Spring had now unmistakably arrived in Lasgalen. The air was soft and warm, and birdsong filled the air. Butter-yellow primroses blossomed along the banks of the Forest River, and in glades beneath the trees. The night before there had been a sharp frost, but no trace remained on the grass and leaves, even where the sun had yet to penetrate.
Thranduil and Celebrían walked beneath the trees, savouring the sunlight – the first truly warm day of the year. Elrond was busy elsewhere, overseeing the preparations for their imminent return to Imladris. Thranduil stopped by a fallen tree, and spread his cloak across it, waiting until Celebrían turned towards him. “Lady Celebrían, may I speak with you?” he asked formally.
She looked at him, seeming a little surprised. “Of course.”
He waited until she sat, then joined her. For a moment he was silent, listening to the growing murmur of the trees as they slowly awoke from their winter dormancy. “I have been thinking about my son’s future,” he said at last. “That one day, he may be king. And about his future marriage. Above all else, I want him to be happy – I hope he can find the joy I had with Telparian; that I see between you and Elrond.”
She nodded. “Of course you do. I want the same for my own children. Yet it can be hard – they do not always make the choices we would wish for them. When I think of the maidens who flock adoringly around Elrohir – most are delightful, but some …” she shook her head sadly. “They seem such vapid, silly, empty-headed tattletongues! Yet he treats them all with the same gentle courtesy.”
“Exactly,” Thranduil agreed. “The young need guidance. And the maidens here – they are all far too aware of Legolas’s position. Some are daunted by it, while some are attracted by the thought of power. He finds it difficult to meet any who simply accept him.”
Celebrían regarded him curiously. “What of you, my lord Thranduil? What of Telparian?” She paused. “Does it pain you to speak of her?”
Thranduil smiled sadly. “Sometimes. I still speak of her, though. I would not have her forgotten.”
She nodded. “It is good to remember. So, did you meet and love her from the first, or did your respective parents plan for you to meet?”
He laughed. “Both! She arrived from Mithlond on the eve of the Last Alliance. Her father was a kinsman of Círdan’s. I glimpsed her across the room, and lost my heart. We danced, and talked, and walked in the forest beneath the stars. She wept, saying she could not love me – for she had been brought here to meet the prince, with a view to a possible alliance between Lasgalen and Mithlond. Neither of us had even realised I had not given her my name!”
Celebrían smiled. “She did not even know who you were? I have never heard that tale! So you approved of your parents’ choice?”
“Oh, yes. Although that did not stop me telling my mother that I would not see this maiden from Mithlond she wanted me to meet, for I already loved another.” He chuckled. “I did not see why her machinations should appear quite so successful. After her initial shock, she swallowed her disappointment, gave me her blessing and wished us both joy. Then I told her who it was I loved.”
Celebrían laughed. “Thranduil, you wretch! You deserved to have been disinherited!”
“Probably.” He sighed. “Lady Celebrían – there is a maiden of Imladris I know Legolas could love. She is courageous and beautiful; strong-willed. She is not awed by his title, but likes him for who he is. And he likes her.”
She nodded slowly. “You speak of Arwen.”
“Yes.” He glanced at her. “You do not seem surprised.”
“Elrond and I have already discussed this, after we noticed their growing fondness for one another. We would like to see closer ties than mere friendship between our lands. An alliance between Imladris and Lasgalen would strengthen both realms. This would have to be the decision of the younglings, but I would not object.” Celebrían smiled. “I am very fond of Legolas.”
Thranduil nodded in agreement, feeling the pang of sorrow that would never fade. “As I am fond of Arwen. If Lissuin had lived … perhaps, if things had been different, she would have grown to love and marry Elladan or Elrohir. Who can tell?” He paused, lost in thoughts of the daughter he had lost, and what may have been. “Who can tell?” he repeated softly.
“Do not be sad for what has gone,” she urged him. “Rejoice in what you have. And let us hope that one day, your son and my daughter will come to love one another as more than friends.”
They resumed their walk, speaking now of the impending journey back to Imladris; the twins’ coming of age day which would fall near the end of spring; and the forthcoming council to be held in Lórien that summer.
Suddenly, though, the peace of the morning was shattered by shouts and yells, cursing and the unmistakable sounds of fierce combat. It would have been rather alarming but for the fact that there was much laughter threaded through the commotion.
“Shall we investigate?” Thranduil enquired, as he turned towards the sounds.
“Should we?” Celebrían sounded doubtful. “If we do, we may have to prevent bloodshed. If we ignore it, they will eventually come to their senses. They usually do.”
There was a shriek from Arwen, and a gasping cry from one of the twins. “Stop it, El! Stop it! I yield!”
Celebrían sighed. “Come, then. I hoped they had outgrown this sort of behaviour!”
Ahead, they could see Legolas, Arwen and the twins. Elladan and Elrohir were engaged in some sort of tussle, while the other two looked on in amusement. Legolas balanced easily on his crutches, laughing at the scene before him. Elladan held his brother by the waist, and was tickling him mercilessly while Elrohir squirmed helplessly, too weak with laughter to break free. Suddenly a small, rounded stone by their feet was kicked towards a moss-covered boulder, hitting it sharply. Elladan finally released his brother, grinning in triumph. “My point!” he declared.
Elrohir straightened, flushed and dishevelled. He shot a venomous glare at his twin. “That was a low trick! It is foul play to use such tactics!”
Elladan grinned at him, clearly unrepentant. “I know your weakness, little brother. There is nothing in the rules about tickling.”
Elrohir scowled. “Only because there are no rules!” He smiled suddenly. “I will even the score, though! A rematch?”
At Thranduil’s side, Celebrían coughed pointedly. All four turned abruptly, sobering very slightly. Elladan regained his composure first. “Mother! King Thranduil! Forgive me – we did not notice you.”
“Obviously.” Celebrían gazed at her sons steadily, and Thranduil was astounded to see them both flush and lower their eyes. “Clearly I am mistaken,” she said at last. “I was under the impression that on your next begetting day you would come of age. Yet you are elflings still.”
Thranduil could see her trying hard not to smile, and controlled his own mirth. In truth, he was overjoyed to see Legolas so at ease, his eyes still brimming with laughter. The twins too, and Arwen, had been rather serious lately, all far too aware of the possible consequences of the rock fall. He waited, and after a moment Celebrían gave in. “I am delighted to see it. I feared you were becoming far too serious! You mentioned a rematch?”
“Aye, a rematch!” Elladan glanced quickly at Legolas and Arwen, and gestured them to join in. “Come! Two on two, this time. How shall we arrange the teams?”
“Legolas, be careful!” Thranduil warned automatically. “I do not think you should take part. Calmacil says he can remove the cast in a day or so. If you fell now …” he stopped, trying to quell his anxiety. He knew he had a tendency to fuss, especially after the accident.
“Father, you worry too much!” Legolas shook his head, sighing. “Do not fuss. I will be fine. Surely you do not expect me to turn down this challenge?” He turned to Elladan. “I accept. Arwen and I; against the two of you. Your target is the boulder, ours is …” he searched for a suitable marker. “That tree stump.”
The twins nodded, once more in total accord. Thranduil had observed before that their arguments and disagreements never lasted for long. “Agreed,” Elladan announced. “Fear not, little princeling – we will be gentle with you. And your father can judge that there is no foul play.” He gave a sidelong look at Elrohir, then drew him aside. “Come, little brother – we should discuss tactics.” He lowered his voice to a clearly audible whisper. “Do you think we should just take his crutches?”
Celebrían sighed. “Elflings!” she snorted in disgust.
Thranduil watched anxiously for a moment, resigned to the fact that he could do nothing about this. He just hoped that the twins would curb their enthusiasm a little, and would, indeed, be ‘gentle’.
He need not have worried. Elladan and Elrohir, while cheerfully pushing Arwen aside – and even each other, for all they were supposed to be on the same side – were careful not to jostle Legolas or knock him off balance. They dodged around him, using his slower speed to their advantage, and impeded his progress easily. Rules seemed to be few and far between, but fair – the twins led by only one point. In a final attempt to claim a conclusive victory, Elrohir seized Arwen from behind, pinning her against his body as she giggled and wriggled furiously, kicking back at her brother’s legs.
Celebrían sighed. “Where did she learn to fight like that?” she asked in despair.
“El! I have her. Now is your chance!” Elrohir shouted to his brother. “Quickly, while she cannot stop you!”
As Elladan darted past him, Legolas struck out with his crutch, catching Elladan on the shin and tripping him. He stumbled and fell to the ground with an oath, much to the amusement of both his brother and sister. While he was incapacitated, Legolas took his chance to hit the little stone sharply with the end of the crutch, knocking it into the tree stump. “My point!” he called in triumph. “A tie – three points to each of us. Do you all agree?”
“A tie!” Thranduil agreed hastily, before another round of further revenge could be declared. “I judge the game over. Well done to all of you.”
Celebrían helped Elladan to his feet. “You should be ashamed of yourself, Elladan! Such language!”
He looked a little sheepish. “Sorry, mother.” Then he gave a sudden smile. “But I learnt that word from you!”
To Thranduil’s immense surprise, while Arwen and Legolas stared at her in amazement and her sons laughed at some shared memory, Celebrían blushed scarlet. “So you did,” she admitted. “So you did.”
“What is this I hear about a game of sarndal?” Calmacil asked as he examined Legolas’s injured leg. “You should know better – if you had fallen, you could have undone all my hard work! Wriggle your toes.”
Legolas obeyed. “My father said the same thing – but I did not fall, and have done no damage! My leg is fine. It does not even ache now.” He sat in Calmacil’s room in the infirmary, his leg outstretched on a bench, hoping fervently that the heavy cast could finally be removed. “Well?” he demanded, as Calmacil finished his examination.
“Good.” Calmacil reached behind him for a knife with a very short, very sharp blade. “It seems to have healed well – I will remove the plaster, and we will see how things look underneath. Keep still,” he warned.
Legolas eyed the knife a little apprehensively. “I hope you will be careful with that – it looks extremely sharp!”
“I will be careful,” Calmacil told him serenely. “That is, if you do not distract me by chattering, elfling! Hush now.” He sliced slowly and painstakingly through the cast – two long, careful cuts on each side of the leg – and carefully wrenched the two halves of plaster apart.
Legolas stared at his leg in dismay. A long, jagged scar ran the length of his shin; red and angry looking. The bruising and swelling had faded, but now his leg appeared pale against the livid scar. “I thought it would have healed by now,” he admitted in disappointment. He had hoped – perhaps foolishly – that with the removal of the cast he would be instantly restored to full health and mobility, but it was clearly not to be.
“It is,” Calmacil assured him cheerfully. “It is healing well. The scar will fade in time, and in a few months you will not even have a limp to remind you of your escapade. Be patient, youngling.” He began to massage the leg, kneading the calf muscles carefully.
“A few months?” Legolas repeated in horror. “A few months? But – the Lórien council is in a few months! I have to be well enough to go!” He hissed slightly at the unexpected pain of Calmacil’s ministrations
Calmacil nodded absently, closing his eyes as he worked. The pain faded, and was replaced by a gentle warmth. “Mmm, well, I expect that by summer you will be fine. We shall see. But in the meantime, your leg will be weak – the muscles were damaged as well, and will probably not take your weight yet. I will show you some exercises to strengthen it, but you will still need to use a stick for a while.”
“A walking stick? Like the old women and greybeards I saw at Esgaroth?” Legolas took a deep breath and swallowed his disappointment. “Let me try without it first. Please.” He stood, a little unsteadily, and carefully transferred his weight to his injured leg. At least it no longer hurt. His balance wavered, and he hastily corrected it as his leg began to shake. “All right,” he said tersely. “All right. Perhaps I do need it for now – but just for a few days, though.” He took the stick Calmacil held, limped across the room to the door, then turned. “Just a few days.”
A few days later, Legolas finally threw the stick aside and walked across his room unaided. He still had a pronounced limp – he still could not yet place his full weight on his leg – but he could walk, without the aid of crutches or walking stick. And today – with the blissful prospect of a few uninterrupted hours ahead – he planned to discover for once and for all the truth of what, if anything, he had seen in the caves.
His father was embroiled in business with Lanatus and other councillors, while Elrond, Celebrían, the twins and Arwen were meeting with messengers from Imladris before their departure in two days time. It meant that he was free for the morning, without the well-meaning attentions of friends or family to distract or delay him.
Moving slowly along the halls, he passed through the kitchens and storerooms, absently greeting the staff he met on the way. At the far end of the storerooms, a dark archway led into the deeper tunnels. He hesitated for a long time, staring along the passageway. It was very dark, and the light from the dimly illuminated storeroom did not penetrate very far – after a few yards, all was pitch black. With a deep breath, he took a flickering torch from a sconce on the wall, and stepped into the tunnel. Then he stopped again, returned to the storeroom, and grabbed a handful of candles from a shelf, along with a tinderbox, thrusting them deep into a packet. After a moment’s hesitation, he took another tinderbox and added that. He remembered with a shiver the darkness of the tunnels and caves, and the utter blackness if a torch went out. He did not want to be caught in the caves without light.
Finally, telling himself that if he did not move soon he would take root, Legolas stepped into the tunnel.
Author’s Notes: ‘Sarndal’ is the elvish version of football. It’s compiled from the Sindarin words for small stone + foot.Stories > First > Previous > Next