This story now comes to an end, as this is as good a place as any to finish it. A short epilogue will follow to give you a glimpse into the future – but only a glimpse. The final decision lies by Enadar, and he still has not made up his mind. :))
“’The Trees and the Ents,’ said Treebeard. ‘I do not understand all that goes on myself, so I cannot explain it to you. Some of us are still true Ents, and lively enough in our fashion, but many are growing sleepy, going tree-ish, as you might say. Most of the trees are just trees, of course; but many are half awake. Some are quite wide awake, and a few are, well, ah, well, getting Entish. That is going on all the time.’”
The Two Towers – Chapter 4: Treebeard, p. 83.
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Their way back to the Greenwood was a long and slow one indeed. Thranduil wanted to spare his son the sight of that which was still there from Dol Guldur, and thus he chose to travel on the west-bank of Anduin, up to the Old Ford. They crossed the Great River at that point and continued their journey on the Old Forest Road.
Near Rhosgobel, the border patrols of his folk, who had been on the lookout for the royal party for quite some time, met them and escorted them through the Mountains of Mirkwood and alongside the Enchanted River, ‘til they finally reached the Elvenking’s citadel. A high, rocky hill it looked but was busy like a beehive in the inside, housing hundreds of Silvan Elves in peacetime and thousands of refugees if the need arose.
The threes and shrubs covering the hillside also very cleverly covered the balconies of the upper levels, where the living quarters were carved into the living rock, beyond reach for anyone but the visiting birds. Only the one or other stone watchtower and a few stairways with their protective balustrades, nearly invisible among the natural rock formations, even for the Elven eye, revealed that there was indeed life under that hill.
Enadar, not familiar with his father’s fortress, as it had been built after the realm had moved further in the North – at a time when he had already been imprisoned and thought dead by everyone – paid little attention to the busy coming and going of the Elvenking’s household. Right when they reached the alley that led to Thranduil’s magic doors, Quickbeam, who had been carrying him all the way from Lothlórien, turned away from the main road, waiting patiently for the Elves of the royal palace to have a proper reunion with Legolas. Then he cleared his throat, which sounded like a wooden trumpet.
“Ha-hooom,” he grumbled. “You hasty folk had your time to greet the young prince now; which is right and proper. But this sapling here is still ailing and needs to be planted and watered to heal. Can someone show me a less… noisy place, where I can find clear water for him, and some shelter?”
“We have prepared the place,” Alagos, the Dark Elf, stepped forth from the background where he had been watching all the fuss with tolerant amusement. “Follow me, o shepherd, and I shall lead you the way.”
He led the Ent around the hill of Thranduil’s fortress, to the west-side, where the trees did not grow quite so densely. Here the sheer, rocky wall hollowed back at its bottom, forming a chamber that was completely open to one side but could give shelter half a dozen Elves under its arched roof if necessary. Beech trees framed the wide entrance, their branches entwining high above it, woven into a protective screen against the rain and too hot sunlight, just like the roofs of the tree-houses of the Galadhrim. Barely ten steps from the rock-wall, a spring bubbled from under a large, mossy stone, its water clear and cool and sweet. It was the perfect place for an Ent-house, one that only could be found by someone who knew perfectly well what the Onodrim needed and liked.
But again, Alagos was old enough and had seen enough to know such things.
“When the young prince has grown strong enough to climb, we shall build him a house on the treetops, like the one he used to have in King Oropher’s tree city,” he said to the Ent. “Right now, though, it would be better for him to stay with you. For this will be your home, as long as you dwell among us, and no-one shall enter it without your invitation. Those are the orders of my King.”
“Your King is a wise Elf,” answered Quickbeam, “and gladly do I accept his gift, for this place is very much to my liking. But I shall need help with the more… mundane needs of this young one, as my hands are too strong to handle his fragile body.”
“Master Galion will be joining you shortly,” said Alagos. “Until then, I shall take care of the young prince. I have done so in the past, and though he might not remember me yet, he does know me.”
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And so Enadar spent the fading season and the winter in Quickbeam’s Ent-house, listening to the half-aware dreams of the trees and to the Ent’s slow, rumbling voice as it was telling him tales older than the wood itself and humming songs that no-one else would remember. Few other people were allowed to visit, so that their peace would not be disturbed. Ada came every day, of course, and Amme, and the old one called Galion, and the Dark Elf whose strong presence always gave him the feeling of safety, just as much as his father’s.
Legolas would come and visit often, and sometimes the Dwarf would come with me. Enadar had grown to like the Dwarf’s presence. It felt like the very Earth under his feet, soothing and reassuring, and he understood why Legolas, whose heart was pulling him in two opposite directions, liked to be in Gimli’s company.
As time went by, he slowly began to grow a little stronger. He could even walk short distances without help, and his memories, while still fragmented and confusing, started to come back, piece by disconnected piece, beyond those of his childhood and the years of his youth. Legolas still felt strangely distant to him, but now he could remember his little brother as a grown Elf, and he knew that the strangeness came from the Longing and would always remain between Legolas and the rest of their family.
In this night, he wept for Ada again, over the terrible losses his father had to suffer – of which he, too, was part of.
Nonetheless, he was coping slowly, learning his home again – more so as he had never lived in this place before and had no memories of it. At least he knew the Elves of his father’s household, and he had time. No-one urged him to do aught he did not feel the strength to do yet.
In the middle of the stirring season, though, Legolas came for him briskly and said that it was time for him to pay his respects to the Great Ash, the one true Queen of the forest, who had been waiting patiently for a visit of him, ever since his arrival.
“She has awakened from her long winter slumber,” said Legolas, looking truly happy for the first time since their return to the Greenwood, “and is sending her thoughts and wordless songs through the heart of the other trees again. Have you not heard her calling out to you?”
Enadar shook his head in regret. ‘Twas a small, careful gesture, as he still had to save his strength that was returning in a very slow pace.
“Much of what I once knew is now lost to me, and it will take long to recover,” he whispered, his voice still weak and raw. “Lead me the way, for I cannot even remember the place yet.”
Legolas nodded and did as he had been asked. ‘Twas but a short walk to the triangular patch of grassy earth where the Enchanted River and the Forest River met. Here the former one lost its dark spell, for reasons unknown to anyone, and here stood the Great Ash, the Holy Tree of the Silvan folk, the one said to have a tiny part of Palúrien’s powers in her core. Here, to the Great Ash would the Silvan Elves come to renew their bonds with the earth and the water, the winds and the trees.
She was tall and slender, the Tree of Life, her roots reaching deep into the flesh of Arda, her powerful arms, already adorned with the first budding leaves of the new spring, stretched out to the stars. Like a strong anchor between starlit sky and wet soil, her bark still smooth, her juices running vigorously again, after the long sleep of winter.
Her thoughts, not broken down to mere words, reached out to the long-lost and re-found son of the wood in a silent greeting, and Enadar trembled under their onslaught. It was as if the lifeblood of the Great Ash had poured into his veins, invigorating him even more than any Ent-draught could have done. As if he had been re-bound into the bond of life, from which he had been separated for a whole Age.
“Of course you are, my poor little squirrel,” the beloved voice of Naneth said gently, and to his bewilderment, he could actually see her coming forth from under the Great Ash.
She looked not all that different from the hazy images of his memory, the ones he had been clinging to so desperately for so long. She was slender like an elm-tree, after which she had been named; her thick auburn hair held together by a dark green cloth, her almond-shaped eyes greenish-brown like polished chestnuts and very bright. He could even see the freckles on her face. Plain for an Elf but he most beautiful being in Arda for her family she was: Lálisin, the Wise Elm, late Queen of the Greenwood.
“Naneth,” whispered Enadar in awe, not fully trusting his eyes, fearing that he had finally lost his mind.
His mother was dead, was she not?
“Do not concern yourself with such hard questions, my squirrel,” she smiled; then she embraced him and kissed his brow. Enadar shook with the shock of the sensations; he had forgotten that the waking dreams of the Elves gave the dreamer more than mere sight and voices… for a short while anyway.
“Nay, my son,” said the Queen, “I am not just a dream as your brother can tell you… I am more than that and less, at the same time. When I fled my body in Dol Guldur, so that the Abhorrent One could not lay his black hand on my powers, I pleaded to remain here with my family – and was granted the delay. To watch over the forest that had no magical tools to protect it. I have been there ever since, but I am bound to the powers of the Great Ash.”
“What are you then?” asked Enadar, almost fearful of the answer.
“A guardian,” replied the Queen. “A disembodied spirit, taking on substance for very short times. I can talk to you; even touch you fleetingly, but little more.”
“Still, your presence has been a source of great strength and comfort for us all,” said Legolas quietly. “Even if only the ones bound to you by blood can see you.”
“Yet once you are gone from here, my presence, too, shall fade,” said the Queen. “But I am greatly comforted to see that you have been rescued from that terrible dungeon, my squirrel. I could feel you when I was imprisoned there, but I could not bespeak you. The evil in there was too strong. I am – I was – only and earth-healer, I had not the strength to fight the Abhorrent One.”
“Do you have it now?” whispered Enadar.
“Nay,” said his mother with a sad little smile. “I am but a memory. Yet for you, that shall be enough. For I can help you to remember – to regain all that was taken from you in those endless years of silence and darkness.”
And Enadar’s heart trembled with joy, for he understood that there would be healing for him, in the end, no matter how long it might take.
The Epilouge follows right away.