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A Spring of Joy  by daw the minstrel

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


4. Comings and Goings

“See here,” Annael pointed. “This is what I was talking about.”

Legolas frowned at the mangled carcass of a fawn and then crouched to look at the tracks Annael indicated. The fawn could have been prey for a wolf, but no wolf had made the prints Annael had found. To Legolas’s appalled eye, they looked as if they had been left by something that went on feet looking far too much like those of a person. But he had never seen a person rip a young deer apart the way this one had been torn. Nor had he ever seen a person eat the meat raw.

He stood and looked up at the rustling trees. They were uneasy about something, although whatever was disturbing them seemed unfamiliar to them too. “What do you think this was?” he asked.

Annael shook his head. “I have never seen anything like it. It walks on two feet most of the time, although I found places where it used its hands too. But I have never seen an Elf, Dwarf, or Man hunt like this. And the feet are slightly webbed, you see here? I cannot imagine what it is.”

Legolas rubbed the back of his neck. Annael was uncannily good at woodcraft; if he did not recognize this creature, then the chances were it had never passed through the woods before. “Has it made a den somewhere near here?” He felt odd calling this two-legged creature “it,” but he could not bring himself to call anything this vicious “he,” or, he supposed with shudder, “she.”

Annael shook his head. “I do not think so, but I am not certain. It seems to be on the move. Tiondir and I tracked it for a good two leagues, and it is moving steadily east.” Annael too seemed to have rejected the idea that the intruder was a person.

“Perhaps tomorrow we should follow it and make certain it is on its way out of the Woodland Realm,” Legolas said. Annael nodded, still looking at the ravaged body of the fawn. Legolas forced himself to turn away. “We should be getting back now. I should tell Ithilden about this, and it would be best if I returned to headquarters before Beliond realizes I went with you without telling him.”

Annael turned to him and smiled. “I thought he had already left for the day.”

“He did, but he has his ways of finding things out, as I have occasionally learned to my cost.”

Annael laughed, and the two of them started toward home. Annael eventually turned off on the path toward his cottage, but Legolas continued toward the building housing Ithilden’s office, knowing there was a good chance that his brother was still there.  And indeed, he found Ithilden still at his desk, although his aide had already gone. Ithilden looked up when Legolas knocked on the frame of the open door.

“Legolas!” Ithilden greeted him. “I was just getting ready to go home.”

“I want to tell you what Annael found today, and I think it is better if I do it here.”

Ithilden raised an eyebrow and gestured toward the chair in front of his desk. Legolas sat and began an account of the slaughtered fawn and the puzzling nature of the tracks of its killer. As he spoke, he saw Ithilden’s face grow still as if he saw some significance in Legolas’s report that Legolas himself was not aware of.

“Where was this?” Ithilden demanded the minute Legolas had stopped speaking.

“Near the Elf path, about a mile directly south of here.” Legolas hesitated. Ithilden was not always open to being questioned about matters he had not chosen to disclose. “Do you know something about this creature, Ithilden?”

Ithilden sat back in his chair and shook his head. “Not really,” he said slowly. “But Eilian reported on something very like it at his settlement about two weeks ago. He said it was lurking under Loriel’s window at night.”

Legolas’s breath caught so that for a moment he could not speak. Loriel was smaller than the fawn he and Annael had found dead today. “Do you think this is the same creature?”

“I hope so,” Ithilden said. “The alternative is that several of them are taking up residence in the woods.”

“I plan to send Annael after it tomorrow. He said it looked as if the creature was heading east out of the forest, but I want to make sure that it really is only passing through.”

“Good.” Ithilden drummed his fingers on his desk. “It is too bad that Eilian has already gone south. He could at least have looked at the tracks and seen if they were like the ones he saw.” He sighed. “I suppose we will have to wait until we know more. Come. We might as well go home.” He rose and came around the desk to lead Legolas out into the fading afternoon.

They made their way along the path between the warrior training fields and then over the bridge across the Forest River and into the palace. As they entered the hallway along which the family’s living quarters were ranged, a guard spoke to them. “The king wishes to see both of you in his office, my lords.”

Legolas glanced at Ithilden, but his brother seemed as surprised by the summons as he was. They stopped at the first door on the right, and Ithilden knocked. “Come,” called Thranduil’s voice, and Legolas followed Ithilden into the room only to stop short at the sight of the visitor sitting in one of the chairs near the fireplace.

“Mithrandir!” Legolas cried, feeling the familiar mix of pleasure and apprehension that the wizard’s arrival always roused in him. He liked Mithrandir but had learned long ago that while he sometimes brought aid and comfort, he more often brought unwelcome news. Still, Legolas knew that his father trusted Mithrandir more than any other outsider.

“Mae govannen, my lords.” Mithrandir smiled at both of them.

“Pour yourselves some wine and be seated,” Thranduil said. “Mithrandir arrived as I was finishing afternoon court. He has not yet told me what brings him here, only that he thought you two should hear it too.” Legolas obediently went to the side table to pour wine for himself and Ithilden, while his brother sat down near their father.

“Your adar has never even considered the idea that I might simply have wanted to visit with him and you,” Mithrandir said.

Thranduil smiled a little grimly. “Is that why you came?”

“No,” Mithrandir admitted. He glanced at Legolas, who had taken a cup of wine to Ithilden and now was offering to refill Mithrandir’s cup from the flagon. “No thank you, Legolas. I fear I lack the capacity you Wood-elves all seem to be born with.” Legolas smiled as he refilled Thranduil’s cup from the flagon, then returned it to the table and took his own wine to sit near Mithrandir. He doubted if Mithrandir lacked the capacity for almost anything at all.

“The guards who met me on the Elf path told me you were captain of the Home Guard now,” Mithrandir said.

“I am,” Legolas agreed.

“Then I thought you and Ithilden would both want to know about what brought me here – besides wanting to visit, of course.” Mithrandir smiled at Thranduil and then sobered. “I am here seeking your help in tracking someone who, I fear, has made his way into these woods. I have been seeking him for some time, and then, by chance, I heard tales from the Woodmen to your west that made me think he is here.”

Legolas glanced at Ithilden, wondering if he too had thought immediately of the creature whose tracks he and Annael had seen that day, but Ithilden was watching Mithrandir with the intent expression he wore when what he was hearing struck him as important. Thranduil’s gaze too was concentrated upon the wizard.

“The Woodmen’s tales are vague, I am afraid, but they tell of a creature they call a ‘ghost’ because it prowls only on the darkest nights. What they know of it is that it is hungry beyond bearing, and to appease that hunger, it robs the birds’ nests and the rabbits’ holes.” Mithrandir grimaced. “They say that more than once it has climbed through an open window to find a cradle.”

Legolas nearly dropped his wine, and Ithilden stifled an exclamation. Thranduil looked at Ithilden, his face tight. “You are thinking of the creature that was lurking in Eilian’s settlement,” he said flatly.

Ithilden nodded. “And more than that, Adar, today one of the Home Guard patrols found tracks like those Eilian described only a mile south of the stronghold.” He nodded to Legolas. “Describe the tracks to Mithrandir, Legolas. Perhaps he will know from the description if this is his ‘ghost.’”

Legolas obliged, describing as best he could the tracks that he and Annael had seen. “The creature had killed a fawn and torn it to bits,” he finished. He glanced at his father, who had gone pale.

Mithrandir sighed. “That sounds like Gollum. It seems he drinks the blood.”

Legolas’s hands tightened around his wine cup. Mithrandir called this Gollum “he.” So this devourer of children was a person. Legolas found he could not fathom how such a thing could be.

“We will track this creature for you, of course,” Thranduil said. He turned to Ithilden. See to it.”

Ithilden nodded. “Legolas was going to send Annael to follow the trail tomorrow anyway.” He looked at Legolas. “I want you to lead the party, Legolas. Annael is the best tracker we have, I think, but you hear the trees better than he does, so you may be able to help him. Beliond will go too, of course, and I think that is all. I have no doubt you and Annael between you will be able to follow the trail as well as anyone, and you will be faster if there are only three of you.”

Legolas nodded. “We will leave at dawn. I will send word to Annael and Beliond, and I will get Tiondir to manage the Home Guard while we are gone. What would you like us to do with him when we find him, Mithrandir?”

“Bring him to me. He used to have something, and I want to know where he got it.”

Legolas nodded again, and Thranduil spoke. “I invite you to be my guest while the hunting party looks for this Gollum, Mithrandir. Indeed, I expect that Alfirin has already asked the servants to have a room made ready for you.”

Mithrandir seemed to relax a little. “I knew I could count on the Wood-elves,” he smiled. He set his wine aside. “If you do not mind, Thranduil, I think I would like to wash off the dust of the road before it is time to eat.”

“Of course.” Thranduil gestured, and Legolas jumped to his feet to escort Mithrandir to the door and hand him over to a servant with instructions to find out what Alfirin’s wishes were. He returned to find Thranduil issuing orders.

“Everyone must be warned about this creature,” Thranduil said grimly. “I want word sent to all the settlements too. And,” he drew a deep breath, “I want Celuwen and Loriel to come to the stronghold. Tell the messenger who goes to that settlement to bring them back.”

Ithilden raised an eyebrow. “The messenger would probably appreciate having a written message from you to give to Celuwen, Adar,” he observed mildly. “She will not like leaving their home.”

Despite the seriousness of the situation, Legolas could not help smiling to himself. He knew as well as Ithilden did that a messenger would not enjoy telling Celuwen to pack up her daughter and come to the stronghold at a moment’s notice.

Thranduil’s mouth was a thin line. “Celuwen would never endanger Loriel, and with Eilian gone, she and Loriel are alone in their cottage. I will not leave my granddaughter in such peril.”

Legolas wondered if Thranduil might be acting partly out of a desire to have Eilian’s daughter living in the palace, but he knew better than to raise the question out loud. And besides, in his opinion, Thranduil was right to demand that Loriel be moved into the stronghold.

He took a drink of wine, noticing as he did so that his hand was trembling slightly. The sight of the slaughtered fawn had upset him more than he had realized at the time. Since Eilian and Sinnarn’s departure for Dol Guldur, he had tried not to think about what they might find there, had tried to make himself believe that the rumors were mistaken and the forest would continue at peace, healing itself from the damage Sauron’s presence in it had caused. But Gollum had come to the Woodland Realm, and Legolas could not help but wonder what had drawn him there. Were the forces of evil once again assembling among the trees of his home?


Celuwen flung the wet sheet over the shrubs, spreading it carefully to dry in the sun.

“Can I carry more hot water for you before I go?” her father asked.

“Where are you going, Grandfather?” Loriel asked anxiously, looking up from where she was arranging pine cones in a long line atop a fallen log.

“Just home, sweetling,” he told her with a smile. “And you and your nana are coming to eat with Grandmother and me tonight.”

Loriel turned back to her pine cones, and Celuwen watched as her daughter absently slid one back and forth along the log’s rough surface. Loriel’s normally sunny disposition had been marred by fretfulness since Eilian left, and Celuwen’s heart ached for her daughter as she wrestled with the idea that Eilian could go away. I know just how she feels, Celuwen thought ruefully. Until now, Loriel had seen little of the demands that could be placed on the king’s sons. Celuwen would have been pleased if things had stayed that way forever. She turned to Sólith. “Thank you for the offer, Adar, but this is the last of the laundry.”

“Your naneth and I will see you before long then,” Sólith said and was turning to go when the sound of an approaching horse caught both his attention and Celuwen’s and one of the king’s messengers rode out of the trees.

Celuwen’s heart stopped, just as it had done every time a messenger appeared for years when Eilian had been fighting in the south. He is fine, she scolded herself. You would know if he were not. She wiped her wet hands on her apron and walked to where the messenger was dismounting. “Good afternoon, my lady,” he said and nodded to Sólith, who watched them with narrowed eyes. The messenger handed her a folded parchment, and she slid her fingers under the seal to open it and find a message in Thranduil’s elegant hand.

My dear daughter,


I hope that this letter finds you and Loriel well and happy, despite Eilian’s absence. I assure you that I would not have called him away from you without great necessity, and I hope you will forgive me. In this message, I will only say that I have sent him to investigate reports of activity in the area of realm with which no one is more familiar than he is. I have sent guards with him, of course, and trust that he will soon return to those of us who love him.


In the meantime, something else has happened that has made me fear for your safety and, even more so, for that of Loriel. Two weeks or so ago, Eilian wrote to tell us that a strange creature had been lurking around the settlement and in particular that it had been near Loriel’s window. I have since received further news of this intruder, and to my great alarm, I am told that it has upon occasion snatched a child from the Woodmen.


I know that you are happy in your home there, Celuwen, but with Eilian gone and this creature in the woods, I am worried about you and Loriel. Therefore, for your own safety and especially that of the child, I ask that you both come to the stronghold at once. The messenger who bears this will escort you back and help you to carry what belongings you might wish to bring with you.


I know that this move will be difficult for you, and I am sorry, but I think it is for the best.


Your most loving,



Celuwen’s hand trembled as it clutched the parchment. The creature that had been under her daughter’s window had taken a child from the Woodmen? For a moment, her vision blurred.

“What is it?” Sólith demanded.

Wordlessly, she handed him the letter. As he read, she thought frantically about everything she would need to do before she and Loriel could leave. Her garden! Someone would have to look over the garden or they would have no vegetables to preserve and eat in the winter. She looked at the laundry she had just draped over the bushes and despaired of ever getting ready to leave by morning. And yet, how could she stay here, where her daughter was the only child within miles?

“Surely you are not going?” Sólith said, and she whipped her head around to look at him.

“Of course I am.” She bit back her concern that her daughter might be in danger, suddenly aware that the child was watching them all closely.

“You and Loriel can move in with us,” Sólith said. “You will be safe enough there.”

For a moment, she was tempted. Life would be so much easier if she could just convince herself that Loriel would be safe here. But she could not do it. Moreover, by now, she had enough experience with her father-in-law to know that while his message had been phrased as a request, he meant it as a command. She could defy it; she had seen Eilian defy his father upon occasion. But she found she did not want to. Loriel’s wellbeing was too important to her.

She looked at the messenger, whose eyes were wide with alarm. Doubtless he had his orders too and did not relish the idea of having to force Celuwen into going. “We will be ready to go by morning,” she told him and saw relief spread across his face.

“Where are we going?” Loriel demanded.

“To see Grandfather Thranduil,” Celuwen told her, and the child’s face lit up.

“When are we leaving?” Loriel asked, dancing from one foot to the other.

Celuwen flinched at the hurt look that flitted across her father’s face. “In the morning.” She forced herself to smile.

“You do not have to do this,” Sólith said. “We kept you safe for years. We can do the same for Loriel.”

“I was almost an adult when we moved here, Adar. I know you would do your best, but I am taking no chances with Loriel.” She saw Sólith’s face redden and knew that he was hurt as well as grieved that she thought he could not shield her and her daughter from harm.

“My lady,” the messenger put in, “can you tell me where I might find the settlement’s leader? I have a message for him too, asking that he warn people to take care, and that he tell the king if anyone sees a sign of the intruder.”

“You have already found the settlement’s leader,” Sólith snapped, with an anger whose source was only too clear to Celuwen. “You may tell the king that we can take care of ourselves.”

The messenger’s eyes widened a little, and he took a step back. Celuwen very much doubted that he would pass any such message along to Thranduil. “You are welcome to stay in my cottage,” she told him, “or you may camp if that pleases you more.”

“Thank you, my lady. I was told to stay with you if I might.”

She nodded. The messenger would probably stand guard all night, and Celuwen found that she was grateful. She turned to her father. “I am sorry, Adar, but I have to go.”

Loriel had run to the cottage door and now turned impatiently to look at Celuwen. “Come and help me, Nana. I need to take things. Please,” she added, as Celuwen frowned at her.

Celuwen started toward her, looking back over her shoulder at her father. “Adar, will you and Naneth see to my garden while I am gone?”

He nodded curtly. “I will go and fetch your naneth now so that we can help you get ready.”

“Thank you.” She followed Loriel into the cottage, and as she did so, she thought about the other thing she had learned from Thranduil’s letter: Eilian had gone south to check on some sort of activity there. She felt a chill run up her spine. Surely he will not have to go back to fighting there, she thought in despair. Then she turned her attention to Loriel, who had run into her chamber and was dragging every stitch she owned out of the chest.


Celuwen looked around the cottage’s central room, checking to be sure that the fire was out, the windows were shuttered, and everything was ready for her and Loriel to leave it for an unknown length of time. “Hurry, Nana,” Loriel urged from the doorway. “The messenger Elf is waiting for us.”

With a sigh, Celuwen turned and followed her daughter out into the chilly dawn, pulling the door shut behind her. The warrior was indeed waiting for them, with his own horse and Celuwen’s, which he had fetched from the meadow where it normally wandered. Celuwen thought it an extravagance to keep horses, but Eilian had argued that they needed them for trips to the stronghold. Celuwen had not said so, but she believed that he simply could not conceive of being without a horse. There were times when her husband behaved like the king’s son without even knowing he was doing it.

Sólith and Isiwen waited near the messenger. Isiwen embraced Celuwen and handed her a packet that Celuwen knew would contain more food than she, Loriel, and the messenger could possibly eat on their journey. “Thank you, Naneth,” she said, hugging her tightly. She stowed the packet in the one of the bags slung over her horse’s back, as Isiwen bent to kiss Loriel.

Then she turned to face Sólith. “We will be back as soon as it is safe, Adar,” she told him and threw her arms around him. With what sounded almost like a moan, he embraced her.

“Take care, Celuwen. We will miss you.”

“I will miss you too, Adar.” She pulled back and kissed his cheek. She had not told her father that Eilian had gone south, but knowing it, she wondered if a safe time would ever come again.

“Good bye, Grandfather,” Loriel beamed.

He swept her into his arms and kissed her. “Behave yourself at the palace, little one. I would not want the king to think that settlement elflings are badly raised.”

Loriel giggled. “The king is my other grandfather,” she informed him. “He lets me stay up late.” Sólith grimaced slightly and then tried to smile at Celuwen.

Celuwen swung up onto her horse’s back, and Sólith lifted Loriel up to sit in front of the messenger, who turned his horse to lead them on their way to the stronghold. Celuwen followed, but as they entered the trees, she looked back to see her parents standing in a shaft of pale early morning sunlight, her father’s arm around her mother’s shoulders. They each raised a hand in farewell, and she raised an answering hand. And then the trees closed around her, and she could see them no more.

Celuwen had made the trip to the stronghold before, both with other adults from the settlement when she was single and then after her marriage when it was Eilian who had had Loriel in front of him, and she had learned that traveling with a child took patience. At first, Loriel chattered happily to their escort, but soon she began to squirm, and they had ridden for no more than an hour before Celuwen suggested to the Elf that they should stop. He shot her a harassed look, and they dismounted. Immediately, Loriel began to canter around the little clearing, neighing as she went.

“I am a fast horse, Nana. See me?”

“I see you,” Celuwen laughed and then turned to the messenger. “She can ride with me for a while when we start again. Sometimes she even relaxes enough to sleep for a bit of the journey.”

The messenger smiled, as he watched Loriel break into a run. “I am afraid I have a hard time picturing that.”

Loriel came to stand panting in front of them. “How much farther is it?”

“We will not be there until almost night time,” Celuwen told her. “Do you not remember that from the last time we went to see your grandfather?” Loriel frowned and Celuwen stood up. “We can start again now, and then we will be there sooner.” Loriel’s face brightened, and they were soon underway again.

As Celuwen had predicted, however, night was closing in by the time they emerged from the trees onto the green in front of the palace. Warriors on watch must have sent word of their approach because the first thing Celuwen saw was Thranduil striding toward them, with Alfirin just behind him. He put his arms up to lift a sleepy Loriel down from her seat in front of the messenger. “Mae govannen, Grandfather,” she chirped from his embrace and then peered around him to look at Alfirin and the entrance to the palace.

“Mae govannen, sweetling,” he said, kissing her cheek and then drawing her close. He turned to where Celuwen had just dismounted. “Mae govannen, daughter.” He leaned forward to kiss her brow.

“Mae govannen, Adar.” The last few hours of riding had left her exhausted too, but she was warmed by the deep contentment on Thranduil’s face as he held her daughter.

“Where is Ada?” Loriel asked. Startled, Celuwen shifted her gaze from Thranduil’s pleased face to Loriel’s puzzled one.

Thranduil sounded uncharacteristically uncertain when he answered. “Your ada has gone on a mission for me, but he will be back in a few weeks.”

Loriel frowned at him. “Ada said he was going to see you. Where is he?”

Suddenly, Celuwen realized why Loriel had been so eager to make this trip. Dismayed, she reached around Thranduil to brush a stray curl from her daughter’s forehead. “Loriel, Ada did come here, but then he went south to check on something in the woods.”

Loriel shook her head disbelievingly. “We came through the woods, and I did not see him.” Her voice was starting to rise, and Celuwen recognized the signs of a tired child who had been denied something upon which her heart had been set.

She reached for her daughter, and reluctantly, Thranduil surrendered her. “We came north, not south, Loriel,” Celuwen said.

“We came the wrong way?” Loriel wailed. And as if the world had become too much for her to bear, she put her head on Celuwen’s shoulder and began to sob.

“Sh,” Celuwen crooned and swayed, stroking her daughter’s hair.

“She is worn out,” Alfirin put in, “and I will wager that you are too, Celuwen. Your rooms are ready. I will see to it that your things are put away while you feed Loriel and put her to bed.” She beckoned to a waiting servant who took their packs from the messenger.

“Thank you,” Celuwen said. She looked apologetically at Thranduil. “We are both tired. We will no doubt be better company in the morning.” At least, that was what she hoped as she carried a weeping Loriel into the palace.


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