Author's note: I still cannot reply personally to reviews, and emails to support at fan fiction systematically yield the same answer - silence. I have, therefore, answered everyone at the end of this chapter, and will continue to do so until the problem is solved. I do get emails but the click through with the reply url goes nowhere - is this happening to anyone else?
OK, onto part two proper -
Chapter nine: Into the Forest
"You know of their origins and you have heard the stories I am sure of it. But heed me, Legolas. Do not overestimate your ability to fight them. This battle is not only one of bows and blades but of the mind," emphasized Lainion, his strange blue eyes firmly anchored on Legolas' green ones, showing his novice the importance of his words.
Legolas simply nodded as he continued to listen avidly to the wise words of his new mentor, the Avari Lainion.
"The smaller orcs from the mountains are misshaped but not clumsy, do not be fooled. They can be surprisingly fast – and whatever you do, not let them speak to you for they will unbalance you with their filthy words and then take advantage of your inattention."
"Are all mountain orcs like this? Or does it depend on which range they are from?" asked Legolas with a frown of concentration furrowing his brow.
"They are all the same. Now, it is the cave orcs that you need to watch for. They are larger, more powerful, and somewhat more intelligent. Their skill with blades is more sophisticated, but they will also use bows, clubs, scimitars and sling shots they are surprisingly good at wielding."
"What is the ratio of mountain orcs to cave orcs, Lainion?"
"A good question. There is a veritable army of mountain orcs to but a handful of cave orcs, but that does not mean there are few of them. Cave orcs are frequently seen in bands of usually between ten and thirty at most, whereas mountain orcs normally move in larger numbers."
"Is there any truth to the stories of larger orcs, and of the wild wolves that often accompany them?" asked Legolas, his eyes a little too wide as he waited for Lainion's answer with baited breath.
"Yes, there is some truth in it. The more southerly patrols have reported strangely large orcs and stinking wolves, three times the size of their forest cousins. That is all we have for the moment as sightings have been rare, but they do exist."
"Lieutenant, Captain Tirion is looking for you," said a warrior, briefly taking his fist to his heart in salute at his superior.
"Thank you, Angion," said Lainion as he rose from his sitting position.
"Legolas, accompany Angion to gather firewood and procure meat if there is any to be had, you are under his command."
"Yes Sir, said Legolas with a salute as Lainion walked away and he was left alone with Angion, a veteran Silvan warrior he had yet to speak with.
"Come," he said as he led the way into the forest. "So you are one of the early promotion novices – the one they call The Silvan?" he asked lightly as he began to gather firewood.
"Yes," said Legolas somewhat ruefully, stifling the smirk that threatened to blossom on his otherwise blank features.
"I am Silvan - You do not look Silvan," said the mercurial warrior.
"That is precisely the - pun, I suppose."
"It is not funny," said Angion simply, bending once more to pick up a piece of dry kindling.
Legolas wisely said nothing, for he was unsure of this warrior's intentions.
"You are clearly Sindarin - what have you done to earn the name of Silvan?" he said, his manner finally showing clearly in the colour of his words. Sarcasm, mockery.
Legolas anticipated his own adverse reaction and quenched it ruthlessly, taking his time before answering.
"I have lived and loved in my forest home. I am a novice because I wish to serve my Silvan kin," he emphasised before continuing. "I am here to learn so that I may protect my people - my mother's people." His tone had risen steadily until his final words rang strong and heart-felt, and Angion was left staring at the young novice, at a loss for words it seemed, until he finally looked down, and when his eyes met Legolas' once more, there was a smile in them.
"Well boy, you are not easily cowed and that is a Silvan trait." There was no apology and no more words were shared, other than a curt, "come," and they were away again, in search of food for the patrol.
How many times he had found himself in this very same situation in the past days he could no longer count, and always, the outcome was the same - indecision, doubt, fear…
This time he sat carelessly upon a stone bench, away from the bustling crowds of his father's court for he needed to think - he needed to concentrate and decide on a tactic that would get him the information he needed without earning his father's wrath.
But then, he scoffed, how does one go about asking one's father about how he cheated on his wife, one's mother, especially when said father was a king? It was absurd, for if you added to that that said king was the son of Oropher, well you may as well douse yourself with pig fat and set a torch to it.
The first step, he supposed, would be to find a way of bringing up the subject without sounding conflictive, of making his father comfortable enough to talk about it. It was a monumental task Handir was not at all convinced would work, in fact he was sure he would fail for there was a deep secret confined in the depths of his father's heart. Aradan, perhaps, would be better equipped for the task.
Aradan, the king's most loyal councillor, indeed was deep in the king's confidence and Handir suddenly wondered at the wisdom of confiding in his mentor, spilling the problem in all its glory and then wait with baited breath at the words of wisdom Aradan would surely have.
There was a risk though, and that was the elf's staunch loyalty to the king. It could well lead him to tell the king of the silvan child and he could not risk that. But what if he simply asked on the circumstances, and left out the fact that Handir knew he had a brother, exclude the fact that his father's secret had been made known to him.
Yes - yes it was finally coming together - he had finally made progress. Now, all he had to do was wait for the right moment to approach his mentor.
Soon, very soon.
"You! Silvan!" shouted a warrior, apparently of Sindarin origin who sat before the early evening fire together with the rest of the patrol, save for Lainion and Tirion, who sat a little further away.
Legolas looked over his shoulder at them for he himself sat alone. He had not been invited into their circle, nor to Lainion and Tirion's for that matter, and so he sat alone, checking his fletchings as if it did not matter to him at all.
"Bring water from the stream for our tea," said the warrior as his comrades chuckled at their friend's antics.
"Yes, Sir," said Legolas patiently for he knew what they did. They were surely testing him and he would not fall to their bait - he had already endured Angion's test.
Picking up a pale, Legolas started towards the stream but he was hailed once more.
"Use this," said the warrior, watching as Legolas trotted back and picked up the smaller pale the warrior handed him.
Back from the nearby stream, he handed the bucket to the warrior, who, taking it from him, proceeded to turn it upside down, emptying it completely before handing it back to Legolas.
"You did not rinse it out - clean it first and then fill it for our tea."
"Yes, Sir," was all Legolas allowed himself as he once more took the bucket and did as he was told, clenching his jaw to suppress his mounting anger.
This time the bucket was accepted and the warrior brewed the tea as Legolas sat alone once more, and Tirion and Lainion watched from afar with keen eyes.
Not that he had expected it, but he was disappointed when the tea was made and he was not offered a mug of it. Resigned, he continued to whittle new heads for his stash of arrows, until another voice hailed him once more.
"Silvan. Skin these rabbits - we are hungry - make haste."
Rising, he took the offered rabbits and set to work, carefully skinning them, and even returning to the stream to rinse them.
Taking the prepared rabbits, the warrior set to cooking a stew, and once again, Legolas was excluded from their meal. They ate with relish and it seemed to Legolas that they purposefully exaggerated their slirping and their crunching, loudly sucking on their juicy fingers as they relished the wood barbecued meat. His own mouth watered and his stomach growled, although luckily he was too far away for them to hear it. A small mercy, he thought sourly.
It finally came to a head when one warrior began to talk of child warriors who thought themselves special. Of inexperienced novices that were nothing but a thorn in their backsides. Of how they were all the same at the end of the day, that with his first kill he would throw up, just like everyone else.
Now Legolas knew for a fact that that would never happen, he would not allow it. He was well prepared for that moment and although he could not deny a pang of apprehension at the mere thought, he was sure enough of himself to handle it.
And so it continued well into the night, until it was time for his watch and he sat forlornly upon a boulder, hungry and thirsty, his senses stretching out to the forest, albeit with one eye upon the sleeping warriors huddled together, wondering when he would finally become a part of their group. He suddenly missed Idhrenohtar and Ram en Ondo, their companionship and their support - perhaps he was not as strong as he thought he was.
Light footsteps told Legolas that Tirion approached. He did not take his eyes from the fore though, simply acknowledging his commanding officer with a softly spoken "Sir."
"I found this sitting by the fire, unaccounted for. I thought you may be interested," he said, a tinny sound alerting Legolas to the fact that Tirion had left an object at his side.
Looking down, he saw a leg of rabbit and a mug of cool river water. With a glance that was more a request for permission, Tirion nodded and then watched as Legolas' hand shot out and grabbed the meat, taking it to his mouth and sucking it as his eyes closed.
With a soft chuckle, Tirion left and Legolas was left to his feast. Leaving the bone clean and the water drained, he wiped his greasy lips and then smiled. He was not quite there with them yet, but he would be. All he had to do was endure their mocking and sooner or later, he would prove himself worthy.
When the dawn brought with it another day, the warriors found a pale of fresh water already boiling on their rekindled fire, and chestnuts crackling over the hot coals. Four freshly prepared trout fillets lay upon a clean rock, not a bone to be seen, and Angion glanced over at the young novice with renewed respect. The boy sat sharpening his short swords, apparently uninterested, and Angion smiled. 'Well done,' he thought.
The council meeting had not been overly trying, and Handir had seen his chance for what it was. Aradan was in a good mood, the day was yet young, and the king had not requested his presence.
Bolstering his resolve, he trotted up to his mentor and took up his pace, stuffing his hands into his ample sleeves as he was wont to do when walking and thinking at the same time.
"Councilor Handir," he replied perkily enough, and Handir was encouraged.
"I have need of your council," he said innocently, too much it seemed, for Aradan stopped short and turned to his young apprentice.
"What is it?" he asked in genuine concern.
"It is a - private matter, my Lord, of some import. I would not burden you with it but I know not who else to turn to."
Aradan studied the boy's face before slowly nodding. "Alright, you have my full attention."
"Thank you my lord," he said. So far so good he thought. "I know you are more than aware of my family's - communication issues…"
"Handir, do not use those euphemisms with me. While I am pleased you remember your lessons, we speak now as friends, I dare say. As such they are misplaced. Speak freely and by the Valar, plainly."
"Lord Aradan, if I may. I must first ask that you to consider this conversation a private issue and, as such, to be spoken of only between ourselves."
"Handir, first you will dispense with the formalities and secondly - I cannot promise that. Should you disclose something I feel of relevance to the king, I will not withhold it from him. But this, of course, you already knew," he murmured, looking deeply into his prince's soft blue eyes for the answers to his unspoken questions.
"I do know, Aradan. But my dilemma is this: family conflict is leading to an ever growing rift between myself and the Crown Prince, indeed with my own father. I know you are sympathetic to the Silvan cause, as I myself am, and that you dislike the ideas that Lord Bandorion is promoting. I consider it my duty to remedy this and the only way forward that I can see, is to break the barrier of silence with my father…"
Aradan stared disbelievingly at his young charge, before letting out a withheld breath.
"After all this time - is this not a little - out of the blue? You cannot think me so naive as to presume I would not read between the lines - that there is a reason for doing this now?"
"Nay, I respect you, Aradan, this you know. I would never underestimate you. I simply wish to promote my theory and gain your confidence. I will speak to my father of the same question I wish to ask you. Does that help me to ask for your discretion?"
"It may," said Aradan as he began to walk once more.
It had to be enough, decided Handir, but that did nothing to quell his trepidation.
"Alright," he said slowly and Aradan glanced at the boy worriedly.
"I need to understand the circumstances surrounding my father's - indiscretion."
"I understand if you are under oath, Aradan. I wish simply for any information you can offer, even if it is a simple impression. I know you were already deep in my father's confidence. I know you know what happened…"
Handir looked down, his confidence failing rapidly. Aradan was not talking…
"Aradan. This is important. It is not a whim, it is of the utmost importance to this kingdom that I understand him, so that I can defend him…"
"Defend him from what?" asked Aradan curtly.
"From those that would seek to discredit him…"
"And who would do that…"
"Now it is you who underestimate me, Aradan. If you do not wish to speak of it do not, but do not turn the questioning upon me."
It was not working, his plan had failed. Either he conceded something, or he would desist.
"Aradan. Would it help if I told you what you truly want to know - the wherefore of my sudden conviction to know the truth?"
"Yes - it would make all the difference, Handir," said Aradan slowly, his eyes searching the second prince with a depth that unnerved him.
"And yet we come full circle, for to do so I must have your promise…"
"I cannot give it," he said tightly. "Yet I will concede this one thing."
Handir stopped abruptly and turned to his mentor, his face now unguarded and open, young and vulnerable, but he cared not for in some unconscious way, Handir knew Aradan was about to reveal something of import.
"… it was not some careless whim, Handir. It was not a moment of weakness that sent your mother away from her children, away from the only elf she had ever loved…"
"What then?" Handier whispered, his eyes filling with unshed tears. "What was it that could achieve such a thing?" he pleaded.
Aradan's face softened in empathy, before he slowly enunciated the words he knew his young charge could never have imagined.
"It was love, Handir. He loved a Silvan woman with eyes the color of summer moss. He loved her as much as he respected your mother…"
The tears in his soft blue eyes finally brimmed before they slowly escaped and Handir looked away in shock.
His father had not loved his mother, he had loved another he could not have… he had loved the woman that gave birth to the Silvan…
Aradan smiled softly, his own eyes a little too bright.
"I will leave you to your thoughts…" was all he said, before striding away in a sea of tumultuous memories he did not care to relive. But there was a question there too, one he needed an answer to, and which Handir would not disclose lest Aradan give his word not to speak of it.
What to do? What to do …
Reviews for Chapter 8 and 9
UnnamedElement: I wanted to show Thranduil is still there, inside the dry shell he has become. As for the company, yes - separated for the first time - they will miss each other! Glad you liked the summary. I knew that was becoming a necessity as the plot is thickening, not quite running away with me, but almost!
Lea1985: Thank you!
Soriousoftheforest: Glad you liked Handir trying to figure things out. He is a central character to the story and I'm glad he's working for you. Enter thranduil - he does still care, in spite of the impression he gives. I had a good time thanks, back with the folks for few days for some xmas cheer!
Sarathestarkidranger: Glad you like Handir, and the other characters in the royal family. Maeneth, the princess is residing in Lorien and won't be in the story for a while longer.
Bella13446: I had fun, thanks - and yourself? You are quite right about the racial aspect of this story. Like Tolkien, I love drawing analogies and much of what I write is a reflection of modern life, of people and their sometimes strange ideas. Glad you got a glimpse at that trait of my writing.
Naiedi: LOL, my text corrector is trying to tell me your name is NAILED ! LOL Yes, the boys have been separated, and you may well be right about the positive consequences o that. When they come back together, there will be more members of the company - can you guess who?
Cheekybeak: Handir would, theoretically get on very well with Legolas - but will he be allowed to? Will he allow himself to? Hum… and Rinion - Rinion is bitter and volatile indeed - as you have already guessed, he will be putting a thorn up everyone's backside for sure !
Kai Dalton: Sorry for teasing but, in my defence, chapter nine is imminent! Your comment about little 'indwo something' had me chuckling for a while there, in fact I am at it again as I write this. Think of his name as sounding like 'window' with an H before it - does that help? LOL He is indeed destined for greatness, and we will get a small glimpse of that in the coming chapters.
Ciel Tombe: Chater nine is coming right up. I am glad you liked the summary and oh yes - give me a couple of chapters and there will definitely be a 'connection' with the forest!
Robo Titaness: Rather than slight AU, I would describe this story as almost completely AU. The idea of elves only conceiving children with one mate comes from fan fiction. For me, beings that live eternally would show much diversity I would think. What I am subscribing to for this story, is that children can only be conceived where there is love - i.e. it is always a conscious act, never an accident.
Guest: Thank you. It's good to be back
Horsegirl01: Glad you like Handir and the interaction between the members of the company. They will be back together later on with new members which will emerge from the OCs in the story. If you have read Arcane Land by Alpha Ori, you may already be able to guess at their identities. Thanks for the kind words, as always.