Of Realizations and Surprises
Legolas stuffed another bite of salad into his mouth. A giggle caused him to glance up. Rhovamil was staring at him with a wide grin. He blushed and looked back into his bowl. An elbow stabbed into his side. His gaze jerked up to the elf beside him. Collas was smirking at him. The red-haired elf tilted his head toward the two elleth sitting across from them. Legolas bowed his head and sighed. Then a corner of his mouth quirked up. Might as well get it over with. “Gentle elleth and skilled healers of our Kingdom . . .”
Mellolaes and Nithrestil turned to him. Legolas set his bowl down in the grass, clasped his hands in front of himself, and raised his gaze to meet theirs. “I must apologize to you both for my words and actions earlier. This day, the two of you did as all warriors and healers of Green Wood the Great should. You guarded life. The kindness you have shown to us makes my own foolishness all the more clear. I beg your forgiveness.”
Mellolaes cocked her head to the side. The laughter within escaped through her eyes rather than her lips. “You have mine, your highness.”
Nithrestil nodded with a soft smile. “You also have mine.”
The son of their king smiled and nodded back. Then he picked up his salad again. His sister was chuckling to herself and his childhood friend was joining her. Yet, Legolas could not quite stop the smirk in his mind from spreading to his face.
The elves of Rivendell may have doubts about a wood elleth's ability to serve. The thought of Silvan defiance disquieted them. And the famous Silvan temper might have frightened their tamer kin off. Legolas almost laughed aloud as he imagined Erestor handling a refusal such as he had faced that day.
But the elves of Imladris discounted how a Silvan's protectiveness quelled not, even beneath orders. Silvan fury often proved too much for a servant of the enemy to overcome. The wood elf's ability to plan and do without royal input gave that royalty respite. And the Green elf generosity caused them to give beyond what was asked of them. Some of their kin would have perished without it. No, no servants in Imladris nor any elsewhere were better than those of his father's own household. Legolas was sure of it. Mellolaes' voice broke into his thoughts. “What are you smirking at Thranduilion?”
Legolas swallowed. Of course, Silvan eyes often caught more than you wanted them to. He took a gulp of his wine to give himself time to think. He could not relay Elrond's small opinion of her, especially not if the elven Lord ended up asking for her aid after all.
He lowered his glass more quickly than he meant to and a splash of wine landed in the grass. As the Silvan elleth's eyes laughed at him Legolas smiled back without answering. Then he gazed into the contents of his goblet as he swirled them slowly. Behind the hand holding up his chin, a smirk came to Legolas' face. He schooled his features into a grave expression, lifted his head, straightened his back, and deepened his voice. “I was thinking how Morgoth's cruelty was thwarted by generosity like yours.”
Mellolaes sat up and blinked twice. Then her eyes squinted at him in suspicion. “How did such thoughts enter your mind?”
Legolas shrugged. “They are worth remembering are they not? Those who endured the visage of the Dark Lord, slaved in his mines, and escaped only to wander in the wilderness when they were turned away from their homes, before finding one among our people.”
“Elves like my grandfather, you mean.”
The elves and elleth of the picnic turned their heads. A slight figure stood on the South edge of the meadow. Nithrestil sprang up from her place and raced towards it. “Tirven!”
The elf opened his arms. The healer flew into them and they folded around her. Tirven smiled into the hair gracing the crown of his beloved's head.
The others in the meadow smiled at both of them. It was a shame, they thought, that these two had not met sooner. She had been in the south of the Great Wood and he in the north. The few times they had been near each other he had likely been too shy and perhaps too sure his place was in the King’s palace to pursue her. Perhaps he had been so unassuming she had not even noticed him in those days.
He had come under her care as a healer soon after she had taken up residence in the Palace. Whether or not they would dare a marriage in these dark times, they shared with none. Neither wore a silver ring.
Collas grinned up at the new-comer. “Welcome, Half-Silvan! Join us!”
Tirven did. As soon as he sat down in their circle, he looked to Legolas. “Before you ask, no. As far as I know, your father did not notice your absence,” he looked to Rhovamil,“nor yours,” and finally he locked gazes with Collas,“nor yours, and yes, the practice fields were as crowded as usual today.”
Collas chuckled. “I am sure you pressed on, and all thought you perfectly content with it so.”
Tirven filled a free glass with a sigh. “I did find myself wishing I had come with you at times.”
Legolas laughed. “You would have been more miserable if you had.”
“Not if we had simply asked for the king’s blessing.”
Collas' eyebrows rose in mock disapproval. “The king is always occupied with more important things these years. Should we truly have troubled him with our small request?”
Tirven shook his head. His smile was almost Silvan, yet had something grimmer about it as well. Gray eyes laughed gently as he raised his wine glass to his lips.
“You are never without an excuse, mellon nin.”
Legolas watched and listened to Collas and Tirven banter for the ten-thousandth time. Rhovamil put in a sharp comment now and then. Mellolaes whispered something into Nithrestil's ear that made the Sindar elleth glance at the dark-haired elf and blush.
Legolas let his own earlier comments echo in his mind. It occurred to him that both Mellolaes and Nithrestil were healers. Without such healers none of the exiles that found their way to the forests filled with light and song could have survived. One of his friends would have never been born. Silvan healers often seemed to be workers of miracles. Legolas smiled to himself. He should know. His own mother was one.
Lindir packed his trunks with the expression of a martyr. He should have been quite delighted to spend time in The Grey Havens. The location was The Western Shore, the departure point to immortal lands. The company was distinguished kin.
The minstrel sighed. He paused in walking to his trunk long enough to sip wine from the cup resting on the table in the center of the room. The elf laid it back down with a thud of resignation. He knew too well what would happen upon his arrival.
At first his presence and songs would be welcomed. He would sit by fires, chat, play, and converse in companionship. Then he would have to bring up the reason for his coming.
Within days all would gently avoid him. No one would wish to say "no" to him, and, therefore, to Elrond vicariously. All would do so anyway. Then he would have to return and relay their denials to his lord.
Of course it was a well deserved punishment. He knew he had gotten off to easily for losing track of the child. If only one among all the free races would give his lord peace by taking on the task of watching over the manling.
The archers had decided to stay and sleep in the meadow after their day of practice. So tired were the warriors after training and traveling, they slept beneath the stars with their eyes closed. The elleth healers had also been tired from preparing the feast for their return, so they decided to sleep as well.
In the name of proprieties, the two sibling lay in the middle separating the elleth and elves who were not close kin. Legolas slept a few paces from his sister who had her back turned to him. Her old nurse smiled at that. Ever did the youngest Thranduilion show her independence. Legolas slept on his side facing her. Perhaps the better to awaken and defend his sister and the other elleth should anything foul approach.
Rhovamil had asked Mellolaes to sleep on her other side. The healer had lowered herself to the grass, laid down on her back, and fixed her gaze on the sky. Over the hours her face turned to rest on its side. She almost chuckled. The younger elleth did not sleep much differently than she used to as a child. The same grin of musing mischief graced her face. Slowly the Silvan's gaze traveled over her old charge. Her stare paused upon a pale face smooth with youth and yet wise with centuries of seeing both the fair and the foul. She snapped her eyes back upward, turned over, and froze. Brown eyes twinkled sadly into her own.
Mellolaes' face flamed. She rose to her feet, brushed off her skirt, and turned to the woods. "I'm not really that tired. I think I'll walk through the beauty of the night."
Nithrestil said nothing, but her friend felt herself followed by a pitying gaze. Mellolaes wrapped her arms around herself. The air was not cold. The elleth grit her teeth. She made it to the trees and walked among them. Their shade did nothing to cool the heat of her face. Branches swayed and whispered above The Silvan. "What's wrong? What's wrong? What's wrong?"
She did not answer them. Not one word. They could not understand, and they might tell. Dread twisted her stomach. What if Rhovamil learned of it?
She knew the younger elleth well enough to guess what would come of that. The near elfling might become so excited her eyes would shine, her throat chuckle, and her feet bounce the younger elleth up and down like a leaf on choppy water. Then the young elleth would do all in her power to leave them alone together, even play pranks to orchestrate it. And she would say things to him, and wink at her and . . . Or Rhovamil's eyes might spark, her hands grab her weapons, her feet stride over to him, and her bow and arrow demand the elf see what he had spent so many years missing. Either possibility was humiliation.
Mellolaes sat on a log and hugged herself. Come now. Would discovery really be so bad? Was she that proud? Surely it had happened before. She was not alone. She could not be. There were centuries before her. Did she want to live them all in fear? It might be better to have it over with and let the shame fade over time.
Mellolaes shook her head. She knew she should have told them to go on after they finished eating, or gone somewhere else herself. They would not have suspected if she had only had some excuse. But if she took the basket back, which would have been the perfect excuse, he might have offered to come with her. That would have been much, much worse.
A groan escaped her. Mellolaes' back shivered with the sensation of eyes boring into it. She turned, and froze. An elf stood behind her.
His form towered over hers. Green eyes glinted down in understanding. Yet, a wide grin graced his face. She smiled sheepishly back. He stepped over the log with his long legs, and sat down a few feet from her side. "You never lost control of your cousins that day, did you?"
She did not trust herself to speak. So, Mellolaes just shook her head while biting her lower lip. Collas chuckled. “If it helps, he has never appreciated any other elleth in that way.”
Mellolaes un-clenched her jaw. "It does not help."
Half of the elf's grin fell. "Ah . . . I am sorry to hear that."
The elleth glared into the distance. Her voice reached a quarrelsome pitch she was sorry for the moment it echoed in her ears. "Nithrestil did not pity me so much until she and Tirven fell for each other. They are too afraid to marry during such a dark time. So, they just stare and sigh every time they see one another. And she pities me."
The elleth stilled and looked down into her lap. Collas chuckled. "Legolas and I have been badgering Tirven to get it over with since we caught him carrying a flower to her."
Mellolaes shrugged. "And I have been doing the same with her. Can regret be worse than grief?"
One of Collas' eyebrows rose. "You could be asked the same."
Mellolaes made a face and crossed her arms. "I would only regret if I spoke. Now he knows nothing. That is torment. If he finds out, he will hide from me, look away from me when I enter a room, and then stare at me with pity when I look away from him. That would be worse torment."
She sighed and turned to gaze at the elf by her side. "What about you?"
Both of Collas' brows shot up. "Get caught up in something like this? Ignorance is bliss. I will hold onto it until an elleth smacks me in the back of the head with something in frustration. Then I will wed, because doing otherwise would be too dangerous."
The healer rolled her eyes up at the sky. But she did so with an honest smile, so the elf was pleased. A fine elleth was she. Why fate treated her so, he could not comprehend. He ought to belt his friend in the mouth for not seeing. But that would be telling. His whole grin returned. "Would playing a prank upon him help?"
The healer looked to him with interest. Collas lowered his voice to a conspiratorial tone. The elf they spoke of turned over to face the sky and opened his eyes in his sleep without suspecting a thing.
He became conscious of the song slowly as it intertwined with the wanderings of his mind. It was a true Silvan melody. The tune was filled with light, airy notes some of which crooned like the wind while others tripped over each like the water in a running stream. One voice was warm as the sunlight he felt flooding over him, the other invigorating as the rain.
Legolas' sleeping face smiled. Consciousness drew his thoughts back to his form lying in the grass. That was when the elf began to notice it.
He felt heavier. The press of warmth on his skin felt like far more than sunlight. Legolas blinked his already open eyes and realized he was not looking up into the sky.
He was meeting the gaze of a doe. She snorted into his face. He breathed in the scent of chewed grass and then realized she was not the only one. A whole herd was blocking out the morning sun and forming a ring three to five deer thick. A fawn was standing over his legs.
Yet, there were several more living things far closer to him. Rabbits, young and old, big and small lay across or sat atop both his legs. They also covered his stomach. Three pheasants were nesting on his chest effectively pinning his crossed arms to it. And his throat tickled where a mouse had decided to nestle into it. A chuckle drew his attention back to the elleth flanking his head. “We though you might want to meet the creatures you kept safe yesterday by taking your archery practice elsewhere.”
A corner off his mouth turned up. He could not quite keep the note of humor from his voice even as he deepened it with pretend annoyance. “When do you plan to free me from my bondage?”
“Now that our song is done they should get up and begin foraging in a moment.” As if to prove the elleth's point one of the rabbits hopped off and into the grass. After it left the pheasant rose to its feet and beat its wings in a flurry that fanned the elf's face before strutting off of his chest and into the meadow. Another rabbit napping on his stomach rose onto its hind legs, yawned, stared into the distance, and then lay back down.
Legolas let his head fall back onto the ground with a groan. His ears caught the sound of laughter coming from above and before him. From a tree on the edge of the meadow, his sister and friends were taking in the sight of him covered in living bonds.
Suddenly, he felt the approach of another familiar presence. It climbed right up into the same tree and onto the same branch as his sister and friends. Legolas grimaced. Oh, no . . .
Within moments the sound of his mother's laugh came from above as well. The healers on either side of him were not bothering to hold back their mirth either. A twisted grin at his own expense flashed over Legolas' face. “Valar, have mercy on me, for my friends and kin have none.”
"You are certain it is a good idea to send the Minstrel, Adar?"
The Lord of Imladris refused to meet the younger elf's gaze. He studied the Grey Haven delegation's trade proposals instead. "Would you rather go, Elrohir?"
A chuckle came with his son's reply. "I'm afraid not. It simply seems to me that there must be one who has less . . . distaste for childcare we can send to convince others of its charms."
Elrond rose from his desk, and pointed to the door. "Go aid your elder brother in finding the best horse for Lindir to travel upon."
Elrohir turned and moved in the indicated direction with a grin. "We will see if we can find one who appreciates music."
Legolas finally rose from the grass after the last creature napping atop him had wandered off. He then met the grinning faces of Nithrestil and Mellolaes with an appreciative smile of his own. “Well played.”
Mellolaes smirked back and raised her hand to pull a feather out of his hair. She told herself she was doing it to be helpful. Her fingertips gave the pinion a sharp tug. The feather slipped from blonde locks that lightly brushed her hand. They were softer than even those of most Sindar.
Mellolaes quickly locked her gaze on the feather she had removed rather than the elf she had removed it from. He chuckled at her find. Then the archer knelt back down into the grass to gather his bow and quiver.
He rose and nodded to both healers before turning to walk towards the palace. As Legolas passed the tree his friends, sister, and mother were still perched in, he looked up at them. “Do not think yourselves safe from repercussions of having fun at my expense.”
Lathwinn grinned down at her son. “Do not think to get into a prank war with me, elfling.”
Legolas grinned back and disappeared into the trees. Mellolaes continued to gaze at the spot she had lost sight of him. Then the healer felt a stare. She looked up to meet the gaze of the queen who was smiling sadly at her. Mellolaes turned away before her cheeks turned red.
She felt two arms wrap around and squeeze her waist. Mellolaes struggled to turn around and face her captor. She managed to throw one of her own arms around the younger elleth. She did so with a grin that only grew as her captor spoke. "Thank you nurse. That was great fun."
The older elleth squeezed her old charge back. “Your welcome little elfling. Come see me again soon."
“I will.” The young warrior released her, turned, and sprinted away, and into the trees. Mellolaes released her breath in relief. Rhovamil did not know. After two centuries of being her nurse and friend, she could tell, and was very glad of it.
Collass strode up to the elleth and winked. “Did it help?”
Mellolaes turned back and shrugged. “A little.”
The archer lowered his voice. "Perhaps you should contemplate a journey away, Merivaidian. People often grow to appreciate that which is gone."
Mellolaes raised a doubtful eyebrow at him. "Where would I go?"
The elf shrugged. "Who knows."
Then Collas turned to follow his fellows. Tirven stepped up. He nodded to Mellolaes. “Farewell, Merivaidian.”
She nodded back. “Farewell honored warrior.”
The elf then turned and stepped up far closer to the dark-haired elleth. He caressed the Sindar's cheek and gave her a peck on the lips. “Stay well, fair one. May we soon meet again.”
Nithrestil smiled back up at him. “No time would be too soon for me.”
Tirven's grin widened before he turned and walked away as well. Nithrestil sighed as her view of her lover was blocked by the trees. Then she turned to look at Mellolaes with a flash of compassion in her gaze. The Silvan's jaw tightened. Then she turned to walk in the opposite direction the others had headed in. “I think its been too long since I made my rounds on the other side of the lake.”
Queen Lathwinn watched the healer walk away with a sigh and a shake of her head. Really, her son was too dense. She turned to go back to the palace and inform her husband of where their three errant archers had been last night and the day before. Then she smiled to herself. Even after several centuries, there might yet be hope. Legolas had come by his obliviousness honestly. Perhaps, if Legolas was temporarily banished from the palace he would come to value a certain healer's kindness still more.
Lindir returned from the Grey Havens. He dearly wanted a glass of wine, a hot bath, and to play a few of the most calming melodies on his harp. However, he was not one to put off unpleasant duties, at least as long as they did not involve watching over a certain manling. He now knew to never put off that duty either. How did the small mortal manage to unknowingly cause him so much distress? Throughout all the centuries before Estel came into their household, there had only been a handful of incidences when his Lord was displeased with his work.
The servant went to Elrond’s study. Thankfully, Erestor was there as well. Glorfindel was not, but perhaps that was for the best.
Both elves turned questioning, dark eyes upon the minstrel, sometimes door-elf, and now messenger and diplomat. Lindir swallowed. “My lord, Chief Steward, I am sorry to announce that I bring unfortunate tidings.”
Elrond sighed. “Go on.”
“I spoke to every elf in the Grey Havens. I pleaded with them. I informed them of how grateful you would be, and what we were willing to give them in return for their service. I told them of all the manling’s wondrous and endearing qualities, and how light the burden caring for him would be.”
The eyebrows of both other elves shot upwards. A half-smile quirked up a corner of Elrond’s mouth. It disappeared as Lindir continued. “But . . . not a single elf or elleth of the Grey Havens or surrounding lands were willing to leave their homes and other work to do this for us, even for less than ten years. I must admit my lord, I am greatly surprised at their refusal.”
Elrond and Erestor would have raised their eyebrows again had they still been listening. They were not. In their minds, both elves had fallen into the pit of surrender. Neither had climbed back out yet.
Lindir looked nervously from one grim, fair face to the other. Finally, he bowed his head. The minstrel closed his eyes and spoke again. “If it helps my Lord, I am quite willing to take on the responsibility of watching over your youngest son. I will from now on do so wholeheartedly and without shirking or passing the responsibility off to another.”
Elrond gave a sad smile. “Thank you Lindir, but there is another we have been assured will do the work with good will and great skill.”
Lindir blinked in confusion. Then his eyes widened in terror. Surely the rumors could not be true! Elrond noticed his servant's expression. His own smile turned grim. “You are excused with our gratitude, Lindir.”
The elf backed out with a slight bow, and turned down the hall wondering if there was any way he could yet turn his lord against this desperate measure. Meanwhile Elrond and Erestor looked at each other with identical expressions of stern resolve. “What say you, Erestor?”
“I will assist you in writing the request to King Thranduil.”
“Mellolaes!” A flush crept over the elleth’s face. She stood up from the tall grass. Nithrestil glanced over her shoulder a question in her eyes. Mellolaes shrugged. Then she turned and strode toward the warrior.
The elf trotted up to her, his usual smirk upon his face. Mellolaes grasped the edges of the rough cloth of her skirt now covered in grass, leaves, and deer hair. She tucked one foot behind the other, and bowed her head, while bending her legs in a deep curtsy. “Did you need my help with something, your highness?”
“The king wishes to see you!”
Mellolaes jerked her head back up and stared at him. “The king wishes to see . . . me?”
Legolas nodded, his smirk growing wider. Mellolaes blinked back.
“Why?” What have I done now?
The elf replied with his widest smirk yet, while turning to lead the way back. “Perhaps he wishes to speak with you.”
Mellolaes rolled her eyes before following. As she continued to follow the Thrandulion, her brows furrowed. Legolas was strutting. Mellolaes tilted her head as she studied him. Her feet stopped moving. The elf turned back to look at her. “What is wrong?”
The healer gave him a suspicious smile. “Perhaps, that is what I should be asking you.”
Legolas smiled back more gently. “You have my word, Mellolaes. This is no prank of vengeance I am visiting upon you. My father truly wishes to speak with you on an important matter.”
“Do you know anything of this matter?”
The archer's smile widened back into a smirk. “Perhaps.”
Mellolaes grinned in return. “Just remember, your highness, I have you sister’s ear. She is always seeking an excuse to torment you.”
If Legolas had not already been so fair, he would have paled. Eventually, they came to the palace. Instead of making their way to the king’s audience chamber, where he awaited her, Mellolaes led the way to her private rooms. She was not going to appear before the king as she was.
Legolas waited in the hall outside her closed door as she washed and changed. He was less a guard than a deterrent to any who might try to speak with her or assign her another task, before she met with their king. Once clean and in her best dress, Mellolaes emerged. Legolas then led the way to where his father’s audience chamber.
When they got to the room Legolas stood outside the door. He gave her a brief bow as Mellolaes stepped past him. She blushed a little at that. The royal guard and announcer swung the wooden door, twice her height, open. Then he called out, “Entering Mellolaes Merilvaidian, servant in the household of his majesty, King Thranduil!”
Mellolaes looked down the long room. Thranduil sat on his throne as before. This time his eldest son, Tirgol, stood to his left. Like Beldoron, Tirgol wore a Doriath breastplate and sword belt of the royal guard. Queen Lathwinn stood on her husband’s other side in her archer’s garments again. On her face was a bright grin reminiscent of Legolas’. Mellolaes again had a hard time not smiling back.
The king wore the same robe, breastplate, and sword belt, but his crown now bore only leaves. The time of its blossom had passed for the year. All the royals looked less serious than when she had last entered this place, but none appeared casual by her standards. Mellolaes walked down the throne room, stopped before the dias, and gave her deepest curtsy. “You wished to see me, your majesty?”
The king gave a slight nod. “Yes, Mellolaes Merilvaidian. I have received a request from Lord Elrond of Imladris. He asks you be released from my service and into his for a time. He needs a nurse for his human foundling, until the foundling is old enough to no longer need such care. He has heard of your skill in both healing and caring for the young, including the younglings of the second born. He wishes for you to watch over his adopted son.”
Legolas watched the elleth’s reaction to the hing’s words from beyond the open door. As he did, his smirk faded into confusion. The elleth did not move for several moments. The expression on the faces of his brother and father did not change, but his mother’s grin faded. She sympathetically met his own gaze. Finally, Mellolaes gave another deep curtsy. “May I have time to consider Lord Elrond’s request, my King?”
“You may. I will not hold you here, if you desire to do as Lord Elrond asks. Nor will I command you to do so. You may find Rivendell’s less crowded halls a fair place to dwell for a time. You may also learn something new of healing in Elrond’s household to add to your own knowledge and skill. However, I am pleased with your service in my kingdom. Your presence here is of high value to me and to all our people.”
“I understand, my king. How long may I consider this request before giving an answer?”
“You may have until the end of the summer to decide, but a journey to Imladris should be made before the start of winter.”
Mellolaes gave another curtsy, “Please send word to Lord Elrond of Imladris that I am considering his request.”
“I will do so. That is all I wished to discuss with you. You may leave if you wish”
Mellolaes curtsied once more, then turned and strode from the throne room. Legolas watched her go with sagging shoulders. Once she was out of hearing range, Thranduil turned an amused smile upon his son. “You expected her to answer differently, Legolas?”
The Thranduilion nodded. “I did.”
The king's own smile grew wider. “You have spent too much time in The Hidden Valley, ion nin. The elleth of our kingdom are far less predictable than theirs.”
The Queen swatted her husband's shoulder, which only made his grin grow wider. Legolas did not see this. He was still staring down the hall the Silvan nurse had exited through. The younger elf sighed. “Aye, they are.”