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A Spring of Joy  by daw the minstrel

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter for me. This chapter is all OC, but Legolas dominates the next one. Be patient!


1. Settlers

Spring, 2951 TA

Eilian strolled beneath the newly leafed trees, thinking with satisfaction of his afternoon’s work. The repairs to the waterwheel had gone well. By the next day, the Elves of the settlement would be able to use its force to grind their stored grain into flour again. It had been a long three weeks since the spring flood had knocked the wheel off its pins. Celuwen would be glad to hear that she could put her pestle away.

“I think I will hurry home,” one of the neighbors working with Eilian had said with a grin. “My wife will want to reward me for what we have accomplished today.”

Eilian laughed to himself. Celuwen might be willing to reward him too, and the honey-sweet thought of it made warmth flare low in his belly, even though he knew any such “reward” would have to wait until the stars had flowered. The song of the awakening forest hummed all around him, and he sang softly back to it as he walked. Without even deciding to do it, he veered off onto the path that would take him the longer way home. He had not been this way in nearly a week, and he wanted to see how spring had crept in among the trees.

Suddenly, the hair on the back of his neck stirred, and a second later, he realized why: A faint, discordant note was vibrating through the song around him. Intuitively, his hand went to the hilt of the knife in his belt. Slowly, he moved forward, scanning the trees, the ground, the sky—using instincts that had been honed by years as a warrior. The murmur of unease around him suggested that something frightening had occurred here, although its effect on the mood of the trees was now fading, as if whatever had produced it had happened some time ago. Do not borrow trouble, he cautioned himself. Sauron has left the woods, and the dragon is dead. We are at peace. Nonetheless, he drew his knife.

His eye was caught by something not quite right in the leaf litter—a bit of fluff, a stretched out tangle of twigs and dry grass. He frowned and crouched to prod the debris, the remains of a jay’s nest he now realized, one that a predator had robbed. But what kind of predator knocked the nest from the tree, tore it to bits, and, judging by the bones he could now see, consumed three fledglings? An owl might carry away a baby jay, but it would not work this kind of thorough destruction, and its hunt for prey was a normal part of the life of the forest. The trees would never have reacted like this to an owl’s raid on another bird’s nest.

He searched for some sort of indication of the kind of creature the predator had been, but he found no recognizable tracks, just some half obscured imprints of a foot that looked almost webbed. But what kind of water creature would be this far into the trees? Still puzzled, he rose, sheathed his knife, and scanned the trees around him, trying to read something from their disturbance, but he could tell nothing other than that whatever had occurred had happened some time ago, probably during the night.

He frowned. No one else in the settlement had mentioned hearing this dissonance. He could hear the woods better than most Elves could, he knew, a fact he silently attributed to his being the son of the Woodland’s king. So perhaps he was being too sensitive, too ready to find trouble where there was only a minor tragedy.

Finally, he shrugged and started on his way again. Celuwen would be watching for him. He felt a brief twinge of pity for the mother jay, but life was hard for baby birds and the mother had no doubt lost chicks before. As he rounded the last turn of the path toward his cottage, he deliberately shook off his lingering unease and happily looked, as he always did, for the first glimpse of the place where his heart dwelt.

As he had expected, Celuwen was in the vegetable garden, kneeling between the rows of recently sprouted peas and pulling weeds from around the small plants. As Eilian emerged from the trees into the clearing, a small figure who had been squatting next to her gave a cry, jumped up, and came running toward him with arms outstretched. “Ada! Ada!”

With a joy so pure he would not have believed it could exist until it came squirming into his life, he caught the child in his arms, swung her around, and then drew her fiercely toward him, and rested her on his hip. “Who is this filthy little maid?” he asked, rubbing his thumb gently over a smudge of garden soil on her round cheek. “She is so dirty that I am not sure I know her. Let me see. Are you Tree Dancer?”

The child giggled. “No, Ada.”

“Are you Shooting Star?”

“No, Ada. You are being silly!”

“I know! You are Flower Face!”

“Only you call me that, Ada! It is me, Loriel!”

“So it is!” He nuzzled her neck, making her squeal and push at him with pudgy hands that had obviously been grubbing in the garden. Laughing, he looked up to see Celuwen smiling at them and climbing to her feet. With Loriel still on his hip, he walked toward his wife, as she put her hands in the small of her back and stretched. He leaned to kiss her cheek. “Could you not use a hoe to do that?”

“A hoe would not know the difference between a weed and a pea plant,” Celuwen said. “Did you never set foot in the palace vegetable gardens?”

“Not if I could help it. I had more amusing things to do.”

Celuwen laughed. “I remember. I would have thought you might spend time weeding the garden in payment for some of them.”

Eilian grinned. “If my adar had thought of it, I would have spent enough time in the gardens to feed the entire palace staff for a year.”

“I like the garden,” Loriel piped up. “I found a worm.” Eilian flinched as she began to dig in the pocket of her muddy gown, and he was unsurprised when she produced a writhing worm and held it up for his inspection.

“Lovely,” he said. “But I think that worm lives in the garden. In fact, I am sure of it. It would not want to come inside.”

Loriel looked doubtfully at the worm. “What will it eat?”

Eilian cast about for an answer. How could his tutor have talked at him for all those years and never told him what worms ate? “Dirt,” he declared.

Loriel frowned. “Nana says it is bad for you to eat dirt.”

“It is bad for elflings,” Eilian agreed hastily, seeing Celuwen make a face at him. “Elflings should leave the dirt for the worms to eat. You would not want to take this fellow’s meal so he goes hungry, would you?”

“No.” Reluctantly, Loriel handed him the worm, and he stooped to drop it back into the soft soil of the garden where it promptly slithered away.

They began moving toward the front door of the cottage. “Would you like a hot bath?” he asked Celuwen, who was still rubbing her back. “That might help your back, and we need to get this one cleaned up before we go to your parents anyway.” He squeezed Loriel, who was playing with one of his braids. He tried not to think about the dirt and worm slime on her hands.

“A bath would be wonderful,” Celuwen said fervently. “I left water heating.”

“Good. Here, Flower Face. You go with Nana and get cleaned up so you will not disgrace us at your grandparents’ table.” He set Loriel on her feet, and with a glad cry, she scampered off toward the front door of the cottage. She loved visiting Celuwen’s parents, a flaw that always puzzled Eilian, given that he found Loriel to be unusually bright. Celuwen followed their daughter inside, while Eilian went back around the corner to the garden and lifted the large wooden tub down from where it hung on the outside wall of the cottage.

He carried it into the cottage to find Celuwen pulling Loriel’s gown off over her head as the child danced from foot to foot on a large towel that Celuwen had spread on the floor in front of the fire. “Hold still,” Celuwen commanded exasperatedly.

Eilian laughed as he carried the tub past them toward his and Celuwen’s sleeping chamber. “If you can make that happen by command, I hope you will start ordering the weather next.”

He set the tub down, returned to the central room, and took a heavy cloth in hand to lift one of the pails of water hanging over the fire. He poured a little of the hot water into the basin on the floor next to Celuwen and reached for the bucket of cold water that stood ready for use nearby. He added two dippers full of cold water to the basin, stuck his finger into it to see how hot it was, and then added another dipper of cold water.

“That should be all right,” he told Celuwen, who gave him a smile, dipped a flannel into the water, and caught at the now naked, still dancing Loriel to begin to wash her. Eilian took the second pail of hot water from over the fire and carried both pails into the sleeping chamber to empty them into the tub.

For a second, he paused, contemplating the small tub and the shallow water, and thinking of the way water ran into his father’s dwelling from the underground river that flowed beneath it and was pumped into boilers in all the bathing chambers so that a hot bath was something one took for granted, not something one worked for. Then he shrugged and reached for the spare blanket at the foot of the bed and flung it over the tub to keep the water from cooling too quickly. His father would no doubt find ironic satisfaction in the fact that Eilian had surprised himself by enjoying the tasks that came with the simple life in this settlement. He went back into the central room, filled the buckets from the pump at the sink, and hung them over the fire again.

He turned to find Celuwen holding a wiggling bundle of toweling. With a last struggle, Loriel shoved the towel away from her face. “Mae govannen, Nana,” she cried.

Celuwen laughed. “Mae govannen, Loriel.” She glanced at Eilian. “Can you get ready in the time it will take me to dress her?”

“Of course. I spent most of the afternoon floundering in the mill stream, so all I have to do is change my clothes and wash the places where your daughter touched me.”

Celuwen laughed again, and Eilian pulled off his tunic to splash cold water over his face and then swipe at the braid that Loriel had been holding. He went into the bedroom, and by the time he emerged, lacing up the clean tunic Celuwen had left out for him, Loriel was dressed again and hopping around the room playing “bunny rabbit,” with her dark curls still tumbled around her face.

“Let me just add these other two buckets of water to the tub,” Eilian said. “It is not as hot as other was, but it should not be too bad.” He added the two buckets of warm water to the tub in the sleeping chamber and turned to go back to the parlor to watch his daughter while his wife bathed. To his own surprise, he felt only the slightest twinge of regret that he would be spending this time with the smaller female in his life. He would have time with Celuwen later.

“Let me comb your hair, Flower Face.” He caught his daughter around the waist and drew her onto his lap as Celuwen handed him a comb and brush and disappeared into the sleeping chamber. Loriel sang softly to herself as he brushed the tangled mass, careful not to pull when he encountered a knot. Then he began to work strands of the hair into braids that would keep it neat during the evening meal, amused to realize that the song Loriel was singing was about her hopes for the happiness of the worm she had found.

“Where are your shoes?” he asked when he had finished.

Loriel tilted her head back to look up at him, and with a wonder that never seemed to fade, he looked at her and saw again his mother’s wide grey eyes, fringed with heavy dark lashes. “In the garden?” she suggested.

Reluctant to leave her on her own, he carried her out into the garden, where indeed her shoes lay, caked in dried mud. Still holding on to her, he picked up the shoes and sat down on the garden bench. He knew from experience that if he set his daughter down on the bench beside him, she was likely to escape and he would have to clean her up all over again, so he kept her on his lap and reached around her to scrape the mud off the shoes with his knife. Then he slid them onto her feet and tied them. “There you are. Let us see if Nana is ready yet.”

When he entered the cottage, Celuwen was just coming out of the sleeping chamber, fastening a clasp in her own hair, which she had swept up onto the top of her head. He set Loriel down. “As always, you look beautiful,” he told Celuwen. At times, he was still utterly unable to believe his good fortune.

“Make my hair pretty like Nana’s!” Loriel demanded, tugging at the end of one of her braids and already beginning to unravel it.

“There is not enough time,” Celuwen protested, her tone suggesting that she knew just how unlikely she was to be heeded.

Eilian smiled a little sheepishly. “I can do it quickly.” He reached for the brush again as Loriel ran to stand in front of him with her back to him. And indeed, he worked rapidly with a skill whose origin he had decided it was better not to explain to his wife. “There.” He kissed the top of Loriel’s head and set the brush aside. “I will just empty the tub before we go.” He took the tub out to garden, emptied the water around the plants, and hung the tub on the wall.

At the front of the cottage, he found his wife and daughter waiting hand-in-hand. Loriel put her other hand up for him to take, and they set off through the lingering summer light, occasionally swinging her between them as they went. The door of his in-laws’ cottage stood open, and they went into the firelit warmth to find Celuwen’s mother just turning away from a fragrant pot of stew that hung over the fire.

“Grandmother!” cried Loriel running toward her with her arms raised.

Isiwen crouched to hug her. “My, you look pretty tonight, sweetling.”

“Ada fixed my hair,” Loriel chirped happily.

“Surely she should be older before she wears her hair up,” said a gruff voice behind them.

Eilian tried to keep from grimacing as he turned to face his father-in-law, and Celuwen spoke hastily. “There is no harm in it, Adar, and it makes her happy.”

Sólith snorted. “She will be old enough to have suitors swarming around her soon enough. Let her stay a child while she can.”

Loriel flung herself at her grandfather, whose face softened as he picked her up. “You are silly, Grandfather. I will not have suitors. I am going to marry Ada.”

It was obvious to Eilian that Sólith was struggling. “Your ada is already married to your nana,” Sólith finally managed to spit out. Eilian choked back a laugh. If Sólith had had his way, Eilian would never have gotten within a league of Celuwen, but in that case, Sólith would not have had Loriel in his arms. Of course, Eilian was certain that Sólith preferred to believe that Loriel had been dropped down their chimney by an eagle.

Loriel was apparently considering her grandfather’s news. “Then I will just always live with Ada and Nana,” she said at last. To Eilian’s surprise, he caught himself wishing that Loriel would always be with him and Celuwen, just as she was now. He felt a sudden, disconcerting flash of understanding for his father-in-law.

“The stew is ready,” Isiwen said, rescuing Eilian from having to spend time sympathizing with Sólith. They gathered around the table, with Celuwen and Eilian across from one another, Isiwen at the end near the fire, and Sólith at the other. Before he sat down, Sólith lowered Loriel onto the chair between him and Eilian. Sólith had built a small seat that fit onto the chair and boosted Loriel up to reach the table. He had built a second seat for her to use at home too.

“How is your garden doing, Celuwen?” Isiwen asked as she put stew and bread on the plates and passed them around. Eilian cut up Loriel’s food for her and then ignored it as she pushed food onto her spoon with her fingers. At least she used the spoon, he thought.

The meal passed pleasantly enough, with Eilian and Sólith ignoring one another, and then they all went to sit outside for a few moments while the evening settled around them. Sólith picked up a stick, loosened the bark, and began to carve a whistle for Loriel. “Is the waterwheel any closer to being mended?” His tone plainly suggested that he did not hold out much hope for a positive answer. He was tenacious in his belief that Eilian would be too restless and pampered to do the work of day-to-day living in the settlement.

“It will be working again by tomorrow,” Eilian answered, not bothering to keep the triumph from his voice.

Sólith’s mouth tightened as he handed the whistle to Loriel, but he said nothing more. Loriel ran about blowing the whistle for a while, but soon she crawled into Eilian’s lap and leaned against his chest with a huge yawn. “We need to be getting home,” he said, rising and settling his daughter with her head drooping on his shoulder.

Celuwen rose too. “Thank you for the meal, Naneth.” She kissed her mother’s cheek and then her father’s. “We will see you tomorrow.”

“Good night,” Isiwen said, coming to kiss the top of Loriel’s head, where the hair was coming loose from the knot Eilian had made.

Loriel was relaxed and heavy in his arms, asleep before they were halfway home. He lowered her into her bed and Celuwen undressed her while Eilian went into the main room and saw to it that the fire would be ready in the morning. At last, he crawled into his own bed, where Celuwen already lay. With a sigh of pleasure, he took her in his arms.

“I think you and my adar are getting along better,” she said.

He smiled and buried his face in the silk of her hair. “True. He has not threatened to gut me for some time now.”

She laughed, a throaty sound that made his stomach flutter. He kissed her on the side of the neck, and as her laugh turned to a sigh, he covered her mouth with his.


With his heart pounding, Eilian came suddenly into wakefulness, groping frantically for what had disturbed him. Next to him, Celuwen was already getting out of bed. “Go back to sleep,” she said. “I will check on her.” As Celuwen left the room, he heard Loriel whimper and dropped his head back onto his pillow, drawing a deep breath. Sometimes it seemed to him that he would never sleep peacefully again; even in a time a peace, too many dangers lurked in Middle-earth, ready to waylay his unsuspecting child.

After a few moments, Celuwen padded back into the room and slid into the bed. “She might have been cold. I put an extra blanket over her and closed the window.”

“Good.” He pulled Celuwen close to him and let her warmth comfort him enough to relax into sleep again.

He was running along a path, seeking for something or someone. His breath came in great, terrified gasps. Suddenly he realized that a creature he did not recognize was pursuing him. He nearly sobbed as he tried to run faster, and then, to his horror, he knew that the creature was not after him, but someone else. He tried to call out a warning and awakened with the strangled sound of it in his throat.

For a second, he lay gasping, so relieved to find he had been dreaming that he could not move. Then he drew a shaky breath and turned he head to look at the pale square of the window. He could hear the first birds and knew he would have to get up soon and get the fire going so that Celuwen could cook the morning meal. He tried to relax so he could seize his usual few more moments of rest, but his dream had left him too tense. Careful not to disturb Celuwen, he rose, drew on leggings and a tunic, and went out into the main room, closing their door silently behind him.

The room was unexpectedly cool, and abruptly he saw why: The front door of the cottage was ajar. The remaining wisps of his dream terror suddenly solidified again, and he lunged across the main room to the open door of Loriel’s sleeping chamber. To his horror, the only things in her bed were the rumpled blankets. With his heart racing, he whirled, grabbed his sword from where it hung on the wall near the cottage door, and tore out into the grey dawn.

There, he forced himself to stop and look for signs of who had entered and left the cottage. He frowned. The only marks he could see had been left by small, bare feet. Could Loriel have come out here alone? he wondered incredulously. Even as he asked himself the question, he rounded the corner of the cottage and saw a small, white-clad figure standing at the edge of the clearing, looking into the trees.

Relief weakened his knees and nearly made him collapse where he was. Then anger stiffened his legs again. “Loriel!” He heard the sharpness in his voice, and she must have heard it too, because she turned to look at him with her eyes wide and her mouth open in a small circle of surprise. “What are you doing out here by yourself?”

She blinked and looked back over her shoulder at the trees. “The trees are different, Ada. I wanted to see why.”

He had been striding toward her, but now he stopped and listened to the rustle of the forest. She was right, he realized, with a shock. The trees were different: They were afraid. Hastily, he crossed the remaining distance between them and caught her in his arms, awkwardly angling his sword away from her. The hem of her night dress was wet with dew, and her bare feet were cold. “You must never leave the cottage without telling me or Nana,” he said as firmly as he could. “You know that animals hunt near here sometime. Something could mistake you for its next meal.” He wondered if the troubled note of the trees’ song had been what disturbed his dream.

She looked at him with serious eyes. “I am sorry, Ada.” He knew she did not understand. How could she? She had been born in a time of peace and had no idea of the kind of peril that had once prowled these woods.

He turned to carry her back into the cottage, where he found an alarmed looking Celuwen just starting out the door. He set Loriel on her feet just inside the doorway. “She went out by herself,” he told Celuwen, whose mouth dropped open and then closed in a thin line as she turned to glare at their daughter. Loriel’s eyes widened, and she backed up a step. Eilian did not blame her. He backed away when Celuwen looked at him that way too.

“I am just going to take a quick look around outside,” he said and ducked back out the door, closing the door to shut out the sound of Celuwen scolding Loriel behind him. He had not had the heart to scold her very hard himself, but he had no objection to Celuwen doing it. What Loriel had done was dangerous. Fewer Orcs were in the woods since the Battle of Five Armies, but some still lingered, and the spiders still scuttled there.

He looked thoughtfully at the trees. Something about their disturbed song seemed familiar. He began circling the cottage, studying the ground for signs that a predator had approached during the night. Suddenly he halted, feeling his stomach tighten so that for a moment he could not breathe. The grass beneath the shuttered window of Loriel’s sleeping chamber was trampled. He crouched to examine the ground, trying to determine what might have been there. Perhaps it was only a deer come to feast on Celuwen’s garden, he told himself.

And then he saw it – the print of a slightly webbed foot. And he knew immediately why the trees sounded familiar. They were singing the same disturbed song he had heard near where the jay’s nest had been torn to bits. He stared at the print. He still had no idea what kind of creature had made it. He saw that the hand he was using to push the grass aside was trembling slightly and clenched it into a fist. Then he rose and scanned the area around him. He would make sure that whatever it was was not lurking nearby, he thought determinedly and started back inside to get his bow and quiver.


Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter for me.

AN: I know it can be hard to sort out the chronology of my stories because I jump around in time when I write them. A list of my stories ordered by Legolas’s age is available if you click on my author page.


2. The Captain of the Home Guard

Legolas stood in the doorway of the Home Guard’s headquarters, watching the last of the warriors who had been on night guard duty meandering through the sweet-smelling morning toward their homes. He turned back to where his lieutenant waited for instructions as to where Legolas wanted him to lead his patrol that day.

“Annael, I want you to stay here today and look over those reports on the new warriors who will be joining us in a week or two. Prepare a plan for what duties they will serve and who will act as their partners for the next month. I will take the patrol out in your place. I have stayed inside headquarters too much. I owe it to my warriors to get out into the field and see what they are facing.”

Annael raised a skeptical eyebrow. “What they are facing today is spring. Did you not feel the need to see what they were facing two days ago when we had that icy rain?”

Legolas grinned at his friend’s irreverent tone. He and Annael had played together when they were toddlers and gotten into trouble together as they grew older. If necessary, Annael could alter his manner in an instant and address Legolas as “Captain” or even “my lord,” but he was unlikely to stand on ceremony when the only other people left in the room were Sinnarn, Beliond, and Tynd. Legolas’s nephew had recently married Annael’s daughter, so Sinnarn was now related to Annael as well as Legolas, a fact that pleased Legolas, since it made his friend a member of his extended family. And the two bodyguards lived too close to their royal charges to require formality. They knew enough compromising things about Legolas and Sinnarn to have a great deal of leverage if they were ever of a mind to practice some illicit “persuasion.”

“I knew I could rely on you to tell me if anything needed my attention that day, and you did not,” Legolas said.

Annael laughed. “True enough. What was I thinking?” He moved easily toward Legolas’s desk, sliding his bow off his shoulder as he went.

Legolas reached for his own bow and then turned to the three warriors waiting to go out on patrol and regarding him with various degrees of amusement. “We will make a sweep through that area south of here where the patrol found the spiders last week,” he announced. “I want to be certain we got them all.”

“It is about time you got out into the woods,” snorted Beliond, moving toward the door.

“I thought you liked it when I stayed at my desk,” Legolas said, following him. “I believe you called it ‘staying out of trouble.’”

His bodyguard shrugged. “If you do as I tell you, you will stay out of trouble on patrol too, and you get cranky when you have to stay indoors too long.”

Just behind Legolas, Sinnarn gave an incredulous laugh. “Are you saying that Legolas is the one who gets cranky?”

Beliond gave him a cool look. “What are you suggesting, Sinnarn?”

Sinnarn grinned and held up his hands, palms outward. “Not a thing. I have frequently noticed how bad-tempered Legolas is.” He glanced at Tynd, who was also grinning. Sometimes Legolas envied Sinnarn’s easy relationship with his bodyguard, who was only a few years older than Legolas.

Beliond gave a low growl, and the rest of them laughed and followed him out into the still cool air of spring. Legolas inhaled deeply, taking in the scent of lilacs, new leaves, and damp earth, contented beyond measure to be entering the woods on such a day. Despite the peace that largely reigned in the Woodland Realm since the death of Smaug and the slaughter of the Orc army, he had learned that life was too unpredictable to waste even one nice day by sitting indoors.

He ran ahead across the grassy area in front of the Home Guard’s headquarters and leapt into a maple that reached to welcome him. Without looking, he knew that Beliond, Sinnarn, and Tynd had jumped too, and he led them south, exhilarating in the powerful spring of the branches beneath his legs and the feel of the wind on his face as he raced along. He barely heard Beliond spit a word that Legolas would never have dared repeat in front of his father and knew that his keeper wanted him to slow down, but he had too much faith in his own ability and was enjoying himself far too much to do it. Besides, he knew without a shadow of doubt that the trees would not let him fall.

After a league or so, he reduced his pace and finally stopped. They were nearing the place where a patrol had met a small group of spiders the previous week. The Home Guard warriors had killed all that they saw and found no more after searching the area, but they had also found no nests, and Legolas was uneasy about whether there might be a colony somewhere from which the spiders had come.

Beliond alit on the branch beside him. “I thought we agreed you would do what I tell you,” he snapped.

Legolas laughed. “Did you tell me to do something?” Beliond drew a deep breath, obviously preparing to say exactly what he thought of careless movements in the treetops, but the arrival of Sinnarn and Tynd forestalled him. They were both grinning, and Legolas decided it was better not to let them provoke Beliond by speaking. He looked around. East felt the most likely, he thought, without quite being able to say why. “Spread out. We will start by sweeping eastward from here.”

Beliond closed his mouth with a snap and looked east. He glanced at Legolas and then, without a word, moved off about twenty feet to the right to take up a position from which he could search for spiders while still keeping an eye on Legolas. Sinnarn had already started moving to the left with Tynd right behind him. Legolas waited until they were in position and then pushed off from the branch on which he stood to go forward, scanning the trees for signs of spiders as they went.

For an hour or so, they made their way methodically through the woods, staying as high in the trees as they could so that they could focus their search downward rather than having to look up as well. For Legolas, the search settled into a predictable rhythm: land on a branch, scan the trees ahead and below him as the branch flexed under him, leap forward into the next tree as the branch rebounded. Despite the fact that they were looking for an ugly and dangerous enemy, he could think of few better ways to spend his morning.

Suddenly, from his left, a signal sounded, and Legolas felt his heart speed up. Immediately, he veered toward where the sound had originated, finding Sinnarn and Tynd waiting high in an oak. Without speaking, Sinnarn swept his arm in a half circle, inviting Legolas to look beneath them.

The first thing Legolas saw was the webbing, thick as his arm and trailing from the branches to the ground, ready to trap anything unwary that wandered into it. He grimaced as he spotted what looked like the body of a fawn swaddled in webbing and hanging upside down about ten feet off the ground. And then, almost immediately, he saw other shapes, suspended in sacs of webbing. Eggs, he realized, breathing a little more quickly.

He ran his eyes rapidly upward and finally spotted a hulking black shape, hidden in the crotch of an old elm where several strands of web ran together. His stomach tightened in revulsion at the sight of the creature, waiting for something to stumble into its web so it could scuttle down the strand to paralyze and then bind its prey. Like all Elves, he was at ease with most of Arda’s creatures, but these spiders made his skin crawl. He loathed them with a concentrated passion.

“Search the area. Be sure we find them all,” he murmured, and Sinnarn and Tynd both nodded and then slid off to one side to search. Legolas beckoned to Beliond, and the two of them went the opposite way, moving carefully and avoiding any webbing so as not to attract the attention of the spider or of any companions it might have. Scanning the trees, he spotted another spider, just as Beliond touched his arm and pointed to it. He nodded, and the two of them continued. By the time they had circled the area and met Sinnarn and Tynd again, he had counted twenty-two spiders with six egg sacs, a small colony but one that could have become a big problem if they had not found it before the eggs hatched.

“How many?” he asked.

“Twenty-two,” Sinnarn reported, and Beliond and Tynd both nodded confirmation.

Good, Legolas thought. They all agreed. He studied the way the spiders were arrayed in the trees. “Go around to the other side,” he murmured to Sinnarn. “Take out the ones perched highest first. And keep to your side of the grove. I would not like to have to explain to Ithilden how I came to shoot his son.”

Sinnarn grinned. “Would you like to wager on who shoots more?”

Legolas could not help grinning back, especially when Beliond rolled his eyes. Legolas knew that Beliond thought keeping track of how many kills they had was a potentially dangerous distraction. But Legolas and Sinnarn had not played this game for a while, because Legolas’s duties as the patrol’s captain kept him out of the field most of the time, and he had missed it. “My new bracers for those swan feathers you have been saving.”

“Done.” Sinnarn and Tynd moved off. Beliond took up a place in the tree adjacent to the one in which Legolas perched, bow in hand, and the two of them waited for the signal that Sinnarn and Tynd were in position. Then it came. Legolas fitted an arrow to his bowstring, took aim at a spider straight ahead of him, and whistled the signal to attack, releasing his arrow as he did so and knocking the spider off the branch where it perched to tumble to the ground below with black blood spraying in an arc as it fell. He grinned, thinking of how annoyed Sinnarn would be by his timing. He supposed his quick shot might count as cheating a little on his wager with Sinnarn, but surely that was one of the advantages to which a captain had a right.

He swiveled quickly to his right and shot the spider that was highest in the trees in that direction and then shot one just below it, feeling a grim satisfaction at wiping these creatures out of existence and making the forest clean again. By now, however, the creatures were reacting, scuttling frantically through the branches, trying to escape, and it was becoming harder to be sure that he had cleared the area for which he was responsible. In Legolas’s experience, such chaos was an inevitable part of any battle, and all anyone could do when it erupted was keep shooting at any target that presented itself.

Suddenly, he saw a spider running along a strand of webbing straight toward him, evidently being driven by Sinnarn and Tynd. He shot it in the eye, making it rear back and then fall with its legs wriggling. He looked gleefully across the tree tops at his nephew, catching a glimpse of Sinnarn’s indignant face as he turn to shoot at another spider. No doubt Sinnarn would have something to say later about how Legolas had stolen his target.

Legolas leapt forward to a branch from which one of the egg sacs hung, paused to shoot at a spider below and another one in the tree opposite. Then he spun, panting a little and looking for targets. Rapidly, he scanned the branches around him and the ground below, but all the spiders he saw were dead. Slowly, he lowered his bow.

“Legolas, above you!” shouted Sinnarn’s voice, and from the corner of his eye, Legolas caught a glimpse of a dark form overhead. With instinct honed by long practice, he whirled, raised his bow, and shot, and then had to dodge out the way to avoid having a huge spider land on him. As the creature plummeted past him, splattering blood on his tunic, he saw three arrows, one with his own fletching in its belly, one with Sinnarn’s in its neck, and one with Beliond’s in its face.

Rather shakily, he backed up and leaned against the trunk of the tree in which he stood, as Beliond landed next to him. “Where did that one come from?” Legolas asked.

“Behind you,” Beliond answered, his face pale. “I do not think it was here when we counted them. It must have been trying to protect the eggs.”

Legolas drew a deep breath. “We need to count bodies and make sure we got them all.” He pushed himself off from the tree trunk and made his way to the ground, to meet Sinnarn and Tynd, who came running toward him.

“Did it bite you?” Sinnarn asked.

“No. Count the bodies,” Legolas said. Sinnarn turned away but looked back inquiringly when Legolas caught at his arm. “Thank you for the warning.”

Sinnarn grinned. “You are welcome. As it happens, I would not like to have to explain to grandfather how you came to be bitten by a spider while I was nearby holding a bow.”

Legolas laughed, suddenly feeling much better. “Check the fletching on the arrows. I think I killed seven.”

Sinnarn’s eyes narrowed. “Are you counting that last one?” he demanded.

“Yes, I am. My arrow was first.” Legolas grinned as Sinnarn spluttered.

“Nonsense,” said Beliond, coming up behind Legolas. “My arrow was first. Are you two going to count bodies or play games?”

Legolas exchanged an amused look with Sinnarn, and they all moved off to count the dead spiders, finding when they did so that there were indeed twenty-three bodies. The last spider had not been there when the patrol made its count. Tynd and Sinnarn scrambled back into the trees to cut down the egg sacs and webbing, while Beliond cleared a space for a fire and Legolas began piling the bodies, sacs, and webbing to be burned. He hated touching the spiders. He had to grasp them by the legs, and the wiry hairs on them crunched under his hands, while the stiff carapaces rattled as he dragged the bodies to the fire.

Sinnarn and Tynd finished their task and came to help him. Then they all sat down to wait for the fire to burn itself out. Legolas wiped his retrieved arrows on the grass, listening to Sinnarn and Tynd pick up the threads of a conversation they had been having in the Home Guard’s headquarters that morning.

“So did you get her to show you how to stitch up Isofir’s wound so it would heal faster?” Sinnarn asked. Legolas knew that Tynd was interested in healing and indeed that when he had served under Eilian in the Southern Patrol, he had usually been the one who tended to the patrol members’ hurts before they were sent home to the healers. Apparently, he was also interested in a very pretty healer.

“Yes, I did,” Tynd said, with as much dignity as he could muster. “She said she was happy to help me learn to care for our troops better.”

“I wonder she was able to resist you after that,” Sinnarn teased. “After all, what maiden does not find it romantic to have someone watch her sewing up a great ugly cut in a warrior’s backside?”

They all laughed. Legolas glanced from Tynd to Beliond and back again. After Sinnarn’s first bodyguard had been killed at the Battle of Five Armies, Legolas had been startled when Thranduil chose Tynd to replace him. Until then, Thranduil had always chosen warriors from his own generation to watch over his sons and grandson, but of course, Legolas, Eilian, and Sinnarn had all been very young when Thranduil appointed those keepers. Legolas supposed that Thranduil had decided that an experienced, fully adult Sinnarn would not take well to someone new snapping at his heels. Sinnarn and Tynd seemed to have developed a more equal relationship, one that Legolas sometimes envied, although he had to admit that he also valued Beliond’s advice now, as he learned to command the Home Guard.

The fire dwindled to smoldering ashes, and they got up to kick them apart. “We should scout this area further,” Legolas decided. “I would just as soon stop any problem here before it gets well started.”

“We should keep a tally on kills for the rest of the day,” Sinnarn suggested. He was already mourning the loss of the swan feathers he had been saving to fletch the arrows he planned to use during the summer archery contests.

Legolas grinned at him. “It will do you no good, but if it makes you happy, I am willing to accommodate you.” As it happened, however, they ran into no more spiders before they returned to headquarters late that afternoon. Legolas found Annael at the small table just inside the door, taking reports from the warriors who had been out patrolling that day.

Annael eyed the black blood spattered on Legolas’s tunic. “I take it you found spiders.”

“Yes. The colony was small, but there were egg sacs. We found no others but I want to send regular patrols to that area for a while. I think I want you to lead them. You might be able to find tracks that I missed.”

Annael nodded. “Today’s other patrols are all back. None of them found anything unusual.”

Legolas smiled slowly. There still were times when he could scarcely believe how peaceful the woods had been in the last ten years.

Someone knocked lightly on the frame of the building’s open door, and he turned to see Sinnarn bending to kiss his wife’s cheek. “Good evening, my sweet. I thought you were meeting us at your parents’ cottage. Did you come to fetch us? Are we late?”

Emmelin smiled at him and then at Annael. “Naneth says if you two do not come soon, she will feed your meal to the squirrels.” Annael laughed and got up to come around the table and join them.

“Mae govannen, Emmelin,” Legolas said.

“Mae govannen, Legolas.” She ran her gaze over his tunic and frowned. “Did you find spiders today, Sinnarn?”

“Indeed we did, but you will be happy to know that you are married to a mighty warrior who skewered them all in about five seconds.”

Legolas laughed. “Ask him who killed more spiders, Emmelin.”

“You cheated,” Sinnarn accused.

“Possibly so,” Legolas agreed cheerily. “You can leave the swan feathers in my chamber if I am not there.”

Looking reassured by their good humor, Emmelin put one hand through Sinnarn’s arm and held her other hand out to her father. She glanced back over her shoulder. “Sinnarn and I will see you at home tonight, Legolas.”

Legolas raised his hand in farewell and then set off to report to Ithilden on what his patrol had found. The door to the building housing his brother’s office stood open, just as the Home Guard one had, and when he entered, Legolas found that the door to Ithilden’s inner office stood open too. “Is he not here?” he asked Ithilden’s aide.

“No, the king sent for him a few moments ago,” the aide said. “Can I help you?”

Legolas shook his head. It had been obvious to him for several days now that Thranduil had something on his mind. Legolas wondered if his father was finally going to take his usual course of action when he was disturbed and talk to Ithilden about it. That would be good. No one was better than Ithilden at handling their father in a calm, rational manner. “No. I was just going to report. It can wait until morning.” He took his leave and started for home, once again aware of how sweet life in the woods could be, even if a spider did occasionally appear out of nowhere.


Thranduil gestured to the chair in front of his desk, and Ithilden relaxed into it. There was a moment of silence, while Thranduil tried to decide how to begin what was going to be a difficult conversation. Ithilden raised an eyebrow. “You wanted to see me, Adar?”

“Yes, I did.” Thranduil drew a deep breath. He had withheld his concerns from Ithilden for several days now but could do so no longer. Ithilden needed to hear about Thranduil’s fears because Thranduil needed his help in dealing with them. “I have reason to believe that something is astir again at Dol Guldur.”

Ithilden blinked at him and straightened in the chair. “What reasons?” Apparently hearing the sharpness of his own voice, he amended, “I beg your pardon, Adar. I do not mean to sound as if I doubt you, but what has happened to make you think this?”

“The creatures of the forest are disturbed, and the birds carry rumors that the shadow has reappeared.”

Ithilden’s hands tightened on the arms of his chair. Thranduil saw the effect his words were having on his oldest son and felt a stab of pity. In the ten years since the Battle of Five Armies, Ithilden had carried out his duties as Thranduil’s troop commander as meticulously as he always had, but gradually, as Ithilden had been able to reduce the number of patrols and send warriors home to their families, Thranduil had seen him come closer and closer to believing in the reality of peace. Ithilden would find it bitter to accept that his hopes had been only illusions.

“So what you have are rumors? A disturbance you sense in the forest?” Ithilden asked tensely.

“Yes.” Thranduil kept his voice even. He had no need to defend his means of knowing what he did about his realm. Ithilden knew as well as Thranduil did how closely he was tied to the woods.

“The rumors could be mistaken,” Ithilden asserted, a little desperately.

“They could be,” Thranduil agreed. “We will have to send scouts to find out what is happening, assuming that anything is.”

Ithilden ran his hand over his tightly-braided hair. Thranduil could almost see him forcing himself to face this unwelcome news. “Very well,” Ithilden finally said, and Thranduil felt, as he frequently did, how fortunate he was to have this determined, honorable son at his side. Ithilden mouth twisted a little as he looked at Thranduil. “I suppose seeing the Watchful Peace end should have taught me to expect this all along. I was a fool to be hopeful.”

“If there is one thing you are not, Ithilden, it is a fool,” Thranduil said. He hated to see his son learning yet another lesson in the wisdom of constant vigilance. And yet, Thranduil knew that he himself had apparently learned that lesson long ago. He had not had much faith that the time of peace in the forest would be very long. He had seen it only as a moment of sunshine piercing the clouds before the storm burst upon them. He leaned forward a little and cleared his throat. He came now to what was for him the most painful part of the conclusions he had reached in the last few days, once the disturbance in the forest had made itself felt. “I am afraid that the most logical person to lead the scouting mission is Eilian.”

Ithilden grimaced but said nothing, instead reacting with typical care by taking a moment to consider Thranduil’s assertion. “I suppose he is. He is a superb scout in any case, and he reads the forest well. Moreover, he has been to Dol Guldur before and will be able to tell if things have changed.”

Thranduil nodded. Eilian had in fact been to Dol Guldur three times, the first time years ago on a scouting mission to gather information for about conditions there for the use of the White Council. That mission had left Eilian’s companion dead and Eilian in a despair that had lasted for months. Then he and his patrol had escorted the White Council to Dol Guldur ten years ago when they had driven Sauron away, an achievement that, along with the victory at Erebor, had led to the last few years of tranquility. Finally, Eilian had gone back the next year to confirm that the southern part of the forest was beginning to show signs of life again. That time, Eilian had returned elated by the sight of tiny seedlings and rabbits scurrying through the tangles of fallen tree limbs.

Thranduil smiled slightly to himself. Eilian had come home from that mission, and the very next week, he had announced that Celuwen was pregnant. Thranduil was surprised he had waited the week. He supposed that Celuwen had needed time to think things over. For someone who had agreed to marry Eilian, his daughter-in-law was surprisingly cautious sometimes, but in the long run, Eilian was usually quite good at talking her around to what he wanted.

His smile faded. Celuwen would not like the idea of Eilian leaving her and Loriel to scout for possible danger. But then, she also would not like the idea of such danger remaining undiscovered. She would understand that this had to be done, and he would make sure it was done as safely as possible.

“Assuming that something dangerous really is at Dol Guldur, this scouting party will be less likely to be detected if it is small,” he told Ithilden. “So I want you to send no more than four warriors. Maltanaur will go with Eilian, of course, and you can choose two others. Their task is only to see what is happening and then return and report on it. They are not to take any risks.”

Ithilden nodded, but his face was sober. Given that the scouting party did not know what they might find, they would be taking a risk no matter how cautious they were. “Do you want to send for Eilian, or do you want me to do it?”

Thranduil grimaced. “I will do it. I will write now and have one of my messengers on his way at once. That should get Eilian here by the day after tomorrow.”

Ithilden rose. “I will let Maltanaur know and decide which two others will go with them. By your leave?”

Thranduil nodded his permission, and Ithilden left the room. Thranduil took a sheet of parchment from his desk, sharpened his pen, and began to write. He had never found any profit in delaying an unwelcome task. And this task was indeed unwelcome. He knew that Eilian was happy living in the settlement with Celuwen and Loriel, and in his son’s contentment, Thranduil had found some compensation for being able to see his granddaughter only occasionally.

But he could not have kept Eilian and Celuwen at the palace. Thranduil had seen the problem that was brewing once Eilian decided that peace really was in the offing and he was no longer needed in the south. Even the coming birth of his daughter had not been enough to keep him from becoming restless. Thranduil had realized long ago that Eilian needed something to keep him busy or he would go in search of whatever excitement he could find. Paradoxically, Eilian throve on responsibility, and Thranduil had reluctantly come to accept that life in a settlement, with his own household to run, would give it to him. So he had given his permission for Eilian and Celuwen to leave the palace, and his granddaughter had been born a long day’s ride away from him.

And now, for the good of his realm, he would have to take his son away from his family and send him into a potentially dangerous situation. Well, there was no help for it. Thranduil set his jaw, wrote the message summoning Eilian to the stronghold, and then went out into the hallway to ask one of the guards at his door to summon a messenger. He went back into his office to wait for the messenger to come. Not so long ago, he would have hesitated to send a messenger into the woods as night fell unless the situation was dire. As he waited, he could not help but wonder if he would soon be hesitating again.

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter for me.


3. The Scouting Party Assembles

Eilian raised the maul over his head and then drove it down onto the round end of the log, feeling a satisfying release as it split apart. He tossed the two pieces onto the pile of firewood and then paused in reaching for another log. A horse was approaching from the north. He dragged his forearm across his sweaty brow as he watched for the rider to emerge from the trees. At length, he saw him and immediately recognized one of his father’s messengers. He laid the maul aside and dragged his tunic on over his head as the messenger dismounted and approached. “Mae govannen,” he greeted the Elf.

“Mae govannen, my lord.” The messenger pulled a folded parchment from inside his tunic and extended it to Eilian.

Eilian raised an eyebrow. Palace messengers came to the settlement with some frequency, but they usually brought packages and several letters rather than a single message. He took the parchment. “Will you come in?” he invited, gesturing toward the open cottage door. He could hear Loriel chattering within, probably to Celuwen, who was cooking their evening meal, but possibly to herself, her dolls, or the birds outside the window.

“Thank you,” said the messenger, “but with your permission, I will see to my horse and then camp in that little grove until you are ready for me.”

“Of course.” Eilian watched for moment as the messenger started back toward the woods. Then he looked at the parchment, closed with Thranduil’s seal. His father evidently expected Eilian to send some sort of answer back with the messenger. He felt a moment of apprehension and then slit the seal with his belt knife. It might be better to read the message out here.

He ran his eye rapidly down the page and then frowned and read it again more slowly. His father wanted him to come home without delay to go on some sort of mission that he would explain when Eilian got there. He should expect to be gone for four to six weeks. The messenger would wait to serve as his escort home. That was all.

He looked up, turning the letter over in his hands as he gazed unseeing into the distance. What kind of mission could his father be talking about? The fact that he did not describe it in the letter hinted that it was out of the ordinary. And the fact that he wanted Eilian home at once suggested that it might be some sort of emergency. To his dismay, Eilian felt a familiar tingle of excitement at the idea of doing something potentially risky.

He glanced guiltily toward the cottage door. He had a wife and small child, and he owed it to both of them to be careful. It occurred to him that if Thranduil was sending him into danger, then this mission might indeed be important. His father would not do such a thing lightly.

He walked slowly into the cottage. Celuwen looked up from where she was trimming the woody ends off the asparagus. “Did I hear a messenger?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said. Something in his tone must have been unusual because she abruptly stopped what she was doing.

Loriel jumped to her feet, abandoning the rag doll she had been crooning to. “What did he bring me?”

Eilian could not help smiling. Messengers from the palace almost always brought something for Loriel – an embroidered shift, a package of candied fruit, and on one memorable occasion, a toy Mûmakil from the market in Dale. There had been a key in its side that could be used to wind the toy up so that the Mûmakil marched across the cottage floor. The key had been too stiff for Loriel to turn on her own, so Eilian had spent hours sitting on the floor winding it up for her. “I am sorry, but there was nothing for you this time, Flower Face, only a message for me.”

“What is it?” Celuwen asked, regarding him steadily with a spear of asparagus in her hands.

“The king has summoned me to undertake a mission.”

“What sort of mission?”

“He does not say,” Eilian answered. Celuwen had served as one of his father’s counselors, and she would know as well as Eilian did what that omission meant.

She put the spear of asparagus down on the table as carefully as if she thought a sudden jar would shatter it. “When must you leave?”

He sighed. “Tomorrow morning at first light, I think.”

Loriel had run to the cottage door and stood looking out, apparently still hoping to see some sort of package appear. Now she turned to look wide-eyed at Eilian. “Are you going away, Ada?” Her tone was incredulous.

Eilian grimaced. He had not spent a night away from her and Celuwen since she was born. “I am afraid so, but I will come back as soon as I can.”

“No.” She burst into tears and ran to fling her arms around his thighs. “Do not go, Ada! I do not want you to!”

He picked her up, looking all the while at Celuwen’s white face. From the fact that he had referred to Thranduil as the king rather than as his father, she knew, even if Loriel did not, that he could not refuse this summons. “How long will you be gone?” Celuwen asked.

“No more than six weeks.”

She picked up the asparagus and snapped the end off while he swayed with Loriel in his arms, murmuring comforting sounds in her small, delicately pointed ear. He looked at Celuwen again. “You will have your hands full here. You and Loriel could come with me tomorrow. Adar would be more than happy to have you stay with him for a while.”

She shook her head. “We can manage.” She sent him a reassuring smile. “I cannot leave the garden.”

He smiled back. “Whatever this mission involves, I will be careful,” he promised. “You know I will.”

“I do. Loriel, come and help me, sweetling. I need someone to put the plates on the table.”

With a sniff, Loriel lifted her head off Eilian’s shoulder and turned it to look at her mother. She hesitated for a moment and then wiggled. Eilian put her down. “I will go back to chopping firewood,” he said, moving toward the door. He wanted to leave Celuwen with as large a supply as possible at least to start with while he was gone.

They went through the normal routine of their evening as if nothing untoward had happened. They ate and then cleaned up afterward, and Celuwen took Loriel outside to sit next to her on the bench by the front door to be read to. Instead of sitting and taking his daughter in his lap, however, Eilian hesitated. “I will be back in a few moments,” he said. “I have something I need to do.”

Loriel looked ready to protest, but Celuwen put her arm around the child and began to read, and with a small pout, she settled against her mother’s side. Eilian set off resolutely along a familiar path, not allowing his steps to falter until he emerged from the trees to find his in-laws seated on the bench before their cottage.

“Eilian!” cried Isiwen in surprise. She looked past him. “Are Celuwen and Loriel coming?”

“No.” Eilian steeled himself. “I needed to speak to you both.”

Sólith looked at him with narrowed eyes. “What about?”

“I will be leaving in the morning to undertake a mission for the king. I expect to be gone for as long as six weeks. I came to ask you to keep an eye on Celuwen and Loriel.”

Isiwen gave a soft cry of dismay, but Sólith’s mouth immediately tightened in anger. “I knew you would never be able to stay here, quietly carrying out your responsibilities,” he spat. “Just as I expected, you are haring off after adventure again.”

Eilian felt his temper flare, but for Celuwen’s sake, he damped it down. “I am not ‘haring off’ after anything,” he said stiffly. “The king has sent for me, and I owe him obedience.” He had a sudden, shameful memory of the excitement he had felt upon first reading Thranduil’s message, but he suppressed it.

“You have owed the king your obedience for a good many years, but I know for a fact that you have not always given it,” Sólith snapped. “Why now?”

“Sólith, be quiet,” said Isiwen sharply. Eilian snapped his head around to look at her in astonishment and saw Sólith do the same thing. “Of course, we will look after Celuwen and Loriel while you are gone,” she told Eilian firmly.

He felt a second of admiration, mixed with a bit of trepidation. Celuwen was very like her mother, and he rather feared that Loriel was a true daughter of the female side of her family. “Thank you.” He drew a deep breath and let it out again, feeling the muscles in his diaphragm relax. He looked back at Sólith, who was frowning at his wife. “I have seen no more signs of whatever was prowling under Loriel’s window a week or so back, but if anyone else does, would you please try to convince Celuwen to come and stay with you?”

Sólith’s attention was caught by this. Eilian had, of course, told everyone in the settlement about the strange footprints he had seen. His neighbors needed to know. He had also written to Ithilden, who would have the responsibility of protecting their father’s people if this creature should stay in the woods and turn out to be dangerous. So far as he knew, no one had seen anything more of the creature, or he would have insisted that Celuwen and Loriel go to the stronghold with him, garden or no garden.

Despite the absence of further signs, however, Sólith was obviously unwilling to leave anything to chance when it came to his granddaughter’s safety. “Of course we will. Celuwen can come home to stay with us now. Is Loriel still sleeping in that room?”

Eilian shook his head. “We took her back into our bed at once. I imagine Celuwen will keep her there. And I do not think it will be easy to convince Celuwen to leave our cottage.” He looked at his father-in-law. “If the need arises, you will have to be persistent.”

Sólith’s mouth was pressed in a thin line. “I know how to manage my daughter,” he said shortly.

Eilian rather doubted that. The fact the Celuwen was married to Eilian was a sign of how little control Sólith had.

“We will look after them,” Isiwen said soothingly.

Eilian nodded. “Thank you. I will say good night then.” And he turned to make his way home, eager to spend one last night with the two stubborn, sweet females who, between them, ruled his heart.


Sinnarn entered the sleeping chamber to find Emmelin seated at the dressing table, threading earrings into her earlobes. “Good,” she said. “You can do up the back of my gown.”

He grinned, crossed the room, and slid his hands into the gaping back of her gown to grasp her bare shoulders and rub his thumbs along her spine, delighting in the slight shiver he felt run through her. “The evening meal will not be for some time. Are you sure you want me to fasten your gown?”

She laughed. “I do not have time for that now. I told your naneth I would arrange the flowers on the table for the evening meal.”

Reluctantly, Sinnarn removed his hands and began doing up the long row of little buttons. “You could have a lady’s maid, you know. My naneth would see to getting you one or let you borrow the one who helps her to dress.”

“I do not want a lady’s maid,” Emmelin said forcefully.

Sinnarn smiled as he bent over the buttons. His forester wife was determined to alter her way of living as little as possible, despite moving from Annael’s cottage to the palace. He found that endearing, although his experience told him she would probably have to change her habits more than she hoped. “You and Celuwen,” he said. “Naneth never could get her to have one either.”

“Oh,” Emmelin brightened. “I have news. Eilian is coming home. The maids are getting his and Celuwen’s apartment ready for him. He should be here some time late tomorrow.”

Sinnarn frowned. “He is coming alone? Celuwen and Loriel will not be with him?”

“No. Just him.” She looked at him in the mirror. “Your grandfather was the one who told your naneth to expect him, so I assumed that he had sent for him, and I did not ask further because I thought your grandfather probably has some sort of task for Eilian. He did not seem angry, which was the other possibility, of course.” She smiled at him in the mirror.

Sinnarn smiled back, but his mind was busy with the speculation he had heard in the Home Guard headquarters that day. Tiondir and Belaral were supposedly going on some sort of scouting mission to the south. Along with everyone else, Sinnarn had wondered what might have happened to make such a trip necessary. It had been evident to Sinnarn that Legolas knew what was going on, but Legolas had told them all to get on with their own tasks rather than running their tongues about someone else’s. Legolas could be maddeningly discreet sometimes.

Eilian’s arrival must be connected to this mission to the south, Sinnarn decided. No one knew that part of the realm better than Eilian did. After all, he had led a patrol there for years. Sinnarn felt a surge of uneasiness. Something was happening, and if it had to do with the south, the chances were that it was something dangerous. Moreover, he thought resentfully, every warrior in the family except him knew what it was. After he had been wounded at the Battle of Five Armies, his family had seemed to take him more seriously as an adult member of the king’s family, someone who met his obligation to serve the realm as well as any of them did. Evidently they thought that only so long as there was no danger. I will not let them dismiss me, he vowed. And I will not let something threaten the woods and be allowed to do nothing to stop it.

“Do you happen to know if my adar is home?” he asked.

“Yes, I saw him going into your parents’ apartment when I came to dress.”

Sinnarn fastened the last button and then bent to kiss the back of Emmelin’s neck. “I will just go to speak to him for a few moments. I will see you at evening meal.” She turned in surprise, but he left before she could say anything. He did not want to have to explain his intentions. He was not sure she would approve of what he was about to do.

He went down the hall, past the extra chambers that he knew Emmelin wanted to fill with elflings, something he hesitated to begin doing. Eilian might have decided that enough peace had come to the woods to make it a safe place to raise children, but Sinnarn had always shared enough of his grandfather’s cynicism to make him doubt that victory over the Shadow would ever be total. His ambitions were more modest: He wanted to protect his home, to be nearby when danger came. So in the last few years, he had settled happily into the Home Guard, although he knew his readiness to serve there ran against every expectation that his father had had that he would continue to seek adventure and amusement as he had when he was younger. If the danger had now come, he wanted to know about it.

He hesitated before the door of his parents’ apartment, the set of rooms that had been his home from the day he was born until the day he married Emmelin. It still seemed odd to him to knock before entering them, so he compromised by knocking and then opening the door without waiting for an invitation to enter.

Ithilden looked up from where he sat in the big chair near the fire with a book open on his lap. “Good evening,” he said, sounding surprised.

“Good evening. Is Naneth about?”

“She is still dressing.” Ithilden regarded him steadily and then closed his book and laid it aside. He gestured an invitation that Sinnarn should take the chair opposite him. “Did you want something, Sinnarn?”

Sinnarn sat down and leaned forward, driven by the urgency of his need to know. “Has something happened in the south, Adar? Is that why Eilian is coming home, to lead a scouting party there?”

His father made an exasperated noise. “Warriors are a bigger bunch of gossips than any sewing circle of young wives.”

“Then it has!”

“This is not your worry, Sinnarn.”

“Of course it is my worry! I am the king’s grandson, his oldest son’s heir. How can this not be my worry?”

Ithilden blinked at his vehemence. “The problem is being taken care of.”

Sinnarn had to bite his tongue to keep from using a word he had heard Beliond use for the first time the day before. He drew a deep breath. “Do not shut me out of this, Adar. I beg you.”

With his eyes on Sinnarn, Ithilden hesitated for a moment, evidently weighing his habitual reserve about matters to do with the realm’s defense against the plea Sinnarn was making. “Given the gossip, I suppose it will be more or less public knowledge soon enough,” he sighed. “We do not know if anything has happened, but your grandfather has heard rumors that the Shadow has reappeared at Dol Guldur.”

Sinnarn felt as if all the breath had been driven out of him. He had doubted the peace all along, but now that his doubts seemed on the verge of being confirmed, he could barely contain his dismay. “I want to go with Eilian,” he said, ignoring the small tremor in his voice. Ithilden’s eyes widened and he raised a protesting hand, but Sinnarn ploughed ahead. “I want to see what is happening. If the Shadow has returned, I want to know it. And if nothing is there, I want to see that for myself.”

“I have already assigned two other warriors to go with Eilian,” Ithilden protested.

“Then change the assignment. I am an experienced warrior, Adar. Moreover, I have responsibilities to the realm that other warriors do not. Let me live up to them.” In the back of his mind, Sinnarn felt a small shock at the tone he was taking with his father. Ithilden ordinarily brooked no defiance from anyone, and particularly not from Sinnarn. But Sinnarn had decided that this was too important to back away from. In his mind, a place in this scouting party was his by right.

For a long moment, Ithilden held his gaze. Finally, something in his face shifted, and he sighed. “I suppose if your grandfather has decided that Eilian is to be trusted with this mission, I can decide the same thing about you.”

For a second, Sinnarn could not believe what he had just heard. Then he could feel a grin growing on his face. Ithilden opened his mouth to speak, but Sinnarn forestalled him. “I will be careful; I will follow Eilian’s orders; I will remember what the purpose of the mission is and act accordingly,” he chanted.

Reluctantly, Ithilden smiled. Before he could say anything, Alfirin came into the room. “Sinnarn! How nice to see you, my sweet. Do you need something?”

He rose and kissed her cheek. “No, Naneth. I just needed to talk to Adar. I will go and get changed for the evening meal now.”

His mother’s eyes went to his father, who shrugged. Sinnarn resigned himself to the fact that she would know within the hour that he was going with Eilian, but she said nothing further about it now. “Good. We are having fish fried with mushrooms, just the way you like it best.”

“I look forward to it,” he said and went on his way back to his own apartment, feeling the satisfaction that came from believing that he had done the right thing.


“Are you coming, Sinnarn?” Legolas asked, eyeing his nephew, who sat with his arm around Emmelin holding her snuggly to his side.

Sinnarn grinned at him. “No, I think I will be the good one for a change and spend the evening right here in the sitting room, listening dutifully to my parents and grandfather.”

Everyone laughed. “We are happy to have you,” Alfirin said.

Legolas looked at her and Ithilden, sitting next to one another on the other side of the fire, and for a wild moment, he considered inviting his oldest brother to come out with him and Eilian. With what looked like the alarming ability to read thoughts that he sometimes exhibited, Ithilden leaned back, raised one eyebrow, and suppressed a smile, but Legolas could see the amused gleam in his eyes.

Serenely ignorant of the look on her husband’s face, Alfirin turned to where Legolas and Eilian stood near the sitting room door. “Have a good time.”

“Behave yourselves,” Thranduil added.

“Of course,” said Eilian easily. “You do not need to wait up for us, Adar. We are old enough to toddle home and put our night clothes on without help.” Thranduil shook his head, but his smile was benevolent as he waved his permission for them to leave.

Legolas fastened his cloak as he and Eilian walked out into the starry spring night to descend the steps and cross the bridge over the Forest River. “Where do you want to go? Perhaps to listen to the music by the river?”

Eilian grinned. “I have not been to the Glade for a long time. What would you say to sharing a few cups of wine with me there?”

Legolas laughed. “I would say that you are taking advantage of Celuwen’s absence.”

“She would be disappointed in me if I did not,” Eilian assured him.

Legolas allowed his brother to guide their steps toward the Glade, the area where young Elves gathered to enjoy themselves away from the sometimes too sober view of their elders. “I assume you will be leaving tomorrow morning.”

Eilian nodded and then glanced at Legolas with faint amusement in his face. “Can you believe that Adar and Ithilden are allowing Sinnarn to go?”

“Sinnarn is a good warrior,” Legolas protested. “Just the other day, he kept me from having a spider down my collar. And Tynd will be with him. Tynd has been there before with you, I think.”

“Yes. And you are right of course. I simply cannot decide if the fact that Sinnarn is going means that Adar and Ithilden think that things are not serious so it is safe to send him, or if they think that things are so serious that they will not be able to keep any of us out of it.”

Legolas pondered that. “Adar is worried,” he said soberly. He looked sideways at Eilian. “Take care, Eilian. From what Ithilden told me, Adar senses something very wrong at Dol Guldur.” He smiled slightly. “I will not be there to keep an eye on you, so I can only trust you will do what Maltanaur tells you.”

“Just as I always do,” Eilian grinned. The sound of music reached them as they walked the last dozen yard to emerge into the clearing where an Elf stood piping a tune that had sent several others spinning in a dance around him. Eilian fetched wine for them while Legolas sat down cross-legged with his back against an oak. “I do not know why we do not just bring a skin of wine from home,” Eilian said after he had taken a sip. “Adar has much better stuff.”

Legolas grinned. “I suppose it is a habit from the time when Adar would have felt he needed to comment on how much we took. He can usually stop himself from doing that now.” Eilian laughed.

A maiden drifted slowly past, smiling at Legolas. He nodded to her and then turned to see Eilian looking at him sideways with a small smile. Legolas raised an eyebrow. “What?”

Eilian shrugged and took a drink of wine. “She wants you to dance with her, brat.”

Legolas could feel himself blushing as he looked at the maiden’s graceful departing back. “Eilian,” he said hesitantly, “you know I am pledged to Tuilinn, but not everyone does, and I do not like to talk about it.”

Eilian gave a short laugh and lifted the wine cup from Legolas’s hand. “You will be dancing with her, not bedding her I assume. Go and do it. Tuilinn would certainly forgive you for enjoying yourself a little. And anyway, Adar said to behave ourselves, and you would not want to be rude.”

Without quite knowing how it had happened, Legolas found himself on his feet and leading the maiden to join the ring of dancers around the piper. Whether it was because of the wine, the music, the maiden, or the starry night, he was not sure, but within a few moments, he was so swept up in the dance that for a few moments at least, he forgot everything else in the pleasure of what he was doing at that second. And then he turned his head to see that Eilian too had joined the dance. Tomorrow morning would come soon enough. For tonight, he and his brother would seize the moment of joy.


Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter for me.


4. Comings and Goings

“See here,” Annael pointed. “This is what I was talking about.”

Legolas frowned at the mangled carcass of a fawn and then crouched to look at the tracks Annael indicated. The fawn could have been prey for a wolf, but no wolf had made the prints Annael had found. To Legolas’s appalled eye, they looked as if they had been left by something that went on feet looking far too much like those of a person. But he had never seen a person rip a young deer apart the way this one had been torn. Nor had he ever seen a person eat the meat raw.

He stood and looked up at the rustling trees. They were uneasy about something, although whatever was disturbing them seemed unfamiliar to them too. “What do you think this was?” he asked.

Annael shook his head. “I have never seen anything like it. It walks on two feet most of the time, although I found places where it used its hands too. But I have never seen an Elf, Dwarf, or Man hunt like this. And the feet are slightly webbed, you see here? I cannot imagine what it is.”

Legolas rubbed the back of his neck. Annael was uncannily good at woodcraft; if he did not recognize this creature, then the chances were it had never passed through the woods before. “Has it made a den somewhere near here?” He felt odd calling this two-legged creature “it,” but he could not bring himself to call anything this vicious “he,” or, he supposed with shudder, “she.”

Annael shook his head. “I do not think so, but I am not certain. It seems to be on the move. Tiondir and I tracked it for a good two leagues, and it is moving steadily east.” Annael too seemed to have rejected the idea that the intruder was a person.

“Perhaps tomorrow we should follow it and make certain it is on its way out of the Woodland Realm,” Legolas said. Annael nodded, still looking at the ravaged body of the fawn. Legolas forced himself to turn away. “We should be getting back now. I should tell Ithilden about this, and it would be best if I returned to headquarters before Beliond realizes I went with you without telling him.”

Annael turned to him and smiled. “I thought he had already left for the day.”

“He did, but he has his ways of finding things out, as I have occasionally learned to my cost.”

Annael laughed, and the two of them started toward home. Annael eventually turned off on the path toward his cottage, but Legolas continued toward the building housing Ithilden’s office, knowing there was a good chance that his brother was still there.  And indeed, he found Ithilden still at his desk, although his aide had already gone. Ithilden looked up when Legolas knocked on the frame of the open door.

“Legolas!” Ithilden greeted him. “I was just getting ready to go home.”

“I want to tell you what Annael found today, and I think it is better if I do it here.”

Ithilden raised an eyebrow and gestured toward the chair in front of his desk. Legolas sat and began an account of the slaughtered fawn and the puzzling nature of the tracks of its killer. As he spoke, he saw Ithilden’s face grow still as if he saw some significance in Legolas’s report that Legolas himself was not aware of.

“Where was this?” Ithilden demanded the minute Legolas had stopped speaking.

“Near the Elf path, about a mile directly south of here.” Legolas hesitated. Ithilden was not always open to being questioned about matters he had not chosen to disclose. “Do you know something about this creature, Ithilden?”

Ithilden sat back in his chair and shook his head. “Not really,” he said slowly. “But Eilian reported on something very like it at his settlement about two weeks ago. He said it was lurking under Loriel’s window at night.”

Legolas’s breath caught so that for a moment he could not speak. Loriel was smaller than the fawn he and Annael had found dead today. “Do you think this is the same creature?”

“I hope so,” Ithilden said. “The alternative is that several of them are taking up residence in the woods.”

“I plan to send Annael after it tomorrow. He said it looked as if the creature was heading east out of the forest, but I want to make sure that it really is only passing through.”

“Good.” Ithilden drummed his fingers on his desk. “It is too bad that Eilian has already gone south. He could at least have looked at the tracks and seen if they were like the ones he saw.” He sighed. “I suppose we will have to wait until we know more. Come. We might as well go home.” He rose and came around the desk to lead Legolas out into the fading afternoon.

They made their way along the path between the warrior training fields and then over the bridge across the Forest River and into the palace. As they entered the hallway along which the family’s living quarters were ranged, a guard spoke to them. “The king wishes to see both of you in his office, my lords.”

Legolas glanced at Ithilden, but his brother seemed as surprised by the summons as he was. They stopped at the first door on the right, and Ithilden knocked. “Come,” called Thranduil’s voice, and Legolas followed Ithilden into the room only to stop short at the sight of the visitor sitting in one of the chairs near the fireplace.

“Mithrandir!” Legolas cried, feeling the familiar mix of pleasure and apprehension that the wizard’s arrival always roused in him. He liked Mithrandir but had learned long ago that while he sometimes brought aid and comfort, he more often brought unwelcome news. Still, Legolas knew that his father trusted Mithrandir more than any other outsider.

“Mae govannen, my lords.” Mithrandir smiled at both of them.

“Pour yourselves some wine and be seated,” Thranduil said. “Mithrandir arrived as I was finishing afternoon court. He has not yet told me what brings him here, only that he thought you two should hear it too.” Legolas obediently went to the side table to pour wine for himself and Ithilden, while his brother sat down near their father.

“Your adar has never even considered the idea that I might simply have wanted to visit with him and you,” Mithrandir said.

Thranduil smiled a little grimly. “Is that why you came?”

“No,” Mithrandir admitted. He glanced at Legolas, who had taken a cup of wine to Ithilden and now was offering to refill Mithrandir’s cup from the flagon. “No thank you, Legolas. I fear I lack the capacity you Wood-elves all seem to be born with.” Legolas smiled as he refilled Thranduil’s cup from the flagon, then returned it to the table and took his own wine to sit near Mithrandir. He doubted if Mithrandir lacked the capacity for almost anything at all.

“The guards who met me on the Elf path told me you were captain of the Home Guard now,” Mithrandir said.

“I am,” Legolas agreed.

“Then I thought you and Ithilden would both want to know about what brought me here – besides wanting to visit, of course.” Mithrandir smiled at Thranduil and then sobered. “I am here seeking your help in tracking someone who, I fear, has made his way into these woods. I have been seeking him for some time, and then, by chance, I heard tales from the Woodmen to your west that made me think he is here.”

Legolas glanced at Ithilden, wondering if he too had thought immediately of the creature whose tracks he and Annael had seen that day, but Ithilden was watching Mithrandir with the intent expression he wore when what he was hearing struck him as important. Thranduil’s gaze too was concentrated upon the wizard.

“The Woodmen’s tales are vague, I am afraid, but they tell of a creature they call a ‘ghost’ because it prowls only on the darkest nights. What they know of it is that it is hungry beyond bearing, and to appease that hunger, it robs the birds’ nests and the rabbits’ holes.” Mithrandir grimaced. “They say that more than once it has climbed through an open window to find a cradle.”

Legolas nearly dropped his wine, and Ithilden stifled an exclamation. Thranduil looked at Ithilden, his face tight. “You are thinking of the creature that was lurking in Eilian’s settlement,” he said flatly.

Ithilden nodded. “And more than that, Adar, today one of the Home Guard patrols found tracks like those Eilian described only a mile south of the stronghold.” He nodded to Legolas. “Describe the tracks to Mithrandir, Legolas. Perhaps he will know from the description if this is his ‘ghost.’”

Legolas obliged, describing as best he could the tracks that he and Annael had seen. “The creature had killed a fawn and torn it to bits,” he finished. He glanced at his father, who had gone pale.

Mithrandir sighed. “That sounds like Gollum. It seems he drinks the blood.”

Legolas’s hands tightened around his wine cup. Mithrandir called this Gollum “he.” So this devourer of children was a person. Legolas found he could not fathom how such a thing could be.

“We will track this creature for you, of course,” Thranduil said. He turned to Ithilden. See to it.”

Ithilden nodded. “Legolas was going to send Annael to follow the trail tomorrow anyway.” He looked at Legolas. “I want you to lead the party, Legolas. Annael is the best tracker we have, I think, but you hear the trees better than he does, so you may be able to help him. Beliond will go too, of course, and I think that is all. I have no doubt you and Annael between you will be able to follow the trail as well as anyone, and you will be faster if there are only three of you.”

Legolas nodded. “We will leave at dawn. I will send word to Annael and Beliond, and I will get Tiondir to manage the Home Guard while we are gone. What would you like us to do with him when we find him, Mithrandir?”

“Bring him to me. He used to have something, and I want to know where he got it.”

Legolas nodded again, and Thranduil spoke. “I invite you to be my guest while the hunting party looks for this Gollum, Mithrandir. Indeed, I expect that Alfirin has already asked the servants to have a room made ready for you.”

Mithrandir seemed to relax a little. “I knew I could count on the Wood-elves,” he smiled. He set his wine aside. “If you do not mind, Thranduil, I think I would like to wash off the dust of the road before it is time to eat.”

“Of course.” Thranduil gestured, and Legolas jumped to his feet to escort Mithrandir to the door and hand him over to a servant with instructions to find out what Alfirin’s wishes were. He returned to find Thranduil issuing orders.

“Everyone must be warned about this creature,” Thranduil said grimly. “I want word sent to all the settlements too. And,” he drew a deep breath, “I want Celuwen and Loriel to come to the stronghold. Tell the messenger who goes to that settlement to bring them back.”

Ithilden raised an eyebrow. “The messenger would probably appreciate having a written message from you to give to Celuwen, Adar,” he observed mildly. “She will not like leaving their home.”

Despite the seriousness of the situation, Legolas could not help smiling to himself. He knew as well as Ithilden did that a messenger would not enjoy telling Celuwen to pack up her daughter and come to the stronghold at a moment’s notice.

Thranduil’s mouth was a thin line. “Celuwen would never endanger Loriel, and with Eilian gone, she and Loriel are alone in their cottage. I will not leave my granddaughter in such peril.”

Legolas wondered if Thranduil might be acting partly out of a desire to have Eilian’s daughter living in the palace, but he knew better than to raise the question out loud. And besides, in his opinion, Thranduil was right to demand that Loriel be moved into the stronghold.

He took a drink of wine, noticing as he did so that his hand was trembling slightly. The sight of the slaughtered fawn had upset him more than he had realized at the time. Since Eilian and Sinnarn’s departure for Dol Guldur, he had tried not to think about what they might find there, had tried to make himself believe that the rumors were mistaken and the forest would continue at peace, healing itself from the damage Sauron’s presence in it had caused. But Gollum had come to the Woodland Realm, and Legolas could not help but wonder what had drawn him there. Were the forces of evil once again assembling among the trees of his home?


Celuwen flung the wet sheet over the shrubs, spreading it carefully to dry in the sun.

“Can I carry more hot water for you before I go?” her father asked.

“Where are you going, Grandfather?” Loriel asked anxiously, looking up from where she was arranging pine cones in a long line atop a fallen log.

“Just home, sweetling,” he told her with a smile. “And you and your nana are coming to eat with Grandmother and me tonight.”

Loriel turned back to her pine cones, and Celuwen watched as her daughter absently slid one back and forth along the log’s rough surface. Loriel’s normally sunny disposition had been marred by fretfulness since Eilian left, and Celuwen’s heart ached for her daughter as she wrestled with the idea that Eilian could go away. I know just how she feels, Celuwen thought ruefully. Until now, Loriel had seen little of the demands that could be placed on the king’s sons. Celuwen would have been pleased if things had stayed that way forever. She turned to Sólith. “Thank you for the offer, Adar, but this is the last of the laundry.”

“Your naneth and I will see you before long then,” Sólith said and was turning to go when the sound of an approaching horse caught both his attention and Celuwen’s and one of the king’s messengers rode out of the trees.

Celuwen’s heart stopped, just as it had done every time a messenger appeared for years when Eilian had been fighting in the south. He is fine, she scolded herself. You would know if he were not. She wiped her wet hands on her apron and walked to where the messenger was dismounting. “Good afternoon, my lady,” he said and nodded to Sólith, who watched them with narrowed eyes. The messenger handed her a folded parchment, and she slid her fingers under the seal to open it and find a message in Thranduil’s elegant hand.

My dear daughter,


I hope that this letter finds you and Loriel well and happy, despite Eilian’s absence. I assure you that I would not have called him away from you without great necessity, and I hope you will forgive me. In this message, I will only say that I have sent him to investigate reports of activity in the area of realm with which no one is more familiar than he is. I have sent guards with him, of course, and trust that he will soon return to those of us who love him.


In the meantime, something else has happened that has made me fear for your safety and, even more so, for that of Loriel. Two weeks or so ago, Eilian wrote to tell us that a strange creature had been lurking around the settlement and in particular that it had been near Loriel’s window. I have since received further news of this intruder, and to my great alarm, I am told that it has upon occasion snatched a child from the Woodmen.


I know that you are happy in your home there, Celuwen, but with Eilian gone and this creature in the woods, I am worried about you and Loriel. Therefore, for your own safety and especially that of the child, I ask that you both come to the stronghold at once. The messenger who bears this will escort you back and help you to carry what belongings you might wish to bring with you.


I know that this move will be difficult for you, and I am sorry, but I think it is for the best.


Your most loving,



Celuwen’s hand trembled as it clutched the parchment. The creature that had been under her daughter’s window had taken a child from the Woodmen? For a moment, her vision blurred.

“What is it?” Sólith demanded.

Wordlessly, she handed him the letter. As he read, she thought frantically about everything she would need to do before she and Loriel could leave. Her garden! Someone would have to look over the garden or they would have no vegetables to preserve and eat in the winter. She looked at the laundry she had just draped over the bushes and despaired of ever getting ready to leave by morning. And yet, how could she stay here, where her daughter was the only child within miles?

“Surely you are not going?” Sólith said, and she whipped her head around to look at him.

“Of course I am.” She bit back her concern that her daughter might be in danger, suddenly aware that the child was watching them all closely.

“You and Loriel can move in with us,” Sólith said. “You will be safe enough there.”

For a moment, she was tempted. Life would be so much easier if she could just convince herself that Loriel would be safe here. But she could not do it. Moreover, by now, she had enough experience with her father-in-law to know that while his message had been phrased as a request, he meant it as a command. She could defy it; she had seen Eilian defy his father upon occasion. But she found she did not want to. Loriel’s wellbeing was too important to her.

She looked at the messenger, whose eyes were wide with alarm. Doubtless he had his orders too and did not relish the idea of having to force Celuwen into going. “We will be ready to go by morning,” she told him and saw relief spread across his face.

“Where are we going?” Loriel demanded.

“To see Grandfather Thranduil,” Celuwen told her, and the child’s face lit up.

“When are we leaving?” Loriel asked, dancing from one foot to the other.

Celuwen flinched at the hurt look that flitted across her father’s face. “In the morning.” She forced herself to smile.

“You do not have to do this,” Sólith said. “We kept you safe for years. We can do the same for Loriel.”

“I was almost an adult when we moved here, Adar. I know you would do your best, but I am taking no chances with Loriel.” She saw Sólith’s face redden and knew that he was hurt as well as grieved that she thought he could not shield her and her daughter from harm.

“My lady,” the messenger put in, “can you tell me where I might find the settlement’s leader? I have a message for him too, asking that he warn people to take care, and that he tell the king if anyone sees a sign of the intruder.”

“You have already found the settlement’s leader,” Sólith snapped, with an anger whose source was only too clear to Celuwen. “You may tell the king that we can take care of ourselves.”

The messenger’s eyes widened a little, and he took a step back. Celuwen very much doubted that he would pass any such message along to Thranduil. “You are welcome to stay in my cottage,” she told him, “or you may camp if that pleases you more.”

“Thank you, my lady. I was told to stay with you if I might.”

She nodded. The messenger would probably stand guard all night, and Celuwen found that she was grateful. She turned to her father. “I am sorry, Adar, but I have to go.”

Loriel had run to the cottage door and now turned impatiently to look at Celuwen. “Come and help me, Nana. I need to take things. Please,” she added, as Celuwen frowned at her.

Celuwen started toward her, looking back over her shoulder at her father. “Adar, will you and Naneth see to my garden while I am gone?”

He nodded curtly. “I will go and fetch your naneth now so that we can help you get ready.”

“Thank you.” She followed Loriel into the cottage, and as she did so, she thought about the other thing she had learned from Thranduil’s letter: Eilian had gone south to check on some sort of activity there. She felt a chill run up her spine. Surely he will not have to go back to fighting there, she thought in despair. Then she turned her attention to Loriel, who had run into her chamber and was dragging every stitch she owned out of the chest.


Celuwen looked around the cottage’s central room, checking to be sure that the fire was out, the windows were shuttered, and everything was ready for her and Loriel to leave it for an unknown length of time. “Hurry, Nana,” Loriel urged from the doorway. “The messenger Elf is waiting for us.”

With a sigh, Celuwen turned and followed her daughter out into the chilly dawn, pulling the door shut behind her. The warrior was indeed waiting for them, with his own horse and Celuwen’s, which he had fetched from the meadow where it normally wandered. Celuwen thought it an extravagance to keep horses, but Eilian had argued that they needed them for trips to the stronghold. Celuwen had not said so, but she believed that he simply could not conceive of being without a horse. There were times when her husband behaved like the king’s son without even knowing he was doing it.

Sólith and Isiwen waited near the messenger. Isiwen embraced Celuwen and handed her a packet that Celuwen knew would contain more food than she, Loriel, and the messenger could possibly eat on their journey. “Thank you, Naneth,” she said, hugging her tightly. She stowed the packet in the one of the bags slung over her horse’s back, as Isiwen bent to kiss Loriel.

Then she turned to face Sólith. “We will be back as soon as it is safe, Adar,” she told him and threw her arms around him. With what sounded almost like a moan, he embraced her.

“Take care, Celuwen. We will miss you.”

“I will miss you too, Adar.” She pulled back and kissed his cheek. She had not told her father that Eilian had gone south, but knowing it, she wondered if a safe time would ever come again.

“Good bye, Grandfather,” Loriel beamed.

He swept her into his arms and kissed her. “Behave yourself at the palace, little one. I would not want the king to think that settlement elflings are badly raised.”

Loriel giggled. “The king is my other grandfather,” she informed him. “He lets me stay up late.” Sólith grimaced slightly and then tried to smile at Celuwen.

Celuwen swung up onto her horse’s back, and Sólith lifted Loriel up to sit in front of the messenger, who turned his horse to lead them on their way to the stronghold. Celuwen followed, but as they entered the trees, she looked back to see her parents standing in a shaft of pale early morning sunlight, her father’s arm around her mother’s shoulders. They each raised a hand in farewell, and she raised an answering hand. And then the trees closed around her, and she could see them no more.

Celuwen had made the trip to the stronghold before, both with other adults from the settlement when she was single and then after her marriage when it was Eilian who had had Loriel in front of him, and she had learned that traveling with a child took patience. At first, Loriel chattered happily to their escort, but soon she began to squirm, and they had ridden for no more than an hour before Celuwen suggested to the Elf that they should stop. He shot her a harassed look, and they dismounted. Immediately, Loriel began to canter around the little clearing, neighing as she went.

“I am a fast horse, Nana. See me?”

“I see you,” Celuwen laughed and then turned to the messenger. “She can ride with me for a while when we start again. Sometimes she even relaxes enough to sleep for a bit of the journey.”

The messenger smiled, as he watched Loriel break into a run. “I am afraid I have a hard time picturing that.”

Loriel came to stand panting in front of them. “How much farther is it?”

“We will not be there until almost night time,” Celuwen told her. “Do you not remember that from the last time we went to see your grandfather?” Loriel frowned and Celuwen stood up. “We can start again now, and then we will be there sooner.” Loriel’s face brightened, and they were soon underway again.

As Celuwen had predicted, however, night was closing in by the time they emerged from the trees onto the green in front of the palace. Warriors on watch must have sent word of their approach because the first thing Celuwen saw was Thranduil striding toward them, with Alfirin just behind him. He put his arms up to lift a sleepy Loriel down from her seat in front of the messenger. “Mae govannen, Grandfather,” she chirped from his embrace and then peered around him to look at Alfirin and the entrance to the palace.

“Mae govannen, sweetling,” he said, kissing her cheek and then drawing her close. He turned to where Celuwen had just dismounted. “Mae govannen, daughter.” He leaned forward to kiss her brow.

“Mae govannen, Adar.” The last few hours of riding had left her exhausted too, but she was warmed by the deep contentment on Thranduil’s face as he held her daughter.

“Where is Ada?” Loriel asked. Startled, Celuwen shifted her gaze from Thranduil’s pleased face to Loriel’s puzzled one.

Thranduil sounded uncharacteristically uncertain when he answered. “Your ada has gone on a mission for me, but he will be back in a few weeks.”

Loriel frowned at him. “Ada said he was going to see you. Where is he?”

Suddenly, Celuwen realized why Loriel had been so eager to make this trip. Dismayed, she reached around Thranduil to brush a stray curl from her daughter’s forehead. “Loriel, Ada did come here, but then he went south to check on something in the woods.”

Loriel shook her head disbelievingly. “We came through the woods, and I did not see him.” Her voice was starting to rise, and Celuwen recognized the signs of a tired child who had been denied something upon which her heart had been set.

She reached for her daughter, and reluctantly, Thranduil surrendered her. “We came north, not south, Loriel,” Celuwen said.

“We came the wrong way?” Loriel wailed. And as if the world had become too much for her to bear, she put her head on Celuwen’s shoulder and began to sob.

“Sh,” Celuwen crooned and swayed, stroking her daughter’s hair.

“She is worn out,” Alfirin put in, “and I will wager that you are too, Celuwen. Your rooms are ready. I will see to it that your things are put away while you feed Loriel and put her to bed.” She beckoned to a waiting servant who took their packs from the messenger.

“Thank you,” Celuwen said. She looked apologetically at Thranduil. “We are both tired. We will no doubt be better company in the morning.” At least, that was what she hoped as she carried a weeping Loriel into the palace.


Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter for me.


5. Hunting

Legolas paused at the edge of the thin line of tree growing along the edge of marsh. “Do you think Gollum went into Esgaroth?” he asked Annael doubtfully. “What could he want in the town?” He had a sudden vision of houses with babies sleeping near open windows and felt his stomach tighten a little.

Annael shrugged. “His tracks lead toward edge of the lake and then disappear. It looks to me as if he swam toward the town, but of course I cannot be certain, and I will not be able to track him once we get into Esgaroth. There are too many people.”

“We will need to ask the Master if his people have seen anything unusual,” Legolas said.

“I hope this one has more sense than the fool who was here when Smaug burned the old town down,” Beliond grumbled. “Given what I know of Mannish leaders, I would say we would do better to ask the captain of the town’s guard. At least, he would have a warrior’s sense of self-preservation, which means he is likely to have noticed something beyond the end of his nose.”

Legolas glanced at his keeper, whose face was set in lines of disapproval. When Smaug was killed, Legolas had been only a lieutenant in the Home Guard and had had very little to do with Esgaroth’s Master, but he had heard his father speak of the Man with scathing contempt, as self-serving and unable to meets the needs of his people when their town was destroyed. And a few years past, the Master had confirmed that judgment by running off with as much treasure as he could carry and then starving to death in the Wild. He had been found clutching the gold to his chest, as if unable to fathom that it would not feed him. Legolas had been stunned by the story, although not as stunned as he would have been before he saw Men ready to kill and die over Smaug’s treasure.

“I have met the new Master in the king’s hall,” Legolas said. “With Men, one never knows, but I think he is wiser.”

Beliond snorted. “That would not be hard.”

Legolas laughed. In truth, he had heard Thranduil say much the same thing. “Even if the Master has seen no sign of Gollum, he needs to be warned about the danger.” He started toward the bridge, knowing that the eyes of the guards at its end were on them, but also knowing that Elves came here to trade often enough that the guards would not stop them. He led his small party across the bridge and through the gates of the town.

Even though it did not appear to be a market day in Esgaroth, it seemed to Legolas that an inordinate number of people were confined within the city’s walls and that all of them were marching noisily on the wooden walkways while trying to be discreet in curiously eyeing the Elves. Legolas saw a young woman nearly walk off the edge of the walkway surrounding the marketplace pool as she turned to stare at them. She was saved at the last moment when her giggling companion seized her arm and drew her back. The noise of Men’s and Women’s heavy feet and the smell of their unwashed bodies seemed to bounce off the closely built houses and assault his senses, making him flinch away from them and immediately begin longing for the woods.

“I know they cannot help their gait,” Beliond grumbled under his breath, “but they live in the middle of a lake! You would think they could bathe regularly.” Legolas heard Annael snort and had to suppress a smile of his own as he led them toward the Town Hall, where he knew he was likely to find the Master.

Outside the doors of the Town Hall, Annael touched his arm lightly. “Beliond is right that the captain of the town’s guard is most likely to know if any intruders have been seen. Let me go and talk to him while you see the Master.” He shot a grin at Beliond, who looked sourly back, no doubt wishing he too could dodge out of a meeting with the town’s leaders and spend his time with its soldiers instead. For a second, Legolas considered sending Beliond off with Annael, but he knew that his keeper would never leave him alone with a group of Men. Beliond had spent too many years spying for Thranduil among the Men of the east to fully trust any of them.

“Good,” Legolas agreed. “We will meet you at this end of the bridge as soon as we are finished.” Annael nodded and walked off toward one of the guards at the Town Hall door, presumably to ask him where his captain could be found. Legolas pushed open the door of the Town Hall and entered, with Beliond close at his heels.

In his father’s halls, Legolas had heard that Esgaroth was flourishing in these peaceful days, largely because of the trade that came from the Dwarves at Erebor and the newly rebuilt town of Dale all passed up and down the lake and through Esgaroth. And as a sign of this prosperity, Legolas saw at once that the interior of the new Town Hall was much grander than that of the old one had been. The beams overhead were elaborately carved and gilded in what looked like gold, while the walls were covered in hangings of blue velvet to keep out the winter’s cold. Today, the hangings were draped back away from the windows, through which a breeze came off the lake that ran along one side of the building. Legolas inhaled the fresher air with relish, finding traces of the scent of the forest, brought on the wind.

At a large table at the front of the room, the Master and several other members of the town council had evidently just finished hearing some sort of request from a townsman who was now turning away. As he did, the Master’s eyes followed him and then lit upon Legolas. It was obvious to Legolas that the Master recognized him immediately.

“Lord Legolas, welcome!” the Master said, beaming. He turned to the other Men at the table. “I believe we are through for the day, gentlemen.” With curious eyes on Legolas and Beliond, the Men rose, bowed, and drifted away toward the door. The Master waved to a servant hovering nearby. “Find chairs for our guests and then bring wine.” The servant hurried to carry chairs from near the wall and place them in front of the table. Legolas sat, and after a moment’s hesitation during which he scanned the room, so did Beliond, turning his chair slightly as he did so. Legolas had to conceal a smile. His bodyguard would hate the fact that they were sitting with their backs to the open room rather than to a wall. Legolas was not worried. Even the old Master would never have been foolish enough to allow anything to happen that might bring Thranduil’s wrath down on his head.

The servant hastened out of the room, and the Master leaned a little forward. “We’re honored by your visit, my lord. May I ask what brings you to Esgaroth?”

“We are tracking an intruder to the King’s realm, and we have found signs that he might have made his way here,” Legolas said.

The Master’s face creased with concern. “I assure you, my lord, that Esgaroth would never harbor an enemy of our friend, the Elvenking, and we would know if a stranger were about.” Legolas’s answer was delayed when the servant returned with cups of wine for everyone and a flagon, which he set on the table between the Master and Legolas.

“You might not know that this intruder was here,” Legolas told the Master. “But he is dangerous.” Legolas hesitated, trying to decide how to describe what Gollum might have done. “He hunts for young animals and even children. Have you had reports of harm being done to your people or their livestock?”

The Master straightened, his concern now deepening to alarm. “I would certainly know if anyone had attacked a child, and there have been no such incidents.”

“What of the animals that I see grazing in the fields along the shore? Have any of them being stolen?”

The Master shook his head. “I’ve not heard of any,” the Master said, “but if your intruder took a sheep, for instance, I would not have been told unless it happened a number of times. The captain of the town guard might have heard reports. His Men are out and about among the people. Shall I summon him?”

“Do not trouble yourself,” Legolas said hastily. “We will speak to him ourselves.” He did not think it wise to tell the Master that Annael was already speaking to the captain without having asked the Master’s permission first. The Master might not mind, but Legolas found Men to be unpredictable compared to Elves, and he did not want to take the chance of irritating one of his father’s allies.

“Will you stay and feast with us this evening, my lord?” the Master asked.

Legolas shook his head. “I regret that we must be on our way. We will continue hunting for this intruder, but it would ease my mind if you warned your people to take care.”

“Of course.” He leaned back and smiled. “It’s a pity you can’t stay. You would find that Esgaroth is thriving, if I do say so myself. I’ve been able to add more docks and increase our trade, and I am pleased to say the people of Esgaroth are doing well as a consequence.” He laughed. “You will think it foolish but people are making songs saying that I’ve made the old prophecies come true, and the river flows with gold.”

Legolas made a noncommittal noise as he sipped his wine. As far as he knew, Esgaroth’s prosperity stemmed from the death of Smaug and the subsequent rebuilding of Dale and Erebor, and neither this Master nor the previous one had had anything to do with those events.

The Master took a drink of his own wine. “What a time that was! We still speak of it often. Why, at the feast just a few nights ago, the minstrel sang a new song about the Dwarves and Mr. Baggins and how we all thought we’d never see them again when they left to go north to Dale. Who could have guessed what would happen?”

“Who indeed?” Legolas agreed. Not Thranduil, he knew. His father had been as startled as anyone when the Dwarves had succeeded in their quest. And while at first Thranduil had not been entirely pleased to have Dwarves as neighbors again, the people of the woods, the mountain, and the lake had eventually settled into a loose friendship that seemed to benefit all of them.

Beliond shifted restlessly, and Legolas realized that, now that their business was concluded, his keeper wanted him out of there. He set his wine cup on the table, rose, and bowed. Beliond was on his feet in an instant. “Thank you for your help, Master,” Legolas said. “We will let you know if we learn anything more about our intruder, and the king would be grateful if you would return the favor.”

The Master too rose and bowed. “We are always happy to be of service to Lord Thranduil.”

Legolas and Beliond were no more than twenty yards from the Town Hall before Beliond muttered, “He thinks highly of himself. To hear him, you would never know that Smaug once sat on the gold he now says flows down the river.”

Legolas shrugged. “He did not run off with the gold meant to be used to rebuild the town, so I suppose he may look like Gil-galad to the people who elected him.”

Beliond snorted but said nothing further. They found Annael waiting for them near the bridge. From the alert way Annael stood, Legolas could see at once that he had news. “What did you learn?” Legolas asked in a low voice as they crossed to the shore.

“The captain said that three nights ago, a lamb was stolen from a field along the shore just north of town. They thought a wolf must have taken it, but they were uncertain because the tracks were not right.”

Legolas raised an eyebrow at him. “Not right? If this was Gollum, then I would say not!”

Annael smiled. “The weather has been dry, and the lamb was in a grassy meadow. I am not sure that Men would be able to find tracks at all under those circumstances.”

Legolas smiled back. Despite the fact that Annael was modest, he plainly believed he would have found tracks under those circumstances. But then he was a Wood-elf. “We will camp nearby and try to pick up Gollum’s trail in the morning.” Annael and Beliond both nodded, and they made their way toward a stand of trees along the shore.


“We will camp here,” Eilian announced. The others dropped their packs, and Sinnarn and Tynd set about starting a fire and looking for water, while Eilian led Maltanaur off to search for small game. As he had done each day for the last week, Eilian had kept the scouting party moving well into the early evening, so he knew he and Maltanaur might not have time to hunt down enough meat, but they had dried meat with them and could boil it if they needed to.

This part of the woods had never been as badly off as the part closer to Dol Guldur, but it seemed to Eilian that it had been darker the last time he had come this way, and he knew he should be reassured by the way even the air felt lighter now. Still, he found he was uneasy and had become increasingly so throughout the day, although he could not have said why.

He glanced at his bodyguard. “Perhaps we should gather some of those mushrooms we saw and go back. Tynd can make a stew from the dried stuff.” Without comment, Maltanaur swung around and started back toward where they had seen the mushroom patch. They gathered as many mushrooms as they could hold in a fold in their tunics and made their way back to camp.

“Here,” Eilian dumped the mushrooms he carried next to Tynd. “See what you can do with that.”

Tynd grinned and picked up a handful of the cattails that lay next to him. “Sinnarn thought you might have left it too late to hunt and brought these back from the stream. I am working on it.”

Eilian nodded, grateful for Sinnarn’s and Tynd’s easy acceptance of the way he had been pushing them. But he supposed they all wanted to know what was happening in the south. He seated himself, with his back against an oak and his knees drawn up, as, with Sinnarn’s help, Tynd went on preparing their meal. Maltanaur sat down next to him. “We are more than halfway there,” Maltanaur observed.

Eilian picked up a twig and dug at the dirt near his right foot. “Does the forest feel disturbed to you, Maltanaur?”

His keeper considered the idea for a moment. “No. As a matter of fact, I would have said that the trees here feel more alive than they did the last time we were here.”

“I know. I feel that too, but something is not right.” Eilian tapped the twig against the toe of his boot. “What do you think we will find at Dol Guldur?”

Maltanaur shrugged. “We will not know until we get there.” He glanced at Eilian. “Are you worried?”

Eilian sighed. “I had hoped that Loriel could grow up in peace and more or less certain that her adar would come home to her each night.”

“Children who are loved like your little one is do well enough even in times of trouble,” Maltanaur said. “Look at Sinnarn.” He picked up a pine cone and threw it at Sinnarn, who turned and scowled at them.

Eilian looked at his nephew. Sinnarn had had a happy enough childhood, but the sword on his hip told Eilian just how constrained Sinnarn’s choices in life had been. “We would have to leave the settlement,” Eilian worried. “When Sauron was at Dol Guldur before, all the children moved to the stronghold. I remember because Legolas was little at the time, and there were more children for him to play with.”

He thought suddenly not of Sinnarn, but of Legolas, who had grown up without his mother because of the forces of darkness. If something is at Dol Guldur, we will leave the settlement, he thought grimly, even if Celuwen objects. Not that he seriously thought she would. Celuwen would no more risk Loriel’s safety than he would. He quickly suppressed the thought that living in the stronghold had not saved his mother.

“It does no good to borrow trouble, Eilian,” Maltanaur said gently. “It comes soon enough even if we do not seek it.”

“I know,” Eilian grimaced.

“The stew is ready,” Tynd announced, and Eilian flung the twig away to go get his share of the meal and sit down near the fire.

Sinnarn sat across from him, poking at his stew with a doubtful look on his face. He scooped something unidentifiable into his mouth and chewed as if he were testing it. “Not bad,” he declared. “But if you put wine in the sauce next time, that will help, Tynd.”

Tynd snorted. “I will keep that in mind.”

Sinnarn spooned up another lump, and his face took on a dreamy look. “Do you know who is very good at finding wonderful meals in the woods?  My wife’s adar. Emmelin is not bad herself, but Annael brings back things that make Grandfather’s table look dull.”

“Legolas has always said that about Annael too,” Eilian agreed. He grinned. “On the other hand, I always check very carefully when I find that my wife’s adar has picked the mushrooms that I am to be fed.” They all laughed.

“I am grateful for having Annael instead of Sólith across the table from me at family dinners,” Sinnarn said fervently.

They finished the meal and then drew for the watches. Eilian lay down, with Maltanaur at his back as he had been since when Eilian was on duty since he had first pledged himself as a warrior.  His presence was comforting, but still Eilian felt a flicker of despair. Will we have to take up this life again? he wondered.


“Hurry, Nana,” urged a high-pitched voice in the hallway. Thranduil looked up from the plans his advisor was showing him and smiled.

“My lord,” his advisor groaned, “you need to decide if we are to rebuild the bridge. And really, my lord, it would make traveling the Elf Path much easier if we did.”

“Easier for friend and foe alike,” Thranduil said, rising. “Elves have done without a bridge over the Enchanted River for a good many years. A few weeks’ delay will not hurt us now. We will discuss this again after Lord Eilian has returned.”

The advisor looked exasperated but held his tongue and bowed as Thranduil crossed his office and opened the door to find Loriel hopping from one foot to the other while Celuwen talked to an Elf whom Thranduil vaguely recognized as one of the palace seamstresses. “What have we here?” he asked, smiling at his granddaughter.

“I am going outside, Grandfather!” Loriel turned to him with her eyes wide in excitement, and his breath caught. He had seen exactly that look in his wife’s grey eyes when she was anticipating something that delighted her.

“You will have to wait a little, sweetling,” said Celuwen. “I need to talk to Elerith now if you are to have any new clothes made while we are here.”

“No!” Loriel cried. “I cannot wait, Nana.”

Celuwen gave her an exasperated look, and Thranduil hastily intervened. “I am finished for the day,” he said, ignoring the look on the face of the advisor who had just slipped past him on his way toward the antechamber. “Shall I take you out to the garden, Loriel?”

“Not the garden,” Loriel protested. “The woods! Please,” she added, glancing at her mother.

Thranduil concealed a smile. Loriel was working on remembering to say “please,” with a fair amount of maternal prompting. “Very well,” he agreed. “The woods it is.” He had seen how hard Loriel found it to be cooped up in the cavern all day, and he felt sorry for her. There were days when he too wanted to whine, “The woods! Please!”

Celuwen hesitated. “You will have to watch her, Adar. She sometimes loses track of where she is supposed to be.”

Thranduil smiled broadly. “I understand. I occasionally kept an eye on your husband in the woods when he was small.”

Celuwen laughed. “I was sometimes part of the party, as I recall. I suppose you have the right kind of experience then.” She turned to Loriel. “Be good and mind your grandfather.”

“I will!”

Thranduil reached for her hand and rejoiced at the feel of it clasped in his as they walked through the antechamber to the top of the Great Steps. The guards at the Doors were obviously trying to keep their eyes straight ahead, but they both smiled as he and Loriel emerged. They worked their way down the steps, and then he let go of her hand and she raced off across the Green. “Wait for me at the start of the path,” he called, lengthening his stride to catch up.

Obediently, she ran in a circle around the big oak at the point where the path led into the woods. She skipped away down it when he arrived at her side, pausing to make chattering noises at a squirrel that had run up a tree when she drew near and now sat scolding her. She dropped back to trot by his side for a moment. “Can you hear the trees from inside your palace, Grandfather?”

He looked down at the earnest, round face turned up to him. “No, I cannot.”

She frowned. “I cannot either. I like it more out here.” And she raced away again to scramble up into the branches of a maple. “Can you see me, Grandfather?” she called from behind a screen of leaves.

He laughed. “Oh no! I have lost Loriel! Her nana is going to be very angry with me. Where can she be?” He leapt up into the maple, landing on the branch next to his wide-eyed granddaughter. “Here she is!”

“I can get away!” she squealed, bending her knees to jump, and he grabbed at her just in time to keep her from trying to make a very long leap to the next tree. Time stopped. For an endless space of it, he sat with his arm around her waist and his heart beating frantically, not yet aware that the danger had passed.

“That is too far for you, sweetling,” he finally found enough breath to say.

She looked from his face to the limb to which she had been intending to jump. “I could hurt myself,” she said in a singsong voice that suggested she was repeating something she had been told before.

“Yes, you could, and then we would all be very sad.” He drew her to him, pulling her onto his lap as he leaned back against the maple’s trunk. “Did your nana tell you not to try to jump so far?”

She nodded. “And also Ada.” Thranduil contemplated the idea of Eilian warning a child to be careful of danger and found he had been so shaken by Loriel’s daring that he could not even take proper satisfaction from it. He would have to try again later, he decided.

Loriel sat quietly for a moment, looking off through the forest. “Grandfather, if we keep going, will we come to where I live?”

He looked where she was looking. “Yes. That way is south, and if we went far enough, we would come to your cottage. It is a long way though. Remember how long you and Nana had to ride to come here?”

She considered. “If we went more, would we come to where Ada is?”

A warning bell sounded in the back of Thranduil’s mind. Not for nothing had he spent years learning to anticipate Eilian’s more exciting actions. He put as much seriousness into his voice as he could. “We would, but that is very, very far away.”

She continued to look south. “I can walk far,” she said, as if to herself.

“An elfling could never walk that far,” said Thranuil sharply. She looked at him but said nothing. He wondered if he should tell her that such a trip would also be dangerous, but he did not want to frighten her about what Eilian might be encountering.

She leaned against his chest. “What if Ada goes home and does not find me?” She sounded so forlorn that his heart went out to her. He kissed the top of her head.

“Your Grandfather Sólith and Grandmother Isiwen know where you are, do they not? They would tell your ada.”

Apparently satisfied, she snuggled closer to him, rubbing her cheek against his tunic and sniffing at it. “I miss Ada.”

“I know you do. Your nana misses him too, I think. How would it be if we went to the meadow and picked some wildflowers to make your nana feel better?”

She brightened and immediately began to wiggle as if to get off his lap, but he clutched her firmly and carried her as he descended the tree. Hand in hand, they walked to the meadow, where Thranduil released her to run about, gathering flowers for Celuwen. He smiled to himself. He had good memories of this meadow. In truth, the father of the elfling now running around in it had been conceived here.

“Look, Grandfather!” Loriel cried, running back to him with a handful of purple flowers. “See how beautiful!”

He looked down at her flushed, eager, trusting face. “I see,” he smiled at her, and for the moment at least, for him, Arda was a place of contentment.


Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter for me.


6. Meetings

Legolas paused at the river’s edge, looking back toward the road leading to the gates of Dale. The tracks in the meadow outside Esgaroth had turned out to be most definitely not those of a wolf. Nearly two days of tracking Gollum’s meandering trail had brought Legolas and his companions here, as farm laborers began to make their way from the fields back into the sheltering walls of the town. Legolas found he could scarcely believe that grain now grew where he had last seen the Desolation of Smaug, and a town was now equally in the process of growing where he had last seen nothing but ruins.

He turned to Annael, who was crouched over marks in the ground. Annael pointed to a place near the river’s bank. “That track is Gollum’s. It was made three or four days ago. I can find no others, though, so I would guess he entered the river here.” He stood and waited for Legolas to decide what they would do next.

Legolas frowned. “So once again, Gollum appears to be making his way into a town by water.” Having a river along one edge of a town was a traditional defense against invading armies, but Legolas supposed it was of little use against a single swimmer on a dark night. He raised his eyes to Dale again. “I think we will have to speak to King Bard,” he said with a surge of satisfaction. He had not seen or spoken to the archer who brought down Smaug since the Battle of Five Armies. The look on Beliond’s face told him he had not managed to keep his anticipation out of his voice.

“Now there is someone who did well out of the affair with Smaug,” Beliond said.

“He is also the one who killed Smaug,” Legolas observed coolly. “So some might say he earned what he got.” He jerked his head toward the rising town. “Moreover, it looks to me as if he has not hesitated to spend on behalf of his people.”

Beliond eyed him. “He was willing to go to war over treasure. Does how he used it redeem that fact?”

To that, Legolas had no answer, so he started away from the river toward the road, with Beliond and Annael following. They reached the edge of the road just as two Men drew abreast of them, staring at the Elves. “Good evening,” Legolas greeted them.

After a second, the grey-haired Man nodded, but his younger companion was bolder. “Good evening, Master Elf. What brings you to Dale?”

Pleased at having found a friendly townsman to question, Legolas fell into step beside the two Men, while Annael and Beliond slid in to walk behind them. The older Man glanced back over his shoulder at them, and Legolas caught a glimpse of Annael smiling and Beliond narrowing his eyes. The Man snapped his head forward again.

Legolas could see no reason to withhold the truth. The people of Dale needed to be put on their guard. “We are tracking an intruder who has been snatching young animals both in the woods and near Esgaroth. Have you heard of any such marauder around Dale?”

“No,” answered the younger Man, sounding surprised. He glanced at his companion, who also shook his head.

Legolas hesitated and then spoke just as they passed through the town gates. “You should tell your neighbors to keep an eye on their small children too.”

Both Men’s eyes widened. “Thank you,” said the older one, with a tremor in his voice. “We will.”

Legolas looked around him, suddenly remembering what this place had been like in the days during which Smaug had terrorized it and preyed on its people. Legolas had been here; he had seen Tuilinn die here. He turned resolutely to the present. “Is the new king’s hall in the same place as the old one used to be?” Legolas asked.

The younger Man hesitated and pointed to their right. “I do not know where the old one was, but you will find the new one if you go to the marketplace and turn left at the statue.”

Of course! Legolas thought in vexation. He had apparently not pulled himself into the present quite as completely as he should have. None of these Men had been alive before Smaug burned and smashed the town. He had known that obvious fact but had somehow forgotten it. His only excuse was that he had spent little time with Men of late.

“Thank you,” he said. The two Men nodded farewell and took a narrow street to the left, while Legolas and his two companions went right.

At this hour, the shops were closing and people were making their way home. Elves came to Dale to trade often enough that most people here had seen one before, but not so often that most people felt comfortable with them. Knowing that the people of Dale were at least nominally Thranduil’s allies, Legolas nodded in greeting to everyone they met and ignored the skittishness of some of the reactions he got.

They entered the marketplace, and then the three of them stopped dead and stared at the statue. The statue showed three figures. In the center was a Man with a great bow in his hand. On the Man’s left was a Dwarf holding a battle axe. And on the Man’s right was a figure that was unmistakably that of an Elf, with a sword raised over his head and an extraordinarily fierce expression on his familiar looking face. Legolas walked slowly forward, his eyes on the Elf. He noted the determined chin, the straight nose, the high brow, and a bubble of laughter crept up his throat, as Annael came to stand on one side of him and Beliond on the other. “Adar will be happy to know that the Men of Dale see him as so fearsome,” Legolas sputtered.

Beliond pursed his lips. “I suppose that is a good thing.” He glanced at the heroic looking Man in the center of the little group and at the heavily armored Dwarf and then turned away as if what he saw pained him. “A Man who got off a lucky shot and a Dwarf who would have used his axe to cut us to ribbons if the Orcs had not descended upon us – allies that any Elf would be grateful for.”

Legolas laughed again. “Bard is a good ally, I think.” He was less certain about the Dwarves, of course. Thorin’s little band had shot at Thranduil’s people, and Dáin, who was now King under the Mountain, had led an army whose axes had indeed been poised to swing at Elves and Men alike. Now that he thought of it, he was glad they had seen no Dwarves so far in their passage through Dale. He supposed that as evening drew in, they had all retreated to the mountain that loomed over the town. He led Annael and Beliond into the street the Men had told them would lead to the king’s hall, and just as he had been told, at the street’s end, he could see a wide, low building stood with a bell tower rising above it. As he stood looking at it, the bells began tolling to announce the imminent closing of the town’s gates.

As they started up the street, Legolas glanced at Beliond. “Perhaps Bard will invite us to stay with him,” he grinned, “and we will not have to take a chance on any of the town’s inns.”

Beliond snorted. No doubt he, like Legolas, remembered the time soon after Legolas had become a warrior when he and Beliond had stayed in an inn on this street, or rather, had tried to until Men picked a fight in the Common Room. Beliond would not want to repeat that experience. On the other hand, Legolas doubted if his bodyguard was eager to spend the night under Bard’s roof either. Legolas was occasionally startled by the mixed nature of Men, who had fought both for and against the forces of Darkness during all the history of Middle-earth, but Beliond had long ago passed from being surprised to being permanently skeptical.

They walked into the courtyard of the king’s hall, where rumors of their presence in Dale had evidently preceded them, because a Man who was obviously some sort of official awaited them when the guards showed them through the door. “Master Elves, how may I serve you?” The official scanned them all and then brought his gaze quickly back to Legolas, who stood between Beliond and Annael and a little in front of them.

“I am Legolas Thranduilion. As a representative of the Elvenking, I beg an audience with King Bard.”

The official’s back straightened a little. “Of course, Lord Legolas.” His eyes flicked to Annael and Beliond. “And your companions--?”

“--will accompany him,” said Beliond. Legolas suppressed a grin. He supposed that Beliond would never get over his suspicions that Men left alone with Legolas would leap at him with drawn knives and a pack of rabid dogs at their command.

The official’s eyes widened as he looked at Beliond. “I would not dream of preventing it. I will speak to the king at once. He has finished his court for today, so it will take me a few minutes to gain an audience with him. Would you be so good as to wait here?” He gestured toward some chairs along the wall and then disappeared through a door.

Legolas settled into one of the chairs. “Remember that Bard is our ally, Beliond,” he murmured. Beliond compressed his mouth in a thin line but said nothing.

Legolas composed himself to wait, aware of the door guards occasionally shooting glances their way. Perhaps a quarter of an hour had passed when the official returned, and the Elves all rose again. “The king will see you now,” he said and led them down a short hallway and through an ornate door into what were obviously the private living quarters of Bard’s family. A carpeted hallway ran straight ahead of them, and the official led them down it to a crossing hallway and then to a door with a guard outside it. He knocked. “Enter,” called a voice, and the official flung the door open and motioned them inside.

Legolas stepped into a room that reminded him of nothing so much as his father’s office. A large desk covered with papers stood to one side, while padded chairs and a small table stood near the fireplace. And just coming around the desk to welcome them was Bard. His dark hair was lightly streaked with grey now, but to Legolas, he still looked like the determined archer who had killed Smaug and then led the Men of the lake in the Battle of Five Armies.

Legolas put his hand over his heart and bowed. “My lord.”

Bard nodded his head in reply. “Welcome, Lord Legolas. Welcome, Master Elves.” He waved them toward the chairs. “Come and have wine with me, and I hope you will dine here and then be my guests for the night.”

Legolas threw a sly glance at Beliond’s impassive face and took the chair closest to Bard. “That is most gracious of you, my lord. We would be happy to accept your kind invitation. These are Annael and Beliond.”

Bard poured wine for them all. “Am I correct in assuming that you have come with some message from Lord Thranduil?”

“Not with a message, my lord,” Legolas said, “but on a mission. We are hunting for a creature named Gollum who passed through the Woodland Realm and also through Esgaroth. We believe he came here, perhaps three or four days ago.”

Bard frowned. “What do you mean, ‘a creature’? What sort of creature?”

Legolas made a face. “I have not seen him, but Gandalf asked us to undertake the search, and we have followed signs of him to Dale. You will want to warn your people to watch over their animals and their children. Gollum has been known to make a meal of the young.”

Bard’s dark brows drew down. “You think he is here?” he demanded sharply.

“We followed his trail to the river bank about half a mile south of town. We think he swam the rest of the way. Have you had word of harm being done to any livestock or to your people’s sons and daughters?”

“No,” said Bard thoughtfully, “but two nights ago, one of the town’s guards chased something that was lurking in an alley. He did not catch it. He thought it might have scrambled over the town wall and fled.” He twisted his wine cup in his hand. “I will have the night crier put it about that a dangerous intruder could still be here, though. My people need to know.”

Legolas nodded. “We will go after Gollum in the morning, then. Will you have your guard show us where he thinks Gollum might have climbed the wall?”

Bard nodded and then seemed to relax a little. “So it is Gandalf who sent you on this mission? The last I heard of him, he was returning to the Shire with Mr. Baggins. Indeed, my people now call the path leading toward the forest The Shire Path because Mr. Baggins said his home lay in that direction.”

A knock sounded at the door. “Enter,” Bard called, and the door opened to admit a boy with a mop of unruly black hair. Legolas was not always good at guessing the ages of Men, but given that this child had undoubtedly been born after the Battle of Five Armies, he thought that the boy was eight or so. He needed no guess to know that the child was Bard’s son. The boy had the same dark hair and heavy brows.

At the sight of him, Bard’s grim face lightened into a smile. “This is my son, Bain,” he said, extending his arm to beckon the child to him and embrace him. “Bain, this is Lord Legolas, the son of King Thranduil. And his companions are Annael and Beliond.”

The boy looked at them with frank curiosity, until his father nudged him slightly. Then he flushed and bowed. “Well met, Master Elves.”

Legolas could not help smiling. “Well met, Bain.”

“Did you need something of me, Bain?” Bard asked. The boy looked at his father from the corner of his eye, and unexpectedly, Bard laughed. “I take it you wanted to meet our guests.”

The boy gave him a slow smile. “Yes, Father.” He spun to face Bard fully. “May I come to the feast tonight, Father?” He was quivering in his eagerness to be included.

Bard tucked a stray strand of hair behind the boy’s ear. “No, it will be too late for you.”

Legolas watched Bain open his mouth as if to protest and then close it again under Bard’s stern eye. With some amusement, Legolas thought that Sinnarn used to look much the same when it occurred to him that it was unwise to argue with Ithilden. Bard’s face softened a little. “You have years yet in which to dine with Elves.”

“Indeed,” Legolas agreed. “I know my father would be happy to have you come to visit us too, Bain.” Thranduil loved children. He would enjoy having this small boy as a guest, even if he was occasionally as skeptical as Beliond about the worth of Men as allies.

Obviously thrilled, Bain asked, “May I go to visit Lord Thranduil the next time your counselor goes, Father?”

Bard smiled. “Perhaps. We will discuss it. Now bid our guests good night.”

With his disappointment poorly but gamely masked, Bain did as he was told. “Good night, my lords.”

“Good night, Bain,” Legolas said, as Annael and Beliond murmured the same thing. He watched the boy drag slowly out of the room, taking a long look back over his shoulder before he disappeared out the door.

Bard too watched the boy depart. Then he turned to Legolas and offered more wine. “Things have changed a great deal since the Battle of Five Armies, have they not? Who would ever have guessed that it would be safe for me to send my child to visit Thranduil if I wished?”

As Bard refilled his wine cup, Legolas could not help thinking about Eilian’s mission to the south, as he done frequently during this trip. Eilian must be drawing close to Dol Guldur now. What would he find there? Would Bard’s son grow up in a world in which it was safe for a child to travel through Thranduil’s woods?

Another knock sounded at the door, and a servant appeared. Bard glanced at him and said, “I believe your rooms are ready for you. Perhaps you would like time to ready yourselves for the evening meal.” As they all rose, he gave them what Legolas would have sworn was a mischievous look if this had been anyone other than Bard. “I will have another guest at the table whom you might find interesting. King Dáin is eating with us tonight.”

Legolas blinked at him. How in Arda could Bard bear to be so friendly with someone he had once faced across a battle field? “I look forward to seeing Dáin again,” he forced out, and then turned to follow the servant.

Out in the hallway, Beliond drew near enough to murmur in Legolas’s ear. “Remember that Dáin is our ally, Legolas.”

Legolas glared at him, but suddenly found himself laughing. “True. You can sit next to him.” He laughed again at the look on Beliond’s face, and followed the servant down the hall to Bard’s guest rooms.


Thranduil gazed at the tree tops, visible over the wall of palace garden, and wondered how Eilian’s patrol was faring. They should be drawing near to Dol Guldur by now, he thought. As he had been doing for the last month, he listened intently to the song of the trees, hearing again that faint discordant note and asking himself what it might mean. And as he had been doing since Eilian started south, he resigned himself to waiting for his son to return in order to learn the answer to that question.

“Thranduil,” said Mithrandir, “have I ever told you how grateful I am to be able to rely on you and your sons?”

Thranduil looked wryly at the wizard, who sat smoking peacefully and smiling benevolently, as if he had not just managed to read Thranduil’s mind. “Yes, you have. Should I be thankful for that?” In truth, Thranduil was not always certain that having Mithrandir rely on him and his sons was an entirely good thing. The wizard had not yet asked for anything too outrageous, but Thranduil could not help feeling that one of these days, he would.

Mithrandir laughed and then grew more serious. “I hope that Eilian is back before I must be on my way again. I would like to know what he has learned.”

“You are welcome to stay even after Legolas brings this Gollum back,” Thranduil told him.

“I only hope Legolas is able to bring him back,” said Mithrandir. “Gollum is slippery and cunning.”

Thranduil shrugged. “Legolas is good at leading a group on a search, Mithrandir. He has done it often enough in the border patrols. If he cannot find Gollum, then this is not the time the Valar meant for Gollum to be found.” Given the danger Gollum posed to the unguarded young, Thranduil would not be entirely at ease about him until he was found, but Thranduil was glad that he at least did not have to worry about Legolas’s safety. That Eilian and Sinnarn were venturing into possible danger was enough just now.

“Look, Aunt Alfirin, I can close the gate myself!” piped a welcome voice, and Thranduil put aside all thoughts of the menace of the future in favor of the joys of today. He leaned forward to look down the gravel path and saw Loriel running toward him, with Alfirin and Emmelin trailing behind.

“Here I am, Grandfather!” Loriel cried.

Thranduil laughed and rose to grasp her around the waist and toss her, squealing, into the air. “Good evening,” he greeted Alfirin and Emmelin, gathering his granddaughter in close and savoring the warmth of the small, sturdy body.

“Good evening, Adar, Mithrandir,” said Alfirin, setting down a tray bearing a flagon and cups. She began pouring wine, as Emmelin sat down next to Thranduil.

“Where are your shoes?” Thranduil asked Loriel, sitting down again and settling her on his lap. The child’s feet were bare and filthy.

“I left them somewhere.” Loriel sounded supremely unconcerned.

“I sent someone to look for them,” Alfirin told him, handing him a cup of wine.

Thranduil smothered a smile and turned to Loriel again. “What did you do this afternoon while your naneth met with my council?” Something in Alfirin’s tone told him that the shoes were not going to be easy to find, and he wondered just how far and wide she had roamed.

“I walked in the woods with Emmelin,” Loriel said, leaning back against him. “She knows all the trees here.”

“She does,” Thranduil agreed. “That is why she is one of my foresters.”

“Loriel nearly forgot she was not to go off on her own, but she remembered in time,” said Emmelin, squeezing Loriel’s bare foot.

Thranduil grimaced. He had told them all what Loriel had said about being able to walk far, and they had been keeping a close eye on her. “Good. You were wise to remember, sweetling.” Loriel did not appear to hear him. She was watching in wide-eyed fascination as Mithrandir blew smoke rings that floated away, turned green, and then came to hover over his head.

He turned to find Emmelin smiling at him. “My Grandmother Elowen says to tell you that one of the main reasons to have children is that it is a necessary step to having grandchildren.”

Thranduil laughed. “You may tell her that I find I agree.” He thought that Emmelin’s face turned a bit wistful as she watched Loriel. Thranduil suspected that Emmelin wanted children that Sinnarn was reluctant to have just yet. He thought again of Eilian’s mission and hoped that Sinnarn’s doubts about the peace were not about to be confirmed.

The rattle of the gate announced Ithilden’s arrival. “Good evening,” he said, bending to kiss Alfirin’s cheek.

“Good evening,” they chorused.

Loriel watched him closely. “My ada kisses my nana,” she confided in Thranduil.

“I have seen your ada do that,” Thranduil agreed gravely.

She looked up at him, with her face puckered. “Will Ada come home soon?”

Thranduil sighed. He knew the truthful answer was “Not soon enough to suit you,” but instead he said, “Your ada will come as soon as he can, sweetling.” She continued to look at him for a moment and then turned to watch the tree tops he had been studying earlier. He tightened his arm around her, flooded suddenly by memories both of Eilian as a foolhardy youth and of his Wood-elf wife’s blithe disregard of her own safety. He kissed the top of his granddaughter’s head, grateful for the many adults who could help Celuwen keep an eye on her.


Thranduil walked along the path, watching the fluttering leaves in the treetops. What are they saying? he wondered. No matter how much he strained to hear them, he could not tell.

“I knew you would come,” said a familiar voice. His heart leapt, and he lowered his gaze to see Lorellin sitting on the trunk of a fallen tree, with sunlight piercing the canopy to fall all around her. Something about this scene was familiar, he thought, and then he realized that he had gone to meet Lorellin in the woods like this on the day that Legolas was conceived.

“I have ached for you,” he said, his voice raspy with passion.

She smiled at him. “One of the main reasons to have children is that it is a necessary step to having grandchildren,” she said.

I am dreaming, he thought, but he did not care. Any glimpse of Lorellin was a gift from the Valar. He took a tentative step toward her. But now her smile had vanished.

“I am sorry,” she said, looking at him with compassion in her wide grey eyes. A cold shadow suddenly fell over them, and he looked up to see a black cloud rolling across the sky, blotting out every glimpse of the sky as it came. And then abruptly, the treetops burst into flames.

“Lorellin!” he cried, but she had vanished. And then he lay on his side in his bed, with his heart pounding. For a moment, he could scarcely breathe. He rolled over onto his back to stare at the ceiling. It was dream, he told himself. Only a dream.

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter for me.


7. Terror in the Woods

“It looks as if Gollum entered the woods here, probably on the same night that the guard chased him out of Dale.” Annael rose and stood looking pensively at the tracks.

Legolas frowned. “I do not like it. I thought he had left the Woodland Realm, and now he is heading straight back into it.”

“Are you sure it is him?” Beliond asked, drawing a frown from Annael. Beliond raised a placating hand. “I do not mean to insult you, but we have seen no carcass of any fresh kill, and I would have expected to find one by now. So far as we know, he has not eaten since he took the lamb outside of Esgaroth several days ago.”

“Unless there are two such creatures, this is Gollum,” Annael declared flatly. He frowned at the tracks. “He is using his hands more than he was, though, and the distance between the tracks is greater.” He looked at Legolas, who drew the obvious conclusion.

“He is traveling more quickly?”

“Yes,” Annael said, “and more unswervingly. He is wandering less and keeping in one direction.”

“As if he was going somewhere,” Legolas said apprehensively.

“He must be hungry,” Beliond insisted. “Since we have followed him, he has not gone this long without bringing down some prey.”

“Perhaps he has killed something, and we have not found it,” Legolas said. Annael raised an eyebrow but said nothing. Legolas grimaced. Annael had undoubtedly found anything there was to find. “If Gollum is hungry and in a hurry, then we should waste no time going after him.” He gestured to Annael, who led them swiftly into the woods.


Eilian stared at the pine seedlings, growing twisted and black in the clearing before him. The scouting party had been traveling on the ground rather than through the branches for the last two days because the trees here had become brittle and sick during the time Sauron had lived at Dol Guldur. Until now, however, they had seen healthy young trees scattered among the older ones. “Perhaps some disease is causing this,” he said. He looked to where Maltanaur, Sinnarn, and Tynd stood soberly studying the small trees. “Sinnarn, Emmelin sometimes finds diseased trees even close to the stronghold, does she not?”

Sinnarn grimaced and looked up at the sky, which was smudged with darkness like the smoke from a forest fire. “She does,” he acknowledged. He hesitated and then seemingly changed the subject, although Eilian knew it was not a real change. “I have never been this far south before,” Sinnarn said, “so I may be overreacting, but I have to confess that this place makes me nervous. I keep looking around to see if something is going to jump on my back.”

Eilian sighed. He knew what Sinnarn meant. His own nerves were on edge too. He looked south to where he knew Dol Goldur lay, although it was not yet visible above the tree tops. He thought they were close enough that they would be able to spot it later that afternoon. “We will keep out of sight as much as possible,” he said. “There may indeed be something there.”

The others nodded, and bows in hand, they set out again, keeping to the shadows that grew ever deeper as they drew nearer to their goal. Eilian tried to keep alert to the whereabouts of everyone else as he strained with all his senses to notice anything at all that would tell him what was happening in this blighted part of the forest. The silence he found disturbed him more than anything else. When he had been here after the Battle of Five Armies, bird and small animals had begun to return here. Now he heard nothing – no birdsong, no rustling in the underbrush, and most troubling of all, no song from the trees themselves. Ice crept up his spine. There was death here, and there was evil.

He glanced to his left, where he knew Sinnarn and Tynd should be, but he could not see them. It had grown dark while they searched, he realized in surprise. And then despair washed over him. He turned to Maltanaur, who hovered closer than he usually did on Eilian’s right hand. “It is Shadow, not night,” he said in a low, shaky voice.

His face grim, Maltanaur nodded. “It cannot be later than mid-afternoon.”

Eilian considered his options. In one sense, he had found out what Thranduil had sent him south to learn. Shadow was again rising at Dol Guldur. But he did not yet know the nature of the threat, for to him, the area felt different than it had when Sauron was there, despite the similarities in the darkness and the damage to the forest. Every one of his warrior’s instincts was telling him that there was danger here, but if he wanted to be most useful to Ithilden and his father, he needed to know just what that danger was. He drew a deep breath and sounded the signal to draw Sinnarn and Tynd to him.

They approached out of the gloom, Sinnarn in the lead and Tynd at his back, scanning the woods around them with an anxious eye. “I think I caught a glimpse of the tower through a gap in the pines,” Sinnarn muttered to Eilian. “But it is too dark to be sure.”

Eilian nodded. “We are close enough that you could have seen it, I think. We need to learn what is there as quickly as we can, and then get out of here.” He lifted his head to look south, his desire to know more at war with his growing alarm. “We will take three hours, no more,” he decided. “You two go that way. Try to get close enough to see the tower and then skirt around it, taking no more than the time I am giving you. If you learn something sooner, circle back this way and signal us. Maltanaur and I will go this way. We will meet here in three hours at the latest.” His face sober, Sinnarn nodded and started away. Eilian caught at his sleeve. “Be careful,” he warned. Sinnarn gave him a faint smile and nodded again before he and Tynd slid silently off into the darkness.

Eilian jerked his head at Maltanaur, and in utter silence, the two of them crept forward until at last, in the gap between the tops of two withered pines, Eilian saw the walls of Sauron’s fortress, rising above the dark hill of Dol Guldur. He stopped and stared at the tower, which he saw as only a slice of blacker black against the darkened sky. He realized that his diaphragm was so tight he was panting and drew a long, shaky breath, trying to ease his tension.

Something touched him lightly on the shoulder, and he jumped before he realized that it was Maltanaur. He glanced back, expecting to see a reassuring look on his bodyguard’s face. Instead, Maltanaur’s narrowed eyes were scanning Dol Guldur. Without waiting for Eilian to take the lead, Maltanaur moved stealthily to their right, starting a circuit of the base of the hill, with his eyes always on it. Eilian braced himself and went after his keeper.

Never taking his eyes from Dol Guldur, he crept quietly through the underbrush. The tower loomed before him, but he saw no movement. If there were guards, they were well hidden. Then Maltanaur touched his arm again and pointed to a gap in the underbrush just ahead of them. Eilian’s breath caught. Even in the darkness cast by the Shadow, he could easily see that the path leading away from Dol Guldur had been made by the heavy feet of Orcs.

We knew they were not all gone, he reasoned desperately with himself. We have seen them sometimes. But even as he made these excuses, he knew he was grasping at straws. Something had come to live at Dol Guldur again, and the forces of darkness were gathering to it.

By now, the time he had allotted to scout the area was nearly gone, and he knew that he and Maltanaur should start back to the meeting place, but he was not yet certain what was calling the Orcs here, and he longed to go on. When he started forward again, however, Maltanaur grasped his arm. “We will go back,” Maltanaur said firmly. “We know enough.”

With a reluctance that was shamefully mixed with relief, Eilian nodded curtly and started back to meet Sinnarn and Tynd. Even though he and Maltanaur had seen no one, something about this place made Eilian’s heart pound like that of a green warrior in his first battle. Gratefully, he accepted Maltanaur’s claim. They knew enough to tell Thranduil that Shadow was once again rising in the southern part of the realm. If Thranduil knew that, perhaps he could get the White Council to agree to drive it out again. Eilian suppressed the thought that the Council had taken centuries to agree to act the first time. Surely the Wise would see the pressing need not to let things get out of hand again.

They were nearly to the meeting place when, in the distance, he heard a loud crack, followed by a muffled cry. For a second, he froze. Then, with Maltanaur at his heels, he sprang in the direction from which the cry had come. And then other sounds came: those of growling voices and graceless feet.


Thranduil strode through the Great Doors into the glow of the spring afternoon. For a moment, he paused to watch a group of five or six children chasing a ball on the green. They were all several years older than Loriel, and she was not among them, but he knew she would have liked to be. He had seen her eyeing the children near the stronghold, and he could not help regretting her status as the only child in her settlement, although he had certainly said nothing about it to Celuwen, who tended to be touchy about anything that sounded like a criticism of where she and Eilian chose to live.

His gaze shifted to the where the forest began on the other side of the green, and he wondered how Eilian’s mission was going. Thranduil had been restless this afternoon, and he had had to reassure himself more than once that Eilian, Sinnarn, and their guards were competent warriors, the best he could have sent to learn what was happening at Dol Guldur.

There was no point in worrying, he thought and made his way down the steps, across the bridge, and through the gate into the palace gardens. He had gone no more than a few steps before he caught a glimpse of pink from the corner of his eye and looked to find his granddaughter just darting behind a lilac bush.

“I am ready!” she cried. “Come and find me now.”

Forgetting his worries, Thranduil grinned. With the skill of a much-experienced Elven warrior, he left the path and slid soundlessly around a flower bed toward the lilac. He could see Loriel with her back to him, bobbing from side to side as she tried to peer through the branches to see if someone was coming to seek her. He crept toward her and then, with a lunge, grabbed her around the waist and swung her up to rest on his hip. “You are captured, Fair Maiden!” he cried

She gave a single shriek, and then realizing who had seized her, she dissolved in giggles. “Grandfather, you startled me!”

He laughed. “Let that teach you to watch your back. Has your ada taught you no better than that?”

“Eilian tells her she is already too slippery,” said Celuwen’s voice, and Thranduil turned to see her approaching. She looked as if the strain of waiting for Eilian’s return was beginning to tell on her too. She looked tired, and the corners of her mouth were pinched.

“Grandfather found me before you did, Nana,” Loriel told her.

Celuwen’s face relaxed into a smile. “So he did. Would you like him to put you down so you can hide again?”

Loriel nodded, and Thranduil set her on her feet to run off down the path. He and Celuwen followed her to find Alfirin and Emmelin on the benches where the family had been gathering in the evenings now that spring had come. Both of them were engaged in embroidering the edges of small garments no doubt meant for Loriel, although Thranduil noticed that Celuwen had apparently not joined them in doing needlework. Thranduil hid his amusement. Celuwen was one of the most practical people he knew, a quality that balanced Eilian’s mercurial nature in a way Thranduil found very satisfying.

Loriel skipped further along the path and then darting off it into the greenery. He poured himself some wine and sat down next to Emmelin. “Sinnarn used to hide here too,” he told her. She smiled in response, but he thought she had some of the same drawn look that Celuwen had.

“Drat!” exclaimed Alfirin, startling Thranduil. She held her embroidery hoop in one hand and pawed through her sewing bag with the other. “I am out of blue thread.”

“I have extra,” Emmelin said, fishing a reel of royal blue thread from her own bag and handing it across the gap to Alfirin on the other bench. Thranduil sipped his wine. Even the normally placid Alfirin was on edge. He sighed and tried to calculate the days that would have to pass before Eilian and Sinnarn were home again.

“I am ready!” called Loriel.

Emmelin set her embroidery aside. “It is my turn,” she said and went off to look for Loriel. Within a very short time, Thranduil heard Loriel shriek, and then she came dancing back along the path with Emmelin smiling behind her.

“Emmelin found me,” she announced, making Thranduil laugh. Loriel cocked her head and looked at the garden wall. “The children are there,” she said, looking hopefully at her mother. Thranduil listened and realized that the children from the green were now just on the other side of the garden wall, probably heading for the path that began there and ran through the woods to a number of cottages.

“I know you want to play with them,” Celuwen said, “but they are going home.” Loriel clambered up to stand on tiptoe on the bench next to Celuwen and try to see over the wall. “They played with you before we came into the garden,” Celuwen comforted her, “and I am sure they will do so again tomorrow. But now you should go hide.”

Loriel heaved a sigh and climbed down off the bench. With her eyes still on the treetops visible over the wall, she trotted off toward the opposite end of the garden. Celuwen smoothed her gown over her knees, with her eyes too on the treetops.

“Do I recall correctly that the settlement’s waterwheel was damaged this spring, Celuwen?” Thranduil asked. “Has it been repaired yet?”

Clearly recognizing his effort to distract her from her worries, she smiled at him and launched into the tale of the mending of the waterwheel. On hearing of Eilian’s part in it, Thranduil found himself marveling yet again at how well his son had settled into life in the woods.

Finally, Celuwen broke off and turned her head in the direction Loriel had gone. “Surely she should be hidden by now.” She frowned. “I will just go take a look.” She rose and started after her daughter.

Thranduil watched her go, uneasiness prickling at the back of his mind. Next to him, Emmelin let her embroidery fall to her lap and frowned. On the bench opposite, Alfirin too was looking after Celuwen.

A sudden cry from Celuwen drove Thranduil’s heart into his throat. He leapt to his feet and ran toward where the cry had come from, with Alfirin and Emmelin right behind him. To his dismay, he found Celuwen standing just outside the gate that, at this end of garden, led to a maze of paths among the cottages, warrior training grounds, and stables.

“The gate was open,” Celuwen said in a strained voice, “and I cannot find Loriel anywhere in the garden.”

“She must have gone looking for the children,” Thranduil said, trying to sound more reassuring than he felt. “She cannot have gone far.”

In a habit born of long years as a warrior and hunter, he stepped off the path and moved toward Celuwen, scanning the ground for signs that Loriel had come this way. “Here she is.” He pointed to the track of a small foot and ran along next to the path, following the trail.

“Loriel!” Celuwen called as she trotted along beside him. “Loriel!”

Thranduil’s heart quickened a little when no answer came. He could imagine Loriel leaving the garden if she saw children through the slats of the gate, but he would have expected her to answer when her mother called. Unless, of course, she was still playing the hiding game. Thranduil did not like that thought at all. Legolas had once hidden in the woods when Thranduil had had him in his care, and Thranduil would have been much slower to find him if he had not been with two of his friends and the three of them had not taken to giggling when they saw Thranduil rush past.

The path he was on merged with a bigger one that was thickly marked with the tracks of the children he had heard passing the garden, but Loriel’s tracks were on top of them and he followed them easily enough until he came to a place where three paths split off. One led to nearby cottages; one led to the pond; and one led to the woods, although there were a few cottages in that direction too. Thranduil paused for a moment, with a sinking heart, trying to sort through what he saw. “She went toward the woods,” he told Celuwen, keeping his voice steady. “But she may have simply gone with another child to the cottages in that direction too.” The odds were overwhelming that Loriel was fine, but Thranduil knew that even in times of peace, the woods could be dangerous for an unwary child. And Celuwen knew it too. Her face went white.

Thranduil turned to Alfirin and Emmelin, who had been following just behind him and Celuwen. “Alfirin, go and tell the guards at the Door that we need as many of them as possible to help us search for Loriel.” She turned and ran back up the path and into the garden.

His eyes on the path, Thranduil ran toward the woods, with Celuwen and Emmelin at his sides. He found that the trees were humming happily with the news of the presence of children, but of course, Loriel had been following several other elflings. “Celuwen, do you know which children were on the green? We should check to see if she went home with any of them who live in this direction or if they saw her and know where she went.”

Celuwen hesitated. She had spent the last few years away from the stronghold and did not know the children well. “I think I know,” said Emmelin and reeled off a list of names.

“We will start with them,” Thranduil said, and the three of them scattered among the cottages that had just come into sight. But at every door they got the same answer: Loriel was not there. The child who lived there had not seen her since she had left the green to enter the palace gardens.

As Thranduil turned away from the last cottage to face Emmelin and an increasingly frantic Celuwen, Ithilden hastened into the clearing with half-a-dozen warriors at his back. “Did you find her?” he demanded.

“No,” said Thranduil. “Take your warriors and spread out to search in that direction. We will go this way. There is a path back that way as I recall, and she may have taken it.” Ithilden nodded and began organizing his forces, as Thranduil ran toward the path behind the cottages, with Celuwen and Emmelin behind him. Celuwen called Loriel’s name as they ran.

Thranduil soon realized that the path behind the cottages was heavily used by the children in the area, for it was covered with their tracks, making it hard for him to know if Loriel had been on it or not. He thought he saw signs of her, but could not be certain.  And then, abruptly, he skidded to a halt and scanned the ground more intently. The path curved to the west here, but there were unmistakable signs that a child had stepped off it and gone straight south. And the child had been small.

Thranduil’s breath caught. “This way,” he said, plunging into the underbrush. As the brush grew thicker, the signs of Loriel’s passage grew fainter, and he had to slow down.

Suddenly, Celuwen cried, “Here!” He spun to see her retrieving a pair of small shoes from a hollow in an old oak. Even from where Thranduil stood, he could see that Celuwen’s hands were shaking.

Once again, Thranduil listened to the trees, and with the rise of something that felt very much like panic, he realized that their song had become fearful. Something dangerous was astir among them. He looked at the ground again, desperately searching for some sign of the direction in which Loriel might have gone, but the light passage of her bare feet had left no trace that he could see.

He looked steadily at Celuwen. “We will spread out. You and Emmelin search in that direction. I will go this way.” When she turned to hasten off, he caught at her arm. “Be careful, Celuwen, but waste no time.” Her eyes widened, and then she spun and ran off with Emmelin, frantically calling her daughter as she ran.


Loriel trotted along through the trees, pleased by the good idea she had had when the older child had gone into a cottage, still unaware that Loriel was following her. This was the right way. She was sure of it. Grandfather had said that if she went south, she would get to where Ada was. It was far, he had said, but she could walk far. She would be very tired when she found Ada, but then he could carry her as always did when she reached for him.

Ada would be happy to see her. She was sure he missed her as much as she missed him. Nana missed Ada too. Loriel would tell Ada that, and he would come home right away.

It suddenly occurred to her that the trees sounded odd here. She slowed a little and turned her face up to look at them, towering over her. They sounded like the trees at home had sounded the morning she had gone outside in the nightdress. Whatever could be wrong with them?

Something moved in the bushes off to her left, and she spun to see what it was. And suddenly she wished that Ada or Nana or Grandfather was here. Whatever was in the bushes was coming toward her.

And then, to her right, she heard her mother calling her name, and weak with relief, she turned to answer.


“Eilian, wait!” Maltanaur gasped, and he felt a hand grasp the strap of his quiver.

“That was Sinnarn!” Eilian cried.

Maltanaur clapped a hand over his mouth. “Orcs!” he warned.  And Eilian realized he was right. What sounded like a small patrol of Orcs was running between him and Maltanaur and where he thought Sinnarn and Tynd were.

“Keep under cover,” Eilian ordered, nocking an arrow and starting forward again. “They are going toward Sinnarn and do not know we are here.” He ran lightly forward from shadow to shadow, his ears straining to hear what was going on ahead of him. In anguish, he heard what sounded like the whine of arrows and increased his pace.

Then, unexpectedly, he heard the beat of a horse’s hooves. And as he did, terror such as he had never known washed through him. His gorge rose in his throat, and his legs suddenly weakened and gave way beneath him as his vision blurred and he was driven to his knees. He could hear Maltanaur gasping just behind him, and Eilian felt a horrifying fear that if he had had the strength to scramble to his feet, he would have dropped his bow and fled.

From just ahead came the cry of a hunting Orc. He raised his head and drew in a great gasp of air. Sinnarn and Tynd were there, and they needed him. Even in his current trembling state, they needed him. Using every bit of will he possessed, he struggled to his feet and stumbled forward.


In the grassy area that had opened up before him, Thranduil crouched to look at the blades of grass that had been bent by the passage of a small foot. Exultantly, he sprang up and turned toward where he knew Emmelin and Celuwen must be, for he had heard Celuwen shouting for her daughter only a moment before. He opened his mouth to call them to him, but before he could make a sound, someone screamed.

He froze and then ran toward where the two Elf-women must be. What had Celuwen found? he asked himself in terror. Nearly choking with fear, he burst from the trees and then stopped short, for there, kneeling on the ground and keening, was not Celuwen, but Emmelin.


Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter for me.


8. Facing Loss

Thranduil crouched next to Emmelin. “What is it?” he cried. “Where is Celuwen?”

“Here I am.” He turned his head to see an obviously worried Celuwen hasten into the clearing with Loriel on her hip. “What has happened?”

Thranduil’s breath caught, and for a second, he was aware only of his relief that Loriel was safe, although she was obviously frightened as she gazed wide-eyed at the suffering Emmelin. Indeed, even as Thranduil watched, Loriel burst into tears of sympathy and buried her face in her mother’s neck. Celuwen swayed slightly, rocking her and murmuring, “Hush, sweetling.”

Thranduil turned back to Emmelin, with horror spreading through him at the suspicion that now blossomed in his head. “What is it, Emmelin?” She raised a stunned, white face to him and opened and closed her mouth, as if unable to make the frightening words come. Into Thranduil’s mind came tumbling a memory from long ago when something that had felt like part of himself had suddenly vanished, leaving a gaping hole in his heart. In that long-ago time, he had come abruptly to his feet in the Great Hall, gasping for air and unable to speak to those who sprang to his aid in alarm.

The sound of running feet made him look to see Ithilden burst into the clearing, his bow in his hand and three Home Guard warriors at his back. Ithilden looked first at the still sobbing Loriel. “Is she hurt?” he demanded. Celuwen shook her head.

Ithilden let out a long breath and lowered his bow. Then his eyes went to Emmelin, and suddenly his face tensed, as if only now that he knew that Loriel was safe did he have attention to spare for his daughter-in-law and whatever her grief represented. He took a faltering step toward her, and Thranduil saw his face, too, drain of all color. And then, unexpectedly, he stumbled and put out a hand to brace himself against a tree trunk. He raised his head, and his eyes met Thranduil’s, and his face abruptly filled with astonished grief.

For just a second, Thranduil closed his eyes, shutting out the sight and knowledge of what he could not bear to believe was true. Then he opened them again. “Celuwen, run and fetch Emmelin’s naneth.” His voice was so calm that he could scarcely believe it was coming from his own mouth. Celuwen whirled and hastened off, with Loriel still on her hip, hiccupping with small sobs.

Thranduil put his arm around Emmelin and helped her to her feet. “Come, child. Let us go home.” He knew better than to offer her false hope. He had known with absolute certainty that Lorellin was gone, and he had no doubt that Emmelin knew with certainty about Sinnarn.

Looking dazed, Ithilden pushed himself away from the tree trunk and came forward to embrace Emmelin. Then he looked at Thranduil. “I need to find Alfirin.”

Thranduil nodded. “Go. I will help Emmelin get home.” With a last pat on Emmelin’s shoulder, Ithilden turned, spoke quickly to his warriors, and then ran toward the stronghold. Thranduil followed after him, murmuring what comfort he could to his granddaughter-by-marriage. And in Thranduil’s imagination, a dark-haired sprite of an elfling ran along beside them, laughing and chattering excitedly about whatever Arda had offered him that day. With a small part of his mind, he noted almost without realizing it that whatever danger had lurked in the woods was gone. The trees were concerned only over their king and those that he loved.


Eilian reached for an arrow to replace the one that had fallen from his trembling fingers, but Maltanaur stumbled up next to him and drew him deeper into the shadows under a pine tree. He was about to protest when he heard someone speaking.

“Leave them. Search for others.”

Blood roared in Eilian’s ears, and for a moment, he could not breathe. Then he heard Orcs running past them, and a horse trotting away. With what felt like a release from bonds, strength returned to him, and he wrenched himself free from Maltanaur and ran on silent feet toward where he had heard Sinnarn and then the Orcs and horseman.

In the shadowy dark, he was nearly upon Sinnarn and Tynd before he saw them. In disbelief, he froze for a second and then sprang forward to crouch next to Tynd, who lay sprawled face downward, with an arrow in his back, reaching into a trench in which Sinnarn lay on his back, staring up at the sky, with three arrows in his chest. Eilian sprang into the trench. He could see now that, covered in branches, it extended to either side, ready to trap the unwary who might approach Dol Guldur. He put his trembling fingers on the side of Sinnarn’s neck, but he knew before he did it that he was too late. His nephew was dead.

Maltanaur spoke from the edge of the trench, where he had rolled Tynd over. “Tynd is dead.” His voice was gentle. “Hand Sinnarn up to me, Eilian. We need to take the two of them and leave at once.”

For a moment, Eilian did not move. He stared into the face of Ithilden’s son, which in death looked unbearably young and bewildered rather than frightened.

“Eilian,” urged Maltanaur. “We cannot tarry. That horseman was one of the Nine. We have to leave now before he comes back.”

Eilian looked up at him. “A Nazgûl?” He felt as if his brain had stopped working, and he could take in almost nothing.

Maltanaur nodded grimly. “I had hoped I would never feel that terror again, but there is no mistaking it after you have felt it even once. Give me Sinnarn. We need to be on our way.”

Eilian looked down again at the body of Sinnarn, and then, with a sob he could not repress, he bent and gathered it in his arms.


Legolas led Beliond and Annael out of the trees and along the path that ran through the warriors’ areas. “We should report at once to Ithilden,” Legolas said. “He needs to know that we have tracked Gollum back here.” He turned onto a side path, and with Annael and Beliond just behind him, he entered the open door of the building housing Ithilden’s office.

Ithilden’s aide looked up from the even larger than usual stack of paperwork he was sorting. Something flitted across his face that Legolas could not quite identify. “Is Ithilden here, Calith?” he asked.

“No.” Calith looked past Legolas at Annael. “Do not be alarmed, Annael, but you are needed at home.”

Legolas turned quickly to see Annael blink and take a sharp breath. He looked at Legolas. “Let me know when we are to leave again.”

Legolas nodded. “It will probably be almost immediately. I will speak to the king and Ithilden, and to Mithrandir, and then I expect they will want us to go on until we find Gollum.” Annael nodded and slipped out.

“You did not find him?” Calith asked.

“No, and we tracked him back here, so I am sure Ithilden will want to know where he has gone.”

Calith reached for a sheet of parchment that looked like a duty roster. “You are probably right. Tell Ithilden I have arranged for someone else to take up the task. Beliond will tell them what to look for.”

Legolas opened and closed his mouth. He had always known that Calith took care of most of the routine work, but the aide did not usually issue orders directly, particularly one as serious as removing Legolas from the hunt for Gollum. “What is this about?” he demanded.

Calith sighed. “The king will tell you, Legolas.”

With rising alarm, Legolas stared at him for a moment and then spun to leave. Beliond stepped to one side to let him pass. “I will come to you if you need me,” Beliond said. He eyed the aide. “Calith and I are going to have a little talk now.” Legolas glanced back to see Calith grimace and then hurried out of the building.

As he hastened toward home, he frantically searched for some cause that would keep Ithilden from his office, mean that Legolas would no longer lead the patrol after Gollum, and also produce some crisis at home for Annael. Abruptly, he thought of Eilian’s mission to the south, and with a flare of panic, he sped up and all but ran across the bridge and up the steps to the palace.


Deeply shaken, Legolas left his father’s sitting room. For a moment, he leaned against the hallway wall, drawing long breaths and trying to take in what Thranduil had just told him. “Are you unwell, Legolas?” asked someone.

He looked up to find Mithrandir regarding him with concern. Legolas straightened. “I am well enough.”

Mithrandir glanced at the door next to which Legolas stood, and his face softened. Legolas hurried on before the wizard could speak. “I am sorry, but we have not caught Gollum yet, although we tracked him back here and think we are only two days behind him. Other scouts are going after him soon, probably later today.” Legolas knew that Gollum needed to be found. He was too dangerous to leave loose in the woods. But in the face of what he had just heard about Sinnarn, the fate of Gollum seemed like a trivial matter.

“I will go with the scouting party,” Mithrandir said. “Thranduil has things to attend to other than guests just now.” He paused. “Is your family certain about Sinnarn?”

Legolas hesitated. “Emmelin is,” he said reluctantly. He could not quite accept Emmelin’s conviction. She and Sinnarn had not been married very long. Perhaps she was mistaken. He pushed aside a fleeting memory of how he had felt Tuilinn’s absence when she died. They had not been bonded. Perhaps that was different. Perhaps married people were more sensitive and felt an absence even when the other one was injured.

Mithrandir sighed. “I am sorry.” He looked away for a moment. “I wonder what they found.”

Abruptly, Legolas wondered that too. He had been so distraught by the news that Sinnarn was probably dead that he had not even thought about what might have killed him. Suddenly, to his own surprise, he was shaking with rage. The White Council had driven Sauron away. In a battle that still haunted Legolas’s nightmares sometimes, the armies of Bard, Dáin, and Thranduil had slain the Orcs and wargs. They had struggled and suffered, and they had won. And now something had killed Sinnarn. Or perhaps it had. Legolas’s heart still shied away from accepting that idea completely, but his mind had taken in what Thranduil told him, and already he was planning what he might do about it. He would be hanged if he would let the Shadow edge its way back into his home.

He realized that Mithrandir was watching him closely. The wizard smiled at him. “I will go and pack my belongings and take my leave of your adar. Thank you for your help with Gollum.”

Legolas nodded, and Mithrandir walked off toward the guest wing. Legolas hesitated for only a second and then made his way along the hall to knock on the door of Ithilden and Alfirin’s apartment. “Come in,” called Ithilden’s deep voice, and Legolas entered his brother’s sitting room.

Ithilden sat in his chair near the hearth, clutching what looked like a full cup of tea in both hands. Although he turned his head to look at Legolas, for a moment he seemed so lost in his own thoughts that his face showed no sign of recognition. Then he pulled himself more erect. “I did not know you were back.” He frowned, as if trying to remember something. “Did you find Gollum?”

Legolas crossed the room to sit in the chair across from Ithilden. “No. We tracked him through Esgaroth and Dale and then back here. He is heading west. Calith said to tell you he is sending more scouts to try to get hold of him. Mithrandir is going too.”

Ithilden blinked. “Has he harmed any more children?” His voice was bleak, and Legolas knew he was thinking about his own “child,” adult though Sinnarn might be.

“No.” Legolas leaned toward his brother. “Adar told me that Emmelin feels her bond with Sinnarn is gone. I hope she is wrong.” Ithilden nodded, but it was not hope that Legolas saw in his face.

The opening of the apartment door drew Legolas’s attention, and he rose as Alfirin came into the sitting room carrying a tray with bread and a bowl of fragrant soup. She set the tray on a small table at Ithilden’s elbow, and then turned to Legolas, who took one look at her white face and stepped forward to embrace her. He tried to say something comforting, but found he could think of nothing. Indeed, the despair he saw in both Ithilden and Alfirin shook his own resolve to be hopeful. Emmelin was not the only person who had a bond with Sinnarn.

Alfirin pulled away and patted his shoulder. Then she turned to Ithilden. “You have to eat,” she said firmly. She took the tea from his hands, frowned at the full cup, and then picked up a spoon from the tray and handed it to him.

“Alfirin, I have told you I am not hungry.” Ithilden sounded exasperated.

“You are,” she insisted. “You just do not know it. Ithilden, please!”

Legolas watched as Ithilden drew a breath and then took a small spoonful of the soup. He glanced at his wife. She smiled slightly, and he took another. She bent to kiss the top of his dark head, and his eyes closed and his mouth tightened.

Feeling like an intruder, Legolas quietly left the apartment.


“Eilian,” Maltanaur said again, his voice more insistent this time. “Eilian, we are far enough away from Dol Guldur to stop safely, and we need to do it. We need rest and food.”

For a moment, Eilian considered ignoring him, but long experience had taught him that there were times when Maltanaur would not be denied, and the tone of his keeper’s voice suggested that this was one of them. He slowed and then halted, still holding Sinnarn’s body. Maltanaur carefully set down the body of Tynd and then turned to lift Sinnarn from Eilian’s arms and lay him down too. This was the first time in four days that Eilian had not had Sinnarn in his care, and his arms felt light and empty.

“Go and get firewood,” Maltanaur ordered. “We will eat something hot.” Eilian hesitated for a second and then obeyed. When he returned with the wood, Maltanaur had a fire pit prepared, and he took the wood from Eilian. “Sit,” Maltanaur said.

And suddenly, Eilian felt as if his legs would hold him no longer, and he dropped heavily to the ground. “What am I going to tell Ithilden? What am I going to tell Adar?”

Maltanaur shot him a look from under drawn brows and then went back to building the fire. “You will tell them what happened. They will mourn, and you will mourn with them.” He paused, added another stick to the pile, and said, “And because they have been patrol leaders themselves, they will know that you could not have done better, and they will not blame you.”

“Do you think that is what I care about?” Eilian cried. “Even I know I am not to blame. I have been an officer a long time, Maltanaur. I have had warriors die before. But this is Sinnarn! My brother’s son, upon whom my adar dotes. And what of Alfirin and Emmelin? This will drive them to despair.”

As he reached for his flint and tinder, Maltanaur sighed. “Your adar has suffered loss before and has survived it. So has Ithilden for that matter. So have we all. What is more, because the Shadow has returned, we are likely to suffer it again. But we Wood-elves are a tough lot, and your family might weather this better than you fear.” He started the fire and rose. “I hear a stream in that direction. I am going to get water.” He held out his hand for Eilian’s water skin and departed to fill it and his own.

Eilian sat staring dully at the two bodies, tightly wrapped in their cloaks. He supposed if he were honest, he would admit that he did feel responsible for their deaths. He always felt responsible, even though at the same time, he knew he could have done nothing. But he also thought that Maltanaur was right. Thranduil and Ithilden would not blame him. He was less certain about Alfirin and Emmelin.

His thoughts turned to what Maltanaur had said about the return of the Shadow. Maltanaur was undoubtedly right about that too, he thought unhappily. The deaths of Sinnarn and Tynd were only the beginning. Elves who now used their bows only for hunting would have to return to battle. Not tomorrow perhaps. If history repeated itself, the Shadow would spread north only slowly, but spread north it would.

And what of him? For a moment, despair washed over him. As Thranduil’s son, he would not be able to wait until their situation grew desperate. He owed it to his father’s people to serve them as a warrior now, when he was needed. Even in his wilder days of youth, he had never flinched from serving the realm, and he would not evade his duty now even if he could.

But his stomach tightened when he thought of leaving Celuwen and Loriel in the little cottage in the settlement. He would not do it, he decided almost instantly. They would go to his father’s stronghold where guards would watch over them even when he could not. Celuwen would have to heed him in this. She had been determined to raise Loriel in the woods, but he would tell her about what he had seen, and she would realize it was no longer possible.

He thought of his daughter. What would the future hold for her? Maltanaur had told him that children who were loved did well even in times of war. He had advised Eilian to look at Sinnarn. Grief swelled in Eilian’s throat, and he lowered his head to rest on his drawn up knees.

Maltanaur came back and set about making a stew from some of their dried provisions. He sat down next to Eilian to wait for it to cook, and after a moment, he touched Eilian’s arm. “I know you mourn, Eilian, and I am sorry. We will all miss them.”

Without lifting his head, Eilian nodded. He did mourn acutely for his nephew, and for Tynd too, but he also mourned for what the entire Woodland Realm was about to lose.


The trees rustled, and Thranduil reined in his horse to look ahead. The long days of waiting were over. “They are near,” he announced, and Ithilden and Aniond rode up on either side of him. Behind them, the guards halted, and Thranduil could hear one of them softly telling the riderless horses to stay close by.

“We will walk,” Thranduil said, and slid off his horse, with Ithilden and Aniond echoing his movement. Thranduil glanced at his son. Ithilden’s face was bleak, but in the last day or two, he had returned to his office, and he and Legolas had begun negotiating with the Dwarves for a supply of swords and examining lists of warriors who had gone home to their families. Thranduil knew Ithilden’s strength; he had relied on it for long years. But he also knew that strength would not keep pain away from Ithilden’s life, and indeed might make his son decide to suffer for the sake of others, because he knew he could bear it. And sadly, Thranduil had to be grateful for that fact. He was very much afraid that he needed Ithilden now more than ever.

“Wait here,” he ordered the guards and led the other two through the trees toward the sounds of two Elves walking toward them. Only two, Thranduil thought, and with grief so strong that his body flinched at the pain, he let go of the last shred of irrational hope. He heard Tynd’s father take a sharp breath, but Ithilden made no sound.

They had not walked far before Thranduil caught a glimpse of movement, and then Eilian and Maltanaur came into view, each holding a cloak-wrapped bundle. When they saw Thranduil and his companions, they halted. Thranduil lifted his eyes from the body in Eilian’s arms to the frozen look on his son’s face, and his heart twisted again.

Ithilden walked toward Eilian and reached for Sinnarn’s body, and with a small moan, Eilian surrendered it. “I am so sorry,” Eilian gasped.

“I know,” Ithilden said with a tremor in his voice. “We will talk later, but I know.” He turned to carry Sinnarn back toward the horses, and Thranduil could scarcely stand to look at his grey face. Aniond took Tynd’s body from Maltanaur and turned to go with Ithilden. But Thranduil walked forward to embrace Eilian, who leaned against him in a helpless appeal that nearly broke Thranduil’s control.

“I did not get to them in time, Adar. I am sorry.” He looked up at Thranduil and shuddered. “At least one of the Nazgûl is at Dol Guldur, and Orcs are gathering there again.”

Thranduil’s heart seemed to stop beating. He glanced at Maltanaur, who nodded a confirmation, and then turned back to Eilian. “You have met a bad enemy, Eilian, one I had hoped none of us would ever see again. You and I and Ithilden will talk about what this means, but for today, we will not think of it. Today I will rejoice to have you home again, and tonight we will mourn for Sinnarn and Tynd.” He put his arm around his son’s shoulders. “Come. We have horses for you and Maltanaur. We will go home. Your wife and daughter are waiting for you.”

As he led his son back toward where the horses and guards were waiting, the trees bent their branches toward him and murmured sounds of sympathy. But underneath their concern for him, he could also hear the dark note that had crept into their song of late. He thought suddenly of his dream of the trees burning. If the Shadow was returning, then every living thing in the Woodland Realm would feel it, and none of them would be safe from the kind of loss that Sinnarn’s family and Tynd’s had suffered.


Legolas stood next to Eilian, who held Loriel. It seemed to Legolas that Eilian had not let his daughter go from the moment he had walked into the palace. On the other side of Eilian, Celuwen stood with her hand on Eilian’s arm. She was dry-eyed now, but Legolas had seen her weeping earlier in the day and knew that to her grief over Sinnarn was added the regret she felt over having to leave their cottage in the woods. But he had heard the tone of Eilian’s voice when he had talked about the danger in the south, and he knew that this was a decision from which his brother would not back down.

A soft sigh on his other side made him turn to look at Annael’s mother. Elowen nodded toward the path. “They are coming,” she said, and Legolas saw that she was right. Approaching from the direction of the palace was Ithilden with Sinnarn’s body in his arms, wrapped in a silken sheet. Alfirin walked on one side of him, and Emmelin on the other, with Annael and Beliniel just behind her. Ithilden laid his son’s body on the pile of wood that had been prepared, and then all of them came to stand near where Legolas was.

Legolas turned now to see his father looking at Sinnarn, with his face for once unguarded in public. And suddenly, in the weary slump of his father’s shoulders, Legolas could see all of Thranduil’s years, years in which evil had been defeated and returned more times than Legolas could recall. His father had been a child in Doriath and seen it fall. He had lost his father and two-thirds of the realm’s warriors during the Last Alliance. His wife had died in a brutal attack. A short time ago, he had presided at Tynd’s funeral, and now he would preside at his grandson’s. Pity swelled in Legolas’s heart, but even as it did so, he saw his father straighten his back and draw a deep breath.

Thranduil looked up and swept his grey eyes across those assembled before him. “People of the Woodland Realm, we have come to honor Sinnarn, son of these woods, known by us all and loved by many among us.  What words can we say about him?” Legolas marveled at how steady his father’s voice was.

From the ranks of warriors to Legolas’s right stepped one whom Legolas recognized as Sinnarn’s friend Amdir. “I am a few years older than Sinnarn, but from the time he became a warrior, he was the friend whose company I sought most often. Sinnarn was a brave warrior who was a menace to the enemy, but there are many such among the warriors of the realm. What I loved in Sinnarn was his gift for play. When we had seen the ugliest of evil or when we had watched the innocent suffer and been able to do little, I knew I could turn to Sinnarn, and he would make me laugh and forget for a while that the next day, I might meet evil and suffering again.” His voice had begun to quaver, and he paused for a moment.

Legolas glanced at Ithilden, standing with his arm around Alfirin’s shoulders. Until two days ago, when Ithilden had returned to his office and summoned Legolas to talk about strengthening the realm’s defenses again, Legolas had seldom seen them when they were not touching one another. He had always believed that Alfirin drew comfort from Ithilden’s strength, just as Legolas did, but he had never before realized how much Ithilden relied on Alfirin’s immovable courage. He was not sure that Ithilden had realized it either.

“I grieve for Sinnarn,” Amdir went on more steadily. “And I grieve for myself and others in my patrol because we have lost someone who was a source of strength for us. In the coming days, I fear he will be sorely missed.” He stepped back among the warriors, who seemed to have chosen him to speak for them.

Legolas scanned the people gathered around the funeral pyre and waited for someone else to speak. To his surprise, the next person to step forward was Beliond. “I have known Sinnarn well only as a warrior, and as a warrior, he grew into someone I trusted and, on occasion, admired.”

Legolas blinked. He too had grown to respect Sinnarn more over the years as his nephew demonstrated his growing maturity, but while he had seen Beliond tease Sinnarn, he had never heard him say he esteemed him.

“I saw Sinnarn’s strength when trouble came to him,” Beliond went on, “and I saw how serious he was about protecting his home. He was a fortunate person because many people loved him. And we were fortunate to have him with us.”

Legolas heard Emmelin draw a shaky breath and glanced to see her grandmother putting an arm around her. Tears ran freely down her cheeks. On Emmelin’s other side, Annael took her hand, and Legolas was suddenly struck by how much loss his friend’s family had suffered. Annael’s grandfather and father had both died in battles against the Shadow. And now his son-in-law had. Legolas felt a sudden flare of the anger that had filled him for days now. How many other Wood-elf families would suffer in the days to come? For that matter, how many deaths would there be in the families of the Men he had just visited? I will not let it happen, he vowed.

Around him, others were now telling their memories of Sinnarn, but Legolas was lost in his own memories. Sinnarn had been closer in age to Legolas than even Eilian was, and the two of them had kept one another’s secrets on more than one occasion. Legolas had seen Sinnarn struggle to accept the heavy responsibility of being the son of the king’s heir, and in the last few years, it seemed to him that Sinnarn had succeeded in doing so. His death was a waste, Legolas thought angrily. I will remember Sinnarn’s gift for finding moments of joy, but I will also do anything I can to drive away the thing that killed him.

At last, the voices ceased, and Legolas looked again at his father, and suddenly, he blinked. The weary Elf was gone. There before Legolas stood the king of the Woodland Realm, one who would fight the Shadow for every inch of soil, every rock, and every tree, and if by some mischance, an enemy overcame him, he would grasp it by the neck to drag it down with him and spit in its face as he did so. I should have known, Legolas thought, his heart lifting a little.

Thranduil spoke the ritual words. “To our great sorrow, the fëa of Sinnarn, son of the Woodland Realm, has fled to the Halls of Mandos to await the fate that Iluvatar has set for him.  He has no more need for the shell before us, and we send it to the air and the winds, but we keep Sinnarn in our hearts.” He took a torch from one of his attendants, lit it from an already lit one that had been thrust in the ground, and put it into Emmelin’s hand. Ithilden and Alfirin put their hands over hers, and together, they lit the pile of sweet branches upon which Sinnarn’s body lay.

Thranduil’s minstrel raised his voice in a song of mourning and all around Legolas other voices joined with his. They rose with the smoke into the starry sky, sending Sinnarn on his way to what Legolas hoped would be many moments of joy.

At length, the funeral was over, and people began to drift away. Thranduil came to take a wide-eyed Loriel from Eilian’s arms, and then started toward the palace with Eilian and Celuwen walking hand-in-hand behind him. Eilian stopped to speak to Ithilden, who drew Alfirin closer to him and fell in step behind Thranduil. Emmelin walked between her parents, who each had an arm around her. She had been staying in their cottage and would return there, although Legolas knew that Thranduil had invited her to stay in the palace.

Someone touched Legolas’s arm, and he turned to see Annael’s mother. Even in his grief, he smiled at her. He had loved this Elf-woman from the time he was small, and she had been one of those who coaxed him back into life after his mother died. “I am sorry for Emmelin,” he told her, as he embraced her.

Elowen nodded, but when she spoke it was not of her granddaughter or her granddaughter’s husband. “I do not know when I will see you again, Legolas, and I wanted to tell you goodbye.”

He frowned. “What do you mean ‘goodbye’? Where are you going?” She smiled, and abruptly, he understood. “You are sailing west,” he said, trying to hide his dismay.

She nodded. “I have been away from Annael’s adar for too long, and perhaps I will find him waiting for me. Emmelin is going too.”

Legolas immediately saw how Elowen and Emmelin would comfort one another. “I am sorry to see you go, Elowen. I will miss you.”

She patted his cheek. “You will get along fine without me. And I like knowing that you will be a friend to Annael.” She looked at him soberly. “Take care, Legolas. The peace is ending. I know that you will do what you can to drive the Shadow away again. Indeed I know you must do that. But still, take care.”

“I will,” Legolas assured her, “and I will keep an eye on Annael too.”

She laughed. “How odd. He said the same thing about you.” She stretched to kiss his cheek, and he embraced her, kissed her brow, and let her go.

As he watched her disappear along the path to her cottage, he thought about the strength he had seen people show that day, even in the face of blinding sorrow. There was now an empty space among them in which Sinnarn had once stood, but his loss had not crushed them. They would struggle on. Eilian had described a creature that used fear as a weapon, one against which there seemed to be no defense. But there were forces stronger than fear: love, honor, duty, loyalty, and sometimes, sheer stubbornness. Among the Wood-elves, these qualities flourished.

He started home. The peace was ending, but they would face the future and fight the darkness back again.

The End

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