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Interrupted Journeys: Part Three--Journeys Begin

Chapter 13: Aftermath

by ellisk

Now certain of where they could pick up the men’s trail, Thranduil’s search party rode at full gallop towards the ravine, their horses’ hooves kicking clumps of earth into the air as they negotiated the sharp turn off the Path onto the side trail without slowing. The lady’s horses, still grazing along the trail, bolted back amongst the trees in panic as the guards’ stallions pounded towards them. Seeing them, Conuiön held up his hand to rein in his own horse and the entire party’s largely ungoverned charge towards the ravine.

A quick signal sent Pendurion into the trees to search the western rim of the ravine while Galuauth circled around to the east. The rest of the party remained where they were.

Thranduil tensed and glared at his guard. From the corner of his eye, he saw Aradunnon mirror his actions. Both were accustomed to commanding the troops they accompanied so they naturally baulked when Conuiön automatically took charge of the search. Somewhere in the back of his mind, where reason warred for dominance over icy fear, Thranduil recognized that the captain of his personal guard did not fall under Aradunnon’s command nor even, strictly speaking, his own. Conuiön was trusted to make his own judgments to preserve the family’s safety and that was the authority he was exercising now. Thranduil understood Conuiön’s caution, but reason did not completely rule him at this moment.

“What are you doing, Conuiön?” he demanded, looking towards the ravine. “We need to get down there and find which direction the men have taken Lindomiel and Amoneth.”

Conuiön met his lord’s angry gaze calmly. “Yes, we do. But let us be smarter than Himion and Candirith and not rush straight into an indefensible position. Even orcs would be smart enough to use lady Lindomiel to bait a trap for you. I intend to do this as quickly as possible, but I insist we do it safely too,” he replied firmly.

Thranduil’s brows knit. “Fengel was not attacked removing Legolas and Galithil from that ravine,” he pointed out impatiently.

Conuiön nodded once. “That is lucky for lord Fengel’s guard. I am yours and I do not rely on luck. Pendurion and Galuauth are half way to the other side. Be patient for another few moments, my lord.”

Thranduil scowled but remained silent, watching the guards systematically search the rim of the ravine with mounting tension. Next to him, Aradunnon’s finger tapped rapidly on his thigh where it rested. Mouth a tight line, he also glared at the guards and Thranduil could almost feel him willing them to signal that all was clear.

When they did, Thranduil and Aradunnon stormed down the slope without the need for further encouragement. Conuiön dismounted and drew his sword. With a sigh and a grim glance at Aradunnon’s guard, Colloth, he followed, signaling Pendurion and Galuauth to remain in their vantage points in the trees above.

“I would say Himion and Lindomiel fell here,” Colloth said quietly to Conuiön, indicating an area where the grass was crushed.

Conuiön nodded. “And Candirith stood here,” he replied, pointing to an area where the ground was marked by the light prints of an elf.

“With lady Amoneth here,” Colloth added, prodding a smaller set of prints. “That is consistent with what Galithil described.”

They spent a moment studying the men’s tracks that deeply scarred the earth.

“From the looks of this, Candirith and Amoneth were doing a respectable job holding them off,” Conuiön said.

Colloth nodded and pointed to another area slightly east of where his captain still studied the ground. Conuiön joined him and frowned. A man’s boot prints, his feet planted widely, faced west. Between them were a series of smaller prints, also facing west, apparently struggling.

“Legolas said a man grabbed the queen from behind and she fought with him,” Conuiön said.

Colloth nodded and pointed to another indentation in the earth slightly in front of the prints. “She knelt here—either she fell to her knees or was forced to them.”

Conuiön nodded. “I would say she was made to kneel because I can see where lady Amoneth did the same over here. I imagine they surrendered or were subdued after Candirth fell, but there is no evidence that he did. On the contrary, his tracks lead away from the battle towards where his body is now. It appears he walked there. Calmly.”

“He might have surrendered if this man threatened the queen,” Colloth suggested, pointing to the tracks.

“Then why is he dead?” Conuiön asked. Then he tensed. “Unless they killed him after he surrendered.”

They exchanged a sickened glance and walked towards the bodies of their fallen comrades. Lifting the blankets that Fengel had laid over them, Conuiön and Colloth could see that was plainly the case. From a slight distance, listening to Conuiön and Colloth’s analysis of the fight, Thranduil and Aradunnon also stared at the body grimly.

“They went north,” Aradunnon declared after a moment, focusing on their immediate goal of finding their wives. He and Thranduil stood over a trail of crushed undergrowth that led out of the northern rise of the ravine and deep into the forest.

“It appears so,” Conuiön agreed, joining them and kneeling down to study the tracks.

Aradunnon let out a long, frustrated breath and stared at him. “A five-year-old could follow this trail, Conuiön,” he exclaimed.

Conuiön frowned but did not cease examining the tracks.

Colloth sighed quietly. “You are worried about lady Amoneth, Aradunnon. You are anxious to find her and you are making mistakes. These are men we are tracking. They are devious. It would make sense for them to split up and leave one obvious trail for us to follow while taking their prisoners away on another. We have to take a moment to analyze these tracks and you know that.” He paused and looked between Aradunnon and the king. “You also know that you need to rein in this impatience or you are going to be a threat to their safety once we find them.”

Aradunnon clenched his fists, closed his eyes and sighed. Then he sighed again and looked at Colloth. “You are correct. I did not even think of that and it is something a first year warrior should know.” He forced himself to relax marginally. “I will slow down and think. It is just very difficult to do so when I can feel how frightened Amoneth is.”

Thranduil nodded his agreement. “I admit that I honestly cannot tell if I am simply over-anxious because Lindomiel is involved, but I cannot escape the feeling that time truly is of the essence,” he said quietly.

Conuiön looked up at Thranduil and regarded him narrowly. Then he stood. “I learned the value of lord Thranduil’s instincts a very long time ago,” he said quietly. “There are seven sets of large, heavy boot prints here and two sets of small, light tracks. The children said a dozen men attacked them and there are five bodies in the ravine so that likely accounts for all of them if we trust a two-year-old’s account of the battle. Of course we have no choice in that matter.” He signaled Pendurion and Galuauth to him. “Galuauth, their tracks are clear enough that you can follow them from the trees. I want you to go ahead of us as swiftly as possible and signal us if you catch them. Pendurion, stay with us but stay in the trees and keep an eye open any signs of further enemies. We are staying on the ground and concentrating on this trail so we do not miss any signs that the men split up after they started out together.”

At his signal, Galuauth moved swiftly through the trees while Conuiön and Colloth moved along the crushed undergrowth, studying the their path carefully to ensure that there were no other trails more skillfully disguised leading in another direction. Thranduil and Aradunnon followed tensely, trying to take comfort in the fact that the trail indicated their wives were apparently in good enough condition to walk.

*~*~*

A rough hand clamped around her upper arm pulled Lindomiel through the low undergrowth. The delicate fabric at the hem of her gown was damp and shredded from constantly catching on the thin branches of the brush they trampled. She was breathing hard through the cloth the men had used to gag her and she heard Amoneth behind her panting heavily as well. The rapid pace the men had set north through the forest would not normally be difficult for elves, but both Lindomiel and Amoneth were injured and the men had done nothing to treat their wounds. Lindomiel’s back ached where the arrow that killed Himion had stabbed into her. She could not tell if the wound still bled, but pain shot through her left side from her hip to just under her shoulder blade with each step. She knew that without the hand on her arm holding her up, she would fall to the ground from dizziness and exhaustion.

Lindomiel was not certain if it was the injury, hunger and thirst or the way her mind raced that caused her to feel so faint. She had seen very little violence in her life, having been sheltered very carefully first by her father and then her husband. The horrors of this day had been nearly overwhelming.

Nearly overwhelming, but not entirely so. Lindomiel was thoroughly ill-equipped for this situation but she had faith that others were better prepared. She knew Thranduil’s warriors would easily and swiftly track their march through the undergrowth once they discovered she and Amoneth were missing. She also knew those warriors would follow her to the ends of Arda to recover her from her captors’ hands. But most importantly, Lindomiel still strongly felt her bond to her son. There was no doubt in her mind that he was alive and that knowledge alone gave her the strength to endure anything she had to in order to survive and return to him.

But just as their bond told her Legolas was alive, she could also feel that he was terrified. She was terrified for him. He had witnessed the attack against his mother and aunt and had been forced to flee with only his cousin to accompany him. Her heart broke at the idea of Legolas and Galithil alone and frightened in the forest. Besides their emotional distress, there were many dangers in the forest that children so young were completely incapable of recognizing, much less surviving. And worse still would be Legolas’s fate if these men should kill her and leave him motherless.

Lindomiel knew she should try to focus and be alert for opportunities to escape but every time she tried, thoughts of Legolas or the battle dashed through her mind and the pain from her wound spiked through her side leaving her breathless.

She was certain that they had marched several hours through the silent forest when the sound of a bird’s song floated through the trees to her left. Lindomiel frowned and wondered how such normal, beautiful things could continue in the world. When the call was answered by another to the south, she stiffened slightly.

The forest was quiet, in reaction to the men’s presence. Those were not birds, she realized.

As surreptitiously as she could, leaving her head bowed, she raised her eyes and scanned the trees. Her heart began to pound when she saw movement—someone pacing them to their west. Hardly able to believe her eyes, she looked again, to confirm what she had seen and she stumbled. She was prevented from falling only by the man’s harsh grip on her arm. He swore.

“This ain’t worth it,” he exclaimed irritably, releasing Lindomiel’s arm and letting her collapse to the ground.

The man holding Amoneth propelled her forward and shoved her to the ground next to Lindomiel. “I agree. They’re slowing us down. I say we kill them. We get the same payment for their heads and their heads are easier to carry and faster to get out of this cursed forest.”

The first man nodded and drew his sword.

Before he could raise it, the leader of the group stepped forward and grabbed the man’s wrist. “We get the same payment from our employer whether we deliver them dead or alive, but if we can keep them alive we are free to get further profits from them. I think that Elf King will pay a high price for his wife and if he don’t want to pay, then I’m sure we can find someone to buy her.” He laughed. “I might keep her myself. She’s got looks.”

One of the other men shook his head. “I hear elves don’t last long like that,” he said skeptically. “And we don’t get paid nothing if we get killed in this forest. I think we should kill ‘em and get out of here.”

“We dragged them this far. We’re keeping them. Now get them up and quit wasting time if you’re so worried about getting out of the forest. We ain’t far from our horses,” said the leader.

The man that had been dragging Lindomiel pointed his sword at her. “She ain’t going to last long with that wound anyway. You can’t sell her like that; she ain’t worth nothing. Not even her husband’s going to buy her back like that. Why would he?”

The leader hesitated over that argument.

“Sure money is better than death. Let’s not be greedy like Khimad,” the man with the sword warned, referring to the ill-fated leader of the men that followed Lindomiel out of Dale. “He should have just killed her rather than trying to catch her. Look where that got him.”

The Mannish leader stared at Lindomiel and Amoneth a long moment. “Fine. Kill her,” he said, pointing to Lindomiel. “But we’re keeping the other one. Ain’t nothing wrong with her. If she don’t move faster, we can make her want to.”

The leader stepped past his captives, already moving forward while one man reached to pull Amoneth to her feet and the man with the sword raised it over Lindomiel.

*~*~*

Thranduil, Aradunnon and the guards took to the trees when they heard Galuauth’s signal. As they raced forward, the men came into view. Thranduil was pleasantly surprised to see they were stopped and distracted by some sort of argument. That would make surrounding them easier. From the trees, six elves would be able to put arrows through seven men before they even realized they were under attack.

Conuiön signaled Colloth, Aradunnon and Pendurion to approach the men from their eastern flank while he and Thranduil moved to join Galuauth on their western flank. Just as the two groups split to take up their positions, Galuauth sounded another signal—one meant to signal imminent danger. The approaching elves looked sharply at him, perched above the men in a tree, and saw him nock his bow. Thranduil heard Conuiön draw a breath to signal Galuauth to wait until everyone was in position. Then he silenced himself. At the same moment Thranduil saw why Galuauth had drawn his bow. One of the men was poised, sword raised, over Lindomiel. Thranduil froze, suddenly unable to breath.

Galuauth loosed his arrow. It flew silently into the man’s throat. He convulsed, drew a gurgling breath and collapsed, partially falling on Lindomiel.

The other men spun around and gaped at him. Then they burst into action.

Before they could organize themselves, Galuauth loosed another arrow and struck the man leading Amoneth away from Lindomiel. That man also fell. Three of the remaining men quickly strung their bows, crouched and loosed a volley of arrows into the tree, forcing Galuauth to take cover behind the trunk of the tree.

The other two men went for their captives.

One stood directly between Lindomiel and Thranduil and drew his sword. The other grabbed Amoneth by the arm and spun her around, wielding a knife in his free hand. Thranduil looked at the man standing over Lindomiel and the positions of the elves in the trees. He could not shoot the man threatening his wife for fear that his arrow, at this close range, would penetrate the man’s body and strike Lindomiel as well. The others were in no better position, save Galuauth, who was still pinned down and busy maneuvering to a better location in the trees.

Thranduil drew his sword and leapt from the tree to the ground, charging the man and cursing as he ran to draw his attention. Thranduil heard Conuiön utter a similar curse, though likely for a different reason, as he jumped from the tree to follow him. The man spun in time to deflect Thranduil’s initial thrust, but in doing so, lost his balance. Thranduil cut the man from his hip to the bottom of his sternum. He fell to his knees next to Lindomiel clutching his gut.

Thranduil turned and stood next to Conuiön, between Lindomiel and the main group of men. He saw the man that had drawn a knife on Amoneth was doubled over in pain, holding his arm against his body, an arrow stuck through his wrist and his knife on the ground. Colloth was bringing his sword down across his neck as Aradunnon shouldered his bow and leapt from the trees to join the fray.

Conuiön and Pendurion both brought down two of the men that had been firing arrows into the trees as they followed the king and prince into the battle. The last man broke and ran. Before any of the elves could give chase, Galuauth, still in the trees, sent an arrow into his thigh. The man stumbled forward from the impact, falling to his hands and knees and struggling to stand. Galuauth loosed another arrow into his other leg. The man fell, writhing on the ground. Galuauth nocked a third arrow and drew but he did not loose the arrow. Instead he looked at Conuiön.

Conuiön held up his hand. “I would very much like a prisoner, my lord,” he growled, turning to Thranduil.

Thranduil’s expression was fell. “So would I,” he said coldly.

Galuauth lowered his bow and Pendurion ran over to secure their prisoner while Thranduil and Aradunnon turned to their wives.

Thranduil drew a sharp breath as he took in the sight of Lindomiel, half-lying, half-sitting in a heap amongst the ferns where she had fallen. Her dress was torn and bloodied and she was staring in horror at the men that had been struck down near her. He stepped over them, drawing her attention.

“You are safe, meleth. It is over,” he whispered as he knelt next to her and pulled her into his arms. His body tensed involuntarily as he reached to pull the gag from her mouth. He glanced at Conuiön. His guard was dispatching the men that were mortally wounded but not yet dead. For a moment, Thranduil considered ordering him to stop. He would enjoy seeing the men that had done this to his wife suffer a little longer. Instead, he drew a deep breath and focused on her.

“Thranduil…” she whispered as he pulled the gag down.

“Shhh, be still Lindomiel,” he replied, cutting the cloth that bound her hands.

Her arms flew around him and she buried her face against his neck. “What are you doing here, Thranduil?” she asked, voice rough. Her throat was dry.

Thranduil held out his hand and Galuauth swiftly placed a water skin in it. “Do you honestly believe I would leave finding you and Legolas to someone else?” he replied as he held the water skin for her to drink.

Her eyes widened with fright. “Where is Legolas? Have you found him?” she gasped out.

“He and Galithil are on their way back to the stronghold with your adar. I imagine they are already there,” he replied soothingly.

Lindomiel closed her eyes and collapsed against him, drawing in a few heaving breaths. Then she frowned and tensed once again. Wincing, she twisted to look around her. “Amoneth?” she called, eyes darting to where Aradunnon, like Thranduil, was kneeling on the ground.

“Lindomiel are you alright?” Amoneth asked, lifting her head to peer over Aradunnon’s shoulder as he held her.

“Yes,” Lindomiel answered, her voice flooded with relief. “You?”

“I am not badly injured,” she replied, “but you are hurt, Lindomiel.” She looked between Thranduil and Aradunnon. “The arrow that killed Himion struck her as well. The men did nothing to staunch the bleeding or clean it. The reason we stopped was because she collapsed,” she reported with frightened voice.

“It is not that bad, Thranduil,” Lindomiel contested tiredly, but she did relax into her husband’s arms. “I will be fine now that I know Legolas is safe.”

Thranduil nodded, stroking his hand down her hair. “Of course you will, meleth,” he whispered, signaling Galuauth, who stood over them, to examine her wound. “Be still while Galuauth has a look at your injury and then we will go back to the stronghold where Nestoreth can treat it properly.”

Lindomiel only nodded against Thranduil’s chest.

*~*~*

Returning to the stronghold, Lindomiel and Amoneth rode with their husbands despite Conuiön’s protests that such an arrangement made them one easy target for any men that might remain in the forest. Fortunately, they encountered no further dangers on their return trip. His arm securely around her waist, her hair blown against his cheek by the wind, Thranduil tried to draw comfort from the feel of his wife’s body against his as they rode. But he could not ignore the pain the motion of the horse clearly caused her or the trembling that she tried to hide from him.

He felt no better. Since Aradunnon stormed into the Great Hall earlier that morning, Thranduil’s heart had refused to beat normally, pounding too fast and too irregularly instead. A sick, tight feeling was settled in the pit of his stomach and his neck and shoulders ached from tension. These were familiar feelings. He first experienced them staring down at his cousin Ninglor’s body in Menegroth and he had felt them many times since. Thankfully, this time they were not accompanied by the overwhelming sense of emptiness caused by the loss of someone he loved. Throughout the ride home, Thranduil found himself unable to resist placing soft kisses on Lindomiel’s cheek or neck or shoulders just to remind himself she was still there.

When they finally arrived in their chambers and Nestoreth stepped forward to examine Lindomiel’s wound, Thranduil collapsed into a chair and watched as if from a distance as the healers did their job. Now that Lindomiel and Amoneth were safe…now that Amglaur confirmed Legolas and Galithil had reached the stronghold and were asleep in the nursery…now that he was certain his family remained intact…now that he had no emergency to focus him, Thranduil felt the emotions that had raged within him all day waning and leaving him exhausted.

“This wound is superficial,” Nestoreth confirmed calmly. “The arrow struck no organs. It tore muscle and I have no doubt it is painful,” she added in response to Lindomiel’s incredulous and irate snort. “But the only danger it presents is that the queen has lost a good deal of blood. That is something we can manage now that we can treat her.”

The room was a flurry of activity as Nestoreth treated Lindomiel’s wound, the apprentice healers dressed Amoneth’s less serious cuts and the family fussed over them both. Amidst the chaos, Thranduil drew a deep calming breath and silently watched his wife.

They had not been home long when a small noise drew Thranduil’s attention to the door leading into the nursery. Turning, he saw Legolas and Galithil peeking through the cracked door into the busy room with wide, frightened eyes. Thranduil felt his heart contract as he realized they were likely feeling exactly the same sick feeling that he was at this moment.

He stood and strode quickly to the door. Picking the children up, he carried them into the nursery.

“Why is Nestoreth here, ada? Is nana hurt?” Legolas whispered as Thranduil sat in a cushioned chair by the fireplace and settled the children on his lap, holding one in each arm. They looked up at him tearfully and grasped at his tunic.

“A little, Legolas, but Nestoreth is going to take care of her just as she cares for you when you hurt yourself playing. Then nana will be fine just as you always are,” he assured his son, placing a kiss on his forehead. Then he caressed Galithil’s cheek. “And your nana has a few bruises and cuts that look a little frightening but nothing more. She will also be perfectly fine once Nestoreth puts some bandages on them.”

“Can we go see nana and Aunt Lindomiel?” Galithil asked softly, looking at the door. Both the children had strained to peer over his shoulder as he carried them back into the nursery and were plainly anxious to see their mothers for themselves.

Thranduil nodded. “We will let Nestoreth finish her work but very soon I am certain your naneths will be demanding to see you both. They are very worried about you.”

“We are worried about them,” Legolas said and Galithil nodded.

Thranduil pulled them closer and rubbed their backs. “There is nothing to worry about. Everyone is home and safe,” he assured them in a soothing voice. The tension in his own shoulders eased as the children snuggled against his tunic.

But they were far from finished asking anxious questions.

Legolas seized one of his father’s braids and began to slowly twist it around his finger.
“Did you see those men, ada?” he asked with a timid voice, so different from his typical lively curiosity that it made Thranduil frown.

“Yes, I did, ion nin. They are no longer in the forest. They will never bother you or your naneths again,” he answered firmly.

Galithil sat up straight to look at Thranduil with a puckered brow. “But if they came into the forest once, they could come again,” he whispered.

Legolas also raised his head and looked at his father intently, waiting for his response to that suggestion.

Thranduil tightened his arms around the children again. “If I promise you that those men will never come into the forest, will you believe me?” he asked, looking at them solemnly.

Legolas and Galithil nodded automatically. “Promises can never be broken,” Galithil said earnestly. “But how can you promise that? How can you make them not come back?”

Thranduil stroked a hand down Galithil’s hair. “Promises can never be broken, Galithil. You are absolutely correct about that. And I promise you that those men will never hurt you again. You must simply trust that.”

Galithil sighed but nodded slowly. Then he looked back at Thranduil anxiously. “What about other men? Might other men who do not know that you promised that come?”

Thranduil tried not to sigh. “Your adar commands many warriors, Galithil,” he said gently. “It is their duty to make sure that dangerous creatures, like these men, do not come into the forest. They do their best at that task, and it is very rare that they fail, but sometimes they do, as we saw today. You are correct that I cannot promise nothing will ever threaten you again.” He paused and looked at them firmly. “But I can promise you this: every adult in this family will always try their best to protect you and your cousins from anything that might cause you harm. Just as we did today. You must trust that we will do that.”

“We trust you, ada,” Legolas replied sincerely “But we do not want you to be hurt either.”

Thranduil smiled. “In the same way that we take care of you, we take care of each other, Legolas. We are all safe. I know that is difficult to believe after a day like today, but try not to worry about these things. It is your parent’s duty to do that. Your only concern is to learn things like what color dye we make from woad. All right?”

Legolas and Galithil looked at Thranduil skeptically but nodded.

Almost immediately, Legolas frowned again. “But why did those men want to hurt nana and Aunt Amoneth and Himion?” He stopped at that name and looked about. “Where are Himion and Candirith? Did you find them too, ada?”

“We did find Himion and Candirith,” Thranduil said quietly. The children looked at him expectantly when he did not continue and he sighed. This was not a topic he had ever expected to explain to two-year-old elflings. “We have told you stories about Aman, where the Valar live. Do you remember those stories?” he began.

Two little heads bobbed.

“And we have told you that some elves live in Aman with the Valar and that we can go live in Aman also, if we choose. Do you remember that?”

The children nodded again.

“Well, Aman is a place of great beauty and comfort since the Valar live there. Sometimes if an elf is hurt, they decide to go to Aman to be healed by the Valar. In fact there is a particular Vala that is responsible for healing the fëar of elves that go to Aman seeking his aid—Námo heals us in his halls, which are called Mandos. Himion and Candirith fought very hard against the men today. They were injured and they went to Mandos for healing.”

Legolas and Galithil blinked and looked at each other. “When will they come back?” Legolas asked in a small voice.

“They will not come back, Legolas. Some elves choose to leave Mandos when they are healed and some do not. I cannot say what Himion and Candirith will choose but even if they leave Mandos, most elves stay in Aman once they go there,” he answered gently. “Aman is a joyous place. It is the home that the Valar made for their Firstborn Children. We do not need to worry about our friends that go to Mandos. We will miss Himion and Candirith but we mourn our own loss—the absence of our friends and the fact that they were injured—not their journey to Mandos. Finding healing in Mandos is the gift the Valar gave to the Elves.”

The children were quiet for several moments absorbing that story and clearly saddened to hear that the guards would not come back.

Then Galithil looked back at Thranduil. “What about the men, uncle? Why did they hurt nana and Aunt Lindomiel and Himion and Candirith?”

Thranduil drew a deep breath. “That is a very difficult question, Galithil. I am not really certain that I understand why some people are willing to hurt other people.” He sighed. “Let me try to explain it this way. Sometimes when you are playing with your cousins, you all want the same toy. How do you handle that?”

“We share,” both children answered readily.

Thranduil nodded. “But you had to learn to share. Berior, for example, is very young. He does not always remember to share. What do you do then?”

They scowled. “We are patient because if we are not we get in trouble because we are older and should know better,” Galithil responded irritably, clearly repeating a phrase he had heard numerous times from his father.

Legolas giggled softly at his cousin’s tone. “Or we can offer to trade him another toy for the one we want. Sometimes that works.”

Thranduil smiled at them. “And the reason you must be patient or try to trade is because, if you fought with Berior over the toy, one of you might get hurt, correct?”

They nodded.

“Well, adults have to share too. We share very valuable things, like products in this forest. This forest belongs to the Elves but there are many animals and plants in it that Men need. Men like lord Fengel’s people trade with us to get what they need. But some men, like the ones that attacked you today, do not want to trade. They just want to take and they are willing to hurt people to obtain what they want.”

“But why would they do that, ada?” Legolas asked. “Why does someone not teach them to share?”

Thranduil drew a hand softly down the length of Legolas’s hair. “Some people simply do not want to learn that lesson, Legolas. I agree that it is hard to understand why they behave that way.”

“How do you know which people will behave like that, uncle?” Galithil asked, looking at Legolas sidelong.

Legolas glanced at his cousin and nodded. “After the men tried to grab us today, when we saw lord Fengel, we were afraid of him. We did not know if we should come out of the cave.”

Thranduil regarded the children sadly. “You did the right thing to trust him, though I understand why you might have been afraid to,” he said gently. “Tell me, what made you decide to come out of the cave?”

“We came out because lord Fengel is your friend,” Galithil said.

Legolas nodded. “He was very nice to us during the feast on the lawn and taught us that song,” Legolas added.

Thranduil nodded. “Then I am very proud of you. You made a very good judgment. That is one way we know if we can trust people—through our previous experiences with them. I have known lord Fengel for many years and I knew his father and his father’s father. Since I have known them for a very long time, I feel confident that he will treat me properly. Because I trust him completely, I introduced him to you when he asked to meet you. I will never allow anyone near you unless I fully trust them, so if I have introduced you to someone, you can be certain you are safe with them.” He paused. “But judging whether people are trustworthy or not is something we only learn to do with experience. Until you are older and have more knowledge of the world, you must rely on your family to help you learn to make these types of judgments.”

Legolas and Galithil sighed and looked away at that answer.

Thranduil stroked their hair. “I know that is not a very satisfactory answer,” he said. “The problem is that you have seen something today that you are simply too young to understand. I remember very well how frustrating it is to be young but sometimes the only thing we can do to understand something is to wait until we are older. As you grow, you experience many things that help you understand the world around you better.”

“I do not want to experience anything like today again,” Galithil said resolutely.

“I do not want you to either and I promised you that the adults in this family will do everything we can to prevent that,” Thranduil responded softly.

“But it was so scary,” Legolas whispered, his hand tightening around Thranduil’s braid. “The men running down towards us and Himion and nana hurt and everyone fighting.” He looked at his father with tear-filled eyes. “It was horrible ada and it still is.”

Thranduil’s brow furrowed and he looked at Legolas and Galithil sadly. “I know, ion nin. You saw a terrible thing today and it is normal to feel frightened and worried about your nana and your aunt and your guards. I was worried too…”

The children’s eyes widened. “You were?” Galithil asked.

“Of course I was,” Thranduil replied softly. “I was worried that you were frightened and I was worried about finding you and your naneths as quickly as possible. And I am still worried because you are upset and I cannot make your fears go away immediately, as I would like to do. But I can promise you that they will go away soon.”

“Are you certain, ada?” Legolas asked.

“Yes,” Thranduil replied confidently. “I am certain. After a few days, when you see your naneths are fine and you are fine, you will begin to feel better. And the best way to make that happen is to focus on more pleasant experiences. For example, did you and daernana plant the woad?”

Legolas and Galithil’s perked up a bit at that topic and they nodded.

“Daernana said the woad would still make seeds even though some of the stems were broken. We planted it and gave it some water and it did look better after that. And she promised we could help gather the seeds this Fall and help plant them in the Spring,” Legolas replied with a weak smile.

“And after we planted it, daernana gave us some of the pastries from the kitchen—the ones with the nuts in them—because we found such an important plant,” Galithil added.

Thranduil smiled indulgently, fairly certain that the woad had little to do with that treat. “Those are your favorites, I think,” he said

The children nodded again, still grinning at the memory of the treats. Thranduil pulled them against him again, kissed their heads and rubbed their backs. He was at once amazed by how difficult that conversation had been but how much better he felt after simply holding them. As they buried their faces against his tunic, enjoying the security of Thranduil’s embrace, he looked towards the bedroom door, intending to try to determine if all was well inside. Instead he saw his mother, brother and father-in-law smiling at him.

Before Thranduil could say anything, Aradunnon cleared his throat, drawing the elflings’ attention.

“There are two nanas in here that are absolutely desperate to see their children. I wonder where those elflings could be hiding now,” he said pretending to look around the nursery.

Legolas and Galithil leapt from Thranduil’s lap. “We are right here, ada,” Galithil said, laughing, as both children ran towards him, anxious see their mothers.

With a wink to his brother, Aradunnon stood aside to let them precede him into the bedroom and run to their mothers. Instead of following, Dieneryn and Amglaur walked over to Thranduil.

“That was quite possibly the most difficult conversation I have ever had in my life,” he said tiredly as they approached. In the background, he heard his son and nephew’s delighted squeals and their naneths’ laughter.

“You handled it well, ion nin,” Dieneryn said, kissing her son on his forehead.

Thranduil smirked at her.

“Indeed you did,” Amglaur added, placing a hand on Thranduil’s shoulder. “We have seen to the children and their naneths. What about their adars? How are you, Thranduil?” he asked gently.

Thranduil tried, and utterly failed in his exhaustion, to hide his astonishment at Amglaur’s tone. “I am ready to collapse,” he replied honestly.

“I do not doubt it,” Amglaur responded calmly. “We will give the children a few moments and then Dieneryn, Limmiel and I will chase everyone to their own rooms. You and Lindomiel need some rest and so do Aradunnon and Amoneth. It is none of my affair, but may I suggest that you instruct Hallion that you will not be available tomorrow?”

Thranduil stared at Amglaur a moment and then nodded. “That is undeniably good advice. I will.” His hand tightened around the arm of his chair and he looked at his father-in-law coldly. “Besides, as you may have noticed, we have a prisoner. I am very much looking forward to speaking with him tomorrow. Would you care to join me?”

Amglaur nodded. “Absolutely,” he said with the same expression.

Dieneryn shook her head. “Enough of that. You do not need to worry about the Easterling tonight. I am going to start clearing the room.” She fixed her son with a stern glare that made him sit up straighter automatically. “You come with me. You need some rest and Lindomiel needs you near. Come,” she ordered, turning to go back in the bedroom.

Thranduil looked after his mother with amused, wide eyes before he stood with a laugh and made to follow her. Amglaur caught him by the arm. “Be careful of the tea. Nestoreth has mixed a sleeping draught in it,” he said quietly.

Thranduil smiled at him. “Thank you for the warning,” he replied, a touch of amusement in his voice. He began to walk away but Amglaur did not release his arm.

“Thank you for finding my daughter,” he said evenly.

Thranduil looked away and closed his eyes. “If we had arrived a second later, you would not be saying that to me. I would be returning with her body,” he whispered. Of everything that had happened this day, that was what had frightened Thranduil the most—the success of their search had hinged on arriving at precisely the right moment to avert disaster.

Amglaur stiffened and his eyes widened. Then he forced himself to look at his son-in-law calmly. “I would still be thanking you, Thranduil. For loving my daughter, making her happy and doing everything in your power to keep her safe. That is all I can ask of you in this world; all I could do for her myself. And that is all you can ask of yourself,” he said gently.

Thranduil stared at Amglaur for a long moment and then loosed a long breath. “Right now I am I having a difficult time believing that I have done everything I should have done…”

Amglaur waved his hand to silence him. “For now, go hold your wife and son and focus on what is important. When you can think more rationally, you will be comforted by the fact that you do provide the best defense you can for your family and this forest, just as you told Legolas.”

Thranduil studied his father-in-law a moment. “Thank you, Amglaur,” he finally said quietly and they moved to return to the bedroom.

Both Thranduil and Amglaur smiled warmly at the sight that greeted them there. Lindomiel lay on the bed, propped up by pillows with Legolas snuggled in her arms. Dieneryn had just finished driving the rest of the family and the healers from the room. Thranduil strode silently to his bed and sat on its edge, listening as Dieneryn, Amglaur and Limmiel said their goodnights to Lindomiel and Legolas. When they were finally alone, he stretched out on the bed along side his wife and carefully drew her close. Legolas was still snuggled against her side, already nearly asleep. Lindomiel pillowed her head on Thranduil’s shoulder, softly stroking Legolas’s hair.

“How do you feel, meleth?” Thranduil whispered, concern evident in his voice.

She smiled at him tiredly. “Now that I am home, with you and Legolas, and I know Amoneth is safe, I feel better,” she said softly. Then her expression grew more serious. “Will you go speak to Candirith and Himion’s families tomorrow?”

Thranduil looked down. “Yes. Conuiön spoke to them tonight but I will also. Likely tomorrow.”

Lindomiel nodded. “I would like to go with you,” she said.

Thranduil looked back at her sharply. “Lindomiel, that is going to be a very difficult visit,” he began.

Lindomiel raised her eyebrows. “I think I gathered that already. They gave their lives protecting me, Thranduil. The least I can do is speak to their wives and children about their bravery.”

Thranduil sighed. “As you wish, meleth,” he replied quietly.

Lindomiel focused on Legolas, who was now fast asleep with a little frown on his face. “My poor baby,” she whispered, her voice heavy with emotion. “I cannot bear to think of how terrifying this was for him.”

Thranduil reached to smooth his hand across his son’s cheek. “He was frightened when Fengel brought him to me,” he admitted softly. “He was mostly worried about you. Now that he has seen you are safe, his world will quickly return to normal.”

“I sincerely doubt that, Thranduil,” Lindomiel contested sadly. “He saw Himion die today and he saw me kill a man.”

Thranduil let out a long breath. “He and Galithil asked me about Himion and Candirith. I told them that their guards have gone to Mandos for healing and that they will not see them again…that it is normal to miss them but that we should not worry about them. They seemed to understand that as well as they could.” He paused. “They also asked me why the men wanted to hurt you. I could not really give them an explanation for that. More then anything else, they need reassurance that they are safe. We will keep them close to the stronghold and close to us until they have recovered from this. ”

Lindomiel closed her eyes. “It never occurred to me that it would not be safe to take them with me to that ravine,” she said sadly. “I have taken them there before. I have gone there thousands of times myself.”

Thranduil frowned. “I have no idea how those men got so deep into the forest, meleth, but I intend to find out,” he began.

She lifted her head from his shoulder to look at him. “This is not your fault, Thranduil,” she said firmly. “I am not blaming you, I am blaming myself. I should not have taken them so far.” She drew a shuddering breath. “I should have been able to do something to defend myself and them. Amoneth took Himion’s sword and she fought with it very respectably with it.” Tears filled her eyes. “If the man had not caught me, Candirith might be alive now. He surrendered because one of the men held a knife to my throat. When Candirith laid down his weapons, they killed him, Thranduil.”

Thranduil inhaled sharply. “Candirith’s death is not your fault, Lindomiel. The men are responsible for it…” he began, but Lindomiel ignored him and continued speaking.

“After they killed him, they argued about whether to take us prisoner or kill us too—in their own language, but the meaning was clear enough. When they stopped arguing, one of them came towards us with his knife drawn and I was certain that he was going to kill us. Amoneth is the closest thing I have to a sister, Thranduil, and I was sure I had caused her death.” She drew a deep breath. “But he only used his knife to cut strips from our gowns to bind us. Then one of the men went searching for Legolas and Galithil and we were forced to sit and watch that helplessly. What if they had found them?” She paused to calm her breathing as Legolas yawned and put his thumb in his mouth. She returned to stroking his hair and when she was certain he was asleep, she looked at Thranduil with determination. “I will not be in that position again. I want to learn to use a sword.”

Thranduil blinked and his jaw dropped. “You want to learn to use a sword,” he repeated incredulously.

Lindomiel nodded. “Amoneth can. Or least she can wield a sword far better than I could. I want to be able to protect myself and my son, Thranduil.”

He looked at her sadly, running a finger across her cheek. “As much as I like to pretend it might not happen, I know my son and my nephews will one day become warriors. I had to accept that before I could agree to conceive him because I know it is unavoidable. But watching you learn to use weapons is something that I had hoped I would never see. I hope with time you will believe that you were not responsible for endangering Legolas or the guards.” He shook his head when she pressed her lips together angrily. “That is not a denial, Lindomiel. You know I have never denied you anything that you have asked of me. I would certainly not refuse you something that would make you feel safer. I only wish that I could shield you from this fate.”

Lindomiel frowned. “Learning to use weapons to defend oneself does not equate to surrendering oneself to the Shadow, Thranduil,” she said softly. ‘On the contrary, it means I will be better prepared to resist the Shadow. I have never been particularly interested in learning to use a sword in the past, so I have never questioned your resistance to the idea that I might learn—though I know Conuiön has suggested it to you several times. Will you explain to me why you are so opposed to me doing this?”

He shook his head. “I am not, meleth. I will speak to Langon tomorrow. As soon as you are healed, if you still wish to do this, I will have Langon give you the same training he is giving the warriors.”

“But the idea obviously saddens you. Why?” she asked.

Thranduil sighed. “I understand the necessity of training warriors to defend this forest, Lindomiel. That should be obvious—I maintain a standing army almost half the size of the entire force my adar assembled to take to Mordor. What I oppose is seeing any elf forget the beauty of the forest to become nothing more than a hardened warrior focused on destroying the Shadow. That is not the fate my adar promised the Silvan when he became their king and it is not what I want for my family.”

Lindomiel raised her eyebrows. “Surely you do not believe that I will ask to join the Southern border patrol?” she asked with a mocking tinge to her voice.

“No, meleth. But I do mourn the scars—emotional and physical—that this day has left you with and I would do anything to undo them. And I do fear that my son and Galithil will follow Dolgailon’s footsteps and become exactly what he is—a captain in the patrols who I must force to do anything but be a warrior. I fear they will follow me—I was forty when I first wielded a weapon and I did not put it down again for nearly a millennium. Despite the fact that we are surrounded by the Shadow, I am determined that Legolas’s life will not be consumed by it. I accept that he will be a warrior. Indeed, I expect that, for he may one day lead this realm’s warriors as their king. But, he will know more than strategy and tactics. He will be able to rejoice in all the beauty of the forest as well. And Lindomiel, of the two of us, you are far better equipped to help him do that than I. You are one of the few things in this forest that is untouched by the Shadow.”

She sighed. “I do not feel ‘untouched by Shadow’ at this moment, Thranduil,” she whispered. “But I agree with everything you have said. We have to help Legolas find a balance in his life between the duties that he will bear and the joy he deserves. We will. I promise you that.” She drew his attention with a finger under his chin. “I know everything you saw in Menegroth and Sirion. After today, I have the smallest understanding of it, whereas before I knew I did not. But despite that Thranduil, or possibly because of it, you have just as much to teach our son about the beauty in this world as I do. You often tell me that I have brought light to your life—you bring an equal light to mine. And to Legolas’s.”

Thranduil laughed lightly at that and leaned forward to kiss her cheek. She smiled as he pulled away and looked down at Legolas sleeping between them with his thumb in his mouth. Her smile deepened. “We are so lucky, Thranduil. He is such a blessing.”

Thranduil nodded. “You both are,” he said, kissing her again, this time lightly on the lips. “You need some rest, meleth. Do you think you can sleep or do you want this vile tea that I promised Nestoreth you would drink?”

Lindomiel raised one eyebrow. “You promised her I would drink it and you are offering me a choice?”

He smiled back at her. “Specifically, I promised her that I would see to it that you rested. It is her fault for not noticing the difference.”

Lindomiel loosed a weak laugh. “Then I would prefer not to drink it. I do not want to sleep so soundly that I will not awaken if Legolas has a nightmare. I cannot believe that he will not.”

“I will see to Legolas’s nightmares tonight, meleth, and yours, if necessary. You truly need to rest,” he said, running his hand very softly over the bandage on her back.

“I will be fine, Thranduil,” she whispered as she drew the blankets over herself and Legolas, who slept tucked in the crook of her arm.

*~*~*

Late the next afternoon, Thranduil strode into his office with Aradunnon and Conuiön to find Hallion sitting at a table in the room working through the day’s reports. Hallion stood as the king entered and his eyebrows rose subtly in response to his somber expression.

“I assume you spoke with your prisoner, my lord,” he said quietly as Thranduil seated himself at the table.

The king merely nodded and gestured for the others to sit. “Clear this, Hallion,” he said waving his hand at the papers strewn across the table. “We have other matters to discuss.”

Hallion’s eyebrows climbed a little higher and he began to gather up the papers. “He actually told you something useful then?” he asked idly. “I admit I am surprised by that. I assumed he would refuse to speak to you.”

Hallion frowned when Thranduil remained grimly silent.

“I think we all know that Thranduil can be quite persuasive,” Aradunnon responded quietly when no one else spoke. “The Easterling was very eager to speak with us after he was properly impressed with how angry Thranduil is over this incident.”

Hallion blinked at that and looked back at Thranduil intending to ask what that statement meant. When his eyes met Thranduil’s, he thought better of his question.
Instead, he quickly finished organizing the papers and waited for Thranduil to speak.

“The man told us that an elf woman met several times with his captain over the last few years,” the king began in a quiet, overly-calm voice. “Three years ago she paid him in jewels to capture or kill Lindomiel on her trip to Dale. This month she traded information about lord Fengel’s the travel plans for this most recent attempt on Lindomiel.”

Hallion’s jaw had dropped nearly the moment Thranduil began to speak. “An elf woman?” he repeated incredulously when Thranduil paused.

The king nodded and Hallion’s eyes shifted to Aradunnon as he took up the narrative. “The Easterling was able to tell me the patrol routes and schedules followed by the Northern Patrol and the Path Guard every bit as thoroughly as the captains of those patrols would be able to describe their duties,” he said.

Hallion’s eyes widened. Suddenly the reason for the king’s grave demeanor was perfectly clear. “How do you intend to act on this information, my lord?” he asked quietly.

Thranduil shook his head. “The man did not give a good description of the elf his captain met with. He said she looked like an elf,” he replied dryly. “He did indicate she came from a village in the east near the mountains—at least they normally met her that far south. We need to determine who this elf woman is and where she is getting such detailed information about our patrols. And we need to find a way to restrict access to that information without crippling the patrols until we can determine who our traitors are.”

Hallion frowned. “That will not be easy to do, my lord. All the warriors know the movements of their own patrol and those of neighboring patrols. Any one of them might have discussed this information with their wives or children, who mentioned it to a friend who might be our traitor. For that matter, the villagers that live in the patrol areas know the movements of the patrols around them. I do not see how we can hide this information—the purpose of the patrols is to be a presence in the villages to protect them.”

Thranduil nodded. “Gathering information about the patrols would be fairly easy for any one that can move freely in the forest,” he agreed. “But not many knew of lord Fengel’s travel plans. And the Easterling said they knew Lindomiel and some of the other ladies normally take the children into the western forest the morning until lunch.”

Hallion scowled. “The queen’s movements are also really something anyone in the capital might know. The ellyth that live in the capital often join Lindomiel in whatever task she is about—they gather plants for dyes at the same time the palace does. Lord Fengel’s travel plans, on the other hand, provide us the best opportunity to narrow down who provided this information to the Easterlings. There were not many who knew he intended to travel through the forest to lord Forthwini’s lands. I suggest we start there.”

“I agree,” Thranduil replied. “Make a list of everyone—guards, household staff, our own family, lord Fengel’s guards—who knew he intended to travel west. I want to speak with those people to find out who they may have told about lord Fengel’s plans. I also want to speak with the guards that are watching Dolwon and Dannenion to find out if they have had any visitors recently.” He turned to Aradunnon. “While we are investigating this, I want all patrol routes and schedules randomized to the fullest extent you can do so without compromising security and impress on the officers that information they put in their reports is not suitable to be discussed elsewhere.”

“Dollion, Morilion and I already spoke about those issues this morning,” Aradunnon confirmed. “I have sent a messenger to Geledhel in the Western Patrol. Medlion, from the Northern Patrol is going to meet with me this afternoon. I will discuss this with him then.”

Thranduil raised an eyebrow. “I would like to speak to Medlion myself,” he said softly.

Aradunnon tried to conceal a grimace. “As you wish, my lord,” he replied with a neutral voice.

Thranduil smirked. “I will not bite poor Medlion, I only want to speak to him. Half of his patrol is in the south, where I sent it. This situation is of my making and I know Medlion is doing the best he can,” he said. Then he paused and looked at his brother apologetically. “I am sorry, Aradunnon, but as soon as Amoneth and Galithil are fully recovered, I want you to go to the southeast border. Leave Dolgailon in command of the warriors. I want you to investigate the identity of this elf woman, any connection she might have to Dolwon and Dannenion and any other allies she might have in the south and here. You have a good many friends in the south—find out if any of them have seen anything that might be connected to this.”

Aradunnon nodded. “It has been a good while since I went that far east. I agree it is time for a visit.”

Thranduil nodded grimly.

*~*~*

Meleth nin—My love
Naneth/nana—Mother/mum
Adar/ada—Father/dad
Daernaneth/daeradar—Grandmother/grandfather
Ion nin—My son

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Chapter name
Aftermath
Created
05 May 2005
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05 May 2005
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