My composure was coming back to me, along with my voice. I asked Berendil’s tavern boy to bring some ale and bread and soft cheese for Gimli, so the Dwarf might refresh himself. He looked as if his days of enjoying red meat and salt pork were behind him. They brought the supper. We sat by the window while the sky poured down rain like a mother’s lament.
“First I may as well tell you where we are going,” he said. “We are getting ready to sail off the edge of the world.”
“Let no one say you don’t know how to begin a story,” I managed, strangling on my wine.
“You have heard tell of Elvenhome in the Undying Lands; the place reserved for them by the Valar. All Elves who began the Great Journey West must finish it someday, even those who are slain in route. They must go or fade. That is why they have the sea-longing, whether it slumbers or no. That is why Mandos summons the slain. The Elves’ long home lies over the sea. It is their tragedy, one of many, that Elvenhome is now beyond the reaches of their beloved Middle-earth.”
“Can Legolas return? ”
“No. That is part of his torment. His father Thranduil will never leave, and Legolas loves his father dearly.”
“Then it is selfish of Thranduil to stay. And he will fade, to boot.”
“Yes he will fade. Whether it is selfish, you can decide for yourself after I speak of Thranduil and his lady Elsila. Save for this, no tale of her survives. Unless of course you want to ask Legolas.”
“How would you like a new name, ‘Grumpy Son of Gloin.’ ” I said. “I have heard nothing of Elsila. Of Thranduil, they say he imprisoned your father once, near the time of the Battle of Five Armies. He was hot-tempered yet goodhearted. He liked his wine. He coveted blue and white diamonds, and mithril, and disliked Dwar…, that is, he did not like strangers crossing his lands.”
“He still does those things,” said Gimli, “but Elrond said he was once the merriest of Elves. Ladies loved him for his humor, and one lady especially. Elsila. It means A Star Shines in their speech.
“Elsila was of Hollin. She was a natural healer and was said to possess extraordinarily beautiful eyes. Like a muted rainbow, they were grey and sky blue and dark blue all together."
"You are a poet, Gimli." I had a sudden thought. "Is that why Thranduil is said to covet those jewels especially? They remind him of her eyes?"
"Just so. They say she was Silvan, but she must have had Noldori blood too, for she was studying with her mentor, the queen of that realm, when Thranduil and Oropher came on a trading journey. This was near the middle of the Second Age. The Elves of Hollin held a feast, with dancing later. It was then that Thranduil looked into Elsila’s eyes and fell. He is falling still.”
“How did he win her?”
“Talk about your fool in love. He sent her daisies every day and said she was more beautiful. He wrote bad poetry to her. He sang love songs under her balcony. One day he had an idea. In those days Thranduil loved to paint pictures. Now he desired to paint Elsila’s eyes. He stayed in his chamber for a moon’s passage while he painted likeness after likeness. But when he was finished, he became so afraid she would dislike it, that he almost went home in defeat.
“But he got his courage together and brought her to see the final result. Now I have seen a replica of this painting in Rivendell, and it looks nothing like a woman’s eyes. Still, Elsila must have liked it because she said yes at once, and a year later to the day they wedded.
“After the Battle of the Last Alliance, Thranduil and Elsila had two children. The firstborn was Elwen, and she was so like Thranduil that the Elves say they must have shared a spirit sometime. Thranduil loved her more than Thingol loved Luthien. He would have done anything short of kin-slaying for her, and maybe even that. Legolas took after Elsila in looks and temperament. He possessed a sense of balance, of not being easily moved off his course. He was agreeable rather than merry and was content to let Elwen rule if she pleased, if Thranduil should leave for the havens. Together, the family complemented each other’s weaknesses and strengths and they were as happy as could be.
“But early on, the elders thought that Legolas might have a strange fate. There was his uncanny skill with the bow. And he began to have visions, visions of Middle-earth at war, and once, of an Orc chieftain hiding in the southern mountains, dangerously close to Thranduil’s lands. Silvans and Mortals lived there too, and Orcs raided them, gathering strength and provisions.”
“Show me on the map,” I requested. Old Berendil keeps a map tacked to the wall opposite the calendar scroll. Folks who pass through the tavern push pins into the map to show where they came from. I found the southern mountains of the Greenwood right enough, but no one had ever pushed a pin there.
Gimli continued, “Thranduil believed the vision but could not fight an enemy he did not know. So he sent a party of spies south and this party included Legolas and Elwen. There is a town called Wild Water near the conjunction of the Old Forest Road and the Running River. Ah, you know it? Well, the mayor of Wild Water held a market fair each autumn. Folk from everywhere went to it and it would be the most natural thing for a party of Elves to travel that way. If Orcs were stirring in the southern mountains, they would learn of it at the market fair.
“Elsila did not want Legolas and Elwen to go. ‘The Olórë Mallë showed me a dream,’ she said. ‘Elwen was in it, and I. We both held swords. Elwen was walking forward, and I, walking backward, kept pace with her. Legolas was between us. It left me troubled.’
“But Thranduil reasoned they should go. It was Legolas who had the vision. And Thranduil wished Elwen to act as his ambassador to the Mayor of Wild Water, his ally below the kingdom’s southern marches. They were going to spy, not fight, and three of the best warriors were chosen to go with them. Elsila agreed reluctantly.”
“Was the dream true?”
“Who knows. But a dreadful fate befell Elwen and Elsila shortly afterwards. A fate to weep at, and in a manner of speaking, the same fate. Because they fell together, by the same Elvish hand.”