For Perelleth, who is looked after by her very own Beliond, something for which the rest of us are grateful.
Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this for me.
A Father and Son Camping Trip
"We are early," my companion said. He flung himself down on the grassy hillside. "Sit down and finish telling me about the hunting trip."
I stood for a moment, uncertain whether I might be too keyed up to obey. "Things had not gone according to my hopes. They were both tense, and looking back now, I can see why, but that did not make being with them any easier. Well, I do not have to tell you how they are."
He laughed. "I think I have a pretty good idea."
I dropped to the ground beside him and began playing with a twig. "I was desperate to bring down a deer, of course, and had followed the tracks of a big one."
The deer drifted a handspan to its left, cropping at the grass that had sprouted in this clearing when spring finally crept into the forest. Its curved antlers swayed heavily from side to side. I counted the points again, just to be sure my wishes had not blinded me. Still twelve. I had to force myself not to wriggle like an elfling. Wait until my friends saw it. Even better, wait until my adar saw it!
Move just a little more, I silently begged it. See how sweet the grass looks there in the middle? Come out from behind that net of branches.
The buck stayed where it was.
I scanned the bushes to my right, tempted to creep among them in pursuit of a clear shot. No, I told myself in my best imitation of my adar. You are supposed to be growing up. Show some patience.
From behind me came the footfalls of an approaching elf who was taking no trouble to muffle his steps. The buck's head jerked up. For a heartbeat, it stood, ears swiveling, nostrils aquiver. Then, with a single bound, it disappeared into the cool shadows on the other side of the clearing.
I groaned and swung around to face the person I knew must be there.
"Lower your bow!"
I hastily obeyed, feeling my cheeks grow warm. "Sorry, Adar." Then irritation flared again. "You frightened it away! Did you see it? Twelve points, Adar. Twelve!"
He lowered the hand he had raised in the face of my arrow. "I saw it. What did you plan to do with that buck if you shot it this far from home? We have another three days to camp yet. Did you really want to have to start home now, carrying that animal?"
Hard as it was to do, I had to admit he was right. "I guess not."
He snorted. "I know not. Come. You have wandered too far away from our meeting place anyway." He started east.
I sighed and plodded after him, eyeing his straight back. In the unexpected spring heat, the center of his tunic was damp with sweat. It annoyed me that he never even turned around to be sure I was following. "I suppose he will be waiting for us."
"Unless he grew tired of hanging about wondering where you were."
"Why did you have to ask him to come along with us?"
He turned around then, his brows drawn down and his mouth pinched. "Stop being so childish. He has spent too much time with Men of late. He needed to be in the woods so he could remember that the life of the forest goes on, despite the failings of mortals."
"You told me that, but you did not say he would be so grouchy."
My adar snorted. "When I spend time with Men, does it improve my temper?"
I had to laugh. "Adar, everyone knows how calm and even tempered you are at all times."
He laughed outright. "True enough. Come. I have something to tell him anyway." He beckoned me next to him, and we walked together to the place where we had agreed to meet.
Adar's friend was already there, sitting in a maple, one leg swinging. When we approached, he jumped down and bared his teeth in what was probably meant as a grin. "There you are. I was beginning to fear I would have to come rescue you from some enemy."
Adar jerked his thumb in my direction. "You should have seen the buck he was about to shoot. If I had not stopped him, we all would have dislocated our shoulders carrying it home."
They both laughed, and I felt my cheeks flame again. I set my jaw and turned away. My adar had promised me this trip on my begetting day, but the late spring had delayed it. I had looked forward to it for over a month, and now he was spending most of his time with his friend and they were both making fun of me.
I scanned the area, looking for the carcasses of rabbit or other small game, but I saw nothing. I had been tracking the buck, so I had an excuse for my empty hands. I did not know what the other two had been doing, but they could not have been hunting with any seriousness. It was nearly time to make camp for the night. I supposed we would fish or eat the dry rations in our packs. Wonderful. Just wonderful.
I realized the other two sounded concerned about something and pricked up my ears.
"You saw it too?" Thranduil said.
"I did," Beliond said. "That whole area is flooded. It looked to me as if debris had caught on something where the stream crosses the road. The water has probably been backing up since the snow melted."
"We need to clear it." Thranduil's mouth twisted slightly.
I nearly groaned. Judging from that look, this was going to be a big job. Dry rations for sure.
Thranduil led us south, and we had gone only a short way before my boots began squelching up water with every step. Within a few more yards, I could see the westering sun glimmering off a shallow lake lapping the trees a good twenty yards in all directions. We skirted its boundary and finally came to the road. Water spread over the road, and where the ford should have been, I could see a pile of branches, dead leaves, and the Valar only knew what other rubbish.
The three of us stood looking across the shallow water rippling between our boots and the dam.
Thranduil hooked his bow over the branch of a maple. "We might as well get started." He shrugged out of his pack and quiver and hung them next to the bow. "At least the water will be cool."
Beliond began shedding his belongings too.
I sighed and hung my bow next to his. There was no point in complaining of course. The blockage had to be cleared or part of the forest would drown. I added my quiver to the other two in the maple, making sure it was secure. My adar had given it to me for my begetting day. Inlaid leaves twined around it, twisting themselves into the L that began my name. I wanted it well clear of the water and mud now sucking at my feet.
The other two already stood thigh deep in the water, studying the dam. I waded in.
Thranduil moved to one side. "If we drag some of the branches out of the way, we might be able to see the problem." His tunic tightened across the muscles in his back as he grasped a fallen tree limb, braced his legs, and heaved. The branch barely moved.
I could see it was tangled with a smaller one, so I slogged around him and grasped the other branch.
"Pull," he called.
I yanked on my branch as he did on his, and they came apart, sending me stumbling backward. I barely managed to keep my feet. I grimaced at the idea of landing the murky water.
Thranduil dragged his branch to one side, and I left mine next to it. We returned to the tangled mess and set to work again. I hauled a second branch aside, and then a third. A trickle of sweat stung my right eye, and I shrugged my shoulder up to wipe it away.
Beliond's tunic clung to his back. He muttered something under his breath, then shot a guilty look at me.
The corners of Thranduil's mouth twitched. "Yes, the heat does chafe one in uncomfortable places." He unbuckled his belt and pulled his tunic over his head. He held his hand out to Beliond, who stripped off his own tunic. I moved to add mine to the pile, but Thranduil dumped them all in my arms.
Wisdom won out over irritation, and I bit my tongue and shuffled to the water's edge with sweaty tunics piled under my chin. I resisted the temptation to set them down in the mud. After all, my tunic was in the pile too.
I turned to wade back. Thranduil was working another large branch back and forth, trying to free it, but Beliond stood in the middle of the road, frowning down into the water. "There is something solid in the streambed." He shoved his arm into the water and felt around. "It feels like a stepping stone."
Thranduil straightened, although he continued to wiggle the branch he grasped. "Could the dwarves have put stones in?"
Beliond's brows nearly met over his nose. "That strikes me as only too possible." He raised his left hand to catch his braids up out of the water, while he continued to grope with his right. "Whatever this is, it is firmly fixed in the bed."
I started toward him, curious about what he had found.
The branch Thranduil was twisting came loose from the pile of debris, and he heaved it toward the edge of the pond. Water trickled through the opening it had left and slapped Beliond in the face. He snorted and spat a word whose meaning I was not sure I knew.
The flow of water thickened and sped up, and suddenly I realized the clog of branches was moving. A long, thick branch slid away from the pile and spun slowly toward Beliond, who was still crouched, examining the stepping stone.
"Look out!" I cried.
Too late. A rush of water caught the branch and sent its thick end crashing into the back of Beliond's head. He gasped, choked, and slid under the muddy surface. More branches broke loose from the dam and spun toward him.
I lunged at Beliond, grabbing for anything I could hold. My hand closed around his braids just as my foot caught on something hard, and I plunged face first into the filthy pool.
Keep hold of him! I told myself, as my feet scrabbled to get under me. I struggled for a better grip, but my hands kept slipping on his wet skin. Something whacked against my back, and I gasped. Water seared into my nose and lungs. I yanked on Beliond's braids and finally got my arm across his chest. I came up for air and had to duck out of the way as a branch raked across my shoulder and arm. I felt as if I would spend the rest of my suddenly much shorter life in this whirl of water and battering rams.
Then strong hands grabbed my arm, and Thranduil dragged us both out of the path of the surging water. He hauled me staggering to my feet, picked up the unconscious Beliond, and carried him to dry land. He looked back over his shoulder. "Are you all right?"
I was bent over with my hands on my knees, trying to cough up the water I had breathed. My back stung as if nettles had been laid across it, and blood seeped from the scratches on my arm. So of course I said, "I am fine."
He raised an eyebrow but said only, "Get my pack." Blood flowed from the gash in the back of Beliond's head like juice from an underdone cherry pie. Thranduil took out his belt knife.
My stomach turned over. "Is he all right?"
"Get my pack," Thranduil repeated sharply. He ran his knife delicately along Beliond's scalp. A hank of hair fell away from the wound.
I bit my lip, ran to the maple, and returned to Thranduil, holding out his pack.
He wiped his knife on the grass, resheathed it, and took the pack. Its contents yielded a worn leather pouch. Still bent over Beliond, he shot me a look. "He will be fine. Head wounds always bleed a lot." His mouth curved. "Beliond's head is hard as a helmet. That branch simply dented it. My only concern is making sure you are out of earshot when he comes to and realizes what I have done to his hair."
I gave him a smile that I hoped looked experienced and calm.
Thranduil took a packet from the pouch and unfolded the waxed cloth protecting it. He shook what was undoubtedly dried goldenseal into the palm of his hand, then held it out to me. "Give me a little water."
I grabbed my water skin and dribbled a few drops onto the herb. He used his finger to make a paste, then spread it along Beliond's cut. "That should slow the bleeding." He squinted up at me. "Turn around and let me see your back."
The pain in my back had evidently been waiting its turn because it flared again now. I craned my neck to look over my shoulder as I faced the other way.
He laughed softly. "Your skin is mostly intact but you will have an impressive bruise to show your friends. Turn around again and hold out your arms."
I obeyed, and he rose to spread the remaining goldenseal along the scratches on my shoulder and arm.
"You acted quickly." His smile warmed his gray eyes.
I tried not to glow like an elfling, but I could not help myself. "Thank you."
He squatted next to Beliond again. "See if we have anything clean enough to press against that wound."
I ran back to the maple, rummaged in my pack, and returned with one of my stockings. Thranduil raised an eyebrow. "It is clean," I said. "I have been wearing the same ones."
He grinned, folded it, and pressed it against the gash on Beliond's head. Beliond groaned, rolled away from his touch, and vomited. Thranduil shot me another look. "Head wounds make people do that too." He kept his fingers on the wadded up sock. "Can you can find us a camp site not too far away?" He glanced back at the road, where the water was gradually draining away. "Tomorrow we will need to finish removing the debris and then dig out those stepping stones. The dwarves will have to ford the stream like everyone else does."
While Thranduil tended Beliond, I found a good site and set up camp. By the time darkness fell, Beliond had stopped being sick. Thranduil sat next to him, and the two talked quietly while I ferreted out our waybread and went to refill our water skins at a point farther up the stream.
When I returned, Thranduil said, "You can go to bed. I will keep watch."
I was tired, but fair was fair. "Wake me to take my turn."
"If I grow sleepy, I will wake you, but I think Beliond and I will enjoy the chance to talk of old times when we were as young and daring as you."
Beliond snorted. "Young fools."
"I am glad you are feeling better," I said. Thranduil laughed.
In truth, I was grateful for the chance to spread my blanket on one of the beds I had made from piled up pine boughs. Trying to spare my bruised back, I lay on my stomach, my nostrils filled with the sharp scene of the evergreen. Somewhere nearby, an owl hooted, and I heard a small animal scurrying away in the underbrush.
Yes, I thought. Hide before danger swoops down on you. If you stay in its path, you have only yourself to blame. I had to laugh when I realized how much I sounded like my adar. Ah well. It had not been I who staying in the path of the breaking dam.
I must have slept then because the next thing I knew, my eyes focused on a shaft of moonlight filtering through the trees, and I had the feeling someone had just said my name. Thranduil and Beliond were talking in low voices on the other side of the campsite.
"So you think Numenor's fate will affect us? Surely it makes no difference. Men have always been fickle and faithless and the wave swallowed Sauron too."
"Sauron has eluded us before. I hope you are right, else your son is likely to need all his bravery."
They fell silent. I turned onto one side, then slipped my knife sheath off my belt so it would not dig into my side. I had forgotten to take it off before we began clearing the stream. I hoped my plunge into the water had not damaged it. My adar had given it to me at the same time he gave me the quiver, and it was every bit as beautiful. In the moonlight, I admired its leaf design and the L and set it carefully aside.
"Ah, well you have seen it. You know what a pretty thing is it."
"I have." My listener turned to look at the bay spread out beneath us, glittering in the noonday sun.
The ship had edged into the harbor now, and my heart quickened.
"Your adar treasured that sheath," my listener said. "I do not believe he ever got over your death." We both rose. The wind coming off the water caught a loose strand of his hair and sent it waving with the sun reflecting off it, gold on gold.
We started down the hill toward the quay toward where my naneth waited. "He always took things hard, my adar. Once I came to myself again, I worried that his grief might be too much for him. I am glad he had you, Legolas. Thank you for looking after him."
Legolas laughed. "I doubt if he thought of me as tending to his needs. You are not the only one Beliond ever called a young fool, Lalorn."
"I expect not." I smiled and began to run. The last time I saw my adar, he was filthy, and frightened, and frantic. Today would be different. Today we would begin again. He would need time in the woods. Perhaps I would take him camping.