I had a little garden then, an indulgence King Thranduil granted me. For though he never warmed to me, he was not unkind.
Though I did not posses many of the skills elves treasured, I was an adept gardener. I coaxed the tender blossoms to bloom brightly and hardily – often out of season, and this one skill of mine many elf maids envied.
I tended this garden of mine with Nefrûniel, yet another golden elf maid, but one who had always been fond of me. If you had seen the two of us together and not known one was human and one was elven, you would have supposed you were seeing two girls of about the same age. Yet she had appeared thus as long as I had known her, and I knew she had lived a hundred times as long as I.
“Nefrûniel,” I began as we trimmed away old leaves and branches from my greenery, “I have grown up so quickly, and you elves change not at all. How long shall I live?”
She frowned. “As long as you are meant to live.”
“And how long is a human meant to live? Five hundred years? One thousand?”
Nefrûniel would not meet my eyes. “Like the flowers, some of the beings of Middle Earth are perennials, and some are annuals. Elves endure through many a Winter, while it is the fate of humans to wither in Autumn. Naught can change this, for it is the Design of the Garden.”
“One hundred years for a human would be a remarkable age,” she admitted very quietly.
For a moment, I stood silent in shock, shaking my head. “Alas! What a dreadful short life! I shall not live a hundredth as long as you, or my lord Legolas!”
“Our lord Legolas could be called to battle tomorrow and felled under an enemy’s sword, though let a such wicked thing never happen. As he himself oft repeats, few can foresee whither their road will lead them, ‘til they come to its end.”
“Avarfanawen!” the prince himself called, “I have been looking for you!”
“I must leave you now,” Nefrûniel whispered as she slipped away, quickly, but still with the appearance that she was floating but a little way above the ground. She curtsied briefly to Legolas as she left the garden.
The prince bowed to Nefrûniel, then turned to me.
I spoke before he could. “I’ve been thinking, my lord,” I said slowly. “What are we, you and I?”
“I do not understand.”
“Only twenty years have I lived in Mirkwood, and yet look at me, all grown. When I was small, did you think of me as your daughter? Am I now your sister? In another twenty years, shall I then be your mother?”
Legolas was unfazed by my questions. “You are none of those, child, for we are of different kindred. You are my own little Avarfanawen.”
I drew myself up to my full height. I was barely shorter than he, who was tall among elves. “I am neither little nor child. And Nefrûniel has just told me something most upsetting. She has revealed to me that I shall likely not live even to see one hundred years!”
He looked surprised, as though he had not intended me to know this. “A honeybee lives for but one season, and yet see all that she accomplishes,” he said at last, maintaining an even voice.
“Why have you never told me I shall die so soon? Already one-fifth or more of my life is spent!”
Before Legolas could answer, the guard captain hurried into the garden. “My lord,” he panted, “we have found those who would have attacked us! We have captured thirteen dwarves.”
“Dwarves? In Mirkwood?” Legolas hastened to follow the captain ball to the Halls. As he left, though, he glanced over his shoulder at me, a strange look in his eyes. Regret at having kept the truth from me, perhaps, or pity.
| Part III |
| Index |