A Tale of Mirkwood - Chapter 41 ~ Ithilien


CHAPTER XXXXI - ITHILIEN

In the days that passed after king Thranduil's departure, the remaining elves fell back into a quiet existence under king Galamed's rule. The combination of his magnanimous and jovial nature made him easily approachable and all enjoyed being led by him. More proud than any was Legolas. Upon seeing his youngest brother and king talking with his people, bequeathing requests, and solving their problems judiciously, he could not help but think that the right son was now king.

There was little time for lounging, however, for those who meant to move onward to Ithilien. Last minute preparations had to be made and, when completed, all waited patiently for the dwarves arrival from Lonely Mountain.

King Galamed had ordered a lookout and, after a few days, word was sent swiftly that their visitors had arrived. The shrill, clear call of the iavin shot through the chill air of the forest, and all present turned and made their way to the palace to greet their guests for this historic event.

Gazing somewhat warily about them, a band of twenty-two dwarves tentatively followed their escort to the palace. Legolas waited there with Mithryn by his side, and Culúril in his arms. Gimli led the way for the Dwarves, and nodded haughtily at Elves as he passed.

"Dear friends," Galamed said when all had gathered near, "we welcome you to our home, and are glad indeed of your coming. This marks a monumental milestone for both our people. Never before have dwarves and elves shared both land and home, and I am exceedingly fortunate to bear witness to it."

Gimli bowed deeply, and the rest of the dwarves quickly followed his example. They had remembered how two princes of Mirkwood had shown the same respect to their king.

"Kind words," Gimli said, rising, "and they are deeply felt. May your life be merry, your purse plentiful, your stomach full, and your beard long!"

Not quite knowing how to take such a greeting, Galamed merely bowed his head, while Legolas suppressed a giggle.

The elves dispersed and gathered round their guests, looking curiously at their raiment, their beards, their weapons and adornments. Few elven ladies had ever seen a dwarf so close, except for the Honourable Master Gimli, of course. Tentative and friendly chatter began, and Legolas and Mithryn approached a disgruntled Gimli who was attempting to wade through a sea of tall legs and velvet robes.

"Gimli, my old friend!" Legolas exclaimed and embraced him warmly with his one free arm.

"There you are! One cannot see through so much silk and finery! I am much regretting now not drinking that Ent drought that Treebeard offered me. And, hello there, wee elf!" Gimli said as Legolas knelt down to show Gimli Culúril.

"Ba! Ba!" the infant exclaimed excitedly, and promptly reached out and pulled Gimli's rust-coloured beard. The dwarf let out a cry, and Culúril a shriek of joy at this new discovery.

"Culúril, you mustn't!" Legolas said, horrified, removing the child's small hand from Gimli's coarse beard. "I am sorry, Gimli."

"Not at all. It is no wonder. It is not oft that he sees a beard as fine as this, is it?" Gimli said.

"Nay," Mithryn said, speaking up at last. "Not since my father's visit, that is."

Gimli nodded, and Legolas glanced at her, surprised. Not once had she mentioned her father since his passing to the Undying Lands.

"How wonderful to see you again, Gimli," she continued and embraced him as well.

"Milady, what must you think of me? An ungrateful guest I should be if I came bereft of gifts in the face of my dear friend's wife!" Gimli pulled a small, velvety pouch from his doublet and handed it to her, his face reddening all the while.

Smiling, she shook her head, "This was entirely unnecessary, dear friend. There is no cause to give me gifts."

"Every cause!" Gimli argued. "Having no wife of mine own, this trinket would have gone entirely to waste, for I cannot wear it. Red does not become me."

Mithryn poured the contents of the purse into her hand and a shimmering ruby necklace slid out. Three large, magnificent rubies, round with delicate silver leaves, graced a fine woven chain. Mithryn was speechless for a moment, but the enthralled look upon her face delighted him at no end.

Legolas, however, appeared not as pleased. "Gimli, you shall make me look bad to Mithryn, and then, I daresay, she shall leave me for a dwarf!"

Ignoring Legolas's comment, however, Mithryn merely said, "This is a great deal too fine for me, Master Gimli. Surely there is a dwarf lady whom this would better suit?"

"Nay!" Gimli said, raising his hand. "There is no such lady, and I wish you to have it. Once a gift is given, milady, 'tis plain rude to refuse! Nay, there is no lady that holds my heart. . .except. . ."

Gimli clutched at something hidden neath his doublet, and near his heart. Grunting, and shaking off his memories, he said, "Enough of such talk! Keep it lady, and make a dwarf happy! Now, Legolas, shall we go and talk? It has been long, indeed, since our old discourses and you must explain to me the plans ahead."

"Very well!" Legolas said, jovially. "Mithryn, would you take him?"

Legolas held Culúril out to her, but the child was immediately picked up by his uncle Haldof. "Nay, I'll take him, Legolas. Mithryn looks a trifle tired."

It was not until then that Legolas noticed how very worn Mithryn did appear. Though her hair was neatly braided and her dress tidy, her eyes looked heavy and her skin pale. "Aye, you do appear strained. Did you not sleep well again last night, love?"

Disliking all this attention to her state of health, Mithryn merely smiled weakly, and said, "Perhaps a little. I think I shall retire before the festivities tonight. Until later, Master Gimli, and thank you once more for this most beautiful and generous gift." She bent down and kissed him on his blushing cheek, and then turned away and slowly, gingerly, walked back to her bedchamber.

"Ho! You are still here, I see," Gimli remarked to Haldof. "Not gone off to the Undying Lands, too?"

"Not I, Master Gimli," Haldof replied, smiling roguishly. "I go with you to Ithilien."

Gimli, it appeared, had not previously thought of this eventuality and said, "What good fortune. Come, Legolas! Let us commiserate on this unfortunate circumstance!"

Haldof and Legolas both let out hearty laughs. Legolas strolled away with Gimli, to find a quiet spot to sit and converse about the journey before them. They had not much time before the cool, grey day slipped into a cold, wintery night complete with snow, and all eagerly gathered in the great hall for dinner, song and stories. The Dwarven guests observed with fascinated ears and eyes to all this foreign merrymaking, but soon their heads began to droop from the music, gaiety, and infinite barrels of ale. Legolas found a seat beside Gimli, who was thoroughly enjoying the elderberry wine.

"Are you as anxious as me to begin work in Ithilien?" Gimli exclaimed excitedly, rubbing his hands together. "If I recall the shabby stonework correctly, much is there to do!"

"And there is much planting to do, much evil to undo, and much to restore. We must do what we can, dear friend, to make Aragorn's realm as beautiful as legend tells us it once was."

Gimli stared skeptically at Legolas for a moment before saying, "Are you sad leaving this wood, your home?"

"This wood shall forever hold a place in my heart, and an elf's heart beats with a tenacious memory, strong and true. Wherever I go, I take it with me. I hope Mithryn enjoys Ithilien as much as I think she will," he said thoughtfully.

"Ah, yes, Mithryn. It is curious. She does not appear improved since last I saw her."

"It is true that her health is not as it once was, but she is mending, I assure you. She is frequently troubled by nightmares, and therefore, gets little rest. Worry not for her, my friend! I keep her in good care."

Gimli smiled, but was not convinced. His Dwarven companions were retiring to bed, and Gimli decided to join them. "This elvish food and song makes one sleepy," he said grumpily.

The next morning, all was prepared for the large party of Elves and Dwarves to make their departure. Galamed had requested a private word with Haldof and Legolas to say farewell; each promised to send frequent letters.

The remaining elves in king Galamed's realm assembled, sadly, once more to bid farewell to their friends and family, and the departure of thirty-six elves, twenty-two dwarves and Mithryn began. Such would be an odd sight for any passerby, but they met none while departing Eryn Lasgalen.

***

On the first night of their journey, they set up camp and, in high humour, sat around the fireside, feasting and reciting thrilling stories. Gimli had a wide-eyed Culúril on his knee, while Haldof held a spot beside Legolas and Mithryn.

"So you see, young elf," Gimli said to Culúril, "your father is a great swordsman and archer alike. Many orc necks did he hew, but not quite as many as I, of course."

"That is readily believable," Haldof whispered to Legolas. "Do not look at me so. Long have I noticed your ill aim."

Gimli continued on, saying, "Shall I tell you of one of the times I saved your father's life?"

"Gimli, I had not known!" Haldof said, speaking up. "Legolas, shame on you for never sharing that with us. Pray continue, Master Gimli! We should all enjoy hearing that, I believe."

"Gimli," Legolas protested, "Surely we need not bore everyone with that old tale."

"I am profoundly interested," a stout dwarf said, also sitting nearby, leisurely smoking his pipe.

"Do not be so sheepish, Legolas," Haldof said, a smirk upon his face. "I think all of us would love to hear the account of Gimli saving your life."

Legolas turned to Gimli, "If you do, I shall follow it with a story of mine own. Be forewarned!"

"Of what event?" Gimli said suspiciously.

"The Paths of the Dead," Legolas said ominously.

"Nay, you would not!" Gimli said, defensively.

"Ai, what is this?" Haldof asked. "Another harrowing tale? Though one that fails to discomfort Legolas, so I fear I would not enjoy it as much. Nevertheless, we must have our stories, we Elves. Come, Master Gimli! Begin with your tale if you please!"

"Nay," Gimli said, his hands on Culúril's tiny waist. "'Tis a dull story to be sure! One not worth repeating. Perhaps I could tell you, instead, about the beautiful Glittering Caves that Legolas and I explored!"

"Not the Glittering Caves again," Haldof said under his breath, but as there was naught else to do, he turned a bored ear and listened once again to the magnificence in the earth's depths.

***

Their journey took them west of the great forest, and there they followed the mighty Anduin River down to the Brown Lands. Close did they come to Lothlórien, but Gimli had no desire to go there, knowing that Galadriel had since passed.

"We travel at too slow a pace!" Gimli complained to Legolas after they had stopped, yet again, for nourishment. "I have vivid memories of our quest. It was not nearly so tiresome!"

"Tiresome?" Legolas repeated, amused. "Nay, I think not. But, recollect that we have ladies and Culúril in our company. It is not as though we are chasing a band of Uruk-hai, Gimli."

"Alas for that," Gimli said wistfully before walking away.

***

Weeks had passed, and still the band pushed on. Most were thoroughly enjoying their journey, as they had seen more of Middle Earth than in their entire lifetime. Though Sauron and his armies had perished years ago, their loathsome mark could still be seen on the landscape. The Elves gazed at the scarred lands and forests with itchy fingers, eager to begin the restoration.

They travelled by day, and rested by night. Though always travelling on Anfalas's back, Mithryn wearied easily, and required constant rest. Gimli maintained a watchful eye upon her, and, as their trek progressed, the more alarmed he became.

Legolas, Gimli noticed, did not appear to observe Mithryn's decline in spirits. Enthralled in the journey, he rode with Culúril, showing him all there was to see in this fascinating territory.

After weeks of pleasant but uneventful travel, they had at last arrived in Gondor. Minas Tirith was but a few days journey, now, and the thought of friends, good food, and comfortable beds pushed the weary travellers onward with renewed enthusiasm.

Minas Tirith, sparkling in the sun, was at last reached, but none had expected the splendid welcome that they received. Every occupant of the city, agog with interest, watched the approaching company, and hailed them with waving flags, and heartfelt cheers. Far different did the people appear now than when we was last here, thought Legolas. Moving upward to the highest tower, the travellers were admitted to the throne room of king Elessar, and were greeted by him, his queen, and their young son, Eldarion.

"Friends old and new, I welcome you to Gondor and Minas Tirith. Far have you travelled, but you shall rest here a time before moving onward to south Ithilien. Evil has separated our races at times, but that evil has been defeated. Let there be no more resentment or suspicion between Gondor, Eryn Lasgalan, and Lonely Mountain. Today we stand as brothers."

Legolas and Gimli, each a representative of his race, stepped forward and proudly placed a hand atop of Aragorn's. The crowd, including the Dwarves, cheered boisterously and began to intermingle with Elf, Dwarf, and Man alike.

"How happy I am that you have come," Aragorn said to Legolas and Gimli. "It feels an age since you were here."

"An age is too short a time!" Gimli retorted. "Our journey is what felt like an age! Such a tedious pace; you could not believe, Aragorn!"

Aragorn's eyes sparkled with laughter. "But you are here at last. But, our wives! Legolas, where is Mithryn? Long have you spoken of her, and finally do I get to meet her!"

"I will fetch her," Legolas said before weeding through the crowd in search of her and their son. Upon his return, he carried Culúril in his arms, and saw Arwen had joined them carrying, too, a small child.

"Mae govannen, Lady Arwen," Legolas said, smiling. "How wonderful to see you again. Aragorn, may I present Mithryn, my wife."

Mithryn bowed, and Aragorn surveyed the frail, shell of a woman who stood before him. "How could this be?" he thought to himself as he politely kissed her hand. "Legolas had spoken of a strong, magical creature with powers beyond imagination."

"Well met," Aragorn said to Mithryn, a gentle smile on his lips. "Legolas has spoken much of you and I am delighted to meet you at last. May I, in turn, present my wife to you, Lady Mithryn? Queen Arwen."

Arwen handed Aragorn Eldarion and stepped forward, embracing Mithryn. "My dear! How tired you appear! After such a journey it is no wonder. Come! I shall lead you to your chamber where you can rest."

The ladies withdrew, and Legolas and Aragorn were left holding their sons. "He has the look of you," Aragorn said, observing Culúril's face. "Though the hair of Mithryn."

Legolas, for the first time, beheld Eldarion. The child, now nearly six months of age, had dark hair like his mother, but the face held all the race of his father. Definite elvish traits were noticeable, but even the ears failed to point. The child was delightful, but undoubtably mortal.

Gimli smiled at Eldarion and held out his rough hand. "He has the likeness of his father, to be sure! Aragorn, no more suspense! When are we to begin work? The stonework I saw as I passed through this city is in shambles!"

"Much work is needed, I agree, Master Dwarf," Aragorn said, amused, "but you are my guests here. I could not set you to work on your first night. Much is planned for your entertainment: minstrels, musicians, jugglers, dancers, and the finest ale that could be procured."

Gimli snorted. "Ale? Why did you not say so! To be sure, the fun can wait," and he was soon swept away by Dwarves asking his opinion on the steps they would reconstruct at first opportunity.

Aragorn shook his head, smiling. "What a journey you must have had."

"Aye, yes," Legolas said. "It was nothing but masonry, the Glittering Caves, and the tardiness of our speed the entire journey. It was almost like old times travelling with him again."

"Did it rain much?"

"A few times, though as we travelled steadily south, the weather warmed."

"And Mithryn, did she have a fair journey?"

Legolas blinked, surprised by the question. "She bore it as we all did. Why do you ask?"

"I merely thought her a trifle fatigued. She does not seem the same woman you described to me so long ago," he said quietly, looking down at the oak floor.

"Oh," Legolas replied, shrugging. "Aye, she is wearied, I gather, but a few days rest will restore her, I am sure. Tell me, how has the land altered since I was last here? Any change since Sauron's defeat?"

Aragorn noticed Legolas's sudden change in subject, but did not attempt to bring it round again. For the time he would be happy just to have two of his dear friends beside him again.

End of Chapter Forty-one

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