A Tale of Mirkwood - Chapter Twelve - An Old Acquaintance
Weeks had passed, and both Mithryn and Elmarin fully regained strength and health. Mithryn's actions during Finaviel's birth had been revered by all, and she was viewed with a newfound respect. Next to her betrothed, Elmarin was her closest companion, and it was under her supervision that Mithryn's wardrobe was filled with richly adorned gowns, all elven in style, cloth, and grace. She and Elmarin spent many merry hours conversing, while the men of the royal household busied themselves with the responsibilities of ruling a Kingdom. Legolas always made time to spend with Mithryn despite the burden of court duties. It was evident to him that his father was preparing him for the time when he would be King. Legolas, however, could not see himself as Mirkwood's ruler, but did not complain. It was his duty, and he embraced it.
Word had spread of Legolas' betrothal, as well as his intention to remain immortal, causing great joy and relief to his people. Preparations for the upcoming nuptials of the King's eldest son were already taking place with growing excitement. The festivities were expected to be of the highest order, as Thranduil was sparing no expense, Legolas being the first of his sons to wed. Elmarin taught Mithryn the details and intricacies of Elvish customs, and numerous times Mithryn's emotions varied from confused to awe struck. Her Sindarin was not admirable, but she worked hard at speaking correctly and eloquently the language of her new family. Elmarin was a patient, and gentle tutor.
* * *
Days grew longer and warmer with the month of May. Mithryn grew accustomed to the woods, and loved exploring all its hidden treasures and secrets. Often Legolas would go with her; they playfully chased, hid and searched for each other, like children. It suddenly struck Legolas, on one of these mischievous occasions, how much it felt as if she had always been there, by his side. Impossible as it could be, he knew it was not so; and yet, her laugh, smile, and cheerful nature all seemed agelessly familiar. He dared not think of how many years this bliss would last before the inevitable. He simply refrained from putting such rueful thoughts into his mind, and instead, focused on the joy he was experiencing at that moment, consciously retaining every detail.
"Your mind is elsewhere. Where are you?" Mithryn playfully asked a withdrawn Legolas.
Upon hearing her voice, he broke free from meditation. "Merely thinking of the future, my love."
"Not too far into the future, I hope."
"Nay," he said, stroking her cheek. "Do you have any regrets, staying here, and not going to Rivendell?"
"How could I, happy here as I am? And I shall remain thus, so long as you keep your word." An impish grin spread over her face. "And just so long as you cannot catch me!" she said, jumping up and bolting down the path. He quickly took chase, and was approaching her fast, when she suddenly stopped, holding out her right hand, palm facing him. Halting in his tracks, Legolas felt a resistance in the space in front of him, preventing him from pursuing her. "Are you using your power against me?" he asked with a note of sarcasm and humour.
"You are an Elf, and therefore have a slight advantage over me in terms of speed. I cannot let you win all the time," she said, laughingly.
"Let me win? We shall see about that!" he replied, now struggling against the invisible force. Mithryn shrieked and ran into the Palace. The force collapsed, and stumbling, Legolas quickly pursued.
* * *
Thranduil stood in his immense reception hall, hastily breaking the seal on a scroll. The Elf messenger stood patiently, waiting at a distance. Thranduil read the message over, his face displeased; its contents did not contain comforting news. "How was Lord Elrond, when you saw him last?"
"Very well, your Majesty. Mithrandir had just left prior to my arrival, Lord Elrond bade me tell you."
"And where was he headed, do you know?"
Their conversation was interrupted by the exuberant laughter of Mithryn as she sprinted past the hall. Both men stood and stared, somewhat shocked, as they did not hear her approach. They blinked at each other, before the Messenger regained his lost thought. "Uh...I do. He was heading for Isengard to see the head of his order, so Lord Elrond told me."
A servant carrying a tray of food and wine stepped into the doorway, and was promptly collided by a running Legolas. The silver platter hit the floor with a resounding clang, showering the meal everywhere. Legolas stumbled awkwardly over the elf, while apologizing profusely.
"Legolas," the King said, in an authoritative tone, "come here, please." Turning to the messenger, he added, "Thank you, that is all."
The messenger bowed and made to exit, stepping around the spray of victuals on the floor, while the servant quickly set to work cleaning the mess. Legolas took one more glance down the corridor in Mithryn's direction, before obeying his father's command, and went to his side.
Thranduil cast his son another displeased look, saying naught.
"I am sorry, Father," Legolas said, bashfully.
The King sighed, and handed his son the parchment. "Read this. As the heir to the throne, you should know these goings on, as well as me."
Legolas unrolled the letter, and gazed at the gracefully flowing script. "Dear King Thranduil," he read aloud. "It is as we've feared. Pray keep him, whom you guard, safe, as these are uncertain times. I go, now, to confer with the wise. Yours in haste, Mithrandir." Legolas set the letter down, his brow furrowed in confusion. "He speaks in riddles. What can his meaning be?"
"I believe he feared the letter would be intercepted," he whispered. "In your absence, Legolas, we have discovered that the One Ring has been found."
Legolas gaped at his calm father. "Is it certain?" he asked, finally.
Thranduil took the document, eyes rereading the puzzling words. "This letter confirms it. While you were away, he was here, as was Aragorn."
"So Tarnil told me. We have a prisoner, I know. I have seen him at night while the sentries take him into the wood. Is he the prisoner which Mithrandir refers to?"
"Aye. He is Sméagol, for whom even you searched."
"So, that is the creature. What black deeds bind him to the Ring?" Legolas asked, somberly upon hearing all this dark news.
"Many, but to what degree, it is not known. We must be careful."
Apprehension filled their thoughts. Legolas gazed at his troubled father, knowing there was nothing that he could do to help. "What do you think Mithrandir intends with the One Ring? Possession of it brings untold dangers that could effect all of Middle Earth. What shall be done?"
Thranduil sat on his great chair by the fire, staring into the dying embers. "I know not, my son, but I fear for us all."
* * *
Meanwhile, Mithryn spiritedly frolicked along the myriad corridors, leading down into darkness. While hiding in a shadowed corner, her jovial eyes stared expectantly at the doorway, ready to leap out an the unsuspecting ensuing Legolas. Suddenly, a sharp hiss was heard from behind. Her smile vanished, realizing she was not alone. Turning, she saw a large wooden door with thick, metal bars. Stepping closer, she hesitantly called, "Hello? Is someone there?" Her voice echoed in the vast, unlit abyss. Distinct shuffling behind the fortified door caused Mithryn's steps to cease, and her body stiffened with fear. She stood in horror, wondering what sort of creature would require such confinement.
Two large, pale, green eyes glowed in the dank gloom between the bars of the cell. "What'sss this, my Precious? It's not an elf, no; it's not a nasty elf with bright eyesss. What is it?"
"I . . . I am called Mithryn," she said, stumbling over her words.
"Praps it stays here and talks with us a bitsy," Gollum said, voice now sweet and silky.
"No, I really must be getting back," Mithryn said, trying to be polite.
Gollum let out a piteous wail which filled the enormous room, and resonated loudly down the empty passages. "Don't leaves us alone! We's is always ssso alone! Stay. Stay and talks with us a bitsy. Pleeeassse?"
Mithryn's heart went out to the pathetic, lonesome creature, and yet, she was wary, because of his being in a cell. Knowing Thranduil to be a wise and capable King, and trusting her intuition, she was skeptical of this seemingly helpless creature. "I suppose I can stay a few moments. Why are you imprisoned?" she asked warily, stepping closer, straining to see the obscured figure.
"Nasty Elveses! And nasty Man! He captured poor Sméagol! Yes, my Precious. We didn't do it . . . no . . . nothing!" Gollum cried, hands tightly gripping the bars. "Gollum!"
Mithryn stepped closer still, straining to see Gollum's shrouded face. There was something about him which she could not grasp, a strange sense of familiarity. "Do I know you?"
Gollum's ears perked up, his eyes glowed ever brighter. "What? Does it think it knows us? Yesss we do, my Precious! Where did we meets it?"
Mithryn's mind searched, but could find no answers. "I do not know."
"Please," Gollum said sweetly. "Lets us out! Pleasssse!" She was now within his grasp; he wasted no time, and within a blink, he reached out, seizing her left wrist. Startled, she pulled back in fright, but his grip did not weaken. "Lets us out!" Gollum commanded, pulling her hand in-between the bars. His gruesome mouth bent down to bit her, when, in a flash, her right hand flew up and the exploding force sent Gollum flying into the back wall of his cell. He dropped to the floor, whimpering wretchedly, like a wounded animal. Mithryn fell also, and nervously pushed herself backward until she touched the far wall. She sat there, shaking, tenderly rubbing her sore wrist, while gollums resounded in the cave.
Suddenly, Legolas was beside her, kneeling, having bolted down the steps. "Mithryn! You should not be here." She turned to him, trembling. Glancing at the cell where Gollum's incessant moaning surged, he quickly assessed the situation. "Come, let us away," he said, helping her rise, and walked her out of the gloom, into the light.
* * *
They did not speak as they walked through the wood, hands held tightly together. She sat next to the gurgling stream, hardly watching as it cascaded down into small waterfalls. He sat beside her, sun peaking through the high foliage which swayed with the warm spring breeze. Noticing her wrist, which already showed signs of yellow bruising, Legolas picked it up. "He hurt you?!" he demanded, eyeing it attentively.
"A little; it will heal. It was my own error. Never should I have approached so closely to his cell."
"Then, why did you? You must have thought him there for a purpose," he said, tone darkening.
Mithryn was at once astonished. "Aye, I did. But I had my reasons," she replied cooly, not liking his manner.
"And what would they be?" Legolas asked, indignantly.
Mithryn eyed him for a moment. "This is strange affection toward one you love; is it not? What do you accuse me of? Think you I was trying to free him?"
Her icy reply neutralized his temper. Suddenly ashamed of what his illogical passions had stirred in him, he bowed his head, in guilt. "Nay, I would not think that. I am sorry; I was frightened for you. It was wrong of me to react harshly or suspiciously."
"That I know and forgive."
"Sméagol is not to be trusted. I cannot tell you how incredibly treacherous he is. But, given what I believe has just occurred between the two of you, you do not need another lesson. I beg your pardon."
A laugh escaped her. "Legolas, you truly are remarkable!"
"Me?" he questioned, innocently.
"Aye, you," Mithryn replied, unable to contain her giggles.
Slowly, an impish grin spread over his face. "Ah, but that is what you love so, in me."
"Indeed, it is," she agreed.
He leaned over and with warm lips, kissed her cool brow. "So, are you going to tell me, or must I tickle it out of you?"
"Tell you what?" she asked, eyes widening upon hearing his threat.
"Your reasons for approaching Sméagol, of course!" he said, with a roguish glint in his eye. He raised his hands, sinisterly, aimed to tickle.
"Nay!" she squealed, lifting her arms in defense. "I will tell you!" she said, and he lay upon the grass, gazing adoringly up at her. "It was his voice," she said, now serious. "It seemed familiar, as if I had heard it before."
"And do you now think you have?"
A still silence enveloped them as they sat. Mithryn searched through a torrent of memories, few of them pleasant. With a pensive face, she replied, "I am certain of it."
"When? At your cottage?"
"Nay. It was a long time ago, now, years past. Yet, I remember. Indeed, it is hard to forget the things which I have seen. Some I would wish to forget; this foresight is one of them."
Legolas sat up, attentive entirely to her. "What did you see?"
Mithryn's face winced in recollection. "Must I tell you? It was extremely disturbing. I do not like even remembering it."
He consolingly placed his hand on her arm. "The last thing I would wish is to give you grief, but this may be important. Please . . . tell me."
Mithryn sighed and closed her eyes. Her chin began to tremble. "It was the most evil premonition I had ever felt. I know not what wicked place it could be, but I can feel it even now. There were many orcs about. It was dark . . . with fire." She shook her head, unable to find the words to describe the horrors in her mind's eye. "They . . . tortured him." Tears squeezed out of her tightly clenched eyes. "You have never heard such screams, and it was not Sméagol's, alone. There were others, as well." Mithryn's quivering hand covered her mouth. "He called out two distinct words, to which they payed close attention."
"What words did he say?" Legolas asked, stunned.
Mithryn took a deep breath. "Shire . . . Baggins." Her eyes shot open, and she took deep breathes. "Please, I can say no more. I am sorry, Legolas. You know not what it is like." Great sobs escaped her as she was unable to gain control over herself. He pulled her close, comfortingly stroking her hair and shoulder. Elven song flowed from his lips, sending ease and peace to her troubled mind. His soothing tone, and harmonious elven words alleviated the pain until she was herself again.
* * *
The King sat deep in thought, hand covering his mouth; Legolas stared at him, anxious for wisdom. "What a shame," Thranduil said at last, "this information had not reached our ears sooner. Alas, I fear it has come too late."
"There is still time, Father," Legolas said spiritedly, "If we act with haste."
"Nay, Legolas. There is much you do not know."
"And it is truer still, that I shall not know, unless you tell me."
"Sméagol was captured in the Dead Marshes by Aragorn. Upon discussing these deeds with him, as well as with Mithrandir, we believe Sméagol had been held captive in Barad-dûr. Mithrandir spent many weary hours questioning him, and he too, discovered those very words which you have just told me. Shire . . . Baggins. And so, my son, as I have said, I fear your news comes but late in the game. There is naught we can do."
Legolas sat, disappointed. "Alas, I fear for poor Bilbo. There must be other Bagginses, I'm sure. Perhaps it is another Baggins who carries the One."
"Nay, it was Bilbo. But fear not for his sake, for he dwells no longer in the Shire, but in Rivendell."
"The Ring is in Rivendell?" Legolas asked, stunned.
"Nay, I said not so. Do not be so quick to jump to conclusions, my son. Nay, it is Bilbo's heir, Frodo, who now harbours this burden." The King sighed. "Well! Let us hope that Curunir may offer Mithrandir some wise advice, though I cannot see this ending well. Come, Legolas," Thranduil said, rising, "cast off the shadow, for tomorrow shall be a sadder day, still. Tonight, however, we must have no more woeful thoughts."
Legolas nodded, and left the great hall to prepare for the night's merrymaking.
* * *
Mithryn viewed the celebrations with wonder. The King gave an inspirational speech that had great emotional effect on the elves, but, of which she understood little. Legolas stood by her side the entire evening; while they conversed with other Elves, during the feast, as her dance partner, and finally as they sat on the cool grass, listening to euphonious song under the heavens. To Mithryn, everyone present appeared happy, and yet, she could discern an underlying sorrow in the atmosphere. "Are all here melancholy, or do I mistake?" she whispered to Legolas.
"Nay, you are very intuitive. This is a sad time."
"Tomorrow many of our kin shall be departing for the Grey Havens; I have told you this."
"Nay, you did not."
Surprised, Legolas turned to her. "Aye, I did."
Mithryn smiled, knowingly, and shook her head. "Nay, you did not."
"Forgive me. I cannot think how it could have slipped my mind."
"You are frequently busy with duty; I am not angry. Indeed, now it all is clear to me. They shall never return to Middle Earth." Mithryn looked at the group of fair, pale faces all bearing smiles. Tears on these occasions were considered poor form, by tradition. All evening, small groups of people embraced, whispering together, only to break apart and form other groups. Messages in rolled parchment were passed to those departing. They gazed about themselves, capturing the last few moments of the only home they had ever known, before embarking on the greatest journey of their long lifetimes. She knew that after the morning dawn, she would never see some of them again; it pained her as well. "Legolas had spoken truthfully," she thought. "It truly is all coming to an end."
Suddenly, Mithryn noticed a lone elf, standing away from the festivities, listening with a forlorn face to the melodious tunes. "Legolas," she said, placing her soft hand on his. "Is that not Tarnil, standing alone?"
Seeing his brother leaning against a tree, Legolas nodded. "Aye, that is he."
"Do you not think you should join him? He looks greatly affected by these events. Go to him."
Legolas kissed her, rose, and strolled over to his brother. "How do you fare tonight, Tarnil?"
"Was Mithryn concerned about me?" Tarnil asked, ignoring Legolas' question.
After a quick glance back at his betrothed, Legolas replied, "You always did have keener ears than the rest of us. Aye, she felt that you seemed slightly downcast tonight. Is it so?"
"Perhaps a little."
"I feel it as well," Legolas said as he leaned against the tall trunk beside Tarnil. "In truth, I cannot imagine ever wanting to leave here."
"And that, brother," Tarnil said, gently, "is where we differ. And perhaps where I differ from Haldof and Galamed as well."
"Of what can you mean?" Legolas said, staring into his brother's saddened eyes.
"I feel, and have, for some time, the urge to depart. These woods shall forever be my home, and my heart cries at the thought of leaving them, yet, I long to see the broad vastness of the sea."
Legolas' face bore that of heartache upon hearing his brother's words. Here it was that he, who had plans never to part Middle Earth, faced Tarnil, his beloved brother, who wished to vacate it forever. "Do you intend to leave with them at dawn?"
"Nay. My heart wishes to part with them, to set sail. Yet, one thing prevents me. It, alone, is the only reason I have not already embarked."
"What is the reason?"
"Galamed. I know that family comes before personal want, and Galamed is not ready to leave. A long time ago, when we were but children, we made an oath not to leave without the other; that is a pledge I feel honour bound to keep. When he is eager, we shall depart together. You and Haldof were always so close; thick as thieves, mother used to say."
Legolas laughed, in memory.
"Well," Tarnil continued, "as the youngest brothers, we always looked up to you and Haldof. We still do. But, I cannot, now, in conscience, leave without my brother."
"Mother; how I miss her. It would have been admirable if it had been you who delivered our messages to her. How delighted she would be to behold you and Galamed again." Legolas said, delightedly dreaming. "How long have you desired this?"
Tarnil sighed, face turned downward. "It has been many years, now."
"Does Galamed know of your desire?"
"Aye, and has relinquished me of my vow, though it pained him to do so. That is Galamed; never does he wish to be a burden to any. But, nay, Legolas. Though the want is great, I will wait for him." Tarnil took one last long glance at the sad partings of the Elves, before strolling away, into the warm darkness of the forest.
End of Chapter Twelve