3. The Olórë Mallë
*** The Olórë Mallë ***
Now they say that Elves do not sleep as Mortals do and that is true. They refresh themselves another way, on the strange paths of Elvish dreams. Little is told of those strange paths, and still less of what the Elves actually do there, until …
Legolas beheld he was not in the clearing by the stream. The sky above was not blue but the deep violet of twilight. In it burned silver stars the likes of which only Elvish eyes will ever see. The water music that he heard was not the Forest River but the soft plash of the Waters of Cuiviénen. Legolas understood he was again at the Awakening, long before the lighting of the Sun and Moon. Here was where he came in repose, blending the waking world around him with his clear imaginings, finding the paths of Elvish dreams. The waking world was still there; he could see it close by. But it was not east or west or up or down – it was “outer” - a direction that Legolas could not explain except to other Elves, who already know.
Always before Legolas took his rest by watching the play of stars as they danced or acted out the stories for which they were named. But this time he got up from the knoll. He saw he was with Elves, the Quendi, his ancient tribe and kin. He looked skyward with them and together they whispered, “Lo! The Stars!”
After a time Legolas heard the great horn of Oromë the Hunter, whom he loved. It was time to go. He followed a gleaming path that left the waters and rose to a high tor. When he reached the top his power of vision grew beyond waking ability, and he saw the Olórë Mallë.
It was a path the color of ethereal pearls and it ran to the ends of Middle-earth. Sometimes it broadened into a highway. It ran through valleys and over mountains, It ran past clusters of lights that were settlements. It twisted and looped, winding sometimes north and sometimes south, but always West, like the meanderings of a river to the sea. Legolas saw one loop touch the Golden Wood and another, Rivendell with its gorgeous waterfalls and rocky crags. He saw a palace that he knew was a scriptorium, containing all the knowledge of the Elves, and maybe attended by Fëanor himself, let loose from the halls of Mandos. Here was a battle between Orcs and Dwarves, there a castle of Mortals with its town and taverns and market fairs. If Legolas wished to see closer, the path would instantly rush him to the place of his desires, for on the Olórë Mallë, time and space obeyed the will of the dreamer. And what enchantments there were to tempt the will! Legolas felt he could walk forever and never tire of the lands and allurements touched by the Olórë Mallë.
The path did not stop at the ends of Middle-earth. Beyond the Grey Havens it bridged the wide and desolate seas. And here the Olórë Mallë was at its most beautiful and mysterious. It arched gently as it went into the West. Its floor could have been made of dream-ithildin and its rail of imaginary moonbeams. It rested upon arches of mist and the waves broke against them endlessly.
But even the Sundering Seas did not mark the end of the Olórë Mallë. At the utmost range of his dream-sight Legolas saw a warm and steady light. It was Tol Eressëa, where the pardoned Exiles now lived in peace with the Teleri and communed with the Valar. Finally the Olórë Mallë crossed the Bay of Eldamar and came to Calacirya, the Pass of Light that opens to a lane of whispering elms, past Elvish Tirion and thence to all of Valinor.
Legolas imagined himself traveling west, taking ship from the Havens and crossing the Sundering Seas. What would his friends on the shore see through their tears? The ship would not drop slowly over the horizon as Mortal ships do on the Bent Seas. No, the ship would dwindle, and it would rise in the air until finally it became a point that vanished above the horizon. Where did it go? How did it steer? By stars? The Path of Dreams?
Then Legolas suddenly grasped the true nature of the Olórë Mallë. Its physical counterpart was the blessed Straight Way in the Seen World that, for Ages, Elves had followed from Middle-earth to the Undying Lands. The Olórë Mallë was the Straight Way’s transcendent twin in the Unseen World. The two became one at the point where Elven-ships vanish from the physical world.
In wonder Legolas followed the gleaming path down from the tor. Two silent spirits joined him: Elsila his mother and Elwen his sister, carrying long naked swords. Elsila walked at Legolas’s left side and looked backward while Elwen walked on his right and looked forward. Soon he saw a flickering orange light. He followed the pearly path to the mouth of a cave. Two torches burned, one on either side of the opening. He ducked his head and went inside.
Until now this had been a quiet dream but there was a Mortal woman at a hearth who laughed and spoke. Legolas did not know if they used Elvish or a Mortal tongue but he understood her.
“Welcome, Legolas Greenleaf,” she said. “to the Path of Dreams. And as usual you come in company. It is one of your characteristics to go about with others.” The dream spirits of Elsila and Elwen entered behind him.
“What do you mean?”
“Well! Is it not so? All those times your father summoned you to his chamber – how often did you go alone? What adventures have you had with only yourself for company? No, Prince, only the most trivial of journeys have you made, shall you make, in solitary. It is your destiny to go about in company, whether you or the company will it or nil it.”
Legolas gestured to his mother and sister. “Thranduil is more skilled with the sword than Elsila, and more experienced than Elwen. Why is he not here?”
“Your mother and sister have a fierce desire to protect you, of which the swords are a token. You need no defense here. Their spirits wish to be with you, that is all.”
She straightened up from the cauldron she was stirring and bowed. “I am the spirit of Saelon Andreth, the Wise-woman of the Edain,” she said. “In life or death, it is my fate to advise the Elves. The Lords of the West have sent me to tell your future, that you may better prepare for your role.”
Being possessed of an extraordinary equilibrium, Legolas did not quake at this extraordinary statement. He watched fascinated as Saelon Andreth took up a set of game cards. All the speaking peoples of Middle-earth used them for wagering and such except Orcs. No writing or picture survived long around Orcs. She had Legolas mix them and draw a card. He held it up; it showed the figure of a youth – it could have been lad or maid. The figure carried a walking staff and appeared set to step off a ledge, unwary. A small cat pawed the figure’s foot. Saelon Andreth said, “This is you, at the beginning of a journey. Draw another card.”
The next card showed a field of stars.
“This signifies many,” she said. “As I said, you will go about with others all your life. You must never refuse. But the time of the Elves will fade, has faded, and in your greatest adventure in Middle-earth you will not be leader. You will protect, counsel and fight for others. You will not be king.”
“Elwen will be king if Thranduil leaves,” said Legolas. Saelon Andreth smiled a little and did not answer.
Now Legolas was troubled by her words and looks, for everyone wishes to be first sometimes and for things to go as expected. But his sense of balance aided him and he listened again. He drew another card. It showed two figures holding up two looking glasses, one to the other.
“This signifies infinity. For though you will not be chief, your fame will outlast the ages! You will be, are already known as the greatest archer of the Third Age. The world will know you also for the company you succor and for your warrior’s prowess, your struggles against the forces of the Dark Foe, and for your far-sightedness and your Elvish ability to endure great trials of hardship, and for your fair looks.”
The fire leaped high, and Saelon seemed to grow in stature too, until her shadow filled the cave.
“Listen! A mighty bard will report your deeds in words, and another will show them in visions. Then in countless numbers lesser poets and minstrels will take up your tale. I see no end to your fame, whether you die in battle in Middle-earth, or fight in the Battle at the End of Days. But you will not always live in the light. Three dark passages will you endure, and the first will cause more pain than you can imagine. The third will be worse. Maybe you find peace, but I cannot see it."
Now Legolas’s calm nature was of little avail and his heart clutched in his chest.
But she laughed at the next card. “Here is something! You will be wise in the ways of Dwarves! Whenever there is doubt on some Dwarvish question, the truth of the matter will be settled by ‘So said Legolas.’”
Legolas took a deep breath and then he laughed too. It all seemed impossible. “Well, Saelon Andreth, you have spoken of company and deeds, prowess and fame and Dwarves. What of love?”
“That is hidden from me. I know only that Arwen Undómiel will not put the first crack in your heart, and she will one day be your friend.” Legolas was content with that.
“How do you like the Olórë Mallë, now that you have ventured from the Waters of Awakening?” asked the spirit of the Mortal.
“It is wonderful!”
“I was told to say, You may come here at will. If you are tired or hurt, there are wellsprings of healing here. There is one nearby – hear it laughing? You already know of the glade of repose by the Waters of Awakening. There are many other places to delight or instruct you. Look for Rivendell to learn of lore, and Lothlorien for insight into your struggles. On this road you may seek foretelling in caves of prophecy, if the Lords of the West will unfold it. And always you may journey in search of counsel and adventures. Who knows whom you will meet, or what you will see? The Olórë Mallë is otherworldly to Mortals and hold wonders I cannot perceive.”
“Thank you, Lady, but my folk have spoken of much of this. Is there more? What must I do now?”
“Two things, young Prince. First, be a Prince in all that you do. You will represent your kindred down the ages. Elrond himself will not be better known. So take care that your deeds are worthy: noble, kind, brave and true. You did not act the Prince with Arwen and Elwen.”
“Yes,” admitted Legolas. “It has worried me ever since. I placed them in danger with my mischief and then swore us all to silence when we crossed Thranduil’s borders in violation of the stated rule. I would gladly confess my transgression to Thranduil but then I would be foresworn.”
“Do not be foresworn! Restore your balance some other way.”
“Study war, Prince. And I am bidden to give you your first lesson.”
Saelon Andreth raised her spirit hand over the fire. Flames shot up in a shower of sparks. A huge wind roared through the cave, pulling Legolas backward bodily in its powerful wake. He was falling through an unknowable blackness. The falling-fear gripped him for a moment. Then he thumped solidly into some place, a place more eerie than any he had ever known.
FINISHED IN PART 4
1. Regarding the Mortal prophetess of the Elves, see Morgoth’s Ring, JRR Tolkien, “Finrod Ah Andreth” “Andreth was a woman of the house of Bëor, the sister of Bregor, father of Barahir, whose son was Beren One-hand the renowned. She was wise in thought and learned in the lore of Men and their histories; for which reason the Eldar called her ‘Saelind,’ ‘Wise-heart.’” - page 305. Earlier form of name “Saelon” – pages 351-352.
2. Regarding Legolas as an authority on the ways of Dwarves, see The Peoples of Middle Earth, JRR Tolkien, “Last Writings” Note 21
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