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Celeborn, Elladan, Elrohir and Thranduil hung on in Middle Earth for about five hundred years, but then sailed to the Blessed Realm where they were reunited with their families and friends.
Eventually the lack of things to kill persuaded Elladan, Elrohir and Legolas to take some interest in less aggressive pursuits and they dived into the excitements of matrimony. After some years, they produced elflings.
Whilst quite happy, the elves of Middle Earth grew a little bored in the general sedate order of Valinor, and the High King, Finarfin, with the agreement of all and sundry, offered them the chance to move further west, beyond the mountains, and set up their own realms in the virgin forest.
Eventually, just as things are settling down, Oropher, Thranduil's father, returns from the Halls of Mandos.
Thranduil's wife and Legolas's mother has returned from the Halls of Mandos. Her name is Laerwen. They have recently had a daughter, Celumil. Their realm is Taurevron.
Legolas married a Noldo. Her name is Elerrina. She is the daughter of Taryatur and his wife Linevende. She has a married brother and a nephew - Camentur, Nisimalote and Surion.
Elrond, Celebrian and their sons moved west to a hilly land of abundant waterfalls descending into deciduous forest - which they have named Emyn Ovornen.
Elladan married an elleth who had grown up in Mirkwood and trained as a healer. Her name is Miriwen. Miriwen's parents are Neldor and Lithiel. She has a younger sister - Gildiniel.
Elrohir married an elleth who was born in the Blessed Realm, but whose parents came from Lothlorien. She is Sirithiel. Her parents are Erinion and Ethuliel.
Elladan and Miriwen were the first to have an elfling - who is named Elrin. They later had a second son Ellanthir.
Legolas and Elerrina were surprised to end up with twins - Eleniel and Galenthil.
Elrohir and Sirithiel finally had identical twin ellyth - Aewlin and Nimloth.
Ages: Elrin is about, in human equivalent years, two years younger than Surion, three years older than Eleniel and Galenthil and seven years older than Aewlin and Nimloth.
Celeborn and Galadriel moved further west - but their realm has not yet been given a name.
Hithien is a female warrior/bodyguard, who protects/nannies Eleniel and Galenthil.
Aelindor is a forester of Lasgalen, who made an appearance in Far Horizons.
Nadhras is one of Elrin's friends. Nelladel and Olostariel are two ellyth of about the same age.
Domenion is a guard, formerly of Imladris.
Calion appeared in Far Horizons and has now wed Hithien.
Regdolin is a guard, formerly of Lasgalen, who leads a contingent of Thranduil's guard.
Amondil - a guard, captain of the Laerwen's guard.
I can't think of anyone else who appears here, but will add others as and when they are mentioned.
Andatar and Andamil are Quenya-ish versions of Daeradar and Daernaneth. Elerrina's parents wouldn't hear of being referred to by the Sindarin versions!
First age given is the human equivalent, the second is elven age.
Chapters 1 (end) and 2
Elrin 7/18 Galenthil/Eleniel 4/10 Aewlin/Nimloth 0/0
Elrin 12/30 Galenthil/Eleniel 9/22 Aewlin/Nimloth 5/12
Elrin 14/35 Galenthil/Eleniel 11/27 Aewlin/Nimloth 7/17
Elrin 15/37 Galenthil/Eleniel 12/30 Aewlin/Nimloth 8/20
Elrin 16/40 Galenthil/Eleniel 13/32 Aewlin/Nimloth 9/22
Elrin 16/40 Galenthil/Eleniel 13/32 Aewlin/Nimloth 9/22
Elrin 16/40 Galenthil/Eleniel 13/32 Aewlin/Nimloth 9/22 Ellanthir 0/0
Elrin 17/42 Galenthil/Eleniel 14/34 Aewlin/Nimloth 10/24 Ellanthir 1/2
Elrin 17/43 Galenthil/Eleniel 14/35 Aewlin/Nimloth 10/25 Ellanthir 1/3
Elrin 17/43 Galenthil/Eleniel 14/36 Aewlin/Nimloth 10/26 Ellanthir 1/3 Celumil 0/0
Elrin 17/43 Galenthil/Eleniel 14/36 Aewlin/Nimloth 10/26 Ellanthir 1/3 Celumil 0/0
Elflings – First Acquaintance
Sirithiel leaned over the cradle, looking down at the dark fluff of hair and the crumpled features. ‘Oh Miriwen,’ she sighed. ‘He is absolutely beautiful.’
The proud naneth followed her gaze slightly dubiously. ‘I am not sure we share the same concept of beauty,’ she remarked. ‘Adorable, yes, I can accept that. Tiny – I agree. Precious. But beautiful – I suppose it is better than telling me that he is my image. I would hate to think I was red-faced, toothless and squawking.’
Her sister-in-law’s mist-grey eyes moved protestingly to her face. ‘How can you say that, Miriwen? He is lovely!’
‘You can say he is like his adar, if you want,’ her friend suggested. ‘He might be flattered by the comparison.’
‘If you do not admire him sufficiently, I will be happy to steal him,’ Elerrina offered, touching the soft hair with one gentle finger.
‘Well,’ Miriwen smiled at the infant. ‘I am not sure about that. Perhaps I will keep him – at least while he is sleeping. You may borrow him later, when he is crying and refuses to settle.’
‘I am not certain that is a fair offer,’ Elerrina considered. ‘I think, perhaps, that that might be an appropriate time for adar and son to learn to know each other. Elladan would doubtless enjoy the restless pacing that seems needed at such a time. It would be good exercise for him.’
The elfling opened his eyes and pulled a face, his head turning as his mouth sought the comfort of food. ‘See!’ his naneth said proudly. ‘Very like his adar.’
‘You are wicked,’ Sirithiel giggled. ‘Are you going to feed him?’
‘No, not yet. Here.’ Miriwen scooped up the new-born and tucked him into his aunt’s willing arms. ‘You have him for a while.’
Sirithiel automatically curved arm and body to accept the child. ‘Oh, he is so small,’ she sighed. ‘And just look at his tiny fingers – they are simply perfect.’
‘Perhaps,’ Miriwen suggested, ‘you should have one of your own.’
‘I would like to,’ Sirithiel sounded wistful, ‘but I am not sure that Elrohir is that anxious to begin a family yet. He says there is plenty of time and there is no need to rush into parenthood to keep up with you and his twin. My naneth is of the opinion that we should spend longer as a couple, too.’
‘Have you decided on a name?’ Elerrina asked, watching Sirithiel as she stroked the tiny dark head.
‘After much debate,’ Miriwen nodded ruefully. ‘We finally came to an agreement on a name – only to decide against it just as he was born. We have now agreed a second time – and you will discover the choice at his naming ceremony.’
‘Would you care to hold him, Elerrina?’ Sirithiel tore her eyes away from the baby.
‘Later,’ she replied. ‘You enjoy him for now. I have had plenty of opportunities to hold my brother’s son, so it is less of a new experience for me.’
Elladan touched his brother’s shoulder as they watched from the doorway. ‘You are doomed,’ the new adar intoned with relish, ‘doomed. You have no chance of escaping your fate.’
‘What is it about females and elflings?’ Legolas shook his head. ‘They are nice enough, I suppose, but I cannot really understand what the fuss is about. It is not as if they do anything.’
Miriwen looked at him and laughed. ‘Sometimes you appear quite intelligent, my prince,’ she said. ‘But, on the whole, you display no more common sense now than you did when you were an elfling yourself. It is a great shame – your poor adar must find it to be a great grief to him.’
‘What elflings do at this age, my love,’ Elerrina informed him, ‘is twine round your heart – and they do it most successfully and without any effort at all on their part. Come and meet this little one.’
‘I have not come here to be insulted.’ Legolas raised his eyebrows at them in imitation of his adar’s most intimidating look.
‘No need,’ Elladan told him amiably. ‘You can be insulted anywhere.’
‘Sit down,’ Miriwen commanded him, ‘and I might permit you to hold our son for a moment.’
Legolas obeyed reluctantly. ‘I do not mind waiting to make his acquaintance,’ he said. ‘I can happily wait until he is able to walk and talk – and control his bodily fluids.’
Sirithiel rose carefully and deposited the small bundle in his arms. He froze, then moved one long-fingered hand to support the child’s head.
‘You have done this before,’ Sirithiel accused. ‘You are not as ignorant as you were pretending.’
‘I have held many babies,’ he admitted, ‘but I have not learned to enjoy it. They seem too small and too easily damaged.’ He studied the little face. ‘I see no resemblance to anyone,’ he declared. ‘He looks more like a fledgling than anything else – one begging for worms,’ he added as the little mouth opened and closed as if exploring, before letting out a protesting wail. He held the infant out quickly. ‘Here, have him back. He clearly does not care for me.’
Miriwen took him and he settled immediately. ‘Hopeless, Legolas,’ she mourned. ‘Elerrina, you will have to put in a lot of work on this one.’
Sirithiel moved to her husband’s side. ‘Have you seen his tiny nails?’ she asked. ‘He is just the most perfect little creature.’
Elladan met his brother’s eyes, his own brimming with laughter. ‘Doomed,’ he mouthed over his sister-in-law’s head.
‘He is indeed a wonder,’ Elrohir said admiringly, ‘and most wonderful of all is that he can be left with his adoring parents. I can be an indulgent uncle, spoil him dreadfully and leave his adar to deal with the discipline.’
Sirithiel slapped at his hand. ‘Elrohir!’
‘Beware, my brother,’ Elladan warned him. ‘Do that and I will make you pay – your own little ones will be taught to make your life a misery!’
The small noises from the infant began to develop into a more determined complaint, stopping the conversation and turning all eyes towards him.
‘I think it is time for us to take our leave.’ Legolas rose to his feet. ‘The little Elladanion clearly needs some attention – and his naneth requires some peace in which to indulge him. He is a delightful elfling,’ he said politely. ‘You have done well, Miriwen, despite the disadvantage of having chosen Elladan to be his adar. We will now go and spend some time congratulating the proud daernaneth and daeradar on their achievement.’
‘Do you need any help, Miriwen?’ Elerrina asked, resisting her husband’s pressure on her arm and waiting for a response, before allowing him to draw her from the room.
‘No,’ her friend replied. ‘Elladan will do anything necessary.’
‘Will I?’ he said uneasily.
Elrohir’s mocking laughter echoed down the corridor as the door closed and his twin was left for his wife to initiate him in some aspects of caring for his son.
‘But, Nana, they are tiny,’ the small voice piped disapprovingly. ‘They will not be any fun at all.’
Miriwen looked apologetically at Elerrina as she rested in the cushioned chair on the wide verandah. ‘He has not seen many babies,’ she said, ‘and his ada has been filling him with stories and making all sorts of promises about what he and the twins will be doing. I think he expected them to be ready to go straight out and play with him.’
‘They will grow very quickly,’ Elerrina told the ellon sympathetically. ‘They are still quite new at the moment, Elrin, but they will soon be following you everywhere.’
The elfling continued to look disappointed, but he allowed his naneth to distract him with his toys and settled amiably on her lap.
‘They are lovely babies, Elerrina,’ Miriwen approved, looking at the two elflings beside each other in the cradle, each wrapped in an embroidered shawl of white. ‘And they are bigger than I thought they would be. Which is which?’
‘You would ask me that!’ her friend responded.
‘She does not know,’ Legolas explained teasingly, as he caressed her silky chestnut hair, bringing his hand to rest on her shoulder. ‘It is as well they are ellon and elleth, because then, at least when they are naked, it is plain which one is Eleniel and which is Galenthil.’
‘You cannot keep them naked all their lives, though,’ Miriwen replied, keeping her face straight and her voice serious. ‘They will become self-conscious.’
‘Miriwen! Legolas!’ the new naneth snapped. ‘Of course I know them apart,’ she said with dignity. ‘I just have to think about it, that is all. As I am coming to know them better, it is getting easier to tell – but when they are asleep and their minds are resting, there is not much for which to reach.’
‘Has Sirithiel seen them yet?’
‘She and Elrohir should be here any minute,’ Elerrina told her. ‘I hope it does not upset her to see them. Her longing for an elfling of her own is very strong.’
‘Adar says there is no reason why the little one is taking its time in coming,’ Elladan remarked. ‘He thinks she is just too anxious, but it not easy to take her mind off babies when they are all around her.’
‘Nana, may I go and play?’ Elrin wriggled from Miriwen’s grasp, standing just out of reach.
‘Stay on the verandah where you can see us, my son, so that we can see you.’
The ellon galloped off along the wide shaded expanse of terrace, making horse noises as he went.
‘You are very brave.’ Elladan looked at his wife. ‘You know he is bound to come back dirty and with scraped knees – and probably having done something to infuriate Thranduil, do you not?’
Miriwen shrugged. ‘I cannot tie him to me, my husband. He is your son – he is bound to get in endless trouble. We will just have to hope he starts with small amounts of mischief and learns from his mistakes.’ She smiled. ‘At least it gives me the opportunity to meet these little ones without him complaining.’
‘Would you like to hold one?’ Elerrina offered.
‘I believe I would,’ her friend teased her. ‘Which one shall I take?’
‘It hardly matters,’ the new adar mused. ‘If Elerrina knows them apart, I certainly do not. Shall I shut my eyes and pick one? Or do you have a preference?’
‘You could play one of the old counting games,’ Miriwen suggested sardonically. ‘Inty, minty, tipsy, toe; ira, dira, domino; oker, poker, dominoker, out goes you!’
‘Good idea,’ he enthused and grinned as he handed her a small bundle. ‘I think that is Eleniel,’ he told her.
‘You are getting better at handling infants,’ she smiled approvingly.
‘Do I get the other?’ Elladan asked, stretching his hands out and deftly removing the other twin from the cradle. ‘What does Thranduil think of them?’ he asked, as he gazed down at the sleeping face.
Legolas and Elerrina exchanged a long amused look. ‘He is smitten,’ Legolas said. ‘And he is surprisingly competent.’
‘I do not know why you are surprised,’ Miriwen remarked. ‘He is your adar, after all. I am told that he and your naneth could not take their eyes off you when you were born – and that your naneth was not one to let him use his position to avoid some of the less pleasing aspects of being an adar.’
‘I remember him sitting beside me when I had bad dreams,’ he said softly, ‘and telling me long and involved stories that always seemed to involve sunshine and happiness in a great green wood.’
Elerrina stretched out and took his hand, drawing him down beside her.
‘Is Galenthil the firstborn?’ Elladan enquired after a moment.
‘No, my friend, Eleniel arrived several minutes before her brother – although, I believe Galenthil was actually conceived first. Elerrina seems to feel that that evens things up, but I suspect they will spend the next several centuries squabbling about which one takes precedence.’
‘Look what we found!’ Sirithiel’s gentle amused voice called from the end of the verandah, indicating Elrohir who was holding up at arms’ length a small, wet and exceedingly muddy elfling.
Miriwen looked up, automatically rising and heading towards her brother-in-law. ‘What have you been doing, Elrin?’ she asked despairingly. ‘How can you have managed to get so filthy in so short a time?’
‘Talent. Natural talent,’ Elrohir suggested. ‘Here, you give the infant to Sirithiel and take the mud-pie. I think that is a fair exchange.’
‘Has he made a terrible mess?’ Elrin’s naneth wanted to know. ‘If Elladan needs to go and be deeply apologetic, please tell him – and get him to arrange to have whatever has been done cleared up. Elerrina, may I take this creature and bathe him?’
‘He has only been playing on the verandah, Miriwen,’ Legolas said easily. ‘He cannot have done anything too terrible. Come with me and I will arrange for water and the cleaning of his clothes – though he might have to dress in a towel. We have nothing in his size.’
‘If Elladan needs to go and be apologetic?’ protested the offended adar. ‘Why would I need to go and be apologetic? I haven’t done anything!’
‘Parental responsibility, my brother,’ Elrohir nodded gleefully. ‘Your elfling – your fault. You had better go and clear up the mess he had made with those plants and then grovel to Thranduil.’
‘He was only gone ten minutes,’ his brother moaned as he handed Galenthil over to his twin and headed reluctantly towards the site of damage. ‘How much harm can he have done?’
‘And just what did he do?’ the new naneth asked softly.
Elrohir shook his head. ‘The usual mix,’ he said. ‘Ellon, water, soil – result, mud. He appeared to want somewhere for his horse to run.’
Elerrina’s smile grew wider. ‘It would seem that there is much to anticipate as far as parenthood is concerned. I shall enjoy watching Elladan and Miriwen endure it first – knowing they will relish our suffering.’
Sirithiel stroked the soft blond hair of the little elleth in her arms, working to conceal her mournful expression. ‘I hope you will be able to take pleasure from our experience in turn, Elerrina.’
‘I know we will,’ she answered comfortingly. ‘Have confidence.’
‘Where is my little Eleniel?’ asked Sirithiel, looking up from the treasure she held. ‘And those two adorable little ellyn?’
‘We learnt from what happened last time, my sister,’ Miriwen said, stooping to kiss her friend. ‘Little elflings and visits to new-borns do not mix. Elerrina’s naneth is visiting and she offered to take charge. Legolas did warn her – in front of witnesses – but she recklessly ignored him, so she will not be able to hold us responsible for what they are bound to do.’
‘You have become cynical, Miriwen,’ Elrohir said, shaking his head. ‘It is a most unattractive trait.’
‘My apologies, brother,’ she teased. ‘I look forward to you developing the same fatalism.’
‘Sirithiel, they are like peas in a pod,’ Elerrina interrupted. ‘And I thought it was difficult telling Galenthil from Eleniel! What does Celebrian say?’
‘She says that I will know – they are themselves and it will be apparent to me very soon.’
‘Adar and she could always tell us apart,’ Elladan admitted. ‘Even when we were really trying to fool them. Even when we were not in the same room as them! I always thought it was a natural ability given to the parents of twins. After all, they need some advantages!’
‘They are so fair,’ Miriwen marvelled. ‘It amazes me that one of the sons of Elrond should have golden-haired elflings.’
Elrohir grinned. ‘Daeradar insists they are silver-haired,’ he commented. ‘He is certain they will share their colouring with naneth and him. He is very pleased.’
‘And he is thrilled that they are ellyth,’ Sirithiel smiled. ‘He is anticipating spoiling them.’
‘I think our adar is pleased that they will be fair,’ Elrohir told his brother. ‘His heart was in his eyes when he saw them – and his mind was filled with Arwen. Even though he had time to accustom himself to the idea while we were awaiting their arrival, he still found it hard to greet our little ellyth.’ He turned to smile at his wife and her armful of elflings and looked at her enquiringly, before picking one up and offering her to Elerrina, who took her gently.
‘Do they have names?’ she asked, as he placed the other infant in Miriwen’s arms.
‘They do,’ he asserted. ‘You have Aewlin, our little songbird, and Miriwen holds Nimloth, our white flower.’
‘Are you sure of that?’ Legolas teased. ‘I do not see how you can tell.’
‘We have our ways,’ the proud naneth smiled, ‘that are reliable enough at the moment.’
Miriwen fingered the tiny mithril bracelet fastened round the wrist of the infant she held, admiring the flower that decorated it. ‘It is beautiful work,’ she said.
‘The chain can be lengthened as they grow larger,’ Sirithiel remarked, ‘and the plaque will always represent their name.’
‘Until they learn to deal with the clasp and start exchanging them,’ their uncle approved. ‘Identical twins find nothing more entertaining than tormenting their friends. Is that not so, Legolas?’
‘You were excessively annoying, I can tell you that. Even though you were old enough to know better.’
Elerrina stroked the fair little face. ‘I am glad you had ellyth, Sirithiel,’ she said. ‘It will be pleasant for Eleniel to grow up with friends who are as close as kin.’
‘What about me?’ the new adar protested. ‘Did I not also have ellyth?’
Their wives smiled in a way that was singularly alike. ‘Of course,’ Miriwen told him. ‘They are yours when they need discipline. . .’
‘Yours when they are exhausting. . .’ Elerrina added.
‘Yours when they are coaxing their ada to provide ponies, or new dresses, or permit them to do something naneth would not allow. . .’ Sirithiel added.
Elladan exchanged a rueful look with his brother and friend. ‘Ellyth are very devious,’ he stated. ‘Our wives are prime examples of that. We will have an easier time with our sons.’
The silence extended to several minutes before they all burst into a gale of laughter. ‘If you believe that, my friend,’ Legolas gasped, ‘you have learned nothing over the course of your long years. The only thing more wearing than an elleth seeking to manoeuvre her way round her parents is an ellon evading his responsibilities while charging bull-headed in search of adventure – and that is something you should know only too well.’
Elflings – Second Sight
‘Nana?’ Elrin balanced easily on the rail by the stream, aware than his naneth’s hand was hovering close by him, and that she was wanting to snatch him to safety, but that she was letting him walk along it anyway.
‘Yes, my son?’ she asked calmly.
Elrin turned to look at her. ‘Why do I never see my cousin Eldarion? Does he live a long way away?’
Miriwen’s breath caught in her throat. How could she explain mortality to one so young in a way that he could possible understand?
‘I am afraid so, Elrin,’ she said. ‘Across the Sundering Seas to Middle Earth – a journey that very few can travel. When you are a little older, your ada will tell you many stories that will help you understand. The family of Elrond Peredhil is very special.’
‘Eldarion would be too old to play with me, would he not, Nana?’
‘I am afraid so, sweeting. You have elflings to play with here – Galenthil is a good playmate, is he not?’
‘He is a bit small.’
Miriwen smiled. A few short years mattered so much when you were an elfling, only to become so irrelevant once you were past your first century. Elladan was some two thousand years older than she was, but it made no difference at all. If anything, she felt considerably more mature and found his youthful exuberance one of his many engaging qualities. ‘He will grow, Elrin. And it is fun showing him how to do things, is it not?’
‘But Eleniel always comes with him, Nana, and she is an elleth.’ The ellon made the word sound like an insult.
Unable to conceal her smile, Miriwen looked away from the serious little face. ‘She cannot help it, my son, and it does not mean that she cannot join in with your games. After all, I can be quite fun to play with and I am an elleth, too.’
‘You are not an elleth, you are my nana,’ Elrin stated firmly with the twisted logic of the young.
‘Would you and Galenthil like to have a trip just for ellyn, with your adars and uncle?’ Miriwen asked him, smiling at his excited reaction. ‘What would you like to do?’
‘Can we go into the woods with our swords and bows and fight the orcs and spiders?’ Elrin’s eyes sparkled. ‘And have fires and picnics and sleep under the stars.’
Miriwen winced, but kept her voice light. ‘Well, we might have a problem with the creatures of the Dark, my sweet, but I am sure Ada will be able to arrange the fires and camping. He might even take his sword and his bow, although I cannot promise.’
‘Can we go and ask him?’ Elrin launched himself into his naneth’s arms, hugging her. ‘Now?’
They crossed the bridge and the elfling pulled Miriwen across the wide lawns sweeping down from the extensive house the family shared, diverting to join the figures sat under the spreading beech.
‘Nana says Ada can take me camping,’ Elrin announced to his daernaneth, ignoring his baby cousins as they slept on their blanket.
‘Lucky Ada,’ Celebrian smiled, opening her arms to welcome him in a swift hug. ‘Does he yet know the delight he has in store?’ The ellon shook his head. ‘You stay here and tell me about it, my daerion, while your naneth goes to fetch Ada and the others to come and enjoy a breath of air with us. I look forward to seeing his pleasure when you tell him of his treat.’
Elrin peered at the babies. ‘Was I like that?’ he asked.
‘Well, you were a little bigger,’ his daernaneth told him, ‘because there was only one of you. You looked very like your adar did when he was a baby, but you were generally rather better behaved. As I recall, your adar and uncle slept very little when they were babies.’
‘Sleeping is a rather boring thing to do,’ Elrin pointed out disapprovingly.
‘But naneths appreciate it a lot,’ Celebrian smiled.
One of the twins made a little mewling noise and followed it up with a sneeze. Celebrian leaned over to check her, but she returned to sleep with a little wave of her hand.
‘Can I climb the tree, Daernaneth?’ Elrin said.
‘Wait for Ada, sweet one. I expect he would like to climb, too.’
Elrin sat next to his daernaneth and leaned his head into her shoulder. ‘Can you tell me a story?’ he asked.
‘Shall I tell you a story of your adar and uncle when they were little ellyn?’ Celebrian asked.
‘Tell me about when they got in trouble, Daernaneth,’ Elrin asked enthusiastically.
Celebrian laughed. ‘They will not appreciate it too much – but I can think of the perfect tale, my sweet.’ She looked down at the dark head and smiled. ‘One day,’ she continued, ‘Elladan and Elrohir were bored. They had been good ellyn for several days after their last adventure, for their adar had been very cross with them, but now they were so bored that they knew they had to think of something to amuse themselves. They were sitting in a lesson from Erestor, who had agreed to help them with their studies. Now, Erestor knows a lot, but he expects his students to want to learn from him – which means that he was really not an ideal teacher for the twins, because they did not want to learn at all.’ She grinned mischievously at the sight of her sons approaching.
Elrohir looked quite indignant at her assertion. ‘Naneth!’ he exclaimed.
‘You are leading my son astray,’ Elladan complained. ‘You should tell him that I was a good hard-working ellon who always did as my parents and teachers told me.’
‘But it would not be true,’ his naneth pointed out. ‘You frequently had all those around you tearing their hair out because they could never predict quite what you would both think of next. And this,’ she beamed at Elrin, ‘was one of those times.’
‘So which tale are you telling now?’ Elrohir asked with resignation, stretching out on the grass beside his daughters and admiring the sleeping faces crowned with tufted blond hair.
Celebrian’s eyes twinkled. ‘Erestor had been telling the twins stories about ships and the sea,’ she continued. ‘And they decided that they wanted to follow in the footsteps of their seafaring kin – so they decided to build themselves a raft and take it down the river. It took them about a week to make it. We should have known they were up to something,’ she confided in Elrin’s ear, ‘they were being much too good. Then, one afternoon, they raided the kitchens for as much food as they could cram into their packs and set off on an adventure.’
Elladan grinned as he lay back and looked up at the canopy of leaves. ‘I remember that,’ he said. ‘It was a hot afternoon, my son, and so still. The sky was glassy and the air was heavy – it seemed a perfect day for playing on the water. We pushed the raft out onto the river and climbed aboard. We had provided ourselves with rough paddles, but we really meant to pole it along. It didn’t work very well – we really were not very good at raft-building.’
‘It was not a very big river,’ Elrohir added. ‘And, except in the spring floods, it was only a foot or so deep. We should have been perfectly safe, even if the raft had fallen apart, but -.’
‘In the hills, quite a way upstream, rain began to fall – not gentle rain, but torrents of it. The sky split with lightning – it fractured into a hundred paths – and the thunder that followed menaced like a warg growling, but we paid little attention,’ Elladan told his son. ‘The hills seemed far away, and where we were, the sun shone and we had almost got the hang of moving in a straight line.’
‘The water began to rise. Not much, just a little – and quite slowly. We did not notice what was happening.’
‘And then, the first wave came.’ Elladan sat up. ‘It is just as well the flood arrived in four or five fairly small waves,’ he remarked. ‘The raft would never have held together if the water had all come down at once.’
‘I know, my son,’ Celebrian said, keeping her voice neutral.
Her sons glanced quickly at her. ‘Anyway, the raft was swept downstream. We managed to hold on and eventually we were swept in towards the bank and we caught hold of some willow branches and pulled ourselves into the tree.’
‘Unfortunately,’ Elrohir chimed in, ‘we were on the wrong side of the river and the flood meant we could not get across.’
‘And,’ said Elladan, ‘we were much further downstream than we were ever permitted to play, which meant that no-one knew where to look for us.’
‘And it was getting dark.’
Elrin shivered and snuggled up to his daernaneth. ‘How did you get rescued?’ he asked. ‘Were you scared?’
‘When they did not return in time for dinner, we sent out search parties,’ Celebrian said, adding dryly, ‘They were well accustomed to looking for the twins. But all trace of their raft-building activities had been swept away by the flood.’
‘Fortunately, Glorfindel was leading a patrol back that way,’ Elladan told him. ‘We saw his horse – you know how he always likes to ride a grey – and called him. We rode back into Imladris with the patrol, feeling very pleased with ourselves.’
Elrohir grinned. ‘But our Ada and Nana were not nearly so pleased. Even though our adventure was an accident, it was some time before we were permitted out of the sight of a responsible adult.’
‘So the moral of the story, my son, is: always obey your parents,’ Elladan concluded triumphantly, winking at his naneth, who shook her head and sighed.
‘I am sure that these little ones will be rather less trouble than we were,’ Elrohir said besottedly, touching the tiny hand of one of his daughters and smiling as her fingers curled around his thumb.
To her great credit, Celebrian managed to suppress her laughter and buried her face in her grandson’s hair.
‘Has Elrin asked you?’ Miriwen called, as she and Sirithiel joined them with pitchers of wine and juice and some plates of small cakes.
‘Asked me what?’ Elladan returned. ‘Naneth has been too busy telling him stories for him to have had any chance to ask questions.’
‘Nana says you can take me camping,’ Elrin informed him. ‘She said we could take Galenthil and Legolas and spend the night sleeping under the stars – and that you would take your sword and your bow.’
Miriwen raised an eyebrow at him.
Her son ducked his head and grinned. ‘You might take them,’ he amended. ‘Would you?’ His eyes gazed hopefully into his adar’s.
‘Galenthil’s Nana might think that he is a bit small yet,’ he judged, ‘but I do not see why we should not have some time away from all the ellyth. It will do us good.’
‘Shh,’ his naneth said quickly as he jumped up and down with delight. ‘Do not wake Nimloth and Aewlin. Let them sleep as long as they will – they will be demanding attention soon enough.’
Galenthil sat on the stairs with his elbows on his knees and his chin in his cupped hands and a decided pout. It was most definitely not fair. He had been waiting for years to be old enough to join Elrin and his adar and uncle on the trips they made into the woods, and now, with one remark, it looked as if it was going to be ruined.
And all Eleniel had done was tilt her head and smile up at Ada through her eyelashes. Well, he hoped there would be spiders. In fact, if his sister insisted on coming, he would make sure that there would be spiders.
His daeradar sat beside him on the step. ‘You cannot fight ellyth, my grandson,’ he said sympathetically. ‘Try as you might. Your naneth has decided that Eleniel should go with you, and go she will.’
‘She will be the only elleth, Daerada,’ Galenthil objected. ‘She will want to do silly things and she will complain if she gets muddy.’
Thranduil grinned over the young one’s head. ‘Perhaps you and Ada could make some rules,’ he said when he could control his voice. ‘No complaining could be on the list – although,’ he warned, ‘it would apply to everyone equally. Can you think of a rule?’
‘No ellyth,’ Galenthil suggested.
‘I think you have already been overruled on that one,’ his daeradar observed.
‘No hair brushing,’ the ellon said hopefully.
‘I do not believe that rule will pass with your adar either,’ Thranduil said solemnly. ‘He really does not care for having tangles in his hair – at least, he has not since he was your age.’
Galenthil rested his head on his daeradar’s arm. ‘I wish you were coming,’ he said wistfully.
Slipping an arm round the slender figure, Thranduil smiled broadly. ‘I am sure that your adar and uncles will have more fun without me,’ he said, picturing the quickly controlled expressions of horror that would cross their faces should he suggest joining them. ‘But I will ask your naneth if you can come out to the woods with me soon – just you, on your own,’ he offered.
‘Are you two plotting against me?’ Legolas peered at them through the banisters, enjoying the sight of the small fair elfling with his hand resting on Thranduil’s knee. ‘I know you would prefer just to spend time with Elrin, my son,’ he said, coming round and squeezing next to Galenthil on the steps. ‘But Eleniel would feel left out then.’
‘I confess that I am glad that I was not the adar of twins,’ Thranduil told him. ‘It seems to involve constant juggling – and one or other of them is always upset.’
‘And Elrohir says it will get far worse before it improves,’ his son commented ruefully. ‘And yet separating them makes it even worse. Lady Celebrían said that she often felt like sending them to spend a few years with her naneth.’
‘She was exaggerating,’ his adar said.
‘Come, Adar – this is Elladan and Elrohir about whom we are talking,’ Legolas pointed out.
Galenthil twisted and placed his head on Thranduil’s lap so that he could gaze up at his adar. ‘Do you not like having Eleniel and me?’ he asked doubtfully.
‘You two and your nana are the best things that have ever happened to me,’ Legolas said promptly. ‘I cannot imagine what I would do without you all. But,’ he prodded his son with a tickling finger, ‘that does not mean that I enjoy it when you squabble.’
‘Stop, Ada!’ Galenthil giggled, drawing his knees up and batting at his adar’s hands. ‘All right – Eleniel can come, but Daerada says she is not to complain.’
Legolas lifted an enquiring eyebrow at his adar.
‘And Galenthil says there should be no brushing of hair while you are away,’ Thranduil added brazenly. ‘He feels you will be closer to the forest if you abandon such needless rituals.’
Legolas inhaled and relished the scent of leaf litter and green leaves. Despite its closeness to the city, the wood was old and filled with the song of trees.
‘You look like a Rohir who has just found his way into the brewery after a long season in the field,’ Elrohir told him unkindly. ‘You will be getting drunk on the fumes next.’
‘Is it possible to get drunk on fumes?’ Elladan asked curiously.
‘Only for Wood Elves,’ his twin teased.
‘It is good to be outside,’ Legolas said amiably, ‘is it not, Elrin? Even though we had to bring your ada along with us.’
Elrin looked somewhat doubtfully at the elleth sitting in front of his uncle. Eleniel was wearing some clothes borrowed from her twin and her hair was pulled back into a single braid. She remained quiet, gazing around her with interest. Elrin sighed. He had always enjoyed these over-night camping trips, but he was not at all sure that he wanted either Galenthil or Eleniel to join them. The attention of his adar and uncles was bound to be concentrated on the young twins and he was going to be left out, or worse, expected to spend all his time looking after them.
His adar’s arm tightened round him. ‘Never mind,’ he murmured with understanding. ‘We will sneak off again soon, shall we? Just us? I am sure Nana will be glad to see the back of us for a few days.’
A hopeful grin brightened Elrin’s face. ‘I would like that,’ he said.
Galenthil’s giggle made them turn their heads to see Elrohir swinging down from his horse, leaving the elfling perched on the saddle. ‘Look at me, Ada,’ he called proudly. ‘I am riding on my own.’
Legolas lifted an eyebrow. ‘I see you,’ he said. ‘If you break him, Elrohir, I will not attempt to protect you from his Nana’s wrath.’
‘We are here,’ his friend told him, leading the horse into the grove of old trees. ‘The horses will wander on the meadow behind us and we can set up camp here.’
‘Nice spot,’ Legolas approved. ‘Why have we not been here before?’
‘It is too close to home, of course,’ Elladan told him. ‘There are no wild animals – well, none larger than a squirrel; the only water in the immediate area is a small spring, so the elflings cannot drown; the trees provide shelter and a comfortable place to sleep – and, should anything go wrong, we can have them home in minutes.’
‘Who is going to be on elfling duty while we set up camp?’ Elrohir asked.
‘Do we need anyone to watch them?’ his brother asked in surprise. ‘There is nowhere they can go, surely.’
Legolas laughed. ‘We might be able to trust Elrin to stay close, but I do not believe Elerrina would be very happy if she thought that the twins were not being supervised.’
‘We will permit Elrohir to stand guard duty,’ Elladan grinned. ‘It will serve to get him in training for dealing with his own little ones.’
His twin sniffed. ‘Come,’ he invited. ‘We will go and seek dry wood for the fire and leave these know-it-alls to prepare for us.’ He grinned wickedly. ‘We would like to have a meal prepared for us on our return,’ he demanded. ‘Five courses.’
‘Go with Elrohir,’ Legolas told his twins. ‘Help him as much as you can.’ He smiled blandly. ‘Make sure you remain in his sight.’
‘Can Elrin come?’ Eleniel asked shyly, casting an admiring glance at the older elfling.
‘Not just now,’ Elladan beamed at her. ‘He is going to help me light the fire. You go and fetch more wood for him and then we can decide what to do with what remains of the day.’
As Eleniel responded with a small smile and followed Elrohir into the woods, Legolas grinned at the older elfling. ‘I think my daughter likes you,’ he said.
‘Please,’ Elladan sounded pained. ‘I am not ready for the role of adar-in-law yet.’
Elrin flushed. ‘She is just a baby, Adar,’ he replied in an offended tone.
‘Of course she is,’ Legolas agreed seriously. ‘I am glad she is inclined to be friends with you – although I am not sure Galenthil will agree. They will be competing with each other for your attention, I am afraid, Elrin. I hope they do not spoil the trip for you.’
‘That is all right.’ The elfling was mollified. ‘I do not mind helping to look after them.’
Between the excitement of the journey and the exercise of scuttling back and forth with many small armloads of wood, the twins were half-asleep before they had eaten the simple meal provided for them. They curled up on either side of their adar as he cuddled them close, crooning a soft song of lengthening shadows and gentle ease.
‘They have been less trouble than I thought they might be,’ Elladan said in a quiet murmur.
Legolas did not interrupt his song, but cast a look his way and shook his head.
‘Give it time,’ Elrohir tilted his head so that he could see the first stars gleaming faint in the steel-grey sky of evening. ‘They are probably lulling us into a sense of security first.’
A beam from the rising sun slid between the leaves to shine insistently on Galenthil’s face. He batted at it, but it refused to go away and as he began to rouse he wondered how his bed had become so bumpy and why his room felt wrong. He opened his eyes abruptly as the answer came to him and he sat up, pushing the blanket away. Everyone was sleeping, he thought; then realised that his adar was nowhere to be seen. Elladan sprawled beside the ashes of the fire, while Elrohir rested neatly, his eyes half-closed in elven sleep. Eleniel burrowed into her blanket, sighing in peaceful dreams, and Elrin’s tangle of dark hair hid his face.
Galenthil looked round. There was still no sign of his adar, but, he decided, it did not matter. His need to relieve himself was urgent enough to mean that he had to visit the spot that had been designated for the purpose. After all, he reasoned to himself, Ada had surely not meant that he had to control that need until someone was able to leave the camp with him. Probably, he decided, he would find Ada there already and he would be impressed to find that his son was grown-up enough to deal with such matters without help.
It must be very early, Galenthil thought, for the Elrondionnath to be quite so deeply asleep, but, if he was careful, he should be able to get away without disturbing them. After all, he smiled, Ada said that no-one could keep track of Wood Elves among the trees – not unless they wanted to be found. He eased himself to his feet, a bright shadow in the small glade, and practised the skills his adar had shown him among the trees of his home, slipping quietly from the safety of the bank where Legolas had left him asleep and disappearing into the wood. Eleniel shifted slightly and frowned, but the quiet of the camp soothed her and she returned to a peaceful sleep.
Galenthil looked round him with concern. He knew that he had come in the right direction, but the woods did not look the same as they had the night before. The shadows had moved and the bright slashes of light seemed to be laughing at him. He had come further than he should have done, he was sure. Perhaps, he thought as he turned round a couple of times, perhaps, that tree was familiar. He altered direction and made a bee-line for it, only to stop in confusion as a small stream wound its way between him and his destination. Not there, then. He looked around again, blinking back the tears that threatened to overcome him. He should go back. He should, but he was no longer sure which way was back. The trees were friendly, but they were strange and he could not really understand what they told him. He chose a direction at random and started to run. He wanted his Ada. If he ran fast enough, far enough, quickly enough, perhaps he would find his Ada.
The low branches and undergrowth caught at his tunic as he pushed forward, no longer thinking about direction, but just wanting to get somewhere. He pulled himself free from the brambles, sobbing quietly as they tugged at his soft golden hair and staggered on, too breathless to call for help. His foot caught on a break in the ground and he tripped, tumbling into a narrow opening and falling, by mischance, into a narrow cleft beneath the root system of an ancient oak, rolling with the cascade of small stones. His head struck a protruding rock and he fell, as limp as a leaf dropping to the forest floor, to land unconscious in the dark hole.
Legolas was humming contentedly as he re-entered the camp with the cleaned fish he had caught for breakfast. The pure beauty of the morning had filled him with joy as he had watched through the last part of the night and the sleeping elflings had seemed to be safe enough to enable him to go and bathe – and, once at the stream, the quantity of large trout investigating his toes had proved too tempting.
He grinned as he glanced through the trees. The delight of greeting the dawn did not seem to have been enough to drag Elladan or Elrohir from their blankets. He felt a momentary regret that he had not thought to bring back with him some cold water so that he could treat his friends to an unexpected shower. He sighed as he glimpsed Elrin between his adar and uncle – he supposed they were too old for that kind of behaviour now they were responsible for the manners and morals of the elflings entrusted to their care.
He turned to look at his own pair. Eleniel’s fair braid was coming untwisted and she looked restless, he thought. She was frowning and moving as if she were in pain. Bad dreams, he thought wryly, even here in the Blessed Realm. Turning to the blanket beside her, Legolas froze in instant horror. Galenthil was missing! Even as he spun to examine the camp more carefully in case a small figure was hiding in a giggling attempt to scare his adar, he found himself reciting the reasons he did not need to be alarmed. No orcs, he listed, no spiders, no wargs, no Ringwraiths, no Dark Lord. No need to panic. Even as he tried to reassure himself, another part of his mind began to list the dangers present even in this safe world. Dropping the breakfast catch, he stirred Elladan with one foot.
‘Wake up,’ he said sharply. ‘How long has Galenthil been gone?’
‘Galenthil?’ his friend asked in confusion.
‘Do not tell me you failed to notice him leave,’ Legolas snapped. ‘He is only an elfling – he should not be able to sneak away from two trained warriors!’
‘The watch was yours,’ Elrohir said softly, placing his hand on Legolas’s arm.
Legolas caught his breath as he held his friend’s eyes. ‘True,’ he said, spreading his hands, ‘but the fact that the blame is mine does not make it any less urgent to find him before he comes to any harm.’
‘He has probably gone to relieve himself,’ Elrin said, yawning. ‘He is very small – I expect he could not wait.’
‘True.’ Legolas stood up and moved swiftly towards the edge of the clearing. ‘I will seek him.’
‘Can I come?’ Elrin asked. ‘I need to go, too.’
Legolas paused and turned. ‘Quick,’ he said, holding himself back as the elfling pulled on his boots and jogged over.
When they returned to the now-busy campsite, his face was grim. ‘He has not been there,’ he said. ‘We need to start a search.’
‘He was headed in that direction,’ Elrohir said, ‘when he left the glade. I have checked. I suspect he lost track of where he was going. If we spread out it should not be that difficult to find him – we have no need to seek him in secrecy.’
Legolas nodded, looking intently at Eleniel as she sat cross-legged and solemn on her blanket. ‘I am not leaving her behind,’ he stated.
‘The elflings will hinder us,’ Elladan said seriously, ‘and slow us down. They will be safe here.’
‘As safe as Galenthil?’ Legolas’s voice was sharp.
‘Galenthil is not here, is he?’ Elladan turned to his son. ‘Remain here, Elrin – and stay with Eleniel. Have some waybread and fruit – we will be back as soon as we have found Galenthil.’
Eleniel slipped her small thumb in her mouth and looked anxiously at her adar.
Legolas went down on one knee next to her. ‘Elrin will look after you,’ he said gently. ‘We will be back before you have time to eat, I expect.’ He took her face in his hand and stroked her cheek. ‘Be good.’
She nodded silently and blinked back the tears in her eyes.
The three elves spread out and began to seek Galenthil’s passage through the trees, leaving a hollow silence behind them in their camp.
Elrin looked at the elleth. ‘Well,’ he said with forced cheerfulness. ‘Ada says we should eat something. I am not usually allowed to poke around in the supplies,’ he added. ‘I think they expect me to eat them all in one go.’ He brought a leaf of waybread out and broke it in two, giving half to Eleniel. ‘Eat it,’ he commanded. ‘Then you can have an apple.’
Removing her thumb, the elleth obediently picked at the food, choking down enough to satisfy her mentor.
‘Good,’ he approved, handing her a cup of water. ‘Now have a drink.’
‘Do not cry,’ he demanded. ‘Ada and Elrohir and Legolas will find Galenthil soon.’
‘It is all dark and his arm hurts,’ she said shakily. ‘And his head is dizzy. He is scared and he cannot move.’
Elrin looked at her sternly. ‘You must not make up stories, Eleniel,’ he told her disapprovingly. ‘It is important to tell the truth, so that people know they can trust you.’
Tears trembled on her eyelashes before tipping over and tracing tracks down her cheeks. ‘It is not a story,’ she said. ‘His arm hurts here.’ She rubbed her right wrist. ‘And his head is sticky and there is dirt all over him. He wants Ada really badly.’
Memories of stories his daernaneth had told him of the childhood bond between his adar and uncle began to stir in Elrin. Now he came to think of it, his adar still usually seemed to know if his uncle was in trouble. ‘Do you know where Galenthil is?’ he asked.
Eleniel nodded and pointed before returning the thumb to her mouth.
‘Could you find him?’
The elleth nodded again.
Elrin drew a deep breath. ‘When Ada comes back, we will tell him,’ he said.
Eleniel whimpered and held her arm. ‘No,’ she insisted. ‘Now. Find Galenthil now.’
‘We cannot,’ Elrin insisted. ‘We have to stay here. I am looking after you.’
‘I am going.’ Eleniel pulled away from him and stood up. She folded her arms, an imperious pout on her face. ‘You can stay here and do as you were told,’ she said, stamping her foot, ‘or you can come with me and look after me, but you cannot do both.’
‘I am bigger than you,’ Elrin pointed out with determination, ‘and if I say you are not leaving camp, then you are not.’
‘He is frightened.’ Eleniel’s lip wobbled and Elrin’s decisiveness wavered.
‘Ada!’ he called, turning to where the elves had disappeared. ‘Ada! Eleniel say she knows where Galenthil is. We are going to look for him!’
No answer came back, but after a moment Elrin took a small pack of first aid equipment and put it over his shoulder. ‘Bring some water,’ he commanded. ‘I hope we find him,’ he added, ‘but even if we do, I can tell you now that Ada will be cross with us. And if we do not, and they have to look for us as well, we will be in big trouble.’
‘This way,’ Eleniel said simply, ignoring his reluctance.
They found Galenthil surprisingly easily, Elrin thought, especially considering that three experienced warriors were seeking him without success. Of course, Eleniel had needed no more than an occasional pause to orient herself on her twin’s whereabouts. When she had dropped to her knees and leaned into the dark hole under the old tree, he had been unable to believe that she had come upon the place so easily, but the sound of an elfling moaning in pain had made it only too clear that she had homed in on the exact spot.
Elrin raised his head and called again. ‘Ada! Legolas! Help!’ He paused to listen carefully, but heard nothing. ‘I wish I could whistle,’ he said in exasperation. ‘That really carries.’
Turning her head, Eleniel looked at him with surprise on her grubby face. ‘Like this?’ she asked and, putting her dirty fingers in her mouth, she produced an ear-splitting whistle.
‘That’s it,’ Elrin said, impressed. ‘Climb up a bit and do it again.’ He looked round and indicated a tree that should be within the capacity of an elleth of Eleniel’s size, only to find as he turned back that she was halfway up the shell of the old oak.
Her whistle, he thought, was loud enough to attract the attention of anyone within miles, and, although he held his breath as she came down, she reached the ground safely and returned to trying to comfort her brother.
‘You are not going down there,’ he was saying insistently as Legolas raced towards them. ‘Even if I have to sit on you.’ He turned to the twins’ adar with a relief that faded to apprehension as he saw the look on Legolas’s face.
‘Ada, Galenthil fell.’ Eleniel was unimpressed by her adar’s scowl. ‘His arm hurts, but Elrin will not let me go and help him.’
‘Well, at least he has shown that much sense,’ her adar snapped. ‘I thought we told you to stay in camp,’ he told Elrin, who flinched at his adopted uncle’s sharp tone of voice.
‘Be fair,’ Elrohir said warningly, as he arrived and took in the situation. ‘We have been searching in vain – it is Elrin and Eleniel who have found him.’
Eleniel looked from one to another in confusion. ‘It is not Elrin’s fault,’ she said. ‘I made him come with me. He said we should wait for you to come back – but Galenthil hurts. He needs us now.’
Legolas closed his eyes briefly. ‘First things first,’ he remarked. ‘I am sorry, Elrin. Let us discuss this after we have got Galenthil out of there.’
‘It is no good,’ Elrohir said after a thorough investigation of the space beneath the tree. ‘We will never be able to get in there. In truth, I fail to see quite how Galenthil managed.’
‘Are we going to have to dig him out?’ Elladan asked with concern.
Eleniel started to cry silently, her hand over her mouth as she tried not to disturb those who were trying to help her brother. Absently, Elrin put an arm round her and stroked her hair. ‘I could get in there,’ he offered.
Three pairs of eyes inspected him. ‘You could,’ his adar owned reluctantly. ‘I am not sure if your presence would be that helpful.’ He looked at his son doubtfully. ‘If Galenthil is hurt,’ he said, ‘you might do more harm than good trying to move him.’
‘Eleniel says he has bumped his head,’ Elrin said simply. ‘I think it is bleeding. And his wrist hurts.’
‘Any other problems, Eleniel?’ Elladan asked her gently, watching her thoughtfully as she shook her head. ‘All right, then, my son,’ he concluded. ‘If you can get in there without hurting Galenthil further, perhaps you can help us get him out.’
‘Keep an eye on Eleniel, Elladan,’ his twin advised. ‘There is not enough room here for all of us and she seems to know how Galenthil is feeling. Tell us if there is any change.’
It was a tight fit, even for the slight elfling.
‘It opens out a bit once he has made it through the roots,’ Elrohir reported. ‘It is just as well, or we might have been forced to let Eleniel wriggle in there.’
‘I think not,’ Legolas said through his teeth. ‘A sharp blade would soon open a path.’
‘You would cut a tree?’ Elrohir said lightly.
‘It would forgive me,’ the Wood Elf replied tensely. ‘Elerrina might not. This is my son we are trying to rescue.’
Elrin ignored the tense exchanges and moved carefully to place his feet beside the younger ellon. ‘I am trying not to get any more earth on you,’ he said, as Galenthil protested. ‘Where are you injured?’
‘My arm hurts.’ Galenthil’s wails were becoming louder now that rescue seemed close.
‘Can you stand up?’
‘My head is spinning and I think . . .’
Elrin moved swiftly out of the way as Galenthil retched. ‘That will make you feel better,’ he said soothingly. His tone, so like his naneth’s under similar circumstances, made his uncle grin.
‘Can he stand up?’ Legolas asked anxiously. ‘We can probably lift him out if he can climb up a little where the gap between the roots is wider.’
‘I will help you,’ Elrin continued to talk calmly to Galenthil, who clutched at his tunic, ‘but I cannot carry you.’
He coaxed Galenthil to move to the spot where Legolas reached down in a desperate attempt to get hold of the ellon.
‘I will lift him,’ he suggested and, taking the ellon round the hips, he raised him as high as he could, so that his adar managed to grasp him under the arms and pull him to safety.
Elrohir’s face replaced his friend’s. ‘Can you reach my hand, Elrin?’ he asked.
Grasping his uncle’s wrist with one hand, he allowed Elrohir to take a firm hold on his other in the way they practised so often when they were playing at home, and it was a matter of seconds before he was free of the damp prison beneath the roots of the tree.
‘Well done,’ Elrohir said, patting him on the shoulder. ‘Although I am sure you will hear other reflections on the morning, too. You behaved well here.’
Elrin attempted to brush the loam and leaf litter from his clothes as he joined Eleniel to watch his adar attend to her twin. She slipped her hand in his and leaned against him, while her other hand sought her mouth. Elrin pushed her thumb down. ‘It is too dirty,’ he told her and she glanced at her filthy hand and wrinkled her nose.
‘He is not badly hurt,’ Elladan said with relief. ‘He might have fractured his wrist, but it could simply be a strain. The blood makes the head injury look worse than it is – it is, in fact, quite a small cut. We will need to keep an eye on him today, but I think he might even escape concussion.’
‘Let us get back to the camp, then,’ Elrohir sighed. ‘We can see about getting these elflings clean. If we return them like this, their naneths will never let us take them out again. Some warm water, food – and some serious conversation – and all will be back to normal.’
Legolas picked up his son and carried him gently, while his friend lifted Eleniel. Elladan lifted an eyebrow at Elrin, who grimaced an indignant refusal and prepared to walk.
‘I suppose we should not be surprised,’ Legolas said with resignation. ‘We have had an easy time so far with Elrin, but this was bound to become more challenging once the twins were involved.’
Elrohir laughed lightly. ‘At least,’ he said, ‘it was all pure accident and mischance – and we have learned a valuable lesson.’
‘What might that be?’ Elladan enquired as they reached their camp.
‘Always,’ his brother said with a wry grin, ‘expect the unexpected – because, I am sorry to say, our offspring are turning out to be just like us!’
‘This is not a good idea,’ Eleniel murmured to Elrin, who was, she considered, the only one of this group of friends to have any sense of self-preservation.
‘Do you think we stand any chance of stopping them?’ he asked her. ‘We will be bound to share the blame whatever happens, so we might as well take part. At least we will be there then if they need to be fished out of any mess.’
He seemed rather resigned to ending up in trouble, Eleniel thought. She supposed that, as older cousin to the most heedless pair of ellyth living, he must be used to it. She looked at him compassionately. Her own twin was constantly in the middle of some activity that usually turned out to be disastrous, but at least no-one expected her to be able to do anything to control him.
‘How do they think they have any chance of getting away with it?’ she asked. ‘They did not last time, or the one before. Why should anyone be less suspicious this time?’
He grinned and pushed his dark hair behind his ear. ‘They are very optimistic,’ he said. ‘The best we can hope to do is tone them down a bit and get them back safely, so that we will not be confined to our rooms for too long.’
‘Why do you want to go into the forest in the middle of the night?’ Eleniel asked Aewlin, who always seemed the less reckless of the two. ‘What can you do at night that you cannot do during daylight hours?’
Aewlin glanced triumphantly at Nimloth. Now Eleniel was showing interest they stood a much better chance of convincing Elrin to come with them. ‘There is a magic pool,’ she told the older elleth. ‘In the middle of a small glade. You have to go there at if you want to see anything.’
Eleniel closed her eyes briefly and sighed. There was no question about it, both Aewlin and Nimloth were mad. ‘Does your naneth not bar your door at night to keep you in?’ she marvelled. ‘These woods may be well-intentioned towards us, but there are still bears and wildcats and other creatures of the night that might decide that you would make a pleasant snack.’
Aewlin looked at her scornfully. ‘We have been out at night many times, Eleniel. We have never yet come to any harm.’
‘Until after you have returned home,’ Elrin commented.
‘Galenthil!’ Nimloth grabbed his arm. ‘You are not going to let Eleniel spoil this, are you? She can stay at home like a baby if she likes, but make her promise not to tell.’
Flicking his soft fair hair over his shoulder, Galenthil detached Nimloth’s grip on his sleeve. ‘Eleniel will say nothing,’ he grinned. ‘She is very good at keeping secrets.’ He looked at his sister. ‘Better than me,’ he admitted.
‘I am not going to be the only one left behind,’ Eleniel said in alarm. ‘I do not intend to be around to face questioning from all our parents. If you have to do this, I will come too – but I still think it is a stupid thing to do.’
Nimloth smiled brilliantly, her face glowing beneath her silver-gilt fall of hair. ‘I knew we could rely on you, Eleniel,’ she said warmly.
Eleniel flicked a quick glance at Elrin and met his rueful eyes. ‘She manages it every time,’ he muttered, shaking his head. ‘And Aewlin can be even more convincing.’
‘So what do we have to do?’ Galenthil asked practically, helping himself to an apple.
‘You look tired, Sirithiel,’ Elerrina said with some concern. ‘Are you well?’
Sirithiel shook her head and smiled. ‘It is nothing,’ she answered softly.
‘Nothing we appear to be able to improve,’ Elrohir added ruefully, accepting the goblet of wine his brother handed him.
Elladan place a comforting hand on his twin’s shoulder. ‘They will grow more sensible as they grow older,’ he offered.
‘Ah,’ Legolas nodded understandingly. ‘The joys of being the exhausted parents of twins. You have my sympathy.’
‘They are not that bad!’ Elerrina interjected indignantly. ‘They are generally. . .’ Her voice trailed away as her husband’s eyes met hers. ‘Well, sometimes,’ she shrugged, ‘Eleniel can be quite sensible. And Galenthil’s teachers say he is good for his age.’
‘It does not mean quite the same thing, though, does it?’ Legolas smiled. ‘He wields a sword well for his age – but that does not make him reasonable. He has a good knowledge of history and his mathematical ability is better than mine ever was – but that did not stop him making a slide in the hayloft that ended up with him falling through the trapdoor and breaking his leg.’
Elladan laughed. ‘It is normal, though. If ellyn behaved like adults, there would be something wrong with them.’
Elerrina giggled. ‘Eleniel decided to bring in one of the stable cats – which then had kittens in the bottom of her clothes cupboard. She was most indignant when I objected – and then even more indignant when the cat brought in a bird and shredded it, scattering feathers all over her floor.’
‘And most indignant of all when she was called upon to clear up the mess,’ added the adar of the elleth in question.
‘It is not so much those kinds of incidents,’ Elrohir sighed, ‘although they do things like that, too. It is never knowing if they are going to be in their beds – despite checking them a dozen times a night. It is deliberate mischief – playing tricks on people, hiding their possessions, putting revolting additions into food. And they are manipulative – they gang up together to push others into doing their will.’ He glanced at Miriwen. ‘They make Elrin help them – and then he ends up with the greater share of the blame,’ he said apologetically.
‘He is old enough to know better,’ Miriwen said calmly. ‘He does not have to allow them to lead him into mischief.’
‘He is only trying to protect them,’ Sirithiel protested. ‘Most of the time he deserves to be rewarded rather than punished.’
‘I have to keep reminding Elrohir that we were pretty awful as elflings,’ Elladan sipped his wine reminiscently, ‘but we improved as we got older. Although Naneth and Adar’s stories are not exactly encouraging Sirithiel to look forward to the next few years – and our parents did not know the half of it.’
‘Do you think we should confess to some of those unsolved mysteries, my brother? It is probably too late now for Adar to demand retribution.’ Elrohir rested his head against the high back of his chair and looked up at his twin, standing with one elbow on the mantelpiece.
‘I was thinking more of the things we did of which they have no suspicion at all,’ Elladan returned. ‘Like the time we climbed the rock stack after eagles’ feathers. Or the time we lit a fire on the ice when we were skating, because it was cold, and barely escaped a wetting.’
‘Do you remember the time we – ah, borrowed – Glorfindel’s dagger and then accidentally dropped it into the cleft in the rocks by the waterfall? We sneaked back at night and climbed down the rock chimney to retrieve it, so that we could put it back before he noticed it was gone. It is just as well we were scrawny ellyn – no adult could ever have squeezed through that gap to fish us out.’
Legolas shuddered. ‘It makes me feel unwell just thinking of it – although I can probably come up with a dozen similar stories from my own youth.’
‘We cannot be everywhere,’ Miriwen shrugged philosophically. ‘We do our best to keep them safe and point out dangers they may not have considered, but we have all done foolish and dangerous things, yet lived to tell the tale. It is part of growing up.’
‘That is all very well for you to say,’ Sirithiel retorted. ‘Your son has enough common sense to come in out of the rain, whereas my daughters would consider the middle of a storm to be the best possible time to fly a kite.’
Elrohir shook his head. ‘They have a keen sense of self-preservation, my love,’ he told her, ‘if little sense of any other kind. They will survive – although I am not so sure that I will.’ He grinned ruefully at the others. ‘Enough of them. They are tucked up safely in their beds for tonight. Let us talk about something else.’
The elflings froze at the bottom of the stairs as a crack of laughter sounded from behind the door to the sitting room.
‘Be quick,’ Aewlin whispered, as, boots in hand, she slipped past into the corridor that headed to the side door.
Eleniel briefly considered tripping against the door, but decided, sighing, that even if Aewlin and Nimloth did not suspect that it had been deliberate, Galenthil would know. She preferred to avoid confrontation where possible, seeing little point in deliberately annoying those who controlled her life, but nothing would make her betray her own twin and he wanted to take part in this trip to see Aewlin’s magic pool. She tiptoed along behind the others as quietly as a ghost, surprising Nimloth as she turned to check on the older elleth’s whereabouts.
‘This should be fun,’ Galenthil grinned at her. ‘Relax and enjoy it, Eleniel.’
Elrin lifted the latch with practised caution and the four younger elflings moved into the starlit night like shadows, leaving him to close the door behind them. Using the shrubs as cover, they reached the trees and gathered behind a close-growing thicket of hazel.
‘Which way now?’ Elrin asked patiently.
‘The world looks different at night.’ Nimloth stared up at the gleaming mithril of the stars in the dark velvet sky. The trees rustled in a soft breeze and the elleth rubbed at her cheek to push back the silvery-fair hair. Her eyes took on a dreamy look and she stepped forward to get a better view of the heavens.
Galenthil grabbed her arm. ‘Not here,’ he said with alarm. ‘Keep out of sight. We might have escaped our parents, but I am sure your daeradar will have other people watching in the woods.’
‘Do you think so?’ Aewlin looked at him sharply. ‘That could account for why we always seem to get caught,’ she admitted. ‘How do you know?’
‘I do not, of course,’ he returned, ‘but I know that our daeradar has guards keeping an eye on the surroundings of our home. They do not stop us going out – not unless they have been told to – but we will feature in their report. It is very irritating,’ he added. ‘We often think we have escaped without having been noticed, but we rarely have.’
‘Yet it has never occurred to you to give up?’ Elrin asked.
Galenthil grinned. ‘Where would be the fun in that?’ he answered with a query. ‘We do work to avoid repeating ourselves,’ he remarked. ‘I am getting better at coming up with ways they have not thought to cover.’
‘And you go with him?’ Elrin asked Eleniel in some surprise. ‘I would have thought, from what you said, that you did not much enjoy being in trouble.’
‘I do not,’ Eleniel replied truthfully, ‘but it is better than standing in front of Ada or Daerada being asked to tell what I know about Galenthil’s plans. It is very hard to remain silent when they are making me feel that my twin is in danger. I would rather be with him and know that he is safe.’
‘This way,’ Aewlin interrupted, growing tired of the conversation. ‘If there are guards, then the sooner we get on our way, the better.’
Elrin kept to the back as they used the shade of the trees to conceal them as they passed through the woods. His senses told him that the forest was calm in the soft dark of the moonless night, but he did not feel that he could relax as he kept his attention on the younger ones. The outing seemed straightforward enough, but he had discovered long since that his cousins’ plans often spiralled out of control and it was up to him to see that Galenthil and the ellyth returned home safely.
‘I am sorry, my lady,’ the guard said stolidly, his eyes sliding to meet those of Lord Elrohir. ‘We have not been told to challenge the elflings if they wander at night. As it is, Domenion exceeded our orders in following them.’
‘Never mind, Calenlith,’ Elladan intervened. ‘You did well to keep them in sight – and to come and tell us. You had best return to your watch now.’
‘My lord.’ The guard bowed and withdrew, glad to leave a situation that was clearly brewing into a storm.
‘I thought we had put a stop to night-wandering,’ Elerrina said thoughtfully, as she watched Elrohir speak softly to Sirithiel.
‘Or, more likely, they have simply evaded capture recently,’ Legolas suggested lightly.
‘It is not so much that they are at risk,’ Miriwen sighed. ‘It is the principle of the thing. They need to learn to do as they are told.’ She frowned at Legolas’s grin. ‘And that is nothing to laugh at, my prince. Your adar would not have tolerated such behaviour from you.’
Legolas laughed outright. ‘That is true enough,’ he admitted. ‘Although he did not always find it easy to keep me in – despite our living in a stone stronghold that was lacking in such conveniences as windows. But we live now in other times,’ he added. ‘It is difficult to convince them that the night contains perils in the absence of venomous spiders and marauding orcs.’
‘There is more to danger than the creatures of the Dark Lord,’ Sirithiel snapped with unusual ferocity. ‘Do not allow yourself to be lulled into complacency – there are still wild animals, cliffs, bogs, rivers, pot-holes dropping into the depths of the earth. A fall will still kill an elfling and so will a bear’s claws or a wolf’s teeth.’
‘It is true that you elves of Arda tend to take the perils of life in the Blessed Realm for granted,’ Elerrina agreed calmly. ‘You treat these lands as if they are some kind of playground, where there is nothing that will do you any harm.’
The four who had grown to years of discretion in a land where active malevolence targeted the elven havens looked wide-eyed at Elerrina and Sirithiel.
‘It is not that we do not recognise that there are hazards of which the elflings are ignorant,’ Elrohir said in a conciliatory tone. ‘And of course they should be kept safe.’
‘But it is not as it was when you were their age,’ Sirithiel snapped. She blushed as a wary silence fell. ‘I am sorry,’ she apologised. ‘I did not mean to . . .’
Elrohir took her hand. ‘Yes, you did,’ he said. ‘And you are right – we are too inclined to dismiss any dangers. And Miriwen is right, too. They must learn that disobedience is followed by unpleasant penalties.’
‘Telling them not to wander is clearly ineffective,’ Elerrina mused. ‘Perhaps we should insist that they spend time outside at night.’
‘They are doing that without our consent,’ Legolas pointed out. ‘Surely granting them permission to do that which they are doing in defiance of their parents will not teach them to conform to our rules.’
‘Not if their time under the stars is made a part of their education,’ she suggested. ‘Their tutors could add several hours of tuition each evening to their usual lessons – the stars, for example, or perhaps night’s creatures, with their learning and application to be tested regularly.’
‘If they are to have to work at their lessons after dark,’ Elladan added, ‘their tutors can spare them for an hour or two in the morning to perform tasks that will remind them of their duty to obey.’
Elrohir grinned. ‘Do you have in mind what I think?’ he asked.
‘There is plenty of work to be carried out in the sculleries in the mornings,’ his twin grinned back, ‘and it will do them no harm at all to have to get their hands dirty as they serve the household in a practical way.’
‘They are going to wish they had stayed in their beds,’ Legolas laughed.
‘Although I have to confess,’ Elladan added, ‘that any effects of Adar’s wrath tended to be fairly transitory, for we were regular visitors to his study over a considerable number of years.’
‘Perhaps we should go and retrieve our offspring,’ Elrohir suggested. ‘I am sure that Domenion would be relieved to have the responsibility removed from his shoulders before they have a chance to endanger themselves.’
Sirithiel held him back briefly. ‘We will all work together?’ she asked. ‘Perhaps our words will have more effect if they can see that we are all of the same opinion.’
‘Let them wait until the morning to meet retribution,’ Miriwen said briskly. ‘We will put them to sleep in separate rooms and leave them to worry about their fate for a while. Have them promise not to speak to each other until after we have finished with them – my adar always found that an excellent way to make us more receptive to his words – and then come back here so we can agree a plan.’
Elladan bowed. ‘To hear is to obey, my lady,’ he grinned.
As he led Elrohir and Legolas from the room, he heard a comment, voiced softly but intended to reach their ears. ‘You see, they can be trained,’ Miriwen said clearly, ‘if one is prepared to be both patient and persistent.’
Aewlin moved swiftly and confidently, weaving her way between the straight trunks of the mature trees and ducking below the thin branches of spindly saplings seeking a gap in which to grow.
‘Would it not be wiser to follow the path?’ Elrin grabbed her. ‘The ground is uneven and there are roots hidden beneath the leaf litter.’
‘That is the long way round,’ Nimloth told him, pushing past. ‘You do not think we are about to get lost, surely?’ she added scornfully, veering to her right and reaching out to caress the bark of a sturdy oak as she passed.
‘There are times,’ Galenthil said quietly in Elrin’s ear as Aewlin pulled out of his grasp to follow her twin, ‘when I am very glad that I only have one sister.’
‘It is not the number,’ Elrin sighed, ‘but the quality. I would not mind at all if Eleniel was my cousin, but there are times when I would happily give Aewlin and Nimloth away to anyone who wanted them.’
‘They would soon be given back,’ Galenthil informed him. ‘I am not sure even Daeradar would be willing to take on the terrible twins – and he is almost putty in Eleniel’s hands.’
‘I cannot say that I had noticed,’ his sister said. ‘And you might recall that he did not make any difference between us last time he was called on to discipline us.’
‘He would not do that,’ Galenthil agreed. ‘It would not be fair. You work on him best before we get into trouble.’ He looked at the two more reluctant adventurers. ‘We had better hurry,’ he said. ‘We would not want to lose sight of the twins.’
Domenion looked down from his vantage point in the oak and sighed. If the two groups of elflings got much further apart, he would have to decide which of them to follow. Instinct told him he would be wiser to keep within easy reach of Lord Elrohir’s daughters – but the Prince’s twins were guests. Should he let that take precedence? He thought probably not – experience showed that trouble was most likely to be found within arm’s length of the youngest two. At least they were not heading towards the river, he thought with resignation, as he eased himself quietly into the next tree as subtly as a shifting of the shadows, so he would probably avoid an unnecessary bath.
Looking up sharply, Galenthil scanned the canopy.
‘What is it?’ Elrin asked as they headed after the younger twins.
His friend shook his head. ‘The trees are aware of us,’ he replied. ‘And I thought for a moment that I felt something else – but I am not sure. It was probably nothing.’
Ahead of them, Aewlin grasped her sister’s arm. ‘We had better wait,’ she insisted. ‘If we get too far ahead, it is not impossible that Eleniel will persuade Elrin to go back. I do not care if we are caught after we have been to the pool, but I want to see if what Eirien said is true.’
Nimloth’s eyes gleamed in the silver light. ‘I am sure it must be,’ she said enthusiastically. ‘Why would she make it up?’ She glanced up at the sky briefly. ‘It is a full moon, just as she said, and we have what she told us to bring.’ She turned to look for the others. ‘I wish they would hurry up – we have to be there before the moon is at its highest and we are running short of time.’
‘There they are!’ Aewlin said with relief. ‘Come on – we want to keep just far enough ahead that they cannot ask us what we intend to do.’
The glade for which they were heading was small, surrounded by a ring of trees that seemed ready to defend it from invasion, but they let the two ellyth through without objecting to their presence. Aewlin stilled at the edge of the open lawn, studded with tiny white flowers that caught the moonlight and glowed like stars fallen to earth. Just beyond the middle a small pool lay like mirror glass cupped in a frame of green. The water was motionless, untouched by even the faintest ripple and it shone in the moonlight.
‘Come on,’ Nimloth said, pulling her sister towards the pond. ‘We can do it before they arrive and decide to stop us.’
As they stood with their toes just clear of the water, Aewlin drew a handkerchief from her pocket and untwisted the knot in the corner. ‘I have brought what Eirien said. Rosemary and bay, heartsease and lavender. Do you remember the words?’
‘Of course,’ Nimloth told her absently as she stared intently at the still water. ‘Do we both scatter the herbs?’
‘Yes,’ Aewlin said with decision. ‘And we say the words together.’
Two small hands dropped their drooping collection of leaves and petals as the hurried round the margin of the pool, before they knelt at the point where they had started.
‘Together, then,’ Aewlin murmured, and she and Nimloth began, ‘Silver mirror of the night, give to me your special sight. . .’
‘What are they doing?’ Galenthil puzzled from the edge of the glade.
‘Trying out a magic charm,’ Elrin said impatiently. ‘Only they could believe in that sort of nonsense.’
‘I wonder who told them of it,’ Eleniel mused. ‘Do you think they will go back to their friends and admit that the magic pool was a disappointment, or whether they will decide to tell a more exciting version of events?’
The younger twins finished their incantation and leaned forward to stare into the silver depths of the water.
Elrin was not quite sure when he knew that something had changed. The innocent eagerness of his cousins, the soft rustling of the trees, the feeling of expectation in the glade: somehow they became shadowed and, in an instant, the peace of the forest night was tinged with an echo of some ancient evil.
Before he had a chance to move, Domenion dropped from the tree behind them and leapt towards the frozen figures of the twins. ‘This must be stopped,’ he said urgently and, the deadlock broken, Elrin led the other two in their rush to deal with whatever it was that had touched his cousins.
Aewlin had not really believed that anything would happen. Eirien’s tale of the magic pool in which you could see your future had given her a delicious shudder of excitement and fear and she had been determined to try it out at the first opportunity. Her twin had been sure that it would work and they had spent days discussing how they could get into the woods at night, and how they could get to try out the charm before Elrin stopped them. The last thing Aewlin had expected was that, as she leaned over the water, the unmarred surface would begin to swirl as though the clouds above them were twisting in a high wind. She had been unable to move, unable to speak, unable even to clutch at her sister’s hand as a series of images, each even more horrific than the last, had thrust themselves at her: a burning eye, seeking for something; Daernana, blood-stained and desolate, huddled in dark corner; her daeradar, filthy, exhausted and despairing, his face lit by a fiery glow; a city on fire; Anana, the gold of her hair the only warmth in an endless sea of ice. The pictures had passed before her rapidly, but each one etched itself into her memory, so that, by the time she was pulled away from the water, she was unable to deal any further with the horror she had seen and she was relieved to abandon herself to the blackness of unconsciousness.
With a desperate cry, Nimloth flung herself on her sister and held her.
‘What did you see?’ Elrin asked urgently. ‘You must tell me, Nimloth.’
‘Horrible things,’ his cousin sobbed. ‘Monsters and battles and people being killed. I do not want to think of it.’
Elrin reached out to hold her and stroked her hair soothingly. ‘I do not believe you have a choice,’ he said sadly.
Legolas drew in a deep breath of the night air. ‘I suppose we should feel annoyed at being dragged out to seek our disobedient offspring,’ he said, ‘but, actually, I am quite pleased to have the chance to wander the woods at night.’
‘Do you think she meant me?’ Elladan was still quite indignant at Miriwen’s parting comment. ‘Do you think she has got me well-trained?’
‘Of course she meant you, my brother,’ Elrohir told him gleefully. ‘And I would say she had the right of it. You are like a dog who knows his master’s voice.’
Legolas aimed a friendly punch at his shoulder. ‘She was teasing,’ he told Elladan, ‘as you know perfectly well. Talented as she is, training you is beyond her powers. And if she had wanted an easy life with a compliant husband, she would have chosen someone rather less – volatile.’
‘I will make her pay for the insult,’ Elladan vowed. ‘Just let her wait until we are alone.’
‘I should think she is counting on that response,’ his twin laughed. ‘But first let us catch our prey and incarcerate them safely.’
‘And I am not volatile,’ Elladan objected. ‘I just – respond quickly to different situations.’
‘True,’ Elrohir agreed. ‘Impulsive is a much better word.’
‘I will bear that in mind for the future,’ Legolas said with a straight face. ‘Not volatile, but impulsive. I understand.’
Elladan sniffed disdainfully. ‘You are the Wood Elf here, Legolas. Take your mind off my faults and put your attention to seeking out the brats. If you get the trees to help us, we will be able to get them back to their beds before I have lost the desire to tickle Miriwen until she is helpless and begging me for mercy.’
‘They went that way,’ his friend said mildly, nodding towards the woods.
‘We knew that much before we left the house,’ Elrohir commented. ‘Oh well – to business, my friends.’
The elflings proved easy to follow. Any attempt they had made to conceal their passing had been spasmodic at best – and Nimloth seemed to have gone out of her way to touch every tree she had passed. Their adars moved briskly, but made no effort to hurry, knowing both that their youngsters were not in danger, and that they were under the eye of one of Elrond’s best scouts.
Nimloth’s sudden terrified wail galvanised them into action. Without even looking at each other, Legolas and the twins automatically spread out, so that any challenge would not be able to meet them all head on, and they readied weapons that even years in the Blessed Realm had not persuaded them to leave behind.
‘Legolas,’ Elladan hissed and indicated the trees.
The Wood Elf nodded and leapt into the branches so that he could approach the danger area under cover.
Elladan increased his pace. One of them needed to get beyond the glade from which the sound had emerged – he could not expect it to be Elrohir, who was too anxious to get to the aid of his frightened daughter.
‘Do not take risks, my twin,’ he thought anxiously. He had not expected to have to take their wives’ words seriously in their search for the elflings – but it took a lot to scare Nimloth. This was not the moment for Sirithiel and Elerrina to be proved right, he decided. He would be able to tolerate any smugness much better if it were not over the body of an injured child.
Domenion lifted his head and narrowed his eyes, judging the movement of the night air and the rustling in the trees. ‘Your adas are coming,’ he said with relief. ‘Let them see you are safe, but do not run towards them yet – they might hurt you by accident,’ he warned. He continued to monitor the fair elleth sprawled so close to the pond that strands of her long silvery hair were floating on the surface of the water. She was breathing steadily, he noted, but showed no signs of returning to consciousness.
Nimloth was whimpering, like a hurt puppy, with one hand pressed over her mouth. Her eyes were huge and dark as she stared at her sister as if afraid that, should she remove her attention for a moment, Aewlin would cease to be there. Even when Elrohir snatched her from his nephew and held her in a hug so tight as to be painful, she kept her head turned towards the still figure of her twin.
‘What happened?’ Elrohir asked brusquely. ‘And what is the matter with Aewlin?’
Elladan, entering the clearing fractionally behind his brother, realised instantly that any danger that had threatened the elflings was of their own making and he dropped to his knees to attend to his niece. ‘Elrin?’ he enquired gently. ‘Can you tell us about it?’
Domenion looked up as Aewlin began to moan in her uncle’s arms. ‘They used the pool as a scrying tool,’ he said. ‘And it acted for them as a window into another world.’
Holding his children close, Legolas freed a hand to rest it on Elrin’s shoulder comfortingly as he shuddered. The Woodland Prince frowned. ‘Like Galadriel’s mirror?’ he questioned. ‘I thought that she had studied for centuries so that she could use her pool to extend her sight.’
‘She had,’ Elrohir said slowly, ‘but perhaps natural talent is also required.’
Nimloth burrowed her head into the security of her adar’s chest and breathed in his reassuring scent more deeply as her sister sat up and clutched frantically at her uncle.
‘I want to go home,’ she said and the unsteadiness of her voice reminded the adults that, no matter how determined she appeared, she and her sister were young, even for elflings. ‘I want Nana.’
‘I think that can be arranged,’ Elrohir said comfortingly. ‘You can tell us all about it once we have you tucked up with your Nana and a glass of warm milk.’
‘Can we sleep with you and Nana tonight?’ Aewlin pleaded. ‘I do not want to be on my own.’
Elrohir glanced at his brother. ‘It is not quite what we had in mind,’ he said, ‘but I think it might be as well if we do not want to spend the night dealing with tearful ellyth.’
The wood had changed, Eleniel thought, as they trailed back the way they had come, her hand held firmly in her adar’s. It was no longer a place where anything could happen, but an extension of home. Well – she glanced at the younger twins, each sniffling slightly in the protective arms of adar and uncle, perhaps that was not strictly true. She had herself seen nothing but a patch of water reflecting the silver moonlight, but to Aewlin and Nimloth the forest pool had clearly become something else, something much more alarming.
‘It is my fault,’ Elrin muttered to himself, more than for anyone else’s ears. ‘I should have stopped them.’
Legolas’s hand turned the ellon so that he looked into the serious grey eyes of his nephew by affection. ‘You cannot blame yourself,’ he informed him, ‘for anything other than a misjudgement.’ He cupped the back of Elrin’s head and stroked his wild black hair. ‘You must accept your limitations,’ he said softly. ‘You do your best to shield those in your care, but you cannot do everything.’ He held the ellon’s gaze and was conscious of a clenching in his belly. How was it that this elfling, divided by some thirty generations from the descendants of Elros, could be so like the youngster he had first come to know in Imladris? ‘I have little doubt that you were not informed of your cousins’ intentions – and neither would they have expected what actually happened.’
‘They said it was a magic pool,’ Eleniel intervened. ‘I think they expected it to grant them wishes.’
‘They certainly,’ Legolas told Elrin with conviction, ‘did not expect it to become a window into events and stories they are too young to understand.’
‘But,’ Elrin looked at him intently, and hesitated.
‘You should have refused to let them leave their beds,’ Legolas conceded, ‘and, when they ignored you, you should have come and told us what they had done.’ He grinned at the ellon reassuringly. ‘Although I know that, at your age, I too would have considered that to be treachery of the worst sort.’
‘Ada,’ Galenthil said, pulling at his sleeve, ‘we are getting left behind.’
Legolas glanced up at Domenion and smiled before turning to his son. ‘We are safe enough,’ he said. ‘After all, we have our own guard with us.’ He patted Elrin’s shoulder. ‘Come,’ he commanded. ‘Let us get you back to your naneths. I believe they have things they wish to say to you.’
Sirithiel seemed even wearier when she returned from tucking her daughters into her and Elrohir’s big bed.
Her husband opened his arms to her and drew her into his lap, tucking her fair head into his shoulder and stroking her hair comfortingly. ‘Bad?’ he asked.
‘Bad enough,’ she sighed. ‘They are tangled together like puppies – they asked how long we would be before they fell asleep, but I do not think they will wake now.’
‘I dosed their milk,’ Elrohir admitted. ‘They do not need to think about what they saw until it is light and the shadows fade.’
‘Galenthil asked to spend the night with Elrin,’ Legolas said, ‘and I agreed. They were both a little shaken by the twins’ reaction – and Elrin is, of course, wallowing in guilt.’
‘So unlike his adar,’ Miriwen observed.
‘I never saw much point in it myself,’ Elladan commented. ‘Better to think ahead than have to feel bad about what it past. He would be better chalking it down to experience and moving on.’
Five pairs of disbelieving eyes focused on him.
‘You were centuries older than Elrin before it even occurred to you that a concept like ‘thinking ahead’ existed,’ his brother objected.
‘Who are you to insult me?’ Elladan enquired mildly. ‘You were every bit as bad.’
‘Which is how I know,’ Elrohir said firmly.
‘Is Eleniel all right?’ Sirithiel asked Elerrina. ‘I would have put her in with Aewlin and Nimloth, but I did not believe it would be helpful.’
‘I suspect she might join us later,’ Elerrina sighed. ‘She asked me if it would have made any difference had they not visited the pool when the moon was high – or if the ellyth had refrained from using their incantation. I told her that I thought not – I hope I convinced her. She was tired enough then to go straight to sleep – although she was clutching at the stuffed cat that she normally claims to be no more than an ornament.’
‘What are we going to do with them?’ Miriwen asked in a voice that combined amusement and despair. ‘They do things that it would never occur to reasonable parents to forbid. Who would have thought we should already have suggested to the descendants of Galadriel and Elrond that it was not a good idea to play with the ideas of prophecy and long sight? It might have come into their education in about twenty years from now, but it should have been a century or more before there was even a suggestion that they could develop the power.’
‘It raises alarming possibilities,’ Elrohir sighed.
‘But reinforces the need to make them accept discipline,’ Legolas added mildly. ‘Self-discipline and education.’ Miriwen suppressed a giggle and the Woodland Prince looked at her reprovingly. ‘How do you think I know?’ he said.
‘So we will stick to our decisions?’ Elladan asked. ‘Extra lessons and some physical labour?’
‘It will take their minds off what happened,’ Sirithiel agreed, ‘and, hopefully, it will make them think twice before repeating their actions.’
‘And in case it does not,’ Elrohir added, ‘I am going to see to it that we employ a guard whose duty is to serve as nightwatchman – and keep the elflings in his sight should they escape our care.’
‘I think, too,’ Miriwen said, ‘that we need to speak with Elrond and, perhaps, your Daernaneth. If Aewlin and Nimloth can do this at their age, with no training, it might be that they need to be taken in hand sooner than would be expected.’
They sat for a time in the flickering firelight, considering the wholly unexpected pressures of parenthood.
Elrohir groaned suddenly. ‘I have just thought, ‘he said, ‘of what Aewlin and Nimloth might become when they are grown, if they show such signs of power now. It is a very frightening picture. I do not know if I will be able to deal with it.’
His wife patted his cheek consolingly. ‘You will,’ Sirithiel said, ‘you will.’
Going Forth - Taking the Children to Work
Celeborn’s jaw tightened and his eyes hardened to flints, but there was no other outward sign that the elf lord was less than pleased with what he was hearing.
Galadriel observed the tiny indications and said placatingly, ‘It is not as if he has been able to spend much time with his grandchildren or his great-grandchildren. Or, come to that’ she added reflectively, ‘his children.’
The flints sparked. ‘Indeed he has not,’ her husband agreed. ‘And I do not see why he should expect to be granted this now.’
‘It is hardly his fault,’ she pointed out. ‘He sacrificed his family life to bring Arda help from the Valar.’
Closing his eyes briefly, Celeborn controlled his desire to snap that Eärendil’s sacrifice was not the only one made, just the one most celebrated. He had always felt that Elros and Elrond had been forced to sacrifice at least as much as the Mariner. And nobody had given them any choice in the matter – or sung lays about their valour. ‘What makes him think that this – deviation from normal would be permitted? As I understand it, even Elwing is not permitted to sail the night sky with him.’
‘Elwing dislikes heights,’ Galadriel told him patiently, ‘unless she is wearing wings, she says, when she knows she can reach the ground safely. She has no desire whatsoever to ride with him. As long as he returns home in the morning, she is content.’ Her eyes twinkled like starlight reflected in water. ‘I do not know who seized on the idea of sending elflings off to work with their grandparents, but the Valar seem to have decided it is an excellent idea – they feel it will help with family bonding and give elflings a better comprehension of what their grandparents do. And,’ she added, ‘increase the understanding of grandparents for the young.’ She wrinkled her nose. ‘Which they seem to think will be a good thing – although I do not know why. I would have thought that elflings outgrow youth soon enough and we can wait until then to worry about understanding them.’
‘What do Elladan and Elrohir think?’ Celeborn retrenched. His wife was clearly content to permit her great grandchildren to be carried off by their son-in-law’s adar.
‘Elladan is pleased that Elrin will learn to know his adar’s adar. Elrohir is less certain of the wisdom of allowing Eärendil to take responsibility for his daughters – but Nimloth and Aewlin are younger – and more foolhardy.’
‘Can we be sure that they will not fall from Vingilot?’ he enquired, snatching at straws. ‘I would not have them put at risk.’
‘We can.’ Galadriel smiled at him with sympathetic implacability. ‘They are going, my love, whether you like the idea or not. Get used to the idea.’
Celeborn scowled. ‘We spend precious time with our great-grandchildren and he will carry them off on that wretched ship and they will forget about all the things we do together.’
A look of understanding passed over Galadriel’s face. ‘They are not so shallow,’ she told him. ‘Even at their age, they know what is important. Let him have his day, my love. We have had so much more.’
Elwing kept a firm grip on Nimloth’s hand. Even a fairly brief acquaintance with her son’s granddaughter had made her aware of Nimloth’s ability to find trouble in the middle of total tranquillity. Luthien’s granddaughter had a suspicion that, should Nimloth find herself in the arms of Namo, he would return her as promptly as he had the offspring of Maia and Elf Lord. ‘Promise me you will behave,’ she requested, her voice suggesting that she knew this was a forlorn hope. The problem, she felt, was that the elleth would be behaving – she just would not be behaving in the way that any reasonable adult would expect.
‘Of course I will,’ Nimloth said earnestly with a captivating smile. ‘I will help Ada’s Daerada as much as I can.’
‘That is what I was fearing,’ Elwing sighed, an expression of foreboding crossing her face.
Aewlin skipped over, pulling Elrohir in her wake. ‘This is so exciting,’ she said. ‘Adar says he wishes he had been given the chance of sailing with Eärendil.’
The Mariner turned a pleased look at the fair-haired elleth. ‘I only regret that we have been divided from our family for so long,’ he said to his tall grandsons. ‘I hope the little ones do not find the experience too dull. I have spent so many centuries perfecting the path across the night sky that the journey can seem quite monotonous at times,’ he added modestly.
Elladan glanced at his brother. ‘I think the presence of these three might make this night’s voyage rather more – memorable,’ he commented neutrally, dropping a hand warningly on his son’s shoulder. ‘But please, my son,’ he murmured. ‘Not too haunting.’
‘I will do my best,’ Elrin shrugged, ‘but there is only so much I can do – and they outnumber me.’
‘I suppose,’ his adar returned thoughtfully, ‘that you could always tie them to the mast.’
Elrin grinned. ‘I would have to catch them first. And then grab Aewlin before she cut Nimloth free.’
‘Just do your best to see that they both come back safely,’ Elladan requested. ‘I have a bad feeling about this. Eärendil has no idea of the level of risk to which he is exposing himself.’
Nimloth squealed as the gleaming white ship launched into the air and Elrin grabbed her as she leaned over the rail to wave frantically at those who remained looking up at them. ‘They look so small,’ she exclaimed.
‘And if you want to see them look even smaller, you have to hang on, Nimloth,’ Elrin told her in exasperation. ‘You really do not want to see them getting larger as you tumble to the ground!’
His cousin pouted at him. ‘I am not going to fall, Elrin. I do not know why everybody seems to think that Aewlin and I are stupid.’ She pulled away from him and darted to where Earendil stood directing his vessel into its path across the heavens.
‘Not stupid,’ Aewlin poked her cousin in the ribs, ‘but reckless. Is that not what you think?’
‘No,’ Elrin protested. ‘Heedless, maybe – neither of you seem to think about what could happen.’
‘Of course not!’ Aewlin giggled. ‘Why should we bother? We have you to do that for us.’ She gave Elrin a quick affectionate hug before running off after her twin.
The three cousins settled after the twins had raced round the vessel a few times, exclaiming at everything they saw, and they gazed over the side in amazement as the ground retreated below them until it was no more than a distant haze of greens and browns and blues.
‘Feel,’ Elrin said, extending his hand over the side of the frost-white ship.
Aewlin’s mouth dropped open and she frowned as the air seemed to thicken to the texture of honey, growing stiffer as she thrust her hand as far as she could. ‘How . . . odd,’ she marvelled. ‘The outside feels different from the inside. And how is it that the sails are filled with wind when there does not seem to be any air?’
‘I know how to find out,’ Nimloth looked up towards the pennant fluttering at the masthead. She darted swiftly to the pale ropes and began to climb.
Her sister narrowed her eyes. ‘I do not believe that will prove anything,’ she remarked consideringly. ‘It would be too simple.’
Eärendil stood proudly at the wheel as his ship far outflew the birds that had accompanied them on the first part of their path. The Silmaril at his brow gleamed with increasing brightness as the sky around them darkened from azure to indigo to . His noble features reflected the light and his robes draped artistically around his strong form. His expression, however, did not match.
‘Get down, Nimloth,’ he snapped anxiously. ‘I do not want you climbing the rigging – you might fall.’
‘She will be all right, Anadar,’ Aewlin said. ‘She climbs like a squirrel.’ She insinuated herself between Eärendil and the wheel. Can I steer? Please?’ she wheedled.
The glance he threw at her was harassed. ‘I have to keep on course, little one,’ he told her. ‘There is no room for error.’ He hesitated. ‘Perhaps you would like to help me hold the wheel.’
Aewlin wriggled and stretched her head up as high as she was able. ‘Can you hold me up, Anadar?’ she asked. ‘I cannot see where we are going.’ One hand grasped Eärendil’s tunic and clutched it as she attempted to pull herself up.
He bent awkwardly and used one hand to lift her, twisting and hitching up his robe of clear sapphire blue. Aewlin kept her hold on his rumpled tunic with one hand and threw herself forward to grab the polished wood, confident that the Mariner would keep hold of her. He stepped back abruptly at the unexpected shift of balance and the wheel span as he released it. His brief outburst made his great granddaughter turn wide eyes on him.
Elrin hid a grin. He could almost guarantee that Aewlin would come out with that expression some time in the not too distant future – probably when her naneth had her sat demurely in the company of a gathering of genteel ladies.
Vingilot lurched as the steady hand on the helm was lost and the sails flapped as the vessel lost direction. Aewlin clutched at Eärendil as he released his hold on her to turn his attention to the wheel, knocking the circlet holding the Silmaril so that it hung sideways over his ear.
From the complex net of ropes above the deck a panic-stricken screech made the Mariner look up.
‘Stop it, Anadar!’ Nimloth yelled. ‘The ropes have caught me. I cannot get free.’
‘I will get her,’ Elrin volunteered.
Eärendil felt like banging his head against the mast. He did not remember having had so much trouble with a full crew of touchy men aboard, even when they had spent many long months on the ocean – and this voyage had, so far, lasted no more than a few hours. How was it that these elflings had managed to seem so harmless in the presence of their parents? Had they just been biding their time until they got him on his own?
He peeled Aewlin from him, straightening the circlet and shaking his crushed clothes back into place. ‘Go over there,’ he commanded, pointing towards the bows of his ship. ‘Sit down somewhere and remain still.’ Aewlin looked at him with big eyes and allowed her lip to tremble, but Eärendil’s attention had diverted to her sister.
Elrin climbed swiftly to the spot where the sudden slackness of the ropes had caused Nimloth to twist awkwardly, but, by the time he had reached her, she had freed herself and she was anxious to continue to the masthead. He caught her ankle. ‘Come down,’ he said firmly. ‘Anadar is having kittens – he is scared to death that you are going to fall.’
Looking over her shoulder, Nimloth grinned happily. ‘This is such fun,’ she said. ‘I will be perfectly all right, you know.’
Her cousin scowled at her seriously. ‘I know you will,’ he said, ‘– it would take something far more dangerous than this to get the better of you – but if you want to finish this journey without Anadar locking you and Aewlin in the hold, you had better start behaving yourself.’
‘Spoilsport,’ she complained, but she followed him down to the shining deck and joined her sister in the bow, where they both smiled enchantingly at the Mariner as he strove to get Vingilot back on course.
As the bright ship slowly resumed its way, Elrin took hold of his cousins’ hands. ‘Look,’ he told them confidentially, ‘you can go sailing any time – Legolas adores being given any excuse to go down to the coast. Then you can let your adar worry about you falling from the mast or tumbling in the ocean. What makes this ship special is where it sails. Watch the world below us as we cross Arda. This will probably be the only chance we will ever get of seeing the lands of Middle Earth our adars knew. If you make me waste it, I will make certain that you will be very, very sorry.’
Nimloth looked at her cousin as if she had not seen him before. ‘You mean that, do you not?’ she asked incredulously and, when he replied with a single nod, she drew a deep breath. ‘Very well,’ she conceded amiably. ‘You only had to ask. Is that not so, Aewlin?’
‘Of course,’ her twin agreed readily. ‘We would never want to spoil something that means so much to you, cousin.’ She smiled at him. ‘We will behave like perfect ladies – just like Daernana – but,’ she warned, ‘I am afraid we will make you pay for it later.’
Elrin inclined his head. ‘Thank you,’ he said, ‘and you can try. But if you are old enough to be thinking of playing dirty, I think you should know that you are now old enough for me to retaliate in kind.’
Aewlin’s smile of anticipation gave her the look of an extremely pretty but very dangerous predator. ‘We will have to see, then, will we not?’ she remarked.
Elrin moved as far forward as he could up to the bow of the vessel and leaned against the rail. With his eyes fixed in front of him, Vingilot’s smooth progress was almost unnoticeable and he felt as if he were flying above the dark blanket of the land beneath him. Here and there patches of water reflected light back at him like silk thrown casually on the thick dark wool of a winter cloak. He looked up and the stars smiled back at him like old friends. They were bigger, he thought, than he would have imagined. Bigger and closer. His eyes widened as he realised that other great vessels were seeking the sky paths across the endless expanse of the sea of heaven. He stared, his breath stilled in wonder.
‘Anadar,’ he choked finally, able to do no more than wave his hand towards the sight before him. The twins raised their eyes to see what had captured his attention.
‘Oh,’ Eärendil said, turning the wheel slightly as if to catch the wind in his sails of billowing white. ‘I quite forgot that you would never have seen it before. They are too distant to recognise as ships, even from the Blessed Realm.’ He inclined his head in acknowledgement to the other star-craft. ‘What did you think they were like close up? You knew that Arien directs Anor across the roof of the world and that Tilion guides Ithil.’
‘But those are stories,’ Nimloth said with apparent disapproval. ‘Like Ungoliant and the Two Trees and Beren and Lúthien.’
‘True stories,’ Eärendil said mildly, as the wind from nowhere caught his long black hair and his robe of bright blue and stirred them into motion with a distant scent of salt water. ‘The Maiar drive Anor and Ithil – and they sail on the unseen ocean and guide Varda’s star-ships.’
Elrin found himself unable to speak for awe of the sight before him. The stars had been turning in their stately dance since Varda placed them in the sky before the dawn of days and the Maiar guiding them had been pursuing their allotted path ever since. Such devotion to a duty that was unsuspected by those who sang to the self-same stars moved him.
Eärendil looked at his great-grandson: tall for his age, dark-haired and grey-eyed, and he wondered what it would have been like to live a normal life and see his sons grow to adulthood. He turned the wheel before him slightly and sighed. His had hardly been the most typical of experiences – he had always felt that the Valar had not really known what to do with Elwing and him and had come up with this task as a way of avoiding a decision as to what made elf or man. Which, he concluded, looking at the lanky elfling, they had made in the end anyway. At least, he decided, these three would not be torn between the kindreds. They were elves – born in Aman, the blood of men thin in their veins. He could be thankful that they would not be taken from their families into the mystery that was the Gift of Men.
A suppressed giggle returned his attention to the twin ellyth. He should just have brought the ellon, he thought ruefully. He clearly needed at least two heads and four arms to deal with these little mischief-makers. If he had only been thinking, he would have seen his danger in the expressions on the faces of the elves who had entrusted Aewlin and Nimloth to his care, but he had been too proud to have been granted the chance to take them on this night’s adventure. Now Elrin was too star-struck to give them the experienced and cynical attention he had concentrated on them at first – and Eärendil dreaded to think what they had found to entertain themselves.
‘Nimloth,’ his great grandson’s voice warned, ‘you promised.’
The ellon had clearly learned that even marvels should not take up his whole attention when his cousins were present.
‘What are you two doing now?’ Eärendil said, forcing himself to sound jovial, rather than panic-stricken, as he totted up the minutes he had still to face before dawn brought him back to safe harbour.
‘Did you bring anything to eat, Anadar?’ Aewlin asked sweetly.
‘I do not usually bother, little one,’ he told her, ‘but I believe your naneth provided a large hamper. Why do you not go below and discover what she packed for you?’
Elrin tuned out his cousins’ voices. He really did not want to waste his energy worrying about what they might do next, when above him the white-sailed ships of the constellations tacked back and forth across the dark mirror of night and below him small collections of golden light identified the homes of the men of his elders’ tales.
‘We promised, Nimloth,’ mimicked Aewlin as she followed her sister down the white wood of the stairway to the main cabin where they recognised their naneth’s wicker hamper.
‘But what did we promise?’ Nimloth beamed at her. ‘Not to spoil Elrin’s night. And we would not do that, now, would we?’ She struggled to unbuckle the stiff straps and threw back the lid. ‘Let us take Anadar something to eat.’
With a plate of tipsy sandwiches and a large goblet of deep red wine, the cousins climbed carefully back to join the Mariner at his post.
‘Look what we made for you!’ Nimloth exclaimed, offering Eärendil the plate.
‘I am a little busy right now,’ he hedged, looking doubtfully at the contents. ‘I believe I will wait.’
The elleth’s expression melted his resolve. ‘But we made them on purpose,’ Nimloth protested sweetly, batting the dark eyelashes that contrasted so well with the flaxen beauty of her hair.
Helpless in the face of such innocent charm, the Mariner took an overfilled pocket of bread and bit into a combination of flavours that made him gag as he tried to force it down. ‘Interesting,’ he coughed, his eyes watering. ‘What did you put into it?’ A blob of the gooey mixture trailed inexorably over his thumb to plaster itself to the front of his tunic.
‘Here,’ Aewlin offered him the goblet. ‘You sound as if you need a drink.’
Eärendil looked helplessly from the hand holding the wheel to the mess in his other hand. ‘I do not think. . ,’ he said weakly.
‘It is all right,’ Aewlin told him brightly. ‘You can finish the sandwich first.’
‘Nana always makes us finish what we take,’ Nimloth said, a touch censoriously, watching with well-hidden glee as the Mariner glanced with revulsion at the concoction before putting it into his mouth and forcing it down. He even licked his fingers, she noted, before accepting the drink Aewlin offered and taking an incautiously large mouthful.
Even as Eärendil spat the dark wine over his clean deck, Elrin whipped the plate from Nimloth’s hand and inspected it. He lifted it up and sniffed suspiciously at the contents. ‘Mustard?’ he asked. ‘And jam? Mixed with cream cheese and pepper, I think, although I have no intention of tasting them to discover if you have put in any other interesting flavours.’ He took the goblet and swirled it round to inhale the aroma. ‘Where did you get the mirúvor to add to that, I wonder?’ he asked. ‘The salt will have been in the hamper and I expect the hot sauce was, too.’ He looked sternly at the two ellyth. ‘Nasty,’ he said. ‘You would never have got away with it with anyone who knows you better.’ He frowned at them in silence for a few moments, before sighing. ‘I know what your adar would do. I cannot make you drink the rest of that goblet – you are too young. But you will sit there and eat one of those sandwiches each.’
Aewlin lifted her chin. ‘And if we refuse?’ she asked.
The Mariner was impressed by the cool authority his great-grandson was displaying.
‘Then I will pack them up in the hamper and you may look forward to your breakfast once your adar has heard of your behaviour.’
Nimloth scowled as she took two from the plate and handed one to Aewlin. ‘You are mean, Elrin,’ she said.
Elrin lifted his eyebrow in the manner of his daeradar. ‘It takes one to know one, my dear cousin,’ he commented. ‘Eat, while I get Anadar something to remove the taste.’
He returned with a jug of apple juice and three cups, one of which he filled and gave to a grateful Eärendil, who swilled out his mouth and swallowed thankfully.
‘Do they often do things like that?’ he asked, watching as the two ellyth nibbled the sandwiches, pulling faces as they ate.
‘Too often,’ Elrin told him. ‘Although they rarely catch anybody more than once. They think it is funny.’ He looked at them suspiciously. ‘They are cleverer than you would think, though,’ he added. ‘They knew that I would make them eat some of what they made, and, if I am not mistaken, they prepared for it.’ He took Aewlin’s hand and swiftly removed a dab of filling from the bread, tasting it tentatively. ‘I thought so.’ He met her eyes accusingly until she glanced away. ‘It is pretty revolting, but designed to be edible. Your idea, I suspect, Aewlin.’ He sighed. ‘Put them back. This time I will choose which ones you will eat.’
The twins were rather more subdued after they had choked down the sandwiches, so Elrin risked sending them to clear up the mess they had made before settling them where he could keep an eye on them.
Eärendil viewed him with approval. ‘I wonder, my great-grandson,’ he mused, ‘if you would like to hold the wheel while I go and wash my hands.’
The twins hissed as they inhaled sharply. ‘It is not fair,’ muttered Nimloth.
The Mariner raised an eyebrow, but did not reply to her words. ‘Just hold it steady,’ he said. ‘I will only be a moment.’
Elrin grasped the gleaming wood, feeling the power of the vessel as it rode so effortlessly through the air and he held on as the energy transferred to his hands and filled his body, leaving him breathless with the sense of the ages-old task, repeated night after night by his daeradar’s adar.
‘Thank you.’ As Eärendil returned and took back his duty, Elrin threw him a glance of profound respect. ‘Perhaps you would like to watch the dawn from the bow,’ the Mariner suggested. ‘I sometimes think it is my favourite part of the journey.’
‘Especially today,’ Aewlin murmured in Nimloth’s ear, making her grin, ‘for then he will be rid of us.’ Very little, Elrin thought, suppressed the terrible twins for long. As long as they had each other’s love and approval, they seemed to cope easily with the displeasure of those around them. About the only time he had seen them really upset was when their adar had decided to separate them for a time, and their distress then had been so extreme that he had finally relented.
The brightness of the ship faded as the sky turned to bronze and the distant star-ships could no longer be seen against the lightening heavens. Below them, objects gained definition as they picked themselves out from night’s dense mantle. Patchwork fields stretched between areas of woodland; dusty roads unwound in pale ribbons; here and there a golden light gleamed from a window as the mortals prepared for their day of toil on the land.
‘I wonder what it is like down there,’ Nimloth said softly. ‘It looks not unlike home.’
‘People eat and sleep and love each other, I suppose,’ Aewlin considered. ‘And work to grow food and spin and weave and cook and look after babies. And quarrel and get in trouble,’ she finished with a nudge in her sister’s ribs.
‘I would like to be able to go there and find out,’ her twin told her. ‘It is all very well listening to stories – but I want to be able to do things for myself.’
Their eyes met and, in one of those moments of instant comprehension that unnerved others, they moved away from their cousin and approached the Mariner. ‘Anadar,’ Aewlin wheedled. ‘You let Elrin steer. May Nimloth and I hold the wheel – just for a moment?’
‘Please?’ Nimloth joined her pleas to her sister’s and they both brought wide eyes and appealing pouts to bear on the unprepared Eärendil. Nimloth tilted her head and looked up at him, twisting one of her fair braids between her fingers in a way that she knew often proved irresistible to those who did not know her well.
Eärendil found himself transfixed by the gleaming silver-grey irises and closed his own eyes, opening them only to find Aewlin gazing at him with a similarly hopeful expression. He swallowed. ‘Very well,’ he said, with nervous resignation. ‘You may stand on either side of me and hold the wheel – but I am not letting go of it.’
The twins’ swift silent communion agreed that this was likely to be the best offer they would receive and they moved together to a position that eased the Mariner back, so that he stretched over their heads to retain control of the wheel, and their slim hands closed round the wood.
With his cousins under temporary control, Elrin relaxed. He leaned on the rail at the furthest point he could go into the bows, and watched as the wide waters of Ulmo’s seas danced in the rosy light of a bright dawn and he smiled as the pale vessel began its descent and the world came up to greet them.
‘When I grow up,’ Nimloth announced bouncily, pulling away from Elrin’s firm grip, ‘I am going to be a star like Daerada’s Ada. I will fly with him through the night sky.’
Celeborn enjoyed the fleeting look of panic that crossed Eärendil’s face. ‘It will be many years yet,’ he said diplomatically, ‘before you need to decide what to do with your life.’
‘It is a very lonely life, piloting Vingilot above the world,’ Eärendil said hastily. ‘I am not sure you would enjoy it.’ He took a tiny step backwards. ‘I have enjoyed our journey together,’ he said. ‘It has been a . . . remarkable experience – although perhaps one that should not be repeated too often.’ He looked round. ‘For fear of spoiling it,’ he added vaguely. ‘But rest assured that I will be watching over you with interest, little ones.’
‘From a distance,’ Celeborn murmured.
Eärendil picked up on the comment and took it as understanding. ‘Yes,’ he agreed with relief, ‘from a distance.’
Galadriel and Celeborn exchanged glances as Eärendil walked away. ‘It is not the special occasions and the treats,’ Galadriel said softly. ‘It is being there for them every day; comforting their hurts and encouraging them to grow. Eärendil has never had that experience.’
Aewlin grabbed at Celeborn’s hand and swung on it to attract his attention. ‘Anada,’ she demanded enthusiastically, ‘what shall we do now?’
Celeborn drew a deep breath and smiled at his wife. ‘I believe,’ he said seriously, turning his attention to the slight fair-haired elleth, ‘that there is frogspawn hatching in the pond. Shall we go and look?’
Elflings 5: Fifth Column
Thranduil groaned softly and dropped his fair head to rest his forehead against his wife’s. ‘I do not want to know what they are up to,’ he said so quietly that his voice was barely audible even to her.
He could feel her laughter. ‘I never realised quite how entertaining elflings could be,’ she murmured. ‘I remember every breath Legolas drew as an infant – but I did not have the pleasure of seeing him go through this stage of his growing. It is a joy to me to watch his children.’
‘It is preferable,’ Thranduil admitted, ‘to bearing the responsibility myself. I would rather support the demands of a kingdom at war, in a way, than try to direct the young. At least warriors do as they are bid.’
Laerwen leaned cautiously over the branch on which she and her husband were reclining and looked down at the elflings. Her pale hair draped over the wood and she faded into the shadows, barely noticeable even to one who was watching her.
He drew a breath of wonder as he looked at her. Even after these last years, he found he still could not take for granted the fact that she was here, by his side, as real and warm as she had been before she had been wrenched from his life and stolen from her son’s childhood. They said, he thought, that he, the Woodland King, had been so closely bound to his forest that its song played in his veins, but Laerwen – well, she was the forest.
She looked up and smiled delightedly. ‘They have a creature of some kind,’ she told him. ‘I cannot see clearly, but I think it might be a bird.’
‘I hope they have not taken it from its nest,’ he said absently. ‘It is not for them to intervene in the lives of the forest’s creatures.’
‘They will not have done that,’ Laerwen told him confidently. ‘They have their daeradar’s care for the welfare of the wood.’
She stretched out and touched him gently, losing herself in his eyes as they both forgot about the activities of their grandchildren.
‘We cannot take him home,’ Eleniel insisted. ‘You know that we cannot. Naneth would say no at once, and Adar would ask all kinds of questions about how he ended up in our hands – and then insist on letting one of the foresters look after him. Probably Aelindor,’ she added thoughtfully. ‘He has more experience than most in caring for parentless birds.’
‘But I want to care for him,’ Galenthil stated firmly. ‘I want to see if we can make him fly for us.’ He looked at his sister, his eyes sparkling with excitement. ‘I have read how hawks can be trained to hunt and return to their carer’s fist. I would like to have him look to me.’
Eleniel looked doubtfully at the scrawny fledgling. ‘I do not believe it is as easy as that,’ she told her brother. ‘Birds do not survive well when not cared for by their parents and this one seems too small for us to look after him successfully.’
‘He will do better with us than he would if we had left him,’ Galenthil said optimistically. ‘He was out of his nest and on the ground. We watched for hours to see if his parents came back – but they did not. It is our responsibility,’ he stressed, ‘as guardians of the forest, to look after this creature.’
‘In that case,’ Eleniel announced, ‘we should take him back and ask Hithien or someone how to care for him.’
‘They will take him away from us,’ Galenthil sighed, using one finger to stroke the fledgling’s pin feathers delicately. ‘You know they will, Eleniel. They will say that we are too young to care for him properly.’
‘Could that be because we are?’ she said in exasperation.
Galenthil continued to stroke the bird as his sister watched him, knowing that silence was more likely to win her support than any argument. His fair hair was tangled with twigs and leaf litter and his clothing dishevelled and stained from inching patiently over the forest floor in his determination to catch the skittish fledgling. It had kept just out of reach, moving off just as the elfling had come close enough to attempt to take it in his hands, until she would have screamed in frustration, but her twin had persevered until finally the bird had rested in his hands. He had soothed it gently until it settled as comfortably as if it had been in its nest and it continued to sit easily against his grubby green tunic as if it had no doubt but that it was in the right place.
‘What do you want me to do?’ she asked with resignation.
‘A kitchen raid?’ he said hopefully. ‘Do you think you could get some scraps of raw meat for him?’
‘Are you sure that it will be the right food for him?’
‘I think they eat mice – and rabbits,’ Galenthil told her. ‘I cannot see that there is much difference.’
Eleniel shrugged. ‘I will see what I can do,’ she said. ‘I will have to be careful – I do not normally visit the kitchen to take raw meat. If anyone sees me with it, they will know that we are doing something we should not.’
‘Then do not be seen,’ Galenthil grinned. ‘You can do it.’
‘They are up to something,’ Elerrina told Legolas. ‘They are being too quiet and compliant – and, outside meal times, they are invisible.’
‘What do you suspect them of doing?’ her husband enquired, enjoying the way the sunlight gleamed in her hair, bringing out the rich colour of a beech leaf at the brink of winter.
‘If I knew, I would be able to stop them,’ she pointed out, smiling at him in the way that he found difficult to resist. ‘They are far too slippery to be where I would expect to find them – they take after their adar. And I have not yet decided whether this matter is important enough to merit bringing in Thranduil’s spies.’
‘I think I have been insulted,’ he said meditatively. ‘I am not slippery at all! I am an elf of honour and principle, I will have you know.’
‘M’mm.’ Her eyes sparkled. ‘An elf of honour and principle who is never where you expect him to be. Or, come to that, there when you expect him to be.’
Legolas wound his arms round his wife’s waist and drew her back against him. ‘Now we come to it,’ he said amiably, leaning over her shoulder to nip the tip of her ear. ‘I have outstayed my leave to play in the woods with my friends and my lady is feeling abandoned.’
She smacked his arm lightly. ‘Nothing of the kind!’ she told him indignantly. ‘I am only too happy to see you in such good spirits – and, believe it or not, I can survive your absence for a few days without suffering serious distress. You watch the elflings, my lord. If, by this time tomorrow, you are not as anxious as I am to know what they are doing, then I will let them get on with it. But do not blame me when it all gets out of hand.’
‘I was never able to get anything past my adar,’ Legolas admitted. ‘If he has not expressed any concern about their activities, I would doubt whether Eleniel and Galenthil are doing anything too terrible.’
‘Thranduil has other things on his mind these days,’ Elerrina laughed softly. ‘He can be diverted by a glance and turned from his purpose with a word. He knows he can rely on you to keep an eye on his duties while he is – distracted. I do not believe he is concentrating on his grandchildren’s behaviour with the same single-mindedness he applied to your upbringing.’
‘Why should he?’ Legolas agreed ruefully. ‘After all, the responsibility is ours. I will set myself the task of discovering their latest antics, my love, and insist that they stop whatever they are doing.’
She giggled. ‘One day,’ she told him, ‘you will say that – only to discover that they are behaving exactly as they ought.’
‘One day, perhaps.’ He turned her to meet her eyes. ‘But not for a good few years yet, I fear.’
‘He is growing,’ Eleniel admitted, watching critically as Galenthil simulated the action of a parent bird in providing a gobbet of raw rabbit for the greedy fledgling. ‘It is a good thing that there are kittens in the stable – I think the cook is convinced that the scraps he is giving me are intended for them. I am even going there first and feeding some pieces to the cat just to divert suspicion.’
‘The feathers are coming in well,’ Galenthil concentrated intently on the bird. ‘He is starting to – bate, I think it is called. He is exercising his wings and can almost get off the ground.’
‘Adar has returned home,’ Eleniel observed. ‘I heard Naneth giggling. He will be coming to look for us soon. I do not believe we will be able to keep Gwilrandir secret much longer – we are about to be discovered, my brother.’
‘Just a few more days,’ he said absently. ‘He needs a little more growing time – but then I think we will probably need help. Do you think Aelindor could teach me how to train him?’
‘I do not know.’ Eleniel smoothed her skirt and clasped her hands around her knees. ‘He is a Wood Elf – he might not approve of taking the creatures of the forest and turning them into pets.’
Galenthil spared her a glance. ‘Goshawks are not pets, ’leniel,’ he said scornfully. ‘We train horses to work with us – and dogs. Why should it be different to have a partnership with a hawk? They fly free and only return if they want to – it seems acceptable to me.’
‘Adar might feel that hiding him in the first place means that we are not mature enough to be able to work with him,’ she pointed out. ‘He would say we have been deceitful.’
‘And taken advantage of Naneth’s trust – yes, I know,’ Galenthil returned his attention to feeding the demanding bird. ‘I would not mind being punished for that if it meant that I could keep Gwilrandir.’
‘Where did you get the glove?’ Eleniel asked. ‘It looks like one of Daeradar’s.’
‘It is,’ her brother told her absently. ‘But it is an old one that he left in the stables. Gwilrandir has a sharp beak and his talons were ripping the sleeves of my tunic. Besides, the people in the book used a glove to protect themselves.’
‘If they had not done so, would you have let him tear your hand to shreds?’
‘I am not stupid, ’leniel.’
His sister grinned. ‘Just obsessed,’ she said airily.
‘Not that either.’ He looked at her swiftly. ‘Can you not feel the excitement that would be part of hunting with a wild bird on your hand – one that will come when you call him and bring you his catch? A creature that has the freedom of the skies, yet chooses to be with you?’
Eleniel stared at him. Galenthil responded easily to the treesong around him and he seemed to have a strong link to the living creatures that called the forest home, but she had never seen it as intensely as in his bond with this bird. And the hawk did respond to him, she admitted. She had fed him once or twice, when Galenthil could not manage to escape his tutor, but, although the bird had accepted her offerings, he had clearly been looking for her brother and had not settled properly until Galenthil had arrived to deal with him.
They were beginning to grow up, she thought mournfully, grow up and apart. Galenthil’s lessons were more to do with learning to lead and manage the elves of the forest, together with training in arms to be a Wood Elf warrior – not exactly necessary here in the Blessed Realm, but too much of a tradition to avoid – whereas she was spending increasing amounts of time outside their lessons learning the skills needed to run a large household. She had always been quite glad that the differences between her and Galenthil had made it easier for her to be an individual than it was for Aewlin and Nimloth – but she found she minded the divergence of their paths more than she would have expected.
‘He has settled.’ Galenthil nudged her. ‘We had better get back and greet Adar or he will want to know what delayed us.’ He gave her his open cheerful grin. ‘And I believe we do not want him asking questions just yet, do we?’
‘Best not,’ she agreed, comforted despite herself. Galenthil was delightfully uncomplicated, she thought. He was not all that enthusiastic about some of his studies, but he was generally easy-going and got on well with most people – just as long as he had the forest to explore and its creatures to come to know. You knew where you were with him, she decided, because it would never occur to him to pretend to be something he was not.
They slipped from their hiding place and slid silently through the sheltering undergrowth before emerging into public view and sauntering easily towards their home.
Hithien watched them leave with amusement. There was no doubt about it – the twins had inherited their adar’s ability to move surreptitiously through the forest, together with his rapport with his surroundings. And, she admitted, his ability to tumble headfirst into adventure. She had wondered whether she wanted to stay with them once their parents had moved to the forest, thinking that acting as the guardian of a pair of elflings would be dull, but she had found her role to be anything but tedious.
They would not be keeping their secret much longer, she thought, easing her way into the narrow cleft to check on the progress of the fledgling. Not unless Galenthil thought to comb the feathers from his hair and change his clothes before arriving back in his room. She grinned. She liked the ellon’s openness, even in secret-keeping. He would not have stood a chance with a more suspicious naneth – but Elerrina remained quite naïve about some aspects of living away from the civilised estates of the Noldor. That and she had a well-developed cynicism about the ability of the young to remain clean for any length of time.
Hithien left as unobtrusively as she had arrived.
‘So what are they doing?’ a quiet voice said in her ear.
She froze just long enough for Legolas to be aware that he had surprised her. ‘My lord?’ she enquired coolly.
He grinned. ‘You know what I mean,’ he said, courteously overlooking her reaction.
‘Take a look,’ she suggested. ‘But do not disturb it. It is currently sleeping the sleep of the well-fed.’
He returned looking thoughtful and raised an eyebrow at Hithien.
She refused to be intimidated. ‘Your son is caring for the bird well, Lord Legolas,’ she said. ‘Remarkably well, considering that he has had little or no teaching. And it is thriving. I would say it will be ready to try its feathers in no more than a week.’
‘Where did he get it, though?’ Legolas asked seriously. ‘I will not have either of them robbing nests for their own pleasure.’
‘Do you think Galenthil would do that?’
‘No,’ Legolas replied. ‘No, I do not believe he would. But my question remains.’
‘Then ask him, my lord.’
Thranduil laughed. ‘I had quite forgotten that we saw them,’ he said without apology. ‘They have managed to care for it? I am impressed – it is not easy to rear birds.’ He raised his eyebrows at his son. ‘Are you going to permit them to train it? Your daeradar kept hawks,’ he said reminiscently. ‘Long ago, before we travelled east to the Great Wood. I longed for the day when I was considered old enough to train a hawk of my own, but . . .’ He shrugged and lapsed into silence.
Legolas had seen his adar react that way before, when something had brought back a memory of his life before Oropher had taken his family from the ruins of the First Age to seek a new life, and knew better than to let him brood. ‘Why did he not start again once you were settled?’ he asked curiously.
His adar shrugged again. ‘I do not know. There was so much to do – maybe it seemed an unnecessary use of his time. Or perhaps he looked on it as a relic of another age.’ He looked at his wife, unable to suppress a smile at the pleasure of her presence. ‘It could be that he did not feel the Silvan elves would approve of taking hawks from the wild to serve the desires of a Sindar elite.’
‘It cannot be that,’ Laerwen said with amusement. ‘Wood Elves are happy to work in partnership with birds and beasts. There are some who have persuaded ducks to help them fish – and others who have become friends with beavers.’
‘Would you find it acceptable for Galenthil to work with the bird?’ Legolas asked.
‘If it wishes to stay with him, there is no reason why it should not,’ Laerwen shrugged. ‘It will be for him to convince the hawk that it wishes to return to him.’
Elerrina looked from her husband to his naneth. It still seemed remarkable to her that both should take the choices of the forest creatures so seriously. Whilst caring for beasts in their charge, her family and friends would pay no more heed to their wishes than they would ask the trees where they wished to grow. Life here, in the forest, was much more organic – and it would seem that her elflings were completely at home in this world. She relaxed suddenly and laughed. She could not deny that she enjoyed this life and, if offered the chance to go back, she would not take it. ‘Do we know anyone who has the skills needed to help our son raise a healthy bird?’ she asked. ‘I would not have the creature suffer through his ignorance.’
She felt her husband’s wave of approval warm her.
‘I can think of one or two,’ he said thoughtfully. ‘And there may be some who have returned from Mandos who have a familiarity with hawking. I will make enquiries.’ He smiled. ‘Although first we have to speak to a pair of elflings about acting behind our backs – and assuming knowledge they do not have.’
She grimaced. ‘I suppose so,’ she said. ‘Although they do not, to me, appear to have done anything very bad.’
‘Not very bad as it has turned out,’ Thranduil agreed, ‘but they would doubtless be disappointed to escape without any rebuke. I would not want to let them down. Perhaps some extra study is called for. . .’
‘On the health and habits of raptors,’ Legolas nodded. ‘That was what I had in mind.’
His adar inspected him with approval. ‘I seem to have succeeding in influencing your way of thinking quite effectively,’ he said.
‘Like adar, like son,’ Laerwen smiled.
‘Which is not a bad thing at all,’ Elerrina laughed, taking her husband’s hand.
‘Are you coming?’ Galenthil asked his sister.
‘Wait a moment,’ she demanded, reading the text on her lap with close interest. ‘Did you know that in Doriath, elves would ride out with hawks on their wrists – and that they would take hares and rabbits for the table. She looked up. ‘There is even a drawing of a hunt that includes a picture of Daeradar’s adar.’
‘Is there?’ Galenthil came and peered over her shoulder. ‘Which one is he?’
They studied the scroll in silence. ‘He looks quite like Adar,’ Galenthil said thoughtfully.
‘But I do not believe they are very similar in character,’ Eleniel added. ‘Adar is really very patient – I do not think I have ever seen him really angry – but Anadar was supposed to be quite impulsive and hot-tempered.’ She looked up at her brother. ‘I would like to know more about him,’ she said.
‘Come on,’ Galenthil insisted, losing interest in the written word. ‘We are going to fly Gwilrandir today – and Daeradar is coming to watch.’ He smiled excitedly. ‘I think he is hoping that Gwilrandir will be willing to fly to his glove,’ he said. ‘If he is, then Daeradar might want to see if he can have a hawk of his own.’
Eleniel looked down at the illustration on the scroll briefly and touched the face of the anadar who had gone to Mandos’s Halls thousands of years before her own adar’s birth. Perhaps, one day, he would return, she hoped, as her daernaneth had, and come to join them in the forest, where he could fly hawks with his great-grandson.
‘Do not be in such a hurry, Galenthil,’ she said firmly, ‘I am coming.’
Elflings: Sixth Sense
‘Celeborn and Laerwen will come back as soon as they can,’ Galadriel said with exaggerated patience. ‘In the meantime, you would be wise to remain still. Moving will only hurt you and it will not speed their return by one second.’
Thranduil cast a searing glare at her, which she met with calm indifference. ‘There is nothing the matter with me,’ he snapped.
Galadriel raised her eyebrows. ‘The blood on your garments tells a different story,’ she said with polite disbelief. ‘As does the pain in your face.’
The King of the Woodland Realm narrowed his eyes intimidatingly, before realising that even his most threatening expression was unlikely to overawe the Lady of the Golden Wood. Besides, he acknowledged privately, she had a point. He was not feeling himself.
‘Anana,’ a young voice piped up, ‘can we not help you?’ A fair-haired elfling leaned over Galadriel’s shoulder.
‘I believe I would prefer you to keep your distance,’ Thranduil snapped. ‘It would seem that there is unlikely to be much you can do to, apart from avoiding making the situation worse!’
Galadriel raised an eyebrow and Thranduil immediately felt both resentful and guilty. It had not, after all, been the elfling’s fault that he had fallen. Elflings were like kittens, he thought. You raced to the rescue only to be left floundering as they walked away. It was not that Nimloth had appeared to think that she was in any difficulty as her tunic suspended her from that slender branch – and so, of course, it had proved when he had overreached himself and fallen, despite the best efforts of the tree, and tumbled headlong into a scrubby blackthorn. While she, of course, had stepped easily down from the heights and ended up on the ground, looking as neat and unruffled as her ananeth. It was enough to make anyone feel unwell.
‘I would appreciate a drink,’ he said in a more conciliating tone.
‘Water,’ Galadriel insisted. ‘Fetch some fresh water from the spring, will you, please, Nimloth.’
Thranduil scowled. ‘Wine would do more to deaden the pain,’ he complained. ‘If I were feeling any,’ he said challengingly after a moment’s thought.
Galadriel ignored his words, but Nimloth looked at him with a frown. ‘Daerada would not let you drink wine,’ she informed him. ‘You banged your head, so you should not take anything more than a little water. If that,’ she added thoughtfully.
‘Here you are.’ Aewlin offered the Woodland King a partly filled cup.
‘You should not move your head,’ Nimloth told him disapprovingly. ‘You do not know what damage you may have done.’
‘I hope Anada and Lady Laerwen bring the others back before it gets dark,’ Aewlin observed, glancing anxiously at the quiet forest that surrounded them. Even the birds appeared to have decided to cease their song in response to the dramatic events of the past hour and there was an unnatural stillness about the trees.
‘You are not nervous, surely.’ Galadriel was surprised. It was not a reaction that seemed consistent with the nature of her bull-headed and excessively over-confident great granddaughters. ‘These woods are not dangerous.’
‘You never know what might be out there, Ada says,’ Nimloth informed her. ‘Rabid bears, hungry wolves, wild boar. He says that things that are not a menace at all to a party of well-prepared, alert elves who understand the forest can suddenly become quite threatening to those who are young, or alone, or unable to defend themselves.’
Galadriel kept her face straight and nodded soberly. ‘He has a point,’ she said. So her grandson had attempted to curb his daughters’ wandering habits by getting them to take the possible perils more seriously. She had to commend his effort, but would have to warn him of its ultimate futility. It had, after all, never worked with Celebrían – or, come to that, with her daughter’s children. Although, she supposed, when they discovered from experience the truth of his words, at least Elrohir would know that he had spoken them. The principal flaw in his argument, as far as she could see, was that Nimloth and her twin would deny that they fitted any of his categories of those at risk, being neither alone nor young, as well as being, in their opinion at least, more than capable of looking after themselves.
‘We are not defenceless,’ Thranduil said grudgingly, wishing to reassure the ellyth. ‘No elf or beast in possession of his senses would take on your Anana. She would make mincemeat of him.’
‘Why, thank you – I think,’ Galadriel said courteously, a ghost of a smile on her lips. ‘I am sorry it pained you so much to admit it.’
Nimloth removed a neatly folded and clearly unused white handkerchief from the recesses of her pocket and poured some water over it before kneeling beside her friends’ daeradar and beginning a careful process of removing the blood and dirt from the hands that had attempted to grab onto the spiny branches and break the speed of his fall. ‘You have got some nasty splinters and thorns stuck in there,’ she observed. ‘Shall I get them out for you?’
‘I do not believe I wish to have you sticking a needle in me.’ Thranduil opened his eyes and frowned.
‘Why would she do that?’ Aewlin asked curiously. ‘Nimloth is very good at removing splinters – and she has had plenty of practice. When Galenthil fell into a patch of brambles and looked like a pincushion, he was happy to let her take the thorns out.’ She grinned. ‘I think he hoped that his naneth would not find out about it, but of course she did.’
Nimloth put her rather grubby hand over Thranduil’s and stroked it gently, barely touching his scraped skin. He stilled as a cool tingling replaced the sting and attempted to lift his hand.
‘Keep still,’ she said, her warm fingers exerting a light pressure. Her twin rinsed out the cloth and returned it to her and Nimloth moved it delicately over Thranduil’s scored palm to brush away the needle-sharp, but co-operative thorns.
‘Did you know she could do that?’ Thranduil lifted an eyebrow at the twins’ great-grandmother.
‘No.’ Galadriel looked at elfling consideringly. ‘I do not believe I would encourage her to try to deal with anything more serious than splinters, though – unless there is no alternative. She lacks experience of healing.’
‘You astound me,’ the wheat-fair king retorted sarcastically. ‘I would have thought that she would be a stalwart of the halls of healing.’
‘What injuries do you think Aran Thranduil has sustained?’ Galadriel enquired gently, ignoring him as if he were a petulant child. ‘Do not touch him, but close your eyes and feel for his hurts.’
Nimloth glanced at Aewlin and sighed, but decided she was far too much in awe of her illustrious ananeth to complain any more openly. ‘There is a spot there,’ she pointed. ‘I think it is a broken rib – and maybe the next one is cracked. Other than that, Aran Thranduil’s head is a bit – woozy and he has lots of scrapes and bruises. And more thorns,’ she added.
‘She is not far wrong,’ Thranduil admitted grudgingly. ‘I told you there was nothing seriously hurt.’
‘How can you tell one is broken whereas the other is cracked?’ Galadriel asked.
Nimloth hunched her shoulders as if she wished she could change the subject. ‘It feels warmer,’ she muttered. ‘Redder, in a way.’
Her great-grandmother inspected her thoughtfully, but decided to let the subject rest.
‘Shall I start a fire?’ Aewlin asked. Nimloth’s talent was clearly no news to her twin and, indeed, she seemed to want to distract Galadriel from probing it any more deeply. ‘We could make some tea.’
Nimloth slid her eyes to meet her twin’s. ‘I do not know why everyone else went off and left us,’ she complained.
‘Do you not?’ Galadriel lifted her eyebrow and stared compellingly at her grandson’s child. ‘Be honest with yourself, Nimloth, even if you prefer to conceal matters from others. Their reasons seem distressingly clear to me.’
‘That is not fair,’ Aewlin intervened with determination. ‘It is just picking on Nimloth – and me.’ She stirred the ashes of the small fire that had served them earlier in the day. ‘We just wanted to see if the kites were still sitting or whether the eggs had hatched.’
‘So you disappeared,’ Galadriel said coolly, ‘just as everyone else was ready to leave to go to the waterfall, knowing that we could not leave you behind, and that yet again your friends and cousin would have to give up what they wanted to do in order that Nimloth and Aewlin could get their own way.’
‘I would have left them,’ Thranduil remarked. ‘I suspect they would soon have caught up.’
Aewlin frowned at him, but decided that remaining silent was a sensible move. If there were two people, she thought resentfully, she would have preferred not to remain in anticipation of Nimloth’s and her return, it would have had to be Anana and Aran Thranduil. Her parents could be quite intimidating when they wanted to be, but they were rank amateurs in comparison with these two – and now it was not just a case of simple disobedience, but they had managed somehow to be the cause of Eleniel’s daeradar being hurt.
‘You are becoming tiresome,’ Galadriel told them flatly. ‘You are no longer young enough for your thoughtlessness to be endearing and your parents and the rest of your family are not prepared to watch you grow into self-indulgent, selfish, demanding, volatile adults. Enough is enough. We are not going to tolerate it any longer.’
Aewlin’s eyes stung and she blinked hard to clear them, dropping her head so that only her soft fair hair could be seen. Her sister sat back so that the twins were shoulder to shoulder and their hands sought each other.
‘Aewlin only came because I wanted her to,’ Nimloth said defiantly. ‘Do not blame her.’
The ominous silence that followed made the twins lean together as if each was the other’s only defence in the face of the storm that was likely to hit them at any moment. The clearing chilled briefly as a cloud passed over the sun, before the pleasant warmth of the sunny afternoon resumed and they were able to breathe again.
‘It is interesting to watch you grow,’ Galadriel said with sudden mildness. ‘In some ways your behaviour reminds me of your daernaneth in her growing years, but, on the whole, I see my own youth in you both.’
‘May the Valar help us,’ muttered Thranduil, not quite quietly enough.
Galadriel flicked a reproving glance at him, before continuing, ‘I am not prepared to see you learn from long centuries of painful experience things which we can teach you now. I am going to see that you develop a sense of duty,’ she added pleasantly. ‘And your lives will be a great deal easier if you apply yourselves to your learning – although, should you choose to absorb your lessons the hard way, it is of no concern to me. We have time.’
Thranduil was aware of a sudden wave of unexpected sympathy for the two ellyth. ‘They are children,’ he protested. ‘You cannot expect them to behave with wisdom and maturity until they have had time to learn.’
‘That is not what you were saying a short while ago,’ Galadriel reminded him. ‘You said then that perhaps there was something to be said for beating some sense into the recalcitrant young.’
Nimloth’s horrified expression settled on the Woodland King, so that she missed the edge of humour in her ananeth’s voice. Aewlin, less literal than her twin, narrowed her eyes and waited for the conversation to conclude.
‘I may have said that, yes,’ Thranduil snapped, ‘but I did not say what it was! And I did not do it – nor would I.’ He shifted uncomfortably. ‘My son will tell you that consequences in my household have always been about taking responsibility for actions and learning from them rather than revenge.’
‘Precisely,’ the Lady said decisively, before allowing the subject to drop.
‘I could make some willowbark tea,’ Nimloth offered as she watched Thranduil stir, feeling sorry for his discomfort. ‘I’ve seen Aunt Miriwen make it often enough. And put some witch-hazel to steep for the scrapes.’
Galadriel nodded absently. ‘Show me the bark before you use it,’ she said. ‘And I will watch you – we would not want Aran Thranduil to think that you are trying to kill him for threatening to beat you.’
‘I did not . . .’ Thranduil snarled, before clenching his teeth and refusing to gratify the Lady by reacting any further.
It took Nimloth remarkably little time to find and assemble sufficient willowbark and witch-hazel, and Galadriel noted that she had, without apparent thought, selected exactly the pieces that would prove most effective. Aewlin, however, was holding back and there was a shadow on her face as her sister worked.
‘I would be of more assistance,’ Galadriel said pleasantly to Thranduil, as she supervised her great-granddaughter’s efforts, ‘but experience leads me to believe that you would rather suffer than endure my aid.’
‘I was not aware that you had trained as a healer,’ he said. ‘And,’ he added uncertainly, looking at Nimloth, ‘I see no reason to bear the ministrations of amateurs.’
Galadriel laughed. ‘So you are saying that, after centuries as a warrior, you would be unable to dress a wound? Or that, after years as a parent, you would be unable to ease a headache? How have you learned to make healing teas, Nimloth?’
‘From watching Naneth,’ the elfling said, straining her infusion into a cup, ‘and Aunt Miriwen. Elrin’s Naneth is very good at explaining what she is doing and why. And she says it is silly to rely on Daeradar for everything, when most healing is common sense and cleanliness.’
‘A small part of being the Lady of any holding is seeing to the health of those who live there, Thranduil. I am more than capable of dealing with the minor injuries you have sustained without bringing to bear any skills with which you would be uncomfortable.’ Galadriel looked sharply at her husband’s cousin. ‘But I will merely guide Nimloth, if that is what you prefer.’
‘Aewlin can help,’ Nimloth insisted. ‘Anything I can do, she can do, too.’
‘Perhaps,’ her ananeth said. ‘Although being twins does not mean that your talents are exactly the same. Your adar is a better healer than his brother, and better at understanding others, whereas Elladan reacts more swiftly on the field of battle and is an inspiring leader. I suspect that you both know that there are differences between you that will only grow greater as you age.’
The twins’ eyes met. ‘Go on,’ Aewlin said quietly. ‘You know that what you do will be more effective than anything that I can do. Even if it is exactly the same thing.’
‘Nimloth has inherited Elrond’s healing talent, has she not?’ Galadriel asked gently. ‘Why have you tried to hide it?’
‘Because I did not need to look in a mirror to know that it would separate us,’ Aewlin said bitterly.
Her ananeth cupped the elleth’s chin and raised it to look into her eyes. ‘Not necessarily,’ she said. ‘Not yet. What you both need now is self-control, sweeting. You will have to work at your lessons so you have the learning you will need, develop self-discipline, acquire the training necessary to your parents’ daughters. Then, when you are old enough, you may choose to follow different paths – but it will be your choice, Aewlin.’
Aewlin held her breath as she felt for the first time the sheer age and experience of her ananeth. Her eyes, usually so bright and full of laughter, had a depth into which the elleth felt she could fall and drown. She could see the blue and bitter cold of endless ice, the wheeling of stars in the vast dark, reflections of a huge and ancient forest in the clear waters of a deep pool; feel the searing pain of loss as, one by one, those she loved were sacrificed to a relentless doom; hear the cries of the new-born and the dying in the complex melody of the song. The connection broke as Galadriel closed her eyes, drawing down a shutter between them.
‘Not now,’ her ananeth said. ‘You are too young to take on the burdens of that sight yet. But let the experience show you that you must be ready.’ She took the shaken elfling in her arms and allowed her strength to soothe her. ‘You have both been given – interesting talents,’ she said, ‘and it is your burden to make of them all you can. Help your sister,’ she said briskly, patting Aewlin’s shoulder.
‘The willowbark tea is ready,’ Nimloth said.
Galadriel took the cup and tasted it cautiously. ‘That is fine,’ she said. ‘It is not too hot.’ She looked at Thranduil with amusement. ‘Drink it,’ she commanded. ‘Without pulling faces, if you can. About half the cup,’ she told her great granddaughter. ‘And then you can use the witch-hazel on the surface injuries. Get out all the thorns you can, but avoid the damaged ribs.’
The afternoon grew brassy and stifling as Nimloth busied herself with the tasks under her great grandmother’s watchful eye. Little though he wished to admit it, Thranduil had to concede that her ministrations eased much of the soreness and that his head was no longer throbbing painfully.
Aewlin looked round the clearing uneasily. ‘I wish the others would come back,’ she remarked.
‘What is unsettling you?’ Thranduil enquired, swallowing repeatedly to try to remove the foul taste from his mouth.
‘This does not feel a good place to be,’ Aewlin said simply. She looked anxiously at her ananeth. ‘Can you not sense it?’ she asked. ‘There is something in the air.’
Galadriel raised her head sharply. ‘Leave the fire, Nimloth,’ she ordered. ‘Get your things and move off into the trees.’ She looked round. ‘That way,’ she indicated. ‘We might be able to find shelter. Quickly!’ she added as the ellyth hesitated. She looked at the recumbent form of the Woodland King. ‘You will have to move,’ she said. ‘I am sorry. I would not ask it of you if I did not think . . .’
A sudden wind gusted in the clearing, ripping at their clothing and tearing at their hair. Thranduil seized Galadriel’s outstretched hand and used it to pull himself to his feet, catching her sense of urgency. A metallic stink made the air heavy as he clasped one hand to his ribs and limped as swiftly as he could behind the forms of the twins.
‘There is a cave,’ Nimloth called, even as a shaft of lightning tangled in the tree under which they had been resting and a deafening crack of thunder seemed to rip the crown from the tree and hurl it, spinning, towards the ground where they had been sitting. Even as a twist of fire began to lick through the blackened wood, the clouds burst and a torrent of rain began to drop.
‘Get inside,’ Galadriel commanded.
‘Let me go first,’ Thranduil insisted. ‘There might be other occupants.’
‘And how will you fight them off?’ the Lady snapped. ‘You are hurt!’
Thranduil’s glare silenced her. ‘Give me your knife, Nimloth,’ he said, ‘and do not come beyond the entrance unless I tell you it is safe.’
‘It is safe,’ Aewlin whispered. ‘We were in here earlier.’
Galadriel put a finger to her lips. ‘Let us be sure,’ she said. ‘Elves are not the only creatures to seek safety when they sense threats.’ Even the few moments she had been out in the rain had been enough to plaster her hair to her head and saturate her dress and she looked down ruefully before shrugging. ‘I will see if I can find some wood before it gets too wet,’ she sighed. ‘We will need to get dry, if we can.’
‘There is wood in here already.’ Thranduil sounded strained. ‘It would seem that elflings use this place as a den. ‘It should be enough.’
‘Lie down, Thranduil,’ Galadriel said as she looked him over. ‘I think I might have to insist on doing something for your ribs. You would not want to puncture a lung, would you?’
He hesitated for so long that she was sure he was going to turn down her offer. ‘If you must,’ he said reluctantly at last. ‘It feels better, but I daresay that is the willowbark.’
‘I will direct Nimloth,’ Galadriel told him ironically. ‘I am sure you would prefer that.’
Thranduil waved a hand in salute. ‘As you wish, my lady.’
‘Move as little as you can,’ she said, sliding her hand inside his tunic to raise it above the injury. ‘You have a rather dramatic bruise,’ she added.
‘It goes with my rather dramatic personality,’ Thranduil retaliated, winking at Nimloth.
‘There seems to me to be no displacement,’ Galadriel remarked. She looked at the twins. ‘Do either of you think anything different?’
Nimloth placed her hand tentatively over the site of the injury. ‘No,’ she said cautiously. ‘It is beginning to heal already,’ she offered. ‘It is less angry.’
‘Keep your hand there,’ her ananeth told her, ‘and think about how you want Aran Thranduil to be better.’
‘Is that all there is to it?’ Nimloth asked in surprise.
‘No,’ Galadriel admitted, ‘but it is all you are able to understand at the moment.’
Thranduil was unable to resist the urge to squirm a little as the same pins and needles feeling that had touched his hands when Nimloth removed the thorns returned much more strongly.
‘Keep your hands steady,’ the Lady advised. ‘Ignore any complaints.’
The tingling faded gradually, remaining longest at the point where the ache had been concentrated before disappearing. Nimloth removed her hand and sat back, looking at her ananeth for approval.
‘Better?’ Galadriel asked.
‘Better,’ Thranduil agreed, running his fingers over the spot. ‘Thank you,’ he said to Nimloth. I forgive you for having inadvertently been the cause of my humiliating accident. It would seem that both you and Aewlin have valuable skills that incline me to excuse your less-than-perfect behaviour.’
‘I take it your headache is also better, then,’ Galadriel said.
Aewlin nursed the small fire she had managed to light. ‘I suppose all we have to do now is wait.’
Drawing a tentative deep breath, Thranduil looked at the heavy rain falling just beyond the opening to their small refuge. ‘For some time, I would suspect,’ he said with resignation.
‘They have taken shelter, too,’ Galadriel agreed. ‘I hope we have wood enough to last until we are dry.’
‘That poor tree,’ Aewlin said at last, breaking a silence warmed only by the crackling of the fire. ‘One moment it was growing and healthy and the next . . .’
‘It is as well for us that the lightning struck high in its crown,’ her ananeth said thoughtfully. ‘We were too close had it grounded.’ She pushed away the knowledge of what the bolt could have done. ‘We will thank the tree later and do what we can for it.’
Aewlin glanced at her sister before moving to press herself against Galadriel, who automatically wrapped her arms round the warm figure of the slight elleth. Nimloth leaned closer to Thranduil, who responded in the same way, so that she dropped her fair head onto his shoulder, the better to enable him to stroke her hair.
‘They are like kittens in this as well,’ Thranduil said softly, as she relaxed into sleep against him.
Galadriel looked at him curiously, not having been party to his earlier thoughts. ‘They are offering comfort,’ she said, ‘as much as seeking it.’ She looked at Nimloth and smiled as she rested her cheek on Aewlin’s head. ‘We will be proud of them yet,’ she sighed.
‘I think their parents should be proud of them now,’ Thranduil challenged. ‘They are young and foolhardy, it is true, but, when it counts, they do what they must. You can ask no more.’
Galadriel stroked Aewlin’s soft cheek with a gentle finger. ‘Perhaps not,’ she agreed, ‘perhaps not.’
Elflings 7: Seventh Heaven
Elrin sighed as his cousins appeared, one on either side of him. ‘Do you have to follow me everywhere I go?’ he asked impatiently.
‘We are not.’ Aewlin responded with cool precision. ‘If we were following you everywhere you went, you would not get so irritated when we turn up.’
‘I have just finished training, Aewlin,’ Elrin informed her in a long-suffering tone. ‘I am hot and sweaty and I want to go and bathe. If you have so little to do that you can chase me down on my way back to the house, then I shall tell uncle that you clearly need more lessons.’
‘We need nothing of the sort,’ Nimloth sniffed. ‘We have just finished a hour of extra sewing, because Naneth was cross with us for getting grass stains on our new dresses – and we still have to spend time tomorrow with Iavas learning how to remove the marks from fabric. We are lessoned out, Elrin. We need some fun.’
Their cousin grinned. ‘You would not get in so much trouble if you spent rather less time looking for fun, Nimloth.’
‘You can be very dull at times, Elrin,’ Aewlin told him, wrinkling her nose. ‘I sometimes wonder how you can be so unlike your adar. He still gets in trouble.’
Elrin cast his eyes up to the clear sky. ‘He does not do it on purpose, though. His horse slid in the mud and fell on his leg. And now he is pinned to a chair on the terrace in a splint until it mends. I doubt that is the kind of trouble for which you are looking.’
‘Daernana said that at least she will know where he is when your brother decides to arrive,’ Nimloth observed. ‘And she will not have to chase off into the forest to look for him. And Daerada said that she should not count on it, because Elladan was very good at being in the last place you expected him to be.’
‘Tell me what you want,’ Elrin demanded. ‘Then I can go and get ready to eat. I am hungry.’
‘Ellyn of your age think of nothing but their stomachs,’ Aewlin said. ‘That is what your naneth said this morning. And Daernana told her to be thankful for it, because once you started thinking of other things she would wish that she had you back at the stage when she could know that you would always appear at the ringing of the dinner gong.’
‘You two spend far too much time listening to other people’s conversations,’ their cousin remarked disapprovingly.
‘Well, that is not our fault,’ Nimloth defended herself. ‘If they did not make us sit and embroider stupid samplers, we would not be there to hear them. And they spend enough time telling us what we are doing wrong and snipping our stitches out to make us do them again that they cannot have forgotten that we are in the room.’
Elrin folded his arms and lifted an enquiring eyebrow at the fair-haired twins.
‘Ride with us!’ Aewlin capitulated. ‘You can eat first, but then ride with us in the forest. We need to do something.’
‘Why do you need me to go with you?’ he asked suspiciously.
‘Ada said that we may not ride alone,’ Nimloth admitted reluctantly. ‘Not until we have learned to return on time. We have to have someone responsible with us.’
‘That rules me out then,’ their cousin said with relief. ‘I am far too young to be considered responsible enough to deal with either of you two.’
Nimloth grinned triumphantly. ‘Now that is where you are wrong,’ she announced. ‘I asked particularly. And Nana said that it hardly seemed fair to give you so much bother, but that, if you were willing, you would do.’
‘And what makes you think that I might be willing?’ their cousin asked. ‘Do you think I am stupid?’
‘We will promise to do as you say,’ Aewlin told him hopefully. ‘And you are much more fun as a companion than Calenlith or Gwathor. They will just expect us to jog along at a pace no faster than a sedate canter for an hour or so and then come straight back.’
‘Excuse me if I am wrong,’ Elrin piled on the sarcasm, ‘but I thought that was what was meant by a ride.’
‘Stop being silly.’ Nimloth wound her arms round his. ‘We want to ride somewhere and then stop and pick berries or climb a tree or – do something before we come back. You know perfectly well what we mean. Ada cannot come – he is too busy carrying out your adar’s tasks, and we want you.’
‘Look at them.’ Celebrían indicated her three grandchildren. ‘I am afraid poor Elrin has little chance of escaping the whiles of those two little besoms.’
‘He is not as helpless as he would have you believe.’ Miriwen smiled affectionately down at them, leaning back against the window frame as she rubbed her hand rhythmically over her large belly. ‘He is quite capable of managing the pair of them without them even realising it. He has his adar’s charm and his daernaneth’s ability to make everyone feel that he is doing them a favour by letting them carry out his wishes.’ She watched as Nimloth rested her head on her cousin’s arm and rubbed, like a cat attempting to convince the cook of its affection. ‘And he loves them dearly – even though they seem to have your sons’ talent for tumbling headfirst into adventure.’
‘They are getting better,’ Sirithiel said hopefully. ‘They seem to have more idea of how their behaviour affects others now.’
Celebrían turned impulsively and gave her a quick reassuring hug. ‘If you had known the twins when they were small,’ she laughed, shaking her head. ‘You have nothing to worry about, my dear one – Nimloth and Aewlin are emerging from their twin isolation much more quickly than their adar and uncle did. I was deeply grateful that I had Elrond to persuade me that it was normal for my sons to behave as they did, for otherwise I would have thought that there was something wrong with them.’
‘They seem to accept now that they are not the same.’ Miriwen observed, as Elrin pulled away and made a run for the house, pursued by a giggling Nimloth. Aewlin shrugged and followed them more slowly. ‘Nimloth seems happier now that her healing gift is known – and she is working harder on the studies that her daeradar sets her.’
‘Aewlin found that difficult, I think,’ Sirithiel sighed. ‘Nimloth wanted to share the studies with her sister, but Aewlin did not want to involve herself at first – until Lady Galadriel took a hand.’
‘There are times,’ Miriwen confessed, ‘when I am still rather frightened of Elladan’s daernaneth.’
Her naneth-in-law grinned mischievously. ‘Well, of course there are, my daughter – that just goes to prove that you are not stupid. There have been times when I have been rather frightened of her myself.’
‘I have no idea what she said to Aewlin,’ Sirithiel admitted. ‘I thought it better not to ask – but Aewlin emerged red-eyed and much happier. And she is willing to work on learning healing skills without worrying that Nimloth has an instinctive understanding of matters she has to learn.’
‘Aewlin has always been cleverer than her sister,’ Miriwen reflected. ‘More understanding, too, and less impulsive. I can understand how she would find it difficult to have Nimloth pass her.’ She smiled. ‘I remember when it became clear that my little sister would be able to weave far better than I ever would – I was outraged, even though I hid it well. It was a long time before I picked up a shuttle again. Not until after we sailed, really – when I realised that what mattered was doing the best I could and that she and I were not in competition.’
Celebrían smiled wryly. ‘It is one of the hardest parts of being a parent – standing back and letting your children learn painful lessons. And I suspect,’ she added, ‘that, like their adar, Aewlin and Nimloth will put themselves in the position of acquiring much wisdom in that way.’
Miriwen shifted uncomfortably. ‘It is not something you outgrow, either,’ she sighed. ‘You think I would have remembered how unpleasant it is carrying a child through these last few weeks – and refrained from repeating the experience.’
Sirithiel and Celebrían exchanged a knowing look.
‘I know,’ Miriwen said pettishly. ‘I do not know I am born. Carrying twins is far worse – delivering them is intolerable – bringing them up is ten times as demanding as looking after a single elfling.’
Her naneth-in-law laughed. ‘I felt just as bad with Arwen as I did with the twins,’ she admitted. ‘And I believe my temper was even worse. My naneth was gritting her teeth by the time came for her to be born, and I had driven Elrond from the house – yet, I promise you that within moments of her birth I would have agreed that, some time in the future, I would happily repeat the experience.’
‘Perhaps you would feel better if you were to go and torment your husband,’ Sirithiel suggested, eyes twinkling. ‘You could make him feel guilty for putting you in this situation in the first place – and then tease him further for not being able to jump to your bidding through his own folly.’
Miriwen smiled reluctantly. ‘It might be amusing,’ she agreed, ‘but he would take me too seriously. I would not want to distress him. He feels foolish enough as it is.’
‘You are good for Elladan,’ Celebrían told her. ‘Although, as his naneth, I cannot help but feel that he deserves his good fortune.’ She glanced at Sirithiel. ‘As does Elrohir.’
A door slammed down the corridor and three young voices disturbed the tranquillity of the house. ‘I think it will be for the best if they spend most of today’s daylight hours out in the forest,’ Miriwen mused. ‘But first, let us feed them before we set them free.’
Elrohir stretched out in his chair and closed his eyes. ‘I am less than impressed, my brother,’ he said. ‘You are just about to descend into mindless infant worship anyway. You could at least have retained full use of your body until your wife had need of your support.’
‘Anyone would think I did it on purpose,’ his twin complained. ‘Even my son is looking at me with a cynical gleam in his eye.’
‘He takes after his daeradar,’ Elrohir said with fraternal ruthlessness. ‘Do you remember when we unable to go with Naneth and Adar to Mithlond, because you had fallen from the stable loft and concussed yourself? I know Adar thought we had done it on purpose.’
‘I did not concuss myself,’ Elladan objected. ‘The yard did that for me! And, as I recall, I did not fall from the loft so much as a certain elf not too far away from me knocked me through the opening.’
Elrohir waved his hand airily. ‘The point is that Adar had exactly the same look in his eyes that Elrin shared when Legolas and I carried you in.’
‘My son is occasionally too sober,’ Elladan conceded. ‘I think we should make a point of offering him more opportunities to enjoy himself.’ He grinned wickedly. ‘I know your daughters do their best,’ he said, ‘but I am of the opinion that they cause him more anxiety than entertainment.’
‘Would you like me to remove your leg support?’ Elrohir enquired. ‘And take away your crutches?’
‘No need,’ his brother told him ruefully. ‘Adar did that himself. He did not want me attempting to walk, he said, and he could think of only one way to ensure my cooperation.’
‘Unimaginative of him,’ his twin commented. ‘I can think of plenty of ways.’
‘Only I believe he wished to spare me pain, elfling,’ Elladan sniffed.
‘Does it hurt, Adar?’ Elrin sounded concerned. ‘Would you like me to fetch Daeradar?’
Elladan turned as much as he could while pinned to a cushioned chair with his leg supported. ‘No, my son, I am fine. Elrohir can offer any assistance I need – he has not yet lost possession of all his faculties.’ He grinned at the pair of ellyth behind their cousin. ‘What have you planned for the rest of the day?’
Elrin looked at the ellyth, then, as they remained silent, heaved an exaggerated sigh. ‘Aewlin and Nimloth wish to ride,’ he told his uncle, ‘and they assure me that I am considered a suitable companion.’
Both of Elrond’s sons laughed. ‘And you thought it wise to check that that is not only what I said, but also what I meant,’ Elrohir guessed. ‘You are very young to be so suspicious – although I am aware that you have reason!’ He looked at his daughters. ‘You will do as your cousin bids you,’ he said seriously. ‘I do not want to discover that you have caused him any difficulties. And you will keep away from the rivers – there has been too much rain recently for them to be safe.’
‘We will behave,’ Nimloth promised. ‘We may go then?’
‘Return in time for supper,’ Elrohir instructed, ‘or you will be back to riding with a guard again.’
‘Yes, Adar,’ the ellyth chorused, dragging the cousin to the steps down to the garden.
‘Elrin!’ Elladan called.
‘Leave word where you intend to go,’ he said, ignoring the ellyth’s frown, ‘in case we want to get you swiftly.’
The young elf looked at him keenly. ‘We will go to the big beech beyond the meadow, Adar,’ he said readily, ‘and spend some time in its branches before we return.’
Aewlin scowled as they headed towards the stables. ‘Why do they want to know where we will be?’ she asked. ‘They pretend to accept our promise, but they still do not trust us!’
‘It is not about you at all,’ her cousin said mildly. ‘Adar wishes to know where I will be – in case Naneth wants me.’
‘Oh.’ Aewlin flushed slightly. ‘I forgot.’
‘Will he arrive today?’ Nimloth sounded surprised.
‘Possibly.’ Elrin grabbed his tack and disappeared into his horse’s stall. ‘But babies can be a bit unpredictable at times. At least, that what Naneth said.’
The twins prepared their ponies quickly and led them into the yard to mount up. ‘Come on, Elrin,’ Nimloth said impatiently. ‘We will not have enough time even to get there at this rate.’
‘Keep an eye on the sun,’ the groom who supervised the care of their horses told them, squinting at the sky. ‘Do you know when to return?’
Aewlin nodded. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘Daernaneth told us what to look for.’
They moved off sedately, holding their mounts in until they had moved beyond the areas likely to be populated by walkers, but as soon as the entered the green avenue beyond the last cottages, Nimloth allowed her restless pony to increase his pace. ‘Come on,’ she yelled. ‘Race you!’
‘Cheat,’ Aewlin shouted, urging her mare to chase after her sister. ‘You got a head start.’
Elrin waited until the two were half way down the grassy track before allowing his gelding to leap into a swift canter, but it ate the distance between him and the ponies. The ellon laughed as his hair blew back from his face. His promotion from pony to horse was still recent enough for the increased power and speed to be exciting. He passed Aewlin easily and leaned forward, urging Tindu on in his determination to beat Nimloth. The gelding’s step lengthened and his speed pushed him past the elleth less than two lengths before the end of the unofficial race track.
‘Not fair,’ Nimloth pouted. ‘Tindu is bigger than Ascar.’
‘Gruin is the same size, though,’ Elrin pointed out. ‘So perhaps you should have waited for Aewlin to start with you.’
‘It does not matter,’ Aewlin shrugged. ‘It was only in fun – we were not really racing.’
‘Come on.’ Nimloth dropped the subject and led the way confidently between the trees, closely followed by her sister.
The torrential rains that had kept them indoors through much of the previous month had passed, leaving the fresh shades of the forest to flourish in the mild freshness of late spring. Elrin drew in a deep breath of the green scents of opening leaves and bruised grass. The path to the big beech was well used and he knew that, given a reason to co-operate, his cousins were unlikely to cause deliberate trouble, so he did not hurry after them, but dawdled, enjoying the peace of the afternoon.
It would be soon now, he knew, if his naneth wanted to be able to retrieve him quickly to meet this new brother – but he found he was not really sure that he was looking forward to the experience. He recalled little of the twin’s early years: the only memory that stood out was of having to be good and quiet so as not to disturb the fair-haired elflings – and of those he loved most ignoring him in their favour. He knew – intellectually, at any rate – that it had not been so, and that he had continued to receive as much attention and adoration as was good for any ellon, but there was a tiny part, deep inside him, that whispered that now he was no longer small enough to be appealing, he was being replaced. He had squashed it down hard and almost forgotten its presence, but now that his brother’s birth was so close, the misgiving was eating at him.
Aewlin was waiting for him as he arrived in the wide glade that was dominated by the enormous beech and, as he released Tindu to wander and feed, she slipped her hand in his. Perhaps having a younger sibling would not be bad, he thought. There were times when he rather wished that the twins were sisters rather than cousins – although, equally, there were times when he was more than happy to be able to distance himself from them.
‘We are waiting for you, ’Rin,’ she told him. ‘You are so slow at times. Anyone would think you were old!’
‘Have you also been forbidden to climb without supervision?’ he asked warily.
‘I am going to feel sorry for your brother,’ Nimloth announced. ‘You have a nasty suspicious mind, cousin. We will have to teach him ways to evade your surveillance or he will never have any fun.’
‘That does not answer my question,’ he commented dryly.
‘Adar has not actually forbidden us to climb,’ Aewlin admitted, ‘and we do not want him to do so – we would be forced into being disobedient and then everyone would jump on us with both feet. We are being cautious.’
Elrin staggered back and put his free hand to his heart. ‘Could you repeat that?’ he croaked. ‘I must be hearing things.’
‘Slapping someone is a recognised treatment for shock,’ Nimloth told him, her eyes narrowed. ‘No-one could hold it against us.’
‘Do not count on it,’ her cousin warned her. ‘I could. Especially if I am to be the victim.’
‘We brought some food,’ Aewlin said, losing interest in the debate. ‘Let us climb into the nest and eat it and talk.’
The beech was a popular destination for young elves, providing a climb that was difficult enough to keep away the youngest elflings, while its broad branches offered plenty of comfortable places for them to recline beneath its spreading canopy of rich green leaves. Its aged voice soothed them and its song was calm and powerful.
‘I love it here,’ Nimloth said finally as she stretched out full-length, with her eyes unfocused and her voice deeply peaceful, her old tunic and leggings of greyish-green matching the bark so that she looked like an exotic moon-flower growing out of the tree. ‘I feel different when we are in the forest.’
Elrin gazed absently on his cousin. It was true, he realised with some surprise. Keeping the twins detained in the house – a regular occurrence, as their tendency to wander had long worried their parents and keeping them firmly under a parental eye seemed only sensible in response – only ever made them worse. ‘Perhaps your adar should confine you to a tree when you misbehave,’ he suggested. ‘Like Elu did Lúthien.’
Aewlin laughed. ‘I cannot see Adar doing that,’ she said. ‘He would be afraid that we would fall out.’
‘Or get wet when it rained.’
‘Or escape – and run away to live in the forest with bears.’
‘Or find some hideous monster with two heads and poisonous fangs, and bring it home.’
‘And insist on marrying it.’
The pair of them dissolved into giggles.
‘You probably would,’ Elrin told them. ‘Just out of sheer cussedness.’ He shifted slightly, suddenly aware of a feeling of restlessness. ‘How long do you intend to stay here?’
‘All night would be my choice,’ Nimloth sighed, looking at the glimpses of sky visible between the leaves. ‘Do you think our adar and yours – and Eleniel’s – will take us camping again soon? I long to spend nights under the stars, listening to their song.’
Aewlin glanced to where the sun was angling the shadows across the glade. ‘But we will have to earn it,’ she said reluctantly. ‘And to do that we will have to go back now.’ She looked thoughtfully at her cousin. ‘It might be as well anyway,’ she stated. ‘I think that, if we do not, we will find that someone will be coming to fetch us.’
Elrin tensed. ‘What makes you say that?’
‘I just – feel it,’ Aewlin said vaguely. ‘But if I am wrong, it will not matter if we are home a bit early. Everyone will just be a little surprised – and impressed by how amenable we are being.’
Tindu and the ponies were waiting by the time they had gathered themselves and descended to the meadow, having clearly enjoyed the afternoon as much as the elflings.
‘Ascar, you have been rolling!’ Nimloth exclaimed in disgust. ‘It will take me hours to groom the mud from your coat.’
‘At least that is one bad habit Gruin does not share with him,’ Aewlin said thankfully. ‘She is too fastidious to appreciate being mud-caked.’
‘That is not always a good thing,’ her sister told her. ‘There are times when she is too finicky.’
‘Do you want to race back?’ Elrin asked, deciding that they needed some encouragement to move faster than a snail’s pace.
Two pairs of eyes turned to him. ‘Adar says we are not to race towards areas where people might be walking,’ Aewlin told him. ‘It could cause accidents.’
‘Halfway, then,’ their cousin compromised. ‘To the log. And if we let them walk the rest of the way, it will give them time to cool down.’
The twins exchanged glances. ‘Last one there is a warg’s rump,’ Nimloth yelled and the two ponies shot off.
Elrin stroked Tindu’s neck consolingly as he held him back. ‘We will let them have this one,’ he murmured. ‘I think I can stand being called a warg’s rump for the rest of the day.’
Miriwen walked up and down the corridor, Celebrían on one side and Elrohir on the other.
‘This is ridiculous,’ Elladan complained to his adar as he perched in the window seat, his leg stretched out awkwardly in front of him.
‘It will become yet more ridiculous if I decide to confine you to bed, my son,’ Elrond told him with poorly concealed amusement.
‘I am supposed to be offering my wife support,’ he groused, ‘not sitting here watching while she is in pain.’
‘There will be time enough for her to wring your hand and tell you how much she dislikes you later,’ his adar said. ‘I only hope she retains enough nobility of character not to kick your bad leg.’ He put a consoling hand on his son’s shoulder. ‘When she takes to her bed, you will come into your own, Elladan. Now you need to go into your room and sit somewhere with your leg properly supported – or you will be in too much discomfort to help Miriwen through the later stages of labour.’
‘Listen to your adar,’ Miriwen instructed him and she paused in her pacing to run her fingers over his hair and down his cheek. ‘I am well, my love, and I do not need to be worrying about you. Get some rest. I will tell you when I wish to start abusing you.’
He grasped her wrist and pressed a kiss on her palm. ‘If you are sure,’ he said.
‘I will let your brother take your place for now,’ she teased him. ‘He looks enough like you to be a suitable substitute.’
‘But spare me the insults,’ Elrohir pleaded. ‘Remember that I am innocent of any involvement in this – and I will provide you with some choice snippets of information about my brother that he has kept hidden for centuries.’
Miriwen managed to bend enough to kiss Elladan’s brow. ‘I will keep my fingers in my ears,’ she promised, ‘to make it harder to hear these revelations.’ She smiled at him. ‘Now go and sit comfortably – and take some tea,’ she commanded. ‘Your leg is clearly paining you.’
‘I cannot believe how lucky I have been,’ Elladan said very softly as his adar escorted him to the chair prepared for him. ‘I do not deserve Miriwen. It would have been only just if she had turned away from me and found another – but she did not.’ With Elrond’s help he lowered himself carefully and allowed his adar to settle his leg. ‘And as soon as I saw her here, I knew what she had always known.’
‘Sometimes two people are not ready to make the commitment,’ Elrond shrugged. ‘But it is not something from which it is possible for an elf to walk away.’ He smiled. ‘I, too, am glad that you saw finally what Miriwen had seen long ago. She is the perfect wife for you, my son.’
‘She has completed me in a way that I did not know I was lacking,’ Elladan admitted. ‘I find that I understand better how Arwen could have chosen as she did.’ He glanced at his adar’s stilled face. ‘I loved Estel as a brother – but I would never have denied my race for him: I would have done it for Miriwen, had it been asked of me.’
‘I am glad that it was not,’ Elrond said in a low voice.
‘I, too.’ Elladan took his adar’s hand and held it tightly for a moment. ‘Do you think it will take this child long to make its appearance?’ he asked, clearing his throat. ‘I find I do not like to think of Miriwen enduring this distress for any great length of time.’
‘I am certain that time will soon feel as if it passing much more rapidly,’ Elrond said with forced lightness.
Aewlin sat next to her cousin at the table and watched him play with his food. ‘You might as well eat,’ she said. ‘They will refuse to let us anywhere near your naneth until it is all over.’
Elrin shook his head. ‘I am just not hungry,’ he told her. ‘Everything is just too – strained.’ He smiled slightly. ‘I would rather know what was going on.’
‘You all need to finish what is on your plates,’ Sirithiel instructed them mildly. ‘It is not too much to ask. Then you may go and listen to the singing under the stars for a while before the twins go to bed.’
On any other occasion, Aewlin thought, she would have been delighted at the opportunity to attend the night’s activities with the full consent of her naneth, but somehow, when the object of the exercise was to keep them out of the way, the suggestion lost some of its attraction. However, there was more to consider here than her wishes. She grasped Elrin’s arm. ‘Will you take us to the waterfall?’ she asked, looking at him in the way she knew he found difficult to resist. ‘You promised that next time we were allowed to go to the singing you would take us there.’
Sirithiel smiled at her approvingly. ‘That sounds a good idea,’ she agreed. ‘And, if you are keeping an eye on the twins, I know I will not need to worry about them.’
Nimloth leaned closer. ‘That is not what she said last week,’ she breathed in Elrin’s ear while smiling at her naneth.
‘I will try to stop them falling in the water,’ Elrin sighed, ‘but you know what they are like.’
‘Indeed I do,’ their naneth said ruefully. ‘I shall not hold it against you if they escape from your care – but,’ she looked at her daughters sharply, ‘I will hold it against them.’ She stood up. ‘Finish your meal before you go,’ she told them.
Three pairs of eyes followed her out of the room.
‘I wonder if they will allow us to stay out beyond without coming to look for us,’ Nimloth pondered.
‘They might, if my brother has not arrived by then, but I will not,’ Elrin informed her. ‘You are far too young to be out that late.’
‘I wonder what happens at that time of night,’ Aewlin mused, ‘for everyone is very determined to stop us seeing for ourselves.’
‘Nothing happens,’ her cousin shrugged. ‘Well, nothing special, anyway. But I will not want to be that far away – I am staying out no longer than I feel we have to, and then I am coming back to wait here until the child is born.’
The sky was clear and the stars gleamed as if they had been freshly polished. A surprisingly large number of elves were taking their ease among the trees and gardens, singing and playing harps and flutes. Elrin and his cousins made their way steadily to the closest of the waterfalls that the former elves of Imladris had constructed, much to the bemusement of the Forest Elves, to remind them of their former home. No foaming cataracts – the terrain was generally too flat – but rippling cascades whose song enhanced the music of the trees leading into still pools designed to reflect the trees and echo the beauty of the stars.
‘Minding the elflings?’ An ellon about Elrin’s age emerged from the shadows. ‘Do you not have anyone else to do that for you?’
Elrin grinned. ‘It is a special treat for me,’ he said with mock seriousness. ‘What are you doing out here, Nadhras? Have your parents grown tired of you and sent you to find seek another home?’
‘We are not elflings,’ Nimloth stated, staring at the ellon with her best and most intimidating imitation of her Ananeth.
‘What are you then?’ he challenged her. ‘Trolls? Dwarves, perhaps?’
‘Ignore him,’ Aewlin stuck her nose in the air. ‘We will be over there, ’Rin,’ she announced and drew her sister away.
Elrin watched keenly as they went to sit on an artistic tumble of large rocks. ‘I cannot let them out of my sight, Nadhras,’ he said absently. ‘You know what they are like.’
‘I just wanted to know how your naneth is,’ his friend told him.
‘Oh!’ Elrin looked round with sudden understanding. ‘Is that why so many people are here tonight?’
‘He will be the first of your family to be born in these lands – that is what my naneth said – and he will be especially welcome.’
‘I hope Naneth does not keep you waiting too long,’ Elrin said dryly.
Nadhras grinned. ‘Do not feel obliged to ask her to hurry,’ he remarked. ‘We are prepared to wait.’
‘She will be glad to hear that.’
The activity in the room had shifted almost instantly from frantic activity to almost complete peace. Elrond washed his hands and dried them thoroughly, while watching his son and daughter-in-law.
Celebrían joined him and rested her silver head on his shoulder contentedly. ‘It could not have gone better really, could it?’ she murmured. ‘Shall I send Elrohir to fetch the children?’
‘Give them a while on their own,’ he said, taking his eyes from the three on the bed to admire his wife’s loving expression, before turning to the door. ‘We will none of us be missed.’
Elladan looked up briefly as they left, but his gaze returned swiftly to Miriwen’s flushed cheeks and he brought his hand to lay it over hers on their new son’s small body. ‘Are we agreed?’ he said softly. ‘I would not wish to choose a name you disliked.’
‘I do not mind which you select,’ she said, leaning into his hold, then turning to meet his soft grey eyes, ‘of the final five,’ she added firmly. ‘You are not calling him any of those ridiculous things you proposed at first.’
Her husband looked aggrieved. ‘So I suppose that Elgorog is out of the question then?’
‘Completely,’ she answered composedly. ‘As is Eltarlanc and Elboth and all those other names you thought would be so funny.’
He sighed. ‘Well, I suppose I shall have to give in,’ he said with exaggerated regret. ‘I seem to remember promising you the earth, moon and stars not very long ago. The least I can do is choose a name you will not promptly change.’
Miriwen’s finger traced the soft skin of the infant’s cheek and she smiled as the tiny mouth moved as if in search of food. ‘He is so small,’ she marvelled, ‘yet he will alter so quickly. Before we know where we are, he will be nearly grown, like his brother.’ She slid a finger into the baby’s palm and watched his instinctive clasp. ‘I hope Elrin finds his arrival easy to accept,’ she said with a tinge of concern. ‘He is not sure about this.’
‘He will be when he sees him,’ Elladan said confidently. ‘We were Arwen’s slaves from the moment we were permitted to meet her.’ He hesitated. ‘Are you sure that you will be happy with any of those names?’ he asked. ‘For I thought that we might let Elrin take his pick of them.’
His wife tilted her head in thought. ‘You would be prepared to accept his choice?’ she asked. ‘It is your right to name him.’ On his nod, she smiled. ‘I think it is a good idea.’
‘I believe it is time he made his brother’s acquaintance, do you not?’ He looked at her helplessly. ‘How do we attract the attention of our horde of helpers?’ he asked. ‘They are all queuing up outside to come and coo over this little one – but, short of shouting, we have no way to invite them in.’
Miriwen started to laugh. ‘You could throw something at the door,’ she suggested. ‘How about one of your crutches – that should bring your adar running.’
The door opened and Celebrían looked in, smiled at them and turned to call their older son into the room. Elrin entered warily, as if unsure what to expect.
‘Sit down, my love,’ Miriwen commanded. ‘You have someone to meet.’ She held out the newborn and her naneth-in-law took him and placed him in his brother’s arms.
The baby reacted to the movement and opened his slate blue eyes, staring unblinking into the grey eyes above him. Elrin held him gingerly, as if afraid that he might break should his older brother make any unexpected move, but the infant rested easily in his inexperienced hold, pursing his lips and making a little noise of content. Elrin’s smile spread slowly as the wonder in his face turned into joy. ‘Hello, little one,’ he said softly. ‘You may not realise this, but there are a large number of people waiting outside to celebrate your arrival. You are very welcome.’
‘We thought,’ Elladan said tentatively, ‘that you might like to be the one to select his name.’ He paused to see how his son responded to the suggestion.
‘Really?’ Elrin looked up at his parents, clearly delighted. ‘You would trust me to do that?’ Before his adar could reply with more than a nod, he gazed back at the infant in his arms. ‘Ellanthir,’ he said confidently. ‘Your name is Ellanthir.’
Elladan opened his mouth to intervene and explain the restrictions placed on his son’s decision, but then closed it sharply and looked at Miriwen. She smiled at her husband, tilting her head enquiringly, and when the new adar shrugged his approval, Miriwen looked at her two sons and nodded. ‘Ellanthir,’ she agreed. ‘It is a fine name.’
Elflings 8: Liquidate
‘We have been banished,’ Elladan said plaintively. ‘We are unwanted. The ellyth have claimed the pool for themselves and commanded us to go away. Miriwen said that if they catch sight of any male older than Ellanthir, there will be trouble.’
Elrin snorted with laughter.
‘It is not funny, my son,’ his adar mourned, although his eyes were sparkling. ‘If your naneth makes a threat like that, it is wiser to heed her words. She has ways of making your life miserable that you would not believe.’
‘She will feed you liver,’ Elrohir nodded, his face straight. ‘She will ensure that your undergarments have been starched. She will have new formal robes made up for you in pink satin trimmed with rosebuds. She will encourage particularly noisy birds to sing under your window after you have spent a long evening refreshing yourself in the company of your friends. She will. . . .’
‘Enough, my brother!’ Elladan exclaimed. ‘You are giving me nightmares already.’ He grinned. ‘I think it would be wiser to obey her command to seek other ways to get into mischief today.’
‘But it is so hot!’ Galenthil protested. ‘I was looking forward to spending another afternoon in the water.’
‘I think that was the point,’ his adar grinned. ‘We have been hogging the pool and our loving wives, naneths and sisters have decided that it must end. It is only fair, I suppose, that they should have one afternoon to frolic in the water.’
‘We never said that they had to stay away,’ his son said reasonably. ‘They could have joined us.’
The adults exchanged rueful glances. ‘That argument would no longer work even on Aewlin and Nimloth,’ Elrohir sighed. ‘Ellyth do not like to swim with ellyn. Not after the age of twenty or so.’
Galenthil opened his mouth, then, thinking better of what he was going to say, closed it again. His adar flushed slightly, but remained silent. Elrohir raised an eyebrow at him.
Elladan grinned. ‘Except under very special circumstances about which you are far too young to know,’ he added. ‘Moonlight, maybe, solitude, the scent of honeysuckle on the air . . .’ He allowed his voice to fade away as Legolas’s blush intensified.
‘And, speaking as the proud adar of daughters,’ Elrohir said mildly, ‘I am glad of their – reserve. I would prefer not to have to complain about the behaviour of certain ellyn towards them. I am sure Adar found it to be a relief when some among us were on patrol – at least he knew he would be spared indignant visitations.’ He gazed meaningfully at his brother before changing the subject. ‘So what shall we do?’ he asked. ‘I do not believe any restrictions have been placed on us, other than that we should be well beyond sight of the pool.’
‘We will do things that are only suitable for ellyn,’ Elladan sniffed. ‘See how the ellyth like that!’
‘What kind of things would they be?’ Legolas asked with interest, leaning back against the trunk of a solid chestnut. ‘Provide us with details, my friend.’ He watched with amusement as Elladan struggled to come up with some suggestions for activities that would not arouse the wrath of their wives. ‘I take it you have removed some of your favourites from the list – Elrin and Galenthil are, as yet, too young to indulge in wine-tippling and gambling – and I would be interested to know what is left.’
‘Are you saying I am shallow, elfling?’ Elladan objected. ‘That I have no resources beyond the obvious?’
Legolas laughed. ‘Not at all,’ he denied. ‘Just that the only occupations at which the ellyth turn up their noses tend to be ones to which no-one wishes to introduce the impressionable young.’
Galenthil and Elrin exchanged glances of exasperation.
‘No-one in his right mind wants to indulge in adolescent excess in the presence of his parents anyway,’ Elrohir said placidly. ‘I know I could not have imagined a worse fate than being forced to watch Adar and Glorfindel acting like Elladan and me.’
At least,’ his brother qualified his words, ‘not if they knew we were there.’ He grinned. ‘Do you remember . . . ?’
Elrohir shuddered. ‘Every time I am kept awake in the depths of a restless night,’ he said. ‘Do not remind me.’
‘There are more pools than this,’ Elrin suggested. ‘Why do we not just follow the stream back into the hills until we come to one that is suitable? It is too hot to ride – and although it is fun to run through the trees, I would rather have a goal in mind.’
‘There is that pool over there,’ Galenthil suggested, waving a vague hand northwards. ‘The big one beyond the grove of oaks. We would be safe from the ellyth there, because Aewlin says it gives her the shivers, so Nimloth refuses to go there too. It could be a special place, just for us.’
‘Why not?’ Elladan shrugged. ‘As long as we do not have to remain here, listening to the ellyth enjoying themselves while we sit and swelter, it is fine with me.’
Elerrina giggled. ‘Have you ever heard so much fuss made about so little?’ she asked.
‘Frequently,’ Miriwen told her, straight-faced. ‘I sometimes wonder who the elfling is in my household. Elrin often seems to have twice the maturity of his adar.’
‘But then,’ Sirithiel pointed out, ‘at other times he has been known to prove that his is his adar’s son.’
‘Thank goodness.’ Miriwen slipped off her shift and dived neatly into the pool. A ripple spread out across the calm surface, but she remained unseen, surfacing finally near the small fall of water that fed the pond. ‘I would not want him to be too well-behaved. It would be unnatural,’ she said. She looked over to where her infant son slept safely in the shade of an obliging birch.
Elerrina tested the water with her toes. ‘It is colder than it looks,’ she remarked.
‘It is delightful,’ Sirithiel protested. ‘Just exactly the place to be on an afternoon such as this.’
‘M’mm.’ Elerrina glanced round the tree-fringed pool, enjoying the contented hum of bees and sun-warmed trees in the dappled light, her delight obvious.
‘You have taken to the life of a Wood Elf,’ Miriwen commented.
‘Who would not?’ Elerrina replied simply, sliding carefully into the cool green water. ‘It is the way elves were meant to live – at one with the world around them, with space enough to breathe and grow and be.’
‘You have been listening too closely to your husband,’ Sirithiel told her. ‘I believe I am aware of quite a few people who would not agree to forego all the comforts of city dwelling, together with the courtesies of court life to come and spend several months sleeping on the ground and cooking over a camp fire.’
‘Your parents, for two,’ Miriwen added.
Elerrina remained silent.
‘It is not disloyal to them to let off steam occasionally,’ Sirithiel said gently. ‘Sometimes you have to speak to someone – and Legolas is probably not the best audience for this.’
With a sigh, Elerrina rolled onto her back and floated, her hair the colour of autumn beech leaves spreading out round her like a halo. ‘It is so difficult,’ she admitted. ‘I love my parents dearly, but my adar simply refuses to admit that this way of life suits me. He can almost forgive Legolas for being my husband when we are seated at the High King’s table in Tirion, or if we are compelled to accept the trappings of royalty among the greatest of the Noldor – but he cannot accept that we would rather live simply in the forest. Between them, Legolas and my adar tug at me like a pair of dogs fighting over a bone. It was a relief when my parents went home,’ she admitted reluctantly.
‘It will get better in time,’ Miriwen said sympathetically. ‘Your adar is still adjusting.’
‘He is a slow learner, then,’ Elerrina pronounced.
‘I was interested in Elladan for some several hundred years before I sailed,’ Miriwen said easily, ‘although he never noticed me, and it was several hundred more before he and Elrohir came west – and still it took my adar time to become accustomed to the thought of him as a son-in-law. I think it was a good few decades before he stopped wanting to take my poor love outside and demand what had taken him so long. It can be a slow long-drawn-out process – they are males, after all. But it is worth all the gentle persistence you can muster. Taryatur will be Legolas’s adar-in-law for a very long time – and you do not wish to become alienated from your family.’
‘I know.’ Elerrina rolled over and looked at her friends. ‘I am just a little down-hearted at the moment. My parents’ visit did not end well.’ She smiled wryly. ‘I thought I was going to be able to get through it without any open hostility, and then my adar had to announce, just as he was leaving, that I would always be able to return to them when I had had enough of pioneer living. I thought Legolas would spit him, but he managed to control himself just long enough for Adar to disappear through the trees.’
Miriwen put her head back and laughed. ‘I wish I could have seen it,’ she said regretfully. ‘Did he take an axe again and go out to split wood? Or confine himself to running through the trees throwing acorns at the departing guests? Do not worry about it, Elerrina! Legolas can always cheer himself up with the recollection that it is with him that you live and to him that you are bound. He will get over it.’
As Elerrina smiled, Sirithiel turned her gaze towards the path that led to their camp. ‘I am becoming rather concerned at the slow arrival of our daughters,’ she said. ‘I know we left them to wash the dishes and tidy up – but that should not have taken them this long. I would have thought their desire to swim would have brought them here long before now. I cannot imagine how they can have got themselves into trouble whilst carrying out such tasks – but do you think we should go and check?’
‘How far is ‘over there’?’ Elladan asked. ‘It seems to be a good deal further than I thought it might be.’
‘Are you all right?’ His brother looked at him with concern. ‘You do not want to use that leg too much. It is healed, but it is not yet as it was before.’
‘I am fine.’ Elladan flapped his hand. ‘Stop fussing, Elrohir. It is just too hot to want to travel too far – and the flies are annoying me.’
Elrin looked anxiously at his adar. ‘It is not much further. Just the other side of those trees.’
‘That seems about right.’ Elladan rested an affectionate hand on his son’s shoulder. ‘I think I should just about make it before I feel the need to collapse on the ground and pant like a dog.’
‘I hope it is all right here,’ Galenthil said with sudden doubt.
‘There is water?’ Legolas said easily. ‘And trees? It will be fine. We will have a good time – and when we get back the ellyth will feel mean for having sent us away and have our supper ready for us. It should be a good afternoon.’
The air beneath the trees was still and sultry, the leaves hanging limp in the warm air. The usual forest birds were sheltering from the sun and the woods were silent but for the buzzing of the irritating little black flies.
Galenthil speeded up as the scent of water freshened the air. ‘Come on,’ he called eagerly, dodging between the trees and leaping over the patches of brambles.
‘Go,’ Elladan commanded, giving his son a gentle push. ‘You would not want to wait another minute when you could be getting wet.’
‘He is growing up,’ Legolas murmured as Elrin followed his friend with rather more dignity. ‘He seems to hover sometimes between wanting to go off with Galenthil and preferring to stay with the adults.’
‘Or not wanting to be anywhere near any of us,’ his adar said ruefully. ‘It is one of the reasons that Miriwen was so receptive to the idea of us all coming away to spend the summer in the woods. She wants him to spend time with his family and his brother before he spreads his wings and flies the nest.’
‘What do you plan to do with him?’ Legolas asked curiously. ‘It has been on my mind recently. What future is there for our offspring here? In a way, there is too broad a choice – they have none of the constraints that faced us. I was bound to be a warrior from my first days – and so, I imagine, were you, for all that Imladris was a realm at peace.’ He sighed. ‘But Galenthil . . . He has no need to be anything. He will never need to defend his home; never be confronted by battle; never face the prospect of wearing his daeradar’s crown. What is he to do?’
‘I doubt there will be a problem,’ Elrohir considered. ‘They have time to try different things and learn to be what they are meant to be.’
‘Easy for you to say,’ Elladan objected. He stopped and grinned. ‘That sounds quite comic, actually. We have spent the last years sympathising with you over your heedless daughters – only to find that their paths are quite clear before them. Nimloth’s healing skills will drive her and Aewlin appears to have been unfortunate enough to inherit Daernaneth’s inner eye.’
‘Although I could wish that she had not,’ Elrohir added ruefully.
‘Elrin will continue to train as a warrior?’ Legolas enquired. ‘He seems to enjoy the work involved, but it seems, in many ways, a futile effort.’
Elladan shrugged. ‘The discipline is good, I think. And part of learning to command is learning to obey. I would not insist on it if he were unhappy about it, but he seems quite willing.’
‘Of course,’ his brother said, ‘Miriwen grew up in Lasgalen. You might have more trouble convincing Elerrina that your son should endure warrior training.’
‘Oddly, no,’ Legolas told him. ‘It appears to be customary – and Valar forbid that the sons of the Noldor should do anything that is other than customary.’ He smiled ruefully. ‘I am less enthusiastic about the tradition that sends him away from home to dwell in other households.’
Raising his eyebrows, Elladan turned to look at him. ‘It would seem to be a matter of choosing your household,’ he remarked. ‘Surely there is no need to send him where you would not wish him to go.’
‘Elerrina refuses to see why Galenthil should not go and live with her brother.’ Legolas tried to keep his tone neutral.
‘Camentur is all right,’ Elrohir judged. ‘And Galenthil gets on well enough with his cousin, does he not?’
‘It is not so much the prospect of having my son live with his uncle,’ Legolas acknowledged, ‘as having him too close to his daeradar.’
‘I would not worry,’ Elladan shrugged. ‘Súrion is older – you can insist that he has to come and spend a year or two with you first. Once we have him trained, he will see that Galenthil remains uncorrupted by Noldor ways.’
Legolas laughed. ‘Fine words from the great-grandson of the Noldor’s High King, do you not think? You should be agitating for Galenthil to learn your foreign ways!’
‘We are mongrels, remember?’ Elladan prodded his friend with a sharp finger. ‘We have more Sindar blood than Noldor – and we have spent far too many nights sitting beside small camp-fires and stinking of orc blood to care much for the dance of diplomacy. Come on – let us find the water before I melt into a puddle of grease.’
The pool was beautiful, Legolas noted as they emerged from between the trees. It gleamed in the afternoon sunlight, still as glass except where the movement of the tall reeds produced trembling rings that shivered out across the surface. It was quiet: not a single duck or grebe moved on the water and there were no sounds of reed warblers or buntings. But the delights of their surroundings held their attention for no more than a passing moment. Confused, the three elves looked around with increasing urgency.
‘Where are the ellyn?’ Elladan asked.
Elrin’s greater length of leg had ensured that he had caught up with Galenthil by the time the trees parted reluctantly to let them emerge into the brightly sunlit shore of the small lake.
The younger ellon turned to him and smiled broadly. ‘I cannot wait to try the water,’ he said, pulling at his tunic.
‘Not yet,’ Elrin grabbed his arm. He glanced over his shoulder. It was still impossible to pick detail from the murmur of voices and the adults were out of sight among the trees. He turned a wicked grin on his friend. ‘I wonder how they would react if we were not here when they arrive.’
‘Oh yes,’ Galenthil’s eyes sparkled. ‘Shall we hide in the trees?’
‘They would tell your adar, would they not? We would need to be a bit cleverer than that.’
‘They are too good at tracking for us to be able to get away from them on ground like this,’ Galenthil decided, stirring the dust with a disdainful foot.
‘And the water would show it had been disturbed, but the rocks . . .’ Elrin squinted at the smooth water-washed stones that followed the shore to the low dark cliff deep in shadow.
‘Come on,’ Galenthil whispered gleefully, ‘before they get here.’
Elrin watched closely as he sped behind the younger ellon, but had to admit that Galenthil was very light on his feet. He doubted whether he would have been able to track his footprints on the glassy-smooth rocks, but, of course their adars and uncle were a rather different matter. The shadows beneath the ledge seemed even deeper as they grew closer – if they were quiet, they should be able to evade the adults’ first search and stay hidden long enough to make it funny.
‘Wriggle in as far as you can,’ he commanded Galenthil. ‘We do not want them to see us.’
The rock felt cool to the touch and the ground beneath it was surprisingly cold and damp. The gap was none too wide, either, but, although he was broader in the shoulder than Galenthil, Elrin was wiry and they both worked their way backwards to the point where the years’ worth of dust and leaves met the huge slab above them in shadow too dark even for elven sight to penetrate.
‘How long to you think it will take them to find us?’ Galenthil murmured.
Elrin peered through the narrow slice of light to the outside. ‘It depends,’ he said. ‘They might not try too hard. Sometimes, when I was an elfling, Adar would pretend to look for me while taking the chance to have some peace and quiet. On the other hand,’ he grinned, ‘I doubt they know where we are – so they might put in rather more effort.’ He squirmed sideways. ‘Why is it that there are always spiky things right under your ribs when you are somewhere you cannot make a noise?’
‘It is like wanting to sneeze as soon as you have to be silent,’ Galenthil agreed. ‘Or needing to scratch as soon as you are told to keep still.’
In an attempt to find a more comfortable position, Elrin pushed at the ground beneath him and twisted before resting, his nose just above the gritty surface where, beneath him, an old zigzag crack extended across the floor of their hidey hole. Then, as Elrin watched, it began to stretch out slow fingers like the fracturing of ice on a spring pool. He stared, frozen for a moment, as tiny stones began to slip into its widening mouth, like the sand tumbling into the maw of an hourglass.
He scrabbled forwards helplessly as he felt the rock shift beneath his weight. ‘Get out of here!’ he said urgently, but before the words had fully formed and certainly before Galenthil had any chance to move, the heap of detritus crumbled and fell, pitching them both down a chute of uneven stone into total darkness.
Galenthil’s voice wavered, as if he had asked the same question before and was expecting no reply.
A harsh slither was followed by silence and a distant splash.
Elrin moaned, unable to make himself more clearly understood.
‘Keep still, Elrin,’ Galenthil said shakily. ‘We are on the edge of a shelf and I think there is a big drop.’
‘What happened?’ Elrin tried to concentrate, but all he could remember was noise and speed and the sharp blows of small rocks freed from the pile on which they had been resting. And fear. He could remember fear.
‘I think water pours down here – in winter, when the level in the pool is higher,’ Galenthil told him. ‘And we are on the edge of what is usually a waterfall. Try not to move, ’Rin. I have dropped a few stones and it is a long time before they hit the water – and some of them are landing on rocks.’
Elrin tried to focus on what the younger ellon was telling him. ‘Have you moved away from the edge, Galenthil?’ he asked. ‘It is too dark to take any chances.’
‘I have to come and find you, Elrin,’ Galenthil insisted. ‘You sound as if you are too close to the drop. We need to get you to the back of the shelf if we can.’
‘I think it would be better if I were to remain still, ’Thil,’ Elrin mumbled. He closed his eyes again – it was too dark to see anything anyway – and tried to decide how he felt. ‘I do not seem to be hanging over a precipice and I think I will be ill if I try to move.’
‘It is shock,’ his friend said wisely. ‘I was the same when I tried to leap further than I should have and fell from the oak. Do you hurt anywhere in particular, Elrin?’
The ellon tried to decide. His head was pounding and felt sticky, as if blood had begun to congeal over some gash; his arm felt dreadful and he could not move it, but the rest of him was – all right, he supposed, considering he had just fallen the Valar only knew how far.
‘Just my arm, I think. How are you?’ He felt a wave of guilt that intensified his nausea. He should never have encouraged Galenthil to hide here with him. It would be his fault if his friend was hurt.
‘I am bruised and scraped, that is all.’ Galenthil shifted awkwardly and a few more pebbles rolled over the edge to land in the water below them. ‘Elrin, I have been calling and calling. I think that Adar cannot hear us.’
‘They will come.’ Elrin tried to sound confident. ‘First they have to decide to look for us. Listen for them, ’Thil, and save the yelling for when they are close. They will get us out safely.’
‘Should I try to climb up? I can feel places I can hold on and it is not too steep.’
‘No!’ The sharp word made Elrin’s head spin and he had to swallow several times to steady his stomach. ‘No, Galenthil,’ he said more gently. ‘It is just a matter of time. They will find us.’
Galenthil looked anxiously in the direction of his voice. He was not sure that they had that much time. It had seemed hours before Elrin had regained consciousness and even now he was clearly hurt worse than he was prepared to admit. Nothing short of serious injury would keep his friend flat out in the dark in circumstances of which he knew nothing – not if he were able to do anything about it. And, thought Galenthil, he could smell the blood even if he was unable to see it. Elrin needed help and he needed it quickly.
The ellon forced himself to calm his breathing and control his rising panic. The small amount of light that crept under the heavy lintel far above their heads was not enough to help him see around him, but it did reduce the blackness to shades of dark grey. Whatever Elrin thought, Galenthil was fairly sure that he would be able to climb back up the steep chute that had deposited them here – but he could not be sure that leaving his friend was the best thing to do. He had no doubt that their adars would arrive eventually and it might be best to see what he could do to help his friend.
The sharp edges of the loose rocks dug into his scraped knees as he eased his way across to where Elrin lay. He kept the rock wall against his shoulder, reaching out cautiously at each movement to ensure that the ledge was wide enough to support him. Despite his care, odd pebbles rolled away to fall over the edge and he knew he was making more than enough noise for Elrin to know he was coming, but the older ellon made no protest. Galenthil drew in an anxious breath of the damp musty air – if his friend were awake, he would be issuing orders. And if Elrin was drifting in and out of consciousness, he needed help now.
Elrin cried out as his friend’s exploring hand brushed against his shoulder, but he did not speak.
The rock of the ledge seemed wider here, Galenthil thought with relief, and there was a natural wall that would normally channel any water, but also acted as a barrier to stop Elrin falling any further.
As gently as he could, Galenthil ran his fingers over his friend’s limp form. Apart from the arm, the younger ellon decided that he could not feel any other obvious breaks and the fact that the pool of blood beneath Elrin’s head was no longer liquid suggested that any bleeding had stopped, but he could tell that his friend was not going to get up and walk away from this any time soon.
Galenthil blinked back his tears. ‘I am going to get Adar,’ he said firmly. ‘Do not move.’
As he drew back, an unexpected flash of light brightened the fall of rock, followed by a rumbling that made both ellyn flinch.
‘Is more debris coming down?’ Elrin asked hoarsely.
‘No,’ Galenthil told him bleakly. ‘That was thunder. We cannot stay here, Elrin. I am going to get help.’
He had to go, Elrin decided, his thoughts brought to sudden clarity. If rain raised the level of the water, their refuge would become part of a cascade and it might prove impossible to retrieve either of them. Better for Galenthil to climb out while the rock chute was still dry than for him wait in hope of rescue.
‘Be careful, ’Thil,’ he said. ‘My life will not be worth living if Eleniel decides that I have broken her favourite brother.’
Galenthil touched Elrin’s cheek in a gesture of farewell. ‘I am her only brother,’ he said with dignity. ‘You wait here, now.’
‘I promise,’ Elrin’s voice was no more than a pained thread.
The first few steps were the worst. Galenthil could feel the emptiness behind him – it was cold and dark and he felt as if it was drawing him downwards, but once he had scrambled up to the tunnel that had brought them here, his confidence increased. The climb was not as frightening as it could have been, he told himself firmly. The chute was nowhere near vertical and that more than made up for the smoothness of the water-worn rock as he got higher. And he was a Wood Elf – there was nothing that he could not climb.
He was, he thought, about halfway up when his boot slipped. His leg slid away from him and he clutched desperately at a small hook of rock as he scrabbled desperately to find his footing. Tiny pebbles and flakes of stone skittered their way downwards, reminding him of how far he had to fall. A distant calm part of his mind took note of the fact that he was trembling as he gripped the rock and tried to stop panting.
‘I can do this,’ he muttered. ‘It is only a matter of walking up a hill. I can do it.’ His knees shook and he had to prise his fingers from the safety of the rock as he talked himself into taking the next step, finally closing his eyes and forcing himself to move.
The light increased as he climbed, but the brassy sun had disappeared. Either they had been lost for longer than he thought, Galenthil decided, or the afternoon had become overcast. He clambered cautiously over the newly broken rock to emerge under the heavy lintel under which they had hidden. The gap was bigger, he noted. Just as well: he could not see the adults squeezing through the original amount of space – and they really did not have time to dig a larger entrance. Galenthil drew a deep breath as he came out into torrential rain in a world that felt clean and free.
‘Adar!’ he called. ‘Adar!’
‘I will go,’ Elrohir insisted mildly. ‘You cannot risk injuring your leg – and Legolas is not fond of caves at the best of times. And anyway, I have more skill in healing than he does.’
‘He is my son!’
‘And you will be here to care for him as he emerges.’
Legolas returned with a long rope made of strips from their drying cloths. ‘It is thin,’ he said, ‘but the fabric is strong – and if it is not enough, there are vines. ‘He looked at Elrohir doubtfully, ‘but they will take longer to prepare.’
‘Is Galenthil all right?’
Glancing quickly at the ellon, Legolas nodded. ‘For now,’ he said. ‘He will be fine for the moment – until Elrin is safely retrieved, at any rate. After that – I am less sure. He is fairly shaken.’
Elladan sighed. ‘Be careful, Elrohir,’ he said. ‘Galenthil says it is a very long drop – and you are not good at bouncing.’
‘Put the rope round you,’ Legolas insisted. ‘Going down is often worse than coming up. We would not want you to slip.’
‘Thank you,’ his friend said dryly, tucking several swiftly made torches into his pack. ‘I will do my best to uphold your clear trust in me.’ He drew a deep breath and took a flickering torch before ducking under the rock shelf. ‘At least I will be out of the rain,’ he commented airily. ‘I will be back soon.’
The light helped, he thought as he eased himself down. At the very least, it made the drop less obvious. Despite the debris, the chute was smooth – clearly polished by centuries of water – and he knew he could manage it without much difficulty. What worried him was what he might find at the bottom. Galenthil was fairly level-headed for an elfling his age and he was clearly concerned about Elrin’s state.
‘Careful.’ His nephew’s voice was taut. ‘You are nearly down – and Galenthil said that the last part involves a climb.’
‘I have two strong elves on the end of a rope,’ Elrohir told him cheerfully. ‘They promised they would not let go.’
‘Good.’ Elrin shifted uncomfortably and a few small stones spun away. ‘I am sorry, uncle.’
‘Accidents happen.’ Elrohir lowered himself carefully to the ledge. ‘This must be spectacular when water is cascading from the rock – but I think I would prefer to be viewing it from somewhere else. Let me have a look at you, Elrin.’
‘I did not mean to put Galenthil in any danger,’ his nephew said. ‘It was only a joke.’
Elrohir wedged the torch into a crevice in the wall behind the ellon. ‘You have heard enough about the accidents your adar and I had – and we have only ever told you about the least risky. We know what happens when ellyn get together, Elrin. We know you well enough to know that you would never seek out danger deliberately.’
He dropped his pack and removed an assortment of hastily-assembled bandages and splints. ‘Galenthil thinks your arm is the worst injury.’
Drawing his knees up and holding his ribs with his undamaged hand, Elrin gave a single nod. ‘I believe I hit my head,’ he said. ‘Though I think the bleeding has stopped. And I feel unwell.’
Elrohir’s examination was gentle but thorough, and it left Elrin fighting back tears of discomfort and helplessness.
‘You have dislocated your shoulder,’ his uncle concluded, ‘and I suspect you are concussed – which accounts for the nausea. I will see to your arm and bind it to keep it from moving and then see about getting you out of here.’
A faint smile crossed Elrin’s face. ‘It is raining then?’ he asked.
‘Pouring,’ Elrohir confirmed. ‘Or we would proceed considerably more slowly. But, somehow, I think this is not a good place to be after heavy rain.’
Despite his uncle’s careful manipulation, Elrin could not help crying out as his arm clicked back in its socket, aware of nothing but a flare of pain that left him completely limp. The ached eased off slightly as the limb was bandaged, but the stomach-churning, head-throbbing nausea returned in full force as his uncle slung the pack over his shoulder and bent to lift him as gently as he could.
The rope, such as it was, had been drawn round him and knotted securely, Elrin noticed, so that his uncle was climbing without anything to keep him safe. The ellon realised that the torch had been left below them and that they were climbing in the dark towards a distant gleam of daylight. He took hold of Elrohir’s tunic in his good hand and gripped it tightly. Nothing would make him let go, he decided. Nothing.
‘You could not call out, my brother!’ his adar’s voice snapped as the light of the warm afternoon reddened his closed eyelids. ‘You did not think to let us know what was happening down there, did you?’
‘I was otherwise engaged,’ Elrohir told him as he emerged into the rain, ‘and sound does not travel well – the cave seems to swallow it. Have you managed to find shelter? Your son could do with a rest, before we head back to camp.’
Elladan inspected his son closely. ‘Concussion?’ he asked.
‘I would say so. Hard to tell in the pitch dark. And his shoulder. We need to wash out his wounds and make sure they are clean – I think his head might need a stitch or two.’ Elrohir glanced at his twin. ‘But it could have been so much worse, Elladan. It is a long way down – and they ended up on a ledge above a drop so deep that my ears could not work out how far below us the water was.’
‘Shall I take him? We want to carry him over the other side of the lake – Legolas is improvising a shelter. He seems fairly sure that the trees will be willing to keep the rain off. And Galenthil is gathering wood.’ He grinned. ‘Who would have thought, an hour or so ago, that we would be wanting a fire?’
‘Adar.’ Elrin forced his eyes open.
Elladan stroked his cheek before he eased his son into his arms. ‘You will be fine, Elrin,’ he said gently. ‘You need say nothing now. We will soon have you feeling better.’
‘I feel better already,’ his son smiled shakily. ‘I am so glad to be out of there.’
His uncle looked at the rain gushing down the rock to pool at their feet. ‘Do you know,’ he said, ‘I cannot say that I am sorry, either.’
‘Are you still sure that being a Wood Elf in the forest is such a good thing?’ Miriwen asked lightly as her infant son suckled enthusiastically.
A rumble of thunder complained about the end to their afternoon’s pleasure.
Elerrina watched the rain fall beyond the shelter of the simple flet, where generally they only kept such goods as needed to remain dry and safe. ‘I like the smell of rain,’ she said. ‘And the forest already grows better for it.’
A rattle of stones on the wooden platform ended in a crow of delight from Nimloth. ‘I won!’ she exclaimed.
‘Luck,’ Eleniel declared. ‘You had to win some time!’
Sirithiel laughed softly. ‘You are both very good. How many did you catch, Nimloth?’
Her daughter displayed her handful of small stones. ‘Three more than Eleniel,’ she said.
‘Oh, does it matter?’ Aewlin took a couple of hasty steps and gazed northwards.
‘You seem edgy,’ Miriwen commented, as she lifted Ellanthir to her shoulder and rubbed his back. ‘What is the matter, Aewlin?’
The fair-haired elfling peered between the trees as if concentration alone would enable her to see through the concealing leaves. Her grass-stained foot tapped nervously. ‘Something is not right,’ she said. She drew a deep breath, almost as if she was seeking a distant scent. ‘Can you not feel it?’
‘No,’ Miriwen said thoughtfully, turning to look in the same direction, ‘although this little one has been distracting me. Should I?’
‘I think some of them are returning,’ Aewlin told her, ‘but not all. And . . ,’ she wriggled nervously, ‘there is something dark and dusty in my mind. And water. Lots of water.’
Her naneth put an arm round her. ‘There is nothing we can do about it,’ she said practically. ‘Not now, at any rate. We will have to wait.’
Eleniel joined them. ‘I hope they come soon,’ she said.
Elladan squeezed out the rag that had been one of his favourite tunics. With the grime of their fall removed and the scrapes washed clean, it was clear that both ellyn had been far luckier than might have been expected. Galenthil had been particularly fortunate – and he was inclined to agree that the best thing for him would be to return with Legolas to seek the safety of their camp and alert the ellyth to what had happened.
‘I would like Miriwen to check up on Elrin before we move him,’ Elrohir said candidly. ‘She is far more aware of the perils of treating head injuries – she says that she realised long since that we were only too likely to return with our brains shaken loose and someone had to know what to do – and, apart from that, she is his naneth.’
‘I would be easier in my mind if only the rain would ease,’ Legolas inspected their immediate surroundings. ‘This area seems to act as a bowl gathering water from all around – the lake’s level seems to be rising already.’
The stretch of gritty sand deposited in front of the ledge they had used as a hiding place was narrower, Galenthil observed. As the edge of the water lipped closer to the solid slab, he could see a foamy margin, as if the rain was whipping up something long undisturbed in the depths of the pool and the thousands of rippling rings brought into existence by the countless raindrops were diminished to insignificance by the lapping waves.
‘We will go ahead,’ his adar agreed, putting a comforting hand on Galenthil’s back and leading him towards the gap between the trees. ‘And I will come back with Miriwen and horses – it will be easier for Elrin to ride with someone rather than be carried.’ He smiled easily. ‘He is getting rather too long to lug around.’
‘I can walk,’ Elrin protested. ‘I am fine, truly.’
Elladan laughed. ‘We know the value of that kind of objection, my son,’ he said affectionately. ‘We have all used that line often enough ourselves to realise that it is meaningless. I am afraid you will just have to let us look after you.’
His son managed a slight smile. ‘My arm does ache,’ he allowed.
‘As does your head,’ his uncle suggested. ‘But your eyes are reacting to light as they should, and your nausea appears to be wearing off – you appear to be as talented at surviving adventure as your adar. By the time Legolas returns, you should be well enough to return to camp.’
Elrin closed his eyes, only to have his adar call his name insistently in a voice that demanded obedience.
‘I am sorry, my son,’ Elladan said. ‘You may not sleep – not until your naneth has seen you. She would have my ears.’
Elrohir smiled at him. ‘You can blame Miriwen for the fact that we have not made you any willowbark tea, as well,’ he added. ‘She has little faith in us as healers, Elrin, and would be most wrathful if we dosed you before she had a chance to check our work.’
‘You just want to pass the responsibility to Naneth.’ Elrin licked his dry lips and tried to smile. ‘You want me to blame her for making me drink vile potions.’
‘Discovered!’ his adar said playfully, lifting his son’s head just enough to offer a trickle of water to moisten his mouth. ‘You are getting too wise to our tricks now – it is not good enough.’
The rain pattered almost indignantly on the overlapping leaves above their heads, as if it failed to see why it should not be able to make these visitors as wet as the rest of the creatures of the forest, but its cool scent freshened the air and, Elrin thought, eased his headache, so that he was more aware of the throb of his shoulder and the sting of the cut on his head. He blinked, his eyelids heavy enough that it was an effort to raise them again. It was a good thing that they were back beyond the edge of the water, he thought, among trees that had clearly stood undrowned for centuries, because the streams of water now carrying mud and twigs into the lake were clearly having a surprisingly rapid effect on the water’s spread.
‘I am not surprised that Aewlin does not care for this lake,’ his uncle commented to Elladan. ‘I have decided that I am not too fond of it, either. It seems to have hidden depths beneath its gleaming surface.’
‘Limestone,’ Elladan agreed. ‘It is a deceptive rock. More beneath the surface than the eye can see.’
The small patch of shore had disappeared, Elrin noted. Water now stretched its fingers under the rock where he and Galenthil had hidden. It would not be long before it began to stream steadily down the tunnel to the place where the torch had been left to light their ascent, where it would scour the shelf clear of whatever detritus rested there. And, despite the warm glow of the small fire, he shivered.
‘I told you to keep away from here,’ Aewlin sniffed.
‘You said it was creepy,’ Elrin told her mildly, touching a tentative finger to the healing gash on his forehead. ‘That is hardly a warning of danger.’
‘Leave it alone.’ Nimloth leaned over and slapped his hand away from his face.
‘Oh, you will make a very gentle healer!’ her cousin complained.
‘You should know Aewlin well enough to listen to her feelings.’ Eleniel looked at him reproachfully. ‘She is right far too often to be good for her. And then you and Galenthil would have avoided an unpleasant experience.’
‘He had another nightmare last night?’ Elrin knew Eleniel well enough to be aware of what would make her complain about his foolishness.
‘I woke him just as it was starting.’ She looked broodingly at the silver lake. ‘He was dreaming of falling – and unending darkness.’
Elrin gazed at the broad slab, now half-submerged beneath the apparently innocuous surface of the lake. He knew how Galenthil felt – except his dreams also contained the weight of water and the crashing tumble of the cascade.
‘Another time,’ he offered, ‘I will pay more attention to Aewlin’s gloomy forebodings. Perhaps.’
His cousin grinned. ‘At last you show some signs of wisdom,’ she declared. ‘You listen to Nimloth and me, and you will not go far wrong.’ She pushed past him and led her sister off among the trees in pursuit of Galenthil, leaving her cousin speechless.
Eleniel giggled. ‘Do you know the worst thing?’ she said as they followed the others into the fresh greenness of the rain-washed wood. ‘On this occasion, at least, she is right!’
Elflings 9: Nine Lives
Ellanthir giggled as Nimloth tickled his tummy and curled up, kicking his legs and grabbing at her fair braids. ‘Again,’ he demanded.
‘You are very bossy,’ she remarked, before taking hold of his hand and beginning the rhyme that started the tickling game.
‘I remember someone else who wanted to play that for hours,’ Elrin commented as he ran his fingers through his hair and tried to concentrate on his studies. ‘Do you have to play it here? It’s very distracting.’
‘What are you trying to do?’ Aewlin abandoned her sewing and leaned over her cousin’s chair. ‘Yuck, that looks hard!’
‘It is hard,’ Elrin said mildly. ‘It is all to do with forces and moments – and how to achieve difficult tasks with the least effort.’
‘I am glad no-one forces me to do it at the moment,’ Aewlin teased. ‘Here, Nimloth, I have finished your sewing. It is my turn to play with Ellanthir now.’
‘Aunt Sirithiel will know that Nimloth did not do it,’ Elrin told her. ‘And you will probably both end up spending the afternoon helping her mend sheets or something equally dull.’
‘I would rather do white work,’ Nimloth said, wrinkling her nose. ‘It is embroidery that I cannot endure.’ She sighed. ‘And then Adar will tell us how Aunt Arwen embroidered a banner for King Elessar – as if staying at home and sewing stars is any help when your beloved is facing orcs and evil wizards and Nazgûl and things.’
‘What would you have done that would be any more help?’ Elrin asked curiously. ‘Although most orcs would have run as soon as they saw you coming, if they knew what I know!’
Aewlin took Ellanthir’s bare foot in her hand and grasped his big toe as he squirmed in anticipation of the game. ‘It was not really the way we imagine it,’ she remarked vaguely. ‘We will never really understand.’
Elrin twiddled his pen between his fingers. Sometimes Aewlin said things that were remarkably acute, he thought. Although she usually followed up snippets of insight by doing something that reminded you that she was still only an elfling. Like blowing a raspberry on Ellanthir’s tummy. ‘If you get him over-excited, he will refuse to take his nap – and then my naneth will be cross with you, too,’ he warned.
His brother, he noted, had tangled his fingers in Aewlin’s hair; determined not to let her escape from his clutches.
‘Again!’ the elfling insisted.
‘Take him somewhere else,’ Elrin pleaded. ‘I want to get this work finished before lunch – or I will never get to go out later.’
Nimloth opened her mouth.
‘No!’ her cousin told her firmly before she could ask. ‘You are too young – and my friends will not want little ellyth joining them anyway.’
‘I was not going to say that,’ she retorted. ‘We have no desire to waste our time with your silly friends. I was going to remind you that your grandparents are due to arrive this afternoon – and that your naneth will not let you go out tonight. To play,’ she added provocatively.
Elrin suppressed a groan. He liked his naneth’s parents, but he had been looking forward to this evening – and Nimloth was right. He would be expected to be present – clean, tidy and on his best behaviour and his naneth would not appreciate him asking to absent himself. ‘All the more reason for me to get my work done,’ he retaliated.
‘We were told to stay here,’ Aewlin said reasonably. ‘We will get into trouble if we take Ellanthir off on our own. You go to the library to finish that. It will not take you long once you stop talking and focus.’
Her cousin snorted with laughter to hear her tutor’s words repeated to him and Aewlin looked down her nose and lifted one eyebrow disdainfully. ‘Elflings!’ she continued, shaking her head. ‘Incapable of putting two thoughts together.’
‘Enough of that,’ he grinned, gathering his books and papers ready to leave. ‘Look after my little brother – I will get a report from him later.’
‘I know what he will say,’ Nimloth observed, as Aewlin ran a gentle finger across the sole of his foot.
‘Again!’ Ellanthir begged. ‘Again, again.’
‘I would tell you how much you have grown,’ Neldor said, leaning forward to kiss his grandson’s brow affectionately, ‘but your daernaneth will clearly want to announce that herself – when she has had enough of devouring your brother.’
Elrin grinned. He liked his grandfather and had long since decided that it was plain where his own naneth had learned her cool wit. ‘That is all right, Daeradar,’ he declared, ‘I have heard it before.’ He returned the embrace. ‘Although I think Daernaneth might find that Ellanthir is less than edible. I can smell him from here.’
‘H’mm.’ Neldor winked at his grandson. ‘I think I would very much like to make the acquaintance of your horse just about now. Can they spare us, do you think?’
‘Well, it is my duty to entertain you,’ Elrin said earnestly. ‘And if that is what you want. . .’
‘Stop leading my son astray.’ Miriwen looped her arms round her adar’s waist. ‘He is supposed to stay here and be charming. You and he can sneak off into the woods tomorrow.’
Neldor stroked her cheek with a gentle hand. ‘You are becoming far too bossy, my daughter,’ he sighed. ‘Your husband is clearly letting you get away with far too much. I shall have to speak to him about managing ellyth.’
‘He has all the skills he needs, thank you very much,’ she retaliated, hugging him and leaning back to look at him carefully. ‘I am so pleased to see you – I hope you intend to make this a good, long visit.’
‘Actually, my daughter,’ Neldor remarked, ‘we might just do that. We have been considering crossing the mountains to dwell here in the forest – and, although your sister would prefer us to live closer to her, we were wondering whether these lands would suit us better.’ His eyes twinkled. ‘Your naneth missed much of Elrin’s early years – I think she is determined to watch Ellanthir grow.’
‘That sounds a very good idea.’ Miriwen’s face brightened.
‘Although I doubt Elladan will be so delighted,’ her adar murmured in her ear.
‘Nonsense!’ she said firmly.
Elrin eased back. It did not look, he sighed, as if his naneth would willingly allow him to withdraw from this gathering of family. He wondered if Nimloth would be willing to take his friends a message – although he really should not encourage her to sneak out: that was only going to make his life more difficult when she decided that he had sanctioned her slippery ways. He jumped as a hand clasped his shoulder.
‘Oh no, you do not,’ his adar said softly. ‘If I have to stay here and smile, so do you.’
Elrin glanced over his shoulder. ‘Did you hear?’ he asked.
‘That your grandparents might choose to come and live nearby? Yes,’ he nodded. ‘Your naneth would like that.’ Elladan looked at his wife and his social smile deepened and warmed. ‘And your daeradar is a very skilled forester – he will be very welcome among our trees here.’ He looked down slightly at his lanky son. ‘What is concerning you?’
Elrin shrugged. ‘I was just wondering how to get a message to Nadhras,’ he said. ‘He is expecting me to meet him down by the waterfall later.’
‘Go and tell him yourself,’ Elladan suggested. ‘But I will not be able to hold your naneth off for more than half an hour, so do not take any liberties.’
‘Really?’ Elrin’s expression brightened. ‘Thank you, Adar.’
‘But, in return,’ Elladan teased, ‘I shall expect you to smile and look as if you are enjoying it when your daernaneth kisses you and tells you how much you look like all the members of her family she can remember.’
‘I have Daeradar’s nose,’ Elrin stated solemnly, ‘apparently. And Naneth’s chin.’
Elladan gave a crack of laughter. ‘Do not tell them,’ he begged. ‘They might ask to have them returned – and you would look mighty odd without them.’
‘I will be back as quickly as I can, Adar.’ Elrin turned. ‘Shall I bring anything back?’ he asked, grinning. ‘To give me a reason for leaving?’
‘Your harp?’ his adar suggested. ‘You can play for your grandparents.’ He enjoyed his son’s disgusted expression for a moment before shaking his head. ‘Just be quick – I have sent you on an errand. I know not what it is – but we will not convince your naneth anyway, so there is little point in pretending.’
‘Well, I am sorry.’ Elrin gazed defensively at his friend. ‘It is not my fault – there is no chance at all that I will be able to get away from my family tonight.’
Nadhras sighed long-sufferingly. ‘Sometimes being friends with you is more trouble than it is worth,’ he accused. ‘You have no idea how difficult it was to persuade Nelladel to get Olostariel to agree to meet us. If we fail to turn up, they will never forgive us.’
‘But I can hardly tell my Naneth that I have to go out tonight to meet some ellyth,’ Elrin said with irritation.
‘Can you not pretend you are tired and then sneak out?’
‘I have seen your daernaneth when she visits!’ Elrin remarked with apparent irrelevance.
‘True,’ Nadhras conceded. ‘She will be all over you – at least for a few days.’
‘Ellanthir is distracting her at the moment.’ Elrin grinned. ‘But he goes to bed fairly early these days and then she will be able to turn her attention to me. I will never get away – or not without telling some pretty big lies, and then my adar would have my head.’
‘Olostariel is not going to be pleased. And Nelladel will take it out on me.’
Elrin rolled his eyes.
‘It would serve you right if I took Meglivorn with me,’ Nadhras said, glancing at his friend to see how he took the suggestion.
‘If you want.’ Elrin resigned himself to the situation.
‘Or I could try painting you as a devoted grandson, who is so sensitive to his naneth’s feelings that he will sacrifice his own pleasure to make them happy.’
Elrin made a sound as if he was about to vomit.
‘But, if I ever want Nelladel to speak to me again, I had better go and see her now,’ Nadhras concluded reluctantly. ‘Perhaps I will just let her decide what to do. At least then she cannot blame me if it all goes wrong.’
‘I must get back.’ Elrin gave the steep-roofed house a harried glance. ‘Adar said he would try to cover for me as long as he could, but he did not hold out much hope that Naneth would miss my absence.’
‘Wait.’ Nadhras grabbed his friend’s arm. ‘Perhaps if I can offer Nelladel an alternative . . .’
‘I cannot tell,’ Elrin said impatiently. ‘It is typical – for months I have had no trouble evading the parent patrol – but as soon as I actually want to get away, it becomes impossible. If Olostariel wants to be difficult about it, there is nothing I can do. Perhaps you should take Meglivorn – I know he is practically drooling when he looks at her.’
‘But the question is – does she look at him the same way?’ Nadhras said wisely. ‘She has never agreed to come with Nelladel before.’ He sighed. ‘Go then,’ he advised. ‘Leave it to me.’
‘I will.’ Elrin turned while still close enough to speak without shouting and drawing attention to their discussion. ‘But only because I have no choice!’ He grinned and ducked in through the side door, leaving his friend to shake his head in disgust.
Nimloth sat disconsolately, every fibre of her being silently expressing her objection to sitting obediently with her hoop of embroidery on her lap, setting tidy stitches into the much-abused and rather grubby fabric.
‘It will not be worth framing when finally she completes it,’ Sirithiel remarked.
‘Oh, it will.’ Celebrían grinned wickedly. ‘Every time I look at it, I will remember the fight she has put up against finishing it. And it will remind me of her – her sheer obstinacy with every single flower on it.’ She laughed. ‘I will derive more pleasure from looking at Nimloth’s work than any other, I think.’
‘I do not know why she continues to think that she will escape this task,’ her naneth shook her head. ‘Aewlin conceded much more easily.’
‘Aewlin knows how to choose her battles.’ Celebrían shook her head. ‘Nimloth will continue to fight every one to the last drop of blood. It is a good thing in a way – it is the stubbornness required in a healer. You might not think it to look at him,’ she confided, ‘for he seems so serenely reasonable, but Elrond, too, will struggle on until the last – and that proved to be the part of his character that made him hold on beyond hope.’
‘But she will still learn to sew,’ Sirithiel said mildly.
Her naneth-in-law laughed. ‘You are as obstinate as she is – although in a much more subtle way.’
Aewlin looked up from the table where she was carefully copying the contents of an old book of household hints. It was true, she thought. Many people thought that her naneth was the quiet and easy-going member of her daeradar’s extended household, one who accommodated herself easily to the demands of her parents-in-law, husband and brother and sister-in-law – but, if they only thought about it, they would realise that most of the decisions made in the house suited Sirithiel very well. She was gentle, true, and reserved and did not push herself forward, but she knew how to manage. And there was no-one, her daughter decided proudly, who would not step in to fight her naneth’s battles for her. Nimloth could learn a lot – if she would only pay attention. She sighed. She would rather be finishing Nimloth’s sewing than this tedious task – but she supposed that was the point of it. And if, at the same time, she learned about the making of a fine beeswax polish scented with lavender oil, her naneth would consider that to be a bonus. She dipped her pen in the ink and continued to write. If they applied themselves, perhaps both she and Nimloth would be free to amuse themselves as they wished for a while after dinner.
Lithiel watched as the little elfling stirred in his sleep. He threw a hand up above his abundance of dark hair and his mouth moved as if he were dreaming about his next meal before he relaxed again. ‘He is adorable,’ she told her daughter. ‘And at such an interesting stage – he is learning so rapidly now.’ She tore her eyes away from her grandson and glanced at her daughter. ‘I hope you are making the most of every day,’ she remarked, ‘for they pass swiftly.’
‘They do,’ Miriwen agreed ruefully. ‘Look at Elrin – he is taller than I am already. And he thinks he is almost grown now!’
‘He cannot be worse than you were at that age,’ her naneth commented dryly. ‘For a few years we had to watch you more carefully than we had since you were Ellanthir’s age. You were constantly trying to extend your boundaries and do things that were far too old for you.’
Miriwen blushed. ‘Do not tell Elladan, whatever you do, Naneth! I have done my best to keep my childish follies from him – and he seems to think that ellyth are immune to the idiocies of adolescence.’
‘I doubt that!’ Lithiel’s eyes sparkled with amusement. ‘With whom did he commit his own foolishness if not with ellyth of the same age? And why would he think that you did not do likewise?’
‘Most of the follies of which I have heard,’ Miriwen said thoughtfully, ‘consisted of throwing himself on, off or into things that seemed inevitably to result in injury, evading tasks he had been told to complete, or sneaking into places where he was not supposed to be.’
‘Then he is keeping all his other activities to himself.’ Lithiel smiled. ‘I would have liked to have a son, although I was very happy with my two daughters – but I observed enough ellyn when you were at your most awkward to know that their minds are filled with many of the same concerns that obsess ellyth.’
‘Perhaps you should share your observations with Celebrían,’ Miriwen suggested. ‘I am sure you will enjoy talking over all those incidents we had hoped were long buried. Just, please,’ she implored, ‘do not let Elrin and Elrohir’s daughters hear of them – they are enough trouble without being given additional guidance.’
Lithiel pursed her lips. ‘I can make no promises, my daughter,’ she mused.
‘Did I say I was looking forward to you coming to dwell nearby?’ Miriwen said ruefully. ‘I take it all back. Gildiniel will miss you terribly – you would do much better to remain close to her.’
Her naneth laughed and embraced her. ‘Part of the joy of having children, my daughter,’ she asserted, ‘is combining with your grandchildren to make their lives difficult. I remember only too well how you would entice my adar into permitting you to do all sorts of things you knew that we would not.’
‘Daernaneth, too,’ Miriwen smiled, ‘was very relaxed in her dealings with us. She said she could always send us home when she had had enough, so why should she worry about developing our characters, when she could simply fill us with love.’
‘My naneth is a wise elf,’ Lithiel nodded. ‘I intend to follow her example.’
‘Oh good.’ Miriwen sighed. ‘All I need is two more to conspire against me. As if Elrin and his adar are not enough.’ She laughed. ‘And they think I did not notice Elrin sneaking off – just let them wait until I get them alone.’ She sobered. ‘You are right, though, Naneth. Our son is at a difficult age – physically almost mature, but without the sense and experience to control himself. I am glad you are here to distract him for a while. I have been worrying about other diversions that are being offered.’
‘They will come to nothing,’ Lithiel comforted. ‘It is in the nature of the young to test their limits – but Elrin is too responsible to carry his curiosity too far.’
‘What are you planning to do with yourself, now you are approaching adulthood?’
‘I do not know.’ Elrin’s sigh was like a pricked bladder, leaving him flat.
‘It is not easy for you,’ his daeradar said tranquilly. ‘You have a family full of heroes surrounding you – it must be hard to realise that you can be what you want to be.’
Elrin did not respond, his shoulders drooped as if he was carrying a weight too great to bear.
‘It is one of the reasons I did not really want your naneth to marry your adar – not at first,’ Neldor added thoughtfully. ‘It is not easy to attach yourself to legends and still continue to be yourself. But she said that it was not the son of Elrond that she saw, not yet the grandson of the Lord and Lady of Lothlórien.’ He glanced at his own grandson. ‘How much do you know about your adar?’ he asked carefully.
Elrin shrugged. ‘There is always someone who is ready to tell you what your parents would prefer you not to know. If you mean their time of madness, when he and Elrohir were absorbed in slaughtering orcs.’
Stretching out his hand to greet the smooth-barked beeches as they strolled past, Neldor said matter-of-factly, ‘They were not mad – not in any sense of the word. They were hurt and hitting back, as people do when they are in pain.’ He paused again, but Elrin did not reply. ‘That is the Elladan that your naneth first loved – and wanted to help heal. And that, recovered from his pain, is the Elladan who came to love her – not a hero, not a lord, not a warrior. Himself. The elf within.’ He stopped and, reaching out, turned his grandson to face him. ‘For all those of your kin who are the subject of song, there are more who are ordinary elves who have led peaceful lives of contentment in the forest. You need be none other than you are – and you have time to discover what that might be.’ He patted Elrin on the shoulder and raised his face to the canopy. ‘I like these woods,’ he said. ‘They welcome the interest of those living among them.’
‘Might you come and live here, then?’ Elrin asked.
‘M’mm,’ his grandfather said vaguely. ‘You have good foresters, but they are better with the more cultivated trees. I would be happy in the deep forest, where Elrond’s power goes not, and there is much I could do.’
‘Would you like to go and see it?’ Elrin’s eyes brightened. ‘We could take a trip – you and Adar and me. Spend some time in the woods.’
Neldor laughed. ‘You are sure you would not object to a break in your studies?’ he teased.
A distant laugh like a ring of small bells made Elrin turn. He had not realised how close they had come to the clearing where the young elves liked to meet. Nadhras’s clear voice echoed through the trees and the bell-like giggles sounded again.
‘Friends of yours?’ his daeradar asked, continuing to stroll towards the sound.
He would have to find out some time, Elrin thought dismally. If Nelladel was there with Nadhras, then she had definitely brought an escort – and he had no reason to suppose that not to be Olostariel. He sighed. ‘That sounds like Nadhras,’ he acknowledged. ‘He is a good friend of mine.’
‘And it would appear,’ Neldor lifted an eyebrow, ‘that he has found a companion.’ Without making his movement obvious, Elrin’s daeradar veered slightly towards the voices. ‘I think I have met Nadhras before,’ he said. ‘I would say I remember a small ellon with a sharp nose – but, if you are anything to go by, he is probably double the height he was then.’
Elrin grinned. ‘He is tall,’ he admitted, ‘but his nose is still sharp enough to cut paper. He is thinking about learning to build boats with his uncle,’ he added.
‘You have time,’ Neldor consoled him easily. ‘As your adar’s son, you have many things to learn before you need to worry about making choices. And, as your adar’s son, some of those paths will lead you in certain directions. But you have good parents, and a family that wants the best for you – just relax and take it slowly.’
Elrin looked into Olostariel’s eyes. They looked like forest pools in the moonlight, he decided. He thought about telling her, but the words would not force themselves out. He cleared his throat. ‘So, how did you persuade your parents to let you come out this evening?’ he asked.
The tip of her pink tongue moistened her lips, and Elrin felt himself blushing. Olostariel looked away. ‘Naneth knows that I am old enough to need some time to myself,’ she said. ‘My parents have no objection to me being out with my friends.’
Elrin’s flush faded. She was still angry about his not meeting her the other night. Nadhras had told him that she had barely spoken to Meglivorn, even though he had brought her some candied plums in a box tied up with blue ribbon. She had accepted the gift though. He looked at her with a slightly jaded eye. She was very pretty, he decided. But maybe pretty was not everything.
‘Shall we walk along to the waterfall?’ Nadhras said hastily. ‘It should be beautiful under the stars.’
Nelladel clutched his arm and leaned towards him. ‘Ooh, yes,’ she breathed, and Nadhras froze for a moment, before shaking off his bemusement.
‘Shall we?’ Elrin asked unenthusiastically.
Olostariel took his arm. ‘I cannot be out long,’ she said. ‘Adar will come looking for me if I am late.’
‘Really?’ Elrin remarked. ‘My parents know I am out with my friends. They trust me to return safely.’
Snatching her hand away, Olostariel pulled back to the far side of the path. ‘My parents trust me,’ she snapped. ‘Perhaps is it others they do not trust.’
Elrin felt as if his arrow had hit the centre of the target. ‘I cannot imagine why,’ he commented. ‘Nadhras and Nelladel are getting ahead,’ he pointed out. ‘We had better catch up.’
He had never realised, he thought, that simply walking with someone could feel so uncomfortable. Everybody they passed seemed to be watching them, as if the fact that he was escorting an elleth was somehow worthy of note. He had never before felt that he was the focus of everyone’s attention and it was not a feeling he appreciated. Although Olostariel seemed to like it, he noted. She was preening herself, like a bird surrounded by those vying for her attention, and pretending that she had not noticed.
Chin demurely lowered, Olostariel shook out her gleaming hair and grabbed his arm. ‘Come on,’ she instructed him. ‘I want to talk to Nelladel.’
Before they reached the spot by the waterfall where the young elves liked to meet, Nadhras and Nelladel slipped expertly into a stand of shady trees. Olostariel pulled Elrin after them. The trailing branches of the whispering willows offered plenty of partly hidden nooks, Elrin realised uneasily, where those who wished to be alone could linger in the illusion of privacy.
He, however, was not at all sure that he wished to linger anywhere with Olostariel. The picture of the beautiful elleth on his arm had seemed much more appealing in imagination than it did now he was here – and Olostariel seemed to have a much better idea of what she expected of him than he did of her.
Nadhras, he saw enviously, clearly did not suffer from the same uncertainty. He had wrapped his arms round a willing Nelladel and appeared to be whispering in her ear. Whatever he was saying was clearly entertaining her, as her breathless giggle punctuated the rustle of the trees.
A heavy sigh drew his attention back to Olostariel. He looked at her, feeling awkward and ungainly. Did she expect him to do something similar? Or would she be annoyed if he attempted the same kind of familiarity? They did not, after all, know each other that well.
Losing patience, Olostariel moved closer to the young elf and slipped her arms around him, offering him the opportunity to improve their acquaintance. A fragrance of lilac clung to her, sweet and tantalising. Tentatively, Elrin extended his hand to touch her hair. It felt like a living satin under his trembling fingers. The elleth lifted her face to his and, without thinking, he leaned towards her.
‘Olostariel!’ an impatient voice called. ‘Olostariel, I am not waiting for you. If you are late home again, you can deal with Adar yourself.’
‘It is my brother.’ Olostariel drew back. ‘I have to go.’ She looked at Elrin through her eyelashes. ‘Will you be able to come out again tomorrow?’
‘I am not sure.’ Elrin was conscious of a wave of disappointment so strong that it left his knees weak. ‘I may be going away for a few weeks.’
Olostariel tossed her head. ‘Well, in that case,’ she shrugged, leaving him to imagine what her thoughts might be. ‘Come on, Nelladel,’ she ordered. ‘My brother will not wait – he would love to get me in trouble.’ She held Elrin’s eyes briefly. ‘Maybe I will see you again,’ she told him airily, ‘and maybe I will find better things to do with my time.’
‘I cannot say I like her much,’ Nadhras murmured in his friend’s ear as the two ellyth disappeared beyond the trees. ‘She is completely incomprehensible. And that is on a good day.’
‘True,’ Elrin agreed. ‘She is very pretty though.’
‘I am glad they have gone,’ Nadhras decided. ‘Let us go and see what is happening at the waterfall. There is no need to waste the whole evening.’
Nimloth gazed wide-eyed at her cousin.
‘What is the matter?’ he snapped. ‘Have I grown two heads? Has my hair turned green? Why are you looking at me like that?’
The elleth continued to stare at him speculatively, but she did not speak.
‘Did she let you kiss her?’ Aewlin’s voice came from behind him. ‘Nimloth is trying to be tactful, so I will ask for her.’
Elrin’s cheeks flamed. ‘I do not know what you are talking about,’ he asserted.
‘Really?’ The scepticism in Aewlin’s tone showed him how little she believed him. ‘Olostariel. Elrin. Waterfall. What else would she be taking you there to do?’
‘You are too young to know anything about such matters,’ Elrin insisted.
Nimloth sniffed disdainfully. ‘Too young to want to waste our time,’ she told him, ‘but quite old enough to know what goes on. Olostariel has been saying for weeks that you were trying to get her to walk with you, but that she was in no rush to let it happen – you would be all the more eager for being kept on tenterhooks.’
Her cousin frowned. He did not like the sound of that. It appeared scheming. Surely Olostariel was not like that? Yet – he had not felt entirely easy about the way the evening had developed. She had seemed more interested in the attention she was receiving than she had been in him. ‘I do not believe you,’ he said defiantly. ‘Why would she choose to meet me if not that she likes me?’
Two pairs of pitying eyes fixed on him. ‘She probably does like you,’ Aewlin conceded. ‘You can be most annoying, I think, but she is not your cousin and you do not feel the need to tell her what to do all the time. And anyway, even when you are at your bossiest, I like you.’
‘But,’ Nimloth chimed in, ‘Olostariel is usually much more interested in those who are rather older than you. Have you not seen her just happening to pass the training fields as the younger warriors finish?’
‘And she is good at just happening to drop something just when there is a rather handsome ellon to pick it up for her.’
Elrin looked at the pair of them cynically. ‘You do not much like Olostariel, do you?’ he said.
‘She is so obvious,’ Aewlin declared, wrinkling her nose. ‘I like Nelladel. She is a truly silly elleth, but she is good-hearted. Olostariel is manipulative. You deserve better, cousin.’
‘Thank you for your advice,’ Elrin said dryly. ‘I shall bear in mind what you say. After all, your wisdom is legendary.’
Nimloth gave him a quick hug. ‘We know far more about ellyth than you do, cousin,’ she insisted. ‘You are not the first ellon Olostariel has taken to the willow grove, but you are by far the biggest prize. If you know that and you still want to play, then that is fine, but . . .’
‘Do not expect more,’ Aewlin shrugged. ‘Did she kiss you?’
‘It is none of your business,’ Elrin stated.
‘I hope you remember that,’ Nimloth reflected, ‘when it is our turn to play games. We will not want to have you chasing behind us and scaring off the ellyn.’
Elrin looked at them with horror. ‘No,’ he said firmly. ‘You are far too young to do anything of the sort. If I even suspect that you are dragging ellyn off to the willow grove, I will tell uncle – and he will send you off to Andaernaneth. She will keep you in hand.’
‘Sauce for the goose,’ Aewlin remarked. ‘It seems very unfair that you should feel able to sneak off, but you will not let us do the same.’
‘Stop worrying.’ Nimloth took pity on her cousin. ‘We are just preparing you for when we are your age. The only ellon I want to kiss is your brother – he is small enough to be really sweet. The rest are just boring. I can think of far better things to do.’
‘I wish we could come camping with you and your daeradar,’ Aewlin announced, deciding that enough had been said. ‘But, when we asked her, Naneth just looked . . .’
‘Like this,’ Nimloth nodded, contorting her features into a look of patient disdain.
‘So clearly we will have to stay here and do lessons while you get to have fun,’ Aewlin finished. ‘It is so unfair.’
Elrin relaxed and laughed. ‘Never mind,’ he consoled them. ‘Just think – at least you will be Naneth’s first choices to help her with Ellanthir while we are away.’
‘But who will ride with us?’ Nimloth asked. ‘We will have to put up with Domenion’s companionship . . .’
‘I would say that he will have to put up with you,’ Elrin interrupted.
‘. . . and be sensible,’ his cousin concluded, ignoring him.
It was amazing, Elrin thought, how Aewlin and Nimloth could revert from remarkable good sense to childishness in no more than a breath. At one moment he had felt as if his younger cousins had a much wider knowledge of the world than he did – only to be reminded that they were a mass of contradictions. However – that did not necessarily mean they were wrong about Olostariel. One thing they did have in common was that they were all ellyth – and, if anyone was qualified to understand deviousness in another, it ought to be the twins.
He would be careful, he decided. He was not altogether sure he was ready for the feelings that the elleth seemed to stir in him – and, if she was really interested in him as a person, then she should have no objection to getting to know him better before they tried anything else. Although – he smiled wryly – it would not be easy to let things take their time. He seemed to lose the power of rational thought at the touch of Olostariel’s hand and the scent of her hair made his stomach churn. He found himself quite relieved that his grandparents’ visit was taking him away from the dilemma for a while. Maybe, if he was lucky, Olostariel would solve it for him by showing interest in someone else. It would hurt – briefly, he suspected – but on the whole he would be thankful to be rid of the problem without having to make any decisions himself.
‘Why,’ he asked plaintively, ‘would you be sensible for Domenion and not for me? What have I done to be inflicted with two wild cousins?’
‘Oh well,’ Aewlin shrugged, ‘it is unfair to make things difficult for Domenion. He is only there because Adar asked him to be.’
Elrin sat back and gazed incredulously at the pair. ‘I hope that Ellanthir gives you as much trouble as you give me,’ he pronounced. ‘And if he needs any help coming up with ways to aggravate you, I will be only too happy to give him instruction.’
‘Oh no, you will not!’ Nimloth grabbed at his dark hair and gave his braids a tug. ‘You will help us manage him – you must be an expert in that by now. And, in exchange, we will look after you – whether you want us to or not.’
Elrin clasped her hand and held it steady. There were times, he thought, when he felt astonishingly proud of these two headstrong ellyth – usually, unfortunately, in conjunction with a wave of stomach-clenching anxiety. ‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘I think.’
Note: Galenthil and Eleniel are about 14 in human terms, 35 in elven equivalent. The words Andatar and Andamil are Quenya-ish attempts at Grandfather and Grandmother. I cannot imagine Elerrina's parents would tolerate the Sindarin versions!
Galenthil sat cross-legged and motionless as the badger cubs played in the clearing beneath him. He would be late for the evening meal and almost undoubtedly end up going to bed hungry, but it was worth it to watch the first outing of these little creatures from their sett. One, he smiled to see, was a natural adventurer, his short legs taking him to the very limits that his guardians were prepared to permit before they herded him gently back to rejoin his siblings. He could understand the delight with which the cubs were playing as the fragrant breeze ruffled their fur – after so long confined below ground the freedom of being outside must be wonderful.
The half-light faded gradually and the stars brightened. He would have to go, Galenthil sighed. Much as he would like to remain hidden here and watch, he would have to go home. If he stayed out long enough to worry his naneth, he would be in serious trouble. His adar understood – none better – the attraction of being out under the stars, but he was not prepared to make concessions when it came to upsetting his wife. And being able to come back tomorrow, and in the days after, to watch these little ones grow, was too important to Galenthil for him to throw away his liberty for one night of self-indulgence.
One of the adult badgers turned its head as the young elf slid like a shadow into the trees, snuffling the air briefly before returning its attention to grooming its fur, unconcerned by the hint of movement.
Galenthil sped up once he was out of earshot, leaping easily and gracefully from one tree to the next until he jumped to the ground just beyond the expanse of meadow that ran down to the stream. Entering the side door, he rubbed his boots to rid them of any forest debris and brushed his hands on the seat of his leggings.
‘You need to wash your hands,’ his naneth informed him, ‘and brush the leaves from your hair. You have missed dinner – your daernaneth waited the meal as long as your daeradar would allow, but his patience ran out some while ago. Your adar wishes to speak to you once you are clean and tidy. Do not keep him waiting any longer than you can help.’
Galenthil winced. It sounded as if he had pushed his luck a little too far. ‘Yes, Naneth,’ he said obediently. ‘I am sorry that I am late. I hope you were not worried.’
Elerrina laughed and caressed his fair hair. ‘Not in the slightest, my sweet one,’ she said affectionately. ‘But your adar is not pleased – when you behave irresponsibly, he feels that it reflects badly on us as your parents.’ She leaned forward and kissed his brow gently. ‘Go and tidy up,’ she said. ‘And do not forget to tell your adar what delayed your return.’
A plate of food lay covered on the chest in his room. That, by itself, told him that his sister felt that he was in trouble. He snatched a few quick bites as his nimble fingers rebraided his hair and he slipped into a clean tunic. There was no point annoying his adar by looking as if he had been dragged through a hedge. Tidiness was another of those things that his parents had started to insist on now he was growing up. As was punctuality. And there, he sighed, was his major weakness. When he was absorbed in something, keeping track of time seemed so unimportant – and he always managed to convince himself that everyone would understand. And they did, he decided fairly. They just thought that their rules were more important.
He found himself unexpectedly nervous as he tapped on the door of his adar’s study. It was odd, he thought. His adar was usually the most amiable of elves – not nearly as authoritative as Daeradar, for example – but, every now and then, if he decided the situation merited it, he could make Galenthil feel thoroughly ashamed of himself with no more than a look.
Legolas was sitting in his favourite chair in front of the empty fireplace, with his long legs stretched out in front of him, and, as his son entered, all that he moved were his eyes. He inspected his son slowly, as the ellon squared his slender shoulders and colour stained his cheeks.
After a few moments of silence, Galenthil said, ‘I am sorry, Adar.’ He paused. ‘It was the badger cubs’ first outing.’ He waited for the scolding that he knew he deserved, but his adar said nothing. ‘I meant to leave earlier,’ Galenthil’s voice was becoming meeker, ‘but watching them was so interesting, I did not give myself enough time to return.’ He stopped again. ‘I know it was irresponsible.’ Legolas tilted his head slightly. ‘I know I promised that I would be on time for meals.’ The ellon searched for what else might have annoyed his adar. ‘I am sorry that I let you down in front of Daeradar and Daernaneth.’
‘And what,’ Legolas said softly, with a mild curiosity that made his son squirm, ‘do you think I should do about this? To ensure that you are unlikely to repeat the offence?’
‘I have missed dinner,’ Galenthil pointed out hopefully, as his stomach gurgled in agreement.
His adar waved a dismissive hand. ‘And your sister will have ensured that, even if confined to your room, you will not go hungry.’
‘You could restrict me to the house,’ Galenthil suggested, his shoulders drooping.
‘And you would remain within those boundaries?’ Legolas asked. ‘With badger cubs to watch?’
Galenthil looked up indignantly. ‘I would not disobey you,’ he said.
‘Even though being late – again – is in itself disobedience?’ his adar asked. Legolas considered the ellon as he let his words sink in. ‘I have a better idea. You will seek out your grandparents and apologise to them for your bad manners – that should be sufficient for this evening’s transgression – and you will take your sister with you each time you wish to go to the badgers’ sett. You will have to make whatever accommodation with her she requires – she will probably not be too demanding, if you ask her nicely. And,’ he added, ‘you had best listen to her when she tells you it is time to leave, for I will not blame her for your lateness – and next time I will not consider it too severe to confine you to the house after lessons for a month – with a task that will ensure you remain here.’
‘Yes, Adar,’ Galenthil agreed, somewhat bemused.
‘I suggest you find your daeradar before his annoyance has time to intensify,’ Legolas said, his eyes twinkling with amusement. ‘His words are likely to sting enough as it is.’
‘Yes, Adar,’ Galenthil said again as he shut the door behind him. He drew a deep breath. He was not sure how he had escaped, but he was grateful for his adar’s understanding – he thought. Coaxing Eleniel to accompany him to the woods should not be too difficult – and even facing his daeradar was not that bad. He smiled. He would be able to watch the cubs grow.
‘Soft,’ Elerrina said provocatively. ‘Your adar would never have let you get away with that.’
‘But badgers, my heart,’ Legolas explained. ‘I am only surprised he managed to drag himself away when he did!’ He combed his long fingers through her russet hair, enjoying the feel of the soft waves.
Elerrina wriggled at the touch of his hands. ‘You are as bad as our son!’ she reproved him. ‘If he had asked, we would have permitted him to stay longer in the woods – we might have insisted on an escort, but we are not insensitive parents and we know how much the creatures of the forest mean to him. He is taking liberties, my dearest – it is not for him to decide which rules to ignore.’
‘He does not mean to be late,’ Legolas murmured absently in her ear. ‘He just loses track of time when the song of the forest takes him and makes him part of it. If it were intentional, then I would not have found it difficult to be harder on him. And the cubs will grow very quickly – I did not want him to lost the chance of learning about them just because convention demands that he have his privileges withdrawn. Eleniel will keep him in line for the time being – and we can think about later – well, later.’
‘And what if our daughter does not wish to spend hours watching badger cubs grow?’ Elerrina asked, arching a eyebrow as she turned to her husband. ‘Perhaps her occupations of choice are now more refined!’
‘She is a Wood Elf – and a twin,’ Legolas protested. ‘She might enjoy weaving and playing the harp and all those accomplishments you wish her to develop, but the forest and her brother still have a hold over her heart. She will not mind passing time with them both.’
‘If I were suspicious,’ Elerrina remarked, sliding her arms round his waist, ‘I might wonder if you were attempting to ease my daughter away from my pernicious Noldor influence.’
Legolas lowered his head to brush his lips against her eyelids, trailing his fingertips delicately down her ears in a way that he knew she found very distracting. It would not be entirely truthful to deny her half-amused accusation and yet it would be foolish to agree, so diversion seemed the wisest tactic. Eleniel was a remarkably calm and even-tempered elfling, who enjoyed learning the skills required of her parents’ daughter, but he sometimes felt that she needed more opportunities to explore the forest around her and spend time with her brother.
‘The forest will be very beautiful at this hour,’ he mused. ‘The starlight will be pricking the pools with light and night’s breeze will be scented with the blossom of the trees.’ He ran a finger along Elerrina’s collarbone so softly that it made her shiver. ‘We really should take advantage of the chance to – walk – among the trees.’
‘And if our – walk – should lead us to a bank of wild thyme?’ Elerrina asked, a catch in her throat. ‘Where the grass is studded with tiny flowers of gleaming white, like a multitude of stars – and the branches trail to make a bower?’
Legolas smiled. ‘We would be foolish not to spend time in a place so special, would we not? It would be wasteful – and Wood Elves are never wasteful.’
‘I will ask Hithien to keep an eye on our children,’ Elerrina said practically.
‘They should not prove to be any trouble,’ Legolas remarked. ‘Galenthil will still be subdued after hearing my adar’s lecture on responsibility – it is one of his best, and he had many chances to refine it over the years of my youth to make it particularly cutting – and Eleniel has enough sense to keep her head down at such moments.’
‘Your adar is a little fractious right now,’ his wife said. ‘Any conduct that might possibly upset your naneth causes him to react rather sharply – he was not pleased when Galenthil did not turn up in time for the evening meal. Our daughter, I thought, did very well in soothing him and making him laugh. Very diplomatic – and highly skilled for her age.’ She paused, contemplating the scene at table. ‘You are right, my love,’ Elerrina concluded decisively. ‘Eleniel does need more chances to be young – it will be good for her to idle away some time among the trees.’
‘I am always right,’ Legolas stated with a self-righteous smugness that made Elerrina giggle. ‘Remember that and you will not go far wrong.’
She prodded an accusing finger into the muscle of his arm, causing him to grab the injury and rub it exaggeratedly. ‘You forgot to mention devastatingly good-looking,’ she reminded him. ‘Devastatingly good-looking, amazingly intelligent and always right – that is what you usually say.’
‘Did I forget to add that I am a remarkable archer?’ Legolas added. ‘And highly skilled with my blades?’
‘And my dearest love,’ Elerrina said, ‘and my children’s adar.’
‘Oh well.’ Legolas’s hold on her tightened. ‘You have a good grasp of what is truly important, my heart. In that case, I will waive my demand to have my other talents recognised.’
Elerrina inclined closer and gave him a lingering kiss. ‘Walk with me,’ she suggested.
‘If you insist,’ he sighed with mock reluctance. ‘I suppose I must make some effort if I am to continue as your dearest love. You speak to Hithien and I will ensure that the twins are where they are supposed to be – and then I am yours. Be kind to me.’
‘I will.’ Elerrina smiled mischievously. ‘I will.’
Eleniel watched as her twin ran a gentle finger over his goshawk’s head. The bird leaned into the caress and refrained from using his sharp beak to peck at the hand that was taking such liberties. It amazed her, she thought as she traced the carving of leaves on her bow, how Galenthil managed to coax the most unlikely creatures into treating him like a member of their family.
‘Have you flown him today?’ she asked.
‘Of course.’ Galenthil encouraged the goshawk to move from his glove to his favourite perch. ‘It would not be fair to Gwilrandir to expect him to remain here when the wind’s song calls him. He loves to fly.’
‘The day will soon not be long enough for you to tend all the creatures within your care,’ his sister observed.
Galenthil gave her the quick smile that lightened his intent face and made its recipient feel the centre of his attention. If he did it deliberately, Eleniel sighed, it would be annoying, but part of her brother’s charm was that he was so totally unconscious of the effect he had on those round him. He was so absorbed in what he was doing that he won supporters without making any effort to entice them to his point of view.
‘Will you come?’ he asked. ‘The badgers are so interesting to watch – there is one that reminds me of Nimloth. It refuses to accept that it must stay under its parents’ eyes and is constantly trying to seek something new and exciting.’
‘And if I do not?’ she asked.
‘Then Adar says I may not go.’ Galenthil’s face fell. ‘You would not be so mean, would you?’
‘I do not wish to be late home each day,’ Eleniel told him flatly. ‘Daeradar was not happy – and that makes Adar cross. I do not like being in trouble.’
‘If I promise to leave when you say it is time?’ His serious gaze inspected her hopefully. ‘Adar said that he would not blame you if we were late.’ He looked away guiltily. ‘Daeradar has said that I may not join you at dinner for two weeks. I am to have a tray in the schoolroom. He said that I was clearly too immature to eat with the adults.’
‘He will still know if you are back late,’ Eleniel said. ‘Daeradar knows everything. And I do not wish to be banished from the table.’
Galenthil shoulders drooped, but he did not argue.
It was so irritating, his sister reflected. If he tried to push her into doing his will, she could resist him much more easily, but he never did. She sighed audibly. ‘I will come,’ she said. ‘But you had better be ready to leave when I say – or I will not accompany you tomorrow.’
The flash of his enthusiastic grin drew a warm smile from her in return. ‘You will not regret it, ’leniel,’ he promised.
And such was his conviction, Eleniel realised, that she believed that she would not.
Laerwen stood behind her husband’s chair, massaging his neck expertly until he sighed with pleasure as tension seeped visibly from him. She bent forward, resting her cheek against his wheat-fair hair as it gleamed in the beams of afternoon sunlight, her belly keeping her awkwardly distant.
‘You should not be standing,’ he said, reaching up to stroke her cheek.
‘It is more comfortable than sitting,’ she protested, ‘and far more comfortable than lying down.’
‘You need a shelf,’ he teased, ‘on which to rest that enormous bump.’ He turned and drew her round to perch on his lap. ‘I hate to think what size our daughter will be.’ He patted the bulge, feeling a kick as if the unborn elfling was objecting to his remark. ‘You are big enough to be carrying a mûmak. I am sure you were nowhere near this size with Legolas.’
‘Our recollection differs, then,’ Laerwen sighed. ‘I seem to remember being too wide to waddle over the last weeks.’ She smoothed the fabric of her gown over her swollen belly and rested her hand over a moving limb. ‘I cannot believe that I can get any larger, but it is still weeks before this little one is due to join us.’
Thranduil held her gently, but Laerwen felt his mood change as memories of the past extended their tendrils over them, like a drifting mist on a summer hill.
‘It is not the same, my love,’ she assured him. ‘We are no longer bearing a child in defiance of the Shadow – this child will grow in the safety of this forest. She will not have to see her adar – her brother – her husband live the life of a warrior and learn to deal with death. She will not be left bereft, as you were, as Legolas was.’
‘Why are we doing this?’ Thranduil spoke softly, but she could hear the uncertainty in his tone. ‘I have found you again – why are we risking what we have for you to bear this child?’ He placed his hand over hers and felt his daughter move. ‘I love her already – do not doubt it – but I love you more, and we are neither of us as young as we were. I have lost you once.’
Laerwen grasped his hand and shook it fiercely. ‘Never question that this is the right thing to do,’ she insisted. ‘This little one will crown our joy – she is the daughter you were always meant to have. You have been robbed of her presence over too many years of loneliness – but she will join us here.’
He drew up their clasped hands and kissed her fingers before returning them to rub her belly. ‘I would do anything to avoid giving you pain,’ he said.
‘This is one pain that is worth it,’ she declared. ‘As I remember, the worst of it is forgotten the moment that the child rests in your arms.’ She smiled at him. ‘You are even dragging poor Elrond and Miriwen here to make sure that there are enough healers in our house to treat any imaginable occurrence. I will be as well-looked-after as it is possible to be.’
‘I am not sure that I am prepared for the excitements of being an adar again,’ Thranduil confessed. He buried his face in her fair hair and groaned. ‘It is one thing being an indulgent daeradar – but raising a daughter could be too much for me. Keeping on top of Legolas’s antics was more effort than directing a campaign – he was a slippery as a fish, and he was never where he was supposed to be. I am too old to do this again.’
Laerwen giggled unsympathetically. ‘It will do you good, my lord,’ she told him. ‘I know you find life here somewhat unchallenging. I hope our daughter proves as enterprising as Elrohir’s twins – that should prevent any boredom.’ She shifted uncomfortably. ‘And I am not sure that Galenthil would describe you as an indulgent daeradar at the moment – there are times when I think you find it difficult to leave it for Legolas to discipline his children.’
‘It is hard at times to refrain from acting,’ her husband admitted. ‘He and Elerrina do not always react as I would – they let some things pass that I would not and jump on other things that seem unimportant to me. And we do live in an extended household of which I am the head. There are times when it is more appropriate for me to act than it would be to make the twins wait for their adar’s return.’
‘I wonder how you would feel if Oropher returned to join us here,’ Laerwen mused. ‘Would he become the head of our household and relegate you to the role of heir? Would you accept his right to discipline our child?’
‘I thought not,’ Laerwen laughed. ‘Our son is an adult, my love. We must let him and his family take responsibility for their own lives.’
‘Should I rescind Galenthil’s punishment, then?’ Thranduil lifted an eyebrow.
‘No, of course not,’ his wife smiled. ‘Legolas sent him to you – he would not have done that if he were not prepared to accept your judgment.’ She kissed her husband’s jaw thoughtfully. ‘It is all about working together – you are no longer struggling on alone as a single parent, my heart. Comfort yourself with the knowledge that this little one will have four adults to care for her – and a niece and nephew old enough to protect and love her. She will be a fortunate elfling.’
‘I will still feel happier when she is actually here,’ Thranduil said softly.
‘And that makes two of us,’ Laerwen sighed as their daughter turned within her.
‘Fascinating, are they not?’ Galenthil lay motionless on the low branch overlooking the sett. ‘Are you not glad you came?’
Eleniel’s hand rubbed over the smooth greyish bark thoughtfully. ‘I am surprised they cannot smell Gwilrandir on you,’ she observed. ‘They seem very calm about having us here.’
‘They are used to me.’ The ellon smiled as the adventurous kit scurried his way between two of the watching adults as they groomed themselves, apparently oblivious to him. ‘They were skittish at first, but have grown accustomed to my presence.’
‘Still,’ his sister remarked, ‘they have young ones with them.’
‘Gwilrandir is not large enough to be a threat to them, and they know it,’ Galenthil shrugged.
‘Do you understand how they think?’ Eleniel watched her brother. ‘Can you feel them as we feel the forest?’
‘Not really.’ Her twin turned to look at her. ‘Trees are easy to understand – they react to the world around them and they sense us. They are slow to grow and strong. The beasts of the forest,’ he tilted his head. ‘Their thoughts are more urgent – food and shelter and having young ones. But they are on the surface. I do not know that they think deeply about anything.’
‘These are not the Undying Lands, are they? Not really,’ Eleniel turned easily on the branch to watch the fading light through the leaves. ‘For elves, yes – and for the Powers and their attendant Maia – but the lives of beasts and birds and fish, and the plants themselves, come to an end. Even those that do not feed us do not live for ever.’
‘They have a cycle,’ Galenthil said seriously. ‘Their young,’ he indicated the young badger kits now playing among the leaves, ‘give them an immortality of a kind. And saplings become trees and produce more seed. I do not think I would enjoy a world where there was no change – it would be like a pool of standing water drying up in the sun.’
The shadows deepened and the rustling of small creatures emerging to their evening’s work of seeking food stirred the dried leaves on the forest floor. At the edge of the trees, an owl drifted by on ghostly wings, leaving a moment’s wary silence behind it.
‘How do you feel about having an aunt younger than we are?’ Eleniel asked abruptly. ‘Does it not feel – strange to you that Ada will have a sister to whom we will seem grown up?’
The ellon’s fair eyebrows rose in surprise. ‘What does it matter?’ he answered with a question.
‘Andatar is not pleased.’ Eleniel refrained from looking at her brother. ‘Naneth tries to pretend that it is not so, but she has not read us Andatar and Andamil’s letters for months – she just tells us some of the things they say. And she smiles when she speaks of them, but her eyes . . .’
‘We will be late,’ Galenthil noticed the darkening forest with concern. ‘We must hurry home – I do not wish you to get in trouble because of me.’
‘It is all right.’ Eleniel did not move. ‘I asked Naneth if we might stay late tonight. She said she would ask Adar to come and see us back. We are to wait here.’
‘Why did you do that?’ Her brother’s warm grey eyes inspected her.
‘Because the badgers are more active once evening falls and the stars open.’ Eleniel smiled. ‘Naneth is not unreasonable,’ she pointed out. ‘She expects us to be reasonable in return.’ She turned her attention back to the ground. ‘She said we could remain late because there are no lessons tomorrow, so we may sleep later in the morning if we need.’
‘I wish I could live in the forest all the time,’ Galenthil said wistfully.
‘But we cannot,’ his sister told him practically. ‘We have other things to do – lessons and training and – and learning to be elves like Adar and Naneth – like our grandparents. I do not wish to grow up to be ignorant and foolish. I want to be the kind of elf people respect and to whom they go when they need help.’
Galenthil sighed. ‘It seems hard work at times.’
‘It is.’ Scarcely a movement of the leaves around them warned them of Legolas’s arrival in their tree. He sat easily above them on a narrow branch that dipped slightly under his weight. ‘But it is worth it. I am glad now that my Adar insisted on my learning many things that made me petulant when I was younger than you are.’
‘Did you ever argue with him, Ada?’ Eleniel lifted herself on one elbow.
Legolas’s eyes reflected the stars. ‘No-one in his right mind argues with Aran Thranduil,’ he commented. ‘I obeyed him, of course. Mostly. Reluctantly, at times, I will admit. And I did many things that he had never thought to forbid until after I had done them – and some things he had told me straitly not to do at all. But I usually came to see that he was right – and not just because I had to spend far too much time contemplating my sins while confined to my room.’ His fall of fine hair shadowed his face as he leaned forward to look at the badgers.
‘Do you think it will be a good thing to have a sister?’ Galenthil asked.
‘You tell me.’ Legolas smiled. ‘I have never had a sister – what is it like?’
‘I would not wish to be without Eleniel,’ his son told him, ‘but I know no different. And our aunt will be so much younger, even, than we are.’
‘You will be part of helping to raise her,’ Legolas remarked. ‘The people you are will go into developing the sort of person she will be. She will learn from watching you – as these kits learn from their family – and she is bound to want to copy everything you do.’
‘I do not want to be copied.’ Galenthil sounded horrified.
‘She will do it anyway.’ His adar smiled. ‘And she will admire you while she is doing it – that will be some consolation.’
‘This sounds like the responsibility lecture,’ Eleniel commented, ‘in disguise.’
‘We are all responsible for each other,’ Legolas shrugged, ‘whether we want it or not.’ He reached down to stroke his daughter’s soft hair. ‘Come,’ he told them. ‘It is time to return home – before your naneth starts to worry. Long years have taught me that there is little point engaging in battle unnecessarily. Save combat for matters of importance.’
Galenthil sighed, but made no objection as they slipped quietly away. ‘May I return tomorrow?’ he asked.
‘Certainly,’ his adar agreed amiably, ‘when you have completed whatever duties you have to perform.’
Behind them, as the moon gleamed through the canopy and the trees round the sett trembled slightly in the cool night breeze, the badger on guard raised his striped head and inspected the shadows before returning to his grooming. The tree creatures had gone, as they always did once the stars showed their light, but the shining ones would be back at their post in the great tree when the warm light of day turned again to evening. He did not mind, he found. They were considerate neighbours, who obviously found much to admire in his family and, as long as they continued to show respect for the badger’s way, they were welcome in his part of the forest whenever they wished to pay him a visit. The shaft of silver light brightened the glade as the badger decided that the time had come to urge his kits back to the shelter of their sett, where he could keep them safe from danger until these, too, had grown wise and strong enough to leave their home and family and seek their own way in the world beyond his care.
Elflings 11 Eleventh Hour
Eleniel perched on the branch, enjoying the way it swayed in the wind. She should descend, she thought, but she knew that she would not. Not now. She sniffed. Everyone was always telling her she was sensible and reasonable and controlled – but all she wanted to do was scream and throw things. It was simply unfair. If only she was more like Nimloth, who would never have accepted this situation in the first place, or Aewlin, who would have arranged matters so that she, too, would have been of the party. But no. A scorching tear lipped over the corner of her eyelid and burned its way down her cheek. She had listened meekly to her parents and made no protest when her twin was sent to spend a year with their cousin in Tirion. She had sat stitching while her naneth and daernaneth had debated the rights and wrongs of sending a Wood Elf to dwell among the Noldor. She had helped her brother pack his bags and listened to him as he talked excitedly about what he and Súrion would do together and smiled as Adar and he had ridden off with their escort.
A splash of rain joined the tears on her face, driven by a strengthening wind. Eleniel linked her fingers through the slender branches and allowed herself a frisson of fear as the horizontal became vertical, but she made no attempt to reach the more solid boughs closer to the trunk. She was tired of everyone looking at her as being safe. And reliable. If she heard the word reliable again, she thought she would scream.
She had been proud at first, when Daernaneth had said she was trusted to care for her baby aunt – but all it meant was that she was left with the baby while other people did things that were more exciting. She got to sit in the nursery singing nonsense rhymes while her brother was sent off to learn how to deal with the other peoples of the Blessed Realm. She spent her time trying to stop her aunt from putting worms in her mouth while Galenthil was taken on camping trips into the forest with other ellyn his age. Eleniel could not hold back a single choked sob. She had never minded learning the skills demanded of a chatelaine of her daeradar’s House – but she hated being seen as nothing more than an elleth.
‘Are you not getting rather wet up there?’
‘Hithien?’ Eleniel blinked, grateful that the increasing rain would conceal any evidence of tears.
‘You have missed lunch,’ her former nursemaid said. ‘And you are coming close to missing the evening meal.’
‘I care not.’ Despite her words, Eleniel began automatically to slither down from her vantage point. Arda did not end because she was unhappy – and there was no need to distress her naneth by being rude.
‘I thought I might find you at the butts,’ Hithien observed.
The elleth shrugged. ‘There seemed little point in slaying straw targets,’ she said.
‘Perhaps a bout with blades?’
‘Naneth dislikes it when she hears I have been on the training fields,’ Eleniel inspected the lichen stains on her dress.
‘You are determined to be miserable, then.’ Hithien began to walk back towards the house. She paused and glanced down at the elleth. ‘Why do you not speak with your daeradar? In your adar’s absence, he can manage your naneth better than any. And, whether you believe it or not, he will understand how you feel.’
Eleniel smiled wryly. ‘When was he an elleth – or a twin?’ she asked. ‘Or the sensible one.’
With a spurt of laughter, Hithien waited for her to catch up. ‘He has not always been a king,’ she said amiably. ‘And I am told he did not find it easy growing up as his adar’s son. Try it, ’Leniel. After all, what harm can it do?’
Elerrina opened and closed her mouth without a sound. She was very fond of her husband’s adar – and had, at any rate, been brought up to show the proper respect due to authority, but this was, she feared going to prove to be one time when she would have to object. She glanced helplessly at her naneth-in-law, who was nursing her daughter, apparently oblivious to the argument.
‘There seems little point in it,’ Elerrina said reasonably. ‘Eleniel has plenty to do here – why would you want to bother with taking her when you travel west? She will only be in your way.’
The grin showed that Thranduil saw through her speech, she thought resentfully. Even if he did not say so, he knew that Elerrina was not entirely comfortable with the closeness of the bond between Wood Elves and the forest and that, although she had accepted that side of Galenthil with good grace, she still found it unnatural that Eleniel should prefer to spend hours in the treetops when she should be practising her harp or working in the stillroom.
‘I would be grateful for the company, my daughter,’ he said seriously. ‘I have put off the journey long enough – but now that Celumíl is settled, I should make the effort. We will be gone no more than a month, I would say.’ He let the words settle between them. ‘I would ask you to bear me company as well, but I would be happier if you would stay here with Laerwen.’ He smiled. ‘It is some while since Legolas was a baby – and your experience with infants is much fresher. I would appreciate it if you offered Laerwen your support.’
‘Eleniel cannot go unaccompanied.’ Elerrina seized on his request.
Thranduil lifted his eyebrows. ‘She will not be unaccompanied,’ he said with a hint of hauteur. ‘I will be with her.’
‘Do not be so provoking,’ Laerwen reproved him. ‘You know perfectly well what our daughter means.’ She looked at her son’s wife. ‘Eleniel is young enough to travel in her daeradar’s care without such nonsense as chaperones, my dear,’ she said, ‘and anyway, I daresay Hithien would be happy to make one of the party – she will look after my granddaughter as well as you could wish.’
‘I would not dream of taking Eleniel without Hithien to keep an eye on her,’ Thranduil said gravely. ‘So you agree?’
‘I would prefer her to remain at home,’ Elerrina told him, glancing at him under her eyelashes, but, seeing that he had no intention of relenting, she sighed. ‘I am sure she will enjoy the chance to see more of these lands,’ she said with resignation. ‘When were you intending to set off?’
‘In a few days.’ Thranduil smiled warmly. ‘Thank you, my dear,’ he said. ‘I appreciate the chance of spending more time with my granddaughter. She is so busy these days that we seem to have little time to enjoy ourselves.’
‘I will see to her wardrobe.’ Elerrina blinked back tears as she rose. ‘I suppose you will tell me that she will need little?’
Thranduil laughed gently. ‘A few weeks among trees, Elerrina. Simple clothes that can stand up to a bit of rough treatment. I will see to everything else.’
Elerrina curtseyed slightly before departing, leaving the room silent apart from the sucking of the child and the crackle of the fire.
‘She is not pleased,’ Laerwen said eventually as she raised Celumíl to her shoulder and awkwardly adjusted her gown.
Thranduil sighed. ‘Not pleased at all,’ he agreed. ‘I have been distracted recently,’ he admitted, approaching her chair and lifting the infant into his arms, ‘or I would have paid more attention to what was happening.’ He smiled at the pink face crowned in pale wisps of hair. ‘I can endure Galenthil spending some months with his cousin – Súrion is a pleasant ellon, and a short while with Taryatur will not be enough to ruin my grandson. It might,’ he added, ‘even be good for him to learn some of the differences between our way of life and theirs. But,’ he said firmly, ‘I will not have Eleniel made unhappy or pushed into fitting some nonsensical ideal of maidenhood.’
‘Elerrina is her naneth,’ Laerwen said neutrally.
‘And I will not interfere,’ Thranduil remarked. ‘I will spend some time with my granddaughter – and then her adar will have returned and he will see what is happening.’
‘And if he does not?’ his beautiful queen raised an eyebrow.
‘Well,’ Thranduil grinned engagingly, ‘then I might have to poke my nose where it has no business. But I am hoping,’ he said dotingly to his daughter, ‘that your naneth might manage to persuade your sister-in-law to give your niece the freedom to grow in her own way.’
‘You do not expect much, do you?’ Laerwen sighed.
‘Miracles, my love.’ Her husband’s free hand caressed her cheek. ‘Of which you are more than capable.’
‘Race you, Daeradar!’ Eleniel challenged before they were more than a few leagues beyond their rambling home.
She had been pale and subdued as she kissed her naneth farewell, Thranduil thought, suspecting that she had been weighed down with Elerrina’s expectations of her good conduct, but her spirits had lifted as they wound their way along the narrow paths between the trees. Unsurprisingly, he considered. The trees were humming with life and the forest’s song was vibrant on this brilliant morning.
Hithien laughed, managing her horse with little difficulty. ‘She will keep you busy, my lord,’ she said. ‘I hope you are ready for a wearing trip.’
Eleniel’s mare side-stepped, picking up her rider’s excitement. She and Eleniel were a fairly new partnership, the elleth only recently long enough in the leg to move from her good-natured pony to the young horse.
‘Wait until the path is wider, my granddaughter,’ Thranduil decided. ‘A few more minutes – and I will show you who is fastest!’ He grinned at her. ‘As I recall, the starting point is when we cross the stream – and we race to the single oak and back.’
Eleniel urged Gwaeroch on enthusiastically and Thranduil indicated with no more than an inclination of his head that Calion was to keep close to her. He, however, pulled back a little, so that Hithien glanced his way and did likewise.
‘I want my granddaughter to enjoy herself,’ he said quietly, ‘and indulge in all the activities that please her – archery, blade-training, tree-climbing and whatever else – regardless of what restrictions her naneth might have placed on her.’ His gleaming eyes met hers. ‘Not outright defiance, mind,’ he added. ‘I would not encourage that – but she is in the forest now, and that is my domain.’
Hithien smile twisted. ‘It might well prove impossible to accommodate both sets of instructions,’ she acknowledged.
‘In which case,’ Thranduil grinned, ‘you would do well to remember which of us is your king.’
‘I will keep that in mind, my lord,’ she said mildly. ‘As I will bear in mind Eleniel’s needs.’
‘Keep Eleniel first in your thoughts and we will have no debate,’ he nodded. ‘I had best catch up before my granddaughter gives up on me and races your husband instead.’
Paying no heed at all to the train of guards riding behind them, he urged his horse on and increased the pace.
Hithien sighed. Kings, she thought. Even when they were being considerate, they placed demands on their followers without any thought of how they were to be balanced with other equally valid requirements.
She turned, resting one deceptively delicate-looking hand on her horse’s rump. ‘Here seems as good as anywhere to stop for lunch,’ she commanded. ‘We really do not want Aran Thranduil to accuse us of getting in the way of this race.’
Eleniel sighed. She felt a different person out here, she thought. The – the scratchiness of growing up had disappeared. No-one was demanding anything of her beyond common sense and normal consideration. She leaned back on the grassy bank and admired the soft gleam of the stars. Daeradar had sighed when their guards had automatically formed a circle around them to afford them what he had muttered was a quite unnecessary level of protection from passing foxes and, when she had giggled, he had admitted to her that he found the restrictions of his guards to be one of the most irritating effects of rank. It was odd – she had never thought of adults being constrained to conform to other people’s idea of suitability. And of any adult – her daeradar, she marvelled, who could make almost anyone jump to his bidding with no more than a look.
‘Are you tired?’ Hithien’s voice was quiet enough not to wake her had she already sought the dream path.
‘No.’ Eleniel sat up. ‘The night is so beautiful.’
‘I miss it when I am confined to a house,’ Hithien admitted. ‘I insisted that Calion put open flets among the enclosed, so that I can sleep under the stars, but he still does not think it entirely proper.’
‘He is a Noldo, is he not?’ Eleniel remarked with mild disapproval. ‘Like Naneth.’
Hithien drew a silent breath. ‘It is not easy to live with another’s customs,’ she said mildly. ‘Your naneth has adapted well to living among Wood Elves in a wide forest. If, at times, she hankers for a more ordered life among Tirion’s broad avenues of white stone houses, who shall blame her?’ As Eleniel opened her mouth, the older elleth lifted an admonitory finger. ‘She wants you and your brother to be a credit to her and your adar. Is that so difficult to accept?’ Hithien smiled. One of Eleniel’s main problems was that, despite her youth, she was too good at seeing both sides of an argument. ‘It is hard on you – you need to learn to live in both worlds, but you are an intelligent elleth, and strong-willed – you can do it.’ Hithien patted her on the shoulder. ‘Do not try to leave the guarded area – it would not do to agitate the warriors. They are sensitive ellyn and do not care to be disregarded. And, in the morning, would you care to train with me? It does Thranduil’s warriors good to see that I am well able to take them out, should I so choose.’
‘Well,’ Eleniel acknowledged slowly. ‘I am sure Naneth would agree that it would be the height of bad manners to leave you without a partner.’
Hithien grinned. ‘Good girl,’ she said, rising to take a final look around the campsite before settling to her rest.
Eleniel relaxed, enjoying the muffled night sounds. An owl hooted in the distance and a wakeful guard paced the perimeter of the camp. A light breeze stirred the leaves like a ripple of excitement at the presence of the forest’s king. A wave of affection for her daeradar filled her as she lay back watching Ithil dim the stars. He, at least, was just happy for her to be herself, without trying to twist her into fitting his own perception of her role. With a contented sigh, she allowed herself to drift into sleep.
Thranduil raised an eyebrow. ‘She is all right?’ he asked.
A nod answered him. ‘What is the purpose of this trip, my lord?’ Hithien asked bluntly. ‘You have an elfling at home who needs her adar to thrive – and it seems a trifle excessive to put a distance of a dozen leagues of more between Eleniel and her naneth just because the elleth is suffering from growing pains.’
The king sighed. ‘Can you not control your wife’s habit of asking awkward questions?’ he said. Sometimes an action simply seems right – and I have learned that instinct can be a good guide.’
Calion smiled, but remained silent.
‘You might prove useful yet,’ Hithien told Calion as she settled beside him. ‘Eleniel is beginning to resent her Noldor heritage – and you are in a better position than most to help her understand the world to which Elerrina was born.’
Thranduil sighed. ‘I begin to think it might have been better for my son to take Eleniel to her grandparents along with Galenthil.’
‘It is not done,’ Calion shrugged. ‘Ellyth remain with their parents until they wed, unless they seek service with those of higher rank. Ellyn spend several years in the households of others of equal rank before returning home – or seeking a career. It has long been so, and Elerrina’s parents are very conventional.’
‘But their conventions are not ours,’ Thranduil pointed out. Taking a half-burnt stick, he prodded the dying fire, making a shower of sparks flicker and die. ‘Still, I am glad my granddaughter remains in the forest. It seems right that she is with me now.’
The trees were excited, Eleniel realised. Not because of Daeradar, although his presence usually had the trees round them responding with eager song. No, she was catching only the echoes of their usual enthusiasm. They were turned away, their attention drawn westwards. She rode automatically, her head turned slightly north of due west.
‘You feel it, too,’ Thranduil said with certainty, keeping pace with her.
She flicked a glance up at him. He wore a simple green tunic and his fair hair hung loose but for a narrow braid over each ear. But then, she thought, he did not need the trappings of power – he radiated it with his very being.
‘It is strong, whatever it is,’ she said. ‘The disturbance stretches for leagues.’
‘Say nothing of it yet,’ her daeradar commanded. ‘As yet, it is only we two who are aware of it.’ He grinned and leant towards her to speak confidentially. ‘Guards are trial enough, my dear, without giving them an excuse to assert themselves. Make sure you are armed – just in case – but I doubt there is anything to concern you.’
‘Hithien says I should train regularly,’ Eleniel mentioned.
‘It would be as well,’ Thranduil agreed. ‘There is no need to make a show of it, if you prefer not to – but everyone should be able to protect themselves at need.’
Eleniel let his words soak in. ‘Whatever is ahead,’ she mentioned. ‘It does not feel dangerous.’
‘Those are often the worst dangers of all,’ he grinned with tight excitement. ‘Anyone can stand firm against an obvious threat – but to remain constant in the face of something that appears safe takes a different kind of courage.’
‘Then weapons will probably not be required.’
‘Probably not.’ Thranduil glanced at his granddaughter. ‘Do not let your naneth’s aversion influence you – she is still relatively unaware of the dangers that might be present in the wild. I am happy to take the blame for encouraging you in activities on which she frowns.’
Eleniel wrinkled her nose. ‘It feels dishonest,’ she said, ‘to conspire against her.’
‘You looked uncomfortable this morning,’ Thranduil acknowledged. He smiled affectionately. ‘I cannot fault you for not wanting to go behind your naneth’s back. Not blades, then. But I wish you to practise with your bow – and with throwing knives. And I will make a command of it, if necessary.’
A weight seemed to fall from the elleth’s shoulders and she felt able to breathe deeply for the first time since her parents had broken to her that she and her twin were to be separated. ‘Celumíl is very lucky,’ she said with apparent irrelevance.
Thranduil laughed. ‘I doubt she will think so in a few years’ time,’ he replied. ‘I am much sterner as an adar than as a daeradar – you ask your own adar.’ He stretched out to smooth the fair hair back from her face. ‘In a few years, you will have Celumíl coming to you to complain of my unreasonable brutality in forbidding her to take part in any variety of activities in which she wishes to engage. I hope you will support me, child, in attempting to bring your aunt up to be as much of a credit to her family as you are.’
Eleniel blushed and mumbled something inaudible.
Neither noticed that they had turned their horses’ heads to veer slightly from the more obvious path between the trees. Thranduil coaxed Eleniel into laughing with him over a few revelations of her adar’s mischievous childhood, while she confided one or two adventures of which her daeradar decided he was glad he had not known before.
‘I know not what it is about the young,’ he shook his head, ‘that makes it so hard to keep them in their beds at night – your adar liked to wander, and it seems as if you and your brother are just as bad!’
His granddaughter giggled. ‘We did not sneak out very often,’ she said. ‘And once Adar discovered how we were managing it, he put a stop to it.’
Thranduil eyed her cynically. ‘And you have found no other way?’ He lifted a hand. ‘Do not tell me,’ he insisted. ‘I would feel compelled to do something about it! But I shall be putting you in charge of security once Celumíl is old enough to make her own escape attempts.’
‘My lord?’ One of the guards rode back up the long slope. ‘The river is running quite too high to cross here – there is a ford is some miles downstream.’
‘Is that the closest safe crossing?’ Thranduil raised an eyebrow. ‘Then why are we not heading towards it?’
The guard looked impassive. It was not for him to tell the king that he had been determinedly leading the party out of their way among trackless trees.
Reluctantly, Thranduil turned to the south. ‘I suppose it will only take us a little out of our way,’ he said. He raised his head and looked intently in the direction of the trees’ disturbance. ‘And only a fool would take a chance with a river in flood.’ He grinned at his granddaughter. ‘Let us ride.’
‘The king is seeking something,’ Regdolin spoke quietly to Calion. ‘He says nothing – but I have seen the strain in his eyes, and he pushes us fast and always in the same direction. Do you know if he has arranged to meet someone – or who it might be?’
Calion shrugged and spread his hands. ‘He would not tell me,’ he said. ‘Why do you ask?’
The guard turned slightly so that the movements of his lips could not be observed. ‘He respects your lady – and he might tell her what he would not reveal to us.’
Shaking his head, Calion grinned. ‘Hithien would not say anything if she knew,’ he said. ‘She can keep a confidence.’
Regdolin sighed. ‘How can we prepare if my lord refuses to tell us what we need to prepare for? And then he gets irritated because we are jumpy.’
Above their heads, Eleniel listened in silence. It was not surprising that Daeradar was becoming tense, she thought. The cacophony of treesong was setting her nerves on edge and she knew that she did not hear it as clearly as he did. If only they were not all talking at once. Her eyes followed Regdolin and Calion thoughtfully. There had been a few moments when she had begun to think she was making sense of what she heard, but then the song had whirled again into chaos and she had lost it. She had asked Thranduil what he made of it, but he had simply shrugged and said that they would discover soon enough what it meant.
Eleniel climbed higher into the treetop, where she could look over the smaller trees and see the forest as a bowl of green that stretched from the distant hills as far as she could see. It was as if the excitement was stirring the trees, spinning round and coming back, tighter and harder to control. It amazed her that no-one other than she and her daeradar seemed to be aware of it – although she suspected that the jumpiness of the guards had something to do with it. Calion – she shrugged – of course, he was Noldor. His bond to the forest was never very strong. Although he was right about one thing – Hithien could keep her own counsel and might have ideas of her own.
In the distance a break in the canopy showed her where a river divided two areas of forest, and a darker green on the slopes indicated a shift from deciduous trees to conifers. She smiled. The trees here were healthy, with strong voices and they welcomed the few elves who dwelt among them.
Did her daeradar know what he was expecting to find here? Or was he as much in the dark as she was? She glanced down towards the forest floor. One thing she did know was that he would not say until he was ready and that asking him would do no good at all.
‘Eleniel?’ Hithien called. ‘We have set up the targets.’
The elleth rested her head against the branch behind her and closed her eyes briefly before replying. ‘Coming!’ She had not realised how rusty her skills had become until her sore muscles had begun to complain. Dancing and harp-playing clearly did not require the same parts of her body as archery and knife-throwing – although the balance and grace demanded in dance seemed to have some use in helping her with the rhythm that Hithien insisted was part of always being ready for an opponent’s next move. Nevertheless, she thought, she still did not see why her trainer insisted on teaching her to juggle ever increasing numbers of sticks – even if it was rather fun to be part of a circle of dancing elves tossing lighted brands back and forth among themselves. She had a strong feeling that her naneth would disapprove of that almost as much as she had when her adar had taught her the basics of wielding a blade, but since Elerrina had never expressed an opinion on the suitability of fire-juggling as an occupation for ellyth, she had decided she could carry on.
Hithien grinned as the elleth descended rapidly from the heights. ‘You will be happy to return to more elegant activities, I expect,’ she said, ‘when finally your daeradar has found whatever he is seeking.’
‘And what might that be?’ Eleniel asked, opening her eyes wide in apparent innocence.
‘If you need to ask,’ Hithien shook her head, ‘you are not ready to know.’
When finally they reached the wide river, flowing like a silver ribbon between the trees and turned north, Eleniel could see that even Calion was ringing with the power of the treesong. No-one spoke much – it was difficult enough to think, let alone share those thoughts with others. Between the trees’ greeting to Thranduil and their excitement about what lay ahead, the sound, inaudible as it was to most of the forest’s creatures, was deafening.
Thranduil led the way without hesitation, Eleniel riding beside him. Leaves fluttered around them, as if the trees were doing their best to offer the visitors a welcome they would not forget.
With a wave of her hand, Hithien indicated that the others should draw back, acting as a ceremonial guard rather than one of any practical use. Regdolin would have protested – but a single glance at his king had made it clear that he would accept no greater protection.
The path became an avenue, bordered by ancient trees that led towards a broad lawn of rabbit-nibbled grass. It looked, Eleniel thought, as if it had been there for ever, while at the same time seeming as fresh as if it had sprung up with that morning’s dawn. Her breath shortening in anticipation, she kept Gwaeroch steady, allowing her daeradar to move slightly ahead.
At the sight of the figure that stood in the middle of the glade, looking as if the ray of Anor lighting his pale hair had just deposited him there, Thranduil threw himself from his horse and ran forward with a boyish enthusiasm that made his granddaughter gasp. The sun illuminated them like figures in a painting as the king froze, green and gold and alabaster, before a tall elf robed in a grey as soft as a dove’s wing. As slowly as ice-melt in spring, the stranger moved, pushing back his hood from hair as wheaten-gold as Thranduil’s, revealing storm-grey eyes in a face as pale as winter.
Behind her, Eleniel could hear the jangle of harness and the restless clop of a horse’s hoof; the tearing of teeth on sweet grass and the edgy uncertainty of her daeradar’s guards in the sudden silence, but, in front of her, time stood still. She could not wrench her eyes away from a meeting that contained neither words nor movement, yet radiated an emotion powerful enough to choke her.
‘Is that. . ?’ she murmured through a throat so stiff with tears that she was surprised that any sound came out.
‘Oropher?’ Hithien asked. ‘I believe so.’
A recalcitrant tear escaped her control and trickled down her cheek. ‘Adar should be here,’ Eleniel said.
Hithien shook her head. ‘I think perhaps none should,’ she said. ‘There will be time in plenty for other meetings.’ She looked around and, catching Regdolin’s eye, nodded towards the grass beyond the clearing. ‘You remain here, ’Leniel,’ she insisted. ‘When they are ready, they will want you. And, when you are in need of food and rest, we will be over there.’
In the end, as she sat on the grass, she wondered which would be the first to break the paralysis that seemed to seize them. She gathered daisies and began making chains of the flowers as she waited, binding them into crowns of white and gold. The angle of the light changed, but Thranduil and his adar remained at its heart, cut off from the world about them, absorbed in their own. It was a sigh that finally broke the silence, but she could not tell from which elf it came, deciding eventually that it had probably come simultaneously from both.
‘I am sorry,’ Oropher said tentatively, as if he had not used his voice in some while. ‘It was not my intention to leave you to deal with the aftermath of battle.’
‘I never blamed you.’ Thranduil moved hesitantly, as if unconvinced of the genuine presence of the elf before him and Oropher mirrored his movement, raising his hand to touch a pale finger to his son’s cheek as gently as a butterfly’s kiss.
They clasped each other suddenly, ferociously, holding tight enough to inhibit breath, fighting the tears with which any sensible elleth would have greeted one so long missing and so desperately missed.
Eleniel smiled. She had never before been so close to the return of one who had been lost, but it was not hard to see that the experience could prove almost as shattering as losing someone in the first place. And, she noted, it was clearly one that involved too much emotion and not enough food. If these two did not manage to find their feet soon, she had better fetch them something to eat and drink before they lost all contact with reality.
They were speaking now – half-sentences and names, single words and references to events ages before her birth – as they reached out to each other, not pausing for answers, but somehow not caring. All that mattered was that they were there together after so many centuries.
Their clasp changed as the sun sank below the fringe of trees. Arms round each other’s shoulders, free hand on each other’s chest as if to feel the steady rhythm of the heartbeat, they turned towards her.
‘My granddaughter,’ Thranduil announced proudly.
She had had time to think how to respond to the introduction. She rose gracefully and approached, curtseying prettily to her andaeradar, and proffering two flowery crowns that she reached up and placed on the two fair heads. ‘Welcome,’ she said.
Riding back was something like passing through the constant patter of raindrops, without the bother of getting wet. The trees responded to their passage with a busy rustle of leaves as if applauding. Eleniel was unsure how her andaeradar had come to be waiting for them in a sun-bright glade a fortnight’s ride from home, but he had had little with him beyond the clothing in which he stood up, a quiver of arrows fletched with white feathers, his bow and a short knife with a handle of carved bone.
Without discussion , Calion had offered his bay to the tall elf and risked Hithien’s displeasure to ride with her. Oropher had blinked and accepted, running a narrow hand over the gleaming neck a few times as if reminding himself of the nature of a horse. Roscún whickered, stamping his foot as if the elf-lord’s touch tickled, but then he had dropped his head and accepted his new rider.
Exchanging concerned glances, Thranduil and Eleniel had flanked him, anxious to ensure Oropher’s safety, but it appeared that his unconscious mind was able to provide automatic access to long-forgotten skills, for, once mounted, the returned elf settled easily to the process of riding. Until, that was, they stopped to rest and he slipped from Roscún’s back only to continue his slide until his knees hit the ground.
Thranduil’s exclamation made his granddaughter grin.
‘Do not let your naneth know I said that!’ he declared immediately, even as he dismounted to help his adar to his feet. ‘She would have my ears.’
‘Of course not, Daeradar,’ Eleniel said primly. ‘You surely do not think I understood your words, do you?’
Oropher laughed. ‘How old are you, my great-granddaughter?’ he asked, leaning on his son’s arm in an attempt to support legs that felt too weak to hold him. ‘Thirty five? Forty? I would imagine you know the meaning of a range of words you are too wise to use.’
‘If Naneth would have Daeradar’s ears,’ Eleniel said ruefully, ‘she would have my hide.’ She looked at him critically. ‘We have ridden too far,’ she told him with concern. ‘Your knees feel shaky now, but you will stiffen up soon.’ She glanced over to Hithien, then back to her daeradar. ‘Do you think we should make camp? I know it is early, but it might be wiser.’
Thranduil nodded. ‘We are in no hurry,’ he agreed. ‘I think, Adar, you would do better to accustom yourself to being among us before we expose you to the crowds that will wish to welcome you to our home. And what is amusing you, my lady?’ He raised an eyebrow at his granddaughter’s subdued giggle.
‘It sounds so funny to hear you saying ‘Adar’. You are too grown-up,’ she explained.
He looked down his elegant nose. ‘If Lady Galadriel is young enough to have an adar, I think that I, too, am entitled to one.’
‘Behave yourself, my son,’ Oropher instructed him paternally, performing for his admiring audience. He winked at Eleniel. ‘I will not have you teasing my great granddaughter. Even over one of those wretched Exiles – and the Noldor witch who led my cousin to desert his people at that.’
‘Enough of that, Adar,’ Thranduil said mildly. ‘More than an age has passed since your fëa fled to Námo’s Halls – and over all those centuries Celeborn’s lady played her part in bringing about Sauron’s defeat. And for three ages she stood loyally by my cousin’s side – I will not hold her origins against her.’
Oropher’s jaw tightened.
‘Old grudges must be abandoned.’ Taurevron’s king spoke with calm certainty. ‘We were the Exiles here – until the Valar granted us lands to call our own and the people of the Blessed Realm helped us set up new kingdoms.’ He smiled wryly. ‘And close your mouth, Eleniel,’ he added. ‘There is no reason to let Lady Galadriel know that I have put our antipathy aside. We enjoy our squabbles – most of the time.’
He watched as Oropher accepted a mug of spiced tea brought over by Calion and took his first sip. ‘The world has changed,’ he offered. ‘And with it the loyalties of those who dwell within it.’ He took a second mug and smiled his thanks. ‘I have more in common now with those who resisted throughout the Third Age than with those who perished in the First – and more in common with the Noldor Exiles who remained among us than with those who never left Aman.’ He watched the steam rise from the drink. ‘We must let go of meaningless resentments from the distant past and build here, in the now and for the ages to come.’
Oropher frowned. ‘It is not easy to change a lifetime’s way of thinking.’
‘This is a new life,’ Thranduil shrugged. ‘For all of us – and we must make the effort.’
His adar’s gleaming eyes fixed themselves on his son’s face. ‘You have grown into your responsibilities, my son,’ he said. ‘You have become a king.’
Eleniel looked from one to the other, chewing on her lip. This was not as easy in reality as in imagination, she thought. It would seem that returning to life among your kin could create as many problems as it solved.
‘I have,’ Thranduil acknowledged. ‘And I hope I am one of whom you can be proud.’
‘That,’ Oropher said, ‘goes without saying.’ He smiled tentatively. ‘I have not come to replace you, my son. Nor yet to cause you trouble – I will do my best to fit into your lives.’ He looked down, brushing one hand across the short grass. ‘While I am with you,’ he added.
‘Your home is with us,’ his son declared flatly.
Oropher shook his head. ‘I doubt it will be for long.’ He sounded slightly puzzled. ‘I think I have a different path ahead of me.’
‘I have endured your absence long enough! I have a right to have my family restored.’ Thranduil sounded pained.
‘I am here,’ Oropher pointed out. ‘As Celeborn’s adar-in-law is here – but I doubt his wife lives in Finarfin’s pocket.’
Eleniel looked up as Regdolin and Hithien arrived with plates of food, the anxious look on her face catching the attention of both daeradar and andaeradar.
Thranduil shrugged. ‘That is for the future,’ he said, resting a gentle hand on his granddaughter’s shoulder. ‘Now is now – and you are home.’
Elves Eleniel had never seen before emerged from the trees to see Oropher. Some were content to observe him from a distance. Others seemed to feel the need to come close enough to touch him, to ask his blessing, to remind him of other times in forests now beneath the restless sea, to speak of battles on sun-scorched plains. Once there, they followed horses whose pace had now reduced to a sedate walk. Thranduil’s guards spread out to try to hold the crowds at arms’ length, but there were not enough of them to keep the constant arrivals at bay.
They were saved, Eleniel thought, by the fact that the new arrivals were actually very polite. They held back once Oropher had smiled at them, or spoken, or rested his hand on a shoulder, content to watch.
‘This will not do.’ Thranduil smiled easily at their ever-increasing entourage, but his voice was concerned. He crooked a finger at Regdolin. ‘We cannot arrive home accompanied by several hundred elves – not without giving notice.’ He lifted an eyebrow at the guard. ‘Someone will have to ride ahead,’ he commanded, ‘and give warning that there will be many to feed over who knows how long – we will want to arrive to a festival.’ He sighed. ‘News of Oropher’s return had best be spread to those who have not yet heard of it – and riders sent out to Elrond and Celeborn. I will see to informing those east of the mountains once I have returned.’
‘My lord.’ Regdolin bowed briefly and looked over his available warriors. ‘I will not spare more than one – there are too many arriving each day and too few already to ensure your safety.’
His king looked impatient. ‘I am in no danger,’ he snapped, ‘here, among my own people.’
Regdolin hesitated. ‘Would you like to send Lady Eleniel ahead?’ he said carefully. He opened his mouth to offer the reasons behind his suggestion, but closed it again.
Averting his head to watch his granddaughter laughing with his adar, Thranduil shook his head. ‘She is better here.’ He met the warrior’s eyes. ‘Tell Lady Elerrina that her daughter is safe and happy – and at no risk.’
‘We are some eight days’ easy ride from home, my lord.’ Regdolin accepted the king’s decision without argument. ‘One elf riding hard should be back in four. When do you plan to arrive?’
‘We had best not make the pace too slow,’ Oropher’s son sighed. ‘More and more arrive each day. Yet, at the same time, my lady will need time to prepare.’ He tapped his fingers irritably on his knee. ‘We will arrive at sunset on the tenth day.’
‘As you command, my lord.’
‘And I will want those of my guard to be alert,’ Thranduil glanced at him. ‘It may be that not all will be exultant to see my adar’s return – and I would not wish to have the celebration interrupted.’
Regdolin bowed his head slightly and withdrew, sending one of the younger elves off at a deceptively easy pace. Thranduil smiled. Regdolin, he thought, was no fool – and he was old enough to remember their subdued return to Lasgalen as the Second Age poured itself out in the blood of elves.
‘Daeradar!’ Eleniel arrived beside him, flushed with excitement and gleaming with happiness. ‘Hithien says to let you know that another group of elves has arrived from the south – and that they have brought deer. She suggests that we stop soon, so that they can set up the roasting pits and prepare food for everyone.’
Thranduil sighed. ‘This is becoming a logistical nightmare,’ he sighed. ‘It never occurred to me that the joy of reunion with my adar could risk being turned to ashes by the effect it seems to be having on a group of elves I had always considered to be reserved.’ He raised a rueful eyebrow. ‘At least, when you are leading an army, you have had time to plan such matters as whence comes the food – and where you will halt.’
‘It is going better than I thought it might,’ Eleniel confided in him. ‘Andaeradar is bearing up quite well – he is looking a little dazed from time to time, but I think that might be as well. Having this many people come simply to stare at you must be more than a little intimidating.’
‘Stay by his side,’ her daeradar requested. ‘Talk to him of things that demand little of him in response – family, our home, your friends. He needs time to settle – and,’ Thranduil looked around him with a rather jaded expression, ‘he is not getting it. I am counting on you,’ he added, ‘to see that Adar has as easy a time as we can manage.’
Eleniel smiled and tucked her hand into her daeradar’s. ‘He looks a little like Adar.’
Thranduil smiled. ‘He does,’ he agreed. ‘I always thought so – but your adar is more like his naneth in character.’
‘She says he is like you,’ Eleniel observed.
‘Only on a bad day.’ Thranduil grinned impishly. ‘I suppose I had better go and welcome the newcomers while you prepare your andaeradar for another bout of smiling and greeting.’
Oropher settled on a branch that was a trifle sturdier than the one that supported his son’s granddaughter. He looked, she thought, tired and slightly transparent, as if the effort of maintaining himself one and whole was almost too much for him.
‘It will be easier,’ she said consolingly, ‘once we have reached home.’
‘Oh,’ he answered, ‘how might that be?’
‘We can shut the door.’ Eleniel looked at him in surprise. ‘And, if necessary, Daernaneth can smile at all those who have come to see you and send them home.’
Oropher laughed. ‘Your daernaneth can send them away, but your daeradar cannot?’
Eleniel shrugged. ‘I think it is to do with politics,’ she said. ‘Daeradar rules – but Daernaneth just is.’
‘A powerful summary of authority,’ Oropher commented. ‘You are an intelligent elleth for one so young.’ He closed his eyes and leaned back against the trunk, listening to the night’s delicate song. ‘I still prefer the dark hours,’ he murmured, enjoying the harmony of sound. ‘Although there are too many people here to listen properly.’ His thin hand caressed the rough strength of the bark. ‘They said I was rushing it,’ he admitted, more to himself than to Eleniel. ‘That I should take more time to gain control of the stray wisps of memory and emotion – that I would find it too much. But I refused to delay.’ He opened his eyes and fixed them on the elleth. ‘Cultivate patience, child,’ he instructed her. ‘You would think I would have learned by now – but I still rush in where cooler heads would wait.’
‘Too many people say I am sensible,’ Eleniel told him with clear distaste.
‘It is not a quality much admired by the young.’ Oropher watched her swing on her nest of branches. ‘But far too many people show far too little of it.’ He smiled. ‘And you have a foot in two worlds – much as your daeradar did. Part Noldor and part Wood Elf – where he was Sindar-born and grew to maturity in the Greenwood.’
Startled, Eleniel watched as Oropher drew up one long leg and wrapped an arm round his knee. ‘Did his naneth try to make him keep to the old ways?’ she asked. ‘As if he dwelt still in Doriath while Elu was king?’
‘It was her home,’ Oropher said simply. ‘And she did not want to let it pass from the world.’
A cool breeze stirred in the treetops and the scent of wood-smoke drifted on the air. ‘But Tirion is still there,’ Eleniel pointed out. ‘It will always be there.’
‘And always in your naneth’s heart.’ He rested his chin on his knee. ‘That does not mean that you should not be yourself – you are lucky, you are able to choose between the customs of two different peoples.’ He smiled. ‘And I daresay your parents are wise enough to let you learn to be the elf you are inside.’
His great granddaughter watched him as the blanket of night seemed to wrap itself around him and his expression relaxed to one of distant content.
‘Will Daeradar’s naneth come back?’ Eleniel asked.
‘I know not,’ Oropher hesitated before replying. ‘I hope so. I need her – as your daeradar needs your daernaneth. She is part of me that is missing still.’ He looked at her without moving his head. ‘But you cannot make people be what they are not – if she does not wish to return to these lands, then I must accept her choice.’
‘She will come,’ Eleniel decided. ‘She is just waiting to avoid the fanfare.’
‘Which would only prove again that she is far wiser than I am,’ Oropher said dryly.
‘It will be all right.’ Tired of discussion, Eleniel scrambled to where the lonely elf rested and squeezed onto the branch in front of him, turning so that she could wrap her arms round his waist. She rested her fair head on his shoulder, so that her hair tickled his chin.
Disconcerted, it was a moment or two before the simple warmth of her nearness ignited a matching flame within him. He clasped her to him automatically, her youthful certainty binding him to the reality of the forest night as his grasp on his own presence solidified.
‘I knew I needed to bring her,’ Thranduil said smugly as he sought his own branch. ‘For she has offered you what I cannot.’
Oropher continued to stroke the hair of the elleth sleeping peacefully in his protective hold. ‘And what might that be?’
‘Love uncomplicated by memory,’ his son told him. ‘An offer for the centuries to come.’
Aewlin stretched out in the silver-grey boat, leaning to dip her fingers in the ripples that disturbed the surface of the lake.
‘Be careful!’ Galenthil protested as the side dipped enough for a small amount of water to spill over the edge. ‘You will tip us over.’
‘I will do nothing of the sort,’ she declared. ‘Boats are supposed to move.’
‘Only not side to side,’ Elrin observed from the second small vessel. ‘And if Galenthil will forgive you for tipping him into the water, Nimloth will not.’
‘It is a hot afternoon,’ his cousin announced as if to disabuse him of any notion that he might be able to speak for her. ‘A swim sounds a delightful idea.’
‘They can all swim well,’ Eleniel sounded resigned. ‘And the pool is not that wide or deep – they are unlikely to come to any harm.’
‘No monsters in the water.’ Galenthil grinned at her. ‘Great green creatures with dozens of legs – surging up from the deep, dripping poison from a thousand rasping suckers and coming to get you.’
‘Andaernaneth can be just as scary, though.’ Elrin raised his eyebrows. ‘And she told us to be sensible.’
‘I have had enough of this. I am beginning to wonder why they bothered to bring us,’ Nimloth said pettishly. ‘All they seem to do is push us out of the way. Send us off somewhere to enjoy ourselves while they all talk.’
‘That is why they brought us,’ Galenthil told her. ‘They want us here to give them something else to think about and to stop them squabbling.’
Aewlin sniffed. ‘It is obviously not working,’ she said. ‘They appear painfully polite in front of us, but even Ellanthir can tell that it is all pretend. Half of what they are saying is little digs – and the rest is big jabs at each other.’
‘I think Daeradar would like to take them aside and give them a good scolding,’ Elrin grinned. ‘And I thought that Andaernaneth and Aran Thranduil did not get on.’
‘They are not terribly fond of each other,’ Aewlin observed. ‘A good way to get one of them to do what you want is to get the other to be forbidding about it.’
‘It can rebound on you, though.’ Her twin peered into the water. ‘If they realise what you are doing – and then they combine against you.’
‘I think Andaeradar will break first,’ Elrin considered. ‘Lord Oropher is being very – edged – in some of the things he is saying to Andaernaneth, and, as her husband, Andaeradar seems about to declare war!’
‘They would confine us to our rooms if we were behaving this badly,’ Galenthil observed. He grinned. ‘Although I do not see anyone being quite bold enough to do the same to them.’
‘Short of Lord Manwë coming down from Taniquetil,’ Eleniel agreed. ‘And, even then, I am not sure that he would make that much impression.’
Nimloth giggled. ‘They would be like elflings,’ she said. ‘Polite on the face of it, but kicking each other under the table.’
‘We are better out of the way,’ Eleniel remarked peaceably. ‘Especially since all the tension seems to be making Ellanthir and Celumíl cry all the time. Elrin’s naneth wanted us to bring Ellanthir with us this afternoon – until she learned we were going to be on the water. I think she felt that we would end up having to fish him out.’
‘Good!’ Nimloth said emphatically. ‘I am not saying that your brother is a nuisance, Elrin, but he certainly puts limits on what we can do!’
Her cousin grinned. ‘I am of the opinion that your naneth is very grateful that you behave so responsibly with Ellanthir around. She was a little concerned that you would simply forget about him when his presence suited you not.’
Aewlin sat up. ‘We would not dream of it!’ she exclaimed. ‘Honestly, do people think we have no sense?’
‘Ha! You are living down a reputation fairly earned,’ Elrin declared. ‘By the time you are several yeni, people might have forgotten how wild you were as elflings.’
‘On the other hand,’ Eleniel said, ‘how old are your adars? People still expect them to be in the middle of whatever mischief is going on.’
‘Unfairly.’ Nimloth raised her small nose haughtily.
‘If fairness – or sense – had anything to do with it, Lady Galadriel and Andaeradar would have dismissed their differences and be friends,’ Galenthil shrugged. ‘But we are witnesses to how far that is from the truth!’
‘There is nothing we can do about it,’ Elrin said. ‘We might as well spend the afternoon enjoying ourselves.’ He dipped his paddle in the water and angled his boat towards the shore. ‘Shall we eat the provisions we have brought? And then Galenthil and I will fish, while you ellyth do . . . ellyth things.’
‘Do not bother,’ Eleniel interceded quickly, before the twins could form sharp enough responses to their cousin’s insulting words. ‘I do not want to fish, if you do, and I can think of plenty of more entertaining ways to spend my time – so there is no point arguing with him.’
‘You can be a terrible spoilsport, ’Leniel,’ Elrin told her affectionately. ‘What is the world coming to, if I cannot spend an afternoon squabbling with my cousins!’
‘This is supposed to be the Blessed Realm,’ Eleniel smiled. ‘A place of peace and harmony.’
Nimloth snorted. ‘Tell that to our elders!’
Oropher, formerly King of the Greenwood, rested his head against the solidity of the large oak in which he was, he admitted to himself, hiding. He was being forced to see that, perhaps, the long process of meditation in Lorien’s gardens, while sitting endlessly talking over the nuances of – nothing in particular – with Estë’s grey-clad, solemn-eyed acolytes, had a purpose. And that there was a possibility that he had, as they had suggested gently before permitting him to have his way, rushed his return. He had been, as always, he sighed, too headstrong.
His drive had its advantages – there were times when decisive action was necessary if anything was to be achieved. But there were times when his impatience had led him to throw himself into situations from which it was then almost impossible to extract himself. Bad enough, he allowed, that he had to endure the results of his impetuous behaviour – but, far too often, he had been compelled to watch others suffer. You would think, he mused, that he would have learnt.
A sudden wave of helpless longing passed over him. He wanted his wife: he needed her. Her amused brush in his mind had restrained him so many times from acting on impulse and he had always known that, to her, he was more than a king, a survivor of Doriath, a lord, a commander – he was her heart, her love: to her he was a free-spirited ellon whose still centre was bound up in her. Where was the point in permitting him to return to the business of life in her absence? He had been foolishly certain that she was waiting for him expectantly among these trees. So certain that he had not paused to listen to the tiny whisper of doubt deep within him. And now . . . He closed his eyes and tried to listen to the clean song of the strong tree behind him and follow its motif in the counterpoint of the forest. And now he was here – and, deep within himself, he realised that he feared she would never come.
And he was being difficult, he conceded privately. It was as if, only in causing others to look at him with a courteously-suppressed desire to take him on the training field and beat the obnoxiousness out of him, could he feel himself. Although, Valar knew, it was not a self of whom he was proud. He grinned tightly. If he was not careful, his cousin Celeborn would be doing his best to send him back to Námo’s care before long. He was only surprised that the friend of his youth had managed to keep his temper this long. It suggested that, if nothing else, long ages of being bound to that hoity-toity daughter of the Noldor had taught him self-control.
He watched one squirrel chase another to leap from the oak into a neighbouring tree. He had yearned for his wife; his son. But even the short time he had spent here so far had confirmed one thing – this was not his home. The world had moved on without him and he could not expect to step back into a place as his son’s adar and his family’s head. Any more than could his own adar, he owned fairly. He would not endure the return of his parents from Doriath’s wreck to take his place. Much as he loved them, he had grown beyond offering the obedience of an elfling to the rule of his elders. And Thranduil’s realm was his own – he could not return after an age to take it from him.
The rhythm of the song changed as another joined him in the oak, but he chose to keep his eyes averted. He did not wish to talk.
Neither, it appeared, did his visitor. Silence extended between them, detaching him from the forest song.
She was out-waiting him. Oropher moved restively. She was out-waiting him understandingly. It was intolerable. It was outrageous. It was – he cast a quick glance in her direction – typical.
His visitor refrained from smiling. Her fingers were caressing the rough bark, but her eyes remained still; focused, it would seem, on the irregular patch of star-studded navy amid the green fringe of leaves. The forest noted her presence and shifted slightly to wind its harmonies around her.
Oropher noted the change and his lips twitched wryly. Was he deluding himself in thinking that either he or his son had ever had control of the land they thought they ruled? Was it, in fact, their wives who had held the forest in their hands – managing life, even as they left it to their husbands to deal out death?
She waited. Time was hers – and she had no need to make him speak before he was ready. Perhaps, he thought, perhaps, this was why he had left the earnest followers of Estë. Perhaps he needed more the – understanding of his equals. Perhaps only the open acceptance and forgiveness of those he had led to disaster would be enough to cleanse him of his errors. Perhaps only then would his beloved consent to return to him and let him start again in this new land. And perhaps not.
She waited. The starlight reflected in her hair and her gown of soft green flowed over the branch where she sat. Oropher tapped his fingers impatiently on his knee. He was not going to give in. If she had something to say, then he would just wait until she was ready to say it.
‘I was perfectly happy sitting here on my own,’ he said waspishly. ‘If you must join me, the least you could do would be to speak.’
‘Are you perfectly happy?’ she asked.
Ithil’s silver light had faded Elbereth’s stars before he spoke again.
‘No,’ he said. It was a relief to admit it. Return was not an end, but a beginning. The excitement of meeting those long lost tended to conceal it, but it was so.
‘No-one is,’ she said. ‘It would be a very unsatisfactory way to live. Elves need to strive for something that is just beyond their reach – and the joy of attaining it is only ever temporary.’ She turned to look at him. ‘And then a new objective must be sought.’ She paused, tilting her head consideringly. ‘But there is no hurry. You expect too much of yourself, my lord.’
‘Return is like – being an elfling again,’ she mused. ‘You are weighed down with the experiences of your life, but you do not know what to do with them. It can be hard to make sense of what people expect you to be. Be that elfling, Oropher. Give yourself the time to grow into the elf you keep inside.’
‘And you would know,’ he commented.
Laerwen smiled at him. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I would know.’
Galenthil’s fair hair mingled with Oropher’s as they lay motionless on the wide ledge. Beneath them, the birds circled effortlessly above the sun-warmed rock.
‘It is worth the climb,’ Galenthil murmured. He grinned at his andaeradar, his eyes gleaming with excitement. ‘Although we are not supposed to come here without our parents.’
‘I am old enough to count,’ Oropher declared.
‘We thought you might be.’ Galenthil squirmed slightly to get a clearer view. ‘Can you see the nest?’
‘Two chicks,’ Oropher said approvingly, ‘and they are both well grown.’
‘There is plenty of fish in the Great River,’ Galenthil told him. ‘They skim the water,’ he said, using his hand to imitate the movement, ‘and then they snag the fish in their talons.’ He mimed a backward slash. ‘They use the same tree on the cliff face each year – the nest just seems to get bigger and bigger!’
‘Look!’ Oropher rested a hand on his great-grandson’s wrist and they watched as one of the pair began its approach, holding their breath as it dived to pull a twitching silver fish from the water, its wings labouring as it worked its way back to the eager fledglings.
The returned elf pulled his eyes from the sight to study the ellon. Galenthil had only recently returned from his naneth’s parents – early and, as he had been told, much to their annoyance – and he felt that he did not, as yet, know his grandson’s son very well. He had reached the stage where many elflings had begun to take on the stretched appearance of one whose body was growing too rapidly for even elven grace to compensate, but this ellon seemed remarkably assured. And he knew his subject – he had revealed an unexpected depth of understanding that extended far beyond casual observation.
Oropher frowned. ‘Did you say ‘we’?’ he asked.
‘Eleniel,’ Galenthil said. ‘She said you were interested in raptors – and that you would probably like to come here.’ He grinned quickly before turning his attention back to the fledgling now ripping into the fish. ‘She said you would like to get away from them all for a while, too.’
‘She was right.’
‘She usually is,’ Galenthil agreed amiably. ‘She is very observant about such matters. Not at all like me.’ He paused. ‘She said she would tell Adar where we had gone – and that he would be able to get everyone to leave us alone.’
‘Can you last a day without food?’ Oropher teased.
‘She thought of that, too.’ Galenthil shook his head. ‘It is only lembas and watered wine – but there should be enough.’
‘I think we can do better than that.’ Oropher spoke confidently. ‘The eagles can spare us a fish or two – and there are ripe berries. We might even decide not to bother to return for the evening meal.’
‘If we stay away too long, they will send a search party after us,’ Galenthil warned. ‘And you may be old enough to avoid getting into trouble, but I am not.’
Oropher sighed. ‘Do not let them fool you into thinking that added years will stop ellyth making you pay for disregarding them,’ he advised. ‘And you are unlikely to be in much trouble while I am their target.’
The two exchanged grins. It was odd, Oropher thought. He could see himself in Galenthil’s face – but in his character he could see the single-mindedness of the wife whose absence he mourned – and the depth of the bond that tied her to the forest. It suddenly occurred to him that his return freed him to come to know his great-grandchildren – and his new granddaughter – in a way that duty had prevented him knowing his son and that it was too late to know his grandson. And that, after all, could only be a good thing.
‘I must thank you,’ Thranduil said wearily, ‘for allowing us to take refuge here from the – endless waves of elves coming to pay their respects to my adar. He has found it all to be rather too much.’
Celeborn smile wryly. ‘And you have not?’
His cousin shook his head as if to disperse a cloud of worrying flies such as used to hang around men, driving them to a frantic state of irritation. ‘It has been close to intolerable,’ he admitted. ‘I know not what I expected should Oropher emerge from Námo’s Halls – but I had no intimation that it would involve the logistics of providing food and sleeping space for hundreds of – of sight-seers! We could not remain in Taurevron any longer – Adar was becoming almost transparent with the exertion of receiving them all graciously. Laerwen felt that he might give up the effort of remaining with us if we stayed.’
‘So you brought him to my lady?’ Celeborn raised a cynical eyebrow. ‘Some would think that might make matters worse.’ He made a point of storing Thranduil’s rather sheepish look where he could take it out and enjoy it later.
‘Come, my friend,’ Thranduil said, ‘I have never denied your lady’s power. Or,’ he added more reluctantly, ‘her compassion.’
Celeborn said nothing.
‘And Adar is grateful, I am sure.’
‘That,’ his cousin commented, ‘I doubt.’ He picked up a small stone and dropped it into the pool before them, watching the ripples spread out. ‘He is being – rather confrontational.’
A hint of colour stained Thranduil’s cheeks. It was a trifle embarrassing to listen to his adar’s frequently expressed doubts about the background, character and motives of Celeborn’s wife. The more embarrassing, really, because he had himself indulged in similar debate over many centuries.
‘But,’ Celeborn continued, ‘my lady seems to feel that is a good thing.’ He glanced at his cousin. ‘She feels he needs a target – and she is prepared to offer that.’
‘I cannot begin to express my gratitude.’ Thranduil spoke with deep sincerity.
Celeborn waved a hand. ‘It does not need expressing,’ he said politely.
The message was obvious. ‘But it is there,’ Oropher’s son told him. ‘And my debt to her will remain.’
‘We wish our home to be a refuge,’ Celeborn said. ‘For all who need a place where they can feel safe – and Galadriel is sure she can veil Oropher’s presence as long as he needs privacy. I think,’ he smiled, ‘that there are many who are aware that he is here, but they are unlikely to approach while my lady holds them at bay. It cannot last too long – there are elves who will be convinced that she is keeping your adar against his will, elves whose distrust of her will never be overcome.’
‘Laerwen is of the opinion that we should return to our normal life shortly,’ Thranduil told him. ‘Leaving Adar to learn to feel at home here, as far west as any dwell, before he comes back to us.’
Celeborn inclined his head thoughtfully and dropped several pebbles simultaneously, seeing the ripples push against each other. ‘It seems a wise move.’ He hesitated. ‘You will leave Legolas here?’
‘With Elerrina and their twins – if they agree. Adar needs family, but at the same time he needs the pressure to be removed.’
‘And it will calm any suggestion that we are taking advantage of Oropher’s recent return,’ Celeborn commented.
A flash of temper sparked in Thranduil’s eyes. ‘This is not the moment for politics!’ he snapped.
‘Do not be naïve, my friend.’ Celeborn turned to face his cousin head on. ‘There are those around us who will see politics in everything we do. We would be foolish not to protect ourselves from accusations of the abuse of power.’
Thranduil lapsed into brooding silence. ‘It is not as I thought it would be,’ he admitted finally. ‘It should be such a golden time – and it has turned sour.’
‘You expect too much too soon,’ Celeborn said softly. ‘This is a jewel on the thread of your life – but it is only a single pearl of the strand – it is what you both make of your reunion that will make a difference.’
‘I am still angry with him,’ Thranduil’s words were barely audible, even to elven hearing. ‘I had not realised how much I resented having been left to return to the Greenwood without him to rebuild the ruin left by Dagorlad.’
Celeborn’s hand rested on his younger cousin’s shoulder. ‘But you know now – and you can release it if you wish.’ He sighed. ‘We are old enough to know that we cannot change the past and must learn to live with our mistakes, or we will corrupt the future with long shadows.’
Nimloth had kilted up her skirts so that her long bare legs were unhindered by the flowing fabric. ‘I am so tired of dressing like a lady,’ she said with disgust. ‘Everything about ellyth’s clothing seems designed to get in the way!’
‘It is certainly much more difficult to climb properly,’ Eleniel agreed. Her green-stained feet stepped with assurance from one mossy bough to the next. ‘But Naneth seems to think I am too old to want to scramble around in trees, anyway.’
‘And it is because we are at Andaernaneth’s,’ Aewlin pointed out. ‘Your naneth seems to be able to bear seeing you wear a tunic and leggings in the woods when we are visiting you.’ She tightened the knot that looped her skirt round her belt. ‘But just because Andaernaneth always looks perfect, your naneth seems to think we should, too.’
‘Lady Galadriel looks perfect because she is Lady Galadriel,’ Eleniel remarked. ‘When I am as old as she is, I might be able to do it as well.’
‘Good point,’ Nimloth agreed. ‘Perhaps I will say that to Naneth next time she tuts at me about the tears in my dresses.’
‘She told you would be mending your own clothes from now on,’ Aewlin reminded her twin.
‘And that is another thing!’ Nimloth protested. ‘Elrin comes in with mud all over his clothes and rips in his tunics – and nobody makes him mend them or waste time laundering them! It is just not fair.’
A ripple of warm laughter shivered the leaves around them. The three ellyth paused.
‘Come on up,’ Lady Galadriel invited them.
‘We did not realise that this was your tree,’ Aewlin said apologetically.
‘It is its own tree,’ her andaernaneth said, her low voice carrying without any apparent effort. ‘I like to rest here from time to time – but I visit other parts of the wood, too.’
She leant on one elbow to look down at them and smiled. They were so different. Legolas’s daughter appeared neat and reserved, but she was, despite her naneth, clearly a Wood Elf, as at home – and as welcome – in the trees as her adar was. Aewlin, on the other hand, liked to be in control of her environment. The forest welcomed her, but she sought to understand the world round her and bend it to suit herself. Nimloth – her andaernaneth’s smile grew – charged headlong into whatever challenge faced her. She would fall many times, but she would get up and push on regardless to achieve her aim.
‘You remind me – to an extent – of an elleth with four older brothers,’ she said, ‘who also thought it to be intensely unfair that they should be able to escape the household tasks that were set out to ensnare her.’
‘Did Lady Eärwen make you sew?’ Nimloth asked.
‘I fear so.’ Galadriel’s eyes sparkled. ‘And, more than once, I was condemned to scrubbing the mud from my gowns – while my brothers escaped with barely a reprimand.’ She smiled. ‘I determined that I would grow up to be a great queen, when I would do whatever I wanted – and that would never, ever include the tasks that ellyn escaped.’
Nimloth jumped easily up to the branch where Galadriel rested and settled into a nest of branches that intertwined beneath her. ‘And did you?’
‘I grew up,’ Galadriel teased, ‘and found, in the end, that I would rather be your andaeradar’s wife than a great queen – and discovered that I still had to use the skills my naneth had forced me to learn.’
‘That seems unfair,’ Aewlin complained, settling on a bough just above her.
‘But someone has to look after household matters,’ Eleniel remarked. ‘And I would rather do it well than do it grudgingly. After all, it is all about looking after people you love.’
‘It took me a long time to learn that,’ Galadriel said. ‘I spent far too many centuries looking down on the simple pleasures of life – and I believe I did not truly accept it until after Celebrían was born. You are a wise elleth, Eleniel.’ She contemplated the young face and smiled her secret smile. ‘But do not let such duties feel like confinement to a limited role – there is more to you than an elleth born to care for those around her. Learn what you will – whether that be in the forests of Taurevron or the libraries of Tirion, at Estë’s feet or on the white beaches of Alqualondë. You are surrounded by those who love you and want what it best for you – but your decisions are your own and your future is yours to mould.’
Aewlin turned her silver eyes on her friend and opened them wide, as if allowing herself to use the other sight that sometimes came upon her. Her head tilted consideringly, but her gaze remained fixed until she suddenly broke contact and leaned down to look at her andaernaneth. ‘What about us?’ she asked.
Galadriel laughed. ‘You will both ride rough-shod over anyone who gets in your way,’ she said affectionately, ‘until you learn that others are also entitled to their opinions – when you will truly begin to learn. I need no mirror to know that.’
‘We are getting better,’ Nimloth announced. ‘At least that is what Adar says.’
‘You are – and you will grow up soon enough,’ Galadriel smiled. ‘Better to learn slowly and learn well. Your adar and naneth will have many centuries to be proud of the ellyth you will become.’
‘What are you doing here?’
Oropher crouched down to put himself more on a level with the elfling who was slapping his hands in the puddle and laughing as the drops of water splashed up to gleam in the fresh sunlight.
‘Look!’ the little one demanded and sent up a spray energetically enough to wet Oropher’s tunic.
‘Who let you out to wander on your own, I wonder,’ he said conversationally. ‘There will undoubtedly be trouble.’ He dipped one finger in the water and flicked a drop for the child to watch. ‘Whoever named you for a waterfall showed some foresight, little one. Water seems to have a definite attraction for you.’
Running footsteps stopped behind him. ‘Oh, you found him!’ Galenthil’s voice was clearly relieved.
‘Were you in charge of this mud monster?’
‘No, I am glad to say. He was left with Adar,’ Elrin told him seriously. ‘But he was distracted – and you would not believe how quickly Ellanthir can move if he wants to.’ He bent to pick up his brother.
‘I will take him,’ Oropher offered, ‘if he makes no objection – he has already made me wet enough.’
The doubtfully assessing glance the ellon threw him was more than a little amusing. Clearly Elrin was not convinced of his capabilities when it came to caring for the young. Well – it was hardly surprising. How long had it been since he had held an ellon this age in his arms? How old was his son now? And yet, he had not forgotten, had he?
Oropher clasped his hands round the child’s middle and lifted.
And then almost dropped the elfling when the moment of frozen amazement degenerated into wild kicking accompanied by a scream so loud as to be actively painful. Oropher tightened his grip. Dropping the child would clearly not help him win the trust of Elrond’s grandson.
‘Here!’ Galenthil lifted something from the water and placed it in the elfling’s hand. Ellanthir clutched the wooden horse and raised it swiftly to his face, inserting the head in his mouth and beginning a distressingly loud sucking.
Involuntarily, Elrin laughed at Oropher’s face of horrified disgust. ‘Are you sure you would not prefer me to take him?’ he asked. ‘He is rather messy. And he does not know you very well,’ he added tactfully. ‘Babies can be rather difficult with strangers.’
Oropher did not resist when the tall ellon detached Ellanthir from his grasp and held him to his shoulder, neatly removing the toy from his mouth as he did so. ‘You are not to eat poor Draug,’ he said firmly.
‘Wolf?’ Oropher asked in bewilderment. ‘I thought it was a horse.’
Galenthil chortled. ‘It is,’ he said. ‘But Ellanthir called everything ‘wolf’ when he was given the toy. And now it is a joke. Adar says it will make Ellanthir cringe when he is old enough to understand.’
‘Like the tale of Galenthil and the rabbit droppings,’ Elrin mentioned airily.
Oropher grinned as his great grandson flushed.
‘That is not funny,’ the ellon said with dignity.
‘I remember an incident with your daeradar,’ Oropher reminisced. ‘When he crawled under Queen Melian’s table and was found sucking on her rope of pearls. He screamed like Ellanthir here when his naneth tried to take away his sweets – and Melian let him keep them until we were able to find him something else to put in his mouth instead.’ His eyes twinkled. ‘Elu always referred to my son as ‘little oyster’ after that.’
The two ellyn gazed at him wide-eyed. Not only had figures from history suddenly come to life, but Galenthil’s rather intimidating daeradar had once been no older or wiser than Ellanthir.
‘Only do not let him know that I told you this,’ Oropher’s lips twitched. ‘I doubt he would wish to be reminded of that particular part of his past.’
Galenthil grinned wickedly. ‘We would not dream of it, Andaeradar.’
Eleniel tucked her hand into Oropher’s and pulled him on, eager to reach a spot where the water tumbled down from the ridge on its way to the wide river. ‘Galenthil prefers the creatures,’ she confided, ‘but I love the song of the waters.’
For a brief moment, her andaeradar offered thanks that this elfling was born to the lands west of the sea. He could not have borne to lose her to the song of the ocean; burning in the pulse that beat through her blood.
She paused for a moment, so that her gown settled round her, and looked up at him, her eyes dreamy. ‘It speaks of journeys untaken,’ she said, ‘and places unseen.’
Oropher held her hand tightly. ‘Is the forest not enough for you?’ he asked.
She smiled. ‘And the wind in the trees whispers of lands beyond the horizon,’ she told him.
‘Not yet,’ he said. ‘You have too much to learn before you fly, my little bird.’
‘I do not wish to fly, Andaeradar.’
‘Not yet,’ he agreed. ‘Like Galenthil’s eaglets, you have yet to fledge.’ He rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand. If only it was always as easy as it was with his grandson’s children.
He was not good, he knew at the kind of serenity that was so much a part of his son’s wife, the tranquillity that drew everyone to her – and he was far too inclined to take anything as a challenge: to his race, to his masculinity, to his skill, to his kingship – to the weather, if he felt like it. He would be better, he thought, away from all these elves of influence and determination – they roused his hackles, like a dog seeking to protect his bone. Perhaps – if he could only persuade his son to agree – what he needed was to pack a few things and go off into the forest for a while. Although, he smiled, he would make a mighty poor hermit.
Eleniel led him confidently along a narrow path before turning between two overlapping rocks to pick her way carefully from stone to stone down a steep and winding trail that she clearly knew well. She turned and beamed at him before jumping down, waving for him to follow.
It left him speechless. In the cool green beneath the soaring trees that overhung the hidden glade, water trickled from wide slabs of slate-blue rock, showering little ferns with trembling drops. Vines hung like ropes above the pool and the gaps between the moss-covered rocks invited inspection. It was so different from the world above, a hidden jewel that seemed leagues away from the everyday world of the forest.
Oropher sat on the damp slab and absorbed the sight until a soft sigh disturbed him.
‘I suppose you think you are being clever,’ Lady Galadriel said disapprovingly.
Without thinking, Oropher bristled.
The Lady stepped out from behind a spray of falling water, her own great-granddaughters held firmly in each hand. ‘Whatever makes you think yourselves wise enough to intervene?’ she asked them.
‘No-one can be angry here,’ Eleniel said pleadingly. ‘It is too peaceful.’
‘It is our special place,’ Aewlin announced. ‘We do not bring just anyone here.’
‘It is special,’ Oropher agreed mildly. ‘And, if you will excuse me, my lady, I find that I have no desire to engage in dispute with you today.’
Galadriel’s eyes narrowed. Oropher’s words placed the onus on her – either to appear argumentative or to concede. Either way, he would win. A tiny lift of her shoulder was the only indication she gave that she had no intention of indulging in debate. She swept past him to settle on an ancient lichen-covered fallen tree trunk, the end of which dipped in the rippling stream.
A cautious silence among the elves was filled by the constant laughter of bubbling water and a shaft of light sliced down through the canopy to sparkle on the water.
He would bet, Oropher thought wryly, that she would get up from that log without a trace of green to mar her gown. There was something about his cousin’s wife that brought out the elfling in him. He wanted to pull her perfect hair, and smear mud on her flawless garb. Doubtless, had he known her at a time when they were both young and heedless, he would have been in endless trouble for putting frogs in her bed and slipping grasshoppers under her petticoats – just to hear her squeal.
The ellyth were busy at something. Clearly they had planned this with some care. He felt the edge of his irritation softening – he should feel ashamed, really, that their antipathy was so obvious that elflings would want to intervene to improve the atmosphere.
Nimloth turned towards him, a tall glass in her hands, and carried it carefully across the lush grass to present it to him, just as her sister delivered a similar vessel to her andaernaneth.
A ghost of a smile hovered over Galadriel’s lips. ‘I hope you have not helped yourselves to this without permission,’ she said, taking a sip.
‘We are not completely stupid.’ Aewlin tossed her head. ‘Adar would kill us.’
‘A slight exaggeration, I think.’
‘But only slight,’ Aewlin said. ‘We would not be trusted out of sight again until we reached our majority!’
Oropher took a tentative mouthful. It might look like water, but he was under the impression that a careless gulp might produce a surprise result. The rich fluid burnt as it made its way down his throat – liquid sunshine, flavoured with honey and herbs. He raised an eyebrow. ‘It is rarely poured in such quantity,’ he said appreciatively.
‘For a reason.’ Galadriel kept her tone light. Eleniel offered her a confection of nuts and dried fruits cooked into a crisp biscuit. The Lady selected a small piece and snapped off a corner to taste it. ‘Delicious,’ she commented. ‘Did you bake it yourself?’
‘Eleniel’s naneth taught us how to make it,’ Nimloth remarked. ‘And Adar said we could have a flask of that stuff, provided we promised we would not take as much as a sip.’ She sounded faintly regretful.
‘We have other things, too.’ Aewlin looked from one adult to the other. ‘We are sorry if you are angry,’ she said, ‘but it seemed a good idea to bring you here away from all the – busyness and people looking.’
‘I am not angry, child,’ Oropher smiled. ‘It is generous of you to invite me here – and provide such a delightful picnic.’ His grin seemed a little more strained as he aimed it at Galadriel. ‘Although I am not sure I will be walking out of here if I drink all this.’ He raised his goblet at the Lady. ‘I have grown unaccustomed to such quantities of mead.’
She laughed. ‘I remember your pouring a rather large amount into my lord shortly before we wed,’ she said.
‘He did not fight me off,’ Oropher retaliated. ‘And I owed him the bad head – he did a similar thing to me before my bonding. My wife was most annoyed.’
Galadriel lifted up her feet to place them on a convenient snag and put her plate on the lap formed. Her feet were bare, Oropher noted with surprise; bare and grass-stained. It seemed incongruous in one who gleamed with polished perfection – almost as if there was something beneath the surface that did not quite tally with the superficial image she presented.
‘It is a wife’s duty to ensure that such errors are not forgotten,’ she said, straight-faced.
‘I miss her.’ Oropher covered his surprise at hearing his own words by taking a gulp of the heady drink. ‘I never expected to return to find myself in a world without her.’
‘It is hard,’ she said, ‘to wait and yearn – and not to know. A lesson, I think, set for learning.’ She watched the ellyth choose something else from their collection of food. Eleniel arranged it with care before passing the plates to her friends to deliver. ‘One that some find harder than others.’
‘Celeborn took his time about sailing.’ Oropher took another sip.
‘I feared he might never come,’ Galadriel admitted. ‘He had no wish to seek these shores.’
‘I dread the same,’ he said honestly. ‘My lady was bound by love to the land of her birth – why should she leave it, even in death?’
‘For love,’ she answered promptly. ‘Because, in the end, your need of her is greater.’
Oropher leaned back against the rock wall. ‘You are well-matched,’ he admitted, ‘you and my cousin. I refused to see it – and read all sorts of things into your relationship – but I was wrong.’
She softened, he noted incredulously. Softened visibly. Was that really all that it took to end several ages of aggravation?
‘Your doubts were understandable,’ she conceded.
Eleniel exchanged a wary glance with Aewlin. It would be better, she suspected, if they stopped here, before either Galadriel or Oropher said something that they would later regret. The trouble was, she could not think of a way to intervene that would not break the mood of reconciliation.
Nimloth, on the other hand, did not bother with subtlety. ‘If you have decided not to argue,’ she said, ‘will you tell us stories about the old days? In Doriath, when Elu was king?’
A snort of laughter escaped from Oropher. ‘There are moments, my dear,’ he said, ‘when you seem more my descendant than the Lady’s.’ He raised his glass towards Galadriel. ‘I feel sure we can indulge your curiosity.’
She grinned. She definitely grinned, he marvelled. ‘I find the – straightforwardness –Nimloth has inherited from Celeborn’s line to be most refreshing. It reminds me of the first time I met him.’ She tilted her head to look down her nose at Oropher. ‘I believe you were with him at the time.’
Oropher returned the grin. ‘Oh yes. I am certain our great grandchildren would like to hear that story.’
The ellyth settled on the soft grass and looked at them expectantly. ‘Tell us all about it,’ Eleniel invited them. ‘It sounds fascinating.’
‘Of course,’ Galenthil said, ‘now they have decided to behave as if they are friends, it is even worse.’
Elrin lay back and watched the clouds drifting across the patch of sky. ‘How have you worked that out?’ he asked.
Eleniel took over, as sometimes happened with the twins. ‘Everybody is waiting for the eruption. Like a fire mountain. It seems harmless for yeni, but in the end. . .’ She mimed an explosion. ‘The mountains that bleed a little fire all the time are less dangerous, because they do not build up so much pressure.’ She looked at Elrin. ‘Or so I have read,’ she added.
With an airy wave of her hand, Aewlin dismissed the theory. ‘They have been looking for a way of stopping,’ she declared. ‘Andaernaneth was not prepared to concede – and Lord Oropher likes to win, too. But they will be all right now.’
‘For a while,’ Nimloth finished.
Galenthil pushed his fair hair back from his face. ‘It all seems rather silly to me.’ He brooded for a moment. ‘It is like Andatar – he is really good fun when Adar is not there. He knows a lot and he is really kind – but put him and Adar together and . . .’ He shrugged his shoulders. ‘Andamil tries to keep the peace between them, but I have seen her in tears because of they way they behave. And Naneth hates the way they speak to each other.’
‘Perhaps we should do something about it,’ Aewlin said thoughtfully.
‘Do not get over-confident, cousin,’ Elrin told her dryly. ‘One small success does not make you the Valar’s gift to diplomacy. You are not up to this challenge.’
‘Yet!’ she said defiantly, and then broke into giggles.
Eleniel smiled. ‘You cannot deny that it is funny,’ she remarked, ‘that, with all these elves of power and authority around us – it was Aewlin and Nimloth who came up with the idea that made Lady Galadriel and Andaeradar speak to each other as if they were almost friends. Lord Elrond, Lady Celebrían, Daeradar, Daernaneth, Lord Celeborn, Adar, Naneth, your adars and naneths – all of them treading on eggshells and treating them both like bears with toothache – and Aewlin and Nimloth sit them down together over enormous glasses of that special mead and have them laughing over things they did in the First Age.’
‘Aewlin, Nimloth and you, my dear Eleniel,’ Elrin pronounced paternally. ‘I am proud of you all.’
‘I think,’ said Aewlin, ‘I think that you need dunking in the lake, my dear cousin, before you become any more patronising!’
‘But first,’ Elrin grinned, leaning over and giving her a push, ‘you have to catch me.’
The elflings erupted like Eleniel’s fire mountain and took to the trees as the younger ones chased Elrin through the canopy, calling breathlessly to each other as they cornered him where the trees ran out at the edge of the water.
‘I yield,’ he declared. ‘Cry friends.’
Galenthil sprawled on the branch and enjoyed the sensation of it swaying under him. ‘Now,’ he said, ‘would that not be a simple way of ridding people of all their frustrations and getting them to agree!’
Eleniel started to giggle as the picture played in her mind. ‘Can you just imagine . . ?’ she gasped. ‘Lady Galadriel and Andaeradar?’
Nimloth broke first, rapidly followed by her twin and Galenthil. Elrin briefly managed to keep a straight face until he, too, began to chortle helplessly, and before many moments had passed, the sound of joyous laughter echoed among the trees.
Elflings 13: A Baker’s Dozen
The ellon leaned one shoulder on the sun-warmed rock and looked down his nose at the elflings sporting in the water. He crossed one booted foot over the other and admired the embroidery on his purple tunic. If the ellyn playing like little ones were not impressed by what they saw, then it just went to prove that they really were the rustics his friends would have called them.
‘He was not like this last time he came,’ an ellon murmured in Galenthil’s ear.
‘He was not like this when I stayed with his parents, Lúglas,’ Galenthil replied, looking doubtfully at his cousin. ‘He was perfectly normal then.’
A light-brown head popped up and Tologion shook the water from his hair, spraying his friends with cheerful indifference. ‘Perhaps we should send him off with the ellyth. My sister has been making eyes at him.’ He grinned and batted his eyelashes mockingly. ‘She says he is ‘so handsome’ and that all her friends think he is so much more interesting than we boring Wood elves. Of course, she is quite mad. She even thinks that Galenthil is quite sweet.’
Galenthil snorted, then ducked under the water when his cousin looked in his direction. ‘Do not let her hear you say that!’ he said as he re-emerged. ‘She will have you for breakfast.’
‘We are not admiring him enough,’ Lúglas shrugged. ‘Watch. In a moment he will rearrange himself – and then, if we continue to ignore him, he will go off in a huff.’
‘It is not really fair to leave him out.’ A sympathetic qualm made Galenthil wonder if he had been trying hard enough to entertain the outsider. After all, Súrion had gone out of his way to include him in his activities – and to make sure that he did not feel isolated in Tirion.
‘Perhaps Eleniel will look after him,’ Tologion suggested. ‘She is pretty good at seeing you do not get into trouble.’
‘Súrion!’ Galenthil called. ‘Why do you not swim with us? It is far too hot to be hanging around in the sun.’
For a brief moment, the Noldo considered the invitation. Then the elfling behind his cousin pulled a face and his own pride reared up. ‘I think not,’ he said haughtily. ‘I can think of better things to do than play in a puddle in the woods.’ He did not wait to see Galenthil flush with irritation, but pushed himself away from the wall and stalked off. This was so unfair. His parents were always interfering with what he wanted to do – but making him come here for goodness only knew how long was the worst thing they had ever done.
‘That did not go too well,’ Tologion said cheerfully.
Galenthil sighed. ‘I will have to go after him,’ he said. ‘Naneth will be cross if she finds out we let him go off on his own.’
‘We are too young for him to find entertaining,’ Lúglas shrugged. ‘And, for all he thinks he is so wonderful, he cannot do half the things we do here. Perhaps when Elrin comes he will be happier – although Elrin is younger than he is, too.’
Placing his hands on the broad rock bordering the pool, Galenthil lifted himself easily from the water and shook himself. ‘He is my cousin,’ he said with resignation, grabbing the cloth to dry himself. ‘I will have to see if I can find something he wants to do. You stay here and enjoy the water – I will see you later.’
‘Once he has your attention, you will not get away,’ Tologion declared. ‘He will spend the rest of the day telling you how marvellous life is in Tirion. You see if I am right! We will see you tomorrow at training.’
Just out of sight, Súrion kicked a loose pebble, sending it into a patch of bushes. He was fed up with being stuck with these … these babies, while his parents watched him hopefully as if being here would make him forget that they had dragged him away from home against his will.
The warm breeze stirred the air in the stable and loose hair floated free as Calion brushed the gelding to gleaming perfection. ‘I know you are warm,’ he comforted the chestnut, ‘but you will feel better for the grooming – and then you can go to the meadow and rest with your friends.’ His hands continued to work competently as he talked and the horse flicked his ears in acknowledgement of the steady voice.
A shadow darkened the doorway briefly and the Noldo who had made his home in the forest glanced briefly at the youth who had come in. He frowned, but paid the ellon no apparent attention. The youngster was clearly unhappy, he noted, but unhappy in a way that reminded him far too distinctly of the lad he had been at the same age.
Calion sighed. Tirion was not really the best place to grow to adulthood – unless you had a purpose, he supposed. The expression he saw on Súrion’s face was not one that was typical of those who undertook apprenticeships or studied under the lore-masters, but one that spoke of too much time spent doing too little.
‘Can you pass me the comb?’ he asked.
There was a brief pause, as if Súrion was considering whether to pretend he was not there, then a slender hand proffered the required tool.
‘Thank you.’ Calion used the comb to clean out the brush, gathering the shed hair into a soft ball and dropping it out of the way of his horse’s hooves. ‘It always manages to surprise me just how much a simple grooming can gather.’ He patted the animal on the neck affectionately. ‘No rolling,’ he commanded. ‘Not for a while anyway – you would not want me to feel that my efforts had been wasted.’ The gelding ignored him while lipping at his tunic in search of his expected reward. ‘There is a carrot over there on the barrel, Súrion. Break it in half and then you can offer him a treat as well.’
Calion almost felt the ellon debating with himself whether to turn up his nose at the suggestion, but he refused to turn his head and reveal any interest in Súrion’s decision.
‘How do you bear it here?’ a subdued voice asked as a flat hand held out a chunk of vegetable for the gelding.
‘I like it,’ Calion said apologetically. ‘I like the space and the freedom – and the belief that everyone’s efforts are of equal value.’ He spared the ellon a glance. ‘Mostly, people here work together for the benefit of the community. Watch them and you will see.’
Súrion sighed as if another tedious duty had been pressed on his shoulders.
‘And then there is Hithien, of course.’ Calion grinned. ‘She would not appreciate being asked to fill the role of a lady at the High King’s court – and it is my object to see that she is happy.’
‘I am almost adult,’ Súrion said. ‘And it seems everybody’s ambition to keep me as a child.’ He ran gentle fingers over the chestnut’s velvet nose. ‘And then, if I behave childishly, my parents keep on at me that I am too old to be so foolish.’
‘That is one of the reasons why it can be a good idea, at your age, to spend a time away from home,’ Calion suggested. ‘Many Noldor place their sons with distant kin for a few years – to learn a skill or simply give them a chance to grow. It gives both sides a break.’
‘I think Atar hopes I will want to stay here,’ Súrion said moodily.
‘Then I am not surprised that you are fighting against it.’
Súrion opened his eyes wide.
‘Give it a chance,’ Calion shrugged. ‘There are all sorts of opportunities here – you are bound to enjoy some of them.’ He grinned. ‘And if your parents want you to enjoy it here, they can hardly complain if you try them all.’ With a brisk pat on the chestnut’s shoulder, the elf stood back. ‘Off you go, then,’ he told the gelding.
The horse lingered briefly as if to let them know that he would make his own decisions and then stepped through the door and took a few bites from the grass before following a clear path between the trees.
‘You let him go on his own?’ Súrion said incredulously. ‘Just like that?’
‘Oh yes.’ Calion turned towards the young elf and looked him full in the face for the first time. He grinned. ‘You are in Taurevron now, Súrion. All sorts of things are possible.’
‘There you are!’
Galenthil sounded relieved, Súrion thought resentfully, almost as if he expected him to have done something stupid while he was not being watched.
His younger cousin appeared not to notice his irritation, though. ‘Would you like to go fishing?’ Galenthil asked hopefully. ‘Or I could ask Hithien if she would supervise us at the butts, if you like. Or we could watch the otters. I do not think they will be very active at the moment – it is the wrong time of day – but we might see the pups.’
Súrion sighed. ‘What can we do without being watched?’ he asked in a voice that exuded long-suffering.
‘Most things.’ Galenthil sounded surprised. ‘Just not things with weapons. Adar says it is for our own safety.’
‘I bet he was carrying weapons when he was my age,’ his cousin declared resentfully.
‘A bow,’ Galenthil conceded, ‘if he was hunting with Daeradar, but not blades. Not without the novice masters’ presence. And he was not permitted to wander far from the Stronghold. It was too dangerous.’
For some moments, Súrion remained resentfully silent, and then he sighed. ‘Do you not ever wish you lived in those days?’ he asked. ‘It sounds much more exciting.’
The younger ellon looked doubtful. ‘Daernaneth was slain by orcs when Adar was little older than Ellanthir,’ he said. ‘And the forest was full of dangerous creatures like spiders that were quite happy to feed on elves. It does not sound too wonderful to me.’
Súrion sighed again. What prospect was there of adventure for ellyn like him, born in the safety of the Blessed Realm? Was it any wonder that he and others like him searched for excitement? For a challenge?
‘Fishing is boring,’ he declared. ‘Sitting in a tree watching animals is even more boring. Playing with elflings is boring. Is there nothing exciting that we could do – something that will get the blood pumping?’
Galenthil’s eyes narrowed. If his cousin wanted something to make his pulse race, then he could think of a thing or two. Of course, if Súrion got hurt it would mean trouble – but surely if yokels could manage without more than a few scrapes, then Tirion’s finest son would get away with no more than bruises. ‘Well …’ he drawled with apparent reluctance. ‘I do not know what you would think about …’ He let his voice trail away and inspected Súrion’s clothes. ‘You would get too dirty,’ he decided. ‘It would have been good fun, but …’
For the first time since he had arrived in the forest a spark of interest brightened Súrion’s face. ‘I cannot know what I think about it unless you tell me,’ he pointed out. ‘And I daresay I could find something suitable to wear.’ He smoothed the sleeve of his tunic admiringly. ‘I would not want to risk this getting ruined. It cost a fortune,’ he confided, ‘and Amil was furious that I had wasted my money on it.’ He grinned. ‘But what she did not know was that I won the coin in a bet. Just as well I won, too – I would have had a hard job paying off the debt had I lost … but I knew it was a sure thing. Only Amil would be sure to harp on about the dangers of gambling, and the bad company I keep.’ He looked up defiantly. ‘So you had better not tell her.’
Galenthil stared at his cousin, but closed his mouth without saying anything. It was one thing to risk a few nuts or jacks or pay a forfeit or two on a game of chance – even his naneth would do that when they played on a dark winter’s evening – but to gamble with money you did not have … Well, it was no wonder that Súrion’s amil was looking at him in that anxious way parents had when they were aware that whatever they said would only make things worse.
‘Everyone does it,’ Súrion declared. ‘You are just too young to understand.’ He looked disparagingly round at the trees. ‘And living here, you are not likely to learn better, either.’
His jaw tightening, Galenthil made up his mind. ‘I do not know if you would be able to manage,’ he said doubtfully, watching Súrion bristle at the suggestion that there was anything the Wood-elves could do that he could not. ‘It is quite difficult – and you do not have much experience …’ He let his cousin reflect for a moment before continuing, ‘but then, you are from Tirion.’ He needed to be careful, Galenthil thought, or even Súrion would realise that he was laying the flattery on rather too thickly.
The adolescent’s chest swelled. ‘I can do anything you can,’ he insisted. ‘To listen to some of the Silvan, anyone would think that the Noldor were useless!’
‘Well – if you are sure …’ Galenthil concealed a grin. ‘You go and change into something that does not matter – and I will get Tologion and Daedelu. We will meet you behind the stables as soon as you can get away.’
‘Do we need them?’ Súrion said disdainfully. ‘They will just get in the way.’
‘Oh yes,’ his cousin told him earnestly. ‘It would be silly for the two of us to go there on our own – we need at least two more, so there is always someone on watch. We would not want to be caught doing this!’
Just briefly, the younger Súrion looked out of the arrogant young Noldo as if he was unsure that this was such a good idea. ‘Well – in that case,’ he agreed. ‘I suppose they can come.’
‘They will be so pleased to hear you say that.’ Galenthil looked at his cousin. ‘Come on, then – let us get ready.’
‘What are they up to?’ Thranduil raised a golden eyebrow at his son. ‘They appear to be attempting to become invisible.’
Galenthil slid from one patch of bushes to the next, as if only by moving with extreme stealth would he be able to escape the attacking hordes.
The ellon’s adar leaned against the branch that supported the roof of the wide verandah and looked down at the group of elflings scurrying off through the trees. ‘I dread to think,’ he said. ‘Something they know they are not supposed to be doing, I have no doubt.’
Thranduil grinned. ‘Do you not feel you should go and investigate – and tell them to stop whatever it is they have planned?’
‘Certainly not.’ Legolas stretched. ‘I am currently doing my best to remain invisible myself. I have no intention of putting myself anywhere my beloved wife’s atar might see me before we sit down to dine.’ He gazed thoughtfully in the direction the ellyn had taken. ‘Besides, if they are sneaking off in that direction, I suspect I already know what they are planning – and I would be a dreadful spoilsport to ruin their game.’
‘Ah,’ Thranduil said understandingly. ‘One of those times you cannot consent to their activities, but would not actually want to stop them.’
His son nodded. ‘It is marginally risky – but tremendous fun. If I were their age, I would be badgering them to let me join them.’ He shook his head. ‘Only Elerrina would have my ears if she thought I was encouraging them in their imprudent yearning for adventure.’
‘So can we expect you and Elrond’s sons to come in some night muddy and bruised – and with broad grins on your faces?’
Legolas returned his adar’s quizzical look with one of practiced innocence – one Thranduil had seen far too often to take seriously.
‘Although,’ his adar mused, ‘it would be far more remarkable if you did not. I know not what it is, but whenever the three of you get together the outcome always seems to involve healers and extended periods of recovery. If you were an elfling, I would probably think twice about encouraging the friendship.’
His son laughed. ‘Thus making the twins’ acquaintance far more exciting,’ he said. ‘And ensuring I would be even more likely to pursue it at every opportunity.’
‘I suppose I should be glad that you did not really get to know them well until after their sister married Elessar,’ Thranduil said philosophically. ‘By which time many of Arda’s worse dangers had been removed.’
‘Our first extended expedition involved taking the Paths of the Dead,’ Legolas pointed out, ‘to bind the Oathbreakers to Aragorn’s side, before routing the Corsairs at Pelargir and capturing their fleet to sail it to Rohan’s aid before Minas Tirith – shortly after which we rode together with a small and exhausted army to face the hordes of Mordor before the Black Gates. Anything we have done since has been an anticlimax.’
‘Perhaps,’ Thranduil remarked. He looked out into the tranquil trees – trees that had never experienced evil. ‘Friendships forged under such circumstances have a strength greater than steel. You know the worst of each other and the best – and you have burned away all the layers of concealment we all build up around us. It is no wonder that foolish youths envy an experience they will never have.’ He smiled wryly. ‘After all – they never learn the darker side of war. Not unless they develop sufficient insight to hear the stories that warriors do not tell.’
‘Stories you cannot hear unless you have the experience that makes the words unnecessary.’ Legolas’s usual easy demeanour had deserted him, Thranduil was sorry to note. The ellon still grieved for those who had passed beyond his reach – and probably always would, even though he had managed a superficial acceptance.
‘I am not so sure,’ he said. ‘Some people are better at listening than others. And better at filling in the gaps. Eleniel, for instance, seems to have more idea of what distresses her Andatar than many of those who have known him since his youth.’ He raised an eyebrow at his son. ‘And she calms Oropher’s … tension – better than any of the healers.’
Legolas grinned. ‘That is because they are healers,’ he declared, ‘while she holds Daeradar’s hand and gets him to tell her stories about Doriath.’
‘She is a talented elleth,’ Thranduil approved.
‘But, unfortunately she seems not to be involved in the ellyn’s adventure,’ Legolas mused. ‘Or I would feel less wary about the outcome of their activities.’
Thranduil’s eyebrow flew up. ‘Of course she is not involved,’ he said. ‘She is an elleth – and they are just at the age to find that reason enough to exclude her.’
‘Their loss.’ Eleniel’s adar shrugged. ‘I just hope they do not return damaged – I can just imagine what Taryatur would have to say about it. None of it good – and most of it downright insulting, I am sure.’
‘Although anything that brings a smile to Súrion’s face and makes him behave less like a stormcloud will please the rest of his family.’
Legolas grinned. ‘Maybe,’ he agreed. ‘We will just have to wait and see.’
‘Where are we going?’ Súrion grumbled. ‘You said this would be fun – but I am hot and dirty and all we are doing is pushing our way through more brambles than I ever want to see again.’
‘You just have to ask them to let you through,’ Lúglas said scornfully. He put his hands on his hips and inspected the Noldo. ‘Although they do rather seem to have wanted to stop you getting past them.’
Súrion licked the scratch that curled round his wrist and winced at the sting. ‘It is all very well for you Wood-elves,’ he complained. ‘Brambles might be willing to do what you say, but they do not pay any attention to me.’
‘I do not know.’ Tologion laughed. ‘I think they seem to have been paying rather too much attention! They have been holding on to you as affectionately as an admiring elleth at a festival.’
Súrion scowled. How could anyone pretend that this was a pleasant place to live? Once they had experienced the gardens and streets of Tirion, anyway!
‘We are nearly there,’ Galenthil said briefly. ‘And of course there is an easier way – but we would not want anyone to know what we are doing. Naneth has never actually forbidden this – but I think that is only because she does not exactly know what we do here.’ He grinned. ‘Adar does! But he will not tell – he would like to try it himself, if you ask me.’
Small, dark Daedelu ignored them all, wriggling uphill through the rough tunnel of thorns. They did, Súrion noticed resentfully, seem to part to let the young Silvan through.
Tologion abandoned the conversation and followed his friend, clearly keen to get to their destination, and Lúglas flicked a quick glance at Galenthil, casting his eyes up, before setting off in pursuit.
‘Go in front of me,’ Galenthil told his cousin patiently, ‘and stay close to Lúglas. The thorns will leave you alone. This part is a bit of a climb – but it is not difficult.’
‘I can climb!’ Súrion snapped. ‘Anyone would think I was helpless to listen to you lot! I can do anything you can – and better in most cases.’
In front, Lúglas paused briefly and Galenthil closed his eyes. He only hoped the ellon kept in mind who was making up the rear before he decided to give Súrion the hard time he no doubt desired. And, come to that, bore in mind that his friend’s Daeradar would be less than pleased if the youths of Taurevron gave Andatar any reason to complain about their behaviour towards Súrion. He might – Lúglas was mischievous, but his sense of self-preservation was well-developed. Just as well, considering some of the ideas that came into his head.
The climb was – as usual – enough to make even a fit young elf gasp for breath, but Súrion showed that he was well able to achieve it with no more effort than his cousin’s friends. It was also clearly well-trodden, with bare spots on the rock where the moss had decided to give up any attempt to spread. The sound of water grew louder until it overwhelmed the gentle whisper of the trees and the buzz of the sun-warmed insects. Galenthil tried to suppress the nervous excitement building up inside him. It was not, he scolded himself, as if he had not done this before – it was, indeed, something of a rite of passage. A challenge that sorted ellyn from elflings – and he had achieved it then and since without showing himself up as a helpless fool. There was no reason to suppose that Súrion would find it any more impossible than he had.
Ahead of him, the procession of ellyn stopped abruptly.
‘Quiet!’ Daedelu hissed. ‘There is someone there!’
‘Where?’ Tologion pushed forward to peer cautiously round the rock stack that separated them from their destination. From the disgusted grunt that escaped him, it seemed as if some troll or particularly hideous orc was attempting to catch them out. ‘It is your sister,’ he accused Galenthil. ‘What is she doing here? This is no place for ellyth.’
‘She has as much right to come here as we do,’ his friend retorted. He might occasionally find Eleniel’s good sense remarkably exasperating – but that did not mean that he would let anyone else criticise her. ‘More – because at least she is not planning to do something of which we know our naneths would disapprove.’
‘Do we stay in hiding until she leaves?’ Daedelu hissed. ‘Or do we trust her not to give us away?’
‘Is she on her own?’ Lúglas asked. ‘Galenthil might be able to twist her round his little finger – but some of her friends gabble like geese.’
‘She might have your Andatar with her!’ Tologion sounded horrified. ‘And he would be furious if he thought we were teaching his grandson our savage ways.’
Súrion flushed bright red and his hand shot out to clutch a handful of the smaller ellon’s tunic, hauling him up with a strength that was belied by his slender elegance. Galenthil grabbed his cousin’s wrist and pulled him back, pushing Tologion away with his other hand. ‘There are better ways to show him he is talking rubbish,’ he declared. ‘I doubt your adar is any more impressed by fighting than mine – and I do not want to spend the next week confined to my room.’
Tugging his arm out of his cousin’s grip, Súrion drew himself up to his full height – which was, he was glad to note, several inches taller than any of the others – but he did not get a chance to say what was on his mind, as a long-legged, lean hound rushed through the bushes and thrust his cold nose in the ellon’s hand.
‘Should I pretend I have not seen you?’ Eleniel did not look in their direction. ‘Send Radag back and we will go away and leave you to your games.’
Súrion rubbed the dog’s silky ears. ‘You are a lovely creature,’ he said easily. ‘How is it that I have not seen you before?’
‘He will not answer,’ Daedelu informed him as the hound squirmed with pleasure at the ellon’s practiced touch. ‘He is a dog. He has yet to learn the art of conversation.’
Radag took a few steps away from Súrion and looked back at him as if demanding that the ellon join him.
‘Dogs talk. Just not with words.’ Súrion followed the hound, deciding that he preferred his presence to that of the Wood-elves.
Galenthil climbed round the rock and jumped down to join his sister beside the clear stream. ‘You do not have to go,’ he said. ‘You know what we are planning anyway. At least if you are with us, you cannot give us away before we have done anything.’
The elleth merely looked at him.
‘Not that you would,’ her twin added hastily. ‘I know that, even if these idiots do not.’
‘Have any of you actually explained to Súrion what you are going to have him do?’ Eleniel asked. ‘Or has he dived headlong into this without any idea of just what is involved?’
‘It is a challenge.’ Súrion felt an unexpected qualm at her pitying glance, but lifted his chin defiantly.
‘You do not have to do something just because someone dares you,’ she told him. ‘Or because someone suggests that you are incapable of achieving it. And it is always a good idea to find out exactly what you are agreeing to before you commit yourself.’
Tologion rolled his eyes. ‘How can you be expected to understand,’ he sighed. ‘You are an elleth! If it has nothing to do with clothes, or hair – or gossip, it means nothing to you.’
‘Oh, grow up!’ Eleniel frowned at him. ‘Not every elleth is a silly giggly chaser of foolish ellyn.’ She turned her back on him, focusing her attention on her brother. ‘Do you not think you should tell him?’
‘Some ellyth are quite sensible,’ Galenthil declared, keeping his face straight. ‘They can think of better things to do than fuss about their dresses or who is going to ask them to dance. Or so my sister tells me.’
Eleniel tapped her foot and sighed noisily.
‘Oh!’ A grin escaped her brother. ‘Did you not mean that?’ He looked at their cousin, who was inspecting them from the corner of his eye, even as his scratching fingers made the hound lean heavily against him.
‘It is not that dangerous…’ he started.
‘Provided you know what you are doing,’ Eleniel interrupted.
‘It is just a matter of riding the river.’
The gurgling stream rushing down between the boulders suddenly seemed a great deal less attractive, Súrion thought.
‘Riding?’ he said – and was quite proud to hear that his voice sounded normal.
‘Well…’ Lúglas sounded slightly gleeful. ‘Riding is not exactly the right word. Some people…’ The way he said the words made perfectly clear what he thought of them. ‘You take a flat piece of wood into the water and balance on it – some people lie flat on it, but anyone with enough skill stands up. You keep in the fastest part of the stream and then go over the waterfall.’
‘Waterfall?’ His voice definitely sounded definitely sounded less certain this time.
‘It is like flying!’ Daedelu declared excitedly.
‘You have to spread your arms to make sure you do not hit the plunge pool too quickly,’ Galenthil said. ‘It is deep – but not that deep.’
Súrion met the dog’s liquid brown eyes – and swallowed. He really was not that happy with water. It was not that he had any recollection of the time in his youth when his uncle had dived into a flooded stream to save him, but he had heard the story far too many times not to be aware of what had happened. Then, too, his amil had ensured that he had not been anywhere near flowing water again until he was old enough to have learned to be nervous of it. In fact, Galenthil and his friends could hardly have chosen a worse test of his courage if they had tried.
‘You do not have to do it if you do not want to,’ Eleniel said.
Four pairs of incredulous grey eyes settled on her. The brief hope that had flared in Súrion burnt itself out as he looked at his companions. Eleniel was right in a way – he did not have to do this. But, unless he wanted to look a complete coward in front of these ellyn, it would clearly be a very bad idea to change his mind.
Galenthil looked from his sister to his cousin. ‘I will go first,’ he offered. ‘It will be all right. You will see that it is easier than it sounds.’
Nisimalotë accepted the glass of tea and sipped appreciatively. ‘This is the most beautiful setting, Elerrina,’ she said. ‘And so comfortable! I do not know why we have not visited before now.’
Her sister-in-law threw her a slightly cynical glance. ‘It is not for want of asking you all,’ she said. ‘And Camentur brought my nephew across the mountains to see our new home – but I think you had to visit your grandparents at that time.’
The changing pattern of shadows from the trees could not conceal Nisimalotë’s rather guilty expression. Elerrina waited – she knew her brother’s wife well enough to know that, for all her elegant manners, she was not good at concealing her thoughts from her family.
‘Oh well…’ Nisimalotë shrugged slightly. ‘You know me – I am not fond of physical hardship – and it is a very long journey. And,’ she added, ‘there was little prospect of much comfort at the end of it. Not then.’
‘I suppose we should feel honoured that you have decided to grace us with your presence this time.’ Elerrina pushed with her feet to swing the chair on which she sat. Her words sounded sharper than her tone – after all, she had known when she headed beyond the Pelori with her family-by-marriage that many of her family-by-blood would not wish to absent themselves from their usual haunts to experience what they would doubtless think of as a primitive way of life. And Nisimalotë was a city-bred elleth to whom the doings of court life were bread and butter.
A small sniff distracted Elerrina from the soothing whisper of the breeze in the trees and she turned her gaze back to her sister-in-law. Nisimalotë had screwed up her eyes, but tears were still forcing themselves between the lids, while her free hand was pressed over her nose and mouth as if determined to hold back her distress.
‘Nisi!’ Elerrina removed the glass to a handy table and squeezed down beside her sister-in-law, wrapping warm arms around the distressed elleth, who dropped her head on the supportive shoulder and gave in to the tears she had been fighting.
‘I am so worried,’ Nisimalotë confessed. ‘Súrion thinks I do not know, but … He has been getting in deeper and deeper … He drinks more than is good for him – and gambles … And the risks he is taking in the name of fun … His friends – well, I do not call them that! What friend worthy of the name would let an ellon not yet of age get into debt? And I am sure he must have been borrowing money – he buys things I know he cannot afford … And when I try to speak to him, sometimes he says he understands and he will change, but at other times he is sullen and defiant and seems to blame me for all his problems.’ Her voice became quieter and tighter and her choked-out words harder to untangle.
‘Does Camentur know all this?’ Elerrina stroked the dark hair and held the shaking figure.
‘Some of it,’ Nisimalotë admitted. ‘Not all – Súrion was ashamed and did not want his atar to hear some of the things …’
‘Or he wanted to play you off against each other,’ Elerrina mused. ‘I wonder what Camentur knows that you do not. There must be something – or he would have been unlikely to take extended leave from Lord Finrod and bring you both west.’
‘He would not keep secrets from me!’ Nisimalotë sounded shocked.
Elerrina hugged her. ‘Why would he not?’ she asked. ‘You have not told him everything either. You need to share what you know, so that you can decide what to do next.’ She hesitated. ‘I do not know what you are going through,’ she said, ‘and I hope I will be spared your worries – but you need Camentur, Nisi, and he needs you. Between you … Súrion is a sweet child, gentle and loving – you will get him through the difficult years and be proud of the adult he becomes.’
‘I hope so,’ Nisimalotë smiled shakily. ‘I did not want him to grow up in the countryside, Elerrina. I wanted him to have the advantages of Tirion – but he would not have been exposed to these friends if he had been raised somewhere like this.’ She brushed her hands over her face, banishing the tears. ‘I want my son back.’
Elerrina looked at her doubtfully. ‘Well – he would have been exposed to different temptations in the forest, but I am not sure, Nisimalotë, that he would necessarily have been any safer.’ She smiled wryly. ‘All ellyn get up to mischief – it is the nature of the beast!’
Eleniel shook her head as she held Radag’s fur firmly in her fingers. The hound had seemed reluctant to leave the ellyn to their game and she did not want him to go galloping back as soon as she released him. Not that the ellyn would mind his presence – but they would certainly object to her returning to fetch him. They had eyed each other awkwardly and then stripped off their boots and tunics in preparation for their so-called flight, but none of them, not even Galenthil, had been prepared to remove more as long as she was there.
Her brother had looked at her fleetingly from the corner of his eye – not asking her to leave: he would not do that – but letting her see that he hoped she would choose to go. Lúglas had been far less tactful about it – and she had felt tempted to stay, just to annoy him, but it would not have been fair on the others. And, in truth, if she wanted to watch them, she knew of a much better vantage point where many of the ellyth would gather when they knew that the objects of their admiration were planning to jump the waterfall.
Radag tensed, his attention fixed on someone approaching through the trees.
‘Are you escorting the dog home – or is he taking you for a walk?’
‘Adar!’ Eleniel released the hound, who bounded towards the tall elf, the ellyn forgotten. ‘Uncle! Somewhere between the two.’
‘Have you seen anything of your brother? And your cousin, perhaps?’
Eleniel hesitated. ‘I did see them a while ago,’ she admitted.
‘But you would rather not say where?’ Legolas asked. He grinned at her as she tilted her head to consider him.
She shrugged. ‘They did not want me around,’ she told him. ‘Ellyn! They think they are so special.’
‘I thought I might take your uncle to a certain spot overlooking the waterfall,’ her adar said innocently. ‘It is an attractive view, is it not?’
‘More so at some times than others,’ she said solemnly. ‘You might find it … interesting today.’
Camentur laughed. ‘You should be a diplomat, my dear,’ he said. ‘You seem to have some skill in the avoidance of saying anything directly – while ensuring that your hearers learn exactly what you want them to understand.’ He shook his head at his wife’s brother. ‘Is this what you expected to find?’
‘I am rather hoping that it will break down the barriers between the ellyn.’ Legolas looked rueful. ‘They do not seem to have been getting on as well as I would like.’
‘They are improving,’ Eleniel said optimistically. ‘At least they are talking now. All they really need it to get into a mess together – and have to help each other out.
‘Irate parents, you think?’
‘Avoiding irate parents would be better.’ Eleniel’s response was instant – and heartfelt.
‘I will have to see what I can do.’ Legolas raised a quizzical eyebrow. ‘Are you taking Radag with you?’
A malicious grin twitched the corners of her mouth. ‘It would much more amusing if he followed you,’ she said. ‘They would be sure that I was just about to burst in on them – and catch them unclothed.’
‘I will tell you how they reacted,’ Legolas promised.
‘I need a daughter,’ Camentur declared, looking from one to the other. ‘I really will have to convince Nisimalotë that we should have another elfling. I need a daughter!’
Galenthil kicked until he and the flat board were in the current and then pulled himself into a squatting position. The shift in balance made the board speed up and he paused for a moment before setting his feet one in front of the other and cautiously raising himself to his feet. His arms spread wide and his knees bent, he shifted his weight carefully as the board rode the surge of water.
‘Yes,’ Daedelu yelled eagerly. ‘You can do it!’
The ellyn jogged down the path, their eyes fixed on the slender ellon as he reached the point where the board tipped over the fall of water and Galenthil was projected through the air to land with a tremendous splash in the deep green pool.
The ellyn shouted with excitement, cheering as Galenthil surfaced and swam over to his board before heading with a quick sidestroke towards the edge. Tologion leaned forwards and grabbed his friend’s wrist, hauling him out and taking the board.
‘Your go, Súrion,’ he said, offering the board to the Noldo.
Súrion hesitated, then took the board. ‘I will never be able to do that,’ he said, enough admiration in his voice to defuse any criticism. ‘It must take years of practice to be able to ride the water in that way.’
‘I cannot do it like that,’ Daedelu admitted cheerfully. ‘I can get to my knees and go over the falls – but, most of the time, as soon as I try to stand up I fall off.’
‘Go over on your belly the first time,’ Tologion suggested. ‘Just do not forget to push the board away from you fall.’
He could not refuse, Súrion thought. Not without losing face – and he was not prepared to do that. These Wood-elves were all younger than he was. How could he let them think that a Noldo could not achieve this? How could he stand a chance of meeting them on equal terms if he backed out of the challenge? He had spent the last week or two insisting that he was more experienced and competent than they were – he could not say that he could not do what they did. He reached out and took the board.
The journey back to the point where Galenthil had entered the water seemed to pass far too quickly. The ellyn all talked at once, all full of anecdotes and advice – none of which penetrated beyond the awareness in his mind that he was just about to risk his life by jumping over a waterfall.
Only his cousin’s touch on his shoulder distracted him.
‘Hold on to both sides of the board,’ Galenthil instructed him. ‘And when you get to the top of the falls, shove against it so that you remain clear of the water as you drop. Hit the pool like this …’ He demonstrated the best position, ‘and then swim away from the pull of the falls.’
‘You expect me to remember all that?’ Súrion shook his head. ‘I doubt I will be able to keep any of that in my head! Not when I am going over a waterfall.’
‘We are not about to let you drown,’ Galenthil declared. ‘And everybody finds the first time frightening – even if they are not prepared to admit it.’ He patted his cousin approvingly. ‘Go for it, Súrion.’
Drawing a deep breath, Súrion waded into the water as he had seen Galenthil do. Taking the board firmly in his hands, he pulled himself up and kicked to straighten himself up, catching the current to speed towards the point where the water met the sky.
As he reached the point of no return, Súrion could not resist closing his eyes. After all, it was not as if he was not going to go over the edge anyway, he thought. His pulse thundered in his ears, almost drowning out the roar of the water and his breath shortened to the point where he was panting like a dog on a hot afternoon.
Despite his decision not to look, as soon as he began to drop, Súrion’s eyes jerked open and he could not resist letting out a whoop of excitement. The board was beneath him – and below that he was floating on air as he sailed towards the polished surface of deep green.
‘He is going to get a nasty bang on the head when he hits the water,’ Lúglas said critically. ‘He really should have shoved the board behind him.’
‘We had better be ready to pull him out,’ Tologion sounded resigned. ‘We should have known that he would get it wrong.’
Galenthil ignored them, heading towards the pool as quickly as he could, even though he knew there was no chance at all of arriving in time to prevent a disaster.
When his cousin had jumped, Súrion thought, the time between going over the edge and landing in the water had seemed – well, no time at all. Yet now, for him, it felt as if he had hours. The drops of water spun in the air before him, catching the afternoon light and the air brushed teasingly over his bare skin. He must not land flat – he remembered that – and easily, so easily, he turned, board still in his hands, ready to land feet first in the water and slapped against the flat surface sending a spout into the air as he sank into the cool green, kicking against the rounded rocks to rise, gasping, to the welcoming air. And time resumed its usual pace.
‘You did it!’ Galenthil grabbed his cousin’s arm and pulled him towards the side of the pool. ‘You did it! How did it feel?’
A broad grin split Súrion’s face, banishing the slightly scornful expression that he had been wearing since he had arrived in Taurevron. ‘Can I have another go?’ he asked. ‘It is … amazing! I have never done anything like that before!’
Lúglas reached down and grabbed his hand. ‘You wait your turn, Súrion,’ he laughed. ‘I have not yet had a go – and neither have Tologion and Daedelu – and then Galenthil goes before you.’
As the others headed back for their own turn, Galenthil grabbed his cousin and held him back. ‘Are you sure?’ he asked. ‘You do not have to do it if you would rather not.’
‘Try and stop me.’ Súrion sounded more like the cousin he remembered. ‘It is terrifying – but …’ He waved a hand, unable to think of a way to describe the sensation. ‘Amazing,’ he repeated.
‘Amazing,’ Súrion’s atar repeated quietly into his brother-in-law’s ear. ‘I should say it is! It is just as well Nisimalotë is nowhere near – she would be in hysterics. I have never been quite so terrified in my life. If that board had hit him on the head …’ He drew a deep breath. ‘Do we let them continue?’
‘Oh yes, I think so,’ Legolas rubbed Radag’s belly, reducing him to a limp pile of fur. ‘You cannot stop ellyn doing everything just because there is an element of danger to it, or they will only go and seek alternative occupations. Besides,’ he added, ‘it looks tremendous fun.’
‘It does, rather,’ Camentur was forced to admit. ‘I would have done the same at their age.’ He watched the youngsters gather again at the top of the waterfall, gesturing as they demonstrated something to his son. ‘I suppose we are too mature and sensible to risk it now.’
‘I do not see why.’ Legolas grinned. ‘I have been waiting for Elrond’s sons to share the experience with me – but I see no reason why we should not get ahead of them. The pool is deep enough – I am not so stupid that I have not had that checked out – and the drop, so I have been assured, is enough to make it exciting but not enough to make the activity ridiculously dangerous. And anything my son can do, surely I can do likewise. I would hate to think that he is bolder than his adar!’
A slow smile spread across Camentur’s face. ‘We would be doing it for the best reasons,’ he said. ‘To ensure that it was an adventure safe enough for those who have not yet reached our years of discretion.’
‘Of course.’ Legolas managed to sound completely sincere, but the look on his face – of relish combined with anticipation – was enough to make his brother-in-law suppress a laugh. ‘Tonight? After we have assured the elflings are safely in their beds?’
‘Come then.’ Legolas withdrew from the vantage point, his hand resting on the dog’s head. ‘Let us leave them to it – there is little point hovering over them as if they were infants. Besides, it is far more frightening to watch them and imagine all the things that could go wrong. Better to let them learn their own lessons.’
‘I am not sure either of our wives would agree with that.’
Legolas shook his head. ‘To reverse my daughter’s words on the subject – ellyth! Who can possibly understand them?’
‘He is not bad company,’ Tologion murmured in Galenthil’s ear. ‘Not once you get past the posing.’
‘A bit of a know-all,’ Daedelu added cheerfully. ‘But then he is older than you – if not by that much – and I can tell you that spending any time with older ellyn is enough to teach you tolerance. You all think rather too highly of yourselves!’
His friends turned towards him as one, but Daedelu was ready and ducked away to jump into the water, sending a great arc of gleaming water to splash the two on the bank.
They had each jumped several times and, exciting as it was, after the first hour or two, the novelty had worn off and it had needed no discussion for them to wind down their activities and replace them with something that was rather less exhausting.
Súrion stood in the stream, watching intently as Lúglas attempted to show him how to get his balance on the board. The younger elf demonstrated the technique on the slower-moving water at the edge of the flow, stepping several times off the board before the current drew him towards the waterfall. And somehow, with Súrion dressed in nothing but his skin and his dark hair tied back into a bedraggled tail – not to mention that he was clearly impressed by the Wood-elves’ ability to ride the stream, the edge of dislike between the disgruntled Noldo and his cousin’s friends had faded.
‘Are you ever going to come out of the water?’ Galenthil asked as Lúglas handed over the board so that Súrion could attempt to put into practice what he had observed. ‘If we do not return in time for the evening meal, we will end up having to answer far too many questions about what we have been doing.’
‘Just a little longer,’ Súrion said absently. ‘I think I am getting the hang of it.’
Tologion pulled on his tunic and drew his hair out from the collar, squeezing as much water as he could from it before flicking it back over his shoulder. ‘Some people never know when to give up,’ he observed.
‘You are a fine one to talk,’ Galenthil remarked, sorting out his own clothes. ‘Come on, Súrion – there is always tomorrow. Or we could find something else to do.’
‘Such as?’ His cousin looked up. Hopefully, Galenthil thought, as if maybe there was something to enjoy here in the forest.
‘I cannot say,’ Galenthil shrugged. ‘What appeals to you? The forest is full of opportunities, after all – and it is our duty to take advantage of them.’
Súrion sighed. He still did not want to be here. He still resented having been removed from his circle of comfort to be deposited for who knew how long this far from home – but Calion had told him to make the most of the forest, and, really, he could not sulk for ever – not with activities like riding the river to keep him amused. ‘I look forward to discovering what they are,’ he said.
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