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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: I think I need a slight warning here. This chapter is the reason this story is rated PG-13.  It’s violent and people die. Anyone who thinks that Legolas never saw a death before Boromir’s has forgotten this piece of Mirkwood’s history. Some of the dialogue in this chapter is taken from The Hobbit, Chapter XVII, “The Clouds Burst.”


16. Battle of Five Armies

“They are coming back!” Legolas shouted, and with a shudder, Eilian turned from the eerie cloud of bats to see Mithrandir, Thranduil, and Ithilden racing back toward them again. Bard and Dáin were running in the other direction, and Elves and Men were swarming out of camp and sorting themselves into two parties.

“Take up places on the slope behind us,” Thranduil ordered, “and then wait for my signal to shoot. We are going to try to draw them into the valley between the two spurs of the mountain and then come at them from both sides. Ithilden! Get them into position!” Followed by his guards, he raced toward the southward pointing spur, evidently seeking some sort of command post. Eilian stared after him. So his father, not Ithilden, was commanding the Elves in this battle. Eilian quailed for a moment, for he had learned from experience to trust his brother implicitly. Then he reminded himself that Thranduil had been a warrior for centuries before he and his brothers were even born.

“Eilian!” called Ithilden, and he turned swiftly to see Ithilden indicating a place on the spur that was further into the valley. “I want you and your warriors there! Stay on the lower slopes and in the rocks at the foot, and be ready to move!” He turned and began giving rapid instructions to Todith about the Home Guard, and Eilian hastened to gather the warriors under his command get them into their assigned position. Thranduil was in charge, but Ithilden was still arranging things, he thought with satisfaction.

“Spread out,” he called when they had reached their place, and then watched as Galelas, Gelmir, and the others slid into hiding with practiced confidence. He took up his own place behind a rock a little way up the slope, with Maltanaur next to him, and unexpectedly found Bilbo crouching just beyond Maltanaur, holding a long knife that glowed faintly in the murky shadow of the bat cloud.

“Have you joined the Elves now, Mr. Baggins?” Eilian asked. “I thought that Bard had taken you as his friend.”

“He has,” Bilbo agreed, looking a little sheepish, “but I would like to take my stand among you Elves just the same, if you do not mind.”

Even in their present peril, Eilian could not help smiling at the valiant little creature. “You are most welcome. Keep to the shelter of the rocks though. This battle is likely to be no very safe place for a hobbit.”

Eilian glanced to either side of his own warriors and found the Eastern Border Patrol ranged to their left and the Home Guard to their right, with Mithrandir, Thranduil, and Ithilden on a rise that gave them a clear view of everyone. He caught a glimpse of Legolas just leaving Todith and running to take up a place at the near end of the Home Guard line. Beliond followed behind him, and Eilian drew what scant comfort he could from the keeper’s presence. Be safe, all of you, he thought, and then fingered the rune of protection that hung around his own neck. I am going home to Celuwen again, he thought with determination.

Then with his pulse and breath both accelerating in the familiar, not unpleasant tension that always came to him before battle, he looked across the valley to the other spur, where he could see Men and Dwarves taking up positions to match those of the Elves. On the highest part of the spur, he could see Bard and a few of his soldiers gazing north along the mountain’s edge. As he watched, the Men all stood immobile, as if they did not believe what their eyes were telling them, and then one of them took a small step backwards. Eilian’s eyes narrowed. The approaching danger must be frightening indeed. He had not liked the uncritical admiration Legolas had been showing toward Bard, and he had harbored unkind thoughts about Bard’s desire for treasure, but Eilian could not deny the Man’s courage.

Suddenly, the bats were overhead, in a cloud so thick that they shut out what little light there had been. Their repugnant squeaks sent a shiver down Eilian’s spine, but he had small time to react to them, for now, sweeping around the eastern spur of the mountain, Orcs mounted on wolves came bounding into the valley. This must be their vanguard, Eilian realized, checking his urge to shoot at them, because the main force was not in sight yet. His fingers twitched on his bowstring. These forward forces needed to be stopped! The Orcs would be an easier target if they were kept in a mass where they could not easily dodge arrows.

As if his thoughts had drawn them, Men came charging down from the eastern spur, loosing arrows and flinging themselves in the path of the wolf-riders, holding them back. As Eilian watched, in an agony of inaction, he saw Orcs being shot from their mounts, but he also saw Men falling and being set upon by the wolves. Eilian glanced toward Thranduil and Ithilden. He thought he understood the tack they were taking in waiting for the main part of the Orc army, but surely his father and brother would not leave the Men to stand alone!

But when he glanced back toward the scene below him, he realized that all waiting would soon be at an end. A black sea of Orcs was pouring into the valley, and the Men who were still able to move were scrambling quickly out of their way. As the Orcs raced forward, Eilian’s breath caught. He had never seen so many of them in one place. Suddenly, he thought about all the Orcs he had seen traveling toward the mountains. Could they have been gathering in the mountains to the north, at Mt. Gundabad perhaps, where they were rumored to have a stronghold?

He looked swiftly at Bilbo. “Did Thorin’s company encounter Orcs as they came through the Misty Mountains?”

Bilbo nodded, his wide-eyed gaze fixed on the invading army of Orcs. “We killed their chief,” he said, in an admission that made both the Orcs’ sudden arrival and their fury far more comprehensible. What was it Eilian had heard overheard one of them saying near  Dol Guldur? “I want to go too. We need vengeance for the slaying.”

But he had no time now to think about what might have drawn what seemed like every Orc in the north into this valley. His own battle instincts told him that the time for attack was at hand, and his attention narrowed to his bow, his arrow, and his enemy. And finally, Thranduil’s loud call came: “Shoot at will!” As one, the Elves around Eilian rose and sent arrows into the teeming mass of Orcs below them.


Legolas released his bowstring and sent his last arrow into the eye of an Orc who was charging toward the Elves’ position. Shouldering his bow, he drew his sword and then looked impatiently left toward where Eilian’s warriors were swiftly emptying their quivers and right toward where Thranduil was just releasing an arrow that sailed with deadly accuracy into the neck of a wolf-rider. Then Thranduil too shouldered his bow and scanned the line of Elves.

Legolas waited for his father’s order to charge only with difficulty, for his blood was hot now, and he dared not let it cool until the battle was over. He was seasoned enough as a warrior, however, to resist his impulse to move forward prematurely. To do so was to invite being accidentally killed by one of his own comrades’ arrows.

But Thranduil had his sword in hand now, the gleaming, beautiful weapon he had taken from Thorin, and as Legolas watched, he raised it overhead and then swept it down. “Forward!” he shouted, running down the slope. “For the forest!”

With a full-throated shout, Legolas too leapt from shelter and ran forward to thrust his sword at an Orc whose scimitar flashed as it swung toward his neck. In a flurry of battle wrath, Legolas ducked, ran the Orc through, and yanked his sword free to run forward again. “For the forest!” he shouted.

“For the forest!” echoed Beliond, who ran beside him with black blood already dripping from his sword too.

The mass of Orcs now turned toward the charging Elves, for the Men and Dwarves were still on the slopes of the eastern spur. What seemed like a wall of Orcs came rushing up to meet Legolas, and, for a second, he thought uncertainly of Dagorlad, where his Wood-elf ancestors had charged headlong into death with no one else to support them. But as he brought his sword up to block a scimitar, he heard other cries: “Moria! Dáin!” And he realized that the Men and Dwarves were swarming out of the eastern spur to set upon the Orcs and wolves from the other side, catching them unaware and sending a wave of them down to death before they had time to turn around.

The Orc in front of him had involuntarily turned his head at the sound of the new battle cries, and Legolas took advantage of the opportunity to slice his sword across the Orc’s neck. Spurting black blood, the creature fell without even a gasp, and Legolas had to jump out of the way of one of the Orcs’ own wolves that fell on him and began to tear at his bloody throat. All around him, warriors from every Elven patrol advanced with war cries ringing. Legolas saw Eilian clasp an Orc to him and drive his sword into the Orc’s armpit, and he glimpsed Galelas drawing the tip of his sword across an Orc’s midsection and spilling his guts on the ground. With awful exultation flooding his system, Legolas clasped his sword in both hands and waded into the tide of Orcs, swinging it with all his strength in an inartistic and deadly onslaught against his now wavering enemies.

For it was obvious immediately that the battle plan Thranduil, Bard, Dáin, and Mithrandir had made was working just as they had hoped it would. The Orcs had been drawn into the valley and now were caught between two forces, with no safe place at their backs no matter which way they turned. Panic suddenly seemed to sweep through their forces, and off to Legolas’s right, he could see those nearest the valley’s mouth beginning to retreat.

And at that moment, when victory seemed close at hand, a large rock crashed to the ground just behind Legolas, making him jump and turn so that only Beliond’s quick intervention kept an Orc from shoving a sword in his back. “Watch what you are doing!” cried his keeper.

Another rock came crashing down, and Legolas turned his gaze hastily up toward the top of the mountain. And what he saw made his breath catch. “Look!” he cried. His keeper took a quick glance and then, with a string of lively language, turned back to face the Orcs, who now were moving forward again, their faces alight. For on the mountain, on narrow paths from its northern side, a second force of Orcs was now streaming, hurling rocks and then descending along the spurs so that now it was Elves, Men, and Dwarves who were caught between two armies.

Legolas turned and began to push desperately against the Orcs in the valley, hoping that at least these could be disposed of before the others arrived in full force. An Orc came charging toward him, and he was raising his sword to thrust at the Orc’s face when something swept close to his head and squealed. Startled, he still managed to twist aside and drive his own sword down into the Orc’s belly, but not before the Orc had sliced a deep cut in his left arm. What was that? he thought feeling a moment’s panic, and then realized that with the coming of the second group of Orcs, the bats had swooped down from the sky and were swarming around people’s heads and ears.

And along with the fluttering wings and squeals of the bats, Legolas heard another new sound that sent terror skittering through his guts. He looked toward the mouth of the valley and saw that Wargs were making their way into the fray, followed closely by a group of unusually large Orcs who were guarding one who had to be their leader. Bolg, Mithrandir had called him when he warned of the Orcs’ coming, and his arrival seemed to put new heart into his troops.

Across the battlefield, Legolas could see that Bard and his soldiers were beginning to retreat back up the slope of the spur. In desperation, he turned back to the fight, for the Elves were still engaged in the battle. The wound in his arm was bleeding, but at the moment at least, he could not feel it. He glanced quickly around and found Beliond locking swords with one Orc, unaware of a second one coming at him from slightly behind. With a cry, he jumped forward and thrust at the second Orc, but not in time to keep him from pushing his sword into Beliond’s side. “No!” Legolas cried and in blind fury slashed his sword across the face of the Orc with whom Beliond had been fighting.

Ignoring the battle still raging around him, he leapt forward and knelt at Beliond’s side, slapping frantically at the bat that had landed on Beliond to feed at his wound. And then, over the uproar of battle, he heard Ithilden shouting: “To the king! To the king!” Glancing over his shoulder, he saw that, like Bard, the Elves were retreating.  The Orcs who had come over the mountain were being held back from the valley by a small force led by Thranduil himself, but the king’s troops were in imminent danger of being overrun.  All around Legolas, warriors were realizing what was happening, and those who could were disengaging and running back toward the spur of the mountain. Never taking his eyes from his father, Legolas gathered a groaning Beliond in his arms and rose to move him to some sort of shelter and then hurry to Thranduil’s aid.

“Look out, Legolas!” shouted Galelas. From the corner of his eye, Legolas saw Galelas jump forward to intercept an Orc, and grateful for the opportunity to get Beliond away, he ran toward the rocks at the spur’s foot. He could think of no real place of safety for his wounded keeper, so he hid him away amid the rocks where he fervently hoped the bats and wolves would not find him.

“I will be back for you,” he said, and Beliond nodded and then caught at his arm.

“Careful,” he gasped and then his hand slipped limply to his side.

“To the king!” Ithilden’s voice rang in the distance, and with despair washing over him, Legolas jumped to his feet and ran to the aid of his father.


Trying to keep between the approaching Orcs and the king, Ithilden shoved yet another Orc’s sword aside and then brought his own blade quickly around to stab the creature in the midsection. When the Orc gasped and doubled up, Ithilden shoved him over the edge of the rise, sending him crashing onto the rocks below. The wound in his own left leg had begun to bleed again, despite the bandaging wound tightly around it, and he had to slap another bat away, shuddering with disgust as he did so. He could see more Elves running toward them and recognized Annael, Sinnarn, and Nithron among them. Then he saw Legolas too rushing up the slope, blood staining the sleeve of his tunic. Some of the Home Guard warriors must have been nearby, Ithilden realized. Grimly, he raised his sword to attack the next Orc. At least the narrowness of the spur kept the Orcs from sweeping down upon them in a mass.

Suddenly a loud crash sounded from his right, and under the raised arm of the Orc he was battling, he caught a glimpse of the wall that had blocked the Gate tumbling into the pool, and Thorin and his companions leaping out to join the fray with their axes swinging. “To me! To me! Elves and Men!” shouted Thorin. “To me! O my kinsfolk!”

Ithilden was too busy to watch, but over the next few minutes, he could see Dáin’s warriors rushing toward Thorin, along with some of the Men and Elves who had been caught on the ground. The glimpses he stole told him that Thorin was driving forward into the heart of the Orc army and drawing near Bolg and his huge bodyguards. But they also told him that Thorin’s warriors were too few and they were eventually brought to bay, standing in a ring around Thorin and trying to defend him. Like us, Ithilden thought in despair, doggedly lifting his sword again.

From above him came Bilbo’s voice, and for a split second, he wondered where the hobbit had gone. But then Bilbo’s words penetrated his numb consciousness. “The eagles! The eagles! The eagles are coming!” And first one huge eagle and then another and another swooped past Ithilden to claw and flap their wings at the Orcs on the mountain, pushing them off the narrow path and onto the rocks below. Indeed, the air was now filled with the great birds.

He stood staring at them in astonishment, for a moment too startled to react, but behind him, Thranduil raised a shout. “Let the eagles take care of those on the mountain. We must go to the aid of those in the valley!” And suddenly, Ithilden’s hope bloomed again, and he swung around to eye the mass of warriors battling below. Thranduil had already begun to rush toward them, and Ithilden followed, catching quick, reassuring glimpses of Legolas and Sinnarn following their indomitable king into battle.

The next few moments seemed to stretch into an eternity. He swung his sword, sending Orc after Orc to the ground, at the same time trying to keep aware of what his troops were doing so that he could reposition them if need be.  We are holding our own, he thought, but only just! He turned to see if there was somewhere he might send his warriors that would turn the tide for them, and as he did so, he saw that Annael had somehow gotten caught amid a group of three Orcs and was spinning in a frantic effort to drive them off.

Ithilden had started toward him, sword raised, when suddenly he saw Sinnarn run up to stab one of the Orcs in the back and then immediately push forward toward a second one, oblivious of the fact that the first Orc had staggered but not fallen and was now lifting his sword. Ithilden tried to shout a warning, but all his breath had fled and he could not make a sound. He tried to run toward his son, but he felt as if he were running in water, his legs moving with agonizing slowness. Then, from nowhere, Nithron jumped between Ithilden and the unfolding scene, and an Orc came charging from Ithilden’s right, forcing him to stop and enter a battle of his own.


Legolas had lost track of Todith and the other Home Guard warriors. The chaos of the battlefield had left him knowing only where his enemy was. It seemed to him that the battle had raged for hours, and the day was wearing into night, but that could have been an illusion, for darkness had come upon them from the moment the Orcs and wolves had drawn near. He shoved his sword into an Orc’s belly and then pulled it out and tried yet again to advance toward the low, rounded hill where Thorin and the Dwarves were making their stand. He could see that Thorin was down, with spears protruding from his body, but the Dwarves fought on, and he could not but admire their determination and want to help them. The large Orcs who served as Bolg’s bodyguards were bearing down upon them now. We cannot keep this up much longer, Legolas thought in despair.

A change in the noise to his right made him turn that way, heart in his throat for fear that some new foe might have entered the battle. A giant black shape seemed to be making its way through the battlefield. As Legolas watched, frozen in shock, it let out a deafening roar and then picked up an Orc and flung him aside as if he were a rag doll. A bear! Legolas realized in shock. It was a giant bear, and the creature was apparently on the side of the Elves, for it was scattering wolves and Orcs as it came.

It plowed through the battle to reach the Dwarves and then gently picked up Thorin and carried him away. Legolas did not understand what was happening but took the animal’s appearance as a good omen and fell upon the nearest Orc, who, looking shaken and uncertain, retreated before him. Then Legolas heard the bear’s roar again, and again the animal entered the fray, this time heading straight for Bolg and his bodyguards. The Orcs were so dismayed by the bear’s appearance that it managed to accomplish what the Elves, Men, and Dwarves had not been able to do: It scattered the bodyguards and fell upon Bolg, crushing him beneath its great weight.

The Orc in front of Legolas gasped, moaned, and looked at Legolas in wide-eyed terror. Then with a cry, he turned and ran, and suddenly Legolas realized that the entire Orc army, or what remained of it, had given way and was now fleeing in a hasty, disorderly retreat. With a cry of excitement, Legolas leapt after them, and all around him, Elves, Men, and Dwarves joined in the chase.

With startling speed, the valley was emptying, as Orcs scattered in all directions. Amdir suddenly appeared next to Legolas. He was bleeding from a cut above one eye, but his face was alive with excitement. They looked at one another, and Legolas saw a savage grin on Amdir’s face that he knew was reflected in his own. With unspoken agreement, they turned and began running after a group of Orcs who were fleeing down the west bank of the river.

Suddenly Bard was in front of Legolas. “Lieutenant, find your captain and get this pursuit organized,” he ordered. “You Elves go after any that go into the woods. We Men will search the marshes. I want every last one of them dead.” And before Legolas had time to respond, he was gone.

Amdir blinked after him and then glanced at Legolas. He was teetering on the balls of his feet, and it was obvious that he could scarcely contain his desire to go after the Orcs now, a desire that Legolas shared.  But Bard was right; they would do better if the chase were systematic. And as an officer, Legolas had other duties to attend to. Someone needed to find the wounded and gather them to be tended. Someone needed to see to the dead.

He looked around and spotted two other Home Guard warriors. “Get them and start searching the woods from the point nearest us,” he told Amdir and then turned to race back up the valley in search of Todith.

With the joy of battle seeping out of him, he looked around the battlefield and suddenly sobered.  Where only minutes before, it had teemed with warriors, now only scattered figures walked across it, none of them Orcs. Most of the people here lay scattered across the ground. And almost immediately, he found Todith, his sightless eyes turned to the cold, November sky, where stars were now emerging. For a second, Legolas stood, staring at his body. Todith was the captain under whom Legolas had first served, the one who had taught him the difference between training and real battle, the one who had sent him home after he was wounded for the first time and then welcomed him back with reassuring confidence in his abilities.

“Legolas.” Annael’s voice came to him from far away. Slowly he turned to face his friend, whose right hand was wrapped in bloody bandaging. “Legolas, you are wanted in your father’s tent.”

Legolas blinked at him. “I am in command of the Home Guard now,” he said, trying to make sense of what Annael was saying. “I need to organize the pursuit of the Orcs. And I need to see to our wounded.” Suddenly he recalled Beliond. “I left Beliond behind some rocks over there,” he cried, pointing and starting toward them.

Annael grasped his sleeve. “We found him already and took him to the healers’ tent. I will take care of it, Legolas, but right now, you are wanted in your father’s tent.”

Legolas faced him now and, in Annael’s eyes, he saw sympathy. With a cry, he turned and ran toward Thranduil’s tent.


Eilian stared down at Galelas’s limp, inert form, and suddenly, his eyes were swimming with tears. Life had given Galelas strength and skill with weapons but had withheld from him the simple blessing of a loving family, a blessing that Eilian took as much for granted as he took having air to breathe. Perhaps because his family was so unsatisfying, Galelas had loved being part of a warriors’ patrol, and Eilian rather thought that he had loved being part of Eilian’s patrol in particular. Whatever the case, he should have had long years in front of him yet to find joy in the woods and in the love of a maid.

“Eilian,” Maltanaur put his hand on Eilian’s shoulder. “You are wanted in your father’s tent.”

Wiping away the tears, he looked blankly at his keeper.

“Your father has sent for you,” Maltanaur repeated. Eilian glanced past him to where one of Thranduil’s guards waited and, abruptly, his heart contracted in fear and he began to run.


Legolas ignored the guard in front of Thranduil’s tent and pushed the flap aside to enter unbidden. Several Elves were gathered around one of the two cots, but Legolas’s eyes went straight to the other one, where a body lay, swaddled in a warrior’s cloak. With an inarticulate cry, he darted toward it and pulled the cloak away to stare stupidly down into the face of Sinnarn’s keeper, Nithron. From over his shoulder came a strangled cry, and he looked up to find Eilian right behind him.

“He died protecting Sinnarn,” Ithilden’s voice sounded choked, as if he could barely draw enough air. Legolas turned to find his oldest brother looking wild, with Thranduil’s arm around his shoulders. Nithron had been Ithilden’s keeper before he was Sinnarn’s, Legolas suddenly recalled. A healer bent over the figure on the other bed. Sinnarn, Legolas realized, and if the healer was here, then he was still alive. He let out a whoosh of air and licked his lips.

“How is he?” he asked.

“He is gravely injured,” Thranduil answered steadily, not letting go of Ithilden. “He has a deep wound in his side.”

The healer straightened and turned to them. “That is true,” he said, “but I think his vital organs are untouched.” And suddenly, Legolas could see that Ithilden was trembling. “He is strong,” the healer continued, “and there is hope. If he lives the night, he will probably survive.” He began gathering his belongings in preparation for leaving.

They stared at him. “You are not going!” Ithilden exclaimed.

“There are many other wounded, my lord,” the healer said, fastening his cloak. “I will be back later.” He bowed and left the tent.

Thranduil looked at Legolas and Eilian. “Go and see if you can find hot tea. And,” he hesitated, “I think it would be better if Nithron’s body were moved to lie with other dead. I want Ithilden to lie down.”

“Adar, I could not do it! And I have duties to see to!” Ithilden looked appalled. “And Nithron deserves something better.”

“All of the dead deserve something better,” Eilian put in somberly.

“You have well-trained officers who will see to everything,” Thranduil insisted. He nodded to Eilian and Legolas, signaling them to take Nithron’s body, but Eilian pushed forward and gathered it gently into his arms and left the tent. Not knowing what else to do, Legolas followed him.

“I will see to Nithron,” Eilian said. “You get tea for Ithilden and Adar.”

Legolas stood uncertainly for a moment, and then started toward one of the cook tents, where he could see a fire burning. He found a cook handing out tea and rough food and took what he needed back to his father’s tent. Thranduil had seated Ithilden on the empty cot and began coaxing him to drink the hot liquid. Neither of them even noticed when Legolas stepped back outside to sit down on a bench that had been placed before the tent.

He dropped his head in his hands, wondering why victory felt so bitter. Someone sat down next to him, and he was not surprised when he heard Eilian’s voice. “I know we had to have this battle, and I know we won. Tomorrow we will rejoice, for I would guess that three-quarters of the Orcs in the north are now dead. But at the moment, I find I feel only exhaustion and sorrow.”

And then Legolas could contain himself no longer. He leaned into his brother’s arms and wept and knew that, in his embrace, Eilian too was crying.


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