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Elflings 13: A Baker’s Dozen
The ellon leaned one shoulder on the sun-warmed rock and looked down his nose at the elflings sporting in the water. He crossed one booted foot over the other and admired the embroidery on his purple tunic. If the ellyn playing like little ones were not impressed by what they saw, then it just went to prove that they really were the rustics his friends would have called them.
‘He was not like this last time he came,’ an ellon murmured in Galenthil’s ear.
‘He was not like this when I stayed with his parents, Lúglas,’ Galenthil replied, looking doubtfully at his cousin. ‘He was perfectly normal then.’
A light-brown head popped up and Tologion shook the water from his hair, spraying his friends with cheerful indifference. ‘Perhaps we should send him off with the ellyth. My sister has been making eyes at him.’ He grinned and batted his eyelashes mockingly. ‘She says he is ‘so handsome’ and that all her friends think he is so much more interesting than we boring Wood elves. Of course, she is quite mad. She even thinks that Galenthil is quite sweet.’
Galenthil snorted, then ducked under the water when his cousin looked in his direction. ‘Do not let her hear you say that!’ he said as he re-emerged. ‘She will have you for breakfast.’
‘We are not admiring him enough,’ Lúglas shrugged. ‘Watch. In a moment he will rearrange himself – and then, if we continue to ignore him, he will go off in a huff.’
‘It is not really fair to leave him out.’ A sympathetic qualm made Galenthil wonder if he had been trying hard enough to entertain the outsider. After all, Súrion had gone out of his way to include him in his activities – and to make sure that he did not feel isolated in Tirion.
‘Perhaps Eleniel will look after him,’ Tologion suggested. ‘She is pretty good at seeing you do not get into trouble.’
‘Súrion!’ Galenthil called. ‘Why do you not swim with us? It is far too hot to be hanging around in the sun.’
For a brief moment, the Noldo considered the invitation. Then the elfling behind his cousin pulled a face and his own pride reared up. ‘I think not,’ he said haughtily. ‘I can think of better things to do than play in a puddle in the woods.’ He did not wait to see Galenthil flush with irritation, but pushed himself away from the wall and stalked off. This was so unfair. His parents were always interfering with what he wanted to do – but making him come here for goodness only knew how long was the worst thing they had ever done.
‘That did not go too well,’ Tologion said cheerfully.
Galenthil sighed. ‘I will have to go after him,’ he said. ‘Naneth will be cross if she finds out we let him go off on his own.’
‘We are too young for him to find entertaining,’ Lúglas shrugged. ‘And, for all he thinks he is so wonderful, he cannot do half the things we do here. Perhaps when Elrin comes he will be happier – although Elrin is younger than he is, too.’
Placing his hands on the broad rock bordering the pool, Galenthil lifted himself easily from the water and shook himself. ‘He is my cousin,’ he said with resignation, grabbing the cloth to dry himself. ‘I will have to see if I can find something he wants to do. You stay here and enjoy the water – I will see you later.’
‘Once he has your attention, you will not get away,’ Tologion declared. ‘He will spend the rest of the day telling you how marvellous life is in Tirion. You see if I am right! We will see you tomorrow at training.’
Just out of sight, Súrion kicked a loose pebble, sending it into a patch of bushes. He was fed up with being stuck with these … these babies, while his parents watched him hopefully as if being here would make him forget that they had dragged him away from home against his will.
The warm breeze stirred the air in the stable and loose hair floated free as Calion brushed the gelding to gleaming perfection. ‘I know you are warm,’ he comforted the chestnut, ‘but you will feel better for the grooming – and then you can go to the meadow and rest with your friends.’ His hands continued to work competently as he talked and the horse flicked his ears in acknowledgement of the steady voice.
A shadow darkened the doorway briefly and the Noldo who had made his home in the forest glanced briefly at the youth who had come in. He frowned, but paid the ellon no apparent attention. The youngster was clearly unhappy, he noted, but unhappy in a way that reminded him far too distinctly of the lad he had been at the same age.
Calion sighed. Tirion was not really the best place to grow to adulthood – unless you had a purpose, he supposed. The expression he saw on Súrion’s face was not one that was typical of those who undertook apprenticeships or studied under the lore-masters, but one that spoke of too much time spent doing too little.
‘Can you pass me the comb?’ he asked.
There was a brief pause, as if Súrion was considering whether to pretend he was not there, then a slender hand proffered the required tool.
‘Thank you.’ Calion used the comb to clean out the brush, gathering the shed hair into a soft ball and dropping it out of the way of his horse’s hooves. ‘It always manages to surprise me just how much a simple grooming can gather.’ He patted the animal on the neck affectionately. ‘No rolling,’ he commanded. ‘Not for a while anyway – you would not want me to feel that my efforts had been wasted.’ The gelding ignored him while lipping at his tunic in search of his expected reward. ‘There is a carrot over there on the barrel, Súrion. Break it in half and then you can offer him a treat as well.’
Calion almost felt the ellon debating with himself whether to turn up his nose at the suggestion, but he refused to turn his head and reveal any interest in Súrion’s decision.
‘How do you bear it here?’ a subdued voice asked as a flat hand held out a chunk of vegetable for the gelding.
‘I like it,’ Calion said apologetically. ‘I like the space and the freedom – and the belief that everyone’s efforts are of equal value.’ He spared the ellon a glance. ‘Mostly, people here work together for the benefit of the community. Watch them and you will see.’
Súrion sighed as if another tedious duty had been pressed on his shoulders.
‘And then there is Hithien, of course.’ Calion grinned. ‘She would not appreciate being asked to fill the role of a lady at the High King’s court – and it is my object to see that she is happy.’
‘I am almost adult,’ Súrion said. ‘And it seems everybody’s ambition to keep me as a child.’ He ran gentle fingers over the chestnut’s velvet nose. ‘And then, if I behave childishly, my parents keep on at me that I am too old to be so foolish.’
‘That is one of the reasons why it can be a good idea, at your age, to spend a time away from home,’ Calion suggested. ‘Many Noldor place their sons with distant kin for a few years – to learn a skill or simply give them a chance to grow. It gives both sides a break.’
‘I think Atar hopes I will want to stay here,’ Súrion said moodily.
‘Then I am not surprised that you are fighting against it.’
Súrion opened his eyes wide.
‘Give it a chance,’ Calion shrugged. ‘There are all sorts of opportunities here – you are bound to enjoy some of them.’ He grinned. ‘And if your parents want you to enjoy it here, they can hardly complain if you try them all.’ With a brisk pat on the chestnut’s shoulder, the elf stood back. ‘Off you go, then,’ he told the gelding.
The horse lingered briefly as if to let them know that he would make his own decisions and then stepped through the door and took a few bites from the grass before following a clear path between the trees.
‘You let him go on his own?’ Súrion said incredulously. ‘Just like that?’
‘Oh yes.’ Calion turned towards the young elf and looked him full in the face for the first time. He grinned. ‘You are in Taurevron now, Súrion. All sorts of things are possible.’
‘There you are!’
Galenthil sounded relieved, Súrion thought resentfully, almost as if he expected him to have done something stupid while he was not being watched.
His younger cousin appeared not to notice his irritation, though. ‘Would you like to go fishing?’ Galenthil asked hopefully. ‘Or I could ask Hithien if she would supervise us at the butts, if you like. Or we could watch the otters. I do not think they will be very active at the moment – it is the wrong time of day – but we might see the pups.’
Súrion sighed. ‘What can we do without being watched?’ he asked in a voice that exuded long-suffering.
‘Most things.’ Galenthil sounded surprised. ‘Just not things with weapons. Adar says it is for our own safety.’
‘I bet he was carrying weapons when he was my age,’ his cousin declared resentfully.
‘A bow,’ Galenthil conceded, ‘if he was hunting with Daeradar, but not blades. Not without the novice masters’ presence. And he was not permitted to wander far from the Stronghold. It was too dangerous.’
For some moments, Súrion remained resentfully silent, and then he sighed. ‘Do you not ever wish you lived in those days?’ he asked. ‘It sounds much more exciting.’
The younger ellon looked doubtful. ‘Daernaneth was slain by orcs when Adar was little older than Ellanthir,’ he said. ‘And the forest was full of dangerous creatures like spiders that were quite happy to feed on elves. It does not sound too wonderful to me.’
Súrion sighed again. What prospect was there of adventure for ellyn like him, born in the safety of the Blessed Realm? Was it any wonder that he and others like him searched for excitement? For a challenge?
‘Fishing is boring,’ he declared. ‘Sitting in a tree watching animals is even more boring. Playing with elflings is boring. Is there nothing exciting that we could do – something that will get the blood pumping?’
Galenthil’s eyes narrowed. If his cousin wanted something to make his pulse race, then he could think of a thing or two. Of course, if Súrion got hurt it would mean trouble – but surely if yokels could manage without more than a few scrapes, then Tirion’s finest son would get away with no more than bruises. ‘Well …’ he drawled with apparent reluctance. ‘I do not know what you would think about …’ He let his voice trail away and inspected Súrion’s clothes. ‘You would get too dirty,’ he decided. ‘It would have been good fun, but …’
For the first time since he had arrived in the forest a spark of interest brightened Súrion’s face. ‘I cannot know what I think about it unless you tell me,’ he pointed out. ‘And I daresay I could find something suitable to wear.’ He smoothed the sleeve of his tunic admiringly. ‘I would not want to risk this getting ruined. It cost a fortune,’ he confided, ‘and Amil was furious that I had wasted my money on it.’ He grinned. ‘But what she did not know was that I won the coin in a bet. Just as well I won, too – I would have had a hard job paying off the debt had I lost … but I knew it was a sure thing. Only Amil would be sure to harp on about the dangers of gambling, and the bad company I keep.’ He looked up defiantly. ‘So you had better not tell her.’
Galenthil stared at his cousin, but closed his mouth without saying anything. It was one thing to risk a few nuts or jacks or pay a forfeit or two on a game of chance – even his naneth would do that when they played on a dark winter’s evening – but to gamble with money you did not have … Well, it was no wonder that Súrion’s amil was looking at him in that anxious way parents had when they were aware that whatever they said would only make things worse.
‘Everyone does it,’ Súrion declared. ‘You are just too young to understand.’ He looked disparagingly round at the trees. ‘And living here, you are not likely to learn better, either.’
His jaw tightening, Galenthil made up his mind. ‘I do not know if you would be able to manage,’ he said doubtfully, watching Súrion bristle at the suggestion that there was anything the Wood-elves could do that he could not. ‘It is quite difficult – and you do not have much experience …’ He let his cousin reflect for a moment before continuing, ‘but then, you are from Tirion.’ He needed to be careful, Galenthil thought, or even Súrion would realise that he was laying the flattery on rather too thickly.
The adolescent’s chest swelled. ‘I can do anything you can,’ he insisted. ‘To listen to some of the Silvan, anyone would think that the Noldor were useless!’
‘Well – if you are sure …’ Galenthil concealed a grin. ‘You go and change into something that does not matter – and I will get Tologion and Daedelu. We will meet you behind the stables as soon as you can get away.’
‘Do we need them?’ Súrion said disdainfully. ‘They will just get in the way.’
‘Oh yes,’ his cousin told him earnestly. ‘It would be silly for the two of us to go there on our own – we need at least two more, so there is always someone on watch. We would not want to be caught doing this!’
Just briefly, the younger Súrion looked out of the arrogant young Noldo as if he was unsure that this was such a good idea. ‘Well – in that case,’ he agreed. ‘I suppose they can come.’
‘They will be so pleased to hear you say that.’ Galenthil looked at his cousin. ‘Come on, then – let us get ready.’
‘What are they up to?’ Thranduil raised a golden eyebrow at his son. ‘They appear to be attempting to become invisible.’
Galenthil slid from one patch of bushes to the next, as if only by moving with extreme stealth would he be able to escape the attacking hordes.
The ellon’s adar leaned against the branch that supported the roof of the wide verandah and looked down at the group of elflings scurrying off through the trees. ‘I dread to think,’ he said. ‘Something they know they are not supposed to be doing, I have no doubt.’
Thranduil grinned. ‘Do you not feel you should go and investigate – and tell them to stop whatever it is they have planned?’
‘Certainly not.’ Legolas stretched. ‘I am currently doing my best to remain invisible myself. I have no intention of putting myself anywhere my beloved wife’s atar might see me before we sit down to dine.’ He gazed thoughtfully in the direction the ellyn had taken. ‘Besides, if they are sneaking off in that direction, I suspect I already know what they are planning – and I would be a dreadful spoilsport to ruin their game.’
‘Ah,’ Thranduil said understandingly. ‘One of those times you cannot consent to their activities, but would not actually want to stop them.’
His son nodded. ‘It is marginally risky – but tremendous fun. If I were their age, I would be badgering them to let me join them.’ He shook his head. ‘Only Elerrina would have my ears if she thought I was encouraging them in their imprudent yearning for adventure.’
‘So can we expect you and Elrond’s sons to come in some night muddy and bruised – and with broad grins on your faces?’
Legolas returned his adar’s quizzical look with one of practiced innocence – one Thranduil had seen far too often to take seriously.
‘Although,’ his adar mused, ‘it would be far more remarkable if you did not. I know not what it is, but whenever the three of you get together the outcome always seems to involve healers and extended periods of recovery. If you were an elfling, I would probably think twice about encouraging the friendship.’
His son laughed. ‘Thus making the twins’ acquaintance far more exciting,’ he said. ‘And ensuring I would be even more likely to pursue it at every opportunity.’
‘I suppose I should be glad that you did not really get to know them well until after their sister married Elessar,’ Thranduil said philosophically. ‘By which time many of Arda’s worse dangers had been removed.’
‘Our first extended expedition involved taking the Paths of the Dead,’ Legolas pointed out, ‘to bind the Oathbreakers to Aragorn’s side, before routing the Corsairs at Pelargir and capturing their fleet to sail it to Rohan’s aid before Minas Tirith – shortly after which we rode together with a small and exhausted army to face the hordes of Mordor before the Black Gates. Anything we have done since has been an anticlimax.’
‘Perhaps,’ Thranduil remarked. He looked out into the tranquil trees – trees that had never experienced evil. ‘Friendships forged under such circumstances have a strength greater than steel. You know the worst of each other and the best – and you have burned away all the layers of concealment we all build up around us. It is no wonder that foolish youths envy an experience they will never have.’ He smiled wryly. ‘After all – they never learn the darker side of war. Not unless they develop sufficient insight to hear the stories that warriors do not tell.’
‘Stories you cannot hear unless you have the experience that makes the words unnecessary.’ Legolas’s usual easy demeanour had deserted him, Thranduil was sorry to note. The ellon still grieved for those who had passed beyond his reach – and probably always would, even though he had managed a superficial acceptance.
‘I am not so sure,’ he said. ‘Some people are better at listening than others. And better at filling in the gaps. Eleniel, for instance, seems to have more idea of what distresses her Andatar than many of those who have known him since his youth.’ He raised an eyebrow at his son. ‘And she calms Oropher’s … tension – better than any of the healers.’
Legolas grinned. ‘That is because they are healers,’ he declared, ‘while she holds Daeradar’s hand and gets him to tell her stories about Doriath.’
‘She is a talented elleth,’ Thranduil approved.
‘But, unfortunately she seems not to be involved in the ellyn’s adventure,’ Legolas mused. ‘Or I would feel less wary about the outcome of their activities.’
Thranduil’s eyebrow flew up. ‘Of course she is not involved,’ he said. ‘She is an elleth – and they are just at the age to find that reason enough to exclude her.’
‘Their loss.’ Eleniel’s adar shrugged. ‘I just hope they do not return damaged – I can just imagine what Taryatur would have to say about it. None of it good – and most of it downright insulting, I am sure.’
‘Although anything that brings a smile to Súrion’s face and makes him behave less like a stormcloud will please the rest of his family.’
Legolas grinned. ‘Maybe,’ he agreed. ‘We will just have to wait and see.’
‘Where are we going?’ Súrion grumbled. ‘You said this would be fun – but I am hot and dirty and all we are doing is pushing our way through more brambles than I ever want to see again.’
‘You just have to ask them to let you through,’ Lúglas said scornfully. He put his hands on his hips and inspected the Noldo. ‘Although they do rather seem to have wanted to stop you getting past them.’
Súrion licked the scratch that curled round his wrist and winced at the sting. ‘It is all very well for you Wood-elves,’ he complained. ‘Brambles might be willing to do what you say, but they do not pay any attention to me.’
‘I do not know.’ Tologion laughed. ‘I think they seem to have been paying rather too much attention! They have been holding on to you as affectionately as an admiring elleth at a festival.’
Súrion scowled. How could anyone pretend that this was a pleasant place to live? Once they had experienced the gardens and streets of Tirion, anyway!
‘We are nearly there,’ Galenthil said briefly. ‘And of course there is an easier way – but we would not want anyone to know what we are doing. Naneth has never actually forbidden this – but I think that is only because she does not exactly know what we do here.’ He grinned. ‘Adar does! But he will not tell – he would like to try it himself, if you ask me.’
Small, dark Daedelu ignored them all, wriggling uphill through the rough tunnel of thorns. They did, Súrion noticed resentfully, seem to part to let the young Silvan through.
Tologion abandoned the conversation and followed his friend, clearly keen to get to their destination, and Lúglas flicked a quick glance at Galenthil, casting his eyes up, before setting off in pursuit.
‘Go in front of me,’ Galenthil told his cousin patiently, ‘and stay close to Lúglas. The thorns will leave you alone. This part is a bit of a climb – but it is not difficult.’
‘I can climb!’ Súrion snapped. ‘Anyone would think I was helpless to listen to you lot! I can do anything you can – and better in most cases.’
In front, Lúglas paused briefly and Galenthil closed his eyes. He only hoped the ellon kept in mind who was making up the rear before he decided to give Súrion the hard time he no doubt desired. And, come to that, bore in mind that his friend’s Daeradar would be less than pleased if the youths of Taurevron gave Andatar any reason to complain about their behaviour towards Súrion. He might – Lúglas was mischievous, but his sense of self-preservation was well-developed. Just as well, considering some of the ideas that came into his head.
The climb was – as usual – enough to make even a fit young elf gasp for breath, but Súrion showed that he was well able to achieve it with no more effort than his cousin’s friends. It was also clearly well-trodden, with bare spots on the rock where the moss had decided to give up any attempt to spread. The sound of water grew louder until it overwhelmed the gentle whisper of the trees and the buzz of the sun-warmed insects. Galenthil tried to suppress the nervous excitement building up inside him. It was not, he scolded himself, as if he had not done this before – it was, indeed, something of a rite of passage. A challenge that sorted ellyn from elflings – and he had achieved it then and since without showing himself up as a helpless fool. There was no reason to suppose that Súrion would find it any more impossible than he had.
Ahead of him, the procession of ellyn stopped abruptly.
‘Quiet!’ Daedelu hissed. ‘There is someone there!’
‘Where?’ Tologion pushed forward to peer cautiously round the rock stack that separated them from their destination. From the disgusted grunt that escaped him, it seemed as if some troll or particularly hideous orc was attempting to catch them out. ‘It is your sister,’ he accused Galenthil. ‘What is she doing here? This is no place for ellyth.’
‘She has as much right to come here as we do,’ his friend retorted. He might occasionally find Eleniel’s good sense remarkably exasperating – but that did not mean that he would let anyone else criticise her. ‘More – because at least she is not planning to do something of which we know our naneths would disapprove.’
‘Do we stay in hiding until she leaves?’ Daedelu hissed. ‘Or do we trust her not to give us away?’
‘Is she on her own?’ Lúglas asked. ‘Galenthil might be able to twist her round his little finger – but some of her friends gabble like geese.’
‘She might have your Andatar with her!’ Tologion sounded horrified. ‘And he would be furious if he thought we were teaching his grandson our savage ways.’
Súrion flushed bright red and his hand shot out to clutch a handful of the smaller ellon’s tunic, hauling him up with a strength that was belied by his slender elegance. Galenthil grabbed his cousin’s wrist and pulled him back, pushing Tologion away with his other hand. ‘There are better ways to show him he is talking rubbish,’ he declared. ‘I doubt your adar is any more impressed by fighting than mine – and I do not want to spend the next week confined to my room.’
Tugging his arm out of his cousin’s grip, Súrion drew himself up to his full height – which was, he was glad to note, several inches taller than any of the others – but he did not get a chance to say what was on his mind, as a long-legged, lean hound rushed through the bushes and thrust his cold nose in the ellon’s hand.
‘Should I pretend I have not seen you?’ Eleniel did not look in their direction. ‘Send Radag back and we will go away and leave you to your games.’
Súrion rubbed the dog’s silky ears. ‘You are a lovely creature,’ he said easily. ‘How is it that I have not seen you before?’
‘He will not answer,’ Daedelu informed him as the hound squirmed with pleasure at the ellon’s practiced touch. ‘He is a dog. He has yet to learn the art of conversation.’
Radag took a few steps away from Súrion and looked back at him as if demanding that the ellon join him.
‘Dogs talk. Just not with words.’ Súrion followed the hound, deciding that he preferred his presence to that of the Wood-elves.
Galenthil climbed round the rock and jumped down to join his sister beside the clear stream. ‘You do not have to go,’ he said. ‘You know what we are planning anyway. At least if you are with us, you cannot give us away before we have done anything.’
The elleth merely looked at him.
‘Not that you would,’ her twin added hastily. ‘I know that, even if these idiots do not.’
‘Have any of you actually explained to Súrion what you are going to have him do?’ Eleniel asked. ‘Or has he dived headlong into this without any idea of just what is involved?’
‘It is a challenge.’ Súrion felt an unexpected qualm at her pitying glance, but lifted his chin defiantly.
‘You do not have to do something just because someone dares you,’ she told him. ‘Or because someone suggests that you are incapable of achieving it. And it is always a good idea to find out exactly what you are agreeing to before you commit yourself.’
Tologion rolled his eyes. ‘How can you be expected to understand,’ he sighed. ‘You are an elleth! If it has nothing to do with clothes, or hair – or gossip, it means nothing to you.’
‘Oh, grow up!’ Eleniel frowned at him. ‘Not every elleth is a silly giggly chaser of foolish ellyn.’ She turned her back on him, focusing her attention on her brother. ‘Do you not think you should tell him?’
‘Some ellyth are quite sensible,’ Galenthil declared, keeping his face straight. ‘They can think of better things to do than fuss about their dresses or who is going to ask them to dance. Or so my sister tells me.’
Eleniel tapped her foot and sighed noisily.
‘Oh!’ A grin escaped her brother. ‘Did you not mean that?’ He looked at their cousin, who was inspecting them from the corner of his eye, even as his scratching fingers made the hound lean heavily against him.
‘It is not that dangerous…’ he started.
‘Provided you know what you are doing,’ Eleniel interrupted.
‘It is just a matter of riding the river.’
The gurgling stream rushing down between the boulders suddenly seemed a great deal less attractive, Súrion thought.
‘Riding?’ he said – and was quite proud to hear that his voice sounded normal.
‘Well…’ Lúglas sounded slightly gleeful. ‘Riding is not exactly the right word. Some people…’ The way he said the words made perfectly clear what he thought of them. ‘You take a flat piece of wood into the water and balance on it – some people lie flat on it, but anyone with enough skill stands up. You keep in the fastest part of the stream and then go over the waterfall.’
‘Waterfall?’ His voice definitely sounded definitely sounded less certain this time.
‘It is like flying!’ Daedelu declared excitedly.
‘You have to spread your arms to make sure you do not hit the plunge pool too quickly,’ Galenthil said. ‘It is deep – but not that deep.’
Súrion met the dog’s liquid brown eyes – and swallowed. He really was not that happy with water. It was not that he had any recollection of the time in his youth when his uncle had dived into a flooded stream to save him, but he had heard the story far too many times not to be aware of what had happened. Then, too, his amil had ensured that he had not been anywhere near flowing water again until he was old enough to have learned to be nervous of it. In fact, Galenthil and his friends could hardly have chosen a worse test of his courage if they had tried.
‘You do not have to do it if you do not want to,’ Eleniel said.
Four pairs of incredulous grey eyes settled on her. The brief hope that had flared in Súrion burnt itself out as he looked at his companions. Eleniel was right in a way – he did not have to do this. But, unless he wanted to look a complete coward in front of these ellyn, it would clearly be a very bad idea to change his mind.
Galenthil looked from his sister to his cousin. ‘I will go first,’ he offered. ‘It will be all right. You will see that it is easier than it sounds.’
Nisimalotë accepted the glass of tea and sipped appreciatively. ‘This is the most beautiful setting, Elerrina,’ she said. ‘And so comfortable! I do not know why we have not visited before now.’
Her sister-in-law threw her a slightly cynical glance. ‘It is not for want of asking you all,’ she said. ‘And Camentur brought my nephew across the mountains to see our new home – but I think you had to visit your grandparents at that time.’
The changing pattern of shadows from the trees could not conceal Nisimalotë’s rather guilty expression. Elerrina waited – she knew her brother’s wife well enough to know that, for all her elegant manners, she was not good at concealing her thoughts from her family.
‘Oh well…’ Nisimalotë shrugged slightly. ‘You know me – I am not fond of physical hardship – and it is a very long journey. And,’ she added, ‘there was little prospect of much comfort at the end of it. Not then.’
‘I suppose we should feel honoured that you have decided to grace us with your presence this time.’ Elerrina pushed with her feet to swing the chair on which she sat. Her words sounded sharper than her tone – after all, she had known when she headed beyond the Pelori with her family-by-marriage that many of her family-by-blood would not wish to absent themselves from their usual haunts to experience what they would doubtless think of as a primitive way of life. And Nisimalotë was a city-bred elleth to whom the doings of court life were bread and butter.
A small sniff distracted Elerrina from the soothing whisper of the breeze in the trees and she turned her gaze back to her sister-in-law. Nisimalotë had screwed up her eyes, but tears were still forcing themselves between the lids, while her free hand was pressed over her nose and mouth as if determined to hold back her distress.
‘Nisi!’ Elerrina removed the glass to a handy table and squeezed down beside her sister-in-law, wrapping warm arms around the distressed elleth, who dropped her head on the supportive shoulder and gave in to the tears she had been fighting.
‘I am so worried,’ Nisimalotë confessed. ‘Súrion thinks I do not know, but … He has been getting in deeper and deeper … He drinks more than is good for him – and gambles … And the risks he is taking in the name of fun … His friends – well, I do not call them that! What friend worthy of the name would let an ellon not yet of age get into debt? And I am sure he must have been borrowing money – he buys things I know he cannot afford … And when I try to speak to him, sometimes he says he understands and he will change, but at other times he is sullen and defiant and seems to blame me for all his problems.’ Her voice became quieter and tighter and her choked-out words harder to untangle.
‘Does Camentur know all this?’ Elerrina stroked the dark hair and held the shaking figure.
‘Some of it,’ Nisimalotë admitted. ‘Not all – Súrion was ashamed and did not want his atar to hear some of the things …’
‘Or he wanted to play you off against each other,’ Elerrina mused. ‘I wonder what Camentur knows that you do not. There must be something – or he would have been unlikely to take extended leave from Lord Finrod and bring you both west.’
‘He would not keep secrets from me!’ Nisimalotë sounded shocked.
Elerrina hugged her. ‘Why would he not?’ she asked. ‘You have not told him everything either. You need to share what you know, so that you can decide what to do next.’ She hesitated. ‘I do not know what you are going through,’ she said, ‘and I hope I will be spared your worries – but you need Camentur, Nisi, and he needs you. Between you … Súrion is a sweet child, gentle and loving – you will get him through the difficult years and be proud of the adult he becomes.’
‘I hope so,’ Nisimalotë smiled shakily. ‘I did not want him to grow up in the countryside, Elerrina. I wanted him to have the advantages of Tirion – but he would not have been exposed to these friends if he had been raised somewhere like this.’ She brushed her hands over her face, banishing the tears. ‘I want my son back.’
Elerrina looked at her doubtfully. ‘Well – he would have been exposed to different temptations in the forest, but I am not sure, Nisimalotë, that he would necessarily have been any safer.’ She smiled wryly. ‘All ellyn get up to mischief – it is the nature of the beast!’
Eleniel shook her head as she held Radag’s fur firmly in her fingers. The hound had seemed reluctant to leave the ellyn to their game and she did not want him to go galloping back as soon as she released him. Not that the ellyn would mind his presence – but they would certainly object to her returning to fetch him. They had eyed each other awkwardly and then stripped off their boots and tunics in preparation for their so-called flight, but none of them, not even Galenthil, had been prepared to remove more as long as she was there.
Her brother had looked at her fleetingly from the corner of his eye – not asking her to leave: he would not do that – but letting her see that he hoped she would choose to go. Lúglas had been far less tactful about it – and she had felt tempted to stay, just to annoy him, but it would not have been fair on the others. And, in truth, if she wanted to watch them, she knew of a much better vantage point where many of the ellyth would gather when they knew that the objects of their admiration were planning to jump the waterfall.
Radag tensed, his attention fixed on someone approaching through the trees.
‘Are you escorting the dog home – or is he taking you for a walk?’
‘Adar!’ Eleniel released the hound, who bounded towards the tall elf, the ellyn forgotten. ‘Uncle! Somewhere between the two.’
‘Have you seen anything of your brother? And your cousin, perhaps?’
Eleniel hesitated. ‘I did see them a while ago,’ she admitted.
‘But you would rather not say where?’ Legolas asked. He grinned at her as she tilted her head to consider him.
She shrugged. ‘They did not want me around,’ she told him. ‘Ellyn! They think they are so special.’
‘I thought I might take your uncle to a certain spot overlooking the waterfall,’ her adar said innocently. ‘It is an attractive view, is it not?’
‘More so at some times than others,’ she said solemnly. ‘You might find it … interesting today.’
Camentur laughed. ‘You should be a diplomat, my dear,’ he said. ‘You seem to have some skill in the avoidance of saying anything directly – while ensuring that your hearers learn exactly what you want them to understand.’ He shook his head at his wife’s brother. ‘Is this what you expected to find?’
‘I am rather hoping that it will break down the barriers between the ellyn.’ Legolas looked rueful. ‘They do not seem to have been getting on as well as I would like.’
‘They are improving,’ Eleniel said optimistically. ‘At least they are talking now. All they really need it to get into a mess together – and have to help each other out.
‘Irate parents, you think?’
‘Avoiding irate parents would be better.’ Eleniel’s response was instant – and heartfelt.
‘I will have to see what I can do.’ Legolas raised a quizzical eyebrow. ‘Are you taking Radag with you?’
A malicious grin twitched the corners of her mouth. ‘It would much more amusing if he followed you,’ she said. ‘They would be sure that I was just about to burst in on them – and catch them unclothed.’
‘I will tell you how they reacted,’ Legolas promised.
‘I need a daughter,’ Camentur declared, looking from one to the other. ‘I really will have to convince Nisimalotë that we should have another elfling. I need a daughter!’
Galenthil kicked until he and the flat board were in the current and then pulled himself into a squatting position. The shift in balance made the board speed up and he paused for a moment before setting his feet one in front of the other and cautiously raising himself to his feet. His arms spread wide and his knees bent, he shifted his weight carefully as the board rode the surge of water.
‘Yes,’ Daedelu yelled eagerly. ‘You can do it!’
The ellyn jogged down the path, their eyes fixed on the slender ellon as he reached the point where the board tipped over the fall of water and Galenthil was projected through the air to land with a tremendous splash in the deep green pool.
The ellyn shouted with excitement, cheering as Galenthil surfaced and swam over to his board before heading with a quick sidestroke towards the edge. Tologion leaned forwards and grabbed his friend’s wrist, hauling him out and taking the board.
‘Your go, Súrion,’ he said, offering the board to the Noldo.
Súrion hesitated, then took the board. ‘I will never be able to do that,’ he said, enough admiration in his voice to defuse any criticism. ‘It must take years of practice to be able to ride the water in that way.’
‘I cannot do it like that,’ Daedelu admitted cheerfully. ‘I can get to my knees and go over the falls – but, most of the time, as soon as I try to stand up I fall off.’
‘Go over on your belly the first time,’ Tologion suggested. ‘Just do not forget to push the board away from you fall.’
He could not refuse, Súrion thought. Not without losing face – and he was not prepared to do that. These Wood-elves were all younger than he was. How could he let them think that a Noldo could not achieve this? How could he stand a chance of meeting them on equal terms if he backed out of the challenge? He had spent the last week or two insisting that he was more experienced and competent than they were – he could not say that he could not do what they did. He reached out and took the board.
The journey back to the point where Galenthil had entered the water seemed to pass far too quickly. The ellyn all talked at once, all full of anecdotes and advice – none of which penetrated beyond the awareness in his mind that he was just about to risk his life by jumping over a waterfall.
Only his cousin’s touch on his shoulder distracted him.
‘Hold on to both sides of the board,’ Galenthil instructed him. ‘And when you get to the top of the falls, shove against it so that you remain clear of the water as you drop. Hit the pool like this …’ He demonstrated the best position, ‘and then swim away from the pull of the falls.’
‘You expect me to remember all that?’ Súrion shook his head. ‘I doubt I will be able to keep any of that in my head! Not when I am going over a waterfall.’
‘We are not about to let you drown,’ Galenthil declared. ‘And everybody finds the first time frightening – even if they are not prepared to admit it.’ He patted his cousin approvingly. ‘Go for it, Súrion.’
Drawing a deep breath, Súrion waded into the water as he had seen Galenthil do. Taking the board firmly in his hands, he pulled himself up and kicked to straighten himself up, catching the current to speed towards the point where the water met the sky.
As he reached the point of no return, Súrion could not resist closing his eyes. After all, it was not as if he was not going to go over the edge anyway, he thought. His pulse thundered in his ears, almost drowning out the roar of the water and his breath shortened to the point where he was panting like a dog on a hot afternoon.
Despite his decision not to look, as soon as he began to drop, Súrion’s eyes jerked open and he could not resist letting out a whoop of excitement. The board was beneath him – and below that he was floating on air as he sailed towards the polished surface of deep green.
‘He is going to get a nasty bang on the head when he hits the water,’ Lúglas said critically. ‘He really should have shoved the board behind him.’
‘We had better be ready to pull him out,’ Tologion sounded resigned. ‘We should have known that he would get it wrong.’
Galenthil ignored them, heading towards the pool as quickly as he could, even though he knew there was no chance at all of arriving in time to prevent a disaster.
When his cousin had jumped, Súrion thought, the time between going over the edge and landing in the water had seemed – well, no time at all. Yet now, for him, it felt as if he had hours. The drops of water spun in the air before him, catching the afternoon light and the air brushed teasingly over his bare skin. He must not land flat – he remembered that – and easily, so easily, he turned, board still in his hands, ready to land feet first in the water and slapped against the flat surface sending a spout into the air as he sank into the cool green, kicking against the rounded rocks to rise, gasping, to the welcoming air. And time resumed its usual pace.
‘You did it!’ Galenthil grabbed his cousin’s arm and pulled him towards the side of the pool. ‘You did it! How did it feel?’
A broad grin split Súrion’s face, banishing the slightly scornful expression that he had been wearing since he had arrived in Taurevron. ‘Can I have another go?’ he asked. ‘It is … amazing! I have never done anything like that before!’
Lúglas reached down and grabbed his hand. ‘You wait your turn, Súrion,’ he laughed. ‘I have not yet had a go – and neither have Tologion and Daedelu – and then Galenthil goes before you.’
As the others headed back for their own turn, Galenthil grabbed his cousin and held him back. ‘Are you sure?’ he asked. ‘You do not have to do it if you would rather not.’
‘Try and stop me.’ Súrion sounded more like the cousin he remembered. ‘It is terrifying – but …’ He waved a hand, unable to think of a way to describe the sensation. ‘Amazing,’ he repeated.
‘Amazing,’ Súrion’s atar repeated quietly into his brother-in-law’s ear. ‘I should say it is! It is just as well Nisimalotë is nowhere near – she would be in hysterics. I have never been quite so terrified in my life. If that board had hit him on the head …’ He drew a deep breath. ‘Do we let them continue?’
‘Oh yes, I think so,’ Legolas rubbed Radag’s belly, reducing him to a limp pile of fur. ‘You cannot stop ellyn doing everything just because there is an element of danger to it, or they will only go and seek alternative occupations. Besides,’ he added, ‘it looks tremendous fun.’
‘It does, rather,’ Camentur was forced to admit. ‘I would have done the same at their age.’ He watched the youngsters gather again at the top of the waterfall, gesturing as they demonstrated something to his son. ‘I suppose we are too mature and sensible to risk it now.’
‘I do not see why.’ Legolas grinned. ‘I have been waiting for Elrond’s sons to share the experience with me – but I see no reason why we should not get ahead of them. The pool is deep enough – I am not so stupid that I have not had that checked out – and the drop, so I have been assured, is enough to make it exciting but not enough to make the activity ridiculously dangerous. And anything my son can do, surely I can do likewise. I would hate to think that he is bolder than his adar!’
A slow smile spread across Camentur’s face. ‘We would be doing it for the best reasons,’ he said. ‘To ensure that it was an adventure safe enough for those who have not yet reached our years of discretion.’
‘Of course.’ Legolas managed to sound completely sincere, but the look on his face – of relish combined with anticipation – was enough to make his brother-in-law suppress a laugh. ‘Tonight? After we have assured the elflings are safely in their beds?’
‘Come then.’ Legolas withdrew from the vantage point, his hand resting on the dog’s head. ‘Let us leave them to it – there is little point hovering over them as if they were infants. Besides, it is far more frightening to watch them and imagine all the things that could go wrong. Better to let them learn their own lessons.’
‘I am not sure either of our wives would agree with that.’
Legolas shook his head. ‘To reverse my daughter’s words on the subject – ellyth! Who can possibly understand them?’
‘He is not bad company,’ Tologion murmured in Galenthil’s ear. ‘Not once you get past the posing.’
‘A bit of a know-all,’ Daedelu added cheerfully. ‘But then he is older than you – if not by that much – and I can tell you that spending any time with older ellyn is enough to teach you tolerance. You all think rather too highly of yourselves!’
His friends turned towards him as one, but Daedelu was ready and ducked away to jump into the water, sending a great arc of gleaming water to splash the two on the bank.
They had each jumped several times and, exciting as it was, after the first hour or two, the novelty had worn off and it had needed no discussion for them to wind down their activities and replace them with something that was rather less exhausting.
Súrion stood in the stream, watching intently as Lúglas attempted to show him how to get his balance on the board. The younger elf demonstrated the technique on the slower-moving water at the edge of the flow, stepping several times off the board before the current drew him towards the waterfall. And somehow, with Súrion dressed in nothing but his skin and his dark hair tied back into a bedraggled tail – not to mention that he was clearly impressed by the Wood-elves’ ability to ride the stream, the edge of dislike between the disgruntled Noldo and his cousin’s friends had faded.
‘Are you ever going to come out of the water?’ Galenthil asked as Lúglas handed over the board so that Súrion could attempt to put into practice what he had observed. ‘If we do not return in time for the evening meal, we will end up having to answer far too many questions about what we have been doing.’
‘Just a little longer,’ Súrion said absently. ‘I think I am getting the hang of it.’
Tologion pulled on his tunic and drew his hair out from the collar, squeezing as much water as he could from it before flicking it back over his shoulder. ‘Some people never know when to give up,’ he observed.
‘You are a fine one to talk,’ Galenthil remarked, sorting out his own clothes. ‘Come on, Súrion – there is always tomorrow. Or we could find something else to do.’
‘Such as?’ His cousin looked up. Hopefully, Galenthil thought, as if maybe there was something to enjoy here in the forest.
‘I cannot say,’ Galenthil shrugged. ‘What appeals to you? The forest is full of opportunities, after all – and it is our duty to take advantage of them.’
Súrion sighed. He still did not want to be here. He still resented having been removed from his circle of comfort to be deposited for who knew how long this far from home – but Calion had told him to make the most of the forest, and, really, he could not sulk for ever – not with activities like riding the river to keep him amused. ‘I look forward to discovering what they are,’ he said.
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