“Are you coming with us?”
Elladan grinned at Legolas, shaking his head. “What, and spoil the romantic setting? A picnic beside the pool? No, thank you.”
“Besides,” Elrohir continued, “We have already planned to ride out with Alfiel to the Morn Nen. But we may come past later, to see if you are behaving!”
Arwen cuffed both of her brothers as she passed them. “Well, if you expect us to feed you, you are sadly mistaken! And Elrohir, please try not to fall in the river again – Elladan, look after him!”
The five set off, Alfiel and the twins heading west towards the Morn Nen, while Legolas and Arwen rode north. They reached their destination, a remote, quiet glade after an hour or two’s ride through the golden woodland, the grass and fallen leaves spangled with sun-specks like glittering water. Legolas had named the place ‘Beech Valley’ as an elfling – it had always been one of his favourite spots in the entire forest. A deep pool was backed by a high cliff, and a waterfall tumbled down over rocks to fill the pool before meandering through the valley to join the Forest River. It was tranquil, lovely, and the perfect way to spend a lazy day in summer.
They left the horses free to graze, spread a soft blanket over the grass, and unpacked the baskets, setting one of the wine skins in the pool to keep cool. Then, too impatient to wait any longer, Legolas stripped off his tunic and leggings and dived off the rocks at the base of the waterfall into the pool. Surfacing, he blinked water out of his eyes and turned to laugh at Arwen. “Come, slowpoke! I thought you wanted to swim?”
She waded into the water, splashed him, then swam to his side. “Legolas? Are you still wearing your breeches? There is no need to spare my blushes – I have two brothers, or had you forgotten?”
“I have not forgotten,” he replied peaceably. “It is habit, nothing more. A cautionary tale my father once told me.”
He did not elaborate, but found there was no need. Arwen laughed suddenly, her eyes dancing. “Ah, the King’s clothes. My father told us the tale.” She looked a little hurt. “Do you not trust me?”
Legolas shook his head. “No. Not you, nor your brothers. The fact that they are not here is irrelevant.” They swam for some time, luxuriating in the cool silky water, before emerging to lay on the blankets, allowing the sun to dry them. Finally turning to the picnic, Legolas put one of the skins of wine aside. “I suppose we should save your brothers a little, should they deign to join us. But if they do not hurry, there will be no food left!”
“They will not starve. And it was their decision to ride with Alfiel to the Morn Nen instead of coming with us.”
They ate hungrily, until there was little more than a few crumbs remaining. Relaxed by the swim, their picnic, the wine and the peaceful beauty of the place, they lay in the sun, talking idly, until Legolas broached a subject that had been preying on his mind.
“Has your father said anything else to you about our betrothal?” he asked.
Arwen nodded ruefully. “Several times. He and Mother seem very keen.”
“Well, you can understand it from their point of view,” Legolas pointed out. “It makes perfect sense.”
“Oh, yes. After all, I already have Sindar, Noldor, Númenorean and Maiar blood. My brothers and I are mongrels, really. A little Silvan added to the mix can only add to the elvish influence.”
“It would, if I had any. My mother was one of the Falathrim, Círdan’s niece. Teleri, not Silvan.” Legolas lay back on the soft grass, closing his eyes against the bright sunlight. Idly, he wondered if the machinations of their parents would ever bear fruit. He was very fond of Arwen, it was true, but somehow doubted that their companionable friendship would ever develop into a deeper love. Not the sort of love that his father had described; the sort that he could still see between Elrond and Celebrían. And that was what he wanted for himself. He would not find it with Arwen.
Lulled by daydreams, he nearly missed the first prickle of unease that tugged at his awareness. He sat up, gazing around the clearing, tying to sense what it was that had alarmed him, and found one hand edging automatically for his knife.
Beside him, Arwen sat up as well, following his gaze. “Legolas? What is it?” she questioned.
He raised one finger to his lips. “I am not sure – something feels wrong,” he said softly. Cautiously he let go of his knife, and instead reached for the bow and quiver that lay at his side and stood, holding bow and arrow loosely, listening intently. The trees – the trees were warning him. Turning away from the pool, he scanned the beeches warily. Then he tensed. “Arwen, get behind me!” he commanded. As he spoke, he stepped forward and in front of her, setting the arrow to the bow string.
“Stop being ridiculous!” she snapped, and moved to his side, facing slightly away from him so that they could cover a wider area. “What are we looking for? I cannot hear anything.”
He pointed to the tree canopy. “Spiders. There, do you see? They rarely come this close, this part of the forest is normally clear.”
“Yes, I see! Blessed Elbereth, is that its leg? Legolas, they are huge!”
He took his eyes off the advancing spiders for a split second to turn and smile at her. “Did you ever wonder why they are called giant spiders? Your brothers were desperate to see one when we were younger, but I was quite sure they never really believed me!” Turning back to the trees, he loosed an arrow, bringing the nearest spider spinning off its branch. “One!”
“I think they will be envious even now,” Arwen responded. “Two!” She placed her own arrow centrally between the eyes of another spider on her left.
Legolas pulled two arrows from his quiver, setting both of them to his bow at once, and bringing down a pair of spiders swinging towards them. “Four! They will be sorry to have missed this. I told them they should join us!”
“Show-off!” she muttered. There were no immediate signs of more spiders, so they paused, watching the trees very carefully, then slowly lowered their weapons. The thud of hooves sounded, and two horses galloped into the clearing.
Elladan and Elrohir stopped, staring in disbelief. “We heard fighting,” Elladan exclaimed.
“Are you both all right?” Elrohir asked at the same time. He looked in the direction the other two were still facing. “Spiders? You were fighting spiders?” As Arwen had predicted, he sounded a little envious.
Legolas turned to the newcomers. “Just a few, but you are too late as usual! You missed all the fun - Arwen and I have dealt with all of them.” Then he flinched as an arrow zipped past his ear, and he heard the unmistakeable ‘splat’ of a falling spider.
“Five,” said Arwen with satisfaction.
“Nice shooting, Ar,” Elladan praised her. “But are there none left for us?” he asked plaintively.
Turning away from the twins, Legolas surveyed the forest again. “I think not,” he admitted cautiously. “But we should make certain.”
Together, they advanced towards the trees. Legolas could hear Elrohir at his side, muttering under his breath in a grumbling monotone. “All those years hunting spiders. All those nights searching for them, and we found nothing. Nothing. And they go for a picnic, and find five of the creatures. And Arwen kills one before we do!” He sounded disgusted.
They searched the wood, alert for any further signs, but could find nothing, just a single web that Elladan cut down with one sweep of his sword. There was nothing else. Finally they returned to the grassy bank, where Legolas examined the black corpses with distaste. “These are just young ones, seeking to establish their own colony. I doubt we will find more. But we must return, I should report this.” He looked at Arwen apologetically, then the twins. “I am sorry to curtail our picnic. And I promise you, we will go spider hunting one day!”
Elrohir laughed, his normal good humour reasserting itself. “Oh, we will! But this will be a tale to tell our children one day – the picnic that turned into a spider hunt!”