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‘Reach for my hand.’
Legolas spoke calmly, hearing, despite his anxiety, echoes of his adar’s authority in his voice. The roots he clutched in his left hand shifted a little, releasing a shower of sandy soil to tumble like hail to the rocks below. He ignored the hint that they might not be able to support his weight, let alone that of the figure dangling below him.
‘I do not believe …’ The stripling’s legs scissored in an attempt to stretch further while still keeping his handhold.
‘You can do it, Turgon. You really do not want to hear Lord Námo’s reaction to your antics should you trouble him again.’
The ellon kicked out in search of any fracture in the rock that might serve as a foothold, finding a small protrusion that enabled him to push …
‘Got you!’ Legolas clamped his fingers round his friend’s wrist, wasting no time in flinging himself backwards, scraping the swinging figure over the grater of the rock so that even Turgon was unable to hold back a gasp of complaint.
He kept his grip, even as they lay on the sun-warmed rock while fat bees buzzed curiously and tufts of red valerian nodded in the breeze.
‘You will be the death of me yet,’ Legolas stated with detached serenity. ‘I had almost forgotten how skilled you always were at finding the only trouble available – and then enhancing it.’
‘Do not tell me you have become as staid as Ithilden!’ Turgon pulled himself free of his friend’s grasp.
Legolas raised himself on his elbow and stared at the adolescent who had long ago been one of his best friends. ‘Ithilden was never exactly staid,’ he said mildly. ‘Harassed, probably. Trying to do too much with too few resources – while keeping safe those who did not always appreciate his efforts.’
‘Yes, well …’ The young elf shrugged.
What must it be like, to have missed out on the long years when the darkness spread across the forest, and all those dwelling there had lost whatever innocence still remained with them when Turgon died? He could not imagine how it would be never to have known those desperate times.
‘What were you trying to do?’
Turgon sat up, patting at the front of his tunic and removing a single barred feather. ‘Is it not beautiful?’ he said admiringly.
‘You risked your life for that?’ Legolas could not keep the incredulity from his voice.
His friend flushed, seeming suddenly even younger than he usually did, and he hunched his shoulders defensively. ‘It is boring,’ he said. ‘There is no-one my age – and all everyone wants to do is … is garden and fish and mend their roof and talk about old times. I do not have any old times to talk over – and I do not want to learn to weave or play the flute or make boots or look after chickens.’
‘I can see that,’ his old friend granted, ‘but why let that lead you into … into the kind of danger that attracted us in our madcap youth?’
Turgon shrugged again. ‘I just do what I do,’ he said. ‘But the only time anyone notices is when it goes wrong.’
‘I notice,’ Legolas told him. ‘And I cannot help but say something that might sound to you very … very Ithilden-like. You need direction, Turgon.’
‘And who will provide it?’ The ellon’s tone was belligerent – as might be expected – but, underneath it, Legolas could taste a bitterness like willowbark. Perhaps Turgon was not quite as unaware of his parents’ frailties as it might appear. Which, his friend acknowledged, he would not be – this was not the Turgon from whom he had parted in a dark wood as a direct result of their youthful folly, but one who had faced judgement, grown into an understanding of his own failings and been restored to live the life that should always have been his.
‘You wanted to be a novice, Turgon, but there is no call for warriors in the Blessed Realm. What do you want to make of yourself – here and now?’
‘And what of you, my lord?’ his friend challenged in instant response. ‘What becomes of warriors who have nothing left to fight?’
What, indeed? Legolas let the silence hang between them, inspecting grains of sand as they marched to and fro across the bare rock at the direction of the fitful breeze. He would have thought that there was a question he should have answered by now. ‘I do not know,’ he said softly. ‘I think I am still in need of healing, before I can tell you that. Will you help me find it, my friend?’
He had forgotten the immediate, unthinking generosity that was so much a part of Turgon – a quality that even Thranduil had felt made up for some of the more hair-raising aspects of his friend’s character. A young hand closed over the silvered scar that curved across Legolas’s forearm. ‘Of course I will,’ Turgon promised.
‘Then, let us get you home,’ Legolas said. ‘Before your parents notice you have disappeared on them and start to worry.’
It felt like … returning to childhood. Escaping the tedium of the schoolroom and playing truant from the training fields to indulge themselves in the forest. Except, of course, that, at the same time, they were … It reminded him, in a way, of Aragorn in his later years dealing with the irrepressibility of his lively foster brothers – once so much his elder and now looking – and behaving – much like his grandsons.
‘That should not be a problem.’ Turgon grinned wryly. ‘Adar has left for Tirion – but Naneth thought it would be better if we remained here for now. She seemed to think I was not … ready … for the big city.’
‘Fair enough.’ Legolas could not deny he was relieved. Vardalan was not a bad elf, but he was, at best, easily distracted and he had never been very good at paying attention to his son. Of course, Turgon’s mother was only marginally better. ‘Perhaps you could come and stay with me,’ he suggested. ‘I have been alone since Gimli died and would appreciate some company.’
‘The dwarf?’ Turgon said, envy infusing his voice. ‘A real dwarf? I wish I had known him.’
Legolas grinned. He could just imagine his friend’s ferocious indignation at the teasing to which Turgon would, no doubt, have subjected him, and the comprehensive – and skilled – retaliation that would have surprised the young elf. ‘He would have enjoyed making your acquaintance,’ he said truthfully. ‘Gimli would have agreed with you that elves are far too keen on their maintaining their dignity and need to spend a lot more time being reminded of their closeness to the earth.’
Turgon’s laugh brightened the already-bright day and provided some balm for a sore spot in his heart.
‘I do not talk about him much,’ he admitted. ‘People came to accept his presence, but still tended to gaze at him wide-eyed – much as if he were some kind of pet spider that might suddenly turn round and bite them.’ Legolas felt as if a cloud had drifted across the sun. ‘He said he sailed with me purely for the chance of seeing Lady Galadriel again – but I am not sure he was being entirely truthful. He spent little enough time in her company – and seemed to prefer exploring these woods.’
‘Who would not?’ Turgon agreed with enthusiasm. He turned gleaming eyes on his grown friend. ‘To be offered the chance to do what no other of your kind has ever done! Would it not be wonderful to be the first to see sights no other has seen – and go to places where no-one has trodden?’
Legolas blinked. It had never occurred to him to look on Gimli as a pioneer, but of course he was. The only dwarf ever to cross the Sundering Seas and approach Lord Aulë in his own halls. ‘I never thought of it like that – I thought more of what he had left behind to come with me.’
‘You cannot look back.’ The ellon sounded owlishly knowing, in the way that Legolas had always found strangely convincing – whilst at the same time being fully aware that he would doubtless not appreciate the outcome of Turgon’s plans. ‘Enjoy what you have and embrace what comes.’
‘I miss him.’ Legolas looked at his hands. ‘There are other losses in my life that I know will one day be made good – but Gimli …’ And Aragorn, he thought bleakly, and Faramir … Éowyn, the halflings – Arwen … Valar yes, Arwen. He suppressed the ache of their absence. ‘I know not whether we will ever encounter each other again.’ He raised his eyes at Turgon’s unnatural silence to find his friend staring at him soberly. ‘I am honoured to have known him,’ he said, testing out the seed of a suspicion that had been sending out rootlets in his heart, ‘to have known them all – but they would not have wanted me to grieve for them through all the ages of Arda.’
Turgon looked as if he was about to comment, but he decided instead to abandon the topic as demanding a level of experience he lacked. ‘What I find hard to believe,’ he said with apparent irrelevance, ‘is that Annael is Emmelin’s adar! I mean – Annael!’ He shook his head disbelievingly. ‘He would not even approach ellyth for fear they would bite him!’ He slanted a cautious stare at Legolas. ‘Although you never wed?’ An uncertain fascination revealed itself beneath his casual enquiry.
‘Not I,’ Legolas said briefly. ‘You need the right person.’ Some wounds he was not willing to have touched – and diversion seemed the best tool. ‘What future do you want to – er – embrace?’ He kept his eyes away from the young elf, examining the whispering trees.
The silence was … half-knowing – and he sternly suppressed a sigh. He could deal with Turgon as an adolescent, or he could cope with him as an equal – but these moments when he sensed a whole other level of understanding in one who was still a decade short of his majority – or more than half a millennium past it, depending on how you looked at it – made him uncertain how to deal with his friend.
Turgon shrugged. ‘Life,’ he said. ‘What greater adventure is there?’
A slow smile spread across his friend’s face. ‘And just what,’ he asked, ‘does that entail?’
Mírdaniel looked vaguely round the small cottage, half her possessions spilling out of the boxes she had brought across the dividing sea, but she remained obstinate. ‘I do not know,’ she said. ‘I do not wish to be parted from him so soon.’ The pallor of her face stirred Legolas’s sympathy, even though he knew full well that she was unlikely to focus on her son’s well-being once the thread of an idea had begun to spin in her mind. She ran her fingers through Turgon’s untidy mop of hair, dislodging leaves to flutter to the floor.
He pulled away briefly, then curbed himself and put an arm round his naneth to give her a quick hug. ‘Legolas’s cottage is only ten minutes away,’ he said. ‘And Elowen said she would come over and help you finish unpacking – you do not want us in the way when you are talking over old times.’ He grinned his familiar knowing grin. ‘Think – you would not be able to share all the worst of the scandal if I were here to listen.’
His naneth blinked. ‘Part of me never wants to let you out of my sight again,’ she said, more sharply than she had, perhaps, intended. The look she threw at Legolas was decidedly reproachful. ‘And you said yourself that Turgon required our attention – and now you want to take him away?’
‘Only for a few days,’ he said soothingly. ‘I would like to … to explore the wood with him. Help him get to know his new home.’ Before he found more of its dangers the hard way, he added silently. ‘You are tired …’ He recognised the symptoms – and, despite the impatience he often experienced when confronted by Turgon’s parents, he could not but help feel sympathy. The impact of arrival in the Blessed Realm was exhausting at the best of times – and those who were worn thin found it even harder to adjust. It had astounded him that Gimli had endured it so much more resiliently than had he, whose birthright it was. But that should not have been, he supposed, that surprising, since resilience was a key element of the dwarf’s character. ‘The last thing you need at the moment is to have to deal with the … the rampant curiosity of a newly-returned elf. You need to … to settle in and begin to feel part of this forest. Let Elowen help you – and let me deal with Turgon for a while.’
Mírdaniel leaned briefly against her son, as if she was reassuring herself of his solidity, and sighed. ‘I have letters for you somewhere,’ she said vaguely. ‘And for Elowen and Emmelin. Perhaps, if I have time to get things straight …’
‘I will take that as a ‘yes’, then,’ Turgon said buoyantly. ‘And get my things.’
He bounced out of the central room into his own small chamber.
‘He does not have much to get,’ Mírdaniel admitted. ‘We have not had time …’
‘I can let him have most things he might need.’ Legolas spoke absently. ‘What is it, Mírdaniel?’
Tears spilled down the pale cheeks, and the hand she buried in her gown shook. ‘I do not know if I can cope,’ she murmured, casting an anxious glance at the open doorway. ‘It is as if time has been cut out and twisted and turned on its head – and I am being asked to be a person I was in another life.’ She gulped a breath. ‘It is a very long time since you were a child, Lord Legolas – and you have done very many things since then. How would you deal with being taken back to a time you had left behind you? Then I was a naneth with two small sons – but when I left the Greenwood I had grown grandchildren and none depended on me for their care. Seeing Turgon again was one of the greatest joys of my whole life – but I do not know if I can do this!’
‘Yes …’ Legolas spoke slowly. It was – yet another of those aspects of life in the Blessed Realm that no-one thought to consider until … until it jumped up and bit them in the throat. Éowyn – a ferociously competent and loving mother of a surprisingly large brood of children – had told him in her later years that she could no longer imagine how she had managed and was only too glad that her daughters and daughters-in-law had proved to be capable of dealing with their own offspring, because she had grown past coping with motherhood. How would she have dealt with the unexpected gift of the return of the one son whose intrepidity had led to his early and tragically unnecessary death? Those missing from your life became romanticised and regretted – and the reality of their presence faded as their less charming characteristics reduced in importance. ‘There must be others,’ he mused, ‘who have been in your situation – would you like me to find out? Perhaps their experience might be of help to you.’
She waved a hand. ‘I doubt it,’ she said dismissively. ‘It is … You can only do what you can do.’
And he had the feeling that what she would do would be to leave Turgon to raise himself, much as she had before. But this time, Legolas vowed, he was not a child and he would see that his friend learned what he needed to become the ellon he should be.
His small satchel bulging to overflowing, Turgon surged back into the room, his eyes more knowing than they should be. ‘Let us be going then,’ he said, and, with a swift hug for Mírdaniel, he was out in the pale-golden daylight.
‘I will bring him back safely,’ Legolas said simply. He looked back from the doorway at his friend’s mother as she stood in the muddle of the small room. ‘Elowen will be here soon,’ he promised.
‘I left him fishing for our supper. He cannot, surely, come to too much harm by the stream.’
Elowen raised an eyebrow – and Siondel grinned as he placed a careful handful of soft breast feathers deep in the bag to prevent them flying away. ‘You should know better than that,’ he said. ‘It never failed to amaze me just how impossible it was to keep one step ahead of Turgon. He came up with ideas no-one would ever have anticipated.’ He paused and looked at Legolas. ‘There were a few times we thought seriously about moving away from the Stronghold to live in one of the villages.’ He resumed his rhythmic plucking of the duck. ‘Of course, your adar had guards between you and Turgon – although you managed to work your way round them far too often for Thranduil’s peace of mind.’
‘There was never anything wrong with Turgon that proper care would not have put right,’ Elowen said firmly, reiterating a position clearly long-held and still unchanged. ‘For all his wildness, he is a good-hearted Wood-elf – and he always was.’
‘He is his parents’ child,’ Siondel agreed. ‘And, as long as you accept that, in some ways, you will never change him, that is not a bad thing for him to be. Both Vardalan and Mírdaniel are talented people. They are just … not very good examples of parenthood. They refused to see it as work that is even more important than poetry or music.’ He grinned. ‘Or being a warrior or a king.’
Legolas blinked. He has always liked Annael’s father – always been happy to be included in Annael’s family – but this was a side of the elf he had never considered. ‘I will bear that in mind,’ he said, ‘should I ever …’
Elowen patted his arm understandingly when he failed to complete his sentence. ‘I will go to Mírdaniel,’ she assured him. ‘If it was the sort of thing you could say to a Vala, I would tell Lord Námo that he had been thoughtless to return Turgon to his parents so soon after their arrival. They need time to restore their sense of themselves and recover from their reaction to the intensity of these lands – and Turgon,’ she smiled affectionately, ‘can be rather a challenge even when you are fully alert.’ Her fingers tightened on Legolas’s arm. ‘I am more than happy to do what I can for him – especially now I need no longer fear his leading my son astray.’ She shook her head. ‘But you are right – he needs the company of someone who can offer all the attention he craves ... a brother – and that is what you can give him. We will do all we can to help you.’
Legolas pulled a rueful face. ‘I suspect I will be playing the role of Ithilden rather than that of Eilian – attempting to instil good sense and restraint rather than simply letting him enjoy himself. Turgon may come to find me very tedious.’
The hand plucking the duck slowed down. ‘Eilian taught you a lot,’ Siondel said mildly. ‘Just because he did not make a lesson of it all did not mean that you did not grow in wisdom from the things you did together.’
‘You are neither Ithilden nor Eilian,’ Elowen told him. ‘Somewhere between the two, perhaps, in some things – and yet different from both of them. Just – give Turgon your interest, and let him lead you. You will both benefit from it.’
The reed basket and the fishing line were there, together with several gleaming silver fish, but Turgon, of course, was not.
Legolas closed his eyes and sighed. He had never felt old, despite his years, not until this friend of his youth had turned up to make him realise … Had he really become this boring and predictable? Had his sense of wonder atrophied, as the drag of duty and loss had worn at him, until all he could experience was a pale shadow of the delight that had filled him in his youth?
The ellon’s footprints were still drying on the shady rocks, so he had not been gone long – and there was, surely, little that would endanger even the most unwary in this wood that buzzed comfortingly with contented life. Although that did not mean that he should not try to discover Turgon’s whereabouts before he found something.
There were few traces of the young elf’s passing, but he was not hard to follow. The trees chattered of him, aware of the freshness of his spirit and the intensity of his wonder. His path had, for some reason, been remarkably haphazard, zig-zagging between the tall trunks and dodging through patches of undergrowth, but when Legolas finally caught up with him, Turgon turned as if he had always known his friend would be there.
‘Look!’ he said.
The tree before them appeared to flaunt foliage of a clear pale green; foliage that moved gently in a breeze that stirred nothing else, as thousands of wings folded back to rest in the dappled sunlight.
Legolas smiled. ‘I have a piece of carved jade,’ he said, ‘that Gimli made when he first saw this. It … captures the image – but nothing is as amazing as seeing it for yourself. They pass each year – in the spring and again in the autumn – as they go from who-knows-where to whatever destination they seek.’ He glanced at his friend. ‘If you go closer,’ he suggested, ‘some may consent to settle on you. They like the taste of salt on your skin and will happily let you watch them as they feed.’
Turgon shook his head. ‘It is perfect as it is,’ he said. ‘Why spoil it?’ He watched wide-eyed as increasing numbers of butterflies fluttered to join their kin, until the branches seemed weighed down by a curtain of overlapping wings. ‘Is there any reason why they all settle on that tree?’ he asked.
‘None that I know.’ Legolas leaned back, observing the ellon more than the insects. ‘They use other trees as well – although not until they run out of space to land here.’
‘One day,’ Turgon told him, ‘I will find out where they come from.’
Legolas turned over the idea. ‘Who knows where that would take us,’ he ruminated. ‘Or what we might find.’
The ellon turned and grinned. ‘We always wanted to know what was round the next corner,’ he said. ‘I never liked having people tell me that I could not do things.’
A laugh escaped Legolas. ‘And dealt with that by making sure you did them anyway. Whilst doing your best to drag me and Annael into trouble with you.’
‘You never took much dragging.’
‘No, I suppose I did not.’ The older elf shook his head. ‘I wonder that Adar was managed to remain as patient as he did.’
‘I would not, myself, have called him patient, exactly.’
‘That is because you are still forty. Give it a couple of centuries and you will see it differently.’
Turgon’s crooked grin and gleaming eyes made Legolas catch his breath. Perhaps it was a gift, this unexpected reunion with his past. Perhaps it was not only Turgon’s parents who needed his return, but his long-parted friend – one who had never quite managed to extinguish a flare of guilt for his thoughtless part in the young elf’s death. And perhaps Turgon’s youth – his naivety – his joy in the simple things of life had been brought back now to offer his world-weary friend the balm he needed and the incentive to shake the shadows of the long centuries from his eyes to see again through the eyes of a child. Perhaps … perhaps, it was not a matter of his protecting his friend, but of his friend restoring him, refreshing his spirit – preparing him for a endless future he had begun to dread.
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