It had been many long days since he had bidden goodbye to Glorfindel of Gondolin on the borders of Imladris. The image of the golden warrior sitting proudly upon his mighty white charger would stay with him always - his armor glimmering in the morning sun, the cool breeze softly blowing his blond locks behind him, fully baring his beautiful face, his mien one of intense sadness and regret, yet there was also stubbornness and steely defiance, for he would not let the tears fall. His horse had danced to the side then, snickering and puffing loudly as if to shake his master from his melancholy mood, as Legolas somehow found it within himself to smile sorrowfully before raising his arm high in a silent, tempered farewell. Wheeling his own steed around, he galloped to the front line of the caravan under his command, not once looking back lest he lose his composure.
The journey had been surprisingly uneventful, and Legolas had spent most of it reminiscing on the days he had spent in the Valley with his lovers. Oh, but the times they had had! The joy he had felt, the light-hearted existence he had lived. He had not felt so frolicsome and high-spirited since before joining and then creating his own patrols into the southernmost reaches of the ancient forest, back when he was still innocent of spirit and blissfully unaware of the nature of darkness and its effects on an elven soul.
Yet now was the time to face the battle once more. It would be hard, he knew, for getting back into the fray and reconstructing the mask of well-being, which, as a servant of his people, he was obliged to wear, was no easy task at all. Only his father and Lainion were allowed to see his suffering.
And yet there was also much to look forward to. He would see his father again, Lainion, who was a brother to him, sweet Alastegiel, his cousin, and his men, his loyal, faithful men. There was much cause for joyous anticipation, except that he was bereft – of love.
They had ridden over the mountains without event, except for a few damaged wagon wheels which had been quickly repaired. The weather had been kind, and they had made the crossing in record time, for a caravan of sixty elves, that is. Legolas was surprised, for recent events had pointed to a high-risk sojourn, yet where the orcs were now, he could only guess.
They were now in the flat, grassy lands that would lead them to the Old Ford later this afternoon – they were finally near the shores of the Anduin, and he knew that from there eastward, it would start to feel like home again, and thus, the mantle of responsibility, the onus of duty, and the all-too-familiar dull ache of grief began to descend upon him once more, as fog descends upon the heated land. It was not that he had not missed his forest, for he had, more than he could express. He had missed his father, his friends, his men, the Greenwood. Yet would that he could add to that the joy he had found in the valley, and the peace and light it radiated. There was still a little of that left in his home – just an iota that he and his army fought with nail and tooth to protect, yet what a price came from that struggle.
Elladan rode on his right, together with the inseparable Galdithion. They had struck up quite the friendship since their departure. The royal guard had taken it upon himself to instruct the Noldorin lord and lieutenant on the geography and wildlife of the Greenwood, explaining the different trees that could be found, their properties, the animals and insects that lived in the forest, which to avoid and so on. Melven listened attentively, yet remained silent as he took in his surroundings.
This is what he had wanted, had needed. He had left his wife and young son in Imladris, and although he loved them dearly, he needed this experience. He had been deeply moved by what had happened during the prince’s – nay king’s visit to Imladris. He had been profoundly and fundamentally changed – and it had opened his eyes. He had realized that he had fallen into a routine that he was not contented with. He loved his wife, but she perpetuated that routine, encouraged it, even, and he was slowly but surely, becoming a monster; an unyielding, intolerant, bored and judgmental lieutenant with little chance of advancing in the army he served.
He was a warrior, a Noldorin warrior, and so very proud of his heritage, yet he had squandered it, but for no longer, for now was the time to shine. He would open himself to this new experience, become a better elf, a better warrior; he would serve this Sylvan-Sindarin king for a year and then – he would see what life had in store for him.
Elladan too, had considered his candidature long and hard, for to become separated from Elrohir was a challenge in itself – they had always been together, done things together, decided things together. The result had been that while Elrohir had found his vocation in the healing arts, and in diplomacy, Elladan had fallen behind in his – that of the warrior. He had become complacent, had hesitated to continue his training because Elrohir was simply not interested. And so he had felt incomplete. The exchange program had been just what he needed to finally take that step – alone.
However his new-found friendship with Galdithion had softened the burden of separation. He was shocked and surprised to think that he had shared but a cursory acquaintance with him for almost the entirety of the wood elves’ visit to Imladris; it had only been during the last few days when they had truly begun to know one another, after that day by the stream, when Galdithion smiled at him and the world had faded away.
Thus the day progressed, with the foremost elves in the line lost to their thoughts, each pondering or reminiscing on recent events, and those still to come. For the rest of the entourage, spirits were high as the scent of the forest began to tickle their sensitive noses, pine and earth, moss and fresh green grass, sage and laurel, nuts and berries - the aromas of their woodland home.
The ford was now in sight and Legolas brought himself back to the present, turning in his saddle and beckoning to Gondien, his captain.
“Gondien, get the wagons into single file, and then cross with half the unit. Send two scouts out – we will await your signal before crossing.”
“Aye, sir!” confirmed Gondien, wheeling his horse away to do his Lord’s bidding.
It would take a while for the scouts to reconnoiter the area, and so Legolas called a halt for food and refreshment, but with strict orders to not break the line. If there was any trouble on the other side, they would need to be ready to move at short notice.
“You expect trouble, my Lord?” asked Melven.
“No, lieutenant, but we have fallen into the routine of insuring we are not taken unawares – nothing can happen if we are on guard, yet disaster could ensue should we trust to appearances.”
Melven simply nodded – it made sense, but it gave him an insight into just how dangerous this forest was.
Forty minutes later, and Galdithion gave the order to saddle up and move out.
Melven, Elladan and Legolas sat upon their chargers on the river bank, watching as Galdithion organized the shuttle – three wagons each crossing, which took around 15 minutes. It would take them at least an hour to get them all across, and Legolas would be on full alert, as he knew Gondien would be on the other side, for they were at their most vulnerable here.
Legolas glanced over at Elladan, who was watching the process with interest, taking in every detail, no doubt, thought Legolas. His eyes wandered over the warrior’s body, so like that of his lover’s, yet not so, for what had first attracted Legolas to this warrior’s father was his wisdom, his experience of life, his strong aura, yet the likeness was astounding, even the quirks and facial expressions, the accent, intonation, he was constantly reminded of his dark Lore Master.
“Elladan, your quiver is buckled closed.”
“Aye, …” he replied somewhat inquisitively, not quite sure what Legolas was concerned about.
“Open it, and keep it open, if you please. Melven, you too.”
The two Imladrian warriors looked at each other, puzzled, before obliging the commander. Of course they would have unbuckled their quivers had it come to battle and arrows, they would have more than enough time, surely.
However, Legolas did not elaborate, he simply sat atop his horse, watching and listening, and Elladan and Melven were loathe to interrupt him.
The last wagons had arrived on the opposite bank, and so Legolas and the remaining warriors readied themselves to board the shuttle and move out – yet before they could do so, Legolas’ head shot to the right, over his shoulder, his long blonde locks whipping the side of his face. There was danger, approaching fast from the west.
“Galdithion! Ambush to the west!” he shouted.
Melven and Elladan looked at each other and then at the warriors around them, who already had their bows drawn, facing the direction in which their Lord stared.
Somewhat abashed, they retrieved their own bows and fitted their arrows, joining their Sylvan comrades as they waited for the orcs to appear from the tree line. They had been slow, even with their quivers unbuckled!
“Can we not make the crossing before engagement?” Elladan whispered urgently to the commander.
“Nay, we would not make it far enough to be out of their range – we would be sitting ducks”.
However, his face changed as his head tilted to the side, and then – he smiled!
“Barabor has arrived!” he shouted, as a cheer went up around them, and from across the river where Gondien watched diligently.
“Come!” said Legolas, as he ran to the platform, his warriors behind him.
The ropes creaked as they tensed and the shuttle began to move, taking them out into the deceptively strong currents of the Great River.
They stood watching long enough to ensure that the orcs were not going to appear from behind the tree line - no sound could be heard, no clang of metal, shouts or screams. Legolas knew this was because they had not engaged – Barabor and the western detachment would have scared them off, which told him that the group had been neither large nor well-organized – they were scavenging, no doubt.
“Forgive my impertinence, my Lord, but will they not need help in the battle?” asked Melven, surprised that they had not stayed to aid their comrades.
“Nay, Melven, for there is no battle to tell of. They have not engaged, but simply dispersed. It seems the group was small and had no specific objective – they scattered as soon as our western detachment made itself known to them.”
Melven was wondering how he could possibly know all that, but decided not to voice his puzzlement – yet it must have shown on his face.
“The trees, Melven,” was all Legolas said.
Of course, thought Melven as he looked around him, somewhat embarrassed. The woodland warriors watched him carefully, for at the slightest expression of doubt, they would take offence, of that Elladan, too, was sure.
“Of course, my Lord, forgive my ignorance,” said Melven, hoping this would suffice to show he had had no intention of doubting the lord, he had simply not understood.
“Elladan, Melven, once we are settled in the Greenwood, I had thought to have you both attend a week of briefing sessions, besides what training adjustments may be necessary, before riding out with me and The Company. It will make it easier for you both to understand how we do things here, and why. I know that unbuckled quivers sounds strange, even to the most seasoned of warriors, yet here, there are – things, that you will need to be aware of – and open quivers is one of them,” he said, as he smiled kindly before continuing with his explanation.
“You will find that warfare almost always starts with archery in the woods, whereas in Imladris I assume it to be swords. The enemy almost always attacks through the tactic of ambush – sudden, no warning save for what the trees can tell me. It is paramount that you can draw and shoot in an instant, indeed it is a skill that we will work on while you are here, so please, do not forget, it may seem like a pointless detail to you now, but later, when you have accompanied us on our patrols, you will see the importance of it.”
“I trust you, Legolas – we, trust you,” said Elladan, looking over at Melven. “However, I thank you for the explanation, for I can see we both have much to learn,” he added humbly.
They smiled then, as the three warriors clapped each other on the shoulders, and the lord’s unit visibly relaxed, nodding their approval at the outcome of the tense situation.
“Once the briefing and training is finished, you will be sworn in as Greenwood warriors and thrust into the wilds! Then we will see your worth!”
“Ahh!” jeered the warriors good-naturedly, for they knew there was some fun to be had with these Noldorin lieutenants – and they were not going to miss it.
“What - there is a ceremony of some kind, my Lord?” asked Melven, wondering what ‘sworn in’ meant in the Greenwood.
He simply gave them both a feral smile as he said, “Oh yes,” and the warriors laughed as they slapped their thighs, much as Celeborn was wont to do. ‘Must be a Sylvan thing,’ thought Elladan. And so they both found themselves looking at each other, dumbfounded again, yet their faces promptly broke out into an evil grin, both thinking about just how interesting this adventure was going to be.
That night, they camped just outside the borders of the forest. The wagons had been moved into a circular formation, with the camp set up in the middle. The watches had been set with ten warriors, which would allow three rotations during the night. Legolas himself had set out with a group of hunters for some fresh meat for the evening meal.
Elladan sat together with Melven, Galdithion and Gondien, talking quietly. The day had been rather eventful, and both Noldorin warriors felt their acute disadvantage. They were eager to get to the Greenwood and start their ‘briefing’ as Legolas had called it, for they could very well cause an incident through their ignorance, and there was nothing further from their minds.
Galdithion had seen this, and had ‘recruited’ the services of Captain Gondien. Together they would try to set their minds at ease.
“Lord Elladan, Melven, you must not be worried at the reaction of the warriors this afternoon,” said the captain, as he handed them both a steaming cup of mint tea. “Your reactions were logical for those who have no experience of our realm, ‘tis no smudge upon your good reputations. These warriors are simply loyal to a fault to their king and commander – they will tolerate nothing they perceive as a slight, whoever it should come from.”
“We had noticed,” said Elladan, smiling into his cup. “Yet there was naught further from our minds, Gondien. I hope they realize this.”
“Indeed they do, my Lord, for if they didn’t , you would both be dead.”
Melven swallowed hard as he hid his face behind his tea. He really needed to school his mouth, lest he find himself bereft of his tongue. For he had no doubt these fey warriors would slice it out of his mouth without the slightest turn of the stomach, and wear it as an earring, perhaps.
Galdithion chuckled then. “I had thought that Gondien would put your minds at rest and yet he has done naught but petrify you – why Melven, you look ashen, your eyes are sunken, and your hands are set to shaking!”
Elladan wondered why Galdithion was talking so loudly, until he realized he was talking so that all could hear what he said, for this was their vengeance - they were mocking him, and Melven was suddenly mortified.
“Well,” said Melven, equally loudly and taking his chances, “what did you expect, Lieutenant? For one look from a feral Sylvan warrior is enough to loosen the bowels of the most seasoned of warriors!”
A roar went up amongst the warriors as they laughed outrageously, thoroughly approving of Melven’s comeback as they wandered over to him, slapping him thunderously on the back, showing him that there was no hard feeling between them, and that they had appreciated his generous wit. Elladan for his part, was impressed by this once mediocre lieutenant, who was swiftly becoming source of pride to his homeland.
When it was over and peace reigned once more before the hearth, Gondien addressed Melven once more.
“So you see, Lieutenant. This is our way. Do you think perhaps, that you can be happy? Serving with us?”
Melven watched Gondien closely. He liked him, he thought then. He was commanding, loyal, yet his question was sincere, his interest in his wellbeing was genuine.
“Yes, Captain, I believe I will be very happy, serving with you.”
Eruanna Gaerwyniel walked over to the hearth where her Noldorin lord sat, sharing tea with the Greenwood captain and Melven, a pot in her hands and a satchel slung over her shoulder.
“Eruanna,” welcomed Elladan, hoping against hope that she was there for the reason he thought she was.
“Have you come to work your magic on the Greenwood rabbits?” His mouth watered at the thought, his eyes wide in anticipation.
She giggled then, for he looked like a starving child rescued from the clutches of Far Harad.
“Well, my Lord. If someone would procure me with the rabbits, I would gladly oblige.”
“Then we are in luck,” shouted Legolas, as he appeared at their side, his bow over his shoulder and a string of rabbits hanging from his outstretched hand, another brown bag hanging heavily from his belt.
“Ah, a feast awaits us, my Lords!” exclaimed a plethoric Melven. For he was thoroughly enjoying himself. He had missed this – camaraderie of warriors, life on the road, hearty game stew and a few bawdy tales.
“Then work your magic, sweet Eruanna, and these humble warriors will forever be in your debt, my Lady!” said Legolas, making her giggle once more as she set the pot over the fire and began her creation.
Taking off his bow, Legolas sat and accepted a cup of mint tea from Gondien, as he handed Eruanna the bag which he had filled with roots and herbs he knew could be used for a most succulent stew, eliciting an audible intake of breath from the cook as she dug her hands inside and pulled out the treasures within.
“Tell me, Lord Elladan, enquired the king. Why did you decide to come with us to the Greenwood? What were your motivations?”
“I want to learn to become a better warrior, and although it sounds strange, away from my brother.”
“How so? For you are close, this much I know. I also know that Glorfindel would teach you much, should you so wish. Why then, in the Greenwood?”
The others listened respectfully, as Elladan measured his words, for he was not sure he was happy to air his thoughts in public, before Melven, Galdithion, Gondien, amongst others, yet he thought perhaps that Legolas had asked purposefully, deeming it good that his men empathize with his venture, and so he answered as best he could.
“Elrohir and I have always been together, worked together, planned everything together. We influence each other as no other can. The reason I am not yet a captain, is because I have not studied enough, have not trained enough – I am simply not good enough, my Lord. And although you are right in that Glorfindel would make me the best warrior I can be – I need to do this alone, away from Elrohir, for he would not be a good influence, albeit he would be blissfully unaware of it. He would drag me into his plans without realizing that my vocation is not his. Aye, I am a healer and I would not give that up, but I am not a diplomat or a scientist, I am not a lore master, but a warrior at heart. And if I cannot achieve my goal with Glorfindel in Imladris, then there is no other place for me than to train with Prince Legolas, in the Greenwood.”
He held the king’s gaze then, and knew he had expressed himself well, for the lord smiled beautifully as he dipped his head.
“Then be you most welcome in my realm, Lord Elladan Elrondion. It is my sincere wish that you learn, achieve your goal, and be happy while you can.”
“I know I will, for I have the best teacher.”
A mighty ‘aaahhh’ went up amongst the warriors, as they cheered and clapped.
“And the best lieutenant!” added Galdithion, raising his voice above the din of the thoroughly-approving warriors.
“Indeed I do,” replied Elladan in a measured voice, smiling in confusion, for he was indeed confounded by this woodland guard who was slowly but surely crawling under his defenses, and making his way to his guarded heart.
The day dawned beautifully. The sky a brilliant blue, spotted with fluffy, bubbly white clouds that floated lazily over the sky. Elladan sat up to the sound of clinking pottery as a cup entered his still cloudy vision, steam evaporating into the warm spring morning.
A lovely smile - kind, grey eyes regarded him as he accepted the offering, smelling the mint and honey before taking a tentative sip.
“Ah, that is good. It is early,” observed Elladan, as he sipped at his tea. The camp was still set up, with only a few warriors walking around, fetching water and setting it to boil.
“Yes, though the warriors have already risen to secure the camp and procure water for the citizens, for it is not safe for them to do so,” said Galdithion, watching as Elladan sipped at his tea, observing the way his lips would curl up prettily before sucking on the side of his cup.
“Then you should have awoken me, my friend. I will not be awarded any preferential treatment during my stay here.”
“Ah, and neither will it be offered. Yet we are all waiting for you to arrive and take your briefing. Once you are given leave to patrol with The Company, then we will demand of you the same as we do of each other.”
“That sounds fair,” said Elladan, smiling as he finished the tea and stood to prepare himself for the day. For today, they would enter the woods for the first time, and Elladan could not wait.
A while later, and the caravan finally traversed the boundaries of the Greenwood, moving slowly under the eaves of the mightiest beech and ash trees that the Noldorin warriors had ever seen. The sky had become a light green, the sun shining through where it could, casting a sparkling white light onto the carpet of fallen leaves, and over the golden head of their commander.
They had not come to the Forest Road yet, but once they did, the going would be much easier, for they would not have to navigate the thick trunks.
A passing warrior clapped his hand on Elladan’s shoulder, startling him from his wonder.
“Welcome to Greenwood, my Lord,” he smiled as he trotted forward.
Elladan was touched as he watched the warrior do the same with Melven. They were a close-knit group indeed, these woodland warriors. Both Elladan and Melven had seen snatches of it on their journey. They were as brothers, servient to a fault with the civilians. In return, they were treated with reverence and the utmost respect. Melven had found himself quickly entranced by it all, for this is what he missed. He missed feeling important, nay being important, serving a purpose that was recognized and appreciated.
“Galdithion,” called Elladan, drawing his horse close up beside him. “What is this carved symbol I keep seeing on some of the trees, this interlacing etched around the trunks – what is the meaning?”
Galdithion stared at him for a moment before replying.
“They are braided trees, Elladan. The interlacing is a symbol of life and death, how the two opposites cross paths, one not possible without the other, yet the design is infinite – see? There is no beginning and no end – this is our symbol of eternity, my friend.”
“But why on some trees, and not on others?”
Galdithion sighed then, glancing at his commander before explaining to Elladan in the best way he could. “Because each braided tree marks the fall of a warrior, Elladan. The nearest tree to their fading site is braided, in remembrance of him…”
Elladan simply bowed his head, before sparing a glance at Melven, who had obviously been listening too, as their eyes met fleetingly.
Sometime later, a bird call alerted Legolas that the Old Forest Road had been sighted.
“Come, my friends, for from here, we are but two days ride away from my father’s halls!”
A discreet cheer went up as the caravan moved with new-found energy, for indeed they were now on the road. They would be safe now, for the way was well-guarded, and although the Noldorin warriors could not see them, the trees were inhabited by what they called the ‘Second Unit’, the detachment of the Home Guard that watched the beginning of the road, down to a day’s ride from the palace.
Bird calls, whistles and warbles were exchanged, much to the wonder of the visitors, for their imitations were perfect. They caught Legolas sending a few into the wind, a mischievous smile on his fair face. The warriors were greeting each other, it seemed to Melven, but try as he might, he could not discern for the life of him where they were.
Legolas laughed as he watched Galdithion showing Elladan how to emit the hoot of a Tawny Frogmouth, which right now sounded more like the mating call of a toad. Yet he endured until slowly but surely, the hoot emerged – not perfectly, but it was recognizable, much to Elladan’s joy as he repeated it over and over, and the hidden warriors echoed it, laughing at his sincere attempts. Melven was empowered then and asked Gondien to show him too.
It was a jolly afternoon for them all, as slowly but surely, they moved ever closer to the Elven King’s halls, an arrival that would mark the beginning of a fascinating adventure for two eager Noldorin warriors, one apprehensive young cook and one utterly terrified healer.
Author’s note: This is the first story in The Protégé Book II. You should read the first book in order to enjoy this story to its fullest, but it will stand alone.
Beta reader: Mindirith
Beta reader: Mindirith