To Everything There is a Season
"This is so boring. Father is being completely unfair!"
Flinging wide his gangling, thirteen year old limbs in vexation, Vid flopped down on his back in the grass next to the seated Elf. Legolas regarded the disconsolate youth sprawled next to him from the corner of his eye without pausing the airy melody he was composing on his flute. The gentle strains mixed with the whispers of the spring breeze through the grass and the occasional nicker of the herd of nursing brood mares below. After a moment, Vid rolled onto his stomach and regarded his tutor and protector with injured dignity.
"I don't see why you can't at least teach me some sword tricks while we're stuck out here."
Legolas merely quirked an eyebrow and continued on with his playing. Vid glared at him for several moments before finally rolling back over and flinging his arm over his face with a howl of frustration that startled several of the foals into bolting a few paces before pricking their ears in his direction.
Legolas allowed Vid to stew a few moments more before bringing his tune to a close and resting the simple wooden flute he had made himself against his crossed legs. Even then, the Elf remained silent, savoring the husky scent of the grazing horses, the cool nip of the breeze that tugged against his cloak, and the prickle of the coarse grass through his woolen trousers. When he sensed Vid's anger had dulled into petulant self-pity, Legolas finally spoke.
"You often used to beg me to take you to see the foals gamboling alongside their mothers, and you would watch them with rapt attention for hours on end."
It was Vid's turn to remain silent for a time, but Legolas did not mind. It was not yet noon, and they would not return to Vegard until dusk. He doubted Vid would fail to confide in him before the sun set. The Elf was not disappointed in his conjectures. Before long, Vid reluctantly sat up and rested his chin on his drawn-up knees as he looked out over the grazing herd. He couldn't help but let slip a short laugh as he caught sight of one of the youngest colts lose balance and nearly fall over after lashing his spindly front legs in mock challenge at another encroaching foal. But Vid's mirth was only momentary, and his despondency returned almost immediately.
At last he spoke with a sigh, "I guess it's not so bad, but it's not as much fun when I have to do it as when it's my own choice."
"An interesting perception. Why do you think that is so?"
"Because I'm in trouble, and it's not supposed to be fun." Vid grumbled his reply into his knees, but Legolas still heard him.
Legolas smiled kindly at the boy. "I do not think your father's intent is so much on making you suffer as on making you wiser. Whether the process is enjoyable or not is entirely up to you."
Vid only grunted skeptically in response. Legolas was silent for a time, his eyes tracing the contours of the rolling prairie dotted here and there with a cluster of trees similar to the one under which they reclined.
"Vidugavia, what do you see?"
The boy barely raised his head for a brief glance, then plopped it back down on his knees.
"A bunch of mares and grass and sky."
"Yes, but what do you see?"
Vid raised his head and stared at the Elf with annoyed perplexity. "Halvor, you are talking in riddles again."
Legolas laughed and turned back to studying the landscape.
"Do you know what I see? I see a clear sky that promises good weather till the morrow. I see a land unfolding itself after the winter snows. I see gangling colts enjoying their mothers with the simple pleasure of their kind. But I also see the well groomed manes and tails of the mares that speak of hands that have loved them. I see the powerful haunches of the colts and know that one day they will carry their riders straight and true no matter what danger lies ahead. I see order and design and loving attention to detail."
Vid's own gaze now roved over the landscape, his eyes squinting slightly as he searched for the details his mentor described. Legolas continued.
"I see a past and a future. And, most importantly, I see a present. I see defenseless young in need of a protector. I see an opportunity to bask in the sun of a spring day with a friend. I see an opportunity for me to show my character despite whether any one else sees or not."
Legolas had turned his penetrating gaze on Vid, and the boy squirmed a moment under the Elf's scrutiny before relenting with a sigh. Vid finally shook his head with a quirked smile.
"Your lectures are so much harder to see coming than Da's that I end up listening before I know better."
Legolas smiled back and gave the boy a gentle punch on the shoulder.
"Your father is a great man, Vid. He is one who has learned to see, really see, which is one of the most necessary traits of leadership. Learning to see, to pay attention to detail, will take you far as you follow in your father's footsteps. I know you have been so caught up in your new weapons studies that you have neglected some of your other duties. Being able to defend yourself, to defend your people, is a vital part of a king's role, but unless a king leads wisely, judges fairly, and deals honestly with all who come before him, he will not have to worry about outside threats for his kingdom will be torn apart from the inside out."
Vid's head hung in shame, and he picked at a wet patch of grass, avoiding looking at the Elf.
"I guess I have been distracted lately."
Legolas laid a hand on the boy's shoulder.
"All make mistakes, Vid. The point is to get back up and keep trying. Then our failures become stepping stone."
Vid quirked an eye at Legolas.
"You? Make a mistake! Ha!"
A shadow passed over Legolas's eyes, but he kept his tone light.
"Believe me; it's true."
Vid suddenly grinned mischievously.
"So then, I do have a chance at some day beating you at Os?"
"You may try, my impudent pupil, you may try," intoned Legolas with mock gravity.
Then the two burst into wide grins that developed into full blown laughter. The last vestiges of gloom were swept away, and the bright sun danced around two companions who wiled away the afternoon with comfortable camaraderie.
Legolas stopped just shy of Welfala's stall, unsure whether to make his presence known or not. He could hear Vid's gasping sobs, though he could not yet see the seventeen-year-old's brawny form. The young man's beloved stallion had his head down and seemed to be nuzzling his master as he mourned at his feet.
Legolas slumped to the ground wearily, letting his head rest against the smooth pine of the stall. Dark shadows ringed his eyes, both from lack of sleep and from sorrow. He had not slept at all in the last week as he worked feverishly to save the sweet Lady Mavina. Being the only one that could tend her with immunity, he had barely left her side for the whole of her acute illness. Vidugelmi would not be kept out either, though Legolas had feared for his life. When it had become apparent that the queen would not rise from her sick bed, Vidugavia had been allowed in as well. Just an hour ago, Legolas had slipped out to give the family privacy for their last moments together. Vidugelmi had been cradling Mavina against his chest while Vidugavia knelt by his mother's side clasping her hand in both of his own.
All of Vegard was hushed and somber. Gray clouds hung low, threatening another blast of snow to add to what already covered the ground. Several had died in the plague that had blown in on the winter wind, both among the inhabitants of Vegard itself and in the homes of the Northmen scattered across the prairie. Now their beloved queen was among the dead.
The devastating loss recalled all too keenly for the Elf the nightmarish time that had surrounded his own mother's death. He whispered a lament to the deepening shadows for the gracious queens who had brought so much joy to their realms in life and left such despair in the gaping vacuum they left behind.
Vid's initial maelstrom had subsided somewhat, though shaky, breathless moans still punctuated the gloomy twilight. Remembering how terribly alone he had felt at first, Legolas decided to at least offer his solace. Easing his weary body upright, he unlatched the stall and quietly stepped inside.
Welfala was now kneeling on the ground, and Vid had his arms clasped about the horse's neck with his tear-stained face buried in the bay's jet black mane. Both horse and boy looked up at the Elf as he entered, and suddenly Legolas felt lost and unsure of what to say. He bowed his head and closed his eyes, trying to work past the lump of emotion that threatened to entirely constrict his throat. Consequently, he did not see the fist that slammed into his jaw and sent him crashing against the feed box along the side wall.
"Why didn't you save her?"
Wiping away the blood from his split lips on the back of his hand, Legolas looked up in shock at the form looming over him. Vidugavia's fists were clenched at his side, ready to strike again as his icy blue eyes snapped with fury and loss.
"You are supposed to be able to do everything! You're supposed to protect this family. Why didn't you protect her!"
This time Legolas saw the punch and deflected the wild swing with ease, stepping to the side. Vid moved after him and the two warily circled each other, with Welfala standing in the corner tossing his head in agitation.
"I cannot change what Iluvatar has sung, Vid."
"Don't lecture me! I don't need your stupid talk about some great being I can't even see! What kind of god takes a woman like her away?" Vid's voice broke, "What kind of god takes my mother?"
Legolas stopped, dropping his defensive posture.
"He took my mother too."
The Elf's voice was quiet, but the deep sorrow of his confession halted Vid as if the words were a punch to his gut. The boy's fists lowered though they did not entirely unclench.
"Then why would you ever worship a god like that?"
Legolas was silent for nearly a minute, wrestling with how to put into words the complicated thoughts and feelings he had on so raw a question. Any technical argument seemed hollow in the face of such pain, and at last he could only answer from his heart.
"Because I believe this is not the whole story."
Vid just stared at the Elf, his confused, desperate eyes demanding further explanation. Legolas again searched for the right words, and when at last he spoke it was haltingly.
"I know you may not hear it… but the very earth and sky sing of something beyond this world… something that defies description or comprehension. There is a hand I cannot see that plays upon the strings of the world, composing a song of such intricacy and majesty it can only be understood when the last note sounds. We are in the middle of a story, Vid, and we… I… must trust the author of it to right the wrongs in the end. I believe it will be so. To do otherwise is to live life trapped in a meaningless existence of utter futility."
Neither spoke again for long minutes, each caught in private struggle. At last Vid's shoulder's slumped and his whole body seemed to sag under a weight of sorrow that anger had only temporarily held at bay.
"That doesn't change the fact that she's gone."
"No. It doesn't."
"I miss her already, Halvor. I miss her so much!"
His blinding rage gone, Vid stood helpless in his grief, just a boy aching for the mother who would never again kiss away his hurts. Legolas stepped forward and gently pulled Vid to him in a firm embrace. The bereft boy clung to the Elf and cried into his shoulder. Legolas let his own tears flow freely as well.
"I miss her too. Oh! How I miss her too!"
"Am I really ready for this?"
Legolas glanced over at the boy become a man standing beside him. The flickering torchlight did not quite reach to where they stood in the shadows of the veranda, but Legolas could still easily see the muscular form of the twenty year old beside him. War paint wrapped its way up lean arms and crisscrossed in intricate designs across his bare, powerfully built torso. Vid's pale blue eyes stood in stark contrast to the dark lines that swirled around his forehead and cheeks. His blonde hair hung to his shoulders, but a leather band held it back in preparation for his coming exertions.
While the young man stood in a relaxed manner as he gazed out over the massive crowd gathered around the bonfire in the center of Vegard's courtyard, his somewhat rapid breathing betrayed his inner tension. Legolas, similarly stripped and painted, placed one hand on Vid's shoulder. The young Northman now stood at the Elf's height, possibly even just a hair's breadth taller. The little boy Legolas had fled with across the prairie had grown up indeed.
"Who ever feels truly ready for the trials of adulthood? Yet I have watched you mature with wisdom and understanding. You are both a skilled warrior and, more importantly, a great man. What we do tonight is simply to show your people the truths that your father and I know already. Tonight you will take your place among the warriors in battle and at your father's side in rule, and the Northmen will find themselves doubly blessed."
Vidugavia flushed at his mentor's praise and clasped hold of the Elf's arm in a firm grasp of his own. The two pairs of blue eyes leapt and danced in the dim firelight. As the roaring chants of the crowd died and the drumbeat began that signaled the beginning of Vid's trials, Legolas flashed a fierce grin which Vid returned.
"Let us show the world how to properly dance the song of the sword!"
Vidugavia hefted his sword and buckler while Legolas readied his preferred pair of matched knives. They saluted each other then sprinted to the center of the clearing as the pounding drums reached their crescendo. Silence fell across the crowd.
Vidugelmi stepped forward. The King of the Northmen had grayed in the years since his wife's death, and sorrow still shadowed the corner of his eyes. Yet dressed in his formal regalia, a thin circlet of gold glimmering about his head, he still made an imposing and regal figure as he addressed the gathering.
"Tonight I present to you my son and heir, Vidugavia. Tonight he proves his worth as a warrior. In time I know he will prove his worthiness as your future leader. Yet I call on all of you - see him and judge for yourselves!"
Vidugelmi stepped back, and at his signal the drums began again, a steady intricate beat that set the blood to pulsing. Vidugavia stepped forward and clashed his hilt against his buckler acknowledging the crowd and calling them to bear witness to his skill. Then he turned and faced off with Legolas who had silently taken his place. Mutters went up from many as they realized Vidugavia's opponent was an Elf. The hum of expectation and anticipation climbed even higher.
At the first clang of steel on steel a shiver ran through the crowd. The duel began slowly- attack, parry, counter-attack -each move flawless in its execution. Then as the drums picked up the tempo, so did the exchange of blows. Around and around the bonfire they battled, increasing the already fearsome pace at each pass.
Soon the two lithe forms wound around each other in a dance of silver fire. A decade of daily practice had honed the two into a matched pair of lethal blades, and the sheer terrifying beauty of the duel took the onlookers' breath away.
At last the drums gave a final, unified beat that resounded through the courtyard, and Legolas leapt back, whirled about, and knelt before Vidugavia with his knife hilts proffered in homage. Both combatants were slick with sweat that gleamed in the moon and torch light, and their chests heaved for breath, but they shared a fierce grin in the absolute hush that had fallen around them. Vidugavia saluted the kneeling Elf with his sword, then turned to the awestruck crowd.
"I, Vidugavia, son of Vidugelmi King of the Northmen, stand before you to claim my place as warrior and heir apparent. Any who wish to challenge that right - step forward now and face me in honorable combat!"
Vidugavia stood proud and defiant before his kinsmen, flushed with the heat of battle. For a moment, not a sound broke the stillness of the night. Then, a single voice cried out.
"Long live Vidugavia, Prince of the Northmen!"
Almost immediately the entire crowd was cheering and chanting with all of their might, shaking their fists and stamping their feet.
"Long live Vidugavia, Prince of the Northmen. Long live the house of Vidugelmi!"
Although he did not join in the wild ruckus of the crowd, Legolas stood and quietly acknowledged his liege-lord with a simple bow of his head. Pride and love mingled within him as he gazed upon the man who had once been a boy on his shoulders. With heartfelt conviction, he added his whisper to the thunderous roar.
"Hail, Vidugavia, Prince of the Northmen. Long may you reign in strength and wisdom indeed."