The World is Changing
Author's note: The characters and settings belong to Tolkien.
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Chapter 18: The World is Changing
Despite Miredhel's vehement protests, Legolas had insisted on carrying her to a fallen log in the grove of trees. Her ankle throbbed, and it was just as well that she did not put any weight on it. He suggested that she clean her wounds and change the cloths which she had hastily wrapped around her cuts. So there she sat in the shade while the other two elves had walked the horses to a nearby stream for water. When they returned, both her brother and the prince insisted on checking her injuries.
Legolas had to admit she continued to impress him. She had managed to tie neat little bandages for her arms and had tightly bound her twisted ankle in cloth. "Nicely done, Lady. I had planned on helping you in these labors, but I see that you have managed on your own."
"She always does," commented Eledhel, rather proudly. "Miredhel trained as a healer years ago."
"I had not known this," said Legolas. "She is full of surprises."
"Aye," agreed her brother, "and I helped my sister by providing her with much opportunity for practice."
Miredhel softly laughed at her brother's assertion. "Without Eledhel and Belegil, I would never have mastered the art of bandages," she agreed, good-naturedly.
Her seemingly improved spirits cheered Legolas who, truth be told, had been angry with himself for his behavior toward her during the ride. He still felt that he had been right, but the way he had addressed the issue had completely lacked finesse. Convinced that the Valar had brought them together again for a reason, he promised himself that tonight he would make amends with her and put everything to right.
While Legolas entertained these thoughts, Eledhel took one look at the messy pile of old bandages beside his sister and decided they needed to be burned. He quickly went to work collecting fallen timber and kindling, leaving Legolas and Miredhel to each other's company. Legolas knelt beside her and asked for permission to check her ankle.
"I am sure I only twisted it when I fell off Thorontal," she said to her brother, her eyes dimming as she remembered her lost horse.
Legolas slid his hand along her ankle and tendon, carefully rotating her foot in his hand. "Does this hurt?"
"Do you even know what you are doing?" Miredhel asked. It was the first time she had spoken directly to Legolas since their argument, and she still avoided his eyes.
"I admit to having a slim knowledge of healing," Legolas said, "but I have seen other much more gifted healers at work. I know how to check for broken bones." He gently placed her foot on the ground. "I have long admired the ability to heal, like my friend Aragorn—he could patch up anything."
Miredhel recognized the name. "Is this a man you speak of, my lord?"
Legolas nodded. "I know he spent time in Lorien. Did you know him?"
"I know of him," she revealed, "he often spent time with the healers when I was there. Eledhel knew him much better."
"Yes, I know, for it was Aragorn who first introduced me to your brother."
"He is truly gifted, for a mortal," Miredhel said, "much more so, than I."
"Your brother thinks very highly of your skills, Lady Miredhel."
"Well, of course he would. Eledhel persuaded me to study with the healers. He hoped I would enjoy it."
Legolas nodded and moved to sit next to her on the log. Inside, he rejoiced that he and the maiden were having such a peaceful conversation. "Do you enjoy healing?" he asked, hoping to understand her better.
She did not answer his question right away. "My lord, healing is such a safe profession. I had long hoped to join the forest guard, but…" Her voice trailed off.
"Eledhel did not want you to join?" Legolas guessed softly.
She shook her head. "No, so I joined the healers instead, but I wish that I might have followed my heart
"Whether you would fight or mend, Ithilien could use your skills, Lady Miredhel."
She finally lifted her eyes to look into his with an amused expression. "I must confess to you that I always feel like I will somehow make an injured person worse."
"I doubt that," said the prince, and he ran his hand through his hair, nervously working out the tangles. He studied her as they sat next to each other, noting that she had not mentioned their argument. Except for the way she had avoided looking him in the eyes, she did not seem to harbor ill feelings toward him because of his angry words to her earlier that day. In his heart, Legolas knew that he had hurt her. Perhaps he had been overly hard on Miredhel, or perhaps she was not as strong as she pretended to be.
"Miredhel," he began, his eyes skirting around for Eledhel's busy silhouette among the trees, "about this afternoon..."
She silenced him with a wave of her hand. "I do not wish to speak of it, prince." The elf maiden would have preferred to leave him and walk away, but at the moment she could only hobble. So she continued to sit next to Legolas and hoped he would not press the matter.
"No, please grant me this wish," he said and waited until she looked at him. "I must apologize for my behavior to you. I was angry about what had happened, and I took my frustration out on you," he said sincerely and watched her closely, hoping for an amiable reaction. Blinking, she looked down at her hands folded in her lap, and her lips formed a single line. She reminded Legolas of a child, who wandering deep into the woods, finds that she has lost the way home.
When she spoke she lifted her eyes, searching his own for answers, for proof that she should trust him. "My lord, I own that I did not expect an apology from you."
"I am not afraid to admit when I am wrong," he said.
"Nor I," Miredhel replied steadily, "for I know that we have been at odds with each other since our first meeting." She smiled sheepishly at this understatement and lowered her voice to whisper, "I have much that needs telling, Prince of Mirkwood." She raised her finger to her lips and tilted her head toward the sound of light footsteps. "Softly now on these words! My brother returns."
Understanding, Legolas nodded his head, though full it was with wonder at what this maiden could wish to reveal. Obviously, she did not want Eledhel to hear. She seemed to accept his apology, but perhaps she wished to discuss their argument further. She might want to question him about her brother, possibly his bout of dragon sickness; yet as Eledhel returned to the camp, he seemed hale and not in the least bit of danger.
"How fares my sister?' he heartily called to them, dragging a small pile of sticks and brush for the fire he planned to build.
"I feel fine, Eledhel. You need not worry over me. Sit and rest," she said. Her brother stopped where she sat and put his arm around her. "I nearly lost you today, Miredhel," he said. "Never again will I allow you to fall in harm's way."
She leaned her head on his shoulder, saying: "We all nearly lost each other today, my brother. This land is fraught with danger. We cannot expect to avoid harm, nor should we hide from it."
Eledhel pulled away from his sister and countered, "True as that might be, I can make sure that my sister is better protected than most!"
Miredhel frowned. She lacked the strength to debate her brother on this long-standing argument between them and decided to change the subject. "Here are those bandages that you thought best to burn."
Eledhel looked at her critically. His sister must feel quite weary to let the conversation drop as she did. She had lost a fair amount of blood from those wounds. Proof enough was her dress, and Eledhel decided that it must be burnt as well, much to Miredhel's displeasure. "The scent would prove irresistible to any orc or beast," he explained.
"I understand your reasoning, but what shall I wear? My other gowns were in the bags that went with Belegil and Sulindal. All I have in this small pack is some food and healer's things—you know, herbs, medicines, bandages, " Miredhel said.
"Hmm. My personal effects went along with the company as well, not that anything of mine would have fit you anyways," Eledhel concluded.
Legolas, who had enjoyed watching the exchange between the two siblings, now felt the full thrust of their combined gaze. "Eledhel? Lady Miredhel?" he asked and then instantly realized what they wanted.
* * *
Legolas felt the evening breeze stir behind the tips of his ears as he and Eledhel returned to the campsite where Miredhel had changed into his old tunic, a green one that he had worn during the War and only had kept for sentimental reasons. She had left the top two toggles unfastened, and her creamy neck shone soft like moonbeams. Legolas swallowed hard. His throat felt dry and raspy; he was not entirely sure why seeing her in his shirt had this effect on him, when at best they could barely stand to be civil with each other. Yet all the elf could think of at the moment was the way she would feel in his arms, the way she had felt when he had caught her fall—or when they had embraced in the Lovers' Ring…the fresh scent of her hair, her velvety cheek… He had to put a stop to this line of thinking. It simply would not do to dwell on something that could never be. After all, she had brutally refused his attentions, and he, in turn, had bitterly given Miredhel his word that he would never again approach her in such a manner. Legolas tore his eyes away from her.
He began rifling through his pack for an added distraction, pulling out a wide range of random items: string, small knife, comb, dried venison, whetting stone, tinderbox— a gift from Gimli, and another gift which was from his sisters, rose cordial. Legolas snorted when he saw it—rose cordial, indeed. He remembered the fun the twins had compounding the potion and the way that Celeril had slyly slipped the small vial into his bag. "You never know when the occasion might call for it," she had said with an impious smile.
More often than not, the mixture would seep from its confinement into his bag, and he would smell like a rose for the next three days. 'Like a rose,' he thought ruefully, staring once more at the maiden before him, 'I feel the thorns, but none of the bloom…'
"Legolas?" Eledhel interrupted his thoughts. "Did you not hear me?" Legolas' head jerked up from his silent reverie, confused by Eledhel's sudden question.
"What?" Legolas asked, his throat still painfully dry.
"I was warning my sister to be more careful." Eledhel said and turned to face his sister. "Careful now, sister. The prince will not like it if you look prettier than he in his own tunic."
"Eledhel, really," Miredhel said annoyed and glared at her brother.
"She would anyways," Legolas rasped. He then began organizing his pack once more, not wanting to be drawn into the conversation again.
Eledhel would have none of it. He plopped down next to Legolas and feigned great interest in every item that his friend produced, passing little judgements on the usefulness of the contents, punctuated by the occasional yawn. "Hmm, hunting knife, a little dull... Ooh, venison, that is odd, smells like roses… Ahh, a tinderbox, very nice indeed, it is dwarvish, yes?
"Yes," Legolas confirmed, "my friend, Gimli, carved the metal work."
Now Miredhel was interested as well. Taking the box from her brother, she held it lightly in her fingertips to study the carvings of waves, gulls, and the setting sun. "I have never seen the sea, but its beauty must be great. Will you tell us about it?"
"No," Legolas said quickly and retrieved the box from her, stuffing it back into the pack. "I do not wish to speak of it," he added.
"Well…" said Eledhel uncomfortably, "if you do not mind, I wish to rest. I feel spent, and my head and jaw ache for some reason." He rubbed the side of his face where Legolas had punched him during their fight. Miredhel raised her eyebrows at the prince.
Legolas winked at her, and then looked at his friend carefully. "It could be the lingering effects of the dragon sickness," he speculated.
"Or that I stayed up the entire night before, searching the shadows for a particular friend of mine," Eledhel grumbled and then pulled himself onto a branch of the nearest tree. "Do not forget to burn those bandages, sister. I do not wish to have every orc within five leagues disturbing my slumber, because they caught the scent of elven blood." With that said, he folded his arms behind his head, leaned in to the trunk of the tree, and promptly began to doze.
"He is right, I suppose," Miredhel said to Legolas and rolled the old bandages up in her dress.
Legolas retrieved his tinderbox to light the fire and then stowed it in his bag once more with one longing look at the carvings. Gimli's workmanship was beautiful, but the elf desperately wished that his friend had carved trees instead. Legolas began humming to take his mind off the sea and tossed some more kindling onto the small fire. "If you are going to burn those, best to throw them in now," he advised her.
Miredhel wistfully tossed in her dress. "Do orcs really have such a keen sense of smell?" she asked him, watching the fabric darken into ash in the fire.
"Some more than others, but when I am on the trail, I prefer not to take chances," Legolas told her and stirred the fire with forked stick.
She nodded thoughtfully and then inquired about his tunic from the night before. "If I remember correctly," she said, "your shirt was drenched in blood when you returned from the river last night. Should we burn it as well?"
Legolas thanked her for remembering and fetched it from his bag. He sheepishly held it out to her, for the tunic was a mess with mottled stains.
The gruesome sight shocked her. "Surely that is not all your blood, " she wondered. "How did you ever? Well, you are not hurt, are you?"
"No, my lady," Legolas protested, "most of this blood came from something the dragon had killed," and he explained to her what had come to pass in the river.
"Most of the blood? A fine healer I am," she said. "Letting you fuss over my silly ankle when you have far more serious injuries."
Legolas shook his head. "See?" He said and rolled up one sleeve to show her his arm. "A little burned is all."
"Burned? Come over here and let me see," she demanded.
With a sigh, Legolas meekly obeyed, oddly feeling like he was on a journey with Aragorn again. Only he would have protested much more against Aragorn's request. Somehow letting Miredhel look at his injuries seemed a different matter to the prince. Legolas rolled up his other sleeve and showed both arms to the maiden. She placed one of her hands on the top of his arm and then withdrew it almost instantaneously.
"Your skin is burning up," she informed him.
"Really?" Legolas said with mock surprise.
"Well, at least your sense of humor seems to be perfectly in tact, my lord," Miredhel said with a little smile.
"You wished to speak of something earlier, Lady Miredhel. Please tell me," Legolas asked unexpectedly.
Miredhel pretended not to hear and continued, "I know these burns must give you pain. I might have some herbs that could soothe the inflammation." She looked into her pack and produced some thick succulent leaves, which she promptly crushed in her palms and worked into a gooey salve. "This is Helialid. I want you to smooth it onto your skin where it hurts the most," she said and transferred the substance into his hands.
Wrinkling his nose, Legolas gingerly rubbed the concoction across the tops of his arms. The salve felt cool like winter's ice, and he pushed his sleeves up even more so that he could cover the entire length of his arm. "Thank you, Lady Miredhel," he said enthusiastically. Miredhel smiled knowingly at him, and he thought of his back, which had received the brunt of the dragon's flame. "You…you would not happen to have anymore of that Helialid, would you? If I should find any other areas that burn, I would not wish to bother you," said Legolas.
"Any other areas that burn?" Miredhel asked incredulously. "You elven warriors are all the same, always pretending to be perfectly well even unto death. I would know, for I have Eledhel as a brother."
Legolas sighed and shifted uncomfortably on the fallen log where he sat next to the maiden. "I may have a few more burns on my back, but I did not want to bother you with those," he confessed.
"Bother me? You did only break my fall today and probably saved my life," she scoffed.
"Lady Miredhel…it might be unpleasant for you to see…" Legolas explained.
"I assure you, between Eledhel, Belegil, and Sulindal, I have seen much worse injuries than burns, if that is what worries you."
"It is not that," Legolas insisted. "Only our recent history does not allow for such. I thought it might prove awkward."
For whom, you or I?" she asked after considering his suggestion.
"Both," said Legolas quietly.
"If I feel embarrassed, I will let you know. I do want to help you."
"Even after the way I spoke to you today?" Legolas asked.
"Yours were not the only words spoken in haste and anger," she reminded him. "I would still help you."
"Even though I am dragging you off to, in your own delightful words, 'some Valar-forsaken forest?'"
She groaned and shook her head. "Please do not remind me. The dreadful things I have said!"
Legolas smiled. At the moment, Miredhel seemed so different from that frosty maiden he had first encountered in Lothlorien. She spoke to him now as she might with her brother or friends, not as a stranger, not as an enemy. Legolas leaned toward her and lowered his voice to ask: "You would help me even though I hail from the shadowed forests of Eryn Lasgalen, from Mirkwood, that I am the king's son?"
She drew back as though he might have slapped her, the rosy flush of her cheeks drained to chalk, and the night air around them became very still.
Legolas spoke again, his voice steeped in regret, "I am sorry, my lady. I did not mean to…"
"No," Miredhel stopped him, "even so, I would still help." She took a deep breath before looking steadily into his eyes. "I would still serve you, my lord," she said. "I would, and I shall, for the world changes and I must change with it." She hesitated but then shakily reached for his hand, and Legolas wondered at her unease. Her eyes had never left his, and both took comfort in the other's gaze. Legolas placed his other hand on top of her own. Miredhel stole a glance up toward her brother. Eledhel still slept.
"There is much I must tell you," she began…
* * *
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