A TALE OF MIRKWOOD - Chapter Twenty-three - Farewell, Sweet Prince
Well, well, well! Here we are! Chapter 23! It's only taken me a year! Isn't that incredible?! I started writing Chapter 1 right at the end of June. It's so hard to believe a year has gone by. So much has happened.
Anyway, here is Chapter 23. I hope you all enjoy it. Please, if you read, kindly comment. A special thanks for everyone who did so for Chapter 22! You guys are the best!
As Elves had gathered close to Legolas and pressed to converse with the gallant traveller, it had not been easy to escape in search of his wife. Upon completion of exchange of hearty greetings and promises of detailed stories of his adventures, he ran freely neath twinkling autumn stars to his home in the trees. Mithryn had just begun to ascend the steep latticed steps when Legolas saw her, calling out, "Mithryn!"
She turned briskly around to see her love yet at a distance, eyes bright, and chest heaving. Her heart pounded as he strode closer. She appeared to him like a vision, surrounded in misty frost, hair and eyes aglow with rapturous warmth. Pausing at the base of the steps, his feet still on the cool earth, he cast his eyes upward into her pale, moonlit face.
Smiling, Mithryn whispered softly, "You look well," her hand resting on the crest of his head, softly caressing his fine, golden hair. He seemed to melt upon feeling her touch, eyes closing, and for one moment, he wished he could rescind himself from his promise at Rivendell and stay with his love. But in his heart he knew what he must do, and inwardly, it consumed him.
"Has it been an arduous journey, my love?" she asked gently, with a thread of self-guilt, knowing it had been her that sent him away.
Legolas' eyes opened and gazed upon her calm but sudden revelation. He now understood what she had seen, and the choice she was forced to make. "I found labour only in being separated from you. Rivendell was beautiful, but, sadly, empty and forlorn. There was never a moment I did not wish for your company. But come," he said, stepping upon the lacy steps. "I do not wish to be separated from you a second longer." Grasping her small figure in a tight embrace, his lips pressed gently against hers. It had felt an age since he clasped her in his strong arms, and once again, his senses danced. Her honeyed scent filled his soul, and intoxicated his head. So soft were her curls, they felt like summer rain on his cheek.
"Legolas!" a voice hailed, which snapped the lovers from their ecstasy. King Thranduil stood in the moonlight, patiently waiting for his son's address. Legolas gave Mithryn a meaningful pat on her shoulder before descending the steps and joining his father's side. Mithryn attempted to listen, but as they spoke in Elvish, she understood little.
"Father, I meant to come to you shortly. I beg your pardon."
"Not at all, Legolas," Thranduil replied. "It is understandable that you would wish to greet your wife after being away so many weeks. Normally, I would wait until tomorrow, but these times are precarious, and I felt the necessity to seek you out. Have you news for me?"
Legolas reached into his breast doublet and pulled out two, slightly crumpled scrolls, each sealed, and handed them to the King. "With regards from Lord Elrond and Mithrandir."
Thranduil quickly raised his eyes in surprise. "Mithrandir? He has returned?"
"Aye, and with information imperative to our cause. There was a council in Rivendell shortly thereafter. No doubt these letters will explain all to you. Father," Legolas said uneasily, "I know these are insecure times, but, could not my meeting with you wait until tomorrow?" He glanced back at his wife, and Thranduil understood his meaning completely. The letters would satisfy his need for news until the morrow.
"So be it," Thranduil said kindly with an empathizing smile. "Go to your wife. These letters shall have to suffice."
"How has she fared in my absence? Was she much alone?"
"At times, however, she is very mindful of her duties. Haldof has been most inquisitive during your absence. Galamed and Tarnil have been respectfully silent of the subject, but I know they have suspicions. The truth must be told; there is no more escaping it."
Legolas nodded his head in understanding. After embracing his son in welcome, Thranduil departed and left Legolas and Mithryn alone to give their own private welcomes.
* * *
A crisp breeze flowed into the bedchamber, yet, under the mountain of feathered blankets, no chill entered. Morning sun peaked into the sparkling glass windows, beaconing the dawn of another day. Mithryn lay awake, contemplating the events of the new day, while watching her beloved husband sleep, his eyes open in an unblinking Elven slumber state. Drawing back the coverlet, Mithryn concentrated on the movement of his torso with each breath he took. His naked skin, warm and smooth to the touch, and wisps of blond hair cast carelessly across the pillow created a picture Mithryn had missed these many lonesome nights. Laying her head on the pillow next to his and curling up close to the warmth of his firm body, she breathed in deeply his fragrance of a woodland wet with dew. Her eyes closed, and she fell into blissful sleep.
* * *
It was not until the sun was high in the cloudless sky that Thranduil called forth his council and the truth of Legolas' disappearance was finally disclosed. The room fell hushed and still as Legolas recounted his Rivendell adventures. Indeed, he had much to tell: Mithrandir's return, contribution of the Hobbits and the One Ring, and last but not least, the Council of Elrond. He spoke of the wise and final decision of the fate of the Ring. The audience was held captive during his rendition, all with wide, blinking eyes fixed on his person.
Legolas gazed from one brother to the next. Galamed appeared dismayed beyond full comprehension, his pale forehead contorted in confusion. Tarnil's eyes fell upon the floor, an air of melancholy surrounding him. Lastly, Haldof, sat in a silent rage, his fists clenched upon the hard oak table. His flaming eyes bore into Legolas' calm face, as Haldof shook his head with a grim understanding. Finding no words, he rose with such vehement passion his chair was knocked over with a bang, and he stormed out of the room.
The quiet that followed seemed peaceful, yet brought comfort to none.
"He worries for you," Thranduil said gently to Legolas, "as do we all."
"I know. If he were in my place, I would worry for him as well. However, I believe I am doing that which is right."
"It is a most complimentary offer, Legolas. Lord Elrond must think very highly of you," Tarnil said kindly, attempting to be supportive.
Humbly nodding his thanks, Legolas made no other reply.
"You are sure to leave, then?" Galamed inquired mournfully.
"Within the next fortnight," Legolas replied.
Tarnil was cast into dark, foreboding thought when he suddenly spoke, "What of Mithryn? Have you told her yet?"
"I saw no need to tell Mithryn on my first day returning. It would only hurt her. I shall tell her tonight."
"Legolas," Thranduil said, shaking his head compassionately at his eldest son, "she already knows. It was she who sent you to Rivendell knowing what lay in your path. She knew all the while what you would choose to do."
Mithryn, meanwhile, sat inside the latticed grotto, fallen leaves dancing and tumbling about her feet partnered by a gusty breeze. Awaiting Legolas' return from the council, she attempted most heartily to be patient, but only found satisfaction when staring at the entrance to the Palace.
Haldof marched out, face angry and wild, his eyes quickly clasping Mithryn. She swallowed in dismay, but felt she need not be frightened of him now that Legolas had returned. Haldof strode toward her with mighty, powerful strides, frail leaves crunching under his feet.
"You knew of this! Tell me is it not so!" he demanded, standing so straight and tall he blocked out the sun from her view, casting a dark shadow across her face.
Meekly, yet willfully, she replied, "It is."
"And still you sent him away?! Mithryn, was I mistaken in thinking you loved my brother?"
"I love him with all my soul."
"I do not understand you!" he cried, exasperated. "You love him so much you send him away to his doom?"
"He shall return," she said, with slightly more assurance than she suddenly felt.
"Return? What, are you mad? One does not assail Mordor and live to tell about it! You have sent my brother to his death!"
A sudden panic besieged Mithryn and took strong hold. In her vision, she had seen nothing of Mordor, and the realization of the fate to which she had condemned her beloved husband came down upon her with immense force. "No! That is not what I saw!"
"But depend upon it, that is where he goes! I shall never forgive you! You should be cast out for the danger you have caused!"
"Haldof!" a voice spoke with forceful command. The bearer of that name turned to see Legolas standing infuriated behind him.
"Legolas," Haldof bade gently, "you do not understand. She tricked you! This decision is insanity!"
"Nonetheless, my decision is made," Legolas replied with an icy steel to his voice. "Mithryn had no part in it. She neither influenced me, nor commanded me to accept Lord Elrond's offer. I did so of my own accord."
"Why did you not refuse him?" Haldof demanded. "Elrond is not your King."
"That I know," Legolas replied, attempting to retain some composure.
"Indeed? What of Mirkwood? Do you think Mordor shall shield its eye from its old enemy, our home? Do not be so foolish, Legolas! You are needed here! Let the mortals fight their last fight."
"It is not their fight alone, brother," Legolas said as gently as his temper would allow. "We, as Elves, have a responsibility to those we leave behind. Middle Earth is our home, but the time is coming when it will shelter us no more. Do you propose to leave it in ashes?"
"Of course not!" Haldof retorted angrily. "There is none more than I who would wish to see Sauron, the Deceiver, overthrown! This fight I do not oppose. It is your part in it I cannot condone. Is it war you seek, Legolas? I promise you, when the storm comes, there shall be battles enough to quench even your thirst for it!"
"I do not seek war, but it is my opinion that by going on this quest, I am doing Mirkwood the greatest service with which I could ever honour it."
"You propose to enter Mordor? Toss the Ring into the fire? Legolas," Haldof said, shaking his head, "attempt to see reason. This is madness!"
"Haldof, if I die, it will be for a cause that is worth dying for. Do you not understand?" Legolas said, attempting desperately to bring his brother to see sense.
"Nay!" Haldof replied, shaking his head with contempt. "You leave, you do so of your own accord! I shall stay and defend my home and my people! Go, and be off with you!" Without waiting for a reply, Haldof turned and escaped under the empty branches of the forest. Legolas made no movement to follow. He sighed and sat beside his wife, grasping her around her waist in a comforting embrace.
"I am sorry," he said lovingly. "Haldof has always had difficulty controlling his passions."
"He can be alarming at times, to be sure, but in this, I bear him no ill will. There is truth in what he says."
Legolas leaned back, astonished. "But Mithryn, you gave me your blessing to my journey to Rivendell, did you not?"
"Aye, but I had no idea what this quest would demand of you."
"It is not certain what it will, but I know my skills are needed. There is great danger, yes, but there is always hope."
"Hope that you shall return from Mordor? Come, Legolas. Shall we put much stalk in such futile hope?"
"I do not consider any hope futile," he replied. It had not occurred to him before that far from Mithryn approving his decision, she would utterly wish his mind to change. "I am doing this for all of Middle Earth, for us. For you."
"For me? Then I wish you would not."
Her unwillingness to accept his very difficult decision upset him most of all. However, he knew in his heart what he must do, and refused to be persuaded by any. "I love you Mithryn, but do not ask me to go back on my word. It is not my wish to part from you, but I feel it incumbent upon me to join this endeavor. Oh, pray do not cry! I give you my solemn oath to return to you!"
Mithryn raised her weeping eyes up to his and felt it cruel to coerce him any longer. His return was in the hands of destiny.
* * *
As general knowledge of the Fellowship and its mission spread among them, elves stood divided in decision. Hushed conversations took place in walnut groves, winding corridors, and private bedchambers. Everywhere in Mirkwood, noble and commoner alike were distraught at the current turn of events. None wished Legolas to go, but all respected his decision, right or wrong they felt it to be. And all felt the inevitable black doom what would befall this world if the Fellowship failed.
Days flew by as Legolas' departure date drew near. Time afforded no leisure as Legolas' and Mithryn's first duty was to their people who claimed much of their attention. Nonetheless, on this, the last day, Legolas was free from all engagements, and by Belegaladh, stood waiting. Running his hand over the ancient tree's rough bark, Legolas whispered his own elvish farewell to his old friend. Tarnil and Galamed approached, smiles brightening both faces from their spirited run.
"Sorry to keep you waiting, brother," Tarnil said, eyes full of mischief.
"Tarnil has just led me on a merry chase, though I found little amusement in it!" Galamed stated breathlessly, and glared at Tarnil with ill favor.
"You would keep me waiting while you forever kissed Anardil goodbye.
Galamed stood aghast at his brother's impudence, but was swiftly distracted by Legolas.
"Never mind. Where is Haldof? Does he make us wait as well?"
Both Tarnil and Galamed's faces fell. Tarnil spoke up, "Nay, we do not wait, Legolas, for Haldof will not come."
"Will not come?" repeated Legolas, clearly surprised at Haldof's mulishness. "But I am to leave tomorrow! I have not seen him these two weeks and I leave tomorrow. Perhaps he does not know this."
"Nay, Legolas," Galamed said gently, his own cares quite forgotten. "He knows."
Turning, Legolas stared at the chilled November earth, laden with felled leaves, all crumpled and haggard. It had been painfully obvious to him where Haldof stood. Haldof having refused to even speak with him, Legolas had let him be, hoping that no grudge would be held too dear. It saddened him to think that he had perhaps been wrong, and that an incurable rift now divided the two brothers.
"Perhaps if you were to go to him. . ." Galamed suggested only to be cut short.
"Nay," Legolas said, disappointment in his voice. "Haldof has never been one to change his mind on a whim. If this is how he wishes to be, very well. I had thought. . ." He stopped short, and Tarnil and Galamed exchanged troubled glances. "But, never mind. Come! I have still two brothers who wish to see me before I go!" He swung his strong arms over the shoulders of his brother's, and the three strolled off to enjoy reminiscing of days long passed.
* * *
It had been late upon Legolas' return, but his mood was merry after a day filled with recollecting mirthful memories. He quickly climbed the steps, and strode into his bedchamber to an awe-inspiring sight. A table set in the center of the room stood abounding with sumptuous dishes that would tempt even the fussiest of appetites. Tall, ivory candles glowed from a silvery, woven candelabra, which illuminated the room. A great goose, roasted golden brown, sat on a sparkling silver platter. Beside it was warm, caraway bread, heavy and moist, melted butter dripping from its crispy crust. Roasted figs, herb-filled potatoes, a glistening carafe filled with crimson Mulberry Wine, as well as a creamy wild-mushroom soup also adorned the table, leaving little room for the solid gold place settings for two.
Mithryn stepped in through the open doorway.
"Mithryn, what is all this?" Legolas said, confused. "Are we not to go to the feast tonight?"
"By order of your Father," Mithryn replied, waving a hand toward the meal fit for a King.
A gracious smile spread over Legolas' face, and he turned toward his beloved wife, and noticed her radiant appearance for the first time. She was elegantly attired in crushed blue velvet lined with soft fur around her creamy throat and wrists. A circlet of silver shone through her flaming red hair.
"That was, indeed, kind of him," he said, taking her tiny hand in his. "These days have been so busy. I have not spent as much time with you as I have desired."
"Do not scold yourself on my account. We have been doing our duty to our people, and that is most important. Besides, it has granted me the opportunity of spending much precious time with you. For that I am grateful, even if we were rarely alone."
Smiling as his eyes beheld the radiant vision before him, he said lovingly, "You are more beautiful than the sun illuminating a forest on a summer afternoon."
Blushing, she said, "I am not elven fair."
"Nay, you surpass elven beauty. Do not laugh, for I speak the truth! All that is you is unique, and unlike anything I have known before. I never knew I could love someone so much. It is exceedingly painful for me to leave you a second time," he said, hanging his head.
It was unforseen, even by the wise Lord Elrond, how the quest of the Fellowship would conclude. Legolas knew he might be separated from his wife for many months. Indeed, there was a great possibility of his never returning. All these thoughts flitted through his mind, yet, vanished when Mithryn's hands found rest on Legolas' firm shoulders.
"Think no more of it, my love," she said, consolingly. "We are together tonight, and that is enough."
He slipped his hands around her waist, pulling her in close to him. "I cannot bear the thought of leaving you tomorrow."
"You have changed your mind?" she asked, eyes hopeful. Legolas, however, made no answer, other than appearing sheepish. "Never mind! Come, Darling. Should we not dine before this lovely meal is quite cold and ruined?"
"Yes!" Legolas exclaimed, happy for a change of thought. They ate their dinner keeping merry conversation flowing as freely as the fruity wine. Mithryn wisely refrained from returning to woe-filled speech, and Legolas, thankfully, was of like mind. They appeared happy to speak of Legolas' excursions of the day, and all the memories which had been stirred up in a day's romp with his youngest brothers. It did not escape Mithryn's notice, however, that Haldof's name was never mentioned.
It was not until the morning, when Legolas was dressing in his traveling clothes of green and brown, that Mithryn realized the full extent of his absence. She slipped out from the feathery blankets. The cool morning air crept along her bare skin until Legolas cast a robe around her shoulders. Mithryn then proceeded to aid him by lovingly fastening the clasps of his doublet. "You will be careful, won't you?"
"And not do anything foolish, like get yourself killed."
"I shall try to refrain from such impulses," he teased.
"I know you shall not be able to write to me, but if you can get some word out, that you are safe, I would appreciate it."
"If I meet any safe-houses along my road, I will try."
Nodding her acceptance of his promise, she too got dressed, and hastily ran a comb through her profusion of curls. It was not long before the servant, Noriath, knocked gently upon the door. Legolas bade him enter, and the humble elf stepped meekly in. "Beg your pardon, Prince Legolas, but the King summons thee. All is ready for thy departure."
"Thank you, Noriath, we are coming," Legolas replied.
Noriath bowed, and promptly exited.
The quill, filled with razor sharp arrows, his bow, and long white knife sat idly on the floor. Mithryn picked up the former bag and feeding her husband's arms through, fastened the silver buckle across his chest. Standing back, she studied his appearance with pride. He stood, noble and elegant, clothed for the quest which would take him so far from all that he held dear.
Without saying a word, she took his hand in hers, and together they walked out and joined the magnificent gathering of elves outside the palace. The assembly stood quiet; no sound nor voice was uttered as the royal couple walked passed toward their mighty King.
"My son," Thranduil said to Legolas, though loudly enough that all could hear, "You depart on a quest undoubtedly fraught with peril and hardship. This is a mighty burden you have chosen to bear. However, you go as a representative of your family, and all the Elves of Mirkwood. No matter what the outcome may be, we know that there is no greater warrior who could have gone in your stead. Lord Elrond chose very wisely when he chose you. Namarie." Thranduil Held his son in a tight embrace as elves near and far watched, tasting the bitter sweetness of such an affectionate farewell.
Legolas moved onward to his two youngest brothers, standing patiently for their turn to say goodbye. Gazing about the sea of faces, Legolas inquired, "Where is Haldof?"
"He will not come," Thranduil said, gently.
Legolas felt as though those words pierced his heart like an icy blade. "Not even to bid me farewell?" he asked, deeply hurt.
Galamed shook his head, sadly, "Nay." In spite of Haldof's anger and torment, temptation had got the better of him, though none knew it but himself. Still unable to bear Legolas' company, Haldof watched the proceedings from afar, as he sat on a lofty treetop perch. Vexed as he was, he could not stay away from his brother's parting, though only at a distance.
"Tarnil and Galamed," Legolas said so softly it was barely a whisper, "you will watch over my wife in my absence, will you not?"
"Aye," they replied.
"Her wound ceases to trouble her," said Legolas, alleviated, "and I am thankful for that."
Galamed furrowed his brow at this, his mind tossed into confusion. As he, and many, understood the matter, Mithryn's wound discomfited her greatly. But, as Legolas was at this moment departing, he felt it not his place to correct what she clearly wanted unknown.
However, Legolas thought nothing of Galamed's anxious face. He continued by saying, "Still, I would rest easier if I knew you to be doing this for me."
"Fear not, brother," Tarnil replied, reassuringly.
"Consider Mithryn in our dearest care," Galamed affirmed.
"I thank you," Legolas said, mind now much at ease as he clenched his two brothers in a final embrace. "Until we meet again. And tell Haldof. . .tell Haldof, I am sorry."
Tarnil and Galamed nodded their understanding of this message, and Legolas approached the last person to whom he would bid farewell: his wife. Mithryn had been deeply moved by all who came to show her beloved husband support. The King's speech had touched her heart, and inside, it swelled with pride. He grasped her cool hands in his and spoke softly, "You have naught to fear. I shall return. I promised. Remember?"
She nodded to show him her support. "Of course you will. If not, no doubt Haldof would go searching for you."
This jest made those in hearing range titter with laughter, and Legolas' eyes danced. He gently stroked her smooth cheek and said in a low voice, "Watch the stars each night. My eyes, too, shall gaze up and meet yours there. No matter where I go, I'll find you when I see the stars."
His head leant down and tenderly kissed her soft, ruby lips, knowing it a moment that would be recalled many long, lonely nights. Slowly moving away, he mounted Anfalas as three guards sat patiently on their elven ponies waiting to accompany him to Rivendell. Time now completely spent, Anfalas trotted away, Legolas turning his head twice to see his home and family leisurely fade behind the mist of trees.
Thranduil stood beside Mithryn as they watched him move further and further away.
"Armenil has told me of your condition," Thranduil quietly confided to her.
"Then, you know," she replied, eyes never moving from her fleeting husband.
"Why did you not tell Legolas?"
"He would have stayed, but I know his destiny lies elsewhere for a time."
"He may die. He may die never having known you carry his child. Is this really what you wish?" Thranduil asked, voice and manner gentle.
"He will return, my Lord. And when he does, he will fully realize all that he has fought for."
Thranduil nodded his acceptance, and returned his eyes to the spot where Legolas once was, but now, was gone.
End of Chapter Twenty-three