The Greenwood Tales: Part 5 - Painful Partings
Suddenly, Elven sentries stepped out from the woods and surrounded them in a ring of arrows, mistrustful expressions on their faces.
"Manke naa lle autien? Mankoi naa lle sinome?" the first guard demanded. (Where are you going? Why are you here?)
"Rúmil," Haldir hailed him, his eyes fixed upon the Elf. "Do you not recognize me? I return from Greenwood, with the Sindarin folk of that forest."
Immediately, Rúmil lowered his bow. "Amin naa lle nai, King Thranduil," he said, bowing respectfully. (I am yours to command, King Thranduil.) "I forgot that the Lady Galadriel sent my brother forth to warn you of the Balrog's awakening in Hadhodrond. An lema?" (Long journey?)
"Long and arduous," Thranduil answered. "The path through Greenwood is dangerous these days, and we were ambushed by Orcs of the Ered Mithrin twice. My wife gave birth to her child just before such an attack befell us. My people are weary and starved. We can run no further."
Rúmil's eyes flicked to the child Haldir held. "That is your son, I presume?"
"Yes," Thranduil replied, suddenly feeling as if his legs would no longer support him. He would have fallen to the ground if Orophin had not darted in and caught him. "We must speak with the Lady."
As they made their way deeper into Lórien, toward the city of Caras Galadon, they came across a fair Elven-maid sitting by a river, nearly hidden by a tree, and singing a sweet song. Although the music was extraordinarily fine, in Thranduil's mind it could not compare to the songs of Elaimar.
"I beg your leave, Nimrodel," Rúmil said. "I did not mean to disturb you."
"You are forgiven," Nimrodel replied in a voice as sweet and clear at the river she sat beside, but touched with sorrow. "It is the last time I will sit beside these waters, for I am to leave Lórien now that the Shadow is awake in Hadhodrond. I cannot be safe any longer."
Rúmil nodded graciously and continued to hurry the Elves closer to Caras Galadon.
At last the city, surrounded in mellyrn and composed of telain high in the magnificent trees, came into sight. Rúmil, since he was the only of the three brothers - himself, Haldir, and Orophin - on guard duty, led them up a flight of white steps and spoke quietly to another sentry. After a moment, the Elf nodded, stood aside, and showed them the passage into the chamber.
Inside, the Lord and Lady of the Golden Wood, Celeborn and Galadriel, stood waiting, clothed in flowing white, their faces coolly expressionless. Galadriel's river of golden hair flowed down her back, while Celeborn's blond-silver hair was neatly tied back.
All of the Elves graciously bowed to the rulers of Lórien. Celeborn acknowledged them with a regal nod, while Galadriel gave them a grave and searching glance. Her eyes immediately went to the child Haldir still carried, and understanding lit her deep eyes.
"Welcome, all folk of the Great Greenwood," she said, her voice commanding and clear. "You come seeking refuge in Lórien, and I will give it, as well as I may, but no magic or power will keep the Balrog from moving freely in Hadhodrond. Eventually, you will have to return to your own realm and face the evil alone, both the Balrog and the Orcs of the Ered Mithrin."
Elaimar looked unnaturally pale, and she was clinging to Thranduil tightly, as if afraid she might lose him if she let go.
"Know this," Galadriel added in a sinister tone. "If the Balrog has awakened, then it means the old, despicable sorcery of Morgoth is once more roused in the world, and with it the power of his servant, the Maia Sauron. Darkness will come."
Many of the Elves exchanged uneasy glances.
Elaimar bit her lip again, her entire body feeling weak in Thranduil's arms, as if flesh and muscle had just been transformed to water.
"What is the matter, a'maelamin?" he whispered to her. (What is the matter, my beloved?)
"Morgoth killed my parents," Elaimar whispered. She shuddered convulsively. "I saw what horrible things he did to them - their eyes gouged out, their bodies covered in blood, their bones shattered. And then he chased us, chased my people into the woods as he rode on a wolf. I remember the terror - hiding in the forest, knowing he was closely passing by - knowing my death was so close - " She shuddered again. "I could not live through such terror again, Thranduil! I would die first! And the fact that one of his Balrogs still lives and is awake in Hadhodrond - it is evil tidings to my ears!"
"The Balrog has slaughtered a Dwarf-king, one of Durin's line," Galadriel said. "The Naugrimi now live in great fear, but have not yet abandoned their halls. If the Balrog can find a way, it will free itself from the prison of Hadhodrond."
Elaimar slumped against Thranduil's chest, her eyes closed, her lips quivering. He put his arms around her and held her tightly.
Haldir gave the child to Elaimar. The Elvenqueen cradled her son, kissing him on his downy head. Tears filled her eyes as she looked at the little baby. The prince looked up at her, confusion in his blue eyes to see his mother gazing at him so.
"What is to be the child's name?" Galadriel asked.
Elaimar and Thranduil exchanged glances. They had not thought of this.
At last, Thranduil answered.
"Legolas," he said, "for his home."
Galadriel smiled faintly, walked over to Elaimar, and held out her arms. The Elvenqueen slowly gave her son to the Lady, as if reluctant to part with a great treasure. Galadriel smiled at the infant, who was gazing up at her curiously.
She touched her ring, Nenya, the Ring of Adamant, to the baby's forehead. "So be it, little one. You are named Legolas Greenleaf."
She gave Legolas back to his mother, who held him tightly against her chest, tears streaking her face.
Suddenly, Legolas began to cry, something no one had anticipated. Elaimar smiled apologetically, gazing down at the squirming, squalling baby in her arms. "I suppose he's hungry."
She vanished to a secluded corner to nurse her child, while the conversation continued behind her.
For at least two hours, Celeborn and Galadriel thoroughly questioned the weary Elves of Greenwood and Haldir, wanting to know exactly what transpired from the moment they received Haldir's message to the moment they arrived in Caras Galadon. When she returned, Elaimar aided the Elves in their answers, providing such information as only she knew. As she spoke, she held Legolas tightly, never letting him go.
"What about him?' Thranduil said, gesturing to Aladain's body, lying serenely on the ground, his sunlight hair spread about his head like a crown. "Can you yet revive him?"
"If the soul remains with the body, then perhaps I might," Galadriel answered, stroking the smooth mithril of her ring. "If not, then there is no hope for your friend."
Haldir spoke up. "Thranduil took Aladain's soul into himself."
A smile lifted Galadriel's high cheekbones. "Then perhaps hope remains. Release him, Thranduil."
Thranduil was reluctant, could not find it in his heart to do so. Whether or not Aladain was returned to the world of the living, he would never be so utterly close to his friend again, have their motions and thoughts made as one interconnected being. But he could feel Aladain, straining to be released, loath to be separated from him, but zealous to return to the world of the living.
At last, Thranduil let go. He could feel Aladain streaming from him, entering his old form again, becoming physical from spiritual. He wanted to cry for the new emptiness in his chest. Aladain had filled him, embraced him, made him warm and vibrant, somehow alive as he had never been. To let him go was terrible.
Sensing her love's pain, Elaimar slid her hand into his and rested her head on his shoulder. "It will not be so bad if he walks again among the races of Edan, Quessir, and Naugrim."
As they watched, Galadriel raised the hand bearing Nenya and said, "Awake, Aladain Treechild. Entula tuulo' i'ba, Mith'quessir, Sindarin Elf of Greenwood. Walk again in the world of the living, forsake death for life. Come back to the mortal world from the spiritual. Come, awake. Entula tuulo' i'ba." (Entula tuulo' i'ba is a resurrection spell.)
The gaping wound in Aladain's chest closed. He seemed to be sleeping still, but as if he might awake at any moment, rather than a dreamless slumber that would never end. Thranduil was certain his eyes moved beneath closed lids.
"Aladain?' he whispered, his heart bursting with joy, grief, and restrained hope.
Galadriel smiled. "He lives once more, Thranduil Greenleaf."
Thranduil ran to his friend's side and seized his hand. It was warm and living in his grasp, the fingers moving to close around the Elvenking's. Suddenly, with an abruptness that startled them all, Aladain sat up and looked around.
"How did I come to be in Lórien?" he murmured. "Why have I slept for so long without waking?"
"You - you were dead," Thranduil said, trying to control the quaver in his voice. "You had passed into the Shadow. Galadriel, and the magic of the Ring of Adamant, Nenya, restored you to life."
Aladain rose gracefully to his feet and bowed before Galadriel, using Thranduil's arm to steady himself, as he was not yet entirely recovered.
At last, Celeborn and Galadriel dismissed their guests, letting them find rest in a talan or sleep upon the ground.
A tall Elf with Galadriel's long flaxen hair came to aid Elaimar with the baby. Her eyes were like Celeborn's, her skin fair and pale. She was obviously their daughter, but seemed much younger than her solemn, grave parents.
"I am Celebrían, Princess of Lórien and daughter of the Lord and Lady of the Golden Wood," she said, inclining her head slightly to the Queen of Greenwood. Taking Legolas in her arms and beginning to rock him to sleep so that Elaimar could rest, she continued, "I am home to Lórien for now. Oftentimes I ride abroad, to Imladris perhaps, or down south to the realm of Men, Gondor."
"I have seen Imladris once, long ago," Elaimar murmured sleepily, comforted by the sound of her son's soft breathing. "It is a fair realm of our kindred."
"Yes," Celebrían agreed, her voice seeming very far away as she continued to rock Legolas. "I agree."
Then the soft shroud of sleep descended gently on Elaimar, and the Elvenqueen remembered no more of Celebrían's words to her.
The morning dawned slightly overcast, with a foul reek to the air that none of the Elves could quite place. It rode on the wind, spun through the trees. If you breathed it long enough, it would make you feel slightly nauseated, make you unsure of where your feet happened to be at the moment.
"The stench of the Balrog," Galadriel said, her eyes closed in concentration. "It grows hungry, hungry for more tender Naugrim-flesh. The Dwarves had best be on their guard."
Since she had awoken, Elaimar had cradled Legolas close, only letting him go for Thranduil to hold him, and then only for a short time. She seemed genuinely afraid to lose sight of the babe. He was wearing a soft robe of white linen, with a blanket to keep him warm. It was woven from the stuff the Elves used to make their magical cloaks.
"Why do you seem so worried?" Thranduil asked, putting his hand on her shoulder and kissing her eyelids. "The Balrog might be awakened, my love, but our son is born! We can return to Greenwood and live in happiness, if not peace."
Elaimar set Legolas gently down on the grass and turned to Thranduil, her gray eyes swimming in tears. "Thranduil, I cannot live knowing this evil stirs, so close, devouring the Naugrimi, searching a way to escape, always, coming nearer, so close to taking me! An evil of Morgoth, of Melkor - I will never forget that terror, that dreadful terror!" Shaking and crying, she flung herself into his arms and pressed her head against his chest, her slender body racked with sobs. He found no words could come to him to ease her sorrow, so he held her and rocked her back and forth.
At last, she looked at him, her gray eyes rainy, imploring. She put her hand to his cheek and stroked it, then flung her arms around him again. He could feel her trembling.
"Thranduil, I cannot bear it, cannot live. I - I am afraid to live!"
"No!" Thranduil said. "Speak not such evil words when we are together and our realm is not destroyed, nor the lives of our people. Aladain lives again, my love! Our son is a fine child. How come you to grieve so deeply?" He kissed her hair, which smelled faintly of violets, and gathered her closer to him. "A'maelamin, why is it that the Balrog threatens you so?"
Elaimar tried to say the words on her lips, knowing how much they would hurt Thranduil. How could she do this to him, how could she harm him so?
Thranduil gazed into her eyes, misreading the expression in them for confusion. "You are powerful in magic, Elaimar, as adept of any of your kind, the Laiquendi. Surely you will find the way."
"No," Elaimar whispered, tears flowing down her cheeks.
Legolas, left lying on the soft grass of Caras Galadon, began to cry plaintively, holding out his small arms to be picked up. Celebrían came over, cuddled the infant against her shoulder, murmuring words of comfort as she carried him away from his parents. Slowly, the baby Elf's sobs quieted as Celebrían cooed to him and sang him a lullaby.
"I cannot live here," Elaimar continued, looking up at Thranduil, holding him tightly. "Nor can I live in Greenwood, Imladris, or any other refuge of our people, the Eldar. Not with the Balrog near, awake, hungry. The terror burns too brightly in my mind. Before I came to Ossiriand - the terrible fear I lived with before Gil-galad offered me shelter- "
She broke down into sobs again, unable to hold back the flowing well of tears within her. Thranduil held her closer, kissing her and murmuring words of soothing, of condolence.
"I must leave," Elaimar said. "I will have no peace until I sail over the Sea, to Eressëa, Elvenhome. Only the Undying Lands will grant me solace from this terrible evil."
"Elaimar, NO!" Thranduil cried, feeling as if a sword had just torn his heart from his body. "How can you leave me, a'maelamin, knowing what my fate is to be? How can you leave our son, our only child, our people, our realm? How can you leave me?"
"I cannot," Elaimar wailed, a fresh wave of tears taking her, "but should I stay, the Balrog will kill me. This I know. My death is a certainty should I remain here."
"No!" Thranduil cried wildly, grasping both her shoulders and almost bodily shaking her. "No! I will protect you - Aladain and the guards will see that no harm shall come to you - Elaimar - " For some reason completely unknown to him, he broke into hysterical laughter, rocking back and forth on his feet.
"She is right," a voice said from behind them.
Galadriel glided into the glade, robed in white, Nenya shining like a star on her finger. "Your wife speaks true words, Elvenking of Greenwood. Morgoth still hates the Laiquendi fiercely, even though he is trapped in the Void. He will do anything to slaughter them, for they alone remained untroubled by his web of lies, deceit, and murder. He will kill them for that. He will see to it that the Balrog - alone of his faithful servants in Middle-earth - brings Elaimar to a painful end."
Thranduil held his wife closer, as if by his love alone he would stave off the dreadful fate that would befall her. Stroking her hair, he gazed despairingly into her eyes. "I should have known our love would end in strife. The Laiquendi and the Sindar were not meant to be together."
"And yet you have had many days of joy, and a child to prove your love," Galadriel said softly. Her eyes flickered to Celebrían and Legolas, who were sitting some way away. "The young prince is a symbol of hope to all of the Eldar. Perhaps not all will be shrouded in eternal blackness. "
Turning, she addressed Elaimar gently. "I, too, have known the love of a man, and how painful it is to leave him, even for a short while. I have known the pain of bearing a child. I have known what it is like to love her deeply. I have known the pain of being parted from that child, to let her go and letting her pursue her own path in the world. I understand all your grief, and it brings sorrow to my heart for its familiarity to me. I know your anguish, Elvenqueen of Greenwood."
She placed a kind hand on Elaimar's shoulder. "But even love cannot hold off the night. You are right. The Balrog will take you if you remain in Middle-earth."
"I should go," Elaimar whispered, choking back another wave of tears that threatened to overtake her. "I should cross the Sea."
"If you wish to live, yes," Galadriel said.
At Thranduil's icy stare, she continued. "I understand your pain at being parted from her, Thranduil, but she will die if she remains in Middle-earth. Would you keep your love here only to lose her? If you let her go, you will have the peace of mind that she still lives - and that you will see her when you pass over the Sea yourself. To her, it will seem but a moment. A long, painful moment, it is true, but a moment nonetheless. You must let her go, Thranduil."
Thranduil bit back painful, stinging tears. "I hear the truth in your words, Lady Galadriel, but how can I bear to be parted from my sweet Elaimar?"
"You must find it in you," Galadriel answered simply.
That night, as Thranduil lay sleeping on a talan high in Caras Galadon, Elaimar rose from his side and cast a hooded cloak of gray over her lovely face, hiding it, obscuring it from anyone who might happen to see her. She kissed Legolas tenderly, holding his small hand against her face, drinking in the sight of her son, then gently laid him in his father's arms.
Bending down, she kissed Thranduil, letting her lips flutter across his, wishing that Morgoth had never existed, that the Valar had never permitted him into Eä. She brushed a long strand of golden hair from his face, stroked his cheek, and kissed him again, choking on her tears. She slipped beneath his elbow a folded piece of parchment.
"Amin mela lle," she whispered. (I love you.) "I will see you again. Perhaps one day you will understand why I had to leave now, how I could not possibly bear our parting otherwise. Oh, amin hiraetha, a'maelamin." (Oh, I am sorry, my beloved.) She kissed him again.
He did not wake. Holding tight to his hand, she squeezed it gently, then rose, blinded by her tears, choking. She hurried from the talan and down a light flight of steps, far down, out of Caras Galadon, out of Lórien.
By the time the Sun rose, she would be at the Grey Havens.
Unable to see for the rivers of tears flowing down her face, Elaimar gave all speed to her steps, casting an enchantment to lend haste to her steps. Each stride she took sent her twenty times the normal distance it would have taken. She bounded across the land, her long river of hair hidden by the cloak.
At dawn, just as she had predicted, the Havens came into sight, a gray ship bobbing on the water as if it had been waiting for her. Círdan the Shipwright, an Elf-lord of great power, wielder of the Ring of Fire, Narya, was waiting for her, a sad expression on his face.
"So you seek passage over the Sea to Eressëa, Queen Elaimar."
Elaimar did not ask how he knew her name.
"Yes," she said, swallowing another sob before it could erupt from her throat. "I - I must go. The swiftest ship you have wrought, Círdan Shipwright."
The Elf led her to a sleek gray ship, moored to the dock with ropes of hithlain. "She is called the Haerast, and will guide you swiftly to the farthest shore, as her name promises. Step aboard now, quickly. The sun is about to rise."
Elaimar stepped on board the Haerast, her heart choking with pain, and watched as Círdan cast the ropes off, gathering them to the pier. Haerast's full sails bulged with wind, and she cut swiftly out to sea, leaving a wake of white foam behind her.
Elaimar saw Círdan watching her sadly, tears sliding down his cheeks, until it seemed to her that the horizon tore, revealing a green country fair beyond all others, in the midst of the sea. The sweet voices of the Lost Isle called to her, beckoning her to them, and the Haerast went swiftly to meet them, carrying the Elvenqueen of Greenwood toward Eressëa, Elvenhome of her people.
A warm head nuzzling against him woke Thranduil. He slowly opened his eyes and looked into the sapphire eyes of his son, staring at him. The little prince looked quite happy; a smile was on his face and a twinkle in his eye. He pawed at Thranduil's chest.
He sat bolt upright, holding his son against him, looking around, his worst fear choking his throat. Elaimar was nowhere to be seen. Her place beside him had been neatly made, her cloak and hood gone.
Ignoring the small whimpers of his hungry son, Thranduil raced to the edge of the talan and looked down. He looked across the other talans, filled with his sleeping people, and down.
Elaimar was gone.
The grief very nearly undid Thranduil. He sank to his knees, trying to hold the tears back, but the pain inside of him was too great. He broke into silent tears, shaking convulsively, deep sobs ripping from his very soul. His hair fell forward across his face, his entire body shaking.
Legolas gave a whimper, and looked up at his father, confusion and nervousness in his baby glance. Upset by his parent's grief, the infant began to cry as well.
At that moment, Galadriel appeared from nowhere. Without saying a word, she watched the grieving Elvenking with tears in her eyes. A white robe was draped about her, but a black hood was pulled over her face.
Celebrían stood next to her, her face averted to hide her own tears. Slowly, she walked over and slid the crying Legolas from his father's grasp. She tried to comfort him, singing a soft song in Sindarin and rocking him, but the baby refused to be soothed.
Galadriel walked over to Thranduil and laid her hand on his shoulder. "You knew you would have to part with her. I wish I could find comforting words for you, but none will ease your grief, except perhaps this thought - you will see her again, one day, in Eressëa."
Thranduil could say nothing.
Galadriel sighed and turned back to her daughter and the crying baby she held. "Such is the pain of all who love - whether mortal or Elvenkind, eventually they must lose what they hold most dear."
Celebrían blinked away the tears in her own eyes, stroking Legolas's smooth cheek. "Shh, little one. Shh."
At last, Thranduil could cry no more, and sank forward, his head on his knees, spent by his tears. His entire body shook with his silent grief. As his father ceased weeping, so did Legolas, staring up at Celebrían as if he was not sure what had just happened.
Silently, the Elven woman gave the baby back to his father. She touched Thranduil's shoulder briefly. "I am sorry for your loss."
Turning, the two women went back into the city of Caras Galadon.
Thranduil cradled his son, staring down at the little one's face, afraid to lose him, the only person left in the world that he loved. Stroking the baby's cheek, he drank in the sight of little Legolas, lying in the crook of his arm, smiling sweetly up at him, his small hands reaching up to brush his father's face.
At that moment, Aladain climbed over the edge of the talan, panting with the mild exertion. Being dead for a while had sapped his physical strength, and he was working hard to regain it. Seeing Thranduil bent over Legolas, he knew.
"She left, did she not?" he said quietly.
Thranduil nodded mutely, did not take his eyes from Legolas.
Aladain crossed the talan gracefully. Only he knew how hard this parting was for Thranduil. He placed a hand on his friend's shoulder, squeezed tightly.
"You have your son, my friend," he said gently.
"Yes," Thranduil repeated, clinging desperately onto the word, as a drowning man seizes a raft to save himself from the rushing water. "Yes. My son. My son. Prince Legolas."
Aladain knelt beside Thranduil and put his arm around him. "I know how hard this is, Thranduil."
Suddenly, blue fire flashed from Thranduil's eyes. "How dare you imply that you know what it is like for me! How dare you presume that you know the innermost workings of my heart, think that you know how utterly flooded with pain they are, until I fear they might stop entirely?"
Aladain nodded. "You are right, my friend, my king. I know nothing of your heart, but perhaps only a small bit."
Thranduil suddenly sagged against Aladain, the Elf-captain's strong arms the only thing keeping him upright. "Oh, my friend, my friend, I am sorry, I am sorry to speak to you such. I mean nothing against you, but my heart - it burns, it throbs, and I fear the painful wound may never heal, instead aching for all the eternities of my life."
He saw the piece of parchment lying near, and took it up.
My dearest Thranduil
Words cannot explain how painful this parting is, how it tears my soul into a thousand pieces that I will never be able to pick up. I would have stayed in Middle-earth to die if it were not for you, my love. I could not bring myself to succumb to mortal death, to bring such pain upon you as could never be mended. I am sorry. By the time that you read this, I will be safe for all eternities in Eressëa, awaiting your coming. Take good care of our son, our treasure. I adore you with all my heart and soul, and I always shall.
With all my love,
Thranduil read the letter again, set it gently aside, and then stared numbly into the western horizon.