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When Shadow Touches Home  by daw the minstrel

Disclaimer:  I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien but they belong to him.  I gain no profit from their use other than the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.

AN:  The story notification bots at were not working when I posted Chapter 3 last Friday, so if you depend on them to know I updated, you may have missed the chapter.


4. Serving the Realm

Ithilden ducked and felt the faint breeze created by the Orc's sword whistling just a finger's width over his head.  Then, coming up from his crouch, he shoved the tip of his own sword into the Orc's belly, just below the bottom edge of his chest armor, and drove it home.  With a startled look, the Orc grunted and then his knees began to buckle, and Ithilden wrenched the sword free and spun to search for his next opponent.  As had happened repeatedly during this night's battle, he found Maltanaur at his back, struggling with yet another of the Orcs who had made up the large band that Todith's scouts had found attacking a party of Dwarves who were camped near the road that ran through the forest.  Ithilden stepped in quickly to dispatch this Orc too and moved off as the Orc collapsed almost on top of the older warrior.

Years of command led him to scan the battleground to assess what was happening and see if he needed to direct warriors into some new action.  Orcs were beginning to scatter under the joint assault of the Elves and Dwarves.  He could see Todith off to his left shouting orders to his warriors and the members of Ithilden's staff who had joined in the fight, but he could not hear him over the clash of weapons and the shouts of Elves, Dwarves, and Orcs.  Between Ithilden and Todith, a group of four dwarves were swinging two-handed axes with a savage strength that Ithilden could not help but be impressed by.  In the brief seconds during which Ithilden scanned them, one of them clove through an Orc's armor and the Orc itself, pouring yet more blood onto the defiled floor of the forest. Ithilden turned and beckoned to the Elven warriors near him.

"Into the trees," he called.  "Get ahead of their retreat and take them out!"  He set an example by sheathing his sword, leaping into the trees, and moving as rapidly as he could in the direction that most of the fleeing Orcs were taking.  He stopped, seized his bow, nocked an arrow, and began firing at the Orcs who were now running into his line of fire.  Responding to his command, other Elves had taken up positions around him and were firing too.  Maltanaur leapt onto a branch across from him, raised his bow almost casually, and sent an arrow into an Orc's throat.

The stream of Orcs began to thin, slow, and then stop.  The sounds of battle gradually died away, leaving only the groans of the wounded and dying.  Followed by the other Elves who had been trying to stem the Orcs' retreat, Ithilden made his way back to the main battleground, checking along the way for any sign of wounded Elves or Dwarves.  He found one Elf from the Southern Patrol lying on the ground under an oak tree, clutching at his thigh from which an Orc arrow protruded.  He sent two of the Elves following him to the ground to tend to the wounded warrior and continued to the Dwarven camp that had been the main battle site.

The Dwarves had opened their packs and were grimly tending to their wounded.  To one side, two form lay, covered in Dwarven cloaks.  Ithilden flinched at the sight.  We were too late, he thought unhappily.  Todith was moving about between the trees, bending over the Elven wounded and calling orders to warriors who were tending them.  Ithilden dropped from the trees to the ground and approached him.

"What is the toll?" he asked crisply.

Todith grimaced.  "Two of the Dwarves are dead," he reported, "and many are wounded.  We have all survived, but we have taken more wounded than usual.  At least six are hurt, I think.  Two of the injuries look serious."

"There is another back some distance the way I came," Ithilden told him. "I left warriors tending to him, but he has an arrow in his thigh, and it probably should come out before he is moved back to our camp."

Todith nodded.  "Sórion oversees the treatment of our wounded," he said, indicating his lieutenant, who was binding a wound in the shoulder of one of Ithilden's aides.  "Tell him where you saw the injured warrior."  He moved off toward where other warriors were improvising a litter from branches and cloaks and preparing to move an Elf with a deep sword wound in his side.

Ithilden stopped to speak to Sórion and then approached the nearest Dwarf and asked after their leader.  The Dwarf silently pointed to a broad figure who was evidently cleaning a cut in another Dwarf's arm.  The Dwarven leader rose just as Ithilden approached him.

"I am sorry for your losses," Ithilden told him.  "Is there aught we can do for your wounded?"

"There is naught you can do for us at all," the Dwarf spoke angrily, "unless you can manage to keep the Orcs from the road.  How can we carry out our trade if you Elves cannot control what lurks in your forest?"

"Do you think we are not making every effort to control the Orcs?" Ithilden asked sharply.

"What has happened here tonight shows that whatever efforts you are making are not succeeding," the Dwarf snapped.

Ithilden bit his tongue to keep from snapping back.  Unfortunately the Dwarf was only too right, for Ithilden had so far been helpless to keep evil creatures from spreading.  If he did not find a way to keep the Orcs from the road, it soon would become too dangerous to travel, and that would seriously limit trade and any other kind of interchange between those west and east of the Misty Mountains.

"If you do not need our aid," he said stiffly, "then we will be returning to our own camp as soon as our wounded are ready to move."  The Dwarf nodded gruffly and returned to caring for his own people.

Ithilden scanned the scene before him.  The battle had been unusually bloody, for the Orc band had been large and the Elves and Dwarves had been badly outnumbered.  Todith had always preferred to keep the Southern Patrol small, but Ithilden did not believe he was going to be able to continue operating that way, not with the increased Orc activity the area had seen in the last year.  The Southern Patrol needed more warriors, and indeed if Ithilden had had the foresight to assign them, tonight's toll might not have been so high. He wiped his hand wearily across his forehead and grimaced when he realized that the hand was sticky with black blood.  Then he moved to do what he could for his own wounded in preparation for taking them back to their camp.


Sórion straightened up from his crouch near the badly wounded Elf and came over to where Ithilden and Todith sat waiting and sipping tea in weary silence.  Warriors were gradually settling to sleep around them, but neither Ithilden nor Todith had felt able to rest until they knew the extent of the injuries.

"Tinedë, at least, is going to have to be taken home where the real healers can treat him," Sórion told them.  "That wound is deep.  I am less sure about Hárith.  I may be able to manage caring for him here if he can be kept quiet for a week or so. I will know better in the morning."

"Very well," Todith told him.  "We should all get some sleep. It has been a long night."

Ithilden could not have agreed more, and he threw himself down on his blankets believing himself so exhausted that he would sleep immediately, but his mind kept running about, trying to find some pattern in the Orc movements he had seen and had reports of in the last months.

He had been over and over these reports by himself and with Todith.  Orcs moved sometimes in large bands, sometimes in small.  Sometimes they seemed to be traveling west or north, but sometimes, they simply drifted, seeming to have no fixed destination at all. Wargs and giant spiders seemed to increasing in number too, but the area where they were likely to appear was more predictable, for they were clearly spreading north from the twisted shades of Dol Guldur.  It was the Orcs who seemed to appear in places where the Elves did not anticipate their being, and thus it was the Orcs who were doing the most damage.  The grey light of dawn was creeping into the eastern sky before Ithilden finally drifted off.

When he woke, the sun was high. He stretched and then rose stiffly, nursing the several bumps and bruises he had gained in the previous night's battle.  He approached the campfire where several warriors squatted, sipping tea and chewing venison left over from the previous day's evening meal.  Maltanaur was among them, and he offered food and drink.  Ithilden accepted and considered some of what he had observed during the battle as he ate.  When he had finished, he rose and said, "Walk with me, Maltanaur.  I would speak with you." The warrior next to Maltanaur looked curious, presumably at Ithilden's imperious tone, but Maltanaur merely complied with Ithilden's request.

"Were you, by any chance, watching my back during last night's battle?" Ithilden asked without preface.

"Indeed, my lord," Maltanaur answered serenely. "Warriors do watch one another's backs, and I was watching yours."

"I am asking if you were watching mine in particular," Ithilden said sharply, "in the way that my adar asked you to watch my brother's."

"The king did indeed order me to watch his son's back," Maltanaur admitted, "and Eilian is not here."

Ithilden looked at him in astonishment. "Are you being flippant with me?" he demanded.  "I would remind you that you are speaking to your prince and your commander."

Maltanaur looked unfazed.  "I mean no disrespect, my lord," he maintained, "but my orders come from my king."

Ithilden's mouth dropped open. It had been a long time since a warrior had dared to brush off his ire so easily. Other than Eilian, of course, he reminded himself. Indeed, the last time had probably been just before he reassigned the warrior whom Thranduil had appointed to be Ithilden's body guard.  Nithron had held that position from the time Ithilden became a warrior until he became commander of the Woodland Realm's forces and decided that a warrior of Nithron's skill was wasted in such a role. Thranduil had raged at the decision, but Ithilden had held firm and, in the end, his father had not wanted to undercut his command.  Nithron had rather frequently ignored Ithilden's expressions of annoyance, a fact that had been added to his skill in motivating Ithilden's decision to reassign him.

"Then perhaps you will enjoy the opportunity to speak with your king when I send you to escort the wounded home," he finally snapped.

Maltanaur smiled at him indulgently. "I do not think so, my lord," he replied.  "The king told me to ignore any effort his son might make to dismiss me."

"You know perfectly well that he was referring to Eilian!" Ithilden cried, glaring at him.

Maltanaur's expression became unreadable.  "I believe that you need me, my lord," he said.  "You ask a great deal of yourself, and someone needs to make sure that you do not ask too much.  The king would not forgive me if I let you come to harm when he had already lost so much."

Ithilden felt a sharp stab of pain at the reminder of his father's loss, but before he could reply, the sound of a rapidly approaching horse reached them, and they turned to find one of Ithilden's messengers entering the camp.  He slid from his horse, scanned the campsite for Ithilden, and started toward them.

He put his hand over his heart in salute, and then presented Ithilden with his packet of messages.  "My lord," he said, "I am sorry to be overlong in getting these to you, but I did not know that the Southern Patrol had moved camp again."

Ithilden nodded and accepted the packet.  When he was on the move through the Realm, messages came to him and went elsewhere in a complicated system of messengers and signals. As the effects of the shadow spread more widely through the Realm, this system was becoming harder to maintain. Ithilden knew that Thranduil believed he would soon have to stay home and control his troops from one place, and he recognized the wisdom of that move, but he also believed that he needed to see for himself what was happening.  It made him very nervous to rely on the judgments of others, even his own seasoned and well-trained captains.

He glanced at Maltanaur. "We will continue this conversation later," he said in his sternest voice. The older warrior bowed calmly, much to Ithilden's irritation.  Ithilden carried the packet to the large rock he had been using as a makeshift desk and began to sort through its contents. They were mostly messages from the captains of the border patrols and the Home Guard, letting him know what had occurred in the time since their last report. He frowned over them and then pulled a well-worn map from the pack that lay near his bed roll.

Todith approached him.  "We are sending the two most seriously wounded warriors home," he said.

"Very well," said Ithilden, not raising his eyes from his map.  "Send Maltanaur as one of their escorts."

Todith hesitated and Ithilden looked up at him questioningly.  "My lord," Todith said, "when an escort is needed, it is customary to send home those who have been in the south the longest.  The shadow weighs on the minds of those who stay here for long."

Ithilden had known that but forgotten.  He had actually served in the Southern Patrol when he was younger, before the years of the Watchful Peace.  He had felt the oppression of the shadow himself and knew how important it was to escape occasionally.  "Very well," he said reluctantly.  He would deal with Maltanaur himself.  He turned his attention back to the map.  "When you have them underway, come back and look at this with me," he said.  "I want to try to make sense of this one more time."

Todith bowed, left, and quickly returned to the sound of horses moving carefully with a litter suspended between them.  Ithilden did not watch the departure of the wounded.  He was already well aware of what wounded warriors looked like.  He had seen too many of them.

Together, he and Todith looked at the map.  On it, Ithilden had marked every reported sighting of Orcs in the last two months. When he had the information, he had also marked the size of the band and the direction in which they had been traveling. He now added information from the reports he had just received and then straightened to look at the marks.

"Where is the pattern?" he asked urgently. "Why can I not see it?"

"Last night's battle suggests that perhaps they are trying to close Dwarf Road," Todith suggested tentatively.

"I can well believe that," Ithilden answered, "but that does not explain these large bands headed west nor those that turn up in seemingly random spots north of the road.  Those bother me, for some of them are entirely too close to settlements."

They stood looking at the map in silence for a moment. Then Ithilden spoke slowly.  "Perhaps they have several goals," he said.  "Closing the road, for instance, but also something else, driving out the settlements, for instance."

"And the ones moving west?" Todith asked.

Ithilden shook his head. "I do not know," he said.  "Perhaps they are joining the Orcs in the Misty Mountains. We know they are present there in ever increasing numbers."  He studied the map with an increasing sense of despair.  He simply did not have enough warriors to hold back the kind of invasion he was now picturing.  He would never be able to protect the inhabitants of his father's realm from the evil that now seemed to be bearing down upon them.


Eilian finished a sweep of his part of the area north of the Forest River and returned to the place near the beech tree where he was to meet Gelmir.  In a repetition of what he had found on every patrol since he had returned home, he had sensed no danger during his sweep.  He marveled anew at how the area around his father's stronghold could be so secure while only thirty or forty leagues to the south, Orcs and giant spiders lived amidst the twisted, darkened remnants of Greenwood the Great.

He was glad that his home was secure, of course, but he found patrolling it to be unspeakably monotonous.  There were times when he felt that he would burst if he could not somehow act against the evil that he knew was growing. He simply was not cut out to wait patiently for it to come to him, and he hoped it never would get this close to his home anyway.  At least Deler had not assigned him to palace guard duty, he thought. That would have been truly unbearable!

Gelmir emerged from the trees to his right.  "Did you find anything?" Eilian asked.

Gelmir snorted.  "There was more excitement at last night's meeting of my naneth's knitting circle."

Eilian laughed.  "Then I think we are done for the day," he said, and the two of them began to walk back toward the Home Guard's headquarters to report in.

"Will you be coming to the grove tonight then?" Eilian asked.  The grove was nothing more than a clearing in the trees where younger Elves gathered to drink wine and dance in the starlight.  Older Elves were often a bit suspicious of the place because their children met there on their own, and it was true that the wine flowed more freely there than it did in most Elven homes and that the wagering that all Elves enjoy was sometimes carried out there with very high stakes.  Eilian had passed many evenings there since his return home, avoiding his father and seeking a bit more excitement than could be found in Thranduil's palace.

"Yes," Gelmir responded. "My naneth seems to think that if I have evening meal with her, she can then do without me."

Eilian had at first felt guilty that his actions had been the cause of Gelmir too being reassigned to the Home Guard, but Gelmir had assured him that his parents were only too glad that he was home.  His father was a warrior who had recently been transferred from the Home Guard to the Border Patrol, and his mother had been feeling lonely.  And it turned out that Gelmir himself was happy to spend some time closer to home.  He apparently felt less need for the excitement of the Southern Patrol than Eilian did.

They walked in companionable silence through the fading sunshine of the late afternoon and drew in sight of the low building housing the Home Guard.  Deler sat just inside the doorway, listening to reports and making sure that the warriors who would be on night patrol knew where their assigned areas were. "All quiet," Eilian told him.

"Good," Deler nodded and sent Eilian and Gelmir on their way home.  Eilian rather suspected that Deler had, at first, been as unenthusiastic about Eilian's new posting as he was.  Eilian had served six months in the Home Guard when he first became a warrior, and the experience had not been a good one for either one of them, for Eilian had let his boredom lead him into occasional carelessness while on duty and intemperate language to his captain.  He believed that he had learned something about being a warrior since then and was trying to be responsible about his duties, tedious though they were, and find an outlet elsewhere for his love of excitement and the tension that occasionally made him touchy.  Deler seemed to be cautiously deciding that Eilian was trustworthy, and for that, at least, Eilian was grateful.  He did not need to have this captain angry with him too.  His previous captain, father and older brother were quite enough.

He and Gelmir parted with promises to meet later, and then Eilian went home to bathe and dress for evening meal.  He found Thranduil and Legolas already in the small dining room.

"Eilian!" Legolas cried happily.  "I knew you were coming."

"I promised I would," Eilian told him, dropping a kiss on his little brother's forehead and then taking his own seat.  Legolas extracted such a promise from Eilian every day at morning meal, or he probably would not have been in such regular attendance at his father's table.  "Good evening, Adar," he told Thranduil politely. The servants began placing food on the table. "How was your day?"

Thranduil shrugged.  "I spent most of it with a delegation from one of the settlements to the southwest.  They have been having occasional problems, and they want us to send troops to protect them."  Eilian noticed that his father was careful not to specify the nature of the problems in front of Legolas, but they both knew he meant Orcs.

Eilian was immediately interested.  "Are you going to send them?" he asked.

Thranduil shook his head. "I do not see how we can defend all the small settlements and homesteads scattered through the forest," he said.  "I believe the Elves living in them are going to have to move nearer the palace."  A portion of Thranduil's people had moved further away from his stronghold during the Watchful Peace, sometimes drawn to parts of the forest where they had been born or lived previously and sometimes simply giving in to their love of roaming the woods. Eilian had heard his father say before that he thought they would have to draw back now.  The thought of Elves being driven from the forest made him angry.

"I played with Turgon today," Legolas piped up from across the table. Thranduil and Eilian both turned their attention to him.  So far as Eilian could tell, he had eaten very little of what was in front of him.  Eilian had been surprised by and grateful for the patience his father was showing over Legolas's eating habits.  Eilian himself remembered once being served a bowl of porridge for mid-day meal that he had refused to eat in the morning.  "Annael's nana would not let him play with us," Legolas went on, "but we played Orcs again."

"What did you do when you were Orcs?" Thranduil asked Legolas, sounding apprehensive.

Legolas suddenly looked very guilty, and Eilian had to bury a laugh behind his napkin when his father threw him a warning glance.  "We chased squirrels," Legolas offered, looking at Thranduil hopefully.

"And what else?" Thranduil asked wearily.

"We made a fire," Legolas said in a small voice.  Thranduil and Eilian both gaped at him, and Eilian no longer found his brother's antics funny.

"What did you burn?" Thranduil asked in a tight voice.

"Some leaves," said Legolas, beginning to look resentful of the questions.

"How many leaves?" his father demanded.

"Not many," Legolas answered sullenly, his eyes on his plate.  "Annael's nana came and put the fire out, and then she said that Annael could not play any more."

Thranduil put his fork down and addressed himself to his youngest son while Eilian watched unhappily.  "Legolas," he said firmly, "you know better than to play with fire.  Fire is very dangerous, both for you and for the forest."  He paused, as if waiting for Legolas to acknowledge the truth of what he said but was met with only silence.  He gave an exasperated sigh and continued, "You will go to bed immediately after evening meal tonight, and you will not play with Turgon for a week. Do you understand me?"

Legolas kept his eyes fixed on his meal and then, to the astonishment of both his father and brother, he let out a low growl.

"Do not growl at me!" Thranduil snapped.  Legolas poked at his food with his fork and said nothing.  They ate the rest of their meal in silence.

"I will be going out this evening, Adar," Eilian said as they were finishing.

Thranduil frowned at him but said nothing.  Eilian had to acknowledge that, once he had come of age, Thranduil had never stopped him from pursuing his own amusements, but he had also never been reticent about showing his disapproval at some of them.  Eilian felt a flash of resentment.  He was serving the Realm faithfully in the Home Guard.  Surely he had earned the right to do as he liked when he was not on duty.

He rose and went around the table to hug a sulking Legolas. "Good night, little one," he murmured, kissing him on the top of the head. "I will see you in the morning."

Legolas stretched to brush a quick answering kiss on Eilian's cheek, but the look on his face was still so angry that Eilian was startled.  Of course, these days Eilian felt angry enough himself at the losses he had suffered, so he supposed it was not surprising that Legolas did too.  He straightened. "By your leave, Adar," he said, and at Thranduil's nod, he left the room.


The walk along the river toward the grove was pleasant this evening.  Eilian and Gelmir were in no hurry and occasionally stopped to listen to the music being played and sung in various small groups of Elves along the way.

"Eilian!" called a voice from one of the groups, and Eilian turned to see a slender, dark-haired maiden running gracefully toward him.

"Celuwen!" he cried in surprise and then drew her into a laughing hug.  "What are you doing here?  I thought you and your family were still living in the settlement."

"We are," she assured him, "but my adar is worried about Orc activity in the area, so when a delegation was coming here to speak to your adar, he took the opportunity to send my naneth and me to live with my uncle for a while." She peered around him. "Hello, Gelmir," she smiled.

"Hello, Celuwen," he responded with a grin.  "It is good to see you."

"I am surprised that you two are here, too," she said. "I thought you were with the Southern Patrol now."

Eilian hesitated. "That is a long story," he said.  "I am with the Home Guard just now."

She looked at him shrewdly.  "Shall I assume that you are in trouble again?" she asked lightly.

He laughed. "Assume what you like," he invited.  "It is probably true."

"Shall I leave you two?" asked Gelmir.

"No," Eilian answered.  "I am coming."  He turned to the maiden. "Are you coming to the autumn dancing tomorrow night?" he asked.  "I would like to talk to you again."

"I will be there," she promised.  "Go and do whatever bad thing it is you are off to do."

He laughed again and kissed her lightly on the cheek. "Until tomorrow," he said and then removed the hands that he had not known he still had on her waist. She ran back to the group where he could now see her mother waiting. He waved and then turned to go with Gelmir.

"You have a silly grin on your face," Gelmir told him.

Eilian laughed.  "I am glad to see her," he admitted.  Celuwen had been his first sweetheart.  Indeed, they had still been children when they had become attached to one another.  But then they had begun to grow up, and in Eilian, the adventurousness of childhood had turned into risk-taking that Celuwen had found hard to accept.  Moreover, he had been unable to resist flirting with the pretty maidens who were increasingly drawn to him and who seldom questioned his judgment as she did. They had grown apart, and then she had gone with her family to live at some distance southwest of Thranduil's stronghold, and he had eventually ceased to think of her except for occasional fond memories.  Seeing her tonight brought all those memories back, and he was not surprised if he was wearing a grin, silly or otherwise. It would be good to spend time with Celuwen again, he thought.

He and Gelmir had now reached their destination.  The grove was busy tonight, with young Elves scattered here and there amidst the lantern-lit trees.  A minstrel was playing and some of the Elves were dancing, but Eilian and Gelmir joined a group of young warriors who were stretched on the grass, drinking wine and bragging about their exploits.  Eilian accepted a goblet of wine and then sat leaning against a tree, drinking and listening to tales of daring behavior that he suspected were being rather wildly embroidered and were growing more so as the night wore on.

"I must have been ten feet ahead of him when we reached the finish line," an Elf named Tithrandir was now boasting about a race through the trees that he and a companion had engaged in.  The others all laughed.

"Are you sure this race took place in the daylight and not in a dream?" Eilian teased.  He tried to take a sip of wine and found to his surprise that his goblet was empty again.

"I was that far ahead," Tithrandir insisted rather heatedly.

"Perhaps you would care to prove your speed now," Eilian challenged, "with a wager to make it worthwhile."

Tithrandir smiled slowly at him. "An excellent idea," he said, and a buzz of excitement went up from their companions who immediately began laying bets. "What shall we wager?"

Eilian considered. "How about the clasp from my cloak against your deerskin gloves?"

"Done," Tithrandir agreed. The whole group had now risen, and the two racers shed their cloaks.

"Where shall we race to?" Eilian asked. "You set the course."

Tithrandir looked around. "We can start at that clump of beeches," he said pointing, "but we need to go some distance to make this worthwhile. Do you see that tall oak sticking up through the trees over there?" Eilian looked and nodded. "We will race to there," Tithrandir said. "Someone needs to go there first to watch for the winner."

Gelmir and another warrior eagerly volunteered and set off through the trees.  The other Elves in the grove could now see that a race was in the offing and had gathered to watch. The minstrel agreed to serve as the starter.  They waited for five minutes to make sure that the judges would have time to get in position and then Eilian and Tithrandir took up positions beneath the beech trees.  "Go!" shouted the minstrel and they were off.

Like all Wood-elves, Eilian had traveled through the trees from the time he was small, and this was not the first race through the branches he had engaged in, so he knew exactly what was needed to win such a contest.  The winner had to keep an eye well ahead to make sure there were no gaps in his route that would be too wide to jump across.  Other than that, he had to throw caution to the winds and trust in his own agility and luck.  With reckless abandon, he now flung himself forward, leaping from handhold to handhold and swinging his legs onto perches from which to leap yet again.

From the corner of his eye, he could see movement among the leaves that showed him that Tithrandir had not been lying when he said that he was quick.  He could hear Elves cheering from the ground and from other trees, but he narrowed his focus to the trees ahead of him. Tithrandir would do what he would do. Eilian was determined to win anyway.

He was nearing the oak tree now and knew that he was in the lead.  Exultation was rising in his breast when, all at once, he saw an open space yawning in front of him just before the oak.  Somehow he had misjudged his course and was now heading straight for a large gap in the trees, and Tithrandir was far enough to his left that he was still going to be among branches when he needed to make his last jump to the oak.

He glanced down for a split second and found that the ground was a good fifty feet below.  What do I have to lose? he thought.  Then he gathered himself and leapt across the gaping space toward the oak.  His fingers scrabbled for an instant, and then the oak tree seemed to reach out to him and gather him in. A cheer rang from nearby and he heard Gelmir's voice shouting, "Eilian wins!"

Eilian clung, shaking, to the trunk of the oak where he had come to rest. The tree rocked him slightly, murmuring in disapproval and in comfort. I am still alive, he thought, in surprise, and then unexpected tears stung his eyes. 


Many thanks to all reviewers. has been more temperamental than usual lately, so I'm not really sure I got all reviews.  I do know that it posted some that it didn't send me and sent me some it didn't post.  I have no idea if some fell into a black hole in between.

Karenator:  Glad you figured out the review system!  And you flatter me, but I like it!  I am not sure that this chapter is so sweet, but these people are suffering after all.

TigerLily:  If you could really picture Thranduil feeding Legolas, then I am gratified.  And you're an attentive reader.

StrangeBlaze:  I first wrote about the mud flinging incident in a story that's called "In Mirkwood" on some sites and "Prodigal Sons" on others.  This was a good opportunity to show it happening!

Orangeblossom Took:  Yes, I think Eilian needs Legolas at least as much as Legolas needs him.  Legolas loves him and doesn't judge him.

Coolio02: Glad you liked the update.  I am surprised you could find it in the madness.

Dy:  I guess this story would count as "harsh."  It's a pretty grim situation between the death of the queen and the return of shadow.

Alice:  Legolas *is* cute as a little kid. He would also be cute as a pirate or Paris of Troy! ;-)

Caz-baz:  Yours was one of the reviews that did not send me last time so I missed you. Sorry. I appreciate your continuing to read the story.

JustMe: You know, if my characters would just listen to us, they would be so much better off!

Nilmandra: Since you were the one who pointed the difference between showing and telling to me, I am glad you think that I am now doing more showing!

PokethePenguin:  Since Elves don't get diseases, Legolas's stomach ache will get better as soon and his grief lightens a little.

Gwyn:  I’m glad you like the story.  I usually update pretty quickly. I have no life. :-)

Feanen:  I'm glad you like the chapter. Thank you for letting me know you're still reading.

Naneth:  I do feel sorry for Legolas. He's too young to really understand what's happening, but the even his big brothers are having problems.

Dot: I love writing about Eilian.  He's such an interesting mix of self-awareness and blindness to his own misdeeds.  And I'm trying to show that he's more blind here than he is in the chapters set later. But he's still perceptive about Legolas, I think, maybe more so than Thranduil is.

Erunyauve: I was really horrified when I realized that Orcs do eat their victims and then decided that this must be one of the horrid facts that kids tell one another. My bet's on Turgon.

Tapetum Lucidum: I laughed at your story about your kids.  No fiction writer could make up half the stuff that kids do on a daily basis.  I think that before Lorellin died, Thranduil thought of himself as the one making his sons toe the line, but now he finds that with his wife gone, he can't get through to them any more.

Karri:  I'm looking forward to seeing them work through their grief too!  I'm a little worried I'm going to have to leave them stuck in it.

Legolas4me:  Legolas is awfully young to have lost his mother.  It seems to me it's a loss that would affect him all his life.

TreeHugger:  You caught me on the way out the door to post!  I think that Eilian being home is good for Legolas and I think Legolas is good for him.  Legolas loves him uncritically and it must seem to him that no one else does.

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