The Mallorn Tree
In the woods of Lórien in the Blessed Realm, before the ages of Middle-earth began, lived a young elf maiden. No one knows where she came from or who her parents were, and her name was never known, although the elves after called her Loreliel, which is ‘golden star maiden.’ She lived alone, with only the trees for company, and living faces never looked upon her, because she was skilled in hiding and disappearing among the trees at will. Often young elves wandering in the woods would fancy they saw a pair of bright green eyes peeping between the leaves, yet after a second glance they were gone. She was a pupil of Yavanna, however, and from her she learned the secrets of the trees and the flowers, and she was the only being Loreliel would talk to.
One afternoon whilst she was wandering among the leafy glades, a young elf was to be seen walking before her in a dreamlike state. He was Carandol — ‘Fire-head’, so named because of his fair hair, which shone, like a flame, and he was one of the Vanyar. He sat down with his back to a tree nearby and hung his head. Loreliel slipped silently closer to get another look. Then, whether by Loreliel’s unusual carelessness or by some divine intervention, he looked up, hearing a sound, and caught sight of those green eyes which had bewitched so many before him. To Loreliel’s surprise, he did not take any notice of them but hung his head again, in deep thought.
Although Loreliel had never spoken to another elf she knew that this annoyed her. She enjoyed bewitching people and confusing them and haunting their dreams, and that such a handsome elf should care to ignore her was unpardonable. She would get him to notice her! She stepped out, allowing him to see her as she had allowed no other being to do so save Yavanna. Yet still he did not look up. Slowly, and then more quickly, she began to dance, whirling around like only a spirit of the trees could. Then Carandol looked up and he noticed her, her slight figure clothed by leaves, and her long golden hair, and her shining green eyes. And still she danced, until she forgot where she was, and her long hair enveloped her like a golden cloud, and her eyes shone like stars or the silmarils to be. And he stood up and held out his hands and called her ‘Yavanna’, for that is who he truly believed her to be.
Hearing herself thus addressed, she stopped dancing and smiled at him ‘Why do you call me that?’ she asked. ‘I am not she.’
‘I beg pardon, Lady, for I truly thought you were one of the Valar.’
She smiled ‘Yavanna is my mistress. I am but an elf.’
He looked upon her and saw her and from that moment onwards he loved the lady of the trees. And he left Loreliel at twilight meaning to go home, for he was betrothed to another maiden who was waiting for him. Yet after she thought he had gone, he stopped, for his mind was full of her, and secretly followed her. Soon he came upon her dwelling place, a house made of trees, which grew and blossomed above her head. Yet she was waiting for him, because he had not been quiet in his following of her and she had ears like those of a rabbit. She said to him “Why did you follow me?’
He replied ‘I do not know, lady, but I feel like one bewitched.’
She was frightened, because she felt something strong in her heart, of loneliness, and longing for companionship, and she wanted to be with him, yet she did not understand his bewitchment and the way he looked at her. But he said to her ‘Do not be afraid, I will not hurt you. Tell me your name, and where you come from.’
But she replied ‘My name is my own, and none save Yavanna use it. But you may call me Orniel, for I am a lady of the trees. And you must tell me your name. As for where I come from, I live here and have done so for as long as I can remember.’
‘Orniel is a pretty name, but too plain I think for its owner. To me you shall be Loreliel, because you are like a golden star. My name is also my own, yet I will reveal it to you, I am known by all save one as Carandol.’ But he did not tell her who the one was, and she did not ask, as she was thinking of other things.
They spoke long into the night, of other matters, of the trees and flowers which she loved, and she told him much of what she knew, for she was falling in love, although she knew nothing of the emotion.
As the moon was rising he took leave of her, and left his heart behind, yet took hers with him. She did not sleep that night, but he had not told her when he would return. She sat amid the branches and watched the stars, and dreamed of his returning.
She woke the next morning in a fever of excitement, but he did not come to see her. She waited all day and still he did not come. And she sat all the time in her tree and waited for him, and neglected the trees and flowers that were her friends, and became pale, but still he did not come. And after a month of waiting she prayed to Yavanna and said ‘O Yavanna, most blessed of the Valar to me, tell me why he has not returned. I do not understand him. Why has he gone? Has he forgotten me? If he has I shall end my life for I am tired of this waiting, and I am lonesome without him.’
Yavanna heard her prayer and she was troubled, since she saw many things and knew of Carandol’s preparation for his wedding, and she knew of Loreliel’s desire for him. Summoning her skill and her magic, she lifted Loreliel in her sleep and transformed her, and she took the light of her eyes and created leaves, and she took the sparkle of her hair, and made golden flowers, and the pale ethereal whiteness of her skin, and made a silvery bark, and made Loreliel the most beautiful tree ever seen, save those that stood in the gardens of the Valar and shone with the eternal light, and Yavanna called it the ‘mallorn’, which means ‘Tree of Gold’ in the common speech. And the tree was stood in the place where Loreliel and Carandol had first met.
Now Carandol was troubled for a long time, because he was haunted by the vision of Loreliel dancing yet he had not had time to see her due to the preparations for his wedding. Yet on the night before he married his betrothed, he found time to go for a last walk in the woods. As he walked along, he noticed that the wood was strangely quiet, and the magical atmosphere had died. In his heart he had a sense of foreboding, and he began to walk faster and faster towards the place where he had seen Loreliel first. And as he came through the trees he beheld the glorious tree, with its leaves of silver and green, and its majestic silver trunk, and the beautiful flowers, and at once he knew what had happened, for it seemed to him that he saw her form in the tree. He was sad for a long time, and he wept as he walked around this majestic tree. No one knows what he thought as he beheld she which once he had loved, but one can imagine. And finally he walked forwards and kissed the slender trunk, and at once the leaves turned to gold and shimmered above his head, and that is why the leaves of the mallorn turn to gold in the autumn.
But Eluiel his betrothed had followed him into the woods, and she had watched for a long time as he had pondered over the tree and finally she called to him and said ‘What is it my beloved, why do you look at the tree so? It is a fair tree indeed, the fairest I have ever seen.’ And she went forward and took a single flower from one of its boughs, and placed it in one of the coils of her hair. All at once Carandol looked at her and perceived her beauty, and loved her again, as if he had never set eyes on Loreliel. And he kissed her under the boughs of the mallorn, and there fell down in front of them single silver nut, which Carandol took and treasured, and later planted, and it grew to be another mallorn.
And so Carandol and Eluiel were married in the autumn, yet Carandol never forgot Loreliel, although their acquaintance had been brief. And in the summer, when their first child was born, she had green eyes, a rarity among elves, and golden hair. Her mother called her Silridel, which is “Shining Head’ but her father called her Loreliel, for she reminded him of his meeting with her of the trees. And the mallorn grew and spread, yet always shone with the same radiance as the maiden who had danced in the woods long long ago.