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Interrupted Journeys: Part Four--Journeys of Discovery

Chapter 16: Loyalties--Part Two

by ellisk

Chapter 16: Loyalties--Part Two

Legolas emerged slowly from the trees that lined the green, kicking a small stone in front of him as he walked. It skittered to a stop nestled in the long, spring grass. Legolas looked at it idly for a few moments. He had stormed off to the green because that was where Berior had suggested he go. He had no idea what he intended to do there.

He kicked the stone again, sending it another few feet in front of him and he followed after it. He was not at all surprised that Galithil was angry with him. He was not even surprised that Dolgailon had already confronted Galithil about using Maidhien’s bow—indeed he had expected Hallion to speak to Dolgailon quickly and he knew Dolgailon would react equally as swiftly. But Legolas was surprised by Berior and Brethil. He knew they would not approve of him telling, as he knew Eirienil would, but he never imagined that they would refuse to play with him because of it. A sick, sort of twisty feeling wormed about inside him making him very uncomfortable. He kicked the stone again, harder than he should have, sending it half away across the green.

Legolas scowled at it as it bounced to a stop. Raising his gaze from it, he looked about the green, casting about in his mind for something to do to distract himself. On one side of the green, a group of ellyth sat on the grass mending a fishing net in the shade of a tree, laughing and enjoying the beautiful spring weather. Some of the older youths that were in the training program huddled together talking animatedly near the gates to the public garden. And several couples sat in various secluded places, holding hands and whispering together.

Legolas sighed. No one for him to play with there.

The sound of barking drifted to him from the barnyard and Legolas’s expression brightened slightly. “I will go train the puppies,” he said to himself, taking a few purposeful strides toward the yard. Then thoughts of the day before when his father had given him that responsibility to match Galithil’s task of cleaning the training weapons floated through his head and he slowed to a stop, looking at the stone fence around the yard. “I do not feel very much like being ‘responsible’ anymore today,” he muttered to himself.

But still, there was nothing else to do on the green, alone.

“I can just play with them,” he said, resuming his march towards the barn.

As Legolas walked through the gates of the barnyard a tangle of puppy legs and feet and ears rushed towards him, yipping excitedly. When they reached him, they jumped on him or up to nip at his fingers and the hem of his tunic. Legolas fell to his knees with a relieved smile, catching ‘his’ puppy in his arms and snuggling it against his face while petting the others with his free hand. In a moment, he was lying on his back, puppies standing on his chest and all around him, licking his face madly.

“I wondered who from your family was in the yard,” Tulus said from the door of the barn, smiling at Legolas. “They only get that excited for you or your lord father.”

Legolas rolled over on his side to fend off the puppies and grinned at Tulus, pleased to find someone who would be nice to him.

“Hello Tulus,” he said, waving to him until a puppy pounced on his hand.

Tulus strolled over to him and sat on the ground. “Hello, Legolas,” he replied, “Where are your cousins?” he asked, looking through the gate, obviously expecting to see them.

Legolas sat up as well and all the anger and hurt he had felt since his confrontation with Galithil bubbled up. “I do not know,” he said bitterly. “Berior told me he would not play with me because…” Legolas stumbled to a stop, suddenly realizing why Tulus would be no safe refuge either. He bit his lip and looked at Tulus with wide, guilty eyes.

Tulus blinked. “Because why, pen neth?” he asked with an encouraging tone of voice.

Legolas grimaced. “I do not think I can tell you. If I do, you will only be angry with me too.”

“Legolas, I cannot imagine anything you could tell me that would make me angry with you,” Tulus said with a smile. “I am not in the habit of being cross with children. Surely you know that.”

Legolas looked at him sidelong and nodded. “But this time you will be.”

Tulus frowned. “I will not pressure you to tell me anything you do not want to tell, but if it will help you to tell me, I promise you I will not get angry.” He paused and looked at Legolas closely. “And if you still do not want to tell me, maybe I could walk with you to find your naneth. We could bring the puppy with us,” he suggested, looking at how Legolas still clutched the little black dog.

Legolas shook his head. “Puppies are not allow in the stronghold and you should not promise you will not get angry without any idea what I did. You will be angry.”

Tulus smiled at him calmly. “I still promise I will not, Legolas.”

“Even if I did something to Glílavan?” Legolas asked. “I know my adar is always very angry with anyone who hurts me.”

Tulus raised his eyebrows. “What could you have possibly done to hurt Glílavan, Legolas?” Then his eyes widened despite his efforts to control his emotions. “Were you and your cousins playing with something dangerous and Glílavan was injured?” he asked as calmly as he could.

Legolas shook his head. “No, Tulus. If I had injured Glílavan, I would have told you that and apologized,” he said solemnly.

Tulus loosed a quiet little breath. “What did happen then? I promise I will not be angry with you.”

Legolas studied Tulus for a moment and then spoke in a rush. “Glílavan and Galithil were shooting Maidhien’s bow yesterday and I saw them and Galithil is not allowed to play with bows so I told on them because I thought he was wrong to break his promise not to use her bow and not even be a little ashamed he had, so Galithil is in trouble and Glílavan is too because he should not let children on the range or let Galithil shoot when he knows he is not allowed,” he said in one breath and then watched Tulus for his reaction.

Tulus nodded matter-of-factly. “I imagine Glílavan is in trouble. You are quite correct that he should know not to play with children and weapons. He deserves what ever happens to him for doing that.” Tulus paused and smiled sadly at Legolas’s openly relieved expression. “Is your cousin very angry at you for telling on him?”

Legolas nodded and pressed his face against the puppy’s neck. Now that he had finally spoken about all that had happened, he felt a rush of emotions that he was not sure he wanted Tulus to see.

Tulus patted his shoulder. “I understand. Recently a group of friends and I did something very stupid. I was confronted about it and I decided, in order to not make matters even worse, I had to confess what we had done. My friends and I got in a great deal of serious trouble and they were very angry with me. I comforted myself with the knowledge that if I had not confessed, much worse things would certainly have happened, but it was very difficult for me for a while. Even Glílavan was angry at me.”

Legolas looked back at Tulus, debating whether to ask to hear the whole story. “Are your friends still angry with you now?” he finally decided was the most important question in his mind.

Tulus shook his head. “No. We are friends again. All things pass in time, Legolas. But life is much easier in the long run if we make the right decisions, even if they are very hard to make, in the short run.” He squeezed Legolas’s shoulder. “You did the right thing. It is just a little hard for you to see that now.”

Legolas looked across the green and saw Galithil walking towards the river with Maidhien. He looked quickly away and nodded. “I think I did, but I do not like fighting with my cousins just the same,” he said softly, snuggling the puppy.

*~*~*

Galithil followed along behind Maidhien at a slow pace, dragging the toes of his shoes in the dust as he went. Every few steps, she paused and looked back at him, waiting for him to catch up. Galithil sighed. Eirienil or Aewen would have caught on by now that he really did not want company. Indeed, they would have long since berated him for his rudeness and flounced away. Maidhien was apparently made of sterner stuff—or maybe she just did not catch on as quickly. Galithil did not yet know her well enough to determine which was the case, but he did not care. He just wanted to spend a few fun hours before he had to face his father. And entertaining ellyth was not high on his list of enjoyable activities.

She had led him to the river. Apparently the cave she wanted to show him was in the side of one of the hills surrounding the stronghold. Those hills were riddled with caves, Galithil knew. When they got to the rocks that children often used to sneak across the river, Galithil hurried his step to take Maidhien’s hand and help her across as he and his cousins always did with Eirienil and Aewen. Before he could reach her, Maidhien gathered up her skirt and leapt solidly onto the first rock. When she landed, she turned, grinned at him and motioned for him to follow.

Galithil could not help but grin back as he jumped to that same rock after she moved to the next. Maidhien, he was constantly reminded, was very different from his cousins. For one thing, they would never have suggested going to poke around in a cave, especially one in the forbidden hills that housed the stronghold.

Once on the other side of the river, Maidhien glanced at the guards by the Great Gates—they did not appear to be looking up-river—and then, hunched over, she quickly scampered into the low brush that covered the slope leading up from the river. Galithil did the same and his heart began to beat a little faster as he ducked out of the guards’ view. Begrudgingly he admitted to himself that Maidhien’s plan might not be so bad.

She led him on a path that seemed to circle right around to the northern side of the stronghold, cutting between or underneath bushes and small trees. It was not even defined enough to be a trail used by wildlife.

“How did you find this path?” Galithil called.

“I did not find it,” she said, pushing past some branches. “I made it. I am the only one that comes back here as far as I know,” she said.

Galithil believed that.

Just when he thought they might begin coming around the other side of the mountain, Maidhien stopped and slipped through a narrow gap between two dense, thorny bushes. Galithil watched her disappear and frowned when her hand reappeared, waving him through.

He did not want to admit that an elleth was willing to go where he was not, but she was considerably smaller than he, and he was certain to earn himself a good many scrapes squeezing through that thicket.

“Come on,” she called. “This is the cave.”

Galithil made a face but inspected the branches for two relatively thorn-free handholds. Pushing the branches apart, he slipped into the cave.

When he first entered, he remained in a crouching position, expecting the cave to have a low ceiling like all the others he and his cousins had found and inspected. As his eyes adjusted to the dark—barely any light penetrated the thicket of branches growing over the cave entrance—he realized there was no need to stoop. Indeed, Maidhien was standing on her tip-toes, reaching for something on a ledge well above her head. Galithil stood and looked around with wide eyes. The cave was huge. A full-grown elf could easily walk in it. In fact, Galithil guessed that five or six elves could walk abreast through it.

He was squinting, trying to see how deep it was when a sharp noise and sudden spark of light flashed from where Maidhien was standing. Within seconds, the cave was illuminated by a little, broken, but still functional , lamp that Maidhien was holding in her hand. With the other hand, she replaced the flint she had retrieved from the ledge.

Galithil blinked. “How often do you come here?” he asked. Along one wall of the cave were two unevenly sized, half rotten boards propped up on two rocks. They served as a table for several pieces of cracked pottery. Galithil also saw a ragged old doll sitting at the ‘table.’

“Often,” Maidhien replied, turning to smile at him. “My brother cannot find me when I am here.”

Galithil nodded. “I bet not,” he murmured, stepping further into the cave and beginning to inspect its walls. It was uniformly tall and wide all the way to its back, which was a good fifty paces from its entrance. “My room is not much bigger than this cave,” Galithil said quietly. “You could live in here.”

Maidhien regarded him with a raised eyebrow. “I do not think I would like to live here,” she responded as Galithil ran his hands along the wall opposite the table. “But it is a very good hiding place.”

Galithil nodded. And given how big it was, it promised to be a great place to explore. His gaze drifted to the doll and pottery—fun to explore assuming Maidhien did not expect him to play ‘tea party’ with her. He scowled. That was not going to happen. He had never stooped that low with his female cousins and he had no intention of starting now with Maidhien, no matter how much he appreciated her showing him this cave. He looked back at her to find her studying his expression.

“Most of the time when I come here, I want to be left alone. You probably want to be alone to think about how you want to deal with your adar,” she said, holding the lamp out to him.

He frowned, feeling a little guilty for his uncharitable thoughts about the doll and shook his head. “It is your cave,” he said with a smile—a sincere one, because he truly was impressed by her hiding place. “I appreciate you showing it to me. I certainly am not going to ask you to leave your own secret place.” He paused and looked at her seriously. “And I promise not to show it to anyone.”

Her face lit with a pleased smile. “Thank you, but I knew you would not.” She seized his arm and pulled him a few steps into the cave. “There are some little holes in the floor. If you crawl down this one,” she said, pointing to the ground, “it opens into a little room large enough for me to turn around in and in the back of that little room is another passage that leads back up through a second hole all the way in the back of the cave.” She looked at him appraisingly. “You could fit through there too. Try it!”

Galithil looked at the opening in the floor that Maidhien stood next to and his jaw fell open. “You climbed down there? Without knowing what was there? When you were here alone?”

She shrugged. “I lowered the lamp in and looked around first,” she said.

Galithil broke into a wide grin as he knelt on the floor and stuck his head in the hole. “If I ever have a sister, I hope she is just like you,” he said as his shoulders disappeared.

Maidhien giggled and held the lamp lower to light the little passage way. Galithil wiggled through the hole and pulled himself along on his stomach through a tight passage lined with soft, sandy soil. After he had gone several feet, it occurred to him that if he went much further, he would have no light to see by. He hesitated and squirmed around a bit, trying to determine if he could turn enough to reach the lamp if he called for Maidhien to lower it. Glancing behind him, his eyes widened when he saw the lamp on the floor of the passage just behind his feet. Maidhien was behind it, twisted at an odd angle from the descent through the hole into the passage. The hem of her skirt was up around her knees as she wriggled through.

“Move along,” she called.

Galithil stared at her a moment. If they reached a part of this little passage that he could not fit through, having her right behind him would make backing out all that much more difficult. The thought made him tense. He felt a bit trapped.

“Move!” she demanded, bringing her knees up to her chest and sliding a bit further into the passage—that position was less of a contortion than her previous one.

Galithil grimaced slightly, faced in front of him and crawled along on his elbows.

After slithering along for what must have been the equivalent of nearly ten lengths of his body, listening to Maidhien scuffle along behind him, the cave opened up. Before him was indeed a little room the size of the ones he and his cousins normally found in the sides of the hills around the stronghold. He twisted around to sit up in the opening, dangling his feet over the edge and looking into the little room for a moment before hopping down into it. Maidhien quickly followed and he turned to grin at her. He and his cousins often found holes in the floor in the caves where they played, but they almost never explored them. Eirienil normally threw a fit when he proposed such ‘insanity,’ Berior and Brethil were too afraid to go into them and Legolas often heeded Eirienil’s warnings. Galithil was more than just a little surprised to be having such an adventure with Maidhien and he intended to thank her. But when he looked at her, looking up at him with expectant excitement in her eyes, his hand flew to his mouth and a laugh nearly escaped his lips before he stifled it and tried to look at her sympathetically.

“It looks like you may have ruined the front of your dress,” he said, trying not to laugh at her.

Indeed, she was covered in the fine dust from the cave—it was ground deeply into the length of the front of her gown and her sleeves from the crawl to this room. Her face was heavily smudged with dirt too. She glanced down and swatted half-heartedly at her skirt.

“It is not so bad. I can shake it out a bit before dinner and nana will get it clean when she washes it. I have done much worse than this before. Dusty is better than muddy.”

Galithil stared at her a moment longer and then gave in to his laughter. Shaking his head, he began to explore the room.

It was small, like one of the storerooms in the lower levels of the stronghold, but not nearly so neatly hewn out of the rock. The floor was littered with limestone rocks. Looking up, Galithil saw they had fallen from the ceiling, either in one large chunk that had shattered when it fell or piece by piece. The layer of rock that formed the ceiling had large cracks in it as well. Some of the fallen stones were large, and Galithil scampered over them, quickly exploring the small space and finally coming to the back of the room, where there was indeed another little hole. It looked almost too small for Galithil to squeeze through. Maidhien followed him with the lamp.

“The passage out this way is steep,” she said, holding the lamp at its opening as he peered up into it. “You have got to pull yourself out into the main cave because there are not many footholds at the top. I was not sure I could do it the first time I tried, but I managed it.”

Galithil’s eyes lit with excitement. Past the opening, this passage was wider, but as Maidhien had said, it climbed nearly straight up. Galithil had not been aware of descending so much when crawling through the longer passage, but apparently they were indeed quite a bit deeper than the main cave. The light of Maidhien’s lamp did not reach to show the opening of this passage. A grin split Galithil’s face.

“This cave is incredible,” he exclaimed as he pulled himself into the exit passage, using one of the larger fallen rocks as a stepping stone. Once inside, climbing out was a lot like climbing a tree, Galithil thought—or what climbing up through the inside of a tree would be like. His back was pressed against the side of the cave as he reached for handholds and footholds that were strong enough to hold his weight while not shaking too many little rocks loose on Maidhien below him. She held the wire handle of the little lamp in her teeth so she had both hands free to climb. Thankfully, after climbing only a little more than the length of his body up, the light of her lamp revealed the end of the passage. Climbing a tree that short would not have been strenuous at all, but climbing that distance while confined as he was seemed quite a bit more difficult. When his fingers scrabbled for a hold on the edge of the opening into the main cave and he struggled to pull himself out, Galithil’s arms were shaking. Once he was sitting safely on the floor of the main cave, trying not to pant too obviously, Maidhien tipped the lamp over the edge next to him and grunted. Galithil heard little stones falling to the bottom of the passage as she fumbled for a foothold close enough to the top to allow her to reach the opening. Galithil grabbed her wrist and pulled her up.

“I could have done it,” she said, flopping down next to him on the cave floor. “I did it before, by myself.”

Galithil nodded. “I know. But it is polite to help,” he said dismissively, sensitive of her pride as he would have been for Legolas or Berior. Realizing that, he laughed. This was an elleth! She was filthy and had done something Eirienil would have declared completely mad and flatly refused to do. Even Legolas might have said exploring that little cave was mad.

Galithil wanted to go back to the other end and do it again!

He looked at Maidhien to suggest they should and saw her hands were shaking with exertion from the difficult climb out. So instead of speaking, he picked up the lamp and stood, looking around.

“So what is back here?” he asked, holding the lamp high to cast light over the back wall of the cave. It seemed unnaturally smooth compared to the rest of the cave. He ran his free hand over it.

Maidhien shrugged in response to his question and stood herself, shaking her skirts out before answering. “The only hole back here is really too small to climb into,” Maidhien’s voice echoed when she finally spoke. “The back of the cave is really pretty boring. Not even a ledge or anything to climb on back here.”

Galithil did not really hear her. He was studying the back wall of the cave, still running his hands over it.

“What are you looking at?” Maidhien asked. “Is there a spider or something? I can not see anything.” She came to stand next to him and leaned against the wall to stare at him with amusement when she realized he was studying nothing more interesting than the bare wall.

“You live in the stronghold so you have seen cave walls before, surely?” she asked with a teasing tone.

Galithil looked at her intently. She was leaning against the back wall and apparently found nothing unusual about it at all. He turned to face her fully.

“You do not see anything unusual about the back of the cave? It does not feel…different to you?” he asked.

Maidhien’s eyebrows rose, making her look more like Eirienil than Galithil cared for.

“Feel different? How would it feel different? It is smoother, I suppose, but maybe it is just because a sheet of rock fell from there, like the ceiling is smooth where rock has fallen.”

Galithil shook his head and placed both hands on the back wall. It seemed to pulse beneath them. An energy emanated from this spot, exactly like the stone behind the tapestry in Uncle Thranduil’s office…exactly like the place behind the tapestry in the hallway behind the Great Hall. Galithil slapped the wall excitedly as that thought registered.

“This is another secret door!” he whispered. “I told Legolas that there had to be more of them!”

Maidhien pushed herself away from the wall and stood up straight, staring at Galithil with her mouth hanging open. “A secret door? What do you mean?”

He turned back to her with bright eyes, without taking his hands off the warm stone. “Like the Great Gates. You know when they are closed you cannot see the seam between them?”

Maidhien’s mouth opened even wider as her gaze slid from Galithil to the stone beside her. “But, those are the Gates,” she said, her voice nothing more than a whisper. “This is just a cave.”

Galithil nodded excitedly. “But this cave is in the mountain that holds the stronghold. And those Gates are not the only doors like them. My cousins and I have found others. And this stone is just like the stone of all the secret doors I know of in the stronghold. It is…alive.”

Maidhien reached out hesitantly and barely brushed her fingertips against the stone she had been leaning against only moments before. “How do you open a secret door?” she whispered.

Galithil turned his concentration on the stone under his hands and shook his head slightly. “I am not sure how Legolas opened the one we found,” he replied. He tried pushing against the stone, but it did not budge. He took a step back and studied the wall, brow furrowed deeply. “All Uncle Thranduil does is put his hand on a door and it opens for him,” he said. Maidhien looked at him skeptically but Galithil placed his hand softly on the stone. “Open,” he said, with a slightly anxious tone, willing the stone to move.

To his astonishment, it did. A seam appeared and then, with a grinding groan, the stone shifted just enough for him to walk through the gap created by the movement. A stale, musty draft wafted against his face as he stared, mouth agape at the opening. He barely noticed Maidhien’s little squeal—he certainly did not see her leap back from the wall as if a dragon had just thrust his head out of the new opening. Galithil’s his eyes lit and he clapped his hands impulsively.

“It opened!” he exclaimed. Then he looked over his shoulder embarrassed that Maidhien had seen the positively absurd reaction he had just made. But she was still staring almost fearfully at the now open door. “I am being sillier than Eirienil,” he said, as he shoved the lamp through the opening. Then he snorted. “Except Eirienil would be everything but happy to see this. You should not go through secret doors,” he mimicked, as he stepped through the door. Maidhien did not follow.

The air on the other side was cooler and it smelled dusty. Holding up the lamp, Galithil could see cobwebs and spiders crawling into the shadows to escape the light. The cave went back so far that the light did not reach to its back wall.

“Whoa!” he exclaimed, taking a few more steps into the tunnel. “This is huge!” He leaned forward, squinting to try to see the back wall.

“Hello!” he called and his eyes widened when the echo of his voice answered him from very deep in the cave, repeating his greeting back to him over and over until it finally faded.

“Shhh!” Maidhien hissed, still standing away from the door and eyeing it suspiciously, as if it might slam shut at any moment. “Eirienil might be right. I am not sure we should go in there,” she whispered.

Galithil gaped at her. “You would climb through that tiny little passage that might have caved in at any moment. That might have held a dangerous animal. That you might have gotten hopelessly stuck in. But you will not walk into this hall. This,” he said, pointing into the cave in front of him, “is no different from the passages in the stronghold where I live. In fact, it has to be one of them. I bet if we follow it, we end up somewhere inside.”

“But what if the door shuts us in?” Maidhien whispered.

Galithil laughed. “Then we will open it back up. Or we will open the one that is certain to be at the other end of this hall. Come on. I want to find out where in the stronghold this leads.”

Maidhien looked for a moment as if she would refuse. Then, with a reluctant sigh, she skirted through the door, looking behind herself nervously at the heavy stone before following Galithil into the dark hall.

*~*~*

Adar/ada—father/dad

pen neth—young one

elleth—female elf

Naneth/nana—mother/mum

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Loyalties--Part Two
Created
21 Jan 2008
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21 Jan 2008
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