Of Freedom, Dreams, and Partings
dawn crept over the trees, a back door of King Thranduil’s palace
flew open. An elleth bolted out of it, raced to a tree, and climbed
up to its third branch from the top. There she leaned back against
the trunk with a smile, spread her arms out, and sucked in lungfuls
Free! I am free! Out beneath the sky and sun! Out from earthen halls! Out from under the foot of every elf and elleth in the palace!
Privacy was about to become even harder to obtain indoors. The King had asked Mellolaes to share her rooms with the two elleth from The South Strawberry Meadow she had met yesterday. They would be staying with her until new rooms could be dug out and furnished for them. Well, they could have hers for longer than that for all she cared. She was not going to use them until winter. And they could have the task of making strawberry-centered honey-drops to themselves as well.
Every talented honey-drop maker in the kingdom seemed to be dwelling in the palace now. All needed the work to distract themselves from thoughts of their abandoned homes. Mellolaes sighed.
It was enough to make her join the warriors in slaying their enemies. Come to think of it, she had not been able to practice her archery for three days. Mellolaes turned her head toward the shooting ranges.
Every sparring ring had two combatants in it with four to seven pairs surrounding the edges waiting for their turn. Rows of newly built targets were being set up for lines of elves waiting for something to shoot. The riverside was lined with those shooting at the targets floating on the water.
Mellolaes groaned and turned away. At least Rhovamil had helped her practice her knife fighting. Of course, she had not provided any kind of a challenge for the elfling whose diapers she had changed.
Mellolaes straightened her back. The Silvan elleth climbed down a bit, and then traveled from tree to tree. She headed for the grove of walnut saplings planted last year.
The shadow and its creatures made certain there was nothing good to forage in their master's expanding territory. In response, King Thranduil had new sources of food planted in fields and meadows between the spreading evil and the palace. These would both feed the earthen tunnels' growing populace and further shield the stronghold itself. Before Mellolaes reached the young grove, the sound of singing filled her ears.
Mellolaes' voice was considered pure and bright among her people, but this one held the echo of lost Doriath itself. The notes wafted through the saplings calling forth life, health, and their own voices. Mellolaes soon spied the singer.
A dark haired elleth was dancing like an imitation of Lúthien herself. The Silvan smiled and called to her. The other elleth paused in the song and dance steps to look up. Her brown eyes lit with joy.
The Silvan dropped from the tree and strode over to her friend.
The Sindarin threw her arms around her.
“You are free again!”
Mellolaes squeezed her. Nithrestil drew back still clinging to her hand.
“Come and sing them one of your songs. They need music that is bright, warm, and golden as heated honey.”
Mellolaes laughed. Neither would sing alone with the other there. So, the two elleth settled on singing together.
Nithrestil’s voice fell like drops of cold rain. Mellolaes’ was like the touch of the summer sun. The saplings basked beneath both voices. Birds, squirrels, and deer crept or flew to the grove to listen. After a few songs, the elleth paused to discuss the situation in their home. Mellolaes soon had Nithrestil laughing.
“There are now seven servants available to do one task. We are ready to fight over the dusting rags in order to clean surfaces that shine. I may never go back inside.”
Nithrestil's shoulders shook. She paused to take a breath and raise her hand to stop a fawn from nibbling the leaves off a sapling. Mellolaes stopped its mother. She shook her head with a grin.
“Come! Lets lead them to the meadow where they can eat.”
The two elleth strolled toward a gap they had created in the hedge surrounding the saplings. Once they had guided all the deer out both elleth touched the bushes on either side. The shrubs' branches reached out and re-weaved themselves into a wall as before. Then Mellolaes and Nithrestil turned and began to lead the herd they had gathered toward the Northern Meadow.
Wide awake trees beyond the palace had drawn farther apart and spread out into the open lands east and west. This made the meadows, fields, and pathways among them wider and longer. Their grass fed the grazing beasts who had also fled the darkness.
The deer were now following Mellolaes and Nithrestil to the greatest of these meadows. As they did, both elleth sang a song just for them. On the journey, the Sindarin and Silvan felt The Song coming from all that surrounded them, but especially the eggs and chicks in hidden nests, young foxes and badgers in their dens, and the fawns behind them.
They came to the meadow at last, which had now truly become a field. The deer, especially the fawns, rushed past the elleth to enter it. The does stopped once they reached the expanse of grass. They dropped their heads, and began to graze as their younglings chased each other about in play. Mellolaes laughed as she watched.
I could just stay here all day, week, month, year . . .
She ended up staying two months. She neither returned to the palace to sleep, nor wash up. She bathed in streams. Nithrestil or her family and friends brought them changes of clothes when they could not stand their old ones anymore. None bothered the two by saying they were needed back at the palace. Several others joined them. Soon the outdoors became almost as crowded as the palace.
Elrond and Erestor had expected the lack of positive response from elves in their own community. They had already begun writing letters to Galadriel and an old ranger. The two missives had to meet Lord Elrond and Steward Erestor’s standards, so their completion took days and several drafts.
The letter to the Dúnedain would be taken by the twins. Elrond had asked their guest to deliver the letter to Lothlórien. The Silvan royal agreed. His visit was already drawing to its end.
Legolas admitted to himself the child having one of the Dúnedain or an elf or elleth from the Golden Wood as his caregiver would be a fine thing. Even as the Silvan did so, he sighed. The boy should have more fun while his responsibilities were few. Mellolaes would have made sure of that.
When he went in search of Estel to say goodbye, Legolas found the manling gazing at a butterfly. Erestor was watching the child as intently as his charge was the tiny creature. The Silvan knelt down beside his friend.
Together they examined the insect. The black, string tongue flicked in and out upon the flower’s center. The colored wings were like a stained glass window as the sunlight streamed through them. They fluttered carrying the creature into the air and away from them. Both the manling and elf sighed after its vanishing beauty. Then Legolas informed the boy of his departure.
Estel embraced the elf and cried into his shirt. The warrior felt his own eyes grow wet. Their separation would not be as hard on him. He was going home to many friends. The time until he saw the manling next would seem brief to an immortal. The child's own pain upset him most. The time until his next visit would seem long indeed to Estel. The youngling looked up at him with a running nose and red eyes.
“I wish you could stay here always, Legolas!”
The elf rubbed the boy's shuddering back, but remained silent. He dared not speak his thoughts.
Oh, Estel, what you need most is another friend who can stay here with you until you are grown and will then love you long after that.
Mellolaes stood in the tree. She remained as still as one of its limbs. The elleth would go back to the meadow soon, but it had been awhile since she checked in.
She flinched a bit as the man brought his ax down upon a block of wood, but she kept her gaze upon his wife and child. The girl was barely old enough to walk. She sat in the dirt before the chair her mother had carried outside so they could enjoy the sunshine while the mending was accomplished.
The woman had given her daughter a bit of yarn to play with. The child was dangling the end of the string before the face of an orange striped kitten. The beasty's green eyes were focused on the gray strand of wool. A pink-padded paw reached up into the air and batted the thread.
The brown haired girl grinned and giggled. The woman above the babe, with the same shade of brown hair, smiled down at the little one and her pet. Mellolaes also smiled from her hiding place. The tree was a few hundred yards from the cottage. This was more than close enough for her to see what she came to.
Two centuries before, the elleth had stayed in Dale with the woman's ancestor and four other children until she found parents willing to take the plague-orphans in. Now few families existed in Lake-town and the surrounding area without one of those four children among their ancestors. So, Mellolaes checked in on every family. The rounds took a few days to make. Sometimes, she wondered if even she remembered correctly who the descendants of her charges were anymore.
Then she would see a smile, a curve of the cheek, a shade of a lock of hair, or hear a laugh or voice like her little charges of long ago. A sprout of joy would burst up from her soul. Both this girl's voice and laugh were like those of the darling toddler she had cuddled when the child stayed still long enough for her to do so. Mellolaes sighed with a grin, turned, and made her way back through the trees towards the next house. She would visit three more before sundown.
Legolas rode his steed up toward the Golden Wood. A breeze blew his hair back from his face and brought a whiff of the scent permeating the mysterious land beyond to his nose. He drew his horse up and closed his eyes to take in the scent, the sounds, before he opened his eyes to take in the forest's beauty once more. Even the outskirts were lovely. What must the heart of this land be like?
Though the question drew his heart, he halted the stallion a few strides away from the first trees. He continued to stare, smell, listen, and dream. Now even his own people were forbidden to go in and out as they desired. Some secret lay in the heart of that wood its fair people feared the spread of. While he was kin to many in those trees, the realm of Thranduil now had the servants of the enemy crawling through their own. Letting even the son of Thranduil come and go was too much of a risk for the folk of Lothlórien to take. Legolas sighed.
He closed his eyes to concentrate on far off sounds of laughter, music, and flowing water that was clear as starlight before he opened his eyes and saw an elf of that land standing before the nose of his steed. Legolas grinned in admiration and envy. Few were they who could sneak up on him. Not even an elf of Rivendell could.
Some aura of light and beauty hung over the elf, which Legolas suspected clung to those who dwelt in the realm beyond. He also noted lights of amusement dancing in the warrior’s eyes. “Have you a message for one in the Golden Wood, Thranduilion?”
“I have.” Legolas dismounted, drew the letter of Elrond from the inner pocket of his vest, and held it out. The warrior of the Golden Wood took it. He studied the envelope as Legolas went on. “See it delivered, unopened, into the hands of the Lady of the Golden Wood herself. It is a request from Lord Elrond.”
The Sentinel’s head shot up. He stared into Legolas’ eyes. The Lothlórien's own had widened. The sentry then nodded gravely to the Mirkwood royal. “I will see it done.” After hearing this, Legolas’ gaze left the elf’s face and wandered over his shoulder and into the wood once more. The Sentinel chuckled. “Perhaps a day will come when you can enter our fair woods yourself.”
Legolas smiled. “That is my second dearest hope, after my own homeland being freed from the deep darkness.”
“May the Valar and our Lady look well upon both your dreams.”
Legolas nodded to the sentry. “Hannon le.”
Then the son of Thranduil and Lathwinn turned, mounted his horse, and rode towards his home.
The twins had returned and gone straight to their father's office. Minutes later, Erestor and Glorfindel were called there too. When they arrived, they found Elrond staring at the wall in front of him with his head resting on his open hand and the elbow attached resting on the surface of his desk. Glorfindel gave his lord a smile of sympathy. “I take it the reply to one of our missives has not brought satisfactory news.”
Elrond started before looking up at his advisers. Then he sat up and cleared his throat. “I have received word from the Númenóreans. Whether the reply is satisfactory or not depends on what we are willing to take on.”
Glorfindel and Erestor gazed at their lord with knitted brows and slight frowns. Elrond picked up the piece of parchment on his desk and lifted it into the air.
“The Dúnadan I wrote says he is glad to know an orphan has such a good home. He also says he will be glad to supply us with a nurse if we allow her to bring seven orphans of their people with her whom she already cares for. They range in age from fourteen years to three months.”
Erestor’s face lengthened in horror. Glorfindel's eyes danced above a grin. “Well, at least Estel will no longer be lonely.”
Erestor turned upon him. “Are you insane, Balrog Slayer?”
The soldier shrugged. “It will make Estel even less conspicuous. He would get to know his own people. Seven other manlings will know the joy, safety, and comfort of living in our blessed valley, and you will have seven new pupils to teach the wisdom of the elder to, Erestor.” The taller elf slapped the steward on the back with a chuckle. “Where is the problem?”
Erestor was too busy gritting his teeth and counting to one hundred to reply until he noticed his lord was once again staring at the wall with a face lax in thought. The steward blinked at him. “You are not actually considering it, my lord?”
Elrond glanced up at his servant. “All Glorfindel has said is correct. We can easily feed the children and nurse. All likely have some of my brother’s blood in them. It may indeed be our duty to care for them as well as Estel.”
Erestor closed his eyes, clasped his hands behind his back, and carefully enunciated his words. “My lord, please consider this. Eight children are harder to hide from the eyes of guests than one, they will be harder to keep watch over than one, they are nosier than one, and it is eight times the mischief. If we do this, we will need a separate nurse for every child. Should we not wait until a reply comes from Lorien before we make such a drastic decision?”
Elrond spent a few more seconds staring at the wall. Then his head gave a slow nod. “You are right, Erestor. I will wait to decide until the reply comes from Lorien.”
Before that reply came, yet another letter arrived from the same Dúnadan. He said the Woman of the West who looked after their community’s orphans had wed a ranger of great courage and extreme patience who loved her in particular and children in general. His area of responsibility was the farthest from Rivendell any ranger patrolled. She wanted to remain near him. They did, however, offer to take in Estel as well.
Elrond bristled at the offer. Erestor took it upon himself to write a respectful refusal for his lord. As he did so, the Steward's heart overflowed with thanks for answered prayers.
Galadriel’s pale brows furrowed as she read the request from Elrond Half-elven. It was indeed a blessing of the Valar and Ilúvatar that the son of Arathorn still lived. Elrond was right to be concerned and to ask this of her. Nonetheless, she was uncertain she could give the reply he desired.
Some of her people knew the manling’s true identity. All of her subjects would go if she asked, but they would have more sorrow than joy in the task. If Estel was as perceptive as Elrond wrote, the child would realize this. A youngling should not know caring for him is a grief to another. She wished she could care for him herself, but she was needed here.
Still, her knowledge was vast and sight far-reaching in the present and past. She admitted she had only glimmers of what was to be and rightly guessed the future’s course more by how things were and had been than through true foresight. Still, could she not find council to give her friend in this matter?
Galadriel stared off in thought. She searched her memories of recent events and news she had heard for something that may be of help. After a few minutes, a smile played over her lips. She drew out a sheet of clean parchment, found an inkwell and feather-pen, and began to write.