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Small stones continued to slither and drop into the silence as the fallen tree settled reluctantly to the earth, but Taryatur could neither hear nor see any indication of the presence of his son-in-law. If he could not still feel the force of the movement that had shoved him our from under the elm, he would have begun to doubt that the Wood elf had ever been more than a figment of his imagination.
He turned to search desperately for sight of him among the broken branches, hoping against hope that he had managed – somehow – to find a relatively safe spot among the tangle of boughs and foliage and that he would, in exactly the way Taryatur would expect of the Wood elf, emerge triumphant and undamaged from the debris.
Only he did not.
Taryatur scrabbled towards the ruin of the tree, ignoring the groaning of branches never meant to support the weight of the trunk, ignoring the flashes of lightning, ignoring the grumbling of the thunder, ignoring the relentless rain.
‘Come on, you infuriating elf,’ he muttered. ‘Do not make me wish to see your face.’
Another branch broke and the tree shifted slightly closer to the earth.
‘Do not do it,’ Taryatur pleaded. ‘Please do not make matters any worse. Remember he is a Wood elf – look after him.’ He was talking nonsense, one part of his mind told him. A fallen tree was in no state to protect an elf, no matter that he was the Woodland King’s son. He scrambled recklessly through the tangle of branches, seeking anything that would offer him hope that his daughter’s husband had survived – but for all his search, there was no crumpled figure to be seen.
His feet caught in a soggy blue cloak and he slipped, catching his side on a protruding branch. He barely noticed the pain or the blood that began to seep from the rent in his tunic. ‘He must be here,’ he muttered. ‘He must be. There is nowhere else he could…’
One foot slid away and he lurched to grab the nearest bough as a narrow mud-rimmed hole tried to claim him. Taryatur hauled himself upright, trying desperately to disturb the ruined elm as little as possible. It was not until he had moved several feet further towards the gnarled roots that now reached up towards the sky that the possible meaning of the hole registered and he turned back slowly, a disbelieving expression plastered on his wet face.
He knew that there were caves in this wood – his grandson had, in the past, shown him a few – but they were not here. Not now. Only some vicious twist of fate perpetrated by an uncaring world would open up a hole in the ground just at the moment when his daughter’s husband was there to be projected through it. Things like that just did not happen. Did they?
The long grumble of thunder that followed the bright flash seemed to mock him and tell him that they most certainly did.
‘Why me?’ Taryatur asked, his face turned up to the sky. ‘Why do these things happen to me?’
The rain continued to fall relentlessly into his face, as if to assure him that this was the only answer he was going to get.
He limped reluctantly towards a hole that was gradually enlarging as a constant trickle of mud and stones was freed by the storm to tumble into whatever space existed beneath.
‘Legolas!’ he called, stretching out on the wet ground and inching his head over a gap he now saw had been half hidden by the crown of the tree. ‘Legolas, can you hear me?’
He would be surprised if the ellon could, he thought grimly. He only hoped that the branch that had punched out of the way the rock that had held up the ceiling of this pit had not first made contact with the elf’s more delicate frame, or Legolas’s fëa would currently be greeting Lord Námo – and nothing that he could do would be enough to retrieve his grandchildren’s atar.
‘Legolas!’ he called again. ‘I am going to drop a small pebble – I want to find out how deep this hole is. Unless you can tell me, of course.’
He waited a few moments, just in case … ‘No, of course not,’ he muttered and tilted his head in an attempt to decide how far the small stone was tumbling before reaching the – oh, there would be water at the bottom, would there not! Why make it easy?
‘Some lightning now would actually be useful,’ he said. ‘A little bit of illumination before I descend into the pit. I would like to know whether I might be able to make it out again.’ His hands were shaking, he noticed. It had been a long time since he had been forced to attempt anything this reckless. Not since he had retrieved Camentur from that rock tower when he had been – what was it – no more than twenty or twenty five. It had taken a week or more for the sick feeling to subside.
‘The cloak,’ he declared, flicking his head to the limp pile of fabric. ‘I could … If only I had a knife.’
For the first time since the tree began its fall, Taryatur brightened. He did have one. In the pocket of the cloak. And that was something for which he could thank Súrion. Moving more confidently he began to slice the sturdy fabric and then rip it into strips. If the pit was too deep, of course he would be left to his own resources – but this should help him get started.
It did not take too long. He did not, after all, have all that much time – his son-by-marriage needed help and he needed it now. He looked at the knotted strip as it began to pool at his feet. Ten yards at least, he reckoned. And, if the hole was any deeper than that, the ellon might not have survived to be waiting for his wife’s atar to come to his rescue.
Taryatur swallowed as he fixed the improvised rope firmly around the branch. The ellon needed him – and he would not be found wanting.
He let himself slide over the edge and began his descent.
He thought his eyes were open. But, if they were, why was it dark? And why did he seem to be resting on a squirrel’s hoard of nutshells?
He could smell rock, he thought. Rock and water – the kind of water that had seeped over years through layers of stone on its way to trickle eventually back into Anor’s light. But he could also smell leaf litter and splintered wood and rain. And, diluted by the other scents, he could smell blood. Judging from his pain, the blood was his own.
Legolas attempted to move, tried to bring his hand over to cover the warm liquid he could feel turning sticky on his clothes, but it just hurt too much.
He had fallen. He frowned. But it was the elm that had fallen – how had he ended up in one of Gimli’s wretched tunnels, away from the living light of the forest?
A spray of small stones skittered down over the rough surface and he raised one arm to shield his face. The other, he noted, was reluctant to obey his instructions. Dislocated, he suspected.
He sighed. The forest floor had dropped away beneath his feet. Lightning had crackled across the sky and the tree had sung through the air as he had bounced back from his contact with Taryatur. For a moment – just for a moment – he had frozen as a branch headed straight for him like a grossly oversized spear. But, between them, he and the tree had twisted and the heavy bough had struck the ground no more than inches from his feet. The sound of splintering rock had echoed in the crack of thunder and he had been left standing on air.
But only briefly.
And then his memory was no more than a confused jumble of rolling and slithering and bright flashes of pain as he hit jagged rock – and jagged rock hit back – before he dropped into total darkness.
He must assess his injuries and decide how he was going to get out of here. In a minute. He just needed a minute to rest and gather his strength. He let his eyes close. It did not matter – after all, they were little use to him here.
Legolas roused suddenly, aware he was not alone. His breathing shortened as his muscles tensed. He grunted as pain flared.
‘Do not move.’ Taryatur sounded irritated. ‘I am trying to discover where you are hurt.’
‘All you need to do is ask,’ his son-in-law retaliated. ‘I am sure I could inform you with less discomfort.’
‘The bleeding has mostly stopped.’ Taryatur was continuing his investigation rather more gently. ‘But you have lost a lot of blood – you are lying in a puddle of it - and your leg certainly needs stitching.’
‘Unfortunately I omitted to bring my sewing kit with me.’
Taryatur sighed. ‘Do you want me to help you set your shoulder? Or would you rather leave it as it is?’
A cascade of debris jostled its way down the steep chute and he felt Taryatur spread himself over his body to keep the mud and stones from burying him.
‘I would be grateful for your help,’ he said, rather more conciliatorily once the shower had finished. ‘This does not seem the best place to remain – and I do not seem able to move unaided.’
‘There is a pool,’ Taryatur sighed. ‘And there seems to be little space to set up home. And then I do know better than to move you until your hurts have been assessed.’
‘Remaining in the way of rock-fall in order not to aggravate injury is counter-productive, though.’ Legolas still found it hard to keep his eyes open. ‘And I do not wish to become resident here.’
Taryatur’s failure to answer his provocation was enough to make him focus his attention on his wife’s adar. The elf appeared to be exerting a strong control over himself – not a good sign in an elf who was normally only too vocal.
‘Now you know that I am not likely to expire, surely you can find your way back home to gather enough help to get me out of here.’
‘Easier said than done,’ Taryatur informed him dryly. ‘The tree appears to have given up any attempt to hold itself above the ground. As I was descending, it dropped – sharply enough that I almost lost my grip on my handholds – and blocked the hole through which we both came. We are trapped in a pit no-one knows exists, beneath an unsuspected and hidden access point – with all traces of our passage washed out by torrential rain. We could, I am afraid, be here some time.’
Legolas concentrated on breathing steadily, in and out. This was not good. This was not good at all. It was all very well being injured when you knew you could seek expert attention as soon as possible – still preferable, of course, to be undamaged, but at least you knew healing would not be long delayed – but being stuck underground, hurt, in the presence of his atar-in-law was the kind of torment that should be illegal.
‘We have no water – although it certainly seems wet enough here that that should be no problem, no food, no means of making fire for warmth or light and no tools other than a pocket knife,’ Taryatur continued to list their difficulties. ‘You are incapacitated – and my knowledge of healing is severely limited.’
Somehow, under the depressing litany, Legolas heard worry and a desperate fear that whatever Taryatur had to offer would not be enough. He reached out blindly with his left hand and grasped the Noldo’s wrist. ‘We have both been in worse places,’ he said. ‘We will get out of this.’
Taryatur stilled. ‘I admire your confidence,’ he said, after a moment. ‘I would like to see how.’
‘Something will turn up.’ Legolas spoke with determined optimism. ‘I will think better when my head stops hurting.’
‘Only your head?’
‘Well – maybe a few other parts,’ Legolas admitted reluctantly.
‘Getting your shoulder back in its socket will be a start then,’ Taryatur suggested. ‘And binding your leg so that the flesh can begin to heal.’
‘I am not a very good patient,’ his son-in-law admitted.
‘I remember.’ Taryatur spoke with emphasis. He seemed to think it was a good idea to keep the elf distracted as he began to manipulate his arm. ‘And I doubt I have my daughter’s resources when it comes to keeping you occupied.’
Legolas could not hold back a cry as the swollen joint popped back into place.
‘My attempt at a rope broke,’ Taryatur told him. ‘But at least it gives me something I can use to bind your arm in place.’
The pain diminished slowly, like an ebbing tide, until it reached a level when it was … quite bearable. ‘Thank you,’ Legolas said simply.
Taryatur rested his hand on his son-in-law’s wrist, as if checking his pulse, but his warm fingers offered a slightly awkward, but comforting pat. ‘You are most welcome,’ he said.
Elerrina paced. She could not find enough to do to keep her mind away from her atar fleeing before the storm and her husband seeking him. Thunder rumbled again as if even the sky was laughing at her hope that somehow – somehow – an understanding could be built between two of the people she loved most in the world.
‘Peace, child.’ Thranduil sounded amused. ‘Neither of them will come to any harm.’
She turned, her skirts swirling round her ankles. Fond as she was of her children’s daeradar, she was far too well-trained to tell him plainly that he had no idea what he was talking about. Not that she needed to – Thranduil could read her as easily as he could a book. He had not spent an age and more managing a very contrary group of elves without being able to hear what they did not say.
‘Something is wrong,’ she fretted.
‘The storm is dying down. They will return soon enough – wet and cross and aiming barbed darts at each other.’
Elerrina opened her mouth – whether to defend her husband or her atar, Thranduil could not decide – but then sighed, her shoulders slumping in a way that revealed how disheartened she was.
‘It is not your fault, my daughter,’ he told her mildly. ‘No-one blames you.’
‘You do not need to,’ she said. ‘I blame myself.’ She turned to look out at the slackening rain. ‘Surely enough time has passed for the two of them to learn each other’s strengths. I must have done something wrong for their hostility to be so strong still.’
Thranduil came over to the window and slipped a comforting arm around her waist. ‘Legolas has always been a slow learner,’ he teased. ‘It took him long enough to realise what a treasure he had found in you – but he managed in the end.’ He dropped a paternal kiss on the top of Elerrina’s head. ‘And he can be charming when he wants – if your atar would meet him part-way, Legolas would be only too likely to win him over.’
‘But Atar does not bend.’ Elerrina blinked back tears. ‘He can hold on indefinitely.’
Thranduil squeezed her gently. ‘Not on this,’ he declared. ‘I am not prepared to tolerate it – and I am very good at getting my way.’ He shook his head. ‘If Legolas does not wear him down, I will take on the challenge myself.’
Elerrina felt a twinge of sympathy for her atar. He did not know what he had taken on in challenging the lords of Lasgalen – but then, neither did they know of the dogged persistence of Taryatur Urundilion. And it was all because of her. This was how divisions between kindreds began. Divisions that became enmity.
Anxiety clutched at her again, shortening her breath and making her head ache. Just for a moment the trees before her darkened and span and she grabbed at Thranduil’s arm to steady herself.
‘I hope they return soon,’ she worried. ‘There is something … it does not feel right. I cannot …’ Her head swam and the room fractured before her sight.
Thranduil lifted her easily to a nearby sofa. ‘Linevendë!’ he called urgently. ‘Laerwen! Come quickly – Elerrina is unwell!’
His care warmed her and eased her panic as she relaxed into the cushioned chair. She would be all right. If only she could be as certain about her husband and father.
A faint light reached down from the distant opening and convinced Taryatur that the storm had finally ended. It was just enough – barely – to let him see what he was doing as he cleaned out the gash that split his son-in-law’s swollen thigh.
The ellon hissed as he used the icy water to swill out the mud and fragments of rock, but he remained stolidly still. There was no denying the boy’s courage – or his determination, Taryatur acknowledged.
‘I am sorry,’ he said distractedly. ‘I am trying not to hurt you – but you do not want the flesh to heal over this dirt. Elves may not be subject to infection – but who knows what we could be sealing inside you? I have seen some nasty …’ He let the words trail away. If the Wood elf did not know what could happen, there was no point worrying him.
‘I, too, have seen the results of contaminated injuries.’
Well, he would have done, would he not? Taryatur sighed. And caused a few, doubtless. ‘This is earth, and leaf litter and gravel,’ he said. ‘None of which has been fouled by Morgoth’s creatures. It is unlikely to harm you.’
‘We can hope.’
They had carefully eased Legolas away from the drop to a place where the rock ledge was wider and rather flatter. Taryatur briefly regretted sacrificing his cloak – the ellon really needed something more comfortable to rest on than bare stone. But then, his cloak had been wet – and there was little prospect of it drying down here in this low, water-filled cavern. There was little prospect of anything drying. He sighed as he used Súrion’s small knife to cut half his undershirt into bandages. The remainder would, if folded carefully, make a pad to bind in place and keep any more dirt from the wound. It would not keep the ellon any warmer, though – and he knew well enough that those suffering from shock should be kept warm.
‘Have you any thoughts about how we are going to get out of here?’ He should not let Legolas sleep: not yet. Not until he was sure that he would not lapse into unconsciousness.
Legolas sighed. ‘I have spent enough time thinking about it,’ he said, ‘to be fairly sure that if we cannot return the way we came and the only other possible route is filled to the roof with icy water, we are not going anywhere.’ Taryatur caught the glint of his son-in-law’s eyes watching him. ‘I cannot swim and I cannot climb – and I suspect that by the time my injuries have healed sufficiently for me to try, I will be too cold and worn to make any attempt.’
Warm hands closed on his. ‘I am not about to let you give up,’ Taryatur informed him fiercely. ‘We will come up with a solution that will see us both going safely home.’
He released his daughter’s husband abruptly and began searching around among the loose rocks and debris.
Legolas blinked. Was it his imagination, or had Taryatur just offered him support? ‘What are you doing?’ he asked cautiously.
‘A fair amount of wood and dead leaves have found there way down here. If I can get them to burn, at least we can be dry and in need of rescue.’
The Wood elf laughed briefly. ‘If I still have my pouch,’ he offered, ‘it contains tinder and a sparkstone.’
‘Things seem better already.’
‘We must be careful,’ Legolas warned. ‘If we have rock above us, I daresay we will do no harm – but the last thing we want to do is set fire to the roots of the trees above us. We could find ourselves in a particularly nasty trap.’
Taryatur looked above the spot where Legolas rested and reached up to tap the hilt of his knife carefully against the ceiling. The chink identified rock. ‘It looks safe enough. Water-worn, but solid. It will take more than a few burning twigs to bring this down.’
‘Good.’ Legolas shifted awkwardly. ‘I have never found the idea of being under a rock fall too appealing.’
‘While being under a falling tree is?’ The Noldo managed to inject an amused edge into his voice.
‘That, too, is worth avoiding.’
Taryatur turned his head to look up towards the distant green-tinted patch of light. ‘How long do you think it will be before anyone thinks to look beyond the fact that the elm has fallen?’
‘A day or two,’ Legolas admitted. ‘Perhaps longer if Elerrina gets them all too caught up in seeking us.’
The Noldo snorted. ‘It will be ironic if our – my behaviour is what compels us to spend more time in each other’s company.’ He deposited a small pile of dry leaves and twigs at arms’ length from Legolas. ‘There is not much,’ he admitted, ‘not if we want to keep a flame burning over several days. And most of what there is to be found is pretty wet. It will give off more smoke than flame.’
‘It could make a signal fire,’ Legolas suggested hopefully. ‘Any sign of smoke will have searchers looking for lightning strikes.’
‘We will try it,’ Taryatur shrugged. ‘And if, by chance, your clothes dry at the same time, so much the better.’
The Noldo was competent – that was the first thing that surprised the watching Wood elf. He handled the business of catching a spark and blowing it to flame like an old campaigner. Which, of course, he was. Legolas inspected the figure that was little more than shadow. What must it have been like, he thought, to lose the benign light of the Trees and be plunged into darkness, death and destruction? It was no wonder that those of the Noldor who had stayed here in Aman were … defensive. Wary. Condemned by the actions of others, they had barely had time to recover when they were called on to face the demands of war – and given little chance to refuse to heed the call. How would Galenthil react if he were summoned to an unknown land to fight a common enemy in the company of those he had been taught to think of as renegades? How would he feel if his young son were taken to spill his blood on a battlefield beyond an unforgiving sea?
Taryatur sat beyond the tiny fire, feeding it carefully to keep it burning on the least amount of fuel, while using his body to provide a barrier between the corner they occupied and the heat-absorbing expanse of icy water.
It made a difference. Legolas stretched his uninjured arm out, spreading his fingers eagerly to welcome the small amount of warmth. He had not realised how cold he had become.
‘Careful.’ Taryatur mouth stretched into an attempt at a smile. ‘Setting yourself on fire will not help in the long run.’
Now that there was little to do but watch and wait, the Noldo seemed more … shadowed, Legolas mused. Although that was a ridiculous thought, here where everything was only a flame from complete darkness. What, he wondered, was causing the elf to stare into the fire? ‘We will damage our ability to see into the gloom,’ he remarked. ‘Fire makes the dark darker.’
Taryatur shrugged. ‘There seems to be little else to threaten us.’ He sounded distant, as if part of his mind was elsewhere. ‘We are just stuck here until someone notices the chimney and clears the tree away.’
‘I have never been too fond of confined spaces,’ Legolas admitted. ‘And after Moria…’ He stopped. ‘You know the story?’ Most did, of course, but it was not impossible that Elerrina’s atar had refused to listen.
‘Hordes of orcs and a Balrog,’ Taryatur summed up the experience.
‘Endless dark and the stench of orc pits – the sullen glow of fire from the deep and the presence of … evil. And Olórin fell…’
‘I was among those sent into Angband to release Morgoth’s slaves,’ Taryatur volunteered abruptly. ‘Multitudes – tormented beyond the bearing of elves and men. Some waited only to see the sky and breathe free air before they released their fëar to Námo’s care. Many were driven to madness – and the ships carried them west so that Estë could offer them the peace of Irmo’s gardens and try to offer healing. Others … broken beyond any hope of recovery. Even those who walked away …’ His voice shook. ‘None were unchanged.’
Legolas winced. ‘My adar was present when Dol Guldur fell. There were captives there whose bodies – whose minds – bore witness to Sauron’s early training in malice.’ He looked at his atar-in-law. ‘And Isengard…’ He drew a steadying breath. ‘Fallen Maiar are capable of greater cruelty than elves can imagine.’
The two shared a silent brooding on the past, before putting it to one side. ‘It is not too bad here,’ Legolas said lightly. ‘At least we have water to drink and a fire.’
‘If we had only thought to bring food and blankets,’ Taryatur joined in. ‘We could have had a picnic.’
A half-laugh escaped Legolas. ‘A harp,’ he suggested, ‘and we could have danced.’
‘They would have to drag us out of here.’
A slithering and scraping preceded the arrival of more debris from the forest above and both held themselves still, heads cocked like hunting dogs as they peered towards the sound.
Taryatur sighed. ‘I hope more wood has been delivered. You need warmth and rest.’
‘I will be fine,’ Legolas told him. ‘You do not need to concern yourself about me.’
There was a moment’s silence. ‘You will excuse me if I do not comply with that request.’ Taryatur spoke somewhat distantly. ‘I believe my daughter would prefer to have you returned safely.’ He hesitated. ‘And I owe you my best efforts.’
Legolas opened his mouth to reply, but then decided that there was really nothing to be said. There was little point in engaging in competition with this prickly elf – they were stuck here together and that was that. He sighed. He only hoped a search party would find them soon. Before their careful courtesy wore out would be best for both of them. The only thing was that he did not see it happening. He shifted, trying vainly to get comfortable on the cold stone. This could be a long wait.
He roused suddenly, breathing hard. Isengard had been flooded when the Ents freed the waters – but enough detritus had swirled helplessly in the filthy lake around the tower’s base to give experienced warriors a pretty good idea of what had been happening in the pits beneath the soaring deception of Saruman’s refuge.
‘Here.’ A strong hand proffered a leaky cup bent from a section of bark. ‘Drink this.’
Legolas swallowed. The water had a taste of the forest, sharp and green, overlying the taste of ancient rains. ‘Thank you.’
‘You do not forget, do you?’ There was an unexpected fellow feeling in the Noldo’s voice. ‘They haunt you – no matter how many centuries have passed.’
‘In many ways, worse followed,’ Legolas admitted. ‘I was able to dismiss these memories in acquiring more. It was not long before we followed the Paths of the Dead – and then confronted the massed hordes of Mordor.’
‘I have often wondered,’ Taryatur said, sitting back and offering the tiny fire another twig, ‘about the fate of orcs. Are their lives snuffed out, as if they do not matter? They are descended from those who were snatched in the darkness and made for their purpose. Are they inherently evil? Or victims? And then, what became of those who were born elves only to be taken and tormented and twisted to fit the perversions of Morgoth?’
‘Orcs are evil,’ Legolas said, clearing his throat and taking another swallow of water. ‘They are not Ilúvatar’s children, but Morgoth’s servants.’
‘Were not the Dwarves the children of Aulë?’ Taryatur said meditatively. ‘And Ilúvatar took them into his care and gave them the same love he offers his own creations. Might he not also care for creatures made by Melkor?’
‘The Dwarves were created as an act of love,’ Legolas countered. ‘Orcs – were anything but that.’
‘I would hope that the ruined elves whose bodies we brought from Angband were granted as much grace as the kinslayers.’ The elf sighed. ‘Námo’s care – and the chance of a new life, if ever they were ready to endure the weight of another body.’
Legolas contemplated the elf across the fire. It was as if the dark and the confinement had released something that had been suppressed for far too long. ‘Perhaps you should speak with my Daeradar on the subject,’ he said. ‘He was at Angband – and he has walked Mandos’s Halls. He will have a better idea than most.’
The shadows shifted as Taryatur’s jaw tensed and his eyes glinted briefly in the red light. ‘Perhaps,’ he said non-committally enough that Legolas felt that the chances of his atar-in-law making any such approach were minimal. Strange that the elf should seem so hostile to one he did not know. Or perhaps not – after all, Taryatur was good at putting others into categories and judging them.
‘Or Glorfindel,’ he offered, oddly anxious to return the Noldo to his more expansive mood. ‘Finrod, perhaps.’ He grinned. ‘Or Aulë himself. If anyone would know, it would be one of the Powers.’
The slight sounds the small fire made seemed unnaturally loud in the stone-walled silence of the hidden cave. Taryatur brooded over it, watching as Legolas lapsed back into a half doze. The ellon seemed in less pain – which was good, he thought. He was warmer, too, and his clothes were drier. If necessary, he could always exchange tunics with his son-in-law once his own was fully dry. It would not do to let the ellon become unwell. He looked queasily at the Wood elf’s damaged leg – he had lost a lot of blood and the treatment Taryatur had been able to offer was … primitive, to say the least. The limb was swollen – but no further bleeding stained the improvised bandage. He was not entirely sure whether that was good or bad.
Legolas woke as he attempted to turn and his breath caught. It took a moment or two for memory to return, but as it did, he relaxed. Not some orc den, then, and the faint smell of blood that flared his nostrils was his own.
‘Your dream path was uneasy?’ Taryatur sounded interested – almost reassured.
‘No,’ Legolas said promptly. ‘I put pressure on my shoulder and it jolted me awake.’ He was not going to let his wife’s adar think his dreams were haunted by his experiences. He had heard more than enough on the ill effects of living a warrior’s life in a land affected by evil. As if Morgoth had not walked the lands of the Blessed Realm!
Taryatur shrugged as if he did not believe him and watched the ellon settle himself back down. ‘Try to get some rest,’ he suggested. ‘There is little else for us to do.’
‘There were several lightning strikes,’ Thranduil said wearily. ‘One fire took hold and was beginning to spread when, fortunately, the rain began. That one needs watching carefully – the ashes are steaming and the fear is that the ground might be smouldering still and the embers simply waiting to revive. The others – various trees were struck and have come down. The damage they have caused…’ he sighed, ‘I hate it when the lives of healthy trees are cut short.’
Laerwen echoed his sigh. ‘Even here,’ she said, ‘life is not without its challenges. Yet, in the long term, the forest benefits. Glades are opened and saplings sprout. Dead wood provides homes for many tiny creatures that, in their turn, offer food to birds and beasts. Tree-fall disrupts the song but briefly and a new melody emerges.’
He came up behind her and rested his hands gently on her shoulders. ‘You are very encouraging,’ he said.
Taking her attention briefly from the elfling in her arms, Laerwen turned her head to look up at him. ‘We have time here,’ she told him. ‘Events seem to move so slowly – but their effects are all the more secure for that.’
He placed a kiss on her fair hair. ‘Are we talking Taryatur here? Or my adar? Or are you being enigmatic about something quite different.’
She laughed. ‘As long as we all keep trying, it will all work out.’
‘Experience warns me that matters can always get worse.’
‘Faith assures me that endeavour always makes matters better.’
‘So you expect our son and his atar-in-law to return with greater understanding between them?’
Laerwen paused. ‘Some matters take longer than others,’ she said with dignity. ‘They will build bridges between them at some point. They have more in common than they will admit.’
‘Well – Elerrina and her elflings.’
‘More than that – although that should be enough on its own.’
Thranduil thought briefly of asking her what that bond might be – but then decided that it was unnecessary. He already knew – and he knew that denying that link was a survival technique that had served Taryatur, at least, for far too long for him to find it easy to set aside.
‘Elerrina is anxious to send out search parties to find them.’
‘Not yet.’ Laerwen smiled and her husband reflected on the fact that she could be charmingly ruthless. ‘We have fires and flooding to use as an excuse – and if Legolas and Taryatur are forced to lean on each other, it might help break through their barriers.’
‘I am glad that you are on my side,’ the Woodland King informed her, his fingers burrowing beneath her hair to caress the soft skin of her neck. ‘I would not like to have you scheming against me.’
Her smile brightened. ‘Hold that thought,’ she said demurely, ‘and all will be well.’
The tiny fire offered comfort, even if its warmth was limited. Should he answer Taryatur’s question? It had come abruptly – and it was intrusive, no doubt about it. But Laerwen’s death was no secret – Taryatur could find the answer in any of a dozen different ways. He sighed. Why not be honest about it?
‘The Watchful Peace had not long ended and there was no reason to suspect … There were no orcs that close to the centre of my adar’s power.’ Legolas paused. ‘I had not seen orcs before,’ he said. ‘They were big – hard-eyed – purposeful. Not, I now realise, the usual goblins that infested the edges of the forest. They were not simply roaming in search of food, but on a mission. And they found us. The trees warned us of our danger and we took refuge in the heights – but they had archers. They picked off the guard, then set a fire at the base of the tree and prepared to take us alive when we were forced to jump.’ He smiled. ‘They did not expect the forest to come to my naneth’s defence and resist them. They did not expect my adar to arrive so swiftly – but it did not stop them. Orcs are nothing if not single-minded. When they realised they would not be able to take both my naneth and me, they aimed a dart at her, to make her fall from the tree with me in her arms – but the tree would not let her go. It held us both fast, while her blood spilled like rain on the forest floor.’ The silence stretched beyond the darkness to echo from a grieving forest across space and time. ‘When my adar climbed up to us, her fëa had already flown. He had to prise me from her arms – and then I would not release him so that he could bring her down and he had to watch as his captain lifted her free.’
He brooded over what had, for so long, been his only recollection of his naneth. ‘It was a terrible time.’
‘Yet your adar did not sail.’
Legolas flicked a glance at the impassive figure. ‘He had a duty to remain. He could not abandon his people – his forest. I was his only heir and he could hardly have left a heart-torn elfling to be king – even in the unlikely event that I could have survived losing both my parents. He was needed – and so was I.’
‘Lord Thranduil has great strength.’
The Wood elf looked at him in surprise. ‘He has,’ he agreed. ‘And tenacity. Tremendous tenacity. If he had been going to let disaster dictate his reactions, he would never have returned from Dagorlad.’
Taryatur sighed. ‘Elves are not meant to live as warriors.’
The temptation to roll his eyes and snap at the Noldo was almost irresistible, but Legolas curbed his tongue. He failed to see how his atar-in-law could continue to repeat such a thoughtless aphorism – especially in the light of what he had revealed about his time before Angband. ‘Neither are they meant to bend their knee before evil and accept it meekly,’ he said. ‘Is it not better to take a stand on what you believe is right than allow one such as Morgoth – or Sauron – to pervert the creation that Ilúvatar intended? Is it not sometimes necessary to place yourself between evil and innocence?’
‘Of course it is,’ Taryatur snapped. ‘But is it not best of all to preserve innocence and keep it from any contact with evil?’
Legolas blinked. Was Taryatur saying that the wars against Morgoth and his henchmen had been necessary? But that the Blessed Realm should have remained inviolate – free of the taint of those who had seen corruption at first hand? ‘How do you know what is wrong if you do not look it in the face?’ he asked. ‘How do you decide what must be guarded if you never see beyond it?’ He shifted. Perhaps he should be worried that the stone beneath him no longer felt so cold – or, come to that, so hard. His leg, on the other hand, was definitely hot. Hotter than the fire. When the wood gave out – which would not be long delayed – at least he should be able to keep his wife’s atar from becoming too chilled.
‘Let me look at that.’
The Wood elf flinched as Taryatur released the strips keeping the pad in place. The wound was weeping a pale fluid that smelled less than pleasant – and the swelling had increased. The Noldo winced. This was not going to get better on its own. He washed it as clean as he could and replaced the rinsed cloth.
‘We cannot simply wait to be rescued,’ he said. ‘I have to try to get out of here. You need a healer.’
Legolas tried to grin. ‘There is never one handy when you need one.’
‘The tree is blocking the obvious exit,’ Taryatur said, ‘but the water must go somewhere.’ He looked doubtfully at the icy pool. It seemed to end in inky darkness where the ceiling came down to meet it. ‘There might be an opening.’
‘Throw in a twig before you attempt it yourself. See if it goes anywhere. It seems to me that the water is too still to be flowing anywhere – it might be that it simply seeps slowly down to a lower level.’ Legolas glanced towards the place he knew the entrance to be. ‘I cannot help but feel that there is only one way out of here.’
‘I suppose I could try to cut away enough of the branch to squeeze through,’ Taryatur said doubtfully. ‘At the very least it would give us firewood.’
‘I had a decent-sized knife.’ Legolas felt for it, but found only the empty sheath. ‘I must have lost it in the fall.’
‘Can you reach our supply of fuel?’ Taryatur did not want the fire going out – it seemed to offer their only glimmer of hope in this prison. He sighed. ‘I will try to climb up and see if I can make any impression on that trap door.’
Legolas reached out and snagged Taryatur’s wrist. ‘Be careful,’ he said. ‘I do not want to have to crawl to your rescue.’
The Noldo looked up at the steep chute and took a deep breath. ‘Keep still,’ he said, ‘and rest, while I see what I can do.’
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