A Tale of Mirkwood - Chapter 44 - "The Scent of Almonds"
Ten years had passed with the sailing of Mithryn, and for each day of those years, Legolas thought about family, his child, and most of all, his wife. He could not know for certain how she fared in Valinor, and only hoped that she was well and happy.
It had been difficult for him to believe that so much time had passed, for it seemed as though he had merely blinked his eyes and the time was gone. The truth, however, could clearly be seen on the faces of those close to him. Gimli had begun to grey, and how the children from Minas Tirith grew!
In the summer of the thirteenth year of the Fourth Age, Celebwen approached Legolas in the fields at dusk. The sun was setting brilliantly in the sky, showering the heavens with sprays of pinks and purples. "Prince Legolas, I hope I do not disturb you."
"Not at all, Celebwen," Legolas replied. "What may I do for you?"
"We thought you aught to know. During your recent absence in the north, a decision had been made among us. Within the week, we are going back to Eryn Lasgalen, as we all wish to sail to Valinor."
"We? Surely not all of you?" Legolas asked.
"Our time has come. We did what we set out to do. I had not the opportunity to see this land before the terror of Sauron," she said, gazing at the beauteous fields and valleys surrounding her, "but I know that it could not have been so fair before. This is our final gift to this world. I hope these mortals treasure it."
"That is my hope as well," Legolas said. He knew and completely understood his elven friend's point of view. They had achieved so much in such a short time. The river and waters were now clean and ran without the polluted filth the Orcs had caused and were once again filled with numerous varieties of fish. Trees grew in plenty which bred lush saplings, and birds of various colour and song filled their branches and reared young of their own. Slowly, the earth began to recuperate from all those years of rape and abuse.
"Shall you not come also?" Celebwen gently inquired.
Legolas, however, shook his head resolutely. "The sea calls, but for now I shall have to ignore this yearning. My time had not yet come. Nevertheless, I will journey with you back home. I should like to see Galamed again."
"Aye, I am sure he would wish to see you too. . .before his passing."
"Galamed passes also?" Legolas said, taken aback.
"We all sail, Legolas. I am sorry."
Inwardly, Legolas criticized himself. Of course he knew this day would come. One day, when they all left, it would be only he and Arwen left, the last elven-kind in all of Middle Earth.
In the days following, the Elves packed their desired possessions, and word of their intentions wound its way to King Elessar's ear. In an effort to show gratitude, though he realized it was not nearly enough, he threw a bounteous festivity of oliphaunt proportions in Minas Tirith. Young and old, rich and poor were invited, and all gratefully paid homage to the Elves generous and noble contribution to the splendorous rebirth of their homeland.
Legolas had participated in the events, but it did not go unnoticed to Gimli's keen eye that the elf seemed far from merry. Standing alone on the balcony at the Hall of Kings, staring into the twilight sky, Legolas had not much heart for celebrating.
"Well, well!" Gimli bellowed, a pint of beer in his hand. "So this is where you've scampered off to! I can't think why when there's such a feast to be had! How the Hobbits would enjoy such a party, but it is just as well. I daresay they would eat up half the food, the delightful creatures, and lick the barrels dry!"
"Indeed," Legolas said quietly, still not looking at him.
"Come, come, Legolas. This will not do! It is not as though you are being left behind, for it is your choice to stay. You are staying," Gimli said, suddenly struck by an uncertain fear, "are you not?"
"Well then," Gimli said, suddenly much happier, "be cheerful! I do not go anywhere."
For the first time, Legolas turned, and Gimli was relieved to see that he was smiling. "For that I am thankful," Legolas said. "You are a true friend, Gimli."
"And a truer one you'll never find. That is a dwarf, for you. Strong of heart, arm, and stomach, are we Dwarves."
"I shall be going to Eryn Lasgalen for a while, but I do promise to return. There are those there to whom I must say farewell. It will be the last time I shall ever journey there."
"Are you in want of company? Dwarvish company, I mean."
"Nay, thank you, Gimli," Legolas said, appreciatively. "I shall not be long."
"Very well then," Gimli said, after taking a strong swig of his beer. "But do not tarry too long. Aragorn would worry."
Their journey to Eryn Lasgalen had lasted a little more than two weeks at the speed they travelled. They approached the southern tip of Eryn Lasgalen where Celeborn's realm began, only to find it empty of people. There was no guard, and intricately carved houses in the treetops stood empty. They passed through it not meeting a living soul, save birds and beasts that at times scurried across their path.
Five days passed within the forest, and still no elf had been met. When finally they had reached the well-known border of King Galamed's realm, they were surprised to find it guard-less. There was, therefore, no melodious call of the iavin to announce their arrival, but they travelled onwards to the palace in eerie, unfamiliar solitude. There, finally, a welcome face was met.
"Anardil!" the travelling elves exclaimed and rushed up to her, embracing their friend and Queen. When Legolas had at last squeezed his way to her side, he eagerly asked, "Anardil, where are the guards? I saw none posted as we crossed the border."
"They seemed unnecessary," she replied, smiling, "as we have met no enemies since the fall of Sauron. Besides, Legolas, there are but nine of us left here."
"Nine?" Legolas repeated. "Is that all? But, there were hundreds!"
"Aye, but slowly, they all journeyed to Valinor. Come! Galamed must see you, for he will be so pleased that you have arrived."
Still in shock that so many had already left, he followed her into the palace, where Galamed strode down the corridor toward them.
"Legolas!" he exclaimed, giving his elder brother a tight embrace. "We have waited long for your return to these woods! Do you leave with us?" he asked, and his words were full of hope.
"Nay, I fear not, Galamed," Legolas replied, sadly. "I am still bound by commitments here."
"My poor brother!" Galamed said, wrapping an arm around him, guiding him to the great hall where every elf in the kingdom was convening. "But I shall not enjoin you, for a see you carry a heavy heart."
"Could you deliver some letters for me?" Legolas asked.
"With pleasure. Ah, it feels so strange to be leaving here, knowing I shall never return. I am ready for adventure, however."
"I hope I do not disturb. . ."Anardil said, walking up to the pair.
"Not at all," Galamed reassured her, and placed a welcoming arm around her waist.
"Legolas," she said, continuing, "I had wondered where you would feel the most comfortable. Would you care for your old room in the palace, or the bedchamber which you and Mithryn shared? When our numbers dwindled, all moved into the palace to be closer together. However, if you would wish. . ."
"May I have Mithryn's and my bedchamber? If it is not too much trouble. . ." Legolas asked .
"Not at all. I shall have it prepared at once," she said before stepping off to make the necessary arrangements.
"She thinks of everything," Galamed said, watching her leave. "I have no mind for detail, but she always knows what will make our guests comfortable."
"Do you have guests often?"
"Elves wandering through, mostly. We have had a few Dwarves to stay at times. Aye, it will be difficult to leave. Listen to me!" he said, shaking off his melancholy. "Have you eaten? You must be half starved after such a long journey."
A fine, Elvish meal was the very thing he needed, Legolas thought, and soon, in boisterous spirits, they all convened in the kitchens and began work on a sumptuous feast. Legolas had been busy kneading aromatic herb dough when Anardil told him that his room was ready for him.
"Allow me to finish this for you," she said amiably, and he, gratefully, let her take the soft dough. "Go on," she encouraged.
After washing his hands, he made his way out of the palace and into the cool air of the summer night. The sky was black, and, a silvery cloud shrouded the moon. He needed no light, however. He knew his way well enough.
Stepping up the spiral staircase, he passed rooms that had long been shut up and were no more in use. His bedchamber was at the top, and reaching it, he slowly opened the door. It opened with a slight creak due to lack of use. Inside, however, the room was airy and gleaming. Candles were lit around the room, giving it a soft, warm glow. His deeply carved, massive oak bed sat where it had always sat, made with fresh bedding, and also, as in days past, cheerful wildflowers had been placed on the dresser. His belongings had been brought up and carefully put away for him.
He opened one of his long dresser drawers. How strange it felt to touch an old possession, and have it still feel familiar! The first drawer was opened to reveal nothing. All of his necessary things had been taken with him to Ithilien. Each drawer opened proved to be like the first. Empty. The last and lowest drawer, however, was different. A rich, velvety blue cloth lay inside it. His curiosity got the better of him. Slowly and carefully pulling back the many folds of the fabric, a thin, dried circlet was revealed, and Legolas knew instantly what it was. "Why, it is the necklet Mithryn made for me all those years ago!" He held the strand in his hands, and though fragile and faded, upon lifting it up to his nose, some of its scent remained. The ghostly memories of that long-ago day came rushing back to him: the sunlight cascading upon her fiery hair, the taste of ripe berries on his tongue, and the sweet scent of almonds.
The following morning, Galamed and Legolas spent a great deal of time walking the woods together, chattering on about the past and also about the days to come. They visited every sight that was to be seen in the kingdom, including the sad, burnt remains of Belegaladh, their beloved tree that had been destroyed by orc fires.
But lo! As Legolas rounded the bend, he saw plainly from its charred remnants a sapling rising from the ashes. "Ai, what is this?" Legolas exclaimed, kneeling down on the soft earth and tenderly stroking the sapling. Several large leaves grew upon it, and Legolas could see that it was of the same breed that Belegaladh had been.
"Aye," Galamed said, happily, "I thought you would be pleased to see that. I had not come here for a long time, but then, suddenly decided to visit it one day, for I was in very low spirits. Many of our kinsman had just left, you see. It had only just sprung from the ground, a tiny shoot, and how it warmed my heart to see it! Even here, we see that there is no death; only rebirth. I plan to take it with me to Valinor and plant it there for future generations to play in, and sit and contemplate as we did for centuries past. What do you think?"
"Belegaladh! Alive still!" he thought, but words would not come. In Legolas's mind's eye he could see Culúril climbing in a massive, gnarled tree, with Mithryn gazing upward, and calling out for their son to be careful, followed by Culúril's laughing reply that elves never fall.
Galamed repeated his question, and Legolas smiled, saying, "I think it an excellent notion, brother."
Galamed smiled, and said, "Come, for there is still more to see! There is one last sight which you have not seen, that I know you will admire."
Together they walked off, Galamed leading the way. They had not walked far, however, when Legolas suddenly stopped in his tracks. A sweet scent caught his nose, though his eyes could not detect the source. Closing his eyes for a moment, he let his senses guide him, and travelled a little way to a clearing in the forest where showers of sunlight streamed in, washing all within it with light and warmth. There, neath the golden orb's loving gaze, was a carpet of snow-white flowers, and the sweet scent of almonds filled the air around them.
"Ulmaria!" Legolas exclaimed. "Meadowsweet! Why, it has never grown here before! Mithryn tried to plant some, but was unsuccessful."
"Or so we thought, for we had not attempted it. A root or two must have taken, and see how it has thrived!"
Reaching down, Legolas took a few blooms and leaves, inhaled their fragrance, and gently placed them in his doublet.
"Could you take some, as well, to Valinor? Mithryn would be so happy to have some, I know it."
"Of course, brother," Galamed said. "I shall tell her you sent it."
Legolas awoke with a start, and for a moment, he did not know where he was. All was dark, but his elvish eyes could make out shapes in his shadowy bedchamber. He gazed at the diamond shaped leaded window as all came back to him. He was back in his home, in his bed. Was Mithryn beside him? If he were to turn over, would she be there sleeping soundly? His heart began to race. Perhaps it had all been a dream! Some horrible nightmare. . .He would simply turn over and find her there, and he would have no more cause to worry, no more reason to miss her. How he prayed! How he hoped that she would only be there. Strengthening his courage, he closed his eyes and rolled over. "Dear Elbereth, please let her be here," he whispered inside his head. He opened his eyes to see an empty space beside him where she used to lay. It had not been a dream, and he was still alone in the dark. He rolled over and wept silently into the night.
At dusk the following day, while stars overhead made their debut performance of the night, the elves gathered round once more, but this time to say goodbye to just one: Legolas. He found it curious, for it was always him saying farewell, and going off on some adventure. Now it was different. He was being left behind.
"Your letters and gifts are stored safely, Legolas," Galamed said as the elves began to depart slowly on their silvery-white ponies. "Our kindred will be happy to receive them."
"I hope you find them all well," Legolas said, though his mind gravitated more to one person.
"Fear not, Legolas. I am sure she is alive. Well," he said, sighing, "it is time. Odd, is it not, Legolas? You had not wanted to be King, but as the last prince left, you must be. I hereby declare you King Legolas of this realm!" Galamed said, removing his father's crown of silver from his head and placing it on Legolas's.
"I am a King with no subjects," Legolas said, jestingly.
"But a King nonetheless; the last king of Eryn Lasgalen. I shall always look up to you, big brother," Galamed said sincerely. Take care, Legolas. We wait for your arrival."
They embraced each other, and Legolas replied, "And so with you, Galamed. Farewell!"
Galamed joined the train of elves and ponies, and they began to sing the familiar songs of partings and of Valinor. Legolas stood entranced as he watched the last remnants of his kindred vanish into the distance until only their silvery, lilting voices could be heard filling the wood. . .and slowly fading away.
It would be a very lonesome night. He wandered the palace, peeking into dark rooms, with only a candle to guide him through the empty fortress. It grew cold, and there were no comforts to be had, not even once a fire had been set in his father's study. He sat at the same table he had sat at many years ago and recalled how his brothers and he used to crowd around it with their Father, having happy and heated discussions alike. Now, it was only he, and they were all gone.
Suddenly his keen ears pricked up. He had definitely heard footsteps in the corridor. He cursed himself. His weapons were unreachable, tucked away in his bedchamber. He glanced about the room and saw, dusty and forgotten, a bow and quiver in a corner. In one swift movement he had strapped the quiver securely across his chest and his bow was armed. He slipped through the open door, and moved stealthily down the dark passage.
The creature, who or whatever it was, was steadily drawing closer, though stupidly making a great deal of noise, Legolas observed. When close enough to kill it, Legolas threateningly called out, "Halt or I will shoot you! State your business here!"
"I had merely come," said an oddly familiar gruff voice, "to see how a very stupid elf, who happens to be a very dear friend of mine, was enduring while his family all left him."
"Gimli!" Legolas said, abandoning the bow and dropping it to the floor. He rushed over, and kneeling down, embraced his friend who was laughing fairly heartily.
"Shoot me, would you?" Gimli said, chuckling. "A friend as dear as I?"
"I had not known it was you."
"Nay, you have not the night eyes of a dwarf, of course, though whom did you think it, I wonder? Regretfully, there are no orcs left to slaughter, so what enemy could it be?"
"You merely caught me by surprise. I had not expected to meet anyone here, and then I heard the unmistakable sound of loud, marching footsteps. . ."
"Tip toe! I was tip toeing, I was! I did not want to startle you, much good my efforts did you."
Legolas let out a hearty laugh. "Come, Gimli. It is chilly in this corridor. There is a fire in my father's study, and food and wine besides. It will be much more merry with you here, now."
"Of course," Gimli said, following Legolas through the maze of passageways. "A party is not a party without a dwarf present."
The next morning, Legolas took one last look at his bedchamber, faded flowers still on the bureau, and closed the door.
"We need not go already," Gimli said at the melancholy look on Legolas's face.
"Nay, there is no point in lingering. I cannot remain here, all alone. I fear I would die." He strode up to the palace wall and gently placed his hand on the cold stone of the mountainside, and whispered elvish words that Gimli was struggling to hear, but missed. All at once, a giant bolder moved magically and sealed the entrance to the palace. Passing by, Gimli thought, one would never suspect that the palace of a great king once existed there. It would be locked, hidden, forever.
Legolas strode over, placing a gentle hand on Gimli's shoulder. "Are you ready, Gimli? Shall we return to Ithilien?"
"Aye!" said Gimli fervently. "Let us ride!"
"Ride? But you always hated riding!"
"At the time of your leaving Minas Tirith, Arwen's time had come."
"Her time? You mean, the child was being born?"
"Children, for twin girls were born unto Arwen and Aragorn on the very day you left. Have you no wish to see them?"
"Very much!" Legolas exclaimed, and whistled, calling Arod to him. "Let us ride, then, Gimli, at your bidding. I am glad you came to fetch me, though I know I asked you not to."
"I knew you would be," Gimli said, as he was lifted onto Arod. Legolas climbed on, and they were off, leaving his empty realm behind them. The sun shone, the wind blew, Meadowsweet grew in the glade and swayed in the breeze, but none were there to smell its sweet scent of almonds.
End of Chapter forty-four