Little Nudge Out of the Door, A: 29. Failure

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29. Failure

“It looks like rain.”

“You are raving, Salma, the sky is as clear as a bell!”

“Nay, Salma is right, I think it looks like rain.”

“So you say for the same reason as she, Sornhén.” Princess Silivren, daughter of Crown Prince Berensul, scowled up at the clear blue sky. “It does NOT look like rain. You shall not avoid our duty.”

The other two novices pulled faces at her. “You would hate this duty as much as we do if the guard in charge were not your uncle,” grumped Salma, daughter of Ulban, the elven king’s first Steward.

Silivren narrowed her eyes sharply, “And what fault have you with my kinsman?”

Sornhén raised his hands hastily, “No fault, I grant you. I simply wonder why we must bother carting Gollum’s loathsome carcass through the trees every day.”

“Because,” said a stern voice behind them, “the fact that Sméagol merely looks unpleasant is not reason enough to trap him under the earth indefinitely. Mithrandir himself bade us still hope for his cure, and we shall honor the request.”

The three novices looked up guiltily as Legolas walked onto the bridge to join them, his face firm but with a mirth in his eyes that told them he was more amused than annoyed. Gazing past them into the entrance to the elven king’s inner halls, he ordered, “All three of you shall take him. If he behaves, let him climb the tree in the clearing to the north, so long as you are well back before dark.”

“Yes, sir,” the novices saluted Legolas with saucy grins, and disappeared into the cavern. Returning with a grumbling but otherwise tame Gollum on a lead rope, they nodded to the other elves and walked him out of the gates. Legolas raised a casual hand at Sili as they departed.

“I wish Prince Legolas were one of the novice masters,” sighed Salma. “He is not nearly so strict as Eregdos or Fimsigil.”

“If he were a novice master, I wager that he would be,” replied Silivren. Still, she mused, Salma was right. While a firm leader with any elves under his command, Legolas had a reachable nature that most of the novice masters did not. He was very easy to speak to, more like a comrade than a superior. It was strange; many of the other elven warriors of Legolas’s generation were also gaining their first commands, and all of them seemed to relish it far more than Legolas. While few could be called power-happy, none save Legolas seemed to mind being addressed as “sir.” And Legolas was the same about his nobility; one of the first orders he always gave those under his command was not to call him “my lord.”

Salma was speaking again, “Even if he were a novice master, I do not think he would pull rank.”

“Rank, nay, but he would be strict,” Silivren countered. “That is a novice master’s duty after all, and a commander’s. As a superior, Legolas is strict now.”

“But not to you,” Sornhén muttered sourly.

Silivren turned quickly, “And what do you mean by that?”

“Do not dissemble; you know you are his favorite. He will always be soft on you,” Sornhén sounded cross.

The princess fixed a hard glare at him. “Uncle or no, neither Legolas nor any other warrior would favor one novice over another, as you know full well, son of Varnorn. And if any of the masters hear you spreading talk like that, they’ll have you walking punishment tours for a month! To say nothing of the satisfaction I shall demand if I catch you slandering my father’s brother!”

Salma sided with Sili, “Quite right, Sorn, you are just angry because Legolas punished you for snapping Gollum’s rope without cause.”

“It did not harm him!”

“What are we, orcs? You’d no call to torment the poor creature,” scolded Salma.

“True, my ire would be better served by snapping a rope at that Ranger.”

“Are you STILL out of sorts because your Nandelle was admiring him? You boys were more cross than dwarves when Legolas’s friend was here!” snorted Silivren.

“You would be cross if your suitor was making up to some strange lady!”

“And I am sure your Nandelle will remind you of those words the next time you are goggling at the Lady Arwen,” Sili retorted. (Nandelle was an apprentice musician, daughter of Thranduil’s head minstrel, and Sornhén’s intended.)

Salma smirked, flipping her brown plait over her shoulder. “I believe Lady Merilin reminded Candrochon of that very thing when he was in a miff over Strider.”

“But Candrochon is her husband!” protested Sornhén. “How could she admire anyone, man or elf?”

Silivren melodramatically placed her hands on her heart, “ ‘Oh, the Evenstar, my heart doth weep before her beauty!’ Candrochon said those very words when he was in the middle of courting Merilin! And Arwen poses far more of a threat to us than that Strider did to you. None of us intend to go the way of Luthien, though that Ranger did make it seem a more believable thing than before!”

“Sili!”

“Oh, peace, Sorn! Just because an elf becomes attached does not mean they cease to notice beauty, as you and Doron always remind us when you are oggling some Lorien maid. Why should you boys have all the fun?”

“Hmph.” Then Sornhén stared at her. “You were barely five years old when Candrochon and Merilin were courting. How could you know whether he said such things?!”

“Well, for one thing, you did,” giggled Salma.

“And so did Candrochon,” added Silivren firmly. “I know because Merilin told me. Or rather, I overheard her telling my uncle.”

“Eavesdropping, you mean,” grumbled Sorn, but there was a twinkle of mirth in his gray eyes.

“So is Candrochon speaking to Merilin again?” asked Salma.

“Him?” Sili laughed. “He never stopped, whatever gossip said to the contrary. Candrochon knew even as he feigned outrage at Merilin that he has been caught making eyes at other ladies far too often to claim any insult by Merilin’s admiring a man. The same holds true for the others; their reaction was merely the result of mass bruising of the ego.” Salma laughed and even Sornhén began to grin sheepishly.

“Poor things. Do you suppose it is the same among men, or are elven males the only ones who dislike finding the shoe upon the other foot?” asked Salma. “Eh, Sorn? Any thoughts?”

Sorn did not answer. The maidens giggled harder. “Here,” said Sili, pointing. “We have reached the glade. Well, Gollum, you’ve behaved like a proper…thing…today, so we shall allow you a good climb.”

The three guards stationed themselves below the tree as Gollum grudgingly allowed them to remove his rope and then mounted up the branches. “This is the best-behaved he has been yet,” remarked Sorn. “I wonder what it means.”

“As Salma said, we are not orcs,” said Sili. “Perhaps he has realized that he will not be mistreated, but rewarded if he cooperates with us.” She moved away from the base of the tree to where she could see Gollum, settled on the high branches where he could feel the free wind. Salma and Sornhén remained by the trunk. “We’ve a few hours until dark. Let us leave him in peace for another hour.”

***

On the archery fields, about an hour later…

Legolas glanced up at the sun, causing his companions to snort and sigh theatrically. “By the Valar, have done, Legolas!” exclaimed Candrochon. “You cannot stand over them every hour!”

The warrior grinned sheepishly at his friend, “Perhaps I am a bit overanxious--”

“--overanxious? I would say neurotic,” laughed Galithil, coming to take aim at the target next to Merilin’s.

Merilin fired an arrow cleanly into her own target and stepped back so her husband could shoot, “After all, remember how irritated we were when the novice masters hovered too close. Give your novices some trust. They are well-trained.”

“Nay, friends, it is pointless. Forget not that his niece is one of said novices,” said Candrochon, shaking his head as he took aim. The others chuckled.

Legolas changed the subject. “A messenger arrived from Imladris this morning. Faron sent us a greeting. Did anyone else receive aught?”

“Yea, Glorfindel sent Eregdos the latest reports on orc activity on the plains, and he and the senior captains were immured in the king’s war room for four hours, muttering and exclaiming among themselves from behind the scrolls,” grumbled Candrochon. “As if anything those creatures do in the mountains is worse than what we are getting from Dol Guldur.” Several of the other young warriors on the practice range voiced their agreement.

“You have not heard?” asked Galithil. “The Enemy has attacked Osgiliath.” At that moment, Candrochon had been releasing an arrow, but his reaction to Galithil’s words caused him to miss the target completely. Merilin also stared in dismay, and Legolas nodded in confirmation.

Turning back to his target, Legolas asked absently, “Are the captains talking of it to us already?”

“Nay, Faron told me in his letter.”

“Oh--what? Faron made no mention…” Legolas trailed off and stared at Galithil. A slow grin crossed his face as the warrioress blinked in confusion, then began to blush. “So, when did you begin rating a letter of your own from Faron?”

Galithil blushed harder. Merilin and several of the others let out a squeal of excitement, and Candrochon made a bawdy noise. “Soooo…a private correspondence between the daughter of the captain of Mirkwood and a warrior of Imladris! Things are looking up!”

Putting her hands on her hips playfully, Merilin inquired, “And just how long has this been going on, my eligible warrior-maid?”

Now scarlet from ear to ear, Galithil replied sheepishly, “Since he visited with the messengers five years ago.”

Whistles and squeals rang out from the warriors, and Legolas added his triumphant cries to the eager voices of the warriors who now converged upon Galithil, embracing and roughing her up good-naturedly. Candrochon clapped his hands and sang, “Somebody’s being cour-ted, somebody’s being cour-ted!”

Tuilinn and Merilin tugged on Galithil’s plaited hair over her shrieks of protest, “What do you mean, keeping such a thing secret for five years! Some friend you are!”

“Ai! Be off! Ow! Stop!” (Giggle! Squeal!) “Well--ai!--he has not been courting me for all that long, and we have not even told my father yet! Aah! No! Don’t tickle me--eeee! THAT is why!” At last the warriors desisted, and Galithil caught her breath enough to continue. “Only six months ago did he ask me to come to Rivendell.”

Now all of the warriors screamed simultaneously, and it was not long before the commotion brought others running. Hearing of Galithil’s news added their congratulatory cries to the tumult, but it all came to a quick halt when Eregdos, captain of the warriors of Mirkwood--and more importantly, Galithil’s father--appeared. The warrior captain was not angry--yet--merely puzzled. “What by the Valar is all this excitement about?”

“Ahh,” stammered Candrochon.

“By the Valar, is that the time?” murmured someone. The elves quickly began creeping away.

The closest of Galithil’s friends, loyal and steadfast to her, reacted predictably in the face of her father’s discovery of her suitor. “I think I’ll go check on Gollum,” Legolas said hastily, and bolted, with Candrochon and Merilin a step behind him.

They had just fled the range when they heard Eregdos’s bellow of “WHAT?!?!”

***

About the same time…

“The sun grows low, Sili, we should be getting back,” said Sornhén.

Rising from where she had been reposing in the grass, Silivren nodded in agreement. Salma looked up at the dark figure on the high branches. “Come down now, Sméagol, it will be dark soon.”

The shriveled face turned from the breeze to blink overlarge eyes down at the elves…then deliberately turned back to the sky. Gollum did not move. “Oh, for pity’s sake,” said Silivren in disgust. “He would choose now to be difficult. Gollum!” she shouted. “You have had over an hour in that tree. If you wish any time in it at all tomorrow, you will return now!” After a long pause with still no response, she threatened, “Or shall we come up there and retrieve you?”

Gollum swiveled his head to stare directly at Silivren, then slowly inched back down the branches. The young guards sighed softly, but as Gollum gained the trunk, instead of coming down, he climbed higher. Silivren gritted her teeth in exasperation as Gollum crawled out onto one of the highest branches that would support his weight. “Wonderful,” sighed Salma beside her. “Now what?”

“Perhaps we might still pull him down,” suggested Sornhén.

“That will be a chore. Perhaps a few arrows close to him will frighten him down,” murmured Sili. She glanced around. “None of us are in charge of Gollum himself. I think we should send for Legolas.”

“If I start now, and return with him on horseback, it would still be light,” suggested Sornhén.

Salma nodded, “That is a good idea. We should wait.” Sili also agreed, and Sorn ran quickly into the trees.

***

Legolas was at the stables with Candrochon and Merilin when Sornhén came in. “My duty, my lord,” he said with a quick salute.

“There is trouble?” Legolas asked sharply as his friends hurried over.

“We let Gollum climb the tree in the clearing, but now he refuses to come down. He has gone very high, and we thought not to try and force him without consulting you first. Silivren and Salma guard the tree still.”

Legolas nodded, “That is well. Come,” he pulled Sornhén up onto his own horse.

“Shall we accompany you?” offered Merilin.

Legolas considered it for a moment, then shook his head. “I will send for more guards if they are needed, but we may yet have him down before dark. Sméagol likes to be difficult simply for sport at times.” Making sure Sorn was secure behind him, he sent his horse into a gallop.

***

As Sili and Salma waited below the tree, the sun had fallen only slightly lower in the skies when Sornhén returned on a horse behind Legolas. “Luck, young ones,” Legolas said by way of greeting. “I was on my way to you when Sornhén called to me.” He dismounted and glared up into the tree. “Gollum!”

No answer, not even a glance. Salma scowled, “Perhaps a few arrows into the branches nearest him might persuade him.”

Legolas pulled his mouth to one side in a grimace. “Nay, I would not be party to wounding him without cause. Perhaps we might pull him from the bows.”

“I am the only one who would reach so high,” Silivren said matter-of-factly. “If we are to try it, then I must go.”

The idea clearly troubled Legolas, but the princess’s words were accurate; any of the others would cause the trunk to bend dangerously with their weight. Sili was by far the lightest. Looking critically at the tree, he sighed at length. “Very well. Be careful.” Despite the neutral tone, neither of the other two novices missed the worry in his voice.

Sili swiftly mounted up the sturdy lower limbs of the high tree and followed the path Gollum had taken. Seeing her approach, the contrary creature began edging his way as far out onto the branch as possible. The princess swore to herself; this would be difficult.

After a few moments, she gained the upper bough where Gollum had made his stance and began pulling herself carefully out. To her surprised relief, the branch was much stronger than it had appeared, and she was soon close enough to grab for him. “Come on, you pesky creature! I shall have you down from this tree! Errgh!” She secured a hold on one thin arm and wrenched back for all she was worth. Light she was, but weak she was not.

“Errrr! Loose us! No! No! Nasty she-elf! Going to lock poor Sméagol away again! Not again! Wicked elf! Gollum! Gollum! Sméagol likes the tree, nice tree! Let Sméagol stay in the tree! Not coming down!”

Even as Gollum protested, Sili pried his other hand free of the branch and began pulling him back along the bough. But Gollum still fought, and suddenly managed to secure a surprisingly strong grip on the branch, this time with his feet. Sili grunted and leaned further out, trying to wrap an arm around Gollum’s torso to drag him loose. This Gollum greeted with an unearthly screech, and he began thrashing wildly, wrenching himself and his elven guard around on the narrow limb.

“Curse you, you--oomph--stubborn beast! If we fall, you’ll get us both killed! Cease this madness!” Sili snapped, attempting to smite Gollum on the ear while grabbing a smaller limb over her head for balance.

“No! No! Not going! Yes! Kill nasty elf, wicked she-elf! Sméagol stays, she falls!”

With a violent jerk, Gollum swung dangerously over the edge of the branch, still holding on with his feet. But the motion tested the branch Sili was holding too violently, and with a loud crack, it snapped in her hand, overbalancing her clear off the limb. With a scream of panic, she released her hold from Gollum in an effort to seize another branch to catch herself, but her grappling hands caught only air, then suddenly there was nothing beneath her feet, and the trees many limbs were sweeping by, its twigs and leaves scraping her body and face. She heard a chorused cry of her name from below as she flailed desperately for something to check her fall. She caught a brief image of two dark heads and a fair one rushing toward the base of the tree just before her forehead connected with one of the hard lower limbs. Light exploded in her vision with blinding pain, and her last thought as darkness swept around her was that the impact must have shattered her skull.

***

“NO!!” Legolas charged forward as he saw his niece lose her grip on the branch amid Gollum’s struggling and tumble down the trunk with a cry of terror. Halfway to the ground, Silivren’s forehead struck a tree limb with a sickening crack, and she hit the earth with a thud and lay there.

His heart in his throat, Legolas fumbled for her pulse. Salma and Sornhén stood anxiously behind him, fighting tears of despair. “Is she…” whispered Salma.

Legolas gasped aloud in relief as he felt blood still throbbing along Silivren’s veins. He carefully turned her over. Her eyes were closed, and a terrible bruise had already appeared upon her forehead near the hairline, blood trickling down her temple. She was scraped in many places, her clothing torn, and one arm lay at an odd angle. The warrior’s gentle touch revealed that the bone was broken, and Sili moaned. “We must get her back now,” Legolas murmured, trying to control his voice. Swallowing hard and forcing his own frantic emotions under control, he looked up, feeling black rage at the cackling Gollum still perched in the tree. “Stay here,” he told Salma and Sornhén. “Do not attempt to climb after him again. I shall send more guards as soon as I reach the palace. When they arrive, surround the tree and wait until morn, then we shall try again.” He glared furiously up at Gollum, *And pray my anger has cooled by then, or I shall shoot your miserable body down from that tree myself!*

But there was no time to hurl words at the creature while his niece lay bloody and unconscious in his arms. Carefully, Legolas lifted Silivren and bore her gently onto the back of his horse, mounting behind her. “Stay alert,” he ordered Salma and Sornhén as he sent his mount into a gallop.

Though she was still unconscious and the horse’s strides were smooth, Silivren moaned faintly as Legolas held her against his chest, trying his best not to jolt her or jar her broken arm. “Rest easy, little Nimrodel,” he murmured, fighting the terror that coursed through him. Inside, his mind cried, *How could I have let this happen? I should never have allowed her to climb up that tree, better that we had sent for more guards, or shot Gollum down! Why did I not suspect Gollum would take any opportunity to harm one of us!*

Forcing himself away from those anguished thoughts, Legolas concentrated stubbornly on getting them home. As the sun set, he rode straight through the gates to the foot of the palace steps, hearing cries of dismay as he dismounted with the limp princess in his arms. The door opened, and Legolas turned to see Eirien, frozen in her tracks, her face devoid of color as she took in the state of her daughter. When Eirien’s eyes raised from Silivren’s face to Legolas, it was all he could do not to burst into tears.

Silivren’s mother rallied herself admirably, though her voice trembled, “Bring her inside, quickly!”

Legolas rushed up the steps, taking care not to jostle the unconscious girl. Following Eirien to the royal chambers, he gently laid Sili on her bed as other healers raced through the door. Berensul came and demanded foremost question on every mind, “What happened?”

“Gollum,” Legolas said shortly. “He refused to come down from the tree in the clearing. Silivren…I sent her up after him, but he struggled, and she fell. She struck her head upon a branch.” Berensul’s face flashed many emotions as he pushed past Legolas to his daughter’s side. Legolas stepped out of his brother’s and the healers’ way and hastily summoned a servant. “Guards must be sent to the glade to assist Salma and Sornhén. Swiftly, it grows dark.”

“Yes, my lord,” the servant hurried to tell the warriors milling outside the chambers.

Legolas turned back to the healers, where Eirien was examining Silivren’s bloodied head. “How is she?” he asked softly. In the brief second it took Silivren’s mother to look up, Legolas thought surely he would die if Eirien spoke any words of blame. Already his own heart was tearing with guilt so deeply that he wanted to scream.

But Eirien’s eyes, when they rose from her daughter to meet her brother-in-law, held no reproach, although they were wild with anguish. She closed them briefly, then swallowed hard and said, “I think…she will be all right.” Legolas sucked in a gulp of air, and Eirien went on, “Her skull was concussed, but not cracked, and her arm is broken. One of her ribs may be cracked, but,” she sighed heavily, looking suddenly aged. “She will recover.”

A violent shudder forced itself free in spite of all Legolas’s efforts, and Berensul turned, his eyes red, and gripped his brother’s shoulder. “You brought her back,” he said, his voice also tight with fear and grief. Legolas had to look away, but returned Berensul’s grip. His brother’s voice hardened. “Where is that murderous beast?”

“Still in the tree,” *Curse him! Curse him to Angband for eternity!* “I have sent more guards to relieve Salma and Sornhén for the night, then on the morrow we shall decide how best to bring him down.”

“I can think of a few ways,” the crown princess murmured as she administered a heavier sleeping draught so she could set her daughter’s arm.

Legolas smiled humorlessly, “You speak for me, Lady. Were it not for Mithrandir’s word…” he shook his head, fury and disgust at Gollum--as well as himself--surging through him. “Mithrandir’s word may keep him alive, but by my bow he shall not walk in the forest again. That privilege is lost to him after this.”

A sudden commotion outside made them look up. A quick rap on the door was followed by a frantic Candrochon entering and bowing hastily to them. Eirien’s eyes widened and she started forward as she beheld the blood from a wound on the warrior’s face. “Forgive me, my lady--My lords, we are under attack!”

“What?” Legolas and Berensul sprang forward.

“Orcs, from the mountains, many of them! They came from the north, Legolas,” Candrochon’s face was wild with panic, “they are between us and the tree where Gollum is under guard! We cannot reach it!”

It was as though two trolls had seized Legolas by each of his arms and torn him violently in two. He wavered, looking at his unconscious niece and the desperate warrior before him. “Go,” said Eirien, and the paralysis vanished.

Legolas bolted from the royal chambers at a dead run, seizing his weapons from a servant as he sprinted down the steps in a crowd of other warriors rushing to defend against the assault. “My horse!” he roared, and the mount was swiftly brought. Springing to its back, Legolas sent the creature into a full run northwest, towards the glade where Salma and Sornhén were waiting for reinforcements.

Darkness seemed thick in the trees as though the shadow that hung over southern Mirkwood had somehow oozed into the elven king’s realm. Legolas’s heart pounded wildly in his chest as the distant sounds of clashing metal, battle cries, and orc shrieks reached his ears. He found himself suddenly at the head of the riders, and it hit him in a rush of new anxiety that because these were his guards being assaulted, HE was in command of the reinforcements!

“Split the group,” he ordered the riders. “We shall come around and hit them from both sides! Watch your backs!” Not an eye was batted at this, his first order, no arguments made, not even from the warriors who had been commanding whole legions for centuries before Legolas was born.

Legolas led the southern group while the other half surged to cut the orcs off on their northern side. He strained his senses as the sounds of the battle grew closer. “Torches!” he shouted.

The moonless and starless night was suddenly bathed in red and orange glow as each rider lit a torch, casting back the shadows. Far through the trees, Legolas could see another mass of torches appear, revealing orcs and elves striving in the space between. Adding his own voice to the chorused roar of challenge, the prince brandished his torch in one hand, a spear in another and charged into the fray.

The orcs were numerous and fierce, but they clearly were unused to fighting in the wood and unprepared for an assault from the trees. Legolas skewered one orc and set another ablaze before the creatures realized reinforcements had arrived. When his spear was at last broken in the crush of bodies, he discarded it and took up his long knife. It was a time-honored lesson among warriors that one’s emotions must never command one’s actions in battle, for rage was apt to make one careless, but it could not be denied that rage at the injuries to his niece burned like a hot coal fire within Legolas as he laid waste to every orc that came within reach.

The only light came from the torches, and orcs, elves, and trees whirled around him in some sort of bizarre and evil dance. Beneath the black sky, Legolas would not have known what direction he faced at any given time had he bothered to look. Nor had he any idea how much time passed before the familiar shriek of retreat was sounded, and the orcs broke and ran. Legolas staggered and leaned against a tree, wiping blood off his face from a minor wound he had not felt, and took his bearings.

Orc corpses lay everywhere, and a few elves lay gravely wounded. Legolas summoned several warriors. “To the tree,” he ordered, jogging through the carnage.

More torches were brought and lit as more elves arrived, and Legolas led the warriors into the clearing. The battle had been south of the glade, but there were a few orc corpses here. Legolas jammed his teeth into his lower lip, and heard moans of despair behind him as the torches filled the clearing with light.

There had been a smaller battle here, and pitifully one-sided.

Against the base of the tree lay a novice elven warrior, his body pierced by many arrows, his life finally ended by a vicious club-blow to the head. It was Sornhén. Legolas took a shaky breath and knelt beside the young elf, closing the sightless eyes before any others could spot the terror in them. Against such a force, the two second-century novices had never stood a chance. Rising, Legolas turned to the others and found his voice strangely steady. “Take Sornhén back to the palace,” he said quietly.

“My lord, Salma is missing. Her weapons are here, but she is not,” came Edlothia’s frightened voice as the elves began sweeping their torches frantically through the trees.

Legolas beckoned quickly for four warriors to bear Sornhén’s body back to the palace, then rushed to join the others searching. Examining the tracks of the orcs, Legolas noted with still-mounting dread that one of them had left bearing a heavy weight. The fire glowed in his eyes as he looked up at the warriors. “Salma is taken. We must go after them.”

“My lord, what about Gollum?” asked Candrochon.

Immediately, several dozen torches were pointed up toward the tree, casting their glow upon its limbs. While the light was not brilliant, it was enough for the elves to see clearly that the branches were empty. Gollum too was gone. “He may have been taken as well,” suggested Merilin.

“Possibly…” murmured another warrior as they set about following the orcs’ trail. But soon the elves called to Legolas, “My lord!”

When he joined them, Legolas found the tracks that interested them: the marks of many orcs, but also a strange, rather shriveled pair of feet running free among them. “Gollum.”

“So he was taken,” said Candrochon.

“Nay,” Legolas whispered, pointing his torch at the tracks. “He was smaller than Salma, if wily. If they carried her in their haste, they would have little difficulty carrying him. And he was not bound in any way, or his tracks would show more hindrance.” Icy rage cascaded through him as the pieces came together. “He escaped. That is why he suddenly refused to come down from the tree. He must have known the orcs would be coming.” He sprang to his feet and began jogging faster after the tracks.

The other warriors hurried to keep up. “How could he have contrived that?” demanded Eregdos, appearing at Legolas’s side.

“I know not, sir, but they did. It is the only explanation.”

Had Eregdos ordered Legolas to give way and let him command the company, Legolas would have, but Eregdos did not, and it did not occur to the younger warrior. Long they followed the tracks through the trees by torchlight, feeling a deeper despair as the trail turned south. As the sun came up again, the sound of horses drew near, and in the back of the company the elves cried, “The king has come!”

Legolas and Eregdos rose from examining the trail and saluted as Thranduil rode up with several more warriors. “Have you any news of Salma or Gollum?”

Eregdos stepped back, so Legolas answered, “Nay, my lord. We are following the trail of the orcs, and Gollum’s is among them.”

Thranduil nodded briskly, “Report to me when there is any news. Beware drawing too near to Dol Guldur lest we bring more casualties home.”

“Yes, my lord.” As the elven king rode back north, Legolas looked around. “If we are to avoid attracting too much attention of Dol Guldur, we cannot follow this trail to its end. If we cannot reach them before they are within sight of it, we shall be forced to turn back.”

“I fear so, my lord,” sighed Eregdos, his voice heavy with sorrow. “And then we shall have to presume Salma lost, as well as Gollum.”

The urgency and concentration of the search was all that kept despair from overwhelming Legolas as he bent again to the trail, ignoring the ache in his back. “Let us make haste, then, while we still have hope.”

The trail of the orc band grew more chaotic and difficult to follow as the days rolled by. Shadow hung like an oppressive curtain, almost physical in form, as the elves ventured further south. Legolas could feel his heart beating frantically, his breath coming in quick gasps, while his mind whirled under the assault of shadow and his own conscience. *How could this have happened? How could I have LET this happen?!*

They had long since lost the trail of the one heavy orc who they believed to be carrying Salma, but still had some faint signs of Gollum’s trail, and followed them hoping that the prisoner and guest of the foul creatures were being kept close. All at once, a cry went up from the eastern flank of the searching elves. “My lord!”

There were tears in the herald’s voice. It could mean only one thing.

Legolas and Eregdos ran to the far end of the company, and found the elven warriors gathering in a grief-stricken semicircle. In a cluster of thorny bushes, deposited like a bundle of rubbish, lay Salma, youngest daughter of Ulban, sister of Gwilwileth. This time Legolas had not arrived fast enough, and the final bleak expression in the elven maid’s eyes had set many of the warriors sobbing. She was wounded in the leg, her clothing torn, and there was no doubt in any of their minds that she had been brutalized by her captors. Rising from examining her with tears streaming shamelessly down his face, the healer whispered, “I can find no fatal wound on her, my lord.”

Eregdos drew in a shaky breath, closing his eyes. After swallowing several times, he murmured, “She ended her own life then. To escape their torment.”

“Yes, Captain.”

As Legolas knelt beside the fallen warrioress, Eregdos’s voice came softly behind him, “Where is Gwilwileth?”

“She was wounded in the battle, my lord, Fimsigil removed her home.”

Again, Legolas found himself charged with the bitter task of closing Salma’s brown eyes to the world. His muscles were spasming painfully from the effort of holding back violent tremors. The effort of holding back sobs was so great that he dared not open his mouth. Reverently, Legolas wrapped Salma’s body in his own brown cloak, and lifted it gently. Two of the scouts came running back from where they had been following the trail. One stifled a sob at the sight, and the other said in a ragged voice, “My lord, the trail of Gollum is all but lost, and the shadow…”

Legolas glanced briefly at Eregdos, but the captain’s face revealed nothing. It was still his command. Taking a deep breath, Legolas forced all his will into speaking this one decision. “Then we shall break off the search. Gollum is presumed lost.”

“Yes, my lord.”

There was no judgment or resentment in the warriors’ voices at all, not even Eregdos’s, as the company turned sorrowfully for home, bearing the second of two dead novices and the black burden of failure. Between the two, the weight Legolas carried in his arms and upon his heart was so great, that throughout the long walk home there were times when he was certain that he fall dead of grief and shame right there. Only the sense of obligation gave him the strength to put one foot before the next, and he said not a word to anyone. But that at least was not out of place, for there was hardly any sound from any of the warriors save desperately stifled weeping.

Eregdos spoke up twice, both times quietly offering to take up Salma’s body for awhile. Both times, Legolas merely shook his head. He dared not speak, afraid his body and voice would betray him, but his mind rang with accusations. *She was under my command. Mine. Both of them were, and Gollum too in my charge. I left him to escape, left them to die. It was my charge. My responsibility…*

In all the years of his life, Legolas had berated himself before for mistakes, for the occasional missed shot, damaged weapon, sometimes even losing his quarry on a hunt. But now, bearing the body of a novice under his command, returning home without the prisoner he had sworn to guard…now he knew, bitterly and deeply, what it truly was to experience failure. Total, devastating, absolute failure. Failure that caused death. Failure that caused destruction. Failure the ramifications of which could not even be predicted as the information Gollum possessed that could mean the life or death of everything in Middle Earth. And Legolas had let him escape.

The journey home was both too long and too short, and Legolas had absolutely no real idea of the time it took, but suddenly he was leading the warriors back through the villages around the palaces, past the horrified gazes of his people. With each step, he was convinced that this failure could not possibly feel any worse, and with each horrified face or anguished sob, he was proven wrong.

Then they were passing through the palace gates, where the warriors and elves of the elven king’s household awaited them. A collective intake of breath went up as Legolas entered, and sobs and wails of grief rang out at the sight of the burden he carried. Among those cries came the one that Legolas had dreaded the most, and now cut into his heart like a poisoned sword. There came a scream, the anguished, hopeless scream of an elf woman seeing the joy of her life destroyed.

Salma’s mother, Alalmë, rushed forward, her arms outstretched hysterically, and would have knocked Legolas clean off his feet had not Ulban caught her shoulders and pulled her back. Gwilwileth, their eldest and now their only child, came behind them, stiff from her injury, but sobbing just as wildly as Ulban deposited his wife into his daughter’s arms. Alalmë fell to her knees, and she and Gwilwileth clung to each other, overwhelmed by grief. Ulban’s lack of tears stabbed Legolas with equal pain as the king’s first steward turned back to him and silently held out his arms for his daughter. As Legolas laid Salma in her father’s arms, Ulban met his eyes, and Legolas was stunned to find them red, filled with grief, but not an inkling of blame. The steward nodded shakily to Legolas in what seemed a wordless thanks, and turned to his wife and daughter. Trembling, trying valiantly but unsuccessfully to contain their sobs, Alalmë and Gwilwileth also nodded gratefully to him. Then they turned and walked into the palace, Alalmë leaning heavily on her daughter as all the elves, even Thranduil, silently gave way and bowed.

Legolas stood frozen where he was, unable to believe even as they left, that Salma’s family could not reproach him. *Can they not see? Were the facts kept from them, that they do not know of my responsibility for this calamity? Surely they would curse me if they knew!*

As the palace door closed on the mourners, Thranduil turned back to the newly-arrived warriors. His gaze swept over them, now completely expressionless. He noted Eregdos still standing just behind Legolas, and so asked the prince, “Report.”

“Sornhén fell when the orcs attacked the clearing where Gollum was under guard. I believe the attack was staged to orchestrate Gollum’s escape, for he was allowed to run freely among the orcs while Salma was taken prisoner. They had several hours ahead of us before we determined that she and Gollum were among them. We found Salma due west of East Bight, well south of Old Forest Road, abandoned by the orcs. The trail of Gollum was lost as we drew nigh of Dol Guldur. We turned back there.”

Thranduil nodded, his face betraying nothing. “How long were you gone?” Legolas faltered; in truth he had no idea how many days had passed. The elven king watched him for a moment, then turning to the other warriors, he declared, “Our realm shall mourn all this month for the daughter of Ulban and the son of Varnorn.” He paused again, taking in the haggard and grief-stricken faces of them all, “Forget not to look to yourselves.” With that, and not looking at Legolas, Thranduil turned and reentered the palace.

***

A few days later…

There was a quiet rap upon Thranduil’s study door. “Enter,” he ordered absently, pulling his troubled mind from the latest reports from the outlying villages. The door opened, and soft steps entered. Thranduil turned his face and smiled at the sight of his granddaughter. “Come in, my child.” Silivren bowed, and Thranduil rose in alarm as she wavered slightly. “Should you be up and about yet, Granddaughter, you are not yet fully recovered.”

Sounding slightly frustrated, Silivren murmured, “It has been two weeks.”

“Head wounds are nothing to be trifled with, young Lady,” Thranduil said firmly, taking her arm and guiding her to a soft chair. He sat down opposite her. “But now you are here, what troubles you?”

Taking a deep breath and dropping her gaze as though garnering courage, Silivren said, “It is Legolas.”

Thranduil’s jaw tightened reflexively. Silivren had always been touchy about discussing any troubles concerning Legolas with Thranduil, undoubtedly due to what she had witnessed as a child. The elven king had cursed himself many times in the past decades for their indiscretion in that quarrel. Forcing a calm tone, he inquired, “What of your uncle?”

“He has been back four days and has not spoken to anyone,” the young elf’s blue eyes were round and large with anguish. “He will not speak to me!”

The elven king swallowed hard. *Life is never more difficult than when the demands of realm and family collide.* Silivren was a novice warrior now, and Legolas one of her superiors, but then, when all was said and done…she was still Thranduil’s granddaughter, and Legolas’s niece. *For both my son and me, duty and love conflict where Sili is concerned.* Sili was watching him anxiously, and he sighed, “Silivren…forget not that Legolas is more than merely your uncle. In this mission, he was your commander, and he failed in that role.”

Silivren leapt to her feet, outrage on her young face, “How can you say such a thing?! None of this was his fault! He did not cause me to fall from the tree, nor could he have known the orcs would attack! Why do you blame him--”

“Sili!” Thranduil stood and seized her shoulders, for she was beginning to sway. “Sit down and calm down before you make yourself swoon. I told you that you must take care when recovering from a concussion. I shall explain things to you if you can keep your senses.”

Though highly displeased by her own frailty, Silivren crossed her arms sulkily and listened. “Well?”

*I should tell her to watch her tongue when she addresses me. Nay, today I shall make allowances; she is upset, and convalescing. There will be time to scold her on her manners later.* Aloud, he said, “Silivren, there is an important distinction between the many roles each member of our family must play. Legolas is your uncle, and in that he could never fail you. But as a warrior, and the commander of you, Salma, and Sornhén, and guardian of Gollum, he was charged with certain tasks. The protection of the lives of those under his command is every warrior’s responsibility, and the prevention of Gollum’s escape above all.” Thranduil sighed softly, seeing the dismay upon her face. “Fault is not a thing we often look to assign in the warrior’s craft, for as you say, there are many things that cannot be prevented. But responsibility must always be assigned, and whatever the circumstances, Legolas still failed in his responsibilities.”

Silivren’s lips were trembling, and Thranduil frowned inwardly. *Perhaps I should not have been so frank with her so soon. She is grieving still for her friends, and afraid for Legolas.* His granddaughter murmured, “After the fall…I have been sleeping deeply, and when I first wake it is difficult even to think. My father has said, and I have seen, Legolas is always at my bedside when I sleep. But as soon as I wake, he leaves, before I can speak to him.”

Thranduil sighed again. He had known that, for he himself had often been at Sili’s side while she recovered, but had hoped that she would not remember seeing Legolas there in her groggy state. She was not alone in her worry; Legolas had not spoken to anyone since returning from the south bearing Salma’s body, other than to inquire after Sili’s recovery. “Remember Legolas is mourning as well. He is your uncle and concerned for you, but he may prefer to grieve in private.”

“I heard…” Sili hesitated. “Some of the warriors who were on the long mission with Legolas say that…when his friend Tathar fell…he nearly died of grief.” Thranduil winced inwardly, understanding now the fear in her eyes. “I would not want…”

Taking her hand, the king said, “Fear not, child. He will survive. Give him time to face his sorrow, and his conscience, for it has only been a few days.”

Silivren scowled, “And how long do you intend to let him sorrow believing that not a one of us cares?”

“You are too young to understand.”

“And I grow weary of hearing that cowardly excuse.”

“Silivren!” Thranduil stood up and narrowed his eyes at her. “I understand you are upset by these events, but I will not tolerate insolence. You will look to your manners.” To his eyes, she still looked sullen, but at least she held her tongue. *Novices. She sulks like her father did.* In a calmer voice, the elven king went on, “I will not prevent you from approaching your uncle, but remember as a novice warrior, you are his subordinate, and if he orders it, you will behave accordingly. Just as you are my subject and heiress as well as my granddaughter, and I expect you to conduct yourself as such.”

The young elf’s obstinate little glare had been replaced by lowered eyes and a faint flush. In a quiet voice, Silivren murmured, “Forgive me. I behaved badly.”

Thranduil smiled and held out his hands, guiding her to her feet and gently kissed her brow. “These are trying days for us all, daughter of my son. But we are the leaders of our people, and it is our duty to set an example. If we lose control of ourselves, the loss of the realm will not be long in following.”

“Yes, Grandfather.”

“Be off with you now, and look also to your health. I do not desire forcing your mother to nurse you through a relapse.”

***

Despite the nobility of her intentions, Silivren found that her parents had no intention of allowing her out of the palace to seek her elusive uncle. After several minutes of protesting vigorously to no avail, the young princess allowed her mother to pack her into bed, on condition that she not be given yet another sleeping draught. “By the Valar, Mother, I sleep so heavily from this wound that I need no aid.” Eirien was convinced, and left Sili alone.

Her mother’s footsteps had barely died away when Sili was up, changing swiftly into her riding clothes. Her movements were a little slow, but with care, she was able to climb off the balcony and down the trunk of a nearby tree to freedom. Once upon the ground, she hurried to the stables.

For her last birthday, Legolas had given his niece a fine young stallion foaled by his own mare. Sili treasured the gift for two reasons, one because of Tingilinde’s fine bloodline, and the other because there were few places in Mirkwood where the colt could not find his dam. Though she knew riding was unwise only two weeks after her injury, fierce stubbornness kept Silivren from heeding her light-headedness as she mounted her horse. “Find Tinnu,” she ordered the stallion.

Tingilinde carried her down the north bank of the Forest River well beyond the wood elves’ immediate territory. Silivren would have been apprehensive if she had not been able to see clearly Tinnu’s tracks on the soft ground, which Tingilinde followed with ease. Legolas had certainly gone out of his way to avoid any contact with other elves.

A little ways further, Silivren came around a small bend in the river to find the object of her search sitting alone on the bank, gazing morosely into the swift flow. He did not look up at the sound of the horse’s approach. Even from the side, she could see the gloom that hung over him like a veil, the dejection in his posture, and the dimness of his eyes. She found it hard to believe that he did not notice her, but feared instead that his private sorrow denied him the energy or interest to look and see who had arrived. This was going to be harder than she had thought. She quietly dismounted, and took a few hesitant steps towards him. “Legolas?”

At least she got his attention. Her uncle’s head snapped toward her, alarm and dismay replacing melancholy, and he leapt to his feet. “Silivren! Have you lost all sense, riding all this way when you are--”

“--I know I am convalescing, Uncle, you need not remind me.”

Legolas pursed his lips, and Silivren remembered the things Thranduil had told her. Suddenly she realized she was facing the warrior who outranked her, rather than the uncle she hoped to reach. “Obviously you do need reminding if you engage in such foolhardy exercises. I would have thought you had been trained better.”

Silivren bristled, “You know why I came. Since you have not deigned to see me since your return, I sought you out myself.”

By the Valar, she had never seen him this way. His eyes looked so lifeless, and his voice was equally dead. “You know I have been to see you,” he replied flatly.

“And crept away every time I opened my eyes,” she retorted. “I want to talk to you. Do not put me off!” she snapped as he started to speak. “I may have been bedridden, but my eyes and ears work still. You have been skulking around like an orc afraid of the sunlight ever since you got back. It is time you began acting like an elf again!”

That was a mistake. Her uncle’s gray eyes hardened like steel and seemed to bore into her, causing her to take an involuntary step backward. She had never seen Legolas look like this. He sounded more like one of the captains as he said in a low, cold voice, “Mind you words, young novice, for you forget your place. You have no business making demands of me.”

Silivren swallowed hard against the lump of frustration and pain in her throat. *Why have you shut me out?* “Legolas,” she whispered desperately. “Please. I am sorry. It is only that I cannot stand you being like this. We are all mourning, and it would be better if you were with us.”

Legolas lowered his eyes again, and for a moment she thought she had gotten through. Then his jaw tightened, and he said, “I have no right to mourn alongside you, for I am responsible for…all that took place. I had obligations that I failed to meet.” He lifted his eyes and told her, “And one of them was for your safety, which I see is still in danger. I shall see you back to the palace before you are missed--”

“No,” she snapped, though her heart was breaking inside.

“Do not make me order you,” he said, unmoved.

With an under-breath curse, Silivren whirled and stalked back to her horse. “A wounded novice I may be, my lord, but I think I can still find my way home without your help. For I want none of your company if I may not speak to my uncle, who loves and listens to me, rather than this overbearing and embittered novice master he has become. But if it is your will to continue to sit here and wallow in your own guilt and self-pity, then as you say, I would be forgetting my place as your subordinate if I attempted to stop you.”

Legolas stared at her. Her hands shook as she beckoned to Tingilinde, and unshed tears stung her eyes. “I carry the burden of Salma and Sorn’s loss too, you know! Had I not been so reckless in trying to wrestle Gollum from that tree, you would have been there, and we might have held off the orcs long enough for reinforcements to come. They were my friends, you know!” The stallion whinnied softly at her side, and stifling a furious sob, she turned away from the silent Legolas and began to mount.

“Sili.”

The silence seemed to explode with that one quiet word. She dared not turn back, biting her lip fiercely, as the sound of quick, light strides was followed suddenly by his hands on her shoulders. He turned her gently around, and she forced herself to look at his face. The sight of his brimming eyes broke the last of her restraint, and she released a sob into her hands. Legolas pulled her into a tight embrace as she wept long and hard. “Forgive me,” he murmured, stroking her hair. “I have not been thinking clearly.”

For much of the ten days Legolas had been gone with the company pursuing Gollum and the captive Salma, Silivren had been too incoherent from the concussion to realize what had happened. After regaining her senses, she had forestalled her own emotions as she awaited news of the search, and hoped that she and her uncle might face their grief together, as they had shared many things during the past forty years. When Legolas had instead shied away from her, she had felt naught but confusion. Now, at last, her grief boiled up, and she released it, sobbing into her uncle’s arms, for Salma and Sorn, for her failure, for their people being lost to the shadow, because it was all too much to bear.

***

After escorting Silivren back to the palace (and enduring a thorough tongue-lashing from Eirien over Sili’s being outside at all) Legolas walked to the archery range. Much of the normal routine in the elven king’s realm had been disrupted by the attack and the mourning for Salma and Sornhén, and there were no other elves practicing. Standing by himself, firing arrow after arrow into the targets of the silent field, Legolas felt at last the heavy weight of despair beginning to lift from him. He shot his last arrows into the farthest target, at an odd angle, but they struck home, and he felt an obscure comfort in that. His quiver empty, he sighed.

“I am glad to see you returned to yourself, my son.”

Legolas jumped. Even among his kindred, the senses of the youngest prince of Mirkwood were especially strong, and few of his kindred could boast the ability to sneak up on him. However, his father had always been one of them. Thranduil smiled slightly as his son turned to face him, looking sheepish. “I am, my lord,” he said, bowing to the king. “I fear I have been neglecting my duties.”

Thranduil walked up next to him. “The realm is in mourning, as you well know. There are no regular duties.” Legolas nodded wordlessly. “All the same, we cannot relax our vigilance. Eregdos wishes to send out war parties in search of orcs, and perhaps to find some sign of Gollum, for I doubt if he would willingly stay in Dol Guldur among the Nazgul.”

Swallowing hard against the tightness in his throat at the mere mention of Gollum or Dol Guldur, Legolas nodded, “I shall join them, Father.”

Both of them were silent as they walked back to the fortress, but Legolas felt his father’s hand rest lightly upon his shoulder. It seemed to lift the darkness further away from his heart, and prince and king smiled wordlessly at each other. After all, Legolas reasoned, Thranduil of all people knew that his realm could and had survived far worse trials than this. *My father has not kept us together all these years for naught. We shall live through this as well.*

***

About four months later…

“Legolas,” Eregdos came upon the elven warrior placing his newly-replenished pack upon his mount. “Whither are you departing now?”

The prince glanced at the other members of his party before replying, “We thought to try south towards Emyn Muil and Gondor. Perhaps some trace of Gollum might be found there.”

The warrior captain of Mirkwood shook his head. “It is unlikely Gollum would venture in that direction after all he suffered in Mordor. We’ve seen not a trace of him in months. It would be best to consider him lost and look to other things.”

Looking away, Legolas said softly, “The information he possesses is dangerous if he should fall into the wrong hands again, sir. Surely we cannot simply abandon the search.”

*You still have much to learn, young warrior. None could fail to know you as Langcyll’s protégé, for he also never knew when to have done.* Eregdos smiled. Legolas’s obsession with finding Gollum again was an ill habit often found among the younger warriors in the ranks; he could not rest without finding some way to rectify his failure. Still, summer had ended and autumn come upon them with naught to show for their efforts, and the captain knew their energies must now be directed elsewhere. Still…Legolas was partly right. Gollum and the whereabouts of the One Ring could not simply be dismissed, even if the chances of finding him were all but nonexistent.

Legolas and the other scouts were watching Eregdos curiously, and the warrior captain returned his thoughts to them. “We shall send word to Lord Elrond in Imladris. Mithrandir will have made him aware of the situation with Gollum, perhaps he will have counsel for how best to proceed. Yes, Legolas, you may be the messenger,” he added, anticipating the prince’s volunteering. Several of the other elves sniggered, and Legolas glared at them. Eregdos smiled, “It is as well; I must send a delegation to Rivendell in any case. You shall carry a message from the king concerning Gollum, and also lead the escort of my daughter to the House of Elrond.”

“Galithil?” Legolas asked. Behind him, Merilin giggled.

Eregdos mock-glared at her, and spoke with a crossness they all knew to be feigned. “Yes. It seems Glorfindel’s young upstart is determined to have her hand, and she is equally set on the son of Gwaeron. If all goes well, they shall wed in Rivendell next year.” Legolas and the other young warriors were grinning broadly, and Eregdos waved his hand irritably at them. “Be off with you. We shall depart at dawn in three days’ time.”

***

Three days later…

King Thranduil, Berensul, Eirien, and Silivren came out onto the palace steps to bid farewell to the party of travelers. Eregdos bowed to the elven king. “I have ordered Narbeleth to lead the warriors of Mirkwood in my absence.”

“I can find no fault with such an appointment,” Thranduil replied. Behind Eregdos stood his daughter Galithil, who was unlikely to return to Mirkwood. The elven king smiled and held out his hand to her. “You shall be greatly missed, daughter of Eregdos. My felicitations and blessing for a joyous union go with you.”

Blushing, Galithil bowed and kissed his hand. “I shall never forget your kindness to me and my family, my lord. I too shall miss all our kindred.” Several of the elves dashed tears from their eyes. Galithil was a promising young warrioress, possessing her father’s instinct for battle and strong heart, and she was much-loved among the Silvan elves. Her departure would be a loss to the elves of Mirkwood, while a great blessing to the elves of Imladris.

Legolas, watching the exchange with bright eyes, soon came to bow to the king. “Bear my message and the bride of Faron to Rivendell, my son,” said Thranduil. “And return safely to us.”

“My thanks, my lord,” Legolas replied. After exchanging farewells with Berensul and his family, Thranduil’s youngest son walked back toward his horse to depart.

*I may never see him again…*

The thought struck Thranduil like a wave of ice through his heart, and made him catch his breath. He knew not what had made him think such a thing, but the premonition stayed, clutching at his mind. Before he knew it-- “Legolas!”

His son glanced up, startled, as Thranduil swiftly came to his side among the horses. Legolas’s gray eyes were puzzled as the king laid an urgent hand upon his shoulder. “My son, take care. Come back to us.”

“I shall, Father,” answered Legolas, surprised by the anxiety in the king’s quiet words. He was surprised still more when his father silently embraced him, though he returned it with pleasure.

Thranduil stepped back again, noting gladly that the other elves were keeping themselves busy with the horses. “You have given me much cause for pride, Legolas.”

“Thank you.”

It made Thranduil’s lips quirk to see that his son was now quite confused, and at last he smiled. “Go now with my blessing.” With one last squeeze of Legolas’s shoulder, he returned to the palace steps, ignoring the obnoxious grin that his eldest son was currently giving him. “Farewell, warriors of Mirkwood! Come back to us safely!”

Legolas, being the king’s messenger on this journey, was at the head of the company, with Galithil and Eregdos just behind him. As they mounted and rode out toward the gate, Legolas suddenly looked back and waved. Thranduil raised his own hand in farewell with a full heart. *Come back to me, my son.*

***

In Lothlorien, at the same time…

The Lady Galadriel stood over her Mirror, watching things that are unfold in Middle Earth. She nodded quietly to herself as she beheld a party of horses departing the elven king’s city in Mirkwood, riding West for Rivendell. *The son of Thranduil’s destiny arrives. Thranduil himself has felt it, even without the power of a Ring.* She smiled. *Powerful and strange, is the love of a father for a son.* Her gaze fell upon the fair-haired elven warrior riding at the head of the company. *Ride swift, son of Mirkwood, and be true to your heart. For your heart is one of many things that shall soon be tested.*

She leaned back and watched the Mirror guide itself to display other happenings to her. It came into focus West of the Misty Mountains, upon a gray horse riding with fierce speed across the plains. *Asfaloth.*

Behind the gray steed, black-garbed riders gave chase upon black mounts. *The Nazgul. Our fate is upon us.*

With her will, she moved the focus of the mirror closer to the gray horse, spying the small, ailing figure upon its back, clutched in the grasp of a dark-haired elven maid as they raced toward the sanctuary of Rivendell. The elf was Arwen, daughter of Celebrian, granddaughter of Galadriel.

The Lady blinked, puzzlement sweeping over her features. Aloud, she murmured, “Something is not right.”

*****


(Giggle!) Forgive me, purists, I couldn't resist!

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: Jocelyn

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - The Stewards

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 03/15/04

Original Post: 07/09/02

Go to Little Nudge Out of the Door, A overview

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