Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter for me.

Chapter 8. Family

As the sitting room door closed behind Ithilden, Eilian slumped in his chair. In his opinion, he had controlled his face well when Ithilden told him what the captains decided, but Ithilden had seen his anger and been irritated. Eilian supposed he could not blame his brother. Ithilden had been upset enough about being too big to go into the cave and get the elflings the day before, and he had wanted to go after Dol Guldur as much as Eilian did. Apparently, heads even more sober than Ithilden's had prevailed.

Legolas had paid no attention to Eilian's and Ithilden's terse conversation. He sprawled on his stomach, tongue protruding from one corner of his mouth, fingers wrapped tightly around the chalk as he drew on his slate.

Their father had made both Legolas and their mother stay in his parent's apartment until this morning, under the excuse that they needed rest. Eilian suspected the real reason was that his father could not let them out of his sight after they had frightened him so badly. Of course, Eilian had spent the evening in his parents' sitting room too, with no desire to leave and find his friends. So the evening had been pleasant, but when Legolas and their mother burst out into the hall this morning, Eilian had been unable to tell which one had chafed more at the confinement.

He stretched out one stockinged foot and prodded Legolas in the ribs. "What are you drawing?"

Legolas popped to his feet and brought the slate for Eilian to see.

The letters were wobbly but clear: "Legolas."

Eilian felt a stab of dismay. His little brother was growing up so fast. "Very good. Soon you will be writing me letters I can read on patrol."

Legolas ran a finger along the carving in the chair's arm. "Are you going to your patrol soon?"

He had evidently heard more of what Ithilden said than Eilian realized. Eilian put an arm around him. "Tomorrow."

Legolas's lower lip trembled. Eilian opened his mouth but was prevented from speaking by a tap on the door. A servant entered, a motherly woman named Sathiel. She had once found a small Eilian riffling through one of the chests in his father's office, looking for sealing wax to use to heal a wounded toy warrior who had lost an arm. She had dragged him from the room by the scruff of his neck, scolding all the way, but she had also mended the soldier and not told his parents.

"I beg your pardon, my lord." Sathiel smiled broadly. "A visitor is in the antechamber asking for Legolas."

Legolas's eyes widened. "Me?"

Eilian nearly laughed. "Shall we go see who it is?"

Legolas bounced on his toes. "Yes!"

Eilian shoved his sore feet into his boots. "Come on." He reached for Legolas's hand, but the elfling was already out the door. Eilian followed, exchanging grins with Sathiel. In the antechamber, he found the door guards smiling at the two small figures in the middle of the room.

"Come now," Turgon said. "We are playing on the Green."

Legolas spun to face Eilian. "Can I go, Eilian? My friends are playing." His eyes were wide, his face flushed. Eilian could not resist, but the events of the day before were fresh in his mind.

"Yes, but I think I should go too, and we need cloaks." He turned to find Sathiel coming from the family quarters, Legolas's cloak in her hands and Eilian's over her arm. She had evidently heard what he said, for she nodded approvingly, handed him his cloak, and went to fasten Legolas's.

The instant she finished, Legolas cried, "Thank you!" and he and Turgon were out the Great Doors. Eilian hastened after them. The river had fallen since the previous day, he thought. Its voice had softened. He followed Legolas and Turgon down the steps and had started across the bridge when he spotted Gelmir coming the other way. Legolas and Turgon dashed past Gelmir and ran to where Annael waited on the Green. Eilian was relieved to see Annael's mother on a bench on the Green's far side. She smiled when he waved to her.

He stopped next to Gelmir. "Are you coming to see me?"

"I am." Gelmir looked tired, with lines around his eyes and mouth. Eilian was willing to wager he had not been sleeping well. "I hear you and the others are going back to the patrol."

"You are not coming?"

One side of Gelmir's mouth turned up. "The healers say not for a while yet." He hesitated. "I thought you might be spending a little longer at home too."

Eilian blinked. "Me? No."

They walked to a bench from which Eilian could keep an eye on Legolas. He and Annael were running after Turgon, imitating him as he wove from side to side. Turgon scrambled onto a bench and jumped off. Legolas climbed after him, with Annael right behind. Eilian glanced at Annael's mother. Seeing her continue to look serene, he relaxed.

"Did you hear my adar send someone to block the entrance to that cave?" Eilian asked. "He thinks it is a weakness in the Stronghold's defenses."

"It probably is. Still I am sorry. It held good memories." Gelmir flicked a look at the elflings, who had squatted to examine something under the raised root of an oak. "For us anyway." He sighed and rose. "I supposed I should report to the infirmary before a healer hunts me down.

Eilian tapped him on the arm with his fist. "Take care, Gelmir."

Gelmir patted his shoulder. "You too. I will have to tell Maltanaur to keep an eye on you until I get back."

"He will anyway."

"Thank the Valar." Gelmir walked off toward the infirmary but stopped to greet Eilian's mother, who had just emerged from the path leading to Fithral's cottage. Lorellin stretched to kiss Gelmir's cheek, and he smiled and went on his way.

"Nana!" Face flushed, Legolas barreled into her and flung his arms around her legs. Brushing the hair out of his face, she said something Eilian could not hear, and he ran back to his friends. Eilian rose as his mother approached. She sat and patted the bench beside her.

Eilian accepted the invitation. "How are they?"

"Better, I think. They are back to daily tasks again. Perhaps that helps." A line appeared between her brows. "I cannot be sure, though. A loss like that would be hard to recover from."

Eilian watched the elflings run around gathering pinecones. His mother was probably going to tell him to be careful. He silently rehearsed a reassuring answer.

She said, "Have I ever told you how angry I was when my naneth decided we were moving near the Stronghold?"

He blinked. "No."

"I wanted to stay in the village where I had always lived, among trees I had always known, but my naneth's mind was made up. I am afraid I said some intemperate things." She tilted her head to look at him. "And then I took a boat out into a river even fuller than the Forest River is now."

Eilian rolled his eyes. "The Valar help us. Your naneth must have been frantic when she realized."

"She was, and that despite my not telling her what a hard time I had getting safely back to shore. I never should have done it, but at the time, fighting the rapids seemed easier than fighting my mother and much easier than fighting my own feelings. Danger is attractive sometimes because it is so distracting. Of course, it is still dangerous." She laid her hand on the crook of his arm. "Do you blame yourself for Fithral's death, Eilian?"

Eilian sat utterly still. Did he blame himself? Through his mind ran a rapid string of scenes: himself realizing where the orcs were, signaling, speaking to Maltanaur, hearing Gelmir and Fithral approaching, watching the forest floor collapse and take Fithral with it.

He sighed. "When I think about it, I know I did everything I could, so I know I am not to blame."

She seemed to consider that. "Perhaps knowing is not the same thing as feeling."

He gave her a half smile. "I am all right, Naneth."

"Very well. I believe you." She patted his arm. "Remember those at home who love you, and stay out of rapids or whatever the equivalent is in that place. In the long run, you have to face your own feelings anyway."

Eilian kissed her temple. "I will be careful." He rose. "If you are watching Legolas now, I think I will see if Amadith is free. We played a game, and I should collect my winnings before I leave."

She waved her hand. "Go."

Lorellin watched Legolas, Annael, and Turgon shift pinecones from one pile to another. As far as she could tell, they were trying to create three equal piles. She found she looked forward to seeing what would happen next.

"There you are." Thranduil settled next to her, his eyes on the elflings. "I am free for the rest of the afternoon, and I hoped you and Legolas would go for a ride with me. Eilian too, if he is around."

"He has gone to see Amadith."

Thranduil spoke slowly. "He seems to like her. You were talking about another baby. Would you be content with a grandchild?"

She raised an eyebrow, and he hurried on.

"Eilian is young, I know, but if Ithilden transferred him to the Home Guard, he could marry. He is the same age as Annael's adar, after all."

Lorellin's heart beat a little faster. It would be wonderful to have Eilian home instead of in the south. She bit her lip. "You know as well as I do that Eilian would object to being moved. He needs to fight for what he loves, and doing so steadies him. Besides Amadith is not the right one for him."

"Ithilden might say that has never stopped you with him."

She laughed and leaned against him. "Eilian told me he would be careful. Try not to worry about him."

He sat stiffly for a heartbeat or two, then relaxed. "I suppose I have no choice."

"Now!" Turgon cried, and all three elflings screamed.

Lorellin flicked her head toward the sound and found Legolas, Annael, and Turgon flinging pinecones at one another. She leapt to her feet, ready to stop them, but Annael's mother was closer.

"Stop it," Elowen said. "You could hurt one another."

Annael and Legolas whirled to face her and hastily dropped their pinecones. Turgon hesitated, then let his too fall to the ground. The three boys wandered away, edging close to one another.

Annael's mother exchanged a half-amused look with Lorellin and returned to her bench. Lorellin did not know the other woman well, but she liked what she saw. She could trust Annael's mother to take good care of Legolas.

"Are you sure he should be playing with Turgon?" Thranduil asked.

"Gelmir's mother often asked herself the same sort of question. Turgon is a sweet child really. Do not worry, love. I will keep an eye on them, although I think they should play at Annael's or at the palace rather than at Turgon's." Lorellin decided she needed to make her point now. "But first, I would like to take him with me and visit my family. Watching Fithral's family mourn for him has reminded me of how long it has been since I saw of them."

Thranduil hesitated. "I do not like to let you go from the Stronghold."

"Ithilden will send guards and make some of them stay with me. The village maidens will be all in a flutter."

He nuzzled the top of her head and said nothing.

She pulled away and forced him to meet her gaze. "Thranduil, I have seen that map you and Ithilden spend all your time poring over. My family's village is within the safe area."

"Safe is relative and changing."

"I want to go."

He sighed. "The spring dancing is in a few days. After that?"

She smiled. "Very well. After that."

"What shall we do?" Legolas asked.

Turgon considered. "We could go to our boat place and make boats."

"My nana says no," Annael said.

Turgon looked to where Legolas's ada and nana sat with Ada's arm around Nana. "Your nana is a good sailor," Turgon said. "Maybe she will take us."

"No." Legolas did not want to sail boats for a while. He had been scared in the cave. Nana said he would stop being scared after a while, but that was not yet.

"Legolas!" Ada called. He and Nana had stood up and looked like they were going somewhere. Legolas started to run toward them.

"Wait!" Turgon said. "We friends should play tomorrow."

Legolas smiled at him and Annael too. "I will ask my nana."

"Good," Annael said.

Legolas ran to where Ada and Nana waited.

Ada smiled. "Would you like to go for a ride?"

"Yes!" He started to run toward the stables, but Ada caught him, threw him in the air, and settled him on his hip. Legolas laughed and put his arms around Ada's neck.

"I have to change my clothes," Nana said, "so you will have to wait."

"Hurry, Nana."

Ada hugged him. "It is impolite to tell Nana to hurry, sweetling. You and I will just have to be gentlemen and wait. Besides," he whispered in Legolas's ear, "Nana is worth waiting for, do you not agree?"

Legolas nodded.

Nana was smiling. She put her hand on Ada's arm, and they walked toward home, the place Legolas though must be best of all, with everyone home again, at least this day and night.

The End

AN: The title of this story comes from "Macbeth" (I.iii):

"If you can look into the seeds of time,
And say which grain will grow and which will not,
Speak then to me"

Many thanks to everyone who's been reading and especially those who reviewed. Your generous attention and kind words mean a great deal to me.