Please feel free to print this story.
A note on the canon. This story puts Arwen and her brothers at about the same age. But we know the twins were born in 130 of the Third Age and she in 241. My apologies to the Guardians for the poetic license. Legolas’s age is probably correct as being near Arwen’s but no Tolkien work attests it that I can find. I am borrowing the characters of Tolkien whose work I love and respect and promise to return them unharmed. © May 19, 2002; revised October 2003
“Legolas was called boisterous as a child and now and again would be summoned to his father’s chamber…” “How Legolas Proved His Bowmanship”
Around 700 of the Second Age of Middle-earth, a Sindarin Elf established a kingdom east of the Misty Mountains and became a Wood-Elf. Thranduil followed the ancient Dwarf road into Greenwood the Great, liking the stands of beeches and the dark firs. When he met the Forest River he followed it north and found the underground caverns told of later by Bilbo Baggins. There he fashioned his first hall and taught the Orcs to keep their distance from it. Thranduil reached an understanding with the Dwarves who lived near his eastern borders at the Lonely Mountain, approving of their traffic that passed through the southern forest.
In the early Third Age Thranduil and Elsila wedded. They had their two children in the new age’s third century. The firstborn was Elwen, a she-elf so like Thranduil that Elves said they must have shared a spirit sometime. From the beginning she exhibited the king’s leadership, merry heart, volatile temper, and blond curls. About the time Elwen was old enough to learn swordplay, Legolas was born. He took after Elsila in looks and temperament. Legolas had a sense of equilibrium as deep as a mine, making him both self-possessed and stubborn. He was agreeable more than merry and rarely departed from his calm adjustment to life.
In spite of his congenial temperament, Legolas was called boisterous as a child because he was always getting into scrapes and being summoned to his father’s chamber to account for his deeds.
On this occasion duty required Legolas to help Elwen represent the king. He would do this on his own when grown. Today he was to join the group that would welcome their visitors from Lothlorien. Haldir the herald had already arrived.
“Our party includes Arwen daughter of Elrond, whom Galadriel is fostering for a while,” Haldir told them. “With her are Lady Silwin and Lord Nornë, Arwen’s near-kin. We have also brought our Weaponsmaster Mablung and his apprentice Sigil, Hirilist our Loremistress, and her apprentice Glirel.” Haldir also said that Galadriel and her husband Celeborn had sent an unusual gift by way of Mablung, something that they had possessed from Elrond since the Battle of the Last Alliance. Silwin would deliver this gift, about which Haldir would say no more, to Legolas to take to his father, as etiquette decreed.
Elwen, with Legolas, chose Berendil the Bowmaster, Blade-singer, who was chief captain and weaponsmistress, the minstrel Galadel, his wife Huntress, and of course Haldir, to meet the guests as they traveled up the Forest Path.
Elsila approved her daughter’s choices. “You are becoming a skilled representative of the king, Elwen. And Legolas will be a fine marksman, should diplomacies fail.”
Their minds turned to the night just past, wherein Legolas nocked his arrows, drew back his arm, and showed the world the Bowmaster spoke true of his prowess. Before Ruler lay dead in the clearing, all had seen an exciting four seconds in which several Elves could have died screaming, had not Legolas pulled Thranduil’s horse around and loosed his unbelievable arrows.
>You shot like Beleg the Strongbow, < Elwen's unguarded thought said. She leaned over to where he was sprawled on the couch, kissed the top of his head, and gave his hair a good tousle.
Aloud Legolas said with a smile, “You take liberties with my head that no one does with yours, sister.”
“No one has ever tried,” replied Elwen, settling comfortably on the couch.
As the meaning of this astonishing truth sank in, Legolas’s face lighted like a lamp; his deliverance had been revealed. She had pulled his hair unscathed for the last time. Seizing the moment he sprang up like a cat.
“Legol – ” began Thranduil.
Elwen was quicker. >Envision the scrub brush in the kitchens, my brother. That will be you, should you give action to your thought. < And she sent an unguarded vivid picture of Legolas minus his silky long locks and sporting a bristly strip of brush down the middle of his head.
“Elwen!” shouted Thranduil and Elsila together while Legolas halted in mid-spring, arrested by the possibility.
“Elwen, go dress for the visitors.” ordered Elsila. “Now.”
Elwen started to bow, then changed it to a curtsey and departed. The second she was gone, Legolas was on his feet and headed for the door.
“Legolas! Give her a head start,” growled Thranduil. Elsila put her hand to her forehead.
“I am going to the kitchens for some honey,” said Legolas. “Then I will go meet the visitors.”
“Very well, Picture of Innocence. My son – your antics last night frightened us but we know you have become a fine archer. The Bowmaster was right. When you are a warrior you will need a blade. If you continue to do well we will visit Blade-singer’s armory soon.”
The handling of a bladed weapon marked a new stage in life for the children – a new maturity. Legolas’s face brightened again. He ran out on light feet.
Elwen was Thranduil’s heiress. She would rule if he renounced or was slain. So Thranduil taught her kingcraft but she came to it naturally. For this occasion Elwen would forego her customary breeches and shirt for the one frock that she really liked – creamy linen with a cloth-of-gold sash that Elsila had given her. Elwen wore gold sandals on her feet and for her head, a garland of honeycup vines and flowers. The gold and white of the small flowers were the exact colors of her gown. The garland circled her brow like a diadem and trailed down her back like a ribbon, almost as long as her golden curls. Elwen put it aside to go find Haldir, who as Lothlorien’s herald would walk by her side to meet the guests.
The Sindar do not speak the name of Melkor of course; nor do they say Morgoth except when telling lore. Sauron they name with loathing or in defiant battle cries – “Perish Sauron!” Mighty were Morgoth the Vala and Sauron the Maia, divine and semi-divine beings, unspeakably evil. Morgoth drew the proud and valiant Noldor into a fight they could not win and could not walk away from. In that fight they shed tears unnumbered and all is not done. Before it is over even Elrond himself, as much Sindar as Noldor and the best of them left, will cry his bitter tears. Noldor or Sindar, the Elves will not forget it.
But in the early Third Age, Morgoth is shut out behind the void and Sauron the Foul has not taken shape again. Meanwhile, lesser imps exist to trouble us. A diversion of attention, strong wine, even the simple desire to do something different – these are imps that can get us sent quickly to our aunts and uncles, there to abandon us with no good explanation and no choice except to muck out the stables at the bidding of our elders.
Legolas’s imp was the emergence of his developing self. He wanted to test bounds. As he walked from the kitchens eating Elsila’s fresh bread with honey he saw Elwen’s garland. Near the airy front hall, Elsila had placed a shaped pedestal of polished beige sandstone. It bore Elsila’s polished sandstone jug of honeycup flowers. They spilled over the vase and down the pedestal like a waterfall. Elwen had used some of these to make her garland and there it lay while she sought Haldir. When he saw it, Legolas’s personal imp sat heavily on his shoulder and whispered in his ear. Legolas had a lapse of judgment.
He thought a drop of honey in the flowers of her garland would coax the honeybees to her head as she walked down the Forest Path to meet the guests. Volatile as she was, Elwen would grab the garland and fling it away. A good hank of her hair might go with it. Since he could not pull her hair as she pulled his (because she would toss him into the stream if he tried it within arm’s length) he would do it vicariously and see what happened.
What happened was this. Elwen’s group met the visitors on the Forest Path near the bridge to Thranduil’s gates. It was a beautiful summer’s midday. The beech trees shielded the sun’s heat. Elsila’s many flowerbeds and herb gardens gave off sweet fragrances that mingled with the wild honeycup on the rail fence by the path. Bees worked hard gathering nectar to make the honey in Elsila’s pantry. The guests drew near on their tall chestnut horses and the scene was set for an auspicious meeting.
Haldir called to Silwin and Nornë, who rode in front followed by Arwen and the others. As Elwen walked forward to greet them a few bees pursued her, and then a few more. They buzzed around her honeycup crown. Suddenly they swarmed in such numbers that Elwen could not ignore them as they settled on her flowery headdress. She pulled off the garland as Legolas imagined but in so doing, she somehow entangled one of the bees in her hair and it stung her on the nose.
“Ow!” she yelled. Instead of tossing the crown away gracefully as she meant, she flung it without care for grace or direction as long as it went away. The direction happened to be Arwen’s, the next casualty. The bees did not sting her but they stung her horse. It neighed in outrage and bucked like a mule before taking off for friendlier parts. Arwen went flying and landed in a sitting position on the ground.
“Ow!” she yelled.
Crying “Elwen” and “Arwen” the unhurt Elves hurried to the victims. Haldir picked up the offending crown of flowers, waving at bees. >Persistent!Someone put sweet nectar here,< he thought unguarded. Elwen saw, heard, and knew. Honey was Legolas's favorite food. For once he looked disconcerted.
In the larger scheme of things a bee sting was nothing to Elwen, and a jarred landing was nothing to Arwen. Their bodies would heal within the hour and show no trace. But for now Arwen, who counted herself a good rider, was sore on two levels due to being thrown a good six feet. Elwen could see the end of her nose. It was large, round and red – and it hurt. She guarded her thoughts for they boded no good to Legolas.
Silwin was skilled at readjusting awkward situations. “Elwen, I will finish introducing our party and then shall we proceed to the hall?” So Lady Silwin named the members of their party and the amenities went forward again. She took from her saddle bag a bundle wrapped in doeskin and shaped much like a quiver for arrows. “Now we have something to pass to the king,” she said, looking toward the younger member of Elwen’s group. “Where is the young prince”” For the custom was to deliver the guest-gift to the youngest of the household, who would carry it to the king.
Now Legolas might be most gifted archer of the Third Age, but Elwen had her talents too, and one of them was improvisation at short notice.
Her happy looks all dashed, she answered, “Oh, dear. Poor little creature!” Legolas of course had been about to step forward. He and the others in Elwen’s party turned to Elwen with the encouraging and quizzical looks we wear when someone has told a joke whose point we haven’t got yet.
“He hasn’t been the same since he fell from his horse,” she explained. “He always was so clumsy.” The Greenwood Elves gaped at her. “Now he just wanders around, mindless as a kitten, talks to people who aren’t there, never bathes ….”
“May I speak with you for a moment?” interrupted Legolas. He smiled at the assembly, and he had a dazzling smile. When it appeared Elves and Mortals sometimes rode their horses into fences. While they were catching their breaths he offered Elwen his arm and led her several paces from the path and behind some hedges.
The others fell silent, searching for an appropriate remark. Fortunately (we suppose) they did not wait long. They heard raised voices from behind the hedges, and a series of thumps. The hedges shook. Then Elwen emerged, dusting her hands and minus her gold sash.
“Shall we go now?” she said with a gracious smile. “Mother and Father are waiting to meet you. There is the bridge that leads to the gates.” Puzzled but willing, they went on, all but Arwen who said, “I will seek my horse and join you when I am mounted again.” They were close to Thranduil’s hall and Arwen was insistent, so they let her linger. Arwen waited until everyone was well over the bridge and then strolled back to the hedges. There she found Legolas.
He balanced on tiptoe under a low-hanging beech branch with his hands bound behind him by Elwen’s sash. Elwen had wrapped two wings of his hair twice around the branch above and knotted them like a mariner. Legolas’s choices were to stand tall or scalp himself.
“Are you Prince Legolas?” Arwen demanded. “Elwen’s brother? Did you do something to her garland?”
“Just Legolas, lady,” he said, aware that his attempt to assert himself to Elwen had gone much amiss. “Yes, I am guilty. I put honey in the honeycup flowers. But I did not think Elwen would get stung. I thought that the bees would annoy her to pulling off the garland and tugging her hair as she tugs mine. I never dreamed I would cause discomfort to my sister or our guest. Can you forgive me, lady, and help me get free?”
“No, I will not forgive you. I will improve your situation however. Hold still.” Arwen walked behind him. “Yes, that will do,” she said aloud. “First you must pull your hands up higher, toward the middle of your back. Good.”
Legolas did not see her pick up a stout tree branch from the forest floor but he felt it when she swung it with all her might. He rocked forward, smarting, and pulled his hair hard.
“Ow!” he yelled. “That was not much of an improvement, lady!”
“On the contrary, now you have something in common with me, and that is an improvement.” And she turned to go look for her horse, haughtily but for her limp.
Before she took another step a voice said, “Do not stir! I will have the gold straw!”
A stocky stranger, a Dwarf, entered the glade leading two horses: Arwen’s and Lady Silwin’s. Elwen lay slung over Silwin’s horse. She was manacled at the wrists.
Elwen recovered from the bee sting and her anger at the same time. She began to regret tying her brother to a tree by his hair. They had reached the hall and Legolas would be missed as soon as Silwin offered her condolences to Elsila on the sad condition of the young prince, he who wandered about talking to people who were not there.
In fact Silwin had been about to do so when Elwen intervened. >Say nothing just now,< she suggested to Silwin with guarded thought. She hurried to the stables and swung up on the first saddled mount she saw. Silwin's feisty horse was always last to be unsaddled and groomed. She made for the glade where she had left Legolas, a worry growing in her mind. In her haste to loose Legolas and make amends she paid less attention than she should, but then she was so near Thranduil's hall she took no thought for danger. When something smote her on the breastbone she lurched forward, unable to breathe, and the last thing she felt was a hard rap to the temple. Then, darkness.
When Dwarves traveled between the Lonely Mountain and points west, they normally took the ancient Old Forest road – “Men-i-Naugrim” or “Dwarf-Road,” the Sindarin called it. If you were unburdened with gear the northern way was faster and more dangerous. The Forest Path began at the banks of the River Langflood, which became the Anduin, and led through the Forest Gate. It continued until it crossed the Enchanted River and then bowed north toward Thranduil’s hall. From there one cut through the pathless woods quickly and in daylight. Elwen met the Lothloriens on the Forest Path. Behind them, on the bow that curved toward Thranduil’s hall, trudged a Dwarf. His unhidden name was Ibun. He was a skilled metal wright specializing in intricate keys and locking mechanisms.
Poor Ibun was a care to his family – an early accident and blow to the head had left him strange. Afterwards he could not learn much Khuzdul. This made him an outcast indeed among his people. He spoke Sindarin well. He had an eerie talent for finding veins of iron ore that Theall his father smelted into metal. Ibun excelled at making strongboxes, locking doors, and clasps, buckles and shackles of all kinds for jewelry, armor, and many other uses. He earned his keep well, but when he was not actively practicing his craft he would wander about, frightening his relatives and anyone whom he chanced to meet.
He had gotten quite away from Theall this time. He saw Arwen’s riderless horse near the path and, taking its reins, followed its backtrail to the glade. There he spied Arwen and Legolas. He withdrew upon hearing an approaching horse, knowing it must be another Elf. He feared them because they were so strange and admired them because they had hair like thread for cloth-of-gold. There were no golden-haired Dwarves and he found cloth-of-gold as fair as the firelight of his forge. He knew not what to make of Arwen’s dark locks.
Ibun stood on a fallen tree trunk, awaiting the mounted Elf’s approach. Elwen’s golden hair settled matters. He took her by smiting her chest with his staff as she rode past. Before she could recover breath he rapped her temple with the butt of his hatchet. She fell senseless. Ibun shackled her wrists and slung her over Silwin’s horse. Then he returned to the glade leading the horses and carrying his throwing ax, just in time to interrupt Arwen’s disdainful departure. He stared reverently at Legolas’s snarled hair.
“I have a spinning wheel in my home at the Mountain,” he whispered. “There I will spin this straw into gold. Glorfindel!”
Legolas” eyes widened. He had never met a Dwarf before, or anyone at all who was demented. “You come onto Thranduil’s lands and menace his kin within the very shadow of his hall? May Aulë your father have mercy on you, Master Dwarf, because my father will not.” At six feet four inches and muscled like a discus thrower, Thranduil would not even trouble himself to dismount. He would merely lean down from his horse and slice the Dwarf in half lengthwise.
Legolas saw Arwen stoop and reach downward. So did Ibun. “Be still,” said he. He ran forward and grasped her arm. She had Elven-strength but she was not full grown and Ibun was. He struck her with the hatchet handle and laid her on the ground when she keeled over.
“So you are the king’s son! Ha, then this must be Arwen daughter of Elrond himself.” The Dwarf laughed. He put manacles on Arwen’s wrists and stood her up along side Legolas. She groaned, waking, and Legolas winced for her pain. Ibun shackled Legolas’s wrists on the same chain as Arwen’s and then untied Elwen’s sash which he pocketed. His fingers flew across Legolas’s head, loosening the snarls like a magician. Legolas stood free of the branch but bound wrist to wrist with Arwen.
“Let us go while day is still here, for I fear the night.” On the word “night” Ibun rapped Arwen again on the head with the butt of his hatchet. Legolas felt her body sag, before Ibun knocked him out.
No one ever built much in the Great Greenwood. The Elves lived close to the forest with little desire for stone cities like Minas Tirith or villages such as Lake Town. Their greatest dwellings in Middle-earth were like Thingol’s or Galadriel’s, a continuation of nature’s look and structure. Dwarves cared nothing for the forest where they always must have a care to lay their axes to the right tree. Mortals liked settlements where they could grow crops and pursue other mortal interests.
Nevertheless a Mortal once built a hut on a hill inside Thranduil’s northeast border. Like Ibun, he was not quite right in the head owing to a series of Orc-disasters that left him bereft of family and home. He put a twenty-foot stone wall around his hut and took to living alone in it. He named his keep Amon Orchal. He put one plank platform on the wall’s top to hold clubs, arrows, and whatnot. You could climb there by a set of moveable stairs, grab a club and knock off an invading Orc who would tumble twenty feet down the wall and then another twenty feet down the hill that was studded with granite rocks. Unfortunately Orcs are hard to kill this way and Mortals are not. One day while keeping watch from the platform he lost his addled balance and fell twenty feet to the hillside and then twenty feet more down the slope studded with granite rocks. He broke both legs several times and died a nasty death alone. His bones still lay at the bottom in many short pieces. Amon Orchal remained standing; he had built his monument well.
Ibun brought his captives there. The Dwarves found it a useful way-station on the northern route. Its location on a hill inside Thranduil’s borders (barely), was ideal. They could stay overnight if they made no fire to attract Orc-arrows or Thranduil’s wardens. The Lonely Mountain was less than fifty miles away.
When the three regained themselves they stood on the platform twenty feet above the top of the hill and forty above the bottom. They were much bruised from being struck more than once, slung on and off horses, hauled up stairs and manacled once again. The manner of their chaining was this. The three faced each other and wore two pairs of manacles each, one pair at the wrist, another above the elbow. The same chain held all six pairs of manacles. The chain and the manacles above the elbow restricted movement severely and forced their arms up, like the praying insect,.
The sun in the west marked two hours at most till sunset. Then Orcs might cross the brook that marked the border, and their arrows would come for sure.
Forty feet below, Ibun spoke. The breeze carried his words to their sharp ears. He sounded dreamy and unrestrained by reason. “The sun will burnish your golden threads while I go to ready my spinning wheel! Look for me when the sun rises tomorrow.” He wandered off towards the brook leading the two horses. Soon after crossing, they saw him pause and let go the reins. Dwarves do not normally deal much with horses. Ibun searched the saddlebags, found the guest-gift, and put it in his pouch. Then he turned, waved, and plodded eastward.
“I see why Father doesn’t like Dwarves,” said Legolas. “Elwen, does anyone at home know we are here?”
“No,” she said, thinking with dismay of her last remark to Silwin, “Maybe not until the evening meal will they miss us. And here on this wall, we could not be a better target. The Orcs will pick us off at nightfall, or else take us alive.” They shivered.
“You know the march wardens” habits. Will they come here?” Elwen shook her head.
Arwen said, “These manacles all lock with the same iron key. The Dwarf left it hanging on the pole that supports this flet! It is not more than twelve paces.”
They saw it through the crevices of the platform. “It might as well be twelve times the length,” said Elwen, “without use of our arms.”
“This will wound my father more than he can bear,” said Arwen sadly. “And I vowed never again to add to his cares.”
“Lady, I have placed you and Elwen in this position. I ask your pardon,” said Legolas. “I had higher hopes for this day and better expectations of myself. All went amiss when I acted to play a trick on my sister. I hope I see my father again so he can berate me properly and send me to Berendil my near-uncle. But what do you mean about Elrond’s cares?”
Arwen sighed. “Oh, I may as well speak. When I was younger I and my brothers broke the only statute of Rivendell, and my father discovered it.”
“Do you mean, lady, that you have, ah, been beaten for breaking a stated rule?” Legolas was so astounded he forgot their plight.
“Yes, I have, and no thanks to you for reminding me of it, Prince Knave.”
“I ask your pardon, lady, but I would much like to know how it happened?”
Now they say Elf-children require little governance. The Sindarin hold that children’s misdeeds are mostly “lapses of judgment.” For children to learn they must necessarily make mistakes. Punishment was counterproductive. The elders might require the erring child to make reparations, or to meditate on some principle, or to muck out the stables, and this might seem like punishment. But in reality the Elves considered this only a proper rebalancing of the scales. The only serious misdeed was violation of the safety prohibitions called `stated rules.” These were well-known and few. In Thranduil’s realm there was only one, namely, no Elf-child should depart Thranduil’s borders unless permitted by an adult. The reasons for this rule could be summed up in a word: Orcs.
If you broke the stated rule, managed to avoid Orcs or other dangers, made it back home and your elders found out about it, then they would see you punished. The penalty, for this one transgression, was a beating. To reduce the incidence of this disgrace, the Elves forewarned the children early and often. The stated rules were fair. If a horsefly stung your horse and it galloped across the border with you aboard, the elders would not send you to your uncle with a stick in your hand. But if you crossed pursuing the small red deer and the elders learned of it, then your immediate future held the inability to eat your supper sitting down, as sure as night follows day.
The other Sindarin custom held that parents should not be the disciplinarians, whether for lapse of judgment or violation of stated rule. The aunts and uncles, or if there were none, the near-aunts and -uncles (godparents) performed this task. This custom protected the bond of love between parent and child.
Whatever else one thought of these strange customs, they worked. Family bonds were more loving with the Elves than any other people; in the history of the Sindar no one had ever broke a stated rule more than once; and Thranduil’s realm had never lost a youngster to the Orcs.
Legolas recalled all this as Arwen said, “At Rivendell the only statute is not to leave the citadel unless permitted by a grownup. My brothers and I were playing by the Loudwater one afternoon with a raft, pretending we were mariners sailing to the Lonely Isle. Each time we would go a little further across the stream until finally we touched the other shore.”
“Like the Númenóreans,” Legolas said, and she frowned at him.
“Like the Elves. Anyway, we played there for a while. We just forgot where we were. Then I looked up. There was Father on his horse with two of his knights! I do not know how long he had been there. He must have been returning from council at the Havens. I remember his face well, framed by his dark hair. He looked laden with care. He said, `We must cross back now. Bring the raft.'”
The evening breeze blew across their faces as they balanced on the platform. Their arms were growing numb. Arwen continued.
“I and my brothers splashed across with the raft, the riders coming beside us. Once across Father said, `We will give you a ride to the stables,’ and he reached down and pulled me up to sit in front of him. His knights did the same for my brothers. I was afraid he would be angry and cold, like the armor he wore, but he smiled! He said, `Take the reins, Arwen. Guide the horse.’ I loved him for that. I took the reins and we galloped to the stables. I could hear my brothers laughing behind us.
“Once there and dismounted, Father led the three of us apart. He knelt to speak with us face to face. `Did you have permission?’ he asked. He knew we did not – no grownup would allow it. We said nothing. The careworn look was on his face again. I felt so sorry! I resolved then and there that come what may, I would never again cause him grief.
” `Later I will see you in my chamber for a talk on the importance of the statute,’ he told us quietly. `For now you will go at once to your uncle, explain matters to him, and abide by his decision.’ Then he went with his knights and two days later he was gone to fight the Orcs.
“Well! There was little to decide. We had no explanations or special circumstances. When we came to the rooms where our near-aunt and -uncle lived, he said, `Why the long faces?’ Poor Nornë. He loved to take us on expeditions and give us presents. I am sure he never expected to beat us, much less all three of us on the same day. When he understood it was no jest he called us into his chamber one by one and beat us soundly as the statute sets forth. Then he sent us to our chambers with a kiss and a plea to stay out of trouble for the rest of our lives.
“Father came to see us that evening. When he came to my chamber he was like a healer making his rounds. He cupped my face in his hand and looked hard into my eyes. I felt his mind touch mine but his thought was shielded. Whatever he was looking for, he seemed satisfied. He poured some cold water over a cloth and bathed my tearstained face. Then he talked to me about his doings at the Havens, as if I were grown. I told him about my riding. Before he left he gave me a present.
” `This is for you, Arwen,’ he said. It was a beautiful knife, no longer than my hand. The dark blade was sharp on one edge. The handle was black. `I have two more for your brothers. Some of the metal in the blades came from a lodestone that fell from the sky. It is very special, like you. See how it attracts other metals? Some of the magnetic quality was lost when the smiths forged the blades but by their skills they restored it.’ Then he left to see my brothers. I played with the knife all evening.”
Eye to eye with Arwen as she told her story, Legolas felt a change. Arwen was no longer an angry stranger and a duty he had failed, but a person near his age with cares like his own. He loved his father dearly too. And he thought Arwen’s southern accent was charming.
“So Elrond himself sent you to your uncle with a stick in your hand! Pardon, lady. I have never met anyone who broke a stated rule.”
“I am sure you know many, Prince Knave” she replied. “They just don’t talk about it. If not for your tricks I would not be here and talking about it now.” This truth hurt Legolas. He vowed silently he would rescue them somehow from the consequences of his deed.
Arwen added, “Everyone speaks of him as `Elrond Himself’ but to me he is `Father.'”
“All the Elves revere him,” said Elwen. “Thranduil says that in the Battle of the Last Alliance the bloodsong came on Elrond like a fever and he fought like a mad wolf. No servant of Sauron withstood him. Gil-galad fell that day but Elrond endured.”
“Some heroes fall and others stand,” said Arwen and Legolas together, quoting an Elven proverb.
“A knife with a magnetic blade,” said Legolas. “I wish you had it, lady. With it I see a plan. Without it we will stand on this wall until the Orcs come.”
Arwen said, “I have it by me always. It is in my boot.”
You may have guessed that Legolas planned to make a rope and use the magnetic blade to draw up the iron key.
“How can fashion a rope,” asked Arwen, “bound as we are? From what will we make it” We cannot reach to our clothes.”
“Remember, Elwen, when I made my first bow, you showed me how to braid a bowstring? You braided my hair to show me how it should look. We can reach to our heads, braid locks of our hair, and tie them together even manacled as we are.”
They could try. With his double-bonded arms, Legolas could only reach the left side of Arwen’s face and the right side of Elwen’s, if she knelt to the short length the chains allowed. He began, putting five braids into Arwen’s dark locks and five more into Elwen’s hair.
Elwen was faster, and with longer arms, could reach a little further. As the sun sank she braided Legolas’s hair all around the crown of his head into tight elflocks.
That is all I can do,” she said finally. “I cannot feel my hands. Can you get the knife, Arwen?”
Arwen said, “Let us kneel carefully. My hands are numb also. If you bump me when we stand and I drop the knife, we are done for.” They knelt slowly as if bowing to each other, their manacled arms and wrists dipping down between their knees. Arwen’s slender fingers reached inside her boot but she could not grasp the hilt of the small knife.
“Kneel further,” she grunted, and Legolas felt his elbow pop. He almost shouted but they knelt lower still. Then Arwen said, “I have it. Slowly!” They stood. Arwen clutched a tiny knife in her hand. It was beautiful.
Elwen’s braids were the longest. Legolas took the knife in one hand and a braid in the other. Arwen grasped the braid too. Legolas cut, and put the braids in Elwen’s hands. They could only do two at a time because their hands would be full and they dared drop nothing. They paused while Arwen tied the two strands together. Then they repeated the process. Arwen’s hair was next longest and the makeshift rope grew. Then Legolas passed the knife to Elwen, cold with feat that one of them would drop it. Elwen cut his braids and Arwen added them to the clumsy rope. Finally she tied the end to the bootknife handle. She used care. “Save us, Elbereth,” she whispered, and lowered the knife though the gap in the planks.
`”Too short,” she said.
“Kneel again,” said Legolas. They knelt in their bonds again, throbbing arms dipping between their knees. A tear of pain leaked from Legolas’s eye.
Then they all heard a click as the magnetic blade of the knife caught the iron key. With infinite care they stood. They all had to help draw up the rope fist over fist. It caught between the planks of the platform.
“Again,” said Elwen. “Last time pays for all.” Legolas willed himself to stillness through the pain of his dislocated elbow while Arwen gently teased the knife, with the key clinging to it, through the crevice. Finally she grasped the key. Then they had some relief.
The Dwarf had moved the stairs from the platform. They jumped to it; the other choice being a twenty foot drop from the wall. They hurried down and through the one narrow gate. They were free and unarmed, and sunset was in half an hour.
“I can just see our horses,” said Elwen, “Legolas, get them and let us ride.”
“They are across the border,” objected Legolas. “After Arwen’s story I would not violate the stated rule.”
Elwen looked at him as if establishing lunacy. “The elders would forgive you under the circumstances!”
“Maybe, but there would be nothing to forgive if you go. You are of age!”
“Will one of you go”” begged Arwen. “We can be slain here too!”
“I will not,” said Legolas., which meant he was going to be stubborn. Elwen sighed.
“I have a confession,” she said. “I am not of age.”
“You aren’t?” marveled Legolas. “But…you always act like it. Not of age!”
“Not until Midsummer. And, when I was little I broke the stated rule. As soon as I could ride well enough I crossed this very border to see what I could see. The march wardens found me. Father was not pleased and sent me to Huntress with a stick in my hand. I have been a model of deportment ever since,” she added with a grin.
Legolas was speechless. Elwen continued, “So I will not be the first Sindar in history to break the rule twice.”
“Nor I,” said Arwen. “It would cause my father grief.”
This ridiculous conversation finally released Legolas from the tension of their captivity. He laughed out loud.
“Ladies,” he said, `the Heiress of the House of Thranduil and the Daughter of Elrond shall not be beaten twice for breaking the stated rule! I would gladly sacrifice my dignity for your honor and break the stated rule on your behalf. But I see a way out for us all if you, Young Elwen, promise to treat me as one who is training with blades. And stop pulling my hair.”
“What is your plan?”
“Promise first,” said Legolas.
“Oh, very well,” she said. “I so promise.”
“Thanks to the Valar,” said Arwen.
“And you, lady, must ask pardon for hitting me.” Arwen opened her mouth but Legolas continued, “In my father’s chamber, where we will no doubt be summoned the moment we return, if indeed we make it back.”
“Arwen,” said Elwen, “I think you must make this sacrifice. Legolas, speak your plan.”
“We go together, and we swear a pact of silence on today’s adventures until we are all come of age. If one is compromised, all are.” And Legolas did not stop to think on the results of Elves” swearing oaths lightly.
Nor did Elwen. She said, “I think no ill can come of keeping silent. We have taken no serious hurt nor the Dwarf either as far as we know. My sash and the guest-gift are the only casualties. What was the guest-gift, Arwen?”
“A pair of white-handled longknives. Old and precious but things of craft only.”
“Well spoken. Maybe the Dwarves will trade them back. Meanwhile, Legolas, your plan will do. So. I hereby swear on Thranduil’s sword, I will not speak of these matters until we are all of age.”
“I swear it on my knife,” said Arwen.
“And I, on my bow,” said Legolas.
Then they were ready. They found the horses well. Elwen said, “Arwen, ride behind Legolas.”
“I have had enough of Prince Legolas today,” Arwen replied.
Legolas had met his match in stubbornness. Arwen might forgive him, but not today. He got behind Elwen on Silwin’s horse and they rode for Thranduil’s hall as the sun touched the horizon. An Orc-arrow whistled past. Noro lim.
Huntress had been dispatched to look for them. She told the three to report straight to Thranduil’s chamber, where Thranduil and Elsila waited to learn the reason for their truancy. “Perhaps you will have a calming effect on Thranduil,” she told Legolas.
Thranduil was in a state, but he recovered somewhat when he saw they seemed well – except for their cropped locks. Legolas in particular looked like the scrub brush from the kitchens, except that one braid, too thick to fit through the platform’s crevices, hung from his crown. Thranduil wondered what Galadriel would say of Arwen’s new look. Suddenly he found himself trying not to laugh.
“Twice here in two days is a record for you, is it not, my son?” inquired Thranduil.
Legolas allowed that it was.
“Ladies,” said the king, nodding to Elwen and Arwen. They rose and curtseyed. “I read the riddle of your adventures thusly: Elwen pulled Legolas’s hair once too often, Legolas retaliated in kind, and Arwen was an innocent bystander.”
They exchanged astonished glances and guarded thoughts.
“Well how did you manage it, Legolas? Elwen does not tolerate foolishness gladly.”
Legolas rose and bowed. “I don’t agree, Milord Father,” he said cheerfully. “Elwen this day has been more foolish than the geese on the pond! How I managed it, I promised not to tell, to keep the good will of my sister. But she is more grateful than she can say that I braided and cut her hair. So grateful, in fact, that in payment she has promised never to pull my hair again.”
Elwen said between tight lips, “It is so, Milord Father.”
“Is it so for Lady Arwen?” asked Elsila.
Arwen said between tight lips, “I have not vowed never to pull his hair. But I am every bit as grateful as Elwen that Legolas braided and cut my locks.”
“Then I suppose all is well,” said Thranduil.
“I will say goodnight, dear ones.” Elsila said, smiling. “Arwen, our home is your own. Rest well.” She rose, they with her, and kissed Elwen and Arwen goodnight. As she passed Legolas she stopped and kissed the top of his head. She fluffed his brushy strip of hair but could do nothing with it. She took his remaining braid in her hand and gave it a good tug, and then departed. Legolas rubbed his head.
“By your leave, Milord,” said Arwen. “But first,” and she turned to Legolas, “I regret, Master Legolas, that I hit you on the backside with a stick today, although you deserved it. Good night, all.” In passing she gave his braid so hard a yank that he rocked on his feet. At that moment he lost his heart to her, but he did not know it for a long time.
“A remarkable apology!” Thranduil observed.
Elwen said, “I will say goodnight also.” She kept her hands in her pockets as she passed Legolas.
When they had gone, Thranduil said, “I think I will not send you to Berendil this time, Legolas. It seems Arwen has beaten you already. Instead we will go to the armory tomorrow and get you a blade.”
Legolas said, “Father, I have angered all the womenfolk. Arwen calls me knave. Elwen is furious because I managed her for once, instead of she, me. Mother does not like my new haircut. And Lady Silwin thinks I am crazy and never bathe.”
Thranduil said, “In matters of the womenfolk and their tempers I keep my opinions to myself. You should too.” He considered a moment. “Want to go fishing””
Twelve minutes later they were gone, taking a jug of wine and a honey cake from the kitchens. They stayed out all night, and Thranduil cut his hair to match Legolas’s. They returned with a good catch of river trout and a bag of wild thyme and fresh watercress – baked fish with herbs being a favorite of Elsila’s. She laughed and gave them high marks for effort.
Arwen showed exemplary courtesy to Legolas from then on but the first impression lingered and her heart was not in it. She kept her distance, whereas Legolas took to wearing a bootknife just like Arwen.
Elwen forgave her brother wholeheartedly, especially after her hair grew out. She kept her promise regarding her treatment. Their relationship matured after the revelations and the rescue by Legolas at Amon Orchal. She never pulled his hair again save once, years later, and that is another and a sad story.
1-The Return of the King, JRR Tolkien, Appendix B, regarding the twins’ birthdate.
2-The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien, Chapter VIII, “Flies and Spiders” re Bilbo’s report on Thranduil’s caverns
3-The Silmarillion, JRR Tolkien, “Of the Flight of the Noldor” re Morgoth and the Noldor
4-“To be sent to the aunts and uncles” – Elven euphemism for the consequences of a child’s lapse of judgment. “To be sent with a stick in your hand” – euphemism for the consequences of breaking a stated rule. You did not actually have to carry a stick however.
5.The Encyclopedia of Arda at https://www.glyphweb.com/arda/default.htm, to which many thanks are due, re the Dwarf Road.
6-The Atlas of Middle-earth Revised Edition, Karen Wynn Fonstad, page 76, re the Forest Path
7-The Sindarin Dictionary, © The Sindarin dictionary project, 1999-2001, French law applies regarding intellectual property. https://www.uib.no/People/hnohf/gobeth.htm. Source of the word “orchal” meaning `tall.”
8-Morgoth’s Ring, JRR Tolkien, “Laws and Customs among the Eldar, Ælfwine’s Preamble” re little need of governance of Elven children
We return to the forests again. Our hobbit friend has lost all faith and finds the true meaning of apathy by the end of this chapter. He is taken captive by a band of elves and one human. This chapter suggests that some of his past will be revealed soon.