6. Leaves of Silver; Leaves of Gold
Chapter 6: Leaves of Silver; Leaves of Gold
'For the bonny lad is young, but he's growing . . . '
Traditional English Folksong
"It's so big!"
The Elvenking's mounted train had passed out of the Forest Gate on the western edge of the wood, and Sigrid beheld for the first time the tall chain of mountains the Elves called the Hithlaeglir. Although a wide plain and a river stretched in between, it seemed to her that she might reach out and touch them. The warm weather of spring had melted the snow in the forest, yet the eastern slopes of the mountains were still covered in white, their tall peaks shrouded in a mist of clouds.
"It is said that they were taller still, before an ancient war broke the land," said Thranduil. "Some of the elves of the Great Journey found the sight of them too daunting, and Danweg's folk turned aside, to settle here in the Greenwood of old."
"That showed great intelligence, if you ask me, which of course no one does," muttered Galion, who rode at their side. "Had the Eluwaith shown the same perspicacity, Sire, your noble father might have spared himself the long trek back here."
"You must forgive Galion his Laegren pride," Thranduil chuckled, aside to Sigrid. "Galion, if that had happened, Elu Thingol would not have married so well, nor my cousin Celeborn married . . . ah, as he did."
"You speak as if that were a bad thing, Sire," Galion said. Thranduil merely laughed.
Sigrid let the two of them banter on, paying them no heed. She had other worries on her mind. Thranduil and his group were journeying south to Ithilien, where Sigrid would finally meet her Lord's son, and the prospect of being seen and judged by this mysterious Prince Legolas filled her with trepidation.
Sigrid rode her own horse now, at Thranduil's side. Riding was but one of the new skills she had mastered in the last ten years in Thranduil's court. She could read now, and write, and she spoke the tongue of the Elves so well that she sometimes thought in it rather than the language of her birth. When she looked into her mirror now, she saw a lady, although she still felt like the same humble forest girl playing a part in a mummery.
What the elves of her Lord's realm saw when she rode at his side or sat beside him at dinner, she could not have said. Always, she felt the weight of eyes upon her, eyes of shades in blue and grey, filled with curiosity and something else. Did they see a lady? Did they see a concubine? Did some, perhaps, see a friend?
She rarely left Thranduil's side when he was at his leisure, but even she had been forced to find a way of filling up those hours when his duties took him from her. Back in her days with Asa, she had begun to learn to spin and weave, and she had pestered Thranduil to show her the halls where his folk produced the dyed silk that he traded with the Men of Rhûn and sent to the lands of the south.
She had laughed outright when she saw the huge piles of aged spiderweb waiting to be spun and learned the source of his silken thread.
"Hush, it is a great secret," he had told her, laughing himself. "There was a time when a Dwarf asked me if the great spiders of the Wood were tame or my pets, and he came closer than he knew. It was not so at the time, for they were all too numerous when the Shadow held sway over Mirkwood. We hunted them in those days to keep their numbers down, but since the fall of the Enemy and the burning in the Wood, we give them their own little sector and encourage them to breed. I find it a most ironic joke. Alas, they grow smaller with each generation, and soon I shall be forced to find another way of making my money."
Sigrid had taken a hand at the weaving, and had become quite skilled at it, yet she took her greatest joy in the dying of the thread, using colors and compounds that the forest provided. Thranduil had been very pleased at the results of some of her experiments in mixing the dyes to create novel colors, and as she worked, she had developed friendships with some of the Elven artisans. Those, at any rate, respected her for more than the King's bed toy.
She wore cloth of her own design now, dressed Elven-fashion, as it pleased Thranduil to see her. Her riding habit now was a subtle grey-green of her own mixing, with a split skirt over breeches that allowed her to sit astride. She looked over at Thranduil and smiled. His attire was the same green jacket he had worn when she first laid eyes on him. Elves did not seem to feel the need for change that Mortals did.
"What are you smiling at, my love?" Thranduil asked, noticing her looking at him.
"I am just remembering when we first met. How happy I felt when I rode home behind you."
"It is a sweet memory for me too," he said. A wide grin split his face. "Galion, take Sigrid's reins and lead her horse. My love, come here. Ride pillion behind me, as you used to do." He held out his arms and drew her across to him. Sigrid settled herself on his horse's rump and put her arms around his waist. "Comfortable?"
"Very comfortable, Thranduil," she whispered, nestling her cheek against his broad back. "But is this proper?"
He laughed and looked about expectantly. "Well? I am waiting. Does not the sight of an elf-man riding in joy with his leman before the eyes of all bring on Ardhon Meth?"
"No, Sire," Galion muttered. "The end of all things is not upon us. However, you may make a few Beornings swoon."
"Then let them look, and let them swoon," Thranduil laughed. "I could ride like this all the way to Gondor."
Sigrid flicked her eyes back over the rest of the mounted train and the troop of pikemen who marched as guards. Everyone's eyes were straight ahead, their faces impassive. If Thranduil wished to flaunt her, there were none among his folk who dared to speak otherwise. But how would it be seen when they reached Ithilien?
After a time, Thranduil shifted in his saddle. "Riding in this fashion has one drawback," he said. "For I feel a sudden desire to stop and make camp early today."
Beside them, Galion broke out into a fit of coughing. Sigrid saw Thranduil turn his head sharply.
"My old wound, Sire," Galion said hastily. "And the cold wind off the mountains. It irritates my lung."
"Indeed, Galion. I would be quite the ingrate to begrudge you a cough or two," Thranduil said amiably.
Sigrid merely moved her arms higher about Thranduil's waist, for she had felt his need too. At this rate, it would be a long trip to Ithilien.
* * *
In the following days, Sigrid kept her hands higher, and the party made good time. It took a fortnight down past the tip of the great wood, and yet another week until they reached the cyclopean statues on either side of the Great River, which marked the northern boundaries of Gondor. Beyond the Argonath, as Thranduil told her they were called, lay a wide lake, which they crossed by means of huge rafts. This lake reminded Sigrid of the Long Lake, but the falls at the southern end of it, split by a tall spur of rock, dwarfed the falls of the Celduin.
"It will be easier from here on," Thranduil said, as they and their horses carefully negotiated a steep and winding portage path on the western side of the falls. "The river becomes wide and deep enough for the barges that will carry our horses, and indeed, the land turns marshy. The going is best by water."
As she watched the horses being led aboard and noted their discomfort at being upon the shifting decks, Sigrid asked, "Was there no other route we might have taken?"
Thranduil nodded, and his face was grave. "We might have veered to the east and bypassed the lowlands, and indeed, I have taken that route in days long past. But I have no wish to see those lands again."
"No, Sire, never again," Galion echoed, and his slate-dark eyes held a sadness that matched his King's.
On the leg of the journey from Cair Andros to Ithilien, Sigrid put her foot down and insisted upon riding her own horse. This was the land of King Elessar. Things were done differently than in the Wood, and as much as she enjoyed the physical closeness with Thranduil, she was not about to embarrass his son by riding in behind her lover's saddle like some prize of war. Even so, as the woods of Ithilien closed in about them, she almost wished she could cling to Thranduil for comfort, for she feared the journey's end.
"When first I saw these trees, over a hundred years ago, they were stunted, pitiful things," Thranduil said. "The creatures of the Enemy had laid their foul curse over all the land, and it was in agony. For an Elf, especially a Wood-elf, it was a hard thing to see. As much as the absence of my son grieves me, he has worked miracles here. I am very proud of him."
"It would not come amiss for you to tell him that once in a while, Sire," Galion said.
Sigrid saw Thranduil look to his side, where his valet rode, almost even with the two of them. Dear, kind, Galion, she thought. With the three of them abreast, it made it seem as if she might be just another servant rather than a person of dubiously special status. "Oh, yes, Galion," he laughed, seeming not affronted by the impudence, "you may be sure that on this visit I will be telling him that at every opportunity."
The woods were beautiful indeed. Here in the south, the spring had further advanced. The woodland shrubs were in full bloom, with flowers of shades from white to dark crimson, and there were yet others with pale purple blooms filling the spring air with a sweet fragrance. The grass beneath the feet of their mounts grew a vibrant emerald. As they rode, Sigrid began to hear a faint singing coming from the treetops, growing louder as they progressed. Thranduil threw back his head and joined the song in his deep joyful baritone. "When blossom like a shining snow is on the orchard laid; when shower and Sun upon the Earth with fragrance fills the air . . ."
Sigrid began to hear a silvery tenor ringing out from among the other voices, louder than the rest. "I'll linger here and will not come because my land is fair . . ."
A turn in the path revealed a clearing. She blinked. A palace stood there, so delicate in its lines that it seemed almost to be an illusion, as if it belonged to the forest itself, made of leaf and air, rather than stone. A young man with pale flaxen hair stood on a broad terrace in front of the door. Not a man; an elf.
Thranduil dismounted his horse and went to meet him, taking the steps at a bound. They stood staring for a moment and then embraced, the strange elf laying his cheek on Thranduil's shoulder.
Sigrid watched, feeling her heart plummet. So this was Legolas. She could see Thranduil in him; there was no mistaking it, for the two of them together were like a sapling beside a mature tree. They were of a height, although Legolas had the more slender build and his hair was two shades lighter than his sire's bright gold. But his delicate beauty caught at her heart. This came from his missing half; his mother. She must have been exquisite to have produced such a son. Sigrid felt tears prickling at the edges of her eyes.
She and Galion had dismounted and followed Thranduil. "It is good to see you once more, dear friend," Legolas said, breaking away from Thranduil and laying a hand on Galion's shoulder. He turned his mild gaze in her direction.
"This, Legolas, is Sigrid," said Thranduil softly, but there was no mistaking his tone. "She is dear to me, son."
If Legolas felt surprise, he showed not a hint of it. He took her hand and inclined his head graciously. "Well met, Mistress Sigrid."
Oh yes, it was easy to see how a woman could lose her heart to him, Sigrid thought, looking into his pale blue eyes. Yet strangely, while she could appreciate his manly beauty, she felt not in the least moved by it. Her love and her passion were only for her Lord. She stammered out a greeting, unsure of exactly what she said. Legolas was his father's son, and above all she could sense his underlying kindness. She no longer feared him, and that was enough.
"You can let go of her hand now," Thranduil said gently. "Well, I like what you've done with the place. This terrace is new since last time, am I right?"
"Twenty years gives opportunity for much change. This terrace is new, and the hedge of cypresses, and the new wing on the south side."
"Nice detail on the balusters," Thranduil said. "You are one of the few elves I know who builds in stone."
Legolas laughed. "Growing up as I did, I find I simply cannot live in a talan. I must have stone about me to feel secure."
"And the only one who builds in stone and makes it look like wood. Even Elrond never had the knack for that."
"Well, Ada, I do hire the very best help." Legolas said, with a playful wink. "I daresay there have been a few changes at home in the twelve years since I last visited."
"Ah, yes," said Thranduil. "And on that subject, Galion, would you see to it that you and Sigrid are settled in while I have a few words with Legolas?"
Sigrid and Galion followed one of Legolas's retainers up the steps and into the palace. "Shall we have our customary rooms in the north tower?" Galion asked. Sigrid cast a quick glance back over her shoulder. Thranduil and Legolas strolled arm in arm on the terrace and they seemed to be in earnest conversation.
"This will be your room, Mistress," said the servant, after a short climb up a spiral staircase. Sigrid could not help noticing that the elf gave the word 'Mistress' a slight emphasis as he spoke. "I trust it will be to your liking. There is water in the ewer should you wish to refresh yourself. Galion, your chamber is the same as last time."
The two men shut the door and proceeded on, leaving Sigrid alone in the chamber. She washed her hands and face and dried them on a soft towel. The room was on the third floor, and the single window looked out into the canopy of trees. The scent of the purple flowers blew in on the warm breeze. Sigrid looked out for a time, down onto a walled garden with espaliered fruit trees and other shrubs. Then she went and sat down on the bed. The narrow bed.
She sighed. Had she truly expected to be treated any differently than Galion or the other servants? At the very least, her stay in Ithilien would be restful, although Sigrid felt she would miss lying beside Thranduil. She had grown accustomed to his comforting presence in the night, even though he tended to steal the covers and nick the backs of her ankles with his toenails. With a smile, she recalled Asa making the same complaint about Wulf years before. Truly, when it came to sleep, all men were alike; the similarities between Elf and Mortal exceeded the differences.
Sigrid looked up to see Thranduil in his shirtsleeves silhouetted in a connecting doorway, an impish grin upon his face.
"I must have raised my son right, for he and his butler are both thoughtful and discreet. I daresay no one will take any note of who sleeps where. We will use this room to store the clothing, for the bed in the next one is much more to my liking." With that, he scooped her up and carried her into the adjoining chamber.
"You see? This bed is much better," he said, dropping her upon it.
It was a large bed, big enough for three men the size of Thranduil and covered in soft linen. The room was larger too, with two windows looking out over the trees.
"You are still in your riding clothes. Let me remedy that." Thranduil unfastened her skirt and unlaced her breeches, sliding them down her hips and pulling them off her feet. "I will be your lady's maid for now. There, is this not better?"
"Oh . . . yes," she said as his hand stroked up her bare thigh. Thranduil had not proved to be much of a lady's maid though, for he had thrown her trousers into the corner. "Mmmm . . . my love, have a care. Galion may come in upon us."
"Galion knows better," he laughed. "Ears, flask, desk? Besides, you and I taught him his lesson the first time. He will knock and wait for an answer before entering." He began to undo the fastenings of her jacket and the thin shirt she wore beneath that.
"Thranduil, I will be cold," she said as he slid her shirt and jacket off her shoulders. Her upper garments quickly joined her riding breeches on the floor.
"Then my arms will be your blanket." He had stripped off his shirt, and his bare skin against her chest burned like a brand. "Warm enough now?"
"Mmmm. These walls seem thin. Someone may hear us."
"Then we will be quiet." His pants had joined the growing pile of clothing on the floor. "I confess, I find having to play the secret lover in my son's house very . . . stimulating."
"As if you needed any excuse to be ruttish," she laughed. But the press of the dear familiar body against her own had made her throw away caution as well. "Oh, all right. But I cannot promise that I will not cry out."
"Nor can I. But I have a solution for that." He stopped her mouth with his own, and they said no more.
* * *
Sigrid sat alone, and it suited her mood. Thranduil and his son had ridden out to inspect the border marches of the realm. Sigrid had of course been invited, but she had declined, wishing to give father and son as much time alone on this visit as possible. And even had she not been so sensitive to the needs of her Lord, it was her moon time, those days when she wished for nothing more than to curl up with a pillow against her stomach and be left alone. Thranduil had learned early on to give her a wide berth at such times, and it was during these five to seven days each month that most of the Woodland Realm's work was conducted, with time left over for hunting and fishing.
Thranduil had said that his son had a secret bookish side to his nature, and Ithilien's library bore this out. The shelves held books for every taste, and the rooms were divided into nooks and crannies where a person could take a volume aside for an hour or so of quiet relaxation.
Sigrid had come across a window seat, with soft cushions and heavy hangings. The book she had found was perhaps not the deepest in the collection, but she had found that she could read, and once she could read, her journey through the pages proved as joyous and free as that of a fish through water. She had put her feet up and lost herself in the tale when voices roused her.
"I tell you, Glavras, it is a scandal. Our King neglects his duties to dally with a Mortal leman, and it is the talk of the realm. You are well to be out of it." Sigrid recognized this as the voice of one of the pikemen who had accompanied them from the Wood. She froze and shrank back behind the curtain, hoping to escape detection.
"Have you not learned your lesson, Heledir, never to talk about your betters? It profited you once, to tattle of our Prince's doings. Yet it did not protect you when you were caught neglecting your own duties and stealing the King's wine."
"And Galion was forgiven when I was not? I suppose we all know why that was."
"Oh, Heledir. Sometimes I find it strange that it was the same womb that gave us life, so different are we. And to think, big brother, that you were the one who always called me the babbler. Hold your tongue and learn some wisdom. Thranduil is like his son. The days of those they love are finite. Would you begrudge either of them the precious time spent with those who are soon to be gone? Especially Thranduil who led us through the dark years with no respite and nary a protest?"
"I fail to see why he cannot ease himself with his valet like a respectable widower," Heledir grumbled. "And if that will not suffice, why a Mortal woman? This one is like unto Queen Lalaithiel as a shiny pebble is to a jewel! At home, it is whispered that he has gone mad to put her in the late queen's place, and bringing her here to inflict this disgrace upon his son merely confirms it."
Sigrid shut her eyes. Asa had told the truth all those long years ago. Eavesdroppers, even involuntary ones, never heard anything good about themselves, but she would sooner have been spared this information.
"Heledir, you are a fool. Thranduil would have your ears if he heard you speaking this way, and I daresay Prince Legolas would be displeased as well."
"Our King may forbid us to speak, but he cannot command our thoughts."
"Your envious thoughts, brother, are the reason you are demoted to a guard while I am our Prince's second in command here in Ithilien."
"Our Prince? Bah! He's as daft as his father. Friends with a dwarf, they say. A dwarf!"
"Lord Gimli stood with Prince Legolas before the Black Gates. Something I did not see you volunteering to do, Heledir. And I would not advise you to take that tone with him when he comes next month with King Elessar and Queen Arwen. That axe he carries is no mere decoration, and he has quite a temper."
"Oh, won't that be fun! Parading King Thranduil's kept woman in front of the King of Gondor! Tell me, Glavras, how does your Elven-lord plan to handle that sticky problem?"
"Prince Legolas does not share these protocol decisions with me, fortunately," said Glavras. "However, I am sure she will be treated with the courtesy due any guest, for it is none of our business what the lady is to Thranduil or he to her."
"Now who's being a fool?" Heledir laughed.
The two of them left then, and Sigrid finally dared to breathe again. She stared down at the book she had been reading, a silly tale about a young woman from modest circumstances who finds true love with a rich, handsome man. She felt ill.
Slowly she rose and returned the book to the shelves with a trembling hand. She had lost interest in the story. It was just words. Empty words on a page.
* * *
To be continued . . .
* * * * * * *
Danweg: Sindarin name for Lenwë, king of the Nandor
Eluwaith : The people of Elu Thingol, Sindar
Laegren: Green-elven, Sindarin term for Nandorin
Ardhon Meth: The end of the world
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.