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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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

“I am so sorry, Adar,” he breathed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is it?”

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

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

“No,” Legolas admitted.

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

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

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

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

“Report immediately to Calith in the troop commander’s office,” Todith told him. Taking care not to look at either Todith or Legolas, Sinnarn saluted and left the Home Guard’s headquarters to make the short trip to his father’s office, where the door stood open to the autumn morning.

Giving himself no time to hesitate, he walked into the outer office where Calith, his father’s chief aide, was sorting through the morning’s dispatches. At a second desk, sat Tinár, and the sight of him made Sinnarn flinch. Tinár worked in Ithilden’s office because he was so arrogant that his very presence could disrupt an entire patrol. Was Sinnarn now in the same category as Tinár? No, he realized. He had actually slipped into a lower category because Tinár carried messages all over the Realm, while Sinnarn would be trusted only to carry such things as word of a change in the day’s schedule to Todith.

Calith looked up from his task and eyed Sinnarn coolly. Sinnarn remembered him from visits he had made to his father’s office when he was little, and on those occasions, Calith had let him play with the six Oliphant-shaped paper weights that stood on his desk in an array that ranged from a large one that Sinnarn had called “the king” to the tiny “baby.” Calith did not look playful today.  “I was told to report to you for service as a local messenger,” Sinnarn said as evenly as he could, given his tight breathing.

Calith nodded and pointed to a spot near the wall. “You are to stand at attention there until I need you.”

Sinnarn blinked uncertainly. He had never seen any of the local messengers standing at attention; usually they lounged on a bench just inside or outside the door depending on the time of year. He could only assume that this requirement was part of his punishment. Resolutely, he took up his stance in the place Calith had indicated, his eyes straight ahead, his hands at this side.

Within fifteen minutes, he realized how tedious standing at attention for any length of time was going to be. Calith ignored him, finished sorting the dispatches, and rose to take some of them through to Ithilden in the inner office. Sinnarn could hear the low murmur of his father’s voice, and then Calith returned and sat down to draft responses to the routine matters he had kept on his own desk. Tinár appeared to be making copies of a message written in what Sinnarn recognized as Ithilden’s handwriting, and he did not seem to be enjoying the task. He paused to look at Sinnarn.

“What in Arda were you thinking?” he said reprovingly. Unable to answer, Sinnarn tried to ignore him.

“Sinnarn’s actions are not your business, Tinár,” Calith snapped without turning around. “Leave him alone.” Tinár shrugged, went back to his copying, and when he was done, rose to his feet and collected his cloak.

“I will be on my way now, Calith,” he said. “I expect that I will be gone for four or five days, so you should not look for me until then.” The aide nodded without looking up from his own work, and Tinár swept out the door. Calith heaved a large sigh, and to Sinnarn, his shoulders seemed to lose much of their tension.

The morning wore on, and Sinnarn was left with nothing to do but try to ignore his still aching head. The chief armorer came and spent half an hour closeted with Ithilden.  At one point, Ithilden emerged from his office and dropped a handful of papers on Calith’s desk, but to Sinnarn’s deep relief, his father ignored him and disappeared again.

Finally, Ithilden called Calith into his office, and the aide reappeared with a folded piece of paper, which he extended to Sinnarn. “Take this to the novice master, wait for an answer, and then bring it straight back,” he instructed, and Sinnarn jumped to obey, so glad for the chance to move that he could hardly bear it.

How long would this go on? he wondered unhappily as he hurried toward the novice training fields. Surely his father and Todith did not intend to waste his skills like this forever. How long would it be before he could again act as the warrior he was trained to be?


Sinnarn dragged himself wearily toward home. He would never have believed that standing still all day could leave him feeling so tired and sore. At least he could look forward to a hot bath before facing his family at dinner, he thought dismally, and considered whether he ought not to seek his evening meal elsewhere. No, he resolved. Absenting himself would be easier, but it also seemed cowardly. He needed to come to terms with his family over what he had done.

He was following the path that led through the palace gardens when he came to an abrupt halt. Thranduil was sitting on one of the benches contemplating the stars that were emerging ever earlier as the year slid by. Sinnarn had not seen his grandfather since before the Dwarves had escaped. And despite the facts that he had just resolved to face his family and that he knew that Thranduil doted on him, his stomach tightened slightly as he resumed moving toward him and halted near the bench on which he sat.

Thranduil lowered his eyes from the sky to Sinnarn’s face, and to Sinnarn’s intense relief, he looked thoughtful but not angry. “Good evening, Sinnarn.”

“Good evening, Grandfather.”

Thranduil indicated a place on the bench next to him, and Sinnarn sat. He drew a deep breath, and said part of what he had been thinking during that endless day when not preoccupied with his own problems. “I am so sorry about the Dwarves, Grandfather. If I had stayed alert, they never would have escaped. I only hope that my carelessness has not put anyone in danger.”

Thranduil nodded. “I hope that also. I would not like to see you burdened with the guilt you would feel if someone were hurt because you were drunk on duty.” Sinnarn cringed. No one told the blunt truth like his grandfather did. He glanced sideways to see Thranduil’s steady gaze upon him.

“I am sorry,” he repeated miserably.

Thranduil sighed. “I am glad to hear it,” he said, and Sinnarn flinched again, wondering if he had damaged his grandfather’s affection for him beyond repair. He braced himself for another scolding as Thranduil turned more fully toward him and began to speak, but to his surprise, Thranduil’s tone was grave but gentle. “Sinnarn, you have done wrong. You know it yourself, and I assume that your adar and superior officers have already reminded you of that repeatedly today. Now you must live with the consequences of your actions, whatever they might turn out to be. But it is how you live with them that will determine what happens next, just as what you did last night determined what is happening now. I would not have you make light of your fault, but I would not have you brood on it either. Everyone makes mistakes. In my life, I have made many, so I speak from experience when I tell you that if you learn from this one, you will be a stronger person for it.”

Sinnarn suddenly found himself blinking away tears. “Thank you,” he managed.

Thranduil put his long, elegant hand on the back of Sinnarn’s head and drew it toward him so that he could kiss his forehead. “You are welcome.” He released him and smiled slightly. “I should not keep you. When I came into the garden, I thought I saw someone else waiting to speak to you in the shadows of the trees near the end of the bridge.” Sinnarn looked at him questioningly, but Thranduil simply waved him away. “Go, child,” he said, and Sinnarn stood and started toward the palace again, more grateful than he could say for the support he had gotten this day from those who loved him, even when they were appalled by his behavior.

He emerged from the garden, shut the gate behind him, and turned to scan the trees near the bridge. From the shadows beneath them, a slender, cloaked figure took a tentative step, and that small motion was all it took for him to recognize that it was Emmelin. His heart leapt and then began to pound painfully. Sinnarn had seen the look on Annael’s face today. What if Emmelin had come to tell him that she wanted nothing more to do with him?

He began to walk slowly toward her. She took another small step, and then, suddenly, she broke into a run. Before he could speak, she had flung herself into his arms and buried her face in his neck.

“Emmelin,” he said, thinking he owed it to her to warn her, “do you know—.”

“I do not care,” she sobbed. “I do not care.”

And he wrapped his arms more tightly around her and drew her back into the shadows.


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