1. Mereth Echuir
"The wind has shifted again."
"So it has, Legolas."
"It is time, mellon nin, for you to move your carcass downwind for a bit."
"No, mellon nin, I moved last time. It's your turn to move."
"I am not the one smoking,"
"But you are the one complaining. Deal with it, gwadar."
Grey eyes met blue eyes with matched intensity. Neither would back down.
"Look," said the elf at last, "The moon shines full tonight."
The ranger snorted and pulled deeply on his pipe. "The first full moon of the spring, eh Legolas?"
"You remember then, Edain?"
"Remember? I will never forget."
Silence slid between them, as comfortable as a worn cloak.
"You were scared coming into Mirkwood the first time, were you not?"
The ranger chuckled. "Not so much from the tales my brothers told me, although they were frightening enough. And I knew that the tales were true because I often heard them trying to find ways to avoid visiting you in Mirkwood. I think they were scared too."
"It wasn't enough that the twins were scared?"
"No, what really scared me was the way that you changed as we drew near to the dark wood."
"I changed? You are talking nonsense, Estel."
The ranger sat up straight and set his pipe aside, "I do not lie, Legolas. In Imladris you were ever the gentleman. Your dress was impeccable, your demeanor pleasant and congenial –but there was a sense of reserve that I didn't even notice was there until we drew near to Mirkwood that first time. Just you and I, that is the time we are talking about, is it not?"
"Yes, it was the first time Elrond let you go beyond the borders of Imladris without your brothers. I had promised to guard you with my life and show you all kinds of things that would enrich your education."
"I am supposed to believe you? What was the real reason"
"I really wanted to be home for Merith Echuir, of course. It was easier to take you along than put up with your guilting me with those large grey eyes for leaving Imladris without a proper visit. I had been out on patrol with your brothers for most of the time I was there."
Aragorn grinned, "I was prone to wanting my own way. So you didn't have my educational welfare at heart?"
"Sweet Eru no!" protested the elf, "I didn't want to miss Mereth Echuir, and I thought you might enjoy it."
"And so I did."
"But what is this change you were speaking of?"
"Mmmm, " said the Man, taking another deep draft from his pipe, "The closer we got to the Woods, the more relaxed and happy you became. I felt as though I was watching you shed a shell of sorts. It scared me to death because I figured that you were putting up a good front to shield me from the horrors that awaited us. Then you smiled a real smile, I mean really from your heart. Damn near turned around and headed for home. I figured things must be really bad in the woods to cause you to smile like that."
The elf chuckled and then laughed out loud. "I smiled, Mortal, because I was headed home. There is nothing so awful in Mirkwood that would keep me from loving to return."
"I know that now."
With a sigh, Legolas got up and walked upwind of the smoke. With measured movements he sat beneath a birch tree, easing his back against the trunk. Automatically he reached over his shoulder and touched the tree in greeting. "You didn't hide your fear at all well, mellon nin. I remember the questions you asked. There were so many of them!"
"Most of what I'd heard was true, Legolas. My brothers did not exaggerate the size of the spiders. Wargs were every bit as vicious as I had been told. I knew of the orcs, although my brothers were fair when they said your bowmen had more skill and experience in bringing them down. And the Darkness. The Darkness of Mirkwood truly hangs like a shroud about the place. I remember how it crawled into my heart when we crossed into the woods. Is that how you experience it?"
"Absolutely," said Legolas with a solemn timbre to his voice, "Absolutely and all the time. . . Was there anything that your brothers neglected to tell you of?" asked the elf.
"Well, they never told me that you harvested the webs of spiders you had killed to sell to healers for medicinal purposes."
"I thought for sure Lord Elrond would have told you about that."
"They never mentioned that your patrols are trained to shoot accurately in the dark."
"A needed skill in the south of MIrkwood."
"They never told me what you traded to get the real ivory for your knife handles."
"Ah, that is still a secret, although it involves jewels and Dorwinian wine."
"Or that your craftmen spend their days turning out fine bows for Men."
"Rather than the fancy bows of Lothlorien or the crafts of Imladris? My father ruled a country that had been at war for millennia, Estel. We had to find ways to pay for things that we could not produce ourselves. Many of the resources we needed to keep our people alive had been compromised by the Darkness. We learned to fight and we learned to cope. And my people make fine bows, why the bow that fired the black arrow that brought the dragon down –"
"Was made in Mirkwood. Yes, I know, Legolas."
The elf grimaced, "Mind your tongue, Estel," he admonished, "When I brought you to Mirkwood you had been so immersed in Noldorian elf lore that you thought the only way to make music was with instruments, the only way to learn history was from books, and the only way to dance was to follow a ritual. I don't think you had ever seen an elf laugh until you came to the Mereth Echuir."
"My family laughed. . . Well, no, you are right gwadar nin. There is no laughter as welcoming or as freely given as that from a wood elf."
"Thank you, " said Legolas, smiling smugly.
Aragorn's pipe finally burned itself out. He set it aside and lay back, cradling his head in his hands. "The stars are brilliant tonight," he said at last. He sighed and continued in a subdued voice, "I was afraid of meeting your father. You told me that he had treasure that he counted as valuable as the stars, that he would stop at nothing to protect it, even sacrificing his own life and the lives of his people to secure it. That sounded frighteningly similar to another bit of history I'd been taught and it scared me to death," he paused, "Why in Eru's name did you tell me that, Legolas?"
"I'm an elf. We take pride in being enigmatic," said the elf simply.
"It was the truth," continued Legolas, "You didn't take long to discover that."
"We hadn't been in Mirkwood for a full day when you turned off the road and led me to the clearing."
"You had no idea what was going on, but you trusted me, Estel. I hadn't been able to attend a Mereth Echuir for nearly two decades, but I was determined to take part in the celebration and if you were along to watch, so much the better. I could think of no better way to bounce you out of your preconceived notions of what it meant to be an elf. If you remember you were going through a period of feeling like you would never be as good as your father and brothers. You compared yourself constantly to them and forever found yourself short. You were so hard on yourself . . ."
"And you blame that on my family?" asked Aragorn.
"The Noldor elves ever reach for the stars, spending their lives creating beauty and striving to know it all and see it all and craft it all. They forever measure themselves and find themselves wanting. It is not a bad way, but the wood elves reach inward, to root themselves ever deeper into creation. We don't live our lives seeking the future, but rather in savoring and celebrating the moment,"
"I've not heard you wax philosophical before. You're not bad at it," said Aragorn with a chuckle, "I suppose your tendency to play in the moment is why I put up with your insufferable singing at the spur of the moment . . . or have to pull you away from a flower when you get lost in its beauty."
"That's why, Mortal, I tossed you into that tree when we got to the clearing rather than pontificating on the historical relevance of each of the stages of the ceremony."
"That clearing was so magical, Legolas. Even with all the amazing things I'd seen in Imladris, coming upon that beautiful glade near the top of the hill with all the varieties of trees surrounding it was remarkable. You didn't tell me that we had reached a sacred space. I was just hoping that we could stop there to spend the night."
"And then I stuffed you in that maple and told you to find a secure place to sit and to keep your eyes open."
Aragorn smiled and closed his eyes as he remembered his relief at finding that the low branch Legolas had chosen for him was wide enough to sit comfortably on. Even with scooting back so that his back leaned against the trunk, he'd had a good view of the clearing. Recalling Legolas' admonition, he adjusted himself so that his legs were crossed and his hands rested upon his knees. He closed his eyes and took several slow, calming breaths, smelling the brisk dampness of the woods around him. The sounds of the woods at the edge of dusk were subdued and muted. His ears weren't well tuned enough to hear the scurrying of small animals through the brush, but he was able to hear the trills and whistles of a single nightingale marking the end of the day with his nighttime song. Estel took another deep breath and then opened his eyes.
It took a moment for his sight to adjust fully to the muted hues of twilight. The clear sky glowed with the gray remnants of daylight and was rimmed with the silhouette of huge hemlocks marking a black relief against the sky. Oaks, some larger than the tree he was sitting in, edged the clearing as well, standing shoulder to shoulder with ancient beech and maple trees. Well below the crowns of the aged sentinels were smaller trees; birch and laurel. There was not much underbrush, Estel noted. Indeed the clearing seemed to be blanketed with a covering of loamy moss.
For a time Estel simply opened himself to observe the silence and the beauty of the grove. Legolas had spoken of areas within Mirkwood that were secure, and it was not hard to imagine that this was one such place. The nightingale concluded his evening song. The sky deepened to a dusky grey-blue. The silence that ensued was so peaceful that Estel caught himself beginning to doze. His eyes closed and his head began to nod when the silence was broken with a single voice clean and clear lifting a simple melody into the twilight.
Estel scanned the clearing to determine the source of the music. High in the branches of one of the great maples sat a slender elleth. She held no instrument but sang from her heart, wordless, with tones as pure and complex as the nightingale. As she sang the light continued to dim, and the clearing continued to darken, save for the soft glow of the maiden as she sang.
The song went on for some time, and the stars began to emerge by ones and twos until the white road of stars was revealed and the clearing was cast in soft starshine. As the stars came forth, there also came the Elves, coming smoothly into the glade on silent feet.
A few entered from the north; several from the east. Alone and in pairs they came to stand upon the soft moss that carpeted the clearing. The ellyth were wearing simple dresses of light weave that moved easily as they walked. The ellyn wore naught but loose breeches. The dark hair of the elves was unadorned and unbraided, cascading often to the waist, although the warriors, marked by well shaped muscles and careful stride, wore their hair to just below the shoulder blades. At first there were fewer than a dozen Elves in the clearing, but they kept adding to their number until the glow from the Elvin forms rivaled the pure light of the stars. Gracefully, the figures made their way to the clearing, greeting one another with laughter, embracing and kissing each other upon the brow, but there was no talking. After a time they separated. Each one took an appointed spot apart from the others to set themselves in as small space as possible. Some knelt and bowed forward, touching their heads to the earth. Some sat cross legged, embracing their knees in their arms. Others lay curled upon the ground. This continued until the clearing was filled with an array of soft lights, surrounded by the tall dark sentinels of the trees. When all the elves had come forth and made themselves ready, the singer slowed her music, then stopped singing altogether.
Silence drew across the clearing. There was no whisper in the sky nor in the trees nor on the ground. It was a waiting silence. The hearts of the elves still beat; blood still coursed through their veins and yet they did not move or speak.
From deep within the forest came a new singing, couched in the rich golden voice of an ellon. The melody he voiced had no words, or perhaps was in the forerunner of all words for there were sweet resonating vowels and bright consonants. The music played with the sounds, speaking of energy and color and life.
The bringer of the song stepped into the clearing and as he continued his song, others began to sing, soft counterpoint or echoed rhythms. Some chanted softly, others cried aloud, others sang forcefully, others whispered almost silently. All was music, well timed and well harmonized. As though graced with the calling of the song, the elves began to unfold as though waking from a deep sleep. Each moved in their own way. Some leapt to their feet, others sat gradually and stretched. Still others opened themselves unhurriedly, like a sweet summer rose, each movement taken with intentional care.
Estel was amazed. Each moment the movement and song became clearer and more purposeful until all of the elves were dancing in graceful harmony, reminding him of water coursing cleanly through a narrow bed. Eventually the music slowed until all were standing with arms outstretched to the sky. Then each elf, in his or her own way, tilted a sweet face to the stars as though to drink in the silver light.
"Cuivienen," whispered Estel to himself, although the word was not spoken aloud.
They stood thus for well near an hour by Estel's reckoning. They moved a little bit, some to lower their arms, others to sit gracefully upon the soft moss. There was singing during this time, a musical sigh of contentment and joy. Estel could not tell who was singing, nor how many were singing, so well did their voices blend together under the arch of the open sky.
As the time passed a brilliant full moon rose from the horizon, casting long shadows from the trees across the clearing. At some silent signal, most of the elves moved and settled themselves on the perimeter of the glade. A group of slender figures gathered at the far end of the glade and soon came forth wearing fine braids and trailing light scarves used for dancing. They were followed by six elves carrying deep drums. The drummers settled with their backs to the trees and began a sprightly rhythm that set the dancers dancing.
What followed was a delightful series of lively romps that reflected the early lives and courtship of the elves. The dances were brilliant, audacious and bold. Through the exquisite skill of the dancers, each element of love was portrayed with careful placement of eyes, shoulders, hands, feet and even toes. Each gesture was timed and trimmed to elicit emotions from the audience and the other players as well. They were reverent in that all was done with skill and respect. They were irreverent in that there was no shame in what was revealed; all was done with joy and humor. At first Estel bit his lower lip to avoid crying out with laughter, but he soon realized that he laughed nowhere near as robustly as the elves that were gathered in the clearing. He did find himself blushing more than once, and was thankful for the bit of shadow that he was seated in.
As the dances drew to a close, the elves stood and swarmed around the dancers, until Estel could not mark who was a dancer and who was not. The drummers continued their syncopated rhythms for a time. Eventually they shifted into a more regular rhythm and the elves slowly disengaged and returned to their seats.
Estel hadn't noticed that the warriors had all retired under the boughs of the nearby trees. He saw them now, emerging from the understory with their long ivory handled knives sheathed on their backs. They had also braided their hair with the braids of the warrior, carefully crafted to keep the hair back from the face in the midst of battle. As they walked to stand before the gathering, Estel was struck at the beauty and the strength that seemed to emanate from the ellyn. Legolas was there, his golden hair served as a beacon among his dark haired companions. He did not look towards Estel, but seemed absorbed within himself.
There were at least two score warriors in the glade, and they moved to make a large circle that filled much of the space. Several elves had to move their seats to make way for the company. Once the circle was made the drums rolled then played a slow and steady beat. With uncanny precision and synchrony the warriors simultaneously spun their knives from their sheaths, thus beginning the first set of the uruvae, the exercises that helped to keep them prepared for battle.
Estel sat forward on his branch. He had seen Legolas perform the uruvae only once before. It was a private thing, and it had taken Estel three tries before he was able to observe his friend undetected as he practiced in the darkness before dawn in the gardens of Imladris. He knew from his studies that the uruvae was designed to be done alone; the rapid turning and slashing, the abrupt changes in stance and balance would make it a danger to do in tandem. And yet, in this place there were not two but literally dozens of warriors twisting and turning in company, with their knives flashing silver in the moonlight.
The first set of the uruvae was tightly patterned, and the sight of so many warriors moving with cold and deadly precision made Estel catch his breath. They were not using practice swords, but the ivory handled blades of the Celege of Mirkwood. Even as he thought the thought there was a small misstep in the ranks. He could see blood on the shoulder of one of the warriors. With a brief bow to one another, both the injured and the perpetrator turned and left the field. The circle shifted, the gap closed, without a single break in the rhythm of the others.
Two more pairs of warriors retired before the first set of the uruvae was done. The warriors took a brief pause before the second set commenced. They did not seem winded at all. They stretched and shook their heads and looked at one another smiling, as though sharing some silent joke. Then the drums were struck three times and the elves resumed the circle.
Where the first set of the uruvae was for simply warming the body, the second set reflected the movements of defense. They held to no pattern but were in response to body placement and need. The deep beat of the drums came a bit more rapidly. Estel stared in open mouthed amazement as the warriors moved into the set. The unison was gone, giving way to a synchrony wherein each individual moved and responded in a masterful give and take of strike and defense. The set went on for some minutes before someone was hurt. Several more pairs removed themselves before the set was done.
Estel scanned the group for Legolas. He finally caught sight of his light hair towards the back of the clearing. Not all of the warriors stayed standing for the third set of the uruvae. Estel was glad to see that Legolas was among those who did not sit down.
As the drums continued to beat, the remaining warriors stood in loose circles of five. With a final roll, the drumming stopped. The warriors stood frozen in the silver moonlight. The second set had been much longer and more trying than the first and Estel could see the sweat glistening on the chests and backs of those closest to him. Many were breathing deeply, although not a sound could be heard coming up from the clearing.
At first it almost looked as though nothing were happening, but then Estel could see the warriors beginning the third set of the uruvae. This set began with slow, sinuous movements that reflected the sequence of the first set. Taken together, the elves looked almost as though they were a single huge creature writhing slowly upon the ground. After a moment the symmetry was broken as each elf began to respond to the unique demands of his placement in the circle. It was as though they were dancing a great dance in slow motion, without benefit of music or sound.
Almost imperceptibly, the dance quickened, bodies arched, arms swung wide. There were twists and turns and steps and thrusts and parries. The mark of this set was the offense, and soon the clearing became the scene of a full scale battle unfolding in the silver light of the moon without so much as a whisper to mark its passing.
The uruvae quickened again and the tempo became intoxicating. Estel felt drawn to the field. He could not allow himself to look away. Almost immediately with the change of tempo half a dozen elves withdrew from the field. The broken circles joined those nearby. It was hard for Estel to follow individual movements, but he knew that he had never seen anything as magnificent as the warriors locked in their mock battle, intent on fulfilling the demands of the uruvae without harming those nearby. Their ability to work together was amazing.The grace and the beauty and the strength of the warriors was mighty to behold.
It took quite awhile for the numbers on the field to diminish, but eventually there were only three warriors left standing. Legolas was among them. They were sweating freely, their hair sticking to forehead and face. Blades continued to flash, but it was clear that the set was drawing to a close. Abruptly, there was two sharp beats from one of the drums, and the remaining warriors froze and then returned their knives to their sheaths.
Estel closed his eyes, reviewing what he had just witnessed. Never in all his days had he seen such power bridled to such beauty. The dances of Imladras paled by comparison.
When he opened his eyes again, he saw that the maidens had exchanged places with the warriors. They commenced to sing a light song well suited to the early spring. Gracefully they began to dance in a circle and then with one another, their long hair swinging and the light cloth of their dresses floating as they moved. They came to the end of one song and began another in which each elleth sought out an ellon to dance with. The selection was done with grace and a good deal of humor, and although Estel could not tell which ellon was intended for each elleth, he could tell that there were some delightful surprises in the selection process.
It wasn't until the lively dance was well underway that Estel caught himself waiting for the music to begin. More precisely he was waiting for the instrumentation. Save for the drums, he realized with a start, the wood elves seemed to use no instrumentation. Upon careful perusal Estel discerned that the music itself was coming from a group of about thirty elves standing near the parameter of the clearing. Some sang with words, but many of them simply vocalized the tune, eliciting the sound of many instruments from their own voices. Estel allowed his ears to appreciate this skill while he continued to watch the dancers upon the field. The dresses of the ellyth shone in tones of silver in the moonlight. The dance itself was joyful and exuberant. Time slipped by unheeded as one dance followed another.
Many of the dances were danced to voice, but Estel found most compelling were the dances to the drums. The wood elves seemed to possess an almost innate sense of rhythm. The drums resonated like a unified heartbeat, pounding and pushing the elves into wild gyrations, magnificent leaps and amazing turns. They danced alone and they danced together, driven by the constant thrumming that stirred the heart and moved the blood. The wild abandon of the leaps and twists were severe and almost primal in nature. The joy with which the elves danced was overwhelming. Estel gripped the tree tightly, feeling as though he might spring unbidden into the dance at any moment, knowing that he would be totally lost if he found himself there. He watched until he could watch no more.
The moon had slid far in its course across the sky when Estel opened his eyes, chagrined that he had allowed himself to drowse. Sleepily he looked down upon the clearing where the elves had been dancing, only to note that the dance was resolved and their music had given way to the morning song of the birds as they stirred in the branches of the many great trees of the woods.
Cautiously, Estel peered down from his perch to see what the elves might be doing. There were no figures in the glade, the elves had moved to the edge of the wood. Estel could see the glow of the slight figures as they stood among the trees. Some simply lay a comforting hand upon the smooth trunk of a maple or beech or grasped a gnarly branch of hemlock or pine. As though signaled by some unseen form, the morning song dwindled, and there swelled from the elves a song of such comfort and joy that Estel could feel tears streaming down his face unbidden. Whether it was from the sound or from some magic held within the hearts of the wood elves, Estel could not be sure, but he felt in his soul a great lifting and strengthening as though being carried on a great surge of light and life. The joy was so great that it filled every corner of his body and spilled in a wide smile upon his face. He laughed out loud at the feeling of peace and cleanliness that flowed through him.
Estel's laughter was lost in the song that filled the glade that dawn. The trees and plants strengthened visibly. The birds renewed their morning song. There was singing and laughter. Estel wiped a tear from his eye and looked high into the crown of a nearby tree. Then he stopped and stared dumfounded. Perched on a high branch, was Legolas and the two other warriors who had remained in the circle of the uruvae. He could tell from the way that they were gesturing that they were intending to move from one tree to the one where he was sitting.
The length of the jump appeared vast and well nigh impossible. Looking down for a moment, Estel could see the wood elves converging upon the tree where he sat. At first he thought they were speaking in another language altogether, but then it occurred to him that they spoke a dialect of Sindarin so marked with differences that it was hard to understand. It took a moment or two for Estel to realize that not only was his hiding place discovered, he was being eagerly encouraged, with gestures and words, to move his body out of the tree.
At first he was anxious that he would not be welcomed amongst the elves, but the laughter and talking that accompanied his awkward descent put him at ease. Eager hands pulled him away from the trunk of the tree and he found that he was immersed in a throng of joyful creatures. The talking never stopped. It ebbed and flowed around Estel and he felt awash in the good humor of those nearby. He felt happy, safe, secure and quite at home. So lost was he in his own thoughts that he was surprised to find that the talking had stopped and all of the elves were looking up expectantly into the great oak where the warriors stood. Quickly the elves set hands on one another's shoulders, creating a net of arms and bodies beneath the boughs of the maple.
The first warrior to make the leap took a running start along one of the long high branches of the oak, his feet finding secure hold without apparent effort. As the bough began to bend under his weight, the ellon pushed off and, with a mighty leap, spanned the distance between the two trees.
The elves greeted his success with shouts of joy. Estel was silent as he contemplated the leap. So long had the ellon been airborne that it almost seemed that he had flown from one tree to another. Estel shook his head. That simply could not be.
With lithe grace, the ellon climbed down the maple to the welcoming arms of his comrades. A wide grin graced his face as he joined the others, placing his hands upon the shoulders of other elves to add his part to the woven net.
The second warrior looked down upon the company with a smile, then looked at his destination with a serious intensity. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes and ran down the slope of the bough without looking. With nimble speed he bounded from the oak and quickly reached for the waiting branches of the maple. As he landed, his left foot slipped and it looked for a moment as though he might fall, but he managed to right himself. The laughing and shouting that followed as the ellon descended was infectious. Estel found himself grinning from ear to ear.
Legolas was the last to jump. Estel saw his friend grasp a smaller branch on the mighty oak, whether for balance or to succor guidance from the tree he could not tell. Legolas took a cleansing breath then, setting his shoulders back he ran lightly down the broad branch of the tree and pushed off into the air. There was a moment when all of time stood still. Legolas' body was all that was moving, cutting a clean arc across the canopy above. Then there was a horrifying moment when Estel realized that his friend would not make it to the boughs of the maple. Indeed he was folding into himself and falling with ever increasing speed to the ground.
The crowd around him shifted and the net tightened. Legolas landed some ways away on the open arms of the elves, but Estel could feel the force of the impact in his shoulders. There was a moment of silence, then gentle, almost comforting murmuring. Estel was frightened and wiggled until he could catch sight of Legolas' face. To his surprise the elf was laughing and did not look the least bit discomfited by the fall.
The net dissolved and the elves drew away from Legolas. He stood alone, looking around and smiling sheepishly.
"Welcome, Prince," said a young ellyth finally, placing her hand over her heart and bowing gracefully.
"Welcome, my lord, "said another.
Soon the company was crowding around their liege, greeting him, sometimes simply bowing, sometimes embracing him warmly. One at a time he greeted them. As he spoke with his people the sun peered over the edge of the clearing. Many of the elves looked startled to see that the daylight had arrived and vanished quickly into the woods.
"Estel," said Legolas at last, "You must come and meet my people." He extended his hand and at that moment Estel truly saw his friend for the prince that he was. At first he was a bit discomfited, feeling keenly that he was poorly dressed and ill prepared to be in his presence. But Legloas laughed again, and drew him by the hand to his side.
So Estel went forward and was soon lost again in the gentle welcoming voices of the wood elves.
There was a sound coming from within the woods, and soon a small group of elves could be seen coming across the glade.
"I have something I want you to see, Estel. It is being brought forth even now, in honor of your coming.," said the elf soberly. And with that, Legolas dropped to one knee and the elves who were with him also knelt.
The group of elves drew near and then they parted. Eagerly, and with no small amount of trepidation, Estel looked where they had stood only to find himself met with the gaze of two exquisitely small creatures.
"Behold the treasure of Mirkwood," said Legolas softly.
"Elflings," he breathed, dropping to his knees. They were beautiful beyond compare. The young ellyth appeared to be about three, her delicate features were softened by dark ebony tresses that fell almost to her waist. Deep grey eyes, framed with dark lashes rested above her tiny nose and sweet rosebud lips. She stood bravely but daintily before her lord, looking and moving like a small sparrow or wren. She stood beside a smaller ellon who gazed with brilliant grey eyes upon Legolas, sucking on two fingers that were exquisite in their miniature perfection. There was a moment of silence, then the little ellyth tilted her head and furrowed her brow with intent curiosity.
Legolas met her gaze and smiled, "Greetings, Liniel," he said.
With a cry of joy, the spell was broken, and the ellyth bounded gleefully into the arms of the Prince. Legolas scooped her up and held her tightly. The young ellon who had stood behind her pulled his fingers from his mouth and toddled to lean against Legolas' side. Proudly the Prince smoothed the hair of the youngster and turned to look at Estel.
Estel had never seen elflings before. In fact he had been taught that few children would grace the firstborn until all had sailed. As valuable as the stars indeed! He struggled to find words to express his delight and gratitude for all that Legolas had shown him, but before he could organize his thoughts, the moment had passed.
Abruptly, the clearing was once again filled with elves bringing trestles and great platters of food for a morning feast. There was a great deal of talking, of laughing and no shortage of spontaneous singing. Estel stayed close to Legolas' side and was welcomed into the warm generosity of the wood elves.
Aragorn sat up, picked up his pipe and briefly considered refilling it. He looked sideways at Legolas, then put the pipe away.
"Did I ever thank you for allowing me to be a part of your Mereth Echuir?"
"Yes, but I will allow you to do so again."
The ranger evidently had more on his mind, "Legolas?"
"You intended to fall from that tree."
A low chuckle.
"Because in Mirkwood it is seldom that you can fail without risking life or limb. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. But that is not the only question you want to ask."
Aragorn sighed at his friend's perceptiveness.
"You and your people have fought to save Mirkwood from the darkness for millennia. Is it really worth it?"
"Passions run deep in the Firstborn, Estel. You know that. Our love for the forest will always outweigh any mantle of brokenness that shrouds her. Someday, perhaps, you will see the beauty of the woods. Until then, you must trust me that it is still there, buried beneath the pain. We are Mirkwood's and she is ours, regardless of the name she is called."
"But there is so much brokenness and despair there! And yet your people keep loving and laughing. How can that be?"
Legolas touched the tree behind him again. "If we let go of our laughter and our love, the Dark One would win even before the battle was begun. It is not always easy to laugh in the face of despair, but joy is our strength and we cannot let that go."
Aragorn considered this for a moment, then turned to gaze at the stars.
"First watch, Legolas?" he asked finally.
"I'll take it, Estel."
"So be it."
Cuivienen – The great awakening of the Elves beneath the stars.
Ellon, ellyn – male elf, male elves
Elleth, ellyth – female elf, female elves
Gwadar nin – brother of my heart
Mereth Echuir – non cannon, spring festival
Celege – Sindarin for agile
Edain – a mortal person, one of the Secondborn
Uruvae – non cannon, warrior's dance
Mellon nin – my friend
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.