A Tale of Mirkwood - Chapter Three - The Woodland Witch
Hello! Hope all are enjoying my story! This is Chapter Three; I'll post location addresses for the previous chapters as well. Please don't make me beg for comments!
Legolas slept far into the day, catching up on much needed rest. When at last he did wake, his first thought was that he was still tucked away in some Elvish dream. He was in the forest, but not at all like the forest he had been traveling through. The sun shone; light came streaming down in great golden waves which lit up the whole glade. Wild flowers of white and blue grew in shaded places and set off a strong, honey scent. The fresh, warm air was filled with melodious birdsongs. The leaves danced gaily in the soft breeze which brushed past his face. "Do I still dream?" he thought.
Legolas stood up. His knife still lay where it had fallen the night before. He picked it up and returned it to its sheath. Gazing at the ground, he now understood what the Orc meant by `boundary'. There was a long, well defined line of rich grass as far as his eye could see to his left and right. On the other side of the boundary, the grass lay yellowed and sickly. The forest fell dark and brooding as it had been the days before. When he turned back, he noticed a path leading up a hill, deep into the sun-filled wood. Legolas looked about him. His eyes glanced from forest to forest, unsure which way to go.
"I shall go and see this witch," he thought. He stepped lightly onto the path, eyes vigilant for any sign of the mysterious matron. He was, after all, trespassing in her realm. She might not take kindly to uninvited visitors. He followed the path up the hill and down again. The terrain altered as he walked on. Foothills rose into towering cliffs to his right and left; the highest peak soared almost twelve hundred feet into the air. Naked rock emerged in places, but the inclined terrain was mostly adorned with tall trees. "I'd like to explore this more," he thought as he strolled along. "There is so much mirthful life here."
The path stretched onward, leading farther into the hills, deeper into the Witch's domain. Trees were plentiful, yet the sun often peeked through the brush and illuminated the path. Upwards it ascended to a small ridge. At the bottom, Legolas could see a bright opening. He approached it cautiously and found himself at the edge of a beautiful meadow. It was small, and encircled by swaying elms. In the center stood a modest sized, wooden house. It had a door, two windows on its western side, and a slanted roof with a rustic chimney poking out; soft, grey smoke lazily floated into the sky. The door was divided in half, the top half being open. Legolas was unable to see anyone inside but could smell something cooking. An alluring aroma filled the glen. A small pond sat beside the house along with a single willow tree. Its drooping branches dipped into the water and created tiny ripples.
Suddenly, a woman carrying a large basket stepped out from behind the house. "What's this?" Legolas wondered. No Elf-witch, it could clearly be seen. She appeared to be a young, mortal woman. She was not tall or slender like an elf, yet very fair. Her most unusual feature, Legolas thought, was her brilliant, fiery red hair. Legolas had never seen hair that shade before. It was long and curled, trailing down to her waist. She wore a green dress, the colour of the forest. The cloth seemed inexpertly made as if it had been homespun. No adornment graced her save that of a necklet of braided fresh lavender.
The maiden busied herself by hanging wet linen onto some twine joined from the house to the willow tree. She hummed a tune to herself as she worked and Legolas recognized it instantly. It was the Elven song of Lúthien Tinúviel. "Curious," Legolas thought to himself.
All at once, her work and music ceased and she stood completely still as if in deep thought. Then, quite slowly, she turned and looked directly at Legolas. Her eyes were deep and penetrating. He started, not knowing what to do. A smile spread onto her face. Not a malicious smile; it was a friendly, knowing smile, somehow. She approached Legolas and spoke. "You've finally come. Elen sila lúmenn' omentielvo," she added in High Speech, while making a slight curtsy. "I've been waiting for you."
Legolas stood agape. "You've been waiting for me?" he repeated, uncertain.
"Of course. Come! You must be famished. Those Orcs are savage creatures." She walked to her dilapidated dwelling and opened the lower door. Realizing then that Legolas had not followed her, she turned again to him. "Come," she said in a sweet voice, and disappeared into the house.
Legolas soon found his feet and moved in closer. He stopped in the open doorway and peered inside. The interior was clean and tidy. Shelves full of clay jars of all different sizes filled the back wall. Against it sat a rustic, oak table with four chairs. A large, pine cupboard stood near the window. The lady added more fuel to the fire; a pot bubbled noisily on the hearth.
"Come in, come in. Do not be shy. I will not eat you, you know," the maiden said playfully as she made her preparations. "You may set your weapons down there," she suggested, pointing to the floor near the doorway, "...or wear them if you wish. You are not in danger here, I assure you."
Legolas was at first skeptical but, in the end, felt that it would be discourteous to bring weapons to a seemingly friendly meal. He unfastened his weapon's harness and set it down beside the door.
"Please, you may sit here," she said, directing him to a chair.
"Thank you very much indeed. It has been days since my last meal."
A twinge of pity pierced her heart. She could see that the Orcs and forest had worn him. "Well, I beg you eat to your heart's content." She then brought forth his meal. The first to be set down was a handwoven basket full of warm, brown bread. It was fresh, moist and cast a tempting, herbal fragrance. A small crock was placed beside it filled with cool, velvety butter. Then came a large bowl in which she ladled a steaming, savory, vegetable stew of carrots, peas, beans, mushrooms, potatoes and other fine garden treasures. Beside it was set another bowl, but this one of ripe raspberries filled dangerously close to the rim with thick cream. She placed a earthenware cup on the table and into it poured ruby-red elderberry wine. Legolas could already taste the wine even though it had yet to touch his lips. He surveyed the fare appreciatively. His examination did not escape her keen eye.
"It is a modest meal, I know. I ask your pardon for not having any meat to serve you. I cannot bear to kill animals."
"Do not reprimand yourself on my account. This is a superb meal for a weary traveler!"
"You are very kind. Now, if you'll forgive me, I must finish my work outside."
"Of course," Legolas replied, softly. He rose from the table as she exited.
The food could not be compared to that of Elven meals, naturally. The fare of his people was always luscious, nourishing, exquisite. Upon the completion of this meal, he felt relaxed, comfortable, invigorated. The trials of his last days melted away. He stepped outside into sunlight.
"You have eaten sufficiently, I hope?" she asked, cheerfully.
Legolas turned. The maiden was kneeling on the earth, working in a small herb garden beside the house. "I have. It was excellent. Again, allow me to thank you."
"I am always glad to shelter a friendly traveler and offer assistance where I can," she replied, while rising and brushing herself off.
"If you will pardon me, I, as yet do not know to whom I owe this kindness."
Her eyes closed for a moment, and she smiled. "I'm sure you'll think me quite boorish. Forgive me. I would have done so sooner, only, I was so happy at your arrival. I had become exceedingly worried. Mithryn, I am called."
"I am Legolas Greenleaf, son of Thranduil, Elven King of Mirkwood," he said, bowing.
"Well, my lord, would you care to see some of the wonders of my little realm, here?"
Legolas nodded and gazed again at her small garden. "You have an interest in herbs?"
"Yes. They are mostly medicinal." Green shoots rose from the earth and flowers of varying shapes and sizes swayed in the gentle breeze.
"I see some that I know." Legolas bent down and gently touched the soft petals. "Malva we call this," he said, pointing to one.
"It is known to me as Mallow," Mithryn said.
Legolas smiled at her. "Salvia," he said, pointing to another.
"Speedwell," she added, smiling.
He rose. "You are a studier of herbs?"
They began to walk down the same path that brought him to her. "My mother was a great healer among my people. It was she who taught me." Mithryn stopped at the edge of the path and picked some flowers with long stems. The blooms were small and white, growing in great clusters.
"Ah, I know this herb well; Ulmaria."
"Meadowsweet." The scent traveled far throughout her realm; twas the sweet scent of almond. Her dainty fingers deftly twisted and braided the vines.
"You are not an Elf," Legolas stated, perplexed, as their walk resumed.
"No," eyes and hands kept busy.
"And yet you speak Elvish. High Elvish, which is a rarity. There are few of whom I know that can speak it who are not Elves."
"My father taught me when I was a child. He insisted I learn to speak Sindarin and Quenya, but I fear I have forgotten much."
They stopped walking for a moment. Legolas found himself nestled in the forest at the foot of a towering hill, one of which he noticed upon his entrance. The trees were thick, but a narrow path trailed up and around the hill. Mithryn turned to him with a mischievous smile upon her face. "A humble gift, my lord," she said, holding the delicate necklet in her hands. Legolas smiled at his gift and bowed his head. She stepped forward, and placed the ring of flowers over his head.
"Thank you. But please, I would ask you to call me Legolas. My father is the Lord of my people, not I."
"As you wish, Legolas. Now, you may go first. Elves have lighter feet than those born of Man, I know," said Mithryn, stepping aside. Legolas hesitated, but did not feel that any amount of coaxing would change her mind. He simply nodded thankfully, and stepped lightly on the path. It was indeed a steep climb, but did not trouble him. At parts, the path took them so close to the edge of the precipice that Legolas felt fear of Mithryn's safety.
"It's all right," she said comfortingly as she cautiously stepped along the sheer ledge. "Hallathúle has not pushed me off yet."
"You call the hillock tallspirit?"
"Well he is, don't you think?"
Legolas smiled. "Yes."
The trunks of the trees rose with them, yet every now and then, they came to a gap from which they could gaze out into the splendor of the vast horizon. From their present height, they could see just above the treetops. They smiled at each other, and continued walking.
The third stage of the climb was steps, crude and steep, cut out of giant slabs of stone. The ancient, weathered rock crumbled in patches; great care was needed when stepping. "Did you mason these?" Legolas asked, thoughtfully.
"Nay, I found them as such. Whoever cut them, has long departed."
They climbed onward and upward. Mithryn's foot slipped on an unsteady stone, but Legolas' quick reflexes caught her arm swiftly. He gently grasped her hand and did not let go when she steadied herself. Mithryn's large green eyes glanced from their hands back to his face. "Let me help you," he offered, suddenly shy. She nodded and their ascent continued.
At last the climb leveled off and they reached the top. Legolas helped her up the last step and then let go of her tiny hand. He walked about to behold his surroundings and what he saw was all magnificence. Far below them fell a green sea of leaves which swayed, and rustled with the wind. The immense forest reached the horizon in every direction. Far off into the distance in the North, small peaks of the Mirkwood Mountains could be made out. Legolas eyes turned downward. Below, shone the pretty heath with Mithryn's little cottage, smoking merrily. The sun sparked on her tiny pond, and glittered like diamonds in the deep Dwarf mines. "What a splendid view! I should think every Elf would wish to see this."
"During less dangerous times, I have met several Elves passing through the wood on their way, finally, to the Grey Havens. They took rest here before resuming their long journey, and joyed in seeing this sight, as you do now."
"How long have you lived here so alone?" Legolas asked.
"Oh, not long by Elven standards, anyway. I know a hundred years is but a day to you immortals," Mithryn said, blithely. Legolas smiled also, for he knew she spoke the truth. She paused and gazed thoughtfully into the clear, iridescent sky. "I have resided here longer than one would think, however," she continued, now more seriously. Her mind seemed filled with sorrowed thought.
"Mithryn, the Orcs I encountered called you a witch," he stated, breaking the silence. That remark returned the smile to her face. Legolas continued. "How is it that you knew I was coming? How did you know I was attacked by Goblins? Are you a witch?" Legolas stared at her, his eyes displaying neither command nor suspicion. They simply stared into hers, gently.
"I think we should be getting back soon," Mithryn replied. "Night is setting in."
"Can Orcs come near?"
"Nay," she said, "but climbing down Hallathúle is hazardous in the dark." Legolas nodded, and they began their descent. He thought it best to let unanswered questions lie.
He could not help but stare at her, now and then, as he helped her down the slippery slope. She was unlike any Elf-maiden or mortal he had before met. There was an aura around her which seemed to glow; a mystic force emanating from her. He felt enchanted by her shy ways and gentle temperament. "And yet," he thought, "she shrouds herself in mystery." He marveled at how one so young and isolated could protect herself so well. The villainy which filled Mirkwood was fierce. He knew that to survive, she must be very powerful indeed.
* * *
The sun had set and the night sky opened to show all her glory. Stars were in abundance and twinkled and shone down on the pair as they withdrew from the wood at last. Legolas stopped and gazed upward.
"Beautiful, aren't they?" Mithryn said admiringly. "I often walk under the stars and then I do not feel quite so alone."
"Why do you live here so secluded?"
"My kinsfolk died a long time ago."
"What happened to them?"
Mithryn looked at him. He was standing tall, strong and powerful. "Come, let us go inside. I'll make us something warm to drink."
Inside, the fire's embers were glowing softly and were about to extinguish. Mithryn added more fuel and a bright blaze soon erupted. She hung an ancient black kettle over the smoldering flames. "Are you hungry? I could prepare you something."
"Nay, I am quite well." Legolas sat at the table; his eyes, like slaves, following every move she made. When the kettle was boiled and the fragrant, herbal tea poured, she finally sat with him. A smile brightened her face, but Legolas could see her brow still flexed with concern.
"My people came from the Gladden Fields," she said.
"I know them. Not well; I do not travel that way often."
"Well, my mother and her kinfolk lived there a long time, as I recall. I know that they settled there after abandoning their own lands. I believe it was in danger of being over-run by the Dark Forces." She paused and shook her head. "It has been a long while since I've even thought about this; it has been many years. It is hard to remember."
Legolas' brow creased with concern. "Do not feel troubled. This tale need not be told now. I do not wish you grief."
"No, no," Mithryn assured. "I'd like to tell you. Well, let's see. My father was a great traveler. As a child, I remember him telling me tales of his journeys. He had roamed most of his life until he traveled to the Gladden Fields. My mother was aged as well, and had never married. They fell in love and were married that summer; I was born the following spring. I remember a few years of peace and happiness in my village. My father journeyed still, and at times was gone for many months. But, seasons would pass and he'd return. I was, I think, twelve years old the last time I saw him. He returned to us after being away many months, but his face looked worn and tired. He was plagued with many worries, I think. He had to leave and, soon after, we were attacked by Orcs."
"Orcs? In the Gladden Fields, you say?"
A memory reemerged in Legolas' mind. He had heard, for what felt to him but a short space of time, Orcs ravaging through that land. But that was long ago in the age of Man.
Mithryn continued. "I remember my mother telling me to run. I don't know how they missed me. I jumped into the Anduin and hid until sunrise. Walking back to our village, I found it completely deserted. There was blood everywhere but no bodies. The wreckage of our houses and wagons was strewn far and wide, but there was no trace of my mother. I waited there for a month, finding bits of food as I could, praying for anyone to return as I had done. But, when none returned, I knew I was on my own."
`What did you do?"
"Orcs were still in the area and staying became perilous. I saw Mirkwood, so I headed for it. I made my way further into the forest, not knowing which way to go until, at last, I came to this little grove. This house was abandoned, so I set up my home here, and here I have lived since."
"And how long have you been here?"
Mithryn took a deep breath. "Seventy eight winters have passed while I have lived here."
"Seventy-eight?" Legolas repeated in surprise. "Yet how is it that you have not aged? Seventy-eight years to a mortal is a lifetime. And yet, ninety years you say you have lived and to my eyes, you look no more than five and twenty."
Mithryn's face grew ever more saddened. "All that you say is true, and I have found no answers to this riddle."
"Why do you not seek it out?"
"The same thought has crossed my mind many lonely hours. But time has passed by, and I have stayed still. I only venture out of my small domain to visit the west Woodland Folk who trade for my medicines. Throughout the passing years, myths and tales of me have grown, and my presence is tolerated there, I believe, simply out of fear. I travel for supplies as needed, but otherwise, where would I go?"
Legolas looked long into her virtuous face before rising and gazing out the window. "The stars and moon beckon me. With your permission, Mithryn, I wish to wander your wood and rest under the stars."
"You have it, but beware. My realm only extends two miles in every direction. Nothing of evil heart may enter, but if you cross the boundary, you shall be at their mercy."
"I understand," Legolas said and he stepped out into the night. His face turned upward once more and the pale moonlight cast him in a radiant glow. He turned to her. "I cannot imagine how you can live like this, so alone. Throughout my long life, I have always had loved ones by my side. You must be very strong of heart to live as you do."
"Alas, I have no other choice."
He nodded. "Good night, Mithryn."
"Good night, Legolas."
He gently shut the doors and wandered off in the wilderness. His spirits were mended and he felt young and alive under the crisp, starlit sky. He walked far that night, resting in open glades, but heeded her warning. He thought of home and family. "I hope that my brothers are well. They must be greatly worried for my sake now. My poor Father, how he must be suffering." He would bear his son's disappearance worst of all, Legolas feared. It pained him to think of their sorrow. And yet, through all his troubled thoughts, his mind always returned to Mithryn.
End of Chapter Three