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Crossing the Divide
‘Is there any possibility that you could get out of the way?’ Thranduil’s disembodied voice floated down to them. ‘Extended discussion would suggest that the swiftest way to free you would be to cut the branch loose and let it drop, leaving you to climb up behind it.’
‘He is not happy,’ Legolas murmured. ‘Not happy at all. Adar has trained himself to remain expressionless while he listens with apparent patience to endless debate – but he prefers action.’
Taryatur shook his head. ‘Understandable,’ he said. He stood up, leaning back to call towards the dim light. ‘I doubt that will work. The chimney bends along the rock’s fracture line – the branch will simply drop and block it, so that we will be stuck here permanently.’
‘Not to mention,’ Legolas added, ‘that the only way to get out of the way would be to return to the chamber that is now more than half-filled with water. Very cold water, too.’
They remained looking up to the green-tinged light as the message was relayed.
Thranduil’s voice, when he returned his attention to the prisoners, was resigned. ‘This will be, it seems, neither easy nor quick. The branch needs to be roped so that it will not fall – and then we will need enough people to lift it and drag it free.’ He sighed. ‘In the meantime – I daresay you could do with feeding.’
‘That thought, at least, sounds appealing,’ his son called.
‘I can climb to within a foot or so of the surface,’ Taryatur said, ‘and reach a hand through. It is just – I could not make a gap large enough to scrape out. I can bring ropes down and bind them in place.’
‘That will make matters somewhat easier.’ Thranduil sounded relieved. ‘Although lifting the branch will still be a problem.’
‘You need a crane,’ Taryatur remarked. ‘A system of blocks and tackle.’
‘We are not totally technologically naïve,’ the Woodland King retorted. ‘It will take time to bring the equipment and set it up here.’
‘We are in your hands.’ Wood elves could be touchy, Taryatur noted. They did not appreciate apparent Noldor criticism of their skills – but how was he to know that they were on top of the matter unless he asked? He was not able to see through stone! ‘The food?’ He did not want to sound too hopeful, but really the ellon needed something rather more strength-giving than water that tasted of long centuries percolating beneath the ground.
‘As soon as we have come up with a way of passing hot stew through a narrow gap, we will provide you with something. Unless you have any suggestions?’
Taryatur did not need to expend much effort to hear the sharp edge to the request. ‘No, none at all,’ he said swiftly.
‘Very wise,’ Legolas murmured as he shifted on the rock fragments.
‘Although,’ Taryatur spoke loud enough to attract the attention of anyone listening from above, ‘a blanket – or a cloak or two – would not be unwelcome. And, if we will be here any length of time, some marigold salve and bandages.’
‘Now you will have them getting in a state – and convinced that I am on the verge of greeting Lord Námo,’ his son-in-law protested.
A faint gurgle, as if the rising water had found a rock over which to pour, distracted them both and Taryatur lay flat to reach down into the cave. ‘Another foot or so,’ he remarked. ‘I think it is rising more slowly.’
They lapsed into silence, listening to the whisper of the water and the distant stirring of the elm’s dying leaves.
‘I wish he had not mentioned food,’ Legolas said. ‘I had not realised I was so hungry. I feel like a hobbit now – thinking of nothing but my next meal and hoping it will come soon.’
‘At least it shows you are recovering.’ Taryatur shook his head. ‘I have been thinking of little else for some time. I have even been reduced to considering whether elm leaves are edible – and whether there are fish in that water.’
‘Hungry enough to contemplate eating bugs?’ His son-in-law grinned. ‘You know it is bad when beetle larvae start to look attractive.’
‘Worms,’ the Noldo suggested. ‘Grasshoppers – although they are not so bad when fried.’
The Wood elf laughed. ‘Listen to us!’ he said. ‘I think I will settle for whatever Adar manages to send down. It cannot help but be more appealing than the fare to which a hungry warrior can be reduced.’
‘As long as he manages to provide it within the next hour or two,’ Taryatur said. ‘Before I start to seek out a snack of those beetle larvae.’
‘You did not need to come,’ Thranduil said gently. Aelindor glanced at him, surprised by the mild amiability of his tone.
Elerrina lifted her chin. Although she was far too well-raised to contradict him openly, the simple gesture made a statement as clearly as if she had informed him at the top of her voice that nothing would keep her away from the effort to rescue her husband and atar.
‘We will not get in your way,’ Linevendë assured him. ‘But remaining in ignorance became … intolerable.’
A rapid and imperious look round the busy glade had the many elves working at their varied tasks before Thranduil stepped away to shepherd the two ellyth out of the way. ‘We need to assemble the frame,’ he explained, ‘and make sure the pegs are secure and the pulleys are in place before we attempt to harness the trunk to lift it out of the way.’
‘Of course,’ Elerrina agreed. She stared critically at the growing structure. ‘It should do the job – it seems solid enough. How are you rigging it?’
‘I have no idea.’ Thranduil gazed at the construction consideringly. ‘I leave such matters to those who understand what they are doing.’
‘Who among the Silvan use such frames?’ Linevendë asked curiously. ‘I have never observed …’
‘The river elves,’ he said briefly. ‘Not so much here – although it will prove necessary, I daresay, as we use the river more to transport heavier goods – but in Lasgalen. We had a regular trade between the Stronghold and the men of the Long Lake. Such cranes helped unload the barges.’
‘Will it lift the tree high enough?’ Elerrina restrained an obvious urge to inspect the work more closely. ‘Perhaps three feet – maybe four. Will it be enough?’
Thranduil looked thoughtfully at the lengths of wood. ‘Only that much? How do you know?’
‘The beams are not long enough for it to lift any higher than that.’ She sounded sure of herself, her adar-in-law thought, somewhat disconcerted. ‘It would be fine if all they needed to do was raise the trunk and swing it a foot or two – but there is a branch, is there not, that needs to be freed?’
‘Dringor!’ Thranduil called. ‘Can you come and explain something to me, please.’
An elf with hair the glossy brown of a conker shell detached himself reluctantly from his task and approached, his eyes and mind still clearly on the growing structure. ‘My lord?’ he asked.
‘How is this going to work?’
‘We will raise the trunk, my lord, and, once the branch is safely strapped, we will cut it away. Then we can lift the lesser weight.’
‘Will you be able to lift it free?’ Elerrina’s moss-grey eyes fixed on him anxiously.
‘If not in one go, my lady,’ he assured her, ‘we will lift it as high as we can, bind it lower down and cut it away again before lifting it a second time. Each time it will be easier.’
She looked doubtfully at the frame that was now being pulled upright. ‘Would it not have been better to assemble a larger device?’
‘It would have taken much longer,’ he said. ‘And probably been less safe.’ He looked at her and smiled slightly. ‘Trust me,’ he said. ‘This will work. We have attached pulleys to make it easier to lift the weight – and we will put a couple of ropes around the trunk to draw it to one side as soon as the branch is sawn through. Then we can use the same method to free the branch – a piece at a time.’
Elerrina drew a shaky breath. ‘I did not mean …’ she said.
Dringor shrugged. ‘Not many people understand how it works,’ he said philosophically. ‘I do not believe it matters to them – just as long as it does.’ He glanced at Thranduil, who nodded his thanks, before returning to the work.
Thranduil took Elerrina’s hand in his and squeezed it gently. ‘Not that I would count you among the ignorant,’ he said. ‘Does the plan make sense to you?’
She pressed her lips together and took a couple of breaths before replying. ‘I just want him back home,’ she said. ‘Them. Both Legolas and Atar. Before anything else goes wrong.’
‘Hot tea,’ Legolas said with satisfaction. ‘It is almost better than the bread and meat – and the apples.’
‘Almost,’ Taryatur agreed. ‘But not quite. And I am still hoping for the stew.’
‘I do not mind waiting until we are rescued.’ Legolas drew the blanket round himself and enjoyed the feeling of warmth. ‘Not if I can look forward to it as we emerge.’
‘The stew will sit there as we are surrounded by inquisitive healers,’ Taryatur told him. ‘Getting ever more scorched while they inspect every last inch and tell us we need food and rest – and by the time anyone thinks to provide us with a plateful, it will not be worth eating.’
‘Or our rescuers will finish it in celebration of having performed their task successfully.’
‘While the healers provide nothing more than broth.’
‘Or potions,’ Legolas suggested. ‘They are good at potions.’
‘They would not want us to eat heavily after our misadventure,’ Taryatur glanced upwards, ‘for fear of putting too much strain on our healing wounds.’
‘You sound as if you have had too much to do with healers.’ Legolas watched him with interest. ‘I would not have thought life in the Blessed Realm would have been that good an introduction to their peculiarities.’
His atar-in-law lifted a shoulder. ‘Healers get plenty of practice with over-adventurous elflings putting themselves in danger – but I admit that most of my experience comes from east of the sea.’
Legolas did not speak, but the tilt of his head invited the Noldo to speak further. For a moment he doubted that this mild indication of interest would be enough to draw any information from the guarded elf, but Taryatur’s tight-lipped stare relaxed and he sighed.
‘You do not know what it was like,’ he stated. ‘You cannot. You grew up with the risk of injury – with the knowledge of the worst things that can happen to a body. To confront that – to be carried from battle and stitched back together like a length of cloth... And …’ he stopped speaking, but his face was taut with remembered pain.
‘There is a first time for everyone,’ Legolas said. ‘You know the danger – but you cannot understand. Not until you have been in battle yourself. Not until you have felt the blade’s fire across your flesh – not until you have feared that you are more likely to see Námo than you are to go home.’ He shrugged. ‘You knew of Alqualondë – and the stories will only have grown worse in the telling – but the reality still came as a shock.’ He glanced doubtfully at the elf, but decided to continue anyway. He could not, after all, rely on ever being in such a position with his atar-in-law again – and, for all he knew, emerging into the freshness of the forest might re-establish all those barriers that had begun to give way between them. ‘You ask too much of yourself,’ he said. ‘Sometimes we all need someone to lean on.’
‘And you would share your nightmares with Elerrina, would you?’ Taryatur looked down his nose at the Wood elf. ‘Or tell your son of horrors he will never see?’
‘Of course I would not!’ Legolas shifted slightly. Even with the added padding of the folded blanket beneath him, this refuge was … not entirely comfortable. ‘But there are those to whom I do not need to speak – they know already. Fellow warriors who defended Lasgalen at my side – the sons of Elrond with whom I stood at the Black Gate … people who know.’ He sighed. ‘We are veterans of different battles,’ he said, ‘but we share enough experience … and the wound must be lanced and the poison allowed to flow, for else it festers and the shadow grows … If you would …’ He spread his hands and let the words trail away.
The darkness hid whatever emotion crossed the Noldo’s face, but the silence that extended between them suggested that he did not welcome his son-in-law’s offer. Legolas felt a surprising pang. His awkward suggestion had, it would appear, broken the delicate peace that had sent out careful feelers, like tendrils reaching cautiously for support on which they could grow.
‘Maybe,’ Taryatur conceded. ‘I will give the matter some consideration.’ He looked up towards the glimmer of light as if that would, in some way, speed their release and save him from any more exposure. ‘There is something in what you say.’
Elerrina held her breath as the ropes creaked. It was hard to believe that they would be able to hold the inert weight of the great tree, but the rustle of the leaves and the groaning of the stressed wood made it clear enough that they could.
‘Keep it there!’ Dringor commanded.
She could hardly see him among the limp leaves that dangled from the lighter branches that the foresters had decided should remain untouched, but the change in his tone suggested that his urgent words were aimed at someone beyond his sight. Her atar. He would be doing what he could to get them free of that dark prison. Legolas had been hurt – badly, she knew, but not so much that … She forced herself to stop fretting. Thranduil said he was all right. Injured, yes, but not so badly he could not make light of it. All they needed to do was get him out.
Her amil’s hand slipped into hers. ‘I hope your atar manages to keep his temper,’ Linevendë said with a slight smile. ‘He is unlikely to believe that Silvan elves have any great competence when it comes to operating machinery.’
‘But he knows they are good with the forest,’ Elerrina retaliated. ‘And this is about trees.’
‘Poor Taryatur.’ Linevendë shook her head. ‘Trapped by a tree! I hope he will not allow the incident to sour him on Taurevron any further.’
‘It could not!’ Elerrina spoke with complete conviction. ‘He turns his nose up at everything here. Even Anar shines less admirably over the forest! Whilst living in trees, in homes created in wood – well, it is clearly an indication of the inferiority of the environment.’
Linevendë’s explosion of breath was warm with affectionate amusement. ‘Your poor atar,’ she said. ‘He does not know how to give in! If Legolas had proved himself to be a less admirable husband, he would have forgiven him long ago for winning your heart – and set himself to educate the elf in better behaviour – but he finds it hard to admit that he was wrong.’ She squeezed her daughter’s fingers. ‘He will work out how to apologise in time.’
Frantic sawing drew them closer to the fallen tree, anxious to see how the work was progressing. Two elves were working, one on either side of the branch that disappeared into the rough-edged hole.
‘Mind the ropes,’ Dringor warned. ‘We do not want them frayed at all – or they might not take the weight.’
‘I am so glad you told me that!’ Aelindor looked up briefly before returning his attention to the blade in his hand. ‘I would never have thought of it.’
‘Would axes not be quicker?’ One of the elves leaning back on the ropes that held up the trunk threw in the question. ‘This is heavy.’
‘Too disruptive,’ Dringor told him shortly. ‘And the saws will be quick enough – if only the sawyers would put their backs into it.’
The smell of heated wood and fresh sawdust tingled in the damp air as a second squad prepared to take over from the tiring foresters.
‘Change,’ Aelindor demanded and he clambered out the way as his replacement began to work. He shook off a coating of sawdust and accepted a steaming mug from Pigen. ‘I would like to see you doing it, Dringor. It is easy enough to say what others should be doing.’
‘Those holding the branch,’ Dringor called sharply, as a cracking sound tore at the wood, ‘hold on! It is about to go. You,’ he demanded, ‘prepare to pull the trunk away.’
The elm settled with a groan that suggested it had done all it could and was now prepared to rest while elves scrambled to release the ropes so that they were ready for the next stage of the rescue.
Thranduil stepped forward, his face impassive, as the ropes strained to lift the ragged-ended branch. ‘Is it enough?’ he asked.
He tried to conceal it, Elerrina realised, but his concern for his son oozed from him. The Woodland King must have spent centuries fearing for his only child – and sending him forth nonetheless to face enemies more dangerous than anything he would face here in the Blessed Realm. She drew an unsteady breath. There was more than one kind of courage, she thought. More than one way of bending before the needs of duty. Releasing her amil’s hand, she stepped up to her husband’s adar and welcomed his arm around her shoulders. ‘He will be all right,’ she said.
‘He will be,’ Thranduil agreed. ‘But I will feel happier when I see that for myself.’
Taryatur grasped the rope and bound it round the branch that was still imprisoning them in the rough chimney. ‘I am not a fool,’ he snapped at the elf beyond the narrow gap. ‘I do know how to tie knots.’
‘You would not want the rope to slip,’ the elf retorted.
The Noldo growled as he checked the firmness of the bindings. ‘It will not fall,’ he declared. ‘Not unless you have provided second-rate rope.’
‘The rope is fine, Dringor – and the knots are fine, too. Now just please – get on with pulling the branch free.’
Taryatur turned his attention to his son-in-law. ‘What are you doing here?’ he demanded. ‘You are supposed to be resting until you have to climb!’
‘The water has risen above the wall,’ Legolas said simply. ‘It seemed better to climb than swim.’
For a moment – just a moment – Taryatur closed his eyes and let his forehead rest against the rough wood. What else could go wrong? ‘Then rest as best you can where you are,’ he said. ‘There is no need for you to risk the healing that has occurred.’
Legolas nodded without speaking and leaned back, taking his weight off his leg as best he could.
‘And cover your head,’ Taryatur added. ‘There is no need to get covered in sawdust and wood chips if you do not have to.’
A slight smile made his son-in-law’s face look less drawn. ‘You had best get out the way before they start to pull the branch free,’ he recommended. ‘I would not like to have to explain to Elerrina – or her amil – how I allowed you to get squashed like a bug against the rock wall.’
Taryatur opened his mouth to declare his ability to make his own decisions – but concluded that there was really no point. The ellon was right, after all. He gave the ropes a final check and slapped the side of the branch before easing himself past the blockage to join his daughter’s husband. ‘They had better not let go,’ he remarked. ‘If that lands on our heads, it will do neither of us any good.’
‘Another few feet,’ Legolas judged. ‘There will be enough space to squeeze past.’
‘It narrows,’ Taryatur disagreed. ‘The actual point of entry will not allow either of us to pass until the wood is removed completely. And at this rate it will take them the best part of a week.’
He placed a supportive grip under Legolas’s arm and guided him insistently to a narrow ledge – it was barely a hand’s width, but it would provide enough room to perch in safety for the time being. And there was a better ledge – wider and smoother – a few feet up. If they only would get a move on with raising the remaining wood, he could help the ellon up to that and he would be able to rest with his leg raised until he could be lifted free.
‘Did you bring …? Ah.’ He lifted the tea-filled water bottle from his son-in-law’s shoulder. ‘Drink,’ he commanded. ‘It is no longer hot, but it will refresh you and help you relax.’
Legolas smiled and took a couple of mouthfuls. The peppermint taste was pleasant, he admitted. And he knew that it had not been surreptitiously drugged with anything more narcotic. However much Thranduil and the healers would have wanted it to be, they would never have risked dosing him without being certain of his injuries – or, come to that, without being sure that such an action would not endanger the prisoners further. He offered the skin to his wife’s atar.
‘Is the water rising more quickly?’ Taryatur asked as he accepted. ‘The chimney is narrow – it would not take long for the level to become dangerously high.’
A grating noise turned their attention towards the splintered branch and they both looked up to see it turning slowly as, beyond the dark funnel of rock, Dringor’s teams followed his count to haul on the ropes.
‘Do not watch it,’ the Noldo said, bending his head to stare into the blackness below them. ‘There will be shards and splinters falling – you do not want to get them in your eyes.’
Legolas lowered his chin, resting his head against the stone and closing his eyes. ‘I hope they do not take much longer.’ He nursed his aching arm across his chest, his fingers closed protectively over his torn sleeve. ‘I am coming to think that it is not so bad being in the healers’ hands.’
Voices were coming down more clearly, as if there was more space now for sound. The air felt fresher, too, and scented with the bruised greenness of a forest recovering from a storm. ‘It will not be long,’ Taryatur said gently. ‘We will get you settled safely – and you will be home with Elerrina before you know it.’
‘Taryatur?’ Thranduil sounded as calm as if he was indulging in a breakfast-table conversation, Taryatur thought.
‘A moment,’ he said sharply, before returning his attention to his son-in-law. ‘Come, Wood elf,’ he commanded. ‘Lean on me – there is a better place for you to idle the day away, now that they have removed the clutter. Once you are less likely to tumble back into the water, I can give my attention to getting you out of here.’
‘I am fine,’ Legolas protested.
‘Of course you are.’ Taryatur aimed his most intimidating frown at the ellon. ‘And to prove it, you can climb just a little higher.’ It would be easier – probably – to carry him, but his son-in-law had climbed this far. ‘Put your hand on my shoulder – and keep off that leg as much as you can.’
‘Taryatur? We need you to rope the next section of the branch before we can saw this part free.’
‘I will be with you in a moment,’ the Noldo snapped. ‘If you wish to go ahead without me, then by all means make the attempt.’
The chimney twisted and it was – less than easy to guide the ellon to the place he had chosen for him. The footholds were spaced awkwardly, so that it was close to impossible for the Wood elf to pull himself up without using his injured leg and the exercise quite clearly hurt. There was, at least, no bleeding – but, if he was not much mistaken, Taryatur was afraid that the healers would need to reopen and clean out the wound before it would begin to heal properly. He settled a gasping Legolas on the now-grubby blanket and covered him over.
‘You are about to experience snowfall – of a kind,’ he said. ‘Keep your head covered.’
‘Ask them to keep the noise down,’ Legolas retorted. ‘Some of us are trying to sleep.’
‘Right.’ Taryatur straightened himself up and clambered wearily up the strangely spacious chimney. ‘What now?’
‘This should be the last lift,’ Thranduil said quietly. ‘Dringor is of the opinion that it will be possible to drag any remaining length free at the same time as this is brought out. Once that has happened, Calion will go down to help Taryatur and Legolas to climb up safely. We would not want anything to go wrong at this stage.’
Elerrina looked at him mutely. It had all taken so much longer than she had expected. The shadows across the glade had lengthened and the light had faded as the foresters worked steadily to free the two trapped beneath the ground. The stars had brightened – and still they waited.
‘Can you ensure that there is hot water?’ Thranduil asked. ‘Any hurts will need to be assessed before we can move them to the infirmary and the healers are bound to want hot water.’ He smiled. ‘They always do.’ He glanced at the fire. ‘And I suspect Legolas and Taryatur would appreciate something to eat – and perhaps some heated stones to warm them.’
‘We will see to it,’ Linevendë stood stiffly, looking away from the gash in the forest floor. ‘Elerrina – Elerrina,’ she repeated more sharply as her daughter failed to respond, ‘will you fetch some water for me, please?’
Her daughter stood almost like one walking in her sleep, taking one of the empty cooking pans and looking around vaguely as if wondering where the spring might be. Aelindor caught his king’s eye and came forward. ‘This way, my lady,’ he said.
Linevendë raised her eyebrows. ‘And what did you feel you could not say before your son’s wife, Thranduil?’ she asked.
‘Taryatur is healthy enough,’ he said bluntly, ‘although I think he has had about as much as he can take – but Legolas … He is not entirely well.’
‘She knows that, Thranduil,’ Linevendë said calmly. ‘She has known that from the beginning. It took us rather longer to recognise it, but she knew.’ She inspected her son-in-law’s adar. ‘She is rather less anxious than you are,’ she reassured him. ‘Concerned, and wanting to have him safe, but sure enough that whatever he had done to himself has not resulted in any injury that will not heal.’
They both turned as Dringor urged the foresters to a final effort and the pulleys squealed once again under the strain of the creaking ropes. The branch, thinner now, swung from the ropes, its raw end showing bright in the firelight. Another pair hauled at the base as it lifted, cheering breathlessly as the end scraped out of the narrow gap to rest on the moss beyond the open entrance.
‘We have done it,’ the engineer declared.
Everyone stopped, staring at the opening in weary silence, unsure what they would find now that the way was finally freed.
A dark head thick with straw-coloured sawdust poked through into the fresh air of the glade. ‘At last!’ he declared querulously. ‘Would anyone care to help me get Legolas out of here before he turns to stone? Or will I be forced to lug him up here on my own?’
At a wave from Thranduil two foresters stepped forward and grasped the Noldo under the arms, lifting him – protesting furiously at their interference – free from his refuge to deposit him on a blanket-lined stretcher.
‘Stay where you are,’ Linevendë commanded, abandoning the fire to press a firm hand flat on her husband’s chest. ‘I do not want you moving a muscle until I am reassured that you have no lasting injury.’
He grabbed her hand. ‘Not yet,’ he insisted. ‘He is not safe yet – you cannot expect me to leave him to others. Not now.’
‘He will be rescued soon, Atar.’ Elerrina offered him a mug of tea. ‘Drink this and rest – there are plenty here to lift Legolas out.’ She smiled and bent to drop a kiss on her atar’s forehead. ‘Dringor has sent Calion and the rope down – and …’ She stopped as a ragged cheer broke from the tired elves.
Legolas allowed himself to be helped from the hole, making no complaint as he was settled on another stretcher and carried away from the debris of the elm, a healer directing the porters over towards the blaze.
Taryatur raised a scraped and splinter-speared hand and touched his daughter’s cheek gently. ‘Go to him, child,’ he said. ‘He needs you.’
He swung his legs over the edge of the bed and pushed himself stiffly to his feet. He was not ill, he was not injured and he did not need endless peaceful hours confined in comfortable light-filled chamber while his wife brought him refreshment enough to feed a dozen.
‘Get back in bed,’ Linevendë demanded – arriving, of course, just at the most inconvenient moment.
‘I am bored,’ he complained.
‘You are bruised from head to foot and I am still picking splinters from your skin.’
‘They are only bruises – no-one yet needed bed rest to recover from bruises.’ He knew he sounded petulant, but really – there was no need to treat him like an invalid. ‘I want to see how Legolas is.’
His wife came closer, her gleaming eyes intently focused on him as if to extract every shred of meaning from his simple statement. Just as he was about to surrender, they softened. ‘Well, in that case,’ she said, ‘by all means – dress yourself.’
She watched him step cautiously towards the chest where she secreted his clothes, his movements rather more painful than he had expected them to be. He winced as his tender hands brushed against the wooden lid, but threw it open defiantly. He wanted to see how his son-in-law was doing – and he did not trust anyone to tell him the whole truth. He glanced at Linevendë, but she continued to observe him implacably. She would not stop him, but neither would she make this easy.
‘Please,’ he said.
‘Why will you not take my word for it? He is recovering. The leg wound has been treated and the healers say he will make a full recovery.’ She sounded exasperated – and tired and almost tearful.
‘I am sorry.’ Taryatur left the clean tunics where they were and turned towards her. ‘I did not mean to frighten you.’
‘How could I not be frightened?’ she said so softly that he could barely hear the words. ‘How could I not worry about you? Fear for you? Dread that this time you might not come home?’ She took an involuntary step towards him. ‘You can be so dense at times, Taryatur Urundilion!’ She reached out to run her hands gently over his bare chest. ‘You are not alone – you have never been alone.’
‘Had you not been waiting for me,’ he said, running his roughened fingers over the silk of her hair, ‘I do not believe I would have returned.’ He drew her closer. ‘But there are some things you should not share.’
She held him carefully, only too aware of the injuries that did not show, wounds ages old that still lingered. ‘You will sit in the sun and rest once you have assured yourself that our son-in-law is healing,’ she scolded. ‘I will set Camentur to watch you to ensure you do not aggravate your hurts.’
‘They are healing,’ he assured her and she tipped her head back to search his eyes. ‘They are already less than they were … and I promise you, my heart – I will do nothing to imperil that.’
A cup of water appeared before him as he swallowed, trying to clear the dryness of his mouth and rid it of the unpleasant after-taste of medicinal herbs. He accepted it gratefully, gulping the fresh water as if he had not drunk in days.
‘Slow down.’ His wife drew the cup away. ‘You will make yourself sick.’
He moved to grasp her wrist, but stopped and frowned at the ache in his shoulder and the uncertainty of the movement. It took him a moment or two to remember – that was another thing he hated about being drugged. It disorientated him and made him uncertain what was real.
‘You dislocated your shoulder,’ Elerrina informed him helpfully, ‘tore your leg and banged your head.’ She giggled rather unsteadily. ‘Although your adar says that that, at least should not be a problem, since you can have little brain left to addle.’
‘Unfair.’ Legolas’s mouth was dry again, but he drank less greedily from the proffered cup, savouring the taste of the liquid. ‘It could all have been much worse, had your atar not been so determined to ensure that I would continue to be a thorn in his flesh.’
Her hands trembled, so that a splash of water escaped the cup to sit like a bead of crystal on the coverlet. ‘I was afraid that you were dead,’ she said. ‘There was a flash of light and an empty space within me – and I felt your heartbeat falter.’
‘I would not leave you willingly,’ he said. ‘But, even in the Blessed Realm, there are no guarantees …’
‘I did not know what I was feeling.’ Elerrina brushed the drop of water away with a careful fingertip. ‘It was so overwhelming that there was no sense to it – it was only later that I began to untangle …’ She stopped, raising her eyes from the cover to look at him. ‘And yet, I would not have you any different.’
‘That is good.’ Legolas made the effort to trap her fingers in his less responsive hand. ‘I can oblige you easily and make it look as if I am being noble.’
She blinked the tears from her eyes. ‘The healers say that Atar did the right thing,’ she declared. ‘Your arm will ache for a while and you will need to exercise it carefully to bring it back to full strength, but your leg … They shook their heads over that and looked grave, but decided that the self-heal had saved you from the worst. I am afraid they opened it again and stitched it – but they assured us that their skill was such that it would heal properly with barely a scar.’
‘If your atar had not risked himself,’ Legolas said quietly, ‘it is likely that wound could have been enough to send me to Námo’s care.’ It was not as if he was telling her anything she did not know – however determined Taryatur had been to preserve his daughter’s innocence, he had not raised a fool.
She drew a steady breath. ‘He owed you,’ she said, ‘for Súrion’s life. And, even if he had not, he would never have left you in danger – not if there were anything he could to do to protect you.’
‘No,’ Legolas agreed meditatively. ‘He is a courageous elf. Irritating, at times,’ he added, glancing at his wife, ‘but he has his reasons.’
She smiled. ‘You have forgiven him for not wanting me to wed you?’
‘In his position, given what he had seen, I would not have wanted me to wed you,’ he admitted. ‘I would have similar doubts, probably, about one who came sniffing around Eleniel.’
Elerrina shook her head. ‘Then spend the time you have learning acceptance, my love, because you will have no more success in bending your daughter to your will than my atar had with me.’
Eleniel’s adar grinned. ‘I will learn my lesson,’ he said. ‘Make the ellon suffer over a long courtship and then treat him with the utmost suspicion.’
His wife gave an exasperated sigh. ‘You need to eat and rest,’ she told him. ‘And then Galenthil and Eleniel wish to come and assure themselves that you are in one piece – and your parents will arrive to scold you and the healers to dose you further.’
Legolas pulled a face. ‘Have I not been punished enough?’ he asked. ‘And now my wife is refusing to protect me!’ His fingers tightened on hers. ‘This will soon fade to memory,’ he added gently. ‘Become another of those times that will not be forgotten, but must not be allowed to shadow the future.’
She leant forward and kissed him. ‘A dark jewel,’ she murmured, ‘but we can make it a jewel, nonetheless.’
Taryatur perched on the trunk, his fingers caressing the new shoots that were springing from the upended roots. Life was persistent, he thought absently as he stared at the narrow cleft in the floor of the glade. He would never have thought that the ruined tree would sprout again – or that this place could appear so serene. The sawn chunks of wood had been removed and gentle rains had washed the moss clean, while soft breezes had stirred the leaves to cover the disturbed earth. Anar’s light had encouraged seeds to growth and already that night’s ruin had begun to look a long-established part of the life of the forest.
He had argued to have the entrance to the cave covered over – after all, surely no-one wanted to have elflings tumble to their deaths through an unguarded opening – but the Silvan elves had shrugged off his demands. The cave was part of the forest, it would appear, and that was, by itself, enough of a reason to leave it untouched. Better, he was told, for it to be obvious and known to all than for it to be hidden away to become a trap for the future. He sighed. Wood elves were an odd lot.
A change in the song of the trees made him look up.
‘You did not need to come and look for me,’ he remarked as his son-in-law limped into the glade. ‘There is no prospect of a storm today.’
Legolas shrugged and sat down at the other end of elm, propping his stick up against a knot and lifting his leg to stretch it out along the wood.
‘And I doubt you have been cleared to walk this far yet, either.’
‘You can help me home, should it prove too much for me.’
Taryatur raised an eyebrow.
‘I wanted to see it in daylight,’ Legolas said. ‘Without a crowd looking anxiously in my direction to see how I was taking it.’
‘It looks so innocent,’ the Noldo commented.
‘It is all a matter of perspective.’ Legolas opened his hands as his atar-in-law looked at him. ‘Well, it is,’ he added defensively. ‘It is not as if any of them – the storm, the tree, the cave, the water … None of them acted in concert against us deliberately. It just happened.’
‘I suppose so.’ Taryatur had his doubts – very insubstantial ones, but doubts nonetheless. It seemed rather too remarkable that a series of unconnected disasters should thrust him into co-operation with his son-in-law – but he hoped he was too wary to ignore so definite a warning. ‘I have been thinking,’ he said.
Legolas’s silence invited him to continue.
‘Perhaps it is better to have some things in the open,’ he conceded. ‘Not that I intend to burden others with my memories …’ he looked at his daughter’s husband defiantly, ‘but a mutual understanding – seemed to help.’
‘When the storm clouds gather,’ the Wood elf said, ‘I am here. And I am not the only one who knows what you endure – who will understand without words.’
Taryatur answered only with a curt nod. The subject, he hoped the ellon realised, was closed. ‘When will you be considered well enough to take my son and grandsons off to the woods?’ he asked. ‘I am growing restless – and thinking of offering to accompany you.’
‘You would be most welcome,’ Legolas said cautiously. ‘I am sure Elerrina would be glad to have you there to keep an eye on us all – and it would give her a chance to catch up on all that has been happening in Tirion since she was last there.’
The life of the glade carried on around them as they sat in companionable silence and the soft afternoon created for them a different memory of the place. The shadows had lengthened and the light deepened to gold before finally Taryatur stood. ‘Come, my son,’ he said. ‘Let us go and reassure our family that we are all right.’
Legolas grasped the offered arm and pulled himself to his feet, wincing a little as he put his weight on his stiffened leg. He grabbed his stick, but did not reject his atar-in-law’s support, continuing his grip as he flexed the complaining thigh muscles. Finally he straightened up and they began their steady journey through the trees. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘It has taken us a while to get there – but we are all right.’
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