A Tale of Mirkwood - Chapter Nine - The Dead Returneth
Morning sun raised her bright face, bringing freshness and warmth to the earth. Nathuil nimbly strolled along the elf path to the nearest border. As Captain of the Watch-guards, it was his responsibility to oversee all who patrolled the edge of their domain. To the untrained eye, it would appear that he was simply heading deeper into the forest. Yet, high above, nestled in the brush of the trees, the Guards hid, ever vigilant and alert. Stopping at a tall beech, a ladder was suddenly dropped down, and Nathuil climbed up sprightly. A hundred feet into the air he ascended before, at last, setting foot upon the talan. Two guards stood fast, eyes sharp as hawks, watching the outer forest. "You may go home now, Taranin. I shall finish your watch," Nathuil said to one.
"Nay, I wish to stay. I have made no objection, Nathuil."
Nathuil smiled. "Your wife's time is near. I know she desires you to remain close. Will you not go to her? I believe she would be greatly comforted."
Taranin thought for a moment, and then nodded. "Thank you, Nathuil." Taranin, with graceful ease, lowered himself down the rope-ladder. All remained quiet for some time, as Andorien and Nathuil maintained a silent, vigil watch.
"Ai!" Andorien whispered abruptly, eyes straining to see into the forest. His view was blocked by leaves and boles.
"Did you espy something?" breathed Nathuil.
Andorien peered long before raising his hand and pointing in the forward direction. "There."
The two Elves stared hard, bows loaded, struggling to discern the danger approaching. Suddenly, Nathuil started, bow falling to the floor of the talan, his face registering that of shock and disbelief. He momentarily closed his disbelieving eyes. "I am dreaming," he said quietly to himself. "A! Elbereth Gilthoniel, please do not let this be a dream . . . " He opened his eyes once more to clearly see again what rode toward him. "Legolas!" he cried out with glorious surprise and happiness. The rider, on a chestnut mare, raised his head, gazed at the talan, and smiled before lifting his hand high into the air in grateful, friendly greeting.
A merry laugh escaped the overjoyed Nathuil. "Andorien, quick! Sound the call! All in our Kingdom must hear this!"
Andorien hastily grabbed the silver iavin with trembling hands. As he held the long, sparkling horn to his lips, he was so overcome with felicity, that he was quite at a loss as to what to do. "What call should I give?"
Nathuil was already almost halfway down the ladder. "The call of Returning Warriors!" Nathuil replied, while still climbing down. "Let all know who has come at last!"
The high, clear, note of the iavin resounded through the forest like a welcoming beacon, for all who heard its good tidings. Elves throughout the realm ceased activities, stood still, and listened. Wonder filled their minds, for it was not believed that any Elves were absent from home. Then, one by one, their thoughts turned toward Legolas. With haste and hopes high, they rushed to where the call cried, joining in the elven welcoming song even before knowing for whom it honored.
Meanwhile, Nathuil jumped from the ladder, when but a few feet remained. Immediately, he broke into a run and quickly reached the riders. Legolas halted Anfalas, sprightly dismounted, and ran forth to greet his lifelong friend. They met with embracing and merry laughter. Mithryn viewed all while still atop Anfalas, with heartwarming pleasure. It suddenly struck her how long it had been since she had known the joy of welcoming friends, and this sense of belonging to a community, a family.
"Oh, Legolas!" Nathuil exclaimed. "You know not how you were missed! I thought my eyes deceived me, and yet, here you stand!"
A mirthful smile seemed permanently etched on Legolas' beaming face; his heart filled with joy. At long last, he was home! "You cannot know how it feels for me to stand here, Nathuil! It is now, a dream come true!"
Elves arrived, all greeting him exuberantly with embrace and happy words. Song had erupted at first sight of him, and angelic voices filled the wide wood with the sweet sound like bells on the wind. Mithryn marveled at how mellifluously and magically their words fell on her ears. Never before had music filled her heart so, and brought such warmth that she thought the sun itself must be inside her chest.
Gradually Elves' attention turned from the hero returned, to the curious looking mortal. They viewed her with distrust, for they knew her not, and made no movement toward her. They simply eyed her, warily.
"Legolas?!" a surprised voice called out. Legolas turned to see none other than his youngest brothers, Tarnil and Galamed standing in the clearing, straining to see around the crowd of Elves. A path was quickly made, and the three brothers embraced each other with restored hearts. They leaned their heads inward, foreheads touching, arms firmly grasped on each other's shoulders. "I am dreaming," Tarnil exclaimed.
"Nay, brother. You are awake," Legolas replied.
"Where have you been?" Galamed asked eagerly. "Are you injured?"
"What of the orcs?" Tarnil interrupted. "How did you escape?"
"All shall be explained in due course, I promise," replied Legolas.
"Son?" a quiet voice said.
Legolas turned to see his father standing with disbelieving eyes. Leaving his brothers, Legolas slowly stepped toward his father. All the wood fell into silence, and only the soft creaking of the trees could be heard. "Hello, Father," was all he could say. Thranduil's chin trembled as he stared at his son, words failing him.
Legolas gazed at the ground, abashed, feeling that his father must be extremely angry with him. "I know you bade me to return soon . . ." but his sentence could not be completed as Thranduil's arms immediately outstretched, and pulled his son close to him in a blissful embrace. This gesture of acceptance, forgiveness, and joy by his father, touched Legolas to the depths of his heart. The assembly erupted in glorious cheer.
But before they separated, Thranduil held his fair son by the shoulders, staring into his blue eyes, and quietly said: "You have a great deal of explaining to do, son."
A laugh escaped Legolas. "Aye, Father, I know it. Much is there to say."
Thranduil's face broke into smile as well. "Then come! We shall go to my quarters as I wish to know all. A lot has happened in your absence, which you must hear, as well." Thranduil motioned for his sons to return to the palace, but Legolas did not move. A shy, mischievous grin spread across his face.
"Father, I have someone for you to meet."
"Someone for me to meet?" the King repeated in amazement. Legolas strode back through the crowd toward Mithryn who had been quietly watching all. The whole company gazed at the pair with speculation. Legolas stood at Anfalas' side, and looking up at Mithryn, beamed. Placing his gentle hands on her waist, he effortlessly lifted her down. Curious whispers quickly spread through the crowd as Legolas was unquestionably smitten by the mortal.
Holding Mithryn's hand, he walked her to his father, whose face bore no sign of his utter bewilderment. "Father," Legolas said, proudly and full of heart, "this is the Lady Mithryn." The King nodded in reply, but was rather suspicious and confused as to his son's meaning of this, rather familiar, introduction. "Mithryn," Legolas continued, "this is my father, King Thranduil, Lord of North Mirkwood." Mithryn had never before met a King, but as Legolas had counseled her upon first greetings, she properly and gracefully curtseyed in the elven manner with lowered, humble eyes and said, "Elen sila lúmenn' omentielvo."
"Father, I have declared Mithryn Elf-friend, as she has, indeed, become a great friend to me. Without her, I would not be here with you now." Thranduil stared at the mortal maiden in curious wonder. His mood was torn between overwhelming relief for Legolas' return, and bafflement toward this outsider whom his son brought with him. Legolas, however, smiled and gazed at her with loving pride.
Thranduil saw all, and was not pleased; however, neither was he rude, nor would he think to treat the guest of his son with any disrespect. "Welcome then, Mithryn, Elf-friend, to my domain. Walk with us, please, as we return to our homes and halls. There shall be a great feast tonight, as there is much to celebrate! How fortunate that the weather is fair."
The King, his three sons, and Mithryn then strode toward the Palace. As they walked, Legolas gently clasped Mithryn's hand; it did not escape Thranduil's observing eye. The large crowd followed, speaking in hushed whispers. Nathuil approached Anfalas, and after asking permission from the strange horse, gently grasped her bridle, and led her to the stables.
* * *
The large gathering walked onward until reaching the King's Palace. Elves soon disbursed, eager to make preparations for the night's special celebrations. Mithryn marveled at how beautiful and harmonious the Elven Kingdom was. From her vantage point in the clearing, she could see many ornately carved, circular Elven homes, stacked one atop the other, nestled in-between towering trees. Lattice-laced, winding stairs curled at the side. Large, private huts also adorned the forest terrain. Scrolling gingerbread fluting hung from the roofs, and creeping ivy, as well as colourful morning-glories entwined over the cabins, dripping off the roof like living icicles.
The King turned his attention toward an Elf-matron, who was large with child. "Mithryn, may I present to you Elmarin?" he said, introducing the two. "This is the Lady Mithryn, who shall be our guest. Would you be so good as to look after her?" The lady smiled, curtseyed slightly and placed a gentle hand on Mithryn's arm, directing her away from the Palace halls to one of the cottages. Mithryn turned back to look at Legolas. He smiled, and nodded to her, assuring her that all was well, before he was led over the bridge and into the halls, deep within the Palace caves.
Mithryn stared at Elmarin, whose skin glowed as if with radiant light. Her golden hair was braided and wrapped up over the crown of her head, as more flowing tresses trailed down her long back. Mithryn marveled at how beautiful she was. The lady turned to the shy mortal, and smiled. "I hope you shall like it here, Mithryn."
"Thank you," Mithryn said, timidly; however, she refrained from voicing her scepticism. She felt strangely homesick as she was unused to crowds and large groups of people, even though she knew none here meant her any harm.
Elmarin led Mithryn up a winding path to a spacious cabin. It had a high thatched roof and many arched windows with delicately etched glass. Opening the curved door, Elmarin led her inside. Tall, intricately woven candlesticks stood about the room, and a fire was lit, and burning merrily in the stone hearth. The bed's four posts entwined upwards toward the high ceiling like vines. Richly woven blankets of green and blue covered the bed. A table with two chairs sat against another wall, its legs matching those of the spiraling bedposts. A spread of fresh fruit and red wine was lavishly set for the inhabiting guest. Flowing sapphire curtains dripped from the windows and gracefully swayed with the incoming breeze.
"Did you know of my coming?" Mithryn said in awe, gazing about her magnificent room.
"Word was sent that Legolas brought with him a guest." A knock was heard at the door, and Elmarin answered. An Elf entered, carrying all of Mithryn's belongings, including Gilóre. "Taranin, how good of you! Mithryn, this is Taranin, my husband."
Mithryn curtsied as Taranin bowed. He gently placed her parcels on the table. " I have been admiring your sword, Mithryn. I have never seen its equal, excepting of the blades crafted in Rivendell."
Mithryn smiled. "Rivendell! Truly, that is astonishing! It was a gift to me by my father, but I know not where he might have acquired it."
"In Rivendell," Taranin said, "unless I am very much mistaken. Elmarin, I fear I must leave you now. Much is there to prepare for tonight, and his Lordship is keeping none free of duty." He placed an affectionate, gentle hand around his wife's waist. "Please do not over exert yourself. Remember you are to be at ease during this time."
"I know; I shall not be long," Elmarin said lovingly before her husband took his leave of them both, and quietly shut the door.
"How kind of him to bring me my belongings," Mithryn said, beginning to unpack her clothes. She eyed her few dresses for the first time with embarrassment. They were much worn, and deficiently made as she had no skill for sewing. Gazing at Elmarin's beautifully tailored dress, Mithryn admired its azure fabric, flowing like water when she moved, and its silver trim which sparkled like diamonds as the soft light touched it.
Elmarin observed Mithryn unpacking her meager belongings, and seemed to sense her distress. "With such a grand occasion as tonight's festivities, would you like a gown to be prepared for you?"
"No, no," Mithryn said, embarrassed. "I would not wish to put anyone to that amount of trouble."
"No trouble would it be for us, truly." Elmarin reached out with a delicate hand, gently touching Mithryn's curly locks. "What extraordinary hair you have, like lively flame. And green eyes! Most enchanting. You are the first mortal woman I have met, you know; others I have seen, but, only from a distance."
"Really?" Mithryn replied, in amazement. She had encountered other Elven Ladies while living in her cottage, but only very few.
"I believe a green dress would compliment your eyes. Yes, I am sure of it; and contrast exquisitely with your hair. One shall be made immediately. Elven-maidens will arrive soon to take necessary measurements, but, do rest and have some refreshment first. I shall see you again tonight."
"Thank you, Elmarin. You have been so kind to me. I am overwhelmed."
"Are you so unused to such kindnesses?" Elmarin asked, sadly. "How fortunate, then, you have come to us."
She departed, and Mithryn was left alone to ponder Elmarin's heartfelt words. It was true, Mithryn agreed, such generosity seemed foreign to her. The Woodland Folk were never friendly, and visitors had been few and far between. She finished unpacking her possessions, finding homes for her doll, the broken lamp, Gilóre, and her father's pipe. Her cabin now felt like home.
* * *
Meanwhile, Legolas had been standing in his own bedchamber in the Palace, gazing about, trying to register that he was truly there. Just a short while ago, under an orc blade, he thought he would never see home again. No windows were located in his room, but a massive, circular chandelier hung from the vaulted ceiling which gave off much warm light from its many small lamps. The substantial fireplace, which had been lit upon his arrival, glowed heartily taking the chill out of the room. His bed stood in the center; its four posts carved into thick, straight poles from which translucent cloth hung in folds. Large tapestries, lovingly made by his people, decorated the walls illustrating events from his long life. They included his birth, his first hunt, and his role in the Battle of the Five Armies.
Opening his tall armoire, he unfastened his weapons' harness, and placed his bow, arrow quill, and long blade back in their old home. He felt little need for material possessions, but kept some, which had special meaning to his heart, upon his bureau. On a purple, velvet cushion was a ring belonging to his mother, prior to her departure. It had been crafted by the Dwarves, during friendlier times. It shone of mithril, and an exquisite leafy stone sat in the center. "This shall now be Mithryn's," he thought with joy. "Mother would be pleased."
Other articles which adorned his dresser included several books; aged, cracked, well worn, and long held dear to him, as they told the tales of Elves past, their successes, as well as their failures. A tall washstand stood beside the bureau, with a large basin and plump jug set atop it, which he had owned for as long as his memory allowed.
Unbuttoning his doublet, he gingerly extracted another item to which he now held dear. It was a dried, elegantly woven necklet of sweet, yellowed flowers; the very gift Mithryn had made for him upon his first arrival to her realm. He now held the frail band in his hands before gently placing it around the cushioned ring, encircling it.
His door suddenly burst open, his brothers barging in, all three of them. "Legolas?!" Haldof exclaimed, embracing his long lost brother. "I did not believe it! I thought my brothers to be very cruel, indeed, to be telling me that you had returned!"
"They are cruel," Legolas teased, "but they do not lie of my return. How are you?" he said, concerned. Haldof appeared to him thin and frail, with dark hollows neath his bright eyes.
"Oh, I am well now you have returned to us! We should have known that you could not be so easily slain by orcs!"
"Ai, what is this?" Legolas asked in confusion.
"We searched for weeks, Legolas, but found little trace of you," Tarnil said, solemnly.
""We had thought you lost. Our hearts mourned, for we all believed you dead.," Galamed added, gravely.
Legolas' spirit grew serious. Gazing at Haldof's much altered face, he now fully grasped how his absence had affected those he loved. "I am grieved, for I did not know. It was not my intention to cause you all so much pain, or be gone as long as I had. Events prevented me from returning sooner, and yet, it is clear to me that you have suffered greatly." Guilt took firm hold and would not release.
Haldof's spirits again rose, and he wrapped a weak arm around Legolas' mighty shoulders. "Ah, it is we who should have been the wiser," spouted Haldof, now light of heart. "Nay, I do not believe even a Balrog could smite this Elf down!" Laughter erupted from the brothers, but Legolas' remorse did not wane.
"Come, Galamed and Haldof," bade Tarnil. "We must prepare for tonight. If we prevent Legolas from arriving on time, I greatly fear Father's wrath."
Haldof, however, turned once more to his brother. "Legolas, returneth from the dead. What good tidings indeed!" Haldof said, embracing him once more, before making a quick departure. Their merry laughter echoed in the cave corridors, and they left Legolas alone. He hung his head in contrition, but could not regret his choice to stay with Mithryn. Indeed, following his recovery from the orc wound, he had returned as quickly as possible. And yet, that supreme knowledge failed to ease his remorse.