Author’s note: No, I don’t own any of this in terms of intellectual property, save perhaps the new characters (and frankly, who cares). I apologize for the liberties I took concerning Mirkwood and the involvement of horses and Easterlings in this part of the Professor’s tale, and I trust the Tolkien Estate will not bother much about the direct quotation at the end of this little story.

Not through lack of watchfulness

Something was not right.

It was a vague feeling of unease, of restlessness, that had driven the tall Elf to leave the little camp at the foot of Orodamrhûn, the easternmost of the Mountains of Mirkwood. He was searching to get at least an unrestricted view of their surrounding, if he could not get a clear picture of what it was that was weighing on his mind.

Climbing up a little way, his light steps perfectly noiseless in the still of the night, Legolas came to an area mostly free of trees, rocky and harsh, strewn with large boulders. It was not the kind of place one of the Firstborn would normally choose to contemplate the serenity of a quiet night; yet he had selected this spot for its very desolation and quietness, for he needed to listen – into the darkness, and into himself.

The sky, brilliant in the glory of a million glittering stars only a little while ago, had clouded over, and a near complete darkness had descended over Mirkwood. It was the night of the new moon, and no human or dwarf, not even a hobbit with the keen sight of his strange little race, could have seen anything in the obscurity of the forest below. However, the Elf, sitting on one of the large boulders and looking down from his elevated vantage point, could still just make out the cautious movements of his companions in the shadow of the lone oak tree that stood high and straight in its solitude, right in the middle of the little dell.

Something was not right. He could feel it.

Still, Legolas was not overly worried about their prisoner. Recently, the poor creature had taken to clinging to the boughs of this tree with his spindly hands and feet whenever his guards tried to get him down and take him back to his cave in the tunnels of the Orodamrhûn. Despite his abhorrence of the sun, the creature seemed to enjoy the twilight of dusk and dawn, and the temporary freedom that his stubbornness yielded. Legolas did not begrudge his charge such little liberties; for although he was repelled by the being’s sheer ugliness, and by the sensation of evil and corruption that emanated from it, the Elf did not have the heart to keep any living thing locked up under the mountain day and night. Sméagol would come down from his tree eventually, as he always did; at the latest with the first rays of the morning sun, which seemed to burn him almost physically.

Like so often recently, Legolas wondered about his extraordinary prisoner, and the reasons for his own mission out here in the middle of Mirkwood, several days’ travel on horseback away from his father’s halls in the north. He recalled how sixteen months ago Mithrandir, the Grey Pilgrim, had arrived at the Elven king’s gates in the middle of the night, accompanied by a weather-beaten man, a human clad in a travel-stained cloak of heavy dark-green cloth. With them, they had brought the creature Gollum – or Sméagol, as Mithrandir called him – bound at the wrists, wailing and protesting in his screechy voice, an insult to the sensitive ears of the Elves. Mithrandir had introduced his human companion as Telcontar, the Dúnadan, which Thranduil had accepted without questioning; to Legolas, the name was unfamiliar, although he knew of the Dúnedain, the Men of the West. But he had never cared overmuch for humans and their folk lore, and it was enough for him that his father seemed to know who the stranger was.

Staying in the background as was his wont when the lords took counsel, Legolas had listened to the wizard’s request to guard the bizarre being and, above all, keep his very existence secret as much as possible. Thranduil had nodded his consent, and promised that the Elves of Mirkwood would not fail in their trust. At this, the Dúnadan had lifted his gaze and let it rest upon Legolas for a moment; and even though despite his youthful appearance, the graceful Elf had seen many centuries come and go before this ragged-looking mortal was even born, he sensed the ancient power concealed in this man, and answered the appeal in the intense grey eyes with a silent pledge of his own.

The next morning, the strange visitors had gone – except for Sméagol, who had been led to the dungeons underneath the king’s halls and locked up until Thranduil decided what to do about him. The Elven king had spent a sleepless night pondering his course of action; to Legolas’s surprise, Thranduil had not invited his son’s counsel, like he usually did. Instead, he bade him choose a handful of companions among the most trustworthy warriors and escort the captive to the Mountains of Mirkwood, to be kept and guarded in the darkness of the caves in the bowels of the massive rock. It had seemed a good choice, for by taking Sméagol to this dreary place, where no traveller came save one who had lost his way in the darker regions of Mirkwood, discovery of the creature’s existence was practically pre-empted. Still, there had always been a gnawing doubt at the back of Legolas’s mind as to the wisdom of his father’s decision to send them so far away not only from discovery but from help as well, should any trouble arise.

Legolas rested his hands on the rock underneath him, willing himself to find the connection between these recollections and the indistinct apprehension that had come over him. Stone was mute to him; he could not read it as he could read leaf and grass, by the mere touch of his fingertips. Yet sometimes the Elf found that deliberately shutting out his keen sensory perceptions helped him concentrate on his inner voice. He did not possess the foresight that lords like Elrond of Imladris or the fabled Lady of the Golden Woods, and to some extent also his own father Thranduil, were gifted with. Yet on numerous occasions Legolas had shown an uncanny ability to sense danger before others did. It was a feeling deep down inside him, a connection with those he cared for, that alerted him to perilous situations they might be in. It also caused a lot of good-natured teasing by his younger brother Fingalas, who called him “spooky”, a word he seemed to have picked up from the wine traders on the Long Lake Esgaroth.

It was that very same sensation that now kept him literally on the edge, listening into the night. He knew that a relief party was on their way to take over from the current company, the third since their watch over Sméagol had begun; Legolas himself was the only one who had stayed on throughout this period. He doubted very much that Fingalas would be part of this new group, for Thranduil would not likely send both of his sons out to the darkest region of northern Mirkwood. Yet he felt, with an intensity bordering on knowledge, that someone close to his heart was in danger.

Suddenly, the dream he’d had a few nights ago broke the surface of his consciousness again, only with much more clarity than in sleep. Unmistakably now, he saw his gwador Thendir, surrounded by shadow, fighting valiantly, but outnumbered by the dark shapes that were pressing in on him. There were others, too; but before Legolas could bend his mind to discover their identity, mayhem broke loose in the forest below him.

In an instant, the Elf was on his feet and leapt off the boulder, slipping his long bow from his shoulders and stringing it as he raced down the rocky slope towards the shouting and wailing. Some of the voices were Elvish, most others human or of darker, fouler beings. Flickering lights danced among the shadows, torches which whoever was attacking the camp had brought with them. They must be sure of their superior numbers, and uncaring about losses, since much as this light would be necessary to anybody other than Elves to see aught in the obscurity of this moonless night, it also provided the skilled Elven archers with excellent targets.

Upon reaching the dell, Legolas saw to his dismay that his company was indeed vastly outnumbered. The Elven guards had counted fifteen, including himself. Of those, six lay slain, and the rest were fighting a losing battle against a horde at least four times their original number. There was no sign of the Elves’ horses, but Legolas heard frantic whinnying in the dark of the forest. Most of the attackers were orcs, hideous, warped creatures with black skin and eyes that glittered eerily red in the flickering torch light. But there were a number of men also, some of them on horses; tall and dark they were, with cruel faces. Although Legolas had never before encountered any of the Rhûnrhim, he knew that these could only be men of the East, people of ill repute who were whispered to have pledged their allegiance to the Dark Lord Sauron.

Firing arrow after arrow into the thick of the fight with deadly accuracy, Legolas felled five attackers within a matter of seconds, at the same time scanning the area for Sméagol. There was no sight of the prisoner in the lower boughs of the oak tree, where Legolas had last seen him; but he may have climbed up higher to escape the dangers of the battle. Now was not the time to worry about Sméagol. The assailants had noticed their new opponent and threw themselves at the tall Elf, snarling viciously. Four more dropped dead with Elven arrows protruding from chest or throat, but then the sheer closeness of his attackers forced Legolas to exchange his bow for his long knife.

It was a hopeless struggle. Sidestepping and evading blows, attacking and ducking, dancing rings around his opponents, Legolas still could not hope to keep the brutish creatures at bay indefinitely. A hot rage came over the Elf as he witnessed one after the other of his companions being overpowered and slain by their attackers – Feredír, Thorodran, then Gilradwen. Rúndir was the last to fall, and Legolas cried out in anger and despair as he caught the stare of his friend’s breaking eyes. Momentarily distracted, he moved a fraction too late to escape the swing of a heavy cudgel. The force of the blow caused him to double over as all air was knocked out of his lungs. In an instant, four orcs were on to him, grabbing his arms and pulling them back roughly, which caused a sharp, stinging pain in his ribcage. His knife was knocked from his hand, and one of the orcs picked it up and stuffed it into his own belt with a gleeful, hideous grin. Another orc ripped Legolas’s quiver and the bow off his shoulders.

As he struggled against his captors’ grip, Legolas wondered for a fleeting moment whether he should consider himself lucky that the blunt cudgel seemed to have done no more harm than break a couple of his ribs. However, these thoughts were pushed aside when he saw Sméagol drop down from the lowest branch of his tree and turn towards him with a triumphant gloat on his haggard face – a gloat which soon changed into something resembling fear when a big orc approached, grabbed his skinny arm and dragged him over to a huge, square-faced man, apparently the leader of the Rhûnrhim. The man spoke to the cowering creature and seemed rather pleased with the reply; but all Legolas could hear above the deafening made by orcs was the retching “Gollum! Gollum!” sound which had earned Sméagol his other name.

The Elf did not have much time to ponder Sméagol’s fate, though, or indeed speculate why the orcs hadn’t killed him yet, when they had shown no restraint in their bloodlust towards his companions. The leader of the Rhûnrhim stepped close, holding a flaming torch high above his head.

“So you are the accursed Elven king’s son, are you?” the Easterling growled, speaking in a thick but quite understandable dialect of the common tongue. “Hmm… what shall we do about you then?”

The orcs holding Legolas jeered and waved their curved daggers wildly in the air, gibbering in their foul, unintelligible language; the meaning of their gestures, however, was clear. The man grinned, a cruel, humourless grin.

“Perhaps. He could be useful, though. I think we’ll- ”

He didn’t finish his sentence. With loud clamouring, another group of Easterlings entered the dell, leading their sturdy steeds behind them. In their midst, they dragged along another captive. The dark-haired Elf struggled fiercely but could not break the iron clasp of his captors. One of these, who was carrying a bow and quiver which obviously belonged to the Elf, now addressed the Rhûnrhim leader.

“We came across another group, Grabnak. We broke ’em up and slew some, but they know these cursed woods better than we do and got away.” The man gave his captive a rough shove forward. “We did manage to catch this fellow, though.”

The Elf had not stopped in his struggling, but he kept his head down all the time so that his long hair hid his features from view. Grabnak walked over to the newcomers and, grabbing Elf by his hair, pulled his head back so he could see his face. What he saw made him grin.

“Idiots!” he hissed and slapped the man who had spoken before across the face; but there was a vicious glee in his voice.

“This is a woman.”

Surprised, Legolas looked across at the other Elf who now stood up straight, staring defiantly at Grabnak. Although in the dim light it was easy to mistake her at first sight, dressed as she was in the same simple hunter’s outfit as all the other Elves, her smaller stature and the softness of her features left no doubt as to her gender. A cold fist closed around Legolas’s heart. So it was not Thendir who he had sensed to be in danger, but Merilinwen, his gwador’s sister…? Their eyes met, and for a moment, the other Elf lost her composure; then, just as quickly, she assumed her inscrutable stare again.

Grabnak, however, was no fool. He looked from one Elf to the other, comprehension dawning on his dark face.

“Ah – you two know each other, don’t you? My, my.” His unpleasant grin widened. “What a pretty pair we’ve got here.” He yanked Merilinwen’s hair back sharply, and she could not suppress the involuntary gasp this rough treatment elicited. Legolas strained against his captors’ grasp.

“Don’t touch her!” he hissed between clenched teeth.

Grabnak turned towards him with insulting slowness. He let go of Merilinwen and came ambling over to Legolas.

“Oh no? And what are you going to do about it?”

With a quickness that belied his heavy-set frame, the Easterling grabbed a cudgel from one of the orcs standing by and swung it at Legolas. The Elf groaned as the club slammed against his cracked ribs. Merilinwen had been watching all the time, her eyes darting back and forth between Legolas and Grabnak, with a mixture of fear and defiance in her face. Legolas knew she did not really understand the common tongue, but obviously the meaning of this exchange was all too clear to her.

“I think I will do as I please, and you will watch.”

Grabnak gave Legolas another shove with the cudgel for good measure before turning back to Merilinwen. He lifted his grimy hand and touched her cheek in a vile caress. The Elf shuddered and turned her head away in disgust. However, Grabnak was not put off so easily. He grabbed her by the chin and forcefully turned her back to face him, bringing his own leering face close to hers. Merilinwen glared at the Easterling, furious, and spat into his face. Grabnak flinched and let go of her chin; then he slapped her forcefully across the face.

Legolas doubled his efforts to break free from his captor’s grasp, but to no avail. Suddenly, he sensed a new presence. Searching the area, he quickly made out a pair of large, amber-coloured eyes hidden in the bushes to their right. Neither the orcs nor any of the men had noticed anything; even in broad daylight they would not have seen those eyes, even less so in this flickering half-light. Legolas was puzzled. This was clearly some kind of animal, but none he had ever seen among the creatures that inhabited Mirkwood.

Just as Grabnak lifted his hand to strike at Merilinwen again, the animal attacked. In a fluid move fast as lightning, it jumped out of its hiding place and slammed into the Easterling with its full body weight, bringing the big man to the ground. Grabnak yelled out in surprise and fear, and the men and orcs around him started to shout and gibber, turning around wildly to see if there were more attackers.

Taking advantage of the momentary confusion, Legolas hooked his foot around the ankle of one of his guards and yanked it forward. The orc, taken completely at unawares, lost his balance and fell over backwards, pulling the Elf and another orc down with him. Legolas used the impact of the fall to tear himself free from his captors and rolled over onto his hands and feet, slipping his knife from the belt of the orc on the ground. Within seconds, three of his former guards lay dead; but the fourth managed to hook his arm around Legolas’s neck from behind, and put his serrated blade against the Elf’s throat. The next moment, however, the orc’s grip went slack, and he sank to the ground with the hilt of an Elven knife protruding from his throat. Looking up across the dell, Legolas met Merilinwen’s eyes and nodded his thanks to the grim satisfaction in her face. Somehow she must have managed to retrieve her weapons in the turmoil, and four slain Easterlings on the ground around her – including Grabnak – were witness to her skills.

Now Legolas also got a closer view of the animal whose sudden appearance had triggered this unexpected development. It was a large cat, its shoulders reaching to well above Merilinwen’s knees; it had short, brown fur dotted with slightly darker spots, and its ears ended in feathery tufts. Sharp fangs boded ill for any of the villains who hastily shrank away from the Elf and her cat, unsuccessfully trying to put a safe distance between them and her bow.

Legolas registered all this within a split second, for while Merilinwen seemed reasonably safe for the moment, he himself had to face even more attackers as orcs and Easterlings now turned to him with renewed fury. Despite his own deft knife-work and Merilinwen’s expert archery, they would not be able to hold out much longer, for already her quiver was nearly spent.

As he ducked another attack and answered with an upward slice of his knife, he noticed a different struggle going on in the background; a horse was trying to break free from the man holding it by the coarse rope that had been knotted around its neck. This lithe, reddish brown mare with no saddle or bridle, just a few bags and a rolled-up blanket slung across its back, was clearly not one of the Easterlings’ own horses, but must be Merilinwen’s.

Disentangling himself from his immediate opponent with a quick spin, Legolas picked up a discarded orc knife from the ground and took aim. The next instant, the man holding the Elven horse sank to his knees, clutching at the dagger in his chest. Legolas let out a sharp whistle. The horse responded immediately, knocking aside men and orcs as it thundered through the rabble. Legolas levelled another well-aimed kick at an Easterling, then hoisted himself up on to the horse’s back as it shot past him. The animal veered around in a tight turn that none of the other horses could have accomplished without tumbling over, and carried its rider back towards the other Elf. As they galloped past, Merilinwen grabbed Legolas’s outstretched arm and swung herself up behind him. At her shout of “Noro lim, Rhofaloth!” the horse stretched into a fast run. The big cat immediately fell into stride with the horse, bounding alongside with feline grace and surprising speed.

A howl of rage went through their foes. The men ran for their own steeds to take up the chase, while the orcs, which evidently not even the wild looking horses of the Easterlings would tolerate on their backs, shook their fists and bared their hideous black teeth. Just before the two Elves ducked into the shadow of the trees, Legolas turned back to see a large group of orcs moving of in the opposite direction, dragging a wailing Sméagol with them. The next moment, the darkness of the trees closed around them.

Even a horse trained by the Elves had to tread carefully in the dark of the night in order not to trip over roots and boughs. However, their pursuers were a lot slower still, and their loud cursing and shouting soon receded more and more. When it was only a faint noise far behind them, Legolas bade Rhofaloth slow down to a light trot and used his knife to cut off the crude rope that was still tied around its neck.

They had reached an area where the trees were spaced more widely, allowing glimpses of the dark night sky. Legolas turned to Merilinwen. He could hardly make out her face in the darkness; dawn was yet a good two hours away.

“Are you alright?”

He felt rather than saw Merilinwen nod. “Yes,” she whispered with a slight trembling in her voice. “Legolas, what are these foul beings doing here, so far away from their dark homes?”

In his mind, Legolas saw again Sméagol’s gloating face, and the creature being led away by the orcs.

“They wanted our prisoner, and he knew that they were coming.”

This was something he did not understand. How could Sméagol have known this? Even if somebody had given away the secret of his whereabouts, how could Sméagol have known they were coming to free him? The only explanation Legolas had for this mystery was that whoever had sent the orcs and Rhûnrhim had also bewitched the birds or other animals of Mirkwood to carry his evil messages, for apart from his guards, those were the only creatures that Sméagol had had contact with during his imprisonment.

His thoughts turned back to the rider behind him, and the group she had come with. “Merilinwen, what about the others? Was Thendir with you?”

Merilinwen’s voice seemed to darken when she replied. “Yes, he and – and Celedrin, and ten others. We were surprised by a large host of riders, and lost two of our company; then Thendir gave the order to split up, and I was separated from him. I don’t know what became of the others.”

Legolas, who knew how close Merilinwen and her brother were, heard the pain of insecurity in her voice. “Thendir is a skilled warrior, and he knows these woods far better than any of those evil creatures,” he tried to comfort her. “I am sure he got away safely.”

Their horse stumbled as it stepped into a hole in the ground, and Legolas stifled a gasp as Merilinwen instinctively tightened her grip around his hurting midriff. Immediately, she released him again.

“What is it, Legolas?”

“Nothing. A broken rib, I think.” He bade their horse stop, and listened into the night. He could sense, rather than hear or see, Merilinwen’s big cat; it had followed them on noiseless paws, keeping close all the time.

It was completely quiet but for Rhofaloth’s soft snorting. It seemed that they had lost their pursuers, yet that was not quite what Legolas had intended; and indeed, after a moment he could pick up their distant clamouring. He turned to his companion again.

“Merilinwen, there is one way of making sure that at least this lot will not threaten anybody any more. Do you know where we are?”

She hesitated before replying. “I – I am not quite sure.”

Legolas looked up through the leaves above them, but the night sky was still covered in thick clouds. Still, he was quite certain of their position. “We have come almost a league north of the Orodamrhûn, and slightly to the east. Do you know what lies east of here?”

“The Enchanted Road, and… Legolas, what do you have in mind?” There was a definite note of fear in her voice now. Legolas reached for her hand and gently folded his fingers around hers.

“Trust me,” he said. Upon his soft-spoken command, Rhofaloth turned around and began trotting back the way they had come.

Soon the noise of their pursuers was very audible again, and the two Elves could make out the unsteady light of wavering torches. Yet again, Legolas bade their steed turn around again and follow their way back in their original direction, but always keeping a safe distance. As they went along, he made no effort to disguise their tracks, tearing off branches and dropping them on the ground at irregular intervals.

“You want them to find our trail.” It was not a question, and the fear had not left Merilinwen’s voice. “And you want them to follow us to… to…”

“The spiders will take care of them.”

Legolas’s tone was hard and cold. He remembered Feredír, Rúndir, and Gilradwen; Gilradwen, one of three Elf women who had been part of his watch, and who now lay dead underneath the tree that had become Sméagol’s hiding place. The men who had slain her would get their just desert.

Yet through his anger and sorrow, Legolas sensed the apprehension in the Elf riding behind him. Merilinwen had dropped her arms from her earlier embrace; but the physical closeness remained, and Legolas could read her feelings plainly. She did not wish to go this way.

If they had had two horses, he would have sent her away, due north, to alert his father. But they didn’t, and he did not want her to take the risk of trying to get away on foot. Legolas tried to take her mind off the danger that lay to the east.

“Tell me, who is your feline friend? He came in mighty useful.”

Merilinwen chuckled. “Oh, you mean Thâl.” Despite the darkness, Legolas thought he saw the big cat’s tufted ears twitching upon hearing its name. “Thâl… I found him as a cub. I was up north, near the Grey Mountains, when I came upon him, next to his dead mother. She seemed to have succumbed to some illness, I don’t know what. He was already very weak, so I took him with me and nursed him back to health.” There was a smile in her voice. “He is very protective of me.”

“I noticed that,” replied Legolas dryly, glad that he had managed to lift her mood a little. “And I am rather thankful for it.” This elicited another chuckle from Merilinwen. “Sometimes it gets a bit much,” she said. “Apart from my brother, he does not really like anybody to get too close to me.”

They rode on in silence, always listening behind them and making sure their pursuers stayed well on their trail. Although dawn gradually drew near, the complete absence of the normal noises of the first animals as they stir in their sleep, sensing the approaching sun, cast an eerie spell over this part of the forest.

Deeper and deeper they made their way into this oppressive silence. The trees around them seemed to grow ever closer together, bending their twisted boughs as if to reach out and touch the intruders. Rhofaloth snorted nervously, and Legolas started chanting softly, a barely audible song to calm the fretful beast. Merilinwen suppressed a gasp when a thin, sticky thread touched her hand, leaving behind a slight burning like the sting of a nettle or an insect. As if in reply to her mounting fear, Legolas whispered, “Not much longer.”

The pale light of dawn filtered through the dark trees, illuminating everything in an unreal glow, and revealing a sight that would have instilled fear in the soul of the bravest warrior.

All around them, gigantic, silvery spider’s webs hung from boughs and branches, glistening with dewdrops in the early light. Every single one of these webs held a large, black spider.

The smallest of these monsters were as big as Thâl, the bigger ones almost the size of a horse. It took all of Legolas’s strength to will their terrified horse to remain quiet; its flanks were trembling violently. The big cat, too, was shivering with fear. It was a token of the love it bore Merilinwen that it still stayed close to them.

Legolas lent a hand for Merilinwen to swing off their steed’s back and then followed, noiselessly slipping down to the ground. Turning to Rhofaloth, he covered the horse’s eyes with one hand while caressing his neck with the other. Thus he led their disparate little group through the maze of intricately crafted webs, very quietly, even Rhofaloth’s hoofs hardly making a sound on the soft, mossy floor. Merilinwen had nocked an arrow to her bow – one of three she had left – and held it at the ready, but it looked like she was not going to need to use it; some of the huge spiders stirred, but none seemed to be aware of the two Elves and their animals.

They had almost reached the end of this gigantic nest, where the webs were spaced further apart and inhabited by smaller specimen, when they heard the noise of the quickly approaching Easterlings. Of course, their own progress over the last ten minutes or so had been agonizingly slow, so their pursuers had caught up with them. But that was exactly what Legolas had intended.

Suddenly, a great commotion went through the spiders, causing their nets to shake and vibrate as many dormant shapes shuddered into life. Two pairs of black eyes very close to the Elves popped open; but before the huge spiders left their webs, Legolas had leapt onto Rhofaloth’s back and pulled Merilinwen up behind him. The horse needed no encouragement. With a loud whinny, it broke into a gallop and carried them fast out of reach of the two monstrous creatures scuttling after them.

The men who had just reached the centre of the spiders’ nest were not so fortunate. The glee that had sounded in their shouts when they had first caught sight of their quarry quickly turned into wails of terror as they realised what the horrid black shapes were that surrounded them.

There was no escape for the Easterlings.

Rhofaloth splashed through a wide but shallow stream, which separated this dark part of the forest from an adjacent beech wood, and climbed the riverbank on the other side. Thâl, who had followed them all the time, clearly was not fond of water and kept trying to shake the wet stuff off his paws. Legolas cast a glance back over his shoulder. The two spiders that had pursued them had turned back towards their nest, and easier prey. The Elf averted his eyes with an involuntary shudder. He did not delight in the death of so many men, evil as their doings had been.

Wordlessly, Legolas and Merilinwen rode on alongside the river, going east for about two miles before turning south at the junction of the stream with a smaller tributary. Following this little watercourse up a gradual incline, they soon reached an elevated yet secluded spot. Tall beech and oak trees sheltered a small area where big, moss-covered boulders were scattered about the entrance to a narrow cave, a cleft in the hillside, from which the clear water came bubbling forth merrily into a clear pool and thence down the hill. The trees around them wore a friendly, light green, despite the nearness of autumn, and the two Elves were glad for this verdant respite from the horrors of the past night.

They dismounted, and Legolas led their sweating, trembling horse to the water. Of Thâl there was no sign; the big cat had left them shortly after they had crossed the river for the first time, but Merilinwen assured Legolas he would not be gone for long. While Rhofaloth drank deeply, Legolas ran his hands lightly along the animal’s neck and shivering flanks, caressing, murmuring soothing words in a low singsong. After a little while, the horse started to respond to his gentle administrations, and calmed down visibly. It lifted its head and lightly prodded the Elf in the ribs with its soft nose. Legolas winced, but continued to caress the horse’s neck with a smile, glad to see Rhofaloth’s spirits return.

A light touch on his arm interrupted their little game.

“You are hurt, Legolas. Let me have a look at your injury.” Merilinwen’s soft voice conveyed her concern.

“It’s nothing much. We should get going again soon, to find Thendir.”

“We can take that little bit of time. Rhofaloth also needs more of a rest.” Her gaze was firm, as was her voice.

Surprised and a little amused by the sudden authority in her tone, Legolas acquiesced. He undid the clasps of his jerkin and slipped out of that and the tunic he wore underneath. Placing her hands on his bruised side, Merilinwen pressed down gently. Legolas’s sharp intake of breath told her all she needed to know, and she looked up at him with something akin to a scowl. But that scowl quickly changed into a look of concentration as she lightened her touch, simply resting her long fingers against the injury. Her dark eyes locked with his, and Legolas was startled by the power he saw behind the soft features he’d thought he knew so well. After a moment, he felt the stinging pain subside to a dull ache.

“That is not one broken rib, but three,” Merilinwen remarked matter-of-factly and bent down to root through her bag, which she had retrieved from Rhofaloth’s back upon dismounting. Pulling out a thin blanket, she started tearing it into long strips. “I have nothing here to treat this properly, but at least a tight bandage will make riding easier for you.”

She got back up again and started wrapping the makeshift bandage around Legolas’s ribcage with practised skill. “Rest your arms on my shoulders. It will relieve the tension.”

Legolas did as bidden, and indeed found that the shift in weight brought considerable relief to his aching side. He also found himself becoming strangely aware of their physical closeness as Merilinwen’s arms reached around him again and again, working with secure confidence. “I did not know you had a healer’s hands,” he said with a smile that turned into a grimace as she pulled the bandage tight, displaying surprising strength for one so slight.

“I learnt a lot assisting my father,” she replied without looking up. Her tone was noncommittal, yet to Legolas it seemed that her voice wavered slightly. He hesitated a moment before enquiring further.

“How is your father?”

Merilinwen paused. Her fingers faltered, and she regarded the strip of blanket in her hands as if she didn’t know what to do with it. Then she pulled herself together and went about finishing her task. When she finally answered, she kept her eyes cast down, and her voice was flat, as if she had willed all emotion from it.

“He was slain by raiding mountain orcs, not quite a year ago now.”

Despite his earlier misgivings, Legolas was stunned by this news. “Merilinwen, I had no idea…” The words failed him. He reached out to put his hand underneath her chin, and gently lifted her face until she looked at him. Her eyes were brimming with unshed tears. “I am so sorry, gwathel,” he said, his voice reaching out to her, trying to offer comfort. “I had no idea.”

Merilinwen’s frail composure almost broke under his compassionate gaze. “You’ve been gone for a long time,” she replied in a barely audible whisper. A single tear slowly trickled down her cheek. Gently, Legolas brushed the salty pearl away with his thumb, cupping her face in his hand. Merilinwen was unable to keep more tears from spilling as her brittle defence crumbled under the tender gesture.

The muffled sound of hooves broke through the quiet moment. Legolas spun round, his eyes searching the forest below as he reached for the bow Merilinwen had rested against one of the big boulders. But the next instant he relaxed. Bounding up the hill towards them, there was Thâl, followed by a small group of Elves on horses. Their leader was a tall, dark-haired Elf whose handsome features, so similar to Merilinwen’s, broke into a joyous smile as he raised his hand in greeting.

Less than a minute later, the newcomers had reached them, and dismounted. “I thank the Valar for letting us find you both safe and sound, gwador,” the dark-haired Elf said warmly, putting a hand on Legolas’s shoulder. Legolas returned the gesture and was about to reply when one of the riders who had brought up the rear came running up to them and swept Merilinwen into his arms, burying his face in her hair. “Elbereth be praised, you are well,” he said in a voice that betrayed great relief, as he held the Elf woman in a tight embrace.

For an awkward moment, Legolas stood and stared, a look of surprise and consternation on his face. Then he bent down to pick up his clothes from the ground, and when he straightened up again, his expression was inscrutable. “Mae govannen, Thendir,” he said, shrugging back into his tunic. “How did you find us?” His voice was perfectly calm.

Thendir’s eyes darted from Legolas to his sister, only to see Thâl muscling his way in between her and the other Elf, all but pushing him away from Merilinwen. As if to hide a smile at the annoyed look this earned the big cat, Thendir turned to Legolas again. “My sister’s shadow led us to you,” he replied. “I was torn between hope and fear when we did not find either of you among the slain. I recognized the hoof marks of an unshod Elven horse among the tracks leading away from Orodamrhûn, and we followed them towards the spiders’ nest near the Enchanted Road. Then I really did fear for your lives. But Celedrin – ” he nodded at the fair-haired Elf next to Merilinwen ” – insisted we continue the search on the other side of the river. Yet it was Thâl who found us even before we rejoined your trail, and he led us here.”

Legolas glanced at Celedrin and Merilinwen who now stood side by side. Merilinwen did not meet his eyes, but disentangled her hand from Celedrin’s clasp and knelt down next to Thâl, stroking the big cat’s furry head. Thâl’s ears twitched, and a low purr rumbled in his throat; his large amber eyes were fixed on Legolas.

With a short nod of acknowledgement to Celedrin, Legolas turned back to Thendir. “Did you find any trace of the prisoner?” he asked. Thendir’s face clouded over. “There were tracks of a large group of orcs heading south, but we could not tell if Gollum had gone with them, or whether he was with the group on horseback. I decided to follow the horses.”

He did not say any more, but Legolas knew his friend well enough to hear the unspoken. “Do not reproach yourself for following your heart,” he said, resting a reassuring hand on Thendir’s shoulder. “You had no way of knowing which way Sméagol turned. We will take up the hunt now.”

Thendir nodded, and there was both relief and resolve in his smile. He was about to speak again when a movement behind him caught Legolas’s attention.

“Sûl!” Legolas cried, his eyes lighting up.

The joyous shout was answered by a loud whinny as a white stallion broke away from the group of horses being tended by the other Elves, and came trotting up towards Legolas. The animal was slight of stature yet of proud, almost regal bearing – which all but vanished in its obvious delight at being rejoined with its rider. “Yes, my friend,” laughed Legolas, who was nearly pushed over by the horse’s affectionate nuzzling. “I am also glad to see you again!” He caressed Sûl’s soft, dark nose and ruffled his grey mane. “I am glad, indeed, that you escaped the horror of last night.”

Yes, Sûl had escaped the slaying; but it seemed he was the only one. Thendir’s mien was grim as he told Legolas how they had found the corpses of the other Elven horses in the forest not far from the battle. Their enemies had shown no mercy towards the animals.

“Let us not waste any more time.” Legolas’s voice, so soft and full of laughter only a moment ago, had turned to steel. “Our foes have more than half a day’s head start. We must catch up with them ere they get too far south.”


It was noon by the time the Elves reached the Orodamrhûn and the clearing that had witnessed last night’s battle. Their hearts grew heavy at the sight of so many of their own kin lying dead among the corpses of orcs and men. A mix of anguish, wrath and guilt flickered across Legolas’s fair face as he took in the grisly scene. Finally he regained control over his emotions and turned back towards his companions.

“We will bury our dead first,” he said quietly. “Then we will set fire to these… foul creatures and continue our hunt.”

It was a grievous task. Working quickly through the tears streaming down their faces, some of the Elves erected small talans in the branches of the huge oak tree that had been Sméagol’s hide-away, while others gathered sweet-smelling herbs and small white flowers in the surrounding forest. Then they washed their fallen friends’ wounds and combed their hair, and gently bedded them on the talans, two and three side by side, chanting soft laments as they covered them with herbs and flowers.

When this was done, they piled up the dead orcs and men at the far end of the clearing and lit the pyre. A foul stench filled the air as thick black smoke rose from the burning carcasses. The Elves turned away in disgust.

Legolas lightly leapt up onto Sûl’s back and motioned for his companions to follow his example. “Now let us make haste. Already the sun has moved far towards the west.” Thendir hesitated for a moment and cast a glance at his sister, who stood next to Rhofaloth, her head bowed to hide the tears that were still streaming down her face. “Should we not send messengers to the king, Legolas, to inform him of what has befallen?”

But Legolas shook his head. “No, Thendir. I am sure that there is no danger heading north, and any help my father could dispatch would reach us too late, if indeed we ourselves are not yet too late to find Sméagol again. But if we do, we will need every knife and every bow that we have here now.”

Thendir acquiesced and mounted, as did the others. As they turned to leave the dell, Celedrin brought his horse close to Legolas and Thendir; in his hands he held a bow and quiver.

“I believe these belong to you, hîr nîn,” he said respectfully as he offered the weapons to Legolas. “I found them buried underneath a slain orc.”

Legolas ignored the weapons Celedrin was holding out to him and regarded the other Elf with an expression that was difficult to read. It only lasted a moment, though; then he accepted his effects with a curt nod. “Hennaid, Celedrin,” he said coolly as he slipped quiver and bow over his shoulders. Celedrin bowed his head and fell back again. Thendir cast a curious glance at his friend; but Legolas ignored that, too, as he led the company into the trees at the southern end of the dell.

The Elves had no trouble following the wide path the orcs had trampled through the undergrowth. Although they could have gone much faster than the creatures they were hunting, Legolas did not allow for full speed but kept the horses at a relatively slow canter, always checking to see if any tracks other than those made by the orcs led away from the wide trail. Something he had seen in Sméagol’s eyes, just before he was being led into the darkness of the trees, had left Legolas with a feeling that the spindly creature might try to escape the orcs, too. Yet the Elves could not detect anything to confirm his suspicion, and they pursued the tracks straight south without stopping until nightfall.

It was clear, starlit night, and the silver sliver of a new moon hung in the dark blue sky. It was too thin to shed any light; but the brilliance of the stars filtering through the leaves was sufficient for the keen eyes of the Elves to follow the orc trail, even though their progress was slowed down. An hour past midnight they crossed a narrow but deep river, and upon reaching the other side, Legolas called for a halt, for tireless as the Elves were, their horses needed a rest.

While the other Elves shared a meal of lembas bread and icy water from the river, Legolas walked over to a large old willow tree just a few steps away, right on the edge of the river. Its long, thin branches were trailing in the water, spinning round and round in the small eddies formed by the swift current. Legolas sat down and leant against the broad tree trunk. He felt the smooth bark dig into his back and relaxed, taking sustenance from the deep, solid power that slumbered in this ancient willow. Much as he resented having to stop, thus losing some of what they had gained on their quarry, his body was grateful for a brief respite. Over twenty-four hours on horseback had been less than gentle treatment for his injured ribs.

The night was peaceful, and nothing but the soft talking of his companions interrupted the forest’s slumber. They were still a little way north of the Old Forest Road, and there was no need to fear spiders in this region. Legolas allowed himself to slip into a state of half-slumber, resting his mind in those regions of the spirit known only to the Elves, where stars and moon shine over wide, open spaces, and time and distance lose their meaning. For a long time, the Elf sat completely motionless, melting into the darkness as if he were simply an extension of the willow tree.

Suddenly, there was a soft rustling in the undergrowth. In an instant, Legolas was on his feet, his knife in his hand; but upon seeing a pair of familiar amber eyes staring at him from the shadows he smiled and slipped the knife back into his belt, settling down against the tree again. Thâl stood motionless, eyeing him for a moment. Then he padded closer on noiseless paws, slumped down onto his belly and rested his chin on the Elf’s long legs. Legolas chuckled when he felt the soft vibrations of a silent purr.

“What have I done to deserve such affection?” he murmured, reaching out to tickle the large cat between its tufted ears. In reply, the low purr grew into an audible rumbling. Legolas stared out across the river and the reflection of starlight in the swiftly tumbling water, while his slender fingers absent-mindedly continued their caress of the furry head. His thoughts turned back to the morning, as they had done throughout the day.

‘You’ve been gone a long time,’ Merilinwen had said. It had struck him as an odd thing to say. Sixteen months. In the reckoning of an immortal race, that was a mere blink of the eye. And yet… strange, how much could happen in the blink of an eye, Legolas thought, remembering and reliving his surprise and irritation at Celedrin’s fervent greeting of Merilinwen.

‘You’ve been gone a long time.’

Time. What a strange concept, made for mortals, it seemed – men, dwarves and hobbits; and yet it applied to the Elves, too, did it not? Bizarre, how one could watch centuries slip by without being affected by the passage of time; how generation after generation of Afterborn came and went, some faster, some slower, according to the respective longevity of their race – and the Elves stood by, observing, rarely interfering, unchanging.

No. Not unchanging, for they were part of this world, very much so, and they were touched by its events just like the other races were. The death of Merilinwen’s father, an immortal killed by the most despicable of mortals, orcs, had touched and changed her. And it looked like it had also changed their relationship; for Legolas had not been around to comfort one of his dearest childhood friends during what must have been the darkest time in her life, and she had obviously turned to somebody else for consolation.

‘You’ve been gone a long time.’

Indeed, so it seemed now. Or perhaps it would be better to say, so much had happened in the short time he’d been gone.

All the while he had been out here, watching over Sméagol, Legolas had never given much thought about what was happening back in the heart of his father’s realm, had never worried; for he had trusted that he would be informed of any serious event or incident that might occur. But perhaps his light-hearted way of simply taking joy in every single day, in every new sunrise, rather than pondering politics and worrying about what was going on in the world outside the Elven realm, was too carefree, too narrow-minded. A rueful smile crossed Legolas’s ageless face. It was a good thing he would probably never get to take his father’s place as king; he was sure he’d make a poor ruler of his people. He’d already failed in the simple task of guarding a lone prisoner.

With a sigh, Legolas gently nudged Thâl to get up, and climbed back to his feet. It was time to move on and find Sméagol.

As he turned back towards his companions, he saw a shadowy figure approaching. It was Merilinwen, carrying a goblet and a piece of lembas wrapped in a large leaf, which she offered to Legolas.

“You have not yet eaten, Legolas.” Her voice was barely louder than the low gurgling of the rushing river.

Legolas shook his head. “I am not hungry.”

“Please. At least have something to drink.”

Legolas hesitated for a moment. Then he accepted the goblet Merilinwen held out to him. “Thank you.” He lifted the cup to his lips, scrutinizing her over the rim as he drank; but her expression was impossible to read in the darkness, and she quickly averted her eyes.

“I apologize if my behaviour this morning was in any way less than seemly,” Legolas said as he handed back the goblet. “I did not know that… somebody had a claim on you.”

Merilinwen’s head shot up. “Nobody has a claim on me!” she retorted with surprising vehemence.

There was an awkward silence.

Then, perhaps rather more icily than he had intended, Legolas said, “Forgive me, but it seemed otherwise to me.”

Merilinwen stared at him for a moment, and a sparkle of starlight was reflected in eyes that were shimmering with tears. But if she wanted to reply, she did not get a chance to do so. Thendir’s tall shadow loomed up behind her.

“Legolas. We should get moving again.”

As if to confirm the urgency in Thendir’s voice, there was a sleepy twittering in the branches above their heads. The first birds were stirring in anticipation of the approaching dawn, and that promised light, and quicker progress. Legolas looked at Merilinwen, and for a moment it seemed he wanted to say something to her. But then he turned away and nodded at Thendir.

“Let us go.”


Their progress was faster now, indeed; yet to their dismay they found that the orcs apparently had not rested during the night, and had even quickened their pace. Some strange power seemed to push the foul creatures on, giving them a swiftness to match that of their pursuers. Granted, the Elves were not going at full speed; for Legolas still insisted they look out for signs of Sméagol. Much as he wanted the orcs to pay for the bloodshed among his kin, he knew that his only concern must be the recapturing of the wretched creature.

Thus the company followed their enemies’ trail due south, across the Old Forest Road and in a wide arch to the east around another large spiders’ nest; and ever the orcs managed to keep ahead of them, although their lead was decreasing steadily. In the late evening, the Elves reached the northern shore of Mornaelin, a murky lake in the very heart of Mirkwood where, much to his discontent, Legolas had to call for another extended rest for the horses, which were shivering with fatigue.

That night, only Thendir shared the wait for the morning with Legolas in watchful silence, while the other Elves took advantage of the forced break and rested, too. Merilinwen kept her distance to Legolas, as she had done throughout the day; she had stayed close to her brother most of the time. Of Thâl there was no sign; but Legolas had become accustomed to the big cat’s noiseless coming and goings and did not worry about the animal’s disappearance.

There was little conversation between the friends. Thendir had started telling Legolas about what had befallen his father, and how this had affected his sister in a way that made him fear her spirit might not recover. Yet although Legolas had showed sincere compassion, Thendir had sensed that his friend did not want to pursue the matter any further, and had fallen silent. Thus they waited out the end of the night.

When the sun rose again, the Elves had been back on the trail for a good two hours. Now, for the first time, they found traces that indicated the orcs, too, had stopped for the night; and amongst the deep impressions left by heavy orc boots Thendir discovered spidery prints that could only have been made by Sméagol. It almost looked as if the spindly creature had indeed tried to make an escape, but without success.

The Elves were still on the right track, and finally gaining on their quarry.

Yet Legolas feared that the orcs’ lead was still great enough to take them to the dark region of Dol Guldur before the Elves could catch up with them. He wanted to urge his companions to make greater haste, but the traces of Sméagol’s escape attempt forced him to maintain the course of caution, always checking, searching, going only little faster than they would have on foot.

As the evening of their third day of pursuit drew near, the horses began to show signs of nervousness, shying at the smallest sound and tripping over roots more and more frequently. The Elves, too, felt a threat pressing on their minds, a darkness that had nothing to do with the imminent nightfall. It was a shadow that assailed their spirits, like a breath of poison in the air, growing more and more palpable the further they ventured south.

They had entered the southernmost part of what had once been Eryn Lasgalen, the Wood of Green Leaves, and were now facing the heritage of a time when the Necromancer had made his abode here, in the fastness of Dol Guldur. The Sorcerer had been driven out nearly a thousand years ago; but many foul beings had stayed on in his wake, the great spiders of Mirkwood being among the lesser of these evils. In this black realm, the trees grew ever darker and more twisted; and where before deer and fox, hare and squirrel had occasionally crossed the Elves’ path, now there were black shadows scuttling alongside in the shadows of the undergrowth, animals or other creatures, it was hard to tell. Thâl, who had come and gone at his own leisure over the past two days, now kept as close to Merilinwen and Rhofaloth as he could without being trampled on by the nervous horse.


Thendir’s deep voice, though very quiet, carried clearly across the unnatural silence that had befallen the company. Legolas turned around and in the dim light of dusk saw that the other Elves were barely able to control their terrified horses any more. Sûl also had been growing more and more fretful, but for the love he bore his rider had obeyed his will so far, leading the way; yet Legolas realised that this was as far as he could persuade any of the beasts to go, and in the eyes of the Elves he read a terror almost equal to that of the horses.

Legolas turned his back on the company and stared into the darkness ahead. This was defeat, and he knew it. He would have gone on, despite the cold dread in his heart; but he knew that he could ask none of the others, save perhaps Thendir, to come with him.

It was too dangerous to continue.

Legolas bade his horse turn and faced his companions again. When he spoke, deep frustration rang in his voice.

“We will return to my father’s halls.”

Immense relief was mirrored in the faces of the others. Only Thendir’s intense gaze showed that he understood what this meant for Legolas, and that he would have been willing to continue for friendship’s sake. But Legolas shook his head, and wordlessly led the retreat from these horrible, dark woods.

The horses seemed to have forgotten all tiredness and gladly stretched into a run as they headed north again.


The Elves covered half the distance to the lake Mornaelin before they rested for the night. No longer slowed down by the search for traces, it took them only another two days to reach the Elven king’s halls in Northern Mirkwood. The sun was still high when they dismounted, leaving their horses in the care of those who had come to greet them, and set foot upon the long bridge that crossed the river to the king’s doors. At the far end of this bridge, a path led towards tall gates that admitted them to a huge cave in the steep hill ahead.

The small group followed a maze of long, criss-crossing corridors lit by many brightly burning torches, until they finally reached a large hall. The air was clean and fresh in this hall, and light poured from thousands of lamps big and small. A fair number of Elves was gathered among the delicate pillars hewn out of the living stone; some conversing in low tones, some laughing, some listening to the music made by minstrels over in a corner.

At the far end of the hall, on a chair of carven wood, sat Thranduil, king of the Elves of Mirkwood. Tall and lordly he was, of rather grim countenance; his hair seemed like gold streaked with silver, and he was robed in noble garments, much richer than the simple outfit Legolas favoured. Yet the resemblance between father and son was unmistakeable.

Although Thranduil had obviously been alerted to the unexpected arrival of Legolas’s company, his stern face displayed surprise upon taking in the weary travellers. Now he rose from his throne and took a few steps towards them.

“We saw dark smoke rising from the Orodamrhûn a few days ago. Now you return unexpectedly. Tell me, Legolas, what happened?” Thranduil’s deep voice resonated through the hall, and all those present turned curious faces towards the king and his son as the music died down.

Legolas bowed his head in a respectful gesture. “That account should be for your ears alone, my lord,” he replied. Thranduil’s eyes narrowed, and he took Legolas by the arm and drew his son aside, leading him and Thendir out of the hall and into an adjacent chamber. Once inside the small, empty room, he turned to face them, a look of irritation on his finely chiselled features.

“So what is this secrecy all about? I fear you have no good news.”

Legolas met his father’s piercing gaze without wavering, although what he had to say hurt his pride.

“I failed in my watch, father. Our prisoner has escaped.”

Thranduil stared at him, taken aback. Then he turned away and exhaled slowly. “Those are ill tidings indeed, my son,” he muttered darkly. “Yet they do not entirely surprise me. A dark shadow is reaching out its tentacles from the East, and evil things come to pass within our borders. Tell me, how did this come about?”

“A large host of orcs and Rhûnrhim raided our camp these five nights ago, when moon and stars hid their face. They slew all of my group, and two of Thendir’s companions. The orcs took Sméagol with them and fled south; we pursued them deep into the Forest, going south, ere we drew too near Dol Guldur and had to turn back.”

Legolas had kept his tone even, reporting the mere facts; but his father’s keen glance showed that he had heard more than was being said. After a moment’s silence, Thranduil nodded. “I will hear the full tale later. I, too, have news. Lord Elrond of Imladris has called a Council, for it seems the enemy is moving. Your account only confirms this suspicion.” The king turned away again, his gaze turned inwards as if pondering his choices. “I had intended to send Fingalas, but now I think that perhaps I should go myself. Mithrandir will be there, too, and they need to know about Gollum.”

“Let me go.”

Although spoken calmly, Legolas’s words conveyed an urgent plea that made Thranduil look up in surprise. He subjected his son to a scrutinizing stare, and seemed to become aware for the first time of the worn and weary state his son and his friend were in. For a moment, his grim features were softened by a father’s concern. He shook his head.

“No. You have only just come back, Legolas.”

“When is the Council?”

Perhaps Legolas was the only one who could have dared to ignore one of King Thranduil’s decisions like that. Despite the outward coolness that the king usually displayed towards both his sons, and notwithstanding the respect Legolas always showed his father, this respect was very much mutual. Legolas’s refusal to take no for an answer was not simply stubbornness, and Thranduil was well aware of what was behind such insistence.

“You blame yourself for Gollum’s escape. Don’t. There was more behind this than a simple raid by marauders from the East.”

Legolas did not relent. “That may be so, Adar. But nonetheless the prisoner was my responsibility, and I should be the one to bring the news of his escape.”

Still Thranduil hesitated. But the appeal in Legolas’s clear eyes was compelling. The king would not deny his son a chance to redeem himself. He inclined his head, and when he looked up again, a slight smile played around his lips.

“The Council will convene in a fortnight. Go and rest now, you will have plenty of time for the journey.”


From “The Fellowship of the Ring: The Council of Elrond”

“Alas! Alas!” cried Legolas, and in his fair Elvish face there was great distress. “The tidings that I was sent to bring must now be told. They are not good, but only here have I learnt how evil they may seem to this company. Sméagol, who is now called Gollum, has escaped.”

“Escaped?” cried Aragorn. “That is ill news indeed. We shall all rue it bitterly, I fear. How came the folk of Thranduil to fail in their trust?”

“Not through lack of watchfulness,” said Legolas; “but perhaps through over-kindliness. …”


Post scriptum

Dissatisfied because the Merilinwen issue is unresolved? Well, skip the next 122 years and read “The Blessed Realm”…

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