The Company took to the road again as they left the dell behind. They had not traveled far when the sun sank behind the mountains to the west, and shadows crept along the path to meet them. Their feet soon became hidden in the gloaming, as mist crept through the valley. Pale stars began to adorn the evening sky, their bright rays veiled by the waning light that prevailed to the east, where dim woods and plains began to fade from sight. Frodo and Sam, feeling much more eased and refreshed after Aragorn’s ministrations, followed behind.
Aragorn led them on for another three hours. Coralie struggled to keep up with him. Often he would turn to check on her, but at those times she always managed to appear physically able, and would nod affirmatively that she was alright with the pace. Legolas not far behind, however, noticed every misplaced step. At times he took her elbow to steady her. She spoke little and he was aware that her breathing seemed labored to his ears. He knew she was putting up a brave front and wondered how long she could keep this up. Her stumblings were coming more frequently now, and Legolas reasoned that she would not complain, no matter how poorly she was faring.
“She cannot continue at this pace much longer,” thought Legolas. “But how do I get Coralie to consent to allowing me to carry her, if only for a little?” he mused. Rehearsing various lines in his head in order to persuade her, he then rejected each one summarily, knowing full well what her reply would be. “She is much too proud to admit defeat, and how does one inform her that the battle is not hers alone?” he sighed as he gazed upon her bowed form in front. With steely resolve, he determined that if she faltered one more time, he would pick her up in spite of all her protestations to the contrary.
A profound darkness had swept over the sky, wrapping the evening securely overhead. Gimli held the rear with Frodo.
“Not a sound but the wind,” he said. “There are no goblins near, or my ears are made of wood. It is to be hoped that the Orcs will be content with driving us from Moria. And maybe that was all their purpose, and they had nothing else to do with us – with the Ring. Though Orcs will often pursue foes for many leagues into the plain, if they have a fallen captain to avenge.”
Making no answer, Frodo looked at Sting, but the blade did not reply in kind. No gleam was to be seen along its edge. But he knew that something else was on the road with them. As soon as the shadows of night had fallen, he thought he could hear the cautious patter of hurried feet behind. Turning swiftly, he espied two gleaming eyes that vanished abruptly into the dark.
“What is it?” asked the dwarf.
“I don’t know,” answered Frodo. “I thought I heard feet, and I thought I saw a light – like eyes. I have thought so often, since we first entered Moria.”
Stooping downwards and placing an ear to the ground, Gimli halted for a moment.
“I hear nothing but the night-speech of plant and stone,” he said. “Come! Let us hurry! The others are out of sight.”
With every single step, Coralie’s arm reminded her of the injury. She gritted her teeth against the pain, blinded by her resolve not to slow them down. She could hear the labour of her heart pounding away in her ears. Doggedly she kept up the pace, making sure that Aragorn would see no sign of weakness in her. The black voice had finally silenced itself in her head, but his malice echoed resolutely within her heart. Grief and guilt yawned as a great chasm, and with each step she took, its dizzying thrall threatened to swallow the very life out of her.
“I must keep going,” she thought. “I only have to keep this up until we find shelter. I can’t slow them down anymore. No one else must die on account of me. Oh Gandalf! I’m so sorry. Please forgive me…. It’s all my fault….” Her thoughts rambled and wove their way along this remorseful path in a tangle of sorrow and regret. She could still hear the echoes of her accuser, and followed after, unable to extract the thorns embedded in her soul.
Presently, they came upon the grey shadows of a great wood, its leaves murmuring in the chill wind that blew up the valley behind them.
“LothlÃ³rien!” cried Legolas. “LothlÃ³rien! We have come to the eaves of the Golden Wood. Alas that it is winter!”
The tall grey forms of the trees arched overhead, with trembling soft golden leaves dimly reflecting the clear stars from the night sky above.
“LothlÃ³rien!” said Aragorn. “Glad I am to hear again the wind in the trees! We are still more than five leagues from the Gates, but we can go no further. Here let us hope that the virtue of the Elves will keep us tonight from the peril that comes behind.”
“If Elves indeed still dwell here in the darkening world,” said Gimli.
“It is long since any of my own folk journeyed hither back to the land whence we wandered in ages long ago,” said Legolas, “but we hear that LÃ³rien is not yet deserted, for there is a secret power here that holds evil from the land. Nevertheless its folk are seldom seen, and maybe they dwell now deep in the woods far from the northern border.”
“Indeed deep in the wood they dwell,” said Aragorn, and sighed as if some memory stirred in him. “We will go forward a short way, until the trees are all about us, and then we will turn aside from the path and seek a place to rest in.”
Stepping forward, Boromir barred his path.
“Is there no other way?” he said.
“What other fairer way would you desire?” said Aragorn.
“A plain road, though it led through a hedge of swords,” said Boromir.
Coralie sighed and leaned against Legolas as he stood behind her. She felt too sick and weary for this argument. Legolas looked down at her head resting against his chest.
“Well, this is a new thing,” he thought, “Or perhaps not,” his memory rekindled as in his mind’s eye he saw the sleepy head that had fallen softly, onto his shoulder in the Mines of Moria. A smile played briefly around the corners of his mouth and he placed a tender hand upon her hair. She felt quite hot to his touch, and would have made more of it, but for the argument that Boromir persisted in following.
“By strange paths has this Company been led, and so far to evil fortune. Against my will we passed under the shades of Moria, to our loss. And now we must enter the Golden Wood, you say. But of that perilous land we have heard in Gondor, and it is said that few come out who once go in; and of that few none have escaped unscathed.”
“Say not unscathed, but if you say unchanged, then maybe you will speak the truth,” said Aragorn. “But lore wanes in Gondor, Boromir, if in the city of those who once were wise they now speak evil of LothlÃ³rien. Believe what you will, there is no other way for us – unless you would go back to Moria-gate, or scale pathless mountains, or swim the Great River alone.”
“Then lead on!” said Boromir. “But it is perilous.”
“Perilous indeed,” said Aragorn, “fair and perilous; but only evil need fear it, or those who bring some evil with them. Follow me!”
Once again, Coralie picked up her weary feet and trod the path behind Aragorn. A nameless fear dogged her every step, gnawing behind her eyes with the loudly growing drumbeat of her heart. She rubbed at her temple, trying to ease the growing tension hammering away at the nail she felt sure was being driven into her forehead. Still she did not grumble aloud, but kept the secret of her pain within the confines of her aching heart.
Even in the dark of night, Legolas could see the drawn movements of Coralie ahead.
“We must stop soon. I fear that something is greatly amiss and that Aragorn and I have overlooked her distress long enough,” he thought. Almost, he was about to catch her up in his arms and carry her the rest of the short mile they traveled, when they came suddenly upon a small stream, flowing swiftly over a rocky waterfall to their right. The whirling eddies of the current, washed over the path ahead of them, joining with the Silverlode to meander lazily in deep pools, under the trees that hung over the riverbanks, as it fell away.
“Here is Nimrodel!” said Legolas. “Of this stream the Silvan Elves made many songs long ago, and still we sing them in the North, remembering the rainbow on its falls, and the golden flowers that floated in its foam. All is dark now and the Bridge on Nimrodel is broken down. Come! Let us bathe our feet, for it is said that the water is healing to the weary.” Taking Coralie’s hand, he led her to the riverbank’s edge and knelt before her.
“Sit for a moment, for I know you are tired.” Kneeling, he unlaced her shoes and took them off her feet, along with her socks, and rolled up her jeans above her knees. After tying the laces of her shoes to his belt, he climbed down the deep cloven bank and stepped into the stream. Legolas turned to Coralie who stood upon the bank unsteadily, and held up his arms towards her.
“Come! The water is not deep. Let us wade across! On the further bank we can rest, and the sound of the falling water may bring us sleep and forgetfulness of grief.”
Aragorn steadied Coralie as she leaned forward to fall into Legolas’ embrace. She barely had the strength to stand, let alone wade across some swirling stream in the dark. The rush of cold water about her feet sent a small shock through her. Legolas drew her across the water, upholding her with one arm as his other held her waist. He could feel her trembling, but whether from cold or something else he could not discern.
The others followed after. Frodo stood in the shallows for a moment and let the clean water wash over his tired feet. Cold but with a clean touch, the water washed the weary stain of travel from his tired limbs as it mounted to his knees.
They rested on the other side when they had all crossed over. Sam opened up some rations and passed them around. Coralie looked at her portion and knew that she would not be able to keep it down. She still had no appetite, and feeling much worse for wear, passed it on to Pippin who accepted it gratefully.
As they ate, Legolas told them tales that the Elves of Mirkwood kept in their hearts of LothlÃ³rien, of starlight and sunlight upon the meadows by the Great River before the world was grey.
Coralie drank in the sound of his voice as it fell upon the waters of the stream that flowed merrily by. For a moment, all was quiet and well within her. The other voice had not returned since they entered the wood. Still her body was betraying this brief respite from torment, and she sagged into the grassy bank, filled with pain and illness.
“Do you hear the voice of Nimrodel?” asked Legolas. “I will sing you a song of the maiden Nimrodel, who bore the same name as the stream beside which she lived long ago. It is a fair song in our woodland tongue; but this is how it runs in the Westron Speech, as some in Rivendell now sing it.” Softly, he began, his voice barely heard above the rustle of the leaves;
An Elvin-maid there was of old,
A shining star by day:
Her mantle white was hemmed with gold,
Her shoes of silver-grey.
A star was bound upon her brows,
A light was on her hair
As sun upon the golden boughs
In LÃ³rien the fair.
Her hair was long, her limbs were white,
And fair she was and free;
And in the wind she went as light
As leaf of linden-tree.
Beside the falls of Nimrodel,
By water clear and cool,
Her voice as falling silver fell
Into the shining pool.
Where now she wanders none can tell,
In sunlight or in shade;
For lost of yore was Nimrodel
And in the mountains strayed
The elven-ship in haven grey
Beneath the mountain-lee
Awaited her for many a day
Beside the roaring sea.
A wind by night in Northern lands
Arose, and loud it cried,
And drove the ship from elven-strands
Across the streaming tide.
When dawn came dim the land was lost,
The mountains sinking grey
Beyond the heaving waves that tossed
Their plumes of blinding spray.
Amroth beheld the fading shore
Now low beyond the swell,
And cursed the faithless ship that bore
Him far from Nimrodel.
Of old he was an Elven-king,
A lord of tree and glen,
When golden were the boughs in spring
In fair LothlÃ³rien.
From helm to sea they saw him leap,
As arrow from the string,
And dive into the water deep,
As mew upon the wing.
The wind was in his flowing hair,
The foam about him shone;
Afar they saw him strong and fair
Go riding like a swan.
But from the West has come no word,
And on the Hither Shore
No tidings Elven-folk have heard
Of Amroth evermore.
His voice faltered as the song ended. “I cannot sing anymore,” he said. “That is but a part, for I have forgotten much. It is long and sad, for it tells how sorrow came upon LothlÃ³rien, LÃ³rien of the Blossom, when the Dwarves awakened evil in the mountains.”
“But the Dwarves did not make the evil,” said Gimli.
“I said not so; yet evil came,” answered Legolas sadly. “Then many of the Elves of Nimrodel’s kindred left their dwellings and departed, and she was lost far in the South, in the passes of the White Mountains; and she came not to the Ship where Amroth her lover waited for her. But in the spring when the wind is new in the leaves the echo of her voice may still be heard by the falls that bear her name. And when the wind is in the South the voice of Amroth comes up from the sea; for Nimrodel flows into Silverlode, that the Elves call Celebrant, and Celebrant into Anduin the Great, and Anduin flows into the Bay of Belfalas whence the Elves of LÃ³rien set sail. But neither Nimrodel nor Amroth ever came back. It is told that she had a house built in the branches of a tree that grew near the falls; for that was the custom of the Elves of LÃ³rien, to dwell in trees, and maybe it is so still. Therefore they were called the Galadrim, the Tree-people. Deep in their forest the trees are very great. The people of the woods did not delve in the ground like Dwarves, nor build strong places of stone before the Shadow came.”
“And even in these latter days dwelling in the trees might be thought safer than sitting on the ground,” said Gimli, looking back across the stream to the road by which they had come.
“Your words bring good counsel, Gimli,” said Aragorn. “We cannot build a house, but tonight we will do as the Galadrim and seek refuge in the tree-tops, if we can. We have sat here beside the road already longer than was wise.”
Legolas walked over to Coralie, who had sunk into the deep grass of the riverbank from great weariness of body and spirit. His hand wandered apprehensively to his knife as he approached. For a moment, he thought that he saw a nebulous shadow fall upon her form as she lay there, unawares. But the hobbits sat on either side and if anyone or anything had approached, they would surely give the alarm. Pippin was vainly trying to engage Coralie in a brief conversation, about whether The Beatles had ever made a song about Nimrodel as the Elves had done. Legolas smiled at his persistence. “Coralie would say that the hobbits were `hooked’ on The Beatles,” he thought, as he recalled an expression she had used on the path regarding their insistence on playing their tunes over and over again. “Must have been a trick of the light and nothing more,” he reasoned to himself seeing nothing amiss. He sank to one knee in front of her.
“Lady, we have decided that we should take shelter in the trees, a little further in the forest.”
She looked up at him with an expression that clearly told him she could go no farther that night, and as for climbing a tree? …… That would be completely out of the question.
He took her hand and drew her slowly up, steadying her as she wavered.
“I know that you are exhausted, Coralie. Trust me. We have not far to go, and I myself, will bear you up into the tree. You will not have to climb.” He smiled a little as he said this trying to encourage her.
Turning aside from the path, the Company walked a little deeper into the shadow of the woods. They found a cluster of trees not far from the falls of Nimrodel with some of the boughs of the great trees overhanging the water.
“I will climb up,” said Legolas. “I am at home among trees, by root or bough, though these trees are of a kind strange to me, save as a name in song. Mellyrn they are called, and are those that bear the yellow blossom, but I have never climbed in one. I will see now what is their shape and way of growth.”
“Whatever it may be,” said Pippin, “they will be marvelous trees indeed if they can offer any rest at night, except to birds. I cannot sleep on a perch!”
“Then dig a hole in the ground,” said Legolas, “if that is more after the fashion of your kind. But you must dig swift and deep, if you wish to hide from Orcs.” Springing lightly from the ground, he caught a branch that grew high above his head from the trunk of the tree. Suddenly a voice called down to him from the shadows of the leaves above.
“Daro!” it said in commanding tone, and Legolas dropped to the ground in surprise.
“Stand still!” he whispered to the others as he shrank against the bole of the tree. “Do not move or speak!”
Overhead, soft laughter floated down to them, and then a clear Elven voice spoke in the Silvan tongue that the fair folk use east of the mountains. Looking up, Legolas answered in the same language.
“Who are they, and what do they say?” asked Merry.
“They’re Elves,” said Sam. “Can’t you hear their voices?”
“Yes they are Elves,” said Legolas; and they say that you breathe so loud that they could shoot you in the dark.” Sam hastily put a hand over his mouth. “But they say also that you need have no fear. They have been aware of us for a long while. They heard my voice across the Nimrodel, and knew that I was one of their Northern kindred, and therefore they did not hinder our crossing; and afterwards they heard my song. Now they bid me climb up with Frodo; for they seem to have had some tidings of him and of our journey. The others they ask to wait a little, and to keep watch at the foot of the tree, until they have decided what is to be done.
A thin sliver-grey ladder made of rope was let down from the shadows above. Legolas ran lightly up, followed by Frodo and Sam, who was busy trying not to breathe too loudly, a quite difficult feat considering he was climbing up a ladder after all.
Coralie followed the ascent of Legolas, Frodo and Sam as they clambered up the rope ladder, trying to see how far up into the trees, she may have to climb, or as Legolas had promised, be carried. As her head swung back the voice returned.
“You haven’t got rid of me yet, my girl. The time has come for your departure from this Company.”
A great stab of pain coursed through her shoulder. The dizzying leaves on high were the last things she saw.