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Tangled Web  by daw the minstrel

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

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.

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


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

1.  Shadows Closing In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legolas laughed.  “Probably not,” he agreed.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“How was your day?” he asked.

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

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

“Is something the matter?” Alfirin asked.

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

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

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

“That is too bad!” she exclaimed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



List of OCs

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

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

Annael: Legolas’s best friend

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

Ithilden: Legolas’s oldest brother

Alfirin: Ithilden’s wife

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

Eilian: Legolas’s second brother

Celuwen: Eilian’s wife

Maltanaur: Eilian’s bodyguard

Gelmir: Eilian’s best friend

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

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


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