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And Winter Came...

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The proper definition of a man, is an animal that writes letters.”

― Lewis Carroll 

 

 

The Woodland Realm, 2nd of January, 2942, T.A.

 

That first night after Bard left, Thranduil was asleep in his chambers, when he felt something shake his arm. He opened his eyes and blinked several times, and in the soft orange glow in of the fireplace was a sad little girl, sniffling as she clutched her doll and stuffed elk.

“Tilda? What is it, Tithen Pen? Are you hurt, or ill?

She screwed her face up and started crying in earnest, so he quickly gathered her into his long arms. “Tell me what is the matter, and I shall try to make it better.”

Tilda hid her face in Thranduil’s neck. “I want m-my Da!”

He rubbed her back. “I know, Hênig, I miss him as well. Did you have a bad dream?”

“No. I w-woke up, and then I remembered Da w-went away!” She began to cry again, as her arms tightened around his neck. “I want him to come back!”

“I am sorry you feel so sad. We must try to be brave, and rely on each other, while your Da works to get Dale ready for your people.  When you return, it will look much better, will it not?" He pulled her away from his shoulder, and looked into her face, and stroked her hair. “But I think that is small comfort for a little girl, who has never been away from her Da.” He hugged her again, and continued to rub her back soothingly, until she had begun to settle down.

“Did you know, when Legolas was small, he had bad dreams, and would often sleep with my wife and me? Would it make you feel better if you stayed with me, tonight?”

Tilda, still hiccupping, said, “Yes, p-please. I don’t want to be b-by myself, and S-Sigrid is asleep.”

 

 

“Do you need to visit the necessary, before you go back to sleep?”

“Could you come with me? Things look scary here in the dark.” She started to cry again.

“Shh… Shh…” he rubbed her back. “I understand, Tithen Pen. This is a new place, and shadows can seem frightening at night until you get used to them,” he told her as he stood up with her in his arms. “Here, let me put Charlotte and Daisy down, and they can wait for us, all right?” She nodded, as she handed him the toys, and then he carried her to the necessary. “We could leave a lamp burning in your common room at night. Would that help?”

She nodded, still hiccupping.

He lit the lamp for her in their necessary room, then waited outside for her take to care of business, before he carried her back to his chambers and settled her in Bard’s side of the bed. He tucked an extra quilt around her, then went around to the other side and crawled in, sitting against the headboard. Still sniffling, she leaned against him, clutching her toys tight.

“I just really miss my Da.” She whispered, sadly.

Thranduil stroked her head. “I understand how you feel, Tilda, I miss him, too. Perhaps we can help each other, when we are sad. I can make you feel better when you miss him too much, and when I feel lonely, you can help me. What do you think about that?”

“How can I help you?” Tilda asked.

“Well, if I tell you when I am sad, you can give me a hug, or draw me a picture, or you could tell me a story.”

“Me, tell you a story?”

“Certainly. You have known your Da longer than I have, and you could tell me stories about when you lived in Laketown, with your brother and your sister. I would like that very much.”

“Maybe you could tell me stories of when Legolas and Tauriel were little.” Tilda offered. “Or when you were little with your Mam and Da.”

“I could do that. Shall I tell you of the time, when I was small, and my friend Feren and I tried to ride my father's warhorse?”

“You mean, Feren who works with you and Da? You knew him when you were little?”

“Oh, yes! Feren is my oldest friend. That is why he helped your Da and me get married.  Feren’s father worked for my father, King Oropher.”

Tilda thought about this. “So, he must be old, too. But not as old as Auntie Hil.”

The Elvenking laughed. “I am afraid he is much, much older than your Auntie Hil. And when we were young, we got into quite a bit of trouble together.”

“You did? Like ride your Da’s horse when you weren’t supposed to?”

“Indeed. We had our own, smaller horses, but we liked to pretend we were fierce warriors, and we often wondered what it was like to ride those enormous horses into battle. Those beasts are especially strong, and trained to protect our fathers in combat.”

“Like your Elk did? I heard he was mean.”

“Bara-Maethor was only mean to those who wanted to hurt me. My father’s horse was the same way. He could be scary to those who want to harm us, but he was kind and gentle to me, when I would feed him an apple or a carrot."

“Was he smart?”

Thranduil nodded. “He was very smart. Galvorn did not tolerate foolish young Elflings who went sneaking around behind their parents’ back. That day, we rode him because I did not want to practice my sword work, and even worse," Thranduil made a face. "I told a lie."

"You lied?  Da and Auntie Hil call it 'fibbing,' and that's bad."

"'Fibbing' is a good word, is it not?  And, yes, it is a very bad thing to do.  It got me into a lot of trouble that day.  Shall I tell you that story?”

The little girl nodded.

“Close your eyes and settle back, and I will begin.”

She did, so, he did.

It was late summer, and Thranduil and Feren had just finished in the practice yard with their wooden swords. The Prince was furious. Feren had beaten him! Again!

He kicked open the gate, and stomped out of the practice arena.

“Thranduil! What is the matter with you?”

He whipped around toward the other Elfling. “YOU are NOT supposed to beat me!”

“I will BEAT you at anything I want!" said an outraged Feren, who stuck his finger in Thranduil's face. "YOU cannot tell ME what to do!”

This incensed the young Prince. “I can so! My father is the King and you will do everything I say!”

“I will not, and you cannot make me! Just because you are lousy with swords, does not mean you can take it out on me!”

“I am NOT bad with swords!”

Feren laughed. “Then why I did I win? Three times! Princes are not supposed to be sore losers. If you would practice like you are supposed to, I would not beat you! Three times! But you do not, so I did! Three times! Ha Ha!”

Thranduil couldn't stand the idea of Feren making fun of him, so he had to think of something.  “Well... I did not practice because…"  A thought popped into his head, and was out of his mouth before he knew it.  "I was busy riding Galvorn!”

“You were not! You are lying!”

The blonde Elfling drew himself up to his fullest height, stuck his nose in the air, and said, “I was, too!  It is not my fault that your Ada will not let you ride his horse.  But I can ride Galvorn anytime I want!”

Feren narrowed his eyes, and crossed his arms. “Prove it.”

Thranduil was not expecting that. “What?”

“You heard me. If you can ride the King’s warhorse, I want to see you do it." 

“I... cannot ride him right now, because he is out grazing.”

“So, go get him. He likes you when you bring him apples. Let me see you ride him. Otherwise,” Feren grinned evilly, “I will ask your father about it!"

Gulping, Thranduil said, “Fine! I will! But only if you ride him, too! Or are you scared?”

The prince was hoping Feren would be frightened, so they could just forget the whole thing.

No such luck.

Feren stomped towards the barns. “I am not afraid, you are! Let us go.”

They made their way into the barn and, as it turned out, Galvorn was not in the paddock as Thranduil had claimed; he was in his stall. They managed to get a saddle and bridle on him, while the great horse waited patiently, biding his time.  The horse’s calmness and cooperation eased the Elflings' trepidation.   Feeling emboldened by their success so far, they began to laugh together and look forward to their big adventure.  They were going to be true warriors!

They led him into the paddock and stopped by the fence, so they could use it to leap into the saddle, with Thranduil in front. Thranduil took the reins, and they were off!  They rode around the paddock a few times, feeling bolder with each step. Then they took him to the center, so they could pretend to wave their swords and fight off the terrible Orcs.  

But when Thranduil rode him  over to the gate and unlatched it, Galvorn had had enough of this foolishness, and saw his chance.  He reared up, tossing the boys onto the ground. They landed hard on their behinds, bewildered, then got up and started to brush themselves off.  But, the horse wasn’t finished teaching them a lesson. He neighed, then turned and backed up toward them.

Thranduil and Feren ran for their lives, but Galvorn managed to get them each in their hind ends several times, and the last kick sent Thranduil flying and screaming through the air, only to land, face-first, in to a pile of manure.

At this last part of the story, Tilda began to giggle, and so did Thranduil.

“What happened then?” she asked.

“The horse went through the open gate, and ran to the barracks where our Adars were.”

“I’ll be they were mad.”

“Well, they were not pleased." he smiled. "We had to stand at attention while our Adars shouted at us.  To make matters worse, I had to take a bath, which I did not like to do.”

Tilda giggled again. “Your bottom must have really hurt."

“It certainly did!" Thranduil laughed.  My Naneth took us to the Healer, to make sure we were all right.  I was bruised all over my bottom and so was Feren, but our Adars would not allow the Healers to help. They said the pain would teach us a lesson.”

“Did it?”

“Yes.  We could not sit down for days.  In addition, Feren and I had to polish every single piece of tack in that barn, and clean out the all horse stalls for a week.”

"Did you ever do it again?"

"Would you have?" He smiled down at her.

Tilda shook her head, then yawned.

He kissed her on her hair and asked, “Do you feel better now, Tithen Pen?”

"Mmm-hmm." She yawned again, and snuggled down.  “Good night, Thrandool.”

He sat for a long time and watched her sleep, smiling, before he finally drifted off himself.

 

The next morning after breakfast, Thranduil came into the common area of the children’s apartment, and found the children sitting on the couches, rather morosely. School was not scheduled to start until tomorrow, so the day stretched before them, empty and lonely.

Tilda was holding Charlotte, and was still a bit weepy from last night, Bain was brooding and had a sour look on his face, and Sigrid looked listless.  No one was happy, but Thranduil had a plan to remedy that.

“Children, do you remember when I promised a gift, if you behaved well during the ride here?”

They looked at him and nodded.

“Can you tell me whether you did, or not?”

Tilda thought about it. “I tried to be good. I listened to stories, and, when we had to move into a different wagon so Sigrid could help with Rhian, I didn’t make a fuss. I slept some, too. I don’t know what Bain did; he had to go into another wagon, and I know Sigrid was good, because she was helping.”

Thranduil agreed that Tilda had done her best. “What about you, Bain?”

“I was with my friend, Rhys. We listened to stories too, but then we played cards, before we fell asleep. There was another boy that started to make noise and jump around, but we kept telling him to stop it.”

Thranduil crossed his arms. “I believe you have done well, and have earned your gift. Would you like me to give it to you, now?”

“Yes!” was heard from Tilda. Sigrid nodded, but Bain looked skeptical and grumpy.

“Where is it?” Tilda asked, she got up to look around him and behind him. “Is it in your chambers?”

“No, it is not. I must take you to it.”

“Now?” Bain asked, frowning.

“Yes, now. Please get your coats, and dress warmly children, we need to go outside,”

They bundled up in their wraps, and Thranduil made sure Tilda’s hat and mittens were on snugly, before he ducked into his chambers for his fur-lined cloak.  One he fastened it, Tilda looked up at him with her arms raised, so he picked her up and made their way out the side door toward the barns, with Tilda on his hip.

“We already saw the barns!” Bain complained.

Sigrid jabbed her brother. “Don’t be rude!”

“Sorry.” Bain mumbled.

Thranduil saw from his side glance that the boy looked very unhappy, and was doing his best to keep his composure as he surreptitiously wiped his eye.

Thranduil stopped, put Tilda down and put his hand on Bain’s shoulder. “I do understand, Bain,” he said gently.  “We all feel unhappy because we miss your Da, and sometimes it can make us feel disagreeable, yes? But that does not give anyone an excuse to take it out others.  Is this what your Da tells you?”

The boy looked at him apologetically, and nodded. “Da said to be brave, but...  lt’s hard, sometimes.”

“I confess I am having the same dilemma.”  He gave Bain an encouraging smile.  “Let us see what we shall find, yes?  You may feel a bit better."

They entered the large building and were greeted by an Elf who was currently trimming the hooves of a lovely brown mare. They watched, as the Elf spoke softly to her, while he performed his task. The children asked if the horse could understand him, and Thranduil explained how Elves and animals communicated, in a unique way. “There are words in our ancient language of Quenya, that we use, and if you like, I will teach them to you. Is that something you would wish?”

“Is this what you wanted to show us?” Sigrid asked.

“No, but I am glad you find it interesting.” They watched and waited while the Elven farrier carefully trimmed the horse’s feet, then stroked the mare’s neck and spoke to her, as if he was thanking her for her patience. The Mare turned her head to him and whinnied in response, as the Elf smiled and took an apple for her out of his pocket and rewarded her with it, before he untied her and led her back to her stall.

When the Elf approached the group, he saluted. “Suilad, Aran nîn,” the Elf said to Thranduil, who returned the greeting. Then he turned to the children.

“Sigrid, Bain and Tilda, I would like to introduce you to Falarion, one of our Farriers here in the Woodland Realm.”

“What’s a Farrier?” Tilda asked.

“A Farrier, Hênig, is a person who cares for the feet of horses. It is an important job, for we depend upon our horses, a great deal. It is essential that the feet of these animals be kept healthy and trimmed, otherwise they can suffer from injury or disease, and often may not survive. Falarion, here, is in charge of all the horses in the barns of my Palace, and is kept very busy. He also looks after the hooves of my Elk, should they need care.” Thranduil smiled. “He will also be your riding instructor this winter.”  

The Elvenking gestured, “Falarion, may I introduce Princess Sigrid, Prince Bain, and Princess Tilda, the children of Bard, King of Dale, who will be spending the winter with us, along with the rest of our Palace guests.” Each child curtsied or bowed politely in return. Thranduil rewarded them with an approving smile and nod; he was pleased with their good manners; even Bain made a good effort.

The Elven Farrier bowed to the children, saluted, said, “Ni veren an dhe ngovaned.”

Bain asked, “Are we going to ride horses today?” looking rather hopeful.

Thranduil shook his head, “Not today, Bain, although Falarion will be giving you  riding lessons in the indoor arena, this winter. You have not had much experience with horses during your time in Laketown, but you all must learn the skill of not only riding well, but to care for your horse and tack.”

“What’s a ‘Tack?’” Tilda asked.

“’Tack’ is your bridle, saddle and all other parts needed to ride your horse.” Thranduil answered her, “Just as it is important to care for your own armor and weapons, you must learn to care for the equipment used to ride. In both cases, neglect of these things can be dangerous. But that is not the reason I brought you here today.”

“What are we supposed to see?”

Thranduil explained. “As you know, many of the Elves from the Woodland Realm lost their lives in the Battle of the Five Armies. Some of them had pets that were left behind. These animals are very sad, and we need to find them new homes. I was hoping you children could help.”

He turned and led them down the long corridor of box stalls to the next-to-last one on the right, and slid the door open. There, sitting in the straw, was a beautiful black-and-white sheep dog.

“Look! It’s so pretty!” Tilda said.

Bain stepped forward, as the dog’s tail thumped on the ground. “Is it a boy or a girl? What kind of dog is it?”

“She is a Tirhûtaw, children, and a female. Falarion tells me her name is Esta. She belonged to one of my Archers, and used to help her owner’s family manage their sheep. She has been pining, and does not eat well, and Falarion has suggested that perhaps you children understood her sadness, as you also miss your Da.  Do you think you could help her?”

All three children nodded eagerly. As instructed by the Elvenking, they approached her slowly and offered to let her smell the back of their hands, for a few moments, until the dog felt comfortable. Soon, the three of them were sitting cross-legged in the straw, while Esta greeted each of them with a quick lick to their cheeks, then offered her paw to Bain.

He laughed and shook it. “I like her! Will she have to stay in the barn, though?”

Tilda looked worried, “No wonder she was so sad! She’s all by herself here!”

The Elvenking smiled. “You need not worry, Tithen Pen. Esta has been staying with Falarion in his home, until we could find her a place. He only brought her to his work today, so you could meet her.”

“Oh, good.” The little girl looked relieved. Then she asked, “Where are the other dogs that lost their masters?”

“They are staying with other members of my Army. Many have decided to keep them, but there are some that still need good homes.”

Sigrid looked confused. “Ada, you said Esta belonged to one of your soldiers, and helped with the sheep? Was your Archer a farmer, too?”

“Yes, and no, Iellig. The soldier was one of my excellent Archers, and her husband raised sheep. Unfortunately, when his wife died, he missed her too much, and sailed to Valinor to be with his family that had gone before him. Falarion promised him he would look after Esta and find her a family.”

“That’s sad.” Bain said.

“It is, yes, but when we find ways to help those who are sad, it makes us feel better, does it not? Would you like to help Esta?"

His question was answered with an enthusiastic yes. “I am glad. Shall we take her back to the Palace, to her new home?” The children got up, to leave, and Thranduil looked at the dog and said, “Tulë, Esta.” The dog obediently got up, and followed them at Thranduil’s left side.

“What did you say, Ada?” Sigrid asked.

“We train all our animals with Quenyan words, as you saw with our horses. ‘Tulë’ means to ‘Come,’ ‘Harë…’”

Esta immediately stopped and sat down.

Tilda giggled. “Means ‘sit,’ right?”

Thranduil smiled, “As you can obviously see. I shall teach you all Quenyan commands today, but only after we get to the Palace, yes? Otherwise, it may take a long time to get there.”

The little girl took the Elvenking’s hand, and said, “I wish Da had something to keep him company. He must miss us a lot.”

Thranduil smiled down at her, but said nothing.

Sigrid noticed his sly grin. “What?” she asked.

“I believe I shall let your father and Tauriel tell you.  In the meantime, you will want to make sure your letters to everyone in Dale will be ready this week.  The supply wagons will be leaving in five days."

They all agreed, and happily made their way to the Royal Wing, with Esta following obediently behind. 

 

***************

 

Dale, 4th of January, 2942, T.A.

Bard tried to sleep, but he couldn’t quiet his mind, as was so often his problem. He also was away from his husband, which made matters worse.

Seven years. For seven years he had a bed to himself and learned how to sleep alone. Now, after just a few weeks of sharing Thranduil’s bed, he could hardly stand the nights without him!

Shit… He punched his pillow, and rolled over again, looking over at the huge dog, next to him. Thangon was sprawled on his back, legs splayed. His head was stretched back, and his tongue lolled out of the side of his mouth. The dog was ridiculous.

He was also snoring. Bard shook his head. He still couldn’t decide whether or not Thranduil was playing a prank on him, but either way, winter with his new roommate would be interesting.

The Bowman got out of bed, and reached for his thick robe and slippers, to ward off the chill in the air. He went over and put some wood on the fire, then looked back at the bed. The dog hadn’t moved, but was yipping in his sleep, dreaming, and his paws moved slightly as if he was running.

Bard rolled his eyes, muttering, then opened the door and went out into the corridor, headed to the kitchens to get something to snack on.

He was passing Tauriel’s room, when he saw her door slightly open, and her lamp lit. He knocked a few times. “Tauriel?”

“Come in, Bard.”

“What are you doing up? Can’t you sleep, either?”

Tauriel was sitting in her chair by the fireplace, in a cream-colored robe.  Her grey tabby cat was sitting on the arm of the chair, purring.

“Did I wake you?” Tauriel asked, concerned.

Bard laughed, and walked over to pet Farien, her cat. “How could you possibly wake me, if you don’t make a sound? No, you didn’t. I have this trouble a lot, and that great bloody beast in my room is busy sawing down trees!”

The Elf smiled. “I like him. He’ll be good company for us this winter. But, I confess, it is hard not to miss the children. They kept me occupied after Kili died.”

“And, now you don’t have anything to distract you.” Bard took the other chair and looked at her, as she nodded. “I’m sorry, Tauriel.”

“I do miss him. We never even said words of love to each other. There was no time. But I loved him.”

“And he loved you.”

“May I ask you something, Bard?”

“Sure. Anything.” Bard assured her.

“When did you get over losing your wife?”

Bard huffed a little. “I’ll let you know.”

At her confused look, he explained. “I still love her. My love for Thranduil does not overshadow it, or make it disappear. I’d never want it to. My time with her is over, but I've got memories that I'll always cherish. I still miss her terribly sometimes, and that won’t change, but now, when I think of her, I smile. Most of it just took some time, and yes, Thranduil helped some. That’s the great thing about love, isn’t it? There’s always a way to make room for more.”

“Do you ever speak of your memories to Thranduil?” She was curious.

“Yes, I do. Not every spouse is comfortable with that, so I’m lucky. And he talks about Mírelen with me. She is part of him, and of Legolas, so I want to know about her. He feels the same about my Mattie.”

“I wish Elves were like Men. I find myself a little jealous of Ada. I loved Kili, and what we had was so brief, and amounted to so little, but I will always treasure it…”

“But you want more, someday.” Bard sympathized.

“I do not know, but if I did, is that wrong?” Tauriel asked.

“No, love, it isn’t.  But I wouldn’t worry about that now. Take some to think about him. Spend time with the Dwarves, like we suggested.  Listen to them speak of him; get to know him. Face your grief, Tauriel; don’t run away from it. Your Ada suffered terribly from doing that, and I don’t want to see you make the same mistake. Thranduil learned the hard way, that you can’t avoid it, and if you try, you’ll never get past it.” He tilted his head and smiled. “You know you can come and talk to me whenever you need. I know what you’re going through, and if I can help, I’d be happy to.”

Tauriel nodded, then said, “I am happy you and Ada are together.”

“Me, too. Everything seemed to work together somehow, and here we all are. We're all connected now, for reasons only the Valar seems to know, but I’m happy you’re here.”

The grey cat climbed into Tauriel’s lap, and curled up to go to sleep. “I only wish Legolas could be here to join us, but I do not know if it will ever happen,” she added sadly.

“I know you miss him, but his leaving was not your fault.”

“I hurt him. I did not want to, but...” Tauriel sighed.

“I know you didn’t mean to.  So does Thranduil. Eventually, this will blow over, and resolve itself, in some way. Your Ada told you, his leaving wasn’t all about you.”

“He did, but I still feel terrible. I know Ada wants to make things right with Legolas, and so do I.”

“But you have nothing to ‘make right,’ Tauriel. You did nothing to Legolas, except be his best friend, and your wonderful self.” He grinned at her, before he became serious, again. “I suggest you leave well enough alone with Legolas, at least for now.  He’ll come around when he feels he’s ready.”

The young Elf, smiled at him, “I thank you. But I wish things were different.”

“I’m sorry, love. But be patient, and try to have hope.”

Then Bard changed the subject. “Would you tell me what was it like, growing up with Thranduil? He’s told me, but I’d like to know from your point of view.”

Tauriel sat back in her chair, and stroked the cat. “I barely remember my birth parents. All I remember of my village, is the smell of smoke, and arms reaching to lift me from the cellar. I was frightened, and crying.”

“I’m glad that’s all you remember.” Bard shuddered. “I can’t imagine what they went through.”

She smiled, “I do remember being held by Thranduil, and thinking how pretty his hair and his eyes were. I felt his cheek to see if it was as soft as it looked, and he looked surprised. I wasn’t afraid, because I knew he would take care of me. I  rode through the forest, sitting high up on a horse, in front of Ada. He didn’t say anything, but I felt strong arms, and his cloak wrapped around me. It smelled of lavender and spices, and I remember thinking how much I liked it.”

“That’s how Thranduil smells; you’re right.”

She looked into the fire. “My memories of living in the Palace, was much like that first day. He did not say much, but when he was around, I felt safe and protected. He was never unkind to me, as a child; he was just…distant. It was Galion and Legolas who were openly affectionate with me, but Ada was always there, even if he was in the background. It was only after I was grown, that I realized how sad he was inside.”

Bard mused. “He’s so open now, I find it hard to picture him as anything else.”

“I think he had an easier time with me, than with Legolas. He had long reached his majority, and was already a part of the Guard, when I came to the Palace, so I do not know the details between them, but to me, he wasn’t as cold and remote as he believes. Whenever I woke in the night, crying, it was Ada who came to sit with me, until I fell asleep again. I needed him to help me feel better.”  She looked over at Bard, “I think, sometimes, he came to see me when he had a bad dream. Maybe we needed each other.”

“That’s true, Tauriel. He needed you just as much as you needed him. He still does.” Bard looked at her thoughtfully. “Would you answer something, honestly?”

“Certainly.”

“When you see Thranduil with my children, especially Tilda, does it bother you, that he couldn’t be that way with you? Do you feel like you missed out on anything?”

Tauriel considered this question. “I do not think so. As a child, I did feel loved, Bard. Yes, I would have liked things to be different, but only because I knew Ada couldn’t be the way he wanted to be. You must understand, that to my mind, Galion is my other parent, and I look up to him in many ways. I loved them both, and I never wanted for anything. My childhood was not a sad one.”

She looked down, at Farien, and rubbed her behind the ear. The tabby closed her eyes and leaned into her touch, purring in ecstasy.  “Ada is mistaken if he believes I felt neglected. I knew he cared about me; he just had difficulty showing it. He deeply regrets what he missed out on, with Legolas and me, so I am happy he has your children. He has a chance to have fun, and find joy in being a parent.” Tauriel laughed. “It is not hard to see why Ada loves them. I do, as well.”

“Aye, my Sea Monsters tend to grow on you, don’t they? They kept me going for a long time.”

Tauriel giggled. “It is funny to see how Tilda has enslaved him.”

Bard laughed. “’Slave’ is the right word! He’s so fierce and terrifying in Battle, yet one little pout from her, and he’s mush! It’s hilarious! Do you remember how he was that day she tripped, scraped her knee, and started to cry?”

Tauriel threw her head back and laughed, “I have only ever seen him move that fast in combat! And you…”

“What about me?” Bard put his hand on his chest, pretending to be wounded.

Tauriel pointed at him, giggling, “When Tilda lost her tooth, I never saw anyone’s face turn green so fast!”

“Aye, I know. What about the time we had to explain to him about ‘courses?’ Did Sigrid tell you what happened after you all went to bed? I think it hit him, how much he didn’t know about human children, and was scared to death of breaking them, or something!”

Tauriel nodded, and was still laughing. “Lady Hilda and Sigrid were mad at me, because I never had them!”

“Well, can you blame them?”

“No, I cannot!” Tauriel put her hands over her face, her shoulders shaking with laughter.

“We are a ridiculous bunch, aren’t we?” Bard shrugged his shoulders. “I remember when I first saw Thranduil in Dale.” He laughed. “He was such an arrogant bastard, I wanted to kick him in the teeth, and look where we are today. Whoddathunk?”

“Things worked out for the best. I think, somehow, I am supposed to be here. This is where I belong; I feel good about it. I miss the Palace and the forest, of course, but this is exciting, with Dale so new and all the things it can become.” She snuggled the cat, as Farien purred.

Bard smiled. “Your Ada loves you very much. I think he’d be glad to hear how you really felt growing up with him. Maybe you could put that in a letter.”

The Elleth nodded. “You are right; I will.”

“I’m glad we can be friends, Tauriel. We’re all a part of something special. When Legolas is ready, he’ll be welcome, too. Life in Dale won’t be easy, and we’ll struggle a lot before things get better, but I’m glad you’ll be here with us. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Tauriel looked down, shyly. “I did not know any Men before I left the Woodland Realm. I had always thought we would be too different to understand each other.” She looked back up at the Bard and smiled. “I am glad to know I was wrong.”

Bard returned her smile, then got up. “Me too. Now, what do you say we go into the kitchen and scare up something to eat? I’m hungry, and I’ll bet the dog could use a snack, once that big monster realizes I’m gone.” Bard got up and grabbed her hand. “Come on, then. And after, we’ve both got to get some sleep.”

They went into the hallway. Bard sighed, at the closed door to the children’s rooms. “I know one thing we’re going to do right away; get some noise in this place. I can’t stand those empty rooms.”

“I agree. It is too quiet and lonely.”

“First thing tomorrow, I’ll fix that, but right now, I’m starving. Come on.”

Together, they made their way to the kitchens for a snack, with Tauriel’s meowing cat following behind, hoping for a snack herself.

 

ELVEN TRANSLATIONS:

Tithen Pen – Little One
Hênig – My child
Galvorn – “Black Steel” (Black metal)
Iellig – My daughter
Tirhûtaw – sheep dog (lit. “wool guard dog”)
Suilad, Aran nîn – Greetings, my King
Ni veren an dhe ngovaned – I am happy to meet you
Tulë, Esta – Come, Esta (Quenya)
Farien – the name of Tauriel’s cat means “Huntress”
Thangon – A variation of Thangail, “Great Shield,” the dog Thranduil gave to Bard.

Chapter Text

 

The Woodland Realm; 4th of January, 2942, T.A.

Rhian rolled over in her bed, as she studied her surroundings. She liked the clean, white, stone walls, with vines carved along the ceiling. She traced the vines with her eyes, fascinated at how they intersect and meander around the room, making a beautiful border. She looked to her right, and saw the small dresser with drawers, and various items on the top, and then to her left. There in a small cot, lay little Darryn, sleeping peacefully.

Her son. Hers, and no one else’s. And, thanks to King Bard and the Elvenking, no one can hurt her or try to take him away from her.

She should feel happy. She should be jumping with joy. There were moments when she did feel gladness, such as the first time she met Darryn. The Elf King himself placed him in her arms, and promised protection. She felt good the next day, when King Thranduil helped Daeron into her room, declared her boy’s name, and that he was a citizen of his Kingdom as well as Dale.

Rhian shook her head. She could hardly believe it. She had two Kings who wanted to look after her, and a good friend in Daeron, who had come to see her and the baby a couple of times, since he was feeling better. She still didn’t really know what had been wrong with him; only that he was tired but would be all right.

So much was different; it was hard to take it all in.

She was safe - the horror that was her husband was gone forever, and so was her selfish, indifferent father. And she had a healthy son; a miracle in her life, despite all the violence and danger. He truly was beautiful. She felt relieved that he bore no resemblance to Garth; no fiery red hair or pale skin. He seemed to take after Rhian, and  her own Mam, with dark hair and olive skin. But, no matter who or what he looked like, she loved her baby.

At this moment, things couldn’t be better for her. When she first held the baby four days ago, she was amazed, and fascinated; it was magic.

But, besides a pull toward her baby, she still felt empty and frightened.

What’s wrong with me? She thought. It was all a jumble, a whirlpool of things she did feel, what she wanted to feel, and what she should feel. It all would get to be too much, and sometimes she would shut down entirely, and go numb.

She was tired… She was just so tired, and she didn’t know what to do about it.

“Rhian? Are you awake, dear?” Hannah, the midwife, who helped deliver her baby, had walked in the room.

The girl sat up and nodded. “Aye.”

“How do you feel, love?” The midwife walked to the side of her bed, to feel her forehead and check her heart, then she palpated her abdomen, causing Rhian to wince, slightly. “Aye, I know this doesn’t tickle, but it feels like things are right where they should be. Does your bottom still feel sore?”
Rhian nodded her head. “Some.”

“Only time will take care of that, sorry to say, but again, you’re healing beautifully, thanks to Daeron and that Elf King. You had a bad time, love, and it’ll take a while for you to regain your strength.”

Rhian blinked. “King Thranduil? I don’t understand.”

Hannah pulled up a chair and went to sit down, but little Darryn woke up, and needed tending to. The woman took the babe from his cot, changed him, and handed him to Rhian to help set her up to nurse. “There you go; that’s it. I know this can take some getting used to, but you’ll get the hang of it, right enough.  I’ll be here to help.”

As the baby was eating, Rhian asked again, “I don’t remember Darryn being born at all, but King Bard told me something about my wounds being healed?”

“Well, I wasn’t there, love. I was taking this young man to be fed by a wet-nurse, until you woke up. I guess no one but the Kings and Elénaril were allowed in the room, so I can’t say what exactly happened. I can tell you what I know, for sure,” Hannah grinned. “While you were trying to give birth, those two Kings paced the floor out there, waiting like two nervous Das, imagine that, if you can!”

The nursing mother looked at the midwife with amazement. “They were?”

“They were. And while they were waiting, King Bard was getting to the bottom of what happened the night Laketown was on fire. We’re all glad about that, aren’t we?” Hannah put her hand over Rhian’s and squeezed a little. “Now, don’t you doubt for a minute he was absolutely right. You did good, Rhian, looking out for this little man here. It’s what a mother does; puts her baby before everything, right?”

Rhian looked down for a moment at her son, and nodded her head. “I didn’t think of it that way then, but Lord Bard was right. I had to choose between my baby, or Garth.”

The midwife looked at her intently. “Do you think you made the right choice?”

The girl met Hannah’s eyes, and said. “Aye. I did. And I’d do it again.”

“Good girl. It feels good to say that out loud, doesn’t it? Anyway, you were so weak, that Daeron put you to sleep, and somehow helped this little man come into the world. Little Darryn gave us a spot of trouble at the last minute, but we made short work of that. It was scary, let me tell you, but he’s just fine, and that’s the best anyone can hope for, isn’t it?” Hannah looked down at the nursing infant. “All these wee ones are precious, aren’t they?”

Rhian nodded, and cupped her hand around the baby’s head. Then she asked, “Daeron put me to sleep? I don’t understand; I thought I had passed out.”

“He said a spell in Elvish, then crawled right up there behind you and helped you and the baby. I don’t know how else to describe it. He told us the baby was a boy, and he needed help and right quick.” Hannah struggled for words. “I’ll never forget it, love. He used his Elf whatchamacallit to help you push the baby out, but it took a lot out of him. That boy wouldn’t quit until you were both safe. After we had the baby cleaned up, Sigrid took him out to show her Da, then King Thranduil rushed in to help the poor lad, and carried him to another room.”

“I did that to him?” Rhian was stricken with guilt. “I never wanted him to… I mean...  he had to be carried?” She felt terrible.

Hannah grabbed her hand. “Daeron did what he did, because you both were going to die, do you understand?  He saved your lives, and I know he wouldn’t hesitate for a second to do it again, so don’t you feel bad.”

Rhian wasn’t convinced. “Did I hurt him? He looked so tired, when he came to visit.”

“No, love. He was just worn out, but he’ll be absolutely fine. In fact, he’s about to go back to work, guarding the Prince and Princesses, what does that tell you?”

“I just hate the idea of him doing so much… for me.”

Hannah wisely didn’t reprimand her, but tilted her head, smiling. “Rhian, let me ask you this: The night of the fires, you made a hard decision to save your baby, didn’t you?”

The girl nodded.

“And what if you were in Daeron’s shoes, and had a way to save not just one life, but two? Can you think of what you would do?”

After a few moments, Rhian nodded. “I would do everything I could do save them. No matter what.”

“And that’s what Daeron did, love. It’s what he does for a living! He’s a soldier, and every day he is ready to put himself in danger, if it means he can save a life. He would do that for anyone regardless, love. It’s his calling. But he is also your friend, and that’s a good thing.”

Rhian nodded, again. “I don’t know why, but he is. He’s never asked anything from me, or seems to want anything of me, except to talk to me, and be my friend.”

“How do you feel about that?” Hannah asked her.

The girl thought about it. “I didn’t like him at all, at first. He wasn’t mean or anything; I just didn’t want anybody near me, and wished he would go away. He would come and visit my tent after the Battle, and talk with the other women I stayed with. He didn’t make me talk to him, or ask me anything. I felt uncomfortable, until… I wasn’t anymore. He would only talk to me, if I said anything first. That helped.

The midwife said, “He brought you to the Healing tents.”

Rhian nodded. “Only the once, remember? I got… upset.”

“Yes, love, you did. But afterward, Daeron came to me and asked if I could go to you to check you over, because there were too many people there, and it frightened you. That’s why I came to your tent after that.”

“It was his idea?”

“You bet. He wanted you and this little one to be healthy, even back then. And did he ask for anything in return for all of this?”

Rhian shook her head. “He’s never asked for anything.”

“So…? Do you understand now? You’ve no need to feel guilty. He wanted to help you and your baby live, and a good thing, too! Thanks to him, I can sit here and talk with you, and help you with this beautiful little boy.”

They both looked down at Darryn, who had paused in his nursing. Hannah took him, and started burping him.

“I didn’t wake up until the next day. I must have been really tired.”

“Oh, it was more than that! Elénaril put you in a healing sleep to rest, but you weren’t out of the woods, yet. In fact, you were in bigger trouble than any of us imagined! I’m glad I didn’t know how bad off you were, until after they made you better!”

Rhian’s eyes widened. “I was?”

Hannah continued. “I stayed with you and the baby all that night, because you weren’t doing so good, love. You developed a high fever, and we didn’t know what to do, so when the Kings came to see you, the next morning, Elénaril asked Lord Thranduil to help. Turns out you still had some afterbirth inside you, and somehow, he got rid of it. If the Elf King hadn’t done what he did, you would’ve died. I was afraid for you, love.”

“I still don’t understand…” Rhian said, as Hannah helped Darryn switch sides.

“Apparently, that Elvenking is powerful one, and he not only took care of what was causing your fever, but he found your shoulder all torn up, and he fixed it. Does your arm feel better?”

“Aye,” she smiled. “My side feels a lot better, too.”

“Well, you know your ribs were broken, and they healed on their own, but what you don’t know is that you had what’s called a ‘displaced’ rib fracture.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“I’m glad you didn’t know, and I’m glad for myself, too. When I found out, it frightened the life out of me! What happened, love, is that one of your ribs didn’t heal right. They told me a sharp end of bone was sitting close to your lung. It’s a miracle you didn’t puncture it, when you gave birth!”

The young girl’s eyes opened wide. “It hurt to breathe…”

“Aye, you couldn’t, love, and now we know why, and I thank the Valar every minute of the day you’re all right.” Hannah blinked a few times, as her eyes filled with tears. “No one knew it, because we were so busy worrying about the baby, and I feel terrible about it. But that Elf King re-broke the rib, and put it back together better, along with fixing your shoulder.”

The young girl stared at the midwife with eyes as wide as saucers, taking it all in. “I can’t believe it.”

“Believe it, love.” Hannah smiled, and shook her head, “You know, when King Thranduil first came into Dale on that strange-looking beast of his, I didn’t like the look of him. I was glad for the help, and the food and such, but I thought he was a snobbish arse, to be honest, but don’t tell him that.” She laughed. “He’s as mean as a Warg to his enemies, and he’s every inch a King, don’t forget that. He expects folks to do as he says, but he cares a lot about his people.”

Hannah laughed. “You should see him with King Bard’s kids. He acts like the sun rises and sets by them; especially little Tilda.” Hannah shrugged. “And he seems to love our King, too. Just goes to show, you never know about people, do you?”

Rhian nodded and looked thoughtfully down at Darryn. “I know. Sometimes… the people who can seem nice at first, turn out to be monsters,” she whispered.

The older woman regarded her seriously, and sighed. “Aye, love. That’s true enough. And I’m sorrier than you can know, for what Garth put you through. I want to help you with that, if I can.”

They sat and watched the little one, as he nursed.

After a few moments, Rhian said, “Garth’s dead. I don’t have to worry about him, now, or my Da.”

Darryn seemed to be finished, so Hannah took him, burped him, and settled him back into his cot, so they could continue their talk.

Hannah sat back down in her chair. “Rhian, the ones who hurt you are gone, and your body is much better, but that doesn’t mean that your hurts are gone,” she answered with a gentle smile. “It’s going to take a long time, and some work to get past it.”

“But I feel better, and I can breathe right now.”

The midwife, gently placed her hand on top of the young girl’s. “Hurts that I’m talking of, love, are in the inside,” she said gently. “That man marked you on the outside, but he did a lot more hurt to your heart and your spirit. Those are the things you need to face, love.”

Rhian thought about this, not wanting it to be true, yet Hannah’s words had struck a nerve.

Her stomach churned, and her eyes filled with tears. She’d suffered so much, and to be told she’d have to struggle even more, before she could feel better was disheartening. After all that agony, she desperately wanted the death of her husband and her father to just be the end of her suffering, so the sun could come out, again. But it was as she feared. She really was broken. It felt like she was stuck in long, dark tunnel, and the light ahead had suddenly moved far, far away; out of reach, maybe forever.

Hannah, as if reading her thoughts, asked her, “Rhian, can you talk to me?”

Rhian sighed again, and didn’t say anything for several minutes. Then, began to speak, in a small, weary voice.

“They tell me I’m safe, and that everything is all right, and I want to believe them...and I do, sometimes, but other times… King Bard came, and told me I didn’t do wrong, and he wouldn’t take my baby away, and no one would ever hurt me again. King Thranduil told me that, too, and so did Daeron.” A tear escaped, as she looked down, and picked at the blanket covering her lap. “I know in my head… In my head, it’s true, but inside… and I try so hard… Inside it doesn’t feel true and I still get so scared and sad, and I’m so tired…” She fell silent again, as she tried to explain the whirl of thoughts and feelings.

“I don’t know anything, Hannah…” The tears began to flow, and her breathing became shallow and rapid. “Inside... I don’t know anything!”

“What do you mean, love? Can you tell me?” the woman prodded, gently.

Rhian swallowed, then the words came tumbling out. “People go through things... Things, terrible things happen to people, and… they have… in here,” she put her hand on her heart, “’things’ that help them be strong. Things they just... 'know,' that help them get through bad times.”

She struggled for words, for a moment, then said, “People lost family in the fires, or in the Battle, or because of sickness, and they’re sad, but they have…” she closed her eyes silently pounded her chest. “…I see them look to things they know for sure, in their hearts, and it helps them go on…”

Rhian was talking in gasps, now. She cried in earnest, with her eyes scrunched tight, with tears flowing down her face, and off of her chin. “I d-don’t know how to say it… They think on things they c-can be sure of, they have things they trust… things I want to find inside of me... I try to see… I look… There’s nothing... I don't have anything inside to help me! There’s nothing in h-here,” She really pounded her chest, “…nothing I can trust, nothing I know, and I c-can’t really b-believe in good things, because I did, and it all went so wrong, and I’m afraid, and it hurts!  It h-hurts so bad, and I’m scared and I’m s-so t-tired!” Her body was wracked with sobs.

“Oh, my dear, sweet girl.” Hannah quickly got up, sat on the bed and gathered Rhian into her arms. “Oh, you poor thing…” There were tears on the midwife’s face, too, at the sheer despondency of this young girl, who never should have had her heart and her body abused this way.

The young girl was racked with sobs. “I k-know I shouldn’t… I w-want so bad to feel better…”

“Shh… Shh… You just get it out, lovey. If you need to cry, then that’s what you’ll do.” She continued to hold and soothe the young girl, stroking her hair and holding her tight, as she rocked her back and forth, like the child she was, until she cried out some of her deep, deep pain.

When she started to calm a bit, Hannah took her face in her hands and said, “Oh, Rhian, of course, you don’t trust things right now, and that’s all right. You trusted people, and they hurt you for it. These people did you wrong, when they should have cherished and protected you, love. They hurt you, and that’s their fault, not yours. I know you feel bad, Rhian. I know. But it won’t always be this way, love. And you’re already on the right track to getting better, do you know that?”

Still crying, Rhian asked. “H-How?”

The midwife lifted the girl’s chin. “Because of what you just told me. This is how you feel right now, and you told me about it. That’s how we start to help you get better; talking helps to get the hurt out.”

After a long while, Rhian settled down, and the midwife handed her a cold cloth to wash her face, and a kerchief to blow her nose.

Hannah had to clean her own face, too. “We’re a pair, aren’t we?” She laughed a little, as she blew her nose.

“Let me tell you what I see, love. I see a young girl, who hasn’t been able to relax and feel protected and secure for so long, it’s impossible for you to accept it. Think of it as being stuck in a damp, dark cave for a very long time. You’ve been there so long, you learned to accept it, and to make it home, because you have no choice. But then, all of a sudden, a way out appears, and it looks bright and hopeful. So, you step towards the entrance, and stick one foot out.

“But suddenly you think, ‘what if going this way makes things worse than it already is?’ Sometimes, you think, ‘it’s safer to live there,’ because you’ve already learned to live without hope, and you’re familiar with it. If you do leave your cave, and things don’t work out, you’d be so crushed you are afraid you wouldn’t survive it. It makes sense, love. So, as soon as you see the sunshine hit you foot outside of the cave, you start to feel good, and it feels so strange, and it scares you so much, that you pull it back into the dark, and run back to the world you know.”

Hannah looked into the girl’s face. “Does this sound at all like what it’s like?”

Rhian, trying to hold back tears, nodded. “I want to feel good, but I’m afraid to.”

“I know you do. It’s  natural to feel the way you do, and it'll take a while to learn to trust the sunshine. But, if you keep trying, you will one day. And you won’t have to do it alone.” Hannah squeezed her hands. “Now, I have two things I want you to do for me.”

Rhian looked at her expectantly.

“Firstly, I want you to only think about today. Not yesterday, or tomorrow, or the next day or the next. Just today. Secondly, if you catch yourself feeling anxious, I want you to close your eyes, take two or three deep breaths, and say to yourself, ‘I am safe now, and no one will hurt me,’ over and over. It probably won’t make you feel better today, but that’s all right. Your body only knows how to take things one way, but we’re going to help teach it something different. Don’t think too much about it; just breathe and say it, again and again. Only for today. Practice this, and look after your baby, that’s all. Do you think you do this?”

Rhian nodded, her face still splotchy. “I’ll try.”

“That’s my girl. You need to take life right now in tiny, baby steps. And I’ll be with you all the way, I promise you. You may not believe it now, but saying what you just said to me, and having a good cry about it, is a good sign.”

Hannah smiled. “Now, I’m going to come and see you later today, to see how Darryn is nursing, in case you need more help with that, love. And if you want to talk more, we can. We also need to get you up and walking a little bit, so you can start to get your strength back, all right?” The midwife squeezed the young girl’s hand. “Get some rest, love.” Then she stepped out closing the door behind her.

Exhausted and drained from her outburst, Rhian sighed a few times, then rolled on her side and fell asleep.

 

Once outside of the Healing Halls, Hannah stopped and sat down on one of the stone benches placed against the walls, and leaned her head back, closing her eyes. Once she collected herself, she took a deep breath, and went to find Hilda.

 

***************

 

It was early afternoon, and Thranduil was in his study, when the two women who had requested a meeting with him arrived.

He got up and bowed, “Welcome, Lady Hilda and Mistress Hannah. Please; let us sit here, where it is more comfortable.” He motioned to the small grouping of furniture in his study. “Can I get you something? Wine, or tea, perhaps?”

“Well, I’ve had a busy day, so some tea sounds wonderful. How about you, Hannah?” Hilda asked the midwife.

“I’d love some; you’re very kind.”

The Elvenking went to the doorway to Galion’s office, “Would you please arrange for some tea and refreshments, and see that we’re not disturbed?”

“Of course, My Lord.” Galion got up from his desk, and left.

Thranduil closed the door, then sat down across from them. “I assume you are here to share your concerns about young Rhian and her child?”

The two women looked at each other, “Yes, we are.” Hilda said. “Hannah spent some time with her, this morning, and this girl’s in bad shape, Thranduil.”

“Mistress Hannah, would you care to share your thoughts? What do you see?”

The midwife told the Elvenking everything that she and Rhian had talked about that morning, and her eyes misted over at her despondency. “My Lord, women who have recently given birth can sometimes suffer from depression. Giving birth takes their bodies nine months to prepare for, then it tries to scramble back to normal in a matter of weeks. It doesn’t always go well; I’ve seen it before.”

“Does not the child help to ease her depression?”

“It honestly has nothing to do with how much a mother cares for her child. In fact, the mother often feels guilty for feeling so sad, as if she’s a weak or a terrible person.”

Thranduil steepled his fingers, and looked concerned. “When King Bard and I visited her, and he judged her to be innocent of any crime, she seemed happy enough to meet her son. Are you saying she has deteriorated since then? Is she or the child in danger?”

Hannah struggled to explain, “To answer your question, yes. I don’t think she’d harm her child; nothing I see so far has indicated that. But she is… she’s been abused, and badly, My Lord. All the signs are there that she has not only been neglected by her father, not only has she been beaten by her husband, but that Garth forced himself on her against her will--probably more than once.”

Hilda closed her eyes, and shook her head. “That poor baby. Thranduil, do you realize she’s only a few years older than Sigrid? That could be our girl in there, in that condition!”

Thranduil raised his hand. “I understand your anger and your outrage, and I share it, you must believe me. But, as Elénaril has stressed to everyone, she must be treated with the utmost gentleness and kindness. It is important we keep such emotions between us, and not display them in front of this young girl, and never, do we speak of this to Sigrid, or anyone else, except for Elénaril and Daeron.”

At the mention of the Elven Guard’s name, the women looked surprised.

Thranduil explained. “It was Hilda who brought Rhian’s abuse to our attention, but it was Daeron, who realized the girl had been raped, and informed King Bard and myself. He recognized the signs from his training in Dale, back when Girion was King.”

There was a knock at the door. “Come!” Thranduil said. Galion entered with another servant, bearing a tray with refreshments. Once they were settled on the low table between them, they bowed and exited. Hilda poured out and passed the plate of small cakes around, causing Thranduil to smile to himself. She was good at taking care of everyone, and he had to admit it was a comfort. She knew he was missing Bard terribly, and this was her way of showing it.

Hannah took a sip, and asked, said, “May I speak frankly?”

“Of course. I am relying on your candor and expertise, in this matter. Please, what do you need to know?”

“What exactly is Daeron’s interest in this young girl?  Please understand; I’m not accusing him of anything, and we haven’t seen or heard anything untoward. In fact, if it weren’t for him, I couldn’t have gotten near her, in Dale. But, she’s in a delicate emotional state, My Lord, and I must know your thoughts. She’s my patient, and I must be sure she’ll come to no harm, even from those who are well-intentioned.”

Thranduil nodded. “I understand you concerns, and you are wise to ask these things. Perhaps I can offer you some perspective.”

Thranduil placed his cup and saucer on the table, sat back, and crossed his long legs. “What I am about to tell you, must go no further than this room, do you understand?”

The two women agreed.

“Daeron is one of the most talented Elves in my Realm.  He is among the fastest with the swords, fighting knives, and is an excellent archer, as is his cousin, Turamarth. But he is also an extraordinarily gifted Healer.

"Elénaril’s job, when she is not working here in the Healing Halls, is to train members of our military in the basics of the Healing Arts, and she does it well. Long ago, she suggested to me that some Elves in my Army be trained fully as Healers, to serve the medical needs of our villages in the Kingdom, which our Guardians protect as diligently as we can. Daeron was among those who volunteered.

“Some Elves are given special gifts from the Valar, and, as it turned out, Daeron’s is a powerful and unique Healer. He is first and foremost a Soldier, of course, but his combined talents are why I assigned him to guard King Bard and his children.

“Before this, his abilities in combat made it safer for him to travel in our forest and to aid those in our villages, and for many centuries, he traveled throughout our Kingdom, caring for those who needed him, particularly expectant mothers. Daeron has always had a special interest in childbirth.”

Hannah was fascinated. “So… he’s an Elven midwife! That explains a lot. He was something during Rhian’s delivery, and no mistake. Rhian and the baby were in real trouble, and would’ve died. It took almost everything he had, but he saved them both; he really did! So, not all Elves can do this?”

“No, they cannot. Daeron is a Silvan Elf, and they do not all possess such abilities, and generally are not as powerful as we Sindar Elves, but Daeron is an exception. My adopted daughter, Tauriel, is also Silvan, and possesses some Healing gifts, but not nearly to the degree as Daeron.  Even so, it can be draining to do this, because it requires the use of strength from the Elf’s fëa, or spirit. Usually an Elf requires rest afterward, until they are restored.”

Hannah recalled. “I was glad to see you, because I didn’t know what was going on when he collapsed, and I had to take care of Rhian and the baby.  I’m glad he’s all right!”

“He used an enormous amount of his strength to save them, but aside from needing a healing-sleep, and rest, he is recovering nicely.”

“How did Daeron come to work with the people of Dale, or Dwarves even?” Hannah asked.

“This is the part of my story that may explain Daeron’s interest in helping Rhian. Once he finished his initial training with Elénaril, he was sent to Dale for many years, to further his education. While he was there, he was very busy treating not only injuries, but he gained experience with illness and disease.  He helped make changes in the Healing Halls there, so fewer died of infection and fever. He also treated several Dwarves, and helped bring many of Dale’s citizens into the world.  He also attended the births of the several generations of the Royal family, including the grandson of Girion. That child was the only survivor of the Royal family, when Smaug first  came to the North and destroyed Dale."

“Imagine that!” Hilda said. “That Elf who guards our Bard, delivered his Grandfather!” She shook her head.

Thranduil smiled. “His Sixth Great-Grandfather, to be precise. During his time in Dale, Daeron encountered a pregnant patient who had been brutalized by her husband in the same ways young Rhian suffered - including rape, I am sorry to say.  He became particularly concerned for the woman - her name was Miriam - and the child...” he struggled for words. “Was very special to him.”

”Other Elves can determine the sex of the child, and see if there are physical problems, but they can only communicate with them as one normally would with an infant.” He said. “Daeron has the ability to... ‘connect’ with unborn babes in a way I’ve never seen before.  Their fëas - their souls - understand each other, without words, or even conscious thought.”

”Really?” Hannah’s eyes grew large.  “That’s amazing! And you say most Elves can’t do that?”

”No other Elf that we know of can do what he does.  It does not matter what race the child is from, either.”

”And you said he worried about this Miriam and her pregnancy?”

”Yes.  This little one - a girl - touched his heart, and he grew attached to her.”

“What happened to them?” Hilda asked.

“The woman would not name her attacker - she gave excuses about falling - and they had no choice but to allow her to go home with her husband.  Still, King Girion had them watched, and one night...” he sighed, “by the time the soldiers broke into the house, they were too late.  The husband had broken Miriam’s neck, and Daeron tried valiantly to save the child, but she died.  She never took a breath in this world.”

“Oh, the poor things...” Hilda’s hand went to her mouth. “How did Daeron take it?”

“He was was devastated at their loss, and...” Thranduil shook his head sadly.  “King Girion was frightened for him, and sent me an urgent message.  I arranged for him to be brought back to the Woodland Realm, where we could look after him.  He recovered, with his family’s support.”

“Oh, my lands…” Hannah uttered.

“What happened to that husband?” Hilda asked, her eyes blazing.

“He was dealt with… effectively, let us just say that.”

“Well, that explains why Daeron was so concerned with Rhian...” Hannah mused.

“Daeron met her when we first came to Dale, and he saw that she was pregnant, and tried to assist her, but she was too frightened to allow him to touch her.  Daeron saw the bruises, and recognized the signs of a rape in Rhian, and he knew she needed help. Perhaps he also sensed the unborn child would need him as well.”

Hannah nodded. “That makes sense. He’s very gentle with her, and he’s careful about crowding her or touching her.  I’m grateful to him for that, but I still need to make sure he has no ulterior motive. She’s in no shape to be thinking about anything but taking care of her baby, and coming back to herself.”

“I applaud your caution. You say, you see no evidence of his feelings for her, besides friendship?”

“I haven't, and I’ve been watching. I’m also watching to see if she develops feelings for him, too. She’s not ready for that, My Lord. Not at all.”

“I agree, but be at ease: Daeron is honorable, and would never do or say anything to jeopardize Rhian’s recovery. He is a Healer, and knows the well-being of the patient supersedes any personal feelings. I have known Daeron since he was a small child, Mistress Hannah. He is honorable, as are his parents, who work here at the Palace.”

Thranduil assured both women. “I suggest we put the issue aside, unless you observe a problem.  Does Rhian still have trouble leaving her room, or being around noise and crowds?”

Hannah nodded. “She does. I’ve dealt with abused women before, and this happens. She has some good moments, to be sure, but she’s still struggling.”

“Then I am glad she is in such good hands.” Thranduil bowed his head to her. “I have a solution to this matter, if you would indulge me. I propose we set her up in a guest suite here, in the Royal Wing, where it is quieter, and there is much less traffic. The added Guards provided here, will be a visible sign of protection, and she may take comfort in that.”

“I think it would be perfect, but I’m afraid to have her stay alone. She’s too physically weak to care for her baby and an apartment, and it could make her depression worse. Herbs and special teas could help, but she’s a nursing mother, and those things would get to the baby.”

“What do you suggest?” asked the Elvenking.

“Could she stay with you?” Hannah asked Hilda.

“I don’t think I’d be the best roommate,” Hilda said.   “As much as I want to help, I’m too busy, and won't be around much.  The bigger problem is, I don’t have the right temperament.  I'm a ‘doer,’ and can't keep still.  She needs calm, gentleness, and lots of patience, and that’s just not me.” She looked at Thranduil. “I'm sorry; I hope you understand.”

“I do, Lady Hilda. It is wise of you to consider this.”  Inwardly, Thranduil heaved a sigh of relief.  If Hilda had actually wanted to have the girl stay with her, he had no idea how to talk her out of it.  He had much affection for the Seneschal of Dale, but he knew how hard everyone worked to avoid her wrath.

He turned to the midwife. “Mistress, are you in a position to move to in with her?”

“I could, My Lord, but it wouldn’t be a good idea.  I plan on seeing Rhian several times a week, to help her talk things out, and it could get intense. Between talks with me, her mind needs to rest, and be occupied with other things, until I see her again.  If I were living there with her, she’d never get away from it.”

“That is a good point.   May I suggest, that one of my own subjects stay with her this winter?  She would receive constant care and companionship, and you could visit her as you need, but not neglect your other duties.”

“Excellent, My Lord!” Hannah brightened. “I plan to release her in about a week.  Normally, my mothers would be up and around, but her body won’t fight off infection until she is stronger, and I want her watched closely.”

“Excellent. I shall have Galion set up her rooms and look into someone to stay with her. You will give final approval, of course.”

“Thank you, Lord Thranduil. I appreciate it.”

“The pleasure is mine.”

Hilda smiled at her friend. “I told you Thranduil would help! He’s a good egg, this one.”

Thranduil laughed. “A compliment, indeed. Mistress Hannah, may I ask that you update me regularly as to the Rhian’s progress?  During this winter, I am responsible for her, as with everyone from Dale, but she and the child are of special concern to me.”

The women and the Elvenking stood and said their goodbyes. The ladies left for their respective duties, but not before Hilda came back in to place her hand on his arm,  “Our Bard is the luckiest man in the world to have you, you know that don’t you?”

The Elvenking took her hand and kissed it. “On the contrary. He is a gift, and so are you.”

He meant it.

Chapter Text

 

City of Dale, 7th of January 2942, T.A.

Bard was on his way back to the Great Hall, when Percy and a couple of other Elves rode up with a deer carcass tied to the back of one of the horses.

“Look! Dinner!” Percy grinned.

“Did you have fun?”

“I did.  Your dog,” he indicated Thangon, who had gone out with them, “was a sight to see, and no mistake!”

Bard looked down, “So, you had a good time, boy?” Thangon barked, happily and wagged his tail. “Come on; let’s get back to work, yeah?  Tulë!”

Bard had been in his study for about an hour, while Thangon took a nap in front of the fireplace. Suddenly, he heard a strange noise, followed by a wave of noxious vapors that made his eyes water.

“What the… Ahhh!  Thangon!”

He put his handkerchief over his nose and mouth, and marched into the Great Hall, shouting, “Who the bloody fuck fed my dog LEMBAS?”

Amidst the roar of laughter, he spied Percy, over by the fire pit, studying the flames, selectively deaf.

“Pers, you bastard!” Bard pointed at him. “It was you, wasn’t it? Don’t give me that look; I know it was you!”

“My King, you injure me,” Percy put his hand over his heart. I am truly hurt, that you’d think I’d do such a petty, childish thing.  I would love to stay and chat, but I am due at the construction site in the Marketplace, My Lord.” He grinned, as he put on his hat and exited through the doors.

Bard gritted his teeth, and mumbled ti himself as he headed back to his study.  He held his breath as he gathered up the papers to finish his work from his chambers.

The big dog raised his head and tilted it back and forth, wondering what his master was up to.  Bard had an inspiration.

“Hey Thangon? How would you like to spend the day in Percy’s room?”

 

***************

 

The Woodland Realm, 8th of January 2942, T.A.

After three days, Thranduil was finally making a dent in the piles of paperwork on his desk. In his adjoining study, Galion was quickly and efficiently catching up with his own work, as Tilda chattered in her chair on the end of his desk, practicing her writing.

Life in the Palace was beginning to find a comfortable rhythm. After breakfast, the Guards would take the children to the Dining Hall for lessons, and Hilda would would go wherever her duties took her that day. Thranduil and Galion would then walk across the wide hallway to their respective offices to work, and once school was finished in the Dining Hall, they had their midday meal in Thranduil’s chambers. Then Bain, Sigrid and the rest of the older children would go to the Royal Libraries for Sindarin lessons, or other various activities scheduled during the week.  Once their session in the Library was finished, Bain would head to the indoor arena for his defense lessons with Daeron, and Sigrid would go to the Healing Halls to work.

Tilda was a bit teary at having to stay in the Royal Wing in the afternoons, but they had planned for this.  Thranduil couldn’t watch her; he had too much work and too many meetings to attend, so he and Galion decided she would go to his study to spend her time. Tilda seemed happy enough; she’d swing her legs as she sat on a tall chair, practicing her writing, or drawing pictures, then Galion would have her sit on his blue couch with her stuffed toys and a blanket.

Esta, was obedient and affectionate, and did a great deal to ease the children after their Da had left. During the mornings, she lay at Thranduil’s feet in his study, and after lunch, listened patiently as Tilda read to her, or snuggled with her as she took her afternoon nap.  At night, Esta chose to sleep in Bain’s room.  A bed had been provided for her there, but she always ended up snuggled under his arm when he woke in the morning.

 

As Thranduil was putting his signature on yet another supply order, he heard a knock on his door.

“Neledâf,” he called out.

Lieutenant Nualë entered. “Aran nîn, the wagons have returned, safely,” she said, placing a wooden box on the desk. “Here are your papers and correspondence from Dale.”

“Thank you. Were there any problems on the road?”

“No, Aran nîn. The road is frozen, so the trip when smoothly.”

“I am glad to hear it. You may go.” The Elf saluted and left.

The Elvenking smiled widely, as he unlocked the box, opened it, and saw several sealed letters with Bard’s narrow, bold print in Westron, along others from Tauriel, written in her usual beautiful flowing Tengwar script.

Thranduil set them aside with a sigh. He had work to do; the letters for their family would have to wait until after dinner.

The one from Bard would wait until after he went to bed.

The sooner he got back to work, the sooner he could read his letters.   Thranduil picked up his pen, but before he dipped it into the ink, he glanced into Galion’s study.  Tilda was asleep, with Esta curled up beside her, keeping watch.  Charlotte was tucked safely under her arm, and her hand clutched one of Daisy’s legs.  He had grown to love Bard’s children, but his Tithen Pen especially tugged at his heart. Sigrid and Bain were wonderful, but they wanted to work towards their independence, but all this little one wanted most was love and attention, which he and Galion were happy to give.

He was roused from his musings when the door suddenly slammed open, and Hilda came bursting into the room, looking upset.

No. Not upset.

Furious.

“Lady Hilda, is something amiss?”

“There certainly is! I’ve been having some trouble with two older ladies from Dale, and it seems they won’t recognize my authority, here or anywhere.”

Thranduil seemed skeptical. “Hilda, I am sure you are more than capable of handling this...”

“Normally, you’re right, My Lord, but these two bitches cornered Sigrid and Bain and grabbed them—“

The Elvenking leapt to his feet, roaring, “Rhaich! Surely not!”

Galion came rushing in, closing the adjoining door behind him. “Please don’t shout, My Lord! Tilda is napping!” When he saw Hilda and Thranduil’s murderous faces, his eyes widened. “What is wrong?”

“We’ve got ourselves a real problem, Galion.” Hilda said. “Our children were manhandled, and I need you to stay here with the Little Bean,” and turning back to Thranduil, she ordered, “and you need to get your Royal arse to the Throne Room, right now!”

She put her hands on her hips. “The guards already have the women there, along with the children, so I need you up on that bloody high seat of yours to put the fear of Morgoth into them. Let’s go!” She turned, “Oh, and don’t forget to put that tall crown on. If even I can’t scare them, you’re going to need all the help you can get!”

Thranduil was every bit as furious as Hilda, as they rushed to the Throne Room.

“Thranduil!” He heard Hilda shout from behind him.  “Slow down, will you? My legs are shorter!”

She was right, he sighed. In his haste and fury, he'd left her way behind.  Thranduil stopped, and waited for her to catch up. “My apologies; I should have realized.” He took her hand and put it into the crook of his elbow.

“Aye, and if I wasn’t so mad, I’d laugh about it. But no one puts their hands on our babies!”

He stopped again. “Are they hurt?” Thranduil could feel his face flushed with fury.

“They’re no worse for the wear, and Daeron got to them quick enough. I doubt those two ladies could have hurt them. But still, to have the nerve to even lay a finger on them… Dammit!” she stomped her foot. Then looked up at Thranduil. “Sorry for my language, but…”

“Do not be. I may be using worse language myself, before we are finished. Come. Let us make haste.” He took her by the elbow and urged her forward.  How could anyone not be frightened of Hilda when she was mad?

 

 

LETTERS FROM DALE

 

From Bard to Thranduil: 

Hello, My King:

As you can see, I made it to Dale safely, and received your gift, probably just how you pictured it. You were right; the silence in this corridor was awful, and this behemoth you call a dog might make things easier.

The cats you sent are doing a pretty decent job.  Old Ben had the shit scared out of him when Floyd – that’s what he named the big orange one – first jumped out of the basket and attacked him. The men are still laughing about it, but he doesn’t seem to care. He and the cat are fast friends now. When Floyd isn’t hunting mice, or sitting by the fire pit, he’s on Ben’s lap, and sleeps with him in his room at night.

We’ve made some changes here in this part of the Castle.  Old Ben has been named our City Planner, and uses your study to now. We’ve moved Tilda’s bed in there for him, and the extra heat from the fireplace helps his joints. Ermon has been treating his arthritis, and he gets around better than he has in years!  He’s made the most of his renewed health, and is busy meeting the building crews, from all three Kingdoms - I’ve no doubt the construction will commence in a few days.

Ben asked after Rhian, seems her father was just as much of a bastard as her husband. Ben’s wife was a cousin to Rhian’s mother, so Ben and his late wife tried to keep an eye on her as much as possible, but Phylip treated his wife like dirt, and married his daughter off to that horse’s arse just to get rid of her.

Ben was distraught at the extent of her injuries, but was relieved we could help her.  He had some choice words for that husband - the man swears worse than I do, if you can believe it!

Please relay the message to Rhian that Ben bears no ill will and he’s proud of what she did to save herself and the child. Hopefully, this might ease her.

Feren has taken over Bain’s room, for the winter, and we’ve moved a table in there for his paperwork. It’s a lot easier than Percy and I always hunting him down. He’s begun the weapons training with me, and so enough said about that. Tauriel will be working with me, too.

We’ve moved a man named Alun into the girl’s room. He used to work for the Master and manage his accounts, but has a reputation for being an honest and good man, and did his best to allocate as much funds as he could for the people of Laketown, before the Master and Alfrid could prevent it. He’s assisting Ben and Percy with the costs involved in the rebuilding, and will work with Gloin from Erebor to manage our Treasury there.

Alun’s son, Rhys, is currently with you, and he’s staying with his grandmother, Ina, and her sister, Iola. He and Bain are friends, so you might come across him now and again. The boy’s a good lad; we’ve had him at the house in Laketown a few times, and he’s got good manners and seems to be a good influence on our boy.

I should warn you: those two ladies are not the easiest to get along with. I’m sure Hilda can tell you all about it, because those two gave her trouble in the camp, before they left. Alun tells me they were personal friends of the Master, and Ina was the one who had the Master give Alun the job.

Tauriel loves the grey tabby cat and named her Farien, which she tells me, means “Huntress.” Aside from missing her Ada, I think life in Dale suits her.  You were right when you told me she wasn’t made to stay in your Kingdom forever.

My mornings are spent in meetings, then we all head out and start building, where and when we can. The Dwarves do the stonework, the Elves do the roofing while my Men work in the inside.  The hard work helps to keep everyone’s spirit’s up, and evenings are spent with with games, and those with instruments usually play something or other.

And Thangon follows me wherever I go, and he’s getting plenty to eat, between what I give him, and what the others sneak to him under the tables.

  I should tell you he’s taken up residence on your side of the bed, so good luck convincing him to give up his space when you come back! Serves you right for surprising me with him, Ha Ha.

See you soon. I miss you more than I can say.

Gi melin, Thranduil. Always.

Bard

P.S. That damned dog snores loud enough to wake the dead!

 

* * *

 

From Percy to Hilda:  

To My Dear Wife:

How are you faring there? How are the children?

The Great Hall is looking pretty good. Those cats Thranduil sent are always on the job, and I don’t mind telling you I’m glad they’re here – no more mice running around. Remind me to tell you how Old Ben met one of them, when I see you. We all nearly busted a gut laughing!

There’s plenty of work to do, but on our off hours, the Elves train us in weaponry. We found a place in the Castle ruins that’s fairly weatherproof for our lessons, and it keeps us fit, I’ll tell you that!  Bard insists on working with Feren and Tauriel work with Bard privately, and he doesn’t say why, but I guess that’s his business.

We also go out hunting a lot, which is a nice break from our routine.  When we were out in the woods, one of the Elves gave me some of their special bread, to eat. It tasted good, and I was surprised at how full I was, after only a little.

I made the mistake of tossing Bard’s dog one one of those biscuits, and later that day, Bard came into the Great Hall, yelling his head off.  Seems that Elvish bread made that great bloody beast fart all over Bard’s study, and it nearly knocked him over, it smelled so bad! Valar, it was funny!  I’ll be sure to remember that, when our boy gets too full of himself, and needs to be taken down a peg or two.

We play a lot of Stratagem and Draughts a night, and the Dwarves often stay in the evenings to play. Would you believe the one called  Bifur is wiping the floor with all of us! Remember him? He was the Dwarf that went around with that piece of axe stuck in his head?  He’ll be going up against Feren in a few days,, and the bets are about 50/50 on that one.

I’ll write more as soon as I can. Must get to bed. We’ve got to work more on the buildings on the Market tomorrow, so it will be a long day.

Your husband,

Percy

P.S. Oh, bloody balls! Bard locked that damned, farting beast in my room all day, and I can’t get the smell out!

 

* * *

 

From Bard to Sigrid:

Hello, My Sweet Girl,

I don’t need to ask if you’re behaving yourself, and I don’t need to ask if you’re keeping yourself busy, either. Knowing my girl, you are constantly at it, attacking the day with as much energy and determination that your mother had.

I am wearing the latest pair of socks you made me, and my feet are toastywarm. I love them, and am looking forward to more. Uncle Percy says he’s jealous, and wants you find some nice blue wool and make him a pair!

Did Ada tell you he sent us some animals? Yep! He sure did. We’ve got some cats running around, and he also gave me a personal pet, which I think is a cross between a dog and and an Olyphant!  I can’t wait for you to meet him. Commander Feren tells me that several dogs like him have been bred to help the Elves hunt and protect them in the forest at night. He looks scary; he’s really a big bowl of mush - Tauriel’s cat orders him around all the time.

How are Rhian and the baby? I know I told you how proud I am of you for helping her, but I want to say it again; you behaved like a true Princess of Dale, and you did not only your old Da proud, but your country, as well.

Tauriel has been giving us Sindarin lessons, and I’m sure you’ll do better than me, though. You’re sharp like your Ma.

I hope Bain and Tilda are doing well. I know you will look after them, whether I remind you too, or not, but please, take some time to be a young girl and have some fun.

I will see you soon, darling. Before you know it, your Ada will be bringing you all back to me.

Love,

Your old Da.

* * *

 

To Hilda, from Bard:

Dear Hil,

Greetings from the Great Hall of Dale! As I am writing this to you, I am sitting along one of the long tables in the center, having just worked my shift in the kitchens. I sure miss your cooking, love. These men are doing their best with your recipes, and trying to follow them to the letter, but no one can do a good Fish Pie like you. It just doesn’t taste the same. Tomorrow is chicken soup, with your special biscuits, and the day after, they’ll do their best to attempt your chowder.

Hilda, I could never begin to think of doing all this in Dale if I didn’t have you or Percy. I hardly remember a time when I didn’t know you! When Mattie and I were married, you were the best friend she ever had, and you always were mine.

He misses you terribly, but you’d be proud of  Percy, Hil. He’s put himself in charge of keeping our spirits up, so he’s arranging tournaments and competitions in archery, Stratagem, and even Draughts. Somebody was talking about Darts, but they’ll have to see the Dwarves about making them.

When that fails, “someone” plays pranks to entertain the us, usually at my expense. I make a big fuss, but really I don’t mind.  Too many of them have lost loved ones, and missing their wives and children could make things worse. Thank the Valar, our Pers knows the value of laughter. As long as they can laugh, they’re not fighting or being sad.

I won’t ask you to look after our children, because I know you already are. I also know you’ve taken Thranduil and Galion into your heart, just as you did Mattie, and me.

Please let me know of her progress. She can’t seem to handle unexpected noise of any kind. Sigrid spoke to me about placing her away from the hubbub of the Visitor’s Wings. I think she’s right.

Well, I’ll close for now, but I’ll write again, as soon as I can.

Love always,

Bard

 

* * *

 

From Feren to Glélindë: 

To my Dearest Wife,

I think of you there in our home, and it brings warmth to my heart. We have suffered many separations in our life together, and I am grateful for your support and patience, while I’m away, and the loving embrace I receive when I’m home.

Now, when I picture our home, I see you, Gruffudd, and little Alis and Dafina. I am glad you wanted to meet the girls, and I could see within moments, you felt the same way about them.

I’m sure you are already hard at work, making sure those girls and their grandfather have plenty of warm clothes.  And it makes me thinks of when we first met, do you remember?  I had bought several pairs of leggings and a new cloak from the Guild, and they were so well done, I asked Taenya if she would introduce me to the tailor who made them.

From the first moment I saw you, I thought you beautiful. How could I not, with your lovely auburn hair and those beautiful eyes? But when you smiled, and I saw your dimple, I felt the stir of the Ehtë Raumo, and fell I love with you then and there.  Yet instead of feeling joy, it brought me distress…

I know it seemed I didn’t like you, at first, but that was only because my life as a soldier can be very harsh. I could easily lose my life; I could not put anyone through that!   At best, a soldier’s life is not easy, but with the ever-growing evil in the forest, it was selfish to expect anyone to bear that burden!

For a long time, I told myself that, if I could not marry you, I could at least dedicate my life to making you safe.

Sometimes it was enough. Most of the time, it was not.

Then, the Queen sent for me and persuaded me to tell her of my affection for you. I tried to explain I was doing you a kindness, but she would hear none of it. “Life can be dangerous in the best of times, Commander,” she told me, “but that is no reason to turn away a chance a happiness.”

Queen Mírelen had arranged for you to be in the King’s Gardens, and after I finally mustered my courage, I went to find you, and after a few moments, it seemed like we had known each other forever!

Since then, you have only brought happiness to me. It is too sad to think that the Darkness in the Forest kept us from conceiving our own child, but perhaps, Alis and Dafina, Will give us that joy, even if only for a short time.

Meleth nîn, I pray that this will come to pass. I only had to see the love in your eyes, when you met the little ones, to know that they belong nowhere else.

I shall write again soon. Please take care of yourself and our new family.

Gi Melin,

Feren

 

* * *

 

From Bard to Bain:

Hi Son,

So… How are things in the Woodland Ream? I don’t have to ask if you’re practicing your sword work. My question is, are you keeping up with your lessons? I promise, someday all that stuff you’re learning will be useful to you.

Have you started with your bow, yet? Please let me know how you’re doing with it. I can’t wait to shoot with you, come spring. I don’t brag, as a rule, but you get your natural talent from your Da and your Grandad Brand. You’ll do us both proud. Practice your Draughts and Stratagem moves, too. I’ve played it so much, I should be able to be honest competition for you and Thranduil when you get back.

I will always love you and be proud of you.

Love,

Da

 

* * *

 

From Tauriel to Thranduil:

Gi suilannon, Ada,

As you know, Bard arrived safely and so did the supply caravan. I wanted to write you this letter right away, so it will be ready when wagons return to you.

Thank you so much for the cat! Farien, sleeps on my bed at night, and her purrs easily help me sleep. I am glad of it, because without you, Galion, and the children, I am lonely. I look forward to seeing you all again, soon.

The weeks I spent with our family in Dale before you left, have been some of my happiest times. The best things in life are ordinary peaceful times spent with loved ones. I hope I never forget that, wherever life takes me.

Ada, I know you think you were a terrible father to me. I promise, you were not! I always knew you wanted to be closer to Legolas and me. You must believe me; between you and Galion, I truly wanted for nothing, except to see joy in your eyes. Now that you have that, I know the Valar has answered my prayer.

I know in my heart Legolas loves you, too, and I pray to the stars he will find his way back to his home, and to you.

My heart belongs here now, Ada. I do not think I would have found purpose or contentment with life in the Woodland Realm, so you blessed me by releasing me.

Bard and I sit in his study in the evenings, speak of many things. He is becoming a good friend, and I can see the qualities in him that you find appealing. He is a good man, and will be a fine, compassionate King for his people. After so much loss and devastation here, it is good to be working on the many possibilities that lie ahead.

Please write and tell me how the children and Galion are doing. And tell me how you are, Ada.

Mil, Tauriel

 

* * *

 

From Bard to Tilda:

Hi, Little Bean,

I hope you’re being good. Have your teeth started growing in, yet? I don’t know if you’ll lose anymore while I’m here, but, if you do, and Thrandool has a fit, don’t worry. He’s just being an Ada, and he’s never had little human girls. He’s funny when he starts talking in Elvish and gets excited, isn’t he?

I’ll bet he’s sitting right there, while Sigrid is reading this to you, and has one of those ‘looks’ on his face, doesn’t he? If he is, just look at him and give him one of your big, sunny smiles, which is now even cuter with your missing teeth!

I hope you’re taking good care of Charlotte and Daisy. Are you making sure she’s kept warm, and always wears her Guard’s uniform when Bain is practicing?

Tauriel says to tell you hello and she misses her little sister. She just got back from Erebor, where she was visiting her friends. Bofur says hello, and hope you and all the children are enjoying their toys. King Dáin was asking about all of you, too.

I hope you’re having a good time there, and make sure you listen to Thrandool and Galion and do what they tell you. Oh, and listen to Auntie Hil, too. You know she loves her Beanie as much as everyone else does.

See you before you know it, darling.

Love,

Your Da

 

* * *

 

To Sigrid, Bain, and Tilda, from Tauriel:

Greetings from Dale,

I miss you all!  Bain, are you practicing with Daeron every day? You must keep up with your studies, or Galion will not permit you to have your lessons. “Studies must always come first,” he always told me, and do not be stubborn (like I was), because it will do you no good.

Galion is the finest of teachers, and I know he has grown fond of you all. He is the kindest of Uncles; loving to me as a child, and someone to go to with my thoughts and troubles when I was older.

So, Sigrid and Tilda, how do you like my room? I haven’t thought of it in years, but if  you look behind the dresser along the bottom of the south wall, you will find my Secret Hiding Place. It was a little compartment I made to hide special things I liked when I was little. I doubt there is anything in it, but you are welcome to use it!

Bain, you are staying in Legolas’s bed, are you not? Isn’t it beautiful? It was a gift to his mother and father from his grandparents in Rivendell.

I have visited the Dwarves, they were nice enough to give me a permanent apartment for my very own. Wasn’t that nice?

I love my new cat. Her name is Farien, and she hunts mice much better than the big orange male cat here, who tends to be lazy. Since most of the mice have been caught now, he just sits around, wanting to be fed fish. He will get fat, if they don’t watch it.

Your Da likes the big dog Ada gave him, but everyone here has learned the hard way never to give him Lembas. Your father has posted an Official Decree in the Great Hall, that whoever gives him our Elven bread, must be locked in a small room with him for rest of the day!

Please write me soon, and tell me how you all are.

Your sister and friend,

Tauriel

 

* * *

 

To Tilda from Bofur:

Dear Lady Tilda,

Greetings from your Dwarf friends!

I hope you are having a good time this winter. I must tell you, King Dáin and all of us here in Erebor, will be glad when you all return.

We’re working to get Dale ready for you and your families when you return. Many houses are being built and I hope you like them.

Are you being a good girl for Thranduil? I’m sure you are, and your Da says so too. He says you lost another tooth. Mahal left you a gold coin, when you put it under your pillow, didn’t he? Just like I told you he would!

Please be good and work on your Sindarin, because next, you should be learning to speak Khuzdul, so you can understand us! Don’t worry, it will be fun.

Your friend,

Bofur

 

* * *

 

To Rhian, from Ben, City Planner of Dale:

My Dear Girl,

When Feren came back from the Palace and told me about your little boy, I was so proud of you I almost busted my buttons!  I know Cristyn and your Mam are looking down on you sweetheart.

Lord Bard has told me everything, and you, dear girl, did nothing wrong.  I’m proud of you for doing what you did! You helped save lives that night, and when you look down and see baby Darryn, just you think on that.

I’m glad that Elf Guard is your friend. They tell me he saved your life and the baby’s, so you tell him thank you, will you, love?

Please write and tell me about that son of yours. Maybe, if he’s lucky, he’ll grow up to be a handsome as me!

The very kindest regards to you,

“Old” Ben

 

* * *

 

To Sigrid, Bain, and Tilda, from Percy:

Hello, Sea Monsters!

Are you looking after your Auntie Hil, for me? Tilda, make sure she gets enough rest, will you?  She doesn’t like to slow down, so you might have to crawl in her lap, and make her read you some stories.

Bain, see if Thranduil can get you another small knife, so you can practice whittling again. That was my favorite thing to do with you; even more than fishing. You’re much better than your father – he was always rubbish at it – so I look forward to seeing what you can make when you come back.

Sigrid, my girl. Just stay as beautiful as you always are, and I imagine you’ll be even smarter when you come back. I know everybody tells you you’re just like your Ma, but I promise you, you’ve got a lot of your Da in you, too, and you do him proud. But don’t tell your Da that, or he’ll get a big head, and there’ll be no living with him! Most of all, though, you are yourself, and I hope you never change.

Oh, and if your Da tells you that I like to play pranks on him, don’t believe him! He’s just whining!

See you all soon. Be good, but don’t be too good! And don’t tell your Auntie Hil I said that!

Love,

Uncle Percy

 

* * *

 

 

ELVEN TRANSLATIONS:

Ada – Dad

Aran nîn – My king

Brannon nîn – My Lord

Ehtë Raumo – (Q.) Lightning Bolt  (lit. “Storm Spear”) Sometimes, when an Elf first encounters his or her bond-mate, they can feel a powerful, emotional response, like lightning.

Gi suilannon, Ada – I bring you greetings, Dad

Lembas – Elvish waybread; one bite is as much as a meal. (It also gives Thangon terrible gas.)

Neledâf – Come in (Lit. “Permission to Enter”)

Rhaich - Curses

Tirhûtaw– Collie (Lit. “Wool Guard Dog”)

Tulë - (Quenya) Come

 

 

NOTES:

Draughts – Checkers

Stratagem – Chess. In the Elves call it Dagornaw.

- The earliest known game of chess goes back to the 6th century in India, although Persia, after it was conquered by the Arabs, developed it into the version we know today. Some historians believe that the Chinese had a part in this as well. Either way, the game is ancient, so I see no reason why Middle Earth wouldn’t have its own. Besides, it’s my fantasy verse, and I can do what I want, so there.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 The Woodland Realm, 13th of January 2942 T.A.

Thranduil entered his chambers in the early afternoon to get something when a stirring in the next apartment caught his eye.  His brows drew together with worry, as entered the room and found Sigrid sitting alone on the big couch.  “Are you ill, Iellig?”

She looked up in surprise.  “Oh, I’m fine, Ada.  It’s just that…” her fingers fumbled in her lap. “Do you remember that patient Elénaril was so concerned about?”

“I do.  Did something happen?”

“Aye; he just died.”

“I am sorry, Iellig.” He took her hand.  “Was he not recovering?”

“He was starting to, yeah.” She sighed.  “He was badly burned in the fires, and Elénaril was able to ward off infection, while much of his skin healed, but she thinks his body just got tired of fighting. His heart was sounding weak earlier, and she told me he wasn’t going to last long.”

 

Thranduil put his arm around her and she leaned into him.  “What happened?”

“He just… stopped.  I don’t know how else to explain it.

“Perhaps his spirit got weary as well as his body.”

Sigrid turned her head and met his gaze.  “I don’t like to think it, but you’re right.  His parents died in Laketown, and the girl he was about to marry died during the Battle, fighting beside Auntie Hil.  He had no one, so I sometimes sat and talked with him, to keep him company."

“Is that why you are sad?”

“It’s not that, really.  I never saw anyone die before - not up close, anyway - but I just hated the idea of his dying all by himself.  Please don’t be mad, but I sneaked out of classes to sit with him.  I wanted to make sure he had someone with him, to hold his hand."

“I highly doubt you went unnoticed, though I will speak to Daeron about it.”

“Don’t get mad at him, Ada; it’s my fault for not saying anything to him!”

“Why did you not tell him?"

“What if he said no?  Or maybe he’d tell you and you wouldn’t let me.” Her jaw was set in determination. 

“If he had, I would have allowed it.” Thranduil lifted her chin.  “No one should be forced to leave this life without kind word to ease the way.  Perhaps that is why Daeron permitted it, and was hoping you would tell me, as well.  But you must never do that again, do you understand?”

“I won’t.  I’m sorry; I couldn’t let him be alone like that.”

“It was a brave thing to do; are you all right?”

 “I am.”  Sigrid turned her head and grew pensive. “I can’t explain it.  I thought it would be horrible, but it was like, he knew his time was over here, and was ready to go.  In a strange way, it was beautiful.”

“Not strange at all.  Your friend went on to see his family, and who would not be happy about that? Being a witness to moment like is very powerful, and when the person is ready, it is a profound and experience.”

“Do you believe that’s true, or is it just something people tell themselves, when someone dies, so they can accept it?”

“Perhaps a bit of both.  Beliefs and traditions remind us that they have gone to a place of peace, and we can go on without them.” Thranduil gave her a sad smile.  “I am afraid it does not cure our grief, but it helps, sometimes.”

“When Mam died, I don’t know how Da got through it.”

“Uncle Percy and Aunt Hilda were there to help him shoulder the burden, and do not doubt you children helped him get through the days.”

“When Tilda was a baby, she always laughed at the seagulls,” Sigrid leaned her head on his shoulder.  “When I looked up and saw him smiled at her, I almost started crying.”

“Why?” The Elvenking rested his cheek against her hair.

“I’d forgotten what Da’s laugh sounded like, and had been so long since Da had even smiled, that it looked strange on him…” she quickly wiped her eye.  “It broke my heart to think he’d been hurting so.”

Thranduil’s chest grew heavy, and he swallowed hard.  “You were just a little girl, not much older than Tilda is now.  Your Da was right to shield you from his grief, Iellig.

 “Da said you had a hard time when your wife died, too.”

“As I’m sure you are learning in your studies, a grieving Elf faces danger of fading, when a spouse dies." He rested his chin on her head, and whispered, “I struggled for a very long time.”

“What helped you?”

“Galion helped me a great deal, and some things happened during the Battle which opened my heart again, and when your father and I fell in love, he and you children have filled it.”

“How did Da help you with your wife?”

“He understood, and helped me find the courage to face my memories again.  He helped me bear the pain, and eventually, I released much of it.  I think Mírelen would be happy for me.”

“What did she look like?”

Thranduil smiled, and got up, holding out his hand. “Come, and you shall find out for yourself.”

He took her to a storage room, where Thranduil and his guards opened a huge crate, full of flat bundles wrapped in thick woolen blankets and cedar shavings.  He took a smaller bundle out of the crate and took it over to Sigrid and together they carefully unwrapped it.

Mírelen was wearing a green dress, with embroidery on the bodice, and her diadem had green jewels in it. She was sitting in their garden, holding a bouquet of white lilies, as the sun shone on her hair, accentuating the waves that framed her face.

Almost instantly, a rush of memories flooded him, and his heart pounded against his chest wall.  It had been over nine hundred years since he had gazed upon her likeness.  Thranduil forced himself to take some deep long breaths, and said, “What do you think, Iellig?”

“Oh, my goodness, Ada!" Sigrid gasped; her eyes wide. "She’s so pretty!”

 “She was lovely, was she not?” He touched the painting above her collarbone, and took Sigrid’s hand.  “And her heart was even more beautiful.”

“Why are these pictures boxed up?”

Thranduil smiled down at her.  “Why indeed?  Do you have a theory?”

“I think you were too sad to see them, because you missed her too much.” Her eyes narrowed as she studied Mírelen's face.  “Legolas looks like her.”

“He is very like her, except for his hair and eyes which he gets from his grandfather, King Oropher.  But Legolas has her features and skin tone.”

“I wish I had a picture of my Mam.  I hardly remember what she looks like anymore, and Tilda doesn’t know her at all.  It doesn’t seem fair.”

“Does your father not tell you how much like your mother you are?” Thranduil reminded her.

Sigrid sighed.  “Yes, he does. I’m proud of it, but it’s not the same, is it?”

The Elvenking cupped her cheek.  “You have Bard’s chin, I think.  Hênig, it is not important that you be a copy of your mother, for anyone's sake; especially your own.  It is nice to resemble someone you loved, but, most of all, you are you.”  He smiled into her blue eyes.  “If your mother was still living, I think she would tell you this, too.  Now,” Thranduil turned back to the paintings, “I believe it is time for my people to see their beloved Queen once more, do you not agree?”

 

Later that evening, the Elvenking reminded the children to finish their letters. “Children, have you finished your letters?  The supply wagon will be leaving early tomorrow morning, and we are gathering the correspondence this evening.”

“I’m done!” said Bain.

“Me too! I wrote to Da, and I even wrote to Tauriel and Uncle Percy!” Tilda lisped with a grin. “Galion wanted me to write them when I sit at his desk, and I even drew a picture of my new room, and Esta!”

“That is excellent, Tithen Pen; where are they now?”

“They are already in the box, My Lord,” said Galion, as he was serving dessert.

“It was easy to draw Esta, ‘cause she’s black and white.  But I wish Da could see the color of my bedspread and stuff.”

“I have some colored pencils you can use with Galion, and we can set up something in my studio for you to paint, would you like that?”

“That’d be so much fun!” She clapped her hands together.

“I’m done, too,” Sigrid finished chewing.  “Bain, want me to grab yours?”

“Sure.” Bain said, around a mouthful of pie.

“I’ll go get mine now; I’m finished eating, anyway.” Hilda got up out of her chair, and had almost made it to the door, when her knees buckled. Galion rushed to her and managed to catch her before she hit the floor.

“AUNTIE!” Bain shouted.

They all flew out of their chairs and gathered around the woman, cradled in Galion’s arms.

“I’m… fine.” Hilda whispered. “I’m just a little tired, that’s all.”

“No wonder you're tired; you’ve been going at top speed since Laketown!"  Sigrid put her hands on her hips. “Ada, you should take her to see Elénaril. I think she should be checked.”

“I agree,” Thranduil said, and he and Galion got her to her feet.

“No, I don’t need to see any healer! I’m fine I tell you!” Hilda protested.

“I intend to make sure you stay that way.”  Over Hilda's protests, Thranduil and Galion steered her toward the door. The Elvenking looked at the faces of all the children. “Would you please come with us? I’ll need your help to make sure your Auntie Hil gets there, I think.”

Tilda took Sigrid’s hand, and together, the little group headed for the Healing Halls, with Hilda arguing the entire time.

“You're using the kids to blackmail me, aren't you?"

Thranduil looked at her out of the corner of his eyes. “I admit nothing.”

 

 

LETTERS FROM THE WOODLAND REALM

 

To Bard from Thranduil:

Meleth nîn,

Thank you for your gift of the book; it is perfect, Bard!  After the children are in bed, I spend an hour or so writing to my son about his mother.  I am hoping to finish it in time send to Rivendell in the spring, and Elrond will keep it for him.

Bain has been meticulous about his studies, so he will not miss a day with Daeron. Sigrid spends time in the Healing Halls three days a week for a couple of hours, but is otherwise busy with her lessons and reading.  My new daughter is delighted with my library, and reads every chance she gets.  Tilda spends her afternoons with Galion, in his study, either reading or drawing. There are a few of her creations in the bottom of this box. 

I have also included some sketches I made of the children, so you could keep them with you. As you can see from the one sketch of them sitting in my chambers, I have also gifted them with a pet, and I leave it to the children tell you more.  

 

I am sorry to tell you that Lady Hilda has had some difficulty with two of the women from Dale. Hilda had taken care of it already, but these women, pulled Sigrid and Bain aside, demanding that they reverse Hilda’s orders.

We took care of the matter in the Throne Room, I promise you, Meleth nîn, I was my fiercest, and most intimidating self.

These are older ladies, and citizens of yours, so I did them no physical harm, but I “put the fear of Morgoth into them,” as Hilda instructed me to.

I must go, Meleth nîn, although I do not want to. I have another meeting scheduled in an hour and I must prepare. I pray to the Valar to make the time pass quickly, for when I turn over in the night, and reach for you, it pains me that you are not there.

I love you, Bard. Always.

Thranduil

 

* * *

 

To Bard from Sigrid:

Dear Da,

Ae, mae g'ovannen, Da. Êl síla erin lû e-govaned 'wîn!

That means, “Hello, well met, Da. A star shines on the hour of our meaning.”

See, we’re learning Sindarin!

Ada told us about the animals he sent to you, and I like Thangon already! Did he tell you he gave us a dog too?  Her name is Esta, and she was sad about losing her master, too.

Daeron took us to the barracks the other day, and showed us Thangon’s sister. She’s huge!   Tilda was scared of her, until Daeron sat down and had her sit in his lap, and it took a while, but Tilda started petting her. He explained how Thangon will always protect you and keep you safe.  I’m glad you have him, Da.

We always eat supper with Ada, Galion and Auntie Hil, then we sit together and play games or read or something until it’s time to go to bed.

Ada is sad without you, but we’re making sure he keeps his spirits up.  In fact, the other night, Tilda crawled in his lap and asked him if she could call him Ada, too, and I wish you could have seen the smile on his face!  He hugged her so tight she squeaked, then Esta jumped on the couch and licked her face, and made her giggle. It was so cute!

Daeron’s been guarding us here just like in Dale, which seemed kind of silly to me, at first. I mean, we’re in Ada’s Palace, right?

Well, let me tell you, I’m glad he guards us, now!  

There were these two mean ladies from Dale, and when they grabbed Bain and me after school and started screaming at us!  Daeron ran across the Dining Hall to us, and he actually started drawing his sword! Don’t worry; Ada and Auntie Hil took care of it, and they won’t bother us again, but you’ll be glad to know we’re safe!!

Love always,

Sigrid

 

* * *

 

To Feren from Glélindë:

Gi suilon, Meleth nîn,

Lady Hilda came by yesterday and gave me the news: We are parents, Feren!

The girls and Gruffudd moved in yesterday, and now our home is full of noise, toys and giggles.  There is some crying, yes, because they ask after you, and it will take a little while for them to adjust, after so many changes in their little lives.

Gruffudd is comfortable in his new bedroom, and helps look after the girls when I have to go to the Guild, but the most part, I try to work at home, so I can be with them.

Alis and Dafina have drawn you several pictures, which I have enclosed.  There is one of you on your horse, the one with the “D” on it. I tell you this because Dafina was a bit upset that I did recognize it right away, so be sure to say something!

I love you, and I am always proud of you, and our daughters are too. I am so happy.

Gi melin, Feren.

Glélindë

 

* * *

 

 To Bard from Bain:

Da!

You’ll never guess what! I started using my bow, yesterday! It was great! There is a target area set up and Daeron started teaching me about stance and breathing.  Boy do my arms feel so sore today!  I thought all the sword work would make them strong, but I hurt in places I didn’t know I had!

Did they tell you we have a dog, too? Esta sleeps with me at night, which made Tilda kind of jealous, until Thranduil pointed out she has Charlotte and that stuffed Elk. Besides, Esta does that herself. I wake up, and there she is!

It’s time for dinner here, and I’m really hungry, so I got to go.

Love you, Da, and don’t worry. I’m taking care of the girls.

Your son,

Bain

P.S. Oh! I almost forgot! Rhys’s grandma and great-aunt grabbed me and Sigrid in the hall last week and started to say some really ugly things. I yelled at her to get her hands off Sigrid, but Sigrid yelled at her louder to take her hands off me! You aren’t gonna believe what they said! Rhys’s grandma said she’d slap us silly if we thought we could speak to them like that! She said we deserved it for being mouthy brats.

Rhys says she’s mean, and always says bad things about people. Me and Sigrid went straight to Auntie Hil’s rooms and told her about it. Boy, was she MAD!

Next thing I know, we’re all in the Throne Room. Thranduil was sitting way up there on his chair, and had his big crown on. He made Rhys’s auntie and grandma stand on this one spot, and yelled at them, really loud, and told them never to lay a finger on his children again!  Boy can Thranduil be scary when he gets mad, but I was glad that he did what he did.

I really like him, Da.  He’s really nice, and he’s funny, too!

Bain (Again!)

 

* * *

 

To Percy from Hilda:

Dear Husband,

We’ve never been apart before; do you realize that? I feel like I’ve lost an arm and a leg, I miss you that much.  Aye, well, no sense dwelling on things that can’t be helped. Best to just carry on, yeah?

This Palace couldn’t run without Galion!  He and Thranduil work so well together, and Galion has such affection for him.  All the kids love him, and Tilda’s got him wrapped around her pinky, just as she does her Ada’s.

I’ve a picture Thranduil drew of me, to send to you. I didn’t even know he’d done it, to be sure, but you might like it.  Maybe I’ll ask him to draw you, so I have something to look at.

If Feren doesn’t already know, please tell him that those two little girls and their grandfather have moved in and they are officially a family.

In fact, all the children have been placed, except for a family of five, and I won’t split them up, but I’m a bit worried.   The oldest of the five insists she wants to look after them herself.  She’s only a year older than our Sigrid; way too young for something like that, so we’ve had a nice Elf couple talking to her.  Keep your fingers crossed!

Sometimes the days go quickly, and sometimes, they drag. This is a beautiful, wonderful place, but it is not home, because you’re not with me.

Love to you,

Your Hilda

 

* * *

 

To Bard from Tilda:

Deer Da,

I am fine. How are you? Ada got us a dog, too. She is prety. I petted a big, big dog. She was nise. And I got to hold the babby. He is cute. Ada took me to see the elks and lets me pet them wen I want. They are nise. dont be mad at Ada. They dont bite!

Galienon has me pratise my letters a lot. He is nise.

Heer are some pixturs I made for yoo. Of the elks that ada and me pet. And won of the big dog. Heer is won of me and Sigrid and Bain, so yoo remember us.

Love,

Tilda your dawter

 

* * *

 

To Bard from Hilda:

To Bard, King of Dale,

This is my official report, Sire.

All of the orphans have found homes, I think, even that family of five, finally. It’s still early but it looks good. I’ll still be watching all the families closely, while we’re here to make sure the children are happy, and that the parents are treating them right.

The school for both the children and the adults is going well. All seem eager to be useful and learn what they can.

Well, almost all, and I’m afraid I’ve got some news about that:

Do you remember Rhys, Bain’s friend? I think Alun is his father. Anyway, the boy has been staying here with Alun’s mother and his aunt, and those two are just poison!

They’re from rich section of Laketown and were used to being waited on hand and foot. Imagine their shock and dismay when we got here, and their maids moved out! The two girls had started to work with the Weaver’s Guild and were taking classes to read and write, and I’m all for it!

Those two ladies demanded that put I stop to it and make those poor girls go back. Which, of course I wouldn’t.

Then, would you believe those two bitches tried to corner Bain and Sigrid? They manhandled them, Bard? Our girl was hopping mad, let me tell you. She was born a Princess, that one. Anyway, I marched right over to Thranduil’s office and told him I needed him to scare the bejeepers out of both of them, from up on that great bloody throne of his.

You would have laughed your britches off, Bard. He made sure to really boom his voice around, and was the picture of indignation.

Then one of them had the nerve to point out to the Elvenking that those children weren’t his, he stopped acting and got mad for real!

If you ever had doubts about his devotion to those kids, Bard, you won’t have them now, and neither do Bain and Sigrid! He stood up from his throne and walked down those steps and got right in their faces. Those two bitches just about peed themselves.

He told them they were arrogant and self-entitled, and that does not fly in his Kingdom, where everyone contributes, and he was going to make sure they pulled their weight. They’re in the kitchens, washing dishes and mopping the floors, and every single shit job I can think of.

They’re not happy, but I don’t care.

This isn’t sounding like an official report to my King, does it? No matter, you’re still our Bard, I am so proud of you.

Keep a good watch on my Percy, and take care of everyone in Dale, just as I’m taking care of things, here.

Love,

Hil

 

* * *

 

To Bard from Galion:

Greetings, Lord Bard:

I am sure you are aware of the altercation between Lord Thranduil, Lady Hilda, and two of the ladies of your Realm, so I shall not mention it further, except to say the situation has been dealt with efficiently.

Since most of the Orphans have been placed in good homes, Lady Bronwyn’s duties have greatly decreased, so Lord Thranduil has asked her to serve as Aide to Lady Hilda.

She has been tired from the frenetic activity since Laketown was destroyed.  The added strain of the events in the throne room caused a bit of a collapse while she was in the King’s chambers last evening.

My King himself escorted her to be examined by Elénaril and Daeron, who prescribed rest in the afternoons for several weeks. She tried to refuse, but Thranduil makes sure she follows orders.  After only two days, she looks better, and her good humor has returned.

Please be sure to send me a list of supplies and medicines you might need. With the snows that have come, it may be a bit before we can get them to you, but we shall do our best.

Regards,

Galion, Chief Aide and Steward of the Woodland Realm

 

* * *

 

From Ina, Rhys’s Grandmother, to King Bard:

To the King of Dale,

My sister Iola and I have several complaints. Our quarters are too small, we have to share a privy, and Hilda got uppity with us when we talked to her!  That woman was just a poor fishwife, not even half a year ago – who does she think she is?

Thanks to these Elves, Lynne and Mona got all kinds of ideas above their station, thinking they can just go off on their own, and they quit!  

When I demanded Hilda make them return, she refused!

You give your children titles, but when Iola and I went to them for help, they became disrespectful.  Royalty or no, if they were my children, they would have gotten slapped, and I told her so, and I don’t mind telling you, either.

That Elf King has no right to boss Iona and me around and I demand an apology for humiliating us in front of all those people!  That Elf does not belong to Dale, but your children do, and I have every right to demand satisfaction, even from your spoiled brats.

Rhys is away from his father, thank the Valar, otherwise he would be a spoiled brat, too. We’re taking the winter to make sure he is as disciplined as we were, which did us a world of good, I can tell you that! I don’t hesitate to cuff him about the ears, to make sure he behaves. No matter what my son Alun says, that boy is going to be raised right, just like my father did me.

I demand the return of our servants immediately! I will no longer work with Hilda, and if she thinks I’m going to do dishes or mop anything, she’s got another thing coming, I don’t care what that Elf King of yours says.

As far as Iona and I are concerned, you can keep him, and that unnatural marriage of yours. It’s wrong, do you hear me? And the Valar will punish you for that, mark my words.

Don’t think we’ve forgotten what side of town you came from! If the Master were still alive, you’d  still be some nobody, living in the seedy part of Dale.

Looking forward immediate action,

Ina and Iona

Respected citizens of Laketown

 

* * *

 

To Percy, from Sigrid, Bain and Tilda:

Hi Uncle Percy!

We thought we would surprise you and send you a letter! We miss you and hope you and Da are looking after each other.

Auntie Hil won’t tell you, but she went to see the Healer. Ada told her to go, and she kept putting it off, until he made her take his arm, and took her himself – no arguments!

She’s only allowed half-days for the next two weeks. Bronwyn helps her now, in the afternoons, after she’s done working in the school. Either way, the work has slowed down, because we are all settled in for the next four months or so.

The Elves are so nice here! But we miss you and Da so much.

Love, Sigrid

 

 

Uncle Percy!

It’s Bain, here, and I’m great! I miss you and Da, but I’m learning a lot here.

I am learning this game from the Elves, with a ball that you kick around. It’s fun. Me and Rhys play it a lot!

I also practice with Daeron every day. He says when the time is right, he wants to teach Auntie Hil, Sigrid and even Tilda some things that will help them defend themselves. He said Auntie Hil was very brave in the Battle, and she was a good fighter.

Love, Bain

 

 

Deer unkle Percy,

I hope yoo are good. I am good. We have a dog. Ada-that’s Thrandool tells storees. Heer are some pixtures I drew. Galion lets me set at his dext and draw. I pritend that I am his ade. I llove him. He is nise. I love Ada. I love Da, too. but dont be sad. I love my unklke Percy best!

I hope you like the pixturs.

Love Little Been – (realy Tilda)

 

* * *

 

To Tauriel from Sigrid, Bain and Tilda:

Hi, Tauriel!

Ada says he sent you a cat! Do you like it? He told us about the cats you had when you were little. Is Da’s dog as big as everybody says he is? We’ve got a dog, too! Her name is Esta. I hope you’re getting a chance to visit the Dwarves.

I’ m practicing my Sindarin, and I work in Healing Halls a couple of hours a day, but schoolwork comes first. I can’t wait to see you again! I’ve never had a big sister, and I miss you!

Love, Sigrid

 

 

 Hi, Tauriel,

I have a problem, and I need your advice, because I can’t break a promise I made, and I don’t know what to do.

After Thranduil yelled at Rhys’s grandma and aunt, he came to school with a bruise on his arm, and a mark on his face.

He says he fell, but I don’t think it’s true. I asked him if anyone was hurting him, and he looked really strange, and he didn’t say anything, except that he really misses his Da.

I asked him if he wanted Ada or even Da to look into it, and he got real upset and made me promise not to say anything. I’m not breaking my promise, because he didn’t say not to tell you.

I just remember what Rhian went through, and I hope it isn’t like that. Rhys is a year younger than me, and something doesn’t feel right.

He’s not allowed to come and see us in our rooms, and his grandma and auntie won’t let him bring friends to his place. I have never broken a promise, ever, so I don’t know what to do.

Please tell me what you think, okay?

Love, Bain

 

 

Deer Tarriel,

How are yoo? I am good. I rite my letters a lot! Are yoo looking after Da and unkle Percy? I hope so. I kno yoo like cats, so I drew yoo a pixture of one. I draw bettr than I rite. I am been a good gurl, just like yoo told me too. I like yoor room.

Love, little sisster Tilda

 

* * *

 

To Alun from Rhys:

Dear Dad,

I miss you a lot!  I wish I could go back to Dale and stay with you, like we did in our house in Laketown, just the two of us. Or when we were in the camp in Dale.

School is good. Practice is good. I’m almost as good as Bain at archery. His guard, Daeron is nice, and I like spending time with them. Bain has even asked me to come and visit them in their rooms, but Grandmother won’t allow it. She doesn’t like Bain or any of his family. Please don’t tell her that I spend time with Bain. He is my best friend!

And Grandma and Aunt Iona was mean to him and his sister, and even the Elf King had to yell at them. They got really mad then.

I don’t like it here. I know I have to be, but I just wish it was you and me again.

I miss you. Please write soon.

Your son,

Rhys

 

* * *

 

To Tauriel from Thranduil:

Gi suilon, Tauriel,

I hope this letter finds you well, Gwinïg.

 When I first saw the grey tabby, I sent you, it reminded me of when you were small. She looks just like the cat from the kitchens, when you went missing and hid in the cupboards to steal some tarts.

I’ll never forget that day…

We searched for hours, throughout the Palace and outside, in case you wandered or had been taken.  Finally, the cook came running, and she put her fingers to her lips and told us to follow her, and she showed us where you had been hiding, all this time.

There you were, in your little blue dress, fast asleep, and the grey tabby purring loudly, keeping watch over you while she washed her face. You had berry stains and pastry crumbs and jam all over your face and your dress. 

I don’t know if I ever told you, but it was I who carried you back to my chambers. I canceled all my appointments for the rest of day, because I couldn’t let you out of my sight.  Legolas and I spent the afternoon watching you sleep in my arms.

I like to think the cat I sent you is descended from the one who looked after you when you were so small, and that this one will take care of you just as much.  It may be a foolish notion, but it comforts me, as I stand in the Royal Wing, missing the sound of your voice.

Please look after yourself, Gwinïg, and know that I think of you.

Mil, Ada

 

 

ELVEN TRANSLATIONS:

Gi suilon, Meleth nîn - Greetings, my love,

Gi suilon, Tauriel – Dear Tauriel

Gwinïg Naurfîn– Red-haired little fingers (When Tauriel was small, she loved to get into everything.)

Mîl, Ada – Love, Ada

Tirhûtaw– Collie (Lit. “Wool Guard Dog”)

 

 

 

Chapter Text

City of Dale, 15th of January 2942, T.A.

Bard put down his letters with a worried look. He and Percy were sitting at the table in his study, going over the paperwork, and sorting the box of letters that just arrived.  

“What?” Percy looked over at him.

“I just read from Galion, that your wife had to go to the Healers because she’s working too hard. Did she tell you that? It says here she had ‘a bit of a collapse!'  And we’re not supposed to worry?”

“Give me that!” Percy snatch the paper from him, and read, his lips moving silently, as he slowly shook his head.  “For months, she’s been going at full speed from the minute she gets up in the morning, till she hits the bed. And even then, she’d toss and turn and worry.”

“I feel terrible, Pers.  I know a lot of people depend on her, but I never wanted her to risk her health!”

Percy directed a look at Bard. “We've all been pushing ourselves, but it couldn't be helped. There's just too much to do, and not enough time to do it in.  It just pains me to hear about this, so far away.”

“I’ll tell Tilda to make sure she naps with her Auntie Hil.  She won’t argue with the Little Bean.”

“She’ll try, but Tilda will win.” He smiled, and they got back to business.

Then Bard read the letter from Hilda, his smile disappearing. “What the…”

Percy looked up again, “What now?”

“Here, read this! Where is that other letter that came…” Bard pawed around at the stacks and piles, digging through them, until he grabbed a rather thick, sealed envelope. “Here it is.” He quickly broke the seal, of the letter from Ina and Iola. He opened it, with his brow furrowed with worry.

If Bard was angry before, he was positively purple with rage when he was done, and he slammed his fist down on the table.  “Shit!”

Without bothering to ask, Percy grabbed the letter from him to see for himself.  Normally, Percy was unflappable, and known for his calm, in the face of chaos, but today, the man looked upset, and angrier than Bard had ever seen him.

The Aide’s voice was dangerously quiet.  “What do you want to do?”

“Go find Alun and bring him here; he needs to see this. This is his son, and he should have a say in what we decide. If you see Feren, ask if he can come, too.”

Percy gave him an approving nod, and left to find the men.

Tauriel came, and knocked on the open door. “Bard?”

“What is it?”

“I came off duty an hour ago, and I was just reading my letters. There is one from Bain I think you need to see.”  Bard motioned for her to come in, and she handed Bain’s letter to him to read.   

“This is… Bloody fuck!  Tauriel, I need you to stay here for this meeting, if you would.  Hang on to this for now, but I’d like to keep this for our records, when we’re done.”  He handed it back to her. “Percy’s on his way back with Alun and hopefully Feren, too.”

After a few minutes, Alun and Percy appeared, immediately followed by Feren.

The man looked worried. “Is there something wrong, My Lord?” Alun asked, once they were seated.

“I’m afraid there is, Alun. Have you gotten letters from the Woodland Realm?”

Percy said, “He has one, but I haven’t had a chance to give it to him, yet; he’s been gone since early morning, working at a building site.”

Alun became very pale. “Oh, no… Is Rhys…”

Bard raised his hands quickly. “No, no; nothing like that. Rhys isn’t seriously hurt, but I think you might want to read your son’s letter, before we continue.” Percy handed the man the sealed note. “Would you like to go and read it in private?”

“No, thank you, My Lord.  Please; just tell me what’s going on.”

And so, Bard read aloud the portions of his letters regarding the situation with the boy, Percy opened his letter from his wife, and read his version, and finally, Tauriel shared Bain’s words, about Rhys’s bruises. When they were finished, Alun went from pale to red from fury.

“That bitch!” His teeth clenched. “Those fucking bitches…” Then he looked contrite. “Begging your pardon, My Lord, My Lady.” He nodded to Tauriel.

“Not to worry,” Bard nodded.  “My comments were just as bad.”

Alun rubbed his forehead and tried to control himself. “I didn’t want to let them take him, but I had no one else to look after him!” His eyes began to water. “I had no one, except them, and they wheedled at me and promised me he would be all right.” He blew out a breath. “I should have known better. I should have… My wife died when Rhys was ten, and he had to go with someone!” The man was shaking. “I never should’ve... Oh, Valar… I… I’m sorry, Lord Bard, but that boy is all I have, and I made such a mistake…” His voice broke. “I should have known… Oh, gods…”

“Sometimes, it’s a lousy choice, but it’s all you can do.”

“I knew how she was with me, but like an idiot, I told myself she’d never hurt my son. My aunt was even worse, but I still told myself… I don’t know what would even make me believe she'd be good to him!” Alun’s shoulders slumped.  “She’s hardly seen Rhys since he was born; they would always pester me, but I wouldn’t allow it. Valar, how could I be so stupid?”

“I don’t mean to make you feel worse, but I can I ask why you didn’t think you come to me before they left? We would’ve gladly helped you make other arrangements.”

“I should have, and no mistake.” Alun moaned. “You’re a new King, My Lord, and there’s so much to be done, and I didn’t know if you’d have time for this, or even if you’d want to help me.

"Begging your pardon, but I’m still used to the way the Master was; we all are. After so many years of being ignored, it’s hard to remember, sometimes, that anyone really cares. I’m sorry if that angers you, and I should have known better. Forgive me.”

Bard sat back, surprised, for a moment, then said.  “No…  I think I understand.  It makes sense that our people aren’t so quick to hand over their trust, not after so many years of neglect.  We’ve been taught to pay attention to actions, not words, and you’re right to point that out.

“The important thing right now, is to help your son, yeah?  We’ll get him out of there and make sure your boy is safe there, don’t worry.”

“Thank you, My Lord.” The man let out a sigh of relief.

“I want to warn you: your mother and your aunt have committed some serious offenses against your son, and my children, and they’re going to face consequences. There’ll be no avoiding that.”

“Oh, don’t worry. I’ve had nothing to do with those women since I left home. It was a misery, growing up in that house! My aunt beat me more times that I care to remember, and my mother did nothing to stop her.  Their tongues are like poison, and if you want my opinion, I say, get them away from everyone!”

“I guarantee you, the minute King Thranduil receives my letter, Rhys will be out of their hands.  I doubt he’s in as much danger as he was a week ago; your mother and aunt have caught his attention, and he’ll be having them watched closely; they won't even know it. Those two won’t say ‘boo’ without him knowing about it, and what Thranduil doesn’t do, Hilda will.”

Percy added, “That’s true; I guarantee it.”

Alun looked around the table at their confident faces. “What are we going to do?”

Bard put his hand in the man’s shoulder and squeezed it. “Do you trust me?”

The man regarded his King. “Aye; tell me what you need from me and you’ll have it.”

“Good! I’ll need something written from you, giving King Thranduil permission to take the boy from your mother and aunt, and you will need to name a legal guardian. Everyone at this table will witness it, and I’ll sign it into law, so there will be no dispute. There are some other things we'll need to send with your document that will keep Rhys and everyone else affected by this safe, until the ladies can be brought back here in the spring.”

Bard turned to Feren, and said to the Commander. “It will take us the rest of the day to write out everything we’ll need, and make several copies of it, so I want a messenger ready to leave, first thing tomorrow morning.”

“As you wish, My Lord.”

Bard tried to reassure the father. “We’ll get them there tomorrow, I promise, and by the time the midday meal is served, he’ll be safe. How’s your handwriting?”

“Excellent, My Lord. It was one of the reasons the Master hired me. I did his accounts and wrote his proclamations,” Alun looked sheepish, “even if I didn’t agree with them.”

“Wonderful! Once we finalize these documents, we’ll need several copies of everything, if you would. I’ll rely on your expertise to make the wording ironclad. Is that something you can do?”

“I can do that, My Lord.” Then Alun looked at Bard anxiously. “How soon can I see my son?”

“I can’t let you go with the messengers, tomorrow, because we’ll need them to rush to the Palace as fast as possible. Elves on horses are much quicker than we are.” He turned to Percy, “when is Alun’s visit scheduled?”

Percy got up and went to his room, and came back with a paper. Not till next month.”

Alun looked deflated.

Bard asked, “Who’s on the list for the first trip?”

“I see a couple, who might switch. I’m sure if they understood the circumstances….”

Alun felt uncomfortable. “Please; I’d rather not have everyone know about this.”

“I agree.” Bard nodded.

“Wait.” Percy said. “Old Ben is listed, so let’s send for him, so we can discuss this in confidence.”

Feren stood up. “I am afraid I need to go back to my duties, but I shall send someone to retrieve Master Ben, and tell him you need him, My Lord.”

Bard nodded. “Thank you, Commander. I'll need you to come back later to witness these documents, so I'll need to send for you, again." Feren nodded in consent, and left.

Bard turned to Tauriel. “Would you send someone for tea and a meal? The three of us are going to be in here the rest of the day. And send a message to the crew Alun was working on, that he won’t be back until tomorrow, all right?”

Tauriel nodded, then put her hand reassuringly on Alun’s shoulder. “Lord Bard is right about King Thranduil. He will look after your son as his very own. Please do not worry.”

 

***************

 

The Woodland Realm, 16th of January 2942, T.A.

Thranduil heard the voices of the children in the Hall, and put his pen back into its holder, and blotted the ink on his signature. Esta got up from her bed and wagged her tail, as they walked across the hall to the children’s apartment.

“Hello, children! How was school, today?”

Tilda gave him a gap-toothed smile. “I learned a new song, and we learned the story of how the castle in Dale was built, and we worked on our numbers and pluses and minuses and I know how to say hello in Sindarin!”

Thranduil raised his eyebrows. “That is quite a lot for one morning. How do you say ‘hello’ in Sindarin?”

“You say ‘Mae g'ovannen,’ and that means ‘Well met,’ but it really means ‘hello.’”

“Very good, Tithen Pen. And do you know how to say goodbye?”

The little girl nodded. “You say, ‘Cuio vae.’ But that doesn’t exactly say ‘goodbye, though. What it really means is, ‘farewell,’ which is supposed to be the same thing.”

Sigrid came out of their room. “Good, Tilda!”

“It is very good, and so is your pronunciation.” The Elvenking grinned down at her. “Can you spell it, yet?” he teased.

“No…”  Then Tilda made a face. "Ada, you’re silly!” She rolled her eyes and went to go get Charlotte.

“Alas, I have been accused of worse things. Where is Bain? Is he here, yet?”

“He stayed behind to talk to Rhys.” Sigrid said, as she went to wash up for lunch.

Thranduil would have thought nothing of it, except for the concerned look on her face. He tousled Tilda’s hair, as she came out of her room, “Could you please help Galion with our luncheon? Sigrid will be along to help you in a minute or two.”

The little girl scampered off, and he turned back to the teenaged girl. “Is something wrong with Bain?”

Sigrid shook her head. “I don’t know. He’s worried about something, but he won’t talk about it.”

“Perhaps he misses your Da.”

“Could be,” she shrugged, and they went to have lunch.

 

Just as the children were dispersing for their afternoon activities, a messenger arrived, and saluted. “Mae de 'ovannen, Aran nîn. These are urgent messages from Dale.”

“De athae.”

What could Bard want? he wondered, as Thranduil unlocked the door to his study, and the Elven Messenger set the box on his desk, saluted and left.

He unlocked the box and saw a packet of scrolls, accompanied by two sealed letters. One was addressed to Rhys, Bain’s friend, and the other was from his husband, but it was formally addressed:

“Thranduil, Son of Oropher, King of the Woodland Realm.”

He heard some noise in the adjoining room, as he saw Galion and Tilda enter ready for their afternoon, with Esta. The Elvenking smiled at the little girl, as she sat in her chair, ready to work on her letters, chatting to Galion about her day, and what kind of book she would like from the library.

Thranduil sat down, broke the seal of Bard’s letter, and began to read:

City of Dale, 15th of January 2942, T.A.

Greetings Thranduil, King of the Woodland Realm:

I’m afraid we’ve got an urgent situation, and I need your help. Rhys, son of Alun, is now living with the very same women that you had to call into your Throne Room the other day. I have evidence to suggest that he’s being abused by these two women, and for his own safety, I need you to remove him from their custody immediately!

I am enclosing the original copy of a letter those two women wrote me, and as you can see, there is much reason to be concerned. The minute I received their letter, I called Ina’s son, and Rhys’s father, Alun into my study, with Percy, Tauriel, and Feren present.

Alun does not get along with his mother and his aunt, and the only reason Rhys is with them, is because Alun had to stay here in Dale. The boy is only twelve years old, so he had to go with the children. I had no idea what these ladies were like, or I would have helped Alun arrange something.

During the meeting, Alun showed me a letter from his son. The boy didn’t say outright that he was being beaten, but clearly, he’s unhappy. What is the most troubling, was a letter Bain wrote to Tauriel!  He’d seen some bruises on Rhys, and wanted help him, but the boy made Bain promise he would say nothing to you or me, so he wrote to Tauriel, for advice.

I have enclosed several copies of documents; the most important is a Statement of Consent, granting you permission to have the boy removed from his grandmother and aunt, and naming you as Rhys’s temporary guardian.

I don’t know where you and Hilda can place him, but I trust that you’ll make sure he’s safe, from here on out.

I am also enclosing, as King of Dale an indictment against Ina and Iola, for Rhys’s abuse, which I will not permit, and also their physical and verbal assault against Sigrid and Bain. These indictments set a legal precedence in my Kingdom, and help to guarantee the safety of all our children, present or future.

They will face trial when we are reunited in the spring, but until then I have enclosed instructions as to their fate, for the rest of their stay. Please let me know how this works out.

With the highest of regards,

Bard, Son of Brand, Heir of Girion, King of Dale

 

Thranduil took a moment to calm himself, before he called through the adjoining doorway. “Galion, would you step in here, please?”

Tilda looked up from her scribbling, and he gave her a reassuring smile, as Galion walked over to his desk.

“There has been a development regarding the two women I reprimanded,” he whispered, “and I must get some answers from the woman’s grandson.” He handed the letter to his Aide for him to read.

Galion said nothing, but his mouth in a thin, angry line when he handed the paper back.

“Have Bain, and his friend Rhys, brought here, immediately.” Thranduil told him. Then he thought of something. “Rhys does not know me very well, but he and Bain like their teacher, Mistress Bronwyn, and would feel more comfortable if she were there. Take her aside, and give her a brief explanation, then ask her to come as well.”

Galion nodded, “Yes, My Lord.” Galion nodded. “Might I suggest that, perhaps they would be more at ease in your chambers? You might have a better result.”

“An excellent thought. Thank you.”

The Aide went back to his own desk and said to Tilda, “I have been told that Lady Hilda is tired today, so we need your help to make sure she rests; can you help us with that?” Galion bent down to scribble a quick note of explanation for Hilda, folded it up, and held out his hand to the little girl.

She nodded, then got up. “Bye, Ada,” she called.  “I have to go take care of Auntie Hil.”

“That is nice of you, Tithen Pen. Make sure to take Charlotte and Daisy, so they can help you.”

Tilda took Galion’s hand, and went out, while Thranduil read through all the documents in the box, an noticed that Esta was sitting beside his chair, expectantly.

“You are right, Esta,” he patted her head.  “We could use your help.”

Several minutes later, the dog followed him into the Royal Chambers, where Bain, Bronwyn and Galion were waiting on the couches with a nervous-looking Rhys.  He was affable-looking boy, who was slightly shorter than Bain, with hints of the tall, strong young man he would become.  His hair was thick and blonde, a shade or two darker than Legolas, and looked out at the world with wide, intelligent brown eyes.

“Good afternoon, everyone,” he smiled, as Esta went over and put her head on Rhys’s knee.

Good dog, he thought.

After Galion excused himself, Thranduil sat down in the stuffed chair, facing them with a smile. “Thank you for coming. I know you are wondering why I called you here, but do not be alarmed; no one is in any trouble, I assure you.”

“I am pleased to finally meet you, Rhys, son of Alun.  I am King Thranduil. Bain has spoken highly of you, and your prowess in archery.”

“Am I here, because of what my grandmother did?” he asked timidly. Esta whined, and jumped up on the couch beside him, wagging her tail, and put her head in his lap, and the boy absent-mindedly scratched behind her ears.

“In a manner of speaking, Rhys, but please remember that I am only concerned with your well-being, and want to make sure you are safe.”  There was no way to approach the subject, except to ask outright. “Rhys, have your grandmother and your aunt harmed you in any way?”

Using a calm, soothing voice, Bronwyn encouraged the boy. “It’s all right, love. We just want you to be all right.”

The boy stared down at dog, trying hard not to cry.  His lips trembled, and his chest rose up and down, rapidly. He was very still for a minute or two, then he turned to Bain, with a frightened, accusing look.

“You promised!” he whispered. “You promised you wouldn’t tell them, and now it’s going to get worse!”

Bain looked stricken, “I didn’t! You asked me not to tell Thranduil or Da, and I didn’t!”

“So, who did you tell? You promised! I thought you were my friend!” Rhys’s face reddened, and he began to wipe his eyes. Esta pawed at him, and jumped up to lick his face. “I trusted you, and now there isn’t anybody…”

“But—“  Bain was wide-eyed, and clearly upset.

 “Please boys, calm down,” Thranduil interjected, gently. “You should know, Nîth, that your father wants you removed from your grandmother’s custody immediately. No one is going to harm you anymore, or make you feel frightened. I hope that you will tell me the truth, because we must make sure you are well.”

“I won’t have to go back?” Rhys asked in a small voice.

“No.” He assured the boy. “Your father has given me permission to take you away from them, and has placed me as your temporary guardian.  I would like to look after you, Rhys, while you are here at the Palace. Is that all right with you?” Thranduil took Alun’s letter from his pocket. “Your father sent me this to give to you, right away.”

Rhys sat back, and read the letter:

Rhys, my son:

I’m sorrier than I can ever say!  I should have seen this coming, my boy; I made a terrible, terrible mistake, and I hope you don’t hate me for it. 

You don’t have to stay with your grandmother anymore, and the minute the Elf King gets the letters from me and King Bard, King Thranduil will be looking after you himself, so you can be sure that no one will ever hurt you again!

I’m glad Prince Bain is your best friend. He has been a better friend to you than you might think right now.  Don't be angry with him, Rhys; he cares about you very much. No one wants you safe more than I do, and we should be glad King Bard and King Thranduil want what’s best for you, too.

I will be coming to the Palace in a few weeks, and make sure you’re all right.  Until then, we must be brave, and do our best to keep going, so when spring comes, you and I will have a proper home to live in!

Please write me soon and let me know how you are doing, and make a list of all the things you want to show me.

I miss you, and I love you very much,

Your Da

 

Rhys wiped away a tear, then looked at the Elvenking. “My Da says I don’t have to see them anymore, and he’s going to come visit real soon.”

Bronwyn came over and sat next to him, “That’s wonderful, love! So, things will be better, yeah?”

He nodded, then looked back at Thranduil. “Thank you, My Lord.”

“You are most welcome,” he said, with an encouraging smile, “I hope you can trust me enough to tell me the truth; have you been hurt in any way?”

“I don’t want to get anybody in trouble…” Rhys still looked skeptical.

“I promise you, Rhys,” Thranduil told him, “no physical harm will come to either your grandmother or your aunt. But right now, my only concern is you.”

He asked again, very gently. “Can you tell us if you are hurt, so we can make you well, again?”

Bain nudged him. “Show him, Rhys. It’ll be all right.”

The boy slowly rolled up his sleeve, to reveal several bruises on his upper arm; some fresh and purple, among older, yellowed marks.

Thranduil silently thanked his years of experience and did not react, except to smile. “I thank you for trusting me with the truth.  Now, I must to take you to the Healing Halls, so you can be examined fully, and if you are in any pain, we will take care of it.” He stood and held out his arm.  “Will you come with me, please?”

The boys stood up, and Bain made to follow Rhys, but the blonde boy cast a pleading look at Thranduil.

“Bain, I’d like you to take Esta out for some exercise.” When the boy opened his mouth to protest, he gave him a reassuring smile.  “We will not take long, and when we return, your friend will be feeling much better.” He looked at Rhys, “Would you like Lady Bronwyn to accompany us?”

The boy’s eyes widened.

“That’s all right, love.  I’ll stay here and help Bain with Esta.” She patted Rhys’s cheek.  “It’s going to be all right, love.  It really is.”

 

As they were walking to the Healing Halls, Thranduil purposely kept up a trivial, cheerful chatter, to ease Rhys’s nervousness, but was surprised when the boy asked if he be there when Elénaril examined him.

“I didn’t want Mistress Bronwyn or Bain to see,” he explained, looking ashamed. “It’s just that, they’ll get upset, and they’ll want to say something, and... they'll keep wanting to talk, and I just want to forget about it.”

“I understand. Are you sure?”

“No… I mean… Yes...  I don’t want to be by myself.” Rhys looked at his feet. “But if you don’t want to…”

“I would be happy to. Let us see what can be done, yes?” Thranduil put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “I give you my solemn vow, Rhys: whatever we find in there will not be made public.”

The child looked relieved. "I'd like that." He turned to the doorway where Elénaril was waiting and sighed.  Then he hesitated.

"Come, child,” he said, gently.  “It will be all right."

 

The next issue was where to put the boy, but that was quickly settled.  Upon their return to his chambers, the children approached Thranduil, asking if he could stay with them, in the spare room. Thranduil was touched by their invitation, but left the choice up to Rhys.  The boy seemed relieved and comfortable with the idea, so Guards were dispatched to bring all of Rhys’s things, and he was installed in the children’s apartment, in time for dinner.

To help ease Rhys’s transition, the family spent the evening quietly in Thranduil’s chambers. The boys tried to play Stratagem, but Rhys had a hard time concentrating, so they settled for Draughts instead. Sigrid read aloud from a book of stories, and everyone listened, while Hilda helped Tilda learn to sew.

Once they were all bathed and settled in, Thranduil and Hilda came to say good night to them.  After leaving Hilda with the girls, Thranduil went in to speak with Bain.

“Are you mad at me?” the boy asked.

“Why would I be angry at you, Ion nîn?” Thranduil was taken aback by the question, as he sat down on the side of the bed, facing him.

“Because I didn’t tell you about Rhys right away. He made me promise, and I really didn’t know what to do.”

Thranduil looked at the boy thoughtfully. “You were faced with a difficult situation, and I am glad you are the kind of child that takes his promises seriously. It is often hard to know how to handle such things.  Did he tell you outright that he was being hurt?"

"No.  He just said he fell.  When I kept asking questions, he made me promise not to say anything."

"I see.  You did not want Rhys to stop trusting you, yet you thought he was in danger.  There were no easy answers, and no matter what you chose to do."

Bain let out a relieved breath. “It was so hard, and I’m sorry if you’re mad…"

Thranduil put his hand on Bain’s arm. “Not at all.  I am very, very angry that your friend was hurt, but you helped to rescue him. If not, he could have had much more serious injuries."

The boy nodded. “What would you do?”

“I think, if I were presented with a problem such as this, I would have to decide what is more important, and why.  I have no doubt that you honestly meant to keep your promise, but when you thought about it more, you knew something had to be done, am I correct?"

Bain nodded, eyes down.

“There are times, Bain, when a secret clearly should not be kept. It does not happen often, but when the ones we care about are in any kind of danger, we must always think about their safety, even if it means they will be angry.  Now, let me ask you:  What would you do, if something like this happened again?”

“I definitely I would come and tell you, or Da, or even Bronwyn.  Rhys is my friend, and I did make a promise, but if it turned out he could really be hurt, I would break my promise to keep him safe.”

“What if Rhys became angry, and no longer wished to be your friend?” The Elvenking asked, tilting his head. “What if he never forgave you, even though he would be safe?”

“Well, I was really afraid of that, but… I think I would still tell.  It's more important that he doesn't get hurt, even if we weren't friends anymore.  I'd be upset, but I think it would be the right thing to do.” Bain decided.

“Then you have learned something important, from this. I would also point out, that you did find a way to let your Da and me know, did you not?”

“Aye, but I don’t think that was good enough, because it took too much time. What if something really bad happened? It would be my fault!”

“Let us be thankful that it did not, Bain.  In any case, none of this was your fault.   All the blame lies at the feet of the persons who caused the harm.” Thranduil brushed the hair away from the boy’s brow.  He looked so much like Bard, it almost hurt.  “Forgive yourself, Bain. Now that you know better, you will do better, yes?”

“Aye,” Bain snuggled down and turned on his side. “Goodnight.”

“Sleep well.”

Thranduil made his way to the other boy’s room.  Esta had decided that her place was with their newest resident, and was on the bed, jammed up against him, with her head on his stomach.

 “I see you made a friend,” he smiled.

“I like her.” He stroked her head.

“She seems to like you, too. Do you have everything you need? Are you still free of pain?”

“I feel a lot better, My Lord. The Healer lady helped a lot!”

“I am glad. I want you to be comfortable here, Rhys. If you feel unhappy for any reason, I want you to speak with me, or Lady Bronwyn, or Lady Hilda. We’re all here to help you. Do you understand?”

He nodded. Then he looked up and smiled, for the first time since he arrived. “Thank you.”

“You are most welcome.” He shut the door, leaving it open a crack.  "Have a good sleep."

 

Throughout Elénaril’s examination of the boy, the Healer met his gaze several times, when they saw the bruises and marks all over his back, his bottom, and across the back of his legs; everywhere clothing would normally cover.

Yet she remained calm, and kept up a light-hearted tone of voice, as if her only worry was the weather. She asked Rhys many questions, somehow managing to put them across in a non-threatening way. After carefully explaining everything she was doing, Elénaril inspected Rhys thoroughly, until she determined the extent of his injuries, and managed to heal most of what pained him.

Thank the Stars and all the Valar, there was no sign of sexual abuse.

For lingering soreness, she prescribed Athelas oil in his bath, and gave Thranduil a salve, to be administered twice a day, to speed the disappearance of the marks, and to prevent any scarring.

A detailed report of Rhys’s injuries was prepared for their records, and Galion made two copies in Westron, so it could be attached to both the indictment against the ladies, and another to be sent back to Alun.

He was able to maintain his countenance through dinner, and all the rest of the evening, even privately, when he helped Rhys after his bath to put the salve in the places the boy couldn’t reach, and asked the boy questions about his archery, and his schoolwork, to distract him.

Now that Thranduil was able to drop the cheerful façade, he couldn’t settle down enough to write his nightly installment in Legolas’s book; he could only lay in bed, and stare up at the ceiling with the sparkling stars.

He had been King for almost three millennia, and had a lot of practice at keeping the inner workings of his mind to himself. 

There have been times, though, when staying calm required a gargantuan effort.

This day was one of them.

 

 

 

LEGAL DOCUMENTS Re: THE INCIDENT INVOLVING INA AND IOLA

 

Kingdom of Dale

VS.

Ina, a subject of Dale, formerly of Laketown, defendant

Iola, a subject of Dale, formerly of Laketown, defendant

 

The above defendants are hereby accused, by this indictment, of physical and verbal assault upon the following persons:

Rhys, son of Alun, subject of Dale, age twelve.

Bain, Crown Prince of Dale, son of Bard, King of Dale, age thirteen.

Sigrid, Princess of Dale, daughter of Bard, King of Dale, age fifteen.

By their own admission, as stated in their letter to Bard, King of Dale, dated the 10th of January 2942 T.A.; they have physically assaulted Rhys, son of Alun, grandson and great-nephew, respectively.  In said letter it was stated by the defendant, Ina of Dale: “I don’t hesitate to cuff him about the ears, to make sure he behaves.”

In the same letter, it was also stated by the defendants, their open admission to physically putting hands upon the Crown Prince and Princess of Dale: “He [Thranduil, King of the Woodland Realm] had the nerve to tell me that those children are his and I had no right to lay hands on them. I have every right, and I did not hesitate to set those children straight.”

Also, in the same letter, it was stated by the defendants, their open admission to verbally assaulting the same Prince and Princess of Dale: “If they [Sigrid, Princess of Dale, and Bain, Crown Prince of Dale] were my children, they would have gotten slapped, and I told them so, and I don’t mind telling you, either.”

In a written statement by Bain, Crown Prince of Dale, he attests to this unlawful physical contact: “Rhys’s grandma and great-aunt grabbed me and Sigrid in the hall last week…”

In the same statement, Prince Bain refers to the verbal assault and threats of physical harm, as well: “Rhys’s grandma said she’d slap us silly if we thought we could speak to them like that! She said we deserved it for being mouthy brats.”

 

I decree, by my signature on this document, with the approval and cooperation of Thranduil, King of the Woodland Realm, which is the temporary residence of the defendants, that Ina and Iola of Dale be separated from the rest of the population, and be prevented access to them for the remainder of their stay.

They are to receive no letters or correspondence of any kind, no gifts of any kind, and they are not to be approached by, nor are they permitted to approach, any subject of Dale, for the remainder of their stay.

I also request of Thranduil, King of the Woodland Realm, that the defendants be placed under armed guard, and that only the Elven Language of Sindarin be spoken around them.

I hereby grant Thranduil, King of the Woodland Realm my full permission to issue whatever edict he deems fit, with the assistance of Lady Hilda, Chief Administrator and Seneschal of Dale, should any of my commands concerning the defendants be broken, during their stay in his Halls.

I affix my seal and signature to this document on this, the 15th day of January, in the year 2942, T.A.

Bard, son of Brand, Heir of Girion, King of Dale

 

Witness: Percy, son of Daffyd, Chief Administrator and Steward of Dale

Witness: Tauriel Neldor-Thranduillion, Chief Guard to Prince and Princesses of Dale

Witness: Feren Imrahillion, Commander of the Army of the Woodland Realm

 

* * *

 

(Thranduil: I have enclosed some releases to give to the servants of the ladies in question. Please tell them to keep them in a safe place, should Ina and Iola try to legally pursue their former servants for any reason.)

 

I, Bard, Son of Brand, Heir of Girion, King of Dale, do hereby decree that:

Lynne of Dale, formerly of Laketown, who, at one time were the servants of Ina of Dale, formerly of Laketown, and Iola of Dale, formerly of Laketown, be officially free of any and all obligations, physical, monetary or in any other way, to their former employers and she will be free to pursue any livelihood she wishes.

By affixing and assigning my seal and signature to this document, on this, the 15th day of January, in the year 2942, T.A., I declare this edict to be in effect immediately and permanently.

As King of Dale, I wish her well, as I do all the citizens of my Kingdom.

Bard, Son of Brand, Heir of Girion, King of Dale

Witness: Percy, son of Daffyd, Chief Administrator and Steward of Dale

Witness: Tauriel Neldor-Thranduillion, Chief Guard to Prince and Princesses of Dale

 

* * *

 

I, Bard, Son of Brand, Heir of Girion, King of Dale, do hereby decree that:

Mona of Dale, formerly of Laketown, who, at one time were the servants of Ina of Dale, formerly of Laketown, and Iola of Dale, formerly of Laketown, be officially free of any and all obligations, physical, monetary, or in any other way, real or imagined, to their former employers and she will be free to pursue any livelihood she wishes.

By affixing and assigning my seal and signature to this document, on this, the 15th day of January, in the year 2942, T.A., I declare this edict to be in effect immediately and permanently.

As King of Dale, I wish her well, as I do all the citizens of my Kingdom.

Bard, Son of Brand, Heir of Girion, King of Dale

Witness: Percy, son of Daffyd, Chief Administrator and Steward of Dale

Witness: Tauriel, Neldor-Thranduillion, Chief Guard to Prince and Princesses of Dale

 

ELVISH TRANSLATIONS:

Cuio vae - Farewell

De athae - Thank you/You were helpful (formal)

Mae de 'ovannen, Aran nîn – Well met, My King (formal)

Mae g'ovannen – Well met (informal)

Nîth – Young man

 

NOTES:

Strategem – Dale’s version of chess. The Elves call it Dagornaw.

Draughts - Checkers

--I am only guessing at the legal wording of the documents, so please, be kind...  :D

 

--Thanks to this website for help with all the Sindarin!

https://realelvish.net/phrasebooks/sindarin/doriath/#hi

Chapter Text

City of Dale, 19th of January, 2942, T.A.

 

Bard had sent back the wagons to The Woodland Realm with the scheduled reports and letters with a sense of relief.  They all had been grateful two days ago, when Thranduil sent a messenger, reporting that the situation with the women had been dealt with, exactly the way Bard had ordered.   

It was important that this box of messages get to Thranduil and his family, because it included a wooden box containing some special items made by the King Under the Mountain himself.  Bard sent this off with a bittersweet smile.  It would be the first time Bard had missed any of this children's birthdays, and he hated  the idea of missing this one, especially.

When the messenger first came, Alun followed Bard into his study, and when they learned the news, he collapsed into a chair from relief.

“Thank you, My Lord.” He told the King, his face in his hands.  “Thank you so much…”

“Thank you, Alun.  You’ve been a tremendous help with the legal documents; as much as King Thranduil has been teaching us, you’re the best man for that job.”

It was true.  Alun had showed his quality, even in his furious, frantic state, by urging caution with his judgment upon the ladies.

Alun had worked in the Master’s office for years, and urged Bard to learn from the mistakes he saw the Master and Alfrid make.  Bard and Percy were shocked when he urged them to step back, and consider the long-term ramifications, and reminded him that every decision in criminal matters such as this, will set legal precedent.  

“Any criminal defendant should be judged in front of their King and with all the people of Dale present, don’t you think?  All of Dale will be watching to see if you’ll be better than the Master.”

“He’s got a point, Bard,” Percy mused. “The people need to see proof that you’re a just and fair King, so you can’t be losing your temper and act on a whim, here.”  

“All right,” Bard looked at Alun. “What do you suggest?”

“Could Lord Thranduil keep the women under armed guard until spring, and I think it’s important have a public trial in Dale.”

”Why?”

“We lived with a tyrant, in Laketown, My Lord.  Showing them that all accused criminals will receive a fair trial will prove to them that they have a voice.” Alun went on, “When I worked in the Master’s Hall, I found some books in his libraries about other government systems.” He shrugged. “It became a bit of a hobby, I guess; it made me feel less powerless to learn how other countries ruled.” He looked a bit sheepish.  “I’m sorry if this seems forward...”

”Brilliant!” Bard stood suddenly and whacked him on the back.  “You’ve got the job, lad!  First thing: You’re going to sit down and write out every blessed thing you remember.  We’ll figure out what will work for Dale, and what won’t later.  Thanks, really.”

 

Life in the Great Hall was falling nicely into a routine, and now that this matter was settled, they needed to get back to housing the Dale folk.   Old Ben and Bard had prioritized the order of construction, and put together several effective crews, and Percy organized the gathering and delivery of supplies brilliantly.  

Two large crews were assigned the repair of the watchtowers and parapets, while other crews built the houses.  Once the greatest share of the work on Dale’s fortification was done, those crews would disperse between the Marketplaces and the rest of the homes.  The Dwarves arrived daily, hauling large blocks of stone, and set to work.  Once the blocks were in place, the Elves set up the trusses along the top, and built the roofs, using red clay tiles provided by the Dwarves, as well. These would hold up well against the elements; they would deflect the heat in the summer, and keep the warmth from the fires in the winter. 

With so many hands at work, Dale was growing fast, despite the cold.  It seemed that much of the arrogance and prejudice between the races had vanished, after all those accursed Orcs poured out of the tunnels to kill them all.  

That’s not to say there weren’t problems.  When there were, all parties were to sit down with Bard, Feren (as Thranduil’s proxy), and Balin, to work it out.  However, Dáin insisted on coming himself, at times, rather than Balin, because, as he told Bard, his people sometimes “need a firm hand,” more than diplomacy. 

The other day, a couple of the younger Dwarves tried to get mouthy and pick a fight with the Elves.  These Dwarves were surprised to see the King Under the Mountain himself, show up to settle their dispute.  That meeting was followed by King Dáin dragging those two by the beards into a back room of the old Castle, and lots of shouting and knocking around was heard, followed by bellows of pain.

Bard didn’t argue, but shrugged his shoulders and let Dáin get on with it.  “A good King knows his people,” as Thranduil had said, and Dáin certainly knew what was needed to deal with his own subjects. 

The two erstwhile Dwarves were made to apologize to everyone, and were shipped to Erebor, to clean chamber pots for the next two months.  Two other Dwarves came in their place; Bard was pleasantly surprised to see Bombur and Nori happily settled in with the work crews. Nori especially enjoyed the gaming at night, which is probably why he volunteered for this job.  Bomber like to use is free time to help cook, so it was a good arrangement all around.

The Dwarven crews often stayed into the evening, to have a pint or two. Three was the limit – the last thing Bard needed was drunken brawls, plus he wanted to make the ale last.  The Dwarves had made several sets of darts for Dale, according to Percy’s specifications, and somehow the Steward of Dale found a way to construct decent Dart boards.  It turned out to be their favorite game, and damned if they weren’t good at it; even giving the Elves a run for their money!

Several games were set up at night, and Percy was organizing tournaments; King Dáin got into the spirit of things and provided the prizes; small sacks of coin.  He himself had been eliminated early in Draughts, but there were a couple of Dwarves from the Iron Hills, and Bifur from the Original Company, that were still alive in the Stratagem semi-finals. 

Thank heaven, the practical jokes had stopped!  After Percy had to work Bard’s shift mucking out the barns, he rethought his strategy of making his King look like an idiot.  He also found that Bard would pay him back by throwing a Lembas cake at Thangon and letting him spend the day on Percy’s bed.  A hard-won peace once again reigned in the Great Hall.

But as much fun as Percy was trying to make for the men, it didn’t make up for the loneliness and the absence of loved ones.  Letters helped a great deal, but not quite enough.

 At night, Bard could only sleep because he worked himself into near exhaustion.  Otherwise, he'd wake up and ache for his Elf. Several times, he woke up from a beautiful dream of them, locked in a passionate embrace, hearing all the noises Thranduil made when they were together, feeling his mouth, his hands, his cock inside of him, or dreams of pounding into his Elf’s moist heat while above him, and watching Thranduil’s face as he moaned and cried out, and he exploded and saw stars.  Sometimes he would wake with come all over him, panting. Other times, he would wake up, rock hard, aching, and he would reach into his sleeping pants and touch himself, pretending it was Thranduil. 

Valar, he missed his husband…

How was Thranduil handling all this, he wondered?  He thought about writing him and telling him all his dirty fantasies, but he didn’t dare, lest the letters fall into unscrupulous hands.  He even fantasized about Thranduil sending him provocative pictures of himself.  Or pictures of them together, in many of the positions they had tried and liked.  Thranduil was just as reticent as he was to put anything of a steamy nature on paper. 

Still, when letters came from his husband, he couldn’t help but have a feel a small flutter of hope, as he broke the seal. 

~o0o~

 

 

A week and a half after returning to Dale, Bard woke up, tense and panting.  He’d been dreaming of being inside Thranduil from behind, pounding into him, as his Elf arched his back, moaning his name, begging him for more.  Every time he hit Thranduil’s prostate, he would feel the jolt of pleasure himself, as Thranduil cried out, thrust his hips back, meeting him with equal force… 

Bard felt like he’d die if he didn’t do something. He jerked at the laces on his sleeping clothes, and plunged his hand around his hot, hard cock, and groaned, as he closed his eyes.  His head went back and his mouth fell open as he stroked himself, moaning.  As he worked his cock, with increasing speed, he felt his pleasure rise to the point he was thrusting his hips clean off the mattress to get to his hand.  He felt the pressure building, the heat shoot through him and settling at the base of his spine, the tingle in his groin begin, and his muscles tense…   Oh fuck, I’m almost there…  I’m gonna come…  Oh, yes…   He was moaning Thranduil’s name, and just about to come…

…when a huge wet tongue began to lick his face in earnest. 

AAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!” He let out a high-pitched shriek at the top of his lungs, as his arms and legs flailed wildly with terror.  The sudden fright caused him to jump nearly out of his skin, and he fell off the bed. 

Thank the Valar, he landed on his arse.  His cock was still rock-hard, and things could have been ...unfortunate. 

Thangon, determined to save his master, quickly jumped to the floor and stood over Bard, still licking his face.

“WILL YOU GET OFF ME?” Bard howled, and sputtered, as he tried to push Thangon’s tongue away from his face. Then he looked at the giant beast, the blood pounding in his ears.  “You… big… bloody...arse! " he hissed, through gritted teeth.  “You… fucking BASTARD!”

The dog's eyes narrowed, as he tilted his head from side to side. Thangon had woken out of a sound sleep to rescue Bard, and clearly his master should be more grateful.

Bard could swear that damned dog just rolled his eyes at him.

He lay there on the floor, trying to put his heart back into his chest, when he heard shuffling in the hallway, coming toward his bedroom door.  SHIT!” Bard gasped, and barely managed to tuck himself back in his underclothes, and get his sleep clothes rearranged, before Tauriel and two guards burst into his room. 

“Bard!  Are you all right?” Tauriel ran over to him and helped him up, as Thangon wagged his tail and barked at her, telling her all about his heroic rescue.

“Um. I just. Well…”  The Bowman felt his face blush deep red, and he could have sworn that damned dog just smirked at him.

“Are you well, Bard?”  Her face was worried.  “You look flushed.” She felt his forehead.  “Do you have a fever?”

“Uh, no I don’t think so,” Bard told her, pretending like this wasn’t the most embarrassing moment of his entire life.

“Did you have a nightmare?”

Bard froze, and blink a few times. “A nightmare...  Aye.”

After that night, he made sure to put the dog out first.  Or prayed for strength.  Or drank.

 

**************

 

The Woodland Realm, 19th of January, 2942, T.A.

Three days after Rhys was moved into the children’s apartment, the older boys of Dale were in the practice arena with Daeron and two other Elves, for their weapons training.  They were sitting cross-legged on the ground in a semi-circle, as Daeron lectured and demonstrated the moves he was describing with another Elf.

“It is important to know how to move in a sword fight.  Your weight must be on the balls of your feet, ready to move in any direction necessary. A good swordsman is in constant motion; but keep in mind, you do not just ‘dance’ around; make your movements purposeful and controlled. 

 “A good swordfighter knows and applies with expertise, only a handful of key principles. They take the time to learn about their enemy, and how they like to fight, about timing, distance, leverage, and technique.  These principles will be broken down into manageable steps, and you must learn and apply these well.  If you rush yourself, you will become overwhelmed and clumsy.  You would not only be a liability to yourself, but also to those fighting at your side.”

Thranduil entered the ring at that moment, wearing his practice gear and carrying his swords.  He waited off to the side, until Daeron had concluded his lecture.

“Today, we have a treat.  Our King has graciously agreed to give you all a demonstration of Elven fighting skills for your enjoyment.  I would like you to keep in mind that a good fighter must first know his own abilities and limitations, so he may learn to use them to his advantage.  Do not aspire to fight like an Elf, nor should you fight like a Dwarf.  It is always good to pick up techniques from other races, but only in the context of what works best for you.”

Daeron turned to the Elvenking, and gave him a salute.  “Mae g'ovannen, Aran nîn.”

Thranduil returned the salute, and responded. “Mae g'ovannen, Magor.”

The boys were dispatched up in the seating area, as Daeron and Thranduil got their sparring equipment in place, then began by showing their skills with a single sword.  They purposely went slowly, and would often stop, so Daeron or Thranduil could point out a certain specific movement or technique.  Their next round was much faster, and the boys were astounded at their speed and precise movements.

Then, they prepared to fight with a sword in each hand, just as Thranduil used in the Battle.  He took his dull-edged practice swords over to their students, to allow them to hold them, and feel their weight and balance.  Then he explained the very basics of dual-wield fighting, the sword held normally in the dominant hand, and the other held against the other forearm for parrying.

He and Daeron saluted each other, and began.  What followed was a beautiful dance, with blades flying so swiftly, it was difficult for their eyes to follow.  There were incredible jumps and flips high in the air, causing the boys to gasp.  As they traveled around the ring, the two made use of the walls to somersault, and land behind their opponent, or wherever gave them the advantage.  Every boy’s mouth was hanging open, and they were wide-eyed in amazement.

Finally, Daeron was on the ground, with Thranduil’s sword pointing at this throat.  “Devig?” he asked the Lieutenant, with his eyebrow raised.

“Devin!” Daeron replied, with a grin, as Thranduil offered his hand to help him up.  The two bowed to each other, and saluted, as all the students cheered.

 

“That was unbelievable!” Bain was saying to Rhys, as Thranduil and Daeron accompanied them through the Palace back to their apartment.  “Wasn’t that great?”

Rhys nodded.  “I couldn’t believe how fast you were!  I’d love to be able to do that!  You make it look so easy, My Lord!”

Thranduil smiled down at the boys, a bit sweaty and from his vigorous activity.  “It takes many years of training and hard work to make it look effortless, so do not be fooled.”

While they were walking near the Main Doors, the Elvenking noticed that the wagons had returned from Dale, and an Elf was headed toward their rooms with the correspondence box.

“Look!  It’s letters from Da, finally!”  Bain pointed, excitedly.  “Can we have them now?”

“Maybe my Da wrote me again!” Rhys said. 

“I am afraid Lady Hilda, and Galion must sort through them first.  They will be ready for you at dinnertime.”

“I can’t wait to write Da about my new room!” Rhys was excited.  “I have to tell him how much Esta likes me.  Maybe we’ll get a dog, when I can go home!”

Thranduil was grateful the boy seemed cheerful.  “The box will be sent to Dale next week, and you have plenty of things to write your Das about.”

As the boys continued to chat together, Thranduil’s heart pounded at the idea of a letter from Bard.  He missed his Meleth terribly. This afternoon’s demonstration served a dual purpose.  The vigorous activity served to impress and entertain the boys, and it also helped to alleviate some of some of his own tension, from laying awake at nights, thinking about Bard. 

He wasn’t entirely lonely.  Occasionally, after Bard left, Tilda would wake up and need comforted.  Last week, Esta came and woke him, because Tilda was suffering a terrible nightmare, and she was shaking and upset.  Thranduil wasn't surprised at this; after her terrible shock from the Battle, she was sensitive, and frightened easily.  

He quickly learned, though, to brace himself for little feet to walk up and down his back or side until morning.  Bard wasn't exaggerating, when he said Tilda “ran a race” in her sleep.  Thranduil decided she was more like a fish on dry land.  Flip, flop, kick, thrash...  

Once, he had been startled awake after an unfortunate and painful kick in his crotch.  He managed to sit up, with his hands clutching his balls and did his best sweat it out, while the little girl lay, oblivious to his misery.  Thranduil’s eyes bugged out and his face grew red from the agony, as hissed a litany of Bard’s favorite curses under his breath, and was surprised to discover it actually helped. 

He also learned to line up some extra pillows between himself and his youngest daughter, to ensure future relations with his husband.

 

 

 

Despite all this, he missed his husband constantly: his very skin ached at Bard’s absence. Their first time together, was something still beyond his ability to describe, and since then, he craved the wild, feral urgency between them.

As much as he longed for Bard, there was more to his yearning than sex.  He missed Bard’s laugh, his humor, and those beautiful forest-green eyes.  He loved how it felt to be gathered in his husband’s arms as they drifted off to sleep, with one leg thrown over Thranduil in a warm, protective embrace.  He treasured how it felt, to wake up surrounded by his Bowman, as he snored, oh so softly, into the back of his neck.  It made him feel safe, and it gave him a peace he had not known for centuries.

His cock twitched, involuntarily, and he silently moaned to himself.  When they were finally reunited, he'd have to find a way for them to stay in bed for days, to make up for lost time…

Until then, he would have to take it out on his weapons.

 

 

***************

 

 

LETTERS FROM DALE

 

* * *

 

To Thranduil from Bard:  

 

Hello My King,

First and foremost, thank you for sending the messenger so quickly, regarding Rhys.  As much as I trust you, and you know I do, we all were holding our breath, until we knew for certain he was safe, especially Alun.  These ladies will be brought before me and my people after they all return, and I will deal with them then.  In the meantime, I hope they give you and yours a minimum of grief.

Hopefully the nasty business is all taken care of, and we can get on with things, and for now, we’ll just concentrate on looking after Rhys.  There’s too much we need to accomplish, to let ourselves be any more distracted than we must be.

How is Bain, with all this?  This must have been upsetting for him, and I’d like to know how he fares.

I hate not being there for the Little Bean, when she wakes up crying, but it helps to know you’re taking care of her.  Kiss her for me, will you?

 I’m sorry I didn’t mention this before--When she was little, sometimes she cried so hard, she got winded.  A lady in Dale told me a trick to help her when she does that: blow into her face really quick and hard.  It will startle her, so she’ll inhale.  I’ve noticed she’s been doing that again, since the Battle, when she wakes upset.

Hilda told me all the orphans in Dale have been placed, in a trial basis, but it looks good, so far.  Happy to hear it.  Whether they stay there in the Woodland Realm, or come back to be raised in Dale, the most important thing is that they get happy and loving homes.

So glad you’re working on your book for Legolas, love. I wish I had some sort of likeness of Mattie, so you could draw it for the children to have.  We never could afford it when I was with her.  She still has family in Dorwinian, I think, so maybe once life slows down a bit, I’ll write and ask them.

I heartily approve of Rhian staying in the Royal Wing.  I like the idea of a caretaker to stay with her.  At the very least, she’ll have someone with her to chase her out of her own head, and sometimes, that’s half the battle.

I love the drawing of the kids!!  I can’t tell you how much it means to me to look at their faces whenever I want.  I want to get them framed, when I can, but for right now, I keep them in our bedchamber for me to look at before I go to sleep. 

They remind me why I am doing all this; why I’m separated from you all, and helps me pretend, at least for one more day; that it’s worth the loneliness.  I miss your face; please send me one of yourself, love.

I hated to read how you reach for me in the dark, because I do the same here.  I suppose I’m luckier--when I reach for you, Thangon is there!  Don’t be jealous, love.  I love you best, but he doesn’t know that, and I don’t have the heart to tell him.

I miss you. I miss everything single thing about you.  Thangon doesn’t really compare with my beautiful Elvenking – plus, he snores, and sometimes smells really bad.

Gi Melin, Thranduil. Uireb. (See?  I’m learning Sindarin, too!)

Bard

P.S.  Don’t think I haven’t heard you’ve been sneaking the kids out to see the Elk, “Ada!”  Tilda, my little spy, has snitched on you.  In fact, a couple of the pictures she sent show you and her petting them, so I’ve got evidence of your crimes!  If any of my children loses a finger to those things, I’ll tell Hilda on you…

 

* * *

To Sigrid from Bard

 

Dear Sigrid: 

I’m so proud of you for learning Sindarin!  I’ve been working at it, too, but please don’t ask me to write any at the moment. I can spell some of it with Westron letters, but have no clue about Tengwar script.  Besides, lately I’ve been constantly writing things, and my head is a bit muddled.

I know your Ada is taking care of you all, and I know you keep saying not to worry, but I can’t do that, love.  It’s what a Da does.  Bless you for looking after Ada.  He’s terribly lonely, not just for me, but for Tauriel and Legolas, too.

Thangon snores, but I put up with it, because I like his company.  I like the idea of Daeron taking you to see the barracks.  Even though it’s not our Kingdom, there’s a lot we can learn from other countries how best we can do things.  I hear Daeron is doing an excellent job of looking after you. 

I also hear you kids have a roommate! I’m proud of you, for wanting him to stay with you.  So…  You’ve got a dog!  I hadn’t thought about how pets suffer in the aftermath of war, but it only makes sense to look after them, too.  Sheep dogs like Esta are one of the smartest dogs around, so you kids can teach her lots of tricks, to keep her busy.  Maybe Rhian would like a visit from her, too.

Now that the business with Ina and Iola is finished, I want you kids to just get on with your lives, and let us handle it. 

Don’t forget what Ada said; if someone tries to draw you into an argument:  Say, “Speak with the King,” and walk away.  Make sure Rhys knows to do that too, because I’ll bet people are coming up to the poor kid, left and right, wanting to talk about it, so I’m counting on you three to make sure he’s okay.

Your Ada drew me pictures of you kids, did he tell you?  I love them and I look at them in the evenings before I go to bed, so you all don’t seem so far away.

I love you my beautiful girl.  Know your Da is thinking of you all the time.

Love,

Da

* * *

To Glélindë from Feren:

 

Glélindë, Meleth nî n,

I am overjoyed to hear that we now have a family!  Think of it, my sweet wife; we have daughters.  And we have a grandfather!  You must keep writing me and telling me all about them. 

Are the girls sleeping all night?  I was told that, for quite a while, they could not.  Are you getting enough rest?  Pardon me for making a fuss, Meleth nîn.  I just wish I was there to be with you all. 

Life in Dale is busy.  Building proceeds quickly, and our Elves have been diligently protecting Dale.  We also do quite a bit of hunting, which King Bard’s dog enjoys very much.  The men will often take turns with us. They like to get outdoors, and are learning the lay of this new land.  Living near a forest is new to them, so we make a point to teach them about the trees, plants and animals we encounter.

I have learned to respect these brave Men, Glélindë.  They have an enormous number of things they need to learn and adjust to, with hardly any time to do so.   Despite all their losses, they strive, every day, to do their best.  I am glad, for our sake, my assignment here will be a long-term one.  There is much we Elves can learn, as well.  There have even been things the Dwarves have shown us, that I have found interesting and useful.

So far, we have seen no bandits, nor even Orcs, thank Elbereth.  Fear not; we are ready for them, just the same.

Love to you, and our new family.

Gi melin,

Feren

 

 

To Alis and Dafina from Feren

 

To My Wonderful and Pretty Daughters:

I am very glad that you are living with Naneth, and your Grandfather.  I hope you are very happy with us.

Thank you for the beautiful pictures you made for me.  I makes me feel better, and I like them very much.

Dafina, I love the one with me riding the horse, too.  It looks just like us!  Alis, you are a good artist and I can see how well you can write your name.  Please send me more, because I love to get them.  Lord Percy and King Bard and Tauriel made a fuss over them, too.  Perhaps you can draw them some pictures.  Please be good girls for your Naneth, and your Grandfather.  I think about you always and I am proud of you.

Love, your Ada

 

To Gruffudd from Feren:  

 

Greetings to our new Grandfather, 

I wish to express my heartfelt thanks for allowing us to raise your beautiful granddaughters, and extend you a warm welcome.

You will be an important part of the girls’ lives, Gruffudd.  You are their link to their past, and can keep the memory of their birth parents alive.  We wish them to know about your daughter, as well as her husband, so please, do not hesitate to share your memories, when you are able.

I have often thought, that when a child is adopted, regardless of race, two questions loom in their minds:  Where did I come from?  And, was I loved?

You are in a unique position to provide our girls with this, and I hope you do.

May you find comfort and peace in your new life with us, Gruffudd.

With deepest regards,

Feren

 

 

* * *

To Bain from Bard:  

 

Hello Son,

First, congratulations on your new roommate, and for being such a good friend to Rhys.  You helped to save him, and I am proud of you.  You’re a good son, and a good Prince, for looking out for the welfare of our people.

So, you’ve started to work on archery now!  Good!  You know, Daeron is absolutely right about pacing yourself.  I made that mistake when I first started.  I wouldn’t listen to your Grand-Da, and I really hurt myself - I couldn’t draw a bow again for almost two months!

I’ve never had the time to watch Thranduil practice, so you’ve got the advantage on me.  I saw him during the Battle, though. He was a sight to behold! He’s called one of the Fiercest Warriors in Middle Earth for a reason. 

Sigrid told me how you spend your evenings, and I want you to know that you’re helping Thranduil as much as he’s helping you.  Trust me on this.

I know you’re looking forward to seeing Thangon.  He’s an immense beast, but he can be goofy.  He’s good company.

Take care of your friend Rhys, and let me know how he fares, all right.

Love you son,

Da

 

***************

 

To Hilda from Percy:    

 

Dear Wife of Mine,

Now, don’t you start yelling at anybody, because of course they’re going to tell me you tired yourself out!  And you do exactly what that Healer and Thranduil tell you, you hear?  I want my wife fit and whole when she gets back here.  You won’t be able to run this Castle if you’re too busy sick in bed!

I know you, my dear; you only do it because you love them all, and I admire you for it.  But let someone else take over every once in a while! 

As far as children of our own, love, you’re right.  There’s no use wishing for things that will never be.  Just find joy in the family the Valar sent us to look after.  You and I love those kids like our own, and no three kids could love my wife more.  Bard is like a son to us, too. 

Please tell King Thranduil, I greatly admire his talent.  I was glad to get a picture of you - he captured you perfectly.  I makes my heart less empty when I look at it. 

Tauriel’s frantic with activity, to keep from being sad, but we make sure she isn’t alone.  Tell Thranduil that cat he sent her was just the thing!  She’s in that girl’s lap whenever she sits down, and spends her days following her. 

You’d love to see that cat with Thangon.  She bosses that dog around like nobody’s business, and if she thinks he’s not behaving, she hisses gives his nose a good swipe, which sends him whining and bawling to Bard.  Bloody coward, that one.

I have to laugh, because when I see little Farien order that giant beast around, they remind me of you and Thranduil! (but don’t tell him I said that!)

Much love to my best girl.  Take care of yourself.

Your Percy

 

***************

To Tilda from Bard:   

 

Hello Little Bean,

Got your lovely pictures, and I think they’re grand.  I heard you met Thangon’s sister, and you got to be friends.  Thangon is bigger, but he’s just as nice.  In fact, Tauriel’s cat likes to beat him up!  Don’t worry, she’s just playing, but Farien is definitely the boss of the animals around here! 

I’m sorry, Little Bean, but you must practice your letters and your spelling just as Galion tells you.  You want to be able to write me nice letters, yeah?

I liked the picture with you petting the Elk, but just make sure your Ada is always with you when you go see them, all right?

I’m glad you’re doing so many fun things and keeping busy.

Love you,

Da

***************

 

To Hilda from Bard:  

 

Dear Hilda,

Thank you for the report. I’m glad you’re keeping me abreast of what our people are doing and learning.  Makes me feel hopeful for the future. 

Make sure to rest when the Healer tells you to.  That’s my order as your King.  We love you and need you too much, for you to wear yourself out to the point of sickness. 

Don’t worry, Hil.  I’m looking after Percy, even though he likes all the jokes.  

I walked through a doorway last week, only to have a bucket of water dumped over me, and yes, everyone laughed.  Percy stopped laughing, however, when I told him that it was my turn to clean the stalls in the barn that day, and I couldn’t go out with wet hair, so he had to take my shift! 

And since I locked Thangon in his room, he’s never fed the dog Lembas again!  Ha Ha!

Love to all,

Bard

 

***************

To Sigrid, Bain and Tilda, from Percy:   

 

Hey there, Sea Monsters!

Are you keeping my wife and that Elvenking on their toes?  Good!  Loved the letters you sent, and Little Bean, your pictures were beautiful, and I’ve tacked them up all over my door to my room so I can see them.

Don’t you worry, we’re working hard to get houses built for all you people in Dale.  Between the Men of Dale, the Elves, and the Dwarves, you’ll be shocked when you come back!

Did your Da tell somebody has been playing jokes on him?  Well, he has.  He suspects it’s me, but I’d never do that.  Did your Da also tell you, that if you feed Lembas to Thangon, he farts?  Shhh! Don’t tell your Auntie Hil, or she’ll tan my hide when she sees me, for being a bad influence on you.  We all know I would never, ever do that… 

Sigrid, thanks for telling me your Auntie Hil needs to rest more.  I want you three to make sure she does exactly that, even if you have to tie her down!  Tilda, you just keep on crawling on her lap and refuse to get up, if you think she’s working too hard, okay, Beanie? 

Love to all, and be good.  But not too good.

Uncle Percy

***************

 To Thranduil from Tauriel:  

 

Suilad Ada,

I went to visit Erebor last week, and I was shocked when they told me that I had a vault of my own in the treasury from Dale!  They told me you were the one who put the gold and jewels there for me, because I am your daughter!

The real treasure in my heart, are your words to them.  That was the best gift I could receive, Ada.

I don’t remember when I hid in the cupboards in the kitchens.  Nor did I know you had come to get me.  I do remember, waking up with bad dreams, and you being there to hold my hand.  You seemed afraid to say too much, or maybe you didn’t know what to say, but when you sat in the chair next to my bed until I fell asleep again, I felt safe.  I knew nothing could ever hurt me, if you were near. 

Farien is looking after me, and she and Bard’s dog play in the evenings, when we get together in Bard’s study.  It makes me smile to see them, and Percy and Bard think it hilarious when the cat chases Thangon around!  You’ve helped make this winter more tolerable with these animals.

Mil, Tauriel

 

***************

 

To Galion from Tauriel:  

 

Suilad Galion,

I am keeping myself occupied as much as possible, and have visited Erebor, which I enjoyed very much. 

Much in my life, in all our lives has changed in such a short time; especially for Ada, and it brings me joy.  I love Bard’s children, as I know you do.

I will never forget how much you have given me, ever since the day I was brought to the Palace.  Please know that you are every bit as important to me as Ada.  It was you, just as much as he that made me feel cherished and protected all of my life.  We both are grateful, and we both love you very much.

I am glad Bard’s children are so attached to you, and I know you look forward to being as dear to them as you have always been to me.

You have my love and devotion, no matter where life takes me.

Mil, Tauriel

 

***************

 

To Galion from Bard:

 

Hello Galion,

Thanks for the reports of my children’s schooling and behavior so far.  I honestly thought we’d have more trouble getting Bain to put his shoulder in, as far as his studies.  He is all boy, that one.  He likes to do things that boys love to do, but he’s smart.  I know I’m biased, but he has a knack for things.

Sigrid doesn’t surprise me.  She’ll need to learn her maths in order to mix potions, and administer medicines, so I hope her prowess in that subject continues to improve.  As far as spelling, she’ll get the hang it all soon enough.  Now that she has a chance at a real education, I’ll bet she’ll surprise us all.

We only had so many books to read in Laketown, and no real school.  I ‘m sad to say, she had to spend a great deal of time looking after her brother and sister. 

Now, I want her to use this time to catch up, and enjoy being a young girl, before it’s too late.

I enjoy hearing how Tilda spends the afternoons with you.  She just captures you heart, doesn’t she?

You’ve trained Percy well.  I want to thank you formally for all the work you’ve been doing to help prepare both he and Hilda for their work here.  It’s far and above what was asked, and Dale is grateful to you.

Alun, Rhys’s father assisted with the documents I sent, so the credit goes to him.  I was impressed too, and I think he’ll do nicely as a member of my staff and my Council, once this City gets started.

Please look after yourself.  You are needed and very much loved.

Regards,

Bard, King of Dale

 

***************

 

To Rhys from Alun:  

 

Dearest Son,

I was never more relieved in all my life, to hear you’re safe, and that you’ll be staying with Prince Bain.  King Thranduil made sure we knew you were all right the very next day, and finally, finally, I could breathe, again!

I will always be sorry that I allowed you to be in that situation, son.  I hope you can forgive me, and not doubt my love for you, nor my desire to see you safe, at all times.

I wish I could make a world where bad things never happened, but I can’t.  But I will do my very best to keep you from all harm for as long as I can.

Now, that you’re with the King and his family, I want you to do something for me-- try to focus on your studies and all your lessons, and don’t worry.  Those people have no way to get near you again, and if anyone asks you what happened, just tell them to talk to King Thranduil.  It’s his job to answer questions, not yours. 

If you’re feeling bad about things, please write to me, or go see Lady Hilda, or King Thranduil.  They want to help you however they can.

I hope to hear from you soon, my boy,

Your loving Da

 

To Sigrid, Bain and Tilda from Tauriel:   

 

Greetings from Dale,

Did you look in the secret compartment of my room yet?  I hope there was some treasure for you to find.

I have been busy with your Da, and working to teach the men archery.  Did I tell you, we will have a tournament in the spring?  Your Da will be the official judge.

Your Uncle Percy has been playing pranks on everyone!  Last week, “someone” put salt in your Da’s tea, and he spit it out all over the table!  Then he went through a doorway, and water fell on his head.  I am just happy he has not been playing tricks on me.  Then again, your Uncle Percy knows how good I am with fighting knives…

But I am glad Percy is helping us to laugh.  We all miss our families; especially your Da and me, but thanks to Percy, he is helping us to enjoy ourselves. 

I am looking forward to more letters from you, when the supply wagon comes.  Until then, look after each other, your Aunt Hilda, Galion, and Ada.  Tilda, please run to him and give him a big hug, and tell him I sent it.

Your sister and friend,

Tauriel

P.S. Bain, I am glad you wrote to me about your friend.  It was a brave thing to do.  We must always try to do what’s right for our friends, even if it means telling secrets sometimes.  I am very proud of you.  I hope Rhys enjoys his stay with you all.  His father Alun, is a good, honorable man, and your friend should be proud.

 

 

 

ELVEN TRANSLATIONS:

Mae g'ovannen, Aran nîn – Well met, My King

Mae g'ovannen, Magor – Well met, Swordsman

Gi Melin, Thranduil Uireb. – I love you, Thranduil.  Always.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The Woodland Realm, 24th January, 2942, T.A.

Sigrid held Darryn in her arms, turned to Rhian and said, “He gets bigger every day, doesn’t he? I remember when Tilda was first born - she was so tiny.  Well, Tilda’s always been small, for her age, but his little man is so solid and big! 

Rhian had just sat down in the rocking chair in the living room of her suite, smiling at him.  “I still look at him, sometimes, and can’t believe he’s mine.”

“I love his dark hair.  I think he looks just like you, except his eyes are blue, and yours are green.”  Sigrid observed the sleeping infant.  Darryn was dressed in a dark blue sweater with matching socks, that the ladies from Dale had given her, among many, many other items of clothing, gifted from the Elves and the women of Dale.

His mother nodded.  “I think so, too.  I’m glad of it, really.  I would love him, no matter what, but it’s easier, because so far, he looks nothing like his father.  My mother’s eyes were that shade of blue; I hope they stay that way.”

“But regardless, Darryn will look like himself, so let’s think of better things.”  Sigrid got up to put the baby in his cot, sat down on the couch next to the rocking chair.  “I’m glad you’re here; it's fun to have a friend close by."  She smiled at the older girl, as she picked up her knitting, and Rhian worked on her sewing.

Rhian had moved into the rooms down the hall from the Royal Apartments after she was discharged from the infirmary, and an Elf named Indis had come to look after her.  She was cheerful, and patient in a quiet way, which helped the girl feel at ease with her fairly quickly. 

She still kept most people at a distance, but there were a few that she didn’t feel nervous around.  Sigrid and Daeron were among them, and the Princess made a point to stop in and see her several times a week.  Sometimes she brought little Tilda, who always enjoyed a chance to see and hold the baby, and once, they even brought their new dog, Esta.  Esta put her at ease within minutes, with her kind, calm demeanor, and her deep, dark eyes, that regarded her with kindness and patience.

Hannah had come to see her several times since she’d been here.  Since Rhian had agreed to let Hannah help her, Indis would smile and take the baby into a different room, so she and the Midwife could talk about things every three days or so.  Their sessions were often difficult and draining. 

Indis and Hannah were working together with Rhian to get her though her depression and anxiety.  When Hannah wasn’t there, Indis helped her to take care of the baby and to focus on positive activities, and to make sure she got proper rest.  It helped a great deal to have someone there to structure her days; Rhian was still so tired from the baby, and world-weary from her illness. 

As much as she loved Darryn, she still felt like she was always walking up a steep hill covered with grey grass, with a mist that showed the outline of bare trees.  She still cried quite a bit, especially during her talks with Hannah, but the midwife promised her this was a good thing.

“The only way to get around it is through it, lovey.  But I’ll be here with you; you won’t be alone, I promise you.”  The Midwife promised Rhian that, when all was said and done, she’d be better and stronger than she’d ever been.  Rhian hung on to that hope, even if some days it was only by a thread.

Hannah had instructed her to do her best to keep busy and focus on positive things, in between their ‘talks.’  Rhian wasn’t to think of her problems day and night, but leave those things for the times when she was here, to try to balance out her life, a bit.  “Easier said than done, I know,” she said, “but all that matters is that you take deep breaths and try, all right?  Just for today.”

And Rhian was trying her best, and Indis helped a great deal with this.  She had the baby, which kept her busy; Darryn liked to nurse every three hours, so, Indis would sit and sing to her, or tell her stories, which were very interesting.  Between feedings, Rhian would either nap, or work her sewing, her knitting, or her schoolwork (Rhian was learning to read and write).  Indis would also make sure to take her out for her daily walk.

She had to “wash, be dressed and get out of her rooms every day,” Hannah said.  She and Indis would take the baby, and they would stroll up and down the wide corridor of the Royal Wing, while Indis kept up a cheerful chatter.  Rhian didn’t like it; it made her panicky to be out of her rooms, but Indis, always with a smile, made her go nonetheless.  They only walked for a short distance, and none of the guards tried to talk to her, but looked friendly and calm.  If Rhian happened to pass anyone else in the corridor, no one stopped her or spoke to her; they simply smiled, gave a short wave, and went on their way, to her great relief.

What Rhian didn’t know, was Hannah had met with King Thranduil and Hilda, and instructed them to do exactly this, to help her get over her fear, of leaving her home.  As time went on, Indis would be helping Rhian to stop and speak with people, but when she was ready.  To King Thranduil’s credit, he ordered the guards to pretend she wasn’t there, and said the same to the children (Tilda didn’t understand it, but promised that she would do the same, to “help Rhian feel better”).

She had a long way to go, but it was getting easier every day.

“Oh, Stars!  I dropped a stitch!”  Sigrid exclaimed.  She sighed with exasperation, and maneuvered the needles to pick it up again, “These are for Uncle Percy, and I want to get them finished before the next load of supplies go to Dale.”  She held up the blue sock, and Rhian admired it.

“Before we came here, I used to sit with the ladies in the Camp and do that.   I like it here; it’s much quieter.”

Sigrid smiled.  “I’m glad you’re feeling a little better.”  Then she put her needles down and started gathering her things.  “I wish I could stay longer, but I’ve got to do some schoolwork before dinner.  The supply wagons came a couple of hours ago, so hopefully they’ve got the letters sorted.  Did I tell you we have Bain’s friend staying with us?”

Rhian shook her head.  “I don’t think so.”

“He’s a nice boy, and Rhys and Bain have been friends for a while.  Daeron has been teaching them and some of the other boys in swordsmanship and archery, and I think Rhys is better at it than Bain,” Sigrid laughed, “but don’t tell anyone I told you that.  Bain has this idea he should be the best because he and our Da are Dragonslayers.”  She rolled her eyes.  “Anyway, Daeron is a good teacher, and I’ve heard all the boys like him.”

“He knows a lot about medicine, too.”

“I think that’s why he was assigned to us.  Ada told me he knows a lot about treating Men, because he spent a long time in Dale with King Girion, if you can believe it.” Sigrid laughed.  “He even told me he delivered a lot of our grandfathers!  I still can’t begin to grasp that one!”

Rhian’s eyes widened in amazement.  “That’s hard to take in.”

“Don’t I know it” Sigrid was finished arranging her things, and got up from the couch.  Rhian made to get up, but Sigrid waved her back down.  “Sit, sit, you’re fine.  Goodbye, Indis,” she called to the Elf in the other room.

The Elf walked into the living room, “Goodbye, My Lady.”

“Thank you for taking such care of my friend, here.” She smiled at Rhian.

“It is my pleasure, My Lady.”

A few minutes after Sigrid left, there was a knock at the door of the apartment.  Indis opened it, and Daeron stepped in, “Gi suilanthon, Indis!” 

To Rhian, he grinned and said, “Greetings, Rhian! Do you have time for a visitor?”

Rhian smiled, shyly.  “Of course.  Hello…  Please, sit down.”

Daeron’s cheeks looked flushed, like he had been outside.  He went over to the cot that was set up in the living room and peered down at the sleeping infant.  “He changes so quickly, does he not?”  He smiled down at his namesake, as he brushed his fingers over the baby’s cheeks, that were filling out rapidly.  Darryn was on his back, and his mouth was making sucking motions in his sleep.

“Thank you, He’s starting to look less like a newborn, and more like a real baby.  I know that sounds silly, but…”

“No.  It is not silly.  It is exactly right.”  He sat down on the chair facing her.  “I am sorry I have not visited sooner.  My schedule is very busy, between guard duties and teaching the boys, weaponry.  I enjoy it very much; they are good children, and it is important to teach them early, so as to build a strong Army for Dale.  How have you been?” he asked her.

“I like it here, so far.  It was strange at first, but I’m getting used to it.  Indis is really nice.”

Daeron grinned.  “I think so, too.  I was hoping you would like each other.”

“You know her?”  Rhian asked.  “Really?”

“Well, I know most everyone in the Woodland Realm.  Elves are much, much older, so it gives us a chance to meet one another.  I have also spent many years traveling throughout the villages to administer aid, and care for expectant mothers.  But in this case,” he smirked “I know her, because she is my Aunt.”

“Your Aunt?  Really?  She looks so young! Like your sister!”

“I imagine it is hard to get used to; the idea that Elves don’t age, once they reach their majority.  But, it is who we are, so it is not unusual to us, at all.  Elves have difficulty sometimes understanding how the race of Men age and grow old.  I think it is just a matter of understanding each other.”

Rhian put her sewing down in her lap.  “I suppose so.  You and Indis have the same color hair and your eyes are the same, too.  I can see the resemblance.”

“My cousin Turamarth teases me, because I look more like his mother than he does, and he looks more like my own mother.”  He laughed. “It is very funny, because our mothers are identical twins!  He and I grew up together, and are more like brothers than cousins, really.”

“Where are your parents?”  Rhian asked, curious.

“My father, Adamar, is the Captain of the Gates.  He is in charge of the entrances to and from the Palace, as well as all the Guards who protect us within it.  My mother helps to oversee the kitchens here; she now works with your people to coordinate meals and other such things.  She has been delighted with the challenge of providing all the different dishes your people require for your diet.”

“What’s her name?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I thought I said.  Her name is Idril.”

Just at that moment, Indis came into the living area again.  He grinned, and stood up to stand beside her. I was just explaining to Rhian why I look so much like you!”

Rhian looked up at them, side by side; It was true.  The two Elves, smiling down at her, had the same long, dark auburn hair and bright green eyes.  Rhian could have sworn they were the same age, and they look so young!  She didn’t dare ask how old they were, because it would be too hard to contemplate. 

Both Elves helped her feel at ease, with so many things, and were patient and kind.  For that, Rhian was supremely grateful.  She had friends, now.  For the first time in her life, she had actual, genuine friends, and some of them were Princesses and Kings!

Hannah might be right, after all.   There might be a day, when Rhian could look outside of herself, and no longer see shades of grey and mist, but bright colors and sunshine.

 

 

LETTERS FROM THE WOODLAND REALM

 

To Bard from Thranduil:  

To Bard, son of Brand, King of Dale:

Galion is sending you and Alun details about Rhys’s physical examination and treatment. I wish to emphasize that the boy is absolutely pain free, and he will bear no lasting physical evidence of his unpleasant experience.

I wish to give you a detail report of events in my Court, regarding Ina and Iola of Dale:

 --They were called into the Throne Room once again.  No children were permitted to be present, per your request.  In front of them, I confirmed that they had written to you, and then your letter was presented as evidence.  This, they were not expecting, and tried to deny the authenticity of the letter.  Hilda provided several merchants from Dale who confirmed that the signature and handwriting were theirs. 

--Galion read the entire contents of the letter out loud to the court.  Ina and Iola, once forced to admit they had written it, lost their temper, demanding deference due their “station.”

--I presented the indictment and judgement that the King of Dale had pronounced and gave it to Hilda, Dale’s Senior Government Official, to read it aloud.  Your ladies wanted to plead for mercy, but I told them they must respect the authority of their own King.

--I presented the two servants, Lynne and Mona their documents, releasing them from service to Ina and Iola.  The defendants were not pleased, but your people here were very impressed with their King!  The girls, Lynne and Mona, aren’t yet able to read and write, and so they asked Galion to pass along their thanks to you.

--The defendants were taken to rooms far from the other citizens of Dale.  Unfortunately, once they had no opportunity to inflict their personalities on others, they turned their acrimony on each other.  The noise became so disruptive, that I had silencing spells placed on their rooms, out of consideration for their neighbors. They will speak to and see no one, except their guards, who will, as you requested, not speak Westron in front of them. 

Respectfully submitted,

Thranduil, son of Oropher, King of the Woodland Realm

 

 

Bard, Meleth nîn,  enough of politics and Kinging. 

First, I would like to report that Rhys is doing well, here with us.  He is a bit melancholy at times, so the visit from his father next weeks will do him good.  In the meantime, we keep him occupied and Esta is keeping a close watch. 

Hervenn nîn, I sent you the last letter, I had a terrible nightmare.  It was about the Dragon.  It’s always about the Dragon, Bard.  After sitting in front of the fire for a long time, I sent for Galion. 

I tried to follow your advice, and talk about my dream; I have never done this, before.  It is so hard to speak of it, just as with losing Mírelen.  You and Galion are wise to teach me that darkness can no longer remain so, if it is brought to the light.  So, I talked to Galion.  I could not say much, but he and I feel it is a start.

I understand now, why you wanted to talk about the nightmare you had, when we were together in Dale.  Bard, I am sorry, that I did not listen.  We must always be able to speak to each other, be willing to listen.  I failed you, but never again.

There is much noise and activity in my rooms, but they are lonelier than ever, because you are not here. I especially feel your absence during the night, but I find that I yearn for your smile, your kindness and your wisdom in so many things.

I love you, Bard.  Always.

Thranduil

P.S.  I received Sigrid’s birthday gifts safely.  I am happy that Dáin had them finished in time. They are perfect for our daughter, and I will present them to her before the party.

 

 * * *

 

From Galion to Bard:

Greetings, Lord Bard:

It is my hope that this letter finds you and all in Dale well,

Enclosed are the signed and witnessed documents you need for your records, plus the original letter by Ina and Iola.  Also enclosed are two copies of the Healer’s report; one is for your records, and one is to be given to Alun, Rhys’s father for his use.

The children continue with their studies.  My King continues to look after them, and spends as much time with them, and Lady Hilda as possible.  It has taken some effort to persuade Lady Hilda to get her proper rest, but, as you instructed, Tilda and the children make sure she relaxes.

Lord Thranduil and I have given Tilda her own desk in my study, as she likes spending the afternoons with me.  She generally makes good use of my small couch for her afternoon naps, when she is not with Lady Hilda.    

For now, please be assured that your family is well.

Regards,

Galion

 

* * *

 

To Feren from Glélindë:

Meleth nîn,

I love being a mother.  I especially love to brush out their curly hair, after their baths.  Our girls are just so beautiful!!

Gruffudd seems happy with us, and we are becoming good friends.  I purchased a comfortable chair for him to sit by the fire, with a stool to put his leg up on.  Our Healers will eventually try to give him something to wear on his stump, but they must wait until the beginning of next summer. 

In the meantime, he is very happy, to sit with us in the evenings, smoking his pipe, and we tell each other stories of our lives, and our history.  I have never known much about the race of Men, nor has Gruffudd known of Elves, either, so we enjoy this time.

We’ve had some snow, but not much.  On days when the weather is a bit better, I take the girls out for short walks to see the animals in the barn.  They enjoy it, but are still a bit shy about petting them. 

I think of you always, and feel you in my heart.  I may not see you, but you are there, our fëas are one as they have always been.  Ci velethron e-guil nîn, Feren.

Glélindë

 

* * *

 

To Bard from Bain:

Da!

I like having Rhys living with us!  I asked Sig and Til if they would mind if Rhys stayed with us, and they said okay and then we asked Auntie Hill, then she said okay.

He was really mad at me, at first, because I wrote to Tauriel.  I didn’t mean to keep it secret from you, Da.  It’s just that I promised him.  I’m glad Tauriel told you about it – it was a relief!

He was really nervous, when Thranduil asked to see him, though. He didn’t want to get anyone in trouble.  I know Thranduil can be really scary to folks he doesn’t like, but he was very nice, then.  Bronwyn was there, too, and they asked me to sit with Rhys, so he wouldn’t get upset.  Esta was there too.

Anyways, Rhys finally told the truth about his grandma, and Thranduil took him to the Healer’s.  He has to take baths with a special oil and there is a salve that has to be put on him.  I don’t know much about it, because Rhys does it by himself, except for his back and Thranduil does that, and they won’t let anyone see.  But he feels better, so it doesn’t matter.

He likes it with us. He likes to read more than I do, and Thranduil showed him the library, and told him if he wanted a book, to just ask the librarian there and she will get it for him.

I hope you don’t mind him staying with us.  He really misses his Da, and I didn’t want him with strangers. 

I have to go.  It’s time for sword practice.  Which I’m doing good at, by the way.

Oh, and I almost forgot!  I got to see Thranduil practice!  He is SO fast!  If he wasn’t in the practice ring, Da, he’d be really scary, he is that good! 

Love,

Bain

* * *

To Bard from Sigrid:

Dear Da,

Here are the socks for Uncle Percy.  I also made you a scarf out of the same color yarn.  How are yours holding up?

Bain’s happier having another boy around, and please tell Rhys’s Da that he seems to really like it here. Esta makes a point to snuggle with Rhys, to make sure he feels better.  I can’t wait till you meet this dog, Da!  I’ve never seen anything so smart in all my life!

Rhian is resting up, and seems to be settling down.  She’s still shy, but she loves her baby.  He’s so sweet – I love to go and see them.  The Elf that is staying with Rhian is actually Daeron’s Aunt, and her name is Indis.  She’s lovely and the perfect person for her.  I like to visit them several times a week, and help with baby Darryn.  He’s so cute, Da!  I can’t wait till you see him! 

Oh, Da, my birthday is next week, and it’s the first one without you!  I try so hard to keep busy, and I do.  But I miss you so much.  I cried the other night, after everyone was asleep, and Esta came in and tried to comfort me.  I know it makes me a big baby, but I couldn’t help it.  Ada couldn’t be more wonderful, but, he’s just not you, Da. 

Ada misses you too, but Tilda and I try to keep Ada occupied with telling us stories and drawing.  He’s made some wonderful pictures of animals, and parts of the forest the way it used to be, before the forest got sick.  I like it. I told him he should put them together to make a book someday!

Love from your daughter,

Sigrid

* * *

To Bard from Tilda,  

Deer Dear Da,

 Galion tells me to rite write this so with the words speled spelled write right. It is hard! 

He is nise nice.  He is my freind fiend friend.  I petted the elks again.  They do not bite.  Do not wory worry. Ada will not let anyting anything bad hapen! Here is anoter another pixture picture of Ada. 

I love you.  I like Rhys.  He is Bains friend.

I got a desk.

Love,

Tilda

Your dawter Beenie

 

* * *

 

To Bard from Hilda:

Dear Bard,

Yes, before you ask, I am resting.  As much as I hate to admit it, I do feel better. 

Tilda’s had a bad nightmare last week, and for a few days, she was very quiet and stuck to us like glue.  She needed to be cuddled a lot, which Galion and Thranduil were happy to do, and she seems better now.

Can you believe they even cheered her up by giving her a little desk in his office, and she sits there, feeling all busy and important.  It’s just her size and so that she can sit right next to Galion, and there are little places for paper and ink pots.  I’ll tell Thranduil to draw a picture of her sitting with it.  It’s cute.

Since Rhys got here Esta has been sticking to him like glue!  She’s really helped the boy adjust; please make sure his Da knows that.

Rhian seems to be doing well.  Hannah’s working with her closely, and makes sure she gets out of her rooms every day, whether she wants to or not.  She feels comfortable with Indis, the Elf that’s staying with her.  Apparently, she’s Daeron’s Aunt.  I’ve been to see her a couple of times, and I tell you, little Darryn is a friendly, happy baby. 

How is my Percy doing?  Is he still pulling those crazy pranks?  That man!  Serves him right to have to shovel out the barn.

Don’t worry love, the weeks are passing by and we’ll be back sooner than you think.  You just keep making your Bard, and Percy and me proud.

Love to all in Dale,

Hil

 

* * *

 

To Percy from Sigrid, Bain and Tilda: 

Hi Uncle Percy,

It’s your Sea Monsters, here.  We’ve been doing good. Rhys lives with us, and it’s worked out fine.  I think Bain likes not being outnumbered by girls anymore! Ha Ha.

Don’t worry, we’re making sure Auntie Hil gets her rest.  She’s gone with me a couple of times to see Rhian and now that this whole business with Rhys’s grandma has been dealt with, things are much more peaceful.

We love you very much, and look after Da and Tauriel and all the rest of the people there.

Love,

Sigrid

* * *

Uncle Percy!

We do a lot with our sword work and Rhys is better than me at archery!  He loves his room with us.  Esta used to sleep with me, but when Rhys came, she went with him, because he was upset.  I don’t mind.  I think she wants to take care of him, and she is making him feel better.

I am looking after my sisters like you want.  Tilda hasn’t had any more bad dreams, but I think Sigrid is.  I heard her crying the other night. I was afraid to ask why, but I think she might have had a bad dream or something.

I can’t wait to see how you fixed up Dale.  Are you guys going to fix that carousel in the Market?

Can’t wait to see you again.

Bain

* * *

Deer Uncle Percy,

Uncle Galion told me he likes it that yoo you call me Litle Little Bean.  I like him.  He is nise nice.  I am suposd supposed to try to spell gooder better.

I have my own dest!  I am his assitent ade he told me.  But I hav to have to pracis practice my spelling.  It is hard! Do yoo think my letters are better?  I hoop hope so, but drawing  Pitures are funner.

I love yoo,

Your little Been (really Tilda)

PS Heer Here is piture one of Esta are dawg.  She is blak black and white and nice.

 

* * *

 

To Tauriel from Thranduil:

Suilad  Gwinïg,

With regards to your inheritance, Iellig, the honor is mine.  You are a daughter of Kings, Tauriel, and you have only received that which you deserve. 

I think, if the Queen had not died, she would have taken you for our own, just as Galion and I did.  Someday, you will meet her in Valinor, and I know she will embrace you with love and tenderness.  I also look forward to meeting your birth parents in Valinor, and sharing with them the many stories of your childhood with us.

When we spoke of your birth parents, it occurred to me that perhaps some in the villages surrounding yours might have made your parent’s acquaintance.  I shall make inquiries, because I am interested to know more, as well.  I know your father’s name was Neldor and your mother’s name was Soliania, and I would meet everyone from that village while during my Autumn Tour. 

I recall them with you as an infant.  Your mother had the same color hair as you do, now, and you look like your father around the eyes.  They seemed a happy couple and clearly loved you very much.  I did not have much of a chance to make further acquaintance, as the village leader, Tasar carried out his duties with skill and excellence and there was very little need for me to intervene in many matters there.

Gwinïg, our parents loved you enough to protect you, even at the cost of their own lives.  Your parents’ bravery reminded me of Legolas’s mother, who also gave her life to protect her child.  Someday I will tell you about it, but not now, Iellig; and tell you more about her.

I remember the first moment I met you:  You were terrified and crying when the Guard placed you in my arms, and you suddenly stopped when you looked at me.  Something about your calm, trusting eyes pierced my heart.  The next thing I knew, I had you in front of me, wrapped in my cloak, as we were riding back to the Palace.

Since then, Tauriel, you have enriched our lives; with your laughter, your little pranks, and then with your dedicated service to our people.

Much love to you and Farien.  I look forward to seeing you soon.

Mil, Ada

P.S.  Tilda just came in and said something about a secret compartment in your room, and she gave me a picture you drew for me when you were small.  Gwinïg, it broke my heart to think this is what you saw when you were so little.  I can only say, again, how glad I am that we are closer. 

 

* * *

 

To Brandir, Ruler of Dorwinian, from Thranduil, King of the Woodland Realm:  

Greetings Lord Brandir,

I hope this letter finds you and your people well during this harsh winter. 

As you know, Bard, formerly of Laketown, has been made King of Dale, as he is the legitimate heir of Girion.  For now, Dale is under my protection, and is also being aided by Erebor, in hopes that the Three Northern Kingdoms shall unite in strength against the fiercest of enemies. It is our further hope that all these efforts might benefit your land, with additional protection and aid from the North, should the need arise.

On a more personal note, as I am sure you have already heard, Bard has recently become my Consort, and I have become his, during a private ceremony held in Dale last month.  At this time, I am hosting the women, children and other vulnerable folk from Dale, to help them avoid the harsh winter temperatures.

If you would be so kind as to grant me a personal request, I would be in your debt.  I have learned that Bard’s late wife, Matilda, daughter of Bain, was from your area.  I am hoping to locate some of Matilda’s extended family to might possess a painting or a likeness of her. 

If you could locate such an item, I beg you to allow me to borrow it for a brief time, so we can make copies for her children to keep.  The older children, remember her and miss her very much, but our youngest, who is just seven years of age, has no memory of her dear mother, and we would like her to see and honor the woman who sacrificed all to bring her into this world.

Everything I have heard about Matilda, shows that she was a woman of virtue, quality and strength, and I have been told her father, Bain was an honorable and good man.

I thank you for your kind attention in this matter, and look forward to more of your excellent wines in the years to come.

Regards,

Thranduil, Son of Oropher, King of the Woodland Realm

 

* * *

 

To Alun of Dale from his son, Rhys: 

Dear Da:

I don’t live with Grandma and Aunt Iona anymore.  I am sorry they caused so much trouble for everybody.  I feel bad.  But King Thranduil told me that it wasn’t my fault and I shouldn’t worry about it.  I’m trying not to, but it’s hard sometimes.  I don’t see them anymore, nobody does.  I hope they’re not hurt or anything.  But Lady Hilda promises me they are not hurt.

I am living with Bain and his sisters, and I like it.  They are fun, and their dog likes me a lot, too, and wants to always lick my face.  And we spend time with the King and Lady Hilda in the evenings.  They are both very nice.

I’m doing good in school, I’m even learning Sindarin.  The archery is going good too.  I’m better than Bain, but not for long.  I like reading the books that Lord Galion picks out for me from the King’s library.  You should see it, Dad!  I’ve never seen so many books ever! 

I can’t wait for you to visit, so I can show you all over the Palace, and the barracks and the barns.  I know Dale will be great, but this is so different, and I like it very much.  I hope we’ll have books like that someday, in our house, like we used to.

I feel much better, Dad.  I was mad at Bain for telling on me, but now I’m not. He really helped me, and he is my best friend.

I can’t wait to see you, Da!

Your loving son,

Rhys

 

* * *

To Alun of Dale, from Thranduil: 

Greetings, Alun, son of Alwyn, of Dale:

I am honored that you would entrust the welfare of your son to me, and I vow to do my utmost to see him as safe and happy as I can. 

I spoke with your son as soon as I received your custody papers, and upon interviewing the boy, Lady Bronwyn and I took him to see our Healer-in-Residence, Elénaril.  I am sorry to say, he had bruises and marks all over his back, buttocks, and the upper part of his legs, as well as one of his upper arms. We discovered no evidence of any other injuries.

You will be relieved to know your son is now comfortable.  The details of Rhys’s examination and treatment plan are enclosed, and he should be finished with his prescribed course of treatment within two days.

So far, your son’s overall spirits seem to be good, but I am watching for signs of emotional distress, and will do my best to help with that, should the need arise.  I know he is looking forward to your visit, and I am glad you are able to make the trip.

I am sorry to have to report such difficult news, regarding the extent of your son’s abuse, but please know that everything is being done to ensure his safety and well-being.

Should you have further concerns, or have information that might assist me in taking care of your son, please feel free to write me, and I shall see it done.

I thank you for the privilege of caring for your son.

Thranduil, Son of Oropher, King of the Woodland Realm

 

* * *

 

To Tauriel from Sigrid: 

Dear Tauriel,

Don’t worry, we are giving Uncle Galion plenty of hugs, especially Tilda.  You can tell he loves it.  And she always makes sure to kiss him on the cheek when she leaves his study, and calls him Uncle. Galion smiles all the time now!  I think he’s going to be sad when we leave here.

We found that secret hiding place you were telling us about.  It wasn’t empty.  There were some really pretty stones, a small book written in Tengwar, and a book that looks like some sort of diary.  There wasn’t much written in it, and anyway it’s also in Tengwar, so don’t worry about us reading it, because we don’t understand it at all.  There was a picture of Ada, with a tear on his face, and you giving him a flower.  Was he really that sad, all the time?

I’m sorry to tell you that Tilda gave Ada the picture before I could tell her not to.  Oh, Tauriel, you should have seen his face!  Tilda thought she upset him, and but he made himself cheer up, to make her feel better.

He misses you a lot.  I know he misses Legolas, too.  He doesn’t say why Legolas isn’t here anymore, and neither do you, so I won’t ask.  Whatever it is, I hope things get better.  We’re all one family and I want us to be happy.

Love from your sister,

Sigrid

P.S. I am sending your diary to Dale, so you can have it.

 

* * *

 

To Tauriel from Bain: 

Tauriel!

I’m playing a lot of Stratagem with Rhys, so I will be able to play you when we come home.  I’m getting really good at archery.  At least I think so.  I don’t want to upset Da, but I think I like the sword better! Rhys and I spar a little bit.  He’s living with us now!  Thranduil and Auntie Hil got him right out of there and he’s doing so much better, thanks to you, I know.  And don’t worry.  Rhys didn’t stay mad for long.  Now he’s glad I told and we are best friends.

I have to practice writing and spelling a lot, Galion says so too.  He says I’m a good speller but my writing is awful, so there’s this book about Dale and all its Kings, so I have to copy three pages of that every day.  At first, I hated it, but I like the book, now.  It’s good to know what happened before in Dale.  And these were all my grandfathers!

Keep looking after Da, Uncle Percy and everybody else.  I saw Feren’s wife with those two little girls they adopted, and they look really happy, especially Old Gruffudd. 

Your brother,

Bain

 

* * *

 

To Tauriel from Tilda: 

Dear Tarriel,

I am good.  Sigrid is helping me wit with my letter becawse Galion and Ada have a meetig meeting.  I am trying to spell words rite right, like Uncle Galion wants me too to.

I am sowry sorry I made Ada sad.  I gave him your pixture picture about a flowr flower. 

Pleez Please do not be mad.  He says I dident do wrong and so does Sigrid.  And I gave him a hug sayed said it was from you.  He huged me back real hard.

Love your little sister,

Tilda

* * *

 

To Percy from Hilda: 

Hello my husband,

Well, we did it.  Those bitches are locked up and they have no chance to spread that horrible poison anymore.  I must tell you, once those two were removed from the rest of the people in Dale, EVERYBODY felt better.  It’s like a cloud was lifted! 

Most of my days consist of meeting with the new families and checking their progress.  Thranduil’s little assignment for Tilda, to have her listen to the children, was the smartest thing he could have done, and I’ll tell you why:

That family of five that I was speaking to you about before?  Remember, the oldest was almost seventeen?  I would never had known it, had their youngest not mentioned to Tilda that her big sister is angry at the whole situation.  Our Little Bean did as she was asked and went straight to the King, so we could fix it.

Bronwyn, Galion and I went to the adoptive parents and the oldest girl.  Seems she resents them a little and was afraid they’re trying to take over the younger ones.  Galion has a way of getting down to the truth of things, when he speaks to people, and he’s good at soothing hard tempers.  (He must have had a lot of practice with Thranduil, but don’t tell anyone I told you that!) 

Seems the mother died in the fires, and their father was killed in the Battle.  That morning before you all went to the field in front of Erebor, he made her promise to take care of the younger ones.  Galion thinks that promise was what kept her going when we were in the camp, and she has a hard time letting that go.  She thought she was failing her Da if she didn’t do it by herself.  That poor girl; she was a right mess.

For the next few weeks, we are all going to meet to help her work through it.  Once the girl feels better about things, then all will be well, I think.

I’m getting a lot of knitting done.  Sigrid showed me the pair of socks she made you, and here is a pair from me. 

With much love,

Your Hilda

 

* * *

 

To Bard, King of Dale, from Mona and Lynne: 

Dear King Bard,

Thank you for your kindness in releasing us from Ina and Iola’s service officially.  They had been trying to make us come back to work for them, saying we had four more years, but me and Mona decided that we could make our own future, just like everybody else here.

King Thranduil himself, and they gave us the papers you made for us, and they were very kind.  The King and Lady Hilda promised us we were free, and all we had to worry about was to try and learn to read and write and learn weaving like we planned to.

We are asking Bronwyn to write this for us, because we wanted to make sure to say thank you.  You’re a good King.

Regards,

X  Mona’s Mark

X  Lynne’s Mark

 

 

 

 

ELVEN TRANSLATIONS:

Gi suilanthon, Indis – I give greetings to you, Indis

Gwinïg – “Little fingers” a pet name for Tauriel when she was a baby, because she got into everything.

Dagornaw – Chess.  In Westron it’s called “Stratagem”

Meleth nîn - my love

Ci velethron e-guil nîn – You are the love of my life

Hervenn nîn – my husband

Gwinïg – “Little Fingers” A nickname he and Galion used to call her because Tauriel got into things.

Chapter Text

 

The Woodland Realm, 26th of January, 2942, T.A.

Thranduil stuck his head in the door of his chambers, to find everyone sitting down for lunch. 

“Good afternoon, children, how was school?”

“Pretty good.” Sigrid said.  “I’ve got to work more on maths, though.  I’ll do it this afternoon after our riding lesson.”

Tilda grinned.  “Oh, goodie!  We get to ride the horses today!”  She clapped her hands and asked Galion, “Can we get some carrots to take with us?”

Galion was pouring out the milk for the children.  “I’ll send for some.  Have you learned to clean your saddles and bridles?”

Bain looked at Rhys and shrugged, “It’s not so bad, really.  Falarion says the same thing Thranduil always says: taking care of our equipment can save our lives someday.”

“I don’t mind it, so much, either,” Rhys added.  “I like the smell of the oil and soap.”

Thranduil gave the blonde boy a smug smile. “Well, I am afraid, Rhys, that you might miss your riding lesson today.”

“Why? Am I in trouble?”  Rhys looked stricken. 

"You are not, but you might be somewhat busy."  Thranduil opened the door all the way, and entered the room, followed by Alun, Rhys’s father, who had just arrived with the wagons.

“DA!”

Instantly, the boy was out of his chair and into his father’s arms.  Father and son held each other tight for many minutes, as the others looked on with a smile. 

“I missed you so much,” Rhys whispered into his Da’s shirt.  “I’m so glad you’re here!”

“Aye, so am I.  Had to come and see this Palace, and what all the fuss was about, yeah?” Alun smiled down at his son, and tousled his hair.  The man was smiling, but his voice was hoarse.  “I’ve missed you, son.”

Rhys hugged him again.  “I’ve missed you more, Da.  I like it here, a lot, but I’d rather be with you.”

“Oh, my boy…”  Alun rested his chin the top of the boy’s head. 

Once father and son had gained their composure, Thranduil asked Galion to set another place for Alun, and Bain moved his place over, so they could sit together.

“Alun, Galion has set up rooms for you next to his apartment here in this wing.  Rhys, I imagine you would like to stay with your father, while he is here?”

The boy grinned and nodded.  “Aye, My Lord.  But first, Da, I gotta show you my room!  Did you see Esta?”

“No, not yet,” Alun said, just as the dog in question came over and put head on the man’s knee.  He reached down to pet her, saying, “Hello there, Esta.  Pleased to meet you!”  As he scratched behind her ear, he turned back to his son, “So, you’re learning to ride?  I’d like to see that, Rhys.”

“That’s great!  Then after, we can take you around and show you everything!”

Thranduil was enjoying the reunion.  “It is perfectly permissible to observe their lesson, Alun. There is seating in the arena where they practice, so you will be out of the way.  I am hoping to stop in myself, if my meeting ends on time.” 

After a merry lunch, they departed for the barns, while Thranduil reluctantly went back to work. He did manage to stop in and observe the group later, as Falarion had the children trot around the arena, coaching them on their posture, and technique.  He was taken aback to see his Tithen Pen sit so fearlessly astride her grey mare.  He had feared she would be timid and skittish, as she was with so many things, but there she was, with a wide grin on her face, with the stirrups adjusted as high as they could go, to accommodate her short little legs.  Tilda saw him, as she rode around to his side of the arena, and waved.  He shook his head and laughed, as he waved back.

He’d have that child astride an Elk, if it was the last thing he did, although he was sure her Da wouldn't be happy about it.

 

That night, Esta came running into his room, whining, and barking.  He shot out of bed and grabbed his robe, running as he fastened it, as he followed Esta into Bain’s room.  At the same time the night guard ran in from the hall entrance, her hand on the hilt of her sword.  

The Elvenking found the boy thrashing and crying in his sleep, so he sat down on the bed and shook the boy slightly.

“Bain, Bain!  Echuio! Wake up, now.  You must wake up.”  He looked over his shoulder and saw Sigrid and Tilda in the doorway to Bain’s room.  Sigrid looked concerned, and Tilda had started to cry.  Esta whined and went to Tilda and started licking her hand.

“Bain is just dreaming, and I will take care of him, so please do not worry.  Sigrid, could you please look after your sister, and I will be in to see you when I am finished?”

“Can I help, Sire?” the guard asked.

“No thank you, Nualë.  Please return to your duties.”  

“Yes, My Lord.”  The guard went back outside, gently closing the door behind her.

“Come now, Bain.”  He said softly, to the weeping boy.  “All is well; please wake up.  All is well; and you are very safe.  Do you understand?  You are safe.”

Bain, finally seemed to gain awareness, and looked at Thranduil. 

Thranduil asked him.  “Do you know where you are, Ion nin?” As he brushed sweat-soaked hair out of Bain’s eyes. 

“I’m in your Palace.  In Legolas’s bed.”  And the boy’s lips trembled.  “And you’re taking care of us, because my Da…”  The boy started to cry in earnest.  Thranduil pulled Bain into his arms, and rubbed his back, soothing him with some words in Sindarin and Westron, letting him cry it out.

At last, Bain calmed down, then wiped his face.  “I’m sorry.  This is so stupid.”  

 “No, Bain, never think that.”  Thranduil stroked his hair.  “Will you be all right for just a moment?  I need to speak with your sisters, and I will get you something to wash your face, all right?” 

Esta jumped on the bed, and nestled her head on the boy’s thigh; ready to stand guard. At Bain’s nod, Thranduil went into Sigrid and Tilda’s room.  The little one was sitting with Sigrid, sniffling.

“Come now, Tithen pen, it is all right.  Bain had a bad dream, like you have sometimes.”  He sat down on the bed, while Tilda crawled into his lap, and hugged him very tight. 

“It scared me, when he yelled."  She said in a very thin voice.

“I know it did, but, are you not glad I look after you, when you get frightened?"  He felt her nod into his shoulder.  “Now, I must care for your brother.”

“Is Bain scared too?”

“Yes, hênig, so I must go speak with him to make him feel better.  Can you go back to sleep?”  He rubbed her back.

“I don’t know.”  She was still shaking and sniffling.

“If your sister will let you lie down with her for a while, I can go to Bain, yes? When I am finished, I will come back in to see you.  Will you be all right until then?”  He looked over Tilda’s shoulder at Sigrid, who nodded her head, and held out her arms.

“All right.  I’ll try.  But if I’m not asleep, come and get me.”

He kissed her hair.  “I promise.”  He settled the girls down, made sure that Tilda had both Charlotte and Daisy, then left the door open a crack. 

He went into the children’s bathing chamber, and soaked one end of a small towel in water, then brought it back to Bain, so he could soothe his swollen face and wipe his eyes.  When he was finished, Thranduil set it on the table beside the bed and smiled down at him.  “Better?”

“Aye.  Thanks.”  The boy sniffed a little. 

“Can you tell me what you dreamed about, Bain?” Thrandiul asked, still rubbing his arm.

“About Laketown, and… Smaug.”  Bain’s eyes filled.  “I hate these dreams.  They scare me to death.”

“Of course, they do, Ion nîn.  Very few people have faced a Dragon.  Your Da has such dreams, as well."

“He told me that.  When we were at Erebor, and I saw all those claw marks in the stone, they turned my stomach.  Da told me I should try to talk to someone, if I have bad dreams.”

“Your Da is a wise man.” 

The young boy was unaware of the conflict quickly rising in the Elvenking.  This was a difficult subject; one that he was only beginning to share with Galion.  He looked down at Bain again, thoughtfully, and marshalled his courage.  

“Do you wish to speak of it with me?” He asked Bain, who nodded.

“We were all in the boat, with Tauriel and the Dwarves, and I looked up and saw Da in the Bell Tower, trying to kill the Dragon.  Then I remembered the Black Arrow Da told me to hide.  I was the only one who knew where the Arrow was.”

“Is this your dream, or did this really happen?”

“Both.  I jumped out of the boat, got the arrow, and climbed up the tower, where Da had just shot the last Arrow he had.  He saw me, and yelled at me for not leaving.  But I had to help him!  Otherwise he’d die!”

“You are right, Ion nîn; if you had not done this, he would have died. Can you tell me what happened next?”

“Well, the dragon hit the tower and I almost fell off.  I was only holding on with one hand, and I couldn’t let go of the Arrow.  Da dragged me up again, and put me down, and grabbed Arrow from me, and the Dragon talked to him….”

Thranduil’s eyes grew wide, his own distress momentarily forgotten, as he pictured his brave husband, and his equally brave son.  “Smaug spoke to your Da?  And this all actually happened?”

Bain nodded.  “He threatened Da and said he was going to kill me.”  Bain gave Thranduil a small, wry smile.  “That was stupid.  He thought he’d scare Da, but it just made him really mad!  He started swearing – my Da swears a lot when he gets mad.”

 “I am aware of your father’s colorful use of language.” Thranduil smiled.  “Please go on.”

“Da jammed the two pieces of the bow into some holes where the railings used to be, and restrung it -”

“Just a moment.  Are you telling me that your Da shot that Black Arrow with a broken bow?”

Bain, feeling a bit better, smiled.  “Aye!  That’s why he needed me to stand in front of him and use my shoulder…”

“Your shoulder?”

Bain nodded.  “I had to help him steady the Arrow, so he could aim it.”

Thranduil’s eyes widened in surprise.  “What happened then, Bain?”

“The dragon came closer, and I got really scared.  I turned around to see, but Da told me not to look.  He said to only look at his face, so I did. Then Da saw the missing scale!  I had to move a little bit here and there to get the angle right, but then he let it go, and it went right into its heart!”

Thranduil sat back, and ran his hand over his face.  This was not something Bard had ever told him.  Then again, he had never asked the Bowman exactly what happened that night.  “You and your father showed much courage.”

“I have a scar, wanna see?”  Bain unbuttoned his pajama top and showed Thranduil the thin line running across his chest.

“Ai!” Thranduil said when he saw it. “Does it hurt you?”

“Nuh-uh,” Bain shook his head. “And I didn’t feel brave at all; I was really scared.  And Da must’ve been afraid, but he was furious, because that thing wanted to kill me.”

“Few things anger a parent more, than when his children are threatened.  Someday, Bain, when you have children of your own, you will see.   A good parent does not tolerate this, and Bard is the best parent I have ever seen.  He was very smart, too.  Do you know why?”

“Why?”

“Because your father used that anger and fear to his advantage.  He used it to give him the courage and make him stronger.  Many, many people do not do that, and they do foolish things.  That is certainly something to think about, is it not?”

Bain considered this, blowing his nose again. 

“Is that all that happened in your dream, Bain?”

“No.  I dreamed that when I almost fell off the tower, I really fell, and I saw the Dragon kill my Da.”  Bain’s face was stricken.  “It felt so real…”

“Dreams like that always are.  And they are difficult to wake from.  Your Da is right to tell you to speak about it.  I did not know this, until I met him.”

“You, too?”  Bain’s eyes seem disbelieving.  “I mean, you’re this great warrior and all…”

“I may be a great warrior, as you say, but I, too, have haunting dreams.  I have for a very long time, and I once thought like you did, Bain.”

“Really?  I saw you for a little bit in the Battle, and you were fearless!”

“No, Bain.  I was not without fear.  In fact, may I tell you something that your sisters do not know?  I have spoken of this with your father, but I think you, too, deserve to know.”

Bain looked at him, and nodded his head, solemnly.  “I promise I won’t tell anybody.  Not even Da, if you don’t want me to.”

“I believe you.  You are your father’s son, and a excellent boy in your own right.  What I want to tell you is this:  I, too have –“  Thranduil took a deep breath. “Bain, you, your Da, and me are the only persons alive on Middle Earth today, who know what it is like to face, and kill a Dragon.”

Bain’s mouth gaped, his eyes bugging out.  “YOU!” he squealed loudly.  After Thranduil shushed him, Bain whispered, “I mean, you?  When?”

“A very, very long time ago, during a terrible War. I cannot speak of the details, I am sorry. I still struggle with the memories of it.  I simply wish for you to know, you are not alone in things like this.  When you spoke of how your Da’s anger helped him protect you, it is that same anger that I felt, trying to protect and save my people.”

Bain’s eyes were still wide, still trying to let it sink in. 

Thranduil stroked Bain’s hair again.  “I am sorry you had a nightmare.  But I am glad you trusted me enough to tell me about it.”  He smiled at the boy who was looking at him in a new light, with a face so like his husband.  “I am also glad I could talk to you about my experience, as well.  After thousands of years, I am learning to be brave, like you and your Da.” 

Bain reached out to hug the Elvenking, “I’m sorry for what you went through, but I’m glad you told me.  I felt like no one would understand, except Da, and he’s not here.  I didn’t feel like I couldn’t say anything.”

Thranduil rested his cheek on top of the boy’s head.  “You can always, always come and talk to me, if you need to.  Even if you think I will not understand, I promise I will listen and try to help you.  Never keep things bottled up, like a certain very grumpy Elvenking did.”  He smiled.

“You’re not grumpy.  Well, you were kind of mean, but not anymore, you’re not. I mean –“  Bain pulled back and looked at him, awkwardly.

Thranduil chuckled quietly.  “No, you are right, Bain.  I was very grumpy.  But then, some things happened to change that.  Hard things, but I am glad they did.  Then I met your father, who saw right through my bad temper, and didn’t let it stop him.  And now, we are married, and we are a family, are we not?”

“I’m glad you married Da.  He’s happy, and so are you.  I miss him, though.”

“Oh, Bain, I miss him, too."  Thranduil ruffled Bains's hair.

"Will I always have terrible dreams?"

"Only time will tell, Bain.  Dragons are evil creatures, and no one who encounters such things walks away unscathed, in some way.  It is my hope that, in time, the severity of these dreams will lessen, for all three of us."

"We Dragonslayers have to stick together, don't we?"

Thranduil laughed a little.   "We do. But we will keep very busy and the time will pass before we know it.  Soon, we will all be together again.  Do you feel like you could go back to sleep, now?”

“Aye.  I feel a lot better.  Thanks for coming, and talking to me.”  Bain settled down on the pillow.

“Of course, Ion nîn.  I will always come to help you,” Thranduil pulled his covers over him.

“What does ‘Ion nîn’ mean?” Bain asked.

Thranduil stood, and smiled down at him.  “It means ‘My son.’”

Bain smiled, before he turned over to face the wall, closing his eyes.  “I like that. Good night, Ada.”

 

Thranduil’s wide grin followed him out of Bain’s bedroom door, into the girls’ room, to make sure they were all right – they were both sound asleep.  He very gently took Tilda and laid her down on her own bed, and covered her up, kissing her brow.  He grinned when he tiptoed back over to Sigrid, making sure she was warm, and gave her a kiss on her hair. 

He grinned all the way back to his own chambers, where he settled back into bed, and stared at his ceiling of stars, his hands tucked behind his head. 

Bain had called him Ada, like it was the most natural thing in the world. 

He had talked to the boy about the dragon he killed, and it hadn’t crippled him.

And all this had happened while he was sitting on the bed he and Mírelen had once shared, and it hadn’t upset him.

He couldn’t wait to tell Galion and Bard.

 

 

LETTERS FROM DALE

 

 

To Thranduil from Bard:

Hello love,

So glad to get the box of letters and reports; we’re all relieved to hear how well Rhys is doing!

As you can see, I’ve sent Alun to you and Rhys for a visit.  He needs to see his boy, and I don’t blame him.  If it were me, I’d walk there, if I had to, if one of my kids had been hurt!  See if Galion can put him in Hilda’s spare room, and send him back with the next supply wagon. 

I’m not surprised the kids wanted to put the boy in their apartment.  Like Rhian, he needs to feel safe, and being with the children in a heavily guarded Royal wing will help.  You were kind to do this, but that doesn’t surprise me.

Now, back to some unpleasant business.  With regards to Ina and Iola, I’m not sure what to do with them, when they come back.  Frankly, I don’t want them in Dale, as their mouths would do more harm than good, but I don’t want to be that sort of King – one that discredits and banishes any who disagree with him.  To my mind that is just being weak.  From the letter they originally wrote, I see that their own father was abusive, and perhaps they have been denied the opportunity that Alun had given to his son.  They are angry, unhappy ladies, yes, but remember how we spoke about how deep unhappiness can make someone behave like that?

Would you consider making sure that the Elves who tend to the ladies show them kindness and patience?  I still think they need to cut off from the rest of the population, but since they are now separated, perhaps now would be the time for them to reflect on their lives, in solitude, then begin to see for themselves how one should act.  There are no easy answers, but just as you had to be confronted before you found the impetus to change, perhaps this is their opportunity.  If they choose not to take it, then we will deal with that.

Love, I can’t tell you how proud I am that you’ve been able to speak with Galion about your ordeal during the War!  I think it will help, and it won’t always be so hard to do.  I also think it’s better to speak with someone who was actually there, doesn’t it?  Not that the subject will ever be easy, but you’ve made a start.  Galion could be right about the what started this trouble, so this might be getting at the root of things. 

As for that terrible night, when my dreams were so out of control I struck out at you, I still feel as if I’m the one who should be apologizing!  I’d no idea I had done that, and I’m still horrified.  Thranduil, don’t feel bad. If you had been able to talk about it then, you would have.  Didn’t we have a bargain?  You were going to work on letting go of the past and stop feeling so guilty?  I’m keeping up my end of the deal, and working on my handwriting and spelling, so now it’s your turn.  Stop berating yourself and let it go.  You learned something very important about yourself, and that’s what counts.

  Galion told me about your surprise little desk in his office, and I love it!  Sigrid and Bain have always been more physically active than Tilda was at that stage, so make sure she spends some time running around for the exercise.  I completely approve of your Chief Aide sending our Little Bean to nap with her Auntie Hil.  If that’s what it takes to get that lady to slow down some, I’m all for it.

And, you sneak, you appear to have won the argument about the kids petting the Elk.  My warning about losing your own fingers if they lose theirs, still stands…

I can imagine your Royal Wing is quite noisy and active these day, what with four children, several adults and a new baby!  Speaking of babies, can you let me know how Rhian and the boy are coming along?   Please give me an update.  How is Daeron doing? He had quite to ordeal, too.  The kids say he’s working with them again, but I want to be sure he’s all right.  I hope he and Rhian continue to be friends.  I can’t say if there is something more there; if there is, I honestly don’t have a problem with it.  Being loved by an Elf is something I highly recommend…

Thanks for a blow-by-blow description of how things went in court.  I wish I could have seen you in action!  I’ve yet to see you on that high throne of yours, in all your glory.  Maybe when the Castle’s finished I’ll let you make me one of those things, ha ha.  Or better yet, next time I’m there, you and I can go up there and…. 

Don’t mind me.  I’m just a King who misses his husband and his children.  Really, really misses his husband.  There are some things a giant, snoring, farting dog can’t make up for, if you know what I mean.

You have no idea how much I am missing you.  And I am missing the children just as much.  I still feel “more” inside my heart, since marrying you, and that’s all I will say, but you know what I mean.  I’m working very hard, both to get my city done, and also because I can’t stand still for a minute without feeling your absence.  I’ve never been separated from my kids, and I feel the same loneliness when I think of you.  Which is all the time…

When we see each other again, I don’t think I’m going to let go of the children for days on end, and I won’t let you go for nights on end…

All right, enough whining.  Just let me know how Sigrid’s birthday went.  I hated missing it.  I hate missing anything you all are doing.

I need to get back to work.  I can’t stand being idle – it makes the time drag, and just makes this horrible winter seem longer.  Please, I know we have separate Kingdoms, but let’s not ever be separated so long again? 

Gi Melin, Thranduil.  Always.

Your Bard

P.S.  I’m still waiting for my drawing of you, although the ones Tilda makes are pretty accurate…

P.P.S.  I miss the Elf Thing…  Work some of  Elven magic to make the time go faster, will you?  I need to see you!

 

 

* * *

 

To Glélindë from Feren:

Melethril ni ́n, Glélindë,

I can easily picture you caring for our girls, and for their grandfather.  Gruffudd is an interesting man.  I have enjoyed my talks with him, and have learned much about the race of Men in general.  He has lived much in his very short life, and has a wisdom I had not known existed in these people.  For all his hardships, he has a keen sense of humor.  He misses his wife, daughter and son-in-law very much, and he told me many things about them. 

I am glad you told me about little Alis’s question about her parents.  It speaks to the same concern I have, and I agree with your solution.  Gruffudd has been wonderful in sharing so many stories about his family, and I would like to see these stories written down, at some point, because Alis and Dafina deserve to know all about their birth parents.  This might help them to know how much we love them, and it will help them to know themselves better.  Every child deserves to know where she comes from. 

I feel our separation keenly this winter, Meleth nîn.  I have always loved you, and we have lived our lives this way since before we were married, but now that we have a family, I can hardly stand the separation.  Human children grow so fast, and I hate the idea of missing a day of it!  I pray this winter goes swiftly.  I think, after we have established a home here in Dale, we will keep our home in the Woodland Realm, as well, so you all can move with me.  I do not want us to be separated again. I want to see you, and our little curly-haired treasures every moment I can. 

What is your daily life like, with our girls?  Please write me every detail, so I can picture their beautiful mother taking care of our new family. 

Please look after yourself, Lindë and be gentle with yourself as you learn the skills and joys of being a mother.  Do not hesitate to ask Lady Hilda for help if you feel overwhelmed.

Smile for me, and think of me, always, Meleth nîn.

Feren

P.S.  As neither of our children can read, I have drawn some pictures for them, of the Hall, and the houses being built and the things we are doing.  I have never been any sort of artist, but I hope the girls enjoy them.

 

* * *

 

From Bard to Galion

Greetings to you, Lord Galion,

I would pay good money to see our little one working away at her desk in your office!  Just don’t let her Ada spoil her too much, or he will face Hilda’s wrath, and you’ll all have to cover your ears!   

So…  “Uncle Galion,” eh?  I am perfectly fine with it.  I told Tauriel, and she grinned from ear to ear, upon hearing this.  You are an important part of our family, and she tells me she and Legolas love you dearly, so trust me, the more the merrier!

Thanks for arranging the legal papers so efficiently for me.  I did receive the original the “poison pen” letter from those two ladies, and I’ve also written him my thoughts as to their treatment. 

I still believe, at this point, they need to be separated from the rest of the population of Dale.  All of my people have been traumatized, and do not need the negativity.  We all need to recover, and I suppose those ladies do, too.  Let us hope their solitary confinement, as I wrote to your King, causes them to reflect.

I am pleased to hear of no reports of sickness amongst my people.  I know that this time of year it’s common for them to have colds and coughs.  I know that for us, no one has ever found a cure for these things, we just have to wait it out, but perhaps Elves can help.  Please ask Elénaril to speak with Hannah, the Midwife about this.  Forewarned is forearmed, that’s my motto.

Again, thanks for being such a good help to my husband, a good Uncle to my children, and for being part of our family.

Regards,

Bard, King of Dale.

 

* * *

 

To Sigrid from Bard:

Hello, My Girl,

Percy loves the socks you made him, and yes, I’m sending you two that need repaired.  Anything you can send me to keep warm is much appreciated.  I might be married now, but I still need my best girl to look after my fingers and toes, yeah?

Your Ada told me how beautiful Queen Mírelen was, but I’m anxious to see it for myself.  He’s right about your remembering your Mam.  You should never think that we want any of you to forget about your mother.  We need to keep her memories alive, so that they can live on in you, and all your future deeds.  My own Da, was very important to me, and he still is.  When I become officially crowned, I want to dedicate my reign to him and all he taught me.  He too, was a descendant of Girion, and this Kingdom belongs just as much to him as to the rest of us. 

So glad to hear Rhian is doing well.  She will need a lot of time, and even more patience, to heal the hurts she has.  Your visits there are good for her; just remember to follow Hannah’s lead and do what she suggests.  It makes sense that she wants you to be cheerful and normal around Rhian.  From what I’ve found out about her life, it’s probably the only taste of this she’s ever had. 

I can’t wait to see you again.  All of you.  I’m sorry you were upset and lonesome for me, and please know I miss you all just as much.  You’re right to keep busy – it’s the only thing that keeps me sane and tires me out so I can sleep.  Just focus on the new city we’re trying to build and what our life will be like.  Focus on your schoolwork and learning as much as you can in the Healing Halls.  I can’t tell you how proud I am of you.

I love you,

Your Da

 

* * *

 

To Bain from Bard

Hello, son,

So finally, the boys don’t outnumber the girls!  I’m happy that Rhys is with you kids.  So is his Da.  Alun was overjoyed when I told him, and you must write me all about their visit.

Enjoy your sword and archery practice, boys, but don’t neglect your studies, all right?  And do me a favor?  Watch your little sister around the Elk.  She seems to like them, and, of course the Elvenking can refuse her nothing, but make sure she’s safe, all right?

Look after each other, and if you keep at it, perhaps you might even beat Thranduil at Stratagem! 

I feel terrible about missing your sister’s birthday, and I hope you all made a fuss over her and helped her have a good day.  Yours is next, but thankfully, it’s late enough in the year that we’ll all be together.  I’m sure by now you’ve learned that Elves don’t celebrate the day of birth, they have “begetting days.”  It’s very different than how we do things, but I expect all of you to respect the differences between our cultures, even if you don’t always understand them. 

You will be a King, someday, Bain.  I promise, I’m not going to be the kind of Da that will constantly rub your nose in it, but there are times when I can’t avoid it.  As a Crown Prince, I need to you set the example in your attitude, so the other boys and girls know how to act.

I heard that history is your favorite subject.  Mine is too.  I’m learning about our Kingdom the same as you, and it’s fascinating, isn’t it?

Love you son,

Your Da

 

* * *

 

To Tilda from Bard:

To Lady Tilda, the New Aide of the Woodland Realm:

  I hear your Uncle Galion can’t run the Kingdom without you now! Keep things running smoothly for your Ada.  Galion also tells me you help make sure Auntie Hil gets naps when she needs them.  Good for you.  If you need to lie down with her to make sure she gets her rest, then you just do that.  We love, Auntie Hil, don’t we?

I’m so proud of your writing.  You’re working very hard, and I can see the improvement.  Learning to spell can be hard, and it’s frustrating, but you must work hard at it.  You’ll get the hang of it, before you know it.  Now that you have lots of books to read, that will help, love.

I thank you kindly for the picture of Ada.  I keep asking him to draw one of himself, but I think I like yours better.

I know you love to see the Elk, Little Bean, but please be careful.  Do you still visit the dogs at the barracks and the horses?  I hear there are lots of cats in the Palace, too.  Can you draw me some pictures of those?

I love you and miss my baby girl, but you keep up with your schoolwork, and make sure that you get plenty of time to run around and play, all right?

Love you every minute of the day,

Your Da

 

* * *

 

To Hilda from Bard

Dear Hil,

So glad to hear you’re feeling better.  You just make sure to lie down in the afternoons if you need to.  Our Little Bean is smart as a whip for putting herself in charge of your naps.  Sounds like you both benefit from it.

Valar, Hil, our oldest is sixteen already!  I can hardly stand not being there to see her big day, but I can imagine she looked beautiful at the party.  Tell me all about it! She’s such a smart, sharp young lady, but she is still a girl.  How many years did she feel like she had to take her Mam’s place?  Now that our lives are different, I want her to have a chance to be young, without the responsibilities that she had forced on her.  She deserves that.  Now, as to your crazy husband.  He’s hearty and hale, and no longer making a fool of me.  Thangon is my favorite weapon!  Just toss him an Elvish biscuit and send to lie down on Percy’s bed, and, Bob’s your Uncle, no more problem.  Ha ha.  Don’t worry.  He’ll come up with some dastardly way to get me back for smelling up his room, I have no doubt. 

I will say this, but if you tell Percy, I’ll deny it: we all need the laughter, and I love your husband for helping the chase away the gloom.  We miss you people and it cheers us all up mightily.

Keep an eye on everyone for me, and know that none of this would be possible without you!

Love,

Bard

P.S.  Oh!  Have you spoken to Daeron and Elénaril about making sure they’re ready for colds and whatnot?  Remember, Elves don’t have illnesses like we do, and I want to make sure everyone is ready.

 

* * *

 

To Sigrid, Bain and Tilda from Percy

Hello kids,

Glad to get your letter about your friend, Rhys.  The boy’s Da has been frantic, and I’m sure at the moment he is enjoying their surprise reunion. 

The homes have been going up pretty fast, we have several crews of Elves, Dwarves and Men working together and some are finished, even!  We’ve got a long way to go, and the snowstorm didn’t help, but we’ll do what we can. 

In the meantime, we all have been playing games and singing songs and having a good time.  I can’t play tricks on your Da anymore.  He got really mean and made his dog stink up my room!  So I guess I’ll have to behave.

We all miss you, Sea Monsters, but you take care of each other and keep busy until we can see you again.

Love,

Uncle Percy

 

* * *

 

To Thranduil from Tauriel,   

Suilad, Ada,

Sigrid told me about the picture I drew, and I am sorry it made you sad.  I confess, I do not remember drawing it.  I must have been small.  You were always so sad, and I wanted to you feel happy, I remember that.  Please do not dwell on the past, because I know you think that you hurt me a great deal because of your sadness.  You did not.

I have been keeping active, training with Bard vigorously, and when I am off-duty, I enjoy helping to build the houses.  You would be amused to learn that pounding nails for hours and hours works out a great deal of anxiety!

I have taken Bard’s suggestion, and spent more time with the Dwarves, particularly Dwalin and Balin, who were with Kili and his brother since their childhood.  At first, it was difficult to speak of him, but I have noticed that Dwarves have a wonderful way of celebrating the lives of their kin, however brief.  After a time, I found I myself enjoying all these stories of Kili, especially the misdeeds of he and Fili’s youth! 

Farien enjoys her time on the hearth, all curled up before the fire, purring.  She stays here most of the time while I am out with Bard, as he builds with the rest of the crews. 

I am impressed at how we all are working together, now.  There was a bit of a problem, last week with couple of young Dwarves, who didn’t want to listen to Gloin or work with the Elves.  Apparently, he sent word to Erebor about it, because the next day, King Dáin himself came and sorted it.

He took them home with him, after stating those two will be emptying chamber pots for everyone in Erebor for the next month, until they can, and I quote, “get their bloody shite together.”  I do not know how Bard kept a straight face!  After they all left, the entire Hall started laughing, and I admit, I joined them. 

The next day, two other Dwarves came, from the Original Company, Bombur and Nori, and things were back to normal. 

Feren and I continue to work with Bard and he improves.  That is all I will say, but I know you are pleased to hear this.

King Dáin’s family, along with others from the Iron Hills will be joining them at Erebor in the spring.  I’ve heard that Lady Di ́s might come for a visit, eventually.  She is now ruler of the Blue Mountains, so she will be unable to stay permanently, but she wants to see where her brother and her sons are buried.  Bard is looking forward to meeting her, and to thank her for her sons’ bravery.  I must tell you, Ada – I am nervous at the idea of meeting her.  What if she hates me, because I am not a Dwarf?

Maybe that is silly.  I have never been in this position before, and I do not know what to do.  I hope I see you to talk with you about this before she comes, but if not, what do you think?  I do not know what to say to her.  I need your help and advice Ada.  This is confusing.  Bard keeps telling me that I have nothing to be nervous about, but I would feel better hearing it from you and Galion.

I must go close for now.  The caravan is about to return to you, and I need to make sure I write to everyone.  Please hug the children for me.

Mil,

Tauriel

 

* * *

 

To Sigrid, Bain and Tilda from Tauriel:  

Suilad, children of Dale,

Thank you for the diary.  I have enjoyed reading through my thoughts as a young elleth.  My spelling was terrible!  Mostly what I wrote was very silly things about my favorite horse, my favorite dress, and my friends.  Nothing important to anyone else, but it is nice to remember these things.

I miss you all, and hope you are keeping up your studies.  And please do not worry. Your Uncle Percy would not dare to play jokes on me – I am much too quick, and he knows I can make him really suffer!

I am sorry to hear about your troubles with Ina and Iola, but I am very glad to hear that your friend, Rhys is staying with you now, and is safe.  Please tell him I am happy for him.

And Miss Tilda, your writing is improving! Your letters and very straight and neat, and I can see you are working very hard and spelling things correctly.  And Tithen Pen, you did nothing wrong in giving Ada my picture, and we both are very glad you did. 

My cat, Farien, is happy here, and especially loves the bed I made her by my fireplace.  She has been busy keeping the Castle free of mice, and she likes to keep me company the rest of the day. 

Please be good to each other, and never stop looking after Ada and Galion. 

Love,

Tauriel

 

* * *

 

To Hilda from Percy:  

Greetings to my wife,

Well, my feet are toasty warm, thanks to you and our Sigrid, I thank you kindly.  She’s quite good at it the socks now, isn’t she?  I wish I still had the first pair she made for me, remember?  She was so proud of them and it was hard not to laugh – one was way too small, and the other was huge and full of holes, but you’d have thought she was handing me a chest full of gold, she was that proud of herself.  I told her they were my favorite pair, and they still are, even if they are now ashes. 

I’m proud of you for helping our kids stand up to the bullying from those two ladies.  I read their letter and it sounds to me like those two ladies didn’t have such a great time from Rhys’s great-grandfather.  Everything I heard about that man – Ioan, was his name – said he was as nasty as they came.  The whole thing makes me angry, but there’s no point in dwelling on it.

I’m glad you’re there and can keep checking on the little ones of Dale.  I agree with you about Tilda.  I don’t think of her as a spy for Thranduil, as much as a way for the little ones to be heard.  Glad to hear its working out with that big family.

Listen, love.  Bard just asked me to finish up. The caravan wants to make their way to you as long as there’s a break in the weather.

Love,

Your Percy

* * *

 

To Galion from Tauriel:

Suilad Galion,

So, I hear you have an Assistant in the afternoons!  I can picture little Tilda sitting beside you, working away, and it reminds me of all the times I spent there with you.  I can also see Tilda napping in the chair you always like to have there.  I cannot wait to see you again.

I have visited Erebor overnight again, and I enjoyed myself immensely.  I don’t go there as often as I would like, because I must look after Bard, but he had been kind to allow me to visit my friends.  Bard spends his mornings in meetings, but in the afternoons, he goes out to the different building crews.  He likes to work with them, and not just stand and watch, and I respect this about him. 

As much as I miss the Palace, Galion, and I always will, I feel happy to be here.  It is terrible to be separated from you and the children, of course, but this place is beginning to feel like home.  Bard and I have spent many evenings talking, over a game of Draughts, and I can see why Ada fell in love with him.  They are perfect for each other!    

Of course, our family would never be complete without you.  You give yourself little credit, but you truly have been the glue that has held us all together, and we all know this.  I can’t wait to see you again, dearer than Uncle!

Mil, Tauriel

 

 

 

 

ELVEN TRANSLATIONS:

 

Melethril nîn, Glélindë, - To my love, Glélindë

Suilad, Ada, - Greetings, Dad

Mellon nîn – My friend.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The Woodland Realm, 31st of January, 2942, T.A. (Sigrid’s birthday)

Thranduil rolled over in his big bed, and contemplated his ceiling full of stars, as he woke up.  He closed his eyes and turned inward, as he did every morning, to feel Bard’s presence in his heart.  And it was there; he was far away from his love, but he was still present within him, and it was a comfort. He put his hand to his chest, in an unconscious move, and rubbed in small, gentle circles.  It wasn’t possible, from this distance, to feel Bard’s emotions, but there was no aching void.  It had only been three months since he and Bard had met and fallen in love, and only six weeks since they joined in marriage, yet his heart had shifted around so easily to accommodate all that life with Bard meant.  Three more children had easily moved into his life and carved out permanent places in his heart.  They were giving him joy, and he was quickly learning how much delight could be found in the most ordinary moments of their lives:  Helping Sigrid with her Sindarin lessons, watching Tilda’s sweet face, as she napped, and talking with Bain.  

He had not been this happy since Legolas was small, and he and Mírelen were chasing him all around the Palace.

Since the night of Bain’s nightmare, his bond with the boy became stronger.  Each greatly admired the other in a new way:  Bain sought him out more, and they had gone for several walks in the King's garden, talking about whatever was on Bain's mind.  The boy asked Thranduil many questions about soldiering, and Thranduil was happy to share his wisdom and advice with both him, and Rhys.  Bain also had questions about what it took to be a King.  The boy told him how much he wanted to be a good one, when the time came.

Tilda was enjoying life in the Palace. In the afternoons, Thranduil would often peek through the doorway to Galion's office, and watch his Little One work at her miniature desk.  She had a habit of biting on the corner of her lower lip when she was really concentrating, and he found it adorable.  Yesterday, she ran up to him after classes, jumping up and down with excitement, so he scooped her up in his arms, so she could show him the beginnings of two "grownup teeth" that were coming in.  He and Galion made a big show of admiration, and predicted that they would be the finest teeth the Woodland Realm.

Sigrid was a wonder to him.  Thranduil admired her tenacity and intelligence, but he also admired her compassion.  She was a "doer" like Hilda, but she was softer; the perfect combination to be an effective Healer.  He enjoyed sitting with her in the evenings, reading aloud while she sat beside him with her knitting or her sewing.  Every once in a while, she would stop and lean her head on his shoulder and smile.  

The best part of parenting, he found, was when he made his nighttime "rounds."  When Legolas was little, either his wife or a nurse took care of it, so this was new to him, and a quiet, beautiful surprise. Thranduil made a point each night, to check all the children before he retired, to put Bain's book away and turn down his lamp, to make sure Rhys was tucked in with Esta, and to pull up Tilda's covers, and make sure Charlotte and Daisy were in her arms.  Sigrid would always sleep on her side, snuggled in the blankets up to her nose, so he would lightly kiss her brow, close their door, and make sure the lamp was lit in their privy, before went to his own bedchamber.

 He hated this separation from Bard, and he missed Tauriel terribly, but his growing affection for each of the children was a wonderful consolation.

Thranduil smiled once more at the ceiling, then quickly threw back the covers to wash and dress; there was no more time for contemplation; today was Sigrid’s birthday!

Once finished with his morning ablutions, Thranduil made his way to the front of his apartment.  Galion was already there, getting the breakfast table laid out. 

“Good morning, My Lord.  I believe the children are still asleep, but I plan to get them up momentarily.”

“Thank you, Galion, but I shall do it, this morning.”  He smiled at his Steward.  “I want to get our 'birthday child' up.”

Galion smiled back.  “It is difficult to get used to, is it not?  Elven children are still very small at the age of sixteen, yet our Sigrid is almost grown!  It is fascinating, but I am enjoying it very much.”

“I am, as well, Mellon nîn.”  Thranduil said.  “The race of Men know how to make the most of their time on Middle Earth, and do not run from life.  There is much we can learn from that.”

He opened the door to the children’s apartment, and found Bain, sitting on the couch, dressed, but barely awake.  “Good morning; did you sleep well?”

Bain looked up, still bleary. “Aye.  I’m trying to wake up so I can take Esta outside.”

Thranduil grinned. “Please hurry, Ionneg; we have a busy day ahead.”

Bain got up and opened the Hallway door, where Daeron met him, grinning.  “I see you are finally out of bed, Lord Bain!  We need to hurry, or you will be late for breakfast.” Daeron saluted Thranduil, “Good morning, My Lord.”

“Good morning to you, Lieutenant.  This morning, we are having a small breakfast celebration, so please do not allow the Bain and Esta to linger.”

“As you wish.” The Elf whistled, “Tulê, Esta!” and the sheep dog ran out to him, and into the hallway, as the Guard shut the door behind them.

Thranduil went to the girls’ bedroom door and knocked. 

“Come in,” said a small, sleepy voice.

He opened the door to find Sigrid dressed, and brushing out her hair, and Tilda, sitting up in her bed and yawning, as she stretched her arms.  “Morning, Ada.”

“Good morning to you, Tithen Pen!  It is not like you to still be in your night clothes; did you sleep well?”

“I think I slept good.  I don’t remember.”  She rubbed her eyes, then crawled out of bed with Charlotte and held up her arms to be picked up, which, of course, he did.

“I think that is a sign that you had a good night’s sleep.”  He kissed her cheek and booped her nose.  Then he turned to Sigrid.  “How are you feeling, now that you are older?”

The young lady smiled, “I don’t feel any different, really.  Maybe it’ll hit me at the party tonight.”

“I feel older!” piped up Tilda. “It’ll be so much fun!  Am I going to dance?”

Thranduil nodded.  “You are. I hope you will save a dance for me, Hênig.” Then he put the girl down.  “Go to the necessary and then wash.  Bain is taking the dog out, and Galion is getting breakfast ready for us.”

“Are Rhys and his Da coming for breakfast?"

“They will be at the party tonight.  This breakfast is for just family.  Now, please go.” He patted her head, and steered her in the right direction.

After Tilda handed Charlotte to him and took off, Thranduil went to Sigrid and kissed her head.  “You seem grown up to me.”  He smiled at her reflection in the looking glass.  “And beautiful, too.”

Sigrid turned around and wrapped her arms around his waist.  “Thanks, Ada. I suppose I’ll feel older when I’m all dressed up tonight.  Can’t I have a hint about my dress?”

“No, you may not.  In any case, I have no hints to give you.  The Tailor's Guild has kept your dresses secret, even from me.”

She asked him, “Why won’t they tell you, at least?”

“Perhaps they know if you ask me nicely, I can refuse you nothing, Iellig.” He quirked an eyebrow at her.

Sigrid sighed, and leaned her head against him.  “I wish Da was here.” 

“I do, as well.  But, we shall think of him today, and we will write and tell him all about it.  He will be anxious to get those letters, I am sure, so we must work very hard to enjoy ourselves, yes?”

“So, we’ll have good things to write about?”  She smiled up at him.

“Exactly. And he will be happy to get them.”  He turned her around to face the mirror.  “Come, let me help you with your hair.  Yours is so much easier than your Da’s.  At least you don’t look like a wild, black Warg in the mornings.”

Sigrid giggled, as Thranduil brushed and braided it.  Once Tilda was dressed, and he helped her with her hair, Bain came back with Esta, so they all went in to breakfast.

Tilda ran to Galion, “Good morning Uncle Galion!  Today is Sigrid birthday!” and she gave him a hug. 

“Indeed! Is that not wonderful?  Many happy returns, Lady Sigrid.”

Sigrid went over and kissed Galion’s cheek.  “Thank you,” she smiled at him.

Just then, the door opened, and in walked Hilda, who enveloped Sigrid in a hug.  “Oh, my girl!  Sixteen today!  I can hardly believe it!” She stepped back and looked at the girl up and down.  “You’re so tall!  I don’t know how this happened – it seems like you were only a baby an hour ago!”

Tilda rolled her eyes.  “That can’t be true, Auntie Hil.”

“Well, it feels true.” Hilda replied smoothly. “Hello everybody.  Ready to face the day?”

Bain said, hopefully, “Since it’s Sigrid’s birthday, does that mean we still have to go to school?”

All three adults, and the birthday girl answered, “YES!”

“I told you," Tilda whispered to him, jabbing him with her elbow.

They all sat down as breakfast was served.  Since this was a special occasion, the guards brought the food, and Galion sat and ate with them, next to Tilda and Charlotte.

During the meal, everyone was talking about the party.  Sigrid was especially excited, and her eyes danced when she talked about the special arrangements she made for all other birthdays this month. 

Thranduil had originally planned a party just for her in the Dining Hall, but last week she approached him with an idea:  She wanted the party to be for everyone from Dale who was celebrating a birthday in January.  Touched by her generosity, he, of course agreed.

“Tonight will be great! I just want food and dancing and everyone to have a good time.  I hope they believed me when I said, ‘No Presents.’”

Tilda looked at her like she had lost her mind.  “Sigrid!  The reason you have birthdays is so you can get presents!"

Thranduil noticed Tilda still looked a little tired, and her cheeks were a bit flushed.  He had been surprised to find her still in bed this morning; usually she’s the first one up and very cheerful.  Hilda, was scrutinizing their little one, as well. 

When their eyes met, Hilda shrugged.  Tilda seemed cheery enough, so perhaps there was no reason to worry.

“Well, I don’t want anyone to get me anything.” Sigrid had been explaining.  “Everyone from Dale lost most of what they had, and aren’t as lucky as we are.  It would be selfish to expect gifts from people who hardly have anything.”

Hilda smiled, “That’s my girl.  Spoken like a good Princess.”

Thranduil wiped his mouth and put his napkin down, then stood. “Excuse me for a moment.”  He went into his bedchamber and retrieved an ornate wooden box from a shelf in his dressing room, then returned to the table.  He set it in front of a wide-eyed Sigrid, saying,

“Fathers are exempt from this 'no-gifts' rule, of course.  Happy Birthday, Iellig.”

She looked up at him in shock, “But…  Wh…”

Thranduil laughed.  “I am often told you resemble your mother, but when you are bemused, you look just like your Da!”

“Open it!” squealed Tilda.  “Let me see!”

“First, you must read this.”  Thranduil handed her a letter. 

Sigrid broke the seal and began to read:  

Happy birthday, my beautiful, grownup girl!

How does it feel to be sixteen?  You’re growing up so fast…  I still remember the day you were born.  When your Auntie Hil finally sent for me, I needed to lean on your Uncle Percy for support to get from his house back home.  I'd been so nervous, that Uncle Percy had to ply me with enough ale to knock over a horse.  I was a wreck, pacing the floor for hours, waiting for word, and it was driving him crazy!

I remember the day I first laid eyes on your mother, and it was like being struck by a lightning bolt.  I fell in love right then and there.  It was the exact same feeling, when they first put my baby girl in my arms…  You were just so beautiful and tiny and, I must tell you, you were screaming your head off!  You weren’t quite sure what to make of this new world you were born into, and so far, you didn’t like it much. 

Both your Grandfathers showed up at the house a few minutes later.  Your Granddad Bain had come from Dorwinian for the occasion.  You were the first grandchild on both sides of our family, you see, and so my Da invited him to stay until you were born.  Those two always had a grand time, when they got together.  They acted like rowdy, ridiculous schoolboys – even worse than Uncle Percy.  Your Mam used to tease him about wanting to see his best friend more than his own daughter!

Anyway, they walked into our little house and there I was, holding this screaming bundle of blankets, not knowing what to do.  Your Mam, by that time, had fallen asleep from exhaustion, so Auntie Hil ordered everybody out of the room, and we were sitting in the kitchen. 

My Da insisted I give the screaming bundle to him, and he began to sing to you.  I’ll never forget it…  You instantly took to him, and quieted down, staring up at him with those beautiful blue eyes that your mother had given you.  Even Granddad Bain didn’t get the same kind of attention from you as my Da. 

For most of the first year of your life, he was the only one who could settle you when you got colicky.  Many times, I had to walk through Laketown to get him up in the middle of the night, to settle you, so your Mam could get some rest…

But, he loved every minute of it, and he loved every minute he had with you, my girl.  I know he, your Mam and all who went before us look down on our Sigrid, and are so proud of the young woman you’ve become. 

 

Sigrid started to cry, and couldn’t read anymore, so Tilda took the letter from her.  She was going to give it to Auntie Hil, but older woman’s face was buried in her handkerchief.  Ada and Uncle Galion weren’t in any better shape, so she shrugged her shoulders and handed it over to Bain, to finish:    

You must promise me something, love.  I want you to go to your party tonight, and have the time of your life; I want you to smile, laugh, and dance your feet off!  You have to do this for me, so you can write and tell me all about it!

Now, I want to tell you about your presents: Your Ada and I asked King Dáin to help us to continue a tradition that was once kept in Dale.  I can’t wait until I see you with them, but I know they will never be as beautiful as you are.

I love you,

Your Da

 

“You guys are so mushy,” Bain commented, rolling his eyes, and breaking the spell.  Everyone started to laugh and wipe their eyes.

Finally, Tilda couldn’t stand it anymore, and said, “Open it, Sig!  What’s in it?”

Sigrid looked up at Thranduil.  “Go on,” he urged, and Tilda got down off of her chair and stood beside her, so she could see.

She lifted the lid, and saw, in a bed of dark velvet, a beautiful gold necklace, with small garnets and diamonds, a matching bracelet, and a small, delicate tiara done in beautiful golden swirls, accented with the same jewels.

“Oh…” Sigrid clapped her hands over her mouth.  Everyone else stepped forward to see, and gasped. 

“Ooh! They’re so pretty!” Tilda said.  “They’re just so pretty!”

Hilda had her hand to her heart.  “They’re perfect!  They’re just the thing for a young Princess, Thranduil!”

Even Bain was taken aback.  “They’re sparkly, aren’t they?”

Sigrid shot up out of her chair, and threw her arms around the Elvenking’s middle.  “Thank you, Ada!  Oh…  They’re beautiful!  I can’t believe it!”

Thranduil held his daughter tight and kissed her hair.  “You are most welcome, child.”

After everyone finished their breakfast, the box was put back into Thranduil’s closet for safekeeping, and they dispersed to their various morning activities.

The Elvenking was a bit concerned about Tilda, because she still looked fatigued.  He checked, and found no fever, and she didn't hurt anywhere, but he and Galion had her drink a cup of hot herbal tea with honey, just in case, and made sure she took a good, long nap that afternoon.

 

When everyone’s day was through, Thranduil took Tilda back to his chambers, just as the dresses for the party arrived.  Glélindë smiled proudly, and her dimple was showing, as she brought in the garments.  

“Good afternoon, My Lord, Lady Sigrid.” The Elleth smiled.

“Hi, 'Lindë!” Sigrid rushed in from her room.  “Ooh!  They’re here!  What do they look like?”

Thranduil grinned at Glélindë, then said, “Why don’t you open the package and find out?”

“Here, help me, Til; there’s one for you, too!”

Sigrid clapped her hands with glee when she saw them; they were done in Elven fashion, with long, flowing lines. Sigrid’s dress was a lovely red to match her new jewelry, and Tilda’s, also a gift from the Elves, was a lovely shade of dark blue.  Bain was given a new outfit as well, in dark green with black leggings.

“Thank you!” Sigrid hugged Glélindë.  “It’s beautiful!”

“You are most welcome, My Lady.  Many happy returns of day.”

Once they were done fussing over the new clothes, Thranduil made sure the older children finished their homework, then ate an early dinner, so they could get ready for the evening’s festivities.

Once the girls were dressed, Thranduil took them to his own dressing room, and helped them to braid and arrange their hair. 

“How did you learn to do that, Ada?” Tilda asked, as she sat on a stool, and watched him do Sigrid’s hair.

“My wife had long, wavy hair, and  I used to enjoy brushing it out for her.  She often needed help to arrange it, and the maids usually helped her, but whenever possible, I liked to do it.”

“I’ll bet she was pretty.” The little girl said.

 “Oh, she was!”  Sigrid turned to her sister.  “Ada took me to see some paintings of her, and you should see them!  She was beautiful!  He’s right; her hair was long, almost down to here.” she indicated past her hips. “And really dark and curly.”

“How come I didn’t see the pictures?” Tilda was pouting.  “I want to see them!"

“You were taking your nap on Galion’s couch when I showed her, Tithen Pen, but they will all be rehung soon.  If you take a good nap tomorrow, I might take you to the storage room, so you can see Queen Mirelen for yourself. Would that be suitable?" 

Tilda nodded. "I'll be good."

"I know you will. Now,” he addressed Sigrid, “your hair is done; all we need are the finishing touches, and you will be ready for your birthday.”

He opened the carved wooden box, and stood behind her, so he could put her necklace on, then her bracelet, and finally, put the tiara on her head, carefully placed before the hair he had artfully pinned on her head in a swirling mass of curls.

“Oh, Ada!” she breathed.  “They’re so beautiful!  I still can’t believe they’re for me!” The girl moved her head back and forth, watching the jewels sparkle in the light.

“Oh, but they are for you, Iellig.  Fit for a Princess.  Although,” he smiled down her, “I do not think they do you justice.” He gently lifted her chin, “You look truly lovely, Sigrid.”  He kissed her forehead.

She smiled up at him, and melted his heart with her blue eyes.  Then she asked, “What tradition was Da talking about in his letter?”

“When Erebor was established, long ago, it became tradition for the Three Kings of the North to bestow such gifts to the Princesses of Dale.  I told your father about this, and when we had finished our negotiations with the Dwarves, your father and I approached Dáin.  He looked into his records and found several designs for them.  Erebor provides all the crown jewels for Dale, so the tiaras for the Princesses are traditionally also the from the Dwarves.  My Kingdom provides the bracelet, and the King of Dale gives his daughter the necklace.  So, you see, these are not just birthday gifts, they are part of history and tradition.  You are a daughter of Kings, and you will need such things as a Princess.”

“I want to write to King Dáin and tell him thank you.”  Sigrid admired the swirls of gold and sparkle of jewels nestled in her hair.  “Why did he choose the red stones?”

“Those are garnets, Iellig.  They symbolize the month of January.”

“Why does just the oldest girl get them?” Despite her long nap, Tilda still seemed off and cranky, “I want some too!”

“You, will get something like this, when it is your turn, but yours will not look like your sister’s.  Your Da tells me your birthday is the last day of September, so you will have sapphires, in your jewelry.  I am sure King Dáin will fashion something equally beautiful.”

“What do sapphires look like?”

“They are the same color as your dress.  Here; I will show you.”  He stepped over to a shelf, and took down another carved wooden box.  In it was the Elven diadem Thranduil usually wore to banquets and other formal occasions.  He took it out of the box, and showed the girls the dark blue stones and diamonds, against the silver sheen of mithril.  “I plan to wear this for the party, this evening.  Do you like them?”

“They’re pretty!  I’m glad they’re dark blue.  I don’t like light blue at all!  Why is your crown silver and not gold, like Sigrid’s?”  Tilda asked.

“Dale’s crown jewels and such have always been in gold, so it is tradition that their Princesses have the same thing.  Yours, will also be gold and sapphire.”

“Ooh, that’ll be pretty, won’t it, Til?”  Sigrid pulled her sister in her lap.

Tilda finally smiled, and nodded her head.  “I can’t wait, till I'm bigger."

"Do not be in such a hurry to grow up, Tithen Pen.  You must allow me time to enjoy having a little girl, again."

“It was nice of King Dáin to make these himself.  He could have had someone else do it.”

“He could have, yes, but I think he was proud to continue the tradition.”  He kissed her temple.

“Will the Dwarves do anything for Bain?”  Tilda asked.

“An excellent question.  At your father's coronation, the Crown of Dale is placed upon his head, but he will only use it for formal ceremonies, as it is quite heavy.  For every other occasion, he will wear a smaller, lighter version of it.  Normally the King would recieve that when he would be named Crown Prince, but, since your Da was never a prince, his will be presented with this later."

“When will Bain get that?”  Tilda asked.

“At age eighteen, Dale’s Crown Prince is presented to his people, and he is given a smaller, lighter version of your father’s Ceremonial one.  The design also includes things which reflect the Prince’s special talents, or interests.  Bain is very interested in military matters, so his personal crown will most likely reflect this, plus anything else that is unique about him.  It will also be adorned with gems reflecting the month of his birth. Each is unique to the future king, and cannot be passed down."

"Bain's birthday is in August." Sigrid said, and Tilda nodded in agreement. 

"So your Da has said.  Bain's crown will feature Peridots, which is a light green stone.  He will wear it throughout his life - when he holds court, when he rides to battle, and, eventually, he will be buried in it.  Since your father was never named Crown Prince, the Dwarves will fashion something like this for him.  Most likely, his archery skills will be reflected in the design.

“Like the Black arrowhead on your wedding rings?”

He held up his hand, where the black onyx and emerald leaves shone against the mithril.  “Very likely.  These were also a gift from King Dáin himself.”  He smiled. 

"Do you know when Da's birthday is?"

"I do.  Your Auntie Hil told me.  The eighteenth day of May, so he will have emeralds. Also, the same month as my own Begetting Day.  So our wedding rings symbolize much more than the Black Arrow, does it not?"

Sigrid grinned.  “So, is King Dáin our Royal Jeweler?"

"It would seem so.  I think he finds it a relaxing hobby, in the same way I find solace in drawing and painting.  It's a creative outlet that eases the pressure of Kingship.  Your Da finds solace in shooting, and Bain will soon find his own interests."

"Just like my knitting. It relaxes me, and I love working with all the colors; I saw your Guild make some really lacy shawls, and I'd love to learn to do that!" Sigrid said, as she stood up and patted the chair. "Come on, Tilda, your turn.”

Once she was seated in front of the mirror, Thranduil began to brush out the little girl’s hair.  “Would you like it down, or up, Tithen Pen?”

“I don’t know…” she hesitated.

“How about this?” he pulled half of her hair back and let the rest fall down upon her shoulders.  “You remind me of your Da when your hair is like this.”

Tilda nodded.  “I like that.  Can you make the top part swirly, like Sigrid’s?”

“Of course, I can.”  He quickly arranged the top into a nice little bun, then added a surprise little touch: a small silver dragonfly pin was added.  He took a small mirror and showed it to her, “Is that suitable, hênig?”

“I love it!” She stood up on the chair and kissed his cheek, then he helped her down. 

“Shall we join the others?  I know Galion is anxious to see how lovely you look.”

 

They went out to the living room, where the others were waiting, and Galion kissed Sigrid's hand, and offered to escort the birthday girl.  Thranduil picked up Tilda, to carry her, then Bain bowed, then gallantly offered his arm to Auntie Hil, who proudly took it.  The boy was almost Bard's height, and promised to be just as handsome. 

And off they went to the party, which turned out to be a merry gathering.  Everyone gasped at Sigrid's new jewelry, and crowded around her to compliment her, as her proud Ada looked on, as she explained the history behind her gifts.

The highlight of the evening for Thranduil, was his dance with Sigrid.  He indicated for the musicians to play a lovely, but slower song, and escorted her into the middle of the floor.  “Are you having a good time?”

She smiled up at him, her eyes shining, and whispered, “I feel like I’m in a dream, Ada; this is all so wonderful.  I can’t believe it!  Thank you!”

“It is I who must thank you, Iellig; it is a privilege to dance with the loveliest girl here.”  He smiled down at Sigrid and kissed her brow.  She was strong, determined, and truly wanted to serve her people.  No amount of heritage or teaching can produce that in a young woman.  It all came from her, and she deserved the best he could give her.  She truly looked a princess, and he was proud to call her his daughter.

“Ada?”

“Yes?”  He smiled down at her, as her face turned thoughtful.

“It’s hard not to think of my Mam at times like this.”

“Of course, you do, Sigrid.  You should always honor her in the special moments of your life.  Do you think she’s happy for us?”

Sigrid considered this, as they gently swirled around the dance floor. “Yes, I do.”

“I think so, too.  It is a privilege to love and care for those she left behind.  I am grateful to her, for such a blessing."

“I love you, Ada.”  She leaned her head on his chest, as they swirled around.

“And I, you, Iellig.”  He kissed the top of her head.

They danced for a moment or two, then Sigrid’s face lit up. “Look!” she gasped, and Thranduil followed her gaze.

There, in the wide doorway to the Dining Hall, stood Hannah, with Rhian on her arm.  The girl gave Sigrid a small smile and a wave, and looked uncomfortable, but determined.  Thranduil watched as Hannah whispered some words of encouragement, and he graced them both with a smile and a nod.

He knew Rhian wouldn’t be joining the party, but this was real progress.

“I’m so proud of her.” Sigrid was smiling up at him. 

“Perhaps this was her way of giving you a birthday gift?”

Sigrid thought about this, and nodded.  “I think you’re right.”

The song ended, and he bowed, as she curtsied perfectly amid applause.  Then the dancing started in earnest, along with the rest of the party.  Thranduil went to Tilda and picked her up to take her around the floor, as she giggled. 

Tilda still seemed all right, but she fell asleep in Hilda’s lap toward the end of the party. 

“Is she all right?” Thranduil asked her. 

“Well, she’s got no fever, and nothing is stuffed up, all I see is she’s a bit tired.  You stay with the rest of them. I’ll get her put to bed, and stay with her.”  She handed the sleeping little girl to a guard, then kissed the birthday girl and Bain good night.

“You all have fun, and don’t worry.  I could use some peace and quiet, myself.” She said to Thranduil, “Whatever is going on with her, love, it’s probably nothing serious, and a good night’s sleep or two will help.”  Then, with Tilda’s head nestled on the guard’s shoulder, the trio left.

Thranduil stayed with Sigrid until the end of the party, and together, they offered their best wishes to others celebrating birthdays, and then went from table to table to thank everyone personally for coming.

When the party was over at last, Bain and Rhys walked ahead of them with Alun, as they made their way back to the Royal Apartments.

Sigrid took her Ada’s arm, and leaned against him.  “I had a wonderful time.”

“I am so glad, Iellig.  And now, you will have much to tell your Da, will you not?”

“I’m going to tell him every little detail; I don’t want him to miss a minute!”

“Tomorrow, if you can, I would like you to skip your afternoon activities, so you can sit for me.  We shall provide your Da with a painting of you, in your birthday finery, before the next wagons go to Dale.”

“Oh, he would love that!”

 

***************

 

LETTERS FROM WOODLAND REALM

 

 

4th of February, 2942, T.A.

 

To Bard from Thranduil:

 

 

Sailed, Meleth nîn,

I am eager to tell you about Sigrid’s birthday, and you will be very proud of her, as I was: 

A day or two before, Sigrid asked for a meeting with Hilda, Galion and myself, and provided us with a list of names of children who all had birthdays during the month of January.

She pointed out that she didn’t feel comfortable receiving special attention and gifts when so many others, especially the orphans, will not.  She requested that a large, joint-birthday party be held in the Main Dining Hall, She plans to organize a several parties to celebrate every month of birthdays, so no child will be left out.

Is she not a wonderful daughter?

I have also enclosed a parcel, that should make you feel better about being so far away for Sigrid’s birthday.  I hope you like it, though it does not do her justice.  She was a vision that night, and it was an honor to escort her to her very own ball. 

As you can see from his return, Alun enjoyed his visit with his son, and both are feeling better.  He did not stay with Hilda, as her rooms are used for her frequent meetings, but have no fear.  Galion set him up with another set of rooms, and for the week, Rhys stayed with him. 

Alun met with me, and after discussing his son, he requested to see his mother and aunt, but I could not permit it, as per your edict, and you had sent no instructions for making an exception in his case.  He was unhappy with my answer, but after he calmed down, he understood.  Then he apologized, saying he understood this was better.  He confirmed what you had said regarding his assistance with their sentence.  He was not a man who gave into anger often, he said, and this should be no exception.

It is yet another reason why I know you shall be a good King, Meleth nîn.  You were careful not to be reactive in your pronouncements. 

This is also why a good Council is essential for the running of a Kingdom.  Their purpose is to challenge each and every decision you need to make as a King, and to prevent unexpected ramifications that could cause needless suffering for your people.  

Bard, I say this only because I have seen the anger and resentment from the rest Dale’s people here.  A child was abused, and despite their own violent history with their father, there will be no chance at redemption for them amongst your good people, I believe.  Time will tell, and it may say something different when the spring comes, but that what I sense now.  I will, of course, respect your decisions, and you know your people best, but perhaps a solution to your problem might be to make arrangements for them to leave Dale entirely and set them up in a neighboring community. 

On a personal note, my talks with Galion continue.  It is by no means easy, and it is too soon to know if our efforts are fruitful.  At this point, I feel worse off, but he assures me that this is normal, as I am facing difficult things that have been buried for many, many years.

I have the same difficulties as you, with idleness; I do not have physical work to help distract me, but my sparring sessions are more frequent, and longer, much to Bain’s delight, as he enjoys watching them with his friends.

I have a request to make of you, Bard, so please consider:  The ladies of your Kingdom have met with Hilda (as I am sure she will tell you) and requested to be trained in weaponry.  The courageous efforts of your women during the Battle will never be forgotten, and it is my firm belief that anyone who wishes such training should be granted, but I shall defer to your decision. 

We speak in every letter, Meleth nîn, of our loneliness and longing for each other, and it gets too hard to think about, so I will say little this time. It seems to make things worse…

Gi melin, Bard. Always.

Thranduil

 

P.S.  You will find, in the sealed envelope enclosed, the sketch of me, as requested.  I hope you enjoy it, as you are in it, too.

 

 

* * *

 

To Bard from Sigrid:

 

 

Dearest Da,

I had a wonderful birthday!  I’m sure the others told you of our party in the Main Dining Hall.  It only made sense that others who have birthdays in January could celebrate too, don’t you think? But we all had such a great time!

Oh, Da!  Thank you for my beautiful necklace! I wish I could hug you, and don’t worry, I plan to when I see you!!!  Ada gave it to me when we had breakfast that morning, and I was just telling everyone that I wanted no presents.  He smiled and set the box in front of me.  I could hardly breathe when I opened the box.  I never had anything so nice in all my life!  It’s not too big or showy, and it is just beautiful!  Ada gave me your letter before I opened the box, and that was a wonderful present, too.

 I really feel like a princess now.  He told me of how King Girion’s daughters had special parties and presents when they turned sixteen, because it meant they were officially young ladies, and no longer girls.  I love them and I love you both so much.

And my tiara - It’s perfect; small and delicate, and matches my necklace and bracelet!  I’m writing King Dain a thank-you note, so please make sure you send it to him, for me, please?

Ada did my hair all up himself for the party, and when I came out of my room with my new dress, Bain and Rhys just stared with their mouths open, and Thranduil actually cried a little.  Uncle Galion got all mushy and kissed my hand, and asked if he could have the honor of escorting me.  Hilda was bawling outright, and kept talking about the day I was born.

Ada helped me put the jewelry on and the Tiara, and he carried Tilda down to the Dining Hall.  Ada had the musicians play a special song, and he took me out on the dance floor for a special dance, all by ourselves, and it was the best night of my life!!

I hated that you weren’t there, Da, and I thought about you every second.  But you wanted me to have a good time, so I could tell you all about it. 

I love my life, now, but you have to know, I’ll always adore my Da more than anyone else in the world!!  Don’t ever forget that.

I’m gushing, I know.  I never gush.  But Da, I’m sixteen!

Love you forever,

Sigrid

P.S.  Oh, I almost forgot to tell you. Rhian even came to the party!  She didn't come in, and she only stayed in the doorway for a few minutes, but she did it!  She looks so much better, these days, and I think she's going to be all right, Da.  She's got a ways to go, but she's on her way.  Little Darryn is a month old, and boy is he cute!

P.P.S.  I love you.  We all do.

* * *

 

To Bard from Bain:

 

 

Da!

I hit a bullseye in archery practice this week!  Daeron was really impressed.  Then my friends and I got to watch Ada and Daeron spar, then Ada had a go at someone else, and you wouldn’t believe how fast he is!  I’ve only ever seen him with his swords before, but he’s really good with fighting knives, too!  And he’s really good at archery, though he said Legolas is just as good, if not better. 

I wish I could be fast like Elves, I’m so jealous sometimes.  Ada tells me never to wish to be something I am not, because I need to focus on my own strength and abilities.  He told me some stories of sparring with Girion, and what kind of a soldier and fighter he was.  It isn’t a matter of strength, he says, as much as knowing how my body works and making the most of it, just like Elves and Dwarves do. 

Rhys smiles all the time now. He had such a good time with his Da.  I wish you could have seen his face when Ada called us into his study, saying he had a surprise for Rhys.  Everybody was grinning from ear to ear!  And those two hugged each other forever.  Ada whispered to us that we should leave the two alone to visit for a few minutes, so we all tiptoed out.   While Rhys’s Da was here, they stayed in set of rooms near us. 

Hilda said you asked that he might stay with her, but she uses her spare room for meetings and things.  Bronwyn took over one room for her study to go over schoolwork and such. 

Me and Ada took Rhys and his Da around the Palace to show him around and he was really impressed.  We all had dinner in the Main Dining Hall that night, so Alun and Rhys could visit with everyone, then he got to see the school and everything else. 

Rhys told me that Alun asked to see his mother and his auntie and Ada said no.  I think that was good.  He still looked pretty mad when he heard about the bruises on his boy and I think he felt like it was his fault for letting Rhys go with them.  Alun and Ada met a few times to talk things out with Auntie Hil, and hopefully everybody feels better. 

Gotta go!  Its dinner time and I’m hungry!

Love,

Bain

* * *

 

To Bard from Tilda:

 

 

Deer Da,

I love you.  I miss you.  We had a party.  It was nise.  My spelling is better.  Charlot is good and so is Daisy.  She rides him.

We had a party.   Sigrid and Ada dansed. 

My throt hurts a little bit.  I miss you. I wish yoo were here.  I took a nap.

Love,

Tilda

 

* * *

 

To Bard from Hilda,

 

 

Greetings King of Dale:

As you can see, Alun survived his trip to the Palace, and has been returned in halfway decent shape!  Thanks for sending him along with the mail caravan.  I don’t mind telling you, I’ve been worried about Rhys.  He’s been so down in the dumps since the whole affair with his Gran that I didn’t know what to do.  Thranduil tried talking to the boy, and it did help some, but what he needed most was his Da.

They had a wonderful time while he was here.  He sat with Thranduil and me while the kids were in school and told us about the building and other goings on.  The man put up quite a fuss to see our “prisoners,” but your Elf forbade it, in the nicest way.  He simply urged him to focus on his son while he was here, and said that no one was being mistreated, and you would handle the situation.  After some thought, Alun saw the wisdom in this. 

Our Sigrid threw quite the party, did you hear?  I loved seeing her tear around with her friends and just be a carefree girl.  That jewelry you all gave her made her feel like a real Princess for the first time since she got the title, and I’ll tell you, she glowed the entire night. 

It’s funny you should mention colds….  It’s like you jinxed us!  Just this morning, Tilda told your husband her throat hurt and I thought the world was ending the way he tore through the halls to get her to the Healing Wing!  She had been tired and cranky since Sigrid’s party, but it wasn’t until this morning that any real symptoms appeared.  Hannah and the other healer from Dale knew just what to do, and Daeron eased the symptoms a bit.  

Seems Elves can do wonders for injuries, but they haven’t had much luck with things like this.  Daeron, wanted her separated from the rest of the children, so within an hour, Thranduil had that spare room off the bedroom made up for her, and stated that he would nurse her himself.  Good gracious…  He insists on sitting right next to her and holding her hand while she took her nap.

We’ve got handkerchiefs and medicines all ready for the onslaught.  I honestly don’t think it will be as bad this year, Bard.  These kids have had lots of healthy food lately and I think it will prevent much sickness.  Don’t worry, love;  just take care of you, Tauriel and that husband of mine.

Love,

Hilda

* * *

 

To Percy from Sigrid and Bain:

 

 

Hi, Uncle Percy,

It’s just Bain and me writing this time, because this morning Tilda went to Ada and told him her throat hurt.  Tell Da that if he thought Ada had a fit when she lost a tooth, it was nothing to this!  Within an hour, the room off Ada’s room was set up as her sick room and he hasn’t left her side for hardly a second.  Hilda has been doing her best to reassure him that she just has the beginnings of a cold.

So far, Bain and I feel fine, so tell Da not to worry.  Tilda has always been susceptible so we’ll probably be all right.

I had a wonderful birthday, except you, Da and Tauriel weren’t there.  That would have made it perfect. 

Alun told us about all the building you’re doing.  With so many Men, Elves and Dwarves working on different houses at once, I can see how fast Dale is growing up out of the ground!

Are you looking after Da?  Is Da looking after you?  How is Tauriel?  I know she always says she’s doing okay, but I know she’s lonely.  Please look after our new sister…

I’ve got to go, sorry.  I’m helping Hannah and Elénaril get things ready for the onslaught of winter colds and sneezes. 

Love,

Your Sigrid

 

* * *

 

 

Uncle Percy!

Did Da tell you I hit the bullseye!  I did!

We got to play outside some when the weather broke and we had this big snowball fight!  All the kids went outside were on one side, and the Elves were on the other!  Rhys and his Da were on our team!  We’ve always lived on water, so we didn’t know too much about things like this.  It was so much fun!

The really little kids got to learn how to make a snowman!  Ada helped Tilda with hers, but he could only stay for a little bit because he had lots of meetings.

Right now, Auntie Hil is having it out with Ada, because Tilda’s getting a cold, and he thinks it’s because she played outside with the rest of us.  Don’t worry, he just doesn’t understand these things and she’ll set him straight.  She told him that the kids will actually be healthier because we’re not on the water anymore and we’re eating a lot better, so she tells him not to worry. 

I don’t know if he really believes her, or if he’s just afraid to argue with her, but don’t tell him I said that!

Love,

Bain

* * *

 

To Tauriel from Sigrid:  

 

 

Dear Tauriel,

Hello big sister!  I hope you’ve been looking after Da and Uncle Percy, but mostly I’m hoping you’re taking care of YOU!  I love having a big sister!  I just hate that, as soon as I got you, we had to leave!  But we’ve been here six weeks already, so there’s proof that at least part of this endless winter has passed.

As I’m sure you’ve heard, Tilda has a bit of a cold.  Poor Ada’s not taking it very well.  I feel bad for him – he’s never been around sickness, but it’s so cute to see him fussing over her, and trust me, she is eating it up.  She’s got him wrapped around her little finger!  Ada wanted to cancel his meetings until she was better, but Auntie Hil put her foot down and order Galion to drag him to his study, and make him stay there so Tilda could get her rest. 

I think Galion loves Auntie Hil and Uncle Percy as much as we do.  He loves watching her boss Ada around, and I think Ada likes it too, although he pretends not to. 

It’s nice being part of a big family, and I can’t wait for us all to be together again.

Love, Sigrid

 

* * *

 

To Percy from Hilda: 

 

 

Hello my husband,

Life has settled into a routine, as much as it can be.  The winter is in full swing, and some of the children have colds.  I’m not worried.  These bairns have filled out and their cheeks are rosy from all the good food the Elves have given them, and they are warm, now.  Really warm!  I know there are some who miss Laketown, but I don't.  How could anyone miss the constant chill of living over a frozen Lake?  And the ache in the bones from all that damp?  Nope.  Never again for me.  My hips have not hurt nearly as much and neither do my hands. 

The orphans seem to be settling in, too.   I go and see each new family about once a week, to make sure, and Thranduil’s little “spy” has been sure to pass on any comment to us, so we're sure the kids are adjusting.  Bronwyn has a desk in my quarters, now, She's busy overseeing the school, and planning for when we move back in the spring.  I oversee our people and I oversee the supplies needed for the Dale folk.  She only works with me part-time, as she also teaches the older group of children.

We’ve also organized several meetings for the new Elven parents, to teach them about human children, and to let them ask questions about things that have come up.  The little ones seem happy in their new homes, but they still miss their birth parents, and these Elves want to know how to help them with that, bless them.  Galion has been a big help with this, and even gave a lecture on helping children through grief.  He urged the Foster-Parents to allow the children to refer to them however they were comfortable, not to insist on “Ada and Nana” but to allow them to come to it naturally.

Our kids call Galion "Uncle” now, and I swear, love, if that Elf had buttons on his chest, they’d be popping off!  He pretends it doesn’t mean much, but you should see his face when no one’s looking.

Oh, good gravy!  I’ve got to go--Tilda has a cold and she just sneezed again.  Every time she lets out a peep, Thranduil tears out of his study to her room like something’s on fire.  How many times do I have to tell him she’s not dying?

If it wasn’t so ridiculous it would be cute…

I love you and miss you,

Your Hil

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

4th of February, 2942, T.A.

“Again!”  Feren called, “Faster! Very good, Lord Bard,” Feren said.  “Your blocking is much quicker, and you are learning to be more conservative in your movements.  As you can see, it isn’t always a matter of having strength; it’s learning to control it, and increase your endurance.” 

Bard had been working privately with Tauriel and Feren almost daily, in a building apart from the Great Hall, to gauge the changes in him since his marriage, and Bard had the arduous task of learning to control his new abilities.  Feren had consulted with the Ermon, the Chief Healer, and they decided the first thing Bard needed to do was improve his endurance by running.  As fit and muscular as Bard was, there had been no opportunity for prolonged intense activity on the walkways of Laketown, so the Healer wanted to check Bard’s heart and lungs to make sure his body could handle the adjustment. 

The Healer admitted he found Bard’s situation fascinating and wanted to study the effects closely.

Bard began formal sword training the same way Bain had - learning forms until they were so embedded in his muscles and his mind, that they were second nature.  Most of these forms were blocking moves, and slowly, Bard was getting the hang of it, though it was a tiring, and oftentimes frustrating, process. 

 Bard and Feren were practicing with their swords all morning, and the King of Dale was fed up with feeling like an inadequate beginner.  The Commander was correct in is assessment: at present, he’d be a liability in battle, and this thought infuriated him!

Feren came at him over and over with his practice sword, and Bard met and blocked his every blow, until the last one, when, again, Bard judged his movements by the way his body used to be.  There was more power in his swing than needed, and smacked himself in the ribs.

“Shit!” Bard swore at the top of his lungs, “Bloody fuck!” and threw his sword across the room, its clatter echoing in the empty hall, as he grabbed his middle.  “Feren, I feel like a complete fucking novice!  How many times have I swung this damned thing only to hit myself with it?  I’m fucking covered in bruises, and I hate feeling so out of control!"  His angry words culminated into a scream of absolute fury:  "I DON’T FUCKING KNOW MYSELF ANYMORE!

The Bowman stomped away to the other side of the hall, and paced back and forth for a few minutes, to try and cool his temper, by taking deep breaths.  It wasn't Bard's way to give into anger like this, and it scared him.  

Feren regarded him patiently for a moment or two, then said, “Please wait here, My Lord.  I shall be back momentarily.” And exited.

Bard was still pacing and breathing, when Feren returned, carrying two mugs and a large pitcher of ale.  The Commander set the tankards down on the small table set up in the corner, poured out, and sat, as he waited for Bard to calm down.

Eventually, Bard made his way over, and took the mug Feren handed to him.  He sat down, and they drank in silence for a little while.

After staring down at his cup for several minutes, Bard said, “I apologize, Feren.  I don’t mean to take this out on you.” 

“I am sorry for your frustration.  I cannot imagine what this must be like for you."

Bard huffed out a small laugh.  “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m glad Thranduil’s not here.”

Feren looked at him, surprised.  “My Lord?”

Bard sighed.  “Don’t get me wrong.  It’s just…  I hate all this, and if Thranduil were to see me so frustrated, he'd think I regretted marrying him.  At least with you, I can work through it, until I get the hang of it.  You don't take any of this personally."

The Commander nodded his agreement. “You will soon learn to be comfortable with this new strength, but in the meantime, it must feel… foreign.”

“It feels like there’s someone else moving my arms and legs, and they end up in places I don’t intend!”  Bard spat out, before he took another long drink.  “This is harder than I thought it would be.”

“The only way around this problem is keep at it, Bard; I wish I had a different answer.”  Feren tried to reassure him.

But Bard didn’t feel reassured.  He was frightened.  “You know, the sword work isn’t even the worst of it.  I hadn’t done it that much before the Battle, so, believe it or not, that’s easier.  But…” he sighed, and continued in a sad voice:

“I was born to be an Archer, Feren, and I was good at it."  

His first attempts with his bow had been disastrous.  Something that had been instinctual, an extension of who he was, now felt foreign, and it was driving Bard mad.  First, the string of his bow had to be adjusted, to accommodate his new strength.  Then, Tauriel had him practice nocking his arrow, over and over again, as he learned speed and control.  His first shots at a target were wild and wide and he made full use of every curse word he could think of.   Several times, he had to walk away to get himself under control.

The archery skills that he had taken such pride in, were gone, and he deeply mourned that loss. 

Bard stood back up, and paced back and forth, again. 

“I got my first bow when I was six years old, and I’ve loved it ever since, Feren.   When my Mam died, shooting made me feel better.  When Da died, hours and hours hitting targets got me through it.  It was the same, when my wife died.  Archery has always been like breathing, and I feel like I lost one of the most important parts of myself."  Bard stopped his pacing, and looked at Feren, sadly.  "As much as I love Thranduil, and my new life with him, I feel so...lost, like there's a huge part of me missing, now.  I don't know if I'll ever get it back, and I'm scared of what that could do to me." 

Feren poured him another glass of ale.  “You were right to take great pride in your skills.  From what I have seen, you were magnificent."

Bard looked stricken.  “All those years in Laketown, when I had so much taken away from me, my parents, my wife….  I had hardly anything, barely enough for my own children, and a Master who took and took and took… I felt so helpless, Feren.  But my skill with a bow, was something no one could take from me.  It was mine.  Mine! It was all I had, besides the children.  It made me feel like I had some control over my life, something I could feel proud of; I could feel like a man, when I hit all those targets.  And now…it’s all gone.”

“I am sorry for your loss, Bard, truly.”

“I didn’t expect to feel this way.  Thranduil tried to warn me.  He said, ‘Everything you ever expected about your life will change, and there will be no going back.’” Bard looked to the floor.

Feren tilted his head thoughtfully, “Do you regret joining with him?”

Bard’s head whipped up, “NO!  Never - I didn’t mean it like that.  I just…”  He sighed.  “I didn’t know how much I would mourn for what I once was,” he whispered. 

Feren looked concerned.  “I understand.  It may not seem like it, to you, Bard, but you have made vast improvements.  Tauriel and I can see that.”

“But it won’t be me, anymore. It isn't the same."

“You are wrong, Bard!" Feren gave him a stern look.  "It will be you.  I know you are tired and frustrated, but this IS you!  This is who you are now.”  The Commander told him, firmly.  “I know you miss the way your body used to feel, but that is because you have barely scratched the surface of this incredible gift you have been given; this is only temporary.”

“Aye.” Bard said, after a few minutes.  “You’re right; it does no good to wallow.  I’m just having a bad moment.” He forced a smile.

Feren raised his eyebrow.  “And the way to work through this is?”

“Get up off my arse and back at it.”

“Good answer, My Lord.  In any case, you will have a reprieve - from me, at least.  I am scheduled to visit my family when the wagons return to the Palace in two days.”  Feren grinned.

“Thank the Valar!” Bard laughed.  “I’m just joking.  You must be anxious to see them, now that they’re settled in.”

The Commander grinned.  “Oh, I am!  I miss my wife, of course, and I miss the girls very much.  I hope they remember me.”

“I’m sure they will.  It might take a little while for them to warm up after such a long absence, but those little ones adore you.  And I’ve seen the way your wife looks at you.  You’re a lucky Elf.”

“I am, My Lord.  I thank the Valar for her every day.”

“I know the feeling.”  Bard put his mug down, and wiped his mustache.  “Well, let’s get back to work."

They both got up and went to the center of the large, empty hall. “We will work no more with swords today.  I need to see your jumps, and this time, I want to see how high you can get, before you tuck and roll…  Go!”

Bard and Feren worked another hour on his jumps.  Bless him, Bard thought.   The Commander pulled him out of his melancholy, by having him work on a new skill he did enjoy.  As he reached new heights, he learned to flip forwards, backwards, half twists, before landing on his feet perfectly.  Feren showed him how to run up the walls and flip, and soon he was too occupied to feel sorry for himself. 

Bard would never regret marrying Thranduil, but he was thankful it was Feren and Tauriel working with him, here.  It was vain, he knew, but he hated the idea of his Warrior-King seeing him so clumsy and inadequate.

It was the only good thing about this long separation. 

 

Later, after spending the afternoon with the building crews, Bard was returning to the Square in front of the Great Hall; just in time to see the wagons from the Woodland Realm pull up.  Bard went over and took some of the packages and the box of letters from the Elven messenger, and called to Alun who was unloading his luggage. 

“Welcome home!  How's Rhys?” Bard called to Alun, as he struggled with the box, along packages, until an Elf came to help him carry them.

“Thank you, My Lord.  Rhys is good, thanks to you and King Thranduil.  The others had a good time, too.” He jerked his head toward the wagon.  All the returning visitors carried their bags into the Hall, and looked relaxed and ready to get back to the work of building a city.

“That they do.  I’m glad the weather’s cooperating, so we can keep up with the schedule.  That Palace is a sight; I’d hate for any of them to miss it.”

Alun agreed.  “I’ll never forget it.  Everyone is making the most of their time there, and those Elves have worked hard to help them and help educate the children.  Lord Galion gave me rooms next to his, and Rhys stayed with me, but he was excited to show me where he’s been staying, and told me about their schooling and the fun they have with the King in the evenings.”

“Thranduil and the children enjoy having him.”

“Aye, I can see that, and I’m grateful.  He didn’t have to take him in; he could have sent him to stay somewhere else, but he treats Rhys like he belongs there. And my boy feels comfortable.”

“Happy to hear it.”

As they made their way into Bard’s study, Alun asked for a few moments to speak to him.

“Of course, if you can help me sort.”

They worked together, then Alun said.  “My Lord, what will become of my mother and my Aunt, come spring? 

Bard looked at the man and became serious.  “They’ll face trial.  Not a big one, because most of the problem was taken care of in the Woodland Realm.  I’d hope if the Elves treat them with some kindness and patience, they’d reflect some on what made them that way, and my reports from the King seem to reflect that.  I’m not just doing this for them; I have all my people to think about.  Those two cause problems for everyone.  If they can learn to be less venomous, everyone benefits.”

Alun considered.  “You’re right.  They did real damage, and we can’t afford that.  Not when Dale is trying to get started.”

“In King Thranduil’s last letter to me, he brought up something you and I hadn’t thought about, Alun.  Even if those women have a miraculous change of heart - which I don’t think will happen…”

“And neither do I.” Alun affirmed.

Bard agreed.  “Our people are a fairly forgiving bunch, and that’s something I’m proud of. But a child has been abused, and so have two young girls.  No one is likely to overlook that, and really, no one should. In the spring, they will face not just me, but our people, too.  As a King, my rule is absolute, but I always want to consider what my people need and how they feel.  It doesn’t look good for your mother and aunt, and this could put me in a position I don’t really want to be in.”

Alun thought for a few moments.  “A trial would be hard on Rhys.  He’s been through enough.  They’ve been put away, so Rhys has had justice; nobody got away anything.  But what now?”

Bard answered, thoughtfully. “Thranduil suggested setting them up somewhere away from Dale, such as Dorwinian.  There are those who think they deserve prison - and they aren't wrong, mind you - but don’t the people of Dale want to be better than this?  On the other hand, if they’re going to do more harm than good here, then our people have the right to want them gone.”

“We could offer them a deal, My Lord.”  Alun suggested.

“What kind of a deal?” Bard was curious.

“I have distant relatives in Bree.  We could explain to Mam and Aunt Iona that they have a choice:  Either face our people and the shame of a public trial, and prison, or, go to Bree.  If they come back, everything will be taken away, and they will be left at the Gates with the clothes on their backs.”

Bard sat back, and thought about this.  “What’s Bree like?” 

“It’s near the Shire, but it’s rougher place.  There are some good folk there, but the cost of living isn’t expensive at all.  It would take little to set them up there.  My Lord, I don’t think you can chance putting them in prison; if word gets around to neighboring countries that the new King of Dale imprisons old women, you’d be branded a tyrant and no better than the old Master.

“I hate how political that sounds, but you’re right.” Bard sighed. “I need to prove that I’m not only a just King, but can be a merciful one.”

 Alun nodded.  “It would be mercy, My Lord.  My grandfather was…” he let out a deep breath, “a monster, and I’ve wondered if the abuse of his daughters went beyond whippings.  There were rumors that my grandmother died young because she was injured, not ill.”

“You mean, he was like Rhian’s husband?”

“Aye, My Lord.  That bastard twisted them up beyond repair. Maybe the only way they could live with it, was to convince themselves that this was proper.  I think, if they admitted how wrong their father was, the pain of it could destroy them.”  Alun gave his King a sad smile.  "Problem is, they're already wrecked, and they can't face it.  I should hate them for it, but I pity them, really."

Bard sat back and steepled his fingers against his mouth.  “It’s hard to think about, but you have a point.  Ina and Iola are victims, too.”

“It doesn’t excuse anything they’ve said or done, My Lord.  Nothing could do that, and they should be made to answer for their actions.  But, compared to what they were used to, living in Bree will be a just punishment.” 

“…and Bree is far, far away.” Bard smiled.  “Maybe I’m inflicting my problems on another place, but this could be a way for them to make a fresh start.  Everyone could benefit; even those two, if they choose to see this as an opportunity.  If they go there, I’ll write the Lord Mayor and tell him about them, so he could keep an eye on them.  This is a good solution, Alun.  Thank you.”

“No, My Lord, thank you.” Alun was earnest.  “No one has more cause to want to see them punished severely than I do.  But they’re my kin, and wishing harm on them would turn me into something I hate; I’d be too much like them.  I’ve worked hard to rise above what how I grew up.  I can’t go back to that kind of hate, even if my King wishes it.”

“I’d never ask you to do that, Alun.”  Bard told him.  “At any rate, nothing needs to be decided for months yet, and we’ve got loads to worry about now.”  Bard smiled at his Treasurer.  “Dale is going to benefit through your work, and I’d like to you to be on my Council, if you’d consider it.”

“I’d be honored.  It’s a pleasure to work for someone who truly cares about his people.  You’re everything the Master wasn’t, and we’re lucky to have you as King.”

“Oh, enough flattery,” Bard smiled, with a wave of his hand.  He got up and went to the door and called for Percy, who came in.

“Oh, good!  The letters have come!” the Steward of Dale cried.  “Tauriel, where are you?”

The Elf came hurrying down the corridor.  Then they all sat down and got to work.

 

Later that night, he finally got his bath, and retired to his room, where he opened the mail from his family.  He always did it this way, so he’d have something to look forward to, rather then facing another night alone.  Sitting cross-legged in his bed, with the stacks of letters in front of him, he smiled and dug in. 

Thangon had just settled down beside him, with a huff, after wiggling around to get himself comfortable.  Thangon’s snoring didn’t bother Bard, anymore, but last week, they both made a rather unhappy discovery. 

Lembas wasn’t the only thing that made the huge dog fart. 

The cooks in the kitchen had been trying out a recipe from Erebor:  Bombur’s version of Bean soup with Ham.  The Dwarves (and Thangon) loved it, but many of the men didn’t, and surreptitiously put their bowls on the floor for the dog, rather than face the cook’s wrath.  

Bard had woken up in the night, thinking something had died. “What the…  Ugh!”  He lit the lamp, and looked over at his sleeping bedmate.  Thangon was in his usual position; sprawled his back, tongue lolling, and snoring away in bliss.  Then, loud noise erupted from Thangon’s hind end, and the room was filled with a smell so bad, Bard nearly passed out. “Ulmo’s balls, Thangon!  What in Mordor’s wrong with you?” Bard had to hold his nose.

The noise frightened the poor dog awake, with a yelp.  He jumped on the floor and tried to sniff his arse, and figure things out.  He couldn’t quite reach his bum, so he turned around it tight circles, hoping to catch whatever it was that was made those noises, and kill it.

Bard grabbed Thangon’s collar, and muttered sarcastically under his breath all the way down the hall.  “’Here’s a dog,’ he said.  ‘He’s sooo smart,’ he said.  ‘He’ll be good company,’ he said...  That bloody Elf was pranking me, and I'll get him if that's the last thing I do...”  He sighed.  “Come on, Thangon.  I wasn't the who fed you that slop, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to suffer for it!”  He took the huge beast to the Great Hall, ordered him to stay with the other men.  Then he grabbed a pillow and blankets and slept in his office.

By morning, two problems were solved at once:  No one would ever feed Thangon beans again, and the kitchen staff would never make that awful soup again.

Now, as he relaxed in his sleeping clothes, Bard smiled at the letters from the children and tried not to feel bad about missing Sigrid’s birthday.  Her descriptions of her party sounded wonderful, and he wished he could see her in all her finery. 

He felt concern about Tilda’s sore throat; she usually didn’t throw off things like that as easily as her sister and brother did.  Bain seemed to be having a good time with Rhys; he was always enthusiastic.  Once he was done reading letters from the rest of the family, he opened the flat package from his husband, and gasped.  

It was a watercolor painting of Sigrid, in her new red dress and jewelry.  She looked so grownup, with her hair piled on top of her head, with her tiara and her matching necklace.  She was sitting in a chair with her hand tucked under her chin, showing off her bracelet, too. 

Oh, Thranduil had captured his girl perfectly.  His eyes swam, as he gently traced the lines of his daughter’s face.  This was a young woman, and such a beautiful one, with kind eyes, a strong chin, and the true bearing of her Royal Lineage. 

He thought of his Mattie, and smiled. “You’d be so proud of our girl, love,” he whispered. “I wish you could see her.”

After he lovingly set the painting on his fireplace mantel, he opened the thick letter from his husband, smiling as he read Thranduil’s beautiful, flowing script.  There was a Post Script, and another letter tucked inside.  Curious, he broke the seal, quickly unfolding the contents.  

“Bloody fuck!” He gasped, as his eyes bugged out.

Bard’s face turned beet red when he saw the sketch his husband and sent; Thranduil and Bard were naked and entwined, just as they had been the night of their joining.  Thranduil was above him, and in him, and the smooth outline of his legs were tucked under Bard’s hips, and the muscles of their thighs were tensed.  

Bard’s muscular arms were holding onto his shoulders, digging into the flesh.  His own legs were wrapped around Thranduil’s waist, pulling him inside as far as he could go; filling him with his throbbing, hot cock, and Bard’s face showed how much he loved it.   Thranduil’s face above his, was full of love and rapture, as he was looking deeply into Bard’s eyes.  There was Bard, looking up at his Elf with the same bliss on his face.   

His Elf spared no detail in this drawing, for modesty’s sake.  There was the smooth, beautiful skin in the outlines of the curve of his hips, and the flex of his muscles as he thrust into Bard.  And his hand was around Bard’s cock, an instant before he exploded in ecstasy.  Somehow, Thranduil managed to capture the light and magic of the moment their fëas became One.

“Ulmo's balls…” Bard croaked, his eyes were still bugging out, and he felt his cock harden, with a jolt.

The dog was immediately put out, and his door was locked for at least two hours. 

 

LETTERS FROM DALE

 

 

To Thranduil from Bard: 

Hello Love,

I hear you’ve been fussing over our Little Bean!  How is she?  From what I’ve heard from everyone, it doesn’t seem to be much to worry about, but I understand your uneasiness, love.  You’ve never been around sick children, and seeing our little one, with a red and runny nose must be upsetting.  It’s hard, even for me to see my children sick, so I can only imagine what it’s like for you.  Listen to Hilda, love, and let me know if anything gets serious.

Now, as for the *ahem* picture of you… My King, I highly commend your artistic talent.  Your last picture was a pleasant surprise…  I can “see” how much you miss me, and I didn’t get much sleep, after.  That should tell you how much I enjoyed it.  Have I mentioned, in the last ten minutes, how much I miss you, and your ‘Elf Thing?’

Thranduil, my love, I can’t tell you how much that picture of Sigrid means to me, wearing our gifts.   She’s growing into her own person, and she is so beautiful.  I would’ve given anything to be there.  Sigrid told me about your special dance at the party, and I picture it.  Our girl with her proud Ada.  What a moment for you!

I can imagine her face at the table when she opened her present.  That box Dáin sent to put the set in was perfect, wasn’t it? 

Speaking of Dáin, the King Under the Mountain stopped by last week, for some business, and asked how our girl’s birthday went.  I gave him the thank-you note from Sigrid, and shared the story of the party.  Then I took him to my chambers, and showed him your painting, sitting proudly on the mantel.

Now, I’m not going to say that the rugged, tough, Dwarf King got mushy, but he certainly had to clear his throat a lot.  His own family will be coming in the spring, and he misses them terribly. His son will stay to rule the Iron Hill but his wife will come with his two other daughters.  He also said Oakenshield’s sister will be coming.  She’s now ruler of the Blue Mountains, so she won’t be staying, but she wants to see Erebor again in all its glory, and visit her brother’s and sons’ graves. 

Tauriel is nervous about it; she’s afraid Dí s will hate her because of Kili.

I can’t say whether she’ll hate Tauriel or not, but I want to thank her for her sons’ bravery and consideration toward my people.  I will also make a point to tell her how Tauriel saved her son’s life repeatedly.  The fact that our girl has been named a Friend of the Dwarves says a lot, so I’m optimistic.

My edict regarding teaching our women defense-training is this:  Absolutely, and right away!  Our women and even girls, deserve to know how to protect themselves, so if you Elves can spare the time, do it.   As always, love, thank you for looking out for my people.

As you can see, this shipment from Dale includes your favorite Elven Commander and mine.  He deserves a vacation!  He and I work together for several hours each day, and I know he’s been very patient with me.  I couldn’t ask for a better trainer.  He and Tauriel don’t have an easy task.  But things are improving, so they tell me, and you’ll be pleased, the next time you see me. 

I’ll be along in three more weeks, barring a snowstorm.  Stars, I miss you!  I’m tired of writing it, and tired of thinking it! 

Building in Dale proceeds apace.  Several houses are finished!  Others are being worked on at once, and Old Ben has been worth his weight in gold, overseeing and coordinating all the crews. 

“Kinging” also proceeds apace.  Alun, Percy and I have worked out a system of allocating funds to help set up different businesses in Dale, and ways to get our economy growing.  Alun, our Chief Treasurer works diligently with this.  He’s a good man, and a hard-working one.  Please tell Rhys I’m proud to have him working for Dale.

I thank the Eru and the Valar for allowing us to fall in love, and be together.  It’s natural to wish the same for those we care about, but much of that isn’t for us to decide.  I wish I had the answers, because I agree with your sentiments.

You might be right about Eärendil’s blessing the night of the funeral; you said you felt something shift. See what the Wizard thinks, love.  Write him in the spring.

Gi melin, Thranduil.  Always.

Bard

 

* * *

 

To Sigrid from Bard: 

Hello, My Grownup Girl:

I’m so glad you like your birthday presents!  I saw there was a letter from you addressed to King Dáin in this shipment, so rest assured I have given it to him, and told him all about your party.  I also showed him your painting (which is beautiful, by the way), and he was very touched to see you.

I hope your lessons at school are going well, and also with the Healers, but I hope you make time to be a young girl and have some fun.  You had to grow up so fast, but now that things have changed for all of us, I want you to take time to go off with your friends and play.

Your loving Da

 

* * *

To Bain from Bard:

Hello, My Boy,

Good for you on all the archery practice.  People think it’s so easy, don’t they?  I hate that I haven’t had much time to work with you myself, but life gets in the way of many things we’d rather do.

Don’t be jealous of the Elves, son.  Thranduil’s right, it’s a waste to wish you could be something you’re not.  I had a talk with Feren the other day, about the exact same thing, when we practiced with swords.  He reminded me that a good warrior has to work hard to understand his abilities, and make the most of them.  Do this, son, and your instincts will never let you down.

That’s exactly what I would tell you if I was there.  I see you’re not calling him ‘Thranduil’ any more.  That’s good, but we both want you to only do things like that if you’re completely comfortable, all right?

I hope you and Rhys are enjoying yourselves.  Seems he and his Da had a great visit; at least that’s what Alun said.  Don’t worry about not seeing his grandmother and aunt.  You and Rhys just leave that for the grownups.  All you need to worry about is doing good in school, practice, and behaving for Thranduil, Galion and your Auntie Hil.

I love you, son.  I hope to come visit soon, if the weather cooperates.

Your loving Da

 

* * *

To Tilda from Bard:  

Hey Little Bean!

I heard you don’t feel good, love.  I also heard he moved you into the nursery.  How do you like having a room of your very own? 

I hate hearing that you’re sick, and I can’t be the one to take care of you!  Let your Ada make as much of a fuss over you as he wants, Beanie.  He’s not used to things like this, so if spoiling you a little helps him feel better about it, then just be patient with him. 

I wish I could’ve seen how pretty you looked at the party.  What color was your dress?  Did you dance with your Ada?  How about your Uncle Galion?

Now, if you’re still feeling poorly, you just keep taking as many naps as you need.  Tell Charlotte and Daisy to sing to you, and you’ll go right to sleep!

I love you, Beanie.

Da

 

* * *

From Bard to Hilda: 

Dear Hil,

Make sure you’re looking after yourself, all right?  You’ve been pretty tired, and that means you could get sick, too, so make sure you get enough rest.  That’s an order from your King, by the way.

Since I opened the letters from you all, I’ve spoken to Alun about his mother and his aunt.  I told him, that Thranduil couldn’t override my decree about no visitors without prior consent, but I think it worked out better that way.  He needed to focus on his son, and let them be my problem. These ladies need to stew for a while, and be forced to think on their actions and attitudes.

Can you write and tell me how Rhian is getting on?  I’ve been wondering, and I like to pass on information to Old Ben. He knows she can’t read or write yet, so it would be good if he could get some updates.

So, Hilda, our oldest is sixteen years old!!  I can’t believe it.  I remember the first time I saw her in Mattie’s arms, and you bustling about the room, fussing over the both of them.  That girl is just as much yours and Percy’s as she is mine.  No two people could be better for our family.

I’m sorry I ‘jinxed’ you about the colds… 

Love,

Bard

 

* * *

 

To Sigrid, Bain and Tilda from Percy: 

Hey Sea Monsters!

Little Bean, you were too sick to write me a letter!  Poor baby.  You tell that Elf King to take good care of you, you hear?  I’m glad you got to play in the snow.  See if you can draw me a picture of your snowman, would you?

Playing in the snow, wasn’t something we had much of a chance to do in Laketown, did we?  Life is different on land.  I’ll bet the forest looks really pretty with snow on all the trees, doesn’t it? 

Sigrid, our grownup girl!  Your Da showed me a picture of you, and I told him he had it wrong!  Our Sigrid is still only little, with her hair in pigtails and scraped knees!  Who was the grownup young lady?

Bain, great work in your archery, and Rhys is every bit as good.   Have you kids been keeping up with your schoolwork?

The story you told me about Thranduil and your Auntie Hil made me laugh, and don’t worry.  I won’t tell a soul.

Oh!  I’ve got a funny story to tell you!  Do you remember be telling you about your Da’s dog and what happens when we feed him Lembas? 

Well, let me tell you, we all learned the hard way not to give him beans either.  I’m happy to report that our cook has sworn to all of us, he’ll never make bean soup again!  Your poor Da!  And this time, it wasn’t my fault! Ha!

Love

Uncle Percy

 

* * *

 

To Sigrid, Bain and Tilda from Tauriel: 

Dear Sigrid,

I have been taking good care of your father and your Uncle Percy.  We all look after each other.  Thangon follows your Da around everywhere he goes and keeps him from getting too lonely.  My cat is a wonderful companion this winter. 

I wish I could have played outside with you all in the snow.  It is one of my favorite things to do.  I especially like snowball fights!  Legolas and I used to play when I was small, and he always let me win. 

There is little to do when the weather gets too bad, so practice weaponry with the others and help with the building interiors.  It is going well, but things will pick up speed a great deal when we get a break in the weather.

I wanted to mention, Sigrid.  I think Old Ben needs some socks.  I’ve noticed them hanging on his fireplace, and they have holes in them.  Do you think you and perhaps Hilda could make him some?  He could use some hats and such.   I think he is either too proud to get some from the things the Elves send, or he doesn’t want anyone else to go without. 

He is a dear man, and I think he would like these things, even though he has not asked for them.

Please look after yourselves, and tell Ada I said hello.

Much love,

Tauriel

* * * 

Hello, Bain,

So, you hit a bullseye!  Your Uncle Percy told me, and I am very proud of you.  You have much of your father’s natural ability; I could see that from the beginning.  I hear Rhys is doing just as well, if not better.  That’s all right.  Do not try to compete with him so much as with yourself.  Daeron is still working with the swords, I am told, and soon, once you are fairly proficient with them, we will add fighting knives to the lessons.  I look forward to that when spring comes.

Your description of Ada fussing over Tilda is quite funny.  I hope she is feeling better, and that you and Sigrid do not get sick.

I must go; it is time for your father and I to practice.  Hope to hear from you soon.

Tauriel

 

* * *

Dear Tilda,

I am sorry to hear you are sick.   Is Ada taking good care of you?

 I saw the picture of Sigrid that Ada painted for her birthday.  I did not hear about the pretty dress you wore to the party.  Perhaps when you are well enough for me to write, you can tell me about it!  Better yet, draw me a picture.  I imagine you were so beautiful Ada and Uncle Galion danced with you, didn’t they?

Please feel better soon, and we shall be together again before you know it!

Love, Tauriel

 

* * *

To Galion from Tauriel: 

Suilad, Galion,

I am hearing good things about your devotion to my new brother and sisters.  It gladdens my heart, for you did so well with me.  You have a gift with children, Galion, and I hope Sigrid, Bain and Tilda bring you much joy. 

I have also heard about the sickness, and I, like you became very upset, but Bard assures me that it is only a ‘cold.’  I do not know too much about these things, but I trust his judgement.  If anything, Lady Hilda most likely has things well in hand.

My days here are very different than when I lived in the Woodland Realm.  I miss home a great deal of the time, yes, but these experiences with new people, are interesting, and often entertaining.  I have visited Erebor again since the last letter, just overnight, and I enjoyed myself. 

Being there makes me understand who Kili was, and I like that very much.  I have spoken with Ada about how love can be sudden, and that seems to be the case with me.  Dwalin has shared several stories of his upbringing with me; most of them were amusing.  One would think it would make me sad to hear them, but surprisingly, it only brings me closer and I feel peaceful.  I wish I understood how I could so instantly fall in love with Kili, or he for me, but I do not think anyone has an answer for these types of things. 

Galion, I have not said this to anyone, but I hope I do not love Kili like this forever.   If my love for hum was truly something the Valar brought to me, I see little point for it, except to rob me of a chance to have a family of my own.  I do not mean to be selfish; nor do I want more than what has been given to any other Elf. 

Maybe someday I can find an answer to that.

Please be well.  You are dearer to me than any Uncle I could possibly have.

Much affection,

Tauriel

* * *

To Hilda from Percy:  

To my  fierce, loving wife:

So…  Our kids are sniffling and sneezing, eh?  I say that because I’m sure by now, all three of them, plus Rhys is giving you all fits.   Children are wonderful, but it’s times like these I’m sort of glad you’re there, and I’m here.  I love you all dearly, but I hate seeing them sick; I always have.

Just you take care of yourself, you hear?  You just got your strength back and I don’t want to be hearing that you are wearing yourself to a frazzle again! 

I think those meetings for the new parents is a good idea.  There’s a lot to having kids - you and I helped raise three plus looking after our Bard – but to have children of a different race requires a lot of understanding.  Galion’s a good egg.  He’s another one who didn’t have blood children, but he’s a parent, nonetheless.

I’ve got an idea, if you’re agreeable, about those foster-parents.  Do you think the new mothers could be paired with another mother from Dale?  Someone to answer all the thousands of questions that come up.  It might be a way to go.  How about some of the older folks with no family anymore.  Setting them up to be a ‘foster-grandparents’ could make them feel like they’re a part of something, too.  I think about old Gruffudd, in particular, and how Feren and Glélindë took him in just as much as the little girls.

Anyway, I’m sure you’ll do you best be everyone.  Just take care.  If Thranduil wants to fuss over the kids, I suppose there’s no stopping him.  Just let him, I think.  He’s realizing how much he missed out when his own were that young, and I think this is his way of trying to right a wrong.  We can’t help him with the time lost, but he might be afraid to miss any more. 

I love you very much, love.  I always have, since the day I laid eyes on you, all those years ago, and you’re every bit as beautiful as you were then. 

Your Percy

 

* * *

To Thranduil from Tauriel:  

Suilad Ada,

Time has slowed here, and I am enjoying a winter without hunting spiders, if you don’t mind my saying.  I help the men with building when I’m off duty, and guarding Bard is fairly easy most days.  He spends a great deal of his time in his study, either in meetings, writing documents and letters or he reads in his chambers.  He and Thangon go everywhere together, and you’ll be pleased to know that the dog takes his job as guard seriously. 

The dog is very popular, and some are asking when he can be used as a stud to get some of their own pups.  I do not know what to tell them, so I have referred them to you, when you return in the spring.  We have also discovered, unfortunately, that Thangon has the same reaction to ham and bean soup as with Lembas.  Your husband made sure to punish those who cooked it (it was terrible) and all those who fed it to the poor dog.

I have been told you are turning into quite the nursemaid for Tilda!  I understand your concern.  Please write to me and let me know how they are, and how you are coping.  I enjoy hearing how concerned you are; I find it endearing.  Is it not wonderful to have such a family, Ada?

 I am very proud of how hard you have worked to let go of your grief and to be the kind of father you always wanted to be.

I miss you very much; more so than anyone else, Ada. Sigrid wrote at how frustrating it was to finally get a sister, and then have to part; I feel the same way, but mostly about you. 

I anxiously await the day when you all return. 

Much love,

Your Tauriel

 

* * *

To Rhys from Alun:   

Dear Son,

I want to write and tell you I made it back to Dale in one piece, and how much I enjoyed our visit.  King Thranduil’s Palace surely is a wonder!  I think, for the rest of our days, we won’t forget our time in the Palace of the Elvenking.  What a story for my grandchildren!!

I enjoyed my visit, and seeing your schoolwork, and the places you visit there, I especially enjoyed watching your sword and archery practice.  You shouldn’t worry about being watched when you do those things, son.  Learning to overcome that, will help you concentrate better, and remember, a battle is noisy and full of distraction, so learn to deal with it now.

We’ll see each other very soon.  The time will fly by, as long as we both keep busy.

We’re going to have a good life, here.  I’ll see you in the spring!  Write me soon.

Always,

Your loving Da

 

* * *

 

To Rhian from Old Ben:  

Hello, Young Lady,

King Bard tells me you made an appearance at Lady Sigrid’s party, and I’m proud of you, dearie.  You’re learning to be stronger, and I know that takes work, but you’re going to have a good, happy life, and be a wonderful mother to that son of yours.

When King Bard makes his trip to the Palace in three weeks, I’ll be coming with him.  I look forward to seeing that boy of yours, so get ready for a visitor!

You just do everything Mistress Hannah wants, and look after young Darryn.  Tell that guard who saved you thanks for saving you and the baby.  I’ve always worried about you, and now that all the badness is out of your life, I look forward to seeing you be happy!

Regards,

Old Ben

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The Woodland Realm; 7th of February, 2942, T.A.

The Elvenking knew, of course, that children of Men were fragile and susceptible to sickness, but seeing it for himself frightened him.  As he walked through the Palace, he saw some children sneezing, and coughing, and that was bad enough, but when his own child became ill, he found it impossible to control his apprehension. 

On the 31st of January, Sigrid’s birthday, Tilda was a little tired and cranky, so he had Daeron and Hilda carefully look her over, and tried not to be concerned. 

When she started to sniffle and cough a bit, a few days later, he became nervous, but Hilda did her best to reassure him.

“It happens, Thranduil.  Kids get the sniffles and colds, and she’s hardly doing that, so this is nothing to worry about.  She has no fever, and nothing hurts.”

He felt terrible. “We should not have taken them outside to play in the snow,” he said, for the sixth or seventh time. 

Hilda put her hand on his arm.  “No, Thranduil, stop that.  All those children are healthier now, thanks to you, dear.  Your folk have made sure they’re eating good, healthy food, that will build them up.  They can fight off diseases so much better now. Do you remember when you first came to Dale, and went to the Children’s Tent?  Don’t you remember all those pale, thin faces and hollow cheeks?  Those parents did their level best by their kids, but they had barely enough.  Percy and I were happy to help Bard make sure his own were fed, but we struggled.  Too many others weren’t so fortunate; they often went hungry.

“And now, look at all of them!  They’ve filled out and they've got roses in their cheeks, even Tilda.  They have good vegetables, and fruit and meat, and you’ve given them all a place where they can run and play and get strong, now.  You and your Elves did all that!”

“But they are still getting sick!” Thranduil said, worried.

 “Aye, that’s true, and they will get sick, Thranduil.   Children all over Middle Earth catch colds this time of year, and it’s usually gone in a week or so.”

“Are you sure?” Thranduil asked.

“Look, Tilda’s not feverish, so, we’ll watch her closely and make sure she gets enough rest.  Then see what happens, all right?  It’s all we can do.”

“I will have Daeron examine her daily.”

“If it would make you feel better, do just that.  In the meantime, make sure she gets good naps, and we’ll give her plenty of chicken soup, and tea with honey to help with her cough.  It will help her throw this off.” Hilda assured him.

Thranduil sighed, and gave her a sheepish smile.  “I am not used to this, My Lady.  I want to take excellent care of them."

“Of course, you do."  Hilda smiled, and patted his cheek.  “I tease you, yes, but I know it's hard.  You love them, Thranduil; anyone with eyes can see that.”

The Elvenking nodded.

“So, no worries?”

Thranduil couldn’t say that.  “What if she gets sicker?”

“If she does, or if any of the children do, they’ll get the best care they’ve ever had.   Tilda’s always been a bit delicate.  But we’ll do our best, and take things as they come.  Percy likes to say, ‘One foot in front of the other,’ and he’s right.  It’s all we can do.”

So, they kept a close eye on his Tithen Pen.  It still seemed like a minor cold, according to Hilda, to Daeron, and even to Elénaril, when Thranduil insisted on taking her to the Healing Hall after the third day.  Tilda blew her nose, sneezed, and coughed, but she had no fever.  Esta, ever the good nurse, camped out on her bed, and kept a close eye on her. 

Still, the Elvenking worried.  When she began to cough, Thranduil told Galion to have her things moved from the next apartment, and into the room adjoining his bedchamber, where a large bed had been set up.  It had originally been Legolas’s nursery, and had been used as his art studio for many years but within an hour, it was all set up for his Tilda, complete with a double bed. He told himself it was only so her cough wouldn’t keep Sigrid awake, but really, he couldn’t fight the urge to have her close, so he could watch over her.  He kept her home from school the last couple of days, and did his work from his chambers. 

Whenever Daeron came to get the boys and Sigrid, he would examine her, but didn’t find anything besides a regular cold.

On the 4th of February, Daeron prescribed Willow Bark tea, to help her fever, and the body aches she had developed.    Tilda hated it, but honey made it palatable.  He and Hilda tried to keep Thranduil calm, reassuring him that this often happens with a cold.

On the 5th of February, she developed an earache, so they treated it with Garlic Oil and Lavender Salt.  It seemed to help.

On the 6th of February, her cough was worse, but her mucus was clear, and so was the phlegm she coughed up, so they decided it was just part of her cold.

On the 7th of February, it wasn’t just a cold anymore.

 

 It was the middle of the night, and Thranduil had finally drifted off, after hours of listening and worrying.  He was deeply asleep from fatigue, when Esta leapt onto his bed and barked at him, frantically.  He blinked, and sat up, confused for a second or two, then looked at the doorway to Tilda’s room.  The dog grabbed the sleeve of his night shirt and pulled, wanting him to come, quickly.  He pain of her teeth sinking into his wrist through the fabric brought him to alertness, instantly.  Thranduil lurched out of bed, and ran into the nursery to find the little girl sitting up, coughing so hard she vomited all over herself.

He ran over to her and felt her forehead and face, in a panic.  She was burning up; her cheeks were deeply flushed with fever and her eyes were glassy.  She coughed a few more times and started to cry.

Esta whined loudly with concern.

“Thozyan sen, Esta.  Samis mauré enwinyatiewa.” He told the dog in Quenyan. She went to the other side of the bed, put her front paws up, and watched Tilda closely.

Tilda, still crying, had another coughing fit.  “I made a mess,” she croakedher voice was now a deep, terrible rasp. “Daisy’s all dirty.”

“Oh, do not worry about that,” he soothed her.  “Let us get you cleaned up, and I will make sure Daisy and Charlotte are taken care of.”  He grabbed a handkerchief from the pile on her bedside and wiped her face and gave her a sip of water. 

“Can you tell me if you hurt anywhere?”

“It hurts all over,” she wheezed, and rubbed her chest. “It feels bad really here... I want Da!” she wheezed and cried.  She began another coughing fit, so he held the kerchief against her mouth.  When he removed it, the handkerchief had rust-colored spots, with streaks of fresh blood.

Oh, no… Oh, Valar, no, please…  Thranduil’s heart lurched in his chest, painfully.  This is what he had foreseen; this is what he had been afraid of.  Please…no…

He quickly helped her get her soiled nightgown off, got her into a new one, then wrapped her in a blanket and took her into the Hall. 

“Get Daeron up and tell him to meet us in the Healing Hall,” he said to the guards.  “Have someone change all the bedding in Lady Tilda’s room immediately, and make sure her stuffed toys are taken away and cleaned. Wake Lady Hilda and tell her to join us, as soon as she can.” 

"Yes, My Lord."  Ivran and Ruvyn saluted, and quickly got to work.

Thranduil carried the sick child through the Palace, whispering words of encouragement, as she cried and wheezed and lay her hot little head on his shoulder, too weak to even put her arms around his neck.

Once in the infirmary, he rushed past the nighttime attendants, and took her into a treatment room.  The little girl began to cough again, so he held the kerchief to her mouth, and grabbed a basin for her, in case she became sick again. 

Thranduil looked down at her dazed eyes and red cheeks, and stroked her hair, as his stomach churned with worry.  He knew so little about sick children, and this was his Tilda, his Tithen Pen!  He tried to lay hands on her, to look for what exactly was wrong, but she couldn’t stay still enough for him; it didn’t help that he was too frightened to really concentrate, but he had to try something. 

Tilda was almost hysterical, and every time he loosened his grip on her, she thrashed around and started to cry again.  Daeron came rushing in, still pulling his tunic down.  “Aran nîn—  ai gorgor...”

The Guard’s eyes widened, as he took in the sight before him, how sick the little girl was, and the terrified look on his King’s face. 

“De nathathodh?” Thranduil asked him, pleading, “Dhen iallon!” 

Daeron swallowed, then did his best to compose himself, as he approached them.  “Hello, Lady Tilda,” he said in a soothing tone, as he felt the little girl’s face. “You look very unhappy.”

“I really really want my Da…” The little girl buried her face in Thranduil’s tunic and cried between deep coughs.  “Where’s Da?” Each breath was a struggle, and the coughs tore at Thranduil’s insides.

“She hurts everywhere, and you can hear how bad her lungs sound.”  The Elvenking shook his head, as he stroked the back of her hair.  He handed Daeron the handkerchief to show him what she was coughing up.

Daeron looked at the rusty, bloody streaks and gasped in alarm.  He tried to examine her, but Tilda kicked her legs and tried to bat his hands away.  “I just want my Da!  Get my Da!” She croaked and coughed.  “My head hurts!” She didn’t seem to recognize her surroundings.

Then Hilda hurried in, wearing her thick robe with her braid falling down on one shoulder.

“Oh, no…  Oh, Beanie…”  She breathed, as she went over and felt the little one’s forehead.  “Auntie Hil is here, sweetie, and we’re going to get you better. All right?  Now you do everything Daeron tells you, so we can find out what’s wrong.”

The little girl squinted her eyes at Hilda, who gently stroked her forehead to calm her. “It all hurts and I threw up and I can’t breathe.” She whispered.

“Oh, lovey, I know; you just let your Ada hold you tight, and you look at me, so Daeron can check you, all right?  You just look at me, yeah?  Can you do that for Auntie Hil, sweetie?”

Tilda nodded and kept her eyes on Hilda, as she wheezed.

Thranduil held her against his chest, with his hand on her head, so Daeron could finish looking her over.  As the Elven Guard checked her out thoroughly, Tilda never let go of Hilda’s hand, and would only lift her head off her Ada's chest, so he could check her ears.

“That is very good, Lady Tilda; now take your finger, and point to where it hurts.  Can you do that for me?”

The little girl just scrunched her eyes tight, and buried her face in Thranduil’s chest and wheezed and coughed.

“Does the light hurt your eyes, Tilda?” He got up and turned down the lamps. “Does that help?”

She nodded and turned toward him, slightly. 

“I understand.  Let us see if we can make it not hurt anymore.  Can you be still for just a little while longer, for your Ada and me?  Keep looking at Lady Hilda.”

She nodded, and rested her cheek on the Elvenking, still coughing.

“Daeron gi nathad, Tithen Pen.” Thranduil whispered, stroking her hair.

Daeron placed his hands over the little girl’s ears, and began to sing, then he moved to her forehead, her throat and her lungs.  Her cough settled down, for the moment, and she relaxed.

“Is that better, love?” Hilda asked her, still stroking her brow.

“I don’t hurt so bad,” she said, in a thin voice. “But I really need my Da.  Can he come?  Please?” and she began to cry, again.  As she inhaled, there was still a terrible rattle in her chest, and Thranduil felt like his own heart would stop every time he heard it.

He looked over to Hilda, and they both nodded to each other, but didn’t say anything.

“Can you breathe easier?” Daeron asked.

“It doesn’t hurt as bad.” Her cheeks still looked flushed, and her eyes still had that faraway look.

Thranduil looked down at her.  “Can you sit with your Auntie Hil for a moment, Tithen Pen?  Daeron and I need to speak, but we will be right back.  Can you be brave for me?”

Tilda nodded and reached for Hilda, who sat down next to Thranduil to receive the child.  Then she cradled her and began to sing and rock her, in a soothing tone.  Thranduil and Daeron stepped out into the hall, to confer.

“What is the matter with her?”

“My Lord, she has Lung Fever - a very bad case of it.  Both of her ears, as well as her throat are infected, and there is a dangerous amount of congestion in her chest.  She said she had a headache, so I have treated the inflammation in her sinuses, so that should help.  She is more comfortable for now, but I have not been able to eliminate her fever, and we need to get the fluid out of her lungs as quickly as possible.”

 “How do we do this?” The Elvenking asked. 

“Steam.  We need loosen things up, so she can cough it out.”  Daeron told him.  “I wish we could put her under a losta-luith, but she needs to be awake to cough up all the infected material. I warn you, My Lord: it will be very unpleasant for her, but it is the best way.”

“I hate to put her through something like that, but if you say it will help her...  Can you do this here?”

“We should set her up in your bathing room, and fill the bath with hot water.  There are several oils I can put in the water, and rub into her chest that will give her ease.  I need to prepare mint tea help her nausea, and add willow bark, to treat her pain and fever.”

Thranduil went back and repeated the diagnosis to Hilda in hushed tones.  “I must take her back, and wash her more thoroughly, so she can be comfortable. Would you please come with me, and help?  Once we get her dressed again, I need you to remain in my chambers in case the other children need anything.”

“Absolutely.”  The woman stroked Tilda’s hot forehead. “Let’s go get you washed up, Little Bean.”

As they made ready to leave, Daeron said, “I will be there as soon as her medicine is ready.  Please have the servants put the hottest water possible into your bathing pool, and tell them to continue to do so.  They need to set up a small table and chairs for us, so we can take turns with Tilda in our lap.”  Daeron looked into Thranduil’s eyes, with a determined look.  “Athon de nathad, Aran nîn.”   

“De vilui, Daeron.”

“We have a very long night ahead of us, so please do not thank me just yet.”  Daeron admitted.  “I wish I could tell you something better, but I must be honest.”

“I understand.” Thranduil stroked Tilda’s hair. 

He felt terrible.  He should have seen this coming; he should have known!  But he did know.  His foresight warned him, but what else could they have done to prevent this?  Thranduil had done everything in his power to look after her...

The Guard must have read the look on his face, because he said, “My Lord, you could not have predicted this; no one could have.  Small children get sick very, very quickly.  You neglected nothing, you missed nothing. It was good that you moved her room nearer to you.”

“It was Esta who woke me.”

Daeron said, with all seriousness.  “That dog most likely saved her life.”

Thranduil looked at him for a long moment, and tried to stem the tide of panic that threatened to cripple him. 

“I cannot lose her, Daeron.  I…  cannot."  Nothing seemed real or right, and if his Tithen Pen died, nothing could be good again.

Daeron looked at him with determination. “We will do our utmost, Aran nîn.  We must be brave, for her."

Thranduil stood up with the little girl in his arms, and he and Hilda walked back to Tilda’s room.  The servants had changed out all the bedding, and the toys had been taken away, so Thranduil sat with her on the chair, until Hilda came back with a basin of water and soap, and several towels.  Together, they got the little girl’s sweaty and soiled body washed thoroughly, as Tilda remained limp, too sick to care what was happening.  Hilda re-braided her hair up and out of the way, and they got her into fresh clothes.

Once cleaned, Thranduil laid her on the bed and asked her, “Tithen Pen, can you rest here, while we get the bathing chamber ready?”

“Why?” she said, weakly.

“We are going to help you breathe better, Hênig.  I just need to step out and speak with your Auntie Hil, then I will be back in a moment.  Close your eyes, all right?”

Hilda propped her up with pillows.  “It will help you breathe, Beanie, if you sit up more.”  She kissed her head.  We’ll be right back.”

Tilda nodded, and closed her eyes, wheezing.

They stepped out to confer, and Thranduil told the older woman, “My Lady, it will be six hours until dawn.  If you wish, you may take my bed, until it is time to wake the children for school.”

“I’ll be fine on one of the couches, Thrandiul.  It’s closer to the children, so I can hear them.  What are you going to tell Bard?”

Thranduil quickly stepped over to his small desk and moved Legolas’s book out of the way.  He penned a short note, used the flame from the lamp to seal it and gave it to her.  Then he wrote another small note, with his signature.

“Send this with one of the Guards to the barracks.  They will take it to Bard at first light.  I am hoping by the morning, she will improve, but I think the child will do better with Bard here.  Do you agree?”

Hilda nodded.  “She needs him.”  Her voice shook.  “Thranduil, I’ve never seen her so sick!”

This did not help Thranduil’s nerves at all, and he scrubbed a trembling hand over his face.  “There is no moon tonight.  I would send messengers, but the horses cannot see...  I… What if..he cannot get here in time?”

Hilda reached up and took the Elvenking’s face in her hands, and did her best to sound sure and confident.  “You listen to me, love,” she told him, looking him straight in the eyes.  “Nothing bad is going to happen, because we won’t let it!  I know you’re scared, and I am, too, but we must be brave.  That little girl needs us to be strong for her, so that’s exactly what we’ll do!  We’ll be everything that child needs right now, and we can fall apart later; do you hear me?”

Thranduil nodded, unable to speak, as he looked at her, but her words helped.  He took a deep, cleansing breath and stood straighter with his shoulders back.

“Do you want to take turns in there?” She pointed to the door of the bathing room, where servants were setting up.  Just then, Daeron entered the apartment with a mug of tea and several small glass bottles.

“The child is resting in her room for the moment.”  He took the cup from Daeron. “Please go get the water ready, and I will have her drink this.” 

Before Thranduil did that, though, he brought Hilda out an extra blanket and pillow.  “Here, please rest.  You have just recovered from exhaustion, My Lady.  If you change your mind, please do not hesitate to take my bed.”

Hilda promised she would, and for now, at least, settled on the couch.  The Elvenking went back into the small girl’s room.

“I told you I would be right back, did I not?” Thranduil put on a cheery face for her.  “Now I have some Willow Bark tea, and this will help with pain and your fever.  Can you drink this for me?”

He helped her drink the mixture, and she made a sour face.  “I don’t like it.”

“I understand, but at least there is honey in it.  There is also mint; that will help your stomach feel a little better. Medicine rarely tastes good. But I am proud of you for drinking.”  He stood up, and scooped her off the bed. “Come with me, my pînig.  We are going to help you breathe better.”

She nodded against his shoulder, and closed her eyes.

 

 

8th of February, 2942, T.A.; early hours of the morning

Thranduil carried Tilda into the bathing room, and the pungent odor from Daeron’s oils filled the air.  

Galion was there, arranging a chaise lounge, a chair, and setting a pitcher of water and some cups on the table, next to some towels. The Chief Aide must have hurried here, because he still was dressed in his night clothes and robe.  Thank the Valar… 

At the sight of him, Thranduil sighed with relief, and he felt some of the tension loosen in his chest. He could endure this, if he knew Galion was near.

“I am so glad to see you.” He said to his Aide in a broken voice, as he nestled Tilda close.  “I am sorry I did not wake you myself, but things happened so fast…”  

“Ivran woke me.” The Aide smiled fondly at the little girl.  “Anything that is in my power to help...” His put a hand on Thranduil’s shoulder. 

Then Galion added, “Feren is visiting the Palace this week, and I sent word to him as well.  He is available if you need him, and he and his family are praying earnestly for her.  I am here, for as long as I am needed.”

“I did not even notice who came with the wagons, but I am glad he is here.”  Thranduil said, in a far-off voice.  He knew nothing right now, except what was happening in this room. 

Galion squeezed his shoulders, and spoke in soothing tones.  “I will remain, and look after all of you.”  He steered Thranduil over to the chaise.  “This is more comfortable than a chair, and you can keep her sitting up, which is what Daeron said would help.  Now, and let me help you get arranged.”  Between the two of them, they settle her into his lap.  “I will get you and Daeron some tea, and bring some fresh water and cups.”

Galion bent down to kiss the little girl’s hair, and then smoothed the hair away from her brow. “Fer-nesto im, hênig.” He whispered, and left the room.

 Daeron entered, and shut the door behind him, and sat down in the chair beside them.  He uncorked a small bottle, and rubbed it on her chest, and under her nose.  Thranduil felt Tilda stir, and he looked down at her, as she was wrinkling her nose. 

“It smells funny.” She wheezed.  There was a slight bluish tint to her lips.

Daeron smiled down at her, as she settled into Thranduil’s lap and lay her head against his chest.  “What you smell is eucalyptus, My Lady.  I have also added Athelas and some other herbs to the water and they will help you to breathe, as well.”

“Will I stop coughing?”

“I am afraid not.  In fact, Tilda, we need you to do something very important.”

Tilda weakly lifted her head.  “What?”

“You need to cough, hênig, because you have material inside you that is making you very sick.  And when you cough, and stuff comes out, you must not swallow it - you must spit it out, either into a towel, or in that basin.  The fumes from the smelly oil, is medicine, so you must take deep breaths, and the steam will push all that good medicine inside you.  We cannot get you better, until your lungs are clear, do you understand?”

The little girl frowned, “Will it hurt?”

Daeron hesitated.  It would likely hurt a great deal.  “If it does, you must tell us right away.” 

Thranduil kissed the top of her head.  “I will help you, Tithen Pen.  Will you do as Daeron asks, and take nice deep breaths?”

“I’ll try.” She said.  "I'm scared, Ada."

Daeron stroked the little girl’s cheek, and gave her a confident smile.  “We will be with you the entire time, and we will help." 

“Can't Da come?”  Tilda asked in a small, thin voice, and began to cry again.  “I really, really need my Da…”

Thranduil wrapped his arms tighter around her.  “We are sending for him the moment it becomes light again.  It will take a while, but he will get here as soon as he can.  Does that make you feel better?”

She shook her head, “No! I need my Da now!”  She cried harder, and began to cough, which sounded more like barking. 

Thranduil smoothed down her hair.  “I know, my little love.  But we must do the best we can, and you must help us clear your lungs. He will come tomorrow, and you want to be better when you see him, do you not?”

He felt her head nod up and down.

The Guard took one of her hands. “Now, Tilda, take some deep breaths.  Here; I will do it with you.” Daeron encouraged her. “Push that medicine inside…”

They did it together, and Tilda barked at them for quite a while, but then they changed to horrid, wet sounds.  Having her spit into the basin didn’t seem to work so well, so Thranduil was at the ready to wipe out her mouth. At one point, she vomited again, but they managed to keep her clean.  Galion stepped in quickly and put down a clean basin and and a soapy towel.

Her coughs still produced the terrible rusty color, and she kept trying to catch her breath, between cries of misery.  In spite of their efforts to ease her pain, she became combative.

“No!  You’re hurting me!” she kept saying, and hit him and kicked her legs, as they struggled to keep her in his lap.  “I don’t like it! I want Da! It hurts!"  She cried gasped and coughed and thrashed around.  "Stop!  You're hurting me!"

In a gruesome way, her activity helped, despite the agony Thranduil felt watching it.

“Can we not ease her?” He asked, with tears filled his eyes.  “She is in torment!”

“We cannot, My Lord.  I know this is cruel, and I am sorry for it, but her her vigorous movements help and her gasps  are pushing the medicine into her, and will help her cough it up.  We can ease her a little, but it is better if she keeps moving.”

Thranduil looked at the Guard, furious, ready to shout at him; to strike him, even, but he saw the stricken look on the Guard’s face, and know it it mirrored his own.

“I am sorry, My Lord; if there were any other way…”

The Elvenking nodded, as they continued to hold her as she writhed and coughed, and cried.  When he wiped her mouth again, he said.  “I would rather face ten thousand Orcs, than see her suffer like this.”

Throughout the night, the two Elves worked together, as Tilda’s lungs took in the humid, medicated air and cleared out some.  At this point, she was beyond exhausted, and only woke up to cough.  They had her sip lots of water, and Daeron left twice more to make the tea to help her fever.  Galion would step in frequently, to change out the small cloths and lay clean ones down, and to make sure they all had fresh, cool water.  He brought cups of tea for both Thranduil and Daeron, and anything else they might need.

Daeron soaked some small cloths in the cold water and placed one on her head and in her armpits, in another attempt to bring down her fever.  They had tried this earlier, but her constant movements made it unsuccessful.

Thranduil never let go of Tilda once, and held her however she wanted, even holding her in the necessary, where, with Hilda’s help, things were taken care of, so she could go back to the steam.  Thranduil felt drained, and shed a few tears, as she coughed, because her chest and throat were terribly sore, and it was becoming more and more difficult to ease her pain. 

Dawn came and went, and still Tilda wheezed and coughed, although her breathing was a little better.  She had expelled an astonishing amount from her lungs, but she was not out of danger.  Her fever still raged; in fact, it climbed even higher!  Her eyes lost their focus, and she wasn’t aware of her surroundings, anymore. 

At this point, Thranduil and Daeron switched places, and the Guard held the girl closely, while Thranduil centered himself to lay hands on her. 

Thranduil closed his eyes and connected with her little body.  Daeron was right; there was a limit to what he could do for illnesses, even as powerful as he was.  Injuries, even severe ones, could be fixed, but this…   He could help the effects of the sickness, but the cause...  how to fight an unseen enemy such as this?

No.  No, he told himself.  Calm, centered, peaceful…

He tried again, chanting the words in Quenya, trying desperately to find something in her that he could fix, and make all this go away.  Her throat was calling out to him, so he took care of the redness and inflammation.  He moved his hands to her chest, and saw her lungs.  He reduced the swelling in the tissue and saw the muscles were also angry, so he soothed them, with much better success.  He could see the fluid and phlegm in the lungs, heard that terrible whistling sound, and tried to make that disappear.  Could he loosen things, to help her?  He tried, but had very limited success.

And she was still so hot!

Oh Starshis little girl could die, and he didn’t know if he could save her!

As soon as he opened his eyes, Tilda began another coughing fit, which took care of some more congestion.  As he wiped her mouth and washed her face, Daeron met his gaze, with worried eyes. 

“I am sorry, My Lord.  As you can see, this is not something spells can fix entirely.”  The Guard moved his legs, and shifted the little girl in his lap, so the Elvenking could sit down on the end of the chaise lounge.

“Daeron, you must be completely truthful.  Will she get better?”

“The next several hours will tell us.”  The Guard’s eyes filled with tears.  “I wish I could give you a better answer…”

Thranduil got up, his face was a calm mask. “Would you excuse me for a moment?”

“Of course, My Lord.”  Daeron made the sleeping little girl comfortable.  “I will call for you if I need you.”

The Elvenking left the bathing chamber, and heard the voices of the older children getting ready to leave for school.  Hilda was talking to them in soothing, but cheerful tones, not letting on how seriousness of the situation.  She and Galion were right to send them.  They needed to be kept occupied; sitting around would only upset them more, especially when there was nothing they could do.  If they were needed, Hilda would send for them immediately. 

It was selfish, he knew, but Thranduil couldn’t cope with them, just then, so he hung back in the hallway.  His strength and focus was hanging by a thread, and if he lost it, it could mean Tilda’s life.

He used the necessary, then waited until the children left, before he wearily stepped into the front Of the apartment.

Hilda and Galion looked at him in alarm.  “What is it?  Is she…”  Hilda put on hand on her chest.

“She still breathes the fumes and the steam.  She has coughed up much of the congestion, and her lungs are clearer, but,” Thranduil's voice became hoarse. “Her fever burns, and we try to stop it, but...” his composure crumbled, and he covered his face. “Forgive me; I...I do not know what to do, anymore.”

Hilda took the tired, frightened Elvenking in her arms and they held each other for several minutes.  There was nothing they could say.  Galion put his hand on Thranduil’s arm, and gave him an encouraging squeeze.

“My Lord!” they heard Daeron shout, with urgency. 

They all went running into the bathing chamber.

“What’s happened?” Hilda shrieked.

“She has lost consciousness.  I cannot wake her up!”

Hilda lurched forward to kneel beside the child. “No, please… " she wept and begged.

Galion touched Thranduil’s sleeve.  “Should I get the children?”

 

***************

 

City of Dale; 8th of February, 2942, T.A.; Mid-day

 

Percy was finishing up his shift in the kitchens after lunch.  He was hanging up the towels and getting ready to empty the soapy water, when he saw one of the big doors slam open, and an Elven messenger rushed in, followed by three soldiers.

Percy’s stomach sank. The supply wagons weren’t due for another four or five days.  There was news, and from the look on the Elves' faces, it wasn’t good.  He lowered the partition to the pass-through window, exited through the door into the Hall, and quickly went over to the messenger.

“What’s going on?” he asked him.

“I have an urgent message for King Bard, Lord Percy.  Do you know his whereabouts?”

“Good thing you came when you did; he’s just getting ready to leave for the construction sites.  Come on.” Percy knew better than to offer to deliver it for him.  Thranduil always required his couriers to place the message directly in the recipient’s hands, or take it back.

On their way out of the Hall, Percy gave orders to one of the men to get Tauriel, and hurry.

They made their way to the back of the Hall and towards the corridor housing Bard and the City of Dale’s administrative staff.  At the end of the hallway, Bard was just shutting the door to his room, with Thangon beside him, when he turned and saw the  Elves and Percy.  Thangon began to whine.

Bard looked down at his dog, and met their gaze.  “What is it?”  He asked solemnly.

The Messenger saluted.  “Dhe suilon, Aran Bard,” and handed him the message.

“Thank you.  Stable your horses, and tell the cook to get you all a hot meal,” he said, as he read Thranduil’s handwriting, and turned the envelope over.

The Elves saluted again and left, as Bard broke the seal and read the message. 

“Oh... oh, gods, no...” the Bowman whispered, in a tone of voice Percy hadn't heard since the night Mattie had died.  The color left Bard’s lips, and his face turned to ash.

He stepped forward, his stomach in sudden knots.  “What is it, son?  Tell me.”

Bard looked like he was going to pass out, so Percy grabbed his arm, looked over his shoulder, and read what Thranduil had written, with his heart in his throat: 

 

Bard,

Tilda is terribly ill with Lung Fever. We are doing all we can, but she needs you.  We all need you.  I’m so very sorry, Meleth nîn.  You must come, right away.

Thranduil

 Percy gasped, “No..."

Bard looked into his eyes, pleading for this not to be true. 

Percy got himself together quickly, and put his arm around Bard’s shoulders.  “We’ll get you there, do you hear?  You go right back in that room and pack what you need to take with you, and I’ll get your horse saddled and get you something to eat on the way.”

“I may already be too late.” Bard whispered.

“Don’t talk like that!” Percy said firmly.  “Don’t you dare! Tilda's in the best place she could possibly be, yeah?  So, none of this talk, you hear?  Now, go get your things together.” He opened the door to Bard’s room and shoved him inside. “Go!”

Percy ran back into the kitchen, and tried to put a bundle together, but he couldn’t see through his tears, and began to fumble and gasp for breath. 

Tilda was their baby!  Gods, what Hilda must be going through… and the kids… 

A hand was on his arm.  Alun had followed him into the kitchen and found him in despair, so he stepped up, and gently took the plate from Percy.  “Here; let me.  We’ll get Bard to the Palace, all right?”

Percy did his best to calm down, and cleared his throat.  “It’s just that…”

“I know.”  Alun smiled.  “It’s not always easy to be the strong one, but we’ll think good thoughts, and keep believing.  Anything else, we’ll take it as it comes.” 

“Aye,” Percy whispered in shaky voice.  “One foot in front of the other.”

 

***************

 

Bard stuffed only a few items in his bag.  He had everything he needed as far as clothing or grooming items in his rooms at the Palace.   His heart would not stop pounding; his stomach was beginning to churn and his chest hurt.  He did his best to concentrate on the task at hand, then threw the bag over his shoulder and opened his bedroom door.

"Bard!" Tauriel was in the corridor, and ran up to hug him, tight.  “I was in the Marketplace when I heard.  I am so sorry, Bard.”

Bard hugged her back, and said in a shaky voice, “I’ll send word as soon as I can.”

"I know.  Now, let’s get you dressed.  Your horse and your escort will be ready in a few minutes.”

The Elf wiped her eyes, and helped Bard into his riding coat and cloak, hat and leather riding gloves.  She took his arm and led him through the Great Hall, and everyone he passed wished him a safe journey.  A big crowd followed him into the courtyard, where Fînlossen stood, saddled and bundled, and ready to go, along with his Elven escort. The white stallion threw his head and neighed loudly, as eager as Bard was to get going.

“Look after Thangon, and everyone here.” Bard told Tauriel. “Between Percy, you and Alun, you should handle things, but send a message to King Dáin right away.  For now, I’m officially putting him in charge of Dale, should anything huge happen.”  His voice wavered.  “I don’t know how long I’ll be…”

She gave him a brave, teary smile.  “King Dáin will be told, and I am sure he will add his own prayers to Mahal. He will oversee things.  You must hurry, now.”

Tauriel was doing her best not to cry, and she bravely saluted.  All Percy could manage was a nod of his head.

Bard, at this point, couldn’t talk, either.

He got on his horse, and galloped off with the four Elven Guards with his eyes burning, and it wasn't from the wind.

 

“Are you warm, Lord Bard?  Do you need more covering?” an Elf asked, as they rode.  They were about two hours into the trip.

Bard never thought about it; his mind was still reeling over the morning’s events.  He really wasn’t cold.  At all!  By all rights he should be; it was bitter out and the horses were bundled up, with their cannons and fetlocks wrapped warmly, and large, woolen blankets around their chests and over their withers. 

Bard felt no chill in his hands or feet, like he normally would, during the winter.  This must be another side effect of his marriage. 

He couldn’t care less.  Nothing meant anything, if he lost Tilda.  Nothing mattered, except getting to his baby. 

Some men, he supposed, would feel resentful of a child whose birth caused their mother’s death.  He’d seen that happen sometimes.  Thranduil felt that pain when he was with Legolas, and distanced himself, though he despised himself and tried not to.

But not once, not even for a second, did Bard think that way about his Little Bean.  The moment she was put into his arms, when she looked up at him with her huge eyes, and sucking on her fingers, he fell hopelessly in love, just as he had with Sigrid and Bain. 

Maybe it was the force of Hilda’s personality that kept Bard from seeing Tilda as the cause of his loss.  She would never have allowed him to do something he would regret.  Regardless, he always thought of Mattie’s death as something her own body had caused, and nothing that could be prevented.

Hurry… Hurry…

Tilda was a ray of bright sunshine in all their lives.  She loved to smile and laugh and be tickled.  Though Bard never quite felt the contentment he’d known with Mattie, Tilda helped coax Bard into living again. 

It was Bain who first gave Tilda her nickname.  He had seen her all swaddled in a light brown blanket, and said she looked like one of the beans Auntie Hil puts into soup.  And the name stuck.  From then on, she was their Little Bean, and she brought joy to a grieving household.  

Many nights, when Bard couldn’t sleep, he would go pick her up and just hold her, finding serenity in the little face.  Sometimes, she would open her eyes for a moment and give him a wide, toothless smile, before drifting off again.  He watched her sleep, loving how her long dark lashes fanned out against her cheeks, so like her mother.  Tilda helped him learn to feel again, with her innocent smile, trusting blue eyes, and dark baby curls.  She was such a beautiful child, inside as well as out.  And he needed her.  They all did.

Hurry… Hurry…

So many moments with Tilda began to rush to the forefront of his thoughts, as Fînlossen took him to her, as fast as he could:   

 

There was Tilda, at ten months, her fists waving in the air to help her balance, as she took three steps into her father’s arms.

 She loved the sea gulls, when she was a baby.  For some reason, she thought they were hilarious.  Her first word was “Gaw! Gaw!” when she pointed to them, and she turned to Bard, grinning and laughing at her brilliance, displaying her new teeth.  And Bard laughed with her - the very first time he had done so, since his Mattie had died. 

She was so small; Hilda loved to say she was “no bigger than half a minute.”  Tilda would always be tiny, like Bard's mother had been, and her petite size only made those around her more protective.

How many times had she crawled into his bed at night, with Charlotte, only to kick him in her sleep, all night long? 

She loved the color pink, hated light blue with a passion, but liked dark blue.

She adored strawberries, but never wanted to eat them; Sigrid was allergic, and Tilda didn’t want to make her big sister feel bad. 

In the summer, he would sometimes take her on his trips up the River.  At night, she’d snuggle beside him, as he taught her the constellations, just as his own father had done with him.  He’d look over at her and smile, as he saw the stars reflected in her small, blue eyes. 

Even after all these weeks alone in Dale, he still sat up in the middle of the night, ready to go pull up her covers, then slowly lie back down, hating that she wasn’t there.

She loved Charlotte and went into fits, if the doll was misplaced.  She’d wail at the top of her lungs, running in place, while everyone dashed around to locate her.  As soon as the doll was in her arms, she’d quiet down instantly.

She liked to point at a Crescent Moon, and say, “Look Da!  Ulmo's thumbnail!”

When it rained, she decided the Valar were watering their flowers.  When there was thunder, the Valar were rolling wine barrels (that one Bard taught her, and it made her laugh). When it snowed, the Valar were having a huge pillow fight in the clouds...

 

There were a thousand little things that added up to a life with his little girl, and he couldn’t accept it might be over.

No! Bard became angry.  He did NOT want to "remember her life," dammit!  He wanted her to keep living it!

She can’t leave him.  She just can’t; he wasn’t ready to let her go.

Hurry…  Hurry…

The trip continued, at a brisk pace, but still, minutes had turned into hours. 

He had to get there in time… 

In time for what? 

No. No!

Don't think that way!

Hurry… hurry…

 

At long last, the Main Gate to the Woodland Realm was in sight, and Fînlossen, bless him, ran to it with everything he had.  The horns sounded as Bard raced across the wide bridge - they had been expecting him.  The horse raced on, barely waiting for the big doors to open, and only stopped when he brought Bard through.

He leaped off the big stallion, without waiting for someone to take his reins. 

There was Feren, running to greet him.  He grabbed Bard’s arm, and pointed him in the right direction, saying quickly: “All I know, is that she is in King Thranduil’s chambers.  The guards will clear the paths for you; I will take care of your horse and bring your things.  Go, mellon nîn, with all my hopes. Go!”

The blood pounded in Bard’s ears, as he raced through the halls and walkways. He didn’t hear the Guards call for the others to get out of his way.  With his heart in his throat, he finally, finally made it to the Royal Wing, and sprinted down the wide endless hallway, and skidded to a stop in front of the last doors to the right, and the guards quickly opened them for him, with concerned faces. 

There, on the couches, he found Hilda and Sigrid embracing, both sobbing uncontrollably, and Bain was crying, too, along with Galion, who had his arm around the boy.  Rhys was sitting next to Bain, his hand on his friend’s arm.

Oh, no... no...

Bard rushed past them toward Thranduil’s bedchamber.  It wasn’t until he reached the doorway, that Hilda even noticed he was there.

“Bard - “  He heard Hilda’s weepy voice behind him…

But he paid no attention; he was frantic with fear.

He knew he might be too late, but he had to see… 

He went into their bedchamber, shaking.

No one was there, and the big bed was empty.

Bard looked around, helplessly.

A door was opened, off that room to the right.  Tilda had been moved into Legolas's old nursery.  A lamp was burning in there, but it was so quiet.

Oh, gods…

He went in, and saw his baby girl, lying her back, so still, with her eyes closed.  His husband was sitting beside the bed, holding her tiny, limp hand in his, and covering his eyes with the other.

No no no no no no...

Wordless, inhuman cries erupted from Bard, as he collapsed to his knees. He wrapped his arms around his stomach, and shriveled into himself, as the terrible sounds came out.

He didn’t see Thranduil turning his head and look at Bard with a startled expression. 

Bard couldn’t see anything; his eyes were shut tight, so he couldn't see that his baby was gone.

Suddenly, strong hands grabbed him, and pulled him up to a sitting position.  It was Daeron.  He was talking; saying words, but Bard couldn’t understand them.

Bard tried to form words, but his mouth opened into a silent scream;  he couldn’t even breathe.  He dug his fingers into his chest, as Daeron held him up.  The room tilted almost sideways, and he couldn’t hear anything above the roar in his ears, so he covered them with his hands.  He couldn’t let himself hear the words he knew were coming; they were going to tell him his baby was dead.

No no no no no...

It was just like the night Mattie had died.  It was just like that, and he’d have to try and survive it all, again.

“My Lord!”  He finally heard the loud voice in his ear, and his vision cleared.  He saw Thranduil still sitting by Tilda with his mouth open, too shocked to move. 

His husband looked terrible.  He was almost unrecognizable from anguish.

And Tilda was so tiny, so still, in that big bed… 

Oh, Valar… I can’t do this again.  I can’t.  Please…

Daeron put his arm around Bard to steady him, and was speaking to him, again.  He looked blankly at the Guard, because his mind couldn't register.  He could only say one thing, and that word came out in an agonized moan.

“No... No... No...”

If he refused hear the words, he could be spared the agony that was to come. 

Suddenly, Thranduil was there kneeling beside him, gathering Bard into his long, strong arms.

 

 

ELVEN TRANSLATIONS:

Thozyan sen, Esta.  – (Quenya) I am worried about her, Esta.

De nathathodh? Dhen iallon!  – Will you help her?  I beg of you!

Daeron gi nathad, Tithen Pen – Daeron will help you, Little One.

Athon de nathad, Aran nîn – We will help her, My King  

De vilui, Daeron – Thank you, Daeron

Tithen Pen – Little One

Tithen Melin - Little Love

Hênig – My child

Ion-nauth nîn – Son of my heart

Fer-nesto im, hênig – Feel better soon, my child

Dhe suilon, Aran Bard – I greet you, King Bard. (formal)

 

NOTES:

Lung Fever – older term for pneumonia

- I am not a medical person, and Tilda’s illness is mostly contrived from my own sadistic imagination, but it resembles diseases we have.  Pneumonia is often accompanied by the horrid color coming from Tilda’s lungs, and often leaves a lovely parting gift of chronic asthma (Ask me how I know this.  *eyeroll*). 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

The Woodland Realm; 8th of February, 2942, T.A.; Just after Dawn

 

While the others were gone, Daeron continued his ministrations to Lady Tilda.  The Guard was growing increasingly desperate; she was so very hot, and nothing they had done so far was helping.

She was panting through her mouth.  Her breaths were less wheezy, but her eyes were half-open, and unseeing, and he could tell she was in pain.

Then, her eyes closed, her head went back, she went utterly limp in his arms.

“Tilda?  Tilda? Can you hear me?” He shook her shoulders gently.  He listened to her heartbeat; it was beating much too rapidly.

Varda, please help…

He shouted frantically for the King, and he and the others rushed into the steamy chamber, with hearts in their throats.

Daeron had his hand on her chest, feeling her heart, and encouraging her lungs to take deep breaths.  “I cannot get her to respond, My Lord, and her fever has spiked.”

Hilda put her hands over her mouth.  “No…  No!” and turned to Galion, who grabbed her with a worried look.

“What do we need to do?”  Thranduil asked.

“Empty the bathing pool and fill it with cooler water - just below room temperature, not icy cold,” Daeron commanded. “Hurry!”

Thranduil rushed over to flip the stopper in the bottom of the water, and wait for the water to drain.

“Would not cold water be better?” Thranduil called over to him. 

“To immerse her now in cold water would be too much of a shock to her system; it could stop her heart. We cannot risk it.” He looked at Hilda.  “But for now, soak some towels with the cold water and bring them to me.”

She grabbed a couple of towels and took them to Thranduil, who ran them under the spigot.  Then she squeezed them out a little, and brought them back.  He quickly wrapped one around Tilda, and one around her head, grimacing, as the girl shivered. 

“What will happen if we can’t get the fever down?” Thranduil had turned on the spigots to the correct temperature, and walked over to them.

As if in answer, Tilda stiffened, her eyes opened again, but they rolled up into the back of her head, and she began to convulse.

Ai, gorgor!" Daeron quickly rolled her over on her side.  “If she vomits, she could choke on it!  Hold her steady!”

“What’s happening?” Hilda demanded.

“Her fever has caused her body to seize.  We must try to keep her from injuring herself, and keep her on her side.  We must get her fever down very soon, or…”  He couldn’t finish the sentence, as he saw Hilda’s face crumble.

Tilda’s body continued to jerk and spasm and it was evident she had lost control of her bowels and her bladder, and had soiled herself.  It was a dreadful and surreal scene.  

Hilda began to shriek, and her knees buckled, as Galion grasped her elbows to keep her from falling.

The Guard looked to Galion.  “Get Lady Hilda out of here, then send for Elénaril! Do NOT get the children!  They must not see her like this!”

Galion nodded grimly, and dragged Hilda away, over her loud protests, and shut the door behind them.

Daeron looked over at the King, who was staring at his daughter with wide, disbelieving eyes, and shaking his head. He had gone completely white, and paralyzed with fear.

“My Lord?  My Lord…  You must focus!”  He grabbed the King’s shoulder, and shook him, hard.  “LOOK AT ME!” 

Daeron was a Healer, and a soldier, and would do anything he could to save his patient.  Right now, he needed Thranduil's help, or she'd die.  

The Guard cursed in Sindarin, as he tried to keep hold of Tilda, and he shook his King again.  “Avo dheo andin, Aran NÎn; daro a maethor! Natho den!" 

Oh, Valar…

Daeron sent up a quick prayer and in desperation, backhanded his beloved King across the right side of his face. “THRANDUIL!  SHE IS DYING!  HELP ME!”

***************

 

The Guard’s harsh words, and the sting on his cheek, brought Thranduil out of his trance. Daeron was right. 

This was a battle; one he couldn’t lose, and to act as a father, was to guarantee her death.  He needed to think like a soldier, like a King, and do what needed to be done.

“I am sorry."  he swallowed and looked to Daeron for guidance. 

Daeron spoke sharply and looked him straight in the eye.  "I need you to be strong, My Lord.  If you cannot, I will have you removed from this room, is that clear?"

The Guard was absolutely right, and Thranduil felt ashamed.  But now was not the time for this, he sat up straighter, and met Daeron's eyes.  "What do we do?”

“We hold her steady till she stops.  Then we will get her into the water and try to bring her fever down.  I’ve got the child; go get some warm water in that basin and get the soap.”

Thranduil did as he was told, and Tilda’s body gradually calmed down.

Daeron checked her breathing and her heart, then nodded.  “Is the pool ready?”

“Yes.” 

“Good.  Her clothes are ruined; we need to get them off and clean her, or the water will become contaminated.”  They quickly stripped the girl down, and Daeron rolled her filthy clothes in a ball and tossed them in a corner, before he and Thranduil washed her off.  Then Daeron wrapped her in the towel again as the Elvenking removed his robe and pajama top, and stepped down into the water and held out his arms, as Daeron handed her down to him.

Just then the bathing room door slammed open, and in ran Elénaril.  Without a second thought, she kicked off her shoes, and stepped into the pool, fully clothed, and went to Tilda, stroking her hair, and looking intently at her face.

Without taking her eyes off the little girl, she asked Daeron.  “Tell me.  Quickly.”

In rapid Sindarin, Daeron explained everything that had happened so far, as he stripped down to his leggings and walked into the pool after her.  Thranduil sat on the step, and cradled Tilda in the water, immersing her up to her neck.

They were running out of time; her heartbeat was still rapid and thready, and she was cooking from the inside out.

By silent agreement, Thranduil held her still, and steadied her heart, while Daeron and Elénaril put their hands on Tilda, and began to chant and sing in Quenya.  Together, painstakingly searched Tilda everywhere.

Her lungs were no longer dangerously congested.  The oils from the steam bath had worked, and they were able to release most of the rest of it and bring it out of her.  Daeron had towels by the side of the pool handy, so he kept wiping her mouth out until it was clear.  They saw the inflammation and redness in her throat, and neck had returned, so they relieved that.  Only one of her inner ears still looked infected, so they worked together to eliminate it.

Why then, was she still suffering such a terrible fever? 

Daeron paused.  “It wasn’t just her throat that was causing her pain.  It was her neck…”

Elénaril thought for a few seconds, then asked Thranduil, “When you say her head hurt, was it just her face and forehead? And light bothered her?”

“It did.  She said her head hurt all over.” Thranduil said.  “Why?”

“We need to check something.”

Their focus now turned upward, toward her head.  As soon as Daeron’s hands rested on her skull, all three Elves suddenly saw the infection in the membrane surrounding her brain. 

She was in more peril than any of them had imagined.

Elénaril gasped, and opened her eyes.

Daeron also opened his eyes and looked into Thranduil’s.  “She has Brain Fever, My Lord.  I have never seen this, but I have read about it…”  The Guard was frightened.  “It is not a common disease, but can result from an illness such as Tilda’s.  Elénaril, do you know anything about this?”

“Very little, unfortunately.”

Thranduil closed his eyes and tried to collect himself.  “What can we do?”

Elénaril assessed the situation quickly.  “I do not think our lack of knowledge is that much of a problem; this is an infection, and we already know how to fight that. We are dealing with a very powerful infection, but there are three of us here, and you are one of them, My Lord.  That gives us some hope.  We must act quickly, but we also must be extremely careful, or we could do further damage.” 

Daeron closed his eyes and sighed, wearily.  He was tired, yes, but he was determined to keep on, until this was finished. 

Elénaril took note of it, then quickly took charge.  “I am the strongest right now, but Daeron is most familiar with the child’s anatomy, so this is what we are going to do:  He will take the lead in this, and I will assist him.”

“You,” she told Thranduil, “will hold her absolutely still, and you will lend all your strength to Tilda, not to us.  You will give attention to her vital organs, to keep her stable and the blood pumping properly.  Look for infection in the blood, and kill it quickly.  Support every part of the child that needs help, while we heal her head.  Can you do all this, My Lord?”

“I will,” Thranduil vowed. “I will not fail her.”

“Let us now begin.”

Holding the naked child in the cool water, King Thranduil centered himself, and concentrated, as he began to sing. 

Daeron placed his hands on her head and also began to sing, but a different song.

Then Elénaril placed his hands over the Guard’s, and joined his song, adding power to his efforts, letting him guide where the healing light needed to go.

The music echoed throughout the chamber, and their voices rose and fell and harmonized, as together, they waged war on the infection, determined to wrest the little girl from its fatal grip.  The battle went on for a long time, its outcome was still unpredictable. 

During these hours, no one noticed Galion quietly enter, to refill the lamps, and to take away the dirty towels, Tilda’s soiled pajamas, and bring clean robes and clothing for everyone. No one heard Galion’s own song, but they felt it; he was praying and singing for them, to keep up their own strength, and helping to lift up any flagging spirits, and fill them with hope and vigor.

They also didn’t notice the times Galion placed steaming bowls of water on the table with several crushed Athelas leaves in it, to renew and refresh them, as well as assist in their efforts.  But they felt it just the same, and they were thankful.

During all this, Thranduil held his child close. He cleared her blood of toxins and cooled it, to take care of her fever.  Anywhere her body faltered, he strengthened.  Any tissue that was damaged, he restored.  It took enormous strength to care for so many areas at once, and to give each part exactly what it needed.  It was an arduous, exhausting balancing act.

At one point, Tilda's heart faltered, so he quickly sang a strong, healing light into it, until it settled it back down. He regulated her breathing, helping her to take deep, steady breaths.  Eventually, all could see the infection recede, and concede defeat, and although none let up their efforts, they rejoiced. 

They continued their healing songs long after the fire in her head was gone, and her temperature return to normal.  They searched again and again for anything that seemed amiss, but found nothing. 

And yet, no one wanted to stop, because then the hard questions would be asked, and no one was ready to face the answers, especially Thranduil.  Was Tilda the same, or was part of her lost forever?  Were they too late, and was she now little more than a vegetable?

They couldn’t put it off any longer, so the singing stopped, and they opened their eyes.  She remained unconscious, but perhaps that was a mercy, and not just for her.

“She is out of danger.” Daeron said, tiredly.  “She will live.”

“I believe you are right.  How long have we been doing this?”

“I have no idea.”  Daeron did not look triumphant.  “My Lord, I do not know if –“

Thranduil chided the Guard.  “You did the best you could.  We all did.”

“We did indeed, My Lord.”  Elénaril said, with a resigned look.

Tilda, began to shiver. “We need to get her out and dried off.” Thranduil said.

Thranduil got out of the pool and took some large thick towels, and when Daeron handed her up to him, he wrapped her up, and carried her to the chaise lounge. 

After he lay her down, he went to the door, and called for Galion.

Galion came quickly, “She is all right?”

“She lives, but she is still comatose.  I will come out as soon as I can, and speak to you all.  Thank you for your help, and for the robes.”

The Aide nodded. “I have sent for a change of clothes for Elénaril, and Daeron; they should be here momentarily.”

“Thank you, Lord Galion.” Elénaril took a robe and a towel, then went into the necessary to dry off and change. 

Daeron and Thranduil changed as well, and together, they got Tilda dressed and her hair combed out and braided.

Thranduil carried his little girl into the nursery, and put her to bed, pulling the covers up to her chest.  Daeron stepped in after him.

“Her wet hair will help to keep her head cool, and that is good.” He told King, tiredly,  “She is in the hands of the Valar now, My Lord,” his voice almost broke as he said those last words.

“I wish I could find more comfort from that.”  Thranduil stood up straight, and heaved a sigh.  “I will go and speak to my family; they must know the entire truth.”

“Would you like me to wait for Elénaril, and come with you?”

“No, but thank you.  I must do this.” He turned toward the door, but then stopped, and turned back.

“Daeron?”

The guard had just sunk into a chair beside the bed, and closed his eyes.  He looked up at his King.  “Yes, My Lord?”

“I… want you to know I appreciate everything you’ve done, especially…  I understand why you had to...  bring me back to the moment.  If you had not –“  Thranduil blew his breath out, and tried to give him a weak smile. “Thank you, at least for not striking my left side.”

Daeron sat up straight, in consternation. “I am sorry, My Lord, but you were in shock, and..."

"I understand."

Daeron still looked upset.  "I should not have -"

“No!” Thranduil said.  “You were right.  In that room, I could not be a father.  Yours was an act of courage and loyalty, as brave as all your other efforts on Tilda's behalf.  Lieutenant, you refused to let me fail my child, and I am in your debt.”

“There is no debt, My Lord.  Healing is much like soldiering; when there is a battle, we must fight with all our might, and only allow ourselves to feel afterward."

“So, I have seen.  I pray we never face a war such as this again."

“You have my continued prayer as you speak with the others, My Lord."

Thranduil heaved an exhausted sigh, then went out to speak with his frightened family.

It wasn’t over yet.

 

Mid-afternoon in the Woodland Realm, 8th February, 2942, T.A.

They all were in the living room, now.  Was it afternoon, already?  Thranduil sighed.  No wonder he felt so exhausted. 

The children must be finished with classes and afternoon activities, because the three of them were sitting with Galion and Hilda on the couches, holding on to each other and waiting.  Everyone turned, with questioning eyes, as Thranduil walked in. 

Esta lifted her head when she saw him, then leapt to her feet, and quickly took off for Tilda’s room, to stand watch.

Thranduil stood in the room, and took a deep breath.  “Tilda is out of danger.  She is no longer feverish, her lungs are much clearer, and her ears and throat are better.  She is unconscious, but she will live.”

A collective sigh of relief filled the air. 

“I knew you could do it, Ada!”  Sigrid got up, wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged him tight.  “I knew you could save her!”

He hugged her back, and kissed her hair. “Thank you Iellig, but I must ask you to sit back down; I need to speak with you all.”

As Sigrid returned to her place beside Hilda, he sat down in the overstuffed chair, and faced his family.  Then he began.

“Tilda will live, but the fever was dangerously high, and the illness may have affected her in ways we do not know yet.” He met Hilda’s eyes.

“What is it, Thranduil?  What happened?” She said in hushed tones.

“Tilda developed Brain Fever.”

The woman turned ashen, and gasped. “Oh, my Stars…  Oh, no…” Her words were barely audible.

Sigrid wasn’t familiar with the term.  “What is that?” she asked, and she grabbed Hilda’s hand.

Thranduil explained.  “The infection from her ears traveled up into the sheath that surrounds her brain.  Between the three of us, we managed to kill it, and the fever.  We did it as carefully as possible, but it took us a long time.  We will need to watch her closely, for quite a while.”

“Why?” Bain asked in a thin voice Thranduil had never heard before.  Rhys held his arm, for encouragement.

“I will tell you all the truth, as I understand it.  According to Daeron, this type of disease could… affect Tilda.”  He saw Hilda's eyes closed in terror, but he continued.  “It could affect her memory, the way she talks or even the way she thinks."  He swallowed.  “Brain Fever could cause weakness in her arms or legs and harm her ability to see, or to hear.  All of these possibilities could be temporary…” His voice wavered. “Or not.”

“You mean… she could be different, forever?" Sigrid’s lip trembled.

“Yes, Iellig.”  Thranduil’s breath caught, and his vision blurred.  “I... do not want to say these things to you, truly.  But you all need time to prepare yourselves for this possibility.  We must be ready to accept Tilda, in whatever way she comes back to us.”  He blew out a long breath.  "I am so sorry."

“When will we know, Thranduil?”  Hilda asked, grasping Sigrid to her, who started to cry. “What do we do, now?”

“For now, we wait.  She is unconscious, and Daeron feels that is best, for now.  Her body needs to rest from everything we have done.  In a few hours, we will try to wake her up, and we may know some answers to our questions.  Until then, we wait and pray.”

Everyone on the couches sat very still and pale.

“Is Da coming?” Bain asked, his voice still tight, as he quickly wiped his cheek.

“I sent a messenger for him at first light.  I do not know what time it is now…”

“We had our midday meal several hours ago.” Galion said, getting up.  “I shall arrange something for you, My Lord.”

“Thank you. Please prepare something for the others, as well.”

Daeron came out to the living room, looking exhausted.  “Elénaril is sitting with Lady Tilda, My Lord.  Her condition is unchanged, and she is resting, still."

Hilda got up and put her arm around the Guard. “You look dead on your feet, love.  We need to get you fed, and then you’re going to get some rest. What kind of shape is Elénaril in?” she asked Thranduil.

“She is not so fatigued, and could watch Tilda while we rest for a couple of hours.”

Bain sat up straighter.  “Daeron, if you need to stay close by, you can sleep in my bed.  We changed the sheets this morning.”

The Guard was grateful at the suggestion. “I thank you." He sighed, wearily.  "I do not wish to impose, but I need to be here, if Tilda needs something.” 

Sigrid asked Daeron.  “Could we see her?"

Daeron though for a moment.  “If you wash your hands thoroughly, and keep a kerchief against your mouth, you may look through the doorway, but only long enough to see her.  I would like to send for my books and notes, plus a change of clothing.  I will write down the materials I need, if you could please gather them.”

“Aye, then that’s what we’ll do.”  Hilda, bless her, shook her head, wiped  her eyes, and began giving orders.  “Daeron, love, go get that list made.”  To Sigrid and Bain, “Come on, you two; go get scrubbed up, so we can see the Little Bean.”  To Rhys she said, “Take the list of everything Daeron needs to his mother, so she can get them together.  One of the guards can take you there, and help you carry it all back.  Galion, could you take Daeron to Bain’s room, and get him settled?  Thranduil, I want you to head straight to bed; you're done in.  We’ll make sure you get something to eat before you fall asleep.” She clapped her hands.  “Let’s go, everybody!”

Soon after, all was settled; the items were gathered and dispersed accordingly, Thranduil and Daeron were put to bed and given a meal on a tray, while Elénaril ate at Tilda’s bedside, and Esta continued her vigil.

There was nothing to do now, but wait.

 

Thranduil was sure he’d fall asleep the instant his head hit the pillow, but when he closed his eyes, scenes from the last fourteen hours played over and over in his mind, and the anxiety kept slamming into him like waves.  The more he lay there in the quiet, the worse it became.

He got out of bed, and went into his dressing room, and quietly shut the door.  His eyes began to fill, and his breath came in gasps, so he put his hands over his mouth to try to calm his breathing, as he paced back and forth for several minutes, then he staggered over to the wall and slid down to the floor.  His arms hugged his knees, and his shoulders began to shake from his silent sobs.

He was vaguely aware of the door opening, and felt someone sit down beside him.  Familiar, comforting arms gathered him and held him, as Thranduil buried his head into Galion’s shoulder and his heart shattered.  He tried to talk, to tell Galion how scared he was, how sorry he was that he couldn’t do more, how he had failed Bard, but he was shushed and held tighter.  He felt his glamour fall, so loving hands helped him adjust his head.  The Aide held him and let him cry it out, and made soothing noises, as he rubbed his back, and rocked him gently, just as he had done when Thranduil was a small child.  

After a while, when Thranduil had exhausted his tears, Galion carefully wiped his face, helped Thranduil get up, then tucked him into bed, with gentle kiss on his brow.

“Close your eyes, Thranduil. Losto, Ionnauth nîn,” he heard Galion murmur softly, “Losto si.”

 

Three hours later, Thranduil woke up, feeling a little better, and dressed quickly.  He hurried into the nursery, and saw Elénaril, checking Tilda’s pulse.

“Has there been any change?” he whispered.

The woman shook her head.  “But no fever, thank the Stars.”

“I will get Daeron, and be back shortly.”

He walked through the living room, and saw Sigrid, Rhys and Bain over at the table with Hilda, doing their lessons. 

“Galion said we needed to keep busy, so…” Sigrid shrugged.

“That is good thinking, Iellig.   Boys, are you all right?”

Rhys nodded his head, soberly, and Bain said,  “I’m trying to concentrate, but…”

“I understand.  I am going to get Daeron, and we will find out what we can.  Please wait here with Hilda.”

The children got up from the table, and sat down on the couch. 

“I can’t do anything until I know.” Bain said, and Sigrid nodded in agreement.

“I will come out and tell you exactly what I find, as soon as we know.”  Thranduil told them.

Hilda did her best to give him a brave smile, as she put her arm around Sigrid. “Whatever comes, we will all handle it together.”

Thranduil woke Daeron, and they washed and made ready to see Tilda.  

When they entered the nursery, Elénaril stood, and made ready to leave.  “I am sorry, My Lord but I must go back to the Healing Hall.  She is resting comfortably, and I have seen no sign of further illness.”

Thranduil nodded.  “I thank you for all your help.”

Elénaril put her hand on his upper arm and squeezed.  “Galu, Aran nîn,” and left.

The Elves went over to the bed and sat on either side of Tilda, facing her.  Thranduil brushed the hair away from her face, then placed hands on her, to see if anything was amiss, but her body seemed calm.  He kissed her brow, and caressed her little cheek.  “Tilda, Tithen Pen, it is time to come back to us.   Ada is here, and I love you.  Please wake up, for me, hênig." He placed her hand in both of his, kissed it, and began to massage it, gently.

Esta whined and wagged her tail.  She was waiting, too.

Daeron leaned forward, and shook her, gently.  “My Lady, can you wake for your Ada, and all who love you?  We are anxious to speak with you, Tilda.” 

Nothing happened for several moments, then Thranduil noticed her fingers had moved, just a little.  Esta whined again, and leaned forward to lick her other hand in earnest.

“Tithen Pen, it is Ada,” he said.  “Can you squeeze my hand?”

Her fingers moved again. 

“That is very good.  Can you do it once more?” he asked softly.  “Please, squeeze my hand again, Hênig.”

Her fingers moved once more, and Thranduil couldn’t help the sob that came from him.  She could hear him! 

“I am so proud of you, Tilda.”  He stroked her cheek again.  Could you open your eyes for Ada?  Please try.”

Esta licked her cheek in earnest, and whined, again. Her dark eyelashes fluttered over her cheekbones, and they held their breath. 

What will she see?  Would she see at all?

Finally, Thranduil saw the beautiful blue of Tilda’s eyes, and she blinked rapidly.  He stroked her forehead, and smiled, as best he could.  “That is wonderful, Tilda.  Can you look at me, child?”

She slowly turned her head toward the sound of his voice, but she was having trouble focusing, and scrunched her face up. 

Daeron quickly got up and dimmed the lamp.  “The light may bother her, at first,” he explained.

“Is that better?” Thranduil asked her.

She opened her eyes a bit wider.

“Can you tell me what you see, Tithen Pen?

“Ada…” she breathed, looking right at him. Her voice was thin, and barely audible, but to Thranduil, it was beautiful music.  He squeezed her hand, and smiled.

“Yes, my little love; it is Ada.  What else do you see?”

Esta licked her cheek again.  “Dog.” She said.

“Can you tell me her name, Tilda?” Daeron asked. 

She thought for a minute.  “Dog.”

The Guard persisted.  “This is Esta, My Lady.  Do you remember her?”

She didn’t say anything.

Daeron tried another tack.  “What color is Esta?  Could you tell me?”

Tilda looked confused, so he said, “Is she blue?

She shook her head. 

“Is she red?”

“No.”

“How about black?”

“Uh huh.”

"Does Esta have just one color, or two?"

"Two."

Thranduil asked, "She is black and...?" he looked at her hopefully, but Tilda just looked at him, trying to think.

"Soft."

"Yes, she is very soft, is she not?" 

“Aye.”

Thranduil’s throat tightened, and he swallowed several times, as he tried to keep up a cheerful smile. 

Daeron gave the little girl a brilliant smile.  “You have been far, far away, little Princess. We are very happy to see you."  He placed his hands on her chest.  “Can you take some deep breaths for me?”

She did as he asked, and he listened.  “Her lungs sound clear, and her heart is steady.”  He sat back up, and asked her, “Does your head hurt at all?”

 She nodded.

“Does it hurt a lot?”

She shook her head.

“Just a little?’

A nod.

Daeron stroked her hair, then sang some words to ease her headache.  “You did very, very well, Tilda.  Now, I need you to drink some tea for me; it will help your head feel better.  Can you do that?”

“Uh huh.”

Thranduil moved to sit against the headboard and propped her up against him.  He and the Guard helped her take small sips, until it was gone.

“Your mouth must have been dry."

She nodded, but made a face.

 "I know this tea is not your favorite, but you were a good girl for finishing it."

“Do you know where you are, Tilda?” Daeron asked her.

“Ada’s house.”

Daeron grinned at that.  “Ada has a very big house, does he not?”

“Uh huh,” she said, softly, looking at Thranduil.

“Can you tell me what room you are in?”

Nothing. 

“Tilda, do you have brothers or sisters?”

She nodded.  “One.”

“Just one?”

Tilda was silent, and her brow furrowed.

Daeron tried something else.  “How many brothers do you have?”

“One.”

“And how many sisters, Tilda?”

“One.”

“Can you tell me their names, Tithen Pen?” Thranduil asked.

She thought for a minute, and concentrated, but just looked at him.

“What is your Ada’s name?” Daeron pressed further.

“Ada.”

They they had to be satisfied with that, for now. 

“Da?”  Tilda asked. 

Thranduil kissed her hair.  “You Da is coming, Tithen Pen.  I am sure he will be here soon.”

She looked up at him with tired, but trusting eyes.

 “Would you like to sleep some more?” The Elvenking asked.

She nodded, and Daeron stood up, as Esta once again, lay down at her side, facing the little girl.

“Esta will be watching over you, and I will be right here, should you wake up.”  Thranduil said, as he helped her lay down.  Her eyes closed, and immediately fell asleep.

Thranduil listened, as Daeron went and told the others the encouraging news, and heard Hilda and Sigrid burst into tears from relief.  He wasn’t far from tears himself. 

He sat on the chair, leaned his elbow on the bed, and covered his eyes.  

There were frantic footsteps, then a dreadful, anguished noise.  Thranduil looked up and saw Bard, with a tormented face, fall to his knees, and double over.

Before he could react, Daeron appeared and helped Bard to sit up straight.

“Please, My Lord, she is…”

Bard grabbed at his chest, and slumped against Daeron, and whispered, “No... no... no…” He couldn’t get air in his lungs to speak, and his hands were over his ears.

Thranduil rushed to him, gently pried his hands away, then held his husband close, saying over and over.  “She is alive, Bard.  Her fever has broken, and she is just sleeping.” 

Thranduil said it, until Bard could take a breath, at last. 

He said it until Bard found the strength put his arms around his Elf, and hang on for dear life. 

He said it until Bard buried his face in Thranduil’s neck and sobbed with relief. 

They both did.

***************

 

Bard hid his face in his husband’s neck, until his heart stopped pounding, and he could breathe normally.  It wasn’t easy, because Thranduil was holding him so tight. 

He wouldn’t complain, though.  He had dreamt of these arms, and never needed them more.  As they knelt on the floor and held each other tight, Thranduil tearfully told him what had happened.

“Oh, Bard…it was just a cold, but then… it happened so fast...” Thranduil managed to get out.  “I am sorry, I am very sorry.”

“Will she be all right?”  Bard looked over Thranduil’s shoulder and looked to Daeron. “What happened here?”

“Tilda no longer has any infection, and no fever. We think, at this point, she will recover, but My King is right, My Lord; Tilda was extremely ill.”

 “I need to see her.” He whispered, to Thranduil.

The Elvenking raised his head, and wiped his eyes.  “Of course, Meleth nîn.” He quickly helped Bard up, and stepped out of the way.

Bard went to her bedside, and sat down, and stroked her hair.  She didn't look like herself; she looked frail, almost ghost-like.

“Oh, Little Bean…”  he whispered, and had to wipe his eyes some more. 

He turned to the Guard, and asked in a low voice.  “Could she get sick again?”

“It is a small possibility, yes, but we will watch her constantly for the next two or three days.  If something happens, we will do our best to stop it before it has a chance to take hold.”

Esta, still jammed against the other side of Tilda, raised her head, looked at Bard with intense dark eyes. 

“So, you’re Esta.” He smiled. “I’ve heard a lot about you.  Are you worried about her?”

Esta answered with a few thumps of her tail, before she laid her head back down on Tilda’s stomach.

“She watches over her, My Lord.  She will know long before we do, if something in her body changes; and will alert us.”

Bard regarded the intelligent dog.  “I believe it, Daeron.  Look at her!  I don’t think you could take her from this bed, willingly.” 

 “She has been at Tilda’s side since she first became sick, Bard.”

“What exactly happened?” Bard looked between the Elvenking and the Guard.   

So, they explained.  When Daeron described her convulsions, Bard’s heart began to pound again, and when his husband said the words, “Brain Fever,” it nearly stopped.

“Oh, Valar…”  Brain Fever in children was almost always a death sentence, in Laketown.  There were a few children who lived, but were never the same.  Please, no...

Bard pleaded to his husband without words, too afraid to ask the questions.  Daeron answered for Thranduil.

 “My Lord, we woke her a short time ago.  She could see, and hear, and she knew King Thranduil.  She also knew where she was, and that she had a brother and a sister.”  The Guard smiled a little.  “She asked for you, and was pleased to know you were on your way."

“And that’s a good sign?”

“It is, but we need to remain cautious.” Daeron explained, “I plan to test her more thoroughly. I am hopeful, but Tilda is very weak, and will be for some time.”

Thranduil added. “Esta came and woke me when Tilda became worse.  She is the reason we were with her she became critically ill.”

Bard reached over the pet the dog’s head. The dog responded by licking his hand, before turning back toward her charge.    

Daeron put his hand on Bard’s shoulder.  “Tilda will not wake for some time, My Lord. I suggest you two go and see your family.  Do not worry; Esta and I will stay with her, and alert you the moment she wakes.”

The dog raised her head from Tilda’s hip and wagged her tail, as Bard smiled and scratched her ears.  He kissed Tilda’s forehead, then got up and let Daeron take his place.  As he and Thranduil left the room, he looked back at the Guard.

“She is just sleeping, My Lord; this is good for her.  Go see your family.”

Bard was still reluctant to leave his little girl, but he nodded to the Guard, and they went out into the living room.

“Da!” Bain shouted and grabbed him, followed by Sigrid, and Hilda was right behind them, blowing her nose.  They all stood and held each other for a few minutes, before Bard sat down, with his arms around Sigrid and Bain.  Bard looked over at Thranduil, who was sitting next to Galion and Rhys, and Hilda took the chair. 

“I missed you so much, Da,” Sigrid leaned her head against Bard’s shoulder.

“I know, my girl.” He kissed her hair.  “I missed you all. But I’m glad to be here, and we’ll get Tilda well again.”

Bain squeezed his arm.  “We will.” The boy was determined.  “Whatever she needs.”

Galion asked, “Have you eaten?”

“I ate a little something on the road; I can wait till dinner time.”

“It is time for dinner, now.  I will see to it.” The Chief Aide looked to Thranduil.  “Shall I arrange for some broth to be prepared for Tilda?”

“That is a good idea.  And have them bring a warmer, so it will keep longer.  She will probably only take a few sips at a time.  See if Daeron wants more tea for Tilda, as well.  Elénaril can have it made and brought here.”

Galion got up to leave, and looked down at Thranduil and gave him a reassuring smile.

Bard watched his husband look up at Galion with gratitude. “Thank you, Mellon nîn.” He whispered. “For everything.”

“I could do no less.” The Aide nodded, and went to arrange things.

Bard gave his Elf the once-over, with half a smile.  “You look terrible.”

“Do not worry about me.  Tilda is still with us, and that is all that matters.”  Still, Thranduil lay his head back on the couch, and closed his eyes.

Hilda leaned forward.  “Bard, those two stayed up all night, steaming her lungs in the bathing room. Elénaril showed up this morning, it took most of the day, but between the three of them, they managed to knock out whatever was going on.  They saved her, Bard.  Heroes, every one of them.”

Bard swallowed and looked at his husband.  He could feel Thranduil’s exhaustion, and distress, still.  He shared it. 

Sigrid sniffed.  “This whole place reeks of eucalyptus, and I don’t care one bit.  If we had to smell it forever, I wouldn’t care.”

“I would.  But it would be worth it.” Bain added. 

"It is worth it." Rhys said, looking up at Thranduil, beside him. "I'm glad she's better."  Thranduil smiled, and put his arm around the boy.

Sigrid snuggled into Bard.  “I’m so glad you’re here, Da.”

He set his chin on her head.  “Me, too, love.  Have you seen her?”

“We looked in on her earlier, before she woke up.  Daeron said she was going to sleep a lot.” Bain said.

“He told me that too.” Bard kissed Sigrid’s hair, and hugged Bain, then got up.  “I’ll see you later, I promise. I just need to…” he paused.

“We know, Da.”  Bain said.  “Go.”

Bard quietly walked back into Tilda’s room, where Daeron was listening to her heart and lungs.  Then he checked for fever.

“Her heart remains steady, and there is only a small amount of congestion in her lungs, which is to be expected.  No sign of fever, or infection anywhere.”  Daeron said.

Bard saw the weariness in the Guard.  “Would it be better if she were moved to the infirmary?”

“No, My Lord.  Until I consult my books, I would like her to be kept in isolation.  In any case, she will rest better in familiar surroundings.” Daeron then added, “If you would, Lord Bard, please change into a clean outfit and wash your hands and face, before you sit with her, or touch her.  I will explain later.”

Bard agreed.  “You’re exhausted, Daeron.  Thranduil’s dead on his feet, too; I’m about to send him back to bed.  What do you need?”

The Guard looked at him a bit sheepishly.  “I need to be nearby to monitor her, but you are correct.  I am very tired."

“Tell you what.” Bard said.  “I’ll have Rhys move into Bain’s room, for the next few days.  The bed in there is plenty big enough for the both of them, and we’ll get you settled in the spare room.  Make a list of everything you’ll need, and Galion and Hilda will see it done.”

“Are you sure that will be all right?”  Daeron asked.  “I would feel better if I was here, but…”

Bard reassured the Elf.  “Daeron, this is our baby, and if she’s safer with you here, then I’ll give you the King’s bed, if I have to, and Thranduil and I can sleep on the floor.  Don’t worry; Bain will do anything to help his sister.  I’ll arrange it.”

Bard stepped back out, and of course, the boys were eager to be of service, so the children moved Rhys in with Bain.  Daeron’s mother brought his things, then Galion and Hilda changed out the bedding, and arranged his room.  Thranduil sent for another Healer to work night duty, and soon, an attractive, black-haired elleth arrived, named Meriel. 

The Guard wearily made ready to go to his room, after giving the other Healer some quick instructions in Sindarin.

“Daeron?” Bard got up and walked to the Guard, and clasped his forearm. “I know I thought you were a pain in the arse, when we first met,” he smiled wryly, “but I’m more grateful than I could ever say, for this.”

“I thank you, My Lord.”  The Guard looked weary. "I hope..."

Bard cleared his throat.  “I know.  Go get some sleep; and we’ll get you if we need you.”

Daeron saluted everyone.  “I will return later this evening to check on her.”  Then the tired Guard left.

Thranduil came in and sat down next to Bard, and leaned his head on his shoulder. “I am powerful, Bard, and I do well with injuries, but Tilda needed the knowledge and skill of a good Healer.  She would be dead, now, if it were not for him.”

Bard put his arm around him.  “I could spend every day of my life thanking Daeron, and it still wouldn’t be enough.”  He kissed Thranduil’s hair.  “You should go rest some more, love.”

His Elf whispered,  “I am tired, but cannot bear to be apart from you.”

Bard entwined Thranduil’s fingers in his, and nodded.  No words were needed, so they sat together, and propped each other up, while they watched their daughter sleep.

 

***************

 

Everything felt fuzzy, especially in her mouth - it felt dry and sticky.  Her head felt really heavy, and it was hard to move. 

Slowly, Tilda opened her eyes, blinked several times, and looked at the high ceiling.  It was dark, but over there was the lamp. Ada must have turned it down low.  That was good; bright things made her face scrunch up.

Something moved against her leg, and she heard whining.  A tongue was licking her hand, so she moved her fingers and felt soft fur.  It felt good.

There was a another noise, so she tried to open her eyes more to see, but it was really hard.

A cool hand was stroking her forehead and her cheeks, and she liked how nice it felt.  Ada's here, she thought, at first. But something was different, though; Ada’s and Daeron’s fingers are soft, and felt good. 

This one was rougher, a little scratchy...

“Hey Little Bean,” a soft voice said, and something about it made her wake up more.

She turned her head a little, to see who it was, then finally, she saw the face.

“Da…” she whispered.

“Yes, darling.  Da’s here.”  His face looked sad, and really splotchy, and his eyes were all red.

“You’re sad.” She said.

“Oh no, love, I’m just so happy to see you."  Da smiled, and he sniffled, a little.  Maybe Da caught a cold, too.

He was holding her hand, so she squeezed his fingers, like Ada asked before.  Da must have liked it when she did that, because he smiled kissed it, a couple of times, like Ada does…

“Ada?” He had been sitting there before.  Where did he go?

“Your Ada has gone to get some sleep, love, but he’ll see you as soon as he wakes up.”

Da looked like he was really upset, even if he said he was happy.

"You're sad," she said, again.

Just then, an Elf she didn’t know stood beside her father’s chair.  She had a nice smile, and long hair.  It was the same color as Da’s, but hers was straight, not curly.  She had pretty eyes, too. 

“Hello, Lady Tilda.  I am Meriel.  I want to check you over quickly, then you can visit with your father.  Is that all right?”

“Uh huh.”

The pretty Elf felt her forehead, put her hands on her chest.  Then she said to take deep breaths. 

“Why?”

“I must listen to your lungs.”

“Lungs?” 

“Lungs are organs inside your body, that take in air,” Meriel had a nice smile. 

"Oh." And she breathed in, like they wanted.

The Elf nodded her head. “The air in your lungs sound a bit rough, but that is to be expected, Tilda. You are doing well.” She patted Tilda’s arm, then stepped back, and came back with a cup.  “Here is some tea, we need you to drink.”

She tried to sit up, but it was hard, so Da got on the bed with her, and then leaned her against his chest.

“Is that better, Little Bean?”

“You’re here,” she looked at him.

“I sure am, love.  There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”  He grinned at her, and kissed her forehead.  She liked sitting against him.  “Now, are you ready to drink this, for Da?”

 She nodded, so he held the cup to her lips. She took a few sips, and made a face.

“It’s icky.”

“We have sweetened it, as before."  Meriel told her.  “Your Da and I need you to be a brave girl, and drink it all.  This will help you get well, again.”

She looked up at her Da.

“She’s right, love.  We need to get you better, right?  Can you be a big brave girl, for your Da?"

So, she finished the tea, and even some broth that Da spooned into her mouth after.   It didn’t really taste like much, but it wasn't yukky like the tea.

“Do you need to pee, Little Bean?”

Tilda had to think for a minute.  “Uh huh.”

So, Da carried her to the room, followed by Meriel.  He opened the door, but she frowned.

 “You can’t.”  She shook her head.

"Darling, you can't go by yourself.”

Tilda shook her head again, and pointed at the pretty Elf.

“She can.”

“Whoops, you’re right; sorry about that.” Da smiled, and handed her to Meriel.

The pretty Elf helped her, which was good, because she was really tired! Then Da carried her back to her bed.  

“Do you want to snuggle?”

“Uh huh.”

“Okay, love.  Let’s get settled, all right.” Da told her.  He took off his boots and sat down on the bed against the headboard. Tilda closed her eyes, when she felt his arms go around her.  “There.  Is that better?”

She nodded. Da felt so good.

 “Missed you.” She said.

“And I missed you, Little Bean.”  She felt him hug her tighter and he kissed the top of her head. “I love you so much.”

“You’re here."

Ada said you didn’t feel good, so I wanted to make sure you were all right.”

“I got sick." She whispered.

“You sure did.  I see Ada put you in your very own room.  Do you like it?”

She nodded her head.

“I like your dog,” Da told her.

Tilda looked over at Esta, who crawled over and licked her face.  She wanted to laugh, but she was too tired.  “I wrote you.”

“I know you did.  I have your letters, and all your pictures, darling.  Uncle Percy and Tauriel do, too.”

She closed her eyes, snuggled into him some more, and heard him whisper, “Go to sleep, Little Bean. Da’s here, now.”

Da was here. 

Everything will be better.

 

 

SINDARIN TRANSLATIONS:

Ai, gorgor! – Literally means “Oh, horrors!” which can be interpreted as “Oh, shit!”

Avo dheo andin, Aran Nîn; daro a maethor! Natho den!   – Do not fail her, My King; stay and fight!  Help her!

Losto, ion-nauth nîn – Rest, son of my heart.

Losto si – Rest now

Galu, Aran nîn – Good luck, My King.

 

 

NOTES:

Catarrh – older term for upper respiratory infection.

Lung Fever – older term for pneumonia

Brain Fever – older term for meningitis

All the terms for ancient medicine was taken off of this site:

http://www.thornber.net/medicine/html/medgloss.html

 

 

I am by no means any kind of medical expert on this, but I should tell you that Tilda became sick with Middle Earth’s version of Brain Fever, something resembling what we call H. Influenzae Meningitis.  Fortunately, Middle Earth has Elves to help with such things.  I only wish the residents of our world could be so lucky…

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Morning in The Woodland Realm, 9th of February; 2942, T.A.

 

Thranduil got up early, put on his robe and peeked into the nursery.  Meriel was still there at Tilda’s bedside, and Bard was sitting against the headboard, fast asleep, holding Tilda to him, with his hand on her hair.  Esta, true to form, was right beside them, with her head resting on Bard’s leg.

“Good morning, My Lord.” The Healer whispered.  She stood, and they went to the doorway, and spoke in low tones.

“How is she?”

“Lady Tilda awoke in the night, spoke a little, and had some tea and broth.  She was very happy to see Lord Bard.” She smiled over at Bard and Tilda. “I am pleased to see her sleep so deeply, on her own.  Daeron and I discussed a losta-luith, but it appears she does not need one.”

Esta jumped down from the bed, and went over to them, wagging her tail, excitedly. “Mára arin, Esta.”  He leaned down to scratch he behind the ears.  “Esta would not be eager to leave, if she thought Tilda needed her; this is a good sign, is it not?” he asked the Healer.

“I believe so, My Lord.  I have checked the child frequently throughout the night, and I can find nothing amiss, besides weakness and exhaustion.  No sign of infection, no fever, and her lungs sound satisfactory.  She has coughed some, but that is to be expected.”

He told the Healer he would return momentarily, then sent Esta out with a guard.  After he closed the door again, he leaned against it for a few moments, with a sigh.  The rest of the household would not be awake for another hour or so, and he found the stillness soothing.

Gwennig nestad; De vilui, O Elbereth… He closed his eyes and gave thanks that he was merely waiting for his family to awaken, and not helping Bard plan a funeral.

Thranduil walked over to fireplace, and looked on the mantle.  There were now several framed sketches that had joined the ones of Legolas and Tauriel, and he lightly passed his fingers over his drawing of Tilda, with a small smile.  The door opened, and Galion walked in.  He was earlier than usual, too.

“Aur vaer, Thranduil.  How is our Tilda?”

“She is sleeping soundly.  Bard is with her, and she had an uneventful night, thank the Valar.”

Galion looked relieved.  “That is joyous news.” He sighed.  “How do you fare?  Are you well?”

“I slept last night, so I feel stronger.”

“That is good.” Galion scrutinized his face closely.   

He gestured for Thranduil to sit on the couch, and went to close the door to the children’s apartment, and sat beside him. “Thranduil, you have been through a great deal in the last several months, and these past days have been unspeakably hard.  I wish to know if you are all right.”

Thranduil sighed, and thought about it.  “I am… overwhelmed.  And frightened.”

“Why are you frightened?”

“I failed to protect her.”  Thranduil blinked, as his eyes filled.  “Bard trusted me with his children, and Tilda got so sick…”

“Tilda’s illness is no reflection on your care or concern, Thranduil.  That is no failing of yours, or anyone else’s.”  Galion said.  “You love her very much.”

“I do.” his lips trembled.  “I am afraid for her, but I am afraid for myself, as well.  What if it happens again, Galion?”

“What happens again?”

Thranduil looked down into his lap, and rubbed his forehead.  “I am afraid of…  turning into what I was, if she dies, or if any of them should die, no matter how much I do not want to.”

“Are you afraid of shrinking away from life, as you did when Mírelen was killed?”

“I ran away from my feelings for a long time, and I feel myself struggling not to do it again.  If Tilda had died, would I turn back into an icy, unfeeling monster, again?”

His friend spoke gently.  “Mellon nîn, you were never that.  Since you’ve been with Bard, you have learned a great deal about yourself, have you not?”

Thranduil nodded, still looking down. “You told me it is not a matter of strength or weakness, it is a matter of knowing oneself.  My mother said something similar, when we said farewell at the Grey Havens.”

“I remember, Thranduil.” Galion said.  “And she was right.”

Thranduil smiled sadly.  “I am sorry it took me so long to understand what she meant.”

“It does not matter how long it took.  All that matters, is that you did.”

The Elvenking looked at him.  “Loving someone can be frightening.”

“Thranduil, it is always a risk when we love, is it not?  And we do not choose it; we oftentimes have no choice in the matter.  All we can decide, is what we do with this risk.”

“Suppose Bard died?  We talk of forever, but Mithrandir did not guarantee either of us freedom from death, despite the blessing from the Valar.  Bard and I do not like to think about it, but times like these remind me I could lose him, too.  I could lose them all!”

“Yes, Thranduil, you could.  It is normal to fear such things, especially after you have experienced heartbreak.  But ask yourself this:  You tried to avoid love, so you could to avoid loss.  Did all those centuries ‘hiding’ make you stronger?  Did it really protect you, as you hoped it might?”

Thranduil considered.  “No,” he sighed. “It did not.”

“So, you know yourself even more, now.  You are changed, Ion-nauth nîn, and I do not think you will suffer so again.”

Thranduil looked at Galion.  “If I did, there are many who would not let me fail myself again.  Daeron did that very thing, yesterday.”

“What do you mean?  What happened?”

“When Tilda had her seizure, I was sure she was dying, and I… got lost; I froze.  Daeron had to be harsh, and forced me back to the present, to help Tilda.  I was glad, and I thanked him for it.”

Galion smiled. “Sometimes we all need, as Hilda puts it, ‘A good kick in the arse,’ to get us back where we want to be. Daeron did what was necessary to snap you out of it.”

“When Legolas was small, you lost your temper, because Legolas needed me, and I was hiding from it.  I should have listened to you then, but instead I got angry, and pulled rank.  It was wrong of me.”  Thranduil smiled.  “From now on Mellon nîn, I command you, as your King, to never let me command you, as your King, to stop telling me things I need to hear.”

“I shall have that edict written signed and sealed, within the hour.”  Galion deadpanned.

They laughed, then Thranduil became serious.   “It is selfish, to be talking of myself, after what Tilda went through.”

“No, Thranduil.” Galion said.  “Times like these remind us how much we need to look out for each other, do you not think?”

The Elvenking gave a sad smile.  “As you looked out for me, yesterday.”

“You needed a chance to express your sorrow, Thranduil.” Galion assured him, then he added, softly.  “Much like I did, when I went to my rooms last night.”

Thranduil leaned forward.  “You spend all your time caring for others, and I often forget that you need support.  For this, please forgive me.  I wish to know how you fare, Mellon nîn.

“I…” Galion swallowed.  “I could not imagine what our days would be like, if our Tithen Pen left us.  I have found joy in caring for her, seeing her smile so brightly when she spells a word correctly, or her look of concentration when she is drawing a picture, or when she naps on my couch.”  He reached for Thranduil’s hand. “They are all part of my heart, but to have our little one be in such danger…”

It was Thranduil’s turn to be strong for Galion, and he reached over and embraced him.  “We could not be the family we are, without you.  I could not be anything, without you!  You are my touchstone, as you always have been, Galion.  You give so much, and yet you get so little in return.  I am sorry for that.”

Galion sat up straight.  “That is not true, Thranduil.  It is in my nature to look after those I care about.  I feel stronger, when I can help others be strong.  It is how the Valar made me.”

“But it seems unfair that you do not have anyone.  I do not understand the will of the Valar, in this.  I have loved not once, but twice! You are alone, because my father did not return your feelings.  It seems cruel, to me.”

Galion didn’t seem surprised that Thranduil knew.  “Please, do not worry about me.  At one time I did desire Oropher, and yes, I've always loved him, but now I see I was not meant to live that life.  What if I had, Thranduil? Look at all the people your father brought into my life because he loved your mother, and not me?  I have loved helping to raise you, and Legolas and Tauriel.  Now we have Bard and his children.  And someday,” He grinned, “there will be grandchildren! From the loss I suffered, I have gained much, much more.” 

“I hope you know, my father loved you, as the dearest of friends.  So did my mother.”

The Aide smiled and squeezed his hand. “He did, and he never begrudged me the feelings I once had.”

“Adar knew?”

Galion nodded.  “Shortly before his marriage to your mother, I decided to leave his service, thinking there would be no place for me. He came to me, and we talked for a very long time.  He told me how it grieved him to hurt me so, but he needed me in his life, if I could find a way. He knew he could trust me like no other. 

“Your father and I made sure there was nothing hanging between us, and, in the end, I decided to stay, and I have never regretted it.  I wanted to be by his side, Thranduil, and I never again sought what he was unable to give me.  I grew to care about your mother, very much. On the day you were born, your father asked me to look after you, should anything happen to him, and it has been my joy to keep that promise. 

“I discovered I needed no bond-mate to feel complete. I did not ‘settle,’ for this life, Thranduil; do not pity me.” Galion smiled at him, and patted his hand.  “If everything I do is out of a deep love for you, for them, and for our home, how could my life be empty?” 

The Elvenking looked over at his Adar-nauth.    “You may think your place is behind me, Galion, but that is not so.  You are the bedrock to my life; you are the foundation for everything I do and everything I am, every bit as much as my parents, and I never want to take that for granted.”

“Thank you.” Then Galion sat back and smirked.  “And do not worry about taking things for granted.  If Hilda ever caught any of us doing that, she would be certain to let us know, would she not?”

There was a knock at the door, and Daeron entered, carrying a large bundle of what looked like clean laundry, followed by Esta.  He set it down on low table by the couches.  “Good morning, My Lord,” he saluted Thranduil.

“Good morning, Lieutenant.  I thought you were sleeping in Rhys’s room.”

“I was, but I rose some time ago to consult with my books and to retrieve some things.  Has there been any change?”

“Meriel reported that all was well.  She is sleeping soundly, in the arms of her father.”

Daeron nodded.  “That is good.  I hate to disturb him, but I must speak with you all, before the children wake up.” 

The Guard sounded ominous, and Thranduil’s stomach stirred with anxiety.  “I will go get Bard, and Galion, would you get Hilda?”

“Of course.”

Thranduil and Daeron walked into the nursery.  As the Guard quietly conferred with Meriel, the Elvenking thoughtfully watched Bard and their daughter sleep.  Tilda was in the same position she was in before, snuggled closely to her Da, with her head on his lap.  She had hardly moved, since they brought her back from the bathing pool. 

He sighed sadly. That was so unlike her; she normally kicked and flailed her legs all through the night.  On the nights she crawled into bed with him, he normally found it annoying – and on one occasion painful.  This morning, as Thranduil watched the pale, sleeping girl, he offered the Valar anything they wanted, if she could be given the chance to kick at him again.

Thranduil stepped over to the bed, and shook Bard gently, and whispered.  “Bard? Meleth nîn, Daeron would like to speak with us.”

The Bowman blinked, and opened his eyes, and took a moment to orient himself.  He looked down at Tilda.  “Is something wrong?” he whispered.

Meriel was quick to reassure him.  “She is still doing well, My Lord.  I will watch over her.”

Ever so gently, Thranduil and Bard managed to get him out of the bed, and settle her back down, and  Esta settled beside her.   

Once everyone was in the living room and seated, Daeron began to speak:

“This morning, I spent some time with Lord Elrond’s books and my own notes concerning this type of Brain Fever, so I could be sure of all the facts.  With your leave, I would like to outline my concerns, along with a treatment plan for Tilda, and I will need your cooperation.”

“Of course.” Bard said.  “Anything.”

Daeron nodded.  “Tilda will be constantly monitored for the three or four days, but the fact that she did not deteriorate in any way last night, is an encouraging sign.  If she continues as such, then the danger will pass.  I still urge caution, because, there are things that we must consider.

“First, when Tilda first became ill with her cold, Lord Thranduil might have appeared to overreact, but in this case, he did the right thing, by isolating her from the other children.  For the most part since then, only Elves have cared for her, and they are impervious to disease. 

“Lady Hilda has also been in her room, but she has made sure to wash her hands thoroughly, so as not to spread Tilda’s cold to the others.  This works in our favor because,” he blew out his breath, “I have discovered that Brain Fever can be contagious.”

The four of them froze, in shock. 

“Oh, gods…” Bard stammered and his face whitened, and he grasped at his stomach, and looked desperately at Hilda, who didn’t look much better.

“What do we need to do?” Galion asked, after he took Hilda’s hand.

Daeron continued.  “We will take all precautions, and I will monitor the children closely.  For now, they seem perfectly healthy.”

Galion, confirmed this to Bard, “We have been watching for signs, and see nothing, My Lord.”

Hilda reassured Bard.  “He’s right, love.  There’s nothing wrong with them.”

“That is reassuring, but they need to stay in this part of the Palace for at least four days, at this end of the hall.  None of us can be near other children, in case we are unwitting carriers.  We must especially avoid any contact with Rhian and the baby, or even my aunt Indis.  I know this seems extreme, but considering how close Tilda came to death…  I do not want any other child to suffer.”

“It is not extreme, if children could be endangered.” Thranduil said, and all the other adults readily agreed.

“But the other children have been to school; even yesterday!” Hilda became alarmed.  “Galion and I have been nagging after them day and night to scrub up and clean up, but what if one of them gets sick?”

Galion turned to Bard, “When Tilda first got sick, Hilda ordered us all to wash our hands frequently.  We have also repeatedly washed things, such as handles, door knobs, the backs of chairs… anything we all touch.”

“Aye.  That’s what we did back in Laketown.  Medicine’s expensive, what little there was of it.” Bard affirmed. 

“That is very clever.” Daeron said. “If we continue to do this, then there will be minimal danger.”  

Bard thought for a minute. “But there’s still a chance this could spread to the other children of Dale?”

“It is not likely, since Tilda was already isolated when she began to deteriorate. However, Lady Hilda, I suggest you speak with  Mistress Bronwyn, and if you all decide to take precautions, I will be glad to help you put a plan in place.”  He turned to Bard.  “This type of illness may not be as contagious as the others, but it can be devastating.”

 “You’re right.” Bard told him. “We’ll follow your lead in this, and I grant you full authority to protect my people in whatever way you see fit.”

 The Guard nodded thanks.  “I will do my best, My Lord.”  Then he continued.  “This brings me to the second thing we need to speak about:  Tilda’s body is extremely vulnerable, and will be for quite a while.  She has nothing to fight off illness and disease, and even a very minor thing could devastate her.  To that end, I want anyone who goes to see her to fasten their hair back, and scrub their hands thoroughly before entering the room, and to put on one of these light robes over your clothes.  Wear a clean one, every time you go in, and discard it as soon as you leave the room.” 

Daeron continued, “Elves, do not suffer from illness, but we could carry particles on our clothing that could harm her right now.  Those from the race of Men, must not only wash and wear the robes, they must cover their mouth and nose, as you are susceptible to sneezing and coughing, and could send harmful particles through the very air she breaths.” He held up a small pile of clean kerchiefs.  “You must wear these over your mouth and nose while you are in her room to prevent further illness.”

Everyone nodded in agreement, but Thranduil met Bard’s eyes, meaningfully. 

“How long would we have to do this?”  Bard asked. 

“For at least two weeks, maybe more, depending on how Tilda recovers.”

Galion then asked, “What about Esta?”

Bard added.  “From what I’ve seen of the dog, I don’t think you could keep her away, willingly.  Besides, you said she can alert us to any change in her, before she even shows symptoms.  She could be her best chance at preventing more complications.”

Daeron agreed with all of that.  “Has she been with Tilda exclusively, since she became sick?”

“Almost all the time, yes.”

“I suggest she be given a bath, then make sure she keeps to the nursery.  If the children wear masks, so they do not cough or sneeze on her, they could wash her.  They must be instructed not to pet her.  We will wipe her down every time she comes in from outdoors, especially her paws.  Keep her confined to Tilda's room, or the King’s garden; nowhere else.  The benefits of her with Tilda outweigh the risk, so we will do what we can.”

Thranduil nodded.  “All will be as you say.”

Daeron took a deep breath, and continued.  “This recovery, is the third element we need to speak about.  Have any of you seen the effects of Brain Fever?”

Hilda closed her eyes, painfully.  “Oh, yes, and it kills me to even think of it.  It usually hits small children, and they almost always died.  Some recovered, and went back to normal, but there were a few who…” she couldn’t finish the sentence.  Thranduil looked over at Bard, who didn’t look much better.

“There was a boy, who was blinded, and lost most of his hearing.  Another girl about four years old, was left a vegetable.” Bard added.

“It is a terrible thing to think about,” Thranduil took Bard’s hand, “but I spoke frankly to everyone yesterday, and we are all resolved to accept and support Tilda, however this illness might change her.  I hated to frighten them, Meleth nîn, but I wanted to give them time to adjust.”

“Lord Thranduil is right.  We were given encouraging signs last evening, and this is good news.  What is working in Tilda’s favor, is that the disease became acute while in the presence of myself, and Lord Thranduil, so it was dealt with as quickly as possible.” 

“However, we will need to watch her closely for a long time afterwards.  Some effects of Brain Fever are not immediately apparent, so we need to monitor her hearing, her sight and her personality, and most of all, her heart.  Everyone must make note of anything out of the ordinary, even if it seems minor, please make me aware of it, so I can measure her progress or find new ways to help her.

“Lady Tilda’s memory could be temporarily affected, and there may be things she will not remember at all.  We must be calm and very patient; if she cannot remember something, never get upset in front of her.  Her moods may change very suddenly and she could become combative, if she gets upset or frustrated, yet we must remain calm, and encouraging, as her body learns to compensate.”

They all sat in silence, for a few moments, while all this information sank in.  Thranduil could feel Bard’s hand shake in his, and he squeezed it even tighter.

Hilda wiped her eyes, stood up, setbthings in motion.  “We’ve got a plan here, so let’s get to it.  Galion, let’s get everyone a good, hot breakfast. Bard, you go get the kids up, so we can explain what’s going on.  Thranduil, have a guard bring Bronwyn to your study, so we can discuss what to do about school.  When we’re done with that, Bard, you need a bath, and a good nap; you look as terrible as Thranduil did, yesterday.  Come on, everybody, let’s get this done!”

And they did.

 

***************

 

Daeron sent for more special tea and broth for Tilda, and the children got up for breakfast.  They were given a kinder, gentler version of Daeron’s speech, and naturally, they agreed to help Tilda as much as possible. 

Bronwyn was sent for, and the adults met in Thranduil’s study across the hall, while Galion and the children remained in the apartment.   

“I told Thranduil the kids are stronger because of all the good food you’ve been feeding them, so that should help.  I’m surprised so many even caught colds at all.”  Hilda observed.

“You are right about the nutritious food, Lady Hilda, and it helps them a great deal,” Daeron said, “but keep in mind that your people live on land now, and are coming into contact with different things, such as plants, and animals.  I suspect it takes a while for their bodies to adjust, but in time, they will.”

“So, is that why Tilda got so sick?” Bard asked. 

“Perhaps.  Her illness was rare, and it was a complication borne from another illness, My Lord.  She may have been susceptible because of all the changes in her life.  Lady Hilda says she’s always been a bit sensitive, so that could be a part of it.  In any case, the treatment and the precautions for everyone are the same.”

Bard turned to Bronwyn, “He’s right.  Please tell your parents that I want them to report to the Healers as soon as they see any kind of illness in their children.  Repeat to them what Daeron just said, and hopefully, that will convince them.  And go ahead with the quarantine.”

Thranduil added.  “Rather than send the children to the Healing Hall, I will have my guards keep watch, and send the healers to them.”

“Even better, My Lord.” Daeron said, and Bard nodded in agreement.  Then they hammered out the details of their plan, and the Guard and Schoolteacher made ready to carry it all out. 

After Bronwyn and Daeron left, Thranduil and Bard asked Hilda to stay. 

“We need to talk to you, Hil; there’s something you need to know. Otherwise, I’d have to lie to you, and I won’t do that.”

Hilda looked bemused.  “I don’t understand.  What’s wrong?”

“There’s nothing wrong; it isn’t like that.  Some things have changed, and you need to know about it.”  Bard looked at Thranduil, then back at his friend.  “There was… more to my marriage to Thranduil, than just the ceremony, and we were strongly advised to keep this to ourselves, until we knew everything this would entail.  Gandalf warned that things could be misconstrued by others, and we didn’t want to burden anyone until we knew more.”

“What is it?  If you’re wondering if I know about Elven birds and bees, don’t worry.  I already know all about that.”

Thranduil leaned forward.  “Hilda, as you know, there are many differences between Men, and Elves.  Until now, there have rarely been any marriages between the two races.  It is also very unusual for Elves to fall in love more than once. 

“Bard and I are…  a unique case, and it is a long, involved story. To sum it up, we were offered, by the Valar, special dispensation to marry.”

“Because you’re both men?  And Kings?”

“Not at all, Hilda, the Valar offered us one of two choices; either I would bind with Bard and become Mortal, and follow him to his afterlife, or he would become Immortal, and join me in Valinor when the time comes for us to leave Middle Earth.”

Hilda’s eyes widened, when she looked at the Elvenking. “Are you saying you won’t…   You’ll die, now?”

Bard said gently, “No, Thranduil will not die, Hilda, and neither will I.” He leaned forward.  “I’ve chosen his fate.”

The woman sat back, and let it sink in.  “Bard?  You mean…?”

“Aye.  I won’t age, or become ill, and I will not die, unless I’m killed.  Even at that, I won’t be with any of you in the afterlife.  I will be with Thranduil in Valinor.  The fact that I won’t age, is one of the reasons why Gandalf urged secrecy, for as long as possible.  I’m telling you now, because I won’t be wearing a mask when I’m in with Tilda; I didn’t want you to think I was being careless.  I think Tilda will do better, if she can see my face, and I won’t wear one and lie to you.”

“But… why wouldn’t you tell me or Percy!  We’re your best friends, Bard!  We wouldn’t tell anybody!”

Bard nodded.  “Of course, I trust you two - with my life! I would have told you anyway, I promise.  It’s just that…I think I needed some time to adjust to it myself, before I shared that with you.  I’m still trying to figure it all out, Hil.  I was afraid you’d see me differently, and I honestly couldn’t bear it, no matter how happy I am with Thranduil.”

“Of course, we wouldn’t think of you differently, you foolish man!” Hilda shook her head in exasperation.  “You went from Bargeman to King, and Percy and I don’t think of you any differently did we?”

Bard shook his head sheepishly.  “No, you didn’t.”

“And we don’t treat you any differently, except in public, and even then, Galion has to jab me in the ribs to make sure I use your title.  I understand what you say about dealing with things, and needing some time, but I don’t care if you turn purple and start hanging off the chandeliers, love.  You’re our Bard, and you always will be.”

Thranduil took Bard’s hand.  “I am very sorry if you feel slighted, Hilda, but please believe us; it was never intended as a lack of trust.  We were protecting you from the burdens that come with the knowledge of something like this.  If it became known, it could affect the people's trust in Bard, and we cannot let that happen.  We especially wish to keep it from the children, before they’re old enough to understand.”

Bard smiled at her.  "So...  You're not mad?"

She rolled her eyes, and shook her head.  “Next time you’ll think twice, before you kill a Dragon, become a King, and marry an Elf, won’t you?”

Bard laughed, “Yep.  Live and learn, yeah?”

The woman sat back and crossed her legs.  “Can I ask why you chose to be like Thranduil?”

He nodded, and told her, “Of course you can. I did it for Thranduil and the Northern Kingdoms.  Do you remember Percy telling you about the Necromancer in Dol Guldur?  He told you who it was, didn’t he?”

“Yes, he did.  And now he’s gone, and good riddance.  He also told me there’d be another war, but I don’t think about it much.  There’s too much to worry about now, and we’ll all be long gone before then.”

The Elvenking said, “You are right, in that your concerns should be more immediate, but if I chose to become Mortal, my people would be leaderless in this upcoming war, and I cannot abandon them, not when so much is at stake.”

“And I have an opportunity to help Dale, if I can, Hil.” Bard added.  “I won’t abandon my people, either; not if I can do anything to save them.  I’m willing to pay the price, to benefit my family and my people.  Do you understand?”

Hilda nodded.  “I suppose I’d do the same thing.  Does Percy know?  Because I don’t keep secrets from him.”

Bard shook his head.  “No, but I promise I’ll tell him as soon as possible.  It’ll have to wait until we are face-to-face, though.  Nothing about this can be in writing.” 

“That’s smart.” Hilda said.  “Why do you say, ‘pay the price?’”

Bard told her grimly.  “Because there is a price, Hil, although it doesn’t seem like it now…  I won’t die, as I said, but I also won’t be seeing any of you in the afterlife, when you leave Middle Earth.  I won’t see Mattie, my parents, or you all, when you pass on.  Please understand; I chose this freely, and know it’s the destiny I’m meant to follow, but” His voice became rough, “I will watch you all grow old and die, and you’ll all leave me.”

“But you will never be alone, Meleth nîn.  Not now, nor in the grief which is to come.” Thranduil said softly.  “We will get through it together, and cherish our memories.”

Hilda smiled at the two of them.  “You did good, marrying this boy, Bard.  If and when that day comes, I’ll be sure and tell Mattie all about it.”

“I already have, Hilda. Mattie wants this for me, too.” Bard said.

Hilda leaned forward.  “What in blazes are you saying?”

Bard took a deep breath, and told her (and Thranduil, who had never heard the details), of all that happened, when Mattie appeared to him.  He told them everything she said, and how he felt her hand on his heart, her kiss on his lips, and even the push she gave him, when she said, “Now, be off with you, my handsome man, and bring the world home for supper!” 

Bard’s eyes filled with tears, and told Thranduil.  “She said that to me every morning, when I would go off and work the fishing nets. She wanted me to be with you; she wanted me to have this.  But… it’s more than that, love.” He swallowed,  “She wanted me to have a chance to say goodbye.”

At those words, Hilda grabbed her handkerchief and began to cry. 

 

When they re-entered Thranduil’s chambers, they all had breakfast, then the Kings went to sit with Tilda, while Hilda, Galion and the children set to work, cleaning both the apartments from top to bottom, and making arrangements to bathe Esta.  They seemed glad to have something to do besides wait and worry. 

After their midday meal, Thranduil took the children out into his private gardens for some fresh air and exercise, before they sat down with Galion to continue with their lessons for the day.

Thranduil smiled down at their daughter, as she slept.  “I am very sorry, Meleth nîn,” he whispered, “but there are things I must do in my office, although I would rather be here.  I should only be a few hours.”

“That’s fine, love.  You know where I’ll be.”

They kissed softly, and the two Kings went their separate ways, for now. 

Tilda was just waking up, when Bard and Hilda walked into her room.  He sat down on her bed, and stroked her hair back.  “Hey Beanie,” he said softly. 

“Da?” She looked confused.

“Yes love, it’s Da.” he smiled down at her. “I saw you last night, do you remember?”

She shook her head, then said. “I got sick.”

“You sure did, love.  That’s why I wanted to come and see you.”

Tilda looked at her Auntie Hil, and pointed to her mask.

“Oh, don’t you worry, Beanie,” she said.  “Auntie Hil has a little cold, and I don’t want to give it to you.”  Her eyes smiled above the mask.  “It looks funny, doesn’t it?”

Tilda nodded her head. She pointed to their gowns, then wrinkled her nose, and frowned.

Bard and Hilda laughed.  “I know, sorry.” Bard said, and Daeron looked confused.

“She detests light blue,” Hilda explained.  “Always has, since she was really little.”

The Healer smiled and shrugged.  “I am very sorry about that, Tilda.  They only come in this color, I am afraid.  We wear them, to protect you from illness, until you are stronger.”

She made a face, but didn’t say anything. 

Bard laughed.  “Tell you what, we’ll have the Tailor’s Guild make up some more, how about that?  We’re going to need them, anyway.  And I’ll bet I know what color you’d like.”

The little girl didn’t say anything, but her face showed a struggle to come up with the right word.  Then she shook her head.

Bard tried his best not to show his nervousness.  “Want me to tell you some colors, and you can nod your head?”

“Uh huh.” She nodded.

“So, how about green?  No?  Purple?  Oh, I know, red!” Then he grinned at her.  “Or, maybe…pink?”

“Pink.” She said, smiling a little.

“Very good, darling; that’s what we’ll do.  Would you like us to wear different colors, or all pink?”

“Pink.”

Tilda looked around on her bed, but didn’t seem to quite know what she was looking for.

Daeron leaned forward, and said, “Charlotte and Daisy told us they wanted to help you get well, so they are both having good baths.  They promise to come right back, as soon as they are nice and clean.”

Before she got agitated, Hilda soothed her, “But you have something better to hold, while you wait for them, don’t you love?  You’re Da came all the way here so you can hug him, as much as you want.  Can you be a big girl for me?”

Tilda looked up at Bard, but didn’t say anything.

“Do you need to use the necessary, darling?”

“Uh huh.”

Hilda told Bard and Daeron.  “We’ve scrubbed down Thranduil’s, so it will be all right; and I’ll make sure to do it again, as soon as we’re done here.  See if you can get someone to change her bedding, if you would.”

“Of course, My Lady.”

Daeron nodded his approval, so Bard picked her up, and with Hilda’s help, got things done.  Then Auntie Hil gave her a sponge bath and changed her nightie, and Bard held her in his lap, so they could change her sheets.  After she was settled back in bed, she leaned her head against his chest, as they spooned some broth into her, and gave her the medicinal tea.

“You must drink everything you can, Lady Tilda, so we can get you better.”  Daeron gave her an encouraging smile.  Pointing to the pitcher of fresh water.  “Every time you wake, we need you to drink water, too, as much as you can.”

She nodded, her eyes getting heavy again.

“Go back to sleep, Little Bean,” Bard said, kissing her hair.  “Da’s here, and I’ll look after you.”

Soon, father and daughter were both napping, under the watchful eye of her Guard/Healer and her beloved Auntie.

 

***************

 

As Bard and Tilda slept on the bed, and Hilda left to take care of some things, Daeron looked through his medical book.  Tilda’s color was better, and he knew she’d be weak for a long time.  With every passing hour, the chances of her recovery increased, much to his relief.

He’d been desperate to save her; he was as frightened as everyone else was.  When she was convulsing, it was especially frightening, because his King became frozen with hysteria.  He’d seen the reaction years ago, in Dale, and was stunned when he saw another Healer slap the man, to snap him back to awareness.  It was an effective tactic, but it was still shocking to watch.

When he applied to same treatment to Thranduil, Daeron knew he could face serious consequences for raising a hand to his King, but in that instance, it was either that, or Tilda was dead.  He needed Thranduil’s immense power as a Sindar to save the child’s life.  Thranduil in addition to his other gifts from the Valar, had healing powers, as a King. 

There is an ancient saying, which many now think of as myth, but Elves know it to be truth: “The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known.” It was very likely that the King of Dale didn’t know this, and when he and Thranduil worked together to heal Rhian’s ribs the day after Darryn was born, he thought it was entirely due to his bond with Thranduil.  

  

There was a stirring on the bed, and Daeron quickly looked up.  Tilda was just shifting a little, then she smacked her lips a couple of times, before settling down, again.  Bard’s mouth hung slightly open, in his half-sitting position, and when his little girl moved, he instinctively adjusted to keep her comfortable, and stroked her hair a few times to soothe her, before he went back to sleep, too. 

He was so much like Girion!  Bard was taller, and had broader shoulders, but he had the same mannerisms, nearly the same speaking voice, and definitely the same laugh.  Girion had been a stern, but fair King, but was tender and loving with his family.  Bard’s nature was more light-hearted, despite all his earlier hardships, but he possessed that same steely determination and courage needed to rule a country.   

Years ago, when Daeron was sent to serve in Dale’s Healing House, it quickly felt like home.  The work was varied, rewarding, and he had grown to admire and care about the people he met.  He found a true calling in Dale that centered him, and gave him a sense of purpose like never before.

Then a young, pregnant woman had become his patient.  Daeron didn’t have feelings for the mother besides compassion, but, for some reason, he'd become very attached to the child inside of her.  The spirit of the tiny little girl touched him deeply, and when she and her mother were killed by the abusive husband, Daeron was heartbroken, and took it very badly. Girion was sent for, to try to help his friend, but the incident shook Daeron to his core.

 

 

Daeron had no contact from anyone from the race of Men, until after Smaug was killed, and he went with the Army to the ruins of Dale.  He balked at the idea of treating the humans, again, but Thranduil wisely gave him no choice, and sent him to the Healing Tents.  As soon as he saw all those who suffered, his trepidation left him, and he dove into the work.  With each success, his confidence grew, and he found he had lost none of his knowledge or ability.

On the third day after the Elves came to Dale, Daeron was walking from the camp to the Healing Tents and saw a young, pregnant girl struggling to carry water.  She'd been hurt, and badly; he’d assumed it was due to the destruction from the Dragon, but when he reached out to take the buckets from her, she shrank from him, and he saw the bruises.  When he took her forearm to get a closer look, she jumped and gasped, as if he had stabbed her, and he knew what had happened to her.

 Perhaps it was the fëa of the child that told him, or perhaps it was her own.  Or it could have been memories from the time that woman and the girl-child were murdered.  He didn’t know, and there was little time to contemplate much of anything.

All Daeron knew, was when he touched her arm, he was startled, and his own fëa reacted to her in a way he still didn’t entirely understand.  Regardless, he was determined that history wouldn’t repeat itself.

 

Now, as Daeron sat at Tilda’s bedside, his thoughts turned to another matter. 

Rhian had become more than a professional concern; she and her child were more than a chance to make up for a previous mistake.  The Guard had begun to genuinely care about Rhian, and found himself thinking of her frequently, and in ways he never expected. 

The last time he visited their apartment, he picked up little Darryn, and the baby smiled up at him.  He was thrilled, and his heart burst with pride and happiness.  Then, he looked over at Rhian, who was sitting on the couch, with her head lowered over some sewing.  She looked up at him, and when she met his eyes and smiled, his heart flipped over.

He was confused, and a little frightened.  He didn’t know what to do about it, because the last thing in the world he wanted, was to cause her harm.  Daeron knew the time was coming soon, for him to talk to his King. 

But all that would have to wait.  He was a soldier, and a Healer, and his focus needed remain with the Royal Family, especially the youngest Princess. 

Daeron shook his head slightly, and wrestled the image of Rhian’s face into the back of his mind, and concentrated on his present duty, for now. 

 

ELVEN TRANSLATIONS:

Losta-luith – Sleeping spell

Arin Mára, Esta – Good morning, Esta. (Quenya)

Gwennig nestad; de vilui, O Elbereth -  My little maid is healing; thank you, O Queen of Stars

Aur vaer, Thranduil – Good morning, Thranduil.

Adar-nauth – Father of the heart

 Rista-Goeol  - (lit. “The Terrible Severing”) the pain an Elf bond-mate is killed when a bond-mate is killed.  If the couple were married, it is agony as part of their shared fëa, as the spouse heeds the Call of Mandos.  That is an agonizing process that only the strongest Elves can survive.

 

NOTES:

“The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known.” – Return of the King:  http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/The_Houses_of_Healing

Catarrh – older term for upper respiratory infection.

Lung Fever – older term for pneumonia

Brain Fever – older term for meningitis

All the terms for ancient medicine was taken off of this site:

http://www.thornber.net/medicine/html/medgloss.html

I am by no means any kind of medical expert on this, but I should tell you that Tilda became sick with Middle Earth’s version of Brain Fever; something resembling what we call H. Influenzae Meningitis.  Fortunately, Middle Earth has Elves to help with such things.  I only wish the residents of our world could be so lucky…

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

Early afternoon, 9th of February, 2942, T.A.; The Woodland Realm

While Bard napped with Tilda in his arms, and the children were kept busy with their lessons and such, Thranduil went into his study, and sat for a few minutes with his eyes closed.  Despite his sleep last night, he was still drained.  He really didn’t want to be here, but couldn’t neglect his duties as King.  Dale still needed the supplies to arrive on time, there were reports and requests that couldn’t be put off. 

He took a few moments, and enjoyed the solitude, then heaved a sigh, and got to work. 

News of Tilda’s illness spread quickly throughout the Palace, and messages were sent to him of good wishes and offers of prayer.  Some of his Council members sent messages offering to take care of matters for him in other parts of the Palace, while he attended their sick child, which he gratefully accepted.  The Council also offered to cancel tomorrow’s meeting, which he also agreed to.

There were also updates as to the rest of Dale’s population.  Bronwyn had indeed cancelled school.  He read details of the flurry of activity to quarantine the families to their quarters, and was pleased at their cooperation. 

All the mothers were to observe their children carefully, and were told to alerting the Healers, if needed, who were to make house calls.   Feren made himself useful during his visit, and had ordered several of his men from the barracks to come and assist; they were stationed throughout the Visitor’s wing, ready to fetch a Healer to examine any child showing symptoms, and they assisted in distributing meals to their homes. 

Thranduil smiled when he read his friend’s note, there was a post script that stated his men were to help keep the children busy, to aid their mother’s frazzled nerves.  As long as they observed the terms of the quarantine, and washed and changed, the mothers were grateful.

Thranduil had sent a message to Indis and Rhian to explain about Tilda’s illness. Darryn, as a new infant, was especially vulnerable, so no one from the Royal Household would be visiting for a week, to ensure of his safety.

Thranduil was still buried in his work, when a guard knocked on his office door, and saluted.  “My Lord, I have a message from Erebor.”

“Erebor?” Thranduil asked the Guard.

“It came by…Raven, My Lord. The Guard looked just as surprised as Thranduil felt.

Thranduil blinked.  “Really?” He held out his hand.  He was worried; this could be catastrophic news, on top of everything else they were trying to cope with here…

He unfolded the small piece of paper.  It was much thinner than he normally used, and bore no seal.  In Dáin’s distinctive writing, he read:

Kings T & B--Offering service of Ravens for messages regarding Princess Tilda.  Much quicker than horse.  Reply with news - bird is waiting, so are we!  All is well here. Ready to assist Percy, if need arises--Dáin

Thranduil looked up at the Guard.  “Is the bird still here?”

“Yes, My Lord.  It will not leave; it seems to indicate it we should send a response.”

“’Indicate?’”

“It... holds out one leg and squawks.  Loudly,” the Elf winced.

“Ah.”  Thranduil gave him a wry smile. “Lord Percy and King Dáin must be frantic for news.”

Thranduil got up, and quickly dug around in his credenza in for the paper he kept handy for tracing maps and such, and quickly penned a reply. 

Dáin— Tilda suffered Lung & Brain Fever. Out of danger-first signs good, but must observe. Other children healthy – Precautions taken to prevent spread. Look for full report via messenger. Thank you for Raven—Thranduil & Bard

The Elvenking used the first message as an example to fold the paper properly, and gave it to the Guard.

Once the messenger was gone, Thranduil sat down and wrote the details of all that had occurred, plus the precautions taken to protect the other children.  Once signed and sealed, he sent for the same messenger that had come earlier. 

“I’m afraid the letter box is still in Dale, but give this to Lord Percy as soon as you get there.  Tell him to share this with King Dáin as well.  Also, please bring the box back with you, when you come.  I do not know when King Bard can return, but we can exchange correspondence as usual with Dale, and we will be using Erebor’s Ravens for updates.”

The messenger left again, as Feren stopped in.

“Hello, Mellon nîn.” The Commander smiled, but had a concerned look on his face.

Thranduil got up around his desk, and they embraced, not as King and Commander, but as life-long friends. “I am so glad you are here.” He said. "Thank you for sending extra troops to Dale."

“No thanks are needed, Thranduil.  They volunteered.  How is Lady Tilda?”

Thranduil released his embrace, and invited him to sit.  “She…  came close to death, but she sleeps now, and we are encouraged.  When she is awake, she does not speak much, but she knows us, and where she is.”  He swallowed.  “For now, it is enough.”

“My family keeps you in our thoughts, Mellon nîn.  Glélindë is busy with the Guild, making more clean robes for you to wear in her sick room, and she has personally cleaned her toys.  She’s even making a little surprise for your Tilda.”

The Elvenking smiled.  “That is kind of her.  Please extend our thanks.”

“I think I should leave with the wagons tomorrow, to help Percy, so King Bard can stay as long as he is needed.”

“No.  You will stay and visit with your family, and leave in four days’ time, as scheduled.  I have just received a message from King Dáin, and he and his army are at Dale’s disposal.  Do not forget, Tauriel is also at Percy’s side, and Captain Mablung is more than capable to command in your stead.  I thank you for your offer, but I think it will be fine.” 

He changed the subject.  “Now, tell me about your girls, Feren,” he smiled.  “I need to think of happy things.  How is your new family?”

A grin spread across the Commander’s face.  “My family is noisy, active, messy, and completely wonderful.” He laughed, and shook his head. “Our home is a bit crowded now, with the girls and Gruffudd, but my wife is happy, and our children are very attached to her, even in the short time they have been with her.”

“I would imagine they were happy to see their Ada, Mellon.”

“Oh, yes,” Feren’s smile got even wider.  “I have a child in my lap every time I sit down.  We have separate beds for them, but Glélindë told me they always end up sleeping together, or with her.”

“I imagine they were used to doing so, in the camp with the other orphans.”

“Very likely,” Feren answered. “It makes them feel secure, so my wife has no problem with it.  I, on the other hand, am not quite used to waking up with small, squirmy children.”

“I have the same dilemma, but I do not complain.  Well, I do not complain now.”  Thranduil, leaned forward conspiratorially.  “I learned the hard way, the value of a strategically placed pillow or two.  My Tithen Pen likes to, as Bard puts it, ‘run a race in her sleep,’ and I have been the ill-fated victim of one of her kicks.”

“Oh, no!” The Commander laughed. “What did you do?”

“What could I do?  I am glad she did not wake, or she would have learned that her Ada has just as much of a foul mouth as her Da.”

After they both had a good laugh, Thranduil said.  “It feels almost strange to laugh, after everything.”  Then he said, “Feren, when I saw our Tilda lying on her back, so still, I would have given anything, to have her thrash around and kick her covers off, again.”

The Commander looked at him with compassion and concern.  “Can you tell me what exactly happened?”

As Thranduil shared with his childhood friend the horrors of that night, Feren’s face reflected his distress.

“But you say, so far, the signs are good?” 

“I…have to remain hopeful.” Thranduil sighed.  “Have your daughters been sick at all?”

“Dafina has a bit of a cold, and her ear was bothering her a little, so we had it taken care of.  We are implementing the routine Daeron recommended, and I plan to wash and change before I go near the girls, today.  They will be safe.”

“Tilda’s illness is very rare, and all these precautions may be unnecessary, but I will spare no effort if only to prevent one child from this.” The Elvenking said, ruefully.  Then he said, “This is part of raising humans, is it not?”

“But it is an adventure worth pursuing, do you not think?”  Then Feren asked him, quietly.  “Thranduil, how do you fare with this?”

Thranduil knew what he was asking.  “At the worst of it, when I was sure Tilda was dying, it was…”  He struggled for words.  “Someday, Bard and I will say farewell to her; to all of them.  I had told myself that, when the time came, we would be ready.  But no one is ever ready to lose someone we love.”

Feren looked at Thranduil thoughtfully.  “We can prepare ourselves, but will that really help us, when the time comes?”

“I do not think so.”  The Elvenking sighed.  “I thought my father’s and Mírelen’s death hurt so badly because it was so unexpected.”  He rubbed his forehead.  “Now I know it is more than that.”

Feren said, “King Bard spoke to me of the girls’ mortality, and I thought a great deal about what he said.  If Glélindë and I allowed that to stop us, we would have an eternity to regret it.  We would be failing them and ourselves, if we turned away from this kind of love.”

Thranduil nodded in understanding. 

Feren regarded his face.  “Thranduil, one of the reasons I’m here was to make sure you were not withdrawing.  I will not let you hurt yourself like that again.”

“I would expect nothing less, as I would do the same for you.”  Thranduil got up and clasped forearms with Feren.  “Now, please get back and enjoy your time with your family, as I am about to.  Send them my best.  When all is well again, tell your wife to bring the girls to visit.  Tilda would enjoy it.”

 

**************

 

City of Dale, Mid-day, 9th of February, 2942, T.A.

In King Bard’s study, Percy, and Tauriel were nervously pacing the floor, and Old Ben, Alun and King Dáin were sitting, and waiting, along with Ermon, the Chief Healer.  There was a large pitcher of ale, and several mugs, which were put to good use, and with a tray of food, that remained untouched.

All were waiting to hear news about Princess Tilda.  All was silent in the Great Hall, as fathers wondered and worried about their own children, who were far away.

“Where is it that bird?  It’s been hours!” Percy wondered, and swore under his breath, not for the first time.  “If she…  Oh, Valar… Maybe it’s bad news, and they would never send that with a bird; they would send someone to tell us in person, wouldn’t they?  Maybe the bird won’t come back.”

King Dáin did his best to reassure the Steward of Dale.  “Dunna fash yerself; the corbie’ll get here.  I dinna ken when exactly, but either way, Bard’ll tell us what’s up wit’ the lass.  Sit down, lad,” he told Percy.  “Worryin’ and pacin’ won’t get ye anywheres, ‘cept get ye frazzled.”

“Lord Percy,” the Chief Healer said, “Princess Tilda has the advantage of Elven medicine.  Rest assured that I have full confidence in my staff there and Lieutenant Daeron is highly trained in diseases of the race of Men.  Tilda is in the best place she could possibly be, and King Thranduil will spare no effort.”

“He’s right, Pers,” Old Ben urged.  “Sit, and try to eat.”

He and Tauriel sat, but all they could manage to do was break the bread on their plates in little pieces. 

King Dáin patted Tauriel’s hand reassuringly.  “There, now, lass.  ‘Twon’t be long, now.” 

The Elf covered her eyes, and sighed.  All around the table, everyone sat in sober silence.

Suddenly Tauriel lifted her head. “The horns! The sentry is shouting something.”

They all got up and tore into the Great Hall, just in time for the big doors to open.  The large, black bird swooped in and landed on a table near King Dáin, cawed loudly, then extended its leg to the King Under the Mountain.

Dáin took the message, unfolded it and read it aloud for everyone to hear, and a loud cheer of relief went up all over the building.  Tauriel and Percy embraced with enormous relief.  He wiped his eyes and said, "Thanks to Ulmo and all the Valar...  Our baby's going to be all right."

Alun put his arm around Old Ben to steady him, as he wiped his eyes, while King Dáin harrumphed and cleared his throat for several minutes.

Every father in the Great Hall heaved a sigh of relief that their own children hadn't been affected, and were genuinely glad for their new King.

And everybody drank several rounds of ale, before they got back to work.

 

***************

 

After Feren left his office, Thranduil quickly finished up, then stepped across the Hall, to his rooms, where everyone was waiting.  The children were happy to see him, and Sigrid came and hugged him tight.  He sat down with them, so they could tell him about their day.  Then he told them Feren had stopped by, and surprise visit from the Raven!  He was sure Dale had gotten the good news by now, and the details would probably arrive in an hour or so. 

The children were intrigued, to hear about the bird as was Galion. 

“Now we can tell them every day how Tilda is!  And Da won’t have to worry so much about Dale, won’t he?”

“That is true, Sigrid.  I have asked King Dáin in my letter if he would consider continuing with messages this way.”

“That was nice of him.  Uncle Percy must be going crazy.” Bain observed. 

“I know I would be.” Sigrid agreed.  “It was hard enough to be here, but can you imagine what that’s like?”

“I am glad we have a way to help them,” Thranduil said. “Did Esta get her bath?”

Then they told him about giving Esta a bath, and how they ended up just as soaked as she was.  As he listened and laughed, he felt affection flooding his heart.

Feren and Galion were right; it’s always a risk allowing such love into his life, and he’d never be ready to lose them, but he wanted each moment like this to imbed itself into his memory, to relive and take with him wherever he went.

As he sat and watched them talk with him, and each other, he made a decision.

 Once his book for Legolas was done, he would begin another; this one would chronicle the family he has now, with pictures of these young faces, and anecdotes of their daily life, as they grew up and lived their own lives.  He wanted to record this, to have a way to keep these lovely people alive and with them forever.

There would come a day, when he will be forced to say farewell to every child here, but he vowed to immerse himself in every moment with them.  And, when the time came to leave Middle Earth forever, he and Bard could sit in the evenings, and read these stories, and laugh, perhaps cry a little, and nurture the parts of their hearts where they would always reside.

He looked over at Galion, and remembered his words:  It was times like these that reminded them how much they all loved each other.

“Where is your Da?” he asked the children.  “Is he still in with Tilda?”

“No.  He’s in bed.  Auntie Hil went in there a couple of hours ago, and ordered him to get some real sleep.  She’s in with Tilda now.”

“I think she is right, your Da needs sleep.  How do you all feel?  Are you all right?”

Rhys answered.  “We’re good; honest.”  Sigrid and Bain nodded in agreement. 

There was a knock at the door, and a lovely elleth entered.  “Good afternoon, My Lord,” she curtsied.  I bring you the items that were washed for Lady Tilda, and wish to take the other laundry.”  She handed him a bundle, wrapped in a cloth. 

“I thank you.  Galion, would you please bring the basket out for her?”

“Of course, My Lord.  Just a moment.”  Galion quietly entered the bedchamber, so as not to wake up Bard, and brought the basket to her.  After another polite curtsy, she left.

“I would like visit with your father and Tilda, until it is dinnertime.” He got up, then turned back toward them. 

“Children,” he said, “I am immensely proud of all of you.  You have been helpful, thoughtful, and supportive of each other, considering how little attention you have had from me or your Da.  I do not know what will be involved with looking after Tilda, and this may take a great deal of our time and attention.  Please, never think for a moment, we do not care about you any less.”

The children looked at each other, then Sigrid said, “Right now, Tilda needs you a lot more than we do.”  Sigrid said.

“Don’t worry, Ada, we know you haven’t forgotten about us!” Bain added, with Rhys nodding in agreement.

“Thank you.”  He looked at Rhys, “King Bard and I appreciate your support and help, as well.  I am very glad to have you with us.”

The boy smiled.  “Thank you, My Lord.  I want to help.”

“And you are.  Bain needs you now, and so does Sigrid, so do not doubt your presence here.  I am your guardian, yes, but for now, you are part of my family.”

 Thranduil looked at the three children. “What are your plans this evening?”

“Rhys and me are going to fletch some arrows over at the table.” Bain said.  Rúvyn brought some for us to work on.”

“Rhys and I,” Thranduil corrected with a smile.  “And you, Sigrid?” 

“Tauriel said Old Ben needed some socks, so I need to finish those.”

“Very good. I will talk to you later, yes?”  He got up, and went into his bedchamber, to find Bard on his stomach, fast asleep, fully clothed.  He looked tired, but still, a wonderful sight.  Although he had come for a serious reason, his heart jumped in his chest at having his husband and bond-mate so near.  Valar, the man was so beautiful. 

Thrandiul gently sat on the bed, and lifted a small lock of hair from his face.  He watched Bard sleep for a few minutes, then placed a whisper of a kiss on his cheek before going to wash, gown up and see his Tithen Pen, bringing the wrapped bundle with him.

He stepped in, and saw Daeron checking Tilda’s heart, and her head for fever, again. 

Hilda looked up, her eyes smiling above her mask.  “So far, so good.  Did you see Bard?”

He nodded, smiling.  “Thank you for forcing him to get some rest.”

“He only had a couple of hours last night, and he’s been here all day.  It’ll do him good.”

“How do you fare, My Lady?” he smiled fondly down at her. 

“I’m…”  Even though he couldn’t see most of her face, her eyes spoke volumes, and words were no longer needed. 

He patted her shoulder.  “What is it your Percy says?  ‘One foot in front of the other,’ yes?  I am now sending you to your rooms to rest, as well.  You, Brennil Vuin, must not exhaust yourself, either.  Go now, and sleep.”

Hilda nodded, then went out.  Esta wagged her tail and tilted her head back and forth. 

“Good afternoon, Esta.  How is our patient?”

The dog smiled at him, and wagged her tail rapidly. 

“Well, that is good news.  Thank you very much.”

Esta stretched out, yawned, and left to be taken out.

Thranduil and Daeron moved to the doorway and had a whispered conversation. 

“We have many good wishes from others in the Palace, and Erebor as well.  A Raven brought them.”

“A Raven?” The Guard was surprised.

“I would not be shocked, Mellon nîn.  King Dáin has a soft spot for our little Princess, and it does expedite urgent messages.”  Thranduil turned back to gaze at Tilda.  “How was her day?”

“She woke up a couple of times, and took some more liquids, so that is encouraging.  Her heartbeat is steady, and no fever.  This afternoon, I started her with some breathing exercises to help her lungs.”

“How so?”

“There is most likely scarring, so we need to help her, by making her take very deep breaths, then blow out as hard and as long as she can.  This also might cause her to cough, which is good, because it will get rid of anything left.

The Elvenking nodded.  “How will the scarring affect her?”

“That cannot be known now, but she will be sensitive to cold air for a long time, and must have a scarf over her mouth.  This could affect her for well over a year, My Lord.”

Thranduil raised his eyebrows.  “A year is a very long time for a little girl to be so delicate.” He sighed.

“It does not stop there, My Lord. Things like this could also weaken the valves in her heart.  For now, it is steady and stable, but we must monitor her closely throughout her life.  If we find damage, we must repair it, or it could shorten her lifespan.”

He gasped, as he let those words register.  “Can anything be done now?”

“Like other things, it may not be apparent for a while.  But we shall be watchful, My Lord.  It is to our favor that Tilda is so young.  Her body is still growing, and could overcome much that hinders her, at this point.  If her brain has been affected, it will be easier for her to compensate.  We can help her brain to learn new ways of doing things.  I cannot say this is true for every child that has been damaged, but our initial signs from Tilda are encouraging.”

Thranduil sucked in a breath, and closed her eyes.  “When King Bard awakens, please make sure you tell him all of this.  And thank you for not sparing any details.  We must know everything.”

Daeron looked at his King thoughtfully, and nodded.

Just then, there was a stirring from the bed.  Tilda was awake again, so he went to sit on her bed.  

“Hello, Tithen Pen.” He smiled at her.  “I am glad to see you awake.”

“Ada.” She said.

“Yes, it is Ada.  I have two people who are anxious to see you.”  He unwrapped the bundle, and presented two clean stuffed toys.   “They have taken their baths, and were anxious to get back to you.” he held up Charlotte.

She smiled. “Doll.”

“You are very smart.  Now, who is this?”

Tilda looked at it and her mouth was moving.  “Flower?”

“You are not entirely wrong, Tilda.  His name is a flower you like.”

She considered this. “D… “

“You are very close.  The flower has a yellow center, with many white petals, and it begins with a ‘D.’  You like them very much, so you wanted to give your friend a happy name.”

“I did?”

“Oh, yes, Tithen Pen.  You do not like the names I give to my horses or my Elk, because they are scary, warrior names.”

Tilda perked up.  “Elk.” And pointed to it.

“You are very smart.  And his name begins with ‘D.”  Let us think of flowers that start with that letter…”

Just then, Esta came back in, so Daeron quickly cleaned her paws, and wiped down her fur, so she could get back on the bed.  Esta yipped a little and nuzzled her head under Tilda’s right hand.

As Tilda began to stroke her head, she looked back at the toy Elk.  “D…  Daisy!”

“Yes, his name is Daisy!  Very good!”  Thranduil reached over and kissed her cheek.

He handed both toys to her, and watched her as she gazed down upon them.  “Doll,” she said, pointing to Charlotte.  “Charlotte!”

“That is right.  What is Daisy, is he a horse?”

She shook her head.  “He’s a Elk.”

Daeron moved closer.  “Hello Tilda.” He held up one finger and asked, “Can you look at my finger, please?  Do not move your head, just follow it with your eyes, if you would.”  He slowly moved his finger up and down, back and forth, and she was able to perform the task. 

“You are a very good girl.” He took her hands, “Can you squeeze my hands?  Good…  Now, try squeezing them as hard as you can.” She did try, but it was plain to see that her grip was very weak.  “Excellent.” He turned her hands face up, then put his on top. “How about if try to push my hands up?  Very good.” He flipped their hands over.  “Try to push them down now, as hard as you can.” And she did.

In Sindarin, Daeron told Thranduil, “Her eyes are focusing very well, and her speech is not slurred, and that is an excellent sign, but her hands have lost much of their strength.  Her left hand is weaker than her right.” 

Thranduil nodded to him, then moved to put his arm around Tilda. “I am so proud of you, Tithen Pen.” He kissed her hair, as Daeron handed him a cup of water.  “Now, let us drink our water.  It is good for you.”

She nodded, then loosely put her hands over his on the cup, as she drank. 

“You are thirsty, Tilda, are you not?”  She nodded to Daeron’s question.  “Do you hurt, anywhere?”

She thought for a moment. Then nodded yes. 

“Where do you hurt?  Can you take your finger and point to it?” 

They waited as she pointed to her arms, legs and her stomach, and back.  Daeron and Thranduil’s eyes met, in alarm, then quickly conversed in Sindarin to discern what was wrong. 

“Could her muscles be sore?  Not just from her seizure, but from lying so still?"

“It’s a possibility.  She is already being given Willow Bark tea, but we can massage her muscles, that should help.” He reached for the bottle of Athelas oil, and they lifted up her night gown and massaged it on her legs, then her back, arms and tummy.

“Is this better, is it not?”  He rearranged her nightie and settled her back in bed with his arms around her.

She nodded, then relaxed into him.  “Ada?”

“Yes, child?”

“I got sick.”

 “Yes, hênig, you became sick, but we are happy you are getting better.”

“Da came."

“Yes, he did, Tithen Pen.” He gathered her to him.  “He is taking a nap at the moment.”

Daeron stepped out to send for more tea and broth, as Thranduil held her in his lap.  He held up Charlotte and pretended the she was talking to Tilda, which made her smile.

“I got sick.” She said again.

“Yes, you did.”

“Hey Little Bean, care for another visitor?” Bard stuck his head in, and Tilda’s face brightened. 

“Da’s here.” She said, with a little smile.

Bard smiled at her, and met Thranduil’s gaze and held it for a few moments, and he felt his heart jump.  As hard as all this was, it was so wonderful to have his husband so near.  

The Elvenking stroked Tilda’s hair.  “Bard, our Tilda has talked quite a bit.”

“That’s my Little Bean, always the chatterbox.” He came over to her and kissed her cheek.  “You look a little better.”

Tilda looked at him, and pointed to his light blue robe, then to Daeron’s and Thranduil’s.  “You’re the same,” she said, and frowned.

Bard laughed.  “That we are, Beanie. I know how much you hate this color, but I love hearing you tell me about it.”

Thranduil asked her.  “Do you not like light blue?  I did not know this, hênig.”

She frowned, and looked at her Da. 

“Nobody knows why, but even when she was tiny, she hated it.”  He shook his head, and said to her, “We’re going to have new ones made, right?  I’ve asked Galion to take care of it. Can you tall Ada what color you want them to be?”

She thought for a second, as she played with Charlotte’s hair, and nodded.  “P...” She looked up at Thranduil.  “I like p...”

”Pink?”

”Uh huh.”

“That is good to know.” Thranduil told her, as Galion came to the doorway, with the tray of tea and broth.  Bard took it from him and thanked him.

 Tilda smiled.

The Chief Aide stuck his head in.  “Hello, Tilda.  I am glad to see you awake.”

She held out her arms to him, and Aide was visibly touched.  “I must wash and put a robe on, but I will be in shortly, little one.”

The little girl looked at her Da.  “He’s nice.”

“So, I’ve heard, love.”

“I have a… “  Tilda paused and looked down at Charlotte, but couldn’t think of the word she wanted to say.  She looked up at Bard and Thranduil, hoping they could help her, but neither one knew what she wanted. 

She struggled for a second or two, and started to get upset, so Thranduil made soothing noises and hugged her to him.

“Never mind, love.  It’s all right.  You’ve been sick, and you’re still tired out.”  Bard kissed her temple, “You’ll think of it tomorrow.”

Galion, washed and robed, so Bard stepped back to let Elf could step up to the bed, and give her a hug.  “I am happy to see you, Tilda.”

“Perhaps Galion could give you your tea and broth.  Would you like that?” Thranduil asked.  “I need to speak to your Da.”

“Uh huh.” 

So, the fathers stepped out as Uncle Galion sat down to give her dinner, such as it was, and they left the door open a crack.

 

**************

 

Thranduil pulled Bard farther into their bedroom, and into his dressing room, closing the door behind them.  In the dark, he gathered Bard into his arms and they just held each other tight.

Bard reveled in the smell and feel of his Elf, and buried his nose into Thranduil’s neck for many silent minutes. 

“Please forgive me, Meleth nîn.”  Thranduil’s voice trembled. “I know Tilda needs us, and so do the other children.  But… I need you... in my arms.”  Thranduil whispered.  “I need to hold you, for just a moment.”

“Oh, love, I know.  Stars, I’ve missed you.” Bard’s throat tightened as he burrowed into his husband.   This was what he needed; it was what they both needed.

Bard’s lips found Thranduil’s and as they kissed, there were tears on their faces.  As they held and caressed each other, Bard began to feel solid ground under his feet, for the first time since he arrived.  As their embrace tightened, his heart began to settle.  He no longer felt like he was constantly falling, and scrabbling for a foothold.  They were here together, now.

“Oh, yes…” he breathed.  “I love you so much, Thranduil...”

He heard Thranduil’s small whimper, as their mouths opened, and their kiss deepened.  Valar this felt so good…   Life flowed faster and faster through them, and between them, and their touches soothed the pain and fear in their hearts. 

Soon he felt long, smooth fingers undo his laces, and a hand gripping his cock.  Involuntarily, he groaned softly and thrust his hips forward.  Bard quickly pulled away and yanked Thranduil’s robes open and soon, both of their cocks were held together under both of their hands and they thrust against each other. 

This was not just an act of love, it was a release from the deep fear and pain they felt.  This pleasure soothed them, and steadied them for whatever came next.  This was two bond-mates, coming together again, so they could be stronger as a whole, more than they ever could be apart.  This was deep need, and this was a reminder of what loving each other meant.

Bard tried his best to stifle the noises he made into Thranduil’s shoulder, but when he began to feel his orgasm, he couldn’t stop the moans and he scrunched his eyes shut, and bit Thranduil’s shoulder, hard, to stifle his scream.  The pain mixed with pleasure sent his Elf over the edge, and he heard Thranduil gasp loudly, as the warm milky liquid left streaks on both of their hands, stomachs and chests.  Once again, Bard saw the stars and the sun, and the pure joy of being with his husband.  They continued to thrust together in the dark until at last they were spent, and panting.

Bard ran his hands through his soft, silky hair, and sighed.  “We both needed that.” He kept whispering to his husband.  “I missed you, so much.”

“I feel whole, when you are near, Meleth nîn.  I feel stronger.”

Bard put Thranduil’s hand on his heart.  You’re in here, but I can feel more, when you when you’re nearby.

Thranduil put Bard’s hand over his own heart. “I love you”

“Thanks for dragging me in here.”

“It is terrible to say how much I want you?”  Thranduil didn’t want to let go of him, and wrapped his arms around Bard again.  “I cannot help it.” he whispered into Bard’s neck.  “I need to be with you, Meleth nîn.  I need to feel you inside of me.”

“No, love, it’s not.  I need you, too.  We’ll figure out something.”  Bard kissed him, again, long and hard.  “But for now, we need to get out there for our family.”  He stroked the Elvenking’s cheeks.

They stepped back and cleaned each other up, and put themselves back together. Then they went back out and checked the nursery, again.

Galion had finished giving Tilda her tea, which she didn’t like, and getting ready to give her some more broth.  They saw her smile at Galion, and from the look on his face, he was grateful for the opportunity to spend some time with her. 

Daeron was still there, and nodded to them.  “She is responding well, and has kept down the liquids, so I want to start her tomorrow on some soft, bland food.  It will help her get strong again.”

Bard smiled at his Little Bean. “Will you be all right with Galion, while I go visit with your sister and brother?  I’ll be back in a little while.”

She nodded, and smiled at Galion.  “He’s nice.”

Bard grinned.  “So, you’ve said in all your letters, Little Bean.  Ada’s going to come too, because I think your Uncle Galion wants you all to himself for a little while.”

Galion looked to Tilda, “I know this is not your favorite couch, but you have Charlotte, and Daisy, and Esta, so perhaps you could take a nap when we are finished?”

She nodded, but then her brow furrowed.  “I need a girl.”

“Why is that, love?”

“I have to pee.” 

Ah. “I’m sorry, Beanie, but Auntie Hil is sleeping, and Sigrid isn’t allowed to come in, right now.  I’ll take you.  I used to when you were little.”

She didn’t like it, but there was nothing for it, and they got through it.  Soon she was ensconced back in bed, with her toys, and Galion was telling her a story.

Finally, the Kings made it out to the living room, and relaxed with Sigrid, Bain and Rhys.  Hilda came in after a while, and told Galion, to enjoy his visit; she’d get him his dinner.

 They spent the evening catching up around the dinner table, then relaxing on the couches, while the children had their chance to be with their Da, who had needed him just as much.

 

***************

 

After dinner, the two Kings took turns with Tilda, again.

“My Lord, Meriel is here,” Galion said to Thranduil, who was snuggling with the little girl and singing to her. 

Daeron stood up to greet the other Healer.  “She has had a good day; and I think she’ll sleep through the night.” The Guard couldn’t help himself from stretching.  “If you will excuse me, I will say good night.” 

After Daeron left to sleep in Rhys’s room, the elleth smiled down at Tilda, and began to examine her.  “How are you feeling, Lady Tilda?  Your face has a little more color, I see.”

Thranduil looked down at his daughter, “Daeron said that too, did he not?”

“He is a smart Elf.” She said, as she felt the glands in Tilda’s throat, and listened to her heart.  “Can you squeeze both of my hands?  Excellent. Now, can you push them up?  Down?  Good!  Please follow my finger and keep you head still for me, if you would…” 

As she did all this, Tilda asked, “Why?”

“Oh, it is a silly game we Healers like to play,” Meriel grinned conspiratorially.

Once Tilda was done with necessities and her nighttime medicine, she was ready for a good night kiss from her fathers and Uncle Galion.  Bard stayed with her, until she fell asleep.

The others got through their baths and bed, and once his duties were done, Galion exited, taking Hilda with him.

Thranduil was alone with his husband.

“Unfortunately, we have little privacy in our room, Meleth nîn,” he whispered into Bard’s ear, as he nibbled on his earlobe.

“That won’t do at all, love.  I have no intention of being quiet.”  Bard’s hands traveled from his waist, down to his buttocks, to massage them, and rub their hips together, sending thrills all throughout the Elf.  His cock responded accordingly, and Thranduil thrust his hips against Bard, hard, as he plundered his mouth.

“Valar I’ve missed this,” Bard breathed, as he fisted his hands in Thranduil’s hair to pull his head back. 

Thranduil gasped with delight, as Bard placed soft, wet kisses all along his neck.  “A, ma…” he breathed.  “Ci velethron e-guil nîn, Bard.”

“If I have to wait another minute to have you, I think I’ll die.”

Thranduil lightly kissed his lips, then pushed Bard away, reluctantly.  “Just a moment; wait here.”  Leaving Bard standing there, with his mouth agape, the Elvenking dashed into their bedroom and grabbed the bottle of oil from his nightstand, and a towel from his closet.

Hurrying through the living room, he grabbed Bard’s wrist.  “Come with me,” and dragged him out of their chambers, and into his study across the hall.  Slamming and locking the door behind him, he quickly threw up a silencing spell and turned back to his husband, who quickly manhandled him against the door.

“Bard…”  He grabbed his husband’s tunic and practically ripped it off of him, before he began to suckle on a nipple.  Thranduil felt Bard’s fingers in his hair and heard him gasp loudly. 

“Oh, bloody fuck, Thran…”  Bard said, panting.  “I forgot how good you feel…”

Thranduil quickly undid Bard’s laces and plunged his hands into his breeches and grabbed a hot, hard cock.  They both moaned, as Bard thrust up to meet his touches.  Thranduil moved over to the other nipple, and bit it.

“Aaah!”  His husband cried out, then Thranduil started on the fastenings holding his robe together. 

“Here, let me.” Bard removed the rest of the Elvenking’s clothing.  Once his own were gone, Bard pushed Thranduil against the closed door, slicked his fingers and knelt before the Elvenking, taking his cock into this warm, wet mouth, as he inserted a finger into Thranduil’s opening.  The Elf threw his head back and let out a long, low moan, squirming.

“Am I hurting you?” Bard hesitated. 

“No, but it has been a while, Meleth nîn.  Please be gentle.”  Bard curled his finger up and began to play with Thranduil’s prostate, sending waves of pleasure pulsing through him.  He squirmed and moaned his delight, as Bard continued to open him, and tease him with his tongue.  “A ma!  Pathro nin!”

Finally, Bard stood up and wrapped Thranduil’s legs around him, and drove his cock into the Elf with one long, stroke, as the Elf let out a loud groan of pleasure.  His Bard was around him, in him, and the world disappeared completely, except for them and how it felt.

Bard moaned as he began to thrust into him, holding him up against the wall with his hands gripping his arse, “Gods I’ve missed you; I love you so much.”

Law no lagor; ídhron gi mathad bân, Bard.  Please go slow. I love how you feel inside me.  I need to feel everything!  I’ve waited so long…”

Bard captured his lips in a long, slow kiss, as he moved his hips out slowly and thrust back in.

“A, ma!  Gi melin, Bard.  Avo dharo…”

“You feel so good, Thranduil. This was all I could think about; I thought about fucking you all the time…  I could hardly sleep, from wanting you.”

Thranduil wrapped his arms and legs tighter around Bard, and kissed him hard.  He closed his eyes and reveled in the feel of Bard’s mouth, the warm skin against his, and lavender scent of the oil.  He moaned again as Bard continued to fuck him, his thrust becoming deeper and faster.

“Look at me, Bard.  Let me see your eyes.”  Thranduil gazed into those forest-green depths and lost himself, as he worked his hand between them, and stroked himself.

“Aaah!  Ah, Ma, Meleth nîn!” He could feel the lightning bolts flow through him and knew Bard was close, too.

“I’m gonna come, love” Bard’s voice was no more than a hoarse whisper.  “Come with me.  Do it, love.  Come with me.”

It was more than they both could contain, and tears fell from their eyes, as they climaxed together, with loud cries of joy.  Bard continued to thrust into him as they worked through their orgasms, moaning and panting, until at last they stopped.  Once Bard was soft enough to pull out of Thranduil, he carried him over to the couch.  Thank the Valar, Thranduil had thrown his robe over it.  It would probably be ruined from the stains of their lovemaking, and Thranduil honestly didn’t care.

They lay there for some minutes, still breathing heavy, and exchanging loving caresses and languid kisses, as they held each other.  Just to lay next to each other skin to skin was glorious.

“I wish we could stay like this.”  Thranduil kissed his husband’s hair.

Bard shifted into a more comfortable position, then laid his head on the Elvenking’s shoulder and snuggled into him.  “It was even better than I remembered, or what I dreamed of, and let me tell you, I was dreaming of you a lot.” he said with a contented sigh.

“I have imagined you, as well; it mattered little whether I was asleep or awake.” Thranduil whispered, with his eyes closed, feeling relaxed and content, for the first time in over a month.  “I am sorry for what brought you here, but I am not sorry to hold you in my arms.”

“Mmmm….  You feel so good. Everything feels better, when I have you. 

“We cannot stay here long, Meleth nîn, although I hate to leave.”

“Oh, I know.  Thanks for thinking of this.  I really didn’t want to make love with you with my small daughter within earshot, and Meriel listening in.”

“We will be making use of my office frequently while you are here.”

He could feel Bard’s smile against his chest.  “Good. Sneaking around makes me feel like a naughty young lad.”

“Hmmmm.... I did not think of it that way, but I find that exciting.  Perhaps we can find other places to sneak off to.”

“Oooh...  Like the Throne Room?”  Bard asked hopefully.

“Please, please, no.  Every time I am in there, I can still see my father.  I doubt I could even kiss you in that room.”

“Ugh.”  Bard shuddered.  Then he lifted his head at looked at Thranduil’s face.  “There’s always the walk-in closet,” he grinned.

“If you only knew how often I sat in there with my necklace on…”  the Elf groaned.

“In front of the mirror?”  He could feel Bard’s grin, along with his snicker.

“Oh, yes…”

“I meant what I said in my letter, love.  After this, I don’t want us separate for more than a week or two.  This has been agony.”

“I agree.  The only benefit is my time alone with the children, and for that, I am grateful. It has helped our relationship a great deal.  Galion and I have loved all the small moments and joys of parenting.”

“Such as?”

 “Making sure they are dressed warmly, or helping with their lessons, or playing in the snow.”  Thranduil mused.  “The best so far, has been dancing with Sigrid at her party.  It was good to be an Ada, that night.  She was so beautiful and gracious; I thought my heart would burst with love and pride.”

“I’m glad you could have that with her.  Your painting of her means the world to me, love.”  Bard traced his fingers in small circles on Thranduil’s chest, and snuggled closer to him. “But I especially loved the other picture you sent with it.”

“So, you liked it?” Thranduil grinned wickedly in the dark.

“Let’s just say I made good use of it, and it’s well-hidden.  I don’t how you captured that moment of our joining, but it was all there.  That was one of the most beautiful moments of my entire life.”

I feel the same way.” Thranduil kissed Bard’s hair again, then began to move.  “We need to get back to our Tithen Pen, in case she wakes.”

“That we do.  Let’s go.”  They cleaned up, got dressed, then Thranduil picked up his stained robe from the couch and they went back to their apartment, where all seemed quiet.

They checked the nursery, and saw Tilda sleeping, tucked in with her toys. 

“Is she all right?” Bard asked Meriel.

“Her sleep is becoming more natural, My Lord.” Meriel told them.  “Another good sign.  I still need to wake her, for her dose of medicine, but if she continues this way, she will sleep all night, very soon.”

“She looks sweet lying there, does she not?”  Thranduil whispered, smiling.

Meriel nodded her head.  “Yes.  I am glad to see she is improving.”

Bard told the Healer.  “I’ll be back, as soon as I’ve had a bath.”

They both went to bathe and change into sleeping clothes and robes.  “You go on to bed, love.  You’re still recovering from everything.  I’ll be in later.”

“Of course, Meleth nîn.”  He put his arms around Bard and kissed him.  “Go be with our daughter.” 

Once Bard went into the nursery, Thranduil gratefully crawled into bed.  Bard had been right; he still struggled with exhaustion after all his efforts in the bathing room.  As he lay his head on the pillow, he pulled the covers up and smiled.  

Bard was here.   And Tilda would live. These two thoughts sent him into a deep, restful sleep.

 

 

ELVEN TRANSLATIONS:

Brennil Vuin – Beloved Lady

Ci velethron e-guil nîn, Bard – You are the love of my life, Bard

A ma!  Pathro nin! – Oh, yes!  Fill me!

Law no lagor; ídhron gi mathad bân. - Slow down; let me feel it all.

A, ma!  Gi melin, Bard.  Avo dharo! – Oh, yes!  I love you, Bard. Don’t stop…”

 

NOTES:

A Corbie is a Scottish/Celtic word for Raven.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

The Woodland Realm; 10th of February, 2942, T.A.  

Feren woke up, with a soft, warm arm over his stomach.  Glélindë’s head was snuggled into his shoulder, so he raised his arm and pulled her closer, and kissed the top of her auburn head.  He sighed contentedly, closed his eyes again, hoping to get a little more sleep, when the door opened, and a little, curly-haired body tore into the room and crawled on the bed.

“Ooof!” He exclaimed, as Dafina landed on his stomach.  “When did you get to be so big, Mallen Ant?  Did you grow in your sleep again?”  He began to tickle her, and her giggles caused his wife to begin to stir.

“Nana!”  Dafina pounced on her mother with delight.

“Good morning, Sweet One.”  ‘Lindë yawned and stretched her arms.  “I see you are awake; how is your ear?”

Dafina put her hand on her left ear and smiled again.  “Better.  No sniffle!”

“Is that so?  Let me see, Mîr nîn…”

Feren sat up, and managed to wrangle the wiggly child into his lap.  Then felt her forehead.  “You do not feel warm. I think you are better, child.”  He got out of bed, and carried her around to his wife’s side of the bed.  “Let us allow your Nana to sleep a bit more.”  He leaned down and gave ‘Lindë a kiss.  “We’ll make breakfast.”

Glélindë moved to get up.  “I can do it…”

“And deny me a chance to play with my girls?  You are most cruel, wife.” He looked at Dafina.  “Your Nana does not want us to play; is she not mean?”

“Ada!  Nana’s not mean; she’s nice!” The tot crossed her arms.  I yove her!”

“Ah, well, I suppose she is acceptable.  Shall we give her a nice breakfast in bed, to thank her for looking after my golden girls?”

“Aye!”  Dafina clapped her hands, then pointed to her mother with a stern look.  “You ‘tay dere,” she ordered. 

“You will not hear me argue with that.”  ‘Lindë snuggled back down, and winked at her husband.

Feren put the little girl down, and said, “Go get your sister up, so we can get started.”  With a pat on her behind, she scampered off.

Then the Commander sat on the bed, and kissed his wife good morning properly. 

“Mmmm,” she said.  “Now, that is a greeting I can never get enough of.”

He looked down at his lovely wife, and stroked his fingers over her cheeks, “I love you very much.”

‘Lindë’s dimple appeared, as she smiled back.  “Are you happy, Meleth nîn?”

“Perfectly.  But I am always happy when I am with you.”  He grinned.

She sat up, “How was Thranduil, yesterday?  I did not get a chance to ask you; it gets so busy here.”

Feren’s face sobered.  “I am sorry for what he is going through.  He just found happiness again, and this seems cruel. He looked so…tired, ‘Lindë.”

“He and Bard have each other, and that is more than we could have wished for.  And the child will recover; I was afraid her loss would break him.”

“I was afraid of that, too.  He has been making an effort to speak of things with Galion, and that is something he has not done, before Bard came into his life.”

“That is good news.  Galion will help him.” she put her hand on his face.  “I feel selfish, Feren.  I am sorry Princess Tilda got so sick, but I am more relieved our own children are well.”

He took her hand and kissed it.  “You are not selfish, Meleth.  Or if you are, then I am, as well, because it was all I could think about.  Thranduil and I talked about those joys and perils; I love our girls, but I fear for them, too.  I fear for ourselves, should something happen.   Thranduil said we would worry, regardless of whether our children were Human or Elven.”

“We would.  But we have today, and it is good.”  She smiled again.

“It is very good.”  Feren looked deep into her captivating grey eyes.  “Gi Melin, Glélindë,” he smiled, and bent his head down, to kiss her again, this time, much deeper and more passionately. 

‘Lindë’s arms made their way around his neck, and she pulled him in even more, as she opened her mouth to him, so their tongues could dance.   Feren’s hand made its way into her nightgown to cup her breast, and rub his thumb around her nipple, causing it to perk up into a hard pebble.  Her breath caught, and her moan caused a stirring in his loins. She tightened her arms and pulled him even closer. 

“I wish I would have woken up earlier…”  He groaned into her mouth.  “Suddenly I can think of a much better breakfast...”  His hand now worked his way up her thigh, reaching for her hot, wet…

A loud clang was heard from the kitchen, just then.

“ADA!  AWIS IS TWYING TO ‘TOOK!” he heard Dafina yell.

“Tattle-tale!”  They heard Alis’s indignant reply. “I wanted to surprise them!”

Feren grinned down at his wife, who said, “This was your idea, Meleth nîn.”

 

Once the girls had given their mother her breakfast (with Feren carrying the tray), they settled down at the table with him and their grandfather.

“Do you yike it, Grandda?  I ‘tooked it all by mysewf!” Dafina announced proudly.

“Oh, Aye, dearie.”  Poor Gruffudd looked at his toast with its thick, uneven blobs of butter.  He nibbled on a corner of it, “Mmmm,” he said, and her face lit up.  “What a feast you’ve made for me, love!”

Feren hid a smile, then distracted her, while Gruffudd surreptitiously scraped the excess butter off, and he ate it quickly.

“Can we go outside today, Ada?”  Alis asked.

“Ooh!  Outside!”  Davina clapped her hands.  “I wanna pet da horsies!”

“I am sorry, but you have just gotten over a cold, Mallen Ant, and we must stay in our home, for a few more days, like the King says.”

Alis looked at her Ada, thoughtfully.  “Because Tilda got so sick?”

“Yes, Glawariel.  King Thranduil and the Healers need to make sure you do not get sick like that, and we must always do as our King commands, must we not?” He patted his oldest daughter’s blonde curls.  “Do not worry, we will find things to do and to play.”

“I know!  You ‘tan be da horsie, and we ‘tan wide you!”  Dafina suggested. 

The girls turned their wide, blue eyes full blast on him, and made sure to give him their most angelic smiles. “Please, Ada?”

Feren’s response was a loud neigh.

 

***************

 

The Woodland Realm, 14th of February, 2942, T.A.

Tilda was much the same the next three days, and the two Kings took turns sitting with her as the rest of the family peeked in with a friendly wave.  When Bard and Thranduil weren’t sitting at her bedside, they were keeping the other children busy, often running around with them in the King’s garden to work off their energy, or sitting at the table and helping them keep up with their lessons. 

Hilda found the quarantine a great opportunity to catch up on rest, paperwork and update Bard, regarding his subjects staying in the Realm.  She and Galion enjoyed going outside, too.  As the two walked through the stone paths, he would tell her what was under the covered beds, and they exchanged ideas for Bard’s Castle Gardens, and other places in Dale. 

Daeron and Meriel worked their shifts and carefully monitored Tilda, who showed no signs of relapse.  Yesterday, Daeron officially pronounced her out of danger, and the quarantine was lifted.   The danger of Tilda’s illness was past, but he still ordered the isolation, with the gowns and masks, for another two weeks, until her resistance was built up again.

Another sign of progress (especially to Tilda’s mind), was that she was sometimes strong enough to sit in the privy by herself, if someone carried her to it, and as long as she hung on to something.  She was awake for longer periods of time, and liked nothing better than snuggling up with her Da, and her Ada.

She was back on solid foods, particularly greens, meats, and eggs to get her strength back up, mostly served in hearty soups.   Daeron’s mother, Idril, and her kitchen staff sent some special desserts, along with their best wishes.  She still didn’t have much of an appetite, so the little tarts with the crusts made in the shapes of flowers or leaves, were a wonderful treat, but only after she finished her soup and milk.

Two days ago, the Tailor’s guild presented them all with a stack of clean, pink robes for the family to wear when they visited Tilda, which improved her spirits.  They made masks, for them to wear, with ties along the top and bottom, which was easier than kerchiefs. As promised, Glélindë had made a surprise for her; a little robe and mask for Charlotte, and even one for Daisy! 

When they arrived, Meriel helped Tilda dress her toys in their sickroom finery, and they pretended Charlotte was a Healer who was treating Daisy’s broken hoof.

To everyone’s surprise, Bain didn’t mind at all wearing pink.  He was just glad to see his little sister, and was eager to read, talk or just about anything she was up for.

Tilda became upset when her siblings and Auntie Hil still wore the masks, so Thranduil sat down with the children at the table, and helped them paint colorful, silly smiles on them, to cheer her up.  Sigrid wanted to know why Bard didn’t have to wear one, but Daeron explained that 'Tilda needed to see her father; she would do better.'  It wasn’t a lie, but she asked no further questions, thankfully.

Thank the Valar, Tilda could still see, and hear just as well as she could before.  When she spoke, her speech was clear and concise, not slurred at all.

But she was changed

She was still very weak, and they noticed her left side was weaker than her right.  It was early days, yet, but she had difficulty remembering things.  Tilda sometimes couldn’t remember what she ate at her last meal, or who her last visitor was, and it frightened her, often to tears.  She struggled with proper names of things or people, and her hands lacked some coordination.  Bard and the others helped her with her cups, she needed help to hold her spoon, but they made sure not to push her, just yet. 

It was a bit startling to witness Tilda’s rapid mood swings, which was worse when she was tired.  She’d be smiling and happy, then become frustrated and burst into tears of fury, and need to be soothed.  She was frightened, and no one could blame her; they were all frightened, too.

It would be a long time, before they could know if this was only temporary, or if she’d never be her sunny little self, again.  All they could do was love her, and wait.

When Mistress Bronwyn came to see her, for a short visit, she brought Miss Eryn, the teacher from Tilda’s age group.  Her little face lit up, when she saw them, and began to struggle to remember their names.

As instructed, they introduced themselves, and pretended like this was perfectly normal.

“What a beautiful little room you have here!”  Her teacher said.  “The children want me to tell you they miss you and hope you’re feeling better soon.  Here.” Miss Eryn handed her a stack of papers. “They have made these drawings to cheer you up.”

Tilda took them, and together, they looked at some of them, as she smiled.  “I like them.”

“We could have them put up on the wall here, so you can see them, what do you think?”

She nodded.  “Pretty.”

“I’ll see your Auntie Hil and we’ll take care of it.”

“Can I draw?”

“Sure, you can, love.  I know you love to make pictures.  I’ll see about that, too.”

Tilda smiled and nodded.  “I have a…”  she screwed up her face and tried to think.  “Ada gave me –“

“Lord Galion told me you have a new desk, is that what you mean?”

She nodded, relieved.

Bronwyn smiled. “I heard it was lovely, but you might be in bed for a while, so, maybe we can find you a little tray, so you can draw or write. What do you think about that?” She patted the little girl’s leg.

Tilda nodded her head. “I got sick.”

“Aye, that you did, love,” Bronwyn nodded.  “We’re so glad you’re getting better.”  The women got up, and made ready to leave.  “We’ll get this all set up for you, so make sure you get your rest.”  They waved goodbye to Tilda, and curtsied to King Bard, who was just entering, with his gown on.

“Are you tired, Little Bean?  You’ve had a big day.” Bard was taking his place on the bed beside her, so she could cuddle into him.

“A little,” she sighed. 

After they talked for a short while, he put his arms around her.  “Get some sleep, now.”  He stroked her hair and sang her a lullaby, until her eyes closed, and her breath became even.

Bard very gently extricated himself from the bed, and tucked her in with a kiss to her forehead.  Hilda had just gotten her gown on, and sat down.  “You go on and have some time to yourself.  I’m here, now.”

Bard reached down and kissed her cheek.  “You always are, and we love you for it.  Where’s Thranduil?”

“He’s in his office.  Dáin sent another bird this morning, wanting an update."  

“Oh, good.”  Bard agreed with Thranduil - messages via Raven was genius.  They were exchanging daily updates, so Bard could be assured that his Kingdom was holding together, and the folks in Dale could be assured the worst of the sickness had past, and no other child had suffered.  Dáin’s note yesterday sent along his best wishes to “Dale’s little diplomat.”

 

Today, the children went back to school, and were now at their afternoon activities.  The King of Dale stepped across the hall and into his husband’s study.  Thranduil looked up from this work and smiled. “Meleth nîn!  How is our Tithen Pen?” 

“Napping.   Hilda’s sitting with her now; Sigrid’s in the Healing Hall and Daeron’s doing the boys’ archery lesson.”  Bard looked through to the adjoining room. “Where’s Galion?”

“He is taking the day off.  I insisted.  He has worked hard to help us get through this, and he needs some rest and solitude, though he will not admit it."

“So…” Bard grinned at his Elf.  “We’re alone?” he asked, as he closed both doors, and locked them.

“So, it would seem.  For a little while, at least.”  Thranduil came around and gathered the Bowman into his arms.  “Is there something you need from me?” he nibbled on Bard’s earlobe, then placed warm wet kisses up and down his neck. 

“Yep.  You.”  He grinned, before he grabbed the back of the Elf’s neck and kissed him, deep and hard.

“You feel so good, Meleth nîn.”  Thranduil moaned, and rubbed their hips together, as their breathing became heavier.

“I’d feel even better with you inside me, don't you think?"

Another moan.  “Yes, I do...  No gûn annin; Ídhron gi phuithad!”

Before Bard could respond, the Elvenking whipped Bard around and bent him over his desk, with a snarl.  Hands grabbed at his laces and his leggings were quickly pushed down past his hips and off.  Thranduil didn’t need to work hard to prepare him, because Bard was still fairly loose from their joining last night, but he still took the time to work his fingers against Bard’s sweet spot, causing him to throw his head back with a loud groan. 

“Oh, fuck…”  He panted, and couldn’t stop his hips from thrusting into air a couple of times, as Thranduil’s fingers continued to massage his prostate in small circles.  Thranduil’s other hand reached around and stroked his cock, then massaged his balls, before he moved up to pinch and roll Bard’s nipple between his finger and his thumb.  All Bard could do is grab on to the edge of the desk, to keep himself from falling over.  He rubbed his arse against Thranduil’s hips, and begged him for more.

“Please…” he begged. “Please, love, I need you inside me.  Fuck me!” 

The fingers left him, and in seconds, a hot, oiled cock slid into him, and Thranduil was whispering filthy things in Sindarin.  “Mae ad limp mi gin,” the Elf moaned out the words in a hoarse voice, and Bard could feel him shudder with pleasure, as his hands pulled Bard’s hips hard against him as he was filled to the hilt with Thranduil’s throbbing length. 

It felt glorious, and he wanted more.  “Aaah…that’s it…” he moaned, and adjusted his posture to allow Thranduil deeper access.  “Gods, give me more…”

“I love to be inside of you, Meleth nîn.  I love to fuck you like this…”  Thranduil was gasping as he leaned back and fucked into Bard with enthusiasm.  “A! Ma…” he exclaimed, as he changed his angle slightly to rub against Bards prostate, causing them both to gasp moan with delight. 

“Harder, damn you! Is that all you’ve... mnnngh...got for me?  I want it harder!  AAH!”  Bard urged his husband on, in a hoarse voice.  “Give it to me, you bastard.  Do it!”  Bard panted and moaned as every thrust hit the sweet bundle of nerves inside him, and he his muscles tensed and rippled as Thranduil began to pound into him in earnest, with lewd sounds of flesh slapping against flesh.  “Bloody fuck!”  Bard screamed, and he scrambled frantically to keep his grip on the desk. 

Thranduil leaned over him and took his cock in one hand, and massaged his balls with the other.  “I like making you curse,” he whispered into Bard’s ear, “I want to make you scream…” before he bit down on Bard’s shoulder, and his Bowman began to keen. 

“Yes, yes, Meleth nîn, sing for me!  More!” He began to stroke the head of Bard’s cock in time with his own thrusts, and soon, they were both coming with loud cries.  Bard could feel Thranduil’s cock shiver inside of him, and with a shriek, he came in Thranduil’s hand.  They still moved together, to enjoy every last pulse, every last sensation, before they slowly began to come back to themselves. 

 “How can I ever sit in this room again and not think of this?” The Elvenking croaked, before he began to nuzzle his neck, and get his breath under control.  As rough as Thranduil was earlier, he was gentle now, holding him close and kissing Bard sweetly on his neck and jawline.

Bard snickered, “Will you get anything done, when you see your desk, now?  I can see you over on the couches, trying to have a meeting, and all you’re thinking about is how you fucked me on it.”

“Galion will surely wonder why I will have such a grin on my face.”

"No, he won't." Bard laughed.  "He'll know exactly why.  Stars, he puts up with a lot, doesn’t he?”

“He does.” Thranduil nipped on the shell of his ear.

At last, Thranduil soften enough to leave him, and he reached for the drawer where he kept some small towels.  He cleaned himself off, then he wiped Bard down and removed any evidence of their lovemaking on the desk. 

It didn’t take long to straighten up the items on it; yesterday they had gotten so carried away, that Bard swiped his arm and cleared it off in one graceful movement, before he threw Thranduil on his back and had his way with him.  It was wild and romantic, yes, but it also took Thranduil nearly an hour to reorganize all the stacks of paper, and he was thankful he had put the inkpots away.  After that, Thranduil kept most items stacked on his credenza, just in case.

Since Bard’s arrival, they used this office just about every day for their trysts, so they both made sure to keep it stocked with oil, towels and a small bar of soap, to use with Thranduil’s regular pitcher of water.

 “Do you think anybody besides Galion knows what goes on in here?” Bard whispered, as he began to fasten up his leggings.

The Elvenking laughed.  “I am sure the only ones who do not, are the children, and I wonder if Sigrid may suspect.  But better this than where Tilda could see and hear.  We want her to recover, do we not?”  Once his robes were restored, he gathered the Bowman into his arms, and began to kiss him, thoroughly. 

“Better stop that,” Bard whispered against his lips, “or we’ll be going at each other again.”

“I have no objections to that,” said the Elf, “but it is time for the children to return from their afternoon lessons, and they will be looking for us.”  He looked into Bard’s eyes with sadness.  “You must return to your Kingdom soon, Meleth nîn, though I hate to think of it.”

“I know, love.”  He sighed.  “So far, Percy’s handling things, and now that Feren is back there, I feel a bit better, but… there’s so much to do in Dale, and hardly enough time to get it all done…  I can’t stay more than another week, but then I have to get back.   I hope Tilda can handle it."

“We are Kings, and we often have to choose between our families and our Kingdoms, but I wonder, in this case, if you cannot do both.”

Bard sighed.  “I can’t even come on my scheduled visit in two weeks; it wouldn’t be fair to the other men.”

“You are mistaken, I think.  'Kinging' is a demanding job, yes, but you are the King, and I think you could come anyway, even if you only stay a day or two.  In fact, I think we should start our agreement to not separate for more than two weeks immediately.”

“Now?”

“You and I need this, Bard.  We are stronger and better this way, and that can only benefit our people.  Most important, our Tilda will feel stronger, too, if she knows she will see you soon.  She needs you, and obligations to family shows your people how important such things are.  You are setting the example for the kind of behavior you expect from them."  Thranduil kissed him. “You should come, Meleth nîn.”

Bard considered this.  “Aye, you’re right.  I wouldn’t have to worry about the cold; it doesn’t seem to bother me so much anymore.  I just don’t want anyone thinking I'm being selfish, and starting to act like the old Master.  As much as the men seem to like me, it wouldn’t take much for them to stop trusting me; not enough time has gone by, yet.”

“I doubt anyone will think you are abusing your power, Meleth nîn. Suppose a child from one of your men were that ill?  You would send him packing and tell him to stay as long as he needs to, would you not?"

“I would do that, but…”

“To ease your concern, write to Percy - have him see how your men feel.  I would not be surprised if they insist you stay longer.  When you do return, as I know you must, send Percy on his visit. It will do a great deal to cheer Tilda, and I think our Hilda needs to see him, too.  She is much like Galion; she looks after all of us, often at her own expense."

“I’ll do that.  The wagons will be leaving in five days, I think; I’ll return with them, and send Percy.  Old Ben will the coming, too - Rhian would like that.

“Good.  Rhian would benefit from seeing Master Ben.  We should go to see her and the child soon, as well.  Hannah and Indis tell me she is doing much better.  Our visit should not distress her."

“I also think I should take care of some unpleasant business, as long as I’m here.”

“Are you referring to your prisoners?”

“Aye.   Alun's come up with a proposition, to dispense with the situation, and as long as I’m here, I might as well put it to them.”

“Oh?  What is that?” Thranduil asked, so Bard told him of his and Alun’s conversation a couple of weeks ago, of sending them off to Bree.

“Bree?” Thranduil laughed.  “Punishment, indeed!  But it certainly would be better than being the King who threw old ladies in a dungeon.  He is right, Meleth nîn.  You would damage your standing if you did this.”

“It was a smart idea, wasn’t it?”

“Alun’s solution makes good sense.  When I spoke with him during his visit, I was impressed, with him, Bard; he will make an excellent member of your Council.  As far as the women; I suggest that you see them, yes, but say nothing of their sentence.  Do not give them time to think about it.”

“Mmmm….  Even better.”  Bard smiled and nuzzled his nose against Thranduil’s.

“Of course, I will abide by your decision, My King.” The Elf smiled, and moved his lips over Bard’s softly, so that it tickled.

“Thank you, My King.” Said Bard, before he plunged his tongue into his husband’s mouth.  They kissed for several long, satisfying minutes, then reluctantly broke apart.

“I would love to have you again, Meleth nîn, but it is time for the children to come home.” 

“Children…  Oh, that’s right.  We have children, don’t we?” Bard’s eyes were closed, and he was enjoying Thrandiul’s lips on his neck.

“We do.”  Thranduil pulled back and turned Bard around and smacked him on the bottom. “Stop being a temptation.”

Bard answered by blowing him a raspberry, and wiggling his arse.

“Very attractive.”

Thranduil was closing the study door behind them, just as Sigrid, Bain and Rhys returned from their afternoon activities, followed by Daeron.

“Suilad, Aran nîn, Brannon nîn,” the Guard saluted the kings.

Bard returned the greeting, then said, “Tilda’s napping, but she seems to be having a good day, so far.”

“Excellent news, My Lord.”  Daeron turned to Sigrid. “Shall we wash, and examine her?”

The young lady nodded eagerly, but then looked guilty.  “I hate that Tilda got so sick, but I’m learning a lot.”

Thranduil put his arm around her.  “It is wise to gather such knowledge where you can, Iellig.  That is no sin.  It also helps you learn focus, does it not?” 

Sigrid responded. “You’re right.  Elénaril tells me to ‘shut it off.’  It could be dangerous, if I don’t, so it's good to practice that with Tilda."

“I agree.”  Daeron nodded, as they followed the Kings into their chambers.

“Does anyone have homework?” Bard asked.  “We’ll be eating in the Dining Hall tonight; Galion is taking the day off, so get it done now, yeah?”

“I’ve got a lot, but I’m really hungry!” Bain groaned.

“Do you have time to take Esta outdoors?”

Both boys shook their heads, so Thranduil whistled, and sent the dog out with a guard for some exercise.

“I have homework, too, but I want to examine Tilda first.  Daeron, are you staying with her while we eat?”

“I am.  Come, let us wash and gown up.  I want you to take the lead, this time.”

Sigrid smiled and nodded eagerly.  “Just as long as you check her, too.”

“Of course.” Daeron agreed, and they left the room.

Bard turned to his hungry son, as the boys sat down at the table with their books and writing implements.  “There’s fruit on the side board, boys.  Will that do you?”

“Aye, thanks.  I’m glad were eating in the Dining Hall, tonight.  After all this, I think it’ll be good for our people to see us.”

You are thinking like a Prince, and this pleases your Da and me.” Thranduil told him. “You are correct.  Your people need to see their King and his family, so we can assure them personally of Tilda’s improvement, and your own good health."

Bain smiled at Thranduil.  “Thanks, Ada.  Well, sooner started with this, sooner done.  I never thought I would say this, but I was glad to go back to class, even if I do have lots of work to do.  It feels good to get back to a normal routine after...”  The boy looked at his fathers, sheepishly.  “Is it terrible to say I wasn’t just afraid for Tilda, but for myself?  I was scared I would get sick, too.”

“No, son. It’s not.  I think it’s perfectly reasonable.  No one would wish it.” Bard looked at Rhys, too.  “How are you?”

“I’m fine, My Lord.  I’m just happy that she’s doing well.”

“You’ve got your own room back; I’ll be that’s a relief.” Bard smiled.

Rhys shrugged.  “I didn’t mind.  Daeron needed to stay close by, and Bain’s bed is huge. These are the nicest rooms I’ve ever been in; so it didn’t’ much matter.  How long do you think it will be before Tilda can go back to school?”

Thranduil shook his head.  “I have no idea.  But we will be tutoring her here until she is strong enough.  We still need to discover the effects of her illness, so we need to be work around that.”

Bain looked up.  “If she can’t keep up with her class just yet, she would be happy to be around her friends.  It might do her good, when she’s ready.”

The Kings looked at each other.  “You’ve got a point there.”  Bard said.  “Now, you’re thinking like a good big brother.  He smiled at the boys.  “Take your own advice and get your work done.”

 

***************

 

The Royal Family’s presence in the Dining Hall was a welcome one.  Bard and the children went to every table and visited with them, so they could wish Tilda well, and speak of their experience here.

Thranduil sat back in his seat and watched, as Bard smiled at chatted with his people.  He wasn’t just paying lip service for the sake of appearances; he genuinely wanted to make sure his subjects were faring well.  And there was Bain right beside him, asking questions and listening.  Even Rhys was there, supporting his best friend, much like Feren did with Thranduil, most of his life.  Bain will need someone like Rhys, especially after he became King. 

He could see Sigrid, at another table, smiling and talking with a group of women and Elves.  Of course, they were asking about Tilda, but their fathers had instructed the children to only speak in general terms, not specifics.  Yes, she is getting better every day; thank you for asking.  Of course, we’ll send along our good wishes; you are very kind….

A rush of pride and affection flowed through his heart.  This beautiful man was his.  These children were his.  His eyes stung a little, as he, once more, sent up his thanks to Mírelen for her help.  He didn’t deserve any of this, but that was the wonderful thing about love, wasn’t it?  No one could earn it; it just was. 

Hilda came and sat down beside him, and they both watched Bard for a few minutes.  “I am glad we came here, tonight,” he told her.

“Aye.  Those people need him, and he needs to see them, just as much.  He’s a good man, like his Da was.”

“I agree, My Lady.  I have long known that a good ruler has little to do with bloodlines; it comes from a character and temperament one is born with.  It also helps to have good people to help nurture it.  From what I have heard, his father was a credit to his family, and to his people.”

“Aye.  Brand was the best of men, and all Bard ever wanted, was to be like him.”  Hilda said.  “I wish you could have known him, love.  You’d have felt the same way.”

“I would have enjoyed knowing Brand, but you and Percy deserve much credit for Bard’s success, as well.”  He smiled at the older woman.  “You and your husband are to Bard what Galion is to me: a solid foundation, for all the things we need to be, especially when Kingship demands more than we can bear.  You have taken my husband in, and loved him like a son, and I am grateful.”  He kissed her hand. 

Hilda cleared her throat and smiled, as her eyes filled.  “Stop that, you.  I refuse to blubber in front of all these people.”

Then she became thoughtful, and said, “I don’t know if Bard ever knew, but Brand asked us to look after his boy, in case something happened to him.  Maybe he knew Bard was destined for greatness, beyond their life in Laketown.  Or, maybe he knew he wouldn’t be with us, much longer.  You’ll never convince me that Brand died of a ‘natural causes.’  We think the Master had him killed, because the folks of Laketown were turning to him for help more and more.”

Thranduil’s eyes widened.  “Surely not!”

The woman shook her head, sadly.  “Aye. No one will convince me different.  Folks weren’t nearly as stupid as the Master liked to think they were, and they knew a good leader when they saw one.  Whatever he hoped to gain, if he did kill Brand, didn’t work out for him, anyway, so Brand died for nothing.”

“What do you mean?”

“When Bard’s Da passed, no one looked to the Master - they looked to Bard.  Brand’s death only made everyone revere him, as a martyr.  A lot of folks were suspicious about his death, so it made them more determined to look out for Bard, and protect him, when the Master’s men were harassing him.”

“Working together like this made your people stronger and closer, do you not think?  As sad as it sounds, perhaps Brand did not die for nothing.” Thranduil suggested.  “A great deal of good came as a result of the Master’s treachery.”

Hilda sat back and thought about it, then she smiled.  “You’re right.  By the time the Dragon came, we’d learned work together, and really rely on each other.  That helped us survive when we all washed ashore that day.  I think Brand would be pleased and proud of all of us, not just his son.”

Thranduil put his hand on hers, and gave it a squeeze.  “I think so, as well.  Does Bard look much like his father?”

“Oh, yes, just like Bain is the image of his own Da.”

“Bard told me his mother passed from a fever when he was young.”

“She did.  Our own Sigrid was named for her, did you know that? She was a wonderful woman.” Then she told him, “Bard wasn’t an only child, you know.”

“He was not?”  Thranduil was surprised.  “He never said anything about having a brother or a sister.”

“Brand and his wife had a daughter, who died when she was a baby.  I didn’t know them then, but I had heard the baby never really thrived.  Something with her little heart, poor thing.  Died before she was a year old.  Later, after we became friends with Brand, she'd gotten pregnant again, and lost it in her second month and his Sigrid took it hard.”

“What was she like?”

“I see a lot of her in Tilda.  Our baby likes to step back and look things over before she can know what to think about something.  She gets that from her Grandma.   She was a kind gentle soul; never feisty, just sweet.  She was tiny, like Tilda, and the midwife wondered if that's why she had trouble carrying babies.  When she was carrying again, the they kept her on bed rest most of the time, and Brand took on any extra work he could, to buy milk and good food." Hilda smiled.  "It paid off, because she gave birth to our strapping healthy boy, who was his parent’s pride and joy.”

“Does Bard know about the other children?”

Hilda nodded, "Oh, aye. But, he doesn't think about it, much.  Our Bard's not one to ruminate over things he can’t do anything about.”

Thranduil smiled.  “That sounds like him.” He looked across the Dining Hall again, and observed his husband, who happened to look up and meet his gaze.  Thranduil's heart squeezed, and he sighed.   

Hilda who was watching him, snickered.  “Besotted, the both of you.”  She laughed.

“We are, indeed,” he replied with a smile.

 

***************

 

After everyone returned to their chambers, it was almost time for baths and bed, so Thranduil went in to sit with Tilda, while Bard went to Children’s apartment, to supervise their nighttime ablutions.  After boys had bathed and went to their rooms, Sigrid came out in her robe, and towel-drying her hair.  She sat with Bard on the couch so she could comb it out.

He put his arm around her.  “It was a good day.”

“It was.  It’ll be even better when Tilda’s strong again.  I refuse to believe she won’t be.” 

Bard took the comb from her and helped her with her hair, like he did when she was little.  “Remember what Uncle Percy says: ‘One foot in front of the other,’ so that’s what we’ll do.”  He smiled at her.  “Your Ada and I spoke about me coming again in couple of weeks, so I can see how Tilda is doing.”

“Can you do that?” she asked hopefully.

“I think I should; for a day or two.  It helps Tilda to see me, and right now, that’s the most important thing.”

“Does Uncle Percy know everything with Tilda?”

“I haven’t written him, but I’m sure your Auntie Hil has.  Thranduil did, too.”  Bard sighed.  “Better them than me.”

“Why?”

“Because…” he struggled to find the words.  “I can’t stand the idea of seeing words like that on paper.  I’m like you; I have to believe she’s the same old Tilda.  If I write it down, then…all I fear could be real.”

Sigrid’s lip wobbled, and she nodded.

Bard gathered her into his arms, and rested his chin on her head.  “Like you said, love, whatever happens, we’ll hold each other up, and get through it.”  He kissed her hair.  “She has so many people who love her fiercely.  How could she not get better?”

Sigrid, nodded, “We’re so lucky to have Daeron’s help.  And Ada’s.”

“Maybe ‘luck’ isn’t the right word.  ‘Blessed’ is better.”

“Aye.  We’re blessed.”  Sigrid dabbed her eyes with the sleeve of her robe.  Then she laughed.  “I almost expect Ada to appear with his handkerchief.”

“There’s never an Elf around when you need one.”

“Ada’s always around when we need him." The girl snuggled into Bard.   "We all love him, Da, I want you to know that.”

“Makes things convenient, doesn't it?"

Sigrid giggled a little.  “It was wonderful when he danced with me at my birthday party, but we both wished you could be there.  I wanted a dance with you, too.”

Bard kissed her hair then got up, and held his hand out.  “Come on.”

He tucked her hand into the crook of his arm, led her out the door, and into the wide hallway. He gave her a formal bow, “May I have this dance, My Lady?”

Sigrid giggled, and curtsied in her robe and slippers, “I would be very honored, My King.”

The King of Dale gathered his daughter into his arms, and began to sing a lovely Laketown tune as they danced.  The Elven Guards were smiling, as they watched father and daughter take a turn on the smooth, polished floor, with Bard holding her hand close to his heart.  Sigrid laughed, and put her feet on top of his, just like she did when she was little. 

“I love you, Da.”  She said, as she laid her head on his chest.

“I love you more.”  He pulled back and twirled her around, only to gather her up to him again, and the swaying continued. 

When the song ended, Bard dipped his daughter gracefully, and they were rewarded with spontaneous applause by every Guard on the Royal Wing. 

The King and the Princess bowed gracefully to their captive audience, then went back in, so Bard could tuck her into bed.

 “Thanks for the dance, Da."   She held her arms up so he could hug her. "That was magic.”

“Oh, I think the magic came from the beautiful girl in my arms.” He said as he his arms squeezed her tight, before he kissed her brow, again.  “Good night, love.”

“Good night, Da.”

After he left Sigrid’s room, he tiptoed into Bain’s room, took his book and put it on the bedside table.  After he pulled the covers up and turned down the lamp, he sat on the bed and watched his son sleep for a moment, before he brushed a light kiss on Bain’s brow.  He made sure to quietly close the door behind him.

Rhys was still up, when he peeked in.  “Are you all right?”  Bard asked.

Rhys sat up a little more, and put his book down.  “I’m fine, My Lord.  I was just reading this book Bain gave me.  I can’t put it down!”

Bard walked over and sat on the bed, as Rhys handed it to him.

“I looked at this some, on my first trip here.  I like reading stories about Dale, too.”

“Bain says it’s exciting, because all those Kings are his grandfathers!  I can hardly imagine it!”

Bard tilted his head, “Oh, I don’t know… Your Da tells me your family came from Dale, too.  Who’s to say that one of others mentioned in the book isn’t an ancestor of yours?  You never know.”

The boy’s eyes widened.  “That would be great!”

“Did Daeron ever tell you he knew King Girion personally?  You should ask him, about it, sometime.  You should also ask Thranduil.  He knew all my grandfathers in Dale.  Every single one.” 

“Really?”  Rhys squeaked.

Bard laughed.  “Oh, believe me, it’s hard to wrap your head around.  But it’s true.”

“Did you ever ask him about it?”  Rhys was curious.

“Not yet.  Everything he knows is in this book, anyway.”

“How do you know?”

Bard smiled at the boy, and opened the front of it, and showed him the title page. “Look.”

Rhys leaned over and read, “’Written by Thranduil Oropherion, King of the Woodland Realm.’  Wow.” He breathed.

“Wow, indeed.  He’s written several more on the history of the Northern Kingdoms.  I’m glad you enjoy history, Rhys.  Understanding the past, and where we come from, helps you know who you are, and who you want to become.”

Rhys nodded, then said, “I want to be just like my Da.”

“I like your Da.  He’s a good and honest man, and Dale needs more men like him.  I’m glad you’re proud of him, and I know he’s proud of you.  He told me you had a good visit.”

“Oh, we did!  I miss him, a lot, but I’m really glad to be here.  There’s so much to do!  And I really like staying here, with Bain.” he said, shyly.  “I’m glad King Thranduil took me away from Grandma and Aunt Iola.”

“I’m sorry you went through that, Rhys. and I know your Da is, too.  Are you all right, now?”

The boy smiled, and nodded.  “I was really scared, and didn’t know what to do, but King Thranduil was really nice.  People say he can be really mean and scary but he’s not like that!  He took me to the Healer, and helped me when I was scared to go in.  He stayed with me and after, he helped put the salve on my back, where I couldn’t reach.” 

Bard leaned forward and whispered, conspiratorially, “King Thranduil can be very scary, when he wants to be, but he’s a handy Elf to have around.” 

The boy looked down.  “I’m sorry I got so mad at Bain, My Lord.  He was only trying to help me... I'm glad he told somebody."

“I understand, Rhys.  And all that matters, is that you’re better and you’re safe.  No worries.”  Bard winked, and stood up.  “I know you like your book, but it’s time to put it away and get some sleep, son.”  He put the book on the table, and tucked Rhys in, then put out the lamp.  “Have a good sleep, now," he said, ruffling his hair.

“I will, My Lord.  Thank you.”  Rhys closed his eyes and rolled over. "Good night."

Bard gently closed the boy’s door, made sure the lamp was burning low in the children’s privy, then made his way into his own chambers.  He stepped over to the big fireplace and looked at the mantelpiece.  He smiled when he saw the pictures of Legolas and Tauriel had now been joined by several additional small pictures in lovely wooden frames. 

Bard grinned, as he held the one with Tilda, sleeping on Galion’s couch, her little face was angelic in its repose, and there was Charlotte, clutched in her arms. And the blanket was in disarray around her; she even kicked her legs while napping.

He put it back in its place, and studied the picture of Bain.  There he was standing casually; holding his practice sword down at his side, laughing at something Rhys had said.  Thranduil had captured the boy’s natural exuberance and energy, along with his lopsided grin.  Rhys’s profile showed a him grinning with mischief.

And there was Sigrid.  She was sitting on the couch, next to Hilda, one leg tucked under, knitting. Somehow Thranduil managed to sketch the motion of her hands, and that little pout she does, when she’s concentrating.  There was even a sketch of Hilda and Galion, sitting at the table, planning something over a map or outline of something.  Those two complimented each other: Galion was like Percy – always calm and observant, whereas Hilda was always ready to jump in the fray and get things done.

They were his family now, and Thranduil had captured what he loved most about each of them. 

Bard gave the pictures one last look, then made his way into the nursery, to see their youngest daughter, who, thank the Valar, wouldn’t leave them any time soon.

One foot in front of the other. 

 

 

ELVEN TRANSLATIONS:

Mallen Ant – “Golden Gift” - Feren’s pet name for Dafina

Mîr nîn – My treasure

Glawariel – Daughter of Sunlight – Feren’s pet name for Alis.

No gûn annin; Ídhron gi phuithad! – Bend over for me; I want to fuck you!

Mae ad limp mi gin – You feel so hot and wet, inside

 

Sindarin phrases courtesy of:  https://realelvish.net/phrasebooks/sindarin/doriath/

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The Woodland Realm, 15th of February; 2942, T.A. 

Thranduil and Bard woke up early, and spent some leisure time looking up at the stars, and indulging in some kisses, caresses, and whispers.  He delighted in the completeness they both felt when Bard was near, and to just hold him, and feel the warmth of his skin, was truly a joy.

Finally, Thranduil stroked Bard’s cheek with the back of his fingers, kissed him, and got up.  “Come, Meleth nîn.  I want to be ready when our Tithen Pen wakes, and it is almost time to get the others ready for school.”

Bard propped up on his elbows and smiled.  “I love hearing you talk like that.”

Thranduil turned and smiled at him.  “Like what?”

“Like a Da.  Fatherhood looks good on you.”

Thranduil strode back to the bed and sat down.  “When Legolas and Tauriel were children, Mírelen or Galion did most of what you might call the ‘grunt work’ of parenting.  Now, I find pleasure in all the little things it takes to care for them: sending them to school in the morning, helping them with homework, and tucking them in at night.  My favorite part of the day is the evenings, when we sit together as a family and talk, or play games, or read.  I have never had that.”

“Really?  Not even with Legolas?”

He laughed.  “Especially not with Legolas.  He did two things only: run, or sleep.  There was no leisure time when he was awake.  Once he was asleep in the nursery, though, Mírelen and I would enjoy sitting in front of the fire, and that was wonderful.  Now we our family gathers at the end of the day, and I enjoy just....being with them."

“Big families are great, aren’t they?  Noisy, too.”

“They certainly are that.”  Thranduil grabbed Bard’s hand ripped the covers back and yanked him out of bed.  “Now, get up.”

The Elvenking checked on Tilda, who was still fast asleep, then took care of his morning ablutions.  Bard was right behind him, and soon they were both dressed.

Thranduil went back into the nursery, and signaled to Esta, then took her in to the children’s apartment.  Bain was just waking up, but Rhys was dressed, so he and a guard took the dog outside.  Sigrid was washing up, and almost ready for breakfast, so after urging Bain to hurry up, the two Kings made their way back to their chambers, where Galion was coming in.

“Good morning, Galion!”  Bard said.  “What’s for breakfast?”

“Eggs, and sweet bread with butter, apple juice and tea.  It will be here in a few minutes.  Daeron is on his way with Tilda’s medicine, and to examine her, before he takes the children to school.”

There was a knock, then the door was opened for Daeron.  “Good morning, My Lords.  Is Lady Tilda up yet?”

“She sleeps still, but probably not for long.”  Thranduil said, as Sigrid came into the room. 

“Hello everybody,” she gave her fathers and Uncle Galion a kiss on the cheek.  “I’m starved.”

“So am I!” Bain said, coming in behind her.

“What unexpected news.”  His Da said, dryly.

“When is he not hungry?” Sigrid quipped.  “Come on, Daeron, let’s go look at Tilda.” 

So, the day began for the Royal Family.

Bard was brushing Tilda’s hair, when Thranduil entered the nursery again, followed by Galion.

“Good morning, Tithen Pen!  Some things arrived for you, from Erebor."

Tilda looked at the crate full of bundles.  “What is it?”

“Well, they are addressed to you, from the Dwarves.”  He set the crate on the floor, and carried the bundles over to her.  “Let us see what they are, shall we?”

Bofur had sent a special slate in a wooden frame, a pouch of thick sticks of chalk, Balin sent some coloring sticks and paper for drawing, Bifur sent a pretty mechanical bird, and Bombur sent a cake for the whole family to enjoy.

Thranduil held up the colored wax sticks.  “This is a fascinating idea, Bard.  I wonder if all the schoolchildren would enjoy these.”

“Do you think you could make them? Or just buy them from Dáin.”

“I shall write and ask.  The Dwarves might not have time, as they are busy restoring Erebor and helping Dale with supplies. They appear to be wax mixed with the powder base of the paints I use."

Bard took the cake and sniffed.  “That smells good, doesn’t it, Beanie?  Let’s hope it tastes better than his Ham and Bean soup.  Remind me to tell you that story.”  Bard said, before he passed it over to Galion to put in the Dining Room.  “Oh, look, King Dáin sent you something too!  There’s a note…”

They unfolded the note attached to the box, and Bard read aloud.  

To the wee Princess –

Sorry to hear you were ailing, Lady Tilda.  Saw this falling from the sky and thought I’d catch it for you.  Hope it helps you get better soon, little lassie.

Your friend,

King Dáin

“What is it?”  Tilda asked.

“There’s only one way to find out, love.  Come on, then, open it.” 

Bard helped her lift the lid of the small box and they all looked inside.  On a bed of dark velvet lay small diamond pendant, on a silver chain.

“Look at how it sparkles!  Looks like he did catch a star for you, didn’t he?”

Tilda’s eyes grew wide.  “From up there?” she pointed up.

“Could be, Little Bean.  It sure shines like one, doesn’t it?”

Thranduil took the box, and removed the necklace.  “Let us see if this can outshine our own little star, shall we?  Lean your head forward.”  He fastened it around her neck and stepped back to see.  “You look lovely, Tithen Pen.

Tilda looked down, but could not quite see it.

“Wait just a moment.”  Soon Thranduil returned with his silver hand mirror, so Tilda could admire it.

“It’s pretty.” she touched it. 

“But not as pretty as you are, Beanie.” Bard kissed her hair. “I’ll help you write a Thank You note; would you like that?”

She nodded.

Soon, Galion appeared in the doorway with her breakfast on a tray. 

He sat down beside her, as Galion set the tray in her lap, and Bard put his hand over hers to help her with her spoon. 

“Come on, Beanie.  Eat some of this egg for me, okay?” He helped her spoon it into her mouth.  “We need to get you strong, so you can go running around with Esta, right?” 

The dog whined and wagged her tail. “See, love? She wants to run and play with you!”

She chewed her egg, and reached for some more. 

“Good Beanie!”  Bard managed to get her to eat most of her breakfast, and drink all her juice.  She also managed to eat the bread by herself, if he broke it up into small bits.

After the tray was taken away, Daeron came back in.  “My Lord, before I take the children to school, I have something for Lady Tilda, if I may.”

“Of course.”

Daeron sat down on her bed, and handed her a medium sized stuffed ball.  “Do you see how soft it is?  Now get your fingers around it… that is it.  I need you to squeeze this ball as hard as you can ten times.  Your Da or your Ada can help you count.  Do it with ten time with both hands, three times a day.  Could you do this for me?”

“All right.”  She took it, and tried to squeeze it. 

“Very good, love.” Bard said.  “So… let’s figure out the color.  Is it green?”

She squeezed it, again.  “No, it’s blue.”

“Yes!” Bard put his arm around her and kissed her hair.  “But it’s a good blue, isn’t it?”

“Uh huh.”

“That’s my girl.”

Daeron stood up and saluted.  “I will see you later today, Lady Tilda, you did very well.  I must prepare for afternoon lessons with the boys, so please excuse me, Lord Bard.”

Galion came into the nursery a few minutes later.  “The children are on their way to school, My Lords.” He smiled

Tilda reached her arms up to him.  “I ate breakfast.”  She smiled.

“You sure did.  Got your appetite back, have you?” Bard said proudly, as Galion gave her a hug. 

“What is this, Tilda?” the Aide asked, when he saw the ball.  “A new toy?”

She shook her head.  “I squeeze it.”

“That is a good idea, Tithen Pen.”

“She even told us what color it was, didn’t you?  Can you tell us what color this is?”  Bard smiled at her.

They could tell it was on the tip of her tongue, and she knew she had just said it.

Tilda suddenly burst into angry tears, and she threw the ball across the room, with a shriek.  Tilda sobbed so hard she winded herself, and Bard had to blow in her face to get her to breathe.  She inhaled, finally, but screamed louder, and began to pound her fists against her head.

Thranduil took her wrists to still them. “No, little one.  Do not do that.  It is all right.”  He gathered her to him, and rubbed her back.  “Come now... shh… It will be all right.  You have been very sick, and your body needs time to recover.  Your head became sick, too, so it also needs time to get better.” 

“I… want to… remember,” she gasped between sobs.  “Will I…  Am I s-stupid, now?”

It was like an arrow struck Thranduil’s heart.  Oh, Valar…  His eyes met Bard’s, as the Bowman’s eyes filled with tears.  He looked away and rubbed his hands over his eyes.  

“Oh, no, no, no, Tithen Pen.”  As his husband tried to compose himself, Thranduil continued to soothe their little girl, until she had calmed down.  “You will never be stupid. I promise.  Like I said, hênig, you must be patient, and very brave, until your body gets stronger.”

“I don’t like it, Ada.” she sobbed. “I d-don’t like it!”

Bard, who finally collected himself, rubbed her arm. “We know that, love.  You just need time to heal, and we’ll all help you.”

“I don’t like it.”

She was still hiccupping, so Thranduil handed her Charlotte, to help calm her down. 

“Of course, you get mad, Beanie.” Bard told her. “Daeron said you’ll just cry sometimes.  It’s just part of your head getting better.”

Thranduil smiled down at her.  “We are all going to make sure you get well. Uncle Percy always says, “One foot in front of the other,” does he not?  That means to only worry about little bits of a problem at a time.  That is good advice, do you not think?  So, let us do what Uncle Percy says, and only think about today, all right?”

Tilda looked at him, still sniffling.  “Little bits.”

“That is right, so, we are only going to think about squeezing the ball, now.  Does that make sense?”  Thranduil reached for his handkerchief, and wiped her face.

Tilda nodded, and calmed down.

Bard got up and retrieved the ball.  “Here.  Show Ada how you can squeeze it.”

She took the ball from her Da, and squeezed it, while Bard counted out loud.  Then she switched to the other hand, as Esta wormed her head under Tilda’s hand.  As she pet the dog absently, she repeated the exercise, but asked Ada to count.  Just as she reached number eight, her eyes lit up.

“Blue!”

Bard and Thranduil grinned at each other.  “That is correct.  It is blue.  Can you say that again?”

“Blue.  Blue, blue blue blue!”  She grinned.  Her nose was still red from crying, but now she was laughing.  “Blueblueblueblueblue!”

As a reward, her fathers reached down smothered each cheek with kisses, to make her giggle some more.

Thranduil reluctantly got up.  “I am sorry, Tithen Pen, but I must go.”

“To your…”

“My study?”

She shook her head.  “Your study.”

“Not yet.  Today, I must go to the barracks where some of the soldiers live, and where we keep our hunting dogs.  Daeron took you there, once, so you could see a dog like your father’s.”

Tilda blinked, as the wheels turned.  “Big?”

“Yes, Tithen Pen.  She is big.  And we have many like them.  When you are better, I will take you out there.  You will remember, when you see them.”

Bard laughed.  “Want to know a secret about my dog?”  He leaned in and whispered in her ear.  “He snores.”

“He does?”

“Aye.  Wanna know what it sounds like?” 

So Thranduil left his husband and their daughter, and he heard the delightful sound of Tilda’s laughter, as Bard showed her how loud Thangon really snored.

If Bard was going to tell her what happens when Thangon eats Lembas, he was thankful to be out of the room.

 

As he walked outside toward the Army barracks, his heart was still hurting from Tilda’s outburst.  It was frightening.  She was happy, then she was sobbing and screaming…  Thank the Valar Daeron warned everyone, but still, it ripped his guts out to see her struggle so, and be so…frightened of herself!   Thranduil tried to convince himself that that was a good thing.  If she was aware enough to know that this wasn’t normal for her; if she knows that it wasn’t like this before, then maybe she has the potential and the determination to get back to where she wanted to be. 

All they could do was comfort her.  And wait.

It was wonderful how Tilda’s face lit up when she remembered the color of her ball; something so simple, but this morning it was a wonderful accomplishment. 

Then a thought struck him, and he made mental note to speak with Daeron and Bard about it.  If they could shape her rehabilitation around this, it could help their daughter immensely

It might work, and it might not, but it was worth a try.

 

***************

 

Bard cuddled with Tilda on her bed, and began to read to her.  It was a picture book from Thranduil’s library, with a wonderful story about a fiddle-playing cat and the man in the moon:

There is an inn, a merry old inn
beneath an old grey hill,
And there they brew a beer so brown
That the Man in the Moon himself came down
one night to drink his fill.

The ostler has a tipsy cat
that plays a five-stringed fiddle;
And up and down he runs his bow,
Now squeaking high, now purring low,
now sawing in the middle.

The landlord keeps a little dog
that is mighty fond of jokes;
When there's good cheer among the guests,
He cocks an ear at all the jests
and laughs until he chokes.

They also keep a horned cow
as proud as any queen;
But music turns her head like ale,
And makes her wave her tufted tail
and dance upon the green.

And O! the rows of silver dishes
and the store of silver spoons!
For Sunday there's a special pair,
And these they polish up with care
on Saturday afternoons.

The Man in the Moon was drinking deep,
and the cat began to wail;

About halfway through reading the book, Tilda took her finger and traced the words on the page.  Bard smiled, kissed her head, and read a little bit slower, in case she could pick up some of the words.

There was a stirring near the bottom of the bed.  Esta had her head raised, and was wagging her tail at them.  Tilda smiled and patted the bed beside her.  “Here.”  Soon, Esta was snuggled under Tilda’s arm as they all looked at the pages together, and she pointed out the pictures to the dog.

A dish and a spoon on the table danced,
The cow in the garden madly pranced,
and the little dog chased his tail.

The Man in the Moon took another mug,
and rolled beneath his chair;
And there he dozed and dreamed of ale,
Till in the sky the stars were pale,
and dawn was in the air.

Then the ostler said to his tipsy cat:
"The white horses of the Moon,
They neigh and champ their silver bits;
But their master's been and drowned his wits,
and the Sun'll be rising soon!"

So the cat on his fiddle played hey-diddle-diddle,
a jig that would wake the dead:
He squeaked and sawed and quickened the tune,
While the landlord shook the Man in the Moon:
"It's after three!" he said.

They rolled the Man slowly up the hill
and bundled him into the Moon,
While his horses galloped up in rear,
And the cow came capering like a deer,
and a dish ran up with the spoon.

Now quicker the fiddle went deedle-dum-diddle;
Cthe dog began to roar,
The cow and the horses stood on their heads;
The guests all bounded from their beds
and danced upon the floor.

With a ping and a pang the fiddle-strings broke!
the cow jumped over the Moon,
And the little dog laughed to see such fun,
And the Saturday dish went off at a run
with the silver Sunday spoon.

The round Moon rolled behind the hill,
as the Sun raised up her head.
She hardly believed her fiery eyes;
For though it was day, to her surprise
they all went back to bed!

 

“The End.” He said, and closed the book.  “Did you like that?”

“Mmm Hmm.” Tilda yawned.  “Like a song.”

Bard smiled.  “It sounds like a something Bofur would sing, doesn’t it?”

“Uh huh.  I have to pee.”

“No problem, love.”  He picked her up.  “Come on, then.  Do you feel strong enough to do it by yourself?”

“I think so.”

All was taken care of, and soon Bard was tucking her in.  “You settle down, and take a nap.  I’ll be at the desk in our bedroom, working, so if you need anything, just let me know.  After lunch, Sigrid and Hilda will give you your bath and change your bedding.”

She held her arms up and he hugged her.  “Love you, Da.”

“I love you so much, Little Bean.”

 

The rest of the day went by rapidly; Tilda had a good lunch, and worked with her blue ball again, and, then took her afternoon nap.

In the living room, Daeron met with Kings, Hilda and Galion, to discuss her progress and outline another part of his treatment plan.

First, Daeron outlined his program to help her physical recovery. He presented them with a chart, listing the exercises he wanted her to do, and asked them to record her repetitions and note any problems she might have.

“This can help us discover where she might need additional help, and this will encourage Tilda, as well, if she sees evidence of her progress.” He handed it to Thranduil.  “Every couple of days, show this to her, and point out places where she shows improvement.”

“This is good.”  The Elvenking looked it over, and handed it to Bard, so he could see, then told everyone what he had observed that morning. “I saw Esta do something this morning, and I want to ask you about it.  Tilda was getting frustrated and upset because she could not remember something, but the dog wanted the child to pet her, and when she did, her memory came back.  Do you think a mindless activity like that could stimulate her thinking?”

Daeron thought about this.  “Perhaps, if one part of her brain is busy, it may help her learn different ways to process what she needs to remember.  Esta, senses this, apparently.  I have been reading as much as I can about things like this, and the books say to expect setbacks; especially when she is stressed and tired.  There is no set schedule for a recovery such as this; it is a matter of taking each thing as it comes."

"So... at this point, everything is normal."

"Exactly.  Each person is unique, and we must remember that, My Lord."

Then the Guard went on to another subject.  “I see that her classmates have made drawings for her, and Tilda would like to hang them up around her room.  This would be a good idea.”

“Oh, we’re on that,” Hilda said.  “Galion and I plan to hang a sheet on the wall, and pin them to it.  We’ll switch them around and hang up new things, too, so she’ll have different things to look at.”

“Another excellent idea.  I plan to meet with Mistress Bronwyn soon, so we can organize a specialized curriculum for Lady Tilda, in the weeks ahead.  She’s not ready for such things, yet.”

“This all sounds great, Daeron,” Bard said.  “Folks, do we have any other questions or problems?”

No one did, so Daeron left and everyone else went back to their duties for the day.

After dinner, Hilda went in to read to Tilda, and the rest of the family relaxed in front of the fireplace. 

“By the way; I saw the new pictures up there,” Bard said, pointing to the mantel.  “Nice.”

Thranduil smiled.  “The only one missing is you.”

“But you did draw me, remember?”  Bard smirked at him.  “You were in the picture, too, as I recall.”

“Where is that one, Da?  In Dale?”  Bain perked up.

“Yep.” Bard said, hiding his smile.  “I like it, a lot.”

“Where’d you put it?  In your room?”

Thranduil grinned, and reached his hand between them, and pinched Bard’s thigh.  Bard did his best to keep a straight face, and change the subject.  “How about we get out the Stratagem board?  I’ve been practicing with Feren, so let’s see if your Ada can still beat me.”

Thranduil did win, of course, but noted Bard’s improvement.  Then Bain and Rhys settled in for their game, just as Sigrid came in.

“Hey Sig.  How’s Rhian and the baby?”  Bain asked.

“She’s good, and he’s growing like a weed!  I think we’ve got most of Old Ben’s things done, so they’ll be ready when he comes to visit next week.”

“I didn’t know Ben sent his things.”  Bard said. 

 “He didn’t!” Sigrid laughed.  “Tauriel got sick of looking at him with holes in his shirts and socks, so she marched into his room and grabbed everything that was looking ragged, and sent it.  He put up a fuss and tried to stop her, but Tauriel got her way, in the end.  What we couldn’t mend, we’ve gotten replacements for.” 

“That is kind of you, to help Rhian, Iellig.”  Thranduil put his arm around Sigrid, as she sat down.

“I like that Rhian’s  putting herself in charge of looking after Ben; it’s a good sign, I think."  

“He’s a good man, and needs somebody like that, especially since his wife died, and Ulmo knows, that girl could always use more friends.”  Bard answered her.  “He told me they’d been worried about her for years.”

Sigrid smiled.  “Rhian seems excited about his visit, and can’t wait to show him the baby.   You should go visit her, Da.”

“Ada and I talked about that earlier, my girl.  Would it make her nervous?”

“It would help if Hannah were there. She’s doing better; she’s out of the apartment more, and yesterday, Daeron and Indis took her to the barns, to see the horses.”

“Really?  How was she with it?” 

“Rhian said she was nervous at first.  They showed her a really gentle dark mare, and the horse just kept very still, and soon, she was petting her nose.” Sigrid smiled.  “She likes the same thing I do; their noses are soft, like velvet.”

Rhys looked up from his game at Thranduil. “I’m reading the history book about Dale, My Lord.  I didn’t know it was you who wrote it!  Is it true you knew all the Kings?”

“Yes, it is true.”

“What were they like?”  Bain perked up at Rhys’s question.

 “Some Kings were better than others, as is always the way of things, but all were exemplary in their own way.”

“What about Da?”  Bain asked.

“Well, I must confess a personal bias on that account, Ionneg.”  Thranduil smirked.

Bard snorted.  “I’ve hardly had a chance to see what kind of King I’ll be!”

Sigrid said, “You’ve been wonderful, Da!  Don’t sell yourself short!”

“You never know, though.  I could end up a drunken sot who winds through the streets singing lewd pub songs.”  Bard chuckled.  “Your poor Ada would have to try and keep me sober, or hide me in the cellar, until you can take over as King.”

“What lewd pub songs?” asked Bain, with a mischievous glint in his eye.

“Never mind.” Thranduil said. “Pay attention to your game.  Rhys is about to beat you in three moves.”

 

***************

 

Once all the children were bedded down for the night, Bard laid his head on Thranduil’s shoulder, and sighed.

“I’ll need to meet with Ina and Iola’s guards, tomorrow, whether or not I meet with the ladies.” Bard gave his husband a wry grin.  “I need to apologize to them.”

Thranduil laughed.  “I am sure they would appreciate it, but the unit charged with guarding them, are also in charge of my dungeons.  This is not that much of a challenge to them.  They know how to handle prisoners and it takes a great deal to rattle them.”

“Really?”

Thranduil smiled.  “I think you will enjoy meeting them.  Dior, the Captain, is a good Elf, and friend mine and Feren’s and he has excellent insights into someone’s character.  He does not just keep prisoners, but he observes and lets me know who might be rehabilitated, or who cannot be.  Often, I will wait to pass down a sentence until after Dior has observed them for a time.  He has never been wrong.  He also has a wonderful sense of humor.”

“You’d have to, in that line of work.”

They sat in silence for a while, and watched the fire.

“Oh, Bard…”  He kissed his Bowman’s hair.  “Sometimes, I wish you had never become King; then you and the children could stay here with me, always.”

Bard chucked.  “Making me King was your idea, love.  Anyway, I wouldn’t be happy with no real purpose to my life; I’d feel like your concubine, and I’d hate it.” 

“Will you hate it when you come here after Bain becomes King?”

“I’d want a real job here; something that would work to the good of our people.  But we've got years to figure that out.  I’ve got enough to worry about at the moment.”

Thranduil got up and held his hand out.  “Come, Meleth nîn.” 

They both went into the bathing room, and undressed each other.  Bard looked over and saw the chaise lounge.  “Is that where you worked on Tilda?”

 “Yes.”  Thranduil sighed, as the memories of that terrifying night rushed back to him.  “That was –“

“…over.  It’s over.”  Bard took Thranduil’s face in his hands and said, “That night you saved our baby; that’s all you need to remember.”

“I love you, Bard.” 

Bard grabbed Thranduil’s wrist and led him over to the chaise lounge and lay him down.  “Let me give you some new memories, love.”  Bard reached for the oil in the basket on the table.  “Close you eyes, and feel how much I love you.”

After Thranduil cast a silencing spell, he closed his eyes, and gave into Bard’s kisses.   He could feel fingers stroke his cock, and cup his balls, before Bard inserted two fingers.  He groaned loudly, then he bit his lip and hissed, as he adjusted and opened for Bard.

Lips kissed and suckled on his nipples, and when Bard began massaging his prostate in small circles, he writhed, as the heat flowed through him, and he threw his head back and gasped.  “Oh, Meleth nîn; Gellon n'i iuithog i lebir gîn…”

Soon, Bard was over him, and entering him slowly.  Thranduil adored the look on Bard’s face, and watched his mouth grow slack, as a moan escape from the Bowman’s lips. 

He reached up and grabbed the back of Bard’s neck and brought him down for a long, deep kiss, and he opened his legs wide to bring Bard in even deeper, and gasped when he felt Bard shudder inside him.

Bard stroked Thranduil's hair from his face, and looked at him with love and wonder.  “You are the most beautiful sight, lying beneath me.  I can’t believe I get to be here, and do this with you.  Stars, you feel so good..."

“You are just as beautiful above me, with your warm eyes and a smile that melts me every time." Thranduil moaned softly.  "Athog, Meleth nîn, puitho nin."

Slowly, Bard began to move in him, and soon they were moaning and gasping.  Their eyes never left each other, and when their movements became more urgent, Thranduil took himself in hand, and began to stroke in time to Bard’s movements, watching how it excited his husband.  When they were at the brink of climax, Bard lowered his head, and whispered, “I love you so much; come with me, and we’ll catch each other when we fall.”

It only took five more strokes, and they both were lost.

They kept moving for a little while, to make the moment last, until Bard softened enough to pull out of him.   Then he and Thranduil took their time washing and drying each other off, before they got into their sleeping clothes and robes.

 

***************

 

Bard took their dirty clothes and put them in the basket of their dressing room, when heard his husband call to him.

“Bard!  Come quickly; you must see this!”  Thranduil whispered softly, so as not to wake Tilda.

“What is it?  Is something wrong?”  He came out of the walk-in closet and noticed the lamplight from the nursery.  He went into the room, curious to see what the fuss was about…

There was his husband, looking down at their little girl, grinning.

“What is it?” he asked his Elf.

Thranduil huffed out a little laugh.  “You might think it silly.”

“Is it silly?”

“Perhaps, but it means a great deal to me.  Look.” He pointed to the bedcovers.  “Do you see?”

Bard looked, but didn’t know what he was looking for.  “I don’t understand.”

“You mean, you do not notice?”

Bard shook his head. 

“Look at her blankets, Bard!”  Thranduil pointed with glee.  “She kicked her covers off!”

Bard blinked, and finally noticed.  Tilda, was now lying on her stomach, with one leg drawn up, and the other straight down, and indeed, she had thrown her blankets off.   She had rolled over by herself, and was no longer on her back, sleeping like the sick do. 

“You're right, love; I'm so used to seeing it, I didn't 'see' it.  I never thought I’d be happy to see her back to her old tricks.”  Bard reached over and gently tucked her leg in, and pulled her covers up.  “She’s normally a misery to sleep with.”

After kissing her cheek gently, Bard scratched Esta's ears, "Keep an eye out for our Beanie, yeah?"  The black-and-white sheepdog thumped her tail on the bed, before settling in.

Thranduil kissed Tilda’s hair as Bard dimmed her lamp, then they crawled into bed.  “I hated to see her lie so still and on her back; like a corpse.  I begged the Valar to heal her, so she could go back to tossing and turning.” He smiled ruefully.  “I even prayed that she could kick me again, at night." He sighed.  “I think I would miss that the most, if she had been taken from us."

“How often did she come in here?”

“A couple of nights a week - more in the beginning.  Hilda warned me to expect it, so I was not surprised, really.  Legolas would often become insecure, and sleep with us.”  Thranduil laughed.  “Either she’d come here, or Esta would wake me to go get her. When she fell back asleep, she nearly drove me mad.  She would walked up and down my back, or kick at my side.  One night I made the mistake of facing her and...” He shuddered.

 “Uh oh...”. Bard put his hand over his mouth and snickered.  “Got you good, did she?”

“I pester you about your foul mouth, but that night, I recited a litany of all your favorites several times, before I could breathe normally.”

“Helps, doesn’t it?” Bard smirked, and jabbed him with his elbow.

“Do you make fun of me, Bowman?” Thranduil pounced on him, and straddling.  “I am glad my suffering amuses you so.  What if I were damaged, and could no longer ‘serve’ my husband?”

Bard laughed up at him.  “You’d have my sympathies.  I nearly broke my ‘Little Bowman,’ thanks to that monster you call a dog."

Thranduil made a face, and grabbed his pillow to smack him with.  “Did I hear you correctly?  Did you just say, ‘Little Bowman?’”

“Don’t you call your Elf Thing the ‘Elf Thing?’”  Bard laughed, holding his forearms up to defend himself.

“That is entirely different.”  The Elvenking said, and hit him with the pillow, again. “And what does Thangon have to do it?”

“Get off me, and I’ll tell you.”

So, Bard told him about the night he had a hot dream, woke up painfully hard.  Thranduil sat up, fascinated, with a grin on his face. 

“Ooh, Meleth nîn; did you dream about me?” the Elf asked coyly, as he traced his finger over Bard’s chest.

“No; I dreamed about Old Ben.” He said, sarcastically and slapped his hand away. “Stop fishing for compliments, you snooty-faced Elf, and let me finish…”

Bard recounted the events of that night, as Thranduil began to laugh.  “…and then, just as I was about to come, there was this giant, sloppy tongue all over my face!  Scared the shit out of me!  I screamed bloody murder and fell out of bed, still hard as nails..."

Thranduil had to grab the pillow and doubled over to bury his face in it.  Once he could catch his breath again, he asked, “Your ‘Little Bowman’ did not break your fall?” 

“Hey!  Show me some compassion, will you?  I could’ve really gotten hurt, and where would you be, if I’d broken it, or something?”

“Alas; that would be a tragedy. I do not want to contemplate how much that would hurt, but…” Thranduil doubled over in to giggles again, “I would pay to see you try to explain that to the Chief Healer…”  And he was off again.

Bard just crossed his arms and looked at Thranduil sardonically.  “Go ahead, you bastard; enjoy my pain.  That wasn’t the worst of it, you know.”

The Elf finally recovered, and wiped his eyes. “How could it become worse?” 

“There I was, on the cold, hard floor, with that damned dog smiling over me  – so help me, that bloody dog was smiling!  Then I heard footsteps, and I barely got my cock back in my drawers before Tauriel and two Guards burst into the room…”

Thranduil, again, buried his screams of laughter into his pillow, and rolled on his side as his body shook. “Stop!" he cried, as he grabbed his stomach.  “I cannot breathe!”

Bard shook his head.  “I was hoping for a little sympathy, you know.”

“I am sorry… I… but…”  And Thranduil was off again, but this time, Bard was joining him.  “I knew Thangon would protect you, but…”  When he fell into another giggle fit, Bard smacked him on his rear end.

“I can’t believe I like that dog as much as I do.”  Bard said, as they finally began to settle down. 

Thranduil laid his head on Bard’s shoulder.  “So, you are glad I sent him to you?”

Bard heaved an exaggerated sigh.  “Aye.  He’s a good dog.  All the men like him, and he loves to go hunting with the Elves.  He keeps the bed warm, too, and really likes the feather pillows you sent.   I don’t know where you’re going to sleep when you're in Dale, though; you two will have to sort that out yourselves.”

Even after they settled down for the night, Bard heard occasional snickers from his husband. 

“Meleth nîn?”  Thranduil was snuggled against Bard’s chest, and he pulled his arm closer around him.

“Want to laugh at my misery some more?” Bard kissed the back of his neck.

“No.  Well, yes, but…”

Bard smiled.  “What is it, love?”

“I know we’ll face hardship, as well as heartache, but it is all worth it.  Thank you for bringing joy to my life, again.”

Bard tightened his arms around his Elf, and threw his leg over him, protectively.  “You’ve brought just as much joy to me, love.”

They sighed, relaxed for several moments.

“Bard?”

“Mmmm.  What?”

“There is nothing ‘little’ about your ‘Little Bowman.’”

“Thank you,” Bard snuggled in.  “Now, shut up and go to sleep.”

 

***************

 

Once the children were off to school the next morning, and after they helped Tilda eat her breakfast, Bard and Thranduil were ready for the first meeting of the day.

“Are you ready?” He asked his husband.

“Yes, Meleth nîn.  I am interested to see how this turns out.”

Bard and Thranduil walked across the Hall for their planned meeting with Ina and Iola’s guards. 

A knock was heard on the study door after about ten minutes.

“Come in,” Bard called.

Two Elven guards, entered, and saluted.  “Suilad, Aran NÎn; Brannon NÎn Bard."

“Have a seat, please.”  Bard indicated to the chairs in front of the desk.  Thranduil sat to the side of Bard; the King of Dale was running this meeting.

“Lord Bard, this is Captain Dior, and his Lieutenant, Elion."

Bard nodded to them, then began: “First of all, I want to extend my sincere appreciation to you and your unit for looking after these two.  I didn’t relish inflicting anyone on your people like this, but I have seen reports from your King that you all have been conscientious in your duties, and have made sure they have come to no harm, despite their…  difficulty.”

“Thank you, My Lord,” Dior the brown-haired Elf on the right said. 

“So, tell me.  What has it been like?  What have these two ladies been up to?  I’d like you to tell me everything, and please don’t feel like you have to be polite.  I haven’t completely decided what to do with them, and your words here will have a great deal to do with my decision.”

The Captain began.  “My Lord, these ladies have not been anything we could not handle easily, though I will tell you, we have had easier assignments."  The Captain smiled.  "Your suggestion that we show them kindness is something we do as much as we can anyway.  If a prisoner can be kept calm, and feels like we have earned their trust, they are more apt to confess, or at least, give details.  We only use brute force when we must.”

“Are they still hateful and violent toward you?”

“It only happened once, at the beginning, but they are…quite verbal, My Lord. I am grateful King Thranduil granted our request for a silencing spell,” he grinned.  “The one called Iola walked up to one of my men, and raised her hand as if to slap him, but he towered over her, grabbed her wrist, and keep eye contact, until she slowly backed down.”

“I did read one report that said Iola has to be physically restrained from hitting her sister.”

“She does.  It happened more often, at the beginning.  As before, we grabbed her wrist and did not release her, until she became calmer.   In our line of work, My Lord, we find this an effective approach.  I think they have learned to respect us, to some extent.”

“Have they guessed that you understand them?”

Dior shook his head.  “No.  It is no difficulty.  We are Elves, of the Army of the Woodland Realm.  My unit is trained to only act; never react.”

Thranduil smiled nodded in proud agreement. 

“My Lord, it has been to our benefit that they feel they can speak freely in front of us.” Dior told them.  “We have ascertained much, with regards to the reasons for their behavior.”

Bard looked at Thranduil.  “Do I want to know what they were saying?”

The Captain laughed outright, and the Lieutenant smiled.  “Not all of it, I am sure, Lord Bard.  But you will be interested to know that the grandmother is has reconsidered their treatment of Master Rhys.”

“She has?”  This was interesting.  “What do they say?”

“Mostly that they were simply doing things the way their own father taught them.  This father has often been a topic between them, and it is increasingly clear that Ina no longer sees him the same.  Iola becomes very angry at this, and they argue.”

The King of Dale sighed.  “I’ve been made aware of some unpleasant things about him from Alun, Rhys’s father.  He was a real monster.  I’m pleased at least one of them is questioning that man’s practices for their own sake, but it doesn’t give excuse for causing those marks on the boy, or on their servants.”

The guards looked at each other and said, “We are in complete agreement, My Lord.  There have been terrible arguments between the sisters.”

“Tell me.”

“It seems that Iola was the one who inflicted most of the harm on the child, as if it were her duty.  Ina only did this when she was forced to, and questioning her own actions and their father’s influence.  Iola will not tolerate such things, and screams at her.”

“Interesting…”  Bard sat back on his chair, and thought about this, for a moment.  “From what you’ve observed, do you think they’re capable of changing?”

“Of the two of them, I would say Ina might be, but it would take a long time.  Even then, I do not know to what extent.  Iola is much worse, and is given to unpredictable fits of anger, and, as we said, violence.  She is determined to idolize their father, and is incapable of considering anything less.”

“Those women have been traumatized throughout their childhood, with much worse than physical abuse.  Alun thinks they hang on to their denial, to avoid facing up to it." 

“That would explain much,” the Captain said.  “In my opinion, those women are damaged; particularly the oldest one, Iola.  They need to remain isolated, although I request  that you consider separating them.”

“You think so?”

“I do, My Lord.  I respectfully suggest you meet with them, and let us know how you wish to proceed from there.”

Bard got up and they all rose. “Thank you.  You’re doing a fine job, and I would ask that you continue to pretend you don’t understand them, until I say so.”

After the jailors saluted and left, the two Kings talked about it.

“I will see them, Thranduil.  In light of what Dior said, I think I have to, I’d like you to be there.”

“Of course, Meleth nîn, you do not need to ask.  I will support you in whatever you decide.”

“Make it the day after tomorrow.  I need time to think over exactly how to approach this; we need to be very careful.  When we do see them, I’d like them brought here by an intimidating escort of Guards, and I want them walked through the Palace with their hands bound, so they can see all the activity they’ve missed.  Do not permit anyone to approach them.  We’ll see them while Rhys is in his afternoon classes. Under no circumstance do I want that boy to lay eyes on them.  Oh, and I’ll need a copy of Elénaril’s report, if you have one in Westron.”

“I do, of course, but why do you wish it, if I may ask?”

“I think they should hear every single detail of what she found.”

The Elvenking sighed.  “Bard, of course, I will give you anything you wish, but I must ask you not to do this.”  He looked conflicted.

“Why not?”

“When I took Rhys into the treatment room, I promised him that what Elénaril and I saw would never be revealed.  I have already broken that promise, when I sent you and Alun the reports, and I need to apologize to him for it, but I must ask you to respect the boy’s privacy.”

Bard looked at his husband intently, “Why would you do that?”

“Rhys was frightened, and full of shame.   It seemed the right thing, to convince him to get medical care.  He clearly was injured, and I could have forced him in there, but it would have humiliated and damaged the child, even more."

Bard nodded and blew out his breath. “I see your point.  You’re right, though; you’ll have to speak to Rhys when you think it best. He might be upset, but not as much as you fear, love.  We've moved on, and so has he.  If you want me with you when you tell him, I’d be happy to help.”

Bard stood, pulled Thranduil to his feet, and kissed him.  “We've got a couple of hours before lunch, the sun is out, and Fînlossen needs some exercise.  Come on, love.”

The rest of the morning was spent outdoors on their stallions, as Thranduil showed Bard some of the area around his Palace.  Bard loved the forest in the winter; the sun was reflecting the ice and snow on each branch of the trees, making it all sparkle like jewels.  Both Kings held their heads up and absorbed the light from the sun, with closed eyes, as their horses walked along the path.

Thranduil took them to the Forest River, so he could see the icicles on the waterfall, and talked to him about the trees and animals he has known in that area. 

“This reminds me of being on the river, in the winter.  I loved to look at the snow and ice on the trees."

“Do you miss Laketown?”

“Not really.  I was born and bred on that water, and know it like I know myself, but I’m glad we're all in Dale now.  I’ve never felt that way about Laketown.”

“Really?"

“I’ve always loved my people, Thranduil, but that didn’t mean I loved Laketown.  When we first came into Dale, I felt like I was… coming back to something.  I knew I was descended from Girion, and when we entered the city, I knew I belonged there."

“Your lineage was calling to you, Meleth nîn.”  Thranduil urged his horse closer.  “I hope you think of this forest is your home, too.”

Bard took his hand, and squeezed it through their soft, leather gloves.  “My real home, love, is you.”

 

ELVEN TRANSLATIONS:

Gellon n'i iuithog i lebir gîn – I love it when you use your fingers

Athog meleth nîn, puitho nin - Please, my love, fuck me

Suilad, Aran NÎn; Brannon NÎn Bard - Greetings, My King; My Lord Bard,

 

DISCLAIMER:  I am not, nor ever plan to be a medical expert, with regard to Tilda’s condition.  Since this is Middle Earth, I feel free to craft her recovery in my own way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

The Woodland Realm, 16th of February; 2942, T.A.

 

After the Kings put their horses back in the stables, they enjoyed  lunch with the children, and spent the afternoon working in Thranduil’s study.  Both had paperwork they needed to catch up on, and Bard especially wanted to go over progress reports from Dale.  It looked like Percy, Alun and Old Ben had things well in hand.   Then he opened the seal of his letter from Percy, and read:

 

To Bard, King of Dale:

If you’re worrying about being away too long, don’t.  There isn’t a man in this building who holds it against you for looking after our baby.   When Hilda and Thranduil wrote me the details, it nearly broke our hearts, and everyone here sends a good thought.

If you’re also worried about Dale being vulnerable without you here, you needn’t be, either. King Dáin came over the other day to meet with Feren, and those two decided that it "just might be a good time" for their troops to practice maneuvers outside the City walls!   Clever, ain't it? Truth be told, both Feren and Dwalin were itching to put the folks through their paces, to keep them sharp, and let me tell you, it’s an impressive sight to see from the parapets!

You’re not missing much as far as building.  It’s slowed down, as we had some bitter weather, so we’re either finishing interiors or working on materials.  One of them big empty halls has been made into a workshop to saw up the logs and smooth planks.  Even if we can’t be outdoors as much, everyone’s got a job to do.   

Old Ben will be headed your way in a few days, so tell our Sigrid and Rhian to have his clothes and such ready.  You and Thranduil would have laughed to see our Tauriel, when she started grabbing his mending!  I was biting my knuckles to keep from laughing!  There he was, waving his hands around and telling her to stop it, and our little red-head just stood there, with the same look Hilda gets.  Alun and I couldn’t keep quiet when she demanded he hand over all his ripped trousers, including the ones he was wearing, or she’d take them off himself!  I thought his face would turn purple, he was so flummoxed!  I think he likes being fussed over.  Then she told him Rhian put herself in charge of looking after him, and he shut right up and smiled.

Thangon wasn’t as upset as we thought he’d be after you left; he seems to know you had to go.  We’ve all been fussing over him, and he sleeps in my room, at night.  That first night, Tauriel tried to take him, but her cat kept beating on him, so your boy’s safer with me.  Feren and the others take him out hunting, so he’s getting plenty of exercise, and Tauriel likes to brush him at night, while he lays there, rolls his eyes, and moans. It's almost obscene.

The tournaments proceed apace, in the Great Hall.   Bifur and Feren are neck-and-neck in the Stratagem Tourney, and Turamarth keeps wiping the floor with the Elves at darts. You’ll be happy to know his Westron is coming along nicely, and by spring, I’m sure he’ll be chatting you up just like his cousin does.

Speaking of cousins, tell Daeron that we’re all grateful here for helping Tilda.  Thranduil wrote and told us all he’s been doing for our Little Bean, and we’ll never forget it.

The Chief Healer's busy treating lots of colds.  It was bound to happen with so many in close quarters.  It’d be a lot worse, but for Emron's insistence that everyone wash their hands left, right, front and backwards.  As far as injuries go, he’s only got the usual smashed fingers from hammers, or splinters.  One Elf fell from the rafters in a house and broke his leg, but that was soon remedied, and he was back to work, good as new after a week, can you believe it?  A week! Elves...  

The men and Elves that were too bad off to make the trip back in December are doing well, although I’m sure the Healer's told you that already.  Two of them are up and around more, but he won’t let them outside, just yet.

Our Tauriel is holding up, and keeping busy; she’s like everybody else here, my boy.  We’re all missing our loved ones, be they in the Palace, or passed on to wherever Eru sends them.

Folks from the Original Company pay her special kindness, when they come.  If you can believe it, Dwalin, is the one who helps her most, when she gets down in the dumps.

“That lass is a warrior,” he says, “I ken what she needs.” 

Then, the two of them go to that empty dining hall by our rooms and do some sparring.  They’re quite the spectacle, when they go at each other, and the ones who bet on Tauriel win just as much as the ones to bet on the Dwarf.

I’ve already written to Hilda, but please give her my love anyway.  Tell her I’ll be along soon, to see my best girl.

Regards,

Percy, Steward of Dale

 

Bard smiled, as he folded up the letter, and looked over at his husband, who was reading.  “Did you get the report from Feren, yet?”

“I’m reading it now,” he replied with a grin.  “I'm pleased.  My troops are practicing by the West Gate, and the Dwarves are working before the Southern entrance facing the Long Lake.”  He finished reading the paper, then set it down.  “Tauriel tells me she’s working with Dwalin, and he’s a worthy opponent.” He looked at bit puzzled.

“Aye. Percy said that, too." Bard smirked.  "Whoddathunk?"  

“With so much to accomplish quickly, it is easy to forget that many are in mourning.  I am glad that she and Dwalin can find a way to work through it.” 

Bard shook his head.  “That Dwarf is not somebody I’d want to get mad at me, but he's got a soft spot for Tauriel, then it's all to her benefit.  He’s a good sort, really.  Once you’ve earned Dwalin's trust, he’d give his own head for you; he just doesn’t get mushy about it.”

Thranduil considered this.  “I agree.”   Then he finished putting his papers in a stack, and set them aside.  “Are you finished, Meleth nîn?”

“Just about, love.  I’ve just got this inventory to look over and then I can stop, for a while.”

“Good.” The Elvenking told him.  “Today is Bain and Rhys’s weaponry lesson, and I know you won’t want to miss it.  We’ve got some time, so we can visit Tilda, then go.  Sigrid will be in the Healing Halls, so we can stop and see her at work when we’re done with the boys.”

 

Later, Bard sat in the arena and watched Daeron and his assistants at work with the boys, and was impressed.  Daeron had them working with their practice swords today, and he could see Bain’s concentration and focus.  Some of the other boys were eager to plunge in, and had to be corrected, but not Bain.  He was not going to speed up his movements, until he was sure he had it exactly right, and seemed fine with practicing his forms, and positions as until they were not only perfect, but second-nature.   For a boy with an eager, enthusiastic personality, he was a bit surprised to see his calm demeanor and his patience with himself.  This was a side to Bain he’d never seen before, but Bard had a feeling more of this would emerge, as the boy grew into adulthood.  For all that Thranduil keeps saying Bain will be the best of Kings, it was exciting to see evidence of it.

Bain seemed to have an affinity with the sword, rather than archery, and many would be surprised to learn Bard was fine with it.  Every child should be allowed to pursue his or her own natural talents; not be pressured into fulfilling some sort of legacy.  All Bard wanted was for any child to be the best selves they can be.

After the weapons class, the two Kings took a tour of the Healing Halls, with Elénaril and Sigrid in tow.  Together, they sat and chatted with the patients, who were surprised and flattered, to have both Kings take an interest in them.  Bard was pleased to see how well his people worked with the Elves, and all seemed happy with his daughter’s work.  To Sigrid’s credit, she never demanded deference due to her station.  She never complained about the tasks given her, whether its pounding and grinding roots for hours, changing sheets or emptying chamber pots. 

Their children’s lives were on a good track, with bright futures ahead, and both Bard and his Elf prayed the same for their youngest, who was fighting her hardest to be herself again.

One foot in front of the other.

 

 

The Woodland Realm, 17th of February, 2942, T.A.

 

Bard and Thranduil had another busy day ahead, but their schedule looked to be a pleasant one.  They helped see the children, Hilda and Galion off, then went to give Tilda her breakfast.

They were going to look after their daughter in the morning, then Tilda would receive care from her Auntie Hil and Uncle Galion in the afternoon, while Bard had meetings. 

“Come on, love; let’s work your hands.  Squeeze the ball for us.  One…Two…Three…” and all the way to ten. 

“Can Ada count?” she asked, putting it in the other hand.

“Sure can, love.  Let me get him.”  he got up, and called to his husband, who had been sitting at the dining room table. “You’re up, Ada.  The Princess awaits your presence.”

 “I am coming,” he said, and soon he appeared in the doorway to the nursery.  “I must wash and dress, first.”  Once done, he smiled and asked, “Shall I count in Westron, or Sindarin, hênig?”

She smiled.  “Sindarin.”

The Elvenking bowed formally to the Princess. “Your wish is my command,” and he sat on the bed.  “Let us begin, shall we?  Mîn… Tâd… Nêl… Canad… Leben… Eneg… Odog… Tolodh… Neder…”

“Pae!” Tilda squealed.  She smiled up at Bard, amazed at herself.

Bard’s heart gave a little lurch.  “Is that Ten in Elvish?”

“Uh huh!” 

“Very good!”  Both fathers rewarded her by blowing raspberries into her neck as she giggled and squirmed.

“You’re smarter than I am, Beanie.  Tauriel’s been trying to teach me those numbers for weeks, and I still can’t get them right.” He rolled his eyes.  I think she’s going to have to start beating them into my noggin with a stick!”

Tilda looked at him.  “Tauriel?”

Bard took a deep breath.  This is normal…  this is normal.

“Tauriel is Thranduil’s daughter and she lives in Dale, love.  She’s very tall, like Ada.  She’s an Elf, too, but she doesn’t have light hair.  She’s got long red hair, and wears a green uniform…”

Tilda sat back and looked at him, then Esta crawled up and pushed her head under her hand.

“I think someone wants you to pet her.” He smiled down at her.  “Go on, love.”

Once Tilda was petting the dog, Thranduil whispered, “Describe her again,” very softly.

So, he said it all again.

Tilda thought for a moment, then her face showed recognition.  “Her room is across from me.”

“That is correct, Tithen Pen.  She lives in your Da’s Castle in Dale, and her room is right across from yours and Sigrid’s.”

The little girl said.  “My new sister.”

“She is, and she loves you very much.”  Thranduil smiled down at her.

Tilda looked up at her Ada.  “Where is…” she got stuck. 

“Tauriel?”

She shook her head.

“Uncle Galion?”

Again, no.

“Beanie, if you can’t remember somebody’s name, try to picture them in your mind, and tell us what you see,” Bard suggested.

“He has hair like that.” She pointed to Thranduil’s hair.

“Oh!  You mean Legolas, don’t you?”

“Uh huh.”  She nodded. “Legolas.”

“Ah, well.  Legolas is Ada’s son, and you're right.  He does have hair like him.”

“He’s a Elf. Ada’s a Elf, too."

“Yes, hênig.” Thranduil smiled.  “That is very good.”

“And so is…Tauriel.”

“That is also correct.  They are my own children, just like you, Sigrid and Bain are your father’s children, and together we make a family, do we not?”

The little girl considered that, as she stroked Esta’s head.  “A big family.  We have a dog.”

Bard laughed.  “Well, we have two dogs, and even a cat.  I have a big dog back in Dale, that Ada gave me, and he gave Tauriel a grey tabby cat named Farien.”

“That’s a lot, Da.”

“Lucky I have a big Castle, then.”

“Where is Legolas?”

To Thranduil’s credit, he didn’t react, but gave their girl a reassuring smile.  “Oh, Legolas has gone on a long trip.  There were important things he needed to take care of.”

“Oh.  Da?”

“What, love?”

“I remembered, right?” 

“You sure did.  You remembered Tauriel and Legolas, and you remembered some Sindarin numbers, which is more than I can do.  Guess you’re a lot smarter than me, yeah?”  Bard gave her a hug, and kissed her hair.

“I am glad you did so well, Tithen Pen, but now it is time to do your morning exercises to get your legs and arms strong again.”  Thranduil got up, and shooed Esta down to the floor, and folded her covers back.  “Let us begin, shall we?  I want you to get strong, as soon as possible, so you can ride a horse, and even maybe one of my Elk!  Would you like that?”

“Aye!”  Tilda said.

Bard rolled his eyes.  “Of course, you’d remember that, with no trouble he said wryly.

“Pay no attention to your Da, Tithen Pen,” Thranduil said happily. “He is afraid of my Elk, but you are smarter than that. He is convinced they will eat you up, but Da is being very silly.”

Tilda’s face lit up.  “I fed them.”

“And you still have all your fingers.  Wiggle them for Da, so he can stop whining…   Very good. Can you wiggle them some more?”

Tilda smiled at Thranduil and wiggled her fingers, as Bard winked at his Elf.  Its a good excuse to work on her coordination, even if it was at his own expense.

 

Once they did her morning exercises, it was time for her nap, so they tucked her in, then went into their bedchamber.  

“In all the excitement, I have not thought to mention it, but, I want to show you something.”  Thranduil got up and went to his small desk.

“I meant to ask why you put a desk in here.  I thought you did no ‘Kinging’ in this room.”

“I do not.  When you left, I had this brought in, because I did not want to keep this in my study, and I work on it each night before I get into bed.”  He opened a drawer, and got out the box Bard had given him, and put it on the bed. 

“You don’t have to show me this, you know.”  Bard reminded him.

“I want to, Bard.”  Thranduil took the book out of the box, and after they both settled against the headboard, he said,   “This was hard, at first; I will not lie about that.  But it has been… a wonderful thing to do.  As I sit  and write, I feel the happiness of those times, and I picture Legolas reading all this…”  The Elvenking leaned his head on Bard’s shoulder. “It is a gift for my son, but I did not know what a good thing it would be for me, as well.”

Bard put his arm around his husband and kissed his hair.  “I’m glad, love,” he whispered. 

Thranduil opened the book, and showed him a page near the beginning.  This sketch was much more detailed than the ones on the mantle.  It was a series of thin minute lines and dots that added reality to the drawing, with its intricate shading.  It was clearly evident it was drawn by a loving hand.

There she was.

She was relaxing in a chair, in a hall very different than the Palace; the architecture resembled the lines and curves of the bed Bain had slept in, from Rivendell. Her long, dark hair cascaded down her shoulders, and onto her back in wide, graceful waves.  Long, graceful fingers held a book, and he could see her dark eyes consider the words. The sun was shining through a window on her left, and rested on her hair, and her cheek, as she read. 

Her ears were lovely, pointed accents against her dark hair, her cheekbones were prominent, and her brow was smooth. Her face while not smiling in the picture, was kind, and showed a keen intelligence and a quiet strength.  Bard had seen that face before; on the Queen’s tall, blonde son.

She was absolutely beautiful. 

“Oh, Thranduil…”  Bard breathed.  “I can see why you loved her...  How do you do it?  You didn’t just capture her likeness; you’ve captured her presence.  It’s like she’s in this room, sitting right in front of us!”

Thranduil looked at him, searching his eyes.  “You mean this, Bard?  Truly?”

The Elf seemed anxious for Bard’s…  what?  Approval? 

Yes he was.

“I mean it with all my heart.” He smiled at his Elf.  “This is lovely, and if she was as sweet as she looks here, you and your people were blessed to have her for as long as you did.  I find it hard to believe Legolas would still feel like his mother was a stranger to him, after reading about her life with you, and seeing all these pictures.  You’ve made her real, again; maybe for yourself, too.” 

Thranduil looked into his eyes, and swallowed.  “Thank you, Meleth nîn,” he whispered, and took his hand.  “I am so glad you think this way.”

“How far along have you gotten?”

“I have not written since Tilda became sick, but when things calm down, I want to resume.  In the spring, I will send it with Gandalf to Rivendell.  Elrond can keep it for Legolas, until he comes.”

“Whoa, stop there; what’s that?” Bard said, as Thranduil flipped through the pages. There was a sketch of his wife, her hair all mussed and a frown on her face.  He laughed.  “What’s she doing there?”

“Oh, that,” Thranduil smirked.  “She hated mornings, and was always grumpy, until she had her tea and breakfast. In that picture, Legolas was still an infant, and did not sleep at night.  I wrote about that, too.”  Thranduil ran his fingers over the graceful Tengwar script, that obviously described the drawing.

Bard shook his head.  “Her hair looks like mine in the mornings.” 

Thranduil looked at the picture.  “It does.  Perhaps that is why I like it so much.”

“So…you have a ‘type?’”  Bard winked at him, and nudged him with his shoulder.

“If you mean I am attracted to dark-haired, irreverent, mouthy spouses, I suppose I do.”

“Bet she didn’t swear as much as I do.”

“She had her moments.  But, no one swears as much as you.”

“I’m so glad you’re doing this, love.  If she was as wonderful as you say, her memory deserves to stay alive.”  Bard studied his husband.  “Can I ask you something?”

“Anything.”

“Does this make you miss her, more?  You can tell me, if it does.”

Thranduil sat up straighter, and considered.  “Of course, thinking of these things, and writing them down brought up a lot of intense feelings, and not a few tears.  I had wondered if I was doing you a disservice.” He looked at Bard, nervous to admit this.  “It became confusing to me, and I was afraid.”

“Why?”

“As I wrote, my feelings about her became stronger for a while, but then changed, in a good way.  I realized that this does nothing to diminish my feelings for you, or my life here with our family at all.”

“Why do you think so?”

“Doing this,” he gestured toward the pages, “seemed to... settle things even more, and I feel good about it.  It is a way for me to tell her how glad I was to have her in my life.  I think when I finish, Mírelen will be a source of memory, not mourning.”  He leaned his head on Bard’s shoulder. “I love that you want her to be a part of us, and I want your Mattie to be, as well.  They are the unseen guests at our dinner table; watching over us with loving smiles, as we look after their children.”

Bard and Thranduil regarded each other, then pressed their foreheads together.  “I like that.” He told his Elf. 

“Perhaps, your children might like something similar about their own mother, someday.”

“That’s a good idea.  I’ll think about it.  If you want to work on it while I’m here, feel free.”

“Thank you for that, but…  I would like to do this privately.  I hope you understand.”

“I do.” He kissed the Elvenking’s nose and got off the bed.  “It's time for me to make my rounds, love."

“I will be here."

Bard made his way through the halls of the Palace and into the Dining Hall, where the children were crowded around the tables, working.

An Elven guard came up and saluted him.  “Good morning,” he said to the Elf.  “Where is Mistress Bronwyn?”  After the Elf pointed in her direction, he could see she was presiding over the table with the older children, so he walked over.

“Hello, all!” he said. “You’re hard at work, I see.”  

Bronwyn went to stand beside him, “Children?  How do we greet our King?”

At once, they all got up, and bowed and curtsied to show their deference.  He was tempted to tell the children not to bother, but part of their education was courtly etiquette and he didn’t want to undermine that.  His own children knew to observe courtesy in public, and he was pleased to see Sigrid and Bain do so, without prompting.

“Thank you all,” he nodded.  “May I come around and see what you’re working on?”

Bronwyn went with him, from table to table, as the teachers gave him brief summaries of the lesson plans.

“When we first came here, King Thranduil, Lady Hilda and I met, and we decided to group the children not only by age, but by ability.” She explained, and indicated to a group of tables on their right.  “These are the children who have been taught to read and write, My Lord.  “The table over there,” she indicated, “are for those who are still learning the basics, but you will be pleased to see how fast they are catching up.”  They continued to walk around, and Bard was pleased to see their level of achievement.

He was surprised at how many Elves were teaching the students, as well.  “Are the Elves’ lesson plans any different than ours?”

“No, My Lord.  All the teachers meet once a week, to make sure we are meshing well.  Some are learning Sindarin, yes, but all are learning to read and write well in Westron.  What you see here, is only part of the instruction.  Since so many in Laketown had no chance at an education before this, we've got tutors that meet with one or two at a time in the afternoons, to get each child at the level he or she ought to be.  King Thranduil had requested every Elf who knew our language to assist, to get these kids caught up.” 

Bronwyn smiled proudly at him.  “Right now, it seems like chaos, My Lord, but by next year,  it will all come together, to begin the formal school in Dale.”

Bard was impressed.  “This is… amazing, Bronwyn!  You deserve a lot of credit for coordinating all this.  How do you do it?”

She smiled.  “Lady Hilda is a big help.  No one can put a plan together like she can!”

Bard couldn’t help but laugh.  “Now, that doesn’t surprise me.  I'll never know how she handles it all."

“She’s a big reason why we are all doing so well, here.” Bronwyn agreed, easily. 

 “Are the kids happy?  How are they without their fathers?  Are the orphans having a hard time?”

“We keep them busy, My Lord, and that helps.  They all struggle, to some degree, but we’ve got a few who don’t know how to handle it.  Your children and Rhys keep a listening ear out for that, so we can help them.”

“Does it work?” 

“For the most part, it does, and we encourage the children to find ways to express their feelings, such as drawing, physical activity, or sitting around in groups and sharing stories about their Mams or Das.  We’ve had a few instances of bullying, but the offenders were sent to King Thranduil, who put the fear of the Valar into them!” 

They both laughed for a minute, then Bronwyn became serious.  “The best thing the Elf King did was gather some volunteers from his Army to mentor those who need real help.  The Elf is paired with a child, and gives them structure and support, and someone to talk to.  Those children learn ways to work off their anger and hurt, through military exercises, and through setting goals.  It’s been a great success.”

Bard grinned at her, “That’s bloody brilliant. Where is Hilda, do you know?”

“She ‘s in the East Library right now, My Lord.  She meets with the Elven parents twice a week.”

“Good; I want to see that.”  He bowed politely, and kissed her hand.  “Thank you, Mistress, for all your hard work.”

She curtsied, “It’s my honor, Sire.”

Bard and his guard made their way quickly to the library.  It was on the opposite side of the Palace from the Royal Wing that housed Thranduil’s own, more extensive collection of books and scrolls.

The Elven guard brought him to the door, where a large gathering of Elves and women were seated.  Hilda was up front, standing next to Elénaril and Hannah.  Elénaril was speaking about common childhood ailments, and their treatments.  The Elves were intently listening, and some were taking notes.

“Hello, Lord Bard!  So glad you could join us!”  Hilda had seen him standing in the doorway, and motioned for him to come in.  Everyone got up from their chairs and either saluted, Elf-style, or curtsied.

Bard nodded politely, “Thank you, everyone.  Do you mind if I sit in and observe?”

“Of course not, My Lord.” Hilda motioned for someone to get him a chair.

“Please, don’t let me interrupt, go on.” Bard smiled at the Elven healer.

So, Bard sat down, and listened to the lecture, and the question and answer session, afterward.  He was pleased with the keen interest of the Elves, and when he was asked to step up and say a few words, he told them so.

“First of all, thank you, to those who have opened your hearts and your homes to our children.  Whether you come to Dale and live, or stay in the Woodland Realm, from everything I see here, you’re committed to provide excellent care, while encouraging them retain their heritage as children of Men.  I value not only your kindness, but also your respect, for our race.  I’m impressed with your questions.  Lady Hilda has told about the mentoring program she’s begun, and I hear it’s going well.  

“We all have one goal, here: to see these children grow and thrive, so they can be a credit to themselves, their families, and all the Northern Kingdoms.  For our mentors, thank you for volunteering your time, support and experience to each family.  In case any of you are wondering if I mind whether these children stay here, or in Dale, I don't.  All I care about is that they're loved, well taken care of, happy, and productive.  No one expects an adoptive parent to give up their duties or vocations - each family is unique, and so is their situation.  King Thranduil and I understand this, and you have our continuing support.  Thank you.”

There was a nice round of applause, then Bard stayed to meet with some individual new parents.  Everyone asked about Tilda, and extended their wishes for a speedy recovery.

 When he saw a familiar elleth with auburn hair and a cute dimple, he made sure to greet her.

“Hello, ‘Lindë!  How are the girls?”

“Good morning, Lord Bard; they are well.  My parents are watching them, this morning.

“Ah.  Elven grandparents.  Do they spoil their grandchildren like Men do?”

She laughed.  “If you mean filling their tummies with treats and smothering them love, then it would seem so.”

“How’s Gruffudd?  What’s he up to?”

“He is with some of his friends.  The men get together once or twice a week to play cards or draughts.  It is good for him to get out; Feren and I encourage him to do this.”

“Is he feeling all right?  How’s his leg?”

“I think - “ she sighed, shook her head.  “I know his leg hurts him sometimes, and he enjoys the children very much, but I sense there is something bothering him, and I do not know what it is.  I have asked him, and he brushes it off.”

“I heard he wants to make sure the children don’t forget their parents.  Do you think he’s afraid of that?”

“On the contrary, I have encouraged him to share stories of them.  I plan to write them down, for when Alis and Dafina are older.”

Bard smiled at her kindness.  “Tell you what.  I’m headed that way, I’ll talk to him.”

“Oh, My Lord; I do not want to cause trouble – “

“’'Lindë, it’s no trouble.  These are my people, and this is my job.  Besides, I doubt it has anything to do with the care you’ve given him.  Sounds like it’s something else.”

“Thank you, My Lord.” She seemed relieved.  “We have grown to love him as much as the girls, and if there is something we can do to help him…”

“I’ll get to the bottom of it.”

 

Bard left Hilda and the parents, and went to the Visitor’s wing of the Palace, and spoke with several residents to make sure they were happy with things, which they were.  That didn’t surprise him.  None of them had ever lived in rooms as nice as these, with an abundance of good food, so, besides missing their men, they were pleased. 

Then he made his way to one particular room, where several gentlemen were sitting around tables and chatting.  Most of them were elderly, but some were younger, but too injured to stay in Dale.

After making the rounds and saying hello, he joined in a game of cards, and chatted with the men.  Whoever organized this was smart; there were no pubs here in the Palace, so this was the next best thing. 

Once the game was over (Bard didn’t win), Bard went to where Gruffudd was sitting with his pipe. 

“Hey there.  How’s life with your girls?”  He shook the man’s hand, and sat down.

“Couldn’t be better, My Lord.  'Lindë and Feren love ‘em like their own, and the little ones are thrilled.”

“How are you with that, Gruffudd?  Feren and ‘Lindë are, for all intents, their parents, now.  Does that sit well with you?”

The older man looked sad.  “We’re not meant to bury our children, My Lord. I miss my daughter like the air I breathe.”  He reached into his pocket and wiped his nose with his red kerchief.  “My son-in-law was a good sort, too.  But at least I’ve got the girls, and 'Lindë and Feren are wonderful to them, and kind to me.”

“If I may ask, do the girls say much about your daughter?”

“That’s the best part.  ‘Lindë’s keen to make sure the girls know who their Mam and Da were.  I want to share some things, so she can write them down, but I’m not ready to do that, just yet… if you take my meaning, sir.”  He wiped his eyes, with a sad smile.  “Some days are better than others, but still..."

Bard put his hand on the older man’s shoulder.  “It's always the way of things, yeah?  How’s the leg?”

Gruffudd massaged his stump.  “It aches, and some nights it pains me some, but ‘Lindë took me to the Healers and got some salve to put on it.  It’ll be months before I can get meself a new leg, but I get around on the crutches all right.” He changed the subject.  “How’s your own wee one?  She's on the mend, I hear."

“Thanks for asking; she’s improving every day, thank the Valar.”

“Good to hear.  That Elf of yours is real good to your kids.  He’s good to all of us.”

“I’m a lucky man.”  Bard grinned.  “Gruffudd, I came to see if there was something I could do for you."

“Oh, don’t worry about me, My Lord.  I’ve got no rights to complain.  I’ve got a comfortable bed, great food, and good company.  I could always use some ale, mind you. A man likes a drink or two in the evenings.”  He gave the King of Dale a mischievous wink.

“I’ll have a word with our host, and take care of that.”  Bard sat back steepled his fingers, and looked at him.  “So, you’ve got a comfortable bed, good food, and you seem to enjoy your time here,” Bard gestured around the room, “And yet…?”

“What?”

“Gruffudd, you risked your life, and sacrificed a limb to help save our people.  I owe a great debt, to you, and every man in this room.  Tell me what it is I can do.”

He cleared his throat.  “Beggin’ your pardon, My Lord, I’ve nothing to be unhappy about..."

“But?”

“It’s just that… I’ve worked hard all my life.  Kept busy from the minute I get up, until my head hits the pillow, at night.  I’m just... not used to bein’ fussed over like this.  It makes me feel old and useless, and I’ve got quite a few good years left in me, yet.  'Lindë is a blessing, really she is, but, I’m used to doin’ for myself, and she always likes to wait on me hand and foot.  She keeps sayin’ what you just did, about how much I deserve it, and I love her for it…”

“But you want to be useful.”

“It’s my way, My Lord.  I’m the same age as Lord Percy, and look at all he’s doing!   I’ve been injured, yes, but sometimes all that fuss makes me feel…ruined.  There’s got to be somethin’ I can do.” 

Gruffudd was absolutely right.  The men of Dale had never been slackers, and to spend their days sitting around, playing cards or being looked after like this could be discouraging.  They all needed a purpose.

Bard raised an eyebrow at the man and smirked.  “I'll bet a job isn’t as noisy than two little girls underfoot all the time.”

“Aye, you’re right about that, and no mistake." Gruffudd chuckled.  “My own Da used to say, ‘You love to see ‘em come, and you love to see ‘em go.’  You’ll see for yourself, when your own grandchildren come along.  I love those two dearly, but few things can wear a man out, like grandchildren."  Then Gruffudd looked apologetic.  “I sound ungrateful, I know.  But this sitting around, like a doddering old man just isn’t me.”

Bard smiled at the man, and crossed arms.  “You’re right, Gruffudd, it isn’t you.  And I suspect all you men would feel the same way.  Don’t blame the Elves, though.  They simply see it as honoring you for how you suffered.  Many of them are grieving over their own loved ones, and maybe looking after you all, helps them get past their own pain.”

“Aye, that makes sense.”

“Try to also keep in mind, that we’re all learning about each other, here.  They haven’t had a chance to see how capable Men can be, even in the face of disability.  This is all kindly meant.”

“These Elves are very kind, I’ll grant you that.  And I truly enjoy 'Lindë and Feren.  That's why I feel so bad about complaining.”

Bard stood up, and put out his hand, “I’ll take care of this.  I appreciate your honesty, my friend.”

“I’m grateful, My Lord.  Best wishes to your family.”

“Thank you.”

 

It was time for Bard to return to their chambers for lunch.  He met up with the kids, as they were making their way there. 

“Sea Monsters!  What does the rest of your day bring?”

“Hi, Da!”  Bain said.  “We’ve got weapons classes this afternoon, then Sindarin lessons and writing in the Library.”

“Sounds like fun.  Are you as hungry as I am?  ‘Kinging’ is hard work.”

“Did you like what you found?”  Sigrid asked.  “How do you think we’re all doing?”

“I’m very impressed.”  He put his arm around Sigrid and kissed her hair.  “Are you going to the Healing Halls, later?”

“For a little while.  I’ve got Sindarin, and writing, too.  Ada says now that Tilda’s better, I need to get back to my own studies.”

“He’s right, you know."

They went into the apartment, and saw that Galion had the table set.  “How are things here?” he asked the Aide.

“Tilda has just woken up from her morning nap, and Thranduil has gone in to see her.”

“Oh, good.  Boys, can you take Esta out for –“  Bard turned to Galion, “How long till the food gets here?”

“Roughly fifteen minutes, My Lord.”

“Thanks.  Let her get some exercise, then come in and get washed.”

“Sure, Da.”  Bain called the dog, and they left. 

Bard and Sigrid washed and gowned, then went in to see their little one.  Tilda looked especially happy to see her sister, who quickly carried the little girl to the privy.

Bard went over to Thranduil, and kissed him.  “Did she take a good nap?”

“She was up earlier than yesterday.  This is still fairly easy, because she is still weak, but it will be difficult when she begins to regain her energy.”

“Aye, you’re right about that.  I’ll be back in Dale, by then.”  Bard sighed.  “I was thinking; Daeron’s not going to have time to give Tilda the care she needs when she becomes mobile, plus all his other duties.  That’s a lot to ask, even if he could.”

“I agree.” Thranduil nodded.  “Tilda seems to get along with Meriel, so I was thinking of asking her to help Tilda with her through her physical and memory exercises and schoolwork.”

“That’s a good idea.  I don’t want to just stick her with a stranger, and I don’t want Sigrid to take the responsibility.  Can Elénaril spare her?  Your Healing Hall is a lot busier these days, with all the children running about.  She may need her.”

“I do not know.  But we will ask Elénaril.  If she needs Meriel, she will say so, and she and Daeron can help us find someone else.  We will have things set up, before you leave, so you do not have to worry.  Thranduil assured him. 

 “Hi Da.” Tilda smiled, as Sigrid carried her in. “I’m hungry.”

“That’s good to hear, Beanie.  Let’s get you some lunch then.”  Bard called out to ask for her lunch, and to bring his in, too.

Soon, Tilda was fed, washed and her bedding changed, and Sigrid and Galion were beginning her afternoon exercises. 

Once that was done, Hilda came to spend the afternoon at the apartment, so they could get back to their schedule.  After seeing the children off to their afternoon activities, so Bard and Thranduil made ready to continue Their duties.

“How did your Council meeting go?”

“Very well, I think.  They were anxious for reassurance that our aid to Dale will not deplete the stores for our own people too much.”

Bard stopped him, with a worried look.  “Have we been doing that, Thranduil?  If your  people are going without, just to take care of mine... I can’t let you do that.”

Thranduil put his hands on Bard’s shoulders.  “Peace, Bard.  It is the Council’s job to be pessimistic, and to consider every worst-case scenario.   I assure you, the reports all say we could feed you for years upon years.  I think many members of the Council are secretly pleased to have something to be anxious about.  This Palace as seen more upheaval and activity in the past few months, that it has for hundreds and hundreds of years.” He shrugged.  “They were getting bored.”

“Fine, but promise me you'll tell me if there's a problem with that." Bard said.

“Of course, Meleth nîn.”  Thranduil smiled.  “If you like, sit in on a meeting or two, so you can speak with them yourself.  The experience would be good training for you.”

“I’d like that.”  The Bowman agreed, as they continued down the hallway.  “Is Daeron coming after weapons training, later?”

“He is,” Thranduil said.  “But he only has time for a quick examination.  He will be meeting this evening with her teachers.  We will know more about that, tomorrow.”

They arrived at the apartment, and knocked on the door.  

“Good afternoon, Lord Thranduil, Lord Bard.” Hannah said.  “Please, come in.  We’ve been expecting you.”  As she ushered the Kings into the living room to sit, they heard soft whispered and cooing noise from the other room.

The Midwife explained with a smile, “Rhian said to excuse her not answering the door; Darryn needed a quick diaper change.”

Bard smiled, “Babies don’t much care for the plans of Kings; all they want is to eat, sleep and poop.” 

Hannah giggled, and Bard laughed, when he saw Thranduil roll his eyes. 

“I wonder if my husband has ever changed a dirty diaper.” Bard teased him.

“I most certainly did.  I took care of Legolas, and I even changed young Darryn on the day he was born, much to Sigrid’s surprise.”

Just then, Rhian came out of the bedroom, carrying her seven-week-old son, who looked around with curious eyes, under a thick mop of dark curls.

“Here's our little man!"  Bard immediately got up to go see him. "Hello, Darryn; you've grown, haven't you?"

“Good afternoon, My Lord,” Rhian said shyly, looking down at her baby.

“May I hold him?”

“Of course.”  Rhian handed him over, and curtsied to Thranduil.  “Good afternoon, Lord Thranduil.”

 “Thank you for having us in your home.” Thranduil told her kindly.   “How are you, Rhian?” 

“Oh, my goodness, My Lord; this is your home!  Thank you for letting me have these rooms.”

Thranduil looked at her with a firm smile.  “For as long as you reside here, this is your home, and you have the right to say who enters, and who does not.  Remember, Darryn is a citizen and my subject, as well as of Dale, so you have the right to all this.”

The girl looked comforted at these words.  “You’re very kind.  I’m not used to having a say in things, begging your pardon.”

“You’d better get used to it,” Bard said, as he sat with the baby and fussed over him.  “Sigrid was telling me how solid he was.  He’s a big boy; look at those legs.” He laughed at the child. “The last time I saw you, you were brand-new, and liked to sneeze at me.”

Just then Darryn gave the King of Dale a toothless smile, and cooed at him.  “He likes me!  See?  Don’t tell me that’s just gas, Thranduil.  I know a real smile when I see one.”

The Elvenking peered over and saw the boy.  “Human babies fascinate me.  They develop so rapidly; his face is so much rounder, now.  One does not want to miss a minute.”  He took the boy’s hand.  “He looks more and more like his mother.”  Darryn’s eyes moved from Bard’s face to stare up and Thranduil with intense blue eyes. 

“If that's the case, he'll be a very handsome man.  So, Rhian,” Bard nestled the baby in his arms. “Tell me how you’ve been.  You look wonderful, by the way.”

She really did.  Gone were the dark circles, the strained, unhappy expression, and the thin pale cheeks.  The girl’s face had filled out and her hair was shiny.  And she was smiling; a shy uncertain smile, but nonetheless, it was evident that she was doing better.  Rhian was a stunner, and Bard had no doubt she’ll be turning heads everywhere she goes.  He sincerely hoped so; if ever there was a girl who deserved happiness, it was she.

“I do feel much better, thanks to you, and King Thranduil’s kindness.  I take walks every day with Indis, and Hannah,” she turned toward the other women, and took her hand, “comes to talk with me twice a week, and it helps me, a lot.  I’m learning to read and write, and Sigrid’s been helping me take care of Old Ben’s things.  He’s been so nice; I want to look after him, like he looked after me.”

“I know he appreciates it, and he’ll tell you that himself, when he gets here.”  Bard told her, as he made silly faces at the baby.  “I know he’s anxious to see this little man.  You and Darryn are all he can talk about.  I’m glad Hannah's helping you write letters to him.  Old Ben busts his buttons every time he gets one.  You're going to have one besotted Grandad on your hands; hope you're ready for it."

“I can’t wait to see him!”  Rhian said, her eyes brightening.  “Indis told me he’ll be staying near here, where Alun and Rhys stayed.”

Bard looked to Thranduil, “Did you arrange this?” 

When the Elvenking nodded yes, Bard told her, “I think King Thranduil wants to hold your son.  Is that all right?”

“Of course, My Lord.” Rhian said.  “He’s real friendly, and hardly cries at all.”

When Bard handed him over, Darryn regarded the Elvenking thoughtfully, then grabbed a fist full of his hair, and gave it a good yank.  The baby chuckled his pleasure at this accomplishment, and tried to bring the lock of hair to his mouth.  Thranduil managed to disengage it just before the boy could chew on it.  Baby and Elvenking regarded each other with big smiles, as Thranduil waved his fingers in front of his face.  Darryn seemed to like this, and squealed.

“He doesn’t cry much?” Bard asked.  “Tilda was like that, thank the Valar, but my Sigrid was colicky.”

Hannah smiled.  “Oh, I remember!"

Bard smiled.  “I’ll bet you do.  Mattie and I couldn’t have gotten through that month, without you." Then he explained to Thranduil and Rhian.  “Hannah and Hilda helped bring all my children into the world.”

“That I did.” Hannah grinned.  “Lord Bard’s right.  Your friend Sigrid was a real screamer.”

Bard  laughed, then told the young girl, "It was Hannah's idea to go get my Da, to settle her down."

Rhian looked interested at this story.  “Really?” 

“It’s true, love.” Hannah told the girl. “Brand had one of those deep voices, and Sigrid loved it.  You wait till Ben gets here; his is low and gravely, and I’ll bet the baby will love him.  See how Darryn is watching Lord Thranduil when he talks?  He’s got a deep voice, too.”

They all watched Darryn’s mesmerized face, as Thranduil spoke nonsense to him, and the little boy was clearly fascinated.

 “I’d no idea.”  Rhian said.  “I know you and Indis told Daeron not to fix the squeak in my rocking chair.  I didn’t know what you meant, until I saw how the noise calms him down.  You know so much about all this...  What made you want to be a midwife?”

“Oh, I’ve picked up a thing or two, over the years.  Maggie, the old midwife, delivered all three of my children, and she saw I had an interest, and offered to train me.  I’ve been doing it ever since; it kept food on the table after my Martyn passed, Valar rest his soul.”  The woman smiled at Rhian.  “I helped your Mam bring you into the world too, you know.  You were my third birth, after Maggie died.”

“How many babies have you delivered?” Bard asked. 

“Oh, Stars, who knows?  Been doing it for twenty years. I kept records of all the births I attended, but they’re a pile of ash, now.”

“How are our other expectant mothers?” Thranduil inquired.

“Doing just fine.  One’s due any day, so I’ve been watching her closely.  Soon our little Darryn won’t be the youngest in the Kingdom, will he?  The next one is due in about a month.” Hannah looked addressed the Elvenking.  “All the good food you’ve been giving us, helps make sure those babes will be healthy.  Bless you, for that.”

 “I’m proud of you, Rhian, for all your hard work.” Bard smiled at the girl.  “So, tell me; what do you think of motherhood?”

“Oh, I love him, so much!  He sleeps at night, now, and he likes everybody.  You should see him, when Daeron comes to visit; he was the first one my baby smiled at.”

“So, he’s been a good friend?”

Rhian nodded.  “He stops by when he can, but he’s busy taking care of the Prince and Princesses, and teaching the boys in the afternoons.  I doubt we’ll be seeing much of him, while he looks after Lady Tilda.  Sigrid and I are becoming good friends; I like her a lot.”  Rhian became serious.  “My Lord, I’m happy to hear Lady Tilda is doing better.”

“Thank you, Rhian.  If it weren’t for Daeron, I doubt she’d even be here, now.”  Bard told the women.

“I don’t doubt it.  That boy’s a good egg.”  Hannah said firmly. 

“I agree.” Bard looked down at the baby, who was cooing in Thranduil’s arms, “What do you think, young man?”

Darryn looked intently at Bard, then expressed his approval by screwing up his face and loudly passing gas.

“High praise indeed.  I am sure Daeron will be honored by your compliment.” The Elvenking responded, with a smile.

The King of Dale rolled his eyes.  "If that's compliment, Darryn, you and Thangon will get along beautifully."

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 The Woodland Realm, 18th of February 2942, T.A.

 “Good morning, Galion.”  The Aide was getting the silverware and dishes from the sideboard, preparing for everyone’s breakfast.  “How are you?”

“I am well.”  He responded, as he began to set the table.  “Oh, no; you do not have to help,” he protested, as Bard took the stack of plates from the Elf and began to set the table.

“Galion, in times like these, we’ll all work together.  And you’ll be taking a seat with us; too.  We need this family to be as close as possible, right now.”

The dark-haired Elf nodded.  “As you wish.  Have you checked Tilda this morning?”

“I’m about to.  Esta didn’t wake us, so she slept through the night.”

“That is such good news.” Galion smiled at him.

“It is,” he sighed.  “It really is.”

“If there is anything –“

Bard went over and put his hands on the Elf’s shoulders.  “You’re doing it, my friend.  You’ve been doing it since the beginning.  You prop us all up, and I’ve never been more grateful; I hope you know that.”

“Thank you.” Galion gave him a small smile.

“One question, though:  Who’s holding you up?”

“Oh, do not worry about me.  Lady Hilda and I take turns ‘crying into our tea towels,’ as she puts it. We have our moments, then we get through them, much like you and Thranduil help each other.”

Bard studied the Aide’s face.  Galion did look careworn.  But, didn’t they all? 

“I’m going to see if Tilda’s awake, and take the dog out.”  He walked into the nursery, and saw Tilda on her side, snuggling with Charlotte, but Daisy had fallen on the floor, so he quietly picked up the toy, tucked it under the Little Bean’s arm, then snapped his fingers at Esta.

The dog leapt down gently, then they went into the big bedroom, where Thranduil was beginning to stir on the big bed.  Esta wagged her tail, as she jumped on the bed, and began to lick the Elvenking’s face in earnest. 

“Thank you, Esta; I am awake now.” Thranduil mumbled.

When Bard reached down to kiss him, the Elf said. “Mmmm… that is much better, although Esta runs a close second.”

“Ha, ha.  At least Esta doesn’t snort and fart, like Thangon does.” Bard ran his fingers through his Elf’s hair.  “You look tired, love.  Do you want to sleep some more?”

“I would love to,” was the reply, “but I need to get up.”  Thranduil stretched and began to rouse himself. 

“Keep a listen for Tilda, would you?  I’m taking Esta for a walk.”

“I will.  Gi melin, Bard.”

Bard leaned down and kissed him again.  “Love you, too.”

Bard grabbed his cloak, went out and spent some time walking through the King’s Garden, as the black-and-white dog ran around ahead of him, anxious for some exercise.

He went through the doorway, and began to walk the curved paths at a brisk pace, taking in the crisp morning air.  He looked around at all the covered flower beds, the marble statues, and the stone benches, placed intermittently along the path.  Most of the trees were bare; enjoying their winter slumber, and the evergreens looked like they were decorated in white frosting.  The bushes and topiaries had been wrapped in coarse fabric, to protect them during the cold months. 

Bard stopped for a moment and took in some deep breaths.  This place must be beautiful in the summer!  Thranduil and Mírelen’s wedding ceremony took place here, and it wasn’t hard to imagine why.  Compared to what he imagined this place was like, a simple ceremony in a tent in the middle of a refugee camp, seemed crude, but it really wasn't.

Bard and Thranduil’s ceremony had been a beautiful one, nonetheless, because they both understood what really mattered. Just as when he married Mattie, all surroundings fell away, and it was only Thranduil’s face he saw, as Gandalf spoke the words.  When Thranduil slipped his ring on Bard’s finger, he never took his eyes off him, and vice-versa.  His voice was soft, but full of surety, as his Elf pledged himself to him.  Bard didn’t remember speaking, but he must have; all he could see was Thranduil’s face; so full of love and gratitude and hope for the future.  Both had learned the harsh lesson, that love would not save them from heartache or tragedy, but their love could help them bear life’s storms together.

Gandalf had been kind to include the children in the ceremony, which was only right.  Bard smiled, as he recalled Tilda, who held onto Sigrid’s hand, as Thranduil told them they were his children now, and promised to love and protect them throughout their lives.  Her smile was enormous; the happiest he had seen her since the Battle.

And now, they were all a family.  In one sense, it felt new and exciting, but they all settled in with each other like it had been that way for years.  There was a sense of quiet surety about all their lives now, and that was the stuff that would carry them through whatever life would throw at them.

If his wedding to Thranduil in Dale had been sweet, their wedding night was…  he still couldn’t describe it, except to say it was the most exciting, fulfilling experience of his life.  Each time with Thranduil, he felt wonder at how much more he felt, how connected he was to his husband’s pleasure, and how it only added to his own.  He was so glad they waited and completed their marriage in Thranduil’s lovely bedchamber.  Something like that deserved special surroundings.

Bard wondered about the clearing that Thranduil had taken Mírelen too, for their first coupling.  If it was lovelier than this place could be, it was a special place, indeed, and he could see why he’d want to lay her down in flowers, with the sound of the waterfall in the background. 

That was a place very special to Thranduil and his memories, and Bard would never ask to see it.  Some things should be kept sacred and private.

Then, with a pang, he thought of his Mattie.  Was she happy, wherever she was?  She wanted him to find joy, here on Middle Earth, and he hoped she’d found the same. 

“I’ll always love you,” he said, to the cold air, wondering if she could hear him, or if the message could somehow be sent to her.  “I did what you said, and I love my life, now.  You’d be so proud of the children.  You’d be proud of all of us.”

 

He walked for a while longer, then whistled, and clapped his hands a few times. “Esta!  Lelyë vi!” A few minutes later, the dog zoomed up, then sat obediently at his feet.

He scratched behind her ears.  “Did you have a good run?” he asked her, and as she panted happily.

Bard felt a pang of loneliness for Thangon.  He liked to grumble about his big beast, and it was true he was goofy, and he snored, and would eat anything tossed in front of him, and occasionally caused rooms to be aired out, as a result.  It was also true that when he stretched out on the bed and snored, he looked completely ridiculous, but that did not mean he was stupid. 

Thangon was, in fact, one of the smartest animals he’d ever seen.  His main occupation was, of course, to protect Bard, and so far, there had been little occasion to fear for his personal safety.  The closest he’d come, was when the two Dwarves rebelled and had to be brought before him. One of them was particularly angry, and made the mistake of stepping a bit too close to Bard.  

In an instant, Thangon was on his feet, with the hair on his back standing on end, as he lowered his body, and slowly made his way toward the Dwarf.  His lips were curled in a horrific snarl, and his growl was low, but menacing.  Even Bard stepped back with shock.  In that moment, only a Orc was more frightening than this animal, and his behavior was the complete opposite of his normal, laid-back, goofy self.

Bard had opened his mouth to correct Thangon, but Percy grabbed his arm, and put his finger to his lips.  So, they let it play out.  Dwarf and dog faced off for a several tense minutes, before the Dwarf lowered his eyes, and backed up.  As soon as he did, Thangon’s behavior was back to normal, and he went over to his master and plopped down at his feet, with a bored yawn.

After Dáin came and beat the tar out of the erstwhile Dwarves and sentenced them to privy duty at Erebor, Percy shook his head at Bard.

“If Thranduil was crazy to send Thangon here, he’s crazy like a fox.  Mark my words, that dog is going to save your life one day.”

Bard had no reason to argue with that.   All the men saw Thangon in a new light, and if it were possible to have more affection for him, they did.  That night, when Thangon took up too much room on the bed, and snored too loudly (again), Bard just smiled and forgave him.

Bard smiled down at the black and white sheepdog.  “I wonder how you’ll get along with my big boy,” he asked Esta.

Esta smiled up at him and barked.

“Oh, don’t worry; I know who’ll be wearing the pants in that relationship, but please, no pups.  We’ve got enough on our hands, at the moment, yeah?”

Esta put her front paws on his leg, whined and wagged her tail.

“I know.  Time to go back to your patient.”  Before he reached the door to the palace, he took another look around, at the sleeping garden, to fortify himself for what the day might bring.  He heaved a sigh, and went in to see his family.

 

After breakfast, he walked with the children to school, then knocked on the door to Feren and Glélindë’s home.  He had matters to talk over with Gruffudd.

“Good morning, Lord Bard; how nice to see you!”  ‘Lindë smiled at him, as she opened the door to their rooms.  “Please, come in; welcome to our home.”

Bard nodded to his guard, who remained outside, Bard entered to find a comfortable, apartment, well-kept, in spite of the toys scattered around the living room.  Little Dafina zoomed in from another room to see who was here.

“Alis is back in school, but Dafina is here.  Mallen Ant, what do we say to King Bard?” 

"Dood morning, Yord Bard," Dafina smiled and tried to curtsy, but lost her balance and fell.

Before the little girl had a chance to get upset, ‘Lindë picked her up.  “That was a good try, do you not think, My Lord?”

Bard nodded his head regally, and kissed the little girl’s hand.  “You did very well, young lady.”

“Please, come sit down.”

She led him into their living room, where Gruffudd was reading, with his leg on a stool.

“Good morning, Lord Bard.”  The man made to stand.

“Oh no; please, sit.  I need to talk to you, but first, I’d like to visit my young subject, here.”  Then Bard turned to the little girl, who sat on the couch, next to their mother.  “So, tell me, Miss Dafina; do you and your sister like your new home?”

“I yike it a yot!” Dafina smiled, and crawled off the couch to stand before him. “Nana’s weal nice, an’ Ada’s weal nice, an’ Grandda yikes his chair, too!”

“I can see that.  What does your Grandda like about his chair?”

She shrugged her shoulders and tilted her head in that charming way toddlers have, then she started to swing her arms back and forth as she talked.  “Oh, he smokes his pipe, and weads to me, and tews me ‘tories about my Mam and Da.  I yove dem, too, and I pway with my toys, and my sister yikes it here, a yot, too.  And," she added with a air of importance, "I got my own bed, too!”

“Your own bed?  That’s very grown up.”

Dafina just grinned and added little half-turns as she swung her arms.  “I sweep with Awis some nights, though.”  The she leaned forward to tell him a secret.  “Awis is in cwass now, but she’ll be here yater.”

“Lucky for you; that means you get your Naneth all to yourself, right?  So, what do you do, when your sister is at school?”

“Oh, I yike to pway, and I make Grandda pictuwes, and I help Nanaaaa...  Annnd...I have pwaygwoup!” She threw her arms out wide.

Glélindë grinned.  “Lady Hilda has organized a group for the youngest children a few times a week, to play, and sing songs.  We Elven mothers come too, and we learn about things children like to do.”

“That sounds like a lot of fun.”  Bard agreed.

“Is your home weal nice, King Bawd?” Dafina asked him.

“I sure think so.  It’s almost as nice as yours, but I don’t have as many toys as you do.”

‘Lindë picked up the little girl.  “Come, Mallen Ant, let us go make tea for Grandda and the King.  I need your help.” 

After they left, Bard smiled after her.

“If cuteness could be sold, you’d be the richest people this side of the Misty Mountains.”

“Aye, she’s a sweet one.  They both are.”

Bard leaned forward and brought up the reason for his visit. “I’ve been thinking about what you said, Gruffudd, and there is something you and your men could do for Dale.  We’ll have lots of new homes for our people to move into, but we need to start thinking of furniture.”

Gruffudd sat up straighter. “You’re right,” he said hopefully.

“The original plan was to send lumber to Dale, and have them make it, but I think you and your boys can make some things here. 

“Such as?”

“We need bed frames, Gruffudd, and plenty of them. You can make them here, and they can be shipped to Dale in pieces.  That would free up the men’s time in Dale to build other things we’ll need.  I only want basic frames to hold the mattresses; no headboards.  Many of you will be setting up businesses and at least one of them will be furniture, so I only want things that can help Dale get started, and as our economy grows, our people can buy fancier stuff.  If you can get enough made, I'll have you start on benches, and such, too."

“Aye, we can do that.”  The man smiled.

“Good.  Get your men together, find out who can do what, and set it up.  I’ll let King Thranduil know what you’ll be doing, and he’ll meet with you to make sure you have what you need.”

“That sounds grand, but…”

“Oh, don’t worry.  Hilda and Thranduil will come here, to meet you and the men.”

“I thank you, Sire.  This Palace is awful big, and it’s a long walk for someone on crutches.”

“I’ll be a while, but you’ll be dancing on the tabletops sooner than you think.”  Bard winked, but then he was serious.  “Gruffudd, I’m glad you talked to me, and I owe you an apology for not considering you and your men.  It was wrong of me, and I’m sorry.”

“Oh, don’t be, My Lord.  Truth be told, there are still some of us who won’t be able to do much.  But the effort will make us feel better.  We none of like to be coddled.”

“I’d like you to encourage the men to be patient, and keep in mind we’re all trying to understand each other. It’ll take a while, my friend.  Just be patient.  If run into any problems, tell a guard, and he’ll get Hilda to help iron out any misunderstandings.  That’s part of her job.”

“Aye.  Thanks again, Lord Bard.”

“Hewe’s da tea!” said Dafina, as she ran into the room ahead of ‘Lindë, who was carrying the tray.

“Those cookies look good; did you help make them?” Bard asked the little girl.

She nodded her head vigorously.  “Aye!  Nana and me tooked ‘em!”

“Really?  Do you like to cook?”

“I yike to hewp.  When Ada tame, he hewped us make bweakfast for Nana.”

Gruffudd smiled at the golden-haired child fondly.  “Dafina makes sure I get enough to eat, don’t you, love?”

“Uh huh!”  She climbed into Gruffudd’s lap and smiled at Bard.

 

After enjoying a short chat with the tea, Bard got up and shook Gruffudd’s hand.  “Thank you for your service to Dale, and for your willingness to help.  I appreciate it.”

“’Tis my honor, My Lord.”

“Thank you, ladies for the fine tea.”  Bard said, as Glélindë, with Dafina on her hip, walked him to the door.

“By the way,” Bard said to Gruffudd, “Seems the Elves have some equipment to brew ale in the stores somewhere.  If one of your men knows how to do it, set him up to supervise; it’s not something Elves do a great deal.  I’ve sent for some casks of ale from Erebor, to tide you all over.  I’d like you to ration it, please.  It will last longer, plus I don’t want to see any reports of drunkenness from the men, or I won’t buy any more.  Is that a deal?”

“It’s a deal,” Gruffudd shook his hand, and grinned.  “Many thanks, My Lord.”

“You’re most welcome.  Bye, now.” Bard said as he walked through the door.

“Bye, Yord Bard!” said Dafina, with a cute smile and a wave.

 

Smiling, Bard went on to visit several of the Guilds, to see the women learn new skills.  He was pleased to see the eagerness with which the they wanted to learn, and the effort the Elves put into it.

He made it back to his family’s chambers in time for lunch, while Thranduil stayed in the nursery, to help Tilda eat her lunch. Meriel was scheduled to stay with her this afternoon.

After seeing the children off again, Bard went to see Tilda, who was finishing up, with Thranduil’s help.  Her plate was empty, and her glass of milk was almost gone.  Thranduil held his hands over hers, as she finished it.

“You ate a good lunch, Little Bean.  How do you feel?”

“Good.” Tilda said, just as Daeron came in, and announced he wanted her to try to sit on the edge of the bed, and even to stand for a few minutes.

The three of them worked together; Bard and Daeron held each of her elbows, while Thranduil stood in front.  She was able to sit up fairly well, but when they slowly brought her up to stand, and she began to put weight on her feet, she could only manage it for a second or two, before she listed to the left.

“Please do not worry.  This is what I expected, My Lady; you are doing very well.”

“I almost fell.”

“We will do this more and more, and you will become strong again.”  Thranduil told her.  “This the work you must do to get better.”

After a short visit, Meriel arrived, so Thranduil, Bard and Daeron left the room, and dropped their sterile robes.

As they walked into the living room, Bard asked, “Besides having her stand, how else can we help her?”

“Continue with her exercises, and once she is out of isolation, it would be good for her to begin exercises in the pool.  The buoyancy of the water will make it easier for her to stand, and walk."

“That’s a good idea; she’s always loved the water, so it’ll be fun for her.  We’ll have to see about ordering a bathing outfit for her.”

“Of course, Meleth nîn.  I shall send the request to Taenya today.”

 Daeron added, “I wanted to tell you; Elénaril has given her permission for Meriel to oversee her daily care and her lessons.

“Excellent.” Thranduil said, and Bard nodded his agreement.

“Mistress Bronwyn and I have devised some exercises that will help her, memory and recognition. Meriel can be instructed to carry these out easily.  For this, I will need your help, Lord Thranduil.”

“How so?”

“I would like you to draw two sets of different objects and animals, on some cards, and color them. We can use them for different sorts of memory games and make it fun.”

“How many different things?”

“As many as you can think if, My Lord.  Animals, plants, flowers, and as many ordinary objects that she would see throughout the day, such as a chair, a candle, or a book.  When Lady Tilda is able to join you out here, make simple cards with the names of objects here in your chambers, and attach them to each item.  Try not to draw attention to them; just keep them up, and this will help Tilda, as well.”

Thranduil smiled.  “I shall get to work on them as soon as possible.” 

Bard could feel his eagerness to help, and smiled at him.  He despised the idea of leaving, but it’s true that this is the best place for her.  Thranduil was just as eager as Bard, to have their little girl back; they wanted her happy smile, and her giggle and her sense of wonder. 

Bard took Thranduil’s hand squeezed it.  “Thanks, love.”

One foot in front of the other.

 

*******************

 

That afternoon, Thranduil sat beside his husband who was, occupying the desk chair, again.  Bard, was sitting back, and steepled his fingers thoughtfully against his chin. 

The prisoners, Ina and Iola were sitting in the chairs opposite, with four guards standing behind them. 

There was silence in the room.  Bard was waiting, looking at each of them in turn, and had not said a single word since they entered.  This was making the women increasingly uncomfortable, and Thranduil could see their nervousness show in their posture, but, they knew not to speak, unless their King spoke first.

Oh, he loved seeing his Bowman exude such quiet power… Just look at him!  This was not something that can be taught.  When he saw Bard like this, he saw all the Kings who went before him; especially Girion.  He was Girion; yet so much more, and not just because Thranduil loved him.

At last, Bard picked up one of the papers sitting on his desk, and began to read, oh-so-casually:  

“13th of January; 2942, T.A

To the King of Dale…”

 Bard paused for a moment, then said sarcastically, “Now where is that paragraph…  Oh, yes! Here it is… 

'We have every right to demand satisfaction from the Princess Sigrid and Prince Bain.  They should fix this, but instead they became disrespectful.

‘If they were my children, they would have gotten slapped, and I told her so, and I don’t mind telling you, either…'”

Then Bard looked at the women.  “Let me see if I understand this correctly…  you ‘don’t mind telling’ me that my children should be slapped, is that right?” Bard said, through gritted teeth.  “Well, ladies, here I am.  Tell me to my face how you should be allowed to slap a Prince and Princess of the Realm.”  Bard sat back again and looked at the both of them.  “I’m waiting.”

Ina looked down at her hands, and Iola looked at Bard, with angry eyes, but said nothing.

“Perhaps you would like to see this?  To read it out loud?  Would that help?”  Bard asked helpfully, and held the paper up.  “This is only a copy, mind you, but every word you wrote to me is here.  Would you like to see it, ladies?”

Ina looked up at Bard for a moment, and shook her head.  “No.”

“No, what?”  Thranduil demanded.

She looked up at him in confusion.

“You sit here before your King.” Thranduil told her.  “You are also in my Realm, and I demand you pay your King all the courtesy he is owed.  Is that clear?”

Ina swallowed.  “Yes, My Lord.” Then she looked over at Bard, and sighed.  “I do not wish see the letter, My Lord.”

Bard continued.  “As you know, you have not just been imprisoned because of offenses to my own children.  In this letter, you freely admit to the abuse of your own grandson and great-nephew.  There have also been reports that you beat your former servants, Lynne and Mona.  What do you have to say for yourselves?”

Neither one of them spoke.

“You don’t recollect what you wrote?  Allow me to remind you, then:  

 ‘Rhys is away from his father, thank the Valar, otherwise he would be a spoiled brat, too.  We’re taking the winter to make sure he is as disciplined as we were, which did us a world of good, I can tell you that! I don’t hesitate to cuff him about the ears, to make sure he behaves.  No matter what my son Alun says, that boy is going to be raised right, just like my father did me.’

 “Those are your words, are they not?” He looked at Ina, whose eyes were still cast downward, and nodded.

“You must answer out loud to your King.” Thranduil ordered.

“Yes, My Lord.  I did.”  The older woman said, in a flat voice.

“And Iola helped you with this?” 

Both Bard and Thranduil directed icy gazes into the sister.  “You admit you helped your sister write this?”

“It’s my signature on that letter, as you well know, My Lord.”  The woman spat out the last words with as much venom as she could manage. “She didn’t know what to say - Ina never knows what to say - so I told her what to write, and every word of it is the truth!”

“You admit beating your great-nephew, then?”

“I did nothing wrong.  The boy needed discipline.”

“Oh, and what did that boy do to justify all the welts and bruises on him?  Tell me!”

“That…  child needed to have the badness taken out of him!  It was the only way!” Iola was so vehement, she actually spit, a little, when she talked.

Thranduil began to feel something ominous in his chest.  This woman was clearly mad.

 “What about you?” Bard directed a cold glance at Ina.  “Do you still think this way?”

The woman’s eyes filled, and she didn’t meet his eyes.   She looked weary.  “I don’t think so, My Lord.  I know you have no cause to believe me, and I understand that, but…  many things I thought I knew…things I believed were true and right…”  she swallowed again. 

“Ina…” her sister gave her a warning, in a low tone.

Bard ignored the sister.  “Now let us speak of your two servants, who both allege that you beat them, as well.  You wrote to me, demanding their return:

 ‘I demand the return of our servants immediately!  I will no longer work with Hilda, and if she thinks I’m going to do dishes or mop anything, she’s got another thing coming, I don’t care what that Elf King of yours says.’ 

 “You ‘don’t care’ what King Thranduil says?  Why is that?”  Bard asked, smoothly.  He showed no emotion, although Thranduil knew he was furious.  Despite the subject matter, he enjoyed seeing his husband in action, and could easily see him holding court in his own Kingdom, when the time came.

 “I…”  Ina struggled for words.  “I was…afraid.”  She looked at Iola, who stared back at her with her mouth in an angry, straight line.

“Oh?  Tell me what could make you so afraid that you felt justified to beat your servants?”

Ina looked at her sister again, nervously.  “I lost my home, and I lost everything I knew.  I didn’t know anything about cooking, or cleaning how to look after myself.  Papa would never allow us to learn those things –“

“Don’t you dare speak against Papa!” Iola hissed at her sister.  One of the guards behind her grabbed her shoulder to make sure she stayed in her seat.

Bard addressed the woman sharply.  “You will not interrupt, do understand?  You will allow your sister to speak freely, or I’ll remove you!”

Iola looked furious, but she sat back and shut up.

“Ina, you will continue, and do not worry about repercussions from your sister.  Please go on.”

“My Lord, even when I was married, I didn’t do anything to look after myself.  My husband and I lived with my sister and Papa, and he wouldn’t allow me even to look after my own son.  After Alun was born, Alwyn wanted us to have our own home, but…” Ina was tugging and pulling at the handkerchief that she had pulled out of her pockets.

Iola’s look became even darker, and her fists clenched.

“But?”

“Papa threatened to ruin him, if we ever thought about leaving, and Iola wanted me to stay…”

“And?”

After a few moments, Ina admitted, “I was afraid, My Lord.”

“Of your husband?  Was he unkind to you?”

“No… but I was afraid.  Papa was good friends with the ruler of Laketown then, and I knew he’d make good on his threats against my husband.”

“Are you speaking of the Master?”  Thranduil asked, looked between her and Bard.

“No.” Bard told him.  “This Lord of Laketown was before the Master.  My Da said he was a halfway decent man, better than the Master was.”  Bard addressed Ina, again.  “Regardless of what Ioan told his daughters, I doubt the man would allow himself to be manipulated like that.”

Ina’s face was stricken.  “Papa kept saying Alwyn would have no job, and I didn’t even know how to look after them.  I…convinced Alwyn to stay, because I knew he was right.” 

Iola hissed, with her teeth clenched. 

“Silence!” Bard barked at the sister. 

“Ina,” Bard asked, “when did your husband pass?”

“Just after Alun reached his first birthday.  My husband finally convinced me to leave, and said we could go to my cousin’s in Bree.  He told me he had money saved, and it was all arranged, but then… he died.”

“How did he die?”  Bard asked.

“He drowned, My Lord.”

Thranduil and Bard looked at each other, each thinking the same thing.  “Do you think it was just an accident?”

Ina froze, and didn’t say anything for several minutes.  Then she swallowed, “I don’t know…”

Iola’s face was contorted with fury.  “You traitorous BITCH!” She shot out of her chair and leapt on her sister with a maniacal scream, her hands ready to claw here sister’s eyes out.

Before either King could react, two of Dior’s guards grabbed the woman and easily got her under control, dragging her over by the door and out of reach.

The guard looked to Thranduil for orders, then Bard leaned over to Thranduil and whispered in his ear.  “Tell them to hold the women here in Sindarin.  If Iola refuses to cooperate, I want her hands bound again.  I need to speak with you.”

After doing as Bard asked, the Kings stood up and went into Galion’s office and shut the door, as Iola continued to spewing words of frantic fury.

“My Lord?”  Galion looked up in alarm from his desk. 

“Please do not worry, Galion; there are four guards in that room; everything is in hand. We need to confer for a moment; out of their hearing.” Thranduil said.

“Can I get you anything?”  Galion still did not look convinced.

“Yes.  Bring some fresh water, and a bottle of my strongest Dorwinian to my office; I think we might need it.”  Thranduil led him to Galion’s couch and sat down.

“Do you think Ina’s husband was murdered?”  Bard asked.

“It’s a possibility, but do not draw conclusions, unless you have clear evidence, or a confession, Bard.  That is something to keep in mind in cases like these.  Theorize, yes, but always be objective."

“Aye, you’re right.  I’m kind of learning as I go, here.”

Thranduil smiled and put his hand on Bard’s knee.  “Meleth nîn, if this is you ‘learning as you go,’ then I look forward to watching you in court when you’ve had some experience.  You are a credit to all your forefathers, in there.”

Bard nudged him with his shoulder.  “Thanks.”

“Do you remember these women, in Laketown?”

“I knew of them.  I was from the poorer part of town, and Alun is the same age as me, so I never knew Alwyn.  It’s true those two women hardly left the house.  I don’t ever remember meeting them.”

“Do you think Iola had anything to do with Alwyn’s death?” Thranduil asked Bard.

“I wouldn’t be surprised.  She’s… off.   Maybe she or her father killed Alwyn, or both; I don’t really know.  Regardless, I’m done speaking to them together.  Please have Iola removed, and put somewhere out of the way.  I’ll send for her, when I’m ready.”

“Excellent idea, My King.”  Thranduil gave him a smile.

“I’d like to have Ina’s things moved into another set of rooms if you can spare them.  I want them separated, with no contact.  I don’t see how Iola can be good for anybody; least of all herself, anymore.”

Thranduil nodded, and looked to Galion.  “Can you see it done?  Take two of the guards with you, as they will know what belongs to her.  And speak in Sindarin.  We do not want the women to know what we are doing.”

“Of course, My Lord.”  Galion got up immediately and went into Thranduil’s study.

“Are you ready, Bard?”

Bard’s face became serious.  “No,” he sighed.  “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to things like this."

“The day you get used to it, is the day you stop being a good King.  Never forget the weight of this, but you must be strong enough to carry out what needs to be done.”

“I have a bad feeling about this, love.  There’s something really ugly going on here, and I’d like you to stay close by, if you could.”

“Anything you need, Bard.”  Thranduil took Bard’s face in his hands, and kissed his brow.  “I’ll be by your side; today and always.”

They each let out a breath, then returned to Thranduil’s office and sat down again.  

The Elvenking gave orders to Iola’s guard to take her away, then addressed the woman in Westron. “I have ordered my guard to bind you, but if you do anything to disturb the peace in my Palace, he will gag you, is that clear?”

Dior’s Lieutenant, an Elf named Elion, moved forward to rebind Iola’s hands in front of her, and just for good measure, pulled a grey kerchief from his pocket, to show her he was ready to follow through. 

Soon, Iola was gone, Galion brought the drinks, and Ina remained in front of Dior, cowed.

“Since King Thranduil is now Rhys’s legal guardian, it’s only fair that he be given an opportunity to speak.”  Bard nodded to Thranduil.  “My Lord?”

Thranduil’s demeanor turned icy. “Regardless of the remorse you appear to be feeling now, I have something to say about condition I found your grandson in.”

Ina nodded and swallowed, but didn’t say anything.

The Elvenking continued.  “I was with your grandson throughout his medical examination.  I saw every single mark, and every single bruise.  I have lived through this entire Third Age, and I have seen more horrendous things than I could describe; things I would not wish on anyone, except an Orc.   So, believe me, when I tell you, the condition that boy was in, was one of the most despicable things I have ever seen in my nearly four thousand years on Middle Earth!”  The Elvenking pounded the desk in fury. 

Ina cringed, shaking.  Her arms instinctively crossed in front of her and she lowered her head, to deflect a blow she seemed sure was coming.

Bard gave Thranduil exchanged a meaningful look.  One question they had, was just answered.  Ina had been badly beaten, herself.

Then he said, “I’m going to ask you some questions, and you will answer truthfully.  King Thranduil is a powerful Elf, and he will know if you are lying.”

Thranduil’s turn to be surprised, but impressed.  This was a clever idea.

“Was it just you who beat your own grandson?” Bard asked.

“No, My Lord.”

 “Who was responsible for more of the beatings, you or Iola?”

“Well, Iola, but it was just as much my fault; I should have stopped her.”

“Why do you think you should have stopped her?”

“Because… I began to feel like it was wrong, and I didn’t protect him.  It was my fault.”

“Did you beat your son, Alun?”

“Yes.”

“Alun grew up in your father’s house, is that correct?”

“Yes.  I’ve lived there my entire life.”

“So, Alun was with you?”

“Yes, but servants looked after him, and Papa was in charge of him.”

Bard didn’t say anything for a few minutes. 

 “Tell me; when you and your sister were young, did you ever spend any times with friends, outside of your house?”

“Well, no, My Lord.  Papa taught us at home, and he wouldn’t let us go out and play.  He said other children were filthy, and would make us sick.”

 “When you beat your son, did you do it of your own volition, or was it your father’s idea?”

“He told me Alun had evil in him, and I had to take care of it, just like he got rid of the bad in me.”  Ina looked at them with dull, blue eyes. 

“I see.  And when you beat your grandson, what role did your sister play?”

The woman sighed.  “I am… I am to blame for my own actions.”

“Yes.  You are to blame.” Bard did not sugar-coat it.  “Let me ask something else: what would Rhys do, to make you beat him?”

“Iola kept saying the same thing Papa always said; that there was evil in him.  Sometimes she would drag him out of bed in the night, because she said Papa came to her in a dream, telling her to get rid of the evil.’”  The woman’s voice toneless and matter-of-fact. 

With every word that came out of Ina’s mouth, Thranduil could see her absorb the enormity of her actions, and it wasn’t a pleasant sight.  He didn’t quite feel pity for her, but he was beginning to lean in that direction.

Bard thought for a few moments.  “I want to be sure I understand.  Your own father beat you and your sister, and would not allow you to have friends, and he barely allowed you to leave the house.”

A long silence, then, “Yes, My Lord.”

“If you never went anywhere, how was it that you came to be married?”

“Papa brought him home, one day, and said I was to marry him.”

“Was Alwyn ever unkind to you?”

“No, My Lord; never! But after Alun was born, he… just didn’t want to live with Papa and Iola anymore.”

“What did Iola think of your husband?”

“She didn’t like him in the house, but she didn’t say anything.  We always did what Papa said.”

“He would beat you only when you disobeyed him, then.”

“No, My Lord.  He said the Valar told him things they’d found in our souls, and they wanted him to save us, so sometimes he would have to hurt us, to make the badness go away.”

Bard sat back, and took a deep breath, with a look of dread on his face.

Thranduil watched him carefully.  He was calm, and in control, but through their bond, he felt a trepidation and revulsion, that matched his own.  Instinctively, he knew Bard was about to ask questions that he didn’t want to ask, and they would receive answers that they didn’t want to hear.

“Ina, did your father show you any affection to you?  Ever?”

The woman shut down even more, as she retreated into herself.  “Yes,” she whispered, as she found a spot on the wall behind them, to look at.

“Can you tell me what kind of affection he would show you?”

“Sometimes, at night…in my room…Papa would... He said he was being... nice.”  Ina whispered, looking into her lap with shame.

Thranduil took a deep breath, and his toes curled inside his boots.  What she was hinting at was unthinkable amongst Elves! He was vaguely aware of this type of thing; one couldn’t be as old as he was and not hear stories about this, but he’d never faced this up close.

This didn’t excuse the treatment of Rhys or the servants, but nothing excused the father’s treatment of these two women, either.

Bard sighed and said very gently.  “I’m going to ask you something, Ina, and you must tell me truthfully; do you understand?”

“Yes, My Lord.”

“Is Alwyn the father of Alun?”

Ina’s face turned ashen, and Thranduil’s stomach roiled, and did his best to control his surprise at Bard’s question.  That honestly had not occurred to him.

“Ina?”  He heard Bard ask again.

The woman’s eyes closed, and she shook her head, ever so slightly.

“Did you father arrange for you to marry Alwyn because you were already pregnant?”

“I…know what you’re asking.”  She paused for a very long time and stared off into space, again.  Then she opened her mouth, and said in a lifeless voice, “Papa said it was a secret, and I was to tell no one.  He told me it was the Valar’s will, and that it was a sacred thing, to carry his child.”  Her face was as frozen as the rest of her, but a tear rolled down her cheek, unchecked and unnoticed.  “Papa said Ulmo himself came to him in a dream, and told him I had to marry, to protect the secret.”

“You say your father brought Alwyn home for you to marry?”

“Yes, My Lord.  He worked for the Lord of Laketown then, and Alwyn was a footman at the manor.”

“Did Alwyn know the child wasn’t his?”

“Yes.”

“How did he feel about that?”

“Papa told him I had… gotten into trouble with another man, who deserted me.  He didn’t know the truth of it when he married me.  But he… was my friend, My Lord.” Ina’s voice broke.  “He was the only friend I ever had.”  The tears continued to flow, but she sat still, and didn’t meet anyone’s eyes.  “I couldn’t…  I mean, we never…”

“Did your husband mind this?”

“No.  I had a hard pregnancy, so the midwife said no marital relations until after the babe was born.  Then after…  I…” She said, in eerie, matter-of-fact tones.  “I couldn’t…  We tried, but…  I couldn’t do it.  He was so kind about it…”

“What made him want to take you away from your father’s house?”

“He…” Ina’s voice hitched, and she swallowed.  “Alwyn said he’d no idea what Papa was really like at home, because he seemed to be such a good man, when he was at the manor.  He guessed the truth about the baby after a while, even though I’d never said a word.  He told me one night that he knew, and he didn’t make me feel ashamed at all…  He was so gentle, My Lord.  I wanted him to be…  I pretended to myself that he was really Alun’s father.  Alwyn cared for me, and he adored Alun; he really did, My Lord.  And…when I was with him, I felt safer.  I slept better, because he protected me from…”

“Did Alwyn ever tell you why he agreed to marry you in the first place?”

“He said he liked me when he met me, and saw I needed someone. He felt that he could grow to love me.  We did love each other, the best we could.” 

Thranduil gave Dior a quick order in Sindarin, and the Guard stepped over and poured the woman a glass of water, which she accepted gratefully. 

“Tell me about how your husband died.”

“He wanted us to be safe, and for Alun to grow up in a good, kind house.  I told him about my mother’s cousins in Bree, and we agreed it was far enough away from Papa that we could have a real life.  Alwyn had the boat ready, and the carriage was going to meet us on the shore to take us there.”  Her lip trembled.  “We kept it a secret, but three days before we were supposed to leave, Alwyn was found floating in the lake; he had drowned.”

Thranduil had never seen a child of Man in this state.  The woman could be a statue; she was so still, so frozen.  The only indication that she was even human were the tears falling down her face, and the words coming out of her mouth.  It was a haunting sight.

“Did you ever wonder if your father guessed you were trying to escape?”

“I…  didn’t dare think on it.” 

Bard leaned forward and put his elbows in the desk.  “I’m sorry, Ina, but I have to ask you this.  Do you think it’s possible that your father, or your sister, killed Alwyn to keep you in that house?”

The woman began to shake, and her faced turned grey, before it quickly became green.  Dior barely manage to get the waste can in front her, as Ina became violently ill.

 

 

 

ELVEN TRANSLATIONS:

Esta!  Lelyë vi – (Quenya) Esta! Come! (lit. “we go!")

 Mallen Ant - "Golden Gift,"  Feren and Glélindë’s pet name for Dafina

 

Chapter Text

 

 

**TRIGGER WARNING**   Mentions of physical, emotional abuse, rape and incest.

 

 

The Woodland Realm; 18th of February, 2942 T.A.

 

Never in a thousand years did Bard think he’d feel sorry for the woman sitting before him. 

But there it was; Ina was a victim, just as Rhys had been.  She still was culpable for her actions against the boy, there was no doubt about that, but there was so much more to this story than simple abuse.  The real demon in this whole thing was Ioan, Ina’s father.  He’d started a chain reaction that still was being felt through three generations.

Sadly, Alun had been even more a victim of that vile man, though he’d no idea the extent to which that monster had damaged the man’s life.

It was one thing to think of such things; it was something bigger and tangible to actually hear the words, and it slammed into the brand-new King, and made him feel helpless.

Please…  I don’t know how to handle this…  I need your help…  I feel like I’m drowning, and I can’t…  Bard closed his eyes and prayed, as he listened to the woman retch into the waste can, from stress and fear.

After Ina was done being sick, Thranduil sent the can away to be cleaned, and some bread and mint tea were brought to settle her stomach. 

“Are you feeling a little better?”  Bard asked, after she had nibbled on the bread and drank half of the tea.

She nodded her head.  “I’m sorry for that, My Lord.”

“Don’t worry about it.  Are you ready to answer more questions?”

“Yes, My Lord.”

So, Bard continued the interrogation.  “Do you think it was true, Ina, that your father had to ‘beat the evil’ out of you?  Do you think it was right that he acted this way to you and your sister?”

Ina’s lower lip trembled.  “No.”

“Do you believe that it was right that your father forced you to have sex with him?”

A tear fell, at this question. “My Lord, I stopped believing that, when I was twelve years old, but  I had no choice.  I didn’t know anything else, until I married Alwyn.”

Just saying and hearing those words out loud made Bard sick to his stomach, and he felt his skin crawl.  He was glad Thranduil hadn’t reached out to reassure him.  He couldn’t have borne it now.

“Tell me; how do you feel about your son and your grandson’s abuse now?”

For the first time since Ina had been brought before him, she showed real emotion.  The woman buried her face in her hands, and began to sob.  “I’m…  I’m a monster, too…  My father turned me into a monster.”  Then she couldn’t speak anymore.

Bard saw Thranduil hand over his handkerchief to her, and nod to Dior, who put a comforting hand on her shoulder, as she cried it out, which she did for a long, long time. 

Through their bond, Bard could feel his Elf send him reassurance and love.  He was grateful, because he really needed it to stay calm.  Bard felt new strength flow through him, and the nausea and knots in his stomach began to settle down.

Once Ina had calmed, Thranduil asked her, “Do you still feel sick?”

“No, My Lord. It’s much better.” As she wiped her face.

“Could you take some wine?  It will help to settle your nerves, I think.”

She nodded as she dabbed her eyes.

The Elvenking got up and poured her a generous glass of wine, and gave it to her.  “Small sips; it is very strong, but I think you need it.”

“Thank you.”

She looked completely defeated; a pale, hollow vessel.  Yes, she had committed terrible crimes, but this woman had every chance at love and happiness snatched away from her, and destroyed, right before her eyes.  This woman was about Hilda’s age, yet she looked elderly from being so beaten down.

Oh, Valar… Bard sent up a quick, silent appeal to the heavens for guidance. How do I cope with this?  What do I do?   He was in over his head, here, and he knew Thranduil could be of no help.  He doubted Thranduil had ever encountered anything like this.

After she had drank some wine, Bard began, again.  “I’m sorry, but I must ask you more questions.   Are you up for it?”

She took another sip and nodded.  “Yes, My Lord; I want to.  I can’t cover things up anymore.  I just… can’t.”

“Did Iola ever find out about Alun’s true parentage?”

“No.” 

“Are you sure about that?”

“If she had, she’d have blurted it out, during one of her rages.  She hasn’t said a word about it.”

“And no one else knows?”

“Everyone who ever knew, is dead, besides me.”

Then Bard asked.  “Your father forced himself on Iola as well, didn’t he?”

“Aye.  After I became pregnant, Papa never touched me again.”

“Do you think he was afraid of you becoming pregnant again?”

“I don’t know.  I… can’t think on it, too much.”

“I’m assuming your father continued his abuse with Iola.”

“He was always worse with her.  She’s four years older, so when I was young, she’d get him to beat her first, so he wouldn’t hurt me so bad.”

“That was very courageous of her.  What about later?”

“He was cruel to both of us.  When I married, all the beatings stopped, which is why I think Iola accepted Alwyn in the house.  Papa didn’t want my husband to know our secret, because Alwyn could tell the Lord of Laketown.  But then… Alwyn drowned, and Papa was worse than ever.”  She sighed.  “Iola was different after that.  She was just as controlling of me as Papa was, from then on.  Even after Papa passed away, she wouldn’t let me out of her sight, and took over Alun.  I’d been hoping things would be better, after Papa died, but...” Ina’s voice broke, and she had to wipe her eyes, again.  “I couldn’t predict what Iola would do, I couldn’t get her to see reason.”

And you sister beat Alun, or made you do it?” 

She nodded.  “Alun ran away from home when he was thirteen, and I didn’t try to stop him or get him back.  I was relieved he was gone.  I’m sure he thinks it was because I didn’t care about him, but really, I wanted him to be safe.  When I heard Alwyn’s parents took him in, I was happy for him.”

“How do you feel about you sister, Ina?  Please be honest.”  Bard probed, with a soft voice.

Ina’s eyes filled with tears again.  “I feel confused.  I have hate for her, but she… protected me, My Lord, when I was small.  After Papa would hurt me, she’d look after me and put salve on my back.  When she could, she’d hide me in one of the cupboards in the kitchen, when Papa got angry.”

“Would you have harmed Rhys, if you sister had not put you up to it?”

“I feel so ashamed, My Lord.  I should have been strong enough, and I just…wasn’t.  And I allowed things to happen that can’t be taken back.  It’s my fault.”

Bard could feel his chest contract, and he sensed the same anxiety from his husband.

Ina looked at the Kings with pleading eyes.  “Please… judge me all you want.  It was my son and my grandson, and I didn’t protect them, like I should have.  Be merciful to my sister; she’s just so… wrong inside, and hasn’t been herself for a long, long time.”

Bard crossed his legs, and studied the woman for a few minutes.  “I think you’ve given me all the answers I need, for now.  Captain Dior’s reports coincide with everything we’ve seen and heard today.”

Ina was stunned, and she looked up at Dior, who nodded at her, then back at Bard.  “He can understand us?”

“Yes, and so can the rest of your guards.”  Thranduil told her.  “You said nothing that contradicted their report, and that is a good sign.   They have kept me abreast of your change in attitude as well as your sister’s increasingly erratic and violent behavior.”

Bard then said, “Sadly, Iola’s been twisted and broken by what you’ve endured, and she’s a danger to herself and others.  This is beyond your ability to cope with, Ina, so I am separating the two of you.”

“But My Lord, I’ve always – “

Bard raised his hand to silence her, and looked into her eyes intently.  “Ina, can you tell me with absolute certainty, that Iola had nothing to do with your husband’s death?”

The woman covered her mouth, and her eyes filled, again.  After a moment she shook her head.

“I’m sorry.  I can’t allow you to be endangered like this.  You need protection, and Iola needs to be protected; mostly from herself.  You must learn to look out for yourself.”

Dior looked down at her with compassion, and placed his hand on her shoulder.  He supported her, as Bard went on:

“Ina of Dale: from here, you are to be taken to the Healing Hall, where I’d like you to submit to a complete physical examination, and any bruises or other ailments can be healed.   After that, Dior will escort to your new rooms, and there you will remain, until further notice.  We’ve already moved your things to new quarters, so all will be ready.  You will be under guard, yes, but they will now communicate with you in Westron, and I’m going to ask King Thranduil to assign someone to give you counsel and serve as a companion, under Dior’s and Elénaril’s supervision.” 

He looked at her with sympathy.  “Ina, have you ever lived without fear?  I’d like you to learn what it’s like to feel safe, and at peace, although it will feel strange at first.  Someone will be talking to you, to help you adjust.”

Ina looked frightened.  “Will I see my sister?  I don’t know what to do without her.  I don’t know how to do anything…”

“I’m afraid you can’t, but it’s not your fault.  It’s clear she is dangerous, and we can’t allow you to be in harm’s way.  We’ll do our best to keep her safe, but I need you to understand that her care is out of your hands.  I don’t know how much she can be helped, but we’ll do what we can.”

“But I’ll be alone!”

“I know it might feel like that, but with help, you’ll adjust.  Please understand; this wasn’t your doing.  She’s in a bad way, yes, but she’s dangerous, and that’s not something you can fix for her, however you might want to.”

Ina tearfully nodded.  “I understand, My Lord.”

“Do you have any more questions?”

“Will I be allowed to see Rhys?”

“I’m afraid not.  For now, you are to have no contact with him or his father.  If you choose to make use of the chance I am giving you, we will revisit this matter at another time.  Allow some time to pass, and for things to settle down.  Then, it will be up to your son.”

Bard then looked at his husband.  “Is there something you’d like to add, Lord Thranduil?”

Thranduil turned to Ina, “Your grandson, Rhys has been living with our children in the Royal apartments since he was removed from you.  I do not believe he has been permanently affected by his experience. Your grandson is a happy, well-adjusted boy, with a bright future ahead of him.  I hope that gives you some solace.”

Ina’s eyes filled with tears, and she whispered, “I’m so glad.”

At a nod from Bard, Dior took her elbow, and gently helped her to stand. 

“Don’t bind her hands; she’ll cooperate.” Bard said, before Thranduil added something in Sindarin. 

Just before the Guard reached the doorknob, Bard said, “Ina?”

She turned around.  “Yes, My Lord?”

“Your son, Alun, is man of intelligence and integrity.   He has not only earned my respect and friendship, but all the men in Dale see him as a man of quality.  He currently has a very responsible position in my administration, and he’ll be a valued member of my Council, for years to come, if the Valar allows.  You have every reason to be proud of him.”  Bard could see the woman’s eyes shine at these words. 

Then he continued.  “Your father has caused enough damage, and I don’t see a reason for any more pain to be inflicted.  If your husband, Alwyn, was as kind as you say, then as far as everyone else is concerned, he is your son's father.  You have my solemn vow as King, Ina of Dale, that your son will never know of his blood parentage.”

“You have my vow, as well.”  Thranduil put his hand to his heart and bowed his head.

Everyone turned to Dior, who made a similar gesture.  “My King’s word, is mine as well.  Not a word of this will ever pass my lips.”

Ina’s breath came in deep gasps and she turned to approach them.  Bard nodded at Dior to allow it, and he got up and walked around the desk to face her.

She sank to her knees, and kissed his hand, crying.  “Thank you for your mercy, My King.  Alun and Rhys are blameless in all this, and I just want them to be happy.”

Bard put his hand on her bowed head, and blessed her saying.  “As your King and ruler, Ina of Dale, I order you to never speak of this again once you pass that doorway.  Take the chance that you have been given, and see what you can make of the rest of your life.  Go in peace.”

Dior helped her up, and they quietly left.

 

After they were alone, Thranduil poured them some wine, and the two Kings sat in silence for a long time, in utter shock. 

Bard shook his head, and struggled to wrap his mind around everything he had just heard, but he just couldn’t absorb it.  All he could do is hope and pray he’d handled it well, because when it comes to something like this, one’s best meant so little.

Still looking off into space, Bard sighed. “I don’t know how to prepare for things like this.  Things seemed simple, when we sent for them, and now…”

“Nothing can prepare a King for that, Bard.  This is not something Elves have ever dealt with.”

“My heart just…hurt, listening to it.  It still doesn’t feel real.”  He sighed, again, and closed his eyes.  “I don’t think I can handle interrogating Iola, today.”

“Please do not be angry, but I have already given orders to cancel her interview.  The hour was growing late, and I did not want to chance the children seeing either one of them on the walkways.  There was no opportunity to confer, with you, so I assumed.” 

Bard opened his eyes, and looked over at his husband.  “Thank you.  You’re right; I’d prefer it if we could talk first, but there was no opportunity; you did the right thing.  I don’t want any of the kids seeing them.

“I do think Iola is insane, Bard, and I do not think anything will bring her back.  If Gandalf were here, he might know of something, but I doubt it.”

“Are you sure?”

“Bard, if anything could be done about healing a mind, Gandalf and Elrond would have done so, with me, centuries ago.  If this were so, we could heal all the emotional pain from war; and no one would suffer nightmares.”  He gave Bard a sad smile.  “It would be nice, would it not?”

“Oh, Valar, I’d love to know I’ll never suffer another dream about that damned Dragon.  I still think I should talk to Iola.  That way I can tell myself I tried.”

“I agree, but I doubt you could reach her.  I am convinced she murdered Ina’s husband, possibly to prevent Ina from abandoning her.  She may have been desperate at the thought of being alone with her father.  It makes me wonder if she had anything to do with her father’s death, as well.”

“I’ve been through a lot, Thranduil, and you’ve seen and endured much.  How could all that compare to a lifetime of physical and emotional torture at the hands of a father, who was supposed to love and protect you?”

After a few moments, his Elf said, in a very quiet voice, “It cannot. Betrayal makes everything so much worse.”

Stars, this was horrible…  Bard blinked back tears, and emptied his cup.  “I can’t sit here anymore and think about this.”  He got up and gathered up his papers.  “Can we write the reports later?  I can’t do this now.”

“Of course, Bard.”

“Thank you.”

After they closed the door to the study, Bard looked at the door leading to the garden. “Thranduil?  Do you mind going without me?  I need… some air.”

“Do you want me to go with you, Bard?”  Thranduil offered.

“I’m sorry…  I need to be alone for a little while.  I just…”

Thranduil kissed his brow.  “Take all the time to you need, Meleth nîn.”   He turned to head off the children coming down the hall, and corral them into the Royal Chambers.

Bard quickly ducked out, and walked the same paths he had this morning, and tried his best to digest the dichotomy of this day. 

This morning, when he was visiting with Gruffudd, and watched little Dafina play on the rug, he thought Kinging couldn’t get much better than that.  He felt the same, when he saw Dale’s children be educated, and then visited the Guilds and envisioned the future industry of his Kingdom. 

Merely hours later, he learned just how bad Kinging could get. 

Bard’s stomach churned with anxiety, and he felt…filthy, and wanted a bath.  He felt almost ashamed to even be a man; how could anyone think to prey on a small child, let alone his own daughters?  It was unthinkable! 

He could see why Ina wasn’t strong enough stop her sister.  Since she was small, she had been groomed and trained to submit.  And she was severely punished, if she’d ever tried to object.   He understood the women’s denial.  Both of those women told themselves lies to survive, otherwise, there was no point of going on.

Bard sat down on a stone bench and put his head in his hands.  The last time he felt so full of grief and despair, was when he had that nightmare, and went to the Eastern Parapet, to watch the bodies of the fallen be buried.  Thranduil had joined him, and he spoke words of wisdom about the Valar’s intentions. 

Bard had come to see the truth of the Elf’s words, even more so, now.  

No, everything does not “happen for a reason.”  Nothing could convince Bard that this was part of the Valar’s plan - to put those two women through such suffering, and to be passed on through two more generations.  The Valar did nothing to cause Ioan to be such a horror of a human being.  They didn’t “let it happen.”  People did.

Bard could only look to the Valar to guide him, as he tried to help, but he felt woefully inadequate, and the turmoil in Bard’s heart went much deeper than that.  

What kind of world was it, that any life could be in such despair from beginning to end, with no reprieve?   How can this be? 

Bard was not immune to tragedy or struggle, but he grew up with love that protected him, love that made him feel as safe as anyone can be in this world.  That made him rich.  Now, he was a wealthy man, and he was given a miraculous, second chance at love and a new world opened up to him.  Why him?  Why was he so blessed, while others go through their entire lives, from birth to death, watching any glimmer of hope, cruelly snatched away?  What was the point of a life that only knew suffering?

He was angry. 

He’d never allowed himself to contemplate such things before.  He did what everyone else did; pretended things like that didn’t exist, so he could find a way to struggle through his own life.

The futility frightened him in a way he’d never felt before.  He felt helpless, and vulnerable and it only added to the pressures of all he was dealing with right now.

He thought of Alun, who was becoming a good friend to him.  He’d be working with him closely, for years to come.  How could he spend years working with someone, and know the deepest truth, and keep it from him? 

How could he not?  What purpose would it serve, except to devastate the man?  How could he not feel a churning in his stomach, and an ache in his heart for him?  In this moment, all Bard wanted was to go back and change things, so he’d never found this out.  This was a burden he didn’t know if he could handle.

Please, Ulmo… help me…  How do I protect Alun from the truth?  How do I carry this inside, and not give the man any hint that something so wrong has happened to him?

From his left, a smooth, baritone voice answered.  “You can do this, Bard, by taking all the guilt, and all shame of that secret, and throw it at the feet of the monster who caused this mess.  Put it at Ioan’s feet, and leave it there.  If you have any affection or respect for Alun, you will refuse to consider anyone other than Alwyn as his father.  You can do it; I believe in you, Meleth nîn.”

Bard turned, to see Thranduil walking toward him. “I didn’t realize I’d said all that out loud.”

“I am glad you did.”  The Elvenking gave him a reassuring smile.  “Forgive me, for disturbing you, but you have been out here a long while, and I was afraid you would get too cold.” The Elf was carrying Bard’s fur-lined cloak.  He walked up, wrapped it around him, and fastened it at the neck for him.

“I meant what I said, Bard.”   Thranduil brushed the snow off Bard’s hair and face, and adjusted his collar.  “Leave the guilt with those who truly deserve it, and let this go.”

“How do I do that?”

“Alun has been told all his life, by his mother, and from others who knew Alwyn, that he was a good and kind man.  He may not have known his father personally, but he has the idea of a man who would have been an excellent father, had he lived.  Alun also knows that this man loved him, every bit as much as your Da loved you.  Alun loves the memory of Alwyn, does he not?”

“Aye.  When Alun was thirteen, he ran off and Alwyn’s Mam and Da took him in.  They were good folk and help set him right, after what he went through.  I think that’s the biggest reason why Alun is like he is.”

Thranduil sat down beside Bard, and put his arm around him.  “That is Alun’s truth, Bard, and it is every bit as valid as what we learned in there.  The father he loves, has nothing to do with the brief act that conceived him.  Alwyn was, and still is, Alun’s Da, and it will always be so.  It is not a lie, Bard.”

Bard still felt a heavy, filthy weight in his stomach.  “I’ll never say anything, you know that, but I don’t like feeling like I’m betraying a good friend.”

“Why would it be betrayal, Bard?”

“Why wouldn’t it be?”

“Let me ask you this:  Do you think Alun will meet up with Ioan, in the afterlife?  Do you think Eru would allow someone as twisted and sick as that man, to even share the same afterlife as his family?”

“No, I suppose not.”

“Who do you believe will be waiting for Alun, when he passes on, to greet him with open, loving arms?”

Bard knew the answer, and smiled. “His Da.  Alwyn.  And Alwyn’s parents.”

Thranduil tilted his head, and smiled.  “Alun has a Da who loved him, and who loves him still, from wherever he is.  It is this love, Bard, that makes Alwyn his true father.”

Bard swallowed, his eyes filled with tears.  Thranduil reached his hand up, stroked his hair.

“Some of us grow up well, despite our circumstances.  Alun is a prime example of this.  A good bloodline does not guarantee success, as we know by the Master of Laketown.  Some come from the finest families and despite all their efforts, become a sick, twisted criminal, such as Ioan.  You, Meleth nîn, had the benefit of both, and that makes you the most fortunate of men.”

“So Alun’s true family is Alwyn and his kin, because they loved him.  Is that enough?”

“Bard, what makes your children my children, too?  What makes Tauriel my daughter, and your daughter, too?  And Legolas?  What makes Galion, Hilda and Percy part of our family?”

Thranduil encouraged Bard to lean is head on his shoulder.  “I, too, mourn for the tragedy that is Ina and Iola’s life.  I do not understand why some of us are blessed to have so much, while others know so little of love and suffer so greatly.  It frightens me, to consider such things are even possible, Meleth nîn.   I want to weep, from the sadness of it all."

“I know,” Bard said.  “I think that’s what I’m really upset about.  Not what Ina said.  Alun told me he’d suspected his grandfather was.. like that, so it was no real surprise to have that confirmed.”

“He did?”

Bard nodded. “When he brought up the subject of shipping them off to Bree, he wanted me to understand a little about the women's lives.”

“After all he suffered, and his own son attacked, he still wanted to you to show mercy?”  Thranduil smiled.  “This proves his quality to be the very highest, does it not?”

“Aye.”

“What bothers you so much?”

“Well, it’s one thing to have it suggested, but another to have in right in your face.  I hate the idea of someone’s life be so full of violence with so little hope.  I can’t wrap my head around it, and it digs at me…”

“Ina’s life is no longer hopeless; you have seen to that.”

“But what about Iola?  She’s lost all sense of reason, hasn’t she?  What happens if she never gets over it?  What did her life amount to?  It all feels so…futile.  What was the point of Iola’s life?  Why was she even here on Middle Earth?”

“If we knew the answer to questions like that, it would save all of us a great deal of trouble, would it not?”  Thranduil lifted Bard’s head off his shoulder and rested their foreheads together.  “We will never know those things, and to strive for it would be folly.  We must put our energies toward easing suffering, where and whenever we find it.  That is our task, Bard.   That is how we serve our people, and ourselves.  Leave those questions to Eru and the Valar.”

 Bard didn’t feel better, but there was truth in his words.  “Thank you.”

“You would have worked this out for yourself, eventually.”  Thranduil gave him a small, knowing smile.  “I simply brought your cloak.” 

“You’re right; I know you’re right.  So much of this is beyond me.  In any case, it’s time to go in.”

Thranduil stood up, and took Bard’s hands to bring him to his feet. “Come.  The family that our love has made, awaits us.”

Thranduil put his arm around him, and took him inside.  When they washed and got their sterile gowns on, to see Tilda, a rather nice surprise awaited him. 

Extra chairs had been placed in there and all the children were dressed in their gowns and wore their masks with silly smiles painted on them.  Bain and Rhys sat cross-legged against the foot of the bed, while Sigrid sat in a chair on the opposite side of Hilda and Galion.

Thranduil guided Bard over to sit against the headboard, so he could place Tilda in his lap, then sat down beside him.  This was the first time the family had been in the same room, since Tilda had gotten so sick, and Bard hadn’t realized how much he needed it.  He didn’t say much, but he kissed Tilda’s cheek and stroked her hair while he listened to everyone crack jokes and talk about their day.  

Trivial nonsense never sounded so wonderful!  Sigrid was doing well in maths; she’d aced a recent test, but all three of them needed to study for their Sindarin class, so Thranduil and Galion drilled them all (including Bard) on their vocabulary, and made it into a game.  Even Tilda did well, when Bard was told to recite his numbers and got stuck, and she whispered to him what seven was, and everybody clapped. 

Soon it was time for dinner, so the children went out with Hilda and Galion and the two Kings enjoyed theirs with their youngest, who ate everything put in front of her, and was able to use her spoon and fork, with a little less help than before.  She was clearly making progress, albeit slowly, but it was progress, nonetheless.   The exercises seemed to be working, and her brain was relearning to tell the body what Tilda wanted it to do.

All the while, Bard thought about his husband’s words, out in the garden.  In his head, he knew Thranduil was right.  He wanted to feel better about everything, and he ran the words through his mind several times, hoping his sense of hopelessness would lift, but it didn’t.  It all felt so heavy, and he didn’t know what to do about it… 

Why did he still feel so despondent?  He had no reason to be; he had a wonderful husband, his children were still with them, after all they went through, with the Dragon and the Battle.  Not every family was that lucky. He'd had ten years with his Mattie that he'd never trade for any reason.  He'd had loving, wonderful parents, who taught him values and a good work ethic.  They had been poor, but he had a happy childhood.  Now, he had a Kingdom, a new husband, and good people who were working hard together to start a new life.

Yes, he has a very sick daughter.  Yes, her welfare weighs heavily on him, as did just about everything else there was to do here and in Dale.  But he also had a great deal of support and guidance to help him chip away at all of it.

What in Mordor was wrong with him?  He shouldn’t feel this way!

After seeing the children off to bed, Bard soaked in the bathtub, and scrubbed himself raw.  When they went to bed, Thranduil reached for him, but Bard still felt distant.

“I’m sorry, love; just not having a good night.  I'll feel better tomorrow, I promise."

“Just try to relax, and get some sleep.”  Thranduil reached for his hand, and held up their intertwined fingers.  “This, Meleth nîn,he whispered, “is all the truth that really matters.” And Thranduil kissed their joined hands and urged Bard to relax.

Bard fell asleep, still holding his husband’s hand, and prayed their truth would be enough to carry him through this.

 

 

NOTES:

"Learned Helplessness" is a real phenomenon that happens to victims of domestic violence:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learned_helplessness

If you are a victim of domestic violence, or know someone who is, please seek professional help.

For those in the US, If you are in immediate danger, call 9-1-1. For anonymous, confidential help, 24/7, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) ...

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

**TRIGGER WARNING**   Mentions of physical, emotional abuse, rape and incest.

The Woodland Realm; 19th of February, 2942, T.A.

The day began as most others have, since Thranduil became a father to three new children, and he loved it.   Despite Tilda's illness, and all the worry, he wouldn't trade a minute of it. 

“Just think, Tithen pen, you are doing so well, that in four days, we can dispense with the gowns, and you can come out and join us!  What do you think of that?”  Thranduil asked her, as he helped her with her morning exercises.

“I like it.  When is the Elf coming?”

“Which one, hênig?” Thranduil asked her.  “Daeron, or Meriel?”

“Meriel.  She’s nice.”

“We like her, too.  She is going to be here with you, during the day, to help you get stronger, and help you get caught up with your schoolwork.”

Tilda looked puzzled.  “I can’t hold a… “

“Pen?  Pencil?”

“Pencil.”

“Do not worry about that.  You held your spoon better last night, did you not?  The exercises you do with your blue ball, and wiggling your fingers are helping.   Did you not notice, this morning, when you took five whole bites of porridge by yourself?  Da did not need to help you.”

The little girl smiled.  “Uh-huh.”

“Yes, you did.  We talked about working hard, but only getting better bit by bit, do you remember?"

She nodded.  “Little bits.”

Thranduil kissed her forehead.  “I am proud of you.  You are a brave little warrior.”

“Warrior?”  Tilda’s face turned sour.  “No fighting.”

“There are many kinds of warriors, Tilda.  You fought your illness bravely, and now, you are fighting with its aftereffects.  I think you are every bit as brave as the soldiers who protect us.”

“They have swords.”

“One does not need to have weapons, or wear armor, to be a warrior, Tithen Pen.  There are many kinds of battles that need to be fought.  You are working hard to fight yours.”

Tilda considered this carefully.  Thranduil’s heart jumped, because this was a look on her face he had not seen since she had been ill.  These small mannerisms, pieces of the Tilda they all knew and loved, were coming back…

“I don’t want a sword.”

“I will not get you one, then.”  He smiled as they finished up, and Thranduil handed Charlotte to her, before he began to massage her legs and arms. 

Just as he finished, Meriel came in.  “Greetings, Lord Thranduil, Lady Tilda.”

“Meriel!”  Tilda smiled.

“I am glad to see you, too.  I see your Ada has done your morning exercises, so I was thinking perhaps we can draw on your slate for a while?  Then, we could rearrange the pictures from your friends hanging on the wall.  Did you have a good breakfast?”

“Aye.  I held the spoon.”

That is wonderful news, Tilda!  We will be sure to mark your progress on our chart, so everyone can see.  Would you like that?”

Tilda smiled and nodded.  “Can we read?”

“Of course.”  Meriel turned to Thranduil and asked, “Has Lady Tilda done her hand exercises?”

“Not as yet, however she did fifteen in each hand last evening.  Another sign of progress for the chart.  That was a good idea, was it not?”

“I like it.”  Tilda beamed. 

“I do, as well, Tithen Pen.  We all do.”  He put his arm around her.  “It is good to see your progress.  I think it helps on the difficult days.”

“Uh huh.”  She snuggled into him.

Thranduil kissed his daughter, then got up to leave.  Your Da and I will see you at lunch.  Be good, and have fun.”

“Ada?”

Thranduil turned, and smiled.  “Yes?”

“I love you.” 

The Elvenking’s heart squeezed.  “You are my joy, Tithen Pen.”

Thranduil dispensed with his gown, and went out to find Bard, who was waiting with Rhys.  Sigrid and Bain were already off to school, but the boy was asked to stay behind for a short meeting.

“Good morning, Rhys.”  Thranduil smiled at him.  “Did you eat a good breakfast?”

“Aye.”

“I hope you forgive Lord Bard and myself for delaying you, but there is something important we need to speak with you about.  Come.” 

He and Bard let the boy across the hall into his study.

“Have you ever been in my office, Rhys?” 

“No, My Lord.  It’s bigger than I thought it would be.”  The boy took in the sight of all the bookshelves, the big desk, the couch and chairs by the fireplace, and the conference table, which was only slightly smaller than his dining table.

“Did you paint this?”  Rhys pointed to the picture of hanging on the wall behind Thranduil’s desk.  “He’s King…Oroph…”

“Oropher, yes.” Thranduil smiled.  “I see you’ve been learning a bit of Elven history.  King Oropher was my father, and he established the Woodland Realm, when he came from Doriath with my mother.  Galion was also born in Doriath.”

You look like him; especially the eyebrows, but his hair is like Prince Legolas.  I saw him a few times when we came to Dale.  He and Tauriel helped us a lot at the Lake.”

“I am glad to hear it.”

“Your Da looks like he was a good King, too.”

“Thank you, Rhys.  He was a great leader of our people.  I like having a reminder of all he taught me”

Bard led Rhys over to the couch.  “Thanks for agreeing to talk with us, and, again, I want to make sure you understand that you’re in no trouble.  Thranduil tells me you’ve behaved beautifully since you’ve been with us, and I’ve not seen anything to argue with that.”

Rhys still looked unsure.  “Are you going to move me?”

Thranduil was quick to respond.  “No, Rhys.  You are my ward, and I enjoy having you with me.  Lord Bard simply needs your help.”

Rhys looked confused.  “My help?”

“Yes.  Lord Bard needs to ask you some questions about your grandmother and your aunt.  He would not do this, unless it was  absolutely necessary.  I want you to understand that am here for you, Rhys, and if I see you become distressed, I will stop the meeting.  If you become upset, you must tell me, will you do this?”

The boy’s eyes widened with alarm.  “I don’t want to cause trouble.”

Thranduil put his hand on the boy’s arm.  “None of what happened is your fault, Rhys.  And no one will inflict harm on the ladies.  We have merely discovered a few things that we need to understand better.  The things you tell us, might actually help them.”

Rhys looked down at his lap for a moment, then collected himself.  “Well, I don’t like thinking about it, but if you need me to help, I will.”

Bard smiled.  “You’re courageous, like your Da.  I can see why he’s so proud of you.”  Then he continued.  “We’ve spoken to your grandmother, and aunt, and I get the impression that one of them was much worse than the other, is that right?”

“Aye.  Aunt Iola was much worse!”  Rhys nodded his head.  “She was mad, all the time, and she was always yelling.  She even woke me up in the night, sometimes, saying I was bad.”

“She did?”

“Aye.  Then she would…”

Thranduil intervened.  “You do not have to speak of that, Ion.  There are other things we need to know.”

Rhys sighed.  “Good.”

Bard remained calm and loose with the boy.  “What about your grandmother?  She did her share of screaming and yelling, too, didn’t she?”

“Not really.  She wasn’t like Aunt Iola.  She hit me a couple of times, but that was when Iola would make her.  She said if Gran didn’t do it, she would, and it would be worse.”

The Bowman smiled at Rhys.  “You’re doing well.  I’ve just got one more question, if you think you could answer it.”

Rhys considered it, and Thranduil asked, “Are you all right?  Is this too much?”

The boy said, “I’m good.”

“Are you sure?”

“Aye.  I want to help you.”

“That’s great, Rhys.”  Bard smiled.  “Can you tell me if your Aunt Iola was ever afraid of your Gran?”

“It was the other way around.  I think Gran was afraid of my aunt.  That’s why she did everything Iola said.”

The two Kings looked at each other, before Bard said, “You’ve been a huge help.  I appreciate it.”

“Is that all?” the boy asked.

“That’s all for me.” Bard said.  “You’ve told me everything I need to know.”

Thranduil studied the boy, “You are well, Ion?” 

“Aye.  I’m good.  What will happen to them?”

Bard shook his head. “I’m afraid I can’t tell you that, son.  Just let us take it from here, and remember that we’re here to keep everyone safe, and that includes them.   Your job is to work on your schooling and your other activities.  However, Lord Thranduil has something he needs to speak with you about, if that’s all right.”

“My Lord?”

Thranduil nodded apologetically. “I need to apologize to you, Rhys.  The day I took you to the Healing Hall to be examined, I know I promised no one would know what the results were, but I must tell you that Lord Bard, as your King, has a copy of the report, and your father was also given a copy, because he is your parent.   I hope you are not upset about that.”

Rhys became slightly alarmed.  “Why do you have to have it?  I don’t understand.”

“At the time, Rhys, I was concerned about you. You were clearly in a lot of pain, and it was imperative that you see the Healer.  You were afraid and felt ashamed, and I knew that you needed to have your injuries taken care of.”

Rhys looked at them.  “Did you tell everybody what was on the paper?”

“No, Rhys.” Bard said.  “It was only for our records, and they are confidential.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that the paper is locked away, and only a few people will ever have access to it.  It will not be left sitting around for anyone to see.  Does that make you feel better?”

Rhys nodded.  “Was Da upset when he saw it?  I didn’t want to upset him.”

Bard gave him a reassuring smile.  “Son, he is a parent, and he loves you.  He’s going to be upset if you fall and sprain your ankle.  So, yes, he was upset and angry, but not at you.  You know that, right?”

“I just don’t want him to worry.”

“Tell me, when he saw you during his visit, did he act upset with you?”

“Well, he was upset because Lord Thranduil wouldn’t let him see Gran and Aunt Iola.”

“That’s true, but when he came back to Dale, he told me he thought about it, and King Thranduil made the right decision.  Rhys, I know you don’t understand all this yet, but someday, when you marry and have children, I promise, you will.”

“And you said Da saw the paper?”

“Your Da has a copy of it, yes.  He's your parent and it’s his legal right.  But, please don't worry about that. Your Da put it away, and doesn't talk about it.”

“So, no one read it out loud when you all had meetings?”

“I promise you, no one did.”  Thranduil told him.  “Not here, and not in Dale, because you are entitled to privacy and respect.”

The boy wasn’t happy, but he seemed to understand. “I don't want all the other kids to know, and to say anything.  I especially didn’t want Sigrid or Bain to know, because they would just feel sorry for me, and that’s worse.  I just want to forget about it."

“They’ve never seen it, Rhys, and to their credit, and neither one has asked me what we saw in that room.  Even if they did, I would refuse to tell them.  Does that make you feel better, Rhys?”  Thranduil asked him.

The boy nodded.  “No one’s said anything, so I guess I can see why you had to do it.”

“I am grateful for your understanding.  I take promises seriously, as I am sure you do, too.”

“How do you feel?”  Bard asked him.

“I’m good.  I mean, I don’t like talking about it, but if I can help you, I want to.”

“Would you like a few moments, or would you rather go right to class?” The Elvenking asked.

The boy grinned.  “I’d love to wait; there’s a big history test, but if I put it off, I’d just have to take it later.”

Thranduil chuckled, and went to his desk and wrote a note.  After handing it to Rhys, he sent for a guard to take the boy to his class.  “Give that to Mistress Bronwyn, to excuse your absence.”

“See you at lunchtime!” the boy waved at them and was off.

“That went well.”  Bard said.  “Now we need to speak with Lynne and Mona.  They’ll probably say the same thing, but I need their testimony.”

 

Within a few moments, the two women were sitting on the couch, facing the Kings. 

“We want to thank you again, My Lord, for helping me and Mona out.”  Lynne smiled at her companion.  Then she said, “Is it all right to ask how your young one is?  We were so worried!”

“Thank you, ladies.  She’s improving a little every day, and we’re hopeful.”

Mona said, “We’ve enjoyed seeing Lord Thranduil with your children.  I’m sure everyone tells you he takes good care of them, but we’ve seen it, too.  He looks after all of us.”

Thranduil graciously accepted their compliment.  “I am happy to hear such kind words, and I thank you.”

“How do you like weaving?”  The King of Dale asked.

“Oh, it’s really interesting work!  There’s so much you can do, and make and these Elves are real nice to show us different ways things can be done.  Right now, we’re learning to dye silk.  Me and Lynne want to have our own business someday, in the Market.”

“That sounds wonderful, ladies.”  Bard smiled at them.  “Would you like some tea?”

“Oh, no thank you, beggin’ your pardon.” Lynne said, then looked at Mona, “You want some, love?”

“I’m good.” The girl said, with a smile.

Bard crossed his legs, and became a bit more serious.  “I’m glad to see you do so well, but I’m afraid there’s another matter I have to discuss with you.”

Thranduil sat back and observed his husband ask the women the same questions he had of Rhys, and framed them in the same way, to make absolutely sure of the answers.  Of course, Lynne and Mona had much stronger feelings about the women, and didn’t mind elaborating.

Their story also confirmed what they already heard: Iola was the main abuser, and although Ina was an unfriendly and demanding employer, she was not a necessarily a danger to them.  

“Tell me, was Mistress Ina openly hostile?  You said she wasn’t easy to work for.”

“No; she wasn’t.  She was miserable, and didn’t seem to care about anything, any more.  Mistress Ina never really yelled at us, she just wanted everything done for her; like she didn’t know anything about making a bed, or mending clothes, or cook, or even how to shop.  No matter what we said, or did to bring some cheer into that house, she’d just look at us, and walk away, all snooty-like.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen her smile.”

Mona grimaced.  “It was Miss Iola who as nasty as they came.  I swear, if Lynne and me had anywhere else to go, we’d have left, but she threatened us.  She kept saying she’d tell the Master and we’d never work in Laketown again.”

“You’re both very young.  How long were you in their employ?”

“I started the day I turned seventeen, which was four years ago.  Mona, here, came a year later, although she’s two years older than me.”

Bard nodded his head, and smiled, as they all stood.  “Thank you.  You’ve been helpful.  Please don’t worry about those two, they are no longer yours or anyone’s concern.  We both wish you luck with your training, and someday, King Thranduil and I plan to buy some of your fabric.”

Both women curtsied and were led out.

Thranduil sat with Bard for several minutes in silence, then he asked.  “Do you have any idea what you’re going to say to that woman?”

His husband sighed.  “The only think I can think of, is to confront her with the facts.  I don’t know what else to do.”

“I agree.  It is difficult to reason with someone who does not know reason.”  Thranduil frowned at Bard.  “Do you recall your encounter with Thorin?”

“Aye.  That was a waste of time, wasn’t it?”

“No, Bard; it was not a waste.  Thorin and the Company were given the chance for a peaceful resolution, and, more important, your people saw that you tried to avoid a war, after everything your people suffered.  You proved to your concern for them, and thus earned their loyalty.”

Bard leaned over and kissed him.  “You always know just what to say.”

“I say it, because it is true.”  He smiled at his Bowman.

Bard got up and stretched.  “How long do we have until lunch?”

“We have over two hours yet.  There is plenty of time to get this meeting over with and avoid her running into the children.”

“Are you sure?”   Bard looked worried.

“Meleth nîn, if you plan to hold out for a productive exchange with this woman, there will never be enough time.”

“Aye.  You’re right.  I’m dreading this, but we can’t put it off.”

“I understand.  I will send for her, and we will get it over with.”

 

In a few minutes Bard and Thranduil were sitting at the desk, same as yesterday, facing an unkempt, defiant Iola.  Thranduil, now aware of the complexities of her life, was no longer angry, just sad that a life can be wasted so, and for the innocent lives that suffered from this madness.

Bard considered her in silence for a several moments, then spoke: “King Thranduil and I had a interesting conversation with your sister, Iola.”

“Where is she?  Where is my sister?”

“Your sister is safe, and she is well cared for.”

Through gritted teeth, the woman spat, “She is NOT safe!  She is never safe, unless she’s with me!  I protect her!  Where have you taken her?  What have you done with her?”

“What do you protect her from, exactly?”

“None of your business!”

Thranduil leaned forward. “You will NOT speak to your King this way!  You will acknowledge his authority and respect his position, is that clear?”

Dior was positioned behind her, along with another guard, and he pulled her shoulders back, so that she was sitting up straight.  “You will answer King Bard’s questions.”

Iola looked up at him in surprise.  “You speak Westron?  You filthy LIAR!” and she struggled under his grip.  “Elven filth!”

Bard was on his feet in an instant, pounding the desk in fury. “ENOUGH!” He said in a tone Thranduil had never heard from him before. 

Iola could not disguise her fear and shock, but all too quickly, it turned to rage, again.  “Where is my sister?  You’ve taken her away from me, and I demand to know why!”

“You, Iola of Dale, are guilty of beating your great-nephew to a pulp.  You have beaten your former servants, Lynne and Mona, and with my own eyes, I’ve sat here and watched you assault your sister.  Do you have anything to say for yourself about such acts?”

She sat and stared at him, and, to Bard’s credit, he met her gaze with a strong governance and determination.   The contest went on for many minutes, but at last, Iola relented, and looked down.

Bard spoke again.  “I am told your father was also a violent man.  Is this true?”

“He did what he had to do.”  She said.  When Dior shook her shoulder, she added, “My Lord.”

“Why do you say this?  No one ‘has’ to beat a child.  The idea that one must ‘beat the evil’ out of the young, is a lie, Iola.”

“My father did not lie!”  She was defiant, again, but there was a hollow tone to your words.  “He was a great man!”

“Iola, do you say this because you think it is true?  Or do you know, deep down how wrong he was, and are afraid to face it?”

The woman’s face paled for a moment or two. Then, as if some sort of lever was pulled in her, and the denial returned.  She was, again, angry and defiant.  “I see what you’re doing.  You’re trying to trick me, and I won’t have it!  My father was a good man!  The Lord of Laketown respected him, which is more than I can say for your family!” she sneered.  “Papa was everything to us.”

“I know he beat you and your sister since you were small. I am sorry for your pain.”

“You know nothing of my pain!  If you did, you would give my sister back to me!”

“Ina is not a possession for you to own!  She is a person in her own right, who should have the freedom to do and go where she pleases.  You have no right to dominate her, or anyone else in that way.”

“She is nothing without me. She needs me!  She can’t do anything without me!”

“Really?”  Bard raised his eyebrow.  “From what I see, you’re the one who needs her, and you can’t stand the idea of not having complete control.  Isn’t that true?”

She said nothing, but still stared daggers at Bard.

“You’re so afraid to be alone, you’ve been lying to your sister, to convince her she’s not capable of anything!”

“That’s not true!  She can’t do anything.  She needs me!”

“She does not need you!   She doesn’t need anyone who beats her spirit down to nothing, like you have!  That is not love, Iola.  If you truly cared about your sister, you’d never do that.”

“You know nothing!!  I protected her!  I looked after her when Papa –“

“When your Papa did what?  Iola, beat the both of you for no reason?  Nothing justifies what that man did to either one of you, and nothing justifies what you and that bastard did to Alun, and” Bard voice rose again, “NOTHING justifies the marks and bruises that were found all over Rhys!  NOTHING!”

Iola was shaking with fury.  “That’s not true!  You’re trying to trick me into thinking terrible things about Papa, and I won’t –“

Bard banged his fists in fury.  “Your father forced himself on both you and your sister, did he not?  Does that feel like something necessary, or even natural?  Is incest something that your Papa ‘had’ to do to you?  He raped the both of you!  Why can’t you see that?”

Thranduil was shocked at the bluntness, but perhaps it was necessary to make this woman grasp reality. 

Bard sat back and regarded the woman with slightly narrowed eyes, before he went on.  “Iola, there was nothing, and I mean nothing, that justifies the abuse you and your sister suffered at the hands of your father.  Your father did not want to beat the ‘evil’ out of you.  It was his own evil, and he threw around the name of the Valar to justify his own sick impulses.  He was the evil one, and he took it out on you.”

Iola’s face turned grey and she froze.  She no longer looked at Bard; she looked through him.  There was no sign of anguish in her face, but there wouldn’t be, would it?   She had been hiding her true self so deeply, Thranduil doubted she even knew who she was, anymore.

But Bard went on.  “Your father, Ioan of Laketown, was a sick, twisted monster, and because of that, he severely abused you, and your sister.  He brought agony and pain to Alun, to Rhys, and to Lynne and Mona.  It all stops, here and now, do you understand?  NO MORE!”

There was dead silence.  Then Iola’s response came in a form of a limp, defeated sigh.  The expression on her face never changed, but the fight had left her. 

Thranduil wasn’t entirely convinced, though. This seemed just a little too easy…

“I have more questions, and you will answer them, is that clear?”

She managed to nod her head.  “Yes, My Lord.”

“What happened to your sister’s husband?”

“He drowned.”

“You know that’s not true, don’t you?  Everyone in Laketown could swim before we could even walk.  There was something else.”

She nodded.  “She wanted to leave me.”

“Did your father know she and Alwyn planned to take the baby away?”

“No.  I heard Ina and her husband whisper about it.”

“You couldn’t let her go, could you?  If she did, you’d be left alone with your father, and things would be worse.  Am I right?”

Iola looked down at her lap and swallowed.  “She was going to leave me, and I couldn’t let that happen.  I needed to make sure she stayed with me, always.”

“She owed you, for all those years, didn’t she?”

“Yes, she did!  Papa was wrong to bring that… man into our home…”

“But while Alwyn was there, your Papa didn’t hurt anyone.  Why is that a bad thing?”

“Because she was no longer mine!  He came, and they had that… screaming brat, and he wanted to take her from me!  I had to stop him!”

“What did you do, Iola?”

“I put belladonna in his drink.  Then I told him I had a surprise made for Ina for her birthday, and asked him to pick it up for me.  He didn’t want to go, because it was dark, but her birthday was the next day and it was a secret, so he agreed to go.”

“How did you get him in the water?”

“I knew the drug in the tea would take effect soon, so I followed him, and when he passed out, I pushed him off the walkway.”

“You killed him.”

“No.  I had to make sure Ina stayed with me, because she’s mine.  That’s a different thing.”

“Iola, what about your father, how did he die?”

“I did it to make up for killing Alwyn.”  She said, in a flat tone.  “I had to stop him, but I knew it made Ina sad.  I wanted her to feel better.”  She looked at the Kings.  “I’m the one who takes care of her!”

“What do you mean?”

“Alun was getting older, and I saw that Papa had begun to look at him the same way he looked at Ina, when she was young.  I killed him for Ina.  Papa stood outside of Alun’s room one night, but he saw me, so he jumped away.” 

“What did you do, then?”

“I prepared Papa’s drink that night, like I usually do.  He liked his wine before bedtime.  I put all the belladonna I had into his glass, and he never woke up.  I loved Papa, but I had to do it, so I could keep Ina.”

“Why do you say that?”

“If Papa had a special relationship with Alun, Ina might have left, and I will never let that happen.”  She looked at Bard with hard, angry eyes.  “Where is she?  You have to give her back to me!”

Bard paid no attention to her last request, stood up, and stated, with all authority: “Iola of Dale, you have just confessed to not only the physical assault upon your sister, your servants and your great-nephew, but to the premeditated murders of your brother-in-law and your father.  I, Bard, son of Brand, heir of Girion, King of Dale, do hereby remand you into custody, where you will remain until the spring.  You will then be brought before me in the court of Dale, to face me and all our people, whereby I, and a group of your peers will decide your ultimate fate.”

Thranduil looked at Bard, and saw the sadness in his eyes.  Any hope of a simple and quiet solution to this was gone.  No one was going to Bree.  Ina was in no condition to do anything of the sort, and Iola was a multiple murderer.

He rose to stand beside his husband, as Bard nodded to the guards, to bind her hands.  Iola seemed docile, which continued to make Thranduil a little suspicious.  Perhaps this behavior was genuine, but he had a sense it wasn’t.  But she had two of his best Elven guards with her; there was nothing more he could do.

“Take her away, Dior.”  Bard commanded.  “Do not return her to her quarters.  Take her to the dungeons, and lock her up.  She can do no more harm, there.”

“As you wish, My Lord.”

The two Kings stood in silence until the prisoner left, and closed the door behind them. 

“Bard?”  Thranduil put his hand on his Bowman’s back. 

His husband just kept looking at the door.  “I knew what she did.  I knew it, but to hear it out of her mouth…”

“I know, Meleth nîn.” 

“She was so…  calm about it.  You were afraid I couldn’t reason with her, but… she found cold-blooded murder perfectly reasonable and logical.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so frightening in all my life, Thranduil.”

“Sit down, Bard.  I’m going to pour you a drink.”

“I need one.”

They sat together on the couch for a long while, in silence.  Bard didn’t lean on him, or even touch him.  He just stared straight ahead, and his knuckles were white, as they grasped his drink.

 

***************

 

Iola made sure to act as meek and mild as she possibly could, when the Guard called Dior bound her hands again.  That filthy, Elven bastard!  He knew all along what she and Ina had been saying, but what would one expect from and Elf?  The whole lot of them were liars and cheats, and they were beneath her notice.  And Bard, who pretended to be their King, was married to one of those disgusting vile beings!

No one was going to force her to accept such a thing, but she needed to play their game.  They took her Ina away, and she was going find her, even if she had to kill every single Elf in this forsaken place!  Ina was hers, and no one was going to get in her way! 

Dungeons?  Hah!  She wasn’t about to let herself be locked up.

Iola smiled her herself.  They didn’t know, did they?  But they’ll find out soon enough…

As they continued to escort her through the Palace, she made a big show of grasping her stomach and chest and saying how she didn’t feel well…  She even gasped a few times, and pretended to cry and be meek and mild…

Stupid Elves.  They patted her down for concealed weapons, but they hadn’t thought to look at the secret pocket in front of her corset, did they? Right next to the boning, so they couldn’t feel it.  They think they’re so clever, don’t they, but she was no fool, and they were about to see just how smart she was!

For weeks now, she’d been painstakingly working her mother-of-pearl handled nail file (It was her Mama’s) against the stone walls in her bedrooms.  She’d wake up in the night, and scrape, scrape, scrape it in the dark, until each metal edge was sharp enough to cut paper, and the tip could puncture even the coarsest of clothing.

Iola wanted to laugh out loud at her cleverness, but she knew she had to keep up the act.  They didn’t know, and she’d never tell them, would she?  She was the only one who wouldn’t hesitate to protect what was hers, and Ina was hers.  She always was, and no one would have her. 

Those “Kings” thought they knew better, but they didn’t know everything, did they?  She was so clever; even Mama wasn’t allowed to take Ina away…

Mama loved Ina, but she only belonged to Iola.  She tried to explain to Mama how it was, but all her mother did was smile and laugh at her.  “You’re such a good girl, to love your little sister so much.”

“I love her, because she’s mine!”

Iola didn’t feel all that bad, when Mama died.  It had to be done, didn’t it?  Papa had done all he could to remove the evil from her mother, but it was still there.  She could see it, when Mama laugh at her.   She had to pretend to be nice, so Mama would drink the special, sweet tea she’d made. 

“I thought this might make you happy, Mama.  Do you like it?”

“Oh, of course I do, my lovely girl,” Mama had said.  “See?  I’m drinking it all up.”  And she had enjoyed the sweetness of the special berries Iola put in it.  Soon, Mama fell to the floor, dead, and Iola knew she’d saved her once and for all, from the evil.  Papa would be grateful; it saved him a lot of work.  It must be tiring to follow the Valar’s will, and to stamp out the badness in all of them.  No one could understand that; but Iola did. 

She was Papa’s “special girl…”

She knew Papa had special powers and even though it was hard, she let Papa do what was necessary.   But sometimes, he got out of hand with her little sister.  It wasn’t his fault; he was just so strong.  She knew that, until Ina was older, she’d have to protect her from him.  Papa was a good man, who was only doing what he was supposed to!  The Valar’s ways are never to be questioned!  He always said how the Valar would come to him in dreams and tell him of things that had to be done. Sometimes he had a hard time controlling the power he’d been blessed with, so it was Iola’s job to keep him from getting out of hand.

Because she was Papa’s “special girl…”

Of course, when Papa brought Alwyn home to marry her Ina, she was angry, but Papa said it was the Valar’s will.  He was right, as always. With Alwyn in the house, the evil must have left; Papa didn’t need to work so hard to keep them pure.  Then Ina gave birth to that brat, Alun.  The boy was nothing special, and she knew the time would come to look after the child, just as Papa had done with them. 

Because, she was Papa’s “special girl…”

Then, she was coming back from the privy closet one night and heard her sister whispering.  Alwyn wanted to take her Ina away!  Thief!  A thief and a liar! 

Iola thought he understood, but he wasn’t from the Valar at all, and she had to save them.  When she poisoned him, and threw him in the water, she felt such a relief, and knew the Valar would approve. 

She had to protect her Ina. 

Then, when Alun was about eight years old, she knew she was no longer her Papa’s special girl.  She saw him watch the little boy, when he was trying to read, and how he put his hands Alun’s shoulders and gripped them a little too tight.  Papa’s smile was a little too eager.

Iola became very sad, because not only did Papa stop loving her, it seemed the Valar didn’t want to use him anymore.  Alun was going to grow up evil, and Papa didn’t want to stop it.  It was time for Papa to be dealt with, so she could take his place.  Ina didn’t want to be like that with Papa, and it would make her sad, if he wanted to be special with Alun, so she took care of it.

When she and Ina stood over Papa’s grave, she silently prayed to Ulmo and all the rest of the Valar for their help, as she carried on with the special mission of purity.  She would make sure that her Ina and that…child, were cured, whatever it took.

Then they finally got their hands on Rhys, here in the Woodland Realm, her mission began with fervor.  Papa was with the Valar now, and they sent him to tell her just what they had found in the boy’s soul, and charge her with removing it.  He told her how many lashes would take it out, so he could be good, again.

“You’re my special girl, and I am trusting you with this,” Papa told her in her dreams. “Iola, you have to save that boy.” 

They were in the middle of the long, high walkway, when she knew it was time.

“Aaah!”  Iola pretended to grab her stomach, pulled her own legs out from under herself and fell to her knees, pretending to double over with pain, breaking the soldier’s grip on her arm. “It hurts!  I’m going to be sick!  Please! Help me!  I’m going to be sick!

The one called Dior and his helper quickly brought her back up and helped her to the railing.  Stupid Elves.  Didn’t they see her take her small dagger out of her corset? No.  Of course, they didn’t; she was doubled over!  And they also were too busy paying attention to her retching noises to even bother looking at her hands, where her little knife had cut through the ropes.

Oh, but they knew it soon enough, didn’t they, when she whipped around and plunged it into Dior’s chest.  When the other guard grabbed her, it was easy enough to bite his hand and make him scream long enough to release his grip, so she could go looking for her sister.  She stabbed the guard in the upper arm and broke free.

Then she heard it.

“Iola!  Help me!  Save me!”  It was her Ina’s voice calling to her, but she couldn’t see her.

“Ina!  Where are you?  I’m coming!”

Her head whipped around, to hear where the voice was coming from.  Across the deep cavern, she could hear the voice again.  They must be keeping her Ina prisoner in an invisible room over there.  Suddenly she saw it, and also saw the secret bridge, that Papa revealed to her.

“There she is,” Papa said.  “Go to her!  Only you can see the it, my special girl, it’s our secret.  Hurry!”

She crawled over the railing and using all her strength, she jumped to her sister’s rescue.  As she fell to the depths below, her hand was still reaching out, screaming her Ina’s name.

 

 

ELVEN TRANSLATIONS:

Ion – son

 

 

NOTES:

"Learned Helplessness" is a very real phenomenon that happens to victims of domestic violence:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learned_helplessness

If you are a victim of domestic violence, or know someone who is, please seek professional help. For those in the US, If you are in immediate danger, call 9-1-1. For anonymous, confidential help, 24/7, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) ...

If you have been a victim of sexual assault there is a completely confidential hotline, where you can receive support.  Call 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

For more information about this service, please check out the RAINN website: https://www.rainn.org/about-national-sexual-assault-telephone-hotline

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The Woodland Realm; 19th February, 2942, T.A.

 

Bard sighed, as sat next to Thranduil, and drank his wine. 

Since yesterday he’d been so filled with anxiety, he could hardly stand to be in his own skin.  It wasn’t as if he didn’t know such thing ever occurred - so, what was wrong with him?  Even Alun himself said he suspected sexual abuse. 

So, what was wrong with him?

Maybe it was because he was the father of two daughters, himself.  Maybe it was the strain of Tilda’s sickness, and his fear she’d never be the same.  Maybe it was because he was forced to face how much damage this caused, up close and personal.

And Iola spoke of murder with such a matter of fact voice, it went straight to his gut.  Before him was the most frightening enemy he’d ever faced.  A madwoman, who was capable of absolutely anything.

And he hadn’t seen it coming.  He should have seen this; he should have suspected this sooner.

He’d screwed up.

“Are you well, Meleth nîn?”  Thranduil asked him. 

“No.  I’m not.  I feel like I’ll never be able to see the world in quite the same, way.”

“I am sorry.” 

When Bard felt Thranduil’s arm around his shoulders, he pulled away; he couldn’t help it.

“I’m sorry love; I just…  It’s more than I can take, right now.”  Bard apologized. 

Thranduil looked hurt, but he stopped trying to touch him.  “Can you tell me what you feel?  Can I help?”

Bard shook his head.   “I – “

Just then there were frantic footsteps outside the door to the study, and a guard rushed in. “My Lord!”

“What is it?” Thranduil demanded. “What happened?”

“Captain Dior and Lieutenant Elion have been stabbed, and the one called Iola is dead!  You must come quickly!”

Bard looked at his husband in horror; his mouth was too dry to speak.

“Tell us what happened, on the way.  Are the guards in the Healing Halls?”

“They are at the scene.  Elénaril is trying to stabilize Dior, so he can be moved.”

They all broke out into a run, with the young, black-haired guard ahead, ordering everyone to make way.  At this moment, Bard didn’t care if anyone saw how fast he could run, now.  They needed to get there; they were already too late.

Whey came up to the scene on the walkway, Bard cursed, under his breath. There was Dior, who moments ago, had been standing straight and strong in their office, lying in a pool of blood, unconscious.  Elénaril and another Healer were frantically working over him.  Elion was propped up against the railing, grasping his arm in agony, as blood seeped out around his fingers. 

The prisoner - where was she?

“She jumped over the railing, My Lord.”  Elion answered, though Bard hadn’t realized he’d said anything out loud.

Bard quickly looked around.   The doors to the Main Dining Hall were in direct view.  Oh, shit...

He yelled across to a nearby guard.  “You!  Get to Mistress Bronwyn and tell her to shut those doors – “  But just as he said that, they all saw two guards across the way taking care of it.  “Good, then; keep the children inside, until we say so.  I don’t want any of them to see this!”

“Yes, My Lord.”

Bard knelt beside Elion and tried to help him staunch the bleeding.  “Do you have anything to tie this off?”

The guard groaned in pain.  “Yes, My Lord, in my left pocket.  I cannot take my hand off my arm to reach for it.”

Elion was right.  His fingers were barely staunching the flow of blood, as it was.  Quickly, Bard grabbed for the cloth, and tied a tourniquet tightly above the wound.  It helped, but not much as he’d hoped.  Elion’s face was becoming dangerously pale, and his lips had lost their color.

“Stay awake, do you hear me?   Stay with me.”  Bloody fuck… This can’t be…  How could this happen?

“I am doing my best, My Lord.”  But the guard’s voice was barely audible.  His hand fell away, and his eyes closed.

“I need some help over here!”  Bard cried, desperately, has he put pressure on he wound.

As if in answer to a prayer, Daeron ran across the walkway and skidded to a stop in front of them.  “I was in with the children, Lord Bard.  They are safe, and cannot see.  I thought I could be of service.”

“Yes, you can.  I’ve got this tied off, but he’s still bleeding, and I can’t stop it.”

Daeron stopped and took a few breaths, to ready himself.

“Do you want me to move my hands?”

“No.  You will help me.” Then placed his hands over Bard’s and spoke some words in Quenyan.  Instantly Bard felt the connection, and began to see what they were looking for.  The blade had nicked the artery his upper arm and the guard had lost a dangerous amount of blood.  Instinctively Bard pushed down harder, and ignored Elion’s moan of pain, as Daeron began to sing the edges of the rip together.  Bard began to feel the light inside him, and he knew he was enveloped in it; along with the Elves.  He’d no idea what words Daeron was saying, but somehow he knew what they meant.  He also knew it wasn’t just Daeron doing the healing, he was doing it, too.

This should have fascinated him.  He should be excited about this new discovery about himself.

He didn’t.  It was yet another unfamiliar burden to bear; something else to show he had no idea who he was right now.

At last, they both sensed when to let up the pressure, and they sat up straight, as Daeron felt for his pulse.  “It is weak, My Lord, but it is still there.  He needs to get to the Healing Hall, right away.”  Bard helped Daeron pick Elion up, just as some other guards stepped forward to assist in taking their Lieutenant to the infirmary.

“Sigrid!  Get back here!”  Hilda’s outraged and frightened voice echoed through the cavern.  But his oldest was determined and continued to run to him, as fast as her legs would take her.

“Da?  How can I help?”

“You can’t.” Bard snapped at her.  “I ordered you children to stay in the Dining Hall!”

“But Da – “

“No buts!   You were given an order, and I expect you to obey it!”

Sigrid froze in her place, with her eyes wide with hurt.  “I just wanted to help.  I saw Daeron run out and I thought – “

Bard was past the end of his tether and endurance.  “You will never, ever defy my orders, again, do you understand?  Suppose that madwoman was still running around?”

“But she isn’t, Da.  I heard the guard tell Daeron she jumped.  I just want to try and hel –“

“ENOUGH!”  Bard screamed at her. “DO AS I BLOODY WELL TELL YOU!”

Sigrid stepped back from him, as her eyes spilled over.  Hilda came up behind her, and took her arm.  “Come now love, let’s go back.  I need your help to look after the children, yeah?  Rhys will need us, right now.”  The young girl nodded silently, and was doing her best to keep from crying.

Hilda turned her around and they both left, but not before the woman gave him an I’m-going-to-kick-your-bloody-arse look.

Bard tried to care, but right now, it just wasn’t in him.

He went over to where they were working on Dior.  He saw an object on the floor, and picked it up.  It was a metal nail file, with a mother-of pearl handle. It must be part of a vanity set.  In fact, Thranduil had one in silver, but this one didn’t have dull, rounded edges.  It had been sharpened along each edge, and the end had been shaped to point: it must have taken her weeks, but Iola had turned it into a small dagger. 

It was covered in blood, the Elves were covered in blood, his hands were full it, and there was blood all over the stone walkway.

Bard barely made it to the railing before he began to retch. 

 

When he recovered his sensibilities, he made his way to where Dior lay.  The Captain was still unconscious, and it wasn’t looking good.  Before he could stop himself, he kneeled in the pool of blood surrounding Dior, and placed his hands over his husband’s and Elénaril’s.  Again, he could “see” it; a punctured left lung, which was bad enough, but blood was filling the cavity surrounding his heart, and it was killing him.

Elénaril reached into her bag and took out a knife.  “This is too wide.  I need something thinner.”

Bard picked up the dagger, again.  “Will this do?”

“Wipe it off on your shirt and give it to me.”  Bard did as she asked, then she took out a bottle of spirits and clean the dried blood off.  Then she dipped the blade in the bottle, and swished the blade around in the liquid. 

“Hold him steady.   Do NOT let him move!”

They placed their hands on him again, as Thranduil began to chant.   Bard steadied his own breathing, and he could see Elénaril slowly and oh-so-carefully insert the blade into Dior’s side.  She went slowly, to avoid any of the veins and arteries in her way, until she pierced the sac.  His heart was barely moving.  It was Thranduil and the other Healer who had repaired his lung, and were sending the blood through is body, keeping him stable, until the surgery was finished. 

Once the sac was pierced, Elénaril began her song, and Bard felt compelled to assist her, to help drain the blood, as quickly as possible.  Together they drew it carefully from him, sending it out of him, and onto the stone floor.  Once done, they sealed the sac and the hole in his side.

But Dior’s heart was still so weak.   Shouldn’t it be stronger by now?  It wasn’t.  In fact, it had stopped, entirely.

They all looked at each other in horror. 

“He’s dead,” Elénaril whispered.  And they all sat back on their heels in shock.  The Elves lowered their heads in sorrow.

This was all too much for Bard.  Furious, he said, “No, dammit, he bloody well isn’t!”

“Bard – “

“No!”  Bard put his hands on Dior again, determined to do something.  “Don’t you dare die!  Don’t you fucking dare!”  But nothing happened.

“Bard,” Thranduil whispered.

“Shut up!”  Then he looked down at the lifeless Elf and felt nothing but rage at all the destruction that monster Ioan had wrought upon so many lives.  When would it end?

Before he realized what he was doing, he balled his hands into fists and brought them down with all his might on Dior’s chest.  “Don’t you dare die!”  He hit him again.  And again.  He cursed the heart that lay so still in his chest, and made sure to aim his next blow right on it.  “LIVE, you bastard!”

Thranduil’s hands were on his arms, shaking him.  “Stop it, Bard.  BARD!”

The Bowman came back to himself, and sat up straight, panting, and saw everyone stare and him, with wide eyes.

Had he gone mad, too?  Oh, gods…

 “Bard?”  His husband was upset, but Bard couldn’t bring himself to care, as they looked at each other.

No one was expecting what happened then.

“Look!  Dior’s chest is rising!”

“What?”

“He took a breath!”

Elénaril quickly put her hands back on his chest, as the other healer put her fingers to his neck.  They looked at each other incredulously. “His heart is beating again.”

“But how could that happen?”  Thranduil asked.  “It stopped.  We all saw it!”

But the Healer was too busy checking over the Captain.  “I do not care how it happened, I am only glad it did.” She looked up at a pair of waiting guards.  “Take him to a treatment room, quickly.  I will be right behind you.”

Once Dior had been taken away, the two Kings were left standing on the walkway, standing in, covered with, and reeking of, blood.  Thranduil ordered that Iola’s body be recovered as soon as possible, and several guards left to begin the task.

“This needs to be cleaned up, I don’t want any children near this.”  Bard heard himself say, in a faraway voice. 

Thranduil gave the orders, then put his hand on the small of Bard’s back to guide him back to their chambers.   When they got there, Galion had soap, water, and changes of clothes, ready for them, in the study.

“I hope this is all right, My Lord.  I did not want to take the chance of Tilda seeing you in this state.”  Galion said, as the Aide’s eyes ran over both of them.

“Thank you, Galion.” Bard heard his husband say.  “That was thoughtful of you. Please make sure any bloody footprints are removed from the floor; especially this hall, before the children come back.”

Bard didn’t acknowledge Galion’s presence, so he didn’t see the concerned look on the Aide’s face.  He removed his boots before stepping into the Elvenking’s office.  Once the door was closed, he tore off his clothes and rolled them in a ball and viciously threw them in a corner.  Then he poured some water into the basin and began to soap his hands and arms.  He his movements quickened, and he began to dig viciously into this skin, to remove all traces of the violent crime that had just taken place.  He only realized how frantic his movements had become, when Thranduil put his hands over Bard’s wrists to try and still him.

 “Meleth nîn?”  Thranduil’s voice was soft and tentative, and held him firmly, until Bard slowed down.  Bard didn’t want to look at him, or anybody, he could barely stand to be touched like this, but he did manage to get himself under control.  Bard rinsed off, redressed, and went over to the couch to put on his clean boots, as Thranduil took his turn with the soap and water. 

He felt like he was watching himself go through the motions, as if he had somehow drifted out of his body, to observe all this from afar.  All that was happening in this room, in this Palace, even inside him seemed far away. 

Bard glanced over and saw Thranduil finish dressing, and added his clothes and boots to the bloody heap of fabric in the corner. 

“Galion will take them to be washed.”  The Elvenking said, and moved toward the door.

“No.”

“Bard?”

“Burn them.  I don’t ever want to lay eyes on them again.” 

Thranduil looked at him for a long while, then nodded.  He opened the door and ordered the guard to take them away.  He also requested their warm cloaks, which soon arrived.

“Come, Hervenn nîn.  Let us get some fresh air.  Galion will see to Tilda, and the children will not be back for hours.”

They stepped outside, and walked for a while.  Bard’s steps were quick and hard, as if he was trying to punish the very ground he stood on for everything he was trying not to feel.

“Bard, please…”

“What?” he whipped his head around to look at his husband.  “Tell me, what?  What?!”

“I know you are upset and angry…”

Bard looked into his face, and all the feelings he was trying to stave off, began to touch him, and soon he was drowning in them.

Thranduil was concerned.  “Just talk to me, Meleth nîn.  Tell me what you are thinking, and feeling.”

Bard knew that his husband only meant well, but that moment, he didn’t care.

“I can’t begin to tell you what I’m feeling.” He said in a quiet, voice, as fists clenched and unclenched.  “As for what I’m thinking?  Trust me Thranduil, you really don’t want to know.”

“Yes, Meleth nîn, I do.”

“Don’t call me that!”

He saw how Thranduil flinched back with his mouth open, and his eyes wide, but there was such a storm in him, he didn’t let it register.  Bard knew what he’d said, but it had come from a place in him that lacked reason or restraint.

“You want to know what I’m thinking?  Fine, I’ll tell you:  What the bloody fuck happened out there, Thranduil?   How could those two have no fucking idea that bitch had a knife on her?  How could you let it happen?  I was under the impression you chose them for the job!  You said they were ‘highly trained’ and I trusted you!”  

Bard couldn’t stop now; whatever popped into his mind poured right out of his mouth, whether it was true, or not.  He was desperate to get this dreadful, violent wrath out of himself.  He was suffocating from it, and was clawing at anything, anything to breath the fresh air, again.

As Thranduil opened his mouth to speak, Bard cut him off.  “No, Thranduil!  I trusted you!  From the beginning, it was you I trusted, and looked up to and felt safe with.” 

Bard laughed bitterly, then continued with scorn, “You fed my people when we were about to die of starvation, and I’m grateful, but then you had this brilliant idea that you could turn me into a King!   You knew I didn’t know the first thing about it, but you pushed me into doing it.  You made me feel like my people wouldn’t survive, if it wasn’t me!  I didn’t have any choice, did I?  Then you and Gandalf made me negotiate with the dwarves, by making me feel like it all depended on me, and the whole future of Middle Earth would fall, if I fucked it up!

“I’ve been separated from my children, for the first time since they were born, which was your idea.  Then my youngest, my baby, almost dies, and I wasn’t there, Thranduil!  I wasn’t there to help her, and now, I don’t know if she’ll ever be the same!”  

When Bard began to talk about Tilda, he was incensed beyond all control.  “Every time I see her wrestle with her thoughts and memories, IT SLICES MY INSIDES TO RIBBONS!” he screamed.  “To bloody ribbons!  She can’t even FUCKING WALK, Thranduil, and I don’t know if she ever will again!   How I am supposed to try and live with that, and be the King you decided I had to be?  HOW am I supposed to keep all of this up?  You have all the fucking answers; but I don’t hear a word about this, do I?”

The shocked and hurt look on Thranduil’s face barely registered through his rage.  The Elf was frozen to the spot, and his eyes began to fill. 

Bard saw it, but the part of him that would despise what he was saying was gone, right now.

He continued to yell at the top of his lungs.  “Because you wanted me to be a King, Thranduil, I had to sit in there and deal with something more revolting than anything I ever saw on the battlefield!  Gods, I can’t get rid of the feeling of being covered with insects!  Every time I close my eyes to sleep, I see… I can’t even say it!” 

Bard clenched his teeth and spat, “Oh, but now, thanks to the incompetency of your fucking guards, there was blood everywhere, and they almost lost their lives!  Where in the fuck was Iola hiding that knife, and why in the bloody fuck didn’t your men know it was there?  Do you have any idea what could’ve happened if one of my children happened to be on that walkway when she managed to get free?  Or any child?”

Thranduil swallowed and said, quietly, and his breath caught. “I do not know.”

“Oh, really?  The mighty Thranduil, the ancient Elvenking who’s done and seen everythingdoesn’t know?’  You want to hear about what I don’t know?  EVERYTHING!  In the last three and a half months, there is nothing of the life I once knew!  I sit in my study and pretend to know what the fuck I’m doing, but I don’t.  I sit behind that desk or walk around among my people and they all look to me like I’m supposed to have all the fucking answers, and I don’t!”

Then the volume of Bard’s voice lowered, and his lip curled in fury, as he continued.  “Let me tell you something else you don’t know.  Do you have any idea what I’ve been going through in Dale?  What it’s been like, to try and get used to a body that acts in a way I can’t recognize?  My weapons practice is a fucking joke!  You haven’t a clue how many bruises the Chief Healer has to take care of, because I can’t even swing a bloody fucking sword right now!  And he treats me as if I’m some sort of… specimen, he wants to study, because no one knows what’s going to happen to me!  I don’t know what’s happening, and it’s MY fucking body!”  His cheeks were wet, and he could hardly see, and his body shook with fury.

“Do you know what I’d be doing now, if I were the way I used to be?  I’d be taking my bow and arrow out to shoot, and shoot, and shoot, until I felt like I had some control in my own fucking life again!  Even if it was a lie, at least I could feel good enough about myself to pretend it was the truth for one more day.  Archery was the ONE thing that made me feel like a man, when so much else was gone.  Thanks to my marriage to you, I can’t hit a fucking target anymore!  I’m drowning in all this shit, Thranduil, and I feel like a stranger in my own body, and I fucking HATE IT!”

Bard fell silent as struggled to pull air into his lungs, and realized what he had done.   He’d stepped over a line he’d never meant to cross.

And now...

Oh, gods…  No, no, no… 

Thranduil stood frozen on the path, as a tear fell down his cheek, unnoticed.  Then that same cheek began to change shape and color, but that wasn’t the worst of it. 

The spark and life that Bard had loved about his eyes was gone.

Oh, no…  Bard’s rage and confusion, was instantly replaced with regret and shame.  All the remaining fight went out of him, and he didn’t know what to do, now. 

They stood there staring at each other for several minutes; unmoving. 

Bard was mortified, and tried to fix it, before it was too late.

“Oh, Stars, Thran, I…”  He took a step forward, and began to reach out to him, but Thranduil flinched out of his reach, as if Bard’s touch would burn him.

The Elf turned and fled, leaving Bard alone.

Iola’s death was his own fault.  Dior’s and Elion’s blood were on his hands.  His ignorance and neglect had caused that bloody, murderous scene in front of him.  He was King, and he’d not done due diligence, and now there was death and bloodshed.

Worst of all, he was too much of a coward to face his own guilt for what had just occurred, so he turned on Thranduil, his love, the one who’d nothing but support him and love him and help him. 

What have I done?

Bard just killed the most beautiful thing in his life, and destroyed the family they were trying to make, before it ever had a chance to really get started! 

Oh, Valar… no…please…

Bard made his way over to a nearby bench, buried his face in his shaking hands, and felt his insides shatter into tiny pieces, as he sobbed.

 

***************

 

Thranduil somehow found his way into the Palace; he knew that much. 

He looked over to the doors of his chambers –

No.  He couldn’t.  Not now.  He needed to be alone, because he felt like half of him had just been ripped off, now his soul was bleeding out of him.  Again.  It was like this when Mírelen died.  He was alone and bereft, again.

“Thrandiul?  What’s wrong, love?  Where’s Bard?”

He knew his eyes were cast in Hilda’s general direction, but he couldn’t really see her, or Galion who had a worried look on his face.

“Are you well?” he heard Galion’s words.

Thranduil moved his mouth, but he couldn’t make words come out.  All he could do was turn in the direction of his study, and dive into it.

Once he closed and locked the it behind him, he groped his way over to the couch, and sat down, doubled over with agony.  He lowered his head and buried it in his arms, as he gasped from the shock and pain.  He tried to control his breathing, but it was impossible, because thoughts were racing through his mind, and the enormity of what had just happened with Bard sank into his heart and soul.   He clutched the back of his head, as he sank lower into a ball, with his fingers buried in his own hair, to shield himself. 

Shield himself from what?

From the world he had just begun to know and trust once more.

From the emotions he’d at last begun to feel again.  Emotions that he still struggled hard to manage, sometimes. 

From the love he’d found, again.  Love he thought he shared with his Bard, but now he knew it wasn’t real.  He didn’t know Bard was unhappy; why didn’t he?  Shouldn’t he have felt it?

But, theirs was a unique situation and the regular rules may not apply.  Maybe their bond was an illusion, as well; maybe it was just wishful thinking.  It was real to Thranduil, but perhaps Bard experienced things differently.

Bard was right; he was a King, because Thranduil had pushed him into it.  He was the rightful heir, but he’d never really had a choice, because Thranduil kept encouraging Bard to do it, and now the man was overwhelmed and hurting, and clearly this was more than he could bear.

But that wasn’t even the worst of it. 

He’d fallen in love with Bard, and while they both knew things could change, Thranduil had no inkling of the things he’d robbed from the man he loved, when he joined with him.  He didn’t know what would happen; neither of them did.  Gandalf was careful to warn them, but they were too much in love to think it through. 

They’d been married just weeks after meeting each other.  Weeks!  What foolishness!  Thranduil should have known better.  Maybe he did know better, but he was so… excited about finding love!  He was was so happy to have real feelings about anything again, he’d been blinded to the fact that Bard was different. 

He should have made them wait; at least until the spring, so they could weigh the price of their joining against the any benefit.

Oh, Valar; how did he get it so wrong? 

He never meant to ruin anything for Bard!  He only wanted to be with him; to love him with all his heart, but Bard finally admitted the truth: the price for Bard to love Thranduil was too high, and it wasn’t going to work.

Thranduil wasn’t worth it; not to Bard.  Thranduil loved his Bowman with every fiber of his being, but the cost of all this had ruined any chance of Bard loving him back.  He loved the children so much…so much, and they would be turned away from him, to leave him alone in this Palace once more.

Help me… help me bear it, when these rooms are silent and lonely again…  Give me strength to go on…  

As soon as the words entered his mind, he knew he wouldn’t be able to bear a loss like this again.  He curled into himself even more, as his heart, his very soul was crushed into pieces so small, he doubted he’d ever recover from it. 

He adjusted his position, when his glamour fell, but he couldn’t find it in him to replace it, and he didn’t even care anymore.  It seemed fitting that his outsides reflected the self-loathing within him. 

Who’d want to be with a freak like him? 

 

After a long time, his sobs began to slow down some, but he still keened and wailed in utter despair. 

He didn’t hear the door to Galion’s study open, or the quiet footsteps, or someone sitting down beside him.

Arms reached to gather him, and offer comfort.  He could tell it wasn’t Galion.  The good side of his face was held against a soft, pillowed chest, with a scent of lemon and spices.  Strong, calloused hands, normally busy with activity, were gently stroking his hair.

“Shh…”  Hilda whispered.  “Lay your head, now, and let go of it.  I’ve got you, love.  I’ve got you…”

Thranduil didn’t think he had anymore tears left in him, but he was wrong.

 

***************

 

Bard was sitting on the stone bench, staring off into the cold air.  He’d worn himself out with crying long ago.  He knew he couldn’t stay out here forever, but he didn’t know how he could go back in there, either. 

He didn’t think he could face Thranduil – what could he possibly say or do? 

What he’d said was unfounded, and unforgivable.   He didn’t even mean them!  Why, in the name of all the Valar, would he do this?  Destruction wasn’t what he wanted, and yet here he was, tearing down all hope for the future with the one he shared a soul with!  With the one he knew he belonged with!

Oh, Valar…what have I done?

He was so, so tired.  Bone-weary.  He didn’t think he had the energy to make it through this day, let alone contemplate any to come.  Right in this moment, he didn’t want to, either.   Stars, he almost wished he could fade, like the Elves do, when faced with such utter grief and pain.  It would be simple, wouldn’t it?  To just…leave, instead of trying to pick up the pieces of all the lives he had just shattered, because of his stupidity and his big mouth.

He closed his eyes, and buried his face in his hands.  

 

“Do you mind if I join you?”

Startled, Bard instantly sat up straight, wiping his eyes quickly.  “Of course, have a seat.”  His voice came out as a croak, but the other person was kind enough not to point that out.

As Galion sat down, Bard asked, “How long have I been out here?”

“Three hours.”

His eyes widened.  “Are the children all right?”

“Everyone is where they should be.  Tilda is fine with Meriel, and the others are attending their riding lesson.  Falarion decided on an outdoor ride today, so they will be later than usual.  Elénaril insisted Sigrid go along, too.”

At the mention of his daughter’s name, Bard’s head lowered, and he covered his eyes.  “I didn’t mean to hurt her, but the idea of her so close to…  There was so much blood, and I just…” Bard’s lips trembled.  “Stars, Galion, I’ve never yelled at any of them like that!”

“I believe you, Mellon nîn.”

“And that’s not the worst of it.  I hurt Thranduil and I never…”  He couldn’t help the sob that came out.  “I-I took it all out on him, and I didn’t mean it.”

Galion sat back and studied him.  “Much has changed in a very short time, Bard.”

“Everything has changed!  All Thranduil wanted to do was help me, and what did I do?  I took it out on him, made him feel like he was to blame, when he wasn’t!  I said unforgivable things, Galion.”  He met Galion’s gaze.  “I swear; I didn’t mean it.  I didn’t mean any of it!  I deserve the blame, not him!

“I broke him, Galion.  When I saw his face, I knew I ruined whatever trust we had.  I destroyed him, and I destroyed my family, and I can’t take any of it back!  I’ve let everyone down, and I don’t know what to do, now.” Bard began to cry, again.

“You love him, Bard.”

“I do!  I love him so much, but…” he rubbed his hands over his chest.  “I don’t feel him…” 

The Aide put his arm around Bard and steadied him, as his tears started again.  “I’m so sorry.”

“But you love him, Bard.” Galion said, again.

“Like the air I breathe, but I can’t face him, after what I’ve done.  You should’ve seen the look on his face.”

“I did see him.  Hilda and I were in the hall when he came in.”

Bard sighed, as he ran his fingers through his hair.  “Oh, gods…  You must hate me.”

 “I understand you are afraid,” Galion said, kindly, as he gave a handkerchief.  “For everyone’s sake, you must try to work this out.”

“But I ruined everything!  And what do I say to the children?  Stars, what about Tilda?  What can I possibly to say to her?”

“Are you sure it’s over between you two?”

Bard shook his head.  “After the shit I just threw at him, I doubt he’d ever want to see me again, and I don't blame him!  He should make me leave.  I was vicious, and I’ve never been that way to anybody, before!  I killed us over words I didn’t even mean!  Oh, Valar…”

“Let me ask you this: did you never fight with your wife, Mattie?”

“Sometimes.  She had a temper.” Bard told him.  “But she never went off on me like I did to Thranduil.  She’d never do that!  What the bloody fuck is wrong with me, Galion?”

“What is wrong is that you are exhausted and overwhelmed.  You have lost confidence in yourself, and it frightened you, and it came out as anger.”

“But like that?  I swear Galion; I’ve never done that before!  Never!"

“Tell me this, Bard: have you ever had the burdens and cares you’ve had now?  Your daughter was very, very ill, and we still do not know to what extent she will recover.  You are now a King, and you are newly married, to someone of a different race and culture.  You’ve had to learn many, many new things, in a very short time.  The catalyst to your breakdown, I think, was when you had Ina and Iola brought before you, which ultimately ended in violence and death.”

“And I made it worse!  I made everything worse!  I did it!  I don’t deserve Thranduil's forgiveness, even if he offered it."  Bard gasped, trying to get the words out. "I don’t deserve him anymore, Galion." He sobbed.

Galion rubbed Bard’s back some more.  “Would it help to know King Oropher and Queen Lindorië had their fair share of arguments?  What you have described, is not unlike some of the shouting that went on between those two.”

“Did she still love Oropher?”

“With all her heart,” he smirked, “even when she was throwing the crockery at him.”

“I don’t know all that much about Elven marriage, I guess.  I didn’t think Elves could get angry at each other, once their fëas were joined.”

The Aide laughed.  “If that is true, then no one explained that to Oropher, as he was dodging plates.  It was early in their marriage, and Oropher lost his temper and shouted at her, much like you did with Thranduil.  He learned very quickly not to do it again.  I believe you have also learned this lesson, have you not?”

“So, an Elven married couple is not so different, then.”

“Some of it is different, but it is often the same as Men; each day brings challenges, and mistakes can be made.”

“Kings can’t afford to make mistakes, though.  I screwed up, and look what happened: One person is dead, and two almost died!”

“How do you think you are responsible for that?”

“I should have seen it coming!  It’s my job to look for things like that, and I didn’t!”

Galion shook his head, and sighed.  “Oh, Bard, if you truly believe that, then you have made the biggest mistake of all!  It is no wonder you are drowning!  For everyone’s sake, let go of that idea!”

“But so many people depend on me, and if I make any kind of a blunder, it hurts lives.  I have to make all the right decisions!” 

“Bard, what I see, is a Man who is overwhelmed, and trying too hard to keep up, even with his own body!  I know you are working with Feren to regain your coordination, but are you being reasonable with yourself, or do you expect to learn it all in a week or two?”

“There’s no time to ease into anything!”

“So tell me, Bard: If you truly believe that pushing yourself into exhaustion is the only way to cope with this, how is that working?”

“But –“

“If that course of action was reasonable, why did you end up out here?”

Bard looked at him, then looked at the snowy ground again. 

“I do not believe you regret becoming King, nor do I think you regret your marriage at all.  What I do think, is that you feel obliged to be a perfect King, and a perfect father, and a perfect husband.  It is admirable to want do your best, but to never give yourself room for error, will ultimately set you up for failure.  It is the self-fulfilling prophecy, Bard!  Do you not see this?”

Bard sat up straight and looked at the fir tree not far away from where they were sitting.  Galion was right.   His perfectionism had destroyed what he loved most.

Oh, gods…  The look on Thranduil’s face…

“How do I go on from here?” Bard whispered. “I don't know anything right now.  I really don’t.”

Galion squeezed his shoulders.  “Bard, perhaps you should not worry what to do just yet.  You are completely worn out, and you cannot make any decisions until after you get some rest.”

“I feel like a limp, dirty dishrag.”  Bard heaved a sigh.  “I can barely even move.”

“We both know you cannot stay out here, but I do not believe you are ready to face anyone just yet.”  Galion, stood up and urged Bard to his feet.  “I have an idea…”

 

*****************

 

As Thranduil began to quiet down again, he remembered his scars, and jerked away in embarrassment.

But Hilda’s arms wouldn’t let him move. “Don’t worry, love.  I know all about that, and I couldn’t care less, except that it hurts you.  You just work on calming yourself, so you can put it back up.”

“How do you know?”

“Bard told me, before he left the first time.  He knew you’d never want the kids to see it, so I’m to watch out, and if your glamour falls, for any reason, I'm to distract the children, and steer them in another direction.  He knew you’d never want to accidentally upset them, and you’ll tell them in your own time.”

“That was… considerate of him.”

“Oh, lovey; he wasn’t just being considerate; that boy loves you, I know it.”

Thranduil swallowed.  “It is my fault he is so upset.  He said I pushed him into being King of Dale, and he is right.  He never wanted this life.”

“Do you think he meant that?  Really?  Or do you think he’s so afraid of being a terrible King, he worked himself into a frenzy?”

He sighed.  “I do not know.  I love him, Hilda.”  Thranduil’s became shaky.  “But it is not just Kingship he's upset about.  I did not know how angry he was about all the changes since we married.  He hates what has happened to him, and he regrets marrying me.”

“He actually told you he wished he’d never married you?  He said those exact words?”  Hilda tilted her head and raised her eyebrow.

“No, not exactly, but he did say said he hates not knowing himself.  He was not prepared for that, not with everything else he must do.  He said it’s my fault for pushing him into being a King, and he blames me for being separated from the children, especially when Tilda got so sick.  It’s all too much, and I should have—“

Hilda put her fingers over his mouth.  “Now you just stop, right there.”  She said kindly, but firmly.  “Take a breather and calm yourself, so you can fix your face.  You’ll never be able to work out anything when you’re in pain like that.”

She waited patiently, until Thranduil could collect himself, then he closed his eyes and concentrated.  The pain dulled, and when he felt better, he heaved a sigh of relief.

Hilda watched the full process with wonder. “Good gravy!” She shook her head.  “I’ll never get over how you Elves do that!  When I get old and wrinkled, see what you can do for me, will you?” 

She smiled and patted his hand, then got up and poured him a glass of wine.  “Down the hatch.  All of it.”

Once he had finished it, she poured him another, then said, “I know you and Bard met with those women; last night, you both looked like you’d been run over by a pack of Wargs.  Want to talk about it?”

So, Thranduil told her everything that wasn’t under Seal.  It felt a relief to speak of it, and to share his feelings about it.  He talked with her about the scene they found on the walkway, and what it was like to see such good Elves, and one of his friends, bleed all over the ground.

When he talked himself out, he looked over at Hilda.  Her face was filled with anguish and she was clutching the front of her shirt. “My lands…  Oh, my lands…”

“I do not know what happened on the walkway, yet.  We are sure she had hidden a homemade dagger, made from a nail file, somewhere on her person, and somehow managed to get to it. When her body is recovered, we may know more.”  Then he told her how he and Bard helped to treat the injured, and how Dior’s heart stopped, but then started again, when Bard pounded on it, so furiously.

“I knew Bard was having difficulty, Hilda.  I was trying to give him support; I was trying to help him, but he just…snapped.   I’ve never seem him like this!”  Thranduil wiped his eyes.  “When I took him out to the gardens, I thought I could help him calm down, but…”  his voice broke.  “He told me how unhappy he was, and how he really felt about marrying me.  That the cost of marrying me was too much for him.  He said he hates how his life has changed, and I did not know this!   How could I not know how unhappy he was?.”

His voice shook, when he asked Hilda, “What do I do?  I love him, and do not know what to do…”  And she held him, again, as he wept.

“Oh, love; no wonder the two of you are worn to rags!  On top of what Tilda’s going through, too?”  She hugged him tighter, “That's too much for anybody, King or no.” 

“But he was right, Hilda.  I am too used to getting my own way.  I did not wait even a day or two, after the Battle, before I pushed him into Kingship!  I pushed him into everything!  We were married too soon, Hilda, and it was wrong of me to allow that to happen!  I should have made Bard take more time, to make sure this was what he really wanted.  He’s been alone for a long time - it was not real love for him; but just an infatuation…”

“Look, I know my Bard, and I know he loves you!  Every time you smile, he thinks the sun’s come out.  And, no, it’s not just sex.  Oh, don’t look at me like that…”  She smirked.  “My point is, Bard is plenty old enough, and smart enough to know the difference between infatuation and real, true love.  Anyone with eyes can see how much he adores you.”

Thranduil swallowed, but remained doubtful.  “I never wanted to hurt him by urging him to be a King, or by all the changes he’s going through.  I didn’t know what would happen to him; no one did…  He is in torment, and it is because of me…”.

His eyes closed and he began to cry again.  “I was so happy to not be alone anymore, and to have someone to love; I’ve been so blind – “

“Thranduil, that’s nonsense, and if you’d sit and think on it a while, you’d realize that.  Whatever he said to you had nothing to do with what was really hurting him, can you understand that?”

“But he said –“

“Look, love.  I don’t know how Elves do it, but sometimes, when Men get buried in their own troubles, they can’t even say why they hurt.”

Thranduil was too afraid to believe her; to get his hopes up, again.

 “Oh, lovey...  That boy’s so worn down from worrying about his people, wanting to be a good King, wanting to be a good husband and father, missing you all from Dale, worrying about Tilda...  And look, dealing with those sisters would slam anybody behind the knees, and knock them to the ground!  He was hurting and afraid, Thranduil.  He felt so bad inside, he was grabbing at anything to just get the hurt out!” 

“I want to believe you, but you should have seen him, out in the garden; Bard hates what I have done to him, and to his life.  I think all of this has made him realized that what he felt for me wasn’t real.”

She sighed, got up, and pulled the Elvenking to his feet.  “Maybe you’re right, or maybe I am.  What I do know, love, is that you’re in no shape to deal with anything, and I know you don't want the children to see you like this.”  She smiled reassuringly up at him.  “Now, come on.”

She took him by the hand and led him into the hallway, but when he tried to approach the doors to his chambers, she steered him in down the Hall.  “Oh, no you don’t.  You need some time apart from things, right now.”

As they walked she said, “Now, Galion and I will take care of everything.  He’s cancelled all your appointments, and sent word to the Healing Hall that you’ll be there tomorrow afternoon,to visit the guards.  We'll will watch over the kids and make sure they get their dinner, and get them to bed.  You are to do nothing but rest, until you can calm yourself, and get your bearings.  I don’t want to see your face until tomorrow, do you hear? 

She stopped in front of an empty guest suite, “There’s plenty of food and wine in there, along with a change of clothes.  I will stay the night with the children,” she grinned, “Under Esta’s supervision, of course.”

“But, what about Bard?”

“We’ve taken care of that, too; it’s all arranged.  He needs some time away just as badly as you do.  Once you two have had a breather, then you can get together and decide how to handle this.”

He kissed her hand.  “Thank you.  You are a treasure, Hilda.”

She reached her arms up to hug him, and told him, softly. “You just look after yourself.  No matter what happens, Thranduil, we all love you dearly, and that will never change. You won’t be getting rid of me so easily, so don’t worry about that.  Just try to calm down, and get some rest; things always seem different, after a decent night’s sleep.  After tomorrow, I'll help you work out what to do about this, yeah?”

He nodded at her through blurred eyes, and swallowed.  "Thank you..."  He managed to give her a weak smile and went into the room…

…to find Bard sitting in a chair by the fireplace.

 

 

ELVEN TRANSLATIONS:

Hervenn nîn – my husband

 

NOTES:

Bard did what was called a “Precordial thump” on Dior’s chest.  It is not a recommended procedure, and is no longer a part of CPR training.  It looks great in the movies, and it also sounds great in a story, which is why, on my version of Middle Earth, it works miracles.

Just don’t ever try that at home, kids; not without the proper supervision...

 

Chapter Text

The Woodland Realm, 19th of February, 2942, T.A.

 

Thranduil froze in place, with no idea what to do, and from the shocked and uncomfortable look on Bard's face, he didn’t either.

At last, he found his voice, which came out shakier than he’d like.  “I am sorry Bard.  I was told...  Hilda must have made a mistake.  I will go…”

He turned and dove towards the door, and when he opened it…

…there was Hilda, with her hands on her hips. Galion was right behind her, with his arms crossed, looking equally determined.

“There –“  Thranduil started to say.

“No; there is no mix-up.” 

“Did you – “

Aye, we set you up.”

“I shoul –“

 “No, you’re not going anywhere, and neither is Bard.”

“You sai…”

“I lied.”

“But…”

“No buts.”

“I do not –“

“Don’t care.”

“I cannot –“

“Yes, you can.”

“Please –“

Hilda let out an exasperated sigh. “You boys have got work this out, one way or another, and the longer you put it off, the worse it’s going to be.  So, turn right around, and get your arse back in there.  Neither one of you are allowed out, until noon tomorrow; is that clear?”

“But Hilda – “

“Oh, good!” Hilda clapped her hands together, merrily.  “So glad to see you boys understand!” She said with delighted sarcasm.  Then her face became severe and would brook no argument. “I meant what I said: neither one of you are to show your faces until tomorrow.  After lunch!”

And with that, she shoved the Elvenking backwards into the room, and gave him kind, but firm look.

“We love you both, very much,” she said.

Then she slammed the door in his face.

 

***************

 

Hilda closed her eyes, and slumped against the carved wooden door.  “Whew!”

“Do you think it will work?”  Galion murmured. 

“Stars, I hope so.   If it doesn’t, we’re going to spend the rest of our lives, picking up the pieces.  I don’t know about you, but it’s not something I want to be doing, when I’m old and grey.”

“You are not old, and even if your hair turns grey, you will still be a formidable woman.”  The Chief Aide of the Woodland Realm told her, with a smile.

“Oh, pish; I’ve no wish to be formidable.”

“You do not?”

“Course not," she said with a wink and a smile, "I want to be terrifying."

Galion couldn’t help it.  He began to laugh, and after such a stressful afternoon, it felt wonderful.  He nodded his head toward the door, where their Kings were.  “I hope we are doing the right thing, Hilda.”

“Me, too, to be honest.  I knew something was up with Bard, when he came out of the study yesterday; he just wasn’t himself. And then, this morning - Valar… I still can’t believe all that happened on the walkway - the look on Thranduil’s face, when he came in from the Garden, scared the shit out of me! Pardon my Black Speech.”

“He looked like a ghost.”  Galion shook his head.

“What did Bard look like, out there?”

“Just as bad as Thranduil.”

“Poor things.  I wish Percy was here; he always knew how to get Bard back on an even keel; especially after we lost Mattie.”

“Really?  What did he do?”

“When she died, Bard stuffed it all down, and got on with it, like Thranduil did.  But, my Pers could tell when things were getting the better of him, so he’d grab him by the scruff of his neck, and haul him out into the middle of the Lake.”

Galion considered this.  “Bard expects too much from himself.  He is not giving himself time enough to learn, nor is he allowing himself mistakes.”

“Aye; tell me something I don’t know.” She shook her head.  “We’re all going to have to work with him on that.  He’s always taken so much on his shoulders.  It’s a good quality, to be sure, but he needs to learn to forgive himself.”

“May I ask you something?”  Galion was curious.

“Of course, you can, dear.” 

“What did Percy do with Bard when they were on the Lake?”

“He made Bard talk about it, whether he liked it or not, so he could sort himself out.  Sometimes he’d would talk, other times be furious, and other times, just cry.  Percy would just sit there and listen, until Bard would wear himself out.  The first time Pers took him out though, he was so furious, he threatened to throw him out of the boat.  Percy tricked him, you see.”

“Tricked him?”

“Oh, aye!  You think Bard would go willingly, if he knew?”

“I suppose not.  Neither would Thranduil, so I am glad you handled him so well.”  Galion said.  “What happened, when Bard threatened Percy?”

“Percy got right back in his face.  He dared him to try it, and told him he’d be stranded out there if he did.” 

“What did Bard say to that?”

“It stopped him in his tracks.  Percy knew he needed to vent, but wasn’t going to let Bard say or do anything he’d regret; it would just bring guilt and shame on himself, and make things worse.”

“Percy is a wise man.”

“My Pers is a treasure, isn’t he?”  Hilda sighed.  “Stars I miss him.  Well, I think we can be on our way.  If either one of them were going to try to escape, I think they’d have done it, by now.  Did you remember the silencing spell?”

“Of course.”  Galion smiled, offered the lady his arm. 

Hilda smiled, and pushed herself off the door and took Galion’s arm, as they began to slowly walk toward the Royal Chambers.  “You’re no slouch, either, Galion.  You know our Thranduil inside and out.  That was a smart move, sending me in to talk to him. ‘

“It was a strategic move, My Lady.  Many years ago, I made the mistake of allowing Thranduil to pull rank and turn me away, when I knew he needed help.  You and your Percy had a much easier time with Bard.”

“Oh, you think so?”  Hilda huffed.

“May I remind you that Thranduil has dungeons?”

“Ah.” She nodded.  “Good point.  He wouldn’t do that, would he?” 

“Well, he wouldn’t dare do that with you.” Galion chuckled.  “I do know him like I know myself.  I’ve loved him, and taken care of him, since the day he was born, and I was not going to take a chance, today.  He was going to listen, or face your wrath.”

“Well-played, love!”  Hilda grinned.

“Thank you.  Although I would have liked to watch my King try order you to go away.”  He smiled down at her, and added.  “I knew you would do what was right, no matter how much he blustered and huffed.”

Hilda’s face fell.  “That’s just it, Galion; he wasn’t blustery at all.  He was… devastated.  It just broke my heart to see him like that. ”  She nudged him.  “That boy was like an abandoned child; and I could barely keep from crying, myself, he was so hurt.”

Galion patted her hand.  “Bard was the same way, when I found him in the garden.  He was heartsick. I managed to let him cry it out, and tried to calm him, as much as I could, but I do not know how much I really helped him.”

“The only ones who can really help, is each other, and I hope they find a way to see that, love.” She sighed. “This has just got to work, or we’re doomed here.”

“I am praying earnestly, for them and for all of us.”

When they stopped at the door to Thranduil’s chambers, Hilda turned to him, with a worried look.  “I don’t want the children to have any inkling of this.   If there’s bad news, then we’ll deal with it as it comes, but I don’t think they need to be upset, unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

“I agree.  What do we tell them?”

“Well, we won’t lie; we’ll just say that their Das got called away overnight for something important, that it’s King’s business, and no one can talk about it.”

“That is perfect.  I have promised Bard to take Sigrid aside and talk with her.  Perhaps you could help?”

“Aye.  She didn’t deserve that tongue-lashing, but she needs to understand where she went wrong.”

“I think she understands that now, but we will make sure she feels better about it.  The children will be late today.  Falarion made sure their ride will be long, to get them out of the way of the cleanup.  Daeron has taken charge of the other children in the indoor arena for some physical exercise.  The very young ones are with their mothers.”

“Good idea.  The exercise will do them a world of good.  Now, you and I have the Little Bean all to ourselves.”

“Let us hope tomorrow is better.”

Hilda patted his arm.  “We’ve done all we can, love. It’s up to them, now, and if those two can’t get out of their own way, there’s nothing to be done.”

Galion sighed, “No, there is not, but we shall wait, and hope, and look after our family, as best we can.”

Hilda turned to look at him, with a reassuring smile. “You’ll always have a friend in me, Galion, no matter what happens.”

“As will you, My Lady.”  He kissed her hand, and they went in to see Tilda, and wait for the other children.

As Galion followed his good friend into the King’s chambers, he resolved to send a message to Mithrandir, as soon as possible.  He had questions, about Bard's behavior, that urgently needed answers.  There was more at work here than just frustration and fear; he was sure of it.

Either way, insight from the Wizard would be needed, if Bard and Thranduil couldn’t overcome their problems.

 

***************

 

Thranduil stood frozen to the spot, blinking at the heavy wooden door for several minutes. 

Right at this moment, this was the last place on Middle Earth he wanted to be.  He did not want to face Bard, because doing so would take away almost everything that meant the world to him...  and he wasn’t ready for it.

He wasn’t ready to be left alone again...

He’d been so wrong!  If this was a true Elven marriage, this wouldn’t even be happening; nothing would break their bond, and his misunderstandings of Bard’s feelings would never have gotten this far. 

But it wasn’t a “real” Elven marriage, was it?  It was something completely different, and he had no idea whether their bond could be broken by force of will, or not.  He tried to look inside of himself, to see if he could feel Bard, but there was so much hurt and fear, he couldn’t feel anything else, right now.  What if their fëas had truly sundered? What if they had never truly joined?  Both could be true, from what Bard had said - he couldn’t even repeat Bard’s words in his mind, they were so painful and unexpected. 

How could he have been so blind, to Bard’s unhappiness? Why did he not know?

Thranduil was very tempted to just open the door and leave anyway, but he suspected Hilda and Galion were standing guard outside, preventing escape.

He heard no noise behind him, so Bard must hate this, too.

He sighed. 

He couldn’t stand here like this, forever.  

There were changes that would need to take place.  Valar, the thought of all that, squeezed his chest so hard he couldn’t breathe…   Of course, Bard would want to leave, and of course, he would want his children with him, in Dale.  So many details that were the business of ending a relationship. 

Oh, Valar… the children…

He had made such a mistake, and they will feel the worst of it.  Through his own selfishness and short-sightedness, he had wrought heartache on children he loved dearly.  How will he be able to live with that?

He swallowed down his anguish, sighed, then turned to go into the room.  He saw a tray on the side board, filled with food and a pitcher of wine.  He couldn’t even think about food, but he needed something to dull the ache.  He poured himself a glass, then went to sit in the other chair to look at the flames in the fireplace. 

He never looked up at Bard once.

Thranduil heard him heave a sigh, and listened, as he, too got up to pour himself a drink.  Even when Bard sat back down, he resolutely kept his eyes on the flames.  His insides were shaking so badly, he wondered why his teeth didn’t rattle.

“You look terrible.” Bard whispered. 

That was not what he expected to hear, and Thranduil looked over at him, before he could stop himself.

Bard was a mess.  He looked unkempt and his hair was all over the place.  His eyes were swollen and red, his face was splotchy, and streaked with dried tears.

“You do not look much better.”  Was the only response that came to him.

Again, the heavy silence fell between them, and seemed to go on endlessly.

Thranduil was still pretending to be engrossed in the flames, but he knew he could delay no longer.  A calm, businesslike approach would be the best way to get through the perdition to come.

He took a breath, to collect himself, then began. 

“Hilda is right, Bard.  We must come to some sort of arrangement, if only for the children’s sake.  Of course, you will never have to worry about your people, I am committed to help Dale in every way possible, as I have said many times and you have my Royal Seal on that.  I will continue to host and educate your people here, and make sure they are cared for, until the spring, and beyond.  Nothing will change, as far as any agreements between the Northern Kingdoms.  We cannot jeopardize the entire region, because you and I made an impulsive mistake.”

He could sense Bard stiffen, and heard his sharp intake of breath.  But he needed to finish this now, or he’d never be able to.

“I believe the children are better off and safer here, but if you want them with you, I will respect that, and I will not stand in your way.  Please believe me, if you allow them to remain, they will still receive all the love and care as before.  I would never hurt them.  Rhys, of course is my ward, so he must remain, until Alun sends for him.  If you choose to take the children – “  He had to stop and catch his breath. He disguised his anguish by taking a large swallow of wine. “I would very much like to make sure Tilda has everything she needs in Dale, if you will allow it.”

“Do you want me to leave, Thranduil?”  Bard’s voice was so quiet, it was barely audible.

Thranduil couldn’t respond.  It didn’t matter what he wanted, it only mattered what was right, and he wasn’t about to let Bard make another mistake, this time motivated by guilt.  He desperately wanted Bard to stay, but not because he felt bad about revealing how he truly felt.  Thranduil couldn’t live like that. To be with someone who didn’t really want him, who was only with him out of guilt or duty, or for the sake of the children, would be worse than all those years he spent alone.

 “I will make other accommodations for myself, so the children are not disrupted.  I think it will also be easier for Tilda to be in familiar surroundings until she is ready to be moved.  Please, take all the time you need, for their sake.  I will not pressure you.”

He heard the exhaustion and distress in Bard’s voice. “I’ll do whatever you want, Thranduil. I really don’t blame you, for hating me, right now.”

Still not looking at him, Thranduil ran his hands over his face.  “I simply did not know how you really felt, Bard.  You are right, in what you said; I pushed you into Kingship, and it was wrong of me.  You had no real chance to consider if that was what you wanted, and that was unfair.  I did not set out to manipulate you, but I realize that I did, and I am sorry.  I thought about what you said, and I understand why you feel trapped.  I…  never meant to -”  He took a drink, and did his best to stop his hands from shaking.

Bard just stared at the floor with his drink in his hand, saying nothing. 

Which said everything.

Another deep breath, then another, and he forced himself to go on.  “I am… sorry, for all the burdens thrust upon you in such a short time.  I should have seen how unhappy you were, and I did not, because it never occurred to me to really look, Bard.  I am so...so sorry about your difficulties and struggles since our marriage.  No one could predict what would happen to you, and for that reason alone, I should have insisted you take time to consider your decision.  Something like that should be thought through for months, even years, not the very night the choice was put before you.  I was selfish; I should have –“

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Bard put his face in his hand, Thranduil had to regroup, for a minute, before he could continue:

“We had been alone for many years; it was only natural to feel excitement and joy at physical closeness,  and I can see I read too much into it.  It was wrong of me to assume, without taking the time to be sure…”  His voice broke completely, but he managed to say, “I am sorry, Bard.  I do not want you to be unhappy, and I will do everything in my power to rectify my mistake.”

 He could not stop the tears, no matter how hard he tried, so he shielded his face and hid behind his fingers.  He looked down and studied his wineglass, and how the flames shone through vine and leaf pattern etched into the glass.  He made himself see how it reflected so beautifully on the dark, red wine.  He told himself how the swirl of colors was interesting, and that he should try to paint this, but, he knew he wouldn’t.  After this, he’d never be able to see these glasses again.

Still, in this moment, these moving, sparkling colors were all he had, and he studied the flames through the cut glass, so intensely it seemed like he was putting himself under a spell.  He had to: otherwise, he’d break down completely, and beg his husband to stay.  Pressuring Bard would only make him feel guilty, and he wouldn’t do that to either of them.  He had to find the courage to allow Bard to find peace, again.

His heart started to pound, and although he was doing his best not to show it, his chest began to rise and fall, rapidly, despite himself.

Do not react.  Show nothing.  Don’t make it hard for Bard.  Do not react.  Show nothing.  Do not react.  Show nothing.  Look at the flames… See how they dance through the glass… Do not react.  Show nothing… 

He was so busy repeating this mantra to himself, he didn’t notice Bard’s movements, or register that there were arms snaking about his waist, or that there was face now buried in the curve of his hip. 

The feel of warm trembling pulled him back into awareness.  Bard’s was crying, and if Thranduil thought his heart could not hurt more, he was wrong.

“Please Thranduil… I’m so sorry…  Gods, you have to believe me; I know I said some terrible things, and I hurt you and I’m so sorry.”

Thranduil took several deep breaths, and tried to stop him.  “I understand, Bard.  I know you do not wish to hurt me, but you were right to tell me the truth.” 

“No…no… don’t –“

“You were right, Bard.  I allowed my own feelings to push you into a life you might not have really wanted.  I never let you take the time to really think it over, did I?  I was selfish, and look what I’ve done to you!  I hurt you, and you are the last person in the world…”

Bard’s shoulders began to shake and Thranduil felt the arms tighten around him.  “Please; don’t send me away.  I hurt you, I know…  I made a mess of us, but… please, forgive me.  You have to forgive me, or I can’t...” the Bowman couldn’t speak anymore.

Thranduil closed his eyes in anguish.  “Oh, Bard… there is nothing to forgive.  I know you wish you felt differently.  I know you have tried hard to feel what you think is right for everyone, but you cannot hide the truth inside yourself.  Look what happened today!  You’ve been holding it in, and pretending, so you would not hurt my feelings, or upset the children.  You try so hard to be everything everyone wants you to be, but you must be true to yourself! You have that right.”

Bard’s shoulders were shaking with sobs, and his head was still hidden.  The warmth familiarity of Bard’s embrace threatened to crumble what little control he had left. He would miss him.  Stars…he would miss all of this…

“I will always be grateful that you wanted to spare me, but in the end, it come out anyway, did it not?  You must do what is necessary to be happy, and you must let go of your guilt.  You did the best you could; I know this.  We must think of the children, Bard. They do not deserve to have a father who is so miserable.”

Thranduil could barely understand Bard’s words, now, because they were coming out as sobs.  “I can’t... Please… I hurt you, and I’m so sorry…” he whimpered.  “Oh, gods… please…tell me you don’t hate me, after all I said…  I know I deserve it…. But I couldn’t survive it if…”    

Thranduil’s hands were trembling so badly, he barely managed to get his wineglass on the side table. They shook as they hovered over Bard’s head, and his fingers curled up for a moment, before he opened his fists, and finally allowed his fingers to rest among Bards beautiful black curls.

“Of course, I do not hate you, Bard.  I love you enough to let you go, if that is best.”

Bard whispered.  “Please… I’m sorry…  I’m so sorry…” he said, between sobs.

Thranduil eyes were still closed tightly.  “I know you feel guilty, but please; do not.  I know you do not want to go back to being alone, and neither do I, but that is not a good enough reason to stay with me, and be unhappy.  Bard, I cannot live like that, and I know you cannot, either.  We must have the courage to admit it and…” 

“No!  NO!” he cried.  “Don’t do this!”  Bard grabbed Thranduil’s hands and pressed them over his own heart, pushing into him to the point of pain, his words came out between uneven gasps.

“I… love you…  my life with you…  gods…  I love our family… and our home, but even if we didn’t have any of that, Thranduil…I would still love you.  You know me, Thranduil.  You know me!  It doesn’t matter what the Valar wanted… or what Mírelen or even Mattie wants us to do…. It doesn’t matter what the children want, either… All that matters,” Bard sobbed, and pushed into his chest again, and squeezed his hands.  “all I know, is that… I love you, with all my heart, Thranduil...  You are my home.  My h-home is here!” He pushed into Thranduil’s chest again. “Please… tell me I didn’t lose you...  I’d have n-nothing left!  Nothing!  Bloody fuck, I made this such a mess!”

Bard’s words were frantic, hysterical.  “I can’t go back to being alone,” he gasped a few times, “...I can’t have any kind of life if you d-don’t want me anymore...  Tell me you still feel me!  Please, tell me it’s not too late.  Tell me I didn’t ruin us.  Oh, gods…”

“Bard…”  Thranduil opened his eyes, and for the first time since they were in the garden, they really looked into each other’s eyes.  Bard’s tear-streaked face was pale from guilt, torment and fear, but he could also see something else…

Bard squeezed his hands again, and begged him, as he pushed into Thranduil’s heart, and he could barely gasp out the frenzied words, as he begged.  “Please... t-tell me I’m still… in there…  you have to still feel me!  I don’t know what to do…  tell me what to do… help me, please… Oh, Valar, please, please love me…  You have to love me, or I c-can’t…”

Bard couldn’t talk anymore.  He lowered his head again and curled into himself as his body was racked with his sobs, and he gripped Thranduil’s hands so hard, they were crushing his fingers.

It hurt, he didn’t care. 

Bard could break every single bone in them, and the Elvenking wouldn’t care, because finally, the walls he’d been hiding behind like a wounded animal, fell down in the face of all that Bard was saying, and by the agony and earnest emotion on his husband’s face.

Before he knew it, he was off the chair, and kneeling on the rug, as they buried each other in a tight, warm, cocoon of arms, tears, kisses, and forgiveness.  They stayed that way for a long, long time, holding each other and crying from relief.

“I l-love you s-so…”  Bard tried to talk, but couldn’t catch his breath, so Thranduil just held him and rubbed his back.

“I love you, too, Bard.  I don’t ever want you to be unhappy.”

“No…” Bard said, as he panted.  “I know w-what I said… I didn’t m-mean it, love.  I really didn’t.  This is all my f-fault… I don't know why I-I...”  Bard hung on to him desperately, as he began to gasp and cry again.

“Please, Bard… Shhh...  Do not cry.  It will be all right…”   Thranduil began to rock him. 

“I h-hurt you.  I’m s-sorry… I…” Bard’s breathing became worse and he couldn’t catch his breath.

“Shh…  Just breathe, Meleth nîn.” Thranduil spoke softly, hoping to calm him down. “Just let me hold you, and breathe.  We need to talk about this, but, first, you must calm yourself.”  The shoulder of his tunic was soaked with tears, and Bard bunched the fabric in his tunic and shook with sobs for what seemed like ages.  Thranduil whispered comfort to him, and kept soothing him, until finally, his Bowman could take full, deep breaths again.  For a long time, he just rested, with his head on Thranduil’s shoulder, and concentrated on breathing normally.

At last, Bard lifted his head, and began to wipe his eyes on his sleeve.  When Thranduil reached in his pocket to hand his handkerchief over, and despite his upset, Bard burst into laughter.  When he got out another one to wipe his own face, they both did. 

“How many of these damned things do you own?” Bard asked, with a raspy, hoarse voice. 

Thranduil smiled through his own tears. “Galion thinks I give too many away; he has taken to putting one in every pocket.”

“Oh, bless him.”  Bard wiped his face off.  “We do need to talk about it - you’re right.  But I need some water first.  My throat hurts, and I feel so…limp.”

“Of course.” He got up and brought Bard to his feet. “Come, and remove your boots.” Thranduil settled him on the bed, before he fetched the food and drinks and sat beside him.  They both drank a couple of glasses of water, before he’d let Bard have more wine.

“Do you feel more comfortable?  Would you like something to eat?”

“I don’t think I can eat right now; maybe later.”

Thranduil held him, and ran his fingers ran through the thick, dark curls against his chest, as he rested his cheek on Bard’s head.  He waited in silence, to let Bard speak in his own time.

“It’s been a whirlwind, and I’ve been running myself ragged to keep up,” Bard began, quietly. “Knowing you and falling in love with is wonderful - don’t ever doubt that.  But it’s all the rest of it, Thranduil! I was overwhelmed, and I just... lost my way...”  Bard looked up at him. “I’m so sorry.  I could say it a million times, and it wouldn’t be enough.” 

“I understand, Bard; you’ve done well, and I am proud of you.  I really am.  You are the strongest person I know.”

“I don’t feel strong; I feel… unworthy, and... I don't know... buried alive, sometimes.”  Bard wiped his eyes again.  “But don’t ever, ever think you’re a part of that burden.  Please.  I was wrong to let you think that, even for a second.” His eyes began to fill, again.  “I was horrible to you…”

Thranduil stroked his hair.  “I could see the anguish in you; I could feel it.  Please, tell me what to do, so I can help you.”

“I wanted to be King; you didn’t push me!  You didn’t!  I want to help my people, and make Dale the best it can be.  It’s just... all so new; everything is so new, and there’s nothing to be done about it, except keep on keeping on.  It would be a hundred times harder, if I didn’t have you, or Hilda and Percy, or Galion…  But I would still do it, even if I was on my own.  You believe me, don’t you?”

“I do.  I also know you cannot do it alone, Bard.  No King can do it alone.  I am always happy to support you, you know that.”

Bard said nothing, but sighed.

Thranduil gave him a reassuring smile, then said, “I know Tilda’s illness hurts us both.  And there are times that telling ourselves to keep going does not help, does it?” Thranduil sighed.  “It is agony to see our little girl so unwell, and I think there will be many moments when that struggle will be too much.” 

“I hate that you’re right about that.”  Bard sighed, and leaned his head into Thranduil’s shoulder.

Thranduil kissed his hair.  “I also know that you have had your first experience at passing judgement as King.  That will never be easy, Bard, but you were faced with a heartbreaking circumstance.  You did well, but I could see it was haunting you, and I am sorry for it.”

“It will haunt me, for a long time.  That scene on the walkway was my fault…”  Bard’s voice began to wobble again.

“Why do you say this, Meleth nîn?  You could not have known what would happen!”

“Because it’s true, Thranduil. When I saw guards and all that blood, I knew I’d made a mistake and now someone’s dead!”

“No, Bard…”

“Yes!  I was the one who asked you to treat those two women with kindness and patience, didn’t I?  I had this…stupid, naive idea that we could somehow rehabilitate them.  I asked you to give them the benefit of the doubt, and look what happened:  she nearly killed two of your Guards, and one of them was your friend!  I fucked up, Thranduil!”

“Bard, you could not have known what would happen!  If anything, I should bear the blame, too.  When she appeared calm and submissive in my office, I sensed it was false, but I said nothing!  I should have alerted Dior of my suspicions, but I did not.  Still Dior and Elion were careful, alert, and they always check for hidden weapons.  Please, Meleth nîn; just as we must lay the guilt at Ioan’s feet for the pain he inflicted on his daughters, so we must lay this blame at Iola’s feet.   She fooled us all, do you not understand that?  She is the only one at fault.”

“She would never have had a chance to even make that weapon, if I hadn’t ordered them to back off-“

“Bard, stop this!” Thranduil shook him, gently.  “Look at me!" He took Bard's face in his hands, and stared intensely into his eyes. "Regardless of what was done or not done, we were all deceived.  It is not a matter of blame; you cannot do this to yourself!  Are you not the one who says never to play ‘what ifs?’  Your father called it ‘shoulding all over yourself?’  You are a King, yes, but you are first a Man, and there will be times when the best you can possibly do will not be good enough. You must accept this!”

Bard struggled to consider this.  “What do you do, when you make a mistake as King?  Do you even make mistakes?”

“Yes, Bard, I do!   Many times!  Sometimes those errors cost lives, and that will always haunt me.   It is part of the burden of Kingship, though I wish I could tell you it were not so.  

“Bard, you are a strong man, and a strong King, because you strive to do what is right in all things.  Yet you will make mistakes; sometimes small, sometimes huge and terrible.  You will feel inadequate, weak, and unworthy, but you must never let that stop you from moving on and doing right by your people.  Please, please, Meleth nîn.  You must find a way to get past this, or you will destroy yourself, and all you love.”

He felt a sigh, then heard his Bowman’s tired voice.  “You’re right.  Galion told me I expect too much of myself.”

“He was right.  He has always supported me, when I felt I was drowning, or when I felt guilt over a misjudgment.  Now, we both are fortunate, because we have each other, and our family.  We do not have to bear these burdens alone, Meleth nîn.”

“I can’t believe I took it all out on you!  You want to know the worst part?  After all those terrible things I said, it didn’t even touch what was going on inside.  Does that make sense?”

“It does. Perhaps you could not understand what you were really thinking or feeling until you flung it all out in front of you.  I have done this, too, and should have seen that for what it was.”

“But I wasn’t just trying to figure things out, I was angry, and I was trying to hurt you, too!  That’s the truth of it…”  Bard choked up.  “I felt so bad, and I wanted to hurt anybody or anything in my path, until they were in as much pain as I was!   You’re the one person in this world I’d never want to hurt, and because I know you so well, I knew just what to say to rip you apart!  It was like this… thing in me was choking me, trying to get out, no matter what the cost!”  Bard swallowed, a few times, and had to wipe his eyes again.  “You’ve never purposely set out to hurt somebody you love!”

“What makes you believe that?” Thranduil gave his Bowman an incredulous look.  “Of course, I have!  You are not the only person who has said and done unforgivable things, Bard!”

“What do you mean?”

Thranduil sighed, and rubbed his forehead.  “I know I told you about Tauriel confronting me during the Battle, and of course you know she raised her weapon to me.  But do you know the things I said to her?  I treated my own daughter like she was insignificant!  When I realized that Legolas had feelings for her, I told her that she was inferior, because she was Silvan, and not good enough for my son!  I let her think I didn’t care about her at all, because I was afraid my son would get hurt. Would you ever do that?

“When she was desperate for me to save the one she loved, I raised my own sword to her throat, and let her think I was ready to strike her down!” The Elf winced at the memory.  “Bard, what you said and did was unfounded and meant to cause hurt.  What you said was born from the things you feared most, but have you ever raised a weapon to your own child?  Have you?”

Bard just looked at him in shock.

Thranduil swallowed.  “I will play those scenes in my head over and over for the rest of my existence!  I will never forget the look on my Tauriel’s face when the point of my sword was at her jugular, or the angry...” his voice broke, “disgusted look on Legolas’s face when he had to rescue her.  Did any of your children fear for their lives around you? ”

Bard still couldn't find anything to say.

"When I lost my temper with Ina about Rhys's bruises, when the woman cowered and raised her arms to protect herself, she had the same look of terror on her face as my own daughter did!”

“But that was—“

”No, Bard, it is not different!  You and I must always struggle to forgive ourselves, do you not see?  It is one thing to hate what you did; I understand that, but if you use your mistakes as an excuse to hate yourself, and punish yourself for the rest of your days, it will destroy any chance we have to be happy!”

He had to stop for a moment and collect himself, before said in a rough voice.  “Meleth nîn, you cannot make the mistake of thinking you must be infallible! If we are going to have a successful marriage, we must understand that neither of us is perfect, and we have many flaws.  Some are small, and some are glaring chasms in our character.  But all we can do is our best, for ourselves and each other.  The same is true for Kingship.  Do your best, Bard, always, but when you make a mistake, you must forgive yourself; we must forgive each other.  Always."

“You’re right.” Bard sighed and held him tighter.  “Looks like we’re both arseholes.”

“We are.” Was Thranduil’s whispered response.  ‘Arseholes’ with crowns.”

“Speak for yourself.  I haven’t been crowned, yet.”

Despite his smile, Thranduil had to ask, “Was there any truth in your words, about hating the way your body works now?”

Bard sighed.  “Yes and no, and really, it’s my own fault.  I’ve been working hard with Feren to learn control and a new way of doing things.   Yes, losing my archery skills was a huge blow, but Feren promises it will come back better than ever.  Problem is, I’m too impatient; I want it now, and told myself I had to, because I have too much to do as a King.  It eats at me, that I can’t lead my people in battle, right now.”

“Has Feren seen your frustration?”

Thranduil heard a laugh.  “Trust me, Feren knows how fed up I get with it. But he’s a good friend, and just lets me walk it off, then we get back to work.  He wants me to stop pressuring myself, too.”

“He is right.  Why did you not tell me all this?  I would have also encouraged you, I want to know about everything that upsets and frustrates you.”

“Well, firstly, I was afraid you’d think I regretted marrying you, which, when you found out, that’s exactly what you thought, and second…”  Bard hesitated.  “Don’t laugh…”

“Why would I laugh?”

“I don’t like the idea of you seeing me so… awkward.  I like to impress you.  It’s stupid pride, I know, but I love the way you look at me when you’re all turned on, and want to jump my bones, right then and there.”

Thranduil laughed softly.  “I suppose I would feel the same.  So, we know that, of course, our daughter’s illness is bearing down on you, and adjusting to Kingship and your new life, also weighs you down.  We also know that you have unrealistic expectations for yourself, which you need to let go of.  But, Bard, you have been especially anguished, since you’ve dealt with the sisters; I have seen it and it has worried me.  Can you tell me what is so wrong?  I think that is also a big reason behind your anger and upset.”

Bard sat silent for a minute or two, then began.  “Those sisters were sitting in front of me, and…  it seemed so unfair.  The Valar intervened for you and me, so we could be together; why didn’t they intervene for them?  I don’t understand it, and I can’t… I don’t know how to accept it. 

“It terrifies me, that good people live with such suffering their entire lives, and die just as hopeless. How am I supposed to have faith in anything, if that is true?  Now, everything feels different, and I don’t know what to do.”

“Did you even know such situations existed before this?”

“Yes, and even when Alun told me, I didn’t let it register.  It was always one of those things that you push out of your mind, but yesterday, I was slammed into it, and it just...”

As Thranduil continued to stroke his hair, Bard’s words continued to pour out of him. 

“When I saw what happened this morning… something just… broke inside.  I felt like I had caused it, and it pushed me to a place I don’t even recognize.  Facing the Dragon, and all those Orcs was easier, if you can believe it; it’s easy to know who the enemy is.  But here was Ina, who’d had all the happiness and faith in herself beaten out of her.  Then Alwyn gave her a chance at happiness, but it, too, was taken away!  Why didn’t the Valar see fit to help her, when they’ve done so much to help us?  Do they love us more than her?

“Iola was so much worse, because her own reality was a lie!  She didn’t have the ability to understand the truth, because she couldn’t even tell what it was!  What do I do with that?  What can any of us do, Thranduil, if our worst enemy is ourselves?  That scares me, down to my bones, because, I can’t help but think, what if that happens to me?  Or one of the children?”

“Oh, Meleth nîn…”  He held Bard even closer, and kissed his head.  “These are frightening things to contemplate.”

“I feel helpless, in the worst way.  I can never keep my children completely safe.  I can never completely protect my people; I can’t do it.  I don’t know how to get past how much that hurts.”

“I am familiar with that feeling.  We love that illusion, do we not?  We tell ourselves we can fully protect ourselves, and those we love.  Everyone has that lie in them, and everyone relies on it.”  

“How so?”

“Well, we cling to it, because it gives us courage to carry on, in the face of any danger.  But there are terrible days, Meleth nîn, when that lie is ripped from our eyes, and we are left feeling naked and trembling with fear.”

Bard shook his head.  “Any other day, I might not have blown up like I did.”

“That is also true, Bard.  We get triggered by things, often unexpectedly, and it is never easy, especially as Kings, although I wish it were not so.”

 Bard sighed again, and hugged him, a little tighter.  “I must have felt like a stranger to you, in the Garden.  I felt like a stranger to myself.” He blew out a breath.  “And Sigrid…”

“I know you feel terrible, but you were not completely wrong, Bard.  She should not have left the Dining Hall.   She ignored her guards, then her Auntie Hil, when she tried to call her back.  She put herself in danger by doing so.  When you told her to leave, she argued with you, her King, which she should never, ever do.” 

“Aye, your right, but I was already out of control, and that’s on me.”

“Yes, you were, but you will work it out with her.  Hers was a misguided impulse to be sure, but her desire to be of help speaks to her excellent qualities.  Sigrid will learn wisdom and temperance over time.”  Thranduil laughed.  “Just like her fathers.”

“When I saw her there, I just… ”

“Ah.  You do not like the idea of our children out in a dangerous world, either.”

“Not today.  I mean, I’ll never be happy about it, but today, I needed to her away from that; I felt like I had caused it, and if Sigrid came anywhere near it…”

“Have you spoken with her, yet?”

“Galion promised he’d talk to her.  I couldn’t face her, or anyone, really.  I felt like you and me…” Bard rubbed his chest.  “I couldn’t feel you, and I thought I broke us.”  He had to stop and take a breath.

“But you did not break us.  We did not break us.”

“We just hid from each other for a little while.”

“You are right.  I am good at putting up walls to protect myself.”  Thranduil kissed his hair.  “One of my many flaws.”

“Maybe I was hiding too, behind my guilt and fear.”

Thranduil smiled.  “And while we were hiding, it would seem Galion and Hilda formed a ‘battle plan,’ of sorts?”

He felt Bard chuckle against his chest.  “Galion told me I needed time alone, to calm down and rest, and assured me I ‘wouldn’t be disturbed.’”  He snorted.

“Hilda said the same, to me.”  Thranduil sighed.  “I hate that she is always right!  Even when she is wrong, she always ends up being right!”

“It’s annoying; I admit.  I’ve no doubt all this was Hilda’s idea,” Bard snickered, “but they saved us, love.”

“I think so, too.”  Thranduil smiled, and kissed his hair.  “I wish you could have seen those two, when I opened the door to leave, Bard.”

“I heard her.  There’s no arguing with that tone of voice.  Galion was there, too?”

“Oh, yes!  She is a bad influence on him, but I think I like it.”

“Galion told me about your Mam’s temper.”

“Oh?”

“Seems she didn’t like being yelled at, either.  I suppose I’m lucky you didn’t try to break anything over my head.”

Thranduil laughed.  “I forgot about that story.”

“He also said your parents adored each other.”

“They did.  They were wonderful parents.” The Elf sighed.  “I hope they have found their way back to each other.  Just as I hope your parents are together again.”

 “Will our lives always be this tumultuous?” Bard wondered.

Thranduil chuckled as he stroked his husband’s hair.  “We are fathers, and we are Kings, Meleth nîn; it is hard to say which will cause more chaos.  But, I do not think we will always have a difficult time with things. We have only been together for a brief time, and do not know one another very well, yet.”

“I never thought about it that way, but it’s true.  I feel a part of you, but there’s a lot about you I honestly don’t know.”

“We will learn more about each other and better ways to respond; I am sure of it.”

Bard lifted his head up, and looked into his eyes.  “I know we married fast, but don’t ever think I regret it.  I’ll never be able to tell you how sorry I am, for making you think I did.  I’d marry you and join with you again, a thousand times over.  We belong to each other, Thranduil, and I’ll never let anything come between us like that, again; I promise.”

He looked down into Bard’s face, and stroked his cheek with his knuckles.  “Thank you, Meleth nîn.”

 Bard sighed, and settled into his chest. “I’m too tired to eat, but I think we should.  I lost my breakfast over the railing, and I haven’t eaten, since.”

Thrandiul sat up and grabbed the tray, and some napkins.  “Then we shall eat, and then we will to try to rest.”

They fed each other a decent meal, and then took off their clothes and crawled into bed, to wrap themselves around each other.

“I love you so much, Thranduil.”

Thranduil held Bard’s face in his hands, and looked into his lovely, warm hazel eyes. “Bard, I will never stop loving you.  You are my forever, and I am yours." 

Then he kissed him.  It was deep and heartfelt.  This was a kiss from the purest, deepest part of him, and when Bard responded in kind, their wounded and weary spirits began to heal.

They lay facing each other, holding hands between them, and looked into each other’s eyes for a long time, until they finally closed, and they drifted off to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

  

The Woodland Realm; 19th of February, 2942 T.A.

Bard woke up that evening with a sigh of satisfaction.  Since he’d come back to the Palace, he and Thranduil hadn’t had a chance to sleep in the nude, and he loved how warm and cocooned he felt, wrapped in his Elf’s arms.  Humming softly, he snuggled in, for a moment or two more.

As he began to blink into awareness, he felt a little confused.  This wasn’t their bedroom.  He automatically glanced to his left, where the door to the nursery –

—wasn’t there. Bard blinked a few times.  Thranduil was here; he had just shifted and moved his hand to rest in Bard’s hair...

Then, in an instant, the memories of the last thirty hours crashed into him, and he grabbed his middle, and curled into a ball, as a wave of anxiety turned his insides into knots.

“Bard?  Are you well?”  The Elvenking’s long arms reached for him and brought him back, against him.  “What is it,?” His voice was rough with sleep.

Bard sunk into him, and brought his breathing back under control.

“Did you have a nightmare?” 

“No.  I just… woke up and remembered everything.”

He felt several kisses in his hair.  “All that matters, is that we are here, and we are better, Meleth nîn.” 

Bard draped his arm around Thranduil’s middle, and listened to the sound of his heartbeat.  “I made you stop believing in us.”  

“And yet, here we are.”

“Thank Ulmo and all the Valar.”  Bard couldn’t stop the tears that filled his eyes.  “I love you so much.”

Thranduil stretched, and roll over to face him.  His pale face looked better, the swelling around his eyes was almost gone, and there was only a touch of redness.  The dullness had left his eyes, had now sparkled a clear, grey-blue.  His long, smooth fingers stroked through Bard’s hair, before he leaned over to kiss him.

He thought he might never again taste those lips; or feel Thranduil’s tongue seek entrance and explore his mouth.  Bard couldn’t stop himself from burying his fingers in his hair, and he whimpered as their kiss deepened.  He felt Thranduil’s hand on his back, then move down to his hip, then lift Bard’s leg and drape it over him.

“I want you, Meleth nîn.” He breathed.

Urgency and desire began to replace the worry, but suddenly Bard hesitated; he couldn’t help it, and shame washed over him, again.

“What is it, Bard?”

“I…” his throat tightened.  “I don't know if I can.  I hurt you, and...”

Thranduil held Bard's face in his hands and wiped his tears with his thumbs.  “We hurt each other, BardYes, you lost control and said things you wish you could take back, but I did wrong, too. I should have had more faith in us, and I did not!  I am ashamed, at how little it took for me to believe you did not love me.  Do you not see that?  We were both lost for a moment, but we found each other again.  That is all that matters.”

Bard swallowed, and rested his hand on Thranduil’s cheek, and swallowed.  “Are you sure?”

The Elf smiled at him, and kissed him again, and it was even better than the first one. 

Bard moaned softly.  “I admit, it feels good to be doing this in a real bed, and not a couch, or the floor, or a desk, or against a wall…”

Thranduil chuckled. “It does feel wonderful.  I have missed the feel of all your skin, against mine.”  He kissed Bard with fervor, pushing his tongue past Bard’s teeth, and soon they were exploring each other’s mouths, as their hands explored each other’s bodies.

They were hot, heavy, and hard, when a thought occurred to Bard, and he pulled back, “Um… Aren’t we going to need…”

“You are right.”  Thranduil sat up and opened the drawer of the bedside table, and cursed.  “Nothing.  I’m sure there is something in the bath…” and made to get out of bed.

“Wait, hang on…” Bard looked in the table by his side of the bed, and pulled out the oil of lavender and several small towels. 

Thranduil smiled.  “Galion was optimistic.”

“Maybe Hilda put it there.”

Thranduil’s eyes widened with horror.  “Do not say that Bard!  Do you honestly think I could puith you, if Hilda put it there?  I doubt my gwîb could ever get hard again!”

“Gb?” Bard raised his eyebrows, and snickered. “Does that mean what I think it means?”

“It means exactly what you think it means, and you will never enjoy it again, if Hilda has put herself in charge of…that.”  The Elf shuddered.

“Ah.  Wasn’t Galion was considerate, then?”

“Yes, he was.”  Thranduil had a glint in his eye, and crawled toward him.

Before Bard knew it, Thranduil had him pinned underneath him, kissing him, as he rubbed their hips together. 

Bard could feel the rush of desire pushed all other thoughts away.  “Oh… fuck...”  he moaned.

“You feel so good, Meleth nîn.  You feel perfect.”  Thranduil kissed his way down to take one of Bard’s nipples in his mouth, and bit it, causing him to gasp, and thrust his hips up, again. 

Then there were lips on Bard’s cock and he was engulfed in wet heat, with fingers playing with this opening. 

“Please, love… I need you in me.  Please…”

Soon a finger was inserted and was stroking his insides, and the heat began to radiate.  Bard threw his head back and groaned, and he closed his eyes to feel everything… 

“No, Bard.  Please, Meleth nîn, I need you to look at me.   I need to see your eyes, now.”

He opened them, and there was the sea of grey-blue he loved so much.  They were searching Bard’s in earnest, looking for reassurance.  Bard pulled Thranduil down and kissed him, hard. 

When Thranduil began to enter him slowly, they both cried out.  They were together; they were home.  Thranduil began to slowly move in him, and Bard pulled his knees up and wrapped his legs around him, they never took their eyes off each other, riveted to each other’s gaze.  Their eyes were joining them together, every bit as strongly as their bodies.  Stronger, even.  It is easy to find joy in aroused bodies, but they both needed the joy from their bond, from the soul they shared.

Thranduil went down on his elbows, and brought his face closer, as he thrust into him.  “I need you, Bard…”

“I need you, too…” Bard panted. 

“Please… Bard, I need you… please.”  There was a desperate tone in the Elf’s voice. “Ni melig, Bard?  Ni melithog n'uir?”

Bard didn’t need to wonder what Thranduil had said.  He saw the grey eyes change, and he could feel the painful wave from their near-parting wash over him. 

"Please love me, Bard..."  The Elf buried his face in Bard's neck and sobbed. "Please love me... I -“

He grabbed Thranduil’s tearful face.  “Look at me,” he panted.  “I love you. I want you to say it."

“I love you…”  The Elf said, with heavy breaths.

 “No, darling; tell me that I love you.  ‘You love me.’ Say it!”

“You love me.”  Thranduil said and thrust in again. 

“Say it again, love.” Bard tightened his legs around him, and pulled him in tighter.  They both moaned, when Thranduil hit his prostate, sending a wave of pleasure through them.  

“You love me…” 

“It’s true, Thranduil.  It’s all there, in me.  Do you see it?”  Bard whispered, and their pace quickened.  He ran his hands over Thranduil’s chest and he rubbed and pinched Thranduil’s nipples.  “I love you so much..."

“You love me.” 

“Yes, I do." Bard's voice wavered as emotion washed over him. "I need you, love; you're part of me, and I can't...  I love everything about you.  Can you feel it?”

“Bard…” He sobbed, as the tears fell. “Oh, Meleth...”

“Your heart is safe with me.  It will always be safe with me.  Tell me you see it.”

 Thranduil couldn't stop the tears.  “You love me.”

Bard wiped Thranduil's eyes, and sunk his fingers in his long, icy hair, and brought their foreheads together.  “Look at me, love.  Tell me again. Say it, Thranduil.  Say it until you know it in the deepest part of you, until you never doubt me, again.  I love you so much.”

“You love me…  Oh, Bard…”  Thranduil was crying softly.  “You love me… please, do not ever stop…   do not ever leave me…”

Bard reached for his cock and began to pump his hand up and down, in time with Thranduil’s cock in him, all the while keeping his eyes on that sea of grey blue.  “Tell me,” he panted. “Tell us.  Tell us how much we love each other.”

“You love me…” As Thranduil said it, the Bard could feel the fear and doubt begin to loosen from his heart, and Bard felt the peace return. 

“You love me…”

Bard gasped as the first waves of his orgasm began to wash over him, “…  You feel me, don’t you?  You… aaaah!  Oh, stars… I love you, Thranduil…tell me you feel me…”

Thranduil’s eyes were so dark there was hardly any blue left, and as he came inside Bard.  “Ma!  A, ma…”  he sobbed from joy and relief.  Then the Elf sank down and buried his face in his neck while Bard wrapped his arms and legs tight around him and cradled him tight, as he waited for his husband to stop trembling.

 

Later, they lay facing each other, not saying much.  Thranduil had taken Bard’s hand and placed over his heart, as if the physical touch would keep Bard from ever trying to escape again. “I feel you in here, Bard,” he whispered softly.

”And you always will, I promise.”

Thranduil squeezed his fingers tight, and pressed his hand into his chest even more, much like Bard himself had done earlier.

It hurt a little, but Bard was fine with that.  If this was what it took to help Thranduil, he’d do it.   He’d do anything to wash away the hurt he caused, in the garden.  Or the agony in his eyes when he shrank from Bard’s touch.  Bard would let his Elf do anything and everything he had to.

He sighed, as he stroked Thranduil’s face. “Oh, love…  I’ve been so selfish, even now.”

“How so, Bard?”

“I was so wrapped up in myself, I didn’t see how badly everything affected you, too.  Dior was your friend; he almost died, yet all you were thinking about was me!”  Bard closed his eyes from the shame.  “I acted like a complete and utter arse, and even then, even then, you tried to do the right thing by me, when you thought I didn’t want to be with you anymore!  And, after we made up, it was you that held me, wanted to help me, when you were dying inside; you were so hurt...  I’m so sorry, love; if I need to say it a thousand times, I'll do it.”

Thranduil didn’t respond, and his eyes were still riveted to Bard’s, but they spilled over with silent tears.  His Elf didn’t look away or say a word, but his eyes pleaded with Bard to never push him away, again, and Bard could feel Thranduil’s heart beat faster, and the grip on his fingers squeezed even tighter.  Bard understood something in that moment, something that his husband couldn’t put into words, and it sliced his heart.

Thranduil Oropherion was a wise and powerful King. 

He was among the best warriors in the entire history of Middle Earth. 

He was strong enough to mete out death sentences when it was truly warranted, and had often done the deed, himself. 

He could take on dozens of Orcs at a time, and dispense with every one of them, easily. 

He negotiated treaties, healed many wounds, oversaw the working of his entire Palace and was responsible for hundreds of thousands of Elves, dispersed throughout his vast Kingdom. 

He led the largest Elven Army on Middle Earth, and he and his people had fought the constant evil in his own land, for several millennia (and he did it without any special assistance from a Ring of Power, which garnered him a great deal of respect from those who secretly possessed them).

No one could be more courageous than the Elf lying beside him.

But here, in this bed, on this evening, this ancient, majestic creature was laid completely bare, in a way Bard had never seen before.  He was utterly vulnerable, and now Bard could see and feel just how deeply this Elf feared losing Bard’s love.

Bard knew then what would happen to Thranduil, if the terrible things Bard had said in the Garden had been true. 

Mírelen’s death had been devastating, and it had changed Thranduil forever, but at least he’d known his wife loved him, and hadn’t left by choice.  If Bard had truly rejected him - if he’d purposely left him alone, Thranduil would never survive it.  He would, indeed, fade.  And thanks to Bard’s temper, and his thoughtless words, Thranduil will suffer the aftershocks of this, for a long time to come, much like he suffered nightmares of the Dragon.

“Oh, love…oh no…”  It was Bard’s turn to comfort him.  “Come here.”  He gathered Thranduil to him, and whispered.  “Tell me how I can help you.  How can I help you feel better?  I love you so much…”

So here, in this bed, on this evening, as the sun went down, and the stars began to emerge in the night sky, Thranduil found comfort and safety in Bard’s arms, and his Bowman held him tight, until he stopped being afraid.

The bath in this guest suite was smaller than the Elvenking’s pool, but it was big enough for two, if Bard held him against his chest and wrapped his legs around him, which was fine, because that’s what he wanted to do anyway.  They lay there and enjoyed the hot water, and when it cooled they filled it up again.  It was wonderful to know they had hours ahead of them, and they didn’t have to be anywhere or see anyone.   They had this wonderful, languid time and space, to breathe, and be, think of nothing else but each other.

And they talked, and talked and talked.  They talked as Bard washed his husband’s body, and then his hair.  They talked while they dried off and combed out each other’s hair, while they ate a late supper, and after Bard put more wood on the fire, then crawled back in bed with Thranduil.  They talked as they lay naked in each other’s arms, just loving the feel of each other. 

They shared stories of big events and trivial things: what they liked or didn’t like, things they found sad, or funny, or joyful, or unbearable.  Things they were happy and excited about, and things that terrified them.  Things they hoped for themselves, and for their children, and grandc