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Window of Water, A : 1. A Window of Water
See - the miraculous window
of the water stands unbroken.
- Elizabeth Garrett
There had been rumours of some new disturbance in the Greenwood, among the thick oaks of the south, and perhaps the solitary retreat that was an ancient Avari rite of manhood would not long endure. For the present, however, the Wood-elves of Thranduil yet kept the accustomed peace for many miles around their seat at Emyn Duir, and exploration was deemed no more dangerous than was necessary for sharpening one's senses and skill.
Thus on this particular day in early summer, Legolas, the younger son of the king, was to be found hiking alone beside the bank of the Anduin. The youthful Elf was garbed in the green of beech leaves and the silver-grey of the river sand. A bedroll, a bow and a quiver of green-fletched arrows hung at his back; at his belt were a pouch of flints, and a long hunting knife with a white hilt. He walked with his head high and a song on his lips. The previous night, he had camped in a sandy bluff with tough sword-grass for a cushion, dining on rabbit, mussels and watercress. Today he planned to fish, for, like all youths who had grown up near the river, he had learned the art of capturing fish with his fingers. Then there would be another camp, another night in which to revere the lights of Elbereth Star-kindler, and meditate on his duties to the Greenwood; another day of travel, gauging the limits of his long muscles and the fell prowess of his arm; and another and another, until he felt in his heart that the test was done.
Legolas paused at noon where a broad shelf of mossy rock overhung the river. He unfastened his gear and crouched on the rock, gazing into the water. Since here the river ran through stone, rather than soil, it churned up little sediment, and its denizens were clearly visible. Ribbons of weed streamed in the current, combed this way and that. Minnows darted among grey pebbles on the bottom. Then he noticed a dense stand of weed that grew in a hollow, and within the weed, a golden eye that gleamed: a trout, he saw, waiting in its lie. Legolas flexed his long fingers and contemplated a possible approach. He moved his body soundlessly to the side, and reached out a hand. The golden eye swivelled. It looks at me, he thought. He laughed, and withdrew his hand, bringing it instead up to his brow in salute to the fish. For as long as Legolas could remember, there had been tales of some strange magic in the waters of the Anduin; some of the many rumours that had haunted it since Isildur, king of Men, had died in these same waters. He had not realized, however, that fish had seemingly been imparted with Elf-like powers of perception, and he smiled as he sought another target.
Within an instant, he wondered if his own senses were seriously awry, for a voice sounded behind him, without his having heard any creature approach. "You might be cautious if you toy with my brethren, Master Elf," it said, with a stern note under which laughter bubbled, as if the speaker were trying to be severe, but failing. "You have learned that the waters will rise to take their vengeance, no?"
Legolas spun on his heels, dropping into a combat stance; but saw that the speaker was a maiden, and bore no weapon, only a skein of lilies that was looped baldric-fashion across her shoulder. She was a stranger to him. Her face was of Elven cast, yet her flowing hair was of a golden shade seen only (in Ennor) among a handful of the Eldar; and though Legolas was due to meet the Lady Galadriel at the ceremony for his coming of age, he was sure that this could not be she, come early, unshod and without escort. The woman's gown was not made after the Silvan fashion. It was a pale silver-green, seemingly translucent (though somehow not immodest where it touched her flesh), and shimmered like light reflected off the surface of a pool, or the sea that he had never seen.
Legolas reached for his bow and, gracefully, drew himself upright. "My pardon if I have offended you or yours, lady," he said, "but I beg the mercy owed to ignorance, since I would never have known the creatures of this river to be related to yourself."
She laughed and said, tilting her head to one side, "I have worn a like skin, on occasion -". Her eyes moved across his face and frame, studying him with great curiosity. "You are a Wood-elf," she said. "Yours is the care of trees, and the creatures of Yavanna. It gives me joy to meet you."
"Mine is a like pleasure," said Legolas, recalling his courtly manners, and bowed. "Do you need aid, my lady? It seems that you travel alone, and are far from your home."
"I might say the same," she said. "No, I feel entirely safe, although I thank you. My dam, back in the West, thought I should see something of the world before I came of age; and so I am here, after other adventures, to pay respects to my great-grandfather and the foremost of our scattered kin."
"Who is your venerable sire, my lady?" asked Legolas.
"He is behind you, Master Elf," she laughed, "and you were about to poach within his bounds. Fortunately, he recognizes that such actions may be innocent and necessary. He is not angered against you."
Legolas looked behind, and saw the broad back of the Anduin glittering in the midday sun. He had heard of such beings as she claimed to be, a remembrance of a time before Elves, when the Valar and their servants had shaped the world and all that was in it. He had not expected to meet one, or if he had, it was as a force that would grind stone and beat down mountains, as did the Great River. This lady announced herself to be no older or more experienced than was he, and with the garland about her, she seemed no graver than an Elf-maid gathering flowers. He turned and saw the sea-coloured gown adrift in the light breeze.
"In that case," he said, and bowed again, "I thank you, Lady Duiniel, and hope that you will recommend me to your sire's good grace while I bide here."
"I shall, Master Elf, I shall," she said. "Indeed, go to that still pool beneath the alder - yonder - and you will find a proof of his good will towards you."
Legolas went where she indicated, and found, in the shallow water of the pool, a silver salmon that did not evade his deft hands. "Is this the proof?" he asked, lifting the fish from the pool. "Is the lord river willing for me to dine on his bounty?"
"Provided you share your catch with me, Master Elf," she laughed. She picked up the tinderbox that still lay among Legolas' gear, and began to scrape the ground for a fire. "I have travelled far this morn, farther than you perhaps, and wish for both food and company."
They wrapped steaks of the salmon in leaves, and baked them among the hot stones. Legolas sat cross-legged beside the fire, breaking sticks over his knee and passing them to Goldberry, who inserted them neatly into the lattice she had built, and periodically raked embers over the parcels of fish. The air savoured of roasting meat, wood smoke, lilies and green water.
He and she talked easily now, after having shared the glutinous and bonding act of gutting the fish. Legolas was fascinated by the tale of her journey through the Misty Mountains. When it was needful for Thranduil's people to cross the mountains to Imladris, they took the high passes and mounted constant vigilance against the goblins that still dwelled there; Goldberry, however, had travelled not over the mountains, but through their roots. "I ran where the deep springs run," she said. "Who asks a stream whither it goes, or cries 'Halt'?" He teased her, then, saying that such a power must have great uses, but what of the winter months? And she retorted that trees, too, change in winter: "And what then becomes of your fair face, Master Elf, and those garments of green?"
She knew much herb-lore, he discovered, and they exchanged the names of plants in the tongues of their homelands. Like himself, she had been trained in field medicine, cookery, and the crafts of wood and metal. He took his fletching knife from his tunic and challenged her to bind an arrow, which task she accomplished with skill. "Go to the river," she challenged him in turn, "and find me a stone beloved of my kin." Legolas' brows quirked at that request, but he waded (mindful of Grandfather Anduin's sensibilities) into the shallows up to the tops of his boots and, bending like a willow, saw among the manifold stones one that had been roiled among the sand until it took the shape of a near-perfect sphere. He could believe that Anduin had formed that shape with love. He drew the gleaming white stone, like a great pearl, from the water, and placed it in Goldberry's hand. "Ah, that is well," she said. "One of his finest shapings. You have a keen eye, Legolas."
When the fish was baked, they broke open the parcels and ate, elegant fingers needing no dishes. Legolas filled his flask at a clear, stone-lined hollow of the river, and contrived a cup of woven leaves so that they might both drink in state. He regretted for a moment that he had no wine to offer her. Before lifting the cup to her lips, she scattered some water on the ground; watching the drops flash in the light, Legolas looked again at her wide, clear eyes and the shifting of her garment, and marvelled at how she seemed to take on the quality of water, although warm and flesh. She leaned back against the rock with nonchalant grace, almost like a man. Yet where her body touched the earth, it seemed to yield and flow. Even his eyes, that could see an eagle wheel above the distant mountains, could not follow her fluid outline; he imagined her slipping down the face of the rock and melding with the river, and he reached out to stay her, covering the hand that was unoccupied.
Legolas pursued his course along the Anduin, walking from dawn to dusk, save when he paused to hunt, and enjoying the confidence he felt in his strength and focused spirit. Always, Goldberry was near him. He could hear her laughter when spray foamed over a stone. Often she would appear from the trees and walk beside him in the clear morning, or she would come running to his campfire at supper with a handful of herbs for the pot. Or she would sit on a blanket, and put her cheek on his shoulder, as the stars appeared and he explained to her the Elven legends of their making. He was acutely aware of her then, of her tremulous warmth, and there seemed to be water in his own limbs, and a sea murmuring in his ears.
There came, of course, the day when he felt that he had nothing more to do or to prove on this journey that was meant to test his reliance, and that he must need report to his father, and return to his duties in the Woodland Realm. He and Goldberry sat on the bank of the river in the late afternoon. Legolas outlined to her his thoughts, and she smiled. "You have done well, Legolas," she said, "and your father shall hail your return, and hold feasts in honour of his son."
"Your companionship has been a gift," he told her. "I would… nay, I will speak nothing that would trouble your heart. I hear the trees' song; I have watched the changes in the sky; and they say our paths lie separate. Though I cannot help but wonder if it might have been otherwise."
"Do you see how the roots of the beech go down to the water, and how the water laves them?" she said softly. "That touch shall never meet its fellow again, yet the stream remembers. The river talks to me, of my adulthood, and it tells me that my duty lies on the westward side of the mountains. It will be other than this; I think I knew that when first we met."
"As did I." He clasped her hand. After her wildness, she had surprised him with her domesticity, her deft hands with food and fire; he could envisage her by a hearth, presiding over some strange but loving household. Folded in arms that would be strange and loving, like the household, like herself. For himself, he could not picture a similar ending; he tried to imagine the press of hands in some silk-hung chamber, but the image was unreal, a phantom.
He was unsure who first reached for the other, but as Anduin ran endlessly on, the Elf sank on to the short turf with Goldberry in his arms. He kissed her, and thought that he had been parched with thirst, and had plunged his face into a mountain stream. His nerves sang, cool and clear; everywhere was the scent of lilies. Her body - no, that was not cool, but warm beneath him, flowing and enveloping and trembling. He thought of the hot springs in the southern forest, which he had visited as a child and not wanted to leave; and then he kissed her again, and pulled away from her with a deep wrenching.
Presently, she sat up, and touched his face. "Your path will be a noble one, son of Thranduil," she said. "May my kin ever be gracious unto you; may your sails be fitly set."
"May the stars shine on you," he responded, with the traditional blessing of the Elves, and clasped her arm in a warrior's embrace. "I have no doubt that I shall hear stir of you, sooner or later, fair River-daughter."
She touched his cheek again, and his eyes fluttered shut; and when he opened them, there was only his gear piled on the bank, and the river green among the tree-roots in the dwindling light.
Author's Note: For the sake of Tolkien's reputation, I should say that this story has no basis in the logic of his universe. As Goldberry's age, and even the exact nature of her being, are unknown, I took the liberty of taking some liberties with them. The word Duiniel is my attempt to render Goldberry's title, River-daughter, in Sindarin.
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