Disclaimer: Not mine.
Author's Note: I'm so sorry this is so late. I got caught up with some things.
This is the end of this part of the arc. There are some unresolved issues, which will be tied up in future parts (I'm seeing at least two more at this point, but that could change).
Many thanks to everyone who reviewed. I hope you enjoy this chapter!
Part V: The Tale of Days to Come
Legolas spun on the balls of his feet, raising his knives to meet the blow. Metal scraped on metal as Saeldur laughed under his breath.
"It appears your shoulder is not as badly injured as I thought."
"That is precisely what I told you."
Another feint, another thrust. Legolas responded to both automatically, ignoring the diversion and voiding the attack.
His sparring sessions with Saeldur seldom had a result anymore. They had sparred together far too much since the days when they had both been novices to warcraft, and each of them knew precisely what to expect from the other.
That did not mean, of course, that they did not try to win.
Legolas ducked under a swing aimed at his neck and came up with his knives raised, only for Saeldur to dance out of reach. Legolas, turning to follow the movement, caught sight of someone gesturing from among the Elves standing at the fence.
"Hold," he said, taking a step back and lowering his knives. Saeldur did the same.
Approaching the fence, Legolas saw Lord Maeglad and Lady Celebwen waiting among the warriors who had been watching – and, in all likelihood, wagering on – the sparring match.
"I think the two of you do this deliberately," Lord Maeglad said cheerfully. "It is inconceivable that you should have no result after over an hour. You might have some consideration for those who want the chance to make money on your contests."
Legolas responded to the teasing in kind. "I should have thought you had ample opportunity to wager on our archery, my lord."
"I know better than to wager on your archery, my prince. The last time I tried it, Thorontur took advantage of my ignorance to relieve me of a fine filigree brooch."
"That was your own fault," said Lady Celebwen, smiling. "You should have known better than to let Thorontur bait you into it. I wanted to speak to you, Legolas" she went on. With a glance at Saeldur, she added, "To both of you. In private."
"Of course, my lady. Shall we walk, or would you rather go indoors?"
"I think your study would be best."
Legolas and Saeldur exchanged a glance. Legolas' study meant even greater privacy, less likelihood of interruption, and no possibility of eavesdropping.
Celebwen set a brisk pace. Once they were there, she accepted Legolas' invitation to sit, although he suspected that she did it only to allow Legolas and Saeldur to sit as well. She seemed restless, and restlessness was not a quality he had ever associated with her.
"I am pleased to see that Saeldur is not in disgrace," she said lightly.
Saeldur smiled. "I think I have done enough over the last few days, my lady, that any disgrace I am in is my fault alone."
She laughed, but it was short. "Thorontur told me the King is expected to announce his decision today… And there is, I think, little doubt what it will be. I will be honest: Calathiel wanted me to come and speak to you. She told me what you said to her, Legolas, about not serving in stealth. I was to assure you that her father, her siblings and I are fully aware of her intentions." She paused. "I will not say everybody approves. But everybody knows."
"Is that truly why you are here, my lady?" Legolas asked. "Considering what the past weeks have been like, I doubt there is an Elf in Middle-earth who is unaware of Calathiel's intentions."
"That is so. And you are perfectly correct, of course. It is true that Calathiel asked me to speak to you, but I would not have hurried to do it if I had not had… other reasons." She paused. "Thranduil's decision aside, I do not for a moment suppose that he will interfere with any decisions his commanders make about who will and will not take the field. Calathiel has her heart set on serving with the archers."
"So she said. She is Lord Thorontur's daughter. It is natural."
"Perhaps. She certainly has more stomach for battle than Feredir, though she might not have his skill with weapons." She paused, going on more slowly. "Would you permit her to serve with the archers, if she asked it now?"
"There is no question of that happening, my lady. She will have four or five years of weapons training, at the very least."
"And after that?"
Legolas hesitated. "Calathiel has courage, my lady. There is no denying that. But Saeldur is right about one thing. She is not, at this time, prepared to take orders. I am not saying this is an insurmountable obstacle. She is very young. Many of us, including Saeldur himself, were incapable of taking orders at that age."
"You speak as though I made a habit of disobeying my commanding officers," Saeldur complained. "It was not that frequent, and I always had good reason for it."
"You certainly thought so."
Amusement flickered fleetingly in Lady Celebwen's eyes.
"This was what I wanted to discuss with you," she said. "I hope neither of you will feel… obligated… to let Calathiel serve simply because she is Thorontur's daughter."
"There is no danger of that, my lady," said Saeldur. "And as Legolas says, the fact that Calathiel is not ready now does not preclude her being ready in the future. Once you have spent four days straight having Lord Maeglad shout at you for inadequate follow-through, you learn to take orders."
Celebwen laughed at that. "I have never had weapons training myself, Elbereth be praised, but I remember how miserable Feredir was after a day on the practice fields." She sighed. "I only hope there will not be too much trouble for him over this… But none of us can help whispers in court." She got to her feet. "Thank you, Legolas."
Legolas rose and walked her to the door.
"Do you want to go back on the field?" Saeldur asked when she had gone.
Legolas considered a moment, but then he shook his head. "I had best speak to my father. We resume normal duty schedules soon, and I have promised to visit some of the Mannish villages with Norgalad."
"Considering how low an opinion he claims to have of your judgement, I am amazed he wants you to accompany him for trade discussions… Although, on reflection, perhaps that is not so surprising. Who better to negotiate with other realms than the one Elf in this realm who can talk the King down from his worst rages?"
Legolas rolled his eyes. "Do you not have duties to attend to?"
"As a matter of fact, I do. The archers have been slacking off. Now that the excitement is over, it is time to return to training."
Saeldur had intended to start the archers training again, but he was accosted on his way to the ranges by Arahael.
"My father wants to speak to you," Arahael said in a whisper.
Saeldur hesitated, remembering his parents' advice from that morning. He could refuse to go to Míron. He could find another way to learn their plans, he could simply go to the King and tell him everything – he could do any number of things that did not require further implicating himself in this mess.
But if he went to the King…
Saeldur bit his lip. He had no information, no names other than Míron's and Arahael's. Even if the King believed him and had them exiled for treason, what then? There were others, and they would continue scheming.
He had to speak to Míron. If he found out what he intended, he could decide what to do.
"Saeldur," Arahael repeated impatiently.
"Yes," said Saeldur. "I am coming."
He did his best to maintain an even, unhurried pace. He must not be noticed. He had been too conspicuous earlier, trying too hard not to draw anybody's attention. He would not make that mistake again.
Míron was waiting with a cup of wine, which Saeldur refused. "I have archery training soon."
"As you please." Míron put the cup down. "That was well done in court, Saeldur."
"Very… sincere," Míron went on. "I think everyone believed you when you said you would do anything you had to do for the safety of our beloved Elven-prince. I very nearly believed you myself."
"I did what you asked of me," Saeldur said tightly. "I did not go with Legolas. Considering the consequences, I think I have proved myself sufficiently. I decline to do it again. I said what I had to say in court, and that is the end of the matter. Why did you want to speak to me?"
"You have proved yourself." Míron shrugged. "I will not lie, Saeldur. There is a part of me that finds it difficult to believe, even now, that you are truly willing to kill your dearest friend, even in a just cause. I cannot help wondering how much of our conversations are repeated to Legolas. But Arahael and I have not yet been arrested, and Thranduil is not baying for my blood, which is a point in my favour. I am willing to trust you."
"You said that before."
"This time I mean it. You are going to be a part, the pivotal part, of our next step. This was only a test. I wanted to know the effects of the drug, and I wanted to know how you would react."
"What is the next step?"
"The next step is to bide our time. Too much has happened. The Royal Guard is already suspicious. We are going to wait, a century, two, as long as it takes for them to stop watching our every move. You are going to supply us with information. When the time is right… We will make it quick, Saeldur. For your sake, we will not make Legolas suffer. I will not have that hanging over your conscience when Thranduil inevitably takes ship to the Blessed Realm and you must take the throne."
"A blade to the heart?"
"It would be difficult to make that look like an accident. You go riding with Legolas often. A push off a cliff with nobody to see, and you would be grief-stricken. It would be a most tragic accident. People might suspect, but there would be no proof."
Saeldur forced himself not to clench his fists. "Of course."
"That is only one possibility. We are not going to do anything yet. Eredhion and Voronwë are your friends. Listen to them. Watch them. When they have stopped prowling the stronghold looking for hidden assassins, it will be our time to strike. Next time, there will be no mistakes."
"I have had a letter from Elrond," Thranduil said by way of greeting.
"What does he say?" Legolas asked.
"He gives me a great deal of unsolicited advice about how to defend my own kingdom." The Elven-king held up four sheets closely written in the elegant hand of the Master of Imladris. "He has asked me to send you to him when I can spare you."
"What is your will, my king?"
"Legolas." Thranduil shook his head, putting the letter down. "I will not tell you whether or not to go to Imladris. I trust your judgement. Elladan and Elrohir are your friends, and if you do go you will enjoy spending time with them. But be careful of Elrond, and above all be careful of heeding his advice."
"You are… frightened."
"This is no longer my war, Legolas. I do not say that because I do not care what happens to Middle-earth. I would save it from the evil of the Enemy if I could. But that is not in my power. It is not, I suspect, even in Elrond's or Galadriel's. I will do what I must to defend my realm, as Celeborn and Galadriel will defend Lothlórien, but none of us will stand at the gates of Mordor again. It is not our place. It may not the place of any Elf. I sense the time drawing near when Middle-earth will belong to Men."
"Perhaps that is so, but we are not leaving Middle-earth today."
"We are not. That is not what frightens me. This is no longer my war, Legolas, but I very much fear that it may become yours."
"If that is what must be, then I will face it, Adar."
"I do not doubt that you will. I do not doubt your courage. I doubt my own… if I lose you."
"Why are you talking like this? Even if Sauron is, as Mithrandir suspects, regaining strength, it will be several centuries before he becomes a threat. It may not even come to pass. And until it does, I face no greater danger than I have done all these years."
"Do you think it has been easy for me to see you take up arms, knowing every time that it might be the last time? All it takes a single slip or a moment of carelessness." Legolas stared at his father. He could know about the incident on the last patrol…
But he did know. His expression said it far more clearly than words could. Eredhion and Voronwë must have mentioned it to Arbellason.
"I am sorry I did not tell you," Legolas said.
"I do not blame you for that. In all likelihood, had I been in your position, I would not have wanted my father to worry unduly, either. But please be careful, Legolas."
"I will be careful."
"Good." The Elven-king let out a long breath. "Good."
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