20. Chapter 20: Scattered Leaves
The Sun is a forgotten path over the water, I blink again and again. What is this brightness? I cannot breath. I struggle, I cannot rise: the water drags me down, it speaks soothingly of rest. Like hands upon my shoulders, and my skin hurts. What of the battle? What of the black? I fight again, a shout that cannot open its way to my mouth; it doesn't matter now, it has no importance.
There was somebody who screamed: what did he say? It was Legolas, I know this. I left him there, I left him in the fight. Where is my knife? They can have me, not him, no, not him. They cannot touch him. I will not let them. I had finished my arrows; perhaps if I found new ones…I will make them. I have time, don't I? All the time in the world. Don't run here, my love. It is too late.
Don't call. They will see you, they will kill you; it shall all have been in vain.
Wood that scratches against stone, a roughness I do not recognize. It is my voice, out of a throat too sore not to be alive. I open my eyes.
Well awoken, Elvish maiden.
The whisper of these trees, a call too deeply engraved in me now to forget it. Their leaves rustle, greeting me. There is a light of gold and green upon me, a veil on my tired features. A blanket covers me lightly, my limbs ache and together rejoice in this unhoped-for rest. The wizard sitting beside me smiles.
"Mithrandir." My voice is still too far, my words uncertain. "What of the battle?"
"Lost." The smile does not match his answer, there is a new light upon his face. The serenity of someone whose duty is fulfilled. "Until the Eagles came. Frodo Baggins has accomplished his quest, and the Ring is no more."
Perhaps the world sings today, and this evil has been lifted from a lighter Earth. But my heart is a cave echoing with sad remembrances, and I shake my head.
"Forgive me, but such joy was not won for me." Carefully, I try to sit. A tightness and a pain in my shoulder tell me that my memory was not vain, and my flesh knew the tip of a spear. Mithrandir helps me gently until I rest against the bark of the tree; the mattress beneath me lies on the grass.
"Your wound is healing well, Mìriel. We did not come a moment too soon. Legolas found you, and brought you out of the fight."
His face, his voice. The pain is the same, my heart does not hurt the less.
"Indeed, Legolas. You were lucky."
If he understands what I mean, he does not say. He keeps smiling. And then I realize where I am, I know what this place is, and the voice of the trees acquires a name. Fear stirs in my heart, and I grasp Mithrandir's hand.
"Faramir…does he know I have been brought back?"
He shakes his head.
"However painful, your choice was wise. He recognizes it. He did not see you, nor did he ask. He does not walk in this part of the garden, as if a sorrowful memory kept him."
A past fire, a passion that tasted bitter and gentle on the mouth. Not so long ago, but now far too late. Mithrandir looks at me, in his eyes his new power joined with the ancient keenness of his mind, the Gray Pilgrim that all knew, all enquired. But he does not ask; kindly, he lays my hand to rest on the blanket.
"Fear not; he thinks you have gone back to the woods."
"And so it shall soon be."
Tentatively I try to rise, and his hand finds me again, together a support and a bond.
"No need to hurry; not now. The King was with you these past few days, and asked me to tell you that you remain at least until your strength is fully regained. You shall be an honourable guest at his coronation."
"The King…the Dùnadan held more secrets than even his countenance spoke of, when a ranger and a wanderer he was upon this earth, suspected and shunned. I wish him good. But you know that I shall not remain."
The sadness that now tinges his smile is but a shade of his wisdom, the majesty of his spirit unveiled in his eyes.
"It was easy to guess. But still I hoped."
I do not reply, but stand up carefully, his hand and the trunk a support to my faltering step. The strength of the Eldar does not betray me, and soon I am firm on my feet.
"How long did I sleep?"
"Three days. Mortals would have perished of such a wound."
"Mortals may perish of many things. In the end, they perish of themselves."
"I wish you could remember love without bitterness, Mìriel."
"It is not bitterness that speaks. I am weak, Mithrandir, I crave my land. There I may find repose. One day I will learn to keep this grief at bay. Come and find me then, and we may converse together in lighter voices."
He shakes his head, while offering me my sack. Inside, my clothes darned and clean. My bow and my quiver rest on the ground.
"My time on Middle Earth is over. I was never more than a visiting spirit, a messenger and a vessel of a purpose far greater than me. I see that some good as come of it, and this shall be befitting prize."
I hesitate. Another loss. But this is no song for a happy conclusion, for a rising note on a tender scale. There is sorrow in this victory; many things that were fair and great are lost with these days.
"Much good came of it, and my heart regrets your departure. May your passing into the West be swift, and fair winds bring you home. I will never see you again."
That smile; the playfulness and levity that belonged to the Pilgrim. In this blinding radiance their glittering light is not lost.
"As for that, Mìriel, 'never' is indeed quite a very long time."
He leaves before I can say another word, his step light, his cloak a white stain soon lost on the lawn, disappearing swiftly into the Houses. I envy his light, the trust that comes to him from his far land, Aman the Blessed my kind only knew in songs. When the time came, we chose to remain faithful to Arda Marred. Our grief is heirloom of that choice, that still we never regret.
My land. In its leaves, in its shadows, my only hope. A balm for this flame that soon shall regain strength, even as I do. As my long sleep still lies heavy on my spirit, my pain is numbed. The dragon sinks his claws into my heart, but he, too, rests. In this short truce, however sad, I take my leave.
Well met, Elven maiden, well found. Will you be back?
The voice of the trees, their solemn wish. Their thoughts are made of rock, the white flesh of this Tower of Kings. The White Tree shall be renewed. Stone-city shall be alive again, and their words not vain anymore.
I rest my palm against the bark, I whisper farewell. A part of their memory, of their faded story, the Elvish maiden that felt like the forest, that spoke of far winds. A thread in the tale they spin, a voice in a chorus that speaks of healing. Their only gift.
I see them as I walk to the archway, green and white upon the battlements, a vision Mithrandir had not foreseen. Faramir stands now, his steps not yet strong, but better. He smiles, almost, his sadness tempered as he looks upon the slender figure of the maiden by his side. He doesn't know yet. He shall soon. His mortal love has come, and the One is kind.
Perhaps he turns, perhaps he glimpses me for a moment, this green-clad remembrance of other forests, other trees. But Elves disappear too soon, and in the mind of Men we remain but as a paled print, a memory of things long past. On my way out of the Houses the hall is empty, the old healer comes out of a door, folded linen on her arms. The same sight, a life so different. Her eyes widen in surprise, and she opens her mouth, as to speak; my finger to my lips asks her silence.
No words to say, not now.
I leave the stone portal behind without looking back.
Six levels of a city in triumph where none looks twice at the Elf who walks slowly, picks her way carefully among the crowd. Invisible, as I should have stayed that day in the forest, so long ago. The time for atonement is coming. For one last moment, closing my eyes, I enjoy the Sun.
The guard at the shattered gate is familiar to my eyes, on his lips a grin that a fresh wound cannot maim. He salutes me as he would do for a commander victorious, this soldier escaped to the strife to live on. This warrior who has survived to find peace. My last smile is a gift to him.
The shadow of the threshold is upon me, Minas Tirith behind already a memory; the world of Men a bruise and a scar upon my soul, wisdom acquired for too high a price. Love in my spirit is an animal whose agony shall be too long. The first step among the dried grass chooses an invisible road, and home lies ahead, past shadow and light.
"Such haste on such a joyful day, maiden of Ithilien."
Even in the black, I had not forgot. Here, in this clear Sun, the sound is crystal to my ears. Bells tingling, and music gentle to listen to, even if later this shall be another memory of lost happiness, another shard into my wound. It does not matter. Slowly, I turn.
The Sun caresses his beauty as he leans against the pillar of the gate, his arms crossed. He shines faintly, a green remembrance of his home, of our Silvan blood. His hair is gold over his shoulders, wheat not yet reaped where the blue haven of his eyes sparkles.
"My land has waited too long, prince of Mirkwood. It's time I went."
"Long ago you said the same. I told you you would not have to set out alone."
I shake my head.
"Do not remind me of times I have marred and twisted, lord. I would take the evil I have done to you upon me alone; and if I cannot, then my grief shall have to be retribution to last for a long time."
I do not dare look to him, not know; and yet I cannot leave. For he has left the pillar, and walks until he is before me. His voice wonders, almost harsh.
"Could you ever believe I wanted your grief?"
I wish I could escape, I wish he would let me go. My shame burns on my face, but he remains silent, waiting for my answer. I could never deny him the truth.
"No. You always were better than me, my lord."
Pain crosses his face, and a shadow of rage. He shakes his head, and his words come as if hissed through his teeth: "No. Do not make me other than I am, Mìriel. For I was selfish and wished you would stay with me, and begrudged you every day you stayed away on fulfillment of your duty to you land, a duty far nobler and deeper than that to your lover. And I scouted the Earth and travelled and fought, thinking that you would be waiting home, my well deserved prize."
"No! Don't speak like this, you that were faithful, you that I betrayed. Blame not yourself. My heart was weak, my spirit tainted. Who among the Elves has done what I did?"
"Who among the Elves has not harboured darkness in their thoughts?" He looks away, and his words are sad. "I wished you happiness, but I desired for it to be marred. I wanted you to feel my pain, I wanted your heart to be shattered even as mine was. My hatred and my love mingled, and my spirit was heavy when I rode to war. I wished for death on the battlefield, cowardly I wanted my grief to end with my life."
Spirits that sing together, chords that are attuned…
"Then I saw you, even as darkness closed upon me, I saw you, and you were lost. And I knew that I should live if only to see you safe in his arms, and that if you had fallen there my spirit would not find peace, not until the world was broken and remade. I thought your betrayal had wounded me; but no pain have I known in spirit or body as the grief I felt as I watched your sleeping form, as your life hung on a frail thread. Pride is no coin of value for a spirit that is broken."
My hand seeking his face, but he shirks away. He shall tell his tale to its end.
"Mithrandir told me of your choice, of the farewell you have said to the Man. And then I hoped…I hoped, against all that is called reasonable upon this Earth, that you would remain, and look with me for happiness again. But you are going; and in me there is no strength nor will left to beg."
A fist closes my throat, and my words are choked. He looks at me now, and my eyes speak to him, my heart beating too loud a music to be endured. My cloven spirit is set aflame. When the voice comes, it is but a broken whisper.
"I do not know whether I shall be whole again. I do not know what is left in me to give…I am but a wretch and a shadow of who I was."
He shakes his head, a fire kindled in his eyes such as I have not seen before.
"A wretch and a shadow I would be, if you took that road alone."
Sorrow breaks its dam, a savage hope sweeps the empty plains of my spirit. My vision clouds, as I utter the words that keep my doom in their hands: "Would you wait for me to heal?"
He laughs then, and that laughter unbinds my tears, and his beauty is such to unhinge the doors of my conscience. His smile is another Sun, and its light promises peace.
"Time, my lady Mìriel, was the gift the One gave us. Of it we shall make good use."
He offers his hand now, and I look at it, its clear palm as pale as the stone of the Tower I leave behind.
His touch won't make me whole again, I know it now. The light of Ithilien shan't be enough. And yet, if not healed, I shall live to see other times. If not again the same I once was, I will grow to something different. Through war and grief and fire, made anew.
Soldiers of Men smile notwithstanding their scars. If one art we can learn from Mankind, it will be that.
I accept the hand Legolas offers, and our feet are light over the plain, Minas Tirith behind us a pale dream. The road to Ithilien lies before us, and a gentle wind rises from the city, it brings to our nostrils one last scent of its gardens. Caught in our hair, the rustling music of scattered leaves.
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.