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Battle of the Golden Wood, The: 4. The Lord of Lorien
Erethôn knocked. The gate opened silently and closed silently after them.
Up the hill they climbed, along grassy paths and white stairs of paved stone. There were many folk about; tall, graceful elves with hair like shadow, or - rarely - a radiance of gold. Some regarded them solemnly, and some laughed like giddy youths and ran away. Many songs were on the air, and voices spoke above Oswy in the branches of the trees. Gytha took his hand, but her eyes were bright. Cyn seemed to revive a little and sat straighter in the saddle.
"Do they fly from tree to tree like birds?" Leofwyn asked, astonished, as curious faces looked down on her from the boughs.
"We walk, lady," said Erethôn, and his smile broadened, "We are light and the mellyrn are strong. But ai! To have wings. What joy that would be!" And he too burst into song. At the strange words and merry tune Oswy's mind filled with visions of clouds - the splash and spatter of diving into a sunlit cloud, and he found it hard not to smile himself, so strong was the delight.
On the crown of the hill there lay a green lawn. A fountain played there, all fire and crystal in the afternoon sunlight. With a pitcher of silver, a maiden was drawing water from the stream, her long braids of black hair swinging free.
"Here you must leave your injured fellow," Erethôn said, and waving a hand he summoned the maiden to him. They spoke a while, her face clouding at his words, then she sped away, swiftly as a startled deer, and he went to lift Cyn down.
"What are you going to do with him?" Oswy moved to his bondsman's side, forestalling the elf. He had been lulled by all this beauty, but now his suspicions awoke again.
"He cannot climb the mallorn," said Erethôn, his good humour disappearing. He nodded at the mightiest of trees, whose canopy shaded them all, and Oswy noticed for the first time the ladder that wound about it. Flimsy, it looked to him, and untrustworthy, like the whole land. If he bent his neck back he saw platforms in the branches on either side, or about the trunk, and, above them all, light and airy though it was, what was unmistakeably a King's Hall, unbelievably high.
Dread smote him. Edoras was high enough, but it was at least built on solid stone. In the winds this place must move, must sway underfoot like the deck of a great ship. "I have to go up there?"
"You must, and he cannot. I have sent to the healers. They will attend him while the Lord and Lady question you. I think he cannot afford to await judgement. Come now." He took Cyn by the arm and waist and lifted the heavy man out of the saddle as lightly as if he were a stripling, laying him down on the grass on his stomach.
"How much do your healers know about Men?" Leofwyn asked, bluntly. Cyn had not cried out during the move, but his eyes were pinched shut and he was plainly still consious. Little Gytha fled to his side and crouched there, telling him of what she had seen today, both her hands wrapped around one of his clenched fists.
"That I know not," Erethôn said, "We have not had many dealings with folk of other kinds, but there may be some among them who remember Men from the Last Alliance, or the War of Wrath."
"Then I will stay with him," she said, "For I am a healer among my own people, and however much your leeches know, I may be able to instruct them."
The elf frowned, his steel-grey eyes doubtful.
"I would not have him suffer and perhaps die among uncaring strangers," she said, a request in her face that softened her proud words.
"Very well," Erethôn sighed, "Yet I would rather that you, as the leader of your people, spoke for all. You risk much by entrusting the task to a child."
Oswy's fingers remembered the press of his father's hand, bequeathing him both sword and people at once, and anger boiled up in him at the creature's words. "Leofwyn is my councillor and my mother," he said, "But I am the Lord of this remnant. I am thirteen years old, and, by the reckoning of the Rohirrim, no longer a child. You would do well to remember that."
A look a little like contempt curled the elf's mouth, but he bowed, "My apologies, Hir-chên. Then it is well. You must come, she may stay."
"Take Gytha?" Leofwyn whispered, "She should be spared watching me remove the arrow."
Oswy leaned close and said in the thickest dialect of Wold-rohirric he could muster "She has a chance yet of eluding the gaze of the Sorceress of the Wood. If you are all down here, then perhaps only I will be affected."
"Oh, my son," Leofwyn said, regretfully, "I wish I had never told you those tales. Oshelm was right; they take away your courage. What have we found here, except courtesy and aid? And the tales are old. Who knows how they may have changed in the telling." She rose and stood before him, and the lines around her eyes quirked a little in a smothered smile. "You are too stubborn and too proud to be ensorcelled by any witch, Oswy. Go now, and be our lord in truth. The valour of Bema go with you."
His heart was strengthened by her faith in him. He held out a hand to Gytha. "Come on little one. Let the leeches see to your daddy. He will be well. Why don't you come with me, and we'll go and see the White Lady of the Elves."
It was a weary climb, and the sun was dipping towards the Western edge of the world before Oswy stepped out into the Hall of the elves. He was briefly very glad of the green and silver walls which enclosed the oval chamber, before they billowed and he saw they were mere curtains and light screens. On one side they had been drawn back, and there was naught but air between himself and the setting sun. The sky seemed so close he might reach up and snag a handful of early stars. Indeed it looked as if someone had already done so, and then scattered them. Lamps of gold and silver were kindling among the treetops below. The wind was fresh, with a hint of snow off the mountains that mingled with the lively smell of the mallorn's yellow blooms. It smelled like adventure, and dangers borne with laughter. Oswy - who had feared for his spirit - was reassured by it. It seemed too bracing for enchantment.
He took firm hold of Gytha's sleeve to prevent her running to the edge, and made his way at Erethôn's command, through the crowd of other petitioners. Elves stepped aside for them, their frowns turning to wistful pleasure as they looked on Gytha. Oswy held her tighter and breathed in, straightening his back, determined that whatever happened next, he would honour his father by it.
Set against the bole of the tree - like a high-seat pillar - there were two slight chairs of ash wood. One was empty. In the other there sat not a Lady, but a great Lord. He was clad all in grey, as simply as his woodland archers, but unlike all the dark folk Oswy had yet seen, his long hair was silver as water in sunlight, bright and strange. He handed back a tally to his scribe, with some words of business, and then turned to look on Oswy. Oswy's breath failed as the grave and beautiful face lifted to study him. He saw...he did not know what he saw; the slow-growing life of a tree that had outlived mountains; a shadowed power and quietness that made the other elves look like children. A thousand ages of growth and thought, memory and tragedy, all sharply present and focused on him.
He had thought to find one kind of magic. He had found another. He did not know whether to be relieved or afraid.
"Lord Celeborn," Erethôn began, "This boy claims to be the leader of the refugees out of Rohan whom we rescued from orcs on the Southern border. His name is Oswy."
Awe could not prevent Oswy from bridling at that. Evidently Erethôn had yet to be convinced of Oswy's lordship, and it would not help Oswy's case to be caught gawping like a country boy at his first sight of the Golden Hall of Meduseld. He narrowed his eyes and stood tall. "I am Oswy, son of Oshelm, of the Wolds of Rohan. I and my folk entered your realm against our will, for we were outnumbered and pursued by orcs. My father, Oshelm, died nobly on your borders, defending us from the foe, and my bondsman, Cyn, was sorely wounded. I have with me also my mother, Leofwyn and the girl, Gytha, who is Cyn's child. No trespass was intended. We simply had no-where else to go."
The Lord Celeborn smiled slightly, "Waes thu hal, Oswy Oshelming," he said in flawless rohirric, "And be comforted. You stand accused of nothing worse than being in need. We do not grudge you that."
Then he spoke at some length to Erethôn and to another elf, whom Oswy thought might have been among the unspeaking elves who first captured him. Both bowed and left, though the silent one put down a bundle wrapped in green cloth before he departed.
"I have given orders that your father's body be carried to Caras Galadhon, so it may be accorded whatever honours your people find fit," the Lord said, turning his attention once more to Oswy, "And your wounded companion is even now being tended." He looked at Gytha, who had begun to yawn and rub a small, bloodstained hand across her eyes. That sweetening of expression Oswy had seen in all the elves when they looked on her was even more pronounced in him. "Let the child be taken to her father, that she may see him before she rests."
This order was not so much to Oswy's mind. He liked not to think of the little girl being escorted alone among these uncanny people. But his mistrust was eased by the way Gytha greatfully laid her head on the shoulder of the lady who came for her. Despite her first sight of orcs, a day of peril, and her father's wound, the little girl seemed happy here. He chose to take it as a good omen.
"I have sent Erethôn," the Lord continued, "To the remains of your settlement. There may yet be some others of your folk who survived."
The words brought back to Oswy the bright and hopeful morning in which he had awoken, and crawling out of his tent had seen on the horizon a line of black so dense and thick he could scarcely believe it was made up of living things. He heard again the screams as the torrent of orcs crashed over them all. "Lord, it was an army. I know not how we got out. But there will be no-one else left."
Celeborn rose and walked to the edge of the flet. He balanced there and looked out into the sunset like one who wishes to burn away dark memories. "I have known the destruction of many cities. There is always something to salvage - a babe under an upturned basket, toddlers hidden in a haybarn, children fled to the woods, who perish later, abandoned to starvation. I will not let that happen to the kinsmen of my guest."
Oswy felt as if the tree beneath him had swayed and tipped him from his feet. What was this kindness? What had happened to the inhuman sorceries of the Golden Wood? "I do not understand," he said, "Why are you doing this?"
The elvish Lord gave him a look of puzzlement "How could I not?"
Returning, he threw himself down in his seat, and leaned forward, dark eyes intent. "Now tell me of this army of orcs. Can you give me an estimate of their number and kinds? Were they bound into Rohan, or towards Dol Guldur?"
"They were bound for Mirkwood," Oswy began. He spoke slowly as his thoughts righted themselves. Is there no Sorceress then? Is Leofwyn correct, and all the tales false? It was strangely reassuring to be standing like a proper leader of men in the middle of a council of war. "My estimate will be wild, but there were at least five thousand. I think many more - at least half of which were great, tall, man-like orcs. There seemed at least a thousand warg-riders, and wagons behind them. All of this in the daytime, when we thought we were safe."
Three tall elves had stepped forward when Oswy began to speak. They were clad in silver mail, and long white cloaks hung from their shoulders. Their hands rested on axes almost as tall as they. Celeborn looked up at each in turn. "You hear? Saruman has lent aid to his new Master, beyond the strength he has sent against Rohan. It will take them the night to reach Dol Guldur. Once there they must be mustered into companies under Khâmul's command. But it will be done swiftly ere the new orcs begin fighting the old. We can expect the first attack in little over two days."
Again, the chamber seemed to sway in Oswy's eyes and he gasped. "Saruman has sent forces against Rohan? I must go back. I must go home!"
Whether the Lord read Oswy's confused feelings of vindication and betrayal on his face, or somehow by seeing into his heart, he did not know. But he had not finished reeling from the thought that he was forbidden ever to return to the world of Men - that the tales were true in that at least - before Lord Celeborn had frowned in irritation and elaborated. "You cannot go home," he said, "Because by the time your wounded man is healed, this country will be under siege. Like it or not, Oswy Oshelming, you will have to remain my guest until the paths of the world lie open once more. Or until defeat draws us down into death together."
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