "Those rocks do look dangerous, Eilian."
"We have done it dozens of times and never hurt ourselves," Eilian protested. "We use the paddles, and we check the boat for damage every single time."
Ithilden sighed. "Naneth sent me to inspect the waterwheel, so perhaps I will do that and then we will see about the boat."
"Very well," Eilian said grudgingly.
"The pole is ready, I think," Gelmir said from the river. "We can put the wheel on now."
"Let me check it first," Ithilden said. He shed his boots and stockings and waded in to stand near Gelmir. "What do you have here, Gelmir?"
"I wedged it in the rocks, see?" Gelmir stepped back to let Ithilden take a look at his handiwork.
Ithilden shoved on the end of the pole, then tested it. "That seems solid enough."
Gelmir looked pleased, then turned to study the river. "Do you think it will hold against the pull of the rapids?"
"That is the real question," Ithilden agreed. If someone were taking wagers, he would bet on the river winning any tug-of-war, but he saw no need to tell Gelmir that.
"Ready for us?" Eilian called.
"Yes," Gelmir said. "Bring the grease too."
"I have it," Eilian said. He and Celuwen waded into the water. The river immediately caught at the buckets on the bottom of the wheel. "Hold onto it!" Eilian cried. Celuwen braced herself against the wheel.
Ithilden rushed to their aid. "Let me." He lifted the wheel clear of the river and carried it to where Gelmir waited.
"Wait a moment," Eilian said and sloshed to Ithilden's side, pulling a pot from the front of his tunic. He pried the lid off and dug out two fingerfuls of a slick, grey goo.
"What is that?" Ithilden asked.
"Bear fat." Eilian slathered the slimy stuff onto the end of the pole.
"Where did you get it?"
Eilian grinned at him. "Do you really want me to tell you?"
Ithilden groaned. "No, but you might hurry." Holding the wheel high enough to clear the water was awkward, and one of the buckets kept swinging into the side of his head.
Eilian backed away. "You can put it on now."
Ithilden lowered the wheel toward the pole. Again, the water caught at the buckets. He struggled against the current and finally managed to jam the wheel into place. The minute he let it go, it began to turn on the axle.
He stepped back, dragging his sleeve across his forehead which was damp with sweat despite the cold river. "How are you going to keep it on there?"
There was a long silence. He glanced at the elflings, who were sharing doubtful looks.
"We did not think of that," Eilian admitted.
Ithilden considered the problem. "We need some means to keep it on the pole but still allow it to turn. You have hammer and nails, I take it?"
They all nodded.
"Get them and some short sticks. We can nail the sticks onto the pole sideways to make a rim that might hold the wheel."
The three of them splashed to shore while he kept an eye on the wheel. The end of the pole was well greased, and he feared the wheel would come flying off at any instant. If that happened, he would have hard work to get hold of it before the river dragged it away.
"Here." A panting Eilian sloshed up to hand him the hammer. "I can give you the sticks and nails as you need them."
"All right, but be careful. Stay an arm's length away. Give me a stick and a couple of nails." Eilian handed them over, and Ithilden crept cautiously toward the spinning wheel. The buckets flailed about, filling at the bottom and then dumping their water as they rose again. One of them doused him before he had so much as touched the pole. He spluttered, clapped a stick onto the quivering pole, placed a nail, and drove it home with one stroke. The turning wheel poured another bucket of water over his head.
He held his hand back blindly, and Eilian slapped another stick into it and put a nail between his thumb and forefinger. This time he had to crouch and nail the stick to the bottom of the pole. He narrowly dodged a bucket flying toward his face and jumped back to stand next to his little brother.
Who, he realized, was doubled over laughing.
He wiped water from his face and saw Gelmir grabbing his sides in glee. Celuwen had a hand clapped over her mouth, but he had no doubt what she was doing.
He slapped Eilian lightly on the back of the head. "Show some respect, or I might have to tell Naneth about the boat rides."
Eilian gasped and got hold of himself. They all waded to shore.
Ithilden stripped his tunic off and wrung it out as he watched the elflings mutter among themselves and get the boat ready to be launched. Was he really going to let them ride this decrepit looking boat down the rapids? He probably should stop them, and yet he had to admit he could see why they wanted to do it.
The three of them straightened and turned toward him. "Two of us usually go at a time, and it is my turn and Celuwen's," Eilian said. "But you did so much work, we think you should go first."
"You could go with Eilian," Celuwen offered. "I can wait and go with Gelmir after we try out the waterwheel and drag the boat back up."
Eilian's face was closed and cautious, but Ithilden saw his hands opening and closing by his sides. Eilian was uncertain how the offer would be received, Ithilden realized, and was suddenly more touched than he could say. "I would be honored," he said.
There was a second of silence, and then Eilian grinned. "Yes!" he whooped. He turned to shove the boat into the water at the river's edge. He climbed in and grabbed a paddle. "Come on!"
Ithilden flung his sodden tunic to the ground and ran to swing himself into the stern. The little boat rocked wildly, then settled down as Gelmir and Celuwen shoved them off. Ithilden seized the second paddle. Eilian was already paddling madly.
"We need to get into the middle," he called back over his shoulder.
Ithilden dug his paddle in, fighting the sideways drag of the river, propelling them rapidly forward and then steering them into the narrow channel toward which Eilian pointed. He held them in place until the current shoved the prow downstream. Eilian glanced back over his shoulder, his eyes gleaming, his mouth curved in a wide grin. Then he turned forward again and gave a high cry as the river hurled them into the rapids.
A rock loomed on Ithilden's right. He clutched his paddle so tightly his hands hurt and shoved it at the rock. The rock flew past in a blur of water and speed. The boat bucked under him, bouncing along on the rolling, surging water. Another rock leapt at him from the left, and he fended it off with the paddle. Ahead of him, Eilian whooped again, wielding his paddle with the skill of long practice. The river washed over both of them, and then, suddenly, they were in the broad, slower water below the rapids.
Eilian threw back his head and laughed. "That was terrific! Did you not think so?"
And to Ithilden's utter astonishment, he found he agreed. "It was!" Together, they paddled to the southern shore and pulled the boat onto the little beach.
Gelmir and Celuwen ran up. "Did you like it?" Celuwen asked with a grin.
"I did," Ithilden admitted.
"Now we can try the waterwheel," Gelmir said. He grabbed the rope from the back of the boat and ran toward the head of the rapids, playing the rope out as he went. "Wait until I tell you to push it back into the water," he called over his shoulder. Celuwen ran with him. Eilian and Ithilden waited. "Now," came Gelmir's voice, muffled by the sound of the rushing water. They pushed the boat into the river and ran along the shore watching it bang and bounce its way up the rapids.
"That does not look good," Eilian said.
"No," Ithilden agreed.
They ran ahead to where Gelmir and Celuwen stood on the shore watching the waterwheel. Ithilden saw at once that the battle between the wheel and the river was an uneven one. Gelmir had hitched the rope to peg on one of the wheel's spokes, and the rope was being wound around the axis. But the wheel strained at its task. It wobbled and, as Ithilden watched, the whole tilting, whirling device shuddered. With a loud crack, the spoke to which the rope was hitched ripped out of the wheel. The wheel shattered, sending bits flying in all directions.
"Watch out!" Ithilden cried, but the warning was unnecessary. The elflings had already dived for cover. He flung himself onto this stomach next to his brother and put a hand over Eilian's head.
After a moment, the shower of wooden parts stopped. Ithilden cautiously lifted his head. Even the pole had snapped off, and the boat had disappeared down the river. A bucket floated in the shallows on the water's edge. He rose to his knees. The elflings all scrambled to their feet and ran to get a better look at what had happened to their wheel.
Ithilden sank back onto his haunches and tried to think of comforting words to offer them. Suddenly, Eilian gave a great peal of laughter. Before Ithilden grasped what he heard, the other two had burst out laughing too.
"Did you see that?" Eilian demanded. "That was great!" He looked around at Ithilden. "Have you ever seen anything like that?"
Ithilden looked at the pure joy in his little brother's face and could not help smiling back at him. "No, I cannot say that I have."
He had never seen anything like the exploding waterwheel, and it had been a long time since he had done anything as enlivening as the ride down the rapids. Most of all, it had been a long time since he had shared a moment like this with Eilian. He rose, walked to where the elflings stood, and mussed his little brother's hair. Still laughing, Eilian ducked away.
"Thank you for a good afternoon, Eilian," Ithilden said. "I will have to tell Naneth she was right. Even hard-working tilting-whirling-wheel inspectors need to relax and have fun once in a while."