5. And I Alone Lived To Tell The Tale
Chapter Five: And I Alone Lived To Tell The Tale
"All were slain save those who fled to die, or to drown in the red foam of the River. Few ever came eastward to Morgul or Mordor; and to the land of the Haradrim came only a tale from far off: a rumour of the wrath and terror of Gondor."
JRR Tolkien, The Return of the King
Legolas had the morning to himself, and most strangely for a warrior and a man of action, he betook himself to Khorlai's library. Books for him were a secret pleasure. Long ago, when the sons of Elrond had put him gently aside, losing patience with the incessant questions of a curious elf-child, Legolas had sought diversion in the archives of Imladris. Prompted by Master Erestor, he had found delight in the tales of valor in the First Age: the love story of Beren and Lúthien and their quest for the silmaril; the sack of Nargothrond; Glorfindel's battle with the Balrog. It was learning of the tale of one Legolas of the House of the Tree, who had led the remnant of Turgon's folk to safety in Sirion, that had sparked Legolas's own passion to become a warrior and caused him to pester Thranduil for his first bow. Later, as a young man, he had found peace and a new pride in the hitherto unsuspected richness of his Grey-elven heritage while assigned to duty in his father's library. At the time, he had thought that Thranduil was punishing him for certain lapses in judgment, and he had taken a wicked delight by enjoying the task, thus thwarting his father's will, or so he thought. Yet now, at this late date, he understood that it had been Thranduil's way of making a subtle gift to him; the gift of knowledge, reflection, and wisdom.
No matter where, libraries were the same -- the sense of quiet, the smell of dust and parchment. Legolas inhaled deeply in simple enjoyment and smiled.
"May I help you?"
Legolas turned to see a man among the shelves. His face, in profile, was handsome in the dark manner of the Haradrim.
"Aye, Master Librarian. I am Maitimo, bêthnaru, at your service. I would like a book to fill my idle hours."
"Very well," the young man said. "Do you desire some love poetry? Or perhaps some tales of humor?"
"I would rather read the work of Harad's most noted philosopher -- if such is available." said Legolas mildly.
"As you wish, Master Maitimo," said the librarian, quirking up the corner of his mouth and leading him back into the stacks. He reached onto a high shelf, rather clumsily with his left hand, and took down a book. "I think this will serve." He turned and held out the book and Legolas restrained a gasp as he saw the man's full face. While the left side was perfection, a scar cleft the right brow, running from mid forehead down to the corner of the mouth. The eye was gone, the lid a withered remnant in the deep fissure.
"I thank you, Master ah . . ." said Legolas struggling not to betray his shock.
"Phazan," replied the librarian.
"Forgive me," Legolas said. "I fear I failed to make your acquaintance at dinner last night. I rarely forget a name."
"I was not at dinner last night. I would not inflict this upon the court. Or upon anyone else." The young man hurried on. "You may keep the book as long as you like. With a tome like this, I expect it to be out a month."
"I intend to have it back in three days," said Legolas. "Until then . . . oh!" He stopped short when he saw a familiar looking game board in a corner, laid out with tiny pieces of ivory and dark wood. "You have this game here?"
Phazan nodded in the direction of the board. "Indeed we do. Do you play?"
Legolas nodded his head. The sight of the board almost brought tears to his eyes, reminding him of games played with his father over the course of many years. Suddenly, he felt very homesick. "Do you think we might?"
"I would like that," said Phazan. He went to the game table and sat, gesturing with his left hand for Legolas to join him.
"Choose colors?" Legolas asked, sitting also.
"You do it," said Phazan tersely. Legolas noticed that he kept his right hand hidden within the folds of his robe.
Legolas took up an ivory piece and one of ebony. Shifting them back and forth beneath the table to mix them and hiding one in each fist, he presented them to Phazan. The librarian pointed to the right hand. "You are black," Legolas said, opening his palm to reveal an ebony piece. He spun the board so that the ivory pieces were in front of him.
"Fitting," Phazan laughed. "I have only once before seen folk as pale as you. You should play the white."
Legolas moved out his first piece.
"Your hands are not those of an idle man," said Phazan, looking pointedly at Legolas's right hand. "Those are the calluses of a bowman, unless I miss my guess."
"You have hit your mark, Master Librarian," said Legolas, chiding himself for his lack of foresight in showing his hands. How to explain it? "I was not always a bêthnaru. But since the defeat of Sauron, soldiers are not so much in demand, and those such as myself needs must find other employment. I thought that if I could no longer be a warrior, I would become a lover to earn my bread. It is an irony, is it not?"
"That option was not available to me," said Phazan, moving out his pawn. "Fortunately, I had a love of books to fall back on."
"You were a soldier?" Legolas asked, moving out another pawn.
Phazan nodded. "I was an archer like yourself. At least, until this." He took his right arm out of his robes, revealing a mangled stump where the hand had been.
Legolas frowned in sympathy. "The same battle as . . . ?"
"Oh, yes. I rather think either injury would be sufficient to end the career of a soldier." Phazan shrugged. "I was just very unlucky that day. As were we all. I wish I could say that my wounds came as the result of great deeds of valor, but they were not."
"I have been in battle, my friend. War is rarely glorious. It is more a comedy of errors, although the bards will never sing it so afterwards."
"And so it was with me," Phazan said. "I led a company of archers in that battle on the plain before the White City. Our best they were; brave men all. There came a charge of horsemen; big men with hair almost as pale as yours. They broke our cavalry line and rode us down. My bow was broken, my right hand useless, crushed under the hooves of one of the warhorses as it passed over me. I picked up a fallen sword and tried to defend myself, but I was not trained in that weapon, and it was my clumsy hand wielding it. I tried to parry a blow from another of the big horsemen. I kept my head, but I received this." He gestured upward at his ruined face.
"There came a cry from the south. The ships of the Corsairs had arrived at Harlond. I thought we were saved. And then, with my one good eye, I saw a banner unfurl; a white tree and seven stars. I remember very little after that, half blinded as I was and weak from loss of blood. I recall wading into the river, which already ran red. After that, I knew no more until I came back to my senses in the company of some Uruk."
"Yes. Goblins, you would call them, and other might call them beasts, but I found them not so. They have a strange kind of honor about them, for they tended me and shared their food, when they might just as easily have made a meal of me. One even kindly had my hand off with his scimitar when it began to fester. Rough medicine to be sure, but it saved my life, such as it was. In time, I regained my strength, left them, and made my way back home, to bring my folk rumour of the wrath and terror of Gondor."
Legolas stayed silent, remembering another long-ago battle and a wound from his own bowstring. A minor change of fate, and here he might sit lacking an eye. Had the cry been "Goblins!" instead of "Eagles!" he might not be here at all.
"I came home," Phazan continued. "But often, I ask myself, why, out of all of them, I alone should have lived to tell the tale."
Legolas remembered his own father, sitting alone with a glass of wine, staring into the fire; and Galion, so over fond of his drink. "Sometimes war is cruelest to those who survive. It leaves scars that do not heal."
"I know much of scars," said Phazan.
"I meant the ones that do not show," Legolas said softly. "There is pain in still drawing breath when so many good men have died. War is a fell thing, and I would do much to see no more of it."
"A fell thing indeed, Maitimo."
The chess game lay forgotten for the time being. "Ai! I have let the time slip away. Do you know what hour it is, Master Phazan? For I have an invitation from a lady, and I would fain not be tardy."
"I believe it is just past midday," said Phazan.
"I must leave you, then. May I return to continue our game tomorrow?"
The librarian nodded. "That would be most pleasant."
"And, Master Phazan, might I trouble you for directions to the apartments of the king's sister? I confess, I still do not know my way around."
"Across the courtyard, turn left, and they are in the wing on your right. The lady Zamin, eh?" Phazan smiled. "She is most fond of her diversions. She is a good woman, though, and her life has not been easy. I pray you, Maitimo, deal kindly with her."
Legolas inclined his head gracefully. "I am an elf, my friend. I can do no other . . ."
* * * * * * *
To be continued . . .
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