1, March 3019
Plunging into the deep forest of Fangorn, Legolas and Gimli followed Aragorn’s lead in tracking the hobbits. The dry forest floor crackled in drifts of leaves beneath their feet as Aragorn looked for any signs that may lead them to Merry and Pippin. Thinking that they would stay near the water, he continued his search along the banks of the stream. Eventually they came to the place where the hobbits had stopped to drink and bathe their feet. Plainly, could they see the footprints of both hobbits in the soft earth of the riverbank.
‘This is good tidings,’ said Aragorn. ‘Yet the marks are two days old. And it seems that at this point the hobbits left the water-side.’
‘Then what shall we do now?’ said Gimli. ‘We cannot pursue them through the whole fastness of Fangorn. We have come ill supplied. If we do not find them soon, we shall be of no use to them, except to sit down beside them and show our starving together.’
‘If that is indeed all we can do, then we must do that,’ said Aragorn. ‘Let us go on.’
They came at last to Treebeard’s Hill with its steep, rough steps cut into the abrupt steepness of the incline. Looking up at the rock wall, shafts of sunlight struck at the gleaming walls, between the grey clouds that scurried across the sky with muted order.
‘Let us go up and look about us!’ said Legolas. ‘I still feel my breath short. I should like to taste a freer air for a while.’
As they ascended, Aragorn drew up the rear, examining the steps and ledges with keen interest.
‘I am almost sure that the hobbits have been up here,’ he said. ‘But there are other marks, very strange marks, which I do not understand. I wonder if we can see anything from this ledge which will help us to guess which way they went next?’
Standing up, he gazed around at the forest floor below, hoping to find some clue amongst the verdant ranks of trees as they descended to the plains below.
‘We have journeyed a long way round,’ said Legolas. ‘We could have all come here safe together, if we had left the Great River on the second or third day and struck west. Few can foresee whither their road will lead them, till they come to its end.’
‘But we did not wish to come to Fangorn,’ said Gimli.
‘Yet here we are – and nicely caught in the net,’ said Legolas.
‘Look at what?’ said Gimli.
‘There in the trees.’
‘Where? I have not elf-eyes.’
‘Hush! Speak more softly! Look!’ said Legolas pointing. ‘Down in the wood, back in the way that we have just come. It is he. Cannot you see him passing from tree to tree?’
‘I see, I see now!’ hissed Gimli. ‘Look Aragorn! Did I not warn you? There is the old man. All in dirty rags: that is why I could not see him at first.’
Looking down, Aragorn could make out the figure of a bent old man as he made his way along the forest floor. In another place and time, they might have greeted each other civilly, as fellow travellers upon a distant path, but now the three
hunters stood silent with expectation, not only seeing, but also feeling the approach of the old man, as if an unseen power heralded his way.
Step by step the bent figure drew nearer. Gimli watched wide eyed until unable to contain himself any longer, he cried out.
‘Your bow, Legolas! Bend it! Get it ready! It is Saruman. Do not let him speak, or put a spell upon us! Shoot first!’
Taking his bow in hand, Legolas made to string the bow with an arrow, but found instead that his will to shoot dissolved, and all resistance to the secret promptings that bade him stay his hand melted within him. With cautious watchfulness, Aragorn waited as he stood silent beside him.
‘Why are you waiting? What is the matter with you?’ said Gimli in a hissing whisper.
‘Legolas is right,’ said Aragorn softly. ‘We may not shoot an old man so, at unawares and unchallenged, whatever fear or doubt be on us. Watch and wait!’
With surprising speed the old man came to the base of the rock shelf that they stood upon and looked up, his head and face remaining hidden from view. He wore a wide brimmed hat, and as he looked up, Aragorn momentarily thought he caught the gleam of keen eyes above the end of his nose, and long grey beard.
Breaking the long silence at last, the old man spoke. ‘Well met indeed my friends,’ he said in a soft voice. ‘I wish to speak to you. Will you come down, or shall I come up?’ and with that he began to climb up.
‘Now!’ cried Gimli. ‘Stop him, Legolas!’
‘Did I not say I wished to speak to you?’ said the old man. ‘Put away that bow, Master Elf!’
The bow and arrow fell from Legolas’ grasp and his arms hung loosely by his sides.
‘And you Master Dwarf, pray take your hand from your axe-haft, till I am up! You will not need such arguments.’
The old man sprung up the stone steps with light feet as Gimli stood still as a stone. The sham of weariness left the old man as he continued, and for a moment there was a gleam of white from under the grey rags that shrouded him.
‘Well met I say again!’ said the old man, as he approached. When he drew near, he stopped and leaned on his staff for a moment as he studied them from under long bushy eyebrows.
‘And what may you be doing in these parts An Elf, a Man and a Dwarf, all clad in elvish fashion. No doubt there is a tale worth hearing behind it all. Such things are not often seen here.’
‘You speak as one that knows Fangorn well,’ said Aragorn. ‘Is that so?’
‘Not well,’ said the old man: ‘that would be the study of many lives. But I come here now and again.’
‘Might we know your name, and then hear what it is that you have to say to us?’ said Aragorn. ‘The morning passes, and we have an errand that will not wait.’
‘As for what I wished to say, I have said it: What may you be doing, and what tale can you tell of yourselves? As for my name! He broke off laughing long and softly. A sudden, cold thrill shuddered through Aragorn at the sound of the old man’s laughter. It bit at him as cold rain and keen air comes unexpected when sleeping out of doors.
‘My name!’ said the old man again. ‘Have you not guessed it already? You have heard it before, I think. Yes, you have heard it before. But come now, what of your tale?’
Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli stood silent before him.
‘There are some who would begin to doubt whether your errand is fit to tell,’ said the old man. ‘Happily I know something of it. You are tracking the footsteps of two young hobbits, I believe. Yes, hobbits. Don’t stare, as if you had never heard the strange name before. You have, and so have I. Well they climbed up here the day before yesterday; and they met someone that they did not expect. Does that comfort you? And now you would like to know where they were taken? Well, well, maybe I can give you news about that. But why are we standing? Your errand, you see, is no longer as urgent as you thought. Let us sit down and be more at ease.’
Turning away the old man walked towards a heap of fallen stones at the foot of the cliff behind. As if some spell had suddenly been released, the three hunters stirred. Gimli’s hand went straight to his axe, Aragorn drew his sword and Legolas strung his bow. Taking no notice, the old man sat on a low stone and drew his grey cloak apart, revealing his white clothing beneath.
‘Saruman!’ cried Gimli, as he sprang toward him, axe in hand. ‘Speak! Tell us where you have hidden our friends! What have you done with them? Speak or I will make a dint in your hat that even a wizard will find it hard to deal with!’
The old man sprang to a large rock above them with lightning speed and looked down at them. He had suddenly grown tall and formidable to their sight. His grey robe had been cast aside and his garments now shone with glorious light as he lifted up his staff. Gimli’s axe leapt from his hand. Blazing with sudden fire, Aragorn’s sword clattered to the gound, and Legolas gave a shout as his arrow shot into the air and disappeared in flame.
‘Mithrandir!’ he cried. ‘Mithrandir!’
‘Well met, I say to you again, Legolas!’ said the old man.
In wonder they all stared at him. His white hair and robes shone dazzlingly white, as his bright eyes pierced them as the rays of the sun; and power was in his hand. A mixture of fear, joy and wonder pierced their hearts and they stood silent, unable to utter a word.
Aragorn stirred himself. ‘Gandalf!’ he said. ‘Beyond all hope you return to us in our need! What veil was over my sight? Gandalf!’
Gimli sank to his knees shading his eyes.
‘Gandalf,’ the old man repeated, as if recalling from old memory a long disused word. ‘Yes, that was my name. I was Gandalf.’
Stepping down from the rock, he wrapped his grey cloak about him, and it seemed that the sun had suddenly darted behind a cloud. ‘Yes, you may still call me Gandalf,’ he said, and his voice was that of their old friend and comrade once more. ‘Get up, my good Gimli! No blame to you, and no harm done to me. Indeed my friends, none of you has any weapon that could hurt me. Be merry! We meet again. At the turn of the tide. The great storm is coming, but the tide has turned.’
He laid his hand upon the Dwarf’s head and Gimli looked up with a sudden laugh.
‘Gandalf!’ he said. ‘But you are all in white!’
‘Yes I am in white now,’ said Gandalf. ‘Indeed I am Saruman, one might also say, Saruman as he should have been. But come now, tell me of yourselves! I have passed through fire and deep water, since we parted. I have forgotten much that I thought I knew, and learned again much that I had forgotten. I can see many things far off, but many things that are close at hand I cannot see. Tell me of yourselves!’
‘What do you wish to know?’ said Aragorn. ‘All that has happened since we parted on the bridge would be a long tale. Will you not first give us news of the hobbits? Did you find them, and are they safe?’
‘No, I did not find them,’ said Gandalf. ‘There was a darkness over the valleys of the Emyn Muil, and I did not know of their captivity, until the eagle told me.’
‘The eagle!’ said Legolas. ‘I have seen an eagle high and far off: the last time was three days ago, above the Emyn Muil.’
‘Yes,’ said Gandalf, ‘that was Gwaihir the Windlord, who rescued me from Orthanc. I sent him before me to watch the River and gather tidings. His sight is keen but he cannot see all things that pass under hill and tree. Some things he has seen, and others I have seen myself. The Ring has now passed beyond my help, or the help of any of the Company that set out from Rivendell. Very nearly it was revealed to the Enemy, but it escaped. I had some part in that: for I sat in a high place, and I strove with the Dark Tower; and the Shadow passed. Then I was weary, very weary; and I walked long in dark thought.’
‘Then you know about Frodo!’ said Gimli. ‘How do things go with him?’
‘I cannot say. He was saved from a great peril, but many lie before him still. He resolved to go alone to Mordor, and he set out: that is all I can say.’
‘Not alone,’ said Legolas. ‘We think that Sam went with him.’
‘Did he!’ said Gandalf, and there was a gleam in his eye and a smile on his face. ‘Did he indeed? It is news to me, yet it does not surprise me. Good! Very good! You lighten my heart somewhat, as it has been over burdened with grief of late.’
A sudden shadow seemed to cloud Gandalf’s eyes, and he once more appeared bent and old to their eyes. The Companions looked up at him anxiously, concerned at the sudden change that had overcome him. Recovering himself, Gandalf looked at the three. ‘You must tell me more. Now sit by me and tell me the tale of your journey.’
The three sat on the ground at his feet, and Aragorn took up the tale. Gandalf listened and said nothing in return for a long while. He sat with his hands spread on his knees and his eyes closed. As Aragorn told him of the events at Amon Hen and the death of Boromir, he sighed and opened his eyes.
‘Poor Boromir! I could not see what happened to him. It was a sore trial for such a man: a warrior, and a lord of men. Galadriel told me that he was in peril. But he escaped in the end. I am glad. It was not in vain that the young hobbits came with us, if only for Boromir’s sake. But that is not the only part they have to play. They were brought to Fangorn, and their coming was like the falling of small stones that starts an avalanche in the mountains. Even as we talk here, I hear the first rumblings, Saruman had best not be caught away from home when the dam bursts!’
‘In one thing you have not changed, dear friend,’ said Aragorn: ‘you still speak in riddles!’
Gandalf smiled for a moment in return and then just as quickly the smile faded, as his eyes grew sober and grim.
‘What is it?’ asked Aragorn as his eyes met those of Gandalf’s. There had been a hidden sorrow, now plainly revealed upon his countenance. From within the folds of his robes he brought forth a pack and they wondered that they had not noticed it before.
‘That is the Lady Coralie’s pack!’ cried Gimli with recognition. Legolas started suddenly alert, and Aragorn wondered at what mischief could have delivered the lady’s pack into Gandalf’s hands.
‘Tell me what has happened,’ he insisted quietly.
Gandalf handed the pack to Aragorn. ‘It is my understanding that you were her only kin here in Middle Earth, and as such this now belongs to you.’
‘Were?’ asked Aragorn tentatively. ‘Your giving me her pack, can only mean one thing. That the lady has gone. Has she returned to her own world then?’
Gandalf shook his head solemnly. ‘No she has not returned to her own world, but she has gone Aragorn.’
‘Gone?’ asked Aragorn standing up as he tried to comprehend Gandalf’s words.
‘Gone where if not to her own world? I left her in the safe keeping of the Lord and Lady of Lothlórien. She was not happy that we left her behind, that I know. Did she somehow manage to try and follow us and is now lost? That would be a foolish action on her part, but I would not put it past her. Is that why you have come to us Gandalf? To tell us that we have been chasing the wrong prey as the hobbits are now safe? Are we to begin our hunt all over again but now with a different quarry in mind?’ pronounced Aragorn with exasperation. ‘Confound that woman! Why does she have to be so difficult? Why can’t she do as she is told?’
Legolas and Gimli sighed as they stood up together and watched Aragorn. Clearly he was upset, as he began to pace up and down the rock shelf, running a weary hand through his tussled black locks.
‘We’ve just spent three exhausting days running across the plains of Rohan in pursuit of the hobbits, who we have now learned are safe, thank Eru, and now we must begin anew for a lady who should have remained safe and sound in Lothlórien? Tell me this is a jest on your part Gandalf, for I am weary beyond reckoning!’
‘Come, Aragorn!’ spoke Gandalf as he placed a strong hand upon the man’s shoulder. ‘I must speak with you.’
Quietly but surely Gandalf drew him aside to the far end of the ledge. Legolas and Gimli watched them momentarily before turning their attention to the sea of green that advanced towards the foot of the low cliff where they stood and the plains beyond.
‘I wonder how far we shall have to run now?’ sighed Gimli with resignation. ‘Where could she have gone and where on Middle Earth should we begin looking? This is an errand we should not be undertaking. What could possibly have induced her to leave the safety of Lothlórien and follow us into danger?’
‘Perhaps she thought to aid her betrothed in our quest, and could not bear to be parted from him,’ responded Legolas.
Gimli looked up at the elf, and saw by the set of his jaw, that the bitterness of his parting with the lady had not faded from his mind or heart.
Aragorn looked keenly at Gandalf as he stood before him. The old man gazed solemnly at him in return.
‘So tell me where do we begin our search for the lady?’
‘You cannot search for her Aragorn, for where she has gone you cannot follow. Not yet anyway,’ said Gandalf grimly.
‘What! Has she tried to cross the Emyn Muil, thinking to find us there?’ said Aragorn.
‘No, my friend,’ said Gandalf. ‘She has not tried to cross the Emyn Muil, and she has not tried to follow you.’
Aragorn looked at Gandalf. ‘Then where is she? You said she was gone. What do you mean by that?’
The old man sighed and leaned heavily on his staff. Sudden comprehension flooded Aragorn’s soul as he gazed into Gandalf’s eyes.
‘She is ….dead?’ he half whispered.
‘Yes,’ came Gandalf’s solemn reply.
Aragorn shook his head in disbelief. ‘No!’
Gandalf reached out a comforting hand and placed it on Aragorn’s shoulder.
‘No…It cannot be,’ Aragorn felt the wash of grief flood through him as his knees buckled beneath him and sank to the stony floor of the ledge. ‘What happened Gandalf? Was Lothlórien overrun by the Enemy? I thought I left her in a safe place,’ said Aragorn his voice thick with sorrow.
‘Lothlórien still stands,’ sighed Gandalf.
Aragorn looked up at Gandalf. ‘Then what? How?’
‘The Lady Coralie drowned, Aragorn. I am sorry.’
‘Drowned?’ cried Aragorn. ‘How could that be? The lady was a mermaid in disguise. That is not possible! She was the finest swimmer I have ever seen!’
‘Some of the younger elves threw the lady in the river for sport, the day after you left…’ Aragorn made to interrupt, but Gandalf held up his hand as he continued. ‘It was part of a game they were playing in an effort to cheer her up at your parting. They did not realise that a flash flood was bearing down upon them and that she would be in deadly peril. The lady was caught up in the ensuing maelstrom. Her dress weighed her down and in spite of the best efforts of Haldir and Calentaeg she was swept away beyond all help. I arrived in Lothlórien soon after, borne by Gwaihir after he found me upon the mountaintop of Celebdil. He went in search of the lady after hearing the report of her loss by the elves, and he also searched for the hobbits, but it was in vain.’
‘But are you sure that she didn’t survive somehow? Could she have been washed up somewhere further downstream? I cannot reconcile myself with her death under such circumstances. Believe me Gandalf, if you had but seen the lady swim….’
‘Aragorn, the elves searched the river on both sides as far south as the Limlight and could find no trace of her. It is believed that her body may have wedged itself underneath a rock, or perhaps even to have been washed over the Falls of Rauros themselves. In any case there is another thing to consider. I cannot see her either, just as I can no longer see Boromir.’
A soft sob escaped unbidden from Aragorn’s lips. ‘Coralie, Thêldithen,’ he groaned and buried his face in his hands for a moment as he cried her name softly to himself. ‘Thêldithen!’
Gandalf stood silently by.
‘She is dead then.’ It was more a statement of fact than a question as Aragorn looked up at him with sorrow. ‘I loved her as a sister, Gandalf. I swore her to myself as my own, and indeed, it was almost as if she had been of my blood.’ Aragorn’s voice thickened with grief as he spoke these last words.
‘There is more that you should know, my friend. But it should be told with the others present,’ Gandalf looked over at the Dwarf and the Elf as they stood some distance apart on the rocky shelf.
‘You are right. We must tell them,’ said Aragorn as he stood up wearily and followed his gaze. His eyes lingered momentarily on Legolas. ‘This will go hard on the Elf. In the end she was betrothed to Boromir, but I know in my heart that Legolas loved the lady, as did I.’
Gandalf followed his thought. ‘More than you know, Aragorn. There is a letter for him amongst her things.’
‘A letter?’ said Aragorn with some surprise. ‘What does it say?’
Gandalf shook his head. ‘I do not know, for it is still sealed. It was found amongst her things after she was lost. It may be of some small comfort to you that it was the Lady Galadriel herself, who gathered all her belongings into her pack. She had a great love for the Lady Coralie and instructed me personally to give the letter to Legolas when I found him. But come, let us gather the others for I have heard your tale, and now it is time for you and them, to hear this part of mine, though I tell it with great sorrow.’
Collecting himself, Aragorn walked sadly beside Gandalf as he picked up Coralie’s backpack and called Legolas and Gimli to him. Both Dwarf and Elf looked at the grim faces of Aragorn and Gandalf, and felt their hearts sink within them.
‘What has happened?’ they asked together.
‘It is with great sorrow that I must tell you that the Lady Coralie is dead,’ answered Gandalf softly.
‘Dead?’ cried Gimli. Legolas’ face blanched as he looked to Aragorn for confirmation.
‘How?’ uttered Legolas, his voice barely above a whisper.
‘I’m afraid the lady drowned in a flash flood,’ came Gandalf’s reply.
‘But that’s not possible!’ cried Gimli. ‘The lady was part fish!’
‘Neninwe, water fairy,’ spoke Legolas his voice still a whisper.
‘My point exactly. She couldn’t have drowned! What was she doing in the river during a flood anyway?’ demanded Gimli.
‘She was thrown in by some of the younger elves for sport,’ said Gandalf.
‘Thrown in the river for sport? Tell me what sort of sport is it to throw a lady into the river during a flood?’ cried Gimli his voice rising.
‘The flood came upon them unawares, and the lady was swept away,’ answered Gandalf.
‘No!’ cried Gimli. ‘I refuse to believe it! She can’t be dead…She can’t be!
Suddenly, Aragorn grasped Gimli by both shoulders. ‘She is dead!’ he shouted, before his voice cracking with emotion, softened as he gazed into the Dwarf’s eyes. ‘Thêldithen is dead!’
Gimli’s eyes suddenly brimmed over with tears as he sank to his knees in front of Aragorn. ‘No!’ he sobbed.
‘So she has joined her betrothed after all,’ stated Legolas stiffly.
‘Boromir?’ said Gandalf. ‘ She was never betrothed to Boromir.’
‘What do you mean, Gandalf?’ asked Aragorn. ‘Boromir told us himself upon the morning of our departure from Lothlórien that he had proposed to the Lady, and that she had accepted. We even heard the report ourselves from the hobbits, Merry and Pippin who had both witnessed the event. Artapel who acted as the lady’s escort also confirmed it. Boromir was a man of honour. He would not lie about such a thing.’
‘I am afraid that he did lie about this supposed betrothal, Aragorn. As did the Lady Coralie swore Boromir to secrecy as she did with the elven child Támurile. It was only after her death that the truth of the matter could be told. Some of the lady’s companions, Nólemíre and Calentaeg had guessed that it was not Boromir, that the Lady Coralie loved, but another,’ Gandalf’s gaze lingered for a moment on the Elf as he paused before continuing.
‘After she was lost in the river, they pressed Támurile for any information she may have concerning Boromir and the lady. Eventually, the child was taken before the Lady Galadriel herself, who soon discovered the truth from the grief stricken child. Her oath no longer valid, and with Galadriel’s gentle promptings, the child Támurile told all for she wished to clear the lady’s name. It would seem that in spite of the hobbits and even Artapel’s assertions to the contrary, they had not in fact witnessed Boromir’s proposal to the lady, but had arrived at an inopportune time for Boromir, but a fortunate one for Lady Coralie.’
‘You are speaking in riddles again, Gandalf. Speak plainly so we may understand the truth of your words,’ said Aragorn with hand upon hilt of sword.
‘And what would you do now, Aragorn?’ asked Gandalf noting the grim prospect in the man’s face and voice. ‘You can no longer protect her. It is too late for that. She deceived you and sacrificed her honour for the sake of the Quest,’ said Gandalf extending a hand towards Aragorn’s arm, then more gently; ‘for the sake of you all.’ The wizard looked at each of them in turn.
‘Sacrificed her honour? You don’t mean?’ began Aragorn.
‘No. She was spared that. It is much worse I am afraid.’
‘Worse? What could be worse than that?’ cried Legolas all of a sudden. Gandalf studied him for a moment and saw dread haunting the shadows of his eyes.
‘Apparently, Boromir came upon the lady unawares in one of the gardens of Lothlórien, the last evening you were there. He did not force himself upon her as you may fear, but instead demanded that she marry him.’
‘Marry him? Of course she said no, so how did she end up betrothed to him?’ cried Gimli.
Gandalf looked at him with exasperation. ‘If you will stop interrupting me Gimli, I will continue. Yes the lady did refuse him, but Boromir would not accept it and a madness overtook him. Instead he almost killed her…’
‘Killed her?’ cried Aragorn. ‘What do you mean? Why didn’t she tell me?’
Gandalf looked keenly at Aragorn. ‘Can’t you guess, Aragorn? What would you have done in her place?’
Aragorn shook his head and ran his hand through his hair. He cast his mind back to their last farewell upon the banks of the river and recalled the sights and sounds of that final morning together. He had held her hands in his own and remarked upon her native birds, that filled the small glade with their avian laughter. Kookaburras. He had remembered their strange name.
“They must be your native birds that I’ve heard so much about.”
“They are called kookaburras, Aragorn. I think they wanted to say goodbye as well,” her voice had caught a little in her throat as she answered him.
Aragorn thought some more and recalled studying her at that moment. He had noted with regret, that their leaving had obviously been difficult for Coralie to accept. Her red rimmed eyes, and slightly swollen features betrayed the thin smile she had greeted him with that morning. Aye, it had comforted him a little to be able to admire her in the elegant blue gown, she had worn at their parting, though the silken scarf around her neck had puzzled him at the time.
“Thêldithen, my leaving is hard for me also. Please, do not be sad.”
“I’m trying Aragorn. Really I am. It’s just that now that this day has finally come, it means that tomorrow when I wake up you won’t be here.”
Her eyes had been full of such sorrow when she spoke. Aragorn remembered the tender kiss he had planted on her forehead.
“I will keep you in my prayers, brother.”
It had been the first time she had called him by that name, and his heart had swelled at her soft-spoken words. She had indeed become a sister to him and he knew that he loved her as his own. Then Aragorn recalled how he had caressed the side of her face and how she had stiffened as his hand came down to her shoulder. He had felt her tense a little beneath his touch, but she had kept her gaze calm, and relaxed just enough beneath his hand, for him to dismiss any fleeting concern he may have held.
He saw the scarf in his mind’s eye again.
‘Agh! He tried to strangle her didn’t he Gandalf! She wore that scarf to hide the bruises. Why didn’t she tell me?’
‘Why? Do you really need to ask? She knew full well what you would have done to Boromir if you were to find out.’
‘I would have killed him,’ came Aragorn’s sober reply.
‘And I!’ echoed Gimli and Legolas at once.
‘Yes, I do not doubt that would have been the outcome. And perhaps you would have been right to do so. But tell me Gentlemen, what would have become of the Quest then? Who would have taken Boromir’s place? To the Lady’s mind, and yours as well I might add, I was dead and gone. She knew that upon leaving the relative safety of Lothlórien, you were going into mortal danger, and that every able hand and sword would be needed.’
‘But what of Boromir? He was a plain man used to plain speech. He was no charlatan. Yet on that last morning by the river, he seemed genuinely happy, as if he had indeed won the lady of his heart. He had not the look of a guilty man who had tried to strangle a defenceless maiden!’
‘As I said, a madness took him. Támurile had come upon the two in the garden, and saw Boromir pressing his suit. He had taken hold of the lady and would not release her. Fearing for the child’s safety, Lady Coralie waved her away before Boromir took note of her, and she hid in a nearby flowerbed. At first he tried to persuade her with arguments pertaining to her duty to Gondor and that a union between your house and his would be in the best interests of all those involved….’
‘Her duty? I would never have consented to such a match!’ cried Aragorn.
‘Boromir was an ambitious man, Aragorn. His father’s house had ruled over Gondor, in the true king’s stead for many thousands of years, and he was not about to give all of that up lightly. I have no doubt that he held in part some deep affection for the lady, but I am sure the exact nature of this passion had not escaped you.’
‘He sought to use her as a political tool for his own advantage,’ agreed Aragorn
with a flat voice. ‘But that still does not explain why he would try to kill her. She was of no use to him dead. Is it because she refused and his pride got the better of him? But that makes no sense either!’
‘It was the Ring that took him at the last, wasn’t it Aragorn? And it was the Ring that worked its influence on him with the lady,’ replied Gandalf.
‘Remember, that they have both had contact with the Ring at some point. Unfortunately for the lady, hers was more direct, for she bore the Ring in her mouth. The power of the Ring reaches out to all it can, and it is able to turn even the stoutest heart with its deception if it can gain a foothold. It knew of Boromir’s weaknesses and how best to play upon them. That is what happened to him. He held the lady close to himself, and with the Ring’s influence still upon her, he was overtaken. Only those who are truly pure of heart and have mastered their own desires, could have withstood such an onslaught of mind and body. Boromir is more to be pitied than anything else, Aragorn,’ said Gandalf.
‘But the next morning, she met with him on the banks of the river in plain view of us all, though they stood some distance apart. I am surprised that she allowed him to come anywhere near her, after what had happened,’ said Aragorn matter of factly.
‘Boromir had no recollection of his misdeed toward her for he truly believed that she had consented to his proposal, Aragorn. The Lady Coralie discovered this upon meeting with him before your departure. When he realised himself what he had done, he was overcome with shame and repented. He would have told you the whole truth of what had transpired between them, but she would not allow him to. Instead she swore him to secrecy in order to protect him from your wrath. She also sought to preserve his honour.’
‘Preserve his honour? But what of hers? What of her own need for protection? He was a great warrior and he misused her. Boromir should have been made to account for his deeds,’ cried Aragorn.
‘And can you say that he has not already done so, my friend? Think back to the hour of his death. He died in service to you, did he not?’
‘Aye. He tried to tell me something of the lady, but instead I insisted that he not speak, but preserve his strength. Perhaps then, he wished to confess,’ sighed Aragorn.
Do not be too hasty in your judgment of Boromir. He was but a man. A noble man, whose own impulses were used against him by the One Ring. It would seem that he has paid in full measure for his misdeeds, and yet the lady’s objective was also fulfilled. His honour was preserved and he acquitted himself at the last.’
‘But at what cost, Gandalf? This was a desperate act on her part,’ said Aragorn.
‘Desperate times call for desperate measures my friend, and she was doing her best to protect those whom she loved as she saw fit. The Lady Coralie gave herself completely for you. There is no greater love, than to lay down your life for your brother.’
At these words, fresh tears fell from Aragorn’s eyes.
‘Oh! What lengths would she not go to in order to save us? I find it hard to reconcile myself with her death. I…. we but saw her last, only a few days ago. Now I can see that she was more than merely sorrowful at our parting, and I now understand to my regret why this was so.’
‘Try to remember her as she was, Aragorn if it will make your heart feel any easier. It would grieve her spirit if she thought that all you could remember was that dark parting. It is the joyful lass that I choose to recall: strong willed and quite unique from all the reports that have come to me from the inhabitants of the Golden Wood. She quite captured their hearts, and they mourn her loss greatly. It is my one regret that I did not arrive sooner in Lothlórien, for I may have been able to save her myself,’ spoke Gandalf sadly.
Each one turned to their own heart’s musing at his words as deep sorrow shrouded their spirits. A flurry of images and sounds crossed Aragorn’s mind in quick succession, from their first meeting upon the slopes of Caradhras to their final parting on the banks of the river. Girlish laughter, tears and song tinkled on the breeze that played through his memories of her, interspersed with the sharper images of the painful fight to save her life upon the flets during their first night within the borders of Lothlórien. She had given of herself in the dark of Moria, to save the Quest from ruin, and they had almost lost her.
A rare woman: possessing with equal measure, enough daring and feminine charm to beguile even himself. The very wonder of her; the power of her voice in song, and her hands that could not only play a sweet tune upon a lute, but which also brought Pippin back to life. She was able to heal with both instruments. He could see her winsome smile coupled with playful gestures and childish pranks that had caused his heart to soften at her open defiance. Her all too stubborn will and unseen strength belied her graceful form and tender heart within, and he had recognised in her a part of himself; a kindred spirit. She had learned to trust him, and their disagreements had only served to deepen the bond between them.
Aragorn’s hand strayed to his shoulder where she had laid her head, twice. The first time, when she had learned of his oath toward her as brother, after he himself had wiped her tears away with gentle hands. Once more, he could see the golden boughs of the Mellyrn arching gracefully overhead, as they sat hand in hand beneath with the silver leaves sighing in contented delight above. And again, her head that last night in Lothlórien, when she had looked more radiant and beautiful than even he could have imagined, had once again found his shoulder. A brother’s shoulder, as he had squired her around the floor.
He longed to hold her, and tenderly kiss her forehead once more and banish any fear that may beset her heart. The grim knowledge of her death only served to deepen the aching wound in his spirit. Looking up he saw Gimli, holding the pearl that she had given him at their parting, tenderly in his palm. He wept openly as deep shudders shook his stout frame.
‘She was a pearl beyond measure,’ he gasped between sobs.
Aragorn could tell by the expression that Legolas now wore, that he was lost in his own green memory of her. His countenance, a mixture of both joy and grief was intermingled with undeniable longing. Accepting the backpack from Gandalf, he walked away a little and opened it to see the letter, addressed to Legolas sitting atop an assortment of clothing and other paraphernalia. With a sigh he walked over to Legolas who returned his sad gaze with one of equal sorrow in return.
‘There is a letter for you Legolas, in her backpack,’ he said as he handed it to the Elf. ‘It is from her. The Lady Galadriel gave specific instructions for it to be delivered to you.’
With a brief nod, Legolas accepted the pack and walked over to the small tumble of stones that Gandalf had first sat upon when he had alighted to this shelf. Feeling suddenly weary, he sat down and merely looked at the pack at first. All of her worldly goods were inside.
The last remnants of her.
Taking a deep breath, he opened the top flap and took out the letter.
‘Legolas’, it read in a feminine hand.
Grief gnawed at the very corners of his heart, as with trembling fingers he turned the envelope over in his hand and saw the wax seal to be unbroken. His eyes would be the first to see the last thoughts she held toward him.
He wondered at the contents. When had it been written? Before, or after their departure? He guessed at after. That was the most logical choice, for the opportunity for her to speak in person to him had fled upon the current of his leaving.
Breaking the seal, he took out the sand coloured parchment from within and held it for a moment with eyes closed as he summoned his courage. When at last he opened them, he could see indistinctly the traces where her tears had melted into the missive. One by one, he traced them with a slender finger, as his own eyes blurred momentarily in response, then blinked them clear in order to read her words.
I have a smile
Stretched from ear to ear
To see you walking down the road
We meet at the lights
I stare for a while
The world around disappears
Just you and me
On this island of hope
A breath between us could be miles
Let me surround you
My sea to your shore
Let me be the calm you seek
Oh and every time I’m close to you
There’s too much I can’t say
And you just walk away
And I forgot
To tell you
I love you
And the night’s
And cold here
I grieve in my condition
For I cannot find the strength to say I need you so
Oh and every time I’m close to you
There’s too much I can’t say
And you just walk away
And I forgot
To tell you
I love you
And the night’s
And cold here
Legolas bowed his head with grief as he held the letter in his hand. She had written him a song. The lovely power of her voice, forever gone except in memory, was now inscribed upon the parchment he now held.
She had indeed loved him, and had remained true to him, though this was now her only declaration of love, resounding from the grave. He had been wrong. Wrong about everything, and now it was too late to do anything about it. Legolas looked at the letter again, as the splash of a tear fell softly upon the leaf, to mingle with the stain of those that had fallen before.
He reached inside his jerkin and took out the little pocketbook of poetry that Coralie had given him at parting and turned the pages. He had turned the corners of his favourites….. her favourites. At stolen moments along their journey, he had read through the little book. It had rested close to his heart, in spite of the bitter knowledge, that she had not loved him but another. His eye fell upon one page in particular and he began to read with whispered voice.
‘Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art–
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors–
No–yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever–or else swoon to death.’
Legolas’ hands trembled as he replaced the letter inside its envelope and re-opened the top flap of her pack. His eye caught the soft colour of a silken gown folded neatly on top. Tenderly he drew it out. It was the gown she had worn to their farewell feast.
She looked more of a princess than she knew, and the memory of her soft form enveloped in the circle of his arms came unbidden to Legolas mind. Her face appeared, and the light within her eyes embraced him in return. Almost he could reach out and trace the contours of her face, marvelling at the way her nose crinkled slightly when she laughed, as did the corners of her eyes. He yearned with all his heart to trace those lines that her merry spirit had etched there again. Even the few caused by sorrow, that made up the sum of her, he now missed greatly. Closing his eyes, he could hear her voice, soft in response to his own unspoken desire; it had caressed his soul, as she recited the song that had quickened his own heart’s rhythm as they danced.
If ever I would leave you….
‘How could I leave you thus?’
Legolas held the dress up to his face, and breathed in her fragrance. The clean strong scent of the river, and the green and gold of Mallorn, along with her own essence sparkled afresh in his memory.
‘Oh how I loved thee, my own Bright Star. Titheniel…. Titheniel,’ he whispered his voice cracking with sorrow. ‘I loved thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul could ever hope to reach, when feeling out of sight,’ he drew a breath and paused before continuing to recite by heart;
‘For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I loved thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I loved thee freely, as I would strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as I turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With our lost saints,–I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!–and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.’
………………..And I do, Titheniel. Even after death, my Bright Star.’
Legolas buried his head into the soft, silken folds of her gown.
From afar, Aragorn and Gandalf beheld the scene together.
‘All of my choices have gone awry, Gandalf. The Fellowship is broken and now Thêldithen is dead, as is Boromir.’
Gandalf turned toward him. ‘Come Aragorn son of Arathorn!’ he said. ‘Do not regret your choice in the valley of Emyn Muil, nor that of the Lady Coralie’s. You chose amid doubts the path that seemed right, as did she: the choice was just, and it has been rewarded. For so we have met in time, who otherwise might have met too late. But the quest of your companions, the hobbits, is over. Your next journey is marked by your word. You must go to Edoras and seek out Théoden in his hall. For you are needed. The light of Andúril must now be uncovered in the battle for which it has long waited. There is war in Rohan, and worse evil: it goes ill with Théoden.’
‘It is a long way for a man to walk, young or old,’ said Aragorn. ‘I fear the battle will be over long ere I come there.’
‘We shall see, we shall see,’ said Gandalf. ‘Will you come now with me?’
‘Yes, we will set out together,’ said Aragorn. He looked over at Legolas who now sat still and quiet, beside the lady’s pack, gazing out over the trees below.
‘I will see to Legolas. I knew that he loved the lady and held her in deep affection, though he spoke not of it to me, but now I can plainly see the fashion of it.’
Legolas heard the soft footfall of his friend and looked up.
‘I was so harsh with her when we left Lothlórien, Aragorn. Her heart was broken and I was too proud to notice!’ The self recriminatory tone of Legolas’ voice lashed at Aragorn’s own doubts and grief with despair. Gathering himself he placed a gentle hand on Legolas’ shoulder.
‘To blame yourself for something that cannot be undone will only serve to deepen your despair, Legolas. Gandalf is right. The Lady Coralie would not wish us to remember her so. She made a great sacrifice for us all, and to hold such regret would only serve to dishonour her memory. I am sure, that somewhere in her heart, she knew that you loved her Legolas, and that one day you would find it in your heart to forgive her.’
Aragorn looked more soberly at him. ‘You are not the only one to have regrets, Legolas. I have some of my own.’ His voice caught a little in his throat, and Legolas returned the gesture of a comforting hand upon his shoulder in response. ‘We both loved her Legolas, and she would want us to go on and finish the task set before us. We must remain true to each other above all else. In this way, we will honour her.’
With a deep sigh, Legolas nodded and collecting himself, picked up Coralie’s pack.
The two stood silent for a moment and looked long at one another as Gandalf and Gimli joined them.
‘Did I not say truly, Gandalf,’ said Aragorn at last, ‘that you could go whithersoever you wished quicker than I? And this I also say you are our captain and our banner. The Dark Lord has Nine: But we have One, mightier than they: the White Rider. He has passed through the fire and the abyss, and they shall fear him. We will go where he leads.’
‘Yes, together we will follow you,’ said Legolas as the others nodded. ‘But first it would ease my heart, Gandalf, to hear what befell you in Moria. Will you not tell us? Can you not stay even to tell your friends how you were delivered?’
“I have stayed already too long,’ answered Gandalf. ‘Time is short. But if there were a year to spend, I would not tell you all.’
‘Then tell us what you will, and time allows!’ said Gimli.
‘Come, Gandalf, tell us how you fared with the Balrog!’
‘Name him not!’ said Gandalf, and for a moment it seemed that a cloud of pain passed over his face, and he sat silent, looking old as death.
‘Long I fell,’ he said at last, slowly, as if thinking back with difficulty. ‘Long I fell, and he fell with me. His fire was about me. I was burned. Then we plunged into the deep water and all was dark. Cold it was as the tide of death: almost it froze my heart.’
‘Deep is the abyss that is spanned by Durin’s Bridge, and none has measured it,’ said Gimli.
‘Yet it has a bottom, beyond light and knowledge,’ said Gandalf. ‘Thither I came at last, to the uttermost foundations of stone. He was with me still. His fire was quenched, but now he was a thing of slime, stronger than a strangling snake.
‘We fought far under the living earth, where time is not counted. Ever he clutched at me, and ever I hewed him, till at last he fled into dark tunnels. They were not made by Durin’s folk, Gimli son of Glóin. Far, far below the deepest delvings of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not. They are older than he. Now I have walked there, but I will bring no report to darken the light of day. In that despair my enemy was my only hope, and I pursued him, clutching at his heel. Thus he brought me back at last to the secret ways of Khazad-dúm: too well he knew them all. Ever up now we went, until we came to the Endless Stair.’
‘Long has that been lost,’ said Gimli. ‘Many have said that it was never made save in legend, but others say that it was destroyed.’
‘It was made, and it had not been destroyed,’ said Gandalf. ‘From the lowest dungeon to the highest peak it climbed, ascending in unbroken spiral in many thousand steps, until it issued at last in Durin’s Tower carved in the living rock of Zirakzigil, the pinnacle of the Silvertine.
‘There upon Celebdil was a lonely window in the snow, and before it lay a narrow space, a dizzy eyrie above the mists of the world. The sun shone fiercely there, but all below was wrapped in cloud. Out he sprang, and even as I came behind, he burst into new flame. There was none to see, or perhaps in after ages songs would still be sung of the Battle of the Peak.’ Suddenly Gandalf laughed. ‘But what would they say in song? Those that looked up from afar thought that the mountain was crowned with storm. Thunder they heard, and lightning, they said smote upon Celebdil, and leaped back broken into tongues of fire. Is not that enough? A great smoke rose about us, vapour and steam. Ice fell like rain. I threw down my enemy, and he fell from the high place and broke the mountainside where he smote it in his ruin. Then darkness took me, and I strayed out of thought and time, and I wandered far on roads that I will not tell.
‘Naked I was sent back – for a brief time, until my task was done. And naked I lay upon the mountain-top. The tower behind was rumbled into dust, the window gone; the ruined stair was choked with burned and broken stone. I was alone, forgotten, without escape upon the hard horn of the world. There I lay staring upward, while the stars wheeled over, and each day was as long as the life-age of the earth. Faint to my ears came the gathered rumour of all lands: the springing and the dying, the song and the weeping, and the slow everlasting groan of overburdened stone. And so at the last Gwaihir the Windlord found me again, and he took me and bore me away.
‘ “Ever am I fated to be your burden, friend at need,” I said.
‘ “A burden you have been,” he answered, “but not so now. Light as a swan’s feather in my claw you are. The Sun shines through you. Indeed I do not think you need me any more: were I to let you fall, you would float upon the wind.”
‘ “Do not let me fall!” I gasped, for I felt life in me again.
“Bear me to Lothlórien!”
“That indeed is the command of the Lady Galadriel who sent me to look for you,” he answered.
‘Thus it was that I came to Caras Galadon and found you but gone lately, and learned of the Lady Coralie’s fate. You are not alone in your regret, my friends, for it would seem that in the throwing down of my enemy, the mountainside had fallen into the Silverlode, overwhelming it with its burden of snow and rock, and thus the flash flood in which the lady was eventually swept away was born. I do not understand all the purposes of Eru in this, for I had been given a message for the lady, from the One himself, but now it would appear that I was too late in delivering it, and she is gone.’ Gandalf paused for a moment and sighed.
‘The Lady Galadriel told us that He knew her,’ responded Aragorn.
‘Knew her? Yes, He knew her, and she Him. The Lady Galadriel and I had much conversation concerning this. They had met when she had tried to probe the Lady Coralie’s heart to see if she were true to the Quest. The One would not allow it, for He dwelt there himself according to His own pleasure and purpose. She was indeed a mystery to the Elves. For the One to choose a mortal maid as He so obviously had done, is unheard of. At least in this day and time.’
‘But who knows the way of things in her world, Gandalf? Indeed, she had much to teach us, and we her. As for the One choosing a mortal maid, who can understand the mind of God? His ways are not our own, and His thoughts much higher. Do not forget that though we are but men, we are His children also, as are the Elves and Dwarves,’ answered Aragorn.
Gandalf returned Aragorn’s observation with a small smile.
‘Ah! There is much wisdom in what you say Aragorn. You have given me much to ponder. I tarried there in Lothlórien, in the ageless time of that land where days bring healing not decay. Healing I found, and I was clothed in white. Counsel I gave and counsel I took. Thence by strange roads I came, and messages I bring to some of you. To Aragorn I was bidden to say this:
Where now are the Dúnedain, Elessar, Elessar?
Why do thy kinsfolk wander afar?
Near is the hour when the Lost should come forth,
And the Grey Company ride from the North.
But dark is the path appointed for thee:
The Dead watch the road that leads to the Sea.
To Legolas she sent this word:
Legolas Greenleaf long under tree
In joy thou hast lived. Beware the Sea!
If thou hearest the cry of the gull on the shore,
Thy heart shall then rest in the forest no more.
‘Titheniel loved the sea,’ said Legolas softly and sadly. Gandalf closed his eyes.
‘Then she sent me no message?’ said Gimli, and bent his head.
‘Dark are her words,’ said Legolas, ‘and little do they mean to those that receive them.’
‘That is no comfort,’ said Gimli.
‘What then?’ said Legolas. ‘Would you have her speak openly to you of your death?’
‘Yes if she had nought else to say.’
‘What is that?’ said Gandalf, opening his eyes. ‘Yes, I think I can guess what her words may mean. Your pardon Gimli! I was pondering the messages once again. But indeed she sent words to you, and neither dark nor sad.
‘ “To Gimli son of Glóin,” she said, “give his Lady’s greeting. Lockbearer, wherever thou goest my thought goes with thee. But have a care to lay thine axe to the right tree!”
‘Come, come!’ shouted Gimli, as he swung his axe. ‘Since Gandalf’s head is now sacred, let us find one that is right to cleave!’
‘That will not be far to seek,’ said Gandalf. ‘Come! We have spent all the time that is allowed to a meeting of parted friends. Now there is need of haste.’
Wrapping himself once more in his tattered robe, he led the way.
These tears I’ve cried
I’ve cried a thousand oceans
and if it seems I’m
floating. In the darkness
well, I can’t believe
that I would keep
keep you from flying
and I would cry a thousand more
if that’s what it takes
to sail you home
sail you home
sail you home
I’m aware what the rules are
but you know that I will run
you know that I will follow you
over Silbury Hill
through the solar field
you know that I will follow you
and if I find you
will you still remember
playing at the trains
or does this
little blue ball
just fade away
over Silbury hill
through the solar field
you know that I will follow you
I’m aware what the rules are
but you know that I will run
you know that I will follow you
these tears I’ve cried
a thousand oceans
and if it seems I’m
in the darkness
well, I can’t believe
that I would keep
keep you from flying
so, I will cry
a thousand more
if that’s what it takes
to sail you home
sail you home
sail you home
sail you home