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A Question of Duty  by daw the minstrel

1.  Arrival at Imladris

(October 22, 3018 TA)


Legolas picked his way carefully down the steep descent that led down from the western edge of the Misty Mountains.  Behind him, he heard his horse’s hooves slip slightly on the loose pebbles beneath his feet and then recover their hold.  The echo off the red rock walls rising on either side of them made it sound as if a rock slide was in progress.  He glanced back to see how his three companions were faring in the deep shadow of the cutting.  Amdir and Beliond seemed to be navigating the slope successfully, but Annael’s horse was struggling and he was whispering reassuringly into the animal’s ear.  Legolas paused to let Annael gentle the horse into proceeding.


“How much further?” asked Amdir irritably.  “Surely we should have met Imladris guards by now.  Or does Lord Elrond allow visitors simply to ride up to his house?”


Beliond smiled rather grimly at the young warrior’s incredulity.  The Woodland stronghold of their own King Thranduil was heavily protected from intruders, and any strangers would have seen the arrows of Wood-elf archers long before getting this close to it.  “They say that Lord Elrond has means other than warriors to guard his realm,” he told Amdir.  “Moreover,” he added, “that you have not seen the guards does not mean that there have been none.”


“Indeed,” agreed Legolas.  “We have almost certainly been under observation since we picked up the path leading down toward the valley.  I would say that Elrond’s people have been taking our measure and that we should be doing our best to look friendly. I believe that Lord Elrond is hospitable, but I would not want to irritate him or his warriors unnecessarily. The news we bring is unhappy enough already.”


Annael now approached them with his horse more steady on its feet, and Legolas turned back to lead his party around a bend. Suddenly, as at the end of a dark tunnel, an opening flooded with bright sunshine appeared.  And there, waiting for them, was what he had been expecting since they had crossed the High Pass.  Two Elves stood with the light at their back, undoubtedly able to see Legolas’s party far better than they themselves could be seen. They carried bows seemingly casually in their hands, but the bows were not armed with arrows, much less drawn, as the bows of Mirkwood guards would have been in similar circumstances. Legolas could not help but suspect, though, that these guards were not the only ones whose eyes were upon them. And the bows of the Mirkwood Elves were on their backs, not in their hands, making them innocuous looking enough.


“Mae govannen,” one of the guards hailed the Mirkwood Elves.


Next to Legolas, Amdir snorted. “He sounds as if he is holding his nose,” he muttered.  Legolas threw him a sharp glance and, not for the first time, wondered about his own wisdom in selecting Amdir to be part of this mission.  Truth be told, he too found the guard’s accent a bit pretentious, but he was not about to encourage Amdir’s prejudices concerning the Imladris Elves.


“Mae govannen,” Legolas called back. “We are emissaries from King Thranduil of the Woodland Realm come with a message for Lord Elrond.” 


“Approach,” the guard invited, and he and his companion waited until the horses of the Mirkwood party had scrambled down the last of the steep incline and gained solid footing in the grass beyond. 


Legolas introduced his three companions and then himself.  “I am Legolas, son of Thranduil,” he said and watched the guard’s eyes widen slightly.  Mirkwood Elves were a very rare sight away from the forest of their home, and a son of the Woodland king would be a completely unexpected visitor.


The guard inclined his head slightly. “My lord,” he said, “you have a message for Lord Elrond?”


“Yes, one I must deliver to him personally,” Legolas stressed, afraid that the guards would keep them from approaching any closer to Elrond’s house. Although it would be a relief to send his message through another, his father’s charge and his own honor required that he speak to Elrond himself.


The guard seemed to accept his assertion equably however. “Nórith will accompany you and show you the way,” he said.  “But first,” he hesitated slightly, “may I ask if you have seen anything unusual in the last two days?”


Legolas frowned.  “No,” he said. “Of what do you speak?”


The guard hesitated again and then shrugged.  “The night before last, Nazgûl attempted to cross the Ford of Bruinen but were swept away by the river.”


Shock swept through Legolas, and he heard one of his party (Annael, he thought) draw a sharp breath.  The Mirkwood Elves were only too well acquainted with the Nazgûl; they had lived in the shadow of Dol Guldur for too long.


“What were they doing here?” Legolas demanded.


“I will let Lord Elrond tell you that,” said the guard.  Then he turned and signaled to Nórith, who whistled softly, calling a bay horse from the dense trees that grew up to the edge of the cutting.  He mounted and motioned for the Wood-elves to mount too and follow as he led them along a path that would not have been discernible without their guide’s help.  Legolas hoped that they were nearing Imladris when valleys began to drop sharply away on either side of them.  As each new sheltered area appeared, he scanned it eagerly for signs of the waterfalls that he had been told created perpetual music in Elrond’s refuge.  Finally, they began to descend along a path that was narrow enough that they again had to dismount and lead their horses.  The scent of pine trees was heady in the air, and the murmur of falling water began to grow.  As they rounded a sharp bend, the House of Elrond appeared in front of them, surrounded by the houses of the people of Imladris.   They crossed a last bridge and stopped before a wide porch.


Legolas had to admit that he was a bit daunted by the house before him and indeed even by the lesser houses surrounding it.  It was not simply that Elrond’s house was large; Thranduil’s palace was large enough to serve as a refuge for his people should the occasion ever arise.  But Thranduil’s palace was in a cave carved from a hillside and thus was not visible from the outside.  And the Elves who lived near the palace lived in simple cottages or in even simpler shelters on flets in the trees.  Elrond’s house rose before him in a size that he found imposing. And in addition to that, the house and those around it were spectacularly beautiful.  Their stonework was so delicately devised that it looked like lace, and they were open to the trees and waterfalls around them.  Graceful towers rose above the tree tops, and balconies extended from the buildings, blurring the line between outside and inside.  And always, there were the waterfalls, running down the sides of the valley and leaping through its center.  Legolas had to consciously close his mouth to keep from gaping.


He glanced at his companions.  Annael and Amdir looked as overawed as Legolas felt.  Of the four of them, only Beliond had previously been to an Elven realm other than Mirkwood.  He was of Thranduil’s generation and had been to both Imladris and Lorien. He now was looking studiously unimpressed.


Legolas suddenly became aware that an Elf was waiting to take his horse.  Embarrassed to have been caught staring, he handed over his horse and allowed Nórith to lead them up the stairs and into the house.  He turned right toward the doors of what was evidently Elrond’s Great Hall, where a herald in a tunic richly threaded with silver waited to announce them. Nórith gave their names to the herald and then bowed slightly and left them.  The herald opened the doors and announced them, and a moment that Legolas had been unhappily anticipating for two months had arrived.


Straightening his back, he led his companions toward the other end of the room.  Legolas had only a moment to take in a dark-haired, noble Elf who was wearing a circlet of silver.  He placed his right hand over his heart, bowed, and then stood with his eyes cast respectfully downward, waiting politely for his host to speak first.


Elrond had been alerted that Elves clad in the green and brown of Mirkwood had come down the eastern path, but he had not realized until the herald announced them that one of them was the son of Thranduil.  He had recognized that Legolas must be that son the moment he had set eyes on him.  The blond hair that father and son shared was highly unusual among Wood-elves. Now he was disconcerted by his guests’ silence and their failure to meet his eyes.  With a jolt, he recalled his previous encounters with Mirkwood Elves, including the father and grandfather of the young Elf who stood before him.  He had learned through painful misunderstandings that politeness customs differed and now drew out that knowledge to use again.


“Mae govannen,” he said. “I welcome you to Imladris.”  Their eyes came up and met his.


“Mae govannen,” said Legolas.  “I bear a message for you from King Thranduil, my lord, one that I have been charged to deliver in private.”


Again, Elrond blinked at the abruptness.  There was indeed no doubt that these were Wood-elves, he thought in some amusement. “Of course,” he said and turned to ask an attendant to clear the room. At that moment, a messenger entered in breathless haste.


“Lord Elrond,” he said without waiting to be recognized. “You are needed quickly in the hobbit’s chamber.”


Elrond rose immediately.  “Forgive me,” he said to Legolas. “I must see to this at once. We will speak later.”  He turned to an attendant. “See to it that the Mirkwood warriors are made comfortable in the barracks, and prepare a guest room in the house for Lord Legolas.  All of you, please join us in the Hall for evening meal.”  With that, he swept from the room, leaving the Mirkwood Elves startled by what they took to be an unseemly lack of interest in their news. Surely asking for privacy had given sufficient signal of the importance of their mission.  They exchanged glances, but Legolas only shrugged and gestured in the direction of the attendant who was now waiting to show the warriors to their quarters.


Legolas allowed himself to be led along several long corridors and up a stairway to a guest chamber that was unlike any room in which he had ever stayed before.  The exterior “walls” were almost non-existent, being completely open to a balcony, with a curtain ready to be drawn across them when the room’s inhabitant desired privacy.  The bed was huge, with silken hangings that drifted like gossamer in the breeze from the balcony.  Staying in the room, he reflected, would be rather like staying on a flet that had been furnished with unheard of opulence.  He stepped out on to the balcony and had barely had time to be struck once again by the omnipresence of falling water before a servant brought his packs into the room.  The servant offered to put his things away, but Legolas dismissed him, more desirous of being alone than anything else.


Exploring further, he found that a door discreetly set in one wall led to a bathing chamber with its own boiler in which a fire burned.  The thought of a hot bath after so long a journey almost made him groan aloud.  He began stripping off his travel-stained clothes and then went to draw the curtain across the balcony in the sleeping chamber.  The inhabitants of Imladris might feel comfortable with that degree of exposure, he thought, but he did not.


He eased his way into the tub, hot water rising to his shoulders, and then submerged completely, savoring the feel of the water flooding his scalp.  He surfaced again and reached for the soap resting in a small silver dish on the tub’s edge. As he raised the soap to his face, he realized that it was floral scented.  Of course it would be, he thought a little sourly, and then wondered why he was being so sharp.  This Elven realm was just different enough from home to make him uncomfortable, he realized.  He felt out of place.  All the more reason to deliver their news to Elrond quickly and depart.


As he lay in the hot water, he thought about the events that had led to this mission: the captive creature they had been entrusted with, the kindness they had extended, the Orcs, the dead or taken guards.  That had been in June, and they had searched for Gollum long and hard before losing all track of him.  By August, however, they had realized that they had to tell Mithrandir of the escape and had decided that the best way to reach the wizard was through Elrond.  Legolas had determined immediately that the task should fall to him.  He had been responsible for the arrangements by which Gollum was held.  The escape was thus the consequences of his choices, and he should be the one to stand before Elrond and tell of it.  He had volunteered and Thranduil had agreed to his going, suggesting to Legolas that he too placed the need to account for their failure squarely on Legolas’s shoulders. Thranduil had never flinched from holding his sons accountable for their actions.  Legolas sighed.  That pity should be a mistake saddened him, and despite what had happened, he clung to the idea that their kind treatment of Gollum had been a chance worth taking.


The bath had cooled as he brooded on the past.  Finally, he shook himself free of useless regrets, climbed out of the tub, and padded into the sleeping chamber to find clothes that he thought were formal enough to wear to evening meal in Elrond’s Hall.  He pulled on loose dark trousers and a long, high-collared silk shirt. Over these he donned a sleeveless, dark green surcoat that buttoned up the front with ornate silver buttons and was slit up both sides. He tucked his pants into his boots, belted the surcoat, and attached his long knife in its elegantly tooled scabbard.  Dressed as he was now, he could have gone to a high feast in Thranduil’s Hall, he thought wryly. He trusted his appearance would meet the standards of an evening meal at the house of Elrond.


Worried about finding his way back to the Hall when the bell rang, he set off early, a decision that proved wise because he did, indeed, get turned around and wound up at an exit leading to a porch on what he thought was the opposite side of the house from the one he was seeking.  He was turning to reenter the hallway and try again when a voice from the porch called to him: “Ah, young Thranduilion.  I heard you had arrived.  Well-met.”


He stepped out onto the porch and looked in the direction from which the voice had come. There resting on a bench was the first welcome face that Legolas had seen in Imladris.  “Well-met, indeed, Mithrandir,” he cried, first bowing with his hand over his heart and then advancing to embrace the wizard.  Good, he thought.  He could tell Mithrandir directly of Gollum’s escape, and he and his party could be on their way as early as tomorrow.


Mithrandir returned the embrace and smiled benignly at this youngest son of Thranduil.  He had known Legolas since birth and had seen him develop from a charming, if noisy, child, to a rebellious youth, to an unusually capable warrior whose loyalty to his family and his people was absolute. You could say what you liked about Thranduil, Mithrandir thought, and he himself had occasionally said much – "unapproachable" being the mildest term that came to mind immediately.  But he appeared to have a gift for raising sons. In the harsh world of Mirkwood, all three had all proven to be reasons for hope. Mithrandir was delighted to find one of them in Imladris now, when crucial events were beginning to unfold.


“Come walk with an old man,” he invited, “and tell me how you like Imladris.”


Legolas offered Mithrandir his arm to lean on and hesitated before answering. “It is very beautiful,” he finally temporized.


Mithrandir chuckled.  “Seems a bit decadent, you mean to say?” he asked.


“No,” Legolas protested.  “It is just different from what I am used to.  I had thought that Elven realms would be more alike, but this is as different from Mirkwood as the towns of the Lakemen are. Although in a more elegant way, of course,” he added.


“You will find it more alike than different in the ways that matter, I think,” said Mithrandir.


“I am sure that you are right,” Legolas hastened to agree.   Then he brought up a subject that he had been wondering about since their meeting with the guards at the end of the cutting.  “The guards who met us today said that the Nazgûl had attempted to cross the Ford of Bruinen the night before last. Do you know anything about that?”


“The Nazgûl and what they are looking for is a long story about which you will undoubtedly hear more,” responded Mithrandir.  “Indeed, your arrival is fortuitous. Elrond is hoping to hold a council and your contribution to it will undoubtedly help us to better understand the situation we are facing.”


Legolas blinked.  He could not imagine what Mithrandir assumed his “contribution” would be to a council held by Lord Elrond. “Perhaps,” he said, “but the council would need to be soon. I have a message to deliver to you, Mithrandir, and then my companions and I must be away home again. We are needed there.”


“Ah, well,” said Mithrandir vaguely.  “Perhaps your message can be delivered at the council.”


Legolas frowned, trying to work out what Mithrandir was hinting at and then decided that directness on his own part was the most useful course.  He drew a deep breath.  “The creature you left us to guard has escaped,” he said bluntly.


Mithrandir patted his arm comfortingly.  “I know,” he said peaceably.


Legolas stared at him.  “What do you mean? How could you know?” He checked himself.  Of course Mithrandir knew.  He was Mithrandir.


Mithrandir sighed.  “How I know is a long story that will be told at the council,” he said. “And your story must be told there as well.”


Legolas was suddenly annoyed. Why was Mithrandir insisting that he tell of Mirkwood’s failure to hold Gollum at a public gathering?  Did he intend it as some sort of punishment?  “I am charged to return home as soon as possible,” he said stiffly. “I cannot linger for some council that Lord Elrond ‘hopes’ to hold.”


“'As soon as possible' can mean many things,” said Mithrandir serenely.  “I am afraid that I do not believe you will have discharged your duty to me until you have spoken of this matter at the council.  Until then, you must say nothing of it to anyone, not even Lord Elrond.”


Legolas opened his mouth to protest this high-handed treatment, but at that moment, a servant approached seeking Mithrandir. “Lord Elrond asks you to come to the hobbit’s chamber,” he told him.


Mithrandir patted Legolas’s arm again, bid him good evening, and immediately set off after the servant, leaving Legolas frustrated and puzzled.  I forgot to ask about the hobbit, he thought irrelevantly.  I wonder if it is the one who was at the Lonely Mountain.  He was acquainted with Elrond, as I recall.


Then the bell rang calling him to evening meal and all thoughts except finding his way to the Hall were temporarily forgotten.

2.  Making New Friends?

(October 22, 3018TA – evening)


Legolas located the Hall on his next attempt and found Amdir, Annael, and Beliond waiting for him outside the door.  He noted with approval that they too had dressed with unusual care in soft leather jerkins over loose velvet pants.  As he scanned them, he realized with amusement that Beliond was regarding him with equal approval.  Beliond was the warrior whom Thranduil had assigned to train and guard Legolas when he first joined Mirkwood’s warriors, and he still seemed to see Legolas as a youngling who occasionally needed his nose wiped.  All of Thranduil’s sons had been assigned such guards.  In private with one another, they referred to them as their “keepers.”


Legolas drew his three companions to one side.  “I have just spoken to Mithrandir,” he told them in a low voice.


They all looked delighted. “Then we can leave tomorrow,” said Beliond in a relieved tone. “Good.  I do not like being away from Mirkwood when we are so needed.”


Legolas shook his head.  “No.  I gave him our message, but he wishes me to repeat it at a council that Elrond will be holding.  Until then, we must speak of it to no-one.”


“But why?” asked Annael in a bewildered tone.


Legolas had no answer.  “I simply repeat what Mithrandir has told me,” he said.


At that moment, there was a stir in the hallway, and a party of four dwarves swept past the Wood-elves and entered the Hall. They ignored Legolas’s party as if they were invisible although one of them came so close as to actually brush against Annael, who leapt back as if he had been burned.  All four Wood-elves put their hands on the hilts of their long knives, although everyone but Amdir withdrew them again once the dwarves had disappeared.


“Remember where you are,” Legolas hissed softly.  “We will not be quarreling with dwarves under Elrond’s roof.”  Amdir too released his grip, albeit reluctantly.




Aragorn hurried along the corridor leading to Elrond’s Hall, fastening his surcoat as he went. He had lingered, worrying, in Frodo’s room until the last possible moment and now was later than he should have been arriving for evening meal.  He rounded a corner and then stopped short, surprised by the sight of the group standing uneasily just outside the Hall doors.  Elves from Mirkwood, he thought.  When had they arrived?


As he watched, it became evident that the Mirkwood Elves were not the only ones who were slightly unnerved by their presence in the House of Elrond. Elrond’s people skirted around the little group at a distance that was somewhat more than strict politeness required.  He wondered what could have occurred to cause the tension.  Elrond’s folk glanced occasionally at the four warriors’ unsmiling faces and then hastily averted their eyes and moved on.  Aragorn was amused.  He knew from experience how unsettling the unsmiling gaze of Wood-elves could be when something had made them skittish.


The group of Wood-elves moved forward to enter the Hall, and Aragorn’s attention was suddenly caught by one of them who had previously been half hidden behind his companions.  It took him less than a second to recognize one of the sons of Thranduil.  He had seen this young warrior only briefly when he had delivered Gollum into the keeping of Thranduil’s people.  He had stood silently next to the king’s chair, as Thranduil had done all of what scant talking there was. But his blond hair had led Aragorn to connect him to Thranduil and Mithrandir had later confirmed his assumption. Aragorn had taken the trouble to inquire because Thranduil had assigned this young warrior to arrange for the guarding of Gollum and Aragorn wanted to know who he was. What was Thranduil’s son doing in Imladris, he wondered?


As the Wood-elves approached the doors, the guard posted there moved forward uneasily and Aragorn suddenly noticed what was causing his agitation.  Although the Mirkwood Elves had shed their bows and quivers, their long knives were still strapped to their sides. To the guard, who was unaccustomed to Mirkwood’s expectations for formal warrior dress, it probably looked as if they expected Elrond’s people to come swarming over the tables and attack them, thought Aragorn.  The guard stepped forward and barred their way.


“My lord,” he spoke to Legolas.  The impassive faces of all four Wood-elves turned toward him.  “It is not customary to carry weapons into the Hall,” he said apologetically.  “You must leave your knives.”


There was a moment’s pause as the four warriors considered his words.  One of them appeared ready to argue.  Then Legolas spoke. “Leave your knives,” he said curtly, and all four of them unfastened their knives from their belts and handed them to the guard, who sagged in relief. The four of them then strode into the Hall, where Elrond’s steward met them and directed Legolas to a seat at the high table and his companions to places at one of the long tables set at right angles to the dais.


A spirit of mischief seized Aragorn.  He approached the guard and spoke confidentially.  “These Wood-elves,” he began, “you do know that they probably all have daggers in their boots?”


The guard blanched.  “I did not know that.”  He also looked as if he had not wanted to know that.  He looked anxiously at Aragorn.  “Do you think I should pursue the matter?”


Aragorn kept his face straight.  “I think we may trust them to behave themselves tonight,” he said seriously.  “Perhaps tomorrow you can ask for the daggers.”  The guard looked appalled at the prospect.  Having given himself some much needed amusement, Aragorn too entered the hall and sought out a place next to those where the Mirkwood Elves were seated.




As Legolas was led to the high table, he could see that places were being hastily removed and chairs rearranged.  Once seated, he found that two of the dwarves were also at the high table two spaces to his right.  Both dwarves glared at him, and Legolas found that there was something uncomfortably familiar about the one closest to him.  Surely the Valar would not have been so unkind as to place him in the company of one of the dwarves his father had imprisoned, he thought unhappily.  The two chairs between him and the dwarves were empty. He prayed that they did not stay that way.


As if in answer to his prayer, a tall blond warrior seated himself gracefully to Legolas’s right, blocking his view of the still-glaring dwarves.  He relaxed a little and then the warrior introduced himself.  “I am Glorfindel of the House of the Golden Flower,” he said serenely.  Legolas’s mouth fell open for what seemed like the tenth time that day, and he found himself staring in silence at the legendary figure who sat next to him tugging at a too-tight collar. Becoming aware of the silence, Glorfindel looked at him out of the corner of his eyes.  “You are Legolas Thranduilion,” he said helpfully.


Legolas snatched at his wavering dignity and managed to respond.  “My lord, it is an honor to meet you.”


Glorfindel smiled.  This was presumably not the first time that a young warrior had behaved like a gaping idiot in his presence.  In a transparent effort to set Legolas at ease, he began asking him about the level of Orc activity that Legolas’s party had met crossing the Misty Mountains.  Legolas had barely had time to say something more or less coherent before everyone rose.


Legolas too came to his feet and looked around.  Through a door at the rear of the Hall entered the most beautiful maiden Legolas had ever seen.  “The Lady Arwen,” announced the herald, and the maiden took her seat between Glorfindel and the dwarves.  When all had been seated again, she leaned around Glorfindel and spoke to Legolas.


“Welcome to Imladris, my lord,” she said. “My father sends his regrets that he will not be here tonight but begs that you will enjoy our hospitality.” Then she smiled at him and Legolas smiled back in what he hoped was a charming manner. She settled back in her seat and began to speak to the dwarf next to her.  Legolas was as jealous of the dwarf as he had ever been of anyone in his life. And he was not much comforted when an older Elf slid into the seat to his left and introduced himself as Elrond’s advisor Erestor.


Food was now being served. A platter of small roasted birds on a bed of berries was set on the table in front of Glorfindel, Legolas, and Erestor.  Glorfindel served Legolas and then himself as he continued to chat about military matters, and Legolas relaxed enough to look around the Hall.  Two long tables were placed perpendicularly to the dais on which the high table was located.  On the near end of the table to Legolas’s right were seated the other two dwarves and two hobbits, neither of whom was Bilbo, whom Legolas remembered from the events which had apparently included Thranduil’s imprisoning one of the dwarves at the high table. The hobbits appeared to be doing most of the talking in that group and the dwarves were laughing.


Close to the near end of the table to Legolas’s left were the other members of his own party. They were engaged in conversation with someone whom Legolas had not previously noticed and whom he now recognized instantly: Aragorn, the Man who had captured Gollum and brought him to Mirkwood.  Legolas’s attention was immediately caught.  He had been impressed by Aragorn’s capturing of Gollum, a task that had taken him to Mordor and back.  He had also been intrigued by Aragorn’s wide travel over Middle-Earth and by the trust that Mithrandir so obviously placed in him.  Moreover, there had been something about the Ranger that had struck him as familiar, as if he had met Aragorn before, although he knew that he had not.  He had regretted having no opportunity to speak with Aragorn then and was dismayed that news of Gollum’s escape was likely to eventually be part of any conversation they now had.


Concentrating on the interaction between his comrades and Aragorn, Legolas accidentally caught his fork with his sleeve and brushed it off the table.  It fell to the floor with a clatter. A servant hastened to bring him another but, off to his right, he could hear one of the dwarves saying “Someone should tell him that that’s a fork and that civilized people use it instead of their hands to eat with.”


Glorfindel and Arwen both began to speak rather more loudly than they had been doing, but Legolas’s sharp Elven ears still heard the other dwarf respond.  “Perhaps he’s drunk. His father is fond of wine as I recall.”  It took every ounce of restraint that Legolas possessed to ignore both dwarves and respond to Glorfindel’s rather desperate inquiry about training procedures for Mirkwood warriors.




Aragorn paused in his conversation with Annael to take note of the tension that was evident at the high table.  The three Mirkwood Elves also now focused with narrowed eyes on Legolas and the dwarves who sat near him.  A wave of misgiving suddenly washed over Aragorn.  He was reasonably certain that the Mirkwood Elves really did all carry daggers in their boots.  He wondered now if he should have encouraged the guard to confiscate them.




Legolas could not remember a time when he had been more relieved for a meal to end.  He bowed to Arwen, Glorfindel, and Erestor, ignored his other table mates, and left the Hall with Amdir, Annael, and Beliond in his wake.  He did not hesitate before turning left and leaving the house to seek dark and quiet under the stars in the garden.


“What happened?” demanded Beliond.


“Nothing,” Legolas responded shortly. “The dwarves were being dwarven.  I ignored it and you all will too.”


Amdir snorted.  “I cannot understand why Elrond allows those greedy, grubbing little creatures in his house.”


“Amdir, I said that we will ignore it,” warned Legolas sharply. “Curb your tongue.”


Amdir made a face, and Beliond caught his arm.  “Come,” he said grimly. “I think it is time that you and I returned to our quarters and had a little chat.”  With that, he dragged Amdir off toward the barracks, leaving Legolas and Annael alone. 


Legolas shook his head and then the two of them walked through the sweet-scented night in companionable silence.  Stars stretched out overhead in careless density, as if Iluvatar had flung them with both hands, crying “See what I have made for you.”  In the presence of the stars and his oldest friend, Legolas finally began to regain some of the poise that this stressful day had stripped from him.


“What were you and Aragorn talking about?” Legolas finally broke the silence by asking.


“The dwarves, oddly enough,” answered Annael. “I asked him why they were here.  He said that they had arrived only yesterday and were seeking Lord Elrond’s advice on how to deal with some new threat from the Evil One.”  Like many Mirkwood Elves, Annael was careful to avoid speaking Sauron’s name, but they both knew whom he meant.  “Apparently,” Annael went on, “the dwarves on the Lonely Mountain have been told that if they do not cooperate, they will be targeted for destruction. The men of Dale have been told much the same thing.  The dwarves wish to remain loyal but they also seek help so that they can survive.”


Legolas digested this unwelcome news for a moment. The Lonely Mountain and Dale were entirely too close to Thranduil’s stronghold for this news to be anything but terrifying. “Adar must be told at once,” Legolas murmured and Annael nodded, although Legolas had been speaking as much to himself as to his friend.


Legolas sighed.  “Why is it that it is so hard to remember who the enemy is sometimes?” he asked.  Annael looked at him questioningly.  “You were at the Battle of the Five Armies as well as I was,” Legolas went on.  “For that matter, Amdir and Beliond were too, and I am certain one of those dwarves who were goading me tonight was also there.”  Legolas settled on a bench that backed up against a tree and then leaned back, drawing comfort simultaneously from the stars and the feel of the tree against his back.  Annael sat beside him and waited for Legolas to go on.


“I hated it, you know,” Legolas said cryptically, but Annael nodded.  He did indeed know that Legolas had hated being part of a force whose first objective had been to appropriate dragon treasure.  “I was happy when Adar turned us aside to aid the people of Esgaroth and happier still when he finally told the Men that he would not start a war for gold.  But the dwarves . . .” he let his voice trail off and sighed again.  “The only thing that kept us from slaughtering one another that day was the arrival of the Orcs and the wolves.  All our good intentions would not have done it had our common enemy not descended upon us.”


Annael shrugged.  “Gold lust is a powerful force in dwarves,” he said.


“Aye, and in Elves sometimes too,” Legolas agreed soberly, recalling some glints in his father’s eyes that he would rather not have seen.  He looked at Annael again.  “But are we so stupid that we cannot remember who the real enemy is unless he is right in front of us?”


Annael smiled slightly.  “Apparently you are not,” he said in a serious tone.  He then added, “You will have to keep an eye on Amdir, though.  He is spoiling for a fight.”


Legolas grimaced. “I know. I cannot understand why I brought him on this trip.”


“I can,” said Annael, surprising his friend.  Legolas looked at him.  “Do you not think you have taken care of him long enough?” Annael asked gently.  “His brother has been in the Halls of Mandos for a long time now.”


Legolas leaned forward with his elbows on his knees and regarded his clasped hands.  “You are right, of course,” he said. “But I cannot seem to shed the belief that I have an influence on him.”  He grimaced and then the two of them leaned back again to enjoy the night.  After a moment, Legolas began to sing. Annael joined in and the songs of Wood-elves were added to the songs of Imladris that drifted like the scent of flowers through Elrond’s gardens.


On a nearby balcony, Mithrandir and Elrond sat quietly listening while Sam watched over Frodo in the chamber within.  “I must remember to speak to Legolas,” said Elrond, recognizing the voice.  “He said he had a message from Thranduil for me, but Frodo’s condition left me to respite to hear it today.”


“No need,” said Mithrandir. “His message was actually for me anyway, and I have spoken to him.  You should invite him to the council, though.”


“I had intended to. Thranduil will need to be warned.  And Legolas may be able to contribute some insight about the Nazgûl.  Mirkwood has had closer experience with them than anyone.”


Mithrandir drew on his pipe and blew a smoke ring.  “You may find that Legolas is useful in other ways too,” he said vaguely.


Elrond smiled at him.  “Now I wonder what you mean by that,” he said.


Another smoke ring joined the first one. “I am not sure myself,” Mithrandir said. “But few things happen by chance and Legolas is here, so perhaps here is where he was meant to be.”


An urgent call from Sam drew their attention and conversation about anyone other than Frodo was over.


3. Meeting Old Friends?

(October 23, 3018 TA)

In the morning, Legolas woke to the sound of birds and a spill of early morning sunlight.  He had, in the end, chosen to sleep with the curtains open, reveling in the strange sensation of looking at the stars while lying in a bed.  He normally rose quickly, but now he lay still, enjoying the sound and smell of early day and wishing rather wistfully that Thranduil’s realm were as tranquil as that of Elrond.  He remembered what Beliond had said yesterday about Elrond having means other than guards to protect Imladris and wondered what they might be.

His thoughts were broken by a discreet knock and the entry of a servant with a tray of fruit and fresh bread.  The servant placed the tray on a table on the balcony and then turned to Legolas. “When you are ready, my lord,” he said, “Lord Elrond invites you to speak with him. He will be in his library. Anyone can show you the way.”  Then he left, closing the door softly behind him.

Drawn back to reality, Legolas rose, bathed, and dressed before he ate.  Today he reverted to the leggings, tunic, and jerkin that were his habitual wear at home.  If the inhabitants of Imladris could not accept him and his companions for what they were, then so be it.  Legolas did not believe that they would be so narrow-minded. After all, they were not dwarves, he thought in a momentary flash of resentment, and then he suppressed the thought as unworthy.

The first person he saw in the hall was one of the maids who did indeed give him clear directions to the library.  He knocked and Elrond’s deep voice bade him enter.  Elrond’s library was fabled throughout Middle-Earth and seeing it was one of the compensations that Legolas had hoped for in return for making this trip.  The room was large and shelves rose to the ceiling filled with both scrolls and bound volumes. Legolas’s eyes followed the array of books as they rose before him, and he was aware of a sharp desire to start pulling them off the shelves.  He could lose himself here for a long time, he thought. The sound of someone clearing his throat brought him back to the present, and he looked around.  A desk covered with papers sat just inside the balcony and next to it stood Elrond, with what looked like a repressed smile on his face.  Legolas flushed slightly at the naive picture he must have presented.

This was the first time that Legolas had seen Elrond since their meeting upon his arrival.  He was struck now by the simple nobility of the figure near the desk.  Why, he wondered, had he ever worried about something as superficial as clothes?  Elrond was unlikely to have been disturbed by anything so trivial.  He advanced, bowed, and then raised his eyes in response to Elrond’s greeting.

The Loremaster of Imladris looked at him kindly. “I hope that you and your companions have been made comfortable,” he said.

“Very comfortable, my lord.”

“Mithrandir tells me that you gave your message to him and have no need of me, but I wished to make sure that was so.”

Legolas hesitated.  “I did indeed give my message to Mithrandir, but he has asked me to repeat it at the council that you are planning.”

“Indeed?” Elrond raised an eyebrow.  “Of course, if Mithrandir wishes you to speak at the council, then you are welcome to do so.  I had intended to invite you anyway.  A representative of Thranduil’s people would be welcome.”

“When will this council be, my lord?” Legolas asked. “My adar asked me to return home as quickly as I could.  These are evil times in Mirkwood and all our warriors are needed.”

“I have another guest,” Elrond answered, “a hobbit named Frodo. The council will take place when he is well enough to attend.”

Legolas blinked. “A hobbit?” he said uncertainly, not wanting to pry but nonetheless puzzled by the importance that Elrond was according to a halfling.  “Is he very ill?  Have you any sense of how long his recovery will take, my lord?”

“Unfortunately, no” Elrond responded.  “His injury is proving harder to treat than I had hoped.  However, the council must wait for him, however long his recovery takes.”

Legolas was dismayed by the uncertainty of this answer but tried not to let his feelings show. “I will be there, my lord,” he said, silently thinking evil thoughts about Mithrandir.

“Good.  In the meantime, please let my steward know if you need anything,” said Elrond.  Recognizing a dismissal, Legolas bowed and withdrew.

He emerged from the house and paused, still thinking about the hobbit and wondering what the source of his injury might have been. He finally shook off these thoughts as unproductive and set himself a more useful task.  He had politely told Elrond that his warriors were comfortable, but he had not yet checked their quarters. He should do so now.  He started down a path that led through the trees to the barracks where the Mirkwood warriors were housed.  This was a low building made up of short sections that were connected by covered walkways lined with trees and climbing vines.  The Mirkwood warriors had been given a section to themselves and Legolas found Beliond and Annael sitting on a bench outside it.  Annael was oiling his boots, while Beliond relaxed beside him.

“Where is Amdir?” Legolas asked.

“Exercising his horse,” said Beliond.

“Are your quarters good?” asked Legolas, glancing in the door.

“They are excellent,” Beliond admitted, “but we need to be heading home, Legolas.”

Legolas repressed his irritation at Beliond’s nagging. “I have just been making that very point to Lord Elrond,” he said, “but the timing of our departure is out of my hands.”

Beliond looked at him thoughtfully.  “It must have been very exciting to sit next to Glorfindel last night,” he said mildly.

Legolas’s temper flared.  “I am no longer a youngling, Beliond,” he said sharply.  “It has been a long time since I allowed a longing for adventure to outweigh my sense of responsibility.”

Beliond raised a pacifying hand.  “I am not suggesting that you are doing that now,” he said.  “Just be sure that you are doing what you can to persuade Mithrandir and Elrond that your duty lies elsewhere.”

Legolas might have said something he would later regret, but at that moment, an Elf came running up the path.  “My lord,” he addressed Legolas, “you are needed in the stables.”

“What is the matter?” Legolas demanded.

“There has been trouble between one of your warriors and one of the dwarves,” the Elf responded.

Legolas took off toward the stables at a run, with Beliond and Annael at his heels.  He arrived to find a situation under precarious control in the stable yard. Two Imladris Elves hovered near Amdir on one side of the yard while another controlled Amdir’s horse. They were not actually holding him but looked ready to do so if the need arose.  On the other side of the stable yard, a dwarf sat on the ground with two other dwarves bending over him and the stablemaster standing nearby.  The two dwarves helped their companion to his feet and then one of them, whom Legolas recognized from the previous evening’s high table, started to advance on Amdir.  Legolas took a step forward to intercept him.

“Out of my way, Elf,” the dwarf snarled.  He pointed at Amdir. “He turned his horse loose to trample my son.”

The stablemaster and another Elf stepped in front of the dwarf too.  “I am sure that it was an accident, Master Gloin,” said the stablemaster.

“I am sure that it was not,” the dwarf responded.

Legolas had backed off from Gloin and now turned to Amdir.  “What happened?” he demanded.

Amdir spoke disdainfully. “I was leading my horse out of the stable when the dwarf walked right in front of me.  My horse was startled and reared. His hooves barely touched the dwarf.  He must have tripped and fallen.”

Legolas’s eyes narrowed.  He had trouble picturing Amdir being surprised by the heavy-footed dwarf.  It struck him as only too possible that Amdir had heard the dwarf coming and deliberately tried to frighten him.  He held Amdir’s gaze for a moment and then the younger Elf looked away.  Legolas felt a disappointed certainty that Amdir had indeed done as he suspected.

“Apologize,” Legolas ordered flatly.

Amdir’s mouth fell open in astonished dismay. Then, reading the look on Legolas’s face, he shifted his gaze to the dwarves.  “I apologize,” he said stiffly. “I should have had better control of my horse.”

“There, Master Gloin,” said the stablemaster soothingly.  “And you see that your son is on his feet, so there is no real harm done.”

Gloin continued to glare at Amdir for a moment.  Then he glanced around the stable yard as if suddenly aware that he was surrounded by Elves.  He growled low in his throat, spun on his heel, and went to help his companion steady his son as they led him from the yard.

As soon as they were gone, the stablemaster turned to Legolas. “Get him out of here and do not let him come back,” he snapped. “He is a menace.  We will exercise his horse.”  He signaled to the Elf holding Amdir’s horse.  Without a word, the Elf mounted the animal and rode it off down the trail.  The master and his other assistants then disappeared inside the stables.

Amdir looked outraged but Legolas stepped closer to him and spoke before Amdir could utter a word.  “You are confined to quarters for the remainder of our stay here,” he said in a voice that was low and tight with fury.  “You are very fortunate that the dwarf was not hurt.  You could have killed him.”  Amdir looked ready to protest but one glance at Legolas’s face stopped him.  He pressed his lips together tightly.  “You are dismissed,” said Legolas, and Amdir started back down the path toward the barracks. Beliond nodded approvingly at Legolas and then started after Amdir.

Legolas turned to Annael, recalling their conversation of the previous night.  “That fool is willing to quarrel with the dwarves rather than see them as our allies,” he cried. Then, he took a deep breath. “You would do best to leave me, Annael,” he said. “I am too angry to be good company.”  Annael laid a hand on Legolas’s shoulder and then he too left.

After a moment’s hesitation, Legolas decided to work off his fury by climbing one of the footpaths that led up the side of the valley in twisting switchbacks.  He attacked the climb with concentrated energy, scrambling around rocks and occasionally needing to use handholds.  His face was running with sweat by the time he had reached an altitude that allowed him to look back over the valley and see the House of Elrond and the surrounding buildings laid out before him.  He swung himself up into the branches of a nearby pine tree and settled down to catch his breath and study the beauty of this place.

The sun was now high in the sky and golden light bathed the buildings and reflected in jewel-like glimmers off the little ponds that lay between the waterfalls.  From afar, he heard the bell that undoubtedly signaled the mid-day meal.  He sat quietly, looking and listening.  Imladris was very different from Mirkwood, and he had to admit that the differences drew him as well as sometimes making him uncomfortable. Perhaps Beliond was more perceptive that Legolas had been willing to admit, and he was allowing himself to be seduced by his surrounding. Surely that was understandable, he thought. And it was temporary.  He would be ready to go home when the time came.  Gradually, he relaxed.  The exercise and the spell worked by Imladris combined to soothe him, and he found that he could contemplate returning to company of other people.

He dropped to the ground and began his descent, which was much faster than the climb had been.  He reached Elrond’s garden in fairly short order and was approaching the house when he heard Mithrandir’s familiar voice a short distance ahead.  Rounding a curve, he found the wizard sitting on a bench surrounded by three hobbits, the two who had been at evening meal on the previous night and another whom Legolas had not seen before.

“Ah, Legolas,” Mithrandir greeted him.  “These hobbits have just been asking me about you and now you are here to answer them. These are Merry, Pippin, and Sam.”

Legolas bowed, acknowledging the introductions. “I am most pleased to meet hobbits,” he said, “for I have seen only one before. But I am curious to know what brings you to Imladris.  You do not live here, do you?”

The three hobbits all laughed at the idea.  “No,” protested Merry, “we come from the Shire, which lies west of here near the Brandywine. We are helping our friend Frodo with an errand. One of the Nazgûl stabbed Frodo, and Strider brought us here so that Lord Elrond could help us.”

“Aye,” said Sam. “But Frodo does not seem to be getting much better.”

“Do not lose hope, Sam,” Mithrandir comforted him.  “Lord Elrond has another idea to try soon. All will be well.”

Legolas processed the information Merry had given him. Frodo must be the hobbit that Elrond had referred to.  He was startled to hear the small creatures in front of him speak so casually of an encounter with the Nazgûl. Their loyalty to their friend must be great to have met such a threat so stoutly.  He was also left with a question.  “Who is Strider?” he asked.

“Aragorn,” answered Mithrandir, “The Dúnadan.”

“Aragorn is a Dúnadan?” Legolas asked, surprised.

“Indeed he is,” said Mithrandir. “Now I must go and help Elrond.  No, Sam, you stay here for a while yet.  You have scarcely been away from Frodo’s bedside, and we want you to be still on your feet when Frodo awakens.”  He rose. “You hobbits stay out of trouble,” he added and walked away into the house.

The hobbits turned to Legolas and Pippin spoke.  “I am glad you are here, for I have heard people talking about the arrival of the Wood-elves. I had thought that Elves were Elves, but apparently that is not so. Is it true that Wood-elves sleep in trees?  Or do they live in caves? Do they really rush into battles too soon and then blame everyone else and hold a grudge for centuries?”

“Pippin!” admonished Sam, scandalized.  “Hold your tongue!”

Legolas had blinked at the rush of questions and could not help wondering who had been telling what to this hobbit.  However, he made an effort to answer.  “Wood-elves do sometimes sleep in trees,” he said.  “We find them comforting.  And my father’s stronghold is in a large cave that can be barricaded to defend our people against danger.  As for rushing into battle, I have heard that too.”

The hobbits looked at him, uncertain whether he had finished answering.  Pippin opened his mouth, and Merry hastily interrupted.  “Will you not tell us a story? Surely all Elves are good at stories.”

“Yes,” said Pippin, who was easily distracted. “Do young Elves ever get into trouble like hobbits do?  Tell us a story about that.”

Legolas paused, sorting through possible stories to find one that Pippin would like. To his surprise, Aragorn stepped forward from the shadows to his left.  He really moved uncommonly quietly for a man, Legolas thought.

“I will tell you a story that is told among the Dúnedain of young Elves getting into trouble,” said Aragorn.

“Good,” said Pippin and settled himself more comfortably.  Legolas raised an eyebrow but sat on the bench next to the hobbit to hear what Aragorn had to tell.

“In a time long ago, there were two young Elves who wanted to go adventuring,” began Aragorn.

“Not very hobbity,” Pippin commented.  “Hobbits scarcely ever go adventuring.”

“What do you think we’re doing, Pip?” asked Merry, laughing.

Pippin looked surprised. “Is this an adventure?” he asked. “I thought we were helping Frodo.”

“The two Elves set off into the woods to hunt for Orcs,” Aragorn continued.  “At first they were lucky, and when they came upon giant spiders, they managed to kill them. And as a result, they thought that they were mighty warriors indeed.”

The hobbits laughed and Pippin poked Merry. “Like you when you trapped that squirrel last spring and thought you were a hunter,” he said.  Merry shushed him.  Legolas was staring at Aragorn with a faint blush on his face.

“Unfortunately for the young elves,” Aragorn went on, “and as often happens when people seek for adventures, the adventure that found them was not quite the one they sought, for one night, a Dúnadan chased two Orcs into their camp.”

“That wasn’t very helpful,” Pippin commented.

“No, indeed,” agreed Aragorn.  “Between them, the Man and the two young Elves killed the Orcs. But it turned out that the Man was already wounded and after the battle was over, he collapsed.”

Legolas gave a stifled exclamation.

“Is something the matter, Legolas?” asked Merry, whose sharp eyes were on the Elf’s face.

“No,” said Legolas. “Only I have been thinking that Aragorn reminded me of someone and I have just recalled who it was.”

Aragorn smiled slightly and then went on with his story.  “The Man was lucky because even though they were shy of Men, the two young Elves cared for him.  And when the Man’s friends found him, the Elves helped the friends to find the proper herbs to cure the wounded Man.

“Good for them,” said Pippin.  Sam was shifting restlessly in his seat next to Merry and was obviously wishing to be away back to Frodo.

“Yes,” said Aragorn, agreeing with Pippin.  “When the man told his story at home, my people said that too and to this day they are inclined to believe in the goodness of Wood-elves.”

“This was supposed to be a story about young Elves getting into trouble,” Pippin protested. “If that is their idea of trouble, then they are not much like hobbits.”

To Pippin’s surprise, it was Legolas who answered rather than Aragorn. “There was trouble,” he said soberly, “for before they could get home, one of the young Elves was killed by an Orc. And the family of the other Elf was very angry with him for having let his longing for adventure lead him into such grave danger.”

“Oh,” said Pip, and then there was a moment’s silence.

“If you hobbits don’t mind,” said Aragorn, “I have a favor to ask of Legolas that will take him away.”

“Go ahead,” said Merry, rather subdued. “Sam has been itching to get back to Frodo, and Pip and I will go and see how he is too.”

As the hobbits headed back toward the house, Pippin could be heard saying, “I do not understand. Did that story belong to Strider or Legolas?”

“I think it may belong to both of them,” said Merry.

Aragorn turned to Legolas who was eyeing him curiously.  “I hear that you have already been to the stables once today,” he said with a slight smile, “but I wonder if you would ride with me.  I feel a need to get out for a while and would rather ride with an old family friend.”

“Gladly,” said Legolas with a smile of his own, and then added, “You look very much like your ancestor, you know.”

Aragorn laughed.  “I did not know,” he said.  “But as you are one of the very few people who are in a position to be sure, I will take your word for it.”

For the two of them, the rest of the day passed pleasantly with no more serious purpose that enjoying the ride and one another’s company.


One sentence that Lindir speaks in this chapter is taken directly from Book II, Chapter 1 of The Fellowship of the Ring.




4. Those Who Wander

(October 24, 3018 TA)


When Legolas emerged from the house after mid-day meal the next day, he all but ran into one of the dwarves.  They had been absent from the Hall for the meal, a fact for which he was profoundly grateful.  The dwarves tended to look alike to him, but he thought that this was the one that Amdir had knocked down yesterday.


“Get out of my way, Elf,” growled the stubby creature, echoing word for word what his father had said to Legolas the day before.


Their rudeness was really intolerable, Legolas thought. “Since you ask so nicely, of course,” he said with ostentatious courtesy and stepped aside with a sweeping bow.


The dwarf glared at him with narrowed eyes, certain he was being baited but unable to complain about excessive politeness.  With a snort, he turned away from Legolas and strode on into the house.


Feeling more cheerful, Legolas wandered into the garden where he found Merry and Pippin talking eagerly with Aragorn.  “He is really awake?” Merry was asking excitedly.


“So Gandalf tells me,” said Aragorn with a smile that included Legolas. “I believe that he is expected to be on his feet by this evening. Elrond removed a sliver of blade from him last night and since then his recovery has been speedy.  There is to be a feast tonight and a celebration in the Hall of Fire.”


Pippin was all but jumping up and down.  “A feast is always a good thing,” he exclaimed, “but I think Frodo’s recovery is even better.  Come on, Merry.  Let’s see if we can see him.” And the two of them went racing off.


“So their friend is better,” said Legolas.  “Good. That means that Elrond will hold his council soon.”


“I believe he is hoping to do so tomorrow,” answered Aragorn.  “Are you going?”


“Yes.  I have a tale that Mithrandir has charged me to tell there,” Legolas answered. “And then we must be away.  Mirkwood needs all its warriors. Our enemies grow thick and strong.”


“Tell me about it,” Aragorn invited, and the two turned to walk through the gardens.  Before Legolas could say anything, however, two rather travel-worn Elves emerged from the direction of the stable.


“Estel!” they cried almost in unison, and then they each swept Aragorn into an embrace.  Legolas looked from one to the other and saw mirror images.  He had heard that Elrond had twin sons.  These must be they.  They suddenly seemed to become aware of his presence and ran shrewd eyes over his brown and green garb.  “And who might this be?” one asked.


“This is Legolas Thranduilion of the Woodland Realm,” said Aragorn. “Legolas, these are Elladan and Elrohir, the sons of Elrond.”  Legolas bowed courteously and the twins responded in kind, but not before Legolas saw them each raise an identical questioning eyebrow at Aragorn.


“We must report to Adar,” said one of them, “but then we have much to tell you about Orcs and your friends in the Angle, Estel.” They inclined their heads to Legolas again and went off into the house.


“Their arrival will please Elrond,” said Aragorn. “He sees too little of his sons for his own satisfaction.”


“Do they not live here?” asked Legolas in surprise.


“Aye, they do, but they spend most of their time hunting Orcs with the Rangers of the North.”


Legolas frowned.  “Elrond allows that?”


Aragorn looked at him curiously.  “It is their choice,” he said shortly. “Their mother was badly injured by Orcs and sailed into the West.  They seek to avenge her, I think.”


Legolas was taken aback.  His own mother had been killed by Orcs, but he could not imagining Thranduil allowing any of his sons to neglect the defense of Mirkwood and set off on a personal mission of vengeance.  Such a course of action would never be left to “their choice.”  Of course, he reminded himself, Imladris apparently did not need the kind of defense that Mirkwood did.


What would the circumstances have to be like, Legolas wondered, before he would feel free to leave Mirkwood and fight with a people not his own? Perhaps something like the Last Alliance, he thought.  Legolas’s father and grandfather both had left home to join in that war, feeling that unless the alliance was victorious, nothing else that they did would matter. But the victory had been a bitter one for Thranduil who had seen his father and two thirds of the Mirkwood warriors die.


Aragorn interrupted his musings.  “Tell me about Mirkwood,” he invited again.  And they strolled through the gardens as Legolas did exactly that.  Aragorn had been to Mirkwood with Gollum, so he had a reasonably good sense of the perils faced by the Woodland Realm, but he was interested in the details that Legolas could provide on the measures that Thranduil’s warriors were taking. 


“I am now captaining the Home Guard,” Legolas told him, “and even close to the king’s stronghold we now see an increasing number of wolves, spiders, and even occasionally Orcs.”


“Have you experience with the Nazgûl?” asked Aragorn, knowing that some of the Nine had long inhabited the southern reaches of the forest.


“I saw them only a handful of times when I was posted to Mirkwood’s southern patrol,” said Legolas. “That was more than enough. And I felt their power often.  Indeed, it seems as if the more often you are exposed to them, the more easily they work their foul influence upon you.  It twists in your very soul and the fear they breed is a weapon in itself. The situation in the southern reaches of Mirkwood has grown desperate enough that we have had to draw that patrol back.”


“It was the Nazgûl who wounded Frodo,” Aragorn said. “They chased us right to the Ford of Bruinen, but the waters rose and washed them away.”


“Elrond can make that happen?” asked Legolas.  “How?”


Aragorn shrugged. “He has never said,” he answered with almost Elven evasiveness and then he shifted the subject.  “Come with me to hear what Elladan and Elrohir have to say,” he invited, and Legolas was curious enough to accept.


They found the sons of Elrond together in Elladan’s chamber.  The contents of Elladan’s pack were scattered on the bed as if he had simply dumped them there.  Elladan himself was still in his travel clothes. In contrast, Elrohir had evidently already bathed, for his hair was damp and he had changed into a clean tunic and leggings.


“Estel,” cried Elladan when they entered the room. “I have something for you from your kinsman.”  He began rooting through the debris on the bed and finally seized triumphantly on a letter that he tossed to Aragorn. Aragorn looked pleased and tucked the letter away to read later.


“How are they all?” he asked.


“We did not go into the Angle,” said Elrohir, “so we saw only our Ranger companions, but they report that all is much as usual. Edaun was wounded when we encountered Orcs on the South Downs, but it was not serious.”


“Did you encounter many Orcs?” Aragorn asked.


“At first we did,” said Elladan.  “But in the last week, we met none. They are apparently busy elsewhere.” 


Aragorn hesitated. “Did you see any sign of the Nine in the last two days?” he asked.


The twins both looked at him, astonished. “No,” said Elrohir.  “Are they abroad?”


“Yes,” said Aragorn.  “They were at the ford only two days ago.  Three of their horses were found drowned in the river, but we are still searching for signs of the others.”


The sons of Elrond looked very sober at this news.  “The only thing we encountered that was unusual was talk of some strange men in Bree and eastwards from there,” said Elrohir.  “But the rumors were vague.”


Aragorn nodded.


In the meantime, Elladan’s gaze had settled on Legolas.  “Adar tells us that you have brought a message from King Thranduil,” he said in a questioning tone.


“Yes,” Legolas answered.  They all waited for a moment.  The corners of Aragorn’s mouth quirked slightly and Elrohir looked away.


“That is unusual,” Elladan pressed.


“Yes,” agreed Legolas.  They waited again, and then Aragorn and Elrohir both laughed out loud.


“Wood-elves are apparently every bit as close-mouthed and suspicious as we have been led to believe,” Elrohir cried and, to Legolas’s surprise, clapped him on the back.  Elrohir then wrinkled his nose at his brother.  “Now will you go and bathe?” he complained. “Legolas will think that we are barbaric.”  Elladan gave in and joined in the laughter.  He seized clean clothes from the wardrobe and headed off to the bathing chamber.


“Perhaps Elrond told you he is holding a council tomorrow morning,” Aragorn said to Elrohir.  “I believe that he means to try to determine what is happening there.”


Elrohir nodded. “Stay and eat with us,” he invited both of them.  “We have asked for food to be sent here so that we do not have to go to the Hall.  I intend to go to bed early and I believe that Elladan does too, so you can still go to the Hall of Fire afterwards.”  They both readily accepted and, joined by Elladan, they sat at a table on the balcony, sharing news.


Legolas heard for the first time the story of Aragorn’s trip with the hobbits from Bree to Imladris, although he was still unsure just what Frodo was or had that was so important.

The twins too talked about places that Legolas had only read about.  At first, he sat quietly while the other three shared information about people and places with which they were evidently all familiar. As the afternoon deepened into evening, however, Legolas found his curiosity sharpening and he asked more and more questions.  It had been long since he had thought much about the world beyond his home, and he found that doing so was both disturbing and exciting.


At length, Elrohir yawned hugely and Aragorn laughed.  “Come,” he said to Legolas, “we will leave these two to their beds. I do not believe that you have yet spent an evening in Elrond’s Hall of Fire.  I think that you will enjoy it.” The two of them bade the twins good evening and Aragorn led Legolas away.


When Legolas entered the large room opposite Elrond’s Great Hall, he found it thronged with Elves. A fire burned in the large hearth between two carved pillars, and music flowed from all sides.  A messenger for Aragorn met them at the door and led him off to one side leaving Legolas to fend for himself.


He was wandering about searching for his Mirkwood companions when he saw a hobbit he had not seen before. This must be Frodo, he thought, and was struck again by the valor of these small creatures whose size was apparently no predictor of their courage.  He found himself eager to know just what had brought them so far from home. For the first time, he looked forward to Elrond’s council in the morning.


He spotted Beliond and Annael, sitting in a recess and listening to the singing.  They greeted him in a relaxed manner that amused him.  Apparently the House of Elrond was charming them as well as him.  “How is Amdir?” he asked.


“Subdued,” Beliond responded. “He was evidently surprised by your reaction to his little trick with the dwarf, and he has had much time to think about his actions.”


“Good,” said Legolas and found himself hoping that Amdir would yet gain sufficient self awareness and discipline to be a useful warrior.  “You will be happy to know that Elrond’s council has been scheduled for tomorrow morning.”


Beliond’s face lit up.  Apparently he was not so charmed by Imladris that he had forgotten their need to be home.  “Excellent!” he said. “Shall we plan to be away in the afternoon then?”


Legolas hesitated.  A feeling he unexpectedly recognized as reluctance swept through him. What is the matter with me? he wondered sharply.  Surely I am not letting the twins’ tales of adventure and the beauty of Imladris seduce me from my duty to Mirkwood. Nonetheless, he temporized. “We will see what comes of the council,” he said and ignored the disapproval on Beliond’s face.


A stir of activity seemed to be underway in the center of the Hall, and a stool was set in the middle of the throng of Elves.  Aragorn approached the center of the room accompanied by a hobbit whom Legolas recognized with surprise as Bilbo. The hobbit seated himself on the stool. 


“This is a challenge, my Elven friends,” said the hobbit. “See if you can tell which parts of the song are mine and which were written by the Dúnadan.”  Then the hobbit began to chant a song about Eärendil, a topic that struck Legolas as in somewhat questionable taste in Elrond’s house.


At the end, the Elves all applauded, but one of them, whose name was apparently Lindir, spoke for the group, saying that Bilbo could not expect them to tell his parts of the song from Aragorn’s on just one hearing.


Bilbo was gleeful, but the Elf defended himself. “It is not easy for us to tell the difference between two mortals,” he said, which, given that the two mortals were Bilbo and Aragorn, struck Legolas as amusing.


Aragorn had drifted away and stood leaning over the chair of the Lady Arwen.  Legolas watched them for a moment and then averted his eyes, feeling inexplicably as if he were violating their privacy, although there was a crowd all around.


Beliond caught his sleeve.  “We are going now,” he said. “You will let us know what happens in the morning?”


Legolas nodded and then settled on the bench that his friends had just vacated to listen to the songs.  He did not notice Beliond’s frown or the fear in his eyes.




(October 25, 3018 TA, morning)


The morning of Elrond’s council dawned clear and cool.  Legolas was in the garden waiting when the bell sounded summoning all who had been invited.  As he made his way to the porch where the council was to be held, he was stopped by a Man he had never seen before who was dressed richly but in clothes that were obviously worn from travel.


“Can you tell me where your lord is holding his council?” the Man asked politely.  Legolas was amused. This Man apparently took him for one of the Imladris Elves.  Perhaps I have lingered here too long, he thought half jokingly.  But then, if as Lindir claimed, Elves found mortals hard to tell apart, perhaps the reverse was true too.  Perhaps they all were more alike than they thought. He put these thought aside and offered to show the newly arrived Man to the meeting.


5. Aftermath of the Council 


(October 25, 3018 TA, afternoon)


Legolas emerged from the council and made immediately for a secluded corner of the garden where he could pace in privacy.  He needed time to reacquire his equilibrium before he and his companions prepared to depart.  The meeting had been worse, far worse, than he had anticipated. As speaker after speaker had risen, the depth of Middle-Earth’s plight had become more and more evident.  He had become painfully aware of Gondor’s lonely struggle, of the efforts of Aragorn and Mithrandir to prevent catastrophe, and of the astounding courage of Frodo and Sam as they volunteered to take the ring to Mordor.  And the potential consequences of Mirkwood’s failure to hold Gollum had become clear.


Aragorn’s words burned in his brain: “How came the folk of Thranduil to fail in their trust?”  At that moment in the council, his pleasant companion of the previous two days had disappeared and a stern judge had stood in his place.  Legolas could see in him the Chieftain and future king that Elrond had said he was. He had made what explanation he could, but in the face of what he had heard, the plea that they had only been overly kind seemed pointless.  He thanked the Valar for Mithrandir’s pacifying words which had gone a long way toward lessening his anger at the wizard for forcing this shameful situation upon him.


Moreover, he found to his surprise that he was angry at Elrond.  Elrond had refused to say where the three Elven rings of power were, but one did not have to guess too wildly to see a link between the peace of Imladris and its lord’s possession of a ring.  No wonder Imladris was serene while Mirkwood suffered, Legolas thought bitterly. He did not know why he blamed Elrond for Mirkwood’s grief, but somehow he did. He was sick of this place, he told himself.  It was time to go home.


He drew a deep breath.  He would need to find his three companions soon. They had undoubtedly heard that the council was over and would be eager to be on their way.  He suddenly became aware that footsteps were approaching his refuge, and his ears told him who it was that approached. Turning, he found himself face to face with Aragorn. They regarded one another in silence for a moment.


Finally Aragorn spoke. “Elrond has set me a task, Legolas, and I ask your help in doing it.”


Legolas blinked.  He had expected a reproach, not a request for aid. “You believe that I could help you?” he asked.


Aragorn nodded.  “Searchers have found three of the Black Riders’ horses drowned in the ford.  Elrond has asked that his sons and I go at once to explore the rapids below it to see if we can find signs of the other six.  If the Riders are without their horses, they will be long in returning to Mordor and then coming here again to search for the Ringbearer.  But if the other six are still waiting for him outside the borders of Imladris, then he cannot set out.  We need to be sure, and your experience with the Nazgûl may help us in our search.”


Legolas considered briefly and then spoke.  “I will come.  Indeed I count it as an opportunity to atone in some small part for the loss of Gollum.”


Aragorn grimaced.  “I spoke in haste at the council,” he said.  “None could have foreseen what happened.”  He turned the topic. “Come then. We go at once,” he said and turned to go, but Legolas stopped him.


“I must speak to my warriors first,” he said.  “I will be brief.”


Aragorn frowned.  “Very well, but hurry.  Now that Frodo’s mission has been decided, Elrond wishes to clear his path as quickly as possible.  If we cannot find an answer at the rapids, we will need to send scouting parties, and Elrond wishes them to be underway by tomorrow at the latest.  There is scarce time left today to do what is needful.  Meet me and the sons of Elrond at the stables as quickly as you can.” He started off one path and Legolas took another.


Legolas found his warriors in their quarters, packing their belongings.


“We will be ready momentarily,” said Beliond.


“You must abide a while yet,” said Legolas firmly.  “I am going with Aragorn and the sons of Elrond to search for further news of the Nazgûl. You remember that the guard told us that they had tried the Ford of Bruinen two nights before we arrived.”


Beliond’s eyes flashed.  “Legolas, what are you thinking?  I cannot believe that you are being led to forget your obligations to Mirkwood and to your father by this Man’s stories of adventure.”


The morning had been stressful, and Legolas lost his grip on his normally even temper.  “You forget to whom you are speaking,” he snapped, and the other three were startled to see his sudden resemblance to Thranduil.  “Events are under way that you know nothing of, and no one who cares for Middle-Earth can fail to act now if they are able.”


Beliond glared at him for a moment and then lowered his eyes but not before Legolas had seen the pain mixed with the anger in them. “I beg your pardon, my lord,” Beliond said stiffly.


Legolas cringed inwardly in sudden guilt.  Beliond had supported him through the terrors of his first battles and guided him through the uncertainties of his first command.  Legolas knew that Beliond’s devotion to him was not just a matter of duty but was also an expression of affection and pride in Legolas’s accomplishments.  And he also knew that Thranduil would still hold Beliond accountable if his youngest son went astray. It was only natural that Beliond should express his concern now.


“My errand should be finished by tonight,” he said more gently, “and tomorrow I will be free to go.  I will tell you of what went on at the council on the way home.  Some of what I learned concerns Mirkwood closely, and Adar will need to be told as soon as possible.”


Beliond still looked unhappy, but he nodded grudgingly.  Amdir and even Annael were both looking at him warily.  When the ghost of Thranduil slipped over Legolas’s form, even his friends trod carefully.


“I will return as soon as I can,” he assured them and then set out for the stables, where he found Aragorn, Elladan, and Elrohir waiting impatiently for him. He had barely led his horse from the stable before the other three set off at a rapid trot for the Ford of the Bruinen.  He kneed his horse and caught up, riding behind Elrohir as they made their way up a steep trail out of the valley and then along ridges leading southwest.  After a journey of perhaps two hours, Elladan called a halt and they approached the ford more slowly, allowing the Imladris guards to emerge from the surrounding woods.


“Mae govannen, my lords,” one of the guards greeted them.


“Mae govannen, Êlsarn,” said Elladan.  “Has the search turned up anything more?”


“No, my lord,” the guard replied.


“We are going to search the rapids,” Elladan told him.  “Now that the flood has subsided, we may be able to spot signs of the Riders.  Can you send two of your fellows to help us?”


As Elladan and the guard were talking, Legolas shivered slightly in the brittle afternoon sunlight.  Uneasily, he scanned the banks of the river.  He became aware that Aragorn was watching him.


“What is it?” Aragorn asked.


“It is the Nazgûl,” Legolas said. “I can feel that they have been here.”


“Recently?” Aragorn’s tone was sharp.


Legolas shook his head. “Nay.  The feeling is faint.”


Elladan and the guard had now finished their parley. Accompanied by Elrohir, two of the guards began making their way across the ford to search the opposite river bank. Elladan, Aragorn, and Legolas picked their way down the river bank toward the rapids that lay some distance below the ford.  Legolas felt his uneasiness gradually growing and was aware that Aragorn was watching him.


At last, they halted and dismounted.  Aragorn organized the search.  “Spread out down the bank,” he said.  “Look for anything caught in the undergrowth along the edges and also scan any surfaces in the river itself upon which something might have lodged.” 


Across the river, they could see Elrohir organizing a similar search, although only one of the guards searched with him, while the other guard stood watching the woods with a nocked arrow.


Elladan began to search the area that was closest to the beginning of the rapids, while Aragorn trotted further downstream and Legolas searched still further.  They had been looking for only a few minutes before it became obvious that the receding waters of the flood had left the bodies of several horses.  The stench of death drew Legolas to an eddy along the bank just as he heard Elrohir shout from across the way that he, too, had spotted a body.  Legolas hesitated, looking at the swollen corpse before him.  He would not have wanted to touch the thing anyway, given its decomposed state.  But the creature’s association with a Rider meant that he was doubly loath to have contact with it.  Suddenly Aragorn was by his side, holding out a fallen branch.


“Help me push it out,” he said, wielding a branch of his own.  “We’ll let the river take it.”  The two of them nudged the body out into the current. “Are you all right?” Aragorn asked.  Legolas nodded silently.  Aragorn returned to his own part of the bank, and the two of them resumed searching.


All told, they found and disposed of five bloated corpses, which meant that eight of the Nine were accounted for.  They lingered into the dusk, searching further in the hopes of finding signs of the last Rider.  Aragorn had just shouted across to Elrohir, calling a halt to the search, when Legolas spotted something dark caught in the branches of a tree that had fallen into the edge of the river some ways below where he had been looking.  He shouted to his companions and then started toward the object.


As he drew near it, he saw, to his disappointment, that it was not another drowned horse, but some sort of cloth, perhaps a dark cloak.  He started to reach for the cloak and then suddenly drew back his hand.  A familiar icy terror flooded through his system, one that decades of effort had taught him to control.  Aragorn was suddenly beside him. “What is it?” he asked.


Legolas braced himself and reached again for the cloak, pulling it from the water and spreading it out before them. It was in shreds and contained nothing to mark who had worn it, but Legolas was in no doubt. 


“It belonged to one of the Riders,” he said and then flung the thing from him in disgust.  He wiped his hands on his tunic as if he had dipped them in something foul.


Aragorn looked curious and then picked up the tattered garment.  Elladan had now arrived.  “You can feel the presence of its owner?” he asked.  Legolas nodded. “I may feel somewhat colder when I touch it,” Aragorn said, “but nothing like what you evidently feel and nothing like what I feel in the presence of the Nazgûl themselves. Do you sense anything coming from this, Elladan?”


Elladan looked at Legolas and then at the cloak.  “I do not think so,” he said, although he drew back his hand quickly after touching the garment.


“Can your Mirkwood companions sense the Nazgûl like this too?” Aragorn asked.


“No, but my adar and my brothers can,” Legolas answered. “Adar says it has something to do with the havoc the Nazgûl have worked in Mirkwood and my family’s tie to the woods.”


Aragorn looked thoughtful.  “Come,” he said.  “It grows late and Elrond will be awaiting our news.”


Legolas could not have agreed more.  Getting away from this spot struck him as a very good idea.  He followed the other two to where they had left their horses and then rode with them back to the ford to meet Elrohir.  It was dark before they reached Imladris.  Aragorn went immediately to report the results of their search to Elrond, while the twins volunteered to take care of their horses and Legolas went to do his much delayed packing.


He was searching for his other pair of boots when a servant knocked and then entered his chamber with a tray of cold meat, bread, and wine.  They had been so late that they had missed evening meal, and Legolas was grateful for the food, for he suddenly realized that he had missed mid-day meal too and was very hungry.  The servant put the tray on a table and then said, “When you have finished eating, my lord, Lord Elrond wishes to speak with you in the library.”  He withdrew, closing the door behind him.


Legolas subsided wearily into a chair and began to eat.  He was glad for the summons from Elrond because he wished to ask for Elrond’s permission to tell Thranduil all that had passed at the council.  And of course, he needed to bid the Lord of Imladris good bye, for his party would undoubtedly be leaving early in the morning.  Beliond was probably not going to want to wait for daylight, Legolas thought with a small smile.


He ate quickly and was glad of the warming influence of the wine.  Then he set off for Elrond’s library, knocked, and was bidden to enter.  This evening, Elrond was seated at the table in the center of the room, with maps spread out before him.  “Come and sit down, Legolas,” he invited, and Legolas did so. He found that in Elrond’s presence, the resentment that he had felt immediately after the council disappeared.


“My lord,” Legolas began, “I wish to sure that I may tell all that passed at the council to my adar.”


“Of course you may,” said Elrond. “These are matters that Thranduil needs to know of. But Legolas, I have something else to ask of you, and if you grant my request, you may have to inform your father by messenger rather than in person.”


Legolas blinked. “What do you mean, my lord?” he asked cautiously.


“You know, of course, that Mithrandir and I want to be sure that the Nazgûl are not waiting to pounce on the Ringbearer the minute he steps out of Imladris,” Elrond began, and Legolas nodded.  “Because you and the other searchers found eight dead horses, we believe that those eight Riders will be making their way slowly back to Mordor.  But we cannot be certain they are not lingering, and we have no way to know what has become of the ninth Rider. Therefore, we are sending out search parties to seek for signs of them.  The party going north left as soon as we heard what you had found at the rapids.  Tomorrow, parties will leave in all the other directions.”  He gestured toward the maps on the table, and Legolas looked to see routes marked faintly on them.  He looked up at Elrond questioningly.


“Ordinarily,” Elrond went on, “I would expect that you and the other Mirkwood warriors would travel with the party going east, for I expect that they will go as far as Thranduil’s realm. The dwarves are going with them as they make their way to the Lonely Mountain.”


Now Legolas was really curious. “If you do not expect us to go east, my lord, then where do you expect us to go?” he asked.


“Aragorn has requested that I ask you to go west with him,” Elrond answered. “He will be joined by some of the Rangers of the North, whom he plans to meet at a point some little distance from here.”


Legolas was astonished at the request, but he knew immediately that he would agree to it.  For to his surprise and somewhat to his shame, his heart leapt with relief that he did not have to go home yet and would still be part of this great venture. The thought crossed his mind that Beliond knew him better than he knew himself sometimes.


Elrond went on with his explanation.  “He believes that your sensitivity to the presence of the Nazgûl will be of great help to him in his search.”


“My lord,” Legolas said formally, “I would be honored to accompany Aragorn on this venture.”  He spoke but the truth.  In the short time that he had known Aragorn, he had become fascinated by the Man’s wide experience of Middle-Earth. And he admired the unassuming determination with which Aragorn had worked for the defense of the helpless. He found that he wanted with all his heart to help the Man achieve his goals.


“Excellent,” Elrond smiled at Legolas’s ready agreement.  “Your companions may go with you or accompany the eastern scouting party,” he added, “whichever they choose.”


Legolas paused. His companions were going to need a considerable amount of explanation before he presented them with this choice, he thought.  Then he told himself that Mirkwood owed this aid to Aragorn who had pursued Gollum over half of Middle-Earth only to have Thranduil’s people lose him again.  He would remind his companions of that.


Elrond now rose and Legolas did too.  “You will probably want to write to your adar,” he said.  “Glorfindel is leading the eastern party.  You may give your letter to him.  I expect the remaining scouting parties will all leave early tomorrow, so I will not keep you from whatever preparations you need to make.”


“Thank you, Lord Elrond,” said Legolas, and with a bow, he left the room.


Outside the door, he paused, and then turned resolutely in the direction of the door leading outside and toward the barracks.  There was no point in putting off the inevitable.  He took the path toward the quarters of the Mirkwood warriors.  All three of them were sitting peacefully on the bench outside their door, enjoying the autumn evening.  Beliond rose as he approached.  “Ah,” he said, “you have news for us.”


“Yes,” said Legolas, “although I fear it is not the news you want to hear, Beliond. Sit down again, and I will tell you what has taken place today and what choice we have for tomorrow.”


Reluctantly Beliond sat again, and Legolas drew up a stool and sat with his companions. As briefly as he could, he told them what he had learned at Elrond’s council. The significance of his tale was not lost on them. They turned pale as he told of the reappearance of the One Ring and the mission of the Ringbearer.  Silence prevailed for a moment after he had finished, and then Beliond spoke for all of them.


“Legolas, you cannot possibly intend to delay any longer.  If the Evil One is on the move, then Mirkwood too will be in his path. We must return with all speed.”


“Listen to me,” Legolas urged.  “If the mission of the Ringbearer fails, then any effort we make in Mirkwood will go for naught.  We must first do what we can to help Frodo, and Lord Elrond has asked that I go with a party scouting to the west to look for signs of the Black Riders. Frodo cannot depart until we are certain that they have gone.”


“Surely they are not scouting only to the west,” Beliond protested with unfortunate logic.  “Can we not ride east and be just as useful?”


“Aragorn has asked for my help in the west where the Nazgûl were last seen,” Legolas said, ignoring Beliond’s snort of disapproval. “And besides,” he added with sudden inspiration, “the dwarves will be in the eastern party.  I do not think it would be either wise or pleasant for us to ride with them.”


Amdir nodded vigorously in agreement with that assertion. Next to him, Beliond looked resigned.  He might not approved of Legolas’s actions, but Legolas knew that whatever he chose, Beliond would try to make sure that no harm came to him as a result.


Legolas went on, “If any of you wishes to join the eastern party, you may. Or you may come west with me. The choice is yours.”


Beliond’s answer was instantaneous.  “Then we go with you.  We will not leave you to find your way home alone.”


Meaning also, thought Legolas, that Beliond had no intention of returning to face Thranduil without Legolas safely in tow.


“Good,” he said. “We leave at dawn.  I will go now to write to Adar about the results of the council.”  And bidding them good night, he left them.


Legolas sat far into the night writing to his father.  He wrote easily enough of what he had learned at Elrond’s council, terrible as that news was.  He found it much more difficult to explain his own delay in returning home.  In the end, he settled for saying that Lord Elrond had asked him to undertake the task, and he had believed that Mirkwood’s failure to hold Gollum could be atoned for by agreeing.  “We will return with all speed once the search is completed,” he wrote.  “Know that I keep you and the Woodland Realm in my thoughts and would not neglect my duty to either of you.”  Having sealed his letter, he lay down and slept fitfully for what remained of the night.


At dawn, the scouting parties assembled in Elrond’s courtyard.  The horses had all been brought from the stable, and servants and warriors milled around checking on mounts and supplies.  Legolas threaded his way through the confusion and handed his letter to Glorfindel.  “Please give this to King Thranduil, my lord,” he asked.


“Of course,” Glorfindel answered. “I will put it with the other letter.”


Legolas assumed that Elrond, too, must have written to Thranduil about the enterprise that was now under way.  It never occurred to him that Beliond had written his own letter to the king.


At a signal from Aragorn, the four Mirkwood Elves mounted and they all rode off into the grey light of morning.


6.  Into the Angle 


(October 26-29, 3018 TA)


For several hours they rode, crossing the Ford of the Bruinen and the plain beyond and then climbing into the wooded uplands, occasionally finding the trail so steep that they had to dismount to lead their horses.  The path along which Aragorn led them ran southwestward, roughly paralleling the course of the river.  They were alert for signs of the Nazgûl, believing that since the Nine had last been seen riding through this area, they might have retreated there.  As they rode, Legolas was acutely aware of the fact that Beliond was evaluating every move that Aragorn made, checking his judgment, his choice of route, and probably even his horsemanship.


Toward mid-morning, Aragorn called a halt near a small stream that ran down to the river.  They needed to rest and water the horses, for the climb had been steep.  They all dismounted and turned the horses loose.  Legolas drank from his water flask and then went to refill it in the stream.  Beliond crouched beside him, filling his own flask, and then splashing water over his head, for the day had grown surprisingly warm for late October. Legolas half suspected that the influence of Elrond’s ring may have tempered the weather even this far from his house.


The two of them rose and Beliond turned his gaze on Aragorn, who was picking his way over a small, rocky hill that rose just where the stream left the beech trees of the forest.  “So this is the Heir of Isildur,” Beliond said musingly. “His ancestor was a valiant warrior, but like most Men, he was unable to resist the lure of power.”  He glanced at Legolas. “What do you know of this Man?”


Legolas was still watching Aragorn as he turned over several rocks that lay on the top of the little hill.  He found one that seemed to interest him, and then took another and began to scratch at it with his eating knife.  What was he doing? Legolas wondered.


He turned to Beliond and began to answer him.  “He was fostered in the House of Elrond,” he said slowly trying to think of exactly what he did know about Aragorn.  “But I think that since he came of age, he has lived mostly among Men.  From the things he speaks of, he seems to have traveled as far as Gondor, although I think that recently he has lived among his own people, the Dúnedain. But at least some of them seem to be wanderers, for he has ranged with his kinsmen hunting some of the evil creatures that have come to inhabit Eriador. He also seems to have been on errands with Mithrandir.”  He held Beliond’s gaze and answered the question that lay behind the one that Beliond had asked, “I believe that he is completely trustworthy.”


Beliond grunted in response. “I hope so,” he said and walked off toward where Annael was pointing out something along the edge of the stream to Amdir. Aragorn now approached Legolas.  His gaze went to where the other three Elves were looking, but he made no comment.


“I have left a message for any rangers that pass this way,” he announced, still watching the other Elves.  “They will send word to Elrond if they have seen sign of the Nine.”


Annael straightened up and glanced over at Legolas and Aragorn.  He spoke briefly to the other two and then approached with Beliond and Amdir trailing behind.  “Men have been here within the last two days,” he announced. “There were two of them. The signs are slight, but they are there. They were headed north.”


Aragorn nodded. “Yes, I saw the marks,” he said.  “The Men were rangers. They come this way sometimes, hunting for Orcs and wolves and other agents of the Enemy.”


“How do you know who it was?” asked Amdir curiously.


“They left a sign among those rocks,” Aragorn gestured toward the rocky hill.  “And besides, few Men can travel and leave such slight marks of their passing.”  He looked at Annael. “Your woodcraft is strong,” he said, matter-of-factly.   Annael looked startled by the compliment from this Man who had been so stern-faced and quiet on today’s ride.


“I am a Wood-elf,” Annael offered, as if such an explanation should be obvious.


Aragorn laughed and then turned to Legolas. “Have you felt the presence of the Nazgûl?” he asked. Legolas shook his head.  “Tell me if you do,” Aragorn instructed, and Legolas saw Beliond frown at the peremptory tone.  Aragorn moved off toward where the horses were gathered grazing nearby in equine sociability.  “We should go on,” he said. And they remounted and resumed their ride.


By late afternoon, the early autumn dusk was closing in and they stopped for the night.  This area was reputed to be frequented by stone trolls and night travel was ill-advised. The Elves immediately fell into the division of labor that they had established among themselves on the journey from Mirkwood.  Amdir, who was a good cook, began setting up for the evening meal. They would eventually have to subsist on dried food but tonight he had some bread and fruit that he had brought from Imladris in addition to salted meat.  Annael started off to hunt for firewood and Beliond took charge of the horses.


Aragorn eyed them with approval, recognizing the practiced efficiency of the Mirkwood warriors.  Then he looked at Legolas.  “By process of elimination,” he said, “I conclude that you are your party’s scout.”  Legolas nodded, unsurprised by Aragorn’s perceptiveness. “Would you care to join me in making a circuit of the area?” Aragorn asked with an exaggerated bow of invitation.


Legolas smiled, picked up his bow, and started his circuit on the opposite side of the camp from Aragorn, circling in the same direction.  They each reentered the camp at the points from which they had started, neither having sensed any danger.  By the time they returned, Annael had the fire going and Amdir had a simple meal ready for them. 


As they ate, Legolas was aware that not only Beliond, but all three of his companions were watching Aragorn.  They had had very little contact with him in Imladris and thus were taking his measure only now.  Aragorn seemed untroubled by their scrutiny.  Legolas had never seen a Man who was as comfortable in the company of Elves.  Most Men found an Elf’s gaze hard to bear, but then most Men did not have Aragorn’s background.


After the meal, Aragorn lit his pipe. The Elves were startled. Even Legolas had not seen Aragorn smoke in Imladris and all of the Elves found the smell revolting. The four of them moved carefully upwind of him. 


“So, my lord,” Beliond began, “Just how long do you expect this scouting party to take?” Legolas flinched at his tone, but he kept quiet.  Aragorn had given them a general sense of their route before they had left Imladris, and they knew that they were crossing the southern part of the Trollshaws and then heading south into the Angle, the arrowhead shaped tract of land formed by the Bruinen River flowing into the Mitheithel. There, they expected to find some of the Rangers of the North and ask them to join the scouting party. Then they would search west and south for any sign of a Black Rider.  None of the Elves had been through this part of Middle-Earth before.


“Perhaps as long as two month,” Aragorn said equably, “perhaps a little less.”


Beliond frowned.  Legolas’s account of the council had convinced him of the importance of what they did, but he still hated being away from the realm he had defended for so long. And he clearly did not like Legolas’s interest in the actions of Aragorn and Frodo.  Still, to Legolas’s relief, Beliond held his tongue.  He did not wish to have to arbitrate between the ranger he admired and the Elf who had mentored him for so long.


Aragorn smiled slightly at Beliond. “Believe me, friend Elf,” he said, “you cannot be more interested in completing our task quickly than I am.  I would see Frodo on his way as soon as possible.”  Beliond said nothing, but he seemed to accept Aragorn’s claim.  Aragorn stood and stretched.  “Let us set the watches,” he said. “We will be underway early.”  They divided up the watches between them, with Aragorn taking the first. They rolled up in their blankets and passed an uneventful night.


By late morning of the next day, the road had turned westward and they had left the Bruinen behind.  They rode through steep hills covered in dense forests.  They had been doing so for perhaps two hours, when Legolas became aware of an unusual noise in the woods off to his right.  Glancing at the others, he could see that the other Elves had all heard it too, and that a split second later, Aragorn was also aware of something heavy creeping toward them.  More than one something, thought Legolas, and had such a thing not been impossible in broad daylight, he would have thought that they were trolls.


The Elves were off their horses and into the trees in the blink of an eye, with the horses running riderless on ahead.  Their bows were in their hands with arrows nocked.  Aragorn stayed on horseback and drew his sword, ready to ride at whatever was coming.  The road was narrow but there was still enough room to maneuver, and he hated to surrender the advantage that being on horseback gave.


A moment later, the impossible happened and two stone trolls charged out of the trees.   One of them went straight for Aragorn, while the other clawed fruitlessly for the ankle of Amdir, who was perched in the beech tree next to him.  All four Elves loosed their arrows.  Legolas’s and Beliond’s penetrated the scaly hide of the troll that was charging Aragorn.  Annael’s lodged in the chest of the other troll and Amdir’s pierced the troll’s eye as the beast looked up at him.  Black blood bubbled from the wounds.


The troll whose eye had been wounded stopped and bellowed in pain, tugging at the arrow, but the other continued despite his wounds. Aragorn rode at him with his sword swinging.  He brought his weapon down where the troll’s head joined his shoulder, slicing deeply.  The creature staggered and then dropped to his knees. Frightened, Aragorn’s horse reared and his hooves drove into the troll’s skull, knocking him further to the ground. One arrow and then another flew from Beliond’s bow and lodged in the troll’s back.  He lay unmoving.


Aragorn looked quickly for the other troll and found that Legolas stood on a tree limb directly over the troll, firing arrow after arrow coolly into the top of the troll’s head.  The arrows must have been fired with tremendous force, for they pierced the thick bone of the troll’s skull.  With another bellow, the troll dropped to his knees and then fell face forward.


There was a moment’s pause, and then the Elves dropped cautiously from the trees and Aragorn dismounted, calming his horse as he did so. They checked gingerly on the reeking trolls and confirmed that they were dead. The Elves immediately retrieved their arrows, each recognizing his own, checking them for usefulness, and wiping the ones they wanted on the grass to clear them of the stinking troll blood.  Even in this surreal moment, Aragorn recognized the disciplined care that good warriors take of their weapons.  He wiped his own sword and sheathed it.


They gathered together.  “I thought that stone trolls could not venture out by daylight,” said Amdir in a tone that sounded shaken, although he had been cool enough during the fight.  The disruption of his understanding of the world was far more upsetting to him that another in a long string of skirmishes with the creatures of the enemy.


“Mithrandir said that there were trolls about who were no longer dull-witted,” said Aragorn.  “I cannot say how bright these were, but perhaps the same sort of sorcery has been worked on them.” The five of them regarded one another. The battle here had been small, taking a few minutes at most, and none of them had been hurt. But the idea that the powers of evil creatures might be growing reminded them of the wider danger that was threatening to envelop them all.


“We should move on,” said Aragorn, reaching for his horse. The Elves whistled to theirs, and they were soon on their way again. 


They met no further adventure that day or the next day either, the third day of their trip. In the late morning of that third day, they came to a break in the rocky ridges to their left.  Aragorn called a short halt there and again inspected several small cairns, looking at the flat stones on top.  He scratched at one of them with his knife and then, when they were ready to move on, led the party off the road, turning them south. They bore south for the rest of that day, occasionally having to dismount and lead their horses as they descended from the uplands to the plains. By the next day, October 29, they had entered the Angle.


Aragorn led them on quickly now and bore somewhat east, drawing near to the woods along the edge of the Bruinen again.  As afternoon began to fade, Legolas was startled to see a small herd of sheep grazing on a gentle hill off to his left.  A short distance onward, he was further surprised to see grain fields and a hut just on the edge of the plains, near where the trees began.  They entered the trees and had to pick their way slowly along a narrow path.  Then the trees opened into a wider space and a small, stockaded town appeared. Aragorn led them to the closed gate and before he could even call a greeting, the gate was flung open.


“We saw you coming, Aragorn,” cried the lad who opened the gate. “Welcome to you and your friends.”


Aragorn slid from his horse and embraced the boy.  “Thamind,” he said, tousling the boy’s dark hair, “it is good to see you.  I hear that your father is home.”


“Aye, my lord,” the boy agreed. “But he grows restless and wants to be out again.”  He grinned. “My mother has a hard time keeping him in line.” He peered around Aragorn to look at the four Elves who had also now dismounted.  Aragorn introduced the Elves by name and then added, “They are from Mirkwood.”  Thamind eyed them curiously.


Several more children and some women had now come out of the dozen or so dwellings in the place and were coming to greet them.  “Ah, Aragorn,” one woman cried, and embraced him. “You are most welcome.”


Aragorn returned the embrace and then introduced the Elves again. “This is Thamind’s mother, Elániel,” he told them.  “Elániel, can you give us lodging for two or three nights?  I have left messages for rangers to meet us here, but I am not sure when they will get them.”


“Of course,” she was already turning to make arrangements. “Thamind, take their horses,” she said.  “Aragorn can stay with us, and there is room for the Elves in the hayloft in the barn.”


Legolas could feel Beliond bristling beside him at what felt like an insult, and she may have felt it too for she added, “It is where the sons of Elrond always stay.”


“Thank you, lady,” Legolas said with an incline of his head and a quelling glance at Beliond.


“Come,” she invited.  “You must be hungry.   I have been making stew and I am sure that we have enough for a few more.” She led them into one of the small dwellings.


Legolas blinked and suppressed a wrinkling of his nose. The single room was dark and reeked of tobacco smoke.  Moreover, to an Elf’s sensitive nose, it was obvious that the people here did not bathe nearly as often as Elves did.  Even during this journey, the Mirkwood party had bathed in one stream or another at least once a day. Legolas had no idea whether Aragorn had bathed or not.  He had simply not thought about it, and it had not seemed a pressing matter on the open road.  In this enclosed space, the matter became noticeable.  He began to see the wisdom of sleeping in the barn.


He glanced around the dusky space and became aware that a young woman was near the hearth and a man lay in a bed tucked in one corner.  Aragorn greeted them and again introduced the Wood-elves.  “This is Vánia,” he said, indicating the woman, “and this is Hadon.”  He approached the bed and grasped the man’s forearms in a warrior’s handclasp. “How are you, old friend?” he asked and pulled up a stool to sit at the bedside.


“Well enough,” Hadon grumbled. “I would be up and doing but Elániel seems to take it as a personal affront if I show signs of recovery.”


Elániel made a soft disgusted noise and set about making their guests comfortable, pointing the Elves toward benches at a table and bringing out mugs of ale.  The Elves sniffed at the mugs cautiously.  Elves customarily drank wine; ale was a drink of Men and dwarves.  Elániel noticed their hesitation.  “I beg your pardon,” she cried. “I had forgotten.” Thamind had now entered the cottage. “Go and see if there is any of the wine left that Elladan and Elrohir brought the last time they were here,” his mother ordered.


His companions looked so relieved that Legolas was moved to mischief.  “Nay, lady,” he protested. “We would not put you to such trouble.”  He glanced at his warriors and gave a smile so innocent that it would have sent his older brothers running to check their beds for booby traps.  “We are happy to drink the ale.”  He raised his own mug and took a sip, suppressing a grimace at the bitterness.  Beliond and Amdir looked astonished, but Annael was grinning at him openly.  He toasted Legolas with his mug and then he too took a sip. Legolas watched, amused, as he made a face. Then he happened to glance at Aragorn and found that he too was eyeing Legolas with amusement.


The younger woman, Vánia, now approached and laid bowls and spoons on the table.  In short order, Elániel was dishing up a stew and serving it with loaves of coarse bread.  She called Aragorn to the table and then she propped Hadon up in bed and began to spoon some of the stew up for him.  “Let be, woman,” he protested. “I can feed myself.”  She sighed and then rose, placed his evening meal on the stool beside him, and left him to it.


The serving of stew was meager, as one might expect when a meal intended for four was now shared with five more. But the bread was good and plentiful. The stew was spiced in a way that differed from anything Legolas had eaten before but was actually quite good.  And the ale too was drinkable, once he had gotten a bit accustomed to it.  As they ate, Aragorn and the people in the room exchanged news.  Hadon in particular spoke from his bed to tell about an incident in which Aragorn was most interested, for it concerned the Nazgûl.


“It was early in the morning of September 22,” he said.  “We were near the end of our watch when they swept down on us and tried to cross Sarn Ford and go into the Shire.  The men fought well for a time, but the Riders were able to strike some sort of dread into us, I think by sorcery. For you know these men, Aragorn. They would not have quailed at something ordinary.”  Aragorn nodded.  “We held them for the whole day,” Hadon went on. “But at nightfall, they swept us away and crossed the ford.  I know there were messengers who tried to go north to bring you word, but I do not think that any succeeded.  And it turned out that my leg was broken, so they brought me back here to the tender ministrations of my wife.”  The smile he gave to Elániel softened the sarcastic tone of his words.


Aragorn shook his head. “I learned later that something like this had happened,” he said, “but none of the messengers reached me.” They sat soberly for a moment.  Then, startling them all out of their reverie, a baby began to wail.  Vánia rose immediately and went to a cradle that Legolas had not noticed before.  She lifted the child out, cooing to it gently, and settled in a rocker near the hearth. She tossed a blanket over the child’s head and then opened the front of her dress and began to feed the infant.


Aragorn smiled at her. “I had heard that you and Graodan had a daughter,” he said.  “Has her father seen her yet?”


Vánia shook her head. “No, he has not been home in six months.”


Legolas suddenly became aware of the fact that they had seen only women, children and one wounded man in this settlement.  “Where are your men?” he asked, curiously.


“There are a scattered few guarding the settlement and working the fields,” Hadon said, “but for the most part, they patrol the lands between here and the Shire.”


The Elves were all silent for a moment. Then Beliond asked bluntly, “Why?”


Hadon smiled slightly.  “It has always been the responsibility of the Dúnedain to protect the helpless of Eriador,” he said.  “Ask Aragorn.”


But Aragorn shook his head.  “Not tonight,” he said.  “We are weary, and I think that my Elven friends have had too much ale.”


Amdir began to protest and then realized that Aragorn was teasing.  Legolas had noticed that Aragorn’s serious manner made it very difficult to tell when he was joking.  Thamind led the Elves to the stable where their gear had been stowed in the hayloft.  The hay was deep and soft and sweet-smelling.


“By the Valar, it stank in there,” said Amdir, sinking gratefully back.  “The stew was good though.  I wonder if she would tell me what she put in it.”


With very little more talk, they rolled themselves up in their blankets and settled down for the night.



Author’s note:  The song that Teoran sings is a slightly edited version of an anonymous poem from the early sixteenth century.




7.  Smoke (October 30 to November 5, 3018 TA)


They spent the next two days in the Angle, waiting for the Rangers who Aragorn assured them would appear shortly. Late in the evening of the second day, three men rode through the gates of the stockade to be greeted with warm cries of welcome from those within.  A middle-aged woman and a young woman who was obviously pregnant ran to embrace two of the men and the third, who looked younger than the other two, put his arm around the shoulders of an elderly woman who was probably his mother.


Aragorn greeted them all gladly but gave them little chance to see their families before he called them to a meeting in Hadon’s dwelling.  The three Rangers, four Elves, and Aragorn sat around the table while Aragorn explained their mission.  “We have heard nothing of the Nine in over ten days,” said the oldest looking of the three, whose name was Teoran.  “They were seen in Bree and then on the Great East Road, and then they rode east. But I don’t believe any of us has had word of them since then.”


The other two, Sadoc and Caroran, murmured their agreement.  Like Aragorn, all three of the Rangers were dark-haired and grey-eyed.  They were serious to the point of grimness, even Caroran, who could not have been more than five and twenty.  Legolas supposed that such gravity was natural, given the life they led away from their own homes and families, protecting those of others.  But the tenor of life among the Dúnedain was very different from the light-hearted playfulness of Elves, even in Mirkwood.


“The disappearance of the Riders bodes well for us,” Aragorn said.  “We hope they have gone back to their master, but we need to be sure.  So our purpose is to scout the area west toward Bree and then south along the Greenway.” The other three nodded silently.


Teoran glanced at the Elves.  “You will be accompanying us?” he asked.


“Yes,” said Legolas. “We have had much contact with the Nazgûl in Mirkwood.”


“The sons of Elrond have always spent much time with us,” said Teoran, “but Mirkwood Elves have never come to our aid before.  It is said that they mind their own business and have little interest in the business of others.”


“This concerns all of us,” said Legolas rather heatedly. “It is our business.” To his surprise, he could hear murmurs of agreement from all three members of his party.


Caroran had been studying Legolas.  “You are Thranduil’s youngest son?” he asked with a sudden smile.


“Yes,” Legolas answered.


Caroran laughed. “Then if the old tales are true, Teoran is wrong and you have come to the aid of the Dúnedain before.”  Legolas flushed, and Aragorn smiled.  “You will have to tell us the story,” Caroran went on, “and tell us whether Aragorn inherits his taste for travel from this ancestor.”


“Peace, you young fool,” said Teoran. “I was just wondering about why they were here.  He does not owe us his life story.”


“They are here because I asked them to accompany me,” said Aragorn.  “We met some trolls on the way here.  I think that you will find that the tales of the archers of Mirkwood are not exaggerated, Teoran.  They will be good companions. And Legolas can sense the Nazgûl’s presence even from touching objects they have handled.”


“I meant no offense,” said Teoran.  “I welcome help, but it is seldom offered to us.”


They would be leaving early in the morning, so Aragorn sent the Men home for what brief time they would have with their families. The Elves too withdrew to sleep. And in the morning, the eight of them rode out of the little stockade and north again toward the Trollshaws.


Aragorn set a swift pace, for he did not want to linger on the plains where they were highly visible while they were so close to the Dúnedain settlement.  Their course was more westerly this time, and they intended to be into the trees near the River Mitheithel by nightfall.  The Rangers rode in a close formation, immediately behind Aragorn, while the Elves were together in the rear.  None of the Elves was accustomed to long rides over open areas, for, with the exception of Beliond who had been to Dagorlad, they had spent their lives maneuvering in tight spaces between the trees. Legolas found that the lack of shelter made him feel exposed and uneasy, and when he glanced at his companions, he saw that all of them were looking around uncomfortably, as if surprised by the open space surrounding them.  Annael seemed particularly disturbed and in his cautious examination of his surroundings he was lagging somewhat.


“Stay close,” Aragorn called sharply. “We want to be together if trouble arises.”


Annael kneed his horse and caught up, but his face was flushed. Aragorn had told him what any novice warrior was taught in Mirkwood. Beliond scowled, and Legolas knew that he was unhappy at being under the Man’s command. 


They made only three brief stops, all for the sake of the horses. They themselves snatched what food and water they could while stopped.  At the first pause after the incident with Annael, Legolas approached Beliond and spoke quietly. “This is Aragorn’s mission, Beliond.  I have put us all at his disposal.”


Beliond glanced at him.  “Always remember that he has his own goals, Legolas.”  Then he remounted and that was the end of the matter.  He was too disciplined a warrior to create any problem and Legolas knew it.


Their effort at speed was rewarded when the tree line appeared in front of them as the day began to fade.  Aragorn led them into the sheltering woodlands, and at the first likely spot, they made camp.


As they slid from their horses, Aragorn called orders.  “Annael and Sadoc, gather some firewood.  Beliond and Caroran, take care of the horses.  Amdir will cook.  Legolas, Teoran, and I will scout the area.”  It took Legolas a moment to realize that Aragorn had assigned each of the Elves the task that he had undertaken in the smaller party that had ridden from Imladris.  Presumably he had done something similar with the Men. He had also mixed the Men and the Elves together for most of the tasks.  Legolas had been commanding the Mirkwood Home Guard for only a few years and knew that he still had much to learn about managing warriors.  He was curious to see if Aragorn’s tactics would help the two parties to merge into one.


He slid into the woods on one side of the campsite and circled silently, extending his senses to search for any danger.  He could hear Teoran moving ahead of him, but the Man was moved very quietly for one who was not an Elf.  Aragorn was apparently not the only Ranger who had been well-trained, Legolas thought.  He reentered the campsite, put down his bow, and sat leaning back against a tree, grateful to be back once again in familiar wooded shelter.


Amdir had finished cooking some sort of mix of dried meat and vegetables and was now dishing it up.  Legolas rose and retrieved his plate and then returned to his place by the tree.  Sadoc and Caroran had seated themselves near him with their plates full and, to Legolas’s amusement, they were now poking tentatively at the food in much the same way that the Elves had inspected the stew that Elániel had fed them.  Caroran tasted it cautiously, considered, and then tucked in with the hunger of the young.  Observing his reaction, Sadoc too began to eat with some enthusiasm.  When he had finished, he went hopefully to the cooking pot, found a bit more, and came back with it.


“Did your wife not feed you when you were home?” Caroran asked teasingly.


Sadoc grimaced.  “When she is at this stage of pregnancy, she loses her own appetite and the rest of us have to make do,” he said.  “By the next time I come home, she will be cooking again.”


Caroran shrugged. “By the next time we come home, she may well have had the baby.”


Legolas felt a stab of sympathy for these men who missed so much of the lives of their families.  And the lives of Men were so short!


When they had finished eating, they all relaxed under the trees and, to the muffled distress of the Elves, the Men all lit their pipes.  The combined smoke from all four pipes was thick and hard to escape.  After a moment, Annael began to sing a soft song of sympathy for the trees who were being subjected to it, and the other Elves joined in.


The song was subtle and the words did not speak of smoke or pipes directly.  When the song was done, Sadoc, who had been partnered with Annael in gathering wood, said, “I am not sure I understand that song, Annael.  Why are the trees in it sorrowing?”


Annael grinned at him.  “They are choked by the pipe smoke of Men,” he said blithely.


Sadoc raised his eyebrows.  “The sons of Elrond complain about the smoke, too,” he said, his tone showing that Elven complaints about smoking were something that did not particularly worry him.  “But they have not mentioned the trees.”


“They are not Wood-Elves,” said Annael.


Sadoc laughed slightly.  “I will promise to try to smoke downwind of you,” he said, “but I do not think I can make a similar promise about the trees. They are harder to avoid.”  And true to his word, he did move downwind of the Elves, as did Caroran.


After a while, Aragorn knocked the ashes from his pipe and suggested that they draw for the watches.  They rolled up in their blankets and slept.


The next day they rode up the eastern bank of the Mitheithel into the Trollshaws and made for the Last Bridge that would take them westward across the river and onto the Great Eastern Road.  As they neared the bridge, Aragorn called a halt and broke them into pairs. For the most part, they were matched as they had been the night before except that Aragorn now sent Teoran with Amdir and himself rode with Legolas.  They scattered and searched the area, Ranger experience augmented by Elven senses.


Legolas followed Aragorn north through rocks rising steeply on either side of them, crowned with thick growths of trees. They were alert but neither one of them sensed any danger. As they reached a small hollow, Aragorn dismounted and Legolas did likewise, watching as Aragorn searched again among small piles of rocks, looking for signs that other Rangers might have left.  He evidently found nothing and returned to stand next to Legolas as both of them took deep draughts from their water skins.


“Tell me about the Rangers,” said Legolas.  “What did Hadon mean when he said that they have always protected the helpless of Eriador?”


Aragorn smiled and shook his head a little.  “It has not quite been ‘always,’” he said, but it has been so for a thousand years and more.”  Legolas looked at him inquiringly.  “My ancestors once ruled this land,” Aragorn went on.  “But the Witch-king killed too many of the Dúnedain and the kingdom was shattered.  The kings of Arnor became the chieftains of the Dúnedain, but they have still tried to keep faith with the kingdom they had ruled, and the Rangers have done what they could to protect the scattered remnants of the people.”


Legolas nodded.  “A ruling family has obligations to the realm,” he said seriously, voicing a sentiment he had been taught since birth.  He hesitated and then said, “Elrond said that you were Chief of the Dúnedain.”




“You are often gone,” Legolas added mildly.


Aragorn looked at him.  “It is possible to serve your people even when you are far away,” he said. “And I have responsibilities to people beyond the Dúnedain.”


Legolas thought of how Aragorn had roamed Middle-Earth and supposed that what he had been doing was important.  But he wondered what Thranduil would have made of a ruler who left his people to manage without him.  He rather suspected that, despite his carefully worded letter, Thranduil would not even approve of the son of a ruler who left his people.  It could not be helped now, he thought.  He would be on his way home as soon as this scouting mission was finished, and his father could have his say then.


He and Aragorn remounted and rode back toward the rendezvous point at the eastern end of the bridge.  Teoran and Amdir were waiting for them, crouched down on their haunches with Teoran mapping out their route in the dirt for the untraveled young Elf. The others arrived soon after. None had seen any sign of the Nine or of any other servants of the Enemy.


They crossed the Last Bridge and rode westward along the Great Eastern Road, not troubling to conceal their own presence.  They were a strong enough party of warriors to repel any attack likely to come in this area, and if they drew the Enemy’s attention westward, they were diverting it from the way that Frodo would go anyway.  Indeed, riding openly might even draw the Nazgûl toward them if the Riders were about, not entirely a pleasant thought, but at least such an event would tell them what they wanted to know.


They scouted occasionally to each side of the road, always riding in pairs.  Twice more, Aragorn checked possible sites for messages from other Rangers.  They saw no sign of the Nine and had no word of them in messages.


They camped that night among the bushes and stunted trees that filled the Lone-lands to the south of the road.  They followed the same routine they had established the night before, except that Caroran volunteered to tend the horses by himself so that Beliond could bathe in the stream near which they were camped.  Beliond looked surprised and pleased by the offer.  Caroran shrugged. “The sons of Elrond seem to enjoy bathing,” the young man said.  “I thought perhaps you might too.”  Beliond clapped him gratefully on the shoulder and went off toward the stream.


Legolas returned from scouting the surrounding area to find Amdir alone in the campsite, fussing with their evening meal. “Where is everyone?” he asked.


“Annael and Sadoc brought back enough wood to start the cooking fire and then went for more,” said Amdir.  “It is scarce here. No-one else is back yet.”  At that moment, Aragorn emerged from the trees, and Beliond returned from the stream. Soon, they were all present and Amdir was dishing up what he had prepared. The Men seemed to have decided that Amdir’s cooking was good and they all ate with relish.  Legolas had finished and was leaning back against one of the small trees to watch the stars, when he became aware that Caroran was searching through his pack. 


“I cannot find my pipe-weed,” he said. “Surely I did not leave it at last night’s camp site.”  The other Men all made a noise that was between a laugh and a groan.


“If you did,” said Teoran, “your mood is going to be even fouler than usual.  It’s probably just lost in that rat’s nest of a pack you keep. You should have let your mother organize it for you.  Let me give you a bit of my pipe-weed just for tonight.”  He began to look through his own pack, frowned, and then searched again with increasing concern.  He finally gave up. “I cannot find mine either,” he said slowly and then turned to scan the Elves in the campsite, suspicion written large on his face.


Legolas was affronted and then suddenly remembered Amdir, alone in the campsite tonight when he had returned from scouting.  Across the campsite now, he could see Amdir with his eyes resolutely cast down, repacking some of the cooking gear.


Aragorn gave a snort of disgust and then intervened.  “My pipe-weed is right here in my pouch,” he said, “and Sadoc carries his that way too.  We can spare a little.” Sadoc made a face. Teoran looked as if he might be getting ready to say something, but Aragorn quelled him with a look.  “You probably left it behind,” he said resolutely. “We will speak no more about it.”  He passed some of his pipe-weed to Teoran, and Sadoc did the same for Caroran. The Men lit their pipes, but the atmosphere was unpleasant from more causes than the resulting smoke.


Legolas rose, crossed the campsite, and spoke to Amdir.  “Come,” he said shortly and walked off into the underbrush. Reluctantly, Amdir followed him.  Legolas led him some distance away, for the tree cover was sparse and he wanted to be out of earshot of the campsite.  Finally, he stopped and turned to Amdir.  “Where did you put it?” he asked.


Amdir looked as if he was about to protest his innocence but saw by the angry look on Legolas’s face that such a lie would make things worse. “I flung it into the stream,” he said sullenly.


Legolas bit his lip. They would not get the pipe-weed back, and Aragorn had told the Men to speak no more of its loss.  Forcing Amdir to apologize might stir things up again.  “Amdir,” he said, “these Men are our allies. You will not touch their belongings again, and you will treat them with respect.”  He paused.  “When we get home, I may have more to say about this depending on your actions for the rest of the trip.”  He examined Amdir’s face and was satisfied that he had made an impression on the younger Elf. “Come,” he said, and they returned to the campsite, were told what watches they were responsible for, and then went to sleep.


The next morning’s ride was quiet.  The continued their routine of scouting in pairs, but now Aragorn matched Amdir with Sadoc instead of the still angry Teoran, whom he sent with Annael.  All of the Men seemed to know very well what had happened to Teoran’s and Caroran’s pipe-weed, probably because they had seen Legolas lead Amdir way the night before. Amdir appeared chastened.  Legolas rather thought that he had enjoyed riding with Teoran the day before, for Teoran had taken trouble to make Amdir more familiar with a country that had made him wary.  But Amdir’s impulsive action with the pipe-weed had quashed any friendship that might have been growing between them.


Late in the morning, they overtook a party of three dwarves on ponies.  The Men approached the stout dwarf who appeared to be the leader of the party while the Elves hung back, for the dwarves were sending them wary glances. “Master Dwarf,” called Aragorn, “we bid you good day.”


“Good day to you as well,” said the dwarf, but Legolas noticed that the right hands of the other two dwarves were straying toward the handles of the axes in their belts.  Travelers with any sense were cautious these days.


“We ask news,” Aragorn continued. “Have you seen anything unusual on your journey?” He did not want to alarm the dwarves unduly, so his inquiry was general.


“Unusual?” repeated the dwarf doubtfully.


“Yes,” Aragorn persisted.  “Any trouble?”


“No,” said the dwarf.  “No trouble.  Only a fool would trouble us.”


Aragorn was satisfied and was about to bid them good day, when Amdir suddenly rode forward and spoke.  “Master Dwarf,” he said, “have you any pipe-weed you might be willing to sell?”


The other members of the scouting party stared at Amdir with their mouths open.  The dwarves too seemed startled, but recovered quickly. “What would an Elf want with pipe-weed?” asked their leader curiously.


“My need is none of your affair,” said Amdir snappishly.  “Have you any to sell?”


The dwarves conferred and then their leader answered.  “We can sell you a bit,” he said rather nastily, “but it is dear.”


Amdir grimaced and then dismounted.  He strode to the dwarf, pulling out his pouch as he did so.  He and dwarf conferred and, after some haggling and an oath from Amdir, the sale was made.  The rest of the scouting party watched with small smiles gradually appearing on their faces.  Amdir walked toward them and remounted, flinging the bag of pipe-weed to Teoran as he did so. The Man snatched it out of the air, now grinning broadly.


“Well done, Amdir,” said Legolas quietly.  And with no more ado, they rode on, soon leaving the dwarves behind.


When they camped that night, their spirits were better.  On one of their side excursions, Annael and Teoran had flushed several pheasants from the grass and then brought them down.  Thus they had fresh meat for evening meal, and Amdir roasted it to perfection.  They all ate with satisfaction.  Legolas sat near Sadoc and Caroran.


“Can all Elves cook this well?” asked Caroran.


“No,” said Legolas. “When you Men ride together,” he went on curiously, “who fixes the meals?”


“Teoran,” said Caroran promptly, “but he is a terrible cook.”  The three of them laughed, drawing the glances of the other members of the party.


They watched the stars open, with the Men smoking off to one side of the campsite.  Beliond started a song of the trees and stars of Mirkwood and the other Elves joined in. Then, to the surprise of the Elves, Teoran sang:


O western wind, when wilt thou blow


That the small rain down can rain?


Ah, that my love were in my arms


And I in my bed again!


Legolas was startled at this romantic, wistful song coming from this grim, practical warrior.  Men were amazing, he thought.  He would never understand them.


Soon after that, they slept.


They kept to this routine for two more days, and late in the afternoon of November 5, they reached Weathertop. This was as far west as they had intended to come on the Great Eastern Road.  They scouted the area and checked for any messages from other Rangers.  Thus far, their mission had been reassuringly quiet, and their brief stay on Weathertop was no exception.  They stayed overnight, and then started south toward the Greenway.

8.  Fire (November 6 to November 14, 3018 TA)


For the next five days, they rode southwest across the plains that lay for a distance south of the Great East Road.  The grey sky rose over them in an inverted bowl, and the late autumn grasses stretched in all directions.  Legolas found that the unfamiliar openness was still disturbing, and as the days wore on, he increasingly longed for the comforting presence of trees. On the third day, they climbed and crossed the long, grassy slopes of the South Downs and then rode across a further plain. They intended to intercept the Old North Road that ran south from Bree and then turned east toward Tharbad on the River Gwathlo. 


Late in the afternoon of November 10, they crested a small rise and the road lay in the distance before them.  Legolas looked over at Aragorn riding beside him as the Man raised his hand and halted the group’s progress.  The road was empty in either direction as far as even Elven eyes could see.  “The Old North Road,” said Aragorn. “You see why they call it the Greenway now.”  And indeed, the road was so little used that grass grew over it.


To Legolas’s left were the horses of Beliond and Caroran.  Beliond usually tried to stay near Legolas and he still kept Aragorn under more or less constant surveillance, but he seemed to have taken a liking to the young human with whom he had been scouting for the last week and more.  Legolas had been amused when Beliond had talked Caroran into trading off caring for the horses when they camped, so that each of them could have a turn to bathe. Teoran and Sadoc had teased their young companion about his Elven behavior, but he had simply suggested that they too could use a swim.


Annael and Sadoc were halted quietly behind him and, off to the right, Teoran was murmuring an explanation of the lay of the land to Amdir, pointing off to the north in the direction of Breeland.  The two of them had been scouting together again since Amdir had replaced the pipe-weed.


“We will camp here tonight,” said Aragorn, indicating a hollow just north of the road. Grateful for the early halt, they set up camp with practiced cooperation and slept early.


At daybreak, they joined the road and began to travel south, scouting along the way.  About mid-morning, Legolas’s sharp eyes caught sight of something moving on the road ahead.  In a moment, he was sure. “There is a small group of people approaching us,” he told Aragorn.


Aragorn was immediately cautious.  The road eventually led down toward Dunland, and he knew from his visits to Bree that some of the people who came north on it were smugglers and worse.  “What can you tell me about them?” he demanded.


Legolas studied the group.  “They are on foot,” he said, “and moving slowly, for they appear to be heavily burdened. “There are seven of them and it looks as if several of them are children or perhaps hobbits.”


Reassured, Aragorn led them forward until the people ahead were clearly visible to all of them. The foot party now visibly consisted of one man, two women, and several children. The man and the women were laden with packs and even the children carried bundles.  As the travelers spotted the scouting party, they plainly hesitated, evidently uncertain about the intentions of this party of armed warriors on horseback.


Aragorn halted his party and spoke to Legolas.  “They are nervous,” he said. “You and I will approach them.  The rest of you wait here.”  Legolas could hear Beliond shifting uneasily but the older Elf did as Aragorn ordered.


The two of them rode toward the foot party.  As Aragorn and Legolas drew near, they began to scramble into the scrubby growth to the north, as if looking for shelter, although there was precious little along the road here.  “Friends,” Aragorn called to them, “we mean you no harm.” They stopped and waited tensely as Aragorn and Legolas approached.


The people before them were thin and raggedly dressed and clearly ready to take flight.  Aragorn dismounted and Legolas followed suit, hoping to make these anxious people feel less threatened.  “Greetings, friends,” said Aragorn, holding his hands out palm upward.  “We seek only information.  Where you are traveling from?”


Most of the people eyed Aragorn warily, but one of the women was staring at Legolas.  “By the stars above!” she cried, “An Elf.”


All of them now turned to stare at Legolas, who also had his hands out away from his weapons.  Now he politely placed his right hand over his heart and bowed to the woman and her companions.  They gaped at him.  He was made forcibly aware again that he now moved in the world of Men.  He had never before felt quite so alien.


“This is Legolas of the Woodland Realm,” Aragorn introduced him, “and I am Aragorn of the Dúnedain.” Their eyes turned to him again, less frightened looking this time. The sheer normalcy of the introductions had evidently soothed them a little. Aragorn tried asking his question once more.  “We are seeking news of dangers you might have seen along the road,” he said.  “Can you tell us of any that you may have met?”


The man spat into the dirt. “Dangers,” he said bitterly. “Aye, there are dangers on the road, although none of those that we have met have equaled those we have fled.”


“Where have you come from?” asked Aragorn.


“We have a farm seven leagues or so west of Tharbad,” the man told him.  “With Tharbad in ruins, there aren’t many of us left in that part of the world, but we could not leave our land so easily. And we had a few neighbors still, though they were at a distance. But the Dunlendings have finally driven us out.”


“What has happened?” Aragorn urged him on.


“The Dunlendings have always been hard neighbors,” the Man answered. “But something is stirring them up now, and they have been raiding and burning the homes of Men in the south.  We could not stay.  We thought that we might be able to find safety and a new start near Bree, for we hear there is a strong community of Men there.”


Aragorn nodded. “There is,” he said, “although Bree too has its share of villains.” He looked at the man again.  “Have you met any unusual dangers along the road?” he asked carefully, not wanting to frighten these people further.


“Dangers, yes, although I fear they are not unusual in these terrible days,” the man answered.  “We had heard that there were evil men preying on travelers along this road, and we saw signs of them five days back - a man and a woman dead by the side of the road with their few poor belongings stolen from them.  We buried them, poor souls. It was all we could do.”


Legolas could not suppress a shocked intake of breath.  That Men could slaughter one another so casually made them seem primitive compared to Elves, for whom kinslaying was an offense that reverberated through millennia of consequences.


Aragorn frowned.  “Where did this happen?” he asked urgently.


“We are traveling slowly with the children,” the man said thoughtfully. “It was perhaps twenty leagues back, perhaps a bit more or less.”


Aragorn nodded grimly.  “We will see what we can do with these thieves,” he said. He turned and signaled to the rest of the scouting party to approach.  “Take care, friend,” he told the man.  “Thank you for your information.” He and Legolas remounted as the people passed them and started again on their long trek.  The other members of the scouting party skirted around them carefully, calling greetings, and approached Aragorn and Legolas.


“They have seen nothing of the Nazgûl,” Aragorn told them, “but they told us of other matters.”  They remained halted while Aragorn told them about the plight of the refugees on the road. They all looked aghast, but Legolas thought that the faces of the Elves reflected his own shocked revulsion.


Beliond’s face took on a look of cold determination that chilled even Legolas.  “I think that we can spare some time in this mission to dispose of these animals. Do you not agree, Aragorn?”  Legolas blinked. It was the first time on this trip that he had heard Beliond urge anything other than its speedy completion.


“I do,” Aragorn nodded.  “Let us watch for signs of them in the next day or two.”


They rode southeastward for the rest of that day and all of the next, meeting two other groups of refugees who told stories similar to the one they had already heard. They continued to scout for any sign of the Nazgûl and were grateful that they found none.  At mid-morning of the next day, though, Annael and Sadoc returned from a scouting foray with grim faces.


“We have found what looks like the aftermath of a raid by the thieves,” reported Sadoc. He and Annael led the group a short distance into some underbrush, where three dark heaps lay half hidden.  Aragorn and Legolas dismounted while the others waited.


Legolas crouched near one of the figures and found a grey-haired Man with an arrow through his throat.  He wore only a tunic and leggings, the thieves having taken even his cloak and boots.  Legolas rose and glanced over Aragorn, who was standing over the body of a younger Man.  They both turned toward the third dark heap.  A woman lay sprawled there. She was young and had probably once been fair. Her clothes had been torn from her.  Dried blood covered her thighs, only some of it from the stab wound in her belly.


Bile rose in Legolas’s throat and then fury flooded his body.  These people had been helpless.  Whoever did this had been both cowardly and evil.  He drifted toward the other Elves, feeling that they would share his horror at this scene that Elves found almost inconceivable, while the Men might take it all too much for granted.  Then he glanced at Aragorn and saw the white-hot anger on his face.  He scanned the faces of Sadoc, Teoran, and Caroran and found that they, too, looked sickened.


“Dismount and spread out,” Aragorn ordered the waiting party. “Look for signs of the direction they took.”  He glanced at the pathetic figures in the underbrush.  “We will bury these folk once we have read what the ground has to tell us.” He had no need to tell this group of experienced warriors to be careful not to destroy traces of their prey by walking over their trail.


They searched carefully, but it was Aragorn himself who noticed the faint marks that showed where the attackers had lain in wait.  The marks told them that there were as many as seven Men in the band and that the thieves had come and gone by the road. They buried the dead refugees as best they could in the hard ground, piling rocks over their shallow graves to protect them from scavenging beasts.


Then they made their slow way down the road on foot. Aragorn and Annael had shown themselves to be the best trackers over the last few days and they went before the party, searching the road and its edges for signs of the thieves.  The others stayed behind them, leading the horses in what shelter there was near the side of the road, so that they would be less easily seen if the thieves were watching.


At length, Aragorn gave a small cry. “Here,” he said.  “Here is where they left the road.”  He straightened up and looked north, the direction in which the trail he was following led him. He glanced at the others. “We will split up here,” he said.  “Annael, Legolas, Teoran, and I will follow this track north and see if we can locate their hiding place. The rest of you should seek a sheltered place south of the road and make camp. Make sure it’s hidden. We don’t want the thieves to know we are here. Send someone back to guide us there when we return.  Take the horses.”


They did as they were told, and the smaller search party was soon creeping slowly north with Aragorn and Annael in the lead, reading the signs that the thieves had left behind them.  Their quarry had obviously not had the kind of training that Rangers or Wood-Elves took for granted, for their trail was plain to see. After perhaps an hour of cautious advance, Aragorn raised a hand to warn them to silence, although their approach had been almost noiseless as it was.


They crept slowly through a denser wood and then stopped.  In front of them, the ground dropped away, cut over the years by a small stream that ran below them. To their left, the ground sloped downward toward the rocky streambed, and about halfway down, a dark opening, half hidden by bushes, revealed the existence of a cave, facing east.  They waited in silence, but heard nothing.


Aragorn signaled to the two Elves, pointing toward the cave. They looked at one another, and then in a partnership born of long practice, both of them swung into the trees and slipped silently toward the cave.  Annael worked his way around to the other side to get a different view, while Legolas descended cautiously and landed in utter silence on the rocks over the cave.  He lay still with one ear to the ground but heard nothing. He crept forward and peered cautiously over the edge.  He could see signs of a campfire site just outside the mouth of the cave, but no fire burned.  He glanced over at Annael who shook his head and then carefully eased his way over the edge, dropping to the ground to one side of the opening.  Annael now stood erect on a tree limb with his bow drawn, and the two Men, watching in tense anticipation, rose and readied their weapons too.


Legolas nocked an arrow in his own bow and drew it.  He edged forward, listened again, and then slipped into the cave.  He paused for the second it took for his eyes to adjust to the dimness inside but he felt immediately that there was no one in the cave.  He moved forward carefully.  In the first twenty feet or so inside the cave, signs that a number of people lived here were spread about.  There were bed rolls piled carelessly to one side, and cooking gear was stowed in a pile.  Clothes that were none too clean were thrown carelessly about.


The cave was a bit deeper than Legolas had expected and as he explored further he found small barrels stacked against a wall and a pathetic pile of clothes, small household goods, and other possessions that must have come from the refugees. The entire place stank of unwashed Men.  Legolas took another moment to count the bedrolls and then was only too glad to leave.


He made his way into the trees again and, joined by Annael, started back toward Aragorn and Teoran.  “There is no one there,” Legolas reported, “but this is certainly their hide-out.  I think that you were right, Aragorn, and that there are seven of them. The cave contains some of their plunder.  They must be selling some of what they steal in an organized way and perhaps doing some smuggling on the side.  There is far too much there for it to be solely for their use.”


Aragorn considered.  “Annael,” he finally said, “stay in the trees here and watch for their return. Do not let them know you are here.”  Annael looked affronted and Aragorn amended, “Do not engage them.  We need to form some sort of plan.”  They left Annael on watch and the three of them went to seek out their companions.  They found Caroran waiting out of sight near the road.  The young Man led them south to a denser growth of trees where the rest of the party waited.


Aragorn told them what the scouts had found.   The warriors pondered the information.


“There are too many of them for us to be certain that we could simply overwhelm them,” said Sadoc.


“Perhaps,” responded Beliond, “perhaps not.  We do not know what kind of fighters they are.  Men who slaughter defenseless old people and women may not do well against a war party.”


“Do not underestimate them,” warned Aragorn.  “If they are smugglers, then they have attacked merchant parties too, and those are usually well-guarded.”


“If they were holed up in that cave, they could be hard to get at,” Teoran mused.


“We need more information,” Aragorn said.  “We will watch the cave and see how they come and go.  We need to know when they are all there and whether they set guards. They left the cave unguarded today. Perhaps they rely on their isolation for their safety.”  He quickly organized the party, assigning guards for both the cave and their own campsite.  Teoran led Sadoc back to the cave to stand watch with Annael and then himself returned to their campsite. They stowed their gear and tied the horses, needing no one to tell them not to light a campfire.


In the late afternoon, Aragorn and Legolas moved silently toward the thieves’ cave to relieve Sadoc and Annael.  They halted some distance away and Legolas whistled a signal.  The group had found over the last two weeks that the Elves and the Rangers both used bird calls to signal one another and had taken the trouble to learn one another’s calls. After a moment, Annael and Sadoc emerged from the trees.


“They came back a short while ago,” Sadoc murmured quietly.  “They had a pack pony but it carried nothing, so perhaps they had delivered some goods somewhere.  The pony is staked in the woods just north of the cave. There is one guard in the shadows of the bank next to the near side of the cave opening.”


Aragorn nodded. “Tell the others,” he said, “but do nothing yet.”  Annael and Sadoc moved silently away to the south while Legolas and Aragorn slid into positions similar to those they had taken when scouting.  Legolas perched hidden in a tree near the cave, while Aragorn watched while lying flat on his stomach on the stream bank.


The pony had whinnied once as they approached but when the Elf and the Man drew no nearer to it, it returned to its grazing.  The guard sat on a rock, looking as bored as guards usually did when they assumed they were safe.  As afternoon turned to evening, two more of the Men emerged, built a fire, and roasted some small game. They appeared completely relaxed and unsuspicious that they were being watched.  Several emerged, ate, smoked, and then went back inside.  By the time they had set their night guard, Legolas and Aragorn had a very good idea of what they would be up against.   These were tough looking villains who would kill on a whim.


Beliond and Caroran came to relieve them, and Legolas and Aragorn withdrew. They walked back to their camp in thoughtful silence. As they crossed the road, Aragorn murmured, “I think that dawn would be a good time.”  Legolas nodded and they went to meet the others and lay their plans.


Just before dawn, they crept back toward the cave to take up the positions they had worked out.  Teoran and Amdir awaited them.  “All quiet,” murmured Teoran. He glanced at the small torch that Legolas carried and grinned. “The wind is from the east,” he observed. Legolas flashed him an answering grin.

“The Valar are on our side,” he said.


“The guard is asleep,” Amdir put in with malicious glee.  Aragorn snorted in disgust and then signaled the rest to get ready.  They scattered to their tasks.


Caroran went off to release the pony and send it away.  Sadoc slipped down the slope and approached the sleeping guard.  Without a moment’s hesitation, he slit the guard’s throat and then dragged the body off to hide it in the woods.  Legolas found himself recalling Sadoc’s pregnant wife and then thinking of the dead refugee woman.  For Sadoc, this was not kinslaying, he decided. It was the removal of a dangerous and disgusting beast that might threaten his family. Kinship was not just a matter of the same blood; it was a matter of the same wish for the welfare of others besides oneself.


Beliond and Amdir crept quietly toward the mouth of the cave, carrying large bundles of twigs soaked in pine pitch that they had prepared and carried with them.  With Elven stealth, they piled them as close to the mouth of the cave as they dared. They withdrew and took up positions in the trees across from the cave mouth, bows at the ready.


Legolas stood across from the cave with Annael next to him.  He had stuck the torch into the ground between them.  They each had several arrows whose heads were wrapped in moss that they had also soaked in pine pitch.  They were about to use a technique that Mirkwood Elves had used to flush giant spiders out of hiding.  Legolas glanced at the Men ranged near them, bows also ready.   Dawn was creeping over the horizon and there was now enough light that anyone leaving the cave would be visible.  Aragorn turned and pointed to Legolas and Annael, signaling them to proceed.


The two of them lit their arrows from the torch, took careful aim, and then fired into the kindling that Beliond and Amdir had set before the cave mouth.  They quickly repeated the shots and then did so again.  The kindling was burning now and smoking, and the wind that had risen with the dawn was pushing the smoke into the cave.  The warriors had to wait only briefly before a string of oaths erupted from the cave and two men came stumbling out, both shouting for the guard. The waiting warriors let them get slightly away from the cave mouth and then Aragorn and Teoran put arrows into their chests, sending them to the ground with only a single muffled cry.


The smoke was thick now and more men were staggering out of the cave, choking and sputtering.  The rest of the warriors now fired freely, and three more men fell dead under the rain of arrows.  But two of them skidded to a halt and retreated toward the cave, one of them taking the time to kick at the fire and scatter much of it.  Beliond, Amdir, and Caroran stayed where they were to guard against anyone escaping the area, but the others now charged down the slope toward the cave.  Arrows flew from the cave, one of them striking Sadoc in the shoulder, but the momentum of the Elves and Men carried them forward.


Legolas pushed into the smoky cave at Aragorn’s side, his long knife out and ready.  Instead of hot rage, he felt the cold concentration that had sometimes filled him in the rare battles that he had longed for rather than regretted.  The two remaining thieves were swinging swords and backing up, but they were badly outnumbered.  Aragorn struggled with the one nearest him and Legolas had no hesitation about shoving his knife into the Man’s back.  He spun and saw Teoran shove his sword deep into the other thief’s gut.  Teoran looked at him, and in his eyes Legolas saw understanding and kinship.


The battle was over within minutes after it had started.  Legolas walked out of the cave to find Sadoc seated on the grass with Aragorn bending over him, examining his wound.   Aragorn had removed a small healer’s pouch from his belt and was using a salve from it to clean the gash.  Sadoc sucked in his breath in a hiss of pain.  “What is that?” he asked irritably.


Aragorn straightened up.  “It’s new,” he said, grinning. “Lord Elrond showed it to me this last time I was in Imladris.  It is supposed to be very good at preventing infection. The wound is not serious,” he added, “but we’ll bind it well as soon as we get back to the campsite.” They had taken no other injury.  The thieves, on the other hand, would never again trouble the weak. 


Legolas sat on the bank outside the cave, feeling his heart slow and his battle frenzy fade.  Aragorn dropped down beside him. They rested in wordless companionship.


Caroran approached them with an unexpected grin on his face.  “You’ll never guess what was in the barrels at the back of the cave,” the young man said.


“What?” asked Aragorn rather wearily.


“Pipe-weed,” Caroran crowed happily. “The good Longbottom stuff.” Legolas could not repress a groan.  And suddenly Aragorn started to laugh, the first real laugh Legolas had heard from him in several days.  His enjoyment was infectious and the laugh spread.  For a few glorious moments, Elves and Men joined together in a laugh of relief, and shared experience, and genuine friendship.


9. The Decision (November 15 to December 24, 3018 TA)


They remained at the same campsite for the rest of that day and all of the next, giving Sadoc’s wound some time to begin to knit. On the morning of November 16, they set out eastward again.  The skies were grayer now than they had been when they set out on this trip, for autumn was turning gradually to winter. The wind had turned chill and pushed icy fingers through the folds of their cloaks.  They saw no sign of the Nazgûl, however, and were beginning to be cautiously hopeful that the Riders had gone.  On the evening of November 19, they rode into the ruined streets of Tharbad.


As they rode into the ruined town, Legolas looked around him curiously.  Tharbad had once been a thriving river port city of Men, but as the population of Eriador dwindled, battered by plague and war, the city had gradually shrunk and had finally been deserted a little over a hundred years before when floods devastated it after the Fell Winter. Still, its bridge was one of the few ways across the River Gwathlo and from it, the Old South Road led on into Dunland and toward the Gap of Rohan.


To Legolas the town seemed haunted.  The deserted streets were eerie in the gathering dusk as they rode between piles of stones that represented the wrecked and silent buildings where once Men had bustled busily about.  He could hear whispers of their presence from the trees and the grass that now pushed their way through the pavings and the building foundations.


Aragorn had been here before and he led them through piles of rocks to a grassy area near the river.  Here they could shelter inside some remnants of wall. The Men were beginning to feel the cold especially at night, and the walls would provide welcome protection from the wind.


They divided the tasks of setting up camp as they had been doing for weeks now.  They had been late getting here and dark had come early.  Even the Elves welcomed the warmth of the campfire.  Legolas sat quietly flipping the dagger he had drawn from his boot and catching it again by the handle.  He was trying to draw comfort from the spindly trees that grew here and there, but he found himself wishing for the forests of home.


Annael too sang softly of Mirkwood as the Men smoked their pipes, conscientiously downwind of the Elves.  He sighed. “The fall festival will be over by now,” he said wistfully.


Amdir poked moodily at the fire with a long stick. “I for one will be glad to get home,” he said.  “Our bows will be needed when the Evil One turns his eye on Mirkwood.”


Aragorn regarded him.  “I believe that what you are doing now is a greater service to Mirkwood than your bows could provide at home,” he said.


Beliond snorted.  Legolas knew that Beliond’s attitude toward Aragorn had softened somewhat, but the older Elf still believed that their duty lay elsewhere than with the Dúnadan.  “Are you certain that you do not mean a greater service to you in your quest to regain a kingdom?” Beliond asked bluntly.


“That is enough, Beliond,” Legolas snapped, but Aragorn raised his hand.


“Peace,” he said and turned to Beliond.  “I understand your doubt, Beliond,” he said. “But you know as well as I that unless Frodo is successful, the rest of us are doomed to slavery.  I believe that I can help the hobbit and that is far more important than who is king afterwards.  A kingdom may come to me. It would be my right by birth.  But if I seek it, I do so because I believe that my leadership could help to draw together the people of Middle-Earth to fight Sauron and to build a world in which we would wish our children to live.”


Legolas stared at him, his heart pounding with a sense of the importance of what Aragorn was saying.  Amdir and Annael too seemed impressed and even Beliond’s attention was held, albeit against his will.


“The people of Middle-Earth are scattered and divided,” Aragorn went on.  “We cannot continue so and hope to triumph.” He sighed. “Still, I know that your own land and people are closest to your heart. We should not quarrel over this.”  He knocked the ashes out of his pipe.  “Let us set the watches,” he said.  They divided the watches and slept.


The next morning, they began the last, long leg of their trip. They turned north and east, intending to ride up the eastern side of the Gwathlo, but needing first to skirt the Swanfleet marshes.  The Misty Mountains appeared again far in the distance to the east and swans soared overhead.  Legolas had never seen one before and was struck by the graceful beauty of these creatures of Ulmo.


The second night out of Tharbad, they camped near the ford that would take them across the Gladuin river the next day.  As they sat around the campfire, eating the stew that Amdir had managed to concoct from the meager supplies they had left, Legolas found that he felt uneasy.  He glanced around the camp.  The Men were leaning wearily against the rocks that ringed their campsite, but Annael was pacing restlessly along the edge and Beliond looked troubled.  Even Amdir, whose temper was normally sunny when he was cooking, seemed melancholy.


Teoran’s eyes were on the pacing Annael.  When Amdir stopped what he was doing and stood staring off into the distance, he could contain himself no longer.  “What is the matter with you all?” he asked in exasperation.


Legolas hesitated and then said, “It is the stones.  They are lamenting the passage of Elves long ago.”


Teoran, Sadoc, and Caroran all looked at him sidelong.  They were used to the presence of Elves but still found them unfathomable at times. “What Elves?” asked Sadoc.


“We are near where the ancient city of the Elven smiths stood when they forged the rings of power,” Legolas answered.  His words fell into an answering silence.  The significance of the site was not lost on anyone in this party, who had sought the Nazgûl, holders of the nine rings, for over a month.


Caroran’s eyes slid toward Beliond.  They had become friends over the last few weeks, but the young man had still heard more than he wished about the weakness of Men. “It seems that Elves too make mistakes,” he murmured.


Beliond frowned. “Celebrimbor saw the truth in the end,” he said, his tone subdued.


“There is error enough to go around for all the races,” Aragorn said grimly, and Legolas remembered that he was, after all, the heir of Isildur.


The weather turned foul on their trip north and it took them a full two weeks to slog their way north toward Rivendell. Rain turned the track they were following to deep mud, and swelled the streams that crossed it, running down from the mountains to the river.  Their scouting excursions left them all soaked and even the normally even-tempered Legolas was surly.  At last, they were far enough along that they anticipated reaching the Ford of the Bruinen the next day. The rain had finally stopped and they were camped in reasonable comfort near a stream that was deep and fast with runoff.


Aragorn and Legolas had drawn the second watch and had passed most of it in silence, walking the perimeters of the camps both to be more alert to danger and to keep themselves warm.  Near the end of their watch, they sat together on a rocky ledge overlooking the campsite.


“I have a matter I wish to discuss with you, Legolas,” Aragorn began.


Legolas turned toward him with an eyebrow raised inquiringly.


“I have already told Elrond that I wish to go with Frodo when he takes the ring to Mordor,” said Aragorn.


Legolas nodded. “I thought as much,” he said.  He would have expected no less from this Man whom he had come to admire for his willingness to serve the needs of others.


“He will be choosing the other companions for the Ringbearer,” said Aragorn, “and he intends to try to send representatives of several races, although he wants the party to be small, for their chance of success lies in stealth.  I wish to ask him to send you as a representative of the Elves.”


Legolas was startled.  He felt a quick stab of the longing for home that had assailed him in the last few days. Then it slipped away and his heart leapt at the chance to be part of this quest.  “Why?” he blurted out. “Why me?”


Aragorn smiled slightly.  “You are uncannily good with a bow,” he said, “and your sensitivity to the presence of the Nazgûl should also prove useful. But more than that, I value your sense of honor and loyalty and your willingness to adapt to the ways of other people and serve their needs. Elves are not always patient with the second born,” he finished wryly.  For a brief moment, Legolas wondered what it must have been like for Aragorn to grow up as a Man among Elves.  “The final choice is Elrond’s,” Aragorn went on, “but I believe that he will listen to me.”


“If Elrond asks me, I will go,” Legolas said simply.  Aragorn nodded.  A slight sound from the campsite made them look up.  Amdir had risen from his bedroll and was looking at them.  He said nothing, and after a moment, he prodded Teoran awake.


“All right,” groaned the older Man.  He was always slow to awaken for watches although he was instantly awake when danger threatened. Teoran rose, shaking the sleep from him and the two of them took the watch, leaving Aragorn and Legolas to go to their beds.  But it was long before Legolas slept.  He wanted to go on this quest even as he dreaded its dangers.  He believed he had been right in telling Aragorn that he would go, and yet he was shamefully grateful that his father was far away and would not know what he had agreed to do until it was too late to interfere. Elrond may not agree, he reminded himself, not absolutely certain whether that would be good or bad.


Toward dawn, he slipped into an uneasy doze, but he was awake early.  Aside from Annael and Sadoc, who were standing the last watch, he was the only one up.  He searched through his pack, found soap, and was setting off to bathe in the chilly stream, when he found Annael standing in front of him.  “Amdir told me that he overheard you and Aragorn talking last night,” he said, his face very serious. “Do you really intend to go with the Ringbearer?”


“If Elrond asks me, I do,” Legolas answered.


Annael looked anguished.  He seemed to struggle and then to come to terms with something.  “Then I will come too,” he said simply.


Legolas was aghast. He and Annael had been friends since they were elflings.  “No!” he exclaimed.  At Annael’s startled look, he softened his tone. “The party will be small,” he said in excuse, “and Elrond wants people from all the races.  Only one Elf will go.”  He hoped that that was true. He did not want to have to explain to Annael that he could not bear the thought of his friend doing something so dangerous.  For one thing, he thought wryly, the explanation would make him look ridiculous.  He patted Annael’s arm.  “Thank you,” he said simply, and walked away to the stream


He was just pulling his clothes on after an icy dip in the stream when Amdir appeared. The young Elf looked shaken and wasted no time in making his feelings known. “I heard what you and Aragorn were talking about last night, Legolas,” he said.


Legolas sighed.  “Did your mother never teach you that it was polite to ignore what you could not help overhearing?” he asked.


Amdir shrugged off the lesson in Elven manner and pressed on.  “Do not do this. It is far too dangerous. Let someone else walk into Mordor.”


Legolas was touched by his concern.  “I cannot just let someone else do it, Amdir.  There are skills that only I can contribute. Besides, I want to do it.” Amdir looked at him unbelievingly.  Legolas laughed and slapped him on the shoulder.  He walked back toward the campfire where everyone else was also stirring.  He kept expecting Beliond too to speak to him, but the older Elf held his peace.


The party got under way in good spirits.  They had ridden for perhaps two hours when two of Elrond’s guards stepped out of the trees on either side of the track they were following.  “Mae govannen, Estel,” called one of them. “Welcome home.”


“Mae govannen,” Aragorn responded.  “It is good to be home. Have the other scouting parties returned yet?”


“The eastern party returned yesterday,” said the guard, “and the southern one the day before that.  With your return, we await only the northern party and Elladan and Elrohir.”


Aragorn nodded.  “We will go to Elrond, then.”  The guards stepped aside and they rode on.


As they neared the Ford of the Bruinen, the group slowed. Here the three Rangers would cross the river and then continue north into the Coldfells. They had tasks to do that they had put aside when Aragorn summoned them and they would pick those tasks up again now.  Legolas found that he was reluctant to be parted from these valiant, serious Men whose lives were spent defending others.


“Take care,” Aragorn told them and the Elves echoed the sentiment.


“May the stars shine upon your path,” added Legolas.


“You take care too,” said Teoran, “especially you and Legolas, Aragorn.  I know that you are counting on stealth, not strength, but if you need us, you must send, and we will come.  Halbarad will know where to find us.”  Then they exchanged warrior handclasps and the Rangers went on across the ford. The others watched them until they disappeared. Then they remounted and rode toward the house of Elrond.


They descended the steep path into the valley, leading their horses for the last bit of the journey.  Imladris looked much as they had left it. While winter was wrapping around the world outside the valley, the weather here was milder and the waterfalls tumbled unchecked to the river below.


“You and Aragorn go on to the house, Legolas,” said Beliond. “Annael and I will take care of the horses. I believe that Amdir is still banned from the stables, though.  He can carry our packs to the barracks.” He grinned and piled the packs into Amdir’s arms.  The three of them set off with the horses.


“I will report to Elrond now and speak to you later,” said Aragorn, and he too was gone.


Legolas made his way to the room he had used before and found his belongings still there. His formal clothes hung in the wardrobe, he noted, cleaned and ready for wear.  A fire burned in the grate.  It surprised him that this room, which had felt so alien when he first entered it in October, now felt comfortably familiar.  Without bothering to draw the curtains, he stripped off his travel-stained clothes and made his way into the bathing chamber, where he sank gratefully into a tub that was as full of hot water as he could make it.


He found a clean tunic and leggings in a chest and pulled them on. Then he sat before the fire to dry and comb out his tangled wet hair.  He had just finished rebraiding it when there was a knock at his door and, at his bidding, Aragorn entered the room. “Elrond wishes to speak with you,” the Man said.


“Does he mean to ask me to go with Frodo?” Legolas asked.


“I do not know,” said Aragorn, “but I think he is inclined to do so.”


Legolas followed Aragorn to the library, knocked, and entered when Elrond’s voice bid him to do so, leaving Aragorn in the hallway.  Elrond sat at the desk near the balcony with papers spread out before him.   “Come and sit, Legolas,” he invited, indicating a chair across from him.  He poured out wine for both of them and then sat back in this chair.


“Aragorn tells me that he would welcome your company in the party going with Frodo,” he said.


“Yes, my lord,” Legolas said eagerly. “And I would welcome the chance to go.”


“Why?” asked Lord Elrond. “Why not go home to Mirkwood?”


Legolas hesitated.  “The fate of Middle-Earth balances on an arrow point,” he said.  “I want to help shape the future for all of us, not just for my own people.”


Elrond fingered his cup thoughtfully and then smiled wryly. “Mithrandir told me that you were here so perhaps here was where you were meant to be,” he said.  He looked at Legolas.  “Very well,” he said.  “I will count you as one of the party to go with Frodo.”


Legolas let out the breath he had not known he was holding.  “Thank you, my lord,” he said exuberantly.


Elrond sighed.  “I am not sure that this is something that you should thank me for,” he said rather sadly.  “I am sure that your adar will not.  And that reminds me,” he pulled a sealed letter out from the pile of papers on his desk.  “Glorfindel brought this back for you,” he said.


Legolas took the letter and recognized his father’s elegant handwriting.  “Thank you, my lord,” he said, as Elrond rose.  “You will not regret this decision.”


“I trust not,” said Elrond, smiling kindly, although his eyes were sorrowful.  Legolas bowed and then left the room.


He was not entirely sure what the letter would contain, so he took it back to his room to read it in privacy.  With a certain amount of foreboding, he opened it and began to read:


My beloved son,


I trust that this letter finds you well.  I have worried for your welfare since you set out on this journey and your letter brought me no comfort.  You write that your sense of honor led you to accede to Lord Elrond’s request that you go on one of these scouting missions.  While I value your concern for your own honor and that of Mirkwood, I regret that you appear to have placed yourself and your companions in needless danger.  I remind you of my charge to you that you return to Mirkwood as soon as possible after delivering our message to Lord Elrond. I require you to obey that charge now.


Beliond writes to me of his fears that you will allow your love of adventure and admiration for the heir of Isildur to cloud your judgment about where your duty lies. He says that you have not listened to him as he advised you about this matter.  I ask that you think of him as my representative and that you heed him, acknowledging his greater experience in the wider world.


You and the other skilled warriors with you are needed here, Legolas, nor will my father’s heart allow me to part with you for long without pain.  I look forward to seeing you in my Hall again.


Your loving Adar


Legolas felt himself grow hot and then cold.  This was the end then. His anger boiled over and he whirled and left the room and then the house, heading down the path to the barracks.


He flung open the door and entered the barracks, clutching his father’s letter in his hand.  One look at his white face told his companions that something was wrong, and they spoke in alarm.  “What is the matter?” cried Annael.


Legolas’s gaze was locked with that of Beliond, who glanced at the letter and knew immediately what must have happened.  “Leave us,” Legolas said in a low voice, without looking away from the older Elf.  Annael and Amdir hesitated only briefly before sliding silently out the door, closing it behind them. There was a moment’s silence.


“You wrote to Adar without telling me,” Legolas said flatly.


Beliond grimaced.  “I did,” he acknowledged.


“You will be happy to know that he has written back admonishing me to heed you,” said Legolas bitterly, throwing the letter into Beliond’s chest.  Taking this as an invitation, Beliond smoothed the letter out and read it.  He looked up at Legolas.


“I am sorry, Legolas,” he sighed.  “When I wrote, I did not understand the need for all of us to unite in this quest.  I did not even understand the possibility of that happening.”


“You wrote of me as if I were a youngling,” Legolas said angrily, “longing for adventure and hero-worshipping Aragorn.”


“I do think that you are acting partly out of a longing for adventure,” Beliond said.  “You have seen the world outside Mirkwood, and home suddenly looks very small.”  Legolas looked as if he would protest, but Beliond went on, allowing him no opening. “And I think that you are also acting partly out of admiration for Aragorn. He is a natural leader whom warriors of all races will want to follow. It is what he was born for.”  He looked at Legolas with some compassion. “Most of us have more than one reason for what we do,” he said, “and are prouder of some of our reasons than others.”  He sighed again. “But I also think that this quest is one that is worth joining, one that is as vital for Mirkwood as it is for all of Middle-Earth. And I think that you should go.”


Legolas blinked and tried for a moment to be sure that Beliond had said what Legolas thought he had said.  “You think that I should go?” he said stupidly.


“Yes, I do,” Beliond answered.


Legolas gave a strangled laugh and gestured at the letter. “My adar and king has admonished me to return home as soon as possible,” he cried.


“I believe that Mithrandir told you that ‘as soon as possible’ can mean many things,” said Beliond wryly.  Then he grimaced. “In truth, I know that the meaning I am encouraging you to give the words is not the one that your adar intended, so I suppose that I am being dishonest. But I will answer to Thranduil for this, Legolas.  He bids you heed me.  I tell you that you should go with the Ringbearer if you judge it best to do so.”


Legolas looked at him doubtfully, and Beliond made a further effort to explain.


“You have served in Mirkwood’s southern patrol, and you know that they are far from home.  Thranduil sends them few instructions because he knows that your brother, the field commander, knows more than he does of what is at hand.”  Legolas nodded impatiently and Beliond went on. “When he does send instructions, he expects that they will not always be followed to the letter because he does not have all the information.  This situation is like that, Legolas. Thranduil has less information than you do. You need to decide your course of action for yourself.”


Legolas hesitated.  “Adar will be very angry,” he said.


Beliond shrugged.  “I have known Thranduil a long time.  I am willing to bear the brunt of his anger,” he said. “You must decide if you are.”


Legolas considered.  Was he willing to brave his father’s anger?  There had been a time when he was a youngling when he had delighted in testing the limits his father set for him, provoking his anger and then regretting the consequences. As Aragorn had told the hobbits, he had once wandered off on a forbidden adventure.  He could still hear Thranduil’s voice, hoarse with relief at his safe return, admonishing him, “Never do such a thing again.”  And he still remembered the sharper words and punishment that followed. But he was no longer a youngling. He would not willingly break with Thranduil, but the importance of this quest could not be denied.  Surely his father would understand.


Legolas’s heart sped up as the opportunity he had thought lost opened up before him again.  “I will promise Lord Elrond only that I will go as far as the pass over the Misty Mountains,” he said, seeking to make his disobedience somehow more acceptable to himself and to his father. “After that I can decide to go home if the time seems right.”


“Yes, you should do that,” Beliond agreed, although he privately thought that such a decision was unlikely.  If Legolas wanted to comfort himself with this small fiction, Beliond was not going to interfere.


Legolas looked at him. “Thank you, Beliond,” he said softly.


Beliond shrugged.  “Amdir, Annael, and I will be leaving in the morning then.”


In the gray light of the following dawn, the three Mirkwood Elves prepared to ride out of Imladris for the last time.  Legolas was there to bid them good bye and Lord Elrond too stood ready to take leave of them. They mounted and Legolas approached them one last time. “Tell Adar that I am sorry,” he told Beliond, and the older Elf’s heart went out to him, for he looked far too miserable to be a young Elf starting an adventure.


Beliond nodded and rested his hand for a moment on Legolas’s shoulder. Then the three Elves dug their heels into their horses’ sides and were soon lost to sight.  Legolas felt as alone as he had ever felt in his life.  Then he turned and saw Aragorn standing in the doorway and, oddly enough, standing next to him was the dwarf who had returned with Glorfindel, the one whom Amdir had knocked down in the stableyard.  The dwarf glared at him and then withdrew into the house. Legolas grimaced and then went to meet Aragorn, determined to look for companions in the world outside Mirkwood.


Several days later, the northern scouting party returned.  Of all the parties, they were the only one to have seen unusual activity in the form of wolves gathering.  Last of all, Elladan and Elrohir returned from their mission down the Silverlode, although only Elrond heard what they had to tell.  On December 17, Lord Elrond announced the names of those who would accompany Frodo on the quest to destroy the One Ring. Legolas would be for the Elves.


A week later, the Fellowship walked out of Imladris and into the history of Middle-Earth. For each of them, the reasons for going were slightly different, and for some, the decision had been easier to make than for others. But their willingness to go changed not only their own lives but also those of all the ones they loved at home and those they never knew across the wider world. 


AN: I've been busy writing original fic and finally have a book due out in September called FINDERS KEEPERS. So I'm celebrating that and also meckinock's birthday by writing another missing scene. I miss Thranduil's boys like crazy sometimes. I hope there's still someone around to enjoy another glimpse of them along with me.


Returns (January 3019 TA)

His gaze on the treetops, Thranduil listened to the Greenwood's song. It quivered with uneasy notes and echoed with lost voices. His warriors had been driven back again. Bit by bit, the Elves were losing their long battle.

His horse shied as he tightened his thighs around it. He'd be hanged if he'd lose this fight.

He wheeled his mount and headed back toward the stronghold, his guards' horses having to gallop to keep up. The guards were a nuisance, but with things going from bad to worse, Ithilden was unlikely to take back his insistence Thranduil not walk away from his own front door without them.

When Thranduil led his horse into the stable, he did the same thing he'd been doing for months now, looking first at the stall where Legolas's horse should be happily munching oats. He turned away from its emptiness, controlling his breathing and pushing fear back into the hole where it lived most of the time. He surrendered his gelding to the stable master and strode across the bridge and into his office, where he sank into the chair behind his desk. He looked without seeing at the small stack of notes his chief counselor had left him. He should send for Ithilden and tell him what he'd sensed in the woods. In a moment. He just needed a moment.

The office door burst open, revealing a white-faced guard. "My lord—"

Without waiting to be announced, much less given permission to enter, Beliond shoved his way into the room. What Thranduil saw was the empty space around him.

Thranduil jumped to his feet. "Where is Legolas?" In four long strides, he came around his desk and had the neck of Beliond's tunic in his hand.

"He is unharmed," Beliond said, answering Thranduil's real question rather than the one he'd asked. "At least, he was the last time I saw him."

Thranduil forced his fist to open, but found himself still speaking through gritted teeth. "Where and when was that?"

Running steps sounded in the hallway, and Ithilden ran into the office, his flushed face speaking of his hurry. "They said Beliond returned without Legolas," he gasped, then halted, staring at Legolas's bodyguard with wide, fearful eyes.

"Legolas is unharmed," Thranduil said. "Beliond was just explaining to me how he came to abandon the charge I laid on him."

Beliond looked from his king to his commander, and even he took a step back. Thranduil had known Beliond since they were both young. Beliond had seen him do things he'd never want his sons to hear about, and he'd never been in awe of any authority, including Thranduil's own. If Beliond was intimidated, Thranduil must look as fierce as Ithilden did.

"Legolas has gone on a mission set by Mithrandir and Elrond Halfelven," Beliond said, obvious pain in his voice. "I couldn't stop him, and he wouldn't have me along."

"You allowed yourself to be dismissed?" Ithilden asked. He took a step toward Beliond, as if intending to dress him down.

But Thranduil's attention had been caught by something else. "Mithrandir? What mission? What did he want with Legolas?" Into Thranduil's mind popped scenes from over the years—Mithrandir studying an elfling Legolas with thoughtful eyes, Mithrandir visiting after years away and asking if Legolas was a warrior yet, Mithrandir bidding Legolas farewell after the Battle of Five Armies, saying "Until we meet again." Fury flooded Thranduil's chest. Curse the wizard and his plots and plans.

Ignoring Ithilden, Beliond locked eyes with Thranduil and told his tale of hobbits, Nazgul, a man who would be king, and Sauron's long-lost Ring of Power.

Breath coming hard, Thranduil staggered to his chair. "Legolas travels in the company of the One Ring, with all Sauron's creatures in pursuit," he managed to squeeze out. But the bare statement of fact was not what he wanted to say. What he wanted to say pounded through his body. The Ring had to be destroyed. He saw that. But not by Legolas, not by the son he'd raised on his own and still secretly though of as his baby.

Beliond came closer, hands raised in a gesture of helplessness. "He made this choice himself because he thought it was the only way to save Middle-earth. I swear even you could not have stopped him."

Thranduil saw the look in Beliond's eyes. He'd seen that pain there before, after Beliond's son threw his life away at Dagorlad.

"Old friend," Beliond said softly, "I am so sorry."

Eilian hurtled himself into the office. At the sight of Beliond, he skidded to a halt. "Is it true?" he gasped.

Thranduil rose. "Here is what is true. Legolas has undertaken a brave task." He looked from Beliond to Ithilden to Eilian. "We will trust in his skills as a warrior and be proud of him."

Oh, Legolas, Thranduil thought. Oh, my heart.


(November, 3019 TA)

Thranduil examined the map his head forester had left spread on the desk. Wide areas had been grayed out, showing where trees had burned. Replanted areas were marked in light green. They were still sparse but spreading by the day.

"May I take this?" Eilian asked from across the desk. "It will help us plan our search for any straggling Orcs or spiders."

"Of course." Thranduil rolled the map up and handed it to Eilian. "I'll have the foresters make a copy. You keep this one in your office."

"Ithilden's office," Eilian said.

Thranduil couldn't suppress a smile. Eilian had never been the sort to admit to having an office. "Ithilden's, when he is better," Thranduil conceded.

Ithilden still lay in bed recovering from the wounds he'd taken during the last savage battle, but at least the healers now said he would recover, and he was home rather than in the infirmary.

When Eilian rose, Thranduil did too. He was restless today, itching with an almost overpowering need to plunge into the remaining forest and see what it might hold.

A knock sounded at the door, but before Thranduil could answer, it opened, as if whoever was knocking couldn't wait. The door swung open, and Legolas came striding in, grinning widely. "Mae govannen, Adar."

With a wordless exclamation, Thranduil rounded his desk and beat Eilian to seize Legolas in an embrace. His son smelled of sunshine, and fresh air, and pure delight.

Legolas laughed and freed himself to hug Eilian too.

"The Valar help us, brat," Eilian said. "I was beginning to think I was going to have to fetch you home myself."

Thranduil crowded close enough to lay a hand on Legolas's back. The touch made his son's safe return feel more real. He felt the warmth of life, and through the bond he shared with each of his sons, he sensed happiness flooding over a sunken landscape of remembered terror and determination and hopeless courage. Thranduil had known those things too. He'd have given anything to change the world so his children and grandchildren had never had to. But he couldn't change the past, only vow to make a better future.

He was lifting his hand away when he sensed something he didn't recognize.

At that moment, someone cleared a husky throat, and Legolas slipped from under Thranduil's touch to turn toward the doorway. A dwarf stood there, obviously awaiting an invitation to enter. A little uncertain of getting it, judging by the way his hands clutched his belt.

"Adar, Eilian, this is Gimli, son of Gloin, my comrade-in-arms and my friend," Legolas said.

Friend? Thranduil had to brace himself to keep from stepping back. In the fight for Middle-earth's survival, the Dwarves of Erebor had proved themselves to be allies worth having. A new future was being born in Middle-earth, and Thranduil had decided that friendship between Elves and Dwarves would be part of it, at least in his realm. But friend with his son?

In his head, he heard the other thing Legolas had just said. "My comrade-in-arms." Thranduil had been in battle. He knew what that meant, and his son had survived to come home.

The dwarf bowed. "At your service."

"At yours and your family's," Thranduil said. 'You are welcome in Eryn Lasgalen."

The tension in Legolas's shoulders eased, and he gave Thranduil a grateful look. Eilian concealed his mouth behind his hand, but his gleaming eyes gave his amusement away. Over the years, he and Legolas has both heard Thranduil say much less friendly things about dwarves.

"You are from Erebor?" Thranduil went on. "Your people showed great courage and valor in this war. I grieve with them for the loss of Dain Ironfoot." Thranduil spoke no more than the truth. Like the Elves, the Dwarves had been driven back to their very doorstep.

Gimli looked gratified. "Thank you, Lord Thranduil."

"You are unhurt," Eilian burbled happily, pounding on Legolas's back. "You walked into Mordor to face Sauron himself and you are unhurt. I can scarcely believe it even yet."

Thranduil's gaze was still on Gimli, so he saw the guarded look that danced across the dwarf's face as he flicked his gaze toward Legolas. Thranduil turned in time to see the same look vanishing from Legolas's mouth and eyes.

Something lurched and came loose in Thranduil's heart.

"Eilian," he said, "tell Alfirin Legolas is here with a guest. Or perhaps you can show Gimli to a room, since she's busy with Ithilden."

"What's wrong with Ithilden?" Legolas demanded.

"He will be fine," Thranduil said.

"I'll take care of it." Eilian embraced Legolas one more time. "It's good to have you home, brat." He started toward the door but paused. "Beliond is in the infirmary. At least he's supposed to be, though if he's heard you're home, he's probably running across the Green in his nightshirt."

Legolas laughed. '"I'll visit him soon."

"Come, sir dwarf." Eilian left with Gimli in tow, closing the door behind them.

Alone with his son, Thranduil put a gentle hand on the back of Legolas's head and kissed his brow. Legolas moved as if to take the chair, but Thranduil kept hold of him.

After a moment's silence, Legolas said, "The woods we came through were damaged beyond what I expected."

"The trees will grow again," Thranduil said. "And we will all be here to breathe in the green scent and live in a great forest, this time in peace."

Legolas's eyes met his.

"Ah," Thranduil said.

"I am so sorry," Legolas said. "We were at Pelargir. I heard the gulls call, and I was done, Adar. I couldn't help myself."

Thranduil drew him close again. He said nothing, because there was nothing to say. The world went on, and time never ran backward. For a wild moment, he though of leaving when Legolas did. After all, the time of the Elves was drawing to a close. But he knew he couldn't. Not yet. The woods needed him, and more than that, the thought of leaving Middle-earth tore his heart out.

"I will be there, Adar," Legolas said in a muffled voice. "Whenever you are ready."

"I know." Thranduil stepped back and let his brave, broken son slip from his hold. He had wanted Legolas home, but where was home for any Elf now? In the back of Thranduil's head, something quietly began to change.     

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