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Bridges  by Bodkin

Broken Bridges

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

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

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

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

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

He had never meant it to turn out this way. 

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I want you here with me, grandson.’ 

Súrion looked at his andatar suspiciously.

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

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

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

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

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

Súrion eyed his andatar doubtfully.

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

‘I am sorry, Adar.’ 

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

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

‘I am sorry,’ Legolas repeated helplessly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘But if it makes Elerrina happy?’

Legolas’s sigh was answer enough.

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

‘She is a nice mare.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘At least he shows some sense!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘But not yet, my star – not yet.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Taryatur winced.  It was going to be bad.

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

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

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

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

If only it would rain.

Rain would wash him clean.

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

It was only a storm, he scolded himself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 





        

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