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Note: Galenthil and Eleniel are about 14 in human terms, 35 in elven equivalent. The words Andatar and Andamil are Quenya-ish attempts at Grandfather and Grandmother. I cannot imagine Elerrina's parents would tolerate the Sindarin versions!
Galenthil sat cross-legged and motionless as the badger cubs played in the clearing beneath him. He would be late for the evening meal and almost undoubtedly end up going to bed hungry, but it was worth it to watch the first outing of these little creatures from their sett. One, he smiled to see, was a natural adventurer, his short legs taking him to the very limits that his guardians were prepared to permit before they herded him gently back to rejoin his siblings. He could understand the delight with which the cubs were playing as the fragrant breeze ruffled their fur – after so long confined below ground the freedom of being outside must be wonderful.
The half-light faded gradually and the stars brightened. He would have to go, Galenthil sighed. Much as he would like to remain hidden here and watch, he would have to go home. If he stayed out long enough to worry his naneth, he would be in serious trouble. His adar understood – none better – the attraction of being out under the stars, but he was not prepared to make concessions when it came to upsetting his wife. And being able to come back tomorrow, and in the days after, to watch these little ones grow, was too important to Galenthil for him to throw away his liberty for one night of self-indulgence.
One of the adult badgers turned its head as the young elf slid like a shadow into the trees, snuffling the air briefly before returning its attention to grooming its fur, unconcerned by the hint of movement.
Galenthil sped up once he was out of earshot, leaping easily and gracefully from one tree to the next until he jumped to the ground just beyond the expanse of meadow that ran down to the stream. Entering the side door, he rubbed his boots to rid them of any forest debris and brushed his hands on the seat of his leggings.
‘You need to wash your hands,’ his naneth informed him, ‘and brush the leaves from your hair. You have missed dinner – your daernaneth waited the meal as long as your daeradar would allow, but his patience ran out some while ago. Your adar wishes to speak to you once you are clean and tidy. Do not keep him waiting any longer than you can help.’
Galenthil winced. It sounded as if he had pushed his luck a little too far. ‘Yes, Naneth,’ he said obediently. ‘I am sorry that I am late. I hope you were not worried.’
Elerrina laughed and caressed his fair hair. ‘Not in the slightest, my sweet one,’ she said affectionately. ‘But your adar is not pleased – when you behave irresponsibly, he feels that it reflects badly on us as your parents.’ She leaned forward and kissed his brow gently. ‘Go and tidy up,’ she said. ‘And do not forget to tell your adar what delayed your return.’
A plate of food lay covered on the chest in his room. That, by itself, told him that his sister felt that he was in trouble. He snatched a few quick bites as his nimble fingers rebraided his hair and he slipped into a clean tunic. There was no point annoying his adar by looking as if he had been dragged through a hedge. Tidiness was another of those things that his parents had started to insist on now he was growing up. As was punctuality. And there, he sighed, was his major weakness. When he was absorbed in something, keeping track of time seemed so unimportant – and he always managed to convince himself that everyone would understand. And they did, he decided fairly. They just thought that their rules were more important.
He found himself unexpectedly nervous as he tapped on the door of his adar’s study. It was odd, he thought. His adar was usually the most amiable of elves – not nearly as authoritative as Daeradar, for example – but, every now and then, if he decided the situation merited it, he could make Galenthil feel thoroughly ashamed of himself with no more than a look.
Legolas was sitting in his favourite chair in front of the empty fireplace, with his long legs stretched out in front of him, and, as his son entered, all that he moved were his eyes. He inspected his son slowly, as the ellon squared his slender shoulders and colour stained his cheeks.
After a few moments of silence, Galenthil said, ‘I am sorry, Adar.’ He paused. ‘It was the badger cubs’ first outing.’ He waited for the scolding that he knew he deserved, but his adar said nothing. ‘I meant to leave earlier,’ Galenthil’s voice was becoming meeker, ‘but watching them was so interesting, I did not give myself enough time to return.’ He stopped again. ‘I know it was irresponsible.’ Legolas tilted his head slightly. ‘I know I promised that I would be on time for meals.’ The ellon searched for what else might have annoyed his adar. ‘I am sorry that I let you down in front of Daeradar and Daernaneth.’
‘And what,’ Legolas said softly, with a mild curiosity that made his son squirm, ‘do you think I should do about this? To ensure that you are unlikely to repeat the offence?’
‘I have missed dinner,’ Galenthil pointed out hopefully, as his stomach gurgled in agreement.
His adar waved a dismissive hand. ‘And your sister will have ensured that, even if confined to your room, you will not go hungry.’
‘You could restrict me to the house,’ Galenthil suggested, his shoulders drooping.
‘And you would remain within those boundaries?’ Legolas asked. ‘With badger cubs to watch?’
Galenthil looked up indignantly. ‘I would not disobey you,’ he said.
‘Even though being late – again – is in itself disobedience?’ his adar asked. Legolas considered the ellon as he let his words sink in. ‘I have a better idea. You will seek out your grandparents and apologise to them for your bad manners – that should be sufficient for this evening’s transgression – and you will take your sister with you each time you wish to go to the badgers’ sett. You will have to make whatever accommodation with her she requires – she will probably not be too demanding, if you ask her nicely. And,’ he added, ‘you had best listen to her when she tells you it is time to leave, for I will not blame her for your lateness – and next time I will not consider it too severe to confine you to the house after lessons for a month – with a task that will ensure you remain here.’
‘Yes, Adar,’ Galenthil agreed, somewhat bemused.
‘I suggest you find your daeradar before his annoyance has time to intensify,’ Legolas said, his eyes twinkling with amusement. ‘His words are likely to sting enough as it is.’
‘Yes, Adar,’ Galenthil said again as he shut the door behind him. He drew a deep breath. He was not sure how he had escaped, but he was grateful for his adar’s understanding – he thought. Coaxing Eleniel to accompany him to the woods should not be too difficult – and even facing his daeradar was not that bad. He smiled. He would be able to watch the cubs grow.
‘Soft,’ Elerrina said provocatively. ‘Your adar would never have let you get away with that.’
‘But badgers, my heart,’ Legolas explained. ‘I am only surprised he managed to drag himself away when he did!’ He combed his long fingers through her russet hair, enjoying the feel of the soft waves.
Elerrina wriggled at the touch of his hands. ‘You are as bad as our son!’ she reproved him. ‘If he had asked, we would have permitted him to stay longer in the woods – we might have insisted on an escort, but we are not insensitive parents and we know how much the creatures of the forest mean to him. He is taking liberties, my dearest – it is not for him to decide which rules to ignore.’
‘He does not mean to be late,’ Legolas murmured absently in her ear. ‘He just loses track of time when the song of the forest takes him and makes him part of it. If it were intentional, then I would not have found it difficult to be harder on him. And the cubs will grow very quickly – I did not want him to lost the chance of learning about them just because convention demands that he have his privileges withdrawn. Eleniel will keep him in line for the time being – and we can think about later – well, later.’
‘And what if our daughter does not wish to spend hours watching badger cubs grow?’ Elerrina asked, arching a eyebrow as she turned to her husband. ‘Perhaps her occupations of choice are now more refined!’
‘She is a Wood Elf – and a twin,’ Legolas protested. ‘She might enjoy weaving and playing the harp and all those accomplishments you wish her to develop, but the forest and her brother still have a hold over her heart. She will not mind passing time with them both.’
‘If I were suspicious,’ Elerrina remarked, sliding her arms round his waist, ‘I might wonder if you were attempting to ease my daughter away from my pernicious Noldor influence.’
Legolas lowered his head to brush his lips against her eyelids, trailing his fingertips delicately down her ears in a way that he knew she found very distracting. It would not be entirely truthful to deny her half-amused accusation and yet it would be foolish to agree, so diversion seemed the wisest tactic. Eleniel was a remarkably calm and even-tempered elfling, who enjoyed learning the skills required of her parents’ daughter, but he sometimes felt that she needed more opportunities to explore the forest around her and spend time with her brother.
‘The forest will be very beautiful at this hour,’ he mused. ‘The starlight will be pricking the pools with light and night’s breeze will be scented with the blossom of the trees.’ He ran a finger along Elerrina’s collarbone so softly that it made her shiver. ‘We really should take advantage of the chance to – walk – among the trees.’
‘And if our – walk – should lead us to a bank of wild thyme?’ Elerrina asked, a catch in her throat. ‘Where the grass is studded with tiny flowers of gleaming white, like a multitude of stars – and the branches trail to make a bower?’
Legolas smiled. ‘We would be foolish not to spend time in a place so special, would we not? It would be wasteful – and Wood Elves are never wasteful.’
‘I will ask Hithien to keep an eye on our children,’ Elerrina said practically.
‘They should not prove to be any trouble,’ Legolas remarked. ‘Galenthil will still be subdued after hearing my adar’s lecture on responsibility – it is one of his best, and he had many chances to refine it over the years of my youth to make it particularly cutting – and Eleniel has enough sense to keep her head down at such moments.’
‘Your adar is a little fractious right now,’ his wife said. ‘Any conduct that might possibly upset your naneth causes him to react rather sharply – he was not pleased when Galenthil did not turn up in time for the evening meal. Our daughter, I thought, did very well in soothing him and making him laugh. Very diplomatic – and highly skilled for her age.’ She paused, contemplating the scene at table. ‘You are right, my love,’ Elerrina concluded decisively. ‘Eleniel does need more chances to be young – it will be good for her to idle away some time among the trees.’
‘I am always right,’ Legolas stated with a self-righteous smugness that made Elerrina giggle. ‘Remember that and you will not go far wrong.’
She prodded an accusing finger into the muscle of his arm, causing him to grab the injury and rub it exaggeratedly. ‘You forgot to mention devastatingly good-looking,’ she reminded him. ‘Devastatingly good-looking, amazingly intelligent and always right – that is what you usually say.’
‘Did I forget to add that I am a remarkable archer?’ Legolas added. ‘And highly skilled with my blades?’
‘And my dearest love,’ Elerrina said, ‘and my children’s adar.’
‘Oh well.’ Legolas’s hold on her tightened. ‘You have a good grasp of what is truly important, my heart. In that case, I will waive my demand to have my other talents recognised.’
Elerrina inclined closer and gave him a lingering kiss. ‘Walk with me,’ she suggested.
‘If you insist,’ he sighed with mock reluctance. ‘I suppose I must make some effort if I am to continue as your dearest love. You speak to Hithien and I will ensure that the twins are where they are supposed to be – and then I am yours. Be kind to me.’
‘I will.’ Elerrina smiled mischievously. ‘I will.’
Eleniel watched as her twin ran a gentle finger over his goshawk’s head. The bird leaned into the caress and refrained from using his sharp beak to peck at the hand that was taking such liberties. It amazed her, she thought as she traced the carving of leaves on her bow, how Galenthil managed to coax the most unlikely creatures into treating him like a member of their family.
‘Have you flown him today?’ she asked.
‘Of course.’ Galenthil encouraged the goshawk to move from his glove to his favourite perch. ‘It would not be fair to Gwilrandir to expect him to remain here when the wind’s song calls him. He loves to fly.’
‘The day will soon not be long enough for you to tend all the creatures within your care,’ his sister observed.
Galenthil gave her the quick smile that lightened his intent face and made its recipient feel the centre of his attention. If he did it deliberately, Eleniel sighed, it would be annoying, but part of her brother’s charm was that he was so totally unconscious of the effect he had on those round him. He was so absorbed in what he was doing that he won supporters without making any effort to entice them to his point of view.
‘Will you come?’ he asked. ‘The badgers are so interesting to watch – there is one that reminds me of Nimloth. It refuses to accept that it must stay under its parents’ eyes and is constantly trying to seek something new and exciting.’
‘And if I do not?’ she asked.
‘Then Adar says I may not go.’ Galenthil’s face fell. ‘You would not be so mean, would you?’
‘I do not wish to be late home each day,’ Eleniel told him flatly. ‘Daeradar was not happy – and that makes Adar cross. I do not like being in trouble.’
‘If I promise to leave when you say it is time?’ His serious gaze inspected her hopefully. ‘Adar said that he would not blame you if we were late.’ He looked away guiltily. ‘Daeradar has said that I may not join you at dinner for two weeks. I am to have a tray in the schoolroom. He said that I was clearly too immature to eat with the adults.’
‘He will still know if you are back late,’ Eleniel said. ‘Daeradar knows everything. And I do not wish to be banished from the table.’
Galenthil shoulders drooped, but he did not argue.
It was so irritating, his sister reflected. If he tried to push her into doing his will, she could resist him much more easily, but he never did. She sighed audibly. ‘I will come,’ she said. ‘But you had better be ready to leave when I say – or I will not accompany you tomorrow.’
The flash of his enthusiastic grin drew a warm smile from her in return. ‘You will not regret it, ’leniel,’ he promised.
And such was his conviction, Eleniel realised, that she believed that she would not.
Laerwen stood behind her husband’s chair, massaging his neck expertly until he sighed with pleasure as tension seeped visibly from him. She bent forward, resting her cheek against his wheat-fair hair as it gleamed in the beams of afternoon sunlight, her belly keeping her awkwardly distant.
‘You should not be standing,’ he said, reaching up to stroke her cheek.
‘It is more comfortable than sitting,’ she protested, ‘and far more comfortable than lying down.’
‘You need a shelf,’ he teased, ‘on which to rest that enormous bump.’ He turned and drew her round to perch on his lap. ‘I hate to think what size our daughter will be.’ He patted the bulge, feeling a kick as if the unborn elfling was objecting to his remark. ‘You are big enough to be carrying a mûmak. I am sure you were nowhere near this size with Legolas.’
‘Our recollection differs, then,’ Laerwen sighed. ‘I seem to remember being too wide to waddle over the last weeks.’ She smoothed the fabric of her gown over her swollen belly and rested her hand over a moving limb. ‘I cannot believe that I can get any larger, but it is still weeks before this little one is due to join us.’
Thranduil held her gently, but Laerwen felt his mood change as memories of the past extended their tendrils over them, like a drifting mist on a summer hill.
‘It is not the same, my love,’ she assured him. ‘We are no longer bearing a child in defiance of the Shadow – this child will grow in the safety of this forest. She will not have to see her adar – her brother – her husband live the life of a warrior and learn to deal with death. She will not be left bereft, as you were, as Legolas was.’
‘Why are we doing this?’ Thranduil spoke softly, but she could hear the uncertainty in his tone. ‘I have found you again – why are we risking what we have for you to bear this child?’ He placed his hand over hers and felt his daughter move. ‘I love her already – do not doubt it – but I love you more, and we are neither of us as young as we were. I have lost you once.’
Laerwen grasped his hand and shook it fiercely. ‘Never question that this is the right thing to do,’ she insisted. ‘This little one will crown our joy – she is the daughter you were always meant to have. You have been robbed of her presence over too many years of loneliness – but she will join us here.’
He drew up their clasped hands and kissed her fingers before returning them to rub her belly. ‘I would do anything to avoid giving you pain,’ he said.
‘This is one pain that is worth it,’ she declared. ‘As I remember, the worst of it is forgotten the moment that the child rests in your arms.’ She smiled at him. ‘You are even dragging poor Elrond and Miriwen here to make sure that there are enough healers in our house to treat any imaginable occurrence. I will be as well-looked-after as it is possible to be.’
‘I am not sure that I am prepared for the excitements of being an adar again,’ Thranduil confessed. He buried his face in her fair hair and groaned. ‘It is one thing being an indulgent daeradar – but raising a daughter could be too much for me. Keeping on top of Legolas’s antics was more effort than directing a campaign – he was a slippery as a fish, and he was never where he was supposed to be. I am too old to do this again.’
Laerwen giggled unsympathetically. ‘It will do you good, my lord,’ she told him. ‘I know you find life here somewhat unchallenging. I hope our daughter proves as enterprising as Elrohir’s twins – that should prevent any boredom.’ She shifted uncomfortably. ‘And I am not sure that Galenthil would describe you as an indulgent daeradar at the moment – there are times when I think you find it difficult to leave it for Legolas to discipline his children.’
‘It is hard at times to refrain from acting,’ her husband admitted. ‘He and Elerrina do not always react as I would – they let some things pass that I would not and jump on other things that seem unimportant to me. And we do live in an extended household of which I am the head. There are times when it is more appropriate for me to act than it would be to make the twins wait for their adar’s return.’
‘I wonder how you would feel if Oropher returned to join us here,’ Laerwen mused. ‘Would he become the head of our household and relegate you to the role of heir? Would you accept his right to discipline our child?’
‘I thought not,’ Laerwen laughed. ‘Our son is an adult, my love. We must let him and his family take responsibility for their own lives.’
‘Should I rescind Galenthil’s punishment, then?’ Thranduil lifted an eyebrow.
‘No, of course not,’ his wife smiled. ‘Legolas sent him to you – he would not have done that if he were not prepared to accept your judgment.’ She kissed her husband’s jaw thoughtfully. ‘It is all about working together – you are no longer struggling on alone as a single parent, my heart. Comfort yourself with the knowledge that this little one will have four adults to care for her – and a niece and nephew old enough to protect and love her. She will be a fortunate elfling.’
‘I will still feel happier when she is actually here,’ Thranduil said softly.
‘And that makes two of us,’ Laerwen sighed as their daughter turned within her.
‘Fascinating, are they not?’ Galenthil lay motionless on the low branch overlooking the sett. ‘Are you not glad you came?’
Eleniel’s hand rubbed over the smooth greyish bark thoughtfully. ‘I am surprised they cannot smell Gwilrandir on you,’ she observed. ‘They seem very calm about having us here.’
‘They are used to me.’ The ellon smiled as the adventurous kit scurried his way between two of the watching adults as they groomed themselves, apparently oblivious to him. ‘They were skittish at first, but have grown accustomed to my presence.’
‘Still,’ his sister remarked, ‘they have young ones with them.’
‘Gwilrandir is not large enough to be a threat to them, and they know it,’ Galenthil shrugged.
‘Do you understand how they think?’ Eleniel watched her brother. ‘Can you feel them as we feel the forest?’
‘Not really.’ Her twin turned to look at her. ‘Trees are easy to understand – they react to the world around them and they sense us. They are slow to grow and strong. The beasts of the forest,’ he tilted his head. ‘Their thoughts are more urgent – food and shelter and having young ones. But they are on the surface. I do not know that they think deeply about anything.’
‘These are not the Undying Lands, are they? Not really,’ Eleniel turned easily on the branch to watch the fading light through the leaves. ‘For elves, yes – and for the Powers and their attendant Maia – but the lives of beasts and birds and fish, and the plants themselves, come to an end. Even those that do not feed us do not live for ever.’
‘They have a cycle,’ Galenthil said seriously. ‘Their young,’ he indicated the young badger kits now playing among the leaves, ‘give them an immortality of a kind. And saplings become trees and produce more seed. I do not think I would enjoy a world where there was no change – it would be like a pool of standing water drying up in the sun.’
The shadows deepened and the rustling of small creatures emerging to their evening’s work of seeking food stirred the dried leaves on the forest floor. At the edge of the trees, an owl drifted by on ghostly wings, leaving a moment’s wary silence behind it.
‘How do you feel about having an aunt younger than we are?’ Eleniel asked abruptly. ‘Does it not feel – strange to you that Ada will have a sister to whom we will seem grown up?’
The ellon’s fair eyebrows rose in surprise. ‘What does it matter?’ he answered with a question.
‘Andatar is not pleased.’ Eleniel refrained from looking at her brother. ‘Naneth tries to pretend that it is not so, but she has not read us Andatar and Andamil’s letters for months – she just tells us some of the things they say. And she smiles when she speaks of them, but her eyes . . .’
‘We will be late,’ Galenthil noticed the darkening forest with concern. ‘We must hurry home – I do not wish you to get in trouble because of me.’
‘It is all right.’ Eleniel did not move. ‘I asked Naneth if we might stay late tonight. She said she would ask Adar to come and see us back. We are to wait here.’
‘Why did you do that?’ Her brother’s warm grey eyes inspected her.
‘Because the badgers are more active once evening falls and the stars open.’ Eleniel smiled. ‘Naneth is not unreasonable,’ she pointed out. ‘She expects us to be reasonable in return.’ She turned her attention back to the ground. ‘She said we could remain late because there are no lessons tomorrow, so we may sleep later in the morning if we need.’
‘I wish I could live in the forest all the time,’ Galenthil said wistfully.
‘But we cannot,’ his sister told him practically. ‘We have other things to do – lessons and training and – and learning to be elves like Adar and Naneth – like our grandparents. I do not wish to grow up to be ignorant and foolish. I want to be the kind of elf people respect and to whom they go when they need help.’
Galenthil sighed. ‘It seems hard work at times.’
‘It is.’ Scarcely a movement of the leaves around them warned them of Legolas’s arrival in their tree. He sat easily above them on a narrow branch that dipped slightly under his weight. ‘But it is worth it. I am glad now that my Adar insisted on my learning many things that made me petulant when I was younger than you are.’
‘Did you ever argue with him, Ada?’ Eleniel lifted herself on one elbow.
Legolas’s eyes reflected the stars. ‘No-one in his right mind argues with Aran Thranduil,’ he commented. ‘I obeyed him, of course. Mostly. Reluctantly, at times, I will admit. And I did many things that he had never thought to forbid until after I had done them – and some things he had told me straitly not to do at all. But I usually came to see that he was right – and not just because I had to spend far too much time contemplating my sins while confined to my room.’ His fall of fine hair shadowed his face as he leaned forward to look at the badgers.
‘Do you think it will be a good thing to have a sister?’ Galenthil asked.
‘You tell me.’ Legolas smiled. ‘I have never had a sister – what is it like?’
‘I would not wish to be without Eleniel,’ his son told him, ‘but I know no different. And our aunt will be so much younger, even, than we are.’
‘You will be part of helping to raise her,’ Legolas remarked. ‘The people you are will go into developing the sort of person she will be. She will learn from watching you – as these kits learn from their family – and she is bound to want to copy everything you do.’
‘I do not want to be copied.’ Galenthil sounded horrified.
‘She will do it anyway.’ His adar smiled. ‘And she will admire you while she is doing it – that will be some consolation.’
‘This sounds like the responsibility lecture,’ Eleniel commented, ‘in disguise.’
‘We are all responsible for each other,’ Legolas shrugged, ‘whether we want it or not.’ He reached down to stroke his daughter’s soft hair. ‘Come,’ he told them. ‘It is time to return home – before your naneth starts to worry. Long years have taught me that there is little point engaging in battle unnecessarily. Save combat for matters of importance.’
Galenthil sighed, but made no objection as they slipped quietly away. ‘May I return tomorrow?’ he asked.
‘Certainly,’ his adar agreed amiably, ‘when you have completed whatever duties you have to perform.’
Behind them, as the moon gleamed through the canopy and the trees round the sett trembled slightly in the cool night breeze, the badger on guard raised his striped head and inspected the shadows before returning to his grooming. The tree creatures had gone, as they always did once the stars showed their light, but the shining ones would be back at their post in the great tree when the warm light of day turned again to evening. He did not mind, he found. They were considerate neighbours, who obviously found much to admire in his family and, as long as they continued to show respect for the badger’s way, they were welcome in his part of the forest whenever they wished to pay him a visit. The shaft of silver light brightened the glade as the badger decided that the time had come to urge his kits back to the shelter of their sett, where he could keep them safe from danger until these, too, had grown wise and strong enough to leave their home and family and seek their own way in the world beyond his care.
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