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The Vault of the Dead
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The Ties of Kinship Go Back a Long Way

For disclaimer, rating, etc. see the Introduction.

Alagos is a recurring OC in my Mirkwood stories. Nówę is the original name of Círdan the Shipwright. No, really. I kid you not. Gajar (= the Terrifier) is also a Primitive Elvish term and was, according to the Ardalambion site, the first name given to the vast Sea. “The Hunter” is how the first Quendi called Melkor when he was capturing and abducting them to turn them into Orcs. Ayan is Primitive Elvish for Ainur.


Part 07 – The Ties of Kinship Go Back a Long way

Spanturo led Legolas down the steep stairway – he counted thirty steps – and then through a semi-circular opening into what once must have been a spacious cavern but had long ago turned into a comfortable dwelling by the skilled hands of Elven masons. The main chamber was surprisingly large, with a strong central double arch, and another semi-circular doorway that led into the other room. Two diagonal arches, without capstones, held up the two differently sized bays. Only the front room had an arched window that looked out to the courtyard, and it was sparsely furnished, with a low stone table near said window and stone benches running along the walls.

The back room had to be a sleeping chamber, for it held a four-post bed, hung with heavy curtains, and a niche carved into the wall, with shelves holding small personal belongings, from a lamp through several scrolls to drinking cups and the likes. Whoever lived in these chambers, most likely did not leave them all too often.

In the front room, sitting in a large armchair softened by pillows, a fragile figure was waiting. It was an Elf, and obviously an ancient one. That in itself would not have been truly surprising – after all, Legolas had met his fair share of ancient Elves, from Old Galion, his father’s seneschal, to the golden Glorfindel, the twice-born, and, most importantly, Alagos the Tracker, the eldest of the Faithful still alive in Mirkwood.

What shocked him was the fact that this Elf actually looked old. His pale skin was dry and tightly stretched like old parchment, his dark eyes enormous in his thin face, his long white hair seemed brittle like straw. He wore black, like the others, which made him look even more fragile, though he still possessed some otherworldly, skeletal beauty – the faint echo of what he once had been. Alive he might be, but just barely, as if he would have fended off death by sheer willpower for a very long time.

“Atar,” spoke Spanturo softly, as if afraid to disturb the rest of the ancient one, “I have brought him.”

The old Elf looked up and the ghost of a smile seemed to warm his sunken cheeks for a moment.

“Good,” he said in a voice low and husky from extreme age. He extended a bony hand, like the claw of a bird, bringing its initial trembling under control after a moment. “Come closer, elfling. My eyes are slowly failing me… I wish to see you.”

This time, the thought to protest against being called an elfling did not even occur to Legolas. This elder clearly had the right to call anyone a child. He dropped to his knees gracefully before the big chair, and the old one laid a cool hand upon his warm cheek.

“So you are Nurwę’s grandchild, are you?” said the soft old voice. “I have not hoped to see any-one from his blood again… he has been lost to us for so long. It warms my old heart to have you with us – even if only for a short time.”

In truth, Legolas was the great-grandson of Nurwę, leader of the northern Avari, but he did not correct the ancient one. ‘Twould have been rude… and it did not truly matter.

“Laikwâlassę,” the old Elf mused. “They gave you a good name… a tree-name, full of fresh youth. ‘Tis proper, for I can see that you are one of the Tree-Children, with all your heart. You have their colours and their spirits,” he paused and seemed to listen for a moment, then his eyes clouded over. “Alas that Gajar, the Terrifier, has caught you in its web. A shame, it truly is. No child of the Faithful should be forced to leave the land of his birth.”

“The thought saddens my heart greatly,” admitted Legolas, “for I never wanted aught but to live out my life under the trees of our forest. And now that the darkness has been lifted from it, I wish to leave even less. There is so much to rebuild, so much to heal – I would be needed for a long time to come.”

“And yet the day shall come when you must leave, and soon enough it will seem to you,” said the old one. “Or else you would end up as I: not dead yet, but not truly alive either, struggling to go on and fighting myself through every new day.”

“Has the web of the vast Sea caught you, too, Elder?” asked Legolas gently.

“Nay,” replied the ancient Elf with a rueful smile, “the Hunter had, long ago, ere we came to this place. My people came after me and freed me ere the Hunter could have laid hand on me in earnest, but the bond between my flesh and my spirit was nearly broken already. Not even the Ayan who dwell in our midst could make me hale again.”

At this, half-forgotten old legends echoed in Legolas’ mind, and with sudden clarity, he understood who the old one truly was.

“Lord Morwę,” he whispered respectfully. “We had no idea…”

“Nay,” said Morwę, patting his face in a fatherly manner, “nought of that, elfling! I never was the lord of my people – I was their leader and their father, and now I am something of a counsellor at times, yet still just one of them.”

Legolas bowed his head. “My apologies, ancient one.”

“No need for that,” replied Morwę, smiling at him again. “Your people had to adapt to the custom of others to survive; there is nothing wrong with that, and at least you have survived, have you not? But do not kneel on the cold stone like that – ‘tis uncomfortable, even for the young. My little bird will bring you a stool and some mead to refresh your strength after a long journey made for the sake of this old Elf.”

To that moment, Legolas had not realized that someone else had been with them in the cavern. So he was a little startled when a slender woman came forth from the shadows, offering him a low stool and a drinking cup made of delicately wrought silver. Even more startled was he when she came close enough for him to see her more clearly in the starlight falling into the room through the lone window.

She was not one of the Dark Elves; of that there could be no doubt. In fact, she was clearly a Wood-Elf, or rather one of the northern Avari. Legolas could easily see that on her rich auburn hair and slightly slanted eyes. She was wearing the usual green and brown garb of the woodland folk, as far as he could see it in the near-darkness: a long gown, and above it a sideless surcoat, in the fashion as it had been worn among the Faithful of Lothlórien.

“I thought you had little to no contact with other Elves,” said Legolas, accepting both stool and cup with a nod of gratitude.

“’Tis rare,” admitted Morwę, “and it only happens in times of dire need. Mithrellas was the last to come to us, a long time ago.”

Mithrellas?” repeated Legolas, thunderstruck. “The handmaid of Nimrodel? The foremother of the Princes of Dol Amroth?”

She nodded with a faint smile. “The very same.”

“But how did you got here?” asked Legolas. “’Twas thought that you have gone to the West, after the death of your mortal husband.”

“Nay,” she said, “for Middle-earth is my home and has become even more that after I had bound myself to a mortal Man who could not hope to follow me to the West. But I did not want to stay in Dol Amroth and watch generation after generation of my children grow old and die – my heart could not have borne the grief. Thus I came here… well, I went to a small settlement on the Cape of Andrast first, near the Sea, of which I had known; the ones who dwell there have shown me the way to Ramandur.”

“Why did you not return to Lothlórien?” asked Legolas. “Do you not miss the ancient trees that have known you since birth?”

“Of course I do,” she said. “But Lothlórien is no longer my home. Nimrodel is lost and Amroth is gone, and I who have lived freely in the trees do not wish to become the servant of a stranger.”

“The Lord Celeborn is kin to the woodland folk,” said Legolas mildly.

“True,” replied Mithrellas, “but the Faithful count no kinship with his wife.”

Legolas made an amused snort. “You sound like my father.”

“Your father knows what he speaks of,” she said, “even if he sometimes phrases his opinions a little… forcefully.”

Legolas grinned. “That is one way to put it. I see you have met Father.”

“Once, during a short visit to the Greenwood,” she said. “’Twas your mother whom I knew better. She used to visit us in Lothlórien from time to time. I was grieved to hear about her fate. You must miss her very much.”

“She has not left us,” said Legolas, “at least not entirely. I spoke to her a few times since her passing myself.”

“How can that be?” asked Morwę in awe. “You have no place like our Vault where the Dead could dwell.”

“Nay, we have not,” agreed Legolas, “but we have the Great Ash.”

Mithrellas nodded. “She is said to be a tree of strange powers if the tales I have heard of her are true.”

“They are, every single one of them,” told her Legolas.

“Most astounding,” commented Mithrellas. “Will your mother be able to stay there, bound to the Ash, for infinite times?”

“We know not what kind of agreement she might have made with Mandos,” said Legolas with a sigh. “All we know is that she chose to stay in Middle-earth as long as any-one of our family still dwells here. It shall not be for ever, I deem, as there are only two of us left, Father and me. Once we leave, she will follow us, I believe, and hope that Mandos will accept her, at last.” He looked at Mithrellas. “If the longing for the great forests becomes too strong, you will always be welcome among us, lady. I want you to know that.”

“I know, and I thank you,” she sad, “but my place is here now I have no close kin left in the North… and I am needed. The dwellers of Ramandur are not half as good with healing herbs as our people. I do for them what I can.”

“She makes the pain of my existence easier to bear,” explained Morwę tiredly. “’Tis a hard task for me to keep myself alive. Yet as long as there is a way to go on, I shall not give up.”

“Why not?” asked Legolas. “Forgive me, but what good could come from your prolonged suffering? Even dead, you could remain with your people, so what is the difference? You are trapped in your broken shell as it is.”

“True,” said Morwę, not the least offended, “but the very moment in which I succumb to death would mean that the Hunter has won. I am not willing to give him that satisfaction as long as I can hold on.”

“Does it matter?” asked Legolas bluntly. “Melkor is cast out to the Void and will not be able to return ere Arda ends and the world will be re-made. He does not even know of your resistance.”

“He may not, but my people do,” replied Morwę simply, “and it gives them hope. As long as I am here, they will struggle on. I hope they will do so after I am gone, too, but they do need me as a symbol of their hope still.”

“You pay a high price for that,” said Legolas.

The ancient Elf shrugged his thin shoulders. “’Tis not so bad, truly. I do still enjoy a few things of my existence that an unhoused spirit cannot: a bite of good food, a drop of fine mead, the fire warming my ancient bones… small things, yet delightful ones. Despite everything that happened to me, I am well content. And as for the aging… ‘tis inevitable. The ones who awakened at Koivę-néni with me are all gone, all but a few like Nówę of the Havens and your own Galion – and even those still around show the signs of their age, I am told.”

“All but Glorfindel,” said Legolas.

“He does not count,” replied Morwę, “for he has already been dead and was rehoused. But for us, first ones, the world has changed too much… and we are too old to keep changing with it.”

“That is not what Old Galion says,” grinned Legolas. “He seems to enjoy his life among us younglings a great deal.”

“He has a purpose,” said Morwę. “He has sworn himself to Elmö’s House from the beginning, and I have no doubt that he finds fulfilment in his service. Just as Nówę does in ferrying our kin to the West. Still, our generation has outstayed its welcome on Arda, it seems – at least in the shape we are wearing now.”

“And still you keep going on,” said Legolas.

Morwę nodded. “As long as my people need me and my waning strength lasts, yea, I will. Even if I am but a symbol, they still need me. I cannot abandon them.”

To that, Legolas had no answer, and he was relieved when answering became unnecessary, fort he courtyard before the window was suddenly filled with song, wondrous and hauntingly beautiful. Morwę looked up, his tired old eyes filling with light again.

“Oh,” he said longingly, “the ancient hymn of the stars. I would like to have part of it tonight. Would you help me to climb the stairs one more time, elfling?”

“Of course, Elder,” murmured Legolas.

Carefully, ever so carefully, he helped the ancient Elf out of the large armchair and supported him to the doorway and then up the stairs. It took them a long time, for Morwę’s strength was nearly depleted, and they had to pause several times, but in the end, they made it up to the courtyard. There they remained near the entrance, listening to the singing of the Dark Elves swell up like a huge wave of the vast Sea; and after a while, Morwę, too, raised his tremulous voice to join it.

The hymn was so immensely old that Legolas barely understood a few words here and there. But he opened his heart to it and listened intently, letting it root deep in his memory, so that he would be able to bring it back to his own people where it had long been forgotten in the tumults of war and struggle. Once he got home, he would go to the Great Ash and sing it for the spirit of his mother, he vowed.

As the beauty and power of that ancient music washed over him, he spotted two shimmering shapes descend a stairway on the opposite side of the courtyard. One of them was Gandalf, he could see that, but the other…

“Is that one of them?” he asked in a low whisper, meaning the Valar who were supposed to dwell among the Dark Elves.

Mithrellas, who was standing on Morwę’s other side, nodded.

“It is,” she whispered back. “Ómar has come forth. Now the singing would soar in earnest.”



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