“As the autumn wind shouted for admittance at the kitchen windows, Legolas … gave his attention to Thranduil and his story.”
*** I Will Drink Your Blood from the Goblet of Your Heart
“You know I fought in the Battle of the Last Alliance at the end of the Second Age,” Thranduil said. “Sauron was vanquished. In his defeat the Orcs streamed from Mordor in all directions. Lost and leaderless as they were, their remaining purpose was to destroy what they could before they themselves were destroyed. Thus was Isildur slain at Gladden Fields. Many a queen and chieftess fought yet another battle while the lords were returning home – ridding the lands of fleeing Orcs. So it was in the Greenwood.”
“The Orcs were inside the borders?” asked Legolas.
“The forest was as grey with them as a pestilence of Mortal flesh. I and my army returned, what of it remained. We lost more to Orc arrows in the forest. But the Orcs saw we were well armed, and some left to find easier plunder. On gaining the hall we summoned and gathered in all of our folk. Then we rested and planned how to scour the forest.”
Legolas said, “Was this after you built the halls above ground?”
“Some was completed. Our defense walls reached from one side of the hill to the other and as far forward as the old Great Gates. The bridge over the Forest River was a weak point in our defense, leading from the Forest Path to our walls and front gates, but we needed the bridge. One evening a summer storm came on with thunder cracking the skies. Over this we heard the sounds of battle outside the walls. When we rushed to the parapets the lightning flashes revealed an awful scene.
“Two Elf-women were fighting an army of Orcs in the narrows of the Forest Path.Side by side, they fought as they stood and edged closer to our bridge when they could. The Orcs outnumbered them, oh – it was maybe six dozens to two. But because of the narrowness of the Forest Path where they fought, and the thick growth of the forest, the Orcs’ army was not able to surround and crush them, nor hit them with arrows. Instead, three or four Orcs would push to the front of the line like a funnel and the two Elf-women fought them with sword and spear, and then more would take the place of the fallen Orcs.”
“The physical setting can render a large army ineffective,” said the weapons mistress, and the captains – Berendil, Tûr, Telien, and Huntress - nodded.
“How long had they been fighting?” asked Legolas.
“Long enough to take an arrow each through the shoulder. The taller one had another in her leg. It was my first sight of Huntress. She held her shield against arrows and blows. Her other hand held a spear and with it she kept the Orcs at bay. When they broke through, the other Elf-woman fought with two swords, long and short. Weary were her strokes! Yet she wove a web of steel around herself and her companion. What caught my eye was the method of her longsword. She did not hack and slash. Rather she thrust with it and thrust again. I could see that this took less effort and allowed a more precise wound. It was masterful swordplay. The calad was about her, illumining her space. With each sword thrust she sang a word of song. I knew the blood of our ancestral Teleri tribe must be strong in her.”
Galadel struck his harp and chanted Blade-singer’s battle song. Straight away the listeners saw the fight in their minds’ eye as if it were then and there:
♪ Varda’s starlight, find my sword
Singing! Slaying Sauron’s horde!
Tulkas, hear my ringing blade –
Elven-sword of Elven-maid!
Laughing Tulkas! Well we ken,
Blade is mightier than pen. ♪
Galadel added, “The blade-singer and I have often debated the might of swords and pens.”
The wind shouted again outside the kitchen windows, more insistent now that dark was coming. They all drank some ale and Berendil picked up the story.
“No matter how skilled they were, they could not last. Once they left the Forest Path and gained the bridge, the Orcs would surround them and kill them under our very noses.
“I shouted for torches and archers. In the next blast of lightening we marked the Orcs’ positions and we shot. The column was packed tightly on the Forest Path and the tree branches made the Orcs nearly impervious. For our three dozen arrows we got maybe twelve Orcs. Others ran up to take their places. This time they used their shields. We shot again, but it was plain that arrows would do no more good. Thranduil told me, ‘We dare not open the gates. Take a shield and a sword and get into the basket.’ He meant the large wicker box on ropes that we use to transport supplies over the wall to the upper floors ‘Get them in. We will haul you up. If any Orcs break free of the forest we will cover you.’ “
“’They won’t break free,’ I responded, and did as he said. When the cage reached the ground outside the wall I shouted to the Elf-women ‘Hold your positions!’ I wanted them on the Forest Path like a cork stuck in a bottle, because there would be only a few Orcs to face. I was fresh, not tired, and thought I could hold the line until they got into the basket. That was as far as my plan took me.”
“But we saw another Orc,” said Thranduil, “their leader I guess, clambering over the top of the Orc-column. He carried a shield too. I don’t know how he managed – he must have had the limbs of a tree squirrel. We tried a few arrows and succeeded in hitting only shields. The Orc continued climbing over the shoulders of the Orc soldiers, heading straight for the two Elf-women. We saw Berendil race across the bridge, trying to get there first.
“The Orc leader reached them first, climbing through the thinning ranks of Orc soldiers. The first thing it did was to stoop between the two Orcs currently battling them and twist the arrow that was lodged in Huntress’s thigh. Down she went on one knee, leg buckling and spear down, but shield still aloft. The Orc leader swung back his curved sword while his two soldiers doubled their attack on Blade-singer. The calad about her increased and she sang in the Orc leader’s face.
“Then Berendil arrived. He raised his sword to the two Orc soldiers just as their leader sliced through their two necks and kicked their bodies away. We did not expect that! I guessed he meant to disembowel Blade-singer on the backswing.”
Berendil spoke: “Black blood and worse covered us, but my sword took the backhand stroke meant for Blade-singer’s guts. The Orc leader found himself facing me and Blade-singer alone, for his soldiers would not come closer. I sent her a guarded thought: >Get your friend and yourself in the basket and I will follow. The Orcs have abandoned their leader. We can cross the bridge. <”
“How did you manage to send a guarded thought in such circumstances?” asked Queen Elsila.
“Often I cannot do it,” said Berendil. “This time I did. Blade-singer and Huntress began to fall back behind me, under the cover of Huntress’s shield. I held the line. I was a match for the Orc leader and hoped he might disengage but he fought. Who knows what an Orc has to lose? So I learned anew how hard it is to fight a curved sword with a straight one. The light was bad – dim torchlight and lightning flashes. Finally I managed to wound the Orc leader in the side. I heard Thranduil shout, ‘The basket, Berendil!’ So instead of killing the Orc I ran for it.”
Thranduil said, “The storm paused then, and the half moon shined through the clouds. We saw Huntress lying in the basket and Blade-singer standing beside her, waving her sword at Berendil. We pulled the basket up a few feet. We were sure Berendil could leap up and pull himself in. But that is not what happened.”
“The Orc leader shrieked and dashed crossed the bridge,” said Elsila. “How fast it moved! It overtook Berendil, climbed up him like a ladder, and sprang to the rim of the basket, knocking Blade-singer off balance. She dropped her sword, nearly skewering Huntress.”
Blade-singer spoke: “The Orc reached down, grabbed me by my long hair and pulled hard, stretching my neck. My head tilted back. It seemed to take forever. The Orc raised its sword and spoke to me in Westron, for they do not use Sindarin you know. It said, ‘I will drink your blood from the goblet of your heart.’ I knew its next move was to behead me.”
Berendil said, “I leaped and made it over the side but I was weaponless. Then a strange thing happened. As I grabbed for Blade-singer’s sword the Orc looked upon me. Our eyes met. Our fëar met. Do not smile! I knew the Orc was in horror and wanted to die. It was happy to meet me because it knew me as its fate. I knew this by the touch of unguarded thoughts. It is the strangest thing I have ever known. Never will I forget looking into the eyes of that Orc.”
“The Orc, Blade-singer and Berendil seemed frozen in that second,” Huntress said. “With my last strength I swung Berendil’s hand and the sword in it through the hank of hair in the Orc’s grasp. Her hair parted, and the Orc fell to the ground cursing. Then it fled across the bridge.”
Elsila said, “The remaining Orcs fired some arrows but the tight weave of the basket protected our folk. Thus we got them to the top. I examined the two companions to see if they could be saved of their wounds. None of the shafts went all the way through the body.”
Everyone at the fire shivered, knowing what this meant, save Legolas who had never been wounded with an arrow.
“Fortunately,” said Thranduil, “we of the Greenwood have a healer who has no better, save Elrond himself.”
Elsila’s face went grave as she remembered her efforts that night. “The arrows were poisoned. I could tell by the smell. I sent for medicines but there was no time to wait. I instructed Thranduil and Berendil to hold Black-hair while I thrust the shoulder-arrow through her body and broke the arrowhead off the shaft. Then I pulled the shaft clean. That is the easiest way to do it, and it is not easy.” Nobody argued.
“The arrow wound in the leg was much worse but the shaft had to come out. When Berendil and Thranduil let her go, she swung her fist and knocked me reeling. She thought I was an Orc. My head ringing, I dealt next with the smaller woman’s shoulder. When I finished drawing her arrow, she swung round with her foot, - that is,she stood up on the ball of one foot and pivoted on it like a dancer- and fetched me a blow in the stomach with her heel that felled me to the floor where I lay for some moments.”
“Your apprentice came with potions then,” said Galadel, husband of Huntress. “Maybe one was for love.”
“They brought potions,” agreed Elsila with a smile. “One of them acted as a lock, where the poison is the key. Once in the bloodstream the herb attracted the poison and removed it from the hröa. The other potion allowed the injured ones to see me as I was, a healer and no Orc. Thus I relieved the pain as soon as I could. Then the smaller one told us her amilessi tercenyë, as she walked on the Path of Dreams.”
“It is Quill,” said the weapons mistress, “but I am a warrior not a storyteller. My mother’s insight into my name must have failed.”
….and Legolas held the memory of her smiling face for a moment as he lay in the clearing by the stream. He did not know whence came the memory of the storytelling around Bessain’s fireplace, but both the memory and the story felt as real to him during their reliving as the grass on which he lay.
He thought, well, I have seen the past. Now will I glimpse the future? No sooner had this occurred to him than the visionary face of the agéd Man appeared for the second and last time. His face filled the sky. His bearded lips moved; the kind eyes were intent, encouraging. Looking into them, Legolas tumbled straight away onto the Path of Dreams.
1. The Elven calad. The Sindarin Dictionary, © The Sindarin dictionary project, 1999–2001, French law applies regarding intellectual property. Source of the word “calad” meaning “light.” Among the Sindarin Elves, “calad” means the special light – maybe starlight - inherent in all Elves that shines forth when they most closely approach the fulfillment of their Elvish beings. See
• The Fellowship of the Ring, JRRT, Book One, Chapter III, “Three is Company” – “ a shimmer …seemed to fall about their feet.”
• Ibid, Chapter XI, “A Knife in the Dark” – “…and in her [Luthien’s] face was a shining light.”
• Ibid, Chapter XII, “Flight to the Ford” – “… it appeared that a white light was shining through the form and raiment of the rider [Glorfindel] as if through a thin veil.”
2. Tulkas the warrior-Vala is known for his strength and laughter. “He laughed in battles before the Elves were born.” The Silmarillion, JRR Tolkien, “Valaquenta.”
3. Morgoth’s Ring, JRR Tolkien, Laws and Customs among the Eldar, “Of Naming” regarding the naming of Elves. Names given by the mother can be prophetic or insightful of a child’s attributes and character.
4. On the vividness of dreams - “Olor” is a word often translated ‘dream’ but that does not refer to (most) human ‘dreams,’ certainly not the dreams of sleep. To the Eldar it included the vivid contents of their memory, as of their imagination.; it referred in fact to clear vision , in the mind, of things not physically present at the body’s situation. But not only to an idea, but to a full clothing of this particular form and detail.” Unfinished Tales, JRR Tolkien, “The Istari.”
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