Wood and Silver
Telheled stepped lightly across the broad wooden raft tethered to the shore of the Running River. An early October moon hung in the blue sky and a thin mist rose off the river. A chill bit at the tips of Telheled’s delicate pointed-ears. The raft rocked slightly in the sway of the current causing Telheled to wobble. He spread his arms wide to regain his balance or to brace for impact. His teetering ceased. Stable and in control, the half-elf sighed with relief and let his hand fall back to his side.
“Mae govannen, Clumsy-foot!” a voice shouted from the shoreline. As soon as he heard the timbre of the voice, he knew it was Gil-Lómë the Jewelwright. Telheled turned suddenly to see his old friend, and fell backwards and smacked his seat hard against the wood.
Gil-Lómë laughed merrily, “I see you have changed little in the last twenty years.”
“Elves never do.” Telheled answered getting up and making for the land with more care. “At least I didn’t fall in the water.”
The friends embraced and then Telheled stepped back to see what twenty years had done to Gil-Lómë. The older Elf wore a heavy grey tunic under a black jerkin embossed with interlacing silver, that matched the lacing on his boots. On his shoulder was a leather pack. Telheled, himself, was dressed in Mirkwood green from head to toe with stray hues of blue.
“How was your trip then,” Telheled asked, “to the South country and the Golden Wood?”
“Lothlorien was splendid.” Gil-Lómë said with a smile. ” But the shadow is growing in Mirkwood, and even the Lady Galadriel can not chase it away. I fear there are going to be dangerous times ahead, my friend.”
” But, come now.” he beckon Telheled to a curving tree root. They sat upon it as if it were bench. “Tell me how you are faring as a raft-elf on the Running River. Has trade been good?”
“I am doing well and the trade has picked up in the last few month. I have gone up and down the river so many times I could probably do it blind. I’m glad you caught me, I was just about to shove off.”
“Truth is,” said Gil-Lómë, ” I was hoping I might join you. I’m running out of silver and pearls. I must go to the Lonely Mountain for new supplies.”
“There is nothing I would like better.” said Telheled.
The small trees growing along the banks were turning red. The raft went steadily down the river. Telheled steered it with long, clean strokes, even so the cargo of barrels wobbled against one another and their ropes. The singing of the birds could barely be heard atop the chatter of the elven friends.
“Your parents decided to stay in Lorien?” Telheled asked.
“For now.” Gil-Lömé said. “With the shadow and everything, they feel it’s safer. And my mother lived in Lothlorien before she married. But, I could never leave the Greenwood. Not even as it becomes murky and dark. I love hunting among the thin beeches and riding by the shores of Running River.”
“Stay then, friend no wants you to leave.” Telheled laughed, his eyes sparkling in the sunlight. “Your mother, she was one of the maidens at Lady Galadriel’s side when the Noldor crossed the ice?”
“No. That was my grandmother.”
“Will you ever leave Mirkwood to go into the West ?”
A chilly wind blew about them carrying the redden leaves. Gil-Lömé watched them with sad green eyes, “I will not leave Middle-earth until everything I love is gone. But even then I would still call Mirkwood my home. Will you go to the West, Telheled?”
“I do not think I should. I am only half-elven.”
“So? The worse that could happen is you have to choose whether you will be judged as an elf or a man.”
“And if I will not, will they turned me into a star and sent me into sky beside Eärendil?”
“Until you trip over the moon and coming falling back to earth.” Gil- Lömé said. They both burst into laughter.
Gil-Lömé smiled, it was good to hear Telheled laughing at his own clumsiness. For too many years it had been a wound to him, festering with shame and insecurity. Gil-Lömé winced at a twinge of regret that all around him the world was changing. Even Telheled was more jovial, and more adventurous than Gil-Lömé remembered. But it wasn’t only Telheled, it was his parents and their decision to stay in Lorien. It had caught him off guard and made him realised how much fear the shadow and changes it wrought.
A glimmer caught his eye, a flash of white on silver. It came from Telheled’s mithril pendent, a gift from Gil-Lömé to honor their friendship and replace the pendent Telheled had broken. The necklace was now over a hundred years old but as bright and smooth as the day it was wrought.
Somethings you just have to trust in. Gil-Lömé decided and turned to new thoughts.
“Tell me about your parents.” he said to Telheled. “How did Talesgal come to love a daughter of men?”
Telheled’s eyes followed the curve of the river. Long Lake was coming into view on the horizon and he could see the wooden roofs of Esgaroth with his keen elven sight.
“They met in Esgaroth.” he said with a sigh. He still remembered the first time his father had told this story. ” My father was then part of King Thranduil’s army. There had been a disturbance up in Esgaroth involving some of our folk and Thranduil sent up a few soldiers. My father was one of them. One day while he was on guard by the rafts, he saw her walk by, dark braids falling around her golden face. She walked so light that at first he thought she was an elf. Then, their eyes met, it was only a mere passing glance but he was lost in her sad blue eyes, which seemed to crying out for help.
“Then, later that night, he was strolling under the stars and heard a woman crying. He found the weeping maiden by the waterside at the edge of the quay. She was on her knees with her face buried in her hands. Beside her was a battered old pair of shoes, the leather was cracked, the laces frayed and the soles worn through.
“My father asked her what was wrong and when she lifted her face, he saw those same sad blue eyes. She told him her father was sick and she had come to Esgaroth to buy a special herb of healing that came out of the south by trade and could not be found in Dale. The price had been more then she could afford and so she had bartered her best shoes to make up the difference. The shoes beside her were all she had left and her feet were now sore and what’s more, she had missed the boat for Dale. She felt the world was all against her.
“Now Talesgal, you know is a cobbler. He learned the trade from his father way back in the Second Age and for many years they had made shoes together, until my grandfather died on an orc’s blade. That’s way my father became a solider. So when he heard the plight of this fair mortal maiden he said: “I can make for you shoes more lovely than all others.” He took her by the hand and led her back into town.
“All that night he worked, measuring her feet, shaping the leather, stitching the pieces together. By morning’s first light the woman who would be my mother stood in soft but strong, blue shoes with twenty silver eyes and a vine of leaves woven into the leather. He charged her nothing, but sent her on her way so that she wouldn’t miss the morning boat. My father watched her go with a sudden wave of regret. For his heart sighed and he knew that he loved Rebraya of Dale.
“That is why he took leave of the Elvenking and went to Dale. He’d never been so far north nor, seen a city of men so glorious as Dale. The towers rise like slender mountains out of the greenest valley, glowing in the sunlight. The houses are made of red stones and wooden spirals with gardens and wide streets of powdered stone. But the grand sight of all is the great bell tower. My father…”
Telheld’s tongue fell silent, as Gil-Lömé raised a hand. The wind bore to their ears the clang of many bells. Their ears throbbed with the repetitive clatter. The Elves looked up passed Esgaroth to the distance shores of Dale and the lonely Mountian. A harsh red blaze was rising toward the northern sky and thick fog lay across the river. Out of the gloom they saw a shadow. Great leathery wings eclipsed the fiery glow. A dragon had come.
Telheled stared in disbelief as the oar slipped from his hands. Unnatural wind sent waves rapping on the wooden quay of Esgaroth. Gil-Lömé looked around him. The lake was filled with boats as the people of the lake town fled further down river, in case the Dragon turned toward them. The winged beast circled down into the fog and there was flash of fire that turned the lake orange and yellow. Smoke rose out of the fog. The bells fell silence. Torrents of fire rose where Dale once stood. Telheled leaped to his feet a small curve blade in his hand.
“Ai!” He wailed. “Dale is burning! The land of my mother’s kin. That worm has earned the wrath of my blade!” The wicked fire glowed on his face and the folk of Esgaroth who saw him, coward in their boats, afraid the madden elf would attack them.
Gil-Lömé hooked long fingers around his friend’s arm. A gust of warm wind whipped his golden hair into his cheek.
“Telheled, you can not do this thing.”
The half-elf turned to Gil-Lömé, his eyebrows tilted and his blue eye glistened with tears. “That was my home, Gil-Lömé.” he whispered in a breaking voice. “I was born there. My mother’s grave is there.”
Gil-Lömé lowered the dagger, then clutched Telheled’s shoulder, “But the Greenwood remains. Let us go back and warn them.”
At last Telheled surrendered the knife to its sheath and picked up the oars. They rowed back in solemn silence. Telheled’s grief was still waxing and his tears fell freely. Gil-Lömé’s face was placid, his green eyes cold and his heart full of sorrow.
Neither of them saw the slanted protrusion of slippery rocks ahead. The raft slammed into them with a sudden jerk. Telheled was thrown off the raft and hit the water back first. He was swept away by the violent pull of a side stream. The wooden raft rode across the rocks, until it was diagonal with the water. Then, the ropes snapped, barrels tumbled into the river, and rushed back toward Long Lake. Gil-Lömé slid into the cold water, as the barrels fell, looking everywhere for Telheled.
As suddenly as he was tossed into the frigid river Telheled lost feeling in all of his limbs, but the chill in his bones faded slowly in to a warm pain and then to nothingness. Grey clouds passed over head and then thud. Telheled stuck his head against a tangle of tree roots. He seized the wet wooden mess. He climbed out of the water just as he saw Gil-Lömé swimming up the river. He called to him and pulled him to shore.
For moment they sat on a rocky land above the river. Their teeth chattered, water drops fell from threads of golden hair and run down their necks or on the stones.
“Come,” Gil-Lömé said, “We must keep moving.”
The two elves were on an triangular island of rock covered with small shrubbery. The river roared on two sides, but along the other run a jagged ledge. At its edge Telheled and Gil-Lömé could see a road winding toward the Mountains of Mirkwood. The elves gazed down the road with longin eyes. Gil-Lömé sat down in glass and swung his legs over the edge.
“It doesn’t look hard to climb.” He said. He twisted his body around and nestled his wet shoes into a crack.
Telheled lend forward on his knees. The cliff was slant straight down with gapping cracks and grey ledge buried under clump dirt that twinkled in the sunlight. Telheled raised his eyebrows and curled his lip. “You want me to climb down that?”
“There’s no other way to go.” Gil-Lömé answered. “Besides, on the road it will only be a three-days walk from here to Mirkwood.”
Gil-Lömé nimbly dropped to a narrow ledge, “Follow right after me, so I can help you down.”
He let go of his hand hold and offered an empty hand to Telheled. Stones cracked under foot and dust billowed up into Telheled’s face. His heart was in his throat as he heard Gil-Lömé’s cry. Instinctive he grabbed for his friend; he caught Gil-Lömé’s slender wrists, and squeezed them to the bone. He felt the quick pulse of blood under his wet fingers. The dust cleared, green eyes of gratitude looked up into blues one of relief and disbelief.
“That was a spectacular catch, Telheled, but there is no place to set my feet. Can you pull me back up.”
“No. I’ll fall if I move.”
For a while they just hung there, neither dared to breath. Gil-Lömé’s fingers were turning purple.
“Then, you’ll have to drop me.”
“Are you mad! No.”
“I could break a few bones, but we’re out of options here. You’ll have to let me fall.”
“Don’t make me do this, Gil-Lömé.”
“I am not holding you accountable. This is my choice. We have to do this before we both fall.”
Telheled’s thoughts began to spin, a cold sweat blossomed on his skin. He tried to look away from Gil-Lömé but his resolute eyes were all he saw.
Elbereth go with him. He let Gil-Lömé slip out of his fingers.
Gil-Lömé landed on his feet, but toppled over as the surface moved beneath him. He had not hit the ground but landed in a newly arrived cart that passed under the cliff as he fell. A dull pain spread across his back from the rumpled sack he was laying on.
He attempted to stand when a stout figure blocked his way, a dwarf-child with a round nose and beardless face. “Dad!” he cried, “There’s a elf in the wagon!”
The two ponies halted and two larger dwarves appeared with thick beards and broad axe. One had a knife.
“A thief, probably.” The Dwarf with the knife said raising his weapons.
“Oh, he look’s harmless.” the older Dwarf said, “He doesn’t even have a bow.”
Gil-Lömé slowly rose to his feet slid passed the dwarf-child and came to the edge of the wagon. He bowed slightly, “Pardon my entrances my good dwarves. I am Gil-Lömé and known to the…”
“There is another one!” The child shouted. Telheled come tumbling head over heels into the wagon. He groaned but quickly rolled into a crouch and drew his knife.”
“I úlú!” Gil-Lömé growled at him. “Vamen sicil lin.”
Telheled sheathed his knife just as Gil-Lömé leaped from the wagon to avoid the swing axes.
“We are raft-elves.” he said helping Telheled climb out of the wagon. “We came to trade at Long Lake and the Lonely Mountain but found only a dragon and ruin. Our raft was over turned and we lost our cargo. We ask only for aid; could you not let us ride with you.”
The dwarves shook their heads, “You can’t trust elves, especially when they fall out of nowhere, with no proof their story is true.”
The older dwarf grunted his approval and sauntered over to their ponies.
“We can pay you.” Gil-Lömé pled jiggling his leather pouch. “Just spare us some food or a blanket?”
The wagon rolled away vanishing at a bend in the road. The Dwarf-child waved at the elves until he disappeared from view.
Gil-Lömé slumped at the roots of a tree, glowering menacingly at the bend in the road. “Curse the dragon.” he said. “This trip has been nothing but one misadventure after another.”
“Gil-Lömé! Come look at this.” Telheled said. He was facing the cliff with his hands pressed against the rocks.
Gil-Lömé went to him and grasped. ” May Aüle be bless. That is a vein of silver!”
He ran his fingers along the sparkling metal. The weariness of the day vanished and his eyes danced with joy and delight. He smiled at Telheled. Together they began to break away the silver from its rocky bed.
Telheled hung the laden pack over Gil-Lömé’s shoulders, “You never finished telling me about your parents.” the Jewel-Wright said, “What happened when Talesgal came to Dale?”
The elves started on their long walk home toward the setting sun. Water was still dripping from their clothes and the autumn wind was bitter. They leaned close to one another and lost themselves in tales and songs.