Miriel: Princess of Rohan - 17. DOOM OF THE ELVES
After that glorious day, Miriel noticed with growing concern that Legolas seemed more distant than ever. He spent less time with Miriel and wandered rather with the Elves who had come to the city escorting the Lady Arwen, the Elf who was the betrothed of King Aragorn.
At first Miriel thought that Legolas was only pleased to mingle with his own kindred, whom he had not seen in times of peace for many months. Even during the war Legolas had not been among his people since the dark night at Helm's Deep. But sometimes several days would go by before Miriel saw any sign of Legolas, and it soon became clear that Legolas would not purposefully come to her, and indeed avoided her whenever possible.
Eomer, Eowyn and Faramir visited Miriel seldom, for they were busy with affairs of Minas Tirith and were making preparations to return to Edoras to bury King Theoden. Gimli walked with Legolas once in a while, but mostly he ordered a group of Dwarves that had come out of the mountains and were forging new gates for the White City made of solid mithril silver. The four Hobbits were still recovering from their wounds, for all of them had been in some way hurt at one time or another during the war, and were rarely seen by anyone. Gandalf was overseeing the repairs to Minas Tirith and giving council in the King's court. King Aragorn was restoring order to Gondor, which was no small task. King Aragorn and Lady Arwen dwelt in perfect bliss, delighting in one another's company and looking to the day of their wedding with joy. They were unaware of the minor happenings of the world, for the most part.
Even Miriel's faithful Rolande did not come, for he assisted Eomer and Eowyn in the plans for the return trip. He had fallen in with the Guards of the City and was kept busy both night and day restoring the city and performing other various tasks. In all the hustle and bustle, Miriel felt utterly forgotten and was left alone.
Unlike the others, Miriel did not have a task to accomplish. She paced the walls and tried to catch a passing glimpse of Legolas by day. She ate very little and lost interest in her surroundings. Even though she was free to come and go as she pleased, Miriel stayed in her tower like a prisoner. Slowly she grew somber and sad.
Miriel tried to be patient and bear her concealed inner hurts bravely, and she told herself these things were temporary and would soon pass, and it would be magic between her and Legolas again. But her heart broke and wept silently within her, for deep down Miriel knew that something was very wrong.
When Legolas did come to Miriel, he never stayed long. Miriel greeted him with a joy that was not returned. Miriel noticed that his eyes were clouded, and a shadow passed over his face when they spoke. Miriel suffered tortured thoughts, wondering if this was her fault, if she had unwittingly hurt him in some way. But no matter how hard she tried she could think of nothing.
Often Legolas would fall silent and gaze into the West. Miriel felt uncomfortable around him and completely sundered from his heart, which was a bitter pain beyond anything Miriel had ever imagined. Legolas would not look her in the eye, and sometimes Miriel had the uneasy feeling that, in his mind, she had ceased to exist.
A long month of agonizing sleepless nights passed in this fashion, and each day was for Miriel as dark as death. At last she could stand it no more.
One bright afternoon, Miriel went down from her chamber and walked the busy streets of Minas Tirith in search of Legolas. She had to talk to him. She needed to know the truth. If she waited any longer, she was certain she would fade away and die.
Miriel looked all through the city until she found him at last, standing with a small company of Elves who were planting a green garden in a barren corner of Minas Tirith. Gimli was sitting on the ground not far away, smoking a pipe and observing the Elves as they worked, but his eyes were glazed over and he seemed bored and disinterested. Perhaps Dwarves were fascinated only by stone and things that glittered in the sun, thought Miriel as she smiled sympathetically down at him.
Legolas glanced up as Miriel approached and bowed rather stiffly, and he did not smile. A faint light of alarm shone in his face when he saw her expression.
"My lady," Legolas muttered, and he dithered a moment more while Miriel waited expectantly and said nothing. Then his blue eyes grew hard and determined, and he excused himself from the Elves and without a glance at Miriel he turned and strode away.
Miriel was caught off guard and for a second she was dumbfounded and speechless. Then she suddenly dashed after him.
"Where are you going?" she cried in a voice shrill with desperation as she ran.
Legolas whirled on her. "Just leave me alone!" snapped Legolas angrily. "Do you think I don't know why you've come?"
Miriel stopped in shock with her mouth open. Tears sprang to her eyes. She felt as if the Elf had just fired an arrow and pierced her through the heart.
Legolas glared at her for an instant more before turning and stalking off toward the stables.
The other Elves ceased working and stared, then glanced at one another as if they could not believe what Legolas had just said. Even Gimli dropped his pipe in surprise. The Dwarf had never seen Legolas behave like that toward anyone.
Legolas stopped at the same moment. Miriel saw his strong back sag and his shoulders droop. There was a long silence, and then Legolas sighed and slowly walked back to a trembling Miriel.
"Forgive me, my lady," he said quietly, and he was somewhat subdued. Miriel noticed that for the first time in many days he looked her steadily in the eye as he spoke.
Miriel nodded and bit her lip, bravely blinking back the hot tears. She did not trust herself to speak.
"I do know why you've come," Legolas continued in the same serious, deadpan tone. "We need to talk, and it is indeed long overdue. I'm going to the stables to saddle the horses. We will ride out together and talk in the shade of the forest."
Again Miriel nodded her consent. Legolas stared at her for a moment with concern before leaving her. She watched him go, and when she was alone she wiped away her tears and took several deep breaths to calm her shattered nerves and regain a measure of courage. Her mind was frozen numb, and she could not think what she might have said or done to provoke such an extreme response from him.
By the time Legolas arrived leading Kaspir and Arod, Miriel was quite composed outwardly, although on the inside Miriel was a boiling turmoil of emotion. Only the pain-filled expression in her eyes betrayed her true feelings. Legolas gave her a swift boost onto her horse and stopped only to press her hand once before he leapt lightly aboard the gray, and they were off.
They cantered slowly through the city until they reached the gate, newly forged by the Dwarves of mithril silver and gleaming blinding white in the afternoon sun. Two guards swung the gate open before the oncoming riders, and without a word to them Miriel and Legolas passed through and immediately spurred their horses into a run.
It was a perfect cloudless day, and normally Legolas and Miriel would have paused to take in the breathtaking beauty of the lands of Gondor, but that day they gave no heed and pushed Kaspir and Arod to their fastest gallop instead. The black and the gray blurred together as they swept over the golden hills, bearing the Princess and the Elf swiftly toward the shadows of the trees. Both riders were of one mind to reach the forest at once, and the horses could not arrive quickly enough to suit them. For Miriel the journey seemed to last an eternity, even though the forest was so close that she could easily see its eaves from the lowest level of Minas Tirith.
At last the dark trees loomed before them, and without hesitation the horses plunged in and did not stop until they were deep inside its heart. Then Legolas pulled up and was on the ground in a single motion, and Miriel was right behind him. Leaving the horses to wander where they would, Legolas took Miriel by the hand and led her to a soft green hill abloom with carpets of snow-white flowers and surrounded by trees of fluorescent green.
The world was alive with color and the sweet music of spring. A single shaft of sunlight shone down upon them through the bright leaves, and from far off somewhere deep in the wood they could hear the gentle voice of a silvery stream gushing and singing freely as it wound its way through the trees. Tiny birds twittered merrily as they flitted among the treetops and sparkled like little blue and red jewels before they vanished from sight. A magnificent hart with huge curved antlers that arched over his graceful back started at Miriel and Legolas's sudden approach. He stood still as stone and stared at them unblinking before he danced away into the shadows.
Here, in this lovely place that at any other time would have stirred Miriel and Legolas both into a peaceful and contented silence, they stopped and faced one another. Legolas gathered Miriel's hands into his own, and looked deeply into her sad gray eyes. Time stood still. The moment of truth had come.
"First I want to apologize for avoiding you, Lady Miriel," Legolas began. "This was a matter I have not wanted to speak of, and dread to do so even now."
Miriel nodded in acknowledgement and waited for him to continue.
"I made you a promise when we parted at Helm's Deep, that when I returned I would never leave you. And it is a promise I mean to keep, no matter what," he added hastily, but a shadow passed over his fair face as he spoke. "But something has happened during the time we were separated that I did not expect, and it has torn my heart in two."
Miriel's eyes widened in horror, and the blood drained from her cheeks. Legolas caught her as she swayed, stricken and pale.
"You- you love another?" she stammered in a voice barely above a whisper.
Legolas's bright blue eyes blazed with a sudden fire.
"Never," he answered vehemently. "I could never love another like I love you, Lady Miriel, whether of the Eldar or of Man-kind."
Miriel recovered from her swoon and frowned in confusion. "Then what is it?" she asked.
Legolas held her, and his glance strayed longingly to the West, but he forced himself to look upon her.
"I have seen the Sea," he replied at last.
Miriel stared at him, not comprehending. "What?"
"We passed by the Sea when we left the Paths of the Dead," repeated Legolas.
Miriel shook her head. She did not understand what the Elf was saying.
"Is that all?" she cried in confusion. "All this... this ridiculous nonsense, simply because you beheld the Sea?"
Legolas swallowed hard and nodded. Miriel breathed in sharply and she felt suddenly like laughing hysterically.
"You've seen the Sea," Miriel repeated, and she could not restrain a wild grin.
"Yes," replied Legolas grimly.
Miriel chuckled, but she was vaguely disturbed. Legolas's odd words did not bring her any comfort, for he was very serious. But none of what Legolas was saying made any sense.
"Well, alright, so you've seen the Sea," said Miriel. She laughed nervously. "Er- what does this mean? I don't understand how the Sea could have affected our relationship. It's a big Sea, but it's not THAT big."
Legolas glanced up at her in surprise. Slowly light dawned in his eyes, and suddenly he smiled at Miriel. He reached up and gently swept Miriel's hair back from her face.
"I keep forgetting that you are not of Elven-kind, Lady Miriel," he said, touching the tips of her rounded ears. "Of course you couldn't possibly know what I'm talking about. Forgive me! I will explain to you now what all this means."
Miriel blew out a tremendous sigh. "I'm just glad it wasn't something I did," responded Miriel in great relief as she and Legolas sat upon the soft grass amid the wildflowers that grew as thick as snowdrifts upon the hill. "I thought you were angry with me."
"Oh, no!" exclaimed Legolas, but he was laughing happily. "Definitely not!"
Miriel's spirits lifted. She felt that there was harmony between them once more, and that all suffering had passed away. Legolas was sitting beside her, laughing with her, one of her hands was safely in his; the sun was shining, and they were talking easier. Whatever difficulties they had yet to face didn't matter. They would tackle any problem together. There was no obstacle they couldn't overcome.
Then Legolas sobered and fell deep into thought. "How can I explain this?" he muttered to himself. Finally he turned to Miriel.
"To understand my predicament, you must first understand something more of the Elves," Legolas began. "My people are forest-dwellers and nature-lovers. We speak to the animals and the trees, and watch them grow and fade away under sun and moon. We are poets, and we sing about everything that is good and beautiful. We are very emotional, and that alone can cause us to make mistakes. Elves are immortal and have no fear of death, for death is not a normal part of our world. We can die of a broken heart, though, or, of course, by the sword. We live our lives in a kind of peaceful contentment and acceptance, and we love Middle-earth. But if, after hundreds or even thousands of years we grow weary of this place, we can take a ship and sail into the West, where there is a far land across the Sea prepared for us, where all my kindred dwell. When we reach the Undying Lands, as they are called, we will be reunited with our friends and family and remain together forevermore in perfect happiness."
Miriel nodded and settled deep into the soft grass as Legolas spoke, his clear voice rising and falling like silver and gold as he described far-off places and the lands of the Elves. For a fleeting moment Miriel found herself wishing she could one day go to Valinor, even though she knew it was impossible because she was a mortal. Miriel already knew most of what Legolas was telling her about the Undying Lands from stories that had been passed down for generations among the townsfolk in Rohan. But Miriel had never heard it told with such eloquence or feeling before, and she was held enchanted and spellbound by the images his words brought to her mind.
"While they remain in the forest, Elves know no better happiness. But buried deep in the soul of every Elf there lies a sleeping desire that is perilous to stir, for once it has awakened it will never be silent. It is a longing for the Sea. The white-capped waves shattering like crystal upon the rocky shore, the gulls crying and wailing mournfully against the golden skies and telling any who will listen about what lies beyond, and the sun sinking like a blazing ball of fire beyond the western horizon is too much for any Elf to endure.
"The Sea calls to us. One single glance at the Sea, and an Elf's heart will never rest in Middle-earth again."
Miriel's eyes had been widening as Legolas spoke, and she sat bolt upright. Legolas stared at her sorrowfully and bowed his head.
"Yes, my lady, you guess correctly. That terrible desire has been stirred." Legolas stared far away into the dark eaves of the forest, searching the gloom with his keen Elven eyes. "I have seen the Sea and it has called my name. My heart in the forest will dwell no more."
Miriel was in shock. She opened her mouth to reply, and nothing came out but a strangled squeak. Tears rushed to her eyes and poured over her cheeks in tiny waterfalls. Miriel struggled to maintain herself, but she couldn't breathe. Suddenly she fell forward amid the white flowers in a dead faint.
If you're in a great hurry to know what happens next, you don't have to wait. The entire 30-chapter ebook entitled Miriel: Princess of Rohan can be downloaded at www(dot)talesofmiddleearth(dot)com.
Chapter One: A QUIET EVENING
Chapter Two: RED SUNSET
Chapter Three: THE GLITTERING CAVES OF AGLAROND
Chapter Four: THE BATTLE OF HELM'S DEEP
Chapter Five: FATE'S ARROW
Chapter Six: LEGOLAS
Chapter Seven: ON THE CAUSEWAY
Chapter Eight: A RING AND A PROMISE
Chapter Nine: ROLANDE
Chapter Ten: TROUBLED HEARTS
Chapter Eleven: THE PELENNOR FIELDS
Chapter Twelve: THREE DAYS OF DARKNESS
Chapter Thirteen: THE ROAD TO MINAS TIRITH
Chapter Fourteen: TALES IN THE CITADEL
Chapter Fifteen: EOWYN
Chapter Sixteen: THE CORONATION