Disclaimer: Everything belongs to the Professor.
Author's Note: I know this took forever. This is the last chapter of this story, and it brings it up-to-date with Practise to Deceive. I've started working on the next, which will be the last major part of this arc. I'm hoping to start posting within a month or two but I don't want to make promises.
Many thanks to everyone who reviewed.
One Hundred Years Later: Saeldur
Blood. So much blood.
Despite centuries as a warrior, the smell of it makes him feel queasy.
"Stay with me."
All around him he hears the whisper, Traitor.
Saeldur wakes with a jolt.
It is a few minutes before he can calm himself. It was a dream, no more. Legolas is alive. Legolas is perfectly well and will laugh immoderately if he knows how Saeldur's heart is thumping against his ribs like a rabbit's, because of a nightmare –
Elves do not have nightmares.
But Saeldur has never had the gift of foresight, either, and it is unlikely to be manifesting itself at this late date. His mind is unduly disturbed by everything that has happened lately. It is no more than that.
He cannot pretend not to be worried by the events of the summer. He returned from escorting a group of Elves to Mithlond to find the Legolas in the house of Elrond and the stronghold alive with the tidings of Bregolien's return and how close he had come, again, to murdering the Elven-prince. It is difficult to separate the truth from the rumour.
Aeroniel and Rochendilwen, guessing that he would rather hear everything from Legolas, have not discussed the incident with him at all. He doubts Rochendilwen wants to speak about it in any case; her temper has been shorter than usual.
Saeldur has not had a chance to speak to his friend privately, since his return from Imladris the previous week, but he must find the time soon.
He scrambles out of bed and pours himself a cup of wine from the sideboard. Strong though it is, it does no more than take the edge off his apprehension. When he closes his eyes, he can still see blood on the floor, blood welling up between his fingers, too much blood.
He would go and find Legolas, but he has a feeling the young human will be with him. He has been Legolas' shadow since they arrived, following him from his room to the dining hall to the training fields. It is not surprising; the human – Estel – has grown up in Imladris and knows nobody in Eryn Galen, but Saeldur feels a faint stab of irritation all the same. Surely one of the young pages can chaperone him.
If Saeldur is to be honest with himself, he must admit that at least part of his irritation comes from knowing that Estel overheard him speaking to Arahael. He knows he should appreciate it as a sign of loyalty to Legolas that Estel asked him about it later, but…
He stares moodily out the window. If it had been the King, or Aeroniel or Rochendilwen, or for that many any of the archers or members of court, he would not have objected to the questioning as much. He resents being compelled to explain himself – and avow his loyalty to Legolas – to a Mortal child, even one who appears to have the favour of Lord Elrond.
With a sigh, and the vain hope of finding peaceful dreams, Saeldur returns to his bed.
Legolas does not come to the dining hall to breakfast, so it is Rochendilwen whom Saeldur meets first. One look at him and she demands, "What happened? You look terrible." Ignoring Saeldur's protests, she pulls him into an alcove.
"What happened?" she asks again. There is a dangerous glint in her dark eyes.
She is clearly not going to give up. Saeldur confesses, "I am worried about Legolas."
Fortunately that requires no further explanation. Rochendilwen relaxes, though her voice is still sharper than usual. "I expect you are. I was as well. But he is handling… everything… far better than I hoped. You should go and speak to him. I believe he is on the archery field with Lord Thorontur and Estel."
Saedur knows he cannot avoid Estel indefinitely, particularly if he plans to spend the rest of his visit trailing after Legolas like a lost puppy. He makes his way outdoors.
It is no trouble to find them, since it seems as though most of the archers, and a good half of the other warriors, are clustered around the field watching. This is normal whenever Thorontur takes on a new student, and Saeldur feels a hint of sympathy for Estel. A crowd of observers is enough to throw off anybody's aim.
Saeldur hesitates. This is not the time to speak to Legolas, there are too many people watching. Later will be better, perhaps tomorrow, or after Estel has returned to Imladris. He is only here for the summer, after all. Saeldur can wait that long –
Then Legolas, perched on the fence, happens to look up and catch his eye. Saeldur has no hope of escaping his notice. Legolas leans over and murmurs something to Colfind, who is with him, and then swings his legs over the fence and slips through the crowd to Saeldur.
"What is it?" Legolas demands.
Saeldur glances at Estel. Engrossed in his lesson, it does not appear that he has even noticed Legolas' departure. Legolas is wearing the firm expression that means he will not give up.
Saeldur says, softly, "I have been having… disturbing dreams." Legolas waits for him to go on. "Last night… Elbereth." Saeldur cannot keep a quaver from his voice at the memory. "Legolas, please, do not ask me to repeat them."
Instead of answering, Legolas takes Saeldur by the elbow and guides him away from the field. Since nearly everyone has gathered to give Estel generally unhelpful advice, they are soon alone in the archers' hall. All the same, Legolas leads the way to the small council chamber at the far end and shuts the door firmly.
"Tell me," he says.
Saeldur would laugh if he could not see it so clearly.
"I… It was… I was in the stronghold, in the passage leading to your father's… to the King's court. It was… full." He pauses, words tight in his throat until he feels Legolas' hand on his shoulder. "You were there," Saeldur goes on. "And you were hurt, and I do not know how but I know – I knew – it was my fault. And I could not stop the blood, I tried, but there was so much, and then you – you died."
"And everyone was blaming me," Saeldur goes on in a rush. "Everyone, and I knew it, but I did not care, because I could not make you hear me. I tried, but I could not save you, and… Legolas, I do not know what it means, but I am frightened."
"It must have been frightening," says Legolas, "and I am not surprised that it has upset you. But it need not mean anything. Did you think it was a vision of the future?"
"I have never had the gift of foresight, Elbereth be praised. But when I think of what might have happened this summer… It has been so long, and we face so many greater threats now. I had all but forgotten Bregolien."
"It was partly my own fault," says Legolas. "It was the storm – I should not have gone out, but… I felt like I could hear her." An indrawn breath. "Again." After a pause, he goes on briskly, "But it does not matter now. It is over. No irreversible damage was done."
"You should not have gone out." Saeldur shakes his head. "You must be more careful, Legolas. Everything, all the signs indicate that the Enemy is gaining strength again. If war is upon us –"
"If war is upon us," Legolas says with a shrug, "perhaps my place is not here."
Saeldur scoffs. "All because Mithrandir said it? He may be numbered among the wise, but he does not know everything – certainly not everything of matters in Eryn Galen. If the power in Dol Guldur should rise again, Eryn Galen will be its first target."
"Sometimes…" Legolas hesitates. "Sometimes I think Mithrandir fears that the true threat is far greater."
Saeldur stares at him. The word Mordor hangs in the air unspoken.
"That is not possible," Saedur says at last. "The weapon of the Enemy was taken from him."
"Taken from him and lost." Legolas shakes his head. "It is a terrible thought. Perhaps I am wrong. I hope I am. Mithrandir has said nothing of the sort, at least not to me. One way or another, the time for caution is past."
Saeldur does not know what to say. For the first time in a hundred years, he feels as though events are spiralling out of control. Some strange mood is on Legolas: it has been on him since the battle at Erebor, but now it seems almost as though he is mentally preparing himself for a far greater battle ahead. Saeldur knows instinctively that it has something to do with the young mortal, and he cannot entirely bury his resentment.
"Legolas… Promise me you will not do anything foolish without telling me."
Legolas laughs, bright and merry, and it lays Saeldur's fears to rest. "You have my word."