Early Adventures #7
This is the second of a three-part adventure wherein Legolas comes of age, assisted by or in spite of, a large cast of characters that is assembled and waiting for Legolas to rock and roll. This part has the scenes “Wilde Lake Village,” “Blade Dance,” “Weeping Willow,” and “Two Knives in the Dark.” The terrific artist John Gonzalez has produced an illustration for the third part “The Legend of Legolas – Longknives Part Three.” As always, I am borrowing the world of JRR Tolkien, whose work I love and respect. I promise to return it unharmed. © Chathol-linn.
***Wild Lake Village***
“Then the longknives called to Legolas and inspired, he said, “We must send spies south to the mountains, by way of the market fair.” – from “How Legolas Claimed Two White-handled Longknives Part One – “Spies”
Thranduil’s six spies were not the only ones headed for the autumn market fair at Wild Water Village. It was the best loved and attended event in that part of the world. Folk from all over traveled through red forests and golden fields to sell or barter surpluses, meet kin, renew friendships, entertain and be entertained, do business. Elves attended at times, and all who saw them told the story to their grandchildren. Mortals came to trade their crafted goods, weavings, leathers, pottery and whatnot for laying hens, milch goats, and other provisions for winter. wealthy Theall the Dwarf-lord went to market every year, always lodging in the best rooms of the best inn, Master Bruno’s Swan and Cygnet. Musicians and players came; it was the best place to be seen and heard, drink good ale and wine, and get famous.
Even poor folk came, with no money or goods to trade, because one could get work at the inns and taverns, or with the water coach and guard services provided by Harald the Mayor. Three economies supported the lucky town and made it prosper: fishing from the rivers, farming from the rich delta lands, and trade due to a very fortunate location. Wild Water Village served the Iron Hills, Dorwinion to the south, and points north and west via Long Lake traffic and the Dwarf Road. Harald in particular had minded the trade carefully by building piers and organizing pier and stall fees, regulating exchange rates, and rewarding the establishment of boat yards and stable services. Times were peaceful, and the town had not seen Orcs in a hundred years.
Zalog the Orc planned to maximize this advantage. With so much traffic from the fair, his scouts were under strict orders to attract no attention and look out only for Elves. Zalog expected the van guard of an army – Thranduil’s army – to come marching down the forest edge soon to help the Silvans. The Orcs’ presence was to be a secret until the last moment of the ambush. The Orcs held Zalog in such fear that they mostly obeyed. This was fortunate for Mortals and Dwarves.
While Amdir came north as fast as he could, weeping with his one good eye, Thranduil’s spies went south at their leisure. Wild Water Village was fifteen leagues away, a long hard day’s ride south of Long Lake down the River Running. The spies were in no hurry, riding easily under black tree-skeletons topped with foliage painted red and gold by Arda’s autumn paintbrush. Berendil wove the colors into a light dream as he rode. At the same time he was thinking battle thoughts. He believed Legolas’s dream. He remembered well the night he had looked into Zalog’s eyes and seen … Legolas? He fully expected to hear rumors of Orc-war in the taverns of the town. He was deep in thoughts of how to scout the southern mountains when Legolas rode to his side.
“Uncle? When will I come of age?”
Berendil knew why there were so few youngsters among the Elves of that time. He also knew that after Legolas, he would never be uncle in Middle-earth again. “Some day you will face a situation that calls for an adult decision and there will be no one to help you,” he replied. “If you respond correctly, your parents will make an announcement. In the old days, it was usually your first battle with the servants of Sauron. It can be any test of your courage and judgment.”
“Will it take as long as it did with Elwen?”
“Maybe not. Elwen was born to rule, and kings need long and careful training. It is a boon to raise a king in peacetime – no need to rush. But for you,” Berendil hesitated.
Then: “You are fated to be here on this trip. I feel it. Your waking vision, your prophetic dream. Your unmatched prowess with the bow. We elders think you have some higher destiny ahead. This mystery of the longknives and Zalog. I fought that Orc the night that Blade-singer and Huntress came to our hall. I remember looking into his eyes. What did I see, Legolas? Were you really in his mind? What was it like?”
“Uncle, they are capable of things I wish I had not seen. They are creatures of hate and rage only. Yet the pain and torment they inflict is only their way of trying to save themselves. Deep down they hate their Master more than Elves. I pity Orcs.”
“In your days of Middle-earth you will weary of that pity and meanwhile do not let it stop you from killing them, for they know no mercy. If they let you live it is for their purpose. If they keep faith, it is by accident.”
“I know. Zalog hates me for my pity. Maybe his thoughts will poison mine and pull me down some evil road. Unless he kills me, or I kill him first with those longknives he fears.”
“If killing Zalog is your test, Legolas, you do not need the longknives for it.”
Legolas was not so sure. “Even with the touch of Zalog in my mind? Even if he fears them? I know there is a connection. I feel them calling to me.”
Berendil smiled. “Enough questions for which I have no answers. Put Zalog out of your thoughts and enjoy the day! Or ask Blade-singer to set you some task.”
“I will do both, Uncle, and leave you in peace,” said Legolas agreeably.
By afternoon they covered their allotted distance and found a pleasant glade by a stream.
“Let us stop here,” Elwen said. “The stars will be fair tonight. If we continue we will come to the village in the middle of the night and shall have to take lodgings there.”
Everyone agreed. Who is more contented out of doors than Wood-Elves? They tended the horses in minutes, prepared comfortable seats on the ground, made a fire, started supper. They would not let Bessain cook. Tûr produced more mulled wine, courtesy of Telien.
Legolas approached Blade-singer with a request. “Remember when you said I might like knives better than swords? You were right. Can you give me a lesson in knife-fighting?”
“Gladly,” said Blade-singer. “Take my two long fighting-knives and I will use sticks of the same length. Remember, Legolas: all moves are fair in a knife fight. Look for patterns in your opponents’ moves. Get in close quickly, by choice and chance. Slash or stab as opportunity presents. Move out quickly. I will teach you the value of changing leads. Avoid getting wounded, but if you must take a lesser wound to inflict a greater one, do so. Go for the heart, belly, neck, limbs. Kill or maim first and fast. Those are the `rules.'”
Legolas and Blade-singer began. Even slowing down for the beginner, Blade-singer rapped the knives held by Legolas six times in succession, got under his guard, poked him in the ribs – both sides – and flipped one knife out of his hand. Legolas never got near to getting past her guard.
The others lay watching by the fire. “Blade-singer,” called Berendil, “his trouble is with the size of the handles. Look!” Then Legolas realized he was taller than Blade-singer (when had that happened?) and his long-fingered hands were larger.
“It is so,” agreed Blade-singer, looking. “Legolas, these knives were made especially for my small hands. You cannot grasp them effectively. Give me back the knives and take the sticks. I will show you how to grip them.”
Then Legolas began to do much better, as if he had been fighting with stick-knives forever. He said, smiling, “I see the trick of winning. You have to get in and out quickly, as you said. You have to dance. If you are Blade-singer, then I will be Blade-dancer.”
(Blade-dance. Afterwards, in his travels with Elrond’s sons and Isildur’s heirs, Legolas acquired many names. The Orcs’ softest name for him was “Assassin.” Dwarves came to call him “Friend.” Mortals usually said “Hey, Archer.” But it was “Blade-dance” that stuck, the name that all folk remembered whenever Legolas faced someone and said quietly, “Do you wish to dance?”)
Their exercise and the afternoon sun heated them. Legolas stripped off his boots, breeches and shirt and wore only his breechcloth. Blade-singer wore her scant practice clothes that were designed for fighting. Sometimes they laughed like Tulkas, and sometimes they spun about in silent, naked concentration. Finally Berendil bade them stop and come to supper. So they pulled off the rest of their clothes and fell into the stream for a bath. Drying off on linen towels, they dressed in hunting attire from the saddle bags and came to supper with appetites like bears.
As the stars appeared the Elves sang a song of Elbereth in the autumn woods and then went to rest. Legolas felt the pupils of his eyes elongating into that look characteristic of an Elf in repose. The last thing he saw before the Path of Dreams was the Sickle of the Valar in a field of stars.
Amdir passed their camp on his way to Thranduil. If only he had met them! From Amdir’s story they would have learned of the stirring of the Orcs. They could have abandoned their spy mission as no longer necessary and returned to Thranduil for new counsel. Then events would have taken a different turn. But Amdir passed them by. That is not to say the spies went unnoticed. While Blade-singer was giving Legolas his first lesson in knife-fighting, a ragged young Mortal watched for a while behind some thickets. She was starving and desperate. Her name was Willofain.
She was an orphan from the tiny village of “Go-fast” in the foothills of the southern mountains. Anyone who set out from the village had better go fast, for to linger in the forest was perilous. Willofain dwelt with the poorest family in the village. They would have starved if not for fish and game, for their crops failed year after year and sometimes they lived on the charity of others. Uncle Balec bore this humiliation patiently. He answered his misfortune by never giving up, but he never tried anything different either. He and Aunt Manta never dreamed of leaving the village.
Willofain the outsider dreamed differently. She thought of leaving all the time. She looked different too, with her dead mother’s blonde hair and height. At sixteen she stood five feet eight inches – a head taller than her cousins. She never had enough to eat and so was slender. Her face was thin and it made her cheekbones prominent and her blue eyes big. Manta cut the matted hair short under a bowl to curtail lice and fleas. Willofain wore layers of dirt like everyone else and the only way she knew of her differences was from the villagers’ remarks. She had never seen her own face.
Willofain had no map and could not read anyway, but she always listened closely to the few men who left the village to trade (or more likely, steal) tools and weapons at the nearest town. Wild Water Village was not so far, she gathered, if one cut straight through the forest toward the Dwarf Road. She thought her odds would be fair. She had woodcraft from being raised in a village that was little more than a clearing in the Great Greenwood. The prospect of spending her life in Go-Fast scared her badly. So she made a plan.
Like all girls, she could spin with a drop spindle, anytime, without thinking. White fibers are plentiful in a forest. Willofain spun and braided many long lengths of strong pale string. Early one morning she went to the forest edge and tied one end of one length to a slender sapling. Using her sense of the sun she walked east, trailing string behind her and then tied its far end to another slender tree. Walking back along her trail she tied string loops around the trunks of trees. The next morning she went directly to the end of her first string and started east again. Willofain did this every day that summer. She always tried to use beech trees, to aid her memory and trail craft. By fall, her trail of string-looped trees led almost to the eastern edge of the forest.
One day while tilling the onion patch Willofain found a firestone. This was great fortune. If you struck a piece of flint with firestone the right way, a spark would fly. Thereafter Willofain collected flint rocks and handfuls of dry leaves for tinder. She cached some of it along her string trail, glad of the dry weather. A campfire would provide sheltering warmth and defense against beasts.
There was no spare food, none, or any way to carry water. Willofain made do with a gourd dipper and a hope that she would find drinkable water. At least she had shoes of a sort: leather sandal-soles tied on with leather thongs. She could make a walking stick.
That was it: a string trail, a bag of rocks and some tinder, a gourd dipper, a walking stick, the shoes on her feet, the rags on her back, and the courage in her desperate heart.
On the day that Legolas saw his visions on the Olórë Mallë, Willofain rose while her adopted family still slept. They had taken her in and cared for her the best they could. Of all the things they could not give her, love was the greatest. But if they had no energy left over for love it was not their fault and she lay no blame. She gave them what she could in farewell – falling tears and a spray of goldenrod laid on the table. Then she left without looking back. Two days later, wraithlike and fainting from hunger, she broke through the tree line and heard strange voices. She crept behind some bushes to see if they had food. What she saw were creatures unlike anyone she had ever seen before – Elves. Blade-singer and Legolas at their blade play.
After a while Willofain backed away, still hidden. What strange beings they were – so beautiful, so utterly at ease in their world. Had they been a dream? No. What Willofain felt was stronger than a dream. Her heart was taken with the Elf who had no clothes or weapons. The others seemed rich enough with their horses and other gear. Perhaps he was an orphan like herself? Yes, that was it. He was an orphan and they had adopted him.
They say that hunger heightens the senses and the psyche; if so, Willofain bordered on the mystic that day. Her mind’s eye saw the youth’s body as if it moved before her still: bare shoulders made broad through practice with the bow, hard muscles defined in the buttocks and long legs, the crease of spine down his back. When he spun to move his fighting sticks, the triangular wings of his breechcloth flew about and showed the middle strip that wrapped him tightly between the thighs. She thought, her head buzzing, how good it would be to meet this … Elf; to talk about their shared experiences. Maybe, even, he would know of some task she could do, so the Elves would take her into their service.
Willofain wished mightily to give the orphan Elf a gift but of course she had nothing. But wait. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and Willofain was sincere. Remembering how they had laughed while bathing, Willofain pulled off her clothes and stepped cautiously into the stream. One of the Elves had pulled up a plant and given its root to the bathers, who crushed it in their hands. They used the resulting lather to wash their hair and bodies. Willofain found the plant, pulled up three roots, and used the lather for washing. And she experienced a marvelous thing.
Why had she not done this before? How good it felt to be clean. She rubbed the soap-root on her body; she dipped below the cool waters again and again. She combed lather through her short hair with her fingers. Luxurious! She gathered her woolen homespun tunic and breeches and washed them as well, twice.
Dressed in her damp rags, Willofain realized she had better start walking, for warmth and to dry the clothes. She was still starving but her bath had given her a feeling of well-being she had not known was possible. Also she had another feeling she did not recognize, but it warmed her heart and gave her strength. I can go one more day, she told herself, and I will not beg them for food. Skirting the Elves’ camp carefully she headed south along the tree line. Walking was easier this way and soon she would be on the Dwarf Road that led straight to the river junction and Wild Water Village.
She stepped lightly, looking better than she knew. Hope lighted her face for she had seen the world of Elves. And with her bowl-shaped blonde hair, thin face and body, and odd height, she looked, remarkably, like Blade-singer.
*** Knives in the Dark***
Like Thranduil’s spies, Theall and Ibun were a few hours’ ride away from the ferry to Wild Water Village, camping near the Dwarf Road. The times being peaceful as they were ever likely to be, the Dwarves kept no watch. Ibun was already asleep. Theall his father sat with his back to a boulder and his face to the fire, remembering his letter to Bessain:
I showed the longknives to every Dwarf, Mortal and Elf I met between the Iron Hills and Moria. Strange to say, though all thought they were beautiful, all felt unwilling to touch them. I myself picked them up only once, and thought I felt a slow warmth building in the handles. I offered them to my son but Ibun put them down at once, saying he disliked the heat. Well, my son is right only when he stands before his forge. Bessain, I shall be glad to return these Elvish knives to Elves.
An odd message, but true. Theall shrugged, lay down, and was sleeping when Willofain found their camp.
She could not resist the smell of their supper. Quiet as a shadow and nearly as thin, she lifted the cover off the pot. Inside, to her joy, was a mess of earth-apple chunks simmered in meat broth, still warm. She ate a ladle-full and drank some ale from a skin. Dwarf-ale is a powerful drink. She lay down beside the Dwarves’ fire and slept alongside them for awhile. Since she was linked to the fate of Legolas, the longknives called to her. In her dream she saw the orphan Elf among dark trees, with terrible enemies all around. She lay bound on the ground. Above her, the Elf loomed from a high place and in his hands ….
Willofain awoke. The small camp was silent and the fire burned low. As if tranced, she went to Theall, found the doeskin bundle, and unwrapped the knives. They were beautiful in the firelight. The handles grew warm when she touched them and she pulled away. What a gift they would make for the orphan Elf. He would be grateful to her, she thought, maybe be her friend. Love her.
She took the bundle and ran. She made one careless mistake and stepped on a dry stick. Theall awoke, heard footsteps, and saw the knives were gone. He almost let them go, but Bessain had trusted them to him and he owed Bessain. He shook Ibun awake and they trailed through the woods after Willofain. It was the middle of the night when Orcs are active. Zalog and his scouts marked Willofain and her pursuers.
“We will follow this sweet meat for a while,” decided Zalog. “The stinking Elf army cannot be close yet.” So the Orcs followed the Dwarves and the Dwarves followed Willofain, whose back trail led straight to the camp of the orphan Elf.
Finished in “The Legend of Legolas – Longknives Part Three”
1. See www.cs.brown.edu/fun/welsh/LexiconEW.html , English to Welsh lexicon, ©copyright 1995-1996 Mark H. Nodine. Source of the name “Willofain” from “wylofain” meaning “wailing” or “to weep.” Thanks, Mark.
2. “Firestone” is the mineral known to Dwarves as “fools’ gold” and to the knowledgeable Elves as “ironstone.” Another name is “iron pyrite.” – Chathol-linn January 2003