12. Deep Roots Are Not Reached by the Frost
Slipping out of one of the Last Homely House's numerous side-doors, Rowanna began to descend along the terraces that dropped steeply down the valley's side. Though there was sunlight slanting across the gardens, the air bit her skin crisply; she took a deep, glad breath and determined to dwell no longer on her uncomfortable encounter with the Dwarves. They did not mean to discomfit you, she told herself firmly, remembering what Bilbo had told her of the punctilious Dwarven sense of social nicety. They have never encountered anyone like you before, that is all - and you've spent half your life confounding other people's expectations, so why let it trouble you now?
Glancing through a well-manicured gap in the box hedges, she caught sight of an Elf on his knees beside the flower-beds, tenderly wrapping a length of some fleecy fabric around the base of a plant. From somewhere beside him an eager voice drifted up:
"Why, that's just like I'd do back home in the Shire, to keep the frost from getting to Mr. Bilbo's laburnums - only I'd be using sacking, o'course, having none o' this special Elven stuff..."
Samwise, she thought, smiling to herself. Frodo's gardening-boy. Clearly, even in a place as strange and magical as Rivendell must seem to him, Sam had quickly found where he belonged. Sighing, she left the two gardeners happily sharing their craft, and drifted on down towards the valley floor.
It had occurred to her that she might find Arwen on the more sheltered lower slopes, for Rowanna knew that the Evenstar loved to sit and breathe the heady scents in the rose-gardens, where a few late blooms were yet lingering; and she thought the upheaval to the household of the last few days, with every duty from tending the sick to welcoming unexpected guests, might have left Elrond's daughter in need of a little quiet reflection. Indeed, as she rounded a corner Rowanna did glimpse the back of a dark head amongst the nearly-bare rosebushes, which were dropping their last few petals slowly to the ground like great velvet tears. Only as she started forward did she realise that it was not Arwen who sat gazing out to the far hills; but even as she began to move, soundlessly she thought, to retreat again, a hoarse voice asked:
"Will you not stay a little, my lady Dúnadaneth?"
"H-how did you - I mean - " she stammered, but got no further; for just at that moment the Man Aragorn swung around on his seat, and looked her full in the face.
Rowanna stood a moment dumbfounded. She could not break with his gaze, clear and intense as a dawn sky; Men would follow you even down to the dead, she found herself thinking, if you asked it of them. Finally she managed to incline her head and to murmur hoarsely:
For a long moment they looked at each other. Finally Aragorn spoke.
"Come, lady; do not stand while I sit at my ease," he urged, indicating she should take a seat beside him on the bench. "Chieftain of the Dúnedain I may be, yet Master Elrond's writ runs here, not mine." She thought one corner of his mouth twitched as though at a private jest; she smiled, a little shakily, and did as she was bidden.
"To answer the question you did not quite ask," he went on, "your footfall is not that of Elf, or Dwarf or Hobbit, and mortal women are hardly numerous in Master Elrond's house. You were pointed out to me in the Hall of Fire a few nights past, by one who thought I would be glad to know of a kinswoman among us in Imladris."
"You - you called me Dúnadaneth, my lord..."
"And so you are, if my informant had the truth of it, are you not?" he challenged gently with a smile. "Rowanna, daughter of Míranna of the Dúnedain and Halemnar of Minas Tirith; born of Arnor and Gondor, but a child of the plains of Rohan. Which of all these are you, then, lady?"
"Since I came to Rivendell, my lord, I have begun to wonder that myself!" Rowanna admitted ruefully. Bilbo, she realised. Of course - 'my friend the Dúnadan'! He has been talking to Bilbo!...
"It is not an easy fate, to belong to many peoples and none," the Chieftain agreed gravely, "for there may be a hard choice to be made, in the end." His gaze drifted away to the far slopes again for a moment. Then, turning to her again, he added gently: "Your father was a valiant man. It grieved me to hear that he had met such an end so young."
Rowanna shot him a startled glance. How old was the Chieftain, in truth? Could he?-
"I served the Steward in the White City, once," Aragorn said as though reading her thought. "Halemnar son of Hyarmenhîr was accounted a good man with a sword, among the warriors of Gondor - and a fine horseman, which is a rarer skill in that land. I always wondered whether it was that which sent him north to lend his service to the Riddermark..."
Few call it the Riddermark who do not know and love it! she thought. She voiced her guess. "You have been in the Mark then also, my lord?"
He smiled at her then, lending warmth to his grave features so that her heart suddenly swelled, a child praised by a parent for quick wits. "Indeed! I have ridden with the eoreds, too, in my time. And dearly I loved that land of horse-lords, whose plains roll vast and smooth as the sea."
They kept companionable silence for a few moments, as the roses released the last of their glorious scent to the autumn sun. Then a thought struck Rowanna. "Chieftain - I heard that you had gone out from the valley scouting with Master Elrond's sons. Are Elladan and Elrohir returned, then?" Aragorn shook his head.
"They have long yet to go, even for their swift feet, before they reach their destination. I left them well enough, though, and -" another swift smile lit up his face - "Elrohir particularly asked to be remembered to you. I was asked to tell you 'to challenge no-one else to a horse-race until he had avenged his defeat'!"
Rowanna snorted. "It seems that race rankles a little with Elrohir! He need have no fear, for few ride with me since he is gone; even Arwen has no time these days..."
Something Rowanna could not read flickered suddenly in the Chieftain's eyes at the mention of the Evenstar's name. Then all at once she remembered the meeting of grey eyes over the heads of frightened, travelstained Halflings the night of their coming from the Ford, and a hot wave of mortification swept up and over her face. Arwen. The Chieftain is here in the rosegarden - a spot she loves - waiting for Arwen! And I prattle on like a fool about riding races with Elrohir!
"My lord, I - forgive me - " she mumbled, getting hastily to her feet. "I will trespass no longer upon your time..."
The Chieftain looked briefly puzzled, but nodded. "Very well, kinswoman." As Rowanna flushed deeper, he added, "for so you are, distantly, are you not? Fare you well, until another time."
As she passed out of the rose-garden she glanced back for a moment. She thought she saw a brief flash of silver-grey between the further hedges; the Chieftain leapt to his feet, the meeting with Rowanna clearly forgotten, and turned eagerly towards the garden's entrance. Feeling her cheeks burning once again, Rowanna hurried away, down towards the river.
Sunlight danced and rippled through the branches of the beech-tree under which Rowanna lay, her head tucked into a convenient cleft in the tree's roots and pillowed by a fold of her cloak. She barely heard the Bruinen rushing and gurgling down the valley below as she gazed unseeing up into the rustling red-gold dome of leaves, their light and shadow dancing and mingling.
Dearly I loved that land of horse-lords, whose plains roll vast and smooth as the sea...
Aragorn had thought to put her at her ease; but at his words homesickness had swelled in her heart as though a band tightened around her chest, bringing with it thoughts which Rowanna had for weeks been doing her best to quell as often as they arose, of farmstead, herds and - most of all - her surely-anxious mother. From what the stable-hands say, the snows will have closed the high passes before long - that's why there has been such haste to get all these scouting-parties out; and I am strong enough now to manage a short gallop down the water-meadow well enough, but to trek home for weeks across the mountains and the wastelands between would be another test entirely! At least I know that Béodred got as far as Lórien in safety; he must surely have made it back to the Mark from there and got word to Mother... Stop it now; best not to think of it at all, since there's no hope of going home till spring.
Something more, though, had been unsettling her as she climbed the slope into the forest, ignoring the rising and falling murmur of Elven songs and calls in the trees around her, trying to seize a thought which was nudging at the corner of her mind. What was it? Something she had remembered earlier - something said by the Steward's son?... Nest of Elves. "What do you do here in this nest of Elves?.." For some time she had been trying to tease out what it was about the remark that troubled her; only as she passed further up the forested slopes, dead leaves beginning to crunch beneath her feet, had memory served, with sudden understanding that made her stomach briefly lurch.
Elves. "They're weavers of spells, 'tis well known. There's a witch-queen rules over them in the Golden Wood, who catches travellers in her nets and never lets them leave..."
How often had she heard such words spoken in the Mark, and never paid any heed? It had made Mother angry, to be sure; "superstitious nonsense," she had called it, insisting whenever Rowanna asked her that the Firstborn were a noble and good race, kin to her forefathers the Dúnedain from afar, and that if any still remained in the Golden Wood or in Rivendell then they practised no sorcery, only arts of healing and works of craft. Rowanna had shrugged and smiled, choosing perhaps to prefer her mother's fairytales over the others.
But now... I have seen the Firstborn, lived among them, spoken with lords of the Eldar. Master Elrond's children have befriended me; and more, Elrond made me well when I was sick nearly to death. The Elves, the Half-elven, the Chieftain of my kin the Dúnedain, who was fostered here in Rivendell - would they all be mistrusted and feared by the Eorlingas, by my own people?
My people? Again the Chieftain's words echoed in her ears, and she wondered at just how much, in the briefest of meetings, those grey eyes had seen: "Born of Arnor and Gondor, but a child of the plains of Rohan. Which of all these are you, then, lady?" I wish I knew! Rowanna thought bitterly, picking irritably with one finger at a scrap of bark flaking loose from the root under her hand. It came free, and she continued absently pulling at the surrounding bark and tossing the pieces which broke away into the leaf-mould covering the ground around her.
The voice came out of nowhere, bringing Rowanna to her senses with a gasp as she scanned the woods around her for its source. Somewhere overhead - in the tree... Then she saw; the patterns of light and shade, golden leaf and grey-green bark, resolved themselves into a figure curled in a cleft of the branches directly above her head, and with a start she recognised him. The Elf from Mirkwood - Legolas. He was there all along - he must have been. I have been staring straight at him this half-hour and more, and never even saw him!
"What evil has this poor tree done you, lady, that you should wound it so?"
She realised belatedly what she had been doing to the beech's root and called out, guiltily,
"I'm - I am sorry, I was paying no attention..."
"I am glad to hear it," he retorted. "I would not like to think that you would knowingly injure any growing thing to so little purpose!"
This seems to be a day for making a fool of myself, she thought. "I did not know you were there..."
The stern tones from above seemed to soften a little. "Forgive me; I did not intend to startle you." Then the shadows suddenly shifted, as with one smooth movement he rolled clear of the branch and dropped noiselessly to the forest floor beside her. "There is a spider up there spinning such an intricate web; she has been working for hours, and I did not want to disturb her before she had finished, for it is a beautiful piece of work, all glistening in the sunlight. Come, you should see - " He made as if to leap for the branch again, but Rowanna hastily forestalled him.
"No - no, thank you, Legolas, but I am no climber!"
"You do not climb trees?" For a moment the Elf seemed amazed; then he shook his head and laughed aloud. "Your pardon, lady, again. I am little used to the ways of Mortal women; my folk deal from time to time in war or trade with the Men of Dale, but the Lakemen always seem for some reason to keep their women and children indoors when they hear that the People of the Wood are coming to their town..."
And no wonder! thought Rowanna; for a moment the months of familiarity which had dulled her continual amazement at the Firstborn melted away, and she saw Legolas as the Lakemen would look on an Elf, impossibly fair, radiating the faint strange glimmer that so bewitched mortal eyes.
"A pity though," the Elf went on, "it is a fine web!" He sank to the ground instead to sit beside her, folding long legs neatly beneath him. "What troubles you so, that you would strip my friend the beech of half his bark before you even noticed?"
His open face seemed to hold only sympathy and interest; but long weeks in Rivendell had made Rowanna wary of reading an Elf's expression, since she had mistaken mere teasing for genuine concern too many times. Rather than voicing her troubled thoughts about her homeland, therefore, she told Legolas briefly about her uncomfortable encounter with Glóin and Gimli. The Elf sighed.
"My dealings with the Naugrim have not been many, but they have always seemed to me a rough race, and hard as the stone they are hewn from. Lovers only of gold and jewels, with no care for the beauty of living things..."
Remembering Glóin's passionate description of the splendours of leaf and branch carved into the stone of Brand's halls, Rowanna wondered if this was entirely fair; but she was in no mood to leap to the Dwarf's defence, and let the remark pass. Feeling somehow slightly guilty, she was casting around for a change of subject, when suddenly a thought struck her.
"Legolas - this morning in the stables we were readying mounts for a scouting party heading East; we were up and about it before first light, for Brethil said the riders would be making for the High Pass into the Misty Mountains, and must profit from every hour of the daylight. I thought he said they were bound for King Thranduil's realm - but I must have mistaken him?..."
"Because I am still here?" A wry smile pulled at the corners of the Elf's mouth for a moment. "No, you did not mistake. Taurlaegel, and our beasts, and messengers from Master Elrond to my father are gone East without me."
"You follow them later, then?" Rowanna frowned suddenly. "But - our beasts, you said! And - that handsome chestnut, he is yours, is he not? Brethil told the hands they need not trouble with his gear or hooves, for you had already seen to him! Surely..."
"I would not send Culagor back to the Greenwood ridden by another?" He smiled ruefully at her shocked face. "Not joyfully, I promise you. I had a good deal of explaining to do before dawn as I readied him, and he liked it not at all! But needs must; I would not leave him in Imladris among strangers, and if my path now truly lies as I see it before me, it may be long before I come to my father's halls again, or walk beneath the trees of my home..."
He tailed off, gazing at the slow fall of the dying leaves; has he forgotten I am even here? Rowanna wondered, wishing Elven expressions were not so hard to read. After a long moment she asked tentatively, "Then why bring Culagor on the outward journey here?"
She thought he had not heard; then slowly he turned back to her, seeming somehow troubled, as though clouds darkened the clear sky of his face. "I rode down into the valley four days ago thinking that I would be back under Greenwood's eaves before the last leaf-fall; for I came with a simple enough task, though not one which gladdened my heart." He grimaced briefly, and she remembered Bilbo's words; he didn't exactly endear himself at the Council... He went on softly, as though to himself; "But now all is changed; the Song fills with discord, and my part is altered beyond all imagining."
I am lost, Rowanna sighed. Why must Elves speak so often in riddles? "The Song?..."
"The Song, the Music," then as she still frowned, "the harmonies of which Eä itself is woven. Do not Men speak so of the powers that shape their lives?" He threw her a curious look.
"Not that I ever heard," she shook her head, "not the Men of the Riddermark at any rate! An Eorling would tell you that 'a good horse knows his own rider, and a good rider knows his own path...' "
Legolas threw his head back and laughed, and Rowanna wondered again at the quicksilver changes of his mood.
"Horses again - always horses for the Rohirrim! Whereas we Wood-elves might say 'to some the beech, to others the elm'; and I suppose Elrond's Deep-elves would turn their noses up even at that and mutter that trees are all we ever think about..." he observed, and Rowanna remembered the cutting remark of Lindir's she had only half-caught on the night of the Council. I am lost again, she reflected; Wood-elves, Deep-elves; I thought Elves were Elves and that was that! She found herself unaccountably cheered by Legolas' light heart, however, and laughed in her turn. As she did so, she noticed her own breath steaming in the air, and realised that the evening's chill was descending and the sun about to set.
"If we do not hurry there will be no dinner left!" She struggled to scramble upright, her boots slipping in the damp leaves, and found a hand extended to her by the Elf, who was already on his feet.
"I will live without dinner, I think," he replied, "for one feast of Master Elrond's is food and crowd enough for a week, and these woods are all the company I need tonight. But let me walk with you down to the House."
It was on the following morning, after their formal lesson was concluded, that Rowanna took the opportunity to question Bilbo about the different clans of the First-born. As she had suspected, her tutor had a great deal to say on the matter once he got going.
"It all comes back to the call to go to Aman - you remember, the Great Journey," Bilbo began. Rowanna nodded, cudgelling her memory for that particular history lesson. "The descendents of those who answered the Summons of the Valar still have the right to travel the Straight Road into the West; some, like Círdan's Falathrim, feel the call of the Sea so strongly that they cannot bear to dwell away from the coastlands for long. In others, like the Grey-elves, they say that the Sea-longing slumbers deep, but once awoken, can never be assuaged..."
There was a good deal more, however, and as Bilbo discoursed on Calaquendi and Moriquendi, Úmanyar and Avari, Rowanna soon felt hopelessly lost.
".. so the Wood-elves, like Legolas, are descended from the Teleri who did begin the Great Journey, but never actually set sail?"
"Yes, and no," Bilbo refilled his coffee-cup. "Many of the Wood-elves were Teler originally, yes - and the Teleri are Eldar, they did set off to Aman - but according to all I've read, they have mixed with all sorts of Avari over the centuries; I suspect that's why some in Rivendell tend rather to look down on them. So things are not exactly cut and dried. And in any case, my dear girl, what makes you think Legolas Thranduilion is a Wood-elf? Do you not remember what we learnt about Elu Thingol and the Sindar?"
"But he is a Wood-elf!" Rowanna protested. "He called himself so!"
"Did he now?" Bilbo looked interested. "Well, his house has ruled over Wood-elves for an Age, and perhaps they have gone rather native there in the depths of Mirkwood - many of Elrond's folk would say so, certainly. Nonetheless," he waved his cup for emphasis, the rich earthy drink threatening to spill over, "Legolas is Oropher's grandson; he's Sindar, a Grey-elf, whether he thinks so or not." He sat back in his armchair, looking thoroughly satisfied at having made his case; just then Meriadoc and Peregrin came bursting in with great commotion, Pippin in search of cake and Merry anxious to prevent him interrupting, and all thought of Grey-elf and Green-elf, woodland and sea, was forgotten.
For the belief among the Rohirrim that Galadriel was a witch, see The Two Towers Book III Chapter II, The Riders of Rohan.
The Sindarin Princes of the Silvan Elves, which appears as Appendix B to the History of Galadriel and Celeborn in Unfinished Tales, tells how Oropher and then Thranduil came to rule over Silvan Elves in the forests east of the Misty Mountains in the Second Age, and describes what Bilbo calls their "going native":
"they were soon merged with the Silvan Elves... [they] had no desire to leave Middle-earth...They wished indeed to become Silvan folk and to return, as they said, to the simple life natural to the Elves before the invitation of the Valar had disturbed it."
This rather implies that Silvan Elves feel no sea-longing, which contrasts with an earlier note to the History of Galadriel and Celeborn which reports that "The Silvan Elves (it is remarked here) 'were never wholly free of an unquiet and a yearning for the Sea which at times drove some of them to wander from their homes'." - as so often happens in JRRT, we have variant readings, so I'm going with the one which best suits my purposes, namely that sea-longing is alien to Wood-elves and that those who consider themselves Wood-elves would feel in general no desire to take ship to the West.
Bilbo's remark on the sea-longing of the Sindar, by contrast, is a paraphrase of a quotation from Appendix F to LoTR, The Languages and Peoples of the Third Age (end of the Of the Elves section).
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.