1. Strange Paths, and Ale by the Fireside
What has happened so far: Legolas has decisively proved his bowmanship in an escapade involving involved a wild boar, scared the Greenwood Elves and their Lothlorien visitor out of their minds, and fetched Legolas a visit to his father's chamber. The next day the remaining Lothlorien visitors arrive, and Legolas is struck with a desire to test bounds. He does this with varying degrees of success. He loses the Lothloriens' guest-gift - a pair of whitehandled longknives - to a wandering Dwarf, endangers and then saves his sister Elwen and visitor Arwen, and convinces all to swear an unwise oath of silence. He still manages to impress his parents to the point where Thranduil pronounces him ready to train with bladed weapons. Several sun-years pass without incident, and then one day Legolas has a premonition that starts an inexorable chain of events.
"...he could sleep, if sleep it could be called by Men, resting his mind in the strange paths of elvish dreams, even as he walked open-eyed in the light of this world." - The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien, "The Two Towers," Book III, "The Riders of Rohan."
Now they say that Elves live in the Seen and Unseen Worlds at once, and it is true. They visit the Unseen World during their enigmatic waking repose. Their intuitions are informed by flashes of clairvoyance and in Legolas this talent was highly developed. Those who ignored his counsel did so at their peril. Elves can sometimes touch the unguarded thoughts of others nearby to them. From the moment of birth and maybe before, they feel a unity with Eä that only the greatest Mortal mystics can achieve. If Legolas wished he could travel to Lothlorien and look upon the face of Galadriel who had communed with the living Valar in the Blessed Realm.
Prescient, psychic, mystic, were Legolas and all his people. But he had never seen a vision with his waking eyes until ...
Six sun-years had passed since the Lothlorien guests departed on their return journey and Thranduil pronounced Legolas ready for his first bladed weapon. In that eye blink of time Legolas pursued his swordsmanship on the training field or the practice floor, content with his progress but longing to come of age and take his place with the adults. To wish for anything was a surprise to him for, heretofore, everything Legolas wanted had been within his reach.
On his first day the weapons mistress stood before him on the practice floor of the armory and asked whether he had a preference of bladed weapon.
"Longsword," he told her. "Like Thranduil and Elwen."
"You might like knives better," she said. "They are sharper and more precise. You can use both hands. The balance of two suits you." She was right, as usual - Legolas was born with a sense of equilibrium as deep as a mine.
But Legolas said, "I will take the sword. Between a swordfight and a knife fight, the sword wins every time."
"Very well," said the weapons mistress, smiling.
So he practiced, sometimes with the lesser captains Tûr and Telien, sometimes with the weapons mistress, who was high captain of Thranduil's senior officers. They used blunt weapons at first and later, battle-ready swords. Legolas became adept at the longsword, particularly the hand-and-a-half technique. He was able to hold his own with Elwen, although he could not defeat his older sister's two-handed grip. He never equaled or surpassed Thranduil at the longsword. When he turned to the short sword he did better. After some time he could defeat Telien and his older brother Tûr together. He defeated Elwen and then Berendil, and he fought to a draw with Thranduil. However he lost continually to the weapons mistress.
"Do not be concerned," Thranduil counseled. "The short sword is her favored weapon. Everyone loses to her. Do not say I said so, but I think it is because of her short stature."
Legolas smiled, because everyone know the blade-singer wished she were as tall as all the others. Still, he observed how important it was to keep proportion in one's weapon, and he often wondered how he would fare with the pair of white-handled longknives, the lost guest-gift brought by the Lothloriens six years ago. But the knives were long gone, for Legolas had put them inadvertently into the hands of a wandering Dwarf. Legolas would think guiltily of the lost guest-gift, resolve to forget the longknives, and work harder with the swords.
One sunny autumn day with the air as crisp as apples, Legolas and the Berendil the Bowmaster went hunting. They still called these outings "lessons" but they both knew Berendil had nothing more to teach Legolas about archery.
Today the practice involved a mounted archer, moving small target, bright sunlight, still air, broken cover, joined bow, single arrow. The sun beat down upon the weedy fields between the southeast side of Thranduil's hall and the Forest River where trees are thin and the marshes not yet bothersome. Berendil rode Legolas's mare Golden and Legolas rode Berendil's war horse Alagos. They rode Mortal-fashion, needing a saddle for the saddlebags. The target was a brown hare, dashing for the thickets.
On Berendil's instruction, Legolas rose in the stirrups, torso muscles knit against the horse's motion. He bent his bow, sighting through the haze of sun, pollen, dust, mites and motes that he knew from every day of his life in the Greenwood. Sunbeams caught the motes and gave the air a gauzy, woven look.
Legolas thought the sun became very bright. Or else some trick of light caused the air to fill with transparent ribbons of muted colors - gold, green, silver. The air-ribbons rippled and danced before Legolas as if in a wind but there was no wind. Some were like rain-sheets of light, tall as trees and long as leagues, reaching all the way to the Lonely Mountain. Some of the light-ribbons were small as scarves in shape and size. And some stretched like string directly from Legolas's bow to the running brown hare which, Legolas noted with bemusement, appeared to be in several places at once. One of these target-strings was outlined with brilliant blue-white light.
Legolas's mind said, that one, and he loosed his arrow. It sped along the chosen line. A second later the hare lay dead, an arrow through its head. Huntress would have applauded.
Legolas shook his head in wonder and the sheets of light vanished. The weedy grass was ordinary. The light was ordinary sunlight. Dust was dust, and not part of any ribbon. The sun beat down on his head.
Berendil galloped up on Golden. If he had caught any of the experience from Legolas's mind he did not tell it. But his look contained speculation.
"A good shot," he said. "We are near the field of juniper bushes. Does the cook need a crow for the stockpot?"
"Always," said Legolas, who knew because he had once spent a week as scullery boy in the kitchens, in penalty for a certain unlucky experiment involving liquid bread.
Berendil said, "A hawk and a crow are almost overhead. Get the crow." Legolas's one glance skyward showed him the hawk and the crow as clearly as the bow in his hand. The air rippled again with ribbons of light, and a line of blue-white light appeared, stretching to the crow. Elated, Legolas realized he did not need a second look. He thought, there, and loosed an arrow over his shoulder. The crow fell to earth seconds later.
Then a strange thing happened to the ripples of light. They changed into a field of stars that winked out. A shape, a vast magnificent face, eclipsed them and covered the sky. It was the face of an agéd Man if Legolas was any judge, with long grey hair and a grey beard. Never had Legolas seen a more kindly face. He had eyes like dark lakes. They twinkled with merriment. The lips smiled. Legolas smiled back.
"Good hunting, Legolas," said the vision. His words could have been thunder, mind speech, or both; Legolas did not know. "You will find good counsel in a foretelling, but to glimpse the future you must first see the past. The Olórë Mallë awaits you. Farewell!" The face dimmed and vanished.
Legolas remembered to breathe. Had he been less a horseman he would have tumbled off Alagos.
"How did you hit the crow without aiming?" asked Berendil.
For a moment Legolas regarded Berendil as if he were the vision and the agéd Man, the Seen World. Then he said, "I guided the arrow with my mind's eye." He told of the sight-lines of fiery light leading to the target. "And then, I saw...something else. An old Man. He said I would find a foretelling on the Path of Dreams - he called it the Olórë Mallë. That is Quenya. Have you seen anything like this, Berendil?"
Berendil said, "No. You have had a vision. I know of one other archer who saw such things but I have never had a waking vision." He turned Golden around, then stopped. "When I was a lad in Hollin our Loremaster said such things came to Elves selected for some....special destiny. The first vision, he said, signifies a greater prophecy to come. It always manifests itself through ...that person's greatest talent."
"Do you mean all the archery lessons and practice were for nothing? I could have waited for the vision?"
"No," said Berendil. "You were born with your talent and you developed it through hard work. The vision is an effect and not the cause of your skill. If, ah, destiny selected you and you were a harpist, your vision would have something to do with harps. Do you understand?"
"No. Most Elves shoot well with the bow. I am not selected for any special destiny. I will live here in the Greenwood, be the king's envoy and soldier, add my share to the lore books, find a love, and someday maybe seek the havens. That is all I want. I have no wish to see visions."
"Thranduil said your prowess would serve a high purpose some day. He spoke with the Sight, I think. You should obey the prompting and seek the Path of Dreams."
"I do not want to know the future, and I never felt less like repose. But I am curious. Perhaps I will ask Elsila for a dream potion." He collected the carcasses of the hare and crow and put them in the game bag. "Who is this other archer that saw visions?"
"Never mind. It is no one that will ever draw with you or against you," he said, adding, "Stay out of the competitions henceforth. Else there will be no competition, except for second place."
Returning from the hunt, Legolas delivered the hare and the crow to the cook's apprentice. Then he went to the circular clearing that lay on the stream bank opposite Thranduil’s hall. The clearing was deserted in the late afternoon. He meant to enter repose and find the Path of Dreams. Instead he spent the next hour looking up at blue sky through golden beech boughs, resisting the urge to loose an arrow and look for visions.
He felt Elsila's thought before he heard her soft footsteps.
"Berendil says you had a waking dream," she said, aloud, sitting beside her son and pressing her bare feet into the grass.
"Yes. It said 'To glimpse the future you must first see the past.' What can that mean? A memory and then a prophecy?" He turned to face her, looking into the depths of her eyes.
Elsila met his gaze for a moment before looking down and taking his hand. "We think it means that you will have a special destiny, a strange fate, maybe. Seek the Path of Dreams, Legolas."
Legolas thought that over and then said, "When I go into repose I am always at the Awakening. What else is there?”
"It is time you found out. Look!" She took from her pocket a threaded needle and a ribbon. She put the two ends of the ribbon together to form a loop. "How many sides does the ribbon have?
"Why, two, of course. The inner and outer loop."
Elsila took one end of the ribbon and gave it a half twist and then joined the ends again. With three quick stitches she secured the ends together. "And now?"
"No, it is one-sided now. See?" She took the needle and scratched a line down the center of the ribbon, following the half twist and stopping when she returned to the starting point. She removed the stitches and held up the ribbon. It bore a long scratch mark on both sides.
"This loop with the half twist is called 'Lorien's loop,'" Elsila explained. "for Lorien is the master of dreams. It goes back into itself over and over. Time on the Olórë Mallë can be that way, Legolas. Remember that, son. The time has come for you to venture further on the Path of Dreams. Follow the prompting of the waking vision. Our Loremaster in Hollin always said that such things indicated a special destiny. If so, then it will find you, will you or nil you. So be calm."
Legolas smiled. "Practical advice. I will do so."
"Then I will leave you and return in a while to see how you fared on the Path of Dreams."
She departed and Legolas prepared to go within himself. He felt the pupils of his eyes changing into the oval shape characteristic of an Elf in repose. But suddenly there came into his mind, as unexpected as a gust of wind, a compelling memory of his childhood. It was a rich memory, a memory of a story; a story of Elves and Orc-fighting and Elsila's healing skills. It began with a congenial company who gathered round Bessain's fireplace, one autumn afternoon years ago.
*** Ale by the Fireside ***
As youngsters Elwen and Legolas always knew it was better to ask forgiveness than permission. That and the inventiveness of their escapades provided Thranduil much exercise of his famed temper. One autumn day about the time Legolas began to learn archery from the Bowmaster, he and Elwen overheard Tûr, one of the weapons mistress's four captains, speak of ale as "liquid bread." Interpreting the phrase literally, they designed a test of its truth. Sometimes the Elves left bread in the forest to keep animals away from gardens. So Legolas and Elwen left three large pails of liquid bread just outside the clearing across the stream, to see what would happen.
What happened was, three forest pigs found the pails and drank them dry. By evening, wonderfully drunk, they found an apple tree where someone had picked and stored the fruit in a basket but neglected to bring it inside. With snorts of appreciation all around, the three pigs ate the fruit (the last of the crop of Sweet Gold, Thranduil's favorite) and some of the basket.
"I guess Tûr was wrong," observed Legolas to Elwen. "Ale does not have the same effect on the stomach as bread."
Thranduil's wrath fell on Legolas and Elwen like a storm but did little to quell the hilarity of everyone else including Berendil and Huntress, to whom Thranduil sent the culprits at once. Among the Sindar the aunts and uncles (or if none, then "near-kin”) are the disciplinarians, not the parents. Berendil and Huntress saw the escapade as a healthy exercise of curiosity. They refused to set any penalty, until Thranduil, exasperated, demanded it. Berendil and Huntress stood before Thranduil, looked askance at him, said "Yours to command, Milord King," bowed, and departed.
Berendil, bluff soldier but also skilled diplomat, said, "What would please Elwen most?"
Huntress replied, "She would love to be in the stables when the grey mare foals. If not for her other duties I believe she would be there day and night."
"You know he has never attended Captains' Mess. The work is hard but he will not lack for entertainment."
Shortly afterwards Berendil and Huntress announced the culprits' sentences. They set Elwen to be a stable hand for a week and sent Legolas to the kitchens as scullery boy. At first Legolas and Elwen thought themselves unjustly penalized - parents are not supposed to overrule the discipline of the aunts and uncles. But life is not always fair, and anyway they soon found the penalties more fun than a market fair. Thus the aunts and uncles kept peace between the master of the house and the young adventurers.
But when Thranduil recovered his temper he suffered pangs of conscience at such harsh sentences. On the third day he gave in and went to see how Elwen fared at the stables. He found her happy. The stablemaster thought the stars rose and set on Princess Elwen. She was in love with the new colt Hithui, the horse of her dreams whom she had helped foal.
Cheered, Thranduil went next to see Legolas in the kitchens. They lay in the older part of his hall, set into the west side of the hill and fronted with two arched windows and an arched doorway. On either side Elsila and the cook maintained garden plots of herbs and flowers. The windows provided a breathtaking autumn view of yellow beeches and red maples against the wild green of the dark firs.
To this pleasant place came Thranduil and he got as far as the threshold before the cook barred his way. She stood in the doorway. She held her hand against his chest. She explained that one did not come directly from the stables to the kitchens of Bessain. She pointed to the green marble fountain amid the gardens, where the grape-carved basin caught the splashing waters. Hidden pipes carried the water from the stream to the basin and thence away to the gardens.
Thranduil drew himself up to his full height and informed the cook that, as king, he went where he pleased, and should she doubt it she could ask anyone at his court.
The cook drew herself up to her full height, which equaled Thranduil's. She informed Thranduil that she set the state of kings of Elves at nothing compared to the state of her kitchens. Should he doubt it, she invited him to inquire of anyone at court regarding the truth of the matter, and meanwhile get him to the fountain if he wished to enter.
Thranduil was an accomplished strategist and knew how to pick his battles. He bowed, withdrew to the stream and laved his boots. He dusted himself from head to toe. He went to the fountain and washed his hands. This time Bessain admitted him.
Legolas, up to his elbows in scouring a greasy crock-pot, was impressed. He did not mind the kitchen work. Not only did he have all the bread and honey he wished; he had already learned an amazing amount of information from the cook and her large and motley band of admirers, of which Legolas was now one. He had not known, for example, that the weapon mistress and her captains used the kitchens as an informal officers' club. Or that the Dwarf-king under the Misty Mountains was beholden to Bessain, through one Dwarf named Theall, for a remarkable favor. Or that the cook made Thranduil's favorite dish, venison stew, with broth made from crows who had stuffed themselves with juniper berries.
Bessain said, "Legolas, Thranduil is here. You may stop and visit with your father." She went to a tall stone jug in the corner farthest from the fireplace and drew a dipper of cool brown ale into a pottery mug. She gave it to Thranduil, got one for herself, and sat down beside him.
Legolas removed his white smock and dried his hands and arms on it. Then he went to his father who gave him a welcome squeeze of the shoulders and sat him down nearby.
"Why did you have the aunts and uncles punish us?" inquired Legolas. "We were not disobedient."
"You are right and I was wrong, my son," said Thranduil, "If you will forgive me this time I will not interfere with the aunts and uncles again. Bessain! Can you spare Legolas for a while?"
"He has worked hard and not complained. I will gladly give him a holiday. Legolas - fetch us another mug of ale and one for yourself and your chores are finished." But no sooner had Legolas complied than Huntress and Berendil came through the door.
"Ah, Thranduil! Came to see about Legolas, did you?" they said. "We had a wager with Bessain. And here you are, bested by your conscience and your cook."
"By my captains also, it seems. And you are here because...?"
"Captain's Mess," they explained and sat down at the table. It was a large trestle table common to many kitchens, but unlike other such tables in ordinary kitchens, it had separate wooden chairs and green linen cushions stuffed with duck down. A tall vase of queens-lace and goldenrod stood in the center, arranged by Elsila. In proof of the officers' claim, the Weaponsmistress showed up next with her other two captains the brothers Tûr and Telien. Legolas fetched them mugs of ale and as he did so, Galadel the Minstrel arrived with his harp. Legolas found him a mug, and then Elsila the Queen appeared at the door.
"Here is good company," she said. "Legolas, a mug for me, please." Then they all found seats and propped their feet comfortably on benches and trestles. Legolas's guarded thought to Berendil was, if this were punishment, he would seek trouble at every chance.
The weapons mistress lifted her mug. "Let us salute bread-givers and bread," she said, "and what kind of bread shall it be?"
"Liquid bread!" shouted everyone except Thranduil.
"Very well, Blade-singer," he said with a laugh. "I accept defeat from one who never did. - I shall tell Legolas how you first came to our hall."
Legolas filled a crockery pitcher with ale for the table, noticing the odd looks of his future captain. She was the smallest of the adult Elves, maybe five feet eight inches at most. She cropped her hair short - no one else did. It hung around her head like a golden bowl, with her ear tips always poking through. She never wore house robes and rarely the hunting attire favored by most. She liked her practice clothes - a kind of wrapped and divided skirt of fawn skin that covered her from waist to thigh, and a cropped shirt She often went barefoot, and Bessain permitted this in her kitchens. She wore four blades even in Thranduil's presence and it was no whim that he put his army in her keeping. She called the blue of her eyes "turquoise." She said it was the color of the southern sea. Legolas had never seen the sea or anything like the liquid color of her eyes. But then the autumn wind shouted for admittance at the kitchen windows. Young Legolas forgot the blade-singer's looks and gave his attention to Thranduil’s story.
1. The Sindarin Dictionary, © The Sindarin dictionary project, 1999-2001, French law applies regarding intellectual property. Source of the words "Alagos" meaning "Windstorm," "Hithui" meaning "Misty," and "Bessain" meaning "Bread-giver."
2. OLÓRIN AS VISIONARY GANDALF - "It is said that Olórin dwelt in Lórien in Valinor, and that, though he loved the Elves, he walked among them unseen ... and they did not know whence came the fair visions or the promptings of wisdom that he put into their hearts. - Unfinished Tales, JRR Tolkien, "The Istari."
3. Nargothrond archers whose arrows never fail - The Lay of Leithian, JRR Tolkien, Canto VI.
4. Re Sindarin customs on the roles and authority of the aunts and uncles/godparent, see “Elflocks - How Legolas Cured His Sister of Teasing,” Chathol-linn
5. Another name for Lorien's loop is Mobius strip, see http://www.physlink.com/Education/AskExperts/ae401.cfm
6. The canon does not say that the pupils of Elves' eyes change shape when they are in their open-eyed repose. It is my fabrication. - Chathol-linn
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.