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A Spring of Joy  by daw the minstrel

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

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


2. The Captain of the Home Guard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How many?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did it bite you?” Sinnarn asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mae govannen, Emmelin,” Legolas said.

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

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

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

“You cheated,” Sinnarn accused.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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