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Bridges  by Bodkin

Broken Bridges

‘Pernicious Wood elf!  Do you have to play the hero all the time?’ he muttered.

The dark-haired elf looked decidedly bedraggled.  He clawed at the clutching branches, wriggling through spaces while the torn trunk rocked, threatening to give up its attempt to hold itself in place and come crashing down on the narrow black space that marked the place where he had last seen his son-in-law.

He snatched a breath that made his chest ache.  How could the Wood elf do this to him?  How could he face his daughter if the dratted elf had sacrificed himself in an attempt to save her atar?  No – he was going to find his grandchildren’s atar.  And, if he wasn’t already suffering, he would pound the elf until he was.

His hands were shaking, he noticed.  Perhaps the noise of the storm had upset him rather more than he had realised.  He smiled tightly.  It could not, after all, have anything to do with concern for his daughter’s husband, now could it?  The elf was an unquestionable menace.

Taryatur’s foot slipped on the mass of wet leaves, scraping his leg over the ragged wood.  He swore as the blood began to well – mouthing words he did not recall having used since he had been surrounded by the remnants of an army.  At least, he thought fleetingly, the torrential rain had prevented fire.  Struggling to find a broken body under all this debris while the forest burned would have been even worse than his current desperate search.

He had never meant it to turn out this way. 

***

Riding across the mountains always put him in a foul mood.  He could allow himself to forget, when his daughter came east, that so great a distance divided him from her and his grandchildren.  Allow himself to remember only that she was happy and her children were growing into fine young elves.  But the effort involved in completing this journey reminded him always that the Wood elf had taken her, not just from him, but from all she had known to trap her in a different world. 

‘Look at the way the light catches on the raindrops!’ Linevendë’s voice demanded that he should shake off his brooding and join in the conversation.  ‘So beautiful.’

‘It rains in Tirion, too,’ he said, refusing to have his general grumpiness dispersed.

His wife’s cool look promised an uncomfortable conversation – later, when his grandson was not present to hear her words.

Nisimalotë smiled, pretending not to notice his ill-humour.  ‘Rain in the forest feels different, though,’ she said easily.  ‘Less to do with washing away the dust of the streets and more to do with refreshment.’

He had been fortunate in his son’s wife, Taryatur reminded himself.  Nisimalotë was sweet and obliging, tactful and intelligent – and clearly very fond of his son – as well as having provided him with a grandson he loved dearly.

‘We are nearly there now, Atar.’  Camentur, too, appeared to enjoy spending weeks in this forsaken forest, Taryatur thought resentfully.  Would it hurt him to show a bit of reluctance to cut himself off from the comforts of the city?  Surely he had spent long enough at court to see the difference between its sophistication and the rather rustic tree-top houses of the Wood elves! 

‘I do not know why I had to come,’ Súrion grumbled.  ‘I could have stayed with Andatar if you were not prepared to allow me to remain at home.’

The ellon’s parents exchanged a fleeting, but meaningful glance. 

It was a shame, Taryatur sighed, that the only member of the party who sympathised with him over the obvious inferiority of their destination was the one person for whom this whole extended visit had been planned.  Súrion had changed over recent months from an eager and obliging youth into one for whom nothing was ever good enough – one who had exchanged friends of whom his parents approved for a group of oddly-dressed and badly-behaved ellyn rather older than he was.  The ellon’s andatar had had no desire to argue with the decision that Súrion needed a change to break him out of what could be a destructive pattern – his objection was to the idea that this backward rural realm could have anything to offer.  He had argued – heatedly – for taking the ellon to Lord Aulë’s court, where learning the skills of the forge and experiencing the wise benevolence of a Vala would doubtless be enough to focus him on more meaningful matters.  Yet, despite his reservations, Nisimalotë had coaxed him into accepting that the ellon might well respond better to the Wood elf whose courage had saved Súrion’s life when he was so young that he had no recollection of the event.

‘I want you here with me, grandson.’ 

Súrion looked at his andatar suspiciously.

Taryatur grinned.  ‘Someone has to keep me company,’ he said mildly.  ‘The ellyth will spend all their time talking as if it were about to go out of fashion, your atar and uncle will take refuge in the woods, Galenthil will have his lessons to keep him busy – I need some sensible male company.’

‘I will be only too happy to oblige, Andatar.’  Súrion grinned and they exchanged a wink.  He would appreciate having somebody with whom he could grumble.  Not enough for word to get back to Linevendë, not if he valued his life, but enough to release the pressure, at least.  And Súrion, too, would benefit from having at least one person around who did not look at the ellon as if he were mad for yearning for the streets of Tirion.

‘Now, Atar,’ Nisimalotë reproached him, ‘we do not need you to encourage Súrion.  He is being difficult enough without that.’

Taryatur smiled at her blandly as Súrion’s face dimmed back into its recent perpetual frown. ‘I think I will take your son on ahead a little, my dear – if that is all right with you.’  He did not pause for her answer, but indicated with his head that his grandson was to follow him.

Behind them, a heavy silence endured until they were almost out of earshot, when a fierce whispering and muttering broke out.

Súrion eyed his andatar doubtfully.

‘You might as well accustom yourself to being in trouble,’ Taryatur told him philosophically.  ‘You will spend a lot of the next years attempting to discover what you have done this time to upset everyone.  It just means they love you – and want you to be perfect.’

‘But everybody’s idea of perfect differs.’  Súrion sighed as if the expectation was weighing him down. 

‘Discovering that is a good first step.’  Taryatur kept his horse pacing easily beside his grandson’s.  ‘Then you have to work out what you think makes for a worthwhile elf.’  He grinned wryly.  ‘And how you are going to live up to that knowledge.  It does not come easily – I am still trying, and your andamil would tell you I have a good way to go yet.’  Súrion’s mouth dropped open and his andatar’s smile widened.  ‘Tirion will still be there when you go home.’

Súrion returned his smile, looking a good deal younger and happier than he had for some time.  ‘You are right, Andatar,’ he said, ‘it will.’

Taryatur raised his eyebrows.  If he were not mistaken, his grandson had just been offering him a piece of his newly-acquired wisdom.  And he supposed that what was true for the ellon was also true for him.  But he did not have to like it.

***

His son was trying to conceal his foul mood, Thranduil noted.  Even his resentment of Elerrina’s atar’s continual sniping was not enough to overcome his good manners – and his basic kindness.  Little though Legolas enjoyed the presence of his wife’s family, he did not want to spoil their visit for her.  Although, he sighed, if his son was unable to acknowledge that the tension between him and his atar-in-law was enough to disrupt the content of the whole household, surely the fretful wailing of its youngest member should have been sufficient to indicate to him how badly everyone was affected.

Thranduil stroked his daughter’s fine hair and hummed soothingly as he walked under the resting night-time trees, pacing slowly and steadily as the child’s head grew heavier against his shoulder.

A rustling of leaves made him twitch, the reflexes of long years of war making him assess the threat automatically before he breathed out a silent laugh of self-mockery.  Even in the worst days, mice had not proved much of a danger – and they were even less likely to threaten his safety here, where the only perils came from careless confrontations with the unexpected.

Cool starlight peeped between the leaves of the canopy, brushing the world around him with their distant gleam and reflecting in his daughter’s soft locks.  He should take her back to her bed, where she could sprawl contentedly across her mattress and forget the stresses of the day.  He should, but he did not want to – not yet.  The trusting warmth of her relaxed body against his, the comfort of the contented night – it was too good to give up.  Thranduil sighed.  If only he could solve his son’s troubles as easily as he could his daughter’s. 

‘I am sorry, Adar.’ 

Legolas emerged from the woods where he had taken refuge when his discontent had led him to abandon his home.   He looked tired and somewhat dishevelled, as if he had been racing through the trees rather than sitting among them and allowing their calm pulse to soothe him.

‘Elerrina has been in tears, Eleniel has retired to the library to bury herself in tales of the First Age, Galenthil has taken refuge with his goshawk, Celumíl cannot sleep and your naneth is probably wondering why she ever wanted us back in her life,’ Thranduil observed.  ‘If Taryatur could see the chaos that has descended upon us all, he would doubtless be delighted.’

‘I am sorry,’ Legolas repeated helplessly.

‘You are neither of you being fair to Elerrina.’ Thranduil kept his voice low, having no desire to have his daughter resume her fractious screaming.  She was, he felt, far more appealing asleep than she was when red-faced and bawling.  ‘She is at the middle of your war – and you are both pulling at her and demanding her attention and love, like badly behaved infants, while she is trying to please you both.’

‘I know.’  His son sounded irritated.  ‘How can I not?  I am not stupid!  But holding back just makes him worse – he seems to look on that as indifference to my wife’s needs – while challenging his attitude makes him shake his head like the know-all he is, as if I am proving his point for him.  The best thing I can do is keep out of his way – and let him spend time with my wife and children, knowing all the time that he is undermining me.’

Thranduil shook his head.  ‘You have to stop looking at it as a battle.  Battles have winners and losers – and, in this, if you won you would find that you would lose more than you would gain.  Can you not be on the same side?  After all, you both want the same thing.’

‘Easy enough to say,’ Legolas said, ‘but much harder to achieve.  He is not exactly open to compromise.’

The elfling stirred in her adar’s arms and both adults fell silent and watched as she relaxed again.

‘Perhaps it is time to try something new,’ Legolas admitted, before grinning reluctantly.  ‘If only I can think of something new to try.’

‘Treat him as an ally,’ Thranduil suggested.  ‘If nothing else, it will leave him disconcerted and seeking a way to respond.’

They veered slightly towards the glade where they made their home, the sound of their passing barely audible even to themselves.  Even so, the song of each tree intensified as they approached, fading to its background hum as they passed.  Thranduil reached out to touch a convenient branch and felt his connection to the trees and the earth beneath them spread like a vast root system across the forest, drawing nourishment from it even as he gave it his care in return.

‘You did that with Gimli, did you not?’ his son asked.

His adar smiled non-committally.  His son’s return to the shattered Greenwood in the company of a dwarf whom he called his brother had been one of the more – unusual results of war, and if his instinctive response had disconcerted both of them, he could only be glad.  Centuries of learning to curb himself in tedious diplomatic manoeuvring had not been wasted.

‘Perhaps you are right.’ Legolas brushed his fingers against the cool leaves of the beech.  ‘Perhaps it would be as well to offer a different face – what I have tried so far certainly has not worked.  Maybe something more … conciliatory.’  He smiled wryly. ‘It goes against the grain.’

‘But if it makes Elerrina happy?’

Legolas’s sigh was answer enough.

‘You would fight dragons for her,’ his adar said.  ‘Making friends with one surely cannot be any more difficult.’

‘One would think not.’ Legolas did not sound convinced. ‘Possibly erroneously.’

‘It will do no harm to try.  And the rewards could be enormous.’ Celumíl turned her head and pressed her face into his neck, murmuring contentedly as she slept.  Even if the rewards were no more than undisturbed nights for this youngest member of his household, they would be worth having, but, he knew, they would be more.  Much more.  ‘I have faith in you.’

***

The silvered wood of the talans disappeared into the trees, the walkways where the branches were sparse revealing where one led to another.  Only the Great Hall was clearly visible on the ground – and even that, Taryatur thought, curling his lip appeared to have been constructed with the trees’ convenience in mind rather than that of the elves.  It seemed a matter of pride to his son-in-law’s kin to treat the forest’s needs as being of prime importance, so that the elves’ presence should be scarcely suspected at a casual glance.  It was … unnatural. 

Taryatur grinned sardonically to himself.  Well, that thought had not come out right!  What he meant was that it did not seem – perhaps normal was a better word – reasonable to desire to leave the world unchanged.  Adding beauty to the surroundings was just such an automatic thing for an elf to do that the idea that leaving the environment untouched might be better seemed alien to him.

He sighed.  He had been right, too, in thinking that Linevendë and Nisimalotë would be spending so much time lost in conversation with his daughter that he might just as well not be here.  Camentur had taken his sealed scrolls and disappeared into protracted talks with Thranduil and a select few of his advisors.  Súrion had – after a brief period of holding himself aloof – resigned himself to spending time with his younger cousins and that had left Taryatur with nothing to do but eye warily the pleasant smile on his son-in-law’s face.

The faint trail leading to the meadow where the horses were kept drew him on.  After all, if he hung round the buildings for too long, someone would come and offer to entertain him – suggesting that he might like to do any one of a number of things that he did not wish to do at all.  Fishing, for example – it had never been something in which he had taken much pleasure, yet whenever he visited his daughter, he seemed to spend endless tedious days with a rod in his hands.  It was as if tucking him away in a quiet corner beside the water disposed of him neatly and got him out of everyone’s way.  He rubbed the nose of the bay mare who had decided to come and investigate his pockets.  Superfluous to requirements, that is what he felt.

‘She is a nice mare.’

Taryatur looked up in surprise.  ‘I thought you were with your brother and cousin,’ he said.

‘They do not want me,’ Eleniel said unconcernedly.  ‘Súrion does not think ellyth have any place in ellyn’s occupations.’

‘Ah.  He is at rather a difficult age,’ her andamil apologised.  ‘The stage when ellyn are fortunate if they survive their parents’ wrath.’

Eleniel shrugged.  ‘I care not.  Galenthil will not pay any attention to that – and they are not doing anything I wish to share with them.’  She looked at her andatar speculatively.  ‘I would rather talk to you.’

The mare nosed him to remind him of her presence.  ‘No more carrots,’ Taryatur told her, opening his hands to reveal empty palms.  ‘You will have to return to eating grass.’  She leaned into him for a moment as if to say that she had a mind above pure greed, then dropped her head to snatch a mouthful of the flower-studded grass.  ‘And what do you wish to talk about, my granddaughter?’

‘I have been reading,’ she said, ‘about Beleriand and the War of Wrath.’

He drew a sharp breath.  ‘No!  Oh, no – you are not going to get me talking about that,’ he refused determinedly.  ‘I do not know what your amil is about, letting you read about those times – it is most unsuitable!’

Eleniel sighed.  ‘Andaeradar refuses to talk about it, too!  At least – he will tell me stories about Menegroth and Lúthien in the days before Anor crossed the sky and Daeradar when he was a little ellon, but he will not say anything about the battles.’

‘At least he shows some sense!’

Something about the way his granddaughter inspected him made him feel the need to add to his waspish comment.

‘He is right to tell you that war is not a subject for curiosity – it is…’ he paused and drew a deep breath, ‘it is a destruction of innocence and I would prefer that you never learned anything about it.’

‘But being unpleasant does not make it unreal, does it?’ Eleniel said. ‘And not learning about it – does that not diminish the sacrifice that they made, those who fought and suffered and died?’

Taryatur looked up at the pure blue of the sky over the meadow and felt the black shadow he kept inside him begin to spiral up to push at the doors of its prison.  The Undying Lands, he thought.  The Blessed Realm.  A place where elves could strive over the lifetime of Arda to … to subdue their passions and control their selfishness.  Where they could labour towards the light in ignorance of the things that could be done in the name of the Valar to other sentient beings.  Where they could be unaware of the smell of blood and the screams of the injured and be protected from the knowledge that good elves could grow used to inflicting torment on other creatures that had once been like them.

‘You are old enough to understand the theory, my daughter,’ he heard his son-in-law say, ‘the mechanics of who fought where and why – how defeat and victory can be snatched – but you are too young to understand the cost.  I do not want you to learn that.’

‘Adar!’ Eleniel sighed.  ‘You will have to let me grow up some time.’

‘But not yet, my star – not yet.’

She hugged her adar in forgiveness and brushed a kiss on her andatar’s cheek before withdrawing, clearly unconvinced, but willing to accept their refusal – for now, at least.

‘We will not be able to hold her back for long,’ Legolas said and the sorrow in his voice struck a chord with his wife’s atar.  ‘She is too intelligent and too curious – what we will not tell her, she will find out from someone else and then use all the information to piece together what we would rather she never knew.’

‘I always managed to shield Elerrina from knowledge of war.’ Taryatur bit the inside of his cheek.  That sounded pompous.  Even when he was trying to speak pleasantly to the Wood elf he found himself appearing sanctimonious.  ‘It must be harder here,’ he said, ‘where almost everyone has lived with the perils of Endórë.’

Legolas’s lips thinned, even though he attempted a smile.  ‘Much of Ennor was not particularly perilous much of the time,’ he said. ‘And there are many, even among the Silvan, who have little direct experience of battle.  We … marred elves … have always tried to protect our children from knowledge beyond their years.’

A stiff nod was as much as Taryatur could bring himself to provide in response.  He had observed elflings in those camps east of the sea, elflings who had seen far more than any youngster should ever see, elflings who had lost their parents and their homes, who subsisted on the charity of strangers, their eyes dark and frightened, their shoulders hunched against the whips of a cruel world.  He had seen frail shells from which the fëa had fled as the elflings had given up hope of better times.

‘You are young,’ he said carefully, ‘despite your experience – there were doubtless things that passed you by.’

Legolas stroked the mare’s gleaming coat.  The movement was soothing enough to prevent his indignation bursting into unconsidered speech.  How could his wife’s atar accuse him – him – of ignorance of the dark side of life under the threat of Sauron?  He who had lost his naneth to a cruel death before he was his children’s age.  He who had known from his earliest youth that his future lay in taking up arms against the evil that threatened his home.  One who had stood before the Black Gates themselves and defied the apparent inevitability of Sauron’s victory.  And yet … he had not seen Morgoth brought forth in chains from Angband.  He had not seen the lands of the elves sink beneath Ulmo’s cleansing waters, leaving them homeless to accept either a grudging forgiveness or seek new places to call their own.  He had always known that life was a gift to be paid for with service – aware of a death that was ever-present, even among the immortal.  He had not been accustomed to the Tree-brightened security of this land beyond evil, seen it corrupted and shattered and then obeyed the Valar’s call to take up arms to face monsters on the field of battle.  Perhaps he should consider that Taryatur had taken a lifetime’s surety and seen it dissolve in the reality of war.

‘One of my earliest memories,’ he said carefully, ‘is of my naneth shielding me with her body from an orc’s arrow.  Of her blood on my face as she fought to live – and failed.  I have always known that life is perilous, but I have also known great love and unstinting friendship, unbending honour and courageous sacrifice – and the beauty of a transient world.  A land that was my home.

‘Would you want your daughter to see what you have?’  Taryatur met his son-in-law’s eyes fiercely and was surprised to have the Wood elf hold his gaze.  ‘To know what you have done?  War is evil.  War is Morgoth’s victory over us all.’

‘The love of war, perhaps.’  Legolas considered how to express thoughts that lay at the very core of his understanding.  ‘But defending what is good and pure, is that evil?  I do not think so.  Permitting the victory of evil would be worse.’

‘But that was there,’ Taryatur said, abandoning the debate.  ‘Surely, here and now, you will not permit your daughter to seek an understanding of war’s horrors?  Even Oropher would keep her free of the taint!’

Even Oropher?’ A slight smile warmed Legolas’s face.  ‘You feel that sharing any opinion with my daeradar is beyond the realms of acceptability?   I think you might be surprised in him were he to return while you are still here – you have a lot in common.’

The revulsion on his adar-in-law’s face broadened his smile.  One day, he would have to seek the reason behind Taryatur’s dislike of his daeradar – it might, he felt, explain a lot.  ‘What I want,’ Legolas continued, ‘is for my children to grow up with understanding.  An understanding that includes the cost of war – why it is sometimes the only choice and why is should be a last resort.  Part of that requires that they know that it is not fun, it is not exciting, it is not a game.  It is not something that should be sought – although it is sometimes something that cannot be avoided.  How can they learn that without learning the dark side?   How can we be sure that they will reject Fëanor’s solution unless they know more than the superficial account of an historian who has never been faced with the decisions that a warrior must make?’  He looked sympathetically at the older elf.  ‘I will not go out of my way to force them to learn,’ he said, ‘but neither will I hide the truth.’ 

‘If they are old enough to ask the questions, they are old enough to know the truth?’ Taryatur’s tone was enough to make his son-in-law bristle, but Legolas forced himself to respond pleasantly.

‘If they are old enough to understand the answers,’ he qualified.  ‘And, if not, they should know that there is a truth that is beyond them just now.’  He shrugged.  ‘Do you not feel that part of Súrion’s problem is that he has grown too old for the direction of childhood, but lacks the answer to questions such as these?  I can understand why his parents cosset him – but it has left him seeking to fight his way out of a cocoon that is stifling him.’

The Noldo’s surging irritation finally overflowed the sea-wall that had been holding it back.  ‘We prize our children’s innocence,’ he snapped.  ‘I will thank you to keep out of my grandson’s affairs and refrain from polluting his mind with your half-baked theories.’

Legolas stepped back, a mask of iron control coming down over his face.  The elf was impossible.  Narrow-minded, sanctimonious, arrogant, domineering … the only thing that could possibly be said in his favour was that he had managed to raise two decent children.  And the credit for that should probably go to his wife!  ‘As you wish,’ he said coldly.  ‘I will leave you to it, then.’ 

He disappeared into the trees so quickly that it was almost as if they were hiding him.  Taryatur sighed.  ‘Arrogant Wood elf,’ he muttered.  ‘So certain that he knows best.’  And even the bay mare had deserted him.  This was going to be a painfully long visit.

***

A low grumble of thunder rolled around the valley, interrupted by a lacework of lightning that brightened the purple bruise of the sky.

Taryatur winced.  It was going to be bad.

He had to get away.  Had to.  He could not remain here and let them see how storms affected him.  It was – less bad – at home, where he was surrounded by the familiar – and Linevendë knew enough to leave him alone until the storm had passed and the air was soft with relief.  Here, though?  He was not going to let the Wood elf see this.  How he would gloat!

The brambles clutched at the cloak he had grabbed as he left, as if trying to haul him back, and he tugged it round him, pushing blindly onwards.  Only movement saved him, left him breathless and sweaty, putting more effort into racing he knew not where than in thinking. 

He flinched as lightning ripped the sky apart, changing direction as thunder cracked, stumbling through the wind-blown trees.  He could feel the dragon swooping over him, sulphurous fumes choking him as its fiery breath burned…  The stench of seared flesh was still in his throat.  The noise of battle muffled the treesong and he clutched his head in a desperate need to clear the confusion. 

This was not here, he knew it was not.  It was not now.

If only it would rain.

Rain would wash him clean.

He did not notice that he had let his cloak fall as he lurched across an area of exposed tree roots, fleeing from memories that he had buried long ago.  There had been too much talk of war.  Too many reminders.  It had brought it all too close to the surface.

He faltered as a simultaneous attack of light and sound sought him out and lost his footing, his head cracking against a bony branch, its fingers clawing at his hair as it tried to trap him.  He dragged free, sobbing a great breath of hopeless dread, scrabbling away on his hands and knees until, once again, he regained his feet and sped onwards, driven by festering memories that would not heal.

***

‘He will not thank me.’  Legolas had no desire to go chasing off into the storm-dark wood after an elf who scorned him.  ‘If he seeks solitude to deal with the past, then the last person he will want to see is someone who reminds him of it.’

‘Please!’  Elerrina ran her fingers distractedly over his forearm.  ‘I have never seen him look this bad – he did not even notice me.’

Her husband rested his hand over hers comfortingly.  ‘He cannot come to much harm in the forest,’ he said.  ‘He is not a Wood elf, but he knows how to look after himself.’

Linevendë sat motionless, her hands folded in her lap, ignoring their debate.  She scarcely seemed to be breathing, her attention fixed on something they could not see.

‘Amil!’ Elerrina demanded.  ‘Would it not be best if Legolas went after Atar – just to see that he is all right?’

‘I do not know,’ she replied distractedly.  ‘No, I think not.  He prefers to be alone.  If only it would start raining!  This tension in the air is the worst …  Perhaps it would be as well to seek him out.  He does not know where he will be driven here and, when the rain eases…’

Legolas drew a deep breath.  He was clearly about to undertake a quest that would get him soaking wet along the way and end with his head being bitten off.  ‘I will find him,’ he promised.  ‘Do not worry.’

It was little more than a stroll in the woods, but it did not feel right to go out completely unprepared.  There were, after all, still creatures in the forest that could be dangerous, although not usually with any ill intent.  On the other hand, he could hardly go after his adar-in-law fully armed.  The elf would not appreciate it.  He compromised on his hunting bow and a belt knife.  Perhaps Taryatur might even believe that he had come upon him by chance.  And perhaps he would not.

The trees were uneasy.  The air felt charged, almost stinging against his cheek as the storm rolled around the hills.  Legolas glanced up at the sky.  He hoped rain would come soon.  He had nothing against thunder, but lightning without rain could devastate a forest.  He had seen vast swathes laid waste by lightning strike and it was not something he wanted to witness here.

He headed in the direction where his wife had seen Taryatur bolting.  What was the matter with the elf, he sighed?  After all, Thranduil had seen the devastation of the War of Wrath, but it did not haunt him.  Of course, he had had to work to rebuild a life in the newly-shaped land and then faced situations no better than Valar’s war.  Perhaps he had developed a thicker skin.  And Oropher… Legolas wondered momentarily whether he ought to force a meeting between his wife’s atar and the former King of the Greenwood, but then shook his head.  Oropher was growing stronger, but he really was not ready for conflict.  Not yet. 

Legolas paused briefly, checking the trees around him.  Maybe the problem lay with the Blessed Realm, he thought.  Maybe the … the endless tranquillity made whatever happened grow out of all proportion, so that it was almost impossible to come to terms with the past. 

A spatter of raindrops hit the leaves above him, but the welcome sound dulled into insignificance when another flash of lightning was immediately followed by a crack and long growl of thunder.  He had better track down his wife’s atar, Legolas sighed with irritation, before the clouds opened and saturated the wood – not to mention those foolish enough to be out in it. 

It was fortunate that he did not need to exert any great skill in tracking.  Taryatur had made no attempt to conceal his passing, but had charged headlong through the trees, disturbing leaves and undergrowth in his need to get away.  He had, however, travelled swiftly and without any apparent consideration as to direction.  Legolas increased his pace, running lightly in pursuit, determined to catch up with the older elf before the coming downpour wiped away all traces.

Lightning fractured into a hundred separate paths, weaving a net across the sky that was bright enough to make itself known through the wind-blown canopy.  The thunder that followed rolled around less aggressively – but it seemed inescapable.  He could almost understand how storms woke in Taryatur the memory of battle, Legolas decided – although how the Noldo could fail to be aware of the green contentment of the forest song as it bathed in the refreshment of the rain, he could not quite understand. 

He frowned.  Threads of dark blue wool trailed like prize ribbons from brambles.  Taryatur had definitely passed here – and in too much of a state to notice the damage the thorns were doing to his clothing.  Legolas sped up.  He had thought that the elf preferred to endure storms alone and had never really credited that they were enough to make his atar-in-law lose control, but it would seem that Elerrina had been right.  He had better catch up with the elf, whether he appreciated it or not.

Torrents of rain gushed from temporary waterfalls, streaming down slopes to pool in hollows.  The trees were too distracted by the downpour to be of much help.  Legolas sighed.  The elf had shed his cloak – not the most sensible thing to have done.  Not that a cloak was much defence against weather like this.  As to where he had gone then – he looked around – any signs had been washed away.  He ought to go back and drag a few more people from their comfortable shelter to seek Taryatur.  The chance of tracking him decreased as the storm continued and the rain saturated the forest.  And, short of using the terrain to guess where an elf would head when his mind was on anything but his feet, Legolas had little prospect of coming across his atar-in-law.  He could not help but feel it would be unwise to have the elf at large once night fell, but neither did he wish to go back to Elerrina and admit defeat. 

‘Taryatur!’ he shouted.  He would rather find the elf without anything as obvious as calling – but at least these woods did not contain anything that would focus on his voice and attempt to kill him.  ‘Taryatur!’

A grumble of thunder was his only answer.  The storm, it appeared, was coming back.  Legolas sighed and slithered down a gully that was now ankle deep in a soup-like mud.  He was reasonably familiar with this part of the woods, but it was far enough away from home that he could not say he knew every leaf.  Taryatur, typically, could not have chosen a worse direction for his flight – except that, if he kept going in a straight line, he would have to stop at the river’s edge.   Not that he would, he groused to himself.  If anyone was guaranteed to lose himself in a wood and then be too proud to call for help, it would be Taryatur – and he would be sure to hold the mortification against Taurevron ever more, making Elerrina feel even worse about her atar.

He pushed his dripping hair out of his face with resignation.  Nevertheless, short of losing his atar-in-law permanently, finding him before he came to any harm would definitely be the best thing.  And that meant concentrating on the job at hand. 

He chose a direction.  This way.  If Taryatur behaved as he thought he would have done, he would have gone this way. 

With the sopping cloak slung over his shoulder, he headed off in search of the Noldo.

***

Dark shadows made it almost impossible to see the ground clearly under the dense canopy.  Darker than the star-filled days after the slaughter of the Trees, Taryatur thought fleetingly, the bruised sky torn by flashes of jagged white light that left a trace across his sight to dim his vision even further.  He huddled back against the reassuring trunk of a great elm and sheltered as best he could from the relentless rain and covered his ears to try to defend them from the noise of the thunder.

It was only a storm, he scolded himself.

And, some treacherous part of his mind insisted, if he had only paid attention to his wife, he could currently be inspecting it from the shelter of a roof – even if it was only one made of wood.  Instead of which he was wet and shivering and lost in a forest that made his senses prickle.  Something was about to happen – and he had a strong feeling that, whatever it might be, he was not going to like it.

He flinched again as a bolt of lightning ripped the dark sky in two, immediately followed by a sound like a boulder bringing down a solid stone wall.

He did not recall a storm this intense since before his daughter was born.  And it was not since Morgoth’s worms flew above him that he had felt himself to be the target of fire from the sky. 

Taryatur glanced up through the leaves just as another broken blade of white hot steel divided the clouds.  What he needed was some solid stone – and he had descended far enough, surely that the bedrock beneath the forest might offer some refuge between those great slabs of moss-hung boulders.

The tree shivered as he pushed his shoulder away from the bark, almost as if it regretted the withdrawal of his protection.  He glanced back, puzzled.  The forest seemed rather more … sentient here beyond the mountains, but the vision of him as a … a tree herder was ridiculous.  Ridiculous enough that it took away a little of the storm’s dominating presence and replaced it with an edge of humour.   Galenthil had told him stories of Ents – great tree-like creatures that were shepherds of some mythical forest – and he had always taken them as no more than children’s tales, but, somehow, the picture of himself as one of them stirred up a smile.

‘You will be fine,’ he said, patting the wet trunk.  ‘You are a tree, after all.  You must have endured many storms before this one.’

The elm creaked, a painful groan that sounded almost like a response.

Taryatur sighed as thunder grumbled in response to a flash of lightning.  It seemed further away – he could only hope that it would continue its reluctant departure.  With a final pat, he pushed himself away from the inadequate shelter and set off towards an outcrop of dripping rocks. 

Behind him the tree moaned again, the sound of wood rubbing against wood and a heavy tearing.  Taryatur stopped and half-turned.

‘Get out the way,’ his son-in-law cried urgently.  ‘The elm is coming down!’

He looked up to see a shift in the trembling leaves and slowly, so slowly that he felt he could almost see the air moving out of its way, the protesting tree began to descend towards him.

A solid figure crashed into him, shoving him forward in a staggering rush and normal time resumed.  The screeching became a thunderous roar that distanced the storm and broken twigs flew up from the shattered branches, showering him with raindrops and ripped leaves and sharp-edged splinters of raw wood.  He stumbled into the shadow of a squat oak that stood, solidly resistant, in the face of the falling tree, hearing without identifying it, a slither of stones dropping to splash in distant water.

Then, before he had time to draw breath, it was over – and the empty silence of the forest rang in his ears.

 

Building Bridges

Small stones continued to slither and drop into the silence as the fallen tree settled reluctantly to the earth, but Taryatur could neither hear nor see any indication of the presence of his son-in-law.  If he could not still feel the force of the movement that had shoved him our from under the elm, he would have begun to doubt that the Wood elf had ever been more than a figment of his imagination.

He turned to search desperately for sight of him among the broken branches, hoping against hope that he had managed – somehow – to find a relatively safe spot among the tangle of boughs and foliage and that he would, in exactly the way Taryatur would expect of the Wood elf, emerge triumphant and undamaged from the debris. 

Only he did not.

Taryatur scrabbled towards the ruin of the tree, ignoring the groaning of branches never meant to support the weight of the trunk, ignoring the flashes of lightning, ignoring the grumbling of the thunder, ignoring the relentless rain. 

‘Come on, you infuriating elf,’ he muttered.  ‘Do not make me wish to see your face.’

Another branch broke and the tree shifted slightly closer to the earth.

‘Do not do it,’ Taryatur pleaded.  ‘Please do not make matters any worse.  Remember he is a Wood elf – look after him.’  He was talking nonsense, one part of his mind told him.  A fallen tree was in no state to protect an elf, no matter that he was the Woodland King’s son.  He scrambled recklessly through the tangle of branches, seeking anything that would offer him hope that his daughter’s husband had survived – but for all his search, there was no crumpled figure to be seen.

His feet caught in a soggy blue cloak and he slipped, catching his side on a protruding branch.  He barely noticed the pain or the blood that began to seep from the rent in his tunic.  ‘He must be here,’ he muttered.  ‘He must be.  There is nowhere else he could…’

One foot slid away and he lurched to grab the nearest bough as a narrow mud-rimmed hole tried to claim him.  Taryatur hauled himself upright, trying desperately to disturb the ruined elm as little as possible.  It was not until he had moved several feet further towards the gnarled roots that now reached up towards the sky that the possible meaning of the hole registered and he turned back slowly, a disbelieving expression plastered on his wet face.

He knew that there were caves in this wood – his grandson had, in the past, shown him a few – but they were not here.  Not now.  Only some vicious twist of fate perpetrated by an uncaring world would open up a hole in the ground just at the moment when his daughter’s husband was there to be projected through it.  Things like that just did not happen.  Did they?

The long grumble of thunder that followed the bright flash seemed to mock him and tell him that they most certainly did.

‘Why me?’ Taryatur asked, his face turned up to the sky.  ‘Why do these things happen to me?’

The rain continued to fall relentlessly into his face, as if to assure him that this was the only answer he was going to get.

He limped reluctantly towards a hole that was gradually enlarging as a constant trickle of mud and stones was freed by the storm to tumble into whatever space existed beneath.

‘Legolas!’ he called, stretching out on the wet ground and inching his head over a gap he now saw had been half hidden by the crown of the tree.  ‘Legolas, can you hear me?’ 

He would be surprised if the ellon could, he thought grimly.  He only hoped that the branch that had punched out of the way the rock that had held up the ceiling of this pit had not first made contact with the elf’s more delicate frame, or Legolas’s fëa would currently be greeting Lord Námo – and nothing that he could do would be enough to retrieve his grandchildren’s atar.

‘Legolas!’ he called again. ‘I am going to drop a small pebble – I want to find out how deep this hole is.  Unless you can tell me, of course.’

He waited a few moments, just in case …  ‘No, of course not,’ he muttered and tilted his head in an attempt to decide how far the small stone was tumbling before reaching the – oh, there would be water at the bottom, would there not!  Why make it easy?

‘Some lightning now would actually be useful,’ he said.  ‘A little bit of illumination before I descend into the pit.  I would like to know whether I might be able to make it out again.’  His hands were shaking, he noticed.  It had been a long time since he had been forced to attempt anything this reckless.  Not since he had retrieved Camentur from that rock tower when he had been – what was it – no more than twenty or twenty five.  It had taken a week or more for the sick feeling to subside.

‘The cloak,’ he declared, flicking his head to the limp pile of fabric.  ‘I could … If only I had a knife.’ 

For the first time since the tree began its fall, Taryatur brightened.  He did have one.  In the pocket of the cloak.  And that was something for which he could thank Súrion.  Moving more confidently he began to slice the sturdy fabric and then rip it into strips.  If the pit was too deep, of course he would be left to his own resources – but this should help him get started. 

It did not take too long.  He did not, after all, have all that much time – his son-by-marriage needed help and he needed it now.  He looked at the knotted strip as it began to pool at his feet.  Ten yards at least, he reckoned.  And, if the hole was any deeper than that, the ellon might not have survived to be waiting for his wife’s atar to come to his rescue.

Taryatur swallowed as he fixed the improvised rope firmly around the branch.  The ellon needed him – and he would not be found wanting.

He let himself slide over the edge and began his descent.

***

He thought his eyes were open.  But, if they were, why was it dark?  And why did he seem to be resting on a squirrel’s hoard of nutshells?

He could smell rock, he thought.  Rock and water – the kind of water that had seeped over years through layers of stone on its way to trickle eventually back into Anor’s light.  But he could also smell leaf litter and splintered wood and rain.  And, diluted by the other scents, he could smell blood.  Judging from his pain, the blood was his own.

Legolas attempted to move, tried to bring his hand over to cover the warm liquid he could feel turning sticky on his clothes, but it just hurt too much.

He had fallen.  He frowned.  But it was the elm that had fallen – how had he ended up in one of Gimli’s wretched tunnels, away from the living light of the forest?

A spray of small stones skittered down over the rough surface and he raised one arm to shield his face.  The other, he noted, was reluctant to obey his instructions.  Dislocated, he suspected.

He sighed.  The forest floor had dropped away beneath his feet.  Lightning had crackled across the sky and the tree had sung through the air as he had bounced back from his contact with Taryatur.  For a moment – just for a moment – he had frozen as a branch headed straight for him like a grossly oversized spear.  But, between them, he and the tree had twisted and the heavy bough had struck the ground no more than inches from his feet. The sound of splintering rock had echoed in the crack of thunder and he had been left standing on air.

But only briefly.

And then his memory was no more than a confused jumble of rolling and slithering and bright flashes of pain as he hit jagged rock – and jagged rock hit back – before he dropped into total darkness.

He must assess his injuries and decide how he was going to get out of here.  In a minute.  He just needed a minute to rest and gather his strength.  He let his eyes close.  It did not matter – after all, they were little use to him here.

Legolas roused suddenly, aware he was not alone.  His breathing shortened as his muscles tensed.  He grunted as pain flared.

‘Do not move.’  Taryatur sounded irritated.  ‘I am trying to discover where you are hurt.’

‘All you need to do is ask,’ his son-in-law retaliated.  ‘I am sure I could inform you with less discomfort.’

‘The bleeding has mostly stopped.’  Taryatur was continuing his investigation rather more gently.  ‘But you have lost a lot of blood – you are lying in a puddle of it - and your leg certainly needs stitching.’

‘Unfortunately I omitted to bring my sewing kit with me.’

Taryatur sighed.  ‘Do you want me to help you set your shoulder?  Or would you rather leave it as it is?’

A cascade of debris jostled its way down the steep chute and he felt Taryatur spread himself over his body to keep the mud and stones from burying him.

‘I would be grateful for your help,’ he said, rather more conciliatorily once the shower had finished.  ‘This does not seem the best place to remain – and I do not seem able to move unaided.’

‘There is a pool,’ Taryatur sighed.  ‘And there seems to be little space to set up home.  And then I do know better than to move you until your hurts have been assessed.’

‘Remaining in the way of rock-fall in order not to aggravate injury is counter-productive, though.’  Legolas still found it hard to keep his eyes open.  ‘And I do not wish to become resident here.’

Taryatur’s failure to answer his provocation was enough to make him focus his attention on his wife’s adar.  The elf appeared to be exerting a strong control over himself – not a good sign in an elf who was normally only too vocal.

‘Now you know that I am not likely to expire, surely you can find your way back home to gather enough help to get me out of here.’

‘Easier said than done,’ Taryatur informed him dryly.  ‘The tree appears to have given up any attempt to hold itself above the ground.  As I was descending, it dropped – sharply enough that I almost lost my grip on my handholds – and blocked the hole through which we both came.  We are trapped in a pit no-one knows exists, beneath an unsuspected and hidden access point – with all traces of our passage washed out by torrential rain.  We could, I am afraid, be here some time.’

Legolas concentrated on breathing steadily, in and out.  This was not good.  This was not good at all.  It was all very well being injured when you knew you could seek expert attention as soon as possible – still preferable, of course, to be undamaged, but at least you knew healing would not be long delayed – but being stuck underground, hurt, in the presence of his atar-in-law was the kind of torment that should be illegal.

‘We have no water – although it certainly seems wet enough here that that should be no problem, no food, no means of making fire for warmth or light and no tools other than a pocket knife,’ Taryatur continued to list their difficulties.  ‘You are incapacitated – and my knowledge of healing is severely limited.’

Somehow, under the depressing litany, Legolas heard worry and a desperate fear that whatever Taryatur had to offer would not be enough.  He reached out blindly with his left hand and grasped the Noldo’s wrist.  ‘We have both been in worse places,’ he said.  ‘We will get out of this.’

Taryatur stilled.  ‘I admire your confidence,’ he said, after a moment.  ‘I would like to see how.’

‘Something will turn up.’ Legolas spoke with determined optimism.  ‘I will think better when my head stops hurting.’

‘Only your head?’

‘Well – maybe a few other parts,’ Legolas admitted reluctantly.

‘Getting your shoulder back in its socket will be a start then,’ Taryatur suggested.  ‘And binding your leg so that the flesh can begin to heal.’

‘I am not a very good patient,’ his son-in-law admitted.

‘I remember.’  Taryatur spoke with emphasis. He seemed to think it was a good idea to keep the elf distracted as he began to manipulate his arm.  ‘And I doubt I have my daughter’s resources when it comes to keeping you occupied.’

Legolas could not hold back a cry as the swollen joint popped back into place.

‘My attempt at a rope broke,’ Taryatur told him.  ‘But at least it gives me something I can use to bind your arm in place.’

The pain diminished slowly, like an ebbing tide, until it reached a level when it was … quite bearable.  ‘Thank you,’ Legolas said simply.

Taryatur rested his hand on his son-in-law’s wrist, as if checking his pulse, but his warm fingers offered a slightly awkward, but comforting pat.  ‘You are most welcome,’ he said.

***

Elerrina paced.  She could not find enough to do to keep her mind away from her atar fleeing before the storm and her husband seeking him.  Thunder rumbled again as if even the sky was laughing at her hope that somehow – somehow – an understanding could be built between two of the people she loved most in the world.

‘Peace, child.’ Thranduil sounded amused.  ‘Neither of them will come to any harm.’

She turned, her skirts swirling round her ankles.  Fond as she was of her children’s daeradar, she was far too well-trained to tell him plainly that he had no idea what he was talking about.  Not that she needed to – Thranduil could read her as easily as he could a book.  He had not spent an age and more managing a very contrary group of elves without being able to hear what they did not say.

‘Something is wrong,’ she fretted. 

‘The storm is dying down.  They will return soon enough – wet and cross and aiming barbed darts at each other.’ 

Elerrina opened her mouth – whether to defend her husband or her atar, Thranduil could not decide – but then sighed, her shoulders slumping in a way that revealed how disheartened she was.

‘It is not your fault, my daughter,’ he told her mildly.  ‘No-one blames you.’

‘You do not need to,’ she said.  ‘I blame myself.’  She turned to look out at the slackening rain.  ‘Surely enough time has passed for the two of them to learn each other’s strengths.  I must have done something wrong for their hostility to be so strong still.’

Thranduil came over to the window and slipped a comforting arm around her waist.  ‘Legolas has always been a slow learner,’ he teased.  ‘It took him long enough to realise what a treasure he had found in you – but he managed in the end.’  He dropped a paternal kiss on the top of Elerrina’s head.  ‘And he can be charming when he wants – if your atar would meet him part-way, Legolas would be only too likely to win him over.’

‘But Atar does not bend.’  Elerrina blinked back tears.  ‘He can hold on indefinitely.’

Thranduil squeezed her gently.  ‘Not on this,’ he declared.  ‘I am not prepared to tolerate it – and I am very good at getting my way.’  He shook his head.  ‘If Legolas does not wear him down, I will take on the challenge myself.’

Elerrina felt a twinge of sympathy for her atar.  He did not know what he had taken on in challenging the lords of Lasgalen – but then, neither did they know of the dogged persistence of Taryatur Urundilion.  And it was all because of her.  This was how divisions between kindreds began.  Divisions that became enmity.

Anxiety clutched at her again, shortening her breath and making her head ache.  Just for a moment the trees before her darkened and span and she grabbed at Thranduil’s arm to steady herself.

‘I hope they return soon,’ she worried.  ‘There is something … it does not feel right.  I cannot …’  Her head swam and the room fractured before her sight.

Thranduil lifted her easily to a nearby sofa.  ‘Linevendë!’ he called urgently.  ‘Laerwen!  Come quickly – Elerrina is unwell!’

His care warmed her and eased her panic as she relaxed into the cushioned chair.  She would be all right.  If only she could be as certain about her husband and father.

***

A faint light reached down from the distant opening and convinced Taryatur that the storm had finally ended.  It was just enough – barely – to let him see what he was doing as he cleaned out the gash that split his son-in-law’s swollen thigh. 

The ellon hissed as he used the icy water to swill out the mud and fragments of rock, but he remained stolidly still.  There was no denying the boy’s courage – or his determination, Taryatur acknowledged. 

‘I am sorry,’ he said distractedly.  ‘I am trying not to hurt you – but you do not want the flesh to heal over this dirt.  Elves may not be subject to infection – but who knows what we could be sealing inside you?  I have seen some nasty …’  He let the words trail away.  If the Wood elf did not know what could happen, there was no point worrying him.

‘I, too, have seen the results of contaminated injuries.’ 

Well, he would have done, would he not?  Taryatur sighed.  And caused a few, doubtless.  ‘This is earth, and leaf litter and gravel,’ he said.  ‘None of which has been fouled by Morgoth’s creatures.  It is unlikely to harm you.’

‘We can hope.’

They had carefully eased Legolas away from the drop to a place where the rock ledge was wider and rather flatter.  Taryatur briefly regretted sacrificing his cloak – the ellon really needed something more comfortable to rest on than bare stone.  But then, his cloak had been wet – and there was little prospect of it drying down here in this low, water-filled cavern.  There was little prospect of anything drying.  He sighed as he used Súrion’s small knife to cut half his undershirt into bandages.  The remainder would, if folded carefully, make a pad to bind in place and keep any more dirt from the wound.  It would not keep the ellon any warmer, though – and he knew well enough that those suffering from shock should be kept warm.

‘Have you any thoughts about how we are going to get out of here?’  He should not let Legolas sleep: not yet.  Not until he was sure that he would not lapse into unconsciousness.

Legolas sighed.  ‘I have spent enough time thinking about it,’ he said, ‘to be fairly sure that if we cannot return the way we came  and the only other possible route is filled to the roof with icy water, we are not going anywhere.’  Taryatur caught the glint of his son-in-law’s eyes watching him.  ‘I cannot swim and I cannot climb – and I suspect that by the time my injuries have healed sufficiently for me to try, I will be too cold and worn to make any attempt.’

Warm hands closed on his.  ‘I am not about to let you give up,’ Taryatur informed him fiercely.  ‘We will come up with a solution that will see us both going safely home.’

He released his daughter’s husband abruptly and began searching around among the loose rocks and debris.

Legolas blinked.  Was it his imagination, or had Taryatur just offered him support?  ‘What are you doing?’ he asked cautiously.

‘A fair amount of wood and dead leaves have found there way down here.  If I can get them to burn, at least we can be dry and in need of rescue.’

The Wood elf laughed briefly.  ‘If I still have my pouch,’ he offered, ‘it contains tinder and a sparkstone.’

‘Things seem better already.’

‘We must be careful,’ Legolas warned.  ‘If we have rock above us, I daresay we will do no harm – but the last thing we want to do is set fire to the roots of the trees above us.  We could find ourselves in a particularly nasty trap.’

Taryatur looked above the spot where Legolas rested and reached up to tap the hilt of his knife carefully against the ceiling.  The chink identified rock.  ‘It looks safe enough.  Water-worn, but solid.  It will take more than a few burning twigs to bring this down.’

‘Good.’  Legolas shifted awkwardly.  ‘I have never found the idea of being under a rock fall too appealing.’

‘While being under a falling tree is?’ The Noldo managed to inject an amused edge into his voice.

‘That, too, is worth avoiding.’

Taryatur turned his head to look up towards the distant green-tinted patch of light.  ‘How long do you think it will be before anyone thinks to look beyond the fact that the elm has fallen?’

‘A day or two,’ Legolas admitted.  ‘Perhaps longer if Elerrina gets them all too caught up in seeking us.’

The Noldo snorted.  ‘It will be ironic if our – my behaviour is what compels us to spend more time in each other’s company.’  He deposited a small pile of dry leaves and twigs at arms’ length from Legolas.  ‘There is not much,’ he admitted, ‘not if we want to keep a flame burning over several days.  And most of what there is to be found is pretty wet.  It will give off more smoke than flame.’

‘It could make a signal fire,’ Legolas suggested hopefully.  ‘Any sign of smoke will have searchers looking for lightning strikes.’

‘We will try it,’ Taryatur shrugged.  ‘And if, by chance, your clothes dry at the same time, so much the better.’

The Noldo was competent – that was the first thing that surprised the watching Wood elf.  He handled the business of catching a spark and blowing it to flame like an old campaigner.  Which, of course, he was.  Legolas inspected the figure that was little more than shadow.  What must it have been like, he thought, to lose the benign light of the Trees and be plunged into darkness, death and destruction?  It was no wonder that those of the Noldor who had stayed here in Aman were … defensive.  Wary.  Condemned by the actions of others, they had barely had time to recover when they were called on to face the demands of war – and given little chance to refuse to heed the call.  How would Galenthil react if he were summoned to an unknown land to fight a common enemy in the company of those he had been taught to think of as renegades?  How would he feel if his young son were taken to spill his blood on a battlefield beyond an unforgiving sea?

Taryatur sat beyond the tiny fire, feeding it carefully to keep it burning on the least amount of fuel, while using his body to provide a barrier between the corner they occupied and the heat-absorbing expanse of icy water.  

It made a difference.  Legolas stretched his uninjured arm out, spreading his fingers eagerly to welcome the small amount of warmth.  He had not realised how cold he had become. 

‘Careful.’  Taryatur mouth stretched into an attempt at a smile.  ‘Setting yourself on fire will not help in the long run.’

Now that there was little to do but watch and wait, the Noldo seemed more … shadowed, Legolas mused.  Although that was a ridiculous thought, here where everything was only a flame from complete darkness.  What, he wondered, was causing the elf to stare into the fire?  ‘We will damage our ability to see into the gloom,’ he remarked.  ‘Fire makes the dark darker.’

Taryatur shrugged.  ‘There seems to be little else to threaten us.’  He sounded distant, as if part of his mind was elsewhere.  ‘We are just stuck here until someone notices the chimney and clears the tree away.’

‘I have never been too fond of confined spaces,’ Legolas admitted.  ‘And after Moria…’  He stopped.  ‘You know the story?’  Most did, of course, but it was not impossible that Elerrina’s atar had refused to listen.

‘Hordes of orcs and a Balrog,’ Taryatur summed up the experience.

‘Endless dark and the stench of orc pits – the sullen glow of fire from the deep and the presence of … evil.  And Olórin fell…’

‘I was among those sent into Angband to release Morgoth’s slaves,’ Taryatur volunteered abruptly.  ‘Multitudes – tormented beyond the bearing of elves and men.  Some waited only to see the sky and breathe free air before they released their fëar to Námo’s care.  Many were driven to madness – and the ships carried them west so that Estë could offer them the peace of Irmo’s gardens and try to offer healing.  Others … broken beyond any hope of recovery.  Even those who walked away …’  His voice shook.  ‘None were unchanged.’

Legolas winced.  ‘My adar was present when Dol Guldur fell.  There were captives there whose bodies – whose minds – bore witness to Sauron’s early training in malice.’  He looked at his atar-in-law.  ‘And Isengard…’  He drew a steadying breath.  ‘Fallen Maiar are capable of greater cruelty than elves can imagine.’

The two shared a silent brooding on the past, before putting it to one side.  ‘It is not too bad here,’ Legolas said lightly.  ‘At least we have water to drink and a fire.’

‘If we had only thought to bring food and blankets,’ Taryatur joined in.  ‘We could have had a picnic.’

A half-laugh escaped Legolas.  ‘A harp,’ he suggested, ‘and we could have danced.’

‘They would have to drag us out of here.’ 

A slithering and scraping preceded the arrival of more debris from the forest above and both held themselves still, heads cocked like hunting dogs as they peered towards the sound. 

Taryatur sighed.  ‘I hope more wood has been delivered.  You need warmth and rest.’

‘I will be fine,’ Legolas told him.  ‘You do not need to concern yourself about me.’

There was a moment’s silence.  ‘You will excuse me if I do not comply with that request.’  Taryatur spoke somewhat distantly.  ‘I believe my daughter would prefer to have you returned safely.’  He hesitated.  ‘And I owe you my best efforts.’

Legolas opened his mouth to reply, but then decided that there was really nothing to be said.  There was little point in engaging in competition with this prickly elf – they were stuck here together and that was that.  He sighed.  He only hoped a search party would find them soon.  Before their careful courtesy wore out would be best for both of them.  The only thing was that he did not see it happening.  He shifted, trying vainly to get comfortable on the cold stone.  This could be a long wait.

***

He roused suddenly, breathing hard.  Isengard had been flooded when the Ents freed the waters – but enough detritus had swirled helplessly in the filthy lake around the tower’s base to give experienced warriors a pretty good idea of what had been happening in the pits beneath the soaring deception of Saruman’s refuge.

‘Here.’  A strong hand proffered a leaky cup bent from a section of bark.  ‘Drink this.’

Legolas swallowed.  The water had a taste of the forest, sharp and green, overlying the taste of ancient rains.  ‘Thank you.’

‘You do not forget, do you?’  There was an unexpected fellow feeling in the Noldo’s voice.  ‘They haunt you – no matter how many centuries have passed.’

‘In many ways, worse followed,’ Legolas admitted.  ‘I was able to dismiss these memories in acquiring more.  It was not long before we followed the Paths of the Dead – and then confronted the massed hordes of Mordor.’

‘I have often wondered,’ Taryatur said, sitting back and offering the tiny fire another twig, ‘about the fate of orcs.  Are their lives snuffed out, as if they do not matter?  They are descended from those who were snatched in the darkness and made for their purpose.  Are they inherently evil?  Or victims?  And then, what became of those who were born elves only to be taken and tormented and twisted to fit the perversions of Morgoth?’

‘Orcs are evil,’ Legolas said, clearing his throat and taking another swallow of water.  ‘They are not Ilúvatar’s children, but Morgoth’s servants.’

‘Were not the Dwarves the children of Aulë?’ Taryatur said meditatively.  ‘And Ilúvatar took them into his care and gave them the same love he offers his own creations.  Might he not also care for creatures made by Melkor?’

‘The Dwarves were created as an act of love,’ Legolas countered.  ‘Orcs – were anything but that.’ 

‘I would hope that the ruined elves whose bodies we brought from Angband were granted as much grace as the kinslayers.’  The elf sighed.  ‘Námo’s care – and the chance of a new life, if ever they were ready to endure the weight of another body.’

Legolas contemplated the elf across the fire.  It was as if the dark and the confinement had released something that had been suppressed for far too long.  ‘Perhaps you should speak with my Daeradar on the subject,’ he said.  ‘He was at Angband – and he has walked Mandos’s Halls.  He will have a better idea than most.’

The shadows shifted as Taryatur’s jaw tensed and his eyes glinted briefly in the red light.  ‘Perhaps,’ he said non-committally enough that Legolas felt that the chances of his atar-in-law making any such approach were minimal.  Strange that the elf should seem so hostile to one he did not know.  Or perhaps not – after all, Taryatur was good at putting others into categories and judging them.

‘Or Glorfindel,’ he offered, oddly anxious to return the Noldo to his more expansive mood.  ‘Finrod, perhaps.’  He grinned.  ‘Or Aulë himself.  If anyone would know, it would be one of the Powers.’ 

The slight sounds the small fire made seemed unnaturally loud in the stone-walled silence of the hidden cave.  Taryatur brooded over it, watching as Legolas lapsed back into a half doze.  The ellon seemed in less pain – which was good, he thought.  He was warmer, too, and his clothes were drier.  If necessary, he could always exchange tunics with his son-in-law once his own was fully dry.  It would not do to let the ellon become unwell.  He looked queasily at the Wood elf’s damaged leg – he had lost a lot of blood and the treatment Taryatur had been able to offer was … primitive, to say the least.  The limb was swollen – but no further bleeding stained the improvised bandage.  He was not entirely sure whether that was good or bad.

Legolas woke as he attempted to turn and his breath caught.  It took a moment or two for memory to return, but as it did, he relaxed.  Not some orc den, then, and the faint smell of blood that flared his nostrils was his own.

‘Your dream path was uneasy?’  Taryatur sounded interested – almost reassured.

‘No,’ Legolas said promptly.  ‘I put pressure on my shoulder and it jolted me awake.’  He was not going to let his wife’s adar think his dreams were haunted by his experiences.  He had heard more than enough on the ill effects of living a warrior’s life in a land affected by evil.  As if Morgoth had not walked the lands of the Blessed Realm!

Taryatur shrugged as if he did not believe him and watched the ellon settle himself back down.  ‘Try to get some rest,’ he suggested.  ‘There is little else for us to do.’

***

‘There were several lightning strikes,’ Thranduil said wearily.  ‘One fire took hold and was beginning to spread when, fortunately, the rain began.  That one needs watching carefully – the ashes are steaming and the fear is that the ground might be smouldering still and the embers simply waiting to revive.  The others – various trees were struck and have come down.  The damage they have caused…’ he sighed, ‘I hate it when the lives of healthy trees are cut short.’

Laerwen echoed his sigh.  ‘Even here,’ she said, ‘life is not without its challenges.  Yet, in the long term, the forest benefits.  Glades are opened and saplings sprout.  Dead wood provides homes for many tiny creatures that, in their turn, offer food to birds and beasts.  Tree-fall disrupts the song but briefly and a new melody emerges.’

He came up behind her and rested his hands gently on her shoulders.  ‘You are very encouraging,’ he said.

Taking her attention briefly from the elfling in her arms, Laerwen turned her head to look up at him.  ‘We have time here,’ she told him.  ‘Events seem to move so slowly – but their effects are all the more secure for that.’

He placed a kiss on her fair hair.  ‘Are we talking Taryatur here?  Or my adar?  Or are you being enigmatic about something quite different.’

She laughed.  ‘As long as we all keep trying, it will all work out.’

‘Optimist!’

‘Cynic.’

‘Experience warns me that matters can always get worse.’

‘Faith assures me that endeavour always makes matters better.’

‘So you expect our son and his atar-in-law to return with greater understanding between them?’

Laerwen paused.  ‘Some matters take longer than others,’ she said with dignity.  ‘They will build bridges between them at some point.  They have more in common than they will admit.’

‘Well – Elerrina and her elflings.’

‘More than that – although that should be enough on its own.’

Thranduil thought briefly of asking her what that bond might be – but then decided that it was unnecessary.  He already knew – and he knew that denying that link was a survival technique that had served Taryatur, at least, for far too long for him to find it easy to set aside. 

‘Elerrina is anxious to send out search parties to find them.’

‘Not yet.’  Laerwen smiled and her husband reflected on the fact that she could be charmingly ruthless.  ‘We have fires and flooding to use as an excuse – and if Legolas and Taryatur are forced to lean on each other, it might help break through their barriers.’

‘I am glad that you are on my side,’ the Woodland King informed her, his fingers burrowing beneath her hair to caress the soft skin of her neck.  ‘I would not like to have you scheming against me.’

Her smile brightened.  ‘Hold that thought,’ she said demurely, ‘and all will be well.’ 

***

The tiny fire offered comfort, even if its warmth was limited.  Should he answer Taryatur’s question?  It had come abruptly – and it was intrusive, no doubt about it.  But Laerwen’s death was no secret – Taryatur could find the answer in any of a dozen different ways.  He sighed.  Why not be honest about it?

‘The Watchful Peace had not long ended and there was no reason to suspect … There were no orcs that close to the centre of my adar’s power.’  Legolas paused. ‘I had not seen orcs before,’ he said.  ‘They were big – hard-eyed – purposeful.  Not, I now realise, the usual goblins that infested the edges of the forest.  They were not simply roaming in search of food, but on a mission.  And they found us.  The trees warned us of our danger and we took refuge in the heights – but they had archers.  They picked off the guard, then set a fire at the base of the tree and prepared to take us alive when we were forced to jump.’  He smiled.  ‘They did not expect the forest to come to my naneth’s defence and resist them.  They did not expect my adar to arrive so swiftly – but it did not stop them.  Orcs are nothing if not single-minded.  When they realised they would not be able to take both my naneth and me, they aimed a dart at her, to make her fall from the tree with me in her arms – but the tree would not let her go.  It held us both fast, while her blood spilled like rain on the forest floor.’  The silence stretched beyond the darkness to echo from a grieving forest across space and time.  ‘When my adar climbed up to us, her fëa had already flown.  He had to prise me from her arms – and then I would not release him so that he could bring her down and he had to watch as his captain lifted her free.’

He brooded over what had, for so long, been his only recollection of his naneth.  ‘It was a terrible time.’

‘Yet your adar did not sail.’

Legolas flicked a glance at the impassive figure.  ‘He had a duty to remain.  He could not abandon his people – his forest.  I was his only heir and he could hardly have left a heart-torn elfling to be king – even in the unlikely event that I could have survived losing both my parents.  He was needed – and so was I.’

‘Lord Thranduil has great strength.’

The Wood elf looked at him in surprise.  ‘He has,’ he agreed.  ‘And tenacity.  Tremendous tenacity.  If he had been going to let disaster dictate his reactions, he would never have returned from Dagorlad.’

Taryatur sighed.  ‘Elves are not meant to live as warriors.’

The temptation to roll his eyes and snap at the Noldo was almost irresistible, but Legolas curbed his tongue.  He failed to see how his atar-in-law could continue to repeat such a thoughtless aphorism – especially in the light of what he had revealed about his time before Angband.  ‘Neither are they meant to bend their knee before evil and accept it meekly,’ he said.  ‘Is it not better to take a stand on what you believe is right than allow one such as Morgoth – or Sauron – to pervert the creation that Ilúvatar intended?  Is it not sometimes necessary to place yourself between evil and innocence?’

‘Of course it is,’ Taryatur snapped.  ‘But is it not best of all to preserve innocence and keep it from any contact with evil?’

Legolas blinked.  Was Taryatur saying that the wars against Morgoth and his henchmen had been necessary?  But that the Blessed Realm should have remained inviolate – free of the taint of those who had seen corruption at first hand?   ‘How do you know what is wrong if you do not look it in the face?’ he asked.  ‘How do you decide what must be guarded if you never see beyond it?’  He shifted.  Perhaps he should be worried that the stone beneath him no longer felt so cold – or, come to that, so hard.  His leg, on the other hand, was definitely hot.  Hotter than the fire.  When the wood gave out – which would not be long delayed – at least he should be able to keep his wife’s atar from becoming too chilled.

‘Let me look at that.’

The Wood elf flinched as Taryatur released the strips keeping the pad in place.  The wound was weeping a pale fluid that smelled less than pleasant – and the swelling had increased.  The Noldo winced.  This was not going to get better on its own.  He washed it as clean as he could and replaced the rinsed cloth.

‘We cannot simply wait to be rescued,’ he said.  ‘I have to try to get out of here.  You need a healer.’

Legolas tried to grin.  ‘There is never one handy when you need one.’ 

‘The tree is blocking the obvious exit,’ Taryatur said, ‘but the water must go somewhere.’  He looked doubtfully at the icy pool.  It seemed to end in inky darkness where the ceiling came down to meet it.  ‘There might be an opening.’

‘Throw in a twig before you attempt it yourself.  See if it goes anywhere.  It seems to me that the water is too still to be flowing anywhere – it might be that it simply seeps slowly down to a lower level.’  Legolas glanced towards the place he knew the entrance to be.  ‘I cannot help but feel that there is only one way out of here.’ 

‘I suppose I could try to cut away enough of the branch to squeeze through,’ Taryatur said doubtfully.  ‘At the very least it would give us firewood.’

‘I had a decent-sized knife.’  Legolas felt for it, but found only the empty sheath.  ‘I must have lost it in the fall.’

‘Can you reach our supply of fuel?’  Taryatur did not want the fire going out – it seemed to offer their only glimmer of hope in this prison.  He sighed.  ‘I will try to climb up and see if I can make any impression on that trap door.’

Legolas reached out and snagged Taryatur’s wrist.  ‘Be careful,’ he said.  ‘I do not want to have to crawl to your rescue.’

The Noldo looked up at the steep chute and took a deep breath.  ‘Keep still,’ he said, ‘and rest, while I see what I can do.’

 

Spanning the Gap

The wood was too green – and the knife too small.  Taryatur restrained his urge to use what Linevendë called unnecessarily expressive language.  He had managed to cut away a quantity of smaller twigs and even sawed at one or two the thickness of his wrist – but the knife would wear down to a stub before he made any impression on the great bough that had fallen to plug the hole.  And behind that, he sighed, the girth of the trunk weighted it in place.

He had hoped, as he clambered over topsoil and leaf litter that, if he could not move the tree, he might at least be able to use the knife and some of the stronger sticks to scrape away the sides of the hole and widen it enough for him to squeeze through – but there was not a chance.  The falling branch had shattered the stone capping the chimney and the edges were solid rock.  It was, if anything, remarkable that Legolas had managed to fall through in the first place – and possibly even more remarkable that Taryatur had been able to follow.

The Noldo rested his head on the rough bark.  He should have gone for help.  Had he done that, Legolas could, even now, be recovering in Elerrina’s care. 

Of course, had he done that, the ellon might well have bled to death before help could reach him.

Whereas now, he might die from lack of expert care before being rescued.

Taryatur closed his eyes.  Please, he thought desperately, please help him.  The ellon does not deserve this.  He might not have been as accepting of the Wood elf as he could have been – but that did not mean he wished him any harm. 

Leaves brushed against his cheek mockingly as if determined to make him aware of the world beyond this dimly-lit trap.  He brushed them away, slightly surprised to find that his face was wet.  A faintly mint-like smell freshened the air as he breathed in, a fragrance that reminded him of small spikes of purple flowers… Self-heal, he thought, suddenly alert.  Self-heal – an infusion that helped clean the blood – leaves that could be chewed to a paste and applied externally to heal wounds.

One plant dangling from the broken finger of a branch – but where one grew, there were many others.  He scrambled closer to the hole, twisting to get as close as he could to the broken edge above his head.  Carefully he eased his fingers through the net of intersecting twigs, seeking the soft flower heads and pulling plants free of the light soil. 

When he could reach no more to draw back into the dark, he began a careful descent, holding the double handful of plants carefully bunched up in his tunic.  It would be better if he could heat water, he thought, to infuse them – although, if necessary the ellon could always chew the leaves himself.  The taste would be unpleasant, but the effect would be worth it – and, if he recalled correctly, the medicine did not take long to work.  Not on elves, anyway.  Men – well, they were a different breed, one that took ill easily and surrendered life without much of a fight.

He felt better, he realised.  Helplessness did not suit him – he and the Wood elf might still be trapped here, but he had found firewood and medicine and, with them, hope.  They would get out of here.  Maybe not through their own efforts – but what did that matter?  Elves worked together for the greater good – and he would accept rescue, when it came, with good grace.  For now – he must make sure that the ellon was as comfortable and well-tended as he could be.

***

Thranduil raised one hand in acceptance.  ‘I am sorry, my dear,’ he said.  ‘The fires absorbed my attention and I was of the opinion that Legolas – and your atar – were well able to care for themselves.’  He glanced at his wife.  ‘Have you any indication of a disturbance within the forest?  The trees would not rest easily if they knew Legolas to be in peril.’

‘I cannot feel him at all.’ Laerwen sounded puzzled. She bit her lower lip in frustration. ‘If I did not know better, I would assure you that he was nowhere nearby.’

Linevendë frowned, but remained silent, apparently calm, except for the fingers that were pleating and repleating the fabric of her gown.  Somehow, the absence of both her husband and her daughter’s did not seem to her to augur well.

‘He does not feel … quite himself,’ Elerrina said anxiously.  ‘I was afraid for him – and then not – and then I do not know what I felt.’  She took a couple of hasty steps towards the door, then turned back uncertainly.  ‘Find him, Adar, please!’ she implored.  ‘And Atar, too.  He is not himself when a storm is raging.  It makes him …’ She stopped and looked at her amil before continuing, ‘And he shuts us out.’

‘Please, Thranduil,’ Linevendë requested softly.  ‘He does not like to worry me and returns swiftly once Anor disperses the thunder clouds.  For him to be missing for so long a time is worrying.’

‘I will organise people to go off in different directions,’ Thranduil promised.  ‘And if the pair of them are embarrassed to be sought – then they should have thought of that.’

Elerrina looked at him doubtfully.  ‘If Legolas would prefer to be left…’

‘I am joking, my dear,’ Thranduil assured her.  ‘He would not stay away on purpose – he would know that you would be worrying about him.  And so,’ he added, glancing at Linevendë, ‘would your atar.  They are not elflings.’

‘Legolas offered to take Súrion and Galenthil off to camp in the woods,’ Camentur said.  ‘You know he will be back in time to do that – do not look so worried, little sister!’  He shook his head at her.  ‘Any one of a dozen things could have delayed them both.  Doubtless they took shelter from the rain – or found themselves on the far side of a flooded stream – or stopped to help in suppressing the fires – or merely to clear fallen debris.  They probably have no idea that we are worried about them.’

Thranduil admired the Noldo’s skill.  He managed to be calm, amused and reassuring all in one go.  Not bad going at all, considering he had sought the Woodland King out only an hour ago to tell him how concerned he was – and suggest that the time had come for an all-out search.  Perhaps years of working at Finarfin’s court were worth something, after all.

‘The forest is disrupted by the storm,’ Laerwen said, raising her chin as if scenting the mood of the wood.  ‘It will take a while to settle back into its usual calm.  Legolas and Taryatur may well be seeking the cause of some part of the chaos – Taryatur would not be willing to let Súrion wander in a forest that he did not believe to be safe and Legolas would humour him in this.’

The eyes of the two ellyn met and Camentur raised an ironic eyebrow, but remained silent.

‘I will see who is available to search,’ Thranduil surrendered.  ‘There will be few – most of the foresters are busy on tasks that cannot be delayed – but there are some guards who can be detailed to make a start.  If they fail to turn up anything … well, come dawn, then we will seek them in earnest.’

***

‘Vile,’ mumbled Legolas.  ‘It tastes vile.’

‘You said that last time,’ Taryatur reminded him.  ‘And the time before that. But it seems to be having some effect – and that is more important.’

Even the small amount of light provided by the embers could not conceal the loathing in the glance that his son-in-law threw at him.

Taryatur forced down the bubble of laughter that, quite unexpectedly, rose up in him.  The last time he had been the victim of such a scathing look had been when he had held a similarly repulsive concoction in front of his son and insisted that he drink it.  He continued to use the edge of a small rock to pound some of the remaining leaves into a paste thinned with a trickle of water, making sure to soak up every drop in the fine lawn that had once been his undershirt before applying it to a wound that was – finally – beginning to draw together now that the swelling was diminishing. 

‘It is looking better.’

‘It is feeling better.’ 

Taryatur tied the pad in place and noted that Legolas seemed to find the coolness a relief, even if he did not want to admit it. 

‘I just wish we had some clean cloth to use – it cannot be good to continue using the same one.’

Legolas took a swallow of water from the bark cup.  ‘It will have to do.’  He took another sip, swirling it round his mouth in an attempt to remove the taste of the leaves.  ‘Although – I have some vague memory of reading that elm leaves could be applied to heal wounds.’

‘Well – elm leaves we have in plenty.’  Taryatur raised his eyebrows at his son-in-law.  ‘You think they would do no harm?’

‘What harm could they do?’

‘I will fetch some.’  Taryatur sat back against the wall, while the Wood elf added a few twigs and splinters of wood to the fire.  Now he was not so worried, he thought with amusement, this had become almost homely.  He looked around the cavern – then blinked and looked again.   ‘Is it my imagination, Legolas,’ he said, ‘or is the water level rising?’

The Wood elf propped himself up on the elbow of his undamaged arm.  ‘Oh, by Elbereth’s blessed stars,’ he said.  ‘It is not rising quickly – yet – but it is definitely rising.’

‘It is probably as well you convinced me not to chance the water as a way of seeking an exit.’

‘Although the chance of our getting wet where we are has increased.’

Taryatur moved to reach a hand over the ledge where they had established themselves and then straightened.  ‘We have a span to go before we need to worry – if it continues to rise at this rate it will take a while to become a danger.  If they are not looking for us before that, I will be very disappointed in them.  They must be beginning to worry that we will be unable to tolerate each other much longer.’

Legolas hesitated.  ‘I think we have come to a better understanding,’ he said, looking intently at his wife’s adar and noting the slight inclination of his head. ‘But we could understand each other better still – if only we are prepared to speak more openly to each other.’  Taryatur stilled, but did not reject the statement.  Legolas let the pause extend between them for a moment.  ‘Why do storms upset you so?’

Only the Noldo’s eyes moved.  He fixed them on Legolas’s shadowed face, lit only by the flickering of the flames, then suddenly shrugged.  ‘You know,’ he said.  ‘Better than most of the elves of the Blessed Realm.  You have seen battle.  You know how the clamour resembles the madness of the storm – while the fires of Morgoth’s dragons sear the sky.’

The fair head tilted slowly to one side, and the firelight glinted in the eyes that considered him.  ‘It is different for everyone, I think.  It reminds me more of the irresistible flooding of a winter river in the spring thaw – chunks of ice pushing all before them, then catching and spinning and breaking off in different directions.’  He paused.  ‘I become cold in battle – and everything around me slows down so that I feel as if I have all the time in the world.’

Taryatur rubbed his hand over his head.  ‘That is one response,’ he conceded.  ‘It seemed like chaos to me – although I think that, as I grew more accustomed to warfare, it began to take on more of a pattern.’

‘I cannot imagine being confronted by a full-scale battle as my first experience beyond the training field.’  Legolas spoke with conviction.  ‘That is a sure way for a commander to lose far too many of his warriors.’

‘Yes,’ Taryatur said dryly.  ‘Well, we did not have a lot of choice.  It was learn quickly or – do the other thing.’

Legolas winced.  ‘I have lost more than enough friends – and warriors who looked to me for command – to know the bitterness that brings.’

‘My atar died within days of our landing.’

His son-in-law stared at him until a twig cracked and he dropped his eyes to feed a little more wood to the embers.  ‘I did not know that.’

‘And my brother, who followed Fingolfin east, did not survive to greet the Host.’  He hesitated.  ‘I have never spoken of this – but, if what I was told is true, he might have been among the heaps of bones that lay rotting in Angband’s dungeons.’

‘Oh, Taryatur!’ Legolas swallowed. ‘That knowledge is too great a burden for anyone to bear alone.’

‘And I hope he was,’ Taryatur murmured, ‘for the alternative is infinitely worse.’

***

The trees around the fallen elm seemed to shiver in a breeze that did not stir the hair of the elves who had come to assess the damage.  Aelindor looked up and narrowed his eyes.

‘There are a few broken branches,’ the young elf with him said.  ‘Should we trim them to prevent spores infecting the trees?’

‘It would be the best idea,’ Aelindor agreed absently.  ‘The elm is beyond saving.  We should leave it to offer a home to those who share the forest with us.’  He caressed the finely-ridged bark compassionately.  This tree should have stood for many years yet – but it was not within his power to control the decisions of fate.  He sighed.  It was not dead yet, and it might yet continue to put up sprouts – even grow a new trunk.  The relentless determination of life still surprised him at times, even after all these years.  He brushed his hand over the bark again and frowned.  It seemed to be trying to tell him something – something more than showing him how its roots lost their grip on the saturated soil and the wind and weight of the rain tipped it just too far for it to remain upright. 

Elves, he puzzled?  What would elves be doing here in the middle of a storm like that one?

‘The trees are restless,’ his young assistant said chattily.  ‘They do not seem to want us to leave.’  He looked around.  ‘It is odd – I cannot see anything that might be a danger to them.  What do you think?’

Aelindor frowned.  ‘It will do no harm to listen to them for a while and see if we can make sense of their song.’  He looked around.  ‘We can use the time to clear up some of the debris and see what damage has been done.’

The ellon pulled a face.  If he had wanted to tidy up, he could have stayed at home and helped his naneth – but he knew better than to sulk in front of the ancient forester.  Aelindor did not take well to being treated to sighs and complaints and he had trained far too many young elves to bother with their moods.  Pigen bent and began the process of gathering the snapped-off limbs into a heap. 

He worked silently for several minutes, feeling the sweat begin to trickle down his back as his breath shortened.  He could not help feeling rather gloomy – the thing he most hated about forestry was seeing these wrecks of good trees.

He paused suddenly.  ‘Hello,’ he said, picking something from the ruin of the tree, ‘what is this doing here?’

The ellon held up a knife.  Long for a belt knife, it was etched with a pattern of leaves, a pattern that was continued onto the bone of the handle.  It was sharply honed – and had clearly not been resting on the squashed green of the moss for very long.

‘That is Lord Legolas’s,’ Aelindor observed, taking it from the ellon and running a finger over the flat of the blade.  ‘It has been here a day or two,’ he said, inspecting the wet moss.  ‘During the storm, I would say.  I am surprised he has not come back for it.’  He turned slightly to frown at the tree.  ‘Unless he was distracted by … But no-one reported the elm as having fallen.’

His young helper had lost interest and returned to ferreting among the waving branches of the fallen tree.  Birds had already adjusted to the new state of affairs, he thought more cheerfully.  Unlike trees, they did not take seasons to change their understanding of the way the forest grew.  Things happened, they flew off – but within hours they were welcoming the new way of things.  That one, for instance, was already pulling at the blue thread to seek material for a nest.

‘Aelindor?’ he said.

‘What is it?’

‘Is there any reason why there would be a length of blue cloth round the elm?’

The forester looked up and stared intently at the object that had attracted the ellon’s attention.  ‘Blue dyes are too valuable to waste on cord,’ he said.  ‘You are old enough to know that.  And that is good wool.  Not cloth made here in the forest.’  The torn end of the rag flapped at him as if it were waving to attract his attention.  There were not many here in the forest who wore blue.  In fact, he could think of only a couple who might … He made up his mind suddenly.  ‘Go back to the Great Hall,’ he commanded.  ‘See if Lord Legolas is to be found – and, if he is not, then speak to one of the guard – Amondil, might be best – or seek out Tineithil.  Or,’ he determined, suddenly feeling more worried than he had any reason to be, ‘if you cannot see them, seek out my lord.  He will be in council at this time of day.  Say what we have discovered here and bring back enough people to help us move the tree.’

The young elf swallowed and gazed at the elm with an expression of horror.  ‘Do you think…?’

‘If the tree fell on him,’ Aelindor said roughly, ‘there would have been no need for the other to go after him.  The blue cloth is a rope – and a rope suggests a rescue.  Go now – and bring back as much help as you can muster.’

***

‘How long have we been here?’  Legolas asked suddenly.

‘Two nights, I think.  Maybe a little longer.’

‘It is taking the water a good long time to soak through the stone.  The forest was awash when we – er – took shelter here, yet the increase in the level of the pool …’

‘Is speeding up,’ Taryatur pronounced.  ‘Rapidly.  It must have risen two inches in the last few hours – and it shows no signs of stopping.’

‘It has a long way to go before it inhibits our breathing.’

‘But it will not be long before it gets our feet wet – and it is cold.’  He looked at the Wood elf assessingly.  ‘Can you put any weight on that leg?’

‘If I have to.’  Legolas smiled.  ‘You can do many things when your life depends on your determination.’

Taryatur reached up to run his fingertips over the stone roof of their refuge.  ‘I would say that this is water-worn – but that it has been a long time since there was enough flowing through here to wear at the sides of the chute that sent us down here.  Your leg can attest to the roughness of that rock.’

‘I hope that this time will not prove to be an exception.’

Legolas picked at the knot that held his arm in the rough sling, pulling it free and folding the blue wool to tuck it into his belt.  He shrugged carefully at Taryatur’s frown.  ‘Better to have the use of them both,’ he said.

‘Keep the leg bound,’ Taryatur recommended.  ‘It might be healing, but you do not want to get any more dirt in it than you can help.’

‘As you say, Atar.’

Taryatur tensed, but the Wood elf’s grin showed his words were clearly intended to be inoffensive.  ‘So you have enough sense to think of that for yourself,’ he retorted.  ‘And just for that, you can chew the last of the self-heal.’

The face his son-by-marriage pulled indicated his feelings about the suggestion, but he took the leaves and put them in his mouth.  After all, it made sense – especially if they were about to end up clinging to the sides of the chimney above rising water.

‘You go first.’ Taryatur’s tone accepted no argument.

The water spilled quietly over the edge of the rock and sent a finger towards the remnants of their fire, causing it to hiss and spit and send up a plume of smoke as it died.

‘Well, I suppose we have run out of time.’  Legolas took a deep breath and rose cautiously, keeping his weight on his good leg.

‘Lean on me,’ Taryatur said gruffly taking a firm grip of his son-in-law’s arm.

Legolas paused.  ‘Is that not what comrades-in-arms do?’ he asked.

‘Usually after too much wine,’ the Noldo reminded him.  ‘And a long night spent reminiscing.’ He boosted the younger elf up the smooth wall that began the climb up to the forest above, ignoring the gasped protest.  ‘If you fall and open that wound again, I will not be pleased.’

‘I will do my best not to bleed on you.’  Legolas pulled himself to the back of the slope to free enough space for his atar-in-law to join him.

The green-tinted glimmer of light that pushed past the fallen tree made the ellon look ghastly.  Taryatur glanced behind him to the shadows.  They were several feet higher here – maybe it would be wise to wait until necessity pushed them into climbing further.  ‘Perhaps you should take a rest,’ he said.  ‘I would not want to tire you.’

Legolas opened his eyes.  ‘I can do it,’ he said.

‘I am sure you can.’ Taryatur spoke almost approvingly.  ‘But why risk it?  It is safe enough here for now.’

‘But not above the flood.’  Legolas’s hand pushed aside the sharp-edged debris as if to exhibit the even surface beneath. 

‘High enough for the moment.  Water is relentless and swift – when it wants to be – but it shapes itself to the boundaries it is set.  It will take a while for it to fill the space below us.’

Legolas continued to brush at the fine fragments of rock beneath his fingers.  ‘Were you among those who watched Beleriand drown?’ he asked, looking up at the Noldo.  ‘I cannot begin to imagine what that must have been like.’

In the silence that followed, even the trickle of disturbed stone fragments falling to the cavern below sounded unnaturally loud.

Taryatur sighed.  ‘Life in the Blessed Realm,’ he said, ‘my life, had been … about learning to create, to develop – to make better.  Watching the destruction of Beleriand seemed … wrong … perverted … and yet it was as the Valar said it had to be.  Acceptance – obedience – told us that we should do as the Powers commanded and prepare the fleet to return home.’  He paused.  ‘Yet I could see why others might not think the same.  Your daeradar…’

‘You knew Oropher?’ Legolas was astonished.  He could not, with the best will in the world, see how his free-spirited, headstrong daeradar could have dealt comfortably with this rather strait-laced, sanctimonious, obstinate elf – even if Taryatur was turning out to be somewhat more than he had suspected.

‘We were acquainted,’ Taryatur said dryly.  ‘To the pleasure of neither of us.’

‘What was he like?’ Legolas sounded eager to learn more of this elf he barely knew.

The Noldo opened his mouth, then hesitated and gave a mental shrug.  There was no need for the elf’s grandson to know just how obnoxious his daeradar had been.  ‘Angry,’ he said.  ‘Resentful.  Provocative.’  He gave the infuriating fair-haired elf a little more thought.  ‘He was, I think, at the point of taking on the whole of the Valar’s host on his own and driving us into the sea – just to be rid of us all.’

Legolas grinned.  ‘I can imagine that,’ he said.

‘I have no memory of your adar,’ Taryatur added.  ‘Was he there?’

‘He was.’  Legolas thought back to the tales Thranduil had shared with him.  ‘I think – according to his stories, anyway – that he was kept from much of the fighting – he said that the younger ellyn were, on the whole, tasked with protecting those who remained behind the lines.  Although, I daresay, they still saw far more than they should have done.’

‘You could not live through those days and not see more than you should.’

‘That,’ Legolas said softly, ‘is the way of war.  And yet we survive.  Determined to do better by our own children.’

Taryatur rested a hand on the Wood elf’s shoulder gently.  It would appear that, for all their differences, they were cut from rather similar cloth.  ‘You do what you can,’ he said. ‘But, in the end, you have to let them go.’

***

Work had begun to cut away the branches that were most in the way of the rescuers.  Always assuming, Thranduil thought gloomily, that they were not clawing at shadows.  There was remarkably little to suggest – a knife, a ripped scrap of blue fabric – that his son and the Noldo had been beneath the tree when it fell.  It could well be that the pair of them were leagues from here and sniping at each other in perfect safety.  Although the longer they remained absent, the less likely, in all honesty, that was to be true.

‘Careful,’ Aelindor warned as a sharp crack was followed by a splintering sound.  ‘Keep the cuts clean – there is still some sap running and I do not want to introduce any infection into the heartwood.’

‘We can always neaten up our work later, Aelindor,’ Calion told the forester.  ‘At the moment, it seems more important to find out what is beneath this mess of foliage – and to make enough space to do something.’

‘Rushing will only make matters worse,’ the Silvan elf snapped.  ‘The tree cannot help us if we are putting it under too much stress.’

‘The elm is in no position to offer us much aid in any case.’  Calion sighed, but made no further protest. He was not entirely sure that he would ever fully understand Wood elves.  Anyone would think that they indulged in coherent conversations with the forest – but, as far as he could understand, the process was far more intangible than that, consisting of little more than of responding to, or, at best, interpreting,  the song of the trees.  He had challenged Hithien on her calm statements of what the forest required more than once – but had never been particularly surprised when she had merely smiled at him tolerantly and carried on to do exactly as she chose.  Being a Noldo among the Silvan could be … a little lonely at times – like being at a party where everyone else was speaking a different language and behaving according to a different set of rules.

‘The elm would account for why the rest of the glade seems not to have been aware of any accident,’ Thranduil said suddenly.

‘It would.’  Aelindor agreed inattentively, almost as if he was listening to something else.  ‘Between the storm and the loss of one of their number, they would find it hard to recall anything that happened so swiftly.’

‘And the birds and creatures of the forest would have been taking shelter.’

‘Before you know where we are, we will be feeling grateful to Pigen here.’ Aelindor jerked a finger at his bashful assistant.  ‘Who finds it so much easier to notice things other than those he is supposed to be watching.’

Thranduil held back his grin and said seriously.  ‘Good observation skills are always useful – and if his prove to have brought my son home, I will indeed be grateful to him.’

The young elf blushed and dropped his head.  Somehow, positive attention from those is authority over him proved more embarrassing – because, probably, it was far more unexpected – than disapproval.  He frowned suddenly.  There was something … odd about the shape of the elm.  Where did that big branch go?  It had not shattered on impact with the ground – and the rock was too close to the surface here for it to have buried itself, yet …

‘Aelindor?’ he puzzled.

The forester knew his trees.  His eyes followed the bough and he paused briefly before moving in a cautious loop to look where the solid branch pointed.  A small stone, disturbed by the toe of his boot, shifted and slid toward the narrow strip of darkness beneath the elm, dropping out of sight.

‘Someone has been here, my lord,’ he said, his voice as composed as if he were announcing the presence of boar at the acorn harvest.  ‘I see the marks of fingers – as if someone has been trying to get out.’

‘Get out of what?’ Thranduil was not calm, for all his apparent serenity.

‘That, my lord, remains to be seen.’

The elf looked up – and, just for a moment, Thranduil thought he saw sympathy in the lichen-grey eyes before their expression was again veiled.  Aelindor hesitated, and then, stretching himself out to reach as far beneath the tree as he could manage, he leaned over the dark opening and shouted, ‘Hello!’

***

‘I am sure I would know if there was something seriously wrong.’  Laerwen frowned at the wide windows through which the soft forest breezes wafted.  ‘The forest is settling down again after the storm – the song has changed where the fires have burnt out and there are old friends missing here and there, but …’

Linevendë pressed her fingers flat on her lap.  ‘You cannot simply assume that the forest realises everything you need to know,’ she said, keeping her tone mild.  ‘Trees do not have the same priorities as elves.  The birds – the creatures – they see things but they do not understand their significance.’

‘Do you think there is a problem?’ 

The Noldo met Laerwen’s eyes unflinchingly.  ‘I do.  Not because I wish to contradict you, but because I know my daughter.  Elerrina might not realise quite why she has been so distracted, but I know enough to know that her husband’s physical state is affecting her.  My daughter does not swoon!’

Laerwen sighed.  ‘I hoped for a moment …’

‘Is it not a little soon to hope for another grandchild?’  Linevendë blinked. ‘Eleniel and Galenthil are barely out of childhood – they will not be of age for another couple of decades!  Is Celumíl not enough for you?’

‘I would like her to have elflings her own age with whom she can grow up,’ Laerwen said guiltily.  ‘I left Legolas to spend far too many centuries alone.’

‘Not deliberately.’

‘The effect was the same, whether I left him on purpose or not.’

‘Thranduil raised him well – he is a credit to you both.’

Tears shone in his naneth’s eyes, but Laerwen sniffed and refused to lapse into sentimentalism. 

‘But it is not the same,’ Linevendë hazarded softly, ‘to have a child come to you full-grown – and with elflings of his own.’

‘I love him dearly,’ Laerwen said defensively.

‘But you do not know him.’

‘No,’ Legolas’s naneth said flatly.  ‘I thought I did – that I could learn to fill in the years I had missed…’ She gazed, without really seeing them, at the trees in the sunny glade.  ‘But having Celumíl …  I am not Legolas’s naneth – not as I shall be hers.’

It was undeniable.  Linevendë took the Silvan elleth’s hand.  Time spent was – gone.  There was nothing anyone could do to bring it back.  Reunion did not eradicate the pain of long ages spent apart.  She could come out with all the trite sayings about looking forward – but none of them could fill in the missing years.

‘He will be all right,’ she said.  ‘You will all be all right.’

Laerwen sighed.  ‘I do hope so,’ she said.

***

Taryatur looked up.  ‘Here!’ he called, screwing up his eyes to peer towards the opening.  ‘We cannot get out!’

The voice faded, so that he could hear nothing but an urgent-sounding buzz until, a few minutes later, Thranduil’s melodious tones replaced the first speaker.

‘Is Legolas with you?’ he asked.  ‘Are you unharmed?’

‘Adar?’  Legolas called, keeping his voice even and strong.  ‘Do you mind clearing the elm away so that we can get out of here – I could really do with a bath!’

‘Not to mention,’ Taryatur muttered, ‘the services of a healer.’

‘Where are you hurt?’  Thranduil, at least, seemed to understand his son’s peculiarities. 

‘It is nothing serious,’ Legolas said dismissively.

‘Taryatur?’

‘He is not that badly hurt,’ the Noldo agreed.  ‘Although he had me worried for a while.  He will need some attention.’

‘Traitor,’ his son-in-law muttered.

‘And you?’ Thranduil asked.

‘I am fine.  Just a little tired of being trapped down here.’

‘You might be there a little longer – I am told that it will not be easy to remove the branch that is blocking the entrance to your – er – refuge.’

Legolas sighed.  ‘Perhaps you should know,’ he said, ‘that the water level is rising.’

There was a moment of silence.  ‘Swiftly?’ Thranduil enquired calmly.

‘I would think it would be … preferable … for you to take less time rather than more.’

‘Have no worry, my son,’ Thranduil told him dryly.  ‘Your wife would not appreciate any delay.  She is concerned enough about you as it is – she would be most displeased if we let you drown at this point.’

‘I am glad that my daughter’s happiness is so important to you.’ 

Above them, Thranduil blinked.  The Noldo sounded – remarkably unflustered.  And almost amiable about a situation that could have been expected to turn him even more aggressively against his daughter’s chosen dwelling place.  A discreet cough drew Thranduil’s attention to the foresters gathering behind him and he rose to consult with the experts who would be attempting this rescue.

Now they knew there were elves above them, the silence in the stone chimney had become oppressive, even their breath inordinately loud.  A scatter of gravel fell as Legolas shifted his position and Taryatur’s fingers closed firmly on his elbow, supporting him.  ‘Sit,’ he said. ‘Nothing will happen in the next hour or so.’

His son-in-law allowed himself to be lowered to the rough stone.  ‘I would not be so certain.’

‘It will take them at least that long to talk through all the ideas that will not work.’ Taryatur shook his head.  ‘And then they will need to settle on a plan and discuss that.  We might still be here when Anor sinks below the horizon tomorrow night.’

Legolas grinned.  ‘My adar will have lost patience long before that.’

‘Better to be sure,’ his adar-in-law said philosophically.  He glanced sideways at the younger elf.  ‘I am a slow learner, but I do get there in the end.’

It was an apology – of sorts – Legolas realised.  ‘We have more in common than either of us has been prepared to admit,’ he said carefully.

‘You might be right,’ Taryatur conceded. ‘Perhaps we – I – should make more of an effort to listen.’  He relaxed into an apparently easy pose – although it did not escape his son-in-law’s notice that he had taken up a position between the injured elf and the danger of anything falling from above.  ‘You are not that bad an elf,’ he said lightly, ‘for one born east of the sea.  I have begun to grow accustomed to having you as my son-by-marriage.’

The Wood elf felt his eyebrows arch involuntarily. ‘I understand your doubts better now I have my own daughter,’ he said in response.  ‘And what you have told me…’ he opened a hand, palm upwards.  ‘We need to talk more and assume less.’

Taryatur nodded with cautious satisfaction.  Not friendship, he thought, not yet.  But negotiations had been opened.  It was a start.

 

Crossing the Divide

‘Is there any possibility that you could get out of the way?’ Thranduil’s disembodied voice floated down to them.  ‘Extended discussion would suggest that the swiftest way to free you would be to cut the branch loose and let it drop, leaving you to climb up behind it.’

‘He is not happy,’ Legolas murmured.  ‘Not happy at all.  Adar has trained himself to remain expressionless while he listens with apparent patience to endless debate – but he prefers action.’

Taryatur shook his head.  ‘Understandable,’ he said.  He stood up, leaning back to call towards the dim light.  ‘I doubt that will work.  The chimney bends along the rock’s fracture line – the branch will simply drop and block it, so that we will be stuck here permanently.’

‘Not to mention,’ Legolas added, ‘that the only way to get out of the way would be to return to the chamber that is now more than half-filled with water.  Very cold water, too.’

They remained looking up to the green-tinged light as the message was relayed.

Thranduil’s voice, when he returned his attention to the prisoners, was resigned.  ‘This will be, it seems, neither easy nor quick.  The branch needs to be roped so that it will not fall – and then we will need enough people to lift it and drag it free.’  He sighed.  ‘In the meantime – I daresay you could do with feeding.’

‘That thought, at least, sounds appealing,’ his son called.

‘I can climb to within a foot or so of the surface,’ Taryatur said, ‘and reach a hand through.  It is just – I could not make a gap large enough to scrape out.  I can bring ropes down and bind them in place.’

‘That will make matters somewhat easier.’  Thranduil sounded relieved.  ‘Although lifting the branch will still be a problem.’

‘You need a crane,’ Taryatur remarked.  ‘A system of blocks and tackle.’

‘We are not totally technologically naïve,’ the Woodland King retorted. ‘It will take time to bring the equipment and set it up here.’

‘We are in your hands.’  Wood elves could be touchy, Taryatur noted.  They did not appreciate apparent Noldor criticism of their skills – but how was he to know that they were on top of the matter unless he asked?  He was not able to see through stone!  ‘The food?’  He did not want to sound too hopeful, but really the ellon needed something rather more strength-giving than water that tasted of long centuries percolating beneath the ground. 

‘As soon as we have come up with a way of passing hot stew through a narrow gap, we will provide you with something.  Unless you have any suggestions?’

Taryatur did not need to expend much effort to hear the sharp edge to the request. ‘No, none at all,’ he said swiftly.

‘Very wise,’ Legolas murmured as he shifted on the rock fragments. 

‘Although,’ Taryatur spoke loud enough to attract the attention of anyone listening from above, ‘a blanket – or a cloak or two – would not be unwelcome.  And, if we will be here any length of time, some marigold salve and bandages.’

‘Now you will have them getting in a state – and convinced that I am on the verge of greeting Lord Námo,’ his son-in-law protested. 

A faint gurgle, as if the rising water had found a rock over which to pour, distracted them both and Taryatur lay flat to reach down into the cave.  ‘Another foot or so,’ he remarked.  ‘I think it is rising more slowly.’

They lapsed into silence, listening to the whisper of the water and the distant stirring of the elm’s dying leaves.

‘I wish he had not mentioned food,’ Legolas said.  ‘I had not realised I was so hungry. I feel like a hobbit now – thinking of nothing but my next meal and hoping it will come soon.’

‘At least it shows you are recovering.’  Taryatur shook his head.  ‘I have been thinking of little else for some time.  I have even been reduced to considering whether elm leaves are edible – and whether there are fish in that water.’

‘Hungry enough to contemplate eating bugs?’ His son-in-law grinned. ‘You know it is bad when beetle larvae start to look attractive.’

‘Worms,’ the Noldo suggested.  ‘Grasshoppers – although they are not so bad when fried.’

The Wood elf laughed.  ‘Listen to us!’ he said.  ‘I think I will settle for whatever Adar manages to send down.  It cannot help but be more appealing than the fare to which a hungry warrior can be reduced.’

‘As long as he manages to provide it within the next hour or two,’ Taryatur said.  ‘Before I start to seek out a snack of those beetle larvae.’ 

***

‘You did not need to come,’ Thranduil said gently.  Aelindor glanced at him, surprised by the mild amiability of his tone.

Elerrina lifted her chin.  Although she was far too well-raised to contradict him openly, the simple gesture made a statement as clearly as if she had informed him at the top of her voice that nothing would keep her away from the effort to rescue her husband and atar.

‘We will not get in your way,’ Linevendë assured him.  ‘But remaining in ignorance became … intolerable.’

A rapid and imperious look round the busy glade had the many elves working at their varied tasks before Thranduil stepped away to shepherd the two ellyth out of the way. ‘We need to assemble the frame,’ he explained, ‘and make sure the pegs are secure and the pulleys are in place before we attempt to harness the trunk to lift it out of the way.’

‘Of course,’ Elerrina agreed.  She stared critically at the growing structure.  ‘It should do the job – it seems solid enough.  How are you rigging it?’

‘I have no idea.’  Thranduil gazed at the construction consideringly.  ‘I leave such matters to those who understand what they are doing.’

‘Who among the Silvan use such frames?’ Linevendë asked curiously.  ‘I have never observed …’

‘The river elves,’ he said briefly.  ‘Not so much here – although it will prove necessary, I daresay, as we use the river more to transport heavier goods – but in Lasgalen.  We had a regular trade between the Stronghold and the men of the Long Lake.  Such cranes helped unload the barges.’

‘Will it lift the tree high enough?’  Elerrina restrained an obvious urge to inspect the work more closely.  ‘Perhaps three feet – maybe four.  Will it be enough?’

Thranduil looked thoughtfully at the lengths of wood.  ‘Only that much?  How do you know?’

‘The beams are not long enough for it to lift any higher than that.’  She sounded sure of herself, her adar-in-law thought, somewhat disconcerted.  ‘It would be fine if all they needed to do was raise the trunk and swing it a foot or two – but there is a branch, is there not, that needs to be freed?’

‘Dringor!’ Thranduil called.  ‘Can you come and explain something to me, please.’ 

An elf with hair the glossy brown of a conker shell detached himself reluctantly from his task and approached, his eyes and mind still clearly on the growing structure.  ‘My lord?’ he asked.

‘How is this going to work?’

‘We will raise the trunk, my lord, and, once the branch is safely strapped, we will cut it away.  Then we can lift the lesser weight.’

‘Will you be able to lift it free?’  Elerrina’s moss-grey eyes fixed on him anxiously.

‘If not in one go, my lady,’ he assured her, ‘we will lift it as high as we can, bind it lower down and cut it away again before lifting it a second time.  Each time it will be easier.’

She looked doubtfully at the frame that was now being pulled upright.  ‘Would it not have been better to assemble a larger device?’

‘It would have taken much longer,’ he said.  ‘And probably been less safe.’  He looked at her and smiled slightly.  ‘Trust me,’ he said.  ‘This will work.  We have attached pulleys to make it easier to lift the weight – and we will put a couple of ropes around the trunk to draw it to one side as soon as the branch is sawn through.  Then we can use the same method to free the branch – a piece at a time.’

Elerrina drew a shaky breath.  ‘I did not mean …’ she said.

Dringor shrugged.  ‘Not many people understand how it works,’ he said philosophically.  ‘I do not believe it matters to them – just as long as it does.’  He glanced at Thranduil, who nodded his thanks, before returning to the work.

Thranduil took Elerrina’s hand in his and squeezed it gently.  ‘Not that I would count you among the ignorant,’ he said.  ‘Does the plan make sense to you?’

She pressed her lips together and took a couple of breaths before replying.  ‘I just want him back home,’ she said.  ‘Them.  Both Legolas and Atar.  Before anything else goes wrong.’

***

‘Hot tea,’ Legolas said with satisfaction.  ‘It is almost better than the bread and meat – and the apples.’

‘Almost,’ Taryatur agreed.  ‘But not quite.  And I am still hoping for the stew.’

‘I do not mind waiting until we are rescued.’  Legolas drew the blanket round himself and enjoyed the feeling of warmth.  ‘Not if I can look forward to it as we emerge.’

‘The stew will sit there as we are surrounded by inquisitive healers,’ Taryatur told him.  ‘Getting ever more scorched while they inspect every last inch and tell us we need food and rest – and by the time anyone thinks to provide us with a plateful, it will not be worth eating.’

‘Or our rescuers will finish it in celebration of having performed their task successfully.’

‘While the healers provide nothing more than broth.’

‘Or potions,’ Legolas suggested.  ‘They are good at potions.’

‘They would not want us to eat heavily after our misadventure,’ Taryatur glanced upwards, ‘for fear of putting too much strain on our healing wounds.’

‘You sound as if you have had too much to do with healers.’  Legolas watched him with interest.  ‘I would not have thought life in the Blessed Realm would have been that good an introduction to their peculiarities.’

His atar-in-law lifted a shoulder.  ‘Healers get plenty of practice with over-adventurous elflings putting themselves in danger – but I admit that most of my experience comes from east of the sea.’

Legolas did not speak, but the tilt of his head invited the Noldo to speak further. For a moment he doubted that this mild indication of interest would be enough to draw any information from the guarded elf, but Taryatur’s tight-lipped stare relaxed and he sighed.

‘You do not know what it was like,’ he stated.  ‘You cannot.  You grew up with the risk of injury – with the knowledge of the worst things that can happen to a body.  To confront that – to be carried from battle and stitched back together like a length of cloth...  And …’ he stopped speaking, but his face was taut with remembered pain.

‘There is a first time for everyone,’ Legolas said.  ‘You know the danger – but you cannot understand.  Not until you have been in battle yourself.  Not until you have felt the blade’s fire across your flesh – not until you have feared that you are more likely to see Námo than you are to go home.’  He shrugged.  ‘You knew of Alqualondë – and the stories will only have grown worse in the telling – but the reality still came as a shock.’   He glanced doubtfully at the elf, but decided to continue anyway.  He could not, after all, rely on ever being in such a position with his atar-in-law again – and, for all he knew, emerging into the freshness of the forest might re-establish all those barriers that had begun to give way between them.  ‘You ask too much of yourself,’ he said.  ‘Sometimes we all need someone to lean on.’

‘And you would share your nightmares with Elerrina, would you?’ Taryatur looked down his nose at the Wood elf.  ‘Or tell your son of horrors he will never see?’

‘Of course I would not!’  Legolas shifted slightly.  Even with the added padding of the folded blanket beneath him, this refuge was … not entirely comfortable.  ‘But there are those to whom I do not need to speak – they know already.  Fellow warriors who defended Lasgalen at my side – the sons of Elrond with whom I stood at the Black Gate … people who know.’  He sighed.  ‘We are veterans of different battles,’ he said, ‘but we share enough experience …  and the wound must be lanced and the poison allowed to flow, for else it festers and the shadow grows …  If you would …’  He spread his hands and let the words trail away.

The darkness hid whatever emotion crossed the Noldo’s face, but the silence that extended between them suggested that he did not welcome his son-in-law’s offer.  Legolas felt a surprising pang.  His awkward suggestion had, it would appear, broken the delicate peace that had sent out careful feelers, like tendrils reaching cautiously for support on which they could grow.

‘Maybe,’ Taryatur conceded.  ‘I will give the matter some consideration.’  He looked up towards the glimmer of light as if that would, in some way, speed their release and save him from any more exposure.  ‘There is something in what you say.’

***

Elerrina held her breath as the ropes creaked.  It was hard to believe that they would be able to hold the inert weight of the great tree, but the rustle of the leaves and the groaning of the stressed wood made it clear enough that they could.

‘Keep it there!’ Dringor commanded. 

She could hardly see him among the limp leaves that dangled from the lighter branches that the foresters had decided should remain untouched, but the change in his tone suggested that his urgent words were aimed at someone beyond his sight.  Her atar.  He would be doing what he could to get them free of that dark prison.   Legolas had been hurt – badly, she knew, but not so much that … She forced herself to stop fretting.  Thranduil said he was all right.  Injured, yes, but not so badly he could not make light of it.  All they needed to do was get him out.

Her amil’s hand slipped into hers.  ‘I hope your atar manages to keep his temper,’ Linevendë said with a slight smile.  ‘He is unlikely to believe that Silvan elves have any great competence when it comes to operating machinery.’

‘But he knows they are good with the forest,’ Elerrina retaliated.  ‘And this is about trees.’

‘Poor Taryatur.’  Linevendë shook her head.  ‘Trapped by a tree!  I hope he will not allow the incident to sour him on Taurevron any further.’

‘It could not!’  Elerrina spoke with complete conviction.  ‘He turns his nose up at everything here.  Even Anar shines less admirably over the forest!  Whilst living in trees, in homes created in wood – well, it is clearly an indication of the inferiority of the environment.’

Linevendë’s explosion of breath was warm with affectionate amusement.  ‘Your poor atar,’ she said.  ‘He does not know how to give in!  If Legolas had proved himself to be a less admirable husband, he would have forgiven him long ago for winning your heart – and set himself to educate the elf in better behaviour – but he finds it hard to admit that he was wrong.’  She squeezed her daughter’s fingers.  ‘He will work out how to apologise in time.’

Frantic sawing drew them closer to the fallen tree, anxious to see how the work was progressing.  Two elves were working, one on either side of the branch that disappeared into the rough-edged hole.

‘Mind the ropes,’ Dringor warned.  ‘We do not want them frayed at all – or they might not take the weight.’

‘I am so glad you told me that!’  Aelindor looked up briefly before returning his attention to the blade in his hand.  ‘I would never have thought of it.’

‘Would axes not be quicker?’  One of the elves leaning back on the ropes that held up the trunk threw in the question.  ‘This is heavy.’

‘Too disruptive,’ Dringor told him shortly.  ‘And the saws will be quick enough – if only the sawyers would put their backs into it.’ 

The smell of heated wood and fresh sawdust tingled in the damp air as a second squad prepared to take over from the tiring foresters.

‘Change,’ Aelindor demanded and he clambered out the way as his replacement began to work. He shook off a coating of sawdust and accepted a steaming mug from Pigen.  ‘I would like to see you doing it, Dringor.  It is easy enough to say what others should be doing.’

‘Those holding the branch,’ Dringor called sharply, as a cracking sound tore at the wood, ‘hold on!  It is about to go.  You,’ he demanded, ‘prepare to pull the trunk away.’

The elm settled with a groan that suggested it had done all it could and was now prepared to rest while elves scrambled to release the ropes so that they were ready for the next stage of the rescue. 

Thranduil stepped forward, his face impassive, as the ropes strained to lift the ragged-ended branch.  ‘Is it enough?’ he asked. 

He tried to conceal it, Elerrina realised, but his concern for his son oozed from him.  The Woodland King must have spent centuries fearing for his only child – and sending him forth nonetheless to face enemies more dangerous than anything he would face here in the Blessed Realm.  She drew an unsteady breath.  There was more than one kind of courage, she thought.  More than one way of bending before the needs of duty.  Releasing her amil’s hand, she stepped up to her husband’s adar and welcomed his arm around her shoulders.  ‘He will be all right,’ she said.

‘He will be,’ Thranduil agreed.  ‘But I will feel happier when I see that for myself.’

***

Taryatur grasped the rope and bound it round the branch that was still imprisoning them in the rough chimney.   ‘I am not a fool,’ he snapped at the elf beyond the narrow gap.  ‘I do know how to tie knots.’

‘You would not want the rope to slip,’ the elf retorted. 

The Noldo growled as he checked the firmness of the bindings.  ‘It will not fall,’ he declared.  ‘Not unless you have provided second-rate rope.’

‘The rope is fine, Dringor – and the knots are fine, too.  Now just please – get on with pulling the branch free.’

Taryatur turned his attention to his son-in-law.  ‘What are you doing here?’ he demanded.  ‘You are supposed to be resting until you have to climb!’

‘The water has risen above the wall,’ Legolas said simply.  ‘It seemed better to climb than swim.’

For a moment – just a moment – Taryatur closed his eyes and let his forehead rest against the rough wood.  What else could go wrong?   ‘Then rest as best you can where you are,’ he said.  ‘There is no need for you to risk the healing that has occurred.’

Legolas nodded without speaking and leaned back, taking his weight off his leg as best he could.

‘And cover your head,’ Taryatur added.  ‘There is no need to get covered in sawdust and wood chips if you do not have to.’

A slight smile made his son-in-law’s face look less drawn.  ‘You had best get out the way before they start to pull the branch free,’ he recommended.  ‘I would not like to have to explain to Elerrina – or her amil – how I allowed you to get squashed like a bug against the rock wall.’

Taryatur opened his mouth to declare his ability to make his own decisions – but concluded that there was really no point.  The ellon was right, after all.  He gave the ropes a final check and slapped the side of the branch before easing himself past the blockage to join his daughter’s husband.  ‘They had better not let go,’ he remarked.  ‘If that lands on our heads, it will do neither of us any good.’

‘Another few feet,’ Legolas judged.  ‘There will be enough space to squeeze past.’

‘It narrows,’ Taryatur disagreed.  ‘The actual point of entry will not allow either of us to pass until the wood is removed completely.  And at this rate it will take them the best part of a week.’

He placed a supportive grip under Legolas’s arm and guided him insistently to a narrow ledge – it was barely a hand’s width, but it would provide enough room to perch in safety for the time being.  And there was a better ledge – wider and smoother – a few feet up.  If they only would get a move on with raising the remaining wood, he could help the ellon up to that and he would be able to rest with his leg raised until he could be lifted free.

‘Did you bring …?   Ah.’  He lifted the tea-filled water bottle from his son-in-law’s shoulder.  ‘Drink,’ he commanded.  ‘It is no longer hot, but it will refresh you and help you relax.’

Legolas smiled and took a couple of mouthfuls.  The peppermint taste was pleasant, he admitted.  And he knew that it had not been surreptitiously drugged with anything more narcotic.  However much Thranduil and the healers would have wanted it to be, they would never have risked dosing him without being certain of his injuries – or, come to that, without being sure that such an action would not endanger the prisoners further.  He offered the skin to his wife’s atar.

‘Is the water rising more quickly?’ Taryatur asked as he accepted.  ‘The chimney is narrow – it would not take long for the level to become dangerously high.’

A grating noise turned their attention towards the splintered branch and they both looked up to see it turning slowly as, beyond the dark funnel of rock, Dringor’s teams followed his count to haul on the ropes. 

‘Do not watch it,’ the Noldo said, bending his head to stare into the blackness below them.  ‘There will be shards and splinters falling – you do not want to get them in your eyes.’

Legolas lowered his chin, resting his head against the stone and closing his eyes.  ‘I hope they do not take much longer.’  He nursed his aching arm across his chest, his fingers closed protectively over his torn sleeve.  ‘I am coming to think that it is not so bad being in the healers’ hands.’

Voices were coming down more clearly, as if there was more space now for sound.  The air felt fresher, too, and scented with the bruised greenness of a forest recovering from a storm.  ‘It will not be long,’ Taryatur said gently.  ‘We will get you settled safely – and you will be home with Elerrina before you know it.’

‘Taryatur?’  Thranduil sounded as calm as if he was indulging in a breakfast-table conversation, Taryatur thought.

‘A moment,’ he said sharply, before returning his attention to his son-in-law.  ‘Come, Wood elf,’ he commanded.  ‘Lean on me – there is a better place for you to idle the day away, now that they have removed the clutter.  Once you are less likely to tumble back into the water, I can give my attention to getting you out of here.’

‘I am fine,’ Legolas protested. 

‘Of course you are.’  Taryatur aimed his most intimidating frown at the ellon.  ‘And to prove it, you can climb just a little higher.’  It would be easier – probably – to carry him, but his son-in-law had climbed this far.  ‘Put your hand on my shoulder – and keep off that leg as much as you can.’

‘Taryatur?  We need you to rope the next section of the branch before we can saw this part free.’

‘I will be with you in a moment,’ the Noldo snapped.  ‘If you wish to go ahead without me, then by all means make the attempt.’

The chimney twisted and it was – less than easy to guide the ellon to the place he had chosen for him.  The footholds were spaced awkwardly, so that it was close to impossible for the Wood elf to pull himself up without using his injured leg and the exercise quite clearly hurt.  There was, at least, no bleeding – but, if he was not much mistaken, Taryatur was afraid that the healers would need to reopen and clean out the wound before it would begin to heal properly.   He settled a gasping Legolas on the now-grubby blanket and covered him over. 

‘You are about to experience snowfall – of a kind,’ he said.  ‘Keep your head covered.’

‘Ask them to keep the noise down,’ Legolas retorted.  ‘Some of us are trying to sleep.’

‘Right.’  Taryatur straightened himself up and clambered wearily up the strangely spacious chimney.  ‘What now?’

***

‘This should be the last lift,’ Thranduil said quietly.  ‘Dringor is of the opinion that it will be possible to drag any remaining length free at the same time as this is brought out.  Once that has happened, Calion will go down to help Taryatur and Legolas to climb up safely.  We would not want anything to go wrong at this stage.’

Elerrina looked at him mutely.  It had all taken so much longer than she had expected.  The shadows across the glade had lengthened and the light had faded as the foresters worked steadily to free the two trapped beneath the ground.  The stars had brightened – and still they waited.

‘Can you ensure that there is hot water?’ Thranduil asked.  ‘Any hurts will need to be assessed before we can move them to the infirmary and the healers are bound to want hot water.’  He smiled.  ‘They always do.’  He glanced at the fire.  ‘And I suspect Legolas and Taryatur would appreciate something to eat – and perhaps some heated stones to warm them.’

‘We will see to it,’ Linevendë stood stiffly, looking away from the gash in the forest floor.  ‘Elerrina – Elerrina,’ she repeated more sharply as her daughter failed to respond, ‘will you fetch some water for me, please?’

Her daughter stood almost like one walking in her sleep, taking one of the empty cooking pans and looking around vaguely as if wondering where the spring might be.  Aelindor caught his king’s eye and came forward.  ‘This way, my lady,’ he said.

Linevendë raised her eyebrows.  ‘And what did you feel you could not say before your son’s wife, Thranduil?’ she asked.

‘Taryatur is healthy enough,’ he said bluntly, ‘although I think he has had about as much as he can take – but Legolas …  He is not entirely well.’

‘She knows that, Thranduil,’ Linevendë said calmly.  ‘She has known that from the beginning.  It took us rather longer to recognise it, but she knew.’  She inspected her son-in-law’s adar.  ‘She is rather less anxious than you are,’ she reassured him.  ‘Concerned, and wanting to have him safe, but sure enough that whatever he had done to himself has not resulted in any injury that will not heal.’

They both turned as Dringor urged the foresters to a final effort and the pulleys squealed once again under the strain of the creaking ropes.  The branch, thinner now, swung from the ropes, its raw end showing bright in the firelight.   Another pair hauled at the base as it lifted, cheering breathlessly as the end scraped out of the narrow gap to rest on the moss beyond the open entrance.

‘We have done it,’ the engineer declared.

Everyone stopped, staring at the opening in weary silence, unsure what they would find now that the way was finally freed.

A dark head thick with straw-coloured sawdust poked through into the fresh air of the glade.  ‘At last!’ he declared querulously.  ‘Would anyone care to help me get Legolas out of here before he turns to stone?  Or will I be forced to lug him up here on my own?’

At a wave from Thranduil two foresters stepped forward and grasped the Noldo under the arms, lifting him – protesting furiously at their interference – free from his refuge to deposit him on a blanket-lined stretcher.

‘Stay where you are,’ Linevendë commanded, abandoning the fire to press a firm hand flat on her husband’s chest.  ‘I do not want you moving a muscle until I am reassured that you have no lasting injury.’

He grabbed her hand.  ‘Not yet,’ he insisted.  ‘He is not safe yet – you cannot expect me to leave him to others.  Not now.’

‘He will be rescued soon, Atar.’  Elerrina offered him a mug of tea.  ‘Drink this and rest – there are plenty here to lift Legolas out.’  She smiled and bent to drop a kiss on her atar’s forehead.  ‘Dringor has sent Calion and the rope down – and …’  She stopped as a ragged cheer broke from the tired elves.

Legolas allowed himself to be helped from the hole, making no complaint as he was settled on another stretcher and carried away from the debris of the elm, a healer directing the porters over towards the blaze. 

Taryatur raised a scraped and splinter-speared hand and touched his daughter’s cheek gently.  ‘Go to him, child,’ he said.  ‘He needs you.’

***

He swung his legs over the edge of the bed and pushed himself stiffly to his feet.  He was not ill, he was not injured and he did not need endless peaceful hours confined in comfortable light-filled chamber while his wife brought him refreshment enough to feed a dozen.

‘Get back in bed,’ Linevendë demanded – arriving, of course, just at the most inconvenient moment.

‘I am bored,’ he complained.

‘You are bruised from head to foot and I am still picking splinters from your skin.’

‘They are only bruises – no-one yet needed bed rest to recover from bruises.’  He knew he sounded petulant, but really – there was no need to treat him like an invalid.  ‘I want to see how Legolas is.’

His wife came closer, her gleaming eyes intently focused on him as if to extract every shred of meaning from his simple statement.  Just as he was about to surrender, they softened.  ‘Well, in that case,’ she said, ‘by all means – dress yourself.’

She watched him step cautiously towards the chest where she secreted his clothes, his movements rather more painful than he had expected them to be.  He winced as his tender hands brushed against the wooden lid, but threw it open defiantly.  He wanted to see how his son-in-law was doing – and he did not trust anyone to tell him the whole truth.  He glanced at Linevendë, but she continued to observe him implacably.  She would not stop him, but neither would she make this easy.

‘Please,’ he said.

‘Why will you not take my word for it?  He is recovering.  The leg wound has been treated and the healers say he will make a full recovery.’  She sounded exasperated – and tired and almost tearful.

‘I am sorry.’  Taryatur left the clean tunics where they were and turned towards her.  ‘I did not mean to frighten you.’

‘How could I not be frightened?’ she said so softly that he could barely hear the words.  ‘How could I not worry about you?  Fear for you?  Dread that this time you might not come home?’  She took an involuntary step towards him.  ‘You can be so dense at times, Taryatur Urundilion!’  She reached out to run her hands gently over his bare chest.  ‘You are not alone – you have never been alone.’

‘Had you not been waiting for me,’ he said, running his roughened fingers over the silk of her hair, ‘I do not believe I would have returned.’ He drew her closer.  ‘But there are some things you should not share.’

She held him carefully, only too aware of the injuries that did not show, wounds ages old that still lingered.  ‘You will sit in the sun and rest once you have assured yourself that our son-in-law is healing,’ she scolded.  ‘I will set Camentur to watch you to ensure you do not aggravate your hurts.’

‘They are healing,’ he assured her and she tipped her head back to search his eyes.  ‘They are already less than they were … and I promise you, my heart – I will do nothing to imperil that.’

***

A cup of water appeared before him as he swallowed, trying to clear the dryness of his mouth and rid it of the unpleasant after-taste of medicinal herbs.  He accepted it gratefully, gulping the fresh water as if he had not drunk in days.

‘Slow down.’ His wife drew the cup away.  ‘You will make yourself sick.’

He moved to grasp her wrist, but stopped and frowned at the ache in his shoulder and the uncertainty of the movement.  It took him a moment or two to remember – that was another thing he hated about being drugged.  It disorientated him and made him uncertain what was real.

‘You dislocated your shoulder,’ Elerrina informed him helpfully, ‘tore your leg and banged your head.’  She giggled rather unsteadily.  ‘Although your adar says that that, at least should not be a problem, since you can have little brain left to addle.’

‘Unfair.’  Legolas’s mouth was dry again, but he drank less greedily from the proffered cup, savouring the taste of the liquid.  ‘It could all have been much worse, had your atar not been so determined to ensure that I would continue to be a thorn in his flesh.’

Her hands trembled, so that a splash of water escaped the cup to sit like a bead of crystal on the coverlet.  ‘I was afraid that you were dead,’ she said.  ‘There was a flash of light and an empty space within me – and I felt your heartbeat falter.’

‘I would not leave you willingly,’ he said.  ‘But, even in the Blessed Realm, there are no guarantees …’

‘I did not know what I was feeling.’  Elerrina brushed the drop of water away with a careful fingertip.  ‘It was so overwhelming that there was no sense to it – it was only later that I began to untangle …’  She stopped, raising her eyes from the cover to look at him.  ‘And yet, I would not have you any different.’   

‘That is good.’  Legolas made the effort to trap her fingers in his less responsive hand.  ‘I can oblige you easily and make it look as if I am being noble.’

She blinked the tears from her eyes.  ‘The healers say that Atar did the right thing,’ she declared.  ‘Your arm will ache for a while and you will need to exercise it carefully to bring it back to full strength, but your leg …  They shook their heads over that and looked grave, but decided that the self-heal had saved you from the worst.  I am afraid they opened it again and stitched it – but they assured us that their skill was such that it would heal properly with barely a scar.’

‘If your atar had not risked himself,’ Legolas said quietly, ‘it is likely that wound could have been enough to send me to Námo’s care.’  It was not as if he was telling her anything she did not know – however determined Taryatur had been to preserve his daughter’s innocence, he had not raised a fool.

She drew a steady breath.  ‘He owed you,’ she said, ‘for Súrion’s life.  And, even if he had not, he would never have left you in danger – not if there were anything he could to do to protect you.’  

‘No,’ Legolas agreed meditatively.  ‘He is a courageous elf.  Irritating, at times,’ he added, glancing at his wife, ‘but he has his reasons.’

She smiled.  ‘You have forgiven him for not wanting me to wed you?’

‘In his position, given what he had seen, I would not have wanted me to wed you,’ he admitted.  ‘I would have similar doubts, probably, about one who came sniffing around Eleniel.’

Elerrina shook her head.  ‘Then spend the time you have learning acceptance, my love, because you will have no more success in bending your daughter to your will than my atar had with me.’

Eleniel’s adar grinned.  ‘I will learn my lesson,’ he said.  ‘Make the ellon suffer over a long courtship and then treat him with the utmost suspicion.’

His wife gave an exasperated sigh.  ‘You need to eat and rest,’ she told him.  ‘And then Galenthil and Eleniel wish to come and assure themselves that you are in one piece – and your parents will arrive to scold you and the healers to dose you further.’

Legolas pulled a face.  ‘Have I not been punished enough?’ he asked.  ‘And now my wife is refusing to protect me!’  His fingers tightened on hers.  ‘This will soon fade to memory,’ he added gently.  ‘Become another of those times that will not be forgotten, but must not be allowed to shadow the future.’

She leant forward and kissed him.  ‘A dark jewel,’ she murmured, ‘but we can make it a jewel, nonetheless.’

***

Taryatur perched on the trunk, his fingers caressing the new shoots that were springing from the upended roots.  Life was persistent, he thought absently as he stared at the narrow cleft in the floor of the glade.  He would never have thought that the ruined tree would sprout again – or that this place could appear so serene.  The sawn chunks of wood had been removed and gentle rains had washed the moss clean, while soft breezes had stirred the leaves to cover the disturbed earth.  Anar’s light had encouraged seeds to growth and already that night’s ruin had begun to look a long-established part of the life of the forest.

He had argued to have the entrance to the cave covered over – after all, surely no-one wanted to have elflings tumble to their deaths through an unguarded opening – but the Silvan elves had shrugged off his demands.  The cave was part of the forest, it would appear, and that was, by itself, enough of a reason to leave it untouched.   Better, he was told, for it to be obvious and known to all than for it to be hidden away to become a trap for the future.  He sighed.  Wood elves were an odd lot.

A change in the song of the trees made him look up.

‘You did not need to come and look for me,’ he remarked as his son-in-law limped into the glade.  ‘There is no prospect of a storm today.’

Legolas shrugged and sat down at the other end of elm, propping his stick up against a knot and lifting his leg to stretch it out along the wood.

‘And I doubt you have been cleared to walk this far yet, either.’

‘You can help me home, should it prove too much for me.’

Taryatur raised an eyebrow.

‘I wanted to see it in daylight,’ Legolas said.  ‘Without a crowd looking anxiously in my direction to see how I was taking it.’

‘It looks so innocent,’ the Noldo commented.

 ‘It is all a matter of perspective.’  Legolas opened his hands as his atar-in-law looked at him.  ‘Well, it is,’ he added defensively.  ‘It is not as if any of them – the storm, the tree, the cave, the water … None of them acted in concert against us deliberately.  It just happened.’

‘I suppose so.’  Taryatur had his doubts – very insubstantial ones, but doubts nonetheless.  It seemed rather too remarkable that a series of unconnected disasters should thrust him into co-operation with his son-in-law – but he hoped he was too wary to ignore so definite a warning.  ‘I have been thinking,’ he said.

Legolas’s silence invited him to continue.

‘Perhaps it is better to have some things in the open,’ he conceded.  ‘Not that I intend to burden others with my memories …’ he looked at his daughter’s husband defiantly, ‘but a mutual understanding – seemed to help.’

‘When the storm clouds gather,’ the Wood elf said, ‘I am here.  And I am not the only one who knows what you endure – who will understand without words.’

Taryatur answered only with a curt nod.  The subject, he hoped the ellon realised, was closed.  ‘When will you be considered well enough to take my son and grandsons off to the woods?’ he asked.  ‘I am growing restless – and thinking of offering to accompany you.’

‘You would be most welcome,’ Legolas said cautiously.  ‘I am sure Elerrina would be glad to have you there to keep an eye on us all – and it would give her a chance to catch up on all that has been happening in Tirion since she was last there.’ 

The life of the glade carried on around them as they sat in companionable silence and the soft afternoon created for them a different memory of the place.  The shadows had lengthened and the light deepened to gold before finally Taryatur stood.  ‘Come, my son,’ he said.  ‘Let us go and reassure our family that we are all right.’

Legolas grasped the offered arm and pulled himself to his feet, wincing a little as he put his weight on his stiffened leg.  He grabbed his stick, but did not reject his atar-in-law’s support, continuing his grip as he flexed the complaining thigh muscles. Finally he straightened up and they began their steady journey through the trees.  ‘Yes,’ he said.  ‘It has taken us a while to get there – but we are all right.’

 





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