A Tale of Mirkwood - Chapter 42 - Culmination
CHAPTER XLII - CULMINATION
The cool wintery nights of Gondor had resigned in favour of a warm spring and a hot, humid summer. In the several months that followed the Elves' arrival in Ithilien, their hard work proved promising as, once again, good things began to grow where there had been naught but barren wastelands of scarred earth and stone.
Likewise, the Dwarves had been equally successful with their masonry enterprises of staircases, walls, balustrades, archways, and city roads. They enjoyed teaching Gondor's masons and apprentices the correct way to make magnificent stonework that would last an age or more.
Peacefully, both elves and dwarves shared a small village in the beauteous hills of Ithilien; close enough to Minas Tirith, yet on their own land, given to them generously by King Elessar. Trees grew in plenty, and a fresh, rocky, trout stream wound its way through the many woods and valleys until finally emptying in the mighty Anduin River but a few leagues away.
The King's skillful carpenters, bricklayers and roofers had built functional, yet beautiful houses for each member of the elf and dwarf village. Constructed of thick limestone and thatched roofs, the cottages were cool in the summer, and warm in the winter.
All had progressed and improved in Ithilien save one. . .Mithryn. The months following their journey had not successfully restored her as Legolas hoped they would. She remained tired and languid, weak and spiritless. Legolas gazed at her with growing despair. He could find no cause for her debilitation, and still she grew more ill. It was not until the fourteenth of June that his concern for her well-being reached a state of desperation. She could not rise from their bed, and had no desire for nourishment no matter what tempting dishes the Elves presented to her.
Searching out his trustworthy friend, Legolas beseeched him for aid and advice. "I have never seen her thus, Gimli," Legolas said, his voice shaky. "Steadily has she grown more afflicted, but I always expected her to mend as she has in times past. I worry so! She can barely raise her head, and refuses even the tiniest morsel of food!"
Gimli listened and replied as calmly as his voice would allow. "There is naught for it, Legolas. You must fetch Aragorn. Can you not recall how he healed Merry, and that steely maiden Éowyn when she lay dying? Is it not probable that he could heal your Mithryn as well?"
Blinking, Legolas reprimanded himself for not thinking of that himself. Placing a grateful hand on Gimli's shoulder, he thanked him dearly, and climbed upon Arod, riding swiftly to the white city of Minas Tirith.
The guardsmen recognized him at a glance, and Legolas rode in, not dismounting until he had ridden to the highest peak of the city and reached the Great Hall of Kings. Legolas beckoned a guard and requested an audience with his Majesty. Seeing the panicked look of urgency upon Legolas' face, the sentinel hastily carried out his orders. Aragorn, receiving a message that Prince Legolas was here and in much distress, dispensed with formalities and, instead, followed the guard immediately.
"Legolas, what is amiss?" Aragorn asked when he had joined Legolas on the green.
"Mithryn is very ill. Deathly ill, I'm afraid," he choked. "Aragorn, I knew not what to do, so I came to ask for help if you could give it."
"Of course I will assist if I can. Has she contracted some sort of fever?"
"Aye, she has a fever, but I suspect it to be merely a symptom, not the cause."
"But, how long has she been ailing?"
Shaking his head, Legolas said, "I know not for certain. She has never fully recovered from the wound an orc inflicted on her several years ago. Her health improves only to deteriorate again, and so on. Yet, Aragorn, I have never seen her so frail as now. I greatly fear for her life. Please, help!"
"Worry not. My aid you have." Aragorn ordered the guard to fetch him his most skilled physician and supplies. "Trust me, Legolas," he assured. "We shall discover the cause of her ailment. Come, we must leave immediately."
Celebwen, the elf-maid who looked after Mithryn, was beside herself with worry. Mithryn lay on the bed, quite still, her arms lifeless at her sides. Repetitively, Celebwen wiped her hot, sweaty brow with cool water, but she could not quench the persistent fever within. Traditional remedies had been tried but all were in vain. A low, rasping breath came from Mithryn, as she made soft, confused sounds. Delirium afflicted her while she slept. She was so worn and tired, she could no longer raise herself to even sip water.
Suddenly, the door flew open, and Legolas strode in, followed closely by Aragorn and an old, stout-looking woman carrying a satchel.
"Celebwen, this is King Elessar, and his physician, Ioreth. They have come to help Mithryn."
"Welcome, indeed, King Elessar and Ioreth!" Celebwen said, bowing. "Mithryn's condition is beyond my expertise."
"Then there is no time to be lost," Aragorn replied. "Legolas, I fear that you cannot aid us here. We shall take the very best care of her, but for now, you had best wait outside."
Legolas did not want to leave Mithryn, but he knew, from the battle weary days, that Aragorn could be trusted completely to wrestle with this formidable enemy. Stealing one last fleeting glance at his wife, sleeping fitfully, he stepped out of the room, quietly shutting the door behind him.
While Celebwen went to tend the water boiling on the hearth, Aragorn and Ioreth gently rolled Mithryn onto her side to examine the wound. He held up the lantern while Ioreth peeled back her nightdress, discreetly covering her.
"My Lord," she said, running her hand over the wound which was red and swollen. "How old be this injury?"
"Neigh on four years, though it hardly looks it," Aragorn said.
"To be sure, this is the cause of all that ails her. What was it again? An arrow?"
"Nay," Celebwen replied as she returned with the boiling water. "An orc sword. It is believed that a piece broke off and could not be recovered. 'Twas simply too deep."
"Well, that is it, plain as daybreak!" Ioreth exclaimed. "But I'll tell you, my Lord, healing skills I may have and operating skills besides, but if Elves were unable to extract the bit of steel, it's unlikely that I'd be able to. I'd be more afraid of causing her further pain and harm, so weak as she is. She would not survive the operation, methinks." She gently rolled Mithryn on to her back, making her comfortable again.
Aragorn furrowed his brow, and asked pointedly of Celebwen. "Does Legolas know of what you say?"
Celebwen stared guiltily at the floor. "Nay. My Lord's orders were clear. Legolas was not to know, nor Mithryn."
"Why?" Ioreth interjected before Aragorn could speak.
"The King felt it to be in both their best interests," Celebwen replied.
"His best interests, more like," Ioreth said. "Now, I don't mean any disrespecting your King, but that decision was wrong, and I wouldn't mind telling him!"
"Do you mean to tell Mithryn, my Lord?" Celebwen asked.
"Aye, I shall tell her." He kindly asked both ladies to leave, and when the door had closed, he extracted two athelas leaves from the satchel Ioreth had been carrying and dropped them into the bowl of steaming water. A thick, sweet aroma quickly filled the air around Mithryn as he held the bowl close to her face. She stirred and opened her heavy eyelids.
"Lord Aragorn," she whispered. "What do you do here?"
"I visit you, Mithryn. Legolas has been so worried for you."
"I know. He worries so, but soon he shall worry no more."
"What do you speak of, Mithryn?" Aragorn asked, his heart beginning to pound in his chest.
"I am not a fool, Lord Aragorn. I know how ill I am." Mithryn smiled. "My Lord, what has Legolas told you of me?"
"Of what do you mean?"
"My powers. What has he said?"
"Why, that you are like your father in many ways, and in turn, carry some of his abilities. I know that you age slowly like he, that you possess certain wizarding powers, are skilled in healing, and have the gift of foresight."
"Has he ever mentioned to you the things that I have seen?"
"Once or twice, perhaps. Mithryn," he said, shaking his head, apologetically, "I do not follow. What is it you are saying?"
"Knowing what you know of me, do you truly suppose that one who can see the future cannot also foresee her own future?"
Aragorn sat back, awed. "How long have you known?"
"That I am dying? Since the beginning," she whispered. "In truth, the future is ever changing, Lord Aragorn. It is not fixed. Every decision alters our future, our fate. Had I not met Legolas in the woods that day, how different both our lives would be now."
"And Legolas does not know?"
"Nay. Like King Thranduil, I had not the heart to tell him. Aye, I knew that others knew of my condition. 'Twas obvious, really. The way they bustled about looking after me. Yet, the sadness in their eyes was unmistakable. Even in Haldof's face, whom I know never approved of me." A lone tear rolled down her cheek. "I have had no contrition on the decisions I've made. I knew how it would be, and I regret nothing."
"Not even for sending Legolas away to join the Fellowship?" Seeing the surprised look on her face, he nodded. "Aye, he has told me of that."
"I regret that least of all. He is a great warrior and contributed much to the success of the Fellowship and to this time of peace. He has made such dear friends; you know not how much he loves you all. He will need all his friends dearly when I am gone. You must promise to take good care of him," she pleaded.
"You have my word," he replied, so deeply touched, he, too, wept a quiet tear. "But I cannot believe you to be lost just yet. If only Lord Elrond were here. His powers of healing quite outweigh my own. Mithryn. . .I cannot save you."
Smiling gently at him, "My Lord, do not reproach yourself. You forget. I knew how it would be."
A thought, not having occurred to him before, appeared in his mind. "Mithryn," he said hastily, full of new hope and vigor, "what of Valinor? The Undying Lands?"
A vague shadow appeared in her eyes, and her face looked unsettled. "What of it?"
"You must go to Valinor!"
"Lord Aragorn, I appreciate what you are trying to do, but, as well you know, it is not possible. As you can plainly see, I am not elf-kind, and therefore, unwelcome."
Aragorn, however, was not convinced. "Mortals are not shunned from its shores, I'll have you know, Mithryn. Both Frodo and Bilbo Baggins were invited to live out their lives in that land."
"Yet, as I understand it, they were the Bearers of the One Ring, and consequently, very privileged, indeed. I cannot boast of their achievement."
"Perhaps not, yet you are daughter of Gandalf the White, daughter of an Istari, and married daughter of King Thranduil. If you but had a representative to speak for you, I feel certain you would have a chance! Legolas could. . ."
But Mithryn stopped him abruptly. "Nay, Aragorn," she said with as much strength as she could muster. "You may be doing a courtesy for me, but trust it that you are doing a disservice for Legolas."
"I know his wish would be that you live, Mithryn. Do you so desire death?"
"Nay, but you cannot understand this matter," she said firmly.
"Then, pray explain it to me!"
She took a deep breath and said, "An Elf's heart is deep. Legolas carries love for many things: his home, his people, Culúril, myself, his friends and these lands especially. . .You cannot know how he suffered during the war, Aragorn. You all saw the same horrors, fought in the same battles, and yet, you know not what it means to feel as an elf feels. Nor do I, entirely. Arwen, I am sure, will tell you what I say is true. You, Gimli, and the Hobbits all pulled him through a time where otherwise he would have felt naught but utter misery. He has grown more close to you all than perhaps you realize. I believe Gimli understands. When you all die, as is your fate, you know not how Legolas will suffer. Time is essential. He will spend as much time with you all as possible. His family is waiting in Valinor for him until the time you all have is passed. Not before will he leave Middle Earth."
"And how, pray tell, do you think Legolas will suffer when you die?"
"He will recognize that my life was spent as it should have been. He will know that no time was lost, and every moment treasured."
"And if he were to bring you to Valinor? You know not how he would feel. I would think him glad that you have lived." Mithryn looked away, and Aragorn saw pain in her eyes. "What is it?"
"If we did as you suggest, of course Legolas would be happy at first, but a gulf would slowly divide us. I have seen it, Aragorn. I have seen him. Sad and despondent. How he laments his friends whom he has lost, never to see again. We, neither of us, would live in peace and harmony. I would live on, but forever would he turn his thoughts back to Middle Earth and wonder how she fares. . .and wonder, also, of the fate of old friends left behind.."
"I know Legolas, and he would not do as you say."
"And I know what I saw!" she said, tears coming more freely now. "If I die, I know you and Gimli would be there to comfort him. Furthermore, he once gave a promise to me long ago that he would not sail until his heart bade him leave. I cannot force him to leave by way of my illness and mortality. He has made a fervent commitment to this land and to his friends."
Aragorn sat back in his chair, still unconvinced. "Now," Mithryn said, closing her eyes. "This discussion has made me very tired. May I have a little rest now?"
"Of course," and he silently slipped out of the room into the warm sunshine of a perfect June afternoon.
Legolas nearly pounced on him, begging for information, Gimli close on his heels. "Aragorn, at last!" Legolas exclaimed. "You were so long! Pray, tell me what has happened. Have you been able to help her at all?"
Staring into the eyes of Legolas, so full of hope, Aragorn could barely speak. "Before I tell you, there is something you aught to know. You were correct in assuming Mithryn had never fully recovered from her orc wound. What you were incorrect in assuming was that none knew of her deteriorating health. Legolas, I know none would speak to you of this, but Mithryn is dying, and many, I fear, have known of this eventuality for years."
"Years?" Gimli repeated, unable to believe it. "You say his kindred had known for years and naught said a word to him?"
"Nor to Mithryn," Aragorn added. "Yet, she knew."
"Dying. . .you are certain?" Legolas said in a quivering voice. Aragorn nodded, and Legolas continued, though his voice was now bitter and cold. "And they knew. . .and she knew and would not tell me?"
"You have every right to be angry, but we are not certain how many of your kindred were told of her condition," Aragorn said, gently.
"My father, to be sure," Legolas said, wiping away a hate-filled tear.
"Aye, that I would assume," Aragorn said.
"But Mithryn," Legolas said. "Why would she not speak? I am her husband! If their motives were only to spare me pain, they have done nothing but delayed it!
"As for Mithryn's reasons, you had best ask her yourself," Aragorn said, gently.
"Do not be too harsh on her, though," Gimli added, wisely.
Legolas thought a moment and then wearily shook his head. "Nay. Mithryn was only ever supportive of me and my decisions. Who am I to punish her at such a moment as this? I do wish she would have told me, however," he said as he wiped a watery eye yet again. "May I go in and see her?"
"Aye," Aragorn said, "but before you do, know that, though it appears bleak, I have a plan which may save her."
"Ha! Gimli said, brightening. "Trust you, Aragorn, to have a plan when we are ready for despair! Come, let us hear it now! What is this plan of yours?"
Legolas sat on the bed, and placed his cool hand on Mithryn's hot brow. She opened her eyes, and smiled up at him. "I dreamt of you," she said.
"You dreamt of me?" he repeated, his sea-blue eyes beaming down at her.
"You were on a ship. The wind was fair, and the sky was warm and bright. You appeared so happy."
He laughed a moment, but his smile faded quickly. "Mithryn, why did you never tell me? You knew how it would be, didn't you?"
She nodded, and her face looked pained. "I knew I would not recover."
"And yet you sent me away for a year. . .never saying a word?" Legolas asked, deeply hurt.
"You had a duty to perform. Your place was there. I could not ask you to be my sick-maid."
"Nay. Nay, for I am your husband. My place is by your side. . .always and especially in time of adversity.."
"Let me ask you, would you still have gone with the Fellowship if you had known of my condition?"
Inwardly, Legolas struggled for his answer. He wished to say yes, but had he known Mithryn was doomed to die so soon, he knew in his heart he could not have abandoned her for so many months. He bent his head, admitting that she was correct.
Suddenly the door opened, and Haldof entered. He had, but a few minutes before, the good fortune to see a conversation that he had been dreading for years. Ever nearby, silently watchful, he observed the three from a perch on a tree above. Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas spoke in hushed whispers, and Legolas, he could clearly see, was greatly affected by such news that Aragorn was sharing with him, yet, no words had escaped Haldof's keen, elvish ears. His heart sank upon realizing that the truth was now known to his brother. Mithryn was dying, and Legolas knew the truth. Haldof stood there, resolute; none would call him a coward. Aragorn and Gimli attempted to deny him entry into Legolas and Mithryn's cottage, but Haldof insisted. Upon entering, he said, "Ah, Mithryn and Legolas. Do I disturb? 'Tis a truly touching scene. Had I best depart?"
"Nay, for I have words for you," Legolas said darkly. "Yu have known longer than any how ill she is. Confess it, Haldof! Did you not know years ago that Mithryn would die?"
"If you mean that she would die because she is mortal, you too knew it, Legolas," Haldof said, haughtily. "But as to me knowing that her illness would worsen, I freely admit it. I was merely following father's orders of supreme secrecy. Neither of you were to know. May I ask how you discovered this?"
"I knew, Haldof," Mithryn said. "I have always known."
"And I, too, should have known that you, likewise, have known," Haldof said. Both stared at him. "This conversation becomes too complex for me. Pray continue, Legolas. Do not let me disturb you."
Legolas jumped up, lunging at Haldof, throwing him against the wall. Mithryn called out, but was unable to move from her sickbed. "Do not jest at this time, Haldof!" Legolas said, his eyes fiery with anger. "There is no humour here. Does it fail your grasp that I shall lose my wife forever? Have you no heart? No shame? Are you completely lost to all feeling?" A large tear welled in his eye, and he released Haldof's shirt, and moved back and sat beside Mithryn. Standing alone against the wall, he watched the sad pair before him.
"Aragorn has told me of his plan. . ." Legolas said, ignoring Haldof, and concentration on Mithryn.
"Legolas," she said, holding her fingers up to his lips, silencing him, "pray listen before you say another word. You gave me a life to be proud of. While I was alone, I had nothing. And then you came, and I was born again. My time with you has been so precious, and you have given me so much. Now it is time for me to give you something. Time." He tried to retort, but her fingers once again hushed his soft lips. "Even if I lived through this, Haldof is right. One day I shall die. Because I am part mortal, whatever time I can give you is precious. We knew it was not for eternity. One day you will understand, and hopefully forgive me."
Legolas let out a great sob, and pulled Mithryn tightly to his breast. Haldof watched silently from the wall, his mind racing. Action must be taken, and he would willingly surrender his own heart's desire for whom he holds so dear. Taking a few steps toward them he said, "I shall take Mithryn to Valinor."
Legolas still held Mithryn in his arms, but they gazed up at Haldof, bewildered by what they had just heard.
"Nay, you have heard correctly," Haldof said. "I shall do it. I shall take Mithryn to Valinor."
Gently placing Mithryn back on her pillow, Legolas rose, and shook his head. "Haldof, I do not understand. I had believed it your wish never to leave Middle Earth, and now you choose to go to Valinor?"
"I will be honest, brother. Nothing holds me here, now. Unlike you, I have made no promises, no commitments to these trees, these rocks," Haldof replied, lying through his teeth.
"Yet, you told father," Legolas argued, "'till there is no day. . ."
"However," Haldof said, raising his hand to silence his brother's protests, "it is Mithryn's only hope. And, to honour your obligations, she will not let you go at this time. Is that correct, Mithryn?" She nodded her head, uncertain of Haldof's intentions. "Well then," he said, continuing, "There is no other solution. I shall take her, and you will, therefore, be keeping your promises to all."
"How do you know all this?" Legolas asked, bewildered.
"I must confess, I overheard you speaking with Aragorn and Gimli."
Legolas shook his head. "Haldof, your intentions are honourable, and I am touched, but I will not have you sacrifice your own desires for me."
"Legolas," Haldof said, his voice becoming low and firm, "you are my brother. There is nothing I would not do for you."
Greatly moved, Legolas stepped forward and clasped Haldof in a tight embrace.
"Come," Haldof said, "if we are to try and catch the grey ship, there is no time to be lost. I only wish that we had left last week. Mithryn, do you feel strong enough for a journey? We will fasten a wagon to carry you, but I fear the ride will do you more harm than good. Our pace will have to be fast, I fear, if we are to make it to the Grey Havens in time."
"Aye," said Mithryn, smiling, "I feel hearty enough."
End of Chapter Forty-two