A Tale of Mirkwood - Chapter Ten - Best Intentions
It was, indeed, a most beautiful night for the special celebration, air and wind being warm and fragrant. Stars twinkled, glistening brightly, decorating the cloudless night sky. Tall candelabra were brought out-of-doors into the clearing; a soft breeze caused the lights to flicker and dance merrily. Long tables were set and festively decorated with filmy, gossamer cloth, silver dishes, and leafy green centerpieces adorned with sprays of wild flowers and ripe, red berries.
Talented musicians, singers, and storytellers joyously unveiled their skill, taking turns as all the Elves of the Kingdom slowly arrived dressed in their best attire. The guest of honour, Legolas, also entered, handsomely clothed in formal robes, which were long, deep Royal blue, and made of the softest, most luscious velvet, feeling like cream to the skin. Elaborate silver brocade, spun of pure silver, edged his ensemble; it glistened in the starlight, setting off the glint in his own eyes.
Elves burst into glorious applause upon his entrance, and all again wished to relate their overwhelming relief. Legolas dutifully attended to his citizens, as did his three brothers upon their arrival. While mingling with his people, Legolas' eyes glanced about the busy spectacle ceaselessly, but surreptitiously, searching for Mithryn. At last, he caught sight of her standing alone at the edge of the clearing. Smiling, and excusing himself, he briskly walked to her, as she stood shyly aloof.
At first, he had not noticed the change in her gown, for such things did not engross his mind. However, seeing her donned in the cloth of his people, caused his heart to jump. Her low, tight bodice accentuated her feminine physique. The tight, fitted waist flourished into a long, voluminous skirt which swayed with the gentle wind. Delicate, flowing sleeves ended below her wrists, while lengthy folds underneath trailed down, gently grazing the ground. He marveled at how the dark, emerald hue, brought out her eyes; the golden filigree braid scrolled in an elven twining design emphasized her low hemline. He stood beside her in the dim, private cover of trees, smiling at her radiance.
She gazed up at him. "I missed you."
"As I missed you. Ah, but how beautifully you shine tonight! You make the stars jealous," he said, impishly.
"Oh, do not tease!" she said, enjoying his sweet words. "What do you think of my hair? The maids were quite at a loss as to how to dress it. They had never decorated curls before."
Legolas examined her intricately woven locks. The maidens had done a supreme job, he thought. They had braided ringlets together, and pulled them up, while still allowing bountiful curls to cascade down her back. "Breathtaking," he said, adoringly. "How odd, it felt to be away from you even for a few short hours. Strange, for no matter what I do, you are always in my thoughts."
"I understand; it is the same with me." She then turned as musicians struck a loud and boisterous melody. "All seem very happy at your return. I believe you were missed much more than you had deemed."
"Yes," Legolas said, guiltily, but not wishing to share his remorse. Mithryn looked timidly at the growing assembly with nervous eyes; crowds frightened her, as she felt awkward, and out of place.
Legolas' eyes followed her gaze. "I will not abandon you."
She took a deep breath and nodded. "I am unused to such gatherings. Having lived a solitary life for such a long period of time, I fear, it has caused me to become slightly unsure of myself while in a crowd."
"That is to be understood. Wood-elves, by nature, are suspicious of strangers, but you need not fear their censure. You are my personal guest; naught will happen to you." Yet, he knew, but could not say, that it would be many long decades before the elves would regard her as one of them. He gazed about his home, and then at her. "In truth, I cannot believe we are here."
"I am of the same mind, for I keep expecting to wake and find myself alone."
"I swear to you that never again shall it be so," he said reassuringly, and leaning down, kissed her with soft, tender lips.
Haldof had been busy looking for Legolas, though the sight of his brother in such an indiscreet spectacle caught him completely by surprise. He had heard nothing of a mortal guest in the Kingdom.
"Haldof, there you are!" exclaimed Tarnil as he approached his shocked brother.
"Tarnil, who is that Lady?" Haldof asked in bewilderment.
Tarnil gazed at the romantic scene Legolas and Mithryn displayed, and quickly averted his eyes. Haldof, however, could not.
"Uh," Tarnil said, uncomfortably, "that is the Lady Mithryn, whom Legolas has brought back with him."
"Brought back with him?! What do you suppose his intentions are?"
Tarnil stared at Haldof for a few moments with wide eyes. "One can only guess."
"But, she is a mortal!"
Tarnil sighed. "I know."
Turning, Legolas saw his brothers, and immediately he and Mithryn joined them. Introductions, bows, curtsies, and kind greetings followed, but not from all. It vehemently struck Mithryn that her presence was not welcomed by Haldof. His dark, penetrating glower failed to escape Legolas' notice either. Firmly nudging Haldof's arm, Legolas cast him a warning glare of his own. Tarnil glanced back and forth at the irate pair before turning to Mithryn. "What say you, Mithryn? Shall I properly introduce you to our people? It will not do to keep you hidden. All are waiting to make your acquaintance."
"Thank you, Tarnil," she said, grateful of his gentle kindness. If Legolas and Haldof were to have a falling out, she would rather not bear witness. Casting one more glance at Legolas, she took Tarnil's arm, and was led to the merry gathering.
"Why did you do that?" Legolas harshly whispered to Haldof when they were at last alone.
"How dare you reproach me?! I saw you, Legolas! I believe everyone present saw you."
"I care not. Nor do I owe you an explanation for my actions. You forget, brother, that I am your elder."
"How like you to remind me that I am but a year your junior. Legolas, have you gone mad?! Of what were you thinking, bringing a mortal here?!" he fumed in a hushed tone, not wanting to make a scene.
"That is my concern alone, and not for you to say."
Haldof's face grew hot with Legolas' impudence. "What a King you shall make, Legolas! I never thought you for one who would take a mistress."
Legolas' eyes flashed dangerously as he stepped close, whispering, ever so quietly, "Never say such to me again."
The sudden invigorating sound of many iavin interrupted their heated discussion. Quiet settled on the clearing as the King, resplendent in distinguished violet robes, walked onto the trellised bridge. "Tonight we are most fortunate to celebrate the return of my eldest son, Legolas." The crowd erupted in cheers upon hearing Thranduil's words. Raising his hands, silence again descended. "As you can see, Legolas, you were sadly missed. Alas, where is Legolas? Pray come forth!"
Legolas cast a last darkened glance at Haldof, before adorning his fair face with a diplomatic smile as he joined his father. Thranduil endearingly placed a tender hand on his son's strong shoulder. "Son, we are exceedingly thankful to have you returned to us. Much are we, also, pleased to welcome your guest, the Lady Mithryn, into our domain. Elf-friend, you shall forever be welcome with us!" More applause escaped the assembly, which touched Mithryn deeply. Her fear and uncertainty of the Wood-elves diminished considerably at their warm response. Upon catching Legolas' eye, Mithryn and he shared a moment of delighted acceptance; all plans for their future were now beginning to bear fruit.
Thranduil continued when all were hushed once more. "Let us all be mirthful tonight, and have no more disparaging thoughts! Welcome home, my son!" Thranduil embraced Legolas, and roaring praise echoed into the wide wood. Elves standing guard far on the outskirts of the Kingdom heard their gaiety, and felt proud to be protecting so marvelous an Empire.
Feasting, dancing, tales, music and song lasted well into the night and early morn, until at last, the stars began to fade into the awakening sky. Legolas and Mithryn had taken part in all, making merry themselves, as they were together, and could wish for little more. Haldof remained resolved and maintained a disapproving distance, but few noticed. Tarnil and Galamed said naught to him as both felt this was a time for festivity, and not the right moment to discuss Legolas' romantic sensibilities.
* * *
Indeed, even the King felt the following day to be a more appropriate time for discussing Legolas' actions. He was heartily glad to see his son home, yet, necessity called for explanations to be made. Therefore, he summoned each of his sons to be present, feeling it concerned them all. The five sat at the long table in the great hall. Haldof's scowl had not faded with the stars, for he still eyed his brother reprovingly, but said nothing. Legolas did not wait for requests, and upon gaining everyone's attention, he began his long report, starting with his separation from the battle scene. Several times, his brothers nodded in understanding, as gaps from the puzzle were at last filled in. Legolas told them of Ugnúl, of his near-fatal injury, and of his great esteem for Mithryn's courage and skill in healing. All listened with stilled tongues. "If not for Mithryn, I would not be here. There is no doubt in my mind," he said at last, completing his story.
All sat still, none knowing what to say. Tarnil broke the silence. "Legolas, I fail to understand you. Did you bring her here out of gratitude?" he asked softly, trying desperately to comprehend, but fearing to offend.
"Nay," Legolas replied with distaste, "I am grateful she saved me, to be sure, but that is not why I brought her here."
"Then, what was your design in doing so?" Thranduil asked gently.
"I had thought my intention would be obvious to you, Father. Never would I attempt to mask my feelings for Mithryn, for I am not ashamed of where my heart lies."
Eyes shifted from one to the other in disapproval. "Am I to understand that you have given her your heart?" Galamed asked.
"Aye, I have," replied Legolas, staunchly.
Haldof let out an exasperated huff, which Legolas chose to ignore. Thranduil, meanwhile, covered his mouth with his hand, jaw locked. Never would he have wished such a dire fate for a child of his.
Legolas could see the torment spread over his Father's fair face. "I am sorry. I had meant to request permission prior to bringing her here, but, soon did I realize, I could not leave her."
Thranduil's eyes rose to meet his son's; both adamantly staring at each other. "Son, she is a mortal. You know the price for loving one of her kind. Do you think you can withstand the torment of seeing her wither and die before you? Have no illusions! While years pass, you shall remain youthful as she will diminish and perish. Think you can bear this, my son?"
Without blinking, Legolas replied: "Nay, Father; I do not."
Thranduil's eyes opened wide with horror, as did the others upon hearing Legolas' calm reply. Now, understanding the magnitude of his son's plans, the King's next words resounded with heartfelt sorrow, and yet, with the vehement force of a sovereign. "You mean to forsake your immortal life?! Have I only retrieved a son, merely to lose you again forever?"
"It is not so simple, Father!" Legolas bowed his head. "I love Mithryn. Never before had I thought such love existed. You cannot ask me to relinquish that. I love you as well; you are my Father, yet, Mithryn has my heart; impossible to be otherwise, now. Please do not ask me to choose."
Haldof banged his fists on the table in fury. "You think only of yourself and never how your actions affect others! Need I remind you of your duty to our family, reputation, example, and Kingdom?!" he snapped at Legolas before blasting out of the hall, fuming in rage.
Tarnil sighed as the storm of Haldof passed. "Although I do not agree with his choice of words, Haldof makes a point that should not be ignored."
Legolas, wounded, gazed at Tarnil, for of all his brothers, he had believed Tarnil would empathize with his plight. "What of you?" he asked, turning to Galamed.
"What is there is say?" Galamed said, quietly. "By forsaking us, you condemn us all to the very fate you are avoiding. How are we to carry on when you have passed? You know not of how it was for us, believing you gone; killed. You cannot know. What relief is there now to be felt, knowing that in but a short while, you will be leaving us forever?"
Legolas could find no answer to his brother's aching, heartfelt sentiments. The thought of his family grieving for all eternity because of his decision, was heart wrenching. And yet, in his mind's eye, he could see Mithryn fade with time, and pass into the mortal heavens, without him, never to be seen again. The most painful choice stood before him; he must choose either his only love, or his family. He had seen the death of kinsmen before, passing away in the slashing, brutality of war. He remembered seeing their life exit, and all that remained was the memory of the Elf, now gone forever. The thought of bearing witness to Mithryn's demise, caused his heart to burn. No, he simply could not move on after such an event. How could they expect him to? He feared his heart would die without her. It would be impossible to recover, as if nothing sacred had been wrenched from him, and only fondly remember what once was for the rest of eternity.
Thranduil sat in silence, carefully deciding his words. "These are heavy words, spoken from the heart of those who love you. I could not bid you to choose between your heart and your family, and still ask you to love me. If you and she wish to wed, I will not forbid it. However, I would ask, nay, plead with you to reconsider surrendering your eternal life."
Legolas shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
"May I ask, Mithryn's opinion on this subject?" Thranduil softly continued, when his son made no reply.
At last came the moment when Legolas' surety failed him. Stumbling on his words, he was loth to give an answer, but knew better than attempt to deceive his father. "Uh . . . we . . . have not discussed it, as yet."
"And you come to me, mind previously set? Care you not how she feels?"
"Aye, Father. Of course I do," replied Legolas, quietly.
The King nodded, and turned toward a servant, standing statuesquely along the far wall. "Pray, request the Lady Mithryn to join us if this is a convenient time." The attendant bowed and departed in quick execution of his duty.
"We shall discuss it, Father; of this, I promise you. Why ask Mithryn to come now?" Legolas asked in sudden panic.
"You have plans to wed this Lady, and yet, you do not wish me to speak with her? Have some faith, Legolas. I shall not throw her into the dungeons, nor banish her from my Kingdom. As I have said before, I do not object to the marriage. I, of course, had hopes that an Elf-maiden would catch your eye, but naught is to be done now. Are you satisfied?"
Legolas was not satisfied. This meeting made him nervous, for he felt it unlikely she would share his opinion of his chosen future.
Soon the servant reappeared, Mithryn stepping quickly behind, awestruck upon sight of the radiance of the Elven King's magnificent halls. Tarnil, Galamed, and Legolas all rose upon her arrival, in traditional, courtly fashion.
"Ah, Mithryn," the King said, rising, and taking her small hands, led her to the table himself. Pulling out a chair for her, he said gently, "Please sit, my dear."
She smiled, and shyly accepted. Legolas remained standing, anxiously awaiting his father's words. Tarnil and Galamed had just returned to their seats when Thranduil said lightly, "Thank you, my sons. You may now leave us."
Tarnil and Galamed turned to each other, blinking. Legolas' jaw dropped slightly, and his words did not come as gracefully as his father's. "But Father, I . . ."
"I assure you, Legolas," Thranduil said, interrupting, "Mithryn is in the greatest of care."
She cast Legolas a brave smile, but he felt like he was abandoning her to some vague, unwitting danger. However, he knew better than to refuse his father. He simply nodded, and humbly strode past the guards and out of the hall with his young brothers trailing closely behind. The King sat also at the table, in a high-backed, ornately carved chair, very fit for a King, Mithryn thought. Thranduil gazed at her and smiled, kindly. It struck her how much Legolas resembled his father, both in temperament, as well as in face.
"Do I frighten you?" the King asked, sensitively.
"A little," Mithryn confessed.
Thranduil was amused. He had a great respect for honesty. "Please be at ease. I wish only that we may speak frankly." Once more, turning toward one of his servants, he said: "Pray, bring forth some wine." The attendant bowed, and hastily exited. "Legolas spoke to me of his affection for you. I understand he wishes for you to wed. Is this your desire, as well?"
"Aye, my Lord. I love him very much."
The servant quickly returned, setting down a sparkling tray with an elegant, crystal decanter, and two gleaming, silver goblets. Without a word, he returned to his post, and resumed his rigid stance.
"Would you care for some wine?"
"Thank you," Mithryn said.
Thranduil filled the goblets with the deep, red liquid, and sipping from his own, turned his thought to the past day's events. A laugh escaped him. "What a time it has been!" he said aloud. "We had started our long period of lamentations for Legolas. And now, it does not feel as though my son has actually returned to us, and yet my eyes declare it to be true. Will you not tell me more of yourself, my dear? My conversation with Legolas scarcely broached the subject."
"It is a long story," Mithryn said, in lighthearted warning.
The King smiled, diverted. "Ah, but I am an Elf, and we are partial to lengthy tales which last for many days. Time is what we have aplenty."
"As you wish," Mithryn replied, and began her long story. She told him of her childhood in the Gladden Fields, and of the orc attack. Thranduil interrupted often, making enquiries as to details, much like Legolas had done. She told him of her little realm, and long passing decades in virtual seclusion, which brought concern to the King's noble face. When at last the tale was complete, he sat back, and gazed long into the burning fire. "What a mystery you are to me," the King said quietly, almost as though he were speaking to himself.
"No more than I am to myself. It can be a frightening prospect, not knowing where you belong in the world, and having none to turn to for guidance. Yet, it is not so when I am with Legolas, for no longer do I feel lost or alone."
Thranduil turned to her, marveling at her tender words. Clearly could he see her sincere love for his son, just as there was no mistaking Legolas' genuine feeling for her. And yet, there lay something that could not be overlooked. "You have not had the company of Elves long, my dear, so I will tell you of Elves and love. It is not forbidden for an Elf to marry a mortal. Indeed, some have done so though the ages, but for the elf, that love can come at a dear price."
Without realizing it, Mithryn's face became serious, her hands trembling in her lap. She knew not what the King would say, but did not like the doom in his words, or the cold feeling forming in her heart.
He continued in a grave manner: "You know that we, when born, are given immortal life. Well, at the individual's will, that immortality can be cast aside, and he shall die."
"But why would one choose death if one may live forever?"
"I cannot describe to you the profound feelings my people endure. Let it be enough that the loss of a loved one, can prove unbearable. If their heart is attached to a mortal, when the mortal dies, the elf must live on for all eternity alone. That prospect, that fate, those elves see as ***ation, and not a gift, for elves seldom love more than one. They carry the memory and pain . . . so clearly . . . forever."
Mithryn's heart was breaking, but she would not allow herself to display such emotion before the mighty King. "Why do you tell me this?" she asked, voice barely more than a whisper.
"Not to cause you grief or pain; not to punish you. I thought you should know something of what we are." He paused, unsure of the proper words. "Legolas has told me of his desire to choose such a fate for himself."
Her pain could not be concealed. She fell forward slightly, head down, palms flat on the table as she braced herself. A tear welled in her eye, and escaped without a blink. "He said this to you? He wishes to die?"
Thranduil nodded, "Yes," he said, sadly. Mithryn's eyes remained downcast, unable was she to lift them; her heart stinging unlike it had in a long, long time.
"Mithryn, I would not have you think me against your betrothal, for I am not. Your affection for each other is clear, and I do wish my son to have happiness. Yet, of this choice, this sacrifice, I cannot approve."
She breathed deeply, and wiped away her salty tears. Her face was strong and commanding, her voice firm in purpose. "Nay, my Lord. Neither do I. I know what I must do. Thank you for being so kind to me." She rose out of her seat, effectively terminating the meeting. He arose as well, now deeply concerned as to her meaning, but reluctant to inquire. "Pray," she continued, "I hope you shall forgive my rudeness. I must see Legolas."
"Of course," Thranduil replied. She curtsied, and exited the room in deeply, desolated spirits.
Once alone, her steps fell slowly and laboriously in the winding corridor. All strength seemed removed from her knees, twice her hand having to seize the wall for support. "It is so unfair," she thought, hand covering her mouth, attempting to calm the sickening feeling that lurched in her stomach; happiness had almost been hers.