2. The Sorceress
Often he would venture out alone on some perilous quest, and return no worse, but with strange tales of far lands.
One time, he set off alone. He rode over field and plain, and came to the forest edge. Here he camped at nightfall beneath a great oak tree. He hobbled his horse, and lay down to sleep. During the night, he dreamed the oak tree stirred, and bent down and spoke to him.
"Beware, child of Man. Beware the Forest of Gold. If thou comest near it, thou shalt surely be ensnared."
When he awoke in the morning, he remembered his dream, and laughed to think a tree could talk. He continued to ride between forest and plain, meeting no enemies. The second night, he camped again by the woods. He lay beneath a graceful rowan tree. While he slept, he dreamed the rowan tree swayed over him and whispered to him.
"Beware, oh Man, beware. If you encounter the Sorceress of the Wood, you shall return with weeping."
On the second morning, he woke, and laughed again at his dream, then mounted and went on his way along the fringe of the forest. The third night, he slept under a tall, dark fir. Again, the tree loomed above him and spoke into his dreams
"Beware the Water of Vision, child. It will bring but regret."
The young man thought, "This forest brings nothing but gloomy thoughts," and on the third morning, he left it behind to ride across the plain.
That evening, the fourth evening since leaving his father's halls, as the sun was westering over the mountains, he saw another woods before him. It was not a dark and close forest, but light and open between the tall trees. The trees were like none ever seen before, with bark of silver and leaves of gold. No name had he for them.
He rode delighted under the boughs. When he came to a stream, he dismounted and led his horse across, thinking to camp in a glade on the far side.
As he set foot on the bank, many forms of men slipped silently out from the trees. One of them slid the halter from the horse, another slapped it sharply on the rump, saying something to it in an unknown tongue. The horse turned away, and galloped out from the wood.
When the young man would have followed, the Elder People, for that is who they were, restrained him, saying, "Now thou hast entered our realm. Thou'lt not depart again without our leave."
The young man was troubled to see his horse depart so, but could hardly fight so many as his captors seemed to be. He thought, "Always I have sought adventure. It seems now to have found me."
The Elder People seemed not ill-disposed toward him. They brought him through the forest to their houses in the tree-tops, and fed him on sweet fruits and fine white cakes and clear wine.
They said to him, "Somehow thou hast slipped through our Lady's guardianship. We may not permit thee to return, bearing tales of our life in the woods."
The King's son thought, "Perhaps I will seize the adventure, and remain in the wood with the Elder Folk for a time. What a tale that will make when I do return." Also, he now saw that many of his captors were women of the Elder People, and he found them exceeding fair. Therefore, he smiled at them, and fell to talking with the folk about him.
Thus he stayed some nights in their camps among the trees. The days were spent in hunting and other sport, and he was nothing loth to join, for he was strong and well-knit.
With the turn of the season, they returned to their City of the Trees, and perforce so also did the young man. He accompanied them without complaint, for he thought, "Who other has had such adventure!"
There in the City of the Trees, was much feasting and music and dancing. The young man would eat and sing and dance with his new friends, then sleep sound in the tree-houses. Sometimes one would say to him, "Yonder, there goes our Lady of the Wood," and he would turn and look, and see far off a tall figure with shining gold tresses. Often beside her strode the wise silver-haired Lord of the Wood. He never sought to meet her, for, he thought, "She is the guardian of the Wood. She is as far above me as I am above the lowest cotman. Besides, I entered her realm without leave."
When the seasons changed, his companions would go again to the outer Forest. If they camped near the mountains, the hunters turned more serious, and would foray into them in search of orcs. The King's son accompanied them eagerly, and slew the orcs as heartily as they, for he, like all Men and Elders, had nothing but enmity for them. He quickly learned to use their swords and great bows, and they came to welcome him as a hunting and fighting partner.
Thus he spent his days, and the nights he spent in pleasant dalliance with the fair ladies of the Folk. Always they returned to the City of the Trees for festivals, then traveled about the forest, now here, now there. The King's son came to know the Wood as well as he had known the plain of his father's realm, and grew to love it exceedingly.
One season, he and his companions came to the City. He felt tired, but thought little of it, for they had been hunting orcs in difficult terrain for many days.
While in the City, he saw the Lady from afar often, as before. Now, however, he bethought him that he should go to her, and beg leave to visit his former land. He would promise, he said to himself, that he would say no word of the Hidden Land to any, and would return without delay.
So he set to wandering the City of the Trees, hoping to encounter the Lady. Sometimes he would see her in the distance, but she would vanish as he moved toward her. Finally one day, as he walked along a meadow by a stream, he came suddenly upon her, taller even than he had thought, and more fair and golden.
He fell to his knees before her, saying, "Hear my plea, Lady. Let me return but a few days to the lands of my father and brothers. I will come back without a word to any of you and yours."
The Lady stooped and raised him to his feet. Even then, she stood over him by half a head. She looked at him without speaking for some minutes. "No Man who leaves the Golden Wood may re-enter. If you leave us, you will not be permitted to come back."
The King's son was grieved, for he wished to live in the wood with his friends. "Must I never again see my father and brothers?" he asked.
"Indeed, you may look upon your kin," she said, "but that will bring you only sorrow."
"Oh, Lady, I would see my father and brothers, my horse who was driven hence, and my former land again. I will bear the sorrow, whate'er it be," he replied.
The Lady then led him to a small copse by the stream. There she took a plain earthen jar, and filled it with water. She poured the water into a large, shallow basin set upon a pedestal, breathed on it, and then gazed upon its surface. She looked into the water a while. Then she stepped back, and beckoned him to come forward.
The King's son stood over the bowl, and looked into it. "Do not touch the water," she warned. "I wonder what happened to my horse," he thought, "that was sent galloping from the Wood." The water turned black, and he leaned toward it.
He saw a green field filled with grassy howes, and recognized the graveyard of the horses of the Mark. "Dead, my horse is dead," he whispered.
Then it seemed he saw the courts small in the distance, but near at hand was the row of mounds over the dead Kings of the Mark. However, one was newly raised, it seemed, the grass and simbelmyne just beginning to cover it.
"Ah," he thought," the new mound is my father's. He has died while I have disported me here in the Wood."
Again the vision changed, and it seemed he looked into the great hall of the courts. There on the dais sat a man of late middle years, and beside him stood another, whose shield fore-arm was gone. "Where are my brothers?" he wondered. "Who has taken their place?" He looked closer, and saw that the two men were indeed his brothers, now many years older than when last he saw them.
He sprang weeping away from the basin. "What witchery is this," he cried. "I must leave. I must return to my homeland."
"If you leave," said the golden Lady, "you may not return."
The King's son paid her no heed, but ran to collect supplies to depart immediately.
He crossed the plain and passed by the forest on foot. It took him many days to leave the Wood far behind for he felt stiff and sore every morning. At last he saw the golden roof of the courts before him, and hastened as well as he could. He climbed with difficulty the steps up which he had been used to spring with ease.
At the top, armed men crossed their spears before him. "Halt," they said. "Who comes to the hall of the King of the Mark." He looked searchingly at their faces, but knew them not, though he had formerly known all the guards and warriors of the Mark.
"I am the brother of the King," he said, "returned after many adventures."
"The King has but one brother," replied a guard, "and thou art not he. Moreover, thou hast both arms, where he has but one."
"Stay," said the other guard, "the King had another brother. I recall the tale. He went out seeking adventure, and never came back. 'Tis said his horse returned alone, but that was before I was born."
"I am that brother," replied the King's son. "Now, I beg you, let me by, that I may be reunited with my brothers."
So he passed into the hall, and dark and chill he found it, after the tree-houses of the Folk of the Wood. He came up to the dais, where his brothers sat.
At first, they did not recognize him, but then they rose and embraced him with tears. "What, brother, have you returned to us after so long. We have mourned thee these thirty years."
"Thirty years," he cried. "Have I been ensorceled in the Golden Wood so long? Alas, I return to find my father has died, my horse is long dead, and my brothers grown old."
"Thou, too, art no longer young," replied the King. "Behold, there is more gray in thy hair than not. And hast thou whiled away thy youth in the company of the Elder Folk? But come, now thou art returned to us. Let us make merry, and welcome back our brother."
So they feasted their brother, and were exceeding glad in his company. But the man, now no longer young, mourned his father, and his horse, and his youth. All the maidens he remembered from former days were grown old, and married or dead.
After some months, though he took delight in the company of his brothers, he began to long for the Golden Wood, and his companions there, and the music and feasting. One morning, therefore, he took his leave quietly, and set out across the plain toward the forest, but taking no horse.
Once again, he traveled between the woods and the grasslands, but now, no dreams disturbed his rest. Sadly, he remembered the warnings of the trees, but thought, "I would rather have seen the Lady and the Golden Wood though the sorrow be twice as great."
When he came near to the place where he thought to encounter the Wood, all seemed unaccountably changed. He wandered mazed through the trees, but saw none of the silver bark and golden leaves of the Wood. At times, he thought he heard far-off the music of the Folk, but came never nearer.
He roamed about until the snows of winter drove him back to the courts. With spring, he returned, but saw and heard no more than before. He built him a small hut of deadfall at the fringe of the forest, and lived there in solitude and sorrow for his remaining years.
When he could no longer care for himself, his brother's son, the young King of the Mark, brought him to live at the courts. He told tales ever more fantastic, bewailing his lost Lady and Wood, until he died.
From FOTR, The Great River.
[Sam says] "And up pops a New Moon as thin as a nail-paring, as if we had never stayed no time in the Elvish country. ... Anyone would think that time did not count in there."
From TT, The Riders of Rohan.
[Ëomer is speaking] "Then there is a Lady in The Golden Wood, as the old tales tell!" he said. "Few escape her net, they say."
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