A Tale of Mirkwood - Chapter 39 - A Question Answered
CHAPTER XXXIX - A QUESTION ANSWERED
The summer of Legolas's return had faded and fall had come. Winter followed briskly, and then another spring and summer. In fact, nearly two years had passed since Legolas' return from the Great War, as it had become known, and in those two years, both much and little had occurred. What had occurred in daily life seemed of little importance compared to the trials surrounding the destruction of the Ring of Power, but life returned to normal in Eryn Lasgalen. Culúril grew, and Mithryn recovered, only to weaken a few months later. A short time afterward she improved again and then grew ill once more. Such was her life during these two years, and Legolas wondered often at this, but said naught, for none seemed able to answer his questions.
Despite her inconstant health, all were happy in Thranduil's kingdom as no enemy lay in wait now and no threats of attack did they fear. Soldiers still guarded their borders as vigilantly as ever, but they were more open and hospitable to wandering travellers who were passing by, or who, perhaps, had lost their way.
Legolas often sat recollecting his many adventures and, as time passed, began to forget how many times his life could have been forfeit. However, he never forgot, in all his years, the little boy soldier who died at Helm's Deep, or the kindness of the old man on the parapet.
Little contact had he had with the remaining Fellowship, but a few letters were sent and replies received. Only once had he ventured to Lonely Mountain with Haldof and had visited with the Dwarves. Much had Gimli done to prepare his kindred for peace with the elves. Haldof had been less thrilled by the experience than his brother, but both had enjoyed the Dwarves hospitality, and returned home after a weeks venture with rich gifts of precious stones from the mines and stories for the summer campfires.
No other friend from the Fellowship had he seen until one day, an old familiar comrade appeared and was granted entrance without an escort. He approached the palace, smiling, as Elves greeted him with kind words of welcome in their usual, dignified manner.
"Mithrandir!" Galamed called upon seeing his old friend, and almost knocked him over with an enthusiastic embrace. "I had not known you were to visit."
"That would be my mistake, I am afraid, as I had not written you or your father," the wizard said, jovially.
"Aye. You have always come and gone as you pleased. My father is in and will be so pleased to see you." Galamed said, gesturing towards the palace. "I am sorry I cannot accompany you. Anardil, my wife, is expecting me, and I am overly late already, you see."
"Wife?" Gandalf said, a twinkle in his eye.
"Aye," Galamed said, blushing.
"Things have changed. Congratulations and think naught of it, Galamed. Pray, go to your wife. It is not a wise elf who keeps his wife waiting for long and I would not recommend it. I must see your father. Is he in his study?"
"Aye, I have just come from there."
"Thank you," Gandalf replied. "I know the way," and began to walk toward the Palace doors when a most curious sight met his gaze. An elf-child, no more than two years of age, had marched quickly out of the doorway, down the path, and was now dangerously close to the rushing stream that meandered through the heart of the village. Without hesitation, Gandalf dashed over and snatched up the child. "Curious. . ." Gandalf said, examining the child's strawberry coloured hair.
A panicked Legolas shot past the threshold, stropped suddenly and sighed with relief upon seeing Culúril in none other than Mithrandir's arms! "Gandalf!" he exclaimed. "I had not known you were to come here! It is wonderful to see you again, my old friend," he said, embracing the old wizard.
"As it is good to see you, young Legolas. And this little one had wondered away from you I gather?" Gandalf asked, handing Culúril to him.
"He is the fastest Elf on two legs, I declare! I cannot turn my back for even a moment, and my brothers are of little help. They cannot wait until he is old enough so that they can teach him his bow mastery."
"He is yours, then?" Gandalf inquired.
"Aye," Legolas replied, beaming with pride. "Does he not look like me?"
"He does indeed," Gandalf began, "however, his hair. . .is not exactly your shade. . ."
"He gets it from his mother," Legolas explained.
"Curious colour for an elf-maiden."
"Oh, she is no elf-maiden. Have you never met Mithryn, my wife?" Gandalf's breath caught in his chest, and he weakly shook his head. "No, perhaps not," Legolas continued. "She did not come here until after your last visit, I believe. You were questioning Gollum at that time; do you recall? I must say, considering how things developed, it is perhaps best that he escaped, do you not think so? However, I forget myself. Pray allow me to introduce Mithryn to you. Much have I spoken of your to her, that she has been most anxious to meet you. I shall fetch her. Would you mind holding Culúril for a moment?"
"Not at all," Gandalf said as Legolas sprinted off. As he waited, Gandalf stared, yet even more intently, into the face of the beaming child. "It is not possible. . ."
Two minutes passed; he and Culúril waited until a door closed, and Gandalf stood in amazement at what he saw before him. Leading her by the arm, Legolas walked with Mithryn down the tall spiral staircase. While Legolas chatted merrily away about a surprise, Mithryn's eyes and smiling face never left his.
All sound drained from Gandalf's ears, and naught did he see but her. Time slowed as if in a dream, yet he could not tear his eyes away from the lady by Legolas' side. "It cannot be. . ."Gandalf whispered.
"My old friend," Legolas said when their feet had at last touched earth, "this is. . ."but he was unable to finish the sentence, for as Mithryn's eyes reached the old wizard, she gasped and froze as if incapable of movement.
"Mithryn?" Gandalf whispered, unable to believe it himself.
Legolas took Culúril into his arms and gazed, bewildered, back and forth from Mithryn to Gandalf.
Heart aching, and feeling as though she were in a dream, Mithryn stared at the unbelievable vision before her. It could not be real! She shook her head in an attempt to recall herself to reality. There was something in his clear, blue eyes, however, that gave her peace. At last, she was able to breathe again and said, "Papa?"
Closing his eyes, Gandalf stepped forward and wrapped Mithryn in a warm embrace, holding her close, and touching her soft, curly hair.
"I thought you dead," she whispered, tears streaming down her face. "How is it you can be alive?"
"And you, my daughter," he replied, holding her weeping face in his large hands. "How can this be?" His mind raced back over details of that devastating time more than eighty years ago. "You have grown into such a lovely woman. You look like your mother."
A great sob escaped Mithryn, and feeling like a child once more, she lay her head on his chest, and could no longer contain her feelings of joy and despair. She thought of those long, lonely years without him. Years never to return.
Culúril began to squirm in Legolas' grasp, and desperately wanting comfort from his mommy, called to her, unsure of what was making her so upset. Laughing through her tears, Mithryn picked up her son, and said what she had, previously, thought impossible. "Culúril, this is your Grandfather."
"I'm very pleased to meet you, Culúril," Gandalf said, holding out his massive hand.
Suddenly shy, Culúril turned and nuzzled into the safety of his mother's shoulder. Laughing merrily, Legolas, Mithryn and Gandalf all stared at each other for a moment, unsure of what to do next. "Perhaps you would like a moment to yourselves?" Legolas suggested. "I am certain there is much for you both to speak of."
Mithryn and Gandalf both nodded their heads to the idea, and taking Culúril in his arms, Legolas made his way back to the palace to prepare his father for this most unexpected meeting.
Mithryn led her father to a low, cascading waterfall - her favourite place to sit outdoors. They walked in silence, and now, sitting upon mossy boulders, contemplated each other intently.
"You have changed," Mithryn said at last.
Gandalf smiled at this. "Do I seem older to you?"
Nodding, Mithryn said, "Your white hair. It was grey before." Mithryn's words did not come without effort. He seemed almost a stranger to her, and though he lived within her memories, they were from so long ago. "Have the years been kind to you?"
"They have not been without trials. I accompanied Legolas on much of his journey. Did you know this?"
"He spoke of an old wizard, and even mentioned your name, but, of course, I had not supposed it was you! You were only remembered to me as Papa, and not Gandalf, the wizard. I am glad it was you, however. You kept him safe."
"As best I could, but I could not always be present. Legolas is an exceptional warrior, Mithryn. He needed none of my keeping." A few moments passed again in silence. Gandalf worried that, perhaps, too much time had passed between them. She was but a child when the village had been destroyed. That thought brought about another that he had not considered before. "Where have you been all this time? Who has taken care of you, my child?"
Mithryn told him of how her life had fared after he had seen her last. She spoke of the battle, the carnage, and of her escape. A few tears were shed by both, and at the end of her reflections, Gandalf, with sorrowful eyes, reached over and drew her close, just as he had always done when she was very young, and had awoken from a bad dream. "My poor child," he said, stroking her head. "All were gone when I came back to our village. I could not find any remains, and assumed the worst. It was easy to decipher who attacked our village. The orcs left little to doubt. When naught could be found, I had not supposed that you could possibly have survived the devastation. Can you ever forgive me?"
"Why do you require forgiveness, father? It is not your doing that our lives have turned out thus. And now, you have found me at last."
Gandalf sat silent, wondering. He could not be certain, and could never be certain if he, indeed, were to blame for the attack on the village. However, as it was so long ago, he felt not the need to injure his dear little girl any further.
* * *
Hearing voices within his father's study, Legolas tapped lightly on the door and was bid enter. Gandalf and Thranduil sat conversing at the large table; plates of fruit, bread and cheeses had been placed temptingly before them. Thranduil, pouring his son a drink of wine, said, "Is she resting, Legolas?"
"Aye, she has gone to our bedchamber," Legolas replied, taking the heavy goblet and sitting beside Gandalf. "She has had a most surprising and exhausting day."
"Inside," Gandalf began, "my brain still shouts that it cannot be true! My little daughter. . .alive after all this time. . ."
"If you'll forgive me, Mithrandir," Thranduil said, "there is something that plagues me. I had not known that you were married."
"I had told only one other of my marriage with Mithryn's mother," Gandalf said, his brow darkening anxiously.
"Saruman?" Legolas asked.
"Elrond," Gandalf corrected. "It was Saruman that I feared knowing. I knew not why at the time, but something always made me hold back certain knowledge from him. And, considering how he turned forces, I'd say that I'm rather proud that I did."
"But Mithrandir," Thranduil said, "there remains something unanswered. How is it you come to be married with a child? Forgive me, but though your appearance would give one pause for thought, I had not thought you mortal."
Gandalf smiled his roguish smile and replied, "How long have you known me, friend?"
"Nearly two hundred years, I would gather," Thranduil replied.
Gandalf thought quietly a moment before saying, "I see no harm in telling you. I was one of five in my Order. Saruman, the wisest of us all, was the leader. We were sent to contest the dominating power of Sauron two hundred years ago."
"Sent?" Legolas inquired. "By whom?"
"We were sent from the Grey Havens. Only two were told of it - Galadriel, and Elrond."
Thranduil and Legolas stared at Gandalf in entranced captivation. "The Grey Havens?!" Legolas repeated, in awe.
"You are one of the Istari?" Thranduil asked, expectantly. Gandalf nodded, and Thranduil continued. "I have heard of the Istari. Not much, but only something Elrond once said to me. It seemed strange at the time, and I have wondered at it hence, but never inquired again as to his meaning."
"What did he say?" Legolas asked, intrigued.
Smiling, Thranduil said, "`From far do they come, and much do they not say.' But this still does not explain, Gandalf, how you fathered Mithryn."
"To come here," Gandalf explained, "we took on human form, and in so doing, embraced all that it means to be Man. They are a curious race, as I'm sure you agree. Such emotions, and irrational thinking as to be found in no other race! Never in my long life, and, I do assure you, it is even older than yours, my old friend, had I never truly felt the feeling of love as a mortal experiences it. In coming here, I had embraced all that I could. I had learned to love its varied peoples, and diverse landscapes. Much had I found to love in the crested mountains, in the Elven forests, as well as in the tiny Hobbit holes of the Shire.
"However, with the good comes, also, the bad. As I had welcomed Middle Earth's people and customs with open arms, Saruman had not. Although I had not known it at the time, Saruman's mind had been slowly turning black with greed and contempt for all whom he felt were inferior beings. I knew a gulf had separated us, though I failed to grasp how far and how deep.
"Through my many wanderings, I had journeyed to the Gladden Fields. Aye, I had been there before, several times in the span of a hundred years. I had reason to believe Isildur had met his end there, and perhaps, the One Ring could still be there. I was correct in assuming such, yet, what I had not known was that the Ring was already long taken by the wryly hands of Gollum who was now lurking in the Misty Mountains. Although, not knowing this, I turned to the Gladden Fields once more to scour for that which was most vital to peace in Middle Earth. What I had found there, however, was something most unexpected. It was then that I first met Morag."
"Mithryn's mother?" Legolas asked.
"Aye," Gandalf said, smiling sadly as he remembered her. "She was unlike any I had ever before known. Never having married and believing herself past the age of marrying, she had succumbed to a quiet life, caring for others. She was a great healer among her people, and oft did they look to her for wisdom. Is it fair to say that I fell in love with her at the first moment? I believe so."
"Then what happened?" Thranduil asked.
"We married, and I feared to tell any, but confessed it only to Elrond. I know not why for certain, but kept this secret as I thought it dangerous for such information to fall into the hands of the Saruman. Morag's kith and kin lived in that land, and she disliked the idea of being separated from them. Though I loved her greatly, I knew my mission must come first, and therefore, I continued my wanderings and searched for many years. It was not long before we were blessed with the birth of a daughter whom Morag called after my Elvish name. Suddenly I experienced new joys and worries completely unknown to me before. My obligations outweighed my own personal wishes to remain at their side, however, and so, I wandered far and wide, keeping to my mission. It was at such a time that our village was attacked by Orcs, and upon my return some months later, I had found the village destroyed, and believed all who were in it, slain. The destruction was so complete that no one could have survived. . .or so I thought."
"That is why you never searched for her. . ." Legolas said.
"Aye," Gandalf said, guilt in his voice. "I reproach myself severely for this error, but even the most harshest of reprimands and the strongest of wishes cannot reverse time. I can only be thankful that I have had the opportunity to see her again, though, I fear, time is still against us."
"What do you mean?" Thranduil asked.
"I speak as to the reason for my visit," Gandalf replied, eyes full of sorrow. "I have come to say farewell. My mission has been fulfilled. The time has come for me to return to the Grey Havens."
Thranduil and Legolas sat aghast, and exchanged looks expressing their feelings. Legolas spoke but his voice was weak with disbelief. "You mean to leave?"
"But, think of Mithryn!" Thranduil said to Gandalf. "You have only just found her. And what of tiny Culúril whom you and I share as grandfathers. You do not wish to watch him grow or to guide him in his development?"
Watching Gandalf, Legolas regretted his words, as did Thranduil. From the pained expression on the old Wizard's face, it was obvious that this decision was far from easy for him. "A few days I have set aside to spend with your folk, Thranduil, but no more can I spare. The boat waits for none, and on the twenty-ninth of this month it sails, and with it I am bound to go. I will be travelling with all the Bearers of the Ring, save one, as well as Elrond and Galadriel. I assure you, could I stay and spend a thousand years with Mithryn and Culúril, I would. I have already said my farewells to the noble king Elessar, as well as Gimli. And, that reminds me, young Legolas, "he said, reaching into the deep folds of his white robes and withdrawing two rolls of parchment, "I had almost forgotten that I play message bearer. They each asked me to give you these."
Legolas took the scrolls, and was glad to have news of his friends, yet was saddened at the thought of losing another.
* * *
Legolas opened his bedchamber door, the two sealed scrolls tucked in his doublet. "Mithryn, you are awake!" he said, striding towards her as she sat by the window watching Culúril play on the floor.
"I could not sleep," she said, kissing him. "Too much has happened. My brain would not cease thinking." She gazed thoughtfully at him a moment before saying, "How long does he mean to stay?"
"A few days. Perhaps a week. Not long, in any case."
Smiling slightly cynically, she said, "I had thought as much. Forever did he have other places to be, or other people to speak to. I should not be surprised now that it is the same after all these years."
Legolas's heart broke listening to her speak thus; so strong and unaffected had she tried to appear. Yet, to him, he could still see the embittered child who had felt abandoned and unloved.
"Say not so, Mithryn, for he is hurt beyond your understanding. He wishes he could stay, but. . ."
Unwilling to forgive, she interrupted, saying, "Yes, I am sure you are correct, dearest. Pray," attempting to change the subject, "what are those in your doublet?"
Her ruse worked, though Legolas disliked dropping the subject. He could see Mithryn was unwilling to converse the matter any further, however. "They are messages," he began, taking out the curled scrolls, "from Gimli and Aragorn. Do you wish to hear them?"
"Aye," Mithryn said as he uncurled one of the scrolls.
"Dear Legolas," he began. "I hope all is well with you and your family. Such glad tidings is it my privilege to write to you and tell you of the birth of my son."
"A child!" Mithryn exclaimed. "What good fortune, indeed! May their next be a princess."
Legolas smiled, and continued reading the letter aloud. "Lady Undómiel and I have named him Eldarion, and it is with great anticipation that we look forward to introducing him to you upon your long awaited arrival, if your lord grants it. I trust you have not forgotten your promise to me. I bid you now farewell, and await your response. Aragorn"
"He expects a reply. What shall you write to him?" Mithryn inquired.
"I have been reluctant to speak of my promise to Father. As you know, he wishes the rulership of Mirkwood to pass to me upon his departure into the west."
Not finding any words of wisdom to offer, Mithryn simply suggested, "Perhaps Gimli's letter will provide some advice."
Cracking open the seal, Legolas unfurled the sheet, and cleared his throat. "My friend, what news is this I hear of the birth of Aragorn and Lady Arwen's son? Let us pray the child has the likeness of his mother. What say you? Is it not time to venture forth and carry out what we long ago promised? My legs are stiff, and my hands grow feeble. I long for adventure! Awaiting your ever tardy reply, Gimli"
"Well? What do you think?" Mithryn asked, trying to read Legolas' thoughtful face. "What are we to do?"
"I shall tell Father when the time is right."
* * *
Several days passed, and Gandalf remained. Mithryn, he felt, remained elusive and withdrawn, and he grew saddened. "Why had I given up so easily?" thought he. "I have brought this upon myself, and can hold no blame against her for not forgiving me. A frightened child alone in the world, and I did not ever search for her." When at last the time came for him to make his departure, every elf in the kingdom came to off him their good wished for his return to him homeland. "Fare-thee-well, my old friend," Thranduil said. "Much have you done for us, and all Middle Earth, and not enough can we do to thank you. On your journey homeward, remember kindly those you leave behind, and those who will soon follow."
"Kind words that are kindly felt, Thranduil," Gandalf replied. "Do you speak of yourself when talking of journeying to the Grey Havens? I had not thought you would leave your home yet."
"I do speak for myself, for long have I dwelt in this wood. My beloved wife waits for me across the sea, and I shall follow you anon. Please bid her to be patient when you see her."
"I shall," Gandalf replied, "and look forward to greeting you upon your arrival, King Thranduil. I am thankful that our goodbye will not be for long." He moved onwards down the line and stopped at Legolas who had his arms full with Culúril. "Little Culúril, how I shall miss watching you grow, and teaching you all of life's mysteries. How I shall miss watching your learn and explore all that you have to offer this great world. Forever will you be in my thoughts, little one, and forever in my heart."
He bent down and kissed his grandchild on his downy strawberry hair, and moved once more to Mithryn. She stared at him, tearless and stone faced. Gandalf, however, was not hurt by her coldness. "Alas that this is goodbye for us, my child. Alas for our past, and that it was so hard on us both. I hope you will not hold it against me forever. Would I change all that I have done wrong, I would do so willingly and with a full heart." He placed his hand gently on her head, stroking her long, soft curls. "Forever will you be my little girl."
Though still refusing to forgive him, Mithryn could not help reaching out and drawing her father close in a tight embrace. So few opportunities did she have in the past, and now, this her last chance, she could not allow him to leave without a final goodbye. "I love you, Papa," she whispered.
Galamed and Tarnil stood a distance back, watching the scene. Speaking so only Tarnil could hear, Galamed said, "It all makes sense now, does it not? Mithryn's powers. . ."
"Aye," Tarnil agreed in an equally hushed voice. "Though, something troubles me."
"Mithrandir leaves his daughter, never to return, never to see her again. Do you suppose Father told him of her condition?"
Galamed watched closely father and daughter saying their last few words together. "Nay," he said, decidedly. "He does not know."
Climbing upon his horse, Shadowfax, Gandalf gave one last long gaze at his daughter and grandchild, imprinting upon his memory their faces for all of time, before turning with lightening speed, and riding away. He cried tears of regret for hours upon that long, lonely ride to Rivendell and his road home.
End of Chapter Thirty-nine