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2. Turgon’s Idea
That evening, as was usual in the warm weather, Thranduil’s people gathered on the green outside the palace gates after evening meal to tell stories, listen to music, and dance. For Thranduil’s family, the gatherings this summer were particularly joyous because Ithilden, the crown prince, had recently become betrothed to Alfirin, whose mother was one of the palace healers. Indeed, she was the healer who had taught Legolas the mediation techniques that were intended to help him gather himself again from wherever the parts of his spirit had fled.
Legolas now sat beside Annael on one edge of the green watching his brother dance with Alfirin. The betrothal ceremony had been held only two weeks ago. Alfirin’s family and Ithilden’s had come together to bless the exchange of promises that the young people had made. The room had been arranged to represent the strengths and talents they intended to join. The walls had been draped with her weavings, which were greatly admired for their beauty. Ithilden’s weapons and his harp had been arrayed on a table covered with one of Alfirin’s tapestries representing the oak leaves that symbolized Thranduil’s kingdom. Legolas has been surprised to see his brother’s harp on the table, for he had always thought of Ithilden as more practical and less interested in music than most Elves. He had been utterly astonished when Ithilden had picked up the harp and sung:
When you thread your fingers through mine,
I am reminded of your braided hair
And my hands tugging at the ends.
When you thread your loom,
I wonder at how artfully
Our paths have been woven.
Legolas had been dumbstruck. Following the old traditions, the couple had exchanged silver rings which they now wore in shiny newness on the index fingers of their right hands, and the joy the two took in one another was transparent. Alfirin seemed nice enough to Legolas, but he did not know her very well and felt shy around her. Her entry into their family was going to require some adjustment. As Legolas watched, the dance ended, and Ithilden bent down to brush Alfirin’s mouth in a gentle kiss.
In the last year or two, Legolas had begun to be aware of the maidens his own age whose bodies were gradually rounding into womanhood. There was one in particular whose hair was the color of polished oak leaves. He had known her forever. Indeed he had once been punished for flinging mud at her for no reason he was later able to produce other than that she was a girl. If he had not been afraid of his own awkwardness, Legolas would not have minded kissing her at all. But he could not imagine himself in the position Ithilden was now in.
Into Legolas’s somewhat dreamy state dropped Turgon, settling on the grass beside him and Annael. “I am bored,” said Turgon.
Reluctantly coming out of his reverie, Legolas smiled faintly. “You have said that at least three times a day since you learned to talk, Turgon.”
“I have an idea,” began Turgon, much to the trepidation of the other two. This sentence had introduced many a hair-raising episode in which they had all participated, sometimes to their sorrow. “We are all tired of the training exercises and believe that we would be of more use by actually using some of the skills we have learned, correct?”
Alarms went off in Legolas’s head, and Annael stiffened beside him. They both could see where this was going and neither of them liked the direction.
Blissfully unaware of their reaction, Turgon plowed on. “I propose that we do something to prove ourselves to the weapons masters and that prig Ithilden. I am sorry, Legolas, I know that he is your brother, but he can be very sharp-tongued when he likes.” Legolas tried to imagine what the occasion had been upon which Ithilden had demonstrated his sharp tongue to Turgon, decided there were too many possibilities, and gave up.
“You cannot possibly be proposing that we ride out on our own,” Annael protested.
“Why not?” Turgon demanded. “I have ridden with my father’s patrols at our family home, and Legolas has used weapons in armed combat.” Legolas cringed. He had not told Annael about killing the enemy agent in the spring.
“What do you mean Legolas has used weapons in armed combat?” demanded Annael. “When?”
Legolas turned to him to say something placating, but before he could say anything Turgon was going on with his suggestion. “We three should ride south and westward for a few days and demonstrate our skills. If we did that, no one would be able to keep us from the warrior patrols.”
“Yes, they would,” Legolas and Annael cried almost in unison. The very idea was ludicrous. Sometimes Turgon lived in a dream world.
“I will not do it,” Annael said. He had learned over the years that only a firm refusal had any chance of standing up to one of Turgon’s ideas in full flight.
Now Turgon was irritated. “Legolas will do it. He is not afraid, as you apparently are.”
“I am not afraid,” protested Annael. “I am merely not insane. Legolas, you would not do this, would you?”
They both turned to him. Legolas hesitated. As Turgon had been arguing with Annael, he had remembered their talk of the afternoon. It had occurred to him that Turgon’s eagerness had been sparked at least partly by his own tale. Turgon had always been intensely competitive, and if Legolas had been involved in combat, Turgon would find it hard to still his own urge to show that he could do at least as well as his friend had.
And deep in his own heart, he had flinched at the taunt, “afraid,” that Turgon had tossed at Annael. Was he afraid? Would he be able to handle a weapon when he needed to without his hands shaking?
Reacting to his hesitation, Annael cried, “You cannot possibly be considering this, Legolas. And besides,” he continued in triumph, “how would either of you ever be able to do it? Your parents would notice that you were gone before a day was out. Even your parents would object, Turgon, and Thranduil would send someone after you. That would surely be unpleasant.” This last was said with a certain grim satisfaction. Turgon’s parents had always allowed him to do pretty much as he liked, but by Elven standards, Thranduil was unusually strict with Legolas, as he had been with his two older sons, Ithilden and Eilian. He evidently believed that the privileges and responsibilities that accrued to the sons of the king meant they needed to learn discipline early.
“I will think of something to take care of our parents,” Turgon promised, sending chills of apprehension down the spines of his two friends.
To Legolas, the rest of the evening passed in a haze of worry, as he tried to guess what Turgon might do. As they were leaving the green at the evening’s end, Annael grasped his arm. “Why are you letting him talk you into this?” he urged. “This is no joke, Legolas. You know it is a bad idea.”
“I cannot let him go alone.”
“But if you do not go, he will not either.”
Legolas shook his head. “You know Turgon better than that. Once he gets an idea in his head, he will not let go of it. Besides, I think, perhaps, that he has this idea in response to something I said this afternoon. I cannot leave him on his own. If something happened to him, I would feel responsible.”
Annael was exasperated. “You cannot be responsible for every foolish thing that Turgon does.”
Legolas shook his head and did not answer.
The next day, weapons training began with an announcement and a request. Sondil, the woodcraft master, was taking the group of youngest elflings on a camping trip that would last for three days. He asked for volunteers from among the older students to accompany him on the trip and help to teach woodcraft skills to the little one. Legolas, Turgon, and Annael all looked studiously at their feet, avoiding eye contact with Sondil. Only after two of their fellows had stepped forward did they raise their eyes.
As soon as they had been released to their classes, Legolas sought out Thelion, the blade master, and apologized for leaving yesterday’s lesson. Thelion was known as a kind teacher, and he had seen his student’s distress the day before, which was why he had not insisted that Legolas return to the training field immediately. He accepted the apology without comment. Then he asked, “Would you like to work with daggers again today?” After only the briefest of pauses, Legolas nodded. He had risen early and had spent an hour in the healing meditation that Alfirin’s mother had taught him. He believed, he hoped, that he was ready to try once again to triumph over his agitation.
Having donned their protective gear, the two once again began circling one another, each trying to sense the other’s intent. So easily that he was taken by surprise, Legolas found himself settling into the intense concentration that, until the last few months, he had nearly always experienced when wielding weapons. When he had first taken up the dagger, his palms had been sweaty and his grip had been slightly slippery. But now he felt calm, as if he and Thelion were engaging in some sort of dance and moved in a harmony that was within his control to maintain or rupture. They feinted and thrust and parried, matching strength to strength. But in the end, as on the previous day, Legolas again triumphed, moving under Thelion’s outthrust arm and pushing his dagger into the leather over the teacher’s belly. Pulling away, Thelion laughed and slapped him on the shoulder. Legolas stood for a moment, and then, in relief, he grinned and gripped the teacher’s arm in his steady hand. For another hour, they worked together, until Thelion sent him off, basking in the approval of the weapons master and his own.
As he stood at the side of the training field, wiping his sweaty face on a towel, Turgon turned up beside him, looking pleased with himself. “It is done,” he said.
“What do you mean?” asked Legolas.
“I have sent notes to our parents telling them that we will be accompanying Sondil on the woodcraft training trip with the elflings.”
Legolas blinked. “Turgon,” he protested, “you cannot possibly want to spend three days looking after the elflings. I know that I do not.”
“We are not really going with Sondil,” Turgon explained, as if he were speaking to one who was thick-headed. “I wrote the notes myself. Do you not see? This is our opportunity to slip away and be three days gone before our parents miss us. And I did not send a note to Annael’s parents either. He does not deserve to go. We will leave tomorrow morning.”
Legolas was horrified. If he went with Turgon, his father was going to be beside himself with rage at both the trip itself and the deceit used to enable it. Thranduil valued honesty and honor, and Legolas had always tried to be truthful with his father even when it was difficult. He cherished his father’s trust in him. That it might be undone by Turgon’s actions was an almost unbearable thought.
And yet how was he to back down now? Turgon had already sent the notes. Perhaps he could tell his father that someone had sent the note as a joke, knowing that Legolas would not want to spend three days babysitting elflings. But if he did that, then Turgon would surely go by himself, and Legolas was deeply worried about his friend’s safety under those circumstances. For one moment, Legolas considered breaking his friend’s confidence and telling Turgon’s parents what their son was planning. But the violation of the code of the young seemed overwhelming and besides, Legolas was not entirely confident that Turgon’s father would put his foot down firmly enough to prevent disaster. He could see no way out of the hole that Turgon had dug for them.
Dealing with Turgon was sometimes like facing a large rock rolling down hill. The safe course was undoubtedly to do as Annael was advising and get out of the way lest he, himself, be crushed in the onslaught. But Legolas was afraid that his friend would run into a wall one day and smash himself to pieces if no one were there to slow him down. There seemed to be no one but him to stand before the out-of-control rock. If he did not do it, who would? Thranduil had taught all of his sons that they were responsible for Mirkwood. Did that not also mean that he was responsible for Turgon?
And deep inside there was always the nagging thought, Was he afraid to engage in battle? It was all very well to succeed in practice, but Legolas had seen the difference between practice and reality and that difference had shaken him profoundly.
Legolas found no relief from his agitation when he went home for evening meal that night. The only saving grace was that on that evening Thranduil’s family ate in the Great Hall with the whole household. If they had eaten in their small, private dining room, he would not have been able to manage it. As it was, there were moments he found hard to bear.
“Ithilden tells me that you did well in training today, my son,” his father spoke to him briefly on his way to his own place at the head table. “I am proud of you.”
Legolas swallowed and said nothing.
“I have received a note from Sondil saying that you will accompany him tomorrow on a camping trip with the younger students,” Thranduil went on, with a somewhat puzzled air. “Do you wish to do this?”
Unable to trust himself to speak, Legolas nodded and then, in a strangled voice, added, “Turgon and I wanted to get out into the woods for a while.”
“Ah,” said his father, more coolly, “Turgon.” But he said no more and moved on.
Legolas ate little, went to bed early and slept badly.
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