I was again in my garden, with Nefrűniel, who as far as I knew did not suspect I had overheard her conversation with Legolas. As I tended the autumn whispers, trumpet-shaped flowers with opalescent petals of the palest blue, there came suddenly a fluttering overhead. Every bird in Mirkwood, it seemed, was stirring, whistling frantically.
"What do they say?" I asked, for I could never understand them.
"The dragon of the mountain – Smaug – is dead."
"He attacked the folk of Long Lake – and it seems one of the men found a lucky shot indeed with his bow."
Guessing we might learn more in the Halls, we hurried inside.
"Ah, I was just about to come looking for you," Legolas told me once we'd reached the excited crowd in the great chamber. "Have you heard the news?"
"My father wishes me to accompany him to see what has happened."
"I will come with you!"
Before the prince could argue, I hastened to my bedchamber, where I hurriedly tossed aside my gown – made after the fashion the elf-maids admired, and utterly unflattering on me – and quickly dressed in my riding gear, leggings, stronger boots and a sturdy green tunic over a more comfortable shirt.
By the time I went outside, Legolas had already brought my horse around, along with his own.
The king led a number of spear-men and bow-men along with Legolas and I as we hurried our steeds toward the Lonely Mountain, and were met partway there by the humans. They told us of their victory, achieved by their hero Bard, heir of Girion of Dale. They told us also of the price they paid for the wrath of Smaug. We turned our course toward Lake-town, where we found the devastation of Lake-town, and the many injured, and homeless, and hungry. Some days we spent there, aiding our neighbors, for winter was coming.
I walked alone down to the river, and there I saw the massive body of the dragon. Even dead, Smaug was fearsome, and none dared touch the water near the beast, nor the water that flowed downstream from him, not even to claim the glittering diamonds that formed a shield over his belly. I saw the one vulnerable spot that had been left unguarded, the spot where the arrow of the man called Bard had found the tough dragon-flesh yielding. I was impressed – this man must be at least as good an archer as I.
"This lizard will never trouble anyone again," came a strange voice behind me.
I turned. Standing there was a tall old man dressed in a long grey robe and a curious, tired old blue hat. He had a long beard and tremendous eyebrows and eyes that twinkled quite merrily as he smiled at me.
"Mithrandir?" I asked, though I knew it could be no other.
"So you've heard of me, then?" he asked. "Usually among your kind I am called Gandalf."
"I was raised by Legolas, prince of Mirkwood. Humans … do not feel like my kind."
He nodded. "Avarfanawen. I know all about it."
I wanted to ask him about his "small light" riddle, but I could think of no way to form my question that would not betray the fact I had eavesdropped on Legolas and Nefrűniel.
"I've come to tell you …" he began. I stood attentive. Was he going to reveal the secret? Perhaps tell me who I really was? "… that the elves are about to move on to Lonely Mountain. Come quickly, now, if you do not wish to be left behind."
My heart sank. But I followed.
As we rode, I pulled out my little flute that Nefrűniel had given me and began to play a tune I had invented, a sad but determined song.
"Might you someday write words for that tune?" Legolas asked. "It would be lovely to hear sung."
I *had* written words to it, but I would never sing them before anyone but Nefrűniel, who knew all my secrets.
I would follow you ever
If only my own feet did not grow so weary.
But I'll abandon you never;
I won't stray from your path until I am buried.
My eyes may turn weak,
My fingers may slow,
But one thing will blossom,
Continue to grow.
My heart will never be old.
My prince, my love
What have you done?
A human's life is not enough,
Not enough time.
My prince, my love
What have I done?
An elven life is not enough,
Not enough time to spend with you.
It was true; I had fallen in love with my prince. It was no mere affection for the elf who had raised me, for I was no longer a child, and he was not like a father, or even a brother, in any sense. It would do no good for either of us, however, if I were to speak of it to any but Nefrűniel, who *was* like my sister.
At any rate, there was no time to dwell on such troublesome thoughts now. We had reached Lonely Mountain, and found it had been fortified by the dwarves. Indeed, the only remaining opening had been nearly sealed with stones.
Bard, hero of the humans, attempted to speak with the dwarves. He informed them that it was he who had slain Smaug, and that mingled within the dwarves treasure was the wealth of Dale. His words were not well-received. The leader of the dwarves, Thorin, particularly demanded that we of Mirkwood retreat.
Though I did, silently, question King Thranduil's claim to a share of the treasure of the dwarves, I thought they might be a bit more kindly to Bard, for his words were true; moreover, his people had sheltered them, and been repaid for their kindness with the wrath of the dragon. Yet days passed, and still Thorin refused to parley.
Then something very strange happened. I was sitting with my prince at the campfire after darkness fell, not far from where the king and Bard sat. Up to the camp came some of our lookouts, and with them was an odd little man with bare but hairy feet. He was not a dwarf, but he had been traveling with them. This, I soon learned, was a hobbit, and he introduced himself as Bilbo Baggins. I heard him declare many secrets, the truth of which we had no way of knowing.
Then he presented a glittering globe, a stone with scores of facets. It was called the Arkenstone, Mr. Baggins said, and was much desired by Thorin Oakenshield. With it, he suggested, we might convince the stubborn dwarf to talk.
Thorin was only angered further when he learned that we possessed the Arkenstone. He grew furious and terrible when he learned that Gandalf, as he called the wizard, seemed to be siding with the elves and humans. He expelled Mr. Baggins from his company, and said that later he would release the hobbit's share of the treasure, and from that anyone else who felt entitled to a portion might partake.
Reinforcements for the dwarves arrived – five hundred, at least. Bard wished to speak with them, but they were not much interested in talk. It nearly came to war; in fact, the first arrows had been fired when Mithrandir returned from wherever he had wandered, calling out that there was trouble that surpassed this quarrel.
Darkness gathered on the horizon. I heard it – first the squeal of bats, then the howls of wolves and growls of wargs, and finally the shrill shrieks of goblins. Adversaries quickly became allies as we prepared to face this new foe.
We of Mirkwood were first to charge. Riding alongside Legolas, I fired arrow after arrow ahead of our spear-men. When at last I had no more to shoot, I drew my sword – elven made, but larger than most of their weapons, as I was sturdy enough to wield it – and rushed into the fray.
It was an ugly business. Black goblin blood spattered with red on the yellow autumn grass. I hacked away at nightmarish creatures that attacked both me and my horse. Goblins descended on all sides, their crude but functional weapons slashing everywhere I turned, their mounts snapping at my horse. Spinning my steed as a swung my sword, I could take two or more at once, lopping off their heads and gouging their bellies.
Legolas soon joined me. "How fare you?" he asked calmly.
"Seven, my lord!"
I could not let him best me so easily. I galloped through the mayhem, parrying swords and daggers and maces, ducking arrows, stabbing goblins, smiting wolves. I made my way back to the prince.
"Twenty-nine, my lord!"
He did not answer right away, as he was drawing his bow. Thwack! "Forty," he grinned. He looked down at the bow. "Oh! The string has broken."
I swung down from my horse and took the bow from my prince. Fishing in my pocket, I found an extra sinew. In an instant, the weapon was again ready. No one in Mirkwood – not even Legolas – could string a bow faster than I.
But off my horse, I became more vulnerable, and was quickly targeted by a warg.
Now a warg is a horrible beast, both to behold and to hear. When you first see them, they seem simply to be large wolves. But once you look into their eyes, and see the cruel cunning within them, you know how it feels for your heart to turn ice-cold with fear. Their growls are language, and soon you come to understand it, and you hear them speak of tearing your soft body into shreds.
It was such a creature that leapt upon me, and would have quickly slaughtered me had my prince not leapt from his own horse and sliced deep into its ribs. It fell to the side, shuddering. I sat up, feeling my own warm blood seeping from my shoulder, where it had begun to bite me, and my arms, where its claws had torn through my tunic.
Legolas took me and held me close, my cheek pressed against his chest as he planted kisses atop my head. "Avarfanawen! You are safe!" he managed to say.
Suddenly, I saw the head of an arrow appear not two inches away from my eyes. I stepped away to see my prince had been shot through the back. The arrow had come within a whisper of piercing his heart. His eyes were wide with fear, and he seemed unable to catch a breath.
I lifted him – he was quite light – and hurried to safety. My journey was blurred with fright and tears. Upon reaching shelter, I found he had removed the arrow himself. I placed him gingerly upon the grass and looked in every direction for someone who might help as my prince lay gasping. All were occupied with fighting. I placed my hands over the wound in his chest to slow the bleeding (in my distress I must have forgotten the wound on the other side) and screamed for aid.
Legolas' gasps slowed, then stopped. His bright eyes stared blankly into the sky, and he moved but little – I could just detect the slight rise and fall of his chest, still under my hands.
At last other elves came, running. "He has been shot through!" I cried.
They pulled me off my prince and examined him. "Shot through?" one asked, sternly. "The arrow went but a little way into his back." The elf scowled at me. "What do you mean by making us think Legolas was dying? Take him away for treatment, but do not panic so." They returned to the battle.
I crawled back over to him. They had not noticed the hole the arrow made in Legolas' tunic when they loosed his clothing, but it was indeed still there. The hole in Legolas' chest, however, was not. I shook my head and looked at my hands. My palms were still red, except for in the centers, which had been directly over the wound, where they were perfectly clean.
Legolas breathed steadier now. He reached out and took one of my stained hands. "Do not tell anyone what you have done," he whispered. "It is not a gift of humans, nor indeed of elves."
But someone had seen what I had done.
| Part VI |
| Index |