Because of the meandering route of the river, and the path they followed, it was not until the end of the first day that the delegation crossed the Enchanted River, a long way upstream from the ill-fated rope swing. As this was a main path between Lasgalen and the Anduin, a bridge had been built across the river, and they crossed easily. Legolas glanced down into the dark waters as Dorlath’s hooves thudded over the bridge. He had never felt quite the same about the river since Elrohir’s accident, and had rarely been near it since then.
They camped that first night on the path. Legolas took the opportunity to search for strong, straight branches – as he had every time they had halted that day. He had been gazing hopefully at the trees as they rode, but realized that if he did manage to catch a spider - or maybe a squirrel? - he would need a cage for it. If necessary, he could make one from the branches he had collected, and in the meantime, everyone thought he was being helpful by gathering wood for their campfires. So far, he had been unsuccessful with either spider or squirrel; but there was always tomorrow.
Fires had been lit on the perimeter of their camp, and most of the party settled in the central area. Guards were posted, although the only dangers likely in the forest were spiders or wolves, and neither were likely to attack such a large group. However Aderthad, the warrior commander, was taking no chances, not when both the King and Prince were among their company. The night passed uneventfully, and Legolas, surprisingly tired after the early start and the dullness of the journey so far, slept deeply and dreamlessly.
The second day of the journey was equally uneventful and, if Legolas was honest, equally dull - and just as lacking in interesting wildlife. His excitement and anticipation had faded in the reality of a long, arduous trip. On the third day they reached the edges of the forest and began to strike southwest across the plains and water meadows towards the Anduin. This was new territory, unseen, exciting – but unsettling too. As they drew away from the Greenwood, Legolas turned for one last look. It was a strange feeling, to be leaving his home for the first time like this. While he had been to Esgaroth on occasion, that was very nearly on the eaves of the forest, and the trees were never truly out of sight. This would be very different. His father, he noticed, seemed equally melancholy.
“Father? Don’t be sad, it won’t be long before we come back,” Legolas reassured him.
Thranduil’s reflective mood was in fact for a very different reason. He was sharply reminded of the last time he had taken this journey, on the way to Lothlorien for the last Ten Year Council. Telparian had been at his side then, while Legolas, a very lively four-year-old, but far too young for the arduous travelling, had been left safely at home under the watchful eye of Mireth. The memory was bittersweet. It was painful to recall – it had been his last journey with his wife – but there had been such laughter and happiness on that journey, it brought a smile to his face.
“And don’t worry about things at home,” Legolas was saying. “Tionel is looking forward to being in charge at last, I heard him say so. And Mireth will help him.”
“Mireth?” Thranduil wondered what Mireth had to do with this. With Legolas away, she would probably have a little time to herself for once.
“They love each other.” Legolas sounded faintly disgusted. “I’ve seen the way they look at one another! I’m glad you made Tionel your steward, though, he’s much better than Lanatus was. He was always so miserable!”
“I think there is something I should tell you about Lanatus.” Thranduil said slowly. “Something to help you understand.”
“Understand? Understand what?”
“What rules have I made about the Enchanted River?” asked Thranduil inconsequentially.
“Rules?” Legolas sounded faintly puzzled. “None really. Just that we can never go there alone.”
“Why do you think that might be?”
Legolas thought for a moment, then shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s just a rule.” Another incomprehensible rule, he thought. Like ‘remember to say please and thank you’, like ‘don’t speak with your mouth full’, and ‘wash your hands when you come in from the stables!’
Thranduil expanded on his thoughts. “Well, what do you think would have happened to Elrohir if he had been on his own?”
Legolas considered the idea. “He might have drowned!” He looked up at his father. “I never thought about that,” he added solemnly.
Thranduil shook his head. “Not ‘might’. He would have drowned. It happened once before.”
“Somebody drowned in the river? Who? When?”
“It was a long time ago, before you were born, just after I came back from the war. There was an elfling, he was not allowed to go to the river at all, his father thought it was too dangerous. But being an elfling, he went anyway, of course. But he could not go with his friends, or in the day, because people would know. So he went at night, on his own. One night, something happened, and he fell in. And he drowned.”
Legolas stared at his father wordlessly. “Ada, that’s awful,” he whispered at last, unconsciously slipping back into the childish expression. “But why ... oh. His father was Lanatus, wasn’t he?”
Thranduil nodded sadly. “Yes. Do you understand now, why Lanatus is like he is?”
“Yes. Oh, how terrible for him!” Legolas was silent for a long time, thinking. “What was he like? His son?”
“He was called Lebethron. He was ten. He was a happy child, but very disobedient. He had promised not to go to the river, but he did.”
Legolas looked stricken. “Ada, I know I don’t always do what you tell me, but if I promise something, I do it! Or I don’t do it. Oh, you know what I mean!”
“Yes, I know. You would never break a promise, or tell lies. I know that. I trust you, little one. But Lebethron broke his promise. Apart from that, he was very like you. He looked a little like you, too.”
Legolas considered this information. “Is that why Lanatus doesn’t like me? Because I remind him?” He could be very perceptive at times.
Thranduil sighed. “Legolas, I sometimes think Lanatus does not like anyone anymore. But yes, you do remind him of Lebethron. Do you understand now, why he is like that?”
“Yes,” Legolas nodded. “No wonder he’s so sad. Oh, poor Lanatus!”
“So no more complaints about Lanatus. You know why, now.”
“No more complaints.” Legolas gave a slight smile. “But Father, I’m still glad Tionel is your steward!”
Desperate to escape the frantic, last minute preparations before the first of the guests arrived, Elrohir agreed to his mother’s suggestion that he keep an eye on Arwen. “And remember, she has her best dress on! Do stop her playing by the river, or visiting the stables!”
“Yes, Mother. I know!” *Or at least, I’ll try* he thought. Looking after Arwen was never an easy option. He managed to persuade his sister that picking flowers for the displays in the library or the feast hall would be helpful to their mother, and followed her down to the gardens. Before long he had an armful of tall flowers in a rainbow of colours; brilliant scarlet, deep blue, vivid purple, or glowing orange.
Exhausted, he collapsed onto the grass with a groan. “Arwen, isn’t this enough? I can’t carry any more!”
“Oh, El! Don’t be so silly! Why don’t you take those back to the house, and then come back here? I can pick some more!”
“Oh, no!” Elrohir protested vehemently. “I promised Mother that I’d look after you. I’m not leaving you here on your own! Do you remember what happened last time?”
Arwen scowled at him. “It was only a little mud! Why did everybody make such a fuss?”
“Come and sit down, Ar, please! We can take these back in a minute.”
Even seated, she was not still. The grass of Elrond’s private lawns was studded with daisies, and before long she had picked enough to make a long chain that trailed across both her lap and Elrohir’s. Carefully, she plaited it together, making a thick coronet with two long tassels.
“El, come here,” she commanded. Arwen had long ago adopted her brothers’ habit, and referred to them both as ‘El’. She, and they, always knew instantly which twin she meant. They in turn tended to call their sister ‘Ar’, much to Celebrían’s disappointment.
(“Listen to them!” she had cried in despair once to Elrond, when it had become clear that the habit was far too deeply entrenched to break. “We chose such beautiful names for our children. Now they sound like an alphabet!”)
“Ar, no! Not another daisy chain, please!”
“Sit still,” she instructed, not listening to Elrohir’s protests. Carefully she arranged the flowers on the top of his head, leaving the tassels hanging down at the back. Satisfied, she sat back, looking at him critically. The bright white and yellow of the daisies showed up vividly against his dark hair.
“There!” she declared, pleased with her handiwork. “You look like a prince!”
“Can we go back, now, Ar? I think we should put these in water.” Elrohir indicated the bouquet he carried. They made their way back to the house. Nearly halfway there, Elrohir could hear Elladan calling. “El! Ar! Come on, they’ll be here in a minute!”
They arrived back in the courtyard just as the sentries signalled that Thranduil and his escort were ten minutes away. Hastily thrusting the flowers into the arms of a servant, Elrohir brushed himself down, grabbed his cloak from Elladan and draped it across his shoulders, then turned to Arwen. He studied her carefully. No mudstains this time, and against the green of her gown, the grass marks hardly showed at all. He picked a leaf out of her hair, and dusted some moss off the seat of her dress. “You’ll do. For an orc, you look almost presentable!”
“For a pair of trolls, you two don’t look that bad either!” Arwen had always been quick to respond to her brothers’ jibes.
“Children, stop it!” murmured Celebrían automatically.
By the time Thranduil’s party arrived Elrond and his family all stood decorously on the steps of Imladris to greet them. Elrond was flanked by the twins, while Arwen stood next to Elrohir. He was giving his sister a whispered commentary on the identity of their guests as they rode through the archway.
Arwen glanced up at her tall brother, pleased to see that he still wore the crown of daisies she had made for him. Usually the twins ‘lost’ such adornments very quickly. How nice of Elrohir to wear it to greet their visitors!
On Elrond’s far side, between his parents, Elladan had also noticed the daisies. They were a little lop-sided now, and a long, loose strand trailed fetchingly just behind Elrohir’s left ear. He saw no reason to remind his twin about them though; no doubt Elrohir would realise soon enough. From the look of it, Legolas, who had just dismounted, had seen the daisy crown too, as he was trying very hard not to laugh.
As all the guests dismounted, Elrohir’s soft comments continued, some making Arwen giggle. “That’s Thranduil and Legolas, of course. Do you remember what we told you to say? And - oh no, I hoped Aderthad wouldn’t come, he’s really miserable. Do you see, the one with a face like a dead fish? I hope Lanatus isn’t here as well, now he’s really boring! That’s Alfiel over there, on the black horse, and I can see Tirana at the back, in green, do you see? She’s a healer, so I suppose she’s going to stay here. And - Arwen, look! At the back! That’s Taniquel!”
Arwen looked with interest. “Is she the lady who saved you?”
“Yes.” Elrohir sighed in delight. “Isn’t she beautiful?”
Elrond had been ignoring the whispered conversation beside him, but now the formalities were about to begin. “Elrohir! Arwen! Be quiet!” he whispered.
As Thranduil himself approached, Arwen curtsied nervously, a little wary of the fierce-sounding King. Her brothers had warned her of his short temper and insistence on protocol at all times, but she watched his son approach with interest. She had heard a great deal about the adventures he and her brothers had had in Lasgalen. Her parents exchanged formal greetings with Thranduil; and then his son, obviously drilled in exquisite manners, executed a perfect bow. “Lord Elrond, Lady Celebrian, I am honoured to meet you,” he said formally.
At last it was Arwen’s turn, and she also had been taught how to behave. She curtsied again, welcoming first the King, then his son. However as she straightened, Legolas caught her eye and winked. Startled, she stumbled over her words of greeting.
“Your majesty, you are most welcome to our house. Prince Leg’as - Legolas - I bid you welcome, your highness.”
She was furious at herself, and him, for the slip, but thankfully no-one seemed to notice.
When the formal greeting had been exchanged, Elrond’s family moved down off the steps to mingle with the new arrivals, and to welcome old friends.
Elrohir wandered, very casually, straight to where Taniquel stood. She was gazing in wonder at the valley and its buildings.
“Taniquel, it’s good to see you again. Elladan and I wondered if you would be here. Did you have a good journey?”
She nodded, smiling. “It was a long way, but we had no problems.” Her smile deepened. “I see you have a lady admirer. I like the flowers.”
Puzzled, Elrohir looked at her questioningly, then raised his hand as she indicated. *Oh no! Arwen’s daisy chain!* Caught up in the flurry of last-minute panic, it had completely slipped his mind.
Flushing a little, he explained with a weak grin: “My sister. I - I humour her sometimes.” He caught sight of Elladan, watching the exchange with a broad grin. “El, you could have warned me!” he hissed.
“Warned you, little brother? What about?” asked Elladan innocently. “Oh, you mean the flowers?” His gleeful expression changed to one of great concern as he turned so that Taniquel could see him. “What’s the matter, El? Are you forgetting things again?” he asked solicitously. To Taniquel, he added: “His memory’s never been the same since he fell in that stream, you know.”
“Shut up, Elladan!” whispered Elrohir furiously. “You know that’s not true!” He was scarlet with embarrassment now, and wondered desperately how he could redeem himself.
Taniquel could be very tactful. She glanced at Alfiel, nodded, then said: “If you will excuse me, please, I have to go. We have to get the horses settled. Perhaps I will see you later?”
Elrohir nodded, beyond speech for the moment. It was left to Elladan to say graciously, “Of course, Lady Taniquel. At the evening meal, tonight. We will look forward to your company.”
Elrohir controlled himself until Taniquel had moved out of sight, then glared at his brother. “Elladan, I’m going to kill you. And Arwen!”
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