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A Spring of Joy  by daw the minstrel

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


3. The Scouting Party Assembles

Eilian raised the maul over his head and then drove it down onto the round end of the log, feeling a satisfying release as it split apart. He tossed the two pieces onto the pile of firewood and then paused in reaching for another log. A horse was approaching from the north. He dragged his forearm across his sweaty brow as he watched for the rider to emerge from the trees. At length, he saw him and immediately recognized one of his father’s messengers. He laid the maul aside and dragged his tunic on over his head as the messenger dismounted and approached. “Mae govannen,” he greeted the Elf.

“Mae govannen, my lord.” The messenger pulled a folded parchment from inside his tunic and extended it to Eilian.

Eilian raised an eyebrow. Palace messengers came to the settlement with some frequency, but they usually brought packages and several letters rather than a single message. He took the parchment. “Will you come in?” he invited, gesturing toward the open cottage door. He could hear Loriel chattering within, probably to Celuwen, who was cooking their evening meal, but possibly to herself, her dolls, or the birds outside the window.

“Thank you,” said the messenger, “but with your permission, I will see to my horse and then camp in that little grove until you are ready for me.”

“Of course.” Eilian watched for moment as the messenger started back toward the woods. Then he looked at the parchment, closed with Thranduil’s seal. His father evidently expected Eilian to send some sort of answer back with the messenger. He felt a moment of apprehension and then slit the seal with his belt knife. It might be better to read the message out here.

He ran his eye rapidly down the page and then frowned and read it again more slowly. His father wanted him to come home without delay to go on some sort of mission that he would explain when Eilian got there. He should expect to be gone for four to six weeks. The messenger would wait to serve as his escort home. That was all.

He looked up, turning the letter over in his hands as he gazed unseeing into the distance. What kind of mission could his father be talking about? The fact that he did not describe it in the letter hinted that it was out of the ordinary. And the fact that he wanted Eilian home at once suggested that it might be some sort of emergency. To his dismay, Eilian felt a familiar tingle of excitement at the idea of doing something potentially risky.

He glanced guiltily toward the cottage door. He had a wife and small child, and he owed it to both of them to be careful. It occurred to him that if Thranduil was sending him into danger, then this mission might indeed be important. His father would not do such a thing lightly.

He walked slowly into the cottage. Celuwen looked up from where she was trimming the woody ends off the asparagus. “Did I hear a messenger?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said. Something in his tone must have been unusual because she abruptly stopped what she was doing.

Loriel jumped to her feet, abandoning the rag doll she had been crooning to. “What did he bring me?”

Eilian could not help smiling. Messengers from the palace almost always brought something for Loriel – an embroidered shift, a package of candied fruit, and on one memorable occasion, a toy Mûmakil from the market in Dale. There had been a key in its side that could be used to wind the toy up so that the Mûmakil marched across the cottage floor. The key had been too stiff for Loriel to turn on her own, so Eilian had spent hours sitting on the floor winding it up for her. “I am sorry, but there was nothing for you this time, Flower Face, only a message for me.”

“What is it?” Celuwen asked, regarding him steadily with a spear of asparagus in her hands.

“The king has summoned me to undertake a mission.”

“What sort of mission?”

“He does not say,” Eilian answered. Celuwen had served as one of his father’s counselors, and she would know as well as Eilian did what that omission meant.

She put the spear of asparagus down on the table as carefully as if she thought a sudden jar would shatter it. “When must you leave?”

He sighed. “Tomorrow morning at first light, I think.”

Loriel had run to the cottage door and stood looking out, apparently still hoping to see some sort of package appear. Now she turned to look wide-eyed at Eilian. “Are you going away, Ada?” Her tone was incredulous.

Eilian grimaced. He had not spent a night away from her and Celuwen since she was born. “I am afraid so, but I will come back as soon as I can.”

“No.” She burst into tears and ran to fling her arms around his thighs. “Do not go, Ada! I do not want you to!”

He picked her up, looking all the while at Celuwen’s white face. From the fact that he had referred to Thranduil as the king rather than as his father, she knew, even if Loriel did not, that he could not refuse this summons. “How long will you be gone?” Celuwen asked.

“No more than six weeks.”

She picked up the asparagus and snapped the end off while he swayed with Loriel in his arms, murmuring comforting sounds in her small, delicately pointed ear. He looked at Celuwen again. “You will have your hands full here. You and Loriel could come with me tomorrow. Adar would be more than happy to have you stay with him for a while.”

She shook her head. “We can manage.” She sent him a reassuring smile. “I cannot leave the garden.”

He smiled back. “Whatever this mission involves, I will be careful,” he promised. “You know I will.”

“I do. Loriel, come and help me, sweetling. I need someone to put the plates on the table.”

With a sniff, Loriel lifted her head off Eilian’s shoulder and turned it to look at her mother. She hesitated for a moment and then wiggled. Eilian put her down. “I will go back to chopping firewood,” he said, moving toward the door. He wanted to leave Celuwen with as large a supply as possible at least to start with while he was gone.

They went through the normal routine of their evening as if nothing untoward had happened. They ate and then cleaned up afterward, and Celuwen took Loriel outside to sit next to her on the bench by the front door to be read to. Instead of sitting and taking his daughter in his lap, however, Eilian hesitated. “I will be back in a few moments,” he said. “I have something I need to do.”

Loriel looked ready to protest, but Celuwen put her arm around the child and began to read, and with a small pout, she settled against her mother’s side. Eilian set off resolutely along a familiar path, not allowing his steps to falter until he emerged from the trees to find his in-laws seated on the bench before their cottage.

“Eilian!” cried Isiwen in surprise. She looked past him. “Are Celuwen and Loriel coming?”

“No.” Eilian steeled himself. “I needed to speak to you both.”

Sólith looked at him with narrowed eyes. “What about?”

“I will be leaving in the morning to undertake a mission for the king. I expect to be gone for as long as six weeks. I came to ask you to keep an eye on Celuwen and Loriel.”

Isiwen gave a soft cry of dismay, but Sólith’s mouth immediately tightened in anger. “I knew you would never be able to stay here, quietly carrying out your responsibilities,” he spat. “Just as I expected, you are haring off after adventure again.”

Eilian felt his temper flare, but for Celuwen’s sake, he damped it down. “I am not ‘haring off’ after anything,” he said stiffly. “The king has sent for me, and I owe him obedience.” He had a sudden, shameful memory of the excitement he had felt upon first reading Thranduil’s message, but he suppressed it.

“You have owed the king your obedience for a good many years, but I know for a fact that you have not always given it,” Sólith snapped. “Why now?”

“Sólith, be quiet,” said Isiwen sharply. Eilian snapped his head around to look at her in astonishment and saw Sólith do the same thing. “Of course, we will look after Celuwen and Loriel while you are gone,” she told Eilian firmly.

He felt a second of admiration, mixed with a bit of trepidation. Celuwen was very like her mother, and he rather feared that Loriel was a true daughter of the female side of her family. “Thank you.” He drew a deep breath and let it out again, feeling the muscles in his diaphragm relax. He looked back at Sólith, who was frowning at his wife. “I have seen no more signs of whatever was prowling under Loriel’s window a week or so back, but if anyone else does, would you please try to convince Celuwen to come and stay with you?”

Sólith’s attention was caught by this. Eilian had, of course, told everyone in the settlement about the strange footprints he had seen. His neighbors needed to know. He had also written to Ithilden, who would have the responsibility of protecting their father’s people if this creature should stay in the woods and turn out to be dangerous. So far as he knew, no one had seen anything more of the creature, or he would have insisted that Celuwen and Loriel go to the stronghold with him, garden or no garden.

Despite the absence of further signs, however, Sólith was obviously unwilling to leave anything to chance when it came to his granddaughter’s safety. “Of course we will. Celuwen can come home to stay with us now. Is Loriel still sleeping in that room?”

Eilian shook his head. “We took her back into our bed at once. I imagine Celuwen will keep her there. And I do not think it will be easy to convince Celuwen to leave our cottage.” He looked at his father-in-law. “If the need arises, you will have to be persistent.”

Sólith’s mouth was pressed in a thin line. “I know how to manage my daughter,” he said shortly.

Eilian rather doubted that. The fact the Celuwen was married to Eilian was a sign of how little control Sólith had.

“We will look after them,” Isiwen said soothingly.

Eilian nodded. “Thank you. I will say good night then.” And he turned to make his way home, eager to spend one last night with the two stubborn, sweet females who, between them, ruled his heart.


Sinnarn entered the sleeping chamber to find Emmelin seated at the dressing table, threading earrings into her earlobes. “Good,” she said. “You can do up the back of my gown.”

He grinned, crossed the room, and slid his hands into the gaping back of her gown to grasp her bare shoulders and rub his thumbs along her spine, delighting in the slight shiver he felt run through her. “The evening meal will not be for some time. Are you sure you want me to fasten your gown?”

She laughed. “I do not have time for that now. I told your naneth I would arrange the flowers on the table for the evening meal.”

Reluctantly, Sinnarn removed his hands and began doing up the long row of little buttons. “You could have a lady’s maid, you know. My naneth would see to getting you one or let you borrow the one who helps her to dress.”

“I do not want a lady’s maid,” Emmelin said forcefully.

Sinnarn smiled as he bent over the buttons. His forester wife was determined to alter her way of living as little as possible, despite moving from Annael’s cottage to the palace. He found that endearing, although his experience told him she would probably have to change her habits more than she hoped. “You and Celuwen,” he said. “Naneth never could get her to have one either.”

“Oh,” Emmelin brightened. “I have news. Eilian is coming home. The maids are getting his and Celuwen’s apartment ready for him. He should be here some time late tomorrow.”

Sinnarn frowned. “He is coming alone? Celuwen and Loriel will not be with him?”

“No. Just him.” She looked at him in the mirror. “Your grandfather was the one who told your naneth to expect him, so I assumed that he had sent for him, and I did not ask further because I thought your grandfather probably has some sort of task for Eilian. He did not seem angry, which was the other possibility, of course.” She smiled at him in the mirror.

Sinnarn smiled back, but his mind was busy with the speculation he had heard in the Home Guard headquarters that day. Tiondir and Belaral were supposedly going on some sort of scouting mission to the south. Along with everyone else, Sinnarn had wondered what might have happened to make such a trip necessary. It had been evident to Sinnarn that Legolas knew what was going on, but Legolas had told them all to get on with their own tasks rather than running their tongues about someone else’s. Legolas could be maddeningly discreet sometimes.

Eilian’s arrival must be connected to this mission to the south, Sinnarn decided. No one knew that part of the realm better than Eilian did. After all, he had led a patrol there for years. Sinnarn felt a surge of uneasiness. Something was happening, and if it had to do with the south, the chances were that it was something dangerous. Moreover, he thought resentfully, every warrior in the family except him knew what it was. After he had been wounded at the Battle of Five Armies, his family had seemed to take him more seriously as an adult member of the king’s family, someone who met his obligation to serve the realm as well as any of them did. Evidently they thought that only so long as there was no danger. I will not let them dismiss me, he vowed. And I will not let something threaten the woods and be allowed to do nothing to stop it.

“Do you happen to know if my adar is home?” he asked.

“Yes, I saw him going into your parents’ apartment when I came to dress.”

Sinnarn fastened the last button and then bent to kiss the back of Emmelin’s neck. “I will just go to speak to him for a few moments. I will see you at evening meal.” She turned in surprise, but he left before she could say anything. He did not want to have to explain his intentions. He was not sure she would approve of what he was about to do.

He went down the hall, past the extra chambers that he knew Emmelin wanted to fill with elflings, something he hesitated to begin doing. Eilian might have decided that enough peace had come to the woods to make it a safe place to raise children, but Sinnarn had always shared enough of his grandfather’s cynicism to make him doubt that victory over the Shadow would ever be total. His ambitions were more modest: He wanted to protect his home, to be nearby when danger came. So in the last few years, he had settled happily into the Home Guard, although he knew his readiness to serve there ran against every expectation that his father had had that he would continue to seek adventure and amusement as he had when he was younger. If the danger had now come, he wanted to know about it.

He hesitated before the door of his parents’ apartment, the set of rooms that had been his home from the day he was born until the day he married Emmelin. It still seemed odd to him to knock before entering them, so he compromised by knocking and then opening the door without waiting for an invitation to enter.

Ithilden looked up from where he sat in the big chair near the fire with a book open on his lap. “Good evening,” he said, sounding surprised.

“Good evening. Is Naneth about?”

“She is still dressing.” Ithilden regarded him steadily and then closed his book and laid it aside. He gestured an invitation that Sinnarn should take the chair opposite him. “Did you want something, Sinnarn?”

Sinnarn sat down and leaned forward, driven by the urgency of his need to know. “Has something happened in the south, Adar? Is that why Eilian is coming home, to lead a scouting party there?”

His father made an exasperated noise. “Warriors are a bigger bunch of gossips than any sewing circle of young wives.”

“Then it has!”

“This is not your worry, Sinnarn.”

“Of course it is my worry! I am the king’s grandson, his oldest son’s heir. How can this not be my worry?”

Ithilden blinked at his vehemence. “The problem is being taken care of.”

Sinnarn had to bite his tongue to keep from using a word he had heard Beliond use for the first time the day before. He drew a deep breath. “Do not shut me out of this, Adar. I beg you.”

With his eyes on Sinnarn, Ithilden hesitated for a moment, evidently weighing his habitual reserve about matters to do with the realm’s defense against the plea Sinnarn was making. “Given the gossip, I suppose it will be more or less public knowledge soon enough,” he sighed. “We do not know if anything has happened, but your grandfather has heard rumors that the Shadow has reappeared at Dol Guldur.”

Sinnarn felt as if all the breath had been driven out of him. He had doubted the peace all along, but now that his doubts seemed on the verge of being confirmed, he could barely contain his dismay. “I want to go with Eilian,” he said, ignoring the small tremor in his voice. Ithilden’s eyes widened and he raised a protesting hand, but Sinnarn ploughed ahead. “I want to see what is happening. If the Shadow has returned, I want to know it. And if nothing is there, I want to see that for myself.”

“I have already assigned two other warriors to go with Eilian,” Ithilden protested.

“Then change the assignment. I am an experienced warrior, Adar. Moreover, I have responsibilities to the realm that other warriors do not. Let me live up to them.” In the back of his mind, Sinnarn felt a small shock at the tone he was taking with his father. Ithilden ordinarily brooked no defiance from anyone, and particularly not from Sinnarn. But Sinnarn had decided that this was too important to back away from. In his mind, a place in this scouting party was his by right.

For a long moment, Ithilden held his gaze. Finally, something in his face shifted, and he sighed. “I suppose if your grandfather has decided that Eilian is to be trusted with this mission, I can decide the same thing about you.”

For a second, Sinnarn could not believe what he had just heard. Then he could feel a grin growing on his face. Ithilden opened his mouth to speak, but Sinnarn forestalled him. “I will be careful; I will follow Eilian’s orders; I will remember what the purpose of the mission is and act accordingly,” he chanted.

Reluctantly, Ithilden smiled. Before he could say anything, Alfirin came into the room. “Sinnarn! How nice to see you, my sweet. Do you need something?”

He rose and kissed her cheek. “No, Naneth. I just needed to talk to Adar. I will go and get changed for the evening meal now.”

His mother’s eyes went to his father, who shrugged. Sinnarn resigned himself to the fact that she would know within the hour that he was going with Eilian, but she said nothing further about it now. “Good. We are having fish fried with mushrooms, just the way you like it best.”

“I look forward to it,” he said and went on his way back to his own apartment, feeling the satisfaction that came from believing that he had done the right thing.


“Are you coming, Sinnarn?” Legolas asked, eyeing his nephew, who sat with his arm around Emmelin holding her snuggly to his side.

Sinnarn grinned at him. “No, I think I will be the good one for a change and spend the evening right here in the sitting room, listening dutifully to my parents and grandfather.”

Everyone laughed. “We are happy to have you,” Alfirin said.

Legolas looked at her and Ithilden, sitting next to one another on the other side of the fire, and for a wild moment, he considered inviting his oldest brother to come out with him and Eilian. With what looked like the alarming ability to read thoughts that he sometimes exhibited, Ithilden leaned back, raised one eyebrow, and suppressed a smile, but Legolas could see the amused gleam in his eyes.

Serenely ignorant of the look on her husband’s face, Alfirin turned to where Legolas and Eilian stood near the sitting room door. “Have a good time.”

“Behave yourselves,” Thranduil added.

“Of course,” said Eilian easily. “You do not need to wait up for us, Adar. We are old enough to toddle home and put our night clothes on without help.” Thranduil shook his head, but his smile was benevolent as he waved his permission for them to leave.

Legolas fastened his cloak as he and Eilian walked out into the starry spring night to descend the steps and cross the bridge over the Forest River. “Where do you want to go? Perhaps to listen to the music by the river?”

Eilian grinned. “I have not been to the Glade for a long time. What would you say to sharing a few cups of wine with me there?”

Legolas laughed. “I would say that you are taking advantage of Celuwen’s absence.”

“She would be disappointed in me if I did not,” Eilian assured him.

Legolas allowed his brother to guide their steps toward the Glade, the area where young Elves gathered to enjoy themselves away from the sometimes too sober view of their elders. “I assume you will be leaving tomorrow morning.”

Eilian nodded and then glanced at Legolas with faint amusement in his face. “Can you believe that Adar and Ithilden are allowing Sinnarn to go?”

“Sinnarn is a good warrior,” Legolas protested. “Just the other day, he kept me from having a spider down my collar. And Tynd will be with him. Tynd has been there before with you, I think.”

“Yes. And you are right of course. I simply cannot decide if the fact that Sinnarn is going means that Adar and Ithilden think that things are not serious so it is safe to send him, or if they think that things are so serious that they will not be able to keep any of us out of it.”

Legolas pondered that. “Adar is worried,” he said soberly. He looked sideways at Eilian. “Take care, Eilian. From what Ithilden told me, Adar senses something very wrong at Dol Guldur.” He smiled slightly. “I will not be there to keep an eye on you, so I can only trust you will do what Maltanaur tells you.”

“Just as I always do,” Eilian grinned. The sound of music reached them as they walked the last dozen yard to emerge into the clearing where an Elf stood piping a tune that had sent several others spinning in a dance around him. Eilian fetched wine for them while Legolas sat down cross-legged with his back against an oak. “I do not know why we do not just bring a skin of wine from home,” Eilian said after he had taken a sip. “Adar has much better stuff.”

Legolas grinned. “I suppose it is a habit from the time when Adar would have felt he needed to comment on how much we took. He can usually stop himself from doing that now.” Eilian laughed.

A maiden drifted slowly past, smiling at Legolas. He nodded to her and then turned to see Eilian looking at him sideways with a small smile. Legolas raised an eyebrow. “What?”

Eilian shrugged and took a drink of wine. “She wants you to dance with her, brat.”

Legolas could feel himself blushing as he looked at the maiden’s graceful departing back. “Eilian,” he said hesitantly, “you know I am pledged to Tuilinn, but not everyone does, and I do not like to talk about it.”

Eilian gave a short laugh and lifted the wine cup from Legolas’s hand. “You will be dancing with her, not bedding her I assume. Go and do it. Tuilinn would certainly forgive you for enjoying yourself a little. And anyway, Adar said to behave ourselves, and you would not want to be rude.”

Without quite knowing how it had happened, Legolas found himself on his feet and leading the maiden to join the ring of dancers around the piper. Whether it was because of the wine, the music, the maiden, or the starry night, he was not sure, but within a few moments, he was so swept up in the dance that for a few moments at least, he forgot everything else in the pleasure of what he was doing at that second. And then he turned his head to see that Eilian too had joined the dance. Tomorrow morning would come soon enough. For tonight, he and his brother would seize the moment of joy.


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