How Legolas Claimed Two White-handled Longknives Part One - "Spies" - Early Adventures #6
This adventure stands on its own, mostly, but will mean more if you have read "Elflocks" and "The Olórë Mallë" The first part has the scenes "Blade-spell," "The Dreams of Orcs," "His First War Council," and "To Market, To Market." As always, I am borrowing the world of JRR Tolkien, whose work I love and respect, and I promise to return it unharmed. © Chathol-linn, December, 2002. Feel free to print this story.
A wise wizard once cautioned against handling magical things lightly. He meant the One Ring, not two white-handled longknives, and his message was for Bilbo, not Sickle the Elf. But he was right, as usual.
Fifty years before the Battle of the Last Alliance, Sickle forged twin blades and fitted their tangs to handles of silver and bone. Her work was famous east and south of the Misty Mountains; she came from a long line of Elven bladesmiths that reached all the way back to Aman. Mortals sought her as often as the Eldar; they called her "Sickle" because it sounded much like her true name, her amilessi tercenyë "Sigil." She was pregnant with twins when she stood before her forge. She sang potent songs of balance and battle as she made the blades and blessed them. "When the music of the Ainur decrees, you shall call the dancers and they will come," she told the blades, referring to Fate as Elves know it and speaking with the Sight.
Sickle's husband was a swordsman for the Prince of Ithilien, and he carried the longknives in the Battle of the Last Alliance. There an Easterling sent him to the Halls of Mandos. Falling, he dropped the knives near a battlefield smithy and there they called to Zalog the Orc. When he picked them up the Elven knives burned his foul hands. He flung them away at once, killing two soldiers, but never again was he fully free from pain. In fact Zalog lost his mind and everything but his horrid life in that battle, and he passed the knives to no less a hero than Elrond himself.
The knives called to Elrond, who plucked them from the bodies of the two nameless soldiers, twin brothers. In those days Elrond, a twin himself, was a great general and wise, but not fully the lore master he later became. He could not read the filigreed writing on the beautiful blades. "This may be the ancient tree-alphabet," he thought. Before returning to Rivendell he gave the knives to his kin in the forest of Lothlorien. If anyone could read the tree-alphabet it would be Galadriel of the Golden Wood. But the knives did not call to Galadriel until two and a half centuries had passed.
Then one day the Lothloriens went visiting Thranduil, King of the Wood-Elves. The knives spoke up in Galadriel's mind and she said, "The white-handled longknives are beautiful, and maybe the Wood-Elves can read the lettered blades. Take them to the king for the guest-gift." This they did, but in the very instant when the blades were about to pass to the House of Thranduil, the mischief of a certain Prince intervened. Then the blades called to the Dwarves, for Ibun the Strange took them next. Thus Dwarves had the knives when, a few years later, Legolas met venomous Zalog on the Olórë Mallë.
Now the Elves know well there are forces at work for good and evil, often Unseen, sometimes dreamed. So the Greenwood Sindar should not have been surprised when, in the hour Legolas returned from the Path of Dreams, the knives called the dancers as Sickle had predicted, and both sides made a move. The Orcs moved first.
***The Dreams of Orcs***
Two hundred fifty years of unremitting burn-pain, nearly two long-years to contemplate the insertion of an Elf-mind into his own, and Zalog was just as mad as a dragon. That an Elf who was not even born could enter his thoughts! Learn the secret of his maimed hands! The idea baffled Zalog, rebuked his sense of mastery, and sent him up and down peaks of dementia in the arms of pain and rage. His followers lived in awe and on bad days, in terror; they had not seen the likes of Zalog since Sauron's demise.
Zalog's madness did not interfere with his uncanny ability to hide the Orcs in the cellars of the Greenwood's southern mountains or to execute small, precise raids on the surrounding Mortal villages. Zalog kept the raids secret because he did not burn the villages and he left no witnesses except prisoner slaves, who died soon and gratefully. Zalog liked raids. They diverted him from the pain of his scorched hands. His other diversion was plotting the capture, torture, and murder of the Elf-King to the north, or better, the king-spawn whose touch tainted his thoughts to this day.
In the hour that Legolas awoke from the Olórë Mallë, the knives called to Zalog and his madness exploded like the fire-mountains of Mordor. Then concealment and waiting were done. Zalog wanted Elf-bait to lure the Greenwood Elves southward. He had his pick of the Silvan Elves who were native to the southern mountains and called Thranduil kin if not king. Zalog chose Amdir, Niël and their children. Like most Silvans the family lived at the eastern edge of the mountains. Their home was a beech tree high above the ground. It was autumn, and the weather had been dry. That day, the gold and red leaves crackled with color like fire. That night, the gold and red crackles came from the pitch fire that Zalog set, burning the treehouse to cinders.
The Orcs were careful to catch Amdir away from home; only his family was to be killed. They bound him and let him listen the screams. Then Zalog plunged his filthy finger into Amdir's right eye, laughed, and rolled off to fitful rest. Long after dark, Amdir summoned his strength, broke his bonds, and crept out of the Orc camp. At the foot of the hills he found a live donkey tethered to a tree. He did not question this good fortune. He mounted the donkey and like Elves' way with all good animals, it minded him well. Amdir headed east to break through the forest and then north along the tree line. Zalog's spotters marked his movements every league or so until they were sure he headed toward the Forest River. Soon, if he did not die of his injuries or grief, Amdir would come to the hall of his fiery-tempered kinsman, Thranduil.
Then if all went well, the king would come with his army and his son to protect the Silvans and rout the Orcs. They would ride straight into the biggest ambush since the Second Age. This, Zalog thought, would return him to the Orc-sanity he had enjoyed during the days of Sauron. As if to agree, the pain in his hands lessened a little. Such are the dreams of Orcs.
***His First War Council***
In the hour Legolas awoke from the Olórë Mallë, he recounted his experience as a dream-passenger in Zalog's mind and Thranduil convened a war council. "We will consider this vision of Orcs in the southern mountains," he said.
They met at once in Bessain's fire-lighted kitchen where the evening chill did not come. Thranduil's counselors were Queen Elsila, Blade-singer the Weaponsmistress, and her captains Berendil, Huntress, Tûr, and Telien. Lately Thranduil had been including his daughter-heir Elwen. Now Legolas realized with joy that Thranduil meant him to join them. Legolas sat by Berendil at Bessain's kitchen table and she served them hot mulled cider. Legolas savored a new spice in the familiar drink: a taste of adulthood.
Thranduil began, "Son, when you returned from your dream you spoke of Orcs and a guest-gift of white-handled longknives. Did you mean that visit we had of the Lothloriens?"
Suddenly Legolas realized he could not say a word about the longknives without compromising the oath of silence he had taken and persuaded Arwen and Elwen to take. How he longed to answer! To say,
"Yes, the Lothloriens brought the longknives as guest-gift. That day a mad Dwarf took the knives off to the Lonely Mountain. He left us - Arwen, Elwen and me - chained near the Mortal's keep on our northeastern border."
Or to add the detail that would relieve his conscience: "We escaped the chains and found our horses - across the border - just in time to flee before sundown."
Thranduil would be more interested in locating Orcs than pursuing the story of the longknives. Still, if he commanded his son to explain himself, then Legolas would keep no more secrets. He would tell of the honey in the garland, the bee stings, the revenge of Elwen and Arwen, the Dwarf capture, the elflocks escape, the prohibited border crossing, and worst, the oath of silence till they all came of age.
Legolas guessed what his elders would think. Breaking the stated rule to escape danger was excusable - unless, maybe, you caused the danger through mischief and then swore to keep silent about it. At very least, Legolas imagined, they would invoke the penalty of the stated rule, and that would be the ignominious end to his first war council. Unthinkably worse, he would be foresworn. Elves knew better.
"Be a Prince," the dream-seeress had said.
All this flashed through his mind as Legolas sat there, seeing his credibility and status vanish into disgrace. For the hundred and forty-fourth time he cursed inwardly at secrets kept from his family. A heartfelt desire to be of age and confess swept through him.
Thranduil said, "Legolas?"
Just when Legolas thought he would have to run from the room, help came from an unexpected direction.
"Theall the Dwarf-lord holds the longknives," said Bessain, giving Legolas a sharp glance. "I did him a service once and he repays me to this day with courtesy. And information."
"How is it that my cook has dealings with uncertain friends without my knowledge or consent?" said Thranduil.
Thranduil's displeasure did not disturb Bessain. She said, "Theall's son Ibun is unwell. He cannot speak Dwarf-speech and is - canny but strange. Theall took his family to dwell away at the Lonely Mountain so that Ibun would not feel an outsider. Some years ago I found Ibun wandering alone and lost on the Forest Path. I kept him safe and sent for his father. For taking care of his only son, Theall says he is in my debt. To me he is steadfast. His king in Moria counts him a loyal agent who deals with the Dwarves from the Iron Hills and the Mortals of Wild Water Village [a town near the Dwarf Road]. He is no uncertain friend, Milord King."
"I ask pardon, Bessain. There is no uncertainty in kindness. But how did you tame a mad Dwarf?"
"I gave him lembas," said Bessain.
Every astonished face turned to Elsila, the Elf-woman of highest rank. Only the Queen made lembas and she would never give it to mortal beings. Thranduil hesitated, trying to craft a question to the womenfolk on this delicate matter but Elsila saved him the trouble.
"Bessain, my friend. When you came from Hollin to teach me the healing arts, you gave up your rank and made no more lembas. But I am not very domestic," and Elsila exchanged a smile with Thranduil. "So I gave you my rights regarding lembas and you gave me the skills to be a good healer. Bessain and I have what we like best - I the healing and she the nourishment of our folk."
"Well! Ibun was honored indeed," said Thranduil, in love all over again with Elsila, who could always surprise him. "No doubt it is the first and last time an Elf-lady gives lembas to a Dwarf. But how did the longknives come to Theall?"
"I am not sure," said Bessain. Legolas and Elwen knew, of course, but they could say nothing. "Theall sent me a message two years ago, asking if I knew the owner. I did not. Since Theall is both honest and well-traveled, I asked him to keep the knives in trust and search for the owner. His message to me says, he has not found anyone who knows or wants the longknives. He returns with them now from Moria to Wild Water Village for the autumn market fair."
Then finally the longknives called to Legolas and inspired, he found a way to turn the talk toward Orcs. He said, "We must send spies south to the mountains, by way of the market fair."
Thranduil said, "It is a good idea. The first principle of battle is to know the enemy as well as possible." The location of Wild Water Village was perfect - near the southern mountains where the Dwarf-Road meets the River Running and the Foothills River. The meeting waters gave the town its name.
"Everyone visits the autumn market fair," said Bessain. "Dwarves, Mortals, Elves. If Orcs are active in the south we will learn it. We can go marketing, and then ride to the mountains, seeming to visit our Silvan kin."
"We will send spies," decided Thranduil. "Blade-singer, you, Berendil, and Tûr. Bessain, you will go as far as the village, and return with your marketing."
Bessain said, "There is another who must go, Thranduil. Or else, not all will be achieved."
Legolas thought, >Bessain, my thanks are numberless.<
"Who?" asked Thranduil.
"Elwen. I wish to renew my friendship with Theall. But I am only the kitchen wench of the House of Thranduil, not its heiress. Theall will be pleased to receive Elwen and will respect my courtesy for thinking of it. His king will hear of it and be pleased also. It is good to have kings for friends, Milord King."
"Elwen shall go," he said. Elwen bowed her thanks, restraining an urge to clap her hands. It was a perfect assignment for the apprentice ruler.
"You will leave day after tomorrow. Legolas, we thank you for the warning that came in your vision, and for your good idea," said Thranduil. "Good night, all." But Legolas stayed behind. He had a favor to ask his father and Thranduil knew it.
While Bessain lit candles with a twig from the fireplace, Legolas considered his long day. The time from his visionary hunt with Berendil to the council's conclusion was the afternoon of an autumn day. It felt like a weary week. Possessed of a deep equilibrium all his life, Legolas was unused to such mood swings. He was now of an age to feel moody, but that was little to the self possession of Legolas. He knew only that one moment he pined for his waning boyhood; the next he faced situations that would have challenged his elders; incurring the dream-hate of Zalog for instance. The vision on the Olórë Mallë with its doubled memories played havoc with his time-sense. The longknives were awake and calling, while the old vow of secrecy stilled him to troubled silence. The cold touch of Zalog's poisonous mind aggravated every ill feeling and diminished the hope in Saelon's fantastic prophecies.
All this and the tensions of the council left him uncharacteristically tired and sad. He went to Bessain's work table, neat and ready for the next morning's activities. She kept a jar of honey there but he found he did not want it.
How to ask without sounding like a youngster teasing for a sweet? "I should go with them," he said finally. Thranduil, who of course had been expecting this, started to reply that he was too young. Then he looked hard at his son. He saw that Legolas was no longer the slender lad he had been the night he slew Ruler and proved his bowmanship. The length of his limbs and the breadth of his shoulders were those of a youth. Even his face had lost that thin, big-eyed child-look that Mortals to this day call "elfin."
Bessain said, "O, let him go, Thranduil. He is fated to go. It was his vision. He will not be far from your borders, and he goes with your best warriors. It is not the Second Age, you know, when we put a sword in every tiny hand save those that might be healers. Legolas goes to spy not fight."
"It could well be to fight," said Thranduil, not knowing how truly he spoke. "Still, you are right, as usual. The times are as peaceful as they are ever likely to be. And he cannot learn all he needs to know from the practice field and the forest. Legolas, you may go. I charge you to obey the captains." He added a guarded thought: >When the journey is done you shall tell me the secret you keep about those knives. I see it is not Arwen that makes you sad, or not entirely.<
Joy bounded in his heart on two levels. Legolas bowed and said aloud, "Father, I will." He went to prepare for the journey, nearly dancing.
**To Market, To Market***
The six Elves who gathered by Thranduil's bridge looked more like a party than a party of spies. Legolas forgot his moodiness for pleasure of his first long trip from home. The others smiled also as they checked their gear and mounts.
"Good morning!" Elsila called, padding across the bridge hand in hand with Thranduil. She wore her usual house robes of silver-grey with a blue and white girdle. The colors matched her exotic eyes exactly. Telien followed with a towel-wrapped jug and a stack of birch bark cups.
"We came to see you off," said Elsila, "and give you some cheer." Telien passed around the cups and poured hot mulled apple wine. They drank and it was delicious.
Elsila was a favorite of all and especially her best friend Bessain the Bread-giver. "Do you have your market list?" she asked.
"Yes, it is here," said Bessain. "Plenty of candles, as much soap as I can find [Elsila permitted no soap making because of the smell], a surprise of my choosing, mulling spices, and a winter's order of red grape wine from Dorwinion. I am to be bursar, and I have in my purse a piece of gold divided into dozenths."
"You will like the marketing," said Thranduil, smiling. "The mayor has in his service a town crier - his brother by marriage - whose job it is to walk the streets and piers. On market days and fairs he shouts the news, and the wares and prices of all the stalls and vendors."
"I hear he shouts loudest for vendors who give him something for his trouble," said Tûr.
"True," said Bessain, with a smile. "And what he likes best for his trouble is ale. So crafty buyers come to market while he is still sober. By noon, he confuses the wares and the stalls, and the news is no more credible than it should be."
"He tells stories about his troubles in love," said Thranduil, laughing. "By afternoon, you can see the goodwives chasing him with their brooms!"
They all laughed. "Milord, what fools these Mortals be!" said Tûr and Telien together, quoting an Elven proverb.
Elsila kissed them goodbye and Thranduil clasped their shoulders. Elsila said, "Legolas, I give you this as a token of your trip." She produced an arrow from the folds of her gown.
"It is beautiful," said Legolas. The shaft and fletching were colored gold, but the crystal arrowhead was a diamond. "Varda in Arda" Elves called it sometimes - the sharpest, hardest substance in Middle-earth, yet sparkling like stars. "Where did it come from?"
"It was a gift long ago," Elsila said. Berendil and Bessain exchanged glances. "It is no trinket - it is beech and will fly straight and true. It reminds me of you."
"Then it shall remind me of you," said Legolas. "I will never spend it. [He was right about this.] Thank you." The gold arrow stood out in his quiver among the green shafts and fletchings.
"Well, farewell," said Thranduil. "Blade-singer, you are leader. Learn if the Orcs are moving, and where. May stars shine upon your road." So they rode away: the first assembly of characters moving toward the tangle of events that was to come.
Continued in How Legolas Claimed Two White-handled Longknives Part Two - "Willofain"
1. See "The Atlas of Middle-earth," Karen Wynn Fonstad, page 76, for the location of the southern mountains of Mirkwood.
2. See "Morgoth's Ring," JRR Tolkien, "Of Lembas" re the rights of Elf-women to make and give lembas.
3. See "A Midsummer Night's Dream," W. Shakespeare, Act III, Scene 2, for a Fairy proverb on Mortals.
4. See "Elflocks - How Legolas Cured His Sister of Teasing" and "Legolas and the Olórë Mallë," Chathol-linn, for more on Legolas's unwise oath of silence, and his encounters with memory, prophecy, and dreams.
5. For two examples of the definition of and responsibilities toward oaths, see http://www.northvegr.org/northern/book/oaths.html and http://www.ealdriht.org/oathsmat.html.
6. The tree alphabet is not in JRRT's canon. See "The White Goddess," Robert Graves. See also "The Lunar Calendar" (an actual calendar) by Luna Press that uses 13 letters of the tree alphabet.