An Elvish tale from Mirkwood
Long ago, in Greenwood the Great, was a realm of Wood-elves. It was ruled over by the King of the Elves. He had many subjects, and large and fair halls in endless caverns in the hills of the forest. His subjects roamed the woods, hunting game and gathering food.
They traded the bounty of the forest for many things, wheat and wine, gems and gold.
The Woodland Elves made many beautiful things, perhaps none more fair than silken cloth from the webs of giant spiders of the Forest. They did not herd the spiders as cattle, but tended them carefully, defending them from harm, then carefully unwinding their webs and spinning the silken thread.
An elf-child who lived in the forest saw the webs as very beautiful, and wished to use them without destroying their beauty. As she grew, she tried many ways to capture the fair work of the spider without harm. She taught herself to harvest the spiderwebs, but she did not unwind and spin them. Rather, she rose before dawn every morning, and searched for the perfect, dew-sparkled webs in the first gray light.
She learned to take the perfect web, and work it subtly into a marvelous ornament, studded with gems and silver. One time, she would make a headpiece exceeding fair, another time, it would be a torque, or a belt.
She gave a spiderweb shoulder wrap to another elf-maid, to wear to a feast. When the other elves saw her, wearing the lovely thing, all noted her beauty. Indeed, one youth who had before scarcely noticed her, now looked into her face, and saw there his soul-mate, as she saw hers.
It came to pass, then, that all wished for a creation of the web smith, for they found that those who wore her ornaments were more likely to find their true loves, perhaps even in the face of one grown familiar.
One day, the King of the Elves gave a great celebration, with music and dancing and feasting for days. Until this time, the web smith had but given her handiwork to others, but now, for the first time, she wore them herself. On the first evening, she wore a pair of armlets, decorated with fiery rubies and garnets.
The King saw her, and wished immediately to dance with her. She looked into his face, and saw nothing there she disliked, so she danced with him a few dances.
On the second evening, she wore a neckpiece with emerald and topaz, glowing like sun on new leaves. The King soon found his way to her side, and danced more with her than with any other maiden. She saw that he was kind and generous and wise, and was happy that he had sought her out.
The third evening, she wore a headdress spangled with diamond and pearl and silver, as if the very stars had descended from the sky to rest on her sable hair. This time, the King stayed by her side every moment, and before the evening ended, he drew her aside privately.
"You know I have no Queen," he said, "and I have lived alone for so very long. At last, I have found the one. You are my soul mate."
Then the maiden looked into his face again, and into her own heart at last. She saw there only a great liking, and reverence for her liege, and knew that she had been bewitched by a dream of captivating the King. She was not his soul mate, nor he hers.
She tore off the headdress and the glamour it held. "My liege," she said, "forgive me. I am not she whom you seek." Then she rushed from the dance, and into the forest, where she flung herself on the ground and wept for her youth and folly.
The King raged, and swore to avoid all maidens, and returned to his halls in shame.
The maiden began to live more and more alone, and in the forest. She no longer went to the feasts and dances, though she continued to make wonderful ornaments of the spider webs, and folk still sought them out. But the ruby armlets, the emerald necklet and the diamond headpiece she put away.
Many years passed by, and over those years, the world grew darker, and rumours of war and evil abounded. Elves came fleeing from the growing shadows in other realms. Most passed through to other lands, but some stayed, and made their homes in the forest. Some that stayed were kin to the Woodland Elves, and like enough to them in custom, but others were naught similar, seeming to the Forest Elves haughty and cold. Therefore, they shunned them, and left them to their own devices.
The haughty-seeming elves were indeed but quiet and shy, so they kept to themselves in the Forest mansions, and made their way as best they could. One of the lately come elf-maidens loved the woods, though she had lived all her life in stone houses on open hills. She took easily to woodcraft, and soon surpassed many in her knowledge of herbs and remedies. She wandered farther into the forest, and one day encountered there the web smith. The two maidens found they were of like mind and spirit; they became fast friends.
The Woodland Elves again planned a great celebration, as they often had done, with days and nights of feasting and dancing. They bid the newcomers to the feast, but without warmth or hope that many would come. The herb maid said to her friend, "I would join in the celebration as well. Will you go, too?"
The web smith thought of that long-ago, disastrous feast, then she set aside the memory. "Yes, I will accompany you. But let me give you ornaments," for though she had given the herb maid trifles of her work, rings and earpieces and such, there had never been need for grand jewels.
So, on the first night, the two friends set out for the feast. The web smith dressed plainly, wearing none of her jewelry. The herb maid, however, wore a spider-silk gown of red and gold, and about her arms were clasped the ruby bracelets. The King did not recognize the jewels, indeed, he did not remember them at all, but their glamour drew him to the herb maid, and he forgot his vow to eschew all maidens. They danced together that evening, and the herb maid gazed into his eyes, and what she saw there she liked very well.
The next night, the maidens went again to the celebration. This time, the herb maid wore the emerald necklet with a gown of palest green. The King turned to her again, and it seemed to each that they could see the others heart in their eyes. The web smith smiled as she looked on her friend and the King, who seemed to see no others.
Again, on the third evening, the web smith and the herb maid returned to the feasting. The herb maid wore white woven with tiny crystals that sparkled as she moved, and on her head rested the diamond crown. Neither she nor the King had eyes for any other, and at the end of the night, he asked if he could speak alone with her the following day.
In the morning, they met in the forest, he without his retainers, she without her friend the web smith. Being warned by the smith, she dressed in a simple gown, and wore no jewels. "I have no doubt," said the smith, "that you need no glamour, neither you nor he. I see that you are truly soul mates; nevertheless, you will see each other hearts more clearly without my trinkets."
Indeed, it was so. When the maid and the King met in the woods, they had no doubts, but knew their souls were as one.
Upon their return to the King’s halls, he summoned his court, and introduced her to his subjects as their future Queen, and the Queen of his heart. No one seeing them could think otherwise, than that they had found their true life partners. All rejoiced with them, that even in these times of dangers and war, there still could be found great joy.
The web smith rejoiced as well, happy that the jewels so ill-fated for herself had brought such gladness to her friend and to King Thranduil of Mirkwood.