Disclaimer: Not mine.
Author's Note: Melethril has been telling me that to counter Betrayal and Dusk, there need to be some happy stories of the time before everything went wrong. Unfortunately, given RL at the moment, all my brain wants to write is angsty little one-shots, so… I'm sorry, Melethril, and everyone else who was hoping for something fun. Those will come when I can make them happen. In the meantime, here's this.
Summary: Legolas must learn to cope with the events of Falling Shadow. Saeldur tries to help.
The Light of the Stars
"Last volley. Eighteen. Make certain you have enough arrows."
By now well-trained enough not to have to look, Saeldur reached behind him for his quiver. Beside him and six feet away, Legolas did the same. Finding enough arrows, they each took one and waited for the next command.
The other novices had been dismissed an hour ago, but Master Bainion, despite Legolas' flawless performance, had seemed worried about him, and had kept him back for more drills. Saeldur could have left. Master Bainion had not orderedhim to stay as he had Legolas. But he and Legolas had partnered each other at archery practice for years. It would have felt odd to walk away from the field with Legolas still on it.
And – although that was not a truth Saeldur wanted to admit, even to himself – he was as concerned about Legolas as their Archery Master was. Just not about his bowmanship.
Saeldur pulled his arm back, bringing the bow to a full draw.
The targets had been hung by long ropes from a pair of beech trees, so that they swung freely in the brisk breeze.
"Loose!" Master Bainion called.
Saeldur exhaled, releasing the arrow along with his breath.
For those just beginning their training this exercise would have been a challenge on a windy day, especially since the shadows were beginning to fall. Saeldur had done it often enough to know how each arrow would swing the target, to follow its arc as he loosed the next.
After he finished a tidy performance that must certainly have satisfied Master Bainion, he glanced at Legolas. From his stance, Legolas had been done for some time. And – Saeldur squinted at Legolas' target – a perfect grouping.
If Master Bainion had ever thought that recent… events, Saeldur thought, with a catch in his throat… would hamper Legolas' archery, he must surely have learnt better by now. It was true that Legolas had been kept away from the archery fields for some time, but ever since returning he had been training with redoubled focus. For weeks Saeldur had watched him send his shafts flying not only with deadly accuracy, no matter how difficult the test Master Bainion devised, but with the sort of speed even Lord Thorontur would have been hard-pressed to match.
But Legolas was different. Earlier, he would have turned to exchange a small, triumphant smile with Saeldur. Now he simply stood facing the target, shoulders still too tense.
"Well," Master Bainion said with a sigh, "there is no reason for me to keep you from patrols any longer, Legolas. I will tell Lady Ellaurë. Well done, both of you. You may go."
Murmuring the appropriate thanks, Legolas and Saeldur went to gather the arrows.
"You did not make kindling of them this time," Saeldur observed.
Taking that for the jest it was, Legolas smiled. "The armourers threatened to make me fletch the entire new bundle if I would not stop splitting the shafts during routine practice."
Saeldur scoffed. "I am certain you would talk your way out of it. When do you ever suffer for any of your misdeeds?" Then he realized what he had just said and his eyes widened with horror. "Legolas, I am so sorry. I did not mean –"
"I know," Legolas said quickly. "You are – everyone is being careful what they say, but truly there is no need. I am perfectly – perfectly well."
Saeldur pretended not to hear Legolas' voice shake on the last word. "I daresay you are," he said, trying to keep his tone light. "But after the scare you gave everyone, you ought to expect some concern."
Legolas bent his head over his bow, unstringing it, taking far longer than necessary.
"Are you coming to listen to the singing later?" Saeldur asked. "Candnaur said there will be new ballads tonight. Anwariel learnt some from a Mannish minstrel."
As he had intended, Legolas looked up in astonishment.
"Where has Anwariel met a Mannish minstrel?"
"You can ask her yourself. Shall I keep a place for you?"
Legolas shook his head. "I do not know if I will come. You should go and spend time with your friends. Arahael was expecting you to leave when Lord Bainion dismissed the others."
"I would rather have your company."
"Saeldur, I am grateful – truly I am – but I do not think I will be good company. You should go – enjoy yourself – but do not look for me."
Not waiting for a response, Legolas hastened away, leaving Saeldur staring after him in astonishment.
He is not himself.
He was unaccustomed to being addressed directly by the trees; it took him a moment to realize it was one of the beeches from which the targets had hung.
"I know he is not," he said quietly. "I wish I could help."
You do help.
As Saeldur was dressing later, it occurred to him that perhaps Legolas, whose mornings were now spent in court and afternoons and evenings on the training fields, might simply want some time to himself after a difficult day. That was not surprising.
If Lady Ellaurë agreed, Legolas would return to active duty the next day. It would only be to routine patrols, and there was no real danger; all the same…
"Why do you look so worried? Are you still dressing? How long do you intend to preen before the glass?"
Saeldur glanced up at the sound of his brother's voice. Candnaur was standing in the doorway, still dressed in the formal robe he had worn to court that morning.
"Some of us like to be tidy before appearing in public," Saeldur said cheerfully.
Since, of the two of them, Saeldur was far likelier to wander into court without even changing his tunic after weapons training, Candnaur laughed.
"For once I need not be ashamed of you, then. But why are you so worried? Did something happen during training?"
Saeldur shook his head. His own affairs he would discuss freely, but he would fuel no speculation about the Elven-prince's state of mind… not even with Candnaur, who was fond of Legolas and who would certainly not gossip.
Candnaur waited a moment and then said, "Is Legolas all right?"
Saeldur finished doing up his last button before he turned to his brother. "Has anyone said otherwise?"
"Nobody has said anything, but if you are actually being discreet then it only can be about Legolas. Besides, I can see him for myself. He has been taking things…"
"Taking things how?" Saeldur said sharply.
"Calm down. I intended to say he is taking things well, but… it cannot be easy for him, coping with such a loss. Is he coming?"
"He said he would not."
"After this morning at court, I am hardly surprised that he wants solitude." He clapped Saeldur on the shoulder. "But if you are worried, go and speak to him after the singing is over. He might have had enough of his own company by then to welcome yours."
"What happened at court?"
"Norgalad was being difficult as usual. Most warriors can take leave and return to their duties as they and their commanding officers see fit, but in Legolas' case there are plenty of Elves in court who think themselves entitled to interfere. He bears it well – better than I would, certainly."
"What did Norgalad say?"
"Do not stick a dagger in his back," said Candnaur easily. "Norgalad means well, and in this instance it probably was genuine concern. He has simply forgotten how to express himself without criticizing. Now hurry."
The last notes of the ballad faded out to the sound of applause and laughter. It had been a merry tale of a villager from Arnor, his sweetheart and their three oxen, the music light and happy enough to match the story.
"Have we sunk to this?" Arahael muttered beside Saeldur. "I would almost rather have Noldorin lays."
"I doubt anybody would be laughing after a Noldorin lay," Saeldur said. "What does it matter where Anwariel learnt it? I liked the song."
"It will do very well if we ever have need to entertain the Lord of Dale," said Candnaur. "It is fortunate that Anwariel is fond of learning languages. She has already asked to accompany me the next time I go to Dale."
"Will you take her?"
"I will certainly not take you," Candnaur said firmly. "So do not ask it. Before you can visit Dale, you must prove you can sit a full day in court without fidgeting."
"You will not take me? I am your brother," Saeldur said, teasing and not at all offended, since he had expected no other response. "Last time you practically pleaded with Legolas to go with you."
"Legolas speaks the Mannish tongue with even more fluency than I do, and he has a tendency to make friends out of strangers."
"Well, if that is what you want –"
Saeldur stopped short, movement in the trees at the opposite side of the clearing catching his eye. He turned to look. Legolas slipped out of the trees, nodding greetings to the one or two Elves nearby who saw him – most did not, since Anwariel had begun to strum again and drawn everyone's attention.
Instead of finding a place to sit, Legolas stayed where he was, leaning against a beech. He caught Saeldur's eye and gave him a faint half-smile, but did not try to get nearer.
Saeldur started to get up, but Candnaur put a hand on his knee.
"Let him be," he said under his breath. "Everyone will notice if you go and speak to Legolas now – he will not thank you for that."
"Oh, let him be, Saeldur," Arahael said impatiently, having spotted Legolas also. "If he wants to mope by himself, he is welcome to it as far as I am concerned."
It was not for anybody to accuse Legoals of moping; Saeldur would have responded, but a gentle kick on his ankle from Candnaur reminded him that it was best not to pursue the subject with Arahael, even to defend Legolas.
The next song was an equally mirthful story of a rooster that fell in love with the sun. Saeldur, casting the occasional glance across the clearing, saw that Legolas seemed amused by it as well.
"Perhaps this is how Men fit all they want to know of Arda into one lifetime," Candnaur murmured.
"At least we are not going to be subjected to another," said Arahael in evident relief. He was right; to preface her next song Anwariel played a low, mournful chord that seemed to echo all the sorrows of Arda marred.
As she sang the first line, Saeldur stiffened. It was not merely an Elven-song, it was a lament for the Queen.
His eyes flew to Legolas, who had shrunk back against the tree and was watching Anwariel wide-eyed, obviously struggling to control himself. After a moment, he stepped back, away, and into the darkness of the forest.
Saeldur glared at Anwariel, but before he could say anything, Candnaur whispered urgently, "Do not make a scene. I doubt Anwariel even realized Legolas was listening. Hardly anybody saw him. She would be mortified. She is not cruel."
"I am going to Legolas," Saeldur said. "If he gets far enough into the trees, there will be no hope of finding him until he chooses to be found."
"Yes, perhaps that is best."
Since he was sitting on a fallen log at the side of the clearing, Saeldur could get to his feet and slip into the trees without attracting too much attention. He skirted the edge of the clearing, reached the point where he had last seen Legolas, and looked around for the telltale glint of golden hair. It was fortunate that the moon was full.
The Elfling wants to be alone, one of the trees said softly.
"Perhaps he does," Saeldur replied, "and I will leave him in peace if he truly wants it. If he tells me to go. Where is he?"
There was no response – he had not expected one; the trees would see it as betrayal of Legolas – so he had to look around for tracks. Under normal circumstances it would have been hopeless, but evidently Legolas had been distraught, because there were snapped twigs and bent blades of grass marking his steps.
The trees did not try to prevent him from following, which he took as a sign that they agreed with him that Legolas should not be alone. The trail ended at the foot of a great oak; peering up, Saeldur thought he could just see Legolas near the top.
He groaned. He could climb trees, of course, but keeping his footing as the branches thinned at the top of the tree would not be easy.
He was a little over halfway up before he realized he was in difficulties. The next branch was just high enough and far enough to the left that he might not be able to reach it even if he leapt. There was a surer path on the other side of the tree, but that would require descending first.
He glanced down. It seemed as though the branches had shifted below him.
As he watched, another branch swayed out of reach.
"Are you trying to make me fall?" he hissed to the oak.
Saeldur rolled his eyes and weighed his options. He could simply leap down; he would probably land safely, and then he could try climbing up the other side. But if the oak intended to make it difficult –
Legolas was on the branch above, gripping it with one hand while he leaned down and held out the other to Saeldur.
"What? No, Legolas, you cannot hold both of us – we will both fall –"
"Fall out of a tree?"
And, put like that, it was silly. Legolas did not fall out of trees.
So Saeldur held out his hand in Legolas' direction and jumped. Legolas' fingers closed around his wrist; a moment later he was sitting beside Legolas on the branch. With Legolas' help – and a suddenly very obliging oak – he scrambled up the last few branches until they reached the highest one that would support their combined weight.
Legolas slid out along it, leaving Saeldur to take the more secure position against the trunk.
"I am sorry," Legolas said quietly. "I did not intend to worry you. I just… could not listen. It is too soon."
"It may always be too soon."
"You will never have to listen to a single song against your will," Saeldur said fiercely.
Legolas' smile was there and gone. They sat in silence, the forest dense enough that the sound of revelry was muted and distant. Saeldur looked up at the wheeling stars; perhaps a quarter of an hour passed –
"I dropped my weapons." Legolas' voice was soft. Saeldur leaned forward, but said nothing for fear of breaking the moment. "He threatened to kill my mother if I did not drop my weapons," Legolas went on. "So I did. But… he killed her just the same. If…" There was a pause and a hitched breath. "If she had not tried to save me, she might still be alive."
Saeldur laid his hand on Legolas' shoulder. Legolas turned to face him, so sharply that Saeldur feared he would fall. But he kept his seat, anguished blue eyes meeting Saeldur's.
"It was not your fault. If it will help you to talk about it, tell me what happened."
For a moment Legolas said nothing. Then, so quietly that Saeldur had to strain to hear, "He… he told her to… to choose. Choose whether I died quickly, or… not." Saeldur tamped down anger at the thought of what not must have meant; for Legolas' sake he must stay calm. "She chose not, because she thought… she thought…"
"She thought it would allow time for help to arrive."
Legolas nodded. He started to speak again, but the sound of approaching footsteps made him stop short.
The guards on their rounds, said the tree. That is all.
There was no reason why they should not be here, and if the guards did ask them any questions it would only be out of concern. But Saeldur was risking no interruptions. He loosened his cloak and held up one end. Legolas promptly slid closer, letting Saeldur drop the cloak around his shoulders and over his hair.
"Hide us," Saeldur whispered to the tree, and the leaves settled below.
Legolas waited until the guards had passed by before he began again. "He told me not to… not to resist. And he forced her to watch."
Saeldur could not keep from wincing. Fortunately Legolas did not notice.
"If he had only let her go," Legolas went on, voice shaking, "if he had released her, I would have… I would have let him do what he chose with me. But he forced her to watch. She could not… she tried to help me. And then the guards from Imladris came. But he… he had drugged me. I could not fight."
Saeldur slid his arm around Legolas' shoulders.
"Nana and I tried to get away. She could have found safety if she had been by herself, but…"
"But Bregolien had drugged you, and she would not leave you," Saeldur finished calmly. He would have to wait until the end of the story to point out how little Legolas was to blame for everything that had happened.
"I persuaded her to… to go on. Ahead. To look for help. She told me to stay hidden. I meant to. But then Bregolien came, and… and he would have caught up with her. I thought I could lead him away from her." Legolas drew in a shuddering breath. "I was so stupid, thinking I could handle him myself."
"What choice was there?" Saeldur tightened his arm around Legolas' shoulders. "Go on."
"He said he wanted to… to send a message. To my father. He wanted my cloak… wanted it bloodied. He…" Legolas broke off and gestured, hands together. "From a tree." Saeldur felt sick with the sudden understanding. Legolas made a sound that might have been a laugh or a sob. "I do not remember much after that. I expect you know more about it than I do."
"I know nothing about it."
Legolas glanced at him, surprised. "My father said he would make such disclosures as were needed, from what Bregolien said – and ask Eredhion and Voronwë to do the same – while I was still in Imladris."
"He did. They did. I did not want to hear. Whatever you need to talk about, Legolas, if it gives you peace, I will listen. I do not want to hear anything from anyone else."
Legolas let out a breath. "He made me duel with him. I could barely manage it. Then he gave me… he made me drink… something. I thought it was the end." He shrugged. "But they found me – Naneth, and Eredhion and Voronwë. But he – I think I tried to fight him, but I was so fogged by the poison I scarcely remember. Only the thunder, and how she screamed."
The forest hung thick around them. For a few minutes Saeldur's mind was conjuring half-formed horrors. He could not get rid of the sickening mental image of Legolas dangling from a branch like one of Master Bainion's archery targets. That was one exercise he would never be able to manage again – he had no idea how Legolas had done it.
Then he saw the tears glistening on Legolas' cheeks in the moonlight. At his glance, Legolas turned away, mumbling an apology.
"Legolas," Saeldur said gently, "you do not have to be strong for me."
One moment passed, two, and so suddenly that he almost fell, Saeldur was supporting Legolas' weight while Legolas shook with the force of his tears. But he managed to steady himself to wait out the storm.
"If I had been better," Legolas choked. "Or stronger."
Saeldur murmured something soothing. Legolas' sobs slowed and stopped, but he did not raise his head from Saeldur's shoulder. Legolas was embarrassed, Saeldur realized. He did not want that, so he said, lightly, "Why did you come to listen to Anwariel by yourself? Aeroniel is on duty, I know, but I thought Rochendilwen intended to come. And Eredhion and Voronwë."
"Eredhion and Voronwë are with Lord Arbellason. He called Rochendilwen."
"With Arbellason?" Saeldur said in astonishment.
The commander of the King's armies seldom bothered with novice warriors unless there had been some truly egregious breach of discipline – and while Eredhion and Voronwë could be as undisciplined as anybody else on occasion, they had never been summoned by Lord Arbellason before.
"They asked to speak to him."
"They… oh. That." Saeldur considered. "They have been talking of joining the royal guard once their novice trials are complete. I can understand why they want it… I would do a great deal to prevent something like…" Again the mental image of Legolas hanging by his wrists from a tree. Saeldur shook his head to clear it.
Legolas sat up, looking at Saeldur in consternation. "Not you, too."
"The royal guard? I doubt I would meet Lord Arbellason's requirements. That was not what I meant."
"Your novice trials are sooner."
"Next year," Saeldur said ruefully. "I suppose I should be training more."
"You are more than ready. Master Bainion is certain of that."
"I am going to ask to serve in the Colhador."
"Lord Thorontur will be delighted. He keeps saying he is waiting for someone he can train to take his place."
Saeldur laughed. "Yes, but I would not want to command the archers – and Lord Thorontur certainly does not want that either." When Legolas looked at him in puzzlement, he said, "Oh, come, Legolas. He always makes these remarks in your hearing, not in mine. That is what he wants, and he has wanted it since he first saw you with a bow."
"Adar wants me to serve in the Home Guard."
"Yes, Candnaur said Aeroniel found that baffling. Candnaur thinks the King wants you to learn prudence and discipline." Saeldur shrugged. "Once he is satisfied that you have learnt enough… Lord Thorontur is not wrong to want it. You will be the best of us."
Legolas shook his head, but said nothing. He probably thought it was not worthwhile to debate the likelihood of an event that must be far into the future either way.
A sudden burst of laughter on the air made them both start. Saeldur, looking up at the sky, saw with surprise that it had not been an hour since he had followed Legolas up the tree. It felt as though it should be nearly morning.
"You should go back," Legolas said. "You will miss all of Anwariel's new songs."
"I would not be able to listen for worrying about you. She will sing them again… Unless you would rather I left? If you want to be alone…"
Legolas turned to look at Saeldur, and then quickly turned away and shook his head. "Stay… please."
"Of course, if you want it." Then, as the guards passed by again, Saeldur said, "Perhaps we need not sit here. I did not realize it was so directly in the guards' path."
"Spar with me."
"Are you certain?"
"Have you not asked that enough times?" Legolas asked, sounding exasperated.
They had fetched their knives, but standing facing Legolas across the small sparring field, Saeldur felt a qualm.
"I do not want to bring up difficult memories."
Over the past weeks, Legolas' performance with his knives had not been as technically flawless as his archery – few things, Saeldur had to admit, could be as technically flawless as Legolas' archery, particularly as it had been that day. Still, it had been good enough to pass muster with Lord Maeglad, which was no easy feat. But he had been tense – far tenser than on the archery fields, which Saeldur could understand now. If he had been forced to spar with Bregolien –
"You will not bring up difficult memories."
"Legolas, if you are not ready –"
"Not you, too!" Legolas snapped. "I have been hearing that in court for days!" Then, flushing, "Forgive me, I should not –"
"You need not apologize. I know it has been a trying day. I mean no insult, but… I do not want to make anything worse. Legolas, are you certain?"
"I sparred with you this morning."
"You were being careful."
Saeldur smiled ruefully. "I did not know you noticed that."
"I am not a fool. Saeldur… ever since… since… since my mother died," Legolas said, getting the words out with difficulty, "everyone has been careful."
"You almost died."
"I am here now. I am fine, but… but I cannot trust myself if nobody else will trust me." Legolas shrugged. "Perhaps everyone is wise not to trust me to be able to look after myself, even while sparring. I could not defend myself against Bregolien – I did nothing."
"He drugged you. You told me so yourself. How could you – how could anyone – anticipate that?" Saeldur hefted his knives automatically, feeling their weight and balance. "I make absolutely no claims to wisdom, but… has it occurred to you that people are waiting for you to trust yourself?"
"I cannot." Legolas thrust his knives into his belt – an action that would have earned him a scolding if Lord Maeglad had been there to see it – and crossed his arms. "I cannot trust myself… after everything that has happened… My father does not trust me."
"Legolas, you know that is not true."
"I know how he looks every time I speak of returning to the field."
"He is frightened. You have no idea what it was like here when you were in Imladris after… everything. Nobody knew if you would live – Legolas, I quaked in terror every time there was a knock on the door. I cannot imagine how your father felt. He does not doubt your ability, but he is afraid to lose you."
Legolas' eyes met Saeldur's. There was no mirth in them. For a moment Saeldur wondered if he would ever see his friend laugh again.
But the Elves who dwelt in Eryn Galen were no strangers to grief. They had overcome everything – even the disaster that had come upon Oropher at the Dagorlad – and they could still laugh at silly Mannish songs. Some of those listening to Anwariel had lost kin before the gates of Mordor.
If Saeldur had faith in anyone, it was in Legolas.
"You must trust yourself," he said, slowly. "And nobody can tell you how. But, if it helps, I trust you." He shifted his grip on his knives, ready to move. "I will not hold back. We were evenly matched before you left for Imladris last summer. Lord Barancrist says you are well. There is no reason to suppose we will not be evenly matched now. Spar with me."
Legolas managed a smile.
When Saeldur returned, dawn was breaking over the forest. Anwariel was no longer performing, but he could hear someone playing a harp. He paused for a moment at the edge of the clearing to listen.
Candnaur, sitting with their parents, waved him over.
"Where have you been?" asked Saeldur's father. "Anwariel's songs were delightful."
"He will hear them on another day," Lady Celelphindeth said calmly. "Saeldur…" She hesitated. "I would never ask you to betray a confidence. You know that. Is he all right?"
"He will be," Saeldur said, certain for the first time since the Queen's death that it was true.
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