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The Tide of Times  by daw the minstrel

I borrow characters and situations from Tolkien but they are his. I draw no profit other than the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this for me.


5. Treacherous Ground

“Vilmar asks to see you, my lord,” the aide said.

Ithilden looked up from the dispatch he was writing to his brother Eilian.  “Send him in,” he said, and his father’s chief forester came into the office. “Sit down,” Ithilden said, waving him to a chair.

“My lord,” Vilmar began without preamble, “we have a problem in the forest to the southwest.  Lightning from last night’s storm started a fire there, and it is burning toward one of the settlements.”

With a smothered groan, Ithilden leaned back in his chair. Thranduil’s people did not ordinarily try to stop forest fires. They accepted them as part of the cycle by which the woods were renewed and space was cleared for new growth.  Only when the fire threatened their homes did they did take action.

Ithilden knew that the part of the forest of which Vilmar was speaking constituted a recurring problem for Thranduil; he had certainly heard his father complaining about it often enough.  It was thinly inhabited by settlers who had moved there during the Watchful Peace and now refused to withdraw to safer areas near Thranduil’s stronghold.  They had been deeply affronted when the king had refused to send some of his too few warriors as permanent guards for the settlements. They would certainly expect some action to be taken for their protection now.

“Sérion,” Ithilden called, and the aide appeared in the doorway.  “Send for Siondel,” he instructed, and the aide hurried off to summon the captain of the Home Guard.

Ithilden returned his gaze to Vilmar, who waited patiently with only a hint of amusement in his eyes.  He knew exactly what kind of recurring problem the settlements caused for Ithilden and his father.  “I assume you will want to use Home Guard warriors to fight the fire,” Ithilden said, rather belatedly.

“Yes, my lord,” Vilmar nodded.  “We can muster a half dozen or so foresters, but that will not be enough.”

Ithilden nodded and the two of them waited in a short silence before Siondel appeared in the doorway and put his hand over his heart to salute Ithilden.  “Sit down,” Ithilden instructed and then went on to tell him about the fire. “How many Home Guard warriors could you spare to fight it?” he asked finally.

Siondel thought for a moment.  “I can send perhaps a dozen without spreading the remaining troops too thinly,” he said with some reluctance.

Vilmar frowned. “Is that all?  Five or six more than that would make it much easier to cut a fire break of a sufficient width.”

Siondel held firm. “To send any more would be to leave the Home Guard dangerously shorthanded.”

Ithilden hesitated and then reluctantly said, “In the past, we have sometimes sent the oldest of the novices to fight fires too.”

Siondel looked at him sharply.  “Lómilad would have to agree,” he said, but Ithilden shook his head.

“I would inform the novice master, of course, but this would be my decision,” he said soberly.

Siondel grimaced. His son, Annael, would be among those sent if Ithilden chose this course of action.  Of course, thought Ithilden, so would Legolas.  For a fleeting moment, he was glad that Thranduil was away so that there was no chance he would have to tell his father that he had sent Legolas into the unpredictable situation a fire represented.  Thranduil still tended to be overprotective of his youngest child.

“I would keep the novices as far from the fire as I could, my lord,” Vilmar said gently.  He must have known exactly what was going through the minds of the other two Elves.

Ithilden sighed.  “Very well,” he agreed. “You may have the five oldest novices and the warriors that Siondel can spare.”

“I will go along to command them,” said Siondel firmly.

Ithilden raised an eyebrow at him but said only, “The novices will be under your command too.” He smiled slightly as his captain’s tension obviously eased at the news.  “Vilmar will be directing your actions, of course.”  Siondel nodded.

“We need to be underway within the hour,” Vilmar urged.

“Go,” Ithilden dismissed them and then wrote a brief note that he sent to the novice master.

He turned to his dispatch again, but found himself thinking about Siondel’s reaction to the idea that the oldest novices would be sent into a chancy situation.  When Legolas had asked him last night about being posted to the Southern Patrol, Ithilden knew that he could easily have put an end to what was probably now going to be a recurring argument with his youngest brother.  All he would have had to do was declare that Legolas would be posted to the Home Guard and then forbid any further discussion.  Legolas would not have liked it, but he was enough of a warrior by now that he was unlikely to challenge the decision of his commanding officer.  At least not openly, Ithilden amended wryly, for he had commanded troops for enough time to know that warriors found many ways to try to change the minds of their commanders.

But Ithilden had not made such a declaration because, in truth, he was hesitating about where to send Legolas.  Not that there was any chance he would go south, of course.  And Ithilden still might decide to put him in the Home Guard.  What to do with Legolas was really a secondary problem; the primary problem was what to do with Annael, and Siondel’s reaction to the idea of sending the novices to fight the fire had just confirmed the nature of the problem for Ithilden.  Siondel captained the Home Guard; putting his son under his direct command was probably not a good idea.

Thus Ithilden had been contemplating sending Annael to one of the safer border patrols, the one on the eastern border perhaps or the one to the north.  And if he did that, then he would probably post Legolas to the same patrol.  The two of them had been friends since they were Sinnarn’s age.  They would support one another well as they learned what they would need to know to survive as warriors of the Woodland Realm.

Ithilden grimaced and put the decision aside for another time.  He had enough responsibilities today without having to borrow more from the future.  He turned his attention to the dispatch he was writing to Eilian, which would now have to be sent out immediately by the fastest messenger Ithilden had.  Eilian would need to know about the forest fire and the movement of Elves in the area.  It was possible that Orcs would be attracted by the situation, seeing in it the potential for vulnerability among the fire fighters and the settlers.  Depending on what the Border Patrol was doing, the Southern Patrol might have to assist in guarding it.  Ithilden would let Eilian work that out with the captain of the Border Patrol.  They were both experienced warriors who got along well. He could trust them to do what was needed and keep him informed.

He paused as a sudden thought about the settlement occurred to him.  Then he grinned to himself.  He would wager his new soft leather boots that he would soon be hearing that Eilian had talked the Border Patrol captain into letting the Southern Patrol guard the settlement. Eilian would have made a reasonable argument for the arrangement, of course, but the rationale he offered would have little to do with his real motives.  Ithilden looked forward to hearing the explanation his brother would concoct.


Siondel raised his arm, and the line of warriors ahead of Legolas came to a halt.  Pilin pranced a bit beneath him, and he patted the stallion’s neck and spoke to him softly.  He had known they must be drawing near to the fire because, for the last hour or so, the air had been growing increasingly smoky, blurring the mid-day light and stinging his eyes and his throat.  Moreover, the forest was uneasy here, whispering of death and danger.  Now Legolas could see Siondel consulting with Vilmar, who was gesturing toward an area directly in front of them.  Siondel turned slightly and gave the signal for them all to dismount.

“We will make our camp here,” he called.  “Stow your gear and take care of the horses.”

They all slid to the ground and hastened to obey.  Legolas dropped his bedroll next to Annael’s, and Elrál, Tinéldor, and Elun joined them.  The five of them had hardly been able to believe their luck when Lómilad had approached the practice fields the previous afternoon and taken them out of Maldor’s clutches with orders to get ready to go on this mission with fully-fledged warriors.  Granted, they would be fighting fire rather than Orcs, but the mission was still the most exhilarating event Legolas could recall happening in a long time.  And truth be told, after the previous night’s encounter with Synia, he was happy to be going where he would have no chance of running into her.  They had ridden through the night and apparently had now reached their destination.

He looked around to find that Siondel and Vilmar were talking to two Elves he had never seen before.  He assumed they must be from the settlement that was supposed to be somewhere nearby.  They were agitated, and Siondel seemed to be reassuring them. Finally, the conversation seemed to be over, and he gestured for the group of warriors, foresters, and novices to gather.  The two Elves from the settlement stood nearby to listen as Vilmar gave them their instructions.

“The fire is still some distance in front of us,” he said, “and we are fortunate, because there is little wind and it is moving slowly.  We are going to advance to a stream that is between the settlement and the fire and cut the trees on this side of the stream. Together, the stream bed and the cut area should leave the fire nothing to burn and turn it aside from the homes of the settlers.”  He looked them all over soberly.  “You need to stay alert, though.  Fire is unpredictable; it is possible that we will not have time to clear an area that is wide enough, for instance, and that the fire will leap across it through the tree tops.”

Legolas suddenly felt much more somber.  Perhaps there were worse things than standing on his hands in a field in the pale spring sunshine.

“Make sure your water skins are full, because you are going to be thirsty,” Vilmar told them. Then he gestured toward a pile of axes that had been unloaded from one of the horses.  “Everyone take an axe and then follow me.”  They each took one of the sharp tools and set out toward the stream.

As he emerged from the woods, Legolas saw that Elves were already at work cutting trees here.  They must be from the settlement, he realized.  Directly in front of him, a maiden was wielding an axe on a tall oak tree, with the sleeves of her gown rolled up to her elbows.  He puzzled for a moment over her filthy face, and then something fluttered down and settled on his sleeve, and when he tried to brush it off, it smeared.  The smoke had become thicker as they approached the stream, and it dawned on him that soot was sifting down and blackening everything around him.

“Over here,” Vilmar directed and led Legolas and Annael along the edge of the streambed. The stream itself was not very wide, but over the years, it had cut a gully that was a good ten feet across and would make the basis of the fire break they were going to create.  “Cut as many of these trees as you can,” the forester said grimly.  “Make sure they fall away from the streambed.  We will get the horses to help drag them clear.”  Then he shepherded the other novices a bit further along and set them to work too.

Legolas glanced at Annael, who was already approaching a beech tree, and then hefted his own axe and eyed the tree nearest him.  “Forgive me,” he thought, touching the tree lightly with his fingertips, and then he backed off and swung the axe to begin making the undercut that would help him control the direction of the tree’s fall.

He had felled trees before, although he had not done it often, and he worked rapidly now, cutting a wedge from one side of the tree and then moving around to make the back cut on the other side.  When the tree began to shudder, he took one more cautious swing and then, as the tree toppled, he moved away and shouted “Falling!”  The Elves around him looked up at the warning, but the tree fell away from them, and they returned to their tasks. Dragging his sleeve across his already sweaty forehead, Legolas started immediately toward the next tree.  They did not know how long the fire would take to reach them, and they needed as long and wide a fire break as they could create.

The next few hours passed in an increasingly unfocused blur.  The smoke grew ever thicker so that his throat became sore and his eyes stung and ran with tears. Soot settled on everything.  Legolas caught glimpses of Annael’s blackened, sweat-streaked face and knew that his own face must look much the same.  Moreover, while he had thought that weapons training had left his arms and shoulders strong and his hands calloused, he found that whatever he had been doing had taken different muscles than he was using now.  Each blow of his axe against the tree jarred all the way up his aching arms, and blisters gradually formed on his palms. And always, the forest’s rising cry of pain and loss sounded in his heart.

The air grew warmer, but when he stripped off his sweat soaked tunic, Vilmar immediately appeared at his side with orders to put it on again.  “If the fire fools us, you want something protecting your skin, even if it is only a tunic,” he declared, and Legolas grimaced and pulled the garment on.

He was more than ready to stop by the time Siondel declared that it was too dark to continue working in safety.  He dragged his way back to their camp, swallowed the food put in front of him, and then stumbled to his bedroll. He was asleep almost before his head touched the ground.

Vilmar woke them at first light.  Legolas washed off as much of the previous day’s grime as he could in the tiny stream near their camp and ate some of the porridge that had been boiled in the cauldron over their campfire.  Then he pulled bandaging from his pack and was beginning the clumsy process of binding his own blistered hands when Annael approached with his own roll of bandaging and held out his damaged palms for Legolas’s inspection.

“Shall we trade?” he offered with a grin.  Legolas grinned back at him and the two of them exchanged care and then picked up their axes and followed their companions to start another round of the same grueling work.

When they reached the streambed, Legolas was surprised to see an Elf he did not know emerging from the trees on the other side.  The Elf, who was presumably from the settlement, slid down the side of the streambed, waded through the water, and then scrambled up the near side, where Siondel, Vilmar, and the two Elves who seemed to be leaders of the settlement waited for him.  He must have been scouting the current state of the fire, Legolas realized.  He had heard his father make occasional exasperated remarks about the settlement Elves, but he had been impressed by the way they had all turned out to defend their homes.

When the conference was finished, Vilmar set Legolas and Annael to work felling trees near where Elrál, Tinéldor, and Elun were using some of the horses to clear a deadfall, a tangled pile of dead trees that had accumulated in a small hollow near the stream.  “Have you tried using Pilin for this?” Legolas asked curiously as he paused at one point to catch his breath and found Elrál nearby doing the same thing.

Elrál rolled his eyes.  “You will be interested to know that Pilin objects to dragging dead trees. Indeed, he objects rather violently.”

Legolas laughed. “That does not surprise me,” he admitted.  “Be careful with the deadfall.  That kind of pile up can be treacherous to climb around on.”  Elrál nodded and he and Legolas both turned to their assigned tasks.

Legolas had been cutting trees for what seemed like hours when someone touched him lightly on the shoulder, and he turned and, to his amazement, found his brother Eilian grinning at him.  “Mae govannen, brat,” Eilian said.  “You are incredibly filthy.”  And then ignoring the soot that was transferred from Legolas’s clothes to his, he drew his younger brother into an embrace.

“What are you doing here?” Legolas asked, somewhat dazed by this unexpected apparition.

“The Southern Patrol is guarding the perimeter of the area,” Eilian told him.  “We would not want Orcs to take advantage of you while you are busy playing in the dirt.”  He looked around the area.  “Where is Siondel?”  Legolas pointed in the direction where he had last seen Annael’s father, and Eilian clapped him on the shoulder. “I will see you again later,” he promised and set off to speak to Siondel.  Legolas stared after him for a moment and then, with a half smile, turned back to his work.  At least something good has happened today, he thought.  He sorely missed Eilian and would treasure whatever time they could spend together later.

As the day wore on, the scene at the streambed grew increasingly confused, the hazy air obscuring his view of laboring Elves, struggling horses, and falling trees.  He paused to take a long, lukewarm drink from his water skin.  Something moved in the trees on the other side of the stream, and then, to Legolas’s amazement, a large stag came into sight.  It hesitated for only a second at the sight of the Elves and then gathered itself and leapt across the streambed.  It landed so close to Legolas that he could have touched it, and then it bounded away into the forest.  The fire must have driven it out, he realized, staring after it.

“Falling!” called Annael’s, and he turned to see the tree that Annael had been felling dropping away from the stream, crashing through trees they still had not cut.  The branches tangled together, and the falling tree caught for a moment and then continued its downward plunge. Suddenly, Legolas realized that in its descent, the tree had dislodged a large dead branch from the still standing tree and that the branch was plummeting straight toward him.

Alarmed, Legolas kept his eyes on the falling branch as he jumped frantically to one side and realized too late that he had jumped toward the deadfall.  His foot plunged through the accumulated dead limbs and caught there, sending him sprawling awkwardly into the pile.  He had time only to feel the pain in his right foot before something hit him hard across the upper back and, almost simultaneously, hot agony exploded from the back of his head. Then he slipped away into darkness.


“Eilian!” called Siondel.  At the sound of the other captain’s tense call, Eilian paused in mounting his horse and turned to see what the matter was.  “Come!” urged Siondel, his dismay written large on his face. “Something has happened to Legolas.”

Eilian’s heart stopped beating for a moment and then resumed with wild acceleration.  “What is it?” he demanded.

“Come,” Siondel repeated, and Eilian followed him as he ran toward where Legolas had been working.

They arrived on the scene to find Vilmar directing Elves as they tried to shift a newly fallen large tree branch off a deadfall of old wood.  It took Eilian a moment to see the blond hair through the branches and realize that Legolas was caught in the deadfall.  With an incoherent cry, he leapt forward only to have Vilmar catch him by the arm.

“Be careful, my lord,” he warned.  “The deadfall is unstable.  We do not want to cause anything else to fall on him.”

Eilian turned frantically, looking to where Home Guard warriors had tied ropes to the fallen tree limb and then to the neck of one of the horses.  Siondel was with them now, and with a soft call, he urged the horse forward.  The animal strained against the weight and then with painful slowness, the limb began to move.  But when it had been cleared away, Eilian could see that Legolas was still in trouble.  He seemed to be unconscious, for his eyes were closed, and his foot was twisted beneath him, caught between pieces of the deadfall.

Eilian jumped forward again and began to grab pieces of the deadfall and drag them to one side.  Again, Vilmar intervened, waving other Elves toward them to help.  With every bit of self discipline Eilian possessed, he forced himself to listen to the forester as he selected which fallen wood was to be moved in what order.  With what seemed like unbearable deliberation, they worked their way carefully toward Legolas until, at last, he was free, and, assisted by Annael, Eilian slid his brother’s limp form onto a clear, grassy spot.

“Is he all right?” Annael asked frantically. “I am so sorry.”

“It was not your fault,” Eilian said as steadily as he could, and Siondel came up to put his arm around Annael’s shoulders and draw his son way.

“Let me see,” ordered one of the settlement Elves, and he first lifted each of Legolas’s eyelids to peer into his eyes and then slid his hands gently over his body.  “Give me a knife,” he ordered, and when Eilian handed his dagger over, he slit Legolas’s right boot and carefully removed it.  A raised, rapidly bruising area was visible along the outer edge of the foot.  “I think it is broken,” the Elf said.  He looked up at Eilian.  “This is your brother?”

Unable to speak, Eilian nodded. This was indeed his little brother.

“We will take him to the settlement, my lord,” the Elf said. “He will be well cared for, I promise you.  And with all of you working here, the settlement is still safe, at least for now.”

Eilian hesitated.  He wanted Legolas completely away from any danger at all. Indeed, he wanted him home in his bed.  But he knew that it was unwise to move him very far until he regained consciousness and they could assess his injuries better.  “Very well,” Eilian agreed, feeling as if he were choking.

“I will go too,” Annael declared, but Siondel caught his arm again. 

“Your duty lies here,” he said gently. “You need to go back to work, Annael.”  Eilian could see Annael waver and then draw a deep breath and accept his father’s counsel.   Siondel patted his shoulder reassuringly.

The settlement Elf rose with Legolas in his arms, and Eilian had a sudden vision of Thranduil carrying a very small Legolas off to bed.  What would he tell their father if Legolas did not wake up? he thought in sudden despair.

He watched until the Elf carrying Legolas had disappeared into the trees.  Behind him, he could hear Siondel ordering the warriors and novices back to work.  Like Annael, he longed to follow after Legolas, but he knew that he needed to check on his own warriors first.  Orcs had been seen not far away and his first obligation was to make sure that these people were safe from the enemy as they worked to make the settlement safe from the fire. He stood for a moment, feeling the weight of obligations that sometimes left so little room for personal choices that he felt as if his life had all been given away.

Reluctantly, he returned to where his horse was patiently waiting.  He mounted and set off through the smoky afternoon air to answer the call of duty.  He would wait to go to see Legolas until he was finished.  And who else are you hoping to see? asked his treacherously undutiful heart, but he pushed that thought aside with guilty haste.


AN:  I planned the forest fire in this chapter before the fires in California blew up.  I have never seen a forest fire and know that my ignorance must now be showing to those of you who have been living through them.  Be gentle!

As always, I cannot thank readers and reviewers enough.  It’s enormously gratifying to me to know that people are enjoying this story.

WhiteWolf:  Sinnarn is dark-haired like both his father and mother. And like his Uncle Eilian too, to whom he bears an unfortunate resemblance in all ways!

Frodo3791:  I love dogs. Puppies are wonderful, but it’s like having a baby.  I think that Legolas really knows he hasn’t room in his life for a true romance right now, but he likes the company of girls anyway. I read somewhere that both men and women say they prefer talking to women.

Legolas4me:  I think that Legolas is at a tough spot in his life. I think transitions are often hard and he’s at a big one.  And you’re right, Synia more or less proved that Legolas was right to dump her.

Nikki1:  Not so many confrontations in this chapter, I think, unless you count the confrontation with the fire.  I hope you enjoyed it anyway.

Dragon-of-the-north:  Oh you have been so busy with your own and Treehugger’s wonderful story (“The Silver Peacock and the Skulking Cutpurse,” folks. Read it. It’s a pure gift).  I think that Maldor has his students’ interests at heart, really.  He wants them to survive.  And Synia is much worse than Miriwen, in my opinion, but then, I liked Miriwen. ;-)

Feanen:  Maldor is a slave driver and I would not want to be one of his students.  But he means well, I think.  He just believes that his students will have to be tough to survive.

Naneth:  It is sad that Legolas thinks girls are attracted by who he is.  I mean for him to be very unassuming, but I think he’s going to have to get more confident if he is ever going to command troops.

JastaElf:  Elrond and Thranduil do seem to need our help!  I like the idea of whacking their head together until their circlets lock. Then they could be left that way until they sort things out. Or fight to the death, I guess.

Nilmandra: I think “selfish” sums Synia up well. She just doesn’t even see anyone else’s agenda as existing, much less as being of any importance.

Meckinock:  As I say, that was the best non-review I have ever gotten!  Thank you for taking the time to tell me you liked what you saw.

Jay of Lasgalen:  Thranduil and Elrond do have lots in common and they’re on the same side, so why is it so hard for them to get together?  It’s puzzling actually.

Brenda G: The hardest part of writing about the council is trying to imagine how all of these people who are top dog in their home territory would react to one another. Who would defer? What would they each put up with?  Elrond apparently draws the line at his sons (which I would guess Thranduil would too, actually).

Jambaby1963:  Welcome back!  I don’t think that Ithilden would be surprised to know that Legolas is writing to Eilian.  He’d wait to see whether Eilian joined in the fight before he got mad.

Alice:  Thranduil does seem to be doing better than Elrond but his wife has been dead for 40 years and Celebrian sailed 19 years ago.  Maybe those time differences don’t mean anything to an elf, but I thought they might.  You wished for Eilian, and here he is.

The Karenator:  Thinking about whether his family is a targeted group certainly gives Thranduil an excuse to be overprotective, doesn’t it?  Elves’ minds are supposed to be in control of their bodies, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing to control!  Poor Legolas.

Tapetum Lucidum:  “It is good for him to get knocked down every once in a while.”  I’m not sure Legolas would agree with that!  And sometimes it does seem as if Legolas has no one to talk to. I think the fact that his home life and work life get mixed together is a problem.  I have planned answers to two of your three questions in this story.  ;-)

LOTR Faith: I think Synia would have made him unhappy eventually. She’s pretty self-centered and seems to have no idea of Legolas’s obligations and values. And I think she might have found being Thranduil’s daughter-in-law was more than she bargained for.

Erunyauve:  I was very interested in your speculations over Legolas’s temperament and whether he is suited for the Southern Patrol.  He might find it hard, I agree.  I also liked your assessment of the different senses of time between Elrond and Thranduil. That’s what the story title is supposed to refer to actually, that and the stopping of time the rings cause.

JustMe:  You are so right. Thranduil would go ballistic if he thought Ithilden was sending Legolas south, and Ithilden has never had any intention of doing it.   He is still the baby, so far as Thranduil is concerned especially.

Molly:  Maldor does not appreciate being disagreed with and asks you to please report to the training fields at dawn tomorrow. ;-) (Actually I put in the “please” part.)

Lily:  Oh yes, poor Synia in a way. I suspect she went home and kicked herself for a while. That had to hurt.

Lera:  Most of my novice exercises I find by browsing the internet, actually.  I personally liked the thought of muscular young elves dressed only in their leggings as they sweated away.  Ahem.  And I am pleased that Ithilden is turning out to be a good ada, at least of an elfling.  I think he might have more trouble with an adolescent.  He is too much like his own father.

Antigone Q:  I use a name generator I downloaded from the internet.  Supposedly, it uses “rules” to form Elven names and that’s where I get all of my minor characters’ names. The major ones I create from a Sindarin/English dictionary, but it would take too long to do everyone that way.  Anyway, this name generator apparently glitched with Synia because you are not the first one to ask me where in Arda it came from.

Dot:  Of course, I wasn’t offended.  How could I be when you give such thoughtful reviews?  You ask for Eilian and I produced him!  Elrond and Thranduil will be back next chapter.  They have so much in common, but they can’t seem to connect.  They are very different temperamentally, I think.

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