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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: Some of the dialogue in this chapter is taken from The Hobbit, Chapter XVIII, “The Return Journey.”


17. Going Home

Legolas became aware of the fact that he was cold and drew his cloak more tightly around him. Then his eyes came into focus on a low-burning campfire that Eilian was just stirring into life again. Over his head, the stars were winking out in the grey sky of early dawn. Abruptly memory returned, and he sat up, feeling the stiffness that came from spending two or three hours sleeping on the ground in November. “How is Sinnarn?” he asked.

“I just sent a guard for a healer,” Eilian said. He looked at Legolas, his face sober. “I have to go and see to our troops, Legolas. You do what you can for Ithilden and Adar first. Tell Ithilden not to worry. Adar has asked me to manage things for him for a day or two.” He smiled faintly. “Or perhaps you should not mention that unless Ithilden asks. He has enough to alarm him already.”

Legolas gave a small laugh and then climbed to his feet. “I will come to you as soon as I can. With Todith dead, I am responsible for the Home Guard.”

Eilian nodded, accepting without question Legolas’s acknowledgement of his responsibility. Trying to relieve Ithilden and Thranduil of anything but the care of Sinnarn, the two of them had spent most of the night dealing with the aftermath of the battle and coordinating the search for any remaining Orcs. They had collapsed near the fire in front of Thranduil’s tent only far into the night.

A whooshing sound made them both turn to look toward the southern spur of the mountain, where the sky was suddenly full of eagles, rising into the morning and sailing westward, on their way home again. “They certainly arrived when they were most needed,” Eilian marveled. Then he walked off toward the previous day’s battlefield. To Legolas, his walk was less jaunty than usual and he seemed weighed down by the responsibility he had picked up for their brother. But then, the battle had sobered them all, Legolas thought.

He went first to fetch food and hot drinks as he had done the previous night, determined that this morning, both Thranduil and Ithilden would eat. He lifted the flap of his father’s tent and stepped quietly inside. Ithilden sat on the ground, sound asleep, leaning against the cot in which Sinnarn lay. Someone, probably Thranduil, had pulled the blankets off the second cot and tucked them carefully around him. Thranduil slept on the bare cot, wrapped in his cloak, with his arm flung across his face. At Legolas’s approach, both of them jerked into wakefulness.

Ithilden stared at Legolas for a second and then turned abruptly toward Sinnarn, rising as he did so. He put his hand gently on his son’s forehead, brushing away a strand of dark hair. “Get a healer,” he ordered without turning.

“Eilian already sent for one,” Legolas told him. He handed a cup of tea and a chunk of bread to Thranduil, who was rising with his eyes on Ithilden. “Eat,” he said firmly, drawing a surprised scowl from his father. He approached the cot with the rest of the food and flinched at how pale and still his nephew was. “How is he?”

“He has not awakened since I found him,” Ithilden said, his tight voice a sure sign of how much he was struggling to maintain his customary self-control. For an appalled moment, Legolas considered this statement. He had not realized that it had been Ithilden himself who had found his son. How terrified Ithilden must have been. On the battlefield, it would not have been easy to tell if Sinnarn was alive or dead.

The tent flaps parted and the healer entered. Legolas backed out of the way, and the healer bent over Sinnarn. “Sit,” Thranduil ordered Ithilden, indicating the second cot, and even at this grim moment, Legolas could not help being a little amused. He had certainly heard his father use that tone of voice to himself and to Eilian, but he did not believe he had ever heard Thranduil treat Ithilden in quite so fatherly a manner. And for a moment, Ithilden reacted just as Legolas or Eilian might have: He glared at Thranduil, but then, as Legolas would have expected, he gave in, sat down, let Thranduil wrap a blanket around him, and took the tea their father lifted from Legolas’s hand and gave to him.

The healer pulled the blanket back over Sinnarn and straightened up. “His pulse is strong, and there is no sign of infection.” He looked at Ithilden. “I would say he is as determined as you are, my lord, but I think he is expending his strength on healing himself rather than on such wasteful actions as worrying.”

Ithilden stared at him, and Thranduil caught at the cup that had sagged in his hand. “He will recover?”

“I think he will,” the healer nodded. He began gathering his belongings.

Ithilden drew a deep breath. “How are our wounded faring?” he asked.

The healer grimaced. “I think that most of those we are caring for will survive, but almost every one seems to have taken at least some hurt.” He indicated the wound on Ithilden’s leg. “Are you seeing to that?”

“I am,” Thranduil put in firmly, “but you should look at Legolas’s arm.”

“Eilian already did,” Legolas said, and the healer nodded and went on his way. He probably had far too many seriously hurt patients to worry about the walking wounded.

Thranduil pressed the cup of tea back in Ithilden’s hand. “Drink.”

Obediently, Ithilden took a drink and drew a deep wobbly breath. “You cannot imagine what it was like, Adar. I had seen that Sinnarn was in trouble, but I could not go to his aid right away, for I had troubles of my own. And then when I went looking for him, I saw Nithron sprawled on the ground. That was bad enough because no one needs to tell me that I owe my own life to him many times over, and then when I ran to him, it was obvious right away that he was dead. And I panicked, wondering where Sinnarn was. And then I realized that Nithron’s body was draped over someone else and when I disentangled them, it was Sinnarn.”

Thranduil sat next to him and put his arm around Ithilden’s shoulders. “He will recover, iôn-nín,” he crooned. “He will be fine.”

Feeling like an intruder, Legolas eyed them both. They looked both tired and unlikely to leave Sinnarn’s bedside anytime soon. “I must go and see to the Home Guard,” he said, “but I will be back as soon as I can. You both will be more useful to Sinnarn if you eat and maybe even take some rest.”

They nodded, although Legolas would have been surprised if they had heard him, and then, as Legolas was leaving, Thranduil softly called, “Thank you, Legolas.”

Legolas had decided that he would go first to the healers’ tent, intending to check on Beliond and then on the other hurt Home Guard warriors, and as he walked along, he mused on the unfamiliar feeling that came from being in a position to care for Thranduil and Ithilden, rather than the other way around, but his attention was soon caught by the activities on the battlefield.  All across the valley, Elves and Men were searching, presumably for the wounded and dead. The hurt were carried to the healers’ tents, and the dead lay in long rows near the river, wrapped in their cloaks and waiting for the rafts Eilian had sent for to come and carry them home. Songs of lament for them had risen again and again throughout the night, each time the Elves found another of their lost companions. At the Gate to the mountain, Dwarves were removing what remained of the wall. In the distance, smoke climbed, presumably from fires that were consuming the bodies of Orcs.

He paused for a second outside the healers’ tent and assessed the number of Elves he saw. Most of them must still be pursuing Orcs, he thought. He would have to find out how the hunt was going as soon as he was finished here. Then he ducked into the tent to begin checking on his warriors.


Thranduil watched as two of Thorin’s companions lifted his body and laid it gently in the tomb they had prepared for him, deep under the mountain. He was only one of the mourners at this funeral. He would preside at many others when the bodies of the Elven dead reached home, but at least in the last two days, he had concluded that his own grandson would not be numbered among them.

Bard stepped forward, the Arkenstone glowing in his hand like a fallen star. He laid the jewel on Thorin’s breast. “There let it lie till the Mountain falls!” he proclaimed. “May it bring good fortune to all his folk that dwell here after.” Then he stepped back, and Dáin signaled to the waiting Dwarves to slide the stone slab into place over the tomb. Thranduil had spoken to Dáin several times since the battle’s conclusion and would try to do so again before the Elves left for home, for Dáin would now be King under the Mountain, and Thranduil intended that the alliance they had forged in battle should hold good now for the benefit of both their peoples.

The Dwarves stepped away, and Dáin gestured to Thranduil, who moved forward to lay the gleaming sword he had taken from Thorin on top of the tomb. “May this sword serve you and your people even now, Thorin Oakenshield, for Elvish enchantment lies upon it. It will gleam when any of your enemies approach, and the people of the mountain will never again be taken by surprise.” He stepped back into place, aware of all three of his sons looking at him speculatively, undoubtedly wondering about the source of the enchantment. He suppressed a smile. Let them wonder, he thought. Let them all wonder, and let their wonder breed a little healthy caution. He turned back toward the tomb, and from across it, Mithrandir winked at him.

When they emerged from the Gate, Bard was by his side, with a cloth-wrapped bundle in his hands. “My lord, I ask that you accept this gift from me in token of the aid you have provided and as a sign of the lasting friendship that I hope will exist between your people and mine.”

Thranduil took the package, pulled the silk aside, and then could not contain a gasp. A necklace hung heavy in his hands, with hundreds of emeralds gleaming grass-green in the sunlight.

“The emeralds of my ancestor Girion,” Bard said.

“My thanks to you, Bard, King of Dale. May your people flourish again as once they did,” said Thranduil.

From behind him, Thranduil heard Legolas mutter to Eilian, “You see? I told you so. I should have taken the wager.”

“He can afford to give a necklace away,” Eilian murmured sourly back. And that was true enough. Dáin had honored Thorin’s promise to Bard and given him the one-fourteenth share of the treasure that he had pledged in return for the Arkenstone. Bard had sent much of it to Esgaroth, but he still retained enough to rebuild Dale. The emeralds must have come from that returned treasure.

Unlike Eilian, Thranduil could not hold Bard’s eagerness for treasure against him. The Man had wanted it for his people, not for himself, and in Thranduil’s opinion, what he had asked for had been rightfully his.

Bard bowed and went on down the rough steps that served as temporary access to the Gate. He doubtless had things to see to in coordinating his soldiers’ part of the search and also was already conferring with other Men and some of the Dwarves about the rebuilding of Dale. Thranduil hoped that Bard’s Mannish ears had not been acute enough to hear Legolas and Eilian. He would speak to his two younger sons later about the need for greater discretion.

Or perhaps he would not. He had come out of his haze of fear for Sinnarn aware that he had allowed himself to feel it and to spend all his time supporting Ithilden in his care for his son only because Eilian and Legolas had taken the running of day-to-day matters into their own hands and had done so very capably. Thranduil was used to thinking of Eilian as unreliable and Legolas as too young to be entrusted with serious decisions, but in the past two days, they had proved themselves both steadfast and trustworthy. Perhaps it was time he acknowledged to himself that they were adults, whose actions were their own to govern and decisions their own to make.


Legolas stood on the riverbank, watching the last dead Elven warrior being laid gently down next to his silent, still companions on one of the rafts that were now ready to set off for home. Thranduil stood in front of his troops, his cloak flapping in the cold winter wind. As the first raft shoved off from the shore, he intoned the first notes of a song of mourning and, all around Legolas, the voices of warriors rose to join their king in sorrowful music, singing their dead on their way home. Near Thranduil’s stronghold, families and friends would claim the bodies of these lost ones and mourn them at funerals that would no doubt be spread over several days, but here their fellow warriors raised their voices to sing of their companionship and valor, and to tell Mandos that they were heroes who were worthy of places of honor in his Halls.

Legolas sang for them all, with memories of their faces and voices flashing through his mind. He saw Todith smiling at him and felt his warm touch as they exchanged a warrior’s armclasp on the day he pledged his faith as a warrior. He saw Galelas challenging him with fierce competitiveness when they were novices together and saw him too on the battlefield, crying “Look out, Legolas!” and leaping forward toward a threatening Orc as Legolas hurried the wounded Beliond away from danger. He saw Nithron agonizing over Sinnarn’s banishment from the Home Guard and smiling broadly when he rejoined it.

He glanced to where Ithilden stood, supporting Sinnarn, who really should still be lying on his pallet. Their faces were rough with grief, although Legolas could see Ithilden murmuring what he assumed was some sort of comfort into Sinnarn’s ear. Legolas knew that Sinnarn was taking his keeper’s death hard and feeling guilty over the fact that Nithron had died protecting him. He had heard Ithilden trying to tell his son that Nithron’s death was not his fault, but at the moment, Sinnarn was not ready to listen.

And nearby stood Tinár, looking stunned. He had sat next to his brother’s body, silent for once, until those loading the bodies of the dead had gently loosened his hands from their clutch on his brother’s cloak. Then he had looked up in confusion. “He is too young to be dead,” he had said, and Maltanaur had come and pulled him away.

The last of rafts full of dead had now disappeared down the river, and the song came to a wavering close, as more rafts slid up against the bank and Elves began carrying the badly wounded aboard. The rest of them would walk home, but those who were severely hurt would go by water. Ithilden had lowered Sinnarn onto his pallet again and picked up one end of it, as Legolas hurried to take the other. They lifted him onto the deck of the raft, with Sinnarn biting his lip against the pain even that movement gave him. “What some warriors will do for an easy ride home!” Legolas teased gently. “Or is all this just to get some sympathy from Emmelin?”

Sinnarn smiled bravely. “I do not need tricks to get sympathy from Emmelin. She is fool enough to love me without tricks.”

Ithilden smiled and patted his son’s shoulder. Then he turned to Legolas. “Thank you,” he said. “Thank you and Eilian for everything you have done in the last few days.”

Legolas shrugged and then embraced him. Ithilden was going to make the trip home on the raft with Sinnarn. “We will see you and Sinnarn at home. Take care,” Legolas said and then jumped back to the shore to help move the rest of the wounded, including a very cranky Beliond, so that they, too, could be sent on their way.


Thranduil turned on his horse to look back at the line of warriors marching behind him, scanning to see where Bilbo and Mithrandir were riding, with Beorn striding along beside them in Man shape, laughing and singing. Thranduil had not seen the shape-changer in many years and had been startled almost beyond measure when he arrived at the battlefield in bear shape. But Beorn, too, would be a good ally, and it seemed to Thranduil that all the peoples of the north were in closer communion as a result of the events at Erebor. He hoped that with Sauron and Smaug both gone they would have peace for at least for a while, but he could not help but fear that perhaps the Valar were nudging them all into an alliance that would be needed only too soon.

They were nearing the edge of the woods now, and Mithrandir had told him that he and Bilbo and Beorn would leave the Elven host there. Thranduil nudged his horse to the left and then slowed him so that Mithrandir and his companions could catch up.

“Will you not change your minds and stay with me a while?” Thranduil invited. “Winter is closing in, and you will have a hard journey if you do as you intend and go around the northern edge of the woods.”

Bilbo’s eyes widened in alarm at the idea of entering the woods, and Thranduil could not help but laugh, although he supposed he did not blame the hobbit. From what Bilbo had told him in the last few days, he and the Dwarves had had a difficult time crossing the Woodland Realm, and the hobbit evidently had no wish to repeat the experience.

Mithrandir noticed Bilbo’s look too and laughed. “We will take our own way, as we had planned,” he said and then turned to Thranduil. “Farewell! O Elvenking! Merry be the greenwood, while the world is yet young! And merry be all your folk!”

Thranduil found himself unexpectedly moved by this blessing. The Elves had much for which to thank the wizard, even if he had sent the Dwarves to them with no warning. “Farewell! O Mithrandir! May you ever appear where you are most needed and least expected! The oftener you appear in my halls the better shall I be pleased!”

Bilbo now pulled something from his pocket, cleared his throat and said, “I beg of you to accept this gift!” He extended a packet to Thranduil, who took it and pulled the wrappings open to find a necklace of silver and pearls that must have come from the parting gift that Dáin had given the hobbit.

“In what way have I earned such a gift, O hobbit?” Thranduil asked, struck yet again by the little creature’s generosity.

“Well, er, I thought, don’t you know, that, er, some little return should be made for your, er, hospitality. I mean even a burglar has his feelings. I have drunk much of your wine and eaten much of your bread.”

Thranduil could not help laughing. Legolas had told him what Bilbo had said about his ring of invisibility. To think that the hobbit had been in his palace almost a month and none of them had known it. What a wondrous toy the hobbit had in his possession. Thranduil supposed that when Bilbo reached home, he would be thrilling his neighbors with his tricks. “I will take your gift, Bilbo! And I name you elf-friend and blessed. May your shadow never grow less, or stealing would be too easy. Farewell!”

“Farewell!” called Bilbo, as he and Mithrandir rode off northwards, with Beorn striding along beside them.

The head of the line of Elves had now entered the woods, but rather than riding forward again, Thranduil lingered, allowing the line to pass him until he spotted the person he was looking for. This time, he slid from his horse and allowed the animal to meander along the edge of the column while he walked along beside his second son, who was at the head of the section of the line that included the warriors on leave from the Southern Patrol. Gelmir and Maltanaur had been walking next to Eilian, but on seeing the king, they both saluted and fell a little distance behind.

“Mae govannen, Adar,” Eilian said. His tone was easy enough, but he was clearly cautious, wondering why Thranduil had sought him out.

“Mae govannen, Eilian. I wanted to tell you how well you did at managing matters while Ithilden and I were both with Sinnarn. You performed a precious service for me and for your brother, and I thank you.”

Eilian smiled, relaxing a little. “You are entirely welcome, Adar. I must say I am glad to have you back running things though. I think I prefer to be a simple captain.”

Thranduil smiled back at him, wondering how to raise the topic that he had really sought Eilian out to discuss. He looked forward to where the warriors of the Eastern Border Patrol walked ahead of them. “I also wanted to say that I was very sorry about the death of Galelas, for it seemed to me that you took his loss hard.” He glanced back at his son to find that Eilian’s face had stiffened.

“I have had warriors die before, Adar.”

“Yes,” said Thranduil gently, “but this one I think you were fathering along, much as you used to do with Legolas. You are good with young people, Eilian. They like you and you like them. And the loss of this one hurt you, I think. I am sorry for your pain, but I also must say that I would not change your generous heart, even if I could.”

They walked along in silence for a minute or two, and then Eilian sighed. “He deserved a better family than he had.”

“But he could not have had a better captain,” Thranduil answered and patted Eilian’s shoulder.

“Thank you, Adar,” Eilian said, giving him a small smile.

Thranduil dropped his hand and considered the rest of what he had to say. “Sauron is gone, at least for a while, and Smaug is dead. And there will be far fewer Orcs in the woods, given the number of those who perished in the battle. The realm will be a safe place for raising children for a good many years I would think.” He grinned at Eilian, whose eyes had widened in what looked very much like alarm. “It would be a good time to have elflings of your own, Eilian. You would be an excellent adar.” And before Eilian could answer, he stepped out of the line so that the flow of passing warriors carried Eilian on without him. His son looked back, with an exasperated expression on his face, while a laughing Maltanaur stepped into the place Thranduil had just vacated.

Thranduil watched the lines of warriors passing, all of them saluting him as they did, and he waited until he spotted Legolas, walking at the head of the Home Guard, with Annael by his side. Annael promptly dropped back a yard or two, just as Gelmir and Maltanaur had done, and like Eilian, Legolas seemed to brace himself a little apprehensively at Thranduil’s unexpected approach. “Mae govannen, Legolas.”

“Mae govannen, Adar.”

“I have told Eilian and now I will tell you how much both Ithilden and I have appreciated your help in the last few days. You did well with a heavy responsibility. I am proud of you.”

Legolas flushed slightly and smiled. “Thank you, Adar. I was happy to do what I could.”

“What did you finally think of Bard?” Thranduil asked.

Legolas hesitated, apparently turning the question over in his mind. “He is a courageous warrior, and I think he will be a good leader for the Men of Dale. I must admit, though, that he shocked me with his willingness to attack Dáin’s warriors when they first came. I cannot get over the fact that he would have slaughtered them for treasure! I had not realized Men were quite so greedy and bloodthirsty.” His tone suggested just how appalling he had found the Man’s attitude, and Thranduil was not surprised. He had seen his son’s face when the Man he admired had advocated attacking the Dwarves.

Thranduil looked at Legolas thoughtfully. “I agree that Bard will be a good leader, and you know I want him as an ally. But there is no doubt that he has both strengths and weaknesses, just as Elves do, although perhaps the typical weaknesses of Men and Elves are different. I would not want you to judge all Men by Bard, Legolas, nor would I want you to be too harsh in your judgment of him. Admire Men if they merit it, and censure what there is to criticize. You do not have to dismiss anyone as an ally because he has flaws.”

Legolas grimaced. “I will try to remember that, Adar.”

Thranduil stepped out of the line again, called to his horse, and mounted. He started back toward the front of the line but paused as he came abreast of where Legolas and Annael were once again walking together.

“Annael,” he called, “be sure to tell Emmelin that I look forward to dancing with my new granddaughter-by-marriage at her wedding.”

Annael looked startled but then laughed. “I will tell her, my lord, just as soon as she tells me that I am to give her permission to marry. But she has to dance with her adar first.”

“That seems right,” Thranduil acknowledged and then, his heart lifting at the joys the Wood-elves might yet find, he rode on into the forest.

The End


Thank you to everyone who has read this story. It’s been a long haul and I hope the results have been worth the effort you’ve put into reading! Thank you especially to everyone who has reviewed. Your comments and encouragement are precious to me.


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