Slash With Care
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Weight of Pliant Wood, A: 1. Chapter 1
They did not venture far into the forest before they made camp, that first night of their return to Fangorn. Still, the trees crowded close around them, and the air was thick with the sluggish breath of massed growing things. When they turned in, Gimli's sleep was long unsettled, and Legolas watched him late into the night. At last when the moon was high -- a buttery brightening in the canopy above -- the dwarf's bristly head lolled aside, and a healthy snore rattled out of the corner of his sleeping roll. Then there was another, and another.
Legolas was alone with the air. It was lush as the bloom on a stagnant pool, sweet with the rankness of agelong cycles of growth and decay. As it sank into his chest, his heart turned to quicksilver. He was a child here.
Legolas got up and walked among the shadows and the trees.
Beyond sight of the camp there was a wide gully, which Legolas followed along. A faint breeze picked up. Leaves ruffled, and the air quickened, lightened for a moment.
Upon one bank of the gully Legolas beheld a tree, long and pale of trunk. It was fair, smooth and strong, in the prime of its days. When he followed the graceful bend and reach of its limbs skyward, the twined net of its fingers trawled for a handful of stars.
Deeper into the forest, Legolas knew there would be greater trees: trees tall as watchtowers of men, hulking, craggy as mountains. Those would come later.
Three steps up the bank of the gully Legolas approached this tree, and he pressed his body against it. The bark was cool and faintly abrasive against his cheek, in the way of coarse linen. His arms spanned perhaps two thirds of the circumference of its dimpled bole.
Softly, wordlessly, Legolas began to sing.
The moon eased past on its buttery way overhead. Legolas exhausted his ancient melody, and let it give way to new notes, fresh formed on his lips.
Still the rotation of the heavens proceeded, faster than the growth of trees, though slower than perception.
A spray of leaves brushed Legolas's shoulder. He had not, earlier, remarked any branch so close to him.
He sang on. A weight of pliant wood -- the branch itself -- seemed to settle behind his neck.
A voice sounded low and soft: a sound that could have been the wind sighing, the high-up branches groaning, but that it had form. "Hoom, " it said softly. "It is said your kind woke us."
Legolas arched his neck against the branch and stared up at the tree.
The voice said again, "Hoom." And then, "From our rooted sleep, with your singing."
Leaflets tickled Legolas's ear. The whole tree rustled, shifted, and another branch settled across the small of Legolas's back. The voice sighed, "I can believe it. Felled, I could not but rise for you."
Legolas said, "Nay. I sing but indifferently." His voice trembled.
There could have been protest in the groan of the tree's branches, as the two around his body pulled him in close against the trunk.
Legolas said, "I am Legolas."
"Are you? Hroom," the tree, or rather the Ent, said. "So am I."
"Yes," Legolas said. "Far better suited to the name than I: far greener, and far leafier." His hands moved on the bark.
And then the rustling came thick and all about as slim, pliant branches folded around Legolas, and he was lifted until he was a fair body length and a half above the ground. What he had taken for two adjacent knots in the trunk, opened as deep, limpid eyes like green ambers in front of him.
Legolas gazed into the eyes. He found his voice and said, "And what are you called?"
"Who is to say?" the Ent replied, with a windy sort of humour. "Hoom hroom." His liquid eyes gave a slow blink. "I like your name better."
"Then have it!" Legolas said, smiling. "I begrudge you it not."
"No, no," the Ent said. "You have given much already."
The Ent brought Legolas in to cradle against his trunk, and his great eyes passed from the elf's view. Legolas cooled his cheek against the bark once more.
"Besides," the Ent said. A tendril came creeping under Legolas's tunic. "This skin here is green enough, though it is not truly yours. Strange thing that you are, to wear a skin not your own."
"My hide is not as tough as yours," Legolas said.
"Indeed," the Ent sighed. Fronded tendrils found their way beneath Legolas's undershirt at the back, and crept up over bare skin. "You are tender as a new leaf all over."
The tendrils tickled, and Legolas's breathing caught.
Very quickly it seemed that slim green shoots sought and gained entrance to his clothing from every direction. Even deep into his leggings they burrowed, sentient, dexterous.
Breathless, Legolas said, "Am I so strange? You know everything of me already!"
"Strange you are," the Ent said, "and no exploration could render you less so. But beautiful, nonetheless. Hoom. How beautifully you sing."
And Legolas did sing, as the tendrils delved, wrapped and tightened. But the notes came irregularly, and seemed brought to bear on no especial melody.
In sighs and creaks the Ent, too, sang.
In camp, Gimli sat up suddenly out of sleep and reached for the haft of his axe. He cried out blindly into the dark, "Nay! I shall lay this to the foot of none of you! Cease your murmuring!"
His eyes strained. At last it occurred to him to say, in vain, "Legolas?"
All about there was a shivering and a stirring. Moanings and rustlings swept back and forth through the trees. Just when Gimli thought the trees would at last take limb and seize him, the murmurs peaked in a sudden, sharp sigh, then died away. All was languidly still.
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