Hey, guys! I'm finally back with a new story.
Obviously, I'm not Tolkien. I own nothing he created, though I do claim the majority of the characters you'll meet throughout this rather odd creation. I hope you enjoy, and happy April Fool's!
P.S. Thanks to Niri for checking this over since I'm posting it faster than I normally would to meet my own deadline.
Chapter 1: Almost perfectly aligned
Kirilan was a studier of people. Sort of. It was a limited hobby—only certain people interested him, and he had somewhat limited access to people to study without making them unduly nervous.
Two of his favorites were sitting as antagonists in front of him, so he was quite content, considering his location… and how utterly bored he would be, without this hobby of his. Though, come to think of it, his hobby might have been spawned in boredom alone, centuries ago.
Oh well. He was lucky, he supposed, that his role in these meetings was as little as it was. It could have been far worse.
All of the advisors and commanders that Mirkwood currently boasted were sitting around the table in the war room. Many were characters in their own rights, but his preferred two subjects were sitting almost opposite each other at the middle of the long table, the majority of the other elves spread out on left and right for both.
The unofficial seating chart worked fairly well—for the most part, those with definite views sat near one of the two elves who expressed them with the most… weight. Or at least, the most vehemently.
Kirilan himself sat in a chair against the wall, where he would be hidden from sight by a large marble statue if anyone would dare be so bold as to enter the near sacrosanct room when the door was closed. On the far side of the table from his seat sat the Commander of the Troops.
While there were a half dozen elves called Commander, none but the one sitting there was the Commander of the Troops, and though the title was only used on rare occasion, it was very well known. A title ever-present in the mind, if not on the tongue. If he chose to do so, that elf had merely to state that his word was final… and it would be, no matter the argument, nor the opponent.
Save the King himself, of course.
Considering that title, and the almost absolute control he could wield, it was unsurprising that his only abrasive and persistent opponent was related to the royalty of Mirkwood…
Though the relation was only on his mother's side, with no blood between them and the King. He was a cousin to the King's children, though, and did not hide that. Some gave him slightly deferential treatment because of his relation, but those who knew anything of the royal family more or less brushed him off.
Which might, really, be one of the reasons he so often wished to antagonize the Commander of the Troops.
They looked like a study of opposites. The Commander was tall, lean, and sharp featured, the sharpness softened only by one unruly bit of light gold hair that forever escaped the tie at his nape or being tucked behind his ear, choosing instead to brush his cheek or move to contrast brightly with his dark navy eyes.
The Royal Cousin, on the other hand, was actually a little on the shorter side. Not short, not really, but by some unknown design of the Valar most of the Commanders were on the tall side, making everyone else look short in comparison. The Royal Cousin was one of these. He'd taken over his father's advising position a few centuries after the Commander had taken over his from his father. Both looked rather like their fathers, the Royal Cousin having the same dark hair and pale grey eyes as the elf who had previously sat before the Commander of the Troops.
In manner, too, they were quite different. The Commander's eyes were guarded, ever enigmatic. His face, as well, was generally schooled to neutrality—to such a large degree that one might well assume that when emotion was seen it was either allowed through the mask, manufactured, or the Commander was simply too overwhelmed to control it any longer—which but rarely happened… in fact, Kirilan couldn't recall having seen it in over fifteen hundred years.
When the Commander gave his orders or stated his position, his voice was calm, quiet, and yet forceful in that odd way only a few managed and Kirilan could never figure out. Elves would stop to listen, and if they didn't, were soon stopped by another. The Commander was never ignored.
The Royal Cousin was loud, flashy and emotional. He would be a hair away from shouting if others tried to talk over him, used his hands to emphasize his point, and would get to his feet to pace, his face flushed and eyes flaring with emotions.
So very different, these two, and so often set at odds. He really did love to watch them, but he felt some amount of pity for the Royal Cousin, as he'd cast himself the Fool—the Commander would always win. Even if by some miracle of dumb luck the Royal Cousin stumbled upon an argument the Commander had not already considered, one which actually made a difference, the Commander would turn things so deftly and with such cunning that while the Royal Cousin might feel a slight victory, anyone watching would see he'd been handled as a busy parent handles an overactive child—soothed and shunted to the side to expend their excess energy on self-important tasks.
It was, clearly enough, a waste of time to set yourself against one who could always overrule you simply because he had the power to do so and you annoyed him. Still, the Royal Cousin had been at it for nearly seven hundred years, now, and was as of yet naively thick-headed.
Kirilan would bet good money if he were the gambling type that the Royal Cousin honestly thought that the Commander would let him have one, some day.
That was the only real similarity between them—they could be amazingly stubborn, and no one could talk them out of anything if they didn't want to be talked out of it.
A small smile touched his lips as he watched the Royal Cousin attempt to make his point by hand gestures.
The Commander, in turn, simply quirked a brow, until the Royal Cousin had continued on long past the Commander's tolerance level, at which point the Commander's gaze drifted a bit, a slight haze dulling the sharp eyes.
A furious flush colored the Royal Cousin's cheeks, before he succinctly summed up his ramblings and settled uneasily back into his seat.
The Commander blinked at the silence, and turned his gaze back to the now silent orator. With a few harsh words given in a tone that softened them mildly, the entire speech was discarded in the span of a breath.
With controlled, precise movements, the Commander began gathering the papers before him, indicating the end of the discussion and the meeting. Things would proceed according to his plans—the other Commanders already had their orders. Nothing said in the meeting had changed anything, as most had expected.
The meetings were more a chance for the advisors to feel they did something more than for any practical purposes. Maybe once in a few centuries they would be listened to on some matter or other. A choice of dinner, perhaps.
Before the papers were off the table, the door swung fiercely open—it was accustomed to gentle and solemn treatment, and fairly flew at this harsh handling—and a fiery elf entered the room, her eyes landing on the Commander almost instantly.
"Elder brother," she stated, blithely ignoring all of the advisors and commanders who had risen to their feet at her abrupt entry.
The Commander, after seeing who was so rude to ignore the sanctity of the closed door to this most hallowed room to the army's command, returned to his papers before she saw he'd seen her, and began gathering them slowly, precisely, informing her through this disinterest his displeasure in her entrance.
She pursed her lips, knowing his tactics well enough, but didn't bother to apologize. Her presence alone betrayed her haste. "Your only brother not of blood is being his usual self and intends to sweep me off to locations unknown for a two week 'holiday' in roughly an hour. He's packed for me—so I have to not only pack but unpack as well in that time. There is much to do… he is impetuous, which is not always a gift, though Eru knows I love him."
The papers were almost perfectly aligned.
She sighed. "Please."
The long-fingered hands stilled over the pages. He lifted his eyes to her.
She smiled tightly, quickly, and pushed Commander Zalian's, the Commander's right hand elf in most matters, papers aside so she could perch on the edge of the table. She ignored Zalian's discrete shuffling out of the way. "I do not have time to coddle Herita. Be a love and see that she does not feel abandoned. I would ask Kirilan if I had the time to hunt him down, but I knew where you were. Please, elder brother."
Navy eyes closed for an instant. "Your daughter shall be looked after, Odrune."
She closed her eyes in relief, and reached out as she leaned forward to stand, hooking her hand around his neck, pulling him close enough to kiss his forehead. "Eru bless you," she called over her shoulder, papers stirring in her wake before she snapped the door shut with an airy flick of her wrist.
The Commander's eyes wearily closed for an instant while most of the room watched her exit, before he gathered his papers and stood. "Good evening, everyone. Kirilan, come with me."
Kirilan made his way around the room quickly, stifling a yawn as he joined the elf who had called to him. "Was anything of interest said?" he asked when the door behind them had closed off their conversation from anyone who might have been interested enough to listen.
There was a snort beside him. "I would ask why you bother to show up now and again, save that you are invaluable, when you do pay attention."
"I do pay attention."
"To the vendetta Urigael has against me."
"Not against you, exactly."
Another snort. "Isn't it?"
"Why would it be?"
"Because he wants the power of royal blood when he has neither royal blood nor any true power. He is an advisor—a fly to be endured," he made an absent, almost swatting gesture, the 'important' papers held loosely in his free hand, "—nothing more."
Kirilan grinned. "I'm sure they'd love to hear their exalted positions described so basely."
"If we needed them to tell us our duties, our responsibilities, perhaps things would be different. We don't need them."
"If they ever did what you do, they would be useful."
"What I do?" Navy eyes pinned him as he stopped walking.
Kirilan paused his steps as well, and quirked a brow. "You analyze the situation six ways from Sunday in the first minute, then a thousand ways beyond that. You consider things the advisors would scoff at when told they aught to consider them. Your plans take into account both outside threat, internal politics, economics, the local current, the—"
A hand was lifted. "Enough!" A small smile touched his lips before he continued down the secluded hall. "Enough, Kirilan. I do what I must."
"Yes. And if the advisors did their jobs, they would consider all of that, as well, rather than a small bit of one part. I really don't understand why Father wanted them at all."
"Father gave them tasks, areas in which to excel. One the, as you call it, 'local current' in the halls, another in the village. One was given interest in the trading to the north, another to the west, a third to the south. Each one had their area, but over time… well, there is no trade to the south any longer, and practically none to the west, save the occasional rare call for wine from across the sea."
Kirilan grinned again. "Father does love his wine."
A soft chuckle. "Yes, he does."
After a little while, Kirilan realized his question had never been answered. "So, was anything interesting said?"
"No. Urigael said what he has been saying for the last sixty years, in roughly the same words."
"He still wants us to risk our people by sending them West?"
A sharp nod of his head. "To staff the fort in the forest," he mocked. "We could manage with twenty good elves."
Kirilan closed his eyes. "We lost forty-eight when the fort was lost. I doubt he even knows the number. I can name almost half of the soldiers, a few of them friends. I've no doubt you can name them all."
The nod was again sharp, but more tense. "Too many good elves lost. Not only in that last battle, but in all the skirmishes before. One hundred and sixty-four, since the fort was built." He shook his head. "Not again, especially over a fort we cannot use, even if we held it." Navy eyes narrowed. "I wish Father had listened when I told him too many had died there. Perhaps those last deaths could have been avoided."
"You'd been after him for nearly seventy years about that fort."
"Seventy years, twenty deaths. It will not happen again." His eyes narrowed, flashing furiously for an instant.
It made Kirilan smile. Yes, the elf was closely guarded around the majority of the world. Around those he considered kin, though, the mask was lowered a bit. "Do you even know where our dear niece is, elder brother?"
"Not precisely. I assume she goes with Nana, though, as we did."
"Only because Nana thinks she should grow up with her cousins."
Another sharp glance. "What does she think she knows that we don't?" he asked dryly.
Kirilan chuckled on cue, but nervously kept his eyes forward lest something be read in his eyes. No, the Commander was not interested in any elf, nor in having a wife or children, cousins for their niece. He, himself, though…
And having grown up under Nana's watchful eyes, he found himself sure they missed very little.
The Commander caught a servant's eye, and the servant dutifully bowed his head, awaiting the coming command or question. "To find my niece, the best place to look would be?"
"I believe the children were heading to the fall—" They were already walking away, a nod given over a shoulder in thanks.
The 'fall garden' was a perennial favorite among the children, as it combined things to climb, swing from, fall from, and many ways to get dirty. It's name came, not from the activities that often occurred within as one might assume when a room was named by children, but from the series of waterfalls that percolated through the stone to reach the chamber that was set deep within the mountain's heart, hot spring water that was cooled at a higher altitude before filtering down to emerge in thousands of tiny fissures in the rocks. The falls were small, but the pool beneath them large and deep and always comfortably warm, making it a safe place for even the youngest of elves to learn to climb, once they'd learned to swim well enough. Most elves of Mirkwood learned that skill young, even if other realms shunned Ulmo's domain.
Indeed it seemed the servant had been correct in his belief, as the voices of many children could be heard long before they reached the fall garden, along with a few lower pitches that came from the adults either charged with watching them, or who took joy in doing so.
Nana was the first to notice them, which surprised neither. She always kept herself in position to watch the door of the room, as well as her charges. By calculating her angle, both soon found their niece studying a flower under the guidance of Anumi, a lady who took her pleasure in delicate stitch-work and looking after the children. Almost any given day could find her with them, wherever they were, a bag with some bit of cloth and a needle waiting somewhere should she want it.
"What brings my princes to me?" Nana demanded, before holding out a hand.
Kirilan took the hand, bringing it to his lips before pressing it to his cheek.
She smiled fondly, before turning to his elder brother. "And you, you rascal?"
"Uncle Legolas! Uncle Kirilan!"
Legolas smiled faintly, bending to kiss her cheek. "The duties of elder brother, Nana," he told her, reaching down to pat the head of the barnacle attached to his leg. "Are you ready to go, Herita?" he asked softly.
She lifted her head from his thigh and grinned. "I'm goin' with you?" she asked, suppressed excitement in the question.
"If you're ready before I leave," he answered blandly.
She squeaked and raced off.
"Don't be cruel to the child," Nana scolded, but she was chuckling as she heard Herita's happy giggles. "The girl adores you."
"Clearly she has no taste," Kirilan deadpanned.
A glint in Legolas's eyes hinted at a smile. "Ah, the follies of youth."
Kirilan shook his head. "It's not truly folly, Legolas. She knows you love her—that you would drop everything if she needed you, truly needed you."
The proclamation seemed to rather disturb Legolas. "She is blood," he said at length, almost absently.
"Blood and bond before crown and country?"
Legolas bowed his head slightly, a small frown drawing his brow. "For the peace of the heart, yes. For that of the soul… perhaps no. There are times when crown and country may require loyalty above that of blood and bond, or even over that of love." He shook himself and turned to Nana. "All is as it was, Nana?"
"My schedule is the same," Nana agreed, but her eyes were shrewd upon him. "Toriad has made good on his threat then?" she asked softly after a long silence.
"So it seems," Kirilan offered as Legolas didn't seem about to. "Odrune burst in on the closed meeting."
"Well, who has a right to do so, if not a princess?"
"Perhaps," he admitted, knowing Legolas would not agree. It would be alright if she walked into the guard bathroom, fine if she strode into a private council between the Commanders and the King, but to walk in on the one domain in which Legolas reigned supreme? He was still considered too young by many in that room to sit where he did, but they couldn't deny that he had worked his way through the ranks as he should have. Or really, as well as he could have, considering even skill never allowed any not of their blood to be titled 'Commander of the Troops'. Nor could any deny that he did an excellent job as the Commander of the Troops—there had been fewer deaths and injuries but also a higher number of destroyed spider nests, spiders, orcs, and even an occasional troll since he took over for their father. Odrune bursting in had reminded them all that the elf calling the shots, running the army, was less than half their average age. It could have set him back a few decades in controlling things, had he not been rather harsh with her.
Thankfully, she understood, even if she hadn't expected it when she entered.
"At any rate," Legolas said quietly as Herita began running towards them. "She shall be in my spare room tonight."
"Tonight?" Kirilan mused.
Legolas quirked a brow. "You are more known to her than I."
"Yes… and so she adores you all the more."
Legolas shook his head slightly, the conversation at an end as Herita latched onto his leg again, her arms winding tightly around his knee.