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Story of Legolas and Enóreth, The: 5. A Crappy Day
It was nearly noon by the time they departed from the Fellowship. When Enóreth discovered that Legolas would accompany her she spent nearly half an hour voicing her gratitude. She needed an hour further to fetch her bundles, change into a travelling costume of embroidered green velvet, and weave her hair into a coil of intricate braids bound with clasps of gold. Then and only then was she ready to be off. Legolas and Enóreth were sent on their way with good wishes, advice of varying quality, and poorly disguised teasing. As the voices of his friends faded into the distance, it seemed to Legolas that a great weight was bearing down upon him. The road ahead seemed to stretch endlessly to a bleak horizon. Enóreth, on the other hand, seemed quite happy to be marching into certain peril. She stepped along jauntily, glancing in Legolas' direction and giving little sighs of contentment.
The stream spilled out from the pool below Caradhras, and its bank was their chosen path. As Enóreth put it, "The tumbling water shall be our guide, for it will take us North along the Misty Mountains, through a forest veiled in deep shadow, to towering cliffs and a mighty river. There in his fortress does Finrond lurk and cast his spells of darkness; there does my doom lie!"
This was a puzzle to Legolas, for he knew that there were no forests or cliffs to speak of West of the Misty Mountains. Furthermore, the only mighty river to the North was the Bruinen, and following the mountains in that direction should simply bring them to Rivendell. This would have made the situation very confusing had Legolas allowed himself to worry about it. But as a character worth his salt, he was quick to realise that this land was ruled only by the will of the Story. If the Story said there was a forest to the North, there was a forest to the North. Niggling details like geography could be ignored.
And so they journeyed along the winding stream. Before long they reached the edges of the forest, and it was indeed a gloomy, shadowy place. Mist crept among the trees and the light became dim and heavy as if it were dusk instead of midday. Legolas looked behind and found that Caradhras was no longer in sight. Now truly there was no turning back.
Enóreth gazed about her and shivered. Then she lifted her chin, strode toward a hill near the trail, and began to climb. She was nearly to the top before Legolas realised he was supposed to follow her. He hurried to catch up and they reached the highest point to find the forest stretched out before them, illuminated with shafts of sunlight piercing the clouds. Far in the distance the line of cliffs was visible, a dark jagged line standing out against the pale sky. With building fanfare Enóreth stretched out her arm and cried, "Behold!"
Legolas looked. "What?" he said.
"Well... that," said Enóreth. "That's where we're going."
"Very well," he replied. "We shall set out at once."
Enóreth was shocked. "But wouldst you not pause and reflect on the gravity of our situation? The fragile thread by which our fate now hangs? One cannot be careless about such matters, you know!"
Legolas could see there was no arguing with her. So they stayed, and a mile of their journey could have been covered in the time they wasted on the hilltop. At last Enóreth decided that they had contemplated the delicate balance of destiny long enough, and they climbed back down to the trail and went forth into the shadows. She sang a few more songs to commemorate the event.
If in any corner of Legolas' mind there lingered a vague familiarity with the lands around him, it was banished forever in those first hours of travel. Try though it might to be Middle-earth, the world swiftly betrayed itself as the lawless and altogether bizarre creation of the Story. The pine forest became a birch forest without the slightest warning; the climate went from mild to blustery and back again in less than five minutes; the foreign mountains (for the Hithaeglir they were not by any stretch of the imagination) loomed close to the right at one moment, disappeared from view at the next, and inexplicably reappeared to the left a few minutes later. Soon Legolas' sense of direction was so hopelessly muddled that the course of the stream was his only assurance they were going the right way. And even that, he was wont to grumble to himself, could not be fully trusted.
But perhaps most disturbing of all were the cliffs far ahead. While on the hilltop Legolas had noted their positions and made what he thought to be a good measurement of the length of the journey. Yet a good while later when next the cliffs came into sight, not one step closer did they appear even to his discerning eyes. It was as if they were retreating before him, mocking him as they kept their distance.
At first he could see no rhyme or reason to any of these occurrences and resigned himself to be cast about by random fate. But when a melancholy song from Enóreth's lips found answer in a sudden moaning of the wind and deepening of the shadows, he began to harbour a morbid suspicion. And when a flood of sunshine poured through the treetops at the very moment she chose to unbind the shining lengths of her hair, Legolas was convinced of the dismal truth. All aspects of this place, right down to the stones in the path and the clouds in the sky, existed for the express purpose of glorifying Enóreth. The very trees seemed to sway toward the maiden as she walked among them, blindly seeking her until Legolas grieved for them in their thraldom. "You poor tormented creatures!" he murmured to them. "Are all living things beyond escape?"
Later in the afternoon, Legolas and Enóreth came across a spring of clear water bubbling up from the earth and forming a pretty little pool. Though it seemed of small consequence, it marked a critical moment for Legolas. Here for the first time the Forces of the Story revealed themselves to him, and he truly realised the peril that lay in wait if he for a moment lowered his defences. Enóreth insisted on bathing in the spring before they took another step, and this meant (of course) that Legolas had to stand guard nearby. For a little while he watched the forest and thought idle thoughts, glad to have a moment to himself. Then suddenly a dragging force besieged his mind, and for a harrowing ten minutes he was almost irresistibly compelled to toss off his clothes and splash in after her. In the end he triumphed and fought the urge away, but it took all the strength of his will and left him dizzy, short of breath, and terrified beyond all imagination.
Needless to say, when Enóreth returned she found her guardian more anxious and irritable than ever. As they pressed onward Legolas was ever glancing over his shoulder, and he cringed and recoiled like a hunted thing at the slightest sound. Enóreth was puzzled by such behaviour, but she later decided that it was a sign of growing concern for her welfare. Rather touched, she tried to calm him down by speaking of happier times. This only served to strain his ragged nerves further, for she spoke endlessly in a prattling turn of phrase the likes of which he had never heard before:
"So then I'm like listen Mister High and Mighty, I'm powerful, I'm all in touch with the magic and everything, why should I have to sit at home and embroider and stuff because that is like so not fair to women that we have to put up with that kind of attitude in Middle-earth when we're every bit as smart as men and so much prettier too (though you're very pretty, I must say) and of course he's all oh fairest of the fair darling of my heart yadda yadda yadda and I go oh please get over it 'cause you know, he's always so rude like that and it's harassment and I don't have to take it, you know?"
But Legolas did not know, nor was he able to offer more than the vaguest mumbled reply. This was all the same to Enóreth, as the interaction of her listening audience had long since fallen to a low slot on her list of concerns. "So anyway," she continued, "I'm all like yah, what's up with that, it is like so obvious that I'm totally better than everyone else and like, have you ever noticed that when you're the best at something and also just happen to be the prettiest, even if you're still totally nice and sweet to everybody there are like a bunch of jerks who get like so jealous and call you a 'worthless character' whatever that means and – Oh! Flowers! Let's go pick some!"
But at this Legolas was adamant. Stopping to be contemplative on a hilltop was one thing, but stopping to pick flowers was quite another, and he told her so.
"But see how fair they are!" she exclaimed. "I could make the loveliest wreath of them, and you could wear it as a token of my appreciation! Oh come, Leggy, please?"
"Out of the question," he said curtly. "We have much distance to cover before nightfall, and these woods are far too dangerous to – what did you just call me?"
A decided pout creased Enóreth's fair and lovely brow. "Aw, you're no fun at all!" she said.
Legolas took a few steadying breaths and replied, "I did not accompany you for amusement, O Lady of the Waning Moon...."
"That's Crescent Moon," said Enóreth.
"All right!" Legolas snapped. "You may call yourself Queen Melian of the Blessed Realm for all I care! But I have not the time for such foolishness!"
Enóreth sniffed. "There's no need to be rude," she said. "You know, you'd probably have a lot more luck with romance if you weren't so cross all the time."
The retort that sprang to his lips was hasty and not terribly polite, so he forced it back and took a moment to calm himself. "Will you please," he said slowly, "please allow us to continue on until nightfall? We cannot linger along the trail in such a way and hope to succeed in our task."
She crossed her arms and frowned. "Fine," she said. "Be that way. Come on then, 'Leggy.'" With that, she flounced off down the trail. She gave him a most disrespectful swat on the backside as she went past, and to the end of the Story she would never realise just how close she came to getting beat about the head for it. But Legolas was a disciplined and noble Prince of Mirkwood, and he managed to regain his control in the nick of time. Setting his teeth, he strode ahead of her and hurried them along at a rapid pace that he refused to slacken for many hours.
The long shadows of evening were creeping through the forest when they stopped to rest. Enóreth skipped away from the path humming to herself, and for a time Legolas was alone. He wandered through the trees in a daze. The journey had barely started and already it seemed that he could not endure it much longer. Truth be told, he was beginning to wonder if he would ever make it to the end, or if he would still be in his right mind even if he did. So depressed and distracted was he by such thoughts, he did not notice the racoon approaching until it crawled onto a tree stump just ahead, sat up, and started speaking to him:
"Say Legolas, I've been noticing that you WHOA, DON'T SHOOT ME!" The racoon dove behind the stump and poked his head back out. "Easy there, Elf Boy!"
"Sorry!" Legolas gasped. He lowered his bow and passed a hand over his eyes. "I am sorry. I just ... I did not mean...."
"No, that's all right," said the racoon, regaining his composure. He climbed onto the stump again and shook his fur. "It's been a rough day, I hear ya, buddy. Just watch where you point that thing, okay?"
Exhausted and now quite shaken, Legolas leaned heavily against a tree and made an effort to steady himself. "You..." he said weakly, "you are a Guide...?"
"Yep, that's me," said the racoon. "Yeesh, you look terrible! Are you okay? Do you need to sit down?"
Legolas shook his head.
"Suit yourself," the Guide said. "Anyway, as I was saying. I couldn't help but notice that you're really charging full speed ahead with this thing. It's instinctive, I know, but take it from me – really bad idea. Bring it down a few pegs. Relax."
"No, I dare not," Legolas muttered dimly. "I must end it ... the Story. Finrond...."
"Listen to you! You're doing it again," the Guide insisted. "You're pushing way too hard. The point of this journey isn't to find Finrond."
Legolas did a double take. "It's not!" he exclaimed.
The racoon shrugged. "You'd think so, but it really isn't. The point, my friend, is to give you two lovebirds enough time alone for the usual Romance Story trademarks to occur. Songs under the moonlight, comforting the maiden in her distress, watching each other sleep, blah blah, you get the picture. There are a specific number of these plot points for the Story, and after they've all been carried out the bad guy will show up. Not before. You see what I'm saying?"
"I believe so," said Legolas slowly.
"So basically you've got two options," the racoon continued. "Either go head-to-head with this and get dragged through it kicking and screaming, or co-operate and get it over with as fast as you can. I'd take the second route, personally. If you keep fighting the plot you'll be stuck in the Story for weeks, and no offence, but you don't look like you'd last that long."
This seemed like grim news indeed. Legolas held his head in his hands and groaned, "I am helpless, then! Must I endure every humiliation cast my way?"
"Wellll, I wouldn't say that," said the racoon. "There are ways to satisfy the Story without sacrificing your self-respect. It's all a matter of anticipating things, bending the rules, feeling out a rhythm ... I can't explain it. It's one of those things you'll have to work out for yourself."
Some remaining alertness in Legolas realised that the Guide was trying to give him a hint, but in his current state the Elf could no more discern its meaning than sprout wings and fly. "I do not understand," he said hopelessly. "I cannot, not now. Everything...." His voice dwindled away.
The racoon gazed at him with wry understanding. "Yeah. Everything. I know," he said. "Look, this is a tough Story and we Guides have been feeling bad for you, so a bunch of us have banded together to keep her busy until sunrise. The chipmunks and baby rabbits are going to get more cuddles than what's good for them by the time the night is over, but it's a price we're willing to pay."
"Thank you," murmured Legolas. His weariness had redoubled and he felt he could barely stay upright.
The racoon smiled and waved it off. "Hey, not a problem. You get some rest and clear your head, all right? And don't worry. All Stories have to end sooner or later."
Legolas nodded faintly. The racoon hopped off the stump and scampered into the bushes; at last Legolas was left in peace. Somehow he managed to walk a few paces to a sheltered spot not far from the stream, where the singing water and the mingled scent of earth and trees could lull his senses. Sinking down onto the moss, he stretched himself out and passed into a forgetful slumber.
Coming Up: Legolas tries an experiment. Enóreth joins PETA.
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