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A Spring of Joy  by daw the minstrel

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


6. Meetings

Legolas paused at the river’s edge, looking back toward the road leading to the gates of Dale. The tracks in the meadow outside Esgaroth had turned out to be most definitely not those of a wolf. Nearly two days of tracking Gollum’s meandering trail had brought Legolas and his companions here, as farm laborers began to make their way from the fields back into the sheltering walls of the town. Legolas found he could scarcely believe that grain now grew where he had last seen the Desolation of Smaug, and a town was now equally in the process of growing where he had last seen nothing but ruins.

He turned to Annael, who was crouched over marks in the ground. Annael pointed to a place near the river’s bank. “That track is Gollum’s. It was made three or four days ago. I can find no others, though, so I would guess he entered the river here.” He stood and waited for Legolas to decide what they would do next.

Legolas frowned. “So once again, Gollum appears to be making his way into a town by water.” Having a river along one edge of a town was a traditional defense against invading armies, but Legolas supposed it was of little use against a single swimmer on a dark night. He raised his eyes to Dale again. “I think we will have to speak to King Bard,” he said with a surge of satisfaction. He had not seen or spoken to the archer who brought down Smaug since the Battle of Five Armies. The look on Beliond’s face told him he had not managed to keep his anticipation out of his voice.

“Now there is someone who did well out of the affair with Smaug,” Beliond said.

“He is also the one who killed Smaug,” Legolas observed coolly. “So some might say he earned what he got.” He jerked his head toward the rising town. “Moreover, it looks to me as if he has not hesitated to spend on behalf of his people.”

Beliond eyed him. “He was willing to go to war over treasure. Does how he used it redeem that fact?”

To that, Legolas had no answer, so he started away from the river toward the road, with Beliond and Annael following. They reached the edge of the road just as two Men drew abreast of them, staring at the Elves. “Good evening,” Legolas greeted them.

After a second, the grey-haired Man nodded, but his younger companion was bolder. “Good evening, Master Elf. What brings you to Dale?”

Pleased at having found a friendly townsman to question, Legolas fell into step beside the two Men, while Annael and Beliond slid in to walk behind them. The older Man glanced back over his shoulder at them, and Legolas caught a glimpse of Annael smiling and Beliond narrowing his eyes. The Man snapped his head forward again.

Legolas could see no reason to withhold the truth. The people of Dale needed to be put on their guard. “We are tracking an intruder who has been snatching young animals both in the woods and near Esgaroth. Have you heard of any such marauder around Dale?”

“No,” answered the younger Man, sounding surprised. He glanced at his companion, who also shook his head.

Legolas hesitated and then spoke just as they passed through the town gates. “You should tell your neighbors to keep an eye on their small children too.”

Both Men’s eyes widened. “Thank you,” said the older one, with a tremor in his voice. “We will.”

Legolas looked around him, suddenly remembering what this place had been like in the days during which Smaug had terrorized it and preyed on its people. Legolas had been here; he had seen Tuilinn die here. He turned resolutely to the present. “Is the new king’s hall in the same place as the old one used to be?” Legolas asked.

The younger Man hesitated and pointed to their right. “I do not know where the old one was, but you will find the new one if you go to the marketplace and turn left at the statue.”

Of course! Legolas thought in vexation. He had apparently not pulled himself into the present quite as completely as he should have. None of these Men had been alive before Smaug burned and smashed the town. He had known that obvious fact but had somehow forgotten it. His only excuse was that he had spent little time with Men of late.

“Thank you,” he said. The two Men nodded farewell and took a narrow street to the left, while Legolas and his two companions went right.

At this hour, the shops were closing and people were making their way home. Elves came to Dale to trade often enough that most people here had seen one before, but not so often that most people felt comfortable with them. Knowing that the people of Dale were at least nominally Thranduil’s allies, Legolas nodded in greeting to everyone they met and ignored the skittishness of some of the reactions he got.

They entered the marketplace, and then the three of them stopped dead and stared at the statue. The statue showed three figures. In the center was a Man with a great bow in his hand. On the Man’s left was a Dwarf holding a battle axe. And on the Man’s right was a figure that was unmistakably that of an Elf, with a sword raised over his head and an extraordinarily fierce expression on his familiar looking face. Legolas walked slowly forward, his eyes on the Elf. He noted the determined chin, the straight nose, the high brow, and a bubble of laughter crept up his throat, as Annael came to stand on one side of him and Beliond on the other. “Adar will be happy to know that the Men of Dale see him as so fearsome,” Legolas sputtered.

Beliond pursed his lips. “I suppose that is a good thing.” He glanced at the heroic looking Man in the center of the little group and at the heavily armored Dwarf and then turned away as if what he saw pained him. “A Man who got off a lucky shot and a Dwarf who would have used his axe to cut us to ribbons if the Orcs had not descended upon us – allies that any Elf would be grateful for.”

Legolas laughed again. “Bard is a good ally, I think.” He was less certain about the Dwarves, of course. Thorin’s little band had shot at Thranduil’s people, and Dáin, who was now King under the Mountain, had led an army whose axes had indeed been poised to swing at Elves and Men alike. Now that he thought of it, he was glad they had seen no Dwarves so far in their passage through Dale. He supposed that as evening drew in, they had all retreated to the mountain that loomed over the town. He led Annael and Beliond into the street the Men had told them would lead to the king’s hall, and just as he had been told, at the street’s end, he could see a wide, low building stood with a bell tower rising above it. As he stood looking at it, the bells began tolling to announce the imminent closing of the town’s gates.

As they started up the street, Legolas glanced at Beliond. “Perhaps Bard will invite us to stay with him,” he grinned, “and we will not have to take a chance on any of the town’s inns.”

Beliond snorted. No doubt he, like Legolas, remembered the time soon after Legolas had become a warrior when he and Beliond had stayed in an inn on this street, or rather, had tried to until Men picked a fight in the Common Room. Beliond would not want to repeat that experience. On the other hand, Legolas doubted if his bodyguard was eager to spend the night under Bard’s roof either. Legolas was occasionally startled by the mixed nature of Men, who had fought both for and against the forces of Darkness during all the history of Middle-earth, but Beliond had long ago passed from being surprised to being permanently skeptical.

They walked into the courtyard of the king’s hall, where rumors of their presence in Dale had evidently preceded them, because a Man who was obviously some sort of official awaited them when the guards showed them through the door. “Master Elves, how may I serve you?” The official scanned them all and then brought his gaze quickly back to Legolas, who stood between Beliond and Annael and a little in front of them.

“I am Legolas Thranduilion. As a representative of the Elvenking, I beg an audience with King Bard.”

The official’s back straightened a little. “Of course, Lord Legolas.” His eyes flicked to Annael and Beliond. “And your companions--?”

“--will accompany him,” said Beliond. Legolas suppressed a grin. He supposed that Beliond would never get over his suspicions that Men left alone with Legolas would leap at him with drawn knives and a pack of rabid dogs at their command.

The official’s eyes widened as he looked at Beliond. “I would not dream of preventing it. I will speak to the king at once. He has finished his court for today, so it will take me a few minutes to gain an audience with him. Would you be so good as to wait here?” He gestured toward some chairs along the wall and then disappeared through a door.

Legolas settled into one of the chairs. “Remember that Bard is our ally, Beliond,” he murmured. Beliond compressed his mouth in a thin line but said nothing.

Legolas composed himself to wait, aware of the door guards occasionally shooting glances their way. Perhaps a quarter of an hour had passed when the official returned, and the Elves all rose again. “The king will see you now,” he said and led them down a short hallway and through an ornate door into what were obviously the private living quarters of Bard’s family. A carpeted hallway ran straight ahead of them, and the official led them down it to a crossing hallway and then to a door with a guard outside it. He knocked. “Enter,” called a voice, and the official flung the door open and motioned them inside.

Legolas stepped into a room that reminded him of nothing so much as his father’s office. A large desk covered with papers stood to one side, while padded chairs and a small table stood near the fireplace. And just coming around the desk to welcome them was Bard. His dark hair was lightly streaked with grey now, but to Legolas, he still looked like the determined archer who had killed Smaug and then led the Men of the lake in the Battle of Five Armies.

Legolas put his hand over his heart and bowed. “My lord.”

Bard nodded his head in reply. “Welcome, Lord Legolas. Welcome, Master Elves.” He waved them toward the chairs. “Come and have wine with me, and I hope you will dine here and then be my guests for the night.”

Legolas threw a sly glance at Beliond’s impassive face and took the chair closest to Bard. “That is most gracious of you, my lord. We would be happy to accept your kind invitation. These are Annael and Beliond.”

Bard poured wine for them all. “Am I correct in assuming that you have come with some message from Lord Thranduil?”

“Not with a message, my lord,” Legolas said, “but on a mission. We are hunting for a creature named Gollum who passed through the Woodland Realm and also through Esgaroth. We believe he came here, perhaps three or four days ago.”

Bard frowned. “What do you mean, ‘a creature’? What sort of creature?”

Legolas made a face. “I have not seen him, but Gandalf asked us to undertake the search, and we have followed signs of him to Dale. You will want to warn your people to watch over their animals and their children. Gollum has been known to make a meal of the young.”

Bard’s dark brows drew down. “You think he is here?” he demanded sharply.

“We followed his trail to the river bank about half a mile south of town. We think he swam the rest of the way. Have you had word of harm being done to any livestock or to your people’s sons and daughters?”

“No,” said Bard thoughtfully, “but two nights ago, one of the town’s guards chased something that was lurking in an alley. He did not catch it. He thought it might have scrambled over the town wall and fled.” He twisted his wine cup in his hand. “I will have the night crier put it about that a dangerous intruder could still be here, though. My people need to know.”

Legolas nodded. “We will go after Gollum in the morning, then. Will you have your guard show us where he thinks Gollum might have climbed the wall?”

Bard nodded and then seemed to relax a little. “So it is Gandalf who sent you on this mission? The last I heard of him, he was returning to the Shire with Mr. Baggins. Indeed, my people now call the path leading toward the forest The Shire Path because Mr. Baggins said his home lay in that direction.”

A knock sounded at the door. “Enter,” Bard called, and the door opened to admit a boy with a mop of unruly black hair. Legolas was not always good at guessing the ages of Men, but given that this child had undoubtedly been born after the Battle of Five Armies, he thought that the boy was eight or so. He needed no guess to know that the child was Bard’s son. The boy had the same dark hair and heavy brows.

At the sight of him, Bard’s grim face lightened into a smile. “This is my son, Bain,” he said, extending his arm to beckon the child to him and embrace him. “Bain, this is Lord Legolas, the son of King Thranduil. And his companions are Annael and Beliond.”

The boy looked at them with frank curiosity, until his father nudged him slightly. Then he flushed and bowed. “Well met, Master Elves.”

Legolas could not help smiling. “Well met, Bain.”

“Did you need something of me, Bain?” Bard asked. The boy looked at his father from the corner of his eye, and unexpectedly, Bard laughed. “I take it you wanted to meet our guests.”

The boy gave him a slow smile. “Yes, Father.” He spun to face Bard fully. “May I come to the feast tonight, Father?” He was quivering in his eagerness to be included.

Bard tucked a stray strand of hair behind the boy’s ear. “No, it will be too late for you.”

Legolas watched Bain open his mouth as if to protest and then close it again under Bard’s stern eye. With some amusement, Legolas thought that Sinnarn used to look much the same when it occurred to him that it was unwise to argue with Ithilden. Bard’s face softened a little. “You have years yet in which to dine with Elves.”

“Indeed,” Legolas agreed. “I know my father would be happy to have you come to visit us too, Bain.” Thranduil loved children. He would enjoy having this small boy as a guest, even if he was occasionally as skeptical as Beliond about the worth of Men as allies.

Obviously thrilled, Bain asked, “May I go to visit Lord Thranduil the next time your counselor goes, Father?”

Bard smiled. “Perhaps. We will discuss it. Now bid our guests good night.”

With his disappointment poorly but gamely masked, Bain did as he was told. “Good night, my lords.”

“Good night, Bain,” Legolas said, as Annael and Beliond murmured the same thing. He watched the boy drag slowly out of the room, taking a long look back over his shoulder before he disappeared out the door.

Bard too watched the boy depart. Then he turned to Legolas and offered more wine. “Things have changed a great deal since the Battle of Five Armies, have they not? Who would ever have guessed that it would be safe for me to send my child to visit Thranduil if I wished?”

As Bard refilled his wine cup, Legolas could not help thinking about Eilian’s mission to the south, as he done frequently during this trip. Eilian must be drawing close to Dol Guldur now. What would he find there? Would Bard’s son grow up in a world in which it was safe for a child to travel through Thranduil’s woods?

Another knock sounded at the door, and a servant appeared. Bard glanced at him and said, “I believe your rooms are ready for you. Perhaps you would like time to ready yourselves for the evening meal.” As they all rose, he gave them what Legolas would have sworn was a mischievous look if this had been anyone other than Bard. “I will have another guest at the table whom you might find interesting. King Dáin is eating with us tonight.”

Legolas blinked at him. How in Arda could Bard bear to be so friendly with someone he had once faced across a battle field? “I look forward to seeing Dáin again,” he forced out, and then turned to follow the servant.

Out in the hallway, Beliond drew near enough to murmur in Legolas’s ear. “Remember that Dáin is our ally, Legolas.”

Legolas glared at him, but suddenly found himself laughing. “True. You can sit next to him.” He laughed again at the look on Beliond’s face, and followed the servant down the hall to Bard’s guest rooms.


Thranduil gazed at the tree tops, visible over the wall of palace garden, and wondered how Eilian’s patrol was faring. They should be drawing near to Dol Guldur by now, he thought. As he had been doing for the last month, he listened intently to the song of the trees, hearing again that faint discordant note and asking himself what it might mean. And as he had been doing since Eilian started south, he resigned himself to waiting for his son to return in order to learn the answer to that question.

“Thranduil,” said Mithrandir, “have I ever told you how grateful I am to be able to rely on you and your sons?”

Thranduil looked wryly at the wizard, who sat smoking peacefully and smiling benevolently, as if he had not just managed to read Thranduil’s mind. “Yes, you have. Should I be thankful for that?” In truth, Thranduil was not always certain that having Mithrandir rely on him and his sons was an entirely good thing. The wizard had not yet asked for anything too outrageous, but Thranduil could not help feeling that one of these days, he would.

Mithrandir laughed and then grew more serious. “I hope that Eilian is back before I must be on my way again. I would like to know what he has learned.”

“You are welcome to stay even after Legolas brings this Gollum back,” Thranduil told him.

“I only hope Legolas is able to bring him back,” said Mithrandir. “Gollum is slippery and cunning.”

Thranduil shrugged. “Legolas is good at leading a group on a search, Mithrandir. He has done it often enough in the border patrols. If he cannot find Gollum, then this is not the time the Valar meant for Gollum to be found.” Given the danger Gollum posed to the unguarded young, Thranduil would not be entirely at ease about him until he was found, but Thranduil was glad that he at least did not have to worry about Legolas’s safety. That Eilian and Sinnarn were venturing into possible danger was enough just now.

“Look, Aunt Alfirin, I can close the gate myself!” piped a welcome voice, and Thranduil put aside all thoughts of the menace of the future in favor of the joys of today. He leaned forward to look down the gravel path and saw Loriel running toward him, with Alfirin and Emmelin trailing behind.

“Here I am, Grandfather!” Loriel cried.

Thranduil laughed and rose to grasp her around the waist and toss her, squealing, into the air. “Good evening,” he greeted Alfirin and Emmelin, gathering his granddaughter in close and savoring the warmth of the small, sturdy body.

“Good evening, Adar, Mithrandir,” said Alfirin, setting down a tray bearing a flagon and cups. She began pouring wine, as Emmelin sat down next to Thranduil.

“Where are your shoes?” Thranduil asked Loriel, sitting down again and settling her on his lap. The child’s feet were bare and filthy.

“I left them somewhere.” Loriel sounded supremely unconcerned.

“I sent someone to look for them,” Alfirin told him, handing him a cup of wine.

Thranduil smothered a smile and turned to Loriel again. “What did you do this afternoon while your naneth met with my council?” Something in Alfirin’s tone told him that the shoes were not going to be easy to find, and he wondered just how far and wide she had roamed.

“I walked in the woods with Emmelin,” Loriel said, leaning back against him. “She knows all the trees here.”

“She does,” Thranduil agreed. “That is why she is one of my foresters.”

“Loriel nearly forgot she was not to go off on her own, but she remembered in time,” said Emmelin, squeezing Loriel’s bare foot.

Thranduil grimaced. He had told them all what Loriel had said about being able to walk far, and they had been keeping a close eye on her. “Good. You were wise to remember, sweetling.” Loriel did not appear to hear him. She was watching in wide-eyed fascination as Mithrandir blew smoke rings that floated away, turned green, and then came to hover over his head.

He turned to find Emmelin smiling at him. “My Grandmother Elowen says to tell you that one of the main reasons to have children is that it is a necessary step to having grandchildren.”

Thranduil laughed. “You may tell her that I find I agree.” He thought that Emmelin’s face turned a bit wistful as she watched Loriel. Thranduil suspected that Emmelin wanted children that Sinnarn was reluctant to have just yet. He thought again of Eilian’s mission and hoped that Sinnarn’s doubts about the peace were not about to be confirmed.

The rattle of the gate announced Ithilden’s arrival. “Good evening,” he said, bending to kiss Alfirin’s cheek.

“Good evening,” they chorused.

Loriel watched him closely. “My ada kisses my nana,” she confided in Thranduil.

“I have seen your ada do that,” Thranduil agreed gravely.

She looked up at him, with her face puckered. “Will Ada come home soon?”

Thranduil sighed. He knew the truthful answer was “Not soon enough to suit you,” but instead he said, “Your ada will come as soon as he can, sweetling.” She continued to look at him for a moment and then turned to watch the tree tops he had been studying earlier. He tightened his arm around her, flooded suddenly by memories both of Eilian as a foolhardy youth and of his Wood-elf wife’s blithe disregard of her own safety. He kissed the top of his granddaughter’s head, grateful for the many adults who could help Celuwen keep an eye on her.


Thranduil walked along the path, watching the fluttering leaves in the treetops. What are they saying? he wondered. No matter how much he strained to hear them, he could not tell.

“I knew you would come,” said a familiar voice. His heart leapt, and he lowered his gaze to see Lorellin sitting on the trunk of a fallen tree, with sunlight piercing the canopy to fall all around her. Something about this scene was familiar, he thought, and then he realized that he had gone to meet Lorellin in the woods like this on the day that Legolas was conceived.

“I have ached for you,” he said, his voice raspy with passion.

She smiled at him. “One of the main reasons to have children is that it is a necessary step to having grandchildren,” she said.

I am dreaming, he thought, but he did not care. Any glimpse of Lorellin was a gift from the Valar. He took a tentative step toward her. But now her smile had vanished.

“I am sorry,” she said, looking at him with compassion in her wide grey eyes. A cold shadow suddenly fell over them, and he looked up to see a black cloud rolling across the sky, blotting out every glimpse of the sky as it came. And then abruptly, the treetops burst into flames.

“Lorellin!” he cried, but she had vanished. And then he lay on his side in his bed, with his heart pounding. For a moment, he could scarcely breathe. He rolled over onto his back to stare at the ceiling. It was dream, he told himself. Only a dream.

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