Stories of Arda Home Page
About Us News Resources Login Become a member Help Search

Tangled Web  by daw the minstrel

I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien, but they are his, not mine. I gain only the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.

AN:  At the end of this chapter, I’ve appended a list of OCs who appear or are mentioned in it.  I promise any new readers that I’m introducing the ones who will appear most often right here and subsequent chapters will have only a few secondary characters, so the reading should get easier.  As most of you probably know, Curunír is the name the Elves used for Saruman.  Rhosgobel is the site on the western edge of Mirkwood where the wizard named Radagast the Brown lived.


2941        Thorin Oakenshield and  Gandalf visit Bilbo in the Shire. Bilbo meets Sméagol-Gollum and finds the Ring.  The White Council meets; Saruman agrees to an attack on Dol Guldur, since he now wishes to prevent Sauron from searching the River. The Battle of Five Armies in Dale. – From “The Tale of Years,” Appendix B, The Return of the King

1.  Shadows Closing In

Legolas rode slowly, scanning the trees above him with his bow at the ready.  To his annoyance, Beliond had refused to move any distance away and rode just behind him.  In theory, his bodyguard was under his command, because Legolas was a lieutenant newly transferred to the Home Guard, and Beliond had, of course, been transferred there when Legolas was.  Even Legolas’s oldest brother, Ithilden, who commanded the troops of the Woodland Realm, was unlikely to cross Thranduil on the issue of his sons’ bodyguards. But Legolas knew that in reality Beliond answered only to the king.  If he decided he would ride within sight of the king’s youngest son, then that was what he would do, despite any orders to the contrary.  Legolas did not know why he even bothered to be annoyed; Beliond had been disregarding his orders for a good many years now.  Such highhanded behavior was what had led Legolas and his brothers to refer to their bodyguards as their “keepers,” being well aware that they were more likely to be ordered about themselves than to issue commands. 

About a hundred yards off to his right, Legolas could hear Annael searching the trees just as he was, but the summer foliage was thick enough that he could not see his friend.  Perhaps they should be hunting closer together, he worried.  If the trees here held more of the spiders that Annael and another warrior had encountered on their patrol the day before, they certainly did not want to miss them.  This part of the forest was entirely too close to Thranduil’s stronghold.

A soft birdcall sounded, and he turned his head sharply, and then, with Beliond right behind him, he slid from his horse to run light-footedly toward its source, with his heartbeat accelerating at the prospect of battle.  He paused with his hand to his mouth to warble a signal himself, and then an answering call guided them to Annael, who was crouching in thick underbrush.  Silently, Annael used his bow to gesture toward a small clearing in the trees in front of them.

When Legolas looked up into the shaded depths of the upper branches, he saw the trailing grey strands of webbing drifting slightly in the breeze and, there, at the end of one of the strands, bobbed a large, black spider.  Legolas’s stomach twisted in immediate disgust.  No matter how often he saw these creatures of shadow, they never failed to repel him.

Checking his revulsion, he traced the other strands of web to their sources.  Almost immediately, he saw a dark mass of leaves and twigs that formed a nest with a black body just visible over its rim.  The giant spiders seldom lived alone, so Legolas was not surprised when Annael pointed to two other nests not far from the first one.  Legolas scanned the trees carefully, aware of the other two doing the same thing, but he saw no more nests, and apparently neither did Beliond or Annael.  He pointed to the dangling spider and then tapped his own chest, and the other two nodded. Then he waved his hand upwards, and, careful to stay out of sight of the spider swinging in the clearing, the three of them leapt lightly into the trees and began to climb.

Legolas moved through the branches to take up a position above the spiders that would give him clear shots at them.  Beliond came to rest on a nearby branch, still scanning the trees above them with an arrow nocked in his drawn bow. Legolas knew that he was making very sure that no nasty surprises lurked above them, and he had to admit, if only to himself, that he was grateful for the extra assurance that none of the clacking, hairy creatures was likely to drop down on top of him.  At a distance to his right, he could see Annael standing in a beech tree, bow at the ready, and watching Legolas for the signal to begin shooting.

He turned to the business at hand, and cool with the resolve of a long-time warrior, he brought his bow to full draw, took careful aim, and then loosed an arrow into the broad back of the dangling spider.  A split second later, he heard the twangs of Annael’s and Beliond’s bows as the two of them followed his lead and shot at the spiders in the nests.  The spider Legolas had shot clung to the sticky webbing for a second, as the force of his arrow pushed it to swing in a wide arc.  Then its body seemed to rip slowly away from the thick strands, and it cartwheeled toward the ground below, sending thick black blood spraying in a circle as it fell.

Legolas’s attention had shifted before the spider hit the ground, however, and he sent another arrow into the spider that was nesting between him and Annael.  It barely had time to twitch before it collapsed back into its nest with two arrows protruding from its back, one from Legolas’s bow and one from Annael’s. Legolas nocked another arrow and swiftly searched the nests and surrounding areas for movement, but he really had no doubt that Beliond and Annael had already killed the other two creatures, and so it proved to be.  He released his draw and lowered his bow.

He looked at Beliond, who was regarding the spiders’ nests with a resigned look on his face. “Shall we?” Legolas asked, and his keeper nodded.

Legolas moved through the branches to the nearest nest, steeling himself against the revulsion he felt at approaching it.  The dead spider lay over its edge with its hairy legs extended.  Thick, stinking, black fluid had bubbled from around his and Annael’s arrows, and he fought the impulse to gag.  He set his foot against the spider’s back, drew out the arrows, and laid them carefully to one side.  He or Annael would retrieve and clean them later. He did not want his own arrow in his quiver in its current condition.

Then he braced himself against the trunk of the tree and kicked at the nest to loosen it.  It rocked for moment, but when he gave it a further kick, it broke loose from the branch and tumbled to the ground far beneath, taking the spider with it, much to Legolas’s relief.  He drew his knife and moved further out the branch to stretch out full length upon it and slice the thick strands of webbing loose to follow the nest to the ground. He could see Beliond and Annael nearby doing the same thing. They would need to burn the bodies, the webbing, and the nests to avoid attracting more spiders.

Legolas hacked the last of the webbing loose and then descended to the ground to start clearing a space for a fire while Annael dislodged the third nest. He had begun gathering brush for kindling when Beliond appeared beside him.

“Where are they all coming from?” Legolas worried.  “I cannot ever remember seeing so many spiders so close to home.  What is wrong that the border patrols cannot keep them out?”

Beliond shrugged.  “You have served in the border patrols, Legolas.  You know how easy it is for spiders to slip across the trees somewhere in the miles of territory that the patrols have to guard.”

Legolas grimaced.  “There are too many of them and not enough of us,” he acknowledged wearily.  In the last few years, the Shadow had pushed ever northward through his father’s realm and now seemed to be all but knocking on the Great Doors of Thranduil’s stronghold.  Beliond shook his head, and then he too began gathering wood.

When they had thrown all the debris into the fire, they retrieved their arrows and then sat for a while cleaning them and tending the fire.  Beliond slid his arrows into his quiver and went to shove one spider body more deeply into the flames.  Legolas could feel his tension easing as the spider bodies were burned away.

“Legolas,” said Annael abruptly, “do you happen to know how serious Sinnarn is about Emmelin?”

Legolas glanced at his friend, who looked distinctly worried, despite the fact that he was obviously trying not to.  He felt a spurt of amused sympathy.  During the month that had passed since his appointment to the Home Guard, it had become increasingly apparent to him that his scapegrace nephew, Sinnarn, was courting Annael’s daughter, Emmelin. If he had been Annael, he would have been worried too.

“Sinnarn has not spoken to me about the matter,” he said truthfully.

Annael grimaced and placed his arrows in his quiver. “My very wise wife says I should accept the fact that there is probably nothing I can do about it anyway,” he said.

Legolas laughed.  “Probably not,” he agreed.

After a few more moments, Beliond returned.  “I think that should do it.  The debris is gone.  Did you want to continue searching, Legolas?”  Legolas nodded and stood, and Annael rose too.  They made sure the fire was completely out, called to their horses, and resumed their patrol. Although they searched the area for the rest of the afternoon, they found no further signs of spiders.

“I will tell Todith he should send patrols to search this area thoroughly,” Legolas said, as they started home, and Beliond and Annael both nodded.  The Home Guard captain would undoubtedly do as he recommended, but Legolas could not quite snuff out a smoky wisp of doubt that Thranduil’s people were fighting a losing battle, and no matter how many warriors they sent to search for spiders, it would not be enough.  Lately it seemed that if they killed three spiders, six more appeared to take their places.


“Is there no other source from which we can buy the metal?” Thranduil asked.

At the other end of the table, the adviser shook his head.  “No, my lord.  The Dwarves from the Iron Hills sell it to the metal workers in Esgaroth, and we buy it from them.”  He paused and frowned.  “I suppose it might be possible to deal directly with the Dwarves,” he said doubtfully.

Ithilden glanced across the table to exchange a small smile with his brother Eilian’s wife, Celuwen.  Ithilden had been skeptical when Thranduil first appointed Celuwen to serve as his adviser on matters having to do with the small Elven settlements scattered through the woods, but he had found that he enjoyed having her at these meetings because he knew they shared a mutual understanding of the king.  And then he could talk to her afterwards about what had happened in a way he never would have done with someone not in the family. At the moment, they both knew exactly how Thranduil was likely to react to the suggestion that they buy metal directly from the Dwarves. Thranduil was already certain that the Dwarves were somehow cheating them by proxy. He would never agree to deal with them directly unless he had no other option.

And as Ithilden had expected, his father let out an incredulous snort.  “Dáin would only need to see us at his door asking for better prices to believe that the time had come to impoverish us completely.”

Ithilden grimaced.  It was certainly true enough that the realm’s resources had been strained by its centuries of struggle against the Shadow.

“Shall we go ahead and pay the price the dealer is asking?” the adviser asked.

“Yes,” said Thranduil in obvious disgust.  “We have no choice that I can see.  Are we finished here then?”

“One other decision must still be made,” said his chief adviser, “and that is about your attendance at the White Council meeting.”

Ithilden had been making another entry in the notes he habitually took at these meetings, and he looked up in surprise.  He had not heard about any prospective White Council meeting, and judging from the looks on the faces of most of the other advisers, they had not either.  “The White Council is going to meet?” he asked.

“Yes,” said the adviser.  “We received word of it from Curunír only this morning, despite the fact that the meeting is to begin at Rhosgobel a week from tomorrow.”  His tone made it clear that he interpreted the lateness of the invitation as deliberate, which Ithilden had to concede it probably was.  He could well believe that the other members of the White Council might have mixed feelings about his father attending.  Thranduil had gone to several previous meetings and argued ceaselessly and impatiently for the Council to attempt to drive the enemy out of Dol Guldur, but he had been unable to prevail, even though Mithrandir had argued for the same thing at the last meeting.

“I have already made my decision,” Thranduil declared. “Attending would be pointless.”

Ithilden frowned in dismay. Surely his father was not going to dismiss the White Council out of hand.  “My lord,” he protested, “you cannot intend that we throw away our alliance with the members of the White Council.”

Thranduil turned cool eyes toward him. “I have never noticed any great benefit coming to us from the Council.”

“And if we walk away now, none ever will!” Ithilden argued.  “The members of the White Council are powerful people.  I do not think we can afford to turn away any possible source of strength.”  The advisers’ eyes went back and forth between the king and his oldest son, but Ithilden knew that they were unlikely to intervene, no matter what their opinion in this matter might be.

Thranduil made an impatient gesture, and his voice became sharper.  “I am not going to waste my time listening to Curunír say yet again that the Council cannot possibly help us to deal with the Shadow.”

Beneath the table, Ithilden closed his fists in frustration.  In recent years, his warriors had struggled against stronger and stronger attacks from Dol Guldur, and he was unwilling to leave any possible source of help unexplored, but he knew that Thranduil had lost any faith he might ever have had that the White Council would take any action at all, let along an effective one.  Ithilden, on the other hand, still clung to hope, but what was he to do? A daring idea suddenly struck him.  He drew a deep breath.  “Then send me,” he said and stiffened in anticipation at his father’s reaction to his presumptuousness in making such a suggestion.

The startled eyes of everyone at the table turned toward him.  Thranduil raised an eyebrow, but for a moment, he said nothing.  Finally, with surprising mildness, he said, “You believe that attending the meeting is important enough that you are willing to leave your post as troop commander to attend it?”

“Yes, my lord,” Ithilden said, and when Thranduil failed to respond, he pressed on.  “The Council needs to hear about how the menace of Dol Guldur is growing.  They may not help us even then, but they are even less likely to help us if we do not make the situation clear to them.”

Unexpectedly, a voice came from the other side of the table.  “He has a point, my lord,” said Celuwen.  Ithilden threw her a grateful glance, and Thranduil looked at her dryly.  She gave the king a sweet smile, and Ithilden had to repress a smile of his own.  While he had seen Celuwen and Thranduil arguing fiercely over matters having to do with the settlements, the king was usually gentler with his daughter-in-law than with his other advisers.  She knew she could support Ithilden with impunity.  Another good reason to have her as one of his father’s advisers, Ithilden thought.

Thranduil leaned back and drummed the fingers of his right hand on the arm of his chair.  “Very well,” he finally said, and Ithilden smothered a sharp, triumphant breath.  “Perhaps they will listen to the news you bring.  At any rate, they could not possibly ignore you more than they do me.”  He gave Ithilden a small smile.  “And I believe you are somewhat more patient than I am, so you may be able to tolerate the endless talk better than I do.”

Ithilden felt his own smile broaden.  He was, indeed, more patient than his father, but then, almost everyone was. “Thank you, my lord.”

“You will have to leave tomorrow morning if you are to be there when the meeting begins,” Thranduil told him, and Ithilden nodded, already making a mental list of things to be done before he left.  Thranduil glanced around the table.  “Is there anything else?”  No one spoke. “Then I believe we are finished.”


Ithilden entered the royal family’s sitting room, still thinking about the arrangements he had been making for the management of his troops while he was gone.  He found Celuwen and his wife, Alfirin, sipping wine and waiting for the arrival of the rest of the family so they could go in to evening meal.  He kissed Alfirin’s cheek and then poured himself some wine and sat down next to her.

“How was your day?” he asked.

Alfirin smiled at him happily. “I spent most of it helping my naneth with some of the arrangements for Tonduil’s wedding.”

Ithilden stifled a sudden groan.  He had been planning to tell Alfirin that he would be gone for a month or so, assuming that she would regret his absence but would not be unduly upset since he had occasionally been away on the Realm’s business before, and while he would be traveling through the forest and thus be in more danger than he was at home, he would have guards with him and was not going into battle.  But he had completely forgotten about the upcoming wedding of his wife’s younger brother.

“Is something the matter?” Alfirin asked.

“Probably not,” he assured her, “but I must leave tomorrow morning to go in Adar’s place to a meeting of the White Council at Rhosgobel.”

“Will you be back for the wedding?” she asked in dismay. “It is less than a month away now.”

“I will certainly try to be,” he promised, “but you know how unpredictable these things are.”

“That is too bad!” she exclaimed.

He put his arm around her shoulders.  “I promise you I will make every effort to be back,” he said consolingly.

The door opened to admit Legolas and Sinnarn, both just returned from that day’s patrols with the Home Guard.  “I wish I had been there!” Sinnarn was exclaiming.  “I always miss all the excitement.”

“What excitement is that, iôn-nín?” Alfirin asked, putting her arms out to their son to draw him down to kiss her cheek.  Sinnarn gave Ithilden a quick, guilty look. He was not supposed to alarm his mother, who tended to worry.

“It really was nothing, Alfirin,” Legolas put in easily.  “Beliond, Annael, and I put out a small fire in the forest today.”

Ithilden blinked.  Todith, the Home Guard captain, had come into his office just before he left for home to tell him about the spiders that Legolas and the other two had killed.  They had indeed put out a fire, but it was the one they had set to burn the spiders’ bodies.  He raised an eyebrow at Legolas, who grinned impudently at him and went to pour himself some wine.

“I got a letter from Eilian today, Legolas,” Celuwen told him, “and there was one for you too.” She picked up a sealed letter from the table next to her and handed it to Legolas, who sat down beside her and eagerly broke the seal.  Eilian was currently serving as captain of the patrol serving closest to Dol Guldur in the southern parts of Thranduil’s realm.  The dangers he encountered on a daily basis were part of the reason that Ithilden was willing to go to the White Council for help, even when their shrewd father thought it would do no good.

Legolas was laughing softly. “Eilian says that someone mixed black squirrel meat into a bowl of stew that Maltanaur was eating.  Maltanaur is swearing revenge, but he does not yet know who did it.  Eilian suspects Gelmir, which I must say sounds plausible to me.”  He looked up with a grin.  Given the grim circumstances in which Eilian lived, he was an amazingly entertaining correspondent.

Thranduil entered the room, and they all rose to their feet with a chorus of “good evenings.”  “Good evening,” Thranduil responded.  Sinnarn hastened to pour his grandfather a cup of wine, and Thranduil settled into a chair with a contented look on his face.  Outside the Great Doors, the Shadow may have threatened, but inside the palace, he was in the company of most of those whom he loved, and Ithilden knew that nothing mattered more to his father than his family.  They all settled back to exchange the news of the day, leaving their worries to be taken up again on the morrow.


Sinnarn strolled along through the darkening summer evening.  The first stars were opening overhead, and while it would have been impossible for him to be unaware of them, he was not really thinking about them either.  Rather, his mind was on the spiders that Legolas and the others had killed that day.

In his years as a warrior, Sinnarn had served in several border patrols, but he had spent at least half his time off and on in the Home Guard.  Partly this was simply because, as the Shadow grew stronger, Sinnarn’s father had had to station more and more of his troops closer to home to guard Thranduil’s people, rather than sending them to try to drive the enemy back. Their long war was increasingly becoming a defensive one.

And Sinnarn understood that in a way that his uncles, Legolas and Eilian, seemed to be incapable of doing.  So far as Sinnarn could tell, they still believed in the possibility of victory.  For that matter, Sinnarn’s father usually seemed to believe in it too, although Sinnarn also suspected that Ithilden had moments of despair that he hid only with effort. Sinnarn found that he himself was able to be hopeful only at intervals, and now, secretly, he saw his task as a warrior as standing by those who were helpless with his bow in his hand and his sword at the ready.  So unlike his uncles, he did not see time spent in the Home Guard as time spent in exile from the real battle.

All of which did not mean, however, that he did not occasionally enjoy some excitement.  He really did envy Legolas for having been the one to find the spiders that afternoon.  He hoped that tomorrow he would be able to talk his captain into sending him on one of the patrols that would hunt for more of them.  Todith was usually open to such requests, so he thought he had a good chance.

He rounded the stand of lilac bushes and came in sight of the cottage that was his destination and his step quickened.  The door opened with gratifying speed in response to his knock, and Emmelin stood framed in the entryway with a welcoming smile on her lips and her grey eyes alight with pleasure at seeing him.  “Come in,” she invited, stepping aside, and he brushed past her into the little hallway, with all thoughts of the tomorrow forgotten.



List of OCs

As I began working on this story, I realized I was going to be assembling many of my OCs in it.  I can barely remember them all now, so I thought I would help readers out by listing the OCs in each chapter at the end of it, and saying what other stories they appear in.  If I mention no other stories for a character, that’s usually because they appear too frequently.  Here are those who appear or are mentioned in this chapter:

Beliond: Legolas’s bodyguard.  Appears in “The Tide of Times,” “The Warrior,” “Fire and Shadow,” “Sacrifice under Shadow,” “Spring Awakenings,” and "A Question of Duty." 

Annael: Legolas’s best friend

Emmelin:  Annael’s daughter, a forester. Mentioned in “Spring Awakenings.”

Ithilden: Legolas’s oldest brother

Alfirin: Ithilden’s wife

Sinnarn: Ithilden and Alfirin’s son. Appears in “One Year in Mirkwood,” “The Tide of Times,” “The Warrior,” and “Fire and Shadow”

Eilian: Legolas’s second brother

Celuwen: Eilian’s wife

Maltanaur: Eilian’s bodyguard

Gelmir: Eilian’s best friend

Tonduil: Alfirin’s younger brother. A horse master for the troops.  Roughly the same age as Legolas. Appears in “The Novice,” “One Year in Mirkwood,” “The Tide of Times,” "Paths Taken." 

Todith: A Mirkwood captain.  Appears sporadically, including in “When Shadow Touches Home” and “The Warrior”

I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien, but they are his, not mine. I gain only the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.

AN:  At the end of the chapter, I’ve appended a list of OCs who appear or are mentioned in it.


2.  Battles of a Different Kind

Ithilden cinched his belt over his surcoat and attached his long knife in its tooled scabbard to the belt.  Outside the tent, he could hear the early morning songs of a multitude of birds who seemed to be competing to welcome the day.  For a moment, he wished again, as he had the previous night, to sleep under the stars rather than in his father’s tent with the banner of the Woodland Realm flying in front of it.  However, his father’s chief adviser, Thrior, was unlikely to judge that a better idea today than he had when they had arrived after dark yesterday.  Thrior wanted it to be very clear to all the other members of the White Council that Ithilden spoke for Thranduil and was to be treated as his representative.

“I sent two of our escorts to scout the area, my lord,” Thrior was now saying as he picked up his own knife from the tent’s second cot.  “They report that the delegations from Lórien, Imladris, and the Havens are all camped not far from us.  Mithrandir appears to be staying with Elrond’s people.  They saw no sign of Curunír, but he could be staying in Radagast’s cottage.”

Ithilden nodded, his mind on the relations among the other Council members that Thrior had described to him on their week-long journey.  He knew that Mithrandir would already be on his side in arguing for some sort of attack on Dol Guldur.  According to Thrior, Mithrandir had been in favor of such an action at the last Council meeting, for he had somehow found out by then that it was Sauron himself who dwelt there.  But Curunír had persuaded the others to wait.  What they thought they were waiting for, Ithilden could not imagine.  He hoped he might be able to work with Mithrandir to influence Elrond at least.   The two of them seemed to have a reasonably close relationship, again according to Thrior. And if Elrond could be persuaded, then he, in turn, might be able to work on his formidable mother-in-law.

A voice called from outside the tent, and at Ithilden’s bidding, one of the guards put his head through the flap.  “The Council appears to be gathering, my lord,” he said.

“Thank you.”  Ithilden turned to Thrior. “Shall we?”  Thrior nodded, and Ithilden ducked through the tent’s low doorway and out into the summer morning with the adviser at his heels. The guard led him through the trees near their camp until they could see Radagast’s small cottage. Then he pointed to where a long table was set up in the shade to one side of it.  Ithilden could see that Mithrandir and Elrond were already seated next to one another, with two of Elrond’s advisers on his other side, and felt a rush of pleasure to see that one of the Elves with Elrond was Glorfindel.  He had met Glorfindel when he had gone to Imladris with his father for the White Council’s first meeting, and he still felt like an excited elfling on seeing him.

All of their heads turned at Ithilden’s approach.  For a moment, they all blinked at him, as if not believing what their eyes were telling them.  Then Mithrandir broke into a broad smile and rose to greet him.  “Ithilden,” he cried. “It is good to see you again.”  Ithilden could see Elrond and Glorfindel exchange a quick look before they too rose. He clasped arms with each of them.

“Is the king here also?” Elrond inquired.

“He sends his most sincere regrets that he is unable to attend,” Ithilden said untruthfully.  He could have sworn that Elrond’s shoulders relaxed slightly in response to his answer.

At that moment, Galadriel emerged from the trees, accompanied by an elf who was obviously a Galadhrim adviser and another whom Ithilden did not recognize, but who wore the symbol of the Havens on his leather jerkin.  She approached the table and the males all greeted her with polite bows.  Ithilden had met her too at the White Council’s formation, but he felt afresh the power of her personality when she turned her gaze upon him.  “How unfortunate that Thranduil could not be with us,” she murmured.  Behind her, Glorfindel grinned and ducked his head.

“Ithilden, this is Galdor, who has come as Círdan’s representative,” Mithrandir said, and Ithilden bowed to the other Elf.   Ithilden found it interesting that, like Thranduil, Círdan had sent someone else in his stead.  His father had indicated with some satisfaction that he thought that Círdan too was growing impatient with the Council’s endless, fruitless debates.

Their attention was drawn by the sound of the opening of the little cottage door and the emergence of an obviously irritated Curunír, with Radagast fluttering along behind him. An attendant who had been standing quietly nearby jumped to attention and pulled out the chair at the table’s head.  Ithilden assumed the attendant had come with Curunír, given how unlikely it was that Radagast would have such a person about.  With some amusement, he also assumed that Curunír was unimpressed by the accommodations that Radagast had provided for him.  In his gleaming white robes, he looked completely out of place in this rustic setting.

Curunír settled into the chair the attendant offered and swept his eyes over the group as they too seated themselves.  His gaze came to rest on Ithilden, who smiled blandly at him.  Something about the wizard had already set Ithilden’s teeth on edge.  He was startled by his own reaction. He had not seen the wizard since the first Council meeting, and he did not recall reacting to him so viscerally then, but if Curunír had been one of his officers, Ithilden would have been double checking every report he made.

“Ah!” said Curunír. “I believe we have met before, my lord, although it has been some time.  I assume you are here in your father’s place?”

“Indeed I am,” Ithilden agreed. “My lord sends his regrets.” He suddenly felt ashamed of his suspicions.  The wizard’s manner was graciousness itself.  Ithilden had probably been allowing himself to be too greatly influenced by his father’s frustration with the Council.

Curunír smiled thinly.  “I am sure he does,” he said.  He looked around the table.  “Shall we begin?”


Legolas entered the small building that housed Ithilden’s office to find his aide Calith and a warrior who served as one of his messengers glaring at one another.  “Do not ever touch the papers on that shelf again, Tinár!” Calith cried, all but breathing fire.

“You are, as usual, being unreasonable,” Tinár responded disdainfully. “Ithilden trusts me to deliver his important dispatches.  He would certainly trust me with papers he lets you handle.”

Calith’s voice sank to a menacing hiss. “Do not touch them!”

Legolas hesitated, not wanting to become involved in whatever it was they were arguing about.  He liked Calith, but he had served in the same patrol with Tinár, and if he had his way, he would never do so again. Calith suddenly noticed Legolas’s presence and seemed to get hold of himself.  He turned his back on Tinár, obviously intent on ignoring him.  “Todith is not back from meeting with the king yet, my lord,” he said, “but he is expecting you.  You may go into the office and wait if you like.”  Legolas hastily crossed the room and entered the inner office which the Home Guard captain was temporarily using as he filled in for Ithilden in his absence.

He had barely sat down in the chair in front of the desk before Todith entered the room and he had to come to his feet again.  “Sit,” said Todith wearily, taking his own seat behind the desk.  He rubbed his hands over his face.  “I swear it seems as if Ithilden has been gone for a year rather than only a week.”

Legolas could not suppress a grin.  Ithilden usually managed the troops with very little interference from Thranduil, who trusted his oldest son completely.  But with Ithilden gone, Thranduil had been overseeing Todith’s actions.  Much as Legolas loved and respected his father, he would not have liked to be in Todith’s shoes.

With an apparent effort, Todith brought himself back to the moment and his daily meeting with Legolas about the running of the Home Guard. “I see from yesterday’s report that our patrols found no new spider nests.”

Legolas nodded.  “I believe we should spend at least one more day searching the area though, just to be sure we have wiped them out. At least for the time being,” he added unhappily.

Todith sighed.  “Very well.  Arrange the patrols as you see fit. You will have to meet with Tonduil today too, to talk about what needs the Home Guard might have for horses.  He spoke to me yesterday, and I told him to see you. Do you have the list I prepared?”

“Yes, Captain,” said Legolas, pleased by the trust Todith was showing in him.  Todith had been the first captain under whom Legolas had served when had been barely old enough for Thranduil to be willing to let him out of his sight.  But Todith seemed to have no doubt at all that Legolas was not only a lethal warrior but also a competent officer. That was in contrast to his father, Legolas thought ruefully, who was still occasionally inclined to think that Legolas should sit quietly by while his elders made decisions to which he should then accede.

“On your way, then,” Todith said.

As Legolas rose, he heard what sounded like someone slamming a drawer shut in the outer office, followed closely by a muffled “mmph!”  He glanced at Todith, who rolled his eyes.

“How does Ithilden stand it?” Todith demanded.

Legolas grinned in answer and then straightened his face and ventured through the door into the outer office.  Calith was seated at his desk looking smug, while Tinár had retreated to his own desk in the rear of the office, where he sat scowling and nursing the fingers of one hand. Not trusting himself to speak, Legolas nodded to them both and then hastened out the door before he broke into a soft laugh.  He had never known Calith in any role other than that of Ithilden’s chief aide, but he had been told that Calith was a scourge to the enemy during his time on the battlefield.  Tinár was apparently learning that the hard way.

The Home Guard headquarters were busy, as warriors who had been patrolling during the night trickled in to report on their actions and those who were to go out this morning awaited Legolas’s orders.  Legolas saw his nephew sitting to one side of the room, laughing at some joke that his friend Amdir had made.  To Legolas’s amusement, Annael was sitting near the two younger warriors, with his eyes fixed on Sinnarn and a faint smile on his face at whatever it was Amdir had said.  Annael had been hovering near Sinnarn ever since he had decided that Sinnarn was courting his daughter.  Legolas assumed he was still trying to decide if he approved of the match.

Sinnarn seemed to be aware of the scrutiny, for he turned to Annael and said, “What do you think, Annael?  Shall we send Amdir to negotiate with the Dwarves for fancier weaponry?”

Annael raised an eyebrow.  “Do you think he has the diplomatic skills?” he asked.

“I would show the stubby little creatures that we meant business!” Amdir protested.  Everyone within earshot laughed.

Legolas laughed too but decided they had all better get to work. “Annael,” he called, and his friend rose immediately.  “Take Sinnarn and go scout out that area next to the river.  Nithron too, of course,” he added.  Nithron was Sinnarn’s bodyguard, and a thankless task he had too, Legolas thought.  His nephew could be careless when he was excited, and he and Amdir tended to egg on another on.  Annael, Sinnarn, and Nithron all picked up their bows and left the building, as Legolas wondered a little gleefully whether Annael or Sinnarn would take the most advantage of their time together.  He set about organizing other small patrols.  By the time he was finished, Tonduil had arrived to talk about what horses the Home Guard might need from among those in Thranduil’s pastures that were now old enough to be ridden.  Legolas greeted Tonduil with pleasure. He liked Alfirin’s brother and saw him too seldom.

“How long until the wedding?” Legolas asked with a grin.

“Three weeks from today,” answered Tonduil promptly and then blushed.  “Not that I am counting,” he added a little sheepishly.

Legolas laughed, and then the two of them sat down at the table and started going over the list that Todith had previously prepared.  Tonduil frowned. “I do not know if I can give you all that you ask for,” he said worriedly.  “We have lost a number of horses lately, and they can breed and grow only so fast.  I would buy more if I could, but the king has said that the means to pay for them are scarce.”

Legolas grimaced.  “Do what you can,” he urged and rose.  Tonduil took the list with him and left, and Legolas turned to where Beliond and Amdir awaited him. “Shall we go?” Legolas asked picking up his bow.  “Perhaps we can find some spiders today, and Amdir can show the stubby little creatures that we mean business.”

Beliond laughed, and even Amdir smiled.  “I would say that your adar should send me to deal with the Dwarves, Legolas, but I do not think I could stand having to spend much time with them.”

Legolas laughed. “I do not think you have to worry about it,” he said.  “I doubt if there are any diplomatic missions in your future.”  And the three of them set off for their day’s scouting.


Ithilden rose gratefully from the table; accepted some of the bread, cheese, and cider that Radagast offered to the members of the White Council for their mid-day meal; and withdrew to a pleasant spot under an oak tree to eat, with Thrior by his side.  He eyed the simple cottage in which Radagast lived.  “Radagast cannot possibly feed us all for any length of time,” he murmured to Thrior. “Beginning this evening, we will provide our own food.”  He beckoned to one of his guards who stood discreetly nearby.  “Send someone out to hunt for our evening meal,” he instructed, and then looked around the little clearing into which birds and even a bold fox had ventured during the morning.  He looked doubtfully at Thrior.  “Perhaps we should not be hunting near here though.”

Thrior grimaced.  “I doubt if Radagast eats meat,” he agreed.

Ithilden turned back to the guard, who was looking at him in open disbelief at what he had just heard. “Do not hunt nearby,” Ithilden ordered, and then added, “and make sure you are downwind of the cottage when you roast the meat.” The guard nodded, saluted, and set off toward their camp.  Thrior seemed to be repressing a smile at this practical course of action.

“May I join you?” asked a familiar voice, and Ithilden looked up to see Mithrandir.

“Of course.  Your company is always welcome, Mithrandir.”

The wizard lowered himself to the ground next to Ithilden.  “What did you think of this morning’s discussion?” he asked.

Ithilden shrugged.  They had spent the morning in hearing accounts of the state of affairs in the three Elven realms.  Ithilden had tried to make it clear that Thranduil’s realm was in far deeper trouble than either Imladris or Lórien was, but he had not yet asked for any action.  He had attended enough meetings of his father’s advisers to know that people needed time to become comfortable with one another before they would even begin to admit what they truly wanted, and he strongly suspected that most of the members of the White Council would never be so frank.  If he could, he intended to wait until there were several issues on the table so that he could try to concede on some of them in order to gain agreement on the one that mattered to him.  He was resolutely ignoring Alfirin’s hope that he would be home in time for her brother’s wedding.  He could not afford to be the Council member who was most pressed for time.  Others could and undoubtedly would use that to their advantage.

“These things take time,” he said.

Mithrandir harrumphed softly, and then they both watched as Curunír accepted a dish of food that had obviously been prepared by one of his own attendants.  Ithilden smiled wryly. “I am surprised that Curunír agreed to meet here,” he observed.  “This setting does not seem to me to be one in which he would be happy.”

“Ah,” said Mithrandir, “that was my doing.  I had reasons for insisting that the meeting should be here on the edge of your father’s realm.”

Ithilden interest quickened and he turned to Mithrandir with raised eyebrows.  “Are you going to tell me what they are?” he asked.

“Soon,” Mithrandir smiled.  “As you say, these things take time.”

Ithilden hesitated. “Not too much time, though,” he warned. “I fear we may not have it.”

“No,” Mithrandir agreed, his smile vanishing, “not too much time.”


Sinnarn made another careful survey of the trees above him and concluded, as he had all day, that they were empty of spiders.  Nithron was in sight, a hundred feet or so to his left, and he knew that Annael searched to their right, although he could not see him.  The position of the sun told him that the afternoon was fading, and he hoped that Annael would soon give the signal for them to stop for the day.  He looked forward to riding home with Emmelin’s father and intended to try yet again to make a good impression.

His thoughts settled happily on Emmelin, on her light brown hair and her bright eyes and her sweet smile.  He had known her most of his life, but he had noticed her only recently and was stunned by the idea that he had looked past her for so long.  Surely he should have noticed her before! As it was, he had simply seen her one day and realized that she was the most beautiful maiden he had ever met.

Of course, that did not necessarily mean she had decided whatever the equivalent thing would be about him.  He was still uncertain of Emmelin’s feelings. She tended to be cool and sensible.  And indeed, he was not absolutely certain of his own. He had been struck by the beauty of enough maidens to know that the impression usually faded.  But he rather thought that, given a chance, he and Emmelin might find happiness together.

A bird call from his right told him that Annael was calling a halt to their search, and he chirped to his horse, turning him toward the source of the call, aware that Nithron was following.  Annael emerged from the trees, riding toward them, and Sinnarn straightened, trying to look as responsible as possible.

“We might as well go home,” Annael said.  “We have found nothing, which I would say means we have had a successful day.” He smiled, and Sinnarn’s spirits rose.

“Yes, indeed,” he agreed.  The three of them turned their mounts and headed for home.


Legolas entered the family’s sitting room and realized too late that, for the second time that day, he had walked in on a heated discussion.  His father and Celuwen were apparently still arguing about whether the settlement where her parents lived should be required to move closer to Thranduil’s stronghold so that his warriors could protect them better, a discussion that they had started at morning meal, much to Alfirin’s disapproval. She tended to believe that meals should be free from talk of the problems that all of them dealt with during the rest of the day.  Legolas wished she had preceded him to the sitting room. Both Thranduil and Celuwen would have known enough to cease arguing in her presence.

“They do not need to move, Adar,” Celuwen said.  “I grant you that spiders have been seen closer to the stronghold of late, but the Home Guard seems to have driven them back.  Moreover, as I told you after my last visit there, the settlers have been forming their own patrols to keep the area around their homes safe.”

Thranduil snorted. “How effective do you expect those patrols to be, Celuwen?  Even the Home Guard warriors are sometimes surprised by the spiders.”  He seemed to suddenly become aware of Legolas’s presence. “Legolas,” he said, “how likely are untrained Elves to be able to spot spiders?”

Legolas groaned inwardly.  He hated being asked to take sides between Celuwen and Thranduil because he could almost always see both of their points of view.  “It would depend on how much experience of the spiders they had,” he answered.

Thranduil frowned. “Surely they would be less able than trained warriors?”

“Probably,” Legolas agreed.

“But these Elves have spent years in the forest and have a real feel for it,” Celuwen argued. “They know every tree, branch, and leaf, and they know when something is amiss.”

Legolas rather thought she was right, but he kept his mouth shut.  Celuwen did not need his help in standing up to Thranduil, and he did not want to mar the good standing he currently seemed to have with his father, who was openly pleased by the way Legolas was performing as an officer in the Home Guard.

The door opened, and to Legolas’s relief, Alfirin entered.  She smiled at them all, and peace descended.  “I hope you are all hungry,” she said. “Cook tells me he has made roast duck.”

Thranduil visibly softened.  “Let me pour you some wine, my dear,” he said, and Legolas relaxed.  That day’s battles were ended and the evening would be serene.


OCs newly mentioned in this chapter:

Thrior: Thranduil’s chief adviser. Appears in “Question of Duty” and very briefly in “Spring Awakenings”

Calith: Ithilden’s chief aide. Appears by name in “The Warrior” and “Paths Taken,” and in glimpses in other fics

Tinár:  Boastful warrior.  Appears in “One Year in Mirkwood,” “The Warrior,” “Growing under Shadow,” “Spring Awakenings”

Amdir: The best friend of Ithilden’s son, Sinnarn.  Also younger brother to a dead friend of Legolas.  Appears in “In Mirkwood/Prodigal Sons,” “Question of Duty,” “Fire and Shadow”

Nithron: Sinnarn’s bodyguard. Appears in “Fire and Shadow”

OCs already mentioned in previous chapters:

Beliond: Legolas’s bodyguard.  Appears in “The Tide of Times,” “The Warrior,” “Fire and Shadow,” “Sacrifice under Shadow,” “Spring Awakenings,” and "Question of Duty" 

Annael: Legolas’s best friend

Emmelin:  Annael’s daughter, a forester. Mentioned in “Spring Awakenings.”

Ithilden: Legolas’s oldest brother

Alfirin: Ithilden’s wife

Sinnarn: Ithilden and Alfirin’s son. Appears in “One Year in Mirkwood,” “The Tide of Times,” “The Warrior,” and “Fire and Shadow”

Eilian: Legolas’s second brother

Celuwen: Eilian’s wife

Maltanaur: Eilian’s bodyguard

Gelmir: Eilian’s best friend

Tonduil: Alfirin’s younger brother. A horse master for the troops.  Roughly the same age as Legolas. Appears in “The Novice,” “One Year in Mirkwood,” “The Tide of Times,” and "Paths Taken"

Todith: A Mirkwood captain.  Appears sporadically, including in “When Shadow Touches Home” and “The Warrior"

I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien, but they are his, not mine. I gain only the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.

AN:  At the end of the chapter, I’ve appended a list of OCs who appear or are mentioned in it.


3.  Decisions

Ithilden shifted slightly in his seat as Curunír’s mellifluous voice washed over him. He was talking again about the problems of the Men of Gondor. Ithilden was willing to concede that having Mordor as one’s neighbor was likely to be unpleasant, but his concern at the moment was for the state of the Woodland Realm that stretched away behind him toward the darkened land around Dol Guldur.  For more than a week now, the Council had been debating what to do about the troubles that were upon them all. So far as Ithilden could see, however, they had made no progress.  Only Ithilden’s faith in Mithrandir kept him from despair.

Mithrandir’s only contribution to date, though, had been to say that he was worried that the great dragon Smaug, who lived in Erebor, might be under Sauron’s control and would pose a serious danger if Sauron chose to use him.  That had startled Ithilden, for although Smaug had caused enormous death and destruction when he had seized Erebor a hundred and sixty odd years earlier, he had been content for many years to hunt near his home.  As long Thranduil’s people and the Men of Laketown stayed clear of the devastated area around the mountain, they had little to fear.  And indeed, Ithilden had been forced to agree with Curunír when he dismissed Mithrandir’s concerns on those very grounds.

Ithilden returned his attention to Curunír, whose speech seemed to be drawing to an end.  The wizard puzzled Ithilden.  He resisted all calls for action against Sauron, but he also kept the Council meeting going, almost as if he were waiting for something to happen. The manner in which he directed their talk always seemed logical while the daily meetings were in progress, but when Ithilden returned to his camp at night and thought about the day’s events, something always seemed to him to be slightly amiss. The only thing that Ithilden was certain of was that unless whatever Curunír was waiting for happened soon, he was going to miss his brother-in-law’s wedding, and his wife was unlikely to be pleased by that.  He suppressed a grimace.

Across the table from him, Mithrandir cleared his throat. Along with everyone else, Ithilden turned to look at him. “I fear that there are other matters we have not yet considered,” Mithrandir said, and suddenly Ithilden’s heart quickened in anticipation.  Knowledge born of long years attending meetings with his father’s advisers told him that Mithrandir had at last decided that the moment was ripe to say what he had come to this meeting to say.

“I have lately become convinced that Sauron will no longer be content with such half measures as sending Orcs into the Misty Mountains or twisting the life in these woods on whose edge we sit,” Mithrandir said, and Ithilden had to bite his tongue to keep from protesting against the idea that what was happening to Thranduil’s realm was a “half measure.” Eru help them if it were.

Mithrandir implied to you that he knew something that would help us, he reminded himself.  Keep quiet and let him speak.

“I believe that Sauron is preparing to attack either Lórien or Imladris,” Mithrandir went on, “and I believe that Imladris is the more likely target.”

For a second, there was dead silence around the table.  Ithilden looked around the table at the shocked faces of the members of the Council and knew that his own face must look almost equally appalled.  Only almost, however.  He would not wish that any realm should be the target of Sauron’s fury, but he could not help resenting the fact that these people had all taken the attacks on Thranduil’s realm as a matter of course.

“What makes you think so, Mithrandir?” demanded Elrond, his voice tight.

“As the reports we have heard confirm, I have seen more enemy activity everywhere,” Mithrandir said.  “Everything seems to indicate that Sauron is preparing for war, and logic suggests that what would benefit him most would be to destroy the Elven strongholds.”

“But why Imladris?” Radagast asked in bewilderment.  “What is in Imladris that Sauron would choose it to destroy rather than Lórien, which is so much closer?”

Mithrandir shrugged and glanced down the table toward Elrond. Ithilden turned in that direction too and found Elrond and Glorfindel exchanging glances.  His interest sharpened, but he had no time to satisfy it at the moment.

“The destruction of Imladris would wreak havoc with the confidence of both Elves and Men and remove one of the few havens to which they both can flee in times of need,” Mithrandir said, and Ithilden turned back to him.  “We must act now to disrupt Sauron’s plans,” Mithrandir insisted.

Ithilden looked back at Curunír at the head of the table.  “Now, now,” said the wizard, “we must not make our decision too hastily.”

Ithilden studied him in perplexity.  Curunír was saying the same thing he had been saying for over a week, but somehow, something in his manner had relaxed.


Legolas knocked on the door of his father’s office and entered at Thranduil’s bidding to find his father at his desk with Alfirin seated next to him.  Legolas put his hand over his heart in formal salute.  Thranduil raised an inquiring eyebrow.

“I am here as Todith’s representative, Adar,” Legolas told him.  “He said you had Home Guard matters to discuss, and, as you may recall, I have been commanding the Home Guard while Todith is busy with Ithilden’s responsibilities.”

Thranduil frowned slightly.  “Ah, yes,” he said. “I had forgotten.”  He waved a hand toward the chair in front of his desk. “Sit down, Legolas. Alfirin and I have a small matter to discuss with you.”  Legolas obeyed, wondering what business Alfirin could have with the Home Guard.

“Legolas,” Alfirin began, “do you know that clearing that is about a mile southwest of the stronghold, the one with the three tall beeches at one end and the giant oak at the other?”

Legolas nodded. “I believe so.”

“My parents would like to use that clearing for Tonduil’s wedding feast,” Alfirin told him.  “It is has always been my father’s favorite place in the nearby part of the forest.  He nursed the beeches through a bout of blight when they were young, and I believe he proposed to my naneth under those three trees.”  Alfirin’s father was one of Thranduil’s foresters, and he probably knew every individual tree within miles.

“I was concerned when Alfirin told me of her family’s plans this morning,” Thranduil put in, “because spiders have been found so close to that clearing recently. I want the Home Guard’s assurance that it is safe.”

“I had not realized the spiders had approached so near,” Alfirin put in, a little reproachfully.

Of course she had not, Legolas thought.  Ithilden and Thranduil both kept such things from her.  “We have seen no spiders in that area for over a week,” he said, “but the spiders seem to be multiplying more quickly, and it is very difficult to detect small colonies of them.”

Thranduil frowned.  “That clearing is only a mile away,” he said crisply. “Has the Home Guard no control at all over what menaces my people?”

Legolas drew himself erect. “Of course we do, my lord,” he said, a little defensively. He had heard his father use that imperious tone on those who served him, but he had never before had it directed toward himself.   “We can keep a close eye on that area and inspect it on the day of the feast.  That would insure that there were no spiders nearby then.”

Thranduil nodded and seemed to relax. “Good,” he said.  He turned to Alfirin. “You may tell your family that the Home Guard will make sure that clearing is safe, particularly as the date of the wedding draws near.”  He looked at Legolas. “See to it,” he ordered.

“Yes, my lord,” Legolas said. He rose. “By your leave?”

“You may go,” Thranduil agreed, and Legolas left the office, closing the door softly behind him.  He could easily enough send extra patrols to search near the clearing in the day or two before  Tonduil’s wedding, and that should be enough to insure the safety of the area.  He would accompany the patrols himself, he vowed.  If the Home Guard could not keep one clearing free of spiders, then things were at a bad pass indeed.


“But surely Sauron is no real threat so long as the One Ring remains lost,” Curunír said. “I assume we have no doubt that it is still lost?”

“No doubt at all,” Elrond agreed.  “If Sauron had it, we would know.”  Ithilden was relieved by Elrond’s assurance, even as he wondered how Elrond could be so certain.

Mithrandir shook his head.  His argument had been growing in urgency as the day wore away.  “As I have already said, Sauron is encouraged simply by knowing that the Great Ring still exists.  We must strike now, before he grows too strong for us!”

There was a moment’s silence.  Along with everyone else, Ithilden turned to look at Curunír, who had been the chief opponent to Mithrandir’s cause.  Indeed, Ithilden thought he was now the only opponent, for the faces of the others all seemed to have taken on the same concerned look that Mithrandir wore.  Ithilden had gradually gained some appreciation for just how powerful a wizard Curunír must be, however, for the Council was clearly not going to act without him.

Curunír sat with his fingers steepled in front of his face, apparently lost in thought.  Suddenly something in his posture made Ithilden’s heart leap.  He is going to give way, he thought in disbelief.

“Perhaps you are right,” said Curunír.  “Perhaps we should strike now.”

They all stared at him, trying to take in what he had just said. And then, as one, they drew in a collective deep breath.  “How?” asked Glorfindel.

How indeed? Ithilden wondered, stunned into silence by what had just happened. They were certainly not going to be able to do it by force of arms. His warriors had tried, much to their cost.  But almost nine hundred years ago, Mithrandir had driven Sauron out by the force of his magic, and with excitement rising in his breast, Ithilden assumed the same sort of thing would happen now.  Curunír, Radagast, and Mithrandir could combine their strengths. Ithilden had no idea what sort of magic Elrond and Galadriel possessed, but they had kept their realms safe for long years, so he assumed they had some sort of power beyond the obvious.  And while he himself was not as connected to the woods as his father was, Ithilden knew he would be able to sense what was going on in the forest in a way that no outsider would.  But he was at a total loss as to how they might proceed.

The others were all looking at one another. “We would need to be within sight of Dol Guldur,” Galadriel said slowly, “but be concealed ourselves. We would not want Sauron to see what we were doing.”

Ithilden found his tongue.  “How close would you need to be?” Now that the unbelievable had happened and the decision had been made, he wanted it put into action immediately.  He did not want the Council to have time to change its collective mind. “Perhaps it can be done from Lothlórien.”

Galadriel did not even pause to consider that suggestion.  “No,” she said. “We need to be within ten leagues.” Ithilden wondered if that was really true, or if Galadriel was simply trying to protect her own people from whatever retaliatory forces Sauron might unleash.

“We would be concealed if we traveled through the woods,” Radagast ventured.

“That would be exceedingly dangerous,” Ithilden immediately protested, horrified at the thought.  “You have no idea of what the woods south of here are like.”

“We could travel down the grasslands along the river,” Mithrandir suggested, “and then seek concealment in the woods when we drew near enough for Sauron to observe us.” He turned to Ithilden. “Is there a way we can take through the forest there?  Do you know of some path that might get us close?”

Ithilden paused. “No,” he said slowly, “but I know of some one.”


Eilian made his way across the camp, glancing left and right as he went, trying to assess the condition of his warriors. They were unstrapping their quivers and unstringing their bows, moving wearily in the pale morning light.  The fever of battle was seeping out of them, and they were plainly tired, but for the most part, their mood seemed good.  As it should have been, of course. They had done well against the band of Orcs they had waylaid in the night.  True, several had escaped, but the warriors of the Southern Patrol had killed most of them and then burnt their bodies so that they could not be used as food by those who had been left behind.  But Eilian was always conscious of the fact that, fighting as they did in the southern part of Thranduil’s realm, the Shadow could lie heavily on the spirits of his patrol members. He knew from personal experience how debilitating shadow sickness could be, so he kept a close eye on those who served under him, trying to make sure the signs of it did not escape him.

And then there were the more obvious wounds from which his warriors could suffer. He approached the area near the campfire, where his lieutenant was crouched checking the deep sword cut on the left arm of Galelas, a warrior who had been newly assigned to Eilian’s patrol.  “How is he?” Eilian asked.

Both Galelas and the lieutenant looked up at him.  Galelas’s face was pale, and he had his lips pressed firmly together. “It needs to be stitched,” Tynd said, “but I could probably do it.  He will not be able to fight for a few days, but I do not think he needs to be sent home to the healers.”

“Good,” said Eilian, smiling and patting Galelas’s right shoulder.  “You will have to do better than that if you want a trip home to see your nana,” he joked.

“Perhaps I will be luckier next time,” Galelas said, smiling weakly.  Tynd began laying out emergency healing supplies, and Eilian went toward his own bedroll, removing his quiver as he went.  He rolled his shoulders, luxuriating in the feel of his back muscles loosening.  He found his friend Gelmir already stretched out on his bedroll, which was laid out next to Eilian’s.

“Maltanaur says he wants to speak to you before you go to sleep,” Gelmir said, a little dreamily. He was obviously half asleep and had probably only waited to deliver Eilian’s bodyguard’s message before he slipped totally away on the dream path.

Eilian grimaced.  “I will wager he does,” he said shortly.  Maltanaur had been Eilian’s keeper for a good many years, but he still occasionally became overwrought if he thought Eilian had been careless, and Eilian suspected that Maltanaur thought that now.  At one point in the night, Eilian had become caught up in chasing the leader of the Orc band and, in his heated pursuit, had left Maltanaur behind.  Maltanaur had not been happy about that and had not yet had a chance to tell Eilian so.

He dropped his quiver and bow on his small pile of belongings, scanned the camp, looking for his keeper, and was not surprised when Maltanaur appeared at his side.  Before Maltanaur could speak, Eilian raised his hands in appeasement. “I know,” he said.  “I should have waited for you. You are undoubtedly right. It will not happen again.”

Maltanaur nodded grimly. “See that it does not,” he said. “I would not want to have to explain to Thranduil or that pretty wife of yours how an Orc put his sword in your back while I was nowhere in sight.”  Eilian nodded, and Maltanaur went on to his bedroll, a short distance away.

Eilian sighed, sat down, pulled off his boots, and laid back on his blanket.  Around him, the camp settled gradually to rest.  Aside from those who would go out to hunt for the patrol’s evening meal, the patrol members would drowse away most of the day and then come to alertness again in the early evening, when it would be time to scout once more for the creatures of shadow who haunted the woods in the night.

Eilian’s thoughts drifted to Celuwen, and he felt for her reassuring presence through the bond they shared.  Sometimes, but not always, he was able to sense her moods. When they had first married, he had been able to do it any time he chose, but they had lived together then and neither of them had yet learned to hide what they felt. Now he concealed his more somber moments from her, and he assumed she hid hers from him. Despite her best efforts, however, he knew that she was lonely and that she worried about him.  He deliberately relaxed and then opened himself to her, so that if she were sensing him at the moment, she would know that he was serene.  The dream path beckoned invitingly, and he ran lightly along it, with Celuwen’s hand in his.

“Eilian,” said Tynd, and he came instantly awake, reaching for his weapons.  “No, there is no danger,” Tynd said hastily, and Eilian relaxed.

“What is it?” he said, sitting up and rubbing his face tiredly.

“Messengers have come from Ithilden,” Tynd told him.  “They said it was urgent.”

Eilian looked toward the campfire and, to his surprise, he found one of Ithilden’s messengers and one of his aides looking in his direction, with impatience on both their faces.  His interest quickened.  Something plainly was afoot, something out of the usual.  His body began to hum pleasantly with excitement, and he rose to his feet and approached the visitors.

“Mae govannen,” he said, extending his arm to them. “You have a message for me?”

“Yes, my lord,” the messenger said. “Lord Ithilden asks that you bring your patrol to him in Rhosgobel with all possible speed.”

Eilian blinked. “Why?” he demanded.

“The White Council is meeting there,” the aide put in, suppressed excitement in his face. “I believe that plans are afoot that require your patrol’s help.”

Eilian stared at him, with his heartbeat accelerating. What in Arda was Ithilden doing with the White Council?  He was sure that the aide would not tell him; possibly he did not know himself.  But like Eilian, he evidently knew that whatever it was promised to be exciting.  He turned. “Tynd!” he called.

“Yes, Captain?”  His lieutenant was at his side immediately.

“Get everyone ready to move,” he ordered.  “Can Galelas ride?”

“Yes,” Tynd said.  “His arm is hurt, but he is certainly strong enough to ride.”

“Go then,” Eilian ordered.  “Everyone comes.”  Tynd ran off to set his commands in motion, and Eilian turned back to the messengers.  “We will be ready in half an hour,” he told them and strode away to gather his own gear.


“My lord?”

At the sound of his aide’s voice, Ithilden turned from the campfire. “What is it?”

“Lord Eilian is here.”

And indeed, a smiling Eilian was striding toward him with his arm outstretched.  With a cry of pleasure, Ithilden rose to clasp arms and then embrace his brother.  “Where is your patrol?” Ithilden asked.

“I left them camped a half mile or so away,” Eilian told him, as they both sat down on the sawed off logs that had been drawn up around the campfire. “But they are all here and ready to serve you.  What is going on?”  His eyes gleamed with excitement, Ithilden noted.  Trust Eilian to be looking forward to a fight.

In as few words as possible, Ithilden told him of the White Council’s plans.  “Your task is to get the White Council members as close as possible to Dol Guldur without being detected,” he finished.  “Your warriors will need to keep them safe, but it would be best if we can move as stealthily as possible given how large a group we will be.”

Eilian was still gaping at him.  “They are really going to cast Sauron out of Dol Guldur?” He sounded incredulous.

“They are certainly going to try,” Ithilden answered a little grimly.

Eilian frowned. “What about his Orcs? What about the wargs and spiders?”

“I suspect that the Council believes that those are our problem,” Ithilden said dryly.  “Still, they will be without direction, which should help us. And the woods, Eilian! Think of the woods.  Perhaps they will be made wholesome again.”   The two of them looked at one another, scarcely able to imagine such an event.

“Who will be going?” Eilian asked, clearly ready to get down to business.

“The three wizards, plus Galadriel and Elrond,” Ithilden answered.  The members of the Council had spent the last five days planning as they waited for Ithilden’s messengers to find and fetch Eilian and his warriors.  “Círdan’s representative will stay here to pass along messages.  The other advisers will stay here too.  My guards will go with your patrol.  Oh, and Glorfindel,” Ithilden added. “He will go too.”

Eilian’s mouth fell open again. “Glorfindel?” he squeaked.  Suddenly he broke into a wide grin and slapped Ithilden on the back.  “Introduce me to him,” he demanded.  “My poor brain can scarcely take in the idea of Sauron being gone from Dol Guldur. But meeting Glorfindel!  That is something I have fantasized about.”

Ithilden could not help smiling back and realizing, not for the first time, how much he enjoyed his brother’s company.


OCs appearing or mentioned for the first time in this chapter:

Galelas:  A warrior.  Was a novice with Legolas. Has the great misfortune to be the younger brother of Tinár.  Appears in “The Novice,” “One Year in Mirkwood,” “The Warrior,”  “Fire and Shadow.”

Tynd:  A warrior.  Was in his last year as a novice when Legolas was in his first year.  Appears in “One Year in Mirkwood,” “The Warrior,” "Growing under Shadow"

OCs already mentioned in previous chapters:

Ithilden: Legolas’s oldest brother

Alfirin: Ithilden’s wife

Sinnarn: Ithilden and Alfirin’s son. Appears in “One Year in Mirkwood,” “The Tide of Times,” “The Warrior,” and “Fire and Shadow”

Nithron: Sinnarn’s bodyguard. Appears in “Fire and Shadow”

Eilian: Legolas’s second brother

Celuwen: Eilian’s wife

Maltanaur: Eilian’s bodyguard

Gelmir: Eilian’s best friend

Beliond: Legolas’s bodyguard.  Appears in “The Tide of Times,” “The Warrior,” “Fire and Shadow,” “Sacrifice under Shadow,” “Spring Awakenings,” “Question of Duty”

Annael: Legolas’s best friend

Emmelin:  Annael’s daughter, a forester. Mentioned in “Spring Awakenings.”

Tonduil: Alfirin’s younger brother. A horse master for the troops.  Roughly the same age as Legolas. Appears in “The Novice,” “One Year in Mirkwood,” “The Tide of Times,” “Paths Taken”

Todith: A Mirkwood captain.  Appears sporadically, including in “When Shadow Touches Home” and “The Warrior”

Thrior: Thranduil’s chief adviser. Appears in “Question of Duty” and very briefly in “Spring Awakenings”

Calith: Ithilden’s chief aide. Appears by name in “The Warrior” and “Paths Taken,” and in glimpses in other fics

Tinár:  Boastful warrior.  Appears in “One Year in Mirkwood,” “The Warrior,” “Growing under Shadow,” “Spring Awakenings”

Amdir: The best friend of Ithilden’s son, Sinnarn.  Also younger brother to a dead friend of Legolas.  Appears in “In Mirkwood/Prodigal Sons,” “Question of Duty,” “Fire and Shadow”

I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien, but they are his, not mine. I gain only the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.

AN:  At the end of the chapter, I’ve appended a list of OCs who appear in this story.  No new ones in this chapter!


4.  Intruders

Legolas moved silently through the trees, leaping easily from limb to limb.  Although he could hear neither one of them, he knew without looking back that Beliond was right behind him and Amdir was working his way through the branches on the other side of the Elf Path.  They had been sliding through the treetops for almost a mile now, having left their horses concealed in the greenery to the side of the path once they neared the area where the Western Border Patrol had told them the intruders would be.

The faint sound of tramping feet came from ahead, and he halted high in a beech tree.  A second later, Beliond came to rest beside him, bow in hand.  Legolas looked for Amdir, and for a moment, saw nothing, but then he caught a glimpse of movement in an oak.  Legolas took his own bow from his shoulder, and then, for a few moments, the three of them waited in silence.

The noise of heavy feet grew louder, and then, from around a small bend in the path, the intruders began to straggle into view. Legolas watched them come, counting as he did so.  The Border Patrol was right, he concluded at last: thirteen adult Dwarves and a child.  One of the adults appeared to be injured, for four of the others carried him in a makeshift litter they had formed from a cloak.  He must have been heavy, for the four who gripped the cloak’s corners seemed to be straining at the load.

Legolas eyed the child a little doubtfully. He had seen a Dwarf child before, and this one looked quite different, but perhaps these Dwarves were of a different race than the ones he had seen previously.  The child walked at the side of a Dwarf in a purple hood who, beard notwithstanding, was probably his mother.  There was another Dwarf in a purple hood too, who Legolas speculated was the child’s father.

He studied them.  They did not have the look of a war party.  The leader of the group carried what looked to be a very fine sword, but the others had only knives rather than the great Dwarven battle axes. And of course, they had the child with them.  All of these signs indicated that the Dwarves were simply passing through the forest on their way to the Iron Hills far to the east.  At one time, such parties had been more frequent, although they had never been common, but then Smaug had destroyed the Dwarven colony at Erebor, and they had become far rarer yet.

He raised an eyebrow at Beliond, who shrugged and shouldered his bow.  He apparently agreed with Legolas that the Dwarves were not dangerous, at least at the moment. Legolas decided he had seen enough.  He put his hand to his mouth and trilled a bird call that would tell Amdir to retreat, and then gestured to Beliond that they too should begin moving back toward their horses.

When they reached their meeting place, Legolas climbed down to land on the path with Beliond right behind him. Amdir arrived a few seconds later.  “What are we going to do?” Amdir asked, his brows drawn into a frown.

“That will be up to Todith, of course,” said Legolas, “but my guess is we will do nothing.”  He gave a soft cluck of his tongue to bring his horse out of the trees with the other two mounts following close behind.

Amdir’s mouth fell open.  “We must do something!” he cried.  “These Dwarves are in our woods!”

Legolas shot him a warning look.  “As long as they stay on the path and keep moving, we have no reason to interfere with them.”

Amdir looked as if he wanted to protest but then thought better of it.  He pressed his lips together and swung up onto his horse’s back.  Legolas grimaced.  Sometimes he thought that Amdir was more trouble than he was worth as a warrior.  He knew that Todith had lost patience with Amdir on more than one occasion, but Legolas still held out hope that Amdir could learn some common sense, even if wisdom was beyond him.

He turned his horse’s head toward home, and the other two followed.  When they reached the warrior fields, he sent a still sulking Amdir off to care for Legolas’s horse as well as his own and went to report to Todith.


“We request an audience with the king,” Todith told the attendant who stood just outside the door to the Great Hall, where the king was still hearing petitions.  The attendant nodded and went inside to consult with one of the king’s advisers.

“Are you sure you need me, Captain?” Legolas asked with a suppressed smile.  “I would not want to interfere in matters of your command.”  He knew perfectly well that Todith had brought him along as much to deal with Thranduil as to be able to give a first-hand account of what he had seen.

Todith looked at him a little sourly.  “I think this will be valuable experience for you, Legolas.  Ithilden may some day decide that you are ready to be a captain yourself, and you will have to be able to explain your actions to the king.”

Legolas grinned openly.  “I believe I already have as much experience in explaining my actions to the king as anyone might wish for.”

Todith could not help laughing. “I expect you do,” he agreed. He paused.  “Have you heard from Ithilden?” he asked hopefully.  “Do you know if he will be home soon?”

“We have heard nothing,” Legolas answered, smiling sympathetically when his captain’s face fell.  Difficult as it was to believe, Legolas thought that Todith might actually be more eager for his brother’s return than Alfirin was.  She had begun to despair that Ithilden would be back in time for Tonduil’s wedding and was clearly not happy about it.

The attendant returned. “Follow me,” he told them and led them into the Great Hall.  “Lord Legolas and Todith are here to see you, my lord,” he announced and then bowed his way out the door.  Legolas could not help noticing with some embarrassment that, here in his father’s Hall, his name had preceded that of his captain.

The two of them advanced halfway toward where Thranduil sat in his carved oak chair and then they each dropped to one knee.  The king waved them forward, and they rose and approached him.  “You wished to speak with me?” he asked Todith.  Thranduil obviously remained aware of his son’s place in the military scheme of things, even if his attendant had not.

“I need to tell you what the Western Border Patrol saw a few days ago and one of my patrols confirmed today,” Todith said and launched into a description of the Dwarves who had been seen following the Elf path.  As he spoke, Thranduil’s face darkened into a frown.  “Legolas led the patrol that observed them today,” Todith finished.  “If you have questions, he will be able to answer them.”

Thranduil’s eyes shifted to Legolas, who felt himself straightening even further from his normally erect posture.  There was no trace of the father in the keen, intent face now looking at him.  Rather he found himself pinned in place by the gaze of his king.  “Do they appear at all threatening?” Thranduil asked crisply.

“No, my lord,” Legolas answered.  “Only the leader carries a weapon, and a child travels with them.”

Thranduil looked at him thoughtfully for a moment and then nodded. Legolas relaxed and felt pleased with himself.  His father had decided to accept the judgment of the Dwarves that he and Todith had voiced.  Thranduil turned back to Todith. “What do you propose to do?”

“I will have the patrols that normally guard that path check on them several times a day,” answered Todith.  “But unless they leave the path or appear dangerous in some way, I do not think we need to do anything further.”

“Very well,” Thranduil agreed. “Keep me informed.  You may go.”

Legolas bowed and followed Todith out of the Hall. The captain turned to him.  “See to it that the patrols know enough to check on the Dwarves without being seen.”

“Yes, Captain,” Legolas responded, already thinking about balancing vigilant searches for spiders against the need to keep an eye on the Dwarves.


With an arrow nocked in his bow, Eilian slipped silently along between the dark fir trees that crowded in on one another. He seldom scouted from the ground like this, but moving through the trees here was difficult, despite how close together they were, because many of the trees’ branches were rotten and likely to give way without warning.  The trees near him now called to him with faint voices full of anguish and longing.  I hear you, he assured them, silently, and perhaps this time I can even do something to help you.

He drew a deep breath, trying to loosen his diaphragm.  The thickness of the trees made the forest here dark and somehow heavy, even now, in the late afternoon.  He found that the place weighed on his spirit.  He was not surprised. He had been here before on a scouting trip.  His companion on that trip had not returned, and Eilian had suffered months of despair afterwards, brought on both by the sight of the forest in such a plight and by the shadowy atmosphere that had somehow crept into his very fëa.

They had been lucky so far.  They had been traveling for a week down the east bank of the Anduin, moving under cover of the short summer darkness and seeking what shelter they could find during the day.  To Eilian’s dismay, they had seen four separate large bands of Orcs moving west toward the Misty Mountains, but Eilian and his scouts had always spotted them in plenty of time to warn the group to conceal themselves. Eilian was not sure they would have eluded the enemy so easily except for the fact that the Orcs had been intent on their own business and none of them had stopped to scout or hunt at all. Eilian thought that Elrond in particular had been alarmed by the sight of so many Orcs moving west, and indeed, letting the creatures pass unmolested had gone against Eilian’s grain too. He could not help but feel that the Orcs he let go now would come back to swing a sword at him later.

Eilian’s eye was briefly caught by Maltanaur moving along off to his right, scanning the trees for danger, but also keeping one eye on Eilian, who was his primary responsibility.  Eilian might be trying to find a safe place for the White Council to spend the approaching night, but Maltanaur was trying to make sure that Eilian got back from this mission with his skin intact.  And to Eilian’s left, Glorfindel’s blond hair glimmered through the dusky light, reminding Eilian suddenly of Legolas. It was too bad Legolas was not here, he thought. His younger brother would enjoy meeting Glorfindel.  And then he thought that he could conceive of few things worse than Legolas being here.

Ahead of him, the quality of the light seemed to change a little, and he moved forward to find himself standing on small ridge, with the ground dropping away sharply in front of him.  Maltanaur and Glorfindel came to stand on either side of him.  “This might do,” Glorfindel said in a low murmur.  “The ridge would guard our backs and there is enough underbrush to offer some shelter.”

Eilian nodded.  “We had better make sure that nothing else decided to sleep here first.” They separated and began slowly searching the underbrush, making sure that no Orcs had chosen to go to ground in it during the hours of what passed for daylight here.  A quarter of an hour later, they rejoined one another.

“Nothing,” Glorfindel said.  “I think we can go back and tell Curunír that we have found a safe place for the night, or at least,” he added, “a place that is as safe as anywhere could be here.”

Eilian grimaced. Curunír was in charge of this mission, and while Eilian had nothing against the wizard, he hated to trust the success of their efforts to someone he did not know.  He wished that Ithilden were in command.  For a task such as this one, he trusted no one as much as he did his older brother.

Suddenly, to his surprise, the song of the trees around him shifted slightly, and the anguish in it was overlaid with a note of warning.  Without hesitation, Eilian leapt into the nearest tree and began to climb, testing each branch as he went.  Maltanaur’s head jerked around to see what Eilian was doing and then he followed, scaling a tree that was near enough that he could reach Eilian if he had to, assuming that the interlaced branches did not give way beneath him.

Eilian hastily looked to see what Glorfindel was doing.  He was not exactly worried about Glorfindel.  He would never be so presumptuous as to think that Glorfindel needed his advice in dealing with the creatures of Shadow.   But he found that he could not predict what Glorfindel would do in the same way he could predict what his own warriors might do.  Glorfindel seemed to use a different style of scouting than the one used by the Wood-elves.  And one of the things that meant was that he did not always take to the trees when doing so seemed to Eilian to be the only logical course of action.

Now, for instance, Glorfindel had taken shelter beneath a dense grove of evergreens whose arms swept to the ground to conceal him.  Eilian bit back an impulse to try to summon him.  He could hear heavy steps approaching and could not afford to risk making a sound. Eilian had seldom encountered Orcs during the day, but the dimness of these woods was apparently sufficient that what sounded like three of them were coming his way. He turned his attention in the direction from which the footsteps approached and waited, immobile, peering through the thick branches with some difficulty to find the ground below.

Then, tantalizingly, first one Orcs, then a second, and finally a third appeared in the narrow spaces between the branches.  Eilian’s fingers twitched on his bowstring. The temptation to shoot at the creatures was almost overwhelming, but nonetheless, he held his fire.  Their goal now had to be to keep their presence here hidden, and killing these guards would not serve that end well at all.

Eilian could hear the three of them grumbling to one another.  They were speaking in Westron, which probably meant they were from different tribes and could not understand one another’s native tongues.  “I want to go too,” one of them said.  “We need vengeance for the slaying.”

“He would not like it if you left without permission,” responded another, with an emphasis on the “he” that made it all too clear whom he meant.

A sudden movement in the branches of the next tree made Eilian jump slightly and sent his heart racing, as he jerked his bow around to find himself aiming at a black squirrel racing away through the branches.  And then, unexpectedly, the branch onto which he had intuitively stepped gave way beneath his foot, letting go with a loud cracking noise and tumbling to the ground below. Eilian pulled his foot back quickly to regain his balance, but as he did so, he heard one of the Orcs give a warning cry, and he looked down to find the three of them all drawing their bows to send arrows his way.

With nimble grace, he scrambled around the branches seeking for shelter.  An arrow flew past his head, missing by no more than a foot as he dodged, and he heard the twang of Maltanaur’s bow and the thud of an arrow embedding itself in a body.  When he found a perch and whirled to draw his own bow too, he found one Orc sprawled on the ground and the other two ducking for cover. They plainly had not seen Maltanaur until his arrow came flying toward them.

The denseness of the branches made it hard to get a clear shot, and Eilian had to adjust his aim before he managed to send an arrow into the neck of a second Orc.  But the third one was lost to sight, at least so far as Eilian was concerned. He looked over at Maltanaur, who was holding his drawn bow and scanning the ground anxiously.  Eilian began cautiously working his way toward another tree, hoping that a different angle would give him a glimpse of the missing Orc.

He reached a new perch and then froze, cautiously scanning the area. Suddenly, he heard a guttural “oof,” the unmistakable sound of someone’s life’s breath being driven out of them.  Glorfindel! Eilian thought.  He looked over at Maltanaur, who looked back at him with startled eyes, and the two of them began hastily working their way to the ground again. 

They came to earth at the same second, grasped their bows, nocked arrows, and ran toward where the Orc had disappeared.  “Wait!” Maltanaur commanded, but Eilian ducked beneath the spreading evergreens without pausing.  If Glorfindel was in trouble, Eilian had no intention of leaving him on his own.  The scene in front of him brought him up short.

I should have known, he thought in some amusement, as Maltanaur raced up behind him.  Glorfindel had his foot braced on the body of the third Orc and was just pulling his sword out the creature’s back.  He looked up and smiled blandly at them.  “This spot would appear to be on the Orcs’ patrol route,” he observer. “Perhaps we should not recommend that the White Council spend the night here after all.”

Eilian grinned, his spirits lightening a little from the oppression these woods caused him.  Glorfindel was a warrior after Eilian’s own heart.  “Perhaps not,” he agreed.  He shouldered his bow and steeled himself to seize the Orc’s feet while Glorfindel grasped its hands, and the two of them began dragging the body toward the top of the rise so they could tip it over the edge.  Eilian could hear Maltanaur give a small snort as he went off to drag a second Orc’s body to the same fate.  Maltanaur would probably have something to say to Eilian later, but for now, he would hold his tongue.

Eilian helped Maltanaur with the second body, and then they stood at the top of the rise as Glorfindel brought the third one.  “How did you know they were coming?” Glorfindel asked, as he dropped the body and then shoved it with his foot to disappear into the dense trees below. “Did you hear them?”

Eilian looked at him in surprise. “The change in the trees’ song told me,” he said.  Eilian knew that he was more attuned to the song of the trees than most Elves were. In fact, that was one of the abilities that made him an exceptional scout. He had always assumed that being Thranduil’s son made him unusually sensitive to the forest. But surely Glorfindel had heard at least some of the trees’ warning.  Every Elf Eilian knew listened to them.

Glorfindel blinked, looked as if he would ask more, and then shrugged.  “I will have to listen more closely,” he said with a small grin.  He looked around.  “We must be at the perimeter that their guards patrol,” he said.  “I suggest we find a place outside that area for tonight. They will become more active as it grows darker, and we do not want to have them stumbling over us.  We can move closer again tomorrow. What would you say to that rock-filled little valley we found earlier as a place for the night?” 

Eilian considered and then nodded judiciously, and they turned to start back the way they had come.  He touched a tree trunk sympathetically as he passed and glanced over in time to see Glorfindel looking bemused.

They were approaching the area in which they thought the rest of their party might be when Galelas and Tynd materialized from the woods around them, faces tense and bows in hand. They were scouting the way ahead of the rest of the group.  “Ithilden is just behind us,” Tynd told them. “He has been looking for you.”

Eilian shrugged. “We were delayed,” he grinned, and both of his warriors raised their eyebrows. They knew perfectly well what kind of “delay” Eilian was likely to encounter.

“Unavoidably delayed,” Glorfindel agreed with a matching grin, and Eilian shot an amused glance his way.  He could hear Maltanaur grumbling slightly behind him without being able to make out what he was saying.  The three of them slid past the two scouts and within a moment or two, they met Ithilden and then the rest of the party strung out behind him and moving as silently as possible among the thick, dark trees. They had left their horses in the grasslands in order to make their passage less visible. Eilian glanced back at them now.  They looked tense, which was natural given where they were and what they were about to do, but they also looked determined.

“Did you find a place for the night?” Ithilden asked, and Eilian nodded.  Glorfindel described the small valley to him, and Ithilden seemed to approve.  “Did you run into any trouble?” he asked.

Glorfindel and Eilian looked at one another. “Three Orc guards on patrol,” Eilian said, “but we took care of them.”  Ithilden made a wry face and nodded again, and Eilian was absurdly flattered by the fact that he asked for no details but rather accepted Eilian’s claim.

Glorfindel clapped Eilian on the shoulder and then went off to speak to Elrond.  He said something that sounded distinctly like “Wood-elves” and then laughed.

Curunír joined them. “Well?” he asked a trifle imperiously.  Neither Eilian nor Ithilden blinked at his manner. They had both spent too many years dealing with their father.

“We have found a place about half a mile ahead,” Eilian told him.

“Good,” said Curunír.  He looked thoughtfully toward where they could see the tower of Dol Guldur just appearing over the tops of the dark trees.  “I believe that we are almost close enough.  I think we should plan to engage Sauron during the day tomorrow, when his creatures are less able to move about.”

Eilian caught his breath. Even after a week with these people, he could scarcely believe that the White Council was about to try to cast Sauron out of Thranduil’s realm.

“Show us the way,” Ithilden bade Eilian, and the two of them began walking together, leading the group toward the site that Eilian, Glorfindel, and Maltanaur had found.

“Can you imagine how those at home will react if we succeed in this?” Eilian asked.

Ithilden gave a small smile.  “I fervently hope we do and not just for the obvious reasons. Tonduil’s wedding will be tonight.  I will need to have a very good excuse for missing it if I expect Alfirin to let me sleep in my own bed again.”



Ithilden: Legolas’s oldest brother

Alfirin: Ithilden’s wife

Sinnarn: Ithilden and Alfirin’s son. Appears in “One Year in Mirkwood,” “The Tide of Times,” “The Warrior,” and “Fire and Shadow”

Nithron: Sinnarn’s bodyguard. Appears in “Fire and Shadow”

Eilian: Legolas’s second brother

Celuwen: Eilian’s wife

Maltanaur: Eilian’s bodyguard

Gelmir: Eilian’s best friend

Beliond: Legolas’s bodyguard.  Appears in “The Tide of Times,” “The Warrior,” “Fire and Shadow,” “Sacrifice under Shadow,” “Spring Awakenings,” “Question of Duty”

Annael: Legolas’s best friend

Emmelin:  Annael’s daughter, a forester. Mentioned in “Spring Awakenings.”

Tonduil: Alfirin’s younger brother. A horse master for the troops.  Roughly the same age as Legolas. Appears in “The Novice,” “One Year in Mirkwood,” “The Tide of Times,” “Paths Taken”

Todith: A Mirkwood captain.  Appears sporadically, including in “When Shadow Touches Home” and “The Warrior”

Thrior: Thranduil’s chief adviser. Appears in “Question of Duty” and very briefly in “Spring Awakenings”

Calith: Ithilden’s chief aide. Appears by name in “The Warrior” and “Paths Taken,” and in glimpses in other fics

Tinár:  Boastful warrior.  Appears in “One Year in Mirkwood,” “The Warrior,” “Growing under Shadow,” “Spring Awakenings”

Galelas:  A warrior.  Was a novice with Legolas. Has the great misfortune to be the younger brother of Tinár.  Appears in “The Novice,” “One Year in Mirkwood,” “The Warrior,”  “Fire and Shadow.”

Tynd:  A warrior.  Was in his last year as a novice when Legolas was in his first year.  Appears in “One Year in Mirkwood,” “The Warrior,” “Growing under Shadow”

Amdir: The best friend of Ithilden’s son, Sinnarn.  Also younger brother to a dead friend of Legolas.  Appears in “In Mirkwood/Prodigal Sons,” “Question of Duty,” “Fire and Shadow”


I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien, but they are his, not mine. I gain only the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.


5.  The Wedding Feast

“You see?” murmured Annael, his mouth close to Legolas’s ear. “The one who was injured is walking now.”

From his perch in an oak tree, Legolas studied the Dwarves.  The Dwarf who had previously lain in the makeshift litter was indeed now on his feet, although he was complaining loudly about how tired his legs were.  Given how long it had been since he had used them, Legolas believed that the Dwarf was probably speaking no more than the truth. With typical Dwarven gruffness, however, the others were withholding all sympathy.

The Dwarves made their slow way past the watching Elves. Legolas waited until they had disappeared before he sighed and then turned to speak to Annael.  “How sure are you about the distance they will travel today?”

Annael shrugged. “I cannot be sure, of course, but at the pace they have been traveling, they will be near the clearing where Tonduil’s wedding is to take place when they stop to camp for the night.”

“They camp on the path,” put in Sinnarn from just behind Annael.  His tone was both incredulous and amused.  “And they are unbelievably slow, Legolas.  They are covering no more than six or seven miles in a day.  That surely cannot be natural. I wonder what they are doing and where they are going?”

Annael turned to him with an indulgent smile, and Legolas thought, not for the first time, that Sinnarn was making progress in his campaign to win Annael’s regard.  “Perhaps you would like to follow them and introduce yourself?” Annael teased.

Sinnarn looked sheepish.  “I would like to talk to them,” he confessed.

Annael smiled sympathetically.  “My adar used to speak to them occasionally when they lived in Erebor and he had to go to Dale on some mission or other.  He always admired their skill in crafting weapons, toys, and all manner of goods, and he claimed that while they were brusque and guarded in their manner toward him, they were not usually actively hostile.  So you might enjoy talking to them.”

Legolas held his tongue but found he was less optimistic than Annael or Sinnarn about what would result from an encounter between the Dwarves and any of Thranduil’s people.  His father’s suspicion of Dwarves was deep and automatic.  Legolas knew that Ithilden was more open to them and thus was not surprised that Sinnarn was.  But he, himself, felt more like Thranduil and was uncomfortable at the idea of having anything to do with them.  He did not wish them harm; he simply did not want to associate with them.

He brought his mind back to the question of where the Dwarves would spend the night.  Elven weddings were deeply private affairs.  They were enactments of the primitive link that Elves had with the One, with Arda, and through bonding, with one another. The words of the vows were sacred and were carefully guarded from the ears of mortals.  It would be unthinkable to have the Dwarves intrude upon tonight’s wedding feast.

“What do you think the chances are that they will approach the clearing?” he asked.

Annael and Sinnarn looked at one another. “They have not left the path so far,” Annael said slowly. “As Sinnarn told you, they even camp on it.  That would suggest that they will leave the feast in peace.”

Legolas nodded.  He would report the Dwarves’ likely whereabouts to Todith, whose concern was whether they were a threat and who thus would be inclined to leave them alone, since they showed no signs of being dangerous. But he would also tell Thranduil, who guarded his people’s rituals with the same care that Todith exercised over their safety.  His father would be the one who ultimately decided what they should do.

“How about spiders?” he asked. “Have you seen any more in that area?”

“No,” Annael answered.  “We were going to make a final sweep of the area after we finished here.  Then the matter is in the hands of those on night duty.”

“I will go with you,” Legolas said, and the three of them slid to the ground and made their way to where Beliond and Nithron waited with the horses.  Neither keeper had been interested in taking yet another look at the Dwarves. Legolas had already found that one advantage of serving in the Home Guard was that, in its relatively safe territory, Beliond was less likely to be breathing down his neck all the time.

“We are going to take one more look for spiders,” Legolas told them, and they all mounted and rode northeast, scanning the trees with automatic vigilance as they went.  They soon reached the clearing, where Elves were busily at work fixing torches to the trees and hanging lanterns from the branches.  A huge fire pit had been dug, and haunches of venison had already been set over them to roast. By the hour of star opening, when the feast would begin, they would be golden and succulent. Legolas’s mouth watered at the thought.  He was looking forward to tonight’s celebration.

“I cannot believe that Tonduil is bonding with Aerlinn,” he marveled.  “Do you remember throwing snowballs at her, Annael?”

Annael laughed. “I do,” he confessed. “But either she has improved since then or I have, for I must say I like her now.  And Tonduil seems very happy. Bonding will be good for him.”  Legolas knew that Annael was content in his own marriage and was inclined to think that other people would feel the same way.

Sinnarn cleared his throat. The topic of bonding was making him nervous.  Legolas took pity on him.  “Split up and circle the clearing,” he ordered. “Use the trees and check for a thousand yards out from the edge.  We want to be sure this area is clear before we turn it over to Amdir and the night patrol.” They nodded, and Sinnarn, Nithron, and Annael started in one direction, while Legolas and Beliond went in the other. Half an hour later, they met on the other side of the clearing.

“Nothing,” Annael reported, and Legolas nodded in satisfaction. He and Beliond had also seen no sign of spiders.

The sound of approaching horses drew his attention, and he turned to see Thranduil riding toward the clearing with two guards right behind him.  The king slid from his horse and approached them.  All five of them put their hands over their hearts and bowed.

Thranduil looked fondly at his grandson but spoke to Legolas.  “Is Sinnarn nearly done for the day?  His naneth is looking for him.” In Ithilden’s absence, Sinnarn was going to escort Alfirin to the feast. Sinnarn made a small face at Thranduil’s words, which made him sound rather like a stray elfling. The others all smothered grins. 

Legolas took the hint and turned to his companions.  “You are all dismissed. I will report to Todith.”  They all gave casual salutes to him and more formal ones to Thranduil, and then even Beliond took his leave.

“How do matters look for tonight?” Thranduil asked.

“We have seen no sign of spiders,” Legolas answered.  “There is, however, a potential problem with the Dwarves.”  He explained the situation to his father, whose face darkened into a frown on hearing it.

“I might have known the Naugrim would be trouble,” said Thranduil in disgust when Legolas had finished. “I want no unnecessary contact made with them, but mortals cannot be allowed near the wedding feast.”

“What would you like me to do, my lord?” Legolas asked. He shared his father’s frustration. It was much more difficult to know what to do about the Dwarves than the spiders.  He could hardly arrest them, for they had caused no harm so far.

Thranduil thought for a moment.  “I will take care of it,” he finally said and turned to look at the clearing. “Wait here,” he ordered, and then, with no more ado, he began to pace along the clearing’s edge, circling it.  Legolas caught his breath.  He knew what was about to happen.

To Legolas, his father looked no different than he always did, with his long, determined stride and his erect bearing, but as he passed along the border of the clearing, the trees began to sway gently toward him, and their leaves fluttered as if a breeze were passing through them.  Legolas felt a tingling sensation, as if some powerful herb were making its way through his body.  The Elves who were working in the clearing must have felt it too, because they paused in their work and turned to look silent and wide-eyed at the king as he made his way around them.

Thranduil rejoined Legolas, looking satisfied, and after a second or two, one of the Elves in the clearing called “A blessing on you, my lord,” and they all resumed their work.

“Todith tells me that you are doing well as his lieutenant, Legolas,” Thranduil said, as casually as if he had just taken a stroll to view the summer wildflowers.  “And I have been pleased by your handling of both the spiders and the Dwarves.”  With an effort, Legolas shook off his slightly dazed feeling and realized that his father was praising him.  He flushed with pleasure. “Ithilden will be very satisfied when he hears,” Thranduil went on. “And I am proud of you.”

“Thank you, Adar,” Legolas said, and he and his father smiled one another.

“I am going to finish my afternoon ride,” Thranduil said, turning back toward his horse. “I will see you at home. Do not be late.”

“No, Adar,” Legolas said, unable to suppress a grin.  There was no one like his father for making him feel like a competent adult at one moment and a wayward child the next.


Legolas speared a bit of the roasted venison, put it in his mouth, and closed his eyes, the better to enjoy it as he chewed.  Next to him, Celuwen laughed softly.  “You behave as if you have not been fed in a week,” she observed.

He smiled at his sister-in-law.  “Nothing tastes as good as venison that has been roasted out of doors,” he observed. And that was true. But it was also true that he had been transferred to the Home Guard from the Southern Patrol only two months before, and he was still marveling at the small comforts that home provided.  He would not tell Celuwen this, though.  To do so would only add to her dismay at the way Eilian lived most of the time.

“Tonduil looks nervous,” Annael observed from Legolas’s other side.  Legolas looked toward the head table where Tonduil sat next to Aerlinn, with their parents on either side of them.  Thranduil sat at the table’s head in his crown of berries and red leaves.  Alfirin and Sinnarn sat at that table too, but as more distant relatives by marriage, Legolas and Celuwen had been able to sit where they liked, and they had joined Annael and his wife and daughter.

Legolas regarded Tonduil, whose face was flushed and whose plate of food appeared to be untouched.  As Legolas watched, Aerlinn laid her hand over his which was resting on the table, and he visibly jumped.  Legolas exchanged a glance with Annael, whose mouth was tightly closed and whose eyes were gleaming, and suddenly, both of them burst out laughing.  “Poor Tonduil,” Legolas gasped.  “Perhaps we should circulate among the tables and urge people to eat more quickly.”

“Hush, you two,” Beliniel admonished, but she was smiling too, and Annael raised her hand to his mouth and kissed her fingers.  He leaned toward her and whispered something in her ear that made her face go almost as pink as Tonduil’s.  “Stop that,” she said and then spoiled the effect by giggling.

Emmelin rolled her eyes at her parents. “You two should be setting a good example for me,” she declared, and Annael and Beliniel laughed.

“Sinnarn is looking this way,” Beliniel told her, and Emmelin glanced at the head table and then quickly looked away.  Legolas looked too; his nephew had indeed turned toward them.  “He is very handsome, do you not think, Emmelin?” Beliniel teased.

Emmelin gave a small laugh and slid her eyes cautiously toward Legolas and Celuwen.  “No more so than many others,” she said a little saucily.  Her parents laughed, and Legolas again thought that Sinnarn was making progress with Annael, although possibly not with Emmelin.

There was something about a wedding that seemed to rouse the desire to be paired and to see others paired too, Legolas thought wistfully. He scanned the eating, laughing crowd, as he automatically scanned any crowd in which he found himself, looking at the maidens to see if any of them might have the kind of wild, untidy curls that somehow seemed to mark beauty for him.  On his right, he heard Celuwen sigh softly, and he turned to find her absent-mindedly twisting her opal studded wedding ring and looking at Tonduil and Aerlinn.  Legolas put his arm comfortingly around her shoulders.  “You must promise to dance with me later,” he said, hoping to cheer her.  She smiled wanly at him.

A sudden, confused noise came from the south side of the clearing.  For a moment, Legolas’s vision was blocked by one of Thranduil’s minstrels who had been making a circuit of the tables and had stopped directly in front of them. Then the minstrel moved, and for another moment, Legolas froze, for he could not take in what he was seeing.  Then he leapt to his feet in dismay.  Across the clearing from him, the entire party of Dwarves had burst out of the trees and was staggering into the light of the fire and torches.

Legolas was starting around the table, his hand on the hilt of his long knife in its ornamental scabbard, when he suddenly realized that something was amiss with the Dwarves’ behavior.  They had all raised their hands and begun to walk tentatively about as if groping their way in the dark.  “Dori! Nori! Ori!” shouted one, and Legolas hesitated.  Was the Dwarf invoking a spell?  As Legolas stared, the minstrel jumped out of the way of one of them and the Dwarf went on past him, as if he had not seen him. And now they were all shouting to one another in loud, rough voices that drowned out any other sound in the clearing.  Not that there were many sounds.  The Wood-elves sat or stood staring at the Dwarves in utter bewilderment.

Legolas glanced at his father, who was watching the intruders with narrowed eyes and a small, triumphant smile, and suddenly it was clear to him exactly what had caused the Dwarves’ apparent blindness.  He felt a surge of amused admiration for his father.  Then Thranduil turned toward Legolas and flicked his finger toward the Dwarves. His meaning was clear: Get them out of here.

At that moment, the night patrol, led by Amdir, came rushing in and then stopped in confusion at the sight of the Dwarves fumbling about blindly and shouting while the wedding guests dodged out of their way.  Legolas made his way hastily toward them, and at the sight of him approaching, Amdir flinched and then seemed to decide to act now and ask questions later.  He threw Legolas an apologetic glance, and he and the other members of the patrol began wordlessly nudging the Dwarves out of the clearing.  The Dwarves seemed to think that the Elves were solid obstructions and turned aside when they encountered them.

Legolas joined in, taking grim satisfaction in blocking the way of a long-bearded Dwarf in a red hood.  He and the other warriors gradually herded the Dwarves back into the forest.  It was a more difficult task than he had anticipated because there were so many of them and, in their blindness, they kept running into trees, Elves, and one another.

“What happened?” Legolas demanded of Amdir, the first time he was near him. He kept his voice low, although it was doubtful that the Dwarves would have heard anything over their own shouts.

“I am sorry, Legolas,” Amdir murmured hurriedly. “We have been patrolling the whole area, watching for spiders and keeping an eye on the Dwarves, and suddenly the obnoxious little diggers just left the path and came rushing this way.”  A Dwarf in a green hood came straight toward them, but before he could reach them, he tripped over a log and landed with a loud cry.

“They are noisy enough to wake every creature in the forest,” said Legolas irritably.  His father was unlikely to be pleased about this little episode, he though vexedly.

For another quarter of an hour, they tried to steer the Dwarves back toward the path with very little success. The best they were able to manage was to maneuver them into a small, tight group, where they clutched at one another in pathetic gratitude for the contact and gradually quieted down a little.  Legolas was glad to see that the child was safely tucked among them.  The Dwarves began to lie down, as if intending to sleep.

“Shall we get them up?” murmured Amdir doubtfully.

“Leave them there,” said Legolas in disgust.  “They should regain their sight eventually, and they can find their way back to the path then.” He hesitated, wondering if he should stay to help keep an eye on the Dwarves.

Amdir apparently noticed his doubts.  “We will watch them,” he said contritely. “Go back to the feast.”

Legolas threw him a reproving look that made him flinch a little. Explanations would have to be made in the morning.  “See that you do,” he said.  “Stay in the trees though, in case they awaken.  The less contact we have with them, the better.”

“I could not agree more,” Amdir answered fervently.

When Legolas returned to the wedding, he looked toward Thranduil and was not surprised to see him beckon.  He approached his father and bowed.  “We have moved them away from the clearing, my lord.”

“Good,” said Thranduil and then waved his hand in dismissal.  Legolas grimaced a little. The tight lines around his father’s mouth spoke quite clearly of how annoyed he was at the interruption.

And interruption it had been. Between the surprise of the Dwarves’ arrival and the subsequent noise and confusion, the feast had been disrupted quite thoroughly, and people were just settling down to eat again.  As Legolas walked the length of the head table to return to his own seat, Sinnarn suddenly grasped his arm.  “Shall I go and help the night patrol?” he asked, his eyes shining. He had been craving an excuse to meet the Dwarves.

Behind his nephew, Legolas could see Alfirin opening her mouth to protest. “That will not be necessary,” he put in hastily, and Alfirin relaxed.

“Sit down, iôn-nín,” she said, and Sinnarn reluctantly returned to her side.

Legolas was just starting back to his own place again when he nearly ran into Tonduil, who was returning to his seat, clutching Aerlinn by the hand.  They had had to move to get out of the way of a wandering Dwarf.  Tonduil’s face was pale now, and he was drawing deep, shaky breaths. Legolas blinked and then suddenly laughed.  He clapped Tonduil on the shoulder.  “Do not worry,” he said blithely. “We will get you married yet, perhaps even tonight.”

Tonduil gave him a sickly smile, and he and Aerlinn sat down again.

Legolas returned to his place between Celuwen and Annael. Annael looked at him thoughtfully. “Did your adar do that?” he asked.

“I think he did,” Legolas agreed.  The two of them locked eyes for a moment and suddenly both broke into uncontrollable laughter.  “They did look funny!” Legolas gasped.  “Dori! Nori! Ori!”  He looked to see Thranduil sending a disapproving look in their direction. Annael stuffed his fist in his mouth, and Beliniel threw her napkin over his head.

“You two are worse than elflings,” she said in disgust.

“Here,” said Celuwen, putting a berry tart on Legolas’s plate.  She looked amused too.  “Settle down and eat this before you get into trouble.”  Legolas took her advice and fought to bring his face under control.  Thranduil was right of course. This was a sacred occasion.

At last, the wedding party rose from the head table and made their way to the center of the clearing where the blessings would be spoken and the young couple would pledge themselves to one another for all of time.  The words would be spoken by Tonduil’s and Aerlinn’s parents, but Thranduil would stand with them as a sign of the larger community in which this pair would now have a place. The crowd grew quiet and everyone’s attention turned toward the little group.

Suddenly a movement to his right caught Legolas’s attention, and he turned his head quickly to see the dwarf child step into the clearing and, to Legolas’s astonishment, fall over as if in a dead faint.  And then, from the fringe of the trees, the Dwarves started shouting once again. Legolas leapt to his feet and started toward the child, and everyone turned to see what was happening.  By the time Legolas got anywhere near the child, several other Elves were crouched around him.  “What is wrong with him?” he asked anxiously.  He could scarcely hear himself speak amid the clamor the other Dwarves were raising nearby.

“Do not be concerned,” came Thranduil’s cool voice, and Legolas looked up from where he was crouched near the child’s head to see that his father had approached, although he had stopped at some distance from them as if not wanting to draw too near the Dwarves.  Behind him, the wedding party had scattered to get a better view of what was happening.  Tonduil looked as if he might be going to grab them all by their collars and drag them back.

“He is uninjured,” said Thranduil. “He is simply deeply asleep.”  His lip curled as he glanced very briefly at the small form on the ground. “What kind of people send a child to do their work for them?” he asked scornfully.  “Put him where the others will find him, Legolas, and then find out how the guards allowed the Naugrim to get so near us again.”  His tone suggested how very unhappy he was at what he probably saw as the guards’ ineptitude, and the look he gave Legolas made it clear exactly whom he held responsible.  As Legolas hurried to obey, he thought rather grimly that he had some questions for the guards himself.

What odd children Dwarves have, he thought as he gently picked up the sleeping Dwarf-child who looked like nothing so much as a small adult.  He started toward the trees at the clearing’s eastern edge, where the other Dwarves were making an ear-splitting racket.   To his complete lack of surprise, he found them once again milling around with their hands extended, shouting what he now realized were one another’s names.  His temper rose when found that only two guards were present, running about looking harassed as they tried to steer the Dwarves away from the clearing. Both of them flinched when they saw the look on Legolas’s face.

With the child in his arms, Legolas hesitated for a moment.  Then, carefully avoiding all the Dwarves, he worked his way toward where one of those in the purple hoods was stumbling about and laid the small creature down nearby.  He thought this was the Dwarf with whom he had seen the child walking, the one he assumed was the child’s mother.  He stepped back out of the way to watch and be certain that the child was found.

The Dwarves gradually began to locate and cling to one another as they had the first time, but none of them had yet found the child.  “Hi! hobbit, confusticate you, where are you?” a nearby Dwarf shouted.  “Hobbit” must be the child’s name, Legolas concluded.  Then, to his relief, the child’s mother tripped over him and, after a second, realized that she had found her son.

Suddenly Amdir appeared at Legolas’s elbow.  Legolas grabbed his arm and dragged him far enough away that the Dwarves would not hear them.  “Where have you been?” Legolas hissed. “Where is the rest of the night patrol?”

Amdir blew out an exasperated breath.  “Elorfin thought he saw signs of spiders, and I thought that was more important than watching these greedy little beasts, so I took most of the patrol to check on the report.”

Legolas’s breath caught. Spiders! All they needed was spiders at Tonduil’s wedding feast.  “Did you find anything?” he demanded sharply.

“No,” Amdir shook his head, “but I think we should look again in the morning.”

“We should look again now,” Legolas retorted.  The noise of the Dwarves was fading as the two guards managed to herd them farther from the clearing.  Legolas rubbed his hand over the back of his neck in frustration.  “You made the right decision, Amdir.  Leave the same two guards with the Dwarves.  I doubt if they will cause any more trouble tonight.”

Amdir’s shoulders relaxed a little.  “I cannot believe there are really spiders about,” he said. “We have checked so carefully.”

Legolas frowned. “I wonder if the noise of the Dwarves has attracted them or perhaps stirred up some who were nesting.”

Amdir shrugged. “Perhaps so,” he conceded, “although that would mean the spiders are interesting in dining on the Dwarves, and I would think they would have to be awfully hungry to do that.”

“Check again anyway,” Legolas insisted, and Amdir went off to join the rest of the patrol while Legolas braced himself to report to Thranduil.

When he reentered the clearing, he found the guests still milling about, talking to one another in some indignation about the Dwarves, who had been heartless enough to use one of their own children to interrupt the bonding ceremony.  Thranduil stood next to a clearly upset Alfirin, his mouth pressed in a thin line.  “Well?” he demanded when Legolas approached.

Legolas glanced at Alfirin, who looked at him anxiously.  He hesitated. He did not want rumors of spiders sweeping through the feast.  She sighed impatiently. “I will go and see if I can calm Tonduil down,” she said and walked off toward where Legolas could see Tonduil pacing in the center of the clearing.

Legolas turned to his father.  “There may be a problem,” he said, and then, as Thranduil’s brows drew together, he hastily added, “but the night patrol is dealing with it.”  In as few words as possible, he told his father what had happened. “The night patrol found no spiders,” he finished, “but they are still searching, and they have moved the Dwarves farther off.”

A flush had crept up Thranduil’s neck as Legolas spoke.  “If it was not the Naugrim who stirred up the spiders, I will be very much surprised,” he said tightly. “I should have insisted that the Home Guard seize them when they were first seen.”

Legolas stood unhappily, saying nothing.  His father had always been difficult on the subject of Dwarves.  With much effort, Ithilden had convinced him to trade with them, but Legolas suspected that when Ithilden returned, he would find that much of his work had been undone by this incident.

Thranduil glanced over to where Alfirin had taken Tonduil’s hand and was speaking soothingly to him.  The king shook himself slightly, obviously trying to shed all thoughts of the Dwarves so that he might attend to the event that should have been taking place in the clearing.  “We will have the ceremony now,” he declared in a voice that drew everyone’s attention and a look of deep gratitude from Tonduil.

Spurred by the king’s tone and Tonduil’s urging, the wedding party quickly gathered again in the middle of the clearing, and the guests moved to stand in a ring around them, not bothering to seek their seats again.  Silence settled and wrapped itself around them for a moment.  And then, her face both solemn and joyful, Aerlinn’s mother took her hand, as Tonduil’s father took his.  In a movement whose significance would last until the end of time, the parents joined the hands of the pair, who were staring at one another in breathless wonder.

And suddenly, Legolas’s worries about the farce of the Dwarves’ intrusion faded away, along with his fears about the possible presence of spiders. He looked at Tonduil and Aerlinn and knew that his father’s magic was nothing compared to the magic that these two had for one another.

In voices filled with reverence, the parents spoke the words of the blessings.  When they were finished, Aerlinn pulled the silver betrothal ring off the index finger of her right hand and handed it to Tonduil, who gave it to his father for temporary safekeeping in exchange for a slender ring of gold, which he slipped onto the finger Aerlinn had bared.  Then he, too, returned his betrothal ring and accepted one of gold from her.  For a second, they stood, holding hands, and then Tonduil looked up with a grin, and the crowd burst into a cheer.  The minstrels began to play their harps, and the guests started to sing, as the two sets of parents led the couple away.  The feast was over for them, but their obvious hunger for one another would soon be satisfied.

Legolas sought out Celuwen, where she stood a little to one side, and dragged her into a long line of dancers who were snaking their way around the clearing, singing and stopping occasionally to drink some of the excellent wine that Thranduil had provided.  He caught a glimpse of his father, looking reasonably serene as he bent his head to hear something that Alfirin was saying.  And under the influence of the music, and dancing, and wine, Legolas relaxed a little.  Nothing irrevocable had happened after all, and he would deal with his father in the morning.

He glanced toward Thranduil again, and suddenly, his breath caught, for to his horror, not ten feet away from Thranduil, a Dwarf stepped into the clearing and, like the child before him, fell over in what was presumably the same sort of deep sleep.  Thranduil rose, his face scarlet, and the music and singing faltered to a halt.  In the woods, the shouts of the Dwarves could once again be heard.

“Excuse me,” Legolas apologized to Celuwen, and then he rushed toward where the Dwarf lay. Thranduil stood over the fallen intruder, but everyone else had backed away, clearly aware of the wrath that the king was barely managing to contain.  “It is their leader,” Legolas said, recognizing the Dwarf by the elegant sword strapped to his hip.

“Is it now?” asked Thranduil, his eyes narrowing.

Legolas looked up to find Sinnarn hovering just behind Thranduil. He motioned to his nephew, intending that the two of them would drag the Dwarf from the clearing and return him to his raucous companions, as they had done with the child.

“Leave him,” Thranduil snapped.  Legolas turned to him in surprise. “He will keep well enough,” said Thranduil grimly, and Legolas’s heart sank.  His father’s patience, never very plentiful, had plainly run out.

“By your leave, my lord,” Legolas said, “I will go and help the night patrol.”

“Do so,” Thranduil said in clipped tones.

And for the third time, Legolas set off to see what was afoot with the members of the Home Guard on duty that night.  They would not be on duty for much longer, he noted. Dawn would soon be slipping over the horizon.  As before, he found the hapless guards and set about helping them to drive the Dwarves away.   By the time they were done, the feast was over, and he had no excuse to avoid going home and hearing what his father might have to say.  Somehow, he did not think “I am proud of you, Legolas” would be part of it.


A few bits of the Dwarves’ speech are taken from Chapter VIII of The Hobbit, “Flies and Spiders.”  The notion that the words of the Elven wedding blessing were kept from mortals is based on a sentence in “Laws and Customs Among the Eldar”:  “For this blessing there was a solemn form, but no mortal has heard it….”

I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien, but they are his, not mine. I gain only the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.


6.  The Morning After

Eilian shifted, stretching legs that had become cramped during the night as he crouched in the dark evergreen.  The branch creaked ominously under him, and the tree moaned softly.  Carefully, he eased himself down onto a neighboring branch and then scanned the nearby trees to check on how his warriors were faring.  In the deep gloom of this hour before dawn, he found he could see none of them, which was probably just as well, for if Eilian could not see them, then neither could the Orcs.

Their camp was out of the path of the Orcs sentries who guarded the approach to Dol Guldur, but during the night, two different large bands had rumbled past only a few hundred yards from their camp.  Eilian was surprised that the Orcs had not smelled them, but, like those they had seen along the edge of the Anduin, these Orcs had been heading west and had been much too intent on their own purposes to notice anything at all.  Of course, they could not have expected that a party of Elves and Wizards would venture this close to Dol Guldur.  Eilian was still a little surprised by that himself.

As he had done throughout the night, he gave what concentration he had to spare to trying to relax the tense muscles in his shoulders and diaphragm and slow the too rapid beating of his heart.  He was far more nervous than he usually was before going into battle, and he knew that was only partly because of how important this particular battle was to the future of the Woodland Realm.  His anxiety was also caused by the proximity of the dark tower.  The Shadow that crept into everything here was seeping its way into him too, as well as into his companions.  None of them should stay here too long, he knew.

But of course, once day came and the White Council had launched its attack, the situation would soon be resolved.  If the Council was successful in expelling Sauron, then the Shadow should lift, at least to some degree, although Eilian was not really sure how that would work; he had not yet been born when Mithrandir had driven Sauron out the last time.  And if the Council was not successful, then the length of their stay here would be an irrelevant concern because they would all be dead.  His single patrol of Elven warriors would be no match against the unleashed strength of Dol Guldur.  Eilian contemplated that thought for a moment and then shook it off.  The Shadow is affecting you, he reminded himself.  You know what that feels like; the Valar know you have felt it often enough.  Do not give way to despair this time.

He drew a deep breath and let it out slowly, and as he did so, he realized that the quality of the darkness around him had changed slightly.  His heart leapt. Dim daylight was beginning to penetrate the thick trees.  Morning had caught him by surprise, for he had unconsciously been expecting to hear songbirds signaling its arrival. Soon, very soon, he would know how their mission fared.

On the ground below him, someone moved quietly through the thick grey light and came to a halt just beneath him.  Eilian’s fingers tightened momentarily on his bow before he realized that the figure was Ithilden’s.  Eilian doubted very much if Ithilden had slept at all; he doubted if any of them had. Interpreting his brother’s presence as a summons, he slid to the ground to meet him.  From a neighboring tree, Maltanaur too appeared and then waited at a respectful distance from the brothers.

“I have heard no Orcs beyond the sentries for some time now,” Ithilden murmured.  “Do you sense any bands nearby?”

Eilian felt a momentary flush of pleasure over the fact that Ithilden trusted Eilian’s sensitivity to the presence of danger even more than he trusted his own.  He shook his head. “No, but I cannot be sure there are none.  The light here is dim enough that they could move about even by day.”

Ithilden grimaced a little.  “The sentries pass by here four times each hour.”

Eilian nodded in agreement. “That is their night pattern, of course,” he added, “but it is similar to the one they were following when we arrived yesterday.”

Behind Ithilden, Eilian could see the members of the White Council beginning to move around their tiny campsite.  Mithrandir stood up and stretched, and even from where Eilian was watching, he could hear the wizard’s joints creaking.  Mithrandir closed his eyes and stood for a moment, leaning on his staff. Then he opened them again and turned an unwavering gaze on the dark tower, just visible over the trees. Elrond had retrieved waybread from his pack and given pieces to Galadriel and Radagast.  None of them looked to be eating much, and indeed, Radagast was actually trying to feed a bit of his to a black squirrel that was regarding him with deep suspicion.  Eilian guessed that Radagast felt the absence of songbirds and most animals even more than the rest of them did.

Curunír emerged from the dusky shadows of a pine tree and appeared to be summoning the members of the Council.  Ithilden glanced in his direction. “I must go,” he said, and his voice sounded as tense as Eilian felt. “Get your patrol ready to move.”

As Eilian watched Ithilden walk toward where the Council was gathering, probably to confer about the day’s course of action, he felt his excitement beginning to rise. Maltanaur appear at his side, bow in hand, and Eilian found he was glad of his keeper’s familiar presence.  “Soon we will know,” he murmured, and Maltanaur nodded without ceasing to scan the woods around them.  Apparently even he was nervous.

Then, resolutely turning his mind to his own responsibilities, Eilian sounded the signal that would summon his warriors, who were scattered around the area, keeping watch.  Despite his own distaste, he had decided to use Warg howls and squirrel sounds as signals.  So few birds inhabited the woods here that using their calls might have drawn unwanted attention.

One by one, the warriors of the Southern Patrol dropped from the trees or ran lightly out of the gloom. Eilian ran his eyes over them, seeing the paler than usual faces and the white knuckles on the bow hands.  Galelas looked particularly edgy.  He was the newest member of this patrol and had far less experience than the others did in recognizing and resisting the effects of the Shadow.

Concealing his own tension as best he could, he smiled at them and motioned them silently to sit in the shelter of a stand of evergreen where they were nearly invisible. They waited.  Behind him, Eilian could hear Galelas’s shaky breath and then Gelmir’s voice softly asking the younger warrior if he thought that the White Council might enjoy eating black squirrel meat as much as Maltanaur had.  Maltanaur’s head jerked around, and Galelas laughed.  Eilian smiled to himself.

At length, the group around Curunír broke apart, and Ithilden came toward him.  Despite his best efforts, Eilian’s pulse quickened slightly. “We need to move just a little closer,” Ithilden said softly.  “Your patrol will scout the way and form a guard all around us.  Keep trouble away, but do not engage in battle unless you have to.”  He looked intently at Eilian. “You understand?  If Orcs are passing, let them pass, as long as they do not trouble the Council. Your task is solely to see to the Council’s safety.”

Eilian nodded.  His patrol had so far resisted their experience-born desire to slay every Orc that came near them, and they would continue to do so. Like him, they understood the goal of this mission and would do anything, no matter how difficult, that might help it to succeed.

“Glorfindel is going to stay with us,” Ithilden added, and Eilian looked beyond him to where Glorfindel stood next to Elrond.  Eilian smiled slightly. He doubted that even Curunír would have been able to pry Glorfindel away from side of the Elf whom he served.  “Get into position and wait for my signal to move out,” Ithilden went on.  “And, Eilian,” he added, grabbing Eilian’s arm as he turned to carry out his brother’s orders, “be careful.”

Eilian looked into his brother’s anxious face. “You also,” he said, gently patting Ithilden’s shoulder.  With a final squeeze, Ithilden released his arm and went back to where the members of the White Council were all regarding the dark tower in sober silence.

Eilian set about the business of deploying his warriors, sending them in pairs to take up positions in all directions from the little group in the center of the campsite.  He sent Tynd to direct the warriors who would be covering the party’s rear, for once they crossed the sentry line, they would be vulnerable from that direction and their line of retreat needed to be kept open.  His lieutenant clearly understood the seriousness of the responsibility being entrusted to him, for his face was grim and set as he nodded and started away.

“I suppose you are planning to do the forward scouting yourself,” sighed Maltanaur as Eilian sent the last of his warriors into position.

Eilian turned to him with a grin.  “What would be the fun in letting someone else do it?” he asked lightly.  And oddly enough, he found he was looking forward to carrying out the risky task he had saved for himself.  Even now, his blood sang with a familiar rush of excitement, and he felt better than he had since they had first entered the woods.  Maltanaur grimaced and Eilian felt a sudden stab of guilt. “You do not have to come with me if you do not wish to,” he offered contritely.

Maltanaur snorted. “Try not to act like a bigger fool than you actually are.”

More relieved than he liked to admit, Eilian laughed and then gestured to the tangled forest in front of them.  “Shall we?”  The two of them slid into the concealment of the thick trees.  All of Eilian’s senses were alert for signs of approaching danger, but he could feel nothing that seemed out of the ordinary in this pain racked part of the woods.  For a tense moment or two, they waited, with arrows nocked in their bows, and then Ithilden’s signal came. Eilian let out his breath and began to creep forward, straining to catch any smell or sound or shift in the air that would tell him that trouble was on the way.

With an instinct honed by long experience, he picked his way carefully among the trees and rocks, halting just before the line that the Orc sentries walked.  He and Maltanaur waited in tense patience and were rewarded within moments by the sound of the noisy tramp of Orc feet.  As had been the case yesterday, three Orcs were patrolling this area together.  With his bow drawn, Eilian waited until they were within easy range, and then, followed swiftly by Maltanaur, he sent feathered death flying through the air to lodge in an Orc’s throats. Within two seconds, all three of them were on the ground, with the life gurgling out of them.

Immediately, Eilian sounded the chittering squirrel signal that meant the way was clear, and he and Maltanaur led the group forward toward Dol Guldur.  Eilian’s ears told him that Curunír was at the front of the group of White Council members, and Eilian was careful not to outpace him.  He needed to be sure that the way was clear for the Council as far as they wanted to come and then take his stand where he could protect them, come what may. 

From behind, Ithilden sounded the signal to halt, and Eilian realized that they were as close to Dol Guldur as they were going to go.  He breathed a small sigh of relief that he heard Maltanaur echo.  His shadow-heightened anxiety had been growing with every inch of ground they covered.  Soon it will be over, he thought, astounded by the idea that, one way or the other, the Woodland Realm’s fate would be determined in the next few minutes.

He glanced back to where he could just see the White Council through the screen of trees. So far as he could see, they were simply standing there, looking toward Sauron’s tower. True, Curunír had his hands raised, as if feeling for something, and Mithrandir had raised his staff, but Galadriel stood looking serene, with her hand resting lightly on Elrond’s arm.  Radagast was looking mournfully at the trees, and on either side of the little group, Ithilden and Glorfindel stood with their swords drawn. Ithilden looked as tense as Eilian had ever seen him.  He turned swiftly back to his own task, determined not to fail in his trust.

And then, without warning, Eilian became aware that something in the forest had shifted, and he knew at once exactly what it was: The song of the trees was changing, and they sounded not so much despairing as confused.  Moreover, the air had become heavier, as if a storm were approaching.  The hair on the back of his neck prickled and lifted slightly.  Suddenly, a loud crack sounded overhead, and he and Maltanaur had to jump out of the way as a rotten tree limb came crashing to the forest floor, missing them by inches.

His heart pounding, Eilian started to turn to see what the White Council was doing, but at that moment, another sound caught his ear, and he jerked around to face east.  There it was again!  With no further hesitation, he put his hand to his mouth and howled.  Orcs! Orcs were coming!


“Shall I assume that the warriors of Home Guard are completely incompetent or would you prefer to admit that they were badly deployed?” Thranduil demanded icily.

Legolas kept his back straight and his eyes straight ahead.  When he had arrived home the previous night, he had found that his father had already retired, leaving word that he wanted to see both Todith and Legolas in the Great Hall in the morning.  Thus, to his great relief, Todith would be the one to answer the king’s questions now. From the corner of his eyes, he could see that his captain’s body was as rigid as his own was.

“Of course, I accept all responsibility for any mistakes the Home Guard makes, my lord,” said Todith tonelessly.  This was not what he had said to Amdir in the privacy of the Home Guard’s headquarters an hour or so ago.  Legolas assumed that Amdir’s ears were still ringing from Todith’s forcefully expressed opinion on his lack of both skill and sense. Legolas had actually felt a little sorry for Amdir as he witnessed the dressing down, but then he had remembered the exceedingly unpleasant interview he had just had with Todith himself and had hardened his heart.

“So I would assume,” Thranduil snapped.  Legolas could see his hands tightening their grip on the arms of his chair and flinched a little.   His father was well and truly angry, he thought unhappily.  For a second, Thranduil’s eyes flicked to Legolas before going back to Todith again, and Legolas could not help cringing at the disdain in them.

“May I speak, my lord?” Todith asked, impressing Legolas with his nerve. With his mouth pressed in a thin line, Thranduil nodded.  “I regret the Dwarves’ intrusion into the wedding feast, of course,” Todith said, “but I believe that Amdir was right in giving more weight to the possible presence of spiders in the area.”

Thranduil gave an exasperated snort.  “All he had to do with the Dwarves was keep them away from the feast,” he said sharply. “Surely that should not have been so impossible that he failed at it not once, but three times!  And you know as well as I do that the din the Dwarves raised must have been a great part of what roused the spiders.”

Legolas and Todith both stood silently regarding the wall behind the king’s chair.  Any argument they made would only make things worse.  Moreover, Thranduil was right and they knew it.  For a moment, they waited in an uncomfortable silence broken only by the sound of Thranduil’s fingers drumming on the arm of his chair.

Finally, Thranduil drew a long breath.  “I am holding you two responsible for seeing that the mistakes of last night are corrected immediately.  Get patrols out looking for those spiders.  I want the area around the palace swept clean of the beasts.”

“Yes, my lord,” Todith agreed, his voice completely without inflection. Legolas knew that he had intended to send the Home Guard after the spiders anyway and must have been somewhat insulted that Thranduil spoke as if he did not know enough to do so.  Indeed, two patrols had already gone out hunting, and a third was waiting to depart under Legolas’s command as soon as he returned from the palace.

“And,” added Thranduil with a grim smile, “send someone to fetch the Dwarves’ leader from the clearing where the feast was held.  As a matter of fact, send Amdir.  He will find the Nogoth far more tractable this morning than he was last night.  We will learn what we can about their reasons for being here from him.  I cannot believe that they mean us no harm when they spy on private ceremonies and bring the forces of Shadow down upon us.”

“Yes, my lord,” Todith repeated.  Legolas grimaced.  Todith was still burdened with Ithilden’s duties, and Legolas knew exactly who was going to be charged with carrying out the king’s orders.

“You may go,” Thranduil said, and Legolas could not help letting out a long sigh of relief as he put his hand over his heart and bowed.  He and Todith made their way out of the Greath Hall as hastily as dignity would allow.  There Todith stopped and drew breath.

“That was not the way I would have chosen to start my day,” he said.  He looked at Legolas with his mouth tight. “Take care of this and do it quickly.”  Legolas nodded.  He had every intention of having both the spiders and the Dwarf’s leader disposed of by the time the day ended.


I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien, but they are his, not mine. I gain only the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.


7.  Battles Near and Far

Legolas crouched to examine the marks on the ground beneath the web strewn tree.  The bare foot prints told him that the Dwarf child had lain on the crushed grass here, but so far, he had found no signs of the adult Dwarves.  He bit his lip.  Could Hobbit have become separated from his parents in all the confusion last night? A lone child in these woods would be prey for more ugly things than Legolas liked to think about. He had a sudden childish memory of Thranduil scolding him sharply for going into the woods without an adult, and from there, his mind slid unwillingly to thoughts of the scene in the Great Hall that morning. He was still smarting from the scorn that had laced his father’s scathingly expressed opinion of the Home Guard’s performance and hence his own.  He grimaced and pushed the thought away.  The best way to insure his father’s respect was to carry out the task he had been given and get rid of any spiders as quickly as possible.

He looked at the child’s footprints again.  If Hobbit was alone, then the Elves were at least partly responsible because it was Thranduil’s spell that had blinded him and his parents. He stood and walked to where Annael and Beliond were examining the dead spider and the ground around it.  “It was stabbed between the eyes,” Beliond observed, “and slashed along the side too.”  He pointed. “The blade was sharp.”

“The only footprints I see are those of the child,” Annael worried. “Could he have killed the spider on his own?” The three of them looked at one another doubtfully.

Legolas drew a deep breath and made a decision. “If he is alone, we need to find him even before we hunt for spiders.”

“Assuming that we do not find the child and the spiders at the same time,” said Beliond grimly.

Annael bent to look at the ground again, and the others left him to it. Legolas trusted Annael’s tracking abilities even more than he trusted his own.  “This way,” said Annael finally, and they set off with him in the lead, following what signs of the child they could find.

It was evident immediately that Hobbit was not only alone but lost.  His tracks drifted aimlessly from side to side, although they at least did not go in circles but tended northeast.  The child was surprisingly light-footed for a Dwarf, and even Annael had to pause occasionally before he could spot the signs of Hobbit’s passage.

Suddenly Legolas became aware of a change in the light ahead.  “Look,” he urged softly, and both Annael and Beliond raised their heads sharply to look where he was pointing.

Legolas could hear Annael’s breath catching.  All three of them knew what had dimmed the light in the dusky spot ahead. They had been carrying their bows in their hands, and now, they all reached over their shoulders to seize arrows from their quivers and fit them to their bowstrings.  They crept forward silently, and then, in unspoken accord, they halted and stared in dismayed surprise at what lay in front of them.

In a clearing near a streambed that was dry in the heat and drought of late August, spider webs were draped from almost every tree limb, crisscrossing and tangling until they lay so thickly that they shut out the light.  The colony had to be huge to create so many webs, Legolas thought, appalled.  He exchanged glances with Beliond and saw his own shock mirrored in his keeper’s eyes.  The two of them and Amdir had been through this spot only the day before yesterday, and it had been clear of spiders then. The creatures had to have moved in with lightning speed.  They must be multiplying even more quickly than we realized, Legolas thought with a stab of what felt very much like fear.

He gestured toward the trees, and the three of them leapt into the branches, climbing until they were above the webs and then moving forward to spread out and surround the colony.  Legolas saw almost immediately that the colony was all but abandoned.  The nests seemed empty, and only half a dozen or so spiders were crawling along the strands of webbing, repairing what appeared to be recent tears.  Far below, Legolas saw perhaps as many more on the ground, prodding at several dead spiders that lay on their back with their legs curled up.  As Legolas watched, one of them darted forward and sank its fangs into a black, hairy corpse.  He shuddered.

When he looked to make sure that Beliond and Annael were in position, he found their eyes were on him, and when he raised his bow and took aim, so did they.  He sighted along his shaft and then opened his fingers and let the arrow fly, hearing two other bowstring twang at almost the same moment.   Three of the spiders on the webs broke free of the strands and went crashing to the ground.  Before they landed, Legolas had drawn and shot again, and then again.  Within two minutes, every spider in the area lay dead or dying.  He scanned the trees one last time to make sure that he and his warriors had wiped out all of the creatures and then climbed rapidly to the ground.

“Where are all the others?” asked Beliond as soon as he hit the ground next to Legolas. “These few did not make all of those webs by themselves.”

“I do not know,” Legolas answered, “but we had better get some help in finding them before they find us because we can be sure that they will not abandon these nests and webs.”  He whistled a loud, two-note signal that would draw any patrol within earshot to him.  Then he turned his attention to the ground again.  “Let us see if we can find out what became of the child,” he said soberly.

Annael had already been searching. “Look here,” he called, and Legolas and Beliond hurried to join him.  Annael was pointing to a confused pattern of large Dwarf tracks.  “There were twelve adults,” Annael said. “And look at this.” He indicated a print that had been made by a smaller, bare foot that must have been Hobbit’s, although not for the first time Legolas thought that it was larger than he would have expected from so small a child. Legolas sagged with relief. Hobbit had found his family and had apparently been well enough to walk away with them.

A robin’s song announced the arrival of Sinnarn, Nithron, and Elorfin, who had been the one to spot signs of spiders on the previous evening.  They dropped from the trees and then lowered their bows at the sight of the dead spiders.  Legolas approached them immediately.

“What do you think, Elorfin?” he asked.  “Could this be the colony you saw signs of last night?”

The other Elf made a face.  “The spiders I glimpsed were on the move through the treetops.  I suppose this could have been where they came from.  The direction would be right.”

“Legolas,” called Annael, “come and take a look at this.” They started toward Annael, but he put his hand up. “Come around there,” he ordered, and they circled so as to avoid some pattern of prints he wanted them to see.  He pointed to the ground.  “It looks to me as if the Dwarves went off in this direction,” he said. “They were running when they could, but some of them seem to be stumbling.  And spiders went after them.”  He pointed to the trees, where they all could see traces of webbing leading in the same direction the Dwarven footprints did.

“We must go to their aid,” said Legolas in alarm.  “The Dwarves were unarmed except for their knives. They will be no match for this colony, especially if some of them are injured.”  He would not leave anyone who was not actively an enemy to the mercy of the giant spiders.

“Wait,” warned Annael.  He pointed in the other direction, and Legolas’s heart sank, for there in the dirt was unmistakable evidence that the child had gone the opposite way from the rest of the Dwarves.  He looked up quickly to see the tell-tale strands of webbing following the child.

“How could they have left him on his own?” he cried.  “Did they not care what happened to him?”  The thought bewildered him.  He had once seen Dwarven parents with a child, and those Dwarves had seemed loving and protective.

“Perhaps the adults were trying to draw the spiders away,” Sinnarn offered.

Legolas blew out his breath in frustration. “We must split up,” he decided.  “You three go that way, and we will search for the child.”  Sinnarn, Nithron, and Elorfin immediately moved into the trees and set off to follow the trail of webbing.  “Come,” Legolas said, and he, Annael, and Beliond also took to the trees in the other direction.  They would follow the spiders, because if they could get rid of them, then Hobbit would be safer no matter where he was.  And almost certainly, they would find the child and the spiders in the same place, because the creatures had plainly been pursuing him.

They moved quickly, keeping watch for any spiders that might have lingered behind the others and be waiting to snare them, but the creatures were apparently intent on their pursuit of Hobbit.  At the edge of his hearing, Legolas could just detect the clacking noises they made when they were upset, and then, to his surprise, he thought he heard a snatch of song.  He quickened his pace.  It was certainly not the spiders who were singing, and if it was the child, he was probably drawing them straight to him.

The faint noise ahead began to veer off to the left, and with one accord, the Elves moved that way too, hoping to intercept their quarry.  Unexpectedly the sound changed, and it took Legolas only a second to realize that now the spiders were coming back toward them.  “Climb!” he called to his companions, but Annael and Beliond were already scrambling higher into the trees where they could wait in ambush for the approaching spiders.

Suddenly, beneath them, a black flood of spiders came flowing through the trees, with Sinnarn, Nithron, and Elorfin in pursuit. Legolas immediately put an arrow through a spider’s head, causing others to veer in his direction.  He gritted his teeth and stood his ground. He had fought spiders often enough over the years to be sure that he and his companions could destroy this group, given time, but he had never been able to suppress the loathing they inspired in him.

One of the larger spiders swung toward him on a thread it had cast into a branch over his head.  “These stingers we can see,” it hissed, just before he put an arrow in its eye and sent it to the ground.

Legolas shot arrow after arrow, and when his quiver was empty, he scrambled to the ground to glean more and shoot again from there.  A spider fell from high overhead to land next to him, splattering him with sticky black blood.  He flinched away and then grabbed the arrow that was protruding from its back and shot another spider.  He looked around for more arrows to salvage, but by the time he had fitted one to his bow, he could not find a target.  The ground was thick with the reeking bodies of spiders.  His warriors would have to gather them and burn them to avoid attracting more who were looking for a feast. And then they would have to do the same thing where they had found the colony.  Legolas wiped the sweat from his forehead on the back of his hand and then grimaced when he realized how filthy his hand was. He wiped it on his tunic. Sinnarn dropped to the ground next to him.

“Did you find the Dwarves?” Legolas asked.

Grinning, Sinnarn nodded.  “They took refuge in the clearing where the feast was held last night.”

Legolas almost laughed. Given the enchantment his father had set, they could not have chosen a safer spot. “Was the child there too?” he asked.


Thank the Valar, Legolas thought.  “And the leader?”

Sinnarn shook his head. “No, Amdir must have retrieved him already.” That was good, Legolas thought.  Although his father had not said so, it had been clear to Legolas that Thranduil wanted the leader separated from the other Dwarves.

He looked around and sighed.  “We need to clean up here and then we need to search this whole area. Some strays undoubtedly eluded us.”  He looked at his nephew. “And then, I have a feeling we are going to be on our way back to the feast site to fetch the other Dwarves.  I cannot believe that Adar will leave them loose.”

Sinnarn grinned again. “I hope so,” he said cheerfully. “I would like to talk to them. And they are safe enough for now. Even if they leave the clearing, they have nowhere to go.”

Legolas could only agree.


Orcs!  Orcs were coming! Probably drawn by the strange events happening all around, at least a dozen Orcs were hastening toward them, and Eilian’s experience told him that more would undoubtedly follow before long.

From the corners of both eyes, he could see all of his warriors, except those Tynd was holding as rear guard, scrambling frantically to position themselves to meet the oncoming Orcs.  Off to his right, he saw Galelas start to climb into a tree and saw Gelmir jerk him back just in time to avoid another falling branch.  They would have to fight from the ground, Eilian realized grimly, and that meant they would have to forsake their bows and use swords far more quickly than they usually did.  He took what shelter he could behind the trunk of a trembling tree, nocked an arrow, came to his full draw, and waited.

The instant a dark shape emerged from the darker trees, he loosed his arrow, nocked another, and shot again before the Orcs who were running toward them realized what was happening.  With guttural shouts of alarm, the Orcs dove for shelter, fitting arrows to their own bowstrings as they ducked from view.  A black-fletched arrow whistled past Eilian’s ear.

“Push them back!” he shouted.  At all costs, the Orcs had to be kept out of arrow range of the White Council.  He loosed an arrow and then darted from behind one tree and moved forward to another, ducking away from another arrow just in time.  He heard an Elf cry out, and from the corner of his eye, he saw one of his warriors fall with an arrow in his side, but he did not see who it was.  Long experience in battle told him that he could not think about fallen comrades now, not if he wanted to keep his other warriors alive.  Not if he wanted to survive himself.

The tree behind which Eilian was sheltering groaned, startling him, and suddenly, he realized that an unidentifiable noise had begun to rumble in the distance. He tried to ignore it and keep his attention on the battle, but he could see that the Orcs too were surprised and disturbed by the sound that built swiftly to a deafening roar, drowning out the twang of bows and the battle cries of both Orcs and Elves.  A hot wind tore through the battlefield, and Eilian’s hair whipped around his face, stinging his cheeks and eyes.  Desperately, he reached to push it away so that he could see the enemy.

At that moment, he became aware of an almost imperceptible change in the light. To Eilian, it felt not as if light were penetrating the gloom, but rather as if darkness were being torn away. All around him, the trees swayed, and then, just where the Elves and Orcs were met, the trees bent apart and a flood of paler daylight washed over them.  After so long in the dim light around Dol Guldur, even Eilian’s eyes were momentarily dazzled, weak though the light still was, and the Orcs roared with pain.  A large Orc suddenly stood, turned, and began to run.  Within seconds, all of them were fleeing or trying to, for Elven arrows brought down at least four more before they had moved beyond range.

Eilian leapt from his hiding place, running forward and stopping only to loose more arrows. All around him, his warriors surged toward the retreating Orcs, and only at the last possible second and with an almost physical pain, did Eilian manage to control his battle rage and sound the signal to call them back.  They stopped themselves with visible effort. He stood for a second, panting in bewildered triumph. What had just happened here?

Then, suddenly, he recalled seeing an Elf fall.  He turned and ran back to where he could see Galelas crouched over someone stretched full length on the ground.  With his heart in his throat, he realized that it was Gelmir.  He gave an inarticulate cry and dropped to his knees.

Galelas looked at him wide-eyed.  “He is still alive,” he said in a shaking voice, “but only just.”

Blood had seeped from around the Orc arrow, staining Gelmir’s tunic deep red.  His eyelids were fluttering and his breathing was shallow.  Before Eilian had time to do anything, he heard the signal to retreat in a voice that he recognized as Ithilden’s.  He and Gelmir looked briefly into one another’s eyes.  Then, grimly, Eilian seized the shaft of the arrow and broke it off so that it would jostle less.  Gelmir let out a stifled cry, and Eilian gathered him in and stood up with his friend in his arms.

“Go!” he called.  Warriors streamed around him running back to where Ithilden was still calling them. Their bows were at the ready, but no enemy was in sight.  They caught up to the White Council to find Ithilden and Glorfindel shepherding them away, with Tynd and the rest of the rear guard flying ahead to find safe passage.  All around them, tree branches were crashing to the ground and, in the distance, Eilian could hear the confused, frightened cries of Orcs.

In his arms, Gelmir groaned, and Eilian knew the movement must be hurting him.  “Hang on, Gelmir,” Eilian murmured. “I do not want to have to explain to your naneth how I came to let you die here. Explaining that wound will be bad enough.”  Gelmir gave him a weak smile and then slid into merciful unconsciousness.

They stopped their flight only when they were well beyond the area that the Orcs had been patrolling.  Ithilden called a halt in a grove of pine tress that shook but seemed to be dropping no more limbs.  Eilian laid Gelmir down carefully, and both Tynd and Galelas were at his side instantly.  Tynd cut away the remnants of Gelmir’s tunic and began to probe around the base of the broken arrow shaft.  Suddenly Eilian felt another presence and turned to see Elrond frowning down at Gelmir.  Without speaking, he crouched next to Tynd and bent close to the wound.  Seeing who it was, Tynd backed hastily away.

Elrond looked at Eilian, and from the look on his face, Eilian guessed that his own face was strained.  “These two and I will take care of him, Captain,” he said gently.  “But I can see already that the wound is not deep and the arrow has not struck anything vital. If it is not poisoned, he will almost certainly be all right.  If you have things to do, you can safely leave him to us.”

Eilian was on the verge of protesting that he would stay with his friend when he caught sight of Ithilden standing with Mithrandir, both of them looking toward Dol Guldur, where the sky was noticeably lightening.  He needed to know what had happened, he decided.  And if he could not trust Gelmir to Elrond’s care, then he was probably more affected by the Shadow than he had realized.  “Very well,” he said, rising.  He was not surprised to hear that his voice shook. “I will be back as soon as I can.” Elrond nodded and reached for the emergency healing supplies that Tynd had laid out.

Eilian went to stand next to his brother. “What happened?” he demanded, alarmed by the uneasy look on Mithrandir’s face.  “Did you not succeed?”

Mithrandir did not take his eyes from the tower. “Oh, we succeeded,” he said.  “Sauron is gone. We did not destroy him, and I do not know where he has gone, but he is no longer here.”

Eilian’s breath was driven out of him, and he suddenly felt as if his legs might give way.  For the first time, he understood what was meant by the expression “limp with relief.”

“But that is wonderful!” he cried and saw again that the Wizard’s brows were drawn together. He looked at Ithilden, who shrugged.  He was apparently just as puzzled as Eilian was.

“Is something the matter, Mithrandir?” Ithilden asked.  “You look concerned.”

Mithrandir sighed.  “I do not know,” he said slowly.  “At first, Sauron resisted us, just as we had anticipated. But then, suddenly, he seemed to stop. It was almost as if his attention were elsewhere rather than on us.  And then he was simply gone.”

He turned to them. “I suppose you will say it would be wise to leave here.”

Ithilden nodded, all crisp business now.  “I want you and the other Council members as far away from here as possible before nightfall and out of the forest completely as soon as possible.  Sauron may be gone, but his Orcs are not.”  Mithrandir nodded and went off to speak to Curunír, who looked exultant.

“There may still be Orcs, but they do not sound as if they are spoiling for a fight,” Eilian observed, “at least not while it is so light.  And Sauron’s departure has probably left them without a central command. They will soon be quarreling among themselves.”

Ithilden nodded.  “True, but I want to get the Council as far away from here as I can today.  Your warriors will guard their backs.”

“Of course,” said Eilian.  “We can move as soon as Elrond is done digging an arrow out of Gelmir.”

Ithilden looked concerned. “How is he?  Was anyone else wounded?”

“So far as I know, he is the only one, and Elrond says he will probably survive,” Eilian answered, consciously struggling to keep his voice steady.  Ithilden patted his shoulder lightly.  Eilian and Gelmir had been friends from childhood, and Ithilden knew it.

“We will move as soon as Gelmir is ready,” Ithilden said.  They both looked again toward Dol Guldur.  “We did it,” Ithilden marveled.  “Sauron is gone.  I am not sure I believe it yet.”

“I wonder if Adar can tell?” Eilian said.  They looked at one another speculatively.  The extent of their father’s magic was not entirely clear to them.  “At any rate,” Eilian went on a little wistfully, “you will soon be home to tell him and everyone else too.”

Ithilden smiled. “Perhaps we will soon find that we need fewer warriors here and you will be home too.”

Eilian’s heart leapt at the thought.  He loved the excitement of fighting a constant stream of enemies, but if the need for battle were to lessen, there was excitement of a different sort waiting for him in his bed at home.


I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien, but they are his, not mine. I gain only the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.

AN: Some of the dialogue between Thranduil and the Dwarves in this chapter is taken from Chapter IX of The Hobbit, “Barrels out of Bond.”


8.  Taking Prisoners

Legolas followed Annael wearily into the Home Guard headquarters, where the day patrols were all waiting to report in and those on duty that night waited for their assignments.  He had spent the day chasing spiders and was not yet certain they had all been eradicated from the area around Thranduil’s stronghold.  There had been no time at all to find out if the king wanted them to seize the other Dwarves.  Indeed, the night patrols would have to continue looking for spiders.  He sent them out first before turning to hear what the day patrols had to tell him.

Their reports turned out to be more encouraging than he had hoped.  So far, the colony that he and his companions had found seemed to be the only one, although, given its size, it was bad enough all by itself.  He dismissed each patrol as it finished its report, and at last, only Amdir and the two warriors who had gone with him remained to be heard from.  Amdir was all but vibrating in his impatience to speak about their encounter with the Dwarves’ leader.

“What happened?” Legolas obliged him by asking.  He had to admit he was curious about what the Dwarf might have told Thranduil, even though the thought of their encounter made him flinch a little.  Putting it mildly, his father had not been in a good mood when Legolas last saw him.

“Would you believe it?  The Nogoth was still out cold when we went to fetch him,” Amdir said excitedly.  “So we had to carry him all the way to the Great Hall, and he was heavy too, I can tell you.”  His two companions nodded wordlessly.  Amdir’s eyes widened a little at the memory of what had happened next.  “He woke up as soon as we got there.  Your adar was as angry as I have ever seen him,” he said with awe in his voice.

“What did the Dwarf tell the king?” Legolas did not ordinarily refer to Thranduil as his father when he was on duty, and he did not encourage others to do so either.

“Nothing,” said Amdir flatly.  Legolas blinked. The Dwarf had defied Thranduil?  “He refused to give his name,” Amdir continued, “or say why he and the rest were in the forest, or tell where the others were now.  He just kept pretending that they had all been starving and that was why they invaded the feast.” His disbelief was patent, but Legolas felt a sudden qualm.

Could the Dwarves have been starving?  He ran his mind over what the patrols had told him during the time they had been watching the intruders.  The Dwarves had never left the path, which meant they had done no hunting.  He had assumed they carried Dwarf-food in their pack, some sort of waybread probably, but what if his assumption had been wrong?  The Dwarves had looked stout to him, much stouter than Elves, but how did they look compared to other Dwarves he had seen?  He found he was not sure.

“What did the king do?” he asked, bracing himself for an answer he probably would not like.  Thranduil would have been most displeased by being defied by a Dwarf.

“He ordered us to lock the digger in one of the cells,” Amdir sniffed.  “And quite right too.”

Legolas grimaced.  He supposed Thranduil had every right to be suspicious of the Dwarves if their leader refused to explain their presence, and, of course, it was the king’s obligation to protect his people. But Legolas could not shake the idea that the Dwarves really might have been hungry.

“Very well,” he said. “You are dismissed until tomorrow then.” Amdir saluted and left, and Legolas too started for home.

He took the path that led through the palace gardens, which were pleasant in the early evening of late summer. The roses were in full bloom, and their odor always reminded him vaguely of his mother.  Indeed in one of his few clear memories of her, she was pruning the roses here. The sound of firm footsteps on a gravel path caught his attention, and he turned to see his father approaching on the path that led from the stables.

“Good evening, Adar,” he said a little cautiously.  He had not set eyes on Thranduil since that morning’s scene in the Great Hall, and his father’s fury was fresh in his mind.  At home, his father and brothers had always tried to put their roles as king and warriors aside in favor of those as father, sons, and brothers.  From having served with Eilian as his captain and Ithilden as his troop commander, however, Legolas knew that it could be difficult to let go of any tensions that might have flared up between them during the day.

Legolas had never served in the Home Guard at all before, much less as one of its officers, so he had no experience in balancing that kind of role with his father, but he had seen Ithilden do something similar often enough.  Sometimes Legolas wondered how his oldest brother managed so confidently with their father looking over his shoulder so much of the time, but Ithilden usually seemed able to let Thranduil’s criticism roll off his back, and what was even more surprising, Thranduil usually did not seem to mind when he did it.

“Good evening,” Thranduil responded, with his eyes on the tops of the trees that showed over the garden wall.

“Did you have a pleasant ride?” Legolas asked, still feeling awkward.  His father often rode in the late afternoon, enjoying the exercise and trying to work out some of the frustrations that built in an active male who was forced to sit and listen to people talk for much of the day.

Something in his tone must have attracted Thranduil’s attention, because he turned to look sharply at Legolas.  His face seemed to soften slightly, and he smiled faintly.  “I assume that nothing disastrous has occurred,” he finally said, “and that Todith will tell me in the morning what happened with the spiders today.”

“Yes, Adar.” Legolas hesitated.  He did not want to disturb their fragile peace, but he was still uncertain that the Home Guard warriors had found all the spiders and was worried that any stragglers might be more active and harder to spot once night fell. “Still, I think it would be wise to warn people to take precautions tonight and perhaps even to close the Great Doors.”

Thranduil raised an eyebrow.  His stronghold’s doors were well guarded, but they usually stood open.  They worked by some device that Legolas did not understand, and only Thranduil and Ithilden could open and close them, so to some extent, having them closed at night was a nuisance.  Guards, messengers, and everyone who lived in the stronghold had to be on the right side of the doors before the king sealed them for the night, because letting anyone in or out after that would mean waking the king, given that Ithilden was not home.

“If you think that would be wise, then we will do it,” said Thranduil calmly, and Legolas felt a pleased smile forming on his lips.  His father had apparently cooled down considerably during the course of the day.  Before Legolas could say anything, however, Thranduil turned back to look at the trees.  “Do you feel anything different in the forest?” he asked.

Legolas blinked and turned to look at the trees too.   Their leaves were stirring in the evening breeze, and he listened to them more carefully than he had had time to do all day.  He frowned.  Now that Thranduil mentioned it, there did seem to be a faint shift in the forest’s song.  “They sound …” he groped for the right word, “confused?”  He looked at Thranduil, who was still regarding the trees.

“Yes,” his father murmured, “they do.” For a moment longer, they stood in the garden, trying to sort out what might be happening. Finally Thranduil sighed.  “Whatever it is, we will learn soon enough.” He set off with his long stride to lead the way toward the palace.

Their evening meal was pleasant enough, but when Legolas entered the dining chamber the next morning, Thranduil was not there.  “He left early to spend the day in the woods,” Alfirin told him, as she dished up the porridge.  “I thought that was a good idea. This whole business with the Dwarves and the spiders seems to have put him on edge. The forest will soothe him.”

Legolas was not so sure.  Indeed, he thought that the faint change in the forest’s song might be part of what was disturbing his father. Thranduil hated uncertainty, and Legolas thought his father was worried that it might be more than news of the Dwarves and the spiders that was rippling through the trees’ music.

He went out through the Great Doors that stood open in the sunshine of the late summer morning and walked toward the Home Guard headquarters to hear what had occurred during the night.  He found Todith waiting for him before he went off to start his own day’s work in Ithilden’s office.  The captain had already taken the patrols’ reports.  “Three of the patrols met single spiders or small groups,” Todith told him soberly, “so you need to keep hunting for them.  And Legolas, be sure to send one of the patrols to search the area close to the palace.  A lone spider was found not a hundred yards from the green.”

Legolas felt a momentary chill.  So close to the palace, the spider would have been among the cottages in which Thranduil’s people lived.  Thank the Valar he had advised his father to warn people to be careful.  For a worried moment, he contemplated the thought of his father spending the day in the woods.  His guards will be with him, he reminded himself.  In truth, unrealistic though he knew he was being, he could not imagine a spider being daring enough to approach his father in any case.

“I will see to it,” he promised Todith and set about doing his day’s work with as much skill as he could muster.  He, Beliond, and Annael found two spiders in the morning but no others after that, and Legolas began to hope that they might have cleaned out the survivors of this particular colony.  They returned to headquarters in the late afternoon to find that the other patrols had had similar experiences.  Legolas was in the process of dismissing his warriors when one of Thranduil’s messengers arrived.

“The king wishes to speak with you, my lord,” the messenger told him.

Legolas grimaced.  He had been expecting Thranduil to order the seizure of the remaining Dwarves today and was willing to wager that that would be what his father wanted to talk to him about.  Legolas had secretly been hoping that Thranduil would make up his mind soon to bring in the Dwarves.  He kept thinking about their leader’s claim that they had been starving, and he was worried about Hobbit. “You had better wait,” he told Beliond and Annael, as well as Sinnarn, Nithron, and Amdir, who had just come in.  Amdir groaned, but the others took the lengthening of their day with the philosophical resignation of experienced warriors and sat down to rest while they had the chance.

Although the afternoon was drawing to a close, Legolas found his father in the Great Hall, probably dealing with business that he had put off in order to spend time among the trees.  Legolas dropped to one knee and then, at Thranduil’s signal, rose and advanced.  “Are the spiders still troubling my woods?” Thranduil asked without preamble.  Legolas could only assume that his father was still trying to ascertain what might be going on in the forest.

“The Home Guard found a few this morning, my lord, but I believe we have now killed them all. We will keep watch, of course.”

Thranduil nodded.  “Good.”  He pursed his lips.  “The Dwarven leader is being less that helpful,” he said.  “Take some of your warriors and go get the others, but do not tell them we have their leader here.  They may be more willing to speak if they think they are on their own.  I want them brought in quickly.  I am still uncertain about what might be causing the change in the woods, and I would hear what these Naugrim might have to tell me. Blindfold them so they will not learn how to get to the stronghold.”  He waved his hand in dismissal, and Legolas saluted and withdrew.

He found Sinnarn and Amdir tossing small coins against the wall and seeing who could get his to land closer.  Annael and the two keepers sat leaning against the wall and sipping cider.  They all turned when Legolas entered. “We have to go and round up the other Dwarves,” he told them. “We had better take torches, I think. It will be dark soon.”  The Elves would not need the torches to find the Dwarves, but Legolas wanted to be sure his warriors saw anything there was to find when they searched them.

Amdir scooped up the coins from the floor, having apparently won the game, and the six of them gathered their bows and picked up torches.  Legolas did not think it would take them long to accomplish their task. They knew approximately where the Dwarves were because the day patrols had taken note of them whenever they saw them. They were wandering between the feast site and the Elf path, although whether they were lost or searching for their leader, Legolas could not determine from the looping route they were following.

In the treetops, the air was still dusky when they found the Dwarves, and the sky had yet to blacken into night, but darkness had already crept in under the branches.  For a moment, Legolas contemplated their quarry, and as he watched, one of the Dwarves stumbled, seemingly from no other cause than his own weariness.  The child was scuffling along with his feet dragging. Legolas felt an unexpected spurt of pity.  These people would be better off as Thranduil’s prisoners than they were now.

He sounded a low-pitched signal, and the six Elves dropped to the ground, bows in hand.  The Dwarves froze, and even in the dark, Legolas could see their eyes widen. “Nobody move,” he ordered.  He gestured to Annael and Amdir, and they both shouldered their bows and lit torches, which they thrust into the ground.  As the torches flamed into life, the Dwarves’ faces wavered into sight, pale above their beards.

The Dwarf nearest to Legolas raised his hands placatingly.  “We want no trouble, Master Elf,” he said, and Legolas could have sworn he sounded almost relieved.  Nonetheless, he kept his bow ready.

“Bind and blindfold them,” he ordered, signaling Sinnarn and Nithron to help Annael and Amdir while he and Beliond stood guard.  In truth, although the Dwarves protested against the Elves’ actions, he doubted if they wanted to make trouble, even if they had been able to, which he was beginning to doubt even more.  As the Elves moved among them, some of them seemed to be almost too weak to stand, and they milled about as if they were dazed.  “Tie them in a line,” Legolas ordered in exasperation.  He could see no other way he was going to be able to keep track of them.

At length, the Dwarves were all blindfolded and tied together, with their hands bound.  Legolas ran his eyes along the line, and suddenly his heart stopped. How could he have forgotten? “Where is the child?” he demanded.  No one answered.  “Where is the child?” he demanded more harshly, prodding one of the blindfolded Dwarves with the tip of his arrow.

The Dwarf jumped. “What child?” he protested.  “We know nothing of a child.”

“Hobbit,” Legolas snapped.  “Where is he?  Do you not realize we are about to take you to our king?  You cannot mean to leave Hobbit here by himself!”

There was a moment’s silence, and then, unexpectedly, the Dwarf snickered.

Any sympathy Legolas might have felt disappeared in a flash of anger so strong he nearly struck the Dwarf.  “You would do best to tell me where the child is,” he said through clenched teeth.

“I am afraid we cannot do that, Master Elf.” The Dwarf still sounded amused, and when Legolas looked at the others, he saw that several of them were smiling too.

“Very well,” he snarled. So far as he was concerned, the Dwarves had just forfeited any claim to be treated gently. He turned to Annael and Amdir.  If the Dwarves would not take care of the child, then the Elves would have to do it.  “Search for him,” he ordered. “I will send one of the night patrols out to relieve you as soon as I can.”

“You need not do that,” said Annael, looking as angry as Legolas had ever seen him.  “A child is missing.  We will keep looking until we find him.”

Legolas nodded, grateful as always for his friend’s kind heart.  Then he turned back to Beliond, Sinnarn, and Nithron.  “The king wanted the Naugrim brought in quickly,” he said.  “Let us see how fast they can move.”  He prodded the Dwarf nearest him. “On your way,” he barked, and they started herding the Dwarves back toward the palace, setting such rapid pace that the blindfolded and obviously weakened Dwarves stumbled at frequent intervals and were held up only by the rope tying them to those ahead and behind.  Legolas felt a surge of satisfaction at their discomfort that he knew was shameful but could not help.

At last, they crossed the bridge and passed through the Great Doors which clanged shut behind them.  Legolas glanced back at them. Thranduil must have been waiting for their arrival before he shut them for the night.  The guards at the doors to the Great Hall flung them open, and Legolas and his companions shoved the Dwarves into the chamber.

The king sat on his carved chair, wearing a crown of leaves and berries, and holding the oak staff that signaled he was being called on to render judgment.  His face was set in hard lines, and his hooded eyes glittered dangerously.  If Legolas had been in the Dwarves’ shoes, he would have been terrified.  He shoved the first Dwarf in line to his knees, dragging the others down too, with Beliond, Nithron, and Sinnarn jerking them upright on their knees.

“Remove their blindfolds and unbind them,” Thranduil ordered. “They need no ropes in here. There is no escape from my magic doors for those who are once brought inside.”  Legolas had to smother a slight smile as he and his patrol hurried to obey.  No one was as intimidating as Thranduil when he was in full kingly form.

The Dwarves blinked in the torchlight of the Great Hall and knelt for a dazed moment chafing their wrists.  Legolas was unsympathetic.  He did not believe his patrol had tied the Dwarves as tightly as their actions indicated.  One by one, the Dwarves spotted Thranduil, and Legolas saw more than one of them swallow convulsively.  To their credit, though, after the first moment, they all pulled themselves as defiantly erect as it was possible to be while kneeling.

Thranduil ran his eyes over the line of Dwarves and let the silence stretch out.  Legolas knew he was waiting for some small sign that the Dwarves were uncomfortable, but no one moved.  At last, his patience worn out, the king asked, “What were you doing in our woods?”

“We were hungry, my lord,” answered a Dwarf in a scarlet hood, “and we had heard about the warm hospitality of Elves.”

Legolas stopped his mouth from falling open only with an effort.  Having seen how weak the Dwarves were, he was ready to concede that they probably were hungry, but that did not appear to be making them any more docile.  They would regret their rudeness, he thought with satisfaction, observing his father’s rigid body and flushed face.

“Sarcasm will serve you ill here, Master Dwarf,” Thranduil said sharply.  “We ask you again for the reason you entered our woods and approached our most sacred ceremonies.”

The Dwarf shrugged.  “Our business is our own.  Release us and we will go on about it and leave your woods at our first opportunity.”

Thranduil narrowed his eyes.  “Release you?  On the contrary, keep on like this and you are likely to enjoy our ‘warm hospitality’ for a very long time.”

“What have we done, O king?” demanded the Dwarf hotly.  “Is it a crime to be lost in the forest, to be hungry and thirsty, to be trapped by spiders?  Are the spiders your tame beasts or your pets, if killing them makes you angry?”

Legolas flinched.  The Dwarf could not have said anything more likely to infuriate Thranduil further.

“It is a crime to wander in my realm without leave,” Thranduil hissed menacingly.  “Do you forget that you were in my kingdom, using the road that my people made? Did you not three times pursue and trouble my people in the forest and rouse the spiders with your riot and clamor?  After all the disturbance you have made I have a right to know what brings you here, and if you will not tell me now, I will keep you all in prison until you have learned sense and manners!”

“My lord,” Legolas intervened.  Annoyed by the interruption, Thranduil looked at him sharply.

“What is it, Lieutenant?”

“The child who was with these Dwarves is still missing.  I have warriors out searching for him, but it would speed our efforts if the prisoners would tell us what they know of where he might be.”

Thranduil turned again to the Dwarves. “Where is he?”  His tone announced he would brook no defiance, but the Dwarves must have been made of stern material, for to a one, they smiled blandly at the question.

“We know nothing about a child,” insisted the one in the scarlet hood.  Legolas could understand the Dwarves’ need to defy Thranduil, but he was stunned by their indifference to the child’s safety.

“Separate them and lock them up,” Thranduil ordered in disgust. “We will see whether time to think matters over mends their manners.”  Legolas gestured, and Beliond, Sinnarn, and Nithron dragged the Dwarves to their feet and began herding them from the room.

“Legolas,” Thranduil beckoned him back.

“Yes, my lord?”

Thranduil waited until the last of the Dwarves had been shoved through the door. “See to it that they have no chance to speak to one another.  Do not tell them that we are holding their leader, and do not tell him that we have seized them.  Their tongues might be looser if they feel isolated.”

“Yes, my lord.”  Legolas felt no sympathy for the Dwarves. If they had meant no harm, then they should have answered the king’s questions. He bowed and went out into the antechamber to find Sinnarn waiting for him.

“Legolas, can I be one of those who guards the prisoners?” Sinnarn asked eagerly.  “I will never have another chance to talk to them that is as good as this one.”

Legolas eyed his nephew thoughtfully.  Sinnarn was an intelligent, capable warrior whose impulsiveness and friendship with Amdir had too often led him into trouble.  Legolas knew that Ithilden was trying to wait patiently for his son to mature but too frequently found him exasperating.  Lately, however, Sinnarn had shown signs of settling down.  Perhaps he realized how grave the Realm’s situation was becoming or perhaps his affection for Emmelin was steadying him.  At any rate, it occurred to Legolas that the time might have come for Sinnarn to assume some responsibility.  If he were treated with more trust by his superiors, he might very well grow into the expectations they set for him.

“I can do better than that,” Legolas said. “I hereby appoint you head guard.  You can pick three other people to share the duty with and work out the schedule.”

Sinnarn’s face shifted from disbelief to delight.  “Thank you!” he cried. “You will not regret this, Legolas.”

Legolas smiled at him. “I am sure I will not.  Let me just explain the king’s orders.” The two of them began to walk toward the stairway that descended into the area where prisoners were kept.  If Sinnarn did well, Ithilden would be pleased, Legolas thought, and Thranduil would be overjoyed.  His grandson was the apple of his eye.

I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien, but they are his, not mine. I gain only the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.


9.  In the Palace

Sinnarn’s pulse quickened pleasantly as Emmelin slipped her hand into his and they set off for their walk.  Now that September had come, the evenings had grown cooler, and they both wore cloaks, but neither of them had taken to wearing gloves yet, and Sinnarn hoped that Emmelin’s reason for leaving her hands bare was the same as his.  Until the last few months, he would never have believed that simply the feel of the soft skin of a maiden’s palm could render him dizzy.  In unspoken accord, they strolled off the path and in among the trees whose leaves were gradually coming to blaze with color.

“How were the Dwarves today?” she asked.

He made a face.  Guarding the Dwarves had not been nearly as interesting as he had hoped it would be.  For the most part, they had been close-mouthed, and on the rare occasions when they had talked to him, they had been rude.  Far from growing more docile in confinement, they had instead become even more defiant. “I heard one of them talking to himself again this morning,” he told Emmelin, “and far more pleasantly than he has ever spoken to me.”

“Perhaps he just likes an intelligent audience,” she teased.

He gave a short laugh and then cried, “You will pay for that!”  Keeping hold of her, he leaned over and used his free hand to scoop up a fistful of leaves that he threw over her head.  Laughing, she raised her free arm to ward them off as best she could and then pulled loose and seized a double handful of leaves to hurl at him.  For a brief time, the air around them was awhirl with flying leaves.

Finally, he grabbed her and stuffed a handful down the back of her neck.  She was laughing and pushing at him, and suddenly they both seemed to realize that one of his arms was around her.  In breathless silence, they stared at one another while Sinnarn’s heart pounded so wildly he thought she probably could hear it. Then he put his other arm around her too and bent to her and kissed her.  For another heartbeat, she was motionless, and then her arms went around his neck and she pulled him to her and kissed him back with a ferocity that made him moan.

He had no idea how much time passed before they stopped kissing, but when he pulled her close and rubbed his cheek in her hair, he could see that stars had opened overhead.  “It is late.” Emmelin’s voice was muffled against his chest. “We should go.”  Neither one of them moved.  “My parents will be worried,” she said.

Reluctantly, he acknowledged this truth.  It had grown late enough that her parents were probably concerned.  The Home Guard was still finding an occasional spider, although nothing had turned up resembling the huge colony Legolas had found a few weeks ago.  His grandfather was still sealing the Great Doors completely at night and opening them during the day only at regular intervals to admit petitioners and messengers. One had to plan one’s comings and goings with care.

Sinnarn was not sure he understood why his grandfather was being so careful.  Legolas said that Thranduil was restless about something. He thought he still worried about whatever the Dwarves’ unknown mission was and also was disturbed by the unexplained change in the forest’s song. To Sinnarn, the trees’ song was beginning to sound lighter, but he was well aware that that could be because he was usually with Emmelin when he was among them.

He and Emmelin broke apart, and he took her hand. Neither of them spoke during their hurried walk toward her cottage. In truth, no words were needed.

As they hastened up the short path to her home, the door flew open revealing a frantic-looking Annael with Beliniel visible hovering behind him.  “Where have you been?” he demanded, his voice startlingly harsh.

“I am so sorry, Adar,” Emmelin said.  “I did not mean to worry you.  I lost track of the time.” Annael’s gaze slid over her, taking in the leaves in her hair and on her cloak. He turned to Sinnarn with narrowed eyes.  For a moment, Sinnarn stared back at him, wondering if this was what a startled rabbit felt like when it froze in terror at the sight of a hunter.

“I must go now,” he finally croaked. “I will see you tomorrow, Emmelin.”  Without waiting for an answer, he turned and fled toward the palace.  After a moment or two he slowed.  Such a flight was undignified, he admonished himself and began struggling to regain his composure. Surely Emmelin would tell her parents that nothing untoward had happened, and that besides that, she and Sinnarn were adults, entitled to make their own choices.  Of course they were, he assured himself, his confidence rising as the palace came into sight. Then he halted in dismay. He should have realized. The Great Doors were already sealed for the night.

He groaned.  What should he do?  The idea of rousing his grandfather to open the Doors struck him as a bad one.  His grandfather was indulgent, with Sinnarn at any rate, but he had been on edge recently and was not to be trifled with. If his mother realized he had not come home, she was going to be beside herself, he thought gloomily, despite the fact that she would have been able to tell through their bond if anything had happened to him. Ah well, there was nothing he could do about it now.  He turned and started back down the path to go and spend the night at Amdir’s, where no questions would be asked.

He was waiting outside the Doors in the morning and entered the palace as soon as they were unsealed, hastening toward his room in his parents’ apartment so that he could wash and dress for his day’s tasks.  He had hoped to slip in without Alfirin seeing him, telling himself that perhaps she had not even missed him, but that hope was dashed as soon as he started down the hallway from the sitting room to his own chamber.  The door to his parents’ chamber had stood ajar, and now his mother jerked it open and stepped into the hallway, stopping him in his tracks if he did not want to push past her.

“I am sorry, Naneth,” he said, raising his hands and trying to forestall her.

“Where have you been?” she echoed Annael, and Sinnarn observed not for the first time that all parents seemed to speak the same lines.

“I arrived home too late and the Doors were sealed. I spent the night at Amdir’s.”

“Sinnarn, I have been worried sick! I pictured you sleeping in the woods! How could you be so thoughtless?”

“Naneth, I am a warrior,” he declared in exasperation.  “I have slept in the woods on more nights than I can count.”

“But I did not expect you home on those nights!” she cried, and suddenly he saw that she was near to tears.  His father needed to come home soon, he thought.  His absence was beginning to wear on his mother.

“I am sorry,” he said again, grasping her shoulders and kissing her forehead.  “But really, you should not worry. I can take care of myself.”

She gave a strangled laugh and put her hands to his face.  “So you have always said.”  She took a deep breath.  “I would be very grateful if you would let me know when you will be out all night, so that I know not to worry.”

He was deeply touched for he knew what it must have cost her to concede him the right to stay out if he chose.  “I will try,” he promised, and then went on to his own chamber, relieved by his mother’s efforts.  Of course, he reminded himself, his relief lessening somewhat, once his father got home, he would have to do more than try to keep his parents informed.  Ithilden would not put up with any behavior that upset Sinnarn’s mother.

He considered yet again moving out of his parents’ apartment and into one of the empty chambers in the palace, but he hated to think of the furor that would cause, and really, he did not much want to do it.  His place in his family was his place in the world.  He was Sinnarn Ithildenion of the House of Oropher.  He had heard that Men often left their families when they were adults, but he did not understand how they could do it.  How did they and everyone around them know who they were? Who stood by them when trouble came?  To whom did they turn for advice?  It made no sense to him.  He reached his chamber and readied himself for his day.

When he descended the last set of stairs leading to the cells where the Dwarves were being held, he heard a voice ahead of him, and thought for a moment that one of the Dwarves was talking to himself, as they had all been doing lately.  He supposed he could not blame them. Locked up alone in a cell, he might have talked to himself too.  The voice turned out to be Legolas’s however.  And to Sinnarn’s pleasure, Nithron was with him.  He had not seen his body guard since he had started this assignment, for not even Thranduil thought he needed Nithron while guarding prisoners in the palace.  To Sinnarn’s surprise, he had missed his keeper, who had been by his side almost constantly since Sinnarn had come of age and pledged his faith as a warrior.

Nithron saw him approaching and lifted his hand in greeting but did not speak. He was standing just behind Legolas, who was at the open door of a cell, talking to one of the Dwarves who wore a purple hood.  Or rather, he was trying to talk to him. To Sinnarn’s utter lack of surprise, the Dwarf was staring at the wall as if he were deaf.  Legolas was plainly losing patience.  You ought to be around them all day, Sinnarn though sourly.

“Do you not care that we have seen no sign of the child at all?” Legolas demanded.  “Hobbit is your son, is he not?”  Sinnarn knew that Legolas thought the Dwarves in the purple hoods were Hobbit’s parents, although he could not tell which of the two was the mother and which the father.  Sinnarn found that amusing, although he knew better than to tell Legolas so.

At the moment, the Dwarf looked amused too, although he kept his eyes on the wall rather than turning to Legolas.  Sinnarn had found that lately the Dwarves often seemed to be hugging themselves with a sort of secret glee that he did not understand.

When the Dwarf continued to ignore Legolas, he made a disgusted sound, backed from the cell, and closed and locked the door.  He handed the keys to Sinnarn.  “I took the liberty of relieving the night guard,” he said.

“I am on time,” Sinnarn protested, resenting what sounded like criticism.

“I know you are.” But Legolas still sounded impatient. Sinnarn told himself that the Dwarves were the cause, not him. Legolas turned to Nithron.  “What do you make of them?  You have seen far more of Dwarves than I have. Is there anything we can say that will persuade them to speak about the child or their mission?”  This must be why Legolas had brought Nithron, Sinnarn realized. His keeper had been one of Thranduil’s spies for many years before he was assigned to Sinnarn.

Nithron shook his head.  “No one is more stubborn than a Dwarf with a secret,” he said. Legolas grimaced but seemed to accept his judgment.  Nithron turned to Sinnarn.  “I hope you are behaving yourself,” he said.

Legolas grinned.  “Nithron is becoming very grouchy without you to order around, Sinnarn.  That was one of the reasons I brought him this morning.  The rest of us are finding him quite unbearable.”

Sinnarn laughed. “What is the Home Guard up to?” he asked.

Nithron shrugged.  “We are still finding the occasional spider.”  Sinnarn suddenly longed to be hunting spiders.  Guarding the Dwarves was becoming tedious.

“Come,” said Legolas. “We must be on our way.”  And he and Nithron disappeared up the steps.

Their departure was followed immediately, however, by the arrival of several kitchen servants bearing trays with morning meals for the Dwarves and Sinnarn.  “Fresh bread and strawberry jam,” one of them told him. “The Naugrim should be grateful.” If the Dwarves did turn out to be grateful, Sinnarn was certain they would never show it.

He went from cell to cell unlocking and locking the doors again as one of the servants distributed the meal, while the others went to get supplies from the stores that were also on this level of the stronghold.  As he had predicted, the Dwarves did not thank the servant, whose face showed just how unpleasant she thought Sinnarn’s charges were. “We will be back for the dishes,” she promised as she started for the stairway again.

“Wait!” called Sinnarn.  “Where is mine?”

“On the table,” said the servant, pausing with one foot on the bottom step.

“No, it is not,” Sinnarn declared, indicating the empty dishes.

She frowned.  “All of the dishes had food on them,” she declared. “I can see the breadcrumbs on that one.” She looked at him suspiciously.  “If you want more, you only need to ask.”

“I have had none!” he cried.  Really, everyone he spoke to these days seemed intent on scolding him.  Except Emmelin, of course, he though wistfully.

She plainly did not believe him.  “I will bring more when we come back for the dishes,” she said stiffly. “You will have to wait until then.”  She followed the other servants up the stairs.

Hungry and bored, Sinnarn flung himself into one of the chairs near the table.  What had he been thinking to ask for this assignment?  He wondered how open Legolas would be to assigning him elsewhere. It was worth a try, he thought gloomily. The worst his uncle could do was add his admonitions to everyone else’s.


With a struggle, Celuwen brought her wandering attention back to the meeting.

“With so many more people living close to the stronghold, we would be wise to lay in a larger supply of grain for the winter,” said one of the king’s advisers.

“We would have to trade timber rights to pay for it,” said another. They all looked at Thranduil, who was plainly unhappy with the direction the discussion had taken.

“I am loath to allow any cutting of living trees,” he said, “although I would not be averse to clearing out deadfall.”

“But the Men will want the timber for building, not just firewood,” the adviser answered.

Thranduil grimaced. “This matter does not need to be decided today.  The forest is disturbed enough as it is. I will not add to its distress until I understand what is happening.”

Celuwen did not believe they would be able to put off the decision about buying grain for much longer, but she also understood Thranduil’s reluctance, or thought she did.  In addition to being worried about whatever was happening in the forest, he was concerned about the still unknown reason that the Dwarves were there. She wished Ithilden would come home, because Thranduil would draw great comfort from consulting with him.  Surely the White Council meeting must be over by now.  For a moment, she contemplated the idea that something might have happened to Ithilden, but she rejected it almost immediately.  Alfirin would have known; for that matter, so would Thranduil.

Without thinking, she felt for her bond with Eilian and relaxed slightly to find it intact.  He felt serene at the moment. That probably meant that he was asleep, she thought with a wry smile, which made sense given that he and his warriors usually hunted at night.  Eilian was seldom serene when he was awake, even when he was home, which had been far too infrequently in the tumultuous years of their marriage.  The time they managed to spend together was made blissful and intense by their long separations, but it was also made tense, as they fumbled to adjust to one another’s habits and assumptions.

A wave of heart-stopping loneliness swept over her, and she actually had to look down to blink tears from her eyes. She traced a pattern in the wood of the table with her finger.  She had gradually come to feel affection for her husband’s family, but when Eilian was away, she still felt isolated even in their presence.  She was closest to Legolas and had hoped that his being assigned to the Home Guard would ease matters for her, but Ithilden’s absence had led to extra responsibilities for him, and he was very worried about the missing Dwarf child, so she had not seen much of him so far.

There were times when she wondered if she had made the right decision in marrying Eilian, but they were brief for she knew that in reality, she had had no choice.  Happy or unhappy, her life had always been tangled with Eilian’s.  He was due for a leave in a little over a month.  She would comfort herself by looking forward to that.

The noise of chairs being pushed back from the table brought her out of her reverie, and she realized a little guiltily that the meeting was coming to an end and that she had no idea what had happened in the last fifteen minutes of it. Thranduil was walking toward her with his arm outstretched.  “Walk with me, daughter,” he invited.

She put her arm through his and allowed him to lead her from the small council chamber through the Great Hall and into the antechamber. The Great Doors opened before them, and they went out onto the top of the steps leading down to the bridge over the Forest River. There Thranduil paused, staring at the trees on the other side of the green.  “I have never been one to place much faith in glad rumors,” he said a little hesitantly.  “So I find myself doubting my own perceptions now.  Do the trees seem happier to you, Celuwen?”

Celuwen had a Wood-elf’s connection to the forest, but she knew that her sense of it was less acute than her father-in-law’s.  “I cannot tell,” she answered honestly.  “I do not recognize the song they sing now.  I only hear the change.”

He nodded resignedly and then glanced at her. “And what of you, child?  Are you happy?”

She grimaced.  She should have known that her mood would not have escaped Thranduil’s observation.  “I miss Eilian,” she said frankly. “And I miss my parents too.”

He nodded. “I know.”  He paused. “I would send you to visit your parents,” he offered slowly, “but I am worried that there might be some unknown danger in the woods. I still have not learned what brought the Dwarves there.”

She patted his arm.  “I had thought to go to them, but I do not like to leave when things are so unsettled.”  He smiled at her still, but he narrowed his eyes slightly, and she knew he had not missed her meaning:  If she wished to visit her parents, she would.  Celuwen admired and even loved Thranduil, but she had no intention of letting him govern every move she made any more than she would let Eilian do it.  If he commanded her as king, she would do as he said, but other than that, her decisions were her own, as they had been for years before she married Eilian.

“Have I told you lately what a good match you are for Eilian?” Thranduil asked lightly.

She grinned.  “I try to be a dutiful wife to him, my lord,” she said demurely, and he threw back his head and laughed.

“I fear I must go and read petitions now,” he said, with what sounded like a sigh.  They turned and entered the antechamber.  A sudden flicker of shadowy movement caught Celuwen’s eye, and she turned her head sharply toward where a small table stood, just as the Great Doors slammed shut behind them.  The vase on the table tipped over, rolled off the table, and crashed to the floor.  An attendant gave a small cry and ran to collect the pieces, while Celuwen stood frowning at the table.  The rush of air from the Doors must have knocked the vase over, she thought uncertainly.  It must have been lighter than it looked.


Legolas had just dismissed the last of the day patrols when Amdir came rushing back into the building.  “Legolas! Ithilden and his party just rode into the green, and you will not believe what people are saying! They say the enemy has left Dol Guldur!”

Legolas stared at him for a moment in open-mouthed disbelief. Then he tore out the door and ran pell mell toward the green, with Amdir at his heels.  Even before he reached it, he could hear the stamping and whinnying of horses and the murmuring voices of a gathering of Elves. He burst from the trees to see that Amdir had spoken truly.  Ithilden’s party had dismounted on the green and was being welcomed by swarm of family, friends, and seemingly everyone from miles around.  The Great Doors stood open, and Ithilden and Alfirin were wrapped in one another’s arms not twenty feet away from Legolas.  Thranduil stood next to them, with his head bent to listen to his chief adviser, Thrior, who had accompanied Ithilden to the White Council meeting.

Heedless of the fact that he was interrupting, Legolas rushed up to them. “Is it true?” he panted.  “Has Sauron left Dol Guldur?”  Thranduil looked up at him, and he belatedly put his hand over his heart and bowed.  “I beg your pardon, my lord, but is it true?”

“It is,” put in Ithilden, standing now with his arm around the shoulders of Alfirin, who was wiping tears from her face.  “The White Council drove him out. They do not know where he went, but he is gone from the dark tower.”

Legolas felt a sudden strong need to sit down.  Sauron’s occupation of Dol Guldur and the resulting spread of Shadow in the Woodland Realm were facts around which his whole life had been structured.  He had never known a world in which he did not believe it to be his duty to take up the defense of his father’s people.  The sudden change was almost as bewildering as it was longed-for.

“What does it mean?” he asked. “What will happen now?”

“That we do not know,” said Thranduil, looking as stunned as Legolas had ever seen him.  “We will have to wait and see.  But almost certainly our struggle will be made easier if we have only Sauron’s creatures to deal with and not him.  Come,” he gestured toward the steps leading into the palace.  “I think some celebratory cups of wine are in order.”

They started toward the Doors, but their progress was interrupted when Todith stopped in front of Ithilden and clasped arms with him.  “I cannot tell you how happy I am to have you home, my lord,” he said fervently.  Legolas nearly laughed out loud.  Ithilden’s family was overjoyed to see him, but Legolas thought that the Home Guard captain might be happier yet.  Tomorrow he would let Ithilden take command of the troops again and would himself resume running the Home Guard with Legolas as his lieutenant.  Legolas felt a momentary pang of regret.  To his surprise, he had actually enjoyed planning the Home Guard’s patrols and analyzing their reports.  Still, he did not think he would mind turning responsibility for the Dwarves and the spider hunts over to Todith.  Thranduil was still wrought up about both matters, and Legolas had found it a strain to deal with his father as an officer would deal with his king.

They climbed the steps and entered the antechamber, and as they did so, the Great Doors swung shut behind them. Ithilden glanced back in surprise.  “Why are you sealing the Doors?”

“That is a story for tomorrow,” answered Thranduil. “Tonight, we are simply glad to have you home again bringing news so happy it is almost overwhelming.”  He led them toward the doorway to the hall in which the family apartments were located. Legolas was last in the group, and he was just passing through the doorway when the feel of something unexpectedly brushing against his arm made him jump.  He spun, with his hand on the hilt of his sword, but he could see nothing. The warriors standing guard at the doorway both looked at him in surprise.  He smiled a little sheepishly at them and then hastened after his father.  His nerves must have been even more on edge than he had realized.


I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien, but they are his, not mine. I gain only the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.


10. Escape

“Mithrandir did not know where Sauron had gone?” Thranduil asked, his brows drawn together.

“No,” Ithilden answered.

Thranduil toyed with the dagger on his desk.  “I do not like the sound of that. Sauron left once before, but in the end, he returned.  If the White Council did not succeed in destroying him, then we will almost certainly be dealing with him again.”

Ithilden hesitated.  Even during the Watchful Peace, his father had been wary.  Thranduil had seen the return of evil too many times in his long life to believe it could simply be sent away.  And of course he had been right; Sauron had come back.  But even though Ithilden knew his father thought his optimism was naïve, he could not help feeling hopeful.  “That may be true,” he finally ventured, “but the shadow to our south has lifted. The trees were glad, and I think that in the spring, new life may grow there again.”

Thranduil smiled at him fondly and then dropped the dagger and sat up straighter.  Ithilden could see him marshaling his thoughts on what would need to be discussed at the meeting with his advisers that he had called for this morning.  Word of Sauron’s departure had spread rapidly after Ithilden’s arrival the previous evening, but now Thranduil needed to decide what implications that departure might have for such matters as the number and deployment of troops or his policies toward the small settlements scattered in the woods.  “What about his creatures?” he asked more briskly.  “How did his Orcs react to his leaving?  Did they seem to be leaving too?  Will we have an easier time fighting any who stay?”

“Those we could see were pained by the light of course,” Ithilden responded, “although they could simply take to prowling at night the way they do everywhere else.  But I hope that, without Sauron to guide their actions, all of them will be less organized and may take to quarreling with one another.  And, Adar, there was something else.”  Ithilden leaned forward, and his father’s attention intensified. “Even before the White Council cast Sauron out, we saw bands of Orcs moving west and north toward the mountains, and as we were on our way back to Rhosgobel, we saw many more.  They were not hunting but seemed intent on some purpose at which I could not even guess.”

Thranduil frowned.  “Did none of the Council members know?  Elrond has good intelligence of what goes on in the mountains.”

Ithilden shook his head. “I told Eilian to let the Orcs leave if they wanted to and concentrate on keeping any from coming toward us.”  He smiled slightly.  “He will be happier about that now that he and his patrol have returned to their territory and he can no longer see what is happening along the Anduin.”

Thranduil smiled wryly.  He knew as well as Ithilden did that Eilian would not have been keen on letting Orcs walk away without a fight.

“Adar,” Ithilden asked, raising a subject that had puzzled him since he had arrived home, “why are you keeping the Doors sealed?”

“Spiders have ventured much too close to the stronghold of late, but I have been even more concerned about a party of Dwarves that invaded Tonduil’s wedding feast.  Have you been told about them?”

Ithilden nodded.  “Sinnarn told me about the Dwarves last night, and of course, Alfirin told me about the wedding.”  Alfirin had been forgiving about his missing the wedding, but she had gone on at some length about the disruption the Dwarves had caused there.  Sinnarn had sat behind her with a big grin on his face the whole time she was talking.  He had evidently found events at the wedding far more amusing than his mother had.  Ithilden had been appalled by the apparent failures of the Home Guard, but even so he had had to struggle to keep a straight face with his son’s dancing eyes watching him while Alfirin told her story.

“The Naugrim still have not said what their mission is,” Thranduil went on grimly, “and I have no intention of releasing them until they do.  Until I know what they are up to, I will continue sealing the Doors.”

Ithilden tried to hide his dismay.  Over the years, he had exerted a great deal of effort to soften his father’s deep distrust toward Dwarves enough to allow for buying metal or weaponry from them.  He greatly feared that all his hard work had been undone, and he had no idea where he would get what he needed to supply his warriors if Thranduil decided to break off all dealings with Dáin’s people in the Iron Hills.

Someone rapped on the door.  “Come,” Thranduil called, and Celuwen appeared in the doorway.

“Your advisers are waiting for you, Adar,” she said.

Thranduil rose, drawing Ithilden to his feet too.  “You seem more eager than usual to begin the meeting,” he smiled at her.  “That would not have anything to do with your desire to get it over with so that you can take Ithilden’s news to your parents’ settlement, would it?”

She laughed.  “Do you know, I think it just might.”

“Do not stay away too long, Celuwen,” Ithilden advised her.  “Eilian is looking forward to his leave, and if things go as I hope, I may be able to order some of his patrol home early for an extended leave.”

Celuwen drew a deep breath.  “That is almost beyond belief.”

“It is,” agreed Thranduil soberly, and the three of them began to walk toward Thranduil’s council chamber.


Sinnarn slumped glumly in his chair, listening to the faint sounds of the feast that was underway in his grandfather’s Great Hall.  His father had been home for a week now, and tonight had been chosen as the night on which Thranduil’s people would gather to celebrate the news he had brought.  Sinnarn’s mother had thrown herself into planning it, and the food and music both promised to be extraordinary.  Moreover, Emmelin would be there, and at some point in the evening, the tables would be moved out of the way to allow the guests to dance.  Sinnarn had been looking forward to the feast, and especially to dancing with Emmelin.  It had not been until the previous day that he had looked at the duty roster and realized he was on guard duty tonight. 

He had organized the rotation of the guards’ shifts himself when Legolas had first made him chief guard, and he supposed he had the authority to change it, but doing so had struck him as unfair.  The other guards were undoubtedly looking forward to the evening as much as he was.  So here he was, sitting alone on the palace’s lowest level while everyone else was celebrating.  He picked at the bits of venison left on his plate and thought wistful thoughts about Emmelin.

The sound of feet on the stairs roused him from his self-pity, as several kitchen servants came to retrieve the dishes from the prisoners’ evening meal, accompanied by Thranduil’s butler, Galion.  The butler grinned at him. “Why so gloomy, young one? You look as if you think someone else might be dancing with your favorite maiden.”

Sinnarn made a face and got to his feet.  “What are you doing here, Galion?” he asked, preparing to go down the hall to unlock the first cell.

“I need to make sure that the empty barrels are ready to be sent to Esgaroth in the morning,” Galion answered. “Come and visit me when you have finished with your task, and I will see if I can find something to cheer you up.”

Sinnarn shot the butler a grateful look, and Galion started down the hall toward the storerooms.  Galion had always been kind to Sinnarn on the frequent occasions when he had been present as a child while Alfirin and Galion discussed the management of Thranduil’s household.  It was an open secret that he sometimes drank too much, but Wood-elves enjoyed making merry and tended to be tolerant of such a failure.  And at the moment, Sinnarn could do with both kindness and a cup of wine.

Gathering the dishes took no more than fifteen minutes, and when the last of the servants had retreated up the stairs, Sinnarn went in search of Galion, whom he found just emerging from one of the rooms with a pitcher of wine.  “Come with me and taste the new wine that has just come in,” Galion invited. “I shall be hard at work tonight clearing the cellars of the empty wood, so let us have a drink first to help the labor.”

Sinnarn could not help laughing. “If you truly need help, I will taste with you and see if it is fit for the king’s table.  It would not do to send up poor stuff!”

Galion grinned and led the way into a small room with chairs and a table on which he had already placed two large flagons.  He filled both flagons with the deep red wine.  Sinnarn picked up the over-large cup and took a sip.  “Dorwinion!” he exclaimed, and Galion nodded happily.

“I had a hard time getting it, too, but the king should be pleased to have it on his table tonight.”

Sinnarn eyed the flagon cautiously.  “This is strong stuff, and your flagons hold enough for two.”

“One cupful will not hurt you,” Galion said, leaning back in his chair with a blissful look on his face as he savored another sip.

Like most Elves, Sinnarn had drunk wine from childhood, and he knew it usually took a great deal more than one cupful to affect him, but Dorwinion was exceedingly potent and Galion’s flagons were indeed outsized.  “Just one, then,” he conceded.  The wine really was excellent, and he could feel his spirits lifting already.

“It is too bad that you have to deal with the barrels tonight,” Sinnarn said, taking a satisfying drink of his wine.  He had occasionally accompanied his mother to these storerooms when he was small and had always liked watching Galion and his helpers push empty barrels through the trap door into the underground stream that carried them out a watergate and into the river.

Galion raised his cup in a philosophical gesture of resignation.  “The Elves who take the rafts of goods to and from Esgaroth are due to leave early tomorrow morning.  They need the empty barrels to hold the new goods.”

Sinnarn rolled a mouthful of wine around on his tongue. It really was exceptionally fine.  A sudden soft noise sounded in the corridor.  “What was that?” Sinnarn frowned.  He was still on guard duty after all.  He and Galion both got up to look, but they saw nothing.

“It must have been a mouse,” Galion shrugged, as they resumed their seats.  Sinnarn made a face.  If there were mice in the storerooms, his mother would declare all-out war on them.  She had no objection to mice in the forests and fields; she simply did not want them in the food supply.  He picked up his flagon and was surprised to realize that it was still almost full.  He could have sworn he had drunk at least half of his wine.  He took a deep drink.  If he was going to have only one cupful of wine tonight, he might as well enjoy it.

“How are you and the Dwarves getting along?” Galion asked.  “Do you have much to do with them?”

Sinnarn made a face.  “I have almost nothing to do with them.  They will not talk to me, and now that their evening meal is finished, they will all go to sleep.  It is going to be a long night.”  And indeed, Sinnarn felt a little sleepy too.  This was his first night duty in four days, and he thought the change must be bothering him.  A faint noise from the hall caught his attention, and he scowled in the direction of the doorway. “I hear something again.”  He dragged himself to his feet to check the corridor once more, with Galion trailing him.  This time they searched for some distance in either direction and still found nothing.

“Mice,” Galion declared.  “They come inside in the autumn, when the weather turns cold.”

Standing with his eyes still turned toward the empty corridor, Sinnarn fumbled for his brimming flagon and took a drink.  He sat down heavily and glanced at the pitcher of wine, which was now almost empty.  Galion must be drinking a great deal tonight, Sinnarn thought ruefully. The wine was almost gone, and Sinnarn was still on his first cupful.

Galion launched into a story about the time Legolas had brought mice into the palace and hidden them in his room as pets.  He kept laughing, and Sinnarn laughed along with him, although he was having trouble paying close attention and was not absolutely certain he understood all of the story’s intricacies. Galion’s face kept slipping in and out of focus across the table, and Sinnarn’s head felt very heavy, so much so that it started to fall and he had to jerk himself upright.  Both he and Galion laughed about that, and then Sinnarn’s head drooped again, and he decided that maybe the smartest thing to do would be to rest it on the table after all.  He could hear Galion’s voice still rambling on about mice as he floated happily away onto the path of dreams.


Legolas leaned back contentedly in his chair, sipping his wine and nibbling on one of the sweet fried pastries the servants had just brought to the table.  Alfirin had outdone herself tonight, he thought.  The feast had been exceptionally good.

He glanced to his right, past Thranduil to where Ithilden sat with Alfirin leaning against him and his arm around her.  Alfirin looked as relaxed as Legolas had ever seen her.  She seemed to have fully accepted the news of Sauron’s departure and talked excitedly about how relieved she was that Sinnarn would no longer be exposed to so much danger and Ithilden would be less weighed down with responsibilities. Of course, of all of them, she had seen the least of Orcs and spiders, and they all tended to keep bad news from her because she worried and could do nothing about these things anyway.  Legolas thought that, like himself, Ithilden and Thranduil were still withholding judgment on what the Realm would be like now.  They had all spent too many years as warriors to take an enemy’s weakness for granted.

At the other end of the room, Legolas could see that Thranduil’s musicians were gathering. They had been wandering around the room, harping small tunes as people ate, but now they were getting ready for the dancing that would start as soon as the feasting was done.  When that happened, Legolas would be free to leave the head table and sit with his friends if he liked.  He looked to the right side of the room where Annael was sitting with Beliniel and Emmelin.   His friend saw his eye upon them and smiled, lifting his wine goblet in invitation as he did so.  Legolas grinned.  It would be good to celebrate with Annael tonight.

Emmelin looked a little subdued though.  Legolas guessed that she was disappointed that Sinnarn was on guard duty tonight, and he knew that Sinnarn was disappointed too.  Legolas felt some sympathy for Sinnarn.  He was one of the few Elves who lived near the stronghold to miss tonight’s feast.  The maiden he was courting was here, and the little pastries were even his favorite sweet.  Elves were rising from the tables now and wandering about visiting with one another.  Next to Legolas, Thranduil waved a hand at waiting attendants, and they began to carry the tables from the Hall and push the benches to the side to clear a space for dancing.

Legolas turned to his father. “By your leave, Adar, I think I will take some of the pastries to Sinnarn.”

Thranduil smiled sympathetically.  “Go. Give him my love.”  Legolas piled several of the remaining pastries in a napkin and started for the lower levels of the stronghold.  When he descended the last flight of stairs, he was surprised to find no-one at the guard’s post, but the sound of voices drew him toward one of the small room near the storage areas.  For a split second, he stood frozen in the room’s doorway, trying to take in what he was seeing.  Galion was bent over the slumped form of Sinnarn, whose head was on the table.

Legolas dropped the sweets he was carrying and leapt forward with a cry. “What happened? Is he hurt?”

Galion flinched.  “No, my lord. He is simply –,” he paused, groping for a word.  “He may have had a little too much wine,” he finished apologetically. And now Sinnarn lifted his head from the table and looked blearily at Legolas.

Legolas stared at his nephew in open-mouthed horror.  Sinnarn was drunk. He was drunk on duty.  For an instinctive moment, he wondered how he could help Sinnarn conceal his offense, and then he realized that he could not do that.  He was Sinnarn’s superior officer, and that meant he was responsible for disciplining him.  He nearly moaned aloud.  How could Sinnarn have been so careless?

“Hello, Legolas.” Sinnarn smiled a little uncertainly, apparently puzzled by the look on Legolas’s face.

“Get up, you fool,” Legolas snarled.

Sinnarn blinked and then put his hands on the table and pushed himself to his feet.  He swayed a little and might have lost his balance had Galion not grabbed his arm and steadied him.  “You are hereby relieved of the watch,” Legolas declared, reaching out and taking the ring of keys from Sinnarn’s belt. “Report to Todith the first thing in the morning.” Sinnarn frowned, and then suddenly, he seemed to get some glimmer of comprehension about what was happening, and his eyes widened.

“I only had one cupful,” he protested a little muzzily.

Legolas snorted. “However much you had, it was too much.”  He turned to Galion.  “Can you get him to his room, Galion?  Try to be as discreet as you can.”  Galion nodded and put his arm around Sinnarn to guide him toward the stairs, still protesting that he had only had one cup of wine to drink and therefore could not be drunk.  Legolas groaned.  The palace was full of guests, and at least one set of guards stood between here and Sinnarn’s chamber.  There was no possible way that word of his state would not be spread far and wide within the hour.

He took the keys and started down the hallway to check on the prisoners. Given that hundreds of Elves were milling about between here and the sealed Great Doors, Legolas did not really believe the Dwarves were anywhere other than behind the locked doors of their cells, but there was a routine to be followed when a guard had been compromised, and it would not hurt to follow it.

He unlocked the first heavy wooden door, pulled it open, and for the second time in far too few minutes, he stood staring, unable to take in what he saw.  Drawing the ceremonial knife he had donned for the feast, he stepped into the cell and spun, looking in all the corners, still without finding what he sought. The cell was empty.

A horrible fear struck him, and he ran back out into the hallway and along it to where the next cell lay. He tested it, found it locked, and then inserted the key and opened the door. This cell too was empty.

Panic rising, he checked all of the other cells and found the same thing.  All of the cells were locked, and yet, impossibly, all of them were empty.  All thirteen Dwarves had somehow escaped.  They had somehow gotten out of their cells while Sinnarn was unconscious with drink.  Thranduil was going to be beyond furious, Legolas thought, shutting his eyes against the vision of the king that arose before him.

The Dwarves cannot have gotten far, he thought determinedly.  They had to be in the palace somewhere.  He needed to get a search for them underway immediately.

He took the stairs three at a time, and then ran through the hallways, startling servants with their hands full of dishes and slowing only when he drew near the Great Hall. It was going to be impossible to keep what had happened secret, but for now, only the Home Guard warriors who would carry out the search needed to know.  It would surely be better for Sinnarn if most of the guests had left before the true extent of his failure of duty was known.  Just now, Legolas needed to find Todith and report what had happened so the captain could organize the search.

He walked quickly toward the doors leading to the Great Hall, where, to his dismay, he nearly ran into Ithilden and Alfirin with their arms around one another’s waists. Ithilden was whispering in his wife’s ear and drawing her out of the Hall and toward the hallway where the royal family lived.  Alfirin’s eyes were sparkling, and she was giggling.  They both lifted their heads to look at him, and he felt a stab of pity. They looked so happy.

Ithilden reacted immediately to the look on Legolas’s face. “What is the matter?” he asked sharply, straightening up to his full height.

Legolas hesitated. He would ordinarily report to Todith, who would report to Ithilden. To do otherwise was disrespectful of his captain.  Even as Legolas thought that, however, he knew the real reason for his reluctance to speak. He did not want to be the one to tell Ithilden and Alfirin about Sinnarn.  “I need to speak with you privately, my lord,” he said, and Ithilden read his formality exactly in the way Legolas had intended.

Ithilden looked at Alfirin regretfully.  “I will rejoin you as soon as I can, love.”

“You should go back to the feast for now, Alfirin,” Legolas put in, worried that she might go to their apartment and find Sinnarn.  His sister-in-law raised an eyebrow at him but turned and went back into the Great Hall.  Legolas breathed a little more easily, and then he and Ithilden stepped aside into a private corner.

“What is it?” Ithilden asked.

Legolas braced himself. “The Dwarves are not in their cells.”

Ithilden blinked as he absorbed this information.  “They have escaped?” Sudden alarm flooded his face. “What about Sinnarn?  Is he injured?”

“No,” Legolas shook his head unhappily.  “He was apparently drinking with Galion and passed out.  When I arrived, he was just coming to, and then when I checked, the prisoners were gone.”  Ithilden’s face had begun to flush, and Legolas could see his hands clenching and unclenching, but he stood in absolute silence.  “I do not understand it, Ithilden,” Legolas rushed on. “The keys were still on Sinnarn’s belt, and all the cell doors were locked.  I cannot see how they got out. But they must still be in the palace. The Great Doors are still sealed, and they would have been seen if they came anywhere near them.”

For a second longer, Ithilden stood in shocked silence. Then he drew a deep breath.  “Get Todith,” he ordered. “Tell him to search everywhere.  Half the Home Guard is in the Great Hall. Get them out here.”

“Yes, my lord.” Legolas jumped toward the Hall, but Ithilden caught his arm.

“Do not tell Adar,” he said tersely. “I will do it.”

Legolas nodded and hastened to do his brother’s bidding, as Ithilden continued to stand immobile in the out-of-the-way corner.  But while every available warrior spent the rest of the night searching the stronghold, they found nothing.  By the next morning, they had to accept the truth.  Somehow the Dwarves had eluded them.


AN: Some of the dialogue between Galion and Sinnarn is taken from Chapter IX of The Hobbit, “Barrels out of Bond.”  I have modified it slightly.

I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien, but they are his, not mine. I gain only the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.


11. Sinnarn’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Sinnarn became aware that something was wrong. His head hurt, and his stomach fluttered uncertainly. His eyes focused on the familiar tapestry on the wall across from his bed. In it, his mother had woven muted reds, oranges, and golds to create an autumn scene not much less beautiful than those that now could be seen all around his grandfather’s stronghold. For some reason, the sight of his mother’s gift sent a shiver of guilt through him. He frowned. And then, suddenly, he remembered:  He had been drunk on duty.

His eyes opened wide in horror, and he sat up abruptly, but the movement made his head feel as if it would explode and his stomach sent him a warning spasm, and he lay down again, panting. How could he have gotten drunk? he wondered desperately. He knew he had been drinking Dorwinion with Galion, but he distinctly recalled saying he would have only one cup, and he was almost sure that was all he had had.

Drunk on duty. The very thought made him cringe. He had twice seen a fellow warrior drunk on duty and knew how little trust other warriors and officers put in them afterwards. At the thought of officers, another memory popped into his throbbing head. Legolas had been the one to find him, and he had told Sinnarn to report to Todith first thing this morning. Sinnarn groaned. How was he ever going to face his captain?

More cautiously this time, he sat up and then held himself immobile. Gradually, his stomach decided it would stay put for the moment, and he slid from his bed and groped his way toward his bathing chamber. A hot bath would help him get moving, preferably before his parents got up. If they had heard about his disgraceful conduct, he was not eager to face them.

Half an hour later, he crept down the hall of his family’s apartment, carrying his boots. When he started to cross the sitting room, however, he realized that his stealth had been in vain, because Ithilden sat in front of the fire, still wearing the formal robes he had worn the previous night and nursing what looked like a cup of hot tea. For a second, Sinnarn had eyes only for the tea, which suddenly seemed to be the thing he longed for most in this world. Then he raised his gaze to meet his father’s and forgot all about anything else.

“I am so sorry, Adar,” he breathed.

Ithilden regarded him in silence for a moment. “Unfortunately, your regret will not change anything that happened,” he finally said, his voice cool. He rose, walked toward Sinnarn, and handed him the cup of tea. Sinnarn took a sip, holding the cup with a hand that shook slightly. “I presume you are on your way to see Todith,” Ithilden continued, “but before you go, you need to know that while you were unconscious with drink last night, the Dwarves escaped.”

If Ithilden had not grabbed for the cup, it would have crashed from Sinnarn’s limp finger to the floor. “Escaped?” he croaked. “How could they?”

Ithilden shook his head. “We do not know yet, but escape they did. We spent the night searching the stronghold, and they are not in it.”

Sinnarn’s mind reeled in dismay. Apparently, his lapse of good sense and trustworthiness had had consequences far beyond his own disgrace. He licked his lips and looked at his father’s unhappy face. “I am so sorry,” he repeated miserably.

Ithilden put the tea back in his hand. “Drink it,” he ordered, and Sinnarn obediently swallowed a mouthful. Ithilden ran a hand over his tightly braided hair. “Sinnarn, Todith and I have discussed how you will be disciplined for being drunk on duty, but I will leave it to him to deal with you because he is your captain. I speak now as your adar, not the troop commander.”  Sinnarn bit his lip. The relations between officers and warriors were so much more straightforward than those between parent and child that he fleetingly wished his father would simply stay in his officer’s role.

“I know that you are an adult,” Ithilden went on, his voice roughening, “so I know that your actions are your own to govern, but I must tell you how disappointed I am in you. I had expected better. I love you and your naneth loves you, but we are incredulous that you ever could be so irresponsible.”

Sinnarn’s throat constricted. This was far worse than anything he had expected. He could have born angry outrage far better than this anguished dismay. “I do not understand how it happened,” he said. “I had only one cup.”  Ithilden’s eyes suddenly narrowed, and his mouth pressed in a thin line of disbelief. “Truly!” Sinnarn protested. His father might take his drunkenness on duty as an offense for Todith to deal with, but he would take Sinnarn’s lying to him very differently.

Soft footsteps sounded behind him, and Sinnarn turned to see his mother entering the room, barefooted and dressed in a night robe. With a stab of pain, he realized that she looked as if she had been crying. “Are you going already?” she asked him anxiously. “Have you eaten?”

“I am not hungry, Naneth,” he said, his stomach roiling at the thought of food.

“He is undoubtedly sick, Alfirin,” Ithilden told her brusquely.

To Sinnarn’s surprise, his mother came forward and drew his head down to kiss his cheek. “Thank you, Naneth,” he said as steadily as he could. Then, not looking at his father, he handed her the tea cup, sat down, and drew on his boots. “I will see you both this evening,” he said and left them standing together, with his father’s arm around his mother.

As he went, he pushed thoughts of home to the back of his mind and tried to prepare himself for what lay ahead of him. The walk through the cool morning air to the Home Guard’s headquarters helped to clear his head somewhat, but it did nothing to ease his nervous apprehension at looking his captain and fellow warriors in the face. As he approached the building, he saw Amdir coming from the other direction. Ordinarily, his friend would have come bounding toward him with a grin, but today, for just a split second, Amdir hesitated, and Sinnarn felt that his worst fears were realized. Then, his face sober, Amdir came toward him again, silently patted Sinnarn’s shoulder, and walked through the door at his side. Sinnarn did not think he had ever been more grateful to anyone.

Todith was already in the large room, looking a little less well-brushed than usual. Indeed everyone Sinnarn saw looked tired and harassed. They had all spent the night searching for the Dwarves, Sinnarn realized, probably with his grandfather breathing fire down their necks.

When he approached Todith, the captain pointed to a bench and said gruffly, “Wait over there.” Sinnarn obediently took a place on the bench, and Amdir sat down next to him. Over the next quarter of an hour, the other members of the Home Guard filtered in while Todith listened to reports from the night patrols. For the most part, Sinnarn kept his eyes on the floor, but every time he looked up, he found the same thing:  His companions were taking seats on any bench but the one he occupied, with their eyes resolutely turned the other way. His face burning, he looked down again, but not before he had seen Annael come into the room, steal a troubled glance at Sinnarn, and turn his back. Sinnarn’s heart contracted. What must Emmelin have heard about him?

Unexpectedly, someone sat down next to him, making him start. He turned his head to see Nithron lean back against the wall and look placidly around the room. Sinnarn knew perfectly well that his keeper would have cuffed him soundly if he had been in Legolas’s place last night and had been the one to find him, but apparently Nithron had no intention of abandoning him. Sinnarn blinked rapidly and looked at his blurring hands.

Looking preoccupied, Legolas came striding into the room, one of the last to arrive. He shot an unreadable glance at Sinnarn and then joined Todith, who was beginning to pair up warriors and assign them areas to patrol. They were searching for the Dwarves again today, but Sinnarn could see they had little faith they would find them. “Nithron and Amdir,” Todith called. Nithron patted Sinnarn’s knee, and then he and Amdir both rose, leaving Sinnarn alone on the bench. Whatever his fate was going to be, it apparently would not involve anything dangerous. Otherwise, Nithron, who undoubtedly knew what it would be, would never have left his side.

Finally, everyone else was gone, and Todith and Legolas turned to him. Todith looked grim, but unless Sinnarn were mistaken, Legolas was unhappy about even being in the room. Well, that made two of them. “On your feet and at attention,” Todith ordered briskly, and, with his heart pounding, Sinnarn obeyed, standing stiffly with his eyes straight ahead and his hands at his sides.

Todith put his hands behind his back and began pacing. “I have been trying to imagine what might have driven you to drink yourself into a stupor when you had been left in a position of trust, Sinnarn, and I find that I cannot.”  He paused directly in front of Sinnarn and looked at him forbiddingly. “Is it possible that you could enlighten me?  Is there any excuse you think you might have?”  His tone made it clear how unlikely he thought that was, but at least he had more or less given permission for Sinnarn to speak.

“I do not understand it myself,” Sinnarn answered as steadily as he could. “I had only one cup.”

Todith gave a short bark of laughter. “One cup?”  He spat a word that Sinnarn had not known until he had been a warrior for two years. “You expect me to believe that one cup of wine knocked you out? Do I look stupid to you?”

Miserably certain that he could only harm his cause, Sinnarn held his tongue.

“Captain?” Legolas ventured, and Todith turned to him sharply.

“What is it?”

“Before I left home this morning, I spoke with Galion, and he says the same thing that Sinnarn does. He claims they each had only one cup.”

Todith snorted and jerked his head toward Sinnarn. “When you found him last night, did he look to you like an Elf who had had one cup of wine?”

“No,” Legolas admitted.

Todith turned back to face Sinnarn, even angrier than before because he believed Sinnarn had lied to him. “It will be a long time before I feel ready to place any faith in you again, Sinnarn, assuming that I ever do, nor would I wish you on any other captain. Warriors’ lives can depend on how trustworthy a companion is. I will not take the risk, and that is what I told the troop commander.”

Sinnarn caught his breath. What could Todith mean? Was he to be removed from the ranks of the Realm’s warriors? If Todith tried to do that, Sinnarn would beg him to reconsider. His role was to defend the vulnerable, and despite the departure of Sauron, Sinnarn did not believe that Elves in the Woodland Realm were going to be safe any time soon.

“Fortunately, Ithilden has agreed to take you off my hands,” Todith said, and Sinnarn blinked. He was going to serve as one of his father’s guards or aides? Working so closely with his father might be difficult, but it was a thousand times better than what he had just imagined. “You will be assigned to the troop commander’s office as a local messenger,” Todith declared, and Sinnarn’s suddenly brought himself up short. A local messenger?  Local messengers carried notes and oral messages around the warrior training areas and back and forth to the palace. The task was not even usually done by a warrior, but by a youth who was looking to make himself useful.

Sinnarn could feel heat creeping up his neck and into his face, and for a moment, his heart rebelled at the humiliation. He would leave the ranks of the warriors, marry Emmelin if she would have him, and go to live somewhere in the woods. But even as he thought that, he knew he would not.  Thranduil’s skeptical face flashed before him, and once again, he heard his grandfather questioning Ithilden about whether Sauron had been destroyed. “No,” Ithilden had acknowledged, and Thranduil’s shrewd grey eyes had turned southeast. Sinnarn shared his grandfather’s pessimism. When Sauron came again, Sinnarn would be needed. He would do what he must to be there.

“Report immediately to Calith in the troop commander’s office,” Todith told him. Taking care not to look at either Todith or Legolas, Sinnarn saluted and left the Home Guard’s headquarters to make the short trip to his father’s office, where the door stood open to the autumn morning.

Giving himself no time to hesitate, he walked into the outer office where Calith, his father’s chief aide, was sorting through the morning’s dispatches. At a second desk, sat Tinár, and the sight of him made Sinnarn flinch. Tinár worked in Ithilden’s office because he was so arrogant that his very presence could disrupt an entire patrol. Was Sinnarn now in the same category as Tinár? No, he realized. He had actually slipped into a lower category because Tinár carried messages all over the Realm, while Sinnarn would be trusted only to carry such things as word of a change in the day’s schedule to Todith.

Calith looked up from his task and eyed Sinnarn coolly. Sinnarn remembered him from visits he had made to his father’s office when he was little, and on those occasions, Calith had let him play with the six Oliphant-shaped paper weights that stood on his desk in an array that ranged from a large one that Sinnarn had called “the king” to the tiny “baby.” Calith did not look playful today.  “I was told to report to you for service as a local messenger,” Sinnarn said as evenly as he could, given his tight breathing.

Calith nodded and pointed to a spot near the wall. “You are to stand at attention there until I need you.”

Sinnarn blinked uncertainly. He had never seen any of the local messengers standing at attention; usually they lounged on a bench just inside or outside the door depending on the time of year. He could only assume that this requirement was part of his punishment. Resolutely, he took up his stance in the place Calith had indicated, his eyes straight ahead, his hands at this side.

Within fifteen minutes, he realized how tedious standing at attention for any length of time was going to be. Calith ignored him, finished sorting the dispatches, and rose to take some of them through to Ithilden in the inner office. Sinnarn could hear the low murmur of his father’s voice, and then Calith returned and sat down to draft responses to the routine matters he had kept on his own desk. Tinár appeared to be making copies of a message written in what Sinnarn recognized as Ithilden’s handwriting, and he did not seem to be enjoying the task. He paused to look at Sinnarn.

“What in Arda were you thinking?” he said reprovingly. Unable to answer, Sinnarn tried to ignore him.

“Sinnarn’s actions are not your business, Tinár,” Calith snapped without turning around. “Leave him alone.” Tinár shrugged, went back to his copying, and when he was done, rose to his feet and collected his cloak.

“I will be on my way now, Calith,” he said. “I expect that I will be gone for four or five days, so you should not look for me until then.” The aide nodded without looking up from his own work, and Tinár swept out the door. Calith heaved a large sigh, and to Sinnarn, his shoulders seemed to lose much of their tension.

The morning wore on, and Sinnarn was left with nothing to do but try to ignore his still aching head. The chief armorer came and spent half an hour closeted with Ithilden.  At one point, Ithilden emerged from his office and dropped a handful of papers on Calith’s desk, but to Sinnarn’s deep relief, his father ignored him and disappeared again.

Finally, Ithilden called Calith into his office, and the aide reappeared with a folded piece of paper, which he extended to Sinnarn. “Take this to the novice master, wait for an answer, and then bring it straight back,” he instructed, and Sinnarn jumped to obey, so glad for the chance to move that he could hardly bear it.

How long would this go on? he wondered unhappily as he hurried toward the novice training fields. Surely his father and Todith did not intend to waste his skills like this forever. How long would it be before he could again act as the warrior he was trained to be?


Sinnarn dragged himself wearily toward home. He would never have believed that standing still all day could leave him feeling so tired and sore. At least he could look forward to a hot bath before facing his family at dinner, he thought dismally, and considered whether he ought not to seek his evening meal elsewhere. No, he resolved. Absenting himself would be easier, but it also seemed cowardly. He needed to come to terms with his family over what he had done.

He was following the path that led through the palace gardens when he came to an abrupt halt. Thranduil was sitting on one of the benches contemplating the stars that were emerging ever earlier as the year slid by. Sinnarn had not seen his grandfather since before the Dwarves had escaped. And despite the facts that he had just resolved to face his family and that he knew that Thranduil doted on him, his stomach tightened slightly as he resumed moving toward him and halted near the bench on which he sat.

Thranduil lowered his eyes from the sky to Sinnarn’s face, and to Sinnarn’s intense relief, he looked thoughtful but not angry. “Good evening, Sinnarn.”

“Good evening, Grandfather.”

Thranduil indicated a place on the bench next to him, and Sinnarn sat. He drew a deep breath, and said part of what he had been thinking during that endless day when not preoccupied with his own problems. “I am so sorry about the Dwarves, Grandfather. If I had stayed alert, they never would have escaped. I only hope that my carelessness has not put anyone in danger.”

Thranduil nodded. “I hope that also. I would not like to see you burdened with the guilt you would feel if someone were hurt because you were drunk on duty.” Sinnarn cringed. No one told the blunt truth like his grandfather did. He glanced sideways to see Thranduil’s steady gaze upon him.

“I am sorry,” he repeated miserably.

Thranduil sighed. “I am glad to hear it,” he said, and Sinnarn flinched again, wondering if he had damaged his grandfather’s affection for him beyond repair. He braced himself for another scolding as Thranduil turned more fully toward him and began to speak, but to his surprise, Thranduil’s tone was grave but gentle. “Sinnarn, you have done wrong. You know it yourself, and I assume that your adar and superior officers have already reminded you of that repeatedly today. Now you must live with the consequences of your actions, whatever they might turn out to be. But it is how you live with them that will determine what happens next, just as what you did last night determined what is happening now. I would not have you make light of your fault, but I would not have you brood on it either. Everyone makes mistakes. In my life, I have made many, so I speak from experience when I tell you that if you learn from this one, you will be a stronger person for it.”

Sinnarn suddenly found himself blinking away tears. “Thank you,” he managed.

Thranduil put his long, elegant hand on the back of Sinnarn’s head and drew it toward him so that he could kiss his forehead. “You are welcome.” He released him and smiled slightly. “I should not keep you. When I came into the garden, I thought I saw someone else waiting to speak to you in the shadows of the trees near the end of the bridge.” Sinnarn looked at him questioningly, but Thranduil simply waved him away. “Go, child,” he said, and Sinnarn stood and started toward the palace again, more grateful than he could say for the support he had gotten this day from those who loved him, even when they were appalled by his behavior.

He emerged from the garden, shut the gate behind him, and turned to scan the trees near the bridge. From the shadows beneath them, a slender, cloaked figure took a tentative step, and that small motion was all it took for him to recognize that it was Emmelin. His heart leapt and then began to pound painfully. Sinnarn had seen the look on Annael’s face today. What if Emmelin had come to tell him that she wanted nothing more to do with him?

He began to walk slowly toward her. She took another small step, and then, suddenly, she broke into a run. Before he could speak, she had flung herself into his arms and buried her face in his neck.

“Emmelin,” he said, thinking he owed it to her to warn her, “do you know—.”

“I do not care,” she sobbed. “I do not care.”

And he wrapped his arms more tightly around her and drew her back into the shadows.


I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien, but they are his, not mine. I gain only the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.


12. Revelations

Legolas entered the family sitting room to find everyone else already there. Celuwen was still visiting her parents’ settlement, but Thranduil sat sipping wine in the large chair near the fire, with Alfirin and Ithilden nestled together on the padded, high-backed bench across from him. Sinnarn had moved his chair a little behind his parent’s bench, so that he was not in their line of sight. He looked subdued, which Legolas would have been in his position too, but at least he raised his head and smiled faintly on seeing Legolas. Evidently his second day in Ithilden’s office had been less crushing than the first, testimony to the fact that one could get used to anything, Legolas supposed.  If he had been disciplined like Sinnarn, Legolas was not sure how he would have borne the humiliation. He had found it hard enough to withstand his father’s temper on the first night of the search, although, in truth, Ithilden had absorbed most of it. Since then, Thranduil seemed to have settled into grim acceptance of events that could not be changed.

Sinnarn was only sipping at his wine. Legolas had noticed him limiting the amount he drank on the previous evening too, which seemed wise of him. Ithilden was still angry because Sinnarn was stubbornly maintaining he had had only one cup of wine when on guard duty, and was unconvinced by the fact that Galion had said the same thing. Alfirin, on the other hand, believed Galion completely and had refused to remove him from her staff. Sinnarn’s and Galion’s claim puzzled Legolas. They both seemed so sincere when they made it. Legolas could only conclude that the potent Dorwinion had fuddled their brains enough that they had lost track of how much they drank.

“Good evening,” he said, pouring himself wine and then sitting when Thranduil nodded permission.  He glanced across at Alfirin and flinched to see the dark circles under her eyes. She seemed to feel Sinnarn’s disgrace almost as much as he did.  “I saw Tonduil today, Alfirin,” he said, hoping that news of her brother would cheer her.  “He says that Aerlinn wonders if you would be willing to visit them and give her advice on decorating their cottage.”

“Of course I would,” said Alfirin, brightening a little. “I will go tomorrow.” She seemed to hesitate and then suddenly blurted, “Did the Home Guard find any sign of the Dwarves today?”

Legolas could see Sinnarn flinching. They had all avoided the subject of the Dwarves on the previous evening, partly to spare Sinnarn and partly because Alfirin usually insisted that they not talk about work during meals or this evening family time.  The fact that she brought it up herself was a sign of just how much anguish she was in.

“I am afraid not,” he said gently. “They seem to have disappeared leaving no sign at all.” Even Annael had been unable to find a trace of the Dwarves, which probably meant there was none to be found. Over the two days since the Dwarves’ escape, Legolas had gradually lost any expectation of finding them. His could solace himself only by hoping that they had rescued Hobbit, although in his more gloomy moments, he could not believe that any child really would have survived a month alone in the forest.

Someone rapped at the door, and one of the guards from the Great Doors entered, suppressed excitement in his face.  Startled, they all turned to hear what he had to say.  “My lord,” he addressed Thranduil, “two of the Elves who ply the rafts to Esgaroth have asked for an audience with you. They say they have word of the Dwarves.”

With a cry, Legolas jumped to his feet and then realized that everyone else had too. His face set in lines of grim anticipation, Thranduil crossed the room to the door in half a dozen long strides with Ithilden right behind him. “Legolas,” he beckoned, “attend us so that you can take word of what they say to Todith.”

“I will tell Cook to delay the evening meal,” Alfirin said, sounding suddenly energetic. She plainly hoped that what the raft Elves had to say would somehow help Sinnarn.

At the door, Thranduil paused and looked back to where Sinnarn stood alone. “I think Sinnarn should hear this too, since it involves him.”

Legolas glanced around and saw Sinnarn’s eyes widen. For a moment, he looked afraid. After all, there was no way to tell what news the raft Elves brought. Then he licked his lips and stepped forward. Whatever the news turned out to be, he wanted to hear it. Thranduil smiled approvingly.

Legolas followed his father and brother to the Great Hall, where Thranduil seated himself in his great carved chair, and Ithilden took up a place standing next to him. Legolas stood to one side, with Sinnarn beside him. He could hear his nephew’s quick breathing and then knew when Sinnarn had made the effort to bring it under control. Thranduil seemed to wait a moment for them all to compose themselves, and then nodded, and the guard brought the raft Elves in from the antechamber.

They came about halfway into the room then each dropped to one knee. Thranduil signaled them to rise. “What have you to tell us?” he asked.

They had evidently agreed ahead of time which of them was to speak, and the shorter of the two stepped forward. “My lord, we arrived at Esgaroth last night, and as usual, we were invited to the feast that the town Master holds. The meat had just been brought in when the door was flung open and in walked three of the Dwarves who escaped when we were here two nights ago. They looked a ragtag group, but one of them stood up as bold as you please and declared that he was Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror, King under the Mountain and that he had returned to drive away the dragon and reclaim the treasure that was rightfully his.”

Legolas glanced at Thranduil, whose eyes had narrowed as he listened to this tale. They all knew the legend of the Dwarven King under the Mountain who would return one day and make gold run down the river to Esgaroth. Over the years since Smaug had destroyed Erebor, Legolas had heard it repeated often enough in songs and stories by the Men of the lake. If the leader of the Dwarves was claiming to be the returning king, he was bold indeed, and Thranduil was unlikely to take such temerity well.

“We tried to tell the Master that these Dwarves were your prisoners, my lord,” the raft Elf continued, “but people all around us began shouting about the King coming back and the river running gold. We could hear them outside as well, shouting and singing all up and down the quays. The Dwarves must have been gathering a following of Men as they came through the town.” His voice had been firm, but now it seemed to Legolas that it was shaking a bit. Both his face and that of his companion suggested that something unusual had happened in Esgaroth, that the Men’s enthusiasm for the Dwarves had somehow shaken the confidence of these Elves that the Dwarves were their rightful captives.

“Men can be fools,” Thranduil said, his disgust apparent.

“Yes, my lord,” the raft Elf agreed, a little doubtfully. “The town Master seemed swept up in all the enthusiasm too. He gave up his own chair to Thorin and let the other two Dwarves and the hobbit sit at the head table. And when we left, Men were singing and leading the rest of the Dwarves into the town too.”

Legolas scarcely heard the last bit of this because his heart had given a great, joyous leap. “Hobbit?” he exclaimed and then realized that he had interrupted.  “I beg your pardon, my lord,” he apologized to Thranduil, who had raised a disapproving eyebrow at him. “I am simply relieved to know that the child is all right.” He could not believe that in all this disastrous confusion, at least one thing had gone right.

“Child?” the raft Elf said uncertainly. “We saw no child.”

Legolas frowned. Surely the raft Elf had just said that the child had been seated at the head table. He glanced at Thranduil for permission to take up the questioning and, at his nod, turned to the raft Elf. “But you said Hobbit was there.”

“There was a hobbit with the Dwarves, yes,” the raft Elf agreed.

“'A' hobbit?” Thranduil intervened.

“Yes, my lord. His name is Bilbo Baggins, and he called himself a hobbit, which he said was the same thing as a halfling.”

“A halfling,” Thranduil repeated.  Legolas felt as if that word should mean something to him, but at the moment, he was still trying to make sense of the raft Elf’s explanation. He looked up to find his father watching him with the corners of his mouth twitching. “A halfling, Legolas,” he said, amusement thick in his voice. “A Perian.”

And as if someone had lit a torch in a dark place, Legolas suddenly saw what had remained obscure to him before. The “child’s” appearance, the Dwarves’ “neglect,” the amusement he had roused every time he questioned the “parents”: all of it now made sense. Next to him, Sinnarn made a soft noise that sounded distinctly like a smothered laugh. Legolas shot him a murderous look, and Sinnarn looked down and bit back a long wavering breath that Legolas recognized quite well as suppressed mirth. As Legolas turned his eyes ahead again, he caught of glimpse of Ithilden with his hand over his mouth, and centuries of being a younger brother told him what expression the hand covered. Heat crept up his face. He would never, ever hear the end of this.

Thranduil turned back to the raft Elves. “Did you get any sense of how the Dwarves escaped?”

“No, my lord.” He and his companion both looked a little awe-stricken. Whatever the scene in Esgaroth had been like, it had plainly led these two Elves to think that the Dwarves might indeed have magically escaped from locked cells.

With an impatient wave of his hand, Thranduil leaned back in his chair. “Thank you for bringing this news to us. You may go,” he said, and the two raft Elves bowed and took their departure.

When the door closed behind them, there was a moment’s silence, and then Thranduil gave a derisive snort. “So thirteen Dwarves and a Perian are going to kill Smaug and take his treasure, and then Thorin is going to reign as King under the Mountain. They will all come to a bad end and serve them right, the fools!”

Legolas could not help but agree with his father’s assessment. How could a handful of Dwarves hope to prevail against Smaug? Not even the warriors of the Woodland Realm ventured into the desolate area around the mountain. And even if one assumed that Thorin was the rightful king, how could this tiny band hope to achieve his return? They were on a fools’ errand, he thought, but somehow, he could not help but admire the little company, marching bravely toward the mountain where evil dwelt that they might regain what was theirs and bring about the return of their king.

“I still do not understand how they escaped,” Sinnarn said, coming back to the matter that was most important to him.

“They must have gone with the rafts somehow,” Ithilden reasoned, his brows drawn together. “They could not have reached Esgaroth so swiftly by any other means.”

“But how did they get out of their cells or the stronghold?” Sinnarn persisted. “And how did they avoid being seen on the rafts?” He was obviously hoping for an answer that would make his drunkenness of no consequence to the Dwarves’ escape.

They all looked at one another. “I suppose they could have swum out through the watergate when the empty barrels were being sent through,” Ithilden ventured. “But they would have been taking a terrible chance on being seen, even in the dark.” Sinnarn grimaced. If the Dwarves had gone out the waterway, then they had done it not thirty feet away from him, drunk with his head on the table.

Thranduil stood, signaling that all speculation was at an end. “I will send people to watch them and the shores of the lake to the north,” he declared. “I am not sure I believe this tale about attacking the dragon, but since these are Dwarves, I do believe they are in search of treasure, and no treasure will come back through the forest without my having something to say in the matter. They have caused enough trouble that they owe us reparations.”

Legolas tried to step aside to wait for his father to precede him toward the door, but Thranduil put his arm around Legolas’s shoulders and drew him along with him. “Legolas, did you pay no attention at all when your tutor talked about the peoples of Middle-earth?” he asked with a grin.

Legolas sighed. He had known this was coming. “Evidently not,” he said stoically. Behind them, Sinnarn actually laughed out loud. Legolas supposed he should be happy that he had made his nephew feel better, but what he really felt was that the coming meal would be a long one.


Ithilden skimmed the dispatch Tinár had just brought from Eilian. The movement of Orcs toward the Misty Mountains had slowed to a trickle, and Eilian’s patrol had met none for a week now. Almost as startling, the atmosphere of the woods to the south was lightening, both in the sense that more light penetrated among the trees and in the sense that the spirits of Eilian’s warriors were less oppressed.

Hardly daring to hope for what this report might imply about the Realm’s future, Ithilden calculated how long it would be before Eilian and some of his warriors would be home and he could question his brother in person about what he was seeing. A matter of only a few days, he thought with a slight quickening of his pulse.

“My lord?”

Ithilden looked up to find Calith standing in his doorway. “Yes?”

“The king has sent for you. He awaits you in his office.”

Ithilden stood, handed Eilian’s dispatch to Calith, and reached for his cloak. “I will be back as soon as I can.”

“Lord Eilian sends good news,” Calith said. He had already read the dispatch, of course.

“He does,” Ithilden agreed, slapping Calith’s shoulder. “Perhaps we will all have to stop doing this and spend our time singing in the woods.”

Calith smiled. “The Home Guard found another spider’s nest yesterday,” he observed dryly.

Ithilden laughed. “Then we probably should not close up shop just yet,” he agreed.

Fastening his cloak, he walked into the outer office, where Sinnarn sat at the second desk copying a message that Tinár would take away when he had had a chance to rest from his previous mission. After the first week, Sinnarn had no longer been required to stand at attention during the day, but he was still serving as a local messenger. It tore Ithilden’s heart out to see him look up hopefully as he came out of his office. Sinnarn had been commendably close-mouthed about his situation, making no protest here and saying nothing at all about it at home, but Ithilden knew he was humiliated by his current position and frustrated by being unable to function as a warrior.

Ithilden had always trusted in Sinnarn’s good heart, but he had also always thought that his son was a little too eager for entertainment and excitement to be relied on. He had therefore been careful to place Sinnarn under captains who would make use of his skills and be patient in helping him develop a more serious understanding of his role. In a way that Ithilden would never have predicted, however, Sinnarn had settled down in the Home Guard in the last few years and begun taking his responsibilities seriously. Ithilden could not help but think that it was a great pity that a single slip with a cup of wine had had such dire consequences for his son.

He wondered fleetingly yet again if it had been “a” cup of wine, as Sinnarn and Galion had both insisted. Sinnarn was almost always truthful, so Ithilden had been startled to think that he would lie about his actions, and yet, he also did not see how Sinnarn could have been rendered unconscious by a single cup of wine. He nodded curtly at his son and then set off for the palace.

The Great Doors stood open today, as they had since the raft Elves had brought word of the Dwarves’ whereabouts and they no longer seemed to be an immediate threat. Ithilden entered his father’s office to find an Elf who looked only vaguely familiar standing in front of Thranduil’s desk. His clothes looked travel worn, and his face had a closed expression that told Ithilden immediately that he must be one of Thranduil’s spies. Thranduil frequently passed information from these spies to Ithilden, but they were the king’s agents, and Ithilden knew very little about them.

“Tell Lord Ithilden what you just told me,” Thranduil instructed the spy.

The Elf turned to him. “The Dwarves are on the move again, my lord. They left Esgaroth a week ago and passed all the way up the lake and part way up the River Running. The Men sent ponies and ample supplies with them. They appear to be headed toward the mountain.”

Ithilden looked at his father. “Just as they told Esgaroth’s Master they would,” he said, unable to keep the surprise from his voice. Thranduil nodded and then turned to the spy.

“Take some rest and then return to your post. I want to know everything that happens.”

“Yes, my lord.” The spy bowed and withdrew.

For a moment after he left, Thranduil sat staring at his desk. Then he roused himself and motioned Ithilden into a chair. “What do you make of it?” he asked. “Could Thorin really believe that he can take the treasure of Erebor back from Smaug?”

Ithilden lifted his shoulder helplessly. “Unless he is being very devious, it would appear that that is what he means to try to do at any rate. How they can hope to succeed is beyond me.” The idea staggered him. Smaug was the most powerful evil creature that Ithilden had ever encountered.

“I suppose so,” Thranduil sighed. “I must admit I would not mind having some of the dragon’s treasure come our way though. I would like to replenish our armory and lay in wealth to buy what we would need to survive against any further move Sauron might make against us. The long struggle against him has depleted our resources, and my people may have needs that I would want to meet.”

Ithilden nodded his agreement, although he privately thought that if the Dwarves somehow managed to wrest any of Smaug’s treasure from him, they would be very unlikely to pass any of it along to the Wood-elves who had held them prisoner. The Elves’ need was undeniable though. The White Council’s expulsion of Sauron had come just in time, as far as his troops were concerned. They were short of everything from horses to waybread.

“I will tell the Eastern Border Patrol to increase their watch on what happens along the lake,” he told his father, who nodded and sent him on his way.

In the hall outside of Thranduil’s office, he met Celuwen, who had returned from her parents’ settlement on the previous day. She was evidently on her way to speak to Thranduil, probably about the settlers’ desire to move deeper into the forest. Her parents and their neighbors had been greatly excited by the news she had brought about Sauron’s departure. They could hardly wait to return to the trees that they thought of as their own.

“Eilian should be home any day now,” he told her, smiling as her face lit up at the thought. “He says there are scarcely any Orcs left for him to fight, so he might as well come home to you.”

She raised an amused eyebrow. “If he really said that, he is going to regret it.”

Ithilden laughed. “It was not actually in the dispatch,” he confessed. “I had to read between the lines.”

She laughed and knocked on Thranduil’s door, and Ithilden started toward his office, musing on the Dwarves as he went. Suddenly, he stopped dead in his tracks. With no warning at all, he had remembered Mithrandir’s warning about Smaug at the White Council meeting. What was it he had said? Smaug was one of Sauron’s creatures and could do great damage in the north if he were not disposed of. Slowly, he began walking again. Could there be any connection between Mithrandir’s words and the Dwarves actions? He did not see how, but with Mithrandir, one never knew. He would have to keep the wizard’s words in mind and repeat them to Thranduil too. He fervently hoped his warriors were not going to have to fight Smaug. He was tired of sending Elves to their deaths.


“Go!” Eilian urged, and his horse laid his ears back and broke into a gallop, riding straight toward the bench that stood along one edge of the green. With Eilian crouched low on his back, the animal took off and soared lightly over it, and then tore on into the green, slowing to a halt only at the last minute as the other warriors from the Southern Patrol rode out of the woods and swirled around him in a laughing, excited mixture of Elves and horses. From all around them, family and friends came running. From the most dangerous reaches of the Realm, about a third of the Southern Patrol’s warriors had come home on leave, and this time, some of them would be staying.

Laughing, Eilian ducked out of the way as Maltanaur’s wife rushed up. Next to him, Galelas stood alone, smiling slightly at the sight of her running her hands over Eilian’s keeper as if making sure he was intact. Eilian grimaced and silently cursed Galelas’s abominable family. As if having a brother like Tinár were not bad enough in itself, his parents seemed blind to both Tinár’s faults and Galelas’s value. He laid a hand on Galelas’s shoulder. “Hot baths and soft beds tonight, Galelas!” The younger warrior smiled at him, and then Eilian’s attention was caught by the sight of Celuwen running down the stairs from the palace.

With a cry, she flung herself into his arms and buried her face in his neck. He had one arm around her waist and one around her shoulders so that his hand gripped the back of her head with his fingers tangled in her hair. “My love, my love,” he murmured into her ear, feeling her hot tears on his neck and the warmth of her body pressed against him. She drew back and put both hands on his face and kissed him, and he forgot for a moment that there was anyone else on the green.

“Welcome home, iôn-nín,” said Thranduil’s voice, and suddenly the green was abuzz with people again, and he lifted his mouth from his wife’s to find his father smiling but raising an eyebrow.

“It is good to be home, Adar,” Eilian said letting Celuwen go but grinning unrepentantly. He clasped his father’s extended arm and then embraced him. Behind Thranduil, he could see Galelas’s parent finally making a tardy appearance. About time, he thought disapprovingly, and then found himself being drawn up the palace steps and into his home.

Within minutes, the rest of his family had materialized from nowhere and surrounded him in the family’s sitting room. He embraced Ithilden and then Sinnarn, who, he was relieved to see, looked reasonably composed. From the letters he had gotten, Eilian had feared that his nephew might have sunk into misery. The Valar only knew that Eilian would have done so if he had been in Sinnarn’s shoes.

And then Legolas was slapping him on the back and laughing. “Brat!” Eilian cried. “I have missed you mightily. One of the reasons I was eager to come home was so that you could educate me about Periannath.”

“Not you too,” Legolas groaned.

“Me especially,” Eilian said happily. It had been far too long since he had had a chance to tease his younger brother.

“Do you want time to bathe and rest, Eilian?” Alfirin asked. “The evening meal is almost ready, but I can tell Cook to delay it.”

“Do not do so on my account,” he told her, putting his arm back around Celuwen’s waist and pulling her snuggly against him. “I have been daydreaming about this meal ever since we ate some unbelievably dreadful acorn meal mush at mid-day.” She laughed and hurried off to tell the servants to serve the meal.

They all trooped into the dining room and took their places. Eilian let his hands linger on the back of Celuwen’s shoulders and neck when he slid her chair in for her and was rewarded by feeling her give a tiny shiver. He smiled secretly as he sat down. He had told the truth when he said he was looking forward to this meal, but he was also looking forward to it being over so he could lead his wife off to their apartment and take her to bed and love her. He had been sleeping alone for what seemed like an eternity.

Alfirin had not known he would arrive today, so the meal was nothing special by the standards of those at home, but to a warrior who had eaten camp food for months, it was unbelievably well-prepared. Palace hunters had recently brought down a wild boar, so there was roast pork accompanied by squash sweetened with honey and fresh bread.

Eilian ate heartily but said very little, as talk of his family’s day swept back and forth around him. Sinnarn was quiet, Eilian thought, but Legolas was letting all talk of hobbits roll off his back with great aplomb. Celuwen wanted to talk about her visit to her parents’ settlement, and Eilian tried not to show how happy he was to have missed seeing her father, Sólith, who had recently become the settlement’s leader. Sólith had been furious when Eilian and Celuwen had walked out of the woods one morning and announced that they had bonded the previous night. In Eilian’s opinion, the only reason Sólith had not gelded him on the spot was that he wanted grandchildren.

“Adar,” Celuwen said, “all they ask is to be allowed to move to where the settlement used to be before the woods grew so dark. Given what Eilian has told us about the south, surely the woods will be safer now. And really, I do not think you would be successful if you tried to deny my adar permission to do it anyway. He can be very stubborn.”

Eilian nearly laughed at the understatement but managed to turn the sound into a cough. Celuwen turned to frown at him, and he took her hand and raised it to his mouth to kiss her fingers. Her mouth trembled, and she pulled her hand away, blushing slightly. At the other end of the table, he could see Alfirin looking disapproving over their talking about the Realm’s affair at the table. “We should move to the sitting room,” she said and rose, drawing the rest of them to their feet too. They all moved aside, waiting for Thranduil to lead them from the dining room.

Suddenly, Eilian knew that an evening spent chatting with his family would be agonizing beyond what he wanted to bear, and he put his arm around Celuwen’s shoulders. “I find that I am more tired that I thought,” he said, knowing that the grin on his face was betraying his true intentions. “I think that Celuwen should come and help me unpack and then I think I need to go to bed.”

The rest of them turned to him with varying degrees of skepticism on their faces. “Wait, Eilian,” Celuwen protested. “I need to finish speaking to Adar about the settlement.”

He laughed and swept her up in his arms. “I cannot wait,” he announced. He started out the door, carrying Celuwen. “I am sorry, Adar,” he said to his father, “but I find I have a pressing need for my wife.” He heard Alfirin smother a giggle and saw Legolas roll his eyes.

Celuwen looked over his shoulder at Thranduil. “My adar is really set on this. You should simply give in to him on the matter,” she called. “Once you have done that, you will be able to reason with him on more friendly terms about other matters.”

Eilian’s back was to Thranduil as he carried his wife down the hall, so he could not see the look on his father’s face, but he could hear the dry amusement quite clearly in his voice. “I might give you the same advice, daughter,” Thranduil called after them.  Eilian gave a short burst of laughter, and Celuwen turned her blushing face up to him and laughed too. And then he had reached the door to their apartment, with a smiling servant running to open it, let them in, and close it firmly behind them. And then he was really and truly home.


AN: Small bits of the dialogue in this chapter are taken from Chapter X of The Hobbit, “A Warm Welcome.”

The idea that Mithrandir was worried about Smaug (and thought that Sauron was getting ready to attack Rivendell) can be found in The Return of the King, Appendix A, Part III, “Durin’s Folk.”


I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien, but they are his, not mine. I gain only the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.


13. A Creature of Fire

Sliding from his horse, Legolas retrieved his pack.  “Go and enjoy what grass you can find,” he told the stallion, slapping him on the rump. “I will call you when I need you again.” The horse lowered his head to the ground immediately and began wandering toward the small stream, munching what mid-day meal he could find on his way. A crow cawed, and Legolas looked up to see a flock of the black birds winging their way west. The birds are on the move today, he thought. Perhaps they feel the winter creeping up on us. The weather had turned cold in the last week, and he would not be surprised if First Snow came early.

He went to sit next to Beliond and Annael, who had opened their packs and were drawing out apples, bread, and cheese, the same meal that Legolas knew he was likely to find in his own pack. Annael also seemed to have some sort of seed cake, wrapped in an oiled cloth to keep it from dripping honey on the other items he carried. Not for the first time, Legolas envied his friend the females who loved him and saw to it that small pleasures lay in wait for him. Legolas drew off his gloves and began eating.

“The spiders seem to be staying home out of the cold,” Annael commented. “We have not seen one in a week.”

“Soon we will have nothing to do,” Beliond agreed, “although perhaps Legolas can dream up a lost child for us to hunt.” They both laughed, and Legolas threw them a sour look. “So,” Beliond went on, “do you know if Sinnarn is likely to be rejoining us any time soon? I ask for Nithron,” he added, when Legolas looked at him in surprise. “He misses the young fool.”

Next to Legolas, Annael looked down at the seed cake he had just unwrapped, studiously avoiding any semblance of interest in Legolas’s answer. He had not spoken of Sinnarn at all since the Dwarves’ escape, although Legolas knew that his nephew had seen Emmelin most evenings. Legolas had no idea how Annael was reacting to Sinnarn’s disgrace. “I have heard nothing about how long Sinnarn is to spend in the troop commander’s office,” he answered Beliond. “I do not think he knows either. I suppose it will depend on when Todith or some other captain is willing to take him back.”

Annael cleared his throat. “Sinnarn should not have to pay forever for one mistake,” he said. He broke the seed cake into pieces and offered them to Legolas and Beliond. Legolas smiled to himself as he took one. Annael was one of the most generous people he knew with more things than seed cakes.

Suddenly Legolas looked up, his attention caught by a whisper from the trees that was hidden beneath the sound of leaves fluttering in a gust of November wind. “Something has happened,” he said.


Eilian leaned back on the bench in front of Gelmir’s cottage with his long legs stretched out in front of him. Gelmir’s naneth had chased the two of them out, saying that her son needed the fresh air, but Eilian suspected that she was tired of having them cluttering up her sitting room. “Have the healers said when you will be ready for active duty again?”

Gelmir gave a satisfied smile. “I am cleared for duty as of tomorrow,” he said, “but Ithilden says I can take some extra leave and go back south when you do.”

“Good,” Eilian approved. “Tynd will want to see the aftereffects of the technique Elrond used to stitch your wound. He wanted me to ask about some details of it, but they were too gruesome, so I blocked my ears when he asked me.”

Gelmir laughed. “Tynd has probably found acting in your stead as captain of the Southern Patrol so tedious this time that he will need extra leave to recover from it.”

Eilian laughed too, but his attention was not really on what Gelmir was saying. The trees were astir with something he could not quite make out. He tilted his head to listen. “A creature of fire has fallen!” he exclaimed, making Gelmir start and jerk his head around to look at him.


Ithilden frowned. What in Arda was causing the commotion in his outer office? He rose and started toward the doorway, but before he reached it, Tinár appeared in it, his face betraying his excitement. He must have just returned from his mission to the Eastern Border Patrol for he was still wearing his cloak. Ithilden could see Calith and Sinnarn behind him. Calith had evidently tried to stop Tinár from entering Ithilden’s office, and Tinár had shaken him off. The aide was still catching at his arm and frowning disapprovingly.

“My lord,” Tinár gasped, “Smaug is dead!” Calith’s hands loosened from his arm and fell to his sides.

Ithilden became aware that his mouth had dropped open in a most undignified way. “How?” he demanded.

“I am not completely certain,” Tinár said, his chest puffing up visibly at being the center of attention. “Hard as it is to believe, I think the Men must have shot him.” Even at this moment of crisis, he paused to sneer at the inferior skills of Men.

“Just report!” Ithilden snapped. He had little use for Tinár’s prejudices at the best of times.

Tinár was plainly put out, but he had learned to repress the most obvious signs of it in Ithilden’s presence. “I was at the Eastern Border Patrol’s camp last night,” he said. “They had just been telling me that some of their scouts had seen flashes of light around the mountain the night before when someone spotted what looked like a distant spark flying south along the lake. It got bigger and bigger, and suddenly we realized it was Smaug himself. Even from where we were on the edge of the woods, we could see him breathing fire at the town and then we could see flames leaping up. He must have set the whole place on fire. And then, all at once, we heard a shriek like nothing I have ever heard before, and Smaug fell from the sky, and the next thing we saw was steam rising from the direction of the town.”

Behind Tinár, Calith and Sinnarn were both listening, wide-eyed. Ithilden’s heart was pounding. Could it be true that the dragon was dead? “I must speak with the king,” he said, grabbing at his cloak and starting out of the building and on his way to the palace. He arrived at the door of Thranduil’s office just in time to see the spy he had met earlier departing. The spy nodded to him and hurried past, leaving Ithilden to knock at his father’s door and enter, knowing that Thranduil had probably already been given any news he might be bearing.

He found his father pacing in front of the fireplace, concentrated energy ready to explode from his taut muscles. “I was about to send for you. We have plans to make.”

Ithilden eyed him cautiously. “You have heard about the death of Smaug.”

Thranduil waved an impatient hand. “By some chance, the Men have apparently killed him. I suppose we must at least be grateful to the Dwarves for flushing him out of his den and sending him to meet the Men’s arrows, although the Men are undoubtedly not particularly thankful to have had Smaug sent down upon them.”

For the first time, Ithilden thought about the Dwarves. “Did your --,” he hesitated, “your visitor know what happened to the Dwarves?”

Thranduil grimaced. “The dragon spent the night before the one on which he died sending flames into every nook and cranny around Erebor. They could not possibly have survived the attack. Indeed, I would say the fact that he left the mountain to go to Esgaroth is almost certainly a sign that he had already destroyed the Dwarves. The news we have had today will be the last we shall hear of Thorin Oakenshield, I fear. He would have done better to have remained my guest.” He turned to face Ithilden, determination on his face. “It is an ill wind, all the same, that blows no one any good.”

Ithilden blinked. “What do you mean?”

“I mean the dragon’s treasure is now unclaimed and unguarded, and I intend to have it.”

Ithilden’s breath caught. The Dwarves who had once inhabited Erebor had been prosperous. Indeed, rumors of a huge store of jewels and other precious objects were supposedly what had drawn Smaug to the mountain less than two hundred years ago. A treasure like the one that now lay ownerless and glittering in the mountain’s silent dark would be enough to buy anything Thranduil’s people might ever need.

“Gather every warrior you can and be ready to move by tomorrow morning,” Thranduil ordered. “See to the arrangements.”

Ithilden hesitated. “Do you expect a battle?”

“It has been my experience that treasure that is unguarded does not stay that way for long,” Thranduil answered grimly.

Ithilden could not argue with the truth of that statement. Nonetheless, he eyed his father closely. There was a barely suppressed excitement about him that Ithilden had never seen before. Unable to make it out, he saluted and hastened away, his mind already busy with the scores of details that would have to be seen to in order to ready an army to march in the morning. He began issuing orders as soon as he had stepped through the doorway to his outer office.

“Sinnarn, go and fetch Eilian, Todith, and Legolas. Calith, we need supplies to feed and tend to the needs of the Home Guard, any warriors who are home on leave, and the Eastern Border Patrol for at least two weeks. We are going to Erebor, so some of the supplies can travel by raft up the lake. Where is Tinár?”

“He went home to rest,” Calith answered, busy making notes.

Ithilden turned to Sinnarn, who was fastening his cloak, excitement gleaming in his eyes. “Get him after you have found the various officers. He will have to take a message back to the Eastern Border Patrol immediately.”

Sinnarn flew out the door, while Ithilden went into his own office, trailed by Calith. They spent the next few minutes listing tasks to be done, and then the slam of the outer door announced the arrival of Eilian.

“Is it true that Smaug is dead?” Eilian asked eagerly.

“Yes,” Ithilden answered, his mind still on his plans. “I need you to get your warriors ready to march to Erebor in the morning.”

Eilian paused in the act of dropping into a chair in front of Ithilden’s desk. “They are on leave!” he protested.

“The king has ordered it,” Ithilden said tersely. He did not have time to argue with Eilian. “We are going to Erebor to claim Smaug’s treasure.”

Eilian let out an exasperated sigh. “That would be useful, I am sure, but my warriors have earned a rest, Ithilden!”

“Eilian, have your warriors ever gone without anything they needed?” Ithilden demanded sharply.

Eilian looked taken aback. “No.”

“And for that you can thank Adar, who has parted with most of what he had to buy it. Treasure is indeed very useful, and when you undervalue it, you are showing your ignorance of what has been done to feed and clothe and mount and arm you.”

Eilian made a face. “I am sorry.” He stood. “Very well. I will have them ready for you in the morning. Will we need horses?”

“No, it would be too hard to feed them in the desolation around the mountain. The troops will go on foot.”

Eilian nodded and left the office just as Todith and Legolas arrived. Ithilden began issuing his father’s orders again, wondering how it had come to be that the death of Smaug had led to him mobilizing his troops.


Bow in hand, Legolas automatically scanned the woods around him, but given the large troop of Elves in which he marched, he did not really expect to find danger. The Eastern Border Patrol had joined the rest of them in their camp the night before, and now they were in the middle of the second day of their journey.

He looked toward the head of the long line to see his father mounted on his great stallion, with his guards riding near him carrying the green banners of the Woodland Realm. He had never served under his father’s command before, although he supposed that most of the real command still lay in the hands of Ithilden, who had just ridden down the line checking it. But then he had also never been on a mission whose purpose was to secure a treasure.

He did not exactly object to such a mission. The dragon’s hoard was there for the taking, and the Elves might as well have it. He understood from what his father and Ithilden said that they needed it. Still, he fervently hoped that no one was going to oppose the Elves’ claim. He would not want to have to kill someone over a pile of jewels. He looked up uneasily at the flock of crows that seemed to be accompanying them. The birds were usually taken as a sign of war, and he hoped that this time the omen was false.

He felt again a twinge of regret over the deaths of the Dwarves. He wondered whether if he had been quicker to understand, they might still be alive. They had provoked him mightily when they were in Thranduil’s custody, but at least he could no longer accuse them of neglecting a child, and he understood why they had found his questions amusing. And their contribution to the death of Smaug had strengthened his belief in their courage.

Few people in this long column on its way to appropriate treasure seemed to be thinking about the Dwarves though. The only other person who had talked to Legolas about them was Sinnarn. In the company of Nithron, who had been assigned to him again the minute they left home, Sinnarn had come to the Home Guard camp the night before, approaching his former comrades a bit shyly, Legolas thought. His nephew had evidently been unsure of his welcome from warriors who might have lost their trust in him, but after a second of surprised silence, someone had called a greeting, and soon Sinnarn was sitting between Amdir and Legolas, warming his hands at the fire.

“It seems a pity the Dwarves will get no reward except death for driving out Smaug,” Sinnarn had observed to Legolas in a low voice, as the talk of the others flowed around them. While it was true that the Dwarves’ actions had not particularly endeared them to Sinnarn, it was also true that he had spent more time with them than anyone else had, and his interest in them had apparently not been completely destroyed. Legolas had nodded. It did seem wrong somehow that the Elves were to profit from the Dwarves’ foolhardy bravery.

When Sinnarn had risen to return to Ithilden’s camp for the night, Todith, who had remained silent until then, had looked up and said, “Come and see us again, Sinnarn.”

“I will,” Sinnarn had said, looking pleased, and he and Nithron had gone on their way.

A faint, unexpected noise in the woods to Legolas’s right made him jerk his head around toward it. Beliond was immediately alert too. “Come,” Legolas urged, and the two of them leapt into the trees to check on it, the eyes of their companions following them as they nocked arrows in their bows.

Moving rapidly through the branches, Legolas and Beliond had traveled for perhaps five minutes before they found what they sought. A Man rode among the trees, moving quickly toward the Elven host. Although the Man’s bow was still on his back, neither Legolas nor Beliond was taking any chances, and they had their own bows drawn when they dropped to the ground to confront the rider.

With alarm on his face, the Man brought his horse to a hasty halt and lifted his empty hands so they could see them. “I have a message for the Elvenking from Bard of Laketown.” He kept his eyes on their arrows, but he did not hesitate to speak. “The people of Laketown are in great need of the king’s aid.”

Legolas and Beliond exchanged a quick glance. Legolas had not thought about it, but he found it only too believable that the Men of Esgaroth might need help if the story of Smaug’s attack on them was true. He released his draw. “This way,” he indicated, and the Man urged his horse forward again, with Legolas and Beliond running lightly along on either side of him to guide him.

Ithilden seemed to spot them the minute they came in sight of the Elves. He had probably received word of their leaving the column and was watching for them. As soon as they appeared, he raised his hand over his head and called for a halt. Legolas and Beliond escorted the Man along the edge of the line to its head, where Thranduil awaited them. The Man slid from his horse and dropped to one knee. “My lord,” he said, “I bring a message from Bard of Laketown, begging you to come to the aid of a homeless and starving people.”

Thranduil raised an eyebrow. “And who is Bard?”

“Bard is the archer who killed Smaug,” the messenger answered, captivating Legolas’s attention immediately. He had to bite his tongue to keep from asking more about this archer.

“Was the town Master killed that Bard is the one sending for help?” Thranduil asked.

The messenger hesitated. “No, my lord, but the Master was at a loss as to how to manage the grievous circumstances in which we found ourselves.” His tone was dry, and Legolas wondered just how inept the town Master had been to merit such skepticism from one of his people.

For a second, there was silence, and Legolas looked up at his father’s face in surprise. He would have expected Thranduil to react with immediate if irritable sympathy to such an appeal for help, but his father’s face looked oddly distant, as if his thoughts were on other matters. Then something in the king’s face shifted, and he seemed to focus on the Man. “Tell me of what has happened,” he said. Legolas frowned. Could there be a note of regret in his father’s voice?

“Smaug burned most of the town,” the Man said, “and what he did not burn was smashed in his fall. We have many who were burned or hurt by falling buildings and many others who were pulled from the lake and have sickened in the cold. We have few shelters and little food, and we beg your help, my lord, as one who has been a good neighbor to the Men of the lake.”

Like everyone around him, Legolas turned to his father to await what would certainly be his consent to help the Men. For a long moment, Thranduil looked away to the northeast. Surely he was not going to refuse to help, Legolas thought with a sudden sense of shock. Then, with a soft sigh, Thranduil turned to Ithilden. “Send as many of our supplies as we can spare down the lake by raft. We will go to these people’s aid.” Relief flooded Legolas’s system, along with a little guilt for how he had misjudged his father. Thranduil was speaking to the Man now. “We will make what haste we can, but we are some distance from Esgaroth, and most of us are, as you see, on foot. Ride back and tell Bard to watch for the supplies and expect us in two days’ time.”

Smiling enormously, the Man came to his feet. “Thank you, my lord. We will await your arrival.” He swung himself back into his saddle, and turned his horse homeward. But Legolas was not watching him. He had kept his eyes on Thranduil, who was looking northeast again. And he had noticed that his father was wearing the elegant sword that the Elves had taken from Thorin Oakenshield.


“I cannot tell you how grateful we are for your aid, my lord. I would never have offered help to Thorin Oakenshield if I had known what he would bring down upon us. This is all the fault of the Dwarves.” The Master of Esgaroth looked resentfully at the chaotic scene around him. With Ithilden’s aide, Calith, organizing their actions, Thranduil’s Elves were already spreading out among the sick and sorrowing people of Esgaroth.

With difficulty, Thranduil refrained from telling the Master that he was a dithering fool who had failed his people in their time of need. “My messenger tells me you were on your way to the Lonely Mountain when he found you,” said the tall, grim-faced Man standing just behind the Master, and with intuition born of centuries of rule, Thranduil recognized a person who was both in control and interested in negotiating.

“Indeed we were,” the king acknowledged, “but we would be generous with our friends, even as they are generous with us.”

“This is Bard of the line of Girion of Dale,” the Master introduced his companion somewhat grudgingly. “I believe he is interested in returning to Dale now that Smaug is gone.” The Master’s smile was malicious. He clearly had no great love for the other Man and wanted him gone.

Thranduil and Bard regarded one another for a moment. “We should speak further about these matters,” Thranduil said, and Bard nodded. This Man would be a better ally than enemy, Thranduil thought. There was enough treasure at Erebor to satisfy them both. Or there should be. For a moment, he thought longingly of the beautiful things that lay hidden beneath the mountain. He had told Ithilden that the treasure would enable him to provide for his people, and it would indeed do that. But it would also be a pleasure to own in itself. Then, in his mind’s eye, he again saw Legolas’s puzzled face, waiting for him to declare that he would go to the aid of the Men. He sighed. Living up to one’s children’s expectations was challenging sometimes. He would speak to Bard about combining their efforts as soon as the needs of the people of Esgaroth had been seen to.

He turned back to the Master. “Your people will need shelters against the winter. I will give directions that trees should be cut so that your people and mine can build huts.”

“That would be most helpful, my lord,” the Master said. Bard raised an eyebrow. He undoubtedly wanted to know what Thranduil wanted in exchange for the lumber. Thranduil smiled pleasantly at him, and Bard bared his teeth back.

A familiar laugh caught Thranduil’s attention, and he glanced down the small hill on which they stood to see all three of his sons standing together near one of the campfires. It had been Eilian he heard, and his middle son was just handing a wine skin to Legolas. Eilian was probably teasing Legolas about something, although Thranduil knew it was unlikely to be about Hobbit the Dwarf Child. Those jokes seemed far less amusing now that the Dwarves and the hobbit were dead. Legolas had always tended to hold himself responsible for the safety of everyone around him, and Thranduil suspected he was taking the Dwarves’ deaths to heart.

He looked at the Master and Bard. “You will excuse me,” he said, and they nodded and moved off to where a meal was being served.

“If you wish to speak to me again, my tent is over there,” the Master said, pointing to one of the few shelters in the area. Thranduil kept his face carefully expressionless as he nodded. If the people of Esgaroth chose to elect a donkey as Master, it was none of Thranduil’s concern.

He turned to look once again at his sons, tall, strong, and beautiful in the way that was so natural to Elves that Thranduil noticed it now only in contrast to the rougher features of the Men around them. Ithilden was speaking, and the other two were listening attentively. As well they might, Thranduil thought. His oldest son’s words were always worth heeding, something Thranduil reminded himself of on a regular basis.

But the other two had come into their own now too. Eilian’s minder, Maltanaur, had predicted that his marriage to Celuwen would be the making of him, and so it had proved. He was more focused, less restless, and the considerable skill and wits that Eilian had always possessed had emerged more clearly. And seeing Legolas in the Home Guard had been a revelation for Thranduil, who tended to think of him still as an untried youth. As he had watched his youngest son assume responsibility not only for his own actions but also for directing those of others, Thranduil had realized that his child was a child no longer.

As Thranduil paused in the shadows, he saw Sinnarn approach the little group with a tentative step. But all three turned to welcome him, and Ithilden put an affectionate hand on his shoulder. How fortunate I am, Thranduil thought. My life is rich in treasure already.

He and his guards would camp with the Home Guard tonight, Thranduil decided. The homeless people of Esgaroth could have his tent. He started to walk toward his sons and grandson.


AN: Some of the dialogue in this chapter is taken from The Hobbit, Chapter XIV, “Fire and Water.”


I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien, but they are his, not mine. I gain only the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.

AN: Some of the dialogue in this chapter comes from The Hobbit, Chapters XV (“The Gathering of the Clouds”) and XVI (“A Thief in the Night”)


14. Siege

Eilian scrambled up over the last rock on the broken path next to the waterfall and then, with a caution born of long experience, slid into the shelter of a boulder to wait for the rest of his party to finish the climb. As he waited, he turned impatiently toward the Gate of the Dwarves’ abandoned underground city, eager for a first glimpse of their goal. For a moment, he could not sort out what he was seeing: Where the open mouth of the cave of Erebor should have been, there was now a wall of square-cut stone, and in front of it, where the River Running should have passed to the falls in a narrow streambed, a wide pool filled almost the whole area between the two spurs of the mountain that framed the Gate.

“That wall is certainly not Smaug’s work,” Maltanaur observed from just behind him. “Someone must have beaten us here.”

Eilian nodded reluctantly and took his bow in hand. His father and Bard were both going to be mightily disappointed that someone else had evidently already laid claim to the dragon’s hoard. Eilian flinched at the very thought of telling them about it, and he rather thought that Bard would take the news even more badly than Thranduil would. With some amusement, Eilian had watched the two of them feeling one another out during the last week or so, and Bard had struck him as forceful enough that he had not been too surprised when Thranduil had allowed the so-called King of Dale to decide much of what they were to do. Of course, Bard had not yet made a decision Thranduil would have disagreed with, Eilian thought with a small smile. It would be interesting to see what happened if he ever did.

He glanced back toward the path and found that Galelas, Gelmir, and the three Men who had accompanied them had all reached the top of the falls and were staring at the pond and wall. With approval, he noted that, in this uncertain situation, all of them now held their weapons in their hands.

“We had better find out what we can,” Eilian said. “Galelas, you come with me and Maltanaur. The rest of you wait here. Keep in shelter as much as you can. We do not know how friendly whoever built that wall is.” Following his own advice, he began cautiously picking his way along the narrow ledge that led toward the Gate.

Suddenly, a loud voice hailed them from high on the wall. “Who are you that come as if in war to the gates of Thorin son of Thrain, King under the Mountain, and what do you desire?”

With heart jumping into this throat, Eilian flattened himself against the rocks that rose behind him. Thorin? Thorin was alive and had walled himself and presumably his companions into the mountain? How in Arda had the Dwarf managed that? He exchanged looks with Maltanaur and Galelas, who had also made themselves into the smallest targets they could manage. “Keep quiet, Eilian,” Maltanaur murmured. “You ought to know by now that speaking for the king without a charge to do so will only land you in trouble. With both kings,” he finished emphatically, and Eilian gave a small snort. Evidently Maltanaur had been watching Bard too.

Eilian flicked his finger toward the head of the waterfall, and the three of them moved back toward their companions. “We will report what we have found,” he told them, and the seven of them made their way back to where the Elves and Men were camped.


Legolas made his way among the campfires, listening to snatches of Elven harping and singing as he went. They had moved camp after the scouting party returned from the Gate, and while he thought he knew where the Southern Patrol warriors were camped, he was not sure. Warriors who had been home on leave from any other patrols had been placed under Eilian’s command too, but they still made up a much smaller group than the Home Guard, the Eastern Border Patrol, or the soldiers who had come with Bard. Then he heard a familiar voice off to his left and turned toward it.

He emerged out of the dark into the golden glow of the fire to find his brother sitting cross-legged on the rocky ground, listening to Gelmir finish a song of lament for the forest that had grown up to the very edge of the mountain in the days before Smaug. Legolas waited until the murmur of sympathy the song had drawn from its hearers died down, and then he approached, making Eilian look up and smile in welcome. “Sit,” he invited, moving over to make room between himself and Maltanaur.

Legolas folded his long legs under him and nodded to Galelas, who sat on Eilian’s other side. He and Galelas had been novices together but had never gotten along very well. Galelas had always resented Legolas’s skill, and Legolas had found it hard not to react with hostility. Legolas suspected that it was not an accident that he and Galelas had seldom been assigned to the same patrol. Galelas had served under Eilian several times, however, and it was obvious to Legolas that Galelas admired his brother and Eilian liked him, a fact that had softened Legolas’s dislike once he was certain that he himself was still far more precious to Eilian than Galelas was. “I hear you ran into our Dwarves today,” Legolas said.

Eilian laughed. “We ran into Thorin at any rate. I could not vouch for the others.”

Legolas could not help smiling. He knew that Thranduil had been dismayed by the news that Thorin was occupying the mountain, but the Dwarves’ survival had lifted Legolas’s mood, which had been dark ever since they had entered the area Smaug had desolated. Legolas had seen dragons in action, and the experience had not left him with happy memories. Then, as he had watched his father and Bard conferring throughout the day, his apprehensions had risen again. Surely they were not going to try to take the treasure away from the Dwarves by force.

“What will happen now?” Legolas asked.

Eilian shrugged. “Whatever Adar and Bard decide, although I will tell you that at the moment, Bard seems to be doing most of the talking.” He grinned. “Have you had a chance to talk to your hero yet, brat?”

Legolas made a face. Leave it to Eilian to notice that he had been trying to approach the Mannish archer who had killed Smaug. He had not realized that Men could be such fine archers or, for that matter, such inspiring leaders. “No. He is busy and spends most of his time with Adar or Ithilden.” Legolas was not about to admit that the grim-faced Man also intimidated him, but Eilian’s amused look suggested that he suspected it anyway.

“Captain?” said an unwelcome voice, and Tinár stepped into the circle around the fire. They all turned, and Eilian raised an eyebrow in response. “The king requires your presence.”

Eilian groaned but rose to his feet immediately. “You had better not wait for me, Legolas. Bard is interested in every detail about the terrain around the Gate. I may be some time.” He strode off and was soon lost in the darkness.

Legolas had risen in preparation to be off when he heard Galelas greet his brother. “Hello, Tinár. I hope you are well.”

“As well as can be expected, given the responsibilities I have been carrying as Ithilden’s chief messenger,” Tinár sniffed. “You cannot possibly understand what a strain it has been.”

Legolas stared at him in open-mouthed astonishment. What a fool! He glanced at Galelas, who let out as exasperated breath. “Tinár,” Galelas snapped, “I have just returned from three months in the south, including a trip to Dol Guldur. Do not talk to me about the strain of carrying messages around the camp.”

Maltanaur gave a quiet chuckle, and Tinár’s face turned red. Without another word, he spun on his heel and disappeared. “Good for you, Galelas,” Maltanaur said.

Galelas made no response but glanced quickly up at Legolas and then looked away again. “You are one of the luckiest people I know, Legolas,” he said, his eyes on the campfire and his voice bitter.

“Yes,” Legolas agreed, not knowing what else to say. “I am.” And he turned and started toward the Home Guard’s camp.


Thranduil walked easily along beside Bard in the early morning light. He and the Man had sat up a good part of the night discussing what they would do this morning. Bard had been unbending in arguing that he and the people of Esgaroth had just claims on at least part of the treasure, and Thranduil had had to agree with him. From the minute he had heard Eilian say that the Dwarves were alive, he had known that taking the treasure for the Elves was no longer a possibility, for they had no rights to it if the Dwarves were back. But it seemed to him that Bard and his people did have a right to some of what was in Smaug’s hoard.

From the corner of his eye, he could see Sinnarn carrying the green banner of the forest, a counterpart to the Man carrying the blue banner of the lake next to Bard. Ithilden had not been happy that both his father and his son were to be of the party that walked in the open before the Gate when they did not know how far Thorin intended to take his hostility toward them. But Thranduil had insisted that he needed to stand by Bard’s side, and Sinnarn was the messenger on duty and thus the one who should be asked to carry the banner. Ithilden had given in to Sinnarn’s silent plea to be allowed to do it, just as he had given in when his son had objected to being left behind in Esgaroth to help Calith organize matters.

Thranduil had heard them arguing when they both thought he was asleep. “Adar, please,” Sinnarn had begged. “Let me come with you. Give me a chance to prove that I can be a warrior again.” And after a long hesitation, Ithilden had allowed it. It had been the right thing to do, Thranduil thought, a little regretfully. Sinnarn needed a chance to redeem himself if he was to become a whole person again. Nonetheless, Thranduil was glad to know that Nithron was walking within a foot of his grandson, his wary, experienced eyes scanning the top of the wall for a glimpse of a bow that might loose an arrow at his charge. Thranduil supposed that Ithilden had enjoined several of the Elven guards who walked with them to do the same for him.

They were nearly to the newly-built wall now, and Thranduil eyed it with curiosity. What treasures did it conceal? he wondered, and to his own dismay, he felt his heart beat a little faster at the thought. The Dwarves have survived, he reminded himself. The treasure already has owners.

A familiar voice suddenly made itself heard. “Who are you that come armed for war to the gates of Thorin son of Thrain, King under the Mountain?” Thranduil had last heard that voice in his own Great Hall when Thorin Oakenshield had defied him.

“Hail Thorin!” called Bard. It had seemed fitting that he should speak, given his rights and those of the people of Esgaroth. Thranduil did not really think he could have stopped the Man from speaking in any case. “Why do you fence yourself like a robber in his hold? We are not yet foes, and we rejoice that you are alive beyond our hope. We came expecting to find none living here; yet now that we are met there is a matter for a parley and a council.”

“Who are you, and of what would you parley?” Thorin sounded as unbowed as ever. Really, thought Thranduil, Dwarves could be impossibly stiff-necked. Next to him, Bard drew a deep breath and launched into his argument.

“I am Bard, and by my hand was the dragon slain and your treasure delivered. Is that not a matter that concerns you? Moreover I am by right descent the heir of Girion of Dale, and in your hoard is mingled much of the wealth of his halls and town, which of old Smaug stole. Is not that a matter of which we may speak? Further in his last battle Smaug destroyed the dwellings of the men of Esgaroth, and I am yet the servant of their Master. I would speak for him and ask whether you have no thought for the sorrow and misery of his people. They aided you in your distress, and in recompense you have thus far brought ruin only, though doubtless undesigned.” The arguments had seemed good to Thranduil, but they apparently failed to impress Thorin.

“To the treasure of my people no man has a claim, because Smaug who stole it from us also robbed him of life or home,” the Dwarf shot back without hesitation. “The treasure was not his that his evil deeds should be amended with a share of it. The price of the goods and the assistance that we received of the Lake-men we will fairly pay—in due time. But nothing will we give, not even a loaf’s worth, under threat of force. While an armed host lies before our doors, we look on you as foes and thieves. It is in my mind to ask what share of their inheritance you would have paid to our kindred, had you found the hoard unguarded and us slain.”

Thranduil could not suppress his disgust. Was Thorin so Dwarvishly smitten with treasure that he could not see what he owed to Bard or the people of Esgaroth?

Bard answered far more calmly that Thranduil could have done. “A just question. But you are not dead and we are not robbers. Moreover the wealthy may have pity beyond right on the needy that befriended them when they were in want. And still my other claims remain unanswered.”

“I will not parley, as I have said, with armed men at my gate,” Thorin reiterated. “Nor at all with the people of the Elvenking, whom I remember with small kindness. In this debate they have no place.  Begone now ere our arrows fly! And if you would speak with me again, first dismiss the Elvish host to the woods where it belongs, and then return, laying down your arms before you approach the threshold.”

Thranduil caught his breath. So the Dwarf was demanding that the Man send the Elves away. His eyes narrowed as he glanced at Bard. Now he would see how far the Man was to be trusted. Bard claimed to be grateful; he claimed to be a friend. How long would his gratitude and friendship last in the face of Thorin’s demands?

“The Elvenking is my friend,” said Bard, “and he has succored the people of the Lake in their need, though they had no claim but friendship on him. We will give you time to repent your words. Gather your wisdom ere we return!” And with that, he turned and started back toward their camp, leaving Thranduil to follow, musing on the possibility that Men might be allies worth having after all.

At their camp, Ithilden was waiting for them, impatient to hear what had happened, and Thranduil told him the tale in as few words as possible. “What do you intend to do?” Ithilden asked.

“We need to discuss what our demands will be,” Bard said immediately.

Both Ithilden and Thranduil turned to look at him. “Thorin is not going to give in easily,” Thranduil observed tentatively.

“Neither will I,” Bard declared. “I will grant that most of what is in that dragon’s hoard does belong to the Dwarves, but Smaug took some of it from Dale. Moreover, if it were not for me, the dragon would have slain them all. I believe I am owed something for that.”

Thranduil looked at him thoughtfully. In the last week, he had come to respect Bard as he respected few other Men. The Man was tough, smart, and determined, and he cared for the well-being of his people. If Bard intended to rebuild the town of Dale, Thranduil wanted him as an ally, even more so given that the Dwarves were back. He would support this dark, grim Man if he could. “What would you demand then?”

Bard hesitated. “At least a twelfth of the treasure should come to me as the dragon-slayer, and as the heir of Girion,” he finally said. “Even that share would be an enormous amount, and I would be willing to donate some of it to Esgaroth myself.”

Thranduil considered. A twelfth of the treasure did not seem too great a price to pay for the death of the dragon. “And if Thorin will not give it? Digging him and his companions out of their lair would be difficult.”

“If he will not do what is right, then we will lay siege to the mountain,” Bard declared. “Thorin will find that gold is far better to look at than to eat.”

Slowly, Thranduil nodded. “So be it.” He turned to Ithilden. “Let a messenger be sent with the demand and the warning.” Ithilden grimaced ever so slightly and then waved Sinnarn forward from where he stood waiting.

Within minutes, Sinnarn was off to the Gate again, and within a short time after that, he returned with a pale face and an arrow protruding from his shield. In violation of all that was right, Thorin had shot at their messenger. Nithron was so outraged that he was trembling. With tight-lipped determination, Ithilden set guards to insure that no one could get into or out of the Gate unseen. The siege of the mountain was underway.


“I am going to go inside and get out of the wind for a few minutes,” said Amdir, and Legolas nodded, still scanning the open area that was spread out below him to the west, south, and east. He, Amdir, and Beliond were on guard duty here this afternoon, and a cold task it was turning out to be. The abandoned Dwarven guard station behind him provided their only shelter from the November wind that seemed to come straight from the Grey Mountains, smelling of snow. Their task today was not to watch the Gate, but to keep an eye out for anyone who might be trying to approach the mountain and bring aid to the Dwarves.

Legolas had never been part of a siege before, but five days into this one now, he had decided that they were tedious affairs. Indeed, he knew that Todith was assigning the Home Guard warriors to make arrows, clean the camp, and stand extra watches just to keep them busy so that they would not grow too restless.

Eilian was already bored almost beyond his bearing and had taken to coming around to the Home Guard camp each night to try to get Legolas to wager with him on all manner of unlikely events. On the previous night, he had wanted to bet on whether Bard would give Thranduil any part of whatever the Dwarves gave him. Cynic that he was, Eilian thought he would not, but Legolas had more faith in the Man. At least Eilian knew enough not to wager with his own warriors, Legolas thought.

Suddenly, he stiffened. Because he had not expected anyone would be foolish enough to try to cross the unsheltered expanse of land in front of him, he had to look twice in order to make himself believe it when he saw a small figure in the distance. “Beliond,” he said, “look there!” His keeper swung around from the western edge of the little plateau and looked in the direction Legolas was indicating.

“One person only,” Beliond said, confirming Legolas’s judgment.

“Amdir!” Legolas called. “Come! We need to go greet a visitor.”  Within minutes, the three of them were flying down the path from their vantage point, prepared to stop whoever was approaching. Legolas kept half his attention on the intruder, and when he was almost to the foot of the path, he suddenly stopped, squinted into the sun to be sure, and then grinned. “It is Mithrandir!” he called.  He waved at Beliond. “You and Amdir go back. I will see our guest to the king’s tent.” Beliond and Amdir slowed and then turned to start back up the path again, while Legolas scrambled the rest of the way down to wait for the wizard to approach.

“Mae govannen, Mithrandir,” he greeted the wizard. “What are you doing here?”

“Mae govannen, Legolas. I have heard that Smaug is dead, and I have come to see for myself and to check on the whereabouts of some friends of mine. I did not expect to find your adar’s warriors here, but it is just as well you are, all things considered.”

Legolas blinked. As often in conversations with Mithrandir, he was not sure he had completely understood what was being said. “Are your friends here?” he asked cautiously.

Mithrandir smiled wryly. “If Thorin Oakenshield and his companions have returned to the mountain, then yes they are.”

Legolas gaped at him. “The Dwarves are friends of yours?” he demanded. “And the hobbit too?”

“Oh yes, the hobbit especially.” Mithrandir smiled serenely in the face of the growing outrage that Legolas knew was showing in his face.

“Why did you not warn us they were coming? Do you have any idea of the amount of trouble they caused?”

“I do not, although I am sure you will tell me as you show me into your adar’s presence, but Smaug is gone, is he not?”

“Yes, but no thanks to them! Bard of Esgaroth killed him.”

“But the Dwarves played their part too, I will wager,” Mithrandir said comfortably. “And perhaps they will have a part to play in what is to come also.”

Legolas frowned. “I suppose it would do no good to ask you what you mean by that,” he said caustically.

Mithrandir smiled. “I fear we are keeping Thranduil waiting, and my experience has been that that is never a good thing.”

Legolas gave a small snort and began guiding the wizard toward his father’s tent.


“Legolas!” called Amdir, his voice urgent, causing Legolas’s breath to catch in what should have been a routine round to check on the night guards. He turned toward Amdir’s voice and found, to his utter astonishment, that Amdir and Annael were walking toward him with Hobbit the Dwarf Child grasped firmly between them. No, he thought, narrowing his eyes, not Hobbit -- Bilbo Baggins. What was he doing here?

“He says he wants to speak to Bard,” Annael announced.

Legolas looked at Bilbo and smiled a little maliciously. “Bard is with Thranduil,” he said, “and I think both of them might like to speak to Master Baggins. I know I would.”

Annael kept a commendably straight face, but his eyes danced as he looked at Legolas. Bilbo, on the other hand, had the good grace to blush. He was dressed quite ridiculously in what looked like good Elven armor with a soaking wet jacket over the top, but he pulled himself erect with as much dignity as he could muster and said, “Your kind heart does you much credit, Master Elf, and I would stay to explain, but I have not the time. I beg leave to speak to Bard.”

Content for now to wait, Legolas jerked his head in the direction of his father’s tent, in front of which he knew Bard and Thranduil sat before a large fire. “Come,” he said and led the way.

The appearance of Bilbo brought both Bard and Thranduil to their feet. “Bilbo Baggins!” exclaimed Bard, and then his eyes narrowed. “What brings you here?” he asked distrustfully. So far as Legolas could see, Bard was even more cynical than Eilian.

Bilbo bowed to both leaders. “Greetings, Master Bard, and you too, my lord. I know you by sight, though perhaps you don’t know me to look at. I have news to give and an offer to make if you will but listen.”

Thranduil and Bard glanced at one another, and then Thranduil waved Legolas, Annael, and Amdir aside so that Bilbo could speak to him and Bard in private. “You two can go,” Legolas told the others. “Sinnarn is just over there. I am sure he will be more than willing to help me guard our guest.”

Annael smothered a laugh. “Leave him in one piece, Legolas,” he said, and then he and Amdir went back to their watch.

Legolas went to sit next to Sinnarn, who was with a nearby group of Ithilden’s guards and aides. His nephew was eyeing Bilbo with undisguised hostility. “What does he want?” he asked.

Legolas shrugged and sat back to watch the scene unfolding in front of him. At the moment at least, Bilbo seemed to doing most of the talking, presumably explaining whatever it was he wanted. He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and waved it around for a bit, but Bard seemed unimpressed and even angry. And then Bilbo pulled something else out of his pocket, unwrapped it, and held it out to Thranduil and Bard. Even from where Legolas sat, whatever it was Bilbo held gleamed white in the dark, as if he held a star in his hands. Thranduil leaped to his feet and stared at the thing, and Bard, too, regarded it in wonder. And then, after a second of hesitation, Bilbo handed the gleaming thing to Bard, who held it as if dazed and then pulled its wrappings around it again.

Thranduil turned and signaled to Legolas, who plucked at Sinnarn’s sleeve and led him toward Bilbo. “Really I must be going, and quickly,” the hobbit was saying as they approached.

“Take him to the ford and get him across as dry as you can,” Thranduil instructed. He glanced at both of them, and amusement flickered across his face. “Mr. Baggins is my guest,” he stressed.

“Yes, my lord,” Legolas answered reluctantly and gestured to Bilbo to come with them. Bilbo hesitated for a second, with his eyes on Sinnarn, who was smiling nastily. Then he set off, walking between them.

“Master Guard,” he said, almost as soon as they had left the circle of the campfire, “I fear I owe you an apology.” Both Legolas and Sinnarn turned to him, and Legolas realized that the hobbit was talking to Sinnarn. “I hope you did not get into too much trouble when we – left.”

Sinnarn glared at him. “As it happens, I got into a great deal of trouble, and as to your leaving, I am most curious as to how you managed it.”

Bilbo looked sheepish. “I distracted you, and then I poured more wine into the flagons, don’t you know. I suppose the wine was strong enough to confuse you so that you did not notice.”

Sinnarn’s mouth had dropped open. “I was not that confused! At least not at first. How did you manage it without our seeing you?”

Bilbo shrugged. “That is another story that perhaps I will tell you someday,” he said vaguely.

Legolas thought of the daily humiliation that Sinnarn had endured for over a month. He thought of Alfirin’s anguished face and Ithilden’s stoic attempt to mete out even-handed justice. And he wanted nothing so much as to beat the hobbit senseless. At that moment, they passed the tent where Mithrandir was housed, and he strode toward them, smiling at Bilbo. “Well done, Mr. Baggins!” he exclaimed, slapping the hobbit on the back. “There is always more about you than anyone expects!”

“Indeed,” murmured Sinnarn, a little indignantly. Legolas drew a deep breath and reminded himself that Thranduil had declared Bilbo to be his guest.

It was Bilbo’s turn to look startled now. “Gandalf! How did you get here?”

“All in good time!” Mithrandir answered with a smile. “Things are drawing towards the end now, unless I am mistaken. There is an unpleasant time just in front of you; but keep your heart up! You may come through all right. There is news brewing that even the ravens have not heard. Good night!” And with that, he retreated toward his tent, leaving all three of them staring after him apprehensively.

After a moment, they turned and began walking along again. Legolas was thinking about Bilbo’s explanation to Sinnarn, and it seemed to him to raise as many questions as it answered. Surely there was some sort of magic at work here. He turned to the hobbit again. “How did you get into the stronghold? Where did you hide? And how did you get out again?”

“I really must be getting back to my companions now,” Bilbo said evasively. “Perhaps if we meet again, I will tell you more.”

Legolas and Sinnarn looked at one another over Bilbo’s head. Legolas knew that his nephew was no more satisfied than he was, but the time for questions had run out. They had reached the ford, and Bilbo was looking at the cold water distastefully. “I will carry you across,” Legolas volunteered, remembering his father’s admonition to get the hobbit across as dry as they could.

“Very well,” Bilbo conceded, and Legolas picked him up and slogged along over the stones, only slightly tempted to drop him. He set the hobbit down on the other side. “Until we meet again,” Bilbo called cheerily and disappeared into the night.



Many thanks to everyone who is reading this story and especially to those who have taken the time to review it. I know it’s been kind of a long haul, but I hope it’s not been too tedious. I thought I’d be all the way through to the start of the battle in this chapter, but I didn’t make it.


I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien, but they are his, not mine. I gain only the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.

AN: Some of the dialogue in the chapter is taken from The Hobbit, Chapter XVII, “The Clouds Burst.”


15. What Price Loyalty?

Ithilden called out a soft greeting and, at his father’s bidding, pushed aside the tent flap to find Thranduil and Mithrandir seated near a small camp table, cups of wine in their hands. “Good evening,” he greeted them both and then accepted a cup of wine and seated himself on the cot. “Tinár said you wanted to see me, Adar.”

“I do,” Thranduil said, settling down to the matter at hand. “As you probably heard, the Dwarves’ hobbit made his way into camp tonight.” He glanced at Ithilden, who nodded. It was his business to know if strangers were in the camp. His only question was how the hobbit had gotten within their outer ring of sentries without being seen. He had already spoken about the matter to Todith, who would undoubtedly now be speaking to the guards.

“The hobbit had news for us,” Thranduil continued. “It seems that Thorin managed to get word to Dáin in the Iron Hills, and Dáin is now less than two days march from here with five hundred of his warriors.”

Ithilden stiffened. “That could complicate matters considerably.”

Thranduil nodded. “We cannot allow Dáin and his followers to join forces with Thorin Oakenshield. They are undoubtedly carrying enough supplies that those barricaded in the mountain would be able to hold out for much longer. And that many Dwarves might be able to open one of the other old doors into the caverns so that we would have to encircle the whole mountain to guard it properly.”

“Our forces are not numerous enough to do that,” Ithilden protested.

“I agree,” said Thranduil, “and so does Bard.” He gave a slight smile. Ithilden was not quite sure what his father made of Bard. He knew that Thranduil respected the Man and wanted him as an ally, and that fact did not surprise him, for he thought that in Bard, Thranduil had recognized a character much like his own. What Ithilden was less sure of was the degree to which his father was allowing Bard to decide their course of action.

“What do you and Bard propose to do?” Ithilden asked.

 “We need to get this matter settled before Dáin gets here,” Thranduil said, “and as it happens, the hobbit brought us something that we may be able to use to bargain with.”

Ithilden raised an inquiring eyebrow. He had heard that Bilbo had given something to Bard.

“Mr. Baggins brought us the Arkenstone,” Thranduil said, leaning back in his chair with a satisfied look.

For a moment, Ithilden could not place what Thranduil was talking about, and then, suddenly, he caught his breath. The Arkenstone of Thráin! The great jewel that the Dwarves had found at the root of the mountain. The Heart of the Mountain, they called it. Thorin Oakenshield would bargain for it, if he would bargain for anything. Legend said that it glowed on its own, like a star caught in a crystal.

“Your adar, and Bard, and I will speak to Thorin tomorrow,” Mithrandir put in. “We will see how much he might be willing to give Bard for the return of the stone. And I want to speak to Thorin, who is not making a very splendid figure as King under the Mountain so far. I sent him and his companions on this quest, causing you some trouble in the process, according to Legolas. I will see if I can set things right again tomorrow.”

“Have a party of guards ready to accompany us,” Thranduil instructed. “Send eight or nine of our warriors, and Bard will send an equal number of his.” Ithilden nodded and rose to go. “And,” Thranduil added, “set a watch for the arrival of Dáin. We would not want him to arrive unexpectedly.”

“No, we would not,” agreed Ithilden grimly. “By your leave.” Thranduil waved his permission, and Ithilden ducked back out of the tent, already thinking about whom he would send as guards. He had already decided that he would have a larger party of warriors waiting nearby in case things went badly wrong. He did not trust Thorin, not since he had shot at Sinnarn when he was acting as a messenger.

As if Ithilden’s thoughts had conjured him, Sinnarn stepped out of the shadow of a large rock. He had evidently been waiting for Ithilden. “Adar, may I speak to you? Do you have time?” His voice was tight, making him sound nervous.

Ithilden slowed his step. “Yes,” he said, a little reluctantly. Sinnarn probably wanted to ask him yet again about being reassigned to the Home Guard, and with the approach of Dáin on his mind, he was not sure he was ready to have the conversation.

“Did you know that the hobbit was in camp tonight?”

Ithilden turned to him with an eyebrow raised. This was not what he had expected Sinnarn to talk about. “Yes.”

“When Legolas and I were escorting him back to the ford, he told us something.” Sinnarn hesitated and then, as if drawing on all his determination, said, “It was about the amount of wine I drank the night the Dwarves escaped.”

Ithilden’s mood suddenly hardened. The amount of wine had always been the sore point for him. The fact that Sinnarn had been drunk on duty had been bad enough, but that he would lie about how much wine he had drunk had seemed to Ithilden to be far worse. Much as he wanted to believe his son, he did not see how the claim could be anything other than a lie. Sinnarn had been far too drunk to have had only one cup, even if that was also what Galion said he had had. Alfirin might believe Sinnarn, but Ithilden thought she was being naive and had only just avoided quarreling with her about it.

Sinnarn read his mood with practiced accuracy, and his mouth tightened. “I know you do not believe me when I say I had only one cup, but Bilbo told us that he distracted Galion and me and then refilled the cups. So I did have only one cup, although I grant you that I also drank far more than I should have.”

Ithilden studied his son’s face. He knew that Sinnarn was trying to control his expression, but Ithilden had watched over his son with loving attention from the time he gave his first infant wail of protest at being expelled from the warm nest of his mother’s body, and he saw that Sinnarn waited with tense concern to see how he would respond.

“Sinnarn, I want to believe you. You know that I do, but how did it happen that you did not see Bilbo?”

“I do not know, but Bilbo said he had more to tell, and perhaps he will explain it.” Sinnarn hesitated. “Adar, can you not believe me just because I say it? I swear to you that I am not lying.”

Ithilden met his son’s earnest, pleading gaze, and suddenly, something inside him shifted. Or perhaps the shift was not sudden at all. Ithilden had gained new respect for his son in the last month as he watched him bear his punishment with dignity and courage, and he had seen other warriors observing Sinnarn and quietly showing the same respect. He looked away and then back at Sinnarn again and gave him a crooked smile. “After all that has happened, it turns out that I believe you when it is unlikely to do you much good.”

For a second, Sinnarn’s face froze in disbelief. Then he lunged forward to catch Ithilden in an embrace. “I am telling the truth, Adar. I promise you. Thank you for believing it.”

Ithilden patted his back and then sighed. “I do not suppose that is the only thing you wanted to say to me, was it?”

Sinnarn pulled away with a small, self-conscious laugh. “No. I was hoping you could see your way clear to send me back to the Home Guard. When we leave here, I want to go back to standing guard over those who cannot protect themselves, and you do not really need me as a messenger. You have Tinár, after all.”

They looked at one another, and suddenly they gave identical short bursts of laughter. Ithilden considered Sinnarn’s request and abruptly thought of Dáin and his approaching warriors. The thought that a messenger might be safer than a warrior flitted quickly across his mind, and then he thought of Thorin’s arrow, lodged in Sinnarn’s shield. He sighed. Even a messenger was not safe when the heart of an enemy was bent on war. “You can report to Todith immediately,” he said and tried to take satisfaction from Sinnarn’s obvious gratitude and joy.


Bow in hand, Legolas stood ready on the slope of the mountain below the abandoned guard post, watching as the party of Men and Elves ostentatiously laid down their weapons and started along the narrow path toward the Gate, where Thorin was supposed to be waiting for them. His father was in that party, as were Ithilden, Bard, and Gandalf. They intended to show the Arkenstone to Thorin and try to trade it for Bard’s share of the treasure.

Ithilden had apparently anticipated that the Dwarf might lose his temper when he saw that his enemies had the jewel, and thus had ordered Todith to have the Home Guard ready to rush forward and try to provide some cover if Thranduil and the others had to escape in a hurry. Legolas was not sure they would do a whole lot of good, for they would have to move into arrow range before they could shoot and that would take time. Presumably Thorin was ready to listen to another embassy though, for he had not shot at Tinár when he had been sent to ask for the parley earlier, an omission that had made Sinnarn roll his eyes and make caustic comments about lack of fairness. “And of good sense too,” Amdir had added. “I always knew Dwarves were slow-witted.”

Legolas had been overjoyed to see his nephew when he had reported to Todith that morning, with Nithron by his side. “Welcome back,” Todith had said. “I think we will let someone else guard any prisoners though.” They had all laughed, and that had been the end of Sinnarn’s exile. Now he stood nearby, watching with the others, as Bard’s voice floated indistinctly toward them. Legolas saw Mithrandir step forward and open the chest in which he was carrying the Arkenstone, and after a second of silence, Thorin let out an angry roar, followed by some more back and forth between Thorin, Bard, and Mithrandir. Then someone – Bilbo, Legolas realized – was scrambling down a rope being dangled over the face of the wall, and then the whole party was coming back toward them.

Todith waved them forward, and they followed him down the slope toward their camp, where they met Bard and Bilbo, making their way through the tents. Bard stopped and called to Todith. “Captain, will you send one or two of your warriors to see to it that Mr. Baggins is made comfortable in my tent? His ‘friends,’ the Dwarves, have decided that they can dispense with his company. I will come to you presently, Mr. Baggins.”

“Of course,” said Todith, and then, grinning, he turned and beckoned to Legolas and Sinnarn, as Bard went back the way he had come. “Take Mr. Baggins to Bard’s tent and wait with him until Bard comes.”

Legolas and Sinnarn looked at one another and then at a slightly alarmed looking Bilbo. “Yes, Captain,” Sinnarn said cheerily.

“Master Archer! Master Guard!” Bilbo greeted them. “Dear me!”

“Fear not, Mr. Baggins,” Legolas said, gesturing that Bilbo should walk in the direction of Bard’s tent. “We mean you no harm.” When rumor of Bilbo’s gift of the Arkenstone had swept through camp, Legolas had found that he could not help admiring the hobbit’s courage. And besides, when he had had a chance to consider, Legolas had decided that one could not really blame Bilbo or the Dwarves for wanting to escape. If Legolas had been held prisoner by the Dwarves, he would have used almost any means he could find to break free.

“We mean no harm?” Sinnarn sounded a little disappointed.

“No,” Legolas said firmly. “We just want to know how the Dwarves managed to escape.” After a moment, Sinnarn grimaced and nodded.

“I would like to know that,” he agreed.

“But I also want to know what happened with Thorin,” Legolas said. “Is he going to trade with Bard for the Arkenstone?”

Bilbo sighed. “Yes, Thorin is going to give him my share of the treasure at tomorrow.”

Legolas stopped dead in his tracks and turned to Bilbo. “Your share! What about you? Are you to get nothing for your trouble?”

“I really do not mind,” Bilbo said. “I do not know how I would have gotten it all home anyway.”

Legolas stared at him, his mind awhirl with thoughts of all those around him who seemed to have their hearts set on owning at least some of whatever was in the mountain. Suddenly, he laughed. “Mithrandir was right about you, Mr. Baggins. There is more to you than one expects.”

They walked the last few yards to Bard’s tent, and Sinnarn held the flap aside for them to pass through. Legolas waved Bilbo to one of the two cots, and he and Sinnarn sat on the other. “Now,” he said, leaning forward with his forearms on his thighs, “last night you said you refilled Sinnarn’s cup with wine and somehow got the Dwarves out. How did you do it all?”

Bilbo made a face. “It’s very simple really. I found, er, that is someone gave me a ring, and when I wear it, I am invisible, except for my shadow of course.” He pulled an innocent-looking gold band out of his pocket, held it out for them to look at, and then returned it to his waistcoat again. “It is a toy of no consequence really, but a very handy one for all that.”

Legolas gaped at the ring and then at Bilbo. How could such a small thing have caused so much trouble? he thought in disgust.

“And how did you get out?” Sinnarn demanded, looking slightly dazed.

“I packed the Dwarves into the empty barrels,” Bilbo said, looking a little sheepish, “and, fool that I am, forgot to plan a way out for me. But I put on my ring and got on one of the barrels and rode it out the watergate, so it all came out right in the end.”

“For you maybe,” Sinnarn mumbled. He was apparently less willing to forgive than Legolas was, for which Legolas could not really blame him. After all, Legolas was not the one who had had to serve as a local messenger for a month.

The tent flap was pulled aside, and when Bard entered, they all rose. Legolas and Sinnarn saluted, and he inclined his head toward them. “Thank you for seeing to my guest.”

Sinnarn moved as if to leave, but Legolas lingered. This was the first chance he had had to tell Bard how much he admired the Man’s courage and skill with a bow, and he might not get another. “It was our pleasure. We are honored to be of service to the archer who stood his ground when a creature of darkness swept overhead. You loosed an arrow that saved your people, and that is a deed worth doing.”

Bard’s grim face softened into a small smile. “Thank you, son of Thranduil. I welcome your words because they come from the son of a worthy ruler, but even more because they come from one of the archers of the Woodland Realm, whose skill is justly praised throughout Middle-earth.”

Legolas put his hand over his heart, bowed, and followed Sinnarn from the tent, feeling how fortunate he was to have met and actually spoken to one of those of whom the minstrels would certainly one day sing.


The next morning, Legolas was consulting with Todith about the duty roster when Sinnarn and Amdir came running into camp, their faces vivid with excitement. “Captain,” Sinnarn gasped breathlessly, “an army of Dwarves is moving around the eastern spur of the mountain.”

Todith drew a single sharp breath and then began issuing orders. “Amdir, go and tell Bard. Sinnarn, you tell Ithilden. Legolas, come with me. Let us see what we are likely to be faced with.” Amdir and Sinnarn hurried away, while Legolas hastily followed Todith up the slope of the spur of the mountain that lay behind them, the one pointing south. They stood on the heights and gazed across the river toward the east-pointing spur. The day was dark and gloomy, and a bitter wind blew from the west, sending strands of Legolas’s hair into his eyes, but there was no doubt what he and Todith were seeing. Hundreds of heavily armed and armored Dwarves were sweeping around the eastern spur and coming rapidly up the valley that led to the Gate.

A trumpet sounded an alarm in the camp, and Bard, Bilbo, Thranduil, Ithilden, Mithrandir, and most of the captains of both armies came hastening up to stand near them. Curious as ever, Sinnarn followed his father and grandfather. Eilian came to stand next to Legolas and eye the Dwarves appraisingly. “Those are experienced warriors,” he judged unhappily.

“How did they get here so quickly?” Bard demanded. He looked at Bilbo accusingly. “You said they were two days’ march away.”

“That is what Thorin said,” Bilbo responded in dismay.

“He must have gotten a message to Dáin telling him to hurry,” said Thranduil.

“How could he send it with us besieging him?” Bard asked angrily.

Thranduil shrugged. “The same way he sent the one summoning help in the first place. He sent birds perhaps.” They all turned to glance at the ravens circling over the abandoned guard post that lay above them.

The Dwarves had now halted their progress between the river and the mountain’s eastern spur, and what looked like a delegation of them was coming toward the Elves’ and Men’s camp. They forded the river and then laid down their weapons and held up their hands as a token they wanted to parley. “Come, Mister Baggins,” said Bard. “We will see what the friends of your friend Thorin have to say.”

Ithilden let out a soft breath, and Legolas glanced at his tense face. He guessed that Ithilden was unhappy that no Elves were to be included in the meeting. But standing just beyond him, Thranduil was coolly observing the Dwarves. “We outnumber them considerably,” he observed in a calm tone that Legolas found comforting.

They watched as Bard and Bilbo spoke to the Dwarves, and even from where they stood, it was obvious that the Dwarves were unhappy with whatever Bard said to them. They turned and started back across the river, while Bard and Bilbo returned to those waiting on the heights.

“You,” Bard beckoned to Sinnarn, who stepped toward him, looking a little startled at being so abruptly summoned. “Go at once to the Gate, and see if Thorin has sent out the share of the treasure he promised me. Hurry!”

Eilian glanced sharply at the Man. “He is eager enough for his share,” he murmured in Legolas’s ear.

Legolas frowned at him. “If Bard’s share is there, then we can go and leave Dáin a free path.”

Eilian raised an eyebrow. “And if it is not?” Legolas pressed his lips together and made no answer.

Sinnarn had hesitated, looking at Ithilden for permission to follow Bard’s order. After a moment, Ithilden nodded reluctantly. “Nithron goes too,” he said.

“Too right,” Legolas could hear Sinnarn’s keeper muttering.

Ithilden put his hand out to touch his son’s arm. “Be careful,” he murmured in a low tone that Legolas was just close enough to hear.

Sinnarn grinned, his eyes gleaming with excitement, for while he was acting as a messenger of sorts, it was obvious that this time, his mission was both dangerous and important. “You worry too much, Adar,” he murmured back, and, followed closely by Nithron, he bounded away down the slope toward the path that climbed up the edge of the falls.

“What happened with Dáin’s envoys?” Thranduil asked, his eyes still assessing the Dwarven forces. Ithilden was watching Sinnarn’s dwindling form, his brows drawn together in an anxious frown.

“They asked who we were and what we doing here, blocking their path to visit their kin in the mountain,” Bard said. “And they demanded that we get out of their way.” He gave a grim smile. “I refused.”

They waited for Sinnarn and Nithron to return, all the while watching the Dwarves conferring with the envoys who had spoken to Bard. In too short a time, Sinnarn and his minder came flying back, Sinnarn’s face much more sober. “So far as I could see, Thorin has sent out nothing,” he reported, his voice tight. “We did not get very close to the Gate. They shot at us as soon as we got to the top of the falls.”

Behind Legolas, Beliond spat a word that made all the Elves within hearing turn around and look at him, although the Men seemed to take it in stride.

“Dáin is on the move,” Eilian said suddenly, and they all turned again to look with dismay at where Dáin’s warriors were advancing along the eastern bank of the river.

“Fools!” Bard cried with satisfaction. “To come thus beneath the Mountain’s arm! They do not understand war above ground, whatever they may know of battle in the mines. There are many of our archers and spearmen now hidden in the rocks upon their right flank. Dwarf-mail may be good, but they will be hard put to it. Let us set on them now from both sides, before they are fully rested!”

Legolas jerked around to stare at him in appalled disbelief. Were Elves, Men, and Dwarves really going to slaughter one another for treasure? He admired Bard, but was he willing to kill so that the Man could have his share of the dragon’s hoard? From the corner of his eye, he saw his father turn from contemplating Dáin’s forces and sweep a cool gaze over Bard.

“Long will I tarry, ere I begin this war for gold,” Thranduil said, in an imperious tone that made every Elf around him come to attention. “The Dwarves cannot pass us, unless we will, or do anything that we cannot mark. Let us hope still for something that will bring reconciliation. Our advantage in numbers will be enough, if in the end it must come to unhappy blows.”

Legolas sagged slightly in relief and then found himself smiling at his father. There were times when being the son of Thranduil was the greatest source of pride in his life. And at the moment, he had no doubt that Thranduil was in command.

“The choice is not solely ours,” Eilian cut in suddenly and pointed to the valley. Legolas swung around to look and, to his horror, saw Dwarves swarming forward, bows in hand. Even as he watched, arrows soared across the river toward the camp. His heart leaping into this throat, he was suddenly in motion, running down the hill and pulling his own bow off his back.

Seemingly from nowhere, a clap of thunder sounded, making Dwarves, Men, and Elves all hesitate for a confused second, as the sky grew even darker. “What is that?” Sinnarn cried, and Legolas turned to look north where he was pointing toward the mountain’s peak, where an even darker cloud seemed to be moving toward them, although the wind could not possibly be driving it from that direction. Is it birds? Legolas wondered in confusion. If it was, there were so many of them that they blocked the light entirely.

“Halt!” shouted Mithrandir’s voice, and Legolas turned to find that he had climbed to the top of a boulder and now stood between them and the Dwarves with his arms raised. He lifted his staff, and Legolas flinched away as it blazed like a flash of lightning. “Dread has come upon you all! Alas! It has come more swiftly than I guessed. The Orcs are upon you! Bolg of the North is coming, O Dáin, whose father you slew in Moria. Behold! The bats are above his army like a sea of locusts. They ride upon wolves and Wargs are in their train.”

Both armies had halted where they stood, bows drooping toward the ground and heads turned to the sky with mouths agape. Evidently everyone else was as bewildered as Legolas felt.

Mithrandir raised his arms again and beckoned. “Come! There is yet time for council. Let Dáin son of Náin come swiftly to us!”

And then the world was in motion again. “Hold your positions!” Ithilden shouted and then ran after Thranduil and Bard, who were striding toward Mithrandir, just as three heavily armed Dwarves began wading through the river to approach from the other side. In the face of a common enemy, a new alliance was being forged.


I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien, but they are his, not mine. I gain only the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.

AN: I think I need a slight warning here. This chapter is the reason this story is rated PG-13.  It’s violent and people die. Anyone who thinks that Legolas never saw a death before Boromir’s has forgotten this piece of Mirkwood’s history. Some of the dialogue in this chapter is taken from The Hobbit, Chapter XVII, “The Clouds Burst.”


16. Battle of Five Armies

“They are coming back!” Legolas shouted, and with a shudder, Eilian turned from the eerie cloud of bats to see Mithrandir, Thranduil, and Ithilden racing back toward them again. Bard and Dáin were running in the other direction, and Elves and Men were swarming out of camp and sorting themselves into two parties.

“Take up places on the slope behind us,” Thranduil ordered, “and then wait for my signal to shoot. We are going to try to draw them into the valley between the two spurs of the mountain and then come at them from both sides. Ithilden! Get them into position!” Followed by his guards, he raced toward the southward pointing spur, evidently seeking some sort of command post. Eilian stared after him. So his father, not Ithilden, was commanding the Elves in this battle. Eilian quailed for a moment, for he had learned from experience to trust his brother implicitly. Then he reminded himself that Thranduil had been a warrior for centuries before he and his brothers were even born.

“Eilian!” called Ithilden, and he turned swiftly to see Ithilden indicating a place on the spur that was further into the valley. “I want you and your warriors there! Stay on the lower slopes and in the rocks at the foot, and be ready to move!” He turned and began giving rapid instructions to Todith about the Home Guard, and Eilian hastened to gather the warriors under his command get them into their assigned position. Thranduil was in charge, but Ithilden was still arranging things, he thought with satisfaction.

“Spread out,” he called when they had reached their place, and then watched as Galelas, Gelmir, and the others slid into hiding with practiced confidence. He took up his own place behind a rock a little way up the slope, with Maltanaur next to him, and unexpectedly found Bilbo crouching just beyond Maltanaur, holding a long knife that glowed faintly in the murky shadow of the bat cloud.

“Have you joined the Elves now, Mr. Baggins?” Eilian asked. “I thought that Bard had taken you as his friend.”

“He has,” Bilbo agreed, looking a little sheepish, “but I would like to take my stand among you Elves just the same, if you do not mind.”

Even in their present peril, Eilian could not help smiling at the valiant little creature. “You are most welcome. Keep to the shelter of the rocks though. This battle is likely to be no very safe place for a hobbit.”

Eilian glanced to either side of his own warriors and found the Eastern Border Patrol ranged to their left and the Home Guard to their right, with Mithrandir, Thranduil, and Ithilden on a rise that gave them a clear view of everyone. He caught a glimpse of Legolas just leaving Todith and running to take up a place at the near end of the Home Guard line. Beliond followed behind him, and Eilian drew what scant comfort he could from the keeper’s presence. Be safe, all of you, he thought, and then fingered the rune of protection that hung around his own neck. I am going home to Celuwen again, he thought with determination.

Then with his pulse and breath both accelerating in the familiar, not unpleasant tension that always came to him before battle, he looked across the valley to the other spur, where he could see Men and Dwarves taking up positions to match those of the Elves. On the highest part of the spur, he could see Bard and a few of his soldiers gazing north along the mountain’s edge. As he watched, the Men all stood immobile, as if they did not believe what their eyes were telling them, and then one of them took a small step backwards. Eilian’s eyes narrowed. The approaching danger must be frightening indeed. He had not liked the uncritical admiration Legolas had been showing toward Bard, and he had harbored unkind thoughts about Bard’s desire for treasure, but Eilian could not deny the Man’s courage.

Suddenly, the bats were overhead, in a cloud so thick that they shut out what little light there had been. Their repugnant squeaks sent a shiver down Eilian’s spine, but he had small time to react to them, for now, sweeping around the eastern spur of the mountain, Orcs mounted on wolves came bounding into the valley. This must be their vanguard, Eilian realized, checking his urge to shoot at them, because the main force was not in sight yet. His fingers twitched on his bowstring. These forward forces needed to be stopped! The Orcs would be an easier target if they were kept in a mass where they could not easily dodge arrows.

As if his thoughts had drawn them, Men came charging down from the eastern spur, loosing arrows and flinging themselves in the path of the wolf-riders, holding them back. As Eilian watched, in an agony of inaction, he saw Orcs being shot from their mounts, but he also saw Men falling and being set upon by the wolves. Eilian glanced toward Thranduil and Ithilden. He thought he understood the tack they were taking in waiting for the main part of the Orc army, but surely his father and brother would not leave the Men to stand alone!

But when he glanced back toward the scene below him, he realized that all waiting would soon be at an end. A black sea of Orcs was pouring into the valley, and the Men who were still able to move were scrambling quickly out of their way. As the Orcs raced forward, Eilian’s breath caught. He had never seen so many of them in one place. Suddenly, he thought about all the Orcs he had seen traveling toward the mountains. Could they have been gathering in the mountains to the north, at Mt. Gundabad perhaps, where they were rumored to have a stronghold?

He looked swiftly at Bilbo. “Did Thorin’s company encounter Orcs as they came through the Misty Mountains?”

Bilbo nodded, his wide-eyed gaze fixed on the invading army of Orcs. “We killed their chief,” he said, in an admission that made both the Orcs’ sudden arrival and their fury far more comprehensible. What was it Eilian had heard overheard one of them saying near  Dol Guldur? “I want to go too. We need vengeance for the slaying.”

But he had no time now to think about what might have drawn what seemed like every Orc in the north into this valley. His own battle instincts told him that the time for attack was at hand, and his attention narrowed to his bow, his arrow, and his enemy. And finally, Thranduil’s loud call came: “Shoot at will!” As one, the Elves around Eilian rose and sent arrows into the teeming mass of Orcs below them.


Legolas released his bowstring and sent his last arrow into the eye of an Orc who was charging toward the Elves’ position. Shouldering his bow, he drew his sword and then looked impatiently left toward where Eilian’s warriors were swiftly emptying their quivers and right toward where Thranduil was just releasing an arrow that sailed with deadly accuracy into the neck of a wolf-rider. Then Thranduil too shouldered his bow and scanned the line of Elves.

Legolas waited for his father’s order to charge only with difficulty, for his blood was hot now, and he dared not let it cool until the battle was over. He was seasoned enough as a warrior, however, to resist his impulse to move forward prematurely. To do so was to invite being accidentally killed by one of his own comrades’ arrows.

But Thranduil had his sword in hand now, the gleaming, beautiful weapon he had taken from Thorin, and as Legolas watched, he raised it overhead and then swept it down. “Forward!” he shouted, running down the slope. “For the forest!”

With a full-throated shout, Legolas too leapt from shelter and ran forward to thrust his sword at an Orc whose scimitar flashed as it swung toward his neck. In a flurry of battle wrath, Legolas ducked, ran the Orc through, and yanked his sword free to run forward again. “For the forest!” he shouted.

“For the forest!” echoed Beliond, who ran beside him with black blood already dripping from his sword too.

The mass of Orcs now turned toward the charging Elves, for the Men and Dwarves were still on the slopes of the eastern spur. What seemed like a wall of Orcs came rushing up to meet Legolas, and, for a second, he thought uncertainly of Dagorlad, where his Wood-elf ancestors had charged headlong into death with no one else to support them. But as he brought his sword up to block a scimitar, he heard other cries: “Moria! Dáin!” And he realized that the Men and Dwarves were swarming out of the eastern spur to set upon the Orcs and wolves from the other side, catching them unaware and sending a wave of them down to death before they had time to turn around.

The Orc in front of him had involuntarily turned his head at the sound of the new battle cries, and Legolas took advantage of the opportunity to slice his sword across the Orc’s neck. Spurting black blood, the creature fell without even a gasp, and Legolas had to jump out of the way of one of the Orcs’ own wolves that fell on him and began to tear at his bloody throat. All around him, warriors from every Elven patrol advanced with war cries ringing. Legolas saw Eilian clasp an Orc to him and drive his sword into the Orc’s armpit, and he glimpsed Galelas drawing the tip of his sword across an Orc’s midsection and spilling his guts on the ground. With awful exultation flooding his system, Legolas clasped his sword in both hands and waded into the tide of Orcs, swinging it with all his strength in an inartistic and deadly onslaught against his now wavering enemies.

For it was obvious immediately that the battle plan Thranduil, Bard, Dáin, and Mithrandir had made was working just as they had hoped it would. The Orcs had been drawn into the valley and now were caught between two forces, with no safe place at their backs no matter which way they turned. Panic suddenly seemed to sweep through their forces, and off to Legolas’s right, he could see those nearest the valley’s mouth beginning to retreat.

And at that moment, when victory seemed close at hand, a large rock crashed to the ground just behind Legolas, making him jump and turn so that only Beliond’s quick intervention kept an Orc from shoving a sword in his back. “Watch what you are doing!” cried his keeper.

Another rock came crashing down, and Legolas turned his gaze hastily up toward the top of the mountain. And what he saw made his breath catch. “Look!” he cried. His keeper took a quick glance and then, with a string of lively language, turned back to face the Orcs, who now were moving forward again, their faces alight. For on the mountain, on narrow paths from its northern side, a second force of Orcs was now streaming, hurling rocks and then descending along the spurs so that now it was Elves, Men, and Dwarves who were caught between two armies.

Legolas turned and began to push desperately against the Orcs in the valley, hoping that at least these could be disposed of before the others arrived in full force. An Orc came charging toward him, and he was raising his sword to thrust at the Orc’s face when something swept close to his head and squealed. Startled, he still managed to twist aside and drive his own sword down into the Orc’s belly, but not before the Orc had sliced a deep cut in his left arm. What was that? he thought feeling a moment’s panic, and then realized that with the coming of the second group of Orcs, the bats had swooped down from the sky and were swarming around people’s heads and ears.

And along with the fluttering wings and squeals of the bats, Legolas heard another new sound that sent terror skittering through his guts. He looked toward the mouth of the valley and saw that Wargs were making their way into the fray, followed closely by a group of unusually large Orcs who were guarding one who had to be their leader. Bolg, Mithrandir had called him when he warned of the Orcs’ coming, and his arrival seemed to put new heart into his troops.

Across the battlefield, Legolas could see that Bard and his soldiers were beginning to retreat back up the slope of the spur. In desperation, he turned back to the fight, for the Elves were still engaged in the battle. The wound in his arm was bleeding, but at the moment at least, he could not feel it. He glanced quickly around and found Beliond locking swords with one Orc, unaware of a second one coming at him from slightly behind. With a cry, he jumped forward and thrust at the second Orc, but not in time to keep him from pushing his sword into Beliond’s side. “No!” Legolas cried and in blind fury slashed his sword across the face of the Orc with whom Beliond had been fighting.

Ignoring the battle still raging around him, he leapt forward and knelt at Beliond’s side, slapping frantically at the bat that had landed on Beliond to feed at his wound. And then, over the uproar of battle, he heard Ithilden shouting: “To the king! To the king!” Glancing over his shoulder, he saw that, like Bard, the Elves were retreating.  The Orcs who had come over the mountain were being held back from the valley by a small force led by Thranduil himself, but the king’s troops were in imminent danger of being overrun.  All around Legolas, warriors were realizing what was happening, and those who could were disengaging and running back toward the spur of the mountain. Never taking his eyes from his father, Legolas gathered a groaning Beliond in his arms and rose to move him to some sort of shelter and then hurry to Thranduil’s aid.

“Look out, Legolas!” shouted Galelas. From the corner of his eye, Legolas saw Galelas jump forward to intercept an Orc, and grateful for the opportunity to get Beliond away, he ran toward the rocks at the spur’s foot. He could think of no real place of safety for his wounded keeper, so he hid him away amid the rocks where he fervently hoped the bats and wolves would not find him.

“I will be back for you,” he said, and Beliond nodded and then caught at his arm.

“Careful,” he gasped and then his hand slipped limply to his side.

“To the king!” Ithilden’s voice rang in the distance, and with despair washing over him, Legolas jumped to his feet and ran to the aid of his father.


Trying to keep between the approaching Orcs and the king, Ithilden shoved yet another Orc’s sword aside and then brought his own blade quickly around to stab the creature in the midsection. When the Orc gasped and doubled up, Ithilden shoved him over the edge of the rise, sending him crashing onto the rocks below. The wound in his own left leg had begun to bleed again, despite the bandaging wound tightly around it, and he had to slap another bat away, shuddering with disgust as he did so. He could see more Elves running toward them and recognized Annael, Sinnarn, and Nithron among them. Then he saw Legolas too rushing up the slope, blood staining the sleeve of his tunic. Some of the Home Guard warriors must have been nearby, Ithilden realized. Grimly, he raised his sword to attack the next Orc. At least the narrowness of the spur kept the Orcs from sweeping down upon them in a mass.

Suddenly a loud crash sounded from his right, and under the raised arm of the Orc he was battling, he caught a glimpse of the wall that had blocked the Gate tumbling into the pool, and Thorin and his companions leaping out to join the fray with their axes swinging. “To me! To me! Elves and Men!” shouted Thorin. “To me! O my kinsfolk!”

Ithilden was too busy to watch, but over the next few minutes, he could see Dáin’s warriors rushing toward Thorin, along with some of the Men and Elves who had been caught on the ground. The glimpses he stole told him that Thorin was driving forward into the heart of the Orc army and drawing near Bolg and his huge bodyguards. But they also told him that Thorin’s warriors were too few and they were eventually brought to bay, standing in a ring around Thorin and trying to defend him. Like us, Ithilden thought in despair, doggedly lifting his sword again.

From above him came Bilbo’s voice, and for a split second, he wondered where the hobbit had gone. But then Bilbo’s words penetrated his numb consciousness. “The eagles! The eagles! The eagles are coming!” And first one huge eagle and then another and another swooped past Ithilden to claw and flap their wings at the Orcs on the mountain, pushing them off the narrow path and onto the rocks below. Indeed, the air was now filled with the great birds.

He stood staring at them in astonishment, for a moment too startled to react, but behind him, Thranduil raised a shout. “Let the eagles take care of those on the mountain. We must go to the aid of those in the valley!” And suddenly, Ithilden’s hope bloomed again, and he swung around to eye the mass of warriors battling below. Thranduil had already begun to rush toward them, and Ithilden followed, catching quick, reassuring glimpses of Legolas and Sinnarn following their indomitable king into battle.

The next few moments seemed to stretch into an eternity. He swung his sword, sending Orc after Orc to the ground, at the same time trying to keep aware of what his troops were doing so that he could reposition them if need be.  We are holding our own, he thought, but only just! He turned to see if there was somewhere he might send his warriors that would turn the tide for them, and as he did so, he saw that Annael had somehow gotten caught amid a group of three Orcs and was spinning in a frantic effort to drive them off.

Ithilden had started toward him, sword raised, when suddenly he saw Sinnarn run up to stab one of the Orcs in the back and then immediately push forward toward a second one, oblivious of the fact that the first Orc had staggered but not fallen and was now lifting his sword. Ithilden tried to shout a warning, but all his breath had fled and he could not make a sound. He tried to run toward his son, but he felt as if he were running in water, his legs moving with agonizing slowness. Then, from nowhere, Nithron jumped between Ithilden and the unfolding scene, and an Orc came charging from Ithilden’s right, forcing him to stop and enter a battle of his own.


Legolas had lost track of Todith and the other Home Guard warriors. The chaos of the battlefield had left him knowing only where his enemy was. It seemed to him that the battle had raged for hours, and the day was wearing into night, but that could have been an illusion, for darkness had come upon them from the moment the Orcs and wolves had drawn near. He shoved his sword into an Orc’s belly and then pulled it out and tried yet again to advance toward the low, rounded hill where Thorin and the Dwarves were making their stand. He could see that Thorin was down, with spears protruding from his body, but the Dwarves fought on, and he could not but admire their determination and want to help them. The large Orcs who served as Bolg’s bodyguards were bearing down upon them now. We cannot keep this up much longer, Legolas thought in despair.

A change in the noise to his right made him turn that way, heart in his throat for fear that some new foe might have entered the battle. A giant black shape seemed to be making its way through the battlefield. As Legolas watched, frozen in shock, it let out a deafening roar and then picked up an Orc and flung him aside as if he were a rag doll. A bear! Legolas realized in shock. It was a giant bear, and the creature was apparently on the side of the Elves, for it was scattering wolves and Orcs as it came.

It plowed through the battle to reach the Dwarves and then gently picked up Thorin and carried him away. Legolas did not understand what was happening but took the animal’s appearance as a good omen and fell upon the nearest Orc, who, looking shaken and uncertain, retreated before him. Then Legolas heard the bear’s roar again, and again the animal entered the fray, this time heading straight for Bolg and his bodyguards. The Orcs were so dismayed by the bear’s appearance that it managed to accomplish what the Elves, Men, and Dwarves had not been able to do: It scattered the bodyguards and fell upon Bolg, crushing him beneath its great weight.

The Orc in front of Legolas gasped, moaned, and looked at Legolas in wide-eyed terror. Then with a cry, he turned and ran, and suddenly Legolas realized that the entire Orc army, or what remained of it, had given way and was now fleeing in a hasty, disorderly retreat. With a cry of excitement, Legolas leapt after them, and all around him, Elves, Men, and Dwarves joined in the chase.

With startling speed, the valley was emptying, as Orcs scattered in all directions. Amdir suddenly appeared next to Legolas. He was bleeding from a cut above one eye, but his face was alive with excitement. They looked at one another, and Legolas saw a savage grin on Amdir’s face that he knew was reflected in his own. With unspoken agreement, they turned and began running after a group of Orcs who were fleeing down the west bank of the river.

Suddenly Bard was in front of Legolas. “Lieutenant, find your captain and get this pursuit organized,” he ordered. “You Elves go after any that go into the woods. We Men will search the marshes. I want every last one of them dead.” And before Legolas had time to respond, he was gone.

Amdir blinked after him and then glanced at Legolas. He was teetering on the balls of his feet, and it was obvious that he could scarcely contain his desire to go after the Orcs now, a desire that Legolas shared.  But Bard was right; they would do better if the chase were systematic. And as an officer, Legolas had other duties to attend to. Someone needed to find the wounded and gather them to be tended. Someone needed to see to the dead.

He looked around and spotted two other Home Guard warriors. “Get them and start searching the woods from the point nearest us,” he told Amdir and then turned to race back up the valley in search of Todith.

With the joy of battle seeping out of him, he looked around the battlefield and suddenly sobered.  Where only minutes before, it had teemed with warriors, now only scattered figures walked across it, none of them Orcs. Most of the people here lay scattered across the ground. And almost immediately, he found Todith, his sightless eyes turned to the cold, November sky, where stars were now emerging. For a second, Legolas stood, staring at his body. Todith was the captain under whom Legolas had first served, the one who had taught him the difference between training and real battle, the one who had sent him home after he was wounded for the first time and then welcomed him back with reassuring confidence in his abilities.

“Legolas.” Annael’s voice came to him from far away. Slowly he turned to face his friend, whose right hand was wrapped in bloody bandaging. “Legolas, you are wanted in your father’s tent.”

Legolas blinked at him. “I am in command of the Home Guard now,” he said, trying to make sense of what Annael was saying. “I need to organize the pursuit of the Orcs. And I need to see to our wounded.” Suddenly he recalled Beliond. “I left Beliond behind some rocks over there,” he cried, pointing and starting toward them.

Annael grasped his sleeve. “We found him already and took him to the healers’ tent. I will take care of it, Legolas, but right now, you are wanted in your father’s tent.”

Legolas faced him now and, in Annael’s eyes, he saw sympathy. With a cry, he turned and ran toward Thranduil’s tent.


Eilian stared down at Galelas’s limp, inert form, and suddenly, his eyes were swimming with tears. Life had given Galelas strength and skill with weapons but had withheld from him the simple blessing of a loving family, a blessing that Eilian took as much for granted as he took having air to breathe. Perhaps because his family was so unsatisfying, Galelas had loved being part of a warriors’ patrol, and Eilian rather thought that he had loved being part of Eilian’s patrol in particular. Whatever the case, he should have had long years in front of him yet to find joy in the woods and in the love of a maid.

“Eilian,” Maltanaur put his hand on Eilian’s shoulder. “You are wanted in your father’s tent.”

Wiping away the tears, he looked blankly at his keeper.

“Your father has sent for you,” Maltanaur repeated. Eilian glanced past him to where one of Thranduil’s guards waited and, abruptly, his heart contracted in fear and he began to run.


Legolas ignored the guard in front of Thranduil’s tent and pushed the flap aside to enter unbidden. Several Elves were gathered around one of the two cots, but Legolas’s eyes went straight to the other one, where a body lay, swaddled in a warrior’s cloak. With an inarticulate cry, he darted toward it and pulled the cloak away to stare stupidly down into the face of Sinnarn’s keeper, Nithron. From over his shoulder came a strangled cry, and he looked up to find Eilian right behind him.

“He died protecting Sinnarn,” Ithilden’s voice sounded choked, as if he could barely draw enough air. Legolas turned to find his oldest brother looking wild, with Thranduil’s arm around his shoulders. Nithron had been Ithilden’s keeper before he was Sinnarn’s, Legolas suddenly recalled. A healer bent over the figure on the other bed. Sinnarn, Legolas realized, and if the healer was here, then he was still alive. He let out a whoosh of air and licked his lips.

“How is he?” he asked.

“He is gravely injured,” Thranduil answered steadily, not letting go of Ithilden. “He has a deep wound in his side.”

The healer straightened and turned to them. “That is true,” he said, “but I think his vital organs are untouched.” And suddenly, Legolas could see that Ithilden was trembling. “He is strong,” the healer continued, “and there is hope. If he lives the night, he will probably survive.” He began gathering his belongings in preparation for leaving.

They stared at him. “You are not going!” Ithilden exclaimed.

“There are many other wounded, my lord,” the healer said, fastening his cloak. “I will be back later.” He bowed and left the tent.

Thranduil looked at Legolas and Eilian. “Go and see if you can find hot tea. And,” he hesitated, “I think it would be better if Nithron’s body were moved to lie with other dead. I want Ithilden to lie down.”

“Adar, I could not do it! And I have duties to see to!” Ithilden looked appalled. “And Nithron deserves something better.”

“All of the dead deserve something better,” Eilian put in somberly.

“You have well-trained officers who will see to everything,” Thranduil insisted. He nodded to Eilian and Legolas, signaling them to take Nithron’s body, but Eilian pushed forward and gathered it gently into his arms and left the tent. Not knowing what else to do, Legolas followed him.

“I will see to Nithron,” Eilian said. “You get tea for Ithilden and Adar.”

Legolas stood uncertainly for a moment, and then started toward one of the cook tents, where he could see a fire burning. He found a cook handing out tea and rough food and took what he needed back to his father’s tent. Thranduil had seated Ithilden on the empty cot and began coaxing him to drink the hot liquid. Neither of them even noticed when Legolas stepped back outside to sit down on a bench that had been placed before the tent.

He dropped his head in his hands, wondering why victory felt so bitter. Someone sat down next to him, and he was not surprised when he heard Eilian’s voice. “I know we had to have this battle, and I know we won. Tomorrow we will rejoice, for I would guess that three-quarters of the Orcs in the north are now dead. But at the moment, I find I feel only exhaustion and sorrow.”

And then Legolas could contain himself no longer. He leaned into his brother’s arms and wept and knew that, in his embrace, Eilian too was crying.


I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien, but they are his, not mine. I gain only the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.

AN: Some of the dialogue in this chapter is taken from The Hobbit, Chapter XVIII, “The Return Journey.”


17. Going Home

Legolas became aware of the fact that he was cold and drew his cloak more tightly around him. Then his eyes came into focus on a low-burning campfire that Eilian was just stirring into life again. Over his head, the stars were winking out in the grey sky of early dawn. Abruptly memory returned, and he sat up, feeling the stiffness that came from spending two or three hours sleeping on the ground in November. “How is Sinnarn?” he asked.

“I just sent a guard for a healer,” Eilian said. He looked at Legolas, his face sober. “I have to go and see to our troops, Legolas. You do what you can for Ithilden and Adar first. Tell Ithilden not to worry. Adar has asked me to manage things for him for a day or two.” He smiled faintly. “Or perhaps you should not mention that unless Ithilden asks. He has enough to alarm him already.”

Legolas gave a small laugh and then climbed to his feet. “I will come to you as soon as I can. With Todith dead, I am responsible for the Home Guard.”

Eilian nodded, accepting without question Legolas’s acknowledgement of his responsibility. Trying to relieve Ithilden and Thranduil of anything but the care of Sinnarn, the two of them had spent most of the night dealing with the aftermath of the battle and coordinating the search for any remaining Orcs. They had collapsed near the fire in front of Thranduil’s tent only far into the night.

A whooshing sound made them both turn to look toward the southern spur of the mountain, where the sky was suddenly full of eagles, rising into the morning and sailing westward, on their way home again. “They certainly arrived when they were most needed,” Eilian marveled. Then he walked off toward the previous day’s battlefield. To Legolas, his walk was less jaunty than usual and he seemed weighed down by the responsibility he had picked up for their brother. But then, the battle had sobered them all, Legolas thought.

He went first to fetch food and hot drinks as he had done the previous night, determined that this morning, both Thranduil and Ithilden would eat. He lifted the flap of his father’s tent and stepped quietly inside. Ithilden sat on the ground, sound asleep, leaning against the cot in which Sinnarn lay. Someone, probably Thranduil, had pulled the blankets off the second cot and tucked them carefully around him. Thranduil slept on the bare cot, wrapped in his cloak, with his arm flung across his face. At Legolas’s approach, both of them jerked into wakefulness.

Ithilden stared at Legolas for a second and then turned abruptly toward Sinnarn, rising as he did so. He put his hand gently on his son’s forehead, brushing away a strand of dark hair. “Get a healer,” he ordered without turning.

“Eilian already sent for one,” Legolas told him. He handed a cup of tea and a chunk of bread to Thranduil, who was rising with his eyes on Ithilden. “Eat,” he said firmly, drawing a surprised scowl from his father. He approached the cot with the rest of the food and flinched at how pale and still his nephew was. “How is he?”

“He has not awakened since I found him,” Ithilden said, his tight voice a sure sign of how much he was struggling to maintain his customary self-control. For an appalled moment, Legolas considered this statement. He had not realized that it had been Ithilden himself who had found his son. How terrified Ithilden must have been. On the battlefield, it would not have been easy to tell if Sinnarn was alive or dead.

The tent flaps parted and the healer entered. Legolas backed out of the way, and the healer bent over Sinnarn. “Sit,” Thranduil ordered Ithilden, indicating the second cot, and even at this grim moment, Legolas could not help being a little amused. He had certainly heard his father use that tone of voice to himself and to Eilian, but he did not believe he had ever heard Thranduil treat Ithilden in quite so fatherly a manner. And for a moment, Ithilden reacted just as Legolas or Eilian might have: He glared at Thranduil, but then, as Legolas would have expected, he gave in, sat down, let Thranduil wrap a blanket around him, and took the tea their father lifted from Legolas’s hand and gave to him.

The healer pulled the blanket back over Sinnarn and straightened up. “His pulse is strong, and there is no sign of infection.” He looked at Ithilden. “I would say he is as determined as you are, my lord, but I think he is expending his strength on healing himself rather than on such wasteful actions as worrying.”

Ithilden stared at him, and Thranduil caught at the cup that had sagged in his hand. “He will recover?”

“I think he will,” the healer nodded. He began gathering his belongings.

Ithilden drew a deep breath. “How are our wounded faring?” he asked.

The healer grimaced. “I think that most of those we are caring for will survive, but almost every one seems to have taken at least some hurt.” He indicated the wound on Ithilden’s leg. “Are you seeing to that?”

“I am,” Thranduil put in firmly, “but you should look at Legolas’s arm.”

“Eilian already did,” Legolas said, and the healer nodded and went on his way. He probably had far too many seriously hurt patients to worry about the walking wounded.

Thranduil pressed the cup of tea back in Ithilden’s hand. “Drink.”

Obediently, Ithilden took a drink and drew a deep wobbly breath. “You cannot imagine what it was like, Adar. I had seen that Sinnarn was in trouble, but I could not go to his aid right away, for I had troubles of my own. And then when I went looking for him, I saw Nithron sprawled on the ground. That was bad enough because no one needs to tell me that I owe my own life to him many times over, and then when I ran to him, it was obvious right away that he was dead. And I panicked, wondering where Sinnarn was. And then I realized that Nithron’s body was draped over someone else and when I disentangled them, it was Sinnarn.”

Thranduil sat next to him and put his arm around Ithilden’s shoulders. “He will recover, iôn-nín,” he crooned. “He will be fine.”

Feeling like an intruder, Legolas eyed them both. They looked both tired and unlikely to leave Sinnarn’s bedside anytime soon. “I must go and see to the Home Guard,” he said, “but I will be back as soon as I can. You both will be more useful to Sinnarn if you eat and maybe even take some rest.”

They nodded, although Legolas would have been surprised if they had heard him, and then, as Legolas was leaving, Thranduil softly called, “Thank you, Legolas.”

Legolas had decided that he would go first to the healers’ tent, intending to check on Beliond and then on the other hurt Home Guard warriors, and as he walked along, he mused on the unfamiliar feeling that came from being in a position to care for Thranduil and Ithilden, rather than the other way around, but his attention was soon caught by the activities on the battlefield.  All across the valley, Elves and Men were searching, presumably for the wounded and dead. The hurt were carried to the healers’ tents, and the dead lay in long rows near the river, wrapped in their cloaks and waiting for the rafts Eilian had sent for to come and carry them home. Songs of lament for them had risen again and again throughout the night, each time the Elves found another of their lost companions. At the Gate to the mountain, Dwarves were removing what remained of the wall. In the distance, smoke climbed, presumably from fires that were consuming the bodies of Orcs.

He paused for a second outside the healers’ tent and assessed the number of Elves he saw. Most of them must still be pursuing Orcs, he thought. He would have to find out how the hunt was going as soon as he was finished here. Then he ducked into the tent to begin checking on his warriors.


Thranduil watched as two of Thorin’s companions lifted his body and laid it gently in the tomb they had prepared for him, deep under the mountain. He was only one of the mourners at this funeral. He would preside at many others when the bodies of the Elven dead reached home, but at least in the last two days, he had concluded that his own grandson would not be numbered among them.

Bard stepped forward, the Arkenstone glowing in his hand like a fallen star. He laid the jewel on Thorin’s breast. “There let it lie till the Mountain falls!” he proclaimed. “May it bring good fortune to all his folk that dwell here after.” Then he stepped back, and Dáin signaled to the waiting Dwarves to slide the stone slab into place over the tomb. Thranduil had spoken to Dáin several times since the battle’s conclusion and would try to do so again before the Elves left for home, for Dáin would now be King under the Mountain, and Thranduil intended that the alliance they had forged in battle should hold good now for the benefit of both their peoples.

The Dwarves stepped away, and Dáin gestured to Thranduil, who moved forward to lay the gleaming sword he had taken from Thorin on top of the tomb. “May this sword serve you and your people even now, Thorin Oakenshield, for Elvish enchantment lies upon it. It will gleam when any of your enemies approach, and the people of the mountain will never again be taken by surprise.” He stepped back into place, aware of all three of his sons looking at him speculatively, undoubtedly wondering about the source of the enchantment. He suppressed a smile. Let them wonder, he thought. Let them all wonder, and let their wonder breed a little healthy caution. He turned back toward the tomb, and from across it, Mithrandir winked at him.

When they emerged from the Gate, Bard was by his side, with a cloth-wrapped bundle in his hands. “My lord, I ask that you accept this gift from me in token of the aid you have provided and as a sign of the lasting friendship that I hope will exist between your people and mine.”

Thranduil took the package, pulled the silk aside, and then could not contain a gasp. A necklace hung heavy in his hands, with hundreds of emeralds gleaming grass-green in the sunlight.

“The emeralds of my ancestor Girion,” Bard said.

“My thanks to you, Bard, King of Dale. May your people flourish again as once they did,” said Thranduil.

From behind him, Thranduil heard Legolas mutter to Eilian, “You see? I told you so. I should have taken the wager.”

“He can afford to give a necklace away,” Eilian murmured sourly back. And that was true enough. Dáin had honored Thorin’s promise to Bard and given him the one-fourteenth share of the treasure that he had pledged in return for the Arkenstone. Bard had sent much of it to Esgaroth, but he still retained enough to rebuild Dale. The emeralds must have come from that returned treasure.

Unlike Eilian, Thranduil could not hold Bard’s eagerness for treasure against him. The Man had wanted it for his people, not for himself, and in Thranduil’s opinion, what he had asked for had been rightfully his.

Bard bowed and went on down the rough steps that served as temporary access to the Gate. He doubtless had things to see to in coordinating his soldiers’ part of the search and also was already conferring with other Men and some of the Dwarves about the rebuilding of Dale. Thranduil hoped that Bard’s Mannish ears had not been acute enough to hear Legolas and Eilian. He would speak to his two younger sons later about the need for greater discretion.

Or perhaps he would not. He had come out of his haze of fear for Sinnarn aware that he had allowed himself to feel it and to spend all his time supporting Ithilden in his care for his son only because Eilian and Legolas had taken the running of day-to-day matters into their own hands and had done so very capably. Thranduil was used to thinking of Eilian as unreliable and Legolas as too young to be entrusted with serious decisions, but in the past two days, they had proved themselves both steadfast and trustworthy. Perhaps it was time he acknowledged to himself that they were adults, whose actions were their own to govern and decisions their own to make.


Legolas stood on the riverbank, watching the last dead Elven warrior being laid gently down next to his silent, still companions on one of the rafts that were now ready to set off for home. Thranduil stood in front of his troops, his cloak flapping in the cold winter wind. As the first raft shoved off from the shore, he intoned the first notes of a song of mourning and, all around Legolas, the voices of warriors rose to join their king in sorrowful music, singing their dead on their way home. Near Thranduil’s stronghold, families and friends would claim the bodies of these lost ones and mourn them at funerals that would no doubt be spread over several days, but here their fellow warriors raised their voices to sing of their companionship and valor, and to tell Mandos that they were heroes who were worthy of places of honor in his Halls.

Legolas sang for them all, with memories of their faces and voices flashing through his mind. He saw Todith smiling at him and felt his warm touch as they exchanged a warrior’s armclasp on the day he pledged his faith as a warrior. He saw Galelas challenging him with fierce competitiveness when they were novices together and saw him too on the battlefield, crying “Look out, Legolas!” and leaping forward toward a threatening Orc as Legolas hurried the wounded Beliond away from danger. He saw Nithron agonizing over Sinnarn’s banishment from the Home Guard and smiling broadly when he rejoined it.

He glanced to where Ithilden stood, supporting Sinnarn, who really should still be lying on his pallet. Their faces were rough with grief, although Legolas could see Ithilden murmuring what he assumed was some sort of comfort into Sinnarn’s ear. Legolas knew that Sinnarn was taking his keeper’s death hard and feeling guilty over the fact that Nithron had died protecting him. He had heard Ithilden trying to tell his son that Nithron’s death was not his fault, but at the moment, Sinnarn was not ready to listen.

And nearby stood Tinár, looking stunned. He had sat next to his brother’s body, silent for once, until those loading the bodies of the dead had gently loosened his hands from their clutch on his brother’s cloak. Then he had looked up in confusion. “He is too young to be dead,” he had said, and Maltanaur had come and pulled him away.

The last of rafts full of dead had now disappeared down the river, and the song came to a wavering close, as more rafts slid up against the bank and Elves began carrying the badly wounded aboard. The rest of them would walk home, but those who were severely hurt would go by water. Ithilden had lowered Sinnarn onto his pallet again and picked up one end of it, as Legolas hurried to take the other. They lifted him onto the deck of the raft, with Sinnarn biting his lip against the pain even that movement gave him. “What some warriors will do for an easy ride home!” Legolas teased gently. “Or is all this just to get some sympathy from Emmelin?”

Sinnarn smiled bravely. “I do not need tricks to get sympathy from Emmelin. She is fool enough to love me without tricks.”

Ithilden smiled and patted his son’s shoulder. Then he turned to Legolas. “Thank you,” he said. “Thank you and Eilian for everything you have done in the last few days.”

Legolas shrugged and then embraced him. Ithilden was going to make the trip home on the raft with Sinnarn. “We will see you and Sinnarn at home. Take care,” Legolas said and then jumped back to the shore to help move the rest of the wounded, including a very cranky Beliond, so that they, too, could be sent on their way.


Thranduil turned on his horse to look back at the line of warriors marching behind him, scanning to see where Bilbo and Mithrandir were riding, with Beorn striding along beside them in Man shape, laughing and singing. Thranduil had not seen the shape-changer in many years and had been startled almost beyond measure when he arrived at the battlefield in bear shape. But Beorn, too, would be a good ally, and it seemed to Thranduil that all the peoples of the north were in closer communion as a result of the events at Erebor. He hoped that with Sauron and Smaug both gone they would have peace for at least for a while, but he could not help but fear that perhaps the Valar were nudging them all into an alliance that would be needed only too soon.

They were nearing the edge of the woods now, and Mithrandir had told him that he and Bilbo and Beorn would leave the Elven host there. Thranduil nudged his horse to the left and then slowed him so that Mithrandir and his companions could catch up.

“Will you not change your minds and stay with me a while?” Thranduil invited. “Winter is closing in, and you will have a hard journey if you do as you intend and go around the northern edge of the woods.”

Bilbo’s eyes widened in alarm at the idea of entering the woods, and Thranduil could not help but laugh, although he supposed he did not blame the hobbit. From what Bilbo had told him in the last few days, he and the Dwarves had had a difficult time crossing the Woodland Realm, and the hobbit evidently had no wish to repeat the experience.

Mithrandir noticed Bilbo’s look too and laughed. “We will take our own way, as we had planned,” he said and then turned to Thranduil. “Farewell! O Elvenking! Merry be the greenwood, while the world is yet young! And merry be all your folk!”

Thranduil found himself unexpectedly moved by this blessing. The Elves had much for which to thank the wizard, even if he had sent the Dwarves to them with no warning. “Farewell! O Mithrandir! May you ever appear where you are most needed and least expected! The oftener you appear in my halls the better shall I be pleased!”

Bilbo now pulled something from his pocket, cleared his throat and said, “I beg of you to accept this gift!” He extended a packet to Thranduil, who took it and pulled the wrappings open to find a necklace of silver and pearls that must have come from the parting gift that Dáin had given the hobbit.

“In what way have I earned such a gift, O hobbit?” Thranduil asked, struck yet again by the little creature’s generosity.

“Well, er, I thought, don’t you know, that, er, some little return should be made for your, er, hospitality. I mean even a burglar has his feelings. I have drunk much of your wine and eaten much of your bread.”

Thranduil could not help laughing. Legolas had told him what Bilbo had said about his ring of invisibility. To think that the hobbit had been in his palace almost a month and none of them had known it. What a wondrous toy the hobbit had in his possession. Thranduil supposed that when Bilbo reached home, he would be thrilling his neighbors with his tricks. “I will take your gift, Bilbo! And I name you elf-friend and blessed. May your shadow never grow less, or stealing would be too easy. Farewell!”

“Farewell!” called Bilbo, as he and Mithrandir rode off northwards, with Beorn striding along beside them.

The head of the line of Elves had now entered the woods, but rather than riding forward again, Thranduil lingered, allowing the line to pass him until he spotted the person he was looking for. This time, he slid from his horse and allowed the animal to meander along the edge of the column while he walked along beside his second son, who was at the head of the section of the line that included the warriors on leave from the Southern Patrol. Gelmir and Maltanaur had been walking next to Eilian, but on seeing the king, they both saluted and fell a little distance behind.

“Mae govannen, Adar,” Eilian said. His tone was easy enough, but he was clearly cautious, wondering why Thranduil had sought him out.

“Mae govannen, Eilian. I wanted to tell you how well you did at managing matters while Ithilden and I were both with Sinnarn. You performed a precious service for me and for your brother, and I thank you.”

Eilian smiled, relaxing a little. “You are entirely welcome, Adar. I must say I am glad to have you back running things though. I think I prefer to be a simple captain.”

Thranduil smiled back at him, wondering how to raise the topic that he had really sought Eilian out to discuss. He looked forward to where the warriors of the Eastern Border Patrol walked ahead of them. “I also wanted to say that I was very sorry about the death of Galelas, for it seemed to me that you took his loss hard.” He glanced back at his son to find that Eilian’s face had stiffened.

“I have had warriors die before, Adar.”

“Yes,” said Thranduil gently, “but this one I think you were fathering along, much as you used to do with Legolas. You are good with young people, Eilian. They like you and you like them. And the loss of this one hurt you, I think. I am sorry for your pain, but I also must say that I would not change your generous heart, even if I could.”

They walked along in silence for a minute or two, and then Eilian sighed. “He deserved a better family than he had.”

“But he could not have had a better captain,” Thranduil answered and patted Eilian’s shoulder.

“Thank you, Adar,” Eilian said, giving him a small smile.

Thranduil dropped his hand and considered the rest of what he had to say. “Sauron is gone, at least for a while, and Smaug is dead. And there will be far fewer Orcs in the woods, given the number of those who perished in the battle. The realm will be a safe place for raising children for a good many years I would think.” He grinned at Eilian, whose eyes had widened in what looked very much like alarm. “It would be a good time to have elflings of your own, Eilian. You would be an excellent adar.” And before Eilian could answer, he stepped out of the line so that the flow of passing warriors carried Eilian on without him. His son looked back, with an exasperated expression on his face, while a laughing Maltanaur stepped into the place Thranduil had just vacated.

Thranduil watched the lines of warriors passing, all of them saluting him as they did, and he waited until he spotted Legolas, walking at the head of the Home Guard, with Annael by his side. Annael promptly dropped back a yard or two, just as Gelmir and Maltanaur had done, and like Eilian, Legolas seemed to brace himself a little apprehensively at Thranduil’s unexpected approach. “Mae govannen, Legolas.”

“Mae govannen, Adar.”

“I have told Eilian and now I will tell you how much both Ithilden and I have appreciated your help in the last few days. You did well with a heavy responsibility. I am proud of you.”

Legolas flushed slightly and smiled. “Thank you, Adar. I was happy to do what I could.”

“What did you finally think of Bard?” Thranduil asked.

Legolas hesitated, apparently turning the question over in his mind. “He is a courageous warrior, and I think he will be a good leader for the Men of Dale. I must admit, though, that he shocked me with his willingness to attack Dáin’s warriors when they first came. I cannot get over the fact that he would have slaughtered them for treasure! I had not realized Men were quite so greedy and bloodthirsty.” His tone suggested just how appalling he had found the Man’s attitude, and Thranduil was not surprised. He had seen his son’s face when the Man he admired had advocated attacking the Dwarves.

Thranduil looked at Legolas thoughtfully. “I agree that Bard will be a good leader, and you know I want him as an ally. But there is no doubt that he has both strengths and weaknesses, just as Elves do, although perhaps the typical weaknesses of Men and Elves are different. I would not want you to judge all Men by Bard, Legolas, nor would I want you to be too harsh in your judgment of him. Admire Men if they merit it, and censure what there is to criticize. You do not have to dismiss anyone as an ally because he has flaws.”

Legolas grimaced. “I will try to remember that, Adar.”

Thranduil stepped out of the line again, called to his horse, and mounted. He started back toward the front of the line but paused as he came abreast of where Legolas and Annael were once again walking together.

“Annael,” he called, “be sure to tell Emmelin that I look forward to dancing with my new granddaughter-by-marriage at her wedding.”

Annael looked startled but then laughed. “I will tell her, my lord, just as soon as she tells me that I am to give her permission to marry. But she has to dance with her adar first.”

“That seems right,” Thranduil acknowledged and then, his heart lifting at the joys the Wood-elves might yet find, he rode on into the forest.

The End


Thank you to everyone who has read this story. It’s been a long haul and I hope the results have been worth the effort you’ve put into reading! Thank you especially to everyone who has reviewed. Your comments and encouragement are precious to me.


Home     Search     Chapter List