1. Golden Flower
Note: InCroatia, the old names used for meteors are "falling stars" and "celestial fireflies". I love the latter very much, so I decided to use it as the name the elves in Middle-earth would give to this beautiful phenomenon.
The star from the story is familiar with life in Middle-earth, so we can suppose that she would speak to an elf in Sindarin. For that reason, in the moment of introducing, the names are written in descriptive form (Legolas = Greenleaf).
Big thanks to curiouswombat for beta-reading.
The summer night above Ithilien was quiet and serene. Numerous stars shone on a clear sky. Legolas surveyed the surroundings, enjoying its beauty. After several days long celebrations of the tenth anniversary of Aragorn's coronation, during which he dwelt in the crowded city, he wished for some solitude: to sleep under stars and to talk only to trees and animals. He has been travelling this beautiful land for several days and enjoyed his little trip.
This evening he set his camp in a small, protected grove he had found after sunset. Before settling for the night, he lay in a nearby little clearing to watch the stars. Occasionally, a celestial firefly would cross the sky. He loved to observe them fly like shining arrows. After a while, just as he started to consider going to sleep, another bright streak appeared on the sky. This one was golden and accompanied by tiny sparkles. But his admiration immediately turned to surprise, and then to consternation, for this one was brighter than any he had ever seen. It was so brilliant that the trees on the edge of the clearing suddenly cast dim shadows, and it didn't fade away but continued to traverse the sky. It came closer and he realized it was quite low. But what truly shocked him were sudden, inexplicable emotions that had overwhelmed him – emotions that weren't his own. He felt fear and pain and heard a scream for help – though in reality the forest around him was completely silent, the voice echoed only in his head. The light then flew over his head and continued descending towards the forest. And just one moment before everything went dark again, from the direction where the light disappeared he heard sounds of tearing branches and then a muffled impact on the ground.
For a few moments he sat petrified, totally in shock, forgetting to breathe. He had never seen anything like this before and wasn't really sure what he actually had witnessed now. But although shocked, the fear and cry for help that reached him earlier still echoed in his mind; and even if he hadn't felt them, he knew he'd go to check what had happened anyway. He took a deep breath and composed himself, and then stood up and entered the woods.
He advanced slowly and carefully. It was quite dark and it wasn't easy to find the way among the trees. But he believed he was on the right track; he was led by his intuition and the echo of emotions somewhere in front of him. Their intensity was stronger earlier, when he had seen the celestial firefly, but they were still palpable. He couldn't compare this feeling with anything he had felt before; it was most similar to receiving the thoughts of the trees when he would lay his hand on their bark, but the emotions and vibrations he received now were completely different than anything he had experienced before.
Only about a hundred steps later, he saw a soft white-yellow light among the trees. He stopped and took shelter behind one tree, knowing that he should nevertheless remain cautious. But everything was calm in the surroundings, so the elf went forward again. And after a few more steps, he saw the source of the light.
On the ground between two trees, there lay... Legolas blinked in wonder. There lay a star. It had to be a star; it couldn't be anything else. In the core, in the very heart of the light, he perceived something that resembled a crystal. Rays of white and golden light radiated from it and intertwined, soft and alive, as if they were dancing. Tiny shimmering sparkles flickered in the air around the star, so tiny that they were almost invisible. It was more beautiful than any lamp he had ever seen; he was sure that no man or elf, not even Fëanor himself, could create something so gorgeous.
A star. Just how was this possible?
But while earlier magnificent and dazzling, now her light was dimmed and she twinkled intermittently, as if she trembled. She was... injured. Legolas frowned in confusion, not understanding why he was thinking of the star in terms of a living feminine being. But his heart told him that this was the right thing to say, he couldn't think of any other word that would describe her better. For he could feel her pain. Filled with compassion, he knelt next to her to take a better look. And just as he started to lean towards her, he froze when he heard words in his head.
You are an elf, I presume?
He stood open mouthed in astonishment. She spoke! The voice was melodious and soft, although somewhat pain-filled, too. It was neither old nor young, and it seemed to him that it was accompanied by some distant, barely audible music. And it was the most beautiful voice he had ever heard.
"You speak!" he exclaimed, surprised.
Of course I can speak, she replied with a smile. He shook his head, confused. She had no face, she had no lips, and she couldn't smile. Nevertheless, he could swear that in his heart he had felt the smile which accompanied her words. We got the gift of speech from our Mother just like you, the children of Eru, received the same gift from your Father.
"What... what are you?" As soon as he uttered the question, he realized how stupid it sounded. But the whole incident had shaken him too deeply and he was still unnerved.
A star, of course, she answered, somewhat offended. I thought you'd know that. The Mother told us that you elves were the people of stars.
"Forgive me," he said ruefully. "It is just that... I am still shocked. I have never dreamed that I will ever talk to a star in my life. I have never thought it possible. I am so confused."
She didn't reply to that, but in his mind he received an image of a mental nodding, as a sign that his apology was accepted. Then, after a few moments of silence, she addressed him again.
My name is Golden Flower, she said.
"It is a beautiful name. It suits you well," he said, referring to the colour of light she radiated. Then he introduced himself too, with a slight bow. "I am Greenleaf."
An adequate name for a wood elf, she replied. He smiled at her. Even if he was confused by the thought at first, he wasn't now, not any more; this was a living being with a heart, soul and emotions just like any elf or any other child of Eru.
"What happened to you? How did you fall?" he asked curiously.
Mental sigh. I was inattentive. The timeless voice was filled with self-reproach. I flew... You see, some of my sisters have found their heavenly harbour, their home, and there they dwell always. You can see them every night, every year, in the same place in the sky. But our Mother created some of us differently...
"Mother?" he interrupted her. "Elbereth?"
That is what your people call her, yes. That is one of her many names. We call her Mother, for she created us. So, some of us are different. We are wanderers and we never reside in one place for long, but roam around the sky all the time. Every now and then we journey through the expanses of heaven, and each time that we run unrestrained we flash out of pure joy...
Another sigh. He could feel her yearning and sorrow.
"What happened to you?" very gently, he repeated his question.
Mother has always warned us that we must not fly too low, for we could fall. But we are curious, you know? We are not like our sisters who stay at their homes. We love to observe your beautiful world much more then they do, so we often fly very low. And so, sometimes, some of us incautiously descend too much, and fall... just like I did now.
The melodious voice broke, she sobbed. Tears filled her... no, she had no eyes, he reminded himself, for she was a star. But he felt her tears even more vividly than if he could see them with his own eyes. A river of sadness flew through his mind and for a while he couldn't see anything; the forest disappeared, there was only darkness around him.
"Tell me... you are injured, aren't you? I would like to help you somehow," he said when her tears finally dried, and the shapes of trees and bushes reappeared from the dark. But as soon as he said those words, he realized he had no idea how to help her. And so he hoped that she might tell him, that she'd have some solution for her condition.
I am not injured, at least not in the way you could be. I am not broken, she explained. But I am fading.
"How do you mean?" he asked, frightened by her last words.
A star can not live on the ground, but only in the sky, she answered.
"Can't you return?" But with foreboding clenching his heart, he perceived the answer to his question even before she voiced it.
I can not, her sad voice confirmed his fears.
"Is there really no way? You are a star, you are a magical being. Your Mother is a Valië, the most powerful of all. You surely have some special powers." His voice was eager, he still hoped there was a salvation.
No, I can't, she repeated. Dwelling on your ground, in your air, chokes me. No star can fly from the ground back to the sky.
"So what now?" he asked with fear.
I'll be quenched. I'll die. This time her voice was barely audible. And as if confirming her words, the light radiating from her faded a little more.
"No!" he cried in a low voice, filled with sorrow. A star should not die! They were something too valuable. They were much more than mere decorations to the night sky – countless times they were solace and encouragement to weary souls; countless times they showed the path to lost travellers. He wished he could scream aloud that a star couldn't die. But reality, mocking him, was demonstrating that it was actually possible. Right this moment, a wounded star was lying on the ground next to his feet and was dying.
Yes, she sighed. In a few hours, or one day at the most, everything will be over...
"I am so sorry..." he said with a lump in his throat, aware that his words offer no comfort at all.
At least I saw your world, she told him with a smile, sounding almost as if he was the one who needed solace. I love this wood and its rivers and surrounding mountains. You know, all of us watched your fight against Dark Lord from our heights and we feared for you... and we rejoiced with you when everything ended well. Middle-earth is a beautiful and happy place now.
"I want to help you somehow," he said resolutely, while his mind feverishly sought the solution. He would give her all the strength of his fëa, if only he could keep her alive that way; he couldn't bear the thought of her death. Then he remembered something and hope stirred within him. Perhaps there was someone whose spirit could help! "King Elessar is the greatest healer on Arda. It is true that he has only treated elves and men, but perhaps his healing hands can act upon you too, so you will survive..." He didn't want to listen to the inner voice telling him that he was two days ride away from Minas Tirith and that he could never get there on time; he seized this idea as the last straw desperately wanting it to become true. He quickly stood up to carry her to his camp where his horse was.
No, she halted him with a strong, commanding voice. There was no weakness in her this time, she sounded neither sorrowful nor weary. He stopped and looked at her. She didn't continue at once and her glow faded a little more, as if this effort cost her too much. He sat next to her again, empty and sad.
Even if that was possible, she finally continued, and her voice was tired now, why do you think I would want that? Yes, I love to watch your world, but still, I wouldn't want to live in it. I just couldn't. I am a being of the sky and life here would be imprisonment for me. And in the end, I would fade away nevertheless.
He lowered his head, ashamed. He admonished himself for not remembering this.
"I am sorry," he said downcast. "I only wanted to help you, and that is why I suggested that... I was solely looking for any solution."
I know, she said softly. I am not angry with you. I know you had the best intentions. She was silent for a while, then sighed tiredly. I do feel a little pain, though... and I am scared. Now she sounded like a frightened child. May I ask you something? Would you stay with me till the end? I wouldn't like to be alone.
It took him several moments to blink away the tears from his eyes and to regain confidence in his voice.
"Of course I will stay," he said, when he was certain that his voice wouldn't break, and he smiled softly at her. Then, before he was aware what he was doing, he extended his hand in an attempt to hold hers, just as he would do to a friend whom he'd like to comfort with a touch of hand. And his palm, although empty, was filled with warm, velvet touch.
And take me to a place where I'll be able to see the sky, please, she added. I can't see it from here because of the trees, and I would like my last gaze to be towards the sky. It is my home, after all.
He felt another lump in the throat. Very carefully and tenderly he lifted her from the ground. She was soft and warm, just like her mild yellow light. Through the forest he returned to his camp, to the clearing where he lay when he had seen her fall. When they found themselves under open sky, he felt change in her – it was not a hope, because she knew she'd fade – but more like a relief. He lay on the ground with her in his hand, as if in a cradle.
Tell me a little more about your world, she requested. Although I watched it often, I couldn't see from afar as much as I wished, and I'd like to know...
And so, holding a star in his hand, he told her about his homeland, about beautiful Lothlorien, about recent events, as well as the ancient ones, when the elves awoke and started naming the stars.
"You and your sisters that run across the sky we did not call stars, but celestial fireflies," he told her with a smile. "And many of us, when they see you, make a wish. It is said that you bring luck."
Celestial fireflies, she repeated. Her voice was weak and her light more and more dim, but she returned the smile. I like the name.
"When I was a child, I loved to observe them, for I was fascinated with everything that flew and–" he stopped in half sentence. And stood motionless, eyes wide open.
Flew. Flying. Flying...
The word echoed in his mind, louder and louder, refusing to disappear, and he stopped breathing. His heart started to beat wildly. Maybe... maybe there was a hope... no matter how tiny. He laid her down and jumped to his feet.
"I... I have to do something," he explained awkwardly, feeling her confusion. He didn't want to tell her what he meant to do, so that he would not arouse false hope; even he barely dared to hope.
He stood in the middle of the clearing and raised his head. He closed his eyes, but opened his spirit towards the whole sky above him. Taking a few deep breaths, he let all other thoughts flow out of his mind, let himself empty completely, and focused on what he had intended to do. For a moment he wished he was powerful like Galadriel or some other elf from the ancient days, or that he had some of the elvish rings which would give more strength to his call. He didn't know if anyone would hear him, but he gave all his power, put his whole self in this one appeal. He felt it spreading in waves towards the sky, travelling and crossing distances. He hoped it would reach every corner of Middle-earth and the air above it... and sent a prayer to Eru that the response comes on time.
When there was not a single ounce of strength left in him he fell to his knees, gasping for breath. It took him some time to recover. Then he lay on the ground and took the star on his palm again.
"A prayer," he whispered, knowing he had to give at least some explanation for his sudden unusual behaviour. After all, he didn't lie to her – he only didn't tell her everything. And then he continued to talk about Middle-earth.
The hours were passing, the stars sailed across the sky, and the one on Legolas' palm became weaker and weaker. She listened to his tales, but he could feel her attention wavering, as if she was slowly falling asleep. But he knew it would be eternal sleep, without new awakening. A part of him frantically listened to the night in expectation, but all was quiet. The salvation he yearned for so much was not coming. Finally, when brightening sky in the east announced the arrival of the dawn, he fell silent too. The little star in his hand was now cold and almost doused. The crystal shrunken and blackened, she looked like an ordinary rock. Only a barely visible glow twinkled in her, so weak that it seemed to him that he could extinguish it with just one breath.
The tears were falling down his face, he didn't even try to wipe them. He just watched her, hoping she would feel no pain. All that he still had to offer to her was his presence. And so stricken with grief, in the beginning he didn't catch sight of the dark shape descending towards the ground nor heard the flap of the wings behind his back. Only when the great eagle almost touched the ground did Legolas realize he was there. The majestic bird furled its big wings and turned its piercing, questioning gaze to him.
You called me, Thranduil's son, Gwaihir addressed him, standing in front of him.
Legolas was on his feet in a second and bowed with respect.
"I did. I need help, urgently. However, not for myself, but for her," he said and indicated towards the dying star. He quickly retold all that had happened and in the end looked at the eagle with a plea in his eyes. "Please, take her to the sky. If anyone can do it, it is your kin. Only you can reach heavenly heights."
The great eagle switched his glance towards the star and nodded. I understand. Of course, I will help her.
Legolas closed his eyes, breathing a sigh of relief. A new hope awoke in him.
"Thank you, lord of eagles," he said in a low voice and bowed deeply one more time. Then he took the star and held her very near his face. "You are going home," he whispered to her. "You will heal, everything will end well."
He received only a very feeble hint of nodding, she was too weak to speak, and his relief suddenly dissipated and was replaced by a new concern. What if it was too late after all?
No! It can't be, he thought, and with the help of the eagle, he quickly nested her among the feathers on the eagle's back. A moment before flying away, Gwaihir looked at him one more time.
Do not worry, she is safe on my back. She will not fall out while I fly, he promised.
"I do not doubt that," Legolas nodded. "Again, thank you so much." Then he came closer and gently caressed the feather under which the star lay, hoping she'd feel his touch. "Farewell, Golden Flower. And be more careful next time, don't ever fly so low again."
The big eagle spread his wings and took off skywards. Legolas didn't take his gaze from Gwaihir for the whole long way upwards as the bird slowly became a smaller and smaller dot in the sky, until he finally disappeared from sight. The whole time his heart was beating nervously, afraid that the star would fade during the journey, that the help had arrived too late. He anxiously observed the sky and sought any sparkle of light, any sign that would tell him that the star was safe in her celestial home. But for such a long time nothing happened, and he began to think that everything was really in vain, and that Gwaihir hadn't come on time. Sorrow returned and repressed hope, and his eyes were filled with tears again...
...and then, in the grey sky of the dawn, from the direction where he could last discern the eagle, a small golden stripe appeared. It was almost invisible, only a tiny glimpse, and for a moment he wondered if was only an apparition, a trick of his eyes, because he so keenly wanted the star to survive. But as if wanting to tell him it was not a dream and that she was really well, a few moments later another golden stripe glimmered, this time brighter. The elf smiled, being overwhelmed with intense joy. And then, for one last time, a brilliant streak flashed across the sky, this time in full brightness, and then disappeared in flicker of many shimmering sparkles. And he was sure that in his heart, as a sign of greetings, he could hear murmur of starry laughter and music.
"Farewell, little one," he whispered. "You'll be in my heart forever."