1. Of Red and Green Leaves
There’s singing in the trees now and I stop in my work and look up while I listen to the two of you. Elrohir’s deeper voice, more full of laughter than song, rings out from an oak a dozen ells down the track.
“O! What are you doing,
And where are you going?
Your hair needs brushing!
The river is rushing!
Here down in the valley!”
And you reply from somewhere almost above me:
“O! What are you doing,
And where are you going?
You cannot see me!
You might as well flee!
Here down in the valley!”
I look up through the tattered glory of the beech’s golden crown to where you crouch in a fork, face ablaze with excitement. At six, your face is losing its baby roundness as you rush to maturity in the way your people do and suddenly I see your father in you - not the child we helped to raise but the man your father became. Just so have I seen him glow as he stalked prey on a hunt or sought for an opening in my guard as we practised with swords.
I haven’t spoken, barely moved, but something about me catches your attention because you glance down and wave. I wave back with a smile that suddenly hurts and then watch as you skim down the tree as swift and silent as a squirrel and vanish into the undergrowth while Ro pretends not to notice.
It’s not long before Elven curses – followed by a crashing in the undergrowth as Elrohir leaps down to chase you – announce that you have found your target with a handful of acorns. I smile and turn back to my work.
Your basket is nearly empty now and both your botany tutor and the healers will be pleased with our day’s work. Carefully, I take out some oak leaves in a cascade of colours that you picked up for their beauty. Underneath I discover nienoraran - King’s Sorrow, as Men call it. In the days when Men walked in sunshine and glory they anointed their kings with it at birth and death and crowning. I didn’t even know that it grew here in Rivendell and I wonder if you actually recognised it or simply picked for its shiny almost oblong leaves. I pick up and crush one of the dark green leaves - and as its sharp bitter scent fills the air I am no longer in this wood of oak and beech.
It is cooler, and here and there ragged patches of snow hide in the shadows of the rocks. Pine needles cover the ground in a smooth orange-brown carpet and their resinous smell is strong where we kneel holding our brother. We no longer smell them though, our senses filled with the bitterness of nienoraran. Elrohir is singing but I hear even that but dimly through the fumes as I stroke the green paste onto our brother’s forehead, closed eyes and chest. I taste it too, a bitterness that stings and burns, as I kiss him.
When the anointing is finished I still hold him, this old little brother. The blood is gone now, cleaned away by Elrohir while I searched for herbs. I stroke his face – the lines and the roughened skin that show how quickly time fleets past for mortals such as him… such as you. All in an instant he has grown from the babe who took uncertain steps clinging to our hands to the boy who raced us through the woods and crowed with delight when an arrow brought down his first deer to the serious-eyed young man who left to lead his people in their guardianship of the north to the man who joyfully brought us his bride with swelling belly and now to this fallen warrior. At best he would have lived such a mere handful of years but now he is dead before the leaves have fallen half a hundred times… dead and gone beyond the circles of the world.
I kiss him again and welcome the burn of the nienoraran… such a little pain. I had left Elrohir to tend him and gone to seek athelas or any of the other plants that might help to stop the pain that contorted his body and dragged breathless screams from his lips - but when I heard my twin’s song change, I sought instead for herbs of mourning and burial. I found a small clump of nienoraran almost hidden on a rock ledge halfway up a waterfall, damp from the spray.
Our brother – your father - was a chieftain among his people but he was the heir to the kings of Men, just as you are, and we buried him with the honours of his kind. We mourned him with Elven song, he who was reared among the Elves, and anointed him with the bitter honour of nienoraran, he who belonged to Men. And we mourned him as brothers, we who belong entirely to no people, no race.
A sudden noise brings me back to this wood of dark soil and gold and red leaves. You – my twin and my youngest brother – are coming back through the woods, holding hands. You look happy, tired and scratched but Ro’s face is dark with concern and I know he has felt my distress. You announce proudly, “I won!” as soon as you are within speaking distance. Elrohir says nothing but his eyes go from the crushed leaves that still flavour the air to my face. I look away and reach for the baskets but Elrohir is before me. He scoops them up and, letting go of your hand, says,
“Elladan will give you a ride back.”
You use my fallen beech-seat to scramble up onto my back, and then clasp your arms around me. Gladly do I hold you, my new little brother. As I follow Elrohir along the darkening path, he softly begins to sing more of his ridiculous song.
“O! What are you seeking,
And where are you making?
The faggots are reeking,
The bannocks are baking!
The valley is jolly,
Sleepily you join in as you cuddle warm against my back and softly I whisper it too.
“O! Will you be staying,
Or will you be flying?
The moonlight is rising!
The daylight is dying!
To fly would be folly,
To stay would be jolly
And listen and hark
Till the end of the dark
to our tune
*Sindarin words – except for athelas and alfirin, which is the Sindarin for simbelmynë, were made up by me by combining, and mashing together a little, appropriate Sindarin words found on Ardalambion. Roughly, their meanings are as follows:
mithrenlass – grey leaf
hirelêg – lady thorn
gilsalab – golden herb
elwalab – pale blue [flowering] herb
*If you want to set Middle-earth in a real time then the muslin bags mentioned should be gauze – but I have gone with muslin because it sounds better ;-) Maybe it can go into the mystery file with potatoes, buttons and pipeweed.
*The song is, of course, borrowed almost direct from Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’. I have made some changes. In my copy of ‘The Hobbit’ (Allen and Unwin, 1983) it is found on pages 55 and 56 and is sung to Bilbo, Gandalf and the Dwarves as they arrive in Rivendell. I’ve used the first verse twice – for Elrohir and Estel’s answering songs – changing in each case the third and fourth lines, the second verse with no alteration as my third verse and the fourth verse as my last verse, with one alteration. I’m envisioning it as a traditional song that the Elves play around with to make it fit the situation (as would seem to be the case given its re-use near the end of The Hobbit).
*I may be bending canon a little in implying Arathorn spent extensive time at Rivendell whilst growing up – but certainly not breaking it. The Silmarillion says ‘In that house were harboured the Heirs of Isildur, in childhood and old age, because of the kinship of their blood with Elrond himself, and because he knew in his wisdom that one should come of their line to whom a great part was appointed in the last deeds of that Age.”
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.