“ ‘To Weep,’ ” I repeated. “That is unlucky. If I had such a name I would use another.”
“Indeed. Well, Zalog’s Orcs followed Willofain for a while, and she unwittingly put them right on the track of the Elves. Now Zalog must have known they were Thranduil’s Elves. Their gear was Sindarin, and anyway there was no one else they could be. Zalog was used to Silvan Elves; they inhabited the forests of the southern mountains and he had seen them many times; had raided and killed them in fact. And this gave him an idea for a revenge that lives on to this day.”
In haste I asked the tavern boy for more wine.
“Zalog sent his soldiers to capture Willofain, with strict orders to keep her unmarred. This they did and brought the poor thing back to him. Then he had a runner fetch a set of Silvan garments from the nearest storehouse cave. For it was his plan to pass the girl off as an Elven captive and trade her for what he could get. According to Legolas she looked a good bit like an Elf. She was tall for a Mortal and so starveling thin that she had that airy look about her face. Pointed cheekbones and so on. Anyway she must have looked enough like a Silvan, for Zalog’s plan worked.”
I said, “Gimli, I do not wish to hear any more.”
“It is not good. The Orcs circled around the Elven party and found a high outcropped ridge where the Elves were bound to pass. It was within the range of bows, but the Elves would have to scramble up the ridge with swords if they wished to engage the Orcs directly, and this would be futile. They tied Willofain to a twisted, dead tree there, where the Elves could not miss seeing her. And see her they did.
“Meanwhile, at Thranduil’s hall, dread gripped Elsila’s heart and would not let go. She thought her dream might be foresight. Finally she took her weapons and horse and quietly left the hall, telling no one. She rode like a mad woman and stopped for nothing, thinking she would see that all was well and then return as if nothing had happened.
“When Zalog saw that the Elves had seen Willofain, he flung a cloak over her, because Elven eyes are very sharp, and then he sent word that he wished to trade. It sounded like a fair deal and so was doubly suspicious. If they wanted their Silvan kin back undamaged, send a messenger with all their goods and provisions to a spot halfway up the ridge. It was a lie of course. Zalog had no interest in provisions; he wished to lay hands on an Elf.
“The Elves held a frantic council over what to do. The warriors thought it would be best to delay the Orc with talk and send back to Thranduil for reinforcements. But Elwen was leading the party, and she was as hasty as Thranduil, and far less experienced. She was greathearted too. She knew Orcs never kept faith save by accident, but she felt this time they were greedy for stores – greedy or needy. And she had a treasure with her that might satisfy them. She felt it would be right, and generous, and maybe romantic, to be the one who rescued the Silvan.
“Elwen’s treasure was her coming-of-age necklace, a flawless stone of adamant on a slim mithril chain. It was of Hollin-make and was Elsila's gift to her daughter. Elsila had in turn gotten it from her mother, and so on, back to the founding of Hollin. The stone was worth many suits of weapons and armor, let alone the mithril chain, and Elwen thought the Orc would accept the necklace and make the trade. Losing patience with the debate over what to do, she stole out of the camp with her foolish trust and her courage and her treasure, and she went to barter with the Orcs.”
I shuddered, thinking about the old tales. To barter with the Orcs.
“I can guess what happened,” I said.
“No, you cannot. Oh, well. Of course Zalog captured her, and he let Willofain go, so pleased was he to have his Elf of the House of Thranduil. That is, he did not kill Willofain outright; he merely cut lose her bonds and let her fall over the cliff. She lived, as I said. But Elwen … Elwen did not.”
“Can I bear hearing how she died? I have heard old tales about Orcs, but they are just evil stories now. You are the first person I have met who saw Orcs in the flesh.”
“And killed great numbers of them,” said Gimli. “The saddest thing is that Elwen did not die by Zalog’s hand. Not solely, anyway. They strung her up on the dead tree in place of Willofain, piled wood all around, and lit the fire. It was just their sport. Orcs were the people who hate.
“It was to this terrible scene that Elsila arrived. The Elves were beside themselves with anguish, horror. There is no way to describe it. But there was little anyone could do. Only one thing, in fact, and Elsila did it.
“The fire was just touching Elwen. I am told that she did not die cursing the Orcs but rather thanking Elbereth for her graces. Elsila fitted an arrow to her longbow, aimed with the greatest care she had ever used – ”
I was weeping.
“ – and loosed the arrow that found her daughter’s heart. And while her son and friends stood there aghast at what she had done, Elsila took a sword – ”
“Stop, Gimli – ”
“ – she laid hands on her own life – ”
“ – please – ”
“ – and had it away on the blade of that sword. Thus she died, a kin-slayer and a suicide.”
I realized that the entire crowd at the tavern was as quiet as shipyards at midnight. It was dark now, and candles were burning. There was not a sound save my weeping. But every face showed horror. Gimli continued to speak, and quickly, as if he had a restricted time to release a great burden.
“After that there was a great battle and when it was done, Orcs were gone from that region for a thousand years. It was in this time that the Orcs first named Legolas ‘Assassin.’ The Men joined with the Sindar, and even Dwarves from Erebor came to fight. The Silvans tracked down the Orcs, and the army slaughtered them. Thranduil and Legolas led the army, and I have heard they did things that were un-Elvish. That may be slander; I have never asked. But at the end, when Zalog and his captain were found cowering in a cave, and the army marched upon them; when Thranduil and Legolas dismounted, the Orcs cut each other’s throats before falling into their hands alive.
“Then the Elves went home, but it was a home no more. Elsila and Elwen were gone. Thranduil began to lose his mind. He did not eat. He took no rest. He stayed in his chamber and cried.
“Legolas told him, ‘Father, it was our loss too’ and he tried to make him eat. But Thranduil would only drink wine. Next he began to roam all around the keep, going to Elsila’s favorite places. Especially he would go to a small stream where the banks were overgrown with mint and wild thyme. He and Elsila used to go there on Midsummer nights when they were first wedded. No doubt Elwen and Legolas were begotten there.
“Then Thranduil began speaking aloud to Elsila, as if she were present. It must have been pitiful.
“Legolas said, ‘Father, life goes on. You are king. Your people need you. I need you.’
“Thranduil responded, ‘Legolas, you and Elwen were my moon and sun, but Elsila was my shining star,’ and he gave Legolas a kiss. ‘I fear that Morgoth has made a Maedhros of me. He has hung me from a cliff by my heart. Where is Fingon come to cut it loose and set me free? Do you hear him singing?’
“That was enough for Legolas. He sent a rider to Rivendell and made them fetch Elrond. And Elrond came from across the Misty Mountains. When he arrived he did not even wash the dust away from traveling. He went straight to Thranduil’s chamber and was in there six hours, while the Elves of the household waited. Then he emerged and called for Legolas, and some wine.
“ ‘Get some for yourself, too, and walk with me. Tell the others we will return soon. And leave Thranduil be for now.’ When they had walked outside for a little, Elrond said, ‘It goes ill with Thranduil. I cannot heal him. For he believes that the fëa of Elsila is still here. He thinks that she refused the Summons of Mandos. Because she thinks her actions were right. Because she was rebellious in life maybe. Because she is part Noldori and fears to face Mandos after killing her kin. I do not know. But that is what Thranduil thinks, and he intends to spend the rest of his days persuading her to change her mind.’ ”